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Nov. 1st, 2009

Title: When We're Together

Author: Caitlin,

amor_demi_alma

Pairing: Jessi/Mal friendship, Mal/Dawn Girlcrush

Written for:

yaobezyananul

over at

short_takes

for the special sleepover round. My specific prompt was: reminiscing and confessions.

Rating: PG

Summary: Mallory goes to her first high school party: drinking, drugs, making out, and boys. Jessi, who had a late-running ballet rehearsal, isn't surprised when Mal requests a ride home. She is, however, surprised by the confession that the party elicits.

Disclaimer: The BSC belongs to Ann M. Martin. Do not steal, or feel her wrath!



----------

My phone vibrates. I can hear it rattling the other objects inside my purse, even as I warm up at the barre thirty feet away from it.

Mme. Noelle breaks off mid-word and glares over at the corner. We're in the middle of an intensive extra rehearsal, and she doesn't take kindly to being interrupted. "Vot 'ave I told you girls about zis texting?"

"I'm sorry, Mme. Noelle." Ordinarily, I'd ignore the interruption, but due to the continuous vibrating, I know it's a phonecall, not a text. And I'm half-expecting a call right about now.

Mme. Noelle shakes her head. "Do not answer ze call, Mademoiselle Romsey. You need to focus on ze doncing."

"But Mme., I have to. This is important."

She must see the worry in my eyes. Either that, or she knows that, because I'm one of her most dedicated students, I wouldn't ask for a reprieve like this unless it was genuinely necessary. "All right, Mademoiselle Romsey. But please make eet queek."

I scurry across the slick floor, sweep my purse into my arms, and charge toward the dressing room. The phone's still vibrating, and I fumble with the clasp on my bag one-handed while opening the door simultaneously.

"Hello?" Clamping the phone to my shoulder with my chin, I close the door with my elbow and plop onto the floor. "Mal?"

Sniffling on the other end. "Jessi?"

"Mal, my God. Are you okay?"

"Jessi, can you come pick me up? I ... I know you're at rehearsal, but--"

"Mal? Mal, it's fine. I'll be right over."

"Oh, Jessi, I love you so much. Thank you, thank you."

"Where are you? Are you still at Andrew's?"

Mal hiccups. "Yeah."

"Are you still inside?"

"No. I'm sitting outside."

"Mal, it's raining."

"I know. But I don't want to be inside anymore."

* * *

Somehow, I escape Mme. Noelle's questions and the stares of my fellow students unscathed. Still wearing my toe shoes and leotard, I make a mad sprint for my little pink minivan, vault into the driver's seat, and rev the engine. The rain forces me to activate the windshield wipers immediately, and I can hear the wind whining as my car's tires slice paths through the puddly streets.

It's a good thing I'm paranoid by nature. I have Andrew Hart's address memorized and know exactly where to turn to find his street quickly. And there's Mal, huddled in a ball on the grass out front. She's wearing a purple windbreaker over what I recognize as her favorite pair of low-rise blue jeans. Her feet, which are thankfully shielded by a sensible pair of tall rain-boots, are crossed at the ankle, her knees folded against her chest.

"Mal?" Leaving the engine running, I race up the driveway, cut across the grass, and kneel beside her. "Are you all right? What happened?"

Mal blinks. I doubt she can see me too clearly through her rain-spattered glasses. Since she's saving her money for college, and since her parents have enough to pay for with eight kids and bills, Mal still doesn't have contacts. She doesn't have a car, either, but we're only sophomores. The only reason I have a car already is because carting me to rehearsals puts an unnecessary burden on Mom and Dad. After all, they still have to drive Becca and Squirt--oops, now he's J.P.--everywhere.

"Mal, are you okay? Say something."

"I feel sick."

"Have you been drinking?" I'm appalled.

"Only a little."

"What's a little?"

"I don't remember. It was vodka and strawberry schnapps, or something."

"Vodka?" Now I'm horrified. "Mal, that stuff's super strong! What were you thinking?"

She doesn't respond.

"Come on. You must be freezing." I set one hand beneath her elbow, then clasp both her hands in my free one to boost her upright. "Let's get you home."

Mal lets me guide her to the car and settle her in the shotgun seat. Once I'm behind the wheel, I slam the door, crank the heater up full-blast, and turn on some classical music that I'm learning to dance to in ballet class. I know Mal well enough to intuit that she's not in the mood to talk right now, and the music will do us both good.

Finally, we reach my house.

"Are your parents home?" Mal asks.

I nod. "But they'll leave us alone. You know they're good about that."

Unexpectedly, she starts to cry. "Oh, Jess, it was horrible."

"What was horrible?" I cut off the engine and shift in my seat to face her. She turns to face the window, avoiding my eyes. "Mal, what? Talk to me."

She pulls herself together. "I ... I just ... I can't talk about this now."

"Mal, it's okay. Don't cry about it." I open my door. "You should get into dry clothes, anyway."

* * *

We're nestled in my double bed, both dressed in oversized T-shirts and pajama shorts, all decked out for our impromptu sleepover. All that's missing is the movie and the popcorn, but Mal's too upset to eat or be entertained, and I'm pretty much feeling the same way, thanks to sympathy pangs.

Mal shivers beside me and snuggles close for warmth.

"Still cold?" I put an arm around her. With my other hand, I sift through a jumble of clothes on my bedspread and pass Mal an old, baggy sweatshirt that used to belong to my dad. "Here ... put this on."

She does as I instruct, then returns to her place alongside me.

"Do you feel okay?"

She shrugs. "I'll be fine."

"Can you tell me what happened?"

"You're going to totally hate me." She's not quite slurring her words, but I can tell that her comments will be a little less inhibited than they would be if she were sober.

"I could never hate you."

Mal inhales a long, steadying breath. "Do you remember when Dawn first moved here? Well, no, you don't, because you hadn't moved here yet. But I might've told you some of this already. So stop me if you've heard this stuff before. Or if you, like, have to pee, or whatever.

"Anyway, Dawn used to baby-sit for my family all the time. This was before I was in the BSC. I was only, like, ten or whatever. She always used to help me with my math homework. One time, there was a misunderstanding. Dawn thought I'd swiped Marnie Barrett's brownie, but really, what happened was that I took it away because Marnie was allergic, but stupid Mrs. Barrett had forgotten to tell Dawn that. You remember how absentminded she always was. Anyway, Dawn was really sorry about it. And she apologized to me a lot. And she and I always got along really well. And I really looked up to her. She was such a special friend to Nicky. Like how she never let him be left out of things. And bawled the triplets out when they were being jerks to him."

I feel it necessary to cut in, just to make sure that this thread of conversation is relevant. "Um, Mal, I know all this. Or most of it, at any rate. But what does it have to do with the party? We don't even hang out with Dawn that much anymore, now that the BSC disbanded and we all just baby-sit separately when we can."

"I do still see Dawn, though."

"Yeah, I know. I mean, we all see each other around school."

Another deep, sustaining breath. "I see her more than that. I see her at GSA meetings."

"Oh, that's right. I remember you saying you might go to those. Isn't she the president?"

Mal nods. "The thing is ... well, the thing is that ... I went to the GSA because I believe in what it stands for. But ... but also--and Jessi, don't hate me--but I have this huge, massively, like, mind-numbing crush on Dawn."

I'm surprised, but I take care not to show it. "Do you? That's awesome!"

"It's not awesome!" Mal moans. "She has a boyfriend! She's just the president of the GSA because it's, like, her latest cause."

"That's not true," I counter. "Her brother's gay, you know. I'm sure she's very invested in what the GSA stands for. Dawn's not just one of those people who jumps on every liberal bandwagon she runs across."

"I know that." Mal sounds wounded. "Don't you think I know that? God, Dawn's wonderful! I love that she's so involved, so caring, so compassionate." Mal flings back her head and thumps her crossed arms melodramatically over her heart. "No one can live up to Dawn. She's, like, a goddess. All that gorgeous blond hair! My God! Doesn't it just make you want to drool? Or, like, swoon?"

"Uh-huh," I say helpfully. I'm certain that what Mal's saying is legitimate, but the ways in which the alcohol are making her gush are pushing me toward laughter, and I don't want to give in to that. Mal's emotionally fragile right now, and the last thing I want is and her to think that I'm amused by her situation.

"Don't you think Dawn's hot?" Mal demands eagerly. "Huh, Jess? Don't you?"

"Um ... sure."

"I think she's hot."

"So I surmised."

"She's got such a great body, too. And she goes to the gym, like, every day. Do you think she'd let me go to the gym with her? I should work out more. Maybe I could get muscles, like the Incredible Hulk. Do you think she'd like me then? If I did that? Because her boyfriend has great muscles. Maybe Dawn's attracted to muscles. Maybe I need muscles before she'll date me. was

"Mal, no. I'm sure Dawn likes you fine just the way you are." I feel a need to steer this conversation back to its original point. "But what does Dawn have to do with what happened tonight?"

"Oh." Mal's giddy questioning phase disintegrates, and she visibly plummets into despair. "It was nothing. Only that Hunter Griggs asked me if I wanted to make out with him."

"He what? Ew!" I cover my face with my hands. "But he's not even friends with you."

"I know! And then I told him 'no, thanks', and he just kept following me around like a puppy. And then when I, you know, kind of told him to back off, he was like, 'What's the matter, Pike? Still hate the male race for kicking your ass in volleyball all those years ago"' And then he just, like, stomped off to jock around with his stupid, jockish jockoid friends. And I was just, like, really upset. Because, Jess, do you think he knows? Does he know that I'm gay? Is it that obvious?"

"Hardly. I'm your best friend, and I didn't know." I pause. "Wait, so you're gay? Officially?"

"Yeah. I've never liked guys. And always liked girls." She fumbles for my hand. "But, like, don't think that my being in bed with you means I'm going to kiss you. Because it doesn't. I love you a lot, Jess, but not like that. Okay? Like, not to offend you. Because I do love you. Just not like that. Not that way. You know?"

"I know." Her speech seems like it's losing more and more continuity, thanks to the alcohol. "But to answer your question, Mal, no. I doubt he guessed. God, Hunter can't even pass the exit exam. He's hardly the super-sleuth type."

"You're probably right. Anyway, I hope you're right. Because I don't want people to know. Like, not until I can explain it. And not until I try harder to get over Dawn."

"Maybe you should talk to her about it," I reason. "She'll be fine with it, I'm sure. Flattered, even. And it might be good for you to talk it out."

"Oh, no!" Mal clamps a hand to her mouth. "Jess, I feel sick. I feel awful. I'm gonna throw up."

"Oh, God." I scramble out of bed and grab Mal around the waist. "Come on, Mal. Can you walk? Hurry!"

"I can't!" Her knees give way and she collapses across the carpet.

"Hang on!" I fall to my knees alongside Mal, who's already beginning to retch. Thinking fast, I scoot across the floor, snatch my little blue trash can, and position it in front of her just as she opens her mouth and begins to vomit. I hold back her hair with one hand and angle her face as best I can with the other. Tears are pouring down her face even as she throws up, and I don't think I've ever felt this sorry for someone in my life. This is all just too much to deal with at once. "Just let it all out," I soothe. I wish I had a third hand so I could rub her back. "It'll be over in a sec."

And it is.

I edge the trash can aside, sit behind Mal, loop my arms around her waist, and draw her into the crook of one arm so that her back rests against my chest. Swiping a hair tie from my nightstand, I gather her curly, rain-soaked curls into a messy ponytail and fasten it. Then I give her a loose hug from behind. "Better?"

She nods, and I cradle the back of her head against my shoulder. "Don't ever drink, Jessi," she orders. "I love you too much. I wouldn't even want my worst enemy to go through this."

"I won't ever drink."

"Promise me!"

"Only if you promise not to drink like this again."

"I promise." She finds my hand and squeezes. "We'll never drink like crazy people. And we'll only drink when we're together. Because when we're together, everything's always pretty much okay. And that way, we can always look out for each other. Because we always do that when we're together."

"Good deal, Mal."

Her fingers in mine are cold and clammy, but I hold on. This handhold is about so much more than a silly, high school pact. It conveys the strength and solidarity of a friendship that began in sixth grade and continued through high school, becoming more and more valuable and powerful and meaningful as it aged. This friendship can and will withstand so much more than coming out, getting drunk, and spilling guts.

If we got through this--this night, with all its worry and confessions and reminiscence and secrets shared--we can get through anything. We can, and we will.

Comments

marycontraria
Nov. 2nd, 2009 03:58 pm (UTC)
I love this so much! Drunk!Mallory is pretty hilarious, and Jessi is an awesome friend. :)
amor_demi_alma
Nov. 2nd, 2009 05:14 pm (UTC)
Aww. Thank you so much ... both for reading and commenting. :)

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