Leah texts Fatin when she’s home, and she hates that she feels frustrated. There’s no reason for them to rush into things, but if Kirin wasn’t still in the picture, this could’ve been their weekend. Leah heads upstairs, reminds herself that she should be grateful that Fatin wants her at all, reminds herself to be patient and that it’s gonna be hard for Fatin to break up with Kirin, and Leah needs to be supportive. Leah will get her chance, but this is about Fatin.
She gets a response from Fatin – okay good – and that’s it. Fatin’s going to take care of her boyfriend, and then Leah can stop feeling vaguely dirty about this whole situation. She showers in hopes that it’ll make her feel less gross and gets ready for bed, even though it’s barely eight o’clock on a Friday. She doesn’t want her parents to make her watch some movie from the 1940s with them, though, so she closes herself in her room. She checks her phone, but there’s nothing except an invitation to go out with Ian that she rejects with a simple can’t, my mom said no. She sets her phone on the nightstand and grabs the novel she’s halfway through.
She hopes against all odds that her phone will buzz, and she can barely focus on what she’s reading. Fatin’s taking care of it, Leah tells herself. It takes time. She’s probably not going to text Leah immediately after dumping her boyfriend. Leah just has to suffer through the waiting process, and then everything will start to fall into place.
She finishes the novel. It’s not as good as she expected it to be, but maybe she’s too distracted to fairly assess it. Leah checks her phone, already knowing there won’t be any important notifications on it, and there aren’t. It’s pushing eleven o’clock – late enough for Leah to consider sleeping as an actual option – so Leah settles in and mindlessly opens Instagram. She likes Ian’s most recent post, a picture with his aunt, and posts a comment she forgets moments later. One of her favorite bands is going on tour, and maybe with all the money she’s saving, she’ll actually be able to go. She makes a mental note of the date that tickets go on sale and refreshes Instagram.
Fatin’s story appears at the top. Leah’s eyebrows pull together, but she clicks on it, assuming that Fatin sent a post to her story or something. A post from some Instagram influencer or some celebrity who doesn’t deserve their fame isn’t what comes up. It’s a video, poorly lit because it was clearly taken at a party of some sort. Leah turns up the volume to confirm that Fatin is, in fact, drunker than shit, which is obvious when Fatin laughs. And sitting in Kirin’s lap, one arm wrapped around his neck as she grins lazily at the shaky camera. It’s a miracle Fatin doesn’t drop the phone before the video abruptly ends.
She doesn’t say anything in the video, and whatever Kirin says is drowned out by the loud music in the background. Leah tries to describe the feeling that surges through her to herself. Is it like being slapped in the face? Spit on? Being stabbed in the chest? All three at the same time? Something even more dramatic? Her free hand curls into fist, blunt nails digging into her palm, but she relaxes long enough to screen record the video. For proof. In case Fatin sobers up, deletes it, and tries to deny that it ever happened.
She watches the video a few more times, strains to hear whatever Kirin says, but it doesn’t really matter, does it? They’re obviously comfortable. Fatin obviously hasn’t dumped him. She’s out with him. Enjoying her night. Leah hates that, if she hadn’t left Fatin's place earlier, this might not have happened.
She refreshes Instagram again, but nothing else from Fatin pops up. She spends the next twenty minutes flipping between checking Instagram and Snapchat obsessively but finds nothing. Just the one video. Leah tosses her phone onto the other side of her bed and presses the heels of her hands against her eyes, but she doesn’t cry. She must be angry, then. That must be what this feeling in her chest is. Pure, unadulterated rage. No, there’s definitely a healthy dose of jealousy in there, too. Might as well admit it.
She won’t be able to sleep tonight. She lies awake, staring up at the ceiling, waiting for the inevitable tears that take hours to come. Even then, they just roll silently down her cheeks, and she wipes them away with the bottom of her shirt. Then she’s angry again, at herself, for being so upset. And as she’s getting it together, inhaling and exhaling until her breathing gets less shaky, less shallow, her phone lights up, buzzing. She forgot to put it on do not disturb, and it’s past three a.m., and honestly this is just obnoxious. Leah fumbles to grab it from the other side of the bed, holding it over her face and squinting at the light.
Fatin. Who else would call her so late?
Leah has two real options: pretend she’s asleep and let it go to voicemail, or decline the call, confirming that she’s awake.
She declines the call.
Leah turns do not disturb on, gets out of bed, and deposits her phone onto her desk. She doesn’t trust herself with it. She does actually have to work tomorrow, though not until the afternoon, so she can’t stay up all night. Besides, Fatin’s kind of the last person she wants to speak to right now. Leah gets back in bed, presses her face into her pillow, and yanks the covers over her head.
Eventually she sleeps.
She wakes up on her own, sometime shortly after noon. She heads into the bathroom before anything else, and she looks rough, like she slept like shit. It fits, because she did. Leah splashes cold water on her face, not that it helps, and gets ready. She has to be at work in under four hours. She doesn’t remember if Fatin’s working today, too, but she hopes against all odds that Fatin isn’t. She can handle online orders with Linh’s nonstop chatter, or closing the registers by herself, or Jeff’s awkward attempts at small talk, but she can’t handle Fatin at work. Just the thought of seeing Fatin makes her want to cry, and she’s not crying on the clock. She will not let it happen.
Once she’s ready, Leah goes back to her room and steels herself, inhaling deeply before she picks her phone up off her desk. She stares, slack-jawed, at the screen for a few long moments as her brain processes everything. Twelve missed calls, all from Fatin. And what’s probably an embarrassingly long string of texts. Fatin probably really needed to overcome her ego to send all of those.
Fatin Jadmani, 3:17 a.m. leah we need to talk
Fatin Jadmani, 3:18 a.m. answer the phone
Fatin Jadmani, 3:18 a.m. you declined my first call so ik you’re awake
Fatin Jadmani, 3:23 a.m. seriously i need to talk to you
Fatin Jadmani, 3:27 a.m. i have an explanation for you i SWEAR
Fatin Jadmani, 3:27 a.m. just please answer the phone
Fatin Jadmani, 3:33 a.m. leah please
Fatin Jadmani, 3:38 a.m. i’m sorry
Leah swipes them away.
Fatin’s car isn’t in the lot when Leah parks, and she rushes inside, as if Fatin’s car will magically appear out of thin air and drop in front of Leah. Leah’s earlier than usual, but she was hoping she wouldn’t have to see Fatin, if Fatin is indeed working tonight. Leah clocks in and checks where she’s at. She’s closing the women’s department…with Fatin. Leah’s blood runs cold, and she hurries to check who the closing managers are. She crosses her fingers, silently hoping for Jeff or Dean or Thom, but none of them are here. It’s Gretchen. The store manager is closing by herself tonight, because of course she is. The one night Leah needs a favor, and she’d have to beg the store manager to move her so she won’t have to deal with Fatin?
No. She won’t. She’s not going to let Gretchen know that she has a problem with Fatin, now or ever. Leah can suck it up, and Gretchen can hopefully continue to think absolutely nothing about Leah apart from how hard she works. Which, in all honesty, isn’t that hard. Eighty percent of her coworkers are just shit, and it makes her look better than she is.
Leah heads out to the women’s department to get started. She wants to go home tonight, doesn’t want to spend a single extra minute here after close if she doesn’t have to. And the one great thing about Gretchen is she hates staying late, too. Leah just has to make it five hours, until nine o’clock, and then she’s free. Just five hours. In the women’s department. With Fatin.
Leah could fake being sick. She considers the idea, spending twenty minutes in the bathroom and emerging to dramatically tell Gretchen she’s hopelessly ill and needs to go home. The idea of lying to Gretchen’s face makes Leah feel genuinely ill, so she scraps the whole plan and decides it’s best to focus solely on work. She’ll work on fixing up the department and leave Fatin to keep up with the fitting room, and they’ll only occasionally cross paths, and it’ll be fine.
Of course, Leah knows Fatin won't want to let it go down this way. Fatin strolls into the department five minutes late, and if Leah thought she looked rough when she woke up this morning, Fatin looks twenty times worse. Even her makeup can’t hide it. She definitely looks like she spent all night drinking.
Before Fatin can open her mouth, Leah snaps, “Don’t. Don’t start. I don’t want to hear it, and I definitely do not want to talk about our personal shit in this building. So can you just go deal with the fitting room? I want to leave on time, and I don’t really wanna see you right now.”
Fatin stares at Leah for a long moment then curtly nods. She heads off in the direction of the fitting room, leaving Leah alone with her thoughts. Leah bites down on the inside of her cheek hard enough to draw blood, but it staves off the feeling of wanting to cry.
She gets to work.
The shift drags, as Fatin once put it, like a motherfucker. Leah checks the time constantly, gets steadily more irritated every time she sees that only a handful of minutes have passed since she last looked. Folding and hanging and picking clothes up off the floor is not intellectually stimulating work, and it does not prevent Leah’s mind from wandering all over. It’s a tragically quiet, slow night, and Leah usually loves these nights. Usually, she spends most of them talking with Fatin as they blast through their work.
It’s almost like the shifts that Leah works without Fatin, since it’s boring as hell, but it’s worse, because Leah knows Fatin’s within a few hundred feet of her at all times. She catches glimpses of Fatin as Fatin’s putting the clothes from the fitting room away. She tries so hard not to stare, but she can’t help it. Leah knows she’s a fool, but she’s never wanted anyone as badly as she wants Fatin.
Fuck. She doesn’t want to give in yet. She wants Fatin to feel as badly as Leah has since last night. Fatin spends the rest of their shift staying the fuck away from Leah, as Leah asked, and Leah starts to consider her options. She could approach Fatin once they’re both off, give Fatin a chance to explain herself. Or she could keep being a dick and ignore Fatin until…their next shift? Monday? Not having any contact with Fatin for a full day feels impossible.
But Fatin listens. She doesn’t engage with Leah over anything that isn’t strictly work related, and even that only happens when Fatin literally cannot avoid it. Leah’s actually kind of lucky that Jeff isn’t here. Gretchen doesn’t give a shit about Leah’s relationship to Fatin and whether or not it’s strained. She has no clue. Jeff would’ve already asked Leah if something’s up with Fatin.
Gretchen lets them out right on time. As soon as the store closes, she dismisses the entire floor, tells them to get out. Leah isn’t sure if she imagines the way Fatin hangs back or if Fatin’s making an effort to stay out of Leah’s line of sight as they get their things from their lockers and clock out. They don’t walk out together, but Fatin doesn’t let Leah get too far ahead of her. Leah’s just stepping off the curb when Fatin calls for her.
“Leah! Please. Hang on.”
Leah’s jaw clenches, but she stops walking. She closes her eyes. She’s not going to blow up at Fatin in the parking lot right outside of their job. It’s not happening. With Leah’s luck, Gretchen will walk out as she’s in the middle of screaming at Fatin about the boyfriend she didn’t dump, and then Gretchen will know their personal shit, and Leah’s not trying to be the subject of the store’s hot gossip for the week. Sabrina’s shit probably isn’t enough to overshadow Leah and Fatin’s, if word got out. A bunch of teenagers and twenty-somethings really have nothing better to do than gossip to entertain themselves at their retail jobs. And Leah and Fatin could become the store’s most interesting piece of gossip this year if they aren’t careful.
“Will you talk to me? Please?” Fatin asks.
Leah can sense that Fatin’s standing to her right, possibly close enough to touch if Leah reached out. Leah keeps her eyes closed, focuses on breathing evenly. They need to talk, obviously. Leah's just not sure if she’s ready to.
“Okay,” Leah agrees. She opens her eyes, catches sight of Fatin in her peripheral vision, but she doesn’t turn her head, doesn’t look at her dead on. “In your car,” Leah says, so she can make a quick exit if necessary and not have to worry about needing to make Fatin get out of her car when she wants to leave.
“Whatever you want,” Fatin assures her.
Leah spots Fatin’s car easily. It’s the yellow Porsche 911 GT3. Leah only recently committed the model to memory, after Fatin confessed that not only is it her dream car, but that she even has a dream car, and has had a dream car in mind since she was little. It was one of those moments that made Fatin feel less like a dream or a fantasy and more like a human being. Maybe it was the way she’d smiled sheepishly at Leah after admitting she sorta has a thing for cars. Well, she has a thing for driving them. The Porsche was her sixteenth birthday present from her parents.
Leah has spent her fair share of time sitting in this car. The seat’s still adjusted the way she’d left it the last time, pushed back to make room for Leah’s freakishly long legs, as Fatin said. The car’s familiarity is comforting. It smells like Fatin. Leah sinks back into the seat, exhaling, willing her muscles to relax. It doesn’t last long once she wonders if Kirin’s been in this car, if maybe Fatin’s given him the keys, let him take it for a spin. Leah wouldn’t dare if she was given the opportunity, but maybe Kirin’s gone over a hundred miles an hour on the freeway in this car. Maybe he laughed, let one arm hang out the window while his other arm rested in Fatin’s lap –
Leah snaps out of it.
“I know you saw it,” Fatin says carefully. She wrings her hands in her lap, wincing, and Leah looks away, stares out at the mostly empty parking lot. “I’ve spent the last eighteen-ish hours trying to figure out how I’m going to apologize to you,” Fatin says.
Leah scoffs. “Maybe you shouldn’t. If you want him, I won’t stand in your way.”
“It was a lapse in judgment.”
Fatin’s voice breaking gets Leah to look at her, briefly, just to confirm that there are tears welling in Fatin’s eyes, but Fatin is successful at holding them back. Leah digs her nails into her palms, trying desperately not to cry herself.
“Well, people don’t usually make great decisions when they’re fucking plastered,” Leah says.
“I wasn’t supposed to be.”
“But you were,” Leah retorts. “And you were all over him, and I thought you – it doesn’t matter.”
“It does matter,” Fatin insists. She reaches over but stops herself when Leah visibly recoils. “I was going to break up with him, but he lied about where we were going,” Fatin explains. “The party was a surprise, and I was too nervous to break up with him while we were surrounded by a shit ton of people, and I had one drink to take the edge off, so I could find somewhere private to do it, but I – that shit was way stronger than I was expecting, and I don’t – I don’t know what happened.”
“I do. I mean, I saw it.”
“I wasn’t thinking.”
“Clearly,” Leah spits. “But you still wanted to be with him while you were drunk. It’s not like you were drunk texting me, so I get it. I’ll take the hint.”
“No,” Fatin says. “I don’t want him. I want you.”
“That is not what it looks like!” Leah shouts, and she curses her voice for fucking cracking. She laughs, but she isn’t sure why, and she presses her index finger and thumb against her eyes, as if she could force herself not to cry over a girl she never really had.
“Leah, please,” Fatin says quietly. “Going to that party with him was a mistake.”
“A mistake that you were happy to make, I guess,” Leah chokes out.
“No, Leah, you have no idea how sorry I am. I’ve felt like complete shit since I started to sober up. I mean it, okay? I want you. I never would’ve asked for his number if I’d thought I had a chance with you.”
Leah really doesn’t want to cry in front of Fatin, though there’s no stopping it, so she lets her hand fall into her lap. Maybe she should take some satisfaction out of the pain written into Fatin’s expression, but she feels too gross and too pathetic to care about how her tears make Fatin feel. Leah thinks she has it under control. The tears slip free, but she isn’t sobbing. Not yet. She trusts herself enough to ask one question.
“Did you break up with him?”
Fatin’s teeth sink into her lower lip, and her hesitation is the answer.
“I was still drunk when he dropped me off,” Fatin admits weakly. “I will do it first thing tomorrow, I swear –”
“You said you were gonna handle it last night!” Leah sobs, and she isn’t sure Fatin fully understands her, but she knows she won’t be able to repeat herself. She can barely breathe, doubling forward and pressing her hands against her face as Fatin looks on. She can’t look at Fatin any more, can’t bear to see the way Fatin’s face screws up as she struggles to keep her composure while Leah loses hers.
Fatin lets her cry for a while. Leah hears the store alarm go off, hears another car start and tear off. Gretchen, undoubtedly. It leaves Leah and Fatin as the last two in the lot. Leah cries until the tears stop coming, until she’s gasping for air, and when Fatin holds out a tissue, Leah has no choice but to take it.
“I’m sorry,” Fatin says.
Fatin inhales sharply, but she lets the comment slide.
“I don’t work tomorrow,” Fatin says. “I’m going to break up with him in the morning, and if you want to see me later, I’ll be free.”
Leah wipes the remaining dampness off her face with the tissue, crams it into her pocket, sniffles one final time, and twists in the seat to face Fatin.
“I just don’t understand why you would do this,” Leah whispers.
“I was just…afraid.”
“Of what?” Leah scoffs.
Fatin shrugs, smiles half-heartedly. “Hurting someone who didn’t do anything wrong? Causing a scene in public? None of it would’ve happened like that if I hadn’t had that one drink, and I didn’t know it would be that strong. Seriously, I – I want to give us a shot.”
Fatin holds her hand out, as an offering, and Leah stares at it. It’s her choice. She feels a few more tears glide down her cheeks, though she thought she’d ran out of tears, and presses her lips together, nodding. Slowly, she reaches over and gingerly lays her palm on Fatin’s, her fingertips resting against the inside of Fatin’s wrist. Fatin sighs in relief, all of the tension leaving her muscles as Leah’s hand touches hers. Fatin scoots herself closer, brings her other hand up to wipe the tears from Leah’s face. Fatin’s skin is warm, smooth. Her touch is unbearably soft and almost makes Leah start to cry again for real.
“Leah,” Fatin breathes, and Leah lifts her eyes to meet Fatin’s gaze. Looking at Fatin stings, like, physically. Fatin’s fingertips caress Leah’s jaw, barely there. Leah doesn’t move first, but she does lean in to meet Fatin halfway. Her hand slides out of Fatin’s, fingers twist into the material of Fatin’s shirt, pressing against Fatin’s ribcage. Fatin’s thumb briefly grazes along Leah’s jaw before her hand falls to Leah’s neck. The positioning is a little awkward, since they both have to lean over the center console, and Leah’s weight is braced against her arm on the console between them in an uncomfortable way, but if it weren’t for the circumstances, it’d be a solid kiss.
Leah’s lips seal around Fatin’s lower lip, and Leah holds on tightly to her fistful of Fatin’s shirt, to ground herself. Fatin doesn’t push her, traces her fingertips along Leah’s collarbone, just beneath the collar of Leah’s shirt, and Leah shudders, lips instinctively parting, and this is where she has to decide if she’s going to pull back or push for more. She desperately wants more. Every nerve in her body tingles. Leah’s kissed a few boys before, and she’s never felt like this. And her brain almost shuts off enough to convince Leah to keep going, but she can’t forget what she saw, can’t forget the way Fatin leaned into him, the way her fingers splayed out against his chest, the smile on her face.
Leah pulls back, releases Fatin’s shirt. Leah inhales shakily, opens her eyes to find that Fatin’s are still closed, and Leah removes Fatin’s hand from its spot near her collarbone. Fatin’s fingers close around Leah’s hand, and she still won’t open her eyes. Like maybe Fatin thinks if her eyes stay closed, the moment won’t end.
“I’m breaking up with him tomorrow,” Fatin promises.
Leah pulls her hand free, bends forward to grab her bag off the floor, and leaves Fatin’s car.