The soft voice by her door made Rae lift her head. She had ignored the earlier yells from somewhere in the house, but her homework wasn’t interesting enough to ignore Leone looking at her shyly.
“Can I come in?”
Why are you here? Leone had never visited her room like this before.
Rae nodded and moved her chair back so there was enough room for Leone to come inside the tiny bedroom. “Of course it is.”
Leone plopped down on her bed so that Rae could put her chair back in front of her desk. She leaned over her homework again; when Leone was ready she would talk. If there was something she had learned during the past year that they had known each other it was that Leone always had something to say. Sometimes it just took a little while for her to get her words out.
“I don’t buy it.”
“What don’t you buy?” Rae didn’t look up from her textbook. School wasn’t her forte and she didn’t really have time for Leone. Not tonight. Not with her finals coming up and Rae being nowhere near ready.
“That you’re some kind of hardcore criminal.”
Rae dropped her pen. Her shoulders tensed up and she closed her eyes, trying to calm her hammering heart. No, please no. Not Leone too. She tried to ignore the ticking time bomb in her head and held her breath.
“What have you heard?” Her own voice sounded strange in her own ears.
“That you robbed a gas station.” Leone sounded doubtful, her voice otherwise completely normal.
Rae’s heart was beating so hard she was worried that Leone could hear it, but she ignored the need to turn around and see what she assumed was probably disgust in Leone’s eyes. Instead she slid down on the chair, scratched her bare arm subconsciously and ignored the instinct to run a hand through her messy black hair. She wanted to appear confident, not nervous.
“Rae?” Leone implored when Rae still hadn’t answered.
“Huh?” Rae coughed. “Sorry, I was studying.”
“I shouldn’t bother you, sorry.” Leone got up. “Will I see you later?”
Rae turned around then and looked at her. Little Leone, older than her and still so tiny. With her blond pony-tail and flowery dress two sizes too big she looked even smaller than usual. What she was doing at a home for troubled girls, Rae didn’t know. Leone looked like she couldn’t hurt a fly, even if she tried.
Leone’s cheeks flushed as she waited for Rae to answer.
Say no, Rae. You know it’s the right choice. Come on, you can do it.
But Rae couldn’t. She couldn’t deny Leone any more than she could rip out her own eye. She nodded to Leone curtly.
“Yes. I’ll be there.”
Leone smiled, the sides of her mouth hardly being raised at all, but that smile meant everything to Rae. “Good, see you later.”
She stood up and walked across Rae’s bed to get to the door. And then she was gone.
Rae sighed deeply and returned to her textbook.
* * *
Later the same night, Rae had pulled on boxer shorts and a tank top and lay down in her bed. Turned off the light. Closed her eyes. When the matron came to inspect, Rae pretended to be fast asleep.
But as soon as Rae had heard her door shut and a key being turned in the lock, she counted.
One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi…
When a whole minute was over, she got up. She sat still on the bed for a little while. Just go back to bed, Rae. If you’re caught, you’ll never get out of here. And if you’re caught – Leone will be caught too. Is that what you want?
Rae sighed. And if Leone knew what thoughts ran through your head when you held her, she would hate you as much as you hate yourself. She had promised. Even if going back on that promise would be better, the thought of Leone staying awake all night wondering where she was made Rae’s heart ache.
Quick. She got up and grabbed Leone’s hairpin that she had nicked several months ago. She picked the lock on her door and carefully, slowly, pushed i open. Holding her breath and praying that it wouldn’t make a sound. Doors and floors in old houses are notoriously creaky.
She was finally out of her room, her cell, and she dashed down the corridor on bare feet, quick and stealthy as a ghost. And just as dead inside. She stopped by Leone’s door, picked the lock open and went inside.
Leone’s room smelled like her, dried flower petals, somehow both sweet and dusty at the same time. As soon as Rae was inside, she gulped down the air, unable to get enough. It was as if she had been drowning and she could finally breathe again.
She didn’t say anything, and neither did Leone, as Rae lay down next to her. Leone just turned around silently. They looked at each other, the white of their eyes shining in the dark. Then Leone closed her eyes again, turned around and snuggled closer. Rae put her arm around Leone’s waist and drew close, so close that Leone’s bottom was pressed against her pelvis.
It was here, wrapped around Leone, with her heart beating against Leone’s back, their bare legs pressed together that Rae could finally close her eyes and relax. It didn’t mean that she slept. But it didn’t matter. Feeling Leone’s soft breathing and the sleepy noises she made were more than enough.
* * *
When Leone woke up, she was alone again. It was only the warm feeling in the pit of her stomach and the drawing on her desk that told her that Rae had been there at all. That it hadn’t just been a dream.
Leone got up and walked over to her desk. She always left her notebook open with a pen next to it when she went to bed, and Rae always left a doodle on it. Today that doodle was a black cat with stars for eyes.
Leone traced the cat with the tip of her finger, feeling blood come to the surface of her cheeks. Why would Rae, dangerous, troubled, unattainable Rae leave her little doodles like this. Or hold her as they slept. It was beyond her understanding.
Leone got up from her desk and grabbed her shower kit. She had been woken up by the matron unlocking her door – Rae always made sure to lock it again before she left in the early hours of her morning – and she needed to hurry if she would manage to shower before the end of breakfast.
She hurried to the communal showers, almost running into Rae in ripped jeans and tank top at the door.
“Oh sorry.” But Rae didn’t look at her. Rae never looked at her.
Leone had been living at the house for only a month when she had been awoken by a sound of somebody breaking into her room. It had been Rae. What she had really been there for, Leone didn’t know. She had just taken one look at Leone’s tear stricken face and then announced that she was there to help her sleep. She had probably been lying, saying anything so that Leone wouldn’t call for the matron, but Leone didn’t care. She had just thankfully buried her face in Rae’s shoulder and revelled in being held by another human for the first time since her mother had died. Since then Rae had returned night after night. They weren’t friends. They hung around with different groups. But during the night, they slept wrapped up in each other.
Leone stepped in the shower and started washing herself in the freezing water. She didn’t know why Rae came to her. What it meant, or if it meant anything at all. Maybe Rae is just using me, she thought as she worked up a lather on the top of her hair, maybe she’s as starved of human contact as I am.
As Leone dried herself she realised that she didn’t care. Rae was welcome to use her, as much as Leone was using her. The only physical contact I get is from her. Physical contact at the house was strictly forbidden, but that didn’t remove the very human need that probably all the girls had. Or so Leone thought.
She looked at herself in the mirror while brushing her wet hair. She looked so different from Rae it was almost laughable. She was short and round where Rae was tall and lanky, and she had freckles and slightly pink skin while Rae was very pale. You look like a total dork, Leone. She put her head down, not liking her own reflection.
* * *
“You got my cigs?” Rae ignored the instinct to kick the boy sitting on the stairs. Useless piece of shit better have them or I will –
He lifted his hand without looking at her, his back to him. Rae grabbed the package and without a word of thanks headed back to her ‘friends’. She used the term loosely.
They were in school and for once Rae had actually tried to pay attention in class. It was her last year, finally, and she didn’t want to screw up in any way. Not when I’m so close to being out of here.
She approached the group of seniors standing behind the cafeteria like usual. She might have paid attention in class, but there was no way she was not going to relax and enjoy herself during recess.
She grabbed one of the cigarettes from the package and then threw it to Evan who was standing next to her. They passed the pack through the group, everyone taking one.
“How did you get the pack? Did you pay him?”
Rae chuckled darkly. “Nope. He put it on my tab.” She grinned. She was going to pay him, she would. But later. When she had money. Belonging to the badass group at the school did have some benefits.
“Any plans for your graduation?”
Rae grimaced. “What kind of lame question is that? Of course I don’t. The bitch at the house is just going to be happy that once I turn 18 in August she’s legally allowed to kick me out.” She put the cigarette to her lips and inhaled deeply, then exhaled through her nose, filling the air in front of her with smoke.
“What are you gonna do after?” A girl with purple hair and a nose piercing named Zoie asked.
“Fucked if I know.”
“Hey, isn’t that one of yours?” Evan pointed to a group of girls who had just come around the corner, maybe heading to PE class.
Rae flicked her head to quickly glance at who it was. Oh fuck. Because of course it was Leone, walking alone with her PE bag slung across her shoulder. Rae’s chest constricted when she took in the easy smile on Leone’s face and how her hair shined in the sunlight. It should be freaking illegal to be so pretty. She cringed inwards at her thoughts. Get a grip, Rae.
“Yeah, she is,” Rae answered quickly. “So what are you -” But she hadn’t been quick enough.
“Hey, you!” Evan called out.
Leone stopped and looked at them, a slight blush filling her cheeks. Her glance fleetingly landed on Rae and their gazes met, but only for half of a second.
“Yes?” She looked at Evan. “What is it?”
“You live at the same place as Rae, right?” Evan punched Rae in the shoulder.
Leone smile was wistful when she nodded. “Yes, I do.”
Evan grinned and Zoie took a step forward.
“So what did you do? You don’t look the part.” Zoie put the cigarette to her lips again. When she exhaled, the smoke drifted toward Leone.
“Cut it out,” Rae mumbled.
“What do you mean?” Leone’s eyebrows knitted.
“You know,” Evan said. “What you did? What kind of criminal are you?”
Leone’s eyes shone as if they were filling with tears and Rae’s arms started shaking. She noticed to her distress that she had tensed her fists so hard that her nails were digging into her palm.
Leone looked at Rae now, as if expecting her to say something.
“Not everyone at the house is a criminal, you know.” The words were out before Rae could stop them. Her heart beat so hard she worried that the others would hear. “Some of us are just…” she met Leone’s gaze, her own heart sinking. “Some of us are just unwanted.”
Leone’s smile was completely gone now and the slight colour in her cheeks had been replaced by an almost grey complexion.
I’m sorry, Leone.
“Well,” Leone said. “I have PE so I’m just going to go. See you later, Rae.” She pursed her lips.
“Yeah, later,” Rae mumbled and dropped her cig on the floor. She stepped on it with the heel of her combat boots. She was annoyed with Leone, she was annoyed with Evan and Zoie, and she was annoyed with herself. She didn’t even know what it was about Leone that made her question every word and every action. If it had been anyone else, Rae would have joined her friends in on the tormenting. But with Leone she couldn’t. The thought that Leone had been thrown out the way she had was unbearable. Whatever life had dealt Rae, she had deserved it. But who wouldn’t want Leone?
* * *
That same afternoon Leone was sitting by her desk in her room, trying to focus on her homework. It was difficult when her thoughts kept drifting to Rae. Part of her couldn’t believe that Rae had let her friends talk to her that way, and part of her thought it was insane that she even found it puzzling.
What? You thought that you and Rae shared some kind of understanding just because you sleep together at night? Rae is not your friend. You better get it through you head.
Leone shook her head and tried to focus. Okay, so Snorre Sturlason wrote about the vikings because…
Leone and Rae were very different people, that was just something that Leone had to accept. They weren’t friends. They were just two unwanted kids in an unforgiving world.
It was true that Leone hadn’t committed any crimes before being sent to the home, not like some of the girls. She had just had the unfortunate fate of being born into the wrong family. And her parents had succumbed to their addiction three years too early. If they could have just waited a little bit longer before kicking the bucket, Leone could have been of age and gotten to live her own life instead being sent there by well-meaning relatives.
At least you’re not on the streets. Yes, Leone did agree that this was probably better than homelessness.
At least you still get to go to school. Yes, Leone still had every opportunity to get very far in life.
At least you met Rae. No. Leone shook her head. What did it matter that they had met? Rae didn’t care for her in the least.
A bell from the kitchen rang and Leone closed her book with a frustrated groan. She should have focused instead of thinking about Rae. She needed to, if she was going to have any chance at passing the next exam.
She brushed her hair quickly, the matron hated scruffiness, and headed downstairs. There were quite a lot of people already gathering around the long tables but Leone only had eyes for one person.
I don’t know how she dares, she thought as she looked at Rae’s short, unruly hair and baggy trousers. Not to mention that she smoked, openly. At school. No, Leone didn’t understand Rae at all. And it didn’t matter, she supposed. Rae would be gone in a few months anyway. Then Leone would have to learn to sleep on her own.
* * *
Rae groaned at the grey slop in the pot and tried to hold her breath as she poured a generous scoop on her plate. She could have skipped dinner but considering she had also skipped lunch it wouldn’t be wise to skip another meal. She held her breath as she walked past the matron; she was pretty sure that the cigarette smell would be quite evident on her but the action was almost involuntary at this point.
She walked down the table looking for a space to sit. Finally she found a free spot on the bench and still she hesitated. She stared at it, unsure what to do. It was only until Leone looked at her, rolled her eyes and turned back to her plate that Rae hesitantly sat down next to her.
She must think that I hate her or something. Good going, Rae.
They ate in silence despite the cheerful talk going on around them. Leone seemed to be ignoring her, but Rae couldn’t do the same. Whenever Leone was near, it was as if Rae’s brain short circuited. She couldn’t think, couldn’t breathe.
“Rae Steen!” The matron came out of nowhere and a heavy hand was put on Rae’s shoulder. “A word, if you please?”
Now what? Rae’s heart started pounding like a captive bird but she faked calmness as she put her fork down and started to get up.
“Why?” All of a sudden Leone spoke up. “Is she in trouble?”
Leone looked at her and her eyes were filled with so much concern and sympathy that Rae felt sick. She didn’t deserve Leone’s affection like that.
“Don’t.” She mouthed at her. Don’t get in trouble you too.
Then she got up and followed the matron to her office. She didn’t know what it was she was in trouble for. The smoking? The way she dressed? Please don’t let it be the sneaking around at night. Don’t let Leone get in trouble because of me.
* * *
Ugh, this is ridiculous! Leone flipped to her other side one more time. She was in bed; it had been a whole hour since the matron had checked on her and Rae still hadn’t shown up. Leone couldn’t help but wonder if it was something she had done. Or maybe it isn’t that Rae doesn’t want to come here anymore, maybe it’s that she got thrown out.
She had indeed seen Rae come out of the matron’s main office, but she had just mumbled something in a grumpy voice and headed off to her room. Hopefully to do her homework.
Finally the sound of her lock being picked made Leone sit up. She usually greeted Rae half-asleep and non-committal, afraid to scare her. But she didn’t want to just sleep this time.
Leone wanted to talk with her. Connect with her. Understand her. And more than anything she wanted to ask: what do I mean to you? Did she mean anything at all? Or was she just a warm body, a human teddy bear that helped Rae sleep? Leone hoped it wasn’t so.
Rae stopped dead in her tracks, frozen, when she turned around and saw that Leone was sitting up. Leone couldn’t see her facial expression but she could hear the change in her breathing.
“Are you in trouble?” She had to ask.
Rae didn’t answer, she just stared at her.
“Should I leave?” She asked eventually.
“Don’t you dare.” Leone’s words were whispered and she moved to the side of the bed. “Come and lie down. I’ll be quiet if you need me to.”
Rae still didn’t move.
“We don’t need to talk.” Leone was starting to feel desperate, it was as if she could feel Rae’s anguish all the way from the door and it was making her heart ache.
She turned to the wall, hoping that it would finally give Rae enough courage to come and lie down next to her. She smiled into the dark when the bed dipped behind her and an arm tentatively curled around her waist.
She pushed herself into the cool solidness of Rae’s body and couldn’t help but hum contently. She wanted to open her mouth again. She wanted to tell Rae about all she was feeling and how she loved their silent hours in the night together. She wanted to ask Rae if she was okay, what her plans after graduation were. If Rae even knew her name.
Her breathing strained as Rae started running her fingers up and down her abdomen. Leone became very aware of the fact that there was just a thin layer of fabric between her skin and Rae’s fingers. A need rose within her, something so foreign she at first didn’t recognize it. All she knew was the pounding of her heart and the insistent need to turn around and press their lips together.
Leone knew that she could never do that, she wasn’t brave enough, confident enough and she didn’t want to risk seeming like a fool to Rae. Instead she did the only thing she could think of, grabbed Rae’s hand and ever so slowly moved it upwards. She pressed it against her breast, hoping that Rae could feel the rapid fluttering of her heart and know what she was doing to Leone.
Rae groaned, the sound vibrating against Leone’s back and the hand she was holding against her breast tensed.
“Rae,” Leone whimpered.
“Ungh…” Rae seemed to have lost her ability to talk. Her hand twitched on top of Leone’s breast and she pressed herself to her back. Her hips rocked once against Leone’s ass and fire fled through Leone’s veins…
… then before she knew what was happening, Rae had ripped her hand from Leone’s grip and thrown herself off of the bed. She sat on Leone’s chair, breathing hard and cradling her head in her hands.
Leone sat up and looked at her. The streetlight from outside shone through her little window, shining in Rae’s hair. Rae was gasping for air, almost wheezing and her shoulders shook violently.
Is she crying?
“Rae?” Leone reached out but before she managed to put her hand on Rae’s knee, Rae moved out of her reach.
“Don’t touch me!” She hissed.
Leone stopped, her eyes wide and her heart pounding with fear and embarrassment.
“You’re disgusting. You think I want to touch you… there? You’re sick.”
Her words caused cold dread to flood through Leone’s chest and she looked down on her lap. She couldn’t believe she had done that. She blinked. Please don’t cry, please don’t cry. She refused to make even more fool of herself.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “Just come back to bed, I promise I won’t do anything.” I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Please, please, please, Rae, don’t be angry with me.
“No.” Rae stood up. “You’ve ruined everything.” Her tone of voice was unreadable. She almost sounded like she was close to tears herself.
She walked to the door and picked the lock to get out. She didn’t lock it when she was back on the other side.
“Rae,” Leone whispered into the dark. She curled into a ball on top of the covers and cried her eyes out.
* * *
Rae opened her eyes when the alarm rang. Despite not sleeping she wanted to do was pull her covers over her head and disappear. She definitely didn’t want to get up. She couldn’t get up and risk seeing Leone. Rae didn’t think she could ever face Leone again.
What have you done? She sat up and let her face fall into her hands. She felt like crying and screaming and ripping of hair out.
How could she have said those things to Leone? How could she have called her sick when, in reality, it was Rae who was sick, not Leone?
Rae trembled as she had thought about last night. It had felt so good to hold her, to just hold her. Smell her. And then Leone had squirmed in her arms, stoking her desire and confusing her in more ways than one. Rae was just starting to decide if she liked it or not when Leone had made the stupid mistake of moving her hand to her breast.
Rae kicked the covers away and got up. With a small yell she covered up her mirror, she couldn’t bear to look at herself.
It had felt so good. Leone’s breast had fit in her palm perfectly and the hardening of her nipple against Rae’s hand had made Rae feel things that she shouldn’t have. Things that weren’t okay. Things that were wrong, sick, twisted.
“I need to talk with her,” Rae said to no one. She grabbed her tight black jeans and started pulling them up her legs. “I need to tell her… tell her… that it isn’t -”
She fell silent when there was a soft knock on her door. She stared at it in panic.
“Rae? Are you there?”
The gentle tone of Leone’s soft voice caused Rae’s heart to beat in staccato rhythm. She felt like she was going to pass out or throw up or start screaming or…
“Rae.” She sounded sad. “Will you talk with me, please?”
Rae’s inner anguish was only matched by the sadness she could hear in Leone’s voice. As angry and disgusted she felt with herself, she couldn’t deny Leone. Not now. Not after she had felt her heart beat under her fingertips.
“Come in.” She couldn’t recognize her own voice.
Leone opened the door, went inside and closed it behind her. Her hair was pulled back, showing off her sober facial expression.
“We need to talk.” She looked up, her eyes drilling in to Rae’s soul.
“We need to go downstairs.” Rae swallowed several times. “The matron…”
“The matron isn’t going to notice that we’re not there. You always skip breakfast.” She sat down on Rae’s chair.
Rae fell back onto her bed. She supposed Leone was right about that. Still she wished she was anywhere but where she was.
“Rae, I want to apologize.” Leone looked straight at her. “I had no right to do what I did last night, to take your hand and…” she sucked in air through her teeth which only made Rae look at her mouth. “Well, I don’t need to tell you what I did.”
“Oh for fuck’s sake.” Rae felt like she was drowning. “You don’t need to apologize.”
Leone looked at her silently. Rae curled her fingers around the edge of the bed, digging her nails into the mattress, she could feel Leone’s gaze burning on the top of her head.
“Just leave, okay, Leone?” Oh crap. She felt the stinging heat of tears on her cheeks. “What the fuck?” She wiped her cheeks with the back of her arm.
“I didn’t mean to hurt you! I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” Leone got up and knelt in front of her. “Don’t cry, please don’t cry.”
I’m not crying, Rae felt like yelling but it would have been a lie. Her tears were now flowing freely and she would have given anything to be anywhere else but there.
The seconds ticked by, but Leone didn’t do or say anything else. She just watched her cry in silence. Rae was almost grateful for the reprieve.
Finally the tears stopped coming and she could breathe more easily. Crying was strangely cathartic and she felt herself calm down.
“I won’t do it again, okay?” Leone stood up.
“Thanks,” Rae whispered. She couldn’t look at her.
Leone went toward the door, she didn’t turn around as she talked again.
“Will I see you tonight?”
* * *
The weeks went by, one after another. For Rae, it felt as if her life was back to normal. She could go to class, go home, smoke, drink, hang out with friends, ignore the impending dread of what she was supposed to do when she came of age. But at night she slept with her arms around Leone, their hearts beating in time, able to feel every flutter and sigh as Leone slept.
Since Leone had promised never to make any advances on Rae again, Rae could relax and enjoy her sexual fantasies on her own. It was safer in her head. There was no need to act on it. Rae didn’t want to act on it. She just wanted to feel and imagine and let her heart pound against Leone’s sleeping back. She wanted to be safe.
Everything would have been fine if it hadn’t been for fateful afternoon when Rae decided to find an empty classroom to do some last minute studying before a test. She would have studied in the common room, but she didn’t want Evan or Zoie to catch her actually caring about her studies.
She walked up to the second floor and pushed the door open, carefully so as not attract any attention. She froze when she heard giggling and as the door swung open completely, the sight in front of her caused nausea to wash over her in waves. She couldn’t believe the scene that was in front of her. She helplessly looked on as Leone stood on tiptoe and pressed her strawberry lips to some adolescent boy’s. The kiss was quick, almost just a peck, but Rae felt like she had just witnessed an execution. She wanted to fall to her knees and wail, and instead she just coughed awkwardly.
“Oh, sorry.” Leone giggled again, a blush spreading on her cheeks. “This is Tony.”
“Hi,” Rae said through gritted teeth. She couldn’t believe what she had just seen. What a slut? Kissing boys in the middle of school? What am I supposed to think, what –
She wanted to yell out loud, she wanted to cry until Leone understood everything. More than anything she wanted to punch that stupid smile of the boy’s face. He didn’t deserve Leone. Nobody did. Not even her.
“See you later, Rae.” The look in Leone’s face was unreadable. It had gone from smug to almost sad. It was as if she could see Rae’s inner anguish.
“Whatever.” Rae couldn’t face her anymore and she sure as hell couldn’t study now.
Before Leone and her friend had made their way next to her, she turned around and fled. Screw school. Screw the Matron. Screw Leone. Fuck everyone.
* * *
You’re an idiot. Leone twisted on top of the covers. Not only did you piss off Rae more than you wanted, you didn’t just piss her off. You hurt her. She had seen the pain in Rae’s eyes. And what about Patrick? You know you’re just stringing him along.
She pulled the covers up to her chin. She really wasn’t proud of herself. The triumph she had felt at the distress on Rae’s face when she had walked in on them had quickly turned to emotional anguish. So she had proven that Rae did in fact have feelings for her? What did it matter? What did anything matter?
Leone closed her eyes. Maybe if I focus really hard I can just fall asleep and forget everything. Maybe when I wake up I can… The thought fell silent as Leone drifted off to sleep.
Hot breath gasped in her ear and wet lips enveloped around her earlobe.
“What -” Sleep still had Leone in its grasp and she struggled to get her eyes to open.
“Leone.” The words were urgent and full of pain.
The smell of alcohol enveloped her as another pair of lips pressed against her own. A hand came to rest on her breast, kneading and feeling.
“Leone. Please, I…”
Rae abandoned her mouth and started licking and biting at her neck instead. She was practically lying on top of Leone and her hand was travelling downwards, fast. Electricity ran through her veins and her breath stuck in her throat. She kissed Rae back, eagerly, licking at her lips. It was everything she dreamt of, except in her dreams Rae wasn’t completely smashed. The breath in her mouth tasted of beer and Leone knew that if Rae had been completely sober they would not have been on Leone’s bed, doing what they were doing.
It was only when Rae suddenly plunged her hand under the hem of Leone’s panties that her excitement turned to nervousness.
“Rae?” Leone tried to be gentle as she stopped Rae’s hand and pulled away.
They stared at each other, their breath mingling. Rae was breathing hard and there was something swirling in the irises of her eyes. Something that made Leone’s heart pound and sweat break out all over her body.
Leone wasn’t ready for this.
Rae’s eyes were filling with tears. Come on, Leone, don’t make her sad now. Tread lightly.
“Come on, let’s take a breather, okay?” She did something she had wanted to do for months and ran her fingers through Rae’s hair.
“What? Now you don’t want me anymore?” Rae sounded strangely normal and clear-headed which meant she wasn’t as drunk as Leone had originally thought.
“I do.” Leone sounded equally breathless. “But I still think we should… umm… talk.”
“Whatever.” Rae sat up.
But Leone wasn’t going to let her run away this time. She curled her hand around Rae’s bicep.
“Please don’t leave.” She spoke in a hushed tone. “You’re safe with me, okay?” She wanted to pull Rae down for an embrace but instead loosened her grip just in case she wanted to flee.
“Yes?” Leone held her breath.
“I’m sorry, okay? I don’t mean to be such a fuck-up.” She sounded so sad it broke Leone’s heart.
“You’re not a fuck-up.” Leone took her hand. “I’m not much better, honest.”
“I don’t like to…” Rae sucked in air through her teeth. “I mean, I can’t… I…”
“If you don’t want to tell me, it’s okay.”
Rae laughed mirthlessly and leaned forward, cradling her head in her hands.
“I don’t even know you.” Rae straightened up and met Leone’s gaze. “I don’t know why you’re here or where you’re from. I don’t know your fucking last name.” She looked down. “The first time I came into your room, I…” She fell silent and Leone could see how she was trembling.
“I know you didn’t come to help me sleep.” Of course I knew. Leone wasn’t stupid.
“But.” Rae looked up again.
She looked younger in the dark. Softer. Leone could hardly help it as she leaned forward and pressed her lips against Rae’s cheek.
“My full name is Leone Maxine Jankowski.” She kissed Rae’s cheek again; it was just too sweet under her lips. “I’m from a small town upstate. My parents were addicts and kicked the bucket too early, that’s how I wound up here. That’s good enough for you?”
“No.” Rae sounded grumpy. She picked on Leone’s cover, looking down.
“So take me out.”
“Huh?” Rae looked up, her eyes wide.
Leone felt her cheeks heat but ignored it. She needed to sort this out for them.
“Take me on a date. Get to know me. That’s what normal people do.”
“But I -”
“You like me,” Leone said matter-of-factly. “I like you. Normal people date, so let’s date.”
“But, I…” Rae seemed to have lost her words completely.
“We have free time on Friday,” Leone continued. “I have some money saved up. We can go out for a coffee or something in town.” Another thought occurred to her. “We can choose one that isn’t too popular, so you don’t need to be seen with me.”
“No, I…” Rae seemed to think. “Thanks.” She chewed on her bottom lip. “But I’ll pay,” she took a deep breath. “It’ll be my treat.” She smiled, but it was more of a grimace and she looked so out of her comfort zone, it made Leone’s heart ache for her.
“Nothing needs to happen, okay?” Leone squeezed Rae’s hand. “Nothing will happen that you don’t want. I just think it would be good for us to meet outside my bed. To get to know each other.”
“I know what a date is.” Rae’s tone was mocking but there was an undercurrent of insecurity there.
“And now that that’s settled.” Leone lay down and turned her back to Rae. “Let’s sleep.”
Without a word, Rae settled down next to her. Then, carefully, slowly, as if not sure if it was okay or not, Rae put her arms around her.
A few minutes later a soft voice spoke in her ear.
“What about your boyfriend?”
“Who? Oh damn.” Leone had forgotten all about Patrick. “Yeah, that was just… “ You suck, Leone. “… just to annoy you. Or hurt you. Or whatever.”
“I don’t know what you see in me.” Rae’s words punched her in the chest.
“Don’t worry about that now.” Leone pulled Rae’s arms tighter around herself. “Just sleep, okay?”
“Mmhmm.” Rae nodded in the back of her neck.
* * *
Rae pulled on the sleeve of her new white shirt. She couldn’t believe she had gotten dressed up like a loser. She had enjoyed the look in the mirror, with black trousers that hugged her ass just right and the white shirt that looked proper yet kind of badass combined with her leather necklaces and dark hair. But now when she was sitting at the cafe, waiting for Leone to show up, Rae regretted everything.
I wish I hadn’t agreed to this stupid date in the first place. She took a sip of the soft drink – she couldn’t stand the taste of coffee – and smiled at herself. She was really looking forward to the date. She was looking forward to spending some time with Leone.
Either I will fall in love with her, or I will realise she’s an absolute idiot and then I can finally let go of this weird infatuation that’s –
Leone’s voice made Rae look up. There she was. She looked different somehow. Happier, lighter. It was summer now and Leone dressed accordingly, short flowery skirt and a light beige buttoned shirt with short sleeves. Thin silver hoops completed the look.
Why am I thinking about her earrings? You have a problem, Rae.
She smiled and tried to look completely confident as Leone sat down in front of her. Their eye contact was too intense and Rae looked away, focusing again on her soft drink.
“Oh, I should get something too.” Leone started getting up.
“No! I mean, no.” Rae scrambled to her feet. “I’ll get it for you. What do you want?”
“You don’t need to. I was hoping to get a pastry as well; I don’t want you to waste all your money on me.”
Rae mentally counted the change she had in her pocket. I shouldn’t have bought that packet of cigs, fuck.
“Forget about it.” Rae flashed her a grin. “I got it covered. What do you want?”
“Hmm.” Leone stretched her back. “A black coffee and a pastry. Surprise me.”
She left Leone by the table and went over to the counter. She looked at the different pastries and other sweet things that that they had for sale.
“Hello,” the young man behind the register said.
“Hi, umm, can I have the… umm… that one?” She pointed at a pastry that looked nice in her eyes.
“Anything else else?” The man put the Napoleon pastry on a small plate.
Rae ordered the coffee.
The smile that Leone gave her when she sat down was worth everything. The discomfort. The money. The risking of her heart. Rae returned her smile.
They sat in the back of the cafe, away from windows, away from prying ears or eyes. Rae felt quite safe. She watched as Leone ate her pastry.
“Gosh, I feel bad you spending all the money on me.” She had a patch of cream on the side of her mouth that Rae was dying to remove but didn’t. “I hardly think you have more than me.”
“Don’t worry about it, seriously.” Rae made a dismissive gesture with her hand. “I’m getting a job this summer.” Well, I should be getting one anyway. So I’m not lying.
“Oh yeah.” Leone licked the last remnants of cream from her spoon. Rae stared, her throat suddenly dry. “You’re leaving in August aren’t you?” There wasn’t an ounce of sadness in Leone’s voice which annoyed Rae.
Isn’t she a little bit sad to see me go?
“Do you have any plans?”
Rae scratched the back of her head. “Not really. I…” Way to be a good role model. She sighed. “I suppose I’ll find somewhere cheap to leave. I have a friend, Chloe, she used to live with us, I think I could probably crash on her couch for a little while until I find something permanent.”
“What would you like to do? Is there a job that…” Leone licked her lips; “… that you’d really like? What are you dreams?”
“My dreams? Uhh…” You sound like an idiot, get a grip. “Not really, I mean, I like drawing. That’s about it. It’s not like I have good grades or anything.”
“I’m sure you’ll wind up exactly where you’re supposed to.” Leone picked up her cup and drank from it.
“What about you?” Rae leaned forward, happy to switch the subject from herself. “What do you want to do when you grow up?”
Leone chuckled at her words.
“I would like to be a vet,” she sounded shy. “Or maybe just… a zoo keeper or something. I just want to work with animals.”
“If you want to be a vet, I’m sure you can be.” Rae ignored the urge to reach out and grab Leone’s hand. She wasn’t that –
“Thanks.” Leone surprised her by reaching across the table and grab her hand instead. “I really hope so. But you know how it is. How are we going to go to college? I’d need one hell of a scholarship.”
“Maybe I could help you.” Rae didn’t even know what she was offering, she just couldn’t bear the thought of Leone not following her dreams because of the stupid society. “I mean, by the time you graduate, I’ll have worked a while and -”
“Don’t be ridiculous.” Leone smiled toothily. “You don’t need to help me. I’ll fix it somehow.”
Rae nodded but made a mental note to check out scholarships and ways to become a vet. Even if she couldn’t help her financially, she still wanted to do something.
“Will you be my girlfriend?”
Rae coughed out the soda that was in her mouth.
Leone smiled even as her cheeks slowly turned red.
“I thought I’d just ask you, in case, I mean. If you like me.” She looked down on the table and picked at her napkin.
Rae stared at the paper shreds that landed on the dark blue table cloth, one after another.
“What does that word mean to you?” Her heart pounded and she was feeling increasingly uncomfortable. “Sex?”
Leone’s mouth dropped open.
“No!” She smiled coyly. “I mean, yes. But not right away. I mean…” She licked her lips. “Maybe we could start with kissing a little bit. If you want.”
This is so fucking awkward. It’s not supposed to be like this, is it? Rae cleared her throat.
“But why? Why do you want to be my girlfriend?”
Leone produced a brilliant smile.
“Because I like you.”
It seemed too simple to be true.
* * *
The first few weeks of their relationship, Rae lived in constant panic. But pretty soon she relaxed. Leone didn’t expect the world of her. They continued sleeping together, but Leone never asked for more than a good night kiss. They exchanged smiles during the class and sometimes during the afternoons they snuck off together. Just to talk and sometimes do a bit more kissing. The waves of discomfort and distress that Rae had first associated with physical contact slowly abated. She learnt that she was safe with Leone. That Leone wouldn’t ask anything that Rae wasn’t willing to give.
The semester ended and the summer started. Rae graduated barely afloat and got a job working as a check-out girl at the local supermarket.
At first she wanted to spend all the money on getting things for Leone. Little things. Pastries. Flowers. A new dress. But soon she realised it was better for her to save all her money. Her goal was to get out of there, but still live close enough so they could actually still see each other. What Rae wanted more than anything was just to get her life together.
Sometimes, with a sleeping Leone in her arms, Rae let herself feel. She would relax her muscles, breathe deeply, smelling Leone’s hair and trying to take in how it felt to have her girlfriend in her arms.
Don’t be scared Rae, she would tell herself. You’re safe. She didn’t know what it was about physical arousal that scared her so much, she just knew that it was a feeling she couldn’t handle; she didn’t like the feeling of losing control, of being swept up in something bigger. She didn’t know what to do with it. What it was supposed to lead to.
But in the middle of the night, with her arms around Leone, so close to being skin to skin, Rae let the feelings sweep over her in waves. And by the end of August, Rae wasn’t scared anymore.
* * *
They were in the kitchen of Rae’s friend Chloe’s place. It was the day before Rae’s 18th birthday and they had moved most of her things. Everything was ready.
“I’ll be sad to see you go.” Even though Leone was happy that Rae would finally be free and not have to deal with the matron anymore, it was the absolute truth. “But this place is great, I’m sure you’ll have a wonderful time.”
“It’s not like I’m staying indefinitely.” Rae opened the fridge. She had done it three times already. It’s like she can’t believe there is a real fridge she’s actually allowed to open. Leone thought it was cute.
“I’m going to get my own place as soon as I can.” Rae closed the fridge again and turned around, leaning her hip against the counter. “Then you can come and visit me.”
“I’d love to.” Leone reached forward and grabbed Rae’s hand.
It didn’t matter if Chloe walked in on them holding hands, she wouldn’t mind. Or start screeching like the matron had when she had walked in on them hugging. Just hugging.
Leone pulled her in for a hug. I can’t wait for us to be both adults. To be free. Free to be together.
* * *
Rae waited patiently while the matron locked her door for the last time.
This time I’m going to wake Leone up, she thought. I’m going to wake her up and kiss her all over. I’m going to –
She opened her mouth in a gasp when she heard the small metallic sounds of her lock being picked. She sat up and could only stare as her door swung open and a small female body tiptoed inside.
“Leone?” Rae held out her hand for Leone to grab in the darkness. Leone had the streetlamp outside, but Rae didn’t and her room was almost pitch-black. “What are you doing here? I was going to come to you.”
“I know.” Leone giggled. “But I wanted to give you your birthday present. And you can see it better in a darker room.”
Their hands entwined in the darkness and Rae pulled her into the bed. She sat up and leaned her back against the pillow, then she pulled Leone into her lap. They kissed, the fleeting touch of lips warming Rae on the inside.
“What do you have for me?”
“It’s silly.” Leone rested her head on Rae’s shoulder. “I don’t want to give it to you. It was a stupid idea.”
“No, come on. I wanna see.” Rae pressed a quick kiss to the top of Leone’s hair. “Show me.”
Leone opened her hands. Inside her hands there was a shining star. It was probably just the plastic that glowed in the dark. But to Rae, it looked like Leone had presented her an actual star.
“I’m sorry it’s just one,” Leone whispered into her shoulder.
“I love it.” Rae wasn’t lying.
She lifted her hand and touched the star. It looked so bright and felt so mundane to the touch. She moved her hand again and put her palm on Leone’s cheek.
She put her hand in Leone’s and angled her face upwards. Their lips met. At first the kiss was like most of them, sweet but careful. But then Rae wanted more.
She held Leone close and moved her hand to the front of Leone’s body, she wanted to touch her, feel her. Just dreaming wouldn’t do anymore.
“I want you,” she whispered against Leone’s lips; her words abnormally loud in her own ears. “Will you be with me?”
* * *
Rae yawned. She felt like she could hardly keep her eyes open. As much as she enjoyed living on her own, having her own flat and all, she required two jobs to manage all her payments. It was worth it, more than worth it. I just wished I had time to just relax and play around like I used to. She had even given up smoking, she wanted to save up every penny she could.
It was stupid, maybe silly and maybe Leone would refuse, but Rae wanted desperately to be able to at least help her a little bit to reach her dreams. It didn’t matter if Leone would break up with her, Rae just wanted to give her the chance that she had never had.
She went over to the window and looked at the street below. A wide grin broke out on her face. It was the only logic reaction to seeing Leone coming to visit her. It was late November and Leone was wearing an old mocha coat that looked like it was beyond second hand, but the scarf was new. It was good that she was dressed well in the cold weather. Rae remembered the sorry state of some of the jackets and coats the matron handed out. She waited by the window, a cup of coffee in her hand, for Leone to make her way up the stairs.
AN: This story grew out of proportions for me, but I’ve honestly enjoyed writing it. I already have plans to revisit Leone and Rae again, but probably when they’re adults and around ten years older.