Salem, my Heart
By angel 4ku
Their mouths meet. Warm breath intertwines with wet spit and quivering lips.
“Is this… okay?” Prudence asks between soft, shaky breaths. Prudence has only ever kissed Ryan, but she hopes this goes unnoticed. Ryan smiles back at her and answers with another gentle kiss. A soft moan escapes her, and she freezes. How embarrassing. Ryan seems to like it and continues with their act of passion. Is it an act of passion? Or is it just “making out”? Prudence never understands the difference when other girls talk about it, but their tone always makes it sound like you would know which one was which. Then again, the other girls never talk about what it would feel like to kiss Ryan. This feels passionate to her. Would it be weird to stop and ask if it is? She tries to stop her train of thought from spiraling and to focus on the present moment. That’s what all the articles tell her to do. And her therapist. Oh god, she doesn’t want to think about her therapist right now, even though she is mentally cataloging every second of time passing and every miniscule, possibly insignificant detail to recount at their next session. Regardless of whether they are being passionate or just making out, this is a revolutionary moment for Prudence and it’s worth searing into her memory.
Ryan leaves soon after their act and Prudence listens to the comforting sound of the cherry red Jeep driving away from her house. She loves that Jeep. And Ryan. Do you have permission to feel that way if you have known someone your whole life? Prudence and Ryan grew up together. Their mothers were best friends in high school who did everything together, including getting pregnant. It wasn’t on purpose, but Prudence was sort of happy it had worked out that way. She can’t imagine her life without Ryan in it, and after tonight she is relatively confident the feeling is mutual. Unless it wasn’t. They had kissed for a while and then gone back to homework before Ryan said it was time to head home. Was it awkward for both of them? Or revolutionary to the point of silence, interrupted only by the tapping of pencils and murmured questions about which formula to use on the next problem? Maybe Ryan was just trying to process the way that Prudence was. She decides to ask at school tomorrow so she can have some peace of mind. No one tells you how to navigate these kinds of things. They try, of course. Your parents and your friends and even your therapist. They tell you to be safe and to have fun. They tell you to have “healthy communication skills” and to follow your gut. But they don’t tell you what to do when your best friend is a girl.
Prudence begins her nighttime ritual as she relives the kiss in her head over and over again. It’s still so vivid. Ryan had come over so they could study for their calculus test in a few days. This isn’t out of the ordinary. Ryan isn’t the best at math, and she needs good grades to stay on the swim team. Prudence hates water, and Ryan always teases her about it. She offers to teach Prudence how to swim but being that close to each other in swimsuits makes Prudence feel… awkward. This awkwardness didn’t develop until a little over a year ago when they were changing at a friend’s pool party. Even though they had grown up together and gone to countless parties together and changed together hundreds of times, this time was different. Prudence had been looking for a towel in the bathroom and when she turned around Ryan was taking her shirt off to reveal a cherry red polka-dotted bikini top. It was Prudence’s favorite swimsuit of hers, but suddenly it felt too personal to watch Ryan change into it. How can it feel strange to see someone in a bathing suit when you’ve traded bras and helped each other learn how to shave your legs? Prudence doesn’t know, but she knows it was different after that day.
Prudence looks up into her reflection and realizes she has already washed her face and moisturized while she was lost in memory. She pulls her toothpaste out from the bathroom drawer and her fingers search out the familiar dent in the tube to squeeze it onto her toothbrush. After a few minutes of vigorous brushing, she reaches to put her toothbrush back in the holder and smiles. When they were kids, Prudence and Ryan had gone around Prudence’s house with her mother’s nail polish and painted everything they could reach. They were convinced they were artists after having seen Bob Ross on TV. The toothbrush holder was one of their first victims. Though it has chipped throughout the years, there are still crusted remnants of silver glitter and clementine orange swirled around it. Her mother has tried to buy her new ones to replace it, but Prudence insists that this one is perfect.
She glances at her reflection with her finger resting on the light switch. She likes to think that she grew into her features like her nose and bushy eyebrows which always seemed to swallow her face as a child. Now they seem delicate and balanced. They complement her striking blue eyes and dusty auburn hair. She occasionally wore makeup when she woke up in time to put it on. Makeup has always been more of Ryan’s thing. They had practiced on each other for hours when their moms had given them their first tubes of lipstick and mascara. It had made Prudence feel itchy and strange, but Ryan had said she finally felt like a woman. The lipstick color was cherry red, which is probably why Ryan wanted her first car to be the same color. It’s an important color for her. It means maturity. And freedom. It’s probably why it’s Prudence’s favorite color now.
She flicks off the light and rubs her eyes as she walks back to her bed. She reaches behind her bedside table to feel where to plug in her phone. After hearing the click of the charger meeting with the outlet, she pulls back the covers and crawls into bed. Finding her favorite position on her side, she pulls her stuffed dog into her chest and lets her eyes fall closed. Suddenly her room feels too quiet, like it’s waiting for her to say something or to acknowledge what had happened here just an hour before. She holds the dog tighter and waits for sleep to come. And waits. And waits. And waits. Nothing. Prudence sits up and runs her hands over her face before reaching for her phone. She can’t sleep without knowing how Ryan is feeling. They always send goodnight texts, so it shouldn’t be weird to send one now, right? Her fingers race across the keyboard as she types a quick message:
Hey, just wanted to make sure you got home okay.
I know we didn’t get much studying done tonight, so maybe we can try again tomorrow?
We can actually study
Or… not study…
Whatever you want to do
We can decide tomorrow at school
Eight messages? Seriously? Prudence scolds herself for sounding so desperate. It’s okay. They always talk like this in short, choppy messages like they only have the energy to send one thought at a time. It’s the way that girls text each other, right? Prudence waits a few minutes for a response. Ryan always texts her back quickly, but tonight there’s radio silence. That’s okay, she assures herself. There is a big swim meet coming up, so Ryan has been having to put in more hours at the pool to prepare. She’s probably exhausted. Flipping her phone over and rolling back on her side, she resumes her previous position with her stuffed animal. Her knees slide up to her chest as she lets herself drift away thinking of calculus, pool parties, and cherry red lipstick.
The sound of birds chirping jars Prudence out of a deep sleep. She shoots up and immediately reaches for her phone. Anticipation smolders within her gut as she turns on the screen. No new messages. She deflates. It’s already 7:00, so Ryan would have been done with her morning practice. There’s no reason why she shouldn’t have texted her back. They have been sending good night and good morning messages since they both got their phones on their 12thbirthday. Prudence tries not to think about it as she gets out of bed and prepares for school. They have first period together, so she figures they will talk then. After quickly doing her face and teeth and throwing on clothes, she ties her hair up with her lucky rubber band. Ryan always said she liked when Prudence wore her hair up, so she’s hoping it will bring her extra luck today. She grabs her backpack and phone before heading down to her car for the daily commute to school, though she has a feeling this will be the longest drive she’s ever taken.
She finds a parking spot close to the front door and smiles to herself. Her luck seems to be kicking in already. Her eyes scan the parking lot for the Jeep she hopes will be there. She finds it parked a few rows back and takes a calming breath. Why is she so nervous? They’ve had classes together every year since elementary school, so why does it suddenly feel like a first date? Prudence checks her phone one more time before sliding it into the side pocket of her backpack. No messages. She’s determined to not let this upset her. They were up late. Ryan is probably just tired from last night and had to rush to practice this morning. Everything will be fine once they meet up in first period. Everything is fine. With this mantra on repeat in her mind, Prudence makes her way to her first class of the day.
She reaches her desk with five minutes to spare. The seat next to her is empty, and the panic begins to set in. What if Prudence had freaked her out? Why would she have? Ryan was the one who had leaned in and kissed her first. Prudence had been trying to explain a problem to her, but Ryan was just smiling at her and giving her a weird look. She was wearing her cherry red lipstick and chewing nervously on her lip.
“What, do I have something on my face?” Prudence had asked jokingly.
“No. Not that. I just wanna try something. Come here.” Ryan had responded.
And then they were kissing. Or making out. Or being passionate. Prudence still hasn’t figured out which one it was, or if it could even be all three. She makes a mental note to ask her therapist that first. Pulling out her notebook and pencil bag, Prudence focuses on the practice problem written on the board. She’s writing the date in the top right-hand corner when Ryan suddenly plops down in the seat next to her. Prudence didn’t need to look up to know it was her, she could smell the chlorine mixed with her perfume. She keeps her eyes on her work, not wanting to be the first one to speak. She sent the text message, so the ball is in Ryan’s court now.
“Hey, do you know how to solve this? We didn’t really get to these problems last night.” Ryan whispers to her after a few minutes of Prudence silently working on the equation. She slides her work over without saying anything.
“Thanks.” Ryan smiles and begins copying down numbers and symbols. Prudence still isn’t making eye contact. The smell of chlorine is usually a comfort, but at this moment, it feels like a noose. She begins fidgeting with the ring on her middle finger, a nervous habit she’s had since she was a child. Ryan notices and nudges her gently on the shoulder.
“What’s up? Something wrong?”
“Nope, just tired is all. Long night.”
“No kidding. I was late to practice this morning and coach made sure to make me pay for it. I’m gonna be sore for weeks. I might pay you to rub my back for me later because I don’t think I could do it myself. Or maybe I could convince one of the guys on the team to do it for free.” Ryan grins at her and Prudence burns scarlet.
“Chill Prue, it was just a joke. Seriously, what’s up with you today?”
“Did you not get my texts last night?” Prudence asks hesitantly, her eyes returning to the work that Ryan slid back to her.
Ryan’s face drops a fraction of an inch.
“Uh, yeah, I got them. I was gonna talk to you about it today.”
“So… did you want to study again tonight? I had a really great time.” The words barely come out as a whisper. Prudence twists the ring and tells herself to not sound so awkward. She’s talking to her best friend. She’s still Ryan. Just talk to Ryan like she always talks to her. Ryan stiffens.
“Hey, uh, you know that was just a spur of the moment thing, right? It was just practice for when we kiss guys. It’s just something girls do… right?” Ryan speaks gently and slowly as if trying not to ***** a frightened animal.
Prudence pauses for an eternity.
“Duh, of course I know that. I just know you’re going to fail that test without me. You’re **** at math, you know that?” The words come out like a eulogy.
Ryan giggles, the cherry-red lipstick highlighting the dimples that form around her smile.
“Yes, we all know you’re the brains and I’m the beauty. I’ll come over tomorrow if that’s okay? Bryce asked me on a date tonight. We’re gonna go to that bar downtown after practice. He said his cousin knows the bouncer and can get us in without IDs.” She smiles and seems proud of herself.
“Sure. Sounds great.” The words are so quiet Prudence doesn’t even know if she says them out loud.
Prudence’s throat tightens, her misty eyes threatening to betray her as the teacher silences the class to begin the lesson.
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