Kara wasn't nervous about college. Kara didn't have any reason to be nervous about college; she had a rocking basketball scholarship, a seriously great boyfriend following her to NYU, a co-ed dorm floor, and a dad willing to carry some of her suitcases. Life was good.
Coming up on the elevator that was going to take them to her floor, Kara's dad bumped shoulders with her. "What do you hear?"
The elevator doors slid shut and Kara grinned up at the ceiling, which reflected back on her: nice new haircut, probably plenty butch enough to freak out the new roommate, attitude out her fucking pores, and her dad standing there with his graying hair and probably about as much attitude. "Nothing but the rain," she told his upside-down reflection happily.
"That's my girl," he said, and the elevator doors slid smoothly open onto the future.
The door to Kara's room had her name on it, Kara Adams, New York, NY written in marker over the construction paper cutout of a shooting star. Next to it was the cutout of a sun, written over with Anastasia Dahl, Albany, NY.
Anastasia Dahl from Albany was already in the room when Kara pushed the door open. The empty side of the room had an unmade bed and a desk sitting next to it; on the other side, Anastasia's bed was raised up high, with the desk directly under it. Apple laptop, black and white David Bowie poster, a little collection of weights stacked by the bed. Kara took in all of it in an instant, and then she found herself shaking hands with her new roommate, dark and lithe and glowing with fierce energy, saying, "Hi, I'm Dee! I hope you don't mind I took the space. Is that side of the room okay?"
"Yeah, it's fine," Kara said, tossing her duffle down. "Uh, Dee. I'm Kara, this is my dad Bill --"
Dee's eyes went very wide, but she just shook Kara's dad's hand and kept out of the way while Kara did some preliminary unpacking and said her goodbyes. A quick kiss on the cheek and her dad was off. Kara unrolled her Jimi Hendrix poster, her WNBA poster, started tacking the pages of dashed-off poetry to the walls, and sucked on her teeth a little, waiting.
"Like Bill Adams?" Dee asked, right on cue. "Like, in the UN Bill Adams?"
"Uh-huh," Kara said.
"Wow, Hey." Kara turned and Dee gave her a smile. "I won't be weird about it. It's just cool."
"Yeah, I guess it is," Kara said, and sat down with a bounce on her bed. "So, uh, you play any sports?"
Dee said they should have roomie bonding time, but Kara'd already arranged to meet up with Zack, so they compromised.
"Takeout," Dee said, grinning. "Classy."
"Shut up," Kara advised her. "Dee, my boyfriend, Zack Diamond. Zack, Anastasia Dahl."
"Diamond, huh?" Dee asked around a mouthful of noodles.
"Apparently that's his real name," Zack's new roommate put in. Zack elbowed him. "Ow! Hey, girls, Karl Field."
"Hey, girls, Kara Adams," Kara said. "Pass the wontons."
Karl gave her the wontons and threw a napkin at her head.
Over dinner Kara learned that Dee wanted to be a communications major, that Zack's dorm was not as nice as hers and the bunk beds didn't work too well, and most importantly that Karl was trying out for the track team. "Basketball team for me," Kara said happily, and then it was basketball talk all the way to fortune cookies.
"Plan for many pleasures ahead," Karl read. "Oh God, that one's too easy."
"Wait, wait, mine," Kara said, cracking her cookie open. "Trust your intuition. The universe is guiding your life. Huh."
"That sounds kind of deep for 'in bed'," someone said from the doorway. They all looked over, and the guy standing there gave Kara a grin. "Hey, guys. Karl, you already found the ladies, I see."
"Fuck off, Lee," Karl said good-naturedly. "My brother," he explained. "Lee, you missed the food."
"It's cool, I had dinner," Lee said, and grinned. "I brought a housewarming present," and he pulled a bottle of gin out from behind his back.
"We might get in trouble," Dee said doubtfully.
"Relax," Kara told her. "Lee Field, pull up a damn chair and welcome to the company."
Kara's joints were very loose, and her grin easy. She lay sprawled on her bed, watching Karl and Dee argue about ... she didn't know, she'd lost the thread. It had been funny. Her green t-shirt kept riding up. Zack was asleep on the floor and Lee kept looking like he was thinking really hard about maybe cleaning up the takeout cartons. Kara ran a hand up and down her arm and wondered if her dad would mind if she got another tattoo.
"Lee," she said.
He looked up and gave her an easy lopsided grin. "Yeah?"
"I know you," Kara said. She hadn't meant to say it and she was too buzzed to get pissed off at herself, but maybe there were a few good reasons to not get drunk with people she'd just met. Only she hadn't. Dee was neat and sarcastic and Karl was the best workout buddy in the world and Zack was always going to be asleep on the floor while she looked at Lee and said, very seriously, "I know you."
"Yeah," Lee said, and for a long moment inside Kara there were all these wide open spaces, making her dizzy with possibility. She shut her eyes and laughed.
"I'm cutting myself off," she said.
"That's cool; it's all gone anyway," said Lee, and yeah. It was.
She saw Lee again on the first day of class: he was the TA for Intro Gov, and he winked at her when she came in. She stuck her tongue out at him. Then she didn't pay as much attention as she should've, because she kept watching Lee and feeling really great about him being there, instead of actually paying attention to Professor Roslyn. It was a lecture class, though. There was no way Roslyn would've noticed, and anyway Kara knew most of the basics from her dad already.
College basketball was just as awesome as Kara hoped it would be. She got out of practice sweaty and adrenaline-jumped, and caught the eye of the best forward, kind of short for basketball but a total demon. "Hey, Tang," Kara said. "Wanna grab something to eat?"
"Sure," the forward said, with a sudden smile that lit up her face, and slung her towel over her shoulder. "Kara Adams, right?" Kara nodded, and pushed the gym door open. The mild September night struck their faces, and Kara grinned; the city was aglow. "And it's Valerie," the forward added. "I can't answer to Tang. I have a twin sister. I need differentiation."
"Valerie," Kara repeated. "Okay." Personally she thought that Tang needed a better name than that, something that sounded fierce without being literal.
"You're good, by the way," Valerie said. "I mean, obviously. But it's a pleasure playing with you."
"Yeah, you too," Kara said. "You're a demon. You have a shot, you take a shot. Boom boom boom."
"Oh yeah, I know her sister," Karl said, leaning on the doorjamb while Kara searched for her running shoes. "Where's Dee?"
"Apparently she's got a new study-buddy," Kara said, emerging from under her bed triumphant. "It's either that kid Felix from down the hall, or she's trying to seduce your brother."
"Oh God, I don't need to hear that," Karl protested.
"I have to suffer, you have to suffer." Kara sat down and pulled the shoes on, starting to lace them up. "So what's Boomer's sister like?"
"Athena? She's hot," Karl said, and grinned when Kara rolled her eyes. "No, she's awesome. She's on the team. Track."
"You do realize they're identical twins, right? So Valerie is just as hot."
"Nah," Karl said, and backed up enough that Kara could come out and close the door behind them. "They're still different."
Kara hadn't been sure about the physics class, but it knocked down her math and science requirements at the same time, and the syllabus wasn't too intimidating. Besides, Zack had the same knocking-down-requirements idea that she did, so she had someone to sit with during class. Then, to her surprise, it turned out to be interesting: Professor Anders was obviously passionate about the subject, and unlike Roslyn, who liked walking among the students and made Kara kind of nervous, Anders stayed up at the front with concise PowerPoint slides and explained stuff so well that Kara had about three pages of notes by the end of the first class.
She also had a yellow, blue, and red bulls-eye thing doodled on a margin of her notebook paper, because she had extra pens in cool colors and it wasn't like she could stay still for very long, but that was cool. She still had three pages of notes.
Zack had another class directly afterwards, but Kara didn't, so she took her time putting her things away and wandered down to Professor Anders' podium on the way out. "Hey, uh, professor?"
Anders looked up, gave her an abstracted smile, and went flipping through the roster. "You're Kara ...?"
"Adams," Kara said. "First page."
"Of course," Professor Anders said, flipping the pages back down. "No idea why I thought you were near the end of the alphabet. Can I help you, Kara?"
"No, I just, uh, I just wanted to say I didn't think a physics class would be that interesting," Kara said. "So I wanted to let you know. Thanks for making it interesting."
Professor Anders regarded her for a long moment. "Thanks, Kara."
"Right," Kara said. "Okay, I should, uh, go." She gave him an awkward salute and got out of there before she could start doing something really horrifying like blush. God, at least Dee got it right and crushed on the TAs. That seemed a lot saner.
Karl was out that night, apparently on a date with Athena, so Zack had the room to himself for a couple hours. Dee was in Kara's room, doing homework, so Kara took advantage of Karl's absence to lock Zack's door and fuck him into the mattress.
It was good, it was great, hey, the dorm had free condoms and Zack was totally willing to lie there, holding Kara's hips tight and babbling about how wonderful she was while she rode him, eyes squeezed shut and seeing -- the military funeral she'd gone to years ago, her doodle on a notebook page, a PowerPoint supernova, Lee looking at her across a room -- Zack.
Kara didn't go straight back to her own dorm: she stopped by the music building and tried playing All Along the Watchtower on the piano by ear, but she needed to see the music, and instead she kept getting this string of numbers running through her head, like she'd never left the physics classroom at all. Fuck.
They won their first game of the season, and after the team's celebratory dinner, they had their own celebratory dinner the following night, Kara and Boomer and their friends. Dee wasn't sitting with Lee; it looked like the dating-the-TA thing hadn't worked out after all. Kara finally got introduced to Felix, and had a momentary suspicion until the guy sitting next to him was introduced as Louis-Felix's-boyfriend, so never mind. Athena, who was different enough from Valerie that Kara conceded Karl's hotness point, was practically sitting on Karl's lap. Zack started mocking them before Kara could, and even though she had been about to tease them too, she made Zack sit across the table. That meant she ended up sitting next to Lee, which wasn't intentional at all and made her pulse start to pick up.
"So I think I've known you long enough to ask you this," Lee said, leaning on his elbow and giving Kara an earnest look. "Your dad. Bill Adams, right? Do you think you could hook me up?"
Kara snorted and took a drink of water. "Are you networking?"
He gave her an achingly sweet smile. "Yeah."
"Okay," Kara said, hitting his arm lightly. "Okay, Mr. Government Major, I'll make sure you get to meet my hotshot dad."
"You're a pal, Kara," Lee said, and hugged her one-armed. Kara's heart tried to drum right through her chest, and Zack sat across the table, laughing.
One evening Kara was trying to force her tired brain through a physics problem set when someone knocked on the door. Only the RAs ever knocked, so Kara did a quick booze-check before opening the door. All clear.
The guy on the other side wasn't an RA, though, and even if Kara hadn't known them all by now she would've guessed. This guy's hair was defying gravity with the help of way too much hair gel, and his shirt was this hideously ugly thing that looked like it was staring at Kara. Between the shirt and the hair, though, the guy's face looked more or less normal, a little on the hopeful side. "Kara?" he asked.
"Yeah, that's me."
A brief flash of relieved grin. "Good," the guy said. "Good. I'm Leo Conroy, I'm in your physics class."
"Oh," Kara said. He probably sat behind her. She would've noticed that shirt. "Have you done the problem set?"
"I was hoping you could help me," Leo Conroy said. "It's kind of ..."
"Brain-scrambling?" Kara suggested, and Leo cackled a little, like a deranged hyena puppy. What the hell, Kara thought, and nudged the door open with her hip. "Okay," she said. "Let's beat this thing into submission."
Kara dreamed there were bugs all over her bedroom floor. She kept trying to hit them with a broomstick, but every time the handle connected, it hurt like smashing her knuckles between a doorjamb and a door.
"I saw your basketball game," Professor Anders said, looking up with a smile. Kara smiled back and wondered what she thought she was doing staying after class again. "Very well played. I like basketball; the perfect shot is physics at its finest. Poetry in motion."
Kara shrugged. "I figure if you do physics right you don't ever end up with a bum knee."
Anders grinned. "You'd be surprised. Was there something you wanted, Kara?"
I'd like to see you play basketball, Kara thought; one-on-one. "The last set. I had a hard time with it. Did it turn out okay?"
"Yeah," Anders said, and smiled. "You did good." His eyes met Kara's, and even though it usually only happened when she'd had a bit too much to drink, she suddenly got the wide-open-spaces feeling again, like she could see the whole planet beneath her, like she had the whole endless sky. Physics. For no good reason she suddenly wanted to cry. "Kara?" Professor Anders asked, a faint crease appearing on his forehead.
"I missed you," Kara said, and blanched. Jesus, where had that come from?
But, "Yeah," Anders said, like Lee had the first day she'd met him, like Kara knew the words to some secret code and she was calling them back to something. They didn't have a bottle of gin on their side, though, so after a moment Professor Anders looked as bewildered as Kara felt.
"I should go," Kara said, and fled.
She dreamed she was playing a basketball game with Sam Anders, only the rules were changed and the light looked like nuclear fallout. She woke up frustrated as hell and thought it might have been better if she'd just had the sex-with-the-professor dream and had done with it.
After her second game, Kara's dad took her out to dinner. Kara took a quick shower and walked with him out into the evening, shivering a little. "I think you jinxed it," she said. "We won last time. We won but good."
"You win some, you lose some," Kara's dad said, squeezing her shoulder. "Don't let it get to you. It was a good game."
"Yeah, it was." Kara leaned on him. "Okay, old man, what's the occasion?"
"I'm not allowed to take you out to dinner after a game?" Kara's dad asked, but Kara made uh-uh noises until he relented. "You're not gonna like this," he warned her.
"Wow, Dad, that's a good way to make me feel like this'll be a great conversation."
Kara's dad laughed. "It's Laura," he said. "Professor Roslyn. I've been seeing her behind your back."
"Bastard," Kara said, after the requisite moment of pure shock, but she said it reflexively. Getting indignant about her dad seeing a professor might have been kind of hypocritical, for a start. "Let me guess, Lee introduced you."
"Yeah," Kara's dad admitted. He gave her a sideways look. "You know, he seems like a nice young man ..."
"Dad," Kara groaned, but she couldn't actually stop herself from smiling.
She stayed after one of Professor Roslyn's classes. Stupidly, it felt much more awkward than staying after one of Anders', but Kara sort of grit her teeth and went for it.
"Miss Adams," Roslyn said, setting aside her lecture notes and giving Kara a very knowing sort of look. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"
"Just thought I should say hi," Kara said, "since you and my dad ..."
"Bill did say he'd tell you." Professor Roslyn propped one hand against her hip and kept giving Kara that look, which maybe wasn't so much knowing as just shrewd. She was so snapping smart she'd have Kara's dad actually working for it. Kara started grinning. "Well?" Roslyn asked.
"I think it's good," Kara said. "I think it'll be good for him."
"Glad you approve," Roslyn said, just wryly enough that Kara understood she actually meant it. "Just don't expect it to affect your grade in my class, not in any way."
Kara kept grinning. "Yes ma'am."
The physics work got harder. Kara realized, one evening trying to calculate an answer and coming up with nothing nothing nothing, that she'd either have to track down Professor Anders during office hours or she'd have to admit that, horrible shirts notwithstanding, Leo was a pretty smart guy and might make a good study-buddy. Self-preservation suggested she take the second option.
She met Leo at the corner Starbucks, because that seemed like it was friendly and neutral and none of her friends would get the wrong idea. Leo met her at a table, looked around, and gave her another flicker of that wry grin. "Good choice," he said.
Kara shrugged. "Shall we?"
So they worked on problem sets for a while, and the thing was, Leo was good at it. He understood this stuff, at a conceptual level, and they started talking it out together, throwing away the formulas and just figuring it out themselves, which got them back to formulas most of the time but worked better than straight memorization would've. Neither of them bothered worrying that Professor Anders would take off points for it; he wouldn't. Poetry in motion.
"I like you," Leo said, two cups of coffee and about the same number of hours later.
"That's not a come-on," Kara told him. "It's not allowed to be a come-on, because you're good at this and I already have a boyfriend."
Leo just looked at her, until she stopped feeling puffed up and indignant and just looked at him right back. And then -- God, no, this was starting to happen way too often -- she started to feel all that wide-open space, the jittery caffeinated version, and -- Leo was looking at it. It was like he saw the password encoded behind her eyes.
"What --" Kara said.
"Don't," Leo interrupted, and there was something like anguish in his voice, so Kara shut up. They sat there and sat there until Kara started getting an awful paranoid feeling, like there was something under her nails, blood or dirt, and the little Starbucks table looked like it was covered in a sheen of water or chrome. Then Leo blinked, this soft sweep of eyelashes trembling against his cheek, and he wouldn't look at her. "I was right," he said. "You do have it."
"The remembering," Leo said, and smiled, a weird sad tight smile. He looked back up at her, and the password was encoded somewhere behind his eyes too, only Kara couldn't quite see it. "In flashes, all your life, people you're drawn to." He reached out in a flash and grabbed her wrist, his grip shockingly tight. "This is not all that we are."
"I know," Kara said. "I know."
She dreamed she was kissing Leo, her feet sliding in half-dried paint, and for a moment she fought it, and then she stopped. His mouth was pressed against the hollow below her jaw, and both of them were trembling, and in her dream Kara asked, Which one are you?
He pulled back and grinned at her, the assured undying machine grin she hadn't seen for thousands of years. That's the wrong question, Kara.
His hand was sliding under her shirt, caressing, and she knew that sticking to the script would mean running away forever and ever until the next time around. She kissed him, quick and hard. Why are we back here? she tried.
He pulled away to look at her. The paint was gone; somewhere it was raining. Because eventually we'll get it right.
"I'm sorry," Kara said, making sure not to look away, holding Zack's gaze steady. "I'm an emotional screw-up, Zack, you know that. You need someone who's really into you."
"So the great sex wasn't enough," Zack said, lightly, with a twisting grin that didn't find anything funny.
"It wasn't," Kara said, with pitch-perfect honesty, and saw the moment it hit, sending Zack spiraling down out of the sky. Kara braced herself for the crash and the funeral and the regret slowly fading to ashes, but Zack just nodded, slow, like maybe he was starting to hear in code too, shoved his hands in his pockets, walked away.
The next week he was dating Dee. It was awkward, but Kara figured she deserved that, at least.
"Welcome to the singles club," Boomer said, savagely morose, kicking a pebble. "At least Dee's not your sister."
"Karl?" Kara guessed.
"Yeah," Boomer said, tucking her hair behind her ear. She sat down on a park bench; after a moment Kara joined her. "It's great for them. I'm happy Athena's happy. It makes her an easier sister to be around, you know? But sometimes it gets lonely."
Kara stared up into the blue autumn sky. "Maybe you want to fix too much at once," she said. "Maybe you have to ... just like yourself before you start screwing around with other people." She looked at Boomer. "Does that make sense?"
Valerie sighed and slumped back on the bench a little. "Yeah," she said. "Maybe."
In the middle of studying for her finals, Kara stopped by the Starbucks and submitted a job application. Then she stopped by Professor Anders' office to talk through some of the points she still wasn't sure on. When they'd covered everything, though, she didn't want to leave. Professor Anders watched her expectantly.
"Do you ever have dreams?" Kara asked. "I mean, really weird ones."
Professor Anders sat back in his seat and actually gave it some thought. "I've dreamed I was a star," he said finally. "I don't mean a sports all-star -- I've dreamed that too, but I don't think that qualifies as weird. I mean I've dreamed I was one of those atomic plasma cookers up in the sky." He tilted his head and gave her a thoughtful look. "Does that answer your question?"
Kara felt herself smiling, this weird almost-crying smile she couldn't really control. "Yes," she said, and took a deep breath. "After this final I'm not your student anymore. So ... next semester, you, me, a pick-up game of basketball?"
Sam Anders gave her a brilliant smile. "I'd love to, Kara."
Starbucks got back to her the day she took her government final: she'd be starting work in January, weekends and Wednesday nights. That more or less left time for practice. It also made her feel pretty damn accomplished; she'd done well on the final, but she felt better for having a job now too.
She ran into Leo in the hallway; he'd just come in from an exam too, out of the cold, and his scarf was mercifully unpatterned. "Physics?" he asked.
"Government," she said. "Physics?"
"Yeah." Leo gave her a grin, and there was something in it this time, something that looked so self-assured Kara was half-convinced for a crazy second that Leo knew all the secrets in the world. Then reality kicked in and she saw just a smug freshman who knew his stuff. But.
"Leo," Kara said, and when he looked at her, eyebrows up a little, a cheerful challenge, she grabbed his scarf before she could think better of it and gave him a quick kiss, close-mouthed but really meaning it. She let him go before he could react, and he stared at her, wide-eyed with something she suspected was joy. "Just a thank-you," Kara said. "A pre-emptive thank-you."
"For what?" Leo asked after a moment, a little dazed.
Kara thought about it.
"Everything, maybe," she said. "See you next semester."
Her dad came to pick her up, not because Kara needed help moving anything but because he was just that kind of dad sometimes, and Kara loved him for it. In the hall walking towards the elevator, Kara turned to him. "Are we having anyone over for Christmas?"
"Maybe," her dad said, kind of hopefully.
"Yes you can bring Professor Roslyn, Dad," Kara said long-sufferingly. They got in the elevator. The doors slid shut, and she grinned up at the ceiling. She needed a haircut. "But only if we invite Lee, too."
"I don't see a problem," her dad said mildly.
She looked at him. "Lee means we're inviting his brother Karl. And Karl's dating Athena, and her sister Valerie's on the team with me. You want to take them all on?"
"You just watch me," he said.
The elevator doors slid open. "Good," Kara said. They walked outside together. "Good. I want to spend Christmas with family."