A thickened silence fell between the girls. Des was beginning to feel uneasy in her own skin, which didn’t happen very often. It wasn’t like she hadn’t thought about the question, she’d just never been asked anything like that so directly. She also felt a strange sensation each time the pair locked eyes, and it both scared her and filled her heart with joy. It was as if they were looking past the superficial exterior and staring into each other’s souls. The feeling was certainly uncomfortable, yet pleasing all the same; she never wanted to look away.
“Uhmmm…” Des trailed off without an answer. Her heartbeat boomed in her ears and her mind felt like spaghetti. She glanced over at the cute brunette behind the easel and saw that her focus was mainly on her creation, a soft smile affixed above her chin. From Des’s position, the front of the canvas couldn’t be seen; it was facing the opposite direction so the painter could easily glance between her subject and the artwork.
The room wasn’t completely quiet, however. Pearl continued to diligently work on her art. Ruffling of paper, the ambient swishes of brush strokes against the canvas, and the occasional word spoken under Pearl’s breath could be heard among the stillness.
Finally, the artist reacted. “Come on, Destiny. You have to play the game. All I’m asking you for is honesty. It’s really an easy question, silly lady. Do you like girls or boys… or both?” With a sly smile, Pearl turned her attention back to the painting.
“Well… uhm… to be honest. I don’t really… I n-never… ya know. I’ve never been in…”
Pearl broke her concentration, shaking her head in disappointment. Standing from her stool, she started walking towards her subject. “Been in what? A relationship?”
“Destiny, please. As shocking as it is to hear nobody has snatched you up yet, you don’t need to be with someone else to know about yourself. Take me, for example. Do you think I’m pretty?” Pearl cheerily tilted her head with an oversized grin stretching the skin on her cheeks.
“Of course. You’re… you’re… fucking gorgeous.” Des heard the words leave her mouth, but it was almost like listening to someone else; a younger version of herself that wished she’d grown close to Pearl years ago. She was realizing she’d had a crush on this girl since they were kids, and it felt both intimidating and freeing to begin opening up.
“Awww, Destiny! That’s so sweet. But, like… okay. Let’s get to the bottom of this, shall we?” Pearl set her paintbrush down and slowly strolled around the taller girl, stopping when she arrived directly behind her. Des felt the warmth from the painter’s breath on her neck and ear as she craned forward and whispered. “Maybe you can recognize beauty when you see it, but that doesn’t mean very much. Here’s the real test, have you ever thought about kissing me?” Pearl moved back and remained standing behind the still-seated blonde, an eyebrow cocked waiting for an answer.
Des slightly shivered from the delightful vibrations of her friend’s voice. She looked over her shoulder and could see Pearl in her peripherals waiting for an answer.
“Does right now count? Because… well…” The biker began to spin around. Pearl raised her leg and caught the stool before it could spin too far, lining the girls in front of one another. Des looked upward and noticed a confident smirk on her friend’s face but wasn’t feeling too confident herself. The thought of Pearl’s lips on hers made her heart leap in her chest like a puppy jumping up and down begging to be released from its cage.
“Well, Des,” the painter started, “the verdict is in. It looks like you’re guilty of liking giiiiiirls.” The teasing tone in her voice was apparent.
“Y-You called me Des.”
“Just something I’m trying out. Is that okay? If I remember correctly, you were going by Des at the end of sophomore year in high school. But we’ve known each other what, 15 years now? Plus, Destiny is such a pretty name.”
“Yeah, I prefer Des.”
“Why didn’t you correct me before?” Pearl placed her hands on her hips and lowered her leg.
The girl on the stool hesitated for a moment, eyes alternating from Pearl’s left to her right, then back again. She even briefly stared at the painter’s nose for a moment. “I’m not sure. Maybe I just like hearing you say my name.”
“Yep, we have an answer. Definitely girls. That’s good. I like girls too.” Pearl reached up and gracefully touched the red in Des’s hair with her finger tips, sweeping it from the blonde’s eyes. “I love, love, love your red streak.” The painter abruptly stretched her arms out, placing two hands on each of her subject’s shoulders. As she inched herself forward, Des realized their faces were in line; less than a foot separated them.
A nervous wave of energy rippled through her body, but the biker resisted the urge to run away. Her glances were landing more on her friend’s mouth than her eyes, and she wanted nothing more than to feel the girl’s lips against her own. Her palms were sweating and her heart was pounding, everything else seemed to slow to a crawl. Just as she was about to close her eyes and extend her lips, Pearl twisted Des back around to face the easel.
“We have to finish this painting before we get too tired.” The brunette skipped around to the other side of the canvas, repositioning herself on the stool.
“What the fuck just happened?” Des wondered to herself, low enough to be out of earshot.
Confusion riddled the red-streaked blonde’s mind, and she wondered if she should have moved forward more quickly for a kiss. She felt a little embarrassed not knowing if she should have pulled the trigger or not. She noticed her eyes watering and realized she hadn’t taken a proper breath of air in several moments. Des concentrated on breathing then opened her jacket and wiped her face.
“Turn a little bit to your left, Des,” Pearl requested, clearly focused again on her artwork. The blonde obliged and angled her shoulders and torso in the proper direction. “There. That’s perfect. It does feel kind of weird not saying your whole name, but I’ll get used to it, I’m sure.”
“So,” Des mumbled, trying to get her mind off of her missed opportunity, “don’t you have an ex-boyfriend? I thought I heard something about him in the background when we were on the phone earlier.”
“Ummmmm, yea,” the painter deadpanned, rolling her eyes. “He’s a dickhead.” She continued to paint as she spoke. “Wanna hear the whole story?”
“Well, yeah. You wanted us to get to know each other better, right? Tell me about your ex. Then you can answer your own damn question. Are you more into boys or girls?” Des shot a playfully barred grin towards her friend.
“That sounds fair.” Pearl chewed her lip as she focused on her painting, stopping each time she spoke. “I’ll answer the last part first. It’s girls. Easily. Which leads into the ex-boyfriend conversation. So… he was the first person I was really into since high school. You might remember me dating around back then, but I fell for Brock when I first started here. We were exclusive for almost a year. He’s from Georgia; was on a football scholarship. His southern charm is what did me in. I think the attention he gave me when I didn’t really know anybody else flattered me… or something like that.
“At first, I found it sweet that he wanted to be around me every second of every day. It was like I’d found someone who loved me so much he never wanted to be apart. He even neglected the optional football workouts that the rest of his teammates participated in. Then, when I’d go to track parties, he always showed up and got really mad at any guy I’d talk to. He became outrageously possessive so we had a serious chat. In the heat of the argument, I told him he should worry more about the girls I talked to than the guys. He didn’t know I was bi until then, but it shook him up. Even though I made it clear none of that mattered and I’d never cheat, he broke up with me, saying it was all my fault. It sucked, Des. I cried a lot that week and the next.”
Des intently listened as Pearl described the situation she’d gone through with Brock. Part of her already hated the guy, listening to how controlling and manipulative he was towards her. She deserved everything and he only dragged her down. The biker felt her fists clenching.
“After about a week of no contact,” the artist continued, “he showed up at a track meet with flowers and tickets to a concert. I agreed to hang out and we went to the concert together. We had a great time, honestly. But I think it was just the idea of being alone that made me gravitate back towards him.
“The next morning, I felt kind of dumb. I knew he wasn’t right for me in the long run, and I needed to spread my wings. We had another serious chat and I told him that college wasn’t the right time to be so serious. Plus, we needed to focus on our sports and school work. He was angry, to say the least. Got drunk as hell and caused trouble on a couple of occasions. He even got into a bad fight outside of the dining hall one night last semester and lost his scholarship because he was carrying a loaded weapon. He was arrested and kicked out of school, too.”
“Holy shit!” Des responded.
“Yeah. He has some unchecked anger issues, no doubt, just like his abusive dad. Anyway, he was released and went back to Georgia for a couple of months. I found out he was back in town last week, and he got a job at a bar downtown. Last night, he called me but I didn’t pick up. This afternoon, he called a mutual friend who was here earlier saying he was headed to my apartment. Chris told him not to come, that I didn’t want him here.”
“Shit,” Des grumbled. “Fuck that guy. Do you think he’d come anyway?”
“Not really. He’s a bastard, but he never hurt me; at least not physically.” Pearl took a large gulp of her beverage, finishing the last bit. She grasped the wine bottle and filled her glass. Des followed, turning hers upright and swallowing down several mouthfuls until her glass was empty as well. Pearl giggled then lunged over to supply a refill.
“I am so sorry, Pearl. Makes me wish I was around then and maybe I could have somehow stopped this from happening.”
“That’s nice, Des, but I believe everything happens for a reason. Even though it was shitty, mine and Brock’s relationship has helped prepare me for whatever comes next, ya know? Speaking of things happening for a reason, in a way, it’s because of him that you’re even here right now.”
“Huh? How is that possible?”
“We weren’t scheduled to practice today. I’d been planning on having a small gathering this evening for about a week; was going to only focus on that today. After he called me last night, I felt I needed to be around my team, so we decided to have a non-mandatory workout this afternoon. If we hadn’t, you and me may never have reconnected. So, like, it’s fate. Or maybe…”
The blonde interrupted. “You’re not about to say it’s ‘destiny’ are you?”
Pearl cut her eyes left then right. She raised both eyebrows then nodded. The girls shared a laugh then the painter got back to work. They started talking about high school and reminiscing about things that happened when they were younger. It was interesting for both to hear different perspectives about the same events. It seemed they had been in the same general vicinity many more times than they’d even realized.
Another hour of chitchat flew by when Pearl finally announced, “It’s finished! Come take a look.”
Des got up and stretched. She didn’t realize how long she’d been sitting but her legs and back felt stiff. Afterwards, she walked around to the other side of the easel to see what Pearl had come up with.
“Holy shit!” Des was astonished. “This is… me. It’s like looking into a mirror, Pearl. No fucking joke. You’re amazing!”
“Thank you, thank you.” Pearl curtsied as she giggled. “I don’t like to toot my own horn often, but it’s beautiful.” She took a step forward and was now standing face to face with Des again, noses almost touching in the center. “But not as beautiful as the real thing.” She placed an open palm on the biker’s cheek, gently tilting her face downward. As the shorter girl tiptoed and craned forward, Des felt her eyes widening. This was it. She was about to finally feel the warmth of Pearl’s soft lips against hers. The painting, the ceiling, the walls, and the entire room bled from existence until all that was remaining were two girls, the distance narrowing between them. Butterflies danced in her stomach as if collectively celebrating some glorious once-in-a-lifetime event. Des slowly allowed her eyelids to fall, as she inhaled Pearl’s breath, mixing with her own. Just as their lips began to brush, an abrasive knock at the door broke the girls from their moment.
“Fuck!” Pearl flinched with a startled jump, moving her away from Des.
“No,” Des whimpered, tears filling her eyes.
Through the door, a muffled voice yelled inside. “Open on up, Pearly Pearl! We need to fucking talk!” His words were slurred but could be clearly understood.
“Shit, that’s Brock!” The athlete left the painting room hastily making her way towards the apartment door.
Des quickly followed behind, blotting the moisture from her eyes.
“Go away, Brock! I don’t want to see you! Not now, not ever again!” Pearl was checking to make sure the door was locked. As soon as she ensured it was secure, she glanced through the peephole. “You’re drunk! Go home and sober up!”
“Who are you in there fucking? I’ll kill him. Or her, shit! Who knows with you anymore!” He continued to knock with heavy fists.
“Des,” Pearl turned to speak, “I don’t know if it’s safe with you in here. You might want to hide if he somehow gets in. I don’t know how he made it past LaShonda. I’ll call her now.” She took out her phone and began calling.
“I’m not hiding, Pearl. You’re the best thing that’s happened to me in a long time. No fucking way is some creep gonna scare me. I can handle him.”
Pearl yelled into the phone, quickly relaying the information about their situation to someone on the other end. Des assumed it was the RA her friend spoke to but couldn’t be sure.
All of a sudden, the knocks became much louder with a larger impact.
“Shit, he’s trying to kick it in! Des, please hide!”
“No. I’m not leaving you alone with a drunk lunatic.” Going on instinct and pure adrenaline, Des turned and grabbed a beer bottle from the smaller table beside the couch. She held it by the neck and unlocked the door. As soon as she twisted the knob to open it, Brock stumbled inside, as he was in mid thrust to attempt another kick. His momentum carried him forward with his head lowered in a bowing position. Just as he was about to fall forward, Des thrust her arm in an uppercut, the bottom of the bottle landing square in the middle of the drunk’s forehead, knocking him off his feet.
“Goddamn!” Pearl called out as the intruder landed on his back with a purple bottle-shaped indention in the top center of his face.
“Don’t you fucking mess with her,” Des uttered through clenched teeth as she stood over Brock’s unconscious body like a prize fighter who had just won the bout.
LaShonda and a campus guard ran in, flipped the assailant to his stomach and locked cuffs around his wrists behind his back. “Get back you two!” she hollered, arm extended pushing Des and Pearl behind her. Brock was knocked out and lying on his face but thankfully still breathing. A gun was lying to his side, which LaShonda kicked away from his reach.
While they waited for backup, the RA spoke with both girls. She mentioned knowing about the situation with Brock from being around the student athletes for the past few years. She sat Des and Pearl down on the couch so they could decompress and to get an official statement for the university. As they sat, the brunette casually snaked her hand down and between the pair, placing her open palm flat in the center of Des’s. The biker responded by interlocking her fingers with the girl, creating a sense of oneness among them.
Local police took over when they arrived, confiscating the weapon and taking the drunk outside, placing him in the back of a patrol car. He was awake and aware as they hauled him off. Like LaShonda before her, a police officer needed a statement for their records as well. The cop agreed it was an obvious case of self-defense and didn’t take much time before leaving the apartment. The girls walked the final officer to the door and saw her out.
Finally, about an hour and a half since the incident, everyone had departed, and the girls found themselves alone together again. They sat back down on the couch and held each others’ hand.
“Des, I gotta be honest with you. That was the most badass thing I’ve ever seen. You are amazing! And I’m soooo soooo sorry about dragging you into my… my baggage.” Pearl glanced away like she was too embarrassed to face Des directly.
“Pearl, look at me.” She waited for the girl to look her in the eyes. “We all have baggage, and you and me can handle it together. As for mine, you’ll find it’s much less psycho ex-boyfriendy.” Des giggled, waiting for Pearl to laugh along with her. The athlete cracked a half smile that was obviously lined with exhaustion. It had been a difficult day for both of them, but Des knew the emotional strain had sort of gotten to her friend. She thought about their almost-kiss and truly wanted to try again. But now was clearly not the time. What Pearl needed was support, not romance, and Des was ready to be there for her regardless of the situation.
Pearl had laid her head on Des’s shoulder and the two sat cuddled in each other’s embrace for several minutes. After some time, Pearl shifted around. “Des, please don’t take this the wrong way, but I need to be alone for a little while, I think. It would be great if you could lay down with me in my bed, but tonight doesn’t feel like the right moment, ya know? I’d really like you to stay with me tonight, though. Will you stay? Please.”
“Yeah, of course. Whatever you need, Pearl.”
“I’ll help you make the couch super comfortable. I’ve fallen asleep here before, and it’s just as comfy as my bed. Well, that’s not true. But it’s close.”
The girls retrieved some linen and a spare pillow. They tucked the edges of the sheets into the cushions and placed a large blanket on top.
“Oh, shit, Des. I almost forgot. You can take a shower if you’d like. In the bathroom, the linen closet has freshly folded towels and rags.” She pointed towards the full-sized bathroom adjacent to the kitchen and near the hallway. “I can barely hold my eyes open.”
“I think I will wash up. Thanks, Pearl.”
“Good night, silly lady.” The sleepy girl placed a hand on Des’s cheek, tenderly pulling her face closer. She gingerly pressed her lips against the other cheek then moved away and smiled. She turned around and disappeared into her room, leaving the door cracked open behind her.
Des sighed as she watched her new favorite person walk away and turn in for the evening. She proceeded to take a quick shower then tuck herself in on the couch. Before falling asleep, she checked her phone: no missed calls or messages. Hoping no news meant good news, she laid it face down on the coffee table and turned over to a more pleasant sleeping position.
As her eyes grew heavy and she finally stopped fighting their closure, her thoughts shifted from realistic to abstract. She felt herself drifting to sleep. The next moment, she heard a hushed voice in the shallowed distance.
“Des, look at me.”
Just a whisper at first.
It was growing louder.
“Des, we need to talk.”
The biker fought through the weightlessness of her slumber and finally lifted her head, as awareness swirled back in. “Wh-Who’s there?” Her voice crackled with uncertainty.
“It’s me… I had to reach you immediately, and the dreamspace is the only way now.”
The blonde opened her eyes and noticed she was staring at the face of her moms’ old friend and Watcher of their universe. “Shit. Rachel?!”