The crickets are loud tonight, even louder than Claire’s thoughts.
It’s been a long day at the lake, and craving some peace, she left the others in the house and hopes they’ll stay there. She’s tired of them. Well, she’s not tired of them, exactly, but has suddenly grown weary of the constant talking and laughing and movement of people in and out of rooms. Her nerves are jangled from the endless noise and flux around her. What started out fun has become—just for the moment—too much. It’s also because she hasn’t slept well the last couple of nights between the hangovers and the noisy mornings and this thing with Mia.
And tonight she hoped for some quiet, that maybe everyone will run out of steam, and they can chill. And it was looking that way until Robbie’s friends called. Some people he knows were driving up this way and asked if it was okay if they came by. Of course she’d said yes. And it was today that they called. And of course it was late, and they were stuck and wanted to stay the night in the bunkhouse. Claire said yes to that, too. It would’ve been too Scrooge-y not to. Their new presence has amped the energy in the house again, and she can hear all the talk and laughter growing louder behind her as they drink the fresh round of beer his friends brought.
But Claire can’t face it all right now. She needs a minute on her own. So much has happened in the last couple of days, she needs to take a breath. Here, on the large wooden step, she sits in the darkness and empties her mind for a while. And it feels good to just be, to sit peacefully in the hot night air where nothing is moving, not even the branches of the trees.
She gets her little pocket of peacetime—maybe half an hour—before she hears the screen door open and shut behind her. She fights the urge to sigh, not quite ready for the world just yet.
A voice says, “Go on.” Then Claire hears the clatter of Blue’s paws as he takes off past her, out into the night.
She lets out a breath. It is just Mia. She pads across the darkened porch toward her.
“Hey.” Claire smiles at her and turns back to the darkness. Strangely, even though Mia is so much of the reason why Claire feels like this, she is also the only person she can stand to be around right now.
“Can I sit?”
“Of course.” Claire slides over on the porch step. “What’s everybody doing?”
“I have no idea.” Mia settles on the step next to her and stretches out her long legs. “I was doing the dishes. They sure as hell weren’t there.”
Claire smiles and rests her elbow on her knees, her chin on her hand, listening to the crickets go crazy as they have done every single summer night she has ever spent here in their restive presence.
“You want some?” Mia holds out a nearly full beer.
Claire shakes her head. “I need a break.”
“Me too,” Mia agrees. “I don’t even know why I accepted it.” She puts the bottle down on the step near the porch post and leans back on her arms.
They sit quietly side by side, and Claire enjoys this new peace that exists between them after this day of slowly mending whatever it was that was broken between them last night. Everything still feels uncertain, but it also feels slightly less fraught and hurting. And for now, despite the questions that are left unanswered, Claire’s willing to take it because it’s better than the questions left unasked.
Suddenly, a huge thud and a yell rips through the air, followed by peals of laughter inside the house.
“What…was…that?” Claire asks, wary. If those idiots break anything, her mother will kill her.
“I have no idea. But they’re laughing, so I guess it is safe to assume no one needs to go to the hospital.”
“I’m more worried they’ve damaged something, and I am going to get murdered by my parents.” Claire frowns as there is another thump and a cheer. “Do you think I should go check?”
“The responsible part of me wants to say yes you should.” Mia suddenly sits up, shifts forward, and wraps her hands around Claire’s upper arm. She leans in close so their shoulders touch. “But the part of me that doesn’t want you to leave wants to say you shouldn’t.”
Claire turns slowly, chin still in hand, surprised at such candidness. But before she can complete the smile that starts the moment she hears those words, Mia’s mouth is on hers, fixed in a soft, steadfast kiss. And when Mia pulls back, Claire’s eyes widen, but she still delivers on that smile.
Mia gives her a shy answering smile but doesn’t say a word. She leans in and presses her lips to Claire’s again.
Claire automatically lifts her hand and slides it across Mia’s cheek. Her fingers come to gently grip her neck as she returns the kiss. This might be the last thing on earth she expected to happen tonight, but there’s no way she’s going to question it either.
So this is the answer. This is what it feels like when Mia sticks around, Claire realises. She removes her other arm from Mia’s clutch so she can reach around and trace her hand over her shoulder. She edges it under the weight of Mia’s thick hair to the warm skin at the base of her neck. She closes her eyes and feels a small thrill as Mia’s hand skims over her bare legs. She gently clutches Claire’s thigh just above the knee, helping to hold them in this awkward sideways pose on the step. It’s a position that neither seems to want to abandon, not enough to break this kiss, even to rearrange into something more comfortable.
There is another loud crash. The sound of hysterical laughter and frantic footsteps bursts out into the night.
Claire pulls away, her brows knitted, as a light goes on in one of the front rooms.
“Do you need to check on that?” Mia’s voice is husky.
Claire shakes her head, takes a deep breath, and gathers her courage. “I should, but…” She takes Mia’s hand and stands.
“Then what?” Mia’s face is a question mark as Claire takes her other hand and pulls until she complies and stands.
“Well, Mia,” Claire whispers because she knows her voice will come out weird if she tries for any louder. “For the first time, you’re not bolting.” She squeezes her fingers, enjoying the embarrassed smile her statement provokes. “So I am just making sure nothing disturbs that.” Claire tips her head in the direction of the house, where they can hear the sound of laughter and now footsteps coming closer. “So come here.” She leads her by the hand up the steps. They tiptoe across the creaking wooden surface, hurry past the lit windows and to the darker side of the porch. When she gets around the corner, in the shadows of the house, she stops, leans against the wall, and tries to put the mess of her thoughts into a semblance of order.
“You know,” she says quietly but quickly, still holding Mia’s hand. “I inappropriately kiss people sometimes when I’m drunk, yeah. So do you, clearly. But you and me? I think it’s more than that. And I just want you to know that I am not just being trashy right now. I’m not drunk, and I want to kiss you.” She shakes the hand in hers. “And what I actually was trying to say last night was that I think something is happening with us and to ask if you felt it too or if you knew what it was, you know?” Claire feels almost breathless from the urgency and terror of delivering this short monologue. She’s not used to communicating in such a forthright way, but it’s necessary. It all feels too vital in this moment not to, in case it all slips right back into uncertainty again.
Mia nods slowly and stares down at her bare feet.
“Hey.” Claire tugs gently on the hand, wanting to bring her back from wherever it is she has gone.
“I’m so sorry, Claire,” Mia whispers, gaze still fixed on the ground.
“What for?” Claire is suddenly frozen. Is she going to bail again? She can’t do this again. She can’t.
“For being so weird. I’ve been awful.”
“No, you haven’t. Well, okay, a bit weird.” Claire smiles.
And Mia offers a small smile in return.
Claire reaches out, relieved, and pulls at a length of Mia’s hair. Mia steps in closer, close enough for Claire to take a hold of the front of her T-shirt and draw her near. “But it’s okay. You’ve been figuring stuff out. A lot of stuff.”
Mia looks up at her, right into her eyes. And she looks at Claire for the longest time, so long Claire starts to feel self-conscious, almost as if she wants to step away from its force. Finally, Mia shakes her head and bites back a shy smile. “You’re so beautiful.”
And just for a second, Claire feels as though she no longer knows which way is upright or how the hell she’s going to stay there. So she pulls Mia toward her, an anchor, draws her arms around her waist, and rests her forehead against Mia’s, breathing in that heady, light scent that accompanies her wherever she goes.
Eventually, Mia pulls back and looks down at her. Now she’s the one chewing on her lip, her face still slightly overcast.
So Claire recovers herself and grins coyly at that tense face in front of her. “I don’t know what you’re worried about, Mee. You’re pretty good at this lesbian thing,” she jokes to crash them back down to earth because she thinks maybe Mia needs it. She needs to be reminded of the ease that did, and should still be able to, exist between them. “You definitely know how to compliment the ladies.”
“Ha ha.” She meets Claire’s gaze again and grins.
It worked. Claire lifts an arm and wraps it around Mia’s neck. “Well, you’re beautiful, too, you know.”
And Mia doesn’t say anything, just closes in on her with another kiss. And there they stay, taking their sweet time. Claire supports Mia as she leans into her, and the wooden frame of the old house does its bit to keep Claire upright. They linger here in this moment and learn the feel of being in each other’s arms, of the way their faces and lips and finally their tongues feel against each other’s.
Mia pulls back for a moment and looks at her again, her eyes sleepily narrowed. And there’s that feeling again, like the hand on the small of her back. Claire feels insanely, unprecedentedly shy, but happy. This is happening, she tells herself.
And the way Mia smiles at her, as though to register her agreement, makes Claire wonder if she accidentally said it aloud.
Claire has no idea how long they stand there and kiss with only the sound of their breathing and the background of crickets for company. And she doesn’t know how long they would have stayed either, if they hadn’t started at the sudden sound of the back door as it flew violently open, and footsteps ran out onto the porch just around the corner from them. They freeze, hold on to each other, and grin into the dim light, hiding in the shadows of the wall.
“Wait!” someone shouts before they run back inside.
They let out a mutual sigh of relief, and Mia buries her face in Claire’s neck with a soft, breathy laugh.
“Should we go back in before they come looking for us?” Claire whispers as she wonders how close they are to getting caught. She doesn’t want anything to destroy this new place they’ve created for themselves. She would rather leave it now and rebuild it later than have it shattered by the outside world and for Mia to back off again.
But Mia shakes her head. “No.” She moves in to kiss Claire again, more forcefully this time. “I don’t want to go back in. I want to stay here with you.”