by Jane Bradley
The kids at school always think there’s something going on. She’s my girl, but not like that. Never. I mean, okay, I’ve kissed her. There’s always spin the bottle, or truth or dare. For some reason they always want to see us do it, like they can’t believe that we’re just friends. And on nights out sometimes, when we’ve been off our heads on pills, but that’s because you’re in love with everything then, and everyone, and it’s better to kiss your best friend a million times than wake up with your lips bitten to bits because you ran out of chewing gum. Sometimes I tell people she’s my girlfriend, just to see what they say. It stops them asking questions I don’t know how to answer.
We kept our friendship to the playground, where we’d sit talking on the swings. Or each other’s bedrooms when the weather was bad, with cups of tea and biscuits from the secret stash, doing our homework and analysing everyone; the kids at school, each other, all the characters on the estate. Like we were rival spies, sharing intel, breaking codes. Forming an alliance.
“There’s a girl in my class keeps asking about you,” Cookie said one Sunday afternoon. The rain was lashing it down and we were sitting at her kitchen table, getting nowhere with our Romeo & Juliet coursework. “She says it’s weird we’re friends.”
I coloured in my notebook margins with neon highlighter swirls. “It is weird.”
Cookie scowled. “Not to me.”
“Nah. But to other people.”
“She said we must have sexual chemistry.”
I put down my pen. “Do we?”
Cookie looked me up and down. “We’ve got chemistry. But not sexual.”
I gave her the look, let the moment stretch. I’d been practising in the mirror.
“Dude, don’t give me those cow eyes.” She dipped her fingers in her gone-cold coffee and flicked the drops in my face. “You know we don’t.”
“But don’t you ever wonder what it would be like?” Pushing it without knowing why. It wasn’t her I thought of, at night or in the shower. But there was something about the idea.
It was twisted and strange and – the more I thought about it – the more it somehow made sense.
Cookie stared, waiting for me to say I was joking. But I wasn’t.
“Don’t tell me you’ve never thought about it,” I pressed her. “What it’d be like, you and me.”
There was the start of a smirk, the one she does when she’s trying to keep her face straight.
“Babe, you do understand that not everyone is in love with you, right?”
“Debatable. And don’t change the subject. That means you’ve thought about us, right? Doing it?”
She smacked her head down onto her textbook and groaned. “Tell me this conversation isn’t happening.”
“You definitely have.”
She lifted her head up, blushing. “Once.”
“Once or twice. That’s it. And I imagine it with everyone, so don’t flatter yourself.”
“Everyone?” Cookie rolled her eyes and got up, but I was obviously gonna ask. While she raided the biscuit tin, I went through everyone I could think of; the neighbourhood dealer, my brother Edddie, the music teacher with the long guitar-player fingers.
“I don’t think I can be friends with you any more,” I teased through a mouthful of chocolate bourbon, after she’d admitted about Eddie and the others.
She dunked a biscuit in my mug and pulled a face as she chewed. “You’re just as bad. Just not as honest.”
“That sums up everything about us.”
“You are, actually.”
“Yeah. Because we’re gonna lose our virginity to each other.”
She scoffed, not believing. “Don’t I get a say in it?”
“Nah. Girls never do, do they?” I was kidding but it worked; she scrunched her paper up and threw it at me with a grimace.
“But you’re not even into women.”
“We were bonded then, not just by secrets and stories and the web we’d weaved together. But by blood and spunk and sweat and tears.”
I licked my finger and pressed it into the constellations of biscuit crumbs littering our notes. That was the first time she’d said it like that. We’d never talked about it before. Not in so many words. And having her say it felt good. I could stop stressing about letting something slip. I didn’t deny it, even though she wasn’t entirely right. I’d had feelings before, and thoughts. But I knew I wasn’t like most boys.
She was looking at me, soft and unsure, so I sucked the crumbs clean and told her: “This isn’t about that.”
That was another conversation for another day. Even though relief was flooding through me like sugar, like caffeine, like basslines, it felt fragile too. Something to keep precious. Not for now. Not yet.
“Nah. Think about it. Everyone’s first time stories are horror shows or fantasies. We could get it out of the way with each other. Better than with someone who’s gonna spread it all round school, right?”
We closed our books and went over the anecdotes everyone knows: Gemma Walker, whose boyfriend told everyone she tasted of period blood. Ben Kelsey, renamed Jizz Machine when Stephanie Roy said he’d come all over her knickers before he could even get it in. Like we were compiling evidence, making a case.
“But what if we’re not friends after?” Cookie said, at the end.
I gave her my best grin, the ones the dinner ladies always tell me will break hearts one day. “Nothing’s gonna make us not friends.”
“You don’t know that, knobhead. People fall out all the time. Especially over sex.”
“We’re not like them. I promise.”
I know, I know. It seems like I talked her into it. But it wasn’t like that, honest. It became a joke, something we started referring to every now and then, something we pretended we weren’t serious about. Until we were round mine one day and Cookie called my bluff. I was telling her how someone in my year had been saying things about us, and she turned to me, unfazed.
“We may as well do it, you know. They already believe it. No reason not to.”
I swallowed. “Other than that we don’t fancy each other.” There was a thrill of terror at her making it real. And besides, I was used to being the instigator; the one who made us throw empty bottles from bridges or sprinkle Eddie’s weed into corner shop brownie mix.
Cookie chucked the cushions off the settee and slid onto the rug.
“I could make do,” she said, and pulled her hoodie over her head.
I felt a surge of recklessness. “You wanna watch some porn? My brother’s got loads.” I set up his laptop where we could both see, then dragged my duvet through and spread it on the floor. I told her that if she wanted she could pretend I was someone else.
I slid her a sidelong smirk. “What about Eddie?”
“Bring that up again and I’ll kill you.”
“I’m messing. Trying to cut the tension.”
We lay back, side by side, and watched for a bit; tanned toned bodies writhing and Cookie’s bare arm against mine, every millimetre crackling. It wasn’t usually like that. Onscreen, the woman spit into her hand and slid it down. The man closed his eyes. We looked at each other and burst out cackling.
“This is stupid,” Cookie scowled, but she was shifting and couldn’t keep still. I nodded and turned the sound right down; still there but more muffled, like when it’s coming through the walls. Then I moved, kneeling over her. I could see her pulse in her neck and she looked at me like a dare. So I leant down and kissed her. Same as we’d done a million times before. At first I could feel her smiling. Then it got more intense. She told me where to touch; how soft or hard, and how fast. It was clumsy, but I tried to make it good. I asked her if she was sure, just before, and she bit her lip and nodded, put a hand behind my neck and pulled me in.
The flat felt cold and messy around us, and the entire time I was dreading Eddie coming back; hearing Cookie’s little sighs and shudders, feeling them make my muscles twist, but still listening for the key in the lock. Our skin felt hot, too hot. Like a fever dream, being ill but hallucinating something more vivid and vicious than real life. Sensation and sweetness with our eyes squeezed shut.
“Don’t take this the wrong way or anything,” Cookie said after, when we were back in our clothes. “But I don’t think we should do that again.”
She was right. She’s always right. So annoying.
“More than once would be weird,” I nodded , curling up against her. “But I don’t regret it.”
She ran her fingers through my hair. “Me either.”
When I met her on the corner to walk to school the next morning, we didn’t talk about it. But it was there, sore as toothache or something sharper. The idea of hurting her was a slow knife sliding between my ribs, and I wasn’t going to risk it like that again. And it was weird, that sleeping together made me realise I had to love her like a sister; unconditional and fierce. We were bonded then, not just by secrets and stories and the web we’d weaved together. But by blood and spunk and sweat and tears. What we had was pure magic, and it made me feel like a warrior, that I had to protect it, and her.
Jane Bradley | @jane_bradley