Her eyes linger as Fatin Jadmani strolls past their table, like she does every day, with her phone in hand, chatting animatedly. She walks like she’s in a fashion show instead of in high school, as if every eye is on her. And maybe she does draw quite a few stares every morning, though Ian never seems to notice her – or notice the way that Leah always notices Fatin. He keeps rambling about English, and Leah hums and nods and lets her eyes follow Fatin Jadmani until she disappears into the building.
Leah refocuses on Ian, tries to shake Fatin Jadmani from her thoughts. They’ve interacted exactly twice. Once, Fatin dropped her keys in the hallway, and they went skittering towards Leah, so Leah snagged them and handed them back, and Fatin flashed her a wide smile, said thanks, sweetheart, winked at Leah, then kept walking. It’s a miracle Leah didn’t swoon right then and there, but she had to get to calculus before the bell rang. The second time, Fatin stood directly behind Leah in the line to get into the auditorium for a mandatory assembly, and there was pretty much the same distance between Leah and Fatin as there was between Leah and the guy in front of her, but it still felt special. When Leah chanced glancing back, Fatin even rolled her eyes and grumbled about how this was taking forever, and Leah found it in herself to agree. Fatin’s perfume was strong – pleasant, though – and she was wearing a crop top that should’ve gotten her dress coded, and –
So yeah. Two times. Leah’s tried to maximize her chances to create an excuse to talk to Fatin, but it’s hard. Their school is small, but Fatin is busy, and they don’t cross paths often already, and Fatin’s wildly unattainable anyway. It’s a fantasy to distract Leah from her usual boring-ass life, the idea that she could spark something between them and live out an exciting, romantic fairytale with the hottest girl in school. It’s ridiculous, how Leah has this whole story mapped out in her mind about what could happen between her and Fatin, when obviously they’re worlds apart. Even though in their last period, Leah literally sits two rows behind Fatin and stares at the back of her head instead of paying attention to physics. Who needs physics anyway?
Fatin has quite a social media presence, but Leah’s too self-conscious to even consider following Fatin. Fatin has no clue who she fucking is, and though she’s popular enough to probably not question random students from her school following her, Leah can’t handle the idea of hitting follow and never getting a follow back. So she lurks, and she feels jealous of boys she’s never met, over a girl who doesn’t know she exists, and it’s ridiculous. But Leah’s a teenage girl, so she cuts herself a little bit of slack. She knows she isn’t the only loser pining after Fatin Jadmani.
And, you know, once high school ends, Leah will eventually forget about Fatin. Or there’ll at least be enough physical distance to force Leah to move on, and she’ll be able to look back and laugh at herself for feeling so strongly about some girl she’ll never get to know outside of what’s shared publicly. Even if it feels like she’s dying now, it’ll go away.
The last day of junior year, a bright yellow Porsche parks in the space beside Leah’s car, and Leah watches from the lawn as Fatin Jadmani steps out, sunglasses shielding her eyes, hair tied up sloppily, exposing the large hoops hanging from her ears. This is maybe the most casual outfit Fatin has dared to wear to school – ripped jeans and sneakers and a hot pink crop top. Fatin probably has more dress code violations than anyone else, and yet here she is.
Ian says something about the job he landed for over the summer, and Leah watches Fatin make a beeline for the building, no phone in hand. It’s odd behavior for her, but Leah supposes she’ll never get an explanation. This could very easily be the last time Leah sees Fatin until the fall – in person – and there’s something slightly painful about that. They’ll only have one more year before Leah will be forced to drop her stupid fantasy crush and go live her life.
By the time the end of the day hits, Leah forgets all about being parked next to Fatin, until after she hugs Ian goodbye and swears they’ll still find time to hang out over the summer, even if they both have jobs. Well, if Leah gets the job she’s waiting on. There’s no way she’ll serve her rich classmates ice cream all summer long, like Ian’s gonna be doing. As Leah walks to her car, her heart drops when she spots the bright yellow Porsche beside hers. Her mind immediately throws something like you could be super creepy and wait in your car to catch one last glimpse of Fatin before you go at her, but there’s no need.
Fatin’s there, struggling to shove a huge cello case into the not-huge sports car.
Oh my God. This is her chance. Leah already knows she’s gonna fuck it up by being unbearably awkward, but this is literally the moment she’s been daydreaming about for the last eight months. Well, not the exact moment she daydreamed about. That was always a lot more sophisticated and – whatever. Leah just needs an opening, and she’s found one. She’s gotta play it cool, suppress her awkwardness for five minutes in order to have a decent interaction with Fatin, so she can start her summer off on the right foot.
(And replay the moment in her mind over and over without cringing at herself, then dreaming about how Fatin gets ahold of her number and asks her out then asks her to marry her and – Leah’s getting way too far ahead of herself there.)
Leah unlocks her car, heart hammering in her throat, and makes her way to the passenger’s side to throw her backpack in. She shuts the door, starts to walk to the other side of the car where Fatin’s blocking her entrance with her body and with the giant cello case, and Leah pauses. Takes a breath. Fatin tries to angle the case a different way, but it juts out across the driver’s seat, too, and Fatin heaves a frustrated sigh.
“Need a hand?” Leah questions, and thank fuck her voice isn’t quiet or squeaky and doesn’t crack. She sounds totally normal, totally not like she’s a nervous wreck. She crams her hands in her pockets so Fatin won’t notice how badly she’s shaking when Fatin twists around to see who’s speaking to her. Fatin’s sunglasses rest on top of her head, so their eyes lock, and Leah manages a weak smile.
“Am I blocking you?” Fatin asks, straightening her back out. She drops the case to the cement. “Sorry, just – I forgot I’d have to lug this thing home today,” Fatin explains, shaking her head. “And of course it’s hard to make it fit.”
“Yeah, no, it’s cool,” Leah says. Ugh, God. She’s going to look like a fool in front of Fatin. “Maybe I could, um, try?”
Fatin’s eyes widen. “You sure?”
“Yeah,” Leah says. Her voice sounds off, and she can only hope she doesn’t sound giddy. “I mean, I’m sure it can fit, right?”
Fatin steps aside, holds her arm out toward the ajar door, and says, “Be my guest. I’ve been trying for, like, five minutes, and no matter what, I’m blocking my seat or obstructing my view of the windshield.”
Leah nods, teeth sinking into her lower lip. She pulls her hands out of her pockets, forces them to remain steady as she shifts more into Fatin’s space. They were closer in that line they’d waited in together, but still. They weren’t alone, then. The parking lot is half-empty, and the closest students are all the way over on the lawn. This is Leah’s one chance to make an impression, and she both thanks and curses the universe for presenting her with it.
Leah’s not sure what to expect when she lifts the case, doesn’t know if it’ll be light or heavy, but she refuses to react to its weight, works on cramming the thing into Fatin’s car in a way that’ll allow Fatin to drive home without having it pushing into her space. The car has no back seat, which is problem number one. Leah bets the trunk space is severely limited, too. Then it hits her.
“There’s gotta be a way to move the seat back, right?” Leah asks, carefully stepping back so she doesn’t slam her head on the car. Last thing she needs is to really embarrass herself in front of Fatin.
“Holy shit, duh!” Fatin exclaims. She smacks her palm into Leah’s shoulder then hits herself on her own forehead. Leah feels like she could pass out from such simple contact that Fatin put literally no thought into. “How could I be so fucking dumb?” Fatin laughs. She steps right into Leah’s space, and Leah’s breath hitches in her throat. She literally stops breathing as Fatin leans in and slides the seat back, laughing to herself the whole time. Fatin gets the cello case to fit, just barely, in the space she created and slams the door shut, shaking her head. “Can we pretend like that didn’t happen?” Fatin asks.
“Didn’t see anything,” Leah promises.
Fatin grins, though something about it doesn’t quite match her eyes. “Well, thank you, seriously,” Fatin says. “I would’ve been here forever if you hadn’t reminded me of how cars work.”
“It’s nothing,” Leah says. She swallows down the disappointment rising in her throat. This is it. Fatin’s about to get in her car and speed off, and Leah will have to wait until August to see her from a distance again. This will just be a third minor interaction that has no lasting impact on anything, except for giving Leah the fleeting experience of standing within a foot of Fatin Jadmani and catching a brief whiff of her expensive perfume and being close enough to see that the gold necklace around Fatin’s neck reads ZERO FUCKS. Useless. Fucking useless.
Fatin stares at Leah for a long moment before she points at her and guesses, “It’s Leah, right?”
Leah tries not to visibly startle, but her heart immediately picks up its pace and her mouth goes dry, and she feels like an idiot even before she stammers out, “Yeah, I – yeah.” Before Leah stupidly asks how Fatin knows her name, she remembers they have physics together, and Mr. Martinez spends the first few minutes doing attendance out loud every day.
“Thank you, Leah,” Fatin says. She smiles, reaches out to press her fingertips against Leah’s arm, just under where Leah’s T-shirt sleeve ends. “I thought I was gonna have to drive with that thing halfway in my lap, but clearly I’m just dumb.”
“We all have our moments,” Leah says. She decides to attempt to make a joke without really thinking about it, says, “I promise I won’t tell anyone, though. Wouldn’t want to wreck your cool girl image by letting our classmates know you sometimes struggle with basic tasks.”
Thankfully, Fatin busts out laughing, and Leah’s heart soars, and again she feels like she could faint. She doesn’t, because that would be super embarrassing. Leah’s satisfaction shines through her smile, and for a second, Leah’s muscles relax. As Fatin’s laughter dies off, Fatin nods, smirks at Leah.
“You’re cute,” Fatin says, eyes dropping from Leah’s face to her outfit momentarily, like Fatin’s judging her. Probably is. Fatin digs her keys out of her pocket, drops her sunglasses onto her face, and says, “Well anyway, have a good summer.”
“Yeah, you too,” Leah replies, fumbling for her own keys. Right. She actually has to drive to get home, can’t just spend the rest of the day in the school’s parking lot, screaming internally.
“See ya,” Fatin calls, then disappears into the car, leaving Leah to struggle to get her door open. She hits her head on the way in, and she hopes Fatin didn’t witness that, but she’s kind of way too elated to care. See ya??? That implies – well, it’s obvious what it implies, and Leah really tries not to overthink that on her way home, but how could she not?
She made an impression, alright. It’s just a real fucking shame she’ll have to wait until August to find out if it matters.
1:05 p.m. I GOT THE JOB!!!!
Ian, 1:10 p.m. I mean I totally knew you would but that’s great
1:14 p.m. Maybe we’ll actually have money to do things this summer
Ian, 1:17 p.m. That’s the dream baby
The week leading into Leah’s first day of work, Fatin’s suspiciously absent from Instagram. She’s a regular poster and almost always has an active story, but there’s nothing. Leah wonders if something happened, or if Fatin’s on a social media cleanse, but it’s frustrating. It distracts Leah from worrying about how this new job is going to go, at least until the day of. It’s not even a big deal. It’s a big name clothing store, and the first shift is just orientation and training, and it’s only four hours. No big deal. Leah’s not an idiot. She can work retail.
It’s easy. She tells the woman at the service desk that she’s here for orientation, and someone comes out of the back to get her, and they lead her to the training room and motion for her to take a seat with the three other new hires as they wait for the final person to show up. Leah’s lucky she doesn’t jolt to a stop in the doorway. There’s no way. Leah must be asleep right now, obviously, because only in her wildest dreams would Fatin Jadmani be here for orientation with her, at a store that requires Leah to get on the freeway to reach. She’d hoped she’d be able to avoid her classmates if she worked a little farther from home, but she’s staring at Fatin right now.
Fatin, unsurprisingly, looks like she’d rather be anywhere else. She’s slumped down in her chair, not making eye contact with anyone, arms crossed over her chest. Her hair’s tied up, there’s very minimal makeup on her face, and she’s wearing a plain black shirt beneath a plaid button down. She almost doesn’t look like Fatin Jadmani. And when she glances in Leah’s direction, when recognition flickers in Fatin’s eyes, a very discernable oh shit look crosses Fatin’s face.
Leah plays it cool, taking the seat to Fatin’s left as the orientation leader tells them it should just be a few more minutes. It’s fine. Leah has lots to think about before they get started. Like one, why does someone as obviously rich as Fatin need a part-time summer job? Shouldn’t she be laying out by a pool, flanked by half-naked, muscular men that take turns feeding her grapes and refilling her water and massaging her? Why is Fatin here?
Leah pinches herself beneath the table, just to make sure this is really happening. It’s like the universe turned her craziest fantasy into reality. Leah dares to look beside her, but Fatin’s staring off somewhere else, not looking to engage with Leah currently. If there weren’t other people in the room, Leah would say something, but she’ll be forced to wait. Orientation begins.
They take their break as a group after two hours, and the room clears out as everyone goes to get a snack or drink or to stretch. Fatin hangs back, though, so Leah hesitates.
“Fatin?” Leah says, as if this isn’t actually the Fatin Jadmani who’s been sitting next to her for two hours straight. After those first boring ass two hours, Leah’s finally convinced this is reality.
Fatin exhales heavily, looks Leah in the eye for the first time since she arrived, and gives Leah a small, apologetic smile. “Busted,” Fatin jokes, but she sounds…defeated?
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad to see a familiar face,” Leah says quickly, and she almost reaches out to touch Fatin’s wrist but thinks better of it. Maybe Fatin can casually touch strangers, but Leah can’t handle that. “I’m just…confused, I guess?”
Fatin rolls her eyes, inhales sharply, and says, “Yeah, trust me. It’s a long story.”
Leah presses her lips together, shrugs. “At least the job sounds super glamorous, right?”
It takes a moment before Fatin works out that Leah’s joking, and slowly, Fatin smiles. “Oh, obviously,” Fatin quips. She uncrosses her arms, sits up straighter, angling her body toward Leah. “Who doesn’t love finding ugly shirts for middle-aged women and getting bitched at about expired coupons?”
Leah laughs. “I’m sure that’s exactly how it’s going to go, but I’m glad that I won’t have to beg my parents for money every time I want to do something.”
Fatin’s expression darkens momentarily, but then she’s shaking her head and saying, “At least it gets me out of the house and away from the stupid cello, right?”
“I guess that’s one way to look at it.”
Orientation starts back up, and Leah doesn’t get another word in until after their shifts come to an end, until they’re clocking out and walking up to the front of the store. As Leah’s desperately trying to think of something cool to say, Fatin knocks the back of her hand into Leah’s arm and waits until she has Leah’s attention.
“So not only did you get to see me totally embarrass myself on the last day of school, but now you get to experience an entire summer full of embarrassment with me,” Fatin says wryly.
“Maybe it won’t be so bad?”
Fatin laughs, hard, and Leah works to hide her confusion. “No, it’s gonna be bad, honey,” Fatin replies. “Retail is shit.”
“Then why’d you apply here?” Leah asks. She holds the door open for Fatin, curses her heart for acting up when Fatin’s fingers brush against hers as Fatin helps keep the door open for the next person.
“Because working in food is a hundred times worse,” Fatin answers. “At least I won’t have to shower off the smell of grease every night.”
“Fair point,” Leah concedes. She’s dying to ask why Fatin needs a job in the first place, but it’s way too soon for Leah to pry into Fatin’s life. They’re coworkers now, but they’re not friends. But hey, coworkers is better than nothing, like they were for years before, and now Leah has a real chance to do something. She feels like becoming friends is an attainable goal. Now whatever might happen from there –
She shouldn’t let herself think so far ahead, especially since it’s so unlikely to happen, but Leah can’t help it. She has a strong urge to skip to her car, but Fatin’s still walking with her, and their other coworkers are right behind them, so obviously she can’t.
Just as Leah gets close to her car, Fatin grabs her elbow, and Leah skids to a stop, eyebrows raising. She tries to breathe normally, to look relaxed when she smiles at Fatin, tries not to focus on how her elbow violently tingles as Fatin continues to hold it.
“What’s up?” Leah prompts.
“Let me give you my number, and we can compare schedules,” Fatin says.
Leah could explode. Literally feels like she could burst, she’s so happy. She pulls her phone out of her pocket, doesn’t think twice about handing it to Fatin.
“I’m, uh – I’m back tomorrow,” Leah informs as Fatin punches her number into Leah’s contacts.
“Me too,” Fatin says nonchalantly. “And the next day, and the next day.”
Leah swallows hard, forcing herself not to beam as Fatin hands her phone back. Leah purposefully grazes her fingers against the back of Fatin’s hand as she takes her phone but plays it off as accidental, shoving her phone into her back pocket.
“I guess we’ll be seeing quite a bit of each other this summer,” Leah says softly.
“Guess so,” Fatin agrees. She nods at Leah, says, “Text me,” before she spins and walks to her car.
Leah wants to scream, has to release the pure joy radiating through her body somehow, but she waits until Fatin drives off.
This is going to kill her.