I fell out of love with this party twenty minutes ago and can’t tell if I’m more disappointed by the party or myself. College parties should be a pinnacle of excitement after an all-remote senior year of high school. Mixed reviews so far. I attended two last fall and only one was a disaster. I want this party to firmly swing the balance in favor of group social events with same-aged peers—but this is not happening. I’ll give the party another hour to produce wonderment or fascinating disaster, then I’m leaving.
My room on campus is about a mile away from this house. I don’t know who lives here, but from the cheap décor and psychedelic paint colors I’m guessing all students. I’m sitting on a couch that smells like wet cat and watery ketchup, but it’s enthusiastically firm despite its age. The two couches in this bright, mustard-colored living room have been pushed against the walls to make room for dancing. I don’t want to awkwardly watch the dancers that are crammed elbow-to-elbow through the middle of the room, but if I look down the length of the room, I end up staring at the couple making out on the far side of this couch.
It’s hard not to stare. One is dressed all in green, four different shades: sweater, shirt, jeans, boots. The greens in her shirt and sweater bring out the golden hue in her olive complexion. Her dark hair is about an inch long, so short I almost mistook her for my friend Bas—who invited me.
“Just show up for a few,” Bas had said. “Meet my girlfriend, eat free food, do whatever passes for dancing. Then you can go.”
Bas disappeared an hour or two ago. I’m assuming with the new girlfriend.
Three of the greens in this outfit I’m observing—the shirt, sweater, and jeans—match the necktie of the person whose lap she’s in. That person is in a brightly flowered button-down shirt with a green and gold paisley tie—and wearing a “he/him” pronoun button that I appreciate. He’s big-bellied and flat chested and has deep red hair in a short shag cut over tan skin with sepia undertones.
I’m imagining the coordination these two went through on the outfits. Did the paisley tie come first or the four tones of green? Did they text photos or get dressed together?
I could walk back to my dorm in the cold, but my roommate has her boyfriend over this weekend because I’m supposed to spend it at home with my moms. Except they figured I’d come in late and planned date night. They offered to change it to family movie night, but that means they’d still be trying to cuddle on the couch when I wasn’t looking and I’d rather give them the space.
Plus I really did want to come to this ultra queer party since I dodged most of the official meetings last semester. Trying to decide now if I want to go to meetings this spring. Our school’s lesbian lit treasure hunt is about to begin, which means there’ll be literary madness and, honestly, that sounds great.
“You’re staring,” Bas says from behind me, half-shouting over the music. As I jump-turn, she waves a hand in the direction of the oblivious couple. “Which I fully support, but when they notice, things could get awkward.”
Bas is an average sized white human wearing a probably ironic pink frilled shirt and a dark-gray wool pirate coat over skinny jeans and ankle boots. She keeps her light-brown hair buzzed to a quarter inch, which emphasizes her cheekbones and eyes—big and greenish.
“I’m trying to figure out what they fight about,” I tell her. “Personal space? Astrology? Matchy-matchy outfits? Is one of them secretly plotting to dump the other since we’re in the armpit of winter and everyone wants an upgrade?”
“Those two,” she says like she knows all about them. “Probably fight about moldy yogurts someone left in the fridge.”
I snort and apply that idea. Doesn’t fit, but I like it. I ask, “Where have you been? It’s hours.”
“Only if you round up,” she says.
“No, the rugby team just got here. I was checking the décor of all the rooms we’re not allowed in. But Kai’s here now. Have you seen the whole team together? Hot. But she’s hottest.”
I stand up and she leads me through the kitchen into the dining room where there’s food covering the long table. The room is packed with people because they get talking as they’re filling plates and then don’t move out of the room.
“How so?” I ask Bas as we weave between bodies wearing jeans and tees or sweatshirts. I’ve heard plenty about how Kai is hot, but not hottest.
She stops and faces me, making the human traffic jam so much worse. “She writes and it’s good! Plus she looks adorably cute running down the field. And she listened to me explain all the design choices I made in French House this year. Nobody does that. Except you.”
“Totally did,” I grumble as we get moving again.
When I started at Mindeburgh College last fall, I thought it would be easy and familiar. I grew up here in the Twin Cities—or at least in a suburb. But even though I was super smart in my high school I might only be average smart for this school. And last year being on video for classes all the time was nuts.
Bas and I met at the first queer group meeting in September and she stuck by me those scary, lonely first three months. Maybe she was as scared as I was, but she didn’t show it. I cried on her a lot. In the middle of last semester, I thought we were best friends maybe on the way to dating. Then came the Halloween Party debacle of 2021 and we haven’t talked much since then. I think she feels guilty but won’t admit it—and the invitation to this party is part of her trying to apologize. Or she’s trying to show me that she’s got someone now and she’s not going to try to hone in on my people. She doesn’t apologize with her words a lot, but she’s been bringing me random baked goods and inviting me to stuff the last few weeks. I think she missed me.
Plus all my high school friends went back to their colleges in other states after winter break. I’m the only one in our friend group who stayed in Minnesota for college. So I guess I missed Bas too.
Both of my moms say I need more real-world friends. I don’t disagree. I had a good friend group in high school but they mostly stayed with my sort-of ex when we split up over the summer. It’s been great being in person for school this year and I talk to plenty of classmates, I just don’t stay interested in that many. I can’t tell if my social muscles are out of use or if I broke something internally or if they’re actually boring. I can’t ask that, so I keep muddling through and trying to figure it out.
At least Bas isn’t boring and I have high hopes for Kai, the new girlfriend. Bas navigates us through the mass in the dining room to the far side of the table. Three people in rugby T-shirts are trying to talk and eat. Bas comes up behind the shortest of these three, a stocky Black girl with green braids. She’s wearing a Mindeburgh Rugby sweatshirt—our college logo with the word “rugby” in turquoise on a gold background—over what might be black-and-white plaid fleece pajama bottoms. This is Bas’s new girlfriend, Kai. I’ve seen photos on Bas’s phone of her bright smile, looking friendly and fun. Bas slides an arm around her.
Kai shrugs off Bas’s touch and spins to face her.
“Hey, it’s me,” Bas says.
“I know it’s you,” Kai says.
“Why are you mad at me?” Bas asks, taking a cue from her tone and the tense line of her lips.
Kai asks, “Are you working for Mads Leland?”
Bas rocks back a half step. “Yeah, he asked me to be one of his spring research assistants. How do you know that?”
“On what project?” Kai’s eyes have narrowed, her lips pressed together, but still turning up, like she never completely stops smiling.
“Something about disability accommodations. Data stuff. Why?”
As they’ve been talking, one of the other rugby T-shirt folks, not much taller than Kai, purple hair shading to violet at the tips, has edged back to the table and turned her focus to the food. Now with a glance I see that the food was an excuse and she’s actually heading out through the kitchen, making an escape.
The other rugby person is a few inches taller than me, blond hair in a ponytail, broad-cheeked face that I half recognize. I don’t have a class with her, but I’ve been in rooms with her and I can almost remember her name. She’s leaning into this Bas and Kai conversation, maybe more than I am.
Kai says, “You need to quit—request another job. Do you know him?”
“Had two classes with him. He knows his stuff.” Bas is defensive, arms crossed, jaw tight.
“That research project is trying to prove that a lot of disability accommodations don’t work,” Kai says. “It’s utter shit.”
Bas shrugs. “That’ll show up in the results. Don’t you think there should be testing to figure out what does and doesn’t work?”
Kai’s eyes narrow further. “You sound like someone who knows more than a little about the project.”
“I read the summary. It made sense.”
“Are you serious right now?” Kai lifts her hands, palms up, like a shrug and then out, pushing away. “How much do you even know about accommodations and Mads Leland? Have you read his bullshit think pieces?”
“You have?” Bas asks.
“Too many of them,” Kai tells her. “I was going to try to talk to you about this, but the way you’re defending this project, I don’t think we can date. It’s so far from what my life’s about.”
“I’m breaking up with you,” Kai says, hands crossing and flicking outward, like a referee calling a foul.
I guess despite all those photos, her smile does go away. And her stare is pretty fierce. Bas glares back like they’re having a telepathic duel. The tension makes my skin itch.
The times Bas has come through for me, if I’m being honest, are more in number than the times she’s screwed stuff up—it only doesn’t feel that way because the screwups were so much bigger. I should stand up for her, right? She texted me about getting picked as a first-year student for this research assistant position, super excited. It sounds like a huge deal.
I say, “Don’t be too hard on Bas, that position’s a big opportunity. I don’t think she can get another one like it.”
Kai’s gaze flicks to me and whatever she reads in my posture or appearance gets a nod. She tells Bas, “You do what you have to do. But I’m not dating you. Can’t.”
“Can’t or won’t?” Bas asks.
“Dick move,” Bas says.
The blond rugby player leans in more, close enough that her arm is touching Kai’s. She’s facing me as much as facing Bas. “Would you date someone who goes against your beliefs? Anti-queer or Republican or balls out for crystal healing, whatever it is you can’t do?”
“Bas is kind of a superlesbian like me,” I say. “I don’t think anti-queer folks are trying to date her.”
“How are you on her side?” this girl asks, like we know each other. Like she knows a bunch about me that I don’t. This is possible. I skip the meetings, but I post fairly often in the queer student online spaces.
Where do I know her from? Queer group meeting, probably, but I have a memory of facing her. Ah, orientation week. I snuck out of the tour and went to watch a panel that she was on.
“Felicity?” I ask and she winces.
“Lys, everyone calls me Lys. Please.”
“I know. Everyone knows who you are. I thought with all your queer theory, you’d be cooler about accommodations.”
A familiar feeling of sick vertigo rises in my throat. Once again, I’m in the middle of a fight I don’t understand.
“I am,” I say, though I’m not sure this is true. I don’t know enough about this. “But I’m also cool about people testing assumptions. If something can’t be tested, isn’t that just dogma?”
Lys blinks at me. “Are you assuming the testing is unbiased?”
“You’re assuming it is biased.”
“Given the state of the world, who do you think is more likely to be right?” she asks.
I turn to Bas, wanting to ask her what this professor is really like, but she’s still in that telepathic duel with Kai.
She tells Kai, “You can’t break up with me. We had, like, three, maybe four dates. We’re not even officially anything yet. You can’t break up a couple that isn’t.”
“Well then it doesn’t matter, does it?” Kai says. “I am not dating you, whether we were dating or not, especially not when you’re defending the most biased ‘researcher’ on this campus and I am using the term loosely because it is not research when you go to fill in your assumptions about how the world works.”
“I’m not asking you to date him!” Bas says.
“But you were asking me to date you?”
To me that sounds like a real question, but the way Bas’s jaw clenches, she heard it some other way.
“Oh fuck off,” Bas spits. She turns in a swirl of pirate coat and stomps out of the room.
The front door of the house slams and I turn toward the sound. Bas is my ride back to campus—or was. It’s so cold out and I didn’t wear my snow boots. I guess I can take a Lyft from here to my moms’ house. I’ve got my toothbrush in my bag anyway and there’s spare clothes and Adderall at the house.
Behind me, Kai sighs heavily. I expected her to stay angry, but the sound is resigned.
“Food?” Lys asks her.
“Dance for a song or two, then food, then…”
“Cathartically break shit?” Lys asks.
I turn around to face them, wanting to know if they’re serious and where they’d go to break things. If that’s for real, can I join them? But they’re already walking away through a gap at the end of the table where all the veggies sit still piled high.
I do not want to walk back to campus. Maybe I can find an empty corner and doze for a bit, get a ride home after date night is safely concluded.
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