Chord, p.18
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       Chord, p.18

           Chelsea M. Cameron
 
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  “I do. I love you, Carrots. Even if I don’t know why or how it happened. I’m going with it.” I was going to die. Like, actual death was happening to me.

  “I love you, Chase. I was waiting to tell you until I had gone home and talked to my dad, but it’s been killing me this week. That’s why I was being so weird. Oh my god, I can’t believe this is happening.” She pulled me closer. My entire body was shaking and I couldn’t seem to stop it. And it wasn’t just because I was cold as fuck.

  “I guess I have to tell my parents now. Tell them I’m in love with the most beautiful, funniest, wildest girl in the entire world. And that she loves me too.”

  “I do. I do love you. So much that it hurts.” I kissed her desperately, as if I was afraid to lose her. In a way, I was, but in this moment, I had her. I had her right here.

  “This is absurd,” I said. “How the hell did this happen?”

  Chase shrugged.

  “Does it matter?”

  No. It didn’t.

  Fourteen

  Chase

  It had been a big night for both of us. I realized Cordelia was freezing her ass off when her chin started trembling as we kissed, so I hustled her back to our room, shoved her in front of the heater, and put a fuzzy blanket on her shoulders.

  “You love me,” she said through chattering teeth.

  “Yeah, I do.” I had been feeling inklings of it for a while, but it was the date that really sealed it. When I let down all of my walls with her and was completely naked, physically and mentally, I knew. I didn’t plan on when I would tell her, I decided when the time felt right. Tonight was right. I honestly didn’t expect anything back from her, so hearing her say it back was a complete shock that I was still recovering from.

  I stood with her by the heater and rubbed her shoulders, trying to get her warm again.

  “Do you want to take a shower?” She nodded and I pushed her in the direction of the bathroom, grabbing our shower stuff and towels. The stalls weren’t exactly big enough for two people, but we made it work. I wasn’t going to complain about being pressed up against her warm, wet skin. There were worse things in the world, by far.

  The water was on when I smushed myself into the shower stall. Cordelia was still trembling, but I hoped she would warm up soon.

  “Why didn’t you tell me you were cold?” I asked.

  “Because you were declaring your love to me. I didn’t care if I was cold. I could have been on fire and I would have stood there.” She reached and turned up the water, sighing as it pounded down on her head, making her hair a dark brownish color.

  “Okay, that’s fair,” I said, and she laughed.

  It took a while before she let me under the stream of water, and by that time, I was the cold one.

  “Come here,” she said, opening up her arms. Showering with each other was probably supposed to be sexy, but there really wasn’t room for a whole lot of movement. Someone would get a full spray of water in the face, or smash their arm on the tile, or slip and slide into the wall. It was a futile activity. And we had tried.

  “I love you,” she whispered in my ear.

  “I love you,” I said, nuzzling into her hair. Being with her was still so easy. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. I was betting it was going to happen when we told our parents, and when everyone else found out. Things between us had been basically smooth so far. There were bound to be bumps in the road ahead.

  But I wasn’t as scared as I had been when this first started. Maybe it was knowing that she was completely, totally in this with me. And meeting everyone at the group tonight. That had also helped. There were people out there like us, people who didn’t know they were gay or trans or ace or whatever when they were five and grew up with that knowledge. There were people who spent their entire lives not knowing, shoving that part of themselves so deep down, that it took an entire lifetime to unearth. We were lucky, in a way. That we had found each other. Because who knows how long I would have tried to find a boyfriend and maybe found one and gotten into a relationship.

  The thought of a relationship like that with a guy now made me shudder. I had been so lucky to find Cordelia.

  We stood under the hot water for longer than we needed to. She let me wash her hair, and she reached up to wash mine as I ducked so she could scrub my head with her fingers and then turn my shampoo-soaked hair into a mohawk.

  “You’d look good like this,” she said, tilting her head to the side.

  “You think?” I had never thought about it.

  “You’d look good with your hair any way. Or bald. You just look good always,” she said with a sigh. “It’s so unfair.”

  “What are you talking about?” She was literally the most gorgeous creature on this planet.

  She rolled her eyes.

  “Come on, Chase.” Oh, this was not going to fly.

  I held her face in my hands.

  “Every time I look at you, I can barely believe that you’re real. You’re the most incredible human and I would not change a single freckle. You are made of stardust and magic, Cordelia.” She opened her mouth and then shut it.

  “And that’s all there is to it,” I said, and that settled it.

  “You sure know how to say things that make me speechless,” she finally said as I rinsed my hair out.

  “I don’t mean to. I only speak the truth.”

  THE NEXT WEEK WAS THE best week I’d had since I started college. I woke up to a (sometimes naked) Cordelia and I went back to her every evening. We barely left each other’s side and I thought that we should maybe get out of our room more often, but snuggling with her always seemed like the best option on the table. Plus, we were going to be apart for a week, and I didn’t know what I was going to do without her. That sounded dramatic, but it was true. She was an integral part of my life now. She was part of my new family. As were Stella, Kyle, Elise, and Eli. And maybe some of the people from the group, especially Noah. He and I had clicked and there was something about him that I really liked. He was so open and so willing to share himself with others. I didn’t know how to be like that, but I wanted to learn.

  Stella and I talked a lot in between classes about what we wanted to do with our careers and made a tentative plan to work together on it.

  “My dad wants me to teach, but I don’t think I want to. Or, at least, not in a classroom setting. I’m not sure it’s for me. Honestly, thinking about working in publishing, with books, is really where I want to be, I think. Maybe an editor. I think I’m a hardass enough for that.” I laughed because Stella would be a brutal editor. She would pull no punches and be amazing at it.

  “Maybe I’ll be an agent. I don’t think I’m ruthless enough to be an editor. I just don’t know.” I didn’t know, which was part of the problem. And how did we find out?

  “I can do some research and we can look together. Help each other out. And then when we’re both successful, we can say that we knew each other when we were just starting out.” I liked that. I didn’t know if it would happen, but it was nice to think about navigating those unknown waters with someone else. I wasn’t in the dark alone.

  I told Cordelia about my plan and she loved it.

  “You’re going to be this big-time agent and get tons of book deals and make a buttload of money and I’m going to be there, cheering you on. Doing whatever I end up doing. I seriously still have no idea.” I knew she didn’t know, and that was okay. She would be a success at whatever she did. Cordelia was all in, when she made up her mind.

  “Do you think we’ll still be together?” I asked.

  “Don’t you?” She gave me a look as if the answer was obvious. I guess I was more pragmatic than she was.

  “The statistics are against us,” I said. She snorted.

  “Those statistics were made with non-queer people, probably. And fuck statistics.” Well. She did have a point there.

  “Okay, fine. Fuck the stats.” She tackled me on the bed and that was the last time w
e talked about statistics.

  MY PARENTS WERE PICKING me up since I didn’t have a car. I had arranged it with them ahead of time, so when Cordelia offered me a ride (even though we lived hours apart), I had to decline. It would have been awesome, riding back to my hometown with her, but I couldn’t tell my parents the reason I wanted to ride with someone else. They were all excited about coming and seeing my dorm room and taking me out to lunch and having me show them around campus. They were also dragging Kate so I could get her excited about college. Her grades weren’t that great, and she had been talking like she didn’t see college as an option, and they were freaking out a little. I was sure she was going to be fine. She’d figure her shit out, they just needed to let her do that and stop hitting the panic button.

  “I don’t want to sleep without you,” she said into my hair the night before break.

  “I know. It’s going to be strange sleeping in a bed by myself.” I’d completely adjusted to sharing a twin bed with her. Sure, I didn’t get much room to stretch out, but she was always there and I always had someone to hold onto. It was a trade-off.

  “I might like it for a little while, but I don’t want to be without you for more than a night. We’re completely hopeless.” We were. Totally and hopelessly in love.

  “Are you sure you don’t want me here when your parents come?” They were going to be here tomorrow afternoon, and Cordelia had planned on leaving in the morning.

  “Yeah. I think it’ll just be too hard to, you know, not be the way we are right now. I can’t keep my hands off you. And I don’t want you to have to deal with any questions from them, and I don’t want to put you on the spot. So I think this is better.” She didn’t say it, but I knew she was relieved about that. She still hadn’t met my parents, and that was a pretty awkward way to meet the parents of your girlfriend for the first time when they didn’t know their own daughter liked girls in the first place.

  “It’ll be fine,” I said, kissing the tip of her nose.

  “I hope so. I’m actually excited about seeing my dad. We’ll get to do all the goofy things we used to do.”

  “Like what?”

  “Like having pancake making competitions, and marathoning movies with a theme and going for dips in the ocean in the off season. We were pretty much best friends. I don’t really know how to navigate things with us now. It’s going to be strange. I feel like I haven’t seen him in forever. I do miss him.” I rubbed her shoulder and she turned over on her stomach so I could rub her back.

  “It’s okay to miss him. I’m not trying to take his place. I couldn’t. He’s still your dad.” She nodded and closed her eyes.

  “I know. But it’s still hard to figure out what we are to each other now that I’m an adult and not his little girl anymore. I know he still wishes I was.” I wished I had a solution for her. Some wise words.

  “It’ll be okay, Carrots.” That was the best I could do. She smiled softly.

  “I hope so.”

  I DIDN’T WANT TO GET out of bed the next morning, so Cordelia and I kissed for what felt like hours and used our hands to get each other off before we realized that she needed to get on the road.

  “I don’t want to go,” she practically wailed. “Why is this so hard?”

  Someone looking from the outside would probably think we were being too dramatic, but they didn’t know. I had spent nearly every single day with her for over a month and she had been my anchor. She had been my safety. My home in this new place.

  “I know, baby, I know.” I held her close and breathed in the scent of her hair. I wanted to burn that smell into my brain so I could call it up when she wasn’t with me.

  “We’ll call and videochat and text. It’s only for a week,” I said, and she nodded against my shoulder. I felt like I was going to cry. Instead, I swallowed any tears and helped her carry everything to her car. We hugged and she kissed me hard.

  “I’ll see you later,” she said.

  “I’ll see you later,” I repeated. It wasn’t goodbye. Just see you later. “I love you, Carrots.”

  “I love you, C.” She squeezed my hand and then got in the driver’s seat.

  “Drive safe,” I said, but the window was up. She waved sadly and then she was off, and I tried to dull the feeling that my heart was going with her.

  MY PARENTS WERE ON time, as usual. They were never late and almost always early. I had put my pillows back on my side of the room and tried to hide anything that would give them clues about my relationship with Cordelia. It wasn’t like we had framed pictures of us kissing, but you never knew.

  She texted me once when she stopped to get gas with a lot of kissy faces and a list of things she wanted to do with me when we were together again. I messaged her back that it was unfair that I had to face my parents when I was horny as hell and she said it was fair because she had to see her dad the same way.

  I was laughing at that when they knocked on my door.

  “Hey, college girl!” my mom said, rushing in and sweeping up into her arms.

  “Hi, Mom,” I said, my voice muffled into her shoulder. I had missed her. I’d missed my whole family, and so much had changed that I wanted to share with them.

  “Hey, kid,” Dad said, hugging me tight. Kate was next, and she looked like she was already over it. To be fair, she had been trapped in the car with them for nearly two hours. It wouldn’t surprise me if she’d gotten more than one lecture while she was a captive audience.

  “Hey, Kate,” I said, giving her a tentative hug. She huffed, but she hugged me back.

  “Hey,” she said, and her bitter attitude dropped just a little.

  “Wow, it looks great,” Mom said, turning around. “I was expecting it to be full of dirty laundry and Pop Tart wrappers.” I raised an eyebrow.

  “Do you know me at all?” My room at home had always been spotless. I needed order in my brain and in my space. Always had.

  “Oh, well, you know. It’s college. Where’s Cordelia?” I flinched at the mention of her name and my chest ached.

  “She already left this morning. She lives further away and she had to drive.” It was an effort to smile while talking about her.

  “She seemed like a really nice girl, are you still getting along?”

  “Yeah,” I said, my voice sounding choked. More than you know, Mom.

  “I’m hungry,” Kate said, and I wanted to hug her for the distraction.

  “How about we go and have lunch?” I said. Anything to get out of this room that smelled like Cordelia and reminded me of Cordelia.

  Everyone was on board with that plan and I locked the door and gave myself a second to breathe before we walked down to the Union. Mom was chattering away, telling Kate all about how she could come here someday and Kate was being surly and trying to ignore her. I shuffled along behind them and Dad fell into step with me. My mom and I were closer, but Dad and I had more similar personalities.

  “You doing okay? Really?” I nodded immediately.

  “Yeah, I am. I’m doing good in all my classes and I have friends and I haven’t woken up naked in the hallway yet. I’d say that’s successful.”

  He laughed.

  “You’re right. I don’t know if it’s the fact that you’ve been away, but you seem different.” Of course my perceptive dad would say that.

  “Do I?” I tried to be casual about it, but I was also panicking at the same time. Breathe, Chase.

  “You seem ... I don’t know. Maybe less anxious? More settled? Calmer?” Well, that was good. My parents had seen me at my worst and had held my hand through some of the worst anxiety spirals. I didn’t get panic attacks, but I did act out in other ways when my anxiety spiked. Some of those ways had been destructive when I was younger and I’d been in therapy to help.

  “I’m not trying to insult you, Chase. College looks good on you, that’s all.” I bumped him with my shoulder.

  “Thanks, I think.” He smiled down at me and gave me another hug as we walked.
r />   “I’m going to have to save Kate from your mother,” he said with a sigh.

  “What’s going on with her?” I asked. I was glad to turn the attention on someone else, even if it was throwing my sister under the bus.

  “Not sure, but we’re doing the best we can. If you could talk to her, maybe? That would be a big help. I think she misses you, although she would rather die than admit it.” Sounded like we needed to have a chat later. I could be her big sister again. Even if she didn’t want me to be.

  We made it down to the Union without Kate running away or screaming, so that was a success. I showed them around, and helped my mom pick out what to have while Kate slunk off to get tacos at the little taco counter and Dad went right for the pizza.

  We all got our food and I offered to pay for them all with my meal card, since I didn’t use it that much. Too much eating breakfast in bed with Cordelia.

  The Union was quiet and the rest of the campus was still. Everyone had pretty much bailed for the break, and it was strange to see it so empty.

  I talked more about my classes and then Stella came up when I told them that we were going to check out publishing careers together.

  “That’s so great you’ve found a good friend,” Mom said, cutting her meatloaf into precise pieces.

  “Yeah, she’s great. Her girlfriend, Kyle is cool too. We hang out with them a lot.” I figured I could drop a few statements like that and see what the reaction would be.

  Mom grinned and Kate picked at her tacos. Something was seriously up with her and I was going to get to the bottom of it. A little pang of guilt went through me for being away at school and not there for her, but what was I supposed to do? She was sixteen and she could always come to me if she needed to talk. She knew that. Kate was just so damn stubborn. I had no idea what that was like.

  After lunch I took them on a tour, showing my parents and Kate where my classes were. Kate sulked along and I tried to pull her aside, but she brushed me off. I’d have to deal with her later at home.

 
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