Something to hold on to (short story) LGBT
'What's wrong?' I asked.
Lucy looked at me through damp eyes and shrugged. 'Boys!'
I nodded. Lucy was my best friend. We'd known each other for ten years, since kindergarten. She lived a couple of streets away from me and we would often go out together on our bikes, exploring, racing, giggling and chatting. Not so much recently, though, not since Lucy had discovered boys.
I hugged her, trying to control my breathing. She didn't know, couldn't know, how I really felt about her. That for the past two years our friendship had changed for me. It was as painful as it was fun, watching her grow into a beautiful young woman. She would tell me about her “crushes” and I would pretend to be interested, having no reciprocal stories I could share. I didn't have crushes. I had one love, and it was her.
I wanted to ask her whether she ever wondered what it would be like to kiss a girl. I'd have to pull my eyes away from her soft lips and concentrate on my hands until the shaking stopped. She never seemed to notice my discomfort though. My secret was safe, but at what cost? I hated watching her plough through boy after boy at school, never finding love and always sobbing on my shoulder when the fling ended.
I swallowed hard and gathered my strength to ask the requisite question. 'What happened?'
She shrugged. 'Only after one thing, I suppose. Well now he's going to try out Katy and see if he gets what he's after. He's a slug.'
I smiled. 'A big, fat slug.'
She frowned. 'Pretty though, intelligent too. I really thought he cared about me.'
'You'll find someone who does,' I assured her. 'You're amazing.' Her frown reversed and I saw the tips of her white teeth as she treated me to a smile. She held it for a moment or two before dropping her eyes and sighing again. 'Thanks. Maybe I'm trying too hard. I probably need to take a break from dating.' I nodded. 'Probably.' 'So, Jenny, spill the beans. Anyone you have your eye on?' I blushed. 'Not really.' 'Come on... what about Roger?' 'Euch, really? Roger smells. I don't think he bathes.' 'OK, Peter? He makes you laugh, doesn't he?' 'I guess, but that's not the same thing as falling in love. He's okay, but...' 'I'll ask him out for you if you want.' Her smile was wide and her eyes narrow. 'What? No! Please, don't.' 'I'm sure he'll say yes. I mean... you're beautiful.' 'Really? You think I'm beautiful?' My heart pressed against my ribs, contracting my lungs so I had to drag air in and out with concentrated effort. Beautiful, really? 'Of course. You're my best friend and I love you. You have the cutest little nose. Maybe you should grow your hair, though. Boys like long hair.' I sighed as my heart contracted to its usual size. 'Do they?' 'Yes. They like something to hold onto.' She giggled and her ponytail bounced against the back of her long, pale throat. 'Although that sounds a little creepy when I say it out loud. Maybe you should stick with the cropped locks. It suits you anyway. It frames that heart-shaped face of yours.' My heart-shaped face and my heart-shaped heart yearned to press themselves against her. But I knew that would never happen. I was in love with my straight, best friend and that would never end well. Yet I didn't have the strength to say goodbye, even if watching her throw herself at boys was torture for me. We belonged together. I knew it. I would accept whatever she offered me, even if it was only friendship. 'Let's go out tomorrow,' she said. 'It'll be like old times. We can ride our bikes along the river bank. Take a picnic. Chill out.' 'Yes!' I said, trying not to sound too eager. 'I'd love that. I'll bring the picnic.' 'Are you sure? I was just going to make a few cheese sandwiches and bring a bottle of soda.' 'No, I'm sure. I've got this.' 'Cool. Is eleven good for you? We can make a day if it. Stay out til dinner time. My mum won't mind. She's working tomorrow anyway.' **** That night in bed I dreamed about Lucy. She was racing ahead on her bicycle, legs off the peddles, her hair streaming behind her like a cape. Her laughter wrapped around my body like a soft blanket. I raced after her, but even though she never peddled, she was always a few meters ahead of me. I couldn't reach her, but I could watch her and that felt like enough. **** Saturday morning I made a feast: tubs filled with ripe strawberries, dusted with sugar, hand-cooked potato wedges and a mixture of salad leaves, peppers and tomatoes with a mouthwatering dressing. Not a curled-cornered cheese sandwich in sight. I licked strawberry juice off my fingers and packed it all into my backpack together with a bottle of mineral water. I hoped it didn't look like I was trying too hard. I wanted everything to be perfect... well to be honest I wasn't entirely sure what I wanted beyond making Lucy smile again. She was wearing shorts, short shorts and sandals. The weather was hot, so I could understand why, but I worried about her falling, hurting herself, tearing her skin. I was wearing my usual canvas trousers and boots. I was sure it wouldn't be too hot, not with the wind meeting my speeding body head on. Neither of us commented on what the other was wearing. She glanced at my backpack though and said, 'Lunch?' I nodded. 'Great,' she said. 'I'm feeling hungry already.' 'You'll have to catch up with me first,' I yelled and peddled hard, guiding my bike towards the lane at the end of her cul-de-sac street, where suburbs met woodland, meadows and river. Her yell of protest chased after me and I giggled, peddling harder. I felt her at my shoulder before I saw her face, red from exertion, and her eyes playful and bright. 'Can we stop yet?' she asked. 'When we reach the river,' I promised. It hadn't rained in days and even in the shadows of the old oak trees, the grass was dry. We sat down and I opened my bag. 'Wow! What a feast!' she said, appreciatively. 'I didn't think this was a date.' I opened and closed my mouth, not knowing how to respond. I wondered whether Lucy was flirting with me, but decided she was just being cute. Splashing and shouts pulled me from my internal debate. Three boys were wading across the river towards us. One of them was Dom, Lucy's most recent ex-boyfriend. 'Well, well,' his friend, Alex shouted. 'If it isn't the prude and the dyke.' I looked at Lucy and saw her cheeks burn scarlet. Her eyes filled with moisture. I wanted to squeeze her hand, make her strong, but I feared her response more than the catcalls of the boys. She didn't say anything. Her back curled as if she was trying to create a shell in which to hide. I knew I needed to stick up for her if not for myself, protect her honour and all that. But I had no idea what to say. I decided to whisper in her ear. 'The three slugs.' She didn't smile. She didn't acknowledge my words. I was glad I hadn't tried to make physical contact with her. She was on the defensive and prickly. 'Oh just fuck off!' she said at last. The boys ignored her and pulled themselves out of the river, dripping all over our food. 'A picnic?' Alex said. 'How sweet.' Dom didn't say anything to attack or defend, Lucy, but he smirked and that was enough for me. No doubt he'd been telling his friends how she wouldn't “put out” or some such nonsense. I wondered why boys liked to talk about girls that way, as if they were simply somewhere to put it. It made me angry. Lucy didn't deserve this, but she accepted it anyway. I didn't know who I was most angry at, so I stood up and punched Dom's nose. It took a moment for him or his friends to react. I guess I surprised them. I grabbed Lucy's elbow and helped her to her feet. Then we were running together through the trees. Giggling softly at the indignant shouts of the boys behind. 'He deserved that,' Lucy said. 'I wish I'd done it.' 'Why did you let them talk to you like that?' 'Hey, they were talking to both of us.' 'I'm sorry.' 'Don't be. You showed him. My hero.' She gave me a soft peck on the cheek. I couldn't help but turn my mouth towards her and she kissed me again. Her mouth was closed and pursed; it was pretty chaste as far as kisses went, but it felt as though our souls had brushed together. I stood there, lips sticking out towards her and eyes closed, long after she drew away. She laughed again. I opened my eyes, frightened that she thought I was a joke. 'That was weird,' she said. 'Sorry.' I shook my head. 'Don't be.' 'Don't hate me. I couldn't stand it if you hated me.' 'I don't hate you, Lucy,' I promised. 'I'd always wondered what it would be like to kiss you.' I swallowed hard, not certain whether I wanted to hear more or just stand there, swaying softly, dazed. 'How was it?' 'Same as kissing Dom, I guess, nice.' I looked away and tears stung my eyes. 'I – I'm sorry. I've hurt you. I mean it was lovely... wasn't it. Oh I don't know... we're friends. Don't lets argue about a silly kiss.' I should have poured my heart out to her then, but I was afraid. I was afraid of her laughing at me, afraid of pushing her away, embarrassing or humiliating her. So I kept silent and replayed her words in my head. Silly, nice, weird, same as Dom... None of her words made me feel good about myself and I found myself wishing the kiss hadn't happened at all. The picnic was gone,when we returned and my bag was floating in the river, caught in some reeds. It soaked the back of my t-shirt when I flung it on to ride home. There was a strange silence between Lucy and me that I couldn't break even when we reached her house and she waved goodbye. I thought I saw sadness in her face, but I didn't understand why. I was the one who was sad. What right did she have to steal that feeling from me? I wasn't really sad though. Pensive would be a better word. My thoughts floated and plummeted again and again, as I thought about that kiss and those words. However hard I tried, I could neither untangle or ignore them. I hoped Lucy would phone, but the rest of the weekend crawled by without another word from her. She wasn't like me. I knew that. She liked boys, but that kiss... that kiss had felt so real. What then? I had no idea. I was afraid, afraid of getting hurt. Afraid that my best friend and the girl I adored would tear out my heart and stamp on it. Could she? Would she? We'd been friends for a decade, that must mean something, some loyalty. But I'd seen her with boys one moment and alone the next, only to rush into another doomed relationship straight after. I was certain I couldn't survive if she did that to me. But the taste of her lips returned to me and I felt my heart race. A voice in my head promised me it was worth the risk. That treacherous seed became a sapling and the sapling grew into hope, a hope I hadn't dared entertain during the last two years of watching Lucy grow up. **** I half expected her to blank me at school, but she didn't. She acted as though everything was normal and I think that disturbed me more. I was afraid to speak to her about that Saturday afternoon. I was afraid she would deny that she had felt anything. Instead I imagined her furtive looks across the classroom and accidental touches by the lockers that lingered longer than usual were signs that she felt as I did, at last. Each night I dreamed of her. I dreamed she had never kissed nor touched a boy, that she had saved herself for me and only me. I imagined stroking her cheek and kissing her brow as a smile danced across her lips. Those lips that had kissed mine. My imagination never took me further than those gentle caresses. I couldn't feel her skin against mine in my dreams. I had to imagine that when I was awake, drifting in and out of fantasies as I was supposed to be doing my homework, waiting for a phone call, an invitation to meet again. 'Are you going to Ralph's party on Friday?' she asked me. I shrugged. 'Are you?' 'Maybe. Wanna come with?' I wanted to say something cute, like “it's a date” but even that joke felt a step too far. I was walking on egg shells and it was making me crazy. It had been so much easier before the kiss, before the hope. We were simply friends then. Now I didn't know what we were. I settled for a simple one word reply. 'Sure.' 'Pick me up at eight?' I nodded then spent the rest of the week wondering what to wear. When Friday evening arrived I still hadn't decided on the perfect wardrobe to seduce my love, so I grabbed a skinny tee and a pair of baggy canvas trousers with belts attached to the legs and waist. I thought they were funky, unique. Yes there was an entire rail dedicated to them at Hot Topic, but no one else at our school seemed to share my style, so it was unique... kind of. I was shaking by the time I reached her door. I had to stand there for a few minutes, before knocking, trying to settle my nerves. When I did knock, Lucy answered, dressed in a floral sun dress and high-heeled sandals. Her face was painted in a way that aged her. I could hardly recognise my friend behind the make-up and almost asked the woman whether Lucy was there, before I saw her smile and swallowed my words. She looked so feminine, so mature, so untouchable, so straight. She was meeting a boy there. I knew it. I coughed. 'I'm sorry Lucy,' I said. 'I think I'm getting a bug or something. I'm not sure I can go tonight.' She looked at me, sympathetically. 'Shall we stay here and watch a film instead?' 'Have a great... what?' She giggled. 'I'm not sure I wanna go anyway, not really. Why don't we stay in?' I nodded. Words wouldn't form in my mouth, so I just kept nodding like one of those toy dogs that sat on the rear shelves of cars. A nodding mute or a nodding mutt, I wasn't sure which was worse. I followed her inside and she pulled off her sandals and threw them under the stairs. I sat on the sofa and she flopped down beside me, lifting her legs and draping them across my lap. I stared at her feet as she wiggled her toes. I'd painted her nails a thousand times, even rubbed her soles when they felt sore after cycling or running. This was all perfectly natural behaviour and it didn't mean a thing. Although... post-kiss, post-Saturday maybe it did and I was just too stupid to know. 'Lucy?' I asked. She smiled. I started rubbing the arches of her feet and she sighed loudly. My thumbs circled her ankle bones before I realised what I was doing and returned to safer parts, her heels, her toes, those elegant arches. 'You shouldn't try to wear silly heels,' I chided. She giggled and I felt her thumb stroke my face from my cheekbone to jaw. 'Lucy?' I mumbled her name, feeling breathless. She nodded and leaned towards me across the gulf of sofa cushions. Lucy! I thought. Oh Lucy! Be careful with my heart. I thought of her kissing those boys and wondered whether she was just experimenting. Was this curiosity? Did it matter? My heart ached. Of course it mattered. I needed to know, but I was afraid to ask. I wanted to kiss her and I wanted to run home and hide under my duvet cover for the rest of my life. I stayed still, frozen, with my fingers on her feet. Her lips brushed my cheek. She smelled of roses and mint. I closed my eyes, but I couldn't dismiss her presence, her breath tickled the downy hairs on my skin. I wanted her. I was afraid of how much I wanted her. I was afraid that she wanted me too, and that she didn't. I knew she was a virgin, so was I. I knew she was inexperienced, so was I. I knew that if I did the wrong thing our friendship would end today. I wished I knew the right thing to do. 'Jenny?' Lucy's voice sounded like gentle ocean waves, breaking against the shell of my ear. 'Yes.' 'Kiss me.' 'Why?' 'I want to taste your lips again.' I couldn't wait any longer. My hands started moving again, stroking the skin of her bare calves. My face turned towards hers and I pressed my lips against her mouth so hard that I was afraid I had bruised her. She moved away and licked her lips. 'You taste nice,' she told me. 'I love you,' I said. She moved her legs. Curling up in the corner of the settee, she wrapped her arms around her legs and stared at me. I felt like a slug and wished instead I could be a snail with a shell to hide inside. 'I'm sorry. I didn't mean...' 'I like boys,' she said. 'I know.' I shook my head. 'But I like you too. Why is that?' I grinned. 'Because I'm awesome?' 'You are.' I looked at her. We held each other in our shared vision, brown and blue merging into the most soulful colour imaginable. 'It frightens me,' I admitted. 'What?' she asked, leaning forwards a few inches. 'How much you could hurt me.' 'I don't want to,' she said. 'But you will.' She sighed. 'I can't promise you forever. We're fifteen, Jenny. Life shouldn't be mapped out already.' 'What can you promise me?' I asked. She fell silent for a moment. She played with her hands and stretched out her toes, rubbing them against the pile of the carpet. 'Honesty.' 'I like honesty,' I said. 'Is it enough?' she asked. 'For now,' I answered. I held her face between my hands and kissed her. It wasn't a chaste kiss. It was full of yearning. I stroked her brow, her hair, her throat and I kissed her lips. Her hair was wrapped around my fingers and I stroked the silky fibres with my thumb. She was worth holding onto. She was worth the risk. I loved her and she had promised she would not lie to me. I felt complete in her arms as we kissed, cuddled and caressed each other's faces for hours. I still wished she was like me. I wished I wouldn't always wonder whether she desired some boy better than she fancied me, but I realised that this was my problem, not hers. Her love was something to hold on to. It was exactly what I had been waiting for and I was damned if I would let my fear stop me from grasping it with both hands and an open heart.
This story was first published in the Hope and Love anthology - http://amzn.eu/2tl1pSW