The following is a YA short story about Hannah Black and Marina Ziegfield, black lesbians and childhood friends who must come to terms with internalized homophobia and their feelings for each other.
Derek Black and Richard Ziegfield were perhaps unlikely friends in 1990s suburbia, the former a blue voting, honest insurance agent, the latter a red voting, dicey divorce lawyer, but the connection between their two families was solid. Their only daughters, Hannah Black and Marina Ziegfield, would go on to form the bond of a lifetime, though it took a couple rough turns at the start. Despite this fact, they have always loved each other.
It’s an evening in January, 2016, when Marina realizes that she’s been in love with Hannah her whole life, and that’s why she’s such an asshole all the time. Marina holds her red cup full of Coke in the bay of her kitchen, watching as Hannah’s cousin’s friend, Yael Ashkenazi, relentlessly flirts with Hannah across the room.
Marina is overtly jealous, watching Yael take Hannah’s hand, admire her rings, and why won’t Marina just officially come out already? It’s not like anyone at school is convinced, the more she fails to turn off her Snapchat location when she’s out with a known lesbian from another school. But Marina’s dad is conservative and an alcoholic, the “fun” kind, or at least, it seemed fun when she was young, the do-it-all dancer he became when severely inebriated.
But the older Marina gets, the more she realizes that her dad is slowly letting things go, that there are broken parts of her childhood that she’s been blocking out. This year, the mortgage hasn’t been paid up for several months, for no reason other than that Richard Ziegfield loves staying up for four days straight, work-crazy manic, destroying things in his path.
Marina knows her mom started sleeping with someone else years ago to avoid the oncoming storm, that behind closed doors, they act like strangers who just happen to live together, so this is what Marina has also learned to do: avoid the truth and act like nothing gets to you.
Some things really get to her, though. Things like Yael’s not even that good looking, generous inches shorter than Hannah, and why is she wearing a suit jacket, a full on bow tie, and black dress shoes to a house party? With no socks? Didn’t Hannah’s cousin say she goes to Bridgerton, the most prestigious high school in Chapel Hill?
Some loaded preppy girl, as if Marina doesn’t sometimes secretly wish she was one of those, shouldn’t be swooping in on Hannah during this, their senior year. This was the year that Marina always thought, if she and Hannah dated, would be the start of the next two most important years of their lives: where are we going to college? Where are we moving to? If you pick the dream house, I get to pick the campus. We’re staying together, no matter what.
While Yael and Hannah’s cousin talk up ahead, Marina takes the chance to finally grab Hannah’s ear. Nudges her best friend in the side with an elbow, grinning, says,
“So why’s this chick dressed like she’s going to the goddamn opera, am I right?”
Hannah snorts, playfully swats Marina’s elbow, then says in her ear, low,
“I think she looks good.”
It takes two more months, of Hannah and Yael going on dates, of Marina trying to be nice to Hannah’s new good friend, but never really able to let the snark stay off her tongue, of Marina and Hannah continuing to stay close, though Hannah’s phone is off, often, when she’s with Yael, before Hannah and Yael are full on girlfriend and girlfriend, out and proud, all over Instagram.
Marina knows she didn’t shoot her shot hard enough, or ever, really. She could’ve been honest, sat Hannah down on the old tire swings where they’ve spent hours, some nights, in Hannah’s front yard, and told her how she felt, straight up, no bullshit. She could’ve confessed that she wants more than friendship, wants to love Hannah for the rest of her life, wants to be gay and out and proud, but she’s afraid her father will think it’s stupid, or a phase, or maybe even hate her, for political reasons.
She didn’t say any of it, because Hannah should be free. Free to choose what she wants and how she wants to spend her life, without having to feel guilty for Marina’s insecurities.
Marina knows the old adage: if you love something, let it go, if it’s meant to be, it will return.
She just doesn’t know if Hannah knows how much she loves her.
During elementary school, Hannah and Marina were so joined at the hip, people assumed they were sisters. They could talk and play games together for hours at their sleepovers, always staying up late beneath the glow-in-the-dark stars on Marina’s bedroom ceiling. Every morning and afternoon, they walked the short distance to school together, stopping midway at the park to climb the giant rocket ship slide. Sitting at the top of it, under the big red nose, they imagined themselves adventurers through space, promising that they would be best friends until death.
In school, Marina was always the tallest among girls, popular because she always had the coolest stuff, but Hannah was a tiny little thing, dressed however she wanted, which was “like a boy” to other kids, once they got old enough to be able to tell the difference.
Marina was always pushing boys and girls alike who tried to pick on Hannah, face first into sandboxes, handing out rubber burns on jungle gyms and bruises near the swing sets. Marina was sent to the principal for picking fights at recess on a monthly basis, and her parents grounded her in various ways that occasionally involved a little slapping around from her mom, but Marina never seemed to understand what she’d done wrong.
Her rationale was always, “But Mom, they were messing with Hannah. Nobody messes with the Blacks.”
When Richard and Robin Ziegfield saw the way that Marina would march determinedly around the house, that same day, rummaging through the cupboards for handfuls of band-aids, informing them that she was going to the Black house to deliver them, they couldn’t stay angry with her for long. They valued loyalty, even if it was hard won.
The first year of middle school marked a subtle change in Hannah and Marina’s friendship. Hannah became more aware that she wasn’t a “normal girl,” as she recalled getting none of those stupid little Valentines from boys as meanwhile Marina got tons, and tried hard not to compare herself. More and more, Hannah and Marina were acquiring different friends, or Marina was quickly gaining friends from sports while Hannah was swiftly losing them.
They still saw each other around, in the halls, but something unspoken shook between them when it became clear that their groups of friends were at odds.
When Hannah wasn’t busy with homework or piano, and when Marina wasn’t busy with sports or piano, they hung out in the early evenings, at either house: Marina with her lanky legs crossed as she smacked at an Xbox controller and Hannah reminding Marina that the original BioShock was better. They spent less time talking about honest things than usual, and Hannah felt a little lonely sometimes, but she’d never say so. If Marina felt like she missed the days when things weren’t sort of awkward like this, she’d never say it either.
In seventh grade, Marina was knighted into the top tier of popular by one Justine James, a wealthy basketball player who’d transferred from another district. Justine was suave, good looking, and a bully who liked to keep a clan of fellow jock sycophants around her at all times. Her actual charm? She was always just giving them things, her dad buying her extras of all the latest electronics, telling his daugther to just give them away, but only to the chosen few.
The older Marina got, the more she realized that things like that were just a power grab, a cheap buy in. Marina didn’t feel like she was being herself, young enough to feel bad every time she joined or was a bystander to Justine’s bullying of others, but she pretended to like it, anyway. If it meant that no one was ever going to bother her, meant that she’d have cool friends and be “respected,” then she’d just go along with it. Her mom always said that a woman’s reputation was everything.
Hannah began notably eschewing Marina’s company once Justine came too far into the picture. They still saw each other when their parents got together for dinner on weekends, but the dynamic changed. They barely talked, barely had anything to say that wasn’t about Hannah’s growing concerns for her own safety re: bullies.
Marina tried to reassure her that anyone could be doing it, that she’d try to find out and set things straight, but Justine and the clan teased her ruthlessly for caring, accused her of, in Justine’s words, “supporting dykery.”
On the low, Marina couldn’t ask enough people who was doing it, in classes over shoulders, trying to find a name. But most simply didn’t care that Hannah was getting threatening notes in her locker, or simply had no information.
One Monday afternoon, Marina was at her locker, down the hall some yards from Hannah’s. Justine and four of the clan were waiting beside her, for her to finish getting her books for sixth period. Hannah was, meanwhile, picking at her in the mirror on her locker door, seemingly oblivious to the things that were being said about her tomboy outfit by passersby.
Then, sudden, Justine was saying, “I will, I will, let’s go, let’s go,” and the rest of the girls were pulling shuffling behind their “leader,” approaching Hannah at her locker, checking over their shoulders for any teachers in the hallway.
Marina’s stomach twisted, watching them surround Hannah in a dooming crescent moon, crossing their arms. They’d never just swarmed Hannah like that before, before it was only words, like everyone else, it was just—
Marina’s nerves propelled her forward, up to the rim of the semi-circle, where she found Justine drawing in close to Hannah’s face, looking down her sharp nose. Marina’s anger flared up, sweat breaking out across her skin, her heart in her throat, and she couldn’t believe, couldn’t process enough to stop what was happening so rapidly—
“I don’t have lunch money, my dad packed a sandwich,” Hannah recited, as Justine drew her hand around the ridge of Hannah’s polo shirt collar.
“Listen, Black,” Justine said, grinning, “I just wanted to do you a courtesy and let you know that we’re getting tired of you walking around here looking like a big, fat lesbian all the time. I mean, what is this?”
Justine hooked her finger through the chain around Hannah’s neck, which had a beetle as a pendant, and Hannah winced and shut her eyes as Justine yanked it off, breaking the chain and tossing it onto the tile. The necklace shattered, and the other girls laughed.
Other people in the hallway were starting to stare at what was going on, murmuring, not wanting to intervene on the king of seventh grade.
“What do you want?” Hannah spat.
“You’re gonna come with us, alright?” Justine said, turning to look at each of the girls again as they checked for any teachers, then nodded their heads in agreement.
Marina panicked. “Justine, what the—“
“We’re gonna go out back, teach you a lesson about looking like such a freak.”
And so there they were.
Marina had followed them, yelling, “Hey, hey!” as they moved quickly through the crowded halls, drawing attention to the Justine with Hannah’s shirt collar clenched in her knuckles. They walked right out of school, into the parking lot. A small crowd of brownnosers slowly followed the movement out to the dumpsters on the east end, where teachers were nowhere to be found for pockets of time, and lunch time fights could and often did transpire.
Marina ran up to them just as Justine and two of her friends picked Hannah up and swung her into the side of the dumpster, taking turns kicking Hannah in the gut and face as she writhed on the floor.
Marina was paralyzed by the growing scene of violence, like never before, until it snapped in her, that this was Hannah, that she vowed to never let anyone hurt her, so there she was barreling into Justine, hard, pushing her off of Hannah and onto the ground as the other girls grabbed the neck of Marina’s blouse, tearing at it apart.
Mrs. Downs, the Spanish teacher, and Coach Rogers, the football coach, were soon running onto the scene, the coach’s voice ferocious as she told Justine’s clan, Marina included, to see the principal immediately.
Marina craned her bleeding neck to look back at Hannah, black eyed and being tended to by Mrs. Downs, as Coach Rogers swiftly pushed her back towards campus.
That night, a frustrated Derek Black reminded her daughter that it was Monday Night Football over at the Ziegfields, if she felt up to it. Hannah winced at the thought, and the pain she was still in.
Derek had been in a grim mood ever since he’d gotten the phone call. He’d gone into a rage at the sight of his daughter’s injuries, calling the administration and demanding that something finally be done about the bullying. Justine was suspended for two weeks, though not expelled. Currently, Derek was telling Hannah that going over to Marina’s house tonight might make her feel better.
To which Hannah just nodded her head, trying not to cry. The principal hadn’t mentioned Marina’s involvement, but all Hannah could see in her mind’s eye was Marina being there for it, just watching them toss her necklace to the floor.
Hannah, Derek and Jolene Black walked into the Ziegfield’s open garage doors as Richard, Robin and Marina came out to greet them, as was their tradition.
“Oh, Hannah,” said Robin, tsk-ing and gently touching the girl’s bruised face. “We heard what happened.”
As Hannah smiled, faint, and shook her head,don’t worry, Marina felt herself go cold. Hannah must not have told her parents the whole story. “It’s not that bad.”
“Like hell it’s ‘not that bad,’” said Derek in protest. “These kids were picking on Hannah for months, coming up to my job. Beat her and there were no teachers in sight.”
“Luckily our kid here tried to pull ‘em off.” Richard drank the rest of the wine in his glass. “Do they not have, like, some kind of bully patrol or security at that school?” He looked to Marina.
Marina offered, “Uh, I don’t know.”
“All I know is,” Derek said, “I gave that school board a piece of my mind.”
“And if you don’t stop rehashing every detail,” Jolene said, hand on her husband’s chest, “your blood pressure’s gonna head through this roof.”
“So let’s watch the game,” Richard said, corralling the couple towards the door to the house, which meant that he needed a refill on booze, and that conversations too adult were going to be occurring in front of the big screen.
Marina and Hannah looked at each other in silence, but only for a moment.
“Tire swings.” Hannah decided that she was not in the mood for pleasantries. she needed to know why her former best friend hadn’t swooped in sooner. “Now.”
They walked out of the garage doors, over the lawn to Hannah’s yard. The two aged tire swings gently swayed in the breeze, in wait for them.
“Why did you let Justine and her friends beat me up?”
The question burned in the space between them.
“I didn’t.” Marina’s voice broke. “I didn’t know what they were gonna do, and then I was—I choked. I’m so sorry.”
Hannah didn’t respond, staring up at the sky.
“Why didn’t you tell your dad I was there?” Marina asked. “Like the whole time?”
Hannah kept her gaze skyward, ignoring this, and God, Marina thought, Hannah’s eyes were so dark, the violet bruises dramatic around her eyelids. Marina felt so guilty, she could be sick.
“Look,” Hannah said, then.
She rolled up her shirt sleeve to her elbow, showing Marina a long, gnarled trail of bruises that stretched across the whole of her arm, dried over with flaky skin.
“Shit,” Marina announced.
“From when they threw me,” Hannah explained. “My dad saw it, and my eyes, and I swore she was going to get the hunting rifle from the wall. Luckily, Mother has it locked. Hid the key.”
Marina couldn’t let Justine get away with this. Why did she even care about her own reputation this much? Was her mom even right about that? She should’ve been the one they beat.
“It’s because everyone thinks I’m gay, isn’t it?”
Marina startled at this. her heartbeat raced.
“No. I mean. Maybe. Are you?”
Hannah’s eyes began to well up.
She got down from her tire swing, carefully, rejecting Marina’s offer for help.
“Tell my parents I went to rest,” Hannah said. “I’m tired.”
The seventh grade spring formal dance was months later, complete with a disco ball, a punch bowl, and girls and boys on either halves of the musty gym. Hannah was sitting at a table with two girls from her history class, in a matching powder blue shirt and dress pants, picking at her hangnails, listening to them go on about what boys they wished they had the courage to dance with.
Eventually, the DJ played a crowd favorite, which got some of the girls and most of boys at least on the dance floor, though still not mingling. The room was busier, though, distracted, and that was when Hannah noticed Marina was coming to her table, alone, dressed in a ruffled pink dress.
“Hey,” Marina said.
“Hello.” Hannah glanced down at the cup of punch in her hands, swirling it around. “Having fun?”
“Neither am I,” Hannah said. “And it seriously smells like something died in here.” She glanced around disdainfully. “Has nobody in this town heard of deodorant?”
Marina glanced around too, chuckled in solidarity.
“Aren’t you going to get in trouble with your cool friends for talking to Lesbian Hannah?” Hannah asked.
Marina tensed up, then, gave the gym another cursory glance. Nobody was really watching them, no. Justine and them, with whom Marina had been on thin ice, anyway, were rough housing on the floor, pushing each other around in a mosh pit.
Marina had mostly stopped speaking to them after the incident, except for at basketball practice, and was only not retaliating physically because she had a vague concept of a college, now, didn’t want a trip to juvie for fucking Justine up on her record. She had a few new friends from student government now, anyway.
A blush began to spread to the tips of Marina’s ears, when she looked back down into Hannah’s big eyes.
“I’m not really in with Justine and them anymore.”
“Good for you.”
The song changed again, to “It’s Getting Hot In Here” by Nelly, and Marina really did think it was getting hot in there, what with the way her palms and forehead were so sweaty all of a sudden. Hannah drank from her punch to try and ease the silence, and then Marina was saying something.
“When Justine, and everyone, when they call you all those names, it’s just rumors and stupid stuff, you know.” Marina coughed. “I just wanted to let you know that I’ve been telling people, that the rumors aren’t true.”
Hannah bit her lip.
“Okay. Except they are.”
Marina’s mind flooded, then, with thoughts about what that meant. It flooded with those thoughts she’d been having, too, when she saw photos of women in magazines, and those thoughts she had about Hannah’s face, the guilty ones.
Was Hannah really saying that she had dark times like those, too?
Marina felt someone touch her shoulder: Aaron, the student body president, asking her to dance.
“Uh, yeah,” she agreed, “sure. No problem.”
Hannah watched them go, talking Marina’s “oh” as her answer.
After the dance, Marina and Hannah wouldn’t talk besides “hello” and “how are you?” for the rest of the school year, or much of the next. At the start of their eighth grade year, Mr. Ziegfield got a significant pay raise at a job with another firm, so Mr. and Mrs. Ziegfield were constantly having classy get togethers with Mr. Ziegfield’s new associates, and their kids, in lieu of small gatherings with Derek, Jolene, and Hannah.
Meanwhile, a recent heated Presidential election began to separate Derek and Richard, Robin and Jolene in a way that would never really be fixed, as Richard became more and more politically conservative. Derek was having to work even harder to keep his insurance agents paid, since the economy had plummeted in 2007, still staggered to rise again. They were simply too at odds, their family values too differed.
Gradually, Hannah and Marina almost never saw each other outside of school, passing each other by with nothing but an awkward smile, sometimes. That is, until a couple days after eighth grade graduation, when Marina was told by her parents that she got into Bridgewood Academy, a private high school where most kids with money in their district went instead of the public. Her parents said she could choose which school she wanted to attend, think about it over the next few days. Many days were spent by her trying to imagine some obvious, happy future, but it occurred that that future didn’t seem right without Hannah in it.
It was all nostalgia, broken comfort of her childhood that she couldn’t give up.
The first week of summer, Marina sat with her mom in their remodeled kitchen, and Robin had her phone out to finalize the guest list for Marina’s graduation party. At one point, Mrs. Ziegfield noticed that her son seemed bored with the prospect of a grand scale shindig in her honor, so she asked her, out of curiosity.
“Did you want to invite Hannah to your party?”
Marina’s stomach turned.
“Dunno,” she said. “Pretty sure hates me now or something.”
“I know you two don’t talk much anymore,” Robin said, “but you were a much nicer kid when she was around. I can tell you don’t like the Jeffersons or the Greysons very much. You also can’t tell Mrs. Greyson that her wig looks like a hairball, anymore, no matter how true that might be. Anyway, if you go to this new school, and if Derek’s office closes, as it’s looking like, you may not see Hannah for a long time. And I know your father and I aren’t really speaking to the Blacks, for our reasons. But you kids don’t let our crap be your crap. Alright?”
Marina was surprised at her sudden expression of this. The thought of Hannah at her party made her uncomfortable, too.
“Nobody likes Hannah,” Marina blurted. “I mean,” she corrected herself, trying to ignore the anger she still felt deep in her heart when Hannah walked across the stage to get her diploma, and most of the other graduates failed to clap for her. “If she shows up, my ‘friends’ will just ignore her, or worse, say rude shit behind her back.”
“Sorry. Anyway, I don’t want to do that to her. she doesn’t deserve it.”
“Well, why don’t you have a separate get together? With just her. Celebrate your graduation.”
Marina felt her face growing hot.
“No. That’s awkward.”
“Only awkward if you make it awkward. We were planning on inviting Derek and Jolene here in the next couple weeks. Even if they think we’re fascists for the way we vote, that doesn’t mean we can’t have dinner together. See if she’ll come, too.”
Two weeks later, post Hannah-less graduation party, it took Marina all the fourteen-year-old courage she could muster to cross the yard and knock on the Black’s door for the first time in over a year, shaky hands in her pockets and sweat beading on her forehead as she waited for it to open.
When Derek opened up and found Marina Ziegfield on the doorstep, nervous and antsy like a boy on his first date, he looked amused.
“Marina,” was all he said.
Derek always did look more intimidating than usual in his suit from work. Marina realized then that Derek may not like her so much, anymore, ever since she stopped being friends with Hannah.
“Hi,” Marina said. “Is Hannah home?”
Hannah, who was on the couch in the living room and could hear the exchange, felt a shiver run down her spine.
“Uh, yeah,” Derek said. “Hannah!”
Hannah got up from the couch, came to the open door. Marina stared at Hannah for a moment without saying anything.
“Hello,” Hannah announced.
“Hi. Um.” Marina faltered, light headed. “I know this is kind of sudden, but. I was wondering if you wanted to come to my house.”
Hannah raised an eyebrow.
“Whenever. Tomorrow, next week, or right now, if you’re not busy.”
Hannah hesitated. What was this?
“I suppose I’m not doing anything too important at the moment,” she said. “I was going to give myself a mud mask for this stupid acne, but if me going to your house is such a dire need for you, that can wait.”
“Okay.” Marina cleared her throat. “Uh. Let’s go.”
They walked across their conjoined lawns, and Marina clicked the garage doors open with her opener. The garage was becoming increasingly full of furniture and other antiques that were going to be traded and sold. Marina left the doors open, stopping before entering it, and then looked back at Hannah.
“Nevermind,” she said. Richard was probably drunk, already. “Tire swings?”
Hannah’s eyes went a little wide.
They crossed back over to Hannah’s lawn. Their legs were becoming much too long to try and stay separated on the tires between the branches. Still, Marina tried not to let their knees knock.
“Are you excited about high school?” Marina said.
Hannah hesitated again.
“Sure. Are you?”
“Have to decide if I wanna go public or private.”
“My mom told me. Saw it on your mom’s Facebook.”
More awkward silence, then, in which the two girls acknowledged each other physically. Marina was becoming a distraction, Hannah thought, when had she gotten so beautiful? Somehow, this was the same little shithead she used to see muddy and running around in her underwear through sprinklers when they were six. Her friend was aging like fine wine, as Hannah always heard her mother say. Even if Hannah was still angry, she could admit that fact.
And Marina felt the similarly about Hannah, though much less resentfully. Hannah was growing, too, had turned into this slender little thing with a firm, masculine jawline so sharp it could kill. She still had acne, but Marina couldn’t take her eyes off Hannah, lately, when she could stare from a broken distance.
“You’re going to private school,” Hannah said, blushing just so. “You can say it.”
“I don’t wanna go to private school.”
The “I want be with you” is implied, or so Marina hopes.
“Won’t all your friends be there? Justine, Aaron, all your friends from your graduation party?”
“Yeah, but I hate them. Fake, rich, Instagram obsessed. I don’t care if I never have to see them again. They get really fucking annoying.”
Hannah looked surprised, at that, but didn’t say anything.
“Hannah,” Marina said.
As Hannah waited for the rest, Marina felt so nervous that she had to fight the urge to jump off the swing and run. Her voice shook.
“I just wanted to tell you that I’m sorry.”
Hannah tried not to let her poker face break.
“What do you mean?”
“We used to be—you know how it was. I used to see you every day, and sit here with you, and it didn’t matter what other people said, or that people think you’re gay and I’m straight. I should’ve never been friends with Justine instead of you. I should’ve never doubted what you said. I’m not even going to see any of them ever again, and you were my friend first. My best friend, before. My person. I don’t want things to be weird anymore.”
Against her own best wishes, Hannah started to tear up.
“I was wondering if you wanted to come to dinner, when your dad comes, next week,” Marina said, watching Hannah carefully, hoping that what she was saying was okay. “And I wanted to know if you wanted to hang out again, during the summer. Just you and me. Like before.”
The tears began to roll down Hannah’s cheeks, then. she wiped them quickly, embarrassed.
“I still really care about you, Marina. A lot.”
Marina felt chills all over her body, watching Hannah cry. This wasn’t supposed to be happening, Marina should’ve never let her stupid ideas of womanhood come between them, to the point that Hannah was so hurt. She was supposed to be protecting Hannah, should’ve fixed this all before she lost her best friend for good.
“But we’re not friends anymore,” Hannah continued. “We haven’t really been since sixth grade.”
Marina felt her mouth going dry.
“I still want us to be friends—“
“I feel like that’s not true. My mom and dad don’t even feel like that’s true. You know they told me that your parents never call anymore? Except this random invitation to dinner out of nowhere, for the first time in over a year, not even on my mom’s birthday last month. My dad says that it’s because you guys feel like you’re so much better than us, ever since your dad got that stuck up job.”
“What the hell?” For some reason, that was sore. “That’s not what we think, Hannah.”
“But that’s what it feels like,” Hannah argued. “I feel like I care about you, but you don’t care about me back. You never show it. And that really, really sucks. If you had been me, when we started middle school, I would’ve been there for you. Proudly so. You didn’t do that for me. And when I go to high school next year, I just want a fresh start. I just want to be myself, and out, without all of these people judging me and beating me up and making me feel like I’m worthless for who I am. And I know that you didn’t ever kick me, or leave weird notes, or call me a dyke to my face, but you were a part of the bullying. By standing there and doing nothing, you were a part of making me feel awful and alone and like everyone hated me.”
“I didn’t mean to do that to you, Hannah,” Marina pleaded. “I really am sorry—“
“But you did,” Hannah finished. “You did do it. And maybe I just should forgive you for that, because I’ve known you forever, and I love you, but I can’t.”
They sat in in silence, because the lump in Marina’s throat forbid her from speaking. She felt like Hannah was sand slipping between her fingers.
“I’m gonna go now,” Hannah announced, then, sniffling, climbing off the swing. “Maybe I’ll come to dinner, with my dad next week. But I really don’t think so.”
Suffice to say, after that, Marina felt miserable. she had to put in her mind that even with her decision to stay at public school, she might just have to watch Hannah ignore her the next four years. She might have to come out to herself, she is gay, too, and only wonder if she and Hannah could’ve been together.
Turned out, though, that Hannah did show up for dinner. Sat across from Marina, somber but smiling, and after the meal, at which Richard and Derek apologized, too, promised to be better neighbors, Hannah took Marina out to the Ziegfield’s garage and just hugged her. They held each other for a long time.
Hannah Black and Yael Ashkenazi spent the rest of their senior year of high school as a couple, despite Marina’s constant, playful annoyance at Hannah’s new affair. This April, they’re set to go to Hannah and Marina’s senior prom together, dressed as “the most adorable lesbian couple on earth,” according to the fans of theirs on Yael’s Instagram.
Marina is going stag, planning on sticking with Elliot Jameson, her only guy friend who’s also choosing to go dateless. Just an hour before the big event, however, Marina elects to stay home. It’ll hurt too much, seeing what she missed out on.
After prom, Hannah and Yael are supposed to stay in a hotel room above the grand lobby where the dance is taking place. Yael’s parents’ credit card paid for the whole soiree, a deluxe suite. Hannah knows losing her virginity on prom night with rose petals beneath her is a total cliché and all, but she feels like it’s the time, especially before college starts. Hannah and Yael haven’t applied to the same schools, like Hannah and Marina have, and Hannah doesn’t know how distance will fare with Yael if they don’t cross this emotional boundary soon.
Yael, who bought the hotel room with no refund option, still changes her mind. She drives Hannah home around midnight, quoting chivalry, wanting to wait, as her reason.
“I’m sorry,” Yael says, grace still in her voice, “I just feel like it’s not right yet. I feel like. I’m still waiting for the right person.”
“So, I’m not the right person?” Hannah says.
“I don’t know. You’re amazing, Hannah, you really are. I just need more time.”
When they pull up in front of Hannah’s house, in Yael’s fancy black Mercedes, Hannah knows that this isn’t a surprise to her. As much as she’d loved the idea of getting to be with Yael, as much as she’s fancied this relationship romantic perfection, it’s just that: a perfect surface. Yael is a model girlfriend, just the model. Hannah loves her, but she’s bored.
Yael quizzically glances out of the car’s passenger window.
“Is that Marina on one of your tire swings?”
Yes, there Marina is, in the sleek, black gown that she would’ve worn to prom, had she gone, a thin bottle of scotch in her right hand as she swings. Hannah could laugh at her best friend’s ridiculousness, but she’s thought about it a lot: the fact that Marina doesn’t seriously date anyone, ever, the fact that she’s always hanging around trying to find out some sketchy information out about Yael, something that will show Hannah that she really isn’t so perfect.
The fact that Marina is a beautiful girl, almost woman, that Hannah has known, watched grow and stumble for eighteen years.
The fact that Marina is still the funniest, most exciting, and most enduring person Hannah gets to know.
Marina’s love has always been there, weakened, strong, flawed, for worse, for better. These years of mending past transgressions across tire swings have brought them far.
Hannah walks up to Marina’s swing, feeling a light drizzle start to form above them.
“So,” Marina says, swinging herself side to side. “How was it?”
Hannah shrugs. “I’m home early, aren’t I?”
Marina offers Hannah the bottle of scotch with a wry smile. Hannah takes a swig, makes a face, then comes closer to the tire swing, her body burning. Marina takes the bottle back as Hannah fumbles her hands over the swing’s ropes, gently pushing and pulling. Marina drinks once more, watching Hannah’s eyelashes flutter as she, rather unabashedly, stares at Marina’s waist in that gown, flush creeping up her neck.
“It was fun,” Hannah admits then, sighing. “Everyone had a good night, even the teachers. Yael was sweet. A perfect gentleman.”
“But that’s not what you want.” Marina says it the way she always does, though she doesn’t know that this time, it’s about to mean something to Hannah.
When Hannah hesitates, Marina swallows hard.
“Right?” Marina says.
Hannah pulls the swing, and Marina, closer.
“Tell me,” Hannah whispers, “what do I want?”
Hannah doesn’t let go of the swing.
“How am I supposed to know that?”
Marina unwraps Hannah’s hands from the tire’s strings so that she can climb down.
“Come on,” Marina says. “Let’s go.”
They walk to the old park they used to cross on their way to grade school, underneath the metal roof of their trusted rocket slide. Drizzle turns to rain plummeting down on the red nose as Marina and Hannah stand beneath it, fire between them.
“Why here?” Hannah says, breathless.
“So I can do this.”
Marina kisses Hannah, holding her close.
They run back to the lawn between their houses, hand in hand, becoming drenched from the rain above. They run inside Marina’s house, upstairs, since her parents are gone, and drop themselves to Marina’s bed; kissing, knowing each other more intimately than ever before, finally crossing that last boundary towards the love they always knew they could have.
After, Hannah plays with the loose skin of Marina’s knuckles, chuckling soft.
“What took us so long?” she wonders.
Marina kisses Hannah’s forehead, again and again, smiling into it.
“But there’s no way in hell I’m letting you go this time.”