The last thing Shannon expects is to see a familiar face the day she arrives at Stanford. This is her fresh start, her release from her family, from her overbearing mother. From Stoneybrook, and her rich neighborhood, and the expectations of her friends.
So when her cab drops her in front of her dorm, and leaves her with her pile of luggage, staring at the entrance, she takes time for herself. She’s the only one there, all her friends stayed back east, but she wanted space, and distance. She couldn’t go much farther than California, not without falling completely out of her world.
While she’s looking around, basking in the sun and the fresh air, waiting for the moment when the scales tip one way or the other, when this becomes the best thing she’s ever done or an absolute mistake, more cabs pull up, drop students, and leave.
The voice doesn’t sound familiar, and when she turns and looks, she doesn’t recognize the girl – the woman – at first either. She’s all sleek blonde hair and designer clothing and big flashy sunglasses.
Then she smiles, and hooks one finger on her sunglasses, pulling them down to reveal bright blue eyes which sparkle with amusement.
“Stacey McGill.” Shannon rubs the back of her neck. They aren’t close. They never were, and they haven’t been proper friends since eighth grade. She hasn’t even seen her since Halloween freshman year, when Kristy dragged her to some big SHS party.
It’s strange, this coincidence. If she had given it any thought, she would have expected to see Dawn at a California school, not Stacey. It gets weirder, they’re in the same dorm, though not the same room, not the same floor.
Shannon has a two room double, and her roommate is nice enough, this driven woman from Arizona. She does martial arts, and computer science, and she’s rarely around. Shannon doesn’t mind the silence.
The day before classes start, she takes the time to visit all her classrooms, to make sure she knows how to get there, knows how much time to give herself. She feels better if she is somewhat familiar with her surroundings.
She runs into Stacey outside her last stop. Stacey, it seems, is doing the same thing.
Stacey checks her watch. “I have to eat soon,” she says, and doesn’t act like they’ve not spoken for years. They could have been in the middle of a conversation, based on the way Stacey sounds. “Want to grab some lunch?”
Shannon’s hungry, too, but she hesitates. Will it be weird to spend time with Stacey again? Is it a bad idea, eating with someone she already knows? Will this put her on a downward spiral of not meeting new people?
Stacey waits it out, smiling and silent. She looks perfect again, shiny hair and neat clothes and those sunglasses. She’s carrying a gorgeous bag, and her shoes look expensive.
“Sure,” she says finally.
It doesn’t become a daily thing, they don’t always eat together, but sometimes they do. They only have one class together, but the timing of their schedules is similar, and they frequently leave the dorm at the same time, and arrive home at night. That gives them a few minutes, here and there, to talk and sometimes they get lunch, once in awhile.
It’s not until November that Stacey comes around, knocks on Shannon’s door.
“I’m putting together a study group,” she says. “Want in?”
Shannon has lists and outlines and highlighted notes and sticky tabs and different pen colors for marking up everything. She has her own system, and she works very well on her own.
“That would be nice,” she says, and if Stacey notices that she struggles to keep her voice steady, well, maybe she’ll just think Shannon is nervous about finals.
They book their flights home together, and even pick seats next to each other. Shannon packs only a light suitcase; there’s no point in bringing too many clothes, because her mother will want to take her shopping.
Stacey over packs, of course, and pays a ton in luggage fees. She does so cheerfully, using a worn platinum card. “Dad,” she says, and shrugs. “Divorce guilt still.” She glances at the expiration date. “I’ll get a new one soon.”
That’s the difference between old money and new, Shannon thinks, and that voice in her head sounds so much like her mother it makes her wince.
She buys Stacey a drink – blood orange tea, sweetened with Splenda – as a silent apology.
Stacey has glossy magazines for the plane, and Shannon planned to read The Nine, but instead they talk for most of the flight, and share the magazines. Stacey critiques all the outfits, explains what went wrong and how to fix it. They talk economics for awhile, and the dangers of start-up businesses, and the government.
They don’t discuss boys, or Shannon’s family, or their pasts, shared and not.
Second semester, they have three classes together. It’s not on purpose; they signed up for one together, and then Shannon decided to switch into another, but the third, she doesn’t know why Stacey’s in that one.
Otherwise, things are mostly the same. Stacey makes friends easily, or at least is friendly with them on the surface. She has study groups and gym buddies and eats meals with a variety of their classmates.
Shannon branches out a little, after a first semester of near solitude. She makes friends with a couple women down the hall, Anna Maria and Terri. The first time she meets Anna, who goes by Annie, she’s almost floored, because she has wildly curly dark hair, and this laugh that reminds her of Anna Stevenson.
It makes her think of kisses in the kitchen, and listening to classical music, and holding hands in their backyards, watching the sun set. The secrets of being bisexual in Stoneybrook.
Terri is the friendly one, outgoing and vivacious. They’re really into science fiction and fantasy, or at least Terri is and Annie goes along with it. They watch a lot of tv on dvd, and introduce her to Firefly and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Battlestar Galactica old and new, and all the Star Treks, and Supernatural, though Annie refuses to watch season three, because it’s so misogynistic. She goes on this rant, and Terri nods and nods, staring at her with rapt attention, even though Shannon is sure she’s heard it all before.
She starts to wonder then.
When they invite Shannon for a horror movie night, and Terri gets scared and crawls into Annie’s lap, well. That cements it for her.
Do they know about her? Is there some sort of radar? She wonders for awhile, twists herself up inside, and then asks, casually she hopes, if they know about any queer groups on campus.
Annie raises her eyebrows at Terri, and Terri just grins.
She does, she says, and invites Shannon to the next meeting.
It sounds like such a simple thing, but it takes all her strength to go. She worries the night before, all that day, worries even as she walks with Terri and Annie to the meeting. What if they have to go around and say their names and label themselves? She doesn’t like labels. She thinks she’s bisexual, that’s the term Anna used, but maybe that’s not right. Maybe she’s just Anna-sexual.
But it’s nothing like that. It’s nothing much at all, but the people are friendly, if so unorganized it makes her grind her teeth. She goes out with them after, for a drink – though she doesn’t drink, she sticks with soda – and small talk, and though she doesn’t say much, she still feels, well, mostly welcome.
“I’m going dancing Saturday night,” Stacey says as they’re walking out of class. Shannon glances at her. They don’t eat together as often anymore, because they’re both busy with homework, and Terri keeps inviting her to all sorts of events, because Annie’s kind of antisocial and puts a limit on how many times she’ll go out.
Shannon doesn’t think Terri is flirting. She hopes not.
Stacey isn’t flirting, but sometimes, Shannon wishes.
“Where are you going?” she asks, even though she knows she won’t recognize the location. Sure enough, she doesn’t, but Stacey seems enthusiastic.
“Do you want to go?” Stacey asks.
Shannon says yes so fast she surprises herself.
It’s hot work, dancing, and she feels drunk on the energy. Sweat pools around the waist of her jeans, and her hair clings to her face. Stacey still looks fresh and cool, though her cheeks glisten with sweat and glitter.
She grabs Shannon’s hand, spins her in a fast circle, and then draws her close, dancing their hips together. She’s sleek and sexy and Shannon’s breathing speeds up. It has nothing to do with how tired she is, and everything with the way Stacey moves against her.
They’re the only ones not drunk, and while the others stumble off to find greasy food, to sober up, they cab it back to campus. Stacey is languid, slumping in the back seat, opening the window, tipping her head into the fresh air.
The air is crisp and wet and cool when they get out. Shannon heads straight for the door, but Stacey stops her, squeezes her fingers.
“I’d like to kiss you,” she says, as if admitting it is some easy thing. “May I?”
For an instant, Shannon thinks it’s a game, some grown-up version of Mother, May I? and she wants to be sick.
But Stacey smiles at her, and holds her hands, and Stacey, whatever else she is now, is so open and honest.
“That would be nice,” Shannon says, and her voice is weak. She’s shaking by the time Stacey moves in, and their noses bump a little. Stacey puts her hands on Shannon’s face, holding her still, and then kisses her.
It’s delicious, so smooth and deep. Her teeth close on Shannon’s bottom lip, and the tiny nip makes her whole body grow warm.
Stacey comes to the next horror movie night, and they hold hands while sitting on the couch. Annie and Terri sprawl on the floor, and Terri kicks Annie’s legs every time something scary happens.
An hour into it, Annie sits up, and makes Stacey scoot closer to Shannon so she can lean against the couch. “You’re going to leave a bruise,” she tells Terri, and pulls her up so they’re cuddled together, Annie’s arm across Terri’s shoulders.
Stacey’s watching them, a strange look on her face, and Shannon’s stomach curdles. Surely she can’t be homophobic. Surely.
“Terri, you’d look so cute in tight, dark jeans and a fitted shirt,” she says suddenly. “I want to take you shopping.”
Terri stares at her in shock, and Annie mugs a terrified expression.
“Okay,” Terri says after a minute. “We can all go.”
Shannon’s not sure, but she’s pretty sure Annie’s no longer faking her dislike of the idea.
Stacey looks smug, and she kisses Shannon’s fingers.
The four of them room together sophomore year. Stacey still keeps her friends, and her own space, but she manages to balance people and homework and roommates and a girlfriend with aplomb. Shannon stresses herself out too much, but her friends – and her girlfriend - don’t let her get too far into herself.
It’s nice, this warmth and happiness, and it spills over into junior year, and senior year. Even when the end is coming up so fast it scares her, Shannon realizes she loves her life, all the pieces of it in California.
“Shannon,” Stacey swings on Shannon’s door. “Come on, let’s go.”
“I’m studying,” she says. Her jaw hurts; she’s been grinding her teeth. “Some of us have five finals this month.”
“Some of us includes me. That doesn’t mean I’m going to lock myself inside for the rest of the month. Terri and Annie are making dinner. Let’s go pick out the movies.”
She comes over, puts her hands on Shannon’s shoulders, and starts to massage. She kneads her fingers in deep, manipulating the soreness away. “Come on,” she says, and presses a kiss to her temple. “We’ll have fun.”
“I know.” But it means taking time away from studying. She doesn’t know why she bothers trying to fight it. She always gives in; Stacey won’t ask for her attention when they get down to the wire. They both study hard. They’ll both graduate with honors.
She doesn’t want to think about graduation, or what comes next.
Or what doesn’t.
“Come on, Shanny,” Stacey teases, and Shannon jerks away with a gasp.
“I can’t believe you remember that!” It makes her want to cover her face.
“Of course I do.” She perches on the edge of the desk. “You were so cute at thirteen, just adorable when your mother embarrassed you.”
Shannon is speechless for a minute, and then memory floods her. She knows just what to say. “I’m not adorable now?” she asks, and grabs one of Stacey’s hands. “You wound me.”
“You’re beautiful,” Stacey says, and leans in to kiss her.
“Thanks.” Shannon smiles at her, and then stands. “I thought we were getting out of here, Boontsie.”
The look on Stacey’s face is fabulous and hilarious.
“Oh, ouch!” She clasps her hands to her chest. “Ouch, Shannon.”
“Serves you right,” she says, and grins.
Stacey tackles her to the bed, digs her fingers into Shannon’s sides, right beneath her breasts, right where she’s the most ticklish. When they’re done, they’re both gasping for air, and have to smooth hair and clothes, ease themselves back into presentable women.
“Come on,” Stacey says, and takes her hand. “We really do have to go get the movies.”
Shannon lets herself be led downstairs, to Stacey’s shiny car – another Divorce Guilt Gift. Stacey drives too fast, keeps one hand on Shannon’s leg, high on her thigh, except when she has to shift.
She’s beautiful in the daylight, especially with her lips soft from their kisses, her cheeks flushed, her eyes shiny. Shannon is falling in love with her, and sometime before they graduate, she will have to say as much.
She wants to write lists about it, pros and cons, script out every possible permutation. She wants to practice it in front of the mirror, make sure she knows exactly what gestures to make with which words.
Stacey squeezes her legs.
“I love you,” Shannon says, and then stops breathing.
They pull up to a red light. Stacey downshifts, and then turns to look at Shannon. Her expression is calm, and her eyes filled with warmth. “Shanny,” she says, and then bites her lower lip. “Shannon. I know.” She grabs Shannon’s hand and brings it to her mouth for a kiss. “I love you too.”
Shannon feels like she’s falling, like her world is shifting around her. They’ve talked about grad schools, they’re waiting on acceptances, but she knows, she knows, wherever she gets in won’t be worth it without Stacey.
London is beautiful, and dirty, and so much fun, Shannon thinks. She loves her graduate work in theater, and the brilliance of her girlfriend, doing graduate economic studies at LSE. They eat dinner together every night, and spend long hours on the phone with Terri. She and Annie have moved to Seattle, and Terri is in love with the music scene there. She invites them to visit, to come to the little local venues, and her voice is filled with so much happiness it bubbles through the phone.
She sends cell phone pictures of the delicate little ring Annie bought her. It’s beautiful.
Stacey looks thoughtful when she sees it, but then she starts talking about some economic theory she’s evaluating. Shannon has a show coming up, and she’s spending more time at the theater than at home.
She feels the loss of her time with Stacey, but when they are together, it’s better than ever.
“I love you,” Stacey says. “I want to tell my father.”
Shannon puts down her glass. “What?” she says. Stacey’s mother has known for awhile, but she’s the only parent.
“I want to tell my father. I want to marry you.”
Stacey grins. “I love you, Shannon. Shanny.” That makes Shannon twist up her face. “I love how easy it is to push your buttons. I’m going to tell my father.”
“Okay,” she says, and puts her head on her hands. She has to remind herself to breathe.
“Are you okay?” Stacey asks. She goes and puts her arms around Shannon.
“Yeah. I just,” and she stops for a minute, “I have to tell my parents.”
Stacey’s quiet for a bit. “I’d like that,” she says. “But you don’t have to.”
“No, I do.” Shannon takes a deep breath and then sits up straight. “I want to buy you a ring, but I want you to pick it out. I didn’t know how to tell you. I thought you might think it wasn’t romantic enough.”
Stacey raises her eyebrows. “I like your logic,” she says. “I’d rather we pick them out together.”
Shannon nods, and warmth blooms in her chest. She was right. She loves being right.
She loves this fashionable, outspoken, intelligent woman, and the person Shannon’s become along side her.
Disclaimer: Characters from the BSC belong to Ann M. Martin.
Dedication: Written for dsharpe113 for short_takes.
Dedication: Written for dsharpe113 for short_takes.