It’s been a long time since Nancy Wheeler had…a pal.
Not to be dismissive of smartass exes or they-grow-up-so-fast little buddies or whatever Jonathan has turned into after their drift, but they’re not…a pal, Nancy reasons. What does world saving and nearly dying for each other over and over mean you are to one another? Family, probably. Blood siblings, sure, bonded palm to palm beyond any choice you might have after the fact.
Robin, though. Robin, it turns out, is someone Nancy gets to keep choosing.
Robin, Nancy thinks with a weird sense of triumph blooming in her chest, Robin is Nancy’s pal.
“You’re fuckin’ late, Wheeler!” Nancy isn’t even in the door, can’t appreciate the Family Video a/c overtaking the mucky damp of June’s heat before Robin’s bellowing and grinning massively at her from behind the register, long fingers spread on the counter like she’s gonna vault over it, like Nancy’s made her a coiled spring.
Nancy can feel the corners of her mouth tick up the way that always feels like a dare to herself, how long can she keep her own grin from spreading across her entire body, as she strides in and presses Robin back across the counter with her palm planted squarely in the center of her face. She snatches her hand back when Robin licks it, groans theatrically, ignores the crackling sensation in her chest.
She loves Robin’s laugh. Loves to be the one making her laugh.
“You’re not the only one with a job in this town, Buckley.” Nancy rounds the corner, throws her purse and notebook on a shelf, hoists herself up to sitting on the countertop like she belongs there. It’s the only time Robin’s looking up instead of down at her and it makes her skin hot. This kind of electricity in friendship feels so new, so exhilarating, she refuses to look at it too closely.
Nancy has lost plenty. But this, she wants to hold on to.
“Sure, but I’m the only one whose job is made infinitely better when you’re here keeping me company.” Robin’s eyes crinkle at the edges before turning to ring up a mom arguing with her kid about what tape is coming home with them. The shop smells like dusty carpet and hot plastic, and dusk is rapidly falling outside, and this, this is being alive.
“What are we watching?” Nancy’s squinting up at the TV in the corner as Robin counts change, cheerily sends the duo out into the heat.
“Desperately Seeking Susan.” Now Robin is propping herself up next to Nancy, shoulder to shoulder, nudging her, eyebrows waggling, her voice a faux whisper. “Madonna is SUCH a babe in this.”
Nancy is rolling her eyes and nudging back harder, because Robin makes her feel loose, physical, like any second they’re gonna be wrestling like gangly puppies. “Pop princess is NOT your type.”
Robin scoffs, kicking the air, glaring sideways. “Excuse me, who is Nancy Wheeler to tell me who MY type is?”
Nancy’s nose is in the air, haughty and teasing. “A genius in Robin Buckley studies. Honor student in listening to you and Steve chitter like apes about every single girl our age in town.”
Robin’s flushed, poking her side, making her yelp. “Ugh, you’re insufferable!”
Nancy’s the one laughing now, shoving back under Robin’s Family Video vest, relishing the give under her fingertips of Robin’s softness under the sliding fabric of her worn tank top.
It’s been like this for months. Easy, visceral. Ever since Nancy opened terrified eyes to meet Robin’s ice blue ones, Robin’s palms on Nancy’s cheeks, Robin belting Cyndi Lauper and pushing Vecna out of her brain.
You knew, Nancy muttered. Robin’s face was wet, those eyes shining.
Yeah, I guess I did, she responded with a swallow, before Steve enveloped both of them, sobbing, the kids and Eddie roaring around them breathtakingly loud, the sweetest damn racket Nancy had ever heard.
Since then, since it all ended, it’s been Nancy tossing popcorn up for in the air for Robin to catch on her tongue, sprawled across each other on the Wheelers’ living room couch. Nancy riding piggyback on Robin after 2AM, staring up at the stars, breathing in her hot spiced scent as Steve pads beside them, all three trading insults.
It’s Robin’s longwinded nonsensical monologue one night as the eastern horizon starts to warm, the two of them passing a beer back and forth on some kid’s roof. Nancy’s watching the last visages of a stupid teenage party sputter below, watching Robin talk, all big gestures and wide expressions. Then Robin’s stopping short, quiet and unsure, before:
“Nancy. Nance. I gotta tell you something important. We’re friends now and maybe you won’t want to be my friend if you know, but you have to know because we’re friends now, good friends.”
Nancy had felt her eyebrows knit, had braced for impact. Trauma trains you to expect the worst. Trauma trains you to retreat. But Nancy never seems to know how to go anywhere but forward. She doesn’t look away while Robin fumbles, stares at her hands.
“The way you…like Jonathan? The way you…liked…Steve? That’s how I like…girls. Just like, girls in general, I guess? I mean, pretty girls, sure, but…”
Robin’s face is pleading, and Nancy waits for some sense of shock to hit, waits to be forced to school her features into supportive calm, but instead, that crackling in her chest grows, presses against her ribs, and Nancy inhales. She slides her arms around Robin’s waist, breathes into her neck, shutting her up, feels her flush. Robin stammers.
“Oh. Oh, okay.”
“You moron.” Nancy’s sighing into the warmth of Robin’s collar, clutching her. “This is not remotely the weirdest thing about you.”
Robin’s laugh is a bark of relief, and damn, Nancy loves to be the one making her laugh.
So yeah, she doesn’t think too hard about what it means, how much she likes these ridiculous tickle fights on the counter at Family Video, how she relishes the waxy taste of Robin’s lipstick on the straw when steals her Dr. Pepper. Nancy overthinks the world, always wants to get to the bottom of it all.
But not this.
Not Robin tearing open a pack of M&Ms with her teeth and dropping them, one by one, into Nancy’s open mouth, both sets of eyes on a glowing, dancing Madonna and Rosanna Arquette. Not Robin hooking her foot into Nancy’s, swinging them up and down, pointing and whispering and rolling her eyes.
Can’t something just be easy? Nancy often wonders, alone at night, staring at her ceiling, before forcing her thoughts to a halt. This IS easy, her brain responds, crisply, no nonsense. Robin’s as easy as breath.
But that hitch in your chest, a tiny voice inside her argues. That crackling electricity.
Nancy always rolls over and falls asleep, then.
The door dings and Robin hops off the counter, a practiced motion that leaves Nancy’s shoulder suddenly cold.
“Hi Robin!” Max and El trot in, Max’s skateboard slung across her broadening shoulders, El’s expression earnest delight. Both of their faces light up further when they spot Nancy, hand open in a wave over Robin’s shoulder. El bounds around the counter. “Nancy! I did not know you’d be here too!”
Robin smirks. “Yeah, she’s my entertainment for the evening. Harrington’s got the night off…he’s got a daaaaate.” She draws out the last word, singsong.
Max rolls her eyes, and El grins.
“It’s not such a bad gig,” Nancy glances at Robin, can’t help a sly smile. “All the junk food you can eat, and it comes out of HER paycheck.”
Robin snorts, flicking Nancy’s ear as Max and El giggle, disappearing into the stacks, discussing and replacing selections. A Thursday night can be slow, but the summer heat means that a steady stream of customers follow. Robin slips in Just One Of The Guys and spends every free minute of the next hour and forty groaning, overwrought, at Joyce Hyser’s “hot” haircut and her “wasting it” on a parade of “infuriating teenage boys.” Nancy smirks and sorts tapes and elbows Robin over for a better view when one customer comes in carrying his new puppy.
Has my life ever felt better than this? Nancy wonders, idly, rewinding tapes and snapping them into their cases, watching as Robin joke at length with two kids renting the Care Bears movie. She recognizes the spark that animate their expressions as Robin chatters and smile down at them.
After ten o’ clock hits and Robin locks up, they lay next to each other on Nancy’s hood in the parking lot, staring up at the smudge of sunlight a midwestern sky still manages to hold before midnight in June. Robin’s fiddling with her rings, hands in the air against the streetlights, and Nancy watches and watches. Her ribs feel broken, aching, and she knows her face looks like she’s in the middle of solving a math problem, but she can’t seem to help it.
Can’t something just be easy?
Nancy sits up, suddenly and decisively.
Robin glances at her, with questioning eyes and a sideways smile. “Nancy?”
Nancy stares down at her, intense, brow furrowed. Robin’s gaze turns concerned, and she props herself up on her elbows.
“What’s wrong? Are you feeling okay? We probably ate too much candy, the stuff they put in that shit is vile—“
Nancy’s mouth is on Robin’s before she can think twice.
She’s pressing, soft and insistent. Robin makes a tiny noise of shock into Nancy’s mouth and then—oh, she’s pressing back against her, eager. Nancy opens her mouth slightly, lets Robin’s tongue slide like a question between her lips, sucking it lightly, earning a shuddering gasp. The crackle in her chest has long since exploded into fireworks when Robin’s fingertips reach up and tangle in Nancy’s hair, deepening the kiss, and, fuck, she could kiss Robin forever.
She doesn’t feel like the boys did, but Nancy’s grateful. Kissing Robin should feel like an earthquake, and it does.
She’s sucking Robin’s bottom lip, letting it scrape against her teeth and feeling herself groan into Robin’s mouth. She tastes the way that she smells…spiced and sweet, searingly hot. This might feel absurd if it wasn’t so fucking exceptional. Why wasn’t anyone shouting how good it was to kiss Robin Buckley from every rooftop in town? Nancy feels greedy, suddenly, monstrously proud of being the one to make Robin feel this way, sound this way, move this way. She slides her palms along the winding muscles at Robin’s throat, feels the skin tremble under her touch, and kisses her and kisses her and kisses her. Every part of her feels sticky and infinite.
They pull apart, foreheads pressed together, hands still tensed, gripping the other. Nancy wants to suck in Robin’s gasping breath, wants to hold it in her chest like a hit, let it get her doped later, when she’s alone.
“Nancy…shit…” Robin’s eyes are scorching into hers, her pupils so blown out they look almost black in the parking lot’s dusty golden light.
Nancy swallows, hard. “I…I hope…I…holy hell.” She tries to think, tries to reel her mind back in, tries not to glance down at Robin’s swollen lips. “Was…is…is this okay?”
Robin’s eyes widen, and she scrambles up to sitting, looking down at Nancy’s questioning face. “Is this okay?!” Suddenly Robin’s mouth is on her’s again, hungry, insistent. She’s pressing the length of their torsos together, both hands tangled in Nancy’s hair now, pulling Nancy’s face up to her’s. She tastes fucking delicious, and Nancy feels herself shudder. Robin’s lips are on her cheeks, her eyelids, the corners of her mouth, her throat, rasping:
“Yes…fuck…yes, it’s better than okay.”
Nancy’s nodding, eyes closed, breath uneven.
“Nance, you…you’ve been driving me crazy for weeks.” Robin’s breathing words into her neck. “But…I sorta thought that’s like being nuts about the moon? Or, like, I don’t know, Molly Ringwald?”
Robin pulls back and looks down at her, flushed, with that sideways grin.
“Nancy Wheeler…she’s out of my league, you know?”
Nancy scoffs, and they’re kissing again, slower now, less desperate. Robin kisses like she smiles, deliberate and earnest. Nancy’s brain feels hazy and razor-sharp all at once, memorizing the sensation of Robin’s thumb along her jawline.
They pull back gently again. Robin’s eyes are searching Nancy’s face.
“Jesus, Wheeler, you are so pretty. Not sure when you’re gonna wise up and get outta here, so I better say so while I can.”
Nancy rolls her eyes, tries and fails not to smile. “For a dingbat who doesn’t know what a babe she actually is, you’re an awfully good kisser.”
Robin’s face lights up like sunshine then, relief and euphoria flooding her features and making Nancy’s heart ache with the sort of affection that sends hapless knights into dragons’ keeps.
Robin springs up, half-leaping onto the roof of Nancy’s car, arms spread, letting out a nonsensical howl into the dark emptiness of the parking lot. Nancy stares up at her pal, heart pounding, the world so full of potential, full of the possibility of future happiness that she feels like jumping up and joining her.
Robin leans over, resting her elbow on her knee, smug.
“I’m the king of the world, you know that?”
“Oh yeah?” Nancy tries to control her own grin. She can’t tear her eyes away from Robin’s.
“Oh absolutely. I kissed Nancy Wheeler, and I’m going to kiss her again, and no one is a luckier idiot than I am.”
Nancy shakes her head, loses the battle with her smile, lets it illuminate her face. Robin slides down the windshield next to her, kisses her big and ridiculous on the cheek, enjoying Nancy’s squirm.
“You’re gonna make a great boyfriend, Nance.”
“Oh my god shut UP.” And they’re kissing, playful and sloppy and hands groping at waists, at shoulders, at throats, at cheeks. A part of Nancy wants to explain, wants to gush out that no, this isn’t just a one-time thing, we’re going to do this again, please say we’re going to do this again, but Robin kisses her like she means it, kisses her like she’s in it for real, and Nancy’s brain goes soft and easy again.
Nancy has lost plenty. But Robin Buckley, she wants to keep.