Lauren thinks—knows that it’s absolutely ridiculous, moving away to another fucking state after she gets dumped. It’s just that the thought of bumping into Camila takes all of Lauren’s breath away every time it pops into her head. It’s just that knowing Camila is so close, but Lauren doesn’t get to see her anymore makes everything hurt. So Lauren packs up her things, doesn’t tell anyone where she’s going and decides to start over.
Lauren kind of knows it’s wrong the second the words are out of her mouth. She can feel Camila’s eyes burning a hole into the side of her face and in her head the alarm bells go off.
“And what’s your friend’s name?” Her co-worker with the dimples asks Lauren, although he’s looking at Camila while he says it. What Lauren should do right now is just tell him she misspoke. Tell him that Camila is not a friend, Camila is her girlfriend. Emphasis on should. Because what Lauren actually does is tell him that her friend’s name is Camila, ignoring the way Camila is still glaring at her and the way her heart is beating in her throat.
“Do you want something to drink?” Lauren knows Camila can hear the way her voice trembles. She’d tried to walk slower on the way back to her apartment, insistent on prolonging the inevitable. It hadn’t worked, obviously. And now they’re here, in Lauren’s apartment and Lauren just knows she’s not ready for what’s about to happen.
“Lauren, what the fuck was that?” Camila sounds angry. She always sounds angry these days. Lauren doesn’t try to think about the fact that the only thing she seems to feel these days is fear.
“I don’t know.” Lauren says, because it’s the truth. It only seems to make Camila angrier, though. She’s glaring at Lauren with this look in her eyes that just screams exasperation and exhaustion and this fury that Lauren didn’t even know the other girl was capable of.
“What do you mean you don’t know. Why the hell did you tell that guy that I was your friend? Why do you insist on doing this every time we meet someone?” Lauren doesn’t know what to say. Her heart feels heavy and her head feels fuzzy and she’s desperately trying to find something to say that could make this better, but she comes up empty.
“I just—I didn’t—I don’t know!” Lauren knows she probably sounds pathetic. It’s just that there’s this fear gripping Lauren’s heart and all she wants to do is calm Camila down and talk about this like rational adults, but Lauren doesn’t know how.
“Lauren, I can’t keep doing this all the time. I can’t be the only one that puts in effort only for you to pretend we’re not even together.” That’s not true, Lauren thinks.
“That’s not true.” Lauren says therefore. “No, Camila, that’s bullshit.” Lauren knows she sounds angry. Kind of wants to sound angry, if that at least makes her voice stop trembling. “I put in effort, okay. I put in so much effort and I try so hard and you don’t even notice. You never fucking notice.” Lauren tries so hard. Sometimes she practices it in front of the mirror, saying ‘Camila is my girlfriend’ over and over and over again. Every time the words roll of her tongue, she gets this tiny tingly feeling at the base of her spine. It feels nice, knowing she can say that. And then she meets someone and it just—it gets stuck somewhere between her brain and her mouth and while she tries to say ‘Camila is my girlfriend’ it comes out as ‘this is my friend, Camila.’ Lauren doesn’t even know why it happens. All Lauren knows is that she doesn’t think she’s ever been this in love with anyone ever and the entire thing feels bigger than Lauren herself and it’s scary. All Lauren knows is that it’s scary, but that she’s never been so glad to be scared.
“Maybe that means something.” Camila says. The anger has left her voice, it’s replaced by something much more frightening to Lauren. Something akin to giving up.
“What are you talking about?” She says instead, voice harder than she wants it to be. Camila looks away, rolls her shoulders uncomfortably.
“Maybe it shouldn’t be this hard, Lauren. Maybe the fact that we need to try so hard to make this work means that—maybe it shouldn’t really work at all.” Lauren’s heart feels like it stops. No, actually, that’s not right. Lauren’s heart kind of just feels like it disappears from her chest, leaving behind this giant gaping hole of nothing.
“Are you—Are we breaking up?” Lauren’s voice trembles again, raspy and breaking over one simple sentence. Lauren never knew what she was scared of, but she knows that this is scarier than anything she could’ve possibly imagined.
“I guess so, yeah.” Lauren can’t do anything, just stares at Camila with these wide eyes. She doesn’t even know what happened, didn’t even realize this was an option.
“I—that’s—Camz.” Lauren looks at Camila with what she’s sure is an almost desperate look in her eyes, says it with a desperate tilt to her voice. Camila just looks back with something that Lauren is pretty sure is pity.
Three days later, Lauren is staring down the highway through the window of a rental van, on her way to New York City.
New York is like a breath of fresh air for Lauren. It’s big and new and a little bit scary, but there’s days where she’s not even reminded of Camila once and she counts that as a victory.
Lauren finds a place to stay through craigslist. Her mother yells at her for an hour when she says she’s going to move in with three girls she’s never met before in a neighborhood that’s certainly less-than-exemplary, but Lauren goes anyway. Lauren would probably go even if she would be forced to live in a crack-house somewhere. Lauren is just desperate to get out of Miami, where it seems like Camila’s scent hangs in the air everywhere.
So that’s how she ends up meeting Normani, Dinah and Ally. They take her in like she’s a little puppy that they found on the streets and act like they’ve known her forever. They don’t ask too many questions about why she’s come to New York, allow Lauren to wallow in her room for two weeks.
The third week marks a change. It’s Saturday night, the 16th night Lauren is spending in her new apartment. She’s laying on her back in her bed, laptop propped up on her feet and Camila’s Facebook page open in front of her. The box of tissues on her nightstand is almost empty, again. She’s just trying to recall both when she last ate something and when she last had any human contact, when someone comes barreling through her door.
“Lauren whatever-your-last-name-is, you get your ass up and into a cute outfit because we’re going out!” One of her roommates, Dinah-Jane, is yelling at her from a few feet away. Lauren is honestly a little shocked, doesn’t even know how to reply at first.
“My last name is Jauregui. It was on the form-thing I filled out? I literally gave that to you like two weeks ago?” It’s not really an answer to anything important that Dinah had said. Lauren doesn’t really give a shit. She kind of just wants her roommate to leave her alone. Dinah regards her silently for a few minutes, before turning towards the hallway and shouting,
“I need back-up!” Seconds later Lauren hears the pattering of footsteps towards her room. Normani wanders in, fixes Lauren with a glare and instantly walks to her closet.
“Look, Lauren, you’re a great roommate. It’s just you’ve been sobbing in your bed for like two weeks straight now and to be honest it’s just bringing the entire vibe of our apartment down. Now you can choose to wallow in your self-pity a little longer or you can choose to forget all about that jerk and drag your ass out of bed and get really drunk.” Normani says this all while she’s ruffling through Lauren’s closet, interrupting herself every now and then to make a face at a piece of Lauren’s clothing. Before Lauren can even answer, Ally is poking her head through the door with an apologetic smile.
“Sorry about them, Lauren. They can be a bit pushy sometimes. I do think it’ll be good for you to come out with us, though. You know, do something fun?” Ally’s tone is comforting, like a mother’s. Lauren sighs deeply, but gets up and joins Normani over by her closet anyway. Maybe getting to know her roommates isn’t such a bad thing.
“You can tell us about your ex, if you want to.” Normani slurs, when they’re in a cab on their way back to the apartment. Lauren lifts her eyelids slowly to look at Normani. She’s thankful that she came. She can’t remember how many drinks she’s had or how many guys and girls she’s danced with, but she feels oddly light.
“Yeah.” Lauren says, drags her eyes over to the cab driver. Normani seems to get it, despite all the cocktails Lauren knows she drank.
“We’ll talk back at the apartment.” Normani’s voice is soft, understanding. Lauren nearly has a heart attack when Dinah shoots up from the seat next to her.
“Dude! I thought you were sleeping.” Lauren giggles. Dinah waves her away,
“Whatever. I just had an amazing idea. We’ll have a sleepover in the living room. Just drag our mattresses there and sleep on the floor. Lauser can tell us all about what’s-his-name.” Lauren knows that the nickname is really kind of an insult, but she can’t help but feel happy at the use of it. She nods, in agreement with Dinah’s plan. Normani pulls a face at first, but then Ally throws her this really excited smile and she caves. One of the things Lauren found out today was that Normani was absolutely whipped when it came to her tiny girlfriend. Seeing them together made something sting in Lauren’s heart, but they were so cute that it almost didn’t matter.
As soon as they stumble into the apartment, Dinah makes a beeline for the kitchen. More specifically, the bottle of wine on the counter. Ten minutes later they’re all sitting on their respective mattresses, drinking cheap wine and waiting for Lauren to begin talking.
“Her name is Camila.” Is the first thing she says. Dinah seems surprised, having assumed her ex was a guy all this time. Normani and Ally seem less surprised. None of them say anything, just let Lauren stare off into the distance.
“She’s like—like the ocean, or something.” Lauren knows the alcohol is making her more philosophical. It always does. Camila used to have a special smile reserved for those moments. Lauren would be sitting in front of her rambling on and on about something, a distinctive slur to her words but still making sense somehow.
“I always felt like I was drowning in her. It terrified me.” Lauren knows she’s frowning, feels the pull of it at the corners of her mouth. She feels her face soften when she continues. “But it was amazing at the same time. She could take my breath away with the simplest of actions.” Lauren can’t help but smile at the thought of her. Muscle memory more than anything else, she figures.
“It’s just—I loved her more than anything but I always felt so helpless with it. I felt like I could do nothing but surrender to her. I felt like she held me in the palm of her hand. I was so scared.” Lauren’s voice comes out almost breathlessly. She can feel the tears burning behind her eyes. Lauren keeps her gaze trained on the floor. She misses the looks the other girls give each other, brows furrowed and worry in their eyes.
“And she wasn’t. For me it was like this huge thing. I was so scared and she was—she wasn’t. It made me feel guilty. Because she was fine and good and dandy and I felt like my fear was ruining our relationship, but I couldn’t figure out how to stop it.” Lauren knows she sounds pathetic, probably. They said she could talk about Camila, not whine about being a coward. Lauren blames the alcohol, even though she knows the amount of shots she’s taken is not the only reason it’s all coming out like this. She thinks it might have something to do with these girls, who Lauren feels weirdly comfortable around. She thinks it might also have something to do with the fact that this—these fears and observations—have been at the forefront of Lauren’s mind ever since she got together with Camila a little over two years ago.
“Wow. I don’t think I’ve ever felt like that.” Dinah says. There’s this tinge of wistfulness to her voice that Lauren doesn’t quite understand. It must show in her face, because Dinah quickly rushes to explain. “You sound so in love with her. It must be nice to find someone who you love that much. Even if it ends up not working out.” Dinah lets out another wistful sigh. Lauren thinks it sounds a little unnatural coming from her, like when a puppy looks sad. Out of the corner of her eye Lauren sees Normani looking at Ally. Lauren smiles, thinks to herself that Normani has already found exactly what Dinah is talking about.
Lauren thinks she’s slowly healing. She feels like Camila ripped her open, sliced through tissue and bone and muscle like it was nothing, but now the wound is slowly closing. Scabbing over, finally. Lauren isn’t sure if it’ll leave a scar, but she’s just happy that she stopped losing so much blood.
She gets a job as the personal assistant to a really popular magazine’s chief editor. What Lauren really wants to do, though, is write. All Lauren ever wanted to do was write. However, Lauren had burned through all of her savings coming to New York and this job pays really well so.
The first few weeks Lauren is in New York she doesn’t write at all. It feels wrong, somehow, to create something when she’s barely even able to hold herself together for long enough to actually go outside of her room. Then, the day after she went out with the girls, she sits down behind her laptop and writes about Camila. She writes non-stop for three hours, transfers everything that she’s thinking about to paper. She writes about the way Camila’s eyes look in the early morning and the way Camila’s hair smells when she just washed it. Lauren writes down all the things she wished she’d told Camila before and all the things she wished she’d never said. When she’s done, when her mind can’t come up with anything else that she hasn’t written down yet, she selects everything, erases it and shuts off her laptop. After that Lauren goes back to working on her novel.
A month turns into a year. The first year anniversary of the day Camila broke up with her is circled in red marker on the calendar inside Lauren’s head. She can’t think about anything else for days and asks for the day off three weeks in advance. She doesn’t tell Dinah, Normani or Ally but they figure it out when it’s a Monday afternoon and they hear the distinct sound of Noah telling Allie “If you’re a bird, I’m a bird.” through Lauren’s bedroom door. Ally immediately starts baking, sends Dinah and Normani in with strict orders of being gentle. Dinah, however, bursts through the door and onto Lauren’s bed before Ally even finishes her sentence.
“Lauser. Get your lazy ass out of bed and come watch Ally bake.” Dinah is talking louder than necessary and Lauren scowls at her. Normani watches from the door opening, seemingly torn between doing what her girlfriend told her to do or joining Dinah on Lauren’s bed. Eventually (inevitably), her girlfriend wins out and she just steps closer carefully. Lauren has tear tracks on her cheeks, but neither Normani nor Dinah mentions them.
“Lo, what’s going on?” Normani tries, sending a worried look towards Lauren. Dinah is still sitting on Lauren’s bed, knees pushing into Lauren’s side in a manner that is wholly uncomfortable.
“Nothing.” Lauren says, her voice raspy from crying.
“Nothing my ass, Jauregui. You’re watching the notebook and crying while you should be at work.” Dinah says before Normani can reply. Lauren glares at her, but the red-rimmed eyes and runny mascara really take away from the intimidation-factor.
“It’s nothing. Just leave me alone.” Lauren tries to push Dinah off of her bed, but the girl doesn’t even move an inch. They don’t leave her alone, of course. They wear her down until she says yes, lets them drag her out of bed and into the kitchen where they eat Ally’s cookies and drink hot chocolate. Lauren hates to admit it, but it actually makes her feel a little bit better.
Lauren thinks the first year was definitely the hardest. Not just because of the first anniversary of their break-up, but because of the first everything. The first birthday spent without Camila (Lauren gets amazing gifts from her roommates but still spends two hours crying in the bathroom at her own party), the first Christmas, the first valentine’s day.
Three months into living together, the girls decide to hold a bi-weekly game night. They stock up on cheap wine and argue for thirty minutes about what game they’re going to play, until they settle on monopoly as always. Dinah wins, usually, because she’s somehow amazing at board games. Also, Normani keeps giving away her money when Ally is in trouble and Ally keeps telling everyone that they don’t have to pay because she thinks it’s sad when someone goes broke. Lauren doesn’t have an excuse, she’s just bad at monopoly. When Lauren lands on Dinah’s square yet again, grumbling while counting her money, Dinah says in a manner that’s supposed to be teasing,
“You have really bad luck, Lauser.” Her voice is a little slurry and Lauren fleetingly wonders exactly how much of the two now-empty bottles of wine ended up in Dinah’s stomach. “No wonder your girl left you.” Lauren freezes at it. She sees Normani and Ally doing the same from the corner of her eye. After a while, too long to be able to really brush it off anymore, Lauren just continues counting her money and hands Dinah the stack of fifty dollar bills. Dinah smiles at her, this nervous and apologetic curve to it that Lauren hasn’t seen before.
After that the rest of the game just feels kind of off. Lauren hates the fact that the girls feel like they have to tip-toe around her, but at the same time the mention of Camila made her entire body tense up and she can’t seem to stop thinking about it. Dinah apologizes for it the next morning, several times. Lauren knows it’s partly because of Ally, who she heard yelling at Dinah earlier, but by the look in her eyes she can see that Dinah means it. She shrugs, nods, tells Dinah that it’s not important. It is, of course, because somehow everything surrounding Camila still seems important. Dinah doesn’t need to know that.
So yeah, Lauren thinks the first year is definitely the worst.
The second year anniversary, Lauren gets through the entire day without crying and rewards herself with pizza. She ends up going through the pictures on Camila’s Facebook as she stuffs her face. She tries not to think too much about the fact that the only kind of pizza she can still eat is with mushrooms and green peppers, because it’s the only kind of pizza that Camila doesn’t like.
The third year it falls on a Friday, so Lauren just asks the girls to take her out and tries to focus on that for the entire day. It works, kind of, and she even hits on someone that night at the bar. When the girl asks her if Lauren wants to come back to her place she says no before she even realizes what she’s doing, but Normani pats her on the shoulder and tells her she’s proud anyway.
Lauren barely uses Facebook. Facebook, for Lauren, is more of a drunk slash sad habit. Usually, when she’s sober and somewhere between content and happy she only checks it every so often to see whose birthdays she’s missed. Which is probably why she only sees Lucy’s message a week late.
Hey Lo. I’m taking a trip to New York next week with some friends. If you want, I would love to meet and catch up. It’s been too long.
There’s another message, containing her phone number. Lauren stares at it for a few minutes. Right. There’s a story there. Lucy had been one of Lauren’s friends in high school. Maybe even her best friend, save for Camila. Lauren loved talking to Lucy, hearing her opinion on things. In senior year they kind of started this weird flirty thing between them. They never talked about it, but Lauren knows she didn’t imagine it. Before they could explore what it was, though, Camila asked her out and admitted that she had been harboring a crush on Lauren for months. Lauren didn’t even think about it at the time. She had been waiting for something like that to happen for so long, the entire situation just felt surreal. Lucy never said anything about it, but they kind of grew apart after that.
When Lauren moved she didn’t tell anybody except her parents and her brother and sister. Her mother had always loved Lucy, so Lauren figures that’s probably how the girl found out. She’s still staring at the phone number. In a split second, Lauren makes a decision. She punches the number into her phone and holds it up to her ear.
“Hello?” Lucy’s voice sounds exactly the same as Lauren remembers it. Lauren figures not everything always has to stay in the past.
They meet up the next afternoon for coffee. Lucy looks even better than she used to when they were younger. Lauren almost gets caught up in it, thinking about what could’ve been. She feels, somehow, like she’s cheating on Camila retroactively.
“You moved to New York without telling me.” It’s probably an odd conversation opener to anyone else. Lucy has always been almost painfully honest, though. It doesn’t surprise Lauren. She just shrugs in response, hands wrapped around her coffee cup as she tries to warm up her fingers again. Winters in New York are cold, something that Lauren’s still not used to.
“It was because of Camila, right?” Lucy continues. Lauren looks up from her coffee. Lucy has this soft look in her eyes, just a twinge of sadness hidden in it.
“Yeah.” Lauren shrugs again, almost apologetically. “Sorry about that.” Lucy waves it away, tells her not to worry about it. Lauren still does, of course, but she appreciates the gesture. For the next two hours they talk. Lauren has missed it, these deep conversations that she’s never seemed to be able to have with anyone other than Lucy. It’s easy to fall back into, Lauren finds. Half-way across the conversation Lauren realizes that Lucy leans in anytime she says anything and that she sometimes puts her hand on Lauren’s seemingly without reason. Lauren tries not to think about it too much.
Once Lauren has paid for their coffees and they’re back outside on the busy sidewalk, Lucy turns to Lauren with a strange look in her eyes and says,
“You want to come back to my hotel?” Now Lauren isn’t an idiot. She knows what Lucy is asking her. She just doesn’t know how to answer that. Lauren hasn’t been with anyone seriously since Camila, has had maybe four or five one-night-stands in the last three years. It’s pathetic, really. Lauren looks into Lucy’s eyes, brown but so different from Camila’s. Lucy is so different than Camila in every conceivable way. Lauren tries to tell herself that’s not the reason she says yes, but she thinks Lucy and her both know that’s not true.
Lucy has a nice hotel room. At least, that’s what Lauren thinks. They stumble into it in a flurry of hungry kissing and tugging at each other’s clothes. Lucy kisses her as if she’s been waiting years to do it. Lauren allows herself to get lost in it.
Lauren waits until Lucy is fast asleep until she sneaks out. She lays in the hotel bed next to her, the sheets cool against her bare skin. Lucy has an arm wrapped around her midriff. It feels constricting, but she doesn’t remove it until she’s absolutely sure Lucy is sleeping. She gets up, gathers her clothes as quickly as possible and is out the door not even five minutes later. Lauren fishes her phone out of her purse and calls herself a cab.
She spends most of the drive trying to convince herself that it was not a bad decision.
Lucy calls her the next day. Lauren feels embarrassed, mostly. She’s not sure how to act in this situation. The situation being ‘oops, I kind of accidentally not-accidentally had sex with this girl I used to be really good friends with before I moved halfway across the country without telling her’. Lauren thinks there should be a manual on it, maybe.
“It was just a one night stand for you then?” Lucy asks. She doesn’t sound particularly angry. Tired, maybe. The way she says it makes it sound like Lucy would say no, were Lauren to ask the same question. Lauren doesn’t know how to answer. The thing is, when Lauren thinks back to before-Camila (before-Camila as in before Camila’s lips landed on Lauren’s and everything changed, Lauren can’t possibly remember a time that was actually before Camila) she thinks instantly of Lucy. She thinks if she were to define what she was feeling back then, she would say she used to have a crush on Lucy. The problem, even back then, was not the feelings she had for Lucy. The problem was that they just got swallowed up in, drowned out by, the feelings Lauren had for Camila. And now, even though Camila is gone and over, Lauren doesn’t feel that familiar tugging when she looks into Lucy’s eyes.
“Yeah.” Lauren says. A part of her still wanted to say no. A part of her wishes that she could have someone like Lucy just so she could prove to everyone (read: herself) that she was completely over Camila. She doesn’t do it, of course, because despite everything Lucy is still someone very important to her and she would never hurt her like that.
Just before Lucy hangs up she says something that Lauren thinks about for months afterwards.
“I think Camila did a real number on you, Lo. Maybe in another universe she didn’t and this would work out.”
Lauren knows it probably shouldn’t be so important to her, but Lucy had implied that the reason Lauren didn’t want to be with her was because of Camila. Now Lauren also knows that still occasionally thinking about and stalking the Facebook page of your ex three years after you break up is not entirely normal, but she still likes to believe she’s kind of over it, you know. Lauren doesn’t like the idea of Camila somehow having ‘ruined’ her for anyone else.
Lauren decides, after months of thinking it over, that Lucy is wrong.
It’s already well past noon when Lauren realizes that today is the day. The fourth anniversary of their break-up and Lauren didn’t even realize until now. Lauren smiles at the thought, even though the short reminder of Camila still made something sting in her chest. Lauren thinks that might never go away, though. She’s not even entirely sure she wants it to.
When she gets home from work Ally immediately walks up to her with a plate of freshly baked pastries, offering them to Lauren with a big smile. Normani trails behind her, sending Lauren a smile from a few feet away. Dinah is laying on the couch, but she immediately makes room for Lauren to sit in her favorite spot.
“You remembered?” It’s quite obvious that they did and they only nod in confirmation. Lauren smiles. She feels like maybe she didn’t need this anymore (she definitely feels like she shouldn’t need this anymore), but it still makes her stop and think about how amazing her friends are for a second.
Lauren changes her mind two weeks later. Her friends are actually awful. They’re sitting in their living room, Ally and Normani cuddled up on one end of the couch and Dinah sprawled over the rest of it. Lauren is sitting on the floor on the other side of the coffee table, trying to convince her friends to come with her to a party.
“Come on, I don’t want to go alone.” Lauren doesn’t like to plead, but she just really wants her friends to come with her.
“You could just not go at all.” Dinah deadpans. Her eyes don’t even glance in Lauren’s direction, stay focused on the TV instead. The party is pretty lame, if Lauren is entirely honest. It’s in a hotel downtown and it celebrates the anniversary of Penguin classics. Lauren knows that it’s a good networking opportunity, knows that if she ever wants to get published she needs these connections more than anything.
“You know I have to go, DJ.” Lauren shoots a glare at Dinah, but the other girl doesn’t even notice.
“I’m sorry, babe. Date night is a sacred tradition and we’re not spending it at some boring book-party.” Normani tells her, not sounding particularly apologetic. The smile Ally gives her is, though, but that might just be Ally’s face.
Lauren sighs deeply. She’ll go alone.
As soon as she walks into the hotel, Lauren freezes. It feels like all the air is sucked out her lungs. There, sitting at the bar on the other side of the hotel lobby is Camila. She looks more mature, professional, but it’s undeniably her and everything inside of Lauren comes to a halt. A part of Lauren, one that is bigger than she would like to admit, wants to go up to her. It kind of feels like Camila is some kind of giant magnet and Lauren’s body tingles with the effort of staying away from her. She looks good, Lauren finds herself thinking involuntarily.
Camila doesn’t notice her, her eyes trained on something Lauren can’t see. It’s ironic, in a bitter way. Lauren is over here doing everything she can to catch her breath and Camila doesn’t even notice.
Lauren turns around and walks out of the hotel. Networking isn’t that important anyway.
For two days Lauren makes sure she stays inside of her apartment for as much as possible. She barely comes out of her room on Sunday, calls in sick on Monday. Her roommates notice something is wrong, obviously, but they don’t know how to fix it. Lauren locks her door now, refuses to say anything and doesn’t respond to the endless amounts of texts and snapchats Dinah sends her. She only comes out at ungodly hours to grab something to eat.
Lauren knows, logically, that New York is freaking huge and that her apartment isn’t even close to the hotel she’d seen Camila at. She knows that reasonably there’s no reason to fear that she would run into Camila again, but she stays inside just in case.
The third day she doesn’t really have a choice anymore. Her boss told her that she takes too many days off. Lauren rolls her eyes at it, but goes into work the next day anyway. Ally looks up from making breakfast, seems surprised that Lauren is out of bed already.
“I have to go to work.” Lauren says. Her voice is raspy, raspier than usual. Lauren figures it might have something to do with the fact that she hasn’t spoken a single word in the last two days. Ally nods quickly.
“Have some breakfast.” Ally’s voice is slightly higher than usual, the way it always is when she’s nervous. Lauren nods and takes the plate Ally hands her, if only because she knows Ally isn’t going to let up if she doesn’t. She has to admit she’s missed Ally’s pancakes, though. She wolfs two of them down in under five minutes and is out the door before Ally can even ask her what’s wrong.
Lauren hates her job. It’s boring and unintelligent work, but somehow still absolutely exhausting. Which is why as soon as Lauren is finished working she decides to grab herself a coffee from this really nice place just down the street from her office. She walks in so transfixed on getting her caffeine fix that she doesn’t even notice her at first. Camila notices her, though.
“Lauren?” Lauren’s head whips around immediately when she hears that voice. She would recognize it anywhere, probably. There is Camila, again. Lauren feebly thinks what the odds of this happening are. Lauren thinks she’s just particularly unlucky.
“Camila.” Lauren says. Her voice sounds weird, all shaky and tired. She clears her throat and tries again. “Camila, hey.” Being this close to Camila is even more overwhelming than seeing her from across the room. Lauren can see her face now. She smells her perfume, which is somehow still the same after four years. She can see the way the sun bounces off of her hair and the way she smiles broadly. At Lauren. Lauren hates herself for the way her heart skips a beat. She’s so caught up in telling herself to breathe that she only realizes Camila is talking when she’s already half-way through her sentence.
“—catch up?” Camila looks at her expectantly. As soon as Lauren recognizes the look she knows she’s screwed.
She calls in sick to work the next day so she can go out to lunch with Camila.
She doesn’t tell her roommates. Figures that it’s not important anyway. Camila is only here on a business trip. She’ll have lunch with Camila, Camila will go back to Miami and Lauren will stay here and everything will be okay again. It’s a solid plan. A small voice in the back of her head tells her that if that’s all that’s going to happen, she might as well just tell her roommates.
Lauren should’ve known that Camila would take her to a pizza place. It’s almost makes Lauren reminiscent, but she catches herself just in time. Camila sits opposite of her, gives the waiter the same smile that she always used to give waiters. Camila is a firm believer in being friendly to the waiting staff at restaurants.
“Since when do you eat mushrooms and green peppers on your pizza?” Camila pulls a face at it. Lauren just shrugs in response. Camila’s presence is making it hard for her to think, to talk. Lauren is reminded of what she told her roommates. How being with Camila felt like drowning.
“So, how are you doing?” Camila says it in this casual tone. Lauren thinks about it. How is she doing. A part of her wants to tell Camila that she used to be such a talker and then Camila broke her heart and now she finds herself staying quiet more often than not. A part of her wants to tell Camila that she’s okay most days, but whenever a person shows genuine interest in her she finds herself wanting to tell them ‘no, I have a girlfriend’. It’s ironic, because everything in Lauren’s life is apparently, that she couldn’t say it then but has to stop herself from saying it now.
“I’m alright. What about you?” Lauren says instead. Camila smiles at her, a toothy grin that makes Camila look younger than she actually is. Lauren tries not to think about how old Camila is now, how many birthdays she’s missed and how many of Lauren’s birthdays Camila has missed.
“I’m really good, actually. I got a job at the recording studio. I got a steady gig at this cute coffee shop downtown with Shawn, as well.” Camila sounds happy, Lauren thinks. She doesn’t know for sure, thinks four years is too long to remember what her voice sounds like when she’s genuinely happy (that’s a lie, Lauren can still hear the way Camila laughs in her mind when she hasn’t slept in a while and sees something particularly funny). She hates how Camila only speaks in these general things, saying the recording studio and Shawn without a last name, and Lauren still knows what she’s talking about. The recording studio is one called Residual Heat, not too far from Lauren’s old apartment. The one place Camila always wanted to work at, just so that she would have the connections for when she broke into the music world herself. Shawn is Camila’s best friend, a boy she met in college that taught her how to play the guitar. Lauren had been jealous at first, before figuring out that Shawn had a boyfriend and thinking about kissing girls made him pull a face.
“That’s great!” Lauren says. There’s genuine excitement in her voice. Lauren doesn’t know where it comes from, really, just knows that she’s happy Camila is happy.
“So you moved to New York.” Camila says, lifts her cup of hot chocolate to her lips and takes a sip. The similarity to when Lucy had said the same thing months earlier makes Lauren swallow thickly.
“I did.” Lauren answers. She doesn’t explain, thinks Camila probably already knows the explanation.
“I actually came by your apartment a few weeks after we—after you left, I guess.” Camila’s voice sounds different now, calmer and with an undertone of sadness that Lauren barely catches. She’s frowning, too, her eyes downcast. “You weren’t there. I tried calling you, to tell you that I still had some things of yours, but I guess you changed your number.” Lauren nods. She had changed her number. It was probably pathetic, but it had seemed like a good idea at the time.
“Well anyway. I missed you, Lolo.” It rolls off Camila’s tongue with ease, makes Lauren’s heart feel suddenly fuller than it had before. She doesn’t return the sentiment, keeps her eyes trained on the last slice of pizza. Camila must sense her tension, because she quickly changes the topic to something lighter.
The rest of their lunch they talk about simpler things. Camila tells Lauren things about her new job and asks Lauren things about her novel. Lauren is forced to admit that yes, she’s still working on the same thing she’d been working on four years ago. Camila doesn’t mind, though, just tells Lauren that she would love to read it someday. Lauren doesn’t answer. She can’t decide whether Camila is serious or not and she doesn’t want to get her hopes up.
When they leave, Camila hugs her. It feels weird, having Camila’s body so close again. She breathes in Camila’s scent, lets her arms reacquaint themselves with the feeling of being wrapped around Camila’s frame.
When Lauren gets home the girls are already setting up the monopoly board. Lauren feels awkward when she sits down, feels like there’s some kind of different air around her now. Like the girls will be able to smell Camila’s perfume on her. Dinah and Ally don’t notice anything, though, too focused on the board game in front of them. Normani gives Lauren a weird look for a few seconds, one that Lauren knows means something along the lines of ‘we’ll talk later’. She should’ve known Normani would notice that something was different.
“It’s your turn, Lauser.” Dinah hands her the dice. Lauren takes a hearty sip of her wine before doing anything. She feels like this—being with her friends, doing something that’s become a tradition by now—is making it all a little bit better. Bringing her back into balance. She rolls the dice, buys one of the green properties. She’s on fire, today, really. Even Dinah seems surprised by it, frowning at the amount of property-cards that Lauren has stalled out.
“What the hell, Ralph. Since when are you so good at this game?” Lauren just shrugs in response. Dinah throws the rest of her wine back. Over the last four years Lauren has learnt that if there is one thing Dinah is good at, besides monopoly, it’s drinking wine. Ally gets tipsy after two glasses, becomes all giggly and affectionate with everyone. Normani doesn’t really get drunk, not at their game nights anyway. When they go out, Normani lets loose though. Lauren thinks it’s unfair how well Normani can still dance when she can’t even walk properly anymore.
“Refill, please.” Dinah hands her glass to Lauren, since she’s the one sitting closest to the wine. She refills Dinah’s glass, makes sure not to pour too much. Dinah gets even louder than usual when she’s drunk and the neighbors have already complained too often.
Lauren ends up winning the game, by a pretty big stretch. Dinah has too much wine in her system to care too much, ends up singing a pretty awful rendition of One Direction’s ‘Steal my Girl’ to Lauren. Lauren laughs so hard that her stomach hurts with it.
The next day Lauren still thinks about it. Although the night before had given her ample distraction from her lunch with Camila, Saturday mornings are not nearly as distracting. Lauren thinks about what Camila said, about missing her. Lauren had missed Camila too, of course. They had always been friends, first and foremost, and Lauren knows that she had been inherently selfish by moving away without telling her anything. She thinks about the way it was before they got together. She remembers the nervous lilt to Camila’s voice when she told her that she liked her like that, but that she’d been scared to say anything for fear of losing their friendship.
Lauren had kept herself from thinking about it very successfully over the past years, but now it was like it all came back. Of course Lauren had been in love with Camila for most of her high school career, probably longer than that without knowing it, but the most important thing had always been their friendship.
Lauren hates to admit it, but she feels guilty.
Maybe the guilt is why she replies to Camila’s text. The younger girl had taken her phone when they were at lunch, put in her number and sent herself a text with a cactus emoji. Three days later, Lauren is staring down at her phone.
Camila (3:45 PM): Honestly I’m so happy to be back home
Camila (3:45 PM): I don’t understand how you survive that New York weather
Camila (3:45 PM) : I loved catching up with you tho
The messages have too many emoji’s at the end of it, just the way Camila always used to text. Lauren closes her eyes, tells herself she needs to stop being so pathetic all the time and texts back.
Lauren (3:57 PM): Yeah me too
Lauren (3:58 PM): The first winter here I genuinely thought I was going to freeze to death
Lauren doesn’t know if the way she’s smiling at her phone as she reads over Camila’s text three times after she types out her own message counts as not being pathetic.
Camila (3:59 PM): You should just go to Miami every winter
Camila (3:59 PM): Like a bird
Now Lauren does actually know that waiting for fifteen minutes to text back on purpose is definitely pathetic. It’s some weird power-thing, probably. The only way that Lauren can think of to make herself feel less helpless.
A small voice in the back of her head tells her that if she really wants to stop feeling helpless, she could also just not reply at all.
She replies anyway.
They kind of just keep texting from that moment on. They don’t even really talk about important things. Actually, they talk exclusively about un-important things. Sometimes one of them will say goodnight and Camila doesn’t text her again for two days. Lauren never starts the conversations. She tries to tell herself it’s because she doesn’t care. It should probably worry her how much she lies to herself.
It’s ten days since Lauren’s lunch with Camila when Normani finally confronts her. Lauren doesn’t like it, wants to stay in this little bubble of hers where she can pretend she’s not making terrible life decisions. Alas, Lauren’s life doesn’t tend to go the way she wants it to.
“What’s up with you?” Normani questions in this tone that’s somehow simultaneously sharp and soft. Lauren looks up from her book (she’s re-reading The Book Thief and pretending it’s not because of Camila), right into Normani’s eyes. Lauren decidedly does not put away her book, hopes that it will hint Normani into her complete unwillingness to participate in this conversation.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Lauren lowers her eyes back to her book, reads over the same sentence three times while her heart pounds in her ears. Normani sighs as she walks over to the end of the couch. She taps her fingers against Lauren’s ankles, who instinctively moves them. Once seated, Normani places Lauren’s feet in her lap and taps against them in silence for a while. Despite the situation, Lauren can’t help but think about how much she likes this side of Normani. The one who will sit down with you to have a serious conversation, who weighs her words so that they come out just right.
“You’ve been acting off. One second you’re smiling at your phone and the next you’re frowning, looking like you’re miles away.” Normani began, “It started at the last game night. You had this weird aura around you. It’s like you’re constantly nervous or something.” It’s weird to Lauren, having it all laid out in front of her. She had tried, over the last ten days, to stop herself from analyzing her own behavior too much. She knew that as soon as she started doing that, she would go down this bottomless pit of wondering whether she was doing the right thing. The answer, she had already accidentally hypothesized in her head, was probably no.
“Look, you’re right. I’ve been off. I promise that it’s not a big deal, I just don’t want to talk about it right now. I need to figure it out for myself first.” Lauren explains, tries to sound reasonable. It’s not true, of course, considering Lauren is very decidedly trying not to figure this all out too much. Normani seems to read her mind, because the look she sends Lauren is more than a little bit suspicious.
“Right. Well, talk to me when you’re ready.” Normani eventually says. Lauren wants to laugh, has to suppress the urge to say that she doesn’t think she’ll ever be ready.
Lauren remembers when she just got together with Camila and she felt like she could write about nothing else. She wrote about the way Camila’s lips felt on hers for pages and never once got tired of it. When they broke up Lauren couldn’t write at all. Then, after she got all the Camila out of her system four years ago, she never wrote about her again. Now they’re reconnecting, however, and Lauren feels all of it coming back to her. She doesn’t write about the romantic aspects of their relationship, actually very consciously stays away from topics like that. She writes mostly stories about when they were young.
She writes down one of her favorite stories, about when Camila had just moved in down the street from her. Lauren had been watching the Cabello’s unload their car, saw a little girl about her own age clutching a Winnie the Pooh journal. Even back then, Lauren’s entire room was covered in journals. As soon as she learned how to write, she had asked her parents for one. 7-year old Lauren can’t help but wonder what the girl with the pretty hair writes in hers. Lauren is so engrossed in watching her new neighbors that she doesn’t even hear her mother coming up to her.
“Mija, what are you doing? You know it’s not polite to stare. Let’s go say hello.” Lauren is a little surprised by her mother’s sudden appearance, but when the words register she smiles instantly. She had been toying with the idea of going up to the girl, but her nerves had kept her from walking over. Now that her mother was here though, Lauren didn’t have anything to be scared of anymore. She grabbed her mother’s hand and dragged her along to the Cabello residence.
“Hello. I’m Clara and this is Lauren, we live just down the street from you.” Lauren’s mother introduces herself to a woman standing in the driveway, letting go of Lauren’s hand and sticking her hand out. A man just disappeared inside and the little girl is a few feet away, watching curiously.
“Hi. I am Sinu.” The woman spoke with a heavy accent, one that Lauren’s mother seemed to recognize. She replied to the woman in Spanish and Sinu’s face immediately lit up. Once Sinu mentioned that she was from Cuba, they quickly became enraptured in a passionate conversation about their home country. Lauren turned towards the girl, taking a tentative step towards her. The girl was still looking at her as Lauren slowly came closer.
“Hi.” Lauren said. The girl seemed almost embarrassed, ducking her head so that her face was hidden behind her hair.
“I’m Lauren.” Lauren tried again when she didn’t get an answer. The girl seemed confused as she sneaked a few glances at Lauren.
“No hablo Inglés.” The girl said slowly, blushing an even deeper shade of red. Lauren immediately perked up, introduced herself in Spanish. The other girl seemed surprised by Lauren’s quick switch to another language. A small smile appeared on her face as she told Lauren her name. Camila. Lauren thought it was beautiful.
Lauren didn’t speak Spanish much, only with her grandmother and sometimes with her mother. Talking to Camila comes fairly easy, though. The other girl ends up smiling a lot, a toothy grin that Lauren thinks looks really nice on her.
Lauren knows that her friends are worried about her. She can see it in the way Ally looks at her all the time like she’s some sad little puppy that needs saving. Hears it in the sudden softness that Dinah’s voice takes where it’s usually just an amused, teasing lilt. Lauren doesn’t allow herself to give into it, until one night. Normani and Dinah are out, they went to some party across town that neither Ally nor Lauren were particularly interested in. What Ally and Lauren do instead is watch How I Met Your Mother and take a shot every time Ted does something annoying.
They get pretty wasted two episodes into the night. Ally turns the sound down when they’re half-way through the third episode and turns to Lauren.
“Are you alright, Lo?” Ally’s voice is higher when she’s drunk, the worry even more visible than usual in her glassy eyes. Lauren just shrugs. The alcohol messes with her brain, makes everything a little fuzzier and makes it harder to judge what she should say and what she should not.
“How do you know someone is the one for you?” She asks eventually. Lauren barely even knew that was something she had been thinking about. That tended to happen a lot to her when she was drunk, though. Being drunk was weirdly therapeutic to Lauren, really. If Lauren hadn’t been too busy staring at the wall, she would’ve seen the dreamy look that Ally had gotten at her question.
“I don’t know, you just know. They make you happy. Comfortable, too. It’s scary sometimes too, though. Especially at first.” Ally bites her lip, looks down at her lap before continuing, “when I told my parents I thought I was in love with a girl they kicked me out. I hadn’t even told Normani then and for the first few weeks I couldn’t bear the idea of one of my best friends leaving as well so I kept it to myself. Eventually it came out, though. It always comes out eventually.” Lauren’s never heard this story before. Both Normani and Ally are pretty secretive about their relationship. They don’t often tell stories of how they got together.
“Mani helped me through all of it. She kept telling me that the way we felt for each other was not wrong and that something that felt so good couldn’t possibly be a bad thing. I thought she had a point. I don’t know when I realized that Normani was the one for me, I just did. It was like waking up one day and looking over and seeing her laying there next to me and it just clicked.” Lauren can’t help it, she tears up a little at Ally’s words. Not just because it’s adorable and amazing and she loves her friends so much. Also because she kind of thinks she knows what that feels like.
Camila (7:46 PM): I think I’m dying
Lauren (8:06 PM): You ate too much?
Camila (8:11 PM): Have you ever had a thanksgivings meal prepared by my mother?
Camila (8:11 PM): Of course I ate too much
Lauren chuckles at it. She can imagine the way Camila is laying on the couch, pants unbuttoned and groaning at the ceiling. Lauren herself is pretty full as well. Ally and Normani had worked their magic in the kitchen. This year they hadn’t even burned the turkey because they were too busy making out. When they went around the table to say what they were grateful for, Dinah had mentioned that she was grateful Ally and Normani were apparently finally over their honeymoon phase and they could have properly cooked food again. Ally had blushed, Normani had just looked smug. Lauren smiles about it, almost misses the buzzing that her phone gives signaling another message from Camila.
Camila (8:15 PM): Are you coming home for Christmas by the way? Maybe we could meet up
Lauren stares down at the text, feels her heartbeat rising. Her conversations with Camila were always purposely vague (from Lauren’s side anyway, she doesn’t actually know if Camila does it on purpose). This is not vague. The truth is Lauren hasn’t been home for Christmas in years. She hasn’t been to Miami in years, actually. Her mother yelled at her for it over the phone a lot, but Lauren never budged. Until now, that is.
“I’m coming home for Christmas this year.” Lauren tries to make it sound casual. She can almost hear the way her mother’s eyes narrow. It was the same look Dinah had given her, when she told the girls. Ally had just looked surprised, a little worried. Normani had looked at her suspiciously, but that was quickly becoming the new standard for her. Lauren could feel the guilt looming in her stomach when she told them. She hated lying to her friends.
“You’re coming home for Christmas?” Her mother sounded a little hesitant, like she hadn’t heard it right. Lauren rolled her eyes at it, took a few minutes to calm her irritation before responding.
“Yeah. I saved up some money for a plane ticket.” That’s not true, of course. Lauren had decided to take some money out of her tattoo fund. Who cared about having art on their skin forever anyway. (The answer is Lauren. Lauren cares about having art on her skin forever. She decides not to think about the fact that she’d still rather spend that money on a plane ticket to Miami.)
“Are your friends not being nice to you?” Her mother still sounds a little hesitant, like she’s afraid that the questions are going to make Lauren change her mind. It’s a good point really, since Lauren is already reconsidering this entire thing.
“They are. Can’t I just want to spend some time with my family?” Lauren doesn’t succeed in keeping the annoyance out of her voice entirely. She knows it’s not justified, her mother is just worried. Lauren can’t take the worry right now, though. She’s already questioning herself enough, she really wishes the people around her would stop doing the same.
“Yeah. Yes, you’re right. I’m glad you’re coming home.” Her mother still sounds suspicious and Lauren knows that her mother isn’t really letting it go (her mother never lets anything go), but it’s good enough for now.
Miami brings back memories for Lauren. She loves being back at her childhood home, but the fact that she can see where Camila’s parents live from her bedroom window makes her anxious somehow. She arrives on the twentieth of December, takes the red-eye flight to save money. For the first two days, her mother will not let her out of her sight. Lauren spends most of them reacquainting herself with her old house and thinking. She wonders whether she should tell Lucy that she’s back in town, wonders what the girl would say. A part of Lauren wants to, even though she thinks it’ll be awkward.
On the second day, Camila texts her to make plans. The reality of the entire thing makes Lauren’s heart beat in her throat.
Camila (4:56 PM): Do you have plans tomorrow?
Lauren kind of wants to say yes. She has a very busy schedule of scolding herself for coming here in the first place and stomping down the hope that pipes up in her chest every time Camila texts her.
Lauren (4:57 PM): I don’t
She texts back instead. Camila replies almost instantly, but Lauren forces herself to put her phone down and get a snack first. She’s pretty sure she’ll have gained like 15 pounds when she gets back to New York. Having pretty much infinite access to her mother’s cooking is definitely not doing wonders for her figure.
Camila (4:57 PM): Do you want to hang out?
Camila (4:58 PM): We can get take-out and watch Netflix at my apartment
It had always been Camila’s idea of the perfect night, so Lauren probably shouldn’t be so surprised at the suggestion. It’s just—it just sounds so casual. It’s weird to Lauren, to whom this entire thing is the opposite of casual. She agrees anyway, of course.
Camila still lives in the same apartment. They never used to spend too much time in it, considering Lauren’s was bigger and wasn’t located in an actual ghetto. Lauren still has enough memories attached to this place to make her heart clench for a second, though. She ignores it, rings the bell next to Camila’s name. She got take-out from the Thai place just down the street (when Lauren asked Camila what she wanted over the phone, her response had been ‘the usual’), the plastic bag digging into her fingers.
“Hello?” Camila’s voice crackles through the intercom. It’s been like two months since Lauren has last heard her voice. Lauren fleetingly, accidentally wonders how she ever survived without hearing it for four years. Lauren clears her voice before she speaks, as a precaution maybe,
“Hey. It’s m—Lauren. It’s Lauren.” Lauren corrects herself. She knows Camila still would’ve known if she said it’s me. What Lauren also knows is that this entire thing, Lauren’s emotional stability about this thing in particular, is very carefully constructed. One wrong move and it’ll all come tumbling down. Lauren isn’t ready for that, prefers walking on eggshells.
“Oh, hey. I’ll let you up.” Camila’s voice sounds different once Lauren has introduced herself, softer somehow. Lauren tries not to think about it too much. She hears the distinct click and buzz of the door being unlocked mechanically. Lauren steps into the building and walks towards the elevator without too much thought. Going up to Camila’s apartment almost happens automatically.
“Come in. I’m starving.” Camila says from her doorway as soon as she spots Lauren. Lauren smiles despite herself. Camila looks relaxed, in sweatpants and one of her ‘comfy shirts’. It’s always been one of Lauren’s favourite ways to see Camila.
“Are you ever not starving?” Lauren’s voice sounds amused, which is a whole lot better than what Lauren expected her voice to sound like. She kicks off her shoes as soon as she enters Camila’s apartment. The place is a little different on the inside, a new TV and there’s a different blanket hanging over the back of the couch. The ambiance, though, is still the same. Lauren feels like it calms her down. Lauren dismisses the thought as quickly as it pops into her head, but the truth is that it kind of feels like coming home.
They plop down on the couch, don’t even bother getting plates and eat straight from the containers. Lauren thinks it’s nice now, the casual vibe about it. Camila puts on some non-committal comedy on Netflix and they’re quiet for a while. Lauren thinks it’s the most comfortable she’s been since her reconnection with Camila. It’s nice.
“Are you uh—are you seeing anyone?” Camila asks eventually. They finished their food a while ago, are just watching TV in silence now. The question surprises Lauren, but the way Camila refuses to look at Lauren as she asks it, does not. Lauren tries to tell her heart to stop beating like that, that the question means nothing and is just casual curiosity.
“I’m not.” Lauren says. Her voice is a little scratchy. From disuse, she tells herself, even though she kind of knows that’s not true. “Are you?”
“Nah.” Camila says, waves the question away as if it’s not important. Lauren doesn’t know how to answer, so she doesn’t answer at all.
After a while Camila brings out a bottle of wine. Lauren knows that she really shouldn’t, knows that mixing Camila and alcohol together when she’s like this is not a good idea, but it’s Lauren’s favorite kind of wine and Lauren feels like she needs at least three glasses to forget that Camila remembered that about her. So she does.
“I don’t know if I’m ever going to finish it, you know.” Lauren’s voice slurs a little, but she doesn’t feel too drunk. They’ve had a couple of glasses now, moved on to the next bottle a while ago. New Girl is still on, but serves only as background noise to the conversation they’ve been having. It’s something that Lauren always used to love, talking to Camila like this.
“I think you are. I remember the way you used to get about writing. Like it was this amazing, therapeutic thing. It was like you couldn’t even help it, you just had to write sometimes.” Camila’s voice has this reverent quality to it. Lauren simultaneously hates it and loves it. It’s the alcohol talking, she knows, but when Camila smiles at her encouragingly all that Lauren wants to do is kiss it away.
“Yeah.” Lauren says, tries to think very carefully about what she’s going to say next. Then Camila smiles at her and it feels like all of the present alcohol in her system comes together and makes her blurt out, “For the first few days in New York I couldn’t write a thing. It was like writers’ block, but different.” Lauren averts her eyes, forces herself to look around Camila’s apartment instead of at Camila herself.
“Why did you move to New York, Lauren?” Camila’s voice has this edge to it, something that sounds a lot like hurt. Lauren still doesn’t look at her. She stares up at the ceiling instead, tries to find a pattern in the cracks.
“I drowned. I needed to get away from the sea for a while.” Lauren’s voice sounds both breathless and raspy. Inside of her head she’s screaming at herself to stop talking, telling herself that coming here was a mistake. When she chances a glance at Camila, the girl is way closer than she remembered. She wants to look away again, but then Camila’s eyes catch hers and she can’t move anymore. She hasn’t looked at Camila’s eyes, not properly anyway, for so long. Lauren could never forget the way they looked, but she had to admit that her mind definitely did not do them justice. Before she even realizes what’s happening, Camila is leaning in. She stops, just inches from Lauren’s lips. Lauren can feel Camila’s breath on her, can feel her heart beating in her throat. A part of her wonders what the fuck happened that even made them come to this. A bigger part of Lauren tells her to move away, to just get off the couch and disappear out of Camila’s life again. A third part of Lauren, the biggest and the most overwhelming one, wants nothing more than to press her lips to Camila’s. So she does.
Lauren thought about kissing Camila a lot over the past few years. The first year it was pretty much the only thing she could think of. After that she tried to ban the thought from her mind, but whenever she had a moment of weakness it would pop back in. Lauren thought that she remembered what it felt like, having Camila’s lips against her own. Lauren, however, comes to the conclusion that her memory is nothing compared to the real thing. Camila’s lips are still soft, taste like the banana-flavored lip smacker just like they always used to. Lauren gasps when Camila’s hand slides into her hair and Camila doesn’t even hesitate to deepen the kiss. Lauren’s head feels tingly, the only thoughts that she can manage to form being thank god and finally. Kissing Camila feels nothing like drowning. It feels like Lauren is re-learning how to breathe. They break away for air, but neither of them speaks. Camila pushes at Lauren’s shoulder until she’s laying back on the couch and crawls on top of her. Lauren’s hands settle on Camila’s waist. The entire thing reminds Lauren of when they first did this. When Lauren had been thinking the entire time I’m making out with Camila, the thought on repeat in her head like a broken record that somehow sounded perfect.
“Bedroom?” Camila’s husky voice asks the next time their lips separate. The smart part of Lauren, the one that Camila chased away with her lips and her hands a couple of minutes ago, would probably say that this is a bad idea. Lauren nods anyway, gets up and lets Camila drag her to the bedroom by her hand.
Camila still looks the same when she’s sleeping. Lauren lets herself look, allows all the little things about her she’s spent four years missing fill up the empty space in her chest. Lauren looks and feels just as reverent as she did the first time she saw Camila like this. She looks at Camila mumble something in her sleep and all of a sudden she feels that clicking. The one she talked about with Ally over a month ago. Lauren feels like throwing up.
She looks and wonders whether Camila has spent all this time thinking about her as well. Lauren knows it’s only temporary, could see it in Camila’s eyes when they kissed. This is all just a bad habit for Camila. Something she’s fallen back into simply because of exposure, like an ex-alcoholic would cave in the face of a bottle of cheap vodka. Lauren is the vodka in this scenario, burning like bile in the back of Camila’s throat.
A small voice in the back of Lauren’s head says that it’s not true. The voice says that Camila would never hurt her like that if it didn’t mean anything. Lauren shakes her head to get rid of it. She gets up out of bed when she feels tears burning behind her eyelids. She takes care to be extra quiet, even though she knows Camila is a heavy sleeper. She pulls on her pants and carries her shoes in her hand. Once again she’s reminded of Lucy. Maybe that’s why she calls her.
Lucy meets her at a bar, one of the only ones that’s still open at 3AM on a Wednesday night. Lucy looks worried, still half-asleep and without make-up. Lauren glances at her over the top of the rum-cola in her hands. When Lucy comes closer and looks Lauren up and down, her face hardens.
“You were with Camila, weren’t you?” Lucy throws it at her, like it’s an accusation. Lauren furrows her brows, not sure whether to be offended or impressed that Lucy figured that out so quickly. “Those marks on your neck look a lot like the ones you used to have four years ago.” Lauren shrugs, doesn’t really know how to answer.
“Why the fuck did you call me, Lauren.” Lucy drags a hand over her face, like there’s not a single place in the world she wouldn’t rather be right now. Lauren feels the guilt settling in her stomach, joining the panicky depression that was already there.
“I don’t—I don’t know, I just needed to not be alone.” Lauren admits. It’s a shitty reason, honestly. Lauren knows it and Lucy apparently knows it, too.
“That’s not a reason, Lauren. You can’t keep doing things like this. I get it, Camila broke your heart. We all knew that would happen eventually though, didn’t we?” Lucy is rambling, barely taking a breath between words. It sounds an awful lot like an outburst, like she’s saying things that she kept inside for too long.
“The way you look at her is—it’s like you’re constantly drowning.” Lauren almost laughs at it, a grim chuckle that she can feel bubbling up in her chest. She’s never told Lucy that before, but it makes sense that the girl would know anyway. “But you’re not. She loved you just as much as you loved her. You need to stop being so miserable all the time and realize that you’re not the only person in the world that’s scared.” Lucy stops, seems to calm down a bit. She licks her lips and looks at the floor. Lauren’s not entirely sure, but she thinks she can see tears in the corners of Lucy’s eyes.
“And you also need to realize that you’re not the only one who gets hurt. These things you do, Lauren, they don’t solve anything. You’re just running around in circles all the time.” Lucy finishes around the same time that Lauren finishes her drink. Lucy’s words burn more than the drink does. Lucy just looks at Lauren, before nodding to herself and walking away. Lauren is left sitting at the bar. She comes to the conclusion that she probably should’ve just stayed home tonight.
Lauren stumbles into her house around 5AM. She’s pretty sure she wakes up both of her parents, but they don’t come out of their room to scold her. Lauren’s mother doesn’t usually pass up an opportunity to get mad at Lauren, but she decides to just roll with it. She falls into her bed and falls asleep almost instantly. It’s the way Lauren always went about it. Just stay up so long that your eyes practically can’t stay open once you go to bed.
She wakes up the next morning with a headache and an unsettling feeling in her chest. After two Advil and three glasses of water, the headache is pretty much gone. The unsettling feeling in her chest just intensifies. Camila texts her, but Lauren deletes the messages without even reading them. She doesn’t hear from Lucy, but she didn’t really expect to anyway. Her mother is weird around her all day, fusses and dotes and doesn’t even get mad when she finds out Lauren went upstairs with her dirty shoes. It’s odd, to say the least.
Lauren spends the day of Christmas eve with a hangover and the constant feeling like she’s about to cry. She closes the curtains in her bedroom so that she doesn’t have to look at Camila’s old house. She knows Camila is probably going to be there tonight. It’s weird, knowing she’s going to be so close. Lauren thinks moving to New York was definitely the right decision, if this is what being in Miami feels like.
Lauren tries to look happy when she comes downstairs to celebrate Christmas eve with her family. She thinks they all know she’s not alright, considering the way they look at her. Her brother barely teases her and her sister only tells her one boring story about college. Lauren is grateful, kind of, but she wishes that her emotional state wasn’t so visible to everyone around her.
It’s 8PM when their doorbell rings. Lauren gets a weird, tingly feeling in her stomach. It’s unpleasant, like she’s looking into the barrel of a shotgun or something. Her mother walks towards the front door to open it and Lauren, despite herself, trails behind. When the door swings open and reveals Camila, Lauren sees something change on her mother’s face. It’s like she’s just unraveled some kind of mystery, her eyes flitting between Lauren and Camila.
“Camz.” Lauren breathes out without even really meaning to. It’s just that Camila is standing so close to her it’s making her kind of nervous. Camila looks at Lauren with a small smile, almost like she’s apologizing for something. Lauren only snaps out of her daze when her mother gives her a light slap on the shoulder.
“Right, uh—what are you doing here?” Lauren’s voice sounds raspier than usual, some kind of weird combination between too many nerves and too many emotions she thinks. Camila gestures to the street awkwardly,
“Can we take a walk?” Lauren kind of wants to say no. She has a feeling what this is about, doesn’t want Camila to tell her that last night was a mistake. She nods anyway, because Camila looks at her with these big, expectant eyes and she doesn’t really have a choice. She ignores her mother’s eyes on her as she pulls on her boots and grabs a jacket. She doesn’t even address her when she walks out of the door, pulling it closed behind her. Camila walks a few steps ahead of her, seemingly having some kind of goal in mind. Lauren just follows, thinks there’s not much else she could do anyway. After a few minutes Lauren knows where they’re heading. The thought makes something in her chest ache, but she still doesn’t say anything. Camila leads her onto the small playground at the end of their street, leads her towards the two swings all the way at the back end of it. They sit down. They used to come here when they were children, see which one of them could go the highest. Lauren was sure it was her, but she let Camila win most of the time because of the way the girls’ face would light up.
“Lucy came by my place last night.” Camila says out of nowhere. Lauren almost chokes on her own saliva, furrows her brows as she looks at Camila in complete surprise.
“Lucy came by your apartment?” Lauren’s pretty surprised her voice is even still working right now.
“Yeah, it was like 4AM. When I heard the doorbell I kind of wanted to roll over and tell you to get it.” Camila chuckles, but it doesn’t come out sounding entirely happy. “But you weren’t there.” Camila’s voice trails off. Lauren doesn’t understand it. She was convinced that Camila wouldn’t want her there, but the tone of voice Camila had adopted just changes everything. She doesn’t speak yet, wants to hear the entire story before she says something stupid and ruins it all.
“So I opened the door myself. Lucy came up and started talking to me. She was, like, really mad. At first I couldn’t even understand what she was saying with how fast she was talking.” Lauren can imagine it. “I told her to slow down. She did. She said ‘Lauren’s an idiot’.” Camila smiles softly, like it’s some kind of fond memory. Lauren still has no idea what the hell is happening.
“She said that you’re an idiot, but most of all that you’re scared.” Camila looks at Lauren expectantly. Lauren doesn’t even know where to begin. It’s all a little bit overwhelming if she’s being honest.
“Look, Camila I just—I guess I used to be really scared, yeah.” Maybe it’s the place, or the person she’s with, or the situation, but Lauren decides to just be honest. “Actually, I’m still scared. You’ve always just been this inevitable person to me and I was always so scared but you—you weren’t.” Lauren looks down at her hands, fidgeting in her lap.
“And I couldn’t do it alone. I just didn’t want to always be the only one that was scared.” Lauren barely even finishes her sentence before Camila bursts out laughing. Lauren looks up, somewhere between offended and confused.
“N-No wait, Lauren, I’m not laughing at you. It’s just—How could you possibly think I wasn’t scared? I’ve always been scared. After we—After I broke up with you, I spent months being scared that I made the wrong decision. After that I spent so long being scared that I wasn’t ever going to see you again.” Camila moves her hands around the way she always does when she talks about a subject she’s passionate about. For the first time in four years, when hope rises up within Lauren’s chest, she doesn’t stomp it down.
“Lauren, I can live with not being your girlfriend. But I can’t live without you in my life. I want to be scared of how much I love you for the rest of my life.” Lauren’s really kind of jealous of how good Camila is with words, but her heart is beating too fast to pay too much attention to that. She’s looking at Camila at wide eyes, trying to will herself to just say something.
“Yeah, same.” Lauren’s voice eventually croaks out. It’s absolutely ridiculous, obviously. She’s supposed to be the writer here, the philosophical one with the big words doing all the charming. Camila doesn’t seem to mind though, if the growing smile on her face is any indication.
“Good.” Camila is still smiling, little crinkles appearing around her eyes. Lauren tries to think of something witty to say back, something romantic maybe, but eventually realizes that she can kiss Camila right now and that’s way better than talking anyway. So she does.