I lick my lips when I look at her. She’s parching like that. Emma stretches her legs out, before recoiling back to her position: one leg hooked up, elbows propped, head thrown back.
We are sitting at the lake. She messaged last night wanting to go on a picnic.
‘I want sun, like real sun. I’m sick of being inside,’ she had said, as I drove us to the store to get some food.
I understood. Uni exam season had locked us in our rooms, and any excuse to leave seemed justifiable. I defended the picnic by calling it a mental health break, telling her it would provide care to a vulnerable person – the vulnerable person being me.
We aren’t aesthetic. The Holy Bible of Pinterest ordains we should use wine glasses to eat buttercream cakes, while wearing white dresses and lace like we are plucked out of Picnic at Hanging Rock. We didn’t own a picnic basket, so Emma found a little esky in her parent’s garage. Neither of us could find a blanket to sit on, so I grabbed a beach towel.
We have liquorice, passionfruit, and cheap plastic cutlery. We have mangoes too, though they are green and hard. The last stragglers of summer’s harvest. They smell sour, like the saccharine flavour has rotted, but Emma had insisted we bring them anyway.
‘What’s a picnic without summer fruit?’
She is wearing a black bikini that wraps around her ribs like wire, her denim shorts still on, but unzipped. I have a jumper on over my bikini, but my legs lay bare. We aren’t the only ones here. Small clusters of families gather across the opening. No one is swimming though. Too cold.
‘We should do more picnics,’ I say. ‘They’re nice.’
‘Yeah, but like, are we going to be the type of friends who do things for aesthetics?’
‘I didn’t think this was aesthetic.’
‘We could definitely do better. But I mean, it looks like we’re trying to be aesthetic. It’s so try-hard.’
Emma likes to use that term. It’s dirty in her mouth. Typically, it is instructively motivational. But Emma likens it to an insult, sharpens it to wound. She lives to be candid. I disagree with her. It’s natural to try. If things were easy, I wouldn’t be justifying my choice not to study. And really, if you try to be candid, is it really candour? I never say this to her though. There’s a wave of conflict behind the words, and I know if I were to go to war against her, she would massacre me, shred me into ribbons to tie her hair and use my blood as eyeliner. She is harsh and proud.
I don’t say anything and turn my gaze to the water. The sun blisters the sky, no clouds to bandage it. It’s hot for June, but the water is still icy. Emma lasted only two minutes before retreating.
‘Hey, you want?’
Emma grabs a mango out of the esky. I nod and grab a plastic knife from the packet. Emma uses the esky lid as a cutting board and starts cutting the mango. The knife is too blunt, and the slice of mango ends up serrated and torn. Juice drips from the fruit, covering Emma’s fingers. She scores it into cubes, folds the slice outwards, and hands it to me. She cuts herself a slice.
‘How’d Tinder Boy work out?’ Emma asks me.
She already knows how it went; I texted her when I got home. But it’s different saying it aloud.
‘I didn’t bring him home. He asked what I studied and then he explained my degree back to me.’
‘Oh yeah, but I don’t think it was in a sexist way, I just think he–’
‘Tried too hard? Mm, I don’t think it matters in what way it was intended, you know? Some men rarely know they’re being sexist.’
Emma slides her tongue between the cubes of mango, and I watch the juices roll onto her tongue, my stomach burning. Her face pinches together, eyes squeeze shut. She shakes her head and pokes her tongue.
‘It was nice that he tried hard though. Remember Tinder Boy from December? I sent him a photo of my boobs and I didn’t even get a dick-pic back.’
I can feel the juice dripping down my wrist as I speak. I don’t really want a picture of some guy awkwardly holding his appendage, but I feel the need to keep up. Emma collects the pictures like trophies, like they are proof she is a babe. I can tell her that for free.
‘Who even wants a dick-pic though? They’re not nearly as sexy as men think. I also think a photo of your boobs deserves more than some tinder boy’s erection.’
Stretched out in the sun, I seem flat-chested. Emma licks the juice slipping between her fingers, ‘Like, if you sent me a photo of your boobs, I’d take you in my arms straight away. Men are all talk.’
My mouth can’t say anything that won’t impend the orbit of our friendship, so I stay quiet. I bite down on some mango, letting it get all over my face. The juice rolls down from my lips, over my chin and down my neck. Sourness swarms my mouth, and I try to stop my face from puckering like the end of a lemon. Emma laughs as tears settle in my eyes.
‘You’re going to have to go swimming if you keep getting mango all over you,’ Emma laughs. We didn’t buy napkins.
I pout, ‘Fuck that, I’d rather be sticky… too cold.’
‘Here, I got you.’
She doesn’t hesitate. She closes the space between us. I freeze from her movements and yet, I melt too. In one clean lick, Emma licks the juice from my neck, from my collarbone to my jaw, before sitting back and grabbing another mango to cut up.
Her tongue is cold. Goosebumps rise on my skin. I turn my face away to hide the red flourishing in my cheeks. Emma hands me another slice. She turns onto her stomach and undoes the strings of her bikini. She props herself up with her elbows, her top just hanging from her neck, low enough to cover her breasts. I turn back towards her and lay on my stomach too. I eat the mango slowly, my tongue sliding between each cube of mango, the inside of my cheeks stinging.
‘You been on any dates lately?’ I ask.
I know she hasn’t. She shrugs, careful to not flash the handful of families trying to enjoy the winter sun.
‘No, but I want to. Fuck hot girl summer, why has it got to be seasonal? I’m hot all year ‘round.’ She says, tossing her hair to the side so I can see her shoulder. Hot girl summer has nothing to do with it. Dating means trying.
‘Do you like anyone?’
The idea of finding someone for her both excites and disappoints me. There’s a tug in my heart between being a good friend and being more. She spent plenty of nights lying in my lap, helping me swipe on Tinder. Sometimes we’d change the settings to show girls, and we’d entertain the idea of me matching with someone. Girl profiles are so much fucking hotter than blokes she said, and I agreed, but I was looking at how her head fit so neatly in my lap.
Emma looks at me, mango all over her mouth. I watch her slide her tongue over the fruit, before closing her lips down on it and sucking. My cheeks turn red. She grimaces at the bitterness of the fruit.
I mimic her actions, purposely letting juice roll down my chest. I salivate at the sourness.
I can feel a mother’s scowl covering us like sunscreen. Emma will want to argue it’s because the woman is homophobic. I will silently argue it’s because we are being erotic. Tongues on neck, sucking on fruit, bare backs. I revel under her scowl, soak it up its harsh you’re going to hell warmth. It implies there’s more here.
‘We should come back after exams,’ Emma suggests.
‘Okay,’ I say.
I don’t say how that looked so try-hard of us. How we look like the type of girls who go on picnics, who are devoted to Pinterest. I meet her eyes. She shrugs and smiles. She knows I know she doesn’t care if it seems like she is trying hard. It is both very Emma and un-Emma of her. It makes me want to kiss her, the thought of her trying hard, for me. I can see her collarbone pushing against her skin. I lick my lips, my tongue catching flavours of mango. She leans forward towards my face, and we share a winter’s breath.
‘And then we can eat mango and passionfruit all the time.’
She isn’t talking about the fruit, I know that, but I don’t have the confidence to confirm out loud. She runs her tongue over her mouth, and I’m so close I can feel the heat radiating from her.
I’m sure some parent with keen ears can understand us, what she means. It makes me wonder if they reminisce their youth, cool and chapped, and envy us carousing in winter sunlight, making our own warmth – not caring the way young people do. I secretly hope a parent is looking at us, trying to read the dynamic, longing to see what happens next. I imagine myself like that, like I am sitting across from us, a ghost tethered to our bodies, haunting our ardour. If Emma knew I thought that, she’d tell me stop. She’d tell me I am here, and I am next to her, and I am warm, finally.
‘Do my top up, will you?’
I grab the strings of her bikini and tie them at her back. She shivers under my fingers, and I smile as my knuckles smear mango across her spine.
Jaime Colley is a fourth year Creative Writing and Law student at QUT. She has been published in Concrescence Zine, Verses Magazine, Glass, and the Luna Collective, among others. Her writing often swings wildly between the dark potential of thrillers, the subtle delicacy of relationships, and if she’s feeling especially game, both. Jaime is a proud Taylor Swift fan and has somehow survived this far into her degree without drinking any coffee. Psychotic? She’s aware.
Editors: Willow Ward and Hannah Vesey