(photo by RD Peyton)
(Part of Project Unicorn: A Lesbian YA Extravaganza, updated twice weekly on Mondays and Thursdays with a free, original, never-before-published YA short story featuring a lesbian heroine. Also, every story is a work of genre fiction [Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Dystopian, Post-apocalyptic, etc.].)
“Don’t Eat the Bluebird”
by Sarah Diemer
“Don’t freak out.”
“Why would I freak out?” My mouth is dry, and I don’t sound like I mean it. Her eyes narrow, she places her hands on her hips, tilts back her chin with an eyebrow raised.
“Because you always freak out?”
“God, Amy, don’t be a bitch. It’s just…unexpected.”
“Not really,” she says quietly, scratching at her arm, her eyes wide. “One in two, Kate.” She repeats softly, as if to herself: “One in two.”
“Hey, we’ll get through this, okay?” I tell her, and then I’m holding my arms to her as I should have done from the very first second that she told me she got the virus. I can be such a dope sometimes. “I’m sorry, Amy. C’mon, it’s going to be okay.”
“Is it?” She’s looking up at me, and I realize it’s not a rhetorical question. I swallow, clear my throat.
I don’t sound like I mean it.
“I mean…” I amend hastily as her eyes get full of tears. “They’ve come out with all sorts of new drugs these past few years, right? Tons of drugs! Most of the symptoms are easily hideable now. And it’s like—almost cool, you know? Like, trendy.”
“Trendy to be a monster,” she whispers, eyes wide in the encroaching dark.
“Jesus, Ames…you’re not going to be a monster.” I squeeze her tighter, her ear to my chest. I hope she can’t hear how hard my heartbeat’s hammering in there.
“I don’t want this,” she whispers, voice shaking. She’s so tense against me, I can almost smell her fear, her skin slick with sweat beneath my hands as I touch her arm, take a step back.
“It’ll be okay. I’ve read the first time’s the hardest. It gets super easy after that,” I tell her, nodding, take a great gulp of air. “It’s tonight, isn’t it?”
She takes her phone out of her pocket, glances at the full white sphere beneath the glowing time stamp. “Yeah.”
“Okay. I’m going to go pick you up some pizza…”
“…No, no, it’ll take your mind off it. And then I’ll get some silvamin from the drug store. It’ll take the edge off. I mean, it’s what all the stupid commercials say, right?”
“Does it work for first timers? What if there are side effects if I suppress it the first time?” She’s holding my hands so tightly, I wonder if she’s drawing blood. I stare down at her nails—longer than normal—breathe out.
“We’ll read the bottle. Don’t worry so much.”
She stares at me with wide eyes, tears collecting at the corners.
“Get extra cheese, okay?” she says in a tiny voice.
We’re both so nervous that we grin at each other like water-starved animals.
“Extra cheese,” I promise her, and I step forward, and I kiss her.
Her teeth are already sharper.
She tastes strange. Like blood.
The wall of silvamin and generic silvamin rip-offs is hideous beneath the stuttering fluorescent lamps. There are three other people in the aisle with me, and they’re pretty testy. A younger woman with a pinched face, an older guy in a tattered coat and a young guy in sunglasses. They’re arguing at the end of the aisle over one of the last non-generic bottles of silvamin, and I don’t want to stick around to see who wins the bottle—it’s almost sunset. I snatch up one of the generic boxes and practically run to the cash register as the cheesy canned music being pumped in overhead breaks to commercial, and some sappy-sounding lady starts talking about the benefits of taking two silvamin pills every day. Jesus, I have no idea how anyone could afford that.
“It’ll be forty-eight dollars,” says the girl at the cash register, tossing the box into a little plastic bag.
“But the…” I do a double take, turn to point. “The sign under this brand said twenty-five.”
“It goes up on full moon night,” says the girl in a robotic tone, like she has to say it eleven thousand times a day. Like the “duh” is implied.
“Seriously?” I ask, voice flat.
“Seriously,” she answers, raising a brow.
“I mean. That’s really evil,” I mutter, taking the crumpled bills out of my wallet. “That’s like…medieval.” I shove three wrinkled twenties at her, and she gives me the change with a sneer of her lip. Great. She must think I’m one of them. Whatever. I don’t care if she thinks I am.
Beneath the counter, on the rack of candy, is a row of chocolate bars. I grab two—the Bluebird bars, so named because they’re dyed blue and probably absolutely terrible for you. Amy really likes chocolate, so. I pay for those, too. The girl’s not stopped sneering.
I take up the bag from the counter and practically flee out of there.
Echoing from behind me comes a snarl in the silvamin aisle.
“What took you so long?” Amy asks when I arrive back at her mom’s apartment, pizza box in hand. She practically snatches it from me, tossing it on the kitchen table before inhaling a piece, the cheese dripping out of the corner of her mouth as she gazes up at me with wide, wild eyes. “God, this is so good,” she moans, pushing the entire crust in her mouth. “So good.”
“There was a really long line at the pizzeria,” I mutter, tossing the plastic bag from the drug store beside the pizza box. “There’s your silvamin. It says nothing on the box about you not being able to take it if it’s your first time.”
She picks up another piece of pizza, stuffs half of it into her mouth and chews thoughtfully as she stares at the little bag.
“I don’t know, Kate…what if…I mean, what if I’m supposed to experience the first time?”
“I thought you didn’t want to?” I hook one of the chairs with my foot, sit down. “I mean, I hear it’s really painful…” I was looking it up on my phone while I waited for the pizza. Some people actually go through it now at the hospital, just in case. Sometimes, things come in weirdly, need to be helped…out. There were pictures. I’d almost thrown up.
“It’s just so commercialized now…” she mutters, sitting down, too, snatching up another piece of pizza. “It’s all about the drugs, how to be as normal as possible while still being…” She waves down at herself with half a crust. “This.”
“You don’t look any different,” I tell her. Reassure her.
“I will soon…” she whispers, licking her fingers, looking up at the wall clock.
“Hey, listen…” she tells me, then, closing the lid of the pizza box, tapping on it with her too-long nails. “I’ve been really thinking about it.” She swallows, looks up at me. Are those…tears in her eyes? “I don’t think you should stay with…”
“I got you something,” I say all in a rush, my heart pounding. I pick up the drug store bag, dig out the two candy bars.
She stares down at the little blue package in my hand, gazes back up at me. She’s grown whiter. “Kate, they said on the web site that I shouldn’t eat chocolate anymore. You know. Because it’s poisonous to dogs. Or something.” She mutters that last part, licks her fingers again, won’t meet my eyes.
“But it’s your favorite,” I say, voice hollow.
She traces the outline of the bluebird on the package. “That was very sweet of you,” she whispers, and then a tear falls down her cheek, and she wipes it away, frustrated. “I think you should break up with me.”
“You only ate a few pieces,” I tell her, words wooden as I push the box toward her a little. “You’re going to need your strength.”
“Are you listening to me?”
I take the silvamin box carefully out of the bag, smoothing the plastic onto the table and propping the box on top of it. “So, I’ll be standing by with the pills if you need them. Just…sort of make a snarl at me or something…”
“Jesus, Kate. You don’t want to be with a fucking freak.”
The words are so small, I almost don’t hear them. She’s hanging her head, and her face is in her hands. I reach across the space between us, rub her shoulder.
“Hey,” I whisper, clear my throat. Try again, stronger, louder: “hey.”
She glances up at me through her long, brown hair. It looks longer than when I left her. I rub at her shoulder again, try not to notice that.
“I don’t give a shit, okay? Okay?” I repeat when she snorts, tosses her head, won’t look at me. She gazes back into my eyes with her own tear-filled ones. “They give that test in school for a reason,” I say evenly. “So that this sort of thing isn’t a surprise. We’ve got the medicine if you need it. You’ll be fine. We’ll work through this. I’m not breaking up with you for being what you are,” I add, almost as an afterthought. I don’t know if what I said made any sense, but she’s smiling a little, though it’s watery looking.
Amy tears into the bar, taking one big bite. “Just one last time,” she tells me when I make a squeak of worry.
The Bluebird bars all have cheesy little sayings printed on their foil. She unwraps her bar a little more, teases out the printed part, laughs and rolls her eyes, and hands it to me.
Somewhere, the moon rises.
And Amy’s virus begin to change her.
I hold her tightly as her hair grows longer, as she begins to snarl, her teeth lengthening, her nails turning into claws, the darkness descending all around us.
The crumpled candy wrapper on the floor reads: love the one you’re with.
If you liked “Don’t Eat the Bluebird,” you can now enjoy entire collections worth of stories in Project Unicorn, Volume One on your eReader or in person in paperback form (I’m a real book!), and support the project at the same time!
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Sarah Diemer is an award-winning author of lesbian young adult (YA), speculative fiction. Her debut novel, The Dark Wife, the YA, lesbian retelling of the Persephone myth won the 2012 Golden Crown Literary Award for Speculative Fiction, and was nominated for a Parsec Award (first two chapters of the audiobook). She writes her lesbian adult fiction under the pen name Elora Bishop, including the Sappho’s Fables: Lesbian Fairy Tales series, which she co-writes with her wife, author Jennifer Diemer.
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