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and i showed you the way (even though i'd never been)

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The first time they kiss is freshman year. 

They’re in Shauna’s new room at her dad’s new house. A recent upgrade from his bachelor pad of an apartment, tangible proof of the fact that her parents’ marriage was over for good. The new house is only a few streets away from her childhood home, the one her mom kept in the divorce. 

Shauna hadn’t been too keen on setting up a whole bedroom for herself at her father’s. She claims she would have been fine with sleeping on the pull-out couch up ‘til the day when she turned eighteen and was no longer obligated by a court of law to visit the man who tore her family apart, and until then she never planned to be over more than one or two nights a week (or month, if she really had it her way). 

Her mom informed her that the custody agreement was still up in the air so she shouldn’t make such a hasty decision. Her dad offered the entire finished attic to make her own, told her they could go pick out furniture, make a whole day out of it. Shauna still wasn’t convinced. 

She wasn’t convinced until Jackie, head on Shauna’s shoulder as they watched a movie, decidedly stated that not only was she going to help decorate the new room and make it look SO cute, but she was also going to help Shauna pick out a new wardrobe (because duh, she needed clothes at both houses). 

It took long enough for Shauna to even look Jackie in the eyes and tell the truth about her family fracturing and finally splitting for good, that Jackie’s support made Shauna heave a sigh of relief she didn’t know she was holding in. 

So daddy-daughter date be damned, Jackie picked out the multicolored throw pillows that would find their way onto Shauna’s bed next to the attic window. Jackie helped Shauna fill her walls with sticky tacked posters and magazine clippings, gently scoffing when it came to the decorations that reflected Shauna’s taste in music. Jackie draped the string lights and arranged the trophies and made a heart in the light-up peg board. Jackie threaded a hanger through the head-hole of the red dress, The Boob Dress, that she gifted Shauna. The girls sat shoulder-to-shoulder thumbing through pictures from Shauna’s childhood (Jackie by her side in many of them) and eventually settled on a few that got scotch-taped to the perimeter of Shauna’s mirror. 

Nearly every single square inch of Shauna’s second bedroom was touched by either Jackie’s approval or influence, and Shauna liked it that way. It felt like theirs more than just hers. 

Most days, Shauna found herself at her dad’s rather than her mom’s, and chalked it up to the fact that her dad had a more laissez-faire style of parenting so she could pretty much do what she wanted without questioning (and it had nothing to do with the way Jackie’s soft floral body spray seemed to perpetually linger in the air and in the blanket Shauna balled up in her arms as she slept). 

The first time they kiss, they’re perched atop Shauna’s bed. 

Jackie sits criss-cross applesauce with her favorite of Shauna’s blankets draped around her shoulders. Shauna leans against the wall with a pillow at her back. 

“I mean…” Jackie plays with her own fingertips, sucks her bottom lip between her teeth and worries it for a second before continuing. “You haven’t had your first kiss yet. You would tell me if you did, right?” 

“Yeah, but I’m pretty sure I know what to do. I’ve read like, a million romance novels. I think I’ll be a very good kisser when the day comes, thank you very much!” A smile plays at the corner of Shauna’s mouth as she recalls the innumerable times tucked under her covers late at night, giggling and giddy at the love scenes in whatever corny book she was currently reading. 

Shauna wasn’t even lying. She believed she had the kissing thing down pat without ever even doing it in real life. She would tenderly but firmly grab the back of the neck of whichever boy she deemed good enough (or whichever boy deemed her good enough, the voice in the back of her head nags), she would follow his lead for the most part but once it got a little hotter and heavier she would “dart out” her tongue and tease his lips and then he would open his mouth and their tongues would “fight for dominance” just like she’d read a hundred times before. 

The concept came like a second nature to Shauna, despite her inexperience. She self-identified as a hopeless romantic and even with emphasis on the “hopeless,” she knew when finally faced with the task, when finally faced with kissing, she’d be cool, calm, and collec-

“Okay, prove it.” Jackie shrugs nonchalantly.

Shauna all but gasps, inhales sharp through her nose. 

“W-what? Jackie. What? No. What are you even saying right now.” 

“I mean- “Jackie repeats her lead-in to the conversation. She clears her throat, stiffens her neck. “I’ve been kissed before, and you haven’t. I wouldn’t be a good best friend if I didn’t help you out with this!” 

If Shauna could find it within herself to move her eyes beyond their widened state, she’d roll them. Jackie hadn’t had her first kiss yet. 

When they were thirteen, Jackie had been sent into Lottie’s walk-in closet at one of their first basically parentless coed birthday parties for Seven Minutes in Heaven with a freckle-faced classmate of theirs, Joey Duke. 

Shauna remembers those eight letters seared on the inside of her brain, fire in her head as hot as the glare from her eyes burning a hole in the closet door as the excruciating seven minutes dragged on and on and on. 

What kind of name is Joey Duke, she thought. Why was his name two first names, and two stupid first names at that? And why were they both four letters? Why did his parents name him like they were naming two separate dogs? And WHY did he choose Shauna’s best friend to canoodle with in a dark closet filled with faux fur and like, the entire juniors section of TJMaxx?

When the two finally emerged, Joey’s face was damp-looking and beet red, and Jackie’s indecipherable. It wasn’t until later when Jackie buried her face in Shauna’s shoulder with an uncomfortable laugh did Shauna find out that he spent six minutes staring at Jackie in the closet only illuminated by the crack in the door, and when she leaned in to kiss him Joey turned his head so that she planted her lips on the very corner of his. It wasn’t a kiss. Shauna knew this. Jackie knew this. Even stupid fucking Joey Duke knew this. 

Shauna wasn’t sure if Jackie thought she forgot the truth or if Jackie had spent so long convincing everyone else she had her first kiss that along the way she ended up convincing herself. 

It bordered the line of idealism and delusion, a place where Shauna thinks Jackie would happily build a house and live forever if not for Shauna’s occasional reality checks.

She has to wonder if this proposition is really meant to benefit her and her future kissing endeavors, or if it is to ease Jackie’s worries about her first kiss with Jeff, who Jackie just found out (via Shauna via Randy via Jeff) has a crush on her. 

Or, Shauna lets herself momentarily indulge, does Jackie just want to kiss her and this is all a ruse to make it happen. Even starting to think about the implications of what that would mean for her, for them, makes Shauna’s head spin. Plus it’s definitely the Jeff thing, she decides. 

The lack of response must be getting to Jackie. The sound of her voice snaps Shauna back into the present.

“I’ll call you Jeff, and you can call me… Randy?” 

Shauna’s face drops.

Randy Walsh? Is this a joke?

“I’m not gonna call you Randy. I’m just gonna call you Jackie. Y’know, your name?” 

“No, that’s not how this works. If you don’t wanna use Randy , then pick another boy name.” 

Shauna wants to fight back. She wants to say things like Why? Why can’t I just be me? Why can’t you just be you? Because that would make it too real? Instead, she scrunches her nose in annoyance and hopes that Jackie feels stupid for suggesting Shauna call her Randy fucking Walsh. 

Shauna doesn’t know why she’s so offended. Maybe she does. There’s a sour taste in her mouth. 

“How am I supposed to know? You never tell me who you like anyway.” Jackie pouts.

The need to pacify Jackie hits Shauna so hard it nearly knocks the wind out of her. What’s the point of arguing? This has nothing to do with Shauna. Everything to do with Jackie. Everything to do with Jeff. Shauna’s just there. She’s just a body, she’s just Jackie’s best friend, she’s just kissing practice. 

“Okay, well I could call you like, a pet name, I guess.” Shauna really doesn’t know where she’s going with this, why she’s going along with this. 

The tension in Jackie’s shoulders eases. Her face softens. She cracks a smile. How easily they rile each other up and unravel each other again. 

Jackie looks at Shauna and her bangs are falling in her eyes. She has freckles dotting her nose and a crooked smile and her lips are glistening with whatever gloss she’d applied and Shauna stares right back at her. It’s all too much. 

Shauna closes her eyes and inhales deep through her nose. Lots of girls practice kissing, she thinks. She’s heard upperclassmen joke about it. It’s normal, it’s fine. But this still feels like voluntarily wading into quicksand. 

Something clicks into place. Shauna opens her eyes. Jackie is still just looking at her. She puts on a brave face. She’s past the point of no return in her own head. If she’s gonna do this she’s gonna do it with conviction, dammit

Shauna adjusts her position, crosses her legs and scoots closer until her knees touch Jackie’s. 

“You look so beautiful tonight, darling .” She runs the back of her hand down the side of Jackie’s face and tries not to cringe at the words that just came out of her mouth, reminds herself she’s putting on a performance

“Thanks, you… you look great too.” The ever-so-confident Jackie Taylor, the one who suggested this in the first place, is blushing. Jackie’s gaze follows Shauna’s hand as it drops from her face, lands on her knee. 

It’s always made Shauna feel special that Jackie could be the most vulnerable in her company. It makes her feel powerful. Knowing the Jackie Taylor better than anyone else in the world. Seeing Jackie’s cheeks go rosy red over something she said emboldens Shauna even more. 

The hand now placed on Jackie’s leg stretches out, fingertips graze the skin of her thigh and squeeze gently. 

Baby, I really wanna kiss you right now.” The words drip cloyingly from Shauna’s lips. Whatever kind of fucked up game this is, she’s gonna play. 

Jackie’s eyes go big for a second and she hums in some type of approval. Shauna chalks it up to her ability to embody the male perspective. Jackie looks less freaked out now. The air of arrogance that swirls around her while she’s walking down the hallway or running on the field has returned, maybe not in full force but there nonetheless. She flicks her hair off her shoulders. 

“If you want to kiss me then kiss me, Je-“

Shauna interrupts her. She doesn’t need Jackie to finish her sentence. Doesn’t want to hear his name right now. She threads her hand through Jackie’s hair to grasp the back of her neck and pulls Jackie to her lips.

They collide too roughly at first, Shauna’s sure that will be number one on Jackie’s itemized list of improvements to be made for when she experiences the real thing

Both girls sort of freeze after the initial contact. Shauna fights the urge to laugh at the absurdity of the situation she’s found herself in. As it turns out, the romance novels didn’t have a cut and dry how-to on what to do if you’re kissing your best friend who’s pretending you’re her crush and you’re pretending she’s… you’re not actually sure who you’re pretending she is (or if you’re even pretending at all). 

A moment goes by and Jackie starts moving her lips, slowly against Shauna’s. It’s tentative. Their mouths are barely touching. Shauna feels dizzy.

Shauna’s hand drops from Jackie’s neck and palms for her hand atop the comforter. She needs something to ground her, to anchor her to her own body. Otherwise she feels like she’ll barrel roll off the side of her twin bed like a cartoon character and go splat or fall through the floor or even start levitating and clip through the ceiling, never to be seen again. 

Shauna’s warm and clammy hand meets Jackie’s cold and still one. Jackie’s pinky rises, hooks around Shauna’s in some kind of silent promise. It’s enough to make Shauna’s breath catch and cause her to press forward more firmly against Jackie’s lips. 

Strawberry. Jackie’s lipgloss is strawberry flavored. Maybe strawberry banana? Strawberry vanilla?

Jackie makes a surprised, satisfied noise at the increase of contact. She raises her hand to cup Shauna’s cheek and increases her pace slightly, and oh god, Shauna thinks, they’re really kissing kissing now. 

She’s either thinking quick on her feet or acting out of pure panic, but Shauna decides it’s time to test her skills. She opens her mouth a little, bites down on Jackie’s lower lip (probably too hard, she makes a mental note), then soothes it with her tongue. The other girl hurriedly returns the favor, licks into Shauna’s mouth. Shauna feels like she might die on the spot.

Yeah, strawberry vanilla.

The back and forth push and pull continues for a little longer until Jackie pulls away completely. Shauna is out of breath, waits to see Jackie’s reaction before showing any emotion. She almost expects Jackie to immediately express regret or start listing things that Shauna did wrong, but there’s no such fanfare.

Jackie, eyes all dark and lips now devoid of gloss, places a hand on each of Shauna’s collarbones. She gives a light shove. 

“Wow, Shipman, that was…” Her eyes meet Shauna’s. “That was something.” 

Something could mean anything, but Jackie’s smiling. Shauna can’t help herself. She tests the water.

“I thought I was supposed to be Jeff.” 

Jackie’s eyes briefly go wide once again. She laughs that laugh she does when she’s flustered, a short huff out the side of her mouth. She pushes Shauna again, more force behind it this time.

“Shut up.” 

In a swift move, Jackie pushes Shauna a third time and she falls flat on the bed. Jackie launches her body (gracefully, somehow), so she’s hovering over Shauna, arms on either side of her, dangling hair tickling her cheeks. 

She stares into Shauna’s eyes and flashes a loving smile. Shauna tries her best to smile back, tornado in her stomach, hopes it doesn’t look like a grimace. 

Jackie bends her elbow and leans in closer to Shauna’s face. Shauna’s instincts react before her mind can catch up, closing her eyes and slightly pursing her lips. She cracks an eye open just in time to see Jackie’s gaze flit to her mouth before pressing a long kiss to her cheek and flopping onto the bed beside her. 

Fuck. 

Shauna screws her eyes shut again. She wants to ram the heel of her hand into her forehead repeatedly, thrash her body wildly, any kind of physical release for the heat radiating inside her.

But then Jackie’s hand is on her cheek, turning Shauna’s head to face her. 

“Turn over and look at me. Please.” 

Shauna briefly wonders if Jackie’s onto her. Her best friend isn’t the most observant but she always seems to figure things out, somehow.

Regardless, Shauna does as she’s asked. 

Jackie plants a kiss on Shauna’s other cheek, then rubs the spot with the pad of her thumb. Gives another tooth-achingly sweet smile.

“You’re like, my whole world.” Jackie gulps, continues to stroke Shauna’s face. 

Shauna beams back at her. She knows that’s not true, but she doesn’t think Jackie is being disingenuous. Maybe just a little hyperbolic. 

“Even if, or… when,” Jackie breathes out a laugh, “Jeff and I start dating, you’re still gonna be my number one. I love you, Shauna Shipman. More than anyone else. You know that, right?”

 She quickly kisses Shauna’s forehead. 

Jackie’s eyes dart back and forth, looking at Shauna’s left eye, her own thumb still rubbing circles into Shauna’s cheek, Shauna’s lips, Shauna’s right eye, the wall behind Shauna’s head. 

Shauna nods. She agonizes over the thought that Jackie would rescind that statement if she knew. What there was to know or not know, still up in the air. But whatever it is, Shauna knows it would change the trajectory of their friendship. 

Jackie leans in again and Shauna closes her eyes, braces for impact as she waits for lips to collide with her cheek, or forehead, or nose, or even her fucking eyebrow at this point.

That doesn’t happen. 

Jackie’s lips are on hers. No pretense, Shauna didn’t have to drop her voice an octave or let Jackie call her Jeff, Jackie’s just kissing her.  

It’s soft and intentional and it’s over just as soon as it starts. 

Shauna tries to follow Jackie’s lips as she pulls away but it’s a futile move. She stares doe-eyed at Jackie, waiting for any kind of explanation.

“Practice part two, duh.” Jackie states matter-of-factly. Her tone is cool but her cheeks are red. 

“Yeah… Right, of course.” 

“You know what? I am suddenly exhausted. Let’s catch some shut-eye, eh Shipman?” 

Jackie hops up and heads to the bathroom to do her pre-bed routine. Shauna trails behind.

Standing side by side in the mirror while they brush their teeth, Shauna feels energy buzzing between them. The air feels different. Jackie keeps stealing glances at her in the mirror, giving as much of a grin as she can with a mouth full of toothpaste. Shauna moves her arm exaggeratedly while brushing so it’ll gently sideswipe Jackie’s. She feels electrified at the touch. Like when they were kids on the playground, taking turns running their hands along the length of the plastic slide to gather static and subsequently jabbing at any bare skin to shock each other. 

After they return to Shauna’s room with minty mouths and freshly washed faces, Jackie whips the comforter and sheets up with a flourish, unmaking the bed. She crawls over and settles next to the wall (her preferred spot, despite having to clamber over Shauna when she inevitably gets up to pee in the middle of the night). She pats the space next to her. 

Shauna relaxes into the bed, pulls the covers over both of them. Jackie’s hand finds hers on top of the comforter, fiddles with Shauna’s fingers absentmindedly for a moment. She touches the side of Shauna’s face, tucks a strand of hair behind Shauna’s ear before returning her hand to the mattress.

“Goodnight, Shipman.” 

“Night, Jax. Love you.” 

Jackie breathes a gentle sigh and promptly falls asleep. Shauna has always been jealous of her ability to doze off with such ease, no tossing or turning.

Shauna can feel Jackie exhale against her skin and she doesn’t think the twin bed could feel any smaller than it does in this moment. She stares at Jackie’s hand resting in the space between them, and she aches.