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a single thread of gold tied me to you

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Green

 

Shelby Goodkind loved the thought of being swept off her feet in some amazing romantic gesture.

Maybe it was because she was raised off way too many Disney movies and read too many fairytales.

She was a pre-teen when she got the idea that maybe she’d meet her ‘person’ at the park. To be fair, she now graduated from Disney movies to Hallmark movies and she had watched one too many to fuel this idea that if she just sat and waited, that her soulmate would show himself.

So, she sits in the green grass away from her parent’s picnic blanket by the lake and pretends to read Little Women, but instead she watches people walk along the cement path. She tries to look at the boys, she tries to be interested in the boys, but she couldn’t. She didn’t like the way boys looked,

She was only twelve after all, so maybe she wasn’t ready.

Shelby often asked her mom how she would feel when she would meet someone that she liked, liked. Her mama, with her kind voice and comforting smile would tuck a strand of hair behind her ear and told her that it would take her breath away- that the world would just slow down, and it would be her, and her person.

And she waits for that because she just wants a sign.

Shelby had no idea that her sign would come in the form of a rouge soccer ball that misses her face by a mere inch. An echoed “Oh shit,” and then “Sorry” is thrown in the air before a girl her age in a tie-dyed shirt and jean shorts that looked as if she cut them from pants herself comes running her way. Her dark hair is pulled back into a low ponytail and the sun catches her warm brown eyes as she moves closer and then squats down on the green grass near Shelby’s blanket. Shelby takes notice how grass stained her white converse are and the bandage on her knee. “Are you okay?” The girl asks, those pretty eyes full of worry. “The ball didn’t clock you, did it?”

Wait- pretty?

Shelby stutters for a moment, her face heating up while a chill runs down her back from the other’s girl’s deeper voice. What the hell was happening to her?

The other girl was just so- beautiful and Shelby’s heart raced as her brain short circuited. The other’s girl’s face seemed to contort into annoyance, but it didn’t make her any less beautiful with her flawless skin and high cheek bones. “Hello,” The girl waves a hand in front of her face, it’s a bit rude and it makes Shelby break from her trance.

“What?” Shelby blinks, breathing in the warm summer air as the girl sighs.

“I asked if you were okay?” The girl says again, slowly this time.

“Yeah, I’m great- the ball missed me.” Shelby explains, hoping she can explain her flushed face. “So-” She finishes, laughing a bit awkwardly.

The girl gives her a once over and leans back on the balls of her feet. Shelby swallows hard under her gaze, feeling a bit scrutinized until her brown eyes flick over to the book beside her. “Little Women?”  She nods towards the book. “You’re reading that by choice?” Her tone is a bit teasing. “Really?”

Shelby pushes herself to speak, even though that speaking was becoming hard around this other girl. “I- yeah, it’s a good book.” She defends lightly. “And it’s my summer reading, but I’d read it by choice.”

The girl shrugs lamely. “Seems kinda boring to me, to each their own, I guess. I prefer fantasy books, like Harry Potter. I was a little annoyed when I was sorted into Slytherin, but then I realized that I was a definitely a Slytherin so, I mean—”

“I’ve never read them.” She interrupts her, making those milk chocolate eyes widen. “I want to, I’m just not allowed.”

She scoffs, a smile on her face. “Really? That sucks, you’re missing out.” The other girl rubs her lips together, crinkling her nose and then asks. “Why aren’t you allowed?”

What Shelby really wants to know is why she thinks this girl’s freckles are so cute.

“Cause of the witchcraft, my daddy says it’s evil.” Shelby explains and then the other girl lets out a loud, boisterous laugh. “I know, it’s a bit silly.”

“It’s fucking stupid, there is nothing evil about a kid’s book.” The girl decides and then shifts her eyes. “Wait just one second?”

Shelby nods and the girl springs to her feet, running across the grass and the cement path to a blanket full of people. She watches her gangly frame, giggling to herself when she compares the other girl to a baby bird. Finally, the girl takes something out of a backpack and jogs back over to her. “Here,” She offers breathlessly, shoving a well-loved book into her hands. “It’s the first book, I have two copies so it’s not a big deal.”

Shelby looks at the cover, the golden title is a bit raised and a boy with a red and gold striped sweater on a broom stick. “Are you sure?” She timidly asks and the girl nods.

“Yeah, like I said, it’s not a big deal- just don’t let your dad catch you with it.” She winks at her, a mischievous grin on her face. She looks over her shoulder, noticing that the people she came with started packing up. “I gotta go,” She sighs, standing up again to move behind Shelby in order to grab her ball. “Sorry again, about this. I don’t think soccer is my thing.” She offers lamely as she tucks the black and white ball under her arm. “Have fun with the book and remember, don’t get caught.”

Shelby feels a bit disappointed when the other girl runs off, she didn’t even get her name. She sighs as she tucks her new book into her tote bag before gathering her stuff up to head back to her own family.

It’s only later that night when she’s unpacking in her room when she takes out the worn Harry Potter book when she learns the other girls name.

Scribbled inside the title page of the book, under the authors name is a name scrawled out in chicken scratch.

‘This book belongs to Toni Shalifoe.’

And Shelby tries to ignore the way her heart skips a beat when she says the name out loud.

 

Teal

 

It was her dad’s idea to head up north for their yearly family vacation. He claims that fresh lake air would do them some good, so they rent a lake house in Minnesota of all places. Shelby has never been this far north before and the weather takes some getting used to, but her daddy was right, it was much needed. Especially after the incident with Becca Gilroy.

She doesn’t talk about it, her daddy doesn’t talk about it and she swears to him that she’s not like that. All the while she is dying inside when she watches her best friend and their family shamed as they pack up and move out of state. Shelby blamed everything on Becca and Becca had been tormented at school and at home because of it.

Becca wasn’t the one with unnatural desires, it was Shelby- all Shelby.

She does nothing to stop the bullying that Becca receives, turns her nose up when she notices her locker had been vandalized, dyke painted across it with red letters. Shelby knew if she came forward, that if she said she was the one that kissed her, she’d be the one at the receiving line.

And she’d be the one at Guiding Light right now, not Becca.

The lies she told, the guilt she felt was slowly killing her and she tries to hard to mask her true feelings. She doesn’t go to the lake front in fear of seeing girls, she doesn’t go to shops for the same reason. She doesn’t want her gaze to linger, she doesn’t want her father becoming suspicious.

So, she coops herself up in the lake house, until Melody begs and pleads her to come out with her to get some yogurt. After five minutes of puppy dog eyes and boo-boo lips, Shelby gives in, putting down her book and grabbing her wallet.

 

Melody is so excited as she grips her hand, skipping beside her and telling her about her day and how much she had ATVing with their dad. Shelby does her best to keep her attention on Melody’s sun-freckled face and gaped tooth smile. She’d be getting a flipper soon after it was discovered that she shares Shelby’s deformity, as Dave Goodkind so lovingly called it.

Once they reach the small frozen yogurt shop, they get in line and they both look at the menu beside the window, trying to decide on the flavor they’d be getting. Melody decides on Blueberry and Shelby is still mulling it over as they reach the window.

The teenager standing on the other side looks tired as she looks down at her notepad and an inkling or recognition hits Shelby when she hears her speak. “Welcome to Lottie’s, how can I help you?” She sounds bored, maybe a little agitated and Shelby finds herself once again short circuits when the girl looks up at her, those same warm brown eyes are narrowed in annoyance and her long waves are pulled up in a messy bun atop of her head, a few stubborn flyaways frame her sweat covered face. It couldn’t be the same girl from the park, what were the odds after all?

However, her voice, her eyes, that tiny beauty mark above her now full lips makes Shelby think otherwise. She’s in this teal shirt this time with the logo of the store printed on the front of it- and her name tag, sure enough says Toni. “Yo,” The girl almost barks. “You gonna order or what?”

Shelby’s throat is dry and she makes this strange squeaking sound that earns a look from the yogurt shop girl and her sister. “She’s still undecided.” Melody carefully says, taking her eyes off her sister as she stands on her tippy toes, her chin barely reaching the top of the counter. “I know what I want though!”

Of course, Melody’s order is over the top and full of candy topping instead of the fruits like they promised their dad before they left. It earns a smirk from Toni and she writes it down as Melody lists everything off her fingers.

Shelby doesn’t even realize she’s quote on quote checking her out, but she is. She’s taken by the curl of her eyelashes, that same chicken scratch handwriting that was on the first page of the Harry Potter book she had tucked away in her bookcase and the low, raspy chuckle that she lets out when Melody finishes up her order. “You sure you want her to eat that?” She looks up from her notepad, crossing her arms as she leans on the other side of the counter. “She’ll be wired.”

It takes a moment to find her voice, just as it did back at the park, why in gods name did she have this sort of effect on her. “I-, gosh, I’m sorry. I wasn’t paying attention to what she ordered?” Shelby gives her an apologetic smile.

Toni shrugs as she takes a deep breath before she reads it off. “She wants one medium sized blueberry frozen yogurt in a cup with blue sour patch kids, blue sour punch straws, blue gummy bears, blue gummy sharks, blue raspberry gummy rings and blue airhead bites.” She lists off before she looks back up at her. “I mean, I am totally cool with the blue obsession.”

“It’s an aesthetic,” Melody corrects which causes the girl to laugh.

That stupid laugh makes Shelby’s heart flutter. “Whatever you say, kid.” Her brown hues flick back to Shelby and god, could she get lost in them. “You cool with it?”

Shelby knows she should say no, their dad would somehow find out and be pissed. “Mel, Daddy would be really upset with the both of us if he finds out. You know how he feels about sweets.”

Melody deflates. “Yeah, I know.” Her face falls. “I just thought, if I came with you that you’d…” She sighs sadly. “Just blueberries on top then.”

Toni looks between them and then leans in closer. “So, your dad has a vendetta against sweets? Doesn’t sound like a pleasant guy. You’re on vacation, eat whatever the fu-,” She stops herself. “Hell you want.”

That wasn’t any better, but it causes Melody to let out a small laugh and Shelby rubs her lips together as she thinks. “You know what, she’ll take the candy filled order.” She decides and Melody visibly brightens.

“Really?” She exclaims. “But what if he finds out?”

Shelby shrugs. “Just cool it on the sugar rush and we’ll be fine. She’s right.” She nods towards Toni. “We’re on vacation.”

Once again, Toni eyes her up and down, a proud smirk on her face. “Rebellious, I like it.” She once again manages to make Shelby flush and fill herself with those unnatural desires. Shelby secretly wondered what was so unnatural about them. Maybe she just wasn’t programed to like boys, maybe god made her different for a reason. If they were so unnatural, why did the make her feel so damn good? “What about you, what’ll you have?”

Shelby scrunched up her nose as she looks up at the menu again. “I really don’t know,” She confesses. “There are so many options.”

Toni nods understandably and then comes up with idea. “Do you trust me, Texas?”

Shelby had seen Aladdin, she knew where this was going. “What?”

“I said, do you trust me?” She asks, that same mischievous smile playing on her face.

“Yeah, sure- I mean, what’s the worst you could do.” Shelby can’t take the fact that she actually flirted back with this girl, right in front of his little sister.

Toni leans back, rubs her lips together and nods. “Right, just go have a seat and I’ll be out with your order soon.” She nods her head and then yells. “Marty, I’m taking my break!”

Someone from the back pops her head out looks at Shelby and groans, rolling her eyes. “Of course you are.”



Melody finds a table under a small tree and takes a seat, swinging her legs over the picnic bench and folds her hands onto the table. “I like that girl.” Melody decides. “She’s funny- and pretty.”

To be fair, Melody was a smart 11-year-old. She knew, Shelby knew that she knew, and Shelby also knew what she was suggesting with that smile of hers. “I really like her hair too, wish daddy would let ours be like that. You know our old violin teacher said that straightening your hair can really damage it.” She pauses as she looks up at the green leaves. “How come daddy always insists that you and I need to be so fake all the time.”

Shelby doesn’t really have the answers for her little sister, because she herself had been looking for that same answer. Dave Goodkind was unsolvable, he craved perfection to the point where it was obsessive. She knew nothing about her dad’s past and never met his side of the family. “Shelby, I want you to know, that no matter what, you’re always perfect to me. I don’t care like Daddy does.”

“Melody-,” She is cut off when Toni approaches them with two cups of frozen yogurt in her hand. Melody’s blue concoction is set down in front of her and Toni sits next to her, offering her a smile before she slides Shelby’s over to her.

“You have no allergies, right?” She keeps her hand on the cup.

“Just shellfish.” Melody answers for her. “But it’s okay cause she always carries her epi-pen.” Her lips and mouth are already stained blue as she goes to town on her frozen treat.

“Awesome,” Toni finally slides it over to her. “Then I present to you my favorite flavor and our most requested. “Lychee.”

“Lychee?” Shelby asks as she looks down at the yellow treat. “I never had them before

Toni nods. “Yeah, they are like- impossible to get around here so when we get a shipment it goes like,” She snaps her fingers. “That, there is no shellfish in there though. I mean, I kept the toppings tropical. Gotta keep with the,” He gaze flicks towards Melody. “Aesthetic.”

Shelby takes a scoop of it and takes a taste of it. “It’s really good, I like it.” It tasted pretty sweet, a little tart- god she hoped she could find them in Texas. Maybe the girl sitting across from her made it a little better. “You wanna try some, Mel?”

Her little sister makes a face and shakes her head. “I’m trying to be unhealthy right now, Shelby.” She teases as she chews on a gummy bear.

“So,” Toni begins. “You’re pretty far from Texas, what in gods name made your family come up here for vacation? My choice would be Disney in Florida because people in Florida are a mess and I love that.”

“We’re here because daddy wanted us to be closer to god,” Melody tells her, faking their father’s over-dramatic preacher voice. “I wanted to go to Disney, Shelby tried to suggest it but Daddy said it was too corrupted.”

“Christ, he sounds like a barrel of laughs. I mean, are you at least having fun here?” Toni asks and Shelby shrugs.

“I think Mel and our brother are having the most fun.” Shelby decides and Melody gives a shrug, suddenly invested in her desert. “I would have preferred The Wizarding World over this.”

“Yeah, no shit?” Toni laughs. “I love Harry Potter, I mean totally hate the fact that JKR is problematic. I’ve stopped getting merch from her and focus more on etsy, that woman doesn’t need anymore money.” She drones on. “What house are you in?”

Shelby is grateful for the frozen treat in her hands that are preventing her hands from getting clammy. She feels so drawn towards this girl, her laugh, her voice, her eyes and lips, they all draw her in. “Hufflepuff.” She answers. “And proud of it.”

“Slytherin,” Toni informs her again. Shelby wants to tell her that she knows, that she still has her book. That they’ve already met a few years ago back in Texas. Did she really forget her? Was this a one-sided thing like with Becca? “And I finally fully accepted it after a few years, also knowing that JKR doesn’t like our houses makes it even better.” She continues on. “But I bet your dad disagrees with Harry Potter.”

“He disagrees with anything that isn’t Veggie Tales.” Shelby informs her. “He’s kinda- oppressive.” She confesses. She only has a few more years left, a few more years until she is in L.A. and far away from him. She would love to take Melody with her, but new it was impossible.

“Yeah, he defiantly sounds like he’d be fun at a party.” Toni jokes and then shifts in her seat. “What are you doing tonight?”

Shelby nearly chokes a piece of mango. “What?”

“Nothing!” Melody pipes up. “She’s doing nothing, so whatever it is, I’m sure she’d love to go.”

Toni chuckles again and it makes Shelby’s stomach glance. “I love that your little sister is your wing-woman, give it here, kid.” She makes a fist as does Melody and Shelby tries so hard not to swoon when she makes an explosion noise. “Anyway, one of the rich girls on the lake always has this party, it’s always insanely fun, much like Fatin herself. You wanna go?”

“I,” Shelby croaks out and then looks over at Melody who mouths a ‘yes’ to her. “I have a curfew and my daddy has been on top of me lately so-” She lamely explains, glaring at Melody when she sighs. Part of her feels terrible when a look of disappointment flashes across Toni’s face. “But maybe I could sneak out?”

“Yeah!” Melody chirps. “I can totally cover for you!”

“You’re 11.” Shelby deadpans.

“But I am a fantastic liar.” Melody points out. “Most church girls are- or have to be.”

Toni’s mouth opens and then closes before her name is called out from the yogurt shop. “Okay, so it’s a date?”

Shelby’s cheeks are bright red, and she nods quickly.

“Great, I’ll meet you here at 8.” She says as she stands up, shucking her hands into the pockets of her shorts. “Don’t be late.” She adds with a wink before she walks back to the shop.

 

And Shelby’s not late because she doesn’t go.

She feels terrible about standing Toni up and Melody argues with her about it- she actually stops talking to her for the rest of the trip and Shelby shuts herself in her room because of it. She tries so hard to explain to Melody why it’s a bad idea and why she can’t do it.

She breaks down when her eleven-year-old sister cries out that she doesn’t care that she’s gay. She yells at her that she ruined something good.

She cries because that’s the first time Shelby heard it out loud and she cries because it’s the first time that it doesn’t make her cringe in disgust, because yes, Shelby Goodkind wasn’t straight.

Shelby Goodkind was a lesbian with a massive crush on the girl from the yogurt shop.

 

 

The Cab

 

The years fly by and Shelby is twenty-four, living in L.A. as an intern under a well-known child therapist. It was after her coming out to her parents when she decided to go into mental health in college. She wants to help kids like her, kids struggling with their sexuality, kids that were thrown out into the streets because of their truth. She wants to inspire them, work with them, all and all she wants to help them the way she wanted to be helped.

She had been working on the residential wing one night, talking to a girl who had hold herself up in her small room. Shelby had stationed herself outside the girl’s door, Eliza Gomez was Shelby not so long ago. She was raised in a strict catholic household when she had been caught with another girl. Her parents had tried conversion therapy, which had just done more damage than good. She was only fifteen when her parents threw her out and sixteen when a social worker dragged her here, kicking and screaming. Eliza doesn’t want to talk, she screams curse words at her and even spits on her at one point. Shelby refuses to give up. It’s why she is sitting on the cold tile floor and talking through the wooden door.

She tells Eliza everything from when she kissed her best friend to when she decided to come out to her parents. She tells Eliza how violent her father, the preacher became and how her mom sobbed. She tells Eliza how much it hurt to have to leave her siblings behind and how her own sister had to be her age by now.

There is silence on the other end until her ears pick up on shuffling in the room. There is a plop on the other side of the door and Eliza’s tear-filled voice breaks trough. “Was it worth it?” Eliza asks. “Coming out? Losing your family?”

Shelby pauses, wrapping her arms around her knees. “Back when I was seventeen and couch surfing, I would have told you no. I was just like you, Eliza. Raised by the book and controlled by a domineering father who would have done everything to make sure his daughter wouldn’t be gay, but here I am.” She laughs. “A lesbian with intimacy issues and all.”

That earns a small laugh from the other side of the door. “I know you’re gonna think I’m full of shit when I say this, but I wish I had a place like this when I was homeless. I wish I had people that wanted to help me.” She tappers off. “I know it’s hard to trust adults, I get it, but I hope that you can come to trust me. I’d really like to talk to you face to face one day.”

Two minutes of silence pass by before Eliza finally speaks up again. “What was the first thing you did when you got to L.A?” Eliza asks. “Cause it doesn’t sound like you’re from around here.”

“Honestly- I know you’re going to roll your eyes, but I got the rest of the Harry Potter books from a secondhand bookstore and went to town on them.” Shelby confesses.

“Harry Potter?” A scoff and then a laugh. “That is so lame, let me guess- you already are sorted into a house and it’s in your Instagram bio.”

Shelby sucks on her teeth. “You got me there, but the reason why I consumed those books was because I wasn’t allowed to do that under my dads roof. He was that controlling and buying those books was my was of pretty much giving him the middle finger and taking back my own life.”

“If you weren’t allowed to read them, then how did you get your hands on the ones you had?” Eliza asks.

Shelby thinks back to the park, the smell of charcoal for the grills in the air and the summer breeze on her face. “There was this girl, pretty sure you can put a check box under her as my first crush. She gave me a copy of the book and I was hooked. It was easy to get lost in that magical world, I think I read the first book at least fifty times.”

“Did anything ever happen between you and that girl?” Eliza pushes and Shelby sighs.

“No, no I screwed that up royally. It’s probably one of my biggest regrets, god knows I’ll never see her again and it was all because I was scared of who I really was.” Shelby admits. “She had the most gorgeous eyes, she gushes, and this laugh-” She lets out a breath of a laugh.

“Miss. Shelby,” Eliza speaks up. “Do you think I could borrow the first Harry Potter book from you. I mean not the one from that girl, but maybe you can pick me up a copy. Just- don’t buy it from Barnes and Noble. The author is a total terf and doesn’t deserve your money.”

Shelby smiles gently. “Yeah, of course I can. I’ll run to that secondhand shop after my shift and give it to you in the morning, but, you have to promise me one thing.”

“Miss. Shelby, I’m not ready for group yet.” Eliza curtly says and Shelby nods.

“I know, just promise me that you’ll gush about the book with me later?” Shelby decides and the girl on the other side of the door laughs. “Deal?”

“Yeah, you got yourself a deal, Miss. Shelby.”

Shelby smiles as she stands up from the ground and dusts her pants off. “I’ll talk to you in the morning, have a good night, Eliza.”

The door opens only slightly, and a small teenaged girl slowly emerges, jumping into Shelby’s arms, hugging her quickly and tightly before she scurries back into her room. The orderly behind the desk, Mateo raises an eyebrow and then nods her way. “You’re magical, Goodkind.”

 

 

It’s pouring rain by the time she leaves the building and of course she forgets her umbrella. Shelby struggles to hail a cab, but when one eventually pulls over, she finds out that she isn’t the only one getting in.

It had been a long, hard day and she’s tired and soaked from the rain. So, she opens her mouth to argue, if living in the city did anything, it gave her a backbone. However, nothing comes out when she realizes who was trying to get into the cab.

Long wavy dark hair, playful brown eyes, a mischievous smile and a beauty mark above her lips.

Toni looks just as shell shocked as she does, her own mouth drops, and she sputters when the cab driver barks at the both of them to stop wasting his time. Despite everything that she had been through, Shelby still believed in god and she fully believed that this was the lord’s way of screaming at her that she should be with this woman. First the park in Texas, then the yogurt shop in Minnesota and now a cab in California. There was no way this wasn’t a sign on a clue, her twelve-year-old self was screaming on the inside, soulmate.

She just didn’t want to freak the other woman out.

“You wanna,” She gestures toward the backseat.

Shelby nods. “Yeah.” She breathes and slides in beside her.

It was serendipity at this point, she had just been talking about Toni and here she was now, in the flesh, sitting right beside her.

Shelby has no idea what to say to her.

Actually, she has a million things she wants to say to her, mainly she wants to apologize on behalf of her sixteen-year-old self, but only manages a “Hey,” and a smile.

Toni’s smile is still breathtaking, still makes butterflies swarm in her belly. “Hey stranger.”

“Where to ladies?” The cab driver asks roughly, and Toni tells him some address while Shelby blanks.

“This is so weird,” The blonde finally says. “I mean, uh- how are you?”

Toni sits back in the faded seats, and nods in agreement. “Totally weird, it’s like some invisible force keeps deciding that we need to meet. You look good, Shelby.”

Shelby takes a sharp breath when the brunette says her name, she hadn’t once heard her name off the other woman’s lips. However, she decides that she loves it. “Thanks,” She blushes. “So do you.”

She’s in a pair of black pants and a white button down that is already a bit crumbled. Her hair is halfway pulled out of her face and a black blazer is thrown haphazardly across her right shoulder. “Wh-what are you doing in L.A.?”

Toni contemplates her answer, nose scrunching up cutely before she says. “I was stationed here when I joined up with the army-,”

“Wait, you joined the army?” Shelby interrupts, mouth agape.

“Yup, you know recruitment offices are really good at getting you in. They see an angry seventeen-year-old girl who is lower class, in the foster system and say hey- I can totally get this one. I mean it worked, I signed on for four years, just got out two years ago and now I’m going to school- I wanna be a civil rights attorney, so working towards that? What about you? What have you been up to since the yogurt shop?”

Shelby’s face falls. “I am so sorry about that.”

“Nah, don’t be.” Toni decides with a simple shrug. “Your wing woman explained the whole homophoic dad situation, I get it.”

“So, you knew that I was- well that I am gay?” Shelby tilts her head. “Was I that obvious?”

Toni chuckles. “Dude, you were totally obvious. You might as well just had stamped gay on your forehead that summer.” She teases. “Though, you can make up for the party thing- only if you want to, so no pressure.” Toni puts her hands up before she continues. “But you wanna go to dinner with me? There is this little pizza shop that I go to every night. Carlucci’s, have you heard of it?”

“Oh my god, yes! I get my pizza there every Friday, I’m surprised I haven’t see you there.” Shelby tucks her leg underneath her. “Timing is a funny thing.”

“It’s a total weird thing, but is that a yes? You wanna head over there now?” Toni asks with a raised brow and smirks when Shelby nods her head. “Great, because that’s the address I gave our friend up there.”

“You knew I would say yes?” Shelby laughs, unable to help herself. “Little cocky don’t you think?”

“No, I more hoped you’d say yes.” Toni explains as she slides her blazer down her shoulder Shelby can’t help to think how beautiful she looked in a suit. She had no idea what it was about women is suits that did it for her. “I just left my ex-girlfriend’s engagement party,” Shelby can’t help her wide eyes, but Toni’s easy laugh calms her down. “Don’t worry, me and Regan are friends now even if her fiancé thinks fish eggs are a delicacy. So, I am dying for some real food.”

 

 

They get a booth by one of the window’s and Shelby tries to calm herself down. Walking into the restaurant so close to her while Toni holds her jacket above their heads so they are safe from the rain. They order a large pizza with a mix of their favorite toppings, smiling at Stephen, the owner as he gives them a wink before giving them their drinks.

Toni’s removing the paper from her straw as she nods towards Shelby’s scrubs and name tag. “So, you’re a nurse, doctor, something in the medical field? I don’t want to make assumptions.”

Shelby shakes her head. “Actually no, I’m working an internship as a therapist at Sunnyside Cottage.”

“Really,” Toni takes a sip of her soda, her nose crinkling from the carbonation. “Isn’t that the home for homeless kids?” She sounds impressed and the proud smile on her face confirms it. “That’s pretty amazing, do you like it?”

“I love it,” Shelby gushes. “I mostly work with the kids who are LGBTQ umbrella, just helping them go forward in life, prepare them with resources for when the age out. I give them the help I would have loved to have had after I was kicked to the curb after I came out. I just listen to them, let them get all of it out.”

“Wait, your parents kicked you out?” Toni’s jaw drops. “Make sense why I didn’t see you when they,” She stops and shakes her head. “Shit, I’m so sorry.”

Shelby can only shrug at this point, because it happened, and she’s sort of over it. She’s not lonely anymore and she has her friends to thank for that. Dottie had been an actual angel and swept in, letting her crash on the couch and coming with her to L.A. She had met Rachel soon after that, they had a few classes together and now worked at Sunnyside together. Rachel handling the teens that delt with eating disorders.

She wasn’t lonely, not like her daddy swore she would be. She made her own family. “It’s alright.” She tells Toni. “I’m happy I came out and was able to be myself, if I didn’t, I’d be stuck in a loveless marriage with the boy I was using as my beard.”

Toni’s frown was a little comical. “Did he at least know that he was a beard?”

“No, Andrew had no idea- and could weirdly care less when I broke up with him. He had his eye on a new accessory after all.” Shelby tells her. “He was weirdly the only one that wasn’t pissed that I was gay- well besides my one friend. He literally said with a mouth full of a McDonalds cheeseburger that he, ‘totally knew’ mostly because I refused to sleep with him.”

Toni snorts. “Andrew sounds like a real prize, have you dated anyone else since coming to LA?”

“No,” Shelby shakes her head. “Not because I didn’t want to, I just couldn’t find the right person. I dated this one girl for a hot minute. Leah was an amazing person, but we were both train wrecks so. It didn’t work out so, we’re just friends now.”

“I don’t think you’re a train wreck, Tex.” Toni assures her. “And that is coming from a hot mess.” She pauses a moment, her fingers drumming against the table. “I have to ask, though, who do you think you’re person is?”

Shelby takes a moment to decide and her mind again wanders back to the back when she was only twelve. She remembers the day she looked into those chocolate-colored eyes, the first time her breath caught, and her heart sped up. It was the first time she felt the butterflies swarm in her belly, it was the first time she had met Toni. “I don’t think she’d remember me.”

“You never know.” Toni shrugs.

Shelby likes her lips, her eyes locking with Toni’s. “I was twelve and on a picnic with my parents and so obsessed with finding love- because that’s normal for a twelve-year-old. Looking back on it, it was probably because my parents-” She stops when she realizes that she was psychoanalyzing herself. “Anyway, I was on my own blanket, by the lake.”

“I thought it was by the path.” Toni interrupts, making one of Shelby’s eyebrows to raise. “Anyway, go on.”

“Yeah, you’re right, it was by the path and I was almost knocked out by a soccer ball owned by this girl with pretty brown eyes that had this hint of trouble in them.” Shelby continues. “She also made fun of me for reading Little Women.”

“Ugh, yeah.” Toni rolls her eyes. “Because it’s just so freakin’ boring, who reads their summer reading anyway.” She playfully points out. “Also, you are forgetting when the girl got annoyed when you didn’t answer her.”

Shelby smiles fondly at her. “Yeah, she was a bit of a hot head, but I thought that was cute. The short people are always the fastest to anger,” She teases, and Toni rolls her eyes. “But she also taught me it was alright to be a little rebellious in our quick meeting. Even got me into Harry Potter.” There is a beat and Shelby nervously picks at her fingernail. “I still have your copy of the book, it’s how I learned your name, so you can imagine my shock four years later when I see the same handwriting on the name tag at the yogurt shop.” She looks away from her eyes. “Did you know it was me, back at the yogurt shop?”

“Yeah,” Toni doesn’t waste time to answer. “It was your eyes, that gave you away- because I remember it was the first thing that took my breath away. I never had seen eyes that green before, I actually had an internal battle much later, because when the sun hit them just right, they were gold. Also, the accent helped. I actually wanted to go back and kick my twelve-year-old self’s ass for not asking your name that day- having your sister there that day was a godsend.”

And damn is Shelby shameless with the way she swoons over this woman, she’s beyond the moon when Toni admits to remembering her. She’s falling so quickly that she has no idea how to stop it and she doesn’t want to stop it. “Yeah, Melody is one of a kind.” She takes a breath before she folds her hands onto the table. “I don’t know what it is that keeps drawling us back together, giving us chance after chance- but I’m not complaining about it.”

Her breath catches when Toni reaches the table and intertwines their fingers together. She looks up at her through her thick lashes and says. “Neither am I.”

 

 

Shelby is sure to get Toni’s number when they go their separate ways, and they make plans to hang out on Friday night.

And Toni winks at her again just as she did at the yogurt shop. “It’s a date.”

Toni just makes her feel so alive, it’s like everything is more alive when Toni is around her. Colors are brighter, sounds are more in tune. She even introduces her to this 24 hour bookstore that they hit up after their dinner, Shelby explaining to Toni why she is purchasing the first Harry Potter book again. The book is faded, worn, just like Shelby’s copy- well, Shelby’s copy that Toni gave to her. Toni leaves the store with a copy of Little Women, promising Shelby that she will read it.

Later when Shelby gets back to her apartment, she squeals into her pillow like a teenaged girl.

She’s damn smitten and she knows it.

 

 

The next morning, she hands the book over to Eliza who has the door to her room open. She smiles when the teenager mentions that she’s glowing and asks, “What’s her name?”

Shelby looks around before she grabs a desk chair and takes a seat. “Remember that girl I told you about last night?”

Eliza nods, looking at her intently.

“Well, you’re going to love this.”

 

 

Bold

 

She kisses Toni first and it’s unlike anything she had ever experienced.

It happens on their third date on the pier. Toni is leaning on the metal railing; they’re watching the sun set over the ocean. They sky was painted a peaceful purple-pink and the sound of the waves crashing fills her ears.

To be honest, Toni was watching the sunset, Shelby was watching Toni.

Toni feels her eyes on her and turns her head to look at her. “What?” She chuckles a bit nervously. “Is there ketchup on my face?”

“No,” Shelby hums, she tentatively reaches out and cups her cheek. She strokes the warm, smooth skin with her thumb. “You’re just- beautiful, Toni.” And the way Toni’s looking at her now, with so much warmth, it makes her heart flutter.

She doesn’t miss the way Toni’s eyes dart down to her lips and Shelby takes that as her sign, she leans forward and presses their lips together. Toni is smiling against her lips as she moves her hands down to grip her waist, her touch alone makes goosebumps pop up on her skin. Shelby can’t help the moan that leaves her lips when Toni deepens the kiss. Her lips are just so soft and addicting and she doesn’t want to stop.

There was a time in Shelby’s life where she would fear being this intimate with another woman out in public. She would fear the name calling or the people staring at her, it took her a long time to get out of that mind set, but god was she so happy that she was. Kissing Toni right here on the pier at sunset had been one of those perfect moments.

They’re still in each other’s arms when they pull away, foreheads pressed together and a serene smile on Toni’s face. Shelby takes it all in, she takes her in before she kisses her again, wanting to make up for all the last time they had lost.

 

 

Toni is so patient with her and Shelby loves that about her.

Because Toni isn’t a patient person, but when it came to Shelby, she was. She figured by now that they were both pretty smitten with each other. Shelby learns Toni, she learns what she likes and she learns that she can get the best reaction out of her when she sucks a patch of skin above the right side of her collar bone.

She loves kissing every scar, every freckle on her body, her lips always finding the one right above her lips, kissing her there as Toni falls apart underneath her.

She loves to walk beside her, hands laced together. She loves posting pictures of the two of them together, smiling much later when Melody comments with a heart-eyed emoji.

Shelby had never been in love with someone before, but she was sure that this was the start of love. Toni had a way of taking her breath away every time she picked up the phone, saying a “Hey, baby.” Or just by walking into the room her smiling as she slides beside of her, tilting her chin up and kissing her sweetly.

She feels so confident, she doesn’t feel ashamed. That Shelby is gone, tucked away in her memories and lord does she feel sorry for that girl.

Toni talks to her, about her life as a foster kid. All of her heartbreaks and all of her hopes. She learns about her dad who was a no show and her mom’s demons. She talks about her best friend Martha back in Minnesota. She tells her that Martha had been at the yogurt shop that day and had been the one to suggest the Lychee flavor. Martha had also been there in Texas, Toni had been vacationing with their family. So, Martha knew all about Shelby and always had this hope that they’d meet again.

And Martha does lose her mind in the best way possible when she finds out about them, screaming an “I told you so!” Through the phone.

They make plans to go up there for Christmas and Shelby feels warm all over at the thought of meeting the people who Toni calls her family. It had been so long since she had a family after all.

And Toni does end up reading Little Women. She finishes it up as Shelby lays in bed beside her and gets a bit grumpy when she admits that she enjoyed it, but. “Fantasy is still my thing, Goodkind.”

 

 

Her relationship does garnish some attention back in Fort Travis.

Old high school friends comment that they didn’t know she was a lesbian. Some remove her from social media, others say they are happy for her.

Acquaintances that she met when she lived in the pageant circuit said that they knew she was, claiming it was the way she’d ask to borrow Vaseline- whatever the hell that meant.

Her fellow church goers are the most offended and she could honestly care less.

Kyle McIntyre, the boy her father tried to set straight tells her to bring herself and her beautiful girlfriend to Boston one day, so they can double date with his boyfriend that weirdly reminds her of David Rose.

Finally, Becca Facetimes her one day.

It’s out of the blue, her hair is dripping from the shower when she answers it when her and Toni are sitting down for breakfast.

She cries at first.

They both sob for the first five minutes, apologies tumbling out of Shelby’s mouth for her past actions.

But she learns that Becca is happy, living somewhere in Georgia and is a mother.

Toni passes by behind her, causing Becca to whisper. “Is that her, the girl from the park?”

Back when they were kids, Shelby had told Becca about Toni. Proudly showing off the Harry Potter book that she had been giving. It had been her first time breaking for her father’s strangling rules and it was the first time she had ever felt like herself.

She’s not that quite because Toni speaks up. “And the yogurt shop, and the cab? Babe, do we count the cab?”

“Yeah,” Shelby looks over her shoulder and then back to the screen. “That’s her, say hi!”

She turns the camera onto Toni who gives a quick wave from the sink.

Becca hums in approval and they talk a little while longer. Becca promises to come to visit to officially meet Toni so she can give her a hug. “It’s nice, Shelby- to see you so happy. I am so glad you found your person.” She sighs. “Fate is a funny thing.”

She agrees, fate was a funny thing, but she couldn’t be more grateful for it.

Without each and everyone one of those fateful encounters, she wouldn’t have this happiness and this newfound pride in who she was.

 

Gold

 

There are a few things that Shelby would never forget, they were tucked away in the back of her head. She stored them there for a rainy day.

One was the fact that her mom was there, along with her siblings and with the looming dark cloud out of their way, they could be a family.

Then there was Melody in her bride’s maid dress, helping Shelby with her makeup.

The other was Spencer and how he broke the mold that their father tried to cast around him especially. He was so proud to walk her down the aisle. He would swear that he wouldn’t cry, but he does, and Shelby playfully teases him about it quietly as they wait for the flower girls to stumble out.

Finally, there was the way Toni looked at her when she saw her in the dress that Shelby so carefully picked out. Her reaction was worth it, she looked at her in a way that made Shelby know that all of this was right. She remembered the exact day her parents fell out of love and the façade they would put on.

Toni however always looked at her like this, as if she was seeing her for the first time every day. Their love, she learned when she let it spill out, was unconditional.

By no means where they perfect, they would argue and Shelby would always expect the worst because, again, her parents weren’t the best example of healthy love. However, Toni was nothing to fear, not like her father was to her mother. They always managed to talk it out in the end and laugh about it later if it had been something ridiculous.

 

 

Much later, after their vows are exchanged and they are officially bonded in ‘holy matrimony’, Shelby sits at the long table, surrounded by the bridal party as Marty speaks. She’s listening, but her gaze is on the golden wedding band that glints under the setting sun. Toni’s beside her, holding her hand as Marty finishes her speech up.

“You good?” Toni whispers, giving her hand a squeeze and Shelby nods. “I mean, I’m a little embarrassed that she let it slip that I spent an entire night trying to find you on Instagram.” Toni sighs as Shelby chuckles. “Do you know how many Shelby’s from Texas there are?” She takes her beer from the table and sits back in her chair. “Way too many for me to remember and let’s face it, sixteen-year-old me gets frustrated easily.”

Shelby scoffs. “Twenty-six-year-old you still get just as frustrated.” She smirks when Toni shrugs her shoulders. “But that’s what I love about you. You’re fire and passion,” She reaches over to tuck a stubborn flyaway behind her ear. “I think that’s what drew me to you in the first place.”

Toni considers it and then nods. “You know what I think I like that whole fate thing that Becca talked about when she was marrying us. That who thing about us being tied together from the start, I’m sure that if you ditched me in the cab like you did at the yogurt shop-”

“Toni,” Shelby groans into her hands. “You know I still feel bad about that.”

“Well, I mean, we are married now, so I don’t think you have to feel bad.” Toni teases. “But what I’m trying to say is that, if it didn’t work out- like if one of use took for the hills, we still would have found each other. We got that soulmate thing going on after all.” Her fingers stroke her knuckles as she continues. “I meant what I said in my vows, the moment I first met you in that park, I knew that it would be the start of something beautiful.”

Shelby nods as she rests her head against Toni’s shoulder. “It is pretty to think that huh, that there was some sort of string that tied us together.” She lets out breath of a laugh. “You should know that my inner child that tried so hard to find her person that day in the park is spinning right now.”

Toni presses a kiss to the top of her head. “As she should be.”

 

 

The rest of their wedding day goes by in a blur.

Their first dance sticks in her mind though, yes it was an old tradition, but one she was excited for none the less. She remembered how long it took for the two of them to decide on a song.

Toni says. “That Ed Sheeran song is too basic, everyone is picking that one.”

She wasn’t wrong, they had been to three weddings this year where Perfect had been the song playing on for the newlyweds first song.

And then there was that John Legend song that was used at the two weddings they went to the year before that.

Then there was one of Shelby’s co-workers who had picked this Sheryl Crow song for her first dance with her wife that made Shelby shed a bucket of tears.

However, after a day of bouncing songs off of each other, a song that catches both of their attention begins to play on the radio. Shelby finds herself singing to it as she dices the carrots for dinner. Though the knife quickly gets left on the cutting board when Toni spins her around and into herself as they sway in the middle of the kitchen, rain patters on the window and Toni smirks into her neck when she says. “Etta James?”

“You read my mind.” Shelby breathes.

 

 

So here they were now, completely wrapped up into each other as Rachel belts At Last perfectly. The familiar sensation of goosebumps forms on her yet again when Toni hums along to it. At that moment the world just stood still, all she could focus on was her wife.

Her wife.

And it was so perfect.

She doesn’t even pick up on the shutter of the photographer’s camera or the flashes from people’s camera.

Shelby’s just living in this moment right now with her wife.

 

 

Heaven

 

“Mommy, don’t let go!”

“At one point, I’m going to have to! It’s how you learn.”

“But what if I hurt my knee?”

A scoff. “No way anything is going to get hurt on you. You mama literary has you bubble wrapped.”

It’s a cool October afternoon and Shelby sits on the stoop of their home in Vermont. They decided once Shelby got pregnant with their first child to make the move there. They were lucky enough to find jobs in their career paths and be able to raise a family.

“It’s alright, Thea, you got this.” Shelby cheers as she bounces the baby on her lap. Thea’s chocolate covered eyes widen and she juts out her lip, stubbornly putting both her feet down and not allowing Toni to keep helping her. “Don’t you want to be the first person in your pre-k class to ride a two-wheeler?”

Toni nods her head, looking up and catching her wife’s eyes. “Mama’s got a point. It’s all you talked about all week, especially after Jason lied about his skills.”

The four-year-old considers it and grumbles out. “Yeah, Jason is a booger eating poop head.”

Which causes Toni to snort out a laugh and two-year-old Leo to jump from his spot under the golden leave colored oak tree to oh so lovingly point out the fact that his sister used the phrase ‘poop head’ all the while baby Sadie manages to giggle at her siblings. Shelby stands up from her place on the stoop, her Sadie on her hip and Leo holding her hand as they make their way over to the sidewalk.

Thea’s nervous, Shelby can tell by the way she picks at the rubber on her handlebars, she can tell all of her children’s ticks. She carried two of them for nine months, Toni deciding to carry Leo and then quickly backing out when it came to baby number 3. Mostly because there was no way in hell Toni was putting herself through that again, it made Shelby chuckle at the memory of her wife calling their doctor a dick head.

 But then Toni leans down and whispers something in her ear.

She looks back at Shelby and then up at Toni before whispering. “Really?”

Toni’s smile is so kind and loving as it always was when it came to their kids. Shelby would never forget the first time she watched Toni hold Thea, she was so nervous as she slid into the hospital bed beside her. Toni was always so gentle though, speaking so softly as Shelby nestled their daughter into her arms. She remembered overhearing all the promises she made that day to Thea.

The softness was always present, even when Toni had to discipline them.

Shelby knows she handles it the way she does because of her time in different foster homes. There is never yelling, Toni just gets down at their eye level and talks them down from their fit, down from a tantrum and it builds that trusting bond all of them have with each other.

“Yeah,” Toni breathes, tucking a strand of blonde hair behind Thea’s hair. “Really.”

Determination seems to replace that feeling of fear that Thea once showed and with a tight nod she says. “Okay, I’m ready!”

“Alright,” Toni begins walking along side the bike, holding the back of the seat and the handlebar. “On three, I’m going to let go- one, two- three.”

And just like that, Toni lets go and Thea keeps herself upright, pedaling down the sidewalk as she laughs and laughs. “I did it!” Her little voice squeals in excitement. “I’m doing it.”

Toni backs up towards Shelby’s side, pressing her lips against Sadie’s downy curls before she wraps an arm around Shelby’s waist. “You taught her how to break, right?”

“Ah shit, I knew there was something I forgot.” However, Toni’s teasing smile says other wise and Shelby rolls her eyes at her wife. “Yes, I told her all the stops, she’s got this.”

Shelby watches Thea, her heart swelling with pride as she watches her bike around the cul-de-sac. “What did you tell her to calm her down?”

Leo fumbles over toward Toni and she groans as she picks him up. “Well, if you must know, I told her to be fearless just like her mama. That way, she can do anything.”

“Aw, you’re so sappy.” Shelby teases, squirming just a bit when Toni kisses her cheek sloppily. “Though fearless isn’t something I’d use to describe myself.”

“But you are,” Toni affirms. “I know we’ve both been through hell to get to where we are now, but look at these kids, look at this house. It was that fearlessness, the fact that you were able to let go of all that generational trauma that brought us here today.”

Shelby kisses her for that, despite the children in their arms. They only have to pull away when they hear a tiny ‘Ow’ from Leo and have to uncurl Sadie’s little fingers from his curly hair.

She thinks about her wedding day for a moment and remembers what Marty and Becca both had said. How it had been fate and maybe a sort of invisible string that brought them together time after time.

And watching her oldest daughter concur her fear of riding a two wheeler with her wife standing beside her was worth all the time it took to bring them together.