LGBTQ+ Coming of Age Teens & Young Adult

Giana’s beauty, hypnotic in its perfection, never dulled. Even when she scowled, she was glowing.

I met Giana in the sixth grade. This was the same year that I read a study in some vicious Cosmo. The study claimed that ninety percent of a randomly sampled population found frowning to be unattractive, aesthetically unappealing to the eye. So ladies, the magazine had urged, remember to show those pearly whites. I had self-consciously consumed the piece with fervent desperation; I needed to be loved as those pink-cheeked, grinning models were loved. I would practice flashing a smile in the mirror every day before school, obsessively picking at my teeth, poking at my dimples.

While I agreed with the study’s findings at the time, meticulous in my scrutiny of my fellow students’ own smiles, I believed Giana to be an exception to the rule. Her frowns did nothing to shake the magnetic force that she wielded. Her eyes, clear as a cloudless day, shone bright, whether they’d been ignited by fury or amusement. Giana was conventionally impeccable in her appearance. I never resented her for the ease at which her hips swayed when she walked or the effortless, impressive quirk of her lips. Sometimes, though, when Giana’s diamond eyes hardened and her mouth formed a sneer, envy would unfurl in me. Her brutality often went ignored because her image was unblemished. I can still vividly recall the pressing attention of the boys in our class, their stares perpetually trained on Giana no matter the circumstance.

“They all like you, you know,” I had whispered into her ear on an unassuming Monday morning at school. As subtle as my seventh-grade self could be, I gestured to the pack of boys herded together in the corner of the art room. We were supposed to be working on drawing portraits. Our art teacher had instructed that we create self-portraits, but Giana insisted that she and I attempt to draw each other; she swore that our professor would never notice the difference between who drew who. When I asked why she wanted to draw me instead of herself, she’d just shrugged it off.

None of the giggling boys had a pencil in their hands. They were too busy ogling at Giana’s back.

“Oh, hush,” she rolled her eyes at my comment, but her mouth quirked upwards in a tiny glimmer of a smirk. As she sketched her portrait, she scoured my face. Her gaze drifted down to my lips where it froze and hovered for a moment. I took comfort in her attention.

“Which one would you date?” I asked conspiratorially or, perhaps, pestered. I could never imagine being in her shoes, having the whole world beg at my feet. At our age, attention and interest were their own form of currency. Giana was rich with them.

Her good mood appeared to sour at my question, though. She physically recoiled from where we’d been huddled together. Crossing her arms, her eyes danced with fire.

“Why, Amy?” she taunted. “Searching for my scraps?”

My mouth went dry. I had to restrain that familiar envious churning in the pit of my stomach. I tugged back at it like a rabid dog kept still by a leash. Wordlessly, I scooted back in my chair and resumed my own sketch of her. Without being completely conscious of the action, my hand erased the faint smile on portrait-Giana’s face and replaced it with a shaky line that curved downwards.

Giana’s moments of cruelty seemed to strike at the oddest of times. As our friendship battled onwards, I grew accustomed to the idea that there truly was no reason for Giana’s mood swings. Not only were the rapid shifts in attitude unjustifiable, but they also seemed to be reserved for myself and myself only; I’d never seen Giana cut anyone else the burning glances she’d send my way.

On a night out with our friends, I caught her staring at me heavily, some weighted look in her eye; she looked beyond bothered. Our little group had badgered Giana’s mother into dropping us off at a fancy restaurant. We’d all scrounged for cash nestled at the bottom of our parents’ purses, as we were determined children, thirteen and desperate to be adults. I wore a velvet dress with intricate laced hemming, a dress that I proudly believed made me appear mature, prettier, more like Giana. It was this hemming that I caught Giana’s heated gaze fixed upon from across the restaurant table.

Suddenly insecure, I tugged at the lace that hugged my chest. Once she realized I’d caught her watching me, she flinched. For a moment, I could have sworn she looked embarrassed. I quickly double-downed on the impossibility of it, though. I couldn’t comprehend that humiliation was an emotion Giana experienced.

She blinked at me a few times, her cheeks reddening, before ending our impromptu staring contest with cool dismissal. She did not acknowledge my presence for the rest of the night.

Despite this confusion, my uncertainty and dread conjured by Giana’s unpredictability, I could not simply dismiss the bond we had. She might’ve been neglectful, mean at times, but Giana and I had exchanged talk of dark secrets, deep desires, and ideal futures. It felt as though we were bound together by intensity, the trials and tribulations of middle school. More superficially, although I’d never admit it aloud, I liked standing by Giana’s side, having the chance to call a Cosmo-model-replica my friend. The advertisements planted inside of those magazines festered in my juvenile brain and made themselves at home.

With only a few days left until the portraits were due, Giana and I sat in her bedroom and tried to draw each other’s faces to the best of our abilities. “You’re so beautiful,” I swore, watching her from where I reclined on her bed. Peering up from her paper and pencil, a hesitant but delighted smile grew on her face. She had to have known she was gorgeous, but for some reason, the words seemed to have meant something different coming from my mouth. Something more valuable.

“You think I’m beautiful?” She tucked a strand of shiny, dark hair behind her ear.

“Uh,” I squinted. This should have been obvious. “I wish I looked like you.”

Her shoulders visibly tensed at my remark.

“So you just want to be me?” That contented smile faded. Her voice raised from soft to demanding. The shift in tone was so sudden that all I could muster at first was a blank stare. I had given her a compliment. I couldn’t understand why she would be angry.

“Chill out,” I sat up on her bed, my hands lifting in the air. It was an attempt to placate. I suppose it backfired. “Just calm down.”

“I am not an animal,” she seethed, that scowl present once more, “and I’m bored of you now. You can go.”

“I was trying to be nice,” I snapped. “I know that’s a foreign concept to you, but when people offer compliments, they’re generally received with a ‘thank you.’”

She was furious. “Well, it wasn’t the kind of compliment I was looking for from you.”

“What does that even mean?” I sighed, shrill and so, so confused. “Why can’t you just be my friend? Why does everything have to turn into an argument with you?”

“Just get out, Amy.” Even while livid, distraught, even while uncaring, she was still so beautiful. I hated her so much. She thrived without even trying. She could be awful. She could make mistakes. She’d never obsess over a statistic in Cosmo.

I left. I gave up. Giana would never understand what it was like to pick at her teeth and poke at her dimples every morning before school.

The following day, Giana did not show up to our art class. There was, however, her finished portrait of me placed carefully on the very center of my desk, neat amongst the chaos of our class. She had to have come early, dropped off the painting, and left me to drown in the melancholy of being partnerless. I allowed myself a moment to be exasperated by her pettiness. When I actually took a good look at the portrait, my jaw dropped.

I was beautiful. The flush to my cheeks, the shimmer in my eyes, the sheer detail of the portrait brought me to life. Giana had done an excellent job, far better than I could’ve done myself. This was how she saw me, perceived me to be. Beautiful.

She did not speak to me again after our fight. It’s been years, but sometimes I still pull out that portrait of me to muse at. I’ve combed over the painting relentlessly throughout the past decade, in awe of how glamorous she’d drawn me. Only recently did I notice the “G + A” she’d scrawled in the corner, a small but breathtaking print. If I’d only looked a little bit closer, I probably would have noticed it sooner.

November 18, 2023 16:46

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Chrissy Cook
11:31 Nov 26, 2023

Amazing how with a bit of age, you can tell immediately that Giana is in love with Amy, long before the reveal. In middle school though, those kinds of facts are always hidden. I imagine it must be something like being a soap opera director being a middle school teacher, watching this unfold every day!


Clarisse King
18:36 Nov 26, 2023

Oh, definitely. It’s so fun to play around with perspective in short stories like this. Thanks for reading!


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