It happens like this:
Camila leans her weight into the grocery cart as she pushes it down the aisle. Norman's reading the back of a box of protein bars, and Camila watches a mother put the Cookie Crisps back on the shelf, telling her son, very sternly, that they're not buying them because they're not healthy. The little boy actually stomps his foot and shrieks.
"These have more protein but also more sugar." Normani shakes a box in front of Camila's face and she blinks. "These have less protein but less sugar. Which do you think I should get?"
Camila shrugs. "I don't know. I'm buying five Lunchables."
Normani laughs and rolls her eyes. "Whatever." She puts one box back and drops the other in the end of the cart by her orange juice and other healthy things. She wraps her fingers around the edge of the cart and starts to pull it around the aisle and down the next.
"Can we go to McDonalds on our way back?" Camila asks.
"Please," she whines. "I just want some fries."
"Your metabolism is disgusting," Normani says.
"Hey!" Camila scans the shelf and grabs a box of bowtie noodles because they're the cutest type of noodle. "I work out."
Normani scoffs. "Yeah, okay. I guess if that's what you want to call what you and Lauren are doing."
"What?" Camila pulls the cart back, stops right in the middle of the aisle.
Normani sighs and rubs her palm over her face before moving the cart to the side and climbing onto the back. "I don't know. I just. We're not blind, Mila. And you haven't talked to any of us about it, and we just want to know that you're okay, you know?"
Camila frowns. "Why wouldn't I be okay?"
"I don't know." Normani shrugs. She bites her lip and looks at Camila for what feels like too long. Camila scratches at her chin and doesn't look away. "Remember how you told us about Sally?"
"Yeah," Camila says, dragging out the syllables.
"But you didn't tell anyone about you and Lauren and like, the going into your room and shutting the door is pretty obvious? And Ally is probably going kill me because she said you'd tell us when you were ready, but Dinah and I were talking and we don't know, okay? We don't know if you're embarrassed or happy or what."
"Normani," Camila starts.
"Don't feel like you have to say anything. We're not mad."
Normani's shoulders are taunt, her legs stretched as she stands on her tiptoes, all her weight leaning against the grocery cart. Her face looks like it's trying to remain neutral, but there's concern etched around her eyes and a downward lit to mouth. "I love you," Camila says.
Normani blinks, surprised. "I love you, too."
"And I know you're always willing to listen to my brain junk." Normani's mouth twitches up, but her shoulders don't relax. "But I guess I didn't say anything because I don't know what it is yet? I don't know what we're doing or how I feel or how she feels or anything. We just kiss sometimes."
Normani tilts her head down. "Sometimes?"
Camila laughs, reaches across the cart to slap Normani's arm. A couple pushes their cart past them, the woman saying something about taxes. "Shut up. This is why I didn't say anything."
"But like, I'm pretty sure she really likes you. For the record."
Camila chews on her bottom lip, taps her fingertips against the plastic of the grocery seat. "Okay."
"Okay," Normani repeats. Camila can feel Normani watching her, but then she can feel her climb off the cart and start pulling it again. "I guess we can go to McDonalds."
Camila doesn't screech, but it's a near thing.
It's the third time she's ever been in Lauren's room. The first was to drop off some notes Normani had borrowed from her at the beginning of the semester, the second they all ordered Chinese, watched the end of John Tucker Must Die, and waited for Lauren and Alexis to get ready for the bars before going back to their room so Dinah, Normani and Ally could change -- Camila had a very hot date with a book.
Third time's the charm, or something.
Because Camila's not sitting in the living room, squeezed between Dinah and Ally, eating orange chicken with a plastic fork. Camila's looking at the pictures of Lauren and her friends lining the walls -- smiling and pointing to a sandcastle at the beach, dressed up for prom and posing on someone's lawn, tongues out and the school colors under the eyes like war paint -- the James Dean, Casablanca and Lana Del Rey Posters.
They're sharing Camila's ipod, listening to Ed Sheeran, Lauren's fingers dancing patterns against the thin, almost translucent skin of Camila's wrist. They're side-by-side in Lauren's bed, legs tangled together because it's small and wasn't meant to be shared by two people. She has lamps and white Christmas lights, doesn't bother with the washed-out fluorescence of the university. It's warm and homey and Camila could fall asleep here. She doesn't think she would mind so much if she did.
"Hey," Lauren whispers. She presses a kiss under Camila's ear and Camila smiles. "Penny for your thoughts?"
"Do you have a penny?" Camila asks, shifting and turning onto her side. The earbud falls out but she doesn't bother to put it back.
"I don't know. I'm a broke college student."
"I guess I can give you them for free," Camila sighs.
Lauren's eyes are so bright and she's so warm. Camila wants to burrow under the sheets, burrow closer. "I can pay in other ways," Lauren says, private laughter infusing the words.
"I like your room. It's cozy."
"Thanks." Lauren runs her toes up and down Camila's shin. "I want to get pictures with you and Normani and Dinah and Ally, too."
"We'll have our people call your people," Camila says.
Lauren smiles soft, reaches out and brushes some hair off Camila's forehead. Her hands are warm. Camila's eyes flutter shut. "You're really funny."
"I'm here 'til Tuesday." Camila laughs, reaches out and pull the earbud out of Lauren's ear.
"I was listening to that," Lauren mumbles.
"So sorry." Camila turns off the ipod, wraps the earbuds around it and hands it to Lauren to set on her dresser. "I wanted your undivided attention."
"This better be good, Cabello, Sofa was just starting."
Camila rolls her eyes, moves closer and rests her forehead against Lauren's collarbones. "You owe me for my thoughts, Jauregui."
Camila can feel her take a deep breath, inhale and exhale. Her hand slips under the back of Camila's shirt, palm sprayed out against the small of her back, fingers dancing against her skin. "I guess I do." There's a smile in her voice and Camila looks up, smiles back. Lauren kisses her, soft, quick. "I think we're even now."
"Stop using big words."
Lauren kisses her again, using her hand to press Camila closer. Camila laughs against her mouth. She doesn't have much to compare Lauren to, really. She's never kissed anyone else like this, open-mouthed, tongues running over teeth, teeth nibbling against bottom lips, but she thinks she likes that it's Lauren she's kissing, likes the way Lauren curls her toes against her calf, nails press crescents into her spin. Camila likes how bubbly she feels with it, warm and loose and sensitive, like a livewire.
Lauren rolls them over, presses Camila against the mattress, scrapes her teeth against Camila's jaw, flutters a kiss against Camila's collarbone before kisses her again. Camila tangles a hand in her hair, likes the groan in the back of Laurens' throat, how round and gravelly her name sounds in Lauren's mouth. It's comfortable and warm and safe, and Camila likes being able to roll them over eventually, when she feels like she might snap and needs to breathe, Lauren easy and pliant like maybe she understands.
Camila likes running her hands up Lauren's shirt, scratching her nails lightly, feeling Lauren's muscles jump. Her breathing is heavy and Lauren's flushed down her neck, eyelashes casting shadows against her cheekbones, hair fanned out around her, lipstick faded. Camila leans down and kisses her once, quick, as though she's trying to seal something in.
"Want to watch a movie?" she asks.
"Yeah," Lauren breathes. She's got her hands running up and down the inside seam of Camila's jeans and Camila bites her lip. "Something short. I've got dinner at six."
"Okay." Camila climbs off of her, grabs Lauren's laptop and hands it to her when she's sat up and arranged the pillows against the wall for them to lean against.
They watch Lilo and Stitch, and Lauren giggles when Camila does her Stitch impression, so Camila laces their fingers together and does it again.
"Can you type quieter?" Dinah asks, moving her hands like she's quickly pounding on a keyboard in a way that no human person has ever actually done with a laptop.
"It's not my fault," Camila says. She moves the screen down a bit so she can peer over it. "My keyboard is naturally very loud."
"I can't concentrate with you click-clacking."
"I'll try," Camila offers.
They've taken a group study room even though they're all studying for different classes. Ally's going through a theology article, Normani and Lauren are pouring over different sociology books, Dinah's flipping through her "How to Teach Elementary Math" chapter like she's not even reading it, and Camila is trying to write an essay about the Romantics.
They've only been in here for two hours, but Camila's butt hurts from the chair and she keeps staring at the little marks left on the dry-erase board until they blur. She can't tell if she's hungry or just bored. Looking back at the blinking cursor, Camila frowns. She rubs at her eyes and then just crosses her arms on the table and rests her head.
Closing her eyes helps, and the room is quiet except for the syncopated turning of pages and Ally clicking and un-clicking her pen.
"You okay?" Normani asks. "Mila?"
Camila groans and lifts her head. "I hate poetry and I hate England and I hate nature and I hate college."
Normani's laugh is wet and her smile is crooked. "Me too."
"We should take a break," Dinah suggests.
"Please." Camila shuts her laptop and reaches across the table to grab Dinah's hands. "I'm afraid I won't make it otherwise."
"Give me a minute," Ally says, underlying something in her article and drawing a big star next to it.
"Let's play hangman," Dinah says. Jumping up and uncapping a blue dry erase marker. "I'll go first."
She draws the gallows, and then seven little lines under it.
"No names," Lauren says.
"It's not Beyonce." Dinah waves the marker around. "We should've let Camila fall asleep and then drawn all over her."
Camila groans. "You guys are the worst."
"But you love us," Normani says.
"No." Camila doesn't even let her smile slip out.
"Come on, guess a letter," Dinah says, shifting her weight from foot to foot.
"M," Lauren calls, leaning forward and resting her elbows on the table.
"Nope," Dinah says, popping the 'p' as she draws a little round head and writes the letter next to the gallows.
"S," Ally guesses.
Dinah pauses, eyes the ceiling as she thinks before drawing two S's over the last lines.
"E," Camila says. There are no E's, and the hangman gets a torso. Camila sighs, squinting at the board.
Normani presses her mouth into a straight line, furrows her eyebrows and counts on her fingers a few times before Lauren says, "Just pick a letter."
"Yeah, Pero, we don't have all day." Dinah leans back against the board and crosses her arms.
"Fine," Normani sighs. "A."
Dinah draws an A over the second and fifth lines.
"Dinah," Ally says, tone affronted.
"It's Normani's fault." Dinah laughs, shrugs.
Lauren's smirking. She tilts her head to the side and Camila watches the way she worries her lip between her teeth as she thinks. "Fuck, I don't know, C."
Dinah raises an eyebrow, points at Lauren and looks at Ally, "No comment on that one's language?"
"She didn't write it on the board where anyone walking by could look in a see!"
Camila laughs and Dinah shakes her head. She writes the C next to the M and E, draws an absurdly large arm onto the hangman.
"Um, J," Ally says.
Dinah fills in the first lines.
The board reads: JA _ _ ASS
"Oh," Camila breathes. "I can do this." She claps her hands a few times and tries to think, slaps a rhythm into the table. "Jackass!"
"Dammit." Dinah holds out the maker. Camila jumps out of her chair and does a victory shimmy.
"Jackass?" Normani and Ally ask in simultaneous disbelief.
Dinah grins. "I gots to do me."
"It's was good," Lauren says.
She and Dinah fist-bump, and Camila frowns. "No one fist-bumped me when I won."
Lauren's laugh makes Camila grin, and Normani's "That's because you're a sore winner," only makes the sound louder and brighter. Camila sticks out her tongue.
"Do you have a word yet?" Ally asks.
"Okay, okay, I'm thinking."
"That's my girl," Lauren says.
Camila rolls her eyes even though no one can see. She grabs the eraser and starts to wipe away Dinah's stick figure, sends a quiet thank you to Wordsworth because she's pretty sure no one will guess interfused.
Camila tutors four kids for their SATs, shuffles Sophie to soccer practices, enjoys the biweekly family visits to the beach, and eats a lot of ice cream.
She Skypes regularly with Ally, Dinah and Normani, the best conversations always the ones when it's all four of them talking over each other. She flies out to visit Dinah for a week in July. They spend a lot of time at the beach, but the California heat is different from the Miami heat -- no basketball pun intended -- and Camila's nose burns and peels. They babysit, chasing kids around the house and cutting crusts off sandwiches. They go the mall and build bears; Camila buys a One Direction shirt for hers.
She sees Lauren a few times -- four times, if she's being exact. Perks of living in the same city and all.
Lauren picks her up and takes her out for pizza once. They go to the movies with a group of Lauren's friends, and even though Lauren always includes her in the conversation, taps her thumb against Camila's hip periodically, Camila feels awkward around so many people she doesn't know who've known each other for years. She doesn't get some of the inside jokes and pretends to laugh even when she shouldn't.
They go to a place that lets them make mosaics shaped like animals; Camila makes a frog and Lauren makes a lion. Lauren asks why the frog is blue instead of green, and Camila tells her to mind her own business, smirking as she picks up a navy tile, their toes touching under the table. When Lauren drops Camila's frog off a few days later, after it's set, they drive to beach. Instead of watching the sunset and walking along the shore they make out in the backseat of Lauren's car.
Camila enjoys the homemade food, sleeping in, and the afternoon rain showers that make everything smell earthy and fresh.
Summer swelters, and she saves the text Lauren sends her from Puerto Rico: me encantas.
Senior year starts like this:
Boxes stacked in the corner of Camila's slightly-larger-than-last-year room, her suitcase open on her unmade bed. The first thing she did was put away the groceries her parents bought her, but now she's staring at all the unpacking ahead of her, and it feels like the last thing she wants to do. She crosses her arms, chews on her lip and feels Dinah wrap her arms around her waist, resting her chin on Camila's shoulder.
"Want help, Chancho?" Dinah asks.
Camila smiles. "I love you, Cheechee."
"Normani kicked me out of her room when I put her shoes in the wrong order."
With Dinah helping, unpacking goes marginally quicker. Maybe. Dinah talks about the Vacation Bible school she helped with and the twins who kept trying to switch places despite the fact that only Adam had freckles on his noise. Camila talks about the game-winning goal Sophie scored in the playoffs, complete with Camila trying to reenact it, kicking the edge of her dresser and doubling over in pain in the process.
Dinah tells her when her One Direction poster is crooked, instructing her to move the left a little higher. When they're finished Camila just shoves the boxes under her bed. She'll deal with them later.
"When does Ally get back from orientating the freshman?" Camila asks before blowing her hair out of her face and following into the living area.
"Like five?" Dinah lies down on the couch, stretching her feet over the arm.
Camila looks at the clock over the stove and pouts. "What do we do for an hour?"
"Try to help Normani organize her room."
Senior year starts like this:
Ally making beef enchiladas for dinner while she talks about her marketing internship and compares Vacation Bible school horror stories with Dinah and Normani.
"They smell so good," Camila breathes. "I'm so hungry."
"Have some chips and salsa," Normani says, pushing the bag toward her.
"You bought the hot kind."
"Sorry," Normani answers, not sounding sorry at all.
"They'll be done in five minutes," Ally says, southern accent thick like it always is when she's been home for longer than a month.
"That's long enough for me to starve." Camila lays her cheek down on the table. The surface cool. The air-conditioner kicks in and the vent in the kitchen whines.
"I think you'll make it," Ally laughs, reaching out and patting Camila on the head.
"Did you tell them the news?" Normani asks Ally.
"News?" Dinah levels her gaze and widens her eyes.
"At the end of the summer they offered me a job working in PR? It won't be open until September, but it's full time and pays well. Benefits and everything." She's smiling small, eyes sparkling.
"You've got a full time job before the year's even started?" Dinah asks, voice vibrating with energy. "Allyson!" And then she's up, wrapping Ally in her arms and squeezing her tight.
"Group hug!" Camila shouts. Her chair scrapes against the floor when she pushes it away from the table. She buries head in the crook of Ally's shoulder, feels Normani press against her back. They're all swaying unsteadily, but Camila knows if they fall over Ally, Dinah or Normani will cushion the blow.
They chorus congratulations, and somehow it turns to For She's A Jolly Good Fellow. They're in the middle of singing when the timer for the enchiladas beeps and Camila shouts "Let's Eat!"
Senior year start like this:
Camila laughing with her best friends, smiling so hard her cheeks ache, shoving enchiladas into her mouth and listening to cold air worm through the vents.
Senior year starts pretty damn near perfect.
It's mid-October and the weather's bent cold. There's only a light breeze and the trees are still green, but Camila's wearing a scarf and rubbing her gloved hands together. She keeps trying to breathe out warm air in an attempt to see her breath but it isn't working.
"How long do we have to stay?" She finished her soft pretzel twenty minutes ago and the bench is still cold, somehow.
"It's not even halftime," Normani says, smacking her arm.
"We can leave after halftime, right?"
Camila looks out at the field where the players are lining up for another play. The clock says there are three more minutes, and she hopes that means closer to ten than fifteen or twenty. It's not that she hates football, but she went out yesterday because it's their last Homecoming and the girls wanted to go dancing -- the image of Lauren during Spring Break still etched into Camila's brain incentive enough -- and they didn't get back until 2:30.
She needs a nap if she's going to go out again tonight because Homecoming.
The last three minute are long and boring and Camila rests her head on Normani's shoulder, closes her eyes and listens to the thud of bodies tackling each other, the rustle of tree leaves, the referee's whistle, Lauren's sharp inhales, Dinah's screaming and Ally's clapping. She notes the shadows passing behind her eyelids when the sun shift and tries to take it everything in like this. Her last Homecoming game. Probably her last college football game. She doesn't want to count this year in lasts.
She opens her eyes when Dinah yells, "Are you blind?"
The stopped clock reads 1:15. Camila wraps an arm around Normani's waist and squeezes, pulls her close. "We should get coffee after halftime."
"We should." Normani wraps her hand around Camila's waist. "I've been craving Starbucks for days."
"Pumpkin Spice Latte."
"You know me, girl."
"I do, baby," Camila coos. She scrunches up her noise and smiles before pressing a wet kiss to Normani's cheek.
Camila turns her head when Dinah and Lauren stand up, the students around them bursting, yelling, hands cupped around their mouths as a player runs the ball. Camila watches Dinah and Lauren's hands twisted together, their heads bent toward each other as they shout. They both groan when the running back get tackled a few yards from the end zone, but they get the field goal.
"You excited about Olive Garden on Saturday?" Camila says, dropping her backpack directly in front of the door and making a beeline for the couch.
"What?" Ally asks, not even bothering to look up from her phone.
"Huh?" is all Dinah offers.
"Good to know you listen when I speak." Camila lies down and pillows her head in her arms. "Olive Garden?"
"Are you delusional? Pero, are you so hungry you made up a conversation about food?"
Camila sits up so fast she feels light-headed. "Didn't Lauren text you guys?"
"Nope." Dinah shakes her head.
"Oh." Camila bites down hard on her lip. "What does that mean?"
"I think that means it's a date," Ally says slowly, like maybe Camila's an idiot.
Which, okay. "A date?" she repeats, feeling the words out on her tongue before. "What do I wear?"
Dinah shrugs and turns to watch the episode of Friends playing on the television. It's the one where they take forever to get ready, and somehow that seems fitting. "I'd say clothes. But I don't know what your plans are."
"Dinah Jane! This is not funny." Camila would hit her, but she's so far away and Camila's had a long day.
"So," Ally starts, setting her phone down on the coffee table and moving so she's sitting pretzel-style in her chair. "How did she ask you?"
"What does that matter?" Camila's head stops spinning. It's not like she's never had a meal with Lauren before -- she reminds herself of the pizza they got together over the summer. It's just that she's never been on a date before. She doesn't know what that means or what's expected or how Dinah and Ally figured that out or even how this is a date and pizza wasn't. "Oh god, was pizza a date? Did I miss my first date?"
"What?" Ally asks, eyebrows scrunched together.
Camila shakes her head. "Nevermind. And why does it matter how she asked me? Does that mean something?"
"I just want to know! Y'all should just make your face book status like, Camila Cabello is being an idiot with Lauren Jauregui. Also I'll help pick out your outfit if you tell me." She's smiling and nodding in that genuine way of hers that makes Camila feel interesting even when she's just talking about Harry Styles mixing shirt patterns.
"I'll read the texts," Camila says. She stands up to pull her phone out of her backpack and sits at the kitchen table, finds the conversation while Ally sits across from her. "Okay, so she said Do you want to go to dinner on Saturday?"
"Oooh," Ally coos, leaning forward.
Camila rolls her eyes. "And I said Sure! and put a smiley face."
"Whoa, girl. Too eager," Dinah chimes in from the living area.
Dinah laughs and Ally says, "Keep going."
"And then I said, Where? and she said, Olive Garden. Unless there's some place else you'd rather go." Ally aww's and Camila ignores her mouth's attempts at twitching up. "And then I said, Olive garden's good! and she said, I'll pick you up at 6:30., and I said Okay. and that was it."
"Fascinating," Dinah comments.
"I wish I had a balloon filled with shaving cream to throw at your head," Camila says. Dinah flips her off.
"That's so cute," Ally says, grinning. "Definitely a date."
"Yeah?" Camila asks, something warm springing up in her stomach and making her chest feel tight, like her ribs are too small and her lungs are too big.
"Yeah." Ally stands up and holds out her hand. "Now, to your closet."
Camila hesitates. "Maybe we should wait for Normani."
"I knew you thought she had better had style than me." Ally pouts, hand still out, palm up.
Camila rolls her eyes. "Fine. Let's go."
After putting on a fashion show consisting of three outfits before having Ally, Dinah and Normani decide she should wear something completely different, after Normani does her makeup, after wiping her palms against her skirt, after they all joke about their little Camila all grown up, after Dinah wraps her in a hug and tells her she'll be fine, after wondering what Lauren meant exactly by pick you up, after Lauren comes up to their room, after Camila ushers her out before Ally, Dinah and Normani all start cooing and Ally asks to take a picture, after they get to the restaurant and order and Camila settles into it, conversation easy as always, she relaxes.
Lauren looks really pretty. She's offered Camila a bite of her chicken and laughed at more than half of Camila's early jokes born more out of anxiety than actual humor. Camila is very grateful.
"You had middle school recess?" Camila asks, spearing a noodle with her fork. "I'm so jealous."
"Well. It was more like we stood by the tennis courts for fifteen minutes so they could clean up the cafeteria for the next period."
"You had tennis courts?" Camila feels her eyes widen. She pops her noodle in her mouth and shakes her head.
"Yeah. My first kiss was during recess," Lauren says.
Camila swallows. "Really?"
"Yep. It was with this kid, Brett, in seventh grade, and we had been talking a lot, you know? We were friends but not like, close. Anyway, we were just standing in the corner discussing our social studies homework or something and he asked if he could kiss. I said sure. Then we dated for like, two weeks where all we did was hold hands in the hallway."
"Ahh," Camila says fondly, splaying her hand over her heart. "Middle school romance."
Lauren laughs, quiet and infectious. "How about yours?"
"My first kiss?" Camila asks.
Camila chuckles awkwardly and runs a hand through her hair. "Well, this is embarrassing."
"No, it's not," Lauren counters.
"You don't even know what it is yet."
"Eh." She shrugs and takes a sip of water.
Camila sighs, briefly contemplates telling the band camp story, with or without the end. "It was with this girl Sally, who's been some of my education classes." She pauses, watches Lauren's reaction; Lauren doesn't really react at all. She finishes cutting a piece of chicken, looks back at Camila and nods. "We were working on a project in my room last year and I just kind of kissed her? It was nice. Nothing came of it, though."
"Did you want it to?" Lauren asks, her face almost scarily neutral.
"So your first kiss was with a girl?"
"Cool." Lauren smiles.
Camila rolls her shoulders back, smears another noodle in the marina and asks, "When was the first time you kissed a girl?" She stops, looks up, eyes going wide. "You don't have to answer that."
Lauren shakes her head, still smiling. "It's okay. It was senior year of high school, at my friend Max's graduation party. His cousin was there, and we really hit it off. And I was just starting to like, accept that sometimes I liked girls, too, you know? So we were talking and somehow the topic shifted to the time I had made out with Max at a party, and I said he wasn't a very good kisser. And I'll never forget how she leaned a little closer and looked at me before saying You kissed the wrong Gonzalez. And then she kissed me."
Camila smiles, feels her face getting hot. She hopes the low lighting masks it. "Did you? Kiss the wrong Gonzalez, I mean."
"Oh yeah. She was a way better kisser."
Camila laughs, Lauren's tongue sneaks out of her smile, and her foot taps Camila's under the table.
After splitting a desert and boxing up their dinners, after Lauren insists on paying, after Camila complains about Lauren asking for the check before the waiter brought another basket of breadsticks, after singing along to One Direction on the ride back to campus, and after Lauren parks behind Camila's building, Camila unbuckles her seatbelt.
"Want to come up?" she asks, pointing behind her.
Lauren's mouth turns down, but just barely. "I have to make sure everything's set up for the comedian tonight."
"Right. Vice President of campus activities is a very demanding job."
"Well, I'll see you later," Camila says. She grabs her box and turns to open the car door, gets her hand on the handle before Lauren touches her other wrist, feather-light.
Camila turns around, and there's something searching in Lauren's eyes that makes her stomach twist. Lauren takes a deep breath.
"Yeah?" Camila asks.
"Do you want to be my girlfriend?"
Camila blinks, breaths out. "Yeah."
"Yeah." She nods, smiles slowly until it feels like it's taking over her entire face. Her stomach flutters in a way that isn't entirely unpleasant. "Yeah."
Lauren leans over, kisses her once. "Okay. I'll see you later."
Camila gets out of the car, waves, and stumbles to the door. She scans her I.D. and turns around, watches Lauren's car pull out of the parking lot. She blinks, still grinning, and stands there for another second.
Lauren is Camila's first girlfriend.
Things that are different: More cuddling in bed as they watch movies, a small uptick in the amount of texting, another line on Camila's Facebook.
Things that are the same: Pretty much everything else.
Camila decides she likes it.
Ally and Noah are taking off their clothes on the screen, watching each other from across the room.
The lights in the living area are off, but in the glow from the television Camila can see Lauren's head resting on Ally's shoulder where they're lying on the floor. Camila's thrown her legs over Dinah and Normani's laps, popcorn bowl resting on her own thighs. She runs a piece of popcorn against the side of the bowl to butter it up before leaning her head back and tossing the piece up. She doesn't catch it with her mouth, but it lands on her chest.
"Do you think he looks better with or without the beard?" Dinah asks.
"With the beard," Lauren answers without no hesitation.
"Really?" Normani crinkles her nose. "It makes him look older, though."
"So?" Lauren turns her head to see Normani, and Camila looks between them, feels her mouth twitching up.
"That's gross." Normani's entire face is scrunched together now. "He definitely looks better without it."
"I think he looks best with some scruff," Ally offers, voice low like she's ready to mediate a disagreement.
"But he never looks like that way in the movie," Camila says.
"Mila's got a point," Dinah agrees.
"Well, I don't know, he's Ryan Gosling." Ally furrows her eyebrows and lies back down on her pillow pile.
"Good point." Camila nods before popping another piece of popcorn in her mouth.
By the time the film ends they're all at various levels of distraught. Ally is hiccuping, sitting up and blowing her nose. Dinah keeps wiping under her eyes like she can stop the tears from coming if she doesn't let them fall. Camila's cheeks are wet, and she's so tired even though the clock on the microwave says it's just after 10:30. She stretches her legs over Dinah's and Normani's laps, flexes her toes.
"So, what now?" Normani asks, voice faintly scratchy.
"We could watch something else," Ally sniffles. "Something fun."
"I'm feeling kind of tired," Camila says.
"Don't be boring." Dinah frowns and narrows her eyes.
"Sorry." Camila pouts "I'm an old lady. Lauren?"
"What?" Lauren asks, she's lying on Ally's pillow pile and scrolling through her phone. Her mascara's smudged. Camila can't see if her cheeks are flushed, but she bets they are because that's how Lauren gets after she's cried a lot -- if watching Into the Wild and Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants taught Camila anything, it's that she's open to kissing Lauren when there's a 50/50 chance of snot dripping out of Lauren's nose and that her face blooms red when she cries.
"I'm going to sleep," Camila says.
"Oh. Okay." Lauren taps something out on her phone and then sits up. She runs her hand through her hair and flips it so it all falls on one side of her head.
Dinah makes kissy noises, Normani joins in and Ally laughs, bright and loud.
Camila rolls her eyes and stands up, holds her hands out to Lauren, who flips Dinah and Normani off before taking Camila's hands and using her weight as leverage to get up.
"Are you gonna watch the next movie?" Ally asks.
"You can start without me," Lauren says.
Normani wolf whistles. Camila groans.
"You're so annoying!" She calls, walking down the hall.
Lauren sits in Camila's desk chair, sending text messages while Camila changes into her pajamas, head bent forward and hair forming a curtain around her. Camila pulls her shirt over her head. "Do you know what they're gonna watch?"
"No idea. I can ask?" Lauren sits up but doesn't turn around.
"No. It's okay." Camila pulls her hair back and walks around the chair. She grabs a ponytail off her desk. "I just want to go to sleep."
"Your pajamas are so cute," Lauren says, smiling.
Camila looks down at her cupcake pajama pants and large shirt from some marathon her church helped with. She bites her lip. "Thanks."
Lauren crooks her finger and Camila bends forward, lets Lauren cup her face and kiss her, lick into her mouth. Her fingers are cool against Camila's skin. Camila tangles her hands in Lauren's hair. It's a slightly awkward angle and she bends her knees, crouching uncomfortably.
"I have to brush my teeth," Camila mumbles.
"Gotta do this first," Lauren says. She kisses her again, soft and slow, and Camila sighs into it. "Before your mouth is all clean."
"You could stay over," Camila says, a quiet rush of breath. She can feel Lauren smile against her mouth. "If you want.
"I don't have a toothbrush."
"I have an extra."
"Okay." Lauren presses her mouth against Camila's again.
They brush their teeth, water running, leaning away when the other person leans in, like a dance they're just learning. Camila thinks she could be good at this one. Lauren bumps her hip, winks at Camila in the mirror. Camila tries to smile back around her tooth brush. They both wash their faces and ignore Ally, Dinah and Normani's catcalls when they walk back to Camila's room.
"Enjoy Zoolander," Lauren says.
"Enjoy Camila," Dinah calls.
Camila laughs, grabs Lauren's arm and pulls her into her room, shutting and locking the door behind them.
She lends Lauren a t-shirt and pair of sweats, feels her heart in her throat, something warm shooting up her spine at the sight of Lauren in her clothes. Camila blinks and worries her lip between her teeth to keep the warmth from spilling over and out of her mouth.
Camila switches off the lights and crawls into the too small bed after Lauren. They face each other and whisper about the time Camila got lost in the mall and the time a girl Lauren was babysitting threw up all over her. They mock Normani's reaction to Ryan Gosling looking old with a beard, trying to wrinkle their faces up in the same look of disgust.
Lauren falls asleep first, lips barely parted, fingers splayed over Camila's stomach, pinky almost hooked into her belly button. Camila watches her breathe, blinks and stares at the ceiling. She tries to even out her breathing, but this feels important; Camila feels something shifting, nameless and invisible, but important. She closes her eyes, concentrates on the light press of Lauren's hand against her skin.
When she wakes up they've shifted. She's rolled over, face buried in Lauren's neck and hair, legs pressed together.
She crawls out of bed, drinks and glass of water and brushes her teeth before crawling back in, wrapping her arms around Lauren and pulling her closer.
They all decide to stay at school for Thanksgiving and celebrate it themselves. Camila's parents seem confused when she tells them she's not flying back to Miami. They ask if she needs money added to her account to buy the ticket, ask if all the flights are booked, ask if she's going to surprise them because they don't find it very funny. There's a lot of, "No, Ally and Dinah are going to make a turkey" and "Lauren and I are making fried sweet plantains" and "Yes, I plan on starving, sad and alone, on Thanksgiving . . . We'll I think I'm funny" before they agree, her mom still sighing heavily over the phone.
They wake up early to watch the parade, Dinah twirling Camila around to the singers and the marching bands until Camila steps on her toes. They aww over the cute floats and Normani teaches them all how to wave like the queen, proper and less flappy than the way Camila prefers it. Camila calls Sophie toward the end so they can watch together over the phone. It's different than what she's used to, but not in a bad way. Before Sophie can hang up, her mom gets on the phone and tries to tell her how to fry plantains, as though Lauren didn't ask her parents before googling and bookmarking a million things.
As it turns out, Camila probably should've paid more attention to her mom. It's not that anything disastrous happens, it's just that she shrieks and ducks when the oil splatters a little and runs into Normani, who's chopping up apples for stuffing. Normani screams, but the cut on her finger is small. Dinah helps her wash it and Ally grabs a band-aid. Camila kisses it better and no one dies.
Camila knew making Thanksgiving dinner wasn't going to be easy, but when you have five girls trying to use one small kitchen it's even worse. There is no counter space and someone is always blocking the fridge or sink when someone else needs it. Lauren gets bossy and loud, but Camila can't complain when she takes over plantain duty. By the time they're finished, Normani's finger and Camila hitting her head on a cabinet are, miraculously, the only injuries.
Once they've all served themselves, Ally claps her hands. "Let's all say what we're thankful for."
"Do I have to stop eating?" Camila asks.
Ally shoots her an exasperated look. "No."
"I'm thankful I don't have to stop eating." Lauren laughs, Camila grins and Ally rolls her eyes.
"Normani, you start," Ally says, reaching over and tapping Normani's wrist.
"Well, I'm thankful that God has blessed me with my wonderful family and great friends." Everyone coos. "I'm thankful that the semester is almost over and that Camila didn't cause me to cut my finger off."
Camila scrunches up her face and smiles at Normani across the table. "If that had happened I'm sure someone could've sewn it back on."
"Oh! This guy in one of my classes grew up on a farm and had his finger chopped off somehow," Dinah says. "His mom made him go back out and show her where his finger was so she could take it with to the emergency room."
"Is there a scar ringing the finger?" Lauren asks.
"No." Dinah shakes her head. "You can't really even tell unless you're looking for it."
"Cool. I bet he's thankful his mom made him find his finger." Lauren takes a sip of wine.
"Guys," Ally whines.
"Okay, okay, I'll go." Lauren sets her glass down and Camila watches the bright red of her nail polish against the deep burgundy of the wine. "I'm thankful I've finished my grad school applications, and I'm grateful I met all of you, and I'm also very glad we didn't have to sew Normani's finger back on."
"You all think you're so funny," Camila sighs. She shakes her head and stabs at some turkey and stuffing with her fork.
"Very," Lauren confirms, reaching over and patting Camila's thigh.
"Well," Dinah starts, "I'm thankful that Ally is making us do this." She grins at Ally and Ally tilts her head before blowing a kiss across the table. "I'm thankful my new little niece is healthy and that I get to see her next month. Also that Lauren always brings wine."
Lauren lifts up her glass to clink with Dinah's. "My pleasure, darling."
"I can't say too much or I'll ruin your Christmas powerpoints," Camila says. "But, I'll say this: I'm thankful my parents let me spend Thanksgiving with you guys. In the immortal words of Kelly Clarkson: my life would suck without you."
Dinah laughs. Normani sings, "Cause we belong together now," and Camila pulls Lauren in, sings along at the top of her lungs.
"I forgot," Lauren adds. "I'm thankful you guys came to karaoke last year when no one else did."
"Yeah, why don't we have that anymore?" Dinah asks.
Lauren blinks, and Camila feels her mouth twitch up. "Because no one else ever showed up," she says. Camila giggles and leans her head against Lauren's shoulder.
"Well, I'm thankful that God is so good," Ally cuts in. "I'm thankful I have all of you and Troy and my family. I'm thankful for my job. But I'm very thankful y'all humored me."
"Amen!" Camila screams, raising one hand to the sky.
Thanksgiving ends with Beyonce playing as they do the dishes in shifts, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, and Lauren's mouth on her neck.
Camila files it away as one of the greats.
The rest of the semester is a whirl.
There are lesson plans to turn in, finals to study for and take, papers to write, and cooperating teachers to call.
It's busy and stressful and when Camila breaks down the Monday of finals week Ally hugs her and smooths her hand up and down Camila's back, kissing her cheek and murmuring, "You're okay. Let it out," into her ear. Normani buys her ice cream and Dinah makes flashcards for her.
Everything is better after that.
She apologizes profusely on Tuesday, until Dinah grabs one of Camila's hands in both of hers, looks her directly in the eye and says, "Pero, if you say you're sorry one more time I will smack you."
Camila passes all her classes and finds out she gets to teach Tuesdays With Morrie to a group of high school freshman next semester.
She does not think about how after next semester everything changes.
She does Christmas with her family, she does New Years with her family, and she meets Lauren's parents four days after.
Buckling her seatbelt, she exhales.
"Relax," Lauren says.
"Easy for you to say, you're not meeting my parents." Camila picks at some skin by her thumbnail.
"I've met your mom."
She rolls her eyes. "Yeah, except that was for like, two minutes the first time you picked me up."
Lauren looks over her shoulder as she backs out of Camila's driveway. "We've messaged each other on Facebook."
"You're Facebook friends with my mom?" Camila asks. She leans her head against the window, blinks at the stop sign. This is ridiculous.
"Yeah. She requested me."
Camila sits up, watches the way Lauren's mouth moves like she wants to laugh. "How did I not notice this?"
"Unobservant, I guess." Lauren finally laughs, low and throaty.
Camila frowns, reaches forward and fiddles with the radio before settling on the station Lauren had it tuned to to begin with. She looks out the window, watches the familiar streets pass by. Wonders if maybe she's driven past Lauren house before and hadn't even known. Her stomach flutters and her palms feel sweaty, so she wipes them on her jeans.
"They'll like you," Lauren says.
"You don't know that." Camila chews on her bottom lip as they slow for a red light.
When they're stopped Lauren takes Camila's hand. "I do know that."
"Because you're you."
"Did you talk me up to much? If you talked me up too much they'll just be disappointed."
The light turns green and Lauren squeezes her hand once before letting go. "I undersold you, actually."
"Promise?" Camila's starting to feel nauseous.
"They think you're an alcoholic who can't form sentences." Lauren rolls her eyes, signals and changes lanes. "And I think they expect you to be a forty-year-old man."
Camila lets out an awkward sound that's supposed to be a laugh. "I've never met anyone's parents before."
"The last guy I brought home cheated on me so . . . as long as you haven't done that you'll be fine. Besides, you're much cuter." She turns into a neighborhood, and Camila is pretty sure she had to do a school project with someone who lived here once.
"I can't believe anyone would cheat on you."
Lauren shrugs, smiles dryly. "Well. Please don't try to figure how."
Camila frowns, blinks and rests her hand on Lauren's knee. "We'll see if I can survive tonight first." She presses her mouth in a straight line. Lauren pulls into a driveway. "I'm sorry boys suck."
Lauren turns off the car, unbuckles her seatbelt and rests her hand over Camila's. When she smiles this time it's small and real and Camila swallows. "How did this turn into you comforting me? Come on, champ. This night's all about you."
Camila groans and flips her hand, laces her fingers with Lauren's. "Is my palm sweaty?"
"Only a little damp."
"I'll take it."
Camila hits it off with Lauren's family immediately. When she goes to shake her dad's hand, he pulls her into a hug, and halfway through dinner Lauren's mom turns to her: "She's not taking advantage of you, is she?"
"No?" Camila laughs a little, tries not to think about Lauren's mouth.
"Because I can't figure out if her taste in partners has suddenly improved, or if she's never been able to land anyone worthwhile before."
"Mom," Lauren shrieks.
"Honey, I'm sorry. You're not paying her to lie to us, right? I've seen that happen on T.V."
"She did pay for dinner the night she asked me out, like a real lady," Camila offers, smile flirting around her mouth.
"Did she?" Lauren's dad asks. "I'm impressed."
"I've made a huge mistake," Lauren says. "I should've known you'd all team up against me."
"It's what we do best." Her dad winks.
Lauren's family laughs at Camila's jokes, asks her about teaching and lets her talk about her lesson plan ideas for Tuesdays With Morrie. Her mom dances around the kitchen with them while they do dishes, singing One Direction louder than anyone. Her siblings makes sure Camila sees the embarrassing baby pictures like the one of Lauren in the bathtub playing with a rubber duck. They all leave Camila and Lauren in the living room for a little while, which Camila knows her mom would never do, probably not even if they were married.
"I like your family," Camila says when they're parked outside her own house.
"They liked you." Lauren grins. "Thank you."
"Don't thank me yet. My dad wants you to come in for ice cream." Camila raises an eyebrow.
Lauren frowns. "I'm not hungry."
"But if you don't come in and eat ice cream he's probably going to hate you forever. He really knows how to hold a grudge."
"Fine," she sighs, exaggerated and cute.
It's kind of embarrassing, really. Camila's dad doesn't ask Lauren what her intentions are or tell her he owns a gun, but it's pretty close. Camila's probably the only one who can tell she blushes a little, but her laughs come cross genuine instead of awkward and uncomfortable. Lauren eats half the giant bowl of ice cream Camila's mom handed her, and Camila happily finishes it. Sophie seems to love her right away, and watching Sophie hug Lauren goodbye makes Camila's chest feel too small.
Her family scatters and let's Camila say goodbye, though.
The porch light is on, casts everything faintly orange and makes Camila feel a little like she's in a movie.
"Can I kiss you, or will your dad kill me?" Lauren asks, eyebrow cocked.
"I'm sorry." Camila swings their hands. "He's very protective, and I think it's worse because you're the first person ever I've brought home."
"At least your mom likes me."
Camila slaps her arm. "My dad likes you. Now that he's got the threatening you thing out of the way he'll probably tell you a bunch of terrible jokes and teach you how to tango."
Lauren smiles. "Next time."
"Next time." Camila rubs circles over the back of Lauren's hand with her thumb. "They're probably watching, but I think your life will be safe if you kiss me goodnight."
"Eh." Lauren shrugs, moves closer. "You're worth it."
She kisses Camila, hand curling around Camila's hip, prying her mouth open with her teeth and tongue. Camila stumbles forward, presses herself as close as possible, likes the warmth of Lauren cutting against the cold of the night, likes the thrill of knowing Lauren doesn't care if her parents are watching or not, likes how soft Lauren's hair is when she tangles a hand in it.
"Night," Lauren says, an airy undercurrent to her words. Camila imagines she's trying to catch her breath.
"Night." She presses a kiss to Lauren's cheek, watches her get in her car and waves before going back inside.
When she walks into the kitchen both her parents whistle.
"You two are worse than Dinah."