A Better Friend

A Mean Girls the musical fanfic

Gretchen was eager for the final bell to ring. In fact, she'd given up on even pretending to listen to Ms. Norbury's lecture. Gretchen always struggled to pay attention during math class, and today was no exception. Gretchen had something far more important than trigonometry on the brain. She gripped her hot pink, jewel encrusted pen, tapping it against her desk anxiously. Usually, Gretchen would discreetly pull her phone out of her bag and scroll through Instagram or text Regina under her desk where Ms. Norbury couldn't see. But today, she wasn't just afraid of Ms. Norbury catching her in the act.

Gretchen brought her pen to her mouth and chewed on the button, pushing it down and pulling it back up with her teeth. She could feel her heart fluttering in her chest, and butterflies tickling her stomach. The end of the school day had quickly grown to have new meaning to Gretchen. It meant she could go home and talk to the only person that truly understood and accepted her.

When the ball rang, a sharp scream against the monotonous drone of Ms. Norbury's lecture, Gretchen was relieved. She stood up instantly, gathering her books and her bag before she hurried out of the classroom and toward the senior parking lot. Usually Gretchen carpooled with Regina and Karen, but she hadn't been ready by the time Regina pulled into her driveway. The older girl honked three times, and when Gretchen didn't appear on the third shriek of the horn, Regina pulled out of the driveway without her. That was okay. Gretchen didn't blame her for not waiting. She'd been so late that morning, she missed first period. Luckily, Gretchen was impressively gifted at forging notes from her parents.

The thing that had kept her up so late was the same thing that caused her to half-run towards her Barbie-pink Mercedes-Benz as soon as school let out. She hardly even paid attention to her rearview mirror as she backed out of her parking spot,. Her hands gripped the wheel tightly as she turned onto the busy street. Gretchen groaned each time she had to press her stilettoed foot down on the brake to wait for one of her classmates to cross the street on foot in front of her. Each stop light Gretchen hit felt like a personal attack against her. She jerked the wheel abruptly to the right and raced down the last street before she got home.

She turned her car off and pulled the key out of the ignition, sticking her middle finger through the key chain and hitting the button to lock her vehicle as she opened the front door and walked inside. She didn't bother checking for her parents, she knew they weren't home. They always worked late, and Gretchen had learned not to waste time waiting up for them. She slipped her shoes off and left them beside the door, a family rule - no shoes in the house. Frankly, Gretchen's feet needed the break from her too-high stilettos. She gripped her phone in her hand, leaving her backpack and homework to be neglected until late Sunday night, and raced up the stairs, padding her bare feet against the wool carpet. When Gretchen reached her bedroom, she carefully closed and locked the door behind her, just to be safe.

Gretchen's room was understated compared only to Regina's. She had to beg her parents to let her paint the walls pink, which she only decided to do after Regina said she should. They used to be blue and yellow, but Gretchen really did like the pink better. Even if it didn't really match the yellow carpet or her blue comforter.

Gretchen sat down at her desk, which used to be her grandmother's. Regina said it was hideous the first time she saw it, but Gretchen's mother wouldn't let her move it downstairs to the den. Gretchen had liked the desk before Regina said it wasn't cool. Now she grimaced every time she sat down at it.

Gretchen grabbed her bright pink laptop and flipped it open, typing in her password, F3tchGr3tch01, to unlock the screen. She already had the website open because she fell asleep without turning her computer off. She clicked the refresh button in the top corner and waited impatiently as the screen went blank, then returned to the display of her inbox.

You have (2) new messages! the pop-up said. Gretchen clicked it, and she was redirected to the message screen.

ipaintdeadflowers - believe me, it's good. i don't know why you're always doubting yourself.

ipaintdeadflowers - it looks like you fell asleep. i guess i better go to bed, too. sweet dreams. i'm going to paint something for you in art class tomorrow.

Gretchen smiled. Nobody had ever painted something for her before. She had only ever dated Jason Weems, who didn't even like to be seen in public with her. Not that she was dating this online… person. Gretchen didn't even know what ipaintdeadflowers looked like. In fact, Gretchen didn't even know her name. She began to type.

you - That's adorable. Sorry I fell asleep. I wanted to stay up talking to you, but I couldn't keep my eyes open. I can't wait to see what you painted for me.

Gretchen hesitated a second on the enter button. Then she pushed it, her computer making a little ping noise. Almost immediately, three dots came up below her message, appearing and disappearing as her companion typed. Another ping sounded as she received a new message.

ipaintdeadflowers - it's fine. i get it. how was your day? here's the painting, by the way. i didn't get it completely done because i ran out of time, but i'll finish it tomorrow.

Gretchen clicked on the file. She smiled. Her friend was so talented. The painting was colorful, like all J's paintings were. The colors faded together so seamlessly, too. J was fearless. She flicked her brush like she didn't care if what she made turned out ugly - which it never did. This painting was of the night sky, the stars and moon practically shining on the page. In the corner, she could see J's thumb, holding the painting down for the picture. Her fingernail was painted black.

you - It looks done to me. It looks great. I love it.

ipaintdeadflowers - i just need to do some shading. then it'll be tits. that dress you sent me last night really inspired me.

you - I can see that. Your painting is so much better than my drawing, though.

ipaintdeadflowers - don't say that. you are so talented. one day you'll be headlining fashion shows all over the world. i hope you don't forget me when that happens.

you - I would never forget you. You're one of the only people I can talk to. Like, about real stuff.

ipaintdeadflowers - i still think you should stop hanging out with that girl you always tell me about. you deserve to have friends who are nice to you. she sounds like a friend i used to have… and if she really is like that, things will end badly. trust me.

you - It's more complicated than that. We've been best friends for years. Besides, who would be my friend if I ditched them? Who would I sit with at lunch?

ipaintdeadflowers - i would be your friend. i would sit with you at lunch.

Gretchen bit her lip. It was only a fantasy. She wouldn't really stand up to Regina or go sit with J at lunch. It was too crazy. Gretchen liked having structure in her life. She hated the unknown, and the real J, the one who wasn't sitting behind a screen typing, she was completely foreign to Gretchen. Gretchen started to type.

you - You won't even show me what you look like.

ipaintdeadflowers - neither will you

Gretchen didn't know why she was so desperate to see J's face. She spent a lot of time imagining her. Her nose, her eyes, her lips… Her neck, her jaw, the curve of her shoulder… No. Gretchen couldn't go there. She saw how Regina chewed up and spit out her old friend from middle school. She had to force herself to fake laugh every time Regina opened up to that page in the Burn Book. Gretchen had closed that part of herself off. She couldn't… But she wanted to. Maybe it would be okay, if she told this friend. J didn't even know her real name. It's not like J could spread it around school.

you - have you ever kissed anybody?

There was a long pause as those three little dots began rotating again below her message. Gretchen twirled a piece of hair around her finger as she waited.

ipaintdeadflowers - what does that have to do with anything?

you - I just wondered.

ipaintdeadflowers - have you?

Gretchen tied the chunk of hair she was fiddling with into a knot, then let it go. It immediately unraveled, spilling back down onto her shoulder. She lifted a tube of chapstick beside her keyboard, uncapping it before she brought it to her lips. One, two, three swipes across her mouth, then she rubbed her lips together. She took her time capping the tube and setting it back where she'd found it. Gretchen breathed out slowly, silently counting to three.

She brought her fingers back to the keyboard and began to type. She looked at what she'd written, then groaned and tapped the backspace key repeatedly until her message had disappeared. She tried again to type something, but her words fell short once more. Gretchen had attempted to deny the feelings she was developing for the other girl for far too long. But as hard as she tried, she couldn't lie to herself. It went beyond friendship and Gretchen knew it. But J had never expressed that kind of interest in Gretchen. And Gretchen hated the idea of putting herself out there only to get rejected. And besides, she hadn't wanted anything to ruin the special bond the two girls shared.

ipaintdeadflowers - g? you still there?

you - Yeah, I am. I'm sorry. I'm just trying to think of the right thing to say.

ipaintdeadflowers - you don't always have to say the right thing. especially not with me. you know that, right?

you - Yeah… I do.

Gretchen's heart was pounding a little faster in her chest. She could see that J was typing, but she knew if she didn't send her message right now, she would lose the nerve forever.

you - I like you.

ipaintdeadflowers - yeah, i like you too

you - I mean, I like-like you.

ipaintdeadflowers - oh.

Gretchen's heart sank in her chest. That was the sort of response she'd been expecting, but that didn't make it any less disappointing. She was hurt and embarrassed. She started to type another message.

you - forget I said anything. Never mind. I was only kidding.

ipaintdeadflowers - no. don't take it back. i'm sorry. i was just surprised. the thing is, i like you too. i don't usually like anyone, but i like you.

you - You do?!

ipaintdeadflowers - yeah. i mean… it's not easy for me to talk about this stuff. i'm not great with feelings. i just… i like you a lot. i wasn't sure if you were even…

ipaintdeadflowers - i just didn't know how you would feel if i said anything. i didn't want to make things weird between us.

The disappointment Gretchen felt only moments ago completely melted away. She only felt joy, pure and unadulterated joy. She stood up from her chair and did a little dance around her room, squealing to herself as butterflies fluttered in her chest. Giddy couldn't even begin to describe how happy she felt as she slid back into her chair and began to type again.

you - So… Have you ever kissed anyone?

ipaintdeadflowers - why do you care so much about that?

you - Because I really want to kiss you.

ipaintdeadflowers - g. you don't even know what i look like.

you - I don't care what you look like. I would want to kiss you even if you were ugly. That's how much I like you.

ipaintdeadflowers - you are absolutely ridiculous and i like you so fucking much.

you - Do you think we could meet in person sometime?

ipaintdeadflowers - hey, i know this is a bad time but i really have to go. i'll talk to you tonight? bye, g

Then the message "ipaintdeadflowers has left the chat room" popped up below her message. Gretchen sighed, typing a goodbye back to J even though she wouldn't read it until she returned. Every time Gretchen tried to arrange a meeting with the other girl, she got distant or defensive, then told Gretchen she had to go, but would be back later. Whenever J came back, she always changed the subject, and Gretchen never felt like pushing the issue too far.

Of course Gretchen had considered that she was being catfished. But for that to make any sense, she figured J would need to be pretending to be someone she wasn't. And that didn't seem to be the case. J never sent any pictures of her face and never told Gretchen her real name, first or last. If J was a catfish, she was a pretty bad one.

Gretchen was disappointed that her friend left so abruptly, but her heart still fluttered when she remembered the content of their conversation. J liked her, too. Gretchen couldn't help but smile. She scrolled back up and reread those words over and over again. It felt like a dream. She didn't want to wake up.

x

Gretchen met J on a forum for young artists. Ever since she was a little girl, Gretchen wanted to design clothes. She spent most of her free time creating renderings of her designs, and since she knew her parents wouldn't support her passion, and her friends would likely think it was stupid, she looked for a different outlet to share her talents. She found the website by chance. There was an advertisement for it on the website she bought her art supplies from. She created her account and within a few minutes she'd read through every recent thread, and she kept noticing ipaintdeadflowers's username. Out of curiosity, she clicked on the name, which brought her to J's profile page, where Gretchen found all the artwork J had posted to the website throughout the last few years. Gretchen liked her paintings so much that she decided to reach out to the other girl, though it took her a few minutes of agonizing before she clicked send on her message. She could still remember it.

you - Hi. I don't mean to bother you, but I just wanted to let you know that you're really talented. I'm glad you share all your art on here. If I sent you my drawings, would you tell me how to make them better? I'm just starting out and I could use some advice. Thank you so much for your time. Again, I'm sorry if this message is annoying. I totally get it if you aren't interested.

It took Gretchen a week to actually send that message. She typed it out, then copied and pasted it into a Google Docs file and made little edits every day to phrasing, swapped sentences around, and rewrote it entirely until finally, one night, she pasted it into the message box and pressed send. Then she shut her laptop and didn't open it back up for days. Gretchen hated rejection. She was sure ipaintdeadflowers would just ignore her message. Or even worse, she thought maybe she would tell Gretchen she was being entitled and that ipaintdeadflowers owed her nothing. Gretchen often found herself thinking of the worst possible outcomes and then mulling over the gruesome possibilities for days on end.

But J had messaged back almost immediately. And she was nothing but kind.

ipaintdeadflowers - hey. it's actually no problem at all. i would be happy to look at your stuff.

From then on, Gretchen and J talked every single day. They sent each other pictures of their artwork and offered each other gentle, thoughtful critiques as well as genuine and joyful praise. J taught Gretchen different techniques and told her all about the best materials. Gretchen spent her allowance on a Sennelier French Artist's Watercolor Set, on Kolinsky Sable watercolor brushes, on Strathmore sketch paper, and on every color of Prismacolor markers and colored pencils she could find.

J didn't just help Gretchen improve artistically. Their late night talks about Yayoi Kusama and Anna Wintour soon turned into conversations about schoolwork, friends, and dreams of moving to New York City to pursue art after graduation. J became Gretchen's closest friend so quickly that Gretchen didn't even realize it was happening until she started checking her messages as soon as she woke up every morning and falling asleep at her desk as she waited impatiently for J to reply. J was the only person who got to see Gretchen for who she really was. J was the only person Gretchen even trusted to know her, the real her, and not walk away or ask her to change.

Gretchen hadn't told J her real name. She didn't want her parents or anyone at school to find out she'd been messaging a stranger online. And she didn't want J to figure out who she really was, either. Instead, she'd taken a page out of J's book and simply gone by 'G.' It wasn't like she ever messaged anyone else on the website, or even publicly posted her art or commented on anyone else's, but to J, she was G.

x

Gretchen awoke the next morning to a message from their mutual confessions, she'd avoided her inbox for the rest of the night, just in case J took back her admission in the night. J hadn't messaged her again the previous night, either, so at least Gretchen hadn't missed anything. It was the ping of the message arriving in her inbox that woke Gretchen up. She opened her eyes and groaned. It was only 6:00 AM. She'd been planning on sleeping another half hour.

Gretchen sat up, pushing her electric blue comforter off of her legs as she stood up and walked over to her computer, which she hadn't shut before she'd gone to bed. She ran her finger along the touchpad until she reached the refresh button, which she clicked instantly.

ipaintdeadflowers - okay g. i came to school early and finished your painting. i've got something else for you, too. i'm going to leave it at the school for you. i have this secret hiding place. there's a locker at the end of the hall by the art studio. it's a tall yellow one, and it's the only one there. i found out it was empty last year, i've been keeping stuff in there ever since. i put a combination lock on it. the code is 7274.

you - Okay, I'll stop by after school. You won't be there, right?

ipaintdeadflowers - nope. my best friend wrote this ridiculous one-man play that he's starring in and it's playing its one and only performance tonight… so i'm going to go help him set it up as soon as the final bell rings. i'll message you as soon as it's over, though.

you - Okay. Well… Can I call you right now?

Gretchen's parents had undoubtedly already left for work, so she had no problem talking to J. No one would hear them. Regina wouldn't be by to pick her up for another hour and a half.

ipaintdeadflowers - okay, but it has to be quick. my parents are still sleeping.

you - I just want to hear your voice.

Before Gretchen could even pick up her phone to dial J's number, it started ringing. Her name in Gretchen's contacts was the letter J, followed by a wilted flower emoji. It was inconspicuous enough that if J ever texted her, which she hardly ever did, Regina wouldn't see it and ask questions, but specific enough that Gretchen would always smile when she saw the name pop up on her phone.

She cleared her throat and smoothed over her hair, as if J could see her through the phone, before answering with an overly-cheerful "Hello!"

"Sounds like you slept well last night," J said through the phone. Her voice was lower than Gretchen's, but had a nice melodic tone to it. She and J hardly ever spoke on the phone, yet Gretchen could never forget the sound of J's voice. That voice had talked her down from several panic attacks, and lulled her to sleep on her most restless nights.

"I guess I did. Maybe because I didn't stay up all night talking to you," Gretchen said, standing up to go to her closet. She'd already picked today's outfit the night before, so it was hanging in the front of her closet. She pulled it out, pressing the button to put J on speaker phone, then threw the phone onto the end of her bed as she began to undress, then re-dress. "I did have to sit on a three way call with… Sharon and Georgina for a few hours, though." Those were the fake names she'd given Karen and Regina. They were two of the most popular girls in school, so she hadn't dared give their real names, but she admittedly could have been more thoughtful when creating their aliases.

"Well, it's good to know I make you as sleep-deprived as you make me," J paused. Gretchen imagined her twirling the telephone cord around her finger. J usually called Gretchen from her landline, which Gretchen didn't even realize anyone still used. "Do you want to watch a movie tonight?"

"What about your friend's play?" Gretchen asked. She was now fully dressed, examining her appearance in the mirror for a moment before she pulled her curling iron out of the drawer and plugged it into the outlet to heat up.

"Yeah, I meant after. It's Friday, right? We could stay up late." J hesitated again. "We could watch something… romantic. You like that stuff, right?"

"Yeah! I mean, yeah. We'll have to see what's on Netflix." Of course Gretchen and J wouldn't actually watch the movie together. They would just stream the movie at the same time and message each other any interesting thoughts or reactions. "Maybe tomorrow we could actually meet though, in person. We could go to the mall or the park or… or actually see a movie together instead of just watching it at the same time."

"I… want to, I just… I have to go, okay? Can we talk about it tonight? I promise we'll talk. Bye, G." J immediately hung up the phone, before Gretchen even had the chance to say goodbye in response.

Gretchen sighed, then threw her phone onto her bed in frustration. She wanted to believe that J really liked her back, but it was hard when J continually avoided any opportunity to actually meet Gretchen in person. All Gretchen wanted was to hold J's hand, cuddle into the crook of her neck, kiss her jaw, her chin, her lips… But maybe she'd never even meet the other girl.

Gretchen lifted a clip and began to section her hair so she could curl it. Because of the length and thickness, it usually took Gretchen an hour or more to style it, and she couldn't keep Regina waiting for two days in a row. Even though all she really wanted to do was sit down at her computer and read those words over and over again. "You are absolutely ridiculous and I like you so fucking much." She grinned to herself as she lifted her curling iron in one hand and a chunk of hair in the other, twisting it around the barrel carefully. I like you, I like you, I like you.

Gretchen couldn't wait for the school day to end.

x

"Earth to Gretchen," Regina said, snapping at her friend's face for the third time in the past minute. "Hello? Are you still in there?"

"What?" Gretchen asked, blinking hard as Regina severed her from her daydream. "Sorry, I spaced out. I have a history test today. I totally think I'm going to fail." Gretchen began to twirl a piece of hair around her finger, glancing around the cafeteria in search of her mystery chatroom girlfriend.

"Gretchen, we're in the same history class. We don't have a test today," Regina said, looking at Gretchen with eyes so sharp they could kill.

"Right, I meant math. Sorry. See? I'm definitely going to fail." It was hard for Gretchen to lie to Regina. One lip quiver or too many blinks and Regina would back Gretchen into a corner and hound her until she confessed the real truth. So Gretchen tried her best to remain nonchalant.

"We have a math test today?" Karen asked, wide-eyed. She looked from Gretchen to Regina and back again, then fake coughed into her elbow a few times. "I think I'm coming down with something… I'm going to go to the nurse." She stood, lifting her red lunch tray, and quickly walked over to discard her uneaten food in a large gray garbage can before placing her tray on top of the pile of dirty ones on top of it. Then without missing a beat, Karen turned and ran out of the cafeteria, shouting for the nurse as she went.

With Karen out of the way, Regina slid over on the pale blue bench to be seated closer to Gretchen, lifting her hand to move her hair off her shoulder. Gretchen ignored her. She was looking at the large Homecoming banner that hung above the exit. It was handmade, with neat gold lettering on stark black paper. HOCO DANCE NEXT FRIDAY - $10 PER TICKET! Gretchen would have loved to take J to the dance. She knew J probably didn't even like to dance, and Gretchen didn't like to be gawked at, but going to a homecoming dance was something a normal high school couple would do. And Gretchen so badly wished their relationship could be normal.

"Gretchen!" Regina nearly shouted, and Gretchen immediately turned to look at her. "What's going on? You keep ignoring me."

"I'm sorry, Regina," she said, licking her lips. "I didn't sleep well last night, that's all."

"Okay… I was just saying, Karen and I wanted to go to the movies tonight. You're coming, right?" she asked.

Before Gretchen could answer, there was a loud eruption of laughter from the art table. That kid Damian was standing on top of it, attempting to do the floss dance while his friends chanted something Gretchen thought she recognized as "Laura Dern." Regina widened her eyes, then rolled them. She stood, lifting her bag and slinging it over her shoulder.

"I literally cannot be in this vicinity for another second or all their loser is gonna rub off on me." She kissed her middle and pointer fingers, then waved them at Gretchen. She picked up her tray before she walked away, calling over her shoulder: "See you tonight, biatch. I'll pick you up at six."

"Okay," Gretchen said absentmindedly as Regina walked away. She hadn't been listening. Instead, she was studying the faces of all the girls seated at the art table, wondering if one of them could be J.

x

Although it felt like several years had passed within the span of Gretchen's eight hour day, the final bell finally rang not a second too soon, and Gretchen darted out of her math class without a word to anyone. Her chartreuse Louboutin pumps clicked against the tile floor as she hurried down the hall and around the corner. She'd never been inside the art room before. Regina thought anyone who did art was a freak, so Gretchen would never be caught dead taking any classes. She knew how to get there, though, because she passed it every day on her way to lunch in hopes of somehow bumping into J. Walking by the art room added at least three minutes onto her commute to lunch, but Gretchen didn't care.

She'd never noticed the locker before. It was nicely hidden. At the end of the long hallway, there was a T. Going left took you to the cafeteria, but going right took you to a dead end, and the yellow locker was nestled into the corner. Gretchen looked around for a second, then kneeled down and twisted the combination to the correct numbers. 7274. She pulled the lock and it clicked open. Gretchen swung the door open and looked inside, smiling. There was a flower inside, a yellow rose, with a small note tied to it. Gretchen opened it. Turns out the florist doesn't sell these in black. Love, J. Gretchen grinned, feeling her heart flutter as she carefully re-folded the note. Gretchen opened her backpack and slipped the flower and note into it. She would be cautious not to smush the flower, but she couldn't just walk out of school with it without people asking who it was from.

Gretchen lifted one of the papers that had been underneath the rose. It was a sketch of a girl done all in pencil. Her face wasn't entirely visible, only a side profile, but she had long brown hair and full lips twisted into a smile. At the bottom, J had written "G - I wanted to draw a picture of you, but I don't know what you look like. So I drew this instead. Hope you like it. - J." Gretchen carefully rolled to drawing up and stuffed it into her bag, too. Then, she lifted the final present, the painting J had previewed for her the night before. J must have come into school early to finish it. It was breathtakingly beautiful, with blue-blacks and violets and silvers, all intricately melted together to make a night sky Gretchen only wished she could look up to every night. The painting came without a note, but it didn't need one.

Gretchen felt her eyes watering slightly. She reached up to wipe them before her mascara could run. Then, she tore a piece of loose-leaf paper out of her binder and began to scribble a silly love note back to J. Once it was finished, she signed her name and set it on the shelf inside the locker. Then she closed it and bent down to spin the lock to random numbers so nobody else could get in and find it but J.

Gretchen rolled to painting up and stuffed it into her bag as well. She hated to risk ruining J's hard work, but the last thing she needed was for Regina to spot her with it and start asking too many questions. She zipped her backpack up and slid it over her shoulders, walking away with a bigger smile than the one she'd arrived with. She lifted her phone, about to text J a thank you, but thought better of it and returned the device to her pocket. She would wait until she got home and message J instead. For some reason, that just felt right. Gretchen pulled her keys from her pocket and made her way to the exit, smiling and humming to herself all the way to her car. She couldn't wait to hear from J again later that night. Plus, Gretchen had some planning to do. She wanted to give J an equally heartwarming surprise in return.

x

Janis wasn't one for romance. She could count the girls she'd liked in her whole lifetime on one hand. She didn't like to be vulnerable or feel too close to anyone. So, maybe everything that happened with designingdreams was fate. Janis had spent years on youngartforyoungartists, or yaya, and only received a handful of messages. And she hadn't replied to a single one. But something about G's message, about how hopeful and harmless and endearing it was… made Janis want to reply. And more than that, it made Janis want to know G, to really see her in a way she hadn't cared to see anyone else.

Janis had never been in love before… but she knew what it was supposed to feel like. It was a tingling in your chest, and your fingers, and your toes. It was the good kind of butterflies and sweaty palms, it was staying up all night talking and waking up early to talk some more. Love was so many things, and Janis felt all of them for G, for a girl she'd never even really met.

There were a million reasons why Janis didn't want to meet G in person, at least not yet. The biggest one was fear. Janis was scared that if G saw her, she wouldn't like her anymore. Janis was an art freak and a recluse. She didn't see herself as the kind of girlfriend G would be proud to have. Since she saw no other possible future other than separation, Janis decided to prolong the inevitable. Whenever G suggested they meet, Janis always came up with some excuse, or, in what weren't exactly her proudest moments, she abruptly left the conversation.

Janis was dying to see G, though. She wanted to know what she looked like, to hear her laugh in person, to see how their hands fit together. But she didn't want to ruin anything. She didn't want to lose G. Not when she was quickly becoming the best thing in Janis's life. Maybe one day the truth would come out. Janis knew that. But it didn't have to be today.

So, Janis came up with a plan. She wasn't exactly proud of it. She didn't like deceiving G. She just wanted to see her, just once. She needed to know what she looked like, who she was. Janis had a fantasy that she would see G, and wouldn't be able to resist running to pull her into a tight embrace. Once Janis was sure she could trust G; once she was sure G wouldn't be put off by the way she looked and who she was, she would have no problem meeting her face to face. In fact, Janis couldn't wait for that moment. She thought about it all the time.

x

There was a very small, forgotten janitor's closet kitty-corner from the lone yellow locker where Janis liked to hide some of her most valued possessions at school. Hardly anyone knew it was there, and no one knew the combination to the lock she'd placed on the door - no one but G.

Janis skipped her last period to make sure she was in the closet when G arrived. She hid inside of it with the door cracked only slightly so she could if anyone passed. She didn't want G to notice her and retreat. Janis quickly grew impatient waiting for her. She kept checking the time on her phone, picking at her nails, messing with old cleaning supplies left behind on the shelves. She heard the final bell ring, but still didn't move from her hiding spot. Instead, she took a rubber glove from the box and tried and failed to blow it up like a balloon. The opening was too big for her mouth and so Janis couldn't get it to inflate.

Then, she pulled a marker from her bag, one of the cheap crayola markers she'd used to make campaign posters for Damian when he'd run for junior co-chair of the student activities committee, and began to write on the wall. She drew an alien emoji, then a wilted rose, then she wrote "I WAS HERE AND IT SUCKED!" in all caps. Just when she was about to give up and go home, she heard heels clicking against the floor. Janis's heart stopped.

She straightened up and slowed her breathing the best she could, cracking the door open just a little more. First, she saw G's feet, which were small and perfect. Then her legs, which, same. G was wearing a blue skirt and a green shirt with half-sleeves and a boat neckline. Finally, Janis's eyes made their way up to her head. G had a large mess of warm brown hair, with the sheer height and volume Janis knew could only belong to one girl in school. She felt her heart in her throat now, thudding so loud she didn't know how Gretchen couldn't hear it.

No, no, no, thought Janis. It can't be her. Maybe Gretchen was just lost. There was no way she was G. Until she actually opened the locker, there was no proof she was actually - Janis nearly gasped. Gretchen bent down and began to turn the lock. Within seconds, she had it open, and she was digging through the things Janis had left for G.

Was this some sort of prank? Had Regina used Gretchen to catfish her? Janis felt sick thinking of Regina reading all the messages she'd sent to G and laughing about them. She looked at Gretchen. The other girl wasn't laughing. She was stuffing everything into her backpack, sure, but not without reading each note thoughtfully; not without regarding each gift with care and grinning to herself as she examined the items left for her. Janis even thought she saw Gretchen wipe a tear. Then, the girl took some paper from her bag and started to write, leaving the note on the shelf and locking the door before she left.

Janis's breath hitched in her throat as she saw Gretchen lift her phone. If she decided to text Janis, the notification bell would give her away instantly. She fumbled inside her pocket, quickly flipping the switch to silent, but luckily Gretchen seemed to have decided against texting anyone. As soon as Gretchen's humming died away, Janis peeked out the door to make sure she was out of sight. Once she was sure it was all clear, she hurried over to the locker and opened the lock. She lifted the note, closing the door as soon as she got a hold of it, and her eyes scanned it so fast her brain nearly had a hard time catching up.

J,

I wish I could write poems. If I could write poems, I would write you a really nice one. It would be about roses, and night skies, and dreams so sweet you sleep just to return to them. I would tell you that your smile is the most beautiful thing I've never seen, and that your voice is my favorite song. But since I can't write poetry, I'll just say this: you are absolutely ridiculous, in the best way. And I like you so fucking much.

Love, love, love,

G.

Janis sucked in a breath, reading the note again and again. It wasn't a note from someone playing an awful trick on her. It couldn't be. Gretchen actually cared. Janis folded the note up until it was only an inch long. She stuffed it into her pocket and ran her fingers through her overgrown blonde hair, tugging at it as she reached the ends. Janis thought seeing G - Gretchen - would change everything… and she was right. But where Janis thought it would make their relationship easier, it had only gotten a thousand times more complicated.

Janis pulled the note back out of her pocket, unfolding it so she could reach it one more time. She hadn't noticed how weak in the knees she felt as her eyes scanned each and every letter. Butterflies fluttered in her chest, and her cheeks burned bright red. Janis clutched the note to her chest and began walking in the direction of the parking lot where she was supposed to meet Damian. Love, love, love. That's what Gretchen had written. But could she really still love Janis when she realized who she really was? Janis couldn't meet Gretchen, not now. She would need to think of another excuse tonight, when she talked to Gretchen again. She'd promised the other girl they could finally discuss meeting, and she knew Gretchen wouldn't be satisfied with Janis brushing it off again this time. All she wanted was to hold onto G for a little bit longer. Janis would do anything if it meant not losing the person she loved.