learning how to be (with you by my side) @uniqueusernamegener4
Chapter 1

The first time she meets Luz, she ends up running down the street in a budget Halloween costume.

Rewind.

So her parents refused to pay for her living arrangements - yes, she'd pissed them off that much - so now she's stuck in a cramped third-floor flat with no elevator. As if that wasn't bad enough, she's been saddled with a roommate. Who is absolutely and utterly terrible.

So her parents refused to pay for her living arrangements - yes, she'd pissed them off that much - so now she's stuck in a cramped third-floor flat with no elevator. As if that wasn't bad enough, she's been saddled with a roommate. Who is absolutely and utterly terrible.

Whoever it is, they're a total mess. They left their stupid crayons all over the living room floor, and now Amity's stuck cleaning it up because Boscha is coming over and her roommate is never home. The worst part is that Amity literally doesn't know anything about them, since they were late to their moving in. She doesn't have their number. She doesn't know their name. If their apartment suddenly burst into flames, she'd probably be clueless about it. The only thing she can even guess about is their major - arts - which isn't even a given anyway.

"Crayons," she mutters, scooping them into the trash can. "Nobody uses crayons. What are you, five?"

God, she is looking forward to the day when after all these months she actually finds out who her roommate is so she can throttle them.

Boscha arrives ten minutes late, thankfully, which gives Amity time to get rid of the paint on the walls, the empty noodle cups on the counter, the wax stains on the floor, and the random stuffed animals scattered over the couch (her roommate is so dead).

"Oh my god, you have to spice this place up, it's so boring!" Boscha exclaims. She's pulling random drawers in the kitchen, going through all the cupboards, and Amity would stop her if she wasn't so tired.

"I can't without asking my roommate, and she's dead to me," Amity says, lying flat on her back on the couch. She's really not in the mood to deal with Boscha today. She's nice-ish (to her, at least), but talking to her drains her energy.

"Dead to you? Why, what'd she do? Did she kiss your girlfriend?"

"I don't have a girlfriend," she replies, bemused.

"Then who's leaving these cute notes on your fridge?"

"Cute-"

Wait a minute.

Amity launches herself from the couch and skids into the kitchen.

"Jeez, what's got you so flustered? Didn't you know about these?" Boscha peels a Post-It note off of the fridge. "Ew, is this written in crayon?"

"Give me that," Amity demands, plucking it out of her hands. There's words scrawled onto the note in dark blue. It reads:

SORRY FOR MESS

PLEASE DONT THROW CRAYONS AWAY

XX LUZ

"How did you not notice these, they're like right there," her friend gestures to the side of the fridge, which is practically covered in little yellow notes.

"I don't know," Amity admits in disbelief, eyes now taking in the assortment of other Post-Its scattered across the surface.

There's some inconspicuous ones, like:

HAVE A GOOD DAY TODAY

LUZ

Or apology ones, like:

SORRY FOR THE PAINT I LOST CONTROL :( ILL CLEAN IT I PROMISE

XOXO LUZ

There's even ones that are kind of sweet, if she ignores the hastily written apologies:

THERE IS CAKE IN THE FRIDGE FOR YOU PLEASE DONT BE MAD ABOUT ALL THE PAPER MACHE

-LUZ

That last one catches her eye, and she yanks the fridge open with a growing sense of dread. Sure enough, there's a vanilla ice cream cake - with rainbow sprinkles, might she add - on the top shelf. When she takes it out, she notices that there's a HELLO written on it in dark red icing.

"What the fuck," Amity curses.

"Whoa," says Boscha. "Your roommate actually kind of rules."

Amity shakes her head, putting the ice cream cake back in the fridge. "No, she's the worst. She makes a mess out of our apartment every day and cake isn't going to fix that." If Boscha notices how Amity doesn't throw the notes away, she doesn't mention it.

Later, when she's alone in the apartment, she looks around furtively (even though nobody has the key except the landlord and Luz) and approaches the fridge. Uncapping the red Sharpie with her teeth, she scribbles out a quick message on an orange sticky note and slaps it onto the counter.

After all, it's not like anything is going to come out of it.

 

When she wanders into the kitchen the next morning, yawning, the note is still on the counter. It has her handwriting on it, but below that is Luz's messy scrawl, bled into the paper in black permanent marker.

If you want to keep your crayons, stop leaving them in the living room, is what Amity had written the day before.

Luz, in response, has drawn a crude stick figure that's... crying? And there's a message, too:

YOU MADE THE STICK MAN SAD

WHATS YOUR NAME IM LUZ

Against her will, Amity snorts.

You're so immature, she writes. After some hesitation, she signs her name below it.

The next morning, when she gets to the kitchen, there's a doodle of a dragon and a note waiting for her that reads:

HI AMITY NO I'M NOT IMMATURE

DID YOU EAT THE CAKE I GOT YOU

No, she scribbles, and leaves for class.

And thus the notes continue. They're always brief; goodmorning or have a good day or did you eat my cake (the answer is always no). It's starting to drive Amity crazy, not seeing who her roommate is (she'll never admit it), but at least she stops coming home to random crap all over the floor. So maybe she's starting to warm up to her mysterious pen pal.

...

Okay, it's really not her fault, alright? Like, logically, she knows that Luz is her delinquent dorm-mate who used to straight-up trash their apartment for three months straight. But realistically, she cracks a huge smile whenever she sees a Post-It note on the counter. Realistically, she maybe, sorta, kind of wants to meet the weirdo who leaves the cutest little scrawls in messy handwriting on their kitchen counter.

 

She gets her wish on the last day of the semester.

The classes are draining and long, but luckily her professors feel the same way, and she gets out of her last lecture well before their allotted time is up. The December chill seems to have seeped into everyone's bones, and the air is filled with a sense of drab relief. So when she arrives at her flat early and the door is unlocked, she's so exhausted that she doesn't really think anything of it.

"Hey!" says Luz from the kitchen doorway.

"Hi," says Amity absently, turning to drop her bag and nap for six hours when she stops in her tracks.

She whirls around.

Oh my God.

It's Luz. Terrible, messy, and apparently very cute Luz.

She's dressed lowkey, wearing a hoodie, sweatpants, and these really fucking stupid bunny slippers that Amity immediately wants. Luz is casual - leaning against the doorframe with a goofy smile on her face, arms crossed like nothing in the world can faze her. Amity is actually kind of impressed by how cool this girl seems to be for someone so messy, until she trips over nothing and falls onto the floor with a THUMP.

"I'm okay," comes a muffled voice from the kitchen floor.

Amity groans, lets her backpack slide off her shoulders. "I can't believe I'm actually stuck in here with you." She flops onto the couch. She doesn't even care if Luz sees her like this because what is she gonna do? Make fun of her? "Crayon girl."

"That was one time, okay?" Luz says, picking herself off the floor and flopping onto the couch with Amity. Well, there goes her nap. "And what do you mean stuck with me? You're staying here over Christmas break?"

"Yeah, no duh." Mostly because her family despises her right now, but Luz doesn't need to know that.

Luz stares at her for a very uncomfortable split-second before breaking out into a grin. "This is gonna be amazing! We can do actual, y'know, roommate stuff."

"Roommate stuff," Amity deadpans sarcastically. "Like what, paint each other's toenails?"

"Oh my gosh, please," Luz relaxes into the couch and starts bouncing one knee restlessly. "What color should we get? Blue? Green? No, let's get both. Let's go to Walgreens."

Amity's met people from all walks of life. Poor, rich, whatever, and she's taken all of them in stride. But in her experience? Everyone had been jaded, sarcastic, like life had leeched the positivity from them. People like this - trusting, open, warm - just didn't exist without conditions.

She narrows her eyes.

"I'm not going to Walgreens with you," she says, watching how Luz's face drops from a smile to a frown.

"What? Why not?" and honestly, this would be hilarious to Amity if Luz didn't look so legitimately sad, what the heck?

Amity is waffling between Go away and You're crazy and she really does intend to reply, but instead she lets out a giant yawn.

Dead silence. The bouncing stops.

She's starting to wonder what's taking Luz so long to say something, and when she turns her head to look, Luz is practically an inch away, wide-eyed. She's also staring at her, so yeah, that's interesting.

"Your yawn," she whispers, almost reverently. "Is so cute."

Her eyes are brown, Amity notes. Not that that's important.

Also, what the fuck?

"Ugh, can you get away from me?" she says, shoving Luz away and grabbing the remote to turn on the TV. Her roommate falls back onto the other end of the couch (where she belongs, Amity thinks) with a betrayed expression on her face.

"I can't believe you just pushed me! What if I died?" Luz pretends to swoon dramatically, but only succeeds in falling off the couch. "Imagine the news. Luz Noceda tragically died from a wound to the heart caused by-"

"-being a dumbass. Please stop talking," Amity turns the TV off - the news anchor's incessant rambling is almost as annoying as Luz's - and pulls out her phone so she can watch Netflix.

Luz, surprisingly, actually shuts up for around a minute. And then she gasps, leaning over to look over Amity's shoulder. "Is that the new live action Azura show?"

"Don't yell in my ear," Amity pauses the episode, does a double take. "Wait, you know about Azura?"

"Do I know about Azura? Girl, I live Azura. I breathe Azura. I dressed up as Azura all ten years I went trick-or-treating," she's making little gestures in the air, drawing imaginary pictures in the space between them. Cute, Amity thinks, then shoves the thought down deep into the recesses of her mind.

"Me too, actually," she says, and it's true. There were years of green wigs, cheap plastic staffs, drawing chalk circles on the sidewalk and pretending it was magic. "I mean, not that I went trick-or-treating that many times. I stopped after the 3rd grade." The day she dyed her hair was the day she trashed her costume. Irony like that always makes her head hurt.

"Really? Why?" Luz asks, and she sounds genuinely interested.

Amity shrugs. "My parents thought it was childish. Plus, candy gives you cavities."

She glances up. Luz looks horrified at first, but then a slow smile spreads over her face. Oh no.

"Let's do it now," she says quietly, clandestine, like she's divulging an important secret.

"What?" There is no way that Luz is actually implying what she's implying.

"Go trick-or-treating." And yeah, never mind, this girl is dumber than a doorknob.

Amity snorts. "Luz, it's December and we're way too old. Nobody is going to give us candy."

"It can't hurt to try, right?" Luz pleads, giving her what's probably supposed to be puppy dog eyes.

Her parents would definitely disapprove of this. Hanging out with a stranger in her apartment, going trick-or-treating as a college student in the middle of December. Foolish, they'd say, childish and unnecessary.

Naturally, Amity agrees.

 

As it turns out, it does hurt to try.

They go out into the wintry cold with white bedsheets draped over them that have holes cutout for eyes. Luz is taller - her ankles stick out past the white of the costume, and when Amity tries to make fun of her for it Luz calls her a "shortcake".

"Because you're short and you're really mean, so it's like sarcasm," Luz explains, smugly, like she's discovered the secret to the universe or something.

"I can't believe I agreed to do this," Amity grumbles, kicking a pebble. It skitters down the sidewalk and disappears from her line of sight. "With you. What are we even going to say?"

"You know, I actually didn't think about that," says Luz, and even though her face is covered, Amity can imagine her sheepish expression. "I guess we just hope for the best?"

So dumb.

The first door they knock on opens to reveal a wizened old man who does not look happy to see them.

"Halloween was two months ago," he snaps, clutching at a mug of coffee that says WORLD'S #1 DAD. "What are you kids doing here?"

Amity looks at Luz in a panic, who doesn't say anything, just shoves her basket out for him to put candy in. But rather than give in, he yanks the 'ghost costume' off Luz. It falls to the ground in a heap of white fabric, revealing that she is in fact not a little kid.

Oh, shoot.

There's a terribly long, stretching moment, where the guy just stares at them like he's trying to understand what reality this is, and then they're running down the stairs and they're leaving, costumes and candy baskets abandoned on his front lawn.

"HEY!" he shouts as they sprint down the street. "WHAT THE HE-"

Amity feels kinda bad for interrupting his evening, but she doesn't have time to think about it because Luz grabs her hand to tug her around the street corner and there's a burst of adrenaline through her, hot and intense.

When they reach their apartment building, they trundle up the stairs and collapse just outside their flat's door, out of breath and sweaty. The air-conditioning is the best feeling ever as she tries to breathe properly again.

"I hate you," says Amity as soon as the burn of her lungs lets up.

Luz has her head tipped back so it leans against their door, and she's still panting with the exertion, but she turns her head to smile at Amity. It crinkles up the corners of her eyes. Which isn't important. Nope. "Hey, don't blame me! You're the one who agreed to do this!"

"Whatever," she doesn't want to let Luz make a point, but she's out of breath and exhausted, so she lets it slide. That's when it hits her. She pats her pockets down. "Wait, do you have your key?"

Her roommate's eyes widen. "Uh."

"You forgot."

"...maybe."

"Well," Amity sighs. "I wanted to get started on coursework, but it looks like that's not happening."

"Oh, come on," says Luz, rolling her eyes. "We have the entire break for that. Wanna call a locksmith and get dinner? I know this place that has the best ramen noodles, and they even have boba. One time I went there with Gus and Willow - they're my friends - and then I accidentally choked on a pearl because I didn't know what boba was, I thought it was just liquid all the way through, and they were about to do CPR on me but then-"

She should snap at her. She should cut her off with a sarcastic remark and then go get dinner with Boscha. She should run far, far away and apply for a new roommate and never see crazy Halloween girl again.

Instead, a giggle bubbles its way up out of her throat. "You didn't even ask what boba was? You just tried it?"

Luz laughs, loud and raucous. "I dunno. I'm an adventurous person."

"You're a crazy person."

She gasps, mock offended. "Why, Amity Blight! You wound me!"

She remembered my last name.

Amity blinks.

"So... dinner?" asks Luz.

She's saved from answering when their RA, Ivy, steps into the hallway, swiping through her phone. She's tall, with curly hair, and doesn't seem at all surprised to see Luz and Amity sitting outside their door.

"Hi, Ivy!" Luz exclaims. "So, funny story-"

She pops her gum. "You locked yourself out again. Whatever. Give me a minute." Ivy disappears around the corner again, presumably towards her office.

So this isn't the first time Luz forgot her key. Honestly, she shouldn't even be surprised at this point.

When Ivy gets back and unlocks the door, she says, "If this happens again, I'm going to commit a murder. You-" she pokes Amity in the chest. "Make sure your girlfriend doesn't forget her key again."

"I-wh-" Amity splutters.

"Yeah, we're the best girl friends!" Luz grins, flashes finger guns (who even does that). "Even though Amity won't paint my nails."

Why is her roommate so dumb.

Ivy arches one eyebrow. "Um. Okay?"

"We're not girlfriends. Friends. Whatever." Amity explains, trying to salvage the situation and her reputation. "I'm her roommate." That stupid oh my god they were roommates Vine plays in her head. Murder is starting to sound like a good idea right about now.

"Not getting involved in whatever this is," the RA says, gesturing to both of them. "But have a nice day." Ivy turns and walks away, still scrolling on her phone. Amity catches a glance of Instagram, and wonders idly if Luz has an account on there.

When they get inside, Luz dives onto the couch without even taking her shoes off.

(Which is just weird, like, they're slip-on shoes? It takes literally two seconds to kick them off?)

"This bad boy is gonna take a nap," Luz mutters, voice muffled in the couch pillows. Amity wrinkles her nose, takes off her shoes like a civilized person, and goes into the kitchen to make herself dinner.

Just as she's pouring the noodles into the boiling water, her phone buzzes with a call. She pulls it out of her pocket.

Mom is calling.

Her heart speeds up, and not in a good way. She tries to lengthen her breaths, her nails clenching so hard into her palms they hurt, and contemplates letting it ring. She entertains the idea of simply cutting it off with a sharp press of her thumb. But Amity's a coward, and so she hits the green button.

"Hi, mom."

"Hello, Amity," her mother says. "Let's talk."

When she finally hangs up, her noodles have burned, her hands are shaking, and Luz is standing in the doorway.

She's slouched against the frame, scrolling through something on her phone. "Hey, so I found some awesome recipes and- Amity?"

Amity opens her mouth, but nothing comes out. She probably looks crazy, with her phone in one hand and the other hand clenched into a fist and her face twisted into a crumpled frown. Luz sidles up beside her. "Are you okay?" she asks, peering into the pot of burnt noodles. "Ouch. It's okay, Amity, I burn stuff all the time-"

"It's not the noodles," she cuts Luz off, shakes her head to clear it. "Just. Help me make this." Her finger jabs at a random recipe on Luz's phone screen, and she hopes Luz doesn't notice the trembling in her hands.

Luz raises an eyebrow. "Empanadas? You want to make empanadas?"

"Yes! Those!" It's not like she has any idea what those are, but whatever will take her mind off that is fine. Even if it's with her annoying roommate who apparently doesn't know what the implications of the word girlfriend are.

 

Luz fills up the kitchen like she's a thousand people.

It sounds dramatic, stupid - but Luz makes the space whole again. The echoes of her mother's razor voice fall apart in comparison to the knead of her fingers through the dough, the sound of her laugh lighting up the cold kitchen even as the sky fades to black. Amity doesn't believe in magic, but something about tonight is a little bit magic. Maybe.

And man, they mess up. They don't whisk the ingredients together well enough. They rush when they knead the dough. A lot of the ingredients are left out, because, well, their fridge isn't very well-stocked. It's kinda okay, though, even if Amity gets flour all over her shirt. Even if Luz throws an entire tomato at her. Even if her phone buzzes on the counter the whole time with messages from her mother.

So maybe the empanadas turn out misshapen and burnt and bland at the end. Whatever.

"Sorry, Luz," Amity says. She's kind of upset, stupid as it sounds, but Luz just grins.

"It's okay," she says, waving one of their smashed-looking creations around. There's a tiny bit of flour near the corner of her mouth, and Amity hates the way she actually notices that. "We can make grilled cheese tonight. Just don't burn it like you burned those noodles, 'kay?"

"Shut up- oh my god, put that thing down," Amity makes a grab for the empanada Luz is flailing, but Luz holds it up just out of her reach. Curse her for being so damn tall.

"Make me," she teases. Amity tries again, teetering on her tippy-toes, but Luz just leans back across the counter. Her competitive side flares up - no way is Luz winning whatever this is - and she climbs up onto the counter to snatch it and toss it into the garbage. "Amity, that's cheating."

"Your height is cheating," Amity mutters, heading over to the fridge.

But then they're both giggling like dumbasses, and the kitchen feels like the warmest place she's ever been in, and not even in a bad way. Just... a warm way. She feels like she could run a marathon. While Boscha saps her energy, Luz just seems to replenish it.

(She thinks that maybe she should find more friends that are less sane.)

The grilled cheese sandwiches turn out fine, even if they're more bread than cheese (they used up most of it on the empanadas). They sit on the couch, and she lets Luz coax her into setting up her tablet so they can watch Azura.

Luz talks way too much. Seriously, the way she prattles on and on about the show would be very annoying if it wasn't also amazing. She talks about the translation from the books to the series, the framing of the scenes, the lighting, the colors in a way that leaves Amity wide-eyed and grudgingly impressed. She learns that Luz's major is film, not art. She learns that Luz is terrible at coursework but absolutely brilliant at what she does, and she admires that. She learns that Luz's eyes light up whenever Azura and Hecate are on screen together.

Watching Azura with her roommate is... nice.

And it goes fine, too. It goes great, until they're midway through episode 9. Luz is in the middle of a ramble that fades away just as Hecate speaks a line that rattles her to the core.

"I need to confront them. They're my family."

The voice acting is spot on. The pain on the actress' face is almost genuine. Everything about the scene is so perfect, except it's not, because then her chest swells with the feeling of too much too soon and her vision blurs with tears and before she knows it she's crying.

She tucks her knees up to her chest and buries her face in them, taking deep breaths to get herself under control. The backs of her eyelids aren't exactly a comforting picture, but it's fine. She's not used to someone else being here, though, and she hopes it won't make a difference. Please don't let Luz notice, please don't let Luz notice-

The sound from the tablet stops. Amity swears under her breath.

"Are you okay?" asks Luz. She sounds worried. Probably because her roommate just had a mood swing in the span of, like, 30 seconds and now she thinks Amity's a weirdo. Whatever.

"Yes," says Amity, but her voice wavers dangerously.

"You're crying, oh my gosh, Amity," her roommate rambles.

"...yeah, so?" she replies. Okay, she thinks. She's having a breakdown in front of a girl she met, like, twelve hours ago. Cool. This is fine.

"Okay... do you wanna talk about it?" Something soft is pressed into her hand, and when she lifts her head up she realizes it's a tissue. How dare she be so thoughtful. "I know it always helps for me."

And she realizes, bringing the tissue to her face, that she could, yeah. She could tell Luz all about the million problems her family has, all the bad blood pulsing beneath the porcelain surface. The girl is scarily charismatic, not with the sleazy charm of the people she meets at all the fancy parties, not with sarcastic derision like Boscha or herself, but genuine. It's hard not to like her. Except Amity's known her in person for not even a day. It makes her a little wary, the way she's managed to insinuate herself so snugly into her schedule.

More importantly, it's scary.

"Nah," she says. "Just play the episode, Luz."

Luz plays the episode, shifts closer to her as she shoves her face deeper into her arms. She wishes she could say she minds.

Thankfully, Azura is an incredible show, and it's enough to distract her from her racing thoughts. Soon, Amity's better - not okay, but better. She and Luz argue about some stupid technicality relating to the show's magic system until they realize how tired they both are.

"Wait," Luz yawns when Amity finally starts to retreat to her room. "Give me your number."

"You're gonna send me dumb stuff," says Amity, but tells her anyway. Luz turns to her own phone, and a few seconds later hers lights up with a message. Her eyes are drawn to the time - 5:01 AM, which means she's spent around fourteen hours with her crazy roommate. What the fuck.

Unknown Number (5:01 AM): hey roomie 😏

She scoffs, saves Luz's number in her phone. "Goodnight, Luz."

"Night, Amity."

Amity turns to walk back to her room, then pauses. "Are you just gonna sleep on the couch like a weirdo?"

"Too tired," Luz mumbles, head already swaying to the side with sleep. 

"Fine, suit yourself," Amity says, ignoring the smile that's crept its way across her face. "See you in the morning."

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