Serial fiction. Updated at 6.00am UTC on Monday and Friday.

17: Toni

Toni was at Maddie’s again, as she had been often since she moved in at Duncan Road nearly a week ago. Part of this was because she had gotten used to being at Maddie’s in the weeks before her move, but it was mostly due how it was in her new house, how her new housemates were. It wasn’t that they were behaving badly towards her; they had mostly left her alone. The problem was that they were so full on. With their constant yelling and music and pounding up and down the stairs all the time and stupid jokes at each other’s expense and general idiotic behaviour, they were too much. They never stopped. She would have welcomed their lack of attention if it wasn’t for the sheer intensity of living in the same house as them. Apparently unable to affect them, she was there but not, somehow parallel to them, existing in the same space but strangely apart. For now it was easier – and more calming – to just spend time at Maddie’s.

They were in Maddie’s room. Maddie was at her desk, working on an assignment, while Toni was reclining on Maddie’s bed, laptop on her knees, trying to find something to watch on Netflix. She wasn’t having much success. Feeling restless, she was browsing, considering and then rejecting whichever films or shows she happened upon.

Maddie turned from her work.

‘What about First Kill? You’ve been wanting to watch it for a while.’

‘So have you. We need to watch it together.’

‘OK. How about season two of The OA? I watched it when you were back home that time.’

‘No. Want to feel right when I watch it, so I can enjoy it.’

Maddie shrugged, and turned back to her assignment.

After a few more minutes’ listless searching, Toni gave up and got off Maddie’s bed. After a few seconds’ pause, she walked over to the full-length mirror in the corner of the room.

She did not like what she saw. Toni had always found mirrors unsettling, and lately the feeling had intensified. There she was, a blend of her Bangladeshi father and West London Jewish mother, the halves forming a whole she had never really liked. It was strange: though she was short and slim – or as her father would say, so bloody skinny, there were times when she thought there was too much of her. She had altered her appearance in various ways over the last few years, but none of the changes had ever really worked. The nearest she had come to being satisfied was a few months ago, when she had cropped her hair to a quarter of an inch. She had liked it, and had kept it at that length since then, but didn’t appreciate the way her new cut accentuated her large brown eyes and cheekbones. She sighed: nothing ever worked. She could never look right.

‘Why do you like me?’

Maddie stopped typing and turned to her.

‘What do you mean, “why do I like you”?’

Toni felt her face flushing, and went and sat down on the bed.

‘I don’t know. You’re so pretty, and I’m… like this. Why do you like me?’

‘How many times do we have to do this, Toni? I like you because of who you are, and how you look. You look amazing. I’m so into you.’

‘Really?’

For once, Maddie couldn’t hide her exasperation.

‘Yes, really. I mean it. Just like the last time you asked, and the time before that, and the time before that. What more can I say?’

‘I don’t know.’

If Toni hadn’t been looking at her feet, she would have seen her girlfriend grit her teeth, and then visibly suppress her frustration. Maddie came and sat next to her on the bed and then, lightly touching Toni’s chin, drew her face up and around until their eyes locked.

‘I could show you?’

Barely noticeably, Toni nodded. Maddie kissed her.

As they fell back on the bed and entwined around each other, one part of Toni styed aloof, unmoved by their passion. In that part of her, she could never quite believe Maddie because she knew that they didn’t fit, that she didn’t fit, that the shadow of her doubt was growing ever larger. Forcing herself away from these thoughts, she stripped off her t-shirt. Maddie was here, right now, and she would have to be enough.

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