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their hearts don’t beat like ours

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Music streamed through cheap speakers throughout the - Leah hates to admit - nice house. A nauseating mix of weed, cigarette smoke, and alcohol forces her to wrinkle her nose in disgust. Her own drink, a disgusting concoction that Ian handed to her as soon as they got to the party, sloshes around as she pushes her way through the crowd. She can’t even remember what compelled her to agree to go to the party; it’s not like anyone would’ve expected or wanted her to go aside from Ian (even then, he was quick to lose her after getting alcohol), and there’s nothing more miserable than being stuck in a house full of people that she can’t exactly stand. 

 

From the corner of her eye, she sees a pair dancing and grinding against each other, and her stomach flips when she recognizes who they are. That’s why, she recalls. Ian brought up the fact that Fatin was going to be there. Damn him. He knows her too well. He was careful not to mention Kirin O-fucking-Conner was also going to the party. The lacrosse team captain was infamous among the high schools that littered the Bay, apparently somehow managing to score an invite to one of Colby’s bigger end-of-summer parties, even though he doesn’t even attend their school. 

 

And Leah couldn’t stand him. Well, she can’t stand the way his hands are currently roaming Fatin’s body. She definitely can’t stand the way he talks and walks, like he’s some kind of top-notch alpha male. The more she thinks about him, the less she can believe that people actually find him appealing. Sure, he’s tall and athletic, but she can’t imagine what else there is besides that. 

 

Maybe she’s just being too critical (or, if she were held at gunpoint and forced to tell the truth, jealous). Fatin just seems so much better than him. Brighter. Destined for more. She cringes at herself; her and Fatin had maybe about three conversations that were unremarkable at best, and here she is, waxing poetry about the other girl. 

 

A person slamming into her brings Leah out of her thoughts. She groans at her now sticky and soaked clothing, not even bothering to glare at the idiot who just fucked up the rest of her night.

 

“Oh fuck me. Rilke, I am so sorry.” The sound of Fatin’s slurred words bring her little comfort, and now she has to deal with the embarrassment of looking like a fool in front of someone she’d much rather impress. 

 

Leah tries for a smile, but it comes out a lot faker than she planned. “It’s cool. I was just about to head out anyways, this just gives me a good excuse,” she forces out. Under any other circumstance, Leah thinks she would’ve overjoyed at a chance to speak with Fatin, but the night just keeps getting worse and worse.

 

Her pitiful attempt at making sure Fatin didn’t feel guilty clearly doesn’t work. The other girl holds up her index finger, and, with a tone that leaves no room for arguing, demands that Leah waits for her there. She walks off into the kitchen and returns a moment later with two bottles of water; she quickly chugs one and hands the other to Leah, who is beginning to question what she got herself into.

 

Not one to seem ungrateful, Leah thanks her and tears the cap off the bottle and kicks her now empty solo cup off to the side. Once she’s done drinking, Fatin grabs her wrist and, while Leah is too in shock at the physical contact to resist, drags her to one of the upstairs bedrooms. The quiet, semi-clean air relieves a tension that Leah didn’t even realize she was holding, before she finally realizes where she is and who she’s with. 

 

Fatin is there, no longer grasping onto her, instead now rummaging through what Leah presumes to be Colby’s dresser, humming as she tosses clothes around. She lets out a small noise of approval - Leah will later vehemently deny that her heart jumped at the sound - when she pulls out a pair of sweatpants and an oversized t-shirt. 

 

She throws them over to Leah, who, bless her complete lack of reflexes, manages to completely miss both items. Her embarrassment is overshadowed by the warmth she feels at the sound of Fatin’s light chuckle at her expense, and she’s glad for the small lamp that was not bright enough to expose her blush. Leah quickly strips out of her ruined outfit and throws on the new clothes, breathing a sigh of relief at the sensation of clothes not ruined by vodka. Her blush returns once she realizes Fatin never once turned away; the girl stood there, eyes flashing with something intense enough that Leah drops her gaze to the ground. Fatin moves closer, enough so that Leah could feel her breath on her face.

 

Loud footsteps approach the bedroom door, and Leah startles at the sound. The door handle jiggles - Leah wasn’t even aware the door was ever locked - and Kirin’s voice comes through as he knocks on the door. “Fatin, if you’re in there, get the fuck out, I’ve got to head out right now. Let’s go.”

 

Fatin rolls her eyes and smirks. “That’s my cue. Sure hope I didn’t completely ruin your night, Rilke.” With a wink, she unlocks the door and grabs Kirin - by the forearm, Leah can’t help but note. 

 

She breathes out a quiet, “What the hell was that?”. The events of the night start replaying in her head, and, in true Leah fashion, she starts overthinking; specifically, overthinking whatever the fuck was happening in that bedroom. 

 

In a daze, she heads back downstairs to the main party, where she finally manages to find Ian. He’s too tipsy to notice the look on her face - she’s not exactly sure what she would’ve said if he asked what happened - and she convinces him that it might be time to call it a night.

 


 

Cheap vodka burned her throat, causing her eyes to tear up, only slightly. She almost can’t believe that she’s at another party so soon, but after that one encounter only a week prior, Leah is eager to attend more. There’s a hunger within her, an urge to see and know Fatin, an overwhelming, all-consuming passion. 

 

Leah hasn’t deluded herself, no, she’s well aware that she stands no chance with the other girl (even if that small voice in her head constantly reminds her of their - well, Leah isn’t sure what to call it, but it is an it ) but she’s determined to at least make some sort of impression on Fatin besides being the girl with the corny jokes or the girl unfortunate enough to have alcohol spilled all over herself.

 

There are other ways to go about making some sort of rapport with Fatin; they share a class - AP Calculus, surprisingly - or Leah could easily follow one of Fatin’s many social media accounts, but there’s something enticing about the party setting. Maybe it’s the warmth caused by the liquor or the lack of expectations that come with being outside of an academic setting or even being able to see Fatin in a social context, she isn’t entirely sure, but it’s enough to lure her out of the comfort of her bedroom. 

 

“Fancy seeing you here, Rilke. I thought that last week was a fluke. Didn’t take you for a party type of person.” A smooth, too sober voice interrupts Leah’s thoughts. 

 

Speak of the damn devil. 

 

“I guess I finally found the right inspiration,” Leah smirks. She’s impressed with herself; there was a lack of stuttering and word-vomit that usually accompanied her interacting with an infatuation. A slow blink and growing amusement betrays Fatin’s surprise at the reply, and Leah commends herself for being able to knock her off guard

 

Instead of replying, Fatin grabs her wrist and brings her outside, to a porch outlooking a vast backyard. Her hand lingers on Leah’s arm as she fishes something out of her purse - a cigarette, she realizes. She offers one to Leah, shrugging as she places it back in the carton at the sight of her head shaking. 

 

Leah had never found smoking attractive. On the contrary, she found the smell was terrible, she was sure the feeling of smoke in your lungs must hurt, and she knew enough about the risks to think that anybody that picked up a cigarette was idiotic. But as Fatin’s bright red lips wrap around one end of the cigarette, she’s quick to change her outlook. The way her eyes close, the deep inhale, the quiet hold, the soft release. It’s driving her insane. 

 

She holds her hand out, a silent request, and Fatin hands it over without a fight. Her first attempt at inhaling results in a loud, painful fit of coughs.

 

The cellist winces. “Maybe I should’ve warned you that that would happen. Sorry Rilke, I’ll grab you some water.” 

 

As she starts to walk away, Leah grabs her arm and brings her back. “No, no, I’m fine.” She’s clearly lying through her teeth, but the other girl accepts it.

 

Her second attempt is more successful. With the cigarette between her lips, she inhales deeply, watching as Fatin blatantly stares at her mouth, and coughs out smoke. Handing it back, Leah feels as though her head is buzzing. Her heart is racing, but she can’t tell if it’s because of the nicotine or the way Fatin is eyeing her, and she’s about to move closer, into Fatin’s space, when her phone rings. 

 

She silences it as quickly as she can, but the moment is gone. A sigh escapes her lips before she turns her attention back to the other girl. Before she can even think about what to say, attempting to open a conversation, she blurts out, “Did you know that cockroaches can live for a week without their heads?”

 

A beat of silence as she realizes what she said. Just as she’s going to apologize, backtrack somehow from that mortifyingly stupid thing to say, Fatin answers, “Yeah, and they can live for three months without food.” She smiles. “One of my little brothers likes them. He made a whole PowerPoint to try to convince our mom to let him keep some as pets.”

 

“Was he able to?” is all Leah can get herself to say, still fighting off the embarrassment at her own lack of ability to properly speak to a pretty girl.

 

“Nope. And we didn’t hear the end of it for months.” Fatin rolls her eyes, in a way Leah probably shouldn’t find stupidly attractive, and continues, “Now he’s more into rats, so if you’ve got any fun facts to share, now’s the time.”

 

Leah thinks for a second. “Rats are ticklish, I think.”

 

Fatin laughs. It’s a loud, genuine, boisterous laugh, causing Leah’s heart to beat just a little too quickly. “I might need a different one. If I tell him that, he’ll force me to take him to a fucking rat to test it out himself.”

 

The thought of Fatin having to find a rat for her brother to pet brings a fond smile to her face. It’s clear how much she adores her brother, and she can’t help but wonder what else there is to the other girl. 

 

But now isn’t the time for that. Leah offers, “Rats can go longer than camels without having to drink water.” A pause. “Well, certain types can, I guess. I don’t know if that’s a universal rat thing to have.” 

 

Never before did she believe that her weird interest in collecting animal facts would come in handy, and she once again thinks about Fatin’s ability to keep her on her toes. 

 

Somehow, Leah is able to keep the conversation flowing, and they stay out on that porch with the party raging inside, speaking in hushed tones to keep others from coming out to see what the fuss is about. She shares countless animal facts - it occurs to her that this may be the most unusual way for her to get closer to Fatin, but it’s working, so she can’t complain - and Fatin shares new knowledge in return, explaining arpeggios, pizzicatos, agitatos, as well as anything her brother taught her. It’s exciting and new and Leah, in all her ineptitude at socializing, is investing herself in the conversation.

 

“You’re going to make me the coolest sister ever. Well, I already was, but he’s gonna think I’m some kind of rat genius from now on. Thanks, Rilke.” The joking tone and small smile on Fatin’s face kept Leah distracted enough to not be (too) bothered by the fact that she’d never once heard her first name leave the other girl’s mouth. 

 

She smiles softly in return, about to let herself ramble further, when her phone begins buzzing obnoxiously in her pocket. She pulls it out, offering an apologetic look towards Fatin, sees one missed call from her mom and an abundance of texts from Ian, and takes it as a signal that it might be time to head home. 

 

Leah shares as much with Fatin, who looks regretful, but winks and smiles at her as they both start heading inside. This time, there’s nothing to hide her flushed face and neck, but she’s not willing to look at Fatin to see her reaction to this. 

 

Cowardice, some would say, but Leah would just call it “self-preservation.” 

 


 

Maybe mixing alcohol and righteous anger wasn’t the best idea. But who is Leah to decide? She’s currently drunk off her ass at some random party she’d heard about in one of her classes. 

 

It was a shitty day. No better way to phrase it. Not only had it been way too long since she’s been able to see Fatin and actually interact with her - in their shared classes, apparently nothing was ever going to change, Leah wasn’t spared even a glance - but she also had to attend some mandatory conference for a middle-aged author her English teacher was obsessed with. Maybe in some other life, she would’ve shared that obsession. He wasn’t ugly, per se, and his book was definitely interesting and compelling, but it meant absolutely nothing to her. 

 

Good thing, too, or else she might’ve fallen victim to the creep’s carefully laid fucking traps. The feeling of his too-heavy hand on her jean-clad thighs left Leah feeling nauseous, and the best solution she could come up with was to wash it down with cheap alcohol. She felt deeply uneased; it’d taken too much to convince him that she wasn’t hungry enough to stop for food and that she had way too much homework to spend any more time with him. The entire encounter was just - she couldn’t bear to keep thinking about it. 

 

So she drinks. Until the room is spinning and if she takes more than three steps she stumbles just a bit. Until the sound of his voice is drowned out of her ears by the yelling of stupid wannabe frat boys. It’s almost enough. She still feels dirty, used, even if nothing came of his advances. Jeffrey Galanis. Asshole. 

 

Somehow, without completely toppling over, Leah manages to make her way to a miraculously empty bathroom, and she rests on the ground near the toilet, knowing full well how close her stomach is to emptying its contents. Ugh. She hates throwing up.  It’s relieving though, and it might help to keep her head from spinning. Mm. The head-spinning, room-tilting thing is growing on her. It’s almost fun, in the kind of way that Leah never really allows to happen. “Letting loose” just isn’t in her. 

 

With that, Leah stands up. Well, she tries to. It takes way too long for her to get a solid grasp on the toilet because her own balance is completely off and she maybe almost hits her head a few times, but she gets up anyway because the bathroom is suddenly too silent, too enclosed, and she needs to leave. 

 

She wanders out through the party, taking an unnecessary shot of tequila and stealing a beer from a guy, and walks until she makes her way outside. The air - not fresh, but fresher than inside - is crisp, and Leah finds herself nursing the drink and taking in the emptiness of her surroundings. It’s open enough that she doesn’t feel trapped, and the noise drifting out from the party is almost enough to keep her from getting lost in her thoughts. 

 

Almost. It doesn’t take long for her to get restless. Well, she thinks it doesn’t take long. Leah lost track of the time as soon as she got to the party, and she wasn’t about to check her phone and be reminded of Galanis again. There it is. She thought of him. And, Leah decides, she would do anything to not think of him, to not have any reminders of the events of the night. 

 

But the liquor isn’t enough, and suddenly the noise from the party is too little and too much all at once, and the room is spinning, not in the good, happy way, but in the way that made Leah’s head hurt and her chest feel too tight and it feels like she’s not getting enough air and -

 

A hand on her shoulder, trying to pull her back, anchor her to earth. 

 

A raspy voice, “Rilke, Rilke, listen to me, listen to me breathe and try to copy.” Inhale. Hold. Exhale. Repeat. Okay, she can do that. She can do it. The voice is still there, coaxing Leah to continue following the pattern. 

 

It takes a few minutes, but she’s finally able to breathe normally, without the suffocating feeling of not being able to fill her lungs completely. She’s too shaken to be embarrassed, and she doesn’t want to open her eyes in fear of losing the comforting arm around her. Even once her breath clearly evens out, the person doesn’t stop with their soothing talking. Leah can’t make any of it out, but God , it helps.

 

Once she finally gathers the courage to open her eyes and turn - Oh. Maybe she should’ve realized sooner who exactly was helping her through her panic attack. 

 

Fatin’s worried eyes shine at her, and it tugs at Leah’s heart, and before she can stop it, she’s crying softly. 

 

She feels herself get pulled closer to Fatin’s side. 

 

“I’m not the best with, um, this, but if you want to talk about whatever it is that happened, I’m here. I’ll listen,” Fatin, impossibly gently, whispers into Leah’s ear. She nods, and after a few shaky breaths, it all spills out. Leah’s almost surprised at how easily she opens up, but at this point, she’s well-aware that the girl next to her is her weak spot; where Leah is rock solid, Fatin is her melting point. 

 

Instead of being met with disgust as she’d feared, Leah finds that Fatin is angry. Infuriated, even. 

 

“There’s no way that asshole should even be allowed to be in a high school ever again, I can’t believe the fucking audacity to touch you when you’re clearly a fucking minor. Hell, even if you were already 18, that’s still fucking creepy, he met you at a goddamn high school.” As Fatin rants, Leah just nods absentmindedly.


Fatin is too perceptive. “Rilke, you know this isn’t on you, right? It’s not at all your fault that that dickhead decided that he could put his senior citizen hands on you.” She tenderly uses one of her hands to turn Leah’s head towards her. “Look at me. This is not your fault. Even if you don’t believe it right now, try to keep that in mind.” 

 

She smiles at Leah. “Now let’s go get you some water and food, okay? Gotta make sure you’re not too out of it in the morning.”

 

Maybe she should be surprised at Fatin taking care of her, but she isn’t; it’s almost fitting that the other girl - who pretty much only ever showed off some party persona but cares enough to listen and retain information about goddamn cockroaches of all things just because her brother likes them - would immediately help without asking for anything in return. 

 

So when Fatin stands up and offers her hand to Leah, she doesn’t decline. She lets Fatin help stave off the darkness from her mind with a warm touch and the promise of food, and, for the rest of the party, it’s enough.

 


 

Leah glares at her tear-stained reflection in the dirty mirror. It wasn’t enough. It couldn’t ever be enough. As she angrily grips onto the sides of the sink, she tries to avoid thinking about the ache in her heart and the pounding in her head.

 

~~

 

Okay, so maybe this is getting a little excessive. Leah still hates parties, she’d still rather be at home reading a book or watching whatever show is next on her list, but she can’t seem to stop herself from continuing to go to these damn parties. The worst part is she can’t even pretend to blame Ian for it anymore - no, this was definitely all her. 

 

But as she thinks about Fatin’s warm eyes and raspy voice, she can’t find it in her to blame herself either. Just the thought of the girl makes her fight the urge to smile, and as off-putting as it is, she thoroughly enjoys the feeling.

 

It doesn’t take long to find her. Leah has grown adept at just being able to sense whether she’s in the room, and her eyes are automatically drawn to her. It helps that she’s in the middle of the room, beer in hand, dancing with Kirin. Tall son of a bitch. 

 

As soon as she’s about to start sulking, though, Fatin catches a glimpse of her. There’s no mistaking the smirk that grows on her face as she angles her body towards Leah, whose anticipation is steadily growing. 

 

She grabs her wrist and, with a smile on her face that makes Leah want to melt into the ground, leads her to a bathroom, claiming that she “needs to fix her makeup.” Never mind the fact that her makeup doesn’t have a single smudge or imperfection, but Leah definitely does not have it in her to argue that point. 

 

Even knowing the events that led to her awkwardly sitting on a cabinet in the bathroom, openly gazing at Fatin applying lip gloss to her already shiny lips, Leah still couldn’t quite understand it all. She doesn’t have the time to keep thinking about it, though, as Fatin’s eyes catch hers in the mirror, and she can’t help but spot the slight reddening of the other girl’s cheeks. 

 

Fatin clears her throat and offers to apply some lip gloss onto Leah. At her nod, Fatin moves closer, stepping in between Leah’s legs, eyes focused intently on her mouth. With a shaky hand, she carefully moves the wand across her parted lips.

 

She caps it, but doesn’t move back. Softly, she murmurs, “There. Beautiful as always, Rilke.”

 

Leah can’t stop the hitching of her breath. She also can’t stop herself from tilting her head just slightly up, slotting her lips with Fatin’s. For once, she lets her mind go blank, allows herself to give into the temptation that’s been in front of her, tantalizing her for months.

 

The soft, chaste kiss quickly turns passionate, with Fatin shifting downward, leaving hot, open-mouthed kisses along Leah’s throat, biting along her collarbones, moving her hands under Leah’s shirt. 

 

As soon as Leah starts lifting up her dress, Fatin pushes away from her, gasping for air. “Wait, wait, wait, I can’t do this. Not this.” She takes advantage of Leah’s shock, readjusts her dress and flees the bathroom, leaving Leah to, once again, figure out what the hell happened. 

 

She takes a minute to wipe the sticky lip gloss off of her throat, wincing at the thought of erasing the evidence of the bathroom’s events, but figures she shouldn’t go back outside looking like a complete mess. Wincing at the disheveled mess staring back at her in the mirror, she quickly smooths down her hair and runs cold water over her face, letting it give her the courage to find Fatin and talk about - it? Leah isn’t quite sure what to call it in her head. Offhandedly, she thinks about how often that happens around the other girl. Not knowing what’s happening. Not having answers. 

 

But it’s worth it, Leah doesn’t doubt. No matter what scared Fatin off in the bathroom, they can push through it.

 

~~

 

She doesn’t stop herself from scoffing. Worth it . Thinking that was her first mistake. No. Agreeing to go to that party with Ian all those months ago was her first mistake. In fact, these past few months were a series of mistakes, one colossal mishap after another, each a fault of Leah’s own creation. 

 

And yet, even with her damn heart breaking at the memories of that (stupid, shattering, soulsucking) night, she can’t help but yearn for Fatin, can’t help but replay the feeling of her soft lips moving against Leah’s own.

 

~~

 

Returning to the party was a struggle in and of itself. Leah’s a homebody by nature, and the thought of having to seek out Fatin was terrifying enough that the possibility of just going home crosses her mind. No. Leah shakes her head at herself. She can do this. 

 

The cheering and wolf whistles of the people around her brings her out of her thoughts. She looks around for the source of the commotion and - oh. 

 

Bile rises in her throat as she takes in the sight. Fatin. Kirin. Too close for comfort; in normal circumstances, Leah might’ve been able to brush it off as Fatin’s tactility, but upon closer inspection, a dark-hued hickey on Fatin’s collarbone - one that Leah knows damn well wasn’t there earlier, and she wasn’t the one to put it there - tells her otherwise. 

 

She knows, deep down, that it might be an overreaction for her to walk away as quickly as possible, tears streaming down her face. Maybe her and Fatin were never anything. Never had anything, never were anything, never will be anything. But she thought they were. No, Leah thinks. Apparently, it was all just hope, delusions built to protect herself from the truth: whatever potential she thought they had meant nothing to Fatin.

 


 

Okay, so she’s a bit of a masochist. That’s a character trait that can be absolved, traded in for something healthy with the help of therapy and good old-fashioned hard work. 

 

Not yet, apparently. Another night, another way to potentially break Leah apart. 

 

Funny enough, she’d promised herself she would stop. Stop going out to these disastrous, terribly unfun social events. Stop vying for Fatin’s affections. Maybe, just maybe, stop torturing herself with the possibility of even being able to matter to the other girl. 

 

But that’s why this is the perfect time to go out, Leah reasons. She’s not doing this for Fatin anymore. (A traitorous voice in the back of Leah’s head reminds her that trying to prove to Fatin that she doesn’t care still counts as doing this for Fatin.) 

 

She’s young, she’s at least conventionally attractive. She can have fun. Or, at least, have fun by the standards of other people her age. 

 

As it turns out, it doesn’t take much work to get someone’s attention. Sipping on a red solo cup on a couch with too many questionable stains is apparently the perfect way to attract some guy over. 

 

He’s cute, she supposes. Fluffy-ish hair, a soft, kind smile. He’s awkward, too, like a newborn animal trying to find the right way to stand and walk, but it works on him. 

 

Raf, as he introduced himself, reminds her of a puppy. She’s not dumb, or oblivious; Leah can tell from the way his eyes trail down to her lips and glance at the rest of her body that he is into her. He’s talking, chattering even, and she’s trying her hardest to pay attention, to give this actually kind of nice guy her full attention, but, like some kind of high-powered magnet, her eyes are drawn to Fatin. 

 

“-ah. Hey, Leah!” Raf might be more attracted to her than she thought, if he’s still trying to catch her eye when she’s (rudely, she hates to admit) clearly not that interested. “Are you okay? I know we only just met, but you seem a little out of it. Wanna head to a quieter room?” 

 

Okay. She can keep talking to the sweet guy. Maybe moving to a place away from Fatin might actually help her keep her eye on Raf. She nods her assent and lets him grab her hand to pull her through the crowd. Leah eyes their joined hands; mindlessly, she compares the feeling of his too soft hands to that of Fatin’s calloused. Still, she doesn’t mind. Fatin never bothered to even touch her hand, only ever grabbing her by the wrist. Maybe that should’ve been Leah’s first guess that Fatin meant more to her than the other way around. 

 

This line of thought is broken when the tugging at her hand stops, and she smiles at the fact that the warmth stays. Raf isn’t running off. Leah knows she can’t just get over Fatin immediately, but, maybe, just maybe, Raf could help. 

 

She doubts it, truly, but it’s worth a shot.

 

His gentle voice and soft touch distracts her, and she manages to actually focus on him and they have a decent conversation. Decent. He doesn’t make her heart race or give her the buzz of a cigarette hit, but he’s nice to be around. 

 

“No, no, no,” he laughs, “and then he asks me: ‘I can say it? You’re giving me a pass right now?’ I had to deadass explain to this guy that ‘Mexican’ isn’t a slur. ” 

 

Leah, lightheaded from the alcohol she hasn’t stopped drinking, laughs too. A little too loudly, but Raf doesn’t seem to mind, and the music outside the room is too loud for anyone else to be bothered by it. She takes notice of their empty cups and, with a distinct lack of grace that should embarrass her, grabs their cups and tells Raf that she’ll be right back.

 

With a slight stumble, she makes her way to the kitchen and manages to pour out some jungle juice into their cups (only spilling about half of it in the process). Leah’s also about to grab some water bottles when she looks up and catches the eye of the very person she’d been trying to forget. The very person who is standing just a little too close to her for her own good.

 

“Fatin,” Leah breathes. She clears her throat and gestures to the fridge, voice hardening. “Excuse me.” 

 

Warm brown eyes study her, and Leah shivers, involuntarily, hating the way she is so viscerally affected by even just a glance from Fatin. After too long, Fatin finally steps to the side, letting Leah through to get what she wanted. 

 

Just as she’s about to walk away - something Leah honestly never thought she’d have the strength to do - Fatin grabs her wrist. Not violently or in any way that could hurt Leah; if anything, the way she touched Leah was almost tender, as if her touch was enough to shatter the taller girl.

She turns back, looking at the cellist expectantly. “Is something the matter?” 

 

Fatin shakes her head, seemingly at a loss for words. Against her better judgment, Leah waits. Just as she’s always done. She’s growing tired of it.

 

“Rilke,” Fatin whispers, “I-”

 

“Hey, Leah, what’s taking so long with our drinks?” Leah shuts her eyes in frustration. Raf comes closer, and puts his hand at the small of Leah’s back, as though he’s known Leah for years instead of the past hour that they’d been speaking. 

 

Instantly, (and interestingly, Leah can’t help but note) Fatin’s demeanor changes. Where she was soft before, she hardens, and tension coils within her like a snake waiting to lunge at its prey; her grip tightens on Leah’s wrist, only slightly, and there’s an expression on her face that Leah’s never seen. It’s not anger, no, Fatin is too nonchalant, too suave for that. This look is almost cruel; there’s distrust in the narrowing of her brow, and there’s something akin to resentment in the sneering of her mouth. (If Leah weren’t still upset about Kirin, she might admit that this look is kind of sexy.)

 

Raf, ever so oblivious, does not notice the disaster that’s about to come his way. Leah tries her best to stop whatever massacre Fatin has at the tip of her tongue, removing his hand from her back and giving him his cup and a dismissive smile, but the man just doesn’t take the hint, moving further into her space, enough that she can smell the alcohol on his breath and the faint cologne that had dulled over the course of the night. 

 

From the corner of her eye, she saw Fatin stiffen even further, the muscles of her face pulling taut. Pause. Fatin snarls, “Listen here, papo , if I were you, I’d take my grubby little hands away from Rilke because she’s clearly not fucking interested. I don’t know if you missed a day in kindergarten, or if maybe you’re just too thick headed to understand the damn lesson, but here, we respect people’s boundaries. Now why don’t you run along before you bite off more than you can chew?” A sickly sweet smile. “Capisce?”

 

At the sight of confusion and hurt on Raf’s face, Leah feels her frustration rise. She straightens her back, and with as confident a voice as she can muster, “Stop. I appreciate you trying to defend me, but it wasn’t necessary, and you went about it like a complete asshole. You already made it clear that this-” she gestures between herself and Fatin, “isn’t important. So I think it’s better if I just leave.”

 

She turns to face Raf, removing Fatin from her view completely, sighing, “I am so sorry for her, Raf. You didn’t deserve to be spoken to like that.” 

 

With a dopey smile on his face from Leah coming to his defense, he opens his mouth to (presumably) ask her out, but before he can get the chance, she continues, “Fatin was right about one thing, though. I’m sorry, but I really am not interested in you like that. Tonight was fun, and I think you’re cool and sweet but I don’t think this can happen.” 

 

She takes a deep breath, turns her back on both Fatin and Raf, and marches out of the house. 

 


 

Leah, surprisingly, against all possible odds stacked against her, has not returned to any more of those godforsaken parties. Honestly, she was kind of impressed with herself. It was the kind of willpower that she’s been missing for who knows how long - the only issue being that she’s still so fucking enamored by Fatin Jadmani. She’s even considered hiring some kind of exorcist because, at this point, there’s no way this was anything but supernatural powers at work. 

 

Fatin broke her heart. She kissed her and then left to immediately hook up with Kirin. She proceeded to never acknowledge what happened, and left Leah completely in the dust. Not only that, she was also a complete and total asshole to Raf, who even ended up finding Leah at school and apologizing in case he made her uncomfortable. 

 

But she was also kind. She cares about her family, she took care of Leah when she was freaking out about Jeff, and even if she was an asshole to Raf, she did it because she wanted to protect Leah. And hell. She was a really good fucking kisser. 

 

Leah was filled with an internal sort of conflict that she thought was just best to ignore entirely. She needs to let Fatin figure out what she wants because otherwise they’ll both get hurt, and Leah was terrified at the thought of more restless nights crying over the cellist. No, she made the right decision in staying away. 

 

At least, she certainly hopes so.

 

~~

 

Not even a month later, Leah is eating her words. 

 

A note is lying on her desk, a scrawl (Leah had pictured Fatin’s handwriting to be some kind of perfect cursive, but the chicken scratch is so unmistakably Fatin that she can’t help the smile that stretches across her face) with a time and place, a question at the bottom, Can we talk? And Leah already knows. Even though she knows she’ll probably end up hurt, she’s going to see that girl. 

 

~~

 

She’s thinking of investing in an inhaler. Leah’s not even asthmatic, but the uneven, choppy breaths and the tightness in her chest is a bit too similar to those symptoms she’s seen at the top of a Google search of the disease. No. This is just nerves. She pauses, trying to catch her breath, stopping at a water fountain to see if maybe the park’s crisp water would help settle her anxiety. 

It worked for all of three minutes before she caught a glimpse of Fatin, sitting on a swing, feet dangling in the sand. Leah’s breath was stolen, and she has to remind herself that Albuterol is way too fucking expensive for her to even consider that she has asthma.

 

She wipes her hands on the sides of her jeans, and sits on the other swing. 

 

It’s just past eight, and Leah is glad that the sun sets earlier than in the summer. The moonlight makes Fatin look ethereal; she almost wishes she could draw, just so she could try to find some way to encapsulate the beauty that’s in front of her. 

 

They sit together in silence for what feels way too long for two young women in an empty park at night, before Fatin finally turns to her and quietly asks to take a walk. 

 

At her nod, Fatin stands, and (finally, Leah thinks) grabs her by the hand, leading her to one of the trails. Leah’s pleasantly surprised to find that, even once they reach the dimly lit path, Fatin doesn’t release her hand. Instead, she shifts so that their fingers can intertwine, and Leah smiles at the faint blush dusted across Fatin’s cheeks. 

 

A calm silence settles over them while they walk, until suddenly, Fatin speaks up, “I’m not good at this, you know.”

 

“Good at what?”

 

“This.” She holds up their entwined hands. “That’s actually why I asked you to meet me today.”

 

Fatin takes a breath, looking deeply unsettled, and Leah can see the nervousness plaguing her. “I grew up with a fucked up family. For the longest time, I didn’t really believe in ‘romance’ because I never actually got to see a healthy relationship.” She closes her eyes for a second, sighing, “I go out so often to party and hook up with random people ‘cause I don’t care about them and I know I never will.”

 

She comes to a halt, tugging on Leah’s hand so that they’re looking directly at each other. “I have never wanted to be with anyone outside of sex,” Fatin says. 

 

This is it, Leah thinks. This is her trying to let me down easy. She’s about to step away and pull her hand back when Fatin continues, “...until I got to know you.”

 

Fatin smiles, a small, nervous grin, and says, “You terrified me, honestly. At first, I thought you were just some stuck-up smart girl who thought she was better than everyone else. That’s the kinda vibe I got from you in school, at least, but the more time we spent together, the more I realized how much I actually enjoy spending time with you.”

 

Leah knows that she should probably be concerned about Fatin’s first impression of her, but her heart is soaring with hope, and she’s fighting the urge to pull Fatin even closer to her.

 

“When we kissed in the bathroom that night, I completely freaked. I ran off to Kirin because I was scared of you. Scared of my feelings for you.” She pauses, settling her free hand on Leah's waist. “I’m sorry for running off on you, and I’m sorry that I was a complete dick to that guy that was with you the other night, too. I was jealous of him when I had no right to be.”

 

Leah smiles at her, “Yeah, you were a dick that day, huh?” Luckily, her tone comes off the way she’d intended, and Fatin doesn’t take offense, her shoulders releasing the slightest bit of tension with the tease. 

 

Fatin seems to have gained a bit of confidence, moving even further into her space, face only inches from Leah’s. 

 

“Leah,” Fatin breathes, “I guess, what I’m trying to say is that I really fucking like you, and if it’s okay with you, I’d like to take you on a date, preferably soon and preferably away from beer-stained floors.” 

 

She grins, toothy and wide and hopeful, and opts to close the distance between herself and Fatin in lieu of answering.