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Toni Shalifoe’s move-in day at UCLA is going smoother than she’d anticipated. 

Her roommate introduces herself as Fatin and tells her she’s already claimed the bed on the right side of the room, which Toni isn’t exactly bothered about, and asks her if she needs help to unpack. Toni gives her a once-over before looking around at the three open suitcases on the floor, examining the array of silk pyjamas and fur coats.

“Nah,” she replies, “thanks though.”

Toni doesn’t have a suitcase; she has a backpack, her basketball duffel bag, and an industrial strength bin bag. It holds all her stuff—old and new—with room to spare. She feels that maybe she should be a little embarrassed at how instead of three suitcases she has three mismatched bags that contain everything she owns, but she doesn’t really care. Toni doesn’t really care about things. 

Okay, that’s a lie and she knows it. Toni cares about a lot of things—too much, even. She cares about basketball, she cares about her sister and adoptive mom, and she cares about her friends. Fatin says she’s going to pop out to get a coffee and offers to buy her one too, and so now Toni also cares about her.

While her new roommate is absent, Toni takes the opportunity to put away her clothes in their shared wardrobe which is already chock full of Fatin’s clothes. Still, even after Toni has put in all her own items of clothing there’s still space left—which is probably for the best given the amount that Fatin had left on the floor.

“I forgot to ask you what you like so I just got you a caramel latte, is that good?” asks the rich girl who’s just arrived back in the room.

“Sure, thanks.” 

Toni takes the cold plastic cup from Fatin’s hands and brings the straw to her lips. Hmm, not too bad, she thinks—because no, Toni’s never actually had a Starbucks before. Coffee’s not really her thing, she personally prefers energy drinks, so it’s not that big of a deal.

“What’s your major?” Fatin asks casually, sitting cross-legged on the left side bed which she had already declared to be Toni’s, not her own.

“Not sure yet, you?”

“No idea either.” 

Toni decides she likes her. 

===

They end up going off to check out the campus together. Fatin’s been here before to visit—Toni hasn’t—so she relies on her new and only LA friend to navigate through the streets and buildings and courtyards full of stalls promoting different societies. It’s boiling and Toni’s regretting not wearing a tank top instead of a black t-shirt that’s absorbing all the heat being emitted from the sun. The sun also makes everything look a little too bright, even from behind sunglasses, and so she walks around squinting everywhere which just makes it look like she’s continuously scowling at everyone and everything.

There’s a tall brunette standing next to a blonde girl at a queue to a food truck several yards away, and Toni swears she’s been transported into some modern sapphic Romeo and Juliet when Fatin and the brunette lock eyes.

“She’s so hot,” Fatin whispers unashamedly as if this isn’t the sixth sentence she’s ever said to Toni. The brunette is wearing a red t-shirt tucked into her jeans with a brown belt, and the ends of her trousers are cuffed to reveal striped socks poking out from blue canvas shoes.

“Shoot your shot dude,” Toni mumbles. Personally, she’s more interested in the food that the truck is selling. She may be an athlete, but fried food always makes her mouth water. She’s about to ask Fatin if they can go get something to eat from there, but before she can even speak she’s already being dragged by the wrist over to the queue.

And then Fatin is talking happily with this girl, who Toni learns is called Leah Rilke (“like the German poet”), and that the blonde girl in the yellow blouse with the denim shorts is called Shelby Goodkind, from Texas, nice to meet y’all. Toni frowns and looks her up and down. The girl smells sweet, like some type of red fruit with some other undertone, and it throws Toni off when she realises how nice it is.

“Texas?” Is the only thing she can say; she blurts it out quite awkwardly actually, causing Fatin and Leah to give each other quizzical looks.

“You got somethin’ against Texas?” the girl asks in jest with a raised eyebrow.

“No, it’s um—” Toni stutters, her tongue tripping over itself with a nervousness she’s never had when talking to new girls before. “I love Texas.”

Shut up, Toni, says her little inner voice as well as Fatin’s glare. She’s never even been to Texas.

Luckily, Fatin sparks the conversation back up with the other two girls, and Toni is no longer having to dig the hole she’d accidentally started excavating the second she laid eyes on Shelby Goodkind. During the talk, Toni learns two things: Leah is a freshman and so is Shelby, and Shelby is extremely pretty.

Not that she didn’t know how pretty Shelby is from the moment she laid eyes on her, but up close it’s different.

The second fact plays on her mind as she watches Shelby bite into the hot dog she just bought, and Toni almost has to tear her eyes way because this girl has to be straight, so she doesn’t want to set herself up for disappointment. It starts to feel a little too hot and stuffy outside, probably humidity or something is what she tells herself, so Toni discreetly tugs at her collar and tries to focus on anything other than her incoming gay panic.

The four of them make their way to sit atop a stone wall under a tree for shade against the LA sun beating down on them. Toni’s glad she hasn’t had to go out of her way to make friends yet, if she can even consider any of them friends. Surely Fatin is her friend already, and if she gets with Leah she’ll become a friend as an extension. Maybe Shelby Goodkind would be added to the list, but the girl has a cross necklace around her neck—and though Toni doesn’t like to assume things, she gets the misuses-the-Bible-for-hate vibes from her. It’s probably the combination of that and the silky golden hair that looks like heaven to touch. Plus that accent is kind of annoying.

That’s a lie, it’s endearing as hell, but Toni can’t admit that.

During the remainder of the conversation, Toni sticks solely to pleasantries, feigning an unrealistic amount of focus in the small bag of fries she’s eating out of. Fatin gets Leah’s number without any effort, and Toni deliberates asking for Shelby’s number just to make friends with her but then she tells herself some lie about her being annoying or whatever and decides to not ask her.

Back in their dorm room Fatin tells her, “Dude, that Shelby girl legit looked crestfallen when you didn’t ask her for her number.” 

Toni flops down onto her own bed and groans. “She was annoying.”

Fatin and her know that’s a lie so Fatin says, “No, but she was hot.”

“Leah’s hot. Can I get hers?”

A pillow with a silk cover collides with the side of Toni’s face.

===

Somehow, Fatin has already scored an invite to a frat party—not really Toni’s scene—so that evening she decides to check out more of the campus by herself. She makes it to the basketball court—which is even bigger than it looks in photos—and it’s almost breathtaking. She’s not sure she’s even allowed to be here but figures if she wasn’t the doors would be locked, so she walks to the middle of the court and spins around on her heels to take in the sight. Almost like a movie scene, she imagines the crowd roaring after she scores, her teammates piling on top of her and shaking her shoulders with an adrenaline-fuelled pride.

Annoyingly, a southern accent interrupts her fantasy with a, “You’re not supposed to be in here.”

Toni snaps her head round to look behind her to see none other than Shelby Goodkind from Texas, nice to meet y’all standing at the entrance. 

The word annoying is being used a lot today in the context of Shelby Goodkind, and Toni wonders if she even has any grounds to be saying it when Shelby is anything but. That’s also a lie, she is annoying. Annoyingly attractive. But it’s just a stupid schoolgirl crush, Toni isn't hung up on it. 

“Why are you here then?” Toni bites back.

The blonde shrugs. “Got bored and went explorin’. My roommate’s on a date if you can believe it, first day and all.”

Cogs turn in Toni’s mind. “Leah?” She receives a nod in confirmation. “Girl’s got game.”

“I’m guessin’ Fatin’s your roommate?”

Toni nods and wonders when southern accents became attractive. She realises she has two options: try to figure out if she’s gay and flirt with her in aims of having a one, maybe two night stand with her, or stick with her guns and get annoyed at everything this girl says and does because Lord, is she overly optimistic. For some reason—maybe fear or nervousness, maybe pride, maybe the fact that she’s just not in the mood right now—Toni settles for the latter.

“Yeah, congrats Sherlock.”

It doesn’t come out as snappy as Toni wants because Shelby brushes it off and asks, “You play?” as if she’d ever genuinely be interested in whether Toni’s in sports or not.

For some reason Toni finds herself saying, “I’m here on a basketball scholarship.”

“Cool.” 

Cool? Really?

“Bet you’re here on daddy’s money,” Toni quips, and she watches Shelby’s jaw tighten at the comment.

“Right, sure.” There’s a shift in her voice and all of a sudden it goes back to being its normal happy lilt again: “I’m gonna go ‘cause I don’t think either of us should be here right now. Comin’? We could get some food.” Her tone goes soft with the offer, and that southern accent does things to Toni that should be akin to that physical tightness she gets when she’s annoyed, but it’s not. It’s more like it’s winding a little hot coil in her lower abdomen. It’s because she’s analysing her voice too much.

She decides she’s not going anywhere with Shelby Goodkind from Texas.

“I’m good, I’m gonna stay here for a bit.” 

Shelby holds her hands up. “If you get caught that’s on you, short girl.”

Toni scoffs. “Short girl, really? You’re so original. At least say Hobbit or something less didactic.”

“Didactic?” Shelby laughs. “What are you, an English student?”

“Shut up Texas.”

“Texas, wow, you’re so original. So didactic too. Where did you come up with that one?”

The short girl blinks, unable to respond to that because the answer is too obvious. Then with a sly smirk Shelby walks out, and Toni swears she flicks her hair over her shoulder and winks while she’s at it.

She’s only had one and a half conversations with this girl, but Toni knows she’s going to be the death of her—in more ways than one.

===

Toni ends up at a nightclub that appears to be extremely popular with students. She’s aware that she looks a little sad like this, perched on the cushioned metal stool alone with her gin and tonic—but it’s the first day so can she really be expected to have a million friends already?

She’s halfway through a bowl of mediocre-tasting nachos when her eyes catch a flash of blonde hair. 

Of course Shelby Goodkind is here. Of course she is, and of course she’s dancing with some girl. Her hips are swaying and her arms are over her head, until they’re not and instead become wrapped around the neck of the girl she’s dancing with. Toni is ever so slightly very incredibly unreasonably jealous of the girl—the brunette one—because Shelby’s hot. Annoying, but still hot. But probably straight.

She notices that Shelby’s wearing a flared black skirt that Toni didn’t even register at the basketball court. It’s short and reveals all the right things, and Toni’s head is spinning at the sight. She forces herself to tear her eyes away from it—away from her—but it only proves to be a disadvantage as she’s caught off-guard by a wave of the scent of red fruits and a soft hand to her shoulder.

“Toni!” calls that southern drawl, thicker and slower than she’d heard it before. “This is Dot,” Shelby says, gesturing to the girl beside her who she’d just been dancing with. “Dot, this is my new short friend, Toni.”

“Heyyyy short friend,” the girl slurs. “I’m Dot, also from Texas. Nice to meet you.” She extends a hand out and Toni goes to shake it, but Dot just sort of clasps it and gives her hand an intense squeeze.

“Hey taller friend,” Toni greets back. She suddenly feels a little bit too sober for all of this: meeting Shelby’s friend, who also appears to be Texan, which is just great.

It’s at that moment that Dot decides to grab a nacho and Shelby sits beside Toni, her knee brushing against her thigh, and clearly she has no intention of moving her knee. Great, Toni thinks, just great.

Shelby’s gaze hovers over Toni’s bare arms for a second too long before she says something, but it’s too loud for Toni to hear, so she has to repeat herself: “I said I can tell you work out!”

Oh. “Oh?” They stare at each other dumbly until Toni blurts out a “thanks”. She’s about to say something else—she is, she swears she’s going to—but then Dot starts talking about how she’s going to a different college nearby, one that Toni doesn’t quite catch the name of, and her gaze is torn away from Shelby so she can pay attention to Dot.

The three of them end up talking for a good hour; it’s mostly just Dot’s not-very-sober ramblings, but she’s extremely funny and has a deadpan sense of humour that Toni enjoys. She asks for her social media handle, to which Dot responds to with, “I know I’m wearing cargo shorts but I’m not a lesbian.”

“What? No, dude, I just think you’re funny and I need friends in the area.”

Dot apologises profusely for assuming that Toni... “swings that way”, but Toni tells her not to worry because she is—she does, she is a lesbian—and it’s all a little awkward, especially with Shelby right next to her and the fact that Shelby chooses this moment to retract her knee from the side of Toni’s thigh, and Toni tries to not think too much of it and refuses to let her mind jump to the worst conclusion, that she’s homophobic, but it’s sort of gone there already.

===

All three of them end up hailing a cab to offset the costs, and as it turns out Toni and Shelby live in the same building, because of course they have to, and as they walk up to their respective dorms they realise they live on the same floor—because of course they have to.

“So why’d you pick LA?” Shelby asks as they climb up the stairs. It’s the most she’s said to her since the comment about working out.

Toni shrugs. “I like the beach.” She decides to not mention the fact she hasn’t seen the ocean since she was a very very young child and lived in New Zealand with her biological mom before they moved to Minnesota and it all went to shit, and how because of that, there’s something comforting about beaches for her. “What about you?”

“I like the beach too, and the warm weather. California’s the hottest out of the states that are furthest away from home.” Just as she says that she stumbles, and Toni has to steady her with a hand on her bicep. It makes her realise that Shelby probably most definitely wouldn’t be telling her this if she was even remotely sober.

Toni’s dorm is first, but she skips it and lets Shelby guide her to her own dorm room. She’s about to bid her goodbye when Shelby says, “Has anyone ever told you you’ve got the most drop dead gorgeous eyes?”

Toni takes in a shallow breath and notices that her hand is still very much on Shelby’s arm, and that Shelby is very much in her personal space right now, so much so that their faces are inches away from each other.

She gulps. “Yours are very pretty too.”

Fatin doesn’t let her hear the end of that one.

===

“I’m so fucking blissed out,” Fatin states, elongating the last vowel.

Toni sits up in her bed. “Are you meditating?”

Her roommate is sat cross-legged with her hands on her knees, thumbs and index fingers touching. “I’m drunk and hooked up with some football player in the bathroom. And let me tell you, the things that boy could do with his hands—”

That doesn’t answer her question, but “that’s good to know, Fatin.”

There’s a minute silence until Fatin announces she’s going to try to get with that girl they’d met earlier that day, Leah, and then she’s passed out in her bed. Toni sighs and takes her shoes off for her, then proceeds to fall asleep too.

That was a strange first day.

===

@itsnotdotc: Dude why didnt you ask for Shelbys number that night at the bar? 

Toni blinks at the notification. She’s sat on her bed in the dark; Fatin’s out on her first date with Leah. She had just been at the bar, hanging out with Dot for a while, which means she’s a little buzzed.

It’s been two weeks since the first day. Toni has seen Shelby a fair amount, but it’s always in group settings, usually with Fatin and Leah (who seem to be hitting it off quite well), a lot of the time Dot too, and a quieter girl named Nora, who has a sister up in Stanford. They haven’t really talked one-on-one, but whenever they’re in the same room it’s always fleeting touches and glances that last a second too long.

@toni_shalif03: idk cause she’s straight. why?

Toni has been telling herself it’s just in her head.

@itsnotdotc: You asked for MY @ even tho Im straight 

@itsnotdotc: Besides who says Shelbys straight?

Toni is telling herself it’s just in her head.

@toni_shalif03: umm well i just assumed ig

@itsnotdotc: Well good thing she’s gay!

Toni’s really trying here.

She never gets to respond to Dot’s text, because suddenly the door swings open, and Toni can make out two figures in the dark, who are, funnily enough, making out.

“Dude, are you serious?”

The taller figure jumps back at the noise but Fatin’s still moving towards the bed.

“Sorry, not used to roommates,” Fatin says with a dramatic sigh. “Oh well.”

“We’ll be on our way,” Leah begins, but then she’s being pulled towards the bed anyway as if Toni isn’t in the room. Luckily for her, however, Leah managed to say, “Room 120,” and that’s how Toni finds herself in the next hall over outside the door to room one-twenty.

She knows who’s on the other side of the door, and she knows that she’s showing up outside the girl’s room completely uninvited and without warning—so she considers simply turning and leaving, maybe going back to the bar to pick someone up herself—but then the door swings wide open.

Shelby is stood flummoxed, clad in just a white dressing gown with a towel in one arm and toiletries bag in the other. “Leah’s out,” she blurts out a little dumbly.

“I know,” Toni responds with the same kind of nervous energy. “Her and Fatin are currently hooking up in my room, so she told me I could come here. Guessing her date the other week didn’t go well?”

“Nope, but this one clearly did. Well I’m glad she checked with me.” Shelby steps out of the room and allows the door to shut behind her. “I’m going to the showers.”

And maybe Toni’s just too drunk to say it—she’s not, she’s almost completely sober by now—but she forgets to mention that Leah didn’t give her keys, and by the time Shelby’s disappeared it’s too late to say anything. 

Toni just sort of slides down the door on her back until she’s sat on the floor, knees bent in front of her. Her fingertips drag aimlessly along them as if she’s raking sand at a beach, because anything to help distract her from the excruciating wait ahead of her, but it turns out to only last for one minute because soon Shelby’s flipflop footsteps can be heard down the hall again.

“I felt kinda bad, leavin’ you out here like this,” she says as she approaches, and Toni gets up to let her unlock the door. “I did consider it though, to see if you’d stick around for me.” She smiles and holds the door open, and Toni doesn’t really know what to do or say because Shelby’s being nice to her and Shelby’s wearing a gown that’s fallen open more at the chest than it had since Toni saw her five minutes ago. So she mumbles a thank you and walks in, taking in her surroundings.

“That’s Leah’s bed.” Shelby gestures to the bed on the right hand side. “Do you need clothes to sleep in? I’m sure Leah wouldn’t mind you borrowin’ a t-shirt of hers. Y’know, considering she borrowed your entire room.”

Toni finds herself laughing. “I’m not staying the night, don’t worry.”

“Sure.”

Shelby sits on the edge of her bed and kicks her toiletries bag underneath it. Toni notices that she’s a little bit messier than Leah—there’s a blouse strewn on the back of her desk chair and books messily piled on top. A ribbon pokes out from underneath the blouse, and Toni can make out the letters M-I-S and X-A-S. Impulsively, she reaches for it.

“Miss Texas... really?” Toni turns to Shelby, who’s rolling her eyes.

“Yeah, well done genius. I do pageants.”

“You do pageants?” she repeats. “Jesus H Christ, of course you do.”

Toni’s met with a polite, close-lipped smile. “You shouldn’t use the Lord’s name in vain, Toni.” Shelby says it seriously—in a serious tone with a serious expression—but there’s a glint in her eyes that says otherwise.

“Whose name should I use then?” Toni asks sarcastically. “Yours?”

“Depends where you’re saying it,” Shelby replies—and Toni doesn’t know if it’s all in her imagination but she could swear Shelby legitimately winks at her before gathering her toiletries bag from under her bed. “I’m gonna go shower now. Don’t look through my stuff.”

“Well I wasn’t going to, but now that you give me the idea...”

“Oh shush,” Shelby says, rolling her eyes. “See ya, Short-stack.” She grabs a pastel pink towel from the hook on the back of the door, and it looks like she’s going to walk away but then she stops, hand on the door handle, and turns back to Toni. “I’m gonna try to find a smarter, less cliché nickname for you. Preferably one that still makes fun of your height.” And then she leaves—finally, much to Toni’s relief, but also a little to her disappointment—because now she’s alone in Leah and Shelby’s room and frankly she’s bored. More bored than she was when Shelby was here, of course, because being maybe-perhaps-borderline-flirted with by Shelby Goodkind (but maybe it was just her being nice, Toni thinks) is fun, to say the least.

Fun isn’t the right word but she’s too dazed to think of a better adjective.

Toni’s half asleep on Leah’s bed when Shelby comes back in, wet hair wrapped in a towel. She doesn’t say anything to Toni, simply sits herself down at her desk mirror and starts going through the motions of her night routine, rubbing moisturiser into her face and hands. Halfway through she asks Toni if she wants to borrow it, but Toni’s grunt in response is indecipherable behind the sleepiness in it, so Shelby doesn’t push.

“Bet you’ve never had to share a room before,” Toni remarks with a harsh laugh, noticing how Shelby’s stuff seems to take up far more space than Leah’s. She doesn’t know why she’s being so judgemental.

“Have you?” Shelby asks curiously with a tilt of the head as she closes a bottle of some skincare product.

Toni’s too sober to say what she says next: “In most of my foster placements, yeah. But I had my own room last year, when my sister’s sister moved out I got the room.”

Shelby furrows her eyebrows, trying to put the pieces together. “Sister’s... sister?”

“Yeah, it’s complicated but basically I moved in with my best friend who’s like a sister to me, so.”

“Oh, that’s cool.” Shelby looks like she’s going to ask more, not to pry but because she genuinely seems curious—and she is, she wants to get Toni more than what she knows of her already:

  1. She plays basketball at a collegiate level.
  2. The whole foster care thing.
  3. Her best friend is her sister.
  4. She’s extremely attractive.
  5. She’s not a fan of coffee.
  6. Her favourite snack is Takis (she found this out when Toni was kicking a vending machine because her precious snack got stuck, and Shelby helped her out by giving it a good shove, which Toni was very thankful for (although she was too flustered to mumble more than a “thanks, I appreciate that”)).
  7. Her smile is disarming.
  8. This list is getting too long already.

Toni’s asleep by the time Shelby starts putting clothes on a minute later. Well, she’s pretending to be asleep, because she doesn’t want Shelby to feel uncomfortable. She’s also very aware that Shelby doesn’t know that she knows that she’s gay.

The lights go off and Shelby climbs into her own bed. “You awake?” she whispers.

“Yeah.” Toni hears Shelby roll over to face her and for some reason it makes her blurt out, “Can I have your number?” Shelby fully giggles, and of course it’s the warmest sound Toni has ever heard.

Shelby’s phone lights up her side of the room as she opens up a new contact. “Damnit, you beat me to it.”

“Just in case we have to room again or something,” Toni adds, trying to cover up how flustered she is and how much she’s blushing. Good thing it’s too dark to see, she thinks as she steps over and types in her number.

“Thanks,” Shelby says quietly before lying back down.

A text comes through from her.

Unknown: I’m sure we’ll be rooming a lot!

Unknown: It’s Shelby by the way, in case you haven’t figured that out. Xx

Toni Shalifoe: well duh, im not an idiot 

Unknown: Personally I beg to differ.

Toni looks over to see Shelby smiling at the screen. It’s too pretty a sight, but she forces herself to look away and grumble a goodnight.

“Goodnight, Toni Shalifoe,” Shelby whispers—and her name has never sounded so good.

===

Shelby’s gone when Toni wakes up, but there’s a text that reads ‘You seem to be a slow starter so I’ve left you a pastry. I know you don’t like coffee, so. The door locks on its own so don’t worry about not having keys.’ There’s also one that reads ‘Have a good day! Xx

Butterflies flutter in her stomach and Toni thinks no, stop it, because Shelby’s not annoying and she’s pretty and she likes girls—she’s actually a lesbian—and Toni’s not awake enough to think about the repercussions of the fact that she’s enjoyed getting to know her way more than she expected.

And she feels comfortable around her too. This can’t be good.

===

Halfway through a lecture, Toni catches herself daydreaming about Shelby Goodkind, from Texas, nice to meet y’all, and she realises it’s the third time this week.

It’s only Monday.

Toni’s screwed.