Perhaps all of the talks from her parents were finally getting to her, but one evening deep in Autumn Faye sat at the desk she shared with her sisters and stared out the window. The laptop was on, but the lid closed, and it whirred away quite happily. It was almost five years old now, and the only reason they hadn’t bought a new one was because it still worked fine for writing, and Summer maintained that she was too used to the keyboard to change.
Faye watched a bird flitter between the branches of their trees, pecking at a few seeds in the feeder that they’d started putting out. She wasn’t sure what bird it was until the distinctive red breast flashed, and she smiled at the little robin.
She reached forward and picked up one of her make up brushes, flicking the bristles between her fingers. Fine dust began to cover her lap. Today they’d had an assembly about choosing their future paths – about how they should already have something in mind – and for the first time it worried Faye that she had no plans at all.
She stood up and brushed the dust off her dress, wandering to the mirror and running her fingers through small tangles in her hair. Summer was going to be a writer. They had all known that since they were twelve. Skye wanted to take a gap year and go travelling – something she had only started to plan recently – and then planned to see where the wind took her. Of course, this vague plan didn’t matter to their parents when it was Skye, but as soon as Faye said that she would go with the flow, they started telling her that wasn’t good enough.
Why did one rule apply to Skye and not to her? Well, she supposed neither of her parents wanted her around after high school, much like her siblings. She tore her mind away from those thoughts and focused solely on trying to find some sort of plan.
What did she like? She liked make up. She liked trying new hairstyles. She liked clothes and shopping.
…None of those were good career choices, unless she wanted to actually do those things for other people. That didn’t really seem that appealing…
What hobbies did she have?
What Faye didn’t know was that these troubled thoughts were much like Liam had faced when he was younger. She felt the panic of not knowing who she was, or how to define herself, and began to wonder if she had any substance to her character, which was something her siblings had long since accepted (unbeknown to her).
Faye fiddled with the hem of her dress. Well, so what? She could move out anyway, get a job at a bar, stand on her own two feet and figure life out. University wasn’t for her – at least not yet, when she didn’t even have a clue about what interested her – and that seemed to be the only path these days.
Most of her friends at school were planning to go to university. Almost all of them were moving away, and for the first time Faye was forced to confront her fears – that she was a failure, with no direction in life, and she wasn’t going to be successful or distinguished or worth anything because that was the society they lived in now. Without a degree or a career ladder to climb, her parents would never be proud of her.
“This is so boring,” Liam groaned, leaning on Finn as he chucked the English book to the side. It skidded along his floor and under his bed, which probably meant it was now covered in dust bunnies. Finn snorted but said nothing, eyes skimming the page and trying to make sense of the Scottish tongue that Sunset Song used. Liam groaned again, hoping to prompt a response. Finn rolled his eyes.
“You only hate it because you never learned how to talk like a proper Scot.”
“But you liked that one poem by Rabbie Burns.”
“Because it was about womanising,” Liam returned, making himself comfortable on Finn’s shoulder. He closed his eyes and pretended to snore. “Sunset Song is pure drivel.”
“Oh, you like womanising, do you?” Finn snorted, shaking his head.
Finn moved suddenly, causing Liam to collapse with a squawk. His head hit Finn’s leg and he decided to stay there, continuing with his façade of sleeping, and Finn chuckled.
“I think if you were actually asleep, you’d be drooling.” He hovered over Liam’s face, hand going to his mouth. “Nope, no drool here.”
“Gross,” Liam giggled. “I don’t drool.”
“Everyone drools in their sleep, ya bawbag.” Finn remained where he was, his face close to Liam’s – so close, in fact, that Liam could smell his minty breath and see that his lips were soft, and he wondered what Finn would do if he closed the distance –
“What?” Finn asked stupidly, drawing back. Liam realised he must have been staring. He shook his head quickly.
Finn shoved the book aside with his foot and then lay on his stomach, his knees pressing into the Totoro beanbag in the corner of Liam’s recently re-decorated room. He remained close to Liam – something that Liam didn’t mind. In fact, quite the opposite. His heart was pounding in his chest. His skin – especially his cheeks – felt warm, like they were glowing.
Carefully, Finn placed a hand over Liam’s. Their gazes met. Finn’s dark eyes were searching Liam’s blues, silently questioning if he was making a wrong move. Liam tilted his head up to look at their hands, and twined their fingers together. His stomach was full of butterflies.
What was he doing? He liked Finn. The reaction that his body had to the other boy made that clear, and Liam had certainly spent some nights thinking of him – wondering…
But he liked Serenity too. And he knew that they both had – or perhaps still did – both like him. Was he putting all of their friendships in jeopardy for doing this? Was he being selfish? He rolled onto his front, looked up and Finn, and tried to find the words to explain the confusion in his heart.
Before he could raise these questions with Finn, the other boy’s hand cupped his cheek, thumb smoothing over his bottom lip, and then Finn’s lips pressed against his gently, curiously, and Liam wondered if this was also his first kiss.
His heart had been pounding before, but now it was racing, and the sound of blood whooshing in his ears was the only thing he could hear. He had read a piece that Summer had written for an online competition, about the first kiss with someone you loved, and Liam could now appreciate exactly how accurate it had been. His lips were tingling – in fact, his entire body was – and it felt so comforting and exciting at once that he wanted to both relax into the feeling and speed things up but, before he could, he remembered that Finn had to be home for dinner in less than twenty minutes, and it took him almost that long to walk home.
Reluctantly he pulled away. The sight of Finn’s soft smile – something that Liam rarely had the pleasure of seeing – made his heart feel all gooey again. “I don’t want to make you late,” Liam murmured.
“Huh?” Finn blinked a couple of times. “Oh! Dinner, shit, yeah. Want to walk me halfway?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.
“I’ve liked you for a long time you know,” Finn said. “I remember watching you mowing lawns when you first moved here. It was a good sight…”
Liam laughed, trying to imagine a young Finn peeking through slits in fences to watch him. He already knew this from Serenity, but he couldn’t tell Finn that without explaining the rest of their conversation…
He tried to keep his mind away from her for now. He would find a way to talk to her later.
“Ugh, the winter dance, are you really thinking about that? You don’t even go to a school,” Skye laughed, running her hands through the late blooming flowers by her waist. Felix pouted and stopped on their short tour around the campsite and turned to face her.
“I can’t imagine you in formal clothes,” she continued, reaching up to poke his chest where a tie would be. “Would you rent a kilt just for the occasion?” Skye teased.
“I’d look great in a kilt!” Felix argued, reaching up to try to smooth his hair down in an attempt to make it look more dance appropriate, but of course it sprang back up in its usual defying-gravity manner. “Anyway, it’s a big thing right? Aren’t you thinking of going?”
“Ugh, so I can watch the inane popular kids pose and make small talk about the Kardashians?”
“Isn’t Summer going?”
“Nah, it’s neither of our things. Well, it would totally be Summer’s but the one person she wants as a date would never ask, so.” Skye shrugged. “Anyway, were you hoping to be my date just so you could experience the joys of a school ceilidh?”
“The flower thingies?” Skye laughed. “You need to stop getting all your ideas about school from American TV. That doesn’t happen here. Anyway, girls have to wear dresses. Can you imagine me in a dress?”
It was a rhetorical question, but Felix looked set to answer, though to a more perceptive person his blush would have been answer enough. “Come on, it could be fun! I’d love to do some strip the willow with you.”
With that Felix bent down in a mock gentlemanly bow, pressing her hand to his lips. “Milady,” he said, in a ridiculously deep voice. Half of Skye wanted to laugh, but the other half was suddenly finding it hard to breathe; even more so when Felix’s eyes locked with hers, so trusting and warm. Her mouth opened but she could think of nothing to say. It was like all thoughts had been swept from her mind, and the only things filling it were the songs of a nearby robin, the distant laughter of a family in the cabin, and the earthy smell of Felix.
“I’ve done some at weddings. It can’t be that hard, right?” he asked, grinning impishly. Skye was reminded of all the times he had encouraged her to try something new, go out of her comfort zone, and how incredibly lucky she was to have him by her side as she did those things – she trusted him so much, and he was still holding her hand, and a warm glow was spreading through her, and…
He took her other hand and held it up. For a moment Skye didn’t understand what he was doing, but then he held her waist with the other and automatically – trained from too many PE lessons – her hand drifted up to his shoulder. He pulled her a little closer and their chests touched. Skye felt her breath leave in a gentle, somewhat shaky sigh, and looked up into his eyes.
“See? I’ve got this down.”
Skye tried to remember how to hold a conversation. She blinked a few times until her brain kicked in. “Actually, most of the dances don’t have much of this. And are usually way more chaotic than your typical ballroom dance…”
His eyes lit up. “That sounds even better!”
Skye rolled her eyes. Despite Felix’s attempts to get her to go to the dance, she really didn’t want to. It was the epitome of everything she hated in school – posturing, being in close quarters with bitches, and the expectation of going dolled up. “Maybe I’ll just teach you how to ceilidh at some point.”
Felix pouted again. “I guess I can settle for that.”
“Yours is a nice house,” she repeated with a smile. “And I love your parents. They’re so sweet to me. Jessica is always giving me cake.”
“You should really know that by now,” Bethany laughed. She sat forward, a thought occurring to her. “I read something really interesting the other day – it was this big book of sexuality– “
“Oh? Questioning yourself, are you?”
“Asexuality? I don’t think humans can breed with themselves.”
“That’s not what it means in this context, smart arse,” she tutted, rolling her eyes at Loxley’s smirk.
“Because you’ve always maintained that you’re not interested in a relationship or anything physical. That’s what this is. There’s a term for it and other people feel this way. You’re still curious about it, right?”
“Sure,” Lox nodded. “Pass the book along and I’ll give it a read.”
“I thought you might say that, and I have it with me,” Bethany said, pulling it out of her backpack and sliding it along to him. Loxley bent down and picked it up, flicking through a few pages before nodding and putting it on his desk for later.
“You know me so well,” he laughed, finishing the last of his coffee that Bethany had brought along with her.
“A product of working with you for too long,” she replied with a grin.
“Do you think it’ll be lonely?” Bethany asked him curiously. “If you never have a relationship?”
“Why would it be lonely? I have you and my family.” He shrugged. Being alone was just a chance to think, and as an intellectual he always had something to think about.
“True,” Bethany said lightly. “And you’ll always have us.” She beamed at him and scooted forward, grabbing her back and pulling it close to her. “Hey, I found some tarot cards yesterday. Want to give them a try?”
“You’re kidding me? That bullshit?”
“It’ll be placebo. People believe what they want to believe, like luck and superstition.”
Bethany began humming Stevie Wonder’s Superstition as she brought the cards out. Loxley, with a shrug, sat in front of her and let her have her fun.
Liam had invited Serenity around for the sole purpose of telling her that he and Finn had kissed, but it had been difficult enough to get her own her own especially with the run up to exams. It had fallen by the wayside for a few weeks, but finally he couldn’t keep the secret anymore.
He hadn’t yet explained to Finn that he still had strong feelings for her, too.
One complicated thing at a time.
“This chicken hates me,” Liam complained. Their neighbour had moved abroad and offered the chickens and the coop free to a good home, so Liam had jumped at the chance to experience owning pets – even if they were noisy birds with a tendency to peck his fingers. They were still kind of cute… from a distance.
“Probably your red hair,” Serenity said, sprinkling barley into the feeding slot and cooing at a couple of clucking hens.
“I don’t think that’s a thing,” Liam laughed. “Hey, so, I need to talk to you.”
“Um, not really.” Liam glared at the chicken as she tottered back inside. He took a deep breath. “Finn and I… we kissed. A few weeks ago. I thought you deserved to know –“
“Because you think I still like you?” Serenity asked, barking laughter, a little too quickly and a little too sharply. “Whatever. Good luck to you both.”
“Wait, that’s not all I wanted to say –“
“Ser, wait! There’s more to this than you think.”
“Oh, save your breath,” Serenity muttered, but Liam hadn’t heard her. He watched her storm away and sighed, rubbing at his forehead in frustration. That couldn’t have gone any worse, could it?
His phone buzzed in his pocket and he wondered if it was Finn – wondered if Serenity had already texted him angrily – and tried to figure out what his next move would be. He needed to tell Finn he liked her too, didn’t he? This was all so confusing, but he knew that it wasn’t fair to hide that. Just because he and Finn had kissed a few times hadn’t made him feel anything less for Serenity, but he was wondering what he was really hoping for.
The saying “you can’t have your cake and eat it,” finally made sense to him.