There were a few notes scrawled over the current page of her Geography notebook. They were no more than a few lines or so, something to do with the effects of tectonic activity on American economic interests or something or other. Lisa found herself writing those few lines without knowing that she was, as though she were on autopilot. But that didn't last. Her thoughts were too clouded, too obscure. Very soon after Mr. Peyton had begun his class, [Geography] Lisa's head tuned out his words. In fact everything around her, the room (decorated with geographical posters, environmental awareness pamphlets and globes) the students (some of them listening, some of them talking quietly amongst themselves, some of them secretly fiddling with their cell phones) and the lecturer himself; all became willowy shadows dancing around her here. They were there but they didn't mean anything. They didn't convey anything. Lisa was so wrapped up in her thoughts that she truly felt that way.
Not once since the fight between Dani and Nicole had Lisa been able to think of anything else. Even now, a good forty minutes after the whole debacle, the image of it was plaguing her with incandescent gumption. All she saw in her head was the two of them fighting with each other on the cafeteria floor whilst a segment of the student body surrounded and jeered them on. She recalled the painful expression Nicole had when Dani punched her. She recalled the aching scowl Dani bore when Nicole yanked at her hair. Everything about it was mortifying. Yet despite that Lisa's brain didn't seem to want to relinquish those images. Far from it -- her psyche was playing them back to her over and over again like a scratched vinyl record.
As soon as Mr. Stephens (and thank God for him) had stopped the fight, Lisa was in her own personal tizzy. It took her a few moments at the time to get herself together. The first thing she did subsequent to that was to leave the cafeteria. She'd always hated it anyway and the way everyone stood around and watched while two people mindlessly tore into each other was an intrinsic conformation that these people were not the sort that she would want to be associated with. They didn't much carry a torch for her either -- the sentiments balanced themselves out quite well to that end. When she left the cafeteria Lisa headed for the toilets again. Fortunately the one she picked was empty. Swiftly she had gone to one of the basins and gave herself the hardest of looks through the mirror above it. Though she hadn't noticed it earlier (probably because of the shock of seeing two of the biggest people in her life beating the crap out of each other) she actually had shed a few tears. There were three noticeable tear tracks on her face. They had dried up by that point but they stood out as plain as day. Her eyes were shaking too, much like the rest of her body. Her lower lip was quivering as well. One thing that stood out more plainly than all of that however was the hickey on Lisa's neck. Because of everything it took her a moment to remember why there was a patch of widening red flesh on her normally flawless porcelain skin but the memory soon struck home. That was where Dani had bitten her earlier. She touched it gingerly. Lisa knew nothing about hickeys as this was her first, but what she did know was that it wasn't going away anytime soon. It was like a branding. And it soon dawned on Lisa that this was the same toilet room they'd been in earlier that day.
That alone was more than enough to say again, in her skull, "It's all my fault".
There was no thinking in her at that point that would have said otherwise. All she considered was her own flagrant guilt. If only she had been more confident in telling Dani to leave her alone, if only she'd been more stern, if only she'd done it earlier...
...if only she'd refused outright to sleep with Dani the very instant they'd first clapped eyes on each other.
The maybes and the what-ifs were, in her own fragmented mind, undeniable. The truth was utterly irrelevant, what mattered was the reality, the bread and butter, the will behind the representation; and that was the simple fact that people were getting hurt. If Nicole had never met Lisa then that would never have happened to her in the first place. That notion on its own had Lisa overwhelmed by both horror and guilt. And yet it might have seemed so simple an affair at its core -- two girls having a fight in school -- that likely happens everyday all across the world, right? There were probably two little kids in Ethiopia beating the living shit out of each other in schoolyard over some nameless boy they happened to take a shine to. But to Lisa it wasn't some little thing... it was everything. It was someone she cared about being hurt for no reason at all. Which was why she felt as shitty as she had.
Lisa buried her face in her palms and willed herself not to start sobbing. She couldn't take the situation. But with a shaky hand and a flimsy resolve she tried to deal with it. So the blonde student twisted the faucet and let a cold stream of water hit the basin. Water was tossed into the air when she splashed her haggard face with it, wiping away her tear tracks, cooling down her skin which had become hot with blood flow. After that Lisa gave herself a prolonged moment to catch her breath and calm down. But her stillness was once more broken when she realized something else.
...How would she explain this to Nicole?
Lisa blinked. At first it seemed like a stupid question, a weird little tingle about something that was essentially irrelevant at the moment. But then the idea became more frank and that frankness made answering the question more important. How would she explain this to Nicole? The Milligan girl wasn't some idiot that could be fobbed off with your average excuse. Lisa had to explain what that was all about. But what on earth could she say? Lisa couldn't rightly walk up to her and say that Dani, the woman that had been accosting her sexually for quite a spell, was "unreasonably jealous and thus kicked off a fight she had no right to". But she couldn't lie to Nicole either. As soon as she and Nicole ran into each other again... Nicole would want answers. That would mean having to explain everything, about sleeping with Dani, about her sexuality, everything. Could she even begin to be ready to make that step? And how would Nicole react if she did? Though she seemed open-minded enough there was no guarantee that she wouldn't flip out or be so utterly repulsed that she decided to have nothing further to do with Lisa.
To Lisa... that was one hell of a terrifying thought.
Her eyes narrowed. All of a sudden she felt a quick mix of panic and resentment. The panic was fear of her situation, of possibly losing Nicole, and the resentment was for Dani, for having started this. Lisa had been backed into a corner and an urgency, not a callow one but a true urgency, set in. What if things were even worse than what she envisioned? What if Nicole (who clearly had every right to be angry after being dragged into the puzzling entanglement between Lisa and Dani) took it further and outed her to the entire school? What if that happened and then somehow word got back to her parents? Lisa had a hard enough time as high school as it was, but that was NOTHING compared to kind of hatred she'd get here if people found out that she was a lesbian. The thought of that, as well as the thought of Nicole actually hating her, made Lisa wretch. It made her stomach turn.
"Oh God..." Realization hit as clouds stopped thickening. "...I... I can't tell her..."
Initially, once she got herself cleaned up, Lisa intended to head out to Mr. Stephens' office and wait for Nicole to be released. But when she realized what might possibly happen if she did... there were some very stark second thoughts. Lisa spent the rest of the lunch break pondering her recourse and not once did she summon up the bravery she needed to find Nicole. Before long the bell rang. The blonde girl wiped her face with a hand towel then exited those toilets. She had then jetted straight down the halls and headed for her next class, Geography, which was where she was now.
Mr. Peyton continued to speak while Lisa continued to ignore him. In fact nothing other than her own predicament seemed to be worthy of her attention now... at least until the classroom door opened. Mr. Peyton silenced himself and most of the class turned to see who it was. Lisa didn't even bother to look up and wonder. At least that was until she heard Mr. Peyton say, "Nicole? You're fifteen minutes late."
Lisa's head shot up.
It was Nicole. She stood with her backpack shrugged over her shoulder and her clothes and hair in restored order. But she certainly wasn't happy. Lisa felt the knots in her stomach tangle even tighter when she gazed at that cold and irritable look on Nicole's normally cheerful face. The apprehension worsened when Nicole approached Mr. Peyton's desk and turned her cheek. There was a slight coloured bruise where Dani had punched her. Lisa couldn't stand to think of Nicole's beautiful face being marred like that. Nicole herself merely sighed and pulled a note out of her pocket. She handed it to Mr. Peyton who in turn read it -- apparently it was from Mr. Stephens, to explain her lateness for class. He nodded with understanding then handed the note back to the girl and said,
"That's fine. Take a seat."
Nicole shoved the note into her bag then went for the empty desk next to Lisa. The blonde one didn't dare look at her. As soon as Nicole sat down Lisa could feel her questioning glare, her piercing stare, already demanding an answer. But what could she give? What could she honestly say? How could she possibly explain what there was between herself and Dani? How could she explain the callousness of Nicole's being dragged into that? How could she explain her own sexuality which was a knowledge that, to this point, only Dani and a few people on the internet had been privy to? Suddenly the work Mr. Peyton had been throwing at her and the rest of the class became more appealing. Lisa busied herself by taking down a flurry of notes as he started talking again, whilst feeling Nicole stare at her for the rest of the lesson. By the time it was over -- Lisa had written down more than seven sides worth of information. Rather than dwell on it she scrambled to get her shit together, slotting her text book, notebook and pens into her backpack. Without a sole look offered to Nicole she then stood up and scuttled for the door amid the throng of her peers. As soon as she made it outside into the corridor a hand grabbed her shoulder from behind. And there was a voice with it, declaring, "Wait a second!"
It was Nicole.
"Lisa..." Her voice was slightly more mellow than Lisa would have expected it to be. "...You don't have to run from me."
Lisa lowered her head, still not looking back. "...I'm so sorry..."
"Can we talk later?"
She didn't imagine there would be any other outcome. Lisa finally turned around though found herself unable to look Nicole in the eye. That was how deep was the feelings of guilt and sorrow ran in her. It seemed to be enough for Nicole at that point because she didn't press it any further. She merely gestured down the corridor to their next class, History with Mrs. Swirlin. They went together in silence. Before today Lisa would have felt that to be quite discomforting, an inability or an unwillingness to talk to her Nicole. Lisa didn't want that. But much worse was that she didn't want a rift to form between them. She was sure that if she told Nicole about Dani and her sexuality that that would be the result. And so, because time seemed to zip ahead that much faster when she was dreading something, the final two classes of the week played themselves out to a conclusion. The final bell rang in Miss Cooke's Art class. Everyone started to shuffle up with chatter and excitement. Lisa glanced behind at Nicole (who never sat with her in Art class, they had different partners). She was gathering her stuff together too. Lisa sighed and did the same, knowing that there was no way she could avoid this executioner's axe any longer. With a heavy sigh she lifted her backpack onto her shoulders and made her way for the door. She knew it wouldn't take long to for Nicole to catch up and it didn't. By the time she hit the hallway the other woman was at her side.
Lisa still couldn't look her in the eye.
"Um, I've got my soccer tryout in about half an hour," Nicole stated. "You wanna follow me to a little nook?"
She shrugged her shoulders for a yes. Even though Nicole was still quite new to Alderson High she had very swiftly learned the layout of the place. Which was how she knew about 'The Dell', a secret spot on campus where couples would often go to make out or exchange secrets. It was a dell wedged out of two buildings (one of them the art department and the other being the humanities department) which conjoined the main courtyard with the rear path to the gyms and training fields. It was empty when they got there (naturally -- after all it was Friday and everyone wanted to leave and enjoy their weekend). When she and Nicole got there, Lisa exhaled and stood against one of The Dell's thick stone walls. Nicole's gaze was fixed on her. Lisa prepared herself for the worst. But the first thing to escape that girl's beautiful lips was a question she hadn't expected.
"Why have you been avoiding me?" Asked Nicole, curiously.
Lisa blinked. "...Huh?"
"You ignored me all through Geography and now it's like... you can barely even look at me. And it's because I lashed out at that girl, isn't it? I was out of line, I know, but..."
If she had been surprised by what Nicole had said earlier then she was even more so by what she'd said now. Was she hearing right? Was Nicole blaming HERSELF for all this? Lisa's sky blue eyes shot open as though she were about to be splashed by acid. How could Nicole think that she was to blame for all this? If anyone, Lisa held herself accountable for what happened, and to a lesser extent, she blamed Dani. None of this was Nicole's fault.
"Nicole..." Lisa finally regained the courage to look her in the eye. "That's... not it. It's not your fault. It never was."
"You mean... you don't blame me for, you know... doing what I did?"
Lisa shook her head. "You were defending your Dad. It's sweet."
The blonde girl saw a small but pretty smile eek across Nicole's face. It made her heart swell, if only for a brief moment. But that smile dropped a mere three seconds later and was suddenly replaced by a probing frown. It had Lisa worried again. "...What is it?"
"I can't forget," Nicole uttered in remembrance. "Who the hell was that Dani girl? I mean all we were just chilling, eating our lunch, minding our own business, when she comes along and... throws her weight around, making demands of you, calling me a stuck-up bitch, talking about my Dad. Where does anyone get off doing that? Who is she?"
The moment of truth. Ever since meeting Nicole it had been her one goal to keep she and Dani, and the dual lives she was straddling between them, apart from each other. With Nicole she had sanity, friendship and security, as well as her first true crush. With Dani she had fear and constant reminders of her own personal weaknesses... but also a carnal and overpowering lust; which itself was masking a reluctant urge or longing (as pale and remote as it was) that Lisa felt whenever she saw Dani upset. To cast the two choices at each other and evaluate between them was the natural reaction and Lisa had been doing it incessantly up until now. What was left to her was her choice, her own bitter, existential, possibly-fucked-if-you-do, possibly-fucked-if-you-don't, toss up.
She chose Nicole.
But what did that mean now if she had to tell Nicole about Dani? How would it make her look? What would Nicole think of her? What would she do? Lisa exhaled again. Her fingers were shaking and she didn't know it. All she could manage to do was pull some of the bangs from her eyes and reluctantly break eye contact with Nicole. And when it became clear that Lisa was in no hurry to answer the question, Nicole piped up.
"Lisa. Whatever's going on with you... I'm not gonna be mad. I just... want to understand. You know?"
Unconsciously Lisa's shoe had started tapping the floor. It became clear when the sound echoed through The Dell. In her heart she knew that her friend was correct. She did have the right to know why Dani did what she did. But it was so much to think of, telling Nicole about Dani. All kinds of scenarios ran through her head. One of Nicole hearing the news, completely freaking out, and then spreading that information across school. Then not only would she have lost her best friend but she'd also be outed as a big old dyke. Isolation would become torment, and Lisa had seen plenty of jocks kicking the crap out of kids they thought were gay -- as cowardly as it might of seemed she sure as hell didn't want the female variation of that treatment. But there were other scenarios in Lisa's head too. Maybe Nicole wouldn't be horrified by the revelation. Maybe she'd gush, burst into tears, proclaim an undying love that she thought was unrequited; then press Lisa up against the wall and give her the biggest heart-pounding, blood-rushing, toe-curling, nipple-erecting, vagina-dampening kiss in the history of kisses.
Then again... maybe not.
There was a grim tyrant known as reality and he ruled his kingdom with an iron fist. Like Lisa often found, it could not be resisted. No matter what reaction Nicole had, Lisa was sure that it wouldn't be an entirely positive one. If Nicole didn't judge her for the gayness then she would for the sluttiness (and there were times when Lisa truly did feel like a cheap slut, letting Dani fuck her whenever Dani wanted to, her sexual existence willingly left to the mercy of someone else's discretion). Whatever spin you put on it there was one thing that could be said -- if ever there were a time to strap on a pair it was now -- and Lisa knew implicitly that that wasn't going to happen.
She felt a knot deep down in her stomach when she realized it. There was no way in hell that she could tell Nicole the truth. Beyond all else; her back and forth debate about Dani, her lousy parents, her social non-existence, her dull nature, there was one good thing her life right now and that was Nicole. Sincerely, she just couldn't bear the thought of Nicole thinking badly of her. That was it. No more than that. For that reason, for that reason alone, Lisa knew that she'd have to be dirty in all this. She was at war with herself and no one entered a war without sullying their hands.
She'd have to lie.
"...S-she's just... someone I used to know. She wasn't really... a friend... but you know... we knew each other and... I uh... I... uh... I-I-I... stopped... talking to her... (a gulp) for a while... sometimes she could really scare me," That part she meant. "I just... uh... I just kind of wanted out, so... I... I stopped talking to her."
Nicole stood watching her for a while as if to evaluate something. But as soon as Lisa thought she might have seen through the lie somehow, Nicole uttered. "You know I think that was the right thing to do."
"...What? What was?"
"To stop speaking to that girl. You really don't need people like that in your life, Lisa. She's crazy."
Lisa had an odd reaction to that comment.
When Dani had once called Nicole a `bitch' Lisa had taken offence. She assumed that that was simply because she cared for Nicole and didn't want to hear such things said about her. But when Nicole said that, "She's Crazy", which in all fairness she had a right to think, it didn't quite... sit well with her. And before she even knew what she was doing, Lisa uttered, "...I know Dani can be... kind of her handful, but-"
"A handful? She called my Dad a cripple! Why are you even defending her?"
Why was she defending Dani? Lisa didn't know. It was just another example of the general rule of her life -- confusion. She never really knew how she felt about anything, everything was a tentative question that dominated her psyche for prolonged moments of time. Then they became bitter lingering memories that she dredged up for the next question, just like her parents. Though she resented them for being forthright enough to plan out an Ivy League future for her, she also resented them for not paying enough attention to her. It was the same with Dani and Nicole. When Dani was flirting or fucking or harassing her, she wanted out with a hearty passion. Yet when Dani was upset or forlorn Lisa couldn't help but reach out to her. Nicole again was the same story. Lisa wasn't sure if she wanted Nicole to be her friend or her girlfriend. She was too scared of losing that friendship (even though her attraction to Nicole told her she wanted more). Nothing in her life was concrete.
The girl in question shook her head chidingly when Nicole called on her. She had become lost in her own thoughts again. She was always spacing out like that. Lisa skipped past the phenomenon however and merely turned to her friend, biting her lower lip. "...I'm sorry."
"...It's okay." Nicole softened a little and rubbed the cheek that Dani had punched hours earlier. "I'm gonna have some explaining to do to my parents when I get home though. Mr. Stephens slapped me and that other girl with detentions but he moved mine to next week 'cause of my soccer trials."
"You're still doing that?"
"Well yeah, of course I am. I'm not gonna change my plans 'cause of some psycho nut-job. One of the main reasons my Mom and I chose Alderson High was because of the girl's soccer team. You wanna come?"
Normally Lisa would have jumped at the chance to do something with Nicole but today wasn't the time. For the first time in a while Lisa felt truly emotionally drained. The last thing she wanted was to prolong this day. "I'd like to but it's been a really long day, and... I just want to go home. Do you mind?"
"No, I don't mind. That's cool." Nicole heaved her backpack up. "But we're still on for tomorrow, right?"
With all that had happened today she had forgotten that she and Nicole had agreed to catch a movie on Saturday. Though Lisa wasn't in the mood for anything like that now she was sure that she would be by tomorrow. A good night's sleep would likely see to that. Maybe then she could put everything that had happened today, `breaking up' with Dani, seeing her and Nicole fight, then having to lie to Nicole to cover it all up; behind her.
"Yeah," Lisa replied. "It sounds good."
"Alright then. I'll call you tomorrow morning to iron everything out. Seeya, Lisa."
Lisa replied with a wispy "Bye" as she watched Nicole exit The Dell and head for the gyms to get changed. Yet another sigh was heaved. Lisa turned on her heels and left in the opposite direction venturing out into the stone floor of the quad. She went straight home and as soon as she was indoors she marched up to her room and collapsed onto her bed. A prolonged groan of impotence and frustration was muffled by the pillow her head was buried in. She didn't move an inch. Eventually sleep took her over and she didn't imagine herself waking up for days.
Because of that heavy sleep she didn't hear it when her cell phone went off. Caller I.D. flashed "Dani" incessantly for quite a few seconds (along with the ringtone) before both came to a stop. Lisa slept on obliviously. It wasn't loud enough to wake her up. Which was why she didn't hear it when Dani called her again across the hour until a fifth and final call was made. No more calls were forthcoming.
And Lisa had no idea how critical that last call would prove to be.