Love Short Story Competition - Runner Up

Katie Kent

Runner Up
Finally, in love
Love Short Story Competition


Katie Kent lives with her wife, cat and dog and works in journals publishing. She began writing non-fiction, but always had a dream to be a published fiction author. Her first short story was published in 2019, and to date she’s had almost 30 stories published in various publications and anthologies. This is her first Writing Magazine competition success after a handful of times being shortlisted.

Finally, in love By Katie Kent

“Hey, wait!”

I peer out of the window. Gemma Worthing is running towards the bus.

The driver cuts off the engine and opens the door. “There’s always one.”

Gemma comes panting up the stairs, flopping down in the seat next to me.

“What do you think you’re doing?” I give her my best disdainful look. “You can sit somewhere else.”

“The bus is full, Ellie. This is the only space.”

I glance behind her. “Great.” I pull my phone and earbuds out of my bag. I can do this. I can get through the next two hours sat next to my enemy.

“You gonna ignore me the whole way?” She pops a piece of gum into her mouth and starts chewing.

“Yep.” I put the buds in my ears and press play on my phone. As the bus pulls out of the school parking lot, I stare out of the window.

We’ve been travelling for less than 10 minutes when I feel a jab in my side.

I turn around. “Ow! What was that for?”

I can see her mouth moving, but my music is too loud to make out the words.

I squeeze my eyes shut. Give me strength. Pressing pause, I snap at her. “What?”

“I had to get your attention.” She stretches. “You had that damn music turned up so loud that you couldn’t hear me.”

“What do you want?” I slump back in my seat, pressing myself as close to the window as I can.

“I was saying, are you going to hold what happened last year against me for the rest of your life?”

“Yes, probably. I mean, you outed me when I was only 16. Do you know how embarrassing that was? I wasn’t ready. I’d barely even come to terms with it myself.”

“I know.” She shifts in her seat. “But I don’t know how many more times I can say I’m sorry.”

“You could say it a million times. It wouldn’t be enough.”

She sighs. “I miss your friendship.”

“Save it.” I press play and lay back in my seat, eyes closed.

I’m just drifting off to sleep when I feel the jab again. Gritting my teeth, I press pause again.

“I want to talk,” she says.

“I don’t care. I don’t want to talk.”

“Just give me 15 minutes. If you still hate me after that, then I’ll leave you alone, and I won’t say another word to you the whole way.”

I take the earbuds out of my ears. “Fine. But I’m setting a timer.”

She nods. “Fair enough.”

My phone timer begins to count down. “Get on with it, then. Tell me why it wasn’t your fault. Tell me how I overreacted. Tell me why I should forgive you.”

She takes a deep breath. “I’m not going to say any of that shit.”

I narrow my eyebrows. “You’re not?”

“No.” Her eyes fix on the driver. “I’m just going to tell you why I did it. I don’t expect you to forgive me. I just want you to understand.”

I tap my foot against the floor. “Alright. I’m listening.”

“Did you hear that Craig and I broke up?”

“Yeah.” I’d been as surprised as anyone by the news. They’d been dating for over two years, and were the most popular couple at school. He was the stereotypical jock, with a six pack and blonde hair, and she- well, she was beautiful, from her long legs to her dark hair. I bite my lip as old feelings bubble up briefly, but I squash them back down. My crush on Gemma is as over as our friendship.

“I need you to know why I ended things with him.”

I shrug. “I really don’t care. What’s this got to do with us?”

She winces, but carries on talking. “I’d been lying to him the whole time.”

“About what?” I’d been trying to keep my tone disinterested, but my curiosity gets the better of me.

“My sexuality.” She stares down at her fingernails, and then looks back up. “Ellie, I… I’m gay.”

“No way.” I can’t believe what I’m hearing. “You… no way.”

“I was scared.” Her voice wavers. “Scared to admit that I wasn’t straight. Scared to admit that I had a crush on my best friend.” She lowers her eyes when she says those last words, looking at the floor rather than at me.

My eyes go wide. When I’d come out to her, I hadn’t said a word about my feelings for her, although I had wondered if she’d guessed. And it had never crossed my mind that she was anything but totally straight. I’d wished she was into girls, of course. But it just seemed like an unobtainable fantasy. She used to talk about Craig all the time. Ellie, Craig is amazing. He treats me like a princess. Ellie, you wouldn’t believe what a great kisser Craig is. Ellie, Craig is so hot. We’re going to be together forever. I’m going to marry him, Ellie.

I cough. “But what does this have to do with outing me?”

“I was just getting to that.”

“I’m waiting.” I tap my foot against the floor again.

Her eyes flicker to it, and I force myself to stop.

“You remember Jane?”

“Of course.” Jane had been the only other lesbian in our year- or so I’d thought, until just now. Unfortunately, she’d moved away before I had a chance to get to know her.

“She asked me over to her house.” She laughs. “She said she had these lesbian films we could watch. I told her I was straight, but she had got it into her head that I was into girls. I’m not sure how. Anyway, I panicked. I was afraid that she was going to out me. Then, when you came out- well, that scared me, too. I wasn’t sure how to act around you. I worried that you’d be able to tell how I felt about you.” She takes a deep breath, her cheeks a light shade of pink.

I don’t say anything- just wait for her to continue.

“I went to Jane after, and I told her you were gay. I told her that I thought it was disgusting. I said I didn’t think I could be friends with you anymore.”

I let out a breath. “Right.”

“I’m so sorry.” She puts her hand on my arm. “I felt like I was being backed into a corner. People do strange things when they’re afraid.”

“I guess so.” I shake my arm away, still wary.

“I wanted to convince Jane that I was straight, and I wanted to distance myself from you.” A single tear rolls down her face. She sniffs, wiping it away with her hand. “I didn’t like the way I felt around you. Like I wasn’t in control of myself. Like nothing else mattered. I was sure that because you were gay, you’d be able to detect it in me. And when you came out to me, I started thinking of you with a girlfriend, someone that wasn’t me, and it hurt so much that I could hardly bear it.”

I knew that feeling. I’d had to battle it every time I saw her with Craig. “You should have said something.”

She shrugs. “I wouldn’t have been able to deal with the rejection. Oh, I know you would have let me down gently. But still…”

I shake my head. “You idiot.”

“You don’t understand. At least I tried. I won’t bother you any longer.” She bends down and pulls a book out of her bag.

“Gemma.” This time, I put my hand on her arm. “That’s not what I meant.”

She looks at my hand, but doesn’t attempt to move it.

I giggle. “You really had no idea?”

She sits back in her seat, the book on her lap. “No idea about what?”

“Why did you automatically think I would reject you?” I ask, waiting for the penny to drop.

She screws up her eyes, like she’s trying to figure out the answer to a complicated puzzle. “Huh?”

I roll my eyes. “Idiot,” I say, again. “I was totally besotted with you.”

Her head snaps back against the head rest. “Wow.” She laughs. “I can’t believe… wow. I honestly thought that you were way out of my league.”

“You thought that I was out of your league?!” It’s my turn to laugh. “Gem, come on- you’re beautiful.”

I feel my own cheeks heat up. The words had come out of my mouth before I’d had a chance to think about them.

She’s looking into my eyes, intently. I allow myself to take her in, my gaze sweeping over her.

I realise then that I’d been kidding myself when I’d thought that I was over her. I’d been so busy hating her for what she’d done that I’d mistaken that for indifference. I’d pushed her out of my mind, looked away at school whenever I’d seen her. But I only have to look at her properly again, and the feelings come flooding back.

The timer on my phone sounds, making us both jump.

“So,” she says, her voice trembling. “Do you still hate me? Do we need to spend the rest of the journey ignoring each other? Do we have to-”.

I don’t give her a chance to finish that sentence. Instead, I press my finger to her lips, cutting her off. “I don’t hate you, idiot,” I whisper. “I love you.”

The corners of her mouth turn up. I remove my finger, replacing it with my own lips. We kiss slowly at first but it soon deepens, as we put more than a year’s worth of pent-up desire into it.

“I love you too,” she says, when we eventually come up for air. “And I don’t care who knows it.” She twists around in her seat, facing the others. “Hey, I’ve got something to say.”

The chatter dies down, as everyone waits expectantly for her announcement.

“Gemma.” I pull on her sleeve. “You don’t have to do this.”

She grins, lacing my fingers with hers. “I’m head over heels in love with Ellie Donovan.”

Judges Comments

First love – often teenage love – is just as real and deep and life-affecting as any other great love, which is demonstrated by Katie Kent's warm, sparky queer YA story Finally in love, the runner-up in WM's Love Story competition.

Although it's skillfully crafted as an accessible read, there's a lot going on beneath the surface In this story. As a two-hander, its success depends utterly on the dialogue and the dynamic between Katie's characters Ellie and Gemma. And it's all there - the credible teenage voices, the gruff banter as a way of expressing deep emotion, the layers of pain and misunderstanding peeled away as Ellie, for all her defensive hurt, allows Gemma to explain. Because - and this is where the story deviates from a standard teen romance - Gemma's action in outing Ellie to cover her own internalised homophobia and confusion about her sexuality is inexcusable. Self-serving at best, and at worst, both homophobic and a betrayal of her best friend's trust. Who ever said teenage troubles were minor in comparision with adult traumas? Not in this story.

Katie wisely leaves the reader to imagine what Ellie will have felt like in the wake of what happened, but it is a love story, and Katie has carefully set it up for a happy ending that is all the more welcome because each girl is able to share her painful secrets with the other to pave the way for mutual understanding. And then for the happy, defiant ending and the joyful affirmation at the end. With a dramatic arc that goes from enemies to lovers, Finally in love is a relatable story where the happy ending rings true and has the reader really rooting for its two engaging lovers.