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i wanna wake up with you all in tangles

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By the time her car pulls up in front of Misty’s house, she is battling a growing ball of nausea in her stomach. She parks up next the mud covered range rover, lingering in her cool car for a moment just until she can untangle her fingers from the steering wheel. Stop making a big deal out of this. It’s just dinner.  

Even so, she appraises her appearance in the small overhead mirror, knowing that it’s very rare she’d put so much effort into looking nice for any old dinner. Her lips purse together, painted with pale pink lipstick. Is this too much? She almost considers wiping it off, until a glance at her watch urges her to get a move on.  

Her walk up to the front door is slow, lasting – it allows her thorough observation of the world around that surrounds the quaint home. The nature is akin to most of the area, with high trees and tangling shrubs. The cicadas chirp invitingly, then she hears the flutter of wings every so often. It reminds her all too much of the Cabin. She breathes that in with a smile, despite her unsettled stomach.  

This is the closest she’s ever been to Misty’s home, she realizes. It almost feels too surreal for a second, a figment of her imagination. Her feet carry her slowly to the screen door, walking past potted plants and what looks like the parts of a rusted airboat. Under her weight, the few last steps up onto the porch creak, and then she’s there. Swallowing the thick lump in her throat with no shortage of anticipation.  

She searches for a doorbell, but comes up short. This forces a shaky hand higher, poised to knock. That is, until a shrill barking noise has her jumping backwards. Between the barks, she can hear frantic sniffing on the other side of the door, then the rattle of paws against a wooden floor.  

The barking continues, loud and insistent, until a voice carries over it. 

“Someone shut those damn dogs up!”  

Cordelia hesitates, then makes to knock again. The last thing she wants to do is be loitering out here in the heat of the mid afternoon.  

Her ears ring from the yaps, and for a moment she’s grateful that her mother had never succumb to her youthful desires to have a dog. She is definitely more of a cat person. Just as her knuckles find the wooden frame, a more familiar voice sounds. “Scout!” Misty’s voice is soft and firm at the same time, and it sets butterflies free in her chest. It gets louder. “What is all the fuss about?”  

The dogs’ scratching must alert Misty with their insistence, because the next thing she knows Cordelia hears the handle rattling under a touch. Soon enough, it opens to reveal her friend, a vision in a flowing cream dress that cuts off just at her calves, to show off where her shoeless feet press against the floor. She smiles widely the second her eyes fall upon Cordelia, running a hand through her hair nervously. The action almost skews the dark red headband that sits neatly amongst the curls, and Cordelia resists the urge to tell her how stunning she looks. 

Instead, Misty speaks. A kind of breathless joy in her words. “Delia. You’re here.”  

She hurries to open the screen door where it squeaks on the rusted hinges. As she does so, one hand holds back the larger of the three dogs that stand to attention at her feet. All of them are wagging their tails excitedly, noses straining to reach out and sniff at Cordelia. The sandy colored mastiff fights against even Misty’s strength and she groans. “Gumbo, c’mon. Back inside.” 

He whines earnestly, especially when the other two are given free rein to greet Cordelia. She freezes on the spot, eyeing them warily. The smallest one, a long legged beagle with a curly coat, continues to yap at her. “That’s enough.” Misty says, warningly, and the creature stops, but still loiters around Cordelia.  

She’s about to greet Misty when she feels a tongue swipe across her fingers, flinching back and head snapping down to the last dog, a shaggy looking husky cross with floppy ears and a stumble in its walk. “Um,” she begins unsurely, “hi.”  

Misty barks out a laugh at her stiff posture, shaking her head ever so softly. “He ain’t gonna bite you, don’t worry.” Her voice is strained as she holds back the larger dog, Gumbo, who seems all too intent on saying hi to her. She takes a step closer, sucking in a breath, before giving Misty a questioning glance. “He’s just too friendly for his own good.” She says, “and you don’t strike me as the type who wants to get knocked down by a hundred and sixty pound dog.”  

She laughs, blushing at the very idea. “No. Not today.”  

Even so, she nears him. Cordelia specifically remembers Misty telling her how this one is her favorite of all the dogs, and so she instantly finds herself wanting to get in his good books. A hand stretches out, met by a drooling muzzle and a far too friendly tongue. 

Cordelia fails to hide her cringe, because Misty is giggling all too prettily. “You really ain’t an animal person, are ya?”  

“I like animals.” She insists, quietly, continuing to feel a little lost amongst the three interested dogs.  

Misty holds the door open further, her own nervousness beginning to show. “Well, you comin’ in or what?” There’s a half smile, a twitch on her lips, and Cordelia follows with ease. Her heart strums a quickening beat upon entering Misty’s home for the first time, not at all knowing what to expect. 

“Duke, Scout, get in.” Misty nudges the other dogs inside with the side of her foot, and then the door is closing behind them. It’s final then, the moment solidified. This certainly feels like a milestone in their friendship, and that‘s enough to have her heart choosing a steady and pulsing beat. 

Cordelia pauses in what appears to be the living room. She spots a couple of couches and a TV, but the room is filled with other signs of life. Children’s toys stacked in the corner, a PlayStation sitting pride and place in the middle of the TV stand alongside a few games.  

She stares, silenced by interest, and continues to peer around in wonder. Beside her, she can feel the way that Misty buzzes with energy, definitely more on edge than normal. Even so, she hovers near Cordelia like a shadow, warm and sweet smelling, with the occasional brush of her side.  

The smallest dog, Scout, hops up easily onto the couch, wagging its tail in a wild manner while it tries to figure out the newest house guest. As it does so, it almost knocks a picture frame to the floor. Misty waves the dog down, throwing an apologetic glance to Cordelia. “They’ll calm down, I promise. Just ain’t used to that many new people.”  

“It’s okay.” She laughs, wondering why her own voice is so hushed. Like she’s too scared to make an impression in this novel environment.  

Other voices are near, echoing against walls and filling the house with noise. Alongside the dogs and outside hum of the swamp, it’s a far cry from the silent home that Cordelia has grown used to. Misty looks in the same direction as her, then back at her friend where she appraises her in a way that has Cordelia lightheaded, especially as those eyes linger on her lipstick. Yeah, it’s definitely too much for just dinner. 

Misty’s smile widens either way. “You wanna put your bag in my room?” she asks, staring to the way Cordelia is clutching at the strap. 

She nods eagerly, heart swooping at the very idea of going into the Cajun’s bedroom. Misty releases Gumbo, nudging him in the direction of another doorway. He only spins, his sights set on Cordelia. The cold nose rubs against her forearm, taking in every drop of her scent. The hairs on her arm prickles under his ministrations.  

She bites her lip with a smile, then grows braver and stretches out fingers to stroke the strangely soft ears. That’s all the mutt needs for acceptance. He leans into the scratch with a somehow endearingly cute expression and then flops to the floor, exposing his muscular tummy to her. “Aw.” Misty beams with pride. “He likes ya.”  

That’s a small win in Cordelia’s book, one that has her growing more at ease by the second. At least that’s one of the dogs won over. Now to work on the rest of the family, maybe. As if winning their approval is important. But it kinda is, in her head, anyway.  

Misty rubs his belly until he’s satisfied and then rises back to her feet again, gesturing for Cordelia to follow. “This way.” She says after a tiny, barely noticeable pause, where she’s clearly sucking in a sharp breath.  

She leads her the short distance across the room and into a narrow passageway. At the end, a door sits ajar, inviting them in. Misty’s name is painted in pretty cursive over the chipped paintwork, intricate enough for Cordelia to halt and admire it fondly. Behind her, ears catch the patter of twelve dog feet in their pursuit.  

“Nuh uh.” Misty shakes her head, blocking their entrance. “Ain’t enough room for you guys, too.”  

She knows she’s totally anthropomorphizing, but the dogs seem rather sad at that announcement. Either way, she’s granted access, and can’t share in their upset. Misty ushers her in first, closing the door behind the pair of them.  

Cordelia feels that familiar freeze in her muscles, keeping her anchored in the middle of the room. Not that there’s much space to work with. Between the bed that’s squished against the furthest wall and the small dresser, there’s barely enough space for the two of them to stand comfortably inside.  

So, it’s not surprising when Misty sits to on said bed, momentarily peering out of the small window beside it. Just enough to allow light into the space. When Misty doesn’t speak straight away, she takes the opportunity to continue her observations. She finds a faint frown reigning over her lips when she peers at bare walls save for a cross over the head of her bed; nothing like Misty's cabin.  

Her schoolwork is a skewed pile on the dresser, unopened college letters sit at the very top – a reminder of their impending adulthood. Nearby, open boxes of jewellery and trinkets beckon her. Cordelia listens with ease, a curious smile curling on the corners of her lips. She's sure that Misty has worn some of this jewellery before, but others are novel to her, collecting dust in their storage.  

A small, pensive hum asks for her attention, and she turns to give just that to the patient girl waiting on the bed.  

“You know,” Cordelia starts, “I always imagined your bedroom as different to this.”  

Misty’s own smile is fleeting, but she does give a curious tilt of her head. “What did ya think it would be like?”  

“Posters everywhere. Art. Plants.” Her shrug is joined with the widening of her smile, into a caring grin as she lets her eyes glisten over in her friend’s direction. “Just more you. It’s. . .” She continues, “it’s kinda bare.”  

“We ain’t lived here for that long.” Misty tries, as if just under two years isn’t long enough to truly make somewhere home.  

This is where Cordelia sets her with a look. Not judging, but definitely lined with disbelief. 

Misty shrugs, smoothing out the bed sheets. “I don’t really spend that much time in here. To be honest.” And she believes that, sensing that the small room would be all too stifling for the Cajun, who flourishes in the wake of wide open spaces and waves of fresh air around her.  

She lowers her bag onto the bed finally, and smiles down at Misty; her head is filled with pleasant images of Misty surrounded by nature, enchanted by its touch. And vice versa. The outside world entices her through the window, where she twists her head to peer out. “It’s a nice view though,” she points out, admiring how the glass gives way to a picturesque view of the swamp’s edge, where dragonflies dance about the reeds.  

Though she doesn’t sit down, she hovers near Misty’s still body and simply takes in the moment. For a while, she was beginning to think she’d never be here.  

Not surprisingly, she finds Misty bouncing her legs up and down rhythmically against the floor, pursing her lips together in thought. Despite Misty’s frantic air about her, Cordelia finds a sudden calm in her own demeanor. She thinks she could be in a dumpster with Misty and completely at ease. Misty does eventually manage a smile at Cordelia’s words. “Yeah, can’t complain. Like I said, this is way better than sharin’.”  

A grin finds its way to her lips, as if she understands the pain of sharing a room with a sibling. As it is, she has no comprehension in sharing or siblings.  

Growing tiresome of the tight surroundings, or maybe the stifling air, Misty jumps onto her feet. “C’mon, let’s go outside.”  

“Outside?”  

“Yeah,” she laughs, “dontcha wanna meet the rest of the animals?”  

Both know that it’s not really her thing, seeing as her trepidation around the dogs had been all too clear, but Misty is swaying back and forth excitedly. And fingers are curling around hers. That surreal swell returns inside of her with a vengeance. In one subtle movement, she pinches the skin on her elbow, allowing the sharp pain to remind her that this is definitely a tangible reality.  

Cordelia chuckles at her enthusiasm, so strong that it envelopes around her. “Okay then.”  

She allows Misty to lead again, for once enjoying the sensation of being able to go with the flow and cast away her controlling needs. They retreat back through the living room, where a figure now sits on the couch. Misty’s hand drops from hers in an instant; Cordelia pretends not to be hurt by the cold that now sits on her skin.  

“Hey, Tommy.” Misty greets half-heartedly.  

He grunts something in response, too lost in whatever game he’s playing. Misty appears perturbed by his rudeness, though doesn’t push, and rushes in the direction of another doorway. It doesn’t allow Cordelia much time to continue her second study of the room, gut clenching slightly when she spies hunting rifles in a locked cabinet.  

Misty is sweeping her into a kitchen before she can dwell on that. There's more noise, more life, as she finds the sister she’s met before standing over a large pot and stirring vigorously. The scent of food fills the room, seemingly strong enough to lure Misty closer. Even Cordelia feels her mouth water in its presence.  

“That smells good, Nell.” She says, standing eagerly close with all but drool falling from her lips. It mirrors the way the two of the bigger dogs now sit at Nellie’s feet, all three of their hungry expressions matching. Gumbo’s tail flops up and down against the floor when he spies Cordelia. 

“Hm. It’ll taste good, too.” Eyes drift from where she’s cutting up chicken to Cordelia standing awkwardly to the side. “Oh, hi Cordelia.” She’s smiling, and she seems far more care free than the first time they’d met.  

Cordelia finds herself warming to the woman this time, even if she is swatting Misty’s advancing hand away from bell peppers. “Hello.” She replies, far too polite. Too robotic. Misty twists to give her a weird look, like she’s never heard her speak like that before. It’s not her, it’s the damn nerves.  

“How are you doin’?” 

She clears her throat, trying to find her normal voice. “Good, thank you.” Close enough. More cordial than her previous response. A smile eases onto her lips, in turn seeming to allow Misty to relax again. “And you?” 

Her well-mannered approach appears to amuse Nellie, who gives a smirk and an easy shrug. “I’m doin’ alright.” Nellie’s eyes drift over to Misty, whose gaze hasn’t left Cordelia for a good few moments, and her smile widens. “Hope you like jambalaya.” 

“Oh, yes. It’s one of my favorites.”  

“Good.” She nods her satisfaction, sweeping her wavy hair behind her and tying it out of the way. A thin layer of sweat lines her forehead from the heat of cooking plus the muggy air that floods the kitchen. The woman peers at Misty. “It won’t be long, why don’t you go set the table?”  

Setting the table, turns out, isn’t a grand display of mats and glasses and lines of well-organized cutlery. Instead, it involves gathering mismatched bowls that she helps Misty carry outside. When she gives her a look of question, she receives a small smile. “The table inside ain’t big enough for all of us. Plus, it’s cooler out here.”  

The explanation is enough, and Cordelia thinks it’s actually quite quaint to sit on their long porch that lies only metres away from the swamp. Slightly elevated, it gives her a pretty view over the murky waters, allowing her to see the way the scum creates winding patterns on the surface.  

As she leans on the wooden fencing in admiration, Misty comes to stand next to her. Her arms fold in front on the railing and her back tilts forward. “You really like the view, huh?”  

She turns with a smile. “It’s peaceful.”  

Clearly trying to negate her words, shouting and barking from inside disrupts said peace. Misty’s face twists into somewhat of an apologetic grimace. 

“And beautiful.” Cordelia continues, insistent on sharing her appreciation of the place despite the interruption; her fond appraisal of somewhere that is so deeply rooted in Misty’s being. Almost like the nature is an extension of the girl in front of her – the vibration of life like the hum of Misty's voice, the blue sky the same color that glows back in her bright gaze.  

Her heart swoons with love for both Misty and the nature that she so dearly adores. That Cordelia loves too, more so because of the Cajun. 

The swamps always welcome her with open arms, and she'd like the think the same of Misty, too. She turns, peering at her through hooded, contemplative eyes before glancing back at the water. “I can see why you like it out here so much.”  

There's no indication of movement, no noise, no motions caught in her peripherals. Yet suddenly she feels the bare skin of Misty’s upper arm against her own. It's warm and unexpected, and it creates such a hypersensitive buzz in her own skin that she can feel every tiny, light hair that brushes up against her.  

Continuing to stare ahead, Misty doesn’t comment on their closeness. The same intimate setting that she's initiated, but she’s sighing out her content.  

Somehow, with the wind twirling around them in a delicate dance, it feels dare she say. . . romantic. It emulates a dance of their own, one that she wishes wasn't so one sided. 

But with the Cajun nearby, she can pretend. And that's almost as good as the real thing. Maybe. Delusion is a great thing with the right intentions. Misty is smiling her way, and said delusion aims to convince Cordelia that the simple action contains an unconditional love in it.  

Her gut tightens. “It is beautiful.” Misty agrees, voice a low hum that fills Cordelia's ears like the prettiest of songs. “If there's one thing God is good at, it's makin’ beautiful things.” There's a small tilt of her head, finding its way in the direction of her friend.  

She warms under the attention, even if she's focusing her eyes to watch bugs skittering across the water's surface. “You forget how quiet it is out here until you're out of the City.”  

“It won’t be quiet for long.” One half of her mouth twitches, mirth twisting up the corners. She twirls on the spot, so her back is against the wooden railing and she's staring over at the house with pursed lips. “I hope you're ready for the rabble.” 

A laugh jumps from her lips. She wraps fingers around the splintered wood, thinking how she misses the feel of Misty pressed flush against her. “They can’t be that bad.”  

Misty is grinning, then following with her own series of soft laughs. “I'll let you be the judge.” 

She takes the opportunity to observe her again, to ask questions without words. But Misty doesn’t hear them, or so she guesses. Cordelia decides to indulge in a more forward approach. “Is this why you never invited me around before?”  

Her forwardness forces Misty to still, eyes darting downwards. Although Cordelia had spoken the question in teasing, all smiles and pink cheeks, she supposes there is a seriousness lurking beneath.  

“You come to the cabin all the time.” She rolls her eyes, deflecting. 

“That's different.” Cordelia replies in an instant, gaze growing heavier. “That's not your home. This is.” 

Even so, she recalls the bare walls of Misty's bedroom, comparing them to the poster and ornament laden ones in her cabin, and it only serves to complicate the Cajun even further. Misty opens her mouth to speak, but struggles to follow through with her intention. 

Cordelia embraces the embers of nerves beginning to flame in her stomach and nudges Misty’s side. “Did you not want me to meet your family?” She laughs, then adds quietly. “Are you embarrassed of me?” 

Perhaps her joke is ill suited for the moment, because Misty doesn’t partake in her humor. “’Course I ain't!” she insists, words loud and assured, and enough to scare a rustling creature from the nearby bushes.  

The sincerity wraps around her like a tight hug, almost suffocating. She grins within its embrace. “I’m only joking.” Cordelia admits softly, watching the way Misty visibly relaxes. 

“You're here now." She shrugs, like that explains all she needs to know. 

If only it were so simple. 

She hums her agreement, breathing in the sweet air around them. “I’m glad I am." 

“Me too.” 

Misty's smile is gorgeous as ever, and brimming with appreciation. When maybe she lets too much tenderness spill into her expression, she continues with a chuckle. “Mainly ‘cause Nellie is makin’ my favorite dinner. The one she does when she wants to impress people.” 

“Oh.” She raises a brow. “So, you’re just using me for food? I should have known.”  

“I would never.” Misty backtracks with delight shimmering in her eyes. “Just a happy bonus. My favorite food.” She shuffles that slightest bit nearer to Cordelia, almost shy and definitely with a hint of vulnerability about her that the older blonde doesn’t understand until she continues speaking. “And my favorite person. A pretty good day, if ya ask me."  

She appears to wait on baited breath on for Cordelia’s response, wanting to look in her eyes and simultaneously anywhere but them.  

Thankfully for her, the wait is short lived. “Are you just saying that because I told you that you're my favorite?” Her brow is high again, questioning, and a smile floats on her lips even if her heart is racing rapidly. 

Then there are long arms slinking around her shoulders. Misty is close, so close, and she seems even hotter than before. Her skin sears against Cordelia’s in a wonderful way, enough to pull every last drop of air from her lungs. “I said it ‘cause it's true.”  

Their eyes lock; in that moment she feels like an open book for Misty to read every word of. She wonders how on earth Misty hasn’t realized her feelings by now, for they're so transparent that she thinks the entire school knows. Misty’s gaze is deep and near, pulling her in where she can’t resist.  

Cordelia finds herself leaning in closer, will power lost. Because she really wants to kiss her, surrounded by this beautiful world, and staring at an even more beautiful Misty. It’s as if all rationality has fled from her mind. This is Misty’s home, not the seclusion of the cabin. There are more consequences to consider than being rejected, mainly that being that Misty’s family would have some rather negative reactions to her kissing the girl right here on the porch.  

Stop it.  

Her internal screams go ignored by the yearning to feel Misty’s lips against her own, for the burst of joy and happiness and excitement that one feels for a first kiss. And she’s getting closer, all the time reprimanding herself for even daring to do this. But Misty isn’t moving. She's still, eyes almost closed, and lips parted to allow out shallow, shaky breaths.  

She’s staring at Cordelia’s lips, too.  

Arms loosen from the older blonde’s shoulder, though she’s relieved when the burning touch doesn’t stray. Rough, delightful hands find purchase just under Cordelia’s elbows. She shudders, transfixed, almost under a spell, and definitely a few seconds away from losing all inhibitions and kissing her best friend.  

She is so clouded with emotion that she doesn’t dare to think why Misty’s own lips pucker together expectantly, and she makes no effort to retreat from Cordelia’s advance.  

Until her brain jerks back into reality like a slap to the face. Cordelia smiles shakily, twisting her neck so she stares down to the thick grass below them, and away from where Misty is grounded to the spot.  

Her withdraw couldn’t come at a better time, it turns out, for the back door opens not seconds later. Once again, Misty is tugging all touch from Cordelia, stepping at least a foot away from her. Frustration replaces the serenity that had encompassed the older blonde, especially when she turns to peer up at her wide eyed friend.  

“Oh, hi Daddy.”  

Cordelia stills, having never thought it possible for her muscles to be so tight. The tendrils tense painfully, but she forces herself to twist on the spot, to set eyes on her friend’s father.  

And he stares right back at her.  

Her stomach knots. She wants to look away, but she doesn’t. Think like Fiona. She would cower in front of no one, and Cordelia is determined to follow suit, even if there’s a quiver down her spine. Misty’s father is definitely a formidable presence, tall and stocky, with well rounded shoulders. His blonde hair is short, speckled with different shades of gray that his beard also sports.  

He casts the smallest of glances to Misty, smiling at her. “Hey, Peanut.” Just as quick, Cordelia is under his attention once again. “You must be Cordelia.”  

She nods with a strained smile. “That’s me.” 

“Nice to meet you.” With the old husky by his side like a loyal shadow, he steps forward and holds out a rough hand. Cordelia resents the sweaty nature of her own palm, but still reaches out to shake his. The action is strong, his grip tight, but there’s a half smile on his lips.  

There’s a moment where she thinks just maybe she’ll be able to relax. Despite the fact that she can see Misty anxiously observing from her peripherals, rolling on the balls of her feet. “Thank you for having me for dinner.” She says, summoning her politest and strongest voice.  

“Our pleasure.” He nods simply, reaching into the pocket of his jeans to pull out a packet of cigarettes before setting his sights of Misty. “Did ya ask her if she wanted a drink?”  

Her eyes widen slightly, seeming to only just then notice the humid air around them. “Oh, no. Not yet.”  

Her father moves toward her, the dog still at his heel with his mouth open and panting. “Come on, Peanut. She’s our guest.” There’s a tenderness in his voice as he speaks to Misty, a soft hand on her shoulder, and Cordelia wonders whether he’s as domineering as she’s convinced herself.  

Nodding quickly, Misty gives a sheepish smile. “Right. Sorry. Guess I just got distracted.”  

“It’s fine, really.” Cordelia pipes up, heart swelling at the expression Misty sends her way.  

“Nonsense.” His thick fingers wrap around one of the cigarettes, a lighter also produced from his pocket now before he lowers his gaze on Misty once again. “What do you want? Water? Iced tea? We got some real nice lemonade.”  

She loosely holds her upper arm with one hand, then shrugs softly. “Lemonade would be lovely.” The idea of something sweet to fight against the growing heat has her throat parched within seconds. When his eyes linger on her, she smiles once more. Braver this time. “Thank you, Sir.”  

Smiling again, wider, in almost a charming way, he regards Misty. She’s stood waiting for his words, lips a thin line and eyes intent, and he quickly gestures toward the kitchen. “Go on,” he says, “you heard her.”  

Hesitation sits over her like a heavy rain cloud, but she follows his orders and pads back into the house, the entire time craning her neck so her eyes don’t move from Cordelia. That is, until she’s stepping back inside. With Misty gone, she finds that knot in her stomach twisting even tighter and more complicated.  

She's alone, with Misty’s father, and a quake in her heart that she fears might never go away. Is this what Misty felt alone with Fiona that morning they had breakfast? The same bursts of nervous sweat, the weight on her chest? She rubs her thumbs anxiously over the middle of her palm, and casts eyes in his direction again. 

With the end of the cigarette perched between his dry lips, he slightly twitches his brows. “You mind if I smoke?” 

Cordelia shakes her head no, leaning further against the railing as if to root in her reality like the flowy trees that surround the abode. Smoking reminds her of Fiona, and altogether disgusts her, yet she finds herself watching, nothing short of transfixed, as he lights the end and it sparks a bright orange with his first inhale.  

The sweet scent of nature begins to be usurped by smoke, but she fights the way her features twist unsurely. She has more important things to worry about, like the fact that he keeps peering her way, thoughtful and intimidating. There’s some of Misty in his face, she thinks – the slim lines, the blue eyes, the way that emotions float across it without the need of filtering.  

Only, he doesn’t stare around at the world in the same enarmored way that his daughter does, with hope and appreciation. His eyes are aged. Not just from the wrinkles that sit in wavy lines around the corners, but deep within his irises. There are stories in there that she doesn’t know him well enough to pursue.  

“So, you’re Misty’s friend, huh?” 

She jumps at being spoken directly to, feeling more of a timid mouse than the fierce lion she wants to be. “Yes, Sir.”  

Raspy laughs follow, and he speaks like he needs to clear his throat. “The name is Christopher. You can call me Chris.” He moves to sit himself on the chair at the head of the table, legs stretching out and crossing over one another. “No sir. I may be old, but I don’t want to feel it.”  

She nods, almost dutiful. Then smiles. “Okay.”  

Her response may leave little room for follow up. Even so, he persists, and this keeps Cordelia on her toes, brain moving a mile a minute. “Misty's never brought a friend home, ya know? No friends, no boyfriends.” Another drag follows, long and leaving him with hooded, satisfied eyes. A wry smile follows. “Just animals.”  

Fondness fills every line in her face. Maybe even a little bit of intense love that she feels for this man’s daughter. She hopes he doesn’t notice. “She does love animals.” She laughs. 

“A little too much, if you ask me.” He scoffs, the humor lost on him. Cordelia’s smile falters then. Anger sits on her brow, lips parting with some retort that gets stumped the minute the door opens again. “I can’t tell you have many half dead animals she’s tried to save.” 

“She cares a lot.” Cordelia says, bordering on defensive. Protective even. He continues his regard, reaching out his spare hand to lazily stroke the dog sat by him.  

But there is no time for his rebuttal, and she’s glad for that, because Misty is returning with a large glass in her hands and a dainty smile pushing its way onto her otherwise pale face. The reasoning for that is answered rather quickly when there are others behind her.  

The rest of her family, she supposes. She sucks in a sharp breath, standing straighter, and for once having her attention stolen away by other people than Misty. On her heel come two people that she recognizes, Tommy and Nellie, but two strangers. The woman, the spitting image of Misty, only a good few years her senior, plumper and with shorter hair, arrives first; then a man, carrying the baby that she’s already met in his muscular arms.  

Out of all the adults, he bears no resemblance to the family, with brown eyes almost like her own and even darker hair. On his face, pillow lines sit across, and those eyes sleepily hit the sun. Still, he holds the baby tightly against him.  

The four of them are laughing, loud and rambunctious, and Cordelia feels herself shrinking slightly. More ready to observe than just partake. Then Misty is in front of her, smiling in that way that only Misty seems to smile at her, and she’s at ease once more. She wishes she could take hold of her hand. So, so badly. To hell with judgement.  

She doesn’t, and only bitterly stares at Misty’s fingers clutching the glass.  

Holding it out, she smiles. “There ya go.”  

“Thanks.” Her voice is ever so quiet, causing Misty to stare her with that look again. Like she can read every thought going through her mind.  

“C’mon, grub’s up.” Nellie is grinning, placing down the serving pot on the center of the table and crowing proudly like a peacock.  

The sheer size of it shocks Cordelia, only ever used to cooking for one or two, rather than eight. “Oh, we got the real good stuff tonight.” From her side, the other woman is smirking. “Who are we tryin’ to impress?” 

Nellie is gesturing in Cordelia’s direction, eyes flashing over too. “We got a guest. So, you best be on your best behavior before you show us all up.” 

“Oh, a guest?” Her eyes twinkle wickedly. This must be Sylvia, she guesses. Her suspicions are confirmed when the woman’s gaze is met with Misty almost standing protectively in front of Cordelia. “To what do we owe the honor?” 

On the chair, Christopher has finished his cigarette, and chimes in while he crushes it in the ash tray before him. “Leave Misty’s friend alone, Sylvia.” He warns.  

Her mouth puckers together in mocking. “I didn’t know Misty had any friends.”  

Misty bristles in annoyance. A hard glare finds itself on Sylvia, whose smugness only grows as Tommy snickers beside her at Misty’s expense.  

Perturbed herself, Cordelia finds herself speaking boldly and without apology. “Misty is my best friend.” She insists with a firm set jaw. “And she has  lot  of friends.” Pupils move from their initially shocked faces to where Misty stands with a delicate, half smile on her pretty thin lips. They settle there, wanting to look at her friend rather than anywhere else.  

Even if she isn’t looking, ears pick up the remaining laughter from Misty’s two siblings, then a yelp from one of them as Nellie clearly jabs them with her elbow.  

“Can’t you all just get along for five minutes?” Christopher asks, rubbing at the heavy skin around his temples. “You’re givin’ me a headache already.” 

“Oh, come on, Pa. Mist loves it really.”  

Misty’s eyes darken and her arms are folding across her chest haughtily. “You know I don’t.”  

Her friend begins nearing the table, eyes asking for Cordelia to follow. Which she does, all too easily. While Misty takes the seat next to her father, she reaches out to grasp the one beside her, stilling when another hand takes hold of the plastic back.  

Following it with her eyes, she finds that arm belonging to her brother. Her mouth falls open, words growing far too timid.  

Beside her, Misty comes to her rescue. “That’s where Cordelia’s sittin’.”  

“That’s my seat.” He grumbles with a stubborn tug of his mouth. A hand runs through his shaggy hair as he tries to cool himself against the sticky heat. “I always sit there. Everyone knows that.”  

“Well, not today.”  

He throws a glance down toward the end of the table, where one chair sits abandoned between the baby and Sylvia. “Aw, you ain’t gonna make me sit on the broken one, are ya?” His expression twists in annoyance, but Cordelia keeps her grip firmly on the chair. No way is she sitting anywhere other than by Misty’s side.  

Misty seems just as insistent as her, rising back to her feet as though to challenge her brother. Even if he is taller than her, she doesn’t give in.  

From behind her, there’s another sigh. “Go on, Tommy.” Christopher orders.  

“But Pa – " 

“I don’t wanna hear it. Let the girl sit where she wants.”  

Cordelia flushes slightly under being the center of attention. All eyes are most definitely on her, even from the other two dogs that have clearly followed the smell of the jambalaya that sits patiently to be divided between the group. Tommy locks eyes onto Cordelia’s unrelenting ones, but doesn’t bite this time.  

With a lasting sigh, he lowers his hand and retreats to the furthest chair on the table. It is tugged out unceremoniously with a shrill scrape that rings in her ears. She doesn’t let that saddle her with any guilt. Not a spec of it. Because she’s lowering herself next to Misty, who smiles over and ever so briefly brushes her fingers along Cordelia’s arm.  

She tries to hide her shiver by shuffling her chair nearer the table, wishing she didn’t feel so out of place. The last time she’d sat down for a family dinner like this was. . . well, she can't even remember.  

Across from her, Nellie finishes fussing the baby and reaches for the serving spoon. Filling it with a heaping amount of the rice dish, she looks to Cordelia expectantly. When she only stills, the girl laughs. “Well, hold your bowl up.” Any impatience is shadowed by amusement in her smirk.  

“Oh.” Cordelia gives a tiny smile, grabbing the bowl with both hands and doing as she’s asked. It grows heavier when the scoopful is added, but the delicious smell seems all too strong now. Her stomach growls in appreciation. She once again ignores the attention she’s under, keeping her head high. “Thanks. It looks lovely.”  

Nellie grins. “It was our Meemaw’s recipe. Still the best one I ever had.”  

“Can ya hurry up?” Sylvia butts in. “Some of us have been workin’ all day.”  

“You don’t think lookin’ after a baby and cookin’ for all of you is work?” Nellie sends a pretty gnarly stink eye her way, jaw setting. “’Cause let me tell you, it ain’t no vacation.”  

“And you think what I do is?” 

Tommy laughs, at the same time receiving his own portion of the food. “Please, like you know what hard work is, Sylvia.” Those scornful laughs drift over the sounds of the swamp, harshly so, where they are aimed at the perturbed Sylvia. Cordelia longs to hear Misty’s soft chuckles instead. When she turns to her friend, she gets an eye roll in response.  

The conversation follows in much the same route for the next few minutes, until the final dish is being filled. “Why am I always last?” Misty asks with a pointed look. 

“If you went first, there wouldn’t be any left for anyone else.” Sylvia remarks with a smirk. 

Misty frowns, all but glaring. “Har har. I don’t eat much more than any of ya.” Her words are negated by the fact that her portion brims over the plate, makes Cordelia’s own seem tiny in comparison. She resists the urge to chuckle at her friend, but Misty must catch the way she’s looking at her because the Cajun softens instantly.  

She’s just about to tuck into her food when a leg nudges into hers. Either that, or one of three dogs loitering under the table could have easily been one of the culprits. Although Misty is staring at her still, giving a soft shake of her head and clearing her throat.  

Cordelia just about remembers where she is, finding everyone’s attention aimed toward the head of the table. For now, their squabbling seems to have stalled, and she knows only one thing seems to have the power to stop that. Christopher sits straighter, seemingly even taller despite being sat down. He commands all of her focus, even tugging it from Misty briefly.  

When he speaks, it’s low and with purpose, a rehearsed set of words flowing from his lips. “Bless us, oh Lord, and these thy gifts.” His eyes are closed now, just like everyone else’s. Apparently, she hadn’t got the memo, as hers had initially been wide open, ever so inquisitive. They half close as he continues, while her hands mimic the motions of everyone else, whose are joining together for the prayer. “Which we are about to receive from thy bounty through Christ, Our Lord.”  

The world seems so still in this moment, only the prayer filling the air around them on the gentle evening. Through the small slithers of her eyes, she sees Misty peek one blue one open at her, that side of her face tugging into a grin. Her insides melt under its warmth, and she grins back, all too clearly the lovesick fool that she is.  

Thank God everyone else’s eyes remain firmly shut. 

“Amen.” Christopher says after a beat, echoed by the rest of the table.  

And that’s when most of the politeness seems to wear off; she watches the family begin to devour the food with so much fervor that she’s never going to question Misty’s table manners ever again. Forks hurriedly scrape against bowls, mouthfuls disappearing like the family has never eaten a decent meal in their life.  

She feels like she’s getting left behind with her more delicate approach, tongue wrapping wonderfully around the flavorful dish. “This is wonderful, Nellie.” She compliments over the sound of the others chewing. The name falls unsurely off her lips, not used before, but she tries to keep the smile lingering there. 

The others slow, as if not used to conversation until the plates are cleared. “Why, thank you.” She beams, a genuinely pleased look floating across her features. Even if she’s trying to encourage the fussy baby to have his own spoonful. “I hear you ain’t so bad a cook yourself.”  

At this, Cordelia turns to Misty. An aura of bashfulness overcomes her, those thick eyelashes fluttering against pale cheeks as she glances back down at her food with a smile. She tries not to let the idea of Misty talking about her to her family let her get carried away. That’s what all friends do, right? It’s totally normal.  

Still, her heart’s song picks up in beat, her face growing hotter all too quickly.  

She pulls in a breath to her weak lungs. “I’m okay.”  

“She’s just bein’ modest.” Misty laughs, “she’s the best.”  

The man beside Nellie raises his bushy brows. “Better than Nell? I don’t think so.” His accent isn’t as thick as theirs, but there’s definitely a twang there. 

Misty shrugs, trying to act nonchalant even if there’s a passion in her voice. “Well, Cordelia is. She makes all this real fancy stuff. With ingredients I bet you ain’t ever heard of!”  

Misty’s heartfelt compliment has her smiling wider than she ever thought possible, especially when aimed towards her family. Hearing herself spoken of in such high regard by anyone, particularly Misty, is enough to have happiness wrapping her in a comfortable embrace.  

Her leg brushes against Misty’s, a quiet signal of something she isn’t quite sure of. The Cajun must feel it, for her eyes grow that little bit bigger, all soft and sparkling in that way she adores. She never thought this would be a moment in her life, watching Misty and her sister’s husband arguing who is a better cook. But here they are.  

When that grows tiresome, Misty stares at her empty bowl. “Can I have seconds?” she asks shamelessly, staring to her father this time for permission. Cordelia catches the way Tommy chuckles and rolls his eyes.  

“Hold on there a second, Peanut. You ain’t asked if Cordelia wants any more yet.”  

Misty twists in her seat, staring at Cordelia who is still on the last few mouthfuls of her own portion.  

“Oh, this is enough, thank you.” She smiles. Even if she had wanted more, which she doesn’t due to almost being full, she'd never deprive Misty of a second helping.  

The Cajun grins and jumps to her feet so she can fill her bowl with more food. In her haste, some of it drips onto the table between the two of them. Before she can even register what’s happening, Gumbo rises from his seat on the porch and seizes the opportunity with his front feet perched easily on the table.  

She initially jumps, having not expected the large dog to push between them, but finds herself laughing as he desperately tries to lick the spillage.  

Unfortunately, it seems to be only her and Misty amused by the act. “Gumbo.” His ears fly back at the harsh talk, flinching so quickly that he clumsily drops from the table.  

“It's fine, Daddy.” Misty starts softly, almost an apology.  

“I thought I told you to keep that mutt away from the table.” He says in accusing, ire flashing through the leathery skin on his face when the dog tries to jump up again, clearly having not learned his lesson. 

Misty catches him just in time, pushing him down with a groan. “No, boy.”  

“Get him out of here.”  

She tenses. “Daddy.” 

With a wave of his hand, he dismisses any of her arguments. “I want that thing tied up. If he ain’t gonna learn any manners, then he's gonna have to stay in his kennel.” 

Cordelia watches the way that Misty's face drops, her eyes swimming with sadness. Fingers curl softly around the dog’s scruff, stroking him to keep the animal from jumping up a third time.  

“But he hates his - " 

There is annoyance in her voice, no more than she'd give Fiona, and it clearly gets picked up by everyone else at the table. 

Christopher’s eyes darken. “Are you arguin' with me?”  

She doesn’t like the way an uncomfortable air suffocates them now, the others watching this time with no hint of amusement. Instead, they are rapt with attention, like someone waiting for a bomb to explode.  

Tilting her eyes up on Misty, she half expects a retort. She’s so used to her arguing with Madison these days, that she knows Misty can be a volatile person under the right conditions.  

But the girl is only staring at her father, seemingly smaller than she’s ever seen her before. She ducks her head, then says in a meagre voice. “No.” 

“Good.” He bites, then tilts his head to the dog. “Now, go tie him up." 

There may be reluctance in her movements, but Misty does as she’s told. With a gentle command, she ushers the large dog away from them and down the side of the house where Cordelia's eyes can no longer follow. She suddenly finds herself unsure of where to look altogether, though settles on Nellie sat across from her; definitely the kindest face by far.  

Tension slips from around them, and the clatter of glasses and cutlery bring the table back to life. She misses Misty’s absence for every second that she's gone.  

“So, Cordelia.” Oh God. Her throat dries, and she tries to satiate it with a large gulp of her drink, locking eyes with the owner of the voice. “How much is Misty paying you to pretend to be her friend?” 

She blinks profusely at the question, not able to hide a shred of offence from Sylvia. 

“She's not paying me anything.”  

Sylvia opens her mouth to speak again, clearly enjoying herself, until eyes flicker just behind Cordelia to where her father is sat, and she clamps them closed again.  

“Ignore her.” Nellie offers quickly, glaring over at her sister. “God knows we all do.”  

She gives a timid smile in return.  

And she's ever so grateful when it's Nellie that keeps on speaking. “So, how do you like it here?” 

“It's nice.” Cordelia says in earnest, “it's definitely quieter than where I live.” 

“Misty said you live in the City.” 

A nod follows, then a smile. “Yeah. I live over on Prytania Street.” 

She senses the way most of them still, their interest piqued. For a moment, she wonders just how much Misty has shared with them about her. Tommy speaks around a mouthful of food, but not in the endearing way that Misty doesn't. “Ain’t that where all those fancy house are?” 

The subject brings an air of awkwardness about her. “Um, I guess so.” 

“You got rich parents?”  

“Tommy!” Christopher cuts in. 

He holds up his hands in mock surrender. “I’m only askin’. She gotta have rich parents if she lives there. Have ya seen those houses?” 

“Feel free to ignore Tommy, too.” Nellie is giving a liberal roll of her eyes. “Honestly, it's like he don’t know how to act around normal people.”  

“I was simply askin’ a question.” His blue eyes set on Cordelia. “You ain’t offended, are ya?”  

Pursing her lips together slowly, she tries to decide the most diplomatic answer to give. To her relief, it isn’t needed, as Misty rocks back up sans the dog. Even so, she has a slump in her shoulders.  

Ears catch the end of the conversation, because she's offering Cordelia clear apology, a daring hand making the briefest of contact with her shoulder. “Why are you offendin' Cordelia?” she demands to know, voice definitely a warning.  

“You never told us she's rich.”  

Misty scoffs, a disbelieving smile on her lips. “That's ‘cause it ain't any of your business.” 

But he continues, not deterred by the two pointed looks he's receiving from his sisters. “No wonder you go over to that house all the time. Probably got butlers and shit waitin’ on you hand and foot.”  

Her mouth tugs into a scowl. “That ain’t true.”  

“Isn’t it?”  

The vexation on her face grows under his taunting, her fingers clenching together where they sit next to her uneaten second helping of food. She looks straight past Cordelia to her brother, eyebrows knotting into one tense line. “No. I’m not just friends with her ‘cause she has money.” Her words are thickly spoken, with an intensity that she always adopts in times like this.  

Beside her, Cordelia shifts in her seat. Misty catches it, briefly sending a look her way that she struggles to decipher, even as Tommy grows relentless and makes to respond.  

She wonders if it’s always like this, if the squabbles and comments are constantly falling from their lips. Jibing just to get some sort of reaction. They know Misty, just like she does, and they seem to have just the right talents to get under her skin. As if it isn’t already hot enough, she can sense the anger burning from Misty’s direction.  

The girl has gone quieter now, more thoughtful, even if she seems grateful that the conversation has transgressed to her brother’s day at work rather than questioning her friendship with Cordelia.  

Without thinking, she is reaching out toward Misty under the table. Her touch is a graze at first, tentative, until she sees the way Misty appears to light from within. She increases the pressure then, as if on instinct. Misty’s forearm is warm to touch, moving ever so slightly toward her. When their eyes meet, she offers the sweetest smile she can.  

It seems to speak to Misty, who stares back at it with thought etched into her face until her own smile follows. She doesn’t tug away from her now, maybe because their connection is hidden under the table, or that the others are distracted with other conversation. Cordelia can’t shake the feeling that it means more than what she sees at first glance.  

Misty’s hand twitches, the tip of her tongue pokes from between her pink lips. She lifts her gaze, letting it skitter about like a nervous lamb, but there is nothing nervous about the way her fingers suddenly wrap around Cordelia’s. They intertwine quickly, like it was meant to always be that way, and Cordelia can’t help the delightful grin that reaches all the way to her eyes.  

She looks to her, eyes curious, and fluttering against the low streaming sunlight.  

Her friend is wearing that smile again, the one that fights for a place on her lips. And it basks under Cordelia’s scrutiny. All she can question is why, what does it mean. That feeling persists, a feeling that she’s missing something.  

A sigh crawls through the tiny gap of her lips, a sigh that carries all of her convoluted thoughts away with it. For now, she just enjoys the feel of Misty’s hand in hers.  

It remains for the next few minutes, a sense of calm around the otherwise exuberant energy that the dinner carries. Every lull and drop in conversation is filled with the start of another, with teasing and inside jokes, but Misty is silent for the remainder of it. Cordelia recognizes the process all too quickly, how she loses the Cajun to her own thoughts.  

She squeezes Misty’s hand then, giving a tiny tilt of her head. A question maybe. Misty answers with a half shrug that doesn’t really say much else.  

When Cordelia lets her eyes navigate around the table again, they slow on Nellie. Not because she’s talking, or moving in a particular way to garner interest, but because she’s intently watching the two of them with growing interest in her dark pupils. She freezes, trying not to give any outside signs of a reaction, or the fear that sits heavily in the pit of her stomach.  

Nellie’s eyes persist, and so does that stifling panic that dries the entire length of her throat.  Fuck . Maybe Misty can’t see her unmistakable feelings, but what if her sister can? Air struggles to fill her lungs as anxiety holds them hostage with its weight. She busies herself with sipping at her drink, fingers slipping from Misty’s.  

How could she be so stupid, to do something so obvious like that in front of her family of all people? She wants to lower her head into her hands to hide the shame. Only, that would serve to further perpetuate the display.  

Beside her, Misty doesn’t seem upset. Not at her, anyway. She begins to finish off the last of her food, much slower than her first bowl, while every so often letting her gaze lift to Cordelia. It burns just as much as Nellie’s, and she can’t bring herself to look back at her.  

...

“You’re actin’ weird.” Misty points out as they walk further away from the house, where laughter grows quiet, replaced by the evening serenade of nature. In the distance, she hears the slow calls of cattle.  

Cordelia sighs. “No, I’m not.”  

Face pinching together, her friend slows her walking. In turn, this forces Cordelia to copy her actions and their paces quickly match. “You are a terrible lair, Cordelia.” Her words are straightforward, accompanied with that unwavering stare.  

She finds her head bowing slightly to look at her feet. An easier thing to pay attention to.  

Misty continues to watch her, to wait even in the absence of a response. And, just as Cordelia is inundated with thoughts, so does the Cajun seem to be. Her own stern inner dialogue reminds her of the promise she’d made to be honest with Misty, the one she’s been breaking ever since she made it.  

Realizing she’s not going to get anything from her friend, Misty’s heaves in a breath and continues in their intended direction. She has way too much energy for someone who has just eaten three helpings of food, leaving Cordelia in her wake. The older blonde rushes to catch up with her, the uneven ground catching at her feet.  

Not too long after, a barn comes into view and stands proud amongst the tree line. Cordelia scrunches up her nose at the smell that grows stronger with their paces, until it’s the only thing that infiltrates her nostrils. Turning to her, Misty raises a brow and half smirks.  

“What?” she laughs.  

“You’re lookin’ a little lost, City girl.”  

The chuckles ease the weird aura around them, just slightly, and she responds with a gentle shove on Misty’s bicep. “I am quite happy where I am, actually.” Her retort is tight with her own humor in it.  

Misty grins, easily moving to unlatch the large wooden door that separates them from the animals. She half hangs against it once it’s opened, watching Cordelia with that seemingly always present contemplation. “You gonna tell me what’s wrong?”  

Oh, so clearly she’s not going to let it go.  

Hesitation takes over her, no stranger at this point. It gives Misty pause. “Nothing is wrong.”  

“Then why are you bein’ so quiet?”  

“I'm thinking.”  

Her head tilts, hair catching against the imperfections in the barn door. It sits frizzy in the humid air, never having looked more like a mane than it does now. ”’Bout what?” Her eyes flicker unsurely, just for a second, “are you regrettin’ coming here?”  

Such an abrupt question has her head spinning, a tingle shooting down her spine in worry. “No.” she doesn’t miss a beat. “Of course not.” She moves so she’s leaning against the unopened side, the metal hinge digging into the muscles of her back. “Your family have been lovely to me.” Mostly

Misty’s expression falters. “They’re a lot, I know.” 

“They’re nice.”  

Misty makes a noise, that doesn’t quite sound like an agreement, but she doesn’t push it. Their familial relationship seems all too complicated for her to understand, especially when the only family she has is her mother and a grandmother that she sees once a year. “You don’t have to lie to me.” Her friend offers a wry smile, the corners of her eyes crinkling prettily. 

“I’m not.” She gives a shake of her head, then offers another exhale. One that makes her chest all kinds of tight. “I just- I was thinking about you, okay?” 

Playfulness appears on her features, if only to offer a carefree guise where is panic flooding her features. “And what exactly about me are ya thinkin’?” 

Cordelia only stares at her.  

She grows impatient all too quickly, give a low hum of Cordelia name that jerks her back to reality. “You're different here.” She eventually says, adding with a constricting throat. “Around your family.” 

Oh.” 

Shifting, she switches weight from one foot to another. “You think so?”  

“It’s not a bad thing.” Cordelia says, with a shrug. “I guess everyone is a little different when they’re at home.” She watches as Misty gives a slow nod, but it unsettles her, and she isn’t quite sure why.  

Her mind is still working, the cogs moving in a steady rhythm as they ponder a whole host of ideas. The same notions that she begins to openly share with Misty. “Then I got thinking that you're different at school, too.” 

Now, Misty lets confusion cloud over her expression. Her hand rises up beside her, gently following the grain of the wood as though to keep part of her brain distracted from the vulnerability of the conversation. 

Cordelia aims to correct the uncertainty quickly. “And then there's you when it’s just the two of us. . . it's kind of like there are so many of versions of you.” She explains quietly, gut clenching at how Misty’s eyes stare back with the evening sky caught in them. “I guess I’m just wondering which version is the real one.” 

“What? Like I’m lyin’ to everyone?” She infers, an annoyed twitch of her eyebrows. 

“No,” Cordelia frowns, shaking her head. “I just mean. . . I don’t know.” 

There's a defensive flare of Misty's nostrils, but she doesn’t push the subject. She seems to sense Cordelia’s recoil backwards, the regret that tinges the air. She bows her head for a second, a hand pushing away loose hairs from her face. When she lifts it, she gives a gentle nod in the direction of the barn’s inside. “C'mon, lemme show you Axel before they all go to sleep.” 

Maybe the deflection should irritate her, but she honestly finds a sign of relief following the sever in such a serious conversation. Where it had come from, she isn't quite sure. Just as she's accused Misty of having so many alternates, turns out the Cajun brings out a rather musing side in her.  

She smiles eventually, and takes Misty's outstretched hand to follow. Inside the dark barn, the heat ebbs slightly. Even if sunlight pokes between the wooden slats.  

Cordelia isn’t exactly well versed in animals, but she at least recognizes the ones inside. From the clucking chickens that are nestling into straw nests higher up, to the pigs sprawled out just to her right. But Misty pushes forward to the back, where she can just about focus on large shapes with her adjusting eyes.  

Inside, the smell is by far worse, and she holds a hand up to her nose without thinking. Upon seeing it, Misty only grins and rolls her eyes.  

After tiptoeing around the straw and things that she'd rather not question, she finds Misty in the furthest pen, scratching under the neck of the calf that certainly isn’t as small as she remembers in the photos. “Hey boy.” She says lovingly. “I got someone for ya to meet.” 

This is where to turns to Cordelia, frowning at seeing her stood at such a distance from the stinky animal. “Get in here.” She chuckles, biting at her lower lip. 

“I’m okay.” 

“Delia.” She says her name with the same fondness she'd just spoken to the young bull with. “You gotta say hi properly. Now come on!” 

“What if he hurts me?” 

“Fortunately for you, he's already had a full City girl for breakfast, so he ain’t hungry.” 

She takes a step forward, her expression an attempt at reprimanding, but failing miserably. “That's not funny.” 

Misty shrugs, still grinning serenely.  

That beckons her closer and she dares one more move, though the heel of her shoes catches in a crack on the floor. It sends her stumbling forward and almost into the calf itself. Only for Misty to save her at the last minute, most definitely laughing at her now. Cheeks grow pink, lips pressing together when her hands steady themselves on Misty's strong shoulders. “You okay?” the Cajun chuckles. 

“Just fine.” It may be intended as a grumble, though the light nature of her friend spreads all too easily, and she's smiling, too.  

She's now practically face to face with Axel, whose nose twitches and shifts in wake of the new person. Cordelia tries to step back when he sniffs curiously at her blouse, lips reaching to wrap around the material, only Misty’s arm is still holding her by the small of her back and there's no retreating.  

She does, however, gentle encourage Axel away from Cordelia for a moment. “Hey, that's no way to greet a lady.” 

If anything, Misty calling her a lady ignites the familiar heat, the yearning for closeness and touch and love in a way she fears may never happen.  

The Cajun looks to her, encouragingly, so confident in that moment. Cordelia likes her like this. “Are ya gonna stroke him or what?” 

She blinks. “Um. . .” 

“Here.” Misty offers her no options, yanking her hand up and placing it just under the neck of the animal in front of her. His fur, like dark chocolate, is warm under her fingertips, coarse in some parts and soft in others.  

Cordelia feels a faint smile growing on her lips, especially when she notices Misty is still holding onto her hand with a solid pressure. This encourages her further, where she eventually grows some confidence and scratches nails through that thick fur. Axel leans into it, trying to get her hand higher and higher until it sits at the back of his ear.  

When it does, he practically shudders in delight, eyes closing contently. It's actually kind of cute, she thinks.  

“Look how happy he is.” Misty announces after a long beat, where she's been so close to Cordelia that the girl had forgotten how to breathe.  

“Yeah. . .” 

Misty's fingers drift from over hers, knuckles massaging Axel's chin. “This is his favorite spot.” She announces, everything about her tender and adoring. Cordelia thinks the girl is one step away from embracing the animal and never letting go.  

“I didn’t realize they like head scratches so much.” She chuckles.  

“Oh yeah. When he's out in the field, he'll sit with ya for ages.” Misty says. “It's nice.” As always, her happiness only seems to be temporary. “I’m gonna miss him when he goes.” 

Cordelia throws a glance over her shoulder, hand stilling. The calf impatiently nudges her more in protest. “Goes?” she asks.  

“Well, yeah.” Misty says like it’s the most obvious thing in the world. 

She tilts her head. “What do you mean?” 

Misty's azure eyes cloud over, hazy with tears. She observes Cordelia with a frown, then sighs. “Well, he's a boy, ain’t he?” 

“So?” She blinks. 

Her pointed stare sharpens. “So.” Anger and frustration seep into her words. “When he gets big enough, he'll go to auction and probably. . . ya know.” 

Realization fizzles over her, clenching at her heart. Suddenly the unshed tears in Misty’s eyes make sense. “Shit.” She frowns, supposing she'd never given thought to the idea that some of things she eats used to be a living and breathing animal. 

With her fingers brushing over soft fur, guilt coats her insides.  

“Yeah.” Misty agrees. And now she does leans closer to Axel, her head falling just against his shoulders. “Sometimes I wish I could leave the door open and set him free. But he's so little. He wouldn’t survive out there on his own.” 

Cordelia observes the pair, the ghost of a smile on her lips. “He isn't little, Misty.” 

“You know what I mean.” She mumbles.  

“Right.” A nod comes, then a clench in her chest as she once again experiences Misty's intense love for all the innocent creatures that she encounters. If only she could love herself as she does these animals.  

Reaching out in a delicate touch, she makes contact with Misty's shoulder. The Cajun relaxes. “He ain’t ever done anything bad to anyone.” She says. “How is that fair?” 

“Sometimes bad things happen to good people." She finds it a bit weird, speaking of Axel like he's a person. Not an animal. But maybe she isn’t talking about the bull at all, maybe she's hinting at something else entirely.  

Misty eventually loosens her grip on him, one final ruffle through his fur, and steps back. By now, Cordelia is backing away, making eye contact with the other cattle and animals that call this place home. The smell hasn’t grown weaker, and the heat only serves to make a sticky layer of sweat stick above her forehead.  

So much so, that when a chicken flaps its wings above them, and feathers float down alongside dust, a scattering of them refuse to leave the skin.  

Misty giggles, stepping forward to brush them away. “Now you’re gonna stink of chicken.”  

“Oh thanks.” 

“There are worse things to smell like.” 

She folds her arms together. “Like what?”  

“Chicken shit.”  

Misty laughs mischievously, hands lowering to her sides when she's finished. She regards Cordelia now, all tears a thing of the past. Her gaze is soft and gentle, like a serene lake that you want to dive right into on a hot summer's day. 

That urge to kiss her comes again, strong in its passing. It is becoming harder and harder to ignore.  

Misty’s fingers graze hers. “C'mon, we should probably get back. Don’t want all the animals pissed at me for keepin’ them up late.”  

She chuckles. “No, we can’t have that.” Still, the idea of being near Misty’s family again has her nerves resurfacing. Especially Nellie. Certainly after the way she'd been watching them.  

Misty locks up the barn with ease, saying goodnight to the animals in a way that Cordelia watches in both amusement and pure adoration. The last few offerings of sunshine are creeping behind the treeline, leaving only shades of dark blue in their path. There are the makings of stars, she thinks, but when she turns to Misty on the walk back, the Cajun is staring to her with a scrunched up face. 

“What?” She probes.  

Misty visibly gulps, though eases into a smile that screams of vulnerability. “You were right, you know.” 

“I’m always right.” She jokes. 

There’s a jab in her side, just at the ticklish spot that makes her give a strangled squeal. “I’m bein’ serious, Delia.” 

Urgency suddenly seeps into her expression in a way it never has before. It makes her slow, attention lost on everywhere but at her friend. “Go on.” She's smirking, more to cover the fact that she has kind of forgotten how to breathe in the wake of such severity is Misty's eyes.  

“About there bein’ different versions of me.” She says, all hushed.  

Cordelia leans in closer, both relieved and terrified to be back on this subject.  

She finds words suddenly difficult to source. Not Misty. Reluctance no longer holds hers in the back of her throat and they sound over the chirping cicadas. “You’re always right.” She sighs out, “sometimes I feel like I am lyin’ to people.  Like I’m not the real me.” 

“The real you?”  

And just who is the real Misty, she wonders. When all the secrets and lies are out, what exactly will her friend look like to her. All she knows is that she'll love her regardless. 

Misty stares to the ground, idly kicking at a pebble that is half stuck in the dry dirt. “Yeah.” 

“What's so scary about the real you that you can’t show anyone?” She asks, kindness wrapping every syllable in her word. Cordelia also goes for the tactile approach, not knowing if it’s Misty or herself who needs it, and curls fingers around Misty’s wrist gently.  

Misty continues to stare down. “Nothin' scary.” She insists. “Like, I aint killed anyone if that’s what you’re asking.” 

A light snort forces its way out of her mouth, and she warms at the tiny smile that it pulls from Misty. “Think I'd still be your friend ever then.” She insists.  

“Good to know.”  

After another few beats of quiet, of their own footsteps rustling the grass, she dares to ask another question. “So, which one is the real you? With your family, or at school? With our friends?” Inquisitiveness keeps her eyes light, forcing Misty to stare at them now.  

She peers down at their touching hands, and breathes out in a heavenly manner. “This is.” 

“Hmm?”  

This.” Misty confirms. “You and me. When it's just us, I feel like. . . like. . .” 

In a weak whisper, she pushes. “Like?” Her heart is sat in her mouth, ready to spill all her feelings over to Misty.  

“Like maybe everythin' ain’t so bad. You don’t look at me like you expect me to be somethin' else. You look at me like I’m. . .  me .” 

She may be talking about Cordelia’s gaze, but she finds herself considering the opposite. The way Misty is looking at her is so interwoven with emotion and care that it startles her for a second. She thinks to before, how she'd almost kissed her, how Misty had made no movement to halt it. Had she even realized Cordelia’s motives? Surely, there was no mistaking it.  

And then this now, such a confession, under the crisp night sky. She wonders if Misty is trying to tell her something, maybe something she's even too scared to admit to herself. But is that just the hopeful thinking of a lovesick idiot? 

To convince herself that Misty is gay and potentially harboring feelings for her gives hope. And hope is a very powerful thing. Something that she finds herself clinging on to.  

She locks eyes with Misty. “You only ever have to be yourself with me.”   

That gaze that stares back have tears returning with vengeance. 

Now, she pulls her in for a hug. One that Misty easily reciprocates, with a tight hold and a head on Cordelia’s shoulder. If her lips accidently graze Misty’s hairline, neither of them say anything about it.  

Although the circumstance isn’t desirable, Misty’s touch, as always, affects her in way she never thought possible. Her closeness is intoxicating, her tiny breaths hitting the sensitive spot of Cordelia's ear. She shivers when fingers graze just under her ribcage, frowning when Misty pulls back. “Are you cold?” 

She shakes her head. Just deeply in love.   

Misty returns to where she'd been, in the crook of Cordelia's neck, and they walk back like that, even if it’s rather awkward with her height.  

The second she spies the light of Misty’s home, all touch is gone. She sighs, and this time Misty catches it. She borders on apologetic, but doesn’t say anything.  

Gumbo greets them excited from the small kennel he's tied to, now with the company of the other dogs. This time, Cordelia offers a gentle pat after Misty's far more excitable greeting.  

They pass Nellie and her husband on the way in, the small family still sat on the porch, whispering to one another with their baby asleep over her shoulder. Nellie’s eyes volley between them, in that way that makes Cordelia nauseous again. 

“Have fun?” She has her legs stretched out on the railing, leaning back against her husband. 

Misty nods. “Yeah.” 

She raises a brow. “You remember to lock the barn door?” 

“’Course. I’m not an idiot.” 

The two make their way toward the back door. “I wouldn’t go in there if I were you.” Nellie laughs, “they were all hollerin’ at the TV loud enough for China to hear.” 

“Guess we'll take our chances.” She doesn’t take Cordelia’s hand, but she does gesture for her to follow with one hand holding the door open. Inside, the artificial light stings at her eyes and she spies the pile of dishes waiting to be cleaned on the side.  

Misty walks straight past them, opening the fridge and staring at the few things inside. “You hungry?” 

“No.” She laughs. “How can you be when you ate so much at dinner?” 

A grin is flashed her way, seizing at her heart. Misty returns with a handful of grapes, then walks past Cordelia while brushing up against her. “Let's go.” 

“Where?” 

“To my room.” She draws, in a way that is clearly more enticing than intended. 

Said walk takes them back through the living room, where Tommy has resumed his spot on the couch. His face is scrunched up with intensity, fingers moving expertly over the PlayStation controller. “Ah, yes! Gotcha.” 

Whatever game he is playing sounds explosive and violent, and not dissimilar to the ones that Hank would play when she'd hang out with him. She shares Misty's disinterest, following her keenly through the room, even past family pictures that she yearns to stop and stare at.  

“Fuck, no, no, no.” His voice grows louder, even when Sylvia's own carries from an adjacent room for him to shut up. “Die, you fuckin’ faggot!”  

This slur causes her to still, but not Misty. She just keeps on walking, rushing almost, until she's at the sanctuary of her own room. He continues in his verbal assault, with gay, queer and fag all flowing easily and deprecatingly from his lips.  

Cordelia hates the way it makes the pit in her stomach feel more like an abyss. She scrambles for Misty’s room then, closing the door behind her.  

It doesn’t stop the noise.  

“Sorry ‘bout him.” Misty says, “he ain’t got a lower volume.” 

That’s the least of her worries, and unease prickles at her skin. “Does he always say stuff like that?” she questions, because how could she not? 

Misty is swept up in a morose air, before she shrugs. “I try not to listen.” She is suddenly on her knees, reaching under the bed to tug at wires. “I got my headphones, and Stevie.” Her shrug implies that's all that's needs, but Cordelia wishes she could give her so much more. 

She doesn’t say anything else. What can she say? Something that Misty doesn’t already know? Most likely not.  

With a slump in her shoulders, she makes to sit down beside Misty on the bed and tries to ignore how small the room feels. It leaves little space for her thoughts, the ones that are growing stronger day by day.  

Beneath her, the mattress is stiff, but she leans comfortably into Misty’s side and offers reprieve in the form of a tiny smile. “Thanks for inviting me, Misty.”  

She shrugs. “It's okay.” 

“Only took you a whole year.”  

Cordelia's laughter is forced, surely. She understands, she thinks, more of Misty now than ever. And for that she's grateful, even if there have been some not so enjoyable aspects to the evening.  

“Patience is a virtue.” Misty chimes in with a quiet voice, though when she turns to Cordelia there is an upwards tug of her lips. 

“Yeah. It was worth the wait.” 

“You're just sayin’ that. I know what my family are like.” 

Their hands find each other, and she's not sure who initially starts the contact. Neither does she care. “I don’t mean them.” 

That’s when Misty is looking to her in question again, trying to solve the enigma of her words. It must be all too difficult for her, seeing as she's shaking her head and chuckling. “So, you’re gonna be all cryptic, huh?” 

“Figured it was my turn." She smirks. 

This summons a similar expression from Misty, one that grows more devilish by the second. Cordelia is so enraptured by the way it morphs that she doesn’t see Misty's fingers circling around her pillow and clutching it tightly within. Until it's too late, that is.  

It swings in her direction, knocking her backwards with a whoosh of air flowing from her lungs. She sits up again, the victim of whiplash. “What was that for?” 

“Revenge.” Misty laughs airily, still holding her weapon. “For the morning after the party.” 

The memory sits vividly in her mind, but the present moment calls for her attention. Because Misty is clearly ready to strike again, eyes glistening. In a quick move, she reaches for the smaller of the pillows and holds it up to protect herself. It does the trick, allowing her a second for her own swipe at Misty, colliding with her side.  

It bolsters her smirk, where she gathers onto her knees and tugs the pillow over her head to gain more momentum in its swing.  

This time, it hits Cordelia on her forehead, creating a wind that surges through her once straight hair. She yelps and shoves her away with one hand that fails in its task.  

She’s there again, hovering over her, and relentless in her task. Cordelia uses anything at her disposal to keep the Cajun away, but she's strong and stubborn, and apparently really intent on winning this pillow fight. When she's too close to swing said pillow, a hand is finding Cordelia's side, just under her ribs. 

Deep, belly laughter is summoned from within her, so loud that Misty pulls back with a wondrous smile. “I didn’t know you were ticklish.”  

“No.” She gasps, struggling to pull herself into a sitting position and protect her sides. “Misty, don’t.” It’s a soft order, one that is all too easily ignored as Misty purposely pokes at her now, eliciting more giggles. “Stop it.” 

The sensation is both delightful and torturous, the touch enough to have a pleasant hum in the lower half of her body. She thinks of Misty touching her in other places, then scrunches her eyes shut. She can’t think about that. It’s not fair. Even if Misty’s hands are persistent, and oh so welcome on her body. 

Soon, she must take pity on her, leaving Cordelia a breathless mess on her bed. Misty is panting, too. Maybe from all her laughter. Her eyes are wide saucers, cheeks painted a pretty pink in the heat of room.  

“That wasn’t very nice.” Cordelia finally says, sitting herself straight and ignoring the tingle throughout her entire body.  

When she peers back at Misty, the girl almost appears paralysed in the spot.  

She leans her head with a light frown. “Misty?” 

“I gotta go to the bathroom.” She announces, quick and nervous. Cordelia nods her understanding, watching her stand in a hurry. Her gait may seem swayed, but she rushes toward the door. As if unable to help herself, she turns and looks at Cordelia one more time, a strained smile on her face.  

Cordelia tries not to think about Misty’s flush face or her soft, parted lips, or the fact that suddenly she thinks Zoe and Madison may be right about her. 

She sighs, hoping to placate her desire to over think by checking through her phone. Only, it’s not in her pocket. Panic shoots through to her core, hands patting against all and any pockets, then searching through her bag. 

In one last ditch attempt, she flattens them over the rumpled bed sheets where she finds nothing. Then, over the sound of her frazzled thoughts, she hears it vibrating. The noises come from beneath the bed, against the carpeted floor, and she assumes that the phone must have slipped out of her pocket moments ago. 

She lowers herself to the floor, on hands and knees, setting her sights to the mess of items underneath the bed. It reminds her a little Misty’s locker, with things carelessly thrown in. Only now, her phone is amongst those.  

Her arm reaches as far as it will go, finding first unpaired shoes, then a charger, and finally a phone. She smiles to herself, beginning to tug it back. In her haste, she brings with it an armful of items that scatter about the floor messily.  

“Damn.” She pockets her phone and then makes to push them back under the bed, not wanting to give Misty the impression that she's snooping when she does return.  

But then her eyes are stopped by something, and suddenly she is snooping. She shoves away the single sheets of paper, covered in drawings, that sit atop of a magazine.  

Cordelia scoops it between her fingers with no hesitation, casting one anxious glance over her shoulder to make sure that she's alone. The name isn’t recognizable, but from the image on the front, it’s pretty clear what the magazine entails inside.  

Even so, she quickly flips through the pages, face growing paler by the second. “Shit.” She hears herself saying aloud, then repeated in a hushed tone. 

Eyes widen, her tongue hits heavily at the roof of her mouth as she tries to keep her focus. But it wants to reel, to lose control for just a few moments. 

How else is it going to cope with the fact that Misty has a dirty magazine full of naked women? 

“Fuck.” She says again, just for good measure, as all of her doubts about Misty's sexuality go flying out of the tiny window.