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The Science of Art

by eth

(mirrors http://s2b2.livejournal.com/331509.html)

Rita squinted, raising a hand to block the sun out of her eyes. She peered over the balcony’s edge. It was practically scorching, but at least they had a decent view; she could probably pinpoint the exact location of every Downtown Los Angeles locale if she tried. LA Live, Union Station, the Walt Disney Concert Hall: all familiar sights tucked away in neat, familiar little corners, the city of her childhood packed in planned boxes. Signs of her life, signs of home.

The girl next to her, however, was staring ahead with wide-eyed awe.

“Holy crap.”

Kai’s shoulder-length dark hair took a slightly brown tint in the light, and a small smile spread across her sharp features as she spoke.

“This city is so cool. I mean,” she said, turning to face Rita, “I knew that already, but every time I get a bird’s-eye view I realize how organized it is. Hong Kong’s got nothing on this.”

Rita chuckled. She placed a hand on her best friend’s back.

“Well, I’m going to have to visit you there some day so you can show me the difference. Enough admiring the view though,” she said, reaching over and giving Kai a little punch on the shoulder, “We came here to do our project. You brought our centerpiece, didn’t you?”

Kai rolled her eyes, reaching into her Kate Spade purse and rummaging around.

“Hold on to these for a sec,” she muttered, handing Rita a plain blue wallet, then a Nintendo 3DS, and then a tube of Chapstick with its label rubbed off. A few seconds later, she emerged from her bag with their prized possession. Now it was Rita’s turn to beam. Aha, yes.

Here it was, their brand-new RC toy helicopter. It wasn’t just any old helicopter, though: none of that boring mainstream crap. No, the propellers spun atop a brick of plastic shaped like a certain four-letter swear word– quite literally, a flying “fuck”. Kai handed Rita the helicopter, pulling out the remote control after it.

“Are we,” she asked, a frown crossing her brow, “actually going to do this?”

Rita laughed, grabbing the helicopter and laying it on the edge of the balcony. “Come on Kai. The professors are going to lap this up. It’s going to be—”

“A postmodern criticism of capitalism and the forces behind it, with the knowledge that we too have to fall victim to the system,” Kai sighed. “That sounds good when I put it like that, but what if they see through it? I just wanted an excuse to justify spending money on this helicopter, and you made it happen.”

“More like we made it happen. The flying fuck video was my idea, but the thesis behind it was all yours. That’s why I don’t like working with anyone else.” Rita wrapped an arm around Kai’s shoulder, giving her a tight squeeze. Kai reached over and slapped Rita’s hand away, though there was no denying the mischievous glint in her eye. Kai reached behind the remote control and toggled the switch to “on”.

“Kai Chang, professional liar, sweet-talking her way into the LinkedIn office so we can fly a swear word off their balcony. I wouldn’t be surprised if you’d been dreaming of this your whole life.” Kai blew a stray strand of hair out of her face, tucking it behind her ear. Rita snorted, rolling her eyes. She removed the camera bag from her shoulder and set it on the ground, kneeling down to unzip it.

“Yes, you’re everything I’ve been looking for, Little Miss Dream Come True. Come on, let’s get to work.”

Kai nodded in agreement. Rita pulled out the camcorder they borrowed from the school’s audiovisual department, noting the model and make on the faded label. This was certainly some expensive equipment.

“You know what? I’ll do the filming and you do the flying. The last thing I want is for you to drop this baby and for us to have to pay our school back.”

Kai laughed. “Rude. But not wrong.” Kai picked up the flying fuck helicopter from where it lay next to her friend, setting it on the balcony ledge. “Remember to get a shot—”

“Of the office logo—”

“Then of me flying the helicopter off the ledge.”

“Bingo.” Rita nodded, pushing a button to turn the camera on. She spent a few seconds fiddling with the knobs on the side, toying with the settings. Peering through the camcorder’s hole, she stood up, angling the shot upwards and then focusing it at Kai, centering her in the middle of the shot. “Look up! Say cheese.”

She was greeted with Kai’s middle finger. Rita gave her a thumbs-up.

“Okay. Ready whenever you are.”

Kai returned the thumbs-up with one of her own, and a shared nod indicated that they were both ready. Rita hit the “record” button, turning around to get the LinkedIn corporate logo in the shot. The light blue of the logo and the shining, bright office walls almost seemed to be mocking the two art majors and their inevitable futures as starving artists. She snickered at the thought before panning around to face Kai.

“Go.”

Completely on cue, Kai slammed the “on” button, sending the helicopter whizzing off the balcony. She had to stifle a laugh as Kai made it circle around several times, and Rita zoomed in on the stark, block-lettered “FUCK” for a split second before Kai allowed it to spin into the distance. She peered through the camera lens, watching it hover a few feet away, and as soon as it was far enough to look like it was going to take a long, hard journey, she turned the camera off.

“Cut! Bring it home.”

“Got it,” Kai muttered, slowly navigating the helicopter back. Rita couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride swelling within her as her best friend flew the copter back on the ledge, landing next to her all too perfectly.

Rita grinned.

“That was flawless. The professors are going to love it.” She grinned. “Trust me. There’s a formula that gets you good grades when it comes to abstract art. It’s really easy: it’s a science.”

Kai picked the helicopter up from where it lay, stuffing it back into her purse.

“Okay, Little Miss Genius. I’m not going to fight you on that one. So,” she asked, “Where do we go to now, my trusted partner? Your place or mine?”

“We live in the same place, moron. Let’s go home.”

***

They’d met in a sequential art class but didn’t speak for weeks.

Not that Rita hadn’t noticed Kai from the get-go. It was hard not to, with her distinct accent and confident tone when she raised her hand in class, eyes steeled with determination. Rita had raised a brow when Kai mentioned Grumpy Cat in the midst of a question about cultural memes and another when Kai’s opinion of racist typecasting was to “drop it like it’s hot”. But Kai was always surrounded by people, it seemed, crowded around male admirers and flocks of friends.

Rita would have to corner her alone.

She got her chance during a studio session, when they were supposed to be working on comics about their lives.Their professor had instructed them to use traditional media, which suited Rita just fine. She used oil paints and ink so much that they often stained her clothes, and she walked around with smudges of charcoal on her face when she forgot to check a mirror before leaving class. Mapping out a comic about her parents’ reconciling traditional Indian values with a lesbian daughter hadn’t taken her too long. She was soon free to roam around the studio and snoop on her classmates’ work, glancing across hunched-over shoulders and concentrated frowns.

Kai was sitting in a corner at the side of the studio, pencils and markers sprawled across her workplace. Rita immediately made a beeline to where she was sitting, taking the empty stool next to her and clearing her throat.

“Hi, I’m Rita. Nice to meet you. Can I take a look at what you’re doing?”

Kai glanced nervously at Rita, then back at her drawing. This was a far cry from the girl who’d spoken so gracefully, who seemed so at home when discussing art styles and forms and the theories they’d all learned in books. Kai bit her lip.

“It’s not very good. I’m actually more used to doing digital art so working without a tablet’s been a little rough. Ah, by the way, my name is K—”

Rita quickly waved her off, setting the pencil on Kai’s table. “You don’t have to introduce yourself,” she said. “You talk so much in class that everyone knows your name, and your love of memes.”

Kai laughed, covering her mouth with her hands. Her shoulders slumped and Rita could see the tension in her back disappear, and Kai picked up her sketchbook, handing it over to Rita with a small smile. “Don’t expect too much.” Rita flipped through the pages, noting figure drawings and what looked like it was probably fan art from a video game, before settling on what appeared to be comic panels.

“Dude, I don’t know what you’re talking about. This is great.”

Either Kai hadn’t been listening to instructions, or she really was trying to overachieve. Whatever it was, her “initial thumbnails” apparently consisted of detailed, intricate pencil drawings in every panel, of a tight, cramped city with skyscrapers and neon signs in Chinese. The next pages illustrated a penthouse apartment filled to the brim with people, a large living space with rooms and rooms of cousins and uncles and aunts. Then there was no more. Rita raised an eyebrow.

“Wait. You… Is it normal to live with that many people at once?”

Kai nodded. “Yeah. I grew up in a house full of relatives. It’s less common now, but most people don’t leave their parents’ home. Ever.”

“That’s what my parents have told me about India as well.” Rita frowned. “Christ, I can’t imagine living like that. My dad alone is almost enough to drive me crazy. Doesn’t it get stifling after a while?”

Kai smiled, and Rita couldn’t help but notice the dimples appearing on her cheeks.

“Why else do you think I came all the way here for college? See, in my next panels, I’m planning to talk about the idea of space,” she said, leaning over and pointing at her last page with the end of the pencil, “And the lack of space in Hong Kong, and the first time I remembered traveling to the countryside, and wanting to go find a place where I could see the sky. I know Los Angeles seem like that sort of place, but compared to Hong Kong—”

“There are plenty of places where you can escape.” Rita returned the smile with one of her own, handing the sketchbook back to Kai. “Anyway, this is great. We should get together and talk shop sometime. If you have a moment away from your posse, anyway.”

Now it was Kai’s turn to laugh.

“Trust me, I’d love to. I’m not the only one who didn’t have to introduce myself today. I’ve been meaning to grab you for a chat for a while but,” Kai paused, taking a deep breath. “Okay, this is going to sound weird but you kind of just have ‘artistic genius’ written all over you, y’know? I just got here because I loved video games so much that I started to draw them. ‘Fake it till you make it’.”

Rita dismissed Kai with a wave of her hand.

“You know what they say, genius is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration and all that. Though I’m starting to think that getting good grades in art school is at least 75% being good at making stuff up. I think you’d be good at that, Miss Kai,” she said, raising a hand for her new friend to high-five, “What with your detailed answers and your love of memes. I’m tempted to see how far I can go with the nonsense.”

Kai beamed, returning the high-five along with a laugh.

“I’d love to be there every step of the way.”

***

Fast-forward two years into the future, and Kai was lying on a pile of clothes on their shared couch, flipping through boy after boy on Tinder. Rita was absent-mindedly channel-surfing on the couch’s other end, only half paying attention to their television. Yet somehow Kai’s online hunt for a date was twenty times more interesting than the big screen, and she kept glancing over to watch her best friend’s quest for free dinner.

“Ugly as hell.” Kai clicked her tongue, swiping left in a dramatic, motion. “Next one… Also ugly as hell. Next,” she said, squinting at her screen, “Okay, this one’s cute, but I think he sounds like a fuckboy. He could have yellow fever. Hey, Rita,” she said, handing her phone over, “What do you think?”

Rita took hold of the wide screen phone with star-shaped phone charms, flicking through the photos. They were all of the same white-bread white boy surrounded by pretty, doe-eyed Asian girls with long hair and longer legs, all in short, skimpy dresses. The final photo was one of him with a snapback and shutter shades. Rita winced.

“Trust me, he’s going to ask you something racist within five seconds of matching with you.”

Kai whined.

“Ugh, you’re right. Dating is so hard, Rita,” she whined, closing her eyes, “My parents have been getting on my ass about me finding a boyfriend. How do I tell them that it’s not that I don’t want to date, but that nothing seems to work out?”

Rita scoffed, handing her phone back.

“I honestly don’t know what these boys aren’t seeing in you. This is coming from someone who’s into girls.” It was true: Despite the fact that Kai couldn’t cook and couldn’t clean for nuts, she was a relatively attractive girl with a vibrant personality. She could charm her way into any situation, smiled like the sun shone out her ass, and her legs looked great when she wore heels for the two seconds before she tripped over her own feet.

Kai sighed, covering her face with an old flannel that could have belonged to either of them. At this stage, they’d traded clothes and shared them so often that there was no distinction between what was hers and what was Rita’s any more.

“Frankly speaking, I spend these dates wanting to come back home, play video games and hang out with you. When you’re more interesting than the guy in front of me that’s when I know to bounce.”

“Thanks,” Rita scoffed. “Well, no wonder you’re not staying with any of these boys. We both know that I’m quite a tough act to follow.”

Kai pulled a raspberry from underneath the flannel shirt, giving Rita the middle finger for the second time that day.

“Keep telling yourself that and maybe it’ll come true if you pray hard enough. Whatever,” she said, shaking the shirt off and letting it fall to the ground, “Can we get a real dinner today? I’ll pay if you’re broke.z You pick.”

Rita picking inevitably meant that they found themselves crawling down three entire flights of stairs to the (not-so-instant) ramen shop downstairs, ravenous and ready to stuff an entire bowl of noodles down their esophagus. They were immediately seated by the manager at two stools by the counter, the old Japanese man muttering that he would “get them their usual in a second.” Rita took a deep breath, allowing the salty aroma of miso and pork to weft into her nostrils. Her stomach let out a loud, unladylike rumble.

“Did you hear that?”

Kai glanced up from her phone. “Hear what?”

Rita drummed her fingers on the table, shaking her head. “If you’d put Tinder away for a second, you’d have heard the most legendary stomach noise of the century.”

Kai pouted, but she put her phone on ‘lock’ mode and flung it haphazardly into her purse. “That’s not fair. I wanted to hear that. Do it again.”

“Too late. You’ve got to wait another hundred years.” Rita winked. “See, Kai-Yin Chang, that’s what you get for paying closer attention to all these boys instead of me.”

Kai scoffed, sticking out her lower lip. “What do you have against boys?”

“Nothing, actually,” Rita said. She picked up the edge of the napkin provided, unfolding it and setting it on her lap. “I just think you’re wasted on them, that’s what. It’s a pity you’re straight, because these boys wouldn’t quite know how to appreciate you.”

Kai narrowed her eyes. “Who said I was straight?”

Rita’s eyes widened and she felt her stomach lurch, like someone had pushed all the air out from her breath. “What?”

The two of them sat there in silence for a few seconds, a rarity when they weren’t working, or drawing, or otherwise occupied with some other activity. The waiter came over, setting two identical plates of tonkotsu ramen on their table, along with a side order of an extra egg for Kai. Wordlessly, they both started eating at the same time, gulping down mouthfuls of noodles at breakneck speed. Kai was the first one to break the silence.

“Yeah. I’m. Not actually sure.” She glanced to the side, averting Rita’s gaze. “I mean, it’s not like I’d actually date a girl or anything. You know what my family’s like. But I’ve definitely thought about kissing– or more–”

“Whoa. Okay, slow down.” Rita raised her hands. “You’re telling me that you aren’t straight.”

“I don’t know,” Kai muttered, shifting uncomfortably from side to side. “I’m not making any promises, or anything, but I’ve been wondering for a while now. Y- You’re the first person I’ve told. Again, I wouldn’t want to actually date a girl, as in a relationship kind of date, because then I’d have to break up with her, so I don’t want to commit—”

“Kai, not every girl you go out with is going to want to marry you. Trust me, we enjoy playing the field as much as boys do. You got this.” Rita reached over, giving Kai a squeeze on the arm. “I normally wouldn’t do this for just any bi-curious girl, but you’re my best friend. I’d be down to try making out with you to see if you like it.”

Kai flushed a bright shade of crimson, breaking out of Rita’s grip and burying her face in her hands. “This is embarrassing.”

“What’s so embarrassing about it? You’ve just come to a potential sexual revelation that could change your life forever! Forget paying tonight. I’m treating.”

“Rita, it isn’t so easy for me,” Kai muttered, voice loud and clear through her hands. “I’m just. Family, pressure, a zillion uncles and aunts who I live with back home that will never let me live this down. Same-sex marriage is illegal at home. And what if,” she continued, shaking, “what if I end up liking girls more than I like boys?”

Rita felt a tight, wrenching sensation in her gut. She reached over, taking hold of Kai’s wrist, pulling it away from her best friend’s face. Kai wasn’t quite crying, though there were tears in her soft brown eyes; Rita decided not to mention it. Kai hated the very principle of showing weakness of any kind.

It was truly an honor to be the first person to learn about this.

“Hey. Kai,” Rita said, shaking her softly. “I’m sorry for jumping the gun. You’re right. My family’s always been so understanding that I kind of forgot.” She said, doing her best to smile softly. “Trust me, you’ll be all right. Okay?”

Kai nodded, brows furrowed; it was incredibly obvious that she was gritting her teeth to prevent tears from leaking out. Rita squeezed Kai’s arm.

“Besides, think about it. You are miles away from home. If you’re going to try anything, nobody there will find out. I think you’re safe.” Rita pulled away from Kai, though the smile on her face didn’t waver. God, Kai’s family was so fucking complicated. And she thought divorced parents and a step-family on her mother’s side was wild.

At least Kai was feeling better, though. She blinked back her tears, picking up her chopsticks and tucking into her food. Rita heaved a sigh of relief.

“Just remember. No matter what you decide or what you want to do, I’m always here.”

***

Apparently, the promise of “I’m always here” included a part-time role as knight in shining armor. It was 10 pm on a Friday night, and Rita was lounging on their shared couch, binge-watching Jessica Jones on Netflix and eating a full pint of Ben and Jerry’s cookie dough ice cream from the tub. A soft beeping jolted her out of the escape of fiction, and she tilted her head slightly, noticing that her charging phone had lit up with a message from Kai.

“Code Red. Please save me.”

Rita smiled, quickly texting back that she’d be there in about twenty minutes. The drive to downtown LA was relatively quick for a Friday night. Rita parked her car and sped down to the restaurant where Kai and her date were eating, some quasi-posh place with white walls and chandeliers and fake palm trees in pots along the side.

Rita barged into the restaurant, glancing around for the sight of her friend. She quickly spotted Kai sitting in a corner in the red dress and black heels she’d left the house in, sitting in dead silence for once in her life. A tall Asian guy droned on and on across her, and Kai was flushed a bright shade of pink. She’d probably decided she couldn’t do this sober. Oh dear. Rita snickered.

Well, she was going to have to make sure this boy never ever messaged Kai again. Storming up towards where Kai was sitting, she grabbed hold of her best friend’s arm.

“Kai, what did I tell you about finding other people to join us?”

Kai’s eyes widened and she dropped the forkful of pasta she was holding, but her shock quickly gave way to a smile. She quickly wrapped her arms around Rita, burying her face into her stomach and beaming widely at her date. Her words were slurred as she spoke.

“Ah, I forgot to tell you! This is my girlfriend Rita. I actually came here to screen someone for a threesome. I,” she said, giving the hapless guy a wave, “I might have forgotten to tell her though. You see, I wanted to get someone to join the two of us, but she—”

Rita raised a hand, quickly cutting Kai’s date off. He was now smiling and had raised a finger to speak, presumably ready to say that yes, he would very much like to be in a threesome with two reasonably attractive girls.

“You need to have at least a salary of a million dollars a year. Do you think you can achieve that?” Lowering her voice, Rita leaned in and whispered, “Kai likes having money thrown at her in bed. It’s one of her kinks.”

Her date was now gaping at them, dumbfounded. Kai snorted rather ungracefully at the sight.

“Well, Rita’s biggest kink is being shamed for her kinks. Which,” she said, sticking her tongue out, “I think is disgusting.”

“Oh, baby, you know how that turns me on.” Rita lifted a hand to her chest, before turning back to Kai with a sharp glare. “Enough about that. There’s no more point you staying here. Except,” she said, grabbing the poor guy’s half-full wine glass and downing the rest of it, “Mm, yeah, the wine is pretty good. I guess he does get some points.” She leered at the poor guy.

“Come on, let’s go.”

Kai had already gathered her bag and belongings. She got up from her seat, stumbling forward slightly. Rita cringed. Okay, maybe trying to drink the boredom out of this date had not been a good idea for Kai.

“Thank god I drove here.” Rita could get them both back home safely after half a drink, no problem. She slung Kai’s arm over her shoulder and managed to drag Kai out from the restaurant, hauling her up to the parking lot. Rita led her to the passenger seat before speaking again.

“You know, considering how drunk you seem to be, you did a very good job picking up on the whole threeway thing.”

Kai giggled, strapping herself into the car seat. So she hadn’t completely lost her wits. “I told you, I’m a professional liar. And I was desperate to leave.”

Rita revved up the engine, giving Kai a sideways glance. “Was he really that bad?”

Kai winced. “He was terrible! He kept talking about how rich his parents were, how many cars he owned, how many celebrities he’s met while partying. It’s almost enough to make me want to swear off guys and dating forever. Maybe I’ll run off to a monastery in the middle of the mountains and become a nun.”

“Very funny.” Rita snorted. She’d seen Buddhist nuns before with their shaved heads, brown robes, and dedication to self-restraint. Kai would not be able to pull off any of the three in any universe. She pulled out of the parking garage, smiling. “Nunneries don’t have WiFi and you like male attention too much. ”

“Well, you said that girls would be into me, right? So what if I got it from girls instead?” Kai turned to Rita. A small, stupid smile was plastered onto her face. “What if I did take you up on your offer?”

“What offer?” Rita frowned.

“To make out and stuff.”

Rita’s foot jammed down on the accelerator in shock, and she quickly slammed her brakes, just inches away from the car in front of her. She turned to Kai, glaring. “Kai, I’m not going to experiment with you while you’re drunk. Think about it, sober, and we’ll talk about this again.”

Kai pouted, folding her arms. She sank a little in her chair. “Oh come on, Rita. Since when did you care about what other people think?”

“I don’t. I care about you, and that’s why I’m not going to try anything while you aren’t at full capacity.”

“I have been thinking about this sober!” Kai exclaimed, raising both her hands in protest. “Like, a lot. If you really want to know how much I’ve been thinking about it, you can just go and read my diary.”

Rita raised a brow. “You keep a diary?”

Kai shook her head. “No, I don’t. But if I had one, I’d be talking about girls in it.”

Rita couldn’t help but laugh. She turned out of the parking garage, beginning the drive home, listening to Kai jabber on and on about how pretty girls were compared to boys and how she’d seen the light, chiming in her every few minutes or so but mostly allowing her to talk. They’d handle this later the next day, when Kai was sober and inevitably an embarrassed, blushing mess. Quite frankly, the fact that she’d been propositioned by Kai didn’t bother her at all.

It was just touching. It was just kissing. She did this with people she had no romantic intent with all the time.

She pulled into the parking garage of their apartment and got out of the car. Soon enough, they made it upstairs and Kai flopped onto the couch, kicking her heels off. She stretched her arms, pulling Rita down on so she was sitting next to her.

“I’m definitely sober enough now. Will you at least kiss me?”

Kai did look kind of cute, all flushed and eager and wide-eyed. She still hadn’t let go of Rita’s hands, and Rita sighed. Kai did have a habit of sobering up fast, and she’d seen her kiss plenty of boys while completely smashed.

Besides, when it came to Kai, she usually had a difficult time saying no. Rita groaned.

“Just one kiss for now, a quick one–”

She was cut short by Kai smashing her lips against hers.

Rita’s mind short-circuited for a moment before regaining her composure, closing her eyes as Kai deepened their connection. Rita moaned into the kiss, parting her lips slightly for Kai’s tongue to slide in, lacing her hands into Kai’s soft, straight hair.

She was a good kisser; Rita would give her that. Kai had already made quick work of Rita’s jacket, removing it in one fell swoop and flinging it onto their floor. Rita felt her heart skip a beat as Kai caressed her cheek with a soft hand, her nails lightly skimming against Rita’s dark skin. She tugged lightly against Kai’s hair, and her best friend let out a soft whimper. Rita pulled away for a moment, panting, asking in a low voice: “Was that okay?”

“Yes, it was perfect,” Kai said, closing the distance between them once again, the words we still weren’t done there going unspoken between the pair. Rita could taste Kai’s strawberry lip gloss and the faint sensation of fine wine, and she allowed her hands to wander down to Kai’s waist. Kai smiled into the kiss, and for a split second Rita felt like her heart could burst.

Damn, was she milking it for all it was worth.

Rita felt a soft, guttural sound escape her throat as Kai’s hands snuck underneath her T-shirt, lightly skimming against the skin of her torso, slowly tracing circles onto her back. She inched herself closer towards Kai, hands sneaking up to pull down the zipper of her best friend’s dress– Kai immediately pulled away, eyes wide.

An icy hand of terror gripped Rita’s neck. “Oh god, I’m sorry.”

Kai shook her head, smiling. She was pink again, panting, eyes dilated and hair tousled, and Rita couldn’t help but think that it could someday be nice to kiss Kai again. “Nah. Don’t worry about it,” Kai said, “That’s enough for now. I liked it.”

Relief washed over Rita like the friendly waves of the sea, and she returned Kai’s smile with a grin of her own. “So, what do you think. Straight, or not straight?”

Kai laughed. “Straight as a curly french fry.”

***

Kai did not regret kissing Rita when she woke up in the morning. In fact, she immediately walked into Rita’s room in a T-shirt and panties upon waking up, not bothering to knock the door as had become customary between them. She thanked her for her first non-heterosexual experience, giving Rita a high-five before nestling into the bed next to her best friend, wrapping her arms around her in a tight hug.

The next few weeks passed in a frantic blur. They had projects to complete and assignments to turn in, plus the added stress of occasional, societally obligated human interaction.This barrage of assignments led to sleepless nights of Kai and Rita hunched over their workspaces or their computers in the living room, silently toiling over whatever they’d been tasked to work on for that week.

Periods of downtime and rest seemed far and few in between, with the two of them taking half hour breaks to watch TV, play video games, and occasionally make out and grope. Kai had been the one to propose occasional kissing to relieve stress, but Rita had immediately been on board with the idea. They’d spend hours kissing each other, Rita’s hands tangled into dark hair and skimming over soft skin, tasting coffee and sugar free gum and Chapstick and Kai.

Okay, perhaps “occasional” wasn’t that occasional at all.

Rita grew to lust for Kai’s scent, the sensation of their legs tangled in with each other’s as they cuddled together at night, the soft noises that escaped her best friend’s lips as she traced a callused hand between her thighs. She soon became familiar with the curves of Kai’s body, the soft edges of her hips and the birthmark on her right arm, the way she shuddered slightly, ever so slightly when Rita slipped her shirt off. They could kiss, keep kissing for hours, touching and petting and blocking the rest of the world out, Kai’s phone lighting up with messages from Tinder that would go unread.

And it happened one day, after a long, stressful, stop-motion animation crit that made even the unshakeable Rita tremble in her boots and Kai’s bottom lip quiver with panic. They slowly trudged their way home, and Rita was about to crawl up in bed and watch Netflix alone when Kai practically shoved her on the couch, crushing her lips against hers. Rita barely had time to respond as Kai begun hungrily tearing her black button-up off and her nude bra, before beginning to leave a trail of kisses down her collarbone, whispering, “You’re worth it, you’re worth it, you’re my fucking inspiration and don’t let anyone tell you you’re anything less than perfect,” between each one. A burst of pride swelled up in Rita’s chest. The faint stirrings of pleasure began forming between her legs, and she had to bite her lip to stop herself from moaning as Kai started gently caressing her breasts, barely able to muster the composure to speak.

“That makes both of us, you know—”

Rita was interrupted by Kai sinking her teeth into her neck. A wave of delight coursed through her as Kai’s tongue started to lave at the mark, tending to it with a softness that was only matched by the scent of her perfume and the feeling of Kai’s breath on her bare skin. Her hips bucked involuntarily as Kai pinned her against the back of the seat, desperate and angry and wanting more. Rita’s hands slipped underneath Kai’s grey mesh top, fumbling to unhook her bra; Kai gave her a silent nod of approval as she pulled away briefly, but for far too long to slip her shirt and bra off, tossing them carelessly onto the ground.

Now it was Rita’s turn to start leaving kisses on Kai’s neck, sucking on the pulse point, smirking into the embrace when Kai let out an involuntary whimpering noise. She let a soft chuckle escape the back of her throat as Kai buried her face into the crook of her neck, long legs wrapping around Rita’s back, denim scraping against her skin as Kai’s grip tightened. Rita’s tongue trailed down, tracing Kai’s collarbone, stopping to leave a kiss in between Kai’s breasts. Kai let out a soft yelp, pulling away, taking a step off Rita’s lap. Now that they were apart Rita could see that her best friend was flushed bright red, brimming with sweat and heat and a radiating sense of desire. Rita felt her eyes soften and she held out a hand. “Are you all right? We don’t have to go any further if you don’t want to.”

Kai shook her head. “Let’s keep going.”

Kai’s hands trailed down, grabbing hold of the hem of her jeans. Rita got up from where she was standing, helping Kai with the button on her pants and letting them fall down in a dramatic swoop. Rita had seen Kai in only her underwear fairly often, but she’d developed a newfound appreciation for how Kai looked: her long legs, small hips and muscular calves, a pair of blue striped panties falling nicely on her butt. It was a fairly regular sight but one she appreciated nevertheless, and she reached over to cup her best friend’s behind. What she didn’t expect next was for Kai’s fingers to dig into the elastic of her underwear, tugging against it lightly.

Rita felt a lump in her throat and a tightening in her chest. Her heart rate rose so quickly, so fast, that she could feel the blood coursing through her veins. She let go of Kai, taking a step backwards, eyes boring into her best friend’s for a hint, a clue. Softly, she managed to muster the words: “Is this what you want?”

Kai nodded, her chest rising and falling with every deep breath. Rita felt the uneasy sensation in her chest loosen and her lips stretch into a grin. Leaning down to whisper into Kai’s ear, she spoke the words, “That’s the spirit,” before turning away to admire the sight of the panties falling to the ground. Silently, Kai stepped out of her pants, walking towards the couch and sitting down on it, her gaze searching Rita for some sort of sign. Rita took a seat next to her, still smiling. “This is your first time.”

“Yes,” Kai said, flushing. “We’ve been through this. I haven’t had sex with anyone else. But I want to do it with you,” she said, reaching over and clasping Rita’s hands in hers, “There’s nobody else in the world that I trust more.”

Warmth spread through Rita like fireworks and starlight. Somewhat nervously, Kai sat back against the couch, spreading her legs apart with a tentative smile on her face. Rita leaned forward, cupping Kai’s chin, giving her a soft kiss on the forehead before getting to work. “I just wanted to make sure. You could have had sex with that rich Chinese guy.”

Kai groaned. “Do you want me to get up and walk away?”

Rita laughed, burying her face in the middle of Kai’s breasts, leaving a kiss in the middle of them again before starting to work her way down Kai’s torso and stomach. “Told you, just making sure.”

Kai rolled her eyes, though she was still flushed. She was so beautiful, spread-eagle like this; Rita reached down to caress Kai’s side with a paint-stained hand, grinning as Kai trembled underneath her palm. Her body was so honest, for someone who claimed to be a professional liar all the time. Rita traced a finger across the contours of Kai’s chin, drinking in the sight of her view.

Kai dug her fingernails into the flesh of Rita’s shoulders as Rita began caressing her thighs, a loud, guttural noise escaping her best friend’s throat upon first contact, followed by softer whimpers after every subsequent touch. Kai’s skin felt like first snowfall under her hands and Rita pressed a soft kiss to the inside of her thighs, a finger trailing upwards to tease between Kai’s legs. Rita heard Kai whimper.

“Someone’s wet.” Kai felt warm and keen and certainly eager; Rita teased her finger in between her vaginal lips, lightly pressing it against Kai’s clitoris.

Kai shuddered. “Fuck off.”

Rita grinned, trying her best to fight the desire pooling up between her own legs. Slowly withdrawing the finger, she made a show of licking it, tasting the salty sensation of Kai’s essence, making sure to keep her gaze locked with Kai’s the entire time. She had eaten many girls out in the past, though this was probably the first time she’d done this with a friend this close. But it was comforting, to do this with someone she knew so well. Rita leaned upwards, pressing her lips against Kai’s stomach, then moving upwards and giving her a tender, languid kiss on the mouth, tongue curling against her best friend’s as she let her taste her own essence. Kai returned the kiss, capturing Rita’s lips with her own, wrapping her arms around Rita’s neck and pulling her closer for a brief moment before suddenly grabbing her shoulders, giving her a sharp shove and–

“Can you please,” Kai said, panting, “stop messing with me?”

Rita laughed, nodding, yes, she would get on with it, someone was getting testy. She moved back down, returning to caressing Kai’s thighs, taking joy in how Kai was shivering under her every movement, every touch, not bothering to mask her soft, desperate, moans. Finally, she decided that she’d had enough, laving her tongue between the slit between Kai’s legs with a sense of sweet satisfaction.

“A- ah—”

Kai’s fingernails dug half-moons into Rita’s shoulders. Rita tensed up from the pain, though it also came with a sense of pleasure that bubbled up in her stomach. Who knew she liked being scratched this much? Rita’s tongue fumbled around between the lips, making contact with a small pink nub. Aha. She gazed up at Kai, grinning at her for a split second before giving it a nice, slow, lick. Kai let out another soft moan upon the contact, back arching and eyes closing with pleasure.

So Kai liked what she was getting. Rita continued to lave at the sensitive piece of flesh, slowly, gently, not wanting to rush too quickly, not wanting to go too fast. This was her best friend’s first time, after all, and she wanted to put on a good show. Besides, going at this pace meant that Rita could take note of her every movement, every breath, every small buck of her hips as Rita continued to eat her out, licking and sucking with a delicate touch that contrasted with her usual teasing nature. She pulled away for a moment for air, staring at Kai, relishing her flustered face and tousled hair.

“Do you want me to go faster?”

Kai nodded, yes please, and that was all Rita needed. She dove back in, licking the area around Kai’s clitoris, teasing all around it before going in and giving it another nudge. Kai practically howled with delight at the contact, and Rita quickly got to work, scraping her tongue against the area and starting to lick, once, twice, and then a few times more, faster, harder, pressing her tongue against the nub of flesh, relishing the bucking of Kai’s hips and the trembling of her thighs. Kai was practically thrashing against the couch, throwing back her head as she came to a peak, letting out a scream of delight. Rita pulled back, smiling—never in her years of art had she seen a sight as beautiful as this.

Sex, much unlike art, would never be a science. There was no foolproof formula, no way to make every girl underneath you squirm the way Kai did, no exact way to make every girl scream with pleasure like Kai had done just a few moments ago. Though that was what made it a challenge, and what made the little moments of success so special. Her eyes met Kai’s, and she smiled, standing up and bending down to give Kai what was meant to be a quick peck on the lips. Kai, on the other hand, did not see it that way; she grabbed hold of Rita’s shoulders, pulling her downwards, brushing her tongue against Rita’s lips as she beckoned them to open. The kiss tasted like tongue and salt and honey all at once, and Rita moaned as their tongues curled with each other, quickly pulling away.

“I take it that went well,” Rita said. Now that she was done with Kai, she too was unhooking the top button of her pants, the pool of wetness between her legs getting desperately difficult to ignore. “Want to give it a shot?”

Kai nodded, climbing on top of Rita and delicately thumbing the outside of her underwear. She kissed Rita, kissed like the world was ending, smashing her lips against hers with the force of a tidal wave. Nimble fingers made quick work of jackets and T-shirts and bras that were carelessly flung to the floor, Kai straddling Rita on the couch as she laced her hands into Rita’s messy hair.

Kai made love like she made art: gingerly, but with fervent passion.

When Rita awoke on their couch hours later, eyes transfixed on her best friend’s sleeping form, she would think that Kai was ravishingly beautiful. She would then realize she was in love with her.

***

Glass crashing, plates falling, the sound of metal cutlery clinking to the ground in the kitchen. Rita swore under her breath, removing her earphones and setting her phone down next to the keyboard of her laptop. She darted towards the source of the noise, only to see a series of shattered plates and a very hapless, nervous Kai surrounded by glass shards and porcelain, giving her a sheepish laugh and a small wave.

“You didn’t see anything,” Kai said, flushing. She scrambled out of the mess, darting over to grab a nearby broom. It was a Wednesday night and they had finals in about a week and a half, which meant that it was clearly going to be a great time for Kai to try to cook dinner. Or not.

“Need a rescue?” Rita asked. It would be easy, so easy to just step into the mess, dance around the disaster, pick Kai up and plant her onto the couch—Kai wasn’t tiny by any definition of the word, but Rita was sturdy and fairly strong. It would be all too easy to play Prince Charming and sweep Kai off her feet, but she steeled herself, gritted her teeth. Rita took a deep breath, trying to quell the fluttering in her chest. This wasn’t the time for romantic gestures, no.

Now she’d realized that she was head over heels, it was difficult not to notice the little details: Kai turning bright red with embarrassment, clicking her tongue like a Chinese grandma as she shooed Rita out of the kitchen. Rita found herself wandering onto their couch, leaning back and closing her eyes. A ten-minute nap would probably be a good idea before she went back to editing their thesis.

But when she closed her eyes, all she could think of was Kai. Kai, pushing her onto the bed they’d now come to share, grabbing Rita and kissing her when they were alone, pushing her against the back of elevators and trailing a hand between her thighs; or how she got flustered when Rita left hickeys on her neck, muttering with embarrassment as she whined about having to cover them up. Nothing compared to the smug satisfaction that Kai would wear a scarf to class the next day, flushed and glaring death threats her way, and… Ugh. Rita buried her face in her hands.

She groaned, getting up from the couch and walking back to her computer, ready to dive back into thesis and CAD hell. Kai emerged from the kitchen a few minutes later, planting herself in the seat next to Rita’s and plonking her head on the table. It crossed Rita’s mind to lean over and stroke her hair, but she quickly reined herself back, training her gaze on the computer.

God, what was happening to her? What was happening to them?

Rita broke the silence: “Try making dinner again when we’re finished with finals. Bake a fuck cake to match the fuckcopter.” She grinned at the thought. They could throw a little party and invite a bunch of sort-of friends. That would be nice.

Kai groaned again. “So much for trying to cook a cute little romantic dinner for two, huh?”

Rita whipped around, eyes wide. She practically gaped at Kai, lips parting but mouth not finding the words.

Kai frowned, glancing up to meet Rita’s gaze.

“I mean,” she said with a sigh, “I would have loved to be with you in some alternate universe. You’d have been a great boyfriend. I’m pretty sure even my racist parents would have gotten over the whole not-Hong-Kong-Chinese thing if I persuaded them enough, but it’s not like I can bring a girl ho—”

“What the fuck. Kai, hold up.” Rita raised a hand, halting her in the midst of her speech. Her best friend’s words were swirling around in her mind. Would have been a great boyfriend? The idea of bringing Rita back to her parents, well, a boy Rita, but Rita nevertheless? She was blushing now, but she wasn’t sure if it was embarrassment or rage. “So you’d date me if I was a guy. Do you know how fucked-up what you just said was?”

Kai raised an eyebrow. “What? It’s the truth. I can’t bring a girl back home to my mum and dad. You were the one who said that it didn’t hurt to experiment and try out while I was here, but we all know I’m going to have to leave California some day. And go back to pretending to be straight.”

In that very moment, Rita wanted to wind back time and punch past Rita in the face. The flapping of butterfly wings in her stomach from earlier were replaced by the roaring anger of a hurricane. Rita felt her hand grip her mouse so tightly, her knuckles were practically white. “Sometimes, we act so much like a couple, it fools even me. Sorry if I forget.”

“What do you mean? If anything you—you’ve been avoiding me,” Kai stuttered. She was beet red too, and her voice shook for a moment, before taking on the cold, collected tone that it had when they had first entered class. Her eyes narrowed, gaze baring into Rita like a predator’s teeth. “It’s like other than when we’re kissing or touching or fucking, you don’t treat me like a best friend any more. Rita from a few weeks ago wouldn’t have just left me alone in the kitchen earlier, even if I asked.”

“You were the one who told me to get out, so I did. I’m sorry if I didn’t want to be too overtly cutesy with you, because you’re right. We aren’t a couple. What’s the problem?”

Rita turned away from Kai, staring at her computer screen. She was practically shaking with anger at that moment. Through the corner of her eye she could see Kai shuffling in her seat, looking away in embarrassment. “I told you. I’m a professional liar.”

“You can’t sit around expecting people to do things for you and expecting them to know what you really want,” Rita spat. “What happened to Little Miss ‘You Don’t Ask; You Don’t Get’? Unless that’s also a professional front. What’s real between us any more?”

“Listen,” Kai began, but Rita was on a roll. She let go of her mouse, glaring at Kai and folding her arms.

“So tell me, who is Kai? You’ve been trained so hard to network and play the part of a good girl by your rich-ass parents that you don’t even know who you really are. I try to help you find who that is, and I get a slap in the face. You’d love me back if I was a guy. Is that what you’re saying?”

“Rita, no–”

“So who are you, then?” Rita was practically shivering with rage. “The person I,” her voice hitched in her throat, “The person I fell in love with? Is she real? Who are you?”

“Rita, stop,” Kai’s voice was pleading, almost begging, but Rita didn’t care.

“You won’t be a real artist until you find out.”

The words rang in the air like an echo, filling the empty spaces of the room.

The next sound that Rita heard was the loud screeching of a chair against the floor. Kai leaped out from her seat. She stormed towards the door, pausing before the entrance for a moment, head hanging low as she spoke. “You know what? You’re right. All I do is lie to people and use them. I did it to you as well.”

Rita felt her heart stop. Wait, shit. Shit, what had she just said? Shit, no. She got up from her seat, racing up to Kai, placing a hand on her shoulder. Kai brushed it away.

“I’ve got a paper to do. See you later.”

Kai left the room, slamming the door behind her.

***

Avoiding each other in the same house was a surprisingly simple task, or at least Kai seemed to be taking efforts to make it simple. Rita would leave for college only to find that Kai was already gone. She would enter classrooms to see Kai laughing and talking with other students, and jealousy gripped her like a bloodied fist. Class ending meant coming home to an empty house, devoid of their usual banter.

It was bad enough that she’d lost Kai as a romantic option; she didn’t know how to handle losing her as a friend.

Less than a week and not speaking to Kai was already driving her crazy. The house seemed so empty even when she knew that her housemate was in it. Every sound, every footstep seemed to echo in the hallways, reverberating around the rooms. Words were rarely exchanged when they crossed each other in the kitchen, or in the living room. Once, Kai looked up, nodded, and uttered a polite “good morning” before walking away. Rita felt like she’d been stabbed in the gut.

Night after night of tossing and turning in the bed they used to share and Rita decided, lying there at four in the morning, that they needed to talk. She heard the pattering of footsteps outside her door and burst out to see Kai walking in wearing sneakers and a T-shirt, carrying her laptop by her side. She’d probably been at someone else’s working on projects. Gathering all the courage she had left in her, Rita walked up to Kai and cleared her throat.

“Hey.”

Kai whipped around, eyes narrowed. They both stood there in silence for a moment before Kai spoke. “If it’s nothing important, I’m just grabbing my stuff. I’m crashing at Tsubaki’s for a couple of weeks.”

Rita felt her heart stop for a moment before regaining control of her limbs. She darted in front of Kai, racing to pause in front of the grey door to her room. “You know what this is about.”

Kai sighed, hugging her laptop close to her chest. “I know. I used you. I’m a liar and a fake, and I’ll never actually be good at art beyond the technical stuff that any idiot can learn. I’ve heard it all over and over again—”

“I only said it once!” Rita exclaimed. “Just give me a chance to explain—”

“Who said that the last time was from you?”

Kai practically spat the last sentence out, shaking with rage. Now they were closer Rita couldn’t help but notice the bags beneath her eyes and the sallow tone of her cheeks. Not that it was her business any more, but she couldn’t help but worry. Kai sighed again, eyes softening for a moment as she glanced up at Rita, shifting from side to side.

“Look, I’m sorry for what I said and what I did. I’d hate myself too, if I were you. I don’t want an apology, though,” she said, plastering a smile on her face, “because you did nothing wrong. You called me for what I am. I’m just a professional liar and I destroy everything I touch. Maybe, for a moment, you made me feel like I was something more than that. It was nice while it lasted. But I have work to do.”

Rita wondered, for a moment, if she’d still been working on their presentation. Wait, of course she had. This was Kai, picture-perfect, forever cheerful Kai who wore a façade of niceness and pleasantries. Straight-A student Kai who spent hours laboring over original characters and fantastical designs, worrying if anything was less than perfect when it came to her art. Kai lived for her work, died for her work, would do anything for her work.

Rita thought she’d known the real Kai beneath that, but wasn’t sure any more.

She considered saying something, anything—no, Kai, that’s not all, that isn’t all you are—but she knew that it was just going to make things worse. For once, she held her tongue, stepping aside to allow Kai to pass. Rita couldn’t sleep long after she heard the front door slam itself shut, and the jingling of her former best friend’s keys.

***

An e-mail with their completed PowerPoint presentation appeared in Rita’s inbox at 3:46 AM the day they were supposed to discuss it with the class, and Rita responded in turn by sending Kai the fully edited version of their short film. No words were exchanged save for a “please check through for any errors” and a “see you in class”. Rita winced.

Short, professional and to the point. The response of a mature, businesslike adult.

It hurt to watch Kai walk into the classroom and take a seat on the opposite side. She quickly looked away when their eyes met for a split second, turning to Tsubaki sitting behind her. Rita sank down in her seat, lost in thought as her peers began to present one by one, until the professor’s voice rang through the room, .

“Flying Fuck, by Miss Kai-Yin Chang and Miss Amrita Bashyal.”

Rita scrambled from where she was sitting, watching as Kai got up as well. Their gazes met again, and Kai didn’t pull away this time. She fixed her vision on Rita’s as the two of them walked up to the podium, only tearing away when she plugged her laptop in. Kai turned to Rita, giving her a brief nod.

“Ready?”

Rita nodded back, clenching a fist and then unclenching it to quell her nerves. Public speaking had always been more of Kai’s thing, but they’d had the art of pair presentations down to a T, like some sort of synchronized interpretive dance. Kai pressed the “Play” button on their Prezi slideshow, and Rita tapped her foot impatiently as she began to speak.

“Dadaism. The European and North American movement against the bourgeois nationalist and colonialist interests of World War I, created with an intention to offend. We decided to mix these themes with the assigned silent short film project, transplanting this art into the modern day and age, waging war against the capitalist economy that shapes us but that has also brought America to where it is.”

Kai trailed off, gesturing to the background where their slides were showing. Rita pressed a button on the remote control, and their film started to play: the class erupted in laughter as the flying fuck helicopter rose from the ground, flying out of a fancy apartment. She couldn’t help but grin despite the number of times she’d watched it herself.

Yeah, that was a pretty funny idea. She turned to their greying professor, watching as he snickered as well.

The laughs only got louder as the video panned to a shot of Rita flying the helicopter over the art building, before turning around to give the camera the finger; they turned into shrieks as the film transitioned to the helicopter flying into across the stadium of their football field. By the time the shot of the LinkedIn building showed up, the class was bursting to tears. Rita turned to Kai, who was somehow managing to keep a poker face through all of this—maybe, no, maybe that was a turn of the edge of her lips, and maybe her mouth was stretching into a grin. Rita leaned over, hesitating for a second before tapping Kai on the shoulder, and Kai turned to her and giggled, giving her a thumbs-up from underneath the podium. Rita barely had time to register the action before the film ended. It was her time to speak. She cleared her throat, gesturing to the classroom.

“Well this is kind of a, pardon my French, a ‘fuck you’ to capitalist society.” Again, the class burst into laughter. Rita motioned to Kai, who transitioned to the next slide, before continuing, “Dadaism, however, is meant to be an answer to this. Some theorists argue that it is even the beginning of postmodern art. More importantly, however, it is the counter-argument to the upper classes, to their interests, and to war.”

Back to Kai. She flipped through a few slides on the symbols of their presentation, of their ideas, of what they were supposed to achieve by the creation of their movie. Rita then jumped in with a map of common themes, which Kai added to with some slides about how they crafted their angles and the cinematography. Rita grinned as she continued talking about their movie, before gesturing to Kai to conclude.

It was seamless, perfect and precise. One could dare to say it was almost scientific.

“We fight these battles and create art,” Kai said, shaking her head in mock solemnity, “But is there any escape? By sitting in this classroom and presenting this project for the sake of a grade, Rita—my partner, and I, are going against the very principles Dadaism stands for. We are all victims to capitalism in the end.”

For a moment, Rita considered dropping the remote control in lieu of a mic, but decided that it might be going too far. She didn’t have to, though. Not with the thunderous applause that came from the rest of their class, the snickering and the giggle fits, their professor nodding with a wide grin on his face. Kai turned to Rita, reaching out to tap Rita on the arm. “Hey. If you aren’t too mad at me… Can we talk?”

Rita felt her heart lurch. She took a deep breath, stumbling on her words. “Yeah. I’ve only been waiting for a hundred years.”

They were the last presentation of the class, so it was only minutes before they were dismissed. Kai and Rita awkwardly shuffled out of the room, wordlessly walking to the nearby coffee shop and sitting down. Neither of them bothered to get up and order. Rita scanned Kai’s face, her lips pursed and brow furrowed. She was the first to speak. “I—Rita, I’m sorry. I’m really sorry.”

Rita nodded. “Thanks for the apology. But also, same. I was kind of unfair to you that night and lashed out, and said a bunch of things I shouldn’t have said.” She took a deep breath, closing her eyes. “I’m sorry too. We both acted like idiots. I really hurt your feelings, didn’t I?”

“Yeah, but I don’t blame you. I am a liar, anyway. I’ve been doing it all my life, so you weren’t entirely wrong.”

Anger welled up in the pit of Rita’s stomach. “Stop saying that! It’s not funny any more. I don’t think all you do is lie. If it was I wouldn’t have been your friend for so long. Why do you keep insisting?”

Kai fiddled with the strap of her purse. “I think you deserve to know why I flipped out like that the other day,” she stuttered, “But you have to promise, you have to promise to believe me okay? Because I don’t even know if it’s real any more—”

“Kai.” Rita interrupted. “I just told you. I acted in anger the other day. Of course I’m going to believe you. I’ve never trusted or cared about anyone more.”

Kai winced. She shifted uncomfortably from side to side, lowering her voice. “I. Growing up, I had an older cousin. He was kind of an ass and he would do things to me, so I tried telling my parents and they said I was overreacting, but they kept getting worse and the next time I told them, they said I was lying, and then. Yeah,” she said, burying her face in her hands, “I don’t know, I don’t know if it’s real any more, it was probably kind of not that big a deal, so,”

“What did he do?” Rita asked, reaching over and patting Kai on the back. “No, I believe you, please go on.”

“Hair-pulling, kicking. He tore up my drawings all the time. Occasional touching. You know,” she said, plastering on a smile, “That sort of thing.”

The anger that Rita had felt earlier returned tenfold, boiling up within her. She gritted her teeth, before scrambling up from her seat, darting over to pull Kai up into a big hug from behind. “Holy shit. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m going to murder him some day,” she muttered, resting her chin on Kai’s head, “I’m going to kill him. He doesn’t deserve to be alive–”

“And then you came along, and you trusted me,” Kai said, suddenly piping up. “You made me feel like me, and not someone’s daughter, or toy, or object of anger. Then we started hooking up. Then I panicked because I started having feelings. I started to question if they were real, because I was slowly falling in love too–”

“Wait, what?” Rita pulled away, staring at Kai wide-eyed. She felt her face flush. “What did you just say?”

Kai flushed, turning away.

“I said it, Rita! I told you, I like you. It’s always been my dream to fall in love with my best friend, and I liked the attention because I suck, so I milked it because I knew we couldn’t be together—”

“Who’s to say that we can’t be together?” Rita piped up, but Kai shook her head again.

“Please, listen,” Kai pleaded. “I would love to, but what if I have to leave and we break up? What if my family—what if he finds out? I don’t want to put an expiry date on our relationship. Our friendship. But it’s not…”

“It’s not?”

“It’s not like I don’t want this as well, Rita.” Kai turned back to face Rita, though she was still burning bright red. Rita suspected that she would have been too if she wasn’t so dark. “I really do like you. I don’t know when it started, but I think you’re awesome. Especially,” she said, daring to give her a wink, “Because you’re a girl. No more of the hypothetical bullshit.”

“That’s okay,” Rita said. She leaned down, reaching out to take Kai’s hand in hers. Kai returned the grip, a small smile on her lips, toying with Rita’s fingers. “You don’t have to give me an answer now. All I wanted was for you to be honest with me. I can live with this. We’ll figure it out, okay?”

Kai nodded. She squeezed Rita’s hand, and Rita felt like she was about to burst with sunlight. She reached out and ruffled Kai’s hair. “Look, I’d rather have you in my life than not, whether or not we start dating. As long as you’re frank with me, we can see how this goes. Capiche?”

Kai smiled, craning her neck and giving Rita a peck on the lips. “Got it. It’ll take me some practice, but I’ll try to be honest. Does that mean I can move back in?”

Rita laughed. “Well, Little Miss Runaway, you’re the one who left. I’m waiting for you,” she said, kissing Kai on the forehead, “It’s not a home without you in it.”

“Come on then,” Kai said, standing up. “Let’s go.”

They left the coffee shop together, still holding hands.

Read this story’s entry on the Shousetsu Bang*Bang wiki.

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