“Aila, what the fuck?”
I tear through the ocean’s surface, water invading my ears and nostrils. Cold cuts through my skin and scoops out the marrow from my bones. Salt tingles in my mouth and stings my eyes, the water rendered to a blue haze. I reach out my hands, the sun a distant orb I try to grasp, fingers closing on nothing. With a gasp, I resurface.
“What the fuck, Aila?” Maye shrieks. “You fucking idiot! Get out before you get hyperthermia!”
“You mean hypothermia,” I retort, flicking back the hair plastered to my face.
“I don’t give a fuck! Get out of there before I kill you myself!”
“Calm down,” I roll my eyes and go back under. Waves roll over my eardrums, reducing Maye’s yells to a distant, warbled buzz. My heart hammers, each thump a reminder of my existence, of the blood racing through my body and the expansion of my lungs.
I accept her outstretched hand and climb up the ledge, its rocky surface scraping my skin. Red buds bloom across my leg, mingling with beads of water. The warmth is almost pleasant against my frozen limbs. I release Maye’s hand and sit with my legs crossed beside her. Gravel nips my thighs but our knees are touching so I don’t dare move.
“Jesus,” Maye sighs, “I didn’t actually mean it when I dared you.” She has the same tone you’d use to berate a toddler for eating mud.
“Remember when you, me, and Kat used to go here as kids?”
Maye frowns but answers me anyway.
“She was always scared about falling in, even with the barrier.”
Soot dusts my pale hands. The steel is rusty, silver peeling away to expose the speckled orange beneath.
“And so you decided to jump in anyway?”
“Well, it sounds stupid when you put it like that.”
“What’s this really about?”
I bite my lip. I realise how cold I am, limbs shaking like I’m going through withdrawal. Maye takes off her coat and wraps it around me. She scoffs as she does it but I know she’s only teasing. I curl into her residual warmth, noting how the coat smells like Hollister body spray and her packed lunches.
“I miss her,” I say, my voice horridly watery.
“So do I.”
“I know she’s coming back for the summer holidays, but I want to see her now.”
“We all do.”
Tentatively, she threads our fingers together and squeezes slightly. Warmth ebbs from Maye’s palm to mine, her thumb tracing delicate patterns across my heart line. Sunrays stroke the soft planes of her face and paints her dark skin and eyes a gold hue. My chest feels delightfully and dreadfully tight.
“I wonder if she misses me as much as I miss her,” I murmur, resting my chin on my knees.
“Of course she does.”
“I message her all the time and she never responds. Or if she does, it’s just one word.”
“It’s only been a month and Kat’s got a lot going on. She’s got to deal with her new school, her new town, her new step-mum. She’s probably still getting used to everything.”
“So am I!”
“Yeah, it’s not all about me, and yeah, I’m probably being selfish, but my friend is gone! We can’t go to the cinema anymore, or sit next to each other in band, or even Skype now apparently!”
“It’s hard on everyone,” Maye exhales, “but she’ll come around.”
“Maybe for you.”
“You guys were friends first. I’m just the intruder stuck onto your duo.”
“What? You can’t actually believe that.”
“Kat and I never hung out by ourselves! It was always just you two!”
“Because you never asked her!”
“It’s not only that.”
“I said I wouldn’t tell.”
“Well, what am I supposed to do with that? Work with me here.”
“Come on, you can guess! Why else would she constantly be staring at you? It’s obvious!”
Maye flushes. It would be cute if it didn’t make my stomach twist.
“I did know about her... feelings for me.”
I swallow, hoping the hurt isn’t audible in my voice.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Because I was embarrassed! Honestly, the whole thing was such a disaster.”
“Ugh, okay, so a couple of months ago she asked me out and I thought she just meant as friends, you know? Like, sure, she was dressed really nice and paying, but she always pays for the both of us so I didn’t think anything of it. But then she tried to kiss me, and at first I thought she was joking, and then I realised too late she wasn’t, and in my head, I was gonna give this great speech about how I thought she was amazing but I didn’t like her in that way, but I started laughing instead.”
“Not in a mean way! I was really embarrassed, so I started nervously giggling, but then I couldn’t stop, and so... yeah.”
“You can’t be serious.”
“I panicked! I felt so bad, oh my God. I was gonna apologise but then I felt too awkward and then my Mum arrived to pick me up so I had to go.”
“Oh my God, Kat must have wanted to die.”
Laughter erupts from my chest and clears the sticky resentment from earlier.
“This is why I didn’t tell you!”
“God, why do gay girls always go after the straight ones?”
“You’re not what?”
“I’m not straight.”
Her words are as powerful as a bullet. A bullet that has shot through my chest.
“Only recently. I don’t think I’m only into guys.”
“So, you’re bi then?”
“Maybe? To be honest, I’m still quite confused. I know I definitely like guys and I’m pretty sure I like girls, but do I like all girls, or do I just really like this one girl? Like am I gay, or bi, or whatever, or straight and only gay for her?”
I’m going to have a heart attack.
“Who is it?”
“You can’t tell me you’ve gone gay and not tell me who converted you!”
“I wasn’t converted.”
“Come on, who is it?”
“I’m not telling you!”
“Tell me! Tell me! Tell me!”
I grasp her shoulders and shake, water droplets flying between us. She swats me away with little success.
“I...” I didn’t think it was possible for her face to get even redder but it does.
“Ugh, kill me, it’s too embarrassing.”
“Tell me! Or I’ll push you in.”
“Right, it’s...” Maye’s voice cracks.
I realise we’re still holding hands when I feel her palms sweat. I should find it gross but I don’t.
“I... might... maybe... like you...”
“Oh, fuck off, don’t make me repeat it.”
“You like me?”
“If you’re gonna brag I’ll leave!”
“No, no, no! I just... I... like you too.”
“I do! I’ve liked you for ages!”
“Yeah, right. Like a week, I bet.”
“Try a year.”
Maye tries to respond, mouth forming around words that won’t move.
“Yeah, so I win.”
“What the fuck? How didn’t I realise?”
“Well, considering Kat made a marriage pact with you and you still didn’t realise she was into you, it’s not surprising.”
“Don’t bring that up now!”
“No, I’m never letting you forget that.”
Squawking seagulls and whispering waves fill the silence. The gentle breeze plays with Maye’s curls, the ends tickling my nose. Her shampoo is light and floral and it elicits a shiver from me. Despite the frigid wind coaxing goosebumps along my arms, my face is burning.
“So...” I start.
“Does this mean we’re dating?”
“Yeah. If you want?”
Expectation buzzes between us. Maye flicks her gaze from my eyes to my lips, then looks away when I catch her. God, the only time I’ve kissed someone was in primary school and I don’t think that counts. Oh, Jesus, I’m gonna be terrible. What if my breath smells? Can’t I have confessed after brushing my teeth?
She’s closing the distance. Fuck, right, okay. Let’s do this. We connect, the angle awkward, noses mashing together. Her hands hover over my shoulder, unsure whether to grasp or not. I can’t help but feel disappointment. Aren’t there supposed to be fireworks or something? This is just wet and embarrassing.
“Wait,” Maye moves back.
I’ve ruined it. Everything is absolutely ruined.
Maye pulls me in once more. She tilts my head, capturing my lips properly this time, and oh, there it is. Her hands curl against my jaw, fingertips tracing the slopes of my cheeks and oh my God, I’m so gay, I’m so fucking gay.
We pull away, smiling at each other like we share a secret. Christ, am I giggling?
“How cold is it in there?”
“Pretty fucking cold.”
“Fancy another dive?”
With our fingers intertwined, we jump.
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