It gets to the point where Claire has no choice. Her need for clarity forces her to act. She must end this day less blindly than it started, so she decides to make Mia talk to her. First though, she has to get her alone. She gets her chance much later that night.
She sits on the porch, waiting for her opportunity. The screen door slams, and Robbie stops on the step next her. “We’re going for a night swim. You going to come?”
She leans back against the porch post and rubs her eyes. “No, I don’t feel like it.”
“Okay. See you soon. Hurry up, guys!” he yells over his shoulder.
Nina and the others dash out of the house, towels in hands.
“Come on, Claire,” Pete calls out as they take off down the track. “It’ll make you feel better.”
Claire doesn’t answer. Finally, the screen door opens and shuts again, quieter this time, and Mia crosses the porch, Blue just behind her. She smiles briefly but keeps moving. Claire almost lets her pass. But at the last minute, she hauls in courage from nowhere.
“Mia?” Claire says quietly just as she’s about to disappear down the path.
Mia stops in her tracks and turns slowly. Her hair is bunched on top of her head, and her towel is wrapped around her neck. She looks as exhausted as Claire feels.
“Yup?” she answers lightly as if she hasn’t ignored Claire all day, as if there’s no tension at all, as if she hasn’t deliberately put as much distance as humanly possible between them. She whistles for Blue, who has already taken off down the path. He trots out of the darkness and begins to weave his way in and out of the scrub nearby.
For a second, Mia’s lightness works, and Claire wonders if she’s making something from nothing. But if it were nothing, Mia wouldn’t have pulled away like that. Claire swallows hard.
“What’s going on…with us?” She pulls her knees up to her chin as she asks and hugs her legs. She feels her face turning pink, all her bravery spent in the asking of that one question.
Mia feigns innocence. “What do you mean?”
Claire takes a slow breath, harnessing her growing frustration. She will not let Mia play dumb. Her dignity won’t allow it. “You know what I mean.” She’s almost terse. “We kissed last night.”
Mia nods, but she doesn’t say anything. Instead, she stares at her feet.
Claire tries again. “We kissed last night again. And, I don’t know…” She raises her hands in frustration. “Now it’s weird. Actually, it’s been weird for a while, and I…” she falters, helpless to articulate the unspoken current that’s running between them. But at least Mia can’t pretend she doesn’t know exactly what she’s talking about.
Mia nods again. “I was kind of hoping you didn’t remember,” she mumbles.
“Well, I do.” And Claire wants to say she wasn’t even that drunk last night. Not at that point anyway, but she also hasn’t decided if she wants that fact to be known. “And you know, even if I didn’t, don’t you think I would have noticed that you’ve basically been ignoring me all day? That you’ve been avoiding me?”
Mia takes in a deep breath and looks up at her. “I’m sorry.” She says it quietly, her eyes steadfast.
Claire blinks. She’s not quite sure what to do with an apology. She’s not even sure what it is that Mia is sorry for exactly.
Finally Mia takes another breath and speaks. “I mean, I was just drunk, and it was dumb. I didn’t mean to confuse things between us or to freak you out.”
“You didn’t freak me out.” It’s probably only half the truth, but she’s pretty sure they are talking about freaked out in different ways right now. “What freaks me out is that you won’t even look at me today.”
“I’m sorry,” Mia says again.
“Stop saying you’re sorry.”
“Okay, sor—” Mia closes her mouth quickly, and despite the tension, they smile at each other.
Then Claire leans in and takes a deep breath. “It’s just, it’s been totally weird with us today, and…I don’t know…I just want to know what’s going on…in your head. That’s all.”
Mia bites her lip. “Too much. Everything. I don’t know.”
“Why?” Claire hugs her knees harder and stares at her.
“I shouldn’t have done it.” Mia presses her lips together. She looks as uneasy and on edge as Claire feels. She doesn’t speak for a minute, but Claire waits it out. Mia digs at the ground with her toe, her arms folded tightly across her chest. “Because I’m pretty sure I’m gay,” she finally says and steals a look at Claire before her gaze returns to the ground.
Claire stares at her for a moment and tries to make sense of how these facts connect together in the immediate now.
“You know how little sense that makes, right, Mia?” She smiles, sly, unable to help herself. “Who do you think you should have kissed, then? Eli?”
Mia gives her a tiny smile, enough to acknowledge the joke, but then her expression slides back into tension.
“So, you like girls?” Claire lets go of her legs, stretches them down to the bottom step, and tries to sound as casual as possible, as if this news is not even the slightest big deal. She leans back on her hands and looks up at Mia.
Mia pushes her hands into the pockets of her cut-offs and stares off to where Blue is busy hunting. “Yeah, I think so.”
Claire thinks back to the night of the party when she asked Robbie just that same question and what he said about Mia figuring herself out. Clearly sometime between then and now, she figured it out. She asks the question she’s wanted to ask for days. “That girl? From the party? Do you like her?”
Mia shakes her head. “No. Well…” She shrugs. “In the moment I did, maybe. We were just drunk, and it seemed like a good idea.” She digs at the pebbles on the path with the end of her sandal. “I was just…I don’t know…trying to make sense of…” She shrugs again and gives up. “I haven’t seen her since.”
“Did anything happen with her?”
Mia’s face turns pink. “Yeah.”
Even though she knows it’s none of her business, she can’t help herself. “Did you sleep with her?”
Mia stares at the ground for a long moment. Finally, she nods slowly.
Claire blinks, not sure why something she’s pretty sure she already knew makes her feel so sick all over again.
“Anyway,” Mia says quietly as she folds her arms over her chest. She glances briefly at Claire before turning just as quickly away. “Last night, I was really drunk, and I’m sorry.”
For drunkenly kissing me, or kissing me at all? But at the same time, she’s too scared to find out. So what she asks is the simplest version of the question and leaves it in Mia’s hands. “Why?”
“Because. I shouldn’t be doing stupid things like that.”
“Right.” Claire swallows. She gets her answer anyway. She can feel the tears prick at her eyes.
“I mean, I should probably be going out to gay bars like Robbie says and meeting other lesbians instead of doing dumb things like getting drunk and making out with my friend and making things weird like this.” She holds up her hands, helpless, and trails off. “It was stupid and trashy.”
Claire stares at her and blinks hard because she doesn’t want to do something embarrassing like cry. And what starts as hurt turns quickly—easily—to anger. “Yeah well,” she mutters through gritted teeth because those tears are coming anyway. “I have to say that makes me feel really good. It’s always so nice to be something trashy and stupid, to be something to regret.”
For the first time since they started this conversation, Mia looks right at her, and she looks surprised to see Claire’s hurt. She shakes her head, her eyes wide. “I didn’t mean it like that.”
Mia looks shocked. And defeated. Part of Claire feels sorry for her, but a bigger part of her feels sorrier for herself. Mia is one of the few people in her life who never made her feel like crap. Until right now.
“I’m going to bed.” She leaves Mia there on the path in the darkness.
As she stalks into the sleeping porch and shuts the door firmly behind her, she hears the slow footsteps as Mia walks back into the house and closes the door behind her.
* * *
Claire drops onto the bed and lets go of the threatening, invading tears.
That went so, so badly.
She is such an idiot. A stupid, stupid idiot who’s been getting all hopeful about something she has no stupid business being hopeful about at all.
She should have realised what this is with Mia. Claire’s an experiment, lumped in with that girl at the party. She’s just a part of Mia’s drunken solution to figuring it out, some trashy, hot mess placebo to make out with when she’s drunk until she finds a real girlfriend. Just a step along a road to somewhere better, to something real.
She turns onto her stomach. God, why does everyone think she’s not enough of…whatever? Insert desired quality here. She’s not driven enough to hang out with her friends who want to be lawyers and bankers. She’s not a good enough friend to be trusted to keep her hands off people’s boyfriends. And now she’s not gay enough or smart enough or normal enough for Mia to consider outside of the shit-faced-drunk zone. It’s enough to have a mother who thinks she isn’t good enough. She doesn’t need everyone else to chime in too.
She wishes she hadn’t talked to Cam, that she hadn’t gotten so close to the brink of utter frustration that she acted on his stupid advice. But what’s most painful and humiliating is the sickening realisation that she should have thought about the reality of this a little more. She should have thought harder about what she was seriously considering that Mia, even if she’s into girls, would contemplate her as a possibility.
Seriously. She swipes at another obstinate tear. What was she doing thinking someone as smart and incredible as Mia would think of her as a serious option? Someone like Mia will have all the choices when she actually gets out there properly. Why would she be interested in Claire? Claire’s a straight girl with a zero track record in relationships, no life plans, and a shitty attitude.
She pulls a pillow over her head and sniffs. What a stupid, stupid freaking idiot she’s been. She squeezes her eyes shut and wishes she were anywhere but here.