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A Compliment A Day...

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Senior year was supposed to be easy. 

 

Leah already knew where she wanted to go to college - and was fairly certain she’d get in. Her classes were easy enough. She didn’t have to take P.E. (thank god ). She didn’t have a slew of friends, per se, but she had enough. Friends she could talk to during classes she shared with them, nod at in the halls…and sure, she didn’t really hang out with people outside of school or sit with them at lunch or… maybe she couldn’t really call them friends , maybe she should call them acquaintances or-

 

It didn’t matter. That didn’t matter because she had Ian. 

 

Had Ian. 

 

She had Ian before he had to go and kiss her on their friends’ camping trip. Before he had to tell her he was in love with her. Before she couldn’t say it back in good conscience. Before he stormed away and ignored her for half the summer, and…

 

Point being, senior year was supposed to be easy. But now it was the first day, and she was sitting in the quad by herself. She swore she felt everyone’s eyes on her. Pitying looks as they walked by, giggles behind hands, bitchy remarks and - right. No, that was too much. She knew, she knew people probably didn’t care. She was practically invisible during the rest of her high school career, so why would people start looking now? Who cared, you know? Who cared that she’s sitting by herself?

 

She still tugged her cardigan a little tighter around herself, stared down at her book a bit more intently.It was fine. Sure, being invisible in their school hadn’t mattered much before when she had Ian. Ian who looked at her, saw her, wanted to be around her and hear her rants and remarks. Liked hearing her “wax poetic” about romance she had never actually experienced. 

 

But she was practically an adult now. And she could deal with a little bit of loneliness. Maybe she’d even make new friends. Not just acquaintances. This could be a year of opportunity, really. She could come out of her shell and maybe, just maybe, even find a nice guy to date. Hell, maybe she’d even go to a party!

 

“Hey-O!”

 

Leah looked up to see Kirin O’Conner standing on one of the lunch tables in the quad. He had his hands thrown up, waiting for the rest of the quad to look up as he grinned widely. 

 

“Listen up, East Bay! Back to school party at my good friend Joshy’s house! This Friday!” Kirin leaned down to slap his friend’s back as he spoke. His friend, Josh Herbert, was waving shyly at the crowd of people, ducking his head nervously. 

 

They had always been a strange pair. Kirin, the lacrosse super star, well know fuck-boy with avid magician Josh Herbert. But there was something about the way Kirin, with his seemingly douche-bag persona, never talked down to Josh as far as Leaah had seen. Never ragged on him too hard when Josh said something even Leah would find herself cringing at. They way Kirin stood tall beside Josh when someone was brave enough to make a quip. 

 

It reminded Leah that maybe high school wasn’t like the movies, and people were more than she gave them credit for. 

 

“All invited, unless you’re a total loser,” Kirin had the audacity to point directly at a student - and yeah, maybe Leah shouldn’t put too much faith in high schoolers. “Bring your booze, bring your hot friends, and bring - Hey, Jadmani!”

 

Kirin was pointing at a girl, Fatin Jadmani, who had been walking by at the moment. She looked like she was on Facetime with someone, and she slowly looked up as O’Conner pointed at her. She raised a brow in question. 

 

“Bring your fine ass to Joshy’s, please,” Kirin smiled his standard, “charming” smile, leaving Leah to roll her eyes subtly. 

 

She wasn’t sure why she was even still listening to the guy. She wasn’t going to go to that party. Sure, she was just thinking about “getting out there”, but a party with half the school there? Led by Kirin O’Conner? Maybe not a good choice for her first dip into the party scene. She had heard the lacrosse boys could really get out of hand, and keg stands and beer pong weren’t exactly her thing. 

 

She still found herself, like most of the quad, watching Fatin for her reaction. 

 

Fatin smiled slightly. “Depends…” She trailed off. A smirk was drawing up on her face, and from her spot, Leah could see the slight raise of her eyebrow and the amusement in her eyes. Leah found herself waiting, actually caring about what her answer was. 

 

It shouldn’t have mattered. Leah wasn’t going either way, and Fatin was far from being anywhere close to her friend. Sure, they had that one interaction. Fatin had asked to borrow a tampon during their sophomore year, in the bathroom of course, and Leah had made some terrible joke. Telling her, “No” but she could “Have one”, and yeah… it wasn’t Leah’s greatest moment. Leah appreciated Fatin had at least laughed; although, obviously out of pity. Admittedly Leah had spent around a month agonizing over the moment…

 

But she and Fatin Jadmani were nothing more than classmates. Classmates who rarely shared classes and tampons, and that wasn’t anything special. That was just like…Girl Code 101. 

 

“Are you actually gonna have the good stuff? Or just some cheapass beer that tastes like piss?” Fatin glanced down at her phone momentarily before fixing Kirin with a challenging look. 

 

Kirin grinned wider, if possible. “Only the best for you, baby.”

 

Fatin rolled her eyes and continued her walk. “I might make an appearance. But only for Joshy.” She sent a flirtatious wink toward the other boy, causing his entire face to flush. And Kirin, to his credit, simply laughed and patted his friend on the back once more. 

 

The ordeal was over. And while the rest of the quad broke into conversation about the party, Leah found her eyes trailed after Fatin. She had gone back to animatedly talking to her phone, her free hand waving around as she talked. Leah couldn’t hear what she was saying as the girl walked away, but she still found herself watching. Wondering who Fatin was talking to. If Fatin was really going to show up to the party. She had heard Fatin was quite the party girl so the odds were high. 

 

What kind of thing did Fatin wear to parties? What would she wear to this party? Something sparkly? Something tight? Probably something expensive, the Jadmani’s were real estate god’s in the area. If Leah went, what would she wear? 

 

Blue met brown, and Leah suddenly found herself making direct eye contact with the girl. 

 

Great . The loser sitting by herself, reading a book, just got caught staring at one of the most popular and pretty people in the school. Leah whipped her eyes away quickly, turning back to her book. And while she focused intently on the book in hand, just as intently trying to ignore the blush creeping up the back of her neck, she could’ve sworn she heard a laugh. 

 

She tried not to think about that. 

 

——



After lunch was English. Creative Writing, to be exact. An easy elective for Leah, another reason why she had predicted senior year would’ve been easy, fun, light. Maybe it still could be. She spotted some friends near the door. Acquaintances . Whatever.

 

“Rachel? Nora?” She called out, approaching the classroom. She tried not to sound too shy, too eager to know someone.

 

“Oh thank God,” Rachel let out as she spotted her. Nora gave a small smile, but didn’t say much. Leah didn’t mind, she knew Nora wasn’t usually so talkative. “Rilke, I thought I was going to be in this class with a bunch of losers. Well, I mean, you’re still a loser, but…”

 

“Am I included in these losers?” Nora asked, looking at her sister tentatively. 

 

“Obviously not, Nor,” Rachel waved her off. “Even if you and Rilke are kinda weird.”

 

“Thank you?” Leah laughed as she approached. Rachel Reid. Incredible diver, scarily competitive, but someone Leah found herself enjoying being around. Sure, they didn’t have a whole lot in common, but their banter was fun and Rachel wasn’t much of a social butterfly herself. In fact, despite being on the diving team, Rachel spent most of her time with her twin sister, Nora. Rachel claimed that was why she could handle Leah. Enough time around bookworms or something. 

 

“You’re cool losers,” Rachel shrugged. 

 

“Is that a thing?” Another girl chimed in, walking past them. Toni Shalifoe. Girls’ basketball captain, loud mouth, and practically glued to Martha Blackburn’s side. Martha, who was following right after her. Toni glanced at her friend before smiling. “Actually, you’re right, Reid. Totally a thing.”

 

“I’m gonna pretend you didn’t say that,” Martha glared at Toni. Well, the closest thing someone like Martha could muster to a glare. She shook her head before shoving Toni forward. 

 

“You know I love you Marty,” Toni teased back before whipping around to look at them again. Rachel, really. “And Reid! I’m letting you know now, I’ll be kicking your ass in the dodgeball segment in fifth!”

 

“In your dreams, Shalifoe! I’m going to peg you so hard, you’ll be seeing stars!”

 

“As hot as that sounds,” Another person approached, and Leah was starting to think they shouldn’t be lingering by the door. “Maybe something you don’t announce in the middle of the hallway?”

 

Fatin Jadmani smirked slightly at the pair, earning a glare from Rachel.

 

“Yeah, maybe not the best…phrasing, Rach,” Leah added, shrugging her shoulders. She was biting back a grin though, teeth digging into her bottom lip as realization slipped across Rachel’s face. 

 

“Maybe in a more private moment…” Nora added slyly. 

 

“Not what I meant!” Rachel protested, but Fatin was already pushing past them. 

 

“No judgment from me, Reid,” Fatin glanced back, but, for whatever reason, her eyes landed on Leah. “I like a girl who gets in touch with her freaky side.”

 

And dear God , why had Fatin Jadmani just winked at her while saying that? Fuck , she was probably teasing Leah about earlier when she was staring. Leah felt herself tense slightly, and she could feel her mouth opening, hoping to defend herself in a way. Explain to Fatin that she wasn’t staring - well, she was, but it was simply because she was curious, no, she was wondering. No, she was thinking about parties and- 

 

“Is this really somethin’ that’s school appropriate, ladies?” 

 

Jesus Chris t, why were they still in the doorway?

 

“Ugh, live a little, Goodkind,” Fatin groaned before turning her back. 

 

Shelby Goodkind turned her stare toward Rachel, Nora, and Leah, still lingering in the doorway. She was smiling, then again when was she not?  But it was tense. Her eyes were maybe a bit too wide, like she was forcing the smile with all of her might, and yeah…it was time to enter the classroom. 

 

Leah pushed forward, and Rachel threw a, “Mind your business, Goodkind,” Behind her that Leah really wouldn’t have recommended, as Shelby was already following after them. 

 

“Hard to do when ya’ll are hollerin’ about…about…”

 

“Pegging each other,” Nora supplied bluntly, causing Shelby’s face to turn a frankly frightening shade of red. 

 

Leah briefly wondered if it was possible for literal steam to start leaving the girl’s ears. 

 

“I really should’ve kept my headphones on, huh?”

 

This had maybe been the most people Leah had talked to consecutively at school ever. Not that she was doing a lot of the talking, but still. 

 

“Dottie!” Shelby admonished, glaring at the girl who was also trying to enter. 

 

Dot Campbell had her headphones around her neck, looking at them with what Leah knew as her signature disinterested look. Yet, there was a hint of amusement dancing through. 

 

“Don’t really want to hear about Reid pegging Shalifoe-”

 

“That’s not what I meant!”

 

“Take me out to dinner first-”

 

“Not everyone likes that old school shit-”

 

Please !” Shelby’s voice raised significantly, silencing the classroom effectively, though garnering the attention of the very few students who were choosing to ignore the event. “Enough. We are at school and - Leah! Leah, please explain why this is not appropriate.”

 

Leah paused, feeling everyone’s eyes turn to her. What the hell, Shelby? Why…Shelby gave her a pleading look, and Rachel was raising a brow at her, clearly enjoying her embarrassment. 

 

“I-” Leah looked around, specifically avoiding Fatin’s eyes. She could feel the smugness from across the room. “I’m just here to write…creatively…” She said lamely, cringing at the stilted way it came out. 

 

“That’s what I like to hear!”

 

Whatever high power existed, Leah would be thanking them later as their teacher finally strolled in. He was a middle aged man, brunette with a very classic author beard in Leah’s opinion. He had a bag slung over his shoulder, and he clapped loudly as he entered the classroom. 

 

“We should all be here to write! Creatively!” He said before pointing to Leah. “Just like Miss…” He gestured to her. 

 

“Rilke. I mean, Leah. Leah Rilke,” She stuttered out. God, kill her now. 

 

“Right. That is the attitude I hope you all have,” He continued before holding up a piece of paper. “And here, I have your seating chart.”

 

Numerous groans sounded throughout the room, and Leah couldn’t help but join in. She had really been hoping to sit with Rachel and Nora. Though, she supposed as she approached the paper, if it was alphabetical, she could still end up next to the twins…

 

It wasn’t alphabetical. 

 

She stared in horror as she saw she would be sitting right next to Fatin. Shelby on her other side across the aisle. She could hear Fatin going out of her way to provoke Shelby. She could hear Shelby’s indignant replies. She could see herself stuck between them...She looked up at their teacher, hoping to plead her case. 

 

“Well, well, well, Rilke, Leah.” 

 

Leah shot back, right into Mr. Galanis’s desk, jolting in surprise as Fatin peered over her shoulder. Her voice was way too close to her ear- and shit . Her hip hit the desk a little too hard.

 

“Jesus,” Fatin laughed. “Aren’t you… reactive .”

 

What the Fuck.

 

Leah ignored the way her voice dropped, didn’t even want to think about what Fatin was implying in that suggestive, low tone - 

 

She really didn’t want to think about it. 

 

Fatin Jadmani was a well known flirt. She flirted with everyone.. Hell, she had just seen it in the quad. But it was never directed at her. And yes, Leah knew it was a joke. She knew that was just how Fatin talked from their years of school together even with the little interactions they’ve had…but for whatever reason, she didn’t want that directed at her. 

 

“This is bullshit,” Toni interjected, causing most to whip their heads toward her. And Leah silently slipped away from the desk as best she could. “This is an elective, a creative writing course. Why can’t we choose where we sit? Where’s the creativity in that?”

 

“This is to get you guys out of your comfort zone!” Mr. Galanis replied easily. “It’s senior year, this’ll help you make new friends outside of your usual circle. Meet new people-”

 

“You literally put me next to Nora. My twin sister,” Rachel deadpanned. 

 

“Well, I used this random generator…” He trailed off. “I could make some adjustments though…” Leah could see the confidence leaving his body, and it was almost funny. 

 

Teenage girls were a trip. 

 

“Okay, well what if I switched Nora and Fatin?”

 

Leah felt herself perk up.

 

“I wouldn’t mind sitting next to Leah,” Nora spoke softly. 

 

“That’s not fair, they’re friends!” Someone Leah didn’t even know interrupted. 

 

Leah glared at the random boy. Why did he even care?

 

“Okay, what about Dorothy-”

 

“It’s Dot-”

 

“Can I sit in the back?”

 

“Okay!” Mr. Galanis clapped his hands together once more. He looked around the room, looking a bit exasperated.The class wasn’t a large one, smaller than your average class. No more than twenty people. “Shelby and Toni - “ He held his hands up as both girls moved to protest. He was straightening up, trying to look more authoritative. “Rachel and Scotty, Nora and Rafael-”

 

“It’s Raf-”

 

“Martha and Bo, Dot and…Henry. Fatin and Leah-”

 

Leah didn’t bother listening to the rest. She had resigned herself to a semester of relentless teasing that was sure to leave her embarrassing herself left and right…and this really wasn’t what she wanted when she meant to get out of comfort zone. 

 

“And that’s that. End of discussion. We’ll revisit halfway through the semester,” He finished. He looked around the room, waiting for another argument, but even Toni just gritted her teeth and moved to her seat. He glanced briefly at Leah, “Teenagers,” He sighed, shaking his head like they were sharing some sort of inside joke. 

 

Leah smiled awkwardly before moving to her table. She was a teenager herself, so she wasn’t quite sure how to react to that. 

 

“Gotta admit,” Fatin started casually, as she plopped down next to Leah. “This might actually end up being an entertaining class.”

 

Leah smiled back slightly. “Yeah…”

 

“We’ve got front row seats to the Shoni rivalry-”

 

The two girls in front of the whipped back, in tandem. It was almost scary. 

 

“Don’t call us that.”

 

Fatin held up her hands placatingly. “Sorry, girls,” She drawled. “Put the talons away.”

 

“Maybe you shouldn’t provoke an already…tense situation?” Leah suggested softly as the other girls turned away grumpily. She lowered her voice even more, leaning toward Fatin just a bit. She hoped to all that was holy Toni didn’t overhear. “Toni threw her own pee at someone last year, and even you couldn’t pull that look off.”

 

“Even me?” Fatin grinned, leaning in a bit as well. “Rilke, Leah…What are you implying here?”

 

“I-”

 

Before Leah could defend herself, Mr. Galanis had started his class. Finally . It was practically halfway over at that point, but he still handed out the syllabus, and as they went over it, Leah focused on the pages in front of her. She did her best to ignore the girl beside her. And again, maybe she had said she was going to try to make some friends. But, Fatin Jadmani? It just didn’t make sense in her brain. What would they talk about? What would they do? Would they even like the same things? Fatin was too…too…

 

“And so, our first assignment of the year, really not even much of an assignment,” Galanis announced, pointing toward the syllabus. “You will be writing words of affirmation to one of your classmates. One compliment or encouragement to your table partner at least once a week.”

 

“What?” Toni practically spit out. 

 

Okay, Leah was getting Fatin’s point now. 

 

“Yeah, I don’t really want to write about someone I don’t know.” Henry, the boy sitting next to Dot added. “No offense.”

 

“None taken,” The girl shrugged. “Shit’s weird.”

 

“C’mon,” He tried again. “Most of you guys have been going to school together for years. You can’t help but have noticed a thing or two? Compliment their outfit! Their shoes. Maybe if they made a good point in class that day. Or, you could just write encouragement. It doesn’t have to be very specific. It could be like… Make today yours .”

 

“Barf!” Rachel called out, earning a few agreeing nods. “This isn’t Pre-K or some dumb team building retreat-”

 

“I, for one, think it’s a great idea,” Shelby interjected. She stood up, looking around the classroom. “We could all do with spreading a bit more joy and love ‘round these parts! Even if your partner isn’t the most… easy person to compliment. You should be able to think of at least a few nice things to say!”

 

“Thank you, Miss Goodkind!” Jeff let out a sigh of relief. “C’mon guys, I promise this will be worth it. Just…Shelby, why don’t you start us out? Give Toni a compliment or words of encouragement.”

 

“Right- Right now?” Shelby grinned nervously. After receiving a nod of approval from their teacher, a few giggles from her classmates, Shelby turned stiltedly toward her tablemate. “Right, well, Toni , you are…a passionate athlete.”

 

“Have you even been to a basketball game?”

 

“Well, no, but…”

 

“Perfect! See, easy peasy. If these two can do it, so can the rest of you.” Mr. Galanis seemed to realize his wording almost immediately after, and Leah watched him cringe slightly. 

 

She chuckled under her breath. 

 

“Wait…” Leah turned her head to see Fatin looking around in confusion. “Why did Shelby just compliment Shalifoe? And why did it look like it was as painful as getting teeth pulled - actually, full stop. I know that part.” 

 

Leah looked over, something she had been trying to avoid, and saw Fatin’s phone hanging in her hand. Instagram was open, and Leah quickly shot her eyes away to meet Fatin’s. 

 

“Did you really miss that whole thing?” She asked. 

 

“You can’t tell me that man isn’t the most boring guy alive,” Fatin laughed, locking her phone and putting it on their desk. “I mean, he’s kinda funny in a manner. Like, he’s obviously not very good at controlling teenagers. Which makes me think… Why is this guy a teacher?”

 

Leah stared for a moment. Not sure what to say. She looked around, and Mr. Galanis was instructing the class on the rest of the assignment. Just give your classmate a note each day. Easy enough. Leah could compliment Fatin. There was a lot to compliment, at least physically, and- Well, maybe she could find a few inspirational quotes online to give Fatin each day. Maybe ones that weren’t too cheesy, she could imagine the hell Fatin would give her.

 

“We’re complimenting each other?” Fatin asked, looking around, having caught the end of their teacher’s explanation. 

 

“Kinda,” Leah supplied. “We’re…giving words of affirmation to our tablemates for the semester. At least once a week. Just like…words of encouragement, compliments…”

 

Fatin scrunched up her face. “What in the kumbaya-type-shit-” She paused, looking at Leah. Then she smiled. It made Leah feel a bit unnerved. “I guess I could’ve gotten unlucky. At least my tablemate isn’t too hard to compliment.” 

 

“Or encourage,” Leah found herself saying.

 

“Is that what you like? Encouragement ?”

 

Nope , no, they were not heading that direction again. 

 

“Compliments are fine. Or encouragement. Anything. Whatever. Really. Honestly, you don’t even have to do it. I’ll just tell him you are,” Leah rambled out, looking anywhere but her tablemate. 

 

“Oh, no. I’m going to do it,” Fatin grinned, fixing Leah with a look. A look that Leah didn’t want to be on the receiving end of. Not that it wasn’t a good look. It was Fatin, so it was a good look, but Leah didn’t enjoy - she didn’t want-

 

“In fact, I’ll start now,” Fatin said casually as the bell rang. She ripped off a piece of Leah’s notebook, taking the piece of paper, she then took Leah’s pen as well. Leah soon realized Fatin had not taken out any school supplies during their class. Fatin scribbled on the paper swiftly, folding it in half and sliding it over to Leah. She stood slowly, smiling once more at Leah before leaving. 

 

Leaving Leah to sit stupidly at her desk while the other students filtered out. She quickly packed her stuff. She wondered how Fatin had thought of a compliment so easily. So swiftly. She hadn’t even thought about it, and it made Leah inclined to believe it was some joke. Something stupid meant to tease Leah or make fun of the assignment in general. 

 

She still clutched the paper tightly in her hand. Stopping by her locker, she stared at it. She fiddled with the ends of the note momentarily before taking a deep breath. She really shouldn’t care that much. She opened it slowly, peering at Fatin's large, looping writing. Read the note, the compliment, written in Leah’s own blue ink. 

 

You have the prettiest eyes in school

 

There was a little heart at the end, something that felt in character for Fatin. Or at least, the version of Fatin Leah was apparently going to get to know. She stared. She ran her fingers slowly over the ink before opening up her locker. She looked up into the mirror she kept in the door. Hoping no one was watching, Leah looked at her eyes critically. 

 

She’d been told that before. People mentioned it often. Doting relatives, flirty guys at the coffee shop, hell, even Rachel had mentioned it off-handedly once or twice. 

 

They were blue. Sure. Leah didn’t know what to say beyond that, despite being a writer. Her gaze turned down a bit, and she noted the blush coloring her cheeks. She quickly shut her locker, loud enough to turn a few heads. She gripped the paper tightly in her hands, willing the blush rising to her ears to leave. Or at least not be so noticeable. Her fingers pressed into the paper, and she eyed the trash can at the end of the hall thoughtfully. 

 

It was just a stupid, offhanded compliment from a girl who could probably flirt the pants off anyone she wanted. Anytime she wanted. Fatin Jadmani could probably compliment a rock, in all honesty. She had just flirted with Josh Herbert of all people at lunch and - not that there was anything wrong with Josh, just compared to Fatin…

 

Leah slipped the paper into her pocket. She knew, okay, she knew it wasn’t that serious. She knew it didn’t matter. But she still found herself reaching into her pocket throughout the day, making sure it remained. She still found herself smiling at the words when she zoned out, and it was during the last class period of the day that the thought occurred to her. 

 

Not only was Fatin Jadmani planning to compliment her at least once a week throughout the semester, but Leah was going to have to do the same. 

 

She felt her cheeks flush again, and she didn’t want to think about the reason even the idea was making her flustered. 

 

What the hell was she going to write to Fatin?





Chapter Text

Leah stared blankly at the paper before her. She twirled her pen mindlessly between her fingers, chewed lightly on her bottom lip. 

 

God, this shouldn’t be that hard. People were milling around, eating, enjoying their lunch break. All while Leah glared a hole in her notebook, willing her mind to come up with at least one suitable compliment for Fatin. One that wasn’t embarrassing. One that wasn’t about how pretty she was, or how her smile was nice. She had nice teeth. Maybe - 

 

Fuck, no, Leah thought, You can’t compliment someone you barely know about their teeth! Unless you want to come across as even more of a weirdo than you probably seem. 

 

Her fingers found the note in her pocket. Yes, she had carefully taken the note out of her pocket the night before, placed it on her nightstand, only to put it back into her pocket the next day. She brought it to school, and Leah was starting to wonder if maybe she was a weirdo. Because one compliment she’d heard before shouldn’t matter. Not that Leah got complimented that often, and perhaps that was why she clung to it. People like Fatin didn’t compliment people like Leah, and even if it was for some lame assignment, it still felt nice. 

 

So what? Leah appreciated a compliment from an objectively pretty girl. That was normal. 

 

“Are you trying to write with your mind, or?”

 

Leah glanced up, meeting Nora’s timid gaze. The girl clung to her backpack straps tightly, looking nervous. Leah sighed. 

 

“No…” She muttered, rubbing her temples. “No, I just…” She looked around anxiously. 

 

“Is this about Fatin?” Nora guessed. 

 

“What?” Leah startled. She looked around again. “No! I mean, yes. Kind of. It’s our stupid words of affirmation assignment.” Leah admitted. 

 

“Right…it is kind of difficult,” Nora acquiesced. “I mean, why do we have to come up with a bunch of fake compliments for people we hardly know? We won’t even know 99% of these people next year.” 

 

Leah found herself nodding along as Nora took a seat next to her tentatively. 

 

She hummed. “It’s not necessarily that the compliment would be fake…”

 

“Just too real?” Nora supplied. 

 

Leah’s eyes widened, her hand came to cover up her notebook despite nothing being written on the page, and she fixed Nora with an incredulous look. 

 

“No!” She said too loudly, she could feel that same stupid flush crawling up her neck. “No, it’s not that…”

 

“You don’t have anything positive to say about Fatin?” Nora suggested. 

 

“Not that either,” Leah defended, looking down at her blank page again. “No, I just…I don’t know. What did you write?” She asked, hoping to gain some inspiration or at least derail the topic. 

 

“I just wrote,” Nora pulled out a piece of paper, reading it out. “ There is a past version of you that is so proud of how far you’ve come .” She tilted her head, shrugging slightly as she tucked it back into her folder. 

 

Leah wracked her brain, trying to remember who Nora’s tablemate had ended up being. “Oh…” She hummed. “How’d you think of that?” 

 

“I just saw it on Instagram this morning,” Nora admitted. She gave a humorous smile, and Leah found herself smiling back. “I don’t think Raf is all that interested in what I have to say either way.”

 

“I guess that’s true…” Leah trailed off. 

 

She caught sight of Ian walking through the quad. He was by himself with headphones in and his shoulder hunched up. He looked upset, and normally Leah would go over and ask him what was wrong. But Leah guessed that wasn’t an option anymore. He looked up briefly, as if sensing her stare. Their eyes met, and Leah saw what she thought was a flicker of relief in his eyes, though it was too far to tell and it was too quickly gone. 

 

He simply nodded at her before turning back and walking away. 

 

Leah tried not to frown. Sure, she wasn’t in love with the guy, but she did love him. He was her best friend for years. He was funny, and he was kind, and didn’t get mad when Leah zoned out. 

 

Maybe she should text him. See if they could mend their relationship. Leah didn’t want to spend her senior year alone and friendless. 

 

“Did you guys break up?”

 

“What? No,” Leah looked at Nora. Nora who was looking at her, not critically, but like she was trying to figure something out. “We never dated.”

 

“Oh,” Nora smiled at that. “I told Rachel as much, but she didn’t believe me.”

 

“I- Rachel thought we were dating?” Leah spluttered. 

 

“Sure,” Nora shrugged. “I’d guess half the school thought as much.”

 

“That…” Leah sighed. She guessed that was a fair conclusion to come to. They did only spend time with each other. And they were fairly close, before at least. 

 

“I always had a suspicion it wasn’t that,” Nora added. She was picking at the ends of her hoodie. “There wasn’t the chemistry, you know?”

 

Leah stared blankly at the girl. She was right, sure. But she also didn’t realize Nora paid any attention to things like that. 

 

“My mom says I’m pretty observant.” It was like she had read her mind, and Leah tried not to furrow her brow at that. “I’m not…like super out there. So, I have a lot of time to…watch…” She trailed off, cringing at her words. 

 

Leah felt a pang of sympathy. 

 

“Yeah, no, same,” She said in hopes Nora knew she didn’t think she was weird.  “It’s…yeah, me too.“

 

Nora smiled at that before turning her gaze to Leah’s notebook. “You could just steal from Insta like I did,” Nora said. 

 

“Yeah…” Leah trailed off. It just somehow didn’t feel right. “Where, uh, where is Rachel?”

 

Something flashed across Nora’s face, but before Leah could backtrack the other girl was shrugging nonchalantly. 

 

“Extra diving practice,” Nora said quietly. She tapped her fingers a bit on her folders. “I know I’m probably not the twin you were hoping to join you at lunch, but I could still help you out with…” She nodded toward Leah’s notebook again. 

 

“You don’t have to,” Leah grimaced at the way Nora’s face dropped. Shit. “I mean, you’d probably be ten times more helpful than Rachel. I’d probably just end up with a thinly veiled insult with her help,” Leah joked lightly, hoping to cheer the other girl up. 

 

“Or an inspirational sports quote.” Nora smiled back tepidly. 

 

“I’m…I’m actually happy you came by,” Leah got out. “I’m not talking to Ian, so sitting by myself out here is…”

 

“Lonely,” Nora finished. “I only really have Rachel, so I relate heavily to your situation.”

 

“Yeah,” Leah agreed. She tapped her notebook after a moment of awkward silence. “So…anymore Insta quotes worthy of this assignment?” 

 

Nora grinned brightly before pulling out her phone. She opened up the app quickly, and the pair leaned over her phone, searching for something to say to Fatin. 

 

It still didn’t feel right, giving Fatin some random quote from a post. But, she also figured Fatin wouldn’t mind. 

 

Why would she? 

 

——

 

“What the shit, Rilke?” 

 

Fatin glared at the piece of paper in her hand, as if it had personally offended her. 

 

Leah had walked into class, spotted Fatin who was already seated, scrolling through her phone. The note was practically burning a hole in Leah’s pocket, so she promptly marched over to Fatin and handed over the note. She had been hoping Fatin would wait until after class to open it, spare Leah from the embarrassment of her reading it right in front of her. 

 

Fatin had immediately grabbed onto the note, plucking it out of her hands excitedly. She had opened it up, sparing no time.Her eyes darted across the note eagerly, only for her face to quickly morph into one of distaste. Thus leading to…

 

“I give you a genuine compliment, and you give me what?” Fatin squinted at the note in disdain. “Some quote you pulled off of Tumblr?”

 

“Insta…” Leah mumbled in reply, scratching the back of her neck. 

 

Fatin stared at her in disbelief. Then turned back to the note. “The only time you should look back is to look at da booty?” Fatin practically spit out the words, and Leah felt herself cringing. 

 

“I thought you’d find it funny…”

 

“Rilke, Leah,” Fatin reprimanded, shaking her head. “I’m actually offended by this.” And while Fatin did look slightly amused, Leah could see a bit of disappointment in her eyes. 

 

Leah knew it had been a bad idea. But she wasn’t good at compliments or words of encouragement. In her defense, she didn’t even know Fatin! How was she supposed to say something good that didn’t come off creepy? Or, in the case of the note she had given, disingenuous and cringe-worthy. 

 

Leah could feel an apology at the tip of her tongue. She should apologize…

 

“Why do you keep saying my name like that?” Leah said instead of apologizing. She hoped a subject change would help the twisting in her gut. 

 

“What?” Fatin furrowed her brow. 

 

“Rilke, Leah,” Leah repeated, doing her best impression of Fatin, which was admittedly… not stellar. 

 

“Because of yesterday,” Fatin said as if it was obvious. 

 

“Huh?”

 

“When Galanis asked for your name,” Toni interjected, looking back at them. She was smiling a little too much for Leah’s liking. “Rilke, Leah, Leah Rilke,” Toni repeated, then doing her best impression of Leah. 

 

“No, it was more like. Rilke, Leah. Leah Rilke,” Fatin corrected, doing an even worse impression. 

 

It was decidedly not helping the twisting in her gut. 

 

“You guys aren’t getting the awkwardness right. It was more choppy,” Dot seemingly came out of nowhere. She cleared her throat, and Leah squeezed her eyes shut slightly. “Rilke…I mean, Leah!. Leah Rilke,” Dot performed. 

 

“That was actually pretty good-“

 

“Okay, leave the poor girl alone!” Shelby interrupted, and Leah couldn’t have been more grateful. 

 

“Whatever, Goodkind. Nobody was talking to you,” Toni sneered. 

 

Shelby turned toward Toni, affronted, and Toni met her stare with a hard glare of her own. They descended into a back and forth, that was actually kind of harsh, but at least led to people looking at them and not Leah. 

 

Leah looked over to see Fatin still glaring at her note. 

 

“It’s not that bad…”

 

“It’s horrendous.”

 

“Yeah, it’s pretty bad, Rilke,” Dot added, looking over Fatin’s shoulder. 

 

“Right?!” Fatin let out, shaking her head. “I just know you’d write me something sweet, Dorothy.”

 

“Well… I don’t know about that one,” Dot shrugged before heading to her seat. 

 

Fatin blew her a kiss on her way, and Dorothy, surprisingly, caught it playfully and tucked it into the pocket of her cargo shorts. 

 

“I didn’t know you and Dot were friends-“



“Don’t change the subject,” Fatin wagged a finger in her face, causing Leah to swat at it. “This note is sad, especially since you’re a writer. I kind of don’t even want to give you yours now.”

 

Leah stalled. “You wrote another?”

 

“Of course I did,” Fatin fixed her with an incredulous look. “I told you I would.”

 

“We only have to at least once a week..”

 

“I told you,” Fatin rolled her eyes, pulling out a note of her own. She looked Leah right in the eyes.“You’re not hard to compliment.”

 

Leah’s own gaze darted away nervously, and she found herself clearing her throat. But her eyes drifted toward the paper suspiciously. She slowly lifted her hand to grab the note, only for Fatin to pull it back dramatically. 

 

“Yeah, no,” Fatin drawled. “Your note did not earn mine. Not in any way, shape, or form. That shit’s weak as fuck, dude.”

 

“I-“ Leah flushed as Fatin shoved her note back into her hand. “I don’t think that’s how it works?”

 

“Give me something good, and I’ll hand over my note.” Fatin shoved her own note she had written into her jacket pocket, mumbling to herself all the while, shaking her head at Leah. 

 

Leah stood stupidly by her desk until Mr. Galanis entered, almost late again. 

 

“I- What was wrong with it?” Leah asked, although she knew, she knew what was wrong with it. But she wanted to hear Fatin explain more, talk more. She took her seat, leaning in to talk to Fatin who wouldn’t even look at her. 

 

“You plagiarized, you whore,” Fatin scoffed. “And this quote is so cringe it’s not even…” She sighed. 

 

“Nora helped me pick it out.”

 

“That’s worse,” Fatin groaned. “You didn’t even find it yourself? Boo!” 

 

It was said loud enough for a few heads to turn, and Leah briefly met Nora’s gaze. Nora who was looking almost as scolded as Leah. She mouthed a quiet, “ Sorry ” to Leah before turning to Raf. She handed him the note nervously. 

 

Leah watched as his face lit up, and he handed his own note back. 

 

“And now you’re not even listening,” Fatin sighed. 

 

Leah whipped back around to see a grumpy Fatin. It didn’t seem that serious, Fatin, despite her dramatics, didn’t seem that hurt. But Leah still didn’t like it. She moved to pull out her notebook. 

 

“I can do better,” She found herself saying. She was already grabbing a pen when Fatin raised a brow at her. 

 

“You better,” But Fatin was grinning, a playfulness dancing in her eyes as she gazed at Leah. 

 

Leah turned back to her notebook. 

 

Fatin. Fatin. Fatin. 

 

Pretty, obviously. Dark hair, dark eyes, impeccable style. 

 

Fatin. 

 

She glanced at Fatin from the corner of her eye. 

 

Nice smile. Nice hands. Long fingers-

 

Nope . That was not helpful. Not something she could write. What did that even mean? 

 

No... 

 

Cello extraordinaire. Though Leah was sure Fatin got compliments on that all the time. No, Leah wanted something different. She needed something different. 

 

Fatin was waiting expectantly. Waiting with that shit eating grin on her face, and something wanted to come out. Something was stuck in Leah’s throat, like she had something to say. She just couldn’t string it together or get it right- nothing sounded…before Leah could think better of it, she scribbled onto the paper and slid it over. 

 

Fatin picked it up tenderly, her grin never faltering. Her eyebrow raised slightly, and she cleared her throat. “ You’re hot ,” She read, turning that paper toward Leah. “That’s the best you got?”

 

“I’m not good under pressure!” Leah defended, folding her arms tightly over her chest. 

 

Fatin stared at the paper for another moment before shrugging. “I mean, I guess it’s true…”

 

“Okay, class!” Their teacher finally made his presence known.  Clapping his hands loudly, which seemed to be his thing. 

 

Class was in motion. They were to write about their summers. A boring topic, and Leah found her eyes drifting to Fatin once more. Fatin was actually writing. Intently. Leah wondered what… 

 

And then Fatin was crumbling up her paper and tossing it halfway across the room. It hit Dot right in the face, earning a glare from the quieter girl. She still picked up the note, read it quickly before flipping Fatin off and going back to her work. Fatin’s head fell back, her laugh sounding out, and Leah watched, thoughts humming through her mind. 

 

Fatin’s position really highlighted her jawline, her throat exposed in a way that had Leah staring for some unknown reason. 

 

Fatin was friends with Dot Campbell. Sure, Dot had flipped her off, but the playfulness was apparent to even Leah. She briefly wondered what Fatin had written. 

 

“See something you like, Rilke?” 

 

Leah’s eyes darted up to meet Fatin’s playful gaze, and she quickly cleared her throat before looking down. She glanced at Fatin from the corner of her eye, and noticed the way Fatin still was looking at her, smiling. 

 

“I’m just wondering when I get the second note,” Leah suddenly remembered. 

 

“Oh,” Fatin giggled, hand dipping into her pocket. “Sorry, did you think that you earned another compliment?” Fatin leaned toward Leah, raising her brow in question. 

 

“I mean…yeah?” Leah shrugged, keeping her eyes to her notebook. 

 

“No, girl, c’mon,” Fatin shook her head before turning to her own notebook. “I hear that like ten times a day from Kirin O’Connor alone. Gotta do better.”

 

“Maybe if I had more clear criteria?” Leah continued her assignment. It wouldn’t be her best work, but it was a terrible prompt and Galanis seemed like a pushover anyway. “Like, you seem to have expectations on what you want to hear from me.”

 

“I just want some honesty,” Fatin yawned, stretching back. She wrote absentmindedly on her own paper. 

 

“I was honest,” Leah admitted. “At least with the second one.”

 

Fatin paused, and Leah braced herself for the teasing, for the smug remark. Instead the girl tilted her head in thought. “Interesting.” 

 

“What?” Leah felt defensive again, like Fatin was judging her. “It’s just an objective fact. You said yourself you hear it all the time.”

 

“Yeah, no, fair point.” There was a strange look in Fatin’s eyes, and her pen tapped rhythmically against her notebook. “I guess I just thought…” Fatin waved her hand, seemingly waving off the thought and maybe the entire conversation. 

 

Leah huffed slightly before returning to her assignment. She wrote about her summer, her boring, predictable summer. And then she went further, spilling out her feelings about the whole Ian situation, and it was way too much for school. But she didn’t care, she didn’t care that Galanis would be reading this, and she didn’t care if she sounded like a bad person. 

 

And that, well that got her feelings out about that. 

 

There were five minutes left in the class period. The majority of students had finished the assignment before, most writing significantly less than Leah. But Leah was amped. Amped about Ian, amped about Fatin fucking Jadmani.  Leah found herself turning the page in her notebook. 

 

Another deep breath, she wrote: 

 

You’re magnetic. Which I’m sure you already know. I’m sure I won’t be able to tell you something you don’t already know. But you have a nice laugh, and your jawline is unreal. So. There. 

 

She packed up her stuff, and just as the bell rang, she slid the note over to a surprised Fatin. She moved to drop her assignment off at Mr. Galanis’s desk, ignoring his smile before heading out the door. She didn’t want to see Fatin read it in front of her again. She hoped her note wasn’t weird. She knew it wasn’t what Fatin was looking for, but she hoped it was close. 

 

“Riiilke.”

 

Leah tried not to groan, she considered just keeping walking. But instead found herself turning on her heel to face Fatin. The girl grinned brightly. 

 

“This,” She held the note in her hands, waving it in Leah’s face, causing the latter to move her head back. “This is more like it. Third time’s the charm, I guess,” She smiled. 

 

It wasn’t smug. It wasn’t flirtatious. It was just…nice. A simple, genuine smile that made Fatin’s eyes scrunch slightly and had one side of her mouth rising slightly higher than the other. 

 

“Happy to please-“

 

Oh ?”

 

“Not what I meant,” Leah sighed, her eyes darting around the hall. She didn’t think she could survive another flirtatious comment while looking at her, not after that embarrassing note. 

 

“Hey,” Fatin said. Her voice came out softer than Leah had expected, softer than Leah had ever heard it. “Thank you.”

 

Leah looked up, meeting her eyes and vehemently ignoring the swoop in her stomach. 

 

“You’re welcome,” She returned quietly. The moment was soft, too soft. It wasn’t even that good of a compliment. Well, it was more than one compliment, but it wasn’t Leah’s best work. But maybe, well, maybe if Fatin looked at her like that again she’d try a little harder. 

 

She paused. She didn’t want that thought. 

 

“Sooo,” She drawled out, breaking eye contact to gesture to Fatin’s pocket. “Did I earn my note?”

 

Fatin’s smugness was back before Leah could even process the change of tone. Fatin was stepping closer, leaning in, and letting her breath puff against Leah’s ear. 

 

“I don’t know, do you think you earned it, babe?” Fatin practically purred in her ear. 

 

Leah ignored the flush that spread up her chest, up her neck, into her cheeks all the way to the tips of her ears. She coughed, stepping back, hoping Fatin hadn’t noticed, but who was she kidding? Anyone looking their direction would be able to see the blush adorning Leah’s entire upper body. 

 

“I guess that’s your decision?” Leah let out, sounding more like she was asking than anything. 

 

Fatin tilted her head thoughtfully, tapped on her chin in an annoyingly over the top way that Leah shouldn’t have found endearing. She laughed before pulling the note out, and Leah somehow found herself laughing along. Even with the exchange being at her expense. 

 

“For you, pretty girl,” Fatin twirled the note in the air a few times before presenting it to Leah in such a dramatic fashion that Leah briefly wondered who the actual dork was in the situation. “Catch you later, Rilke.”

 

Fatin nudged her shoulder against Leah’s playfully before continuing down the hall. Leah, all patience leaving her body, opened the note immediately. She smiled at Fatin’s handwriting, and noted that her message was written in Fatin’s pink ink rather than Leah’s own blue. 

 

You look pretty when you read in the quad. You also look like you genuinely enjoy reading? Which is weird, honestly, but sometimes when you have a certain look on your face…it makes me want to pick up a book. Or at least, whatever you’re reading. 

 

Leah stared down at the note for a moment. Yeah, that was worth the embarrassment. That…that had Leah biting her bottom lip, tugging at her cardigan a bit. That had that same stupid flush creeping up to her ears, and-

 

That had someone running into her hurriedly as they rushed off to class, shooting out a quick “sorry!” before bolting off. Leaving Leah to stumble a bit, look up and meet Ian’s gaze. 

 

Ian was looking away before Leah could question him, stepping into a classroom. The bell sounded. 

 

Shit. 

 

She was late. She folded the note back up, tucking it into her pocket beside the other one, and she rushed off to class. 

 

Chapter Text

Wednesday

That laugh you let out when Galanis spilled his coffee? You know the one where it came out before you could stop it, and you tried to cover it up with a cough (btw, don’t go into acting). Anyway, that was just about the cutest thing I’d ever heard. Almost as cute as how hard you were blushing when you were caught. Almost. 

 

Thursday

I really liked the poem you wrote for yesterday’s writing exercise. Not that I was reading over your shoulder or anything, but the bits I caught from the corner of my eye were pretty. The bit about the ‘burning building’ was intense. In a cool way, not that I know shit about love like that. But, you’re a pretty good writer, Rilke.

(Okay, I was kinda looking over your shoulder, and I know you noticed, but I couldn’t help it!)

 

 

Leah realized that if Fatin kept it up, she wouldn’t be able to keep all the notes in her pocket. Not to mention they could possibly get ruined if they were carried around all the time and- Anyway, maybe the top drawer of Leah’s nightstand had a neat stack of notes in it. Maybe Leah opened that drawer at night to look at the notes. Not in an obsessed way or anything, just in a… an appreciative way. Fatin was taking the time to write Leah the notes, so it was only fair for Leah to appreciate them.

 

It would’ve been rude not to.

 

Leah hadn’t written another note since her first one, and while she felt a bit guilty about that, Fatin didn’t bring it up as she had before. She would simply place her note in front of Leah at the end of class before she left, flashing Leah a dazzling smile. Leah would open it almost immediately. She once caught Raf glancing at her while she read, and she really should think about apologizing for the glare she had sent his way. 

 

It was Friday, and Leah  had  spent the night before thinking about writing Fatin another note. She kept finding herself stalling. She couldn’t get herself to write anything, and when she did it never felt quite right. She was jealous. Jealous that Fatin could compliment so freely, so easily without thinking about how it came across. Without worrying about coming off weird. Compliments seemed to come so easily to Fatin, and Leah…Well, Leah didn’t have that. She hoped Fatin understood. 

 

“So…Can I ask you a favor?”

 

Leah glanced over at Nora who was tugging at the straps of her backpack. They had just finished lunch, and they were headed toward Creative Writing. Leah tried not to feel too bad that she had been practically silent on their walk over. She had been thinking about…writing and stuff. 

 

“What’s up, Nor?”

 

“It’s just…” Nora scrunched her face up, looking a bit uncomfortable before letting out a loud sigh. “Rachel is forcing me to go to this party tonight. You know, the one Kirin and Josh are throwing? I’m not really a party person, but I kinda owe Rachel for covering for me when I went to see my boyfriend…” 

 

Huh . Leah was not aware Nora had a boyfriend. Oh God, was she a bad friend? Holy hell, she should’ve known that, right? Had Nora mentioned it before?

 

“He goes to another school - Oh god, that sounded like I’m making him up,” Nora laughed and Leah joined in. She still wasn’t sure if she was impressed or scared of Nora’s ability to guess what she was thinking at times. “Anyway, the point is, I’m going to DD for Rach tonight, and I was wondering…if you’re not busy…if you’d maybe come too?”

 

Leah grimaced. “I’m not really one for parties…”

 

“It’s totally okay if you don’t want to go,” Nora said easily, shrugging her shoulders. “I just figured I’d ask.”

 

Leah turned it over in her head for a moment. She had said she was going to step out of her comfort zone. She hadn’t really done that - though it was only the first week of school! She was  sort of  expanding her social circle (i.e. talking to people other than Ian). She, at that point, would even consider Nora a friend. They had eaten lunch together every day that week. Friends hung out outside of school. Right? Sure, she would have preferred maybe getting coffee or hanging out at a bookstore with Nora, but a party could still be fun…

 

It was hosted by Kirin O’Conner and the lacrosse team though…

 

Leah nearly stopped in her tracks as a memory came to mind. Kirin O’Conner standing on top of the lunch table during lunch on the first day of school. Kirin O’Conner confidently invited Fatin to the party. Fatin said she might go…

 

Did that memory make her want to go more or less? She couldn’t tell.

 

There was an almost twisting sensation in her gut, and she found her fingers nervously tapping against her legs. 

 

“I’ll go.”

 

“Really?” Nora looked surprised. 

 

Almost to a point where Leah felt like she should’ve been offended. 

 

“Yeah, I mean…” Leah absentmindedly scratched her eyebrow. “It’s senior year, half the class will be there…I think it’d be fun. I’d never go on my own, obviously, but I think it’d be fun to go with you.”

 

Nora perked up at that. She smiled brightly at Leah, and Leah returned it easily. 

 

“Cool.”

 

They approached their classroom, and as they moved to take their respective seats, Nora paused. 

 

“And, as I said, I’m already DD-ing for Rach, so I can pick you up.”

 

“Sounds good, thanks.” Leah gave Nora one last smile before the other girl went to take her seat. 

 

“Oh. My.  God .”

 

Leah glanced over at Fatin. Fatin was already seated, her phone hung limply in her hand, and she stared at Leah with her mouth open. 

 

“Yes?” Leah tentatively sat down, moving to take out her supplies. 

 

She took a quick moment to take in Fatin. She was wearing dark green, camo patterned pants with a black tank that was almost too cropped to pass the dress code. She had her hoops in, a necklace that read “ Zero Fucks ”, and yeah, Leah wasn’t sure how  that  passed the dress code - 

 

“Leah Rilke is going to a party?” Fatin said loudly, causing several heads to turn. “As I live and breath - “

 

Okay ,” Leah scoffed. “First off, why are you talking like an old woman who just saw her friend at the supermarket? Second off, I party.”

 

That was a lie, but it wasn’t like Fatin knew - 

 

“That is absolutely not true,” Fatin laughed, shaking her head. “I have never seen you at a party. Ever.”

 

“Well, maybe we don’t go to the same parties. Or, maybe you never noticed me-”

 

“I would’ve noticed-”

 

“I-” Leah froze. She waited for the punchline. For Fatin to say more. But the other girl just stared at her, eyebrow raised, waiting for Leah to continue.

 

  I would’ve noticed.

 

That was something for Leah to agonize over later.

 

A blush still crawled up her neck. “Okay, fine, I don’t really party. But it’s senior year, and Nora asked me. So, better late than never.”

 

“A Kirin O’Conner party is quite the introductory party.”

 

“Who said it was Kirin O’Conner’s party?” Leah challenged, raising her own brow. 

 

Fatin looked taken back for a moment. “Because…it’s like  the  party tonight?” Fatin frowned, sounding like she was asking rather than stating. “Everyone’s going to be there.  I’m  going to be there.” She said it like that was a convincing enough reason Leah would go. And,  maybe  Fatin was  sort of  right to imply that.

 

But Fatin didn’t have to know that. 

 

“Hmm,” Leah shrugged. Fatin tilted her head, disbelief apparent on her face. She’d be a liar if she didn’t admit she liked the slight change in dynamic. “Maybe there’s a different party Nora and I would fare better at.”

 

Leah didn’t know why she was lying. She didn’t know why she was teasing Fatin. She just knew she liked the way Fatin fumbled for a moment before her eyes narrowed, a small scoff left her lips, and she leaned forward. She didn’t want to unpack the reasons she wanted Fatin to convince her. The reason she wanted Fatin to  want  her there. 

 

“You -“ Fatin paused. Her eyes danced across Leah’s face for a moment, and Leah hoped her poker face was halfway decent at the moment. “What other party would you be going to?” Fatin sounded genuinely confused, laced with what Leah hoped to be something along the lines of disappointment. “You should be going to Kirin’s.”

 

“She’s obviously dogging you, Jadmani,” Toni scoffed from in front of them. Leah cracked a smile at Fatin’s offended gasp. “You think Rachel would miss Kirin’s party?”

 

“I- I was just confirming!” Fatin defended, throwing her hands up. She looked over to Leah before shoving her shoulder half-heartedly. “Okay, Rilke, cut the smug little grin…”

 

Leah hadn’t realized the smile had spread across her face so obviously, but she didn’t bother hiding it. She merely gave a coy little shrug to Fatin and turned toward her notebook. 

 

“Damn, dude,” Toni laughed at Fatin’s expense. “Cut back on the desperation a bit - “

 

“I am  not  desperate, you bitch,” Fatin gasped once more. Her eyes crinkled though, and there was some amusement dancing in her eyes. “I was just confirming that my writing buddy was going to show-”

 

“‘ Writing buddy ’,” Toni rolled her eyes before turning around. 

 

Toni fake coughed, letting out what Leah assumed to be some snarky comment under it. She missed it, but Fatin obviously hadn’t, considering the way she kicked the back of Toni’s chair. 

 

“Bitch,” Fatin grumbled.

 

Galanis made his appearance, looking as disheveled as ever. Another class was in motion, and while Leah pretended to ignore Fatin’s glares, she couldn’t ignore the way Fatin’s boot kept coming into contact with her shoe and shin - a petty nudge every once in a while. 

 

After the third time, about halfway through the class, Leah’s foot shot out, kicking Fatin’s shin in retaliation. It might’ve been a little too hard. Fatin, ever for the dramatics, let out a quiet, insulted gasp before shooting out again to kick back. It was a little harder. Leah kicked back without thinking. She looked over at Fatin after, glaring at her tablemate, and Fatin…Fatin had  the  smirk on her face. Fatin was leaning in, raising her goddamned eyebrow, and in a low tone asked:

 

“Leah Rilke, are you playing footsies with me?”

 

“Oh, my god,” Leah whispered back, groaning slightly. “ You’re  the one who keeps kicking  me .”

 

“Dude, you had me all excited you were going to the party tonight, only to bring me back down with your little charade.”

 

“My ‘ little charade ’?”

 

“You can’t go around playing with a girl’s heart like that,” Fatin said. She was pouting. It shouldn’t have been cute, given the situation. It was a melodramatic thing, with Fatin’s eyes widened slightly as she looked up at Leah through her eyelashes. 

 

“You really are just…” Leah sighed. She shook her head lightheartedly. She willed herself to focus on her assignment. 

 

“I’ll have to get you to finish that sentence someday,” Fatin grinned. She didn’t even look back at Leah, instead, she smiled down at her paper. It was an offhanded comment. She said it casually, but Leah was starting to get a grasp on Fatin.

 

Fatin liked to tease. And, to some degree, Fatin must’ve liked to see Leah blush. She wouldn’t look so pleased every time Leah did if she didn’t. Maybe that was Fatin’s thing. She liked seeing people flustered, and Leah was, admittedly, easy to fluster. Josh was too. Fatin made comments to him as well. Hell, she’d flirt with Dot. Though Dot didn’t turn into a blushing mess like Leah or Josh. She flirted with Kirin. Sometimes she even made them to Shelby, always leaving the girl almost more red than Leah. She never meant it. 

 

A thought occurred to Leah.

 

It was an embarrassing thought. One that flew through Leah’s mind before she could consider the implications. One that made Leah’s writing stutter for a moment as she wrote about a pet she had as a child. 

 

She wished Fatin meant it. 

 

—---

 

Fatin’s Friday note was folded neatly in her pocket. Burning a hole. She was always so eager to give her notes to Leah, but she had to wait until the end of class. She couldn’t bring herself to face Leah while she read them. She flirted all the time, albeit not usually through something as middle school as note passing and not usually with Leah - but when the opportunity presented itself…How could she let that slip by? But somehow, when it came to those damned notes, Fatin felt  nervous  of all things.

 

She couldn’t describe the level of mortification that had washed over her, after hearing Leah explain the affirmation assignment. Of course, she had to have Leah as her partner. She was cursing her luck until she realized the opportunity. Sure, Fatin could throw out a suggestive comment here and there with ease, even with Leah, but the notes…The notes provided an opportunity for something more genuine. A way Fatin could say the things she’d been thinking for an embarrassingly long time without actually having to get them out of her mouth while facing that daunting gaze.

 

She would write Leah a note, a compliment because Fatin was good at that, and she would watch Leah swoon. Except what if Leah  didn’t  swoon? What if Leah thought the notes were too much but she was too embarrassed to say anything? 

 

Fatin  was embarrassed. Fatin Jadmani did not give her crush flirty notes and run away.

 

Not that she was one for crushes.

 

Or, she supposed she was. Just the one crush (not counting that grocery clerk from her middle school days). An embarrassingly long crush that started with one bathroom exchange over a tampon of all things.  So  not sexy.

 

Either way, Fatin was gaining confidence in her notes. Leah didn’t seem repulsed by Fatin after the first one. Or the second one that was a little more…sappy. Dot had even mentioned seeing Leah blush at her Wednesday one after Fatin had left. She couldn’t say for certain, but they were having something close to the desired effect at the very least. She had even gone a little bolder with her note for that day.

 

And then Toni had made the comment, and Fatin had joked it off, and Leah didn’t seem all that put off by it. No, Leah had been smiling and  teasing , and…

 

She glanced up at the clock, class was almost over. To her left, Leah was writing, actually putting effort into the assignment. Fatin should’ve found that annoying. Or at least a bit nerdy. But instead, she rested her chin gently on her hand and stared.  God , freshman Fatin would be cringing so hard. Class was winding down, it was almost time to hand over the note and make her great escape.

 

“Cut back on the desperation.”

 

She frowned. Fatin Jadmani was not desperate. 

 

She discreetly tore a page from her notebook out before writing a new note on it. 

 

Can’t wait to see what you’ll wear to the party tonight.

 

That was good. That was a flirty little comment people expected from her. She added a cute little winky face for good measure before folding it up. She started packing her stuff up, she had finished her assignment ten minutes ago. Leah seemed to have noticed, writing a little faster as the bell sounded off. Fatin threw the new note in front of Leah, leaving her with a smirk and a wave.

 

Her fingers found the original note in her pocket, she thought about tossing it in a nearby bin on her way to practice, but decided against it. She looked ahead to see Toni and Martha walking a bit in front of her - the only person out of the classroom faster than her was Toni Shalifoe. Maybe Dot. 

 

She sped up her walk just a bit before kicking the bottom of Toni’s shoe, right as Toni’s foot had lifted, causing the other girl to stumble slightly. Toni whipped around quickly, eyes a blaze until she noticed it was Fatin. She smirked like she already knew what Fatin was going to say. 

 

“Jadmani.” Toni had a shit-eating grin on, and Martha just looked confused. 

 

“You are such an asshole,” Fatin hissed, shoving Toni’s shoulder as the three of them continued to walk. 

 

“I was just being a good wingman!” Toni laughed. “Or…wing-woman.”

 

“How is calling me desperate being a good wing-woman? Why would anyone want to be called that in front of…in front of their-”

 

“Crush?” Martha supplied, and Fatin shushed her immediately. 

 

“She’s not my-” Fatin paused. She was. Obviously. Toni knew it, Martha knew it, Dot knew it - Hell even Kirin O-fucking-Conner knew it. “Whatever. That was a low blow, Shalifoe.”

 

“That rhymed!” Martha laughed.

 

“I  didn’t  call you desperate,” Toni shrugged. “I said you were  being  desperate-”

 

“Same fucking difference.”

 

“Look,” Toni stopped, turning to face Fatin fully. “Not my best move, but…Bro, she is so fucking oblivious! She thinks you’re the same with everyone.”

 

“She told you that?”

 

“Fuck no, Rilke doesn’t talk to me,” Toni said. “Nora said she was talking to Rilke, and she mentioned you, and then made some comment about how flirty you are. Nora asked Rilke if…I don’t know, something about if Rilke thought you liked her-

 

“Oh my fucking God-”

 

“But Rilke ‘shut that down vehemently’ or whatever according to Nora,” Toni looked up in thought, trying to recollect the story. “Long story short, Rilke just assumes you flirt with everybody and that it means nothing.”

 

“You talk to Nora?” Fatin couldn't imagine that pair. “Wait, so that means she talks about me?”

 

“Nora told Rachel, Rachel told me,” Toni clarified. “Oh, by the way, I didn’t say one way or the other, but Rachel is also convinced you like Rilke-”

 

“What the shit?” Fatin groaned. 

 

“You’re not subtle.”

 

“You are pretty flirty,” Martha said softly. 

 

“I flirt with everyone.”

 

“Exactly. But how is she supposed to know it’s different with her?” Toni asked. “Rilke’s pretty dense. I mean, she couldn’t even tell that one kid she was always with was practically in love with her. At least that’s what Nora and Rach said.”

 

Ugh, that guy.

 

“I don’t want her to know it’s different with her.”

 

“That makes no sense.”

 

“How are you two ever going to get together if you don’t tell her you like her?” Martha asked. 

 

“Woah!” Fatin blurted out, holding her hands out... An annoyingly familiar panic rushed through her for a moment, she glanced around, wondering if anyone was listening in. “I don’t want to ‘get together’,” She said quieter.

 

Toni frowned. “Then what the shit do you want?”

 

“If you like someone, why wouldn’t you date them?” Martha frowned as well. She looked at Fatin like she wasn't making any sense, and maybe she wasn't. 

 

“I-”

 

Okay. So Fatin didn’t know. She didn’t know what she wanted. She didn’t know what her endgame was with the whole note thing, with the whole flirting thing. She wasn’t even sure why she told anyone. Well, of course, she told Dot. Toni, the asshole, had cornered her Thursday, claiming she could “sense the gay energy” and…apparently everybody else could just tell.

 

Which was…embarrassing. 

 

But either way, Fatin didn’t know. All she knew was liked Leah, and she wanted to be around Leah, and she wanted to kiss Leah and maybe a few other things if Leah was into that, and - 

 

The bell sounded.

 

“Damn it, dude, you made us late,” Toni huffed, grabbing Martha’s hand and tugging her along. 

 

“Good luck, Fatin!” Martha called out, waving goodbye. ‘I’m sure you’ll figure it out!”

 

Fatin waved back lamely. She rushed toward the music hall, she could already hear her mother scolding her for being late. Hopefully, she’d be able to convince her instructor not to contact her mother. She could not miss the party that night. 

 

She wondered what she’d wear that night.

 

She wondered what Leah would wear.

 

Chapter Text

Nora 7:48PM:   People will be dressed more casually than you expect.

 

Nora 7:52PM:   Think crop tops and mom jeans. Maybe the occasional dress. 

 

Leah 7:55PM:   What are you wearing?

 

Nora 7:56PM:  Wow this is moving in a direction I didn’t expect.

 

Leah 7:56PM:  Ha.Ha.

 

Nora 7:58PM:  Overalls and converse. 

 

 

Rach 7:59PM:  just wear what you wear to school except maybe not a cardigan it’s not a big deal i’m literally just wearing jeans and a crop top with some accessories 

 

Rach 7:59PM:  idk bro maybe like comb your hair or something too

 

Leah 7:59PM:  I comb my hair every day?

 

Leah 8:00PM:   Also, have you ever heard of punctuation?

 

Rach 8:02PM:  Dear Ms. Rilke, we will be arriving at your abode in twenty minutes' time. Please be ready to attend the soiree at said time.

Best,

Rachel Reid

 

Leah 8:05PM:  :(

 

Okay, a crop top and some jeans. Leah definitely had those. She was thankful she had already done her hair - because that was something she did, despite what Rachel implied - and applied a bit of makeup. Just a little more than usual, but not enough to really draw too much attention to herself. She pulled out a brown, sleeveless top that was cropped, and a pair of her favorite jeans. Casual, she could do casual. She quickly slipped on the pair of converse she practically wore every day, and, well, perhaps it was going to be cold. She found a white overshirt and slipped that on before glancing in the mirror. 

 

She…looked the same. Of course, she wouldn’t get away with a shirt so cropped at school, but other than that... Not really a way to grab anybody’s attention.

 

Not that she  wanted  to grab anyone's attention. No.  Nope . Not even sort of, she just wanted to hang out with her friends. Be a normal high school student. Have a nice time, you know. 

 

Yeah.

 

A honk sounded from outside, and she quickly moved to head down the stairs. She paused by the door, glancing through the entryway to peak into the kitchen. 

 

“I’m heading out,” She said, waving to her parents. 

 

“Sounds good, honey,” Her father smiled. 

 

“Be safe,” Her mother added. “And remember, no alcohol.”

 

“Of course.”

 

Leah quickly exited, hoping her parents didn’t notice how red her face was certainly turning. Sue her, she wasn’t great at lying to her parents. She got guilty. But it was fine, it was normal for teenagers to lie to their parents about their whereabouts. And it wasn’t like Leah was going to be completely irresponsible. She had a designated driver, and it wasn’t like she was planning to get  drunk . Just a little tipsy. 

 

“Wow,” Rachel said as Leah climbed into the back seat. “You took my advice.”

 

“I always comb my hair!”

 

“I meant the casual clothes and no cardigan,” Rachel laughed. She turned further around, taking Leah in a bit more. “You look good.”

 

Leah shrugged even though there wasn’t much of a point in pretending she hadn’t been stressing over what to wear. She had been texting them in a panic thirty minutes earlier. 

 

“Thanks, you too.”

 

“I’m really glad you’re coming,” Nora said from the driver’s seat as she pulled away from Leah’s house. “It’ll be nice to have a friend.”

 

‘Uh, hello?” Rachel waved her hand in Nora’s face, who just swatted it away as she focused on the road.

 

“Don’t act like you won’t be challenging anyone and everyone to beer pong the second you walk in.”

 

“I do other things at parties!”

 

“Like what?” Leah asked.

 

“Like-” Rachel paused when she realized that Leah was genuinely asking and not just jumping in to tease her. “Dancing, drinking, I don’t know, just hanging out with friends. The diving team will be there.”

 

“Is that, like, is that what people do? Just dance and drink?”

 

“And make out,” Nora added. “Aggressively. Drunk people are intense sometimes.”

 

“They really have no chill,” Rachel agreed. “But don’t let that scare you. When people start drinking, practically everyone becomes friends. People stop caring about all that stuff we all worry about. Nobody cares about clicks and who’s friends with who.”

 

“Really?”

 

“Yeah. I mean, people are just there to have a good time.”

 

“People still have their friends and stuff, but people mingle, like, all the time,” Nora explained. “I once spent half the night playing Flip Cup with Kirin O’Conner. Before he left to find a girl to hook up with, that is.”

 

“He still nods at her in the halls,” Rachel laughed. “Turns out Nora is weirdly good at Flip Cup.”

 

“Maybe you will be too, Leah.”

 

Leah felt herself relax.

 

“Maybe,” She smiled.

 

—---

 

Leah was not good at Flip Cup. 

 

Or beer pong. Or shotgunning. Or dancing. But despite that, she found that she was enjoying herself. People still cheered when she made her one and only cup in a beer pong game with Rachel. She still got a few claps on the back when Rachel and Nora (who in hand with Flip Cup was also good at shotgunning) convinced her to shotgun - she spilled half of it on her shoes, but that was fine. One dude she had never seen before even tried to dance with her. She wasn’t interested, but it was still flattering.

 

She found herself relaxing. Partially due to the alcohol, and partially due to Rachel being right. As long as Leah avoided the lacrosse team's keg stand competitions and rambunctious cheering, she found herself pretty comfortable with the people in attendance. People bounced around Josh’s surprisingly large house, all just looking for a good time. 

 

And as the night went on, more people showed up, more kegs appeared, and there was definitely a suspicious smell coming from one of the rooms - and Leah ended up drinking a little more than she had planned.  

 

Leah had talked to more people than she had in her entire high school career. She still stuck close to Nora’s side, and even the other girl was more sociable than Leah had ever seen her without drinking. And, Leah really didn’t know that much about Kirin O’Conner and Josh Herbert, but she had to hand it to them - they had really created a nice party. 

 

Speaking of…

 

“Leah Rike!” Kirin lifted his red solo high in the air in greeting, coming over with a large grin. 

 

Leah paused. She tried to shake off her confusion about what Rachel had said before. People didn’t care about their cliques. 

 

“It’s Rilke,” Leah said, immediately cringing. Shit, that wasn’t very friendly. “Hello!” She blurted out, clutching her cup closer to her chest. 

 

Kirin didn’t seem all too phased. He stumbled forward a bit, obviously enjoying his time at the party. “I didn’t know if you’d come!”

 

“Oh! I didn’t know…” Leah frowned in confusion. Did Kirin ever invite her? Personally? Or was there something she was missing? “Well, it is  the  party of the night, according to people…”

 

“Hell yeah, it is,” Kirin nodded. He held his hand out for a fist bump, and Leah accepted it, not wanting to come off rude. It was slightly delayed due to her  slight  tipsiness and the novelty of the situation. “Still, I’m glad you showed. And,  shit , look at you!” He held his hands out to gesture to her, obviously taking her in, but he didn’t seem sleazy about it. He seemed…weirdly genuine. 

 

Leah looked down at her outfit before taking in Kirin’s. A green button-down left open and a pair of black shorts. “Thanks. Look at you?” Leah returned awkwardly. 

 

“Thank you, thank you,” He bowed slightly. Kirin took the… compliment  well. He brushed his hair back out of his eyes before grinning even wider, and Leah was beginning to wonder just how drunk he was. “She’s gonna freak when she sees you.”

 

Leah froze. “Who?” She asked, her voice rising slighting. 

 

She didn’t want to get her hopes up. She really didn’t want to get her hopes up, but the most recent girl Leah had seen Kirin interact with was…

 

Kirin paused. His words finally seemed to catch up to him, and he stared up at the ceiling in thought. When his eyes finally returned to Leah, he held a finger out from the hand clutching his cup, bringing it to his lips slowly. He leaned forward, placing a hand on Leah’s shoulder before letting out a low, “ Shhhhh .”

 

“Huh?”

 

“I’ve said too much,’ He groaned, throwing his head back. “Ugh, forget what I said, I really don’t want to be castrated tonight.”

 

Leah’s face scrunched up. “What?” 

 

The conversation was giving her whiplash, and she supposed she really shouldn’t expect too much sense out of a clearly intoxicated teenage boy. Especially when she herself was mildly slowed. 

 

Kirin leaned in even closer, and Leah found herself tensing slightly. 

 

“You…” He frowned in thought for a moment.

 

“Is there a problem here?”

 

Leah whipped around, almost actually giving herself whiplash.

 

Her mouth dropped open, and she didn’t care how stupid she looked. 

 

“Ian?”

 

Ian straightened up, glancing at Leah momentarily before fixing a hard gaze on Kirin. 

 

“Can I help you, bro?” Kirin also straightened up, taking in Ian’s posture. “You’re kind of interrupting.”

 

Leah quickly caught on to what Ian thought was happening. 

 

“Ian,” She turned around, placing a hand on his shoulder, and waited for his gaze to turn to her. “It’s okay, we were just talking. I promise.”

 

“Oh!” Kirin said loudly before bursting into laughter. “Oh, I see what’s happening. Nah, dude, it’s not like that at all.”

 

Leah wondered if she should be offended by how hard Kirin was laughing. 

 

“I didn’t realize you were such a hot commodity, Rilke,” Kirin continued, taking a gulp from his drink. “Good for you!”

 

Ian raised a brow. “And you’re still saying it  isn’t like that ?”

 

“No, I mean,” Kirin relaxed, taking another sip from his cup. “Rilke is gorgeous, no lie, but I was just trying to help out a friend.”

 

“You’re friends?” Ian asked, glancing at Leah in surprise.

 

“Uh,”

 

“Sure we are,” Kirin laughed, clapping Leah on the shoulder. “Everybody here is friends, it’s a party, bro.”

 

“Right.”

 

“It’s really fine,” Leah sighed, placing her hand more firmly on Ian’s shoulder. Ian stared at her a moment, his eyes narrowed slightly at Kirin who seemed to find that hilarious. Leah lowered her voice. “Hey, do you think we could…talk?”

 

Ian looked at her once more, and Leah was close enough to see his eyes soften, something like relief flooding through his body. 

 

“Of course,” He mumbled. 

 

Leah wasn’t sure what to say, she realized, as she led Ian through the house. She made a pit stop in the kitchen to grab another drink, feeling as though she might need it. Ian didn’t say anything as he allowed himself to be dragged along, but his hand tightened slightly around hers every time they squeezed past people. Leah found it grounding. 

 

Eventually, Leah led them to Josh’s obscenely large backyard. People were swimming, apparently regular enough partygoers to know to bring a swimsuit to Josh Herbert’s parties. Leah found a porch swing, far enough away from the crowd of teens smoking for a bit of privacy. 

 

She sat stiffly, releasing Ian’s hand as he tentatively sat next to her. 

 

She took a deep breath. 

 

“How have you been?” “Hey.”

 

She paused, Ian paused, and they stared at each other wide-eyed until Ian let out a short laugh. Leah found herself cracking a smile as Ian let out another laugh, and another, until he was laughing full-heartedly. 

 

“Sorry,” He gasped out, clutching his stomach. “Sorry, it really wasn’t that funny, but I’m kind of drunk.”

 

Leah chuckled. “Yeah, no, me too.”

 

Ian shook his head. “Look at us, who would’ve thought?”

 

“Sorry?” Leah frowned. Was he referring to them sitting on a porch laughing as if they hadn’t spent the last few months ignoring each other? Or was he referring to either of them being at a party in general?

 

“Just…Ian Murnen and Leah Rilke, drunk on a bench at a Kirin O’Conner party,” He mused. “Senior year is full of unexpected.”

 

“It really is,” Leah agreed. She nervously tapped a finger to her leg. “The most unexpected being…us not being friends.” She found herself saying, and maybe that was due to the alcohol, or maybe it was due to nearly two months without her best friend. 

 

She still felt mildly embarrassed until Ian placed a hand over hers, stilling the incessant tapping. 

 

Ian stared for a moment, then he took a deep breath. He opened his mouth, something at the tip of his tongue, but Leah found herself talking before she could stop herself. 

 

“You’re my best friend,” She blurted out, taking in Ian’s surprise. “And I miss you. I miss your rants, I miss your inherent cynicism. I miss having someone who understands me and still happens to like me around. And I know that’s selfish in a way. I know that. but…yeah,  fuck , I just miss you.”

 

Leah exhaled, a bit loudly. She pulled her hand away, choosing to rest her head in her hands instead. She felt a weight lifted at finally being able to tell Ian,  talk  to Ian at all. She’d probably be more embarrassed at her outbursts if it wasn’t him. 

 

Ian didn’t say much, and Leah glanced over from between her fingers. He looked nervous. 

 

“I owe you an apology,” He finally said. “I shouldn’t have…” 

 

“Ian…”

 

“I‘ve been beating myself up over it for weeks. How I reacted. How ready I was to walk away from my best friend over something she can’t control. It’s not your fault you didn’t love me back-“

 

“Ian-“

 

“I can do it,” He said. Firmly. Leah lifted her head up to stare at him curiously. “ I can be your friend,  just  your friend. Like before. I’ve been thinking about it for weeks, I was just too embarrassed. I…I was embarrassed and hurt, and I was convinced you owed me something when you obviously  didn’t  in  any  way. And… God , I fucking suck.” He looked…sad. Like he was holding back tears, and he kept shaking his head as he spoke, not meeting Leah’s eyes. 

 

“I’m sorry,” Leah whispered. 

 

Ian let out a watery laugh. “Don’t apologize. I just established I'm the asshole here. I mean, I knew you didn’t feel that way about me. Deep down. I just convinced myself it was different and then got mad when it turned out exactly how I knew it would.” He shook his head again.

 

Leah watched him fidget with his hands. She felt…relief. Mixed with a hint of guilt. She wished…

 

“Is it bad?” She said softly. “That I wish it was different. That I felt different because that would be…”

 

“Easier?”

 

“Easier.”

 

Ian hummed. “Maybe. Maybe not. But…my point, Leah, is that…all those weeks I spent licking my wounds, I realized…I don’t need that from you. I don’t need the relationship. I just thought- I mean, c’mon! You’re stunning. and we were so close. But, I think now I understand. I just want to be around you. And I'm fine with it being platonic. I know it sounds like bullshit. But I am, I really am, and I just want my friend back. That's all I want. 

 

“Me too.”

 

Leah let out a shaky breath, and Ian smiled larger than Leah had ever seen him. Leah could feel the relief flood her body once again, this time with a lot less guilt in the mix. Ian held his arms out, gave a small shrug, and Leah moved forward. She let him wrap her up in a hug, and she breathed deeply.

 

She was happy. Senior year was back on track. She had made some new friends, gone to a party, and she got her best friend back. Sure, she knew there’d be hiccups here and there, but for now, she had him back. 

 

There wasn’t a lot more that she could ask for. 

 

“Oh shit.”

 

Leah lifted her head sluggishly from Ian’s chest, and her breath stopped. That relaxed feeling she had felt rushed out of her body as she stared,  openly , at Fatin Jadmani.

 

Fatin with a red solo in her hand, the other hand still on the door she had just exited. Fatin in a tight, red dress that was  oh so  short and heels that made Leah wonder if their height difference still stood. 

 

Fatin whose eyes were darting between Ian and Leah curiously-

 

“Fatin,” Leah tried to ignore the way her voice cracked. She quickly extracted herself from Ian, standing up a bit wobbly. “Hey.”

 

“Rilke…” Fatin returned, but her eyes stayed on Ian for some reason. 

 

She must’ve been confused as to why Ian and Leah were hugging. After all, most of the school - well anybody who gave a fuck about the pair - knew they weren’t speaking. 

 

“I should go,” Ian said. He stood, looking between Fatin and Leah the way Fatin had just done to the pair. He raised a brow at Leah, a slight smile tugging at the corner of his lips. “We’ll catch up later.”

 

“No,” Fatin rejected, hand still gripping the door firmly. “No, I didn’t mean to interrupt your little moment.”

 

“It was over,” Ian shrugged.

 

Leah stood there stupidly. Her brain malfunctioned as she continued to take Fatin in. Gold rings on her fingers, a dainty chain around her neck, and large hoops in her ears. Her hair was down, looking sleek, not a hair out of place. She shifted on her heels, and Leah’s eyes traveled down before she could process what the hell she was doing.

 

Ian coughed loudly. “ Really , I’m pretty beat. I think my ride is leaving as well,” He glanced down at his phone as Leah slowly dragged her eyes away from Fatin. She met his gaze as he looked back up. He was…grinning. Widely, and he had that look Leah could recognize from a mile away. It was his “ I know something that you don’t ” look. 

 

Leah narrowed her eyes. “Are you sure?”

 

“I was actually going to go back in for another drink,” Fatin chimed in. She was also watching Ian with narrowed eyes, and he returned her look with an odd amount of confidence.

 

Leah watched as Fatin brought her cup to her lips, chugging down the remaining contents. Fatin casually dropped the cup on the ground, and Leah watched as it bounced down the porch steps. The sound of it falling down each step might have been comedic to Leah if she hadn’t been so perplexed by the conversation.

 

“So…who am I going to hang out with?”

 

“Him.” “Her.”

 

Leah frowned. “I can go find Rach and Nor I guess…”

 

“Seriously,” Ian was still staring at Fatin. “I need to go find my ride. But it was nice to catch up with my best  friend .” He tilted his head toward Leah.

 

Fatin’s grip slightly relaxed on the doorframe, and Leah watched as Fatin took a tentative step forward. “Is that so?”

 

Leah. If Leah wasn’t so tipsy right now, she wondered if would be able to pick up on whatever was transpiring. Or maybe she wouldn’t. It was fucking weird.

 

“Definitely,” Ian affirmed. He started toward the door, slipping past Fatin but paused. “You should keep her company.”

 

He left after that. Leah watched Fatin watch Ian, and she was starting to feel uncomfortable. She moved toward the steps, picking up Fatin’s discarded cup and placing it inside her own empty one. When she looked back up the steps, Fatin was staring at her.

 

“It felt rude not to,” Leah said. 

 

She wasn’t sure what had transpired, and maybe when she was sober she could spend her night agonizing over what all of it meant. 

 

“You really don’t have to hang out with me.”

 

“No!” Fatin blurted out. She finally let go of the door, walking toward Leah slowly. “No, I didn’t mean it like that. I just really didn’t want to intrude.”

 

“It’s fine,” Leah started walking up the stairs, meeting Fatin in the middle. And, shit, maybe Leah had stopped to close. One step was way too close, right? It definitely was. “We were just talking. Mending bridges and all that.”

 

Fatin looked down at Leah. The heels plus the higher step made that pretty easy, and Leah found herself not quite enjoying how intimidating it made the other girl.

 

“The best time to have a heart-to-heart is while drunk,” Fatin said, finally,  finally  smiling fully at Leah. “It’s when you’re most eloquent.”

 

“Truly,” Leah agreed.

 

Neither one said a thing for a moment. Leah managed not to let her eyes wander again, which she was rewarded for as she was able to see Fatin’s own eyes take in her outfit. 

 

She waited for the teasing comment. The harmless flirt. She almost felt…anticipatory flash of excitement. Eagerness. Like even if she knew Fatin would be joking, she still wanted to hear it. 

 

“I still need that drink,” Fatin said instead, her eyes finally meeting Leah’s. “Care to come with? Unless you want to still find the twins.”

 

“I want to go with you,” Leah flushed deeply. “I mean, I could use another drink.”

 

Fatin smiled slowly then held her hand out. “Then let’s get you a drink.”

 

Leah took her hand, gently placing it in Fatin’s, and she let out a shaky breath as Fatin turned her hand to interlock their fingers. Before Leah could be embarrassed at the breath Fatin most certainly heard, the other girl tugged her up the stairs.

 

It was funny. Fatin dragged Leah through the house just as Leah had tugged Ian not long before. Leah followed easily, impressed with how well Fatin walked in her heels and in a dress that was tight enough that Leah wasn’t sure she would be able to even move in. She took in the back, the way it plunged to reveal most of Fatin’s upper back, ending just above her ass.

 

“You could at least pretend to not be checking out my ass, Rilke.”

 

Leah’s eyes snapped up. Fatin was looking over her shoulder with a smug little grin, and Leah rolled her eyes before she could stop herself. This was the Fatin she was slowly becoming accustomed to. 

 

“I was just…” Leah shook her head as they arrived in the kitchen. “Shut up.”

 

“Oh, c’mon,” Fatin laughed, guiding Leah to the island where an assortment of bottles was. “Let’s hear it, Rilke. What do you think of the fit?”

 

Leah glanced at the bottles, attempting to buy herself some time to think. She waited, wondering if Fatin would move on, but Fatin merely tugged gently on Leah’s hand, making her face her more fully. 

 

“Well?” Fatin smirked. 

 

“You already know,” Leah mumbled, a blush burning at her cheeks.

 

“Sorry?” Fatin held her free hand to her ear. Leah was about to tell her to ‘ shut up ’ once more before Fatin tugged on Leah’s hand a little more firmly, pulling Leah closer. Leah was prepared to bump foreheads before Fatin quickly moved her face to the side, mouth brushing against Leah’s ear and a hand falling to Leah's waist. Leah's bare waist. “It’s just so loud in here, I can barely hear.”

 

It wasn’t. Well, it was - but not as loud as the living room, and certainly not loud enough for Fatin to not hear her. 

 

Leah was about to ask God to let the ground swallow her whole as she honest to god shivered at the feeling of Fatin’s lips against her ear. Where Fatin’s breath had danced against her skin, it left a familiar heat. She  knew  Fatin noticed because she  felt  Fatin’s lips quirk up. How could she have missed it? With her hand on Leah.

 

She turned her head to the side a bit more, making some much-needed space between her ear and Fatin’s stupid fucking mouth. Her hand came to a rest on top of Fatin's, but not removing it from her waist.

 

Fatin chuckled lightly, hummed softly, and she wasn’t far enough for Leah to not feel the puff of air against the side of her face. Fatin was still waiting for an answer. 

 

“You look beautiful,” Leah said softly. 

 

Fatin pulled back at that, taking in Leah’s flushed face. And while Leah was trying to avoid meeting her eyes, she still noticed how surprised Fatin looked. 

 

Fatin tilted her head and her hand fell away, shock was written clearly across her features. “Not gonna lie, I was expecting hot,” Fatin admitted. “Or sexy. Or fuckable-”

 

Jesus Christ,” Leah groaned, pulling back from Fatin even further. She turned fully toward the alcohol - maybe she could make a drink strong enough to forget that whole interaction. 

 

Except maybe the feeling of Fatin’s lips brushing her ear. 

 

Or her hand on her waist.

 

“Maybe you could put that in a note,” Fatin teased. “Since you seem to struggle with those.”

 

Fatin looked more amused than anything, so Leah tried not to feel too guilty about it.

 

“Really not making me want to compliment you ever again, Jadmani,” Leah grumbled. “In fact, I might just start pulling Insta quotes again.”

 

Fatin laughed loudly at that, standing beside Leah to take in their selection as well.

 

“I’m glad Kirin came through on his promise to have something other than kegs,” Fatin commented. Leah watched her pick up a bottle and inspect it. ”Still cheap as shit, but it’ll do.”

 

“Yeah,” Leah agreed. She didn’t have much experience with alcohol. She and Ian had snuck a few drinks here and there at some of their hangouts, but it was always stuff they took from their parent’s liquor cabinets. She figured their parents could afford nicer stuff than a high school boy, but she also felt like all liquor just tasted like shit. 

 

“O’Conner isn’t half bad,” Fatin continued. She reached for some cups, and as she did so, Leah suddenly remembered her last interaction before Fatin and Ian.

 

“Speaking of Kirin,” Leah tried to say casually, but she noticed the way Fatin paused. “I was talking to him earlier. Before Ian.”

 

“Oh?” Fatin hummed, focusing entirely on mixing their drinks. 

 

“Yeah,” Leah eyed Fatin curiously. “He was talking about how he was surprised I showed, uh, I didn’t even know he knew me.”

 

Fatin shrugged. “Kirin notices any hot girl.”

 

“I-” Leah shook her head, trying to keep her focus on what she wanted to know. Not…that. “He said ‘ She’s going to freak when she sees you’ .” Leah bit the bullet. That was as close as she was going to get to straight out asking Fatin.

 

Fatin grew still. Leah wouldn’t have noticed if she hadn’t been staring so hard, but she did  notice the way Fatin’s jaw clenched subtly. 

 

That…that had to mean…

 

“Who was he talking about?” Fatin asked, grabbing the cups. She handed one to Leah.

 

“I guess that’s what I’m asking?” Leah let out nervously, bringing the cup to her lips. 

 

Fatin took a healthy gulp from her own drink, furrowing her brow in thought. “I wouldn’t know,” She said.

 

Leah tried to ignore the way her stomach dropped slightly at Fatin’s words. She had thought that maybe Fatin had been the one who ‘ was going to freak ’. Fatin had said she couldn’t wait to see what she wore tonight. In her note. Fatin was friends with Kirin. But Fatin wasn’t one to deny such things. She wasn’t one to avoid admittance to things like attraction and flirting. Fatin openly flirted with Leah, she was all smirks and suggestive comments.

 

So Kirin had been talking about someone else. 

 

“But, if you were wondering whatsoever,” Fatin glanced at Leah from the corner of her eye, leaning back into the island. “You do look amazing.”

 

Leah cracked a smile. “Yeah?”

 

“Oh yeah,” Fatin nodded, eyes trailing down. “Who knew you had abs?”

 

“I don’t-” Leah’s hands found their way to her stomach. “They’re not like ab-abs.”

 

Fatin laughed, shaking her head. “God, you are really just…” She tilted her head toward Leah, a small smile on her face. 

 

“I’ll have to get you to finish that sentence one day.”

 

Fatin raised a brow, her smiling widening as she realized what Leah was quoting. 

 

“You can’t steal my lines, Rilke,” Fatin chuckled. 

 

“Sure I can,” Leah shrugged, smiling back. 

 

“Well, why don’t I finish it right now then,” Fatin suggested. She turned toward Leah a bit more, lulled her head to the side, and she let her eyes travel down Leah’s form once again. “You. Really. Are…”

 

“Who’s next bitches!”

 

Leah nearly spilled her drink at the sudden (unwelcomed) outburst of Toni Shalifoe, entering the kitchen with her hands held high.

 

“Who wants to get their asses kicked in some Flip Cup?”

 

“Bring it, bitch!” Rachel called from some other room.

 

Toni whipped around toward the sound of her voice, obviously recognizing her not-really rival. She quickly exited the kitchen, heading toward Rachel, presumably. Many of the people who had been lingering in the kitchen swiftly followed, wanting to catch whatever the hell was about to go down between the two well-known competitive girls. 

 

Leah felt Fatin’s hand grasp her own once more.

 

“C’mon hot stuff,” Fatin grinned. “We aren’t gonna wanna miss this one.”

 

Leah let herself be tugged into the next room where the game was already being set up. They were playing in pairs, each person switching off to make it down the line. Leah found herself grinning at the sight of Rachel tugging Nora up to be her partner. 

 

She leaned over to whisper in Fatin’s ear. “Twenty bucks says the twins kick Toni and O’Conner’s asses.”

 

Fatin scoffed, looking at Leah in disbelief. 

 

“I’m sorry, but nobody parties more than Kirin. And Toni is scarily competitive,” Fatin argued. “No offense to Nora, but I just don’t see this going their way.”

 

“Then make the bet,” Leah challenged. “What, are you scared?” She held her hand out tauntingly.

 

Fatin paused, taking in Leah slowly. Her eyes danced across Leah’s face, and Leah would’ve given anything to know what the girl was thinking at that moment. Fatin shook her head slightly before taking Leah’s hand, tepidly. 

 

“Maybe a bit.”

 

Chapter Text

Fatin’s night had been a whirlwind.

 

For the first time in her life, she had been stressed over what she was going to wear to a party. Not to mention the ear full she had gotten for being late to practice, and the pitiful amount of begging she had to do to get her mother to still let her go out that night. The combination of the two being enough to miss the pregame with Kirin, which she had gotten a flurry of texts about. 

 

Then when she got to the party, there was no sign of Leah. Not that Leah was the reason she came to the party, no Fatin loved a party either way, but…Well, Leah was a nice bonus. She couldn’t find Leah, some fuck boy was trying to get in her pants before she had even got her first drink, and when she had seen Kirin, he was acting all weird.

 

When she finally did get a few drinks in her, and she wandered outside to see if Dot happened to be smoking in the backyard, there was Leah. Leah wrapped up with the boy who everyone knew was in love with her, sharing some ‘tender’ moment or whatever. Then said boy had given Fatin annoying little looks that Fatin knew would’ve made more sense if she had been sober, but she was more focused on a flush faced Leah. A flush she hadn’t made appeared. 

 

Whatever.

 

And as Fatin was working on making the girl a killer drink, Fatin found out exactly why Kirin had been so weird. God , when she got her hands on him. And she had played it off, flirted and distracted, and she knew Leah had to have known she was talking out of her ass.

 

Leah had to have known Kirin was talking about Fatin. And that in combination with Toni’s “desperate” comment was about enough to make Fatin lose her cool. 

 

But she kept it together. There wasn’t really anything else that could’ve surprised her that night, right?

 

And then, well then Fatin lost out on twenty bucks. 

 

“There’s no fucking way!”

 

Fatin groaned out as Leah dragged her toward the twins. The winners of the last Flip Cup game. 

 

“You’re like a pool shark. But with Flip Cup. A Flip Cup shark,” Fatin complained.

 

“You think you’d know not to bet against, Nor,” Leah shrugged. “With all the parties you attend.”

 

“Fatin’s usually with a hookup by this time of night,” Kirin laughed, overhearing their conversation. 

 

Double-Dead. Kirin O’Conner was going to be double-dead, extra deceased, completely- 

 

“I mean,” Kirin backtracked, catching Fatin’s heated glare. “Obviously something tonight changed her plans, though.”

 

Not fucking better, dipshit!

 

“I hang out with friends all the time,” Fatin interjected, still glaring at Kirin. “Mostly your dumbass at these parties, which I’m now seriously reconsidering.”

 

Baaaabe -”

 

“What about another game?” Leah said suddenly. 

 

Fatin glanced to see Leah also glaring at Kirin. Maybe she viewed Kirin’s comment as some sort of ‘slut shaming’ dig, but Fatin didn’t take it as much. She was very comfortable with people knowing. Usually. Maybe she didn’t want Leah to think something slut shame-y about her. Though, Leah did seem pretty progressive. Fatin caught her reading some feminist, sex positive book once out on the quad once.

 

What were they talking about again?

 

“I’ll kick your ass in right now, Rilke,” Toni challenged. 

 

“Oh, no,” Leah frowned, looking around at the people gathered. “No, I was thinking we could, like, play a group game? A fun party game.”

 

“Oh! What about Back-to-Back?” Nora suggested, seemingly riding off the high of her win.

 

“Shiiiit,” Kirin dragged out, pushing back his hair. “I haven’t played that game in forever. I’m so down.”

 

“Same,” Rachel agreed. “I was getting pretty tired of kicking people’s asses.”

 

“Rematch, one v one, right now,” Toni pointed sharply at Rachel. “Or beer pong. Once I don’t have O’Conner dragging me down, and Nora isn’t carrying your ass-”

 

“Okay, ouch-”

 

“I pulled my own weight.”

 

“Not everything has to be a competition,” Nora said softly. 

 

“True story,” Fatin finally chimed in. “It could be fun to just chill. Hang out with a slightly smaller group.” 

 

She looked to Kirin, alluding to the second living room Josh usually didn’t let people in. They had hung out there a few times during different parties, occasionally needing time away from the masses. She didn’t need to spell it out for Kirin. Her want for something slightly more intimate with Leah.

 

“Sweet,” Kirin agreed. He sent what Fatin was sure he thought was a covert wink, but she was too excited to lay into him for it.  “Okay, I’ll round up my boys, and you round up your girls, babe. I’ll see you there in ten.”

 

Where in ten?”

 

“What ‘girls’ does Jadmani have?”

 

“Fuck off, Shalifoe.”

 

“Is this like the VIP of high school parties?”

 

“Does he call everyone ‘babe’ or…?

 

Fatin eyed Leah curiously, watching the girl blush as the remaining girls turned to look at her.

 

“Only the hot ones,” Fatin found herself saying before she could stop herself, watching Leah roll her eyes in response. She nudged Leah playfully. “He’ll be calling you that in no time.”

 

“Right, well,” Rachel drawled out, glancing between the two. Fatin remembered what Toni had said before, but before she could die of mortification, Rachel moved on. “Shalifoe, Nora and I will help you track down Martha. You two…go…whatever.” She nodded toward Fatin who was still clutching Leah’s hand from when they had initially come over. 

 

She released it quickly. 

 

“I’m going to find Dot.”

 

“Did you want me to come with, or?”

 

“It’s fine,” Fatin waved her off, not missing the disappointment Leah exuded.

 

“Are you sure-”

 

 “Maybe go find your friend from the porch.”

 

God damnit. Fatin didn’t mean for it to sound petty, or jealous, but judging from the looks the three leaving gave her as they departed, she didn’t do a great job. She frowned. It wasn’t, she wasn’t trying to be bitter, but she did really need to find Dot and have a moment with her. She didn’t care that Leah had a bestfriend that was in-love with her and had known her for years with history, and inside jokes, and- 



She needed to find Dot. 

 

“I’ll meet you back here in a bit, okay?” Fatin assured, grabbing Leah’s hand again. She made sure to catch Leah’s eyes, trying not to flinch at the subtle hurt that danced in them. “I just need to talk to Dot real quick before the party continues.” She went for a bit of honesty and a timid smile. 

 

The small smile Leah returned wasn’t quite what she wanted, but it was probably more than she deserved.

 

“I’ll be right back,” Fatin tried again. “And, I’ll miss you every minute we’re apart.” She went over the top with it, drawing out the words, adding a dramatic tone - and while she was mostly joking, hoping to get Leah to crack a smile, a teeny tiny part of her was serious. 

 

Which brought her back to needing Dot. 

 

Leah did, in fact, crack a small smile. She rolled her eyes before shoving Fatin away. “Yeah, yeah,” She mumbled. 

 

Fatin blew her a quick kiss and a wink, reveling in the flustered Leah she got in return before heading out toward the backyard. Where she had initially been looking for her friend. 

 

She pushed open the door again, her eyes drifting toward the spot she had found Leah and her friend in rather than Dot. There, a couple sat, practically sucking each other’s faces off. 

 

Fatin didn’t want her thoughts to derail. She moved over toward where a group of people were smoking, and a bit off to the side stood Dot. 

 

“Dorothy,” Fatin breathed out.

 

Bad idea with all the smoke, but oh well. 

 

“Fatin?” Dot replied, raising a brow at her before taking another drag.

 

“I need you.”

 

“How many time do I have to tell you I’m not gay?”

 

“Shut the fuck up,” Fatin groaned, grabbing Dot’s hand and pulling her further away from the group. 

 

“Damn, dude,” Dot laughed. She pulled her hand from Fatin’s, shaking it out dramatically. “What’s with you? Parties usually keep you pretty…relaxed.”

 

“Leah’s here.”

 

Fatin gripped Dot’s shoulder, maybe a bit too tightly, trying to get Dot to understand the dilemma. 

 

Dot stared back before she looked up in thought. 

 

“Huh,” She hummed, putting her cigarette to her lips again. “Who would’ve thought?”

 

“Dude,” Fatin groaned. She attempted to swipe at Dot’s cigarette, but the other girl pulled it away quickly. “I need your help.”

 

“I mean, I can guess at what your whole thing is right now,” Dot shrugged, finally putting out the cigarette on the bottom of her shoe. “But, for shits and giggles, why don’t you give me a little more info?”

 

Fatin sighed deeply. “Okay…”

 

So, she explained the night she had had, letting Dot know the thoughts, feelings, and events that had taken place. She went as fast as she could, knowing they were crunched for time, and by the time she had finished, her breath was a little shallow, and Dot was staring at her with wide eyes. 

 

“Take a breath, bitch.”

 

“I am ,” Fatin grumbled. She still took a moment to take a deep breath. 

 

“Still not sure what you want from me,” Dot said, tilting her head slightly. “I’m guessing it goes further than joining the squad for some party games?”

 

“Don’t say squad.”

 

“Don’t tell me what to do,” Dot shot back, but a smile danced on her lips. “Seriously, are you - are you that scared of your feelings?”

 

“I don’t know what to do with them,” Fatin admitted. “I don’t want to date her! And now that I’m starting to like her, like, really like her, what am I supposed to do with that?”

 

“Why don’t you want to date her?” Dot asked. 

 

“Oh my god,” Fatin rubbed the back of her neck. “You know why.”

 

“Kinda don’t.”

 

Fatin held her hands out, words escaping her for a moment. She never quite had the words to describe what she felt, but she tried. “I’m not- I’m not the girl who gets the girl! I’m not the type of girl who woos the girl, and romances her, and I’m not the girl who people - who people, like, fall in love with!”

 

“Fatin…”

 

“I’m not!” She shook her head, a tightness twisting in her chest. “I love them and leave them, and I…I’m a good time! I’m a one-night stand. I don’t do the whole dating thing. I’d be terrible at it, and Leah, Leah deserves someone good at it. Right? Like that guy looked like he worshiped the ground the walked on. He could probably give her deep, ‘burning building’ type shit. Not me.”

 

“Fatin,” Dot said again. She paused, sighing deeply. “I’m not going to pretend I know what the hell you’re talking about with the whole ‘burning building’ thing. But. It’s…You know you’re not like-”

 

“Oh my god,” Fatin groaned out, throwing her hands up. She should be more concerned about the lack of privacy they had, that there was a group of people not too far away, but she figured they were too drunk to hear or listen in any way. “Not everything is about my daddy-issues, Dot.”

 

“This kinda seems like it,” Dot argued gently, placing a hand on Fatin’s arm. “The whole “Cheating Dad”, him telling you you’re alike…I’m not trying to be an asshole-”

 

“Try harder.”

 

“I’m just saying,” Dot continued, glaring slightly at Fatin. “You’re not a cheater.”

 

“Duh,” Fatin frowned, crossing her arms in front of herself. “You can’t cheat on someone if you never get into a relationship.”

 

Dot stared for a moment, processing what Fatin had said before sighing. “I don’t know what you want me to do, kid.”

 

Fatin sighed again. She didn’t know at that point either. “I’m thinking…I just want to be around her. But I don’t want to date her. So, if by some miracle she ever likes me back…doesn’t that make me an asshole in the end?”

 

“So, what, you’re going to leave Leah alone now?”

 

“I don’t know,” Fatin turned the idea over in her head. It made her a little queasy. “I kinda thought we were becoming something like friends, to be honest. And, well, she’s my tablemate, so it’s not like I can just ignore her. Especially with the whole note assignment.”

 

“Maybe you’re just thinking too far ahead,” Dot suggested. “You guys just met. You have time to figure out what you want. It’s not like you’re engaged or, you know, actually dating or anything. You’re hanging out, getting to know each other. Don’t overthink it, and Jesus, don’t be so nihilistic. You like being around her? Be around her. Let the rest come how it may. We still don’t know how she even feels, though, if you asked me-”

 

“I’m not asking.”

 

Dot laughed. “Okay, wow, somebody is being grumpy today.”

 

“Sorry,” Fatin said. She took one more deep breath before holding a hand out. “We should get going. We’re holding the group up.”

 

“I never really agreed to the whole VIP party thing.”

 

“I need you - and don’t make the joke again, it’s getting old.”

 

“Sure,” Dot shook her head before taking Fatin’s hand. “And just so you know,”

 

“Dorothy…”

 

“We’re gonna have to unpack that whole ‘nobody would fall in love with me ’ schtick one of these days.” She finished. 

 

“Pass.”

 

“You’re very lovable, Fatin.”

 

“Something you want to confess?”

 

“I’m trying to be a good friend here.”

 

“You are.”

 

—---

 

“So, is she coming back…or?”

 

“Of course she is,” Leah replied absentmindedly. She found herself chewing lightly at her thumbnail, the group of them - Rachel, Nora, Toni, Martha, and Shelby - standing awkwardly near the Flip Cup table where another group of people had started a new game. 

 

“I think the real question is why is Goodkind here?” Toni grumbled, although with considerably less venom in her voice than during class. 

 

Maybe parties really were miracle workers for hangouts. 

 

“Leah was kind enough to invite me,” Shelby replied. Leah could hear the uncertainty in the girl’s voice.

 

And yeah, maybe Leah had asked Shelby because the girl was being towered over by some creep. And maybe she didn’t want to be the only person to come back without a friend. But she also kind of liked Shelby. She didn’t really know her and all, but she was nice. She saw her everyday in class, and Shelby had talked to her in each class.

 

Leah was wondering if it was a mistake though. With the way Toni glared. 

 

“Shelby’s cool,” Rachel said before Leah could actually be a good person and defend her kind-of-friend.

 

“And nice,” Martha added, earning a glare from Toni. 

 

“It’s a party,” Leah found herself saying. “Let’s all just forget about school, and friend groups, and just hang out. Have a nice time.”

 

“Whatever,” Toni sighed, looking around. “Is your girlfriend ever coming back?”

 

“What?” Leah tore her gaze away from the crowd, staring at Toni. “She’s - She’s not my-”

 

“Chill,” The other girl laughed. “It was just a joke.”

 

“Toni, lay off,” Martha chided before whispering into her friend’s ear. 

 

Leah didn’t want to know. 

 

“Hey-O!”

 

Leah sighed in relief as Fatin appeared, pushing through the crowd with Dot in tow. 

 

“Miss me bitches?” 

 

“Not in the slightest.”

 

“Do you have any sense of time?”

 

“Do we have to pay to get in?”

 

“Fatin! Good to see you, girl.”

 

“Good to see you too, Goodkind,” Fatin replied, patting Shelby on the shoulder. “Jesus, you guys are mean.”

 

“Are you okay?” Leah asked. She took Fatin in. The girl seemed okay, in a way. A smile gracing her lips as she took in the girls around her. But there was a hint of…tiredness?

 

“Yeah, yeah,” Fatin waved her off, a lot like she had done before much to Leah’s chagrin. “Just catching up with the bestie, now…Let’s get this party started.”

 

She waved the girls forward, leading them through the living room and into a hallway. Dot followed right behind her along with the rest of the girls, but Leah lingered a bit in the back of the group. She wasn’t sure what had gotten into Fatin. Everything had seemed to be going well despite the Ian hiccup, and the Kirin hiccup, and the-

 

Okay, so everything hadn’t been going fine -fine. But, Leah thought they were still connecting, having a good time. But Fatin was clinging to Dot’s hand like a lifeline, and Leah was practically dying to know what the pair had been talking about. What had been so urgent that Fatin had practically run from her?

 

They arrived at a pair of sliding doors, and Fatin knocked on one. 

 

“Password!”

 

“Jesus Christ,” Fatin grumbled. She knocked again. 

 

“Password!”

 

Leah heard a chorus of laughter on the other side, and she almost walked away right then. But she saw a small smile grace Fatin’s lips. Fatin blew a puff of air, causing a few stray strands to move. She shook her head as a smile grew, and Leah cracked a small smile of her own. She could stay for a little bit longer. 

 

“God I love MILFS,” Fatin stated. Loudly. Proudly. 

 

Toni bursted into an uncontrollable laughter, followed shortly by the rest of the group and whoever was on the other side of the door. Leah couldn’t not laugh along as the doors slid open, and a grinning Kirin O’Conner appeared. 

 

“What a coincidence, I do too,” He joked. 

 

“Shut up,” Fatin laughed, pushing past him. 

 

The rest of the girls followed in after, and Leah, still in the back of the pack, trailed along. Kirin gave her a high-five as she passed by, and she returned it easily. 

 

“Ladies,” Kirin announced, arms open wide as he gestured around the room. “Glad you could make it, we have drinks - the good stuff.” Kirin gestured to some bottles and mixers he had placed on the coffee table. 

 

“The… better stuff,” Henry replied from his spot on a beanbag chair. 

 

“Strangely positive for you, Henry,” Kirin joked, smiling at the boy. “That’s Henry, like I said. There’s Scotty, Bo, Raf, Ivan, and, of course, the man of the-fucking-hour, Josh.”

 

He gestured to each boy, and, surprisingly, Leah knew each one. Most of them were in their creative writing class, which, when Leah thought about it, was all the girls as well. 

 

“‘Round of applause for our generous host, ladies and gents,” Kirin exclaimed. 

 

Leah found herself clapping along with the rest of the group, Josh blushing brightly as a few people let out some “ whoops !” 

 

“And now, fellow East Bay friends,” Kirin moved to close the doors behind Leah. He turned to them, and Leah was beginning to understand Fatin and his friendship a bit more. They both have a flare for the dramatics. His eyes danced around for a moment before landing on Leah who was standing close to him. He grinned. 

 

“Welcome to the real party.”

Chapter Text

“You owe me twenty bucks.”

 

Okay . Not her best attempt at conversation, admittedly. 

 

But after Kirin’s melodramatic commencement, and everyone had settled, Leah took a tentative seat on one of the couches. Only for Dot to literally shove Fatin in the seat beside Leah before taking the seat on Fatin’s other side. 

 

And while Kirin started making everyone drinks with the help of Scotty, Fatin hadn’t said a word. She had smiled at Leah, a very pretty, disarming smile, but other than that? Nothing. 

 

So forgive Leah for not having her wits about her. 

 

When did she ever? 

 

“What?” Fatin replied, raising a brow. 

 

“The bet,” Leah reminded, trying not to cringe. “Over Flip Cup?” Her voice cracked near the end, her voice slowly losing confidence. 

 

Leah was pleading, in a way. She wasn’t subtle in the way she was practically begging Fatin to acknowledge her, to talk to her. She still didn’t understand what was running through Fatin’s head, and she wasn’t sober enough to feel shame in the way her eyes screamed, “ please ”. 

 

Fatin answered, silently. She answered with a softened gaze, and a small smile. Fatin breathed in and exhaled like she was letting something go - or maybe she was settling on something? Leah didn’t know Fatin well, couldn’t read her in the way she was sure Dot or Kirin could, but she relaxed slightly. Fatin’s hand landed next to hers on the couch, a pinky grazing her own. She shuffled back, seemingly getting comfortable. Leah exhaled softly as Fatin’s shoulder brushed against hers, her pinky almost, almost curling around Leah’s.

 

“Ah,”  Fatin chuckled, shaking her head. “You mean when you hustled me?”

 

“Sorry ‘bout that.”

 

“Nah,” Fatin smiled, leaning in a bit. “You can hustle me any day.” Fatin winked, and the familiarity of it settled the waves in Leah’s stomach. 

 

She couldn’t help but think Fatin did that on purpose. 

 

Dot snorted from Fatin’s other side, earning a slap to the shoulder. “Sorry, that was just not your best work, dude.”

 

Leah flushed nonetheless. 

 

“Why do you bully me, Dorothy?” Fatin whined, pouting a bit. Leah averted her eyes quickly at the way Fatin’s lips puffed out. 

 

“I was just joking,” Leah backtracked. “That wasn’t a serious bet.”

 

“Oh no, I’ll pay up,” Fatin assured, pulling out her phone. Leah tried not to lament how the action pulled Fatin’s hand away from hers. “What’s your number?”

 

“…What?”

 

Fatin wanted her number? Okay, okay, cool, cool, cool - That was cool. That was something sort of friends exchanged. Sure, it was a bit out of the blue, but Leah could roll with it. 

 

“For Venmo?” Fatin explained, holding out her phone. “I need your number so I can look you up?” 

 

Leah paused. Right. Yes, that made sense. But then again…

 

“Sure,” She carefully took Fatin’s phone, brushing her fingers against Fatin’s own just for the hell of it. If Fatin could flirt relentlessly, why couldn’t Leah just a bit? She was just drunk enough to not care as much, and maybe she was a bit high on the feeling of having Fatin’s shoulder brush against hers while they sat. 

 

She exited the Venmo app, going to Fatin’s contacts instead. “Or, you know, you could just have my number for…recreational purposes.”

 

Recreational purposes?” Fatin grinned, watching Leah type in her phone. 

 

Leah ignored the blush creeping up her neck. “Yeah, you know. Friends have each other’s numbers. We could hang out sometime. Do recreational activities.”

 

“Yeah, no, for sure,” Fatin replied, and - Wait . Was Fatin Jadmani… blushing ? Fatin cleared her throat, and, yes, Fatin was blushing. Leah could pretend it was from the heat in the room, the alcohol, whatever else, but…Fatin was blushing and looking at Leah with an almost shy expression. 

 

And that was a whole new ballgame. 

 

“And, maybe instead of Venmo-ing me,” Leah continued, feeling brave. “You could just buy me ice cream. While we hang out. At a friendly hang out-“

 

Okay, the confidence was leaving quickly. 

 

“I can do that,” Fatin said. She took her phone back from Leah gingerly, turning it over in her perfectly manicured hands. “I like ice cream.”

 

“Me too.”

 

“Oh my God,” Toni groaned out from where she sat between Martha and…Shelby. Huh. “Let’s get the game started, please .” 

 

“For real,” Scotty agreed, taking his seat next to Bo. “Ya’ll got your drinks, now let’s actually party. I could be dancing with some hot chick right now.”

 

“And yet, you’re not,” Bo barbed lightheartedly, earning a soft push from Scotty. 

 

“Whatever.”

 

“C’mon, let’s get moving, they gay drama can only keep me entertained for so long,” Ivan called from his position sprawled out on another bean bag. 

 

Dot snorted. Toni let out a “What!?”. Fatin tensed slightly, and Leah, if her eyes didn’t deceive her, saw Shelby freeze. Leah perhaps wouldn’t have picked up on it if she hadn’t had a similar reaction. 

 

Something to file away for later, she supposed. 

 

“Okay, okay,” Kirin was the only one standing, and Josh looked happy enough to let the other guy take the lead. “Our lovely, genius slash Flip Cup champion, Nora, suggested a game of Back-to-Back.”

 

“Uh,” Raf chimed in, raising his hand like he was in class. “What- What is that, exactly?” 

 

He looked a bit embarrassed. Leah sympathized, but she was also happy that she wasn’t the one who had to ask. 

 

“Simple, my dear friend, Raif-“

 

“It’s Raf-“

 

“Two people stand up, back to back-“

 

“How surprising,” Ivan deadpanned. 

 

“Facing away from each other-“

 

“Is that not implied from standing back to back?” Henry asked. 

 

Kirin ignored them, and he was already pulling up…Toni and Shelby. God she sometimes wondered if Kirin could read a room. 

 

Shelby was blushing heavily as Toni shrugged and smiled tepidly at her, apparently actually listening to Leah and letting bygones be bygones for the night. Shelby ducked her head shyly as Kirin adjusted them to stand with their backs to each other, making sure they were touching and both had a drink in hand. 

 

Maybe Kirin could read the room? 

 

“We, the group, will ask them a ‘Who’s most likely to’ question, and they will respond. If one drinks, that’s that,” He continued, miming drinking from his cup. “But, if they both drink, they both have to drink again. If neither of the drinks…”

 

He held his hands out, waiting for the group to finish. 

 

“They both have to drink!” Josh answered excitedly. “I love this game. This is actually kind of fun because it helps us get to know each other as well. A great bonding exercise.”

 

“Sure,” Kirin replied, giving Josh a kind smile. “Joshy is correct - About the drinking thing. Anyway, who wants to ask the first question?”

 

“Who is most likely to lose to Nora and me in Flip Cup?” Rachel called out almost immediately. 

 

Toni flipped Rachel off so aggressively, Leah was surprised the girl had the thought to drink while she did it. 

 

“Oop, you both drank!” Scotty called out. “Drink again, bitches!”

 

“I don’t think you can say that,” Bo mumbled. 

 

“Damn dude,” Henry laughed. 

 

“No, I didn’t mean it like that,” Scotty defended. 

 

He looked around helplessly for support, but everyone was looking at the pair as Toni flipped around to look at Shelby. 

 

“Why would you drink at a comment obviously thrown at me?”

 

“I would definitely lose in a game of Flip Cup,” Shelby protested. “I’ve never played!”

 

“Yeah, but-“

 

“And you have experience, so you’re more likely to beat them than I would be.”

 

“I-“ Toni paused. “Touché. My bad.”

 

“No fucking way Shalifoe just apologized to Shelby,” Fatin whispered, leaning in to make sure the girls didn’t hear. 

 

Leah needed to have a conversation with Fatin about personal space. 

 

Or maybe she didn’t. She couldn’t decide. 

 

“Parties are magical,” Leah said solemnly. “It’s like we’re in the Twilight Zone.”

 

“Alternate realities are totally a thing,” Dot chimed in quietly, leaning over Fatin. “Have we stumbled into one?”

 

“Does this mean I finally have a chance?” Fatin said, her face dropping into a serious expression. 

 

“What?” “Dude, for the last time!”

 

Right. Dot and Fatin. And the strange dynamic they seemed to possess. 

 

“Breaking my heart, even in an alternate universe,” Fatin sighed, a hand to her heart. 

 

“I got one!” Ivan called out. “Who’s most likely to throw their piss at someone in a basketball game?”

 

“Okay,” Toni huffed, taking a quick sip from her drink. “You guys can’t fucking target me.”

 

“I wasn’t,” Ivan shrugged. “I totally thought Goodkind would’ve drank to that.”

 

“I would never-”

 

“I’m obviously kidding.”

 

“Right,” Shelby huffed, turning around to be back to back with Toni once more. 

 

“Does anybody have a question that isn’t clearly aimed at me?” Toni said, drinking her drink again. She didn’t seem to care too much about following the rules of the game. 

 

“What about…Who’s most likely to become a wedding planner?” Raf asked quietly. 

 

Leah looked at him curiously. “What a strange question…” She mumbled, earning a chuckle from Fatin and Dot. 

 

“Why the fuck did Toni just drink?” Rachel stood, pointing accusatory at Toni. 

 

“Yeah, what the fuck is up with that?” Ivan said. 

 

“Shalifoe?” Fatin gasped. “You never cease to surprise.”

 

“Toni is really into wedding stuff actually,” Martha added. “She talks about it all the time.”

 

“I’m not…Well, shit, I guess I just drank,” Toni hummed, still sipping from her cup. “I like weddings! They’re kind of cool, and I think it’d be fun to plan my own. You know? Like think about what kind of flowers I’d get, and the suit, and the food, and…whatever, fuck off, all of you.” She finished as people either stared at her open mouthed or bursted into laughter. 

 

“I like weddings too,” Shelby finally spoke. “They’re fun, and I do have a knack for planning.”

 

“Yeah, I guess I should’ve gave that one to Goodkind,” Toni admitted. 

 

“I don’t think we’ll get a more surprising answer than that out of those two,” Ivan commented. “Unless Shelby wants to confess something real quick.”

 

Shelby flushed slightly, sipping her own drink. “I’m good. Let’s give some other people a chance.”

 

A few more rounds went through, and Leah thanked the lord she didn’t have to go up. She enjoyed sitting, watching other people go up and answer the questions. It was entertaining, and Josh was actually right with his slightly dorky comment, she was learning more about these people. 

 

Kirin actually likes reality TV. Dot would 100% outlive all of them on a deserted island. Fatin was lactose intolerant - Leah would have to revisit the whole ice cream situation with her later. Henry used to be a boy scout, Martha was vegan, Ivan had a boyfriend, and Raf loved Katy Perry. 

 

All very interesting. 

 

The night went on, and throughout the game people drank plenty even when they weren’t answering questions. Leah found herself two more drinks in as the game dissolved and people stuck to just chatting and hanging out. It was fun, much more fun than a party in a way. And luckily all the people included seemed to be pretty cool. 

 

“And that’s why I think Katy Perry is criminally underrated.”

 

Leah hummed along as Raf finished his explanation. He sat perched on the couch arm, and Leah thought he was a nice guy, really, but she was more interested in Fatin across the room, whispering heatedly to Kirin, Dot, and Ivan (who was looking like he was holding back laughter). She wanted to know what they were talking about. 

 

“Yeah, no, she’s…she’s cool,” Leah replied absentmindedly. 

 

“Did you guys hookup?” 

 

“What?”

 

Leah whipped around, staring at Raf with wide eyes. The boy, to his credit, looked appalled that that had just come out of his mouth, his own eyes widening in surprise. 

 

“Sorry!” He held his hand out quickly, scrambling to defend himself. “I shouldn’t have asked! It’s totally not my business. I was just getting vibes. Like, with the eye contact, and I mean, c’mon. You’re hot, they’re hot. I saw you guys talking earlier pretty close, and I thought you were checking each other out-”

 

“I’m not hooking up with her!” Leah hissed out, her face flushing almost completely. She peered around to see if anyone had overheard, but everyone had drifted into different conversations. Shelby, Toni, Rachel, Nora and Martha were talking by the other couch, and it was strange to see Shelby and Toni not look like they were two seconds away from tearing each other’s heads off - alcohol was something else. Henry,  Bo, Scotty, and Josh were all chatting as well - and again, Fatin, Ivan, Kirin, and Dot were huddled up…

 

“Wait,” Raf let out, sounding confused. “Her?”

 

“I-” Leah tore her eyes away, meeting his gaze. “What?”

 

“You said ‘her’?”

 

Leah paused. “Who were you talking about?”

 

“Kirin?”

 

“Kirin?!” Leah let out, a little too loudly, causing multiple heads to turn. 

 

“Yes, babe?” Kirin replied, looking very much tipsy. 

 

Fatin was also looking at Leah, looking confused as well. 

 

“Nothing! We were just talking about…Lacrosse,” Leah faltered, internally screaming. Why the fuck would they be talking about lacrosse?

 

“Yeah,” Raf jumped in. “The team is doing great this year.”

 

“They’ve lost every game,” Henry pointed out. 

 

“Yeah, but Kirin, you’re doing great. Specifically,” Raf said. 

 

Kirin frowned before shrugging. “I am pretty great. You know who’s really bringing down the team-”

 

“Oh my god, they were obviously not talking about lacrosse,” Ivan groaned out, smacking Kirin on the shoulder. 

 

“No, Leah’s, like, super into sports,” Rachel said, smirking at Leah. What was going on? “Rilke loves women’s soccer.”

 

“Okay,” Leah cut in. “That…We were just talking about the party and how cool it is. That’s it.”

 

“You know what this is reminding me of?” Scotty asked from his spot laid out on a beanbag chair. “Paranoia.”

 

“Oh my gosh, that game is so funny,” Bo agreed. 

 

“We should play!” Josh cheered. 

 

“I don’t know, people are getting pretty sloppy,” Dot scratched the side of her head, eyeing Shelby who was leaning heavily into Martha. 

 

“That’s what will make it more fun,” Kirin shrugged. “Everything is more fun when people are sloppy. Except sports.”

 

“And, like, most things,” Henry laughed. 

 

“I’m sorry,” Raf whispered, leaning in to Leah to avoid the other people hearing. “I didn’t mean to assume.”

 

“Kirin, really?” Leah whispered back. “It’s not your fault drinking makes me forget volume control,” She added. 

 

“I don’t know!” Raf shrugged. “Now that you mention it though, you and Fa-”

 

“Hey, lovebirds,” Fatin called out, gesturing toward Leah and Raf. “You two gonna join the group, or?”

 

“Yes!” “We’re not lovebirds.”

 

“Okay, do we need to explain the rules to anyone?” Kirin asked, herding the group into a circle once more.  A few people raised their hands, including Leah and Raf. “Okay, it goes like this: We sit in a circle, like so, one person starts. They whisper a question to the person on their right - make it spicy - the person answers out loud. If anyone wants to know what the question was, they have to take a drink-”

 

“A shot!” Scott declined. “A drink is too easy.”

 

“Yeah, no,” Dot rejected. “Then we’ll all really be getting sloppy.”

 

“Okay, how about a big gulp?” Josh suggested timidly. 

 

“Okay, fine, a ‘big gulp ’,” Kirin amended. “Then they say the question out loud. That’s the whole game.”

 

“Easy enough,” Rachel accepted. 

 

“The best questions are the ones with people as the answers,” Toni suggested. 

 

“True,” Kirin pointed at Toni in agreement. “Now, who wants to go first?” 

 

Leah took her position seated between Raf and Rachel. Raf seemed like a safe option, he wouldn’t ask her anything too out of pocket as far as she could tell. Although, he had point blank asked if she and Kirin had been hooking up…But she had faith that he wouldn’t embarrass her too badly. She didn’t know what she’d ask Rachel if it came down to it, but she was sure she could think of something. Eventually. 

 

“I’ll start,” Ivan volunteered, leaning in to whisper into Dot’s ear. 

 

He whispered quietly, earning an eye roll from Dot. 

 

“Fatin, obviously,” She replied easily. “Gotta do better than that.”

 

“Oh, I have to know this one,” Fatin replied on the other side of Ivan. She easily chugged the rest of her drink. “Spill.”

 

Ivan laughed easily, sipping his own drink, holding the suspense before sighing. “I asked who she would marry if she had to out of the people in this room.”

 

Fatin gasped loudly. “Dorothy…”

 

“Shut up, dude, you already knew that,” Dot grumbled, sipping her drink some more. 

 

“It’s still nice to hear,” Fatin whipped away a fake tear, and Leah found herself smiling at the action. 

 

“Shut up.” 

 

“Wait, can we go out of the circle?” Rachel asked suddenly. 

 

“What?” Kirin frowned. 

 

“Like, instead of going in order, can we just ask whoever we want a question and they answer it out loud, blah, blah, blah?”

 

“I guess…”

 

“I like that idea,” Ivan said. 

 

“Me too,” Scott agreed. “Adds more spice.”

 

“Well who am I to say no to that?” Kirin laughed. 

 

“Perfect,” Rachel smiled, already crawling over to Toni. “My turn.” 

 

She whispered into Toni’s ear, earning a wide-eyed look from the other girl. The other girl flushed deeply, coughing a bit into her fist before shrugging, trying to play it off. 

 

“Uh, Goodkind, I guess,” Toni mumbled out. 

 

“Easiest chug I’ve ever done,” Ivan quickly finished his drink. 

 

“Wait, are we chugging or just gulping?” Martha asked. 

 

“I think as long as it isn’t a sip?” Bo suggested. 

 

“I don’t think we need to be nit picky with rules in a drinking game,” Henry shrugged. 

 

“Doesn’t matter,” Scotty waved them off. “What was the question?” He asked eagerly. 

 

Leah found herself leaning in with the rest of the group. 

 

“I asked her who she’d rather sleep with, Martha or Shelby,” Rachel answered smugly. 

 

Hoots and hollers were let out all around as Toni scrambled to defend herself. 

 

“Marty is my best friend! I would never sleep with her. I’d rather fuck a tree!”

 

“Okay, ouch,” Martha frowned. 

 

“You’re saying you’d fuck me?”

 

“No…”

 

“Never mind all that, Shalifoe just admitted she’d sleep with Goodkind-”

 

“If it was between her or Marty-”

 

“This is too good,” Fatin cackled, reaching over to high five Rachel. 

 

“You better watch yourself, Jadmani,” Toni glared. 

 

“Oooh, I’m so scared,” Fatin laughed, rolling her eyes. Then she paused. “Wait, no, I was just kidding.”

 

“Too late, bitch.”

 

“Shalifoe…”

 

“Uh, is Shelby okay?” Leah whispered to Raf, seeming to be the only one not too busy laughing at Toni to notice the way Shelby was the reddest Leah had ever seen. Redder than when they had been talking about pegging that first day of school. Shelby chugged her almost full drink quickly, slamming it on the table - finally gaining people’s attention - and she filled her cup once more. 

 

“I think we should move on?” Leah suggested timidly. 

 

“Yeah, yeah,” Raf agreed, nodding at Leah. “I got one.” He scrambled over to Bo. 

 

Thank you , Leah mouthed. 

 

She didn’t know what was going on with Shelby, but she felt the urge to not let the rowdy group get a hold of her. Especially since Leah was the one to invite her. 

 

“Oh,” Bo blushed as Raf pulled away. He scratched the back of his neck shyly, eyes fluttering about. “I would have to pick Martha.”

 

“I gotchu,” Toni finished off her drink. 

 

“Jesus, is everyone going to be doing that?” Leah mumbled. 

 

“The question was which of the girls he would most want to take on a date.”

 

Another round of hoots and hollers. A few whistles, one Leah was fairly certain came from Fatin. Leah sat back, settling next to Nora as people asked each other more questions, and more people revealed themselves. Almost every answer was a person. Almost every answer was responded with a drink for the question. The group was a nosey one. 

 

Raf would rather sleep with Kirin between him and Scotty - Much to the latters offense. Martha thought Scotty was mostly likely to be scared of birds out of the group. Toni, asked again, would marry Hailee Steinfeld if she could marry any celebrity. Rachel would lick Nora’s toe if she had to lick anyone’s toe in the room. Scotty thought Rachel would win in a fight to the death between all of them (which led to an intense debate between Scotty, Rachel, and Toni). If Josh could meet any celebrity, he’d meet Spillz - whoever the fuck that was.  Shelby would pick Martha as the one person in the room she could only talk to for the rest of her life. And so on. 

 

Kirin smiled as Ivan whispered into his ear. “Leah,” He answered confidently. 

 

Fatin was already taking a drink before Leah could even think to. “Question, bitch.”

 

Leah tried not to take it too seriously, the way Fatin only drank for questions that were answered by either her or Dot’s names. She reminded herself that Fatin was lounging next to Kirin and Ivan, across the room from Leah, and a little curiosity didn’t have to mean much. 

 

“Who out of the people in this room would I let marry my daughter,” Kirin answered before Ivan could. “I’d trust Rilke. She’s cool, smart, and nice. Hella respectful. I’d trust her to date my daughter, my son, my best-”

 

“Okay,” Fatin cut in, sending Kirin a glare. “We get it, Leah’s great, we all know that already.”

 

“Do we?” Rachel slurred from her spot. 

 

“Ouch,” Leah replied, frowning at Rachel. 

 

“Nah, no, I meant - “ Rachel shrugged. “We all clearly already know those two think you’re great.” She gestured to Fatin and Kirin. Leah didn’t know what Rachel was trying to get at, but she blushed either way. 

 

“Totally,” Toni agreed. 

 

“And Raf,” Josh chimed in, red faced, leaning back in his beanbag. 

 

Leah glanced around. The alcohol seemed to be catching up to everyone. Josh especially. But hey, at least the host was having a good time. 

 

“Yeah, that’s not…” Raf murmured from his spot next to Leah he had reclaimed a while ago. They had moved from the couch to in front of the couch, leaning their backs on the bottom of it. 

 

“Somebody ask one of the quiet girls a question,” Scotty interrupted. 

 

“Don’t call them that,” Fatin flipped Scotty off before leaning into Ivan, the pair also looking close to their limits. 

 

“Yeah, Nor,” Rachel added. “Participate.”

 

“I can’t really participate if somebody doesn’t ask me a question,” Nora said, smiling in amusement. “I’m enjoying just hanging out, anyway.”

 

“C’mon, one question,” Rachel pouted, grabbing onto Nora’s hand. 

 

“Okay.”

 

“I got it!” Josh hopped up, stumbling over to Nora. “I got it.”

 

Leah waited patiently as Josh actually managed to whisper quietly enough for nobody else to hear, and watched Nora tilt her head up in thought. 

 

“I would say,” Nora started. “Leah.”

 

“Got it,” Fatin replied, she sat up easily, taking another drink. She looked Leah right in the eyes, and Leah ducked her head. 

 

Leah was starting to wonder if they should cut the game off. 

 

“The question was,” Josh announced, standing up to return to his beanbag. “Who in this room would Nora consider her best friend - outside of her twin, of course.”

 

Leah looked at Nora who was smiling back at her gently. She nudged her shoulder gently. “I’d say the same,” She said quietly. 

 

“Even with Fatin here?” Nora answered, her eyebrows raised.

 

Leah frowned in confusion. Sure, she and Fatin talked, but Leah and Nora hung out almost every day at lunch, she wouldn’t know why Nora would suggest Fatin being one of her best friends. Maybe Rachel would be a contender, but Fatin was…

 

“Got it,” Fatin called out, hearing her name somehow when Nora had spoken. 

 

“That wasn’t-” Leah said, eyes widening as she watched Fatin finish off another drink. “...A part of the game.”

 

“Why are you guys talking about me then?” 

 

“We still need to ask her a question,” Scotty was adamant. 

 

Her name is Leah, dickwad,” Fatin said. 

 

“I know that.”

 

“Do you?”

 

“I’ll ask Leah a question,” Raf cut them off. 

 

Leah watched as Fatin’s eyes narrowed before she was standing up, holding up her hand. 

 

“No,” She said, causing Raf and Leah to look at her in surprise. Toni and Dot were already giggling, and the rest of the group was drunk enough to not react much. “I want to ask Rilke a question.”

 

“Uh,” Leah looked around, eyes landing on Raf.

 

He simply shrugged with a small smile before scooting away. 

 

“Eyes here, honey.”

 

Leah felt fingers coming to her chin, directing her head to face forward, finding herself face to face with Fatin. A fairly drunk Fatin who was smiling slyly at her as she took in Leah’s face. This…This is something, Leah thought. Her skin burned where Fatin’s fingers now gently held her chin. Her face flushed where Fatin’s breath puffed against her face. Her entire body froze as Fatin hunched over her, eyes dancing across Leah’s very blushing face. She felt a swooping sensation in her gut as Fatin slowly crouched down, her hand not holding Leah’s chin was placed behind Leah’s head, braced against the couch. She smiled once more at Leah before tilting her head to speak into her ear. 

 

What was with Fatin and brushing her lips against her ear, and why did it drive Leah so crazy?

 

She hoped Fatin didn’t notice the way she shivered. But who was she kidding?

 

“Who, in this room,” Fatin began, her voice low, her lip grazing against the shell of Leah’s ear in a way that had to be on purpose. “Do you think owns the most sex toys?”

 

Fatin pulled away slowly, not removing herself from Leah’s space. She met Leah’s eyes with a raised brow, her eyes darker than usual, her eyelids drooping from the alcohol and-

 

“Got it!”

 

Leah glanced over to see Toni, Josh, and Scotty all chugging. 

 

“I already drank for it, idiots,” Rachel replied haughtily. 

 

“I-“ Leah cursed the way her voice cracked. She cleared her throat. “I haven’t even answered yet?”

 

“Yeah, but, c’mon,” Scotty laughed. “Everyone wants to know what she just whispered in your ear.”

 

“You kinda remind me of when I forget sunscreen on my daily walks-“

 

“Joshy,” Kirin cut in. “Not the time, man.”

 

“She could’ve just asked, like, my favorite artist or something,” Leah spluttered. 

 

“It’s Fatin,” Rachel deadpanned. “She didn’t ask that.”

 

“Well?” Fatin prompted, not taking her eyes off of Leah. 

 

Leah wasn’t sure if she wished she would or wouldn’t. 

 

Leah met her eyes. She felt like she was getting whiplash. Fatin stumbling upon her and Ian, them hanging out at the drinks table, abandoned at the VIP party, blushing Fatin on the couch, Fatin avoiding her after, and then…

 

She averted her gaze. “Kirin.”

 

Fatin chuckled. She seemed to have a need to throw Leah off because her head fell forward, landing on Leah’s shoulder. Her hand that had been against the couch fell to Leah’s bicep. Her fingers removed themselves from Leah’s chin and instead landed on the back of her hand. 

 

Leah’s fingers spread to allow Fatin’s between them before she could think better of it. 

 

“Nice,” Fatin mumbled into her shoulder. 

 

“What?” Leah mumbled back, willing her heart to stop feeling like it was beating out of her chest. “It’s probably true.”

 

“It’s not.”

 

“Well…”

 

“Do we get to know the question?” Ivan called out. “Or are you just gonna keep doing whatever that is?” 

 

Fatin sighed deeply, extracting herself from Leah. She flopped down next to her where Raf had been sitting before. 

 

“The question was who in this room owned the most sex toys.”

 

“Rilke,” Ivan clicked his tongue, shaking his head. “We all know that’s Fatin.”

 

“True,” Scotty agreed. 

 

“Gotta say,” Dot finally spoke. “That was pretty obvious.”

 

“Fumbled hard on that one, Rilke,” Toni said. 

 

“What sex toys would I even own?” Kirin frowned, scratching his head. 

 

“We’re not gonna touch on that one,” Ivan brushed off, shaking his head at Kirin. 

 

“Okay, okay,” Toni announced. “One more question. This one’s for Fatin.” A mischievous look crossed her features. 

 

“Keep it tame, Shalifoe,” Fatin said, actually looking a bit worried. 

 

“You’ve never been one for tame, Jadmani,” Toni scoffed. 

 

“You literally just asked Leah about sex toys,” Rachel said. 

 

“Have to agree,” Shelby gave Fatin an apologetic shrug. 

 

“Get fucked.”

 

“Shut it, Dorothy.”

 

Toni just smiled widely, an almost dopey grin, before her brow furrowed in thought. Leah watched a slightly tense Fatin watch her closely. Leah was holding her breath, along with most of the room before Toni let out a loud groan. 

 

“I can’t think of a good one right now,” Toni admitted embarrassedly. 

 

“Dude, talk about a let down,” Dot laughed. 

 

“C’mon, Shalifoe,” Kirinf groaned. 

 

“Boo!” Rachel and Scotty called out immediately. 

 

Even Josh was giving a thumbs down. 

 

“Whatever,” Toni muttered before throwing her hands up. “Are you a top or a bottom?”

 

“Depends on the girl,” Fatin answered easily. 

 

“What do you find physically attractive in a partner?”

 

“Height. Eyes- You’re not supposed to be saying these out loud, you dumb bitch,” Fatin laughed, leaning back against the couch. 

 

“Ugh,” Toni flopped down, frowning deeply. “I was supposed to get my payback.”

 

“That’s what you get, boozy,” Matha chided, putting down her water. “I think it’s time to call it a night.”

 

“Yeah,” Kirin yawned, stretching his arms over his head. “Not to be a downer, but I gotta start herding people out of here. We’ve left the masses unattended for too long.”

 

Josh sprang up. “Oh my God,” He paled. “I totally forgot other people were here.”

 

“I kinda did too,” Bo looked up thoughtfully. 

 

“Anyone sleeping here, get comfy. The rest of you with DD’s, stick around if you want, but also,” He pointed toward Nora. “Drive safe, my friends.”

 

Nora nodded, smiling slightly before standing and pulling Rachel to her feet. Leah took that as her cue. 

 

She glanced toward Fatin who had her head leaned back,and her eyes closed with a slight smile on her face. 

 

“Hey, uh,” Leah started. 

 

Fatin cracked open an eye, raising a brow at Leah. 

 

“I think we’re headed out.”

 

Fatin nodded slowly, lulling her head to the side to look at Leah more fully. “I’m glad you came.”

 

Leah paused. “Are you?” She asked, insecurity in her voice. 

 

Fatin frowned before turning toward Leah with the rest of her body. “Of course I am.”

 

“Right,” Leah chewed on her lip, glancing at Nora and Rachel from the corner of her eye. They waited patiently by the door. “I wasn’t sure.”

 

“Shit,” Fatin breathed out. “I- No, I was, I am very happy you showed up.”

 

“Okay,” Leah smiled slightly. 

 

She still felt unsure. Fatin had been so confusing all night, she really wasn’t sure where they stood. 

 

“I’ll text you,” Fatin said, trying to meet Leah’s eyes. “So we can get ice cream?”

 

“You’re lactose intolerant.” 

 

Fatin shrugged. “It’s fine.”

 

Leah smiled a bit wider. “Is it?”

 

“Are you gonna question everything I say?” Fatin teased. 

 

Leah shrugged, finally standing. She shuffled for a moment, a bit nervous under Fatin’s lazy gaze. 

 

“Are you gonna make me have to?” Leah said, unsure of where that came from. Why she said it. Shit was that too serious? 

 

Fatin was still, eyes dancing across Leah’s face. “I-“ She clasped her hands in her lap. “I’m always pretty straightforward, don’t you think?”

 

“In a way,” Leah replied. 

 

It probably wasn’t a conversation to have while drunk. Leah wasn’t even sure what she was asking, what she wanted, what she expected Fatin to say. 

 

“I’ll work on that,” Fatin gave a timid smile. 

 

Leah felt a bit lighter. 

 

“Okay, cool,” Leah glanced toward the twins, Rachel looking a little less patient with every passing moment. “Anything you want me to work on?“ She added awkwardly.

 

Fatin laughed. “Nah, you’re perfect.” There went the goddamn blush again. 

 

“Okay, cool,” Leah said again. “Yeah, okay, text me. I’ll see you later?”

 

“Yes, ma’am,” Fatin saluted her sluggishly. 

 

“Okay,” Leah said once again before turning away. “Bye then.”

 

She made it to the twins, Rachel looking half asleep and Nora offering an apologetic smile. She was just about to follow them out when Fatin called out again. 

 

“Rilke, Leah,” She said. “You look really nice tonight.”

 

Leah paused in the doorway. Her fingers tapped against the door, a smile hurting her cheeks, and she looked back. Fatin was looking at her with a small smile. No wink. No raised brow. No smirk. 

 

“You do too.” 

Chapter Text

Fatin doesn’t text her over the weekend.

 

She does get a follow request Sunday night from multiple people from their small “VIP party”, though none of them happen to be Fatin.

 

She doesn’t text Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday…Leah wasn’t trying to keep track. But Fatin had said she would text her about ice cream. But Fatin probably had a lot of friends. Plenty of people she had to hang out and get ice cream with. Fatin could’ve been too drunk to remember she had said that, for all Leah knew.

 

Fatin gave Leah a note on Monday.

 

I am very happy you came to the party on Friday. It was a lot more fun with you there, and you should come to more (no pressure though).

 

Also, I know I said it before you left and in the kitchen, but just to make sure you know - You looked so good. Like, damn girl.

 

(P.S. Sorry if I was a sloppy drunk or made you uncomfortable - I will restrain myself in the future should you ever come again - again, no pressure)

 

No note Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday.

 

Leah knew she didn’t have room to be disappointed. She tried to stomp down the panic that rose when Fatin had simply smiled and waved as she left the classroom on Tuesday. After all, Leah still hadn’t given Fatin her note for the week. So when Wednesday and Thursday had the same result as Tuesday, she really didn’t have the right to be sad.

 

It probably got annoying anyway. Thinking of something to say every single day and writing a note. Leah understood. She totally understood.

 

Leah’s only saving grace was that Fatin still talked to her in class. Fatin still joked around, still smiled at Leah, she still made overtly flirtatious comments and giggled when Leah ultimately flushed like a loser. They had even taken to observing the “Shoni” situation together, both wondering if the party had changed their dynamic at all.

 

They had decided it hadn’t really.

 

Leah didn’t mention it to Fatin, but she did notice the way Shelby’s hand would land on Toni’s forearm before shooting away. The blush that would travel up her neck during certain interactions. The way she was constantly peeking at what Toni was writing.

 

Fatin was acting like everything was normal between them, so Leah had to assume everything was normal.

 

She wasn’t sure why she had thought the party would have changed anything. Maybe she thought hanging out outside of school was a good benchmark for friendship. Maybe she thought giving Fatin her number was a more clear offer for friendship than anything she could’ve done at the time. Maybe Fatin’s shy looks and softness led Leah to believe Fatin wanted a friendship as much as she did.

 

Maybe this was friendship. Just because she and Ian texted every day didn’t mean Fatin owed her a text.

 

Nora had only texted her once that week and it was just about a book they had both read.

 

Although one text would’ve been nice.

 

“Sometimes I just don’t know who I am outside of relationships.”

 

Leah tuned back in, feeling incredibly rude for zoning out in the first place. She picked at her salad a bit, nodding along to make sure Raf knew she was listening. Well, at least that she was then listening.

 

“It’s like everything in my life becomes about the relationship, and I used to think that was a good thing, but now I’m wondering…” He sighed.

 

Some girl had broken up with Raf, hence why he was sitting with Leah at lunch that Friday. Apparently the party had meant Raf considered her a friend to some degree. So, at least there was that going for Leah.

 

“Yeah, I don’t know,” Leah shrugged. “I’ve never been in a relationship, so I couldn’t really tell you.”

 

“Same,” Ian added.

 

“It’s good to want to spend time with your partner,” Nora said. “Although, I think you might need to look into codependency.”

 

“Yeah, no, that’s…valid,” Raf cringed slightly.

 

“I wouldn’t like someone up my ass all the time either.”

 

Rachel…” Nora groaned.

 

“What? I’m being serious,” Rachel defended. “That’s like totally suffocating.”

 

“Ugh, you’re right,” Raf moaned, thumping his forehead against the lunch table. “That’s so embarrassing.”

 

“Happens to the best of us, man,” Ian comforted, patting him on the back.

 

“Not me, but ya’ll stay safe out there.”

 

Rachel.”

 

“Sorry.”

 

“Enough about me though,” Raf sighed, lifting his head. “Anyone else want to talk about their relationship woes?” He glanced at Leah, and Leah had half a mind to throw her last grape tomato at him.

 

“Nora’s the only one in a relationship, and they’re, like, sickeningly cute,” Rachel said.

 

“Anyone with any crushes, or?”

 

“What if we talked about something else?” Leah suggested hurriedly. “Like, literally anything else?”

 

“Smooth.”

 

“Very subtle.”

 

“Is this about Fatin?”

 

“Nora!” Leah admonished, glaring at the other girl. “No, it’s not about anyone.”

 

“You can’t tell me you aren’t dying to talk about it,” Ian laughed. “The last time you had a crush, you waxed poetic about him for, like, three weeks. You saw him once, didn’t even catch his name.”

 

“Yikes, Rilke,” Rachel joined in.

 

“I didn’t wax poetic.”

 

“You literally wrote poetry about him, but sure.”

 

“You… As my best friend, it is your job to not embarrass me.”

 

“I’m pretty sure as your best friend that is exactly my job.”

 

“Fuck you, you’re being replaced,” Leah glared. “Nora, you’re in.”

 

“Does this mean I have to embarrass you? Because the other day when Fatin touched your hand-”

 

“Oh my god, no. I just said-” Leah sighed, cradling her chin in her hand. “I…don’t even know what I would say about her.”

 

“Have you written her this week’s note yet?” Nora asked.

 

“I thought about it.”

 

“It’s Friday,” Raf pointed out.

 

“The class is next period,” Rachel added.

 

“Wait, what are we talking about?” Ian asked, looking around the table. “Somebody fill me in.”

 

“Our creative writing class has an assignment where we have to write words of encouragement or a compliment to our table partner at least once a week,” Nora explained.

 

“Leah’s partner is Fatin,” Raf said.

 

Ian valiantly fought a smile for all of two seconds before bursting into laughter. “Oh my god, Leah,” He gasped out. “That is just your luck.”

 

“It is, isn't it?” Leah sighed, not even bothering to defend herself. “How do you compliment someone well who probably receives a billion compliments a day?”

 

“And who you have a big fat crush on.”

 

“Raf, I swear,” Leah warned.

 

“Oh my god, it’s trite at this point,” Rachel groaned. “We all know. You have a crush. Everybody knows except probably Fatin, the second most oblivious person I know.”

 

“I-” Leah frowned. “Okay, yeah, subtlety has never been my thing.”

 

“You could write poems about a boy you saw once at a coffee shop,” Ian started. “But you can’t compliment someone who’s actually your friend?”

 

“Maybe that’s why it’s so hard,” Leah admitted.

 

“Just be honest,” Rachel shrugged.

 

“That’s what she said.”

 

“How is that a sex joke?”

 

“No, I mean,” Leah laughed. “That’s what Fatin said. That she wants honest notes. But, I don’t know if I can be.”

 

“Then be half honest,” Ian shrugged. “Just, give her a genuine compliment, but don’t dig too deep for now. What do you like about her?”

 

“Oh,” Leah paused. “I’m not sure.”

 

“C’mon, dude,” Rachel said. “You’re a writer.”

 

“I don’t know. She’s pretty?” Leah threw out, watching the others wait for her to continue. “Like, stupidly pretty. The kind of pretty that makes you ache just a bit. That stops you in your tracks and you have to, like, catch your breath and shit like you’re in some stupid ass rom-com.”

 

“Right,” Ian encouraged.

 

“She’s funny,” Leah added. “Like genuinely makes you laugh out loud, kind of funny. Oh, and surprisingly dorky? In a very endearing way. She also really cares about her friends. You can tell. Just the way she talks about Dot and looks at her. She’s weirdly nice too. I don’t think I’ve heard her say a genuinely mean comment about anyone - at least not when she’s obviously teasing someone. I like when she teases people, I think. She gets a very specific look on her face, and she looks very satisfied when she succeeds in riling someone up.”

 

“She’s quick-witted. Good with banter,” Leah continued, looking up in thought. “She also acts like she isn’t a good writer, but she’s actually pretty good. She’s bold. She’s confident. It’s like she knows she’s hot, and instead of that being infuriating, I’m like, ‘Yeah, you are, and you should definitely be aware of that.”

 

“I like it when she blushes,” Leah tacked on. “Like, I like her confidence, but I also really enjoy when she gets a little shy, the tables turn, and she’s the one blushing instead of me. Makes her feel more real.”

 

“Jesus, dude,” Rachel let out. “You like her.”

 

“Was that not what you guys were accusing me of this whole time, or?”

 

“No, I just mean,” Rachel shook her head in disbelief. She looked away for a moment, a thought seemingly occurring to her. It was what Leah had deemed her 'idea face', the slight smile and raised brows - but she continued before Leah could ask what. “I didn’t expect that.”

 

“Well,” Leah shrugged. “She’s pretty easy to compliment.”

 

“And yet,” Ian laughed.

 

“Right,” Leah sighed. She reached into her bag, pulling out a notebook. “I should probably just…Yeah, I can find a casual compliment.”

 

“Or you could just say one of the things you already said,'' Rachel said, fixing Leah with an indiscernible look. “I think she’d appreciate it.”

 

“Yeah, I mean, who doesn’t love a genuine compliment?” Raf added, glancing over at Rachel, tilting his head.

 

“Especially from a hot girl,” Ian joked.

 

“She did say honesty,” Nora continued.

 

Leah watched the four of them glance at each other.

 

She took out her pen instead of questioning. She glanced at her phone, checking the time. Five minutes until the bell. She took a deep breath before deciding that maybe that was it. Honesty. She could do that. Fatin had liked her other note, right?

 

Fatin,

 

Sorry for the lack of notes. I guess I figured you get compliments so often, mine wouldn’t really matter either way. Not to mention, I’m not the best at providing compliments. Especially to strangers - though, I will admit, I feel like I know you better now. So, here goes nothing:

 

I like talking to you. I like your jokes, and I like your teasing comments even when I pretend they’re annoying. Sometimes I think you’re too cool to be my friend, or acquaintance, or whatever, but you never look at me like that. You look at me like you actually like talking to me, and that’s something that means a lot. Because I like talking to you, you know?

 

You are hilarious. You are confident in a way I could only dream of being. And, as I’m sure you’ve heard many times, you are an ethereal musician.

 

I hope this at least semi-makes up for my previous attempt and lack of attempts following.

 

-Leah.

 

The bell rang, just as Leah was questioning how to sign the note. She looked up, realizing her friends had allowed her to focus on her note, branching off into their own conversation, but they had all started cleaning up their mess.

 

“Shit,” Leah quickly moved to clean up her lunch, a spot of salad dressing falling onto her note. “Damnit.”

 

She quickly packed up her things, grateful to see Raf, Rachel, and Nora were waiting patiently for her. Ian gave a small wave before rushing off to his class.

 

“Sorry!” Leah called out, grabbing her notebook and rushing over to the group.

 

“It’s fine. We’ll probably still beat Galanis.”

 

 

They did beat Galanis.

 

“Okay, guys,” He said as he entered, clapping his hands together. “It’s a Friday, so I’m going to take it easy on you guys.”

 

“This is already the easiest class to exist,” Fatin mumbled, causing Leah to smile slightly.

 

“Today, I want you to free write. Work on some ideas. Please, please, stay on task,” Was all he said before slouching down at his desk. He pulled out his laptop, opening it up before staring at it critically.

 

“Is he… using class time to write?” Leah questioned, furrowing her brow.

 

“Who cares,” Fatin yawned, stretching her arms above her head. “Good for us. Did anyone take this class to actually learn about writing?”

 

“I did,” Leah frowned.

 

“Oh,” Fatin paused, looking a little embarrassed. “Well…We could force him to teach then?”

 

Leah laughed. “I’ll be alright,” She assured.

 

“You sure?” Fatin twirled her pen, smiling at Leah. “I could totally give that guy a piece of my mind. Go to the principal?”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Yeah,” Fatin continued, smiling wider. “Or I could just tell my mom. She’d be over here in a heartbeat, berating the school for not giving us a ‘proper education’ and ‘preparing us for the future’.”

 

“Public school,” Leah lamented.

 

“Yeah, actually, now that you mention it, I couldn’t sic my mom on them for you, I’m sorry,” Fatin sighed dramatically. “That would just prove her right, and it was such a bitch to convince her not to make me go private.”

 

“Why would you not want to go private?” Leah asked curiously.

 

“I mean, no shade to private in general, but…” Fatin hummed. “I guess high school felt like my last chance to be a kid. Before college and cello became my life completely. She wanted to send me to this fancy private music school, and while that would’ve been great for getting into Julliard, it would’ve been my entire existence, you know? So, I just assured her I’d work just as hard here, but now I don’t have to be around a bunch of pretentious fucks while I do it.”

 

Fatin was doodling absentmindedly in her notebook while she spoke, and Leah watched the swirling doodles thoughtfully.

 

“You’re mom was nice for letting that go.”

 

Fatin scoffed. “I had to fight tooth and nail for it. Freshman year was an argument practically every day about it. Me just having to prove that this school was still going to get me into Juilliard. She didn’t really let it go until Sophomore year when my dad-” Fatin paused. Her pen dug in slightly harder on her paper. “Anyway, I’m pretty much golden for Juilliard, so she can’t really bitch about it anymore. Though she certainly tries.”

 

Leah watched Fatin closely, the way her brow furrowed when mentioning her dad. She played it as annoyance, keeping her tone light, but Leah noticed the hint of something a little deeper in Fatin’s eyes.

 

“I have a note for you,” Leah said softly.

 

Fatin looked up in surprise. “Really?”

 

“Yeah, I mean,” Leah flipped through her notebook. “It’s Friday, so, I kind of had to.”

 

“Right,” Fatin said, looking toward her notebook. “Gotta keep up with the assignment.”

 

Leah frowned. She didn’t mean it like that. “No, I wanted to. Compliment you. I just…struggle.”

 

Fatin smiled slightly at that. “I’ve noticed.”

 

“Yeah,” Leah chuckled. “So, you’ll have to forgive me if it isn’t the best.”

 

“Can’t be worse than the Tumblr quote.”

 

“It was Instagram - Are you ever going to let me live that down?” Leah laughed, shaking her head. “I made up for it later, right?”

 

“Eh,” Fatin joked, waving her hand a bit. “Maybe.”

 

“Right, well,” Leah said, carefully tearing her note from her book. “I hope this one at least sort of meets expectations.”

 

“We’ll see,” Fatin smirked, holding out her hand.

 

“You’re such an ass,” Leah huffed, folding the note over once before placing it into Fatin’s hand.

 

“Mmm,” Fatin hummed, moving to unfold the note.

 

“Wait,” Leah’s hand shot out, covering Fatin’s anxiously. “Maybe, just open it later?”

 

“What?” Fatin didn’t move her hand out from under Leah’s. “Something embarrassing in here?” She teased.

 

“Like you don’t leave every time you give me a note,” Leah shot back.

 

Fatin raised a brow in surprise, looking genuinely shocked Leah had noticed. She ducked her head before nodding slowly. “Touche.”

 

“Just after class?” Leah asked, moving her hand off Fatin’s.

 

“Yeah,” Fatin conceded. Looking disappointed. She placed the note on top of her notebook, eyes never straying from it.

 

“Don’t get too excited.”

 

“I’m always excited around you.”

 

Dude.”

 

“Sorry.”

 

—-------

 

Unknown 6:09 PM: great improvement, I gotta say

 

Leah frowned down at her phone, squinting slightly at the text. Ian was chewing loudly on some popcorn next to her, and as she was about to show him the text in confusion, it clicked.

 

Leah 6:11 PM: Is this who I think it is?

 

Unknown 6:12 PM: damn bitch, how many people are you giving your number out to?

 

it’s me. your FRIEND Fatin.

if you ever call me an acquaintance again, I’ll have to terminate the friendship. which would be a shame considering how much I like talking to you.

 

Leah 6:13 PM: I take it you read the note?

 

Unknown 6:13 PM: the second I left class, boo. bravo, once again. your best so far.

 

Leah smiled widely at the message. She almost regretted making Fatin wait to read the note, wondering what Fatin had looked like as she read it. She was just happy Fatin had liked it.

 

“Who’re you texting?” Ian asked, leaning over to look at her screen.

 

Leah quickly tilted it away. “No one.”

 

“Fatin?”

 

“Jesus,” Leah groaned. She rubbed her face, closing her eyes before peeking over at Ian. “I really am just the most unsubtle person alive, aren’t I?”

 

“Pretty damn close,” Ian munched annoyingly, grinning. “I’ll place you at second though.”

 

“What?”

 

“What’s she saying?” Ian tried peeking again, causing Leah to shove him back slightly.

 

“She’s just thanking me for my note,” Leah explained.

 

“Really? Cuz you’re hiding your phone like she just sent you a nude.”

 

“Fuck you,” Leah grumbled, trying to hide the blush that heated her face.

 

She didn’t need to think about nudes. Let alone Fatin’s nudes.

 

She felt a buzz in her hand as Ian laughed before turning back to the movie. She was grateful he didn’t badger her about being on her phone as she quickly checked the message.

 

Unknown 6:20 PM: so about our recreational activity…

 

Leah paused, staring at the screen in awe. Holy shit, was Fatin finally asking her to hang out?

Play it cool!

 

Leah 6:22 PM: Yeah?

 

Her thumbs fidgeted restlessly above the keyboard, waiting eagerly for Fatin’s reply.

 

Unknown 6:23 PM: how do you feel about ice cream tomorrow afternoon? i know a place that’s pretty good.

 

Leah squealed quietly, clutching her phone tightly to her chest as Ian looked over in alarm. She looked back at him startled, unsure of what had just come over her. She stared at him wide-eyed as he stared back.

 

“So did she actually send a nude-“

 

“Stop talking about her nudes!” Leah smacked him hard with her phone. “She invited me to hang out tomorrow!” She showed Ian the phone excitedly.

 

Ian read the text with a grin before his face scrunched up. “Recreational activity?”

 

“I- She’s referring to - It doesn’t matter,” Leah waved off, smiling down at her phone.

 

Oh God, what was happening to her? Why was she squealing and grinning like some middle schooler with a crush? She tried to compose herself, settling her nerves. She guessed fully accepting that she had a crush on Fatin with her friends had made it easier to give in to the excitement she felt around Fatin.

 

“Are you gonna answer her?”

 

“Yes!” Leah responded, adjusting the phone in her hands. “Yeah, obviously.”

 

She squinted slightly, fingers hovering. What was the nonchalant, totally cool way to reply that didn’t make her sound desperate?

 

Leah 6:30 PM: I’m down

 

Leah frowned.

 

Leah 6:30 PM: :)

 

Unknown 6:32 PM: sweet. i’ll pick you up around 1?

 

Leah 6:32 PM: sounds good:)

 

Was that too many smiley faces?

 

Unknown 6:33 PM: see you then ;)

 

Leah smiled, tucking her phone away. She ignored the way Ian was obviously peering at her from the corner of his eye, and she reached over to get some popcorn.

 

What movie had they been watching again?

 

——

 

It was 10 pm, later that night after Ian had gone home and Leah was laying in bed when she received a random Instagram notification. She clicked it quickly, wondering if maybe Fatin had chosen to follow her after all.

 

It was a DM. From…Shelby Goodkind?

 

Leah opened it curiously.

 

Shelby_Goodkind: Hey girl! Just checking in :) How’s your Friday night going?

 

Leah frowned in confusion.

 

Leah_Rilke: Good! How about you?

 

Shelby_Goodkind: It’s going alright, thank you for asking! :))

 

Leah bit at her thumbnail for a moment. Would it be totally rude to not answer? What was she supposed to say? She liked Shelby and all, but she was a little put off by the random DM. Maybe that was just how Shelby was.

 

Before Leah could decide, Shelby sent another message.

 

Shelby_Goodkind: Hey, I know this is super weird, and don’t feel obligated whatsoever! But, would you maybe have some spare time? I know it’s late, but with it being a Friday and all, thought maybe you’d be up.

 

Leah_Rilke: Spare time?

 

Shelby_Goodkind: To possibly meet up?

 

Why was Shelby Goodkind asking Leah to hang out randomly at 10 pm on a Friday?

 

Leah paused.

 

Leah_Rilke: Are you okay?

 

Shelby_Goodkind: Yes! Of course.

 

Shelby_Goodkind: Just could use a listening ear?

 

Shelby_Goodkind: No pressure of course!

 

Shelby_Goodkind: Sorry I shouldn't have asked. I didn’t mean to be a bother.

 

Leah glanced at the clock. 10:12 pm. She did have her thing with Fatin the next day, but that wasn’t until the afternoon. Plus, well, Shelby reached out to Leah so late and sent a spark of worry through her, admittedly. She stood, ready to change out of her pajamas.

 

Leah_Rilke: I can pick you up. What’s your address?

 

Leah quickly changed, punching the address Shelby had sent into her GPS. It hadn’t been Shelby’s home. It was a park only about five minutes away. Leah was thankful her parents were out of town for the weekend, so she didn’t have to explain where she was off to. She wasn’t quite sure what she’d say anyway.

 

She arrived in no time, hopping out of her car to look for Shelby. She heard a rhythmic creaking, something that would’ve sent her into a panic if she hadn’t recognized Shelby swinging languidly on the swing set.

 

Her shoulders were slumped forward, her head downcast as her feet gently rocked her back and forth.

 

Jesus this was weird.

 

Leah approached awkwardly, lifting a hand in greeting.

 

“Isn’t the park’s curfew ten?” She asked, waving at Shelby.

 

When Shelby looked up, it stopped Leah right in her tracks. Even in the poorly lit park, Leah could see the tremble of her lip, and the tear-stained cheeks, and she could hear the way Shelby’s voice shook as she replied.

 

“Oh, gosh. I didn’t realize.”

 

“It’s probably fine,” Leah assured, taking a tentative seat beside Shelby. She gripped the chains of the swing, gazing at Shelby softly. “Are you fine?”

 

Shelby plastered on a smile, a tight smile that wouldn’t convince a soul. It quickly broke as she let out a sob. Leah reached out a hand, grabbing the one Shelby had clutched the chain of her swing.

 

“Hey, hey,” Leah soothed. “Hey, are you okay? Sorry! Stupid question. What’s - What’s going on?”

 

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Shelby cried, wiping quickly at her eyes. “I didn’t know who else to talk to.”

 

“Shelby?” Leah stood, moving to crouch in front of the other girl. She placed her hands gently on her knees, looking up in what she hoped to be a comforting way. “Shelby? What’s going on?”

 

Shelby shook her head stiffly, looking around the park before fixing Leah with a firm stare.

 

“I know you know,” Shelby let out, sniffling slightly as she gained a bit of control over her tears. “I know. I see the way you look at me.”

 

Leah’s mouth dropped open. She stammered slightly. Was Shelby implying Leah liked her? Why was that sending her into a sobfest? “What? I- I don’t know what you’re talking about?” She peered at Shelby searchingly. “I’m sorry if I gave that impression, but I’m not-“

 

“No,” Shelby shook her head, chuckling softly. “I didn’t mean that. I meant…You know. That I’m…”

 

Leah froze. Oh. Oh! Was Shelby referencing…

 

“Gay,” Shelby finished, her voice so quiet Leah almost didn’t catch it. “A Lesbian, I mean.”

 

Leah tapped her fingers softly on Shelby’s knees for a moment. She wasn’t quite sure what to say. “I…Didn’t know that.”

 

Shelby raised an unimpressed brow. “Really?”

 

“I mean, I thought maybe you were into Toni,” Leah explained. “I didn’t know what you labeled or…”

 

Shelby shifted uncomfortably. “Yeah, I guess that was also what I was talking about,” Shelby admitted. “I can see you looking at me.”

 

Maybe Leah really was the most unsubtle person alive.

 

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to…pry,” Leah said. She scratched her head nervously. “I just…Mom says I’m observant.”

 

For whatever reason, that sent Shelby into a fit of laughter. Leah could only watch in confusion as it bordered hysterical.

 

“Sorry, sorry,” Shelby wheezed, a hand to her chest. “Observant,” She mumbled.

 

“Huh?”

 

“Just kind of ironic considering,” Shelby shrugged.

 

“I…Wait, wait, wait,” Leah shook her head, standing up to glare at Shelby. “You just came out to me, why are we talking about me?”

 

“Sorry,” Shelby said again, but Leah was just grateful that she was grinning now.

 

“Did you want to talk about it?” Leah asked, placing herself back in her swing.

 

Shelby kicked her legs out absentmindedly. “Guess I did drag you all the way out here for this,” She muttered. “I don’t know. I’ve known I was…like this for years. I had a friend in my seventh year, Becca. We were…close.”

 

“I don’t know if I know her.”

 

“Oh, this was back in Texas. Middle school days,” Shelby explained, looking up in thought. “I kissed her one time, while I was getting ready for a pageant.”

 

Shelby sighed, a faraway look in her eyes. She frowned. “She didn’t feel the same, but my daddy walked in.”

 

Leah gripped her chains tighter, taking in Shelby’s expression. “I gather he wasn’t…supportive?”

 

Shelby let out a humorless chuckle. “To say the least. Tried to send me to a conversion camp.” Leah sucked in a sharp breath, hoping Shelby didn’t hear.

 

“Shelby, I-“

 

“It didn’t happen,” Shelby gave Leah a shrug. There was so much pain in her eyes, but she smiled still. Leah searched for the right thing to say. “My aunt and uncle stepped in. Whisked me away to here for high school,” Shelby finished.

 

“That’s…I’m glad they stepped in,” Leah said softly. “I had no idea. Shelby, I’m so sorry.”

 

“Well, I don’t go around announcing it, do I?” Shelby shrugged. “No, nobody here really knows. Not that I have any friends to tell anyway. Hence…well…” Shelby gestured to her awkwardly.

 

Leah felt a ping of guilt. She had never really noticed Shelby’s lack of friends. She hadn’t known Shelby’s history whatsoever. And yes, as Shelby said, she wasn’t shouting it from the rooftops, but Leah still felt a sinking sensation in her gut.

 

“I didn’t come for pity though,” Shelby continued. “Or maybe I did, just a bit,” She joked.

 

Leah cracked a small smile.

 

“I guess this was more so about the whole…Toni thing,” Shelby let out choppily. “I don’t really have anyone else to talk to about it.”

 

“Right,” Leah said. She paused for a moment, searching for the right words. “So, you like her?”

 

Shelby let out a long sigh. “So damn much,” She looked up wistfully. “Which doesn’t make sense because she is a pill.”

 

Leah laughed at that. “She kinda is.”

 

Shelby laughed as well. “It’s quite frustrating at times,” She continued, kicking at the woodchips. “But, something about her…She’s just so confident and bold. She’s got fire and passion. She’s so talented.”

 

Leah didn’t let her mind wander to someone similar. Not really. “I get that.”

 

“I’m sure you do,” Shelby replied cheekily, having the audacity to wink at her.

 

“Oh my God,” Leah groaned, not bothering to deny it at that point.

 

“Fatin’s gorgeous, I don’t blame you,” Shelby shrugged, causing Leah to groan even louder, pressing her forehead to her chain.

 

“We’re talking about you,” Leah murmured. “You and Shalifoe.”

 

Shelby’s smile dropped slightly. “It’s just…I already had trouble accepting this part of myself,” She explained. “And now, I’m stupid enough to fall for someone who not only doesn’t like me back romantically but someone who I am positive doesn’t even like me as a person.”

 

Leah sucked in a breath at that. “I don’t know about that,” Leah offered, scrunching her face up in thought. “She was kinda nice at the party?”

 

“Yeah, sorta,” Shelby mumbled, looking down at her feet.

 

“Toni…I don’t really know her all that well,” Leah admitted. “But, I don’t know, maybe she just doesn’t know any other way to interact with you? She’s kind of…aggressive in general.”

 

“Specifically toward me,” Shelby complained. “She doesn’t like my whole ‘Christian Schtick’ and my whole ‘Homophobic Vibes’ and - Gosh, all I want to do is shake her and tell her I’m a big ole Lesbain.” Shelby threw her hands up in exasperation, nearly tipping out of her swing.

 

Leah’s hand shot out to steady her swing, laughing slightly even though the situation wasn’t all that funny.

 

“And telling her you’re a lesbian would totally be out of the picture?” Leah asked gently.

 

Shelby sighed, placing her hands in her lap. “How does one casually do that?”

 

Leah paused. “Good question.”

 

“I don’t know,” Shelby said. “But just talking about it helps out.”

 

Leah smiled slightly. “I’m happy to listen.”

 

“Really, Leah,” Shelby fixed her with a serious look. “I appreciate this. You had no obligation to do so.”

 

Leah shrugged. She had been a bit reluctant at first, but she found herself enjoying Shelby's company. She didn’t regret showing up one bit.

 

“I don’t mind,” Leah replied. “You’re nice to be around.”

 

Shelby lit up at that, a grin so bright it startled Leah slightly.

 

“You mean it?” Insecurity crept into her voice.

 

“I do,” Leah confirmed. “I’d like to think this makes us friends?”

 

Leah returned Shelby’s smile as best she could. It wasn’t as bright as Shelby’s, but Leah hoped the genuineness came through.

 

“I’d like that,” Shelby said.

 

They sat in silence for a moment before an idea popped into Leah’s head.

 

“Hey,” Leah broke the silence. “What if…what if we try to put something together tomorrow?”

 

“What?” Shelby tilted her head in confusion.

 

“Another group hangout?” Leah suggested. “Like the group from Kirin’s- Josh’s party?”

 

“Oh…” Shelby looked mildly intrigued by the idea. “Do you think they would?”

 

Leah paused at that. “I’m not sure,” She said honestly. “But, I’m hanging out with Fatin tomorrow, I bet she could wrangle everyone together? At the very least, maybe we could get Toni there.”

 

“Oh,” Shelby stilled. “Oh, that’s what you… You want to…?”

 

“Yeah!” Leah said enthusiastically. “We get you guys outside of a school setting again, and we see how she acts. Maybe we can find a way to casually drop the not being straight thing, and we can…We can try to give you less…Christian Vibes.”

 

“I’m still a Christian.”

 

“Well the homophobic vibes then,” Leah waved off. “And we can show her you’re like a cool Christian.”

 

“…a cool Christian…” Shelby trailed off.

 

“I’ll be your wing woman .”

 

Shelby looked at Leah nervously. “I don’t know…”

 

“C’mon,” Leah smiled. “We can at least make sure she doesn’t hate you. Once she gets to know you more, I’m sure she’ll see how cool you are.”

 

“I’m cool?”

 

“I think so,” Leah affirmed.

 

Shelby hesitated before throwing her head back, looking at the sky once more. “What the heck, why not?”

 

Leah jumped up excitedly. “This is going to be great. I just need…” Leah looked up in thought. “I can invite Rachel and Nora, get them to invite Toni and Marty - I’m like 85% sure Rachel and Toni are friends…I think-it’s hard to tell.”

 

“And Fatin can get whomever else,” Leah finished.

 

“Right…” Shelby seemed to be warming up to the idea. “So, are we skipping over the whole you hangin’ out with Fatin thing?”

 

Leah blushed. “It’s nothing. Just ice cream.”

 

“She’s lactose intolerant.”

 

“Yeah…”

 

Shelby laughed. “Okay, well,” She stood, dusting off the nonexistent dirt off her jeans. “Maybe I’ll see you tomorrow?”

 

“Yes,” Leah nodded.

 

“Maybe then you can tell me about your day with Fatin?” Shelby suggested. “Might be nice. Talking about girls with another girl who likes girls.” Shelby looked nervous.

 

“Yeah,” Leah grinned, reaching out to lightly punch Shelby’s shoulder. “Lesbian and Bi solidarity and shit.”

 

Shelby laughed. She looked a lot lighter then, and Leah hoped that was true. “I’m really glad I texted you,” Shelby said.

 

“I am too,” Leah agreed.

 

They walked to their cars, talking about what they might do tomorrow. How it might go. Leah found herself laughing easily with Shelby. She gave one more wave before climbing into her car.

 

She sighed.

 

It was good to have another friend.

Chapter Text

What does one wear to an ice cream not -date? 

 

Leah shifted through her closet, flipping through each of her jackets, sweaters, shirts. She stood in a pair of jeans, basic boyfriend jeans with tears at the knees. She didn’t want to be too fancy - Not that Leah really owned much “fancy” clothing. 

 

It wasn’t a date. It was just two friends getting some frozen treats together on a Saturday. She wouldn’t think so hard if it was Ian. 

 

But it wasn’t Ian. It was Fatin , and Leah had a crush on Fatin. Like, sat up thinking about Fatin at night, and in class, while eating... Like, read and re-read Fatin’s notes over and over again when she was in her room. Like, wrote about Fatin in her journal and played their interactions over in her head in quiet moments . She even stalked her Instagram, though she was too nervous to actually follow. Fatin’s Instagram was all unfairly perfect “candids”, expensive vacations, and heartstopping bikini pictures. 

 

And Leah didn’t want Fatin to know she’d seen them. She wasn’t sure why. And she definitely didn’t want to be the first to follow Fatin. Then Fatin would know Leah specifically looked her up just to follow her and - Maybe friends did things like that. But Leah was playing on a whole different field when she was hardcore crushing on said friend. 

 

She groaned. She went to her dresser, pulled out a tank top with a lace trim, and then pulled a cardigan out of her closet. Casual. It was something Leah would’ve worn to school, and she didn’t want Fatin to think she was trying too hard. 

 

She glanced at the clock. Okay, she had enough time to comb her hair, put on some light make-up, and pace around her room in a panic for ten minutes. Perfect. 

 

Unknown 12:45 PM: on my way, babe. hope you’re ready for the best ice cream of your life

 

Leah 12:46 PM: You’re really talking this up, you know that right? 

 

Unknown 12:47 PM: i know how to treat a lady. trust me, this ice cream is orgasmic

obvi not as good as an actual orgasm, but you get it

 

Leah 12:48 PM: Obvi. 

 

Leah moved to put on her shoes, just a pair of classic converse before grabbing her bag. She walked around her room a few times, glancing at her phone every now and again before pulling up Instagram. 

 

Leah_Rilke: I’m totally freaking out. 

 

Shelby_Goodkind : You’ve got this, girl! Fatin iwas the one to invite YOU out, don’t forget that! 

 

Shelby_Goodkind : But while we’re talking about freaking out…I’m kind of freaking out about tonight. 

 

Shelby_Goodkind : If it happens. No pressure about it. 

 

Leah_Rilke : I’ll make it happen :) 

 

Shelby_Goodkind: :)

 

Shelby_Goodkind: Seriously though, you’ve got this! Fatin clearly likes you enough to hang out outside of school. That’s got to count for something? Not to mention the barrage of compliments and flirtatious comments she sends your way, lol. 

 

Leah_Rilke : She flirts with everyone. 

 

Shelby_Goodkind: Girl. 

 

Unknown 12:59 PM: get your fine ass out here, rilke

 

Leah almost forgot to reply to Shelby. She simply sent a “ ?”   before practically sprinting out the door. She exited to find Fatin’s, frankly, fancy-ass sports car parked in her driveway. Right next to her 1999 Camry, which was a funny sight, but she didn’t ponder it too long. 

 

Fatin took her shades off of her face, smiling brightly at Leah. “Well, if it isn’t my friend- not acquaintance - Leah.”

 

Leah rolled her eyes, stopping in front of Fatin. “You’re not funny.”

 

Fatin shrugged. “I think I am.”

 

Leah paused, eyes darting toward Fatin’s outfit. She guessed she had made the right choice because Fatin was dressed pretty much the same as she would at school. A cropped tee with a leopard print jacket over the top, simple jeans, and a pair of black boots. 

 

“Are you getting in the car?” Fatin asked lightly, a teasing smile on her lips. “Or are we just going to stare at each other in the driveway all day? I’m sure your parents would find that amusing.”

 

“They're out of town,” Leah replied absentmindedly, eyes lingering on Fatin’s stomach before turning to move to the passenger side. 

 

She slipped in just in time for Fatin to slam her door shut, fixing Leah with a wide grin. “For how long?”

 

“Until tomorrow night,” Leah supplied. She watched Fatin’s face light up, a mischievous grin making itself seem. 

 

“You’ve got the house to yourself?”

 

“Uh, yeah,” Leah nodded. 

 

“Girl,” Fatin slapped Leah’s shoulder before moving to start the car. “Tell me you’re taking advantage of that.”

 

“Oh, I didn’t-“ Leah stopped. Wait, that was perfect . “Actually, I was talking to Shelby and-“

 

“You’re friends with Goodkind?” Fatin interrupted, throwing a curious glance toward Leah as she drove. 

 

“Yeah, a recent development,” Leah said, waving it off. She didn’t want Fatin to ask too many questions about that, Shelby deserved secrecy. She tapped her fingers against her knees nervously. “We were talking about maybe getting a group together - maybe some girls from our creative writing class? I just realized since my house is free, we could totally hang out there.”

 

“We?” Fatin asked, sounding unsure. One of her hands left the steering wheel, tapping on the gear shift. “Like me included?”

 

“Of course,” Leah said, peering at Fatin curiously, but Fatin had put her shades back on, covering up her eyes. Leah felt a rise of nervousness in her stomach. “You don’t have to though! I mean, we’re already getting ice cream, I don’t want to take up your whole Saturday.” 

 

“No, I want to,” Fatin cleared up, taking a quick glance at Leah. “That sounds fun. I can text Dot, maybe Shalifoe.”

 

“Definitely Shalifoe,” Leah said eagerly, earning a raised brow from Fatin. “I mean, that would be, you should invite Toni and Martha. They’re cool. I think it’d be cool to have Toni there. And Martha. And whoever else.” Leah tried not to wince at how obvious she had been. 

 

“Right,” Fatin said, tapping her fingers against the wheel. “I can make sure Shalifoe is there.”

 

“Perfect.”

 

Perfect ,” Fatin let out, a strange tone taking over her voice. 

 

Leah quickly decided to change the subject, not wanting Fatin to catch on to the plan. 

 

“So, ice cream,” Leah said. “Love it.”

 

Fatin cracked a smile. “It’s pretty great, yeah.” 

 

“Love when it’s like creamy -“

 

“That’s a low ball, Rilke,” Fatin quipped. 

 

Leah paused. “No, not,” She groaned, earning a laugh from the other girl. “You’re so…”

 

“So?” Fatin raised a brow, parking the car. “Go ahead, be brave.”

 

Leah glared lightheartedly at Fatin. She unbuckled her seatbelt, climbing out of the car without answering. Fatin quickly exited after her, circling the car quickly. 

 

“Damn, girl,” She exhaled, grabbing onto the door Leah had opened. “Didn’t even let me open the door for you like a good date.”

 

“I-” Leah froze. Her eyes shot to Fatin’s, but her shades still sat on her face. Fatin had a slight smirk on her face, and Leah carefully reached up. She slowly took Fatin’s shades off, reveling in the way Fatin allowed her to do so. Fatin’s eyes were fixed on her face, dancing across her features searchingly. It made Leah all too aware of how close they were standing. She carefully folded the sunglasses, dropping down to look at them. “You’re not going to wear these in the shop, right? You’d look a little douche-y. Wearing sunglasses indoors.”

 

“You didn’t really give me a choice on that one,” Fatin said softly. She was watching Leah fiddle with the shades in her hands. She cleared her throat, looking back up at Leah with an easy smile. “But no, I was going to take them off. I was just in a rush to get out. Just toss them on my seat?”

 

Leah nodded, leaning into the car, but she placed them in Fatin’s cup holder instead. The idea of Fatin sitting on her clearly ridiculously expensive sunglasses made her anxious. When she leaned back out of the car, Fatin had backed up, but her hand was still on the door. She was watching Leah closely, making the other girl shift slightly. 

 

“I can, like, get back into the car?” Leah suggested teasingly. “Let you open it this time?”

 

Fatin laughed at that, gesturing for Leah to move out of the way so she could close the door. “Nah, I’ll just get it next time,” She said. 

 

Next time ’ bounced around Leah’s head, a giddy feeling taking over her chest. 

 

Fatin led Leah into the shop they had parked in front of. It was surprising, in a way. Leah wasn’t sure what she expected - maybe some high end, bougie place where you paid seven dollars a scoop - Fatin had talked it up quite a bit. But it was just a small, mom and pop type shop. There were only two other people in the store, Leah noted as Fatin opened the door for her to enter.

 

“Fatin!” An older man greeted them, lighting up as Fatin followed in after Leah. He wore an apron over a black tee, a kempt beard on his face. “Where are the boys?”

 

Fatin returned his smile easily, stepping up to the counter he stood behind. “Kemar and Ahmed are at soccer practice,” She explained. 

 

“Oh, no good,” The man lamented, shaking his head. “I was going to give them a free banana split.”

 

“No you weren’t,” Fatin laughed. Fatin looked over her shoulder, mouthing ‘brothers’ . Leah nodded, tucking the information away in the ‘ Things About Fatin ’ part of her brain. 

 

“No,” The man shrugged, grinning even wider. “But I might’ve been able to part with a free scoop or two for my favorite customers.”

 

“Are they even customers if I’m buying the ice cream?” Fatin asked, leaning against the counter then. 

 

The man laughed loudly at that, shaking an ice cream scoop at Fatin teasingly. 

 

“Who is this?” The man asked, gesturing to Leah finally. 

 

Leah waved awkwardly, waiting for Fatin to introduce her.

 

Fatin threw an arm around Leah’s shoulders at that, causing Leah to tense for a moment before, hopefully, relaxing into a casual stance. 

 

“This is Leah!” Fatin explained, jostling Leah just a bit. “Leah this is Will. He owns this fine shop.”

 

Will held out his hand easily. “Ah, a pleasure to meet you!”

 

“Same here,” Leah agreed, accepting his hand. “Your shop is really cute.”

 

And it was. A smaller store, but with couches, stools, and varying tables around. There was no real color scheme to it, but in certain corners it looked like someone’s living room. There were art pieces hanging from the walls, next to a wooden sign that read “ Scoops ”, the name of the restaurant, Leah assumed. She hadn’t looked when they had entered. 

 

“Ah, not as cute as you,” He replied. Leah scrunched up her face at that, but before she could decide if she was uncomfortable or not, the man continued. “You really know how to pick them, Fatin!”

 

“Oh, I’m not-”

 

“We’re just friends, Willy,” Fatin interrupted, her arm slipping off of Leah’s shoulders. She wandered over to the glass that the ice cream flavors sat behind. 

 

“Oh, that’s a shame,” He said, following Fatin over.

 

No kidding, Leah thought to herself. 

 

Leah awkwardly came over, glancing through the glass. 

 

“Please, for the love of God, tell me you aren’t a mint chocolate chip bitch,” Fatin joked, throwing Leah one of her stupidly pretty smiles. 

 

“Uh…”

 

“No,” Fatin gasped. She put a hand to her chest, dramatics on full blast as usual. “ Leah Rilke , tell me you’re joking!”

 

“It’s good!” Leah defended, shoving Fatin’s shoulder half-assed. 

 

Fatin was quick to grab the hand. “You have no taste. Do you eat toothpaste too?”

 

“Oh my God,” Leah groaned, half-heartedly trying to tug her hand from Fatin’s grip. Fatin just held tighter, clutching it to her chest. “It’s nothing like toothpaste. People who say that need to brush their teeth more.”

 

“Rilke!” Fatin gasped even louder, pulling Leah toward her. “Rude as hell,” Fatin accused. 

 

“You attacked me first!” Leah laughed, pressing her other hand to Fatin’s shoulder. She could feel Fatin’s collarbones with the tips of her fingers where Fatin had her hand pressed to her chest. She tried not to dwell on the comfortable warmth of Fatin’s skin, or the sharp feel of the bone. 

 

“I told you, Fatin,” Will interjected. “Can you believe she’s been lobbying for me to get rid of the flavor for almost a year now?” He shook his head, amusement dancing in her eyes. “It’s a very popular flavor.”

 

“People around here have no taste,” Fatin grumbled, finally releasing Leah’s hand. “Will, my man, can I please have two scoops of your Mocha Truffle?”

 

“Mocha Truffle?” Leah said, aghast. “And you have the audacity to shit on mint chocolate chip!?” 

 

“It’s superior.”

 

“It’s atrocious.”

 

“I’m gonna have to start rethinking this friendship,” Fatin sighed in mock seriousness. She fought valiantly to fix Leah with a serious stare, but Leah could see the amusement cracking through. The slight squint to Fatin’s eyes, the subtle way the corner of her mouth quirked up. 

 

“Damn, and it just started,” Leah joked back, turning toward the glass. “Well, it was fun while it lasted,” She sighed loudly, shaking her head in fake remorse. 

 

“Truly was,” Fatin said, watching Will scoop her ice cream with a smile. “I will miss you everyday, Rilke Leah.” Fatin placed a hand on her chest once more, looking as though she was mourning. 

 

“I will not miss being called that,” Leah replied, rolling her eyes before looking up at Will. “Can I please get two scoops of your Salted Caramel?”

 

Will and Leah both glanced at Fatin, waiting for an opinion on the order, but Fatin just shrugged with a small smirk. 

 

Leah watched Will scoop up both their cups, and as she reached into her bag for her wallet, Fatin was already wielding a card, headed to the register. 

 

“I have half a mind not to pay for this,” Fatin teased. 

 

“Then don’t?”

 

“Oh no, I’m gonna,” Fatin smiled, already swiping her card after Will had punched in their order. “You already didn’t let me open your door. I gotta redeem myself somehow.”

 

Leah didn’t know whether to scream or rejoice at the way Fatin kept jokingly acting like they were on a date. It made her want the real thing. But Fatin joking so openly about it made Leah worry. Like the idea was so ridiculous to Fatin that she was making jokes about it. 

 

Fatin pressed the highest tip you could leave, sending a smile and a nod toward Will before grabbing each of their cups. Leah followed as Fatin led them to a table in the corner. 

 

“Was mocking my ice cream preferences part of the redemption?” Leah quipped, taking her cup from Fatin. She smiled slightly, reminding Fatin that she was joking. 

 

“Teasing is, like, flirting 101,” Fatin shrugged. “Ask like any fuck boy.”

 

“Believe it or not,” Leah laughed, scooping out some of her ice cream. “Fuck boy’s aren’t even remotely my type. So their flirting tactics don’t really work for me.”

 

“Is this working for you?” Fatin replied casually, lifting her spoon to her mouth. She turned the spoon over, taking a slow bite before slowly pulling the spoon from her mouth with a smirk. She raised a brow in question as Leah watched intently. 

 

When Fatin’s tongue poked out to lick the remaining ice cream from her lips, Leah’s eyes practically shot down to her own spoon. 

 

“I-” She took a bite. “Oh my God ,” Leah groaned, closing her eyes. 

 

Holy shit . Fatin was not kidding about the ice cream. It was so good, Leah was already taking another bite before she could stop herself, letting out another groan. 

 

“Uh…” 

 

Leah looked up, seeing Fatin staring at her with wide eyes. Fatin’s spoon dangled between her fingers, her mouth dropped open slightly, with a small hint of red dusting her cheeks. Leah took a moment to admire the look, it set a familiar warmth in her stomach until she suddenly realized the sounds she had just made. Her face flushed, and she would’ve opened her mouth to say something, but she was already scooping another spoonful into her mouth. 

 

Sue her, it was damn good ice cream. 

 

“I mean, I guess I did say it was orgasmic,” Fatin said after a moment, laughing softly. 

 

“Shut up,” Leah grumbled, stopping for a moment. “You were right, this is literally the best ice cream I’ve ever had.”

 

Fatin grinned wider. “I love being right.”

 

“I can tell,” Leah laughed, taking in Fatin’s flushed cheeks and slightly dazed look. “You’re not going to be sick later, right?” She asked, suddenly remembering the fact that Fatin was lactose intolerant. 

 

“Oh,” Fatin snapped up, reaching into her own bag. “All your moaning almost made me forget-”

 

“Shut up,” Leah repeated, covering her face in embarrassment. 

 

“Ha!” Fatin held up a small bottle victoriously. “Lactaid, bitch. Best invention since the dildo.”

 

Leah sent an unimpressed look through her fingers. “We’re in public.”

 

“You’re the one making porno noises.”

 

Fatin sent Leah a teasing wink before letting her know she was getting some water. Leah was glad Fatin had turned her back as the heat in her cheeks intensified. She was fully prepared to switch the conversation topic as far away as possible when Fatin returned. She watched her for a moment before taking the time to take a deep breath. It was going well, right? Leah found herself unsure in new friendships a lot, but never so unsure as she seemed to be with Fatin at times. But, Fatin was laughing and joking around like normal, so Leah felt okay. And maybe she had embarrassed herself by making pornographic sounds in an ice cream shop, but Fatin had seen her embarrassed countless times at that point, so Leah was pretty sure she was in the clear. 

 

Fatin returned, placing a cup of water in front of Leah as she settled back into her seat with her own. Leah watched her down on of her pills before digging into her own ice cream. 

 

“God, I have great taste,” Fatin moaned, leaning back in her chair. 

 

Leah stared for a moment before going back to her own treat. She hoped Fatin didn’t notice all the staring. Maybe Fatin got stared at so much she was desensitized to it. Leah hoped that to be that case. 

 

“So,” Fatin started, pausing her eating. “This little get together you’re doing.”

 

“Yeah?” Leah asked. She was finishing her ice cream way too fast at that point, but she couldn’t care less.

 

“Doesn’t seem like your usual thing,” Fatin admitted, twirling her spoon between her fingers.

 

Leah watched for a moment. “Oh,” Leah replied. “Yeah, no, I guess…I mean, I did make a goal to make more friends this year.” She settled on a half-truth. 

 

“Huh,” Fatin pondered. “You’re doing a pretty good job of it.”

 

Leah thought back on the last two weeks. God, had it only been two weeks? She had grown significantly closer to Rachel and Nora, got Ian back, had Shelby, Raf, and Fatin…

 

“I guess so,” Leah replied. 

 

“You used to only hang out with that one kid, right?” Fatin continued. 

 

Leah wondered if Fatin really didn’t remember Ian’s name. 

 

“Yeah,” She said. “Ian.”

 

“Right,” Fatin nodded. “That’s all patched up?”

 

“Yeah, definitely,” Leah affirmed. She paused. “You noticed?”

 

“What?” Fatin frowned, taking another bite. “That you guys made up? I assumed as much at the party, with the tender moment I rudely interrupted.”

 

“It wasn’t a ‘tender’ moment-” Leah laughed, taking in Fatin’s playful smile. “And I’m glad you interrupted.”

 

“Oh?”

 

“Yeah,” Leah scratched at her neck nervously, feeling a swirl of anxiety creep up her stomach to her chest. “I liked hanging out with you.”

 

Fatin smiled a bit brighter. “I liked hanging out with you too,” She replied, tapping her spoon against her then empty cup. 

 

“Oh, but,” Leah continued, stacking her empty cup into Fatin’s. “That wasn’t what I meant.”

 

“You’ve lost me.” 

 

“I meant you noticed that I only hung out with Ian.”

 

Fatin paused for a moment before grabbing Leah’s spoon out of her hand gently. Her fingers brushed lightly against Leah’s, causing Leah to drop her hand to the table quickly. Fatin watched Leah for a moment, her eyes dancing across Leah’s face before shrugging. 

 

“It was, like, a thing,” Fatin said, standing up to toss their trash. 

 

Leah followed, sending a smile and wave to Will as they passed the register. 

 

“What do you mean?” Leah pressed. 

 

“I mean - Bye, Willy! See you next time,” Fatin pushed open the door, and Leah threw another smile and “Thank you’ over her shoulder before continuing to follow Fatin. “Everyone knew you guys were joined at the hip. Most of us thought you were dating.”

 

“Oh, yeah, I heard about that,” Leah watched Fatin turn to face her. “Nora told me Rachel thought we were dating.”

 

“Yeah,” Fatin confirmed. 

 

“I just didn’t know people cared enough to notice,” Leah admitted.

 

Fatin tilted her head, squinting at Leah. Leah wasn’t sure what she was digging for. Confirmation that Fatin had noticed her before? That Fatin had cared even slightly about her before their official -official meeting in their creative writing course? 

 

“You guys were never a thing?” Fatin settled on saying. 

 

Leah shook her head. “Not even sort of. I mean, he liked me…”

 

Fatin laughed. “Of course he did.”

 

“What?”

 

Fatin rolled her eyes, something Leah would’ve been offended at if the next thing out of Fatin’s mouth hadn’t been: “Why wouldn’t he like you?”

 

Leah frowned again. She shifted awkwardly on her feet. She felt like that was the longest conversation she had had with Fatin without Fatin making some teasing comment, maybe aside from their conversation about her mother and private schools. But Fatin’s comment had no sign of teasing or joking. There was no over the top flirtatiousness dripping in her voice. Just a straightforward thing, as if it was obvious. 

 

Leah cleared her throat, averting her eyes. “There’s a lot of reasons.”

 

And Leah wasn’t trying to fish for compliments, she was merely stating reality. She was difficult at times. She was an overthinker. She was an introvert. She was anxious, and a loner, and she fumbled over words at times. She wasn’t cool, or confident, or really all that interesting. 

 

“Leah Rilke,” Fatin started, walking toward Leah with purpose. Leah was going to ask her what she was doing, but then Fatin grabbed her hands and pulled her closer, looking her right in the eyes. A seriousness in them Leah hadn’t seen much of before, and it was startling. “Don’t tell me you don’t realize how much of a catch you are?”

 

“I, I don’t,” Leah stammered, unsure of how to reply. 

 

“You’re gorgeous,” Fatin said, causing Leah to heat up once more. She felt a swooping sensation in her stomach as Fatin’s eyes never strayed from hers. “You’re brilliant. You’re funny. And, you know how you told me in your first note that I was ‘magnetic’ ?”

 

“I, uh, yeah?” Leah said quietly, once it became apparent that Fatin expected an answer. 

 

“You’re about ten times more so,” Fatin asserted. Her hands released Leah’s, moving to her shoulders. She raised a brow slightly, that same intensity still present. “Did it occur to you how easily you made friends the second you became open to making them?”

 

Leah turned that over in her mind. She supposed Fatin had a point about that. Though, she wondered how much that really had to do with her or just circumstance. 

 

“You’re, like, one of the best people to be around,” Fatin’s hand slid slowly up her shoulder, cupping her neck. She opened her mouth then closed it. Then opened it once more. She shook her head, a quiet smile on her lips. “You are the type of girl people fall in love with.”

 

The words hit Leah fast, right in the chest, causing her breath to hitch softly. Fatin was just close enough that Leah had to assume she heard it. Leah felt like if she breathed too deeply her chest would brush Fatin’s with how close they stood. But the more she tried to control her breathing, the shakier it came out. Leah’s own hand slowly moved up, placing itself over Fatin’s. She took in the sincerity in Fatin’s voice, the seriousness in her eyes, and she relished in the skin to skin contact. The heat on her neck from Fatin’s palm and fingers. 

 

“You don’t really know me that well though.”

 

There were a hundred, no, a thousand better things for Leah to say at that moment. Leah could’ve kicked herself as Fatin slowly pulled away, her hand leaving Leah completely - Leah missed it immediately. Leah waited for the hurt reply, the offense in Fatin’s voice. She cursed silently, wishing she had said something else. Anything else. That her first instinct wasn’t to deflect. 

 

“Well,” Fatin started. Leah’s eyes met hers again, but Fatin didn’t seem too upset. In fact, she was smiling. “We’ll have to remedy that.”

 

Fatin had a sweet smile on her face, an open one, and Leah found herself returning it. A deep breath, a soft exhale escaped her lips. She chewed softly at her bottom lip, and Fatin stepped closer once again. 

 

“I’m going to try something right now,” Fatin lifted her hands slowly. “And I can’t promise that it’s going to go okay.”

 

Leah felt Fatin grasp her hand, and a gentle tug that wouldn’t have ever moved Leah if it hadn’t been Fatin doing the pulling placed Leah in a tight embrace. Fatin released her hand, and threw her arms around her shoulder, hugging Leah securly. 

 

Leah leaned in easily, heart thumping as she did so, but she quickly wrapped her own hands around Fatin’s waist, sinking into the feeling of Fatin’s arms around her. Fatin's warmth pressed to her. Feeling the rise and fall of Fatin’s chest against her own. 

 

They stood like that for a moment, it probably was a strangely long hug, or maybe it wasn’t at all because when Fatin released her, Leah wanted nothing more than to pull her back in. 

 

Fatin stayed in Leah’s space for a moment, and Leah spoke softly, trying to ignore the slight crack in her voice. 

 

“Only if I get to know you too,” She said. 

 

Fatin hummed, tilting her head slightly. “Perhaps,” She replied cheekily, leaving Leah’s space and heading toward the car. 

 

“Perhaps?” Leah parroted, following after with a frown. “What do you mean, ‘perhaps’ ?”

 

“Leah, darling,” Fatin opened the passenger side of her door with a grin. “Don’t we have a little soiree to put together?”

 

“No,” Leah marched toward the car. “I mean, yes, but hold on.”

 

“Dot can get booze,” Fatin gestured for Leah to enter the car, and Leah did so begrudgingly. Leah waited for Fatin to walk around the car and get into her own seat, opening her mouth to argue but Fatin kept talking. “I can text her to see what she’s up to, you text the Twins, Goodkind, and…I’ll text Shalifoe to get her and Martha to show.”

 

“I - Okay, that sounds good,” Leah said, accepting that Fatin had changed the subject. For now. 

 

“What time are we thinking?” Fatin asked, already typing away at her phone. 

 

“Uh, I don’t know…six?” Leah suggested. 

 

“Perf,” Fatin nodded, glancing up at her car’s clock. “That gives me…three and a half hours of alone time with you.” She grinned up at Leah. 

 

Leah stammered. “I, cool, that’s, do you not want to go home or anything? I don’t want you to get sick of me.”

 

“I don’t see that happening,” Fatin chuckled, turning on the car. 

 

Leah watched her start to back out of the parking space, Fatin’s arm coming up to the head of the passenger seat as she looked back. Leah’s eyes danced across Fatin, in an obvious way, she was sure. But Fatin didn’t call her out on it. Leah tapped her knees for a moment. 

 

“You really are just…” Leah mumbled, still staring. 

 

Fatin with her perfect skin, lazy confidence, and her disarming smile. Fatin with her loud laugh, pretty eyes, and obvious charm. Leah felt her chest tighten, her cheeks heating up for what felt like the millionth time, and she couldn’t fight the grin taking over her face as she looked at her. 

 

“Hmm?” Fatin hummed, glancing back at Leah. She smirked, a raised brow as she recognized the familiar phrase shared between the pair. “Gonna finish this time, Rilke?”

 

“Beautiful,” Leah breathed out. And maybe she didn’t mean to say that, but she couldn’t take it back at that point. Fatin had heard, if the way her hands tighten around the steering wheel was any indication. If the way she tensed slightly before gazing at Leah, her mouth dropping open slightly hadn’t made it obvious. 

 

Fatin blinked. Once. Twice. Then smiled, a genuine, shy thing. Leah melted at the sight. 

 

“Right back at you,” Fatin said softly. She blushed deeply, and Leah reveled in it momentarily. She refrained from letting Fatin know that the blush only made her more so lovely, deciding that would be too much. She wasn't so brave, but...

 

Maybe complimenting Fatin wasn’t so hard after all. 






Chapter Text

“I just don’t want to have those little shits in my teeth when I’m trying to have a nice drink, you know?”

 

Leah nodded along, barely containing her smile as Fatin rambled about orange juice of all things. They sat on Leah’s bed, Leah near the foot of the bed, her feet curled under her. Fatin rested her head on Leah’s pillows, laid back, making herself at home. She had an arm tucked behind her head, her other one gesturing lazily as she spoke. 

 

Leah’s laptop sat in the middle of the bed, Netflix still open from when they had been watching a show earlier. Leah had convinced Fatin to watch Ella Enchanted. Fatin had grumbled teasingly in the beginning, but she quickly became enthralled, stating how hot Anne Hathaway and “The curly haired dude” had been. 

 

Leah had offered to lend Fatin the book the movie had been based on, but Fatin had dismissed it, saying she had just watched the movie, so she already knew what happened. Plus, she wouldn’t get to stare at Anne Hathaway the whole time. Leah had tried to argue that the book was a bit different, but Fatin held fast. That had turned into a conversation about media in general, which then led to hot actors/actresses, leading to celebrity gossip (mostly Fatin’s doing), and so on, and so on. Somehow the twists of conversation had landed Leah listening to Fatin rant about pulp in orange juice - Leah had agreed with Fatin’s whole “Pulp-Free Orange Juice” stance, but ostensibly Fatin was quite passionate about the subject. 

 

“Like just the feeling of it alone- Hey!” Fatin shot a foot out, kicking Leah’s thigh softly. Leah glanced down, smiling again at the little ducks that adorned Fatin’s bright blue socks. “Are you even listening?”

 

Leah looked back at Fatin, raising a brow with a slight grin. “I am,” She confirmed, nodding her head. “I agreed with you.”

 

Fatin sat up just a bit, smiling right back at Leah. “It’s disgusting.”

 

“One-hundred percent.”

 

“People who enjoy it deserve jail time.”

 

“Oh, for sure.”

 

“Imprisonment for their crimes against orange juice.”

 

“Of course.”

 

“Drinks should have no solids in them.”

 

“What about boba?”

 

Fatin paused at that, tilting her head up in thought. Leah watched her turn it over in her mind, cheeks hurting as Fatin tapped on her chin, pretending to really ponder the question. Fatin sighed, shaking her head.

 

“Sometimes when I drink boba… I catch a stray pearl up my straw, and my entire life flashes before my eyes,” Fatin said, a very serious look on her face. 

 

A laugh bursted from Leah before she could stop it, and Fatin was already laughing along before Leah could be embarrassed at the way it escaped her. Leah’s hand fell to Fatin’s shin absentmindedly, gripping it as she laughed - Fatin laughing along only made her laugh harder, and she couldn’t figure out why she couldn’t stop. There was just something about hanging out with Fatin, talking about nonsense for hours that made her giddy, giggly, whatever you wanted to call it. 

 

“I’m-” Fatin laughed a bit more, sitting up, her hands resting on her knees as she slightly bent them, causing Leah to release her shin. “I’m serious! Boba is life-threatening!”

 

Leah leaned forward more, giggling all the while. She pressed her hands to her stomach as she leaned forward, shaking her head as Fatin quickly mirrored her. 

 

“It’s a hazard,” Fatin continued, trying to meet Leah’s eyes. 

 

“So dangerous,” Leah grinned, shaking her head. “I’ll make sure to never get you boba in the future. I couldn’t risk you choking to death on some tea.” 

 

Fatin just smiled. “Thank you for being so concerned with my safety.”

 

“Can’t have my friend dying on me,” Leah shrugged, leaning back. 

 

“Mmm,” Fatin hummed, leaning back as well. She made herself comfortable once more, and the sight of Fatin looking so at ease at Leah’s house, in her bedroom, on her bed…It made Leah’s heart flutter. She sighed in content, wanting to crawl up and lay beside Fatin fully. 

 

Their conversation - or lack of one (they were really just staring at each other at that point) - was interrupted by the buzzing of Fatin’s phone. Fatin reach back, pulling it from her pocket to check. 

 

“Oh shit,” Fatin chuckled, looking toward Leah. “It’s almost six.”

 

Leah pulled out her phone as Fatin answered her own. “Crap,” She mumbled. 

 

“Dorothy!” Fatin greeted. “How is my favorite little degenerate?”

 

Leah shook her head, looking down at her own phone to see a few texts. 

 

Nora 5:33PM: Rach and I are leaving soon. Are you sure there isn’t anything we need to bring?

 

Rachel 5:39PM: hello? are you alive?????

 

Rachel 5:43 PM: jk nor just told me fatin’s over. I’ll assume you’re busy. see you in fifteen, simp

 

Leah rolled her eyes before texting back. 

 

Leah 5:47PM: Sorry! Just text me when you guys get here, and I’ll let you in:)

 

Leah 5:47PM: I am NOT a SIMP, you clown.

 

Rachel 5:48PM: ur the clown >:(

 

Rachel 5:48PM: also we here. let us in

 

Rachel 5:48PM: let us innnnnnn

 

Leah pocketed her phone just in time to see Fatin hang up. She had caught a word here and there, “ Don’t worry about it ”, “ You bitch ”, etc. 

 

“The twins are here.” “Dot’s here.”

 

Leah laughed. “Okay, let’s go let them in before Rachel breaks my door down.”

 

The pair stood, and Leah moved to open up the door - She wasn’t sure why she closed it in the first place, Fatin had smirked, raising a teasing brow at Leah before saying “Your parents aren’t even here.” Leah had just blushed and shrugged before flopping down on her bed. 

 

Leah allowed Fatin to exit first, closing the door behind her as they headed downstairs. Leah could hear a rhythmic knocking on the door, someone pounding a beat into the wood, and as she swung the door open, Rachel’s fist narrowly missed her face. 

 

“Jesus!” Leah shrieked, leaning back. 

 

“I told her not to,” Nora apologized bashfully, nudging Rachel reproachfully. 

 

“We haven’t even been let in, and you’re already punching the host,” ” Dot deadpanned, a backpack slung over her shoulder, and she gripped it with one hand. Her hair was different this week, instead of a red streak, blue highlights spread throughout her brown hair. 

 

“Patience is a virtue,” Fatin quipped, looking over Leah’s shoulder at them. 

 

“My bad,” Rachel shrugged. “…So is the party on your porch, or?” 

 

“Oh,” Leah stepped back, bumping a bit into Fatin as she let them in. 

 

Rachel gave Leah a playful nudge on the shoulder as she entered. Nora followed after with Dot close behind, doing a poor job of concealing laughter behind her fist. 

 

Leah noticed all of them were carrying bags, Rachel and Nora grocery bags looking to be filled with drinks and chips, and Dot with the backpack. Leah could hear the bottles clang together in the bag as Fatin pulled Dot in for an aggressive hug. 

 

“You are the best bestie ever,” Fatin cheered, rocking back and forth with Dot in her arms. 

 

Leah smiled as Dot practically shoved Fatin off of her with a grumble, rolling her eyes. “Yeah, yeah, Jadmani. Keep it in your pants.” 

 

“You know I can’t with you around,” Fatin winked. 

 

“Oh my God, please,” Rachel groaned, but a smile danced across her lips. “You’re insane.”

 

“I’m a woman with needs,” Fatin shrugged before pointing toward the kitchen. “Kitchen’s that way.”

 

“Who’s the host here?” Dot asked, sending Fatin a scolding look. 

 

Leah shuffled awkwardly as four pairs of eyes turned to her. She pointed just where Fatin had. “Kitchen is that way,” She repeated before leading them out of the room, ignoring the snickering. 

 

“We brought some snacks, just in case,” Nora explained as they placed the bags on Leah’s kitchen island. “Figured with the alcohol people would get hungry.”

 

“And mixers, bitches,” Rachel announced, pulling out different sodas and juices. “I was thinking we could make screwdrivers. Dot, you got Vodka?”

 

“You know it,” Dot confirmed, starting to unpack her bag. 

 

Rachel held up her orange juice container with a smirk. 

 

Leah looked at Fatin, Fatin met her eyes with barely contained excitement. 

 

The pair shot over to Rachel without a word. 

 

Fatin was quick to snatch the orange juice from Rachel’s grasp, earning an offended scoff, “What the hell?”

 

Leah would apologize for that in a moment, but first she found herself leaning over Fatin’s shoulder to read the label as Fatin’s finger dragged across, searching for the words. 

 

“Move your hand,” Leah grumbled, reaching over Fatin’s shoulder to swat at it. “I can’t see.”

 

“Then put on the reading glasses you claim not to need,” Fatin laughed, elbowing Leah slightly as she turned over the container. 

 

“It should say it on the front, just-“ Leah turned it back over before tapping near the bottom of the label. “Right there!” 

 

“Oh, thank God !” Fatin cheered, acrylics tapping against the bottle. She whipped around, not giving Leah time to step back, she placed a hand on Leah’s shoulder. “She’s safe.”

 

“I was so worried,” Leah sighed jokingly. 

 

There was a little crinkle at the corner of Fatin’s eye as she grinned widely at Leah. “That would’ve been a shame.”

 

“A crying shame-”

 

“O-Kay,” Rachel reached between the two of them. She squinted her eyes in annoyance at Fatin as she grasped the container, ripping it Fatin’s grasp. Then she looked between the two with a suspicious glare. “I'm not going to even ask what you’re talking about, but I will say…No screwdrivers for either of you!”

 

“Wait, what?” “No! Don’t deny me my pulp-free goodness!”

 

“Did you guys start without us or something,” Dot quipped, finishing placing her bottles on the counter. She fixed Fatin with a faux-stern look. “Fatin, are you drunk?”

 

“Drunk on Leah’s company,” Fatin winked - and it was bad , so fucking bad, but Leah still blushed, pushing Fatin away with a glare as she laughed. Fatin released her shoulder, but quickly slung an arm around Leah’s shoulders after.

 

Dot and Rachel groaned loudly. “Ugh!” “That was so fucking corny.”

 

“Okay, okay,” Leah shook her head, but she didn’t remove Fatin’s arm. “There should be some room in the fridge to put to juice and soda in, and there’s some ice in the freezer-”

 

The bell sounded, and Leah perked up. “That might be Shelby,” She said before removing Fatin’s arm to grab the door. 

 

She was quick to open the door, hadn’t even noticed Fatin had followed after for a moment, looking at Leah curiously. 

 

“Hey-“ She stilled. 

 

“I’m serious!” Toni laughed, placing an arm against the doorframe. 

 

She found herself raising her brows in surprise as Toni, Martha, and Shelby all stood on her porch. All of them …laughing ?

 

A bright blush was across Shelby’s cheeks, she ducked her head before looking at Leah. She took in Leah’s surprised face before scratching her neck nervously. “Hi! Thanks for the invite Leah!” She glanced at the pair of best friends beside her with a grin. “Sorry, we happened to arrive at the same time, and Toni was telling this real funny story…” Shelby explained bashfully. 

 

“It’s not funny,” Toni denied, but there was a cheeky grin on her face. “A very serious situation involving some granola and a bird.” 

 

“Sounds intriguing,” Fatin spoke from over Leah’s shoulder. 

 

“Fuck you, Jadmani,” Toni rolled her eyes, moving to enter. 

 

Leah was quick to step back out of the way, knocking into Fatin whose hand landed on her waist to steady her. Fatin hooked her chin over Leah’s shoulder and chuckled. 

 

“You’d like that, now wouldn’t you?” Fatin said flirtatiously, her voice low and her mouth near Leah’s ear. 

 

It wasn’t even directed toward her, but Leah was getting flashbacks to last weekend. Fatin’s hand on her waist again, her breath by her ear…she turned quickly - stopping Toni mid sentence - placing her hands on Fatin’s shoulders and maneuvered her back just a bit. 

 

She looked over her shoulder, noting the three others still stood in her doorway, staring at her in confusion. 

 

“Everyone else is in the kitchen,” She blurted out. “Please, come on in.”

 

She really hoped as time went on she became a better host. 

 

The trio entered slowly, Toni cackling all the while as Martha swatted her shoulder. “Thank, Leah,” Martha smiled before frowning at Toni. She pushed her toward the kitchen Leah had nodded toward and shook her head. She whispered in her ear, and Leah momentarily wondered if Martha was reprimanding Toni for laughing at her. 

 

“Hey girl,” Shelby said, she almost went in for a hug before realizing Leah still had her hands on a very confused Fatin’s shoulders. “Thanks for hosting, and, well, yeah…” Shelby trailed off, glancing at Fatin. 

 

“Yeah,” Leah smiled, fingers curling into Fatin’s shoulders absentmindedly. “Of course…I have a good feeling about it.”

 

“Me too, I think,” Shelby smiled. She stared at Leah for a moment, practically beaming, and Leah was happy they were already off to a good start. Shelby’s eyes fell to where Leah’s hands rested before she chuckled. “Right, well, we’ll be in the kitchen.” 

 

“Oh, yeah,” Leah moved to follow Shelby, she should really be with her guests. 

 

But Fatin’s hands had come up to Leah’s wrists, keeping her in place. 

 

“Dude,” Fatin mumbled, leaning in as she lowered her voice. “ What is going on?” 

 

Leah flushed, shaking her head. “What?”

 

“There’s some real weird energy transpiring around here,” Fatin pressed. She raised a brow. “C’mon! Let me in on it.”

 

Leah sighed, looking toward the kitchen. “It’s nothing, Fatin,” She lied. It really wasn’t her place to out Shelby. Nor expose her feelings for Toni. 

 

Fatin frowned, following Leah’s gaze. “Right,” She murmured. Her fingers flexed lightly against Leah’s wrists. 

 

“Are you two going to join us or what?” Rachel shouted from the kitchen. 

 

“The guest are waiting,” Leah joked, turning toward Fatin once more. “We’re being bad hosts.”

 

Hosts ?” Fatin grinned, letting the tension out of her body with a sigh. “Leah, this is feeling very domestic.”

 

“I didn’t-“ Leah said. Fatin finally released her wrists and stepped back. “It kind of feels like we’re, like, co-hosts?”

 

“Co-hosts?” Fatin giggled. “Okay, yeah. I can do that. I host great parties.” 

 

“Yeah?” 

 

“You’d know if you came to one,” Fatin continued, leading Leah toward the kitchen. “You should definitely come to the next one.” 

 

“I could do that,” Leah agreed, earning a dazzling grin in return. 

 

“Okay, bitches,” Fatin announced, moving over to where Dot stood. She patted Dot on the shoulder once before turning toward the group, waiting for them to look at her. She threw her middle fingers up, smirking. 

 

“Let’s get this party motherfucking started!”

 

—-

 

Leah sat next on her sofa, sat between Nora and Fatin, watching with mild curiosity as Rachel and Toni stared each other down. Martha chomped excitedly on some Taki’s as Shelby looked worried. Both of their elbows rested on Leah’s coffee table, and Dot shook their clasped hands gentle. Leah briefly wondered if she should fear for her parent’s coffee table, but as she took another pull from her drink (a Screwdriver, despite Rachel’s previous declaration) she decided it would be fine. 

 

“Okay, ladies,” Dot announced after deciding they were good to go. “Let’s get this started.”

 

“You are so going down, Shalifoe,” Rachel gripped Toni’s hand tightly, raising a challenging brow. 

 

“In your dream, Reid,” Toni shot back, glaring back. 

 

“Okay, this is hot and all,” Fatin called from her spot, taking a sip from her drink (Also a Screwdriver). “But enough with the foreplay.”

 

“Don’t call it that,” Rachel groaned, glaring at Fatin. 

 

“Yeah, dude,” Toni agreed, face scrunching up in disgust. “Not everything has to be a reference to sex.”

 

“No, but,” Fatin shrugged. “Makes life more fun.”

 

“Okay,” Dot rolled her eyes. “Ladies, do I hear bets?” This caused most of the room to perk up. 

 

“I won’t take your money, but…” Dot scrunched her face up in thought. “Bet on your favorite hothead, loser get a punishment?”

 

“What kind of punishment ?” Fatin grinned. “And are you doing the punishing, Dorothy? Because if so-”

 

“Dude!” Toni groaned again. 

 

“Winners will think of something,” Dot decided, laughing at Fatin’s antics. 

 

“Now we’re talking!” Fatin exclaimed, sitting up. “I’ve got Shalifoe.”

 

“I’m going to have to go with my sister, you know, sisterly support and all,” Nora said. 

 

“I - I don’t know if that makes me feel worse or better,” Rachel frowned. 

 

“Toni!” Martha chimed in. 

 

“I’ll also go Toni,” Shelby announced a bit shyly. She shifted on her seat on the ground, and Leah sent her an encouraging grin. 

 

“I’m gonna have to go Reid,” Dot said before looking at Leah. 

 

Leah paused. “Oh, yeah,” She glanced at the pair still clasping hands. “I’m also going to have to go Reid.” 

 

“Alrighty then,” Dot said, shaking their hands once more. “Let’s do it.” 

 

Leah watched for a moment as the two started, and Leah never really cared for arm wrestling, but it was more entertaining when it was her friends. 

 

“So,” Fatin whispered, her eyes never leaving the struggling pair. Leah glanced over quickly before returning her eyes to the competition. “What kind of punishment are you thinking?”

 

Leah scoffed. “For you?”

 

“As hot as that sounds,” Fatin continued, chuckling softly. “I’m pretty confident in my bet.” 

 

Leah let herself listen to the group cheer as the pair continued pushing against each other. She saw Toni’s arm start to slip and smiled. 

 

“Well, your confidence is misplaced,” Leah lowered her voice. “Have you seen the guns on Rachel?”

 

“I mean, yeah-”

 

“She works out religiously,” Leah continued. “Toni’s great at basketball and everything, she’s got great coordination, but Rachel is…”

 

She didn’t finish her sentence, Rachel slamming Toni’s hand down victoriously, throwing her hands up in celebration. Toni groaned loudly, flopping onto the floor in defeat. 

 

“Let’s fucking go!” Rachel cheered. She stood up quickly, high-fiving Nora aggressively before moving to do the same to Leah. Leah ignored the sting in her palms as Rachel traveled over to Dot to do the same. She was picking up a bottle right after, holding it up. “This is for all my supporters - the rest of your bitches? Fuck ya selves.”

 

Leah watched as Rachel took a big pull from the bottle of vodka before breaking into a victory dance. She glanced over, watching as Martha and Shelby patted Toni on the back - Toni just rolled her eyes. Leah was glad the notoriously competitive girl had accepted her defeat relatively well. 

 

“Whatever,” Toni grumbled. “Rematch when I’m sober.”

 

“Sure,” Rachel shrugged, taking another drink. 

 

“Why are we drinking directly from the bottle,” Dot complained. “C’mon man.”

 

“Because I’m a winner,” Rachel sing-songed. She handed it over to Leah, gesturing for her to take a sip, and Leah did. Tentatively. Rachel was already ripping the bottle from Leah’s grasp to hand it to Dot before Leah could swallow the alcohol. 

 

“Jesus,” Fatin laughed, shaking her head. “Who knew Reid could let loose?”

 

“She really loves winning,” Nora shrugged. “Especially in 1v1’s because if she wins it’s, like, all her I guess.”

 

“I think we should not have any more competitions…” Leah mumbled as Rachel and Toni started flipping each other off. 

 

“I need to stop betting against you,” Fatin added absentmindedly. “That’s two losses. Or maybe I just need to stop betting on Shalifoe…”

 

“Fuck you, Fatin!” Toni grumbled. 

 

“I know you-”

 

“Fatin,” Dot chided, causing Fatin to smirk and shrug. 

 

“Sorry,” She laughed. 

 

“Let’s do beer pong,” Toni insisted. 

 

“Yeah, no,” Leah said, scratching her head. “I don’t have a table for that.”

 

“No more competitions, Toni,” Martha punched Toni lightly on the shoulder. “You will survive without them.” 

 

“Besides,” Dot moved to stand beside Rachel. “We still have to come up with a punishment for the losers.”

 

“Make it a good one, Daddy Dorothy,” Fatin wiggled her eyebrows, and Leah bursted out into laughter. Everyone joined in, even Dot as she flipped Fatin off and rolled her eyes. 

 

“Let’s make them run a mile.”

 

“Uh, hard pass,” Fatin denied, frowning at Rachel. “This isn’t P.E.” 

 

“What about a shot?” Shelby suggested. 

 

“You can’t pick your own punishment,” Rachel waved off. 

 

“Well there’s four and four,” Nora chimed in. “What if each of us got to make the other a drink that they had to finish?”

 

“Ooooh,” Dot smiled, rubbing her hands together. “I could come up with a nasty little concoction.” 

 

“Okay, but,” Leah raised her hand awkwardly. “Nothing that’ll make people puke on my parents’ carpet please.” 

 

“I really don’t want to get sick,” Martha frowned. 

 

“I’ll do Martha’s,” Nora suggested. “I’ll be nice,” She comforted. 

 

“I’ve got Fatin’s,” Dot grinned mischievously, and Leah was glad she was not on the receiving end of whatever that was. 

 

“I’ll do Shelby’s,” Leah decided, looking toward the other girl. Shelby tilted her head, and Leah shrugged. She hadn’t decided what she would be making Shelby, but she didn’t have it in her heart to be too mean. 

 

“Guess that leaves me with Shalifoe,” Rachel laughed. “Prepare to get fucked up.”

 

“Whatever,” Toni grumbled before looking at Leah. “I’m sorry if I pass out on your sofa.”

 

“I-” Leah paused. “I’ll just blame Rachel.”

 

“Fair enough,” Toni laughed. 

 

“But,” Leah started as people started to stand. They were moving toward the kitchen as that was where most of the mixers and bottles were. “If any of you need to, you can totally crash here,” She offered up. 

 

“This is my first drink,” Martha shrugged. “So as long as Nora’s nice enough, I should be able to get Toni home.”

 

“And I haven’t had anything either,” Nora reminded. 

 

“I walked,” Dot shrugged. 

 

“We will be giving you a ride home,” Toni frowned, watching Rachel in horror as the girl started pouring tequila into a cup. “No one’s walking home drunk at night.”

 

She paused. 

 

“You can totally catch a ride with us too, Goodkind,” She offered. Leah watched the way Toni barely looked up, trying to act as casual as possible. She wasn’t sure if she was imagining the slight blush. 

 

“That - that would be really nice,” Shelby replied, tapping her fingers against the counter bashfully. “I appreciate that, thank you.”

 

Toni shrugged. “Thank Marty, she’s driving.” She still looked up and gave Shelby a small smile. 

 

Leah grinned slightly before grabbing her own cup. Things seemed to be going alright on that front. She glanced over at Fatin who was watching Dot critically. 

 

“Fatin?” She asked, prompting the other girl to look toward her. 

 

“Oh,” Fatin froze. She looked around for a moment before settling back on Leah. “I’ll probably just catch an Uber or something. I’m a little out of the way.”

 

“We wouldn’t mind,” Nora said as Rachel grumbled. “Well, I wouldn’t.” 

 

“No sex jokes in the car,” Rachel pointed a finger at Fatin threatingly. “That’s the only condition.”

 

“Mmmm,” Fatin pretended to think for a moment before shaking her head. “Can I just sleep over instead? Stay in your bed?” She joked, looking back at Leah. 

 

Yes. Was Leah’s immediate reaction, but she attempted to school her features. She knew Fatin was simply joking about her inability to not make a sex joke, but Leah sort of wished Fatin actually wanted to sleep over. Or maybe she didn’t. Maybe that would be too much, and she could imagine how nervous that would make her. Fatin in her bed. Sleeping over. In close proximity. 

 

“Yeah, I mean,” Leah started, finally looking at the alcohol to decide what to make Shelby. “I kinda already said whoever, like, needed to could…sleep over.”

 

Fatin sighed dreamily, leaning against the counter. “You dazzle me, Rilke,” She leaned her chin onto her palm, batting her eyelashes. “You really know how to charm a lady.”

 

“Nah, girl,” Rachel chuckled, handing a cup over to Toni. “Work on your lines.”

 

“It wasn’t a line!” Leah groaned, finally pouring Shelby’s drink. It was just vodka with sprite, and she hoped no one called her out for being nice. “I was just saying-”

 

“That is not how you get a hot girl into your bed,” Toni interrupted, taking a chug of her drink. It was evidently nasty, but Toni tried valiantly to school her features. “You gotta add a little swagger to it.”

 

“Don’t say swagger,” Rachel frowned. 

 

“Are you calling me hot? Cuz-”

 

“I would go with something more like,” Dot leaned against the counter, eyeing up Leah. She cleared her throat before speaking in a lowered voice. “Hey pretty lady-”

 

“Boo!” 

 

“Ew!”

 

“It’s more like,” Toni stepped closer to Leah, looking her up and down. “Hey sexy-”

 

“That is so much worse!”

 

“How is that any better than mine?”

 

“What about,” Nora raised her voice, drawing the attention of the group. “Hey girl, are you a parking ticket? Because you’ve got ‘fine’ written all over you.”

 

“Nah, check this,” Rachel pushed Nora aside, smirking at Leah in an over the top manner. “Damn girl, did you just come out of the oven? Because you are too hot to handle.”

 

“If you and I were socks,” Martha chimed in. “We would make a great pair.” She smiled brightly at Leah. 

 

“What is happening?” Leah laughed, her face burning bright red. How did this turn into another competition? And why was it directed at her ?

 

“Oh, I’ve got one,” Shelby cleared her throat, strutting toward Leah with purpose. She gently took the drink from Leah’s hands, looking at it for a moment before fixing Leah with a heated stare. “This drink has quite a bit of calories,” She started, bringing a hand to rest on Leah’s bicep. 

 

“But I know a great way to burn them off,” She finished, looking Leah up and down. 

 

And Leah…Okay how was Leah not supposed to blush at that? 

 

She cleared her throat awkwardly, ignoring the heat in her face as everyone broke into cheers. 

 

“God damn, Shelby,” Dot praised. “Who knew you had it in you?”

 

“That was awesome,” Martha agreed. 

 

“I’ll concede on this one,” Rachel shrugged, fixing her own drink. 

 

“I don’t even like women, and I felt something,” Nora said solemnly. 

 

Martha nudged Toni expectantly. Toni cleared her throat. “Yeah,” She coughed again. “That, that was a good one, Goodkind.”

 

Shelby beamed. “Thanks, Toni!”

 

 Leah would’ve noticed her blush, maybe would have given Shelby a discreet, encouraging nudge. But Her eyes met Fatin’s. Fatin hadn’t said anything, was holding a cup to her lips with a raised brow. Leah held her gaze, still flushing in embarrassment. She shrugged helplessly, shifting as Fatin’s unreadable gaze never wavered. She tilted her head curiously before slowly looking toward Shelby. 

 

“Even I have got to give props to you,” Fatin finally said, a smirk dancing on her face. She gave an approving nod. “The delivery?” Fatin did a little ‘Chef’s Kiss’ motion before nodding once more. 

 

Shelby blushed slightly, shrugging her shoulders. “I guess I’ll have to save that for future use then,” She joked. 

 

“Oh yeah,” Fatin agreed. “Any guy would fall for that hook, line, and sinker.”

 

Leah watched the way Shelby froze, her body tensing ever so slightly. Shelby’s eyes shot to Leah, and Leah could see the gears turning in her head. Leah nodded subtly, giving Shelby a small smile. 

 

She watched Shelby take a deep breath before trying to say as casually as possible “What about women?”

 

There was a slight pause in the room, Shelby continued. “Because I’m not too interested in men.”

 

Leah was ready to say something, seeing the way Shelby gripped the counter tightly. Ready to show her support even if she had already known. 

 

“Oh, you’ll be fine in that department,” Fatin continued without blinking an eye. “I mean, you had me weak in the knees, and obviously Leah as well,” She joked. 

 

“Yeah, use that one,” Rachel tacked on. “Girls at parties won’t know what hit them.”

 

“They’ll hella dig the accent,” Dot nodded. 

 

Leah could see the tension melt away from Shelby’s body, and Leah gently reached out a hand. She placed it lightly on Shelby’s elbow, drawing Shelby’s gaze to her. The blonde smiled brightly, a bit of wetness in her eyes. Leah smiled back softly. 

 

Shelby’s eyes drifted toward Toni who was wide eyed, her mouth dropped open in a comical fashion. 

 

“Totally lady killer,” Martha said, nudging Toni. 

 

Toni shook her head for a moment. She opened her mouth before closing it, the room watching her curiously. Shelby and Leah with bated breath before she blurted out:

 

“Holy fuck, I have got to get my gaydar checked out,” Toni huffed. 

 

Shelby let out a loud laugh, soon enough the rest of the room followed suit. Leah let her hand fall from Shelby’s elbow, her cheeks hurting as she watched Shelby relax in a way she’d never seen. It was almost a palpable thing, the weight that had been lifted. 

 

“Alright ladies,” Dot waved her hands. “Back to the living room!”

 

“Hell yeah,” Rachel said. 

 

Leah watched for a moment as the group filtered out, catching Toni nudging Shelby before saying “How did I not know this?”. 

 

Leah loved the way Shelby just blushed and shrugged before whispering back. She grabbed her own drink before noticing Fatin still against the counter. 

 

Fatin looked at her for a moment before twirling the concoction Dot had made. If it was giving Fatin pause, Leah didn’t want to know how she’d fair against it. 

 

“I’m guessing you already knew?” Fatin said, looking at Leah with an expectant look. 

 

“Huh?” Leah frowned as she worked on her own drink. “Oh…Yeah.”

 

“I see,” Fatin hummed, tapping on her cup. “That pieces some stuff together.” 

 

“Yeah?” Leah asked, leaning against the counter beside Fatin. 

 

Fatin hummed once more before pushing off the counter. “You’re a good friend.” 

 

Her eyes searched Leah’s face for a moment, a hint of approval in them. It made Leah flush, shrugging her shoulders. 

 

“I don’t know about that,” Leah mumbled, sipping her drink. She watched Fatin watch her, feeling a now familiar swirl of anxiety in her stomach. She searched for something to say as Fatin still hadn’t replied. “You got a pick up line?”

 

Fatin broke into a smile. “Are you asking me to hit on you?” She teased, bracing a hand against the counter, fully facing Leah. 

 

“No!” Leah defended, ducking her head. “I just, everyone else tried one! And flirting is, like, your thing, isn’t it?” 

 

“Mhmm,” Fatin studied Leah for a moment before leaning in. She didn’t move to Leah’s ear this time, no, she stared Leah right in the eyes. Her breath danced across Leah’s cheeks, and Leah was too distracted by the proximity to be put off by the alcohol on her breath. “I don’t really need a pickup line, wouldn’t you say?”

 

“Oh?” Leah breathed out. She cursed the way she held her cup awkwardly between them. Was it a blessing or a curse? The awkward barrier it created. 

 

Fatin didn’t seem to mind. “Yeah, I mean, afterall,” She spoke softly. Her eyes shot down to Leah’s lips before meeting Leah’s wide eyed gaze. “ I’m the one staying in your bed tonight.” 

 

She took one more glance at Leah’s lips before backing away with a seductive wink. She pushed off the counter, leaving a breathless Leah behind. Leah’s brain halted, she felt a persistent heat throughout her body, and she only stumbled slightly as she turned to follow after Fatin. 

 

Anything . Say anything! 

 

“You don’t kick in your sleep, right?”

 

Jesus Christ. 

 

Leah could only blush as Fatin laughed loudly, throwing an arm over her shoulder. She nudged Leah softly with her hip before leaning up to whisper. 

 

“Guess you’ll find out.”

 

Leah shoved her lightly, careful not to spill either of their drinks. 

 

“Guess I will.”

 

She huffed, following Fatin, settling on the couch. Fatin was close enough that their thighs touched, her arm brushing Leah’s. 

 

“Okay,” Toni declared from her spot on the ground. “We need to spice things up.”

 

“Do we?” Leah cringed. 

 

“Seems like we’ve already had an eventful evening so far.” Nora said. 

 

“Nah, I’m with Shalifoe,” Fatin smirked. “The night is young, ladies.”

 

“Let’s do something classic!” Martha suggested with excitement. “Like a classic slumber party game!”

 

“Truth or Dare?” Shelby offered up, looking around the room for confirmation. When she received approval she clapped her hands together. “Great. I’ll go first.”

 

Leah leaned back, sipping her drink. Truth or Dare wasn’t her favorite game, the dares made her anxious and the truths…made her anxious. But if everyone was in agreement, who was she to speak up? Maybe she would seep into the background like at Josh’s party. 

 

“Leah,” Shelby pointed at her. “Truth or Dare?” 

 

Leah froze. 

 

Screw you, Goodkind.