She smoothed his hair back with her hands and her face, and she kissed the top of his head the way he always kissed her (the only kisses she’d allowed for so many weeks).
Levi’s hair didn’t smell like shampoo—or freshly mown clover. It smelled like coffee mostly, and like Cath’s pillow the week after he spent the night. Her mouth settled on his hairline, where his hair was the lightest and finest; her own hair was nowhere this soft. “Like you,” she said, feeling weird and tearful. “Like you so much, Levi.”
And then she kissed my receding hairline and cried, she imagined him saying. In her imagination, Levi was Danny Zuko, and his roommates were the rest of the T-Birds. Tell me more, tell me more.
His face felt hot in her hands.
“Come here,” he said, catching her jaw with one hand, chinning his mouth up to hers.
There was this. Kissing Levi.
This and this and this.
* * *
“You’re not all hands…,” he whispered later. He was tucked back into the corner of the love seat, and she was resting on top of him. She’d spent hours on top of him. Curled over him like a vampire. Even exhausted, she couldn’t stop rubbing her numb lips into his flannel chest. “You’re all mouth,” he said.
“Sorry,” Cath said, biting her lips.
“Don’t be stupid,” he said, pulling her lips free of her teeth with his thumb. “And don’t be sorry … ever again.”
He hitched her up, so her face was above his. Her eyes wandered down to his chin, out of habit. “Look at me,” he said.
Cath looked up. At Levi’s pastel-colored face. Too lovely, too good.
“I like you here,” he said, squeezing her. “With me.”
She smiled, and her eyes started to drift downward.
Back up to his eyes.
“You know that I’m falling in love with you, right?”
“You knew all along?”
“Not all along,” Penelope said. “But a long. At least since fifth year, when you insisted we follow Baz around the castle every other day. You made me go to all of his football games.”
“To make sure he wasn’t cheating,” Simon said, out of habit.
“Right,” Penelope said. “I was starting to wonder whether you’d ever figure it out. You have figured it out, haven’t you?”
Simon felt himself smiling and blushing, not for first time this week. Not for the fiftieth. “Yeah…”
Wren was back, and it felt like someone had turned Cath’s world right side up. Like she’d been hanging from the floor all year long, trying not to drop through the ceiling.
Cath could call Wren now whenever she wanted. Without thinking or worrying. They met for lunch and for dinner. They wrapped their schedules around each other’s, filling in all the small spaces.
“It’s like you got your lost arm back or something,” Levi said. “Like you’re a happy starfish.” The way he was beaming, you’d think he was the one who got his sister back. “That was some bad medicine. Not talking to your mom. Not talking to your sister. That was some Jacob-and-Esau business.”
“I’m still not talking to my mom,” Cath said.
She had talked to Wren about their mom. A lot, actually.
Wren wasn’t surprised that Laura hadn’t stayed at the hospital. “She doesn’t do heavy stuff,” Wren said. “I can’t believe she even came.”
“She probably thought you were dying.”
“I wasn’t dying.’”
“How do you not do the heavy stuff?” Cath said, indignant. “Being a parent is all heavy stuff.”
“She doesn’t want to be a parent,” Wren said. “She wants me to call her ‘Laura.’”
Cath decided to start calling Laura “Mom” again in her head. Then she decided to stop calling Laura anything at all in her head.…
Wren still talked to her (She Who Would Not Be Named). She said they texted mostly and that they were friends on Facebook. Wren was okay with that amount of involvement; she seemed to think it was better than nothing and safer than everything.
Cath didn’t get it. Her brain just didn’t work that way. Her heart didn’t.
But she was done fighting with Wren about it.
Now that Cath and Wren were Cath and Wren again, Levi thought they should all be hanging out all the time. The four of them. “Did you know that Jandro’s in the Ag School?” he asked. “We’ve even had classes together.”
“Maybe we should go on lots of double dates,” Cath said, “and then we can get married on the same day in a double ceremony, in matching dresses, and the four of us will light the unity candle all at the same time.”
“Pfft,” Levi said, “I’m picking out my own dress.”
The four of them had all hung out together once or twice, incidentally. When Jandro was coming to get Wren. When Levi was coming to get Cath.
“You don’t want to hang out with Wren and me,” Cath had tried to tell him. “All we do is listen to rap music and talk about Simon.”
There were only six weeks left until The Eighth Dance came out, and Wren was more stressed out about it than Cath was. “I just don’t know how you’re going to wrap everything up,” she’d say.
“I’ve got an outline,” Cath kept telling her.
“Yeah, but you’ve got classes, too. Let me see your outline.”
Usually, they huddled over the laptop in Cath’s room. It was closer to campus.
“Don’t expect me to tell you apart,” Reagan said when this became a routine.
“I have short hair,” Wren said, “and she wears glasses.”
“Stop,” Reagan groaned, “don’t make me look at you. It’s like The Shining in here.”
Wren cocked her head and squinted. “I can’t tell if you’re being serious.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Cath said. “Ignore her.”
Reagan scowled at Cath. “Are you Zack, or are you Cody?”
Today they were in Wren’s room, just to give Reagan a break. They were sitting on Wren’s bed, the laptop resting on both their knees. Courtney was there, too, getting ready to go out; she was studying with the Sigma Chis tonight.
“You can’t kill Baz,” Wren said, pressing the down-arrow key and skimming Cath’s Carry On outline. They kept coming back to this point; Wren was adamant.
“I never thought I would kill Baz,” Cath said. “Ever. But it’s the ultimate redemption, you know? If he sacrifices himself for Simon, after all their years of fighting, after this one precious year of love … it makes everything they’ve been through together that much sweeter.”
“I’ll have to kill you if you kill Baz,” Wren said. “And I’ll be first in a long line.”
“I totally think Basil’s going to die in the last movie,” Courtney said, putting on her jacket. “Simon has to kill him—he’s a vampire.”
“He’ll have to die in the last book first,” Cath said. She still couldn’t tell whether Courtney was actually stupid or whether she just couldn’t be bothered to think before she talked. Wren shook her head at Cath and rolled her eyes, like, Don’t waste your time with her.
“Don’t work too hard, ladies,” Courtney said, waving on her way out. Only Cath waved back.
Something had happened between Wren and Courtney. Cath wasn’t sure if it was the emergency room or something else. They were still friends; they still ate lunch together. But even small things seemed to irritate Wren—the way Courtney wore heels with jeans, or the way she thought “boughten” was the past participle of “bought.” Cath had tried to ask about it, but Wren always shrugged her off.
“She’s wrong,” Cath said now. “I don’t think GTL could ever kill off Baz.”
“And you can’t either,” Wren said.
“But it makes him the ultimate romantic hero. Think of Tony in West Side Story or Jack in Titanic—or Jesus.”
“That’s horseshit,” Wren said.
Cath giggled. “Horseshit?”
Wren elbowed her. “Yes. The ultimate act of heroism shouldn’t be death. You’re always saying you want to give Baz the stories he deserves. To rescue him from Gemma—”
“I just don’t think she realizes his potential as a character,” Cath said.
“So you’re going to kill him off? Isn’t the best revenge supposed to be a life well-lived? The punk-rock way to end Carry On would be to let Baz and Simon live happily ever after.”
“I’m serious,” Wren said. “They’ve been through so much together—not just in your story, but in canon and in all the hundreds of fics we’ve read about them.… Think of your readers. Think about how good it’ll feel to leave us with a little hope.”
“But I don’t want it to be cheesy.”
“Happily ever after, or even just together ever after, is not cheesy,” Wren said. “It’s the noblest, like, the most courageous thing two people can shoot for.”
Cath studied Wren’s face. It was like looking at a lightly warped mirror. Through a glass, darkly. “Are you in love?”
Wren blushed and looked down at the laptop. “This isn’t about me. It’s about Baz and Simon.”
“I’m making it about you,” Cath said. “Are you in love?”
Wren pulled the computer fully onto her lap and started scrolling back up to the top of Cath’s outline. “Yes,” she said coolly. “There’s nothing wrong with that.”
“I didn’t say there was.” Cath grinned. “You’re in love.”
“Oh shut up, so are you.”
Cath started to argue.
“Give it up,” Wren said, pointing at Cath’s face. “I’ve seen you look at Levi. What’s that thing you wrote about Simon once, that his eyes followed Baz ‘like he was the brightest thing in the room, like he cast everything else into shadow’? That’s you. You can’t look away from him.”
“I…” Cath was pretty sure that Levi actually was the brightest thing in the room, in any room. Bright and warm and crackling—he was a human campfire. “I really like him.”
“Have you slept with him?”
“No.” Cath knew what Wren meant, knew she didn’t want to hear about Levi’s grandmother’s quilt and the way they’d slept curled up in each other, like stackable chairs. “Have you? With Jandro?”
Wren laughed. “Duh. So … are you going to?”
Cath rubbed her right wrist. Her typing wrist. “Yeah,” she said. “I think so.”
Wren grabbed Cath’s arm, then shoved her away. “Oh. My. God. Will you tell me about it when you do?”
“Duh.” Cath pushed her back. “Anyway, I don’t feel like it has to happen now, like immediately, but he makes me want to. And he makes me think … that it’ll be okay. That I don’t have to worry about screwing it up.”
Wren rolled her eyes. “You’re not going to screw it up.”
“Well, I’m not going to nail it either, am I? Remember how long it took me to learn how to drive? And I still can’t backwards skate—”
“Think of how many beautiful first times you’ve written for Simon and Baz.”
“That’s totally different,” Cath said dismissively. “They don’t even have the same parts.”
Wren started giggling and then couldn’t stop. She hugged the laptop to her chest. “You’re more comfortable with their parts than—” She couldn’t stop giggling.”—your own and … and you’ve never even seen their parts.…”
“I try to write around it.” Cath was giggling, too.
“I know,” Wren said, “and you do a really good job.”
When they were done laughing, Wren punched Cath’s arm. “You’ll be fine. The first few times you do it, you only get graded on attendance.”
“Great,” Cath scoffed. “That makes me feel better.” She shook her head. “This whole conversation is premature.”
Wren smiled, but she looked serious, like she wanted something. “Hey, Cath—”
“Don’t kill Baz. I’ll even beta for you, if you want. Just … don’t kill him. Baz deserves a happy ending more than anybody.”
“Have you started?” Professor Piper asked.
“Yes,” Cath lied.
She couldn’t help it. She couldn’t say no—Professor Piper was liable to abort this whole endeavor. Cath still hadn’t shown her any progress …
Because Cath hadn’t made any progress.
There was just too much else going on. Wren. Levi. Baz. Simon. Her dad … Actually, Cath wasn’t as worried about her dad as she used to be. That was one nice thing about Wren going home every weekend. On the weekends that Wren was stuck at home, she was so bored, she practically live-blogged the whole thing for Cath, sending constant texts and emails. “dad is making me watch a lewis & clark documentary. it’s like he’s DRIVING me to drink.” Wren didn’t even know about Cath’s Fiction-Writing assignment.
Cath had considered telling Professor Piper—again—that she wasn’t cut out for fiction-writing, that she was practically fiction-phobic. But once Cath was here, looking up at Professor Piper’s hopeful, confident face …