Toni’s never been religious, but she’s pretty sure that hell probably looks something like Martha being late to a frat party.
It shouldn’t be a big deal, but it’s Toni’s freshman year and this is her first one—and hopefully her last, too, given the way things are already going—and she’d only agreed to go on Martha’s behalf in the first place, whose own invite is, like, entirely secondhand anyway, which means Toni’s about three degrees of separation away from knowing anyone here.
There are the frat guys themselves, who keep drunkenly stumbling past Toni and spilling beer everywhere but thankfully haven’t tried to hit on her yet—she attributes that to her obvious lesbianism rather than to any chivalry on their part, because of course they wouldn’t waste time so clearly barking up the wrong tree.
And next down the chain is a girl Toni’s never even met; she knows Shelby’s her name because Martha’s told her, and that she’s some sorority girl who’d invited Martha to this party, but she hasn’t gotten any other descriptors beyond “sweet”, “pretty”, “my partner in my Bio lab”, and “into girls”. Humiliatingly, that last one, coupled with Martha’s insistence on introducing them and her declaration that “she described her type to me and it’s so you” is what had finally convinced Toni to drag herself out to this party in the first place, just on the off-chance that a hot girl Martha’s known for three weeks might give her some attention. She’d never admit any of that to Martha, though.
And now Martha isn’t even here at all, Toni is surrounded by strangers, and she’s shuffled herself into a corner with a drink she doesn’t even want, stuck listening to music she doesn’t like and watching people she’d never get along with. She figures this is her punishment for getting her hopes up and treating a sorority girl like a valid dating option. Lesson learned.
There’s a rowdy group off to her left sitting in a circle of chairs, and they’re doing so much making out with each other that Toni’s sure they’re playing Spin the Bottle for a while, but she studies them for a little bit longer and realizes it’s Truth or Dare instead; it’s just that they all mostly seem to be picking the latter. There’s a blonde girl among them that Toni’s eyes are drawn to; she’s laughing with the two friends sitting on either side of her as one of them goes in playfully for a kiss, probably on a dare. Toni watches her dodge it, laugh some more, and get a kiss on the cheek instead. It’s cute. She’s cute. And definitely straight.
Toni averts her gaze and scowls at the drink in her hand. Leave it to a frat party to make her feel shame for her attractions for the first time in her life.
She digs her phone out of her back pocket, looks at the nearly half-hour-old “Omw, I’m so sorry!” text from Martha and genuinely starts to get worried. But then a new one comes in as she’s staring at her phone: “Almost there!” and she relaxes and pockets the device, then downs the rest of her drink to help herself cope with her unfortunate situation.
She’s just gulping down the last drop when she hears a voice with a thick southern accent say, “Um, hi,” and when she lowers her drink she finds herself staring at the blonde girl from before. She’s standing directly in front of Toni and looking right at her, so there’s no mistaking who her greeting was meant for, but Toni looks to her sides to check anyway.
“Hi?” she asks, when she finds no one else, and the girl gives her a tiny smile.
“Hi.” Her thumbs are tucked into the back of her jean shorts and everything about her radiates nervousness, which is the last thing Toni’d expect from a girl who looks like this one does. Toni watches her wince at herself and then shake her head. “Sorry. I said that.”
“Okay?” Toni just keeps looking, baffled at what she’s doing here and where this could be going. She gets an idea and before she can consider the validity of it she blurts, “I was invited here, so.” She knows she looks out of place, and it’s occurred to her that maybe she’s about to be asked to leave. “I mean, my friend was. She’ll be here soon.”
The girl looks at her like she’s seeing her with fresh eyes, like she’s realized something, and then she just says, “Oh, you’re—” and then cuts herself off, throws a glance toward the group she’s just come from and then looks almost apologetic when her gaze returns to Toni. She’s wincing again as she asks, “Can I, um… have your number?”
But Toni isn’t looking at her as she asks; she’s followed her glance to the group, and when she looks at them they don’t look away quickly enough; she catches about half of them staring right back at her and more than one of them giggling. Of the two girls that seem to be friends with the one in front of her, one of them is grimacing a little and the other has a hand over her eyes like she’s too embarrassed to watch. Toni feels her stomach give an unpleasant lurch.
Her eyes flicker back to the blonde girl and Toni stiffens and grows cold. She gets it; Toni is clearly gay and this is a dare. “Fuck off,” she mumbles, slipping past her, and the girl looks visibly startled but doesn’t move to stop her.
Toni gets a second drink and settles on the front steps outside, downs the whole thing to drown out the pain of that gut-punch to her self-esteem, and ten minutes later Martha finds her there, sufficiently drunk and swaying a little.
“Guess I can’t blame you for getting started without me,” Martha laments, though she looks a little disappointed anyway. “C’mon, let’s go find Shelby.” She hoists Toni up by one arm and leads her back inside, and Toni complains the whole way.
“I just wanna go home, Marty. These people suck. I don’t get why you’d even wanna hang out with some stuck-up rich girl. What kind of lesbian joins a sorority, anyway? They’re practically contractually obligated to find some frat guy majoring in finance or business and aim for an MRS degree—”
“You’re so judgmental sometimes, Toni,” Martha huffs out, but then she lights up and points at something ahead of them. “Hey, there she is!”
Toni gets pulled through the crowd at a faster pace, then, stumbles out of it with her vision blurring a little, and when she rights herself they’re by the Truth or Dare group and her stomach’s twisting itself into knots because she knows she’s about to get made fun of on sight, given that these are the same people who’d dared some straight sorority girl to go ask for the nearest lesbian’s phone number. “Marty—” she starts to argue, tugging weakly at her arm, but Martha walks right up to one of the chairs, and Toni peers around her just in time to watch her tap at the shoulder of the same blonde girl from earlier.
Toni’s stomach twists for an entirely different reason and she feels her own heart drop.
“Shelby!” Martha exclaims, and Shelby rises to her feet and beams at her, and while they squeeze each other tight Toni turns her head to avoid making eye contact. “This is my friend Toni!” Martha says once they’ve pulled away, and Toni forces herself to look at Shelby, rubs anxiously at the back of her neck and then offers a short wave.
Shelby shoots her a knowing look, smiling tightly at her. “Nice to meet you,” she says, and then almost looks embarrassed when one of her friends—the same one who’d tried to kiss her earlier—audibly can’t hold in her laughter anymore. Martha smiles at Toni and Shelby, oblivious, as Shelby shoots her friend an aggravated look and then just says, “And this is Fatin, and that’s Leah; they’re two of my sorority sisters. Would you two like to play?”
“I’ll sit this one out,” Toni says—it’d honestly looked like it’d pained Shelby to ask, anyway, so she’s pretty sure she’s having mercy on them both by rejecting the offer. “Maybe another time. You should play, though, Marty.”
Martha’s perfectly happy to join the circle, and Toni slips away the first chance she gets, eager to temporarily drink away the memory of telling the hottest girl to ever hit on her to fuck off.
Toni and Shelby stay in each other’s orbit for the next couple of weeks—Martha starts hanging out with Shelby semi-regularly and so sometimes they cross paths when Martha’s leaving one of them to hang out with the other, but they don’t say more than a few words to each other, even though at least on Toni’s end she’s getting plenty of teasing comments from Martha about how cute she and Shelby would be together or how there’s so clearly sexual tension between them.
Martha wouldn’t know sexual tension if it hit her in the face, given her own lack of experience; what she’s sensing is just regular awkwardness, but Toni doesn’t dare explain that because she’s not about to out her own monumental screwup.
Martha and Toni are sharing a dorm for their freshman year, and Shelby comes over once for a late-night study session with Martha while Toni’s present, during which Toni mostly communicates with grunts and mumbles while she keeps herself occupied with the show she’s watching on her laptop. But her eyes slip to Shelby a few times and she takes in the way she has the same bad habit of chewing on her pencil that Toni does, and how her eyebrows furrow when she’s trying to work out an answer, and the fact that her laugh has this giggly quality to it that makes Toni’s heart beat a little faster with nerves for some reason.
Shelby’s hair doesn’t have a strand out of place, her nails are immaculately done—but still appropriately short, which makes Toni’s stomach actually fucking flip when she notices—and the skirt she’s wearing is just short enough to get Toni’s eyes to slide down to her thighs but long enough that Shelby has some plausible deniability if she were ever asked about trying to attract that kind of attention with it.
Everything about her makes Toni flush in her presence and so she decides Shelby’s just really aggravating to be around. Her personality doesn’t do her any favors, because from what little Toni’s gleaned she seems to be some church-going, Jesus-loving goody-goody—plus, hello, she’s in a sorority—and Toni has no idea how a girl can be so extremely religious and also be gay without at least a little bit of cognitive dissonance involved. But she can’t stop staring at Shelby’s stupid short nails, pictures her turning down acrylics at the nail salon she no doubt regularly attends with her uptight, high-school-PTA-member mother because she’s planning on finding a girl and using those fingers to—
She blinks those thoughts away hastily, huffs a little and takes out one of her headphones with the intention of making some passive-aggressive comment about how it’s getting late, and right at the same time Shelby spins around in her chair to look at both Toni and Martha and says, “Well, I think that’s plenty of studying for tonight. How about we play a game instead?”
“What kind of game?” Martha replies before Toni can tell Shelby to fuck off again.
“Hmm,” Shelby taps her chin thoughtfully, then rounds on Martha with a sly grin. “Martha, truth or dare?”
Martha’s eyes light up and Toni sinks down further in her bed, hoping they’ll just forget about her. “Alright. Truth!”
“Who was your first kiss?” Shelby asks her, and Martha blushes before she answers.
“I haven’t had it yet. I know it’s embarrassing—”
“I don’t think it’s embarrassing at all,” Shelby says. “I’m sure you’ll find someone special soon. College is full of opportunities to make all kinds of memories we didn’t get the chance to in high school.” Toni has to suppress an eye roll at the word “we”, because she can’t imagine there’s much Shelby’d missed out on given how much of a poster child for stereotypical high school popularity she is.
“What about you?” Martha asks.
“Are you asking me to pick truth?” Shelby replies, raising her eyebrows, and Martha laughs.
“Oh. Right. Uh, truth or dare?”
Shelby hesitates, then says, “Oh, alright. My first kiss was my ex-boyfriend Andrew. It wasn’t pleasant.” Toni can’t help the quiet scoff she lets out and immediately regrets it when Shelby turns and frowns at her. “We didn’t all have it so easy, Toni.”
“Right, my life hasn’t been difficult at all,” Toni mumbles. “Being out at thirteen was a cakewalk.”
Shelby’s eyes flash and then she asks, “Toni, truth or dare?”
“I’m not playing,” she says, and then thinks better of it because suddenly it feels like backing down from a challenge. “Dare.”
Shelby seems surprised, like she hadn’t expected that answer, but she recovers quickly. “Okay. I dare you to come to Fatin’s sleepover this weekend. Her parents live ten minutes off campus and they’ll be gone for the weekend, so she’s having a bunch of girls over.”
Toni grumbles a complaint under her breath but then just says, “Fine. Marty probably would’ve dragged me along anyway. Waste of a dare.” It takes her a moment to realize it’s her turn. “Shelby, truth or dare?”
“Dare,” Shelby fires back, like she has something to prove.
Toni smirks at her. “I dare you to leave.”
“Toni!” Martha gasps out, and Toni snickers to herself, refocuses her attention to her laptop and misses both Shelby’s eye roll and the way she looks at Toni like she’s not sure how to feel about her.
“I really should go, anyway,” Shelby says, rising to her feet, and then she mocks, in a low, raspy voice that’s clearly meant to be an imitation of Toni’s, “Waste of a dare.”
Toni gives Shelby’s back the finger on the way out without looking away from the screen in front of her, and Martha sighs once Shelby’s gone and says, “Okay, so maybe you guys wouldn’t be cute together.”
Fatin makes them all play Truth or Dare at her sleepover, of course, and somehow Toni finds herself sitting in the lap of Fatin’s friend Dot with Dot’s hands cupping both of her boobs outside of her shirt because they’ve been dared into this position until their next turns. She’s drank enough at this point that she doesn’t care as much as she normally would, but they’ve only just met so it’s not exactly her ideal situation.
Everyone seems to sense that Martha’s as naïve and inexperienced as she initially appears, so even her dares have mostly just been truths disguised as dares, and she’s been quizzed to hell and back about her ideal boy and first date and wedding, which Toni thinks is actually kind of sweet of Fatin and her friends.
There’s one girl there Toni thinks she’d really like, because they’re pretty similar—a girl from their school’s diving team—and she actually doesn’t mind the other sorority girl from the last party, Leah, who seems to mostly keep to herself and is always slow and thoughtful before she answers a truth.
Shelby still gets on her last nerve, though.
She answers a question about the three things that are most important to her with, “my faith, my friends, and my new sisters of course,” complete with a laugh that Toni thinks is supposed to mean that last one might be a joke, though she honestly finds Shelby a little hard to read. Then when someone dares her to take off her crop top, which is already extremely revealing anyway—it’s literally showing off everything below her bra and Toni’s drunk brain is having trouble commanding her eyes to stop looking—she actually refuses and downs her entire drink as punishment instead, as though she actually cares about showing her body all of sudden, even though Toni’s been able to catch glimpses of her abs and thighs virtually every time they’ve encountered each other.
Toni catches up to her in the kitchen when there’s a brief break in the game and they’re both the only two who’ve decided to hunt down snacks, and she hovers a little too closely to Shelby while they’re both by the pantry and slurs out, certain Shelby can’t possibly be this insufferable, “That shit’s definitely an act, right?”
Shelby turns to face her, realizes how close they are and doesn’t even hide the way her eyes drop straight to Toni’s mouth. Toni’s caught off guard and right away she feels her whole face getting hot, but she’s composed herself by the time Shelby’s asking her, “What’s an act?”
“The sweet and innocent thing.” Toni’s eyes skate down her body, taking in her outfit. “You’re too hot for it to be real. And you dress like you know it.”
Now it’s Shelby who flushes and glances down at Toni’s body. “I think you’re drunk, Toni,” she says.
“Am I wrong, though?” Shelby’s eyes flicker to her lips again and Toni wants to laugh at how blatant she’s being. It makes her ego swell, makes her set aside how irritating she finds Shelby’s personality and focus on how incredibly physically attractive she finds her instead. “You’re definitely drunk, too. Truth or dare, Shelby?”
“Dare,” Shelby breathes out without missing a beat.
Toni pretends to think for a long moment, her face drifting dangerously close to Shelby’s. Their noses brush. “Hmm. I… dare… you…”
Shelby seizes her neck with both hands and pulls her in, and Toni flattens her against the wall right away, kisses her almost desperately and grasps at her waist, sliding her hands all over the exposed skin of Shelby’s abdomen and lower back. Everywhere she touches Shelby she feels so warm, and when Shelby dips a hand underneath Toni’s shirt Toni pulls away and decides, panting, “Let’s just go upstairs, let’s fucking—”
But one second she’s looking into Shelby’s darkened irises and the next they’re both turning swiftly at the sound of footsteps racing into the kitchen and Fatin calling back, “I’ll get chips!” and then all three of them are standing stock-still, staring at each other, and Shelby’s hand is still a little bit up Toni’s shirt.
Fatin cracks first, just says, “Fuck, you two are funny,” and then turns on her heel and leaves with a hasty, “Bring chips when you’re done!”
Shelby jerks her hand away and slips out from between Toni and the wall, then dips into the pantry to start grabbing food.
They don’t talk about it.
They don’t talk about it, but Truth or Dare becomes a thing between them for some reason; it seems like Shelby’s go-to game anyway, but she requests it from Toni even when they’re not drinking or at some party or even in the right mindset for it.
Toni ignores her the first couple of times, but one day Toni’s meant to meet Martha for lunch and is ambushed with Shelby being there too, and Martha is late again so she has nothing else to distract her with. She sighs and answers, “Fine. Truth,” and Shelby chews on a stick of celery while she thinks of a question, which aggravates Toni because most things about Shelby still do.
“What, do they kick you out if you go a day without consuming negative calories?” she taunts, and Shelby swallows and then plays along, nodding enthusiastically.
“Oh, yeah. They also kick you out for being a massive grump with a chip on her shoulder, so it’s a good thing you didn’t rush.”
Toni feels heat flare in her chest. “I’d rather join AA. It’s less cult-y. But I get why you’d be drawn to a group that doesn’t encourage thinking for yourself.”
“I’m sorry,” Shelby replies, almost curiously, “do you have some tragic backstory I don’t know about that’s causing all of this bitterness? Was your Uncle Ben murdered by a sorority girl?”
“Hilarious.” Toni rolls her eyes and tries not to look at Shelby’s lips when she smiles teasingly at Toni. She can only vaguely remember their kiss; mostly just knows that it happened and grudgingly remembers that it was good. Sometimes she wonders how much of it Shelby remembers.
“Anyway,” Shelby starts slowly, like she’s thinking aloud a little, “what was your coming out like?”
Toni’s taken aback; she hadn’t expected the sudden shift to something sincere. “Uh. Really?”
“I asked, didn’t I?” Shelby insists. Toni studies her for a moment, then sighs and gives in.
“Well, it was middle school. And I was always a tomboy and picked on guys instead of crushing on them, so like, people made jokes but I didn’t always know what they meant. I don’t remember how I learned that girls could like girls, but once I did know I just knew that was me. I guess I didn’t have to say much; people just assumed when I never dated boys.”
“I thought you said it wasn’t easy,” Shelby recalls with furrowed eyebrows.
“I said my life wasn’t easy. And people still talked shit, yeah. Anyway,” she shakes the conversation off, eager to the change the subject, but Shelby’s gaze lingers expectantly on her.
“Are you going to ask me about mine?”
“That would imply that I care to know anything about you,” Toni says idly, waving a fry at Shelby to mirror her celery, and when Shelby actually looks a little let down she feels bad and relents. “Oh, fine. Truth or more truth? How’d it go for you?”
“I was a senior in high school,” Shelby says. “I got kicked out and had to go live with my best friend.”
Toni’s face falls. “Oh. Shit.”
“Sometimes I think I’m better off,” Shelby tells her with a shrug of her shoulders, but Toni notices the tension in her jaw, like she’s holding back how upset she really is. “I’ve done alright so far. It’s been seven months, so.”
“Since you’ve spoken to your family?” Toni guesses, because nothing else makes sense, and Shelby nods shortly. “I’m sorry. Really. If it helps, I don’t speak to my parents, either. Not for the same reasons, but—”
“There you guys are!” Martha cuts in, arriving at Toni’s side with a tray of food in her hands. Toni scoots over to give Martha room to sit across from Shelby instead.
“Here we are,” she echoes, and catches Shelby’s eye briefly before they’re both absorbed into a new conversation with Martha.
It takes another four days for something to occur to Toni; Shelby comes over to their dorm again for another study session and uses Toni’s desk, right by her bed, while Martha buries herself in her Biology textbook across the room at her own desk. Toni watches Netflix half-lying down, but eventually digs a notebook and pencil out of the backpack at her bedside, tries her best to tear a page out as quietly as she can, and then scribbles a messy, “Truth or dare?” at the top. She waits until Martha’s saying something to Shelby about their schoolwork and then folds up the note and tips it onto the desk. Shelby shoots her a questioning look and then finishes her conversation with Martha before she unfolds the note.
Toni doesn’t watch her for a reaction or see her write a response, but the note falls into her lap a moment later. “Truth.”
Toni writes the question immediately. “Who was your first kiss with a girl?”
This time it takes several minutes before she gets an answer; Martha asks for help with something that draws Shelby out of her seat and over to Martha’s desk, and Toni feels her heart thrumming anxiously in her chest while she waits for Shelby’s reply. She isn’t even sure what she wants it to be, but she feels like she has an idea regardless.
Even after she hears Shelby unfolding the note at her side, it takes time for Shelby to figure out how to answer, and Toni’s startled when it finally does drop onto the mattress at her side. She grasps it in her hand and doesn’t open it immediately even though she wants to, because she knows Shelby’s going to hear it when she does and she doesn’t want to seem overeager.
She waits until the episode of the show she’s watching ends, then unfolds the paper and smooths it out on the bed beside herself.
“I think you can guess the answer to that, Toni.”
Toni shouldn’t be surprised that Fatin knows seniors already, or that she knows enough of them to run into one willing to illegally buy them drinks, but of course she does.
They’re at a club meant for anyone 18 and up, all with X’s on the backs of their hands, but Fatin leads the charge into the girls’ bathroom for a giant hand-washing session to get rid of them, and minutes later they’re all nursing drinks courtesy of someone Toni’s never met but Fatin’s apparently hooked up with in the past couple of months.
It’s the same group from Fatin’s sleepover—Toni, Martha, Shelby, Fatin, Leah, Dot, the diver Rachel, and her twin sister Nora—and both Nora and Martha stick close to each other because they’re equally overwhelmed. Toni offers to stay with them on the outskirts of the dance floor, but Martha sips at a drink and shoos her away, insisting she go have fun.
So Toni drinks until she’s comfortable and then starts dancing—at first with Fatin and Dot, goofing off and pretending like they’re into each other, and then at some point the alcohol must kick in for Shelby because she ambushes Toni by throwing her arms around Toni’s midsection from behind, then laughs into her ear and rubs up against her in a way that she absolutely would never be bold enough to do sober.
Fatin finds it all completely hysterical; Shelby and Toni haven’t been dancing together for more than two seconds before she leans in close to Toni and shouts right into her ear, “What the hell’s taking you two so long?!”
Toni leans away from her a little and makes a motion like she can’t hear her, just because she’s really not in the mood to get into this with a drunk Shelby pressed up against her and inching her fingers under the hem of Toni’s shirt, but Fatin doesn’t give up, just leans in again.
“First time she saw you, at that party—!” She pauses, laughs a little, and then continues, “She goes, ‘I swear that’s the hottest girl I’ve ever seen in my whole life!’ It was cute! So we dared her—”
Toni pulls away from Fatin’s mouth, motions again to her own ear and shrugs her shoulders, and Fatin huffs at her and moves away, goes back to dancing and quickly finds some guy to grind on. Toni feels a little guilty for a moment, because this seems like something Shelby would’ve told her herself if she wanted her to know, but then Shelby’s teeth are on her ear and this seems like a more pressing issue—especially with Dot catching sight of them and going wide-eyed, because apparently Fatin’s kept news of their make out session at least confined to the three of them so far.
Toni turns in Shelby’s arms, ignores the mixture of confusion and dismay she’s met with and leans in close to press her own mouth to Shelby’s ear. “Truth or dare?!” she asks.
Shelby’s head turns toward her. “Right now?!” Toni fixes her with an expectant look and watches her sigh, and the music is so loud that when Shelby doesn’t lean in this time Toni has to read her lips to figure out her response. “Whichever you want!”
So Toni says, “I dare you—” and then the music fades out, replaced by something a little less bass-heavy and a little easier to talk over, so she knows Shelby hears her clearly when she looks her in the eyes and finishes, “to ask me to do something, just the two of us.”
Shelby’s eyebrows furrow. “Like hanging out?”
“Yes. Something like that.”
“But you can’t stand me.”
“That’s not true,” Toni says, “You’re just annoying.”
“You’re annoying,” Shelby fires back, but the alcohol in her voice makes it lose some of its venom. Toni grins at her, leans in close and nips at her bottom lip, and Shelby’s eyes darken right away. Her hands slide to Toni’s waist, holding her close. “And so aggravating.”
“You’re aggravating too,” Toni nods in commiseration. “And frustrating. I hate being attracted to you.”
“Not as much as I do,” Shelby insists, and they hold their glares until Toni cracks first, hides a smile and then slips out of Shelby’s grip with the intention of rejoining their other friends.
“Come up with something when you’re sober,” she says, and kisses Shelby on the cheek before she sidles up to Leah and spins her by the hand.
Afterward, she walks home with a tipsy Martha, who blurts, “I saw you two!” the instant they’re alone and then doesn’t let Toni hear the end of it for the rest of the night.
“I do feel bad that we’re ditching lunch with Martha to do this.”
“Martha, embarrassingly, supports this with more passion and intensity than I think I’ve ever seen her have for anything ever. She’s very invested,” Toni sighs out, and then cocks her head at Shelby in silent disbelief when she sees her pulling a picnic basket and a blanket out of the trunk of her car. They’re parked by a field at the center of campus, where several students are studying or tossing footballs and frisbees, and Toni assumed there’d be food involved but she’d also been hopefully eyeing the basketball court at the other end of the field. “Oh no.”
“Hush,” Shelby chastises, and then grasps at Toni’s wrist and tugs her toward the field, unbothered, like she knows Toni’s negative reaction is more to get a rise out of her than anything else.
“This is incredibly cheesy. I just wanted you to take me to Dave and Busters or something.”
“I’ll take you home, is what I’ll do,” Shelby shoots back in a tone that reminds Toni of the mothers she’s seen on sitcoms, and she bites back a smile and wiggles her eyebrows anyway.
“Oh? Will you, now?”
Shelby visibly suppresses a smile at the innuendo and then gives Toni a sideways look. “Great. Two minutes in and you’re already trashing my idea and driving me up a wall.”
“Do I seem like the picnic type to you?” Toni shoots back, smirking.
“I think you’ll do what I want,” Shelby says, and Toni’s smirk drops immediately and she swallows thickly. Shelby glances at her again and then gives a victorious, “Ha!” at having flustered her, beaming at her until she scowls. They reach a safe spot in the grass, away from everyone else, and Shelby sets the basket down and declares, “Here seems good.”
Toni halfheartedly helps her spread the blanket out, and then they sit down together with the basket in between them. Toni can’t hide her curiosity as Shelby starts to pull out the lunch she’s packed for the both of them; she kind of loves this, deep down, but admitting defeat isn’t on the table, and she’s much more content to just push Shelby’s buttons for most of this, since it’s pretty much exclusively what they do together when neither of them has been drinking.
She gasps out, “Carbs!” in horror when she sees the sandwiches, gets one tossed aggressively at her in response and catches it before it can collide with her chest, and then can’t hold back her excitement when she sees it’s ham and cheese. Then Shelby pulls out two bags of Takis, two slices of apple pie, and two orange Gatorades, and Toni’s eyes go as wide as saucers. “What the fuck?” she asks, and Shelby looks openly pleased with herself.
“I asked Martha what your favorites were.”
“Ugh, no!” Toni complains. “She sold me out and made this good. I’ll never forgive her.”
“I had an idea, too,” Shelby goes on, ignoring her, and Toni watches her pull out two small plastic cups labeled “Truth” and “Dare”, both filled with several folded up pieces of paper.
“And now it’s bad again,” Toni deadpans.
“Shut up,” Shelby orders, sliding both cups over to Toni. “I thought we should actually get to know each other. Pick one. We’ll trade off.”
“This is unfair; you know what’s in here,” Toni complains, but fishes through the Truth cup first as she starts in on her sandwich, opens the slip of paper with her free hand and reads, “‘What’s your biggest talent?’ Easy.” She nods toward the basketball court. “Basketball. I have a scholarship.”
“Martha’s told me. She says you’re great,” Shelby chimes in. “Surprised you didn’t answer with something sexual, though.”
“I’m honestly just mediocre at it in the grand scheme of things,” Toni says, and then clears her throat. “Um, at basketball. The other thing—oh, fuck off,” she huffs, because Shelby’s already starting to grin teasingly at her again. “Your turn.”
Shelby fishes out a paper and when she opens it her face falls. “Dammit. I was hoping you’d draw this one.” At Toni’s curious look, Shelby tosses it to her and lets her read it: ‘How did you lose your virginity?’
“Right on topic,” Toni muses, setting it aside. Then she asks, a little gently, “Well?”, because she’s pretty sure that Shelby’s story won’t be a pleasant one, given that she’s all but told Toni she’s her only experience with a girl.
Shelby wrinkles her nose like she’s mildly embarrassed and just says, “Haven’t yet.”
“Oh,” Toni says, pleasantly surprised in light of the alternative. “Are you opposed, Sister Christian?”
“Did I seem opposed when you were trying to drag me upstairs after one kiss?” Shelby fires back, and Toni blushes at both the reminder and at the revelation that Shelby remembers it.
“I didn’t drag you; it was a suggestion…” Toni mumbles, and then reaches for the Dare cup to distract herself while Shelby bites back a smile. “Uh, ‘Swap phone numbers’.”
“Well, now I guess we have to,” Shelby says with an overexaggerated sigh, and Toni just watches her with amusement as Shelby unlocks her phone and hands it over.
“You’re real fucking cute,” she mumbles under her breath, kind of meaning it, and enters her first and last name and her number into Shelby’s phone. Shelby texts her a heart emoji a moment later and Toni saves her in her phone as Sorority-Shelby and then asks, “What’s your last name?”
“Of course it is.” Toni enters that in as well and then puts her phone away.
Shelby draws another truth, gets prompted to reveal her worst fear and says it’s already come to pass so there’s not much she fears anymore. The mood gets heavier, after that; Toni picks a truth about her parents and talks about growing up in foster care, Shelby gets dared to hold Toni’s hand for the next five minutes (kind of adorable, Toni thinks unwillingly, knowing Shelby’d written them all herself) and so they do, Toni’s next truth has her talking about the only time she’s ever been in love and how it’d all gone south so quickly with Regan, and they go on and on like that until they’ve made their way through all of their food and most of the slips of paper, and Toni’s long since lost track of time but she’s pretty sure they’ve both missed most of their next class.
She draws a dare and fixes Shelby with a knowing look, and Shelby hides a smile like she already knows exactly what Toni’s looking at. She turns the paper around, reveals the word ‘Kiss,’ written in Shelby’s neat handwriting, and pretends to deliberate over it. “Do I have to?”
“It was all always optional,” Shelby says idly. “But I bet I taste like apple pie and orange Gatorade, so. Something to think about.”
“You’ve convinced me,” Toni agrees, and Shelby’s still laughing against her mouth a little when she leans over and brushes her lips over Shelby’s.
“Truth or dare?”
Toni cannot believe Shelby’s doing this right now, right this second, just when things have been going so well between them.
The ribbing certainly hasn’t stopped but it’s slowed down a little in favor of a dose of sincerity every now and then, and Toni still hates herself a little for being so drawn to this girl but she’s long since given into it and just been content to see where it leads.
And where it’s led, at least for tonight, three weeks after their unofficial first date, is to Martha disappearing off to Fatin and Leah’s dorm with the promise to be gone until midnight so that Toni can have some alone time with Shelby.
Where it’s led, as a matter of fact, is to Shelby straddling Toni’s hips with Toni’s mouth on her neck and Shelby’s hands on her back, and they’ve been making out for a good fifteen minutes or so on Toni’s bed, which means that Toni’s about at her wit’s end in an entirely different way. Until Shelby pulls out Truth or Dare right when talking’s the last thing on Toni’s mind.
“Dare,” she blurts shortly, indulging it anyway because she’s been finding it harder and harder to say no to Shelby lately.
Shelby breathes out, “Take off your shirt,” and Toni decides she should give her a whole lot more credit, actually; Shelby definitely knows exactly what she’s doing and this is a fantastic idea, Toni never had a bad thing to think or to say about it.
She pulls back and immediately yanks her shirt off and discards it wherever it lands, and Shelby pitches forward so that Toni’s lying flat on her back with Shelby overtop of her. Her mouth kisses Toni’s lips, and then her chin, her neck, and her collarbone, and Toni watches blonde hair drag down her torso, feels lips pressing just above the cup of her bra and can’t make herself say the words fast enough. “Tru—?”
“Dare,” Shelby whispers immediately.
“Take it off,” Toni says hoarsely, and when Shelby lifts her head and looks at her, her eyes dark but tinged with a hint of uncertainty, Toni second-guesses herself. “If you want. I don’t mind. But if it’s too much or too fast—”
“I was just gonna ask if it hooks in the front or the back,” Shelby interjects. “It’s too dark to see.” Toni’s face goes beet red and she knows Shelby might not be able to see that either, but she laughs at Toni anyway like she knows. “You’re so sweet, though.”
“I hate you,” she huffs. “The back.”
“Okay. Truth or dare, Toni,” Shelby murmurs, sliding her hands around and unhooking Toni’s bra. Toni’s so distracted as she’s peeling it away that for a moment she forgets to answer.
“Uh. Dare?” Shelby leans down and nips at her collarbone with a soft sound of disapproval, and Toni amends, “Truth.”
“Tell me how to do this,” Shelby requests quietly, a little shy for the first time since they’d collapsed onto Toni’s bed together. “Please.”
Toni swallows thickly, feels the nervous energy emanating off of Shelby and deflects, “Truth or dare?”
“That’s not how it—”
Shelby’s breath puffs out against her neck and her fingers dig into Toni’s sides a little. “Dare.”
“Take your clothes off,” Toni whispers, “and let me show you instead.”
“Uh… truth, I guess?”
“Scale of one to ten,” Fatin asks right away, smiling at Toni from behind the red solo cup in her hand. “How embarrassed are you to be hooking up with a Tri Delt?”
“You’re a Tri Delt!” Dot points out with a laugh, and Fatin shrugs her shoulders like it’s no big deal.
“Yeah, I mean, I think we’re hot. No shame in it at all as far as I’m concerned. But I’m asking Toni because she was on our asses a few months ago about being sorority zombies and now she’s face-deep in one, like, every other night, if how often Martha seeks refuge with Leah and me in our dorm room is any indication.”
Toni sees Shelby lift a hand to shield her reddening face from view just to Toni’s right even as she struggles to manage the heat creeping into her own cheeks. She panics and just says, “Uh, three?”
“Three?” Shelby echoes, rounding on her with wide eyes, and Toni gulps.
“Did—?” Toni stutters, confused. “I mean… you don’t want a higher number, right?”
“Bail,” Dot blurts, abruptly dragging Fatin away from the rest of the group, which quickly disbands and scatters to the farthest corners of Fatin’s parents’ house before Toni can get any sort of assistance from any of them. Even Martha just shoots her a sympathetic look on her way out.
“For the record,” Shelby huffs, “I joined a sorority because it hasn’t been that long since I lost my family and I wanted a new one. The closest thing I’ve had to a family since I came out was Becca, who I love like a sister. I wanted more of those.”
“That…” Toni breathes out, faltering, “makes a lot of sense, actually. I wish you’d told me that before. Not that you needed a special reason, but it just… it does make sense.”
“Well,” Shelby replies, softening a little, “it’s not exactly like I’m used to opening up to people. I… just never know what to say, or how to start those conversations, because my dad… my family… they just weren’t exactly all rainbows and sunshine and sharing emotions, so.”
“I’m not the best at it, either,” Toni admits. “That kind of stuff just tends to build until it explodes out of me.”
“That’s what the game’s for,” Shelby confesses. “It makes me talk about things and act on things I’m normally too nervous to. That’s why I like it.”
Toni blinks at her like she’s seeing her anew. “Oh.”
“Truth or dare, Toni.”
“Is there a reason you haven’t asked me to be your girlfriend?”
Toni smiles up at the stars from her spot on the blanket they’re sharing, Shelby cuddled up next to her with her arm thrown across Toni’s stomach. “Eh. I don’t really date my hookups.”
Shelby swats her on her ribcage. “I’m serious.”
“I don’t know,” Toni answers honestly. “I guess I just thought you’d ask if that was what you wanted. I didn’t want to move too quickly for you. Especially after how we rushed into sleeping together.”
“I don’t regret it,” Shelby reassures her. “Even if you are mediocre in bed.”
“God, I’d love to see what you consider good,” Toni muses, and feels Shelby press a smiley kiss against her neck. “Is it your turn? Truth or dare?”
“Don’t make fun of me for the rest of the night. Even if I make fun of you. This is now Toni Appreciation Night.”
“Hmm, I think we just had one of those last night, though,” Shelby whispers, and Toni’s face goes red right away. Shelby sees it and laughs. “You’re too easy. Truth or dare?”
“I dare you to be my girlfriend,” Shelby says immediately, and Toni belly-laughs and then shakes her head.
“God, you did not just do that. Absolutely not. Not like that.”
“Triple dog dare,” Shelby modifies. “Pretty sure those can’t be turned down.”
“Oh, shit,” Toni lets out a feigned gasp, “then if I have to…”
“You have to.”
“Okay. But is this really the story you wanna tell our grandchildren someday?”
“This is nothing. Just wait ‘til a few months from now when I dare you to love me.”
“Hmm.” Toni reaches out and tangles their fingers together, then bites her tongue so she doesn’t say anything more:
I don’t think you’ll have to.