There are fifteen minutes left before Raina and her roommate are supposed to be seated at their desks for their Chemistry final, and as much as she wants to focus on how to calculate the exact mass of an electron, she finds her mind wandering to places she knows are off limits. She’s seated cross-legged across from her roommate, Chloe, so close to one another that their knees are touching, and the only thing that she can think about is what her lip gloss tastes like. There are little flecks of gold embedded in the nude gloss against her bottom lip.
Peaches, maybe. It definitely looks fruity.
“– And how do you calculate molar mass? Like, how many moles are in 4.5 grams of this?” Chloe’s notebook is spread open on her lap, and she spins it around to tap the lead of her pencil against a chemical formula that might as well be written in Chinese. A beat of silence passes between the two of them before her roommate huffs out a frustrated sigh.
“Rae, focus. You have to get at least a B+ on this or you’re going to have to repeat, and there’s no way I’m going to make it through next year if I have to room with someone like Margot.” The name rolls off of her tongue, thick with disdain, as she rolls her eyes back into her head like the entitled teenager she is. Chloe reaches out a manicured hand – if the nuns found out she was wearing polish again, she’d never hear the end of it – and rests it against her knee, an inch lower than the hem of her black pleated skirt. Ironed to regulation, of course.
The second her palm lays flat against Raina’s skin she can feel the flush rising into her cheeks. There’s an involuntary kick beneath her chest as her heart speeds up twenty beats. If she wasn’t focused on the formulas in front of her before, there was no way for her to redivert her attention now.
The reason her father had sent her to an all-girls Catholic school in the first place was to spare her this type of distraction. He’d figured that if he separated her from the temptation of the opposite sex, she would be able to focus her attention on her studies. The horror stories that the clergy had told him of premarital sex and teenage pregnancy that ran rampant in public schools would never include his little girl – not if he sheltered her enough, took all the right precautions.
And then came Chloe.
Chloe, with her ash blonde hair, her SoCal accent, and the gold flecks in her lip gloss. Chloe, who broke all the rules made to keep them modest and indiscernible from one another, who had spritzed herself with body spray that smelled vaguely like cotton candy. Chloe, whose palm was currently burning against the skin stretched over Raina’s knee.
Rae, at fifteen years old, had never kissed anyone out of fear of disappointing her overprotective father… but she desperately wanted to kiss Chloe. So, she did. It was clumsy and awkward, soft and delicate, and to Rae’s surprise, she kissed back.
Peaches. She tasted like peaches.
It’s not until Chloe pulls back, out of breath with swollen lips, that the wave of guilt starts to wash over her like a tidal wave. Chloe’s fingers are reaching up to push a strand of hair from her eyes just as the door to their dorm room flies open, the knob cracking against the pristine white paint of the plaster wall.
Their fifteen minutes were up.
The nun’s fingers aren’t anywhere near as gentle as Chloe’s had been as they wrapped around her wrist, clean cut nails digging into her skin hard enough to leave small, half-moon shaped marks adjacent to the blue of her vein. She’s muttering words like “sin” and “abomination” as she drags Rae down the hall, her fingertips blanching from the death grip that the sister has on her arm as she jerks her around the corner, a screech of protest coming from the joint where her arm connects to her shoulder.
Rae is well aware that they’re both going to get into trouble. The first thing that they’re going to do is place a call to her father back in Dallas, he’ll probably pull her from the school, and she’ll never see Chloe again. And yet, there’s a small, defiant smile on her face -- because if she bites gently on the corner of her lip, gleaning some of the residual stickiness on the tip of her tongue, she can still taste peaches.
“Two hours, tops, then we’re out.” Raina’s words are directed into the ear of her date, Travis, who she’s been “seeing” for almost a month now. Their relationship is little more than a front. He does his thing, she does hers; a mutually beneficial agreement that bolsters her father’s ego into thinking his strict Catholic teachings and his disapproval of her lifestyle have changed her. Converted her away from a life of sin and turned her back toward the heterosexual light. So far, it’s worked out positively for both of them. The constant, heavy-handed threat of her father severing ties to her trust fund has disappeared since Travis has been around, and her date, a struggling actor, has gotten to rub elbows with some of LAs best and brightest, earning himself a walk-on role on a daytime soap just for being at the punchbowl at the same time as Susan Lucci.
Each party, fundraiser, gala is the same. They arrive together, appear young and in love, take advantage of the free open bar in order to make forced conversation with a sampling of vapid rich people a little easier, pose for a few pictures, and then leave in separate cars. Travis knows the routine by now, and he’s already headed to the bar to get her standard order – a gin martini, extra dry, with a twist. Standard societal rules don’t apply to the upper echelon, and no one ever cards at these things. Raina’s claimed a seat at the end of the bar, disinterestedly swiping left through Tinder’s offerings for the evening. After all, there are still several solid hours to fill after she and Travis go their separate ways.
It’s not until her date presents her with the martini glass that her attention breaks from the screen of her phone, snapping her out of the monotony of virtually passing on people for being too tan, too young, too blonde. The glass is raised midway to her lips as her eyes begin the process of scanning the room, taking inventory of the guest list and making mental notes of who to check in with later as Travis drones continual white noise in her ear. There are writers, gallery owners, artists – an ‘up-and-coming’ comic who tried to shoot his shot with her a few weeks prior is eyeing her over the rim of his whiskey glass. Rae’s eyes don’t linger on him for too long – the last thing she wants is to give a pushy, crude comedian anything resembling a green light. Besides, she’s found something, someone more interesting in the crowd.
There she was; porcelain skin and thick curls of red hair that fell midway down her back, curves in all the right places, examining the screen of her phone like it held the secret to life itself. Jesus, take the wheel.
“Who is that?” Raina’s question comes a little too abruptly, but if Travis is annoyed with the interruption, he doesn’t show it. Instead, he takes another pull off of the Bud Light bottle in his hand – Rae has to convince him to have better taste in alcohol, especially when it's free – and follows her stare to the woman in the corner.
“The redhead?” Another disinterested pull from the dark brown bottle, which he tips in her direction once he’s satisfied. “Arwen Isley. Her mom has that fashion line based out of… I don’t know, New York, I think? Fashion isn’t really my thing. But, listen –” Raina has no intention of listening; she's sliding herself off of the barstool before he’s even finished his sentence, fingers delicately finding the stem of the martini glass as she patted him squarely in the chest, lips curled in a coquettish grin. Tonight, she doesn't want to hide what she wants. Tonight, she doesn't care who sees.
“I've got it from here, Casanova. Don’t wait up for me.”
JUNE 30, 2019
The sun never sets during Pride – not in San Francisco – and Rae and her friends have been taking advantage of that fact for the last two days. She’s backed against the bar, all glitter, no shame, donning a white tee tied at her midriff and a pair of high waisted denim shorts. It’s a little after 2am, but she lost track of the time (and the amount of tequila shots she’s tipped back) hours ago. Either the continual droning of the bass pumped through the speakers of the club has overpowered her own heartbeat, or she’s too drunk to tell the difference. She’s enveloped by a warm cocoon of strobe lights, body paint, love, and acceptance. The only regret in her mind is that she didn’t tell her father to go fuck himself years prior. Living her truth has given her life.
Her friend Marcus, who continually joked about the fact that he had better hair than she did, had drunkenly laid his head against her shoulder – an oddly coupled duo with a height difference of over a foot.
“So, you woke up on a rooftop this morning? Classy, Rae,” he slurred, his fingers circled loosely around some hipster IPA that he’d been nursing for an hour. “First of all, fuck you for looking this good after going that hard. Secondly, fill me in on the 411. How did you even – and why --?”
“Don’t give me too much credit – it was more like this afternoon. And it was one of those bougie terrace setups, so it wasn’t like I knocked out on the concrete. I have standards
. I think.” Rae angled her head to tip against her friends, pressing a chaste kiss against the damp strands of hair that clung to his brow. “You’ll let me know if you’re ready to go?” Marcus had already adopted a drunken swagger all his own, and she was trying to be proactive. There was no way that she was going to get all 6’2 of him into the back of an uber without enlisting some help if it came down to it.
The only response from her friend came in the form of a drunken nod, and she was about to dial it in before the DJ’s next song choice registered like a shot of adrenaline to his heart. “Oh, fuck. This is my shit
. Come on, Rivera, time to bring it home.” Rae waved him off with a smirk, pulling her cellphone from her back pocket to put out a call for an uber. One more song was sure to wear out his energy reserves, and it was getting late anyway – she could use a solid night with more than four hours of sleep in her own bed.
“Go, I’ll catch up.” Marcus didn’t wait for her to change her mind, substituting her out for the first tall, good looking, single-ish man that he met on the dancefloor. Raina was unable to hold back an amused laugh before turning her attention back to her phone, bringing up her contacts to phone a friend in case of emergency.
As always, her name was the first one listed. A was for Arwen – Arwen who she hadn’t spoken to in almost nine months. Arwen who she had married fast and divorced even faster. Magnetic, irresistible Arwen Fucking Isley.
Raina was too drunk for this.
The bar supported her more than she supported herself, and she let her thumb hover over her name on the screen for a moment, suspended in midair, just like it had been countless other times over the last nine months. This time, she let it fall. Pulled up a text. Stared at the keyboard with a little more concentration than normal, due to her current state of inebriation and the fact that all of the letters looked like muted smudges. Emojis were probably her best bet, but she was currently holding her phone at arms’ length with one eye open in an attempt to gauge the letters. Emojis were asking too much.
. Backspaced, deleted, too casual. I miss you
. Backspaced, deleted, too vulnerable. U up?
Rae let that one marinate for a second before deleting it, too, letting her phone rest face down on the questionably sticky surface of the bar. Arwen Fucking Isley.
The tequila had killed her usually steely self-control, and she picked the phone back up after staring a hole through the back of it for 30 seconds or so, impulsively dialing the number on the screen and brazenly holding it to her ear. It was almost three in the morning – what were the chances that she would actually…
And then she picked up. Because of course she did. All it took was a breathy, sleep deprived ‘hello’ from a voice she hadn’t heard in nine months to turn every bone and joint in her body to gelatin. Raina’s mouth was suddenly drier than the Sahara, and she reached for the piss warm remnants of Marcus’s beer to satiate her thirst before offering up a reply.
“Hey, babes. It’s me. Happy Pride.”