Title: Mistaken for Strangers
Fandom: Skins – Third Generation
Characters: Mini McGuinness, Franky Fitzgerald
Rating: T (for language, themes, and dark things)
Summary: "Why do we ask so many questions? Two people shouldn't know each other too well if they want to fall in love." – L'eclisse (1962)
Disclaimer: Skins belongs to Bryan Elsley and Jamie Brittain.
Author's Notes: Found this incredibly difficult to write because I find Mini a deceptively complex character. Yeah, I actually needed four to five months to build up my take on her. It's also indecently long (indulgence on my part)… so I dunno how it's going to fare. I myself admit this fic is going to be hit or miss. But yeah, I'm putting it out here anyway.
MISTAKEN FOR STRANGERS
Make up something to believe in your heart of hearts
So you have something to wear on your sleeve of sleeves
- The National, "Mistaken for Strangers"
Franky's eyelids kind of flutter when she talks and really, it's so pretty that wide-eyed models on all those haute couture spreads don't quite cut it for you anymore.
It's not like you're in love with her or anything big like that.
No. Nothing like that at all.
You have a pretty good sense of who you are. Essentially, you're the type of girl who has the kind of class and poise that can only be acquired from growing up on old Hollywood movies and having a childhood spent balancing a hardbound copy of Jane Eyre atop the head. The type of girl with a body as a reward for doing cardio seven days a week and lying belly-down at night, listing meal plans that didn't go over the calorie-limits.
You would never dare wear anything that wasn't pre-approved by a high-gloss magazine. To stay up, you have to keep up. You don't put on clothes per se. You put on trends. If it isn't the latest, it's already late. These are the rules.
Like most girls, you do your hair, your nails, your coursework, and boys. (In your case though, there were those few times with that one boy.) You won't go out without any makeup on and you know how to smile through the extreme pain and silliness there is in strutting around in high heels.
Like most girls, you fantasised about the opposite sex.
Unlike most girls, you didn't get as much satisfaction from fantasising about them as you did when you were fantasising about one man. You never believed in Santa Claus but until you were about eleven, you had an imaginary friend.
You called him Dad.
Your mother thinks you're this Sim she wishes she looked like so she could feel better about her shit situation that sadly, you're starring in as well. You look just like she did when she was seventeen and you remind her of the life she had then, before she had you. It's the strangest thing and you're not supposed to feel guilty but you do.
It's dinner and she's feeling a little bit 'blast from the past' and you don't really want to eat her over-seasoned pot roast and mash in the first place.
"I remember when you were still little. You'd bawl and bawl and you'd never stop until I played that tape I found at that yard sale a year before I met Bonn."
Bonn isn't your father. He's the man your mum dated a year after she found out you were growing arms and legs inside of her. She says 'that tape I found at that yard sale a year before I met Bonn' because she'd rather die than say 'that tape I found at that yard sale the year I went on an insane fuckathon with your no-good-fuckwad of a father.'
Your mum gets up in a moment of nostalgia and excitement. Makes her way to the ancient cassette player, the oldest and only one in the house that still, surprisingly, works like a charm. She takes the tape out of its special place on the cabinet (by her collection of Girls Aloud CDs) and pops it in the player and the whales are having sex in the house again.
"Isn't that peaceful?" your mum says, holding her wine glass (with Diet Coke in it) and turning, turning around your living room, dancing to what most probably inspired Moby-Dick.
You think of a whale shooting a thousand gallons of sperm into the ocean. The fishes, the seahorses, the shrimps and the lobsters. All those poor little critters, swimming around in whale come. You wonder why other underwater animals aren't at least half-whale.
Maybe Franky could tell you.
Now, Mum's humming along and you've had it right up to here. You sigh and drop your fork back onto the plate. There's a certain resignation in the sound of the clattering it all makes. You've lost your appetite.
See, this is why you have a reasonable waistline. This is why you think, after you trudge up the stairs and into your room, holding your shirt up towards the mirror to see your belly-button and not a shred of fat around it, that yeah, at least your mother is good for something.
It's summer and Liv's mum is out for a week attending a tea-leaf reading seminar and Liv's little sister is at fencing class. This means the house is loud with talking and Liv's playlist booming out of the stereo.
So Gracie's sat primly on the floor in a conservative but tasteful outfit, asking you and Liv to help her with Rich's birthday. It's in two weeks and falls exactly on a Saturday. Perfect for an entire weekend getaway.
"So I'm thinking Beach Party. Bonfires, surf and sand, it'll be absolutely lovely, especially at night. Then we'll sleep in tents just like we did in Newquay. "
Liv catches your eye and raises her eyebrows. Right. Your thoughts exactly.
No fucking way.
"Gracie," you start with a little laugh, not really knowing how to put this. "Do you think your boyfriend's going to like that? Letting him out on the beach with all that sun? Remember how Kirsten Dunst died in Interview with the Vampire? So unless you wanna buy Richard an urn and then scatter his ashes at an… I dunno, an Ozzfest or whatever, I suggest… other options. Think about Rich, babe."
Grace face goes sour. Oh, bless her and the Willy Wonka noodles she has for a brain.
Luckily, Liv helps you out on this. "Yeah, Grace. I mean, it's all cool with us, the beach and everything, but what about with Rich? Not his cup of tea, I reckon?"
"But I'll get the boys to help. Surely it won't be that much of a disaster? And it's summer for Christ's sake! We're supposed to be at the beach. In bikinis. With our boyfriends."
Grace has her chin up, determined and ready to be defiant. Cute, cute, Gracie. How could you and Liv break her precious heart? It would be cruel to deny her this.
"Fine, we're doing the beach party on the grounds that I'll hear no lame complaining from your dearest, allergic-to-everything Richard."
Grace starts squealing, really excited. "Oh, thank you! Thank you! It's going to be perfect, I promise!"
"Right. Sorted," Liv says, fixing the cushions on the couch. "By the way, I'm not bringing a boyfriend." And then she turns to you, smirk in place. "What about you, Mins? Bringing delicious man-meat to the party?"
Oh, God. Liv is impossible sometimes. She and Grace start giggling and throwing dirty looks at you and really, their screwed up faces are most unflattering but somehow, still annoyingly pretty.
"Fuck off," you say, smiling.
"You miss her."
Grace has left and now it's just you and Liv.
"Of course I do, she's my best friend."
Liv thinks your reply is hilarious. "I'm your best friend. Would you mope around all day if it was me spending two weeks in Italy?"
She gets up, on her knees on the couch, and takes a fencing sabre out from behind it like this is fucking magic or something. She jumps off the couch and slashes it against the air and the woosh-woosh sound of it bothers you already. She points it at you the next second and she's only like, five steps away.
She isn't even high but she's already doing a nice job of freaking you out. "Liv, what the fuck?"
She smiles. "Stop being so…"—then BAM!—"En garde!" she shouts, striking a damn fencing pose thus furthering your shock.
Liv's a fucking cow. You're about to break down from shock while she's there, all shits and giggles. Enjoying this more than necessary.
"Fuck you," you say, absolutely furious and about to piss yourself.
She stands straighter, lets the tip of the sword touch the ground and she sort of makes the entire thing bend. Really though, that's just the slightest of consolations. Then she takes a seat on the couch. It dips and you sort of sink into her space.
"We're best mates. There's only so little you can tell me that I don't already know."
That's just Liv. On to you, right from the start.
She tosses the sabre back behind the couch. You let out a breath. "I think I'm…"
"In love with her?" Liv suggests after an eternity of your silence, being the good friend that she is and saving you the awful burden of saying it yourself.
You nod. No sense hiding it now. "How did you…?"
"How did I know?" Liv says, sniggering in between her words, being a right twat.
She puts her hand on your shoulder. Shakes it a bit in this friendly way that you didn't realise you've missed. She says to you then, "Like I said, Mins. So little you can tell me that I don't already know."
Routine. Order. Schedules. Lists. Compartmentalization: everything where it should be. Yoga. Pilates. No sugar, please. Water, water, water. Everything else is just sugar juice in disguise. Health magazines. Measurements. Pounds, grams, calories and every conversion factor in between.
This is your life.
See, you boss yourself around. You never shut up. Your head, it just won't stop with the instructions. Like it's reading something from this fucking manual. How to be Mini McGuinness. In sparkly fonts. Then there'd be this gigantic rule in there that says: Mini McGuinness does not. Repeat. Does not fall in love with girls.
Well, so much for that.
You actually dread going to sleep. Once you're tucked in, ready to fuck off to Neverland, you find yourself wondering what she's doing, who she's smiled at there in Italy, what you'll do to her once she's back and you can't stop and you've always hated when you were being so excessive and weak and whiny about things.
Before all this, it's gone so, so well. There used to be a time when you were in total control of what you felt and what you thought. You were absolutely cool and together and… fuck. Why can't you be like that now?
Right. Firstly, it's because of a girl. Secondly, you're supposedly the straightest thing since the invention of the line. Of course, it all makes so much sense.
It's a collection of vague little moments that might've aligned the stars and changed everything. She came along and snuck into your life, intending to stay. She did it right under your nose and you've never realised that until…
Well, you can't really say. But ever since, the wiring in you brain or something. It got totally fucked.
That first day, you were determined to hate her forever. You wanted to take her down so bad and dreams do come true because within an hour, you were all over her, shoving her head into mud and grass.
Such malice. The kick you got out of it. How dare she come here and be such a fucking homo and expect you all to be fine and dandy about it. That morning in the locker rooms. Her man-hair and the big coat, the lesbian-flannel and the bike shorts and the fucking wife-beater. You were half-naked then, feeling immensely prouder about your body because there she was, head ducked low, wanting to be invisible and being the saddest little thing you ever saw.
Then, out on the pitch, her hockey stick hit your fucking shin and you went down first, thinking she fucking started it. It was the perfect excuse to just pull her in and join you on the ground. The perfect excuse to push her and hit anything you could so hard, she had no choice but to take it.
The rush was unlike anything you've gone through before. You didn't know what was going on. You were angry and disgusted, distressed and then, strangely, excited. What the fuck for, you hadn't the slightest idea then.
It hasn't even been an entire year since you've met Franky.
To think that you've become good friends. To think that you've already kissed her. To think that you've come to lo—to care for her as intensely as you do now. That you pine for her and not the other way around…
Life punches you in the face sometimes.
The roads are twisty and horrible and Nick keeps hitting Alo in the face with a party rollie. He keeps blowing hard and you can hear the festive sound it makes as it smacks Alo's cheek every four seconds. So it's not long when the supplies for the party… the beer, the tents, the coal, the five bottles of sunscreen Grace knows Rich will demand for… and the rest of Alo's shit start falling into the middle of the van and then a tennis ball whizzes past you, missing you by an inch.
This is the last thing you need.
You have to snap the book in your hands shut because your ex-boyfriend is being a tosser. See, Alo happens to have a copy of that children's story, The Velveteen Rabbit, lying about and for the trip back into Bristol, you figure it'd make a decent read. You've seen a movie of this when you were a kid. It made you cry and sad for days so you apologise to your childhood gods before you hurl it at Nick. "Would you quit it, Nick? He's driving, you fucking genius! Now look what you've done."
Nick turns around, sees the mess he's responsible for and says, "Oh, shit."
"Alo, stop the van."
"Careful! Grace paid for all that. Imagine how pleased she'll be when she finds broken bottles of Selvarossa Riserva and Lalande Borie…" You're reading off the stampings on the carton, having no idea if you're pronouncing anything right. "Do you think that shit grows on trees?"
"Technically, they grow on vines but—"
"BUT NOT NOW, NICK. Jesus!" You knead circles at your temple, completely frustrated with how they're handling those boxes of wine. Like they're as hardy as twenty-pound cinder blocks. Idiots.
Alo's not fazed at all. "Hear that, good sir? We must secure the booze lest the Lady Grace take our balls!"
Nick turns mock-serious. "Aye, aye, Chief!" he says, stacking up two boxes and picking them all up in one go.
You pick up anything can fit in your hands and leave the heavy stuff to the boys. It gets considerably cleaner as seconds pass.
"I can see the floor now. That's significant improvement… I guess." Alo scratches the back of his head and turns to you, grins.
"So, inventory," Nick says. He rubs his hands together like it's going to be hard when really, all he has to do is cross out items off the little chalkboard hung on the wall of Alo's van. On it, two lines are written, one by each of them. Beer and then Everything Else.
They're fucking unbelievable.
It all goes to shit when Alo passes around the Rizla booklet. A couple minutes of silence and sprinkling and then you roll. Carefully. Artfully. You lick the gum edge and now, you have in your hands a perfectly thin joint.
You light up.
The windows are shut. So are the curtains. The van has fucking curtains. Real domestic, that. It's dark and foggy in here… Like how the outside is on early mornings… You take another toke.
"I want, like, to bring this ghetto blaster. Just put in a cassette tape of shit Rich's gonna hate. 'Party in the USA', yeah? That will really, really make his day. Know anyone with a ghetto blaster, Nick?"
"Mate, I've no idea." He takes a puff and frowns at Alo. "What's wrong with an iPod?"
Alo, mid-drag, manages to choke himself. He ends up coughing a frenzy and you and Nick laugh at him, being perfect insensitive twats until Nick moves in and starts hitting his back, saving him from a very near and pathetic death.
He straightens up, clears his throat. "You don't get the fucking point, Nicholas! Does size not matter to you at all?"
"Of course it does. Nickatron likes 'em nice and big."
"Yeah. Nice and big… And juicy."
Alo's looking at your tits.
"Farm Boy. I. Will. End. You," you threaten when really, you're just as flattered as the next girl.
He blows out a lot of smoke. Looks at you thoughtfully. "Reckon I could cop a feel, Mins?"
Alo's kidding but you swat his hand away when it gets too near your chest. He laughs and yeah, it's all in good fun.
Alo has his head thrown back, tipping Coco Pops into his mouth. And you notice for the nth time just how much of a ginger he is. There's like, a messy fire on his head and somebody has to comb that thing or put it out. He shakes the box to get the flow going and you want him to down it all away. With weed comes the munchies. Extra calories. This part you hated.
He thrusts the box to your face. "Cereal, most important meal of the day."
You put out your joint. Reckon you shouldn't be staying around for this. "Right, see you dicks at school."
"But, babe. You're high."
"I'm perfectly capable of sitting classes and being brilliant and looking a vision nonetheless, Nick. You all think I'm dense enough as it is. I'm not a fucking tard. I'm anything but! I've got dreams, you pricks."
You're half-way out the door when Alo shouts, "But Minerva!"
"College doesn't start for two weeks. Screw your head back in, princess!"
They look back at you with half-lidded eyes, amused. You inch back into the van. Slam the door shut. Gone is the sunshine.
You wonder if it's just the drugs. You're only enjoying this much with these guys because you're buzzed beyond.
They're having a lightsaber fight with glow sticks, mouths screwed up trying to make those stupid sounds. They have one for when they're just moving them around. They have one for when their glow sticks touch. They have one that's supposed to sound like sparks of electricity coming off from some 'major' parrying.
Alo pretends to die. He says to Nick, "Luke, I banged your mother so hard, she had twins."
You all explode into giggles, the standards of your sense of humour lowered spectacularly. At this point, you'd laugh at anything. Just that blasted.
You like this. It's easy, it's chill. Boys make nice friends.
You weren't prepared for this at all. Yeah, you've sat next to her on the entire ride to the beach, finally graced with her presence ever since she's fucked off to Italy (you were cool then, with an admirable sense of self-restraint, willing yourself not to swoon every time she spoke) but that stuff was the tip of the iceberg, apparently.
You still have an entire day left to pretend that she doesn't drive you mad.
You've all dressed down upon arrival. There's the smell of the sea in the wind and the early sun is toasty warm on your skin. The kind of good vibes you'll have to tweet about later.
So Franky's there, all changed in one of those red-striped sleeveless tops and tiny board shorts. Her legs are wonderful. Pale and long and fuck… even Alo's staring. You thought that nobody would ever be hot enough to pull off the 'prepubescent boy taking a summer job as a life guard' look. Ever. But here you are, seriously considering pretending to drown to see if it'd get you any action.
Fuck Baywatch, this IS the shit.
An ice cream vendor comes around and everyone acts like he's fucking Jesus or whatever and they all race to him, loud and just really, really being vulgar with their youth. Rich is at the front of the pack, beaming like a miniature sun and inside, you feel fuzzy and quite happy that things have worked out for Grace. She's running with him, holding his hand, trying to keep up because Rich is taking massive (rather inconsiderate) strides. The sight of this makes you wonder what their kids are going to look like.
You're the only one who passed on the ice cream and you're there, sitting on driftwood all by your lonesome. Of course, being the sweet angel she is, Franky plays nice and sits next to you, cone of chocolate ice cream at hand.
"Well, you're having fun," she says brightly, smiling at everything. Then she turns to you knowingly. Your resolve starts to crumble.
"It's fucking hot."
It's a mistake to say because the next thing she's holding out her cone to you. The polite refusal has to come next. You hate saying no to her.
"You know… Crisps, pizza, cake, burgers. You're missing out." To your ears, she might as well be reciting diseases.
You cross your arms. "Unlike the rest of you, I actually plan on living long enough to have a mid-life crisis… or to get Botox."
She laughs then and God, it's just the loveliest thing. She straightens up. "I say live fast, die young."
Later on, you'll find out that's from one of her favourite songs.
"Well, don't. Matty will miss you when you go." It comes out of your mouth like a bullet, loaded long before the world existed.
It surprises her and you just might have said the wrong thing there but then she laughs again and yeah, it's alright. Then you watch her finger, irritatingly fascinated. It's scooping up a good share of ice cream and you know where this is going way before she says, "Here, have some anyway."
Normally, you would've reacted by then. Would've jumped out of the way because this is what happens in the movies. She's going to get it all over you, all sticky and disgusting but you're still supposed to want it, regardless.
And here she is, reaching for you. Just going for it. She's only an inch away now and your brain's turning at a thousand guesses per second, wondering what it's going to feel like when she finally touches you.
Please. Closer now. Just a little more…
It doesn't come.
"Just kidding," she says, drawing her hand back and then licking her finger clean.
Funny. You could go for weeks without coloured beverages and bread. If a certain diet called for a certain restriction, it's never been a huge problem. Bearable, even. But now… Now when Franky's fucking prancing off, so unknowing of her sexiness, you're hit (and so weak) with this foreign hunger. You're thoroughly convinced that if you went on a second more without her touch, you'd catch fire or something as ridiculously horrible.
It gets harder, trying to function without her flooding your head. You end up being even more mindful during your exercises than you should be and you like to think that it's put a new edge to all your Yogalates sessions. It gets the job done, and the spaces when you're not obsessing over her are welcome breaks.
Nothing beats what running does for you, though. It's trippy sometimes. Just run hard. Really hard. The world flies pass as streaks and blurs, and then it's like you're faster than all your fears and your limits.
What you love about it, especially, is the sound you make when you're pushing yourself. Your trainers pounding pavement, the high-speed breathing, the boom-boom of your frantic heart. You focus on pace, and posture, on everything throbbing nicely altogether and for thirty minutes, that's all that has to matter.
You chose this diner because you thought it'd be packed with people, loud and perfect for covering up the heart-to-heart you wanted to have with Grace. Since she's the only one you know who's truly in, like… love, maybe she could help you out a little. Get you a bit sorted before college started again.
Once inside, the place isn't as crazy as expected so you're there beating around the bush and saying shit that's at the top of your head. Like, how greasy that waitress's skirt is, or how you imagined Kate Middleton's nipples through her Sarah Burton-Alexander McQueen wedding dress and thankfully, Grace isn't suspicious in the slightest.
But she does cut you off when you dissect her meal and give her a major calorie-content dump. Gracie doesn't know her charts and it's tremendously unjust that she still has a gorgeous body. Ballet or no ballet. That just isn't fair.
"Isn't that nice?" she says. She's looking at something behind you.
You turn around, ready to call on her for thinking a waffle castle was 'nice' but no. You turn around and don't find a waffle castle. You see a couple.
They're both girls. Well, you're not quite sure why you immediately put them together as a couple but Grace clears that up for you on cue.
"See how they're seated? They're next to each other as opposed to in front of each other. According to Proxemics, they're together."
"Romantically?" And you're guessing Grace learned all this at that posh boarding school that made her shudder every time she was forced to bring it up.
"Yes, following the principles of Proxemics. You can tell what two people mean to each other judging by the space that's in between them," Grace says impressively, like it's as easy as the alphabet. She's about to say more, probably about to give you a full-fledged lecture but then one of them starts to speak. They're close enough to overhear and the tall, peroxide-blonde one, her blue eyes narrowed at the Styrofoam packet the waiter just put upon their table, has her lips twisted in utter distaste.
"I don't get why they give us Polystyrene packages when clearly we're eating in. Not only am I deeply insulted, but this is an unsolicited blow to the environment. Jesus, what do they expect me to do with this? If I had this much Styrofoam back then, the Titanic wouldn't have fucking sunk…"
The other girl, the slight one with the red hair, rolls her eyes. She turns to the blonde one, looks at her pointedly. "Nae, babe. Trying to enjoy here." She gestures to the food and even then, they don't break eye contact. "And besides, you picked where to eat."
They look at each other some more for a while. Just sitting still, doing nothing else. Then the blonde grins. Kisses the other girl. Right there. And nobody else in the diner notices.
The two of them break apart and the cherry-haired girl is smiling, not looking around and being an over-all mess. Like she's proud of it.
Like it's all nice and normal.
You feel your chest swell. You're flushed. You just know it. And you turn around before they catch you gawking or something.
And you shouldn't be surprised that Grace's still staring at them with that smile of hers she puts on when she's really fascinated. This, you remember. This was Grace's face on the first days of college, probably believing Franky was some fairy creature.
Holy Jesus. She's just so hopeless, making googley-eyes like this. You knock your foot into her shin 'by accident'. She jumps in her seat a little and then widens her eyes at you in a what-did-you-do-that-for? fashion.
You sigh. Audibly.
"Stop being gay, Gracie."
It still amazes you that Professor Blood is Grace's dad. That kind of twist never gets old. So you can't take him seriously when he stands there with this trademark whistle (that probably has his initials engraved into it) telling you all a story of how some kids have broken into Roundview prior to the official start of college and have vandalised the common room twenty nautical miles out of recognition.
Blood informs you that the same hooligans have also stolen the foosball table and after this announcement, Liv elbows you lightly because she caught Alo sniffing and a bit wet in the eyes.
What a pussy.
In a complete turn of injustice, Blood decides to make your form repent for the sins of the mysterious troop of arseholes. Save for Grace, the entire form, upon hearing the order to paint and decorate the common room anew, groan their displeasure.
Blood's completely awkward, face scrunched, lips pursed when Grace, his top secret daughter, voices out her suggestions to improve the 'over-all style and impact' of the area.
"It'd be real lovely and colourful if we take on a Mardi Gras-inspired design for this room. It'd make for a great break from classes, really refreshing for the eyes…" Grace says, trailing off because if the rest of the form's agreeing, they're not making a show of it. Then she turns to Professor Blood. If you look very closely, you could see it in her eyes, the 'Dad, please back me up.'
Professor Blood is at a loss, mouth open, Mr. Articulate ironically groping for something to say. Before he can though, Franky comes in and says, "I think that's brilliant," in a clear, canon-loud voice. It gets the guys nodding approvingly and girls' hair whipping around as they turn to each other, suspiciously excited all of a sudden.
Grace smiles at Franky gratefully and she grins back. Brace-face shiny smile. Like a superhero, always saving the day.
You shuffle to the side, your back to the crowd. You're fucking hilarious because you've got your hand at your chest, trying to calm the rapid beating underneath.
You've spent the last hour working on a three-by-two-metre space of wall. You paint like you did back in Primary (with a certain lack of passion because the Roundview common room isn't the fucking ceiling of the Sistine Chapel).
Someone stands in the way of the light and you're about to turn around to cut a bitch but when you find Matty, hands-in-pockets judging the fruits of your labour, you can't even come up with a decent tell off.
"Are you in love or something?" he says.
You drop your brush, get purple on the carpet. You pick it up hastily, hoping he didn't notice it. He did and Jesus, you hate his face. "The fuck?"
"Just saying…" He takes his hands out of his pockets. "Since you've got a lot of…" Matty makes vague, sprinkling gestures at your work.
And you get up, step a few feet away to get a better view of the wall and see if you really did do anything wrong and oh, God… too many fucking hearts.
Well, that's just fantastic.
"We should switch. Perhaps you'd like to join Grace and keep an eye on everything," Matty says, nodding to the front desks, where Grace is sat, clipboard and Megaphone ready before her. He picks up a spare brush up from the table, flicks his thumb against the bristles. He makes his way to you, never breaking eye-contact. Once he's close enough, he says, "Go on. I've got this."
This is his way of telling you, You suck. Please sit over there where you can play with your Barbies. Masking his insults as favours. Sneaky prick.
Standing your ground this time meant slaving for another two, three hours on the bloody wall. This is supposed to be a way out. A good thing. But with Matty insisting to take over, you can't help but feel somewhat defeated.
You step aside. Sashay the fuck away from him without another word.
Grace is surprised to see you coming over. You flash her a big, commercial smile. "Arts and crafts? Sorry but it's not really my thing, hon."
She makes Rich pull out a chair for you to sit in.
The past twenty minutes go by with you watching the back of Franky's head, willing her to turn around. She's too focussed on her work, her headset and her indie music probably shooting her into a creative zen. Nick comes by, taps her on the shoulder and holds up the can of red paint she asked for. She turns to him and you're ridiculously eager to see her in profile. She gives him a smile and Nick gives her one of his own. You used to really, really love his smile.
Your eyes are back on her again and you see things that aren't supposed to be there. Rainbow freckles.
You grab your old friend, the megaphone. Turn it on and speak. "Francesca Fitzgerald, please proceed to the front desk for further briefing. Francesca Fitzgerald…"
Upon hearing your magnified voice, Matty's rolling his eyes and Grace shoots you a questioning look. Franky's got her huge earmuffs on so the announcement runs for a couple more times until Liv, who's working next to Franky, wants you to stop. She taps Franky's shoulder to get her attention and when she does, Liv then flicks her head towards you.
Franky turns around, sees you with the megaphone, intrigue starting on her features. While she walks to you, she takes her headset off. Her ears poke out like an elf and it's so precious. Your heart hurts a little already, from the wanting waking up.
She stops before you. "Yes?" She's wiping her hands with a towel. "What do you want?"
Franky makes a face you can't make out. This is your sneaky way of testing the waters and still, it seems to have backfired.
You reach out. "You've got something..."
There are tiny flecks of paint on her cheek and you try to rub them off with the pad of your thumb. She's not moving. She's not too stiff either. Just letting you do this. And you do it slower so you could hold her longer.
"There. All gone now."
You let go of her and she steps back a bit, hand absently touching the same place you just did. There, a blush rises. Franky looks down immediately. Nods it away so that when she looks back up at you, shy eyes underneath the long lashes, there's only the faint trace of pink on her cheeks.
"Thanks," she says. Shaken. Stirred.
You don't mean to do it on purpose but there's something about you that makes boys cross the room to talk to you. Every party. Every night out. Every day at school. Guys want to have you like girls want to have Jimmy Choos. No one wants to know if you're into Hepburn movies or 80s music. What they ultimately want to know is that if you'd get in bed with them.
Like they'd give a fuck about who you really are.
This is probably about the seventieth time you tell a guy to fuck off. He's a substitute Drama teacher and he just asked you out in what he thought was a suave, subliminal, pseudo-innocent manner that if executed on another blonde bimbo, would've gotten a yes.
He saunters off, leaving you and Franky alone on the college green and she makes it a point to laugh in your face. "Fuck me if that isn't the most disgusting thing I've seen all week." She has her camera slung around her neck, ready to shoot at the world.
"Twisted, I know…" You laugh along, feeling for a shred of humour in this. "God, I hate it sometimes. Looking like this." People passing by, other teachers and students, glance down at the pair of you oddly. You notice them but Franky doesn't. She watches you with her big, hard, listening eyes.
"It's all they see," you say and your voice cracks a bit in the open daylight.
You smile so bitterly that Franky turns away. Won't look you in the eye. She talks to the wind, says to it, "Yeah, you're good-looking," and just as soon, her words are a mile away, carried so far, so fast by her… indifference. It's maddening.
She doesn't tell you this to flatter you. She says it like she'd say it's twenty degrees outside. She says it because it's the truth. You both know it.
And as much as you'd like to believe otherwise, no, Franky Fitzgerald doesn't want to get in your pants.
In fact, it's quite the other way around.
"But you see me, right? You see me?" And you're sitting there, fingers twisting at the grass, begging please, please, please in your head.
Franky cocks her head to the side, eyes squinting at you. Examining. She tells you, "Back when you hated me, I wondered if you could ever be as good… as nice as you look."
The bad start keeps you awake some nights. The day you met her, for example. What a shining example of true love. You wonder how you were so horrible to her. She's actually so fucking lovely and just… how the fuck could you?
"And…?" you say, establishing the expectant silence. She looks into your eyes, grins. It's magical.
"Turns out you are."
She's supposed to DJ at this new club downtown called The Equinox. Being low on capital, it being their first week as a business and all, they were looking for someone to DJ opening night. Somebody with a good heart, who'd take the shitty pay.
You're here early, the shameless fangirl who might as well have camped out the night before. So you're circling the foreign place, texting the others to get the fuck here PRONTO when you pass by a group of Hair and Beauty girls from college. They're all a little blonde, a little flashy, a little you. They reek of cheap canned perfume. Of store-bought class. And you walk a bit faster before anyone could mistake you for their alpha chav.
When Franky arrives with the rest of the gang, a bit sweaty and breathless, a clear case of the nerves, you wish her luck and give her a quick kiss to the cheek.
Later, after she's all set up at the DJ booth, she catches your eye then does a thumbs-up sign with an über-dork grin on. You're overcome with so much pride and affection… Your eyes water and it's tremendously stupid but it's just one of those things you can't rein in.
The slow start worried you but the crowd comes around by the third track.
You have no fucking idea how she's doing it, playing songs you've never heard of, tastefully repeated and distorted, but she's making each and every one of these fuckers dance like puppets on cocaine. Her eyes flick from her deck, to her laptop, to the crowd, her music making concussions high in the air and all around. It's driving everyone wild.
You're no exception.
Now, you're having the time of your life. Moving with abandon and laughing with your girls. Liv's making gun fingers and it's awesome because "Livin' on a Prayer" always gets her. Always.
You all calm down a bit, coming into the transition, the chorus fading out. You look up to where Franky is and Matty's there with her. He appears to be helping, stood at her laptop and nodding in time to the beat and from far away you can see his expression as he turns to Franky for an approval of sorts. She nods right along with him, on board with whatever he's going for.
And so the next track is dark and heavy. Something you have no trouble picturing Rich doing the Loco-Motion to. Back at the DJ booth, Matty bounces next to Franky, playful. They share a laugh and your insides drop.
A drink. You need another fucking drink.
It's the universe rubbing this in your face. Franky's shift is over and The Equinox is pulling off a risky move: making a live band the second act. You're on your way to the Ladies Room when you come across a giggling Franky and Matty. You slow down and watch them. He's doing this supposedly gentlemanly thing of holding the door to the Ladies open (it swings inwards) all while keeping his feet off the room's tiles. Franky appears to find it cute and she smiles at him brightly before she disappears into the loo.
You catch his aura after the door shuts. Self-satisfied and shit. He's there in a black t-shirt and in desperate need of a shave, yet he looks as if the world is his to conquer.
Matty can't have her. You won't let that fucking happen.
He catches you staring and if he's as smart as they all say he is, he would've caught on, how you want to burn him alive. At this, Matty only winks at you.
Ugh. As if.
You make your way over to him. Give him a piece of your mind because he obviously thinks you don't have one. When you're within earshot you can catch the "Fucking hell..." he says that soon trails off into a little laugh. He doesn't believe this is happening. Matty's like that. He doesn't believe in much.
"Look, bodyguard. Chill, yeah?"
What he said just fires you up and you end up being the complete opposite of what he suggests. "Oh, you think you're real cute now, do you? Like, trap girls in your web of poetry and philosophy and deepness. I'd rather read Edgar Allan Poe all day."
"Really, Mini? Namedropping like that? Holy gee whiz, you're hilarious. What now? Should I play along and pretend that you've actually read any of his stuff?"
The soft way he speaks. He talks like honey and his words kind of stick like it too. You've only read Raven and The Cask of Amontillado but so what? Matty's probably masturbated to Poe's entire collection for all you fucking care and could somebody please tell you where the glory is in that?
He clinks his beer bottle to yours, mocking. It makes you want to shower him in lager and a confetti of broken glass. See how he'll like you then.
"Do all the reading you want… but listen, she's not the kind of girl you can read about on Wikipedia."
The door to the ladies swings open again. It's Franky. "Hi," she says to you.
You're too angry to return her smile. You want more than anything for him to go away.
Then Matty puts his arm around her and she eases into him. Franky gives you a small wave before they walk away to the dance floor. You watch their backs. From here they're roughly the same height.
That fucking hobbit. He thinks he's so special…
Really though, fuck him and his intellectual elitism.
There's a sound of a lock sliding open and from the mirror you can see Liv emerging from one of the cubicles in the toilets. She holds out these tiny paper bags with a triumphant grin. She mouths what it is. MD.
You hurry to her, taking one, two, three bombs. "You're a fucking saviour, you know that?" you tell her, about to take a fourth when she closes her hands.
"Leave some for the rest."
Seconds pass with the both of you still, eyeing the other.
"Fuck the rest."
You paw at her hands, trying to prise them open. It's not long before she sighs and her grip loosens.
It's a high-speed dream and you're racing on fucking rainbows. The music: louder. The people: touchier. You're cr-cr-crazy and this is gonna take a while.
This is the best night in like, fucking ever.
Liv slaps another bomb into your hand.
Turns out it was the last one and the comedown happens about an hour later but it's horrible. You and Liv take a booth and sulk like pussies until this guy squeezes in next to you and offers to buy a round of shots. And then another. And another. You and Liv, you've got your heads tipped back, the liquor plenty and setting fire to your throats. Next thing, he's grabbing your tit.
You kick him out of the booth. Literally. He's going to hate four-inch heels forever now because of you.
Liv, though still in a bit of a drunken stupor, gets up in alarm. She stumbles out of the booth to find the guy still on the floor. She gives him another kick. "Stay down, bitch. Thanks for the drinks by the way." Liv blows him a kiss.
She takes hold of your wrist and you both clumsily run for the exits.
Franky's there when you get outside. She's sharing a smoke with Matty. They move apart when you and Liv burst through the door.
Somebody's turned on the Reality Channel again.
You laugh, loudly. "Ha. Ha. Ha. Oh, sorry. God, Liv. We're such arseholes, aren't we? Interrupting such a special moment…" You're vaguely aware that you just sent some spit flying but you're shaking so hard you're more worried about staying on your feet.
You turn to Liv for support. She's leaning against the brick wall. Worse for wear, no better.
Matty's staring with those damned psycho eyes and Franky's looking at you like you're an extremely difficult mathematical theory she had to prove.
You want to flip them off but your legs give way before you can do it so you grab on to Liv and end up dragging her down with you as well. That's how you and your best friend become officially useless.
Matty takes Liv and Franky chooses you because it wouldn't work any other way.
You pass out with your arm around her shoulders and hers around your waist. The rest of the night is a black cloud.
Some time at daybreak, your alarm goes off and you're surprised to find yourself in your own room. Your stomach's alarmingly empty and your arms and legs feel like they're not even yours. The sun's out and slicing through your butterfly curtains. The clock's stopped ringing. You were supposed to go for a run fifteen minutes ago.
You snuggle deeper into the duvet.
It's this pleasant morning chill, here in the backyard. You like eating outside because you watch what you eat and it would be great if the rest of the world helped and watched along with you.
The hangover is dying down when your mother steps through the sliding doors, closing her bright orange "Garfield" bath robe with the tacky tiger stripes tighter around her. There's a scorched area at the hem from that one time you actually tried to burn it because 'yes, Mum. It's just that unforgivably ugly.'
"My girlie," she says through her tired smile. She stands there and looks at you. Eyes small, head tilted to one side. "He was quite the looker, hmmm?"
"What?" Some nut flies out of your mouth. You close it, chew and swallow. Then open it again to ask, "Who?"
"That boy who brought you home. Dark hair, nice smile."
She's being a fucking cougar again and it makes your breakfast swim in your stomach. In a way you don't like. And fuck no. You're not having this conversation right now. Not about Nick.
"He's a bit tiny though, isn't he sweetie?"
Then the gears turn faster in your head. She wasn't talking about Nick at all.
You like how her clothes are tailored to fit her now. Sort of… another set of skin. Compared to last year, her clothes aren't as oversized and it's like she's not hiding anymore. The jackets and the trousers hug her nicely and she looks better than ever, fashion-wise. She's still the girl who wears men's clothes but the reception is different these days.
She walks by and the girls at college eye her hungrily and you want to shove your fingers into their sockets so they'd stop.
Men are quick to fire up your cigarettes and you've never found yourself in need of carrying a lighter around. Just like that. You never had to buy your own drinks either. Being good-looking. It's a whole other currency.
So you're here tonight at The Thekla and every man aged teen to forty is looking at you as is expected. There's this one guy, probably married, probably in his mid-life crisis, in a suit. And he's pleased with you and seeming very capable to pay for things. You meet his eyes, hold them.
One, two, three… and then slowly look away.
You pop out a hip (only the greatest women know how to do this while seated) and pout. This is all for better measure and like an easy puppet he's next to you in seconds, all "Would the lady like a drink?"
"A cosmopolitan then," you say, because it's how pink probably tastes. "Please."
And then the drink's in your hand and now he thinks he's earned the right to sit on the barstool next to you. To his disappointment, you take a small sip and gingerly hop out of yours. You thank him and leave, not really knowing what to do if he were to come after you.
Still. You go on and hold the drink well, despite the moving and drunk bodies. And she's there across the room and laughing with Grace and being so effortlessly bright and you're just so drawn to this, this air around her. And what an unstoppable force you are, expertly clearing people out of your path. You have Moses on your side, parting seas of every kind.
Alo bursts to his feet when you reach them. "McGuinness! We've missed you."
You playfully push him down into his seat again. Pat his head and say, "That's sweet, Farm Boy."
You slide up to her. Knock shoulders like it's an honest mistake and she turns to you with an enormous grin on and it makes your knees a little less reliable.
"Hey, babe. Drink?"
She takes the glass from you and you remember earlier this night, you went through four wardrobe changes before you chose to wear a skirt. And when Franky's squeezing your knee with her free hand as thanks, it was actually a really good call... losing the tights.
The mass of rugby jocks pass by in purple and yellow, appearing to be in no hurry for their next class. They're about to go into the locker rooms and it's times like these when you remember that you used to date Nick. You still have no idea what he was on. Quitting the team.
Rider does a stupid thing with his eyebrows at you and you make sure to roll your eyes twice.
When they're all gone you spot someone left on the rugby pitch. It's Matty and he's sitting, writing something… furiously… onto a sketchpad propped on his lap. You're quite a distance away but you can see that he's muttering to himself. God, he's so fucking weird. You'd only feel safer if you knew he was locked up in Azkaban.
Grace waves at him.
"For fuck's sake, Grace," you hiss. "I don't want you getting caught in his black magic shit. He's doing voodoo, obviously."
You turn on your heel and walk the opposite direction, expecting Grace to be tottering behind you any second.
It's a Friday and Grace invites you over to her place because her parents are going away for the weekend for some fancy conference in London so she has the large, magnificent Blood Residence at her complete disposal.
While you and Liv are mixing drinks for later, Grace and Franky cook dinner. An hour and a half passes until you're all sat around Grace's massive dining table and having an impressive meal of prawn salad and croutons, caramelised veal, and hazelnut and raspberry meringue. The wine flows in earnest, as does the conversation.
The Blood's have a hot tub out in the back deck and each of you have a back to each side. Franky's sat across you, her wifebeater is wet and clinging to her. It's become sheer and you can see that her bra's black underneath and you find this incredibly sexy.
Liv slams her shot glass down onto the edge of the tub. "Ladies, I think we're running out of fuel." She taps at the empty tequila bottle, reaches over for another pitcher and pours what's left of it in her glass. "To go," she explains, rising out of the water.
Franky takes a sip of her drink, rum and coke, and says, "Where you going?"
Liv steps out of the hot tub and pulls a towel off the rack nearby. "I want a highballer as well. Grace, be a dear and help me out?" Liv's looking at you while she asks this and now even Grace is looking at you, confused and thinking she must've heard Liv wrong because she has yet to respond to Liv's request.
Your best friend gives you a final imploring look before turning to Grace and saying, "Come on, then. I want to see Headmaster Blood's real liquor stash."
So it's just you and Franky now and you finally realise that this is probably some ploy of Liv's and you now understand why she kept making those meaningful faces just then.
Liv, you cow.
You were a chatterbomb a minute ago but now you can barely face Franky. You're being obvious and inside, you're heavily chastising yourself for being so… uncool. You smile at her in desperation and you just know it's showing, how nervous you are. She returns the smile but it's quick and she's sipping at her rum and coke again.
Gracie's got her BlackBerry hooked to a set of speakers and you recognise the intro of a song you like. It's Britney Spears' "Till the World Ends".
Usually, you keep yourself in check. But your piña colada glass is four sips away from empty so you mouth along to the song when the chorus kicks in. Whoa oh oh oh oh oh oh oh ohhhh. You turn to her and think that you want to be closer.
So you take your piña colada, get up, wade through the water, and sit beside her. Question, "Have you seen the video for this?" anyway, knowing full well that Franky isn't that interested in pop culture.
But then she surprises you, answers, "Yeah, once. It was cool. How they made it… I mean, the effects. Lots of light flares… Kind of fascinating, really."
She says things like that about music videos charged with trashy orgy vibes and excessive body pumping.
You'll never understand the logic in that but then again, you never did with special people.
You look at her, trying to figure her out.
"What?" she says, defensive. "Jeff's a fucking fan. He listens to her all the time."
Her embarrassed smile pulls you in and then you kiss her. You pull away and it's fine. She's smiling. The bubbles are rich around the both of you. The water is warm and scented lightly with Mrs. Blood's milk salts from Thailand.
This is what you taste on Franky's lips.
You decide to go in for another one.
She giggles against you this time around and you can feel her puffs of hot air on your face. She presses her lips to yours playfully and yeah, it'd be a good idea to just take what you can get right now but you're serious and wanting to get your point across. You grab at her shoulder and pull her in closer. It's the roughest you've ever kissed her and you're there in your underwear, in a hot tub, not really believing any of your luck.
It's short-lived, though, because a moment later, against your better judgment, you yank her wifebeater up. You get it above her ribcage and she makes a strangled noise that you can feel because your mouths are connected. That's when you think too far, you've gone too far.
You try pulling her top back down, repair the damage, but she's already pushing you off. Water sloshes out of the tub violently. "You're taking the piss, right?" she says and oh, God she still thinks this is all a joke to you.
You try for more words but it's as if her name's the only one left in your vocabulary.
She gets out abruptly. Grabs one of Grace's purple towels on the rack. Franky storms off. Leaves a wet trail on the deck as she goes.
You fumble for your piña colada. Take out the tiny umbrella and toss it away angrily. You throw your head back and instead of the 'four sips to an empty glass', you finish it in one go. Her little footprints are still on the hardwood floor, half-dry.
The next day, at college, you're both in the library for free period. She catches you staring and it's a breath or two before she turns away and frowns. You can sense her frustration from across the room. A split second later, her expression changes and she's obviously clueless as to what to do with you. At last, she settles on gracing you with a crooked smile.
You'll think about this confusing exchange for another two weeks. You will lose sleep. You might even lose a couple of pounds…
It's going to fucking kill you.
So I dig caves in every mountain in search of your soul
And then, when I've found you with my fingers all stiff and cold
I'm gonna kiss you on the forehead and do all I can
To bury you deeper this time to look for you all over again
- Paper Bird, "Matchstick Man"
"Matty's having a gig later tonight," Nick says to you all in the common room. He's also handing out free apples. His eyes scan the room like a hawk, looking to grow his audience. He finds one of his mates who's still on the rugby team and points at him to get the guy's attention.
"Oi, Darwin. Matty's on at Toxic Amplifier later. Tell your boys!" he says, crossing back over into his Captain mode. Nick throws him an apple and the guy misses it and gets hit in the face instead.
Nick holds his hand up apologetically but Darwin's already walking away. Nick sniggers and like it's the most natural thing in the world, he puts his arm around Liv.
"He was always shit at receiving," he tells us. "It's a wonder he's still on the line-up."
"Yeah, that's what you say…" Liv turns to the lot of you, announces, "His aim was totally off."
Nick turns to Liv. "You're mean, you know that?"
"I'm mean? I'm not the one hitting people in the face with fruit."
They share a laugh. Liv smiles, despite herself.
If those two are getting on again, there's no reason why you and Franky shouldn't be either. So you try to catch her eye.
Problem is… she just won't let you.
You're late on purpose, not excited about this at all. You get there and Matty's already at the front with his keyboard. Grace says they're just about to start. The sound checks are dying down and Matty speaks into the mic, working the audience.
"This first song goes out to the light who never goes out…"
He's looking at her and, well, yeah… Basically everyone in the fucking room knows how he feels.
It's not fair. Because there isn't any skywriting big enough to tell the world, tell her how you feel, while he's here, doing all this insufferable crazy-eye-shit and fucking hell, why is it so easy for him?
Right now, you want the deepest oceans to open and swallow you up.
The song is about wanting and things you can't have. Full of metaphors that are supposed to be sad but très très romantique.
It gets Franky to blush. His voice breaks a little, at this extra emotional part, and you can't help notice how much Franky looks like a girl right now, her eyes taken by him completely.
"Mins, you alright?"
She hasn't spoken to you in days and all of a sudden she's asking you if you're okay. Well, apart from the fact that you can't write a fucking song about her, yeah, you're fucking fantastic.
"Actually, I think I'll be going out for some air…" you say, already getting off your seat.
Outside, the brick walls of Toxic Amplifier are lined with posters and stickers of bands you don't recognise. Even the big trash bin has marks of obscure names in their music scene. You feel it all the more, how you don't fit in this world.
Rich also happens to be there. He's speaking with who you believe to be the owner of the club. His name's Bob, Toxic Bob, and aside from owning the club he's got a record shop hidden somewhere in South Bristol. You've heard from Liv that it was Rich who helped Matty get the gig so this might be why he's out here, chatting Toxic Bobby up like they're really great bowling buddies or whatever.
Toxic Bob pats Rich's back a couple of times before passing you and giving you a look that tells you that he's surprised to see a girl like you at a place like this. He shrugs his shoulders and gets back inside. Then Rich sees you and you give him a polite nod. He comes a little closer.
"That was Bob. He owns the place. They think Matty and his guys are good… for progressive indie drum and bass, I mean."
His hair's long enough to earn him immunity from Justin Bieber jokes and it's taking a while to get used to.
"And am I supposed to call Matty's progressive indie drum and nonsense music?"
Rich rolls his eyes. "Yeah, whatever." He shoves his hands into his pockets before walking away.
God, must you be such a bitch?
He's grabbed the door open and he's already ducking through the doorway but instead of disappearing in completely, he turns around and quickly makes his way back to you.
"Alright, out with it."
"Well, something's obviously bothering you. You're out here. All alone. No posse."
When he says 'posse', you almost can't tell whether you want to A) laugh in—or B) punch—his face.
"What is it then?" he says, looking concerned… Amazingly.
So when did he get so fucking sensitive? You sigh. Figure it wouldn't hurt talking to him. "You and Grace. Have you ever wondered…"
"Why we're together?"
You nod sheepishly when he leans back, possibly offended. He examines you, trying to figure out your intentions. Like fuck he'll understand where you're coming from.
So you laugh a bit nervously, not wanting to seem so desperate for an answer. Like this conversation isn't a big deal. "Yeah, because you're both so—"
"Bizarrely different, I know."
Today you find out that Richard Hardbeck is your soul mate. He's finishing your sentences like the two of you were separated at birth.
"Of course I wondered. Grace and I had nothing in common…"
"So how did it happen? What did you do?"
Rich smiles and it's not like him. To be smiling. Especially at someone like you.
"I guess I just let it happen. Opposites attract, McGuinness. Think magnets, yeah? They're always going to need to be together and you could try and keep them apart, but that pull between them… You can't make that go away."
There's a distance. A strain with her. It gets to you and that's why you put sugar in the salt-shaker and get stuck in the fucking revolving door (on your way to Maths) for an extra round and forget that your bicep curls go for five reps. Not four.
Dying to see her. This is what it's called.
You're Mini McGuinness. You don't wait around and let fate work its lazy course. You make things happen.
She picks up after the eighth ring.
"Can I come over?"
You're in her inner sanctum and it's so nice and cosy in here. Her attic, where it's closer to the stars.
It's your first time here and when she goes downstairs to get something, you whizz around the room and scrutinise everything with so much concentration, it's kind of retarded. Franky's got her decks by the window and her walls have posters of movies and bands from every decade.
In one corner there's a miniature cardboard street. It has small-scale buildings, lampposts and buses and everything. Like a recycled town. And standing a few feet away from the set-up is a tripod. You're going to have to ask her about that sooner or later. So you have something to say those times you feel like striking up a random conversation with her (which, by the way, was all the time).
Then you spot a sewing machine and of course a wizard like her, who makes all these unconventional fashion pieces, would have something like that in her room. You pause and see it in your head. Franky in a reality show competition. Something like Project Runway or Work of Art. It intimidates you, that those aren't total impossibilities.
Franky, she knows how to do most things. To make most things. She's so handy. You could picture living in a small house, just you and her. And she'll know how to do everything. She'll fix shit if it's broken and she'll screw light bulbs in and she'll spoon-feed you chicken soup when you're down with a nasty cold and she'll even fucking walk the dog, a Scottish Terrier that you'll dress in these tiny chic doggie dresses and name Cher.
She'll make you believe that you won't ever need anybody else in your whole life.
The door swings open and she's back. She has a bottle of vodka in one hand and Apple Sourz in the other. She holds the Apple Sourz up. "Heard it's your favourite."
You laugh. "Well, you've heard right."
She smiles. "Good."
For a moment there, you feel like a tit for forcing this. The two of you talk but it's mostly about nothing and it's quiet and not the good kind. You want to say something one second but you stop because you feel like she wants to be saying something too. So you're just there, feeling all sorts of silly and asking yourself, "What the fuck am I doing?"
She reads you something from The Little Prince. It's the chapter with the Little Prince and a fox and a rose. It's about taming things. And how you're responsible for the things you've tamed. And the time you spent on something, that's what makes it unique and special.
"Isn't it beautiful?" she says, the book still open on her lap, the illustrations upside-down from where you are.
It's a kid's story and it's almost too simple that you can't understand it… But yeah, if it makes Franky's eyes light up like that then you suppose it is.
She's a little stoned. So are you. And the both of you spend the rest of the afternoon lying on her bed, talking and listening to La Roux and it's so nice that you don't mind that there's this big space and an empty bottle of Sladki between the two of you.
Franky scoots in a little closer to light your second spliff. She stays there, next to you and you're there wishing something would fucking happen. You take a drag and blow the smoke out into her face because you reckon it'd be erotic or whatever. And it kind of is, really, because her eyes slowly flutter shut when the smoke drifts over her… and when they open again they show you the most comforting kind of brown.
And then something does happen…
"Touching," she says, face sad. "I don't like it much."
Minutes pass. So do some other words. Even then, she still hasn't stopped dancing her fingers across your skin.
It gets better since you more or less do everything with her now. You're at her house almost every day and you've gotten to know her dads. You don't have a dad. She has two. And you want to steal one away from her but you don't know which because they're both so lovely.
Jeff teaches you how to bake and he's always on about baking being a 'science, not an art.' And you don't exactly gorge down on his cakes and pastries but you get a real kick out of the smells, especially when something comes fresh and hot out of the oven.
And then there's Geoff. And he's just so old and spirited, someone you should've known when you were a kid. He's always telling you stories about his life, and he tells them in this corny theatrical way that you're kind of looking forward to every visit.
(Though you still absolutely detest that he thinks there's nothing wrong with wearing wifebeaters over t-shirts.)
You start joining them for tea and you have them both there, sat across their marble tea table. The teasing, the anecdotes, the knowing smiles, the way they always have to be touching somehow. And you kind of envy how they play against another. Like how two people in love should be. And Franky's there, absently popping hors d'oeuvres in her mouth, and you think I fucking want this for us too.
Roundview plans to revive the Love Ball tradition for Valentine's Day and you're absolutely delighted about this. Any chance to dress to the nines give you the fucking butterflies.
Blood calls on you to organise the whole shebang of course. Parties and social events are your thing, and he knows this. Through the months, Blood's always been asking your opinion on things. Sometimes you find yourself in his office, picking out which bowties went best with his Italian suits.
It cracks you up because he honestly thinks you know best. It's not that you don't. Really, it isn't. It's just that… this, all this fashion stuff… it's not all you know.
You're pure perfection in an ivory Grecian dress and your hair, loose curls, all held in a pretty updo.
The ball's in the college Main Hall and when you walk in, you're not exaggerating or anything, but everyone drops what they're doing just to look at you. Even the fucking music dies down a bit. You're a fucking show-stopper, exactly as planned.
Franky sees you and she's just as stunned as the rest of them. She's looking at you in that way you've only dreamed about and what makes it even more perfect is that she's there, across the room, in this sleek black tuxedo. Thin lapel tie, tapered slacks, hair extra neat, looking so fucking killer that when she comes over, you have to remind yourself a bazillion times to keep your fucking cool.
You can barely get your words out.
The highlight of your night is when she asks Alo if she could cut in and dance with you. The song's slow. Arms-around-her kind of slow. You're absolutely thrilled.
You're taller than her, more so with your heels on, but it's still pretty sweet. You worry that she can hear your heart. Her head's just about where it is, beating like a crazy bastard.
Doug comes on stage a little late into the night and he holds his hands up to the DJ to stop the music. He tells everyone Nick's won an award. A Prom King type award. "On this day of hearts, I'm happy to crown the king of them all! Roundview College, say hello to your new King of Hearts…"
He's corny as fuck but he's got everybody in the mood and they start cheering and all. Nick gets so many pats on the back as he walks through the crowd and Doug shakes his hand when he steps onto the stage. He gets a tacky looking crown with a tacky looking sceptre and he's standing there with a faux-nervous expression, waiting for the next winner.
And it's no surprise or whatever, when Doug calls out your name. Queen of fucking Hearts. Try putting that on a fucking resume. Still, you're smiling wide and giggly. It's stuff you can always fall back on whenever you get an inferiority complex when you're older, when you have a shit job or something. You can always tell people that you won Queen of Hearts during your days at Roundview.
The King and Queen are supposed to have the first dance because that's how it goes. Nick's fast on his feet but he carries you okay. He knows his shit. He twirls you round and the both of you sway to the edges of the crowd and then back to the center of the dance floor and then back to the edges of the crowd again. They all go nuts and the girls, you can hear them sigh. The spotlight's on you and him and you're supposed to be bathing in its glory, really in the fucking moment and whatever… But every spin, every turn, you're looking for another face.
And when you don't find it, your thoughts fly.
Next thing, it's all questions and worries. You want to stay still and get mindfucked in peace but your situation won't allow for it. So you keep moving along. Clumsier. Like a giraffe on stilts. It's a good thing that Nick doesn't complain every time you step on his toes.
You dance with some people with half a heart. You're trading moves with Alo when Liv bursts into the scene, all troubled. She drags you to the side and tells you where Franky is. "I don't know what's up. Even Grace can't get her to talk."
Liv looks at you, expectant. "Do something."
Matty's there with her. He's cleaned up and you don't remember seeing him inside. You believe he thinks these school functions are a joke and a waste of money or something. But yeah, he's here and he's dressed decent, very different from his shabby, usual self. They're not speaking, you notice, and that's when Matty spots you.
His face darkens and he gets up. He leaves her without saying good bye and he slows down to a stop in front of you to say, "Well then, bodyguard," clearly bitter about something. He's got this dangerous tongue so you only glare at him because you aren't really in the mood for a verbal spar.
Matty shrugs his shoulders and looks over his shoulder, taking one last look at Franky. "Go on, try your luck," he says icily.
Franky's sitting on the curb, hugging a half-empty bottle to her stomach. Her little puffs of breath are visible in the air, in the February cold, and she's on that fucking curb and it makes you feel so awful. You want so desperately to rush to her now-now-now but there's something stopping you and you wait until Matty's out of sight before you do anything.
He's gone and you take in a big breath. Then you walk.
You don't know why that came out of your mouth, it just sort of did. The pavement is dirty and your dress is cleaner than Snow White's fucking face but you sit down next to her anyway. "What's going on?"
You feel pretty stupid, asking it. They, Liv and Grace and Matty… They've probably asked the same thing.
"I dunno. I just feel shit. Really, really shit."
You're hyper-aware of everything. The dust in the air, the colours of cars driving by. The sound she makes when she's screwing the bottle cap open. The stench gives the vodka away. It's always vodka. You should've guessed.
Franky passes the bottle to you and you take a swig. You keep the bottle with you because you think she's had more than enough.
She keeps poking and bumping into you. Like a puppy or something. "Give it back. Give it back." She's got a hand on your shoulder and that's her mantra as she shakes you. She's moving you harder, thinking you'll drop the fucking bottle and when your stupid crown falls off you decide that her antics are annoying the shit out of you.
But then Franky gives up. She starts touching your face with clumsy fingers, they're tracing all over. Your nose, lips, your eyelids.
"Why are you so goddamn beautiful?" Franky says, so goddamn drunk.
And you don't know what to say to that. You just don't.
"I'll take you home," you finally settle on, after a pained bout of silence.
"Franks, hey." You shake her a bit. Try to be as gentle as you can. "Franky, wake up. We're here." You pat her head one more time before exiting the cab and stepping onto the pavement.
A second later, her head juts out. "Where?" she says sleepily.
You step aside, so she can see her front door. And when she does, her eyes kind of widen really quickly and suddenly she's all alert now and everything, you couldn't believe she spent the last half hour being such a magnificent twat.
"Shit. I can't go in there. I'm not… I'm not right… proper… whatever."
She's right. She is a mess.
Well, that's twenty-five quid of taxi money down the drain. You put your hands on her hips and stare down at her hard, deliberately patronising.
"My dads'll kill me," she says in this miserable tone and she doesn't know that she's doing it but she's asking you for something and she has no idea what that is. So you get back in the cab and spell it out for her.
"We'll go to my place then. Mum's out all night anyway. No one's going to be there. How does that sound?"
She stares at you blankly for a bit, and you're about to repeat the question but then she starts nodding her head furiously and muttering, "Yeah, yeah. Your place. Better."
You shut the door, not exactly ecstatic about taking her home. You hated bringing people over. Your house is fucking tiny and your mum is fucking embarrassing ninety percent of the time.
The driver gets your address and the cab starts moving again. You imagine Franky in your cramped house, knocking things over because she had no room to move. You feel the makings of an anxiety attack.
But then Franky drops her head on your shoulder but she sort of misses so she nuzzles further into you, into your tits and everything. It tickles and you try very hard to keep still and breathe slow so she'd stay like that, exactly like that, against you.
You're not that scared anymore. And maybe it won't be so bad, having her in the house.
The radio's on. Franky knows the words. Well, the choruses mostly. At some of the verses, she just hums. The windows are rolled down and the night chill rushes inside as the taxi moves in and out of a thousand streetlights.
It's like one of those rides. The ones in amusement parks that give you this clawing feeling at the pit of your stomach. It's like that right now and you don't want it to end.
She's in your room. The girl you jerk off to in the cover of these very four walls. She's in here, sat on one corner of your bed, looking like a dashing, windswept prince and it's a little hard to believe.
"Mind turning around?"
Franky picks a spot on the floor and stares hard at it. That's good enough for you and with your back to her, you change out of your Grecian dress and into a chemise. You do it quick and when you whip around, lo and behold…
You want to, but you won't call her on it. She's blushing hard enough already.
"I need to use the—"
"Second door on the right," you say before she could finish.
Franky bolts out of there for the bathroom and while she's away you start thinking about all the ways this night could play out. You're so hot and bothered by the time she comes back that you casually suggest that she should take her clothes off.
"C'mon, let's get you ready for bed," you say, not meaning to make it sound wrong. But it kind of did and at this point, you expect her to run off again. But by some twist of fate… that or she's probably too pissed to notice your advances, she stays where she is.
You hesitantly reach for the lapels of her jacket. Let your fingers curl around them. You take the jacket off of her and the wind the movement creates lets you catch a hint of her perfume mixed with spilt alcohol in the black satin. You hang it up so it won't get all wrinkled, inhaling it deeply one last time.
She's waiting for you to finish and she's just keeping still and watching you do all this. It's kind of like having a ghost in the room. The thought's amusing so when you walk back to her, you feel less tense. More capable of chit-chat.
"You looked pretty sharp tonight, Franks," you say, loosening her tie.
The tie slides off around her collar as you pull at it. After this, you make the mistake of looking into her eyes. You're a fucking goner again.
It becomes hard to speak because your brain really can't handle that right now. It's too much fucking effort, trying not to pass out in front of her and your hands are shaking as you undo the buttons of her blouse.
You're halfway down when she realises what you're doing and that's when she makes you stop. She says, "No," and your hands still immediately.
And she's looking at you and you're looking at her and all you want to do right now is rip this shirt right down the middle and do to her what you always thought of doing to her when you had your hand in your knickers all those nights you couldn't sleep. And you're not so sure about what to do with your fingers but you're going to pry her open and try to twist and bruise her insides. Fuck her so hard and so good she won't be able to take it the next time.
You're filthy. Disgusting. And you might just go through with it. How can anyone think of that and not do it? She's practically at your mercy and you could have her any way you wanted tonight.
Control. Repression. Moderation. You don't know what these words mean anymore.
So it's kind of impossible, what you end up doing next.
It's at the open collar where you reach for first. Your fingers are on her neck then slipping into the inside of her shirt and smoothly, ever so smoothly, you part your hands to opposite sides. They slide across and away on her shoulders, carrying the fabric with them. Her shoulders, they're now bare, and the skin you feel here makes you wish nobody else has touched it before because it's smooth and incredible and oh, God, you should be the only one.
Franky watches you in some sort of mellowed surprise. And you try to keep your eyes trained on hers. Try to tell her things. Quietly.
You love how she's so warm underneath your hold. How your fingertips graze over her bra-strap, picking up sweat along the way. You even love the way your thumbs climb the slope of her collarbones. She's that small, that you can get a hold of everything all at once.
And slowly, you move your right hand aside and kiss her where it used to be. She draws in a breath and her shoulders rise. Your lips are pressed on her skin and you think yes when she tips her head back so you could, maybe, touch her everywhere else.
So it's kind of impossible, what you end up doing next.
You pull away and pull the fabric back up. She blinks disbelievingly as you button her shirt to the top with a dexterity that baffles even you. She's fully-clothed but you get her into your bed anyway then you wait until she falls asleep.
You have never slept on the floor of your own room before. Ever. But you close your eyes happily. You've got her and you've got that dizzy-good feeling.
There's a note on your bed the next morning. You fucking hate notes in the mornings.
Had to go. Thanks.
That's all it says. After everything you did, that's all she has to say.
So you cry a bit.
Actually, a lot.
Then you go to the gym.
So you freaked her out.
At college, save for English and Psychology, you don't see much of her and you work out that she's purposively avoiding you because Grace and Alo and Rich have all said that they've seen her around.
Franky doesn't answer your calls. Or your texts. Two days ago, you crossed Pero's Bridge, about to throw your fucking mobile into the waters because her name never-ever-ever shows up. But then your mum calls to ask you where you left the 5-pound weights because her biceps are bordering jello and you end up talking to her until you reach your house and by then you've already forgotten that you wanted to get rid of the blasted thing.
You feel so fucked.
Your mum takes you out to dinner one night and asks you how you are. The entire time you're rearranging your food, piling them up together so it'd look like there are spaces on the plate. So it'd look like you've eaten some. Your mum doesn't notice. She never notices when something isn't right.
She never notices that something isn't right even when you say, "I'm living the fucking dream, Mum."
You tell her that same night. Just after she takes her coat off and pours you some late night tea. You tell her.
Mum, I'm in love with a girl.
Then you sort of, sob in her arms and tell her everything else until you fall asleep.
She doesn't say anything the entire time. It's like she knew all along. And it's nice. Your mum being like a real mum.
It's been two weeks and today, you wake up wanting some fucking explanation. You hunt Franky down at college after third period and you get her into the closest room where you could lose your shit in private. That room, in some perfect coincidence, happens to be the Drama Room. Where the walls are soundproofed and without the spotlights, the stage is dark. This is your chance to just go ahead and use the energy of the place to knock yourself out.
You make her sit down. You want her to look smaller than she already is. So you can gather enough courage to say what you need to.
"You can't keep doing this!"
"Doing what?" she says, hysteric.
You want to slap her for playing dumb. You want to, so fucking bad.
"For fuck's sakes! Making me feel like I'm the most special girl in the world… Like I'm more than what everyone else thinks of me…" You're crying. Go figure. Well, at least her eyes are watering up as well. At least she fucking feels a tiny bit guilty.
"…and then you take it back," you say, spitting out the words. "You can't just do that. Say all this nice shit and not mean it."
Her cheeks are wet too right now and you're so satisfied, seeing her like this. That you can hurt her just as much as she hurt you. She gets up and she moves for you, tries to grab at your arm but against every instinct, you step away.
She didn't expect that at all. You didn't either. And she just looks at you, stunned. You turn away.
"I didn't take anything back. I meant it all."
You wipe at your eyes, try to control your breathing, needing your voice back. "You haven't looked at me properly for days. And not a word. You've been ignoring me."
"Mini, I wasn't ignoring you."
"Then what the fuck are you doing!"
She's got her head down. When she speaks, it's different but familiar. "I dunno. I just… didn't like, I don't know how to be around you anymore," she says lamely. "Don't get me wrong, I want to… but…"
"It's all just too much, okay?" Franky says, voice all raised and fuck. She's looking at you now and you notice that she's stopped crying. "You're the most gorgeous girl I know and you…" She hesitates. Breathes heavily for a bit. "And you want me. That shit just doesn't happen in real life. What did you expect me to do?"
She's standing there, honestly waiting for you to answer that stupid, stupid question and it breaks your heart.
You can't believe yourself. You're always chasing after the wrong people.
"Fuck, Franky. This isn't fair."
And you leave her there that day. You feel absolutely horrible about it, but your only other option would have been staying. And staying? Staying would've been worse.
Only God knows where you'd be if you stayed.
Sometimes, it escapes your mind. For an hour or two, you're lost in reruns of Countdown and telly-surfing. The emptiness, the freedom from feeling. It's so safe and undemanding that you think you can actually pass for a sane person.
But sometimes, you step out into the sun and remember that you hate her.
You really hate Franky Fitzgerald.
Liv helps. She was never keen on sushi but she goes to Masa with you anyway, because she knows that sushi's the only food you eat three pieces of in one sitting. On those afternoons you wield chopsticks and pick out food from a conveyor belt. Then you and Liv check out the stiff people in suits having their corporate lunches. You pick out the fuckable ones and Liv smiles wickedly when you gesture discreetly at the brunette with these heels you'd kill to have.
Your mum helps. She takes you out shopping every other day and you don't know where she gets the money but so far, your wardrobe has undergone a massive growth spurt with six new dresses, three new skirts, four new extra-sexy tops and a pair of black, sparkly flats from H&M.
At night, when you're doing coursework, you put Madonna on. When "Material Girl" starts, you get up and dance around in your room.
'Cause we are living in a material world and I am a material girl.
You see all these price tags you still have to cut off and you're as giddy as Rebecca Black on a fucking Friday.
Alo helps. He says you should smile more often.
So you do.
Prince William and Kate were spotted in some charity event and there are photos of them looking good-natured and the very vision of propriety alongside Becks and Posh. Next page. Daniel Radcliffe holding hands with Emma Watson. Then, a zoom-in of their linked fingers. There's a diamond ring on Emma's. The text surrounding the pictures are outrageous. Half the world is rejoicing and the other half is going apeshit. Next page. Lady Gaga claiming Amy Winehouse possessed her and wrote a song. "I just woke up and I didn't even remember doing it. Then I saw it on the walls. In Sharpie. Crazy. I feel blessed." There are shots of a hotel room's ruined paint job. A mess of lyrics in permanent marker.
Funny how shit like that is going to sell for, like, a billion dollars one day. That's how it works in the modern world and it's hard… getting your head around that.
You look up from your copy of Heat and you catch Franky Fitzgerald looking at you. You glare back at her and she doesn't look away… which is a first… but still, she should seriously stop looking at you so tragically. She's sitting there, staring, doing absolutely nothing about anything and what? You'll have her fucking babies now?
She makes you sick so you get up and read Heat somewhere else.
"I'm over her."
"Yeah, sure you are," Liv says.
"Bitch. I fucking am."
"Okay, you're over her. Happy?"
Nick and Alo are always around. And when Nick's busy cracking shit jokes and stealing glances at Liv from the corner of his eye, you and Alo get along marvellously. He's like this big, tall kid and being around him gets you wearing bright colours again.
He's always calling you Minerva, though. It's so archaic, it just might catch on.
Alo puts his arm around you and greets you by saying, "Farm-fresh eggs, you can't go wrong." He's having a fantastic morning, that much you can tell. Then Alo does something that he's never done before. He kisses the top of your head.
And the thing is… Everyone sees him do this.
The common room stops for a second and all eyes are stuck and curious on you and him. You catch Franky straightening up, looking at the two of you with a growing interest.
Alo notices every one staring. His arm slowly slides off your shoulders. "What?" he whines. "I showered this morning!"
So there's a fucking rumour now. That you're dating Alo.
At the hallways, you pass by each other and some arseholes are being so obvious as to slow down and wait for something to happen between the two of you.
His messenger bag strap is slung across his chest and he grabs at it awkwardly, frowning as he walks. Everyone starts leaning against their lockers, expectant. Fucking bastards wanting to see you eat his face on the way to the college green. What else do they want? Popcorn to go with the show?
Alo looks up in time and you manage to hold his eyes. He shrugs apologetically. He knows what's going on and he knows it isn't true. Knows it doesn't amount to a discussion.
You smile at him. A small smile.
And he smiles back. It's smaller.
You're in the library, revising for a pop quiz in Economics that Grace was kind enough to warn you about. It's quick since you've actually listened during the lessons and you're pretty sure you've got the concepts down. European Economy, your professor's favourite reference is such a boring read that you spend a full minute staring mindlessly at a fucking pie-chart.
You don't notice someone taking the seat next to you.
You pretend you didn't hear. She's been gone for a long time and this just might be another one of your hallucinations. Another one of your episodes.
Out of the corner of your eye you can see her brown boy-hair, a maroon jacket, her braces shimmering with her own spit.
You turn a page with purpose and once again, it's chock-full of lines and bars you don't understand. She hasn't taken the hint to fuck off yet and you don't want this at all, being able to smell her again. It reminds you that you always used to be with her. That she always used to be this close.
"So… you and Alo?" she says, being really subtle.
"Oh, so you give a shit now?"
You're shoving pens and notebooks back into your bag like a madwoman. You get to your feet and shut European Economy close, picking it up with shaky hands.
You leave violently, like a fucking whirlwind.
So what the fuck was that all about?
It makes you furious, how it's so easy for her. To sit down next to you, act like nothing happened, and ask if all the lies were true. Jesus, what an insensitive dick.
You sink yourself deeper into your couch. You're watching Clueless again, in a bathrobe, and telling yourself that the encounter with her yesterday was nothing. It's nothing and she doesn't want you.
There's popcorn and a pizza box on the coffee table where your feet are propped. You've taken enough slices to leave a Pacman shape inside the carton. You're bloated but determined to make yourself feel more awful.
You're downing Diet Coke (like it makes a fucking difference) and there's a gossip magazine in your lap that you look down at every ten minutes, circling all the sweat stains (with a pink marker) all while listening to Cher's troubled soliloquies about being young, loaded, and being unconsciously in love with her ex-stepbrother.
Clueless always manages to make you feel better and as the credits roll, nearing its end with the official soundtrack list, you catch a glimpse of one of the prominent songs in the movie. It was your anthem back when you were like… eight or something.
You're going to be a supermodel and your hair's going to shine like the sun. You're going to go by your real name. Minerva. And all the boys will want you but you'll be fucking their girlfriends behind their backs and life's going to go by so fast, so meaninglessly, that one day, it's not going to matter to you anymore. That there was this girl at college who missed out on what the both of you could have been.
Monday morning, you get a note. You hate notes in the morning.
Nick flicks it over so that it lands on your desk. You look to him and cock an eyebrow and he just grins back. He's probably asking to copy your Maths coursework so you unfold it slowly, expecting his chunky penmanship and a seemingly innocent suggestion that he borrow yours so he can 'countercheck' it with his.
So the note's staring you in the face and it's the last thing you expect it to be.
I'll make your week. I promise.
You read it again. Twice more. Another time. Then another. It's very short so you lose count over how many times you've read it.
Your hand balls up into a fist and the note's as good as trash right now.
She can't possibly be serious. What's she playing at?
You're sat at the front (you're that type of girl) so you turn around and she's there, two rows back, steadily returning your gaze.
Franky starts smirking quizically like she's so fucking determined about whatever she's got in mind and you're about to mouth a pretty nasty 'fuck off' but then think it better to just not give her any type of satisfaction.
You face forwards again, feeling dizzy and troubled all of a sudden. Even though Josie and her sock puppets aren't exactly the greatest show on earth, you still try your hardest to pay attention and not glance behind you for the rest of the period.
You wake up to a thumping sound and after you check the clock and discover that it's three in the fucking morning you realise that someone is throwing fucking pebbles at your window.
You make the mistake of drawing apart your curtains. Franky sees you and you immediately step back, further into the darkness of your room.
The bed's still warm when you return and slide underneath the duvet. You take your pillow and cling at it, not really knowing what to do. You're still groggy from sleep but you're already this unbearable mix of scared and nervous.
It's quiet for a bit and you're biting into the pillow, trying not to feel anything. You want her to go away. To stop playing with your fucking mind.
Franky is certain you're awake so she starts reciting these lines and you don't know much about literature so you really hate it because you happen to actually know they're Neruda and for fuck's sake they're already gorgeous on their own, but when she reads them they become a million times lovelier.
There are so many things you're pulled into doing right now and it takes all of your willpower to stay where you are. You pull the sheets tighter against you, imagining a python coiled around a dying animal. How that animal shouldn't be able to move anymore.
You have to keep where you are. You just have to.
So you lie there and she goes through six or seven sonnets and it's like listening to a dream.
She gives up after half an hour. Then she throws a couple more stones at your window, an effort to coax you out. After that, nothing. The silence makes you get up and peek through your curtains. The sinking feeling you get when you see the empty street hits you so hard, you're disgusted with yourself for being so affected.
On Wednesday afternoon, it's raining hard. The kind of weather that starts off apocalypse movies. History is being a boring fuck and you keep looking out the window and the parking lot's outside and you watch all the cars getting drenched, dazzled by comparison.
The professor, one of those oldie-disciplinarian types, calls for your attention and you apologise and make a show of scribbling furiously in your notebook, hoping to appear that you're very much in the mood for the rest of the lecture.
Next thing, there's a song playing somewhere. It's drowned out by the rain so you can't tell what it is. Heads are turning left and right, trying to locate where the music is coming from and it's not long before Alo points outside and says, "Where the fuck did she get that ghetto blaster?"
Everyone whips their heads to where Alo's pointing and Jesus Christ, it's her again. She's standing on the back of a pickup truck in combat parking, holding up a boombox that's just about half her size. The sight of her, under the rain, eyeliner fucked and smudged. She looks like a raccoon and you can see her teeth chattering like mad. The sight of her like this does something to you.
The professor frets about and mumbles expletives under his breath before opening a window and shouting at her. "You think it's funny? Oh, you have nerve, you punk! I'll report you and Blood will have your head, young man."
And of course the History professor, presumptuous twat he is, mistakes her for a boy.
He rushes out in a huff, leaving the room. This prompts the rest of the class to open the other windows and after that, the song's audible enough to be recognised. It's from that nineties movie, Can't Hardly Wait.
Yazoo's "Only You". A classic from 1982.
Boys cheer her on and some girls don't even bother concealing their desire. They start chatting amongst themselves, speculating and jealous. They're dying to discover who Franky is doing all this for. Alo leans in and catches the bulk of their conversation and while he's towering over them he shoots you a knowing look.
You want to kick him in the nuts.
When you poke your head out of the window, Franky brings the boombox down and sets it on a raised knee. She cranks the volume up and then thrusts the boombox out again, higher above her.
All I needed was the love you gave
All I needed for another day
And all I ever knew
You're rushing past people in the courtyard and Liv's trying to keep up with you. This is normal on Thursdays, on your way to your next class. You're running late again because you and Liv got carried away, practising for the weekly Spanish oral.
You get held up by a commotion in the courtyard. People are pointing at the sky and cupping their hands over their eyes so they can see despite the glare of the sun. Following suit, you spot a miniature plane flitting across the bright blue.
Trailing behind the plane, like a paper snake, is a banner. It's too far to read and all this fanfare loses its appeal to you because you have Spanish in five minutes. Liv follows your lead and the two of you cut the crowd in half and you're surprised at just how easy that was.
Turns out, the crazy toy plane lowered altitude and that's why they were getting out of the way. Now, you're not hallucinating or anything, but you swear to Christ that it's going straight at you. You're rooted to the spot by fear. If that thing ruins your hair or what, you will blow this fucking school up.
But something changes within you. The plane's zoning in closer and you don't know why but you're not so scared anymore. You trust it not to hit you and you just stand there, sort of daring the damned thing to do otherwise.
Go on. Go on, hit me.
The plane turns at the last possible second and it goes on and makes lazy, teasing circles around you. You can make the banner out now. The letters were cut out from cardboard and they're big and painted white. This close, they're impossible to miss and your heart stops after you've read them all.
I MISS YOU.
The roof. Something tells you to look up, to the roof. You squint and tilt your head back and there she is, on top of the P.E. department. She's holding a big controller, with an antenna and everything, and she's grinning down at you, braces glinting in the light.
You steady your breathing and ignore how weak your knees are right now. Franky's still smiling at you. Crazy and hopeful. It kills you.
You glance away, dismissive. The crowd gasps. (They really fucking do.) So you walk on, heels clicking dangerously on the concrete. You remind yourself that you're over this and watch the plane one more time before turning to Liv. "Don't, okay? Just don't."
Liv doesn't stop smirking. She says something in Spanish. She says it fast so you don't quite catch it.
"What did you say?" And Liv knows every time you ask that, you mean a translation.
Liv leaps in front of you, stopping you in your tracks. "I said," she starts, pausing emphatically to spread her arms out.
"Love is in the air."
You reckon that she saved the big finale for today. What else could possibly be left up her sleeve? You're distracted and restless the whole morning, on the lookout for more surprises. By the afternoon, right after the last bell rings, you're a bit hysterical because nothing has happened the entire day and you're walking the hallways slowly, knocking into people by accident. Stalling. You don't want to go home yet. You want to wait some more.
For what? She's been trying to win you over all week, what else are you asking for?
Exactly. You're a fucking fool.
The exact moment you realise this, the fire alarm goes off. You panic and run as fast as your heels will allow. Then the floor gets too slippery and you're tottering gracelessly down the hall. You don't want to risk a faceplant so you're forced to move more cautiously. With your pace slower, you notice something.
The walls (which you swear were white a minute ago) are stained a light green. You're stood there, smelling the air. The sweet sting. And then you start tasting your fingers.
It's not water.
It comes back to you in waves. That night, in her room. The way she laughs, the way she speaks, the way her eyes close. The way your heart shook when she touched you.
You remember how she came bursting back into the attic with drinks. Eager to please.
Heard it's your favourite.
You're all alone and wet and sticky. You cup your hands to catch the liquid and the clear green that pools up delights you in a way even rocket scientists can't explain. Outside you can hear delirious screams and people barking out orders and sirens blaring. Background music of a riot. There might be a fire somewhere inside the building but you don't really care.
In fact, you haven't smiled this big in weeks.
Back when you were younger your mum always used to take you out for picnics at Brandon Hill. She liked the high places so she could look down at all the people. She always brought you back to the same hill, to the same spot. And when she wasn't watching over you, her eyes were on strangers. What they were doing. What they were wearing. Who they were with.
Just one look at a person and she thought she had them down.
A little older, a little wiser, you realise that it's not always like that.
Sometimes, to get to know someone, you've got to split them open. See their insides.
Not much has changed when you were seven. People who visit Brandon Hill are still up to the same things on the weekends. Children are either chasing each other around or trying to skip stones in the ponds. There are middle-aged men running, shirts flapping against the curve of their beer bellies. Women are walking their little dogs. Teenagers pass, haggard pictures rubbing at their temples, obviously hung over from last night.
People still prefer hogging entire benches which explains why half of them in the park are occupied by one person.
Case in point: the old lady reading on the bench at the base of Cabot Tower. Her glasses perch low on her nose and they're about to fall off. As you approach her, with plans of sharing the bench, you steal a glance at the cover of the book in her lap and discover that it's Nicholas Sparks.
You try to suppress a snort but fail at that fantastically. She looks up from The Last Song to give you a massive glare for disturbing her. You want to flip her off and you toy with the idea for a second or two before turning directions and walking until the urge to offend the ancient sap disappears. You sit on the grass instead.
Now, you look up to watch the clouds sail over and cover the sun so that its beams come down in different intensities. Your eyes start to hurt so you close them. Feel the warmth hit your skin. The anger subsides, little by little, and is replaced completely with a strange surge when you see Franky Fitzgerald making her way up the hill.
The moment is absolutely perfect. Every step she takes, you imagine a planet falling in line. Birds are sounding off, the light goes soft and the breeze rustles through everything and carries scents of trees and flowers.
You breathe deeply and you finally get it now. That story she read to you. About the little prince and the rose and the fox. All along, it was about how people became important to each other.
"I found you," she says. With a relief that tells you that she's been looking all day and she's from Oxford and it's just so easy to get lost in Bristol. Because of this, you allow her a slight nod.
And she senses your reserve. "Right," she says, walking up to you. "An apology is in order."
You've got your legs stretched out on the grass and she gets down, to one side of them. "You see," she begins, on her knees in front of you. "I was overwhelmed. Like I said, you're too pretty for me."
That's bullshit but you keep your mouth shut. You wanted an explanation and now that you're getting it so no matter how ridiculous it is, you decide it's best to just listen.
"But then, I mustn't look that bad, right?" she says, your silence not seeming to faze her. "Since you fancy me and everything…" she mumbles, ducking her head down shyly. And then she turns to you, mock-serious. "You do fancy me, don't you?"
Fucking adorable wanker.
You love it and because you can't help yourself, you smile. Still, you refuse to speak. Not until Franky starts saying things you need to hear.
But you have to hand it to her. She knows just how to charm you, going on ahead and laying on the grass, just resting her head on your lap. The weight of it, of everything she knows, pleasant. Your eyes trail over her entire length. Her chest rises and falls. She's got her hands clasped together, on top of her stomach. Her legs are crossed at the ankle.
Franky's got Top-Siders on. Something dads would wear on Sundays when they were out with their kids and not arsed enough to wear socks. And she's moving, jerking them around to some jaunty song in her head. Her feet seem to be in a good mood and you think you want to remember this forever.
In the distance a boy buys balloons for a girl. They're your age and they've got balloons. They let them go and watch as the balls of colour scatter in the sky and it's amazing. They laugh. They kiss.
Then Franky's shoes stop dancing. "I really am sorry, you know."
You've always had a standard reply to this. No one has ever been an exception. Not your mum. Not even Liv.
Show me how sorry you are.
But you're better than that. You're different now and she's played such a huge part in that, so instead, you say, "I know." You tear your eyes away from the floating reds, yellows, greens and blues to smile at her. "Next time don't be such a shithead, yeah?"
She laughs softly. "Right. That's a deal."
When they're too high up, the balloons start bursting, one by one. The couple is gone and it's only now that you feel the grass tickling the back of your calves. She gets a hand to her hair, fixes her fringe. Sweeps it down in feathery wisps so that it covers her eyes.
"And you do know that you deserve so much better than me, don't you?"
You reach out with a tentative hand. Get the hair out of her face. And… there.
There she is again. A handsome girl. A beautiful boy. She's a little bit of everything, made out of so much. You think you can fit the whole world inside her heart because, yeah, maybe it's just that big.
She trembles when you touch her. You grin, pleased that you also have this power over her. Your fingers make lazy lines on her face, grazing her cheek, her jaw, the corner of her lips. And you breathe in big and deep before you tell her, "What we deserve, what makes us happy… Most of the time they're not the same things."
Her eyes water up and she draws her lips in after you say this. Her brow creases and she shuts her eyes angrily so the tears come out. "But if you really knew me. If you knew everything, all the shit I've been through. I'm messed up, Mins."
She says this like getting each word out hurts her and her hands fall to her sides and they're making fists and she's clenching them so hard, they're turning pink. It's hurting you too and everywhere you look, it's all blurry now because you're about to cry.
Your tears fall at the same instant you wipe hers away.
It was supposed to be easy. It was in the air, that you were going to make it out of this alive, without a scratch. The pad of your thumb is wet and you're cupping her face with the same hand. The back of your other hand rubs at your eyes. At your face. You've gotten so skinny over the past weeks that there's a sound your knuckles make when they bump over your cheekbones.
The things you should be saying are lodged in your throat and they're metaphorically choking you. You snap yourself out of this paralysis and gather yourself before speaking. "I'm ready for anything, Franky. But only if you promise me that you are too. You're not the only one with secrets."
Will she laugh when she finds out you grew up listening to whales having sex?
The question is just the first in a series of what-ifs and you're thinking deeply as you stroke the side of her face. The action soothes yourself more than it does her and you think she notices this because soon after, Franky turns her head on your lap. Presses her lips against your knee. She kisses it and the gesture is absolutely the most searing, most thrilling thing in the world right now.
She turns back and her stare carries something so heavy and so strong in it, you have a feeling that the brown of her eyes will be the first thing you'll want to see in the mornings.
"I love you," you say to her. Because if it were to anyone else, it wouldn't be the truth.
The look on her face afterwards. The recognition in those eyes. This is her, meeting you for the first time.
* * * fin