We were low-key lovers, though less of a rarity in our high school than we would have been in others. She had done passionate and dramatic before, and I had, too, in my own way. For us, what mattered was the silences we could sit with, the easiness of not having any words pass between us. Some weekends we drove for hours, stopping to eat when we felt like it, or sticking to the road and stopping only for prepackaged snacks.
Most of the time we talked, thoughts about where we might end up next, or rehashing the banalities of the day, or sometimes coming up with hypotheticals and exploring possibilities that felt safe because we knew they would never come to pass. Sometimes we just listened to the radio, taking turns driving while the other person looked out the window.
Our parents didn’t suspect us, two nice girls with good grades and good track records, and solid groups of friends. They knew we shared a close bond, but that our lives didn’t revolve around one another. Nothing enough to make our families worry that we could be different, even though they knew they’d accept us no matter what. What else can you do? They’re still your child.
I had overheard that line from my mother in middle school and carried it with me for years, long before I realized how and why what she said was important to me, then later, how the sentiment still wasn’t quite enough. Not being disowned never really felt like a victory, though realizing its hollowness did.
Low-key lovers. She was the one who coined the phrase, as we rehashed the fallout of another dramatic breakup we’d witnessed in the quad that afternoon. We’d been sitting together on the low bench of a planter box, sharing a sandwich and people-watching. The girl in question was in my French class, usually fairly quiet. I was vaguely shocked to hear her yelling, and to hear her voice suddenly loud, rattling off curses in English.
We watched openly, same as everyone else. Later, after school, we drove around.
“We’re not like that, you know?”
“You and me, we’re, like, low-key. We’re low-key lovers.”
“Low-key. Yeah, I like that.” I smiled, turned the phrase over in my mind. Somehow with her it didn’t feel like a big deal, like some great identity shift or dramatic turning point in my life. I just had a friend I enjoyed being around, and sometimes — sometimes often, sometimes less so — we were lovers, but low-key.
She smiled back, turning her head away from the road for a moment. I saw the tenderness of her smile extended to her eyes.
“I like it, too.” The smile stayed on her face as she turned back to the road. We kept on heading east.