AN: LAST CHAPTER. I've got a couple of one shots that will be going up in this time slot over the next couple of weeks, maybe even more femmeslash if I can just finish Fitting Dreams. Feel free to read them, but for now I'll just give my thanks to the incomparable Spawnmeister666, Pen2paperandknife2throat, multiples of six, JessieJean, Rooftops, Nara Occult, master of suspence and Totally Raven for their gorgeous and shining reviews.
Chapter 9: Unhappy Endings
I don't talk to anyone all weekend. It's easier not to, lest they love or hate me. I read, I talk to my cat. He doesn't talk back, and I approve of that. I do my homework; school won't slow down for me just because I'm miserable.
On Monday, everything's not quite back to normal, because Natalie's memories and mine come between us; a bulky, inescapable reality. The elephant in the room. Still, she's dry-eyed, and she greets me casually as I walk in to school. I greet her back, because not doing so would be pointless and cruel and would make things so much harder.
Steph, sitting next to Natalie, gives me a small, forgiving smile, and puts a hand casually over Natalie's. Natalie smiles at her, and I'm so grateful that Steph can be there for her, and so angry that I can't.
At lunchtime, I walk with Claire. She leans against a wall, digs a cigarette out of her pocket, and lights up, raising her eyebrows as if expecting me to flee back to the others.
"I'll buy you a cigarette holder for your birthday," I tell her instead, and she smiles.
"Want one?" She holds the packet out to me.
I consider it; I'm more tempted than I'd like to admit. But I remember what happened last time I gave in to my impulses.
"Ask me next time I'm drunk," I tell her instead, and she shoves them back into her pocket, laughing a little.
"Come on, babe, let's go buy chocolate," Claire tells me, dropping the cigarette at last and stamping on it absently.
"Good plan," I agree, and we walk to meet the others. Natalie's standing with Steph; Lily and Kristine appear to be deep in conversation about their boyfriends.
I guess it's a balance, of a sort.
It gets easier. There's no more winking, no more groping, but in a way it's a relief to have those boundaries. No more cuddling, and I miss that easiness, but we can talk again, now, even if we don't go to each other's houses every other weekend like we used to.
The discomfort comes back, briefly, a week or so later. "Claire sent me the weirdest email last night," Natalie remarks. "It was all 'I've never known how to tell you this, but I'm deeply in love with you, and have been for some time. I dream of kissing you, of tying you to your bedposts...' and it went on from there in rather alarming detail."
"Frightening," I reply, amused. "What did you do?"
"Sent her an email back saying I'm sorry, I didn't feel the same, I was in love with someone else, and my bed doesn't even have bedposts."
I shift uneasily at the mention of being in love; I thought that was all behind me.
Lily rescues me unexpectedly. "She sent an identical email to me," she dismisses it. "It was just one of Claire's strange, twisted little jokes."
"Nope," Claire contradicts them, strolling into our midst. "I was hoping I could talk you into a threesome. It'd be fun. Any takers?"
"Didn't we have a discussion on the non-viability of three girls in a relationship?" I remind her.
"Who said anything about a relationship?" Claire shrugs. "It would just be a crazy night of kinky bedpost sex."
"Don't tell me, I don't want to know," Steph declares as she joins the group. She stands next to Natalie; she often does, these days. I guess they're now best friends.
"Poor taste," Claire sniffs. "Everyone should want to know about kinky bedpost sex. You never know when the knowledge might come in handy."
Laughter and shaken heads dispel the conversation, and I try not to be angry at Natalie for bringing up one of those things that was better left forgotten.
I don't quite succeed.
When Natalie starts humming an annoying song, some weeks later, it's Steph, not me, who tickles her to make her stop, and who chases her when she runs, trying in vain to maliciously keep singing through her shrieks of laughter. Steph corners Natalie in a niche behind the lockers; now we can't see them, except for the sides of their arms, but it's clear that Natalie is pressed up against the wall.
"You know, from here, what you're doing could really be misinterpreted," I drawl.
Another explosion of laughter from the feuding pair greets my words, but when Steph steps out again, her face is ever so slightly pink. "Who says it's a misinterpretation?" she manages to say slyly, winking.
"You mean you were making out in a public place and you didn't invite me?" Claire says indignantly. "Honestly. Some people."
I can't stop thinking about the way Steph blushed.
It's hard to tell when two girls are together, unless they either tell you or they kiss. Girls hug, sit on each others laps, cuddle, hold hands - or my friends do, at least. Even a cheek kiss is nothing between two girls, whereas any other gender combination would make it worthy of a raised eyebrow at least. Lingering looks could be a sign of a secret shared, or even 'what is she wearing?' just as much as they could be a sign of affection.
Still, when I see Natalie and Steph talking at the top of the stairs one day, while I stand, caught in curiosity, at the bottom, it's clear that something's changed.
They stand very close together; no more than a few scant inches separating them. They're talking seriously; at one point, Steph reaches out to touch Natalie's hand, and she catches her fingers, smiling. Steph bends close and brushes a kiss against Natalie's cheek as the dark haired girl slips off to class.
They're happy. I don't remember ever being more jealous.
Steph sees me, and raises her eyebrows. I shrug, fighting to keep my expression cool and blank. I don't think I succeed.
Later that day, she takes me aside. It's a free lesson, not lunch break, so we can't leave school grounds, but we walk around the field, her quiet and me brooding. "We've been together a week," Steph tells me at last.
"How nice for you." I know she can see right through my sulkiness, but I don't care.
"Amy, I'm not just the rebound," she tells me seriously. "She's not... exactly... still hung up on you. Yeah, she's still got all those feelings for you, but she's realised it won't work, and she knows she's got to move on."
"Like your residual feelings for Lily?" I ask spitefully, and Steph flushes. She's had a monster crush on Lily since... ages. That had been part of the reason for the break up with Emma.
"Yeah, like that," she agrees, a bit stiffly. "Look, it's not like this is some 'drown our sorrows with each other' type thing. Not a 'we can't have what we want, so we're going to settle'. It's because we're really good friends, we're both having troubles right now, and we can help each other!"
"How?" The word explodes from me incredulously. "Between you you've got enough problems to fill a psychology textbook! You're on anti-depressants! You cut! How are you qualified to help someone, especially someone who's got the same problems as you?"
She doesn't scream at me, or hate me; distantly, I'm more impressed than I've ever been in my life. "We've got problems, yeah," she agrees resolutely. "But you didn't have problems, not obvious ones, anyway, and you couldn't do a damn thing to keep Natalie sane. It's not about emotional health, for God's sake! It's about understanding. Empathy, not just sympathy." Steph stops, making me stop too. We stare at each other. "I'm coming off the antidepressants," she tells me calmly. "And as for the cutting -" she smiles a little. "Me and Natalie are going to stop together."
"Oh, great," I say bitterly, turning away. "How wonderfully fucking romantic. The two teenage screw-ups find true love and sort themselves out."
"Maybe not true love," she shakes her head. "But we can find happiness, Amy!" She grabs my arm, and looks at me. "You couldn't do the relationship with Natalie. Fine, so be it. No one blames you. I can. Let it go. Let that be enough."
I want to cry, but I've tried not to cry in public since I was a hysterical little girl. "Sometimes..." My voice sounds odd, even as I say the words. "Sometimes I still want to kiss her."
Steph stares at me for a little bit longer, and then releases my arm. "Let it go," she tells me more gently. "Go clubbing with Claire. Get drunk, get stoned, pick up some guy. Get a boyfriend, one who you can kiss in public without feeling uncomfortable. One who isn't messed up. Stop obsessing over what you are; it doesn't matter. You're bicurious. Big deal. Everyone's got troubles."
I swallow down all the words I want to say. "Congratulations on getting together with Natalie." I choke it out, remembering how she said a similar thing to me, once, so very long ago, and wondering if the words tasted this bitter on her tongue, too.
"Thanks," she says genuinely, and I turn and walk away.
I guess it's all over, now. Everything's sorted out, except for the memories in my head. Natalie and Steph are happy together, Lily and Kristine are happy with their boyfriends, who still haven't run off to Japan. Claire may or may not be happy. I never could tell.
I smoke one of her cigarettes one day; it makes me cough and choke. I take a desperate swallow of water, and tell myself never again while she laughs at me.
Steph and Natalie walk by, half embracing: they see me and Claire so cheerful together. Steph gives me an encouraging smile, and I feel suddenly sick again.
I could have left it how it was, with me and Natalie curled together on my bed, lips together, arms around each other. For those moments, when I didn't think, I was happy. Truly happy, for those brief seconds - but I couldn't do it, I just couldn't.
I'm such a fool.
But sometimes I wonder, if you go on long enough, would every story have an unhappy ending?
FINAL NOTE: It's been an - interesting road, and I was both surprised and gratified to get such enthusiastic responses from all my readers. If you haven't reviewed yet, IT'S NOT TOO LATE. Though please note, any and all requests for sequels, spin offs, or drabbles will be totally ignored. Some of my stories have potential for sequels, but this one, I think, does not. If the ending doesn't suit you, I'm afraid that's too bad.
This was a story about one episode in Amy's life; now that the episode is over, so is the story. If you feel particularly cheated of closure, console yourself with the thought that in university she probably found that ménage à trois she was thinking about in chapter 6, and settled at last for being bisexual. Who knows, it could happen. If you're wondering about Natalie, I imagine she sorts out her life a little bit and eventually finds an absolutely lovely woman (or man) to spend the rest of her life with.
Thanks again to all those who gave me feedback about this story. Much love to you.