I’m not allowed to have a boyfriend. I know that for a fact. Dad has said it so many times his exact words are etched into my memory like my brain is the slate and my dad’s words are the chisel and hammer.
“You know what I always say, Zoe. There will be no boys under my roof until you are eighteen.”
Which I think is a load of crap. And highly homophobic, but I’m not gay, so I guess it doesn’t matter. If I were gay, or anything other than straight, then it would totally be a loophole, but that loophole is blocked by none other than me.
There’s just one problem.
I’m falling in love with my best friend.
Oh, Zoe, you say. How could that ever be a problem? Love is a beautiful thing.
My best friend, whom I think I’ve been falling in love with for a while now, is a girl. Her name is Alicia. I call her Alex. I can hear you saying, But Zoe, there’s your loophole. She’s a girl.
Fine detective work, young grasshopper, but I have another problem on my hands.
Alex isn’t gay. Or bi. Or even questioning. She’s as straight as I thought I was.
It all started in grade one, when we first became best friends. She and I are next to each other on the roll, so we got line leader duties together. Then we’d rotate with the next kids after us, all the while staying as close-knit as the jumpers my nan used to knit before the arthritis took over. Every time I held Alex’s hand, a little buzz went up and down my spine. I thought at the time that this was just because we were going to be best friends for the rest of our lives. As it turns out, my hand knew about things my brain didn’t, and I didn’t figure that out until, oh, five minutes ago.
Alex is a little bit shorter than me, has wavy dark brown hair, and green eyes. They have little gold flecks in them that I first noticed when I fell over her on the trampoline when we were ten. Her skin is a little bit darker than mine—thanks to her Greek mum—which, now that I think about it, has always been my type. Boys I’ve had crushes on always have skin that’s been kissed by the sun far more than mine has. Same with girls, but I didn’t realise those were crushes at the time. I just thought that I thought they were pretty. I thought I was jealous of their skin, their hair, their eyes, their boobs. Turns out, nope. I’m just plain old probably-not-straight Zoe.
All this flies through my head as I wait for Alex to come back to my room from getting changed into her pyjamas. I was already in mine when she arrived after dinner, but she didn’t want to drive over in them in case she got in a car crash or something and had to stand on the side of the road in her PJs while the cops asked her questions like ‘Do you know how fast you were going?’ and she has to answer seriously, hoping they don’t notice the corgi print of her pyjama shorts. I didn’t come up with that on the fly, she told me that on the phone before she left, and I laughed down the phone at her, even though I knew she was serious.
She comes back into my room, her corgi print pyjama shorts paired with a plain black V-neck top, too baggy and loose to wear, even to the shops. I try to keep my eyes on her face, but her bare legs are right there, and it takes everything in me not to blatantly stare at them. Or touch them. Or any number of the other things that flashed through my mind the moment she opened the door.
“Hi,” I say, coming out more breathless than I would’ve liked. She grins back at me and drops down onto the bed next to me. Her leg brushes against mine for half a second, and I flinch away without thinking. “Nice shorts,” is all I come up with.
“Thanks,” Alex says, blush creeping up her caramel cheeks. “Mum got them for me last week in a sale. Fifty percent off, down to twenty-five bucks.”
A lot goes through my mind at that, and none of it is about how anyone could warrant buying fifty-dollar shorts to sleep in.
“Amazing shopping, that,” I say, realising I should probably reply when Alex speaks to me, since we are the only ones in my room and as such the only one she’s talking to. We get to talking about school and homework and graduation and prom, to which she asks me if I have a date yet. I’d be an idiot to think that was hope in her eyes.
“Yeah, I do,” I say, and her face darkens almost imperceptibly. “It’s April 18th, isn’t it?”
Alex bursts out laughing and slaps her hand on my leg, which causes shivers to go through me, but I’m laughing, too, so she doesn’t notice.
“God, you’re an idiot,” she says, like she should have seen that coming, because she should’ve. Besides, it’s not like she wanted any other answer, right?
Sleeping next to her is the weirdest thing. I have a double bed, so we can spread out at much as we want, and we each have our own halves, but my body keeps sliding towards hers. She falls asleep as soon as I turned the light out, but that was at least an hour ago now. My mind won’t shut up. It’s too hot, move to the edge of the bed. Close your eyes. Now, it’s too cold. There’s a heat source if you roll over. Do it, come on, do it.
So, I am lying on my back, watching car headlights dance with the half-open blinds, creating stripes and waves on my ceiling. My mind keeps whirring. The way she looked at me when I was painting her nails a deep blue. The way she rested her head on my shoulder while watching Tangled for the thirteenth time this year. The way I could do nothing about it. Tell her nothing of it. What could I even say? If I tell her I love her, she’ll say I love you, too, give me a big hug and tell me, “You know, in a best friend kind of way,” and I’ll laugh it off, pushing back the tears that want to burst forth and ruin the disguise I’ve built up. Or she’ll understand, tell me she’s sorry, and I’ll have to get over it, like I did with every single crush I saw walking hand in hand with their girlfriend down the corridor, talking amiably about school or work or the movie they went to see together that weekend, him kissing her on the cheek before she leaves to head to homeroom.
If I tell her, there’s no going back. I know I’m not gay, that’s obvious. But I’m not straight, either. I’m somewhere in between. So… bi? But I haven’t ‘experimented’ yet, so how could I know for sure?
But I also don’t know if she’s straight. She might be, but she also might not. Never mind that, what if she doesn’t see me in that way? That happens loads of times with straight people in the movies (and in real life; if nothing else, I’m a testament to that), so why not me? I would love if she liked me back, but the chances of that are smaller than that of me getting into Harvard, and I don’t even live in America.
A noise to my right knocks me out of my castles in the air, which were quickly trapping me in dungeon upon dungeon, so I was kind of glad of it. Except the noise was Alex stirring, and rolling over, and now her fingers were touching my shoulders, her left leg coming to rest on top of both of mine.
While one thought stands guard of me doing anything stupid, another thought rockets through my brain and I am gently shaking Alex awake before my brain can tell me to do anything else. Her eyes open and I can see every golden fleck in the dim moonlight peeking through my blinds.
“I have something to tell you,” I whisper in the dark. Alex’s face is too close to mine to think straight, which is, perhaps, the point.
“Mmm-kay… can you tell me in the morning?” Alex brings a hand up to rub her eyes more awake. Her leg retracts slowly from mine, and the sheet touches the skin now bare of any warmth.
“I… I’m falling in love with you.”
At that, her eyes open really wide, as if she’s seeing me for the first time.
“Really?” her voice sounds almost wistful, though it could be that it’s late and her voice hasn’t properly woken up yet.
“Really,” I say, sure. Then she kisses me. Just once on the lips. And I am as breathless as she was.
“I’m…” Alex starts, brushing a strand of hair from my forehead. “I love you, too.”
I kiss her again, and she smiles into it. Her fingers lace their way around my neck and into my hair. I come up for breath as one of her legs curls around mine.
“I guess it’s as good a time as any to tell you I’m bi,” I say, and even though I can’t see it, I can tell Alex rolls her eyes at me.
“I don’t really know what I am yet,” she whispers to me, every second word punctuated by a sharp intake of breath. Who knew necks were so kissable? “But I know I like you. Like, a lot.”
I kiss her lips in reply, and she pulls back, suppressing a laugh, to ask me one more thing.
“Still going to prom with April 18th?” she asks.
“Nah,” I say, a small laugh bubbling up at my dumb joke. “I think I’ll go with my girlfriend.”