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you got away (but i still carry you around)

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The night was almost blue, Deena thought, as she stared ahead at the streetlights lining the pavement in front of her. Fog had settled around them as the sun set; the feeling of it almost suffocating as it continued to creep in, and Deena’s old car hummed as the heater blew.

Despite the warm air, the atmosphere surrounding the two girls was cold as they sat in silence and avoided the conversation to come.

Sam had changed in the last few days. She had stopped calling, stopped coming over. She was jumpy and withdrawn, and it seemed like every time they touched, she couldn’t wait until it was over.

Deena had attributed most of the strange behavior to the fact that Sam’s mother had caught them kissing in her bedroom recently. She marched Deena right out the front door and slammed it in her face.

She didn’t see Sam for three days after that.

But her mom had caught them before and Deena didn’t think it was that big of a deal. So, she wasn’t exactly sure if it was the sole reason her girlfriend had basically become mute over the last week, but she decided she couldn’t endure much longer of it.

She was first to speak, inhaling a deep, unsteady breath in attempt to calm her nerves. “Is something wrong?”

Sam’s eyes fell to her feet and her heart sunk further into her at the reaction, which was an answer to the question in itself. An answer she didn’t want.

“Is it … um,” she turned a little to face her, and Sam met her gaze. “Is it me?”

The yellow overhead lighting in the car highlighted her red cheeks, chilled by the wind outside, and misplaced strands stood out of her light-colored hair. She gave a small shake of the head before she said, “I’m moving.”

The confession was hushed, and a small pause followed as Deena took it in. “You’re moving?”

Blue eyes met brown and Sam felt like crumbling at the sight of her. She was confused — blind sighted, and Sam knew the rest of what she had to say wouldn’t offer comfort. “To Sunnyvale. My mom — she just closed on a house there, and …,” she trailed off as Deena’s expression darkened and turned back to face forward. Her eyes searched for something to focus on, landing on the gravel lit up by the car’s headlights.

Deena blinked. “I thought you were staying with your dad.”

But Sam didn’t entertain the comment, instead finding her hands in her lap and nervously fiddling with them. Deena exhaled as she watched, trying to wrap her mind around it while Sam struggled to find the right thing to say.

Her eyes floated around, landing anywhere but on Deena, who felt a fire forming at the pit of her throat at the sight. “How long have you known you were leaving? This entire week?” A nod followed, and Deena turned forward, a grimace set on her face. She felt stupid, like Sam had taken pity on her for the last week because she was too scared to tell her the truth.

Her voice was colder when she spoke again as tears had welled in her eyes. “If you wanted to break up, you could’ve just told me. You don’t have to move all the way to fucking Sunnyvale.”

Sam sighed, and she tried to take Deena’s hand in her own, only to be rejected. “I never said I wanted to break up—”

“You didn’t have to. You’ve been acting weird all fucking week. I should’ve known.”

“I didn’t know how to tell you.”

She scoffed, shaking her head in disbelief, and snatched her hand back once more as Sam reached for it again. “Don’t.”

Sam frowned. “Please don’t be like this.”

“I don’t want to be with someone who doesn’t want to be with me.”

“I do want to be with you, Deena.”

“You don’t know what you want. Okay? Y-You say you don’t care about what anyone thinks but you do. You don’t want anyone to know about me. So much so that you’re transferring fucking schools, where no one will know we were ever together.”

A huff broke through the tense air as emotions rose. “You’re making this about you but it’s not. My parents are getting a divorce and I — I have this chance to … to get out. To get away from Shadyside.”

“And away from me.” Deena said. “God, I bet your mom’s just psyched, isn’t she? Her precious, perfect, little daughter isn’t going to turn out lesbian, after all.”

“Stop.”

She gave a bitter chuckle. “I can’t believe you.”

“You can’t blame me for wanting a better life. And Sunnyvale’s not that far, Deena, we can still—”

“Still what?” She snapped. “Still sneak around in secret? Pretend that you’re straight — that you don’t like the trash from Shadyside?” Her voice shook. “I’ll pass, but you go ahead. Have a nice fucking life.”

“So, what? You’re breaking up with me?”

“Guess so.”

“Deena,” she breathed, looking at her in disbelief. “Come on.”

“What, Sam?” She glared at her. “This is what you want, right? I mean, can you honestly look me in the eye and say that you’re not ashamed to be with me? Honestly, Sam, can you fucking say that?” Sam remained silent and tears pricked at Deena’s eyes. “Please?”

 

The memory disperses into thin air, and Sam’s eyes refocus on the black shoebox in front of her. It’s their letters and gifts and it’s not meant to be here, in her bedroom. It’s supposed to be with Deena — but she’d given that up and, by the look of what was in front of her, Deena had, too.

Her fingertips trace over an old valentines day card that she can’t believe Deena had still kept. Her hand shakes, startled when a teardrop falls on it, soaking into the old ink, and she picks it up, throat swelling as she reads it. It’s against better judgment, she knows that, but she couldn’t stop thinking about her — not since she’d given this back two weeks ago.

A light knock on her bedroom door makes her jump, her hands scrambling to shove the card back inside the box as she hears the door open behind her. Panic rises in her chest as she turns around and meets her mother’s gaze, her hands shuffling behind her back in attempt to place the box’s top back on.

“Mom,” she says, a small intake of breath following. She wipes at her eyes as discreetly as she could.

“Are you almost ready?” She asks, an excited lilt to her voice as she pops her head in the room.

It’s an important night for her as she had been working with the Sunnyvale city council lately. The two towns were hosting a carnival tonight, something they collaborated on in hopes to promote some false sense of unity after the recent mall slaying.

Sam swallows, flashes of Deena still on her mind, and guilt festering in her chest, for more reasons than one. “Um,” she starts, but she can hear her voice betraying her, a tremble in it that fills the empty house.

Her mom’s smile drops, and she takes a few steps inside. “What’s wrong? Did something happen with Peter? He’s coming to pick you up, right?”

She sighs at the sound of his name. She wishes it was about Peter. She wishes it was about anyone other than Deena. But it’s not, and she finds herself sick at the thought of having to lie to her mom again.

The truth is, they’ve been getting along lately. Now that she’s out of Shadyside, and her mom’s out of a bad marriage, there’s been less stress than ever on their relationship, and Sam didn’t want to screw that up. So she transferred schools, joined the cheer squad, started dating Peter and … gave up Deena. It’s not an ideal situation, Sam thinks, but it’s easier. It’s so much fucking easier.

“Yeah. Peter and I are fine,” she says, not surprised that he’s the first thing her mom wants reassurance about. Her mom liked Peter; liked her daughter dating Peter. It made Sam feel good — feel good that she wasn’t seen as a disappointment anymore. That she didn’t disgust her anymore.

She studies her daughter, hesitant to discuss her relationship with him further in fear of being told something she doesn’t want to hear. “You never talk about him.”

Sam shrugs. “There’s not much to say about him.”

“Well, you like him, don’t you?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

The answer doesn’t ease her mom’s concern. She often thinks to herself how abnormal it is to have a teenage daughter that isn’t obsessed with her boyfriend. But Sam is just different. She always has been.

Her mom’s eyes flit to the box behind her, and her seemingly empathetic expression twists itself into a grimace. “Who’s that from?” She asks, though she already knows the answer. It’s not like anyone from Sunnyvale had that taste, and she does enough snooping in Sam’s room to know it certainly isn’t her daughter’s. When she doesn’t get an answer, her piercing gaze lands back on Sam, who wears a shameful expression. She watches as another tear slides down her cheek. “I thought we talked about this. About her.”

Sam tries not to cringe at the disdain in her mother’s voice as she references her ex-girlfriend. She tries not to think about the sharp sting it leaves or the lingering aftereffect it has on her. She’s bottled all of that up — all of the poison her mom’s words breed, just sitting like a pit in her stomach, slowly growing. “It’s just the stuff I left at her house.”

Eyes narrow, and her hand reaches towards it, but Sam stops her. “Let me see what’s in there,” she demands, and Sam reluctantly takes a small step to the side. She watches her mother slide the top of the box off, and then suddenly, it was like she didn’t want to touch it at all.

Her eyes scan over the remnants of their relationship, something she mistakenly thought she was ready to be reminded of. She recognizes her daughter’s handwriting in notes addressed to Deena, hearts drawn on notebook paper, and then notices an old photo strip of the two girls.

Sam tries to will herself to stop crying, digging her nails into the palms of her hands as she balls her fists. “She gave it back to me — I was just going through it to see if I wanted to keep anything.”

“You were given an opportunity,” she says, eyes moving from the tattered box on her bed to her daughter, “to start fresh — to put her behind you.”

“I am.”

“Then why are you in here, crying over some old shoebox?” Her voice rises, and Sam shrinks into herself. Her eyes momentarily close in frustration before she takes a step back, lowering her tone. “That girl will ruin your life if you let her. If you even think for one second that you can have some sort of a future with her — being like her,” she scoffs, not finishing the sentence, and Sam clenches her jaw. “You should have never gotten mixed up with her in the first place. You knew what her reputation was. You knew what she was.”

“It doesn’t even matter now, Mom, because it’s over.” She states it louder than she intended, and the hurt in her voice is evident by its quiver. “Can we please not do this right now?”

Conversations like these had all but ceased when Deena broke up with her a few months ago. Her mother could tell it had finally happened after Sam stumbled in one night, mascara running down her flushed cheeks. She didn’t offer a hug, or any real words of encouragement, as someone would expect of a caring mother. Instead, all she had to say was ‘I told you so’ as she watched her daughter slink off to her room.

But then she met Peter, and everything changed. Sam wasn’t scared anymore and they didn’t fight and her mom liked her again. Talked to her again. Looked at her again. And now, here she was, eyes glistening and nose running, ruining the small bit of progress they’d made.

Her mom seems to sense the exhaustion in her, her face softening, though it still has a sense of wickedness to it. “Look, I know you think you loved her, but sometimes, Samantha, it’s not about being with who you love. It’s about being with the person who’s right for you. For your future.” She reaches to wipe a tear from Sam's cheek, ignoring the way she flinches back from it. “She isn't your future.”

Sam nods, a small sniffle coming from her. It was about as sensitive as her mother would ever be. “I know.”

At that, the older woman smiles. “You’re going to find your Mr. Right and this will all be ancient history one day. If you’re lucky, maybe it’ll even be Peter.” There was a pause after that, and Sam thought her mom was more so trying to reassure herself rather than her. “You want me to paint your nails before you go?”

Sam forces a smile. “Yeah, Mom. I’d like that.”

Her mom ends up painting them a shiny, deep blue and they sit on the couch together, a rerun of Maude on T.V. playing in the background.

Sam blows on her nails in attempt to dry them faster and listens as her mom brags about all of the work she did in order for tonight to happen.

She promises her mom she’ll tell her all about what her friends think of it, reassuring her that it will go well, and when Peter knocks at their front door, she tells her to be home by midnight.

He’s always been a real gentleman to her mother, who says it’s not often boys have such good manners. But Sam knows just how ‘good’ his ‘manners’ are, and they were just what you’d expect of a high school football star.

Peter had eyes on Sam ever since she transferred; his first pickup line to her that he could turn Shadyside trash into Sunnyvale treasure if she’d give him the time. He asked her out about ten more times after that before she gave in.

They don’t have much of anything in common, but it’s a benefit, she thinks, because he doesn’t pry or ask anything she doesn’t want him to. All they ever talk about is sports or working out or where the next party is.

Or they don’t talk at all. Sam doesn’t like thinking about it.

Most of the time, she drowns out what Peter is saying altogether, and he does the same with her. That’s what she’s doing when they’re walking through the carnival, trying to find his friends. She focuses on the lights and the rides and all of the people she recognized from Shadyside.

It’s warm outside, almost uncomfortably so, and the constant stream of people passing by made the air feel stuffy.

Someone bumps into her accidentally, sending her stumbling into Peter, and they apologize sincerely before he sends them hurrying off in the other direction. She moves closer to him and wraps her arm around his to prevent it from happening again, and when she looks forward again, she sees a glimpse of Deena.

She slows to a complete stop when she sees her hand entwined with someone else’s, and when she hears her distinct laugh, a faint sound over the crowd — one that she never thought she’d hear again, she feels her chest drop knowing it was the cause of another girl.

Kate and Simon are there, too, and they’re all fast approaching towards her, walking along the same path as her and Peter in the opposite direction, and all she can do is be still. She blinks a few times to make sure she’s not imagining it, that it was actually real, and it’s confirmed when Deena’s eyes find her, too.

She sees a twinge of hurt in them before they harden, and she snaps out of her trancelike state at the sound of Peter’s voice.

“Look what we have here,” he sneers, and they all come to a stop. “The Shadyside queer squad.”

Simon laughs at the insult, and everyone’s eyes go to him. “What?” He shrugs. “It was funny. Like ‘cheer’ squad, except —“

“Yeah, we all understood it, Simon,” pipes Kate. She gives him an incredulous look before her eyes settle back on the Sunnyvale duo.

Peter’s gaze drops to the two girls’ hands, his eyebrows furrowing in slight disgust. He gives a sickening smile, focusing on Deena, and says, “You know, you two shouldn’t be so brazen about that. You never know who you might run into.”

Deena’s jaw clenches and she shifts to take her hand back, only to have her date hold on to her, giving her a reassuring look. A look that said she didn’t care what other people thought. A look she wasn’t used to.

Her eyes flit to Sam briefly before falling back to Peter. “Is that a threat?”

“Just a friendly warning.” He makes a show of looking around the sea of people walking around their group. “Not everyone’s as nice to your … kind … as I am.” It’s spoken with revulsion, and Sam tugs on him in response.

“Peter,” she interjects, “stop.”

Her voice is small. Meek, almost. Mild. She looks like a prop, an accessory he wears to compliment his arm.

Kate snorts from the back. “You’re much nicer than you realize.”

He gives her a confused look and Deena hears Simon shift to jab her in the side. Kate stifles a groan of pain and Sam looks down at her feet.

She allows herself to be so timid near him, Deena thinks, and she’s frustrated by the obvious humiliation Sam feels now across from her. She doesn’t understand how Sam could be with someone like that — how she lets him touch her and kiss her. Her eyes go back to him. “You know what, go fuck yourself, Peter.”

Sam takes a deep breath when she hears the way Deena spits out his name and she prays nothing comes out of the interaction.

But Peter’s already stepping closer to her, despite the grip she had on his arm, and a chuckle escapes his lips. “Wow. You’ve got a real mouth on you, huh?” He looks back at Sam. “These your old friends, babe?”

Sam looks like a deer in headlights before Kate speaks up and lies for her. “No. We barely knew each other.”

“Shame,” he tuts. “Who doesn’t love a mouthy dyke?”

Heat rises to Deena’s cheeks in anger and embarrassment at the slur and she feels Kate step closer to her, ready to give him a piece of her mind. Deena doesn’t wait for that, though, because her blood feels like it’s boiling and who the fuck did this guy think he was? She steps forward, too, and gives him a stiff push back, watching as he stumbles and tries to regain his balance.

Sam tenses at the sight of him being caught off guard like that and her knuckles whiten as she holds on tight to him, hoping to prevent any further physical interaction.

Deena’s date holds on to her, too, gently pulling her back and whispering something in her ear to calm her down. Sam’s stomach turns at the sight of them so close.

Peter’s furious, telling her she’s going to regret that, and Deena asks condescendingly if that’s another one of his friendly warnings.

“No,” he growls. “This time, it’s a threat.”

He storms off, dragging Sam along with him, and soon, Kate and Simon surround her. They keep it lighthearted, joking about what a meathead Peter is and the look on his face when he thought he was going to fall — but all Deena can think about is Sam.

“I need to go to the bathroom,” she says, interrupting them. She doesn’t give them much time to respond before walking off, dodging the shoulders of random passerbys. 

When she reaches the park restrooms, she heads straight for the sink, gripping the sides of it. She hopes it will anchor her, because she feels quite queasy at what had just happened. The sound of the door opening to her side is all but ignored, until she hears her voice.

“Can we talk?”

Deena looks up, seeing Sam through the reflection, and rolls her eyes, wishing she hadn’t followed her in here. “I think we said everything we needed to last time. You’re not the bad guy because I broke up with you and everything is my fault, basically. Does that about sum up what you want to talk about?”

“No, I —”

She stops when a stall door opens. A woman awkwardly passes through them to wash her hands. It’s uncomfortably silent and Deena makes a move to leave.

Sam steps in front of her, eyes pleading for her to stay, and for some reason, she does.

The woman soon steps out and it’s just the two of them again.

“I’m sorry about Peter. He shouldn’t have said … he shouldn’t have called you …,” she sighs, “I’m just sorry.”

“Yeah, real stand up guy you’ve got yourself.”

Sam chooses to ignore that. “Looks like you’re with someone new, too.” She shifts her weight awkwardly.

“Is this really what you want to talk about?”

“I was just —”

“What, did you think I’d be sitting around, waiting for you to come back?”

“No,” she stresses, “that’s not what I —”

“Good, ‘cause I’m not. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I should be getting back to her. And I’m sure your charming boyfriend is somewhere waiting to get a handy from you on the ferris wheel.”

Her forehead creases in discomfort at the comment. “Why do you have to be like that?”

“Like what?”

“So angry. Why are you so angry with me?”

She looks at her in disbelief, and if she wasn’t so upset, she might’ve laughed at the question. She’d barely seen Sam in months since their breakup and she couldn’t begin to understand her incapability to grasp why she wouldn’t want to. Her voice lowers and she makes sure to speak slower so she could finally get it. “You wanna know why I’m angry, Sam? I’m angry because you’re such a fucking liar. You lie to everyone — to your mom and Peter. To me. To yourself. You put on your fucking cheer uniform and your vapid fucking smile and you kiss your boyfriend and bring him home to your mom and you pretend like you never fucking met me — like you never kissed me or touched me or loved me.” She feels tears spring to her eyes and a lump form in her throat. “Like I never existed. Like this part of you never existed.”

“You’re so full of shit.”

Deena’s eyebrows raise in response, almost amused by her retort. “Yeah?”

Yeah,” she mocks. “You’ve changed, too, Deena. You … you used to be really funny and … and you were loving and carefree and,” she huffs, annoyed at herself for getting worked up, “now you’re just bitter. You’re this cold, harsh person that I never thought you could turn into.” She swallows hard, unaccustomed to this type of interaction with her. Tears fill her eyes, too, and they continue to swell up despite the amount of energy she’s putting into willing them back. “I used to follow you everywhere. I spent every minute I could with you — and look where it got me.” Her bitter chuckle fills the air between them. “So, yeah, this is who I am now, because I don’t want to end up like a nobody in this shitty town, trapped here with you. At least I’ll be somebody with a life, compared to you who’ll still be here in ten years with nothing to show for it alone.”

There’s a heavy silence after and Sam feels like she should apologize, but she remains silent. Deena lets out a breath, a small smile on her face despite the insult. “Well, when you’re a big ‘somebody’ one day and you’re living your empty fucking life in an empty marriage with some asshole, at least you’ll have yourself to thank that you managed to escape such a nobody like myself — and you can remember that I wasn’t the one who gave up on us. It was you.”

Deena pushes past her with her shoulder and Sam stumbles for balance, speechless. She stands there for a moment before she thinks she should follow her and when she walks out of the door, she sees Simon there.

Love your new boyfriend,” he teases, but Sam doesn’t laugh.

“Did you see where Deena went?”

“Uh,” he points to the side halfheartedly, “she went somewhere over there and said she’d kill me if I followed her.” Sam stands up a little taller to see if she can see her, looking guilty. “I was kind of wondering why she was so upset, but, I’ll take a guess that you have something to do with that?”

She huffs when she realizes it’d be almost impossible to find her now and looks back to Simon. “Yeah, well, she hates me, so, good guess.”

“She doesn’t hate you,” he says, pursing his lips awkwardly when she gives him a knowing look, “necessarily,” he clarifies.

Her hand rubs at her forehead, trying to ease the pain of an oncoming headache, and she moves to wipe at her eyes. “I’m gonna go find Peter,” she says. “Do I look okay?”

Simon thumbs away some runny mascara and nods. “Smokin’.”

She laughs weakly at the compliment and tells him she misses him, and he says he misses her, too. She gives him a hug and takes those few moments to calm down again, hoping she wouldn’t have red eyes by the time she got to Peter.

She searches for Deena the rest of the night, and she swears she sees her at least four times — but it was never her, just a trick her mind was playing on her. So, she pays attention to Peter and his friends as best she can, and when he wants to leave halfway through the night, she doesn’t argue with him. She gets in his car and she lets him do what he wants to her, counting the seconds just to have something to focus on. He drives her home and she crawls into bed and she thinks, this is the life she chose. This was what she wanted.

 


 

“So, uh, your mom tells me you’re dating some boy now.”

Sam looks up to her father from her chocolate milkshake, feeling a little awkward about the subject change. Truthfully, when her parents were married, she never spent much time with her dad. He worked a lot and they didn’t have much in common, so it wasn’t a surprise to him when she decided to go with her mom to Sunnyvale.

He’d called Sam last week and told her he’d like to spend more time with her — something she knew her mother had a hand in after the night of the carnival — and now, here they were, at the Shadyside diner.

She nods in confirmation to his earlier comment, and his mouth makes some sort of a combination between a smile and a grimace.

“That’s good, I guess.” His left hand reaches across the table for the salt and Sam doesn’t ever think she’ll get used to seeing it ringless. “Does he treat you alright?”

“He’s fine, Dad. You don’t have to worry.”

“Do I get to meet him sometime soon?” The question catches her by surprise, though she tries to mask it. The thought of bringing Peter to Shadyside is daunting and, as terrible as it sounds, she doesn’t want him exposed to any part of her that was tied to here. He wasn’t exactly the nonjudgemental type. “Your mom’s met him, like, a million times already, hasn’t she?” He peers over his beer at her as he takes a sip. “You aren’t embarrassed of your old man, are you?”

She knows he means it as a joke, but she could tell there’s a smidge of genuine interest in her response, and she flashes a reassuring smile at him. “No, never. Of course you can meet him, Dad. Soon. It’s just, we aren’t really that serious.”

“Good,” he says. “You’re too young for that anyway.”

They continue their light conversation, making sure to gloss over the sensitive subjects as neither of them are really good at maneuvering through them. He asks her about school and if she’s making any new friends and how cheer is going. She thinks it’s nice to have a parent want to know so much about her life without any ulterior motive.

There’s something comforting, she thinks, about sitting across from him as he eats breakfast for dinner and she slurps on the milkshake he bought her. She looks at his calloused hands, wrinkled shirt, and his suntanned skin and she thinks about how he’s been working from sun up to sun down since she can remember. She thinks he works much harder than any of the parents she’s seen in Sunnyvale, and yet he doesn’t own even half of what they do. But he doesn’t complain. He never has.

“Dad,” she starts, “did you ever wish you did something other than construction?”

“Sure I did.”

She pries further. “Why didn’t you?”

He meets her eyes with a curious glint in them, picking up on her curiosity. He gives a small shrug, popping a piece of bacon into his mouth. “Wanted a family more. Construction paid the bills. Seemed like an alright fit to me.”

She thinks back to all of the snide comments her mother made about his trade. How she was embarrassed by it — by him. How he didn’t amount to anything, and how she’d made a mistake marrying him. She’d heard it so much growing up that she was ashamed to say she’d been embarrassed by him, too.

But he was a good man. Caring and reliable. Dedicated. Like most Shadysiders she knew growing up.

Sam thinks about her argument with Deena last week, and how she took care of everyone — her family and her friends. And people like that never ended up alone, despite what Sam had told her.

The person who’d end up alone would be her — because she was turning into her mother. She was becoming superficial and vanity obsessed, embarrassed that she came from the working class. That she came from Shadyside — that she was different. She cared more about what her classmates thought of her than her friends back home. She’d given up Deena — traded her in for Peter, for something not even worth mentioning in comparison to what they shared together. And people like that — they always ended up alone.

She’s drawn from her thoughts when she hears some giggling near the entrance of the diner and mindlessly glances over there, not expecting to see the girl from yesterday leaning into Deena, laughing at something she said. She moves to wipe away lipstick from the side of Deena’s mouth and Sam feels her chest getting heavy.

Then she recognizes the sweater — the one she’d practically made her own over their relationship. The air is suddenly tighter, stricter, and she finds herself having to take deeper breaths to keep tears at bay.

A shaky hand pushes her milkshake away from her, feeling sick, and she tries to refocus on her dad. He talks about work and the new project they’re building in Sunnyvale and she tries to pay attention. She really does. But she can’t help herself as her eyes drift back to the couple walking to a table.

And she’s never realized it before, but she hates the lighting in the diner. The color is warm and cozy, a soft honey shade among old, tattered chairs and booths. It’s dim and intimate and it makes her think about all of the times she was here with Deena.

How her eyes gleamed with a golden ring around them under the overhead lighting, and how she used to lean across the table to whisper sweet things in her ear. She thinks about their table, located in the furthest corner from the door — a dusty, rickety structure with the letters S + D scratched into it. It was the first place they’d ever dared to hold hands in public, back there where the light didn’t quite reach as much and the darkness practically enveloped their small showings of affection.

She can feel her eyes burn as tears threaten to fall, and she can’t hide in any dark corner when Deena notices her, too. Sam watches her smile drop as their eyes meet, but it’s merely a glance before the girl in front of her reaches her hand across the table to grasp hers.

She decides she can’t bear another second of it before she looks back to her dad, interrupting him. She says she’s sorry but she has some homework she forgot about, and he hurries out of his seat to pay the bill.

She doesn’t dare look up from the floor as they walk out, too afraid of what she’d see, but she sneaks a glance just before she gets in her dad’s truck, and Deena’s looking back at her, too.

“What are you looking at?”

Deena fixes her gaze back to the girl in front of her. “Sorry.” She smiles. “What were you saying?”

 

“Jess,” she says warmly, getting to her feet. She walks a few steps closer and they meet lips, lingering for a split second before parting. Deena thinks her face eating grin must be the dopiest, dumbest looking thing in the world, but Jess looks back at her like it isn’t.

It was new between the two of them. She’d met Jess two weeks ago when picking Simon up from his shift. She was a little older, but not by much, and she’d asked Deena out the first chance she got.

Of course, Deena turned into a bumbling idiot, not used to girls being so openly interested in her, and she was grateful that by the time she was able to form the words to accept, the offer hadn’t been rescinded.

“I like your outfit,” Deena compliments. “It’s … um,” she looks at the black mini dress, black hose to match, and her mouth feels dry at the sight, “nice. You look nice.” Her eyes shoot back up to Jess, who thanks her, and tells her she wore it with Deena in mind.

The two of them have dinner plans, but by the way Jess is backing the two of them towards the bed, she doesn’t think they’ll make them on time.

It was weird the first time they’d hooked up, Deena thought, because it was different than it was with Sam. She felt different — tasted different. Deena almost felt guilty about it. But it was new and exciting and Jess liked her and held her hand in public. It makes Deena realize, as Jess hungrily makes her way up her neck to her jaw, that different isn’t always bad.

It was only when things were over — when Deena’s redressing herself and wiping lipstick off of her chest and fixing her hair, that sometimes, she still wished things were the same. She tries not to think about the way Sam used to run the tangles out of her hair with her fingers after, or how she would smell like Sam after, and Sam would smell like her, and how the two of them used to lay together for hours after, giggling and kissing and wishing the nights wouldn’t end.

It was just different now.

“You almost ready?”

“Yeah,” Jess answers, readjusting her lipstick in the mirror. “It’s pretty cold out. Do you have a jacket or something that I can wear?”

Deena hums, walking over to her closet and trying to differentiate which clothes are clean versus which aren’t. She hears Kate’s voice chastising her in her head for the mess, but silently shushes it away and continues to look.

“This is cute,” Jess calls from behind her. “Can I wear it?”

Deena turns around, seeing Jess hold up a sweater. The multicolored, oversized sweatshirt. The one that still smelled like Sam. Her favorite one.

“Um,” she gives a small shake of the head to try to play off her initial shock, forcing a smile. “Yeah, of course.”

 


 

Sam never really liked game nights now that she attended Sunnyvale. The girls on the squad always tried to make it fun, and she could tell they really enjoyed themselves, but most of it paled in comparison to what her old Fridays were like.

Simon used to close on Fridays, and they would all meet at Grab & Bag. They’d spend hours in the empty, dim store, doing stupid shit like racing shopping carts down the aisle while Deena and Kate timed them, or seeing who could carry the most pickle jars without breaking any.

And if Kate had to babysit, Simon would help her, and she’d go to Deena’s, just the two of them. She’d spend the night and help her clean up discarded beer bottles in the morning. They’d do the dishes together and cook breakfast together and Deena would hold her close and they’d talk about buying their own house one day.

It was perfect. But Deena was dating someone else now, and those Fridays didn’t belong to Sam anymore.

Now, her Fridays consisted of doing her teammates’ hair on the cheer squad and rustling pompoms together. They were spent watching Peter drink after a victorious win and trying not to cringe at how handsy he got in his car afterwards. But this was what she chose, she had to remind herself. It was her safety net.

Her attention drifts to her friend, Kelly, who’s approaching her with a guilty look on her face. “Hey, Sam,” she greets, “I think Peter’s over by the buses. You might want to go and find him.”

She furrows her brow. “Is he looking for me?”

“Something like that.”

Sam gives a friendly smile though she’s not sure what she means, and she heads off the field, toward the parking lot. She does a half jog to their bus before she sees two people leaning up against it. As she squints and walks forward, she recognizes the couple as Peter and another girl from the cheer squad. Her shoe makes a scuff on the gravel as she stops, and Peter opens his eyes to meet hers.

“Shit,” he curses, and the girl pushes him off, embarrassed. “Sam —”

“Peter?” She blinks as she realizes what they were doing, eyebrows raising at the sight of lipstick all over his mouth. He looks at her expectantly, like he’s waiting for a reaction, but Sam doesn’t know how to give him one.

“I’m really sorry, Sam,” the girl says, and Peter shushes her.

“It’s not what it looks like,” he says, distancing himself more from her, and Sam just stares, not sure what to do.

She gives them one last look before walking off, and she flinches as she hears the sound of Peter punch the bus, frustrated he was caught.

She hates that her first thought is how she’s going to tell her mom — hates that Peter was her easy ticket out of here, and now she didn’t know what to do.

She picks up her pace and walks through a different line of buses, hoping he doesn’t follow her, when she sees Kate ahead of her, in deep conversation with some guy.

“Kate?”

The two of them snap their heads to look at her before the boy runs off, and Kate yells after him to wait, but he keeps running, scared off by Sam’s sudden appearance.

Kate takes a deep breath as Sam approaches her, furious. “What?” She snaps.

She blushes in embarrassment. “Sorry, I wasn’t —”

“Thinking? Yeah, I know. That’s pretty typical of you these days.”

Sam stares at her, confused. “I didn’t know you were still selling, I’m sorry.”

“Not all of us get a free pass out of Shadyside. Some of us actually have to work for it.”

“I — I’m not judging, I was just saying I wouldn’t have interrupted had I known it was a deal.”

“Why would you interrupt me at all? We aren’t friends.”

“I just wasn’t expecting to see you here. I thought you’d be at Grab & Bag since it’s Friday and —”

“Simon closes on Wednesdays now. He’s the mascot, remember? Or did you forget that, too, when you decided you were too good for us and moved to Sunnyvale?”

Sam sighs, almost forgetting what it was like to be scolded by Kate. It was especially intimidating in the dark setting, with pooled rain water on the wet concrete reflecting the flickering lights back up to them. She mumbles out a quick apology and turns around, walking off.

“I saw you go after her,” Kate says from behind, and Sam turns around again, a little annoyed.

“What?”

“At the memorial … and the carnival.” She steps closer to her. “You’re really selfish, you know that?”

“Kate —”

“She has this chance to be with someone — someone who actually wants to be with her — and you’re trying to fuck it up.”

“I’m dating Peter!”

“Then leave her alone,” she demands, glowering. “Because otherwise, she’s going to choose you … every time. And she deserves better.”

“I’m not the villain here.” She insists, for what feels to her like the millionth time. “She broke up with me, okay?”

Kate looks at her knowingly, like she can see Sam’s thoughts and feelings, and it only infuriates Sam further. The thought of her being easy to read almost sickens her, especially now that she just found her boyfriend feeling up another girl a few buses down. Kate always had this knack for seeing through someone. She was an expert at scrutiny and, to be honest, Sam didn’t need this shit tonight. But Kate drills in to her anyway.

“I was wrong about you, Sam. I let you in and I trusted you. I thought you were strong. I respected you.” She gives a bitter chuckle at the thought of it. “But you’re a fake and a coward. And you’re right where you belong. In Sunnyvale.”

Sam lets out a breath she didn’t know she was holding, and she doesn’t have anything else to say before she makes her way back to the field. Her entire squad is staring at her, waiting for some sort of emotional meltdown, but all she does is stare across the field, eyes stopping when they land on Simon.

He’s in his witch costume, face painted green, and he’s dancing around, entertaining the extremely small audience Shadyside has, even though it’s a home game.

She sees Deena in the stands, watching Simon, proudly smiling at him like he’s the biggest, most lovable idiot on the planet. And then she sees her girlfriend walking toward her, drink in hand, and when she sits beside her, she kisses her — in front of everyone. She hands Deena the drink she got for her, and Sam tries not to lose control when she sees how happy Deena is after they pull away.

The public display must have made her think of Sam, because she notices her searching for her, and when they lock eyes together, she wears a contrite expression.

Jealousy bubbles up inside of her, muddled with fury, and she seeks out Peter, knowing Deena’s eyes would follow her.

He’s surprised when she turns him around, about to sputter out a meaningless apology when Sam silences him with a kiss. His hands immediately slide down to her backside and he gropes her, picking her up a bit and spinning her around. His team hoots and hollers at the pair, and Sam thinks they must look like such a perfect high school couple.

When he sets her down, she breaks away from him, much to his dismay, and she searches for Deena’s reaction. Instead, she sees Simon’s, and her anger subsides at his obvious disappointment. Her eyes flit toward the bleachers and they find Deena walking off, alone. And she doesn’t feel the triumph she thought she would. She just feels empty.

 


 

She calls her that night, fingers dialing her number by memory, and holds her breath for an answer.

The ringing stirs Deena out of her sleep, her hand grabbing her bedside clock to look at the time. It was just past one in the morning.

Her legs dangle off the side of her bed as she sits up, wiping the sleep from her eyes, and she sighs heavily as she gets to her feet.

“Yeah?” She answers, her voice tired.

“Hey.”

Deena freezes for a second before her temper rises once again at the sound of her voice. “Are you serious? Don’t call here.” She makes a move to hang up but stops when Sam asks her to wait.

“Don’t hang up, please, I … just let me say something.” When there’s no response, she worries it’s too late. “Deena?”

“What do you want?”

Sam sighs in relief at her answer. “I’m sorry.”

Deena’s hand grips the phone tighter, shutting her eyes as they sting with tears. She doesn’t know why she still cares so much about her — why hearing her voice this late at night affects her so much. “That all?” She asks, her voice shaking but resentful nonetheless.

“I broke up with Peter.”

Her jaw clenches at the sound of his name. “Good for you.”

Her sigh travels through the line into Deena’s ear, a somber sound that chills and warms her at the same time. “I want to tell you that you were right,” she says. “I’ve been pretending to be someone else for so long because I’m scared of who I am — scared of what I feel … for you.” Her breath catches as she inhales and Deena can hear the tears in her voice. “The truth is, Deena, you’re so good … and you make it so hard for me to just —” she stops, abandoning the rest of her thought. “I shouldn’t have said what I did at the carnival. I was insecure and stupid and I just need you to know I’m sorry for that, too.”

“Okay.”

She tries not to be offended by her curtness, knowing she’s lucky to be talking to her at all right now. “Can I ask you something?” Deena doesn’t answer, so she continues despite it. “Um … your new thing with your … girlfriend, I guess,” she tears up, taking a moment to collect herself before she asks, “is it like us? I mean, does it feel like it did when you were with me?”

“Sam,” she sighs, “please —”

“Because I see you guys together and,” she swallows the lump in her throat, “I just have to know.”

There’s a long silence between them.

“You know it doesn’t.” She gives a frustrated huff. “Why are you doing this right now?”

“Sorry.”

“I don’t get what you want from me,” she says, exasperated. “You’re the one that left.”

“I know —”

“You know, Sam,” she scoffs, “when I first had feelings for you, I started to pray — on my knees, to whoever was listening, that we could find a way to be together. That we could be Sam and Deena — forever.” She fiddles with the phone cord angrily, tired of their back and forth lately, and she doesn’t care when she hears her sniffle on the other end of the line. “You want to know what I wish for now? That we never met.”

She slams the phone back down, her entire body hot with ire. Her cheeks burn with tears and her hands shake, outraged by her insolence.

A light knock comes at her door and she jumps, rushing to wipe at her eyes.

“Could you shut up?” Josh asks, stepping inside. “Who are you even talking to?”

“Sorry,” she says. “It was Kate.”

His expression falls as he looks at her tearstained face and he closes the door behind him. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing, Josh. Get out.”

He frowns, not deterred by her brash demeanor. “It’s Sam, isn’t it?”

Josh —” She warns.

“It’s okay,” he says. “I know you miss her.”

She tries to yell at him — tries to fuss at him for coming in her room unannounced and talking about things he didn’t know anything about — but the words catch in her throat.

He notices and, not wanting her to feel awkward, jests, “Women, am I right?” It works. She musters up a smile and a laugh, rolling her eyes at him, and he goes to sit on her bed. “All right, let’s hear it.”

“Hear what?”

He pats to the space next to him. “What’d Sam do now?”

“Wh — I am not talking to you about this. Get out of here, dweeb.”

“Come on, Deena. Can’t fight the brotherly love I’m giving right now.”

“You’re disgusting.” He smiles at her and she sits down beside him anyway. “I’m not talking to you about Sam.”

Come on. You would’ve talked to Mom about her.”

“Yeah, well, Mom’s dead, so.”

He tuts at her bluntness. “Just pretend I’m her, then.”

She lets out a small laugh, looking at him. “Oh, yeah? You gonna clean up after everyone and cook dinner and do the dishes and dad’s laundry?”

“We do appreciate it, you know.”

“Yeah. I know.” She sighs, giving a shrug. “I have to break up with my girlfriend.”

“Oh,” he says. She’d never really talked about her breakup with Sam. He just remembered her coming back home one night, red eyes and nose, and heating up leftovers. When he started to set the table, he set a third plate for Sam, like he usually did, but she told him it’d only be them from now on, voice thick from crying. He never asked her any questions after that. “Because of Sam?”

“No,” she answers. “I don’t know,” she corrects herself.

“Well, I’m really sorry. It seemed like you liked her.”

“Yeah, I do.”

“Just not as much as you liked Sam.”

“Yeah,” she sighs, tired. “Not as much.”

 


 

Sam spends the next day with her dad, hoping somehow, she’d run into Deena somewhere. But she doesn’t, and by nightfall, he has to bring her back home.

They make a stop at the local store and she looks around for Simon, eager to see him. He flashes a grin once they meet eyes, tossing the loaf of bread he was stocking to the side. “Well, if it isn’t Samantha Fraser in my Grab & Bag. It’s as if times haven’t changed at all.”

They share a friendly hug and he yells to someone off to the side that he’s taking his break, leading them into the break room.

“What are you in Shadyside for?”

“I spent the day with my dad.”

“You have a dad?” He asks, surprised, and she laughs, nodding. “Oh, dude, I have to meet him — unless he’s scary like your mom.”

“No one’s as scary as her,” she jokes.

“What’s he like?”

She thinks for a while before she says, “Quiet.”

“Well, what did he think of you and Deena?”

“He doesn’t know.”

“Oh.” He hums. “So, he could be scary.”

Sam shrugs, uncomfortable. “Could be. Probably is, with my luck.”

“Yeah,” he says. “Well, I’m glad you came to say hi. I’ve missed you around here.”

“Me too. How have you been? How’s your mom?”

“Good,” he says. “We’re both good. She’s getting around a little better these days. This job really helps, plus with Kate, the money’s been okay.” He looks at her. “What about you? How’s Peter?”

“We broke up.”

His eyebrows raise. “You sure looked close last night. Made a show of it and everything.”

“Um, yeah,” she says. “How is she, anyway? Have you talked to her?”

He tries to hide a frown. “Yeah. She’ll be fine.”

“C’mon, Simon,” she says, playfully bumping her hip against his. “You’re not mad at me too, are you?” He gives her a slight smile, one that wasn’t filled with its usual boyish charm. “Oh. You are.”

“No,” he replies, scratching the back of his neck. “No, I’m not mad at you. You know I don’t get involved in stuff like this.”

“But…?”

“I don’t know. I, uh, thought you guys were over. I thought … you know, she would get over you and maybe … maybe she’d be her old self again.” He pauses. “‘Cause if I’m being honest, Sam, it really, like … destroyed her when you left.” Sam looks down for a second, sighing. “And, um, … I watched her try so hard every day after that just to get through it, like, without you here, and … I don’t know, I guess. That shit you pulled at the game just … you know. It sucked.”

“Yeah,” she agrees. There’s something humiliating about possibly being the first person Simon’s ever been disappointed in. “I don’t know why I …,” she trails off, trying to not take it personally, but the dam in her breaks, and suddenly, it’s all too much. Tears start flowing as she thinks about it — and she can’t stop hearing Deena say ‘you’re the one that left’ in her head.

“Oh, fuck,” he frets, pulling her in. “Don’t cry. Ah, shit, seriously.”

“I don’t know why I did that,” she mumbles against his uniform. “It’s, like, I keep trying to f-figure out what I w-want and,” she takes a deep breath, “I keep fucking everything up.”

“It’s okay. Hey, listen, it’s gonna be okay, I promise.” He rubs her back, concerned. “Listen, if you won’t stop crying for you, do it for me. Deena will actually kill me if she finds out I made you cry.” He gives a nervous laugh, trying to find something to distract her. “Do you like my nails?” He practically screams, shoving a hand close to her face. He wiggles his fingers under the overhead lights of the store and his purple nail polish reflects under it.

“What?”

“Do you like them, like … the color?” She sniffles, studying them. “I nicked it from Kate. It’s called mulberry flamingo.”

She wipes at her eyes for a closer look, furrowing her brow. “That doesn’t make sense. It’s purple.”

Mulberry,” he says. “Duh.” They meet eyes and he smiles down at her. “You remember when you used to paint them for me?”

She nods. “Yeah.”

“Yeah?” He laughs. “Remember that one time you painted them for me in Mr. Baker’s class and we got kicked out?” She nods again, smiling. “Think I could get a pedicure next?”

Her smile turns to a big grin and she takes a step back to wipe at her eyes and nose. She lets out a deep breath and he does, too.

The door to the break room opens, and they look over to see Jess walking in, visibly upset. Simon and Sam stare at her awkwardly.

“Everything okay, Jess?” Simon asks.

“Deena just broke up with me.” She says, shoving her jacket in her locker and slamming the door shut. Sam stops breathing, eyes fixed to the floor, hoping she could turn invisible. “I don’t know what I did. I — I called her after she walked off last night at the game and she said she was just tired, so I went over there this morning to see her and she just dumped me.”

“Shit, I’m sorry,” he says.

“Did she say anything to you?”

Simon shakes his head no.

“I should go,” Sam says, but Jess waives a hand at her.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to be rude. I’m Jess. Are you a friend of Simon’s?”

Sam blinks. She didn’t remember her from carnival night. “Yeah,” she forces a smile, “nice to meet you. I really do have to go though. Bye.” She glances nervously at Simon before leaving, walking back to her dad.

“What took you so long? You smokin’ a joint back there or something?”

“Huh? No.”

“Better not be. Your mother would never let me hear the end of it.”

 


 

It’s after cheer practice when the basketball team comes in to the gym, shirtless and sweaty, and the cheer squad starts giggling and whispering to each other, fawning over them, and Sam wonders what it’d be like to relate to her peers in that way.

She hates it about herself, but she wishes she was different. She wishes she could be the daughter her mom wants. She wishes she could look at boys and feel something — anything. But she doesn’t.

She’s tried, though, so hard. In fact, she’s attempted to romanticize boys in every way possible. She thinks if there were a world record for it, she’d be the holder. And it works, for a while. Often times, she’s pretty good at convincing herself she could be with a man.

She plans out what her life could be — one with children and a big house and someone that comes home to her every night, and the thought is nice, she thinks.

It’s only when she’s faced with the actuality of getting close to a boy that she realizes how unattainable it all is. No matter how much she tries to ignore it, her skin crawls at the idea of a man’s touch. She feels mismatched, like she’s somehow forbidden to feel an affinity for them.

But with Deena — God, it was different with Deena. Intimacy with her was the hushed sweetness shared between the two in their most vulnerable moments. It was the memory of her full lips and how they felt on her skin. The way she melted under the gaze of her soft, brown eyes; and how she managed to look upon her with such tenderness. Her heart races at the sensation of a grasp of the hip or back or hand. And when Deena holds her, it’s like every fiber of her being is on fire. She feels warm.

And it scares her.

She’d called Deena a few days ago, telling her she had a box of her stuff, too, and she says she can keep it. That was, before she realized how many shirts Sam still had of hers. She said she’d be there Wednesday after school — which was today — and Sam’s spent the entire day looking at the clock, not knowing whether she wanted it to speed up or slow down.

She ends up leaving school early, skipping her last period, not able to concentrate on anything but the impending meeting. She walks home and straightens up her room. Touches up her lip gloss in the mirror. Tries her best to look presentable, like her stomach hasn’t been in knots all day.

And when she hears the doorbell, she’s halfway into changing her shirt for the fourth time. Hurrying down the steps, she opens the door, and invites Deena in.

She follows Sam up the stairs, surprised by the size of the house. It’s just her mom and Sam that lived there, but she’s certain it’s at least four bedrooms.

They’ve lived here for a few months, but there isn't much clutter anywhere. In fact, it barely looks like anyone lives here at all.

When they reach her room, it’s much different than her old one; neutral and plain. It looks more like a guest room, if Deena’s being honest, devoid of any personality or individuality. The walls are white and barren. It’s not anything like Deena pictured it would be.

“Your stuff’s just up here,” Sam says, wandering into her closet and reaching for a well-hidden box. Deena’s eyes linger on her as her shirt rides up, exposing skin, and Sam almost catches her as she finally grabs it, facing her again.

She gives an awkward smile to her as she hands her the box. “Thanks for coming to get it.” Deena nods, moving to grab her car keys from her jacket, and Sam speaks again. “Hey, I, um … I heard about you and Jess.”

She ignores her, giving the box a small shake. “Is this it?”

Sam frowns at the slight, arms crossing over her insecurely. “Just wanted to say I was sorry. She, uh, didn’t get to keep my favorite sweater, right?” It’s a joke, but not one Deena finds funny. Her eyes are cruel as they stare back at her, almost accusatory, and she makes a move to walk out before Sam grasps her arm, a soft ‘don’t’ following. Her heart rate picks up as they meet eyes again, and she’s surprised by her own boldness. “Are you going to hate me forever?”

“I fucking wish I could,” she seethes. The words tumble out of her mouth without much thought, and Sam remains still. She looks at Deena with a glint of desire, the heated response sounding anything but passionless, and Deena clenches her jaw, feeling resentment kindling deep inside of her. She makes a move to leave again and is stopped once more. Before she can say anything, Sam speaks again. “Deena, I …,” she swallows hard, “I really miss you.”

“Well, I don’t miss you.”

“I don’t believe you.” She steps closer to her, Deena’s hands gripping the box tighter, and places her hands to rest on the sides of her face.

Her spoken words leave a warm presence on Deena’s lips as her breath coats them, and Sam searches her eyes for something; for any sort of signal that Deena missed her, too.

And when she sees it — the falter of her harsh exterior — she takes a chance, brushing a thumb over her bottom lip before she leans in, meeting their lips together in a gentle, but urgent kiss.

It’s cautious, but tender, and when Sam slides a hand down to her shoulder, Deena pulls back. She hesitates as she hears the parting sound of Sam’s breathy exhale, as if she had been waiting so long for this moment, too, but it only serves to frustrate her further — because Sam had ruined them … ruined this.

She’s confused and angry and Sam didn’t have the right to just do things like this out of the blue. She couldn’t just decide when they were on and when they weren’t. She sends her a smoldering look before taking a step back from her and walking out of her room, making sure to slam the door on her way out.

Sam deflates at the rejection, her fingers reaching up to touch her lips, wondering if that had really happened. She doesn’t know what to do next, her adrenaline too high to cope with. She almost follows her down the stairs — but before she can make any move, she hears Deena mumble ‘God damn it’, and her door swings back open.

Her box of things is discarded to the side, making a slight thump as it hits carpet, and she grabs Sam’s arm, pulling her close. It causes her to stumble forward, and Deena seeks out her lips with her own, crashing them together. She feels Deena’s hand snake up her back and press on her neck and she reciprocates hungrily, leaning into her so much that Deena has to make sure she doesn’t lose her footing.

Sam’s hands go to her waist and she pushes them back, stopping when she hits her dresser. The items atop it clink from the impact, and some slide off to the floor as Deena rests a hand on it, steadying them. 

It’s not long before Deena turns them around, hips digging into Sam’s. Her hands shake as they wrap around her, underneath her shirt, and Sam’s heart beats so fast that she’s certain Deena can feel it against her chest.

Hands continue to wander as she slides her right down past her backside, gripping her thigh and lifting it to her hip, moving to trail wet kisses down her neck. Deena’s name spills out of her mouth, and Sam ignores the voices that are telling her to stop. That are telling her this is wrong. Because it doesn’t feel wrong to her.

She walks them back to the bed, and when the back of Deena’s knees hit the mattress, Sam falls into her lap, straddling her. Eyes meet briefly before they touch lips once more, their breathing filling the room.

The movement is choppy and rushed, as if they’re making up for lost time, and Sam’s blue nails make their way in her curly locks.

Sam cups her face as she deepens the kiss, warm tongues mingling between them and Deena can’t help the small, quiet moan that leaves her mouth in response, hands tightening around her waist.

“What are we doing?” She mumbles into Sam’s mouth, and Sam whispers back that she doesn’t know. It causes Deena to pull back again, eyes dilated, and Sam looks back at her, licking her lips in anticipation.

“We should stop,” she whispers.

“I know.”

She focuses on Sam’s rouge-tinted lips, bruised and puffy from contact, and back to her blue eyes. They share oxygen as they pant for air in close proximity.

And there’s something about the way she looks down at her, low-lidded eyes driven by lust, that makes Deena lean back in after a small beat.

Pace slows as Sam kisses her deliberately and with a thoroughness as Deena moves them further up the bed, making sure to savor it. She’s missed this — been starving herself of it. She’s missed the way her pale skin heats up under Deena’s lips, how Deena makes her flush a deep pink and gleam with moisture.

Breaths quicken as they continue to familiarize themselves with each other. It’s long and exhaustive; intricate the way they meld together on her sheets. They intwine themselves together, tasting themselves on each other’s lips, inhaling the other’s exhales, heady with fervor. There’s an insatiable desire to please one another.

And when hands slow and stamina weakens, lips and tongues lazily glide between each other, and they feel for each other what they always have — love. They kiss each other deep and slow, for as long as their lungs allow.

But when Sam’s fingers start threading through her curls, untangling them the way she used to, Deena pulls back. It’s too personal — too romantic.

“What’s wrong?” Sam asks, and Deena doesn’t know what to tell her.

The lack of contact makes her incredibly aware of her surroundings and the soft glow they’d created together vanishes. “I should go,” she whispers.

Sam reaches for her hand. “No, stay.”

She sits up anyway, and Sam follows. “When does your mom get home?”

“Not for a while. Don’t worry.”

She glances toward the window, then back at Sam. “My car’s out front. Someone will notice it’s been parked there for a while. I should go,” she repeats.

Sam tries to think of something to say as she watches Deena get dressed again, but comes up short. She’s barely looking at her, and Sam starts to worry this might’ve been a onetime thing.

She looks back at Sam when she’s clothed, swallowing at the sight of her confused countenance, her messy hair, and the thin sheet covering her chest. She bends down to pick up her box of things off the floor.

“Call me later?” Sam asks, but Deena doesn’t say anything but a goodbye before she’s out of her room. Sam listens to her footsteps descend down the stairs, slightly flinching when she hears the front door shut. 

 


 

“You sneaky little slut!”

Deena’s eyes meet Simon’s through the rearview mirror, and she arches her brow. “Excuse me?”

Simon grins widely, undeterred by her venomous stare. He’d been friends with her for so long, he knew just how harmless she actually was. “You know who I checked out yesterday at Grab & Bag? None other than Sam Fraser. Boy, did she have some interesting news for me.”

Her lips purse in panic and she looks forward, hands dashing back to the wheel. “Everyone ready to go?”

Kate stops her hand from reaching the gear shift. “What does that mean?” She asks, and Deena shuts her eyes. “What is he talking about?”

“Nothing,” she lies. She avoids her accusatory gaze for as long as she can before she says, “Don’t look at me like that.”

“Oh, Deena,” she says, disappointed.

“It just … I don’t know. It just happened! I don’t know how — it just did.” She groans. “How did you find out? Did she tell you?”

“No, but it wasn’t that hard to figure out when she asked me, like, 50 questions about you. I’m pretty sure she wants you to call her, by the way. She only mentioned it about a thousand times.”

“Oh, God,” she sighs, “I can’t believe I hooked up with her.”

“Really?” Simon says. “‘Cause the rest of us all thought it was pretty much just a matter of time.”

“That’s not helpful, Simon.” Kate snaps. Her hand moves from the top of hers to rest on her shoulder, rubbing it reassuringly.

It helps a bit, mostly because she was worried Kate might kill her for making such a stupid decision. But Kate was rarely mad at her or Simon, and she always knew what to do.

They’d been best friends since she could remember, and even though Deena seemed like the scarier, tougher one in her black combat boots and torn flannels, it was Kate who protected her, in her mini dresses and hair scrunchies.

She often remembers the time she was outed at school — how public it was, in the school hallway, right by her locker. She remembers how there was an entire sea of people looking at her — whispering about her. But then Kate pushed her way through, demanding to know what was going on.

And when the guys who were tormenting her called Deena a dyke, and everyone laughed, Kate faltered for a mere millisecond before grabbing Deena’s hand in her own, placing another behind her neck, and kissing her right on the lips.

It silenced everyone around them, and she managed to glare at each individual person, almost daring another person to step forward and say something. When they didn’t, she just shrugged, and said, “Guess I’m one, too.”

Nobody ever said anything to Deena about it again. The entire school was too scared of Kate to mess with her, not to mention, she was their sole supplier for all things prescription.

That was just the kind of person she was. A fierce protector. They were inseparable, and they loved each other, and they loved Simon, too.

Deena rests her head on the steering wheel, turning it toward Kate. “What do I do?”

“You want some constructive criticism?” Deena nods. “That was a really bad idea, and you’re stupid.”

Her eyes squint as she thinks about it. “I don’t know how constructive that is, but alright.”

“Just criticism, then. But, don’t worry. We’ll figure it out.”

Simon shrinks in the backseat. “Well, shit. I didn’t mean to kill the mood. I thought it was funny.”

She picks her head back up and shakes it in disbelief, looking back to glare at him. “Why do you even have those?”

“Oh!” He picks up some battered, dying carnations in his lap and hands them to Kate. “For the lady.”

“I’m a lady, too, you know.”

Simon laughs. “Good one, Deena.”

She accepts them, confused. Eyes narrow as she tries to think about what he could have possibly done to warrant giving her a guilt gift. “What’d you do?”

He scoffs, but his eyes widen at her suspicion. He was never a great liar, Deena thinks. “Can’t a guy just give his friend some flowers?”

Simon,” Kate says. “Fess up.”

“Fine.” He sighs. “I was the one who broke that vase last night.”

What?” She snarls, and Deena gives a low whistle at her intensity, glad it wasn’t directed at her. “And you let the kids take the fall?” He gives her an apologetic look and she throws the flowers at him. Deena quietly laughs.

“Hey! I stole those specifically for you!”

She rubs at her temple. “Oh my God. You guys are idiots.” She says it matter-of-factly, more so to herself than to them.

Deena gapes. “Wh — what’d I do?”

“You slept with Sam!”

There’s a pause before, “Fair enough.”

“We may be idiots, but you’d be lost without us.” He leans forward and plants a kiss on her forehead. “I love you, kid.”

Kate frowns. “You’re the kid.”

You’re the kid.”

“No,” she stresses. “You are.”

“You are.”

You are!”

They continue to bicker and Deena rolls her eyes, putting her car in drive and heading toward Grab & Bag. He’d taken on someone’s closing shift tonight, and Kate and Deena are more than happy to waste another night at the shoddy old store, just the three of them.

The girls do their homework in the car and listen to the radio while Simon works the first part of his shift, and Kate swears she’s going to lose her mind if Deena brings Sam up one more time.

She tells her to just call her if she wants to get back together; that, yes, it really was that simple — but Deena says she doesn’t know if that’s what she wants. She doesn’t know anything, really.

So, for her own sanity, Kate decides to devise a plan of her own. It involves baked goods and her mom’s 1982 Dodge Caravan. And Sam, of course.

 


 

“Sam!”

She groans a bit from the interruption, her mom yelling for her from downstairs. She wasn’t in any sort of mood to do much of anything right now, practically waiting near her phone day and night for Deena.

Sam answers with a tired ‘yeah?’ before her mom yells, “Kate is here to see you.”

Her room is a whirlwind as she sits up in her bed, eyes widening as she wonders if she heard her correctly. “Who?” She hollers back.

“Kate!”

Sam pauses, her mind racing with other possible word matches. But she can’t think of any that make sense. “… Are you saying Kate?”

A huff travels up to her room. “Come downstairs.”

Her legs slink off the side of her bed as she gets to her feet slowly. She hadn’t left her room all day. Eyes meet her reflection in the mirror for a quick peek to make sure she looks presentable enough, hands flying to smooth down her hair before she twists her doorknob open and heads down to the living room.

And Kate is there. Sitting on her couch. Giving her a shining smile.

“Look at these,” her mom gushes, holding up a tray of cookies. “She baked them for us with the little girls she babysits. Isn’t that sweet?”

“Hi Sam.” Her voice is cheerful … scary, almost.

Sam clears her throat, making sure to stand up so her posture didn’t look so poor. “Hi ….”

There’s a challenging glint in her eye as if she’s enjoying knowing that she caught Sam off guard. They look at each other in silence before her mom speaks up.

“She heard about you and Peter — thought she’d stop by to cheer you up. Isn’t that nice?”

“Oh,” Sam says. “Yeah.”

The older woman frowns at the memory of it, looking to Kate. “Did you hear he was feeling up that girl Melissa? She’s off the squad for sure. Sam caught them near the buses — ”

Mom,” Sam interrupts, giving her an embarrassed look. “Please.”

“Okay, okay,” she relents. “Well, don’t be rude, Sam. Invite her upstairs.”

Sam looks to Kate in response, and she doesn’t hesitate before taking the initiative to head for the stairs, leading the way for them despite her never setting foot in the house before.

“This one?” She asks, pointing to a door on the right, and Sam quietly redirects her to the one on the left.

Her innocent act is gone once they’re alone in her room, and Kate looks around, studying it — probably trying to find something wrong with it, Sam thinks.

“Um,” she starts, “are you here to … murder me, or something?”

Kate shrugs, her tied up hair bouncing with the slight motion. “I’ve thought about it.”

Sam nods in response. “Cool,” she says, nervous.

“But no,” she sighs. "I’m here to drive you to Deena’s house.”

Sam’s eyebrows raise, eyes widening. “She wants to see me?”

“She won’t stop talking about you.” Kate rolls her eyes. “It’s disgusting.”

“I thought you wanted me to leave her alone.”

“Yeah, well, I can be a smidge dramatic at times.”

“A smidge?”

She gives a frustrated huff. “I’m sorry, okay? It hurt me, too, when you left, you know?” Sam frowns, and before she can apologize, Kate speaks again. “You’re already suffering enough as it is, so don’t feel too bad for me.”

A soft giggle escapes her lips at her quip and she feels herself relax a bit more now that she was beginning to see her warm side again. It’d been long gone ever since her and Deena broke up.

“Are you sure she wants to see me?”

“No,” she answers, honestly. “But I feel bad for you and I yelled at you, and this is me apologizing.”

“So, you’re … taking pity on me.”

“Yep!” She claps, hands clasping together. “Are you ready?”

Sam gives a weak ‘I guess’ before they give some excuse to her mom and head out toward Shadyside.

It’s quiet and awkward, for Sam, at least, on the way there. She feels like she has to be on her best behavior, knowing that she isn’t exactly on Kate’s good side anymore, so she sits up straight, hands in her lap, and stays quiet as Kate drives them to Deena’s.

It stays that way for a good while until, seemingly out of nowhere, Kate says, “I will kill you if you hurt Deena again.”

Sam’s eyebrows raise at the unexpected comment. “Okay.”

“I swear to God, Sam, I will tell everyone I sell to that you’re the last person within a hundred miles with one single Percocet left, and you’ll have enraged pill poppers grabbing at you from every direction you can imagine.”

“Wow,” she whispers. “You’ve really … thought about this.”

“Yeah, I have. So, if you’re not a hundred percent sure about this —”

“I’m sure,” she says.

Kate hesitates before accepting her answer. “Okay.”

“Hey,” she starts, almost regretting drawing prolonged attention to her as soon as she speaks. “Um, I just wanted to say sorry for … leaving.”

Kate glances at her briefly before looking back at the road. “It’s fine.”

“And I really missed you.”

They stop at a red light, the dark haired girl glancing over at her with a smile. “You are such a sap.”

“Yeah, well, I have such a soft spot for girls threatening to kill me.”

Giggles fill the old family car as tensions die down between them, and it feels like old times. Kate brings up Peter, poking fun at her for ever dating him, and they laugh together as they catch up on what’s happened over the last few months.

When they reach Shadyside, Kate reassures her she can do it. She tells her that she expects a full report, and a gift for all her hard work — and when Sam hesitates to leave the car, Kate starts honking, mortifying her enough to step out of the van and hurry up the steps to the front door.

Her hand shakes as she reaches for the doorbell, and she debates turning back for the car as soon as she hears its muffled ring through the front door. The only reason she doesn’t is because she knows Kate would lock the doors and drive off.

Her breath slows as she hears footsteps approaching and she hears Deena yell at her brother, asking him if it’d kill him to get up for once.

The handle turns and then they’re face to face. The vexed expression she wears is completely wiped off of her face at the sight of her.

“Sam,” she breathes.

“You didn’t call.”

Deena doesn’t say anything for a while, still processing the sight of the girl in front of her. It takes her a few seconds before she asks, “How did you get here?”

She takes a small step to the side and looks back, Deena’s eyes following. They land on Kate, who’s smirking back at them from her mom’s car. She gives a mischievous wave and drives off, leaving Sam on her doorstep.

“She showed up at my house,” she explains, a coy smile on her face. “Said she took pity on me.”

Deena can’t help but laugh, not exactly surprised by Kate’s audacity. “How kind of her.”

“Yeah, my mom thought so, too. Kate always was the daughter she never had.”

“God, I know.” She playfully rolls her eyes. “Guess I should’ve taken some pointers from her to win your mom over.” Sam grins, a light giggle falling from her lips, and Deena laughs, too. She invites her inside and Sam steps in, the threshold creaking as she passes by her.

She leads the way to Deena’s room, familiar with her way around the house, and when she sits on her bed, Deena stands opposite of her. The air feels thicker, and silence grows between them.

She tries to lighten the mood with a joke, asking why it feels like they’re about to breakup even though they aren’t together anymore, and Deena forces a smile, causing hers to fade.

“Sorry I haven’t called.”

“It’s okay,” Sam says.

“I just don’t know what to say to you.”

“Just say what you feel.”

“It’s not that easy, though, is it?”

Sam stares at her, worried now that maybe Deena hadn’t called her because she knew Sam wouldn’t want to hear what she had to say.

She could tell she hadn’t gotten much sleep because her eyes look dull under the lighting, and dark circles underline them. Her once resting hands start fidgeting in her lap. “Well, um,” she starts, her voice small, “Deena, if there’s a chance that … we could start again —”

“Sam,” she interrupts, and she shakes her head, as if she doesn’t want to hear the rest, “I can’t be your secret. Okay? And I don’t want to be someone you’re ashamed of.”

“I was never ashamed of you,” she says, a bit taken aback, and Deena gives her a knowing look, doubt evident on her face. “Deena, I wasn’t,” she stresses. “I was just … scared and I thought that … if I ran away from you — from what you made me feel — I’d actually be able to look at myself in the mirror and stop feeling disgusting and wrong and dirty.” She sighs, almost embarrassed at her vulnerability. “My mom — she couldn’t even look me in the eyes anymore; it was like the sight of me sickened her.” There’s a break in between, and Sam’s voice shakes when she speaks again. “Being like this, like us, it’s really hard — and I know you’ve dealt with it, too, but … you have Kate and Simon, Josh and your dad, and all of them have, like, this unconditional love for you. I don’t have that. Love for me has always been conditional.”

“Sam,” she tries to interject, empathy coating her tone, but she continues.

“So I left.” She clenches her jaw, upset with herself. “And I tried to blame you, even though I was the one who pushed you away. And, for a while, I was doing really well pretending to be someone else — pretending like there wasn’t this huge hole in my life that you used to fill. But when you gave me back all of my things — seeing our relationship in that box … it just hit me. So much time had passed and I was this person I didn’t even recognize — someone I’d worked so hard to be. And it didn’t even matter, because as soon as I saw you, I still felt the same about you as I always have.”

Her throat is dry by now, and Deena’s studying her, eyebrows furrowed. Sam can tell she doesn’t know what to do, and it scares her, because she doesn’t want to imagine what it’ll be like to go home tonight, knowing it’s over again.

It feels like an eternity before she says something.

“I love you unconditionally, you know."

Sam breaks out into a smile, nodding, and moves to stand in front of her. “I know,” she says.

Her hands rest on her waist and she leans in to capture her lips, but Deena stops her. “Hey, listen,” she whispers, and Sam bites the bottom of her lip at the interruption. “You can’t run away this time … okay? ‘Cause I don’t want this if I’m just going to lose you again.”

“You won’t.”

“Promise?” She mumbles against her lips, and Sam hums in agreement, kissing her deeply.

“Promise.”

Deena’s back hits her dresser lightly as Sam leans into her, hands slowly wandering over her body. It’s not long before they find their way in between her legs, and the soft pants that pour out of Deena’s mouth have Sam wondering how she ever gave her up.

They’re warm on her lips, blanketing them as they permeate through her ears and settle deep in her chest. She knows she could listen to her forever — wishes she hadn’t wasted so much time away from her, because the feeling of holding her so close, her shaky hands gripping on to her shoulder, and watching her with her lightly closed lids and soft, parted lips — it was a sight unlike any other.

“God, I missed you,” she whispers to her, “I missed you.”

Deena answers her with a kiss, their lips barely touching for more than a few seconds before she can’t keep up with it, her head lulling back in bliss, and Sam moves to kiss her neck instead. A small mark forms at the base of her lips and she feels Deena trickle down her hand.

It’s intimate and sensual and, when it’s over and Deena catches her breath, she pushes Sam back toward the chair adjacent to her bed, climbing on top of her once she’s seated. Her hand makes its way between their laps to unbutton Sam’s shorts, and she savors every part of her she can.

 


 

“Kate,” Simon nudges her arm, “Kate, I told you.”

Sam and Deena approach their table at the diner, hands interlocked, confused expressions on their face. “What’s he talking about?” Deena asks.

“Ignore him,” Kate advises.

“No, I literally dreamed this.”

“Dreamed what?”

Kate rolls her eyes at Deena’s continued interest. “He thinks he’s psychic.”

“Wait, listen, I told you she’d be wearing an orange shirt.”

Sam pulls the fabric from her waist with her free hand, puzzled. “This is red.”

“I mean, that’s certainly your opinion.”

Deena steps forward, feigning fascination. “Wait, I think you’re on to something. What color am I thinking of right now?”

He ponders it, locking his line of sight directly in her eyes. “Periwinkle.” She gasps, astonished, and his mouth opens in shock at her reaction. “Did I guess it?”

“No.”

His face drops and he slouches in his seat. “Dude, that’s fucked up, even for you.”

“I was thinking periwinkle,” Sam lies, and Simon pipes back up.

“Ha!” He cheers. “Sam, Sam, Sam, I always knew we had a deeper connection.”

Eager to change the subject, Kate focuses back on the girls. “So, you’re officially back together, then?” Deena nods. “Well, I’m waiting.” She points to her cheeks and Sam and Deena laugh before both leaning in and kissing her on opposite sides. “And what do we say?”

“Thank you, Kate,” they say together.

“What about me?” Simon asks.

Kate tilts her head. “I don’t remember you driving an hour to bring Sam to Deena.”

“I was there in spirit,” he scoffs. Sam and Deena lean forward to peck his cheeks, too, and he gives a high-pitched giggle in response.

The couple slides in to the empty booth opposite of Kate and Simon, and Deena tries not to blush when Sam places her hand on her thigh. It’s a small interaction, but one she never thought she’d have again, especially not in public.

“So, are we the first to hear the good news?”

“We told Josh first,” Sam answers, and they playfully chide them at placing second.

It feels as if nothing has changed between the four of him, like they’d just been waiting for her to come back and take her place again.

She makes sure to listen intently as Kate tells a babysitting story from earlier this week and Simon continues on about being a possible psychic, not wanting to miss or forget anything, no matter how trivial the information seemed to any passerby. It matters to her, she thinks, because she almost lost this. Almost lost herself.

As the night goes on, Sam finds herself sitting sideways in Deena’s lap, back to the wall as her girlfriend’s arm lays across her legs. 

Kate and Simon bicker about something across from them, and they watch, amused. Sam turns her head to face Deena, smiling at her, and gives her a sweet peck. She follows her lips when Deena parts, kissing her once more, and they beam at each other, basking in one another’s affection. Kate throws a French fry at them in feigned disgust.

“Sam?”

The deep voice is eerily familiar, and the group of four looks to the side to see Sam’s dad approaching the table. Her once lovestruck eyes are now panicked as she slides off Deena, and she hears her whisper ‘shit’ under her breath.

“Dad,” she breathes, “what are you doing here?”

He stands there for a bit longer, in shock, before he says, “I thought you had a boyfriend.”

She glances at Deena, who refuses to meet her gaze — instead, she’s looking at Kate, who meets her eyes with mute sympathy.

The exchange makes Sam frown, feeling incredibly drained at the thought of having to hide her again. The last thing she wanted to do, especially now, was deny her.

Because she had told Deena the truth earlier — she wasn’t ashamed of her.

“No,” Sam says, “I have a girlfriend.”

The confession earns her an alarmed look from Deena, and Kate and Simon quietly excuse themselves out of the booth, fearing the conversation would turn much too personal for Sam’s comfort.

Her dad looks at Deena for a bit, the attention causing her great apprehension. She swallows hard. “You’re Johnson’s kid, aren’t you?”

“Yes — sir.”

He grunts in acknowledgement before he fixates back on his daughter. “Does your mother know about this?”

“Sort of.”

“Well, I imagine she isn’t too keen on it, is she?”

“No.”

“How about your dad?” He asks Deena.

“He knows,” she answers.

“And what does he have to say about it?”

“Not much.”

He nods, silence enveloping them once again as he thinks about the new revelation. It wasn’t like this was a new face to him — she used to be at the house quite a bit, he thinks. But not once did he think they were anything more than small town friends.

It makes him sick as he reflects on it — guilty that she felt like she had to keep a secret; and that he never asked her anything about her life, really, until she’d left to live with her mom.

“Dad —”

He interrupts. “And you’ve been hiding this for how long?”

Sam looks at him, not expecting the question, and she feels Deena shift her hand to rest on her back for support. “I don’t know,” she says, but it’s not true. She knew exactly how long.

“Long time?” He asks, and she nods. He thinks for a moment before he speaks again. “Well … okay.”

She blinks. “Okay?”

He extends his hand out to her. “Good to meet you, … ?”

“Deena,” she says, shaking it. “My name is Deena.”

“Deena,” he confirms. “And you’re dating my daughter.” He says it almost to himself. He ponders it a moment longer before he kind of shrugs. “Well, the only thing I can say about it is that I love the daughter I have already. And I can’t really imagine anything better than having another one day.”

“You’re not mad at me?”

“No. I’m mad at me. I’m sorry you felt like you couldn’t tell me.” He frowns. “You know, it takes guts to be who you are. Good on you, kid.”

She’s motionless for a second as she takes it in, and then she stands up, wrapping her arms around him in a tight hug.

Simon’s there waiting when they part. “Well, this is just beautiful.”

Deena rubs at her forehead, embarrassed by him. “Simon — ”

“And you are?”

“Simon,” he grins. “Big fan. Nice to meet you.” He outstretches his hand and the older man shakes it.

“Your nails are purple, son.”

“I know. Do you like them?”

He shrugs. “Don’t hate ‘em, I suppose.” He looks to Kate, a genuine smile on his face. “And how are you, Kate?”

She beams at the greeting, giving him a strong shake of the hand. “Very good. Thanks for asking.”

“You remember Kate’s name but not Deena’s?”

He glances at Sam. “Guarantee you I won’t forget it again after this.”

She gives a sheepish smile and they all laugh at the awkwardness of it all, Deena getting up to stand by her girlfriend’s side.

A mere moment passes before a sharp gasp breaks through the diner.

“Look,” Kate says, pointing to the diner’s TV. A newscast plays, the volume a bit muted. At the bottom of the screen shows ‘Sheriff Goode dead’.

Soon, it catches the attention of the other patrons, and the waitress turns the volume up. A woman stands outside of his home, speaking into a large microphone.

“Shadyside residents Christine Berman and Mary Lane are missing. Local police report they’re suspected of breaking and entering as well as burglarizing Goode’s home located in Sunnyvale. The relationship between the two women is unclear. Several thousands of dollars are alleged to be stolen. Officials say they’re considered to be on the run, armed and dangerous. Please contact the local police department with any information.”

“Cool,” Simon says.

Kate tilts her head to the side when their photos are shown. “That’s Mrs. Lane.”

Simon and her meet eyes, and they simultaneously say, “Good for her.”

“Didn’t you leave those kids with her sometimes?” Deena asks.

Kate shrugs. “They’re not the dead ones, now, are they?”

“Guy had it comin’,” Sam’s dad says. “But, uh, anyway. Sam, I should take you home.”

“Oh,” she says.

“And Deena — you should come with.”

Sam looks at her, gauging her reaction, which is one of uncertainty and unease. She looks back to him, not really wanting to subject her to her mom’s eventual rage. “Dad … are you sure?”

“Look, I don’t like going over there, either. But it’s time to just rip the bandaid off.”

“Hey, it’s okay,” she tells Sam. “Of course I’ll come.”

He nods, excusing himself for a moment to order a sandwich to go, and Sam moves closer to her.

“Are you sure about this?”

“Yes,” Deena agrees. “Kind of wish I was Kate right now. Feel like that’d soften the blow. But … yes, I’m sure.”

“Kind of wish you were Kate right now, too.”

Kate steps forward. “If it makes you feel better, Deena, I don’t think her mom would like me so much if I was dating her, either.”

“I know you’re trying to make me feel better,” Deena sighs, “but we both know that’s not true.”

Soon, they say goodbye to Kate and Simon, and they all walk back to his truck, the three of them full of trepidation.

On the ride over, Sam keeps glancing back to her in the back seat, as if she’s afraid Deena’s going to disappear and leave her to deal with the impending meeting alone. She makes sure to give her a reassuring smile each time, hoping that it signals to her everything would be okay, even if she didn’t know if that’d be the truth. But it’s all she can do for now.

It doesn’t go well. It’s ugly, and they don’t make it past the foyer.

Her mom pales at the sight of Deena, and when Sam reaches for her hand, interlinking the two, shock turns into fury. She yells at Sam’s dad first — asks him what the hell he’s doing bringing that girl here. Asks him if he knows what she is.

And he says he does. He says it’s his daughter’s girlfriend, and that she’s Johnson’s kid — that Johnson’s a good guy, and he imagines the same goes for her.

Sam’s next. Her mom pleads with her, telling her she’s ruining her chances. That she’ll end up stuck in Shadyside working a dead-end job, just like her dad. She tells her what she feels is temporary — just young confusion that she shouldn’t let taint her new start, but Sam just tightens her grip on Deena’s hand. “I love her,” Sam says, and her mom’s mouth twists in abhorrence. 

She saves Deena for last. She asks her how it feels tearing a family apart, and doesn’t wait for an answer. She tells her she’s disgusting — that she's corrupted her daughter; made her into something she wasn’t. Insults and accusations dart out of her mouth, calling her sick and foul.

“Mom, stop,” Sam begs. “She didn’t corrupt me or — or brainwash me. I’ve always been this way, and you know it’s the truth.”

“Samantha —”

“I know you know,” she says. “You’ve tried to ignore it and so have I, but I can’t change it. Mom, I’ve tried. This is just who I am, and Deena has nothing to do with it. And you’ve known, Mom, I know you have.”

Tears prick at both of their eyes and silence follows. The older woman looks back at Deena in detestation, and when she sees the darkened spot on her neck from her daughter, she decides she’s had enough.

“Get out of my house.”

Her dad tries to reason with her, but it’s too much for one night, so they leave.

They load into the truck and he says he’s proud of her and she doesn’t say anything. Because she doesn’t feel proud. She feels guilty, in the way that only her mom can make her feel.

He tells Deena she can stay at theirs tonight — that she can sleep on the couch, and Deena is quick to decline, saying she doesn’t want to intrude. But Sam looks back at her, and her eyes are tired and despondent, and the sight of that causes her to reverse her decision. She’ll stay for the night, she says, and tomorrow, she’ll bring Sam over some of her clothes until she’s ready to go back to Sunnyvale.

“Good idea,” he agrees. He says a genuine thank you, his eyes finding hers in the reflection of his rearview mirror, and she nods.

“I’m not going back,” she murmurs, and the two of them don’t respond, thinking it best to save that for tomorrow.

Not much is said once they return.

Sam fetches her some bedding from their linen closet and watches as Deena prepares the couch.

Her dad pops his head in from around the corner, asking Sam to get her some clothes to sleep in, and he says a quick goodnight to both of them before he’s in his room.

“You don’t have to sleep out here, you know.”

Deena smiles at her. “I don’t want to get on your dad’s bad side.”

“Why not?” She teases. "You’re already on my mom’s. What’s another parent?”

She tuts, deciding to ignore it. “I think you owe me some clothes to sleep in.”

Sam puts a hand on her back, bringing her closer. “Not if you sleep in my bed.”

It earns her a deep blush from Deena, who swats her arm away with amusement. She reluctantly leaves to fetch her a t-shirt and shorts, and after she gets changed, Sam sits next to her on the couch.

“You doing okay?” Deena asks, but Sam doesn’t answer. She just leans into her shoulder, resting her head there.

“Do you remember the first time we kissed?”

“No,” she jokes. “Remind me?”

Sam smiles. “I think about it a lot.”

“It was pretty hot.”

“Shut up,” she laughs. “I’m trying to be serious.”

“Okay, sorry.”

“I just … I remember being so sure of myself. I wasn’t even nervous. I just knew … that you were right.” She cranes her neck to look at her. “You’re the first person to ever make me feel like that.”

“Sam,” she gushes.

“I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

Deena kisses her sweetly, her heart fluttering.

They sit together for a while longer, not saying much. Sam plays with Deena’s fingers, and she watches her, feeling so in love and content. Eventually, they tire, and Sam begrudgingly sulks off to her bedroom alone.

Night soon encompasses the house, darkness enveloping every corner. Deena lays there, not sure of what to make of today.

She soon hears the shuffle of Sam’s feet approaching, and she lifts her head up to see her.

“Can’t sleep,” she murmurs, standing in front of her.

“Have you tried staying in bed?” Deena quips, and Sam smiles softly.

It fades after a few seconds as they stare at each other, and Deena almost frowns at how weary she looks. “Come on.”

She pauses before eventually getting up with a quiet sigh and follows her into her bedroom, climbing into bed behind her. Sam turns to snuggle up at the base of her neck, nose nuzzled where her collarbone is, and Deena’s arm wraps around her, rubbing her back.

“I can’t go back.”

“Go back where?”

“My mom’s.” She pauses. “Do you think my dad would let me move back?”

Deena hesitates, unsure of how to address her sudden disinterest in Sunnyvale. “You don’t have to think about that right now.”

She pulls away to look at her. “I can’t think about anything else.”

“She won’t be angry forever. She’ll want you back home. She loves you.” But Sam doesn’t look convinced. She looks fearful. Deena frowns, knowing she’s unable to promise her anything when it comes to her mother, and tries to calm her a different way. “If you don’t want to go back, then you don’t have to. We’re going to figure it out.”

She seems to soften at that. “Okay.”

“Just try to get some sleep. You’ll feel better tomorrow.”

“Okay,” she repeats, leaning in. Deena meets their lips for a chaste kiss goodnight but Sam follows them when she parts, earning her an amused grin. “What?” She asks, feigning innocence.

Her eyebrows raise and she decides to call her bluff. “Nothing. Night.” Deena turns on her other side.

She feels Sam shift behind her, a hand creeping under her shirt to rest on her stomach. It waits there for a minute before it travels upward toward her breasts, and her eyes shut as she tries to resist the urge to turn back around.

Sam lightly brushes a thumb across, and it’s too much for Deena to ignore. She turns back around, meeting their lips, her hand cradling her face, and Sam doesn’t waver before pulling her atop.

She reaching for the hem of her shirt, which Deena allows her to discard to the side, kisses becoming heavy and languid. Noses brush aside one another with ease as heads turn to deepen them, and soon Deena is making her way down Sam’s body, pushing her thin t-shirt up and trailing wet kisses down her stomach.

She removes the clothes covering her bottom half with ease, hands wrapping around her milky thighs as she positions herself in a much familiar spot. Mouth meets inner thigh hungrily as she kisses up and down her skin, and she whispers for Sam to keep quiet before she settles in. It’s messy — hot and sweaty, wet and alluring — and by the time their mouths meet again, their lips become slick as they glide across one another effortlessly.

The night air is filled with nothing but the sounds of fervent breaths and muffled moans from the two girls, hands cupping over mouths frequently to hush the sounds threatening to break free from their lips.

Sam knows there’s nothing else on earth like this. Nothing that could match the sweet intoxication of her; that could warm her in the way that Deena could.

She lays on Sam, cheek resting on her chest as they rest together in the afterglow, and Sam’s hands thread themselves through her curls to gently untangle them, the way she’s done so many times before. But this time, it was different.