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A Very, Very, Very Fine House

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September

Lola thinks that living with her best friends (and one random assigned by Housing, who moves her things in and promptly disappears to the botany lab where she's the teaching assistant for Professor Nostradamus) is a wonderful idea for about twenty-four hours after move-in day. Twenty-four hours are enough for all of them to catch up on their summers and cook a messy dinner to celebrate being college juniors who are trusted with their own student apartment.

The sign that the honeymoon period is over comes at about eleven in the morning the day before classes are meant to start, when Lola and Aylee are sitting on the couch in the tiny living room of their apartment and Mary slams through the door in what's obviously A Mood. Lola exchanges looks with Aylee and ends up being the one to clear her throat. “What's wrong?”

“Do you know,” says Mary in ominous tones, “who our next door neighbors are?”

Greer, standing in the kitchen contemplatively chewing on a bowl of dry cereal, is the one to answer that question. “I haven't had time to check the door tags yet. They're balloons, right? Not very creative.”

“Who is it?” Aylee asks, because Mary looks like she might explode.

“Francis! And Bash!” Mary's voice lowers. “And Olivia.”

“My father offered to pay for an apartment,” Lola says quietly, not that anyone is listening, and is surprised when Aylee squeezes her on the shoulder before assuring Mary that her ex-boyfriend (ex-boyfriends? Lola has never had the courage to ask what the story was with Bash, considering what happened last spring break with she and Bash and a bottle of wine) is probably not out to ruin her life.

(Her ex-boyfriend's terrifying mother is another story, but Lola decides it's not a prudent time to bring that up.)

*

Kenna, almost as soon as classes begin, starts wandering around looking smug, which probably isn't a good sign. Greer starts wandering around looking dreamy, which is a worse one.

“We should have just got a dorm room together,” Aylee tells her in the second week of classes, after another apartment dinner where most of the conversation was taken up by Mary discussing the residents of the apartment next door.

“We should start an elaborate system of bets,” Lola tells the ceiling of her room, where she and Aylee have retreated because Lola has a single and Aylee shares her double with Clarissa, who nobody ever wants to interrupt when she's studying. “Is Kenna going to seduce a freshman or a grad student? Is Greer just reading a lot of romance novels or is her sudden fascination with baked goods a sign of something sinister?”

“Something sinister, definitely.” Aylee pauses, considering. “Really, I think the big question is going to be who next door Mary ends up kissing first.”

Lola hums thoughtfully. “Olivia,” she finally says, and gets a laugh out of Aylee, which is what she was aiming for in the first place.

*

“Every time I see you,” Bash tells her in the laundry room, “I want to start singing Barry Manilow.”

Lola considers slapping him, and ends up laughing instead. “Not Clapton?”

He shrugs. “What can I say? 'Copacabana' is catchy, you've got to give me that.”

She finishes putting detergent in her machine and frowns at him. “I'm not going to sleep with you. I feel like that would only end in disaster. Tell me, are you actually trying to seduce Mary or are you just out to make my life difficult just as I start taking difficult classes?” Bash thinks way too hard about the question, and Lola lifts her hand before he actually says something. “No, let me keep whatever illusions I have. Just be aware that if this goes to shit around finals week I am going to make friends with the RA, ask for a lockout code into your apartment, and stab you in the throat.”

Bash grins. “Got it. I'll sleep with one eye open.”

Lola leaves the laundry room to the sound of him humming the opening lines of 'Copacabana' and finds Aylee in the kitchen in their apartment, making scrambled eggs for her lunch. “I would like to put five dollars on the Mary-and-Bash thing being done with by Halloween, I threatened him and hopefully he was suitably terrified.”

Aylee grins at her. “You're probably more terrifying than most of us but Mary.” She frowns contemplatively. “And Clarissa.” She tilts her head. “And maybe Kenna.”

“Great, that's comforting.”

“Look on the bright side, you're probably scarier than me. Now, come over here and help me if you want some eggs of your own.”

October

“A professor?” Mary yells out in the main room, and Lola considers pretending she's asleep, she considers it with longing and seriousness. However, she gets up from her desk and puts her head out the door to find Mary shouting at Kenna, who is unrepentant judging by her expression. “Not just a professor, but the Dean! Kenna, he is Francis and Bash's father!”

Kenna throws her hands in the air. “And he likes me, Mary, what is the problem?”

“He's married!”

The door to Aylee's room creaks open and she meets Lola's eyes across the hallway. They have just long enough to exchange a commiserating look before Kenna and Mary both turn sharply to face them. Lola takes a deep breath, hands out and starts sorting it out as well as she can as Aylee creeps slowly back into her room, mouthing thanks. She's got a test in the morning. Lola might as well take care of—

“Well he doesn't care that he's married if he's asking me to sleep with him, does he?” Kenna says, far too loud.

Lola sighs. “Maybe argue about this a little more quietly? Considering the walls are thin and who lives next door?”

“He doesn't care, but you should!” says Mary, at top volume.

Lola's phone buzzes with a text and she checks it surreptitiously when Mary and Kenna turn on each other again. I owe you one THANK YOU, Aylee's sent, and after that, Lola can't do anything less than square her shoulders and start fixing things properly.

*

Mary acquires a hot Portuguese boyfriend.

“This is all going to end in tears,” Lola tells Aylee after a particularly awkward scene in the hallway where Mary ran into Francis on her way out with Tomas.

Aylee hums contemplatively and keeps painting her toenails. “Whose?”

Lola considers that for a few moments. “Mine, possibly. Barring that, Francis's.”

“Do we care? I mean, he was the one who broke up with Mary last year.”

“I like him. A lot better than I like Tomas, anyway, considering he went from flirting with Greer to asking Mary out in less than half an hour at that party. He's just lucky Greer's distracted.”

They both take a moment to consider whatever has Greer distracted, Lola watching Aylee carefully paint her nails bright blue. “Mary has better taste than to stay with Tomas after she's realized she's mostly with him to piss Francis off,” Aylee says. “It's just the meantime that sucks.”

“Have you got any dark green?” Lola asks, pointing at the bottle of nail polish. “I tried to find some this summer but couldn't find anything that was a good color and didn't flake off or need more coats than I wanted to deal with.”

Aylee beams at her. “I've got just the thing. The box is open on my bed and it's color-coordinated, feel free to go look through.”

*

As Lola might have predicted, the whole mess with Tomas comes to a head at the apartment complex RA-sponsored Halloween party, where everyone is wearing the costumes they mostly put on so they wouldn't have to change before going out to real parties afterwards.

Lola, dressed as Lady Sif because movie nights are dangerous and she looks good in fake armor, mostly stays in the corner with Aylee while Mary screams first at Tomas, then at Francis for punching him in the nose, then at Bash for helping, then at Tomas again.

“Do you think we should do something?” Aylee asks, after returning from a trip for punch and brownies for both of them.

“Mary can take care of herself, it's not her fault if she attracts drama like a magnet, and she probably would have punched Tomas in the face herself if Francis hadn't beaten her to it.” Lola chews on her brownie and takes a second from Aylee while it's still in her mouth. Aylee had the forethought to add pockets to her Tinkerbell costume, which Lola has to admit she's jealous of.

“I would have liked to see that,” Aylee admits. “He's terrible to his roommate, he would have been terrible to Mary.”

Mary is working up to a crescendo in her tirade while the RAs hover helplessly around. Lola feels sort of sorry for them, they can't have expected anything at all like Mary Scott when they were planning their year out. “We might get to see it yet.”

Kenna's turned up next to them, frowning about something (probably Dean King, and Lola is continuing to want to and fail to stay out of that one, things are tense between Mary and Kenna lately), before Mary lays a perfect uppercut on Tomas's jaw. “I have to admit that's really satisfying, on an emotional level,” says Kenna while the RAs flutter around and finally manage to stop the confrontation.

“It's worth Mary being even more upset about Francis and Bash,” Lola agrees.

Aylee frowns around the room, apparently already moving on to the next drama. “Has anyone seen Greer tonight?”

Lola sighs.

November

Lola is the one who figures out what's going on with Greer through the simple method of going out for coffee with her after the psych class they share. The barista is hot, hot enough that Lola gives him a second look, but he concentrates on Greer, already making her order even as she bosses him around, giving cheerful abuse in the way Greer always does when she's fond of someone. He even says “As you wish” when Greer tells him to for heaven's sake not forget the sugar, and Lola despairs that any of her friends ever think they're being subtle.

“So,” Lola says when they're walking away, coffee mugs clutched in their hands.

Greer skips denial and goes straight for begging. “Don't tell anyone else. Not even Aylee, you've got to promise.”

Lola blinks, since she would have expected Mary to be the person Greer wanted to tell least. “What on earth is the problem? He seems perfectly nice, Greer, so what if he works in a coffee shop?” Greer just sets her jaw in that stubborn way she has when she doesn't want to talk about something, and Lola gives up on that line of questioning. “He's very good-looking, though,” she says when they're walked a little ways in silence.

“Fine, you can tell Aylee!” Greer says, flinging her hands in the air, like Lola has been badgering her about it.

“I never said I was going to.” Lola takes a sip of her coffee. It's delicious. If Greer doesn't marry Coffee Boy, she might. “It's fine, okay? It's all fine. Honestly, between Kenna and her increasingly low-cut tops before she goes to department meetings and Mary and the soap opera that is her life, you're sort of the least of my problems.”

Greer smiles down at her coffee cup. Lola pretends not to see that there's a little heart drawn on the side. “It's just … he's on scholarship and he has to work all the time, and I'm not supposed to date because my parents are stuck in the sixteenth century, so on the whole it's kind of easier for people to not know.”

Lola nudges her, because it's never nice seeing Greer look upset. “Honestly, you're living out the beginning of The Princess Bride and it's sort of sickening. I thought you were about two seconds from saying 'Coffee Boy, fetch me that cappuccino' at one point.”

Greer laughs, the world set to rights again, but when they get back to the apartment door, she puts her hand on Lola's arm. “You can tell Aylee if you need to. I mean, she'll keep it secret too. It's fine if you two want to talk about it.”

Lola isn't sure why this is what Greer chooses to be so serious about, but she smiles anyway. “Thanks. Always good to be able to talk about how ridiculous you all are with someone.”

*

Lola and Aylee are cooking breakfast on a Saturday morning when Kenna makes an attempt at sneaking in the apartment door, holding her shoes in her hand and wearing yesterday's clothes. Judging by the hickey on her neck, she's succeeded in her campaign to seduce Dean King. Or he's succeeded in his campaign to seduce her, Lola really isn't sure which it is.

When she sees Lola and Aylee, she smiles, a little sheepish. “Good night last night?” says Lola.

Kenna's smile goes right from sheepish to smug. “Let me tell you, older men are the right way to go. It was amazing. And he says he wants to see me again.”

“He's … still married to Bash's mom, right?” Aylee raises her hands when Kenna whips around to glare at her. “Your decision, I'm not telling you off for that, it isn't your fault he cheats. But, like, isn't there the whole bone of contention with Francis and Bash about the whole them-being-born-two-months-apart thing?”

Kenna huffs. “He and Diane have an open relationship, if you must know, and he says he'd rather be with me anyway.”

“This seems likely to end well,” Lola mutters, and goes back to stirring pancake batter when Kenna narrows her eyes. “I'm happy for you, okay? I just wish that we lived across the apartment complex from Francis and Bash.” She considers Mary, who's been definitely-not-dating Francis since Halloween. “Across the campus,” she amends.

“Now,” says Aylee, giving Lola a warning look, “how about we make you some pancakes and you tell us all about it before Mary gets up?”

*

“You're dating Francis.”

“I thought you'd be happy, you like Francis!”

Lola closes her eyes and breathes. “Yes, Mary, I like Francis, but—no, you know what, I'm happy for you. Don't let his mother murder you, and I hope you enjoy the prospect of Kenna as your mother-in-law.”

Mary looks like that thought has never occurred to her before and she's sort of horrified by it. “I'm happy,” she finally says. “I really am, Lola. Francis and I—our timing is always all wrong, maybe it's wrong this time too, but can you blame me for trying? I mean you and—”

“If you say one word about Bash, I'm leaving you to your romantic crisis on your own,” Lola warns.

Mary wrinkles her nose. “Why would I ever—no, I was—never mind.”

Lola puts an arm around her shoulders. “I can't blame you for trying.”

December

Aylee is the one who insists on decorating for Christmas, even though she's the one with the busiest finals schedule.

They all set aside a Saturday afternoon, no boys allowed, and manage to call a truce while they put up lights (they aren't technically allowed them, but the RAs have taken to avoiding their little corner of the complex. Lola can't blame them) and a little fake tree, since real ones are fire hazards and they have to draw a line somewhere.

Mary and Kenna decorate the tree, the two of them laughing togeter, Kenna's arm around Mary's shoulders, and they haven't been that easy together in months. Greer makes bows of red and green crepe paper and tapes them up liberally, and Lola helps Aylee with the lights. Clarissa is out, but Clarissa is always out, Lola has said maybe two words to her since the beginning of the year.

It's a quiet day, and a good day, and at the end of it Lola curls up on her bed with Aylee sitting next to her, watching Christmas specials of their favorite television shows and arguing quietly about which ones are better, and decides to forget about everyone's personal drama until the end of the semester.

*

Lola's good intentions last for about three days, when Mary gets into a screaming fight with Francis's mother, the university treasurer, and almost gets expelled as a result.

“Remind me why I love Mary,” Lola says to Aylee once Mary has gone off to her room, tragic and pale-faced and single again. Not that she and Francis were ever officially dating again in the first place. “She is going to get us all expelled, and it's going to happen two weeks before graduation.”

“No she won't. Just herself.” Aylee smiles at her across the couch. “And Francis will sweep in like a romance novel hero and try to rescue her. It's just kind of how they work. And you love Mary because she's sweet and smart and only a little bit stupid sometimes.” She pauses. “This year is maybe a little worse than usual.”

“Could this not have happened after finals?”

Aylee laughs. “If it helps, she promised to make her famous extra spicy chili on the last night of finals, and chocolate cake for dessert, to make up for it all. She does understand how ridiculous all of this is.”

“We should make it our goal to get Kenna and Greer to understand as well. It would make things much easier.”

“Do you want to be the one to try it?”

“Mary's victory enough,” Lola decides after a second's consideration. “Now, it's Greer's turn to make dinner, but I vote you and I sneak off to the farthest dining hall the weather will allow, so we don't kill any of our roommates.”

“Let me get my coat.”

*

Mary does make her chili the last night before break, and everything is peaceful again, everyone bringing their presents out of their rooms to give each other over cake and talking about what their plans for break are, and it's enough to remind Lola just how much she loves all of them.

Aylee is across the table, fiddling with the too-expensive necklace Mary gave her because of course Mary thinks that's the thing to do when Aylee has it toughest of them on Christmas at home, and she smiles when she catches Lola's eye like she's thinking the exact same thing.

January

Normally the anniversary of Colin's death happens right on the cusp of winter break, and Lola can indulge in her annual grieving and go back to school worn out but okay. This year it happens on the second day of second semester classes and Lola barely makes it back from Psych 432 before she decides to just curl up in bed all afternoon and ignore the world.

The world isn't very easily ignored, though, because there's a knock on her door around dinnertime, and when Lola tells whoever it is to come in, Aylee and Mary walk through the door with a tray of tea and soup and toast. She's fairly sure the tray was stolen from the dining hall, but she decides she doesn't really care.

“I might have stalked you on Facebook a little to see what it is about today,” Aylee admits. “Sit up, eat some dinner.”

“And then we're going to watch movies and get drunk and go to classes hungover tomorrow,” Mary contributes.

Lola opens her mouth to say she'd rather be left alone, thanks, but both of them look so hopeful and it isn't as bad as she thought it would be, this year, with the sounds of all her friends bustling around in their rooms and the common areas. “Yeah, okay,” she says. “Is there enough soup for you two as well?”

Mary beams. “We didn't want to presume. I'll go get it.”

Aylee brings the tray over while Mary goes to get their food and puts her arms around Lola, tucking Lola's head awkwardly into her shoulder even though Lola is taller, and Lola thinks about squirming away but stays there instead, until she looks up and finds Mary smiling softly at them from the door. “Come on, then,” she says. “We can watch Ever After first so you can cry about Francis.”

*

“She's dating Bash.”

Lola blinks at Aylee, who came into the apartment and proceeded to flop face-down on the couch without bothering to take her backpack off. She turns the heat down on the stove before she asks any questions, because she can't think of a single person she knows who would make their situations less awkward by dating Bash, so she's going to go with the worst case scenario. “Mary is dating Bash? Like, actually?”

“She was kissing him in the library. I think that says a lot.”

“I'm fairly sure she told me she still loves Francis last week.”

Aylee groans and doesn't lift her face out of the couch cushions. “She probably does.”

“Is she dating his brother to make him jealous? I love Mary, but that's sort of a dick move.”

“I think she's dating his brother because his brother is not being a dick right now and that's sort of rare in Mary's dating experience.” Aylee finally lifts her head to look at Lola, who remembers to stir her onions before they start sticking to the pan. “I feel like we must have done awful things in a past life, Lola. We had people beheaded or something, I don't know, but it must have been cosmically bad.”

“It's Bash. At least we can take comfort in the fact that it's probably only going to last a few weeks before it epically goes up in flames?” Mary-after-Francis is sad and quiet and sort of a tragic Victorian heroine. Mary-after-Bash, judging by last year, is more inclined to get pissed off at things, if not particularly at Bash. Lola isn't sure which is worse.

“I think we should have a reality show,” says Aylee. And then, a little more cheerfully, “Are we having stir-fry for dinner?”

“Come over here and help me chop things.” If it gets their minds off Mary's latest life decisions, Lola will talk about cooking all night.

February

“Leith told me he loves me!”

Lola looks mournfully down at the only pleasure reading she's had time to do in a month and then up at Greer, who's standing in the doorway to her room looking kind of wild-eyed. It takes her a second to place the name. “Coffee Boy? Why is this a bad thing?”

“We aren't even Facebook official! You didn't even know his name! My father wants me to marry an oil baron!”

“Your father is actually aware that you can pick your own boyfriends, right?” Lola puts a bookmark in her book. “Is marrying on the table?”

Greer takes that as an invitation to come over and sit in Lola's desk chair, fiddling with the cap on a pen Lola left out. “I don't know, maybe? I mean, he said he loves me. And that's great. I think I love him too. I just sort of ran away when he told me? Lola, he's amazing, and my family is going to be terrible to him.”

“Invite him for dinner here. We won't be terrible to him. For heaven's sake, we weren't terrible to Francis or Bash or Tomas, we can be polite to a barista, and then he won't be your dirty little secret anymore. Valentine's Day is coming up, he'll be happy.”

Greer smiles, a warm little one that says a lot more than she probably wants it to about her relationship with Leith. “I think he will be.”

“I'm looking forward to meeting him properly. You're doing much better than Mary and Kenna are right now, you can take comfort from that, anyway.”

Greer snorts. “I'm pretty sure Clarissa is doing better than Mary and Kenna are right now. Even if I'm not doing as well as you and Aylee.”

“The only way to win is not to play,” Lola says solemnly, and doesn't understand the weird look Greer gives her before she giggles and lets Lola ask her about Leith.

*

Mary leaves on Valentine's Day evening with Bash and returns alone, and Lola just wordlessly holds her arms out to invite Mary to come to the couch, where she and Aylee are watching more romantic comedies than is healthy or sane for two single people.

“Francis was out with Olivia,” she says quietly a while later, when Channing Tatum is preparing to make a big dramatic romantic gesture. “Neither of them really looked happy, but then I wasn't happy and Bash got it and he ended it, and I should marry a barista and eat delicious baked goods forever like Greer.”

“Oh, sweetie,” says Aylee, which is a lot more sympathetic than anything Lola would have said. “I think maybe Leith brings enough baked goods to buy our affection and you don't need to worry about securing us muffins.”

“Even Kenna is spending Valentine's Day with Dean King, apparently Diane doesn't believe in Valentine's Day so Kenna gets all the pampering she wants, and Greer is probably kissing Leith right now, and here I am interrupting the two of you ...”

“All we're doing is watching rom-coms,” Lola says firmly. “And you are more than welcome to join. That and chocolate are just what the doctor orders for broken hearts, and we've got chocolate.”

Mary smiles tearfully at them. “I have the best friends in the world.”

“And don't you forget it,” says Aylee, and turns the sound up on the television.

*

Lola almost never runs into the group from the apartment next door in the hallways, but it feels like every time she goes to the laundry room she runs into one of them. A few days after Valentine's Day, she's unlucky enough for it to be Francis, who gives her a look like he hopes Mary will be able to feel his soulful gazing by proxy. Lola dumps her clothes out of her hamper with unnecessary force. “Olivia, Francis.”

“It was my mother's idea.”

“Funnily, that does not make it much better.” Lola puts her hands on her hips and turns to Francis, who's sitting on a dryer that seems to be almost finished. “If we are going on this merry-go-round again, you are going to do it right this time. And you can tell your brother that too.”

“Bash isn't exactly speaking to me.”

“Really not my problem.” She scrubs a hand over her face. “I'm going to ask Aylee to go back to just sharing a regular dorm room next year, this is ridiculous, you are really not my problem.”

“Of course. Sorry.” He's polite enough to wince. Lola really does like him, when she doesn't want to strangle him. “I'm glad you and Aylee are still doing well, though,” he offers when it becomes clear they've got to do something while she splits her laundry into whites and colors and his dryer counts down its last five minutes.

Lola rolls her eyes. “Aylee is my best friend, of course we're doing well.”

Francis gives her a weird look, but she decides it's in her best interests to ignore him and shoves her clothes into washers to get them started before ducking out of the laundry room while he still has three minutes on the clock.

March

“I'm thinking about doing my political science project on game theory and Mary's love life. Do you think the professor would let me get away with it?”

Aylee looks up from her biology textbook. It's midnight, and it's a week from spring break, and maybe Lola shouldn't be bringing up their friends' dramatic lives, since it's been miraculously quiet since Valentine's Day and Lola is almost hoping that they'll make it through midterms without a disaster. She's about to apologize when Aylee breaks out into a grin. “Add Kenna in too, do a comparison study.”

Lola is about to answer when a door creaks down the hallway and Clarissa comes out into the main room, completely ignoring she and Aylee and going to the kitchen, where she takes a box of crackers out of a cabinet (Lola is fairly sure they're Kenna's), turns, stares flatly at Lola and Aylee for precisely four seconds, and then walks back to her room. Well, her and Aylee's room, but as far as Lola knows they have never actually been in the room together while they were both awake.

“I am fairly sure,” Aylee whispers when the door has shut again, “that she is actually a murderer.”

Lola manages to make it a few seconds before she snorts, and then laughs, and then the two of them are giggling and half holding each other up on the couch.

*

Kenna is the only one who stays in the apartment over spring break, other than a planned weekend away with Dean King, and Lola really wishes she were surprised when she and Aylee get back from staying with Lola's family and find Kenna crying on the couch, wrapped up in every extra blanket in the apartment.

“Oh, shit,” says Lola, and Aylee is the one to go forward and put her arms around Kenna.

Kenna, at least, is more than willing to let them take care of her. “You must think I'm such an idiot, of course this was always going to happen.”

Lola exchanges looks with Aylee before she comes and sits down on Kenna's other side. “Not to pry, but what exactly did happen?”

Kenna props her head on Lola's shoulder. “He just … said I was silly, and he's happy to keep sleeping with me, but I shouldn't think I'm anything serious. All patronizing, you know? Said I'll move on and think of him fondly sometimes, and like fuck I will. I see where Dr. Medici is coming from with the hating him thing.”

“He was definitely an asshole,” says Lola, and holds her breath to make sure Kenna isn't at the stage where she isn't ready to hear that.

“I'm so stupid,” she says instead.

“You aren't,” says Aylee. “You know, older men. It was all him, and shame on him.”

Kenna frowns. “Mary is going to be so smug.”

“Give her more credit than that, she'll be sad for you,” says Lola. “And Greer will be sympathetic when she removes her mouth from Leith's mouth. And probably Bash and Francis will be on your side, they're not exactly big fans of their father.”

“And we're obviously on your side,” says Aylee. “We'll get through, right?”

Kenna makes a frustrated noise and pulls her blankets up around her chin. “Like you two can have sympathy about shitty break-ups, when you're—”

“No fair,” says Lola, squeezing her arm tighter around Kenna's shoulders. “We're here helping you, aren't we?”

Greer picks that moment to arrive back at the apartment, caroling out a hello that stops halfway through and then coming over right away to pile on the couch with them even though it's definitely not meant to hold more than three. Lola listens to Kenna explain again, with more detail, and doesn't even think about complaining. They stay there another hour, the four of them, until Mary comes. Kenna tries to yell at her, only to get a fierce hug in response, because for all Lola complains about her drama she's probably the best of them, and when they stay there, Lola disentangles herself from the pile and goes to start dinner.

Aylee joins her a few minutes later, smiling and relieved. “Mary and Greer are taking care of it,” she whispers. “You and I can cook, that's probably better for everyone concerned.”

“My thoughts exactly.”

*

When announcements about room signups for next year start going around, Lola thinks for a few seconds about getting a single in one of the dorms closer to the center of campus, or about asking Aylee if she wants to go in together. With Kenna watching John Tucker Must Die on repeat and Mary wandering around looking tragic again, the temptation is large.

Two minutes later, she walks out into the main room and finds Aylee and Greer sitting in the living room, and Mary and Kenna in the kitchen, arguing over muffin recipes. “Are we doing this again?” she asks.

Mary turns around and grins. “We'll need a new sixth roommate, Clarissa told me she's moving off-campus next year.”

“I'm sure we'll find someone,” says Aylee, and raises her eyebrows at Greer. “Maybe Leith?”

“Oh, shut up,” says Greer, and then grins around at them all. “Are we all in, then?”

“The RAs are going to cry when we end up in their area again,” says Lola, and can't help smiling as well. “But yes, let's do this.”

April

Lola is coming back from a Saturday morning run when she finds Mary sneaking out into the hallway from the apartment next door, shoes in her hand and her eyes comically wide when she sees Lola. “This is … probably exactly what it looks like,” Mary says, and looks more sheepish than sorry.

“Just tell me it isn't Olivia,” says Lola, shooing her in their apartment door and then looking around the living room. Nobody else is up yet, probably because it's seven and nobody sane is. “Also, did you sneak out on … whoever it was?”

“Francis, and no.”

“Francis, really?”

“Would you rather Bash?”

Lola makes a face and drags Mary over to the couch. “No, I suppose not. But, I mean, Bash didn't ruin Valentine's Day.”

“He apologized.” Mary smiles down at her hands, and Lola gives up right then on talking sense into her. “Last night was the first night we did anything, and I left because I don't really want to rub it in Bash's face, or in Olivia's, and I want to try, Lola.”

“You think the timing is better this time?”

“I think he's promised to come visit me this summer so we can spend time together without his mother telling him I'm a bad idea. It should help. We want it to work, and I at least am going to try harder this time. I hope he will too.”

Lola puts an arm around her. “Then I hope it works out. But if you break each other's hearts this time I reserve the right to put earplugs in.”

“You're much nicer when you and Aylee are dealing with me together. Where is she?”

Lola blinks at her. “Sleeping, probably? I don't knock on her bedroom door, I'm scared of Clarissa, we really should have let her have the other single so I could share with Aylee.”

“I don't know why you didn't. I mean, if I could share a room with Francis I absolutely would.”

“Well, you're dating Francis, apparently, but also can't keep dating him for more than a month at a time, so I feel like being his roommate probably wouldn't work out very well for you.”

Mary is staring at her. “You and Aylee aren't?”

Lola reviews her last few sentences in her head. “Aren't what? Dating? Why on earth ...”

“Um, never mind, no reason at all. Here, listen. I'll make French toast if you listen to me talk about Francis for a few minutes.”

“Fine,” says Lola, because now isn't the time to ask all the questions that have suddenly cropped up, and she's really not sure what she wants the answers to be.

*

Lola almost wishes something would go terribly wrong—Kenna getting back together with Dean King, Greer fighting with Leith, one of Mary's romance-novel fights with Francis, even Clarissa committing her inevitable homicide as long as it isn't Aylee—but the next week is suspiciously smooth sailing.

Unfortunately, that means she has nothing to do but think about it. About Aylee. About Aylee and the fact that apparently they are dating and she never realized it but now that she has realized it she wants it to actually be dating, for both of them. Which is new, she hasn't dated a girl before, and Aylee hasn't had a girlfriend since freshman year, but they can make it work. Better than any of their other roommates, anyway.

“What would you do if Aylee and I started dating?” she asks Greer one afternoon when they're the only ones home from class.

Greer frowns. “You weren't already? Did you break up? You haven't been acting as if you were broken up.”

“We haven't even kissed in front of any of you! Or, I mean, at all! Why am I the only one who doesn't know about this?”

That makes Greer's eyes go wide. “I sort of thought you guys hooked up at the beginning of the year, you've kind of been the dream team this whole time. I guess I didn't think about the lack of kissing. You mean you really aren't?”

“Oh my God,” Lola groans, and puts her face in her hands.

*

“What would you do if Aylee and I started dating?”

Kenna looks at her with her head tilted. “Wait, really? I thought there was some kind of secret relationship going on behind our backs this whole time.” She blinks. “So what have you actually been doing during your sleepovers?”

“I could have been kissing her this whole time, I am so stupid,” says Lola, and throws her hands in the air before she goes off to her room.

*

“Do you think Aylee and I are dating?”

Bash, her laundry room run-in of the week, gives her a confused look. “Trick question?”

*

“I think I'm in love with Aylee.”

Lola has to make a note not to look smug when people make romantic pronouncements anymore, because it's sort of infuriating when Mary does it. “I think you are too, for what it's worth. So does Francis.”

“Of course you're talking about my personal business with Francis.”

“He asked if you two are taking it slow and that's why you aren't sharing a room.”

Lola pulls her knees up to her chest. “Do you think she's in love with me too?”

“I think that's a question you should ask her.” Mary smiles. “But yes, I do. I think you're good for each other. The way Francis and I are good for each other, and Greer and Leith.”

“Then I've got to do something about it, haven't I?”

“That's up to you. But I hope you do. You two are the best people I know, and I think you'd be great for each other.” Mary puts an arm around her.

Lola leans into it. “For what it's worth, for all the drama I think you and Francis are good for each other too.”

Mary laughs. “I cannot believe I've been taking advice from you all year when you didn't even realize you're in love with Aylee.”

“Oh, shut up, like you can talk.”

*

“Something is wrong with you this month.”

Lola almost jumps out of her skin where she's sitting on the couch and dumps her soc textbook on the floor. Aylee, standing right outside her room, is watching with a frown on her face, and Lola feels horrible immediately. “I'm really sorry, have I been awful?”

“Just sort of not-around and weird.”

There are still almost two weeks before finals. Lola doesn't actually have to be studying. Nobody else is around the apartment, all out enjoying a spring day, Greer and Mary with their boyfriends, and Kenna, alarmingly, with Olivia. Lola doesn't know how that friendship struck up and isn't sure she wants to know. “Come and sit down?”

Aylee does, a little hesitant, and Lola hates that she's made her hesitant, and she is going to have to be the best girlfriend ever to make up for it, and she wishes she'd figured all of this out months ago, because summer break is going to be way too long. “So tell me,” Aylee says. “I knew it would be too good to be true if you and I made it through the whole year with something going wrong.”

“It's come to my attention,” Lola says, because sometimes it's best to just say things right out, “that we're in love.”

It's probably presumptuous, putting words in Aylee's mouth, but she knows her well enough to take her chances by now. After a second, she's rewarded by one of Aylee's little secretive grins. “Oh, that,” she says, like it isn't anything big at all. “I thought you meant something bad.”

Lola kisses her, smile pressing up against hers until they both have to pause and come in real this time, her hands shaking until Aylee takes them in hers, everything settling into place like they should have been doing this for years, and they probably should have.

“Finally,” says Clarissa, passing by from the door, and they jump apart, staring wide-eyed at each other until Clarissa shuts herself in her and Aylee's room, and then they're both giggling, holding on tight, until Aylee kisses her again.

May

The night before move-out, when all of them are finished with their finals and lazy with hot weather and exhaustion after spending the week packing, they have one last apartment dinner, with significant others as well. Leith brings dessert, and Francis brings wine, and Bash even stops by for a few minutes and doesn't throw Mary any longing looks at all. Clarissa moved out on Tuesday, having finished her finals early, but Lola doesn't much mind that.

She and Aylee hold hands through most of dinner. She and Aylee have been holding hands pretty much since they kissed for the first time, actually, and Lola regrets none of the teasing they've had from any of their friends about it. “It's been quite a year,” she says when they're all lingering over their paper plates, since no one wanted to have to do the dishes on their last night.

“I'd say so,” says Kenna. “Mary and Francis—and Bash—”

“And you and Dean King,” Mary parries, frowning when Francis frowns.

“And Tomas,” says Lola, because bringing up Dean King is a low blow and they've mostly been avoiding it since March. “And Greer and Leith, well done you two, I think despite the Cinderella aspect to things you're probably the most stable relationship here.”

Greer snorts. “If we don't count the two of you, which I definitely do even if you've just now got around to being together.”

Lola glances at Aylee, and Aylee looks back, a grin growing on her face. “I think we'll accept that,” says Aylee. “We had far less drama than the rest of you. But there's still senior year, isn't there? And if we're all living together again ...”

“Then we're going to have our hands full,” Lola finishes. “But I think it will be in a good way.”

“Definitely in a good way,” says Aylee, and kisses her, lingering just long enough for Kenna to throw a napkin at them and for Greer to groan and Mary to start beaming in that proud and sort of overcome way she tends to do when her friends are happy.

Lola beams right back, looking around the table, where Kenna is laughing and leaning on Greer, and Leith is staring at Greer like she hung the moon, and Francis is holding Mary's hand like he never intends to stop, and Aylee is still watching her with that little smile she's always saved just for Lola. “Definitely,” Lola agrees, and squeezes Aylee's hand.