Faye startled, turning around to the source of the noise before she could slide her shoulder bag off and transfer it to a dining chair, where she would be able to ignore it for the rest of the summer (or, more likely, until her parents ordered her to study).
The vehemence in Summer’s words shocked Faye; her jaw dropped and she spun around, it being clear that her triplet was talking to her but the finger pointed in her direction. Her cheeks were red and wet. Her hand was shaking. With anger or sadness, Faye wasn’t sure.
“What?” Faye asked, blinking at her sister.
“What?!” Summer repeated, her voice little more than a disbelieving wheeze.
Faye thrust her arms out in the traditional Scottish ‘m’on then’, which was more commonly found on a drunken Glaswegian bloke but which suited her purposes fine. “Yeah, what? C’mon, Sum, don’t be mad.” Faye’s voice, which had started out fierce and stubborn, quickly became pleading.
“Don’t be mad?!” Summer repeated, her eyebrows climbing well above the rims of her glasses. “Don’t be fucking mad?”
“Whoa,” Skye said, quickly putting herself between the two, completely bewildered at the sudden turn of atmosphere within the house. They had been content to celebrate the last day of school, not having to go back while they were on study leave, and Loxley had even agreed to cook for them (he was skilled at it, despite not having much practice, but it was likely because he found recipes and followed them to the letter thanks to his habit of following laboratory instructions).
Lox gave a cursory glance over his shoulder, rolled his eyes at Faye, and went back to stirring a cheese sauce.
“She – She –“ Summer then hiccupped and wiped at her cheeks. “She told them I was gay, Skye. She told her friends!”
“Not on purpose, obviously!” Faye huffed in protest. She hadn’t done it maliciously. It had just sort of slipped out before she realised what she said. Besides, now Uma and Summer could be together, right? She had really done them a favour!
Summer made a sound of frustration but it dissolved into pained sobs, Skye quickly reaching out to her sister and glared at the other. Loxley decided to intervene instead, eyeing Faye’s bewildered expression. She wouldn’t understand the severity of the situation, and Loxley knew trying would make them all frustrated. Right now, however, his priority was to remove some of the distress from Summer. He turned to Faye.
“Get out. Go for a walk, get dinner out, I don’t care. Just leave us alone.”
“You can’t just kick me out,” Faye gasped, wounded at the thought.
“All in favour,” Lox said drily. Skye and Summer both nodded. True hurt flashed across Faye’s face. Loxley wondered how the hell she’d reached seventeen (almost eighteen) while maintaining such a poor grip on reality.
“Fine! Fine then!” She burst past them, not even pausing to grab her jacket, and ran out into the drizzle with a well disguised sob.
James had come home soon after and had immediately clocked Summer on the sofa, wiping at her cheeks, while Skye sat next to her and rubbed her back soothingly. A quick check around the corner showed Loxley continuing with dinner (a nice surprise, and James hoped there was enough for both him and Jessica) and so all of them were accounted for, except for Faye. Her absence was telling.
“Sum, love? What’s wrong, buttercup?” He perched beside her on the sofa and passed a tissue to her, which she took.
From the kitchen, Loxley muttered, “I can.” James mulled over those words. He felt his skin warm with well hidden anger, watching one daughter crying because another had been so careless with her words.
“Where is she?” James asked gently, soothing his hand over Summer’s arm.
“We just told her to leave,” Skye said, when it became clear that Summer was crying too much to reply. James nodded grimly. He would need to have strict words with her, and it was better sooner rather than later.
Faye had retreated to a café bar, contemplating her phone while leaning against the stone wall. The coolness helped her overheated skin. The conversations replayed themselves over and over in her mind. She curled her shoulders in towards her, trying not to cry in front of all the strangers in the cosy building. Their bustling voices washed over her; her mind was in a completely different place.
There were several facebook messages from a couple of her friends, and radio silence from the others. Faye was aware she had put her foot in it, but it was an accident. Surely Summer and Uma would understand that?
Her phone buzzed and Faye’s heart sunk to see that it was her father. “Where are you?” he asked. She debated switching her phone off and pocketing it, avoiding her family or maybe just running away forever. Common sense prevailed (an unusual ending, for her) and she told him the café.
“I’ll be there soon. Get settled. We’re having a talk.”
Faye finally ordered a horrendously pink drink, sitting on the edge of the patterned sofa nervously. She played with the strings of her bag, the hem of her dress, her hair, anything to keep her fingers moving. She didn’t want to face her father, wondering if he’d hate her as much as Summer seemed to, but curiosity got the better of her. She looked up when she felt him approach, the dread making the sweet drink too sickly to swallow.
James’ expression was carefully neutral, but Faye could see there was a rare tightness to his shoulders. He nudged her over and she moved silently.
“Before you say anything,” Faye blurted, “I really didn’t mean anything by the comment. I was mad at Uma and I was wrong to say what I did. Okay?” She smiled up at him, turning on the charm she often did for James. He was a sucker for his girls, they all knew, but no one tried to abuse that power as often as Faye did.
This time, however, James’ expression didn’t break into a regretful smile. He remained firm. “Do you think that makes it better?” he asked evenly.
“To some people,” James replied carefully, “it matters very much. The decision to tell people about something important about yourself should only be yours. You have absolutely no right to take to make that decision for anyone else, and the fact that you don’t see it is… shocking.”
Faye swiped her plastic cup and chewed on the straw a little, fidgeting under her father’s stern tone. What was worse than that was the disappointment on his face. Faye lowered her eyes. She wasn’t used to being on her father’s bad side, and found that she didn’t much care for the feeling.
“No,” James said firmly. His voice wasn’t raised, but it held no room for argument. “There is no excuse for what you just did. This is serious, Faye. This isn’t a little secret, it’s a big one, and you’ve hurt Summer and presumably Uma a lot. I – I can’t believe that you don’t understand the severity of what you’ve done.”
Faye shoved her bottom lip out and blinked away tears. She sucked some of the cream from her drink. “I do,” she protested, but her voice was quiet.
“Clearly not,” James said, and Faye had never heard him so defeated.
“We’re going to go home soon,” James began. “And if the change is agreeable with your siblings, you’ll stay in Loxley’s room. I’m sure Summer wouldn’t want to share a room with you. You’re grounded, and that includes your phone. I expect you to study very hard for these exams, Faye, and think very seriously about where you’ll end up after school, because you won’t be staying home without paying rent.”
Faye opened her mouth to argue, but James sent her a scathing look. Clearly, beneath his disappointment, he was furious with her. She bit back what she had been going to say and sunk further into her seat.
“Clearly you’ve not had enough responsibility or- or something, to lead to this. And don’t get me started on your attitude. You are going to have to work very hard to make it up to Summer, if she even forgives you at all, and that’s well within her right.”
Faye hadn’t thought what she had done was bad enough to warrant that… And James seemed to read her mind. His expression became pinched. He shook his head with a sigh and signalled to the waiter that he was ready to order dinner. Faye stared at her half-finished drink sullenly. Their dinner was going to feature a very uncomfortable silence.
Jessica had been updated on the situation with a few short texts from James, but she wasn’t quite prepared to have Summer fling herself into her arms as soon as she’d got in. Jessica flailed for her balance and Summer sniffed a ‘sorry’ into the crook of her neck, but Jessica gave it no heed.
“Oh, honey, I’m sorry,” she murmured, wrapping her arms around her daughter. “I hope no one has given you hassle over this, Sum.”
“No,” Summer mumbled, feeling comforted by the nostalgic feel of Jess brushing her hand over her hair. “But I don’t think Uma wants to talk to me anymore. She sent me the text about what happened and hasn’t said anything since.” Summer sniffed, shuddering in her mother’s arms. “I don’t care what anyone else says. I don’t need to ever see them again. But Uma – What if she hates me?!” Summer wailed.
“Love,” Jessica said gently, prying her arms away from Summer and extracting herself from the damp hug. She wiped the new tears away and began to lead Summer to the sofa. Dinner had been served before Jessica had arrived home, and she eyed the leftovers with a growling stomach. Still, Summer came before her hunger. “If Uma is really your friend, she’s going to like you no matter what.”
“But she knows I like her, now, what if – what if –“
“You’re working yourself up into a tizzy,” Jessica sighed. “You don’t know what’s going through her head. She might not be replying because she needs to come to terms with some things too. Give her some time before you jump to conclusions. You can’t worry about things outwith your control.”
Nice, logical Jessica. Loxley would have appreciated such a statement, but Summer didn’t know what to make with it. On one hand she was right, but that had nothing to do with her emotions. “When is Faye coming home?” she asked, dreading the answer.
“Soon, I think,” Jessica replied. “But if Loxley is okay with it, James suggested she stay in his room. We’re not going to be lax about this, Summer, I promise you.”
Lax, they were not. Faye had spent the exam leave studying (or trying to) in Loxley’s room, while he astutely ignored her until eventually moving his necessary things to her bed and staying there instead. She had never felt quite so alone, being shunned so obviously by her siblings. Even her parents remained cross at her.
Faye wasn’t often allowed out of the house, but Saturdays were the exception, her parents reasoning that keeping her in constantly would lead to more headaches around the house, not fewer. She often escaped to the café bar, her feet taking her there without a voluntary decision being made, and she would sit and drink a coke, pick at lunch, and think things over.
The last few weeks had been awful, each minute dragging by tortuously slowly, each night rolling on while sleep eluded her because, to her dismay, she only had the same thing to look forward to for the next day.
It was on one of these Saturday’s that, mulling this over, Faye decided that she needed to leave. She couldn’t very well stay in that house for much longer, with how hostile it was being, and the idea of going somewhere to start anew was appealing to her. She had been turning the idea over while watching the clock inch closer to the wee hours of the morning, unhappiness seeping so deeply into her that even her dreams had become dreadfully boring. Not even nightmarish; she simply seemed to dream of the exact same thing that she did when she was awake: a clock, ticking painfully slowly, pouring over a revision book with the words swimming around her.
Faye leaned back on her chair until her back cracked, slumping back and staring at the people in the café. The bartender was a muscular man that she hadn’t learned the name of despite her best efforts. He looked at her like she was some silly kid but, since she often came in here just for a soft drink and a bite to eat, she could hardly blame him. He was busy with his adult, grown up life, laughing with the students sitting at the bar who were lamenting about their lecturer’s inability to do anything on time.
She curled her fingers around the cool coke can self-consciously, wiping at the condensation on the metal. This student haunt was always busy, probably because of the bar and decor. She couldn’t see herself in their position; going to class, studying, partying. Her parents had always said they had known they wanted to go to uni, and Faye supposed it was just another thing she was going to disappoint them in.
Well, it was her life, wasn’t it? And what was keeping her here?
Faye chewed her lip. Telling herself she was going to leave was one thing. Actually knowing where to go – well, that was a whole other thing.
She overheard the blonde student at the bar talk about Glasgow, joking about the juxtaposition of its casual violence and friendliness (“They’ll stab ye and then show ye the way tae the hospital,” he joked, while the girl laughed whole-heartedly. “But it’s still far friendlier than Edinburgh. Ye ever asked someone there for directions when ye dinnae ken where ye goin’? They cannae be bovvered giving ye the time of day.”)
On a whim, Faye decided that Glasgow would be her destination.
With Liam’s discussion with Finn out of the way, he had let their relationship settle before trying to bring up the topic with Serenity. She had tentatively started speaking to them again, and things were close to being back to normal. Close, but not the same. Serenity would pretend not to see if Finn and Liam had a moment, and was notably quieter than usual. It was like her character had been dulled, and Liam didn’t know if talking to her about their relationship would help matters or not.
Still, the summer holidays were almost upon them. It was the last few weeks of school – although his siblings had all finished already (because they were leaving), he had no such luck. He was mindful of the fact that soon he’d leave for six weeks, and didn’t want to leave Serenity and Finn trying to awkwardly fit back into their easy going friendship.
With that in mind, he had organised a day for Serenity and him to hang out, and heart in his throat, tried to explain what he wanted.
“I never stopped liking you, Serenity,” Liam said slowly, hugging one leg close to his chest. A cloud slid in front of the sun, darkening the light around them just as Serenity’s expression mirrored it. When the sun returned, her happy smile did not.
“This isn’t making things better,” Serenity hissed. “I don’t want to be with someone who would break my best friend’s heart because he thinks there’s a chance with someone else.”
“What?” Liam gasped, eyebrows rising, trying to keep up with what she thought he was trying to say. It took him some time to realise that she wasn’t coming into this conversation with polyamory in mind, and the way his words would have sounded otherwise.
“Finn really likes you, you realise that? And I would never betray his trust like that, even if you might.”
Liam shook his head rapidly, the conversation quickly spiralling out of control. A thought struck him: he had believed that the worst thing that could come out of this conversation was Serenity remaining aloof, but what if he lost her as a friend forever?
“No, no, that’s not what I meant.”
Serenity snorted, disbelief written all over her face. “Uh huh?”
“Really!” Liam protested, voice high. “And Finn knows I like you too. We’ve talked about it a lot.”
Her expression shifted closer to bewilderment, but a good portion of anger remained. Liam hurried to explain.
“Okay, so, there are loads of different ways to have a relationship, right? Not just a guy and a girl. Well, there’s something called polyamory. It’s like… being with more than one person. Finn and I have been reading a lot about it lately and… we kinda want to try it. That’s why I started the conversation saying I still like you. If you wanted to try… we could be together.”
Serenity brought her knees closer to her chest and stared at the mountains behind Liam. They had climbed the smallest one only the other day, and Liam and Finn had kept sharing glances that had driven Serenity up the wall. She had mistaken them for glances that wished they were alone, but now with hindsight she wondered if it was because they had been planning this conversation for some time.
“Polyamory?” Serenity questioned, annunciating clearly as if to test the word out. Liam nodded mutely. His eyes were dark with worry – the colour that the sky currently was, now that the sun had been hidden again. “But… How does that work?”
Liam shrugged. “I guess that’s something we find out. It depends what we want out of it too. I have a book on it if… if you wanted to find out more?” He trailed off hopefully, looking at her with somewhat lovesick eyes. She fidgeted, aware that her bum was getting damp from the grass.
“I… I mean, if Finn is really okay with it? I think… Well I’d like to find out more, anyway. This past year has been hard,” Serenity frowned, “seeing you two together.”
Liam crawled towards her and wrapped one arm around her back like he would have done before this year. She smirked at his arm and stubbornly looked away from him, forcing Liam to shyly tilt her face back to him.
“I’m sorry about that,” he said quietly, pulling her back tight against him in what could be a platonic or romantic hug – he would let her decide that. “I wish we could have done this differently but I didn’t know that such a thing could exist at the time.”
Serenity met his gaze and, for the first time that day, both of them were smiling. “Yeah, it’s news to me too. But I’m always up for trying new things.”
Liam’s smile grew into a full blown grin. “We can talk it through with Finn too before I have to go back north with mum and dad. Then properly try it when I’m back, if you both still want to?”
Serenity nodded, leaning into the hand still on her cheek. “I think… I think that sounds really good, Liam.”
The knock had surprised Summer, but she had assumed (with a sinking heart) it was Faye to gather up something from their room, or one of her parents to check up on her. She was happier now that exams were over and there was no need to be around anyone from school anymore, but there was still that deeply buried sadness at losing Uma.
Well – that part of her rose up so suddenly she had to resist jumping with a victorious squeak. No matter how this conversation was going to go, the fact that she got to lay eyes on Uma again was enough so send a smile spreading over her face – a rarity, these days.
“Uma,” she said softly, playing awkwardly with her glasses.
“Sum,” she whispered, her expression pained.
Uma linked her fingers together and shifted her weight side to side. Her gaze roamed around the room, resting only momentarily on Summer before skittering off again. Her cheeks were red, but the rest of her neck seemed to rapidly match that hue.
“I – we – we need to talk,” she blurted, biting down on her lip hard.
“I-I’m sorry I didn’t reply to your messages.” Uma looked at her sandaled feet. “I just kept away from all of my gadgets during the exam period. I wanted to focus and – and I couldn’t, not with people talking to me… or about me.”
Summer felt her shoulders slump. “I’m sorry about Faye,” she murmured.
“She shouldn’t have said that. And I’m so sorry – I feel like it was kind of my fault, since she knew…” Summer trailed off, absolutely mortified. It was one thing to think it, it was another to say it out loud. She knew that I liked you.
Uma reeled back in surprise, and then her eyes narrowed. “It’s not your fault, Sum. It’s Faye’s. I don’t blame you for any of this.” Her gaze softened. “I always meant – I mean, I always planned for this to go differently. That I would…” She stopped, blanched, and then took a deep breath, steeling herself for something. “That I would tell you after we graduated. You know, on my own terms.”
“Summer…” The way Uma said her name sent her heart into overdrive. No one had ever said her name like that – like it was a prayer. “Don’t you know? I – I mean, maybe Faye was wrong about you liking me, but, but I thought –“
Summer’s brain took a few seconds to process those words, at first tripping over their semantics, trying to understand what exactly Uma was saying. Before Summer realised she was doing it, her legs were taking her over to Uma and she wrapped her arms around the other girl, too ecstatic to think about what she was doing.
“I do!” she gasped. “I do like you, Uma. I – I’ve liked you for a long time.” She had almost said the other L word there, but that was a bit soon, and wisely her mind intervened.
“You have no idea,” Summer giggled a little. “Do you… Want to be my girlfriend?” She couldn’t quite work up the energy to be embarrassed at such a childish thing to say; all of her energy was focused on this moment, committing it to memory.
Uma slipped her hands to Summer’s cheeks, hazel eyes meeting hers. “Yes,” she breathed, lips curling into a small but blissfully happy smile. “Oh Sum, nothing would make me happier.”
“Me neither,” Summer mumbled, distracted by Uma’s touch. Her heart was still pounding in her chest, stomach doing flips – she wanted to pinch herself. After all of her wishful thinking, all of her dreaming, was it really coming true?
Uma rested her forehead against hers, giggling a little at their silence. “I think you’re the best person I’ve ever known, Summer. I’m so glad that I get to spend more time with you.”
Summer’s hold tightened on her. “You read my mind,” she whispered.
A/N: Liam and Serenity’s scene was meant to be last chapter, but I completely forgot about the pictures. If it seems a little odd fitting it in at this time, that’s why.
Also, I’m volunteering at a reserve with the RSPB, I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but it has no internet and mobile data is hard to come by. This is why there was such a gap between chapters (or it feels that way to me) and the reason I am going to be slower at posting and behind on reading for a few months.
And finally, I received news a couple of days ago that I’ve got a first class degree 😀 Although some things have been quite hard to deal with over the last few weeks, this has helped to cheer me up!