After the brush with my mom, we went back into my room. Tess gathered her things together while I changed into my red satin pajamas. When I turned around she was just standing there, uncertainly. Her still wet hair hung in tendrils and curls at her shoulders, but her little baby hairs had dried and their pale blonde fuzz framed her face. In the dim light of my room the little curls made Tess seem encircled by a soft golden halo. Looking at her in this angelic glow made me suddenly catch my breath.
"Isabel...Are you sure you're...ok?" Tess asked tentatively.
And this time I knew that I was. The past couple of days had been completely crazy, but they had given me a lot of time to think. Sometime during our bath together I had stopped analyzing it all and worrying what it meant that I, Isabel Evans, had kissed a girl...and actually liked it. I didn't even care what it meant. Lying there together told me more than all those days analyzing. This wasn't just a girl... this was Tess, and this was right.
"Yeah. I'm... really ok. More than ok... Are you?" At this Tess' eyes brightened. God, I loved how her smile spread right to her eyes, not like one of those smiles where the mouth is smiling, but it never quite reaches the eyes. Tess was genuine. I let my own smile reach my eyes, something I don't often do. "No more freaking out," I said reassuringly and crossed the room to her.
Suddenly her eyebrows knitted together in a look of concern, and for one awful second fear flitted across my heart. Opening up and allowing myself to be vulnerable was not easy for me and for that brief moment I worried that Tess would change her mind and I would be left completely exposed, my heart now open to her.
"Isabel...what are we going to say to everyone? I mean... people heard us ar-arguing at the Crashdown." Tess' pretty blue eyes were clouded with worry. The apprehension on her face was enough to make me want to wrap my arms around her and hold her forever, to gently squeeze her fear out and chase all her worry away. She wasn't changing her mind... she was just remembering what I, in my self-realization, had forgotten. I hadn't even remembered the quasi-scene I'd created at the Crashdown. Now the memories flooded back: me yelling at Tess, asking why she'd kissed me and made me feel in the middle of the near-packed and eerily quiet caf#&233;. And me running out, leaving Tess shock still in the middle of the spectacle, crying.
I wrapped my arms around her then and felt her cool damp hair pressed against my cheek as I reassured her, "Don't worry about it, Tess. I'll... take care of it. Just...play dumb if someone asks you about it. I'll handle it."
I could feel her body relax a bit in my embrace. I sighed and said, "I'm sorry Tess."
She looked up and fixed her baby blues on me. No longer clouded by worry, her eyes were crystal clear and I could see my own eyes reflected in hers. She craned her neck up and reassured me that I was forgiven with the sweetest, gentlest kiss. There was nothing more than pure love and acceptance in her kiss. It was not a probing kiss but a gentle brushing of her lips on mine. They just barely grazed mine, tickling them and sending a tingle all through me, like fire coursing through my blood, bathing every corner of my body in its heat. They softly touched again and we stayed that way for what seemed an eternity; our bodies just inches apart, so close that I got gooseflesh from the sensation of being just about to be touched. Instead of the touch occurring, it just hovered above my skin, stirring the air around us and creating heat between our bodies.
When she finally pulled away, the air shimmered... the heat became like a cool breeze that sent a shiver wracking through my body. All the places that Tess' body had been close to felt as though they were still being touched, from a warm glow on the inside. I realized that I was slightly out of breath, my eyes still closed so that I could still feel her next to me. I tried to slow my internal rhythm down, the pulsing of my body that her nearness had created. Get it together, Isabel. Calm down. But I didn't really *want* to calm down. I had never felt this way before. I couldn't believe that my whole body could be responding so intensely to a touch that had barely occurred. Finally Tess' voice broke the silence that had been hanging in the air since we had parted.
"It's late...I should go... I um, I'll see you in school tomorrow...ok?" Her voice was slightly husky and her breathing a little choppy, and I knew that she had been as affected by our nearness as I had.
Not trusting my own voice not to shake or crack, I mutely nodded and watched her turn and walk out of my room. As the door closed softly behind her, I shakily exhaled all the breath that I hadn't even known I'd been holding.
A half an hour after Tess left, I sank wearily into my bed wondering just what I would say tomorrow to anyone who asked. And Alex, god, Alex! He hadn't even crossed my mind since I ran out of the Crashdown all those hours ago. What could I say to Alex? I could probably make up a good enough lie to appease most people... but explaining to Alex... he always wants to talk about things, to make sure I'm ok and to stumble over his feelings. It can get tiresome sometimes, but I really do care about him and I don't want to hurt him.
Exasperated, I flung my face into my pillow. As I inhaled I caught a sweet scent lingering on my pillow. It was her smell. Sweet and feminine, not overpowering, gentle. It was everything she was. I inhaled deeper and instinctively my body relaxed. I sat up and pulled the pillow close to me, breathing her scent in, letting it clear my head, a pleasant release from my cluttered mind. I sat there lightly grinning with the pillow pressed against my face. I didn't even hear the door open, but suddenly Max was there.
"Is?" He said hesitantly.
I felt my face flush instantly. God, I must look like a total idiot! I tried to gracefully toss the pillow aside, to make it seem somehow unimportant.
"Isabel... Are you ok now? Do you... want to talk about it?" Max was fixing his deep eyes on me. I knew I really had no choice but to talk to him. When Max stares like that, there's no escaping him. But I could be just as determined. I exhaled, set my jaw firmly and held my head up high. "Max, I'm fine. I'm just tired and want to go to sleep."
Apparently that was an invitation for him to sit on my bed. I rolled my eyes...Max always had to have his way.
"Isabel, tell me what's going on." His voice was firm, but I could hear the concern in it.
"Max, nothing is going on," I replied just as firmly. I turned away hoping to indicate that I considered the conversation over.
With that one word his voice conveyed so much. I knew I had lost the battle, but that didn't have to mean I'd lost the war... I knew I had to say something... I just wasn't sure what. I leaned forward and rested my elbows on my knees, my face in my hands and my fingers massaging my temples. I wasn't ready to tell him about Tess and me. It was too fresh and new, like a crystal meadow after a snowstorm, and I wasn't ready to invite people to track all over it. I wanted to maintain its beautiful purity for just a little while longer, not share it with anyone...my own private, secret meadow, undisturbed by human contact. I didn't want the pristine dream shattered. But, I had to say something...
"It's... just... girl stuff Max. We-we had a fight, it was stupid and... and it's over now. Everything's ok." Seeing he wasn't convinced I added, "Really Max. It was nothing. Everything's fine."
His eyes told me that he knew I was full of it, but he just nodded and got up. As he got to the door, he turned and said quietly, "Is, if you want to talk... I'm here." He let his gaze linger on me long enough to let me that he would accept my explanation and let it drop...for now. The door closed softly behind him and I was left alone with my thoughts again.
Shit. I hated not telling him. But how could I? Everyone thinks that Tess wants Max...including Max. How could I tell him that what she really wants is me? How could I tell him that what I really want is her? And I had Alex and Michael to deal with. Michael! Thank god he hadn't been at the Crashdown today. Max may have accepted that I wasn't ready to tell, but Michael isn't exactly quick to pick these things up. Always the master of social grace and tact, he would have called me on my bullshit without even hesitating to think why I might lie. I silently laughed a little at the thought of Michael's confused look.
It was funny... when Michael and Max first met Tess, what was it I had said? "Well, it's not like I'm going to fall in love with her and compromise our very existence." Looking back, I had to smile. It was ironic, wasn't it? I had fallen in love with her. I rolled my eyes at my own idiocy. Maybe subconsciously I had already known when I said that...
Tired of thinking, I rolled over onto my side, snuggled a little with my Tess-scented pillow and let the remnants of her presence fill my soul as I slowly breathed in and out.