by Shannon O'Brien
At Jones University, a woman’s education always comes first. That’s the model Ellie Gallagher is determined to follow. With less than a year of school to go, she juggles her commitments to her studies, her job, and her a cappella group gracefully. When she’s paired with fellow senior Jolene Weiss on a class project, sly glances and flirtation quickly replace thoughts of homework.
But graduation can’t arrive soon enough for Jolene. Longing to be free of university life, she’s busy trying to snag a job on a political campaign. Add to that the fact that she’s in a different a cappella group than Ellie. Though music was their first bond, the rivalry of a cappella and the uncertainty of graduation may force them apart.
The Lesbian Review
Sing Me Home…is a new adult romance that takes place in the world of college a capella. It's super sweet and has the lovely lesbian romance that was missing from the Pitch Perfect movies. If you're looking for a sweet, low-angst new adult romance, check out Sing Me Home. It's a lovely read and a great way to pass an afternoon.
Rainbow Book Reviews
I love O'Brien's writing style"“it's fresh, easy, and has great flow and pace. I never felt as if the story was getting bogged down in too much detail or unnecessary side plots, and equally I enjoyed the depth of character O'Brien gave me in both Ellie and Jolene. Both characters were extremely likeable, and the initial connection, then romance, then stumbling point were beautifully played out.
Lesbian Reading Room
Sing Me Home is a very sweet and charming romance. Two young women, Ellie and Jolene, meet in their final year at University when they work on a class project together and develop a friendship over a mutual love of a cappella.
Ms O'Brien has captured the unfolding feelings of new love, and gives us a genuine sense of the real connection that can happen when we meet our soul mate….has written a very good first novel and I look forward to many more.
Stop watching the clock.
Ellie closed her eyes to force her thoughts elsewhere. Another long shift at the café only added to her stress level. Luckily, she was only twenty minutes away from kicking the late-night stragglers out and closing down for the night. The downside about working part-time at the coffee joint on campus was that all the insomniacs and night owls loved to camp out and keep her from getting ahead of her cleaning duties.
She opened her eyes again to check on her regulars. The girl with the bandana was typing away furiously, apparently struck by a rare moment of inspiration. Two booths down, the Ellen DeGeneres look-alike had closed her book to text someone. Across the room, the redhead hipster peacefully sipped her third cappuccino of the night.
Ellie sighed and began the long process of emptying the coffee dispensers, a mindless process that provided her with ample time for worry. Her final year at Jones University, an all-female college in the small town of East Westwick, was proving to be the most difficult yet. Between the maximum number of shifts allowed at the café, her packed class schedule, and the hours of a cappella rehearsal each week, Ellie barely managed to find time for her friends. It was already the middle of October, and she felt her long-awaited senior year slipping through her fingers. There was nothing she could do to stop it. She couldn’t drop any courses or she wouldn’t be able to graduate in the spring. Fewer shifts at the café were also out of the question; after graduation, she faced student loans. And a cappella was the only real joy she had left. Her daily planner was marked in a whole rainbow of colors, but she always saved purple, her favorite, for the music-related activities. Singing with the Jones Tones and being their treasurer was a dream come true, even if there was a bit more drama than Ellie would have liked. She looked forward to rehearsals and felt her heart race each time the group got up on stage to perform. She found herself wondering what life would be like after graduation when she didn’t have the built-in support system of a cappella to sustain her. Ellie quickly steered her thoughts away from that painful idea and set the first coffee dispenser on the rack to dry. She eyed the customers again before a commotion in the back room startled her.
Rose sped out from around the corner that led to the kitchen, holding her oversized travel mug out expectantly.
“Wait, girl! I need my last refill before my long trek home,” Rose exclaimed. She shoved the mug under Ellie’s nose.
Ellie rolled her eyes. “You live closer than I do,” she complained.
Rose sighed tiredly. “That may be true, but my knees are at least fifteen years older than yours, so it feels like miles and miles to go before I get to sleep.”
As Rose poured the dregs of the hazelnut roast into her mug, Ellie felt a rush of affection. There was something comforting about having a boss like Rose around during the late-night shifts. She was a wonderful supervisor, just enough of a hard-ass to keep everyone motivated, but still happy to chat about the latest campus gossip. Rose had graduated from Jones just after the millennium, but had never moved on from East Westwick. Sometimes, Ellie wondered what kept her in the small college town. It definitely wasn’t the coffee or the paycheck she got from the café.
“Don’t forget, your books are on my desk.” Rose took a long drink from her mug. “Wouldn’t want to give you an excuse for not doing your homework on time.”
“Funny. You know very well that I do all my homework on time,” Ellie answered, lifting another container into the shallow sink. She glanced at Rose, now perched on a stool next to the register, and was met by a skeptical look.
“Okay. Most of the time,” Ellie admitted.
Rose blinked. “Uh-huh. Sure.”
Ellie loved her boss’s no-nonsense attitude. “God, you know me too well. I need to cut back on my shifts.”
This elicited a belly laugh from Rose. “No can do, sweet cheeks. You’re my best worker. I’m already getting panicky thinking about what I’m going to do when you leave me.” She grimaced. “Why do I even remind myself?”
Ellie was flattered. It felt nice to be appreciated for all the crappy jobs she did in the café. Being a barista wasn’t her calling in life, but she was grateful that she could always fall back on it, if need be.
As Rose made her rounds to remind customers that it was time to leave, most seemed surprised that it was already midnight. Ellie understood how they felt. She still had at least thirty more minutes of cleanup and an assignment to do before she went to bed. Fortunately, her first class wasn’t until ten thirty, so she had a little wiggle room with the homework situation. Rose locked the glass doors behind the DeGeneres look-alike and circled back to the counter.
“Pass me the rag and spray bottle. I’ll do table duty,” Rose said as she placed her coffee aside.
Ellie handed over the items. “Oh! I just remembered,” she said. “I’ll be a few minutes late for my shift tomorrow. My class is doing a group project thing and we’re supposed to split up to discuss topics after class. I already told Xiaoli that I owe her a snack or something for staying late to cover for me.”
“Not a problem,” Rose said as she began flipping chairs upside down. “But you owe me a snack too.”
Ellie chuckled. “And what type of snack do you need to forget about my unforgivable infraction?”
“I prefer payment in beer. Or Oreos. Your choice.”
Ellie nodded, noting that she needed to swipe some Oreos from a friend in her dorm before class tomorrow. In less than thirty minutes, the shop was clean and closed—record time for a Wednesday evening. As they turned off the lights and headed out the back door, Rose took another sip of coffee.
“So, what class is stealing you away from me tomorrow?” she asked, steam rolling from between her lips.
“Women in Politics. It’s a SWaG class.” Ellie buttoned her coat, already weary of the cold.
“Ah, yes. The good ole Study of Women and Gender Department. Well, I guess I approve. You do know how I like to study women.”
Ellie laughed at the bad joke. “Wow. I’ve never heard that one before.”
“That’s your punishment for being a SWaG minor. You have to appreciate my jokes, or else.”
They headed for the only traffic light on campus. “Any jokes about Museum Studies majors?” Ellie asked with a grin.
Rose beamed. “Oh, loads!”
“Go on. Tell me one.” Ellie looked at her boss expectantly.
Rose thought for a second, and then looked at Ellie with a mischievous glint in her eye. “I’ll tell you on your last day of work.”
Ellie frowned. “It must be a really bad joke. Am I not going to want to talk to you again after you tell it?”
“Something like that,” Rose said as she turned toward her apartment. “I’ll see you tomorrow, girl!”
As she waited for the crosswalk light to change, Ellie’s thoughts turned to the homework shoved hastily into her backpack. It was another long night in the making, but she was at least excited for something new in her SWaG class.
Get your sorry ass out of bed.
Jolene rolled over to slap at her phone. The soulful voice of Dolly Parton singing her namesake song was no match for the need to get more rest. Unfortunately, she had forgotten to close the dusty blinds before she collapsed into bed the night before. The harsh sunlight on her pillow was even more annoying than the alarm. She didn’t want to lift her head off the very warm and comfortable pillow just yet.
After pressing snooze two more times, Jolene pushed back her comforter with annoyance. Since the beginning of the semester, her energy had left her completely. She was sure it was due to her quickly approaching graduation date. Unlike many of her friends, Jolene would don her cap and gown in the winter. She had worked tirelessly to get all the credits necessary to receive her diploma a semester early, but the thought of missing all the traditions that accompanied spring graduation made her even more sullen.
She was lucky to graduate early. It meant fewer bills to pay and a head start in the job market. But, at the same time, she would leave behind some of her greatest friends and the school she loved. As Jolene headed to the shower, she passed by a first-year student leaving for class. It made her miss those not-too-distant days. She thought of how easy college had been when she had been a new student at Jones. The poor girl probably didn’t realize yet how good she had it. Jolene shook herself from thoughts of the past. She stepped under the spray of disappointing water pressure and mentally prepared for the day ahead of her.
First was class at ten thirty with Professor Mehra. Then she had a break for lunch, probably on her own since her friends were usually busy on Thursdays. After that was a Political Science class at one ten and her seminar at three. And, of course, after dinner was rehearsal.
Back in the comfort of her dorm room, Jolene toweled off and checked her planner for any overlooked homework for her morning class. ‘SWaG 302: Women in Politics’ was offered only once every other year, which helped to make it the most popular class in the Study of Women and Gender Department. Unfortunately, Jolene found herself more disconnected from the subject than ever. She loved the heated discussions, but couldn’t muster the strength to participate anymore. She felt the ‘senior slide’ getting worse each day and she couldn’t figure out how to fix it.
Jolene sighed when she saw the assignment written in smudged ink. She had forgotten all about the fifty-page reading assignment. Hopefully, Professor Mehra wouldn’t split them up into small discussion groups. It was always so obvious when someone was bullshitting, and when it happened to her, she felt so useless. Letting herself down was okay, but letting down other students who were actively trying to learn was a different story.
As she pulled on a sock, Jolene considered skipping the class but realized that it would make her third unexcused absence. She also knew about Professor Mehra’s “three strikes” policy and decided to ignore her impulse. Jolene pulled on the other sock. It was her last semester, after all. Pretty soon she would be wishing for the days when her schedule had been planned out from morning to midnight. She glanced at the clock.
The breakfast bar closed in five minutes. She grabbed her backpack, earphones and the unread packet. She could at least skim it before class. Skimming helped, if only a little.
The sound of her thick leather boots echoed through the stairwell as she sprinted down the stairs. It wasn’t pretty, but she was determined to get some food. As she rounded the corner into the dining hall, she saw her friends at their usual table. Jolene grabbed a muffin and some fruit on her way over.
“Good morning sunshine,” Natalie answered happily. She seemed ready for the start of her day, her breakfast dishes empty except for a few crumbs, and absorbed in a heavy book cradled in her lap. Her bright red hair reflected the early morning sun streaming in through the skylights. In her four years at Jones, Jolene had never seen Natalie’s hair in a ponytail. She admired her for always taking time at night to put her hair in curlers so it would look perfect every day, even if she didn’t quite understand the appeal of all that work. These days, Jolene felt lucky if she could get her hair washed. Most of the time, she just braided and forgot it, caught up with weightier thoughts.
“Natalie’s a little preoccupied this morning,” Mo explained.
Mo was still in her pajamas and bathrobe, her hair a mess of tangles and yesterday’s makeup still smudged across her skin. Despite being ambitious about her studies, Mo had organized her class schedule to have no morning classes on Tuesdays or Thursdays. Twice a week, she watched smugly and with a disheveled appearance as Jolene and Natalie trudged to class after a quick breakfast. She, on the other hand, had the morning free to do whatever she wanted. Most times, she went back upstairs to bed.
“I was up all night. These last few chapters have been all cliffhanger. I couldn’t stop,” Natalie murmured, eyes fixed on the page.
Jolene laughed into her bite of apple as Mo shook her head.
“Always with the reading!” Mo whined.
Jolene opened her own assignment. “She is an English major,” she offered.
“Oh, is it contagious? Are you one now too?” Mo asked, pointing at Jolene’s homework.
From across the table, Natalie gave a quiet laugh.
“Believe me, I’d be the worst English major.”
“Yeah, I believe you,” Natalie answered.
Jolene feigned hurt but couldn’t stop her lips from curving upward when she saw Natalie’s sideways glance up from the page.
“Well, if you two are just going to waste this precious time that we have together with homework, I’m going to go back upstairs with my bagel.” Mo frowned dramatically. Jolene frequently wondered why Mo even got up for breakfast with them, since she and Natalie often used the time for last-minute assignments. She knew that the answer was probably something sappy like “friendship” or “camaraderie.” Of their trio, Mo was by far the most sensitive. She even had a saying about how you couldn’t have emotions without Mo, which always made them groan. Jolene usually shrugged off overly dramatic displays of affection but, if she was totally honest, she was grateful to have both of these women as her friends and constant support.
“See you at dinner?” Jolene asked as Mo moved her bagel onto a napkin.
“No! I’ll be too busy reading,” Mo answered with smug look.
“Really?” Jolene turned her best puppy dog eyes toward Mo.
Mo sighed. “Of course I’ll be here. I manage my time correctly, so I don’t have to multitask while I eat,” she explained, whipping her bathrobe like a cloak as she exited.
“See you tonight!” Jolene called, happy to see Mo’s slender fingers wave goodbye as she disappeared through the doorway.
“Finally, some peace and quiet,” Natalie exhaled.
Jolene looked at the reading assignment before her. She didn’t have much time to skim.
I can’t believe she took my seat.
Ellie sighed as she looked around the room. The only sophomore in class had taken her usual seat by the window in the second row. Overeager beaver. How had a sophomore even managed to get approval for a three hundred-level class? Reluctantly, Ellie parked herself in the only open window seat in the last row of the small lecture hall. As she unloaded her bag, Ellie went through her mental checklist: pen, reading packet, planner and tea. Everything was accounted for so she took a minute to relax and sip her drink.
She watched the front of the classroom while the last few dawdlers meandered toward their seats. Her usual seat in the second row never gave her this vantage point. She was struck by the number of tired-looking students in the room. Only two months into the semester and people already looked like they were falling apart. Ellie completely understood. Sometimes, she thought she wouldn’t be able to make it either. Professor Mehra strode in at ten thirty on the dot, looking as regal as ever with a perfectly tailored pantsuit and a cozy-looking shawl draped elegantly over her shoulders. Ellie had to admit that she was a little bit in love with her professor. Everyone who had ever laid eyes on her had to agree that she was a fox, but it was mostly her intellect that had countless undergrads waiting outside her office for advice each week during office hours.
Professor Mehra circulated the attendance sheet as she began her lecture. “Good morning everyone. I hope you all read the assignment since we will be discussing it thoroughly today. I don’t like to play favorites but”—her eyes twinkled—“I will admit that this piece holds a special place in my heart. So, let’s get…”
Ellie’s attention was drawn away from her professor as a straggling classmate slowly made her way into the room. The student had clearly mastered the nonchalant-cool-girl routine. Ellie recognized her, even behind the aviators and oversized beanie. Jolene Weiss was a legend in certain social circles at Jones University, especially a cappella circles. She was one of the most popular members of Acapellago, one of the four groups on campus. Ellie had always been jealous of the group, especially since they had turned her down when she auditioned as a first-year student just trying to break into the a cappella scene on campus. Luckily, the Jones Tones had seen Ellie’s potential and taken her in that same year. She had moved up in the ranks and now enjoyed being one of the group’s main players. Unsurprisingly, being a senior had its perks.
Ellie watched as Jolene quietly made her way to the back of the room and slipped into an empty desk two seats over from Ellie. Shrewdly, she sat down just ahead of the sign-in sheet’s current location, scribbled her name on the clipboard, and passed it across the empty desk between them. Ellie picked up the clipboard with a wary look as Jolene paused her music and took out her earbuds. The girl had a flair for the dramatic, but the tardiness was still pretty pathetic in Ellie’s opinion.
Ellie concentrated on Professor Mehra, to catch what she had missed while she had been distracted, “—should spend some time unpacking the reading before we really start discussing the larger issues presented. Please pair off in groups of two or three and take the next”—she glanced at the clock—“ten minutes to get the ball rolling.”
Murmurs spread throughout the room as classmates paired off. Being stuck in the corner, Ellie had only one option.
She swiveled her seat toward Jolene. “Hey. Should we pair off for this?”
Jolene glanced up distractedly. “Uh. Yeah. That sounds good.”
Ellie decided to take the lead and leaned in closer. “So, where do you want to start?”
“Well, what did you think of it?” Jolene asked as she flipped through the article in front of her. Ellie noticed there were no notes scrawled in the margins or highlighted passages anywhere on the pages. That was a bad sign.
“The article?” Ellie asked, flipping through her own packet, which was marked in a variety of colors.
“Well, I read the whole thing without noticing the publication date.” Ellie wondered whether her partner had even bothered to read it. She often questioned how ‘cool girls’ even managed to graduate.
Ellie looked down at the title page. “Yeah. December 1978. So, that changed my entire stance on the article.”
“How so?” Jolene asked, eyes averted.
The conversation was like pulling teeth. Ellie watched Professor Mehra ghost her way around the room, listening in on conversations as she passed by. Unlike her partner, she could at least prove that she had been ready for class.
“Well, the whole thing is pointing out how much things are changing for women in public office. There are multiple citations of a rise in representation for women throughout the United States,” Ellie said crisply. “I mean, she discusses Hawaii as this hotbed of sexual equalization in politics, but we are seeing this article through a different lens than when she wrote it. I was disappointed because so little has really changed since then.” Ellie was pleased with her articulation of what bothered her about the reading and glanced at her notes again to see what else she could say to impress Professor Mehra.
Jolene flipped through the article. “That’s a good point, but I think you’re a little too harsh,” she answered.
So, her partner had a stance after all. “Okay. Tell me what you think.”
Jolene responded without hesitation. “First off, we have to admit that Hawaii was, and still is, a heavily Democratic state. It’s only gone red in two presidential elections in the last fifty years. On top of that, they recently elected their first ever female senator. Her name is Mazie Hirono, and she also happens to be one of only three Buddhist senators and the first Asian-American woman elected to the senate. So, taking all that into account, we know that the article was certainly correct in predicting that Hawaii would continue to be a place where women could enter the political sphere. Instead of faulting the author for writing something rooted in a time when feminism was only just sprouting wings, I think we should commend her for predicting which of the fifty states would become the most diverse, both in gender and race, for women in politics.”
Professor Mehra hovered nearby, nodding in agreement. Ellie was aghast. How had Jolene listed off all that information without any notes? At least there was one glaring flaw in the argument she had just posed.
“Well, I suppose you’re right. But, I think you know better than to say that feminism started in the 1970s,” she chided.
Their eyes met for the first time and Jolene immediately smiled. It was different than that first grin she had seen when Jolene snuck into the seat just in time to write her name on the attendance sheet. Ellie was caught between feeling extremely jealous of Jolene’s easy negotiation of the reading assignment and a simmer of something else she couldn’t quite explain. She felt her cheeks warm.
Jolene quickly schooled her features into one of complete seriousness. “How could I be so silly? They teach us Feminism 101 on the first day of orientation!”
Ellie chuckled and lowered her gaze to the desktop. “So, I guess you’re into politics, then.”
“Yeah. American Studies major with a concentration in politics.”
That explained things. Ellie examined her marked margins and nodded. “Wow. Then this article is right up your alley, I guess.”
Jolene paused. “To be honest, I didn’t even read the whole thing. I skimmed the first two pages over breakfast this morning.”
Ellie looked at Jolene to see whether she was joking, but decided she was not.
“Oh my god! Come on! I can’t believe you BS’d that in front of Professor Mehra and she still gave you the silent nod of encouragement. You suck,” Ellie protested, moping over how much time she had put into the homework for this class after her late-night shift.
“All right ladies. Let’s reconvene,” Professor Mehra announced as she made her way back to the front of the room.
She opened the discussion to students, asking them to support their opinions with examples from history. One student mentioned Leslie Knope as an example of the changing role of women in politics. Ellie caught a glimpse of Jolene shaking her head at that comment. She suppressed a giggle and quickly turned her attention back to the front of the room. Professor Mehra asked Jolene to repeat the observations she had made during the breakout session. Jolene rattled off the facts about modern politics in Hawaii again, proving to Ellie that she really did have an insight into women in politics and she hadn’t needed the assigned reading to get there. Ellie took notes until her hand ached. If she had learned anything from talking with students that had taken a class with Mehra, it was that you never knew what topics she would touch on in the final.
Professor Mehra thanked a student for her comment and grabbed a paper off the podium. “I hope you all remembered to read the syllabus. I need you all to stay a few extra minutes today to pair off in groups of two for your midterm project.” She looked down at the attendance sheet, “Thankfully, we’re all present today, so no worries there. I will need you to hand in a thesis statement at the beginning of class on Tuesday. So, exchange emails or set a time to get together with your partner. If you are a little fuzzy on details, there is a full description of what this project entails in your syllabus. I also have office hours tomorrow if you need more clarification. All right”—she paused to look around the room once—“go find your partner!”
Jolene was already packed up, with her beanie on and earbuds hanging around her neck.
“Partners?” Jolene asked.
Ellie hesitated. “Only if you do the reading.”
Jolene laughed. “Deal,” she replied.
Ellie opened her planner and looked over her schedule for the week. “When are you free to meet?”
“Well, I have rehearsal tonight.”
Ellie knew that. She had her own rehearsal too. All four of the a cappella groups on campus rehearsed on Thursday nights. Did Jolene not recognize her from the annual events when all the groups sang together?
“How about Saturday afternoon?” Jolene suggested.
“Yeah. That’ll work for me. Two o’clock in the Campus Center café?”
“Sounds perfect,” Jolene agreed.
Jolene didn’t write down the date or time; all her books were already in the bag at her feet.
“Are you going to remember that?” Ellie demanded.
“Are you sure?”
Jolene nodded. “Yes. Here. I’ll even give you my number if for some miraculous reason I do not show up on time.” She swiped the pen from Ellie’s hand and scribbled her number into the corner of her planner. She handed back the pen as she stood up. “Sorry, what’s your name again?”
Jolene put on her aviators. “Right. Okay. I’m Jolene. See you on Sunday at eight p.m. in the library, Ellie!”
Ellie chuckled. “At least you got my name right!”
A smoothie or a milkshake?
Jolene glanced at the menu options again. She still had ten minutes before she was supposed to meet Ellie to discuss their project. A milkshake sounded appetizing at the moment, but Acapellago members weren’t supposed to drink dairy products before singing and they had a rehearsal later in the evening. She didn’t really believe in that mumbo jumbo, but just in case a group member walked in, she opted for a smoothie.
She paid for her freshly blended fruits and sat down in one of the booths near the back of the café to scroll through the news on her phone. Jolene’s best friends often complained about her being glued to her phone. She was of the opinion that they just didn’t understand that she already had one foot out in the real world. Her free time was spent listening to current events and checking her email for replies to the many job applications she had sent out. Mo and Natalie, on the other hand, still had plenty of time to enjoy their senior year and ignore the unknown future. Jolene knew she was meant to work in politics, but she was in a sort of limbo until she found an employer who agreed with her. Satisfied that all was well in the world—or as well as it could be nowadays—her thoughts turned to the midterm project that counted for forty percent of her final grade. Mehra was a stickler for good work. Jolene had taken a class with her as a junior and it had been near torture. It was the first time she had really needed to work in a class, but the lessons she had learned there had stuck with her, although not much of the material covered in ‘SWaG 217: History of Queer Cinema’ applied to her politically focused major. Luckily for her, Mehra was teaching Women in Politics this semester. It was her last degree requirement, and the reason she was able to graduate a semester early.
While she waited, Jolene noticed the packed café. The colder weather drove students inside for their study sessions, and approaching midterms meant that students took more study breaks as an excuse to get away from their textbooks and unwritten term papers. She saw a few couples spread out across the café. She rolled her eyes at the clear PDA that most of them exhibited, although she envied them. Still, if she had a girlfriend, she certainly wouldn’t parade her around at the café. That train of thought dredged up memories of her last relationship, which had ended nearly two years ago.
The relationship had been doomed from the start. Jessica was a year older than Jolene and, at the time, they lived on the same floor in Buchman Hall. They hooked up at a Halloween party in the dorm and it had turned into an emotional whirlwind for both of them. Jolene still remembered that warm October night when she had dressed up as Wonder Woman at the request of her friends. They said she had the perfect body for it and her long, dark hair and chocolate-brown eyes dressed up the cheap costume Mo had purchased for her online.
Jessica was, admittedly, a bit of a hipster and hadn’t put any effort into her costume. At the last minute, she had thrown together a sad attempt at ‘Static Cling’ and Jolene recalled the near collision with her in the hallway just before the party got underway. She remembered Jessica in a black tank top and underwear as she ran down the hall to her best friend’s room.
“Louise! Do you have any clean socks?” she had screamed.
Later that night, they had struck up a conversation in the dining hall when they were both in search of a water fountain. Jessica asked Jolene to save her a dance and, already smitten, she had waited patiently for the next hour until Jessica came back and asked her onto the floor. The dance grew heated and ended with some sloppy kissing before they moved things upstairs.
Jolene shook off the memories and glared at two girls swapping spit by the window. Dating Jessica had been a mistake and she didn’t like to dwell on it.
Ellie stood at the table.
“Hi Ellie. Sit down.” Jolene motioned to the other side of the booth and moved her feet to give Ellie room to squeeze in. Jolene couldn’t place her, but for some reason Ellie looked very familiar. They had class together, but she felt like there was something else. She eyed her classmate as she took off a thin rain jacket and sat down with a thump. Ellie had short, auburn hair and a small pink barrette clipped next to her ear. She was dressed very nicely in form-fitting pants and a striped sweater right out of a Banana Republic window display. Most girls at Jones wore sweatpants with slouchy sweaters on the weekends since the largely female environment allowed students the novel option of devoting time to their schoolwork instead of their looks. Not having men around was one of Jolene’s favorite things about Jones University. She never felt pressured to wear fancy clothes or makeup, as was often the case at the political offices where she interned during the summers. At school, she slept in longer most days because she could wear whatever she wanted. Clearly, Ellie didn’t feel the same way. A hint of makeup accentuated her shocking blue eyes and a deep color emphasized her Cupid’s bow lips. Jolene’s gaze settled on a small gold necklace resting at Ellie’s throat. She quickly looked down at her own black T-shirt and jeans and shrugged. At least she was comfortable.
“So,” Ellie began.
“So,” Jolene replied.
Ellie glanced at the clock. “You were on time.”
“Early, in fact. So I rewarded myself with a smoothie,” Jolene said as she picked up her cup.
Ellie took a notebook out of her bag and dropped a pen onto the table. “Did you look over the requirements for the project?”
Jolene was amused at how obsessed this girl seemed to be with her assignments. Did she have any hobbies beside homework?
“I did,” she answered. “Do you have any thoughts on the political system that you’d be interested in researching?” It would probably be better to let the bookworm pick the topic.
Ellie hesitated. “I’m not sure.”
Jolene found that surprising. She would have expected her classmate to come prepared with three choices, along with documentation to support why they would be topics worthy of an A.
“Well, I have a few ideas.”
“Please share,” Ellie said. “I’m completely at a loss here. I honestly don’t know much about foreign political systems and wouldn’t even know where to begin the research about how women are represented worldwide. I only took this class because I like Hillary Clinton! I don’t know how I’m going to write a ten-page paper on any topic. Thank god our presentations are only fifteen minutes long.” Ellie clearly seemed frustrated.
Jolene, at least, was having fun. “Well, I guess it’s good you have me for a partner. Don’t worry so much. We’ll be writing the paper together and I’m great at presentations. As for topics, I don’t know whether someone else is going to pick it, but I think women in Irish politics would be fascinating.” Jolene wondered whether the subject already bored Ellie but, hilariously, she had already begun writing the idea down in her notebook. “The population of Ireland is an almost even split at forty-nine/fifty-one, but there has only been a one-percent increase in women’s representation in the Irish Parliament in the last twenty years. And, Ireland is currently eighty-fifth out of one hundred ninety countries in terms of measuring female representation. They’re consistently falling further down the chart too.” Jolene paused.
“Yeah. Do you think that interests you?” she asked. She knew that the key to a good group project was having everyone excited about the topic.
“Uh. Definitely,” Ellie said. “That sounds like a really good idea. And we could incorporate how the representation of women in politics is probably one of the reasons women’s health issues aren’t advancing there.” She paused. “They aren’t advancing there, right?”
Jolene nodded at Ellie’s hasty conclusion.
“You are correct with that one. They are intertwined subjects. I think Mehra will eat it up,” Jolene added.
Ellie exhaled. “Well, that was easy, I guess.”
“Yep. And painless too,” Jolene agreed.
“How do you know so much about Irish politics off the top of your head?”
“I don’t know. I guess some stuff just sticks with you,” Jolene answered. It was the truth. Her interest in world politics stemmed from her lifetime interest in all things political. Even as a kid she had spent her afternoons doing her homework with CSPAN in the background. Knowing about women in political spheres was a particular interest now, since she hoped to join their ranks soon.
“Did you make up those statistics to impress me?” Ellie asked with narrowed eyes.
Jolene wanted to laugh, but played it cool. “Is that all it takes to impress you?” she asked with a glint in her eyes. After a moment, Ellie broke out into a huge smile. Her only thought was that it was a good thing Ellie appreciated cheeky humor because it was the only type that Jolene had mastered.
“Pretty much,” Ellie answered.
Jolene felt relieved that Ellie actually could put aside academics. “Well, I’ll have to remember that, but no, I didn’t make them up.”
“All right then. Consider me impressed. Do you want to sketch out our thesis? I can type it up and bring it to class on Tuesday,” she offered as she flipped to a blank page in her notebook. She was back to business.
“Sure,” Jolene said, resigned to surrendering a sunny Saturday afternoon to work.
They spent the next twenty minutes crafting a thesis and outlining paragraphs, which Jolene had to admit, were all pretty damn interesting. It made her eager to go on. After they each gave it one final glance and tweaked the wording in the opening sentence, Ellie sat back and sighed into the silence between them.
Jolene continued to puzzle about where she might have met Ellie but drew a blank. “Where do I know you from?” she finally asked.
“What?” Ellie frowned.
“You look so familiar.” Jolene hesitated. “Have we taken another class together?”
“I don’t think so. I’m a Museum Studies major,” Ellie answered.
Jolene persisted. “Did you ever live in Buchman?”
“No. I’ve always been in the Quad.”
Jolene still had no idea where they might have met. “I just feel like we’ve met before.”
“Well, I know you from all a cappella group events,” Ellie murmured. Her eyes remained glued to her notebook.
“Are you in a group?” Jolene asked.
“Yeah. Treasurer of the Jones Tones.”
Of course. Ellie was an a cappella singer. Acapellago and the other groups on campus performed at events together a few times every year. How could she forget Ellie? She was a staple in the Jones Tones, and had been for years.
“You have a solo in Uptown Girl!” she exclaimed.
Ellie’s cheeks bloomed with color. “Yeah. That’s me.”
“Ah. That explains it. You’re a soprano, right?”
Ellie’s face turned serious. “Yeah, but I’m supposed to be beatboxing for our next concert.”
“What? Why?” Jolene asked. It wasn’t every day that a senior lead vocalist switched to percussion.
“One of our juniors went abroad and we need someone to take over her solos. No one else volunteered.”
Jolene suspected that Ellie’s tendency toward academic overachievement could get her into trouble at a cappella rehearsals too.
“Are you any good?” Jolene didn’t really see Ellie as a natural beatboxer. The Uptown Girl solo proved that she was best suited to singing the melody.
“No. I’m shit at it.”
Jolene found Ellie’s self-assessment amusing. A cappella melodrama was a constant in her life at Jones. Something about a cappella attracted all the drama queens, but she secretly enjoyed watching from the sidelines as all hell broke loose every few weeks. Still, Jolene could tell Ellie was being honest about her skill level. She didn’t seem the type to self-deprecate just to fish for compliments.
“Well, I’m decent at percussion. Maybe I can help you out with it while we’re working on our project since we’ll already be meeting up.”
Ellie looked completely nonplussed. “Decent?”
“Yeah. At least, that’s what I’ve been told.”
“Are you kidding me?” Ellie demanded.
Jolene didn’t know how to answer. “No?”
“Your beatboxing on Toxic was some of the best I’ve ever heard,” she admitted as their eyes locked.
Jolene grinned. “Don’t you know it’s a mortal sin to admit another a cappella group is better than your own?”
“I did not say that. I merely confessed that you are better than ‘decent.’” Ellie was smiling again. She was so cute.
“Ah. Well, in that case, I won’t tell on you,” Jolene joked.
“Really, though. Next time we meet up I will totally give you some pointers. But you might have to commit another mortal sin.”
Ellie looked wary. “And what sin would that be?”
“You’ll have to tell a member of an opposing a cappella group what song you’re singing at your next concert,” she replied with the sternest look she could muster.
Ellie gasped in mock horror. “Never! You’re trying to trick me into revealing all our secrets! I’ve made a blood pact to take them to the grave!”
Jolene laughed until her sides hurt. Ellie’s humor was unexpected but felt like a breath of fresh air each time she allowed that overachiever mask to slip. Jolene pushed her hair out of her eyes. “All right. You got me! But I’ll never give up trying. Acapellago won’t be stopped until we rule over all the a cappella groups on campus.”
Ellie scoffed in disbelief. “Yeah. That’ll never happen.”
“So, when is a good time for you to meet again?”
Ellie consulted her planner. “How about Tuesday? Do you guys practice that night?” she asked.
“Nope. We’re on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays. So I’m free.”
Ellie hovered over an empty spot in her schedule with a pencil. “Is the café okay again? My shift ends at eight.”
“Sure. You work here?” she asked.
“Yeah!” Ellie answered happily.
Jolene hadn’t put that together before. She had been wrong about Ellie. She had a hobby and a job. Maybe she wasn’t as uptight as she seemed after all.
“Cool.” Jolene got up from the table and put on her sunglasses. “So, I’ll see you then.”
“Sounds great. Tuesday at eight. Right here.”
“Yep. Wednesday at four in the library.”
“Is this going to become a thing?” Ellie asked playfully.
“Maybe.” Jolene winked.