Solve for i – Chapter Twelve

It took a lot of courage to just walk in through the front door in the first place, but then it turned out that Chez Phillipe wasn’t right inside. I actually had to take a lift up to the 25th floor and go through the whole stress of walking into the restaurant again. As ridiculous as it was, I felt like as soon as I walked in everyone would swing around and look at me, like, ‘that girl is a lesbian! She’s here on a lesbian date!’, but when I made it inside, absolutely no one so much as glanced in my direction.

Heart pounding, I surveyed the hordes of people, looking for Mikey’s face and terrified she’d see me before I saw her. The only wait-staff I could see were an older blonde lady, a kind of dusky-looking guy with a coifed moustache and tattoos all up his ripped arms, and an Indian lady with hair down to her waist. No soccer girl.

Fastastic, there’s still time to escape! my brain informed me, and I was debating the benefits of ducking outside and messaging her to say I was here, when it got worse: tattoo-and-moustache guy spotted me standing by the door and changed course to approach me. I froze.

“Hey, you must be Gemma!” he told me, extending his hand to shake. Instead of turning around and running away (which I seriously considered), I mutely shook it as he continued, “I’m Patrick, Mikey’s housemate. She’s expecting you! Wait here for a sec, I’ll go grab her.”

No, don’t ‘go grab’ her! I thought as loudly as I could as he disappeared. I wasn’t ready for this. I wasn’t ready for this. I was literally going to pass out when she came out of the—

When Patrick emerged from the kitchen, there was a girl with him. I recognised the short hair with the swept fringe and that energy that had bubbled out of her pictures: Mikey. When she spotted me, she gave me this nervous, elated smile and I was torn between going down for the count with my brain stuck in an endless loop of OH NO SHE’S HOT, and doing nothing except standing there and gaping at her.

In the end I compromised and gave her a stupid little wave.

She gave me a little wave back, and I went the brightest, deepest red I think I’ve ever gone in my life; I felt like my face was about to explode. Patrick just looked amused. “I’ll leave you ladies to it,” he told me with a coif-moustached grin, and then zipped off to take orders.

Mikey approached me a little slowly—shyly, even?—dressed in her French waiter uniform: white shirt, waistcoat and skirt-apron. She even had a little bow-tie. It was way too cute. I kept thinking anything I said now would be stupid because the only thing I could think of was, ‘you’re even more gorgeous in person!’, so I didn’t speak.

Neither did she for a few seconds so we just stood there super awkwardly, blushing like crazy, before she finally said, “Hi…” Pink cheeks made her green eyes look even greener.

“Hi…” I managed, still looking mostly at the floor.

“I-I like your dress,” she stammered, “that’s a really pretty colour on you.”

If the ground could have opened up and swallowed me whole, I think it would have been a pleasant relief. I had no idea how to take compliments. I had no idea how to return compliments, either. So, I just said the first thing that came into my head. “Yeah, blue goes really well with my bright red face.”

She laughed—it was an unexpectedly pleasant sound. “Probably with mine, too,” she said, and put her hands to her cheeks. “Sorry, I’m not normally like this.”

“I am,” I said flatly.

She laughed again and gave me a look that was—wow, so adoring? It had been a long time since someone had looked that way at me.

She brushed down her front. “Sorry about the daggy uniform, I’ll go change,” she said, still trying to smother a nervous smile, “but I reserved us a really awesome table by the window, so you can wait there, if you want. The view is really incredible at night. Here…”

She led me on my very shaky knees over to an ornate little two-person table by the window. It had really pretty provincial settings, with a lovely lacy white tablecloth and a—gosh, a red rose across my table setting.

My hand flew up to my mouth; there weren’t roses on any of the other tables, so someone had put that there especially for me. I couldn’t stop smiling as she pulled my chair out for me, draped the serviette across my lap and then stood back. “Back in a sec,” she said, and then high-tailed back through kitchen.

It gave me a few seconds to catch my breath; and when I turned my head to look at this so-called beautiful view, what I actually saw was my beaming reflection in the window. Embarrassed, I tried to look less obvious.

Beyond my reflection, the view was great—I could see both the Opera House and part of the Sydney Harbour bridge. There must have been some festival or something going on because the Opera House was lit with different shapes and colours. I might have taken a photo of that to ask someone about later—probably Sarah, she always knew about this stuff—but my palms were so sweaty I was worried my phone would slip straight out of them.

Besides, I could hardly think of anything except the fact Mikey would be back here in a second, and I was both terrified and terrifically excited about that.

When she did come back, she was wearing kind of boyish jeans—she had narrow hips so they really suited her—and a very pale green shirt tucked into them on one side. She’d also slung a skinny tie around her neck and knotted it loosely at about collarbone-height, and the whole boyish, messy chic thing was just—ugh, she was so attractive.

“I feel a bit under-dressed,” she admitted, looking down her front. “I would have worn something a bit swisher if I’d known how nice you’d look.”

Apparently I was going to spend our entire date with a bright red face. “You look nice!” I protested, looking everywhere except at her and how nice she looked.

“Not as nice as you…” She said bashfully; I could hear the smile in her voice. I wished I had the courage to look up at her so I could see it.

We sat across from each other for a moment, looking in our laps with huge grins on our faces.

“So,” she began, “the chef is a really awesome guy, he’s actually French, and his brother owns the place. I’ve got him to cook my absolute favourite stuff for us, and I can’t wait for you to taste it.”

I had no idea how I was going to eat anything, I was so nervous, and every time I caught a little peek of that big smile of hers my chest simply inflated with air and I could hardly breathe. “I can’t wait,” I managed anyway.

Pretty soon Patrick came over with two bottles of wine, “Our best red and best white,” he told me ceremoniously, holding up each bottle. “What’s your poison, hon?” When I didn’t answer—I wasn’t sure which made me seem classier than I really was—he laughed. “Maybe I’ll pour you a big glass of both?”

“Maybe you should leave both bottles here, instead,” I managed, patting my side of the table.

They laughed like I was actually funny, and then I caught Patrick giving Mikey a private look that said I like her. I could have leapt out of the window and soared through the air.

While Patrick was pouring my wine and I was floating on cloud nine, it suddenly hit me like a tonne of bricks that I was sitting across the table from a girl. It was a girl I was feeling this way about, and not in a she’s-just-around-and-I’m-lonely way, either. I was having, like, legitimate gay feelings for a girl. I managed to peek up from my lap at Mikey for a moment. She was stealing a glance up at me, too, and we locked eyes and then frantically looked away.

The butterflies in my stomach went nuts. So I am gay, I realised. I felt like I should have been maybe a bit more shocked by that discovery; I wasn’t, though. I was a big ball of terrified, beaming excitement.

The chef himself brought our entrees out—cream of mushroom soup, and it was delicious—and by the time I’d managed to successfully get it down into my stomach with the butterflies, I’d relaxed a little. Mikey was nice. She was lovely, in fact. She had this adorable little laugh which she apparently did a lot when she was nervous, and a habit of resting her chin on her wrist and peeking up at me from underneath her lashes. She rolled up her shirt sleeves after she’d finished her glass of red, and that’s when I got my first eyeful of her forearms. They were really defined. Like, I could see some of the muscles in them, there was a hint of muscle through the top of her sleeves, too. She wasn’t big—she was really slender, in fact—but those muscles…

I may have stared a little. She noticed, and pushed her sleeves up a little further, giving me a shy smile. “I play a lot of sport.”

I could see that; she was in great shape. Me, on the other hand? I looked down at my own squishy arms. “I don’t.”

That didn’t seem to bother her at all. “You can hold my towel,” she told me, I think poking fun at herself before she explained, “I’m around athletes all the time, I see a lot of arms like mine. I don’t see a lot of arms like yours.”

Oh, that made sense. “I wondered why someone like you would be interested in someone like me…”

She looked up at me from under her swept fringe again. “I was thinking the same thing.”

With some wine in us, we got talking a little more about each other. She showed me a couple of tattoos, one for when her team made the finals, and another because she’d just really liked the design. I was interested, of course, but perhaps a little more interested in the fact she had to pull her shirt up to her hip to show me. Since when was seeing someone’s bellybutton so exciting?

I’d forgotten there was more food coming until the chef bussed it out, and when it arrived, Mikey described what it was with the same sort of loving detail as Bree always did: all the French names for things, where it was from and why I’d like it. “They’re all vegetarian,” she told me, looking very proud of herself. “I noticed you’d liked a whole lot of animal rights pages on Facebook, so…”

Could she get any more wonderful? I was probably giving her heart eyes.

The meal was delicious, but we spent too much time talking instead of eating, so most of the other guests had cleared out of the restaurant by the time we were done. Mikey asked me if I wanted dessert (I explained ‘want’ wasn’t the same as ‘have any room left at all for’, to which she replied, ‘I guess you’ll have to come back, then, because French desserts are amazing!’) and so we both had coffee, instead. Even after our empty cups were taken, we still sat there, pushing the conversation.

It was difficult to ignore the other waiters hovering around us and packing up other tables, though: we were going to have to leave soon. I didn’t want to, going home was the very last thing in the world I wanted right now. I could have sat here with her all night.

Mikey was watching her colleagues. “I kind of don’t want to go home yet,” she confessed, mirroring my thoughts. “But I hate it when patrons make us stay open late.”

My heart sank. “Oh, okay…”

She took a little breath. “Do you… maybe want to walk around the harbour a bit first, though? I think there’s something on tonight.”

Did I? I could hardly say yes fast enough, and watching her face light up when mine did made me feel like a million dollars.

We took a lift downstairs and she showed me a secret route to Circular Quay through the back of the building. There were still loads of tourists wandering around despite how late it was, and buskers everywhere were doing an assortment of really bizarre performances.

We wandered through them pretending to be interested even though secretly we definitely weren’t. We just didn’t want to go home, and the fact that this gorgeous woman with me wanted to do everything to try and stay in my company as long as possible just blew my mind.

I was already beaming ear to ear, but when I felt shy fingertips subtly reach for mine…

“Is this okay?” she said quietly besides me, and—wow. The butterflies were back.

I nodded. I wish I could double-nod, or triple-nod, because it was more than just ‘okay’.

In answer, she slipped her hand into mine and squeezed it, and then the two of us walked through Circular Quay in full view of the entire world holding hands.

Everyone knows I’m a lesbian, I thought, walking past crowds of tourists and business people on their way home. I felt oddly exposed as if they were all staring at me, and part of me was terrified someone from Frost might see me and tell everyone—or tell Sarah!—but a much greater percentage of me was over the moon and my brain was too full of Mikey to worry much about consequences. It didn’t matter who saw us anyway: I wouldn’t have let go of her hand for anything in the world.

When we got to the Opera House, she led me out of the crowd and down to the waterfront, saying, “There’s a little place I used to work down here, I know everyone!” but when we got there, the lights were out, the gate was shut and the restaurant was closed.

“Rats,” she said, banging the metal gate with the palm of her hand. “I was going to see if they’d let us sit out front if there weren’t many people, because the view along the water is amazing.”

“The view from here is still pretty nice,” I pointed out, looking across at North Shore. Sarah’s house and my flat were somewhere over there—too far away from the water to see, though.

It took her a moment to say it. “The view all night’s been pretty nice, really…” She didn’t mean out the window, either.

It made my breath catch in my throat.

We were quiet for a moment; in the distance I could hear the hum of traffic from the freeway and the crowds on the other side of the quay. I was acutely aware we were all alone.

Her fingertips brushed a few strands of hair away from my face, and she stepped a little closer to me, licking her lips a little.

Oh, goodness: I knew what came next. I’d never been more ready for anything in my life.

When I looked up at her, she leant in fractionally—just to make sure I knew what was happening—and then murmured, “Is this okay?”

I nodded, unable to stop smiling, and slowly, so slowly, she leant across and touched her lips against mine as we stood in the shadow of the Sydney Opera House.

It was a little hard to strike a rhythm because of how much we were both beaming (and occasionally we had to stop for a moment to giggle nervously) but we managed. Wow, did we manage.

I loved how her lips felt—smaller than I was used to, and softer. I loved how shy her hands were and how they didn’t just reach to grab greedy handfuls of me, but just snaked around my back and held our bodies together. I loved that I could taste her dessert coffee on her lips, and that I could feel the swell of her chest against mine, and that she had this little furrow in her brow as she kissed me as if she was concentrating really hard.

I’m kissing a girl, I thought, stunned by how surreal it was, but that didn’t make me want to stop. The opposite, in fact: I wanted to keep going. I wanted to keep going with her despite the fact we were both girls.

Despite being a girl too, her body was so different than mine, and even with my squishy arms around her neck I could feel how solid the rest of her was. I’d never seen a woman with a body like hers before, and I… I kind of wanted to know what she looked like. I wanted to know what she felt like, and I wanted to show her what I felt like. I couldn’t stop thinking about unbuttoning that shirt and pushing it over her shoulders, and letting her unzip my dress…

I still wasn’t too sure about the whole lesbian sex thing, but at that second, kissing her, I felt like I might have dropped my dress right then and there if someone could have guaranteed me that no one would see us.

No one could though, and we couldn’t kiss here forever. I was just getting up the courage to ask her if she wanted to come over, when she took a steadying breath herself and asked, “How close do you live?”

I flushed with pleasure; she had been thinking that, too? “Not that close, North Shore, maybe a 20- or 30-minute drive? You?”

She made the same face. “Just across the bridge, but I live in a tiny flat with two of the nosiest gayboys in all of Sydney.”

“Well, I live by myself. You want to hit mine?”

Her nervous smile came back. “Is that okay? I mean, it’s already pretty late…”

Was she kidding? It could be 4am and I’d still invite her over at this point!! “Yeah, of course. You cool with getting an Uber?”

She was, so we kissed a couple more times—back to nervous giggles again, apparently—and then I hunted around for where I’d dropped my handbag in the heat of the moment so I could get my phone out. “They’re usually really quick,” I was telling Mikey as I stood up. “I get them all the—”

—three messages and a missed call. All from Sarah.

The smile fell straight off my face.

“Can you give me a second?” I asked Mikey, taking a few steps away to check them.

That was really unlike Sarah. The last time she’d tried to contact me that much was after she broke up with Andrew, and for just a second, just for a tiny little second, I thought, maybe she’s broken up with Rob! Then I felt like a terrible person. She was having his baby, she wasn’t about to break up with him.

I quickly opened them. The first one was harmless enough, “Hey Gem, Bree’s cooked some three-cheese risotto and it’s absolute gold! We have a bowl here for you if you want to pop around for dinner J” If it had been any other night, I would have. Bree’s cooking certainly beat my own, and it meant more time with Sarah. Another night, I promised myself, and then scrolled down.

Risotto’s getting cold…” the next one read. “We’re all here waiting for you! I was also reading up on how to do really well on Tinder and I have some ideas that might help you land someone amazing!”

Of course, I hadn’t replied. After that, there was a missed call, and then an hour after the missed call, the last message said, “:(”

I stared at that sad face. Sarah so, so rarely showed any sort of emotion that I could only imagine how bad she’d need to feel to let on that she was feeling bad at all, and whose fault was it that she felt bad in the first place?

Ugh, and I was out here in the city, having the time of my life and ignoring her, wasn’t I?

“Is everything okay?” Mikey took a few tentative steps over.

I had no idea how to explain it, so I didn’t try. “Yeah, it’s just my best friend Sarah. She kind of doesn’t know I’m out tonight.” I paused. “Or that I’m into girls…”

Mikey considered that. “Are you going to tell her?” Hell no. I shook my head firmly, and she grimaced on my behalf. “Rough.”

I nodded, and then took a long, deep breath, trying to ignore the yucky feeling that had settled over me. “Okay: the Uber.”

We actually lucked out, because the Uber driver turned out to be from England and was an enormous ‘football’ fan. So he and Mikey chattered away excitedly about leagues I had no idea about, and it would have been a great opportunity for me to learn more about soccer (it was certainly a great opportunity for me to watch Mikey being really passionate about something), but I couldn’t stop thinking about that sad face text.

I hoped Sarah wasn’t crying. As soon as I thought that I realised that she probably was, and then I felt like a monster. I felt like a lying monster. She was probably shut in her bedroom, hugging her pillow and wondering why her best friend was suddenly avoiding her.

Maybe I should just tell Sarah about me, I thought, looking across at Mikey. If it works out with Mikey, it should be easy, right? She’ll never guess I was attracted to her first.

As soon as I’d thought that, though, I dismissed it. If I introduced Mikey, then Sarah would know that I’d been questioning my sexuality for some time, and that was enormous. That was an enormous thing to not tell her. And because I couldn’t tell her why, she’d assume it was because I didn’t trust her with knowing. Nothing was more guaranteed to make her feel absolutely heartbroken.

Maybe I could at least tell her I’m questioning and attracted to some other girl? I wondered, but the Uber driver arrived at my house before I’d figured out an answer.

Mikey looked up at my building, impressed. “Wow, you live in a really nice suburb!”

I laughed once. “Yeah, and I pay for it,” I told her. “Thank goodness I work for Frost!”

We had to walk up several flights of stairs before we got to my flat, and Mikey stepped up behind me to put her hands on my waist and kiss my neck while I was unlocking the door.

For a split second, I really enjoyed it—and then I felt guilty for enjoying it.

She noticed and immediately stepped away. “Hey, are you sure you’re okay with this?”

I tried to laugh it off. “Sure!” I said dismissively, and before I opened the door, I warned her, “It’s really messy.”

She shrugged. “I’m no clean freak,” she told me, still watching me a bit closely, but then laughed really hard when she saw how messy my place was. “It’s like a girl bomb went off in here and sprayed clothes and makeup everywhere,” she told me, wandering into my kitchen and looking with interest at all of my stuff. I watched her, hoping she’d ask me about a Sudoku thingy I had up on my fridge (I’d figured out the equation that guaranteed the correct figure in every square as long as 18% of the squares were already filled, and people were usually pretty impressed when I demonstrated it), but she looked past that because she’d already seen something in my living room that had caught her—

Oh, no, I’d forgotten: there were photos of me and Sarah everywhere.

Honestly, I’d never really thought about them before. It was normal to have photos of your best friend everywhere, because they were arguably one of the most important people in your life. But there were just so many of them. Bringing Mikey in here, I suddenly saw these photos in a different light: there were too many. It was weird. I suddenly felt like Mikey could see through me.

When she turned back to me, I could see she had. “Your ‘best friend Sarah’?” Her smile was gone.

I swallowed, and nodded.

So did she. It took her a moment to ask, “Were you… in love with her? Is that why you can’t tell her?”

Was I in—for some reason, surrounded by these photos, haunted by that sad face text message, that question slammed me. I felt sick. I felt sick, and uncomfortable, and I didn’t want to think about it. I loved Sarah, she was my friend, of course I—no, I told myself. This is totally the wrong time for me to be overthinking crap like that. “Not in love with her,” I told Mikey as my cheeks went pink and I felt for a moment like I might be sick. “I love her, because she’s my friend. That’s all.”

She didn’t believe me.

I didn’t want to see that knowing expression on her face anymore, so I immediately pulled her into my arms and kissed her. She was stiff as a board for a moment and I thought she might tear away from me and stop everything, but she didn’t, and slowly, slowly she relaxed.

It wasn’t the same at first, though, it felt forced. I felt like I maybe should have explained that Sarah and I were best friends and we’d always done everything together—she wasn’t just any old friend, hence all the photos—but no matter how I thought I’d explain it, it didn’t sound right.

In the end I didn’t say anything else about it because I didn’t want her to worry, I just wanted to hear those shy, sweet little giggles she was giving me by the Opera House, and I wanted to make her so happy that she couldn’t stop smiling again, just like I had before.

It was only when we nearly toppled over because we’d both been concentrating on other things than staying upright that she finally laughed into my lips and wrapped her arms tightly around me, just like she had before. That’s what I wanted. That Mikey. The one who smiled against my lips like she was now, and kissed me like she had before, except here in my flat where there was no one to see us.

It was that last part that got my mind wandering back to the ‘wanting more’ feeling I’d had before: no one could see us here.

I toyed a bit with the lowest button on her shirt before she finally said, “You can undo them if you want…” And leant away from me so I could.

She watched my face closely as I undid them, it made me blush like wildfire, and as the fabric fell open to reveal a very faint six-pack, she was waiting for me to tell her what I thought about it. I wanted to tell her I liked it because I did, but all I could do was mutely blush and run my fingertips over all the shapes. She looked pleased anyway, and shrugged the shirt off her shoulders so she was standing hip-to-hip with me in a very plain, very modest black sports bra.

“I don’t really own any nice bras,” she confessed.

I bit my lip. Should I say it? “I do, and I’m wearing it right now…”

When I peeked up at her, her jaw was slack, and her eyes dipped to my cleavage.

Still biting my lip a little, I reached around behind me to unzip my dress a little, just enough to fall to my waist and show off my nice strapless bra. She watched, completely rapt, and then instead of reaching straight for my breasts as soon as she could see my bra (which is totally what a boy would do), she put her hands on my shoulders and tried not to stare down too much.

“Freckles…” She observed about my torso; I was covered in them. I’d long since made peace with that, though.

“Yeah, I’m basically a human leopard,” I told her as she bent her neck down to place little tiny kisses along my neck and shoulders. I could feel her hands slipping down my arms as she did, the sides of them brushing the sides of my breasts, and, because I knew she was too shy to just grope them by herself, I lifted my hands to guide hers to where they wanted to go.

She inhaled sharply—there was that nervous smile again!—and cupped them over my bra as she leant back in to kiss me. I could tell where her mind was, though, because she kept glancing downward, and before long she was kissing my chin, across my jaw, down my neck… en route to kiss the crease between my breasts and then press her face indulgently between them.

I was silently laughing about how much she liked them (and how much I really liked that she did!) and looking over the top of her head as she—

Mr Crumpet was sitting directly opposite us, surrounded by my photos and glaring at me.

I must have stiffened, because Mikey noticed and looked up at me. “Should I stop?”

“It’s not that,” I said, and pointed. She twisted around. “My cat is watching us.”

She laughed. “Maybe he’s jealous?”

“Probably,” I agreed, “and he’s judging me. Look at him, judging me.” I didn’t need his judgment right now, so I went after him. “I’m going to shut him in the bedroom.”

That turned out to be harder than anticipated, because Mr Crumpet had speed that belied his girth. In the end, after watching me half-undressed and trying to chase my cat around for a full minute and laughing, Mikey gingerly suggested, “Maybe we should shut ourselves in the bedroom…?”

That seemed like a better idea—and I really liked what it implied!—so we shut him out of the bedroom instead. Much to Mikey’s amusement, my bedroom also looked like a ‘girl bomb’ had gone off in it, because my entire wardrobe was on my bed and I had to push it all onto the floor with the cat hair so we could hop on.

With no Mr Judgment and no photos in here, we were just getting into it again—and lying down with her, that added an extra element of illicitness that got my blood pumping—when that little fucking asshole of a cat starting howling blue murder outside the door. It was the most awful noise.

We stopped for a moment, mostly so Mikey could laugh. “Is he serious?”

“Be right back, I’m going to murder my cat,” I told her, hauling myself off the bed to hunt the mongrel down.

He took off again when I opened the door, and I spent what felt like eternity trying to catch him and get him into the bathroom. Almost giving up, I straightened to catch my breath and found myself facing the photos in my living room again. I stopped smiling.

All those photos of Sarah’s happy face only served to remind me of that sad face text, and I felt like they were judging me, too, just as much as Mr Grump was. I didn’t blame them: I was about to have sex while she was probably crying about me ignoring her.

It suddenly struck me how completely selfish it was of me to just let her feel like that, especially when all it would take is one simple text to let her know I was busy and that everything was okay. I could do at least that much for her, couldn’t I?

I pulled my phone out of my bag, thinking I’d just text her, “Busy, will call you very soon! xx” or something like that so she knew I wasn’t ignoring her, when I saw I’d already got a text message from her. My stomach dropping, I opened it.

I wish you’d just tell me what I’ve done wrong…  😦

Ugh… I leant against my bench, my hand over my eyes for a moment. I was a total selfish monster. I should have replied to her much earlier.

I didn’t realise how long I’d been out there trying to figure out what to say to her until I noticed Mikey was watching me from the doorway.

She had a really strange expression on her face. I felt sick; she was reading me like a book.

I looked down at my phone. I desperately wanted to reply to Sarah and make her feel better, but it was also really rude of me to be ignoring Mikey, too, wasn’t it? Mikey was my guest. Shit, I’d just have to text Sarah later. “Sorry,” I told Mikey. “Sorry, I’m coming.”

She didn’t look very comforted as I put my phone down on the bench and walked back towards her. Before I was back in her arms, though, my phone buzzed on the kitchen bench.

I’d got another message.

I stopped in place. What if something really was wrong for Sarah and she just didn’t want to say it on the phone?

Mikey was watching me, looking increasingly disappointed. “Go on,” she said neutrally. “I know you want to get that.”

Despite that visible disappointment, I couldn’t help rushing back to my phone to read the message. When I did, though, it was like reading a punch to the stomach. “Please tell me… I miss you so much…” I think I recoiled like she actually had punched me.

Mikey saw my reaction, and slumped. She spent a few seconds with her eyes closed, and then straightened. “You know, I think I’m just going to go.” She walked over to grab her shirt off the back of the couch.

What? “No! No, it’s fine!” I told her, abandoning my phone. “I literally will just be a second, I was just going to send a quick text to—”

She stopped me. “I can guess who.”

We stared at each other for a moment, and then she looked away and threaded her arms into her shirt, eyes veiled.

No. No—this wasn’t happening, was it?! It was like the sudden pivot point where a beautiful dream transforms into a horrible nightmare, and I was stuck in place and unable to run away from the horrors. Just like in a nightmare, I stood trapped, open-jawed, and watching her stiffly button up her shirt.

No more adorable nervous laugh and rosy cheeks. No more elated smiles and shy eyes. When I thought about how on top of the world I’d been an hour ago, and then looked at what was happening now, I felt sick, so sick. I pulled my dress back up because I didn’t know what else to do, and watched helplessly as someone incredible slipped like sand through my fingers.

Before she left, she gave me one last look. There was nothing but heartbreak on her face, and just like everything else, that was my fault.

I was shaking. “Stay,” I begged her. I knew it was pointless.

“I wish I could,” she told me, and I could hear in her voice how much she meant it.

The door fell gently shut behind her.

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21 thoughts on “Solve for i – Chapter Twelve

  1. Oh wow, what a rollercoaster of a chapter! I had a hunch something might go wrong, thought they’d maybe bump into Sarah or something… But the way you constructed it is amazing. So lifelike, with all the moments of awkwardness and uncertainty. I really loved reading this chapter. It was cute, it was intense, it was sad, it was completely relatable. Great job!

  2. Oh my god I am so annoyed at Sarah right now! Your friend doesn’t immediately text back so you jump right to guilt tripping? Aargh.

    Still, it was never going to work out with Mikey anyway. Way too early in the story for that, lol. I hope Gemma meets someone else nice and nothing bad happens… :S

  3. Awwww Asy, the first part was so so cute and sweet I really questioned if I was reading something yours, of course I was!

    I don’t feel bad for Gemma, honestly, we all saw that coming, you can’t be so dedicated to your best friend and then left her out of the picture, so yeah Sarah is right to be worried, I would be.

    I’m surprised on how ready Gemma is to jump on Soccer Girl, all this time questioning herself and going crazy anxious about Sarah and for an evening Soccer Girl is like salvation. But it should help her on how easy everything can be. Go on Gemma, see? Is not that difficult and you enjoyed it, it shouldn’t be that big deal to tell your best friend who loves you that you are a little (so) gay, she will be happy for you! Well after feeling really bad for all the time you have been keeping it from her. I did that to one or my best friends and I still feel bad. The sooner you tell her, Gemma, the more drama you will avoid, but unfortunately for us, Asy is writing you ;P

    I really hope Gemma stops worrying about how bad is to tell everyone she likes girl, be brave ginger!

    PS: If she doesn’t get Soccer Girl, please send her to me, I’m already in love with her.

  4. Wow, this chapter was intense! Filled with many emotions, as always.
    I understand how some people would get mad at Sarah for sending those messages to Gemma, some would even say that she was guilt-tripping her, but I can see things from Sarah’s perspective too. She’s been used to Gemma answering her texts quickly and almost never declining an invitation to come/stay over, Gemma telling her everything. And suddenly, she notices that Gemma starts avoiding her, keeping things from her, distancing herself (and in a way, that’s true). Sarah is very perceptive, but she also probably hasn’t thought that Gemma would have feelings for her that aren’t platonic, because it’s hard to think that about people that have been close to you for a long time. So of course she’s worried that she’s losing her best friend. All of this, coupled with her pregnancy, means that she’ll react more strongly to things. For example, she probably freaked out over Gemma ignoring her texts about the dinner, and we’ll probably see the consequences of it in the next chapter(s). Also, since she realized that she can be too controlling of Gemma at times, and that her best friend wouldn’t tell her that, she’s afraid that she’s somehow suffocating Gemma. I’ve come to care a lot about Sarah in this book, and a part of that is because I’ve seen her through Gemma’s eyes, but also because she’s always been more perceptive and cunning than everyone else. I’m really curious to reading about all this from Sarah’s perspective, so maybe if you’re not too swamped you could write a little fic in Sarah’s pov? Would be very interesting, in my opinion.

    I’m really sad that it didn’t work out with Mikey right now, and I hope it isn’t too late to fix it with her. As much as I thought I’d be shipping Gemma with Sarah till the end of time, you have a gift for fluffy and emotional scenes that make me love the interactions between characters. So yep, you’ve corrupted me. I’m a GemmaxMikey shipper now. (Memma?Gikey? These sound so silly😄 hmm, what about Gemkey?)

    Of course, if Gemma hadn’t been as avoidant as I used to be, she wouldn’t be in so much shit right now. Ah, well. She’ll learn in time. I’m much looking forward to seeing shit go down in the following chapters. I expect a big confrontation at some point, in which Gemma gets called out for all the shit that she’s done (or, more precisely, avoided doing). I wonder who’s going to be the one to call her out on it.

    My predictions for the next chapter: Gemma is depressed because she disappointed Mikey and made Sarah sad. Maybe she makes a grand gesture to try to make Sarah feel better (which might include her lying about stuff AGAIN). Or Sarah finds out about her going out with Mikey or looking for girls on Tinder. Or both. Either way, I expect to be very stressed during the next chapters, because I’ve learned that in your books, stuff gets worse before it gets better😄

    Bonus question: could I have a reference for Mikey?

  5. Its so hard to say whos in the wrong here! I scrolled trhough some comments and it looks like people.are taking sides but… they’re both in the wrong and both are completely justified in their actions. Like Gemma shouldn’t be forced to come out until shes ready (and it sounds like shes not ready) but it would kill me if my best friend did what Gemma is doing to Sarah.

    I think you did a great job in portraying how difficult coming out is because theres no right or wrong to it. You give the story the conflicting emotions so the reader both identifies and sympathizes with all the characters.

    But awesome writing aside, I was screaming the whole time at Gemma to just stop getting it on with Mikey (I ship gemkey) and talk to Mikey??? Like not explain the situation if she doesnt want to but like just talk to her about different stuff?? LIKE???? GEMMA PLEASE. Anyway, I can’t wait to see what happens and I hope Mikey isn’t gone forever!!!!! I’ve also fallen for Mikey. All those muscles. I have a soft spot for girls with muscle.

  6. So, I’ve been reading along with this story (Second Hand Embarrassment: The Novel) and enjoying it quite a bit and having all the usual reactions.

    (You can do it, Gemma! See? Your being-a-complete-blabbering-mess is actually working out in your favour for once! This is going great and you’re making her just as happy as she is you. Just don’t mention Sarah. … I suppose that was a bit too much to hope for. You can still fix this. It’s not as bad as she’s imagining right now. Don’t pretend everything is fine, just explain the truth, it’s better than letting her rush out of there thinking that… well. That’s that, then. How about those giant glasses of wine you’re always chugging? I could use one of those right about now.)

    But what struck me most and impressed me most in these chapters is the character of Mikey; specifically, how you have managed to create such a strong impression of and strong reactions to (judging by the comments) a character who’s barely had any screen time and who, let’s be frank, we don’t really know at all, yet.

    I think you did it by first creating a strong visual impression through the photo’s and Gemma’s reaction to them, then gave us and her some time to build up expectations, but then when they finally met face to face you didn’t build on those expectations (Someone sporty, stylish, energetic and charming) but went off on an oblique angle and focussed on character traits that weren’t part of the stereotype evoked by the imagery. (Nervous, thoughtful, perceptive, although definitely still charming)

    Plus, by her reactions to Gemma, we got the hint that Mikey was making just as many assumptions about Gemma, and probably came to the date with her own expectations-based-on-outward-impressions. (“Wow, she’s beautiful, just look how she’s dressed, and she’s successful and really smart. Maths, works at Frost International… and I’m a waitress who wants to play a ballgame? What am I doing here? What is she doing here?”) Which is funny to think of when you’ve just read a bunch of chapters of Gemma-being-a-mess, but it’s still true. And that of course in turn clues us in that our initial idea-of-soccer-girl is likely to be just as incomplete and superficial and immediately makes her feel like much more of a real person.

    Not much else to add at this point. I’m definitely on the side of those who hope we haven’t seen the last of Mikey yet, but either way I’m looking forward to reading more. But mostly I just wanted to compliment your writing and characterisation in the book so far. Kudos.

  7. Well, to start off this super-late comment: congratulations on your marriage!!!

    Everything about this date is so perfect!!! They’re both so cute, and so into each other, and Mikey did such a great job setting up a sweet, romantic atmosphere (the vegetarian thing!!!), and her pal is so cute and supportive! Every few paragraphs something else adorable would happen – Gemma thinking about how she’s on a date with a girl and being happy about it, them wandering around the harbor not wanting to say goodnight…

    Mikey knows a lot of people! She and Gemma are really opposites in quite a few ways.

    Sarah’s text messages leave me with a lot of mixed feelings! I definitely think they’re inappropriately guilt-trip-y and escalated quickly in a way that makes me wonder if Sarah doesn’t feel entitled to Gemma’s attention, but Sarah is completely correct that Gemma has been pushing her away and lying to her and Sarah is responding to the events of the past week or so, not just the events of that day. I think Gemma is right that Sarah wouldn’t express her sadness at not getting a text back unless Sarah were really unhappy, but jeez, in that case maybe Sarah should talk about her feelings earlier when she can explain them in a less guilt-trip-y way. But then again, as a reader I know that Gemma is on an AMAZING date, while Sarah has every reason to think Gemma is just sitting at home, checking her phone and deciding not to answer.

    > As soon as I’d thought that, though, I dismissed it. If I introduced Mikey, then Sarah would know that I’d been questioning my sexuality for some time, and that was enormous. That was an enormous thing to not tell her. And because I couldn’t tell her why, she’d assume it was because I didn’t trust her with knowing. Nothing was more guaranteed to make her feel absolutely heartbroken.

    This paragraph is interesting to me because that’s what happened to Gemma in FAB, when Sarah didn’t tell her about the pregnancy. I feel like their friendship is suffering over them never having talked frankly about that (which is probably safely chalked up to Gemma’s crush).

    > I’d figured out the equation that guaranteed the correct figure in every square as long as 18% of the squares were already filled, and people were usually pretty impressed when I demonstrated it

    I have never loved Gemma more

    I wondered for half a second whether Gemma might just be overthinking the pictures, and Mikey wouldn’t read anything into it… but no, of course she understood immediately. 😦

    God, I was pretty much screaming internally as soon as Gemma went for her cell phone the second time. You put that phone down right now and go have amazing sex this instant, young lady! UGGGGH that was so horrible though, a million sadfaces cannot contain my disappointment

    But! The thing I’ve been yelling for since like chapter two finally happened! Gemma admits that she is not just attracted to Sarah, not just crushing on Sarah, but actually In Love with Sarah. I really, really hope this is a turning point for her and they’ll be able to work it out.

    Typo watch:
    > “Not as nice as you…” She said bashfully;
    > “Freckles…” She observed about my torso;
    Shouldn’t “she” be lowercase in both of these?

  8. Firstly, great chapter. Lots of emotions and no ‘adults only’ warning on the chapter so it was clear this was heading towards a car wreck!

    Mickey absolutely did the right thing and I’m glad that you wrote it that way. If they work (and I hope they do get another run) it can only be after Gem sorts this out. Speaking of out, this isn’t a coming out story, at least not as you’ve written it with Min in the past for example. Her concern seems almost entirely wrapped up in Sarah finding out she’s queer and that includes other people finding out she’s queer and as such passing said information on to Sarah. I’m not saying she’s not deeply confused by the depth of her feelings for Sarah but I think Gemma knows she can’t come out because it would lead Sarah to the question Mickey asked straight away.

    Oooohhh and Sarah’s reaction right now. Oh boy. Let’s all remember her body is working her with a hormonal cocktail right now, plus she’s quite rightly picked up on deliberate estrangement from Gemma, plus she clearly is having a crisis around what motherhood means for her as an individual and so on and so forth.

    Like every great angsty story, if the two central idiots just found an hour for an open and honest conversation the entire novel would be rendered obsolete. But what fun would that be? 😛

  9. I really need to study for my finals, but I spent last five hours or so just binge-reading this and I don’t regret even a second. Thank you so much for writing this!

  10. So I just finished reading the entire book and I couldn’t have been happier! I posted my review on Goodreads (although I’m absolutely terrible at writing reviews. Me and words? nope)

    It was such a refreshing book. I really connected with Gemma – she’s practically me in front of others (though on occasion, I would’ve spoken out more than she did).
    I am gonna jump right ahead and read Min and Bree’s story, but before that I just had to say this one thing: The scenes with Natalie were the hottest I’d ever read in a book. I wish you’d write Natalie’s story! I’d pay a lot to read that one.

    Now that I’ve embarrassed myself, I hope you’ll publish another book soon 🙂

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