Pairing(s): Ziam, Larry
Warning(s): genderswap, femmeslash
Disclaimer: I cannot and do not own/know/associate with/stalk the real people mentioned herein. The following is a work of fiction. No money was made in its creation.
Summary: Leah's a musical arts student who has got it bad for the gorgeous scenester she's only ever seen a picture of on the university radio's website.
Author's Note: a fill for this prompt from the 1D kink meme.
Leah Payne lives, breathes, eats, sleeps and studies music. It is her life and has been since she was five years old and decided she was secretly a Disney Princess.
One thing she prides herself on is a wide knowledge and acceptance of all kinds and mediums of music. Radio isn't something she's ever loved to the point of obsession -- unlike guitar playing and a capella singing -- but when she's handed a flyer for the school's radio station one day while walking down the main drag of her university, she puts it in her bag to look into later.
Granted, she puts every flyer she gets in her bag -- because refusing to take them just seems so rude, she had explained to Lucy once -- but this one she actually makes a point of looking for once she gets back to her dorm room.
The fanciest thing about the flyer is that it's printed on bright pink paper, but at least Leah doesn't have to read the thing twice to figure out what it's trying to tell her. The university radio station apparently has a live broadcast for 8 hours every day. Leah doesn't have a radio, but the flyer lets her knows that there's a live stream online too, so she looks that up.
And obviously this is something she was meant to discover because the tail end of 1901 by Phoenix is playing and she loves that song. 1901 transitions smoothly into Boy With a Coin, and Leah decides this is something that must be savored. She lies down on her bed, laptop by her head on the desk, and just listens.
It's another five or six songs before a feminine voice floats out of Leah's speakers, low and a little raspy.
"Alright, it's time for the last song dedication and since I had a really terrible day, this one goes out to me. Enjoy."
And then a song she is pretty sure isn't supposed to be played via a public school radio broadcast begins. Leah rolls off her bed less than elegantly because she suddenly has to know who the hell is behind all these song choices.
The live stream credits a 'DJ Malik.' While the name is less than original, one click later Leah is staring at a profile picture that may have broken her brain.
It's like suddenly everything is happening in slow motion and she's seeing the picture in stages only: long, dark, wavy hair; olive skin; thick, black Ray-Ban frames; long, full eyelashes; a hint of a tongue against pretty lips -- the camera obviously caught her unaware -- and eyes... eyes that Leah can't quite look away from.
Leah catches herself staring at the picture and quickly minimizes the screen. She feels a little hot and uncomfortable, like how she feels when she sees a police car and suddenly can't remember if she'd been speeding or not. The song's not really her taste, anyway, so she closes the browser, shuts her laptop and goes to open a window. Her room is feeling a bit stuffy.
Harriet gets home an hour later and Leah is sitting in the living room, pretending not to think about radio broadcasts or hipster glasses.
"Hey," Harrie chirps. As she walks in, Leah marvels, not for the first time, at how much effort Harrie puts into looking cute for class.
"Hi," Leah answers, setting down her history reading. "How're you?"
"Exhausted," Harrie says, sitting down on Leah's legs even though there is plenty of couch space for her to, you know...not. "Thank god it's Friday."
"So does that mean you're not coming out tonight?" Leah asks. "You know Luce wants to go to the pub."
Harrie shrugs. "She'll get over it." She waits a beat before adding, "Maybe Danielle will want to go with you guys. Luce always enjoys dancing with her."
Her tone is carefully nonchalant, but Leah knows she's dying to know how things are going with Dani.
"Yeah, maybe," Leah says.
"When does she get out of class?"
Leah hesitates, because she honestly doesn't know, and she's pretty sure Harrie picks up on it. "Soon, I think. I'll go text her."
She carefully extricates herself from beneath Harrie and even more carefully avoids her gaze as she leaves the room.
Leah gets her phone out of her bag and types out a quick text.
want 2 go out 2nite?
She sets her phone down next to her laptop and her eyes bounce between the two devices. She wants Danielle to text back, she does, but she also wants to go back to the school radio's website and see if that picture is actually as beautiful as the image still bouncing around inside her head.
The front door bursts open just then and Leah can hear Lucy announce her arrival from all the way across the apartment.
When she walks into the living room, Lucy already has Harrie pinned to the couch and is steadily licking inside her girlfriend's mouth.
"Hey," Leah says to announce her presence, but she doesn't really expect them to stop.
"Hey," Lucy says a minute later, after Leah has moved into the kitchen and turned on the electric kettle. "How're you?"
"Good," Leah says at the same time Harrie says, "Fine, thanks for asking."
"I know you're fine," Luce says, leaning close and tugging on one of Harrie's long, beautiful curls. Harrie laughs and pushes herself away, straightening her skirt and joining Leah in the kitchen. Lucy, of course, follows.
"So, ladies," she says, hopping up onto the counter, "where are we headed tonight?"
"To bed," Harrie says, just as Leah answers, "Don't care."
"Bed?!" Luce cries. "It's Friday, you can't just go to bed!"
"Luce, you know I've got early classes," Harrie says, like she has been since the semester began. "I've been wanting to go to bed since I woke up."
Lucy pouts, and Leah busies herself with making tea. There are a number of ways this could play out, but it's usually best just go with the flow and let them figure it out. Going with the flow is something Leah has gotten a lot better at since moving in with Harrie and Luce.
"I really wanted to take you dancing tonight," Luce is murmuring to Harrie, who is now leaning against the counter, between Luce's thighs.
"I know, but we can dance later. Maybe this weekend," Harrie responds, just as quiet. Leah goes to the cupboard for the honey.
"But I want to dance tonight," Luce whispers. "Like, really badly."
Leah groans out loud, just to let them know that she's caught on to their little code.
Harrie laughs and pushes away from Lucy. "Then pick someone up."
"I don't want to," Lucy whines.
"Well you're not dancing with me tonight."
"Harriet! This is how lesbian bed death starts! You can't do this to me!"
At this point, Leah chooses to leave the kitchen. She knows Luce will be sure to let her know what the plan is as soon as she decides.
Once inside her room, she immediately picks up her phone. She has a new text from Danielle.
no, practicing is all it says.
Leah stares at her phone and then sets it back on the desk.
Everyone had told her that going to college with your high school sweetheart would be difficult, but no one said it would be so... anticlimactic.
It's just that Leah can practically feel them growing apart and, yes, it hurts, but it's also not very surprising or dramatic. It's just happening, and Leah's not sure what to do about it.
Her eyes dart to her computer, and she does know one thing that absolutely won't help: continually thinking about beautiful strangers who have excellent taste in music.
"Alright, Payne," Luce says as she walks into Leah's room without knocking. "Looks like it's just you and me. I hope you're ready to dance."
Lucy pouts over Harrie's absence for the first hour they're at the pub, but then she finds the most femme lady in the entire place and coaxes her out onto the dance floor. Leah joins them eventually, and even though she misses Danielle, she has fun.
They stumble home at three in the morning, trying to keep the girl Luce picked up quiet because they know Harrie will be asleep on the couch. Leah doesn't understand their relationship at all, but she already knows that come morning, Harrie will have met Lucy's one-night-stand and be in process of charming the panties off of her before Luce even wakes up. Leah's seen it happen so many times that she sometimes wakes up extra early just so she can go out for a run and not have to watch Harrie in her lingerie, sleepily greeting the girl as she tries to sneak out of the apartment, and Harrie asking if she wants some breakfast before she goes, and Harrie sitting her down on the couch and leaving almost no space between them, and Harrie laughing and flirting and touching until Luce wakes up, sees them, kicks the other girl out and jumps Harrie right then and there on the couch.
It's not that Leah's still unused to their total lack of boundaries by now, or that it's not kind of hot to see -- it totally is, with the contrast between Harrie's long, pretty hair and curvy physique and Luce's boyish figure and short, choppy haircut, but sometimes it's just too sweet. When Leah sees them together sometimes it just makes her worry that she'll never find anyone who fits her the way Harrie and Lucy fit together.
But those are musings for another night. Leah brushes her teeth, washes her face, changes her clothes and gets into bed. She checks her phone again, but there are no other messages from Danielle. Feeling hollow, Leah lets herself be lulled to sleep by the sounds of the anonymous sex happening in the next room over.
- - -
The next day, Leah nonchalantly tunes in to the university radio's station. It's just that it's three pm again and listening to music helps her study, okay? And her ipod has a radio feature for a reason, right? So she might as well listen. It's totally harmless because "DJ Malik" isn't even on. So if she goes back to stare at her picture again, well. On the website she sees that "DJ Malik" only airs on Fridays, but she keeps listening every day because this is not just about listening to a gorgeous girl play amazing music, which is pretty much the best of both worlds. This is about supporting all her other peers who happen to have air time in the afternoons. Complete harmless.
Except when she hears that voice greet her again on Friday, a shiver runs down her spine in a not-so-harmless kind of way.
"Hello and a fabulous Friday to you all. The sun is shining, the birds are attacking innocent passer-bys in the university center and the girl who rejected me in high school and now wants to get together has finally gotten the message that I'm not interested. It's been a brilliant day, so let's get this thing started," and without further ado, the first notes of If You See Kay fill Leah's ears.
Leah really likes this song but her brain seems to be stuck on the part where "DJ Malik" is apparently queer. Her head hits the library table with a worryingly loud thump because maybe things are not so harmless anymore.
- - -
The next week Leah actually goes out and buys a radio.
She convinces herself that she went because she needed a study-break from the pre-midterms frenzy that their apartment has become (Leah has long since given up lecturing about the merits of starting one's study regimen before the night before the test, but Lucy still refuses to listen).
"What do you need a radio for?" Harrie asks. Why she is in Leah's room, studying on Leah's bed, is beyond her.
"Um," Leah says, because she's never been good at lying. "You know. The usual reasons."
Harrie raises an eyebrow at her. "Listening to the radio?"
"Since when do you listen to the radio? You've always got CDs playing in the car." Harrie sits up and crosses her legs under her, but she doesn't seem to be that invested in the conversation, so Leah lets her guard down a little. Besides, it's not like Harrie will give her too hard of a time for having an innocent, semi-crush on stranger, while also having a girlfriend. It seems like Harrie has a new one of those every week.
"Just started listening to the school's radio station. S'pretty good, actually."
"Really?" Harrie looks up from her notebook. "I heard it sucks."
"Oh," Leah says, because yeah, she really only listens to like 5% of the station's content. "Well, there's this one girl I listen to, and she's pretty good."
"Cool," Harrie says, and that, thankfully, is the end of it.
The next three days are stressful. Leah doesn't hear from Danielle at all, but that's not really all that unusual, even when they're not cramming for exams, so she spend every waking moment studying. When Friday afternoon finally arrives and Leah has completed all of her midterms, she celebrates with DJ Malik and her new radio.
- - -
"Alright," Professor Cowell says, clicking to the last slide of his powerpoint. It shows the grading curve for last week's midterm. "We're ending class five minutes early so that your exams can be passed back. If you earned a 65% or lower, see your TA immediately." And with that, he's packing up his things and the TAs are making their way to the front of the room.
Leah heads to the TA with the test for last names 'I through P'. She kind of zones out because she knows her name will be almost last, so when the TA shouts, "Malik," above the din of the room, Leah almost misses it. In fact, she almost thinks that her ears are playing tricks until the TA repeats, "Zaynah Malik?" and someone says, "Here," while trying to make their way through the crowd. When they finally get to the TA, Leah's breath rushes out of her lungs because holy shit, it's her.
Leah watches her take the exam from the TA and quickly cram it into her messenger bag while she pushes through the traffic in front of the door. Her hair is pulled back and her shirt hangs off her shoulders in a way that makes Leah want to bite at her neck. Her jeans look painted-on and her shoes look like something a hippy would wear, but the overall image is so breathtaking that Leah almost wants to forget her own test and chase after her.
She doesn't, of course, because this music comp. class is pretty much her life right now, but it's a close call.
As soon as the TA calls her name, Leah grabs her test and bolts for the door, flipping the booklet open to check her grade (95%, thank you very much). By the time she makes it outside, however, DJ Malik -- Zaynah, Leah's brain corrects, dreamily -- is nowhere to be seen. She's disappointed for a total of three seconds before it hits her that holy shit, they share a class!
The way her stomach kind of flips over makes her feel guilty, so she pulls out her phone and calls Danielle. She doesn't answer, because she never seems to these days, and Leah walks home pretending that she's not very, very excited for Friday's class.
- - -
Come Friday morning, Leah is conflicted.
She doesn't know whether to go to class extra early or later than usual, because if Zaynah gets there early too, she'll have options about where to sit near her, but if Zaynah is a late arriver, then Leah may have already chosen a seat and it would probably look weird if she got up again to move closer.
In the end, Leah ends up leaving at the same time she always does with the plan to loiter at the back of the class and try to not look like too much of a creeper.
The lecture hall has seating for about three hundred, but right now there are only a handful of students present. One of those students, however, has long, dark, wavy hair that makes something in Leah's chest constrict uncomfortably.
She's here and sitting alone, right up against the wall of the room.
She's here and Leah has no idea what to do.
After several seconds of hesitation, Leah decides to sit a row behind and two seats to the left of who she's about 90% sure is Zaynah "DJ" Malik.
Leah is a little embarrassed with herself, but it's not stalking if they're both legitimately supposed to be here, right?
Zaynah is doodling on her notebook, and the sketch kind of looks like two My Little Ponies duking it out. Leah tries to suppress a smile and busies herself with preparing for lecture.
By the time Professor Cowell begins class, Zaynah has moved from her notebook to her hand. She's currently drawing twisting lines around the words 'The National,' just below the knuckle of her thumb.
Needless to say, Leah has trouble concentrating for the rest of the lecture.
Fifty minutes later, Zaynah is throwing her things into her bag and rushing out of the lecture hall in a way that has Leah scrambling to keep up.
It's not stalking if you already know where someone is headed, right? Because it's that time on Friday, and Leah really just wants to know where the radio broadcast building is.
It turns out to be an older-looking building clear across campus with vine-covered bricks and old stone benches outside. Leah sits down, pulls out her ipod and her phone and is not at all surprised when Zaynah's first song choice is About Today. Leah loves this song, and she closes her eyes to hum along. But then the words start and they hit her like cold water. She feels frozen as she listens to the lyrics, unable to escape the truth in them, and she suddenly wants to know how Zaynah knows. How doe she knows that this is Leah's life right now?
She looks down at the phone in her hand and unlocks it.
hey, she texts Danielle, even though she knows she probably won't get a response any time soon.
A minute later, though, her phone vibrates and Danielle has written back, Hey :) water break. how r u?
good, Leah quickly types out, u wanna get dinner 2nite?
Yes. Danielle answers.
Leah expects to feel resigned, like the thing she has been avoiding is finally here, but instead she feels relieved. Like maybe they're going to stop slipping away from each other for a moment and actually make a decision. It's a muted kind of relief, though, and Leah spend the rest of Zaynah's playlist staring across the quad at nothing.
"Alright, ladies," Luce proclaims as soon as she walks through the door, "what are the plans for tonight?"
"I'm going to dinner with Dani," Leah answers.
"Oh yeah?" Harrie asks, in that way that conveys she's surprised and would like to pry further but won't if you don't want her to.
"Yeah," Leah answers, in a way that she hopes says, 'yes, we are still together, and no, I'm not sure for how much longer.'
Harrie studies her for a moment before turning back to Luce. "Guess you and I will have the flat to ourselves tonight."
Luce jumps up from the couch where she had just seated herself and pulls Leah up as well.
"What was that? You need to go get ready for dinner? Yes, I suppose you're right well have fun!" Hurricane Lucy exclaims as she pushes Leah into her room and closes the door behind her. Leah can only smile, and by the time she grabs what she needs to take into the bathroom with her, Harrie and Luce are already tangled up in each other on the couch.
Dinner with Dani is nice, in the way that meeting up with old friends is nice. They go to a tiny italian place near campus where they had their first date, but it doesn't feel sweet or romantic. It's just... nice. Things between them have been 'just nice' for a while.
Throughout dinner it feels like she's getting to know Danielle all over again, because there is so much going on in their lives that they have to catch each other up on, and by the time they get to dessert, Leah is pretty sure Dani is thinking the same thing she is.
"You know I love you, right?" Leah says, because it's as good a transition as any.
Danielle smiles a small but knowing smile and says, "Yeah."
"And I miss you," Leah adds.
"I miss you too."
There's a pause, like they're both waiting for the other to say it, and then Dani says, "It's just difficult to be with someone when you're never with them."
"Yeah," Leah agrees quietly. "So I guess... we could try harder, or..." She trails off and then looks up to see Danielle smiling softly at her.
"Or," Danielle agrees. "I think that, in our situation, what's going to be best in the long-run is what's easiest now."
And even though she hasn't said it, hasn't said that she wants to end their relationship, Leah feels a deep sense of relief that she wasn't expecting. It's almost like if she lets go of Danielle, then she can let go of who she used to be and become someone new. Someone she's already becoming but hasn't really accepted because it never seemed to fit with who she was -- who Danielle expected her to be.
"I think you're right," she says, as steady as possible.
Danielle smiles again, slow and almost sad, and reaches across the table to hold Leah's hand.
"We'll still be friends, right?"
"Of course," Leah rushes to assure her, squeezing her hand.
"Good." Dani squeezes her hand back and whispers, "I love you."
"I love you too," Leah says, because she does. It's just different now than when they were in high school. It's a love based on a shared history and mutual affection, but it doesn't burn the way it used to. Leah panics for a moment and wonders if maybe that's just what happens to love. Maybe over time it just calms, gets muted, and she's about to throw something away for the wrong reasons.
But then she thinks of Lucy and Harrie, and how they push and pull and challenge and love each other so much, and she knows that even in the beginning, she and Danielle were never like that.
"You ready?" Danielle asks, pulling Leah from her thoughts. She's gathering her things to leave.
Leah takes a deep breath and knows that, yes, she is ready.
- - -
She doesn't tell Lucy or Harrie right away.
It's not that she's moping or anything, because she had known that her relationship with Danielle was on it's way out anyway. But it's like all of a sudden, the only things she can think about are all the amazing times she and Danielle had together, and she's not sure that she wants her two best friends to try and cheer her up.
Besides, she already knows what they'll say: 'have more sex' and 'don't listen to Luce.'
So she's had kind of a bummer of a week and now she's having to practically run across campus to get back to her dorm in time because she totally forgot her ipod and, besides being a creepy stalker during their music comp class, Zaynah's air time is the only thing she's been looking forward to all week.
"Hey!" Harrie greets her when Leah bursts into their flat and then calls after her, "Where's the fire?"
When Leah doesn't answer, too busy turning on her radio and holding her breath to hear the last of Zaynah's opening words, Harrie follows her and leans in the doorway.
"Everything okay?" she asks, and even without looking Leah knows she's smiling her good-natured smile.
"Yeah," Leah says, still a little out of breath. "I just didn't want to miss her."
"That the DJ you've been following?" Harrie asks, because of course she would remember some one-off conversation they had two weeks ago.
"Yeah," Leah says again.
They listen in silence for a moment or two before Harrie walks in and sits in her desk chair. "Is everything okay?" she asks, gentle as ever.
Leah considers telling her it's nothing, but it's not nothing, so she says, "Dani and I called it quits."
Harrie nods like she knew it was coming, and she probably did.
"I think so. Just nostalgic, you know?"
"Yeah, well, you two were together for a while," Harrie says, and it's not like she's blowing it off, but she says it lightly. Like it's something that Leah will get over eventually. Leah knows she will.
"You gonna tell Luce?"
"Yeah, of course."
And speak of the devil, they hear the front door open.
"We're in here," Harrie calls before Luce can start shouting.
"And what's going on in here?" Lucy asks, sauntering in and taking a seat on Harrie's lap. They share a kiss, and Leah looks away quickly.
"We were just talking," Harrie says in a way that is probably meant to be a smooth transition but pretty much just makes it so that Luce is looking between them expectantly.
"About...?" Luce prompts.
Leah sighs and says, "Dani and I called it quits."
"Oh," is Lucy's response, which is about as dull as Harrie's. "I'm sorry, were we supposed to be surprised?"
Leah can't help but laugh. "No, I suppose not," she admits.
"We can pretend!" Luce assures her before throwing a hand over her chest and shouting, "Oh my god, that bitch! How can she do that to you? And when you're carrying her child??"
Harrie laughs and swivels the chair to face Leah's laptop. "We could call in to her DJ and request a break-up song!"
"'Her DJ'?" Lucy asks, craning her neck around to look at Leah. "You have a DJ?"
"No," Leah says at the same time Harrie answers, "Yes."
"I just follow her," Leah protests, but both girls are now busy trying to type on her laptop, each only using half of the keyboard.
"DJ Malik?" Luce asks eventually, having obviously found the live stream. "Whoa, DJ Malik! Damn, she's fine. You need to get on that, now that you're single."
Harrie pinches Lucy's side. "Too soon."
"Fine, then I'll get on that," Luce proclaims. "There's a chat box here. I could send her my number and tell her to call me for a good time."
"Or," Harrie stresses, swiveling the chair again so Lucy is turned away from the laptop, "we could ask her nicely to please play a break-up song for our friend."
"Our hot, gay friend who is now single," Lucy dictates over Harrie's shoulder.
"Luce, this isn't about sex!"
"Everything is about sex!"
"Oh my god," Leah groans, hiding a smile and getting up to read the screen over Harrie's shoulder. She listens to Harrie and Luce bicker over what to write for another three minutes, then what to eat tonight for another five. They decide on mac 'n cheese and tell Leah to stay there and let them cook her dinner before bouncing off to turn the kitchen into a war zone.
Leah smiles after them for a good minute before laying down and just enjoying the music.
A half hour later, she's in a happy place, humming along to the last notes of Marching Bands Of Manhattan when that voice comes on.
"So it's that time again for the last-song dedication, and I've actually had a request come in."
Leah's eyes fly open and the rest of her body tenses. She strains her ears to hear what will come next over the banging coming from the kitchen.
"It's for a student named Leah, and her friends would like for me to play a break-up song for her. But since I'm not very well-versed in break-up songs, I decided to just play the first one that came to mind. So. This one's for you, Leah."
And she's can't really get over the way Zaynah says her name, or the fact that she just said it at all, so when the opening notes to Bye Bye Bye hit her ears, she really can't do anything but laugh.
- - -
That next Monday, Leah almost sits next to Zaynah in class.
She's timed it well enough that she gets there just as the seats are starting to fill up, but the row Zaynah always sits in, always pressed up against the wall, is still fairly empty. Leah's hearts starts hammering as soon as she sees the opportunity, and she slowly makes her way down the lecture hall stairs, trying to psyche herself up to do this.
But by the time she draws even with Zaynah's row her courage is gone, and Leah quickly jumps back up a step and settles for sitting right behind her.
She rolls her eyes at herself as soon as she sits down, because usually she's so brave around women, but apparently she's found the one exception.
Zaynah doodles The Hulk all over her notes that class period and Leah notes suffer drastically for her distraction.
- - -
'Just mention the song dedication,' Leah tells herself on Wednesday. 'Be cool, and nonchalant, and just sit next to her!'
She gets to Zaynah's row again but panics and for some reason walks down another step instead of back up, so she has to sit with her back to the other girl for the entire lecture.
It's the worst lecture ever.
- - -
Friday, Zaynah is missing.
Feeling bold with her absence, Leah sits right next to the seat Zaynah usually inhabits, but the other girl never shows up.
It's the second worst lecture ever.
When class ends, Leah opens her bag to take out her ipod, hoping that Zaynah will still be on even though she wasn't in class, when her phone catches her eye. She's got five missed calls and thirteen texts, which either means that Lucy finally burned down the house or something awesome is happening somewhere on campus.
'Get to the quad!' is the jist of the majority of the texts.
She's in the process of leaving the lecture hall and listening to the first voice message when she stops dead at Luce's words.
"Found your DJ," she says, and Leah can her music blaring in the background. "If you're not here in the next half hour, I'm going to go hit on her."
Leah deletes the message and practically runs to the quad.
She hears the music long before she can tell what's going on, but apparently the school radio station is trying to get a little publicity by playing music at the campus Friday flea market.
Leah heads straight for the makeshift stage/tent thing they have going on, but she stops when she spots Zaynah.
Her hair is down and she's wearing a white, flowy top and short denim shorts, and Leah kind of wants to do something inappropriate to her legs. When her phone goes off in her hand, it takes her a few seconds to answer.
"You here?" Harrie shouts in her ear, and the answer should be obvious because Leah's sure the music is just as loud on her end.
"Yeah, where are you guys?" Leah shouts back.
"By the right side of the stage."
Leah makes her way through the crowds and spots Harrie's yellow sundress almost immediately.
"Finally!" Lucy exclaims as soon as she sees Leah. "I was about to make my move!"
Leah laughs and glances back over at Zaynah. She's talking with a blonde in a trucker hat that reads 'Hide your wives!', but then she laughs and it's kind of like looking at the sun: Leah just has to look away. When she does, Harrie is grinning at her and kind of jumping in place.
"You gonna talk to her?" she asks. "You should talk to her!"
"About what?" Leah asks. "I can't even talk to her in class, what would I say now?"
"Go request a song," Lucy says, like it's that easy.
"Yeah, I'm pretty sure she and the blonde girl are taking requests," Harry says, practically pushing Leah towards the other side of the stage.
"Harrie, Harrie," Leah protests, trying to escape her grip. Harrie does stop but only to spin Leah around and give her a stern look.
"Lee, it's gonna be fine. She's just a girl."
Leah wants to protest that no, she's not just a girl, she's much more intimidating than that, but she nods instead and lets Harrie turn her back around to give her one more shove.
Leah walks up to the makeshift stage and waits for Zaynah to notice her.
When she does, she's just finished laughing at something the blonde one said, and she turns to look at Leah with the end of her smile still spread across her face. It freezes, though, when their eyes lock and Zaynah kind of just stares at her. It gives Leah the confidence she needs to say, "Hi."
Zaynah blinks and seems to collect herself enough to say, "Hi," in return, before realizing that Leah might be there for a reason. "Um, what can I do for you? I mean, you want to request a song?"
Leah smiles and takes another step forward. Zaynah is a couple inches shorter than her, she notices.
"Actually, I just wanted to say thanks for a request you did for me last week. My friends asked for you to play a break-up song for me during your air time."
Zaynah's face clears of its brief confusion and she smiles, bright and beautiful.
"Leah," she says in recognition, and Leah could listen to her say her name all day. She pulls a half-grimace and glances down between them. "I hope you didn't mind the song selection. Haven't been through too many break-ups, myself."
"No, it was great," Leah quickly assures her. "I used to love N'SYNC, so."
"Me too," Zaynah laughs, and then they are just smiling at each other for a little too long.
Someone clears their throat, and both girls look over at the blonde. She has an eyebrow raised and a look on her face like she doesn't know whether to coo or laugh at them.
"Who's this, then?" she asks.
"This is Leah," Zaynah answers. "Her friends are the ones who requested a break-up song last Friday. Leah, this is Nia."
"How's it going?" Nia asks, reaching out to shake Leah's hand. Her handshake is strong and confident, and a little bit of Leah's earlier intimidation creeps back in.
Nia says, "Can't complain," and then shoots a look at Zaynah.
Zaynah laughs and then explains, "She just was."
"Not my fault Paul brought terrible snacks with him. I might sneak down to the UC, you want anything?"
"No, thanks," Zaynah says. She and Nia share another look, to which Zaynah responds, "Bye, Ni."
Nia grins at Leah, says, "Bye," and then she's gone.
They look at each other for a beat before Leah blurts out, "Did you know we have a class together?"
"We do?" Zaynah asks, but she doesn't seem creeped out that Leah knows this.
"Yeah, music comp."
"Professor Cowell?" Zaynah asks, and Leah nods. "I missed it today."
"I can see why," Leah says, earning her a small laugh.
"Yeah, I've been here all day."
Leah sees her opening and says, "Well, you can borrow my notes, if you want."
The smile Zaynah rewards her with is kind of breathtaking. "That would be amazing."
"Alright, cool." They stare at each other for several seconds before Leah realizes that the silence is starting to stretch into awkward territory. She doesn't want to leave, but Zaynah isn't saying anything and before she knows it, she blurts out, "Well, I guess I'll see you on Monday, then."
Zaynah's smile falters a little, but she says, "Yeah, see you," so Leah smiles and kind of waves as she backs up, and then she turns and walks away.
Harrie and Lucy intercept her before she gets too far. They've apparently been watching the whole time and demand to know every detail of the conversation.
"Why didn't you get her number?" Lucy demands as Harrie does a happy little dance for her "lecture date."
"What are you going to wear?" Harrie asks, clasping her hands together, and Leah already knows that they're going to spend all weekend discussing it.
"Go naked," Lucy suggests, shoving her hands in her pockets and leading them towards a booth full of hats. "I think it will set the best impression. Let her know your intentions right away."
Harrie smacks her arm playfully, and they spend the next hour or so browsing through the market.
Leah can't help but sneak glances over at the stage every time it comes into her view, and she thinks that one time Zaynah is looking back, but she's too far away to be sure.
When they're making their way back towards their dorm, Harrie makes sure they walk right past the radio station's tent. Zaynah is up on the stage now and somehow -- part of Leah's brain wants to call it fate -- their eyes meet. Zaynah waves, and as Leah waves back she sees Nia whisper something to Zaynah with a grin. Zaynah shoves the blonde and looks back at Leah with a smile that Leah can't get out of her head.
- - -
Leah would like to be able to say that her impending lecture-date with Zaynah doesn't haunt her all weekend, but that would be a horrible lie.
She distracts herself sufficiently -- watching movies with Lucy while she lets Harrie paint her toenails -- but it seems like every five minutes she'll remember what waits for her on Monday and this sick sort of flippy thing happens to her stomach.
"So really, what are you going to wear tomorrow?" Harrie asks Sunday night, and Leah is surprised that this is the first time she's brought it up since Friday, unlike Lucy, who has taken to giving Leah "first date" tips all weekend ('Make sure she sees you eating breath mints. That way it's like an automatic plus if she's still debating whether or not she wants to kiss you').
"Probably what I normally wear," Leah says, because, okay, she's been thinking about it all day. "Don't really want to make her think I dressed up or anything."
"Why not?" Harrie asks. "You want to impress her, don't you?"
"Well, yeah, but I don't want her to think that it's like a big deal, if she really is just looking to use my notes."
"Oh sweetie," Harrie coos, sweetly patronizing. "Did you not see the way she was looking at you? I saw it and I was clear across the quad."
"No," Leah denies immediately. She can feel heat radiating off her cheeks. "Really?"
"Yes, really," Harrie laughs, and leads Leah to her closet.
They compromise on a form-fitting t-shirt and shorts that Harrie cuffs so they're shorter than Leah would normally wear them.
Luce whistles appreciatively when Harrie drags Leah into the living room to model the outfit, and Leah figures that if she can trust these two with her life every time she lets one of them drive her car, then she can trust them with an outfit decision.
- - -
Leah wakes up way too early on Monday and decides that going for a run will be a good way to kill some time. Except that during her run it occurs to her that maybe she should copy her notes for Zaynah ahead of time so that she doesn't have to write them all down and Leah can keep her notebook. So she runs back to her flat, showers, changes, and then hurries to the campus library.
She ends up with like twenty copies of the same lecture notes before she's happy with the quality and spends the next three hours worrying about her hair.
By the time she gets to class, her stomach is in such knots that she doesn't even try to eat lunch. She's early, as usual, but Zaynah is already there, sitting in the same seat.
Her hair is down and gently curled, and Leah hesitates for just a second before descending the steps and turning to walk down Zaynah's row.
She looks up as Leah approaches and smiles like she's genuinely happy to see her. It makes Leah's whole morning worth every second.
"Hey," Leah says, not sure if she should sit next to Zaynah or leave a seat between them.
"Hi," Zaynah returns, scooting her bag so it's against the wall, clearly indicating that Leah should sit next to her. She does and then pulls the notes out of her bag.
"These are last Friday's notes. I hope you can read them okay," she says, handing over the papers.
"What? Wow. You didn't have to copy them," Zaynah says as she flips through the pages.
Leah watches her look through the notes, nervously hoping they are adequate. "Well, I figured it would be easiest this way."
"Thank you, this is so great," Zaynah says and finally looks up to smile at Leah.
Leah smiles back and says, "No problem."
"Cool," Zaynah says, putting the papers down and turning towards Leah in her seat. Their legs brush, and the sensation of smooth skin on smooth skin makes Leah's insides clench. "So how was your weekend?"
"It was good. Pretty calm," Leah answers, hyperaware of where Zaynah's knee is grazing her thigh.
"Ah, I wish mine had been calm. I told Nia I'd help her train for this triathlon she wants to do this summer, and I meant that I'd like cheer her on and stuff, but she took it to mean that I would be training with her."
"Is it bad? Because you look pretty fit," Leah says before she can stop herself. She can feel a blush spread across her cheeks.
Zaynah's eyebrow shoots up, but she's smiling too. "Well thanks, but that's not really the problem." She pauses before saying, "I can't swim," like she thinks maybe Leah will tease her for it. When Leah doesn't say anything, she continues, "But Nia said she had to race against someone to keep up her motivation, so she made me wear arm floaties and an inner-tube. It was horrible."
Leah laughs, but only because Zaynah is smiling like it's supposed to be funny. And it is funny, except for how Leah is now imagining Zaynah in a bikini and arm floaties.
Thankfully, Professor Cowell enters the hall and gives Leah something legitimate to look at for a few seconds while she regains her composure.
"Have you ever tried to learn how?" Leah asks, getting out her notebook and a pen.
"No," Zaynah says with a shrug, fiddling with Leah's notes. "It's kind of embarrassing, isn't it? A 19-year-old girl not knowing how to swim?"
"I don't think so," Leah says, sitting back and smiling at the other girl.
Zaynah smiles back and then keeps on smiling until the professor clips on his microphone and begins the lecture.
Leah tries really hard to take good notes, but Zaynah's legs are still kind of angled toward her as she leans against the wall, and it's quite distracting, wondering when they're going to accidentally touch next. Also, she's pretty sure Zaynah is sneaking glances at her as she doodles in her notebook.
Fifty minute classes never seem to last long, but this one in particular flies by. Leah's glad she did the reading ahead of time, because she would have had absolutely no clue what was going on otherwise.
An hour later, Professor Cowell dismisses them and they begin to pack up their things. Leah purposely takes longer than usual to put her things away.
"Well, hey, thanks again for the notes," Zaynah says. She lifts her bag onto her lap, and Leah realizes that she's blocking the other girl from leaving.
"Yeah, no problem at all," Leah says quickly, standing up. They sort of stare at each other for a moment before Zaynah smiles.
"See you on Wednesday, yeah?"
"I'll be here," Leah answers, moving to exit their row. They get in each other's way on the stairs, Leah trying to walk down as Zaynah goes to walk up, so they laugh and brace each other for balance. They're still laughing and touching when Leah looks up to see Zaynah looking back at her. With her down a step, they are standing exactly at eye-level, and Zaynah's got this look on her face that Leah hasn't seen anywhere but the movies.
"See you," Leah says softly.
"See you," Zaynah returns, and then they are moving away from each other, but the sensation of Zaynah's hands on her arms stays with her the whole way home.
"Whoa," Harrie says as soon as Leah walks through the front door. "Who hit you with the love stick?"
"What?" Lucy demands, flipping over to glare at Leah from over the top of the couch. "Leah, have you gone to the dark side?"
"Not that kind of love stick," Harrie clarifies, poking Lucy's thigh with her foot. "Like, a stick that makes people fall in love when you whack them with it."
"I don't know what you're talking about," Leah says, and even she can hear the far-away tone of her voice.
"Oh my god, you've just come back from your lecture date, haven't you?" Harrie realizes, and the size of her grin is slightly ridiculous.
"I have," Leah confirms, setting her bag down and leaning against the back of the couch.
"And?" Lucy prompts with a lecherous wiggle of her eyebrows.
"Dunno," Leah admits. "We just talked, but there's something about her that I just can't get over."
"Well yeah, she's gorgeous," Harrie says.
"No, besides all that," Leah says, wanting to be able to explain it. "It's like, even if she's beautiful or talented or smart or funny, or a million other adjectives, there's still just something else."
"Like what?" Harrie asks.
"I don't know. It's some... some je ne sais quoi that sets her apart, you know?"
"I know what you mean," Lucy says, nodding sagely. "There's just, like, one thing that you can't explain but makes her seem so special. I get it."
"You do?" Harrie asks, like she's skeptical that Lucy is being serious, which is understandable seeing as Lucy is rarely serious.
"Totally," Lucy assures Harrie. "And I know what it is too. I look for that one thing in everyone I sleep with." She looks over at Leah then, pausing just long enough for effect. "It's called a vagina."
"Ugh, Luce! Not everything is about sex!" Harrie protests, throwing a pillow at her.
"Liar!" Lucy shouts as she throws herself at Harrie.
Leah watches her roommates wrestle bemusedly.
"Right," she says, when the wrestling turns into groping. "I'll just be in my room, then."
She gathers her things and walks into her room. It's 3:30pm on a Monday and all she really wants is for it to be 2:00pm on Wednesday already. She has things to do, of course, but she leaves her bag on her desk and flops down on her bed to open her laptop.
An hour or two looking up all the new bands Zaynah has introduced her to will be an hour or two well-spent. Especially if it gives her a good conversation-starter for Wednesday.
- - -
On Wednesday, Zaynah is wearing a spaghetti-strap top and Leah tries not to stare at the tattoo that is scrawled across her collarbone.
They talk about music and Zaynah's experience at the radio station, and Leah's pretty sure she sounds like a schoolgirl with a crush, but then again she's pretty sure Zaynah does too.
During the lecture, she keeps leaning over to peak at Leah's notes and their bare arms brush together every time.
It's the best lecture ever.
- - -
Friday, Leah spends the entire lecture working up her courage to walk Zaynah to the radio building across campus. She's pretty sure she has a good opening, but as soon as Professor Cowell dismisses them, Zaynah starts throwing things into her bag and says, "Listen, I've got to run to do my air time, but do you maybe want to come with? Kind of see how it works for yourself?"
"Right, okay, yeah," Leah says, totally shocked and perhaps a little too enthusiastic.
Zaynah grins at her and then motions for her to get up so they can leave.
They walk briskly, because Zaynah only has ten minutes to get there ("It's annoying, but even as a second year I didn't exactly have my choice of time slots, you know?") and get set up.
Leah has to sign-in to get into the building while Zaynah just flashes an id, and then they are hurrying through halls and past offices and apparently this building houses a lot more than just the school radio station.
They arrive at a sound booth with two minutes to spare, and Zaynah motions for her to be silent as they sneak inside.
Nia is signing off, and she waves at Leah with a bit of a smirk on her lips. Leah watches her cue her last song, mute the mic and pull her headphones off.
"Hello, again," Nia says as Zaynah shoos her out of her seat.
"Hi," Leah says just as Zaynah warns, "Ni, behave."
"Well, that's no fun," Nia responds, still looking at Leah with an extremely mischievous glint in her eyes. "So you two are just going to hang out? Alone? In this tiny booth?"
Zaynah's hand shoots out to punch Nia in the arm, but she's smiling faintly, and Leah feels her cheeks heat and a smile tug at her lips.
"Well, I'm about to start, so you should probably go," Zaynah says pointedly.
"Uh-huh," Nia says, but she leaves with a jaunty wave and a knowing grin.
As soon as the door closes, Zaynah's eyes cut to Leah. "Sorry," she says, but she's still smiling.
Leah shrugs and watches Zaynah pull out a folding chair. She sits and motions for Leah to do the same. Their chairs are so close in the confined space that their knees brush immediately, but Zaynah doesn't shift away, so Leah doesn't either.
Niamh's last song is coming to a close as Zaynah turns to her laptop and settles a pair of oversized headphones over her ears.
She glances at Leah, and then switches the mic on. "Hey party people, it's that time again, and today we're going to change things up a bit. Get ready to dance."
Zaynah mutes the mic and hits the space bar on her laptop. Immediately, Satellite by The Wanted begins to play. Zaynah taps at her laptop briefly, before she turns to Leah.
"So that's it. Pretty magical, right?"
"What?" Leah asks. "That's it?"
"Yeah," Zaynah laughs. "I'm not really one of those people who talks too much during their air time. I used to say the song titles and artist names, but when you only have an hour I think it's just better to play music and let people look up the songs, if they want to."
"No, yeah, I really like that about your air time."
Zaynah's smile turns shy. "You listen to me?"
Leah is pretty sure her face is suddenly bright red, but she smiles through it and decides to be brave for once. "Every week."
"Cool," Zaynah says. She glances down and then back up, and Leah kind of wants to melt over how sweet she is.
Leah glances around the booth, but there's not much to look at. "So what do you usually do, just sit here?"
"Yeah. Sometimes I study. One time I fell asleep. It's more fun with someone to talk to."
"Do you bring girls here often?"
Zaynah looks at her out of the corner of her eye. "If I say 'yes' will you think less of me?"
Leah laughs. "No, I'll think you're pretty smart," she says, which makes Zaynah laugh, too.
"Alright, then, yes, I do. Inviting someone to witness the magic of the radio booth is a line I learned from Nia. She tends to get better results than I do, though."
"Yeah. I've never even kissed anyone in here."
The first thought that pops in Leah's head is, "You mean Nia's done more than kissing in here?" which she blurts out, only to realize that she's just blown a great transition into the subject of kissing.
"Well, she says she has," Zaynah says, laughter in her voice. Leah watches the way her eyes fold up into beautiful dark smudges against her cheekbones when she laughs, and it's possibly the loveliest thing she's ever seen.
"Wow," Leah says. She wants to say more. She wants to say something witty and flirty and to have Zaynah flirt back, but once again, her courage fails her. "So you pretty much invited me here so you wouldn't be bored?"
"Yeah, pretty much," Zaynah answers, but she's looking at Leah so intently that just her gaze alone undercuts her words. Leah's never interacted with someone with such expressive eyes, but it's almost like she can hear what Zaynah is thinking. She wants Leah to be here, not just to entertain her, and that feels good. Intense, but good.
"Right then, how shall we entertain ourselves?
They end up playing tic-tac-toe on bits of scrap paper laying around and talking about the different classes they're taking. The only time Zaynah wins a game is when Leah goes off on an enthusiastic tangent about her world music class. Zaynah carefully tears off the corner of the paper with her victory on it and tells Leah she's going to frame it.
"So you can always remember our hour together?" Leah teases.
Zaynah huffs out a laugh, but she looks Leah straight in the eye and says, "Always."
- - -
For the first time in her life, Leah can't wait for Monday. The weekend passes slowly, and Leah regrets not asking Zaynah for her phone number for every second of it.
(When Leah finally admitted to having hung out with Zaynah outside of class without exchanging numbers, Luce actually looked offended.
"Has living with me taught you nothing?" she had demanded. "The number is the key! The number makes them think you want more, so they're more willing to sleep with you the first time!"
"You need help," Harrie had mumbled around a mouth-full of pasta.)
Butterflies plague her insides for all of Monday morning. She gets to class before Zaynah but doesn't take her seat against the wall. A minute later, pale blue shorts and long, tanned legs are in her periphery.
"Hey," Leah smiles up at Zaynah, who smiles back.
"Do you mind?" Zaynah asks, gesturing to her usual seat.
"Oh, yeah, sorry," Leah says, and she tries to move her legs to the side as much as possible, but Zaynah kind of just steps over her. Leah's hands shoot out to make sure Zaynah makes it over safely, but she stops them just before they land on Zaynah's hips.
"Thanks," Zaynah says, as soon as she's sat down, and Leah just nods. "I like to sit against the wall because I feel like it protects me from any of Professor Cowell's scathing remarks."
Leah laughs and tries to spend the next hour focusing on the lecture instead of how amazing Zaynah smells.
"So," Zaynah starts as they begin to pack up after lecture, "you're done for the day, yeah?"
"Yeah," Leah answers, pleased that Zaynah seems to have remembered her schedule from their conversation on Friday.
"Have you eaten?"
Leah's heart jumps into her throat as she says, "No."
Zaynah grins at her for a second and says, "Well, I don't have class for another hour. Do you want to get something to eat?"
"Sure," Leah says, almost before Zaynah has finished her question.
They go to one of the on-campus cafes near by, order sandwiches and entertain each other with stories of their respective roommates. By the end of their meal, both are convinced that Harrie and Lucy need to meet Nia.
"They're either going to tear each other apart or start an orgy," Zaynah laughs, ruining Leah's efforts to catch her breath.
"Oh my god, you're so right," Leah gasps, wiping at her eyes.
"I wish I didn't have to go to class," Zaynah says, glancing at her watch.
"Yeah," Leah agrees, before plunging ahead with, "We should do this again on Wednesday."
"Yeah, that'd be great," Zaynah says, standing. "I'll see you on Wednesday, then."
'Ask for her number!' a voice in the back of Leah's brain that sound like Lucy screams. She does open her mouth, but Zaynah has already waved and turned the other direction.
Later, when Harrie asks where she's been, Leah makes sure to mention the follow-up lunch date and not that she still hasn't gotten Zaynah's number.