“Face to Face”

Allyson McKenzie


“Truth or dare?” Lydia asked with a glint of mischief in her eyes.

“Truth! Truth!” Maddie exclaimed, bouncing up and down on the twin-sized bed, headboard banging against the wall.

Lydia let out a quiet laugh at the display, “Okay fine, but you gotta stop bouncing before you break my headboard, and get us both in trouble.” She shot a quick glance over her shoulder to the bedroom door, half-expecting her mom to race in and scold them. It was way past lights out for the two girls.

Maddie plopped back down with a loud thud! “Oops, sorry!” She inched closer to her best friend in anticipation, “Lay it on me!”

“Who do you think is the cutest boy in our grade?” Lydia grinned devilishly, “And remember, you said truth! So, there’s no getting out of it!”

“Oh.” Maddie became very interested in a thread unraveling from the comforter and begin to pull at it, “I guess…uh, no one?”

Lydia frowned, “Come on Mad, you can tell me!” She took Maddie’s hand in her own, “I told you about my crush on Brian! You don’t have to be embarrassed.”

Maddie looked up with wide, honest eyes, “It’s no one!” She hesitated a moment, before adding, “I don’t, er, well…” She focused on the nightstand, watching the small candle flicker and dance in the darkness, “I think. IthinkIlikegirls,” the words came out in a rush. She continued to stare into the fire, refusing to meet her friends gaze.

It took Lydia a second to process this information. Maddie’s face was a deep, beet red and she played with the thread once more. Her best friend looked so scared, so nervous; her only instinct was to reach down to cup her hand.

She startled at the touch but met Lydia’s eyes. They still held that same kindness from before, the same unwavering love she had felt over the last six years. Maddie let out a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding, and smiled.

Lydia grinned widely at her friend, “Okay, then who is the cutest girl in our grade?”

Maddie let out a chuckle, “Nope, sorry. It’s your turn! Truth or dare?”

It was the last day of summer vacation, and Maddie’s room was in disarray, shirts and faded jeans laid about the floor. She had spent all afternoon trying to find the perfect outfit for her first day of middle school, something that exclaimed, “Yes! I am normal and very approachable!” She stood in front of her full-length mirror, a firm frown turned downwards. While examining the jeans and flowy blouse combo she had thrown together, her phone buzzed from the nightstand.

I can change ur mind ; )

Maddie felt her stomach drop. Not again. She was about to turn her phone off when a series of texts bombarded her.

u only like pussy cuz u haven’t seen a real man.

Ur too hot to be a faggot

Come on stop being such a tease

She flung her phone across the room, trying to distance herself from the insults. As she slumped to the ground, she caught her reflection in the mirror.

“You’re a freak.” She felt tears prickling the corners of her eyes, “What’s wrong with you?! Cory’s right, they’re all right! You’re disgusting! Why couldn’t you just have sex with him?!” She unconsciously fisted her hands into tight balls. She thought back on the night a few months ago when she had agreed to go on a date with Cory. He had been so charming, so sweet, that she was halfway convinced she might like boys.

Only, she didn’t. The entire night was uncomfortable, and she couldn’t wait to finish her dessert and politely excuse herself. Cory had other plans.

“You’re WEIRD! A FAG!” She shouted at her reflection.

Her phone chimed from where it had landed near the closet door. It was Lydia’s ringtone. She hastily wiped away her tears and crawled over to pick up the call.

“Hey.” She answered weakly.

“Maddie! Tomorrow is our first day of middle school! We are officially entering tween territory!” Her friend screamed through the receiver. “You’ve got to come over tonight and let me show you the outfit I’ve picked out!”

Maddie tried her best to sound enthusiastic, “Yeah, it’s wild.” She felt the tears beginning again, “Listen-“

“I can’t wait to start concert band! We’re gonna make so many new, nerdy friends. Maybe you can finally start that DnD campaign you’ve been working on!”

“Lydia…” She started, “Lydia what if they hate me? What if no one wants to talk to the…to the gay girl?”

Her friend paused for the briefest moment and said, ‘You’re not “the gay girl,’ you’re just Maddie. And anyone who can’t see how incredible you are can fuck right off! Don’t worry about Cory or those other skeeves from our old school; I’ll make sure no one makes fun of you—pinky promise. I’ll even throw a few punches if I gotta!”

Lydia’s words wrapped around her like a warm blanket, and she felt her anxieties begin to vanish, “I love you Lydia.” She smiled into the phone.

“I love you too, Mad! Now get your butt over here. Mom is making breakfast for dinner and I know how much you love her pancakes.”

The band hall at West Parker Middle School flared up in a frenzy of papers being shuffled and chairs scraping across linoleum, as the eighth-grade band began packing up their instruments for the day. Practice had gone smooth enough, but they all knew there was definite room for improvement before the annual holiday performance.

Lydia, first chair and section leader of the trumpets, clicked the tops of her case closed while letting the crowd thin out. Bobbing towards her with bright blue eyes and a mess of unruly auburn curls was Maddie.

“Hey!” She grinned, “My trombone is already packed away. You ready to head out?”

Lydia stuffed some sheet music into her folder and gathered up her backpack, “Yeah, I’m good. Lemme throw this in my locker and I’ll meet you out front.”

Maddie gave a thumb up and bounded out of the band hall, practically bursting with energy. Lydia rolled her eyes at the display while smiling to herself, “She needs an off switch.”

Lydia found herself outside and noted the setting sun; all the deep shades of orange, purple, and mauve painted across the sky. She idly wondered what her parents would have waiting for dinner- meatloaf? Maybe stir fry? Perhaps her favorite, hamburgers!

Her thoughts were interrupted by someone barreling into her from behind, clasping her in a tight bear hug. She groaned, “Maddie, I’m tired.”

Maddie giggled triumphantly as she tickled her ribcage, “Oh, lighten up! You were amazing in practice today!”

“I so wasn’t. The high G during my solo fell flat before I could finish,” she responded defeated. Maddie released her grip and shimmied her arm around to hold at Lydia’s waist- a casual, familiar place.

“No one even noticed you went flat until you started throwing a fit and talking to your instrument,” she snickered, “but seriously, you were fantastic.” Maddie took her friend’s hand, “Let’s take the long way home today.”

“Sure,” Lydia intertwined their fingers as they walked the same road they’d walked for years, back to their old neighborhood.

They walked in silence most of the way, comfortable and secure in their own bubble as they’d always been. Near the crossroads that intersected with their old elementary school Maddie slowed her footsteps, falling behind.

Lydia looked back, confused, “What’s up?”

“I can’t believe we’re about to be freshman. It feels like just yesterday we were back at this building learning our times tables,” she laughed.

Memories of their time together as elementary schoolers flooded Lydia’s mind, “I was such a brat in elementary. I think the Principal threw a party the day I left.”

Maddie couldn’t help snorting a laugh of affirmation, “I bet you set her on track for early retirement.”

“Hey, I wasn’t that bad!”

They found themselves walking over to the front steps of the old building, deep shadows of the late afternoon casting over them. It was exactly as they had left it two years ago, the red bricks marked with old age, the flagpole creaking in the early evening breeze.

Maddie broke the silence, “Do you remember the time in first grade when I asked you to be my best friend?” She looked over at Lydia who was smiling.

“Of course, I do. You had that awful bobbed haircut and still dressed in overalls,” Maddie smacked her playfully.

She hid her face in her hands, mortified, “Please, no, not that. We never speak of the overalls.”

Lydia let out a bark of laughter, “They were cute! Besides, I had those terrible bows in my hair until the fifth grade.”

They lapsed back into a peaceful silence until Maddie cleared her throat, “I remember our first sleepover together. I was so excited my mom finally gave me permission that I spent half the afternoon packing everything I owned into a suitcase.”

Lydia remembered back to that night filled with laughter, SNES games, pillow fights, and late-night talks, “Ah, yes, the beginning of the end for our parents sanity.”

“We played truth or dare that night.”

Lydia waited for her friend to continue, but she was silent. Maddie was staring towards the sky and her hand had balled into a fist at her side. She noticed her friend’s legs were shaking slightly, “Maddie are yo-“

“I came out to you that night. It was the first time I had said it aloud and I was scared, so scared that you’d kick me out of your house. Out of your life.” Maddie inhaled a deep, deep breath before turning her full gaze on Lydia. “But you didn’t. You accepted me for who I was.”

Lydia smiled warmly, “Of course, Maddie. Being gay doesn’t change anything.”

Maddie grabbed her hand once more, “You’re my best friend, you know that?” She laughed weakly, “Of course you do. You know everything about me, even things I don’t realize myself.” She squeezed Lydia’s hand, “All these years, you’ve always been there for me, you’ve always protected me. When the other kids made fun of me, called me a faggot, and hid my textbooks from me, you were there to let me know it was all going to be okay.”

“I got in some good punches on those assholes, too,” Lydia added, hoping to lighten the mood.

“Yeah, to your mother’s dismay,” Maddie shook her head fondly. “The point is, I don’t know what I’d do without you. I love you.”  

“Aw, Mad, I love y-“

Hastily, Maddie threw herself forward and smashed her lips plush against Lydia’s. She cupped one hand delicately, curiously, on Lydia’s cheek for half a beat before pulling away completely.

Lydia was shell shocked, she couldn’t move. Maddie looked at her, cheeks flushed, face brimming with emotion. The fear shined bright in her eyes, “No, Lydia. I- I love you,” Maddie repeated in a whisper.

For a moment neither girl moved as the thick tension engulfed them. They both felt on the edge of something important. Eventually, Lydia regained her sense of self and took a deep, deep breath. She moved slowly, slowly towards Maddie, and reached out her hand as if to cup her cheek. Maddie nuzzled into the touch eagerly, while Lydia gently tucked a ringlet of brown curls behind her friend’s ear. She put her lips to the shell of Maddie’s ear and whispered, “I’m sorry.”

 

Lydia didn’t know where she was running to, but she knew she needed to be alone. She could hear her date shouting her name from somewhere in the distance- she ignored him and kept running. Eventually, her pace slowed, and she discovered she was in the town square. Trying to catch her breath, she plopped down on a nearby bench.

It was a calm, spring night and the stars blinked above her reassuringly. Most of the town had turned in for the night, so the streets were deserted. The normally bustling square was covered in a blanket of serenity.

Lydia kept repeating the scene over in her head- Andrew’s lips on hers, his tight grip, his tongue pushing into her mouth, and how wrong it all felt. She remembered pushing him back, remembered the confused, hurt look on his face. Her heart was still racing furiously as she tried fighting back the truth she had pushed away for so long; she tried not to compare her boyfriend’s lips to the plush, soft lips of her best friend. Her face felt hot as her thoughts drifted to Maddie being in Andrew’s place- holding her waist, kissing her deeply.

“FUCK.” Lydia began punching the air angrily, “FUCK ME. What is wrong with me!”

She sat there for what felt like hours, crying until her eyes were red and puffy. It was long past her curfew before she decided to answer her parents constant phone calls, letting them know she wasn’t dead or kidnapped. On the drive home, her mother furiously reprimanded her, but Lydia barely heard. She gazed down at her phone, finger hovering over the Send button.

Can we talk?

The leaves had just begun changing colors; a sign summer was coming to an end. A shrill bell rang out, alerting students first period would begin shortly. Teenagers flocked into the front doors, buzzing with the anticipation of a new school year. Off to the side stood Maddie, rocking back and forth on her heels anxiously as she checked her phone.

“Come on, it’s the first day!” She shouted, “I can’t be late, or I’ll miss everything important.” She looked down at her phone once more and decided to head towards the door when someone suddenly encompassed her in a bear hug from behind.

“You’re late,” she pouted.

“I’m sorry babe, my mom insisted on a big, family breakfast to carb me up,” she reached around and placed a small peck on her girlfriend’s cheek.

“Make it up to me later?” Maddie wiggled her eyebrows suggestively.

Her girlfriend pulled her in for another, deeper, kiss, “Deal. Now let’s go, band is first period.”

Lydia laced fingers with her girlfriend, “We’ll be okay, right?”

Maddie squeezed her hand, “Babe, we’re gonna be amazing.”

Fiction piece by Allyson McKenzie