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I was five years old when I learned I was different. I was watching a Disney princess movie with my best friend – Sleeping Beauty, my favourite. Lily and I were on the couch, shoveling popcorn into our mouths. I had my favourite American Girl doll on my lap and she was clutching her teddy bear. “I’m going to marry a princess when I grow up,” I announced.
Lily looked at me as if I was crazy. “Ew, gross! Girls don’t marry girls, stupid. Girls marry boys. You’re gonna marry a prince and become a princess.”
But that wasn’t what I’d meant at all. In that moment, I realized that there was something wrong with me, that most girls didn’t want to both be a princess and marry one. Even at such a young age, though, I knew better than to tell Lily that. “Yeah, right,” I said, hugging my doll tightly. “I want to be a princess.” But what I didn’t understand was why I had to choose.
*
*
*

I watched the royal wedding on TV. Everybody did. I sat in Lily’s basement with her and our friends Charlotte and Hannah, and we ooh-ed and ah-ed over Kate Middleton’s wedding dress and let out a collective sigh at the first kiss. “I am so jealous of her right now,” Hannah said. “I wanted to marry William when I was little!”

Charlotte punched her shoulder. “He’s too old for you.”

“But he’s hot.”

“Yeah, if you like guys as old as your dad.”

“He is not as old as my dad.”

“Pretty close, though. And his face is all long and dopey.”

“Shut up, guys,” Lily said. “I can’t hear what they’re saying.”

I sat silently, watching Kate and William’s matching smiles after their kiss. I felt a familiar pang in my chest, just as I did whenever I saw two people kissing, or holding hands, or dancing together, because I knew I would never have any of that.

“Do you think he’s hot, Ella?” Hannah asked me.

“I reaffirm my neutrality on this issue,” I told her.

She rolled her eyes at me. “Cut it with the dictionary-speak.”

“I am not getting between you and Charlotte when you’re talking about hot guys. I know better than that.”

“So you do think he’s hot!”

“I didn’t say that.”

“You inferred it.”

“I think you mean I implied it.”

“I think I mean, you’re annoying when you don’t answer my questions.”

“I think you mean, I’m annoying when I don’t agree with you.”

Hannah chuckled. “That, too.”

“Anyway, forget about him,” Charlotte said. “I want Kate’s dress. How much do you think it cost?”

“Like, more than your parents make in a year,” Lily said.

“Like, you’re exaggerating,” Charlotte said.

“Only a little.”

“I’m going to get some water,” I said. “Does anyone want some?”

All of my friends shook their heads, so I went upstairs by myself. I took a glass out of Lily’s cupboard and filled it with cold tap water, and I sipped it very slowly. I wished the wedding would just be over already so I could go home and wallow, as was my present custom after watching pretty much any movie, or going to the park, or walking down the hallway at my school, where I was bombarded by graphic reminders of what I knew I would never – could never – have. Boys and girls pressed up against walls, making out like rabid animals, or even simply holding hands as they ambled to the cafeteria. Even something as innocent as that could never be mine, just because of this thing inside of me.
I had no idea where this thing had come from, or why I couldn’t get rid of it, no matter how hard I tried. No matter how many magazines I looked at or how often I hung out with my friends and tried to participate in their discussions regarding hot guys, I was always just going through the motions. When I walked down the hallway and noticed an attractive girl, I had to quickly avert my gaze, because I knew that looking at another girl the way my friends looked at boys was forbidden.
I prayed every night for God to make me different, better, normal, but it never helped.
*
*
*
The next day, my whole class was abuzz with talk of the wedding. I tried to ignore the gushing over Kate’s dress and the starry expression in both Kate and William’s eyes as they kissed, but Hannah insisted on involving me in the conversation she was currently dominating. This conversation primarily consisted of how her own wedding plans compared and contrasted with the royal wedding, and how hers would be nearly as extravagant.
It was taking a concerted effort for me not to roll my eyes.
Suddenly, the classroom door opened and a girl I’d never seen before walked in. My eyes were immediately drawn to the nearly hypnotic sway of her hips as she walked, and I caught myself and looked away as soon as I realized what I was doing.
Too late. Her bright blue eyes met mine, holding a glint of amusement in them as she sat down right in front of me.
Damn.
I hoped she hadn’t noticed me checking her out, even though it was pretty obvious by the look in her eyes that she had. I felt a blush creep up my neck and color my cheeks, praying that she wouldn’t say or do anything to make the situation even more awkward than it was. Praying that I would just be able to turn off this sinful, sinful attraction that I couldn’t seem to eradicate no matter what I did.
After a moment, the girl twisted back so she was looking at me. A smile pulled at the corners of her lips, and I had to consciously remind myself to focus on her face and not let myself appraise any other body parts. Even her eyes were striking, and I couldn’t let myself go, especially not at school, in front of other people. “My name’s Alice,” she said.
“Ella,” I managed to choke out, then cleared my throat. Damn, my face was probably the same color as fire hydrant now. “Um, did you just move here?”
“Yup. From Boston.”
“I’ve never been to Boston.” Great job, Ella, I admonished myself. Can you make it any more obvious that you’re into her?
She grinned, displaying dimples so perfect that I had to look away from her. “You’re not really missing much; don’t worry.”
We sat quietly for a moment, but she didn’t turn away from me. The tension in the air was making me squirm, and when I couldn’t stand the silence for another second, I cleared my throat again and said, “So did you watch the wedding last night?” Damn, I am such a fool sometimes, I thought as soon as the words were out of my mouth. Reverting to form. When uncomfortable, try being normal. Even though this is the last thing I want to talk about.
Alice shrugged, tucking a strand of her luscious blonde hair behind her ear. “Nah. Weddings aren’t really my thing.”
“Mine either,” I said, and then chuckled nervously. “I don’t know why I said that. Um, anyway, have you met anyone here yet?”
“In the past ten minutes since I got here? Just you.”
I took a deep breath. “In that case, do you – do you maybe want to have lunch with me?” I asked, even as my brain was screaming, Bad idea! Don’t even think about it! at me.
She smiled again, and that’s when I knew I was toast. I barely even heard her assent before those blue eyes sucked me in and held me tight.
*
*
*
My heart was doing gymnastics in my chest as I entered the cafeteria at lunch time. I spotted Alice right away, sitting off to the side, right next to the window. I’d told Charlotte and Lily and Hannah that I wasn’t going to eat with them today, even though I had eaten with them every day for the past two years I’d been in high school. It felt strange and kind of wrong to be crossing to the opposite end of the cafeteria to sit with Alice, and yet, it also felt more than a little bit right.
I willed my body to shut itself down so I could get through this lunch period without making a fool of myself again, but alas, it was not to be. As I approached Alice’s table, I literally tripped over my own feet and went flying, banging my head on the table with a deafening thud.
Alice was at my side in an instant, kneeling beside me and putting a hand on my back. “Ella, are you okay?”

Oh, her hands. They were so soft and warm and I wanted her to keep them there forever. But I had just acted like an idiot in front of not only Alice, but the whole school. My head was fine, but I’d just decimated my ego.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” I said through clenched teeth.

She held out a hand to me. “Here, let me help you up.”

I didn’t take it. I couldn’t. If I took her hand, I didn’t think I’d ever find the strength in me to let it go. “No, I’m fine. Sorry about that.” I tried for a self-deprecating smile, but it came out as more of a grimace. “Sometimes I’m really a klutz.”

Alice waved a dismissive hand. “Don’t worry about it.” She smiled at me as I pulled out a chair and sat down across from her. “What class are you coming from?”

“Uh, English.”

“Who’s your teacher?”

“Mr. Adams.” I made a face. “Worst monotone ever. Who do you have for English?”

“Ms. Bernardini.”

“Oh, you’re lucky. She’s one of the best in the school. I had her last year and she actually got us to enjoy Shakespeare! Can you imagine?”

“Well, I kind of like Shakespeare myself. Hamlet especially is really clever.”

I smiled shyly at her. “I kind of like Shakespeare too, but not Romeo and Juliet. That is an excessively mawkish display of unrealistic and inappropriate sentimentality.” I winced at the way that sounded. “Crap, I’m sorry. My friends hate it when I do that.”

“Do what?”

“Uh, speak like a dictionary?”

“If one was speaking like a dictionary, wouldn’t one alphabetize one’s speech? Such as, you know, agility, airplane, alacrity, American, aneurism.”

I laughed. “I’m impressed.”

Alice’s eyes sparkled, and once again, I needed to avert my gaze. Her eyes were almost magnetic, and I couldn’t let myself stare into them like I longed to. I couldn’t let her know that what I was feeling for her after knowing her for less than a day was more than a simple desire to be friends. Even though I’d only met her a few short hours ago, I knew I didn’t want to lose her.
*
*
*

That night, as I lay in bed, tossing and turning, I couldn’t stop thinking about Alice. Her hands, the way her blue eyes crinkled and shone when she laughed, the dimples that appeared when she smiled.

I was in so much trouble.

Feeling this way was absolutely not okay, and yet I couldn’t seem to help it. And masochist that I was, I knew I would be unable to keep away from Alice, even when I knew that getting close to her could only hurt us both.
*
*
*

The next morning as I was having my cereal, Dad was sitting across from me, reading the newspaper. Mom was beside him, sipping her orange juice.

“Lorraine, look at this,” Dad said to Mom. “This is disgusting.”

Mom clicked her tongue. “I have no idea why they even let that woman have that show. Especially when she has her lover on it, blatantly promoting her lifestyle to our children!”

I tried to inconspicuously crane my neck forward, and when I glimpsed the article he was referring to, I sank into my seat, my face reddening almost of its own volition. If my parents thought Ellen DeGeneres was disgusting, what would they think of me?
*
*
*

I trudged to school with a heavy heart that day, and my backpack felt like a thousand bricks that it was my responsibility to shoulder, alone. I knew I had to stay as far away from Alice as I could. I couldn’t hurt her with my sinful attraction, and I didn’t want to hurt my parents, either. They would be so disappointed in me.

But Alice was there when I got into my homeroom class, and she was sitting right in front of me, and when I sat down, she immediately turned around and gave me a smile that made my heart skip a beat. “Do you want to have lunch together?” she asked.

I chewed on my lower lip. “Um, I actually usually eat with Hannah and Lily and Charlotte.”

“Oh, okay.” The light in her eyes went out for a moment and I felt a pang in my chest. Then it returned, and she said, “Can I sit with you guys then?”

“Sure,” I said. Eating lunch with Alice and my other friends seemed reasonable. What could go wrong with boy-crazy Hannah and Charlotte there to chaperone?
*
*
*

Alice sat with us for lunch that day. She didn’t participate much in our conversation – or more accurately, the conversation Hannah and Charlotte were having which consisted of rating the boys in our class on a scale from one to ten in terms of hotness. Lily was throwing in the occasional comment, but Alice and I were sitting mostly silently. I squirmed under Alice’s scrutiny, feeling like somehow she could see right through me – that she knew that I wasn’t interested in this conversation whatsoever, and that she knew why. I hadn’t exactly done a good job of hiding my feelings for her yesterday.

But I took small comfort in the fact that she didn’t seem to be too interested in the conversation either.

“Alice, what do you think about Jaythan?” Hannah asked about halfway through the conversation. This was her first real acknowledgement of Alice.

“I think that the name Jaythan precludes any possibility of hotness,” Alice said.

Hannah rolled her eyes. “I think he’s cute. What do you think about Danny?”

Alice shrugged. “I’m not sure.”

“S***, Alice. You and Ella are just so perfect for each other.”

I knew I was blushing again, so I busied myself with my sandwich and hoped no one saw.

*
*
*

The next day, I asked Hannah if Alice could sit with us for lunch again. “Ella, why would you want her to come sit with us?” she asked. “She’s such a dyke.”

“Just because she didn’t think Jaythan was cute? I don’t think Jaythan is cute either, you know.”

“If I didn’t know you so well, Ella, I’d think you were a dyke too.”

I felt a flush creep up my neck and hoped Hannah didn’t notice. “Well, if that’s what you think, then maybe I’d rather go eat lunch with Alice.”

“Maybe you should,” Hannah said.

As I walked away, instead of feeling proud for making my own decision and standing up for myself and Alice, I felt all cold inside, like I’d made a horrible mistake that I’d never be able to take back.
*
*
*

I ate lunch with Alice for the rest of the week, and the week after that, until Lily pulled me aside after math class. “Ella, you’re my best friend, and I love you a lot, and I want you to do whatever you want to do, but seriously, now that you’re sitting with Alice all the time, everyone thinks you’re a dyke. Hannah especially, and she’s your friend!”

“So what if I was, Lily?” I asked, then backtracked, trying to slow my racing heart. “S***, that’s not what I meant. I’m just tired of Hannah making the rules for me. I want to eat with Alice. She’s a cool person is all. She likes the same books as me, she tells good stories about Boston, and we have some classes together.”

Lily peered more closely at me. “There’s more to it than that, isn’t there?”

“No!”

Lily sighed. “Look, Ella, you’re my friend, and I personally don’t care if you’re gay. But I just want you to know that other people might. You might want to cool it with Alice a little, or you might be fine with everything going around. That’s fine. Eat with whoever you want to eat with.”

And as Lily walked away, I felt that familiar numbness enveloping me once again. I’d been given permission to do what I wanted to do, and yet it felt so wrong.
*
*
*

Regardless, Alice and I continued eating lunch together every day after that. I just couldn’t stay away from her, even though I knew better. I drank in every detail she revealed about herself and sat enraptured as she recounted lengthy anecdotes on a variety of topics. I took mental notes as she spoke, not wanting to miss a single detail, terrified that the information she’d revealed would somehow slip from my mind if I didn’t focus hard on each word.

She told me about Boston, about how for such a “big” city, it really wasn’t all that exciting. She told me about her little brother, whom she loved very much, even when he got her into trouble, which was often. She told me about her parents and the friends she’d left behind. We talked about books and movies and current events and everything and nothing, and it was amazing and wonderful and perfect.

And every day I promised myself that I would do everything in my power to maintain this friendship and keep my attraction a secret. Because I knew I could only have one or the other, and revealing my attraction would mean losing Alice, and I would rather have a platonic relationship with her than no relationship at all.

But my mouth seemed hell-bent on rebelling against my wishes. One day, moving too quickly for my brain to catch up with it, my mouth allowed the words that I’d forced myself every day not to say to slip out: “Alice, would you like to come over to my house after school?”

And she couldn’t even give me the easy way out, either. She had to beam at me, and make me melt inside, and she had to say, “Sure.”
*
*
*

We were in my room, playing a game of chess. Both of us were ardent and combative players, although to be honest, our skills were pretty evenly matched. When she finally put my king into checkmate after a game that had stretched nearly an hour, she grinned up at me with such an adorably triumphant expression on her face that I had to remind myself to breathe. She was in my bedroom, and she was too close to me, and I didn’t know if I could control myself any longer.

I turned away from her and pinned my eyes to the ground, not daring to move just in case my body took over and forced me into a situation I’d regret. My body was crying out for her, and I wanted to kiss her so badly, but I knew that was a really, really bad idea and I couldn’t, because no matter how perfect she was for me, she was not gay and it was not right for me to feel this way, at all, and I knew I shouldn’t be feeling this way, and I knew I couldn’t drag her into this sinful mess I’d somehow ended up in.

But then Alice’s hand was on my shoulder, and the only words I could manage were, “Please, don’t.”

Alice moved around so she was facing me and lowered her head until I was forced to look right into her eyes. “Ella, what’s wrong?” She reached out to take my hand this time, and I sucked in my breath at how right and how wrong and how strange and confusing and good and evil and just overwhelming the touch felt. Her hand in mine was everything I’d dreamed of and more. It fit perfectly into mine, like it was meant to be there.

“Please, Alice, no – you don’t – you don’t want to –”

“But I do,” she said, and suddenly her lips were on mine, and she was kissing me and I was kissing her and it felt so good and so wrong but so perfect, like this was everything I’d been waiting for and everything I’d ever wanted and exactly what it was supposed to feel like and everything a kiss was supposed to be.

I shoved her away, and she toppled backward, managing to catch herself on her hands before she hit the ground. “Ella –”

I started to sob, deep, racking sobs that shook my entire body. I couldn’t believe I had hurt her, not Alice, not this girl who I couldn’t help but love, even though I didn’t want to. “You – you have to leave –”

“I don’t understand. Did I – isn’t that what you wanted, though?”

“I – I did – that’s why – that’s why – you have to go, now, please. Please, Alice, just go.”

But then her arms were around me and she was hugging me and it felt so good, so right, and all the confusion just seemed to evaporate because this was where I was meant to be, here with Alice, and this was how things were supposed to feel. This was what I wanted to feel. Safe. Happy. Full.

“You’ve never done this before, have you?” Alice said softly.

I shook my head.

“But you want to.”

“No – yes – yes, but – no – not like –”

Alice nodded, a knowing look in her eyes. “You haven’t told anyone.”

“No, I can’t. I don’t know what would happen – I – I can’t.”

Alice nodded again, and she hugged me a little tighter, and it felt so good that I felt a few more tears slip down my cheeks. “I was scared to tell anyone, too,” she said. “So scared, it took me a whole year to work up the courage.”

I hardly dared to breathe as I voiced my next question. “When did you know?”

“I’ve felt it for as long as I can remember, but I didn’t know know until I was twelve.”

“Wow.”

“Yeah. And you know, I thought my parents would hate me, but they didn’t. They said they loved me no matter what and would always support me. And you know what, I feel so much better now. It’s like the burden’s been lifted. I know that sounds corny, but it’s true.”
I sighed. “My parents actually would hate me, though. They think it’s a sin. They’d kick me out.”
“Maybe, but I doubt it. Take it from someone who knows – the scenarios you’re imagining are probably a whole lot worse than the real thing will be.”
“Really?”
Alice took my hand and squeezed it. “Yeah, really.”
“I saw my dad reading the newspaper a few weeks ago, and there was an article about Ellen having Portia on her show, and he said that was disgusting, and my mom agreed.”
“But those are two very rich women who live all the way across the country. Your parents don’t know them and they don’t care about them and they don’t love them. Your parents know and care about and love you. You’ve told me so yourself.”
“I – maybe I – maybe I can try, but I – I don’t know –”
“Well, it doesn’t have to be right now. When you’re ready. But I guarantee you’ll feel a whole lot better afterward.”
And then Alice smiled at me, and I knew I would do anything, anything to keep that smile there, for me.
*
*
*
That evening, I knew what I had to do. It was the only thing I could do, now that I had Alice out there, waiting for me. I couldn’t keep her a secret. It wouldn’t be right. I loved her too much not to want to share her with others, especially now that I knew she loved me, too. I just hoped she was right about what their reaction would be.
I wasn’t sure if I was being brave, or stupid, or both, but love does that to you sometimes.
I waited until after dinner, when Mom and Dad were doing the dishes. I went up to them and stood for a good five minutes before I mustered up the strength to say, “Mom, Dad? Do you have a minute?”
“Of course, sweetie,” Mom said. “Come, let’s go sit in the family room.”
I followed her and Dad into the family room and sat down in my favourite armchair. I folded my hands in my lap in an attempt to stop them from shaking.
When Mom and Dad had both sat down on the couch across from the armchair, I took a deep breath. It was now or never. “Mom, Dad, I have something to tell you.”
“What is it, Ella?” Dad asked. “Is something wrong?”
I inhaled again, exhaled, and counted to three in my head. “No, no – nothing’s wrong. I just have something I want to talk to you about. I, um, I – I have a girlfriend.”
Mom’s eyebrows furrowed. “I don’t understand, honey. You have lots of girlfriends.”
“No – I mean – I mean I have a – a girlfriend.”
Mom and Dad exchanged glances. “Ella, I knew that girl has been a bad influence on you – Alice, I think her name is,” Dad said. “Hannah’s mother told me all about her, but you’re not a homosexual. I know you. You’re my daughter.”
“I am, Daddy,” I whispered, and that cold feeling overtook me again, and it was almost like I wasn’t in my body anymore, like I was floating above it, watching myself going through the motions with my parents. And all that was running through my head was, Alice was wrong Alice was wrong Alice was wrong. But how could Alice be wrong? Alice was never wrong.
“If that’s how you feel right now, I want you to know we still love you,” Mom said quickly. “We love you, and we will pray for you. I don’t agree with the decision you’re making, and I know you, Ella, and I know you like boys. But if this is how you feel at the moment, it doesn’t change anything. We love you and we’ll pray for you.” Mom gave me a watery smile. “And I’m sure we’ll all laugh about this conversation at your wedding. Your husband will find it quite amusing, I’m sure.”
I was floating, dizzy, not in my body, exactly, but not out of it, either. “You just don’t get it,” I said, and then the tears started, and I bolted from the room, racing up the stairs two at a time before slamming the door to my bedroom and throwing myself on my bed.
“Alice,” I said, over and over until the syllables of her name had blended together and didn’t even sound like anything anymore, just a hodgepodge of random letters. Why had I listened to her? How could I have been so stupid?
Because I love her, I reminded myself with a sudden clarity. I loved her, and she loved me, and that was reason enough. I needed to dry my eyes, so I could call her, and we could talk, and we could figure out a Plan B. There was always a Plan B.



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