Chapter 1: Forbidden Friendship.
(Liz 2026) Hello, my name is Elizabeth Robin Gray, but everyone calls me "Liz" now, this is my crazy story that all started when my family had to move to Santa Cruz 4 years ago...
(Liz 2022) Moving to a new city, in a new state, it's like going into a whole different world where everything works way differently, I'm from Texas, born and raised until I turned 17 not too long ago, my dad got a job in Santa Cruz, which is why we had to move, even my parents were reluctant to leave Texas.
My parents are proud Baptist Christians, my mom's mother was from Florida and was big in Westboro Baptist Church, known for their strong beliefs and hate for gays. My dad's parents are from Texas, so Texas is all my dad knows, he goes on all day about how gays are destroying America as an only child I was sort of forced into their beliefs and I've accepted that most of my life, I love my parents and just want to make them proud.
Ah, I guess I should describe how I look, I'm just an extremely self-conscious person, I've suffered from social anxiety for most of my life, I'm about 5'4 so I'm pretty short, my hair is long, naturally blonde but I dye it pink, I guess in a way rebelling against my parents, I'm light weight and my style consists of preppy clothes that my parents buy for me and force me to wear.
Today is my first day of school in Santa Cruz, even though we just arrived here yesterday, so as I threw on my clothes that I hated, I pet our family dog Buddi and headed out to the bus stop, Buddi may be old, but she's still my best friend or the little sister I never had.
Everyone at the bus stop stared at me curiously, but no one attempted conversation which is completely fine with me, I tend to avoid conversations, as anyone with social anxiety would. Explaining my anxiety is almost as hard as social interaction, it's always second guessing yourself and the things you say, it's remembering something dumb you said years ago and shutting down suddenly, it just sucks in general.
The bus pulled up in a hurry, but everyone piled on slowly like zombies, the bus driver watched on with a look of annoyance plastered on her face having to deal with the same thing every morning I guessed, I took my seat quickly as to stay on the bus drivers good side, luckily, I sat alone. I put my headphones in and began blasting music in my ears to sort of drown out reality, watching all the houses we passed as the bus pulled off quickly, all those lives going on...
Suddenly, the bus came to a stop, then even more people began to pile in, I was really hoping to keep my own space, but it looks like that won't be the case.
I noticed one particularly lively girl, but then again who wouldn't have, as soon as she stepped on the bus people began yelling "Ayo!" And "Aye! It's Zoey!" And stuff like that, but I guess I understood why, she had short black hair, baby blue eyes and was clearly fully confident in herself, she moved down the aisle, her hips swaying...hypnotically...wait, what am I saying?! My parents would kill me for such thoughts, I quickly flushed the 'sinful' thoughts from my head, just as 'Zoey' moved further down the aisle, high fiving someone, then she stopped at the only seat left open, right next to me, great.
"Mind if I sit here?" Zoey gave a friendly smile.
"Of course not." I forced a smile in return.
"I'm Zoey Blair Stevens, neighborhood lesbo." She laughed.
"Haha, my names Elizabeth Robin Gray, do you announce that to everyone?" I laughed with, curious about her just blurting that out.
"It's what I'm known for, that and my extreme self-confidence." She declared proudly.
I was a bit thrown off by her confidence at first, but now I'm just curious, wishing I could be as confident.
"You must be new!" Zoey exclaimed suddenly, as if she had only just realized it.
"Just moved here to Santa Cruz from Texas." I explained.
"Ah, Texas, you're not a homophobe, are you?" She asked.
"No! Of course, not!" I implored, I've never been any kind of prejudice in my life, I believe people should be able to believe what they want.
"Good! Because I want us to be best friends, I'll show you around the school." Zoey chortled.
Best friends? We just now met, why would she want to be best friends with me? Is this my anxiety making me second guess this? Should I just play along?
"I could use a friend" I smiled.
"You into music? " She asked, pulling out her phone and earbuds.
"Well, yea..." I replied, holding up my phone and earbuds.
Zoey put one earbud into her ear, then handed me the other, I took it even though I was slightly confused, I watched as she selected an untitled sound file, artist set as Zoey Stevens.
The song started off slow, piano and acoustic guitars then an angelic voice came in, which could lull me to sleep or out of an anxiety attack even, she sang of heartbreak brought on by her own family and not being able to find acceptance, so she accepted herself, and the world changed, it nearly made me cry, but crying would cause a scene so my anxiety wouldn't let me.
"That was you?" I asked on the edge of tears.
"Sure was." She chirped happily "You like it?"
"You should be famous" I laughed nervously.
"That actually means a lot, it's my dream, what's yours?" She asked.
I don't have a lot of ambitions, as I don't really believe in myself which probably sounds really depressing, which now that I think about it...I guess it is, I just like to write, like stories, mostly fantasizing more than anything.
"I guess I'd like to be an author" I answered.
"That sounds amazing! Do you have some of your work I can read?" Zoey exclaimed excitedly.
"Not on me, sorry." I lied.
I always keep my writing journal on me, I'm just weird about letting people read my work, afraid that they won't like it, I also don't take criticism very well, I'll generally break down, so it's just easier to keep it to myself then to put myself out there and have the potential to be shot down.
"But you'll be the first to know when I do." I smiled.
"I'd love that!" Zoey smiled back happily.
On the bright side, I already made a friend, so at least I won't be completely alone in a new school, there's nothing scarier than the unknown, especially to someone with social anxiety, maybe this won't be so bad...
Without a word, Zoey handed me the earbud once again, smiling at me brightly, she must really love music, I took the earbud without hesitation, if we're going to bond through music so be it, I mean music is a very powerful force, that's why it can give us goosebumps and make us cry, it moves us in a way that is unexplainable.
"What's your favorite song? I'd like to hear it." Zoey asked, breaking the silence, she must love talking as much as she loves music.
"Oh...uh...Child by Lights" I responded nervously.
"Lights? That's an interesting name." She commented.
"Stage name" I corrected her "Her name is actually Valerie"
Zoey quickly typed in Child by Lights, seemingly excited to hear it, my phone is an old model then everyone else has, it's also not activated, I always wished I had a better phone so I could stream any song I'd like just like Zoey is able to do, technology is a beautiful thing. As soon as Zoey seen Lights (a.k.a Valerie) on her phone her eyes lit up.
"She's smoking hot!" Zoey gasped, catching me by surprise, I guess it's taking me time to get use to such talk seeing as how I was raised, thankfully I'm smart enough to have my own stance and opinion on the matter, while I'd like nothing more than to make my parents proud, I've never really been interested in religion, nor boys even, I have sort of stayed to myself.
"I guess she is cute..." I agreed but not quite with the same intensity as Zoey.
Zoey looked over at me with a smile, then broke into laughter, like she had heard the funniest joke she's ever heard.
"She's more than just cute, at least not to me" Zoey continued laughing.
I didn't say anything more, just stared at my feet, I knew it too, I've always had a secret celebrity crush on Lights, I just didn't want to admit it because I was afraid, remembering everything my parents have said, how they would condemn me for just thinking of another female in the wrong way.
"You okay, Liz? You're as pale as a ghost right now" Zoey asked concerned.
"Oh, I'm okay, I swear" I lied, almost embarrassed by my own feelings, nobody should have to feel that way and it really sucks that I do, I let the world push me around.
"Hmm...if you say so, but just know I'm here for you, this school is next level crazy." She tried reinsuring me, looking me deep in the eyes, with her gorgeous baby blue eyes that reminded me of the summer sky, summer was my favorite for different reasons then other kids, it was the only time I got to escape my parent's strictness and have a taste of freedom, I got that same feeling as I stared back into Zoey's eyes, fighting the urge to grab hold of her hands and give every single one of my secrets up like they didn't matter, what is this feeling? And why am I trying to fight it?
"Well it's good to have someone to talk to about stuff, thank you, Zoey." I smiled.
"It's what friends are for." She smiled back.
Zoey flipped through her phone, pulling the song back up along with lyrics so we could sing along, we didn't stop at that song, Zoey loved it so much she played the whole album, unfortunately we had to stop as the bus pulled up to school, my anxiety began to get to me again, I hate change.
"We'll have to listen to some more after school" Zoey chirped happily "Follow me I'll show you around"
We both stood up in sync. I'm far from ready to tackle the day, but it has to happen eventually so I might as well get it over with.
Suddenly, Zoey grabbed ahold of my hand, pulling me along quickly, the second our hands made contact it sent a shiver up my spine and I wasn't too sure why, but I was oddly okay with it, it felt...right.
Zoey pulled me into our school, Harbor High, it's much bigger then the school I attended in Texas, this made me anxious because it meant there probably is lots of people here and huge crowds scare me big time.
The last thing I wanted to do is have a panic attack in front of my new friend, how would she take it? I'd probably be back to no friends, so I have to control it.
"First things first, this is my locker, we'll find yours, but I just wanted you to know where I'll be in case you need me." Zoey explained, she genuinely seemed to care, which was very relieving for me. Knowing someone has my back right off the bat, I guess I do have some luck.
"That means a lot, Zoey, thank you' I smiled.
"Don't thank me just yet, Lizzie." She smiled back, I'm not use to nicknames because my parents never gave me one, they just called me by my name, Elizabeth, it feels a lot better to have a nickname.
"All these nicknames." I laughed nervously, how do you give a nickname to someone whose name is already short?
"Oh! Do you want to give me one? So you're not alone?" She asked.
"Zoey is short enough." I replied.
"Just call me your girl." She winked, then suddenly grabbed a hold of my hand and started pulling me along again, showing me the school.
What'd she mean your girl? Why'd it sound oddly exciting? Oddly...intriguing.
"Luckily, we have 1st hour together!" Zoey chirped happily as she pulled me toward our first class.
First hour with Zoey every day? Maybe school won't be as bad as I thought, maybe I'll finally get over my social anxiety. Just as I thought that, the worst thing possible happened, three preppy girls came straight toward us, ready to rip apart the new girl for the fun of it, the middle girl, the ring leader looked the meanest, and the richest, her clothes were top designer exclusives. So her parents clearly have money.
Money buys you followers apparently, as her two friends also had expensive looking clothes, just not as expensive, they moved just like the leader, talked and just generally acted like her too.
"The new girl, fresh meat." The middle girl gripped, seemingly pleased with herself.
"Fresh meat." Her followers agreed.
I shrank behind Zoey, terrified already of the bitchy basic girls, I don't do well with any kind of confrontation, I break down in a panic, if someone even uses a strict tone with me even, I'm an overly sensitive person.
"Don't even think about it, Heather Mauriello." Zoey defended me.
Heather and her two followers laughed in unison.
"Stand back, Zoey, we want to welcome the new girl." Heather barked, attempting to push Zoey out of the way, but Zoey wasn't having it.
"So, Elizabeth, I hear people from Texas hate gays, where do you stand?" Heather teased me, her followers laughed in sync, my anxiety started to really get to me causing me to visibly shake, great, showing everyone how weak I am on the first day, I felt my eyes start to tear up.
Zoey looked back at me worriedly, then back at Heather, her eyes screamed anger, Zoey swung and punched Heather in the side of the head, sending her to the ground.
"Not all people from Texas are homophobes like your parents, Heather!" Zoey yelled angrily.