It’s Just a Bit

It’s Just a Bit


I am chewing a harsh mint gum. It’s eleven o’clock on a Thursday night and the study room is hopping. We strut in and snag a spot for the five of us amidst an eclectic array of friend groups. I immediately spy a couple of straight males; as usual, no lookers. Mostly gross jocks and pervs. We settle in. I recline in a well-designed bouncy chair that screams, “I am pre-professional.” My friends all look comfy, so I pass them each a wintermint stick. Slowly we start to unpack our bags, removing laptops and water bottles. I hear echoing mumbles about being productive and getting shit done. I feign interest.

Inches away from me is Hugo, my best friend since freshman year. Week one, I spotted him outside my dorm and he offered me an organic cigarette. Neither of us smoked, but we were both very frantic to establish a sense of self. Offering a stranger a cigarette and accepting a cigarette from a stranger seemed like good ways to start. We didn’t have words to describe our angst, but we did read somewhere: “I just want to feel something.” That seemed to resonate. Once we sat butt-naked on my cold linoleum floor and ate curry chicken salad. I don’t know why we thought this would be helpful. It turned out the mayonnaise was bad and so we did feel something.

We make major efforts to support each other. I would use the term “emotional crutch.” We are both Scorpio moon signs, which tells me everything I need to know. This is why we feel too much, and why we have extraterrestrial intuition. Hugo went to a fancy Dallas private school, and it shows. He majors in econ and minors in French. He is vain because his dad was a C-list actor in the eighties. He has a gorgeous face, thanks to his criminally sexy jawline. And loving blue eyes. One time he kissed me in a taxi when he had his other arm around some guy who looked just like him. It wasn’t weird because I’m not attracted to him and he isn’t attracted to me.

On my other side is Jade. We met two weeks ago.

She hits my foot from under the table. First it’s a mistake, then she beams up at me and does it again, on purpose this time. We both laugh. “What’s funny?” they ask. “Nothing,” we say. Her giggles sound more like squeaks. These moments with Jade follow a formula. First, something happens that triggers a vague or direct connection to the mother of all bits: The Threesome Bit. This is the most important of our jokes, and what made us giggle. All other jokes are derived from this one in some capacity.

The first time that I met her, she stole my cherry-red lingerie. She snatched it at my half-birthday party and confessed on her twenty-first birthday.

The second time was at a political organizing meeting. She winked at me and no one winks anymore so I think that’s why it worked. The third time was at a leftist Shabbat at a preschool in Brooklyn. On the subway back to Manhattan, we spent an hour and a half talking about having a threesome, in a half-kidding, mostly, definitely serious, way. Our friends were standing inches away from us, and they listened to our absolute hysteria giddy maniacal laughter fury-whispers. They just didn’t know what it was about. And it’s still our secret!

We started pointing at different people on the train to weigh the merits of each option.

“That guy?” she asked, and pointed to a fellow with a full sleeve tattoo of the word “Spanish.” Hm. Well?

Better not, we decided, and moved on to Average Looking Drug Dealer standing by the doors. I tilted my head and thought about it, but then, “Too dangerous.” Jade tilted her chin toward a woman sitting across from us. I looked over. She was probably forty. Jade eyed her up and down: “Maybe if it weren’t for those fugly tights.”

Then we came up with some guidelines, which we always discuss in a very specific, pseudo-serious tone of voice: “First rule, respect. Second rule, know your place.” This is accompanied by, “You are a guest in our home” and “Don’t forget it.”

Today Jade is wearing a grey t-shirt with “SCHOOLS NOT PRISONS” in white bold, matched with high-waisted black pants made of what I suspect to be a wool-polyester blend. Shoes are round toe, baby buckle, tiny heel. Sometimes her aesthetic is convincing and other times she looks exactly like her Greek grandma. She carries a beat-up REI backpack, two-strap. Deadpan, she told me: “I’ll never sell out,” but then gave a little smirk that told me she might.

She has a refined taste in music but loves “Timber” by Ke$ha. She pins two bitty clips on either side of her middle part and shiny black ringlets fall at her shoulders. Sometimes frizzy, sometimes smooth. Her thick lashes match her dark eyes. She has high cheekbones and cute, fleshy cheeks. Three strands of evil eyes hang off her neck, for protection.

Across from me is Tia, hyperactive Twitter-famous mega Leftist activist. This girl has read all the books on all the issues. We met a few weeks ago at a house party with a hairless cat. She most strongly identifies as a Filipina and as a Virgo.

Because of her high-profile status, she receives daily cyber-attacks from fascists. I can feel how this weighs on her emotionally. I follow her on Instagram and see sporadic teary selfies. The rest of them feature a clenched, stern face with an attempted element of smize. She calls these her “I am scheming my next dick appointment and this is a thirst trap” selfies. Unsurprisingly, her rising sign is Leo.

But these pictures make me nervous because they showcase “skinny.” Her crop tops are a little too loose and the joints in her knees are popping out. Possibly she has self-esteem issues. A few days ago, she posted a photo of herself in the mirror and captioned it, “When you feel out of control of your life lol.” She mentioned it to me and I explained my reoccurring dream where all of my teeth rot and fall out at once, like dentures. I think she got it.

Next to Tia and across from Hugo is Danny. Danny! This is the guy Hugo was hooking up with junior year while I was abroad, and the two have rekindled and recently smooched. Across the ocean, I heard all about his sexy, passionate beliefs and how he ghosted Hugo but then continued to like his tweets for months afterwards. I am not acknowledging this now, in an effort to be supportive of my sweet friend who just needs physical intimacy.

Hugo tries to play it cool and not share gooey details with me, but I know they do toe stuff. He let it slip when he was blackout at the party with the hairless cat. I can see they care for each other in a real way, too, but I know that Hugo can’t trust him after the full-blown ghost catastrophe. Danny is a Communist with underlying commitment issues. This is all well and good, unless you ask Hugo’s mom who will tell you, “There are a lot of red flags.” If pressed, Hugo rolls his eyes and concedes with a short, “What else am I doing?”

Danny, Tia, and Jade spend all their time together and appear very close. They are co-presidents of the most high-profile student activist group on campus, and love to scheme. They play chess.

We are still chomping on gum but I feel the flavor start to devolve into wet plastic. Jade reaches across the table and meticulously places a tiny blue glob on the far-right corner of a plastic bag, as if it needed to exist on those exact coordinates.

I look at the globby lump and ask, “Where should I put mine?”

She darts back, “Put it on top.”

I smooshed my tiny slab onto her glob and looked back at her. “Now put it in your mouth,” I say.

Without skipping a beat she locks eyes with me: “Really? ‘Cause I will.”

I can tell this means something. “Yeah, I’m serious.”

She says, “I will if you’ll think it’s funny.”

“Do it,” I say. Then she dug her finger into the side of the sticky glob and scooped it off and stuck it in her mouth. She chomps down and checks her phone, unfazed. I am wildly impressed.

She flips her hair. “Now you have to take it.”

“Take what?” Danny inquires, possibly feeling excluded. Jade and I quickly exchange a glare. She pops out the wad and glues it on his palm. The moment it leaves his hand to his mouth we start squeaking and cackling and chuckling furiously. Meanwhile Tia and Hugo are in serious talks of some kind. I am about to nudge Hugo to bring him in, but then I hear, “That’s really hard and I totally understand how you would feel—”

This is no time for a heart-to-heart. Energetically, Tia is bleeding all over the place. I should probably support her because I love her—so far. But before I step in, I hear Danny chew louder. I am reminded that we are in the middle of doing a bit—I think we are, anyway, unless this is just pathological. Jade and I burst, and then quickly cross over into hysterics. We wait about three minutes for them to finish. Quickly I take the gum from Danny and pop it in my mouth. It’s uncomfortably warm and reminds me of wet tuna. I momentarily spiral about the harmful long-term effects of aspartame.

I come back and poke Hugo on his shoulder, and he goes, “What?”

“Take this,” I say, presenting him with the gum. He locks eyes with Danny, and I bring the piece of gum to the tip of my index finger and move it toward his mouth. He opens, I plop it in, he chews it.

He asks with inappropriately low stakes: “What? What happened to it?”

Jade and I erupt. She has a true giggle, kind of like when a dog barks and it sounds like a person saying “ruff.” Danny laughs along too. Hugo really wants to know and we really want to tell him. I try to say as theatrically as humanly possible, “We all had it in our mouths.”

Hugo gives a monotone, “Oh. I thought y’all were gonna say you found it on the floor or something.”

Jade and I turn to each other, furrow brow.

“Come on, Hugo,” we purr.

“In our mouths,” Jade repeats.

Then we all giggle the most pure giggle we can muster. She leans over and whispers something in my ear, covering her lips with a cupped hand so that no one can read them.

Naturally, it’s about the threesome again. We do this bit constantly because our magic rules always seem to come up. Normal adult social cues are exchanged for whisper anarchy. It can happen anywhere and usually goes something like this:

Hugo mentions that he has to “go home”—she might dart over and whisper, “Oh, our home?” with the big, signature emphasis on “our.” It doesn’t need to make sense, so context is irrelevant. The only requirement is convincing delivery.

Maybe we are sitting in a meeting to start a grassroots revolution to abolish the private prison system. A student’s considerably older boyfriend may ask, “Should we set some rules?” This is a perfect example of a chance to get creative. One strategy that always gets an angel giggle is mouthing the words “know your place” from across a crowded room. One time she said nothing and then airdropped me a 1968 live performance of Aretha Franklin.

Jade leaves the table to go pee. Tia asks me, “What are you two whispering about?”

They are desperate for info. I try to think of something suave but then I blurt out, “I don’t know, nothing.” She stares back at me with mild disappointment. “Lame.”

She’s right. I can do better than that.

I look down at my computer and try to look busy. Yes, very busy being productive and such. Many important tasks to be completed. Student activists never sleep and always fight for freedom. And bleed everywhere! No, my Wi-Fi isn’t working, so I am just deleting pictures from my desktop of that guy I stalked. Well, more like online stalked, plus some forced conversation in class that definitely came from an obsessive place. That’s okay. I can be honest about it.

I scan the room. Hugo is bored. I can see his eyes wander to lips and then his own start to bop on a beat. He is counting the number of syllables as we speak. He studied Shakespeare at elite Texas school, including a semester of intensive iambic pentameter, and cello.

All of these things are painfully white, says everyone. My favorite way to bully him is to yell, “You romanticize the colonizer!”

Harsh, but true. He likes to try on the hat of every glamorous white man throughout history. I compel myself to search the depths of my heart. I can forgive him for being a huge freak who wears a beret to French class. To be honest, the 100 percent commitment is what I love about him. Hugo never does anything halfway.

Occasionally I speculate that Hugo is a mole. Before I abandoned him to go abroad, he definitely didn’t care about things so much. Passionate Danny really moved him, maybe. I know Hugo loves capitalism; every day he wears a gold Gucci watch from a cruise ship gift shop. Are socialists even allowed to be econ majors?

Jade turns the corner and sits back down next to me.

“My parents are coming into town,” she huffs.

“We love Viv,” Danny says, eyes never leaving his screen. Vivian must be her mom.

Jade locks eyes with me. “How many times have we met now?”

“Um,” I count. “Six times?”

“A little soon,” she jokes. “But you can meet them.”

A derivative bit, one that I think is very self-aware of us, is the How Many Times Have We Met Bit. She started this one by following-up an “it’s our home” joke with: “Even though we’ve only met five times.” We have to check ourselves. We don’t really know each other; we just met. I’m not totally delusional. So we laugh at our own absurdity and then laugh harder at each other for going along with it. For this one, accuracy is key. Be precise. If it’s wrong, it’s all over. Probably—haven’t tested it, but I sense she wouldn’t trust me anymore. It’s not like I’m dealing with some amateur. She’s a math minor. I’ve never seen her count on her fingers. Amazing at mental math including double-digit addition equations in hyper speed. She must be keeping track.

Tia stares into the blank screen of her computer.

“It’s dead,” she says. “I’m out of here.”

We all agree it’s time to go home, and pack our things. Now is the time for a trip to the bottom floor, where the snacks live. Hugo leads, with a strident gait that makes him look extra goofy. Danny and the rest of us trot behind and disperse into different rows of food products, a third of which are cheese-infused. Jade and I attract attention to ourselves near the neon gummy worms, while Hugo swoops through the chocolate aisle. Everyone veers towards the exit, and the dry autumn air cuts my face.

“Y’all say you hate capitalism,” Hugo says, “but won’t steal?”

He fumbles around his suit jacket. He pulls out a raspberry dark chocolate bar.

“I’m lactose-intolerant,” Hugo says, “and they don’t have dairy-free options.”

“You were pushed to do it!” Jade says, gesturing her hands open.

“If they had sorbet,” Hugo says, “Whole other story.”

They laugh and repeat the same words over and over. Pushed to do it, pushed to do it. We had to, we had to.

We make our way towards the dorms. When we hit West Fourth Street, Jade and I veer off from the group. I turn my head around to take one last look at them, and see Tia show her teeth to Danny. This is what we call, “making a face.”

“They keep whispering about us,” Jade says. “I love it.”

We walk home mostly looking ahead, with moments of broken eye contact. I keep looking away, which makes it more intense. Our eyes follow a tall, scruffy fellow with a prominent nose and tortoise frames.

“Him?” I say.

“We can do so much better than that,” she says.

“Us?” she says, “their literal fantasy.”

We laugh a little softer than usual, maybe because we are alone. When it’s time to go separate ways, we don’t hug.

“Byeeee!” she sings, moving her fingers to her palm, an almost inverted wave. I haven’t seen this happen with anyone else but me. It feels like an impulse to do something, anything, but it comes out as a quasi-ironic gesture that I don’t know what to do with.

I go up the stairs to my apartment. I smell fried meat, at first satisfying but then repulsive. I sense the heat and grease and sugary chicken skin—we live two floors above a Chinese place. I rehash the night for my roommate, Mimi. She’s a wholesome Midwestern girl who keeps me grounded. A child of divorce, well-adjusted despite all odds. She has symmetrical features and dark, clear skin. Hair has serious volume and bounce.

Mimi and I wake up to the same playlist every morning, starting with “Never Can Say Goodbye” by Gloria Gaynor. The trick is to listen to songs in the exact same order every morning to cultivate maximum nostalgia value. Later, we will find this morning playlist and say, “Wow, remember that.” It’s about framing an era.

I sensationalize the story to her liking. She squeezes a bright blue bottle and rubs the black clay on her forehead, and then aggressively across her cheeks.

“Psy-cho,” she scolds, wagging her finger at me.

“Totes,” I say.

“The funniest part about this whole thing,” Mimi says, “is that you’re not gay.”

“I know, but—” I say.

 “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Mimi says, “It’s a fucking spectrum.”

I lift myself onto the kitchen counter. “You love this.”

I know Mimi gets a huge kick out of me. I need the audience.

“If you never do anything,” she says, “there’s no story.”

Mimi means that I need to hook up with this girl. Duh, but I don’t know how to make any moves. I think this is one of those things where you aggressively flirt until you are firmly settled six feet below the ground, inside a tight, cozy grave. That’s where it ends, I think, in these types of scenarios. I don’t know. Technically we talk about having sex every day. The bit is just a mechanism to make it socially normal. But it isn’t really normal. It’s exceptionally forward. Makes me feel like a dirty old man.

I keep hearing about some big fat party. At one of those converted warehouses, so it won’t get shut down. Hugo tells me the theme is Under the Sea Athleisure. Well, there’s my answer. Can’t say no to that. I practically skip to campus just thinking about it. The possibilities! I better dress to impress. Perhaps a translucent blue piece of plastic as shirt and leggings that flatter butt, as pants? Tennis green visor for added twist?

“Sounds hot,” Hugo says, biting into an almond croissant.

This is what he always says. Or, his response is to be completely and totally silent. So that I will be compelled to take it all back and suggest something else, something more Hugo. I tend to over-do it, so I rely on him to give me cues and rein me in.

At night, Hugo and I go back to my apartment and emotionally prepare. Mimi isn’t home. We take two shots of vodka then sip lychee juice with a mini straw, in a package like kids’ chocolate milk.

“Our plan is working,” Hugo says, stroking and thumbing the tip of his chin.

“Which one?” I ask.

“To stir the pot,” he says, circling his fist with one hand and rounding the other arm around it, like a cauldron. “Then dip.”

If something goes wrong, we could just never see any of these weirdos ever again. Hugo and I tend to narrate our life while it’s happening. We glamorize in a way that I can’t with my girlfriends. I can’t escape what’s brewing when I talk with them. With Hugo, we just talk about the fact that something is brewing.

We walk to the subway station and meet up with Danny. His outfit doesn’t appear to be in theme. Except for a headband with two tall, red wires topped with googly eyes. Like a crab, I think. I swipe through the turnstile. Hugo looks left and right with a perfunctory glance then pushes the red emergency exit bar. The boys go through.

“That feels unnecessary—” I say.

Danny readjusts his headband. “Don’t be such a narc.”

“What about supporting public transportation?” I say. Hugo told me Danny loves urban planning, practically turned on by it.

“True,” Danny says, “But I’m poor.”

He flips his pockets inside-out, and then does a leprechaun kick. No clue what that was about. He’s kind of a dweeb.

We arrive at the party and pour mixed drinks with Fanta. Dangerous move, because no one can taste the alcohol. Danny turns on the fog machine. I see him reach for Hugo’s hand. I see Hugo’s face panic for a moment, because he is massively insecure about his clammy hands. I spy Tia. We ritualistically greet each other with a high-pitched screech and sorority girl bear hug.

“What’s the latest?” I slur.

We bounce when we talk and shift left to right. She’s pretty wacky and I’m pretty wacky so the energy circulates and circulates, and builds and builds. We lose a sense of volume control, and our voices strain.

“If I get drunk tonight,” she says, quite seriously, “then I’m getting dicked down.”

She pulls out a vintage iPhone from her tiny leopard purse. Her phone case is covered in stickers that read “I Voted.”

“The guy who works at Google?” I ask. The rule is never use given names.

She shakes her head and swipes right. “He ghosted me.”

I almost drop my drink. Boys love Tia. “You’re kidding!”

“I’m way too good in bed,” she says, “for this to happen.”

I reassure her. He will reply, maybe he is still thinking of a slick response. Last thing she sent was an article on North Korea, which is a toughie. We rile ourselves back up and bop until we short circuit, and get tired. Someone flicks a switch, leaving only the bright red glow from twinkle string lights. I press my hands on the sticky counter and lift to my tip-toes. Maybe someone interesting is hiding in this red smoggy bog room. Smells like someone chucked her deodorant onto the subway tracks.

“That all-natural stuff,” I say, “does not work.”

I accidentally say this directly to a girl’s face, so I sprint away and around the party. I talk to a boy who looks like a Brooks Brothers Special Edition Ken doll. White tee, cornflower blue stripe button-up, navy windbreaker.

“I’m working actually,” he says. “Sports management.”

I hear myself reciting some script, programmed into me at some early moment of adult consciousness. Wow, I bet you really love sports. That’s awesome. My favorite sport would probably have to be, hm, let me think, tennis. So you’re mostly interested in the business side? It goes on like this for an hour. I truly could not care less. Predictably, he doesn’t notice. But I do like looking at his face. If I get extra bored this semester, I’ll take him for a spin.

Jade passes by and I tap her shoulder. She appears to be dressed as algae? With a racing stripe one-piece. Competitive algae. I hear Chaka Khan and pull her near the smoke machine. We gulp fizzy orange crazy juice.

“So this is the ninth time?” she says, looking down at her lime green Tevas.

“I think so- ”I say.

“It is,” she says. “First was the half-birthday.”

We crack up. This is never not funny, especially because we know what comes next. She lists every encounter so far, on her fingers, with a raised-brow and melody that reminds me of the Pink Panther Theme Song.

“Oh,” I say, “We have secrets.”

“Us?” she says. “Of course.”

“That guy?” I point to money sports boy, who is chatting up a bleach blonde Nemo.

“What’s his costume,” she says, “Daddy shark?”

I lean close to her. At this point in the evening, not a lot of depth perception.

“You’re right,” I say, “We could do so much better.”

We wander into a bright bedroom. We fall onto the bed, lie on our sides and look at each other. The script repeats and we run our same jokes. It doesn’t matter what we are actually saying. We giddily repeat, “know your place,” “our home,” “met nine times,” in shifting orders and tonalities. I hear the door slam open and Tia’s voice boom.

“Jade!” she says, and then looks down at us lying on the bed. She makes a face again. Something is processing.

“Oh,” she says, “Take a picture with me.” She gestures to Jade, and I take the cue to move.

“I’ll take it,” I say, rolling off the bed and nervously adjusting my visor. I didn’t even notice the grungy bozos in the corner. Have they been here the whole time?

The girls pose with their arms around each other.

“So cute,” I say, tapping on Tia’s cracked screen.

“Jade,” Tia says, “come with me.”

I feel like I am intruding on something. I follow them out of the room and back into the muggy, stinky, red-tinged darkness. I talk to Hugo and Danny instead. Jade glides back over.

“It’s so dark,” she says, “We could kiss and no one would see.”

Before I can respond, she runs away.

At two-thirty in the morning, a bunch of girls squish into an Uber back to Manhattan. The car can only make two stops. I get off at Jade’s apartment, because it’s the closest to mine.

“Not to be weird,” I say, “but I’m walking you inside.”

“No,” she says, “I want you to.”

We sit on her bathroom floor for a while, in case one of us needs the porcelain. I reach for a black aerosol can labeled, “Mighty Mousse.” I pop off the plastic top and squeeze the nozzle. White foam, like melty marshmallow clouds.

“It’s styling mousse!” Jade says, pursing her lips into an “o.”

I take a dollop and paw her cheek. She squeals, “It’s cold!”

She grabs the metallic can and squeezes a little too hard. She plops a round blob of cool suds directly on top of my nose, and it stays in good form.

“Whoops,” she says, her voice swinging up.

“Luxuriousss,” I say, and twirl the bright white foam into one of her curls, now a shiny, tightly-bound ringlet. Her eyes are lit by silver glitter shadow.

“Like tinsel for your face,” I say.

She giggles, even though it wasn’t funny.

“You have some in your ear,” she says. She leans close to me, and with great delicacy, wicks the suds off my earlobe. We lock eyes, then I dart away, just one beat after she does.

“So,” she says, “you can sleep in my bed.”

“There’s also a pull-out,” she says, “If you wanted more room.”

She leads the way, crawling on all fours across the kitchen. We jump onto her bed and wiggle underneath the covers. Our faces split open into a laugh. I say something about the threesome.

“He’s just a prop,” she says, giggling.

She holds my hand and then says something kinda freaky. I laugh out loud. Shoot, I need a muzzle. How long has she been sitting on that line?! Only option seems to be roll with it. Next I say something freaky. Bad idea, comes out weird. Whatever. We are just bored and this is just for fun. We start making out.

The next morning is not quite awkward, it’s just clear we don’t know how to behave. We were really drunk. This is not some big shocker? We make jokes but no major laughs. Jade says she will text me. She offers me a sweatshirt, but I walk home wrapped in teeny blue plastic and dragging silver kitten heels.

I scuttle down the hallway of my apartment, and I’m caught. It’s the good-lucking guy who works at the Chinese restaurant.

“Late night?” he asks with an unnerving grin, propping himself against the doorframe.

“Oh,” I say, “You know it.”

I look up at him. Shit, that was so lame. I make a sharp turn and run up the stairs. Why did I say that? I should’ve just said “None of your business, buddy!”

Somehow I picked up all these stupid catch phrases and I keep spitting them in every direction like chunky vomit. If I were smart, I would’ve twirled my hair and bit my lip, then whirled my way into the kitchen to shovel sesame chicken down my throat. Because now I actually want to throw up.

I lock the door behind me and look into the mirror, then at my phone. I get a dm from @urboyspencer. It’s Ken Doll! Of course his name is Spencer. I shouldn’t lead him on. But I might get bored later. I’ll indulge him a little. I will like his most recent post.

“RIP Pearl. You were the best Labrador a guy could ask for.”

Oh. What message does it send if I like this? I’ll just do nothing, and hope for the best. I track Hugo’s location. He’s in Bushwick, must be at Danny’s. I feel an urge to call him, but then hesitate. Is that what people normally do in these situations? Yes, people call their friends. This is standard I think, also he knows Jade. In fact, it would be weird not to call.

“Hel-lo!” I say on Facetime, exceedingly perky.

“Good morning,” Hugo says, then squints, “You look bad.”

“I hardly slept,” I say, and watch him watch himself in the corner of the screen. He tilts his chin and examines his stubble.

“Should I shave,” Hugo says, “or do we love this?”

“Don’t shave,” Danny says, darting onto screen. They play-argue for just a little too long.

“I’m still here,” I say.

“Sorry,” Hugo says, “You good?”

I share absolute bare minimum details, because Danny is there.

“Funny,” Danny says, “I hooked up with Jade once.”

Hugo and I stare back at each other. We ask for more details, for the sheer novelty factor. At least that’s what we hope Danny thinks.

“We didn’t talk about it,” Danny says. “Decided we are better off as friends.”

“So funny,” I say.

“Yeah,” Hugo says, “so funny.”

“Bye,” Hugo says, “We’re gonna go.” He hangs up.

What I really want to know is why no one ever told us. And I don’t get the last part. How does that even work? How do you mutually decide to be only friends if you never talk about it? Boys don’t know how to communicate. Plus, this is my big news. Stop stealing my thunder, Danny. And he made Hugo’s eyes sad. Another way to look at this could be that this is funny, too, and is just part of the bit. Like an incest web. People love drama and incest webs.

I hear keys clanging in the door. A moment of terror.

“Hey,” Mimi says, shoving the door open with her shoulder. It’s just Mimi.

“Guess what?” I say.

“Oh boy,” she says, dropping her bag on the floor. “What’s that smile?”

I tell her about what happened with an extravagant, almost self-indulgent, degree of detail.

“Damn,” she says. “I thought you had no moves.”

“Now,” I say, “I make moves.” We start to giggle, and I feel nauseous.

“You’re so ridiculous.” She pokes my rib. “Did you like it?”

I turn and open the fridge, and start digging around. “I guess.”

Mimi raises an eyebrow, which means do better and say more.

Her voice lowers. “This is not your first rodeo.”

Uh oh, now the acrylics are tapping. “Think about the ramifications of your actions.”

Whoa, Mimi. She just went there. I can never tell whether she is about to relentlessly egg me on and encourage poor decisions, or swoop in with honesty hour. She’s right, she’s right. You need to take responsibility for the things you say and do, blah blah blah. You can’t just run around like a wild woman and expect that no one will get hurt. Oof, I’m in trouble. Here come the questions. Did you text her? Will she text you? What’s your plan now? What do you want? I select a piece of marble birthday cake from the fridge. We sit on the floor and lick our fingers.

“Who fucking knows.” I dip into the cold buttercream.

We start talking about the issue with girls. There isn’t really a script and so no one knows what is happening or what to do. We have a way of summarizing this.

“Are you two friends,” we sing in unison, “or are you gay?”

Mimi and I cackle, scream-laugh. We circle back to this a lot. Question as old as time.

We talk about how girls are real people and not dumb. Totally different ball-game. Women notice things, we say. They strive to be the best versions of themselves. Smart smart smart. Not like men, who are useless.

I see Jade the next day at a club meeting. I smile at her and she does her little wave thing. Something is off. We talk in a group, but avoid direct interaction.

Tia acts normal, friendly, unperturbed. I catch Jade looking at me, but then she looks away immediately. Eye tag is normal for us, but this has a different energy behind it. We migrate into the study room and sit at the exact same table as last time. Except reverse order. Jade and I sit in bouncy chairs on opposing ends. She and Danny laugh, but we missed the punch line.

“What?” Hugo asks, with a desperation I can detect.

“Nothing,” Danny says, “just a joke.”

Hugo, in this moment, may have stopped breathing. We take out our laptops and water bottles. Tia mumbles something about being productive and getting shit done. I take out my pack of gum and pass it around. I try to read Jade. She’s like an icicle. I think she just doesn’t know what to do. Ugh, this always happens. It starts off very natural but then it becomes too real and everyone gets confused and it’s a tiny bit tragic.

“What’s your favorite part of your body?” Jade asks the group, no context.

Everyone goes around in a circle. Tia says boobs, Danny says butt, Hugo says jaw. When it’s my turn, I panic and blurt out “ears.” Jade looks up at me.

 “You do have nice ears,” she says, swallowing her words. But I still heard it.

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