I had been so surprised when Adam Turner asked me out. Half of the girls at school had a crush on him. More than half, probably. I would never have thought I stood a chance. I wasn’t one of the glamorous girls. Nothing like his previous girlfriend, who was blonde and gorgeous, like something out of a makeup advert. I was just me- short, average build, far from pretty, with mousy brown hair and glasses. What’s more, I was quiet and suffered from anxiety. Anything but a catch.
I thought at first that he had just asked me out for a laugh, but if it was just a joke then he was putting a lot of effort into it. We’d been dating for a couple of months now, and it was pretty obvious from the way that he kissed me that he was into me. I didn’t get it, but it was flattering. I never thought that someone like Adam would ever like me. And neither did anyone else. The shock and horror on people’s faces when they saw us together. I’d never been invited to a party before. I wished I hadn’t this time. It sounded like my idea of hell, and I knew that no one really wanted me there.
“I think you’d have a better time without me,” I told Adam later that evening, as we sat on the sofa together watching a film. It had taken me over an hour to pluck up the courage to broach the subject. I knew what his reaction would be.
He scoffed. “Don’t be ridiculous, babe. We’re teenagers. Parties are pretty much written into our job description.” He picked up a Dorito and dunked it into the sour cream dip.
I sighed. “To be honest, I don’t even really like parties.”
With the Dorito halfway to his mouth, he paused and looked at me, his eyebrows sloping down. You’d have thought I’d just told him I didn’t like breathing, or something. “Huh? Why not?”
“I just don’t. I get anxious around crowds, you know that.”
He waved his other hand dismissively, and then crunched into the Dorito. “You’ll be fine,” he mumbled, sour cream dripping down his chin. “I’ll be there with you. It’ll be great, I promise. I can’t wait! Our first party together.” He kissed my cheek.
* * *
The week passed far too quickly. Adam’s excitement for the party mirrored my dread of it. The more hyped up he got, the more terrified I felt. He was right, though; kids our age went to parties. I’d spent too long moping about on my own. I didn’t even have any friends. I finally had a boyfriend now, and we should do couple-ly things. Teenage things. Like go to parties.
“Class, please say hello to Holly Taylor. She’s new here. Take a seat, Holly.” I looked up as the teacher spoke. I hadn’t even noticed a new girl come in.
Holly’s eyes met mine, and I felt a strange sensation in my stomach. She looked over to the spare seat next to me, but Olivia said: “Holly, over here!” and motioned to the seat next to her. It was just my luck that her usual desk buddy was at home with the flu today.
Holly looked from one seat to the other, as if slightly unsure, but Olivia pulled the chair next to her out and Holly went and sat over there. I picked up a black pen and started doodling on my exercise book. It was probably just as well. She’d get on far better with Olivia than with me. She looked like one of their crowd, she was pretty. Really pretty, in fact. I looked at her long, dark hair with envy. I’d die to look like that. As she bent down to get her pens out of her bag, I caught a glimpse of a rainbow-striped sock under her trousers. Something about her drew my eyes. She seemed interesting. Another reason for her not to sit with me.
* * *
“Hey babe! You’re late.” Adam glared at me as I came in the door and shut it behind me. Olivia had opened the door keenly when I knocked, but when she saw it was me she’d gone, leaving it gaping open.
I swallowed. “Yeah, sorry. Charlotte was hogging the bathroom for ages.” In reality, it was nothing to do with my sister. I’d been ready for about 40 minutes before I left the house, but I’d had to force myself to get out of my room.
“It’s cool, you’re here now. And you’ve brought booze!” His eyes glinted and he darted for the box of alcopops I held in my arms. He didn’t look like he needed any more alcohol, though. He was swaying slightly, and slurring his words. He headed off to the kitchen and I stood awkwardly in the hallway, twirling my hair around my finger as I listened to music blaring out from the living room and loud voices talking over it. But a few minutes later he was back, a bottle in each hand. He held one out to me.
“No, thanks. I don’t drink.”
He looked at me dubiously. “But it’s a party!”
“I’m fine, thanks.”
He shook his head. “Ok, whatever. More for me.” He winked as he took a swig from one of the bottles, and then wiped his mouth. Suddenly his breath was on my neck and he whispered to me: “My parents are out tonight. I thought you could stay over.” He took something from his pocket and shoved it in my face. It was a condom.
My heart started racing. “I don’t know if I’m ready.”
He tutted. “Just get some alcohol down you, you’ll be fine.”
As he turned towards the voice, I ran past him into the kitchen, trying not to notice the stares of the people who were in there getting drinks, and out the back door into the garden. It was a cold day, so there was no one else out there. I sat on a bench, trying to slow my heart down. I was so far out of my comfort zone and I just wanted to go home.
“Mind if I sit?”
I looked up into Holly’s big brown eyes. “Sure,” I said, but my voice wavered. Why would someone like her want to talk to someone like me? Suddenly I wished I had taken a bottle after all. Not to drink, but for something to do with my hands.
“Drink?” She held her bottle towards me.
I shook my head. “I don’t drink.”
She set the bottle on the patio. “Fair play. I don’t usually drink either. I’m just trying to fit in. I admire you for sticking to your guns and not giving into the pressure.”
Something about this girl made me want to be honest. “I actually really hate parties.”
She smiled at me, and my stomach turned flips. What was that about? “Well, that’s something else we have in common.”
“You don’t like parties? Then why are you here?”
She picked the bottle up and took a small sip from it, grimacing. “I’m the new girl. I’m just trying to make friends. Plus, I thought maybe I’d meet someone cute.” There was a hint of a smile on her lips. She wasn’t wearing lipstick like most of the other girls here, but she didn’t need to.
“And have you?”
“Nah. Well, maybe. But all the hot girls are either in couples or straight. Or both.”
I felt my cheeks heat up. I suddenly wished I hadn’t worn a jumper. Despite the cold outside, I felt sweat under my armpits. I twirled my hair around my finger.
“Your turn now.” She leaned back against the back of the bench. “So why are you here?”
I shrugged. “My boyfriend wanted me to come.”
She looked at me. “Case in point.”
I narrowed my eyebrows. “Huh?”
“Never mind.” She grinned. I looked down at my hands.
“What are you doing out here, babe?”
I jumped at Adam’s voice, feeling irritated that he had interrupted us. I’d been enjoying talking to Holly. For the first time since I had arrived at the party, I hadn’t felt out of place. “Just getting some air,” I told him.
“Well, let’s go.” He reached for my hand and I reluctantly took it.
“But I’ve only just got here,” I said.
He squinted at me through bloodshot eyes. “I thought you didn’t like parties.”
“Let’s go then.”
I sighed. “Ok, fine.” I turned around to Holly. “See you Monday, perhaps.” I twisted my ring around my finger, wondering why she made me feel so nervous.
She smiled again. “For sure.”
* * *
As soon as we were through Adam’s bedroom door, he was all over me, kissing my neck and trying to touch my breasts. I swatted his hands away. “Stop it, Adam.”
“But, baaaaaaaaaaabe.” He dragged the word out, pouting like a little kid. “You really turn me on. You can’t expect me to keep my hands to myself when you look so good.”
I took a deep breath as he pulled the condom out of his pocket again and waved it in my face. I swallowed as he leaned in to kiss me. He tasted of beer, and I gagged, but he didn’t seem to notice. For the first time, I realised that I never actually enjoyed kissing Adam. I’d never felt fireworks or butterflies. At least not the good kind.
“I want you so bad.” He began to undo his belt, a bulge already visible under his jeans, and I felt dread in my stomach. I started to feel lightheaded, and fought to get my breathing under control. It had been a while since I had last had a panic attack, but it felt like an old friend. An old, really annoying friend who always pops up when you least want them to.
He frowned as he pulled off his socks. “What’s the matter?”
Through gasps, I managed to say: “I’m feeling really anxious.”
He looked at me through narrowed eyes. “You having a laugh? You’re always anxious! Give it a break already.”
I didn’t know what to say. I took a few deep breaths and calmed myself down, while Adam picked up his phone and started tapping the screen.
“I’m just going to the bathroom,” I said.
“Whatever.” He didn’t look up.
In the bathroom, I burst into tears. What was wrong with me? My hot boyfriend wanted to sleep with me, and I didn’t want it. He’d probably break up with me now. It wasn’t like I had boys queuing up to date me, and he had girls queuing up to date him. Maybe I should just grin and bear it. Perhaps I would enjoy it more than I thought. Everyone was nervous on their first time, right? It wasn’t fair of me to keep him waiting.
I rubbed my eyes and looked at myself in the mirror. Red eyes stared back at me. I ran the tap, scooped some cold water into my hands and splashed it in my face until I looked halfway normal again. My hand shook as I opened the door. Time to do this.
I walked quickly back to Adam’s bedroom and shut the door behind me.
Adam was lying on his side on the bed, jeans halfway down his legs, eyes shut and snoring gently. Relief washed over me as I tiptoed to my bag, picked it up and walked out of there as quietly as I could.
* * *
We didn’t talk at all on Sunday. I started several texts to him, but they all sounded lame and I deleted them before I had a chance to press send. He’d updated his Facebook status: ‘Cool party!’ with a photo of himself, beer in hand, obviously taken while I was sat outside with Holly. At the thought of Holly, I felt butterflies in my stomach. I shook my head and wondered why I couldn’t stop thinking about the conversation we’d had. I had replayed it several times in my head, noticing the way she had looked and the way she had looked at me. Adam was always staring at me, but I didn’t think he had ever looked at me the way that Holly had that night.
“Adam!” I grabbed his arm as I saw him walk past, sunglasses perched on his head and headphones hanging around his neck.
He stopped and looked at me warily.
“I’m sorry about Saturday,” I said. “I just needed some time. I was coming to tell you I was ready. For, you know. But you were asleep.”
“You could have woken me up.” He clicked his tongue. “Admit it, you didn’t even want to, did you?”
“I…” I flushed. I wasn’t very good at lying. “I’m just not ready yet,” I admitted.
“Will you ever be ready? I’m starting to wonder.” He sighed, pulling at the sleeve of his plain white T-shirt. “Look, if you want out just tell me so. There are hundreds of other girls that could take your place.”
“Are you serious?”
I recognised the sound of Holly’s voice before I saw her.
“Holly, it’s ok.” I liked the way her name sounded on my tongue.
“It’s not ok.” She stood right in front of Adam and pushed him with her hand. He stumbled back. “You can’t talk to girls like that just because they don’t want to sleep with you.” Her voice was loud, and I winced. Several people looked over, and someone giggled. Adam’s cheeks went red.
He stepped forwards and stared her down. He was taller than her. “Butt out, dyke. This has nothing to do with you.”
“She asked for it,” he mumbled.
“You could do better, you know.” She was addressing me this time. As she walked off, I found I was more interested in watching her than Adam. She suddenly looked back over her shoulder, and I whirled around guiltily.
* * *
“I’m sorry.” Holly flipped the top off a tube of Pringles and passed it to me. “I was just so angry with him. I can’t believe the way some guys talk to girls. I didn’t mean to broadcast your business.”
I settled back into a beanbag, took a crisp and crunched into it. “It’s ok. I mean, I guess you could have been a bit more subtle. But you were just standing up for me. I’ve never really had that before.”
She shrugged. “Well you’ve got it now, girl.”
We reached for the crisps at the same time and our hands touched. I felt a jolt of electricity. She moved her hand away and coughed.
She’d asked me over to her house after school. “I don’t like seeing my friends upset,” she’d said. Friends? I wasn’t sure why I’d felt a wave of disappointment. But this was fun. I’d kept to myself for the past couple of years. I usually felt anxious around other people. Even with Adam. But I didn’t get it with Holly. When we spent time together, it felt natural. Unforced. I didn’t feel like I had to put on an act with her. I could just be myself. Hanging out with her felt very different to hanging out with Adam.
“I just don’t think he has respect for you,” Holly said.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I realise I don’t know the whole story. But it sounded like he was trying to pressure you into sleeping with him and that you felt like you had to go along with it even though it wasn’t really what you wanted.” She looked away quickly, as if worried that she’d said too much.
I ran my fingers through my hair. “I’m his girlfriend. I should want this.”
“If you’re not ready, you’re not ready. No one should force you into anything.”
“I just get really anxious at times. I have panic attacks, and it frustrates him.”
“Lauren.” She reached across for my hand. “I’m sorry to hear that. But don’t you see, this is what I’ve been talking about. He should be supportive, not get angry with you. I’m sure that’s the last thing you need when you’re feeling bad.” She looked into my eyes as she held my hand. “That’s what I’d do.”
I didn’t let go of her hand. “He just wants a normal girlfriend.”
She waved away my concern. “Who’s to say what’s normal? Anyway, normal is overrated. I’m sure as hell not normal. And I kind of like it.” She winked at me.
* * *
“I don’t want you hanging out with Holly,” Adam told me, a couple of days later, as I was getting my textbook out of my locker.
I unzipped my rucksack and put my book in it. “What, why not? Aren’t I allowed to have friends now?”
His eyes widened; he wasn’t used to me challenging him. I bit my lip as I turned the key in the door of the locker.
“She’s a lesbian, you know.”
“I know.” I tried to ignore the panic I was feeling. “So what?” I looked into his eyes. There was so much anger in them, but I was not backing down this time.
“So what?! People are talking. Don’t you care?”
I shrugged. “Not really. Let them talk.” I didn’t care, I realised to my surprise. Not really.
“At it again?”
Holly was stood by my side. I hadn’t notice her arrive again and the sound of her voice made me smile, although I tried not to show it. I didn’t want to give Adam any more ammunition.
“Oh, just fuck off, will you.” Adam held up his hands. “Why are you always getting in our business?”
She crossed her arms and leant back against the lockers. “Because you’re always upsetting my friend.”
“Friend? Pah. Admit it, you’re trying to steal my girlfriend.”
Holly’s face flushed slightly. I felt my breath catch in my throat.
“I see the way you look at her. You’ve got the hots for her. Big time. But she’s not like you. She’s my girl.”
“Adam, shut up. This isn’t about me. You treat her like shit. She deserves better.” Holly’s words made a tear form in my eye. I sniffed it away.
Adam put his arm around my shoulders.
“Lauren, tell her. We’re good together.”
I shrugged his arm away. “Actually, Holly’s right. You do kind of treat me like shit.” I wasn’t used to swearing, and the word felt foreign on my tongue.
“Bloody Holly.” A crowd had formed around us. “This is all her doing. You were fine before she came along. I’m not standing for her interfering. It’s her or me.”
I saw Holly swallow, but she didn’t say anything.
I felt courage build up inside me, and I gave Adam a smile.
“I knew you’d choose me.” He threw his bag over his shoulder.
“I choose her,” I said, coolly.
The colour drained from his face. “You what?”
“You heard me.”
The onlookers whispered to each other. I heard one of them say: “Is she a lesbian?” I felt anxiety in my stomach, but I willed it away.
Adam clenched his hands into fists. “You don’t want to make an enemy of me.” Putting his headphones over his ears, rap music blaring out, he walked off.
“Are you ok?” Holly asked.
I took a deep breath. “I will be.”
* * *
“This is nice,” I said to Holly that evening as we sat opposite each other at the table, waiting for our food to arrive.
She’d suggested we go out slightly sheepishly. “It’s ok if you’d rather be alone,” she’d said. “But if you feel like company, do you want to go and get food later?”
I’d jumped at the chance. The break-up had upset me less than I had expected. Adam was certainly not at the forefront of my thoughts.
“How are you feeling?” She picked up her napkin from the table, unfolded it and put it into her lap.
“I’m ok.” I took a sip of my virgin mojito. It was very sweet, and I licked my lips to get the sugar off them.
I noticed Holly had been watching me. As I licked my lips, she shifted in her seat and coughed. “Really ok? You can be honest.”
“I am being honest.” I took a chunk of hair and started twirling it around my finger. “He’s a loser. I think I only started dating him because I felt like it’s what I should do.”
The food arrived and the waitress put the plates in front of us. As she walked off, Holly said: “she was cute.”
“The waitress. Damn cute.” She picked up a chip and dunked it in tomato ketchup.
I felt something unfamiliar rise up inside me. It wasn’t anxiety this time. “Oh, right.” I took a big bite out of my burger.
We ate the rest of the food in silence. Occasionally Holly looked at me, and I looked away. I couldn’t stop thinking about her and the waitress, in the alleyway behind the restaurant, tongues down each other’s throats, and I couldn’t stand it. I gripped onto my fork tightly in my hand.
We paid and she insisted on walking me home. We paused outside my front door. I busied myself getting my keys from my bag.
“Lauren?” She lifted my chin with her hand, so that we were looking into each other’s eyes. “What’s wrong? What happened back there? Is this about Adam?”
I shook my head. “No.” I felt a tear escape my eye and I wiped it away with my sleeve. “Not about Adam. About you.”
“Me?” She furrowed her brow. The sun was beginning to set, and it framed her face like a silhouette. God, she was pretty.
How could she not get it? I sighed. She was still looking into my eyes. Suddenly I couldn’t resist it any longer. I leaned in towards her and pressed my lips against hers. She tasted sweet and tender and all the things that Adam wasn’t. Her lips were soft and gentle, and I felt things that I’d never felt before. Then she pulled away abruptly.
I fumbled with the toggles of my coat. “Sorry,” I mumbled. Disappointment didn’t even cover it. Kissing Holly made me feel alive in a way I’d never experienced before. But how could I have been so stupid? Just because she was gay didn’t mean she was into me. I was hardly a catch. I turned away. I had to run, I felt so embarrassed, and the anxiety was building up inside my stomach.
She took hold of my arm and gently turned me back. “Hey, don’t apologise. Just because I pulled away doesn’t mean I didn’t want it to happen.”
I sat down on the second step leading up to my front door and put my head in my hands, confused. Holly sat down too, and then I felt an arm around my shoulders. I looked up.
I felt her breath against my neck. “I really like you, Lauren,” she said.
“You do?” I felt hope swell inside me.
“Yeah.” She leaned back, her elbows resting on the step above. “I like the way you look. I like how your glasses fit on your face. I like the way you say my name. I like the way you twirl your hair when you’re nervous. I like the way that you are the very opposite of arrogant. That you don’t know how amazing you are.” She stopped and took a breath. I could feel myself grinning like an idiot.
“But I also respect you.” She looked at me. “And much as I want to do more of that, I think that you need some time to process everything that’s happened today. I think you need to work out what’s going on in your head. To decide whether this is what you want. If you really want to get into another relationship so soon, and if you even want to be with a girl.” She laced her fingers into mine. “And if you decide after that that you still want me, then I’ll be waiting for you.”