(part one.) (part two.)
Camila blinks against the sun streaming in through the blinds. Carefully, she rolls over, finds Lauren sitting up and reading a book. "Hey."
Lauren presses her mouth together, hums a little. Her ponytail has loosened from last night, a few strands falling out completely. There are some lines across her cheek from the pillowcase. Camila blinks, traces a pattern over Lauren's thigh, waits.
"Hey, sleepyhead," Lauren says a minute later, marking her place and reaching over to drop her book on the edge of Camila's desk.
"What time is it?"
Lauren slides down and Camila kicks gently at her ankle. "Like ten."
"That's not that late." Lauren kisses her, tastes minty. "You brushed your teeth."
"Yeah, I woke up at eight thirty when you snuck out of bed to brush yours.
"Hey! I snuck out of bed because I had to pee."
Lauren smirks. "You've got to stop drinking a shitload of water before going to sleep."
"You've got to start sneaking away to brush your teeth before I wake up," Camila counters, kissing Lauren again.
"Not like me not doing that has stopped you before."
Camila slaps a hand over her chest and tries her best to look affronted. It's pretty difficult when Lauren tongues at the corner of her mouth. "I am a lady with standards."
"Never said otherwise."
Camila waits for Lauren to kiss her, but when she stays put, Camila rolls closer. She's not sure, but she thinks Lauren's been giving her more control lately, like Lauren is even less sure what Camila's okay with now than she was when this whole thing started. Camila almost asked once, when she felt a throbbing between her legs and had nipped at Lauren's ear before pulling back and asking if she wanted to get dinner somewhere -- Camila's treat -- and Lauren had gone to the bathroom for almost fifteen minutes.
It's this weird unspoken thing between them. They've never talked about it, about how Camila knows that Lauren knows and Lauren knows that Camila knows that she knows:
Camila is a virgin. Lauren is not.
Camila kisses Lauren harder, pulls Lauren closer until Lauren straddles her hips.
She doesn't care, not really, has long since come to terms with the fact that the first person she slept with would be more experience than her. And she likes that Lauren seems to know when Camila feels too big for her skin, knows when Camila needs her to press a soft kiss against her mouth or dig her fingers into Camila's hips. She likes that at some point she decided Lauren would be the person to undo her, thinks maybe the sex thing doesn't actually matter because Lauren has already crawled under her skin and unraveled something Camila didn't even know was knotted.
She slips her hands up the back of Lauren's shirt, dances her fingers up the ridges of Lauren's spine. When Lauren sucks at her pulse point Camila whines, pushes Lauren down so they're lined up, toes to knees to mouths. "Shh," Lauren hums against her lips.
"Don't want to."
"Have to," Lauren says. She's got one hand holding Camila's, fingers laced above their heads.
"Don't have to," Camila argues. She slips a leg between Lauren's. "Everyone's at church."
Lauren's face brightens and her laugh, this one laugh that's loud and uninhibited and feels like maybe it's hers, Lauren's Camila laugh, erupts.
Camila grins, knocks their foreheads together. "Just us." She pushes her hips up.
Lauren bites her lip. "Yeah, yeah, okay," she says, low and breathy.
Lauren let's Camila lead, Lauren's hands shake when she pulls Camila's underwear down, Lauren looks at her for a long time and Camila flushes. When Lauren kisses her, soft and reverent, Camila thinks about hot chocolate after running through the rain, making a pillow fort and spending the entire day reading a favorite book, wearing fuzzy socks and an over-sized sweatshirt dancing around the kitchen.
Lauren kisses her collarbones, the valley between her breast, her stomach, her hip. When Lauren presses two fingers against her, Camila laughs, the sound hollow and throaty. "It's okay," she says, just in case Lauren doesn't know.
Lauren looks up, ponytail falling over her right shoulder, eyes wide and focused, mouth parted and slick. "I love you."
Camila blinks, inhales. She feels like she's shaking, like the atoms of her body are ramming into each other and about to fly away, fly apart. Lauren slips a finger in and presses a kiss to Camila's inner thigh. Camila exhales. "It's okay," she repeats, this time for herself.
Her heart beats between her legs and she whimpers when Lauren swipes her thumb over her clit. Her hips move of their own accord and Lauren twists her finger, adds a second. Camila sits up, leaning back on her elbows to see, watch Lauren's head between her thighs. She can't stay like that long, knowing it's Lauren's hand and Lauren's mouth. Lauren uses her other hand to hold open Camila's legs, fingers digging in almost painfully.
When Lauren licks at her cunt Camila groans. "Shit," she says.
And once she's said something, voice more breath than sound, words gravelly from the effort it takes to push them out, she can't stop. It's a litany of word she doesn't normally say, dirty and sweet on her tongue, thinks that fits the way she feels. Camila curls her hands in the sheets, screws her eyes shut. "Shit. Fuck, fuck, Lauren, fuck."
When Lauren rubs her thumb against Camila's clit she comes, the world flashing bright and blinding like Lauren's laugh, and she thinks Lauren says, "I love you," again, but there's blood rushing in her ears and she feels light-headed. She feels like she can't breathe, chest heaving, Lauren's name broken in her mouth.
Camila opens her eyes, finally, when she can trust herself, and finds Lauren's slick mouth. "So, that's what all the fuss is about?" she jokes.
Lauren kisses her, and Camila's mouth feels sore. Camila fingers along the edge of Lauren's bra, the elastic of her soffe shorts. "It's okay," Lauren says this time, fingers around Camila wrist, pulling her hand away. "It's not about me."
Camila blinks, bites her lip. Her head feels fuzzy and her body doesn't feel like her own. "Do you not want . . .?" she asks, trails off, can't figure out the end of the sentence.
Lauren smiles small, brushes a piece of hair away from Camila's forehead and tucks it behind her ear. "That's not it."
Camila watches her mouth soften, her eyes shine. She kisses Lauren's cheek. "If you won't let me, will you at least--" Camila laughs awkwardly, grabs Lauren's hand and moves it down.
"Camz," Lauren whispers.
"Please. For me."
Lauren exhales, swallows, holds eye contact for a long time before she rolls onto her back. Camila watches her slip her hand under the waistband of her shorts. She sits up, worries her lip between her teeth. Lauren flushes down her chest, her eyes dark and dilated, and when her breathing quickens she closes them.
"Look at me," Camila says. "Please." Her voice breaks.
Lauren opens her eye and Camila looks at her, looks at the twist of her wrist, the way she moves her hips down to meet her hand. "You're so beautiful," she says.
"Camila," Lauren chokes.
"You are." When Camila blinks her vision blurs. "Thank you."
Lauren's quiet when she comes, her back arching and her toes curling, biting her lip and mouth forming the word "fuck."
When Camila lies back down Lauren rolls over, buries her head in her neck and shoulder like she's embarrassed. Camila runs her fingers under the back of her bra and smiles. "Better than church, huh?"
Lauren's laugh is muffled, but Camila can feel it, warm and went against her skin. "We're going to hell."
"At least we'll have each other."
Camila's doesn't think she's ever seen Lauren look as open and vulnerable than she does when she looks up, color still blooming high on her cheeks.
It makes Camila feel too much -- no name for the what.
Ally comes back from Spring Break with a ring on her finger, and Normani's earned a fellowship at her second choice grad school, so that first Wednesday they walk across the street for free pie, arms linked like they're a junior high clique.
"We should do this every week," Camila says around a mouthful of French silk.
"Yes," Dinah agrees.
"I can't believe you hadn't thought of that before," Normani adds before scooping apple pie onto her fork.
"I'm a failure." Camila pouts.
"Better late than never," Normani says.
Which is true. A few weeks of free pie with her best friends are better than zero weeks of free pie with her best friends. That's empirical fact.
She's trying not to think about everything ending, but time keeps moving and ramming it in her face. She swallows the thought down and smiles. "You're going to be such a good therapist, Mani. Making everyone feel better with cliches."
"You can offer Ally and Tory marriage counseling," Dinah says.
Ally rolls her eyes. "Have some faith in us."
"Aww, I'm just kidding." Dinah leans over, wraps her arm around Ally's shoulder and pulls her in, kissing the crown of her head. "You're gonna be the cutest married people. Are you going to stand on a box when you say your vows?"
Ally tilts her head, tries her best to glare, but her mouth twitches and she laughs. She's been glowing all week, even now, even though last night she only got six hours of sleep because she'd gotten behind on her reading. It's probably partly because of her Spring Break tan, but Camila thinks there's something settled in her eyes, the comfort of forever, like maybe the weight of the ring on her finger took away some greater uncertainty.
"You'll have to if we can't see you standing up there," Normani says.
"Girl," Ally drawls, "you know y'all are gonna be bridesmaids."
"Allycat!" Camila clambers out of her chair and runs around the table, rests her chin on Ally's head and hugs her tight. She can feel Normani and Dinah swooping in for the group hug. "I'm so happy you're so happy," Camila whispers.
"I love you so much," Ally says back. They stay like that, in a tight ball of friendship, Camila starting to sweat with the heat radiating from them all, until Ally adds: "My ice cream is melting."
"I'm melting," Camila says.
"You're the Wicked Witch now?" Dinah asks. "Thought you were looking a little green."
Camila sticks out her tongue. "Eat your pie."
Ally promises the bridesmaids dresses won't be ugly and tells Normani she'll run every passing thought she has about them by her the second she thinks it. There's been no planning yet, there's not even a date, but Ally says they're aiming for somewhere around a two year engagement. When Ally goes to the bathroom Camila, Dinah and Normani put in an order of chicken noodle soup to-go because it seems like a fitting engagement present, even though Camila argues for another slice of pie.
"How was teaching today?" Ally asks when she sits back down.
"Good." Camila takes a sip of her milk. "Oh! There's this one kid in the junior class who keeps trying to argue that Iago is the tragic hero of Othello. Mrs. Lewindowksi is about ready to dropkick him out of the class."
"All you have to do is watch Aladdin to know Iago is a villain," Normani says.
Camila laughs. "Mrs. Lewindowski said last semester he tried to argue that Dimmesdale was the hero of The Scarlet Letter."
"They nerve!" Dinah says, face contorted like she cannot believe anyone would do such a thing.
Ally and Normani look equally outraged, but there's an amused tilt to Normani's mouth. "Thank for pretending you care," Camila says.
"We care," Ally counters. She nods her head and reaches out to hit Dinah and Normani as though they're giving her away.
"I was getting too English major." Camila shrugs. "It happens."
The waitress brings over the soup and Ally's eyebrows scrunch together.
"For she's a jolly good fellow," Camila starts, because she likes to think it's a tradition, and if it's not, she's determined to make it one.
Ally blushes and laughs, especially when the waitress asks if it's her birthday. Ally waves it off telling her, "No, no, it's not, sorry."
"We'll buy you soup next week, Mani," Dinah informs her as they're walking out.
Normani's eyes bugs out of her head. "Don't you dare."
When Camila walks into Lauren's room she finds Alexis sitting at the kitchen the table, flipping through a magazine and spooning cereal into her mouth. "Hey," Camila says.
Alexis waves, swallows. "Hey. How're you?"
"Good." Camila shrugs. "Tired."
"I feel that." Alexis' mouth twists down sympathetically, her body sagging forward as she rests her forearm on the table. "She's just in her room."
"Thanks." Camila smiles.
When she opens the door to Lauren's room, Lauren's leaning on her dresser, tapping a beat against the wood, phone pressed between her ear and shoulder. She turns when Camila walks in, grins. "Yeah. Uh-huh. Okay, well, I have to go."
Camila curls her pointer, middle and ring fingers in, holds her hand up to her ear like a phone and mouths, "Who is it?" before hopping onto Lauren's bed.
"My mom," Lauren mouths back. And then: "Okay. Thank you. Yeah, I'll let you know. Thanks. Love you, too. Bye." She hangs up and Camila raises an eyebrow. "I got in to Northwestern."
"What?" Camila jumps off the bed, runs right at Lauren and hugs her. They stumble into the dresser. "Oh my god. That's amazing."
"Thank you," Lauren giggles into Camila's neck.
Camila pulls back, holds onto Lauren by her biceps. "You're so smart, god. I'm so proud of you. I knew you could do it."
"Thank you." Lauren's ducks her head down and bites around her smile. "I'm waiting to hear about money, but."
"No. This is amazing. Don't get all bogged down in the details." Camila hugs her again, squeezes around her waist and picks her up, tries to twirl Lauren around but knocks her own elbow into the dresser. "Ow."
"You okay?" Lauren asks.
Camila holds up her arm and sticks her bottom lip out as far as possible. "Kiss it better."
Lauren rolls her eyes, but she concedes. "Help?"
Lauren's got her eyebrows raised like she thinks Camila is being absurd. Camila beams. "Better than a doctor. Oh my god, one day you'll be doctor."
"Not a medical one."
"Shut up. My girlfriend's so smart. Stop trying to take that away from me." Camila puts her hands on Lauren's hips. "Northwestern."
"I can't believe it," Lauren says.
"I can." Camila presses a kiss to the corner of her mouth.
When they're cuddled in bed watching an episode of Pokemon, Camila tugs on the sleeve of Lauren's shirt until she says, "Yeah?"
"Do you remember Women's Lit?"
Lauren's eyebrows furrow. "Yes." She drags the syllables out like she's confused.
Camila shakes her head. "No, I mean. I was in that class, too."
Lauren's face register's acute surprise and Camila can practically hear the ding of realization going off in her head. "Oh."
Camila bites her lip, pauses the episode. "I was just thinking, like. You're gonna be at Northwestern and I'm not. And then I was thinking like, you never noticed me in class? So. that probably points to something . . . not memorable about me. And somehow my brain just had this picture of you sitting in some fancy grad school class participating intelligently, right? And there's going to be other intelligent got-into-Northwestern types who are memorable. So you'll think, like, what did I ever see in unmemorable, dim Camila. And I just." Camila sighs. She's aware of where their thighs are pressed together, Lauren's big toe barely touching her ankle, and she's aware of all the places they're not touching, like they're already a thousand miles apart. "I don't understand why you don't remember? I literally sat across from you. Directly across from you."
Lauren's quiet for a long time and Camila can feel her eyes burning into her head, but she picks at her flaking nail polish instead of looking up. "Camz, you done?" she asks, soft and sad.
"Yeah." Camila tries to keep her face neutral, but when she blinks her vision gets blurry. She watches Lauren's hand slowly scoot closer until she's pulling one of Camila's away and holding it in both of hers. She doesn't ask Camila to look up.
"You're not dim. And you're definitely memorable." Camila looks up, then, fights the urge to look away. "And I don't care how far away you are, okay? I'm not going to forget you. I love you. I can like, feel you. That sounds weird." Lauren laughs, one of those short, quiet laughs that Camila has learned to recognize as real but embarrassed, honest but scared. "For the longest time it's felt like my body just knew when you were around, and then it started knowing when you weren't, too. Like I'm tuned to your frequency. And I don't, I don't know how to explain it so it doesn't make me sound ridiculous."
She exhales, frustrated. "I'm used to you but not used to you at the same time. And I like it, and I like you. And I don't know if it's going to be forever, or if some Northwestern asshole will make it stop, but even if it does, it doesn't mean I'll ever question right now."
Camila swallows. "Okay."
"Maybe I didn't notice you because I wasn't ready."
"Too busy making out with another girl's boyfriend," Camila says, mouth quirking up.
"They were in an open relationship then, and Sarah likes me a lot, thank you very much."
Camila frees her hand from Lauren grip and interlocks their fingers. "I know."
They turn the episode back on and Camila rests her head against Lauren's shoulder. "When, um, when did you know?"
"What?" Lauren asks. "We're going to have to watch this one again."
"I know. And when did you like, notice me?"
"When you were sitting on the couch eating twizzlers."
Camila presses her mouth together and thinks. "No, I mean. When did you know you like, liked-me liked-me," Camila clarifies.
Lauren waits a beat. "When you were sitting on the couch eating twizzlers."
"Shut up." Camila elbows her in the ribs.
Lauren giggles, elbows her back. "If that test wasn't so important I would've ditched Normani to watch you eat twizzlers, probably."
"You're so stupid," Camila says, rolling her eyes and groaning.
"Who got in to Northwestern again?" Lauren raises an eyebrow.
"Don't get cocky."
"You think I'm smart," Lauren sing-songs, tickling Camila.
Camila laughs, tries to squirm away and kicks her feet so Lauren's laptop tips sideways onto the bed. The tickling stops so Lauren can set the laptop safely on her dresser, and when Lauren flops back down on top of Camila, Camila groans and the bed's springs squeak.
"Stop fucking so loud!" Alexis screams from somewhere.
Lauren cackles and Camila shouts back, "We're not!"
"I don't believe you! Lauren's not menstruating!"
"Fuck off!" Lauren yells, but she's still laughing.
Camila locks her hands together behind Lauren's back. "Well, I mean, if that's the case . . ." She winks.
Camila's not even offended that Lauren just drops her head, her hair tickling Camila's face and chin as she keeps giggling silent puffs of air between them.
"You're kidding," Normani asks. She tucks a curl behind her ear and raises her eyebrows. "You can't possibly think Ally would do that."
"We could convince her!" Camila twirls her mixing straw around her drink and taps the bar with her toes.
"She would never get a tattoo, and definitely not of our initials. They don't even spell anything."
"They almost spell candy. Or dance without the E," Camila points out. "The dance one is pretty good, right?" She wiggles her eyebrows, laughs at the way Normani contorts her face in disgusted disbelief. Camila has no intention of tattooing anything permanently onto her body, but watching a tipsy Normani react to the idea is even better than she could have imagined.
"I'm going to stick with my Bible verse."
Camila shrugs. "Whatever. See what tune you'll be singing when Ally agrees."
"Okay," Normani says skeptically, scooting off her stool. "Well, I'm going to find Dinah. You want to come?"
Camila looks around the bar, makes eye contact with Ariana from her diversity class and waves. Ariana starts working her way through the crowd -- it's not even eleven yet, so the bar isn't too packed -- and shakes her head. "No. I'm good."
Ariana takes Normani's spot, hopping up on the stool and setting her cotton candy pink drink on the bar before reaching out to touch Camila's bow. "It's so cute," she coos.
"Thanks." Camila smiles, absentmindedly taps at her head. "You're student teaching this semester, right?"
"Yes! I have the best group of first graders." Ariana grabs Camila's hand, her entire face lighting up. "This one little boy comes in with jokes from popsicles every day."
"Aww, little kids are great." Camila nods and pulls her hand back. Ariana flips her hair over her shoulder; it's brighter than Camila remembers. "Did you dye your hair?"
"Yeah, do you like it?" She twirls a piece between her fingers.
"It looks really good." Camila takes a sip of her almost-empty drink, grimaces a little because the alcohol has sunk to the bottom.
"Thank you so much." Ariana squeezes Camila's forearm and tilts her head, tongue poking between her teeth. "Want me to buy you another drink?"
"Oh, no." Camila shakes her head. "I'm good."
"DD?" Ariana asks, a sympathetic lilt to the words.
"Nope," Camila says, popping the P. "I don't really like the taste of alcohol." She flicks her tongue like she's trying to shake her drink off it.
"Same!" Ariana holds her hand up for a high-five. "That's why I always get the really fruity, girly drinks."
Camila turns her head slightly and sees Lauren making her way over in her periphery vision. She smiles and waves. "I don't know why I don't do that. I just ordered a vodka cranberry because it's cheap, but the cranberry juice is so sour."
"Hey," Lauren says.
"Hi." Camila grins. Lauren looks Ariana up and down, face blank. "Oh, Lauren this is Ariana. Ariana meet Lauren."
"The girlfriend." Lauren leans closer to Camila, sets her hand on the small of Camila's back.
Ariana's eyes widen. "Oh."
"She was in the diversity class with Dinah and me," Camila clarifies.
There's something about the pinch of Lauren's face when she looks at Ariana that Camila can't put her finger on. "Cool."
"My friend just got here, and she looks a little lost," Ariana says, giggling and pointing behind them. Camila twists like she's trying to see them, but turns back around before she does. "It was good talking to you, Camila." Ariana slides off the stool and grabs her drink. "Nice to meet you."
"You too," Lauren replies, voice too syrupy sweet to be genuine. She takes Ariana's place and smirks. "She's a fun one."
"What do you mean?" Camila's eyebrows knot. "She's nice."
"She wants to fuck you," Lauren says. She grabs Camila's drink and gulps down the last of it.
"What?" Camila shakes her head. She's pretty sure Lauren is losing it. "No, she doesn't. How do you know that?"
Lauren sighs. She gently sliding her hands up and down Camila's arms, fluttering her eyelashes. "Oh, Camila, I really want to fuck you." She does an airy, high-pitched laugh as she tosses her hair over her shoulder. "Please, please fuck me, Camila."
Camila laughs, then slaps a hand over her mouth, eyes widening. "You're jealous."
Lauren sits up, pulls on the edge of her skirt, smoothing it out. "Of that? No."
"I kind of like it," Camila says, bringing her hand up to her mouth like it's a secret. She pushes off her stool, props her elbow on the counter.
"You do?" Lauren asks, skeptical.
"Yeah." Camila bites her lip, looks at Lauren's faded pink lipstick. "I mean, I don't want you to get all annoying with it but like. Right now?" Camila looks at her, rests a hand on her arm and leans closer, whispers: "It's kinda hot."
"Yeah." Camila intertwines their fingers, looks up through her eyelashes. "Wanna get out of here?"
Lauren blinks. "Jesus." Camila laughs. "Let's go."
When they're walking out, they pass Ariana. Lauren waves, fluttering her fingers, smug smirk plastered on her stupid, wonderful mouth.
Camila rolls her eyes. "By the way, she doesn't talk like that."
Lauren looks at Camila like she's an idiot, but she lets Lauren kiss her by the door, anyway.
Camila smears her dauber over the flimsy Party City table cloth, draws a blue flower before stealing Dinah's green dauber to make a stem.
"Why haven't we started yet? They're five minutes late," Normani groans. She puts her head down on the table.
"They always start late, Mani." Ally squints one eye, draws a wavy line at the bottom of the balloon she drew.
"People are still coming in," Lauren says, twisting around to look at the door.
"I'm so tired I just want to go to sleep," Normani mumbles, sound muffled by her arms. She lifts her head and blows some hair out of her face. "I better win."
"Nah. This bingo is mine," Dinah says. She rips her dauber out of Camila's hand and waves it around in the air. "I haven't won since Sophomore year."
"I haven't won since Freshman year," Lauren offers.
"That's because you were reading the numbers and couldn't play," Ally says.
The university ballroom is starting to fill up, the noise level rising as people get antsy. A group of freshman starts hitting their table and chanting, "bingo, bingo, bingo." Camila attempts to steal Lauren's purple dauber when she turns the opposite way to glare at the people shouting. Drawing a garden on their table cloth is hard work and all the flowers cannot be blue. That's just silly.
"Hey!" Lauren screams at the people chanting. "Shut up."
"Such a good role model." Camila smiles and starts making round petals next to her blue flowers.
"Give that back," Lauren says. She reaches over to take the dauber but Camila jerks it back and up.
"I got you." Dinah takes the purple dauber and waves it above her head.
"But my garden is so blue." Camila frowns at Lauren, widens her eyes and blinks, tries to look as cute and as pathetic as possible.
"I don't care."
"But you let Ally use it to make a balloon," Camila argues.
"Ally didn't try to draw a dick on my arm." Lauren's eyes narrow.
"It was going to be a flower!"
"It did look like a dick, though," Normani says.
"Yeah, Mila. It kind of did," Dinah adds. She's set the dauber down on the table and slides her hand up and down like she's giving it a handjob.
Camila groans. "I would have fixed it if Lauren hadn't just turned it into a blob."
"It's a very nice blob," Ally compliments.
"Thank you." Lauren grins. "Now give me back my dauber."
"Cheechee, no!" Camila points her finger at Dinah and tries to adopt her best stern face. Dinah just laughs and shoves the dauber across the table. Camila throws her entire body forward to try and intercept it, and it works for a second, but then Lauren is prying it from her fingers. "You'll all regret this when I get bingo and don't share my winnings."
"I think I'll live if I don't get the Ramen you're bound to pick," Normani says.
"They're a grocery bingo staple," Camila protests. She picked Ramen one time instead of the twenty dollar Starbucks giftcard and they've never let her forget it. But the Ramen fed her actual meals, so whatever, Camila couldn't buy them lattes, bit deal.
"There are no friends in grocery bingo." Dinah nods, serious and solemn.
"If you put out a positive attitude and cheer when other people win, the good will come back to you," Ally explains.
"That's a good point," Normani says.
Dinah waves her hand around nonchalantly. "Whatever. I'd rather boo."
"But Ally's won four times. Remember that day she got two bingos?" Camila asks. "I'm gonna do it her way.
Dinah gasps. "How dare you? I thought we were a team."
"I thought there were no friends in grocery bingo," Camila mocks, affecting a nasally, high-pitched tone.
"I'll boo with you, Dinah," Lauren says.
"Suck it!" Dinah and Lauren lean across her to high-five.
Camila still feels like she picked the winning side because Normani gets bingo during the postage stamp round. She shouts: "Bingo!" and waves her hand in the air before walking leisurely up to the table to get her card checked. They all whoop and holler, and Lauren screams, "Fuck you," at the table next to them for booing. Normani comes back with a snack pack of pudding and little bags of Nabisco cookies. She gives Camila a bag of Chips Ahoy! before the next game starts.
When they're walking back to the room after, Camila brags about their dominance until Ally says that's not in the spirit of their position. Camila rolls her eyes. "I'd like to switch sides, then."
Dinah and Lauren welcome her back with a hug and pinches to her cheeks, and Camila hops on Dinah for a piggyback ride to the room. Normani and Ally link arms, and Normani says Ally's the only one allowed to her winnings.
"Girl, don't lie," Dinah says.
"Onward, ho!" Camila shouts, pointing at their building when they turn the corner. Dinah takes off in a gallop and they win the race. She doesn't even care when Lauren protests and says they weren't racing. Camila is a very gracious winner.
Most romantic-comedies don't show the stupid, petty and pointless fights people have.
Camila and Lauren have plenty of those:
There's the Saturday Camila dressed up to go out, let Normani curl her hair and put on heels. They all waited in their room, pre-gaming and playing Jenga. After they missed the first bus downtown, Lauren sent a text saying she decided to get high with Brian and Luke instead. There's the time Camila promised Lauren she'd go to breakfast because the high school had an institute day. Camila had accidentally slept in, and Lauren had waited outside the cafeteria for twenty minutes, sent two texts and called once. There's the time Lauren eats the last piece of pizza and the last of Ally's cupcakes, and there's the time Camila watches three episodes of Parenthood while Lauren is editing a short story to submit to the university's literary journal.
Movies like the big, blow-out fights, the dramatic ones that signal a change.
Camila and Lauren have one of those, too.
It starts like this:
"So, you're not coming?" Lauren asks, a sharp edge to the words.
Camila sighs. "I really have to finish this journal and write lesson plans for next week."
Lauren stands by the door, arms crossed over her chest, face open with annoyance. "You're saying you don't have time to go to the slam poetry night I'm reading at, even though I told you about it two week ago?"
"Lauren," Camila tries, soft and appeasing. "I have to turn this journal in Friday and I haven't even started this week's entries yet. This is a huge part of my grade."
"Right." Lauren nods like she understands, but her words are short and clipped: "But you had time to go to Ariana's concert on Monday."
"I asked you if you wanted to come with us," Camila says. She runs her finger along the edge of her desk and feels a headache building.
"I didn't want to come." Lauren rolls her eyes, shifts and leans against the wall. "But isn't that time you could've spent doing work."
Camila groans. "I didn't realize it would take me this long."
"You've been doing them all semester."
"This is the first time I've taught a class every day, Lauren. That's a lot more to write up." Camila presses her mouth together and inhales, steadies her breathing.
"This is really important to me." Lauren pushes off the wall, drops her arms and straightens her back. "It's nice to know what your priorities are, though."
"Jeez." Camila runs a hand through her hair, fingers catching on a knot. "I'm really stressed right now, and I don't need you being ridiculous about this. Yeah, I miscalculated. I'm sorry," she says, volume increasing and, she admits, not sounding particularly sorry at all.
Lauren smiles, ugly and fake. "It's fine."
"Don't say it's fine if it's not fine."
"It's fine because I don't want you there anymore."
It turns like this:
"Yeah, okay," Camila drawls sarcastically.
Lauren glares. "You don't have to be an asshole, Camila."
It turns like this:
"Oh, I'm sorry. I was following your lead." Lauren's still standing and Camila's still sitting sideways at her desk, her laptop open to her journal and her notebook next to it. She feels small, so she stands up to put them on a level playing field. "I thought being ridiculous assholes was what we were doing."
"Fuck you," Lauren spits. Her fists curl by her sides and her eyes narrows, dark and bright in a way that's almost scary.
"You already did that."
Lauren's face flashes and Camila thinks under other circumstance she would have rolled her eyes and laughed, fond and amused. Instead she says, "I should probably leave now that we're done all I'm good for."
"Yeah, don't want to keep Brian waiting." Camila taps her wrist as though she's wearing a watch. "Boys are probably better fucks anyway."
"You have got to be kidding," Lauren spits.
Camila shrugs. "Did he pay you extra to go to his play the night I gave my presentation?" She's just trying to prove a point: they've both had things conflict with something important. Camila's English thesis, Lauren's poetry reading, potato, po-tah-to.
"He ordered the tickets before the professor even booked the ballroom for that," Lauren says. "Why can't you just admit that you're screwing me over?"
"Because I'm not."
Lauren scoffs. "Jesus."
"Whatever. At least I won't have to deal with this when you're in Chicago," Camila says, flippant, like it's nothing.
Lauren's entire face relaxes, shocked, mouth slightly agape, eyes wide, cheeks flushing. Her hands uncurl and she inhales, exhales, inhales. Her chest rises and falls and Camila doesn't know if she's just won or lost. Finally, Lauren says, "You don't have to deal with me ever." She shakes her head, blinks, her eyes wet. "Don't talk to me.
Camila debates between saying, "I won't," and "C'mon, I didn't mean it like that."
She doesn't say anything, though, because Lauren's left, slamming her bedroom door, and then a moment later slamming the door to the room. Camila sits back in her desk chair, scrubs her face with her hands. When Ally comes in and asks what happened, Camila promises that it's nothing.
Camila doesn't know what to do with don't talk to me besides, well, not talk to her.
She can feel the time pass in her bones, a cold ache like she's getting sick.
The first twenty-four hours aren't too bad because she works on her journal and teaches a lesson on In the Penal Colony to a class, not enough time having passed to make the silence seem unusual. But when she's sitting in her room, trying to finish her lesson plans for next week so she can give them to Mrs. Lewindowksi tomorrow, she keeps looking at the clock: 7:30, 8:05, 8:50, and Lauren's probably read her pieces and Camila's sitting at her desk, fluorescent lights making her eyes hurt, feeling shitty.
She knows she should've been there. She could've stayed up late to finish and had coffee the next day from the pot in the teacher's offices. It wasn't impossible.
But she didn't go, and when she's lying in bed, a little before midnight, she fidgets with her phone, the light making her squint in the dark, her last text to Lauren staring at her: come over! She thinks about sending one asking how it went. She doesn't, because they've never left an argument this long. They've never left one with don't talk to me lingering in the air.
By the time Sunday night rolls around Camila hasn't heard from Lauren in four days. She wants to say she's sorry, but she doesn't want to say it over text, and she's too scared to stop by her room. Part of her worries maybe they've broke up and the minute she contacts Lauren it'll be a final, official thing. Thinking about that, about Lauren breaking up with her over something so stupid, over things Camila didn't even mean, makes her feel like someone's pinching her lungs, squeezing all the air out of her body.
She's sad, cuddled in the dark in her room at 3 in the afternoon, blinds closed, half-eaten bowl of macaroni and cheese on her desk. There's nothing to watch because everything she wants to see she promised to watch with Lauren, and all her effort goes into checking her texts, making sure Lauren hasn't changed her relationship status on Facebook, and trying not to cry.
She's scrolling through her ipod when there's a knock on her door and Dinah cracks it open, light from the hallway spilling in. "Hey," Dinah says. "Visiting hours?"
Camila blinks. "Yeah."
Dinah closes the door gently before snuggling close to Camila. "Haven't seen Lauren around lately," she says conversationally.
"Did Ally tell you?" Camila's coughs to clear her throat.
"She said you had a fight. But you seemed fine Friday?"
Camila smiles. "I was trying to put on a brave face."
"Led us to another game night victory." Dinah throws an arm around her waist and squeezes.
Camila leans her head on Dinah's shoulder and closes her eyes. "I don't know what to do," she breathes.
"We had a stupid argument about me staying in to do homework instead of going to her poetry slam. And then I said something stupid about not having to deal with her when she's at Northwestern because I'm so stupid. And then she told me not to talk to her." Camila blinks and her vision is blurry. "So I haven't."
"Oh, Mila." Dinah rests her head on top of Camila's. "Just tell her you're sorry, she'll forgive you."
Camila swallows and wipes at her eyes. "What if she doesn't?"
"Why wouldn't she?" Dinah asks, soft and confused.
"Because I'm a terrible girlfriend." Camila's had a lot of time to think about it lately, and she thinks maybe it's true.
"No," Dinah says, firm and sure.
"I've never been in a relationship before so I don't know what to do or how to act. I'm awkward and inexperienced and she's like, active on campus and popular and she knows what she's doing."
"She doesn't care about any of that." Dinah lifts her head, nudges Camila with her shoulder until Camila looks at her. "There's no perfect relationship. There's no way to be perfect at them. You and Lauren have been happy for what? 5 months -- longer, really. Damn, girl, that's awesome." Dinah raises her hand for a high-five. Camila sniffles and gives a weak one.
Camila looks down, pulls her sleeves over her palms. Her breath is shaky when she exhales and something hurts inside her chest. "She keeps telling me she loves me," she confesses.
"You say that like it's a bad thing." Dinah tucks a piece of hair behind her ear, lets her finger linger over the curve.
"Remember how that guy kissed me at band camp as a joke?" Camila asks.
"Yeah." A beat. "I'll find him and beat him up."
Camila's mouth twitches up, but she doesn't smile. She pulls one hand into her sleeve entirely and holds the fabric in. "I keep thinking about it. Like I'm paralyzed and I can't say it back. Because what if it's all an elaborate joke? What if all she and all her friends are just pranking me?"
"You can't really think that," Dinah says.
Camila sighs. "I don't. I don't really think that. I just, sometimes . . ."
"Do you love her?" Dinah asks, voice gentle but probing.
"Do I love her?" she repeats, feeling the words on her tongue. She thinks of the week when Lauren had a cold and snored softly. She thinks about the time Lauren smuggled two bagels with creme cheese out of the cafeteria for her. She thinks about how every time Lauren says it -- not even every time they're together, doesn't punctuate every conversation with it -- she doesn't react when Camila fails to say it back. "Yeah. I do."
Dinah smiles small, presses a kiss to Camila's mouth and wipes under her eyes. "Apologize. Tell her. We miss her."
Camila rolls her eyes. "Thank you."
"We love you, too, Mila."
"I love you so much." Camila hugs her as best she can, buries her face between Dinah's neck and shoulder.
Dinah lets the moment settle before she says: "You really need to shower, though."
Camila laughs, scratchy and dry, throat sore. "I know."
Camila does her dishes, showers, blow-dries and straightens her hair. She looks over her lesson plan for Monday and gets dinner with Ally.
Then she takes a deep breath, hugs Ally goodbye, and goes to Lauren's.
Her heart pounds in her chest, her hands sweat, and she feels like she might vomit. She knocks on the door even though she hasn't had to in months. There's a deafening silence before the chorus of "Come in!" reaches her. She tries to steady her breathing, hopes Lauren's home as much as she hope she isn't. She sticks her head in, waves and says, "Hi."
"Oh." Lauren's sitting on the couch next to Bridget, legs crossed, sock bun on her head, bright red lipstick smeared across her mouth. She's painting her nails, little brush caught in the air when she looks up at Camila.
She looks, well, she looks fine. She looks like she's getting ready to go out. Camila tries not to read too much into it.
"Um." Camila clears her throat. The door is still open. "Could we talk?"
Lauren looks at Bridget, Alexis and Jen. Then she bites her lip, picks the nail polish up and screws the top back on. "Yeah. Sure."
Camila closes the door and follows Lauren to her room. She wipes her hand on her jeans and stands awkwardly in the middle when Lauren sits on the edge of her desk. "Hi," Camila starts.
Lauren frowns, holds her hands out in front of her, careful not to mess up her fingernails. "I'm sorry."
"No, I'm sorry." Camila runs a hand through her hair. "I didn't mean to say that I was 'dealing' with you or whatever." She makes air quotes around dealing to emphasize how stupid she was being. "You were right. I should've gone to your poetry reading and I shouldn't have been such a jerk about it. I knew it was really important to you."
"Thanks." Lauren bites at her lip. "But like, I know that student teaching is a lot of work and that it's more important. I just, I was just so frustrated."
"Me too," Camila admits. She feels a weight lift. "I was going to text you after, asking you how it went."
"I wish you would have." Lauren smiles small. "It went well. It felt really empowering, and everyone else who read was amazing."
The sun is starting to set and Camila squints a little, holds her hand next to her face to block it. "I'm glad. I'm so proud of you."
"Thank you." Lauren swallows. She looks down at her nails and stretches her fingers even farther apart. "Um. That thing you said about Brian and me?"
Camila exhales. Lauren looks up at her, eyes wide and sad, face tight. "I didn't mean that either. Sometimes I just get weird because you're--" Camila gestures at her, trying to convey everything Lauren is, the things she doesn't have the words for. "And I'm just me."
Lauren tilts her head, scrunches her eyebrows together. "Have I done anything to make you feel like--"
"No," Camila cuts her off. "Nothing. And I kind of keep waiting for it happen."
Camila closes her eyes. She feels so vulnerable. "I don't know." She opens her eyes and tilts her mouth up, sad. "Sometimes it feels too much like a dream."
Lauren laughs, wet and soft. "You have no idea how amazing you are, you know that?"
"Sure," Camila says.
"You are," Lauren insists.
"Thanks." Camila tucks a piece of hair behind her ear. "I was going to talk to you earlier but I didn't know how. I thought maybe you were going to break up with me."
"What?" Lauren shakes her head, hops off the desk and wraps her hand around Camila's wrist carefully. "No. I was just angry. I was letting myself be angry and I was getting over it. I don't know." Lauren shrugs. "I felt so comfortable with you that I thought it was okay to be angry for a while. I knew we would be okay."
Lauren squeezes her wrist. "Yeah."
"I was scared because I--" Camila swallows, focuses on the pressure and warmth of Lauren's hand on her skin, her eyes focused and understanding. "Because I'm in love with you."
When Camila had thought about saying it she had pictured Lauren's eyes widening, her face brightening before laughing ugly and cruel. She had pictured Lauren yelling for her roommates, telling them she did it, she got Camila to fall in love with her. But actually saying it doesn't conjure up those thoughts at all.
It's just really, really nice.
She likes the way it sound coming out of her mouth, quiet and hesitant. She likes the warmth that spreads across her chest, the beat of her heart against her rib cage. She likes that it suddenly doesn't matter what Lauren's reaction is because Camila feels it all over, real and raw and comfortable. It fits. It's simple. She loves her. She loves her. She loves her so much.
Lauren smiles, just barely, her eyes soften even more. She lights up. "I love you, too."
She hugs Camila and Camila sinks into it, breathes her in. She smells like soap and apricot and Lauren. Something slides back into place. "I missed you."
"You're going to ruin your nail polish," Camila says.
"Fuck it." Lauren pulls back, presses a quick kiss to Camila's mouth. "We were going to see a movie and get ice cream, want to come?"
Lauren laugh and rolls her eyes.
Camila bites around a smile.
In the end she doesn't even mind that it's a horror movie. She holds Lauren's hand and buries her head in shoulder, asks routinely if it's over yet, and giggles when Lauren asks, "The scene or the whole movie?" Camila eats most of the popcorn, gets up to pee with Bridget a little over halfway through, and answers Dinah's did she murder u??? and we really need to know and WHERE ARE U CAMILA??? with a smiley face before adding, Not dead. Everything's good. We're at the movies. Will be home soon and will tell you everything. Love you, Cheechee.
The sun warms everything as Camila sits in her chair on the field. She's wearing the new flats her parents bought her with the kitty ears. Even though it's alphabetical order and she doesn't really know the people sitting around her, she feels connected. The keynote speaker's jokes are funnier than they have any right to be, and the insistence that they've been prepared for life and adulthood as much as anyone ever is -- which is not very -- comes across more inspiring than terrifying.
She's proud of herself for finishing, for passing the teacher certification exam and acing her student teaching. Mrs. Lewindowski got her a "World's Best Teacher," mug filled with chocolates, an apple, and the always reliable Oh, The Places You'll Go! on her last day. She only cried a little. She has a portfolio filled with notes and lesson plans she may never use again, but she feels like she could do it, actually make a difference somewhere in some student's life.
Last night she went to dinner with Ally, Dinah and Normani. Ally gave them all scrapbooks of the last three years filled with pictures, memories, and a personal note about what Ally learned from each other them. They laughed at the pictures of themselves with makeup smeared on their faces the night they did each other up with their eyes closed, lipstick on Normani's chin, sparkly eye shadow above Ally's eyebrow. Camila's favorite is the one of all three of them at Homecoming sophomore year, arms slung around each other, grinning without any idea how much they'll mean to each other.
Camila has no idea when Ally had the time to make them or how none of them ever found out. But they all smooshed her in a hug after she handed them out. Camila shared her special best friends powerpoint and Ally cried big blubbering sobs. Dinah helped wipe at her nose and face with Kleenex. They slow danced to Vitamin C on repeat one in the living room until they were all just crying and hugging, swaying slightly to the music.
Camila packed her room and then they all slept cuddled in the living room on large piles of sheets. Camila fell asleep to the Friends DVD menu playing a loop, Dinah's leg thrown over hers and Normani's hair in her face.
Camila claps and screams when Ally walks across the stage. She thinks she hears someone whistle when it's her turn. She smiles, feels like maybe she doesn't exist, but in a transcendent way, in a good way. She sees the camera flash and waves at the crowd of families as she moves her tassel, and then she waves at the students, sees Dinah's hand raised above her head, waving back. When Normani's walking back down the aisle she detours into Camila's row to give her a high-five.
They find each other after the ceremony. Lauren grabs her face and kisses her before whispering, "Congratulations," in her ear. Camila grins, knocks Lauren's cap off her head and says, "I love you."
Dinah tackles Camila to the ground and Ally cackles.
"We did it!" Normani smiles and they all crowd into a bone-crushing hug.
"I love y'all so much," Ally says, voice thick with unshed tears.
Lauren kisses Camila's temple and Camila feels like she's the sun, bright and glowing and so happy.
She looks around at all of the, then, stops swaying, freezes this moment and takes note of this feeling.
"We did it," she says. "Now, let's blow this joint."
That's not the end:
There's still the weekend Camila spends in Chicago with Lauren, holding hands as they walk along the lake, eating deep dish pizza and snuggling in her apartment. There's Dinah opening up her own daycare business. There's Ally's wedding, where Camila, Dinah and Normani choreograph a dance to Selena's Amor Prohibido.
It doesn't end.
That's kind of the best part.