Saturday morning, Natalie's brother unceremoniously burst through her bedroom door, waking Natalie from a rather peaceful sleep.
"This is your junk. Mom says you have to unpack it today." He plopped a cardboard box with her name scrawled across the side in the middle of her room.
Natalie groaned in response. Her brother turned and left, turning on the lights in the room before disappearing into the hallway. Natalie groaned louder and burrowed beneath the covers, trying to will herself back to sleep. After a few minutes, she realized this was fruitless, and crawled out of bed. She plopped herself next to the box and started pulling things out of it. A few ribbons from elementary school - first place in the spelling bee, participation ribbon for basketball, etc - some picture frames featuring her and her cousins' popsicle-stained smiles. She took out a trophy for the dance competition she was in when she was in junior high and a few CDs that had been long forgotten. She was smiling through the memories as she removed each item from the box, until she got to a small pink journal with green flowers on it, secured closed by a cheap plastic lock. Natalie dug through the box and pulled out a jewelry box, opening the lid and unfolding a flap inside to reveal a secret compartment. Sure enough, a small plastic key lay safely inside. She used the key on the journal and opened it, the first entry dated mid-January of that year.
Natalie had spent most of the second half of her junior year and last summer alone in her room, so she had a lot of time to think...and write. The pages were crammed full of hurried words, tear-stained pages, and song lyrics. There was not a single blank page left in the small book. She didn't have to read the entries to remember what had happened, beginning the first day of the new semester.
Natalie awoke to the soft thump of a pillow hitting her back.
"Wake up, sleepyhead, we're going to be late for school."
Natalie groaned and pulled the pillow over her head. "I don't wanna."
"We can't be late for the first day after winter break. They say junior year is the most important year of your high school career."
Natalie lifted the pillow to give a disgusted look to the brunette standing beside her bed with her hand on her hip.
"Don't look at me like that!"
"You're too uptight."
"Uptight?!" She lunged towards the bed, grabbing the pillow out of Natalie's hand and hitting her with it. Natalie reached out and pulled the girl down onto the bed, both girls giggling. Their eyes met and Faye leaned in and gave Natalie a quick, hard kiss. They lay there smiling for a moment, still trying to catch their breath.
"What are we going to do? What...are we?"
Faye's playful smile faded and she sat up on the edge of the bed.
"Nothing can change. No one can know. We're just friends."
She looked back at the girl on the bed and saw the tears welling up in Natalie's eyes, even though she was nodding in understanding. Faye swallowed, feeling a lump start to form in her throat. "As far as anyone else is concerned, we're just friends."
The girls didn't speak as they finished getting ready for school. The air was thick with change, and Natalie felt a heaviness in her chest that seemed to grow as she packed up the last of her things into her duffle bag. She had accumulated a lot over the past two weeks, since she spent the majority of the time at Faye's, only going home to pick up more clothes.
It was all a blur of laughter and kisses; they barely saw anyone else, the only time they even left the house was to go to the park four towns over to lie in the outfield of the baseball diamond and look at the stars, they would be entwined, arms and legs, watching little clouds of breath float up to join their silvery friends in the sky. They would stay there until they couldn't stand the cold anymore, then they would race each other back to the car, blaring the heat and the music the whole way home.
But all that was over. It felt like forever but went by too fast. Natalie hoisted the duffle bag over one shoulder and walked up to Faye, who was standing in the doorway with her thumbs looped around her backpack straps. Natalie paused when she got next to her and Faye looked at her with sadness in her eyes. Faye reached out and brushed a strand of hair behind Natalie's ear before leaning in to give her a slow, soft kiss. She pressed her forehead against Natalie's and let out a little sigh. She turned and headed downstairs, and Natalie followed close behind. She could still feel the kiss on her lips. It felt like goodbye.
How did we ever go this far?
You touch my hand and start the car
And for the first time in my life
The car pulled into a half-empty parking lot and Natalie wiped away the single tear that escaped from her eye during the painfully silent ride. She didn't look over while she unbuckled her seatbelt. After the girls got out of the car, Natalie walked to the backseat and started to pull out her duffle bag. She stopped short when she heard Faye hiss, "What are you doing?!"
"Getting my bag?"
Faye's voice was still a harsh whisper, "If you bring in a bag that big, people will know you were at my house for break."
"Faye, plenty of people-"
"Just get it after school," Faye snapped.
Are we in space? Do we belong
Someplace where no one calls it wrong
And like the stars we burn away
As Natalie followed Faye into school, she felt the distance between them grow with each step. She had known they would have to pretend like nothing changed, but she hasn't anticipated Faye being this wound up about it. She had been the one to finally express what Natalie had been feeling for months. Faye had been the one who kissed Natalie.
Homeroom and first period felt strained and tense, but Natalie hoped she only sensed it because she was in the middle of it. She hoped no one else noticed how awkward and cold Faye was being. Her hopes were dashed at the beginning of second period when Melissa slid onto the stool next to Natalie in science lab. "So, are you and Faye in a fight?"
Natalie fought the urge to roll her eyes. It's a good thing Faye didn't try out for Drama Club. She smiled sweetly at Melissa. "No, why?"
"You two are usually attached at the hip is all."
As if on cue, Faye walked in and took her seat in front of Natalie without turning around. Thankfully, the bell rang before Melissa could ask any more questions. She did motion towards Faye's back and shot an eyebrow up at Natalie, but Natalie just shrugged and pretended to be concentrating on the textbook page the teacher had just asked them to open up to.
After class, Natalie caught up to Faye, who had bolted out of the room as soon as the bell rang. She reached out and touched her arm, and watched Faye's face turn from curiosity to anger when she turned around to look at her.
"What?" she snapped.
"You know you're drawing more attention to us by avoiding me, right? Melissa has already asked me why you're being so weird."
Faye's eyes shifted from panic and anger to sadness. Her eyes darted around the crowded hallway. She grabbed Natalie's arm and pulled her into an empty classroom. Once they were inside, she led Natalie to where they were out of sight of the hallway, then suddenly turned and pulled Natalie into her, kissing her. Then, as though she had surprised even herself, pulled back suddenly, putting about a foot of space between her and Natalie.
"Don't you see?" she said quietly as she leaned against a desk and studied her shoes. "It hurts too much to be near you and not touch you."
Natalie felt her heart flip in her chest and she took a tentative step towards Faye. "I know."
Faye looked up, her eyes filled with tears. "No one can know."
Natalie took another step forward. "I know."
How did we ever get this far?
It shouldn't have to be this hard.
Now for the first time in my life
Natalie reached out and wiped a tear off Faye's cheek. She let her hand linger on her face, and Faye leaned into it, sighing. "But you're right. Avoiding you won't help anything." She pressed a kiss into Natalie's hand before taking it in her own. She stood up, keeping their hands interlocked between them. She gave Natalie a weak smile. "Will you have lunch with me?"
Natalie nodded and smiled, then leaned in and gave Faye a light kiss. "It would be my pleasure."
Faye stood up and let go of Natalie, using both hands to wipe the remaining tears from her eyes. She shook her head and let out a deep sigh. She headed to the door and gestured out, "After you."
The girls walked to the cafeteria together and smiled at their friends as they approached their lunch table. Melissa beamed at them, "Oh good, I'm so glad you two kissed and made up."
Natalie hoped she didn't look as struck as she felt by that comment. She forced a laugh and sat down next to Melissa. Faye walked around the table and sat across from them, and casually asked if anyone had heard anything about the new foreign exchange student, which Melissa had, and was glad for the excuse to gossip.
Are we in love? Do we deserve
To bear the shame of this whole world?
And like the night we camouflage
The rest of the day passed by faster than the morning had, since Faye was acting relatively normal again. Natalie noticed that she would never meet her eyes, and often wouldn't even respond to her directly, but at least she wasn't avoiding her anymore. At the end of the day, Natalie stopped by Faye's locker. She stood with the space of a locker between them and clutched her history book tight to her chest. "Do you want me to just leave my bag in your car until this weekend?" Natalie bit her lip while she waited for Faye to respond.
Faye looked over at her and gave her a half-smile. "I'll give you a ride home."
The drive back to Natalie's was as silent and painful as the ride to school had been. The radio was on low, but it could have been off for all Natalie knew, as she stared out the window and tried to keep the knot in her throat from pushing her welling tears over the edge. When Faye pulled up outside her house, Natalie hesitated before getting out, staring at this house she barely saw in the past two weeks. Was it really only this morning Faye woke her up with a pillow to the head? Neither one of them spoke as Natalie climbed out of the car, nor when she pulled her bag from the backseat. It wasn't until Natalie got to her front door and turned around that they even made eye contact. Natalie raised one hand in a half-hearted attempt to wave goodbye, wanting to say so much more than that. Faye quickly looked away and drove off. Natalie felt the tears fall as she pushed her front door open and went up to her room.
How did we ever go this far?
You touch my hand and start the car
And for the first time in my life
The rest of the week went by fairly smoothly. Each day was a little easier to act natural around each other, and Natalie was even starting to feel like it was getting back to how it was before winter break. At least, to onlookers. It still sent a jolt of electricity right to her heart every time she and Faye accidentally brushed hands, and she still stared at her phone for hours every night, trying to decide if she could text her. What was hardest about this was not only losing what they gained over break, but losing what they had before that in the process.
On Friday, Faye slipped a note to Natalie in their first period class. "Let's be late for chem. Girls' bathroom, 3rd floor, after the bell."
Natalie bit her lip to keep herself from beaming. She looked up at Faye, who turned around as if she sensed it. Natalie nodded and Faye smiled and nodded back. Their eyes lingered on each others for a moment before they both turned their perceived attention to the teacher at the front of the classroom.
The rest of the period was torture. Natalie kept looking at the clock and the clock kept mocking her with its impossibly slow movements. When the bell finally rang, she almost knocked over her chair she got up so fast. Faye laughed and said, Easy there killer. See you later." She winked before disappearing into the hallway.
Natalie took a deep breath and tried to calm her racing heart. She grabbed her bag and headed to the 3rd floor bathroom. Since it was still between classes, it was overflowing with girls, some waiting for stalls, some leaning against walls and gossiping, most crowding around the mirrors. Melissa was one of the girls in the mirror when Natalie walked in.
"Nat! Come over here, I have this new lip gloss that will look perfect with your skin tone."
Natalie didn't care much about makeup or lip gloss, but she generally complied when they insisted on including her in their beauty routines, so she squeezed herself beside Melissa at the mirror on the far right, catching a glimpse of Faye in the reflection of the second mirror as she walked by, reapplying mascara. Melissa handed Natalie the lip gloss without taking her eyes off her own reflection. Natalie obediently started to apply the lip gloss when suddenly Melissa looked at her watch and cursed under her breath.
"I have to get to lab before the bell or I'm toast. I've already been late three times this week and we just got back from break." She darted out of the bathroom, a few girls following her lead. When the bell rang, the rest of the girls shuffled out quickly, leaving Natalie and Faye alone in the bathroom.
"Let's see how good that lip gloss is." Faye practically purred as she pulled Natalie in for a kiss. Natalie kissed her back hard, wrapping her hands around Faye's back, holding on tight, the force of her kiss causing Faye to have to lean against the sink for stability. Natalie wasn't sure if it was because she wasn't usually the more forceful one, or because Faye was as happy as Natalie to finally be holding each other again, but it warmed Natalie from head to toe to feel Faye smile into the kiss.
After what could have been a minute or an eternity, Natalie heard the bathroom door swing open. The two girls stopped kissing suddenly and saw Melissa standing in the doorway. the wooden bathroom pass she had been carrying clattered to the ground and her mouth was gaping in shock. Before Natalie could fully register what was happening, she felt Faye's hands move from her lower back to her hips and shove her away. Natalie hit the wall between two stalls with a hard thud, and looked at Faye in shock.
"Get off me!" She glared at Natalie, who was frozen against the wall. Faye turned to Melissa in the doorway. "She attacked me, kissed me out of nowhere."
Melissa started to snap out of her daze and started muttering something about coming back for her lip gloss.
Faye walked over and grabbed the lip gloss off the third sink where Natalie had left it and stomped back over to Melissa, pressing it into her hand. Natalie, finding her voice, started to call after Faye. Faye turned back to her with wild eyes and snapped, "Stay away from me, dyke."
Faye spat the last word in Natalie's direction and it caused involuntary tears to spring to Natalie's eyes. She didn't move a muscle, don't even blink, until Faye grabbed Melissa's arm and dragged her out of the bathroom. As soon as the door slammed shut again, Natalie broke. She slid down to the floor and sobbed, unable to believe what just happened, feeling like her insides had turned to lead. What hurt the most wasn't being shoved into a wall, or being called a dyke by someone she loved. What hurt the most was the anger and hatred in Faye's eyes. Natalie knew the shoving and the name-calling was for Melissa's sake, but Faye had never been a good actress. The hate in her eyes was real.
Are we in love? Do we deserve
To bear the shame of this whole world
And like the night we camouflage
Natalie eventually ran out of tears and found herself still sitting on the floor, staring into space. She slowly stood up, walked over to the sink, and turned on the water, letting it get icy cold before splashing some on her face. As she dried herself off with a paper towel, she examined her reflection. Her eyes were puffy, red, and tired. Her long, auburn hair looked as out of control as she felt. She took a deep breath and stood up as straight as she could. She kept her eyes locked on her reflection and spoke out loud. "Dyke."
The word got caught her throat and came out quiet and weak. She took another breath and said again to her reflection, "Dyke."
She didn't say it as an insult the way Faye had, she said it as though she was testing it, trying it on. "Dyke."
That time she said it strong and sure. Before Faye had said it, she hadn't really thought about her sexuality. She had thought only of Faye. But now she stood in the bathroom and neatened her hair the best she could, smoothed the front of her shirt, and met her own green eyes again, she knew. She had always known on some level, but she had never been so sure.
"I'm a lesbian," she said to her reflection, who had gotten a little light back in her eyes.
Natalie considered going to the nurse and faking sick to avoid having to see Faye or Melissa, but thought better of it. Despite feeling actually sick at the prospect of seeing Faye right now, she picked her bag up off the floor and went to her science classroom, even though class was nearly over. She wanted to show her face. She steadied herself and walked in, her cheeks burning when every head in the room turned to look at her. She mumbled her apologies and made a beeline for her seat.
When she slumped into her chair, she realized that there was no one sitting next to her. Melissa wasn't there. She looked up and saw that Faye was missing from her seat as well. Natalie spend the rest of the period pretending to pay attention while she tried to figure out where the girls could be.
Her answer came soon enough when, after the bell rang, her name was called over the loudspeaker, beckoning her to the principal's office. Natalie's blood ran cold and she suddenly felt lightheaded. A few classmates joked about her being in trouble, but she couldn't even fake a smile for them. She made her way to the office without seeing or hearing anything but her heart beating in her ears.
When she opened the door, the principal stood up behind his desk and motioned to an empty seat to her right. To her left sat Melissa and Faye, with the guidance counselor standing behind them. Melissa looked indignant, Faye looked exhausted. Natalie sat down and didn't dare speak, afraid if she opened her mouth to ask what was going on, everything that had been running through her head for the past hour would come spewing out. Instead she sat, tight-lipped, as the principal told her everything Faye and Melissa had told him about how she "attacked" Faye in the girls' bathroom. She was mentally preparing herself to give her forced apology when she heard the principal say the the word "expulsion". Both her and Faye exclaimed, "What?" in unison. Melissa silenced Faye with a sharp glare, but Natalie went on. "What do you mean, expelled? I didn't-"
"We don't take sexual harassment accusations lightly, Natalie. If Faye doesn't feel comfortable-"
"Sexual harassment?!" Natalie felt tears of anger burning in her eyes. The guidance counselor put up her hands before the principal could retort.
"I think jumping to expulsion is a little hasty, Mr. Kazinsky. I don't think Natalie intended to make Faye feel sexually harassed. I think this is just a case of teenage hormones gone awry."
Natalie took a deep breath to try to prevent herself from screaming at the top her lungs that this was a two-person tango, but decided to go back to being silent when Mr. Kazinsky started to nod at the guidance counsellor.
"Obviously expulsion wouldn't be ideal, no. Faye, if we rearranged your schedules so that you and Natalie no longer had any classes together, would that suffice as far as your comfort level?"
Faye nodded silently, and the principal and guidance counselor both looked relieved.
"Natalie, you'll still be suspended for two weeks for violating school sexual conduct policies, but I think as long as Faye is comfortable with the schedule change, we don't have to resort to expulsion. I trust nothing like this will ever happen again."
Natalie just stared at him. She wanted more than anything to scream that nothing happened, that Faye was lying, that Natalie was the one who had a lump on the back of her head from where she hit the bathroom stall. Before she could say anything at all, the guidance counselor spoke.
"Faye, Melissa, why don't you two head back to class. Faye, I'll set up an appointment to talk more about this later this week." The two girls left silently. Natalie kept her eyes glued to her hands in her lap in case one of them tried to make eye contact. She was vibrating with rage like she had never felt before and didn't trust herself not to say anything if either of them looked at her.
By the time Natalie left the principal's office, the lunch period was already over, and she was exhausted from having to resist interrupting while she was talked at by the principal about "proper behavior" and by the guidance counselor about "resisting urges". The whole thing was too absurd. It started to feel like a dream, like it was happening to someone else, not her. She held the letter detailing her suspension in her hand and wondered how long it would be before they called her mother. Oh God, her mother. Natalie took her time removing her schoolbooks out of her locker and putting them into her bag. She was dreading the conversation she was going to have to have when she got home. She had a feeling her mother wouldn't be as calm as the principal had been.
She could have taken the city bus home, but she decided to walk instead, the insane events of the day swirling around her head. By the time she unlocked the front door, it seemed her mother had already been filled in, based on the fact that she was already screaming before both of Natalie's feet were over the threshold.
When her mother had finished lecturing her about her life choices and let her go to her room, where she remained for the majority of her suspension, Natalie was worn to the bone. She hadn't even have the energy to be angry at Faye anymore, and now, almost a year later, she still didn't. She knew why Faye had done what she did, even if she didn't understand it. When Natalie did return to school, the entire student body had heard one version of the story or another. Most of them just avoided her like she was some kind of rabid animal, but some were downright cruel. After about a month of withstanding endless streams of slurs, she started slinging insults back at her peers. She hated doing it, it made her feel sick to her stomach, but she was just so tired of everything, and it seemed like the only way to get them to stop. Eventually the barrage died down and it was just the occasional not-so-subtle "whisper" in the locker room or a coughed insult from a passing classmate. She would never wish this on anyone, not even Faye, who she often caught glimpses of in the cafeteria or at school assemblies, always the center of a group of doting, giggling girls.
Halfway through the summer, Natalie's mother announced that she was tired of being known as the mother of a delinquent and that they were moving to a district where no one knew who they were. It was not presented as a discussion, but Natalie was not sad to leave Findlay behind. She was ready for a new start.
Natalie slammed the journal shut, walked across her room, and put it in the trunk at the end of her bed. If she was going to take advantage of her new start, there was no use dwelling in the past. She tucked the key back into the jewelry box and set it on her dresser. She picked out her favorite memories from the box and set them around her room, where she could see them every day. Everything else - a handful of notes from Faye, a Findlay Chorus Choir sweatshirt, old school books - stayed in the box, which Natalie took outside and left by the trash cans.
Author's Note: Sooo sorry it's been eleventy billion years since my last update. I had all but abandoned this story, but inspiration struck again. Special thanks to the people who encouraged me to push on and promised me no one would burn me at the stake for writing an entire chapter of a Glee fanfic without a single Glee character in it. The song is Stars by t.A.T.u.