Dad shook his head. “We didn’t pay for this holiday so you could hide in your room. There’s a world of culture out there.”
I pursed my lips. “I didn’t ask you to pay for me! I told you to go away without me.”
Mum tutted. “Well you’re here, and you’re coming to dinner with us. Don’t you want to meet everyone?”
I lay back on the bed. “Nope, I’m good here.”
Dad sighed. “You don’t stay in your room all day at home!”
“I have friends at home. There are only old people here.”
Mum scoffed. “We’re not that old! And there’s bound to be other teenagers.”
“I doubt it.” I reluctantly dragged myself off the bed. Maybe when they saw that I was the only young person here, they’d leave me alone. Everyone knew that cruises were for old people.
“Told you,” I said, when we reached the dining room. Looking around, all I could see was adults. Not a young person in sight.
Mum broke out into a smile. “You were saying?” She nodded her head over to the door, where a man and woman were entering with a girl of around my own age. She was a little taller than me, with long, blonde hair, and sunglasses perched on the top of her head. She was wearing faded blue denim shorts, a white vest top and red Converse. When she caught sight of me, her bored expression was replaced by a smile.
She walked over and said, “Thank God, I thought I was the only person here under 50!”
I grinned. “Me too.”
“I’m Sophia, by the way.” She held out her hand and I shook it.
“So, it was just the two of you?” Lucy pops a piece of gum into her mouth. “Good job you got on!”
“Yeah.” I quickly look away.
“What was she like, then?”
My mouth is dry. “Pretty cool.”
“Not cooler than me, though, right?” She nudges me with her elbow.
I chuckle awkwardly. “Not possible.”
“Anyway, now for the important part. Did you meet any hot European guys?” Lucy stares at me. I reach into my bag for my water bottle, unscrew the top and take a gulp of water.
“Are you seeing anyone?” Sophia studied my face.
I twisted my ring around my finger. “Nah. All the boys at my school are really childish.” Had I imagined the look of disappointment upon her face? “How about you?”
She leant back, elbows resting on the step above. “No. But it’s got nothing to do with any boys.” She chewed her lip and turned her head towards me. “You get what I mean?”
I shrugged. “You’re into girls?”
She snorted. “Yep, I’m gay.”
“But you don’t have a girlfriend?” I tapped my foot against the step, trying to avoid looking into her eyes.
She put her sunglasses over her eyes. “I’m free and single, baby.”
I felt my face heat up. “What’s it like?” I asked.
“Huh?” She turned back to me.
“Being gay. What’s it like?”
She laughed. “I don’t expect it’s much different to being straight, really. Except when you get yourself off to boys, I fantasise about girls instead.” She peered over the top of her sunglasses. “You do that, right? Because you’re straight.”
“Right.” I bit my thumbnail.
She sighed. “It’s a shame I don’t have anyone special, because this is such a romantic place.”
I looked back at the Eiffel Tower, standing proudly behind us. When I turned around, Sophia’s face was suddenly really close to mine.
“Are you sure you’re straight?” Her voice was husky.
I swallowed. “Uh…”
She continued to lean in towards me, and I didn’t back away. When our lips met, it wasn’t a surprise. We’d been leading up to this for a while. Kissing Sophia felt a whole lot different to kissing boys. With them, I’d never had this warmth spreading out from my insides. I felt like this was what I’d been missing my whole life.
“You’re blushing! You did meet someone, didn’t you?” Lucy’s eyes light up, eager for the gossip. “Tell me all! Was he hot? Did he have a cute accent? Did you snog him? Are you going to keep in touch?”
I shrink under her scrutiny, scuffing my shoe against the pavement. I just want to forget everything that happened. I should have known that she wouldn’t let up, though.
“I did meet someone.” I choose my words carefully. “But I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Vicky!” She almost squeals at me. “You can’t leave me hanging. I want to know everything.”
“I love Rome.” Sophia’s face was a picture of wonder as she looked back at the photos on her camera.
I smiled as I took a sip of my cappuccino. “Got some good snaps?”
She looked up. “Yeah. I especially like this one.” She passed me the camera. The photo showed the two of us outside the Colosseum. She had her arm around me.
I handed the camera back. “The Colosseum was pretty special. I guess my parents were right about Europe.”
Sophia grinned. “It was. But that’s not why I like the photo.”
“Oh?” I said. “Why then?”
“I think it’s my favourite photo of you. You look so cute in that pink top; it looks good against your tan. You’re gorgeous, you know that?”
I felt myself blush again. Just as I was thinking what to say in response, the waiter brought our food over.
Sophia picked up a strand of spaghetti from her plate with her fingers. “Let’s do Lady and the Tramp!” She put one end in her mouth and motioned for me to come closer. I moved my head in and took the other end in my mouth, sucking it up until our mouths were touching.
“I said I don’t want to talk about it.” I pick up my pace so that Lucy has to rush to catch up with me.
“Hey, back up!” She overtakes me and stands in front of me. “What happened? Did he hurt you? I’ll kill him.” She narrows her eyebrows and frowns, trying to look menacing. Normally I’d laugh, but today I can’t manage it.
I blink a tear away, wishing I didn’t have to say the words.
Looking at Sophia’s face out of the corner of my eye as she lay back on the sun lounger, I reached for my phone and took a photo.
“What was that for?” She smiled.
“Just wanted to capture your beauty.”
“Aww, babe. It must be love.”
I felt a sharp pain in my stomach, and gasped.
She sat up quickly. “What’s the matter? Are you okay?”
“I’m not feeling so good. I think I need to go to my room for a bit.” I bent down to pack up my things, shoving them into my bag as quickly as possible.
“Want me to come with you?”
I waved her concern off. “Thanks, but I think I’d rather be alone right now.”
“Sure,” she said, but I could see the hurt in her eyes.
Looking at the photo in my cabin, tears sprung to my eyes. Her mention of love had panicked me. The feelings I had for her, I’d never had before, and they terrified me. I tried not to think about what it meant, but something inside me was trying to be heard. I lay back on the bed and turned on the TV. I needed a distraction.
“It was a girl. Sophia.” I look down at the ground, studying the cracks in the sidewalk.
I take a deep breath as I raise my eyes. “You’re shocked.” Something plummets inside me.
“No!” Lucy reaches for my arm. “I’m surprised, that’s all. But I’m glad you told me.” She looks at me expectantly. “So, tell me about Sophia.”
I reach into my pocket for my phone and show her the photo, which I never had the heart to delete. “She’s beautiful, and intelligent, and kind. She makes you feel like you’re the most important person in the world.”
Lucy smiles at me. “Sounds like you have it bad.”
I shove my phone back into my pocket. “Nah. It was just a summer fling. It didn’t mean anything.” My voice wavers.
“I’ve been thinking.” Sophia twirled a lock of hair around her finger. “We could keep in touch. We don’t live that far away, and you already have my number. This doesn’t have to be the end.”
I squeezed my eyes shut as I visualised telling my parents about her, introducing her to Lucy, making it official. Not just the relationship, but my sexuality. I felt like I was about to throw up.
“No.” The words were out of my mouth before I could stop them.
She shot me a look. “What?”
“You heard me.” My voice was cold. “I don’t want to see you again. This was a way to pass the time, that’s all. It didn’t mean anything.”
Sophia’s eyes were wide. “Why are you doing this? I know how you feel about me.” She moved her head closer to mine, and I immediately scooted back against the pillow. If she kissed me right now, all my resolve would weaken.
I clenched my hands into fists. “You were the only other teenager. It was fun, but I’m not gay.”
She laughed, but there was no humor in it. “Right. You just go on telling yourself that. We both know that you’re lying.”
I stood up and left her room, slamming the door behind me. Tears pricked at my eyes.
“You just left it like that?”
I shrug. “It was for the best.”
“Why can’t you admit how much you like this girl?” Lucy shakes her head at me. “You’re lucky. I wish I had someone special.”
I run my fingers through my hair. “I can’t. You know what it means.”
“So, you like girls. So what?” She puts her hand on my arm. “You can do this. I’ll be here to support you. Just start with me.”
My voice cracks. I take a deep breath. “Lucy, I was really starting to fall for Sophia. I think… I think I’m gay.” Tears stream out of my eyes, but it feels like a weight has been lifted.
She puts an arm around my shoulders. “You need to tell her how you feel.” She hands me a tissue. “Right now. Before you have a chance to change your mind again.”
I blow my nose. My hands shaking, I take out my phone and dial Sophia’s number.
“Hello?” The sound of her voice makes me cry again.
“Hey.” I clear my throat and wipe my eyes. “It’s me, Vicky.”