Bruises by Sarah Robinson

She wanted to kiss her. They were sharing an ice cream cone and those lips were taunting her. Laura had these perfect bow lips, and as Emily watched them dip into soft serve she forgot all about the cold locker handle digging into her spine. This was their routine, every day after school since they were assigned drama partners at the beginning of the year they hung out by Laura’s locker until she got picked up at four.

The florescent lights reflected off the cheap dusty linoleum and Laura right next to her. “Want a lick?” Laura offered, tilting the vanilla cone toward her. It was then Emily knew why Laura always had a boyfriend.

Laura was the epitome of cool, from the kelly green converse on her feet to the bottle cap necklace at her throat. She was the only girl who had the guts to roll the plaid, pleated skirt up above uniform mandated length, and it revealed a patch of freckles above her right knee. Emily wanted to connect the freckles like dots, tracing patterns into Laura’s skin with her fingertips. Maybe she’d draw a giraffe, or a heart.

Emily’s stomach leaped, and she raised her eyes up to Laura’s, getting lost in those blues as she flicked her tongue over the top. She wondered if this was normal, what friends did, because she knew she wasn’t gay. One time in junior high she held a boy’s hand.

“S’good, right?” Laura asked with a grin, and Emily nodded, flipping her hair back over her shoulder. “Yeah, totally.” Whenever Laura looked at her, Emily felt special.

“Hey, Laura…” Emily had to pause and swallow around the dryness in her throat. Her navy polo shirt was sticky under her arms, clinging to her skin, and her heart pounded in her ears. “Yeah?” Laura raised an eyebrow and took a crunching bite out of the cone.

“I know you wanted to see the new Depp movie. I won some tickets, from the radio? I was wondering if you wanted to go to the premiere with me.” Her heart swelled with anticipation.

When Emily first heard of the contest she tuned in every day to listen to the radio and called in at each alert sound. By the end of the week she had tried so many times her fingers dialed by reflex.

Laura shrugged, and nodded. “Yeah, sure. Sounds cool.”

“Awesome,” Emily said, smiling big. Finally, she had the chance to hang out with Laura outside of school.

That night, Emily had a dream. Laura was wearing a thin white nightgown, sleeveless and falling down to the tops of her smooth thighs. The window was open and the moon was full, but she couldn’t sleep. It was only when she crawled into Laura’s bed she realized she was in lingerie too, frilly with lace and silky to the touch. Laura welcomed her into her toned arms, and Emily admired the way the moon washed over her skin. Laura’s hands began touching her, sliding over her thighs and Emily didn’t know what she was doing but it felt good. When she woke up she was wet, and her stomach churned in knots. She was ashamed.

When Emily reached drama class that afternoon Laura wasn’t there. Usually she couldn’t wait to sit next to Laura with their arms almost touching, the invisible connection between them electric and sending goose bumps prickling over her skin. Today, she was relieved she didn’t have to be so close she smelled Laura’s watermelon lip gloss. Class consisted of a few improvisational activities, and throughout the exercise she tried to squeeze in conversation with her friend Claire.

“Last night I had a weird dream,” Emily whispered, rounding her arms above her head and doing a slow turn.

“What are you supposed to be?” Claire asked, hands settling over her hips. “A freakin’ ballerina? What happened in your dream?”

“Just go with it.” Emily mumbled, sighing as her arms dropped. She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and continued, “I don’t know. I had a dream about Laura. I think I like her?”

Claire’s eyes widened, as if Emily had just gotten hit by a car or taken a spill off the roof, like this was the worst news she could have ever delivered. “No Em,” she said lowly, dramatically seizing the girl’s shoulders. “You just look up to her. Admire her, like a sister. That’s all. You can’t like her, okay? You know what happens to girls who talk like that.”

Emily somehow found a smile, even though the words made her veins run ice cold. Last year two girls got expelled after they were caught holding hands. “Yeah, you’re right. I’m glad you get it.” Forcing the words left her empty, but she supposed Claire knew best so she decided to forget the idea and not mention Laura again.

If she could just kiss Laura’s lips, then she knew everything would be fine. She would forget about the plum sized bruises left on her arm in the shape of her mother’s fingerprints. It would be worth getting kicked out of school, if it came to that.

No one ever asked about the bruises. Movies and books always showed the main character having to lie, under scrutiny for the fading purple marks left on their cheekbone. Emily knew then the audience would feel sad, as the character fought this secret battle and made excuses, but it wasn’t like that for her. In reality no one cared enough to ask. Laura was the exception. She had caught a glimpse of Emily’s arm last month and demanded to know what happened.

All the emotion she was holding in finally burst. Laura called child protective services about it, and when Emily came home from school a week after their conversation she found a blonde woman on the couch wearing a jacket boasting shoulder pads. Dread had smacked into her full force, and as she walked over the living room carpet it felt like dragging her feet through cement.

The lady’s name was Susan. She asked questions that sent a rush of cold down Emily’s back as she sat with clammy hands tucked beneath her thighs, and a throat so dry it made every word crack. In the end the conversation went nowhere, and here she was, in the same situation months later. She reasoned she deserved it – after all she had promised Susan she was fine.

Throughout the week before the premiere Emily built up a fantasy. The movie could be her own version of Las Vegas, in the dark of the theater anything could happen. Laura and her on-again-off-again boyfriend were off again, so Emily thought this would finally be her chance. She would kiss her.

Emily could see it now. Laura would pick her up and they’d sing to the Dresden Dolls, Laura’s and now her favorite band, before sharing popcorn at the movie. The whole show they’d sit close, and in the safety of the theater she could take Laura’s hand. She pictured kissing her in the middle of the movie and spending the rest of their time making out, and imagined it during the credits instead, or her favorite – in the van after the movie. Emily would lean in and kiss her, nice and quick, then pull back a second later to search Laura’s face. Laura might stare, but then she’d kiss her back, and it would be all hands; hands in hair, on stomachs and under shirts, skimming up backs and down thighs, climbing ribs, and keeping each other impossibly close. She imagined Laura’s bubblegum pink lips falling open in ecstasy, her abdomen quivering beneath each touch.

The night of the movie Laura was running late. Emily sat outside on her front porch, staring at the empty street beneath a sherbet colored sky. Every second she waited sent the contents of her stomach sloshing from one side to the other. Laura’s gold minivan pulled into the driveway and honked as Emily sprang to her feet. She double-checked the tickets were in her purse and jogged to the car, heart jumping in her chest. When she opened the door the Dresden Dolls were playing. She was so excited she could feel the music pulsing in her veins.

Emily passed over the tickets to the employee in charge of tearing them. “Nice bowtie,” Laura commented, winking at him. Emily forced a chuckle, the sound drying out her mouth.

“Want some popcorn?” Emily suggested, turning toward Laura with a half smile.

Laura was busy staring at the phone in her hands, thumbs flying through texts. “Sure.” Somehow Emily still managed to be inflated with hope.

During the previews Emily reached into the bag at the same time Laura was reaching over and their fingers brushed. It sent her heart fluttering, but Laura’s hand leapt away.

Emily couldn’t focus the entire movie, thinking about Laura’s denim clad thigh pressed against her bare leg. There was something happening on screen featuring elaborate costumes but the dialogue was beyond her. The longer the movie went on the stronger her sense of urgency was, anxious she’d miss her only chance to make a move. Her fingers practically twitched with the need to seize her opportunity, so she nudged Laura’s arm a little to share the armrest and psych herself up. The second she decided to go for it Laura’s hand dived into the popcorn again. Nerve lost, Emily just helped herself to some popcorn.

When they exited the movie Emily barely shuffled her feet along the carpet, wanting to drag out their goodbye as long as possible. The school year was almost over, and with it came a sense of finality to their friendship. Summer was a busy season for Laura, and then she would be off to college out of state while Emily was stuck with a year of school to go.

“Hey Em, how’s it goin’ with your parents?” Laura asked, as she looked over her shoulder to back out of the parking space.

“Fine,” Emily answered, staring at her hands. They were so useless – why couldn’t they grab Laura the way she wanted?

“That’s good. You okay? You seem a little upset.” Laura kept only one hand on the wheel as they talked.

“Sorry, I’m just going to miss this next year.” Immediate embarrassment washed over Emily after her confession. She decided it was the lamest thing to ever leave her mouth.

“Aw, c’mon. You’ll be just fine Em.” Laura promised, and then turned the radio up. “I love this song!”

Laura turned into the driveway and slid it into park. “Hug goodbye?” she proposed, flashing a grin.

“Yeah,” Emily said, mirroring the smile as she unbuckled her seatbelt and leaned in, securing her arms around Laura’s shoulders. It felt like home, more so than her bedroom waiting inside. She breathed in against her neck, picking up the usual watermelon scent and a faint trace of buttery popcorn.

Laura gave a firm squeeze, one that warmed Emily to the bone, and pulled back. Emily’s eyes locked on Laura and she launched forward to seal their lips in a kiss. Laura jerked back immediately and Emily’s face crumpled. There was no physical mark, but the rejection stung deeper than any of the angry red welts left by her mother.

“I’m sorry,” Emily blubbered, “I’m sorry.” She fumbled the door, eyes blurring with tears. The handle was stuck, and her jiggling attempts were unsuccessful.

“Em, it’s okay, you’re a great friend, and a special girl, but I just don’t think of you that way.” Laura reached out to coax her, pull Emily in for a hug, but Emily wasn’t listening. She finally managed to get the door open and hopped out, running across the lawn and leaving the door open and dinging behind her.

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Sarah Robinson graduated with a Bachelors in Fiction Writing from Columbia College Chicago. She is an emerging writer with love of fiction and all things fantasy. Most importantly, she’s a proud rescue dog mama.

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