“Do you remember,” Kate said – apropos of nothing one night – “when we used to act out stories on the lawn?”
Elaine shifted from where she was sprawled on the bed. “What?”
“On the lawn,” Kate repeated, “stories. Queen and knight.”
After a pause, Elaine sighed wistfully. “Our youthful exploits in theatrics. I was always of the opinion that we had budding talent, despite the words of our adult overlords. What of it? Is this -” and here she snaked down from the sheets, collapsing limbless next to Kate on the floor, “- childhood nostalgia I’m sensing? Should I get out the old photos?”
Kate didn’t respond, staring at her half-curled fingers. Elaine frowned, and nudged her.
“Hey,” she said, and when Kate didn’t say anything, nudged her harder until Kate hissed and batted at her elbow. “Hey. What’s this about?”
“I’m just thinking, I guess.” Kate poked Elaine in the side, drawing a squeak. Kate huffed, face stretching into a smile and flopped down to lie on her back. “Have you ever thought about marriage?”
“Ah,” Elaine said, with such an intense ‘that’s what this is about’ tone to it that Kate shot her a baleful glare. “No,” she said, in an extremely measured voice. “I can’t say I’ve thought too much about it. It’s not exactly – well, I just haven’t thought about it.”
Kate laughed. “Trusting you’ll meet the right one?” She closed her eyes. Elaine carefully did not look at her. “That’s sweet.”
Kate continued after a moment of quiet.
“I’ve been thinking about it a bit. I know, I know, it’s early, I’m young, whatever. I’ve heard it all. But – I can’t help thinking about it. It’s one of those looming things, you know? Like, I’ll graduate, work, marry, have children, work, retire, die. Linear progression. At some point I’ll be in the collision path of someone else’s trajectory – can you tell I’ve been taking too many math courses? – and I’ll marry him. I’ll move in with him and have children with him and make new friends with him and lose old friends with him and I’ll see people maybe once a month or once a year instead of everyday because I’ll be … married.”
She stopped. Her voice had gone a shade of shaky that suggested it would soon turn to choked. She sniffed. Elaine reached for some tissues, and wordlessly put them into Kate’s hand. She laughed. “Thanks.”
While she made a valiant attempt to rally herself, Elaine lay down next to her. “Talk to me,” she said softly. “Tell me what you’re thinking.”
“I was thinking about the kingdoms we made up when we were children,” Kate said. “About – this is going to sound so stupid – about being the queen and tied to the throne. It was like slipping on a mantle, you know? I always walked heavier when I was playing the queen; always held my spine stiff. And the kingdom was the blueberry bush in the corner of the yard: you could only leave if the dragon kidnapped you.”
“I remember that,” Elaine said quietly. “The knight would ride upon a horse to save the queen. It was the only time they would meet.”
“When we would play pretend, I’d be the queen and you’d be my knight, swearing me your loyalty,” Kate whispered, as Elaine closed her eyes. “And you would carry me away from the dragon-”
“The apple bush,” Elaine said and Kate laughed.
“Yes, the apple bush! You’d carry me away from the apple bush and we would swear our love to each other in secret but never act on it, because it would break the kingdom if we did. And then I’d come back to the kingdom and that was where the story ended. The story always ended with the queen returning to her throne, and the kingdom rejoicing, and the knight leaving for another quest. And I was thinking about that, about marriage, about how it’s like being bound with silk to a throne you don’t want while all the knights in the kingdom ride away.”
She turned to Elaine suddenly, her eyes large. “Tell me I’m wrong,” she said, with razor intensity in her voice.
“It’s just a story,” Elaine said, suddenly acutely aware of the warm line from shoulder to hip where their bodies met. “It’s not true at all.”
She cocked her head. “Then you won’t ride away from me?”
“I’d never leave.”
“I’m not your queen?”
“You’re my friend.”
“You don’t love me?”
Elaine opened her mouth, and nothing came out. She felt her heart drop into her stomach. “That’s unfair,” she said, after a long, long moment.
Kate’s eyes dropped. “You’re right,” she said, moving back. “That was cruel of me. I shouldn’t have said that.”
“No!” Elaine reached out, laying her palm flat on Kate’s arm. They stared at each other with moon-round eyes. Elaine’s throat worked for several moments as she struggled to come up with something to say.
“If I were still the knight to your queen,” she said at last, “I’d be selfish. Instead of taking you back to your throne, I’d ask you to run away with me.”
There was a moment of extended silence.
Kate put her hand over Elaine’s.
“It’s not too late,” she said. “You can still ask.”
Kate’s eyes, wide and dark, peered into her own. She could feel Kate’s breaths, like moth wings against her skin, with each flap of the fragile wings stronger than the last as the moth prepared to take off, as Kate leaned in closer.
“Tear down my kingdom,” she said, a breath from Elaine’s open lips. Elaine could hear her own heartbeat, thudding like a wardrum in her ears, and Kate’s warm breaths, the moth newly emerged from the chrysalis, once, twice, thrice, and then they were sharing each other’s air as they kissed.