|Separate But Never Apart
Author: The Integral of Awesome PM
Arty could never get the smell of bubble gum and cotton candy out of her nose. F/FRated: Fiction T - English - Romance/Friendship - Words: 2,675 - Favs: 1 - Published: 06-28-11 - Status: Complete - id: 2927912
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Separate But Never Apart
"The most beautiful discovery true friends make is that they can grow separately without growing apart." -Elizabeth Foley
"Hi," she said with a lip-splitting smile plastered on her face, hand broadly and shamelessly volunteered in front of her, "I'm Billy."
Arty took one look at the bright blond braids topped with even brighter pink ribbons, smelled one whiff of bubble gum and cotton candy on her breath, heard one word explode off her tongue like pop rocks, and knew, without a doubt, that this girl was trouble. She hesitantly raised her hand to meet what she could only assume was a pact of life-long friendship the girl was offering. "Arty."
The girl, Billy, smiled impossibly wider and threw her arms around Arty with force that surprised her. The girl may be small, but she was damn strong. "We're going to be the best of friends." Billy's grip tightened further as she babbled about all the wonders they would encounter together, and her proximity intensified the scent of bubble gum and cotton candy immensely. After only a few seconds of the seemingly endless embrace, Arty became legitimately concerned that she would pass out.
After a lifetime and a half, Billy released Arty, clutching onto her hand instead. "Come on!" she bubbled excitedly, "you can have dinner at my place."
Arty didn't get so much as a chance to catch her breath before she was being dragged in what must have been the direction of Billy's house. From what Arty was able to pick up from Billy's incessant ramblings, she lived right down the street.
And that was how, at the tender age of nine and three-quarters, Billy and Arty met. Well, nine and three-quarters for Arty; nine and a half for Billy. The distinction was very important.
Arty quickly learned that the aroma of bubble gum and cotton candy that clung to Billy was not because the girl chewed any such flavor of gum and ate any such sweet. In fact, Arty could find no plausible reason for the smell, yet it always remained. One week that her parents had been out of town and had, therefore, left her in the capable hands of Mr. and Mrs. Billy's dad and mom, Arty went on a quest to discover the source of the mysterious odor. She'd known Billy for nearly a year, and the smell baffled her to no end. She'd searched Billy's shampoo, softener, hand soap, everything, but there was nothing to find. Arty left that week with no answers and smelling only ever-so-faintly of bubble gum and cotton candy herself (the smell always hung around her for a little while when she spent prolonged periods of time with Billy). After that debacle, she decided that Billy must simply sweat bubble gum and cotton candy, and that she should just leave it alone before she drove herself crazy.
As the years past, the smell didn't fade. Age mellowed Billy greatly, softening her robust energy and curbing her appetite for conversation, but she never lost that child-like sparkle. Arty often found herself staring in wonder throughout their teen years at the growing young woman who smelt of bubble gum and cotton candy and wore bright pink ribbons in her bright blonde hair. Billy would bat the lashes of her big blue eyes at the boys, and they would all simply topple over for her, but she didn't spare them a second glance. Miss Billy Bobber was far too engrossed in dolls and Disney Princesses to care about silly old boys.
Arty blossomed in academics, flourishing in her sciences, especially, and, while Billy didn't do as well (and certainly not in science), she was no where near dumb. It was a favorite pastime of Arty's to watch someone clearly intelligent ask Billy a question because she often had answers almost too insightful for someone her age. The best part was the way the pompous, holier-than-thou look fled from their eyes like they'd just seen a pig speak fluent Portuguese.
Interestingly enough, Billy did speak fluent Portuguese. And Italian. And French. She had an ear for languages that was uncanny. Arty always assumed it was because she loved too talk so much.
They were gearing up for college and their futures (hopefully together) when Billy dropped a bomb.
"I'm going to Europe."
Arty smiled at her, not yet noticing the grave look in her friend's eyes. "Like on a trip this summer? That'll be awesome for you. You're always saying how much you want to visit all those far away places you read about."
Billy shook her head, lips pressed into a tight line. "Not like a trip, Arty. I'm going to live there, at least for a few years."
Arty's smile drooped a little, but she shook it off. "That's- that's cool, too."
That made Billy angry. Arty could never understand Billy's anger, rare as it was. It would explode out of nowhere, and Arty had yet to find a good way to cool it. "And you're totally O.K. with this!"
That didn't make any sense. "Well, it'll kind of suck, being so far away, but we'll work it out. If it's what you want, it's what I want for you."
Billy was already shaking her head. Billy always did that, started contradicting Arty before she'd even finished talking. Usually, Arty didn't care. She actually found it kind of endearing, but today it was infuriating. "No, it won't work. We won't work, not like that."
Arty felt a chill sneaking up her spine. Those words didn't sound good. "Billy, what do you mean? You're scaring me."
"Even children grow older, Arty," Billy said, voice uncharacteristically serious. "We had to grow up, eventually."
Arty felt frustration building in her chest. "I still don't understand, Billy! I know we may not stay together together, but we can still stay friends, can't we? I mean, we can talk on the phone all the time, no matter where either of us are." Arty shook her head, trying to grasp Billy's motivation. It just didn't make any sense. "Billy, what's been up with you lately?"
Billy's eyes, always soft and inviting, hardened. "Just leave me alone; you wouldn't understand."
Billy forgot her jacket at Arty's house that night; she never came back for it. She never came back for her CDs, T-shirts, or books. Arty found a dozen things that had Billy written all over them (sometimes literally) when she was packing for college, things that Billy had never come back for. Feeling a kind of kinship with the items, she secretly stowed them away in a box with no label to remind her of the girl she'd been best friends with since she was nine and three-quarters.
Arty stuck the box in a corner under her bed at Penn State and promptly forgot about it, or, at least, she liked to believe she forgot about it. She made new friends, dated a couple of less than premium guys, and, all the while, she pretended that her heart didn't pang for bubble gum and cotton candy and bright pink ribbons. She majored in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. She made straight A's. She did everything she always said she was going to do, but she could never shake the feeling that something was missing.
She was on her way back to dorm room after spending six straight hours writing a midterm paper while working on her Forensic Science MPS at Penn when she realize exactly what it was she had been missing.
Arty took one look at the bright blond braids topped with even brighter pink ribbons, smelled one whiff of bubble gum and cotton candy on her breath, heard one word explode off her tongue like pop rocks, and knew, without a doubt, that this girl was trouble. "Billy."
Billy blinked back tears from her watery eyes and threw her arms around Arty with force that surprised her. She'd forgotten how strong Billy could be, despite her size. Billy's grip tightened further as she babbled about how much she had missed Arty and how she would never leave her again, and her proximity intensified the scent of bubble gum and cotton candy immensely. After a few seconds of the seemingly endless embrace, Arty decided that she never wanted it to end.
Arty wrapped her arms around Billy in reciprocation, deeply breathing in her sweet scent. "Billy, you don't need to apologize. We were both stubborn idiots. I should have gone to you; I should have stayed with you."
Billy was shaking her head before Arty had even finished talking. "No, I was silly. I was scared and jealous and silly. I just didn't want to lose you," she laughed a wet sort of smile, "but I guess I didn't really help that."
Suddenly, Billy released her hold, grabbing Arty by the hand. The feeling was comfortable, like an old sweatshirt that fit just right. "Come on," she said, a real smile breaking onto her lips, "you can have dinner at my place."
It turned out, Billy lived not too far from the university, herself. She had come to Penn State after spending three years abroad, galavanting around Europe and even Asia, working as needed wherever she was. She had earned her degree in Global and International Studies in half the time it should have taken and was now looking for a job as a foreign correspondent. Professor Heiner (Arty had never heard of him, but he was, apparently, a genius) thought she showed a lot of promise. He'd personally taken her under his wing and was helping her find her way in the world.
Arty felt a sort of pang in her chest as Billy talked, voice bubbling over like it always had. This girl walking with her, it was Billy to a T, but the young woman was also so much more. The last time Arty had seen Billy, she'd been undoubtedly smart and full of potential but totally clueless what she wanted to do with her life. She'd been spontaneous, barely seeing a week ahead of herself. Now she was planning a future, settling down. Her little Billy was all grown up.
What they talked and joked about as Billy re-heated a nice "homemade" meal from the restaurant down the street was not important. They could have been saying "peas and carrots" for all that it mattered because the point was that they were talking. Arty talked about science and school, and she never felt boring like when she talked to other people about it. Telling it to Billy made it interesting because that was just the way Billy was. Arty had always felt like what she was saying was important when Billy was the one listening. She'd forgotten how good that felt.
After the meal they had ice cream and then coffee and then some strange tea Billy had picked up on a trip to Taiwan and then more coffee. Arty was fast running out of excuses for staying with Billy, but she was too afraid to leave. She worried that she would walk out the door and never see the girl again, her girl. It was a silly, paranoid fear, but Billy seemed to share it because she kept making suggestions. More coffee? Tea? Water? Anything? Arty really didn't want anything else, but she kept saying yes, anyway.
Finally, they ran out of ideas, and Billy hesitantly walked Arty to her door. They stood awkwardly for a second, embracing too quickly and at an utter loss. Slowly, Arty reached for the door knob, but before she got there, Billy caved.
"Please don't leave!" she practically yelled, hand snatching Arty's wrist. Her eyes were glued to the floor. "I lost you five years ago. I was stupid and scared, and I lost you. I can't do it again. I won't loose you again, so I have to ask, to beg that you stay."
"Billy-" Arty started, but Billy's upheld hand silenced her.
"I have to tell you something." Billy forced her gaze up, straight into Arty's eyes. "Five years ago, I was scared of losing you because you're my best friend, but there was more to it. I was just figuring some stuff about myself out, and that stuff scared the shit out of me, and I normally would have talked to you, but this was… You know I love you, Arty, but there's more. I like you, like you, too." She paused ever-briefly to regain her breath and continued to plow on. "I dated girls in Europe, but they were never you. I thought that if I ran away I wouldn't end up pushing you away or loosing you, but that was just stupid of me because running away meant loosing you."
Billy swallowed, and Arty noticed how her eyes were gleaming. "I know you still may not feel the same way, and it's O.K. if you don't, but I can't loose you. I can't live my life without; you're my best friend. I just, I have to know if you would've said yes."
A long silence stretched between them, and Arty vaguely wondered why Billy's face was draining of hope. This was great news. Shocking news. Great news! Arty hadn't been able to pinpoint the feeling she had grown for Billy until nearly two years after they'd split up. She had never put much stock into it because Billy hadn't been in her life when she'd realized that she had fallen for the girl. Arty wasn't gay; she didn't drool over just any girl, but Billy wasn't just any girl. Billy was her own case, a single shining light in the dark.
Inside, Arty was practically jumping with joy. This was great. Not only did she have Billy back, but now they could be so much better than before! So, why did Billy look so dejected?
"You know, you could say something."
Oh, right. Arty had forgotten that part.
Billy turned her eyes to the floor, and Arty swore she saw a tear drift down her cheek. "You know what, never mind. I think I've got my answer. Why don't you go before I make more of a fool of myself?"
Arty's mouth bobbed open like a fish trying to suck in air. Why wouldn't her mouth form the words?
Billy's fingers were worrying the hem of her shirt. "We can still be friends, though, right? I'll get over this silly crush, I promise. You're friendship is the most important thing in the world to me."
Finally, Arty got control of her body again. "Billy, shut up."
Billy's head snapped back up, her blue eyes glazed and rimmed red.
Arty took one look at the girl, the woman, that was standing in front of her and knew what she wanted to do. So, without a moment's hesitation, she plunged head first into the bubble gum and cotton candy and kissed Billy Bobber silly.
The following scene grew a little explicit, and then a lot explicit, and then a little explicit again.
And that was how, at the tender age of twenty-three and three quarters, Arty discovered that she very much liked waking up to the smell of bubble gum and cotton candy. Well, twenty-three and three-quarters for Arty; twenty-three and a half for Billy. The distinction was still very important. Some things just never change.