Title: The Thing About Touch

Author: Tote

Genre: angst

Note: this is written as a post-trial and error story; inspired by something that happened to a friend of mine (overhearing things said in a bathroom stall is never pleasant) and by someone close to me, who I am 'friends' with. It's not on par with anything else I've written for this fandom and probably won't knock your socks off, but it's been awhile since I've written anything, so I'm rusty. Also, I was in the mood for a good almost-sex scene, which I never seem to pull off completely as intended. R&R, even if you hate it.

He didn't touch her anymore.

He smiled at her when he saw her, genuine smiles that spoke of friendship, platonic love—all those good things that no one really wants in high school or gives a shit about. He called her Jane, still, without hesitation. Sometimes she caught his startled, shining look when she ran into him in the hall…he could act like a friend all he wanted but he still blushed when she wore a halter.

But he didn't touch her.

She didn't notice it at first. At first, she'd avoided touching him, even in crowded hallways. But then, after they decided to be friends, she cautiously began walking beside him again, sitting with him. And she noticed—even in the everyday way, they did not touch.

Joan would ask for an eraser and his fingers did not even brush hers. She thoughtlessly, maybe possessively, touched his shoulder and he froze and somehow managed to break contact unnoticeably, unless you were paying attention. No apology in his eyes, just blankness—a lack of feeling that frightened her, because she'd seen his eyes going dark with depression and wide with awe and love, but she had never seen blankness. He sometimes put distance between them for no reason.

Never angrily, never with resentment---but carefully. And it was beginning to make her completely insane.

You wouldn't understand. You wouldn't, unless he'd touched you before—like that. Like you were made of ice and he was on fire. Like you were something beautiful, something intangible that only the brush of his fingers could give form to.

He would touch her as if he were creating her, sculpting her, making her his—in a way somehow not frightening, or even demanding, but desperate, desperate. A desire that was so quiet, so soft, that it always caught her by surprise how hot they could become, without warning, how far they could go before she would remember she had to tell him to stop.

But just his gaze was like touch sometimes. She was always aware of his memory, of her every curve being committed to memory. He didn't really look at her body now. His eyes remained steady, calmly focused on hers, like a brother's, like a friend's.

She realized she hated being friends with him, hated being subjected to what other people, people that didn't get it, didn't know him would call kindness. Who wanted kindness? Niceness? Nice is what you give to a stranger.

And what were they, if they weren't strangers pretending to be friends?

"Jane."

He'd appeared in front of her table in the library, leaning toward her across it, his hands braced on either side of her, a safe distance from her arms.

She looked up, into Adam's eyes. For a moment, the world disconnected. Adam was the center of her universe. God, he had beautiful eyes. They didn't narrow in confusion when she just stared at him, like any normal person's would've. He held her stare, returned it. His face was expressionless but his eyes were bright, bright with something joyful.

Maybe he loved her. Maybe. She could do maybe.

Snapping out of it, she smiled. "Um, yeah?"

"I got in." His face broke into the most wonderful, happy grin. "I got into Rhode Island." Then, before she even registered her own pain, his face fell. He felt it before she did. "What?"

"Nothing." She forced her expression into something like a smile, more like a twitch. "That's awesome. You must be stoked." She couldn't quite meet his eyes.

"Jane…"

"No, really, that's great." She touched her mouth, traced her bottom lip agitatedly: Adam at Rhode Island, Adam miles and miles away, Adam leaving her completely, becoming someone else, someone who didn't love her anymore. "I'm so happy for you."

Adam removed his hands from the table, standing, his eyes never leaving her face. "You're the first person I've told. When I read the letter…" he trailed off.

Joan looked up.

"…you were who I…" He looked down at his hands. "Who I thought of. Can I say that? Is that…?"

Without considering what she was doing, Joan reached out and took his hands. Now smiling genuinely, if sadly, she held them tightly: "I'm happy for you. Sorry, I just…I'm just sad to think of you, you know," she cleared her throat, "so far away…" she paused, "from Arcadia."

Adam's mouth opened, but he didn't speak.

She looked down at the table, waiting for him to pull away from her, and after a moment, he did.

"I, uh…I need to tell Grace."

"Go," Joan replied.

He did go. It was, she reflected, the first time they'd touched in months.

Later, in the girls' bathroom, Joan had spent the last half hour crying in one of the stalls. She heard the door open and close and tried to keep quiet. A faucet turned on and she heard water running as an uppity girl's voice observed: "But it's like, gross, to give…you know, like details?"

The other giggled. "Hey, if you don't want the specifics…I'm just saying. She said it was big."

Now both of them giggled. Joan rolled her eyes.

"But like, how would you know?" The first girl paused. "That was the first one she'd ever…"

"I thought you didn't want any details?"

Another chorus of giggles.

"It's weird though," said the second girl, as the faucet switched off, "Bobby is like, her first ever. She'll never get that back. Like your first kiss, you know, you remember it forever. She will never forget…" laughter crept into her voice, "Bobby."

"God. Bobby."

"I know! Talk about bad taste. Even she could do better. Jesus. Do you have any mascara?"

"Uh-huh. That makes half the girls in our English class, by the way. Lauren, Sarah, Kelsey, Jenny, Ashley, Megan," the two went into giggles again, "and um, Joan, right? Joan Girardi?"

Joan looked up, now suddenly realizing who the two girls were: Leslie and Natalie, inseparable to the point of lesbian rumors. They were the two of the worst gossips in school…but why would they think she was…?

"Joan! Are you on crack? That girl hasn't even seen one." Natalie sounded derisive.

"She went out with, um, with what-his-name though. Adam Rove. Huge stoner. Used to be kind of a dog…" Leslie trailed off.

"…now kind of a hottie, right?" Natalie sighed. "God, he is kind of hot. I even—okay, I know I'm psycho and he's like, so below me, but—his toques are actually cute."

"No, yeah!" Leslie let out a hysterical laugh. "I'd pull a Megan with him."

"Ew! God, she's a whore. But didn't you hear? Joan is like, Miss Virginity. He dumped her because she wouldn't put out."

Joan blocked out the rest of the conversation, her mind spinning. That was what people thought? That Adam wasn't satisfied? She wondered if the rumor had originated with Bonnie. Seemed a little low, even for her but then…Joan wrinkled her nose in disgust…what was too low for a girl that would sleep with another girl's boyfriend?

For some reason though, what people thought of their break-up wasn't what occupied her mind. Who cared what Natalie thought, a girl who actually wore pink fishnets to school? What occupied her mind was Natalie's observation about Megan Frasier losing it to Bobby Daniels: no matter how lame and disgusting Bobby was, Megan would never forget him. No one forgets their first.

For the first time, the possibility loomed in front of Joan (no, she corrected herself, the certainty) her first time would not be with Adam. It would be with someone else.

The way his had been with Bonnie.

You never forget your first.

Joan had a sudden flashback of one time in the shed, Adam's shed, when—unbeknownst to Adam; she had very nearly given it up.

He'd been bent over a mosaic, made up solely of bottle caps and jelly beans, and somehow made a perfect picture of her face from the side. She'd looked at him and wanted him to look at her—she remembered that want, that continuous freedom she used to have in wanting him and how he at that exact moment, looked up and back at her. As if he could feel her longing, Adam tensed, staring at her.

His face was half in shadow, but his eyes slowly, intimately took in her entire body: his gaze electrified her, and frightened her and she wanted him to touch her, to touch her in every place he looked.

They came together, him pushing her against the wall—maybe a little harder than he'd intended, his eyes closed tightly shut, his mouth on hers. His tongue had invaded her mouth almost immediately, licking inside her mouth, tracing her teeth, forcing her lips further open. There was desperation there, sudden heat. It was like he had been waiting, just waiting, for her to give him that look, the silent okay.

Her body shifted as her fingers delved into his hair—she loved his hair—and she felt it. His body against her, and instead of stopping, calming him, she hooked her leg around his waist.

Groaning into her mouth, Adam broke away, panting. His eyes opened, searching hers and he let out a sharp breath—amazed, it seemed. "Oh God—Jane." Her name, like a prayer.

They shifted again and the movement was deliberate, slow. A slow shiver dragged down her spine and she tilted her head back, eyes closing to evade the intensity of his. Too much, too soon. His mouth met her throat then and she gasped, feeling the warmth, the wetness as he kissed her several times. "Please…" he'd broken away again, whispering against her where he'd buried his face in her neck, "Please, Jane…"

His hand reaching up, cupping her jaw. She ached.

"Please, stop me."

Startled, she moved away from him. He straightened, meeting her gaze. "I don't…" His eyes were wide, vulnerable and then he looked down, filled, it seemed, with equal parts shame and sorrow. "I don't have anything."

"Oh."

And they'd stopped, disentangling from each other, pretending the electricity wasn't still in the air. Pretending they cared whether or not it was here, on the floor of the shed, or in some nice bed in some nice hotel room.

She went back to watching him work and he went back to feeling it—he didn't get much work done. But he didn't touch her again that night.

And he would not touch her ever again now.

Joan held her face in her hands. The memory was so sharp in her mind. The desire was so fresh. She still wanted him that way. In every way, but in that way…it was a way Bonnie had had him, one way in which she possessed him, owned him. One thing she'd seen and felt in Adam that Joan never would.

She found him in an empty classroom, not working or even sitting, but standing by a window looking out. She hadn't made a noise but he turned, answering some quiet distress signal he could always sense from her. His eyes widened.

Her hair was mussed. She'd taken off her jean jacket—too warm for it, anyway—under which she wore nothing but a red tube top. Her long gypsy skirt swayed around her, her sandals invisible and hidden from view, but her toenails he knew—he still watched her whenever he could, memorized everything—were painted red.

A quiet gasp was wrenched from his throat. "Jane—"

"Adam." Her gaze was burning, her meaning clear.

"Jane, I don't—"

"I want to go to the shed."