As I Descended
Everyone laughed, louder than they should have.
“Which two?” Emily asked, giggling.
“Any two!” Austin looked hopefully up toward the bed where Lily and Tamika were sitting.
Maria and Lily locked eyes again. This was the only thing they still disagreed on.
Maria had wanted to tell everyone the truth from the beginning. From the earliest days—those first kisses at the end of long nights of talking; the startling discovery that yes, she really did like girls, too, and this girl in particular—Maria didn’t see the point of keeping it a secret.
Maria didn’t want her parents to know yet, obviously. Her mother was a state senator, and Maria didn’t think she’d take the news well, at least not until she quit politics. But no one bothered keeping secrets at Acheron. It was basically impossible when you lived on top of everyone you knew.
Besides, this was good news, wasn’t it? Weren’t you supposed to share good news with your friends?
Lily didn’t think so. After their fourth straight night of fooling around after lights-out, Maria mentioned that she’d told Brandon, and Lily freaked. She was positive word would somehow get back to her very conservative parents. She thought the guys at school would tease them and the girls would be grossed out. She was afraid Mateo would make them join the GSA and sit around every night talking about boring gay political stuff. She even worried it would hurt Maria’s mom’s reelection campaign.
Maria didn’t think it would be so bad if their friends knew. No one outside of school would have to find out. But she’d agreed to keep the secret since it was so important to Lily.
After all, it wasn’t as if Lily was being this way just to upset her. She knew how much Maria wanted to tell everyone the truth. There had been more than one night already this year when Maria had held Lily while she cried. Lily always said she wished she could come out, but she wasn’t ready. Maybe next year.
Maybe in a few years.
Maria promised never to rush her. She never wanted Lily to do anything she wasn’t comfortable with.
Now they’d been together almost a year, and Maria was more in love with Lily than ever. She’d do whatever it took to keep the two of them together, here at Acheron and next year at Stanford.
But she still hadn’t gotten used to the constant lying.
Maria tossed her empty beer can into the paper garbage bag Ryan would smuggle out later and reached for a fresh one. Mateo, ever the gentleman, popped the tab for her and said, “You sure you want to keep going? You look kind of out of it.”
“I’m fine.” Maria took a long drink of the cool yellow liquid and stood up. The room swayed. Ryan and Caitlin were on Maria’s bed, limbs squirming together like some water creature in one of Brandon’s manga books.
Maria shook her head. “I’m going to the bathroom.”
“You need help?” Mateo tried to catch her arm. “You going to puke?”
Maria ignored him and caught Lily’s eye. Lily stood up to follow her, and Maria’s rapid heartbeat began to slow.
They’d figure all this out. Together.
LEAVE ALL THE REST TO ME (#ulink_419e1612-b93c-52b0-b7c9-0aff5fef3df0)
Lily watched Maria make her way shakily toward the bathroom. This might be the only chance the two of them got to talk all night.
Lily reached for the dresser to steady herself so she wouldn’t have to deal with her crutches and hopped toward the bathroom on her right leg. Delilah reached out to help, giggling. “Give me your hand!” Delilah squealed.
Lily slapped her away. Delilah and the others laughed.
Lily smiled. They could think it was a joke if they wanted.
“Princess is totally going to hurl, man,” Austin told the others. “At least she’s got her roommate to hold her hair back.”
Good. Lily followed Maria into the bathroom and turned on the water in the sink and the shower full blast. Hot water—it was already cold enough in that tiny room. The others would think Lily had the water running so they didn’t have to hear Maria throwing up, and Lily and Maria could talk without having to worry about the sound carrying. Lily shut the bathroom door, turning the lock. The heavy brass bolt looked like it had been rotting in the deep brown wood for the last three hundred years.
Maria sat on the edge of the bathtub next to the door. Lily lowered herself next to her, trying not to grimace as her muscles clenched.
She was tired of everyone’s stupid stories. The obnoxious blind girl Lily roomed with before Maria used to talk about ghosts, too. She even dreamed about them. She’d wake up panting in the middle of the night. Once Lily had to hobble over to her bed and shake her until she woke up. She’d been gasping so much Lily was afraid she was going to stop breathing.
Lily had been having nightmares all her life. People didn’t need to make such a big deal about them. She never had.
She leaned into Maria’s shoulder and rubbed her hands together. Their room was always cold, and the bathroom was especially freezing. “Hey.”
“Hey.” Maria looped her arm around Lily’s back absently.
“Tell me about it.” Maria took another swallow of beer.
Lily took the can out of her hand and put it on the sink. “How many of those have you had?”
Maria shrugged. Lily smiled uneasily.
It had been Lily who’d suggested the two of them become roommates. That was the summer before last year, when her old roommate finally graduated. There were no other disabled students left at Acheron, so Lily could’ve had a single room, but she asked Maria to move in. They were only casual friends back then, because Maria was a jock with a string of popular ex-boyfriends and Lily was neither of those things. Even so, something about Maria had always struck Lily.
It wasn’t just that Maria was gorgeous. It was more the way she looked at Lily. Like she was really looking at her. Really listening to what she had to say.
Maria was the only one in their class who looked at Lily like she saw a girl who happened to be holding crutches. Not a pair of crutches that happened to be holding up a girl.
Lily waited a full minute to see if Maria would start talking, but she didn’t say a word. Instead she played absently with the tail of Lily’s braid and stared straight ahead, as though mesmerized by the mildew forming in the cracks under the sink.
It was eerily reminiscent of how she’d looked the night before. Staring into that empty corner of the ceiling, like there was something up there only she could see.
“Can we talk about last night?” Lily finally said. “Please?”
Maria shrugged again.
“I barely even remember what happened,” Lily said. “Was that real? Because I know I didn’t move that thing myself. And I don’t speak Spanish.”
Maria slowly turned to face her. “What difference does it make?”
Lily laughed without humor. “It said something to you, didn’t it?”
“So? What did it mean?”
“I don’t know.”