TITLE: Swandive

AUTHOR: Sharkbait


PAIRING: Paige / Ashley


DISCLAIMER: Degrassi isn't mine (or else it would be on HBO, and probably more gay). I'm obviously not making any money, because really, who'd pay for this?

NOTE: Please return my brain, Francesca Lia Block. My head is not very big - there really isn't room for both of us in here.

You are not actually as shallow as you seem. You are an illusion of illusion.

Okay, so maybe you are pretty shallow, sometimes. Most of the time. Maybe you're like the wading pool of teenage girls. But some of the best memories are from the shallow end, splashing and laughing and playing there when you're a kid and you still have that cool, sparkly green floaty. Wading pools are like summertime and the hose in your front yard and running around in the grass in your swimsuit, drip-drying in the sun.

You can live with that.

o o o

If you're a wading pool, then Ashley's a lake. You can lay on beach towels and have barbecues by it and swim in your shorts and sandals, but it's not a plaything. Dress it up how you want to, it's still what it is inside the mask, and that's nature. Wild animals live there, and people can drown faster than you'd think. And when nobody's there to pretend it's tame, it turns back to deep, cool green wilderness.

o o o

Between boys and fights and drugs and sex, there's always been Ash, on and off like a nightlight. Ashley's a lot like your nightlight, actually, bright and princess-plastic when you were little, but then you got older and it changed to something made of delicate wire with painted glass in it, and now you just have these strings of lights around your room, shaped like stars, that glow soft diffused everywhere and nowhere.

Ash, as ever, is everywhere and nowhere in your life. You could wonder where you are in hers, but that might be a little out of your section of the pool.

o o o

It's been an 'off' phase for awhile now. Craig and Spinner and all kinds of whatever getting in the way. But you walk past her in the hall at school, and catch this glimpse inside her locker, with your picture still taped on the door. Something ripples in your shallow water - it makes you stop without meaning to, and ask if she wants to hang out sometime soon.

You should be more surprised she says yes. But she's not so scary unapproachable this year or blind devoted rock chick girlfriend, and anyway, you and Ash always find some way back to each other.

Later, after school, you don't have work (Spin's car wasn't your most expensive mistake, but it's top five), so you and Ashley head to your car. There's peach-strawberry smoothies and mostly just driving with the windows down, listening to the Ani DiFranco album that isn't quite nostalgic because you haven't stopped listening to it yet.

Both of you sing along about how many flavors you are and then some, kittens that learn to climb down from trees, still tasting sweet fruit yogurt on your lips, and it's one of the best days of your life so far, without even trying to be. Ash grooves smiling in your passenger seat, soft and golden and relaxed, and you know it's at least close to that for her, too.

When you drop her at home, she asks if you want to hang out again tomorrow.

And she isn't any more surprised than you were at yes.

o o o

It takes a few weeks before you realize something's different. No drama has you cutting each other's throats; Craig's still around, but there's no All-Consuming Eternal Love swallowing Ashley whole. You're still just quietly chilling together, low-key mellowness like you haven't done...ever.

You and Ash veg all day in PJs and watch Bollywood musicals, eating kettle corn and raspberry muffins and peanut butter-marmalade sandwiches, painting your toenails green with purple glitter or blue with orange stripes. You spend hours after school lying upside-down on her bed, sharing headphones, listening to bands like Manic Street Preachers and Rilo Kiley and the Sex Pistols.

It's so...almost normal, you're waiting for it to get screwed up. You wait, but it doesn't happen, and doesn't, and it keeps not happening, until even you have to admit maybe this is a permanent sort of thing. Maybe both of you accidentally grew up somewhere, at least a little.

And it happens so slowly, even you can't pinpoint exactly when Ashley becomes a basic necessity for you.

o o o

One weekend, you pack some bags and a picnic, and you roadtrip up to Wasaga. It's hot and sunny, and Ash wears cut-off boardshorts and a trucker hat, and you tie some scarves around your hips like a sarong, over a bikini with flowers and strings that tie around your neck, and every boy on the beach stares at you so you walk with your arms around each other's waists.

You spend all day building sand castles, and swimming in the saltwater like mermaids, and only stop to eat sand-covered grapes and yummy garlic hummus and bagel chips. Two guys in pooka shells buy you plum gelatos, and offer to teach you how to surf. Ash says yes, so you hold her hat and watch her paddle and learn to ride gentle waves, laughing and screaming and waving at you. The sun sparkles off the water beads on her bare, tanned shoulders and legs. She looks like a surfing ocean goddess.

It's sunset when they all come back to shore. The surfers each give her one of their shell necklaces, mementos of her surf debut, and make her promise not to forget. She grins and says she won't, and lets you put her hat back on, cocked over the side of her face.

You go to a carnival nearby and ride the Ferris Wheel over and over, drying off in the warm night air. Ashley aces the ring-toss, wins a cheesy stuffed puppy that she gives to you - you name him Pooka, and tuck him into your purse with his head sticking out, so he can enjoy the sights, too.

You eat cotton candy and corn dogs and elephant ears with blackberry cream cheese, and wander around looking at everything until your feet hurt and your eyes glitter from all the lights.

You lie awake that night on the beach, sticky and sleepy and happy and talking. "You ever wonder what your parents were like when they were sixteen?" Ashley asks, tracing out stars and moons in the sand. "I mean...what'd they imagine their lives would be like? Nobody ever says, hey, I think I want to be divorced or miserable," her eyes look like clover gemstones, glowing out at you in the dark. "Would they've been happy with how things turned out?"

Shirley Manson sings on the little radio you bought at a gas station, don't worry baby. "Probably not," you have your head pillowed on the afghan, soft over the softer ground, curled up warm and content in Dylan's old white hoodie you stole. "But I think it's more important that who they are now is happy with it."

Ash lays down next to you, head against yours, so your hair blends caramel and chocolate and butterscotch and mocha. "I wish everybody could live by the ocean," she says and you can feel her earrings tickle your neck.

You sleep sharing blankets, snuggled like puppies. Ashley wakes you up to see the sunrise, which dyes the ocean pink and orange and streaky purple, and you dance in the early morning tide in your bare feet and underwear.

The next day, you wear Ash's hat and she ties one of your scarves around her head like a gypsy, and you try on cheap sunglasses with rhinestones in them. You get big, heart-shaped pink ones like Lolita's, and Ash buys a pair of purple cat's-eyes that make everything look like Lucky Charms purple moon marshmallows.

The people who own the stand are hippies, and they smile at you and tell you right on, love is love. You look at each other and smile, and don't really get it, except that your stomach sort of dips.

You take turns driving on the way home, and wave at all the pretty boys and girls you see. You eat chicken burritos with cilantro and lime and drink mango granitas, and sing along to a swirling tangle of the Smiths, Maria Mena, U2. The Joshua Tree always makes you cry, but it's not a sad kind of crying, it's like everything is beautiful and fleeting and your heart is so full it leaks.

Ashley hugs you goodbye and her skin is soft as milk, smells like coconut cream lotion. Her body heat through the jean jacket like hot chocolate, marshmallows melting, and so are you, sweet and thick inside. You put her hat on her, tilted like always, and feel the smile come that is giddy and mysterious and deep as a wading pool can manage.

Everything is different.

o o o

Inevitably drama lands on your doorstep, because, hey, you still go to Degrassi. It's cold and rainy, and Ashley's been crying all afternoon. You're wrapped up together in the afghan from the beach (that still has sand in it), and you've been supplying tissues and vanilla tea and back rubs and banana-fudge ice cream, 'til you're sticky and your makeup's almost as smeared as hers. "I love him so much, but it's like he doesn't even see how hard it is, being with him sometimes," she sobs.

"I know you love him, hon," you soothe, stroking her hair; you've never felt her pain like this, like it was yours, too. "But that boy doesn't just have issues, he has a subscription."

She wraps both hands around her mug, stares into the tea miserably. "Why does loving someone always have to hurt so much?" she says, and lays her head on your shoulder. "Why can't it be easy?"

It can. You don't say it out loud, but maybe she knows it anyway, because she turns her cheek into you and just closes her eyes.

o o o

There's a rave, a real one going on. Everybody at school's heard, but most aren't really brave enough to try underground for real.

Ash catches you at your locker the day of and grins, says come on, let's do it.

Apparently together, you and Ashley are brave and underground enough for sure.

You stop by her house to raid for supplies, then go to yours for actual prep. Dylan is way more helpful at fashion than Toby.

Dylan's been hanging out with you more lately. He gets this smile looking at you and Ash, like he sees his blood running through you. Sure enough, he helps the two of you pick out clothes and decide on which eyeliner, which body glitter. You reach for a pair of hot pink pointy little shoes, and he slaps your hand. "Uh-uh, baby sis, your feet will be hamburger," he hands you an old pair of your Skechers instead. "You want something you can dance in."

Ashley helps you glam them up, with stickers and swirls of silver and aqua glitter and gauzy lavender ribbons laced up your legs. Her shirt hugs like skin, red and auburn fire pattern, sleeveless so the sharpie thorn tattoos around her biceps show. Black velvet bondage pants sit low on her hips, and a fine curve of dark honey skin shows, which you decorate with more black barbwire ink.

You dust purple and copper glitter on each others shoulders, and wear matching navel bars, dangling dragonflies with gem wings. You've got Ashley's bluebottle camisole with the fairy wings sewn on, a silver ruffled skirt. She slips a sparkling green headband shaped like leaves into your hair, and proclaims you a fairy princess. Dylan takes one look and says no way in hell are you going without him.

Lucky he keeps a set of day-glo raver pants ready and waiting.

He drives, and you and Ash do his makeup in the car. Ashley spikes red and purple gel through his hair while you draw on smoky kohl at the stoplights, and you glue the ruby teardrop bindi between his eyebrows while she draws shimmering bronze star trails on his cheeks and collarbones.

His nail polish is dry by the time you get there.

Ten bucks cover charge gets you in. You can feel the bass throbbing before that, even. Inside is a jumping, writhing wave pool of people. Ashley holds your hand and you hold Dylan's, so you don't lose each other in the crowd, and all of you plunge in.

It's like dancing inside a water bed.

The music shivers and bounces and you follow it, roll it with your spine and shake it off your hips like water droplets. Everyone's all pressed together, a montage of neon and glitter and glow-sticks. Some people are kind of handsy, wild-eyed and probably rolling, so you dance with each other, Ashley in front of you so close you can feel the slick sheen of sweat on her, and Dylan tight in behind, curling over you and moving in time.

You feel the eyes on you, who don't know it's just (just?) your best friend and your big brother, and know that what they're thinking is at least halfway right. You are the luckiest girl in this room to be dancing with them.

So you smile and throw yourself into the music, bumping and grinding and jumping and twirling, and you and Ash are laughing breathlessly, flirting outrageously, and Dylan grins and growls at anybody who moves too close.

This tall, skinny boy with blue hair and a blond pixie girl in bright green fishnet manage to take some of Dylan's attention away, pulling him into a private dance all of his own. It dawns on you that you're dancing with Ashley alone, hair sticking to her neck, and the chains crisscrossed over the back of her legs flash silver in the strobe lights. Her eyes are sparkly like the makeup you both are smeared with, sweat and cocoa butter lotion dripping down your arms and legs, and the moment is so perfect you get caught up in it and catch her around the waist.

Ashley doesn't even pause, she wraps her arms around your neck without missing an undulation, and dances you in closer 'til your bodies are squashed together, weaving patterns that overlap and intertwine.

The beat rises, building up, treble light and airy hurtling towards something. You stare into Ashley's face, smoky and shimmering and beloved, because you can't make your eyes go anywhere else, and both your hearts are racing to the same time.

Somewhere, the music explodes and everyone's dancing in full speed again.

She smells like clean sweat and melon body spray, and her lips look soft and slippery, pulled into a smile so close to you. She hugs you so your faces are pressed together, cheeks brushing and sharing glitter and eyelashes tickling, and on impulse, you kiss her by the ear. You feel her laugh and smile into your neck, and your heart is so full, but you're not crying like the Joshua Tree, you're laughing with her and your head's spinning like the DJ.

People are staring and you don't care at all. There's nobody but you and Ash, gyrating and whirling and giggling, and Dylan catcalling you, glistening shirtless now and bindi glimmering, eyeliner smudged. Every one of your nerve endings sparks and sings, and nothing has ever been this right.

It's over too fast, but it's beginning, too.

Dylan drives again, and you and Ash lay in the backseat together, a tangle of limbs and apple candy and sparkles and beads. The three of you sing along at the top of your lungs to Aqua's "Barbie Girl," and you stop at a diner for chocolate malts and thick steak fries, and Ashley holds your hand the whole time.

She spends the night, which is dangerous and wonderful after everything. But you both just fall exhausted onto your bed, still in your makeup and clothes, and sleep curled around each other in the afghan, the special lucky one. When you wake up, you breathe in the pumpkin pie smell of her hair and try to work out the mess of thoughts spilling out your head like too much spaghetti. You should probably be having major angst.

Instead there's just a feeling like cotton candy in your stomach.

Ash opens her eyes, and smiles up at you, slow and smoky, shiny-eyed. "Hi," she reaches out and brushes her fingers over your forehead, traces your nose to your lips. You close your eyes, cotton candy spinning you in closer to her, but the moment passes. You look at her and she's looking away from you, troubled and distant.

It's disappointing, but in a kind of fleeting way. You can let go and let the universe take it, because there's a feeling like it's all in hand - things are working their way through.

Mom makes all of you breakfast. You and Ashley trade smiles and shy, sly little glances over your chocolate chip waffles, and play footsie under the table. Dylan makes a twinkly-eyed crack about family traits that bewilders Mom, and makes you kick him in the leg.

Sensing the tension, Mom changes the subject and asks you if you met any cute boys at the party last night. Ashley hides a laugh in her glass of milk, and you try to swallow a fit of giggles that just confuses your mother more.

You start talking about movies after that, which are safe, and you and Ash curl your toes together like holding hands.

o o o

Nothing and everything is different.

o o o

The longest two days of your life come next.

There's no warning. You go to school Monday, and go to your locker, and go to classes, and go to lunch, but Ashley isn't there. Ashley isn't anywhere. You are alone for the first time in months.

Nobody's talking about it, because nobody's noticed but you. It almost doesn't seem real, except for the gnawing burning pain that eats out the bottom of your heart, shrinking sinking withering feeling. You drift through the hours, dazed, and try to hold onto the whispering sense of karma at hand, but it's so hard.

Full eclipse, and you're fading away without light.

Dylan doesn't say anything, but he brings you crunchy almond chocolate-covered biscotti and hot tea with milk and puts on Audrey Hepburn movies, and cuddles on the sofa to watch with you. You cry in the sad parts but smile during the kisses, and when you go to bed, you're feeling better, if not good.

The next morning, the halls are buzzing with the latest news: Ashley and Craig aren't at school today because yesterday Ashley broke it off with Craig.

And you can't be sure, but you think you're starting to understand.

You don't see her for another day, and when you do, it's like she was never gone. Ash smiles at you and slips gracefully back into your routine, though there's secret knowledge now, too, and the hum of an approaching horizon.

o o o

You go back to watching Bollywood movies and eating Skittles and giving each other pedicures with glitter zebra-stripe polish and white ginger lotion. You lay on Ashley's bed together, listening to Modest Mouse and the Beatles with your hair twining dark, light, dark, light, with lilac tea candles burning all around her room.

You go for long drives with the windows rolled down so the air rushes by, and drink watermelon granitas and blueberry-banana smoothies wearing your sunglasses, pink hearts and purple cat's-eyes, and Ashley gives you her trucker hat, but you still let her wear it half the time, tipped sideways.

Craig takes the breakup about as well as you expect, which is to say drama intense, but you really do feel for him. He lost Ash, after all.

Ashley's a class act and you aren't heartless, so it's a month later that she finally reaches out and holds your hand in the hall at school.

The rumors roar through the Degrassi student body like a brushfire. Losers like Alex start calling you Dyke-alchuk and guys wag their tongues between their fingers at you, but mostly people are too scared to say anything to your face. Even you have to admit, it's a real seltzer-lemon twist for your mystique, Ash the gorgeous brilliant tortured muse and you, bombshell cheerleader bitch queen.

"Everybody's into girls now," you hear Heather Sinclair tell all the teeny bopper clones. "Gay is totally on."

Ashley rolls her eyes and laces your fingers together, chipped black polish next to perfect candy lavender, and you think every scandal should make you feel like this.

o o o

For prom, you blow off the limo and take your car as a matter of tradition. Ash is in vintage black and white polka dots, long black chiffon scarf around her neck, glitter in her hair and silver platform boots ending just under her knee. You're barefoot, gold anklets jangling and strapless, shimmering red taffeta swirling to your calves, and when you stop for bubble gum ice cream on the way, everyone holds their breath when you walk in.

It's like that at school, too. You make a scene without even trying and drink Hawaiian punch and say hi to the people who are still talking to you. You dance to the fast songs so hard and wild, sweat glimmers on your skin and you're laughing and dizzy and gasping.

The DJ is Mr. Simpson, who edges towards 80's nostalgia on the slow songs. So Cyndi Lauper aches out "Time After Time," and Ashley lays her head on your shoulder, and you hold onto each other like you've been lost, swaying in gentle circles.

You leave way before the dance is over, and drive around the city, going nowhere in particular. Just hanging your arms out the windows and breathing in the honeysuckle air and singing with the radio, the Go-Go's and Joan Jett and that song from "The Breakfast Club."

The two of you buy cherry slushies at a mini mart and sit out in the parking lot, drinking them and looking at the moon.

It's so not what you ever pictured prom would be like.

You and Ash look at each other, and start to laugh, because she was thinking the same thing and now you're just thinking how happy you are, like everybody has a right to be and nobody ever is.

The laughter slowly melts away like cherry ice, and then you're just looking into her eyes, smiling and stomach tugging upward.

And though it might have been something else you were thinking about (all night, even longer), it's Ashley who takes your face in her hands and kisses you. She tastes like sugar and pink lemonade lipgloss, mouth soft and warm and drawing you deep.

You close your eyes and kiss her like a holy temple, like your heart hollowed into a shell and filled with her, like something sacred and precious and beloved because she is.

It's the most natural feeling in the world.

o o o

She sleeps over that night, probably for the last time for a long while because you're going to tell your parents tomorrow. You lay awake talking about things you did when you were five and the places you're going to go when you graduate, and Ashley falls asleep with her head on your stomach.

You wake up with her arms around you, and her hair falling over both your faces. Sleepy, you kiss her just to make sure it was real. Then she kisses you back, and that's how you know nothing is real anymore. You have officially entered a Twilight Zone that's better and brighter and full of colors and magic you never knew to dream of.

o o o

Surprisingly, your parents don't freak out too much (yet), but that's probably because they're still recovering from the shock of Dylan's closet debut. "So much for the grandkids," Dylan says, but he's smiling softly, bumping your hip with his. He's been a dedicated audience from the get-go.

One family down left one more to go.

You do it over tea and leaf-shaped shortbread cookies. Ash's palm is sweaty and clammy on your leg, and you smile politely the whole time, nervously, 'til it feels like your face might crack.

Ashley's mom takes it in stride because she loves you from way back (but mainly she's just thrilled her daughter's with anyone who isn't Craig). Ironically, it's her dad who doesn't. He goes pale and starts yelling about how he doesn't want her to go through this, that he wants a better life for her, and his husband ends up going to stay with friends for awhile.

You rub her back while she cries, and tell her he'll get over it eventually. Hopefully, you're even right, but you'll burn that bridge when you get there.

o o o

Summer comes, and it's bittersweet, because you're one year closer to leaving but Dylan is all the way there. The graduation ceremony is long and sappy - you make fun of it when you're not bawling your eyes out, and Ashley gives you tissues and her sleeve when she runs out, which makes it love for sure.

Dylan looks gorgeous in his long blue robes, and endures the eight million pictures Mom takes with grace, smiling like a teen heartthrob and flushed apple-cheeked proud.

Ash takes one of you and him together, mugging for the camera, and he squeezes your hand when the flash goes off.

Marco doesn't come.

Afterwards, when Dylan's started the marathon chain of graduation parties, you leave your parents cooing over old baby pictures, and walk with Ashley to the park.

It's sunny but deserted, so you get to spread out as much as you want. You twist dandelion crowns and catch grasshoppers and do cartwheels 'til you go sprawling, laughing and feeling like you're still spinning. Then you lay recovering side by side in the grass, shoulders just barely touching, squinting up at the sky.

"I talked to my dad last night," Ashley says suddenly.

You turn your head to look at her, golden in the sunlight. "How'd it go?"

She hesitates, finding the words. "He's...dealing, or trying to, anyway," she shrugs, smiles a little. "I don't know. I guess that's something."

"Of course, hon, that's so awesome," you say, getting up on your knees. "Just like you," and without warning, you crawl on top of her, pinning her down to tickle her sides mercilessly.

Ash screams and kicks and giggles and finally rolls you over, planting her hands on your shoulders to lean over you. "Okay, so what does that make you?" she asks. Her eyes are cat-tilted sleepy and green like jade, glittering, warm, perfectly contented.

Your heart is beating a million miles an hour. You look up at her and breathe her in, pumpkin pie and lemonade and cocoa, car rides and dancing in her bedroom and sugar mango kisses and the happiest, most effortless things in your life. You feel yourself falling, so you make the leap and plunge in first.

"All yours," you say, and smile.

o o o

So maybe you are a wading pool. Maybe you'll never be a deep, quicksilver river or earthshaking waterfall or an all-encompassing ocean.

Maybe you're summertime and front yards and clear perfect aqua chlorine water and a thousand great memories and maybe (maybe?) a lesbian, too. But definitely, you are a splashy sparkle-girl totally, crazy in love with a cool, green lake-girl who just happens to be your best friend.

Every girl should be so lucky.