DISCLAIMER: These characters are all my own creations, with the exception of Mickey Mouse and God.
CHALLENGE: Written for the first International Day of Femslash.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
"Speaking of registering, pop sensation Kat Kara and Lisa Vatton, her partner of six months, have announced plans to be wed three weeks from today in Vatton's native San Diego. Though the couple announced that the ceremony would be small and private, members of the press are already jockeying for access to what promises to be one of the highest profile results"
I don't look up. I just nod thoughtfully, cross out the last line I wrote, then lift the remote over my head and click the TV off. Tony looks at me sourly, but whether it's because of me, or those lesbians, or the whole state of California I couldn't say. "You see why it's so important for us to share your talent with the world? This whole country's going downhill in a hurry, and everybody's perfectly happy to just keep sliding."
"I know, Tony. And I want to spread the message of the Lord to as many people as I can, but to do that I need peace and quiet and time alone to write." My eyes flicker up, brows raised, and Tony grins sheepishly. He clears his throat.
"Right. I've got some phone calls to make anyway, to make sure everything's all set for your first big tour!" He punches my shoulder gently, and I can't help but smile. Tony might get a bit overzealous some times, but he's still the best manager I could ever have asked for. "I'll see you tomorrow morning, bright and early! Don't forget, I'm picking you up for the airport."
The door to the loft clicks shut behind him, and I take a moment to stretch myself out before leaning back down over the yellow legal pad next to the sheet music. Feel soÉhm, blessed? What rhymes with blessed? Dressed guessed? Should have guessed? I sigh and drop the pencil again.
When I was just playing with the church, the words always seemed to come so naturally, like they were straight from the Good Lord himself; but now that I can smell the slightest whiff of success, I feel locked up. Imagine that, Holly Prince, winner of the Christian Promise Award for her first album, poster child for church music programs from coast to coast, finally ready to bring the good word to a nation that needs it more than anything worried about her muse. I chuckle at the thought.
I glance out the window behind me and I'm surprised at how late it's gotten, the sun long gone behind the skyline. I can't stand Los Angeles, and not just for the multitude of reasons no good Christian could stand Los Angeles; I'm just not really a city girl at heart, I suppose.
Oh, forget it. It's late, I'm tired, and my lyrics will still be here in the morning. I pick myself up and head for the bathroom.
While I'm brushing my teeth, I study myself in the mirror. I don't usually pay all that much attention to my appearancelectures on vanity were some of my mother's favoritesbut it's not as if I have anything else to do at the moment. It might be my imagination, but my skin looks washed out: less brown, more ocher. Probably the smog. My hair's starting to look a little frizzy, too, but then, that's what those hair and makeup people are for, right? My entourage. I can't help but smile at the thought.
When I finish my prayers and slide under the covers, I sigh peacefully. Tomorrow's going to be a good day.
"I think I'm going to throw up."
"It'll be okay, Holly. We should be at the hotel in about fifteen minutes." Fifteen minutes.
Plus five hours on the plane, plus the hour we've already spent driving around Chicago "Whatever happened to tour busses?"
"Holly, sweetheart, nobody does bus tours anymore except politicians. Besides, you'd rather spend a week driving here?"
I groan and slide back into the seat, the neck of my guitar case butting up against the back of my head. As much faith as I have in Tony, I have to admit that up to this point the accommodations have been less than stellar. But he's wearing that infuriatingly sincere kindly-old-man smile that made me trust him in the first place when he promised he could 'make me,' and so far I've had no reason to doubt him. So far.
I glance out the window of the van, and my jaw drops. If the inside's anything like the outside, a room in this hotel probably costs more than my mother's house. "Wow, Tony "
"I know, you can thank me later. You better get settled in fast; rehearsal's tonight, then the first show's tomorrow." I grab my guitar while Tony and the driver take our suitcases; this is all happening so fast.
"How are we paying for this?"
"The organizer's footing the bill. All the bands are staying here."
Some of them are already heading into the lobby, and another's just pulling up; six Christian rock bands altogether, since the industry's not big enough for us to make ends meet touring separately.
"I still can't believe this is happening. I mean, some of these bands I've been listening to for years. They're part of my inspiration."
"Yeah, but they're not really what people are here to see."
I stop. Swivel. And blink. "What do you mean?"
There are thousands of them. I mean I knew the album was selling well, but Tony's been handling the actual numbers, the PR, I just assumed everything was going well, well. Getting in here to rehearse and seeing my name front and center on the marquee was one thing, but now this
"I had no idea there were going to be so many, I mean " I just stare out over the crowd through the hole in the curtains, hardly believing it when I see cardboard signs with my name on them being held aloft by people not much younger than me. "They're really here to see me?"
Tony chuckles. "My fault for keeping you so insulated, I guess. Suppose I never made it clear to you how big you were."
I just shake my head; no small thing, to suddenly learn one has fans.
"You think this is big, just wait 'til you're out there signing autographs."
My eyes bugautographs?
Before I can start babbling in tongues, Tony nudges my shoulder, drawing my attention to the almost creepily enthusiastic young evangel introducing the lineup for the night. When my name comes up, a massive whoop goes up from the crowd, and my heart skips a beat.
The emcee runs off the stage and the applause crescendos as the curtains slide open and the first band, a four-piece called Grace Project, starts to play. I take a deep breath and square my shoulders. Showtime.
Good luck and God bless, Holly. I've written it with variations what seems like a hundred times now, and they just keep coming. Some of the others seated around me with their CDs and 8x10 glossies, the ones who've been doing it longer, don't seem phased, but I'm practically vibrating. The young man in the tight jeans scurries away with the picture I just signed, and the line moves up. And that's when I see her.
I blink. I swallow. She smiles shyly, and the only thing I can think is how familiar she looks. "Hi."
I swallow again. "Hi."
She's got to be just about my age, even though she looks younger the way she's dressed; sweater with a bow on it, hair straight and black and done up in pigtails. Her lips are pink, standing out strikingly from her skin, which is almost white. I shake my headwhy am I noticing her lips?and realize that they're still moving as she compliments me on my performance.
"Could you just sign it, 'Melanie, you're the best, Holly'?"
I nod and scrawl it out on the CD case. She beams, and the sight gives me a weird feeling in the pit of my stomach. "So, Melanie?"
She blushes, a bright pink against her pale skin. "Um, actually this is for my friend. She had to go to the bathroom and didn't want to lose her place in line." She leans in closer, a loose strand of hair falling down across her cheek. "I don't know why I came here, I mean, I'm not even a Christian." She whispers like she's afraid I'm going to report her or something, but all I can think is how it makes it seem like we're the only two people in the world. She breaks eye contact and scoops up the CD. "And I don't know why I'm boring you with this stuff when you've got autographs to sign."
"You're not." I have to clear my throat when I realize how deep my voice has gotten all of a sudden. "And anyway, I'm glad you came, whyever." She smiles.
"I do like your stuff." Before I can thank her, she slips off into the crowd, and the next fan in line starts babbling nervously; I crane my neck to try to see where she went, but she's already gone. It takes me until the line of autograph seekers dries up and Tony comes out to escort me back to the hotel that I realize she never even told me her name.
Another night, another show.
All right, that sounds a little dismissive, but there's not much more to tell; I was pretty much wiped out by the first show, not even bothering to lift my head out of bed to protest when Tony suggested we go explore the city, then by four I had to go in for makeup, costume, and blocking. The crowd wasn't as big as the first night, and I'd gotten over the first performance hurdle, so I started to relax this time. Autographs were still hectic, but again not as bad as last night, so I'm not feeling as drained.
So when Tony asks me what I want to do on my last night in Chicago, I'm more than willing to go out. He seems a little worried when I stipulate that I mean without him, but I can't help it; he's been mothering me a little hard the last few days, and it would be nice to be out on my own. After all, if I'm going to be as famous as he keeps assuring me, this might be the last chance I have, right?
The drummer from Lord 4ce invited a few of us to a family fun center where his cousin works, so now I'm sitting at a little metal table chewing on bad pizza and trying to find something other than our own music to talk about. When the three others wander off to play skee-ball, that leaves just me and the host.
He smiles. "I really like your stuff."
"Thanks, you guys too."
We sit in silence as I stare at the tumultuous arcade surrounding us. He clears his throat. "So, where're you from?"
"Iowa Ottumwa. But I live in Los Angeles now."
He smiles again, and I sigh to myself. My mother always lauded me for never showing any interest in boys'too pure,' she saidbut it hasn't always made me feel like the most normal girl in the world. Take the drummer; he's cute enough, I guess, and kind of sweet and unassuming, but I blink. And stare.
After a second, the girl from last night looks up and meets my gaze; a brief flash of something goes over her eyes, then she cracks a smile. I smile back.
"So, um "
"I'm sorry, will you excuse me?"
The drummer stammers something out behind me as I cross the floor, eyes locked curiously on her as she takes another girl's place in the chair of the racing game. She settles into the plastic seat and smiles up at me as her friends look on in curiosity. "Holly."
"Girl who's not a Christian but likes me anyway."
She blushes a little, the pink less vivid in the multicolored light of the arcade. "Janet. Willis." Janet. I like it. It suits her, I guess. She turns to her friends. "Guys, this is Holly Prince. She's a singer."
They nod, polite but obviously not terribly interested. That's a little surprising. "No Melanie?"
She chuckles. "Sorry, way different crowd." She glances at the empty seat opposite hers, then at the band members who have recently reassembled at our table and are casting curious looks in my direction. "Do you, um I mean, I don't want to take you away from your friends "
"No, it's okay," I answer, a little more quickly than I intended to; I almost add 'they're not really my friends,' but she probably doesn't want to know.
"Well, do you want to race me?" She gestures to the other chair; one of her friends elbows another, and they give each other some odd glances, but I shrug and set myself down. I look over at Janet, and she flashes me a smile.
Until they kicked us out, neither one of us realized how late it was getting. At the point we realized that, we also realized that the people we'd walked in with had walked out again without ushours ago. When we strolled out onto the street together, it was quiet except for the sound of our chuckling. "I can't remember the last time I had so much fun."
She smiles, like she has been all night, and wraps her hand around mine without preamble. It's warm, and soft, and smooth. "Me neither." She tugs me away from the awning out onto the sidewalk; I'm not really sure where we're going, but it seems to be in the general direction of my hotel, so I don't argue. "I feel kind of guilty, though. For my friends, I mean. This was supposed to be our last big night together."
It takes me a few seconds to reply; there's something distracting about how her hand feels that's slowing down my thoughts. "Last night?"
"Yeah, summer's almost over, and they're mostly staying in town, but I'm headed to UCLA."
I stop and face her. "Really? You're kidding, I live in LA."
Her smile widens, and it makes me really notice her eyes for the first time; they're green, as near as I can tell under the streetlights, and somehow seem more full of life than anyone else's I can remember. She holds my gaze for a few seconds, then blinks and turns back toward the sidewalk. I shake my head, and we keep walking.
"I'm sorry about your friends, I didn't mean to monopolize your time, I just don't get to do stuff like this often."
"Oh, I'm sure they'll be fine. I mean, tonight was also kind of supposed to cheer me up and, well, mission accomplished."
"Cheer you up?"
"Yeah, I just went through a I was on the receiving end of a really bad break-up."
"Oh, man, I'm sorry." And I am. Granted I haven't known her very long, but I can't see how anyone in their right mind would want to break up with Janet.
"It's okay. I'm over it. Or I'm getting over it."
We keep walking in silence for a few minutes; I know I should feel nervous out on the streets this late, but something about having Janet next to me and having her hand in mine just makes me feel safe.
Eventually, my curiosity gets the best of me. "So, what happened?"
"Your bad break-up? I mean, I guess that's a little"
"No, it's okay." Janet takes a deep breath. "Just a right place, wrong time kind of thing, I guess. I mean, when we first got together it was so good, and so sweet, you know?"
I can't help but blush a little. "Not really. I mean, I haven't really had a lot of experience on the dating front."
"Oh." She squeezes my hand, and I squeeze back, and smile. "Anyway, Cal and I were together for about a year. And I thought things were pretty good, but then well I guess as graduation got closer, we started to take a good hard look at how things were going to change. I mean, Cal's going to Brown, so we're going to be on opposite sides of the country, but this summer I thought we were working things out. Then out of nowhere she just " Janet clears her throat, "made it very clear that we were entirely over. But I'm getting over it, I mean, I've got plenty to look forward to, right?" She looks over at me, and I realize that my hand's gone slack in hers. "Holly?"
Her eyes go wide as saucers, and her hand slips free of mine. "Oh, Jeez, I didn't I mean, I know you fuck "
I think my hands are shaking, and I just stare at her. She stammers.
"I fuck, I have to go."
I make a vowel sound of protest, but she's running down the street in the opposite direction.
After what seems like an hour, I turn numbly back around and walk on autopilot, my mind working like molasses. This sweet, fun girl I thought could be a good friend was really a dy I can't even think it.
When I get back to the hotel and Tony tells me how worried he was and how I'm getting a cell phone as soon as we get back to LA, I shake him off and just crawl up to my room and into bed. I try to think, but the confusion knots up until all I can do is cry.
"You okay, honey?"
"Yeah, Tony, I'm fine." We're having breakfast at the hotel because we don't have time for anything else; we leave for the next stop on the tour in a few hours. Meaning whatever happened with Janet, I won't have to deal with it now. Even if I want to.
I smile just a little. "Tony, you're more of a father to me than my own dad ever was." He blinks, obviously taken aback by the compliment, but it's true; if I'd had my way, Mom would have sent him packing long before she did. "So I don't need you to start being my mother too."
He chuckles. "At least tell me you had a good time last night."
"Yeah." What gives me pause isn't that I'm lying to reassure himbut that, looking back on last night, I'm telling the truth. "For a while, anyway."
"Why, what happened?"
"Just, things got a little more complicated than they were when I started."
"But you're okay."
I put down my fork and fold my napkin so I don't have time to really think about the answer. "Yeah. You ready to go?"
He pays, we get up and head to the shuttle, and I don't slow my pace down until we're on the plane. The sooner I get out of Chicago the better.
Chicago. Detroit. Cleveland. Buffalo. Baltimore. Cincinnati. Two weeks in all, and by the time we get back to LA, all I want to do is pass out. After Chicago, the shows all started blending together; all I really remember is signing autographs, some strange hope in the back of my mind that I'd see green eyes and a blush and a shy smile looking down and asking for my autograph. I don't know why I care.
Except I do. Of course I do; I care because I haven't had anything close to a friend since junior high school, when my mother put the fear of Godboth literal and figurativeinto anyone, boy or girl, who hung around me for too long. And then all of a sudden I had someone who was all I could have wanted in a friend, someone who was more than I ever could have hoped for except for that.
How was I supposed to handle that?
"Holly, sweetheart, how's it coming?"
I sigh, set down the pencil, and look down at the blank sheet; in the past few hours I've set aside for lyrics, I haven't written a word.
"I don't know, the words just don't seem to be coming today. Is it okay if I head out for a walk, or something?"
"Yeah, of course. Just remember that you have that interview for Christianity Now at six."
"I know. Thanks."
I step out onto the street and glance down at my watchMickey Mouse, vintage, the same one I've had since I was sevenand it's three thirty. The sun's still up, not quite as sweltering as when I left for the tour, and I just let it hit my face for a moment. Then, I start walking. No direction in particular, just wherever I feel the need to go Guide my feet, indeed.
I take a quick glance down at my watch; it's four forty six. That means I've been frozen to the sidewalk, staring at the coffee shop across the street for six minutes. And the only thing I can think is still It can't be her.
She gets up to throw away her cup, chuckles at whatever the blonde sitting with her says and I'm crossing the street before I have time to change my mind. She looks up from the garbage can and the green eyes that have been creeping into my thoughts since Chicago go wide. I couldn't even begin to interpret the look on her face, but she turns and walks back toward her table just a little faster than when she left.
"Janet!" I only realize I'm practically running when I reach the table just as she grabs her purse. "Janet."
The blonde looks up at her and Janet bites her lip. "Cynthia, this is Holly. We knew each other in Chicago."
The blonde smiles and nods a little, obviously confused. "Holly, this is Cynthia, she's my OA. She's showing me around the neighborhood."
UCLA. Right. Of course. I knew that. "Can we talk?"
She's still not looking at me. "I have to get"
"Please." God, please.
Her eyes flicker up to meet mine, just for a second, and she sighs. "I'll catch up?"
Cynthia nods and stands up, her eyes flitting back and forth between the two of us, but after a moment she turns and walks off the way I came. I stare after her as she goes, until Janet's voice snaps me out of it. "She's not."
I blink and turn to face her; she has her arms folded over her chest. "And she doesn't know that I am. I haven't come out to her yet. Shock, right, seeing how well it went last time?"
I wince as if she slapped me, and her face softens. "I'm sorry, that was uncalled for."
"No, I'm sorry. I mean, I was just thrown. You seem so nice for a "
She snorts. "Jesus fucking Christ." I wince again, and she sighs. "Right; the whole 'name in vain' thing. Well, one good slur deserves another, doesn't it?"
"I didn't say "
"You were thinking it."
Yes, I was. "I I don't know how to be different." She sighs, and her eyes soften again. "It's how I was brought up."
"So then why are you here?"
I swallow. "Because you seem so I thought we could be friends."
"And now?" Her eyes just keep boring into me, and finally I can't help but crack.
"Look, can we just take a walk, or something?"
Now that we're walking, I don't really know what to say. But she's still staring at me, so I have to start somehow.
"It's hard. When something turns out to be different than you expected." She doesn't say anything, just keeps looking at me. "I just, I didn't know there were people like you who were well, people like you." I blush. "I guess I'm kind of sheltered."
I stop short, and it takes a moment for her to follow and turn back to face me. I meet her gaze head-on. "I was taught that people like you go to Hell."
"And I don't know what to do with that."
"I'm not asking you to do anything."
"But I want to be with you. Be friends with you," I add hastily.
She shrugs. "So do it."
"It's not that simple."
"Yes. It is. What, are you afraid I'm going to pounce on you?"
I sigh. "No."
She throws up her arms. "Well, then what's the problem?"
I don't know.
When I don't answer, she sighs. "Look, I like hanging out with you. I mean, for the most part. And I don't have a lot of friends in LA."
In the silence I glance down at my watch, and start. "Oh, it's almost I'm so sorry, this isn't I have an interview tonight that I need to get ready for." I pull out the memo pad and the ballpoint that I always keep in my back pocket in case inspiration strikes. "This is my number. Would you just call me some time? Please?"
She takes the ripped sheet and looks down at it for a long moment. "Yeah, okay."
I finally let myself smile. "Okay."
It's two days later when I get the call. Or more accurately, when Tony gets the call. "Holly?"
I stick my head around the bedroom door, the files we were going to go over still in my hands. "Yeah?"
He gestures to the receiver. "Someone on the phone for you."
I immediately feel my breath pick up. "Who is it?"
"Some girl. Jenny something."
I somehow manage to roll my eyes while running full speed across the apartment, and grab the phone before Tony can even pull his hand back. "Janet?"
The voice on the other end of the line makes me grin. "Hey. Um I don't know if you're doing anything tonight, but I have these Kings tickets the school raffled off, and "
"Sure!" I clear my throat. "I mean, I think I'm free."
"Great! Good. We can can you meet me back at that coffeehouse in like, an hour?"
"Cool. Okay, um bye."
Tony's staring at me when I put the phone back on the hook. "And that was what in the world?"
"Oh, Janet's a friend, she goes to UCLA."
"Oh, I didn't know you had " He catches himself. " met anyone at UCLA."
I try to smile. Friends, he was going to say. "I'm trying. She invited me to a hockey game."
"Oh. Do, uh do you need me to drive you anywhere?"
"No, it's okay."
"All right. Well, I'll just let you get ready, then." He heads for the door, then turns back. "Is she a Christian?"
I pause with my hand on the door; good girls don't lie. "Good night, Tony."
He considers me for a second, but then nods. "Good night."
Janet slides past me, two giant tubs of soda and a hot dog juggled in her arms. She offers one of the monstrous beverages to me, and I take it without complaint. People are still sitting down, and a young man about our age squeezes past, turning to excuse himself, then shooting us a toothy grin. I smile back shyly, then watch him as he passes.
Janet nudges my shoulder. "He's cute."
I blink. "Hm? I guess." She gives me a curious glance, and I shrug. "I've just never really noticed boys that way."
"So we at least have something in common." It's obvious what she's trying to do with the gentle teasing: get me used to the idea of her her. I give her a nudge of my own in gratitude.
"Sometimes it makes me worry there might be something wrong with me, though." I realize what I said. "Oh, Janet, I didn't mean it like that"
"It's okay." She lays her hand experimentally on top of mine. "Fortunately for you, I just happen to have the patience of a saint." She pauses. "So to speak."
She throws me a smile, and I chuckle. That just makes us both smile wider. Cradling the obscenely large drink in my hands, I lean back to watch the game.
"So never at all?"
"Hm?" It was the first thing I'd said since we'd started our walk home, so I can't fault Janet for being confused.
"I mean attracted to boys?"
She smiles a little, just at the corners of her mouth. "Not really. Not since like fourth grade anyway. You neither?"
I shrug. "My mom always said it was just because I knew what God wanted of me so well."
"To spread his message. Through song, it turns out. Help save people "
"People like me?"
I close my eyes and inhale. "I am trying."
She sighs. "I know. I'm sorry." After pausing for a moment, she tentatively takes my hand, much less surely than she did that first night. I sink gratefully into its warmth, and we keep walking. "You know, there's nothing in the Bible about it."
Now it's my turn to be confused. "What?"
"The Bible. What it says is 'No man shall lie with a man as with a woman.' And I'm certainly not into that." I shoot her a glance half chastising, half disbelieving. She smiles devilishly. "Opposition research?"
I shake my head, and we keep walking. Nothing my mind tells me makes my heart think that a girl like this is going to Hell. I swallow. "Tell me about Cal."
She glances sidelong at me, a trace of fear in her eyes. "Are you sure?"
"Yeah. I want to I feel like I should know this stuff. I want to."
Janet nods, and a bittersweet, far-off look takes over her eyes. "We met at the end of our junior year. Her full name's Calendula, she was a cheerleader, of all things." She grins. "I did love that uniform "
I force the entirely inappropriate image from my mind.
"She was such a romantic. She actually came out for me, because she said I deserved to be taken out on a normal date, like anyone else. And we were so good together " She sniffs, and clears her throat. "For a while, anyway."
"What's it like?" I ask for a reason I don't understand, before I can stop myself. She turns to look at me, goggle-eyed, but it's too late to back out now. "I mean, being with with a girl. Doing things "
She can see how much I'm struggling to say the words, and it finally makes that teasing smile edge back onto her lips. "What, you automatically assume I haven't been saving myself for marriage?" I stammer, but she smiles before I can embarrass myself any further.
"It's good." She can't help but giggle a little. "It's soft and hard in different places, I don't think I can really describe it. It's warm, and it's smooth, and it's good."
Good. I can't help the images that flood my mind, images of Janet and some girl locked in a passionate embrace, kissing, touching I blush. I'm amazed she can see it in the streetlights, but she does, and her smile falters. "I'm sorry, this is weirding you out."
"No!" I answer way too readily. "I mean, I opposition research, right?"
That makes her grin, and once I shake myself away from the sight I look around at where we are. "That's my building, right up there."
She nods, and walks me to the stoop, still holding my hand. "I had a good time tonight. Better than most dates I've been on," she chuckles. DatesÉ
After a pause, Janet leans in and pecks me on the cheek. "See you around?"
"Yeah." She smiles, skips off, and turns to wave. I numbly wave back.
"I don't think we should be doing this." My ragged breathing belies my warning, but I try to keep Janet's hands at my sides.
She grins next to my ear. "Yes we should."
And yes, of course we should.
Her fingers slip under the hem of my t-shirt, and I buck unwittingly just from the feel of the rough, soft pads of her fingertips against the skin of my stomach. The motion makes her grin. "You like that?"
I can't make any sounds, but my silence seems to speak volumes to her as she kneels down, fingers brushing slow circles over my abdomen; I can feel her breath on my skin. Without warning, her lips touch my flesh, and I gaspI had no idea it would feel like this. Her tongue slips out, filling my navel as her hands tug playfully at the waistband of my skirt. I help her pull, more than eager for anything she's willing to teach me, give me, anything to ease the growing pressure between my legs. Her lips dip lower, her kisses sending spikes of electricity up my spine. Then she leans forward, my thighs pushed apart gently in her hands, and her tongue
I wake with a gasp. It takes a minute for the dream, the conversation, the whole night, to settle back over me. I shake my head. It was nothing. It didn't mean anything. I was just still thinking about what Janet said about what it was like, then when she kissed me
I blink. I squeeze my eyes shut. Oh, no.
Please, God, no.
"We're here today with eighteen-year-old Holly Prince, who's become one of the biggest names in Christian rock almost overnight. Thanks for joining us, Holly."
I nod. A television interview's the last thing I need right now, but Tony insisted, and I certainly don't need to give him any indication that something's wrong. "My pleasure."
The questions are all pretty basic, which is a shame; it gives me too much time to obsess. When we wrap, the correspondent thanks me, slightly awkward and aloof like she's been to me off camera all morning, and we both get up to leave. We're met at the door by another woman, smiling warmly.
"Hey honey, are you free for lunch?" The newcomer leans into the correspondent for a quick kiss, and my eyes go wide. The reporter's lips tighten and they pull away.
"No, wait!" When they turn back around, the reporter glares at me and her partner or rather her partner just looks confused.
"Baby, this is Holly Prince. Christian rock star." She turns her icy gaze back on me. "Did you want to say something? Because unless you"
"No, I " I take a deep breath. I can't believe I'm actually going to do this, but the last couple of days obsessing over this have got to end, one way or the other. "I wanted to ask you about I mean, when did you first feel like " I peter off helplessly.
The reporter's girlfriend gives me a sympathetic look. "Well, I figured myself out my sophomore year of college, but Rose didn't until a few years ago."
"So you were straight until then?" 'Rose' looks offended, but then no more offended than she has since we'd first been introduced.
"No, I just didn't know how I was naturally." She needn't have bothered with the emphasis; I'd already caught plenty of flak from Janet on the whole 'born gay' thing.
"Why do you ask, honey?" I let myself take refuge in the comparatively sympathetic eyes of the girlfriend, but I can't bring myself to answer, to actually say it out loud.
Rose gently tugs on her hand. "Come on, let's get to lunch."
The girlfriend nods and reluctantly follows, leaving me standing alone in the hallway, still no idea where to go next.
Since the hockey game, Janet and I have met twice. And each time it's gotten harder. If she noticed anything, she hasn't mentioned it, but I managed to get through both afternoons without doing anything I'll regret.
Tonight's number three.
I'm standing in front of the mirror, brushing my hair. What was once unremarkable is now glossy and black. My face bears the traces of the little makeup kit Janet got for me the last time we went out, and I'm wearing the most attractive outfit I own. I hardly recognize myself. I'm doing that a lot these days. I sigh and set the brush down.
"You can do this." Whatever this is.
We're going down to the Santa Monica Pier, and when I come down to meet her on the apartment stoop, her eyes widen appreciatively, and the thought that it's because of me makes my heart swell a little. I try to fight it down. "Ready?"
"Yeah." She blinks, then shakes her head. "You look great."
I swallow nervously. "Thanks."
We step out onto the street, and our hands twist together without a thought.
As I lean back on the barstool, an old glass Coke bottle in my hands, some tiny little part of me still can't help but smile.
We did everything; we sang, we danced, we rode, we played, we sat on the pier, feet dangling over the edge and just talked. It would have been the perfect night, if I'd been able to enjoy any of it.
I come back from my reverie to realize that she's talking. My gaze starts on her lips as they stop moving, then slowly meander up her face until I reach her eyes, looking at me curiously. She really is beautiful.
"Are you okay?"
"Yeah." I take a nervous sip, clear my throat, and put the bottle down. "Janet, can I ask you when did you, how did you know?"
She narrows her eyes. "Holly, is something wrong?"
Oh, God, she knows. How could sheÉ
"No, I'm fine!" I smile a little too wide, chuckle a little too loud. "Really, I was just "
"C'mon, Holly, I thought we were over this " She reaches out to cup her hand over mine atop the bar, and I nearly fall off my seat at the familiar warmth. As it is, I manage to send the Coke bottle crashing to the floor, and that's practically enough to get me crying as I wrench away. "Holly, what"
But I just spin unsteadily to my feet, all but running in my attempts to get some distance between us. I'm halfway back toward the mouth of the pier before I feel her hand on my shoulder, swinging me around so that my back slams hard against the brick. "Damn it, Holly. Don't give me this, you're better than this crap. Now I know you're all sheltered, and conservative, and I'm trying to get used to it, but for God's sake"
It's not really a kiss, the first time.
She's still moving wildly, so I miss her lips completely, my mouth latching on to her jaw, but either it gets the point across or it's just enough of a shock to get her to stop moving. Then my tongue's in her mouth.
I've never done this before, with anyonejust heard it giggled about by girls in the school cafeteriabut it seems to have a force all its own. If it didn't, I'm sure Janet would have pulled away by now, shocked and disgusted. Instead, she pulls against me, her hands circling around my back. I don't know what to do with mine, but one eventually lands in her hair, threading into the soft strands and pressing her body closer against mine. It's warm, and it's smooth, and it's good. Just like she said. Just like I knew it would be.
Finally, we have to part in order to breathe, and once I take a gulp of air I lean back in, panting. But she pulls away.
I squint at her, uncomprehending through the haze I'm in.
"No. Just stop, Holly."
"No!" She throws off my hands, putting all the distance between us she can. "I'm not " She steps back into the glare of a streetlight, and I can only now see that she's crying.
"I don't know what the fuck this is, but I'm not going to be your experiment, or your rebellion, or whatever, all right? I deserve a lot better than that."
I can't even speak. I just hold out my hand, not knowing what I expect her to do with it. She merely shakes her head.
As she stumbles away, I can't move at all. The horrible certainty settles over me that I've just destroyed the single best thing in my life.
"Janet, please " My voice is weak, and pathetic, and pointless; she's already gone.
"I love you."
It's light now, and I'm still crying. Well, no, the tears ran out before midnight and my throat's been too raw to make a sound for hours, but I'm still sobbing, shaking, eyes squeezed shut as the sunlight filters through the bedroom window.
The knock on the door is just loud enough to send me tumbling out of bed.
I practically drag the covers with me as I stumble out into the main room, groping almost blindly for the door. "Janet! I "
My voice collapses on itself, and Tony blinks back at me. "Wasn't that the girl " He looks me over. "Oh, sweetheart, what happened?"
I realize I must look like a messmanhandled hair sticking out, trails of mascara dried on my facebut all I can really manage to think is that it isn't Janet. When my strength gives out and I start to collapse backwards, sobs and hiccups starting fresh, Tony catches me.
"Holly, Holly, what happened? Did something did someone hurt you?"
I can hear what he really means, but the implication isn't even enough to make me flinch. I just shake my head. "No. No, I I hurt someone else."
He turns his sad, thin eyes toward the window and the morning skyline, and strokes my hair. "Go take a shower and I'll make you breakfast."
"I just want to"
"Go take a shower. I'll make breakfast."
I run a towel over my hair again and pull the big fuzzy bathrobe tighter. If nothing else, Tony's suggestionbe honest, ordergot all the gunk off my face. The smell of something is wafting from the kitchenette, and I follow it out. Tony smiles and sets down a plate of pancakes. "Now. Talk with your mouth full."
I spend a while just picking at the food, trying to gather my thoughts. When it looks like I'm not going to say anything, Tony sits down across the counter from me. "You said you hurt somebody?"
I just nod.
"Was it that Janet girl?"
I hiccup, a reminder of the tears, and nod.
"I it's private." He looks vaguely offended, but doesn't press the issue. "I don't I don't think she'll want to be my friend anymore."
"Well, whatever it was, it only happened last night."
"Yeah, but this was a big thing."
"Have you tried apologizing?"
"I tried to call her. She had her phone off."
Tony shrugs. "Well, maybe you just need to give her some time to think about it. If it's meant to be, it'll be."
"But it has to be!" I toss down the fork. "She's more that just a friend, she" I manage to suck the next couple words back in, and stare down at my plate in dread.
When Tony finally speaks, I can't read anything in his voice. "I know what this is."
"You haven't had a real friend in so long. It's like she's all you have." I let out a shudder, and he lays his hand on top of mine. "But don't put that kind of pressure on yourself. After all, you have me, right?"
But I won't if you ever find out what I really am. I can barely look at him. He just sighs. "Maybe you should try to do something to show her you didn't mean anything by it."
I sniffle. I blink. "Or that I really did mean something by it."
Tony blinks, clearly lost. "Uh, yeah. Okay."
"I mean, she thinks that I was just " I blink. "But what if that doesn't matter? What if the reason she said it is because she just doesn't oh, God, Tony, what if she doesn't?"
He's too confused to even catch my momentary blasphemy.
I swallow resolutely. "If she doesn't, then I'll just have to convince her. I mean, I can't go on like this, I have to at least try something!" I leap up from my chair, a hair's breadth from sending it spinning toward the floor. In the time it takes me to pull on my clothes, grab my guitar case, and streak back out from the bedroom, Tony's still sitting in the kitchen, staring at my empty seat. I plant a heartfelt kiss on his cheek, and grin. "Thank you, Tony!"
I barely hear his muttered last words as I slam the door behind me.
"Don't mention it."
I'm sitting in the cafe where I ran into her a week God Almighty, was it really only a week ago? My latte's long gone cold, but it doesn't matter; I hold up the legal pad in front of me triumphantly, the bright midday sun glinting off the graphite of the first song I've written since I came to LA. And it's sure as Hell not about God.
I glance down at Mickey4:15. It's later than I thought, and I'll have to get a move on. There's something in the back of my head, a voice that sounds suspiciously like my mother's, telling me how stupid this plan is. How even if I can find her, there's no guarantee she'll so much as listen to me, let alone but I shove that voice back.
I've been listening to Mom, and Tony, and the Church for eighteen years.
Now it's my turn.
As big a campus as it is, it's almost too easy for me to find out where Janet lives; after asking about half a dozen people, I actually found someone who pointed out her very window; I'm almost tempted to think it was divine providence. But now that I'm standing underneath, the doubts begin to creep back.
What if she's not home? What if she doesn't hear me? What if she ignores me? What if campus security carries me off and Tony has to come and bail me out of jail for disturbing the peace?
What if she doesn't love me?
I ease the case down, lift up my guitar, pick a chord, any chord, and start to sing.
This is a different kind of singing than I've ever done. There's more emotion here, more soul, than there ever was when I was singing about God. I stand there, a small crowd already gathering around me, but I don't care.
I sing about everything; meeting her, befriending her falling for her. Being afraid.
Heads are popping up in windows all over the building, but not in hers. Finally, on the second to last refrain, a face appears.
But it's not her.
The redhead in Janet's window looks down in apparent horror, her hair in disarray, her eyes bleary. Then, Janet's follows it up. Her eyes go wide, her cheeks flush in embarrassment. So do mine. I've stopped singing.
So that's why she of course. What could I ever offer a girl like that, anyway?
Very slowly, I pack my guitar up and turn to leave, oblivious to the silent stares of the crowd. I refuse to let myself cry. Not here.
The crowd moves to part for me just as I hear the snap of a door being shoved open, and I suck in a breath. Then I turn to face her.
I try to decipher the look in her eyes as she strides toward me, half strutting, half running, but all I can really think is how beautiful she looks. She stops a few paces from me and folds her arms, then unfolds them, letting her hands fidget at her sides. I take a deep breath. I can take this.
"You woke up my roommate."
Roommate? "Roommate?" I thoughtÉ "I thought " I let the sentence hang on the air, brutally aware of the crowd still gathered around us. The silence is unbearable, green eyes drilling into me. Another long stare, and then
"Do you have any idea how cliched this is?"
I can't do anything but shrug helplessly. "I'm sorry, I don't go to the movies much."
Her façade cracks just a little. "I remember." Finally, her eyes leave mine, glaring instead at the audience gathered around us until the circle breaks up, chattering. When we're finally alone on the courtyard, she turns her stare back on me.
I swallow. "I'm sorry. I've never done this before."
Just as I see the faintest glimmer of sympathy, she shakes free and turns around. "I can't do this, Holly."
"Because " She spins back toward me, fighting to keep her voice low. "Because I care about you too much, all right?"
My heart stops beating at the confession. Or maybe it starts again. "I care about you too."
She squeezes her eyes closed, fat tears running down her face. "No, Holly. I "
" love you." She stops; I'm surprised my voice was even loud enough for her to hear. "I can feel it, inside. I know it. And I don't know how else I can make you believe me."
She's just standing there. Like when I kissed her, the shock seems to have been enough for me to make the next move. I step closer. "And I know you don't you might not I don't want you to take pity on me. I just needed you to know."
It seems like an eternity before she steps across the space between us, tentatively coming to a stop just in front of my face. I don't dare move, praying that I can only make it through this without doing anything stupid. That's when she kisses me.
Lightly, almost chastely, holding my hands gently in front of me, and I have to fight not to surge forward into her. As it is, when she pulls back, still looking into my eyes, I let out a long-held sigh.
"Go out with me."
Janet squints. "What?"
"Cal was right. You deserve to be taken out on a normal date, like anyone else." I gulp. "Go out with me, tomorrow night."
For a long moment, Janet just stands, staring past me, and it's all I can do to keep breathing. Then, slowly, she smiles.
"Emergency meeting. I have to go to Akron to talk down the producers. Won't be back 'til Tuesday afternoon."
"Huh?" Tony leans around the door-frame of the bedroom.
I pause, the earring halfway raised. "I said I'll be fine, Tony. Do what you've got to do."
He shrugs, steps up behind me, ruffles my hair, and offers an affectionate kiss on the top of the head. Whether it's him, or the thought of what I have to look forward to tonight, I can't help but smile.
"Have a good trip."
When he shuts the door behind him, I methodically correct the hairs he knocked out of place. It seems like I've done nothing for the last twenty four hours other than prepare; shopping, bathing, hair, makeup. I haven't put in this much effort since well, since that night that would completely shatter my confidence to even think about, so let's not.
I glance down at Mickey, the only thing that doesn't fit with the rest of my outfit. Almost six thirty. I glance into the mirror, and for the first time I can remember I recognize the girl looking back at me.
"Wow. You look " I struggle to find a word. "Hideous."
Janet lets out a thin, nervous smile, so different from the full, sunny grins I've grown accustomed to. "You too. You could have at least put in a little effort."
I manage to take my eyes off herand more accurately off the slinky, aqua-colored dress that suddenly makes my fantasies about her much more vividlong enough to get us started down the sidewalk. As we walk, I tentatively reach out my hand; my relaxation is beyond words when hers comes up to meet it, the familiar soft warmth of the gesture wrapping around me. She smiles, just a little bit more.
"So where are we going?"
We're just finishing dessert, and I can still barely believe we're really here. We've been talking on and off throughout dinner at a small bistro only a few blocks from my building, about our families, our dreams, our tastes but mostly we've just been looking at each other. And all joking aside, tonight Janet is likely the most beautiful woman I've ever seen.
Over the past two hours, I've learned the contours of her face by heart: the narrow, hooded set of her eyes, the slight curl up at the end of her nose, the bright and expressive quirks of her lips as she talks. Of course, this could all have something to do with the fact that I'm trying so hard not to look at anything below her face. At the mere thought, my eyes flick down to the dusting of freckles on Janet's bare shoulders, the pale curvature of her collarbone down into her I blush. When I look up to meet her eyes, she's smiling, and that just makes me blush deeper.
"It's okay, you know." The sudden breach in the silence forces me to meet her eyes again, and when I do she's still smiling. "You're allowed to look." She blushes a bit herself. "It's not like I haven't been," she mutters.
The quiet admission sends a not remotely unpleasant shiver from my shoulders downward. I take a deep breath. "How about we get out of here?"
We talked while we walked, like always, but I couldn't say about what I was in a trance, aware only of the subtle pressure of her hand against mine, the feel of our bare arms rubbing together when she leaned in closer. I didn't even notice that we were headed toward my building until we got there.
I clear my throat, certain I'm going to pass out any second. Come on, Holly. You can do this. Breathe. "Do you want to come in for a while?"
Janet steps up onto the stoop in order to look evenly into my eyes. "Are you sure?"
I can't bring myself to speak, but I manage to nod and clumsily work the lock. As we walk up the stairs, she occasionally bumps into me, each momentary suggestion of her curves against my back making my breath catch. I fumble with the key, inhale, and finally manage to unlock the door, very conscious of her hovering behind me. When we step inside and she clicks the door closed behind us, I pause. I can hear my heart thundering in my ears, and my breath is going ragged even as I struggle to keep it under control.
After a fleeting glance around the sparse apartment, Janet brings her eyes back to meet mine. "Are you really sure you want to do this? I wouldn't think "
I close my eyes, breathe deep, and nod vigorously.
Janet swallows nervously and, when I still don't move, she steps forward.
So far tonight she's made an effort to let me be in control, but now when she grabs my hand I'm grateful for it. Then that gratefulness turns to something else as she guides my hand to the side, laying it gently across her stomach. Tentatively, I move my fingers, feeling the material of her dress slide and bunch under them, and the suggestion of her body heat underneath. I look up from the sight to find her eyes still locked patiently on me, her breathing shallow and her lips parted slightly. I take the last step forward and press my lips gently to hers, an indescribable thrill filling me when she responds.
Janet's tongue teases softly at my lips, sliding over my teeth and gums as her hand comes to rest hesitantly on my hip. My free hand rises to her waist, gliding over the material and unwittingly traveling farther up her chest. When my hand meets the underside of her breast, she gasps, and I pull back to look in her eyes. With a shy smile, she nods, and I lean back in.
As our lips rejoin, my fingers trace slowly up the curve of her breast, over the rippling fabric and a bump that I realize with a heady thrill must be her nipple. Then, my fingers cross the neckline, soft silk giving way to softer skin, and her breathing catches again. I pull back, unsure what I want, much less how to put it into words.
"Can I "
She just smiles. "You can do whatever you want."
Carefully, I slide my hands back up her sides until they rest cupped, gently, around her breasts. With another nod from her, I squeeze experimentally, Janet's purr encouraging me to press forward, my lips grazing the soft skin of her throat as my palms and fingers roll gently over the small, firm mounds under them. I hit a particularly sensitive spot on the underside, and Janet gasps. "Holly " I utter a sound halfway between a response and a satisfied hum. "Can I can I do that to you?"
My breathing stops, and my hands freeze. I never even considered that she might want to even as I think it, I can feel my nipples swell against the suddenly stifling fabric of my dress. "Please "
Janet's arms weave between mine, a fingertip on each hand tracing lightly over the exposed skin of my chest, and I shiver. My hands try to mimic her soft movements, but I can't help but feel like it's only inarticulate groping compared to dear God, when did she put her hand there?
Her fingers close around my nipple, and I practically dive into her arms. We lose ourselves in the play of tongue on tongue, hands gliding over skin and fabric, thighs sliding between one another; I don't even realize I'm rubbing up against her until she starts moaning. Her hand rises from my breast and I can't believe how much I miss the contact, but then I feel her fingers under the strap on my shoulder. Then she stops.
Slowly, Janet pulls back to look into my eyes, her pupils wide and black and her breathing barely under control. "How far I mean, I know this is technically " She swallows. "How far do you want to go?"
Images flood my mind, and if I wasn't being supported by her arms I'm sure I'd be floored by them.
"I I want you," I manage to stammer, but it's enough. The smile that lights her face is impossibly lovely, and her lips crush against mine, her hands gently sliding the straps of the dress down over my shoulders. I drop my arms, don't even think as she pulls down until the material pools around my waist. I've already fumbled at my back and tossed the bra to the floor before the reality of the situation sinks in and a spear of panic shoots through me. My arms come up to cross over my exposed breasts, and I can feel how hard my nipples have become.
Janet must read my stiffness, because she pauses too, hands gently sliding around my wrists and guiding my arms apart. She gazes down at my chest, and my blush deepens even as my nipples rise further under her attention. "You are so beautiful," she murmurs, and I'm close to crying.
"Can can I "
She just smiles and steps back, neither resisting nor urging me on as my shaking hands pull down on the straps of her dress. When I tug the material down, I gasp I'd spent so much time studiously not staring at Janet's breasts tonight that I didn't even notice she wasn't wearing a bra. Now her breasts, firm, high, and bigger than mine, stand exposed, and all I can think is More.
I press back toward her, pulling the dress further down her body, my fingers on fire wherever they scrape against her bare skin, until they slide over her outer thighs and the dress falls to the floor. I look up at Janet in abject wonder, the stray moonlight hitting her from behind as she shifts nervously in nothing but her silk panties. "You are so beautiful," I murmur.
She almost sobs, and leans down to capture my lips with hers. As our hands desperately try to cover every inch of exposed skin at once, my feet guide us automatically back toward the open door of the bedroom. When I hit the edge of the bed, I tip back, and Janet takes the opportunity to slide the dress down my legs.
We stand, staring at each other in the dimness, and then she starts to chuckle.
And I start to chuckle.
And she starts to laugh.
And I start to laugh.
And before I know it we've collapsed, sobbing with absolute giddiness, in each other's arms. Any lingering concern over what we're doing dissolves, floats away on the clouds of laughter and the absolute rightness of being here in her arms.
As the giggling dies away, I steal a glance over at Janet, lying beside me with the curve of her breasts jutting invitingly in the air and a far-off look in her eyes. "What is it?"
She swallows. "I, uh I think I'm just a little nervous."
I squint, and lift myself up on one elbow. "What do you have to be nervous about?"
She turns to meet my eyes, and I'm practically knocked back down to the bed by the raw feeling in them. "If we do this I'm never going to be able to not have you in my life."
A moment of silence as she looks down lets me finally think about what I'm doing. What we're doing. About what my mother will think, and Tony, my church, my fans, my producers
I lean down and kiss her.
My ardor flares back to life the moment I feel her naked breasts rub against mine, and I groan as she guides me back on to the bed, her lips leaving a scalding trail as they march down my throat, between my breasts and circle my navel as her hands deftly slide my panties down to be tossed against the bedroom wall. When the heat of her mouth meets the heat between my legs, it's all I can do to keep from screaming.
She plants soft kisses down my vulva, hot fingers dancing tantalizingly close on my inner thighs. I don't know what I want, only that I want more of it. When her lips latch on to my clitoris, I lose control of my voice. As Janet licks and sucks, a stream of nonsense words comes pouring out at a volume I'm sure the neighbors on all sidesif not on the whole floorcan hear. But it's the last thing I care about. As Janet's tongue enters me, I feel a white hot shiver run through my body, a scream tear itself from my lips, then nothing.
When I open my eyes again, Janet is looking up at me. "Are you okay?" I can still feel her breath against my thigh, and it makes every feeling that just drained away stir back to life.
"Yeah," I gasp. "Yeah, I I think I just passed out there for a second. Was was that a "
That brilliant grin lights her face. "Yeah. And I'm not that far off "
"Tell me what you want me to do." The entreaty is out of my mouth before I can even think, and just hearing it makes my desire burn harder.
She slides back down my legs, sliding her panties off and letting them flutter to the foot of the bed; I can't help but stare at finally seeing Janet completely naked. She crawls her way up my body, and I can feel her swollen nipples rake against my skin. When her thigh slides between mine, I feel her wet heat and can't help but gasp. "Just do what I do."
Before I can even process the words, Janet starts to grind, her soft, hot skin sliding against me, and I pick up the rhythm without a thought. The heat and the wetness and the motion send pinpricks all across my body, and I look down to the impossible sight of our breasts kissed together, moving as we do. Janet's breath is growing shorter and her needy, intense grunts growing sharper, and the sound is almost enough to bring me to another peak already. I can feel the burning between my legs, and Janet's against my thigh, growing, until it almost hurts. That's when Janet pushes forward, one final thrust as her lips claim mine. I scream into her mouth, and stars explode in front of my eyes as we arrive together.
We slowly drift back down to earth, still holding the kiss as our bodies relax and a soft glow settles over every inch of connected skin. Janet slides to my side, her hands coming up to brace my face, then hold it still as she stares straight into my dreamy, dilated eyes. "I am so very in love with you."
Despite the lethargy coming over my muscles, my hands manage to slide up to her cheeks. I lean in and kiss her, gently, just once, and try to put everything I can into the touch. "I am so very in love with you."
As her eyes droop and Janet drops into sleep, the last thing I see is her weary, satisfied, relieved, and unmistakably beautiful smile.
I listen to Janet's breathing as she sleeps, and feel her arms tighten around me as she murmurs contentedly. I know that tomorrow I will have to deal with Tony, and my mother, and the undeniably different direction my life is about to take. I know things might get hard, might get ugly.
But right now, I'm holding Janet Ellis, the first and only love I've ever had, in my arms as she sleeps, and I know that I'll be able to handle anything else as long as I get to have that. Maybe we could even go to Kat Kara and Lisa Vatton for some advice from what I understand, they've got something rather important planned in San Diego this weekend.
I let Janet's warmth wash over me, and everything else floats from my mind. And as my eyes flutter shut, I sigh peacefully.
Tomorrow's going to be a good day.
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