Camila’s stomach twists and her breathing shallows. The longer she spends lying awake in bed the worse it gets. Lauren’s toes brush at her ankle, a soft, warm press. “Everything could change tomorrow,” Camila whispers.
“Yeah,” Lauren agrees.
Camila can feel her, so close and yet not nearly close enough. “Either we win or we lose.”
“That’s generally how these things go.”
Camila smiles and threads her fingers together over her stomach. The room is dark and hazy, the blinds closed so no light seeps in. “I’ve never let myself want this so much until right now,” Camila says. It sounds like too much, even for her, but she wants to say it and she wants Lauren to know.
“Me too. I like,” Lauren pauses, runs her foot up Camila’s calf. It almost tickles. “This is all I’ve ever wanted to do. And now that I sort of know what it’s like, I don’t know how I’ll ever be okay with something else.”
Camila nods and turns her head. Lauren’s still looking up at the ceiling, shadows pooling under her eye and chin. Camila feels like she’s about to be swallowed whole. “We’re so close. I’m scared.”
“Of what?” Lauren asks.
Camila shifts closer, rolls onto her side and props herself up on her elbow. Lauren’s eyes look entirely black. “I don’t know. Everything.”
Lauren’s laugh is more air than sound, and the smile on her face makes Camila’s heart hammer and the knots in her stomach uncoil. “I don’t think I can help you with that, Camz.”
“Oh, be quiet,” Camila says, too fond. “Of going back to Miami alone, I guess.”
“You won’t be alone.” Lauren shifts so she’s looking at Camila now. She tangles their legs together like it’s the easiest thing in the world. Camila bites her lip to keep from saying something she shouldn’t. She always wants to say things she shouldn’t in the middle of the night. Lauren just makes it worse. “I’ll be there. In Miami.”
“Yeah,” Camila breathes. She leans forward, buries her head in Lauren’s neck. “Before you forget about me.”
She feels Lauren swallow. “I couldn’t ever forget about you. But you’ll probably get tired of me.”
“Why would think that?” Camila asks. She throws an arm over Lauren’s stomach, tries to pull her closer. She’s so warm and smells like soap. Camila thinks she could fall asleep like this -- she wants to fall asleep like this.
“People always do.” Lauren pets at Camila’s hair and Camila’s eyelashes flutter. She holds in a sigh. “I’ve been dumped a bunch. I’m too much, I guess. They always just say that I’m too much.”
“I like how much you are,” Camila says. She tries to shift closer even though it’s not possible.
“I get too insecure. I get really intense and overly emotional and it’s exhausting, Camila. I know it. Even when I’m doing it, I know it. ”
“Hey.” Camila shifts back and catches Lauren’s eyes. She places her hand over Lauren’s heart. She can’t feel it beating, but she imagines it anyway, a steady thump-thump against her palm, imagines it feels the way Lauren’s laugh sounds. “You’ve seen me talk about One Direction. If you’re intensely emotional, I don’t know what that makes me.”
“It’s not the same. When you do that it’s cute.”
Camila chews on the corner of her mouth, brushes some hair out of her face and tucks it behind her ear. “You’re amazing. And people who get tired of you being you probably just need to gain some stamina. Run on the treadmill some more.”
Lauren smiles, barely, but it’s genuine. “I always like people too much.”
“Do you like me too much?” Camila asks.
A beat. Camila feels like the world stops spinning, feels like something else entirely cliché.
“Yeah,” Lauren whispers.
“I like you too much, too.” Camila smiles and can’t help it. She flops back down onto Lauren and places a small kiss next to her collarbone. “That scares me, too.”
“I’m not like you,” Camila says.
“What am I like?” There’s a smile in Lauren’s voice now.
“Cool.” Lauren laughs. Too loud. Camila reaches up and tries to muffle it with her hand. Lauren bites down and Camila huffs. “Ow.”
“You’re ridiculous,” Lauren says. Her hand is in Camila’s hair again, massaging her scalp, and Camila feels her entire body relax. She feels like her blood is humming in her veins.
“That’s what I’ve been saying.” Camila throws a leg over Lauren’s hip, giggles into her neck even though she thinks the way Lauren reacts to this matters more than anything else, maybe: “I’m really bad at hiding things.”
Lauren snorts. “Have you ever looked at my face?”
“That’s not what I mean,” Camila whispers. “I’m embarrassing about things.”
“You are,” Lauren agrees. “But I like that about you.”
“You do?” Camila is too scared to open her eyes and look at Lauren.
When Camila does look at Lauren her eyes are open and her face is soft and sincere, her mouth barely upturned. She’s got a hand tucked up Camila’s shirt, palm splayed and warm pressing against her skin. And when Camila kisses her it feels different than all the other times. It’s soft and gentle, no teeth and no tongue. Camila’s heart feels like it’s slowed down instead of sped up.
She wonders if Lauren tastes a little like love.
She thinks Lauren could.
There’s a moment in the choreography where Camila and Lauren walk right past each other at the front of the stage. It helps them get in position for the chorus Ally anchors, and it moves them to areas they haven’t spent a lot of time in yet. Sometimes Camila’s too busy smiling, waving and blowing kisses at the crowd to notice Lauren passing right next to her, sometimes she’s too caught up in making funny faces at Dinah, and sometimes she and Lauren make eye contact. They smile or high five, and once Lauren even grabbed her wrist and pulled her in to whisper, “Your fly is unzipped,” a smirk tugging her mouth up, eyes wide with mirth.
None of those things happen this time.
This time it goes terribly wrong.
Camila reaches out toward the crowd. A girl in the front row is crying. Camila bends down and touches her hand for a second, pulls back before the girl can really grab it and hold on too long. Camila swings herself up again and her hair fans out, her arm cocked to the side. She feels her forearm connect with Lauren’s before she processes what’s happened.
When she turns Lauren’s brow is furrowed and she’s got a tight grip on Camila’s wrist, digging in and twisting painfully hard. Camila steps closer. They’re running out of time. Normani and Dinah have started the bridge and the chorus is coming. “Are you okay?” she whisper-shouts.
“What is wrong with you today?”
Camila yanks her wrist out of Lauren’s grip. “What’s wrong with you?” she counters.
Lauren rolls her eyes and walks away, rubbing at her arm like Camila meant to hit her with the microphone. Camila doesn’t rub at her wrist even though it hurts. She doesn’t want to give Lauren the satisfaction.
Camila misses her mark, and when she comes in late on the chorus she’s a half-step flat.
The rest of the show is awkward and uncomfortable. They don’t look at each other, mess the other girls up when they’re supposed to be standing next to each other and don’t, Camila scuttling between Dinah and Ally instead of taking her place next to Lauren. It’s childish and stupid. She knows it, and she’s sure Lauren knows it.
But there’s something sparked under Camila’s skin now, angry and bright, starting in the ache in her wrist that she still feels long after it’s really gone. It’s spreads everywhere and makes her feel flush and hot.
The way Lauren had snapped, “What’s wrong with you today?” echoing in her ears and pounding in her temples. It had sounded like the today was tacked on, a beat too late to be part of the original question.
She’s curled up in an armchair, book open over her knees. The pages are wrinkled from use and they smell dusty and nice. A previous owner has scribbled occasional notes in the margins and Camila tilts her head, pulls her bottom lip between her teeth as she tries to decipher the handwriting. She likes knowing what someone else thought about what she’s reading, the thrill that shot up their back as they cracked the spine open a little further, as though everything was too big and exciting to stay on the page.
A shadow spreads over the words and Camila looks up, smiles. “Hi.”
“Hi,” Lauren says. She takes a step forward so her legs hit Camila’s. The book toddles on Camila’s knees. “You almost done?”
Camila glances down at the page before flipping through the book until she finds the chapter break. “Not really. Got like, six more pages.”
Lauren pouts. “But I’m bored.”
“Maybe you should read a book,” Camila says, but she pulls the bookmark out from between the back pages she stuck it in and marks her spot.
“Are you calling me dumb?” Lauren raises an eyebrow.
“You’ve really let yourself go.” Camila scrunches up her face. “Academically.”
Lauren narrows her eyes and frowns. “You’ve gotten really mean lately, you know that?”
Camila hums in agreement before placing her book on the nightstand and dropping her knees, kicking gently at Lauren’s thighs so she can set her feet on the carpet. “I learned from the best.”
“So rude,” Lauren scoffs. But she climbs on top of Camila anyway, straddles her hips and pokes gently at the rib of her glasses. “Why do I like you again?”
“Because I’m a great kisser.” Camila smiles wide and nods definitively.
Lauren laughs and presses her hand to the curve of Camila’s waist. “Nah. I don’t think that’s it.”
Camila twists her mouth and tries to keep herself steady. Whenever Lauren’s this close she feels like she could fly away, blink and wake up from a dream. Still. Always. Camila adopts her best old Hollywood accent: “Must be my sparkling personality, darling.”
Lauren giggles, nips at the skin where Camila’s neck curves into her shoulder. “I don’t think that’s it either. I think I’m just desperate for affection.”
Camila runs her hands up Lauren’s thighs and under her skirt. Lauren’s skin is smooth and soft and warm. Camila thinks about Lauren’s skin a lot, about how it feels under her hands, about how it might feel under her mouth. She thinks about it when she’s trying to fall asleep in a bed by herself, when she works up the courage to slip a hand beneath the elastic of her underwear.
She’s never been ready before. Thinks maybe she’s ready now.
“Probably,” Camila answers, too breathy, and, if judging by the way Lauren’s eyebrows shift, too late. “You’re probably just desperate for affection,” she clarifies.
“I don’t think that’s it,” Lauren says. She tugs on Camila’s earlobe with her teeth, licks at it in a way that would be gross if it was anyone but Lauren.
“You said it first.”
“Was wrong.” Lauren pushes up Camila’s shirt, hand resting against her stomach and thumb catching on her bellybutton. “You’re the best person I know.”
She kisses Camila then, open-mouthed and hard. She tastes like sweet salsa and the only person Camila wants to kiss.
Lauren has this way of making Camila feel so special and so wanted. She makes her feel fragile. She makes her her feel Lauren just wants to break her anyway. Camila wants that, too.
She slides her hands higher up Lauren’s thighs until her fingertips hit her hips, the edge of her underwear. “’m ready,” she mumbles when Lauren breaks away, breathing warm and wet against her neck.
“Ready?” Lauren asks, voice low and vibrating hot against Camila’s skin. Desire coils tight at the base of Camila’s spine.
“Yeah,” she breathes. “Ready. Like. Ready.”
“Oh.” When Lauren sits back and looks at her, her mouth is pink and slick and Camila’s stomach flutters, clenches. She thinks maybe she’s never wanted anything as much as she wants Lauren right now; overdramatic and leaning scarily toward the truth. Lauren shakes her head like she’s trying to clear it, does clear her throat. “Yeah. Okay. Yeah.”
Camila smiles, stretches her neck to press a kiss to the corner of Lauren’s mouth. “You okay?”
“Yeah. Yes.” Lauren kisses her again, slower and softer. It makes Camila’s toes curl into the carpet. She pushes her entire body forward like she’s not touching Lauren enough. And that’s true, Camila thinks, she’s not.
Lauren pulls her jeans down her legs, helps her kick them off her feet. The way Lauren’s ring scrapes down Camila’s thighs and shins with the fabric has Camila clutching at the chair's arms. Lauren presses hot, open-mouthed kissed to the inside of her thigh, sucks a mark that hurts, hurts, hurts onto her hip.
“Lauren,” Camila says, and her voice doesn’t sound like it belongs to her. She can feel Lauren’s breath on her, Lauren’s eyes blown wide open like she’s high. “Lauren, do you know?”
Lauren closes her eyes and inhales, her chest rising and falling with it, color high on her cheeks. When she looks at Camila again Camila feels like she can’t breathe. “Yeah. I know. Promise.”
Camila comes with two of Lauren’s figures crooked inside her, mouth on her clit whispering something that makes everything whiteout. Camila comes with Lauren’s name broken inside her mouth, hands tugging on Lauren’s hair. Camila comes with her drumbeat heart chanting and giving everything away.
The ride to the hotel isn’t quiet.
Dinah and Normani sing along to Beyoncé, loud and ridiculous, even to the slow songs and even during the soft parts. Ally dances in her seat between sending texts to Troy and her mother, ponytail swishing back and forth.
Camila sits in the back next to Ally, fingers folded together over her crossed legs. She presses her mouth into a thin line and keeps her foot from tapping along to the music’s beat. Her head is static. She looks out the window, watches the buildings pass by, their lights twinkling something like hope. Camila blinks, leans her head against the cool glass and screws her eyes shut. She can feel every bump of the road.
When she crawls out of the car she follows Lauren the short distance to the lobby, looks down as the paparazzi cameras flash, their shouts mixing with the screams of the fans. Camila watches the hunch of Lauren’s shoulder blades under her shirt and doesn’t bother looking anywhere else.
In the elevator Lauren punches the button for their floor, and then repeatedly hits the door close button. The other girls stopped to sign some autographs, Camila thinks. Doesn’t know. They’re not here. That’s all she knows. It’s just her and Lauren and the foot of distance buzzing between them, everything silent except for the ding of the elevator when it opens.
Camila follows Lauren to their room -- vaguely thinks about how they don’t have to leave until after lunch tomorrow. No show until the day after. Tomorrow seems awfully far away -- and slams the door shut behind her. She watches Lauren slip off her shoes and run a hand through her hair. She watches Lauren roll her neck and stretch her arms over her head.
Lauren doesn’t say anything.
Camila takes a step forward, studies the arch of Lauren’s back, the fold in the fabric of her top where it untucks itself from her skirt. “What did you mean?” she asks.
Lauren pauses, hesitates. Camila can see it in the jerk of her hips as she shifts, feet solidly on the ground again, arms brought back to her sides. “When?”
“Look at me,” Camila whispers. She’s angry, her entire body going hot and cold simultaneously. “Why won’t you look at me?”
Lauren turns around slowly and crosses her arms over her chest, hip cocked to the side. “I’m looking at you.”
Camila rolls her eyes. “What’s wrong with me today?” Camila spits the words back from where they’re still pounding behind her skull and giving her a headache.
“Are you asking?”
“What did you mean?” Camila clenches her fists.
Lauren sighs, exasperated. “You’ve been acting weird.”
“How?” Camila asks. Lauren doesn’t play stupid. Camila doesn’t know what to make of her doing it now. She inhales, tries to steady her breathing.
“You’ve got this constant stink eye whenever you look at me,” she says, shrugging.
Camila shakes her head. “What? Are you serious?”
“No. Totally kidding.” Lauren shakes her head, too, eyes wide and mocking.
“You’re the one who won’t even look at me, Lauren.”
“So you’ve said.”
Camila swallows. “I don’t know what I did to you to make you act like I don’t even exist.”
Lauren laughs then, bitter and low. Her eyebrows rise in disbelief. “You don’t know what you did?”
“No,” Camila exhales. She feels her chest tighten and stomach twist.
“You look at me like there’s something wrong with me all the time. Like, I don’t know, like you feel bad for me. You think you’re so much better than me, Camila. But you’re not. You’re not fucking better than me.”
“I don’t think I’m better than you.”
“Bullshit,” Lauren says. Her eyes are narrowed but wet. “Just because you know who you are, you think I should know who I am.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Camila unclenches her fists and takes a step forward. Lauren seems immeasurably far away.
“I’m sorry that I don’t want to just like.” She swallows and looks up at the ceiling. Camila still doesn’t understand why Lauren won’t just look at her. “Tell everyone, okay? That I don’t want everyone constantly yelling at me and telling me that I have to love you or like girls or, or. I don’t know. I don’t want everyone telling me who I am or how to live my life.”
Camila shakes her head. “You do like girls.” It’s the least important part of what Lauren just said, she knows. But telling Lauren that it doesn’t matter what other people say won’t convince her and won’t get them anywhere. Camila can’t bring herself to approach that fight.
“No,” Lauren says. “I like you.” Her eyes are dark and her face is flushed. She’s standing so straight her knees are shaking. “But what if -- what if you’re just an exception. A fluke.”
Exception? Fluke? Camila feels her heart pounding and she wishes it would just stop. Her jaw pops. “What? Like an experiment? If you wanted an experiment you chose the wrong person, Lauren.”
“That’s not what I said.” Lauren breathes out, slow and shaky. “And I know, okay? You don’t get it. You don’t care what anyone thinks and you always want to tell everyone.”
“Yeah, I want to tell everyone,” Camila responds. She presses her palms into her eyelids until little, pale hexagons explode like she's turning a kaleidoscope. “I want to tell everyone that I love you and that I get to kiss you and that I gave you that lovebite bellow your bellybutton. What is so wrong with that? What are you so afraid of?”
Lauren scoffs and tongues at the corner of her mouth. “I don’t even know what I want, Camila. I don’t need everyone judging me. Saying, I don't know,” Lauren’s voice adopts a slightly hysterical high-pitched timbre, “Hey, if you're with Camila you must be gay. I was right! Ha!” Her nostrils flare and she rubs at her collarbones. “I’m not ready. And you resent me for it.”
“--You do.” Lauren looks straight at her then, eyes wide and scared. Always so scared now. Camila can’t remember when she started looking like that, wonders if maybe she always did. “You hate that I don’t want to tell everyone and you hate me for it. You’re the good one and I’m the asshole. I get it, okay? I’m an asshole.”
“It’s like you’re embarrassed of me,” Camila says. Because she’s thought that a lot, lying next to Lauren after asking why she can't just hold her hand when they walk down a red carpet, why she can’t kiss her on the cheek like she does with all the other girls.
“Well, you’re embarrassing,” Lauren snarls, sharp and hoarse.
Camila gasps, feels like all the air has been knocked out of her, like she’s been split in half. She closes her eyes, drops her head to her chest and counts to ten. Her breathing is too loud and erratic. She feels like her entire body is shriveling up on itself. Of course Lauren thinks she embarrassing. “I didn’t-- I’m--” Camila looks up, wets her mouth. Lauren’s taken a step forward, something like she’s sorry written in the set of her jaw. Camila short-circuits. “I can’t believe you just said that.”
Lauren takes another step forward. Camila takes a step back, can feel the door hovering close. “I didn’t. I didn’t mean it.”
Camila shakes her head, swallows, feels poison curl on her tongue. “You’re too much sometimes.”
There’s a bite in the wind when it nips at Camila’s noise and cheeks, turning her skin into sandpaper. But with her boots and gloves and scarf and the snow piles on the ground, it’s worth it. She still thinks snow holds a magical quality, softening everything. The sky’s flurrying. Camila tilts her head back and sticks out her tongue.
“That’s probably polluted,” Normani says. She pulls on Camila’s arm and drags her even further into the yard.
It’s a nice house in upstate New York. Quiet and secluded, but downtown’s not too far. Recording here is different from recording in Los Angeles. It’s wider and slower, feels almost like molasses. Los Angeles has a rush to it, like they have to go faster, faster, faster. They don’t have forever here, but it feels more like they do.
“The clouds cleaned it,” Camila counters.
Normani does a funny laugh-sigh combination. “How does that work?”
“Like a pasta strainer.”
“Oh my god.” Normani rubs her forehead like Camila’s exhausting, but she’s grinning.
Camila wraps her arms around Normani and plants a kiss on her cheek. “You love me so much.”
When the snowball smacks into Camila’s arm it falls apart, leaves slush dusting her coat. “Hey!” She turns, narrows her eyes and spots the red, string ball of Dinah’s hat sticking up from behind a bush. Camila can make out the vibrato of Dinah’s muffled laugh. “This is war Cheechee.”
Camila tries to pack some snow together but it keeps threatening to fall apart, and the end product definitely isn’t round. She tiptoes over to where Dinah is and then runs around the bush, yodeling at the top of her lungs. She throws the snow(not)ball and it misses Dinah. “Dang it.”
Dinah cackles and chases her back into the open, pelting a few balls she must have taken the time to form while Camila was making snow angels with Ally. Camila’s pretty sure that’s cheating. “Help me!” She calls, limbs flailing and slip-sliding through the snow. She can feel cold trickle down her neck and into her coat, between her hat and hair. She should’ve put her hood up. Her mother told her so.
“No one can save you now,” Dinah laughs, but no more snowballs are being thrown past Camila’s head. When she looks over her shoulder, Dinah’s heading back to her bush, probably to prepare more weapons.
Camila’s breathing hard when she reaches the tiny and deformed snowman Ally, Normani and Lauren are working on. She crouches behind it as best she can. “I need help. Dinah’s attacking.”
“If you two hurt Mr. Flurry, I’ll hurt you,” Ally says, patting more bits of snow into the ball at the base. “Mani, can you look for some sticks? He needs arms.”
“Sure.” Normani kicks lightly at Camila’s boot before turning around.
“She’s better at this than me!” Camila starts pushing some snow together. Her lungs feel frozen and whenever she exhales the air turns into white puffs. “I don’t want my life to end this way. I don’t think you all understand how dire the situation is.”
Lauren laughs, bends down and starts working some snow between her gloves. “The snow is too delicate for how hard you’re shoving it together.”
“I don’t know my own strength,” Camila says glumly.
Lauren helps pile a few snowballs together while Normani comes back with some sticks, a carrot and some woodchips from the garden beds. “Mr. Flurry looks very tiny but very handsome,” Camila says while Ally and Normani put his face together.
“Thanks.” Ally smiles at her.
“Come on.” Lauren tugs on her jacket before picking up a few snowballs. “We should attack before it’s too late.”
“Good plan.” Camila scoops some snowballs into her arms. Only one falls apart, so she counts it as a success. She runs after Lauren, laughs when Lauren trips and stumbles to the right. She only laughs harder when Lauren tells her to be quiet because “surprise is key.”
When they round Dinah’s fortress, Dinah has a pyramid of snowballs at her feet and that wild, happy look she gets when she’s about to prank someone.
Camila thinks Lauren should be better at this with all her softball training, but Dinah’s faster. “You two are weak. Miami is weak,” Dinah cackles.
Camila hits Dinah in the chest once before she slips and falls sideways into Lauren, her last snowball hitting the toe of her boot as she drags Lauren down with her.
“Oof,” Lauren breathes. Her cheeks have gone pink and there are water droplets in her hair and around her headband earmuffs. She’s laughing, hands wrapping around Camila as Dinah pumps her hands in the air. She’s proclaiming victory and dancing away, probably to brag to Ally and Normani.
“Sorry,” Camila laughs.
She nudges against Lauren with her nose and Lauren giggles, tightens her hold when she says, “You’re cold.”
“I’ve never been anywhere cold as you,” Camila sings before pressing a kiss to Lauren’s chin. Their coats are thick and lumpy between them, and Camila’s sock feels damp in her boot, like somehow Dinah got snow in there. Her jeans are wet and her fingers are starting to go numb. She flexes them inside her gloves and where her hands are twisted in Lauren’s coat.
She loves her so much.
“I love you,” she says, watches the white huff of air evaporate between them.
Lauren blinks, bites at her red, chapped mouth. “Thanks, Camz.”
She smiles small and Camila smiles back, kisses her gently, just a peck, and then scrambles up and holds out her hands. She helps Lauren stand and links their arms together, leans all her weight into Lauren. “Tea and snuggles?”
“Perfect,” Lauren says.
Camila’s never felt lighter in her whole life.
Lauren blinks and when she opens her eyes they’re wide and blank. She doesn’t even look like herself. “What?”
“You’re too much,” Camila whispers. She’s never wanted to hurt someone like she wants to hurt Lauren right now, wants Lauren to bleed. It’s terrifying.
“Oh,” Lauren breathes. She walks backwards until her legs hit the bed. She sits down, crosses her ankles and runs a hand through her hair. She looks like she might faint, gone ghostly pale. “Well. I’m sorry.” She inhales and her eyes spill over. She’s trembling, her fingers and her chest and her legs. Her entire body is trembling.
“You’re always going on dates and not even asking me if it’s okay,” Camila says. She doesn’t want to stop. She likes the way Lauren is shaking and the power that has thrumming underneath her too tight skin. She’s never felt like she had the upper hand before. “Do you let the boys fuck you?”
Lauren freezes. “Fuck you, Camila.”
“Do you know Sandra and Marielle won’t even talk about you anymore? They said you’re not worth my time if you’re going to cheat on me constantly. Parade your boys around like I don’t matter.”
“We’re not dating,” Lauren chokes out.
Camila’s laugh catches in the back of her throat. Lauren’s still crying and Camila wipes at her eyes, is almost surprised to find them wet. “Good excuse.”
“No,” Lauren says. She pushes off the bed and scrubs at her eyes, her face splotchy, mascara and lipstick smudged. “We were never dating. We never talked about being exclusive. You can’t just put that on me now. You never said anything.”
“I told you I loved you.” Camila bites her lip. She feels too raw, like her skin’s gone, nerves exposed. “I love you,” she says. Looking at Lauren now, saying it now, feels dirty and wrong. She blinks back tears, wants to rush forward and hug her, apologize for everything she said, for the things she meant and for meaning them, for still meaning them.
“Every time you say that it sounds like you’re asking for something.”
Camila sighs. She wipes at her cheeks and takes a hesitant step forward. Then another, doesn’t stop until Lauren’s a foot away. Camila could reach out and touch her, grab her wrist and feel her pulse under her thumb. She wonders if it would still jump. “You never say it back.”
“I do,” Lauren says. But then she worries her lip, looks down.
“But you don’t mean it the same. You don’t say it back when I mean it like you’re my whole world.”
“I’m not your whole world, Camila,” Lauren says, disbelief coloring her voice. Her eyes are wide and worried when they meet hers. Camila can’t believe she never noticed the hesitancy jumping underneath Lauren’s skin before.
“No,” Camila agrees. “You never wanted to be.”
“I couldn’t--” Lauren’s voice breaks. She’s crying again -- still. Camila reaches out, brushes at the tears with the pads of her thumbs. It doesn’t do much. Her own vision goes blurry. “I couldn’t love you. I couldn’t let myself love you and then wait for you to get tired of me. To get annoyed. You said it yourself: I’m too much. I can’t handle you thinking that. I can’t handle it now, I wouldn’t--”
“I wouldn’t have,” Camila cuts in, voice shaking. Her fingers are so wet. “If you had given me everything, I wouldn’t have.”
“You don’t know that,” Lauren says. “Everyone always get tired of me.”
“You don’t know, either. You didn’t even give me a chance. Not Really.”
When Lauren pulls her in Camila inhales, buries her face in Lauren’s hair. She pulls her closer, clutches at her. She feels something breaking, cracking open inside her, hot and painful. She sobs into Lauren’s hair, into her shoulder, loud, gasping sounds that she can’t help. Camila feels like they’re being ripped from her body, feels like she’ll never be able to breathe again, her throat scratchy and inflamed. She cries until the cotton of Lauren’s shirt is soaked through, until she can feel the matching stain that’s bloomed on her own shoulder, the pain sparking by her spine where Lauren’s been holding on too tightly.
When she stops crying she pulls away, says: “For a long time, every time you’ve kissed me, it’s felt like you were apologizing.”
“Really?” Lauren asks. Her voice is shot the same way it is after she comes. Camila wishes she didn’t know that, is so glad she knows that. “It always feels like you’re saying goodbye.”
“You are, though.”
Camila runs a hand through her hair. “Yeah. I guess I am.”
“That’s probably the mature thing to do.” Lauren laughs, the sound hollow. “And I just thought we were going to fuck it out tonight.”
Camila smacks gently at her arm, wants to smile but can’t. “I don’t regret it, you know? I don’t regret falling in love with you. If I could go back and pick anyone, I’d still pick you.”
“It was my pleasure,” Lauren says.
She’s still crying, hasn’t stopped crying. Something about that makes Camila feel warm even as she wants to just collapse, curl in on herself, curl in on Lauren and hold her until she stops. It feels like reassurance that she meant something to Lauren, too. Maybe she meant just as much.
She hopes she meant just as much.
“Can I kiss you?” Camila asks. “Just one more time.”
Lauren chews on her bottom lip, wipes at her nose with her sleeve. Her eyelashes are wet and clumped together, her hair’s a mess. She’s still the most beautiful thing Camila’s ever seen. She thinks maybe that’s how she knows it was real.
“I’d like that,” Lauren says, quiet.
Camila puts both hands on Lauren’s face, runs her fingers over the sticky skin. Her lips are dry and she tastes a little sour. “I’m going to say I love you one more time,” Camila breathes, so close her lips still move against Lauren’s. “And then I’m going to ask if someone wants to trade rooms for the night. But I'm going to tell you I love you. Don’t feel like you have to say anything back.”
She kisses Lauren again, a gentle, closed-mouth press. “I love you.”
“We’re good, right?” Lauren asks, her eyes closed and her hands fisted loosely in Camila’s dress.
“I love you,” Camila says.
“Good.” Lauren almost smiles.
“I love you.”
It's terrible how part of Camila still hoped she’d say it back.
Lauren’s pressed solid against Camila’s back, knees hitting the underside of Camila’s knees, hands tight around her stomach. She’s fluttering little kisses at the back of Camila’s neck and the top of her spine. Camila smiles and runs her hands up and down Lauren’s arms. She likes this, feels safe.
The stars twinkle outside the window, luminous and pretty. Camila connects them and makes her own constellations: a puppy, a Christmas tree, Lauren’s crooked smile when Camila says something inappropriate.
“What if I bought you a star?” Camila whispers.
“Why would you do that?” Lauren asks. Camila’s skin goosebumps when Lauren kisses the curve of her ear, pulls her back infinitesimally closer and nudges her foot between Camila’s legs.
“You’ll always be there, right?” Camila feels like she’s holding her breath.
“Of course,” Lauren says, easy and plain.
“So it’d be nice, right?” Camila draws a heart, using the stars like tracing paper, reaches her hand out to see it better. It's lopsided.
“What’s that?” Lauren mumbles against her skin.
“Cute.” Her voice is so fond and Camila feels like she’s tingling all over. “Are you going to name a constellation after me, too?”
Camila laughs. “No. I just. It’d be nice, wouldn’t it? Something big that’ll always be yours. Always remind you of me. So when you’re 120 and all your hair is white you can pull out the certificate and be like ‘Remember when you named a star after me? I love you so much, Camz.”
“It’s nice that you think I’ll live to be 120,” Lauren says.
“Stars are forever.” Lauren snorts. “Okay, not forever. But they’ll be around a lot longer than you and me.”
Lauren hums against her skin. “I think we could outlast it,” she says, soft and barely audible against Camila’s neck, like she just wants to press it into Camila’s skin, like it’s a secret she doesn’t even want the air to hold.
“Yeah?” Camila asks. She closes her eyes and bites down on her bottom lip.
“Yeah.” Lauren nips at the juncture between her neck and shoulder, kisses over the spot. “It’s a deal, then.”
“You’ll never leave me, and I’ll never leave you,” Camila says. She feels Lauren nod, settle back down and cuddle as close as possible, breath warm where it hits Camila’s neck. She knows Lauren will fall asleep soon. It doesn’t take her long at all when they’re like this. “Baby, you light up my world like nobody else.”
“Shut up,” Lauren giggles. “Goodnight.”
“Goodnight.” Camila smiles.
It’s impossibly stupid and dumb, maybe, but she means it: Lauren is so bright.
It’s impossibly stupid and dumb, maybe, but she means it: Always.
“Always,” she whispers after Lauren’s fallen asleep, body relaxed against hers, grip loosened around her waist. She just wants to hear how it sounds, know how it feels curled around her tongue.
Camila buys Lauren that star anyway. Just in case.