I didn't realise I could save myself. I've spent years being the damsel in distress, waiting for Simon to rescue me. Years being the prize after the boss battle.
I'm no longer the Princess Peach of Simon's story.
Running away to California never felt like running away. It felt like escaping. I packed my credit card, sunglasses and my passport. I put on a summer dress and left my Ugg boots and thick winter jumper behind. The sun shone down on me as I got off the plane. I was free and alone and out of Simon's story into chapter one of my own.
Lucy likes it here too. She runs around on her little legs. I spend my days on the beach with a book. Sometimes I pick up my phone and hover over Penny's number. She still texts me, although it's been a whole month and I don't reply. I don't want to tell her I'm sorry. Not when I finally have what I've always wanted. I can make my own story. I can be the protagonist.
"Agatha?" A girl waves at me from away. I wave back, smiling.
Maisie is another dog walker. Her puppy is twice Lucy's size and the most chilled dog I've ever met. Maisie reminds me of Penny in a way - she's stubborn and clever. But in other ways she reminds me of myself. We both have blond hair and fluffy dogs and want to live our own lives.
"Ags." Maisie sits on the bench next to me and Sky rests her head on her lap. "You okay?"
"I'm in California." I reply. Maisie grins back at me. Every time she asks, I give the same answer.
"You really love Cali." Maisie ruffles her cropped hair.
"It's a great place to run away to." I reply. "And I love the beach."
"You never told me why you ran away." Maisie says. "Weather?"
"Everything was more complicated when I was at Watford. There was so much pressure on me. To be this fair maiden that kisses the hero at the end." I sigh, looking away from Maisie and down at my sandals.
"The Princess Peach?"
I smile at Maisie. She gets it. "Exactly."
"And you didn't want that?" She asks, nodding. "I get it."
"I was happier before me and Simon started dating." It feels good to say it out loud. "I love him but not in the right way."
"Yeah, I get it." Maisie runs her hand through her cropped hair again. "I was sixteen when I first kissed a boy and it felt so wrong."
"No chemistry wrong." Maisie answers. "So I tried kissing other boys. And when that didn't make me feel anything either, I tried kissing girls. And then my non-binary friend Jazz. Nothing."
"Nothing." I echo. I touch my lips without thinking. I didn't think other people felt the same way I did.
"I figured it out eventually." Maisie grins. "God I was so happy when I realised I wasn't the only ace person out there. And then I looked at myself in the mirror and thought 'I still don't want to live alone, I'm buying a puppy'." Sky licks her hand and barks.
"You just realised that..." I'm stumbling over my words. If Penny could see me now.
"I didn't want that kind of love?" Maisie finishes. "Yeah, I did. And I've never been happier."
Sky barks again, like she's agreeing. Maisie scratches her behind the ears.
"Ace, like asexual?" I ask. I've heard the term before; one of Baz's friends had mentioned it.
"Yep. And aromatic." Maisie answers. "What about you?"
"I... I don't know." I tell her honestly. I didn't think it was an option. That someone like me - who had been admired and told I'll make someone happy one day in a future I've always dreaded - could not be with anyone. It sounds freeing.
"Oh." Maisie pats my arm gently. "Still figuring things out?"
"I am." I scratch Sky too. She closes her eyes happily.
"I'm here for you." Maisie says. I know she means it because her dark eyes are fixed on me and filled with something that lets me know she has my back. "Whether your ace, aro or anything else. Best friends right?"
"Of course." I lean over Sky and hug Maisie. It's unexpected for both of us. Still she holds on.
I sit in the warm sun. I've saved myself and that's just chapter one. Figuring out if I'm ace, aro or anything else is the rest of the story. And I know I have a friend who will support me.
I open my messenger app and hover over Simon's name. Eventually I click on Penny's name. I sent her a photo of Lucy.
Simon's got a tail.