My eyes were pricked with sharp tears. I stared down at the dirt and watched tiny puddles form from the raindrops. My mouth tasted like salt. I wiped my nose on my sleeve and pulled my arms tightly across my chest. My eyes burned with tears and my hair stuck to my forehead in clumps.
“Elle!” Liz popped her head out and yelled over the splatter of the rain, “come inside. Please.” I stood and pushed my hands deep into my pockets. I was beginning to hate this stupid place. I returned to the hallway, greeted by my sneakers squeaking across the tile floor and the smell of lemon cleaner. Liz dragged me into the bathroom. She grabbed a pile of paper towels and dried off my face. She brushed back my hair and smiled sadly at me. “They’re going to ask why you went outside in the rain.” She cocked her head. She seemed so… normal.
“Tell them I was smoking.” I pushed her hands away and leaned against the counter with my back to the mirrors.
“You don’t smoke,” she scoffed. Her hands fell on her hips. Was she really going to pretend nothing had happened?
“Yeah, but they don’t know that.” I lowered my voice as two voices echoed down the hallway. My voice was barely a whisper, “they already don’t like me.” Liz shook her head and leaned in to hug me. She was warm and her face was flushed from herding kids. She smelled like lavender and soap. “Are the kids gone now?”
“Yeah, they are.” She sighed like a mother. “The kids left a few minutes ago, they should all be gone now.” She took off her flower headband and raked her hands through her short hair before replacing the flowers on her head.
“Good.” The last thing I needed was a bunch of middle schoolers whispering about me and glancing away every time I looked at them. Liz led me out into the main area, a big room with a high ceiling and brown-ish grey carpet and a stage against the back wall. This room was used for church events and, right now, youth group.
“Oh good, you’re back. We were getting worried.” Ms. Dawn cooed. Her forehead crinkled with concern and distaste. “Come join us, we’re about to say an ending prayer.” I followed Ms. Dawn and Liz to the circle of teenagers and plopped down in a folding chair. Liz sat next to me and grabbed my hand- something that made my heart sink and made Ms. Pattie, the other group leader, a stern, overweight woman, perse her lips and furrow her tiny, painted brows. I guess Liz really was going to pretend nothing happened. Ms. Pattie led us in a long-winded prayer and, while the rest of the group had their eyes worshipping the floor and their hands folded like neat little chapels, I stole a look at Liz.
Her eyes were cast to the floor in respect and she wholeheartedly clung to every word from Ms. Pattie. I could see a tiny line of pale stomach poked out from beneath Liz’s purple top and she crossed her legs in her chair so her feet hung loosely over the floor. She wasn’t wearing shoes, and her toenails were painted pink. Liz was confident and controlled. She never lost her temper with me and she was always willing to listen. She was great at making friends, but spent the most time with me. Liz was the main reason I kept coming back to the church week after week.
At the end of her prayer, Ms. Pattie looked back up and touched her hand to her forehead, then her heart, then to each of her shoulders. Everyone else followed that motion, including me, although mine was a few seconds late.
Liz and I sat next to the snack table, where we filled Styrofoam bowls with potato chips and clear plastic cups with diet soda. Liz gobbled down the chips and smiled at me.
She tilted her head, “what is it?” I took a sip of stale soda and bit the inside of my cheek. I could taste iron. I looked out past the steamy windows- it was beginning to rain.
“How are you happy here, knowing they think you’re a sinner?” My voice was quiet enough that the kids playing cards at the table next to ours couldn’t hear us. Liz took a deep breath and calmly sat her hands on the table.
“Everyone is sinner. Besides, how can we be sure that we aren’t sinners?” She said. I clenched my teeth.
“After everything we’ve been through, and you’re still questioning? We didn’t do anything wrong.” I began my rant, “No sex before marriage, no drugs, no stealing or cheating.” I gasped for air and Liz opened her mouth to oppose. “-no! The only thing wrong with us-” my voice fell to a whisper, which was pointless since everyone already knew, “is our sexuality.” My face furrowed and my hands clenched into fists. “We didn’t decide to be gay!” Hot tears sprawled across my cheeks and I sobbed, “we didn’t ask for this!” Liz hugged me tightly and let me cry. A boom of thunder struck our ears and I jumped. When I’d calmed down to a whimpering mess of stray tears, I pulled away from her and rushed to the bathroom.
I stared myself down in the mirror. Two bloodshot eyes stared back at me. My face formed into an ugly snarl. I pounded my fists against the counter. I kept smacking the granite until my hands stung and red marks consumed my palms. I wanted to scream. I didn’t do anything wrong!
When Liz came in a minute later, I was curled up on the floor with my back to the wall, listening to the rain pouring outside. I wanted to go outside, it was too hot in here. Liz sat down on the floor next to me and held my hand. She traced the tiny scars along the inside of my wrist. Her eyes were sad, not because of what she was going through, but because of what I was going through. My head sank to my chest. I didn’t cry- I had run out of tears. I looked back up at Liz. There was something different about her face- almost like determination.
Liz pushed back my hair out of my eyes and smiled at me like a secret was begging to escape her lips. She leaned in close, like she was going to whisper it to me. My heart sped up, she leaned closer. She pressed her lips softly against mine. After a second, I kissed her back. She pulled her arms around me and kissed her harder. She smelled like lavender. Her lips tasted like salt. After a long minute, she leaned back and took a deep breath. I grinned like a giddy child. She was even more beautiful up close. Before I could speak, a middle schooler walked in with her face buried in her phone.
“Oh sorry,” the girl muttered. Liz jumped up, her face flushed. I frowned.
“It’s fine,” Liz said. She looked back and forth between me and the middle schooler, “I’m… I’m gonna go.” She pushed past the girl and went back to the main room, without giving me a second look. I could hear kids’ voices when Liz pushed the door open. The kids were leaving. My heart ached. Was Liz embarrassed of me?
The girl didn’t speak to me, but I knew she could tell what was going on, she’d heard the rumors about there being two gay girls in youth group. I pushed past her, but, instead of going back to the main room, I went outside, to a secluded side area. I sat down on a wet bench and watched the rain pour. My lips still tasted salty.