For Deena Johnson, it starts on the bus to the first away game her senior year. The band shares the bus with the cheerleaders, and together they take up the whole bus. She’s lucky to have snagged a seat behind Kate and Simon, and even more fortunate to be by herself in the seat.
Her drum is at the back of the bus where the rest of drumline stores their drums due to the amount of room they take up. This doesn’t mean she isn’t surprised when a voice she doesn’t recognize asks her if they can sit with her.
“Hey, uh, can I sit with you? All the other seats are filled.”
Looking up, Deena sees an unfamiliar face, although she’s decked out in the Shadyside cheerleader uniform. Distantly she recalls Kate mentioning a new cheerleader transferring from Sunnyvale, and can only assume this girl is them.
A second thought goes through Deena’s brain that is roughly summed up by: Oh shit she’s really cute . It’s this thought that probably makes Deena’s response go awry as she responds, “You’re asking me? Of course you are, uh-“
“Yes, you can sit with her Sam,” Kate answers for Deena. “Deena here isn’t the best with words, but she’s pretty cool otherwise.”
Sam blinks, then looks back and forth from Kate to Deena, eventually settling on Deena. “Right. Noted.” She stares at Deena a second longer and then slides into the bus seat.
Deena just offers a nervous smile before feeling her phone vibrate in her pocket. Pulling it out and unlocking the screen, she sees a text from Simon.
Simon: u think she’s cute :)
In response, Deena rams her knee into the back of the seat where Simon is sitting, eliciting an exclamation of pain. She isn’t surprised when she gets another text however.
Simon: so im right? nice 2 know
Deena doesn’t do anything this time. Instead, she glances over at Sam who—by Deena’s standards—looks uncomfortable beside her. Clearing her throat, she says, “Sorry about a few minutes ago. I’m not good with new people.”
Sam responds with a nervous laugh. “I’m not either. I haven’t really made any friends yet past some people from the squad.”
Deena nods. “Makes sense, but I’m gonna let you in on a little secret. The only cool one is Kate.”
Hearing her name, Kate turns around in her seat, joining in the conversation by adding, “And if Deena says it, it’s true. But don’t forget about Simon.”
“Yeah! Don’t forget about me,” Simon reinforces.
Kate elbows Simon. “Don’t copy what I say dipshit.” Rolling her eyes at Simon, she then offers, “You can always sit with us at lunch. Plus, since we’re the only two seniors on the squad, it just makes sense.”
“Are you sure?” Sam questions, seeming to be uncertain about the offer.
Kate shoots a glance in Sam’s direction but then focuses right back on Sam, with a smile on her face. “Oh I am more than sure.”
“Alright then,” Sam concedes. “As long as you guys don’t only talk about how to get a dude to ask you out. I don’t know how many more days I can take of that.”
Simon bursts out laughing at that, but quickly regains his composure to answer, “Don’t worry. We don’t do any of that. It’s just us three plus Deena’s brother every now and then if he isn't hiding in the library.”
“And now that you’ve agreed to sit with us, Simon and I have to talk about something very important,” Kate rushes out, which is an obvious lie to Deena. “You two can get to know each other or something.”
Deena doesn’t call Kate out on the lie, and instead lets her two friends turn back around. She knows they’ll probably be listening in on whatever she says to Sam, so she plays it safe with a simple question. “So what made you transfer to Shadyside?”
Sam frowns, but answers, “My parents got a divorce last year and I decided to stay with my mom, but things didn’t work out, so I moved in with my dad.”
“Oh shit,” Deena blurts out, but attempts to recover by adding, “That’s horrible. Hopefully whatever happened with your mom can be fixed one day.”
Shaking her head, Sam explains, “I doubt it. She said a lot of shitty things when I broke up with my boyfriend, and I genuinely don’t think I can forgive her for some of them. Dramatic for a high school relationship, I know, but I have my reasons.”
Deena tries not to fixate on the fact that Sam mentioned an ex-boyfriend, but it’s all her mind can focus on for a second, because she’s certain that means she won’t ever stand a chance of asking Sam out. Realizing she should probably respond to what Sam just said, she states, “And I trust that they’re the right reasons.”
It isn’t until Senior Night at the end of October that Deena realizes her feelings for Sam never went away after that first meeting. Sure, she recognized moments here and there of jealousy every time a guy would try and worm his way into Sam’s life, but she always tried to convince herself it was just her being worried for someone she was beginning to trust more and more with each passing day.
Senior Night also managed to coincide with the big rivalry game against Sunnyvale, so everyone was stressed about the game, Deena included. Usually she doesn’t care about the game itself, but tonight’s game is different. It just holds a different energy that even Deena can find herself getting mixed up in.
Walking down to the field with the rest of the band and drum strapped onto her, Deena’s nerves are already at their limit, especially because she finally let the band director talk her into playing the tenor drums upside down in order to show that Shadyside had the better marching band. It had been something she had been working on all season, but never managed to perfect, but tonight she would pull it off.
As the band walks into the stadium, Deena lets her gaze wander around, ultimately landing on Sam who seems to be in the middle of an animated conversation with someone in a Sunnyvale jersey. From her conversations with Sam, Deena can only assume this is Sam’s ex-boyfriend, and it causes a flash of jealousy to course through her.
In a decision born out of pure emotion, Deena works her way out of the other band kids, ignoring the confused glances they send her way. It doesn’t matter that she still has the tenor drums attached to her, she makes her way through everyone and towards Sam. She’s driven by a force that she doesn’t know if she can name, nor is she sure she wants to name it.
Sam’s ex-boyfriend notices Deena as she makes her way towards the duo, and he says something to Sam that causes her to turn and see Deena.
“Deena,” is the only thing that comes out of Sam’s mouth, a look of fear on her face that only becomes more apparent when her ex-boyfriend says something Deena hears this time.
“Is this the bitch you dumped me for? A fucking band nerd? At least when rumors went around school, I’d thought you’d at least date a hot chick.”
Deena’s momentarily thrown off guard by what Sam’s ex-boyfriend just said, because there’s an implication there that she picked up on.
“Peter stop it,” Sam says, turning to look back at him, but taking a few steps backwards towards Deena. “You can’t say stuff like that.”
“It’s the truth though,” Peter argues, gesturing towards Deena. “You mean to tell me you think she’s hot?”
“Dude shut the hell up,” Deena says, managing to find her voice again, although she’s still mildly thrown off by the way the conversation is going.
Sam backs up a few more times until she hits Deena’s drums, and then she stops. Her voice wavers as she speaks. “Just leave us alone Peter. You shouldn’t be out here anyways.”
Peter scoffs. “You are unbelievable. We worked well together. We were the star quarterback and head cheerleader, but then you had to go and break up with me.”
“Yeah, because as I told you when I broke up with you, I’m a lesbian!” Sam exclaims, practically shouting the last bit.
By now several bystanders have gathered around, Sunnyvale and Shadyside alike, but Deena pays them no attention. She’s too concerned by the fact that Sam just announced something personal to everyone around them. Doing her best to move with her drums, she shimmies so that she’s standing in front of Sam. Glaring at Peter she tells him: “You heard her. Now get the fuck away from her and go play your stupid little game.”
Peter glares right back at Deena, shooting one last glance at Sam before he shakes his head and walks away.
As soon as he’s gone, Deena turns to Sam and asks, “Are you okay?”
Sam’s near tears as she answers, “Not really.”
“Come somewhere with me for a few seconds?” Deena half-questions. She knows she needs to get Sam out of the public eye for a few seconds before Sam breaks down in front of everyone, but she wants it to be Sam’s choice.
Nodding, Sam follows beside Deena as Deena starts to walk away.
Deena leads them back towards the entrance of the stadium and out of it towards the school. They travel in silence until they reach an alcove in the wall of the school. Deena slides her drums off and sets them on the ground when they stop walking. She doesn’t want to be the one to break the silence they’ve found themselves in, but it’s also unsettling to her, since she never has long silences with Sam.
Sniffing, Sam looks at Deena, a few tears having fallen from her eyes that now streak across her face, slightly messing with the makeup on her face. “I’m sorry for what he said about you.”
“You don’t owe me an apology for what he said,” Deena tries, because it’s a true fact.
“I do though,” Sam argues. “It’s not like he will.”
“Sam, you’re not responsible for what he said, even if you feel like you are. I came over on my own accord,” Deena counters. She offers Sam a small smile before she says, “Plus, I don’t care what a stupid football player thinks about me. I only value the opinion of those who care about me, and that includes you.”
Sam wipes at the tears on her face. “I know you’re right, but I still feel bad. I only ever dated him because that’s what I was supposed to do, but it never felt right for what I guess are obvious reasons now. If I had just listened to my gut you wouldn’t have had to deal with him.”
“This is true,” Deena begins, knowing she has to choose her next words carefully. “But by not listening to your gut, it seems like you figured out who you were. It sucks you had to figure it out that way, but everyone’s experience is different.” She thinks it was the right thing to say, leaving the most important and selfish reason unspoken: had Sam not dated Peter, she may have never ended up transferring to Shadyside, and Deena would have no idea she existed.
Sam must pick up on the unspoken, because she says, “And if I had, I never would’ve met you.”
In that moment, it takes all of Deena’s willpower to not tell Sam how she feels about her, because after everything that happened, it isn’t the right time to do so. Instead she just nods and wraps her arms around Sam in a hug, smiling to herself when Sam rests her head on Deena’s shoulder.
By the time Christmas break rolls around, Deena still hasn’t found a right time to tell Sam how she feels. She’s made plans to do so several times, but each time she chickens out, afraid of the outcome by doing so. During this time, however, she did at least manage to tell Sam that she’s also a lesbian. It came up during a game of truth or dare at one of the sleepovers they had.
Tonight, however, they’re all sleeping over at Kate’s house since her parents are out of town. It was just going to be the four of them, but at the last minute Kate told Deena that Josh could come if he wanted. So now it was a sleepover for five.
Deena and Josh are walking up Kate’s driveway when she gets a text from Simon.
Simon: i know u dont want to hear it, but sam has been here for 5 minutes and can only talk about u. she’s into u
True to form, Deena rolls her eyes and sends back the middle finger emoji.
“He’s right you know,” Josh says, having obviously read Simon’s text.
“Dude, what the hell? Don’t read my texts,” Deena orders, shoving her phone back into her pocket. She hates that she can feel her face heat up despite the cold at the implication that Sam likes her back.
Josh rolls his eyes. “Whatever. You’re a hopeless cause anyways.”
“Says you, lover boy,” Deena fires back, all too aware of the crush her brother has been harboring for Kate, although she tries not to think about it.
“We’re not talking about me here,” Josh argues as they step up onto Kate’s front porch. He goes to open the front door, but it opens before he can do so, revealing Kate behind the door.
“Finally you two are here,” Kate says, ushering Josh and Deena inside. “Thought we were going to have to start all the fun without you.”
“We are literally on time,” Deena states as she steps into the house.
Kate closes the door behind her. “Says you, but last I checked this is my house, so what I say goes.”
“You are unbearable,” Deena tells Kate, but it lacks any seriousness.
“Don’t I know it,” comes Kate’s reply as she leads them to the kitchen.
An almost failed attempt at making cookies from premade dough later, all five of them are gathered in Kate’s living room trying to find a movie to watch. Sam and Deena are on the loveseat with the other three on the couch.
Deena tries her best to ignore the looks they give her for being beside Sam, but it was Sam who sat beside her, not the other way around.
“Okay so do we want a Christmas movie or something else?” Simon asks, motioning at everyone with the TV remote.
“Something else for sure,” Kate answers. “I can’t take anymore holiday movies after my mom made me watch Hallmark movies all last weekend with her.”
“Does something else work for everyone else?” Simon inquires, earning a round of agreement from everyone.
“I vote we watch something that deals with horror,” Josh offers.
“Horror it is!” Simon announces, already opening the Horror section on Netflix. “Are there any objections to Hush ?”
No one says anything, which Simon takes as no objections, so he presses play. Deena, on the other hand, is surprised Sam hasn’t said anything, because she knows Sam hates anything remotely related to horror
Nudging Sam, Deena whispers, “Are you cool with this?”
“Yeah, I’m sure I’ll be fine,” is Sam’s response, although it doesn’t seem like she believes herself as her smile turns down into a half frown.
Deena doesn’t push the topic, though she wants to. Instead, she just shakes her head and leans back into the loveseat to get comfortable.
They make it almost halfway through the movie before Sam reaches her horror limit.
Deena doesn’t know how Sam made it as far as she did, especially with the first murder in the movie, but the main character getting shot in the leg by a bolt from a crossbow is what puts the final nail in the coffin.
However, Sam doesn’t say anything at first. What she actually does is pull her legs up onto the loveseat and buries her face in Deena’s shoulder. It’s only then that she says something, although it’s extremely muffled by Deena’s shoulder. “Tell me when it’s over.”
Chuckling, Deena pushes Sam with her shoulder. “The movie or the scene?”
“The first one,” comes Sam’s muffled reply. She turns her head slightly so that she can look up and face Deena. “Turns out I’m not cool with horror.”
Deena looks down and her breath catches in her throat at how close Sam’s face is to hers. She can’t stop her eyes from flickering down to Sam’s lips, but she catches herself and immediately remakes eye contact with Sam. She can only hope Sam didn’t notice as she manages to get out, “Could’ve told you that much.”
Sam stares at her for a moment, a smile working itself onto her face, before she says, “Guess you just know me.”
And God does the thought of just closing the distance and kissing Sam run rampant through Deena’s mind, but the fact that the rest of their friends are in the same room as them is the only thing that stops her. Instead, she just smiles right back at Sam and responds, “Guess I do.”
As the middle of January rolls around, Deena still hasn’t told Sam how she feels. She’s still slightly afraid to face rejection, but the moment from Kate’s sleepover plays in her mind on a loop. There was just something about it that made Deena think that maybe her feelings weren’t one-sided, but doubt still nagged in the back of her head.
It’s a snowy Thursday morning in Shadyside. It’s the kind of day where flurries will fall from the sky all day, but never be bad enough to warrant an early dismissal from school. As it stands, Deena's walking into school with Josh who immediately ditches Deena the second they get into the building. This leaves her to go catch up with her friends by herself.
Making her way to the hallway where the majority of seniors have their lockers, she spots the three of them near Sam’s locker. When she’s almost there, Simon is the first to notice her.
Kate turns so she’s facing Deena and greets, “It’s about time you got here.”
Sam’s in the middle of grabbing something out of her locker, but over her shoulder she says, “It’s the same time she always gets here.” Grabbing the book she needed from her locker, she too turns to face Deena. “Hey.”
Kate glances at Simon and then back at Deena. “I just remembered I need to go turn something in, and so does Simon.”
“For what class?” Deena asks, knowing Kate is just making it so it’s just her and Sam. Over the course of the past week both Simon and Kate have really been on her case to make sure she tells Sam how she feels.
“Organic chemistry,” Kate answers.
At the same time, Simon says, “Pre-calc.”
Deena rolls her eyes. “Glad to see you two have your story straight.”
“Oh yeah?” Simon questions, answering the question himself. “Bold of you to assume anything about us is straight.”
“Simon shut the fuck up,” Kate tells him. She sighs. “We both have assignments to turn in for different classes.”
“Right,” Sam says, a confused expression on her face by everything going on.
Kate backs away, dragging Simon with her. “Anyways, see you two later.”
“Bye?” Sam questions as they walk away. She then turns to Deena and inquires, “That was weird, right?”
Deena nods even though she knows exactly why it wasn’t a necessarily weird event. “Who knows what their deal is. They get into some weird shit together.”
“Yeah, you’re right about that,” Sam agrees, although she goes on to add, “They’ve been doing that a lot though. Disappearing and leaving us alone.”
Shrugging, Deena tries to come up with an excuse. “Maybe it’s just a coincidence.”
Sam doesn’t buy it as she states, “There’s no such thing as coincidences. Just connected events that look like them.”
“Sam, it isn’t even eight in the morning,” Deena begins, slightly stunned by the deep philosophical approach Sam has decided to take this morning. “What the fuck?”
“I’m just saying, there’s no way them leaving all the time isn’t connected,” Sam says, turning back around to close her locker. She turns back to Deena to ask, “But enough about that. Are we still on for tonight?”
“Of course, but I don’t know how clear the sky will be,” Deena answers, quickly adding, “I already started getting blankets together cause I know it’s going to be cold as shit tonight.”
A smile works its way onto Sam’s face. “It’ll be fun either way. I’ve never actually seen a meteor shower, so tonight is definitely going to be memorable, especially since it’s with you.”
Deena’s speechless for a few seconds, but she does manage to finally reply, “Most definitely.”
That night, it’s just a little after eight when Sam shows up at Deena’s house. After school, Deena had spent the entire afternoon and early evening setting stuff up in the backyard so that everything would be perfect, and multiple times Josh had come out of his room to make fun of her.
None of that matters now as Sam is standing in the doorway, and Deena ushers her into the house. She’s glad Josh is busy in his room, playing whatever game it is he’s into.
Sam holds up two travel coffee mugs as she steps into the house. “I brought hot chocolate.”
“Oh my god, I didn’t even think about that,” Deena admits while she closes and locks the front door. She had been too busy making sure the setup outside was perfect that she never even thought about making hot drinks.
“Good thing I did then,” Sam remarks, handing the one mug off to Deena. “Plus it’s the least I could do since you said you had everything covered in terms of setup.”
Deena raises her mug in a toast to Sam. “To you, for knowing I would forget an essential.” She then gestures towards the back of the house with the mug. “Now how about we head out the back door and look at some meteors.”
“Never thought you would ask,” Sam comments, already making her way to the back door of Deena’s house, leaving Deena to hurry after her.
They’re about half an hour into looking up at the sky when Sam props herself up on her elbow to look down at Deena, a nervous expression on her face. “Deena, there’s something I need to tell you.”
Raising herself so that she’s propped up on her elbows, Deena asks, “What is it?”
“It’s something I should’ve told you a while ago,” Sam begins, looking more and more uncertain with each passing second. “I’ve known what I wanted to tell you for months, but then the sleepover at Kate’s house happened and I wasn’t certain saying what I wanted to say was a good idea.”
Deena’s hopeful she knows where this conversation is going, so she pushes it slightly. “Try me.”
Sam takes a deep breath and then launches into what it was she had been wanting to say. “My whole life I’ve never felt like me. I’ve always felt like an outsider even when I had everything I was told was normal. I was scared of myself.” There’s the briefest of hesitations before Sam continues, “But then I embraced who I was, and I moved here and met you. And when I’m with you, I just feel like me . I’m not scared of what others think when you’re by my side, because your opinion is the only one I care about.”
A smirk forms on Deena’s face as she asks, “Are you saying what I think you’re saying?” She wants to be sure before she does the single thought racing around in her head.
“I’m saying that I really like you Deena,” Sam asserts, although her voice wavers slightly from what Deena can only assume are nerves.
“Well what if I said I really like you too?” Deena questions, and it’s at that second that she sees the moment of realization on Sam’s face, immediately followed by something she wasn’t expecting at all.
Sam leans forward, somehow maintaining her balance on elbow. Deena also raises herself up slightly on her elbows as she realizes what’s happening. Sam’s the one in charge of what’s happening, because as soon as their lips meet she’s taking control of the whole thing, and Deena lets her.
The only thing that goes awry is when Sam does lose her balance and falls on top of Deena. They only pull apart for a moment when it happens, Sam now on top of Deena, in essence straddling her with how she fell.
It’s a moment long enough for Deena to breathe out a quiet, “Wow,” and then they’re kissing again.
Deena’s mind rushes through everything going on, and as much as she would love to continue what’s happening, it’s too soon and she doesn’t know what it is Sam’s comfortable with, so she pulls away, opening her eyes to see Sam looking down at her, dazed smile on her face.
“That was amazing,” Sam admits, blushing a deep shade of red as she says it. She rolls off of Deena, and lays down on her side, turning her head to look at Deena.
Deena leans back down and turns her head so she’s facing Sam as well. “More than amazing.” She internally cringes at how cheesy that was, but she definitely meant it. She bites her bottom lip before she reveals, “You were right about coincidences not being a thing. Kate and Simon kept disappearing in the hope I would tell you I liked you.”
“Yeah about that,” Sam trails off, before concluding, “Simon accidentally told me that was why before you showed up at lunch today. Pretty sure Kate almost killed him when he said it.”
“What I’m hearing is that we have Simon to thank for what just happened,” Deena jokes, turning her head back to look at the sky. As she does so, she spots a meteor in the sky. She points to it as she says to Sam, “Look at that, the first meteor we’ve seen.”
Sam looks up at where Deena’s pointing before confessing, “If I’m being honest, I wasn’t really looking at the sky to begin with. I was kind of distracted by a cute girl.”
“That must be a pretty lucky girl then,” Deena remarks.
“Yeah, she is,” Sam agrees, shifting on the blanket so that she can rest her head in the crook of Deena’s neck. “I just hope she offers to take me out on a date.”
“I think it’s a guarantee that she will,” Deena vows, because there is nothing she wants more in this world than to take Sam on a date, but for now she’s content to sit outside in the winter air under some blankets with Sam by her side.