There is a kind of romance in the act of teenage rebelliousness, I think, as I paint my eyes with black and lips with red, wear too-high high heels and a too-tight dress that fits me so well it’d make my mother faint. I pucker my lips and imagine kissing a boy. I frown.
It’s dark outside, almost midnight, and I should be asleep because I have an English test tomorrow I can’t afford to fail (don’t you want to go to Harvard or Yale or something or other, make your parents proud?) but in the moment I can’t think of any of that because I crave the romance of rebellion.
The Uber ride is silent, the driver doesn’t get paid enough to care that I’m underage, and I get off with butterflies swarming my stomach and my legs weak because Am I really doing this?
The person who opens the door is the owner of the house and an acquaintance of a friend’s classmate, and he greets me without really seeing me because he’s already in another world. I wrinkle my nose at the stench of alcohol but I can’t say anything because Let the one without sin throw the first stone.
I knew boys would be interested—I’d practically invited the attention—but I didn’t realise how suffocating it’d be; my hand curls around a can that tastes sharp and burns my throat, sipping at it periodically despite the taste of gasoline because this wasn’t as romantic as I’d let myself daydream and I’m hoping that maybe the sting will make it less insufferable.
I catch sight of myself in the mirror, and the image is intoxicating; if it wasn’t a mirror and a real girl I think I would’ve gone up to her and kissed her. I wonder if this is how Cinderella felt before the clock struck midnight, because I can hardly recognise myself; I’m Narcissus and the mirror is my pool. I’m drunk on myself, but the sight of someone prettier shocks me into sobriety.
She smiles at me, and it’s almost flirtatious but I can’t be sure because surely someone as pretty as her can’t be interested in me, but it looks genuine enough and I find myself spiralling. She’s everything I wish I was, I realise; she’s like expensive alcohol and I’m a cheap imitation of finery.
“Hey,” she says, and there’s nothing smooth or romantic about that at all but the butterflies of adrenaline have turned into something less innocent.
She’s a girl.
“Hi.” I feel stupid I couldn’t think of anything better, but she seems charmed all the same.
“I like your makeup. Especially your eyeliner.” I flush, because I spent far too much time trying to make it perfect and I hated that all the boys saw my breasts before seeing my eyes. “You an artist?”
“I used to be,” I say. Awkward. I’m so awkward it’s so embarrassing why can’t I just be normal? Why do I care what she thinks?
“Well you’re obviously talented,” she says admiringly, her eyes roaming, and my flush deepens until it’s impossible to deny that I’m red. I blame it on the alcohol.
It is the first time anyone’s acknowledged my love for art and I can feel my eyes turning into hearts and she can tell because she smirks; she’s obviously experienced and that should make me jealous but I only feel flattered. I can feel the boys I was ignoring staring at us, and they’re the ones who look jealous but I’m not sure of who. She seems pleased that everyone’s staring and she guides me with a deceptively delicate hand to an empty couch.
There’s something wrong with me.
We talk for a long time, and Macbeth and Shakesphere become distant names as memories of them are replaced with her. I fall asleep with the taste of her lipstick on my tongue.
I wake up with a throbbing headache and it’s six in the morning and I begin to panic because I still have that English test. For a moment I’m frozen with fear because I’ve never missed class and I still smell like alcohol and I’m in a dress that’s obviously for partying and not for school.
Her hand curls around mine and she tugs me back down towards her but I resist because I think I like her (love is too strong a word), but My grades my parents my future my
“I’m sorry,” I whisper, but she doesn’t hear because she’s still asleep.
A girl a girl a girl you kissed a girl
I’ve had my fix,
and I know I’ll remember the adrenaline pumping through my veins and her soft kisses pressed against my skin for the rest of my life, but I’ve always been good about self control and so I know I’ll never go back.
I think about her eyes—grey, with a touch of blue, captivating in the way a piece of art is (and she is a piece of art, from her jaw that looks like it was carved from marble to her long lashes and full lips that are so, so red), and I wish I could paint them but I’d thrown away my brush and watercolours a long time ago because I’m not an addict, and art was too tempting of a passion, too distracting.
Yes yes yes she’s just your muse
She smells like stale alcohol and strawberries and I breathe her in, not wanting to let go of what I know I’ll never touch again. My hand hesitates because I don’t want to call the Uber that’ll take me away from here.
I strengthen my resolve.
I call the Uber and dig my glasses out from deep inside my bag before unearthing the crumpled notes I’d shoved last minute into my bag under the bottle of tequila I’d snuck out of my dad’s cabinet, skimming the red-and-blue writing as I allow Thou and Whereforth and other Old English words to replace the sweet nothings she’d murmured into my ear last night.
She becomes nothing more than a distant memory. It’s like when you think about your childhood—you can envision it like you’re watching a movie through blurred lenses, but think too hard about the details and it all dissipates like it never happened to begin with.
Maybe if I concentrate hard enough I can still make out her face. I try to draw her but nothing looks right, because you can’t recreate art and I was never much of an artist to begin with.
It doesn’t matter, I tell myself, because in my hands is an acceptance letter to Oxford. It doesn’t matter because even if I remembered her, I’d still be leaving her behind.
My family introduced me to a boy. He has an auspicious future and is interested in me (or who I pretend to be), and my parents like him well enough so even though I thought she’d be my first and last kiss he became my last, and I dated him even though he is faceless to me and all his I love you’s were never reciprocated. He’s nice enough but he’s not enough, and sometimes when kissing him I wish his lips tasted more like strawberries.
He was accepted to Harvard and so we decided on long distance (I preferred it this way, I could pretend he was someone else), and I guiltily allowed myself to feel excited about leaving home.
Freedom is exhilarating. The first day away from home I get drunk, but it’s not romantic like it was in high school, back when it was rebellious to do so and not just a thing people did. The second day away from home I break up with my boyfriend, and I feel a little better about myself. The third day I kiss a girl, and convince myself I didn’t like it.
The fourth day, a boy tries to kiss me and I punch him in the mouth.
The fifth day I swear I see her again, but it’s just some stranger, and I turn my face and ignore her when I realise.
I don’t like girls she was just
My lectures are interesting enough, but I still drift off once in awhile without the threat of my mother to keep me in line. Sometimes I skip class because I’m bored; it’s not like the professor will miss me anyway, and catching up on lectures is easy when you’re used to going without sleep. I change out of my polo shirt and skinny jeans and wear tight clothes and experiment with jewelry I’ve never been allowed to wear before because Are you trying to attract boys? What will your future husband think? Every night I call my mother and pretend guiltily I’m still her perfect daughter, but I already ruined that perfection the night I finally learned what artificial strawberry tastes like. “How is school? Is it hard being away from home?” she asks, and I answer in the way I know she wants me to: “No, but I miss you, mom.” I do miss her. I cry sometimes because I miss home cooked meals and the way she would ask about my day every time I came home, but I cry less.
I’ve never been short on friends and I make new ones quickly enough, and maybe they recognise the lonely look in my eyes because they drag me to a club I shouldn’t be allowed in and convince me to Talk to her! I say no, She’s a girl, and they frown at me and ask, And so what?
I don’t like girls, I say, and they all giggle as if I’ve just told a particularly funny joke, and I know how ridiculous it is, even to me; straight girls don’t kiss other girls and think about it for years. Straight girls don’t date men and wish he was more like a woman.
I talk to her.
Her laugh makes my heart stutter. She’s not her, she’s not even close, but maybe that doesn’t matter. It’s hours later when I realise she’s addicting in the most delicious way, sweet like candy but intense like nicotine. I kiss her and I feel like I’m drowning. Her eyes are the most beautiful brown, honey in the artificially too-bright light, and I can practically taste the thick sweetness on my tongue. My stomach is full of bees instead of butterflies. “Honey,” I call her, and she seems to like the nickname because she laughs, and she sounds like wind chimes.
I think I like girls.
They wrote this because they are lesbian.