Mal was hiding. There was no other word for it really. She was curled up in her bed, under the covers, and had barely moved since the Friday when she had shoved Aurora. Her phone had rung, and she had heard people knocking on her door, but she didn't want to face anyone. Least of all Aurora. She couldn't bear to think that she had scared and hurt the kindest person she knew.
It was Sunday evening, and Mal knew she would have to go in to work the next day. She would have to face people. She had gotten out of bed, showered, and gone downstairs to make food, picking up a bottle of Jack Daniels on the way. It was dark out, and she decided there could be no harm in eating outside. Fresh air would clear her head ready for tomorrow.
She was standing, looking up at the fairy lights, drinking Jack. It felt calm outside, better than the turmoil of emotions that had twisted around her under the covers of her bed. The leaves were rustling, and the lights were mixing with the stars that had appeared.
"It would be advisable to not sneak up on me." Mal said, hearing soft footsteps.
"No sneaking here." Aurora replied, appearing at her side.
Mal glanced at her and then down at her glass. She wanted to run back in to the house, but she knew it would be better to sort this here than at work. Still, she found it difficult to summon the courage.
"Can I have some?" Aurora asked. Mal looked at her and Aurora pointed at her glass of Jack.
"Come on. We've already broken some rules. What's one more?"
"I want you to know... how sorry I am." She glared in to the glass. "For... everything."
"I was pushing. I should've realised you were under a lot of stress and just left it."
"No, stress is no excuse. I have to stop... being like this."
"Like what?" Aurora said gently, coming round to face Mal.
"This." Mal cried. "Everything about me. You're right. It's a mask. I want to be happy and I want to be normal but I'm not."
"Normal is boring." Aurora replied firmly, taking the glass from Mal's shaking hands and laying it on the floor. "You should be pleased that you're not normal. It's a good thing. It makes you incredible."
Mal laughed and shook her head.
"You haven't lived my life Aurora. You don't know what it's like to be me."
"No, I don't. But I know you now and I know that there are people who love you for who you are. For your differences. You'd be dull without them. A dull, normal person wouldn't have taken to Phillip so quickly. They wouldn't feel as deeply as you. They wouldn't have the confidence to walk down the halls dressed like you." Mal laughed and wiped her cheeks where a tear had made its path. "They wouldn't have been able to stop themselves from hurting those boys. They would have done it. You stopped. You're incredible."
Aurora was stroking Mal's knuckle with her thumb throughout her speech, and Mal felt a tingling spreading across her skin. She hastily freed her hand under the pretence of wiping more tears away.
"You're too good." Mal replied. "I'm sorry that you got dragged in to this."
"What, because of what David said? He's an idiot. He told everyone he'd seen you on a date with a woman."
"He saw me having drinks, but Di and Bella were with us too. It wasn't a date."
"Who... who were you with?" Aurora asked. Mal smirked and raised an eyebrow.
"Don't do that."
"Say it like that. Just because I've been outed by some idiots with old fashioned ideas does not mean that I'm interested in every woman I have a drink with. It doesn't work like that. It works just like everyone. You like someone, you like that person. You don't like everyone just because you're interested in that sex."
Aurora paused and frowned, biting her lip. Mal chuckled darkly at her expression, waiting to hear what ever was playing on her mind.
"I don't... I'm not reacting because you like women. You know that right?"
"Why else would you be frowning?"
"I just... I didn't realise that it was such a big deal to you. Being... however you identify. I just thought you were and that you weren't bothered about making a huge deal about it. I'm not the kind of person that judges someone on their sexuality, or anything really."
Mal nodded and bit her lip.
"I guess I'm just so used to people like David that it's refreshing to know someone who isn't bothered by it."
"Then you need to surround yourself with better people."
"I think I already am." Mal smiled.
"I'm glad you think so." Aurora smiled and picked up the glass from the floor. She took a gulp, finishing the drink and laughed. "Thanks for the Jack."
"You little..." Mal glared playfully and Aurora laughed even more.
"I'd be happy to just have water if you'll invite me in." She smirked.
"Oh... erm..." Mal paused. "I can't."
"The rumours... the investigation. While it's not true, we should tone down the amount of time you spend around me. I don't want people spreading rumours about you. I can handle it; I mean, it's dangerous for my job but it won't bother me. I just don't want you getting upset."
"Why would I be upset? They're just gossiping."
"It could stop you from having a normal last year. I mean, what if you like someone and they aren't interested because they think... Or what if people start to push you away? I can't have that on my conscious."
"You shouldn't worry about that." Aurora smiled. "Although it's very sweet of you. But anyone who is my actual friend won't shun me, and there isn't a single student I like."