You get into Mount Holyoke early-action, and your mother gives you a glass of champagne to celebrate. She would have preferred Princeton or Williams, but Mount Holyoke has an enormous endowment, a renowned literature department, and a beautiful campus, and it is also devoid of males.
You spend the next nine months waiting. John hears from all twelve of his schools and decides on the University of Washington at the last minute; Dave gets a sizable scholarship from UT Austin; Jade sends an email to everyone at three in the morning, your time, and says that she has been accepted to Hampshire.
Hampshire, which is a ten minute drive from Mount Holyoke.
It’ll be nice to have a familiar face nearby, you guess, and Jade is as good as any of them; you hardly expected Dave to come north or John to come east. It’s not like you have any other friends.
You’ve spent the last five years avoiding social contact offline. It’s not that you don’t like people; you actually find them quite fascinating. But you like to keep a bit of distance between you and everyone else.
You went through a phase where you only read books by suicidal feminists. You went through a phase where you only wore turtlenecks. You went through a phase where you prayed to Ereshkigal every night to bring back Jaspers’ soul. The only phase you haven’t grown out of is this one, the one where you talk to John online every night, where Dave calls you every Monday, where you and Jade will apparently be going to college ten minutes away from each other.
You’re nervous, a bit, but you don’t let it show. You just reply to her email with a smile and tell her you’ll see her soon.
slave to the inside light
my world is burning on eternally
for the fire i lack this flame is feeling fine
Move-in weekend comes and you and your mom drive to Massachusetts, eating disgusting junk food and ignoring each other on principle. She helps you move your bags into your dorm, which is a surprise; she leaves with a kiss and a wave, which isn’t.
Your roommate is named Marilee and is from Sweden. She has taken the best furniture, but given you the window as a consolation. You don’t mind. You have a nice view.
You set up your laptop first, opening Pesterchum out of habit, and Jade pesters you right away.
GG: how is it?!
TT: It’s nice.
GG: i’ll come down :)
gardenGnostic has ceased pestering tentacleTherapist.
You start to unpack, but are interrupted half an hour later when your cell phone rings. “I’m outside!” calls Jade, and you look outside, and there she is.
You haven’t seen her in years- outside of the game, you’ve never met her in real life. She’s grown a lot in the past five years. She doesn’t wear strings on her fingers anymore. She probably doesn’t live with a million stuffed squiddles anymore, either. You introduce her to Marilee and they seem to get along nicely. Jade is very polite, for someone who was raised by a dog; then again, she shares genes with the nicest person in the world, so some of that had to rub off.
It’s strange to be around her in person. Her smiles are infectious. She’s not very respectful of your personal space, and every time she grabs your hand or lays her head on your shoulder, you feel a jolt in your stomach. You chalk it up to nervousness. You’re not used to being this close to people.
She comes back the next day and you get lunch and talk about life and college and classes and John and Dave. You admit to yourself that it’s nice to have a real-life friend.
You’re sitting in your Gender Studies class one Wednesday in late September when a familiar face bobs up and down outside the window. You excuse yourself and slide out of the lecture. Jade meets you at the front entrance of the building.
“What are you doing here,” you ask her, as she drags you into a hug. A spike of nervousness, or something, rips through your abdomen.
“Bored! Just thought I’d come say hi! Thought you might be bored too!”
“Of course I’m not bored, I’m in class,” you say, and it comes out much harsher than you’d intended. You regret that instantly as her face falls.
“Well jeez, sorry, Rose,” she says, turning away from you, and you can see that she’s going to get on her bike and pedal off again. You don’t stop her.
slain by the words i lack
my world is bursting sappy music and
with a face so sad i long to make you mine
You wake up late the next morning and curse loudly. Marilee rolls over, saying sleepily, “I turn off your alarm for you. It is Mountain Day. Classes are cancelled.”
You poke your head out the window; there are girls lounging in sweaters all over the campus. Marilee is right: classes have been cancelled so everyone can go climb the mountain, in theory. “Thanks.”
“It is no problem,” she says, and goes back to sleep.
You have a few choices: you could go hiking (no), you could study (no), or you could...
Jade doesn’t answer her cell phone. You realize belatedly that you have never called her before, so you don’t know whether that’s normal or not. You make a snap decision, pull on some ratty sweatpants, and run to the bike room, where the hideously expensive tricked-out fixed-gear that your mother bought you for your fifteenth birthday is locked.
It’s all uphill to Hampshire, and within ten minutes you’re regretting every decision you made this morning, but you keep pedaling, because you think you’ve realized something about yourself. You’ve been trying so hard to keep Jade part of your routine, like John and Dave are- at least an arm’s length away, so that you have space to be alone, room to be lonely, but that’s not really how it is. The weird feeling you get in your stomach when Jade is in your personal space isn’t a twinge of annoyance at all.
It’s something very, very different.
And much scarier.
You make the turn into Hampshire, pedaling to the dorms. It’s a small campus and it’s hard to get lost. There’s a conveniently-located bike rack that you lock your bike to, and a large group of students is streaming into the Jade’s dorm; you meld into them and no one even looks twice. Once you’re inside, though, you’re completely lost. You spy a tall kid lounging on the stairs; his eyes are grossly bloodshot.
“Do you know where Jade Harley lives?” you ask, crossing your fingers, and he nods and points up the stairs.
“Third door on the right,” he mutters, his head lolling back against the wall.
You take the stairs two at a time.
Jade’s door is where the boy said it would be. Her name is printed on a green label, stuck to the middle of it; below that is a map of the world with a red star in the middle of the Pacific ocean. You resist the urge to move the sticker a half-inch to the left, where the crater of an island actually is.
The door is unlocked. You push it open.
The room is dark, but you can make out a Jade-shaped lump on the bed. You kick your shoes off and climb in around her, pushing all scary feelings and raging stomach-butterflies out of your mind. She smells sweet, like stale laundry and fallen leaves, and as you wrap your arms around her you can feel her stir a little.
“Rose?” she asks, and you nod into her shoulder. “Hi.”
“Hi,” you say, and as the nervous feeling in your stomach reaches a crescendo, you plant a little kiss on her neck.
She smiles, and kisses you back.