Word Count: 25,900
Summary: It's not that she minds Lauren coming; it's just that she would have liked more notice so her hair wasn't thrown on top of her head and her mascara wasn't smudged. She looks like a zombie. And it's not because it's Lauren, specifically, who doesn't seem to remember Women's Lit. and always seems to be laughing at a joke all her own with her bright eyes and wry smile. Camila would want to look presentable for any outsider infringing upon game night. Obviously. College AU.
Disclaimer: I don't own anything and am not profiting off of this in any way. As always, the fourth wall is a gift we should all try to keep intact. Title from "Be Who You Are," by You Me At Six.
There is no meet-cute.
Nobody spills a drink on anyone at a party, apologize profusely and rush to help clean the mixture off. Nobody runs into anyone outside a classroom, binder and papers spilling around them. Nobody writes something cute and clever when anyone orders coffee.
Lauren won't even remember sitting across the room from her in Women's Lit.
It starts like this:
Normani wraps her hand around Lauren's wrist, pulling her into the bedroom so they can study for their social theory midterm. Camila waves, twizzler hanging out of her mouth as she sits cross-legged on the couch, watching one of the Thursday night comedies she doesn't actually like.
She hears intermittent giggling, bites her lip and increases the volume on the television.
It's starts like this:
Lauren scurries past the living area to the bathroom, and Camila hears the flush of the toilet and the rush of water in the sink. She debates getting up, walking to the fridge and pulling out a piece of string cheese. She sits still, though, trains her eyes on the car commercial and breathes.
It starts like this:
Lauren clears her throat and Camila whips her head around quick, the exact opposite of nonchalance. Her face feels warm and Lauren's mouth quirks up.
"What're you watching?" she asks.
"I don't know." Camila shrugs. She's suddenly very aware of a piece of hair that's fallen out of her ponytail; she tucks it behind her ear.
Lauren's laugh is sharp, abrupt and without any maliciousness. "Well, enjoy."
"Enjoy social theory," Camila says.
Lauren rolls her eyes and drawls, "I'll try."
Camila scoops some of the dressing off her drowning salad -- a clear sign that she should not be attempting to eat salad -- as Dinah explains the mechanics of Ally and Troy's intimate relationship. Ally's laughter has reached hyena levels, and she's bent over the table, tears leaking out of her eyes.
Camila smiles, scraping her spoon against a crouton.
"Is she okay?"
Camila snaps her head up and laughs. "Yeah, she'll survive."
"I don't know. She's looking a little red." Lauren's got a hip cocked against the table, an eyebrow raised. There's an amused tilt to her mouth that Camila isn't thinking too much about -- the amused tilt or her mouth.
"Eh, she's not the color of the marinara sauce yet," Dinah says before spearing a noddle and popping it into her mouth.
Ally hiccups, sits up straight and shakes her head. "Thanks for your concern," she breathes, voice still strained and too high.
"I'm Ally," she offers, reaching her hand out.
"Lauren." Camila watches their hands shake, the chipped black nail polish on Lauren's fingernails and the bright purple perfectly applied to Ally's thumb. When they let go Lauren looks at Camila again. "How's Normani? She wasn't in class today."
"Oh." Camila taps some of the dressing off her spoon and onto the side of her plate. "She just slept in."
"Okay. Good to know she hasn't put my health at risk." Lauren smooths a finger over her eyebrow. "And yours."
"And mine?" Camila asks. Lauren's eyes are bright and focused and it makes Camila fight the urge to sit up straighter.
"That she's not going to get you sick," Lauren clarifies.
"Oh, right. Yeah. If she got me sick I'd have to kill her." Camila wrinkles her nose and nods.
Ally and Dinah laugh. "Yeah, Pero, like you'd ever murder her. You can't even kill a spider," Dinah says.
"Hey," Camila protests, reaching across the table to smack Dinah's shoulder. She misses, naturally.
"Missed me, missed me," Dinah sing-songs, mocking.
A boy walks by, a plate piled with two hamburgers, a slice of sausage pizza and French fries. He's got a bowl of salad in his other hand. "You coming?" He nods toward a table that Camila turns around to look at: two girls and another guy are already sitting down.
"Yeah. I still have to get food."
"Hurry up, Jauregui. I'm not going to sit there while it takes you an hour to pick at a wrap."
"Shut up." She rolls her eyes, shoves the boy so he keeps walking and turns back to the table. "I'll see you guys later."
"It was nice meeting you." Ally waves, smile beaming.
"Yeah. See you later," Camila says. She doesn't put too much stock in it.
Camila has never been kissed.
Well, okay, that's not exactly true. She was kissed one time at band camp -- yeah, she knows, okay -- by some guy whose friends thought it would be funny.
Camila doesn't count it.
So, she's never been kissed.
It's kind of sad, she thinks.
But sometimes she shrugs, twirls around the apartment with Dinah, plays hide and seek around campus with the girls, and doesn't mind so much.
"You did what?" Camila asks.
"I invited Lauren," Normani says. "Her roommates are all gone for the weekend and she said it sounded fun."
"Game night is sacred." Camila flicks at Normani's arm.
Normani sighs. "I'm tired of losing catchphrase because you and Dinah have that freaky psychic thing."
"It's not our fault you and Ally are giant sore losers," Dinah says around a mouthful of chips.
"The teams won't be even," Camila protests.
It's not that she minds Lauren coming; it's just that she would have liked more notice so her hair wasn't thrown on top of her head and her mascara wasn't smudged. She looks like a zombie. And it's not because it's Lauren, specifically, who doesn't seem to remember Women's Lit. and always seems to be laughing at a joke all her own with her bright eyes and wry smile. Camila would want to look presentable for any outsider infringing upon game night. Obviously.
"Oh, whatever, Mila." Dinah elbows her in the ribs. "We'll still dominate."
"Hey." Ally emerges from her room, extending her neck so she can see over all the boxes. "We should switch up teams."
"You know that ain't gonna happen," Dinah laughs, holding the chip bag open and offering it to Camila.
"It would be fair. I don't know why we haven't switched before," Normani says.
"Fair's for losers," Camila says before popping a chip in her mouth and licking some salt off her finger.
"All they do is whine whine whine no matter what," Dinah sings.
"Oh, come on," Ally says. She frowns and tucks her feet underneath her. "I just want to be on Dinah's team one time."
"Stop trying to steal my partner." Camila glares and grabs Dinah's arm as if to hold her there.
"It's hard being this popular." Dinah flips her hair and Camila chokes on a smile.
There's a knock on the door and Normani calls, "It's open."
Lauren comes in, rubbing her hand together, cheeks and nose red, gray beaning pulled over her ears. "It's so cold outside."
"The wind is terrible," Ally agrees, voice lilting sympathetically.
"If we're switching it up anyway with Lauren, we might as well rotate partners," Normani says.
Dinah shrugs. "Whatever. As long as I got my chips."
"Sorry to be intruding," Lauren says, half-amused and half-serious, taking a seat next to Normani. "I brought a peace offering, though." She pulls a bottle of wine out of her purse, and Camila loses it and hits her forehead against the table when Dinah practically screams, "I call Lauren!"
It goes like this:
Team Wine: Dinah and Lauren : 2
Team Awesome: Ally, Camila and Normani : 0
It's really not Camila's fault that the only pop culture Ally seems to have knowledge of is Selena, and it's certainly not her fault that she and Normani couldn't figure out Beer Belly based on fat, drink and brown. Ally smacking her forehead after, as though Camila and Normani were the ones being dumb, was just icing on the loser cake.
Camila grabs both Normani's hands in hers and looks at her seriously. "I feel so sorry for you."
"Hey!" Ally screeches.
"You suck," Normani tells her.
"You suck," Ally responds.
"I need some wine." Normani pouts and looks to Lauren and Dinah, who huddle together and pretend to whisper to each other.
"Only because that was pitiful," Lauren says, smiling. She hands over the bottle as Normani stands up to grabs her plastic wine glass, decorated in hearts and lipstick kisses.
"Cute glass," Lauren says.
"Thanks. Camila got it for me." Normani sloshes the red around the edges, swirls, sniffs and sips.
"I've got good taste. What can I say?" Camila winks.
"Can we play a game we'll win now?" Ally asks. She turns her head and surveys the stack of games she brought out.
"Bible trivia!" Normani raises her hand and Ally high-fives her.
"No. No way." Lauren shakes her head. "We are not playing Bible trivia."
"You're a guest," Normani reminds her.
"Exactly. And Dinah and I were kind enough to share our wine with you."
"We're not doing Bible trivia," Camila agrees. "I don't need another lecture about not knowing something."
"You thought Mary Magdalene was a prostitute," Ally says, eyes bugging out of her head, hand over her heart.
"You're so easily offended." Camila reaches out and brushes some of Ally's hair away from her face. "It's a common misconception."
"Yeah," Lauren offers. "And it's not like there's anything wrong with being a prostitute."
Normani chokes on a sip of wine, Dinah cackles and kicks the coffee table, and Ally's face turns bright red. Camila smiles, says: "Damn straight."
When Ally's face returns to a normal color and there's only one glass of wine left in the bottle, they all agree Apples-to-Apples is fair despite Lauren and Dinah having one less person on their team to submit a card. They both make a big ado about how generous they're being, and Camila fights the urge to tell them that even if they lose this game they're still going to be ahead by 50 percent. Knowing Dinah, it would just cause more mocking.
Lauren savors being the judge. Her adjective in manly: masculine, virile, strong. She licks at the corner of her mouth and mutters, "sure," as she sets it down.
Camila pulls her bottom lip into her mouth and reads over her cards: ginkgo trees, speeding tickets, salads, family values, toasters, Bangkok and Michelle Pfeiffer. Nothing particularly sticks out, but she figures the family values card is comical, at least. You know, the patriarchy and all that jazz.
Once Lauren gets everyone's submission, she closes her eyes, shuffles the cards up, and then lays them out one by one with a dramatic flourish. She gets the Wright brothers, family values, chickens -- she reads the "Run, chicken, run!" at the bottom of the description like she's in Forrest Gump -- and brain surgeons. She throws the brain surgeon card so hard it slides off the table and onto the floor.
Camila flinches away, laughs.
Lauren vacillates between the Wright brothers and family values, and Camila is one card away from winning. She does her best to keep her face composed and her hands still in her lap.
"The Wright brothers invented flying," Dinah argues.
"They didn't invent it," Camila counters, "Bird and bats and insects have been flying forever."
"They invented letting people fly."
"People can fly?" Camila cocks her head and raises an eyebrow.
Dinah throws one of the throw pillows at her face. Camila ducks and screams before laughing: "Don't be a bully."
"The Wright brothers were boys," Dinah says.
"Eh," Lauren replies, running her hand along the edge of the green, judge's card. "I think I'm going with family values."
"Are you kidding me?" Normani screeches.
"I win!" Camila screams, pumping her fists in the air, standing up and doing what counts, for her and her limited abilities, as a victory dance.
"We get a point." Ally claps before uncapping the dry erase marker and drawing a tally mark on the board.
"You should've fucking picked the Wright brothers," Dinah says.
Lauren shrugs. "Her card was really fucking funny. The patriarchy, you know?"
It goes like this:
Team Wine: Dinah and Lauren : 3
Team Awesome: Ally, Camila and Normani : 1
There is no classic meet-cute, and there is no pining.
Camila does not think about Lauren all the time, she doesn't itch to message her on Facebook, and when she sees her walking somewhere on campus she waves and says, "hi," in the same awkward way she does with the people she lived with freshman year and the people she talked to in one class and never again.
Sure, Camila knows that Lauren is pretty. She knows that Lauren is pretty and funny. She knows that Lauren is cooler than she could ever have the hope of being herself, but it all kind of ends there. Camila spends more time wanting to make out with Harry Styles than Lauren, and she's only ever wanted to kiss three boys in her entire life.
She doesn't spend time wondering if Lauren wants to kiss her, either.
If you asked her which one of her friends Lauren would choose to kiss Camila would offer up Normani's name, because duh, and that would be that. No jealousy or sadness.
Nothing romantic-comedy about that.
Cross her heart, etc.
It's the weekend before the weekend before finals. It doesn't have a fun name like the Spring weekend: Spring Fling or Last Blast or End Bend. It's just the weekend before the weekend before finals, and Camila is at a townhouse with Dinah and Normani, pop music blasting and rattling her bones.
Camila might be slightly tipsy. Her cheeks feel warm, the headache she was nursing earlier has disappeared, and she pre-gamed with vodka and 7-Up. It's nice. She made mindless conversation with a very tall boy who she knows she had a class with at some point, but she can't recall if it was introduction to biology or ethics. She smacks her lips and wanders over to the kitchen.
Lauren and Dinah are playing some kind of drinking game with cards, a filled shot glass in front of each of them.
"Hi," Camila says, linking her arm with Dinah's and pressing a kiss to her cheek. "What are you doing?"
"Getting drunk," Dinah says. "Wanna play?"
"I don't know what we're playing." Camila looks at Lauren, her pupils blown, her face flush, and her smile easy. Camila thinks she smells vaguely of weed.
"It's easier to show you than explain," Dinah says. She deals a card to Lauren and then on to herself.
"Red," Lauren says. When she flips over the card it's a queen of diamonds. Her grin widens.
"Red," Dinah repeats, flipping over her own card: six of clubs. She smiles too, but she picks up her shot, drinks it, doesn't bother to chase it with anything.
The game continues, with each guess more specific than the last: higher or lower than the first card, suite, number. Dinah seems to delight in being wrong, and Lauren seems to delight in being right.
"You gonna play this time?" Lauren asks.
"I'll just watch." Camila runs a hand through her hair. Her blood feels too thick for her veins. The window over the kitchen sink is open, letting in a cool breeze that has goosebumps popping up on her arms, making her shiver and lean more heavily into Dinah. The beat of "Milkshake" thrums under her skin, a departure from the 90's music the speakers have been emitting. She blinks to readjust.
Lauren shuffles the deck this time, asks Camila to cut it, and then deals two cards.
"Red," Dinah says. It's a ten of hearts.
"Black." When Lauren flips her card over it's a five of hearts, and she frowns, doesn't move to down a shot.
"You have to drink," Dinah reminds her, pushing the glass infinitesimally closer to Lauren.
Dinah cocks an eyebrow. "Why not?"
"I'm almost out." She picks up the bottle and shakes it.
"Stop being a baby," Dinah says. "Take your shot. I have rum back in our room."
"No." Lauren's eyebrows knit together and she pouts.
"Come on," Dinah whines. "I have a witness."
Lauren's eyes flicker to Camila. She pulls her bottom lip between her teeth, lets her eyes linger over Camila in a way that makes Camila stand straighter, dig her nails into Dinah's wrist. "I'll do it if Camila kisses me," she says, casual, like it's nothing.
"What?" Camila's eyes widen.
"I'll take the shot if you kiss me," Lauren repeats, slow and a little slurred.
Camila looks up at Dinah, who just shrugs and gestures to Lauren. "She has to take it."
Camila looks back at Lauren, presses her mouth together and swallows. She can still taste the hint of burn and 7-Up in her throat. Her lip gloss has worn off and her heartbeat quickens. Camila leans forward, catches Lauren's eyes, wide and black and still so bright. She inhales, exhales, presses her mouth gently against Lauren's.
Lauren tastes a little like weed, a lot like vodka and the syrupy sweetness of the coke she's been chasing her shots with, and vaguely like cherries. She's grinning when Camila backs away. She takes her shot and Camila watches the column of her throat, the way she licks her lips and slams the glass back on the counter.
"I'm going to find Normani," Camila says, quiet. "Come get us if you go back for the rum."
It could count as Camila's first kiss; it could count as Camila's second kiss.
She decides not to count it at all.
Camila goes home over winter break, eats too much chocolate, and takes Sophie to Disney World.
The only time she talks to Lauren is when she sends mass Merry Christmas! and Happy New Year's! texts, to which Lauren responds Merry Christmas! I hope your is great :) and Hapy New Yaerss!!!
Lauren slides into the chair next to her on the first Thursday of the spring semester, the second day of classes. "Hey, how was your break?"
"Good." Camila smiles, taps her pencil against the first page of her spiral. "Long. I'm glad to be back."
"Yeah? I could've used a few more weeks." Lauren shrugs before pulling the Norton Anthology out of her backpack. "I wish we could just like, live here most of the time and not have to actually do any work."
"The dream," Camila says, smile itching at the corners of her mouth. "I've never had Matthews before. Is he good?"
"I had him for literary theories. He's fine. Kind of boring, but really easy to get off topic."
"This is going to sound stupid," Camila starts. She brushes absently at her forehead before scooting her chair closer to the table. "You're an English major?"
"Writing. And Sociology." Lauren uncaps her pen and draws a few loops inside her folder. "You're English Ed. right?"
Camila's eyes widen. "Who told?" she asks, as though it was a secret.
"Figures. She's always bragging about me." Camila glances around the room. It's almost full, and she recognizes about a dozen faces. One of the girls -- Holly, maybe -- was in Women's Lit., too. Camila wonders if Lauren remembers her.
"Oh, definitely." Lauren nods and smiles, Matthews strolling in behind her. "She talks about you non-stop: Camila used all the hot water this morning. Camila left spoiled milk in the fridge for a week. Camila never goes out on Saturdays."
Camila scoffs. "She does not."
"Not really. That's like, an entire semesters worth of complaints," Lauren clarifies.
"We're gonna have words later."
Lauren puts her hands together. "I'll pray for her."
"She's gonna need it."
Lauren's laugh is quiet and melodious, and Camila can't help her smile small.
Matthews sits next to Holly at the front of the room, and Camila can tell she's trying not to look too nervous about that, but her shoulders are tense and she's leaning back in her chair like she wants to stay out of his peripheral vision. He clears his throat and Lauren turns to pay attention, but she kicks at the leg of Camila's chair, too.
"Truth," Ally says.
The four of them are lying in the living room, furniture pushed out of the way, their pillows together and blankets pinwheeling out. The empty popcorn bowl sits to Camila's right, and she's thinking about trying to eat some of the unpopped kernels, which she knows she shouldn't do for Very Important Reasons she doesn't actually know -- and because it's very bad for teeth, probably.
"Hmm." Normani taps her chin and pulls her eyebrows together. "Have you ever done anything illegal?"
"What," Dinah interjects. "That's so stupid."
"No, like, I mean, I've stolen a cup from a restaurant," Normani says.
"It's not your turn, Mani," Camila sings, elbows on her pillow, hands in her palms, kicking her legs up behind her.
Normani rolls her eyes.
"When I was little I stole a candy bar from a grocery store," Ally says.
Camila gasps. "Scandalous!"
"No, so I stole like, a Hershey's bar, and--"
"Hershey's? Pero, like, you stole the worst candy bar there is." Dinah clicks her tongue and shakes her head.
"Let me tell my story!"
"Okay, go." Normani reaches out and tucks a piece of hair behind Ally's ear, smiling and nodding encouragingly.
"Right. So I stole the Hershey's bar, but I felt really bad about it. So we're just getting in the car and it falls out of my sweatshirt pocket and my mom goes--" Ally squints her eyes and shakes her finger, makes her voice stern and gravely: "Allyson, what is that? Where did you get it? So I tell her that I took it, and then I start bawling and sniffling and my mom makes us go back inside so she can pay for it, and I have to tell the cash register person that I stole it. And I was crying and wiping snot off with my sleeve and it was humiliating."
"Oh my god," Normani says. "That's so embarrassing."
"How old were you?" Camila asks.
"Like, eight or nine."
"At least you didn't kill anyone," Dinah offers.
Camila laughs and kicks at her. "Shut up. Ally, your turn to ask someone."
Ally hums and looks pointedly at each other of them before deciding: "Dinah, true or dare?"
"Ugh, no, Ally's really bad at thinking of dare's, she's too nice," Normani protests. "Remember when she dared Camila to walk down the hallway like it was a runway?"
"Hey!" Camila says. "That would've been embarrassing if anyone else came out of their rooms."
"But they didn't," Normani counters, looking up at Camila.
"Y'all be quiet," Ally says, slapping softly at their arms. "Dinah, I dare you to . . . eat a tablespoon of ketchup."
"Really?" Normani asks, "That's it?"
"What? It's gross!"
"That's a good one, Ally," Camila agrees before reaching out for a high-five.
Dinah gets the ketchup down with a lot of sputtering and cursing, a streak of red sauce on her chin that Camila wipes off with her thumb and then licks.
"Ugh, that's disgusting by itself. I need some eggs." Dinah gulps down some orange juice and grimaces.
"Should've gone with water," Ally says. She rubs Dinah's back and frowns, looking a little guilty. "At least now you can dare Camila to do something?"
"Hey, no, Camila has picked dare the last three times," Normani says. "She has to mix it up."
"You can't tell me what to do." Camila sticks her tongue out.
"Camila," Dinah begins, leaning against the counter, eyes narrowed like she's about to threaten her. "Truth or truth?"
Camila rolls her eyes and looks between Normani and Dinah. "You two are so dumb. Truth."
"Do you have a crush on anyone?" Dinah waggles her eyebrows suggestively. Ally laughs, and Normani looks at Camila, eyes too intense.
Camila groans. She doesn't know why she ever liked them in the first place. She clearly needs better friends. "Well, since we're in junior high."
"Camila," Ally warns. Camila's not sure what she's warning her from, but her voice is laced with that tone she takes when Camila's going to take a fifth slice of pizza or is about to cross the street without looking both ways.
"You can't lie," Normani says.
"What? I'm not lying." Camila scrunches her face together.
"Are you sure?" Normani raises an eyebrow knowingly.
"I have no idea what you're talking about." Camila breathes out and crosses her arms over her chest. Ally turned on the fluorescent lights above the kitchen and they're making everything too bright.
"That girl you kissed last semester?" Dinah offers.
"I didn't -- oh." Camila shakes her head. "That's not anything. She was drunk and petulant." Off Dinah's scoff, she adds, "And we're just friends."
"I think she likes you," Ally says.
"What? No. Oh my god." Camila can feel her face getting hot, which she knows Normani and Dinah won't ever let go. She rubs at her forehead and tries to remain calm. This is the stupidest thing that has ever happened to her, even worse than that time she tripped in the cafeteria and stuck her hand in the mashed potatoes. "Later that night Lauren was making out with that hungry and tall dude she's friends with."
"Hungry, tall dude?" Normani asks, "Brown, shaggy-ish hair?"
"Yeah, sure." Camila shrugs. "He also has a face and nose."
"Brian? I'm pretty sure Lauren's just friends with him and he's been dating this girl from his high school for like, six years," Normani says.
"Whatever. I don't have a crush on her," Camila says.
"If you say so," Dinah responds before pouring the rest of her orange juice down the sink. "Let's watch a movie or something before Camila beats us up."
Camila almost fights the urge to roll her eyes again -- almost.
The first person Camila had a crush on was a girl in her middle school. Her name was Meg and she had bright blond hair that bordered on white in certain lights and would sometimes tint green in the summer. Her eyes were blue and they had enriched language arts together.
Camila never told her.
Camila never told anyone.
She just watched her carefully in class, the bump on her nose, the freckles on her cheeks, the smooth way she'd read passages aloud when it was her turn. All her projects were neat and colorful, and Camila would spend extra time thumbing through them.
She had a few dreams about her. In most of them they'd ride their bikes to the beach or the zoo or McDonalds. In one they jumped on a trampoline.
The dream that stands out, hazy now, is one where Meg would push Camila against the blue lockers of the 8th grade hallway and kiss her.
Camila has never had a dream about Lauren.
She's never even had a dream where Lauren appears, even for a second.
Not that Camila can remember, anyway.
Camila squints against the glare of the sun where it streams in through the window. It's always cold in the classroom, so she zips up her hoodie and pulls her hair out from where it's trapped between the sweatshirt and her back.
"So, Sonnet 73." Lauren's written it in all caps at the top of a fresh page and neatly underlined it once.
"Yep." Camila nods, writes it in her own spiral, directly after he notes from Tuesday's class. It's loopy and she draws a box around it before dotting a bullet point underneath the words. "Basically, there's all this imagery about things ending."
"Fall into winter, day into night, fire into ashes," Lauren offers, writing the words carefully on her sheet.
"And then in the volta he turns it so it's about him getting old and the fair youth should love him well while he can."
"Right," Lauren agrees, worries her bottom lip between her teeth, carefully writes everything down.
-get more specific
-volta: willy shakes wants fair youth to love him
"We can probably wing it from here," Camila says, setting her pencil down and uncapping her water bottle to take a sip.
"What're you doing tonight?" Lauren asks.
Camila chokes on her water, hits her chest with the palm of her hand and coughs. Lauren's mouth quirks up. "Um, nothing."
"Campus activities is hosting a karaoke night. You should come."
Camila wipes at her mouth. "You're just trying to get people to come to your event."
"There were like five freshmen there last time, Camila. It was a disaster." Lauren frowns. "Brian and I had to sit there for an hour while they butchered song after song, and then we had to sit there for another hour with nobody around. Please, please come." She grabs Camila's hand in both of hers. Her hands are very soft. "Bring Normani and Dinah and Ally and whoever. Please."
Camila raises an eyebrow and presses her mouth together to hide her smirk. "Are you begging?"
Lauren scrunches up her entire face. "Maybe. But I will never admit it outside of this room."
Camila giggles and puts her free hand on top of Lauren's. "I'll ask them if they want to go. Pinky Promise."
"If we have to sit through those five freshmen terrorizing you again, that's just a bonus."
Lauren pulls her hands away and taps Camila on the nose. Camila crosses her eyes trying to follow the motion. "I lied, you're horrible," Lauren says, a fondness in her voice Camila can't recall ever hearing before.
She decides to ignore it, sticking up her pinky instead. "Well, let's make it official."
Lauren's laugh is quiet and private as she ducks her head briefly before wrapping her pinky around Camila's, shaking on it. "Deal."
"I bet Willy Shakes was good at karaoke," Camila says.
This time Lauren bites down on her laugh. Camila grins, likes the way Lauren's entire face lights up with it, cheeks hinting at a blush, eyes wide and bright, white teeth against pink lips.
The freshman are at karaoke.
One of the guys is singing Celine Dion in a high-pitched nasally voice, swiveling his hips while his table laughs hysterically. It's pretty freaking horrible.
When Lauren sees them she grins and launches herself toward them, pulling them all into a group hug. "Thank god you're here. This kid has done three songs like this. Three." She widens her eyes and mimes shooting herself in the head.
Dinah laughs. "Calm down, pero, we're here to save the day."
"Did you ever know that you're my hero? You're everything I would like to be?" Lauren half-says, half-sings.
"We should speak in song lyrics all night," Camila says. Everyone looks at her like she's lost her mind. "Or not. But your compliments won't come in the form of One Direction lyrics now."
Ally laughs, links her arm with Camila's and pulls her toward the official looking table. "We should do a duet."
"Don't go Breakin' My Heart!" Camila grins and tugs on her arm.
"I couldn't if I tried," Ally responds, fluttering her eyelashes.
They flip through the song selection binder anyway, which Camila deems worth it, if only for Ally's affronted gasp when she realizes there's nothing by Selena available. "You should really talk to someone about this," she tells the pair of campus activities members currently sitting there. "She's an icon."
"Okay," the girl drawls, stretching out the syllable, the end of the word tilting up so it sounds like a question.
"Do we have to sign up?" Camila points to the sheet where someone scribbled Mama Mia on the first line.
"No. Since you're here we can kick Sam off when he's done."
When Camila and Ally climb onto the little stage, they're handed a second microphone, and the music starts up, a familiar beat that has Camila tapping her foot before she's even aware of it. She sings and sways back and forth. The crowd is half freshman and half her friends, so it's really not so bad.
Ally, on the other hand, shimmies around the stage, batting her eyelashes, winking at Camila and stretching her hand to the audience and then the ceiling, in what Camila assumes is a gesture praising the Lord. Dinah, Normani and Lauren are waving and dancing around the back of the room, hip-checking each other and hollering when there are breaks in the lyrics. Dinah and Normani link their arms and spin around in a circle.
Camila doesn't look at the table of freshman too much because they're just sitting there staring and it's disconcerting.
Ally ends the performance by lacing her fingers through Camila's and bowing, Camila bending forward a beat too late. She says, "Thank you, we'll be here all week!"
Karaoke, as it turns out, is really fun. There's free punch and cookies, and Camila recommends they should lead with that, to which Lauren laughs and rolls her eyes. Dinah and Normani sing Crazy In Love, which starts with neither of them jumping in to do the Jay-Z part and ends with them both shouting the lyrics together before Dinah pulls Normani in, an arm around her shoulder, planting a kiss to the crown of her head. After the freshman butcher That Don't Impress Me Much and Bohemian Rhapsody -- Lauren hits her head repeatedly against a table and groans while Ally rubs her back -- Ally seems to scare them away with her transcendent version of Baby, Baby, or perhaps it's the way she dedicates it to Normani, blowing a kiss.
After Normani and Lauren's Beat It, which Camila finds suspiciously choreographed -- "Did they plan this? Have we been punk'd?" Camila asks Dinah as both Lauren and Normani tilt their head to the right and shimmy in unison. "Probably," Dinah decides, "Too bad they didn't foresee Ally's skills."
Dinah dedicates Baby's Got Back to Camila, and Ally reminds everyone not to rain on her parade before Lauren slides next to Camila. "We should do something together."
"Something dramatic," Lauren says.
Camila looks at her, then, looks away from Ally punctuating her words with her pointer finger. Lauren's hair is mussed, her lips tinted orange from the punch, and Camila thinks she really is pretty. She blinks, smiles, gestures to Ally. "It's the only way to follow this."
"Turn around," Camila sings in her best operatic voice.
"Every now and then I get a little bit restless and I dream of something wild," Lauren sings back, face serious, eyebrows scrunched together.
It takes more self-control than Camila has not to laugh.
When they scream the chorus together, shaking their fists to the beat, Dinah's laughter and Ally's clapping are drowned out. Ally shakes her head to the music, eyes closed, curls fanning out around her, almost as in to it as Lauren and Camila. Normani's screaming the words right back at them, and Camila gives her a thumbs up. God, her heart feels so full and she loves these girls so much.
As the song winds down Camila and Lauren turn back to each other. "Nothing I can say, a total eclipse of the heart."
"Turn around bright eyes," Camila sings, holding it too long, voice pitched higher than the annoying freshman. Lauren reaches out her hand and cradles Camila's cheek, there's laughter in her eyes and a smile tucked into the corner of her mouth. Camila leans into the touch. "Turn around," she finishes, the music fading, their friends clapping, and Camila falls forward, head on Lauren's shoulder as her entire body shakes with laughter, tear leaking out of her eyes.
"They're coming for you Ally," Dinah shouts.
They end karaoke the only way they know how, all five of them on stage, sharing the two microphones, singing Girl's Just Wanna Have Fun at the top of their lungs. Dinah and Camila leave their post at the end, handing the microphone to Ally and holding each other's arms. They spin around the stage until the music fades, the world tilts, and black dots pepper Camila's vision.
Camila's first kiss, the first one she'll count, comes in early March. The fourth.
The day Vermont became a state, the day the Battle of the Bismarck Sea Ended, the day Patricia Heaton was born and William Carlos Williams died. The day Camila first kissed someone.
Her name is Sally, and she's in one of Camila's education classes. She has short, cropped sandy brown hair and huge blue eyes. She likes to wear big earrings and skinny jeans.
They're in Camila's room working on a presentation, and Camila's heart thuds in her ears, her entire body vibrating when Sally leans close, their arms brushing together as she looks at Camila's notes. When Camila kisses her, Sally kisses back. It's just a moment, and nothing changes. Camila presses her lips together.
They don't kiss again, and they still talk in class and only in class, easy conversation about what they did over the weekend and complaints about all the busy work the professor gives them. Something hums underneath Camila's skin, but the world still looks the same.
Her first kiss is nice.
That's all she ever wanted.
Lauren invites them to Spring Break with her and her other friends.
Camila agrees to go even though she would probably prefer going home, reading the latest young adult novels and eating pizza with Sophie. Normani whines about friendship and how they only have two more Spring Breaks before they graduate, and Ally promises to stay in with her when she just wants to watch some old Disney show on Netflix.
So she says yes, and that's how she ends up in a club wearing heels she can barely walk in.
The music is loud, beating behind her forehead and shaking the floor, a bunch of remixes of top 40 songs that she tries to sing along with despite the occasional scratching and looping over the track. She's nursing a Shirley Temple, leaning against the bar to take some pressure off her feet. Ally's bopping along next to her, painted in colors when the lights swing toward them.
It's not terrible, really. Camila would just rather be cuddled up in her bed, eating pretzels and going through her Tumblr, but Ally did stay in with her last night, and everyone talked about going to a nice dinner and movie tomorrow, so.
Ally finishes her drink, licks her lips and places her glass behind her. She stands on her tiptoes and whisper-shouts in Camila's ear, "I want to dance."
Camila shakes her head and holds up her half-full cup.
"Come on." Ally tugs on her arm and the liquid sloshes around Camila's glass.
Camila sighs. "Once I'm finished."
Ally grins and settles warm against Camila's side. Camila bites her lip, watches the mass of people on the dance floor, packed too close together. She finds Dinah and Normani, Dinah's hands in the air, Normani's on her hips. A few of Lauren's friends aren't too far off. A girl and a guy -- Liz and Brad? -- are making out, which is new for them, Camila thinks. All the time she'd spent with them so far hadn't indicated anything romantic between them.
Or maybe Camila was too busy trying to keep Dinah from stealing her French fries to notice.
When Camila pulls on her straw, all the liquid gone and the slurping sound masked by the club's noise, she pulls down her skirt and sets her cup behind. "Lead the way," she whisper-screams at Ally, lacing their fingers together and letting Ally pull her into the throng of people.
The thing is Camila isn't particularly coordinated and can't really dance even when she's not wearing two-inch heels and trying to navigate through a bunch of strangers. She only trips twice until Ally deems their position in the pit of humans acceptable. Camila sort of sways back and forth, tries to swivel her hips the way Ally is, jumps a little bit before her knees buckle and she falls forward, Ally catching her and cackling against her neck.
Camila fakes it through four songs before Dinah and Normani find them, and then it feels like just the four of them, arms around each other, a tight circle singing along to Rihanna, purple light forming a halo around Normani, Dinah bending awkwardly to rest her head on Camila's shoulder.
"Thanks for making me come," Camila says, feels warm all over, feels buzzed even though she hasn't had a drop of alcohol all night.
"You're welcome," Ally says back, and Camila reads it on her mouth more than hears it.
"Of course, Chancho," Dinah breathes against her cheek.
When Camila gets tired and starts to feel like her feet are on fire, she says: "I think I'm gonna find a seat."
"Want me to come with you?" Dinah asks.
"No, it's okay." Camila shakes her head. "I've got friends." Off Dinah's totally rude raised eyebrow, Camila points to where a few of Lauren's friends are gathered by the bar.
"All right. We'll miss you."
"I know." Camila winks and Dinah groans, but she lets go of Camila's waist and allows Camila to start her stumble off the dance floor.
She mumbles "excuse me," as she goes, blinking when a bright light flashes in her eyes. When she navigates around a group of friends who have formed a huge circle so they can take turns in the middle, she finds Lauren. And it's--
She knows Lauren is pretty; she has eyes. Camila knows Lauren likes to drink and dance and kiss people. But she's never seen Lauren dancing so close to someone before. She's practically wrapped around her friend -- Alexis. The girl's name is definitely Alexis -- and Camila can't tell if Lauren's whispering in her ear or just pressing her face against her skin or kissing her.
She blinks. One. Twice.
And Camila isn't exactly sure what she's seeing or what she's feeling. She bites at corner of her mouth, inhales and tries to clear her head. Her clothes are sticky from sweat and heat, her mouth is dry, and she's still standing here, almost on the edge of the dance floor, watching Lauren dance with Alexis, watching Lauren lean her head back, the smooth column of her neck stretching as she presses her hips forward.
Camila's jostled by people maneuvering around her, and she finally looks away, takes a deep breath and heads over to the bar.
She orders a glass of water, checks her text messages even though anyone who would text her is here or asleep, and does not ponder the difference between knowing someone is attractive and being attracted to them.
There is no meet-cute. There is no pining.
There is no sudden, clear epiphany.
What there is, the night before they fly back to school, is a moment.
Clothes are strewn over the floor, suitcases open and unpacked, some crime procedural playing on the television that they've been watching since they got back from dinner.
"We should probably pack tonight," Ally says. She's got her phone face-up on her stomach, pillows piled high behind her against the headboard.
"We're not leaving until eleven," Dinah responds.
"That's plenty of time," Normani says. "We just have to throw our stuff in there. Most of it's dirty anyway."
"Y'all are lazy," Ally drawls, kicking at Normani.
Dinah snorts and Camila cuddles closer to her. "But we're really cute," she says.
"Shh, someone's about to figure out who murdered the twins," Dinah says, wrapping an arm around Camila's waist.
"Dinah," Camila whines, just to be annoying. "We need to pack."
"Be quiet." Dinah reaches over and covers Camila's mouth with her other hand. Camila licks it, naturally. "Ew, gross." Dinah wipes her hand on Camila's shirt. "Why do I put up with you?"
"Because I'm really cute."
Dinah rolls her eyes. "So unoriginal."
Camila closes hers and takes a deep breath. Spring Break was fun even though Camila would probably never do it this way again, too many people and too much seafood and too exhausting, but she's glad she did it once. She's glad she got to walk down a boardwalk, arm looped with Normani's, trying on sunglasses and ridiculous hats. She's glad she got to swim in the ocean, climb up on Dinah's shoulders and knock Ally into the water. She's not glad she tried the calamari, but at least Dinah deleted the video of it off her phone -- maybe, Camila doesn't trust her.
Camila gets to that hazy place between being asleep and being awake when there's a knock on the door. "Who's there?" Normani calls, not making any effort to move. Camila rubs at her eyes.
"Me," Lauren says.
"Oh. Go away." Normani's smiling.
"Open the door dbags."
"I'll get it," Camila says. She rolls off of Dinah and off the bed, stretches, standing on her tiptoes and reaching her arms over her head. Something in her left foot cracks and she groans. There's a blister on her right foot from those high heels. When she opens the door, she smiles. "How you doing, stranger?"
"I need someone to go to the store with me," Lauren says. She's leaning against the doorjamb, hair piled on top of her head in a messy bun. It's wet like she just got out of the shower, and it's the first time Camila's ever seen her without mascara on.
"Not it!" Dinah screams.
"Me either," Normani and Ally say simultaneously.
Camila sighs. "Hold on."
It's windy outside, making it feel colder than it really is. The moon is bright, but Camila can't see any stars beyond the city lights. She scuffs her shoe against the pavement when they wait for the flashing white walk sign. The inch of space between them doesn't feel like anything to make note of or not, but Camila does anyway.
"You know," Camila starts, "We really haven't seen you that much this week."
Lauren's mouth twitches down and she looks forward. "Really?"
"Yeah, I mean." Camila breathes and shoves her hands into her short pockets. "Nevermind, it's dumb."
"No. Camz, come on. Tell me."
When Camila looks at Lauren her eyes are focused and soft, and her bun has flopped over to the left. "Like, we've gone places together, but you've always been with your other friends? Which is fine, I get it. We were just like, coming along on your trip? And it was nice of them to let us crash, but I guess we thought we'd actually, you know, hang out with you?"
"Oh." Lauren blinks and looks forward. Camila looks at her, the bow of her mouth, the way she scratches her nose before readjusting her bag over her shoulder. The light must turn because Lauren reaches out, wraps her fingers around Camila's wrist like Normani had wrapped hers around Lauren's forever ago in their room, and pulls her forward and across the street.
Lauren doesn't say anything, just pulls Camila down the aisles until she's grabbing the motion sickness pills. She pauses then, runs her fingernail -- eggshell blue -- around the edges of the box. "I'm sorry if you felt like, secondary or something. I didn't mean for that to happen."
Camila sighs. She wishes she hadn't said anything. "I know. I'm sorry, okay? Just forget it."
"No," Lauren says, firm and steady. She's looking at Camila again. Her hand shoots out and her fingers wrap around Camila's wrist again, soft and somehow steadying. "Like, I may have known them longer, but it doesn't mean they mean more to me than you guys. Normani's been the one to answer my calls at two a.m. when I'm freaking out. Dinah's always sending me Snapchats of her face. No one else ever comes to karaoke night, even when I beg them. I'll make it up to you. Promise."
Lauren holds her pinky up. She's got motion sickness pills in her other hand and they're probably for Ally or Luke, who both looked ill after the plane ride here.
Camila kisses her.
She doesn't think about it, doesn't spend time wondering if it'll be the dumbest thing she's ever done or if Ally, Dinah and Normani will tease her until the second coming. She just does it because she suddenly wants to, the harsh florescence of the store illuminating everything, her shoe squeaking against the tiles when she moves forward, one hand on Lauren's arm, the other grabbing her hand.
Lauren kisses her back, drops the box of motion sickness pills and tangles her hand in Camila's hair. This time she tastes like spearmint, and still vaguely like cherries, and Lauren doesn't stop kissing her back until an awkward old lady clears her throat and asks them if she can get to the vitamins.
"Sorry," Camila says, shaking her head and tucking her hair behind her ear.
"Sorry," Lauren repeats, bending down to pick up the motion sickness pills, lacing her fingers through Camila's and pulling her back down the aisle.
They don't start laughing until they're on the street again, and then they don't stop until Lauren suggests they get ice cream as one last Spring Break hurrah.
Camila hooks her feet over the bar connecting the legs of her chair and wraps her hands around her steaming mug of tea. She's exhausted, had stayed up late cramming for her adolescent psychology test -- as though a teacher needs to know how her students' brains work or something. Pfft.
"I think Matthews could tell you were going to look like a zombie today," Lauren says.
"Probably. An email would've been nice, though."
Lauren hums before taking a sip of her frappuccino. "How'd your test go?"
Camila tilts her head from side-to-side in a so-so gesture. "A few of the multiple choice questions tripped me up, and one of the essays I wasn't sure on. Hoping for a B." She crosses her fingers.
"I'm sure you did fine. The bags under your eyes tell me everything I need to know."
"Is that a compliment?" Camila asks. "It doesn't feel like a compliment."
Lauren laughs, covers her mouth with her hand like she always does when it comes out louder than she expects. She kicks out and hits Camila's shin. "I'm pretty sure it is. It was meant as one, anyway."
"Thanks, I guess." Camila sips her tea, taps her fingers against a ridge in the table. "It's so weird to think that this time next year I'll be student teaching full time."
"And we'll never see you because you'll be busy changing lives."
"No. I'll make time."
Lauren grins. "That's right. You don't want to forget the little people."
"I'll be teaching them, so I hope not." Lauren rolls her eyes, but she laughs and kicks Camila again. Camila hides her smile behind her mug. "It's scary though like. What if I hate it?"
"But you already did some student teaching, right?"
"Yeah." Camila sighs, runs a hand through her hair. "I mean, I observed freshman year, and last fall I had a class of juniors, but it felt like, what more do I know than them? Who am I to tell them what Hamlet is about?"
Lauren nods, takes a pull of her frappuccino. She wipes at the corner of her mouth with a thumb and Camila tracks the movement. "Maybe that's why you'll be a good teacher."
Camila scrunches her face together. "Because I don't know anything?"
"Because you're willing to listen to their ideas."
"Oh." Camila smiles small. "Thanks."
Lauren reaches across the table, taps morose code against the back of Camila's hand. "Hey. You explained Gertrude Stein to me. I think you'll do fine."
It doesn't sound like much, but Lauren's voice has taken on that soft, affecting quality that makes something nice vibrate in the back of Camila's brain. Her face is open and her eyes are searching for something Camila wants to give her, wants to know how to give her.
Camila swallows. "Well, nobody can make sense of old Gertie."
Lauren smiles and moves her hand away. Her voice returns to normal, a teasing tone that's still so fond: "There's a first for everything. You're gonna be famous."
"Are we back to me not forgetting the little people?" Camila asks.
"Back where we started. Matthews would be so proud."
Camila wants to point out that they're miles away from where they started, but she takes a few gulps of her tea instead, asks, "Want to get out of here?"
(part two.) (part three.)