Allison had eyes like coal and Claire knows they can fuel fires in places she didn't know could be warm.

Claire's been with lots of boys. Well, not been with, she's not some hussy like some of her friends, but yeah, she's had boyfriends. She's kissed boys. She's let them thrust their tongues into her mouth and slobber all over her, she's let their clumsy hands drift over the inside of her blouse. Claire likes the attention, enjoys knowing that she makes heads turn and boys slip their hands into their pants at night.

She's overheard some conversations. Claire doesn't put herself beyond eavesdropping.

But most boys, they're stupid. They're just really fucking stupid. They think with their dicks, talk with their dicks, and she knows that if they could, they'd probably write and eat with their dicks. A few of them are different, like Andy and Brian, but even they get all glassy eyed when a pretty girl walks by. Even the nicest of boys would rather get laid than do much else.

Girls, most girls, girls like Claire, sex isn't everything. It isn't even something, and maybe that's just because she's the only virgin in her group of friends, but to her, she's never seen the appeal. Boys are stupid, and she doesn't have the biggest desire to have sex with someone that's stupid. She just doesn't have a desire to have sex with boys at all, really.

That's where Allison comes in.

Her and her eyes that ignite fires.

It's not fair.

Claire's always had this plan; she'd graduate, go to college for something like journalism or teaching, a nice job for a young woman, and she'd meet some smart gentleman that would allow her to stay at home all day, be in book clubs, and go to her kid's soccer games. It's easy and simple and she knew she'd be happy, that her days would be full of smiles and good-natured laughs and laundry and house work. It wasn't that exciting, sure, but it was nice, and comfortable.

Allison makes her uncomfortable and she likes it. Claire knows that doesn't make sense, but she's known nothing but easy living and having everything handed to her, so when she happens to turn her eyes toward a dark-haired girl with black smudged under her eyes like bruises she paints on every day, it's a jolt of realization; that she's lucky, and Allison's not.

It's not that Claire's ignorant to the people around her or their problems; she knows people have their own struggles. Parents get divorced, parents hit their kids, put pressure on their kids, parents die. She knows those problems exist, but they're so very far away from her and it's kind of like watching a sad movie. You see it, and it's sad, but it's not a part of you. You're detached and you don't have to recognize that those things are real if you don't want to, so she doesn't.

At least, she didn't. Not until detention, that Saturday that she can't seem to explain even to herself, even to the diary she keeps wedged under her mattress.

Allison's eyes are torn and broken and hurt and Claire never really noticed them until she brought them alive with mascara in that library. She had asked Claire why she was being so nice to her and, while she said, "Because you're letting me," she was thinking that it was because she wasn't sure when the last time someone had showed her any kindness. Claire has spent most of her life avoiding people like Allison - and when she says 'people like Allison' she's not sure what she means; maybe people in dark clothes, people who don't talk, or if they do, it's only nonsense. But Claire never stopped to think just what nonsense was.

Allison doesn't speak nonsense. She speaks in bits and pieces of much more elaborate thoughts. She has the kind of mind that Claire would love to sit in for a day. Or a week.

Or forever.

Claire's mind is orderly, like any good secretary's desk. It has files and logically connects one thing to the other and her life has always been simple and comfortable and that's the way her brain works.

But Claire can see in Allison's coal-like eyes the way that they are flawed and tattered and she can almost catch a glimpse of how the inner workings of her mind aren't nearly as easy. She can see the way her thoughts blip past her eyes and falter and jerk. Allison's an uncertain kind of person and it's obvious in her shifting gaze and the way her teeth tear at her lips like she's trying to break them off so she can't talk anymore.

Seeing her makes Claire's smooth thoughts stumble and for someone who has had little to no obstacles, it feels nice. Challenging. Like for once, Claire actually has to try, and the concept excites her.

Allison excites her.

Allison and her eyes that burn.

Claire knows she shouldn't play with fire, but Allison is a flame she can't ignore.

"Claire? Are you coming?"

She's listening but not really caring because her eyes are across the lunchroom. She holds her sack lunch in her fingers, chewing her lips raw as she watches a flurry of a black skirt disappear out the door on the opposite side of the room.


Claire blinks herself back to thought and turns her eyes back to her friend, or, well, a girl she can talk to sometimes, and notes the way that they're dressed similarly. Skirts. Blouses. Hair poofed and curled. Claire takes a step back, shaking her head.

"I have to go talk to a teacher. I'll see you later." She spins on the heel of her boot and marches out of the lunchroom. People move out of the way, parting like the red sea and she's Moses and she never liked to say that she's powerful, but she is. At first, that idea was kind of cool, like she was God, but it wasn't until recently that she started to notice how creepy it was that people feared her. She's not even sure how to climbed the social ladder so quickly. Maybe it's because she's rich and pretty, and she knows how to dress and she knows what to say. Her friends tell her to do something and she doesn't argue.

Being popular is hard work.

She turns the corner and walks alone. Her footsteps echo off the wall, talking back at her, trying to coax her back. It's not too late to turn around, go back, sit at the head of her lunch table like the princess she is and gossip about stuff that doesn't matter.

But that's easy, and this is difficult, and Claire just wants to know what it feels like to fight back.

The library is quiet. There are a few kids scattered around, mostly nerdy kids, studying, and she's not sure how she knew that this is where that girl would go, but she's right. She's tucked away in the farthest reaches of the library, eating candy, hovering over a notebook.

Claire hesitates only once, glancing over her shoulder, brushing strawberry blonde flecks of hair from her eyes. Nobody is casting her a glance. Her eyes hover over the tables she had sat at not two days before, surrounded by people she never would have spoken to in her life had she not been forced to. She almost feels like she should move those kids out of their seats because they belong to a Saturday she would love to relive.

She can see herself doing it. Walking over there, touching that kid on the shoulder. "This is Bender's chair. This is Brian's. You should move."

But she doesn't. She turns back toward the girl with black under her eyes and moves forward.

Allison doesn't even glance up when Claire drops across from her. She just picks at her candy, pops it into her mouth and chews in silence.

Claire's not sure what she expected. A smile from the other girl? A warm welcome? She knows that Allison isn't normal, but she just ... she doesn't know. She's not sure, but she goes along with it, pulling out her sandwich in silence and planting her elbows on the table. She would have never done that around her friends, because she was supposed to be girly and dainty, but she doesn't feel so inclined. Not here.

Claire is nearly done with her sandwich when Allison finally looks at her. Claire pauses in her chewing, staring into those black orbs, and never has she felt so entranced. She lowers her sandwich and manages with great difficulty to look away, at the carpet.

"What are you doing?"

Claire blinks at the floor, drops her sandwich, and falls back into her chair. What is she doing? "Eating," she replies, turning her gaze back to the other girl. Allison stares back at her boldly, eyebrows up behind her bangs. "What? I can't eat here?"

Allison stays silent, her eyes falling at her fingers that are picking at each other on the table. Her hair is dark and greasy like it has been since middle school. Claire isn't really sure what she was expecting when she gave Allison that mini makeover, but apparently, it didn't stick.

She's almost glad it didn't. Allison shouldn't look like her.

"I thought we weren't going to be friends on Monday." Allison leans away, her fingers hooked around the edges of the notebook in front of her. Claire forgot it was there, turning her eyes to that if just to avoid those eyes burning into her own. She finds with great surprise that Allison was drawing, and drawing well.

Twisted along the lined page was what look like a city at night. It was a collection of shadows and streets and the moon, silhouettes and what looked like words, but they were upside down. Claire cranes her neck, her hand sliding across the table. Allison snatches it back, pressing it into her chest. Her eyes are wide and wild and endless. Claire freezes, her fingers curling into a fist before she drops it into her lap. Claire's never really looked at art before. She hasn't looked at much period other than boys her friends point out and clothes. Her world is small, she's beginning to realize, and it makes her disappointed that she's seen so little.

"I ..." Claire's voice fades away before it really comes because she doesn't know what to say, how to word this. Her eyes fall to the table. Her shoulders lift and fall in a heavy shrug of an answer. She digs into her sack lunch and pulls a juice box out. Allison watches as she pushes the straw inside and begins drinking, letting her words die out in her slurping.

Allison leans forward then, hands crooked over her mouth. "Aren't you embarrassed? Aren't you scared one of your Barbie friends will come and see us?"

Claire glances up, carefully setting the juice box on the table and watches the girl, head tilted slowly. She knows she should be afraid, she knows that if the situation had been the same a week ago, she would have booked it. She would have never been caught dead talking to Allison Reynolds. Even thinking about Allison Reynolds. This went against every social rule she had ever learned.

But she's not afraid, and she's more scared of not being scared than being scared that's she's here.

See, her thoughts are starting to not make sense already.

"No," Claire says, leaning back and sweeping her bangs out of her face. "I'm not."

Allison studies her in silence for a time, fingers twisting in the puddles of her sleeves. She leans across the table and props her chin on her clasped hands, eyebrows shifting across her forehead and Claire wonders what kind of thoughts are making them move, what Allison's brain looks like from the inside.

Allison drops her shoulders. "Okay."

Claire feels tension melt away that she didn't know was there, like she was expecting Allison to scream at her and force her to leave. She smiles across at the girl, notices the quirk at the corner of her lips as she hides in the collar of her sweatshirt.

They talk about everything.

Every day at lunch, Claire goes to that table, in that corner, in that library, and she watches Allison draw and they talk. They talk about stupid things, important things, they pull out books and talk about the words they use. Claire doesn't remember why she enjoyed her other table, and when her friends ask where she's at, she says she's studying; it's not even that much of a lie. She is studying. She is learning.

About Allison.

It should scare her, but it doesn't.

"Your friends - no offense - they're stuffed, mannequins, and they walk around and let other people dress them and move them. They don't have brains."

Claire smiles, nodding slowly. "I'm just like them." It's a confession, because Claire knows that she's been dragged around and told what to do and what to wear her whole life, and in the beginning it was fun because she got all of these privileges, these 'rights' because she's popular. Boys seek her out. Girls want to be her. She's rich and pretty and she knows it, but there are rules, there are boundaries, and Allison is far, far beyond them.

Claire wants something she shouldn't want to have.

Allison's eyes flick away from her drawing, her brows knitting together. And then she smiles in that way she does, like she knows a terribly hilarious joke, and her tongue slips past her lips to roll over them before disappearing back into her mouth. "Not anymore."

"You think so?" Claire folds her hands on top of her head and stares at her, at this girl she's told more to in the past week than she's told anyone, really, and she feels her chest swell at the idea that Allison thinks highly of her, knowing she doesn't much like anybody.

Allison nods slowly, her hands curling over her hair to tuck it securely around her ears. "I thought you'd be the same after detention, but you're not. You looked for me, sat with me ... you're sitting with me now."

Claire cast her eyes toward one of the library windows and sighs, staring out at the assorted cars in the parking lot. "I'm beginning to realize that ..." She drifts, chewing her lip and turning her eyes back to Allison. It had been hard, at first, to look into those burning eyes, but now it was almost comforting. "I don't have any real friends except for you. I mean, the girls ... they're nice, I guess, but they're not -"

"Real," Allison finishes, chewing idly on a candy cane.

Claire smiles faintly and nods. And then suddenly Allison's back straightens and she falls back in her chair, the legs lifting from the floor until she is braced against the bookshelf behind her. "So, have you talked to Bender at all?"

Claire frowns, head falling. "No, not really. I tried saying hi to him, but he wouldn't look at me."

"I thought you liked him."

Claire's eyes lift quickly. "What? God, no." She studies her fingernails. "He's too brutish for me."

Allison doesn't look convinced, arms tucked close to her chest. "Or is it just because he's Bender? He's lower than you."

Claire stiffens, eyes narrowing across the table. "That's not it at all. Don't accuse me of that."

The other girl shrugs, falling forward with a loud thunk. She's draped across the table, close to Claire's face when she speaks again. "Then why? He's nice. Cute, I think. He definitely has the hots for you." Her breath smells of peppermint.

Claire curls her hands into tight fists at her sides. "Bender has the hots for anything with a vagina."

Allison chuckles. "True." But she doesn't lean back, still close, too close to Claire's face.

Claire doesn't back down, even though the intensity of Allison's eyes are a bit stronger than what she's used to. "I have feelings for someone else."

Again those eyebrows raise, flying, shifting, asking a million questions before they fall again. The bell sounds and they stand, though before Claire has a chance to leave Allison snags her hand and pulls her back in the safety of their bookshelves. Allison's head is ducked, her fingers squeezing Claire's hand and Claire's lungs are operating at full capacity when Allison leans forward, lips on her cheek.

"Thanks," she says, hesitation in her words, but courage, too. "For being my friend."

And then she leaves and Claire has to press her back to the bookshelf and remember how to stand.

"Again, Claire?"

She's walking backwards, a smile on her face, an already familiar feeling of excitement in her stomach. "Sorry, big test coming up. I'll catch you later." She spins on her heel and all but bounces down the hall to the library. This is the highlight of her day, seeing Allison. It's the only reason she bother even coming anymore. She's lost interest in everything else and it's no surprise; it took sitting down with Allison to realize just how uninteresting her life was.

She rounds a corner, her lunch pressed to her chest when she sees them, sees Allison, and her steps halt with one foot in the air.

Allison's back is to a wall and three guys are in front of her, three guys Claire knows, three guys Claire has talked to. She's even necked the one. Her breathing shorts out as the boy in the middle shoves Allison's shoulder while another one tries to snag at her purse. They're talking at her but Claire doesn't understand the words, much more focused on the look of fear struggling on Allison's features.

Claire screams.

"Get away from her! Now! Go!" Claire storms down the hall, fury all but pulsing from her form as she barrels down. Her feet stomp and she's pushing the boys, shoving them as hard as her tiny bit of muscle is capable of. The boys shrink back, more in surprise than anything, recoiling further away from Claire's raining fists.

"What the hell, Claire!"

It's the boy she made out with once in the back of his car. She remembers through her blood-red rage that he was a terrible kisser. "Get out of here!"

"We were just poking some fun -"

"Fun?" Claire's voice has climbed to octaves she didn't know she could manage, shoving the boy again. "Harassing people isn't fun, you - you -"

"Dick." Allison offers the word from behind Claire's shoulder and Claire doesn't even turn around, simply thrusts her finger at the boys.

"Dick," Claire repeats firmly.

The boys mumble and glance between the two before they turn and drag their feet away, casting more than one curious look back at the school Queen protecting the lowest of the low. Claire heaves in air, glaring down the hall where they disappeared around the corner.

A feather-light touch brushes her elbow and as soon as the fury built, it washes away, her head turning slightly to finally gaze upon the other girl. Allison looks so raw all of the sudden, her eyes peeled back a hundred layers and Claire feels like she's seeing them for the first time. Naked and tender and Claire is almost overwhelmed with an urge to just touch her. She doesn't realize her hand is raising, floating toward Allison's cheek. Her skin is cold and for some reason this bothers Claire more than it should and her thumb runs under the girl's eye. They're so close Claire can hear Allison's exhale.

"You okay?"

Allison's chapped lips twist for a moment only to lift, a smile pulling at her. "Yeah. Yeah, I'm okay."

"Your parents aren't home?"

Claire smiles across at the girl as they stroll up toward her house. It's the biggest house on this street. On this block.

Probably the whole town.

There's a long, black iron fence surrounding it, grass that is too green to be real, stones lining a walkway to the front door. It's all very phony to Claire, now that she thinks about it, knowing that Allison lives in a trailer. She shifts her backpack and nods toward her house. "They're barely ever home."


Claire shrugs, leaving the question hanging as she pushes open the door and ushers Allison inside. It's weird seeing her here like this, because her house is bright and warm like the sun and Allison is heavy and gray and she half expects it to begin storming. Claire takes Allison gently by the wrist and pulls her toward the spinning stairs, jogging up them two at a time until they push down the hall. The house is full of empty rooms, and the shut and locked doors watch them as they disappear into Claire's.

Her room is big and wide and the furniture looks almost microscopic compared to how far apart the walls are. Her bed has a dipping canopy in the center, the bedspread white, the furniture white, like she's trying to keep some sense of purity by not letting any color in. Claire stands to the side, watching Allison absorb her room with eyes that almost look confused. Claire tugs at her lip for a moment, fidgeting, and Allison abruptly turns, frowning at her.

"This room doesn't look like you at all."

Claire pauses, more than used to by this point the kind of things Allison says, but desperate in her need to better understand. "What do you mean?"

"You know what I mean. This room doesn't look like you. It's all ..." She motions. "Blank."

Claire's first response is to frown - she kind of likes her room - and then she realizes what's hidden in Allison's words. She doesn't think she's blank, and that's a good thing. Allison doesn't much like anyone, so Claire feels almost fortunate.

She shrugs her shoulders. "My dad, he picked out all the stuff, and you know how I am with saying 'no' to him." Claire bounces to her bed and collapses on the sheet, pulling her legs to her chest and waving Allison over. The girl walks jerkily to her side, drops her purse to the floor, and gingerly eases onto the edge of the bed, like she's afraid it might explode. Claire presses her cheek to her pillow and watches the other girl in silence, an ache that has been pulsing in her chest since their very first lunch together seeming to grow with ever minute. Claire thought that she should be afraid of that, that wanting to be with Allison all the time should be scary. What is she risking here? Her social life.

And her social life is the only thing that's been important to her in the past forever.

Until detention. Until now.

Allison turns toward her slowly, gnawing at her lips like she always does when she's trying to prepare words in her burning eyes. Finally she lifts her legs to rest them on the bed, slowly falling backward to lay with her back flat against the mattress. Her eyes are frozen above her unmoving, and Claire simply watches as the tension struggles to flood out of Allison's body. It strangles and holds on, twitching her fingers and Claire knows it's hard for Allison, who has never really had a friend, to destroy the only walls that have ever kept her safe.

But she's trying, and it's working, and Claire hand curls around the inside of Allison's elbow in support. A long breath leaves Allison and then she turns, watching Claire touch her, watching Claire watch her, and suddenly nothing else matters.

Not her 'friends'. Not those kids at school. Nothing.

"Are you finally going to kiss me?" Allison's eyebrows raise again and there's something there that Claire hasn't seen before; Allison is teasing.

Claire hesitates, watching the girl's eyes, how they burn and flicker brighter now than they ever have before. She takes a breath that catches in her throat before falling out again, trying to come up with an answer, but Allison doesn't wait. She tilts forward, eyes watching Claire's widening brown and pausing just before their lips are but a breath apart. Claire's lips have fallen open slightly, fear in the parting of her lips, fear and want, fear and desperation. Claire's hand drifts upward, her fingertips brushing over Allison's cold cheek. Allison's eyes flutter, her lids shifting across her trembling orbs before they open again, her gaze flicking between Claire's lips and Claire's eyes because they're both so beautiful to look at and Claire has never felt so naked with clothes on.

The distance closes. Allison's lips are warm as they meet her own, unlike the rest of her, and Claire's eyes shut, her hand slipping to the back of Allison's neck and bringing her closer, holding her harder, because this girl opened her up to a world she would have never hoped to see and the future of a white picket fence never seemed so dull.

Allison tastes like cherry blow pops.

The kiss is simple and slow and soft and before Claire can even register that it's happening it's over, breathing in gallons to steady her eyes and Allison is propping herself up on her elbow, threading her fingers into the side of her head. "I would really, really like to go to France," she says, like they didn't just kiss, like it didn't just happen, and her hand lifts to curl around a piece of the Claire's soft, orange hair. "I want to go everywhere. I want to go to every art museum ever."

Claire smiles, chuckling despite herself, an arm draping over Allison's waist. The girl moves closer, her forehead pressing against Claire's and she smiles, her tongue running over her lips and Claire mimics the gesture. Allison is on her lips, and she tastes good.

"I'm going with you," Claire says softly, the words gentle as they meet Allison's too eager ears.

"Of course you are." Allison's eyes close and she turns her cheek to Claire's white pillow. "Otherwise, there wouldn't be a point."

"Is that a hickey?"

Claire turns slightly, regarding one of her friends - er, 'friends', with a raised eyebrow. The girl's eyes are on her neck and Claire glances down, pulling at the skin of her neck. She notices the bruise-like spot with a smile. "Oh. Yeah."

The other girl blinks, fixing her jaw. "I didn't know you were seeing anyone."

Claire shifts, shrugging. "I don't have to tell you everything, you know."

The girl falls silent, turning slightly in her desk. Claire runs her finger over the hickey with fondness, hiding a smile behind her wrists.

When Claire returns to her locker that day just as the last bell is echoing down the hall, she finds a portrait of herself staring back at her, taped crudely to the metal. She sees more of Allison in the stroke of the black pencil than herself, and her eyes look like they're smoldering and she wonders if that's what Allison sees.

People stare as she touches the drawing, a smile twitching at her lips. Someone emerges at her shoulder.

"Who drew that?"

She turns toward a fluffy version of what she used to be, the girl's eyes looking at the drawing like it's disgusting and Claire gets angry, gets mad, turning back to the portrait to swallow it up. "Allison Reynolds," she says firmly. "Allison drew this for me."

The girl snorted. "What is she, stalking you? I always knew she was a dyke."

A fury she's never known builds in her veins and she turns so fast she swears she blurs, shoving the girl hard in the shoulders. "You don't even know her. You've never talked to her in your life."

Claire has never felt such a desperate need to protect someone, has never felt so drawn. She glances back to the picture and reaches out, tracing the line that creates her jaw, and when she looks back the other girl is gone.

And she doesn't expect people to understand that she threw away her social status for a girl, but Allison speaks of France and draws beautiful things with black and tastes like cherry and her eyes burn.

She's fighting fire with fire and the flames are beautiful, really.

Allison runs her thumbs under Claire's eyes. "We're going to everywhere. We're going to make love in every country."

Claire smiles. "Hold hands and kiss in the streets."

"I'm going to draw you naked."

"Skinny-dipping in the neighbor's pools."

"Flip off your friends."

"Leave this place."

"Claire? Your eyes are on fire."