For my beloved Floria.
Monday morning, and everything at Sweet Valley High was back to normal. It felt like an obscenity. Something should have changed, something should have acknowledged the fact that I had touched heaven, and my life had been ripped apart as a consequence.
I dressed mechanically, with no idea of what I was wearing, and headed to school. It was hard to care about little details like whether my shoes matched my dress when all that mattered in the world was that, unable to bear the fact that my best friend was going to Switzerland and I would never seen her again, I'd finally… done what I had always dreamed of doing.
Only now, Elizabeth wasn't going to Switzerland. And everyone, absolutely everyone in Sweet Valley, was happy.
Her trampy sister might think she is the most popular girl in the school, but Jessica has nothing on her own twin when it comes to the crunch. Dear Jess has trampled on, dumped and pissed off too many people in her career, while Liz is everyone's best friend. I knew I was just one among many, when it came right down to it. My most special quality was that I didn't have much else to do with my time than wait on Liz's good graces.
Unfair… I knew I was being unfair even as I thought it. One of the reasons I loved Elizabeth was that she really does care about everyone. When she lies or is hypocritical, it's usually out of a desire not to hurt anyone, not her sister's ruthlessness. And she had always cared about me… It was no one's fault but my own if I had thrown it away.
And my efforts to harden my heart against her were in vain, anyway. For all I tried to prepare myself to be bitter and defiant, I couldn't help the stab through the heart as I saw her slender form at the base of the steps. Better to have her hate me always, I thought wildly, than lose her to the other side of the world. If it would hurt every time I saw her, at least it was better than never seeing her at all.
I was dimly aware I was standing in the car park, shaking, my books dropped at my feet. Terrified by the thought of going near my best friend.
I couldn't have reached her through the crowds if I'd wanted to. She was lost among her well-wishers. Those friends who truly loved her and the sycophantic creeps who basked in the reflected Wakefield glory were indistinguishable among the hordes. Or maybe not so indistinguishable at all... Penny and Olivia, after all, didn't have the confidence and pushiness to make their way to Golden Elizabeth's side. They hung back wistfully, while it was the sycophants who had their arms wrapped around her.
Lila, for example, was just so happy to have Liz around for good, she needed to air kiss her in front of everyone. Who cares if she secretly wishes Elizabeth would be hit by a car, so she could comfort the other twin in her arms. (Chastely, of course, heaven forefend I hint at anything more...) It's all good publicity, darling. And the twins cast light on anyone who comes into their orbit.
And as for me? I didn't even attempt to come near the centre of her bright tornado. After all, I was only her best friend. And for a few moments, something more... but I wouldn't think about that. Not anymore than I could help, anyway. And it was time I accepted that I probably wasn't even her friend anymore, after having taken advantage of her like that.
It's always been my place, after all, I told myself, to wait in the background, in the shadow of Elizabeth's glory... I wanted to wallow in self-pity, even I couldn't help but realise I sounded like a whiny bitch. /Cut it out, Enid, or even you won't respect yourself/ I chastised myself. /Pick up your books and WALK./ Maybe, I wished helplessly, there was some chance I was wrong, that Elizabeth would greet me not with confused horror but with love.
Before I could make myself move, Jeffrey arrived, and the rest of Elizabeth's admirers stood aside at last. As they should. After all, the Boyfriend had arrived. His arm wound possessively around her slim shoulders, and she leaned her head on his shoulder for a moment. It was completely uncalculated, the kind of caressing gesture she makes naturally and without thought to how seductive she looks. Watching, I wanted her to do that to me... The two of them looked so beautiful together, meant, blonde heads shining side by side, bronzed joyful faces, the perfect golden couple in a way Liz and Todd never really were. As, I realised dully, Liz and I could never be.
/Oh, you've made the right choice, sweet Elizabeth/ I told her silently. / A dyke couple is never going to be the toast of the school, now, are we? And we both know what it's like to have everyone turn against you because of a rumour... Only, those about me were true while, of course, for you they were only cruel lies. Naturally. Ditch the jock soccer star for the lesbian school nerd, and it won't be long before they no longer see you as such an...
A ray of sun caught the hair above her forehead and spilled golden lights across your heart-shaped face, making a mockery of my pathetic attempts to be bitter.
/Goddess, I love you/ I told her silently. Why hadn't I been able to tell her that even as she was coming under my fingers? After all, it was my fate to adore her, everyone knew that. I'd loved her ever since sexy little Jessica Wakefield took advantage of my crush on her by bringing me home to "help" her study. Frustrated by Jessica's laziness, I'd looked up to see, laughing sympathetically down at me, the same perfect face with an entirely different soul. From that moment, I had been lost.
It would have been easier to let her go to Switzerland, thinking I was stealing Jeffrey from her. Much easier, I berated myself.
But I knew why I had done what I did. Because she looked so hurt, and so beautiful, and I couldn't bear the one girl who had ever truly cared about me suspecting me of betraying her with her own boyfriend. I couldn't endure it if she left, and never came back, never knowing how I felt. So I kissed her, and by some miracle, she kissed back.
I wondered if Elizabeth hated me, now her sanity had returned. If that is why she and Jeffrey were half-walking, half-hugging towards class. Or maybe was just that he had won.
Would she let him kiss her like I did, press his lips to her breast, touch her and learn your cries? I know I was the first... I know it, darling. No one can take that from me... Even if when he says he loves you, you say it back./
I wanted to run after her, wanted to touch her hand, beg her to come back to me, make her yell at me, if only to see her lips shape my name again... But I was so terrified of her rejection, dreading her disgust, scared most of all of seeing compassion in those ocean eyes and hearing her advise to me to talk to someone at Project fucking Youth about my sexual identity problems. Oh, my best friend has always shared the great American belief in support groups and psychobabble solving all problems... Sweet, brilliant, naive Elizabeth, with her gentle faith that anything can be solved by simply talking it over. Infuriating girl.
I knew that talking this over wouldn't change a thing. But, oh, I needed to talk anyway, so desperately... Almost as desperately as I needed other things.
I didn't even realise my feet were bringing me to Ms. Dalton's classroom until I was hovering in the door. I always used to come to Ms. Dalton when I had problems. When no one would talk to me, first because I was too bad, and then because I was too goody-goody, and finally because my worlds collided... A boring drug-abusing slutty nerd, only I could manage that particular balance of bad reputations. Clever Enid.
"Yes, Enid?" It's her precious non-contact period, but Ms. Dalton doesn't betray any irritation. "Are you okay, honey? Come sit here and talk..."
So I sat, and talked. Sort of. Let my worries spill out, anyway... "Ms. Dalton... what would you do if you thought you were in love with someone, a good friend, and they already had a b- a girlfriend, and you - kissed - them."
I clamped down on the sudden sweet flood of memories of more than just innocent kissing. Of Liz's mouth, open wide and hungry against mine, the taste of her skin, the sounds she made in the back of that arched tanned throat when I touched her through her bathing suit. I couldn't tell Ms. Dalton about that... Beautiful, so beautiful, my memories, and I couldn't commit the blasphemy of letting my favourite teacher be shocked by them. Whether or not Liz hated me, she gave me those moments to love her, and I knew it would be unforgivable to desecrate her gift like that.
"I think they hate me now. I wish I was dead," I ended abruptly.
My favourite teacher looks levelly at me a long moment, then said, carefully, "Did she kiss you back?"
Oh dear. Ms. Dalton must have noticed I had a crush on her, rather than the more usual thing on Mr. Collins... And then when I came to her with this incoherent mess… well, she's no bimbo, even if she did date Lila's father,
"Yes, she kissed me back," I whispered, not looking at Ms. Dalton, feeling tears prick at my eyes. And remembering the sweet hot kisses Liz had given me... Elizabeth loved me in that moment, surely. All those double dates, trading lukewarm kisses with Todd or Jeffrey's friends up at Miller's Point, while she and her steady of the moment kissed and cuddled, and all those discussions about sex and romance at sleepovers, carefully censoring my own thoughts… Well, all in all I'd had enough second knowledge of Liz's kissing style to swear she never kissed a boy like that. Maybe it was because that Ms. Dalton didn't seem horrified that I had kissed a girl, but I felt hope beginning to breathe a little inside me.
Ms. Dalton shifted closer. "Then maybe..." She reached out as if to stroke my hair soothingly, before she remembered that teachers aren't allowed to touch their students, and snapped her hand back. I wished she had forgotten. The gesture was so maternal, and I couldn't talk to Mom about this, not yet. But I still wanted to be someone's little girl, to have the hurt in my heart taken away like a scraped knee. I wanted to be six years old again, and have Daddy still love Mommy and live at home, and not have awful memories that none of my friends have to deal with, and not be in danger of becoming the school dyke.
"Maybe she's feeling very confused too, right now," Ms. Dalton said softly. "Especially if she's never realised she can be attracted to girls before."
"Maybe." I barely dared look at the thought, that maybe Elizabeth was just scared and waiting for me to make the first move. After all, I had behaved terribly myself, joking about our encounter afterwards as if it had meant nothing to me. I don't even know where the words had come from. I had just been so terrified, suddenly, of what I had done… Maybe she was feeling as uncertain as I was.
But I'd seen her with Jeffrey.
"Talk to her," Ms. Dalton advised. "I thought we'd agreed that running away doesn't solve anything."
But I knew running away was all I wanted to do. Except that it would mean never seeing Liz again.
"I'm sorry," I gasped, and I really was running, away from Ms. Dalton, away from the school, away from Liz.
Who followed me, somehow, so that even when I was lying on my bed, all I could see was aqua eyes, no matter how much I scrunched up my own.
I might as well face it. I would never be free of Elizabeth Wakefield.