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Violet is for Charm

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The nightclub was pounding loud, flashing with pink and green lights. Miriam rubbed her thumb over her wallet in her pocket as she slipped through crowds of men in crop tops, women with buzzcuts. She kept her eyes glued firmly to the ground, hoping the purple cardigan thick on her chest and the long, smooth wig itching on her scalp were enough to signal disinterest. She wiped a drop of sweat off her forehead as she sat at the bar, ordered a water.

Despite her efforts, she was only a couple seats away from a group of girls— maybe three? One of them was banging her glass on the table. She sipped her water warily.

One of them met her eye— shit. She ducked her head.

Too late. She felt a tap on her shoulder and turned to see a short, thin girl with light brown skin smiling at her and tucking a strand of hair behind her ear with the rest of her short ponytail.

"Hey," the girl said. "Are you alone tonight?"

Miriam bit her lip. "I'm here with a friend."

The girl quirked her brows. One of her bare arms propped her against the bar with a sort of strong, easy grace. "Would this friend mind if I bought you a drink?"

"Probably," Miriam laughed breathlessly. Get it together. "I'm her designated driver. I'm straight," she added, vaguely wondering, as she always did, how an actual straight girl would say it.

"Oh." Something in the other girl's face changed, darkened. "Thought you were like, just femme or something— never mind." She scooted back one seat.

Miriam considered splashing herself in the face with her water and making her getaway, Tamara be damned.

“Even for Meg?” The girl grabbed the friend who was banging her glass— who, wow, okay, she had really buff arms, all right— “Like, every girl I know is at least a little gay for Meg. She has a six-pack.”

Meg pushed her off, smiling warmly.

Miriam worked up a laugh. “Sorry, no.”

“Bummer.” The girl tilted her head back and took a shot of some dark liquor in one go. Miriam had the chance to discreetly look her over now— knee-length camo pants, legs unshaven, some sort of tattoo peeking over her Converse in place of socks. Her wife beater was spotted with something bluish-black… ink?

She was talking again. “What’s your name, hetero? I won’t ask where you’re from ‘cause I know how sore the subject can be, and I also don’t care.”

“Oh… Miriam. Burr. I go to…” Her cheeks heated up.

“I’m Alex. Alex Hamilton. Don’t call me Alexandra. And that’s Meg—“ The muscled girl gave a two-fingered wave from her patterned top-knot— “just Meg. One name. Our buddy Yves is singing the karaoke right now—“

“— ain’t they beautiful?”

“But they go by their surname Lafayette. And this is Jane Laurens.” Alex nudged the last of their group, who was slumped in her seat and draped over the bar, her bushy, brown ponytail the only evident part of her head. She was clad in copious denim, her right hand’s second and third fingers sporting the two longest, pinkest fake nails Miriam had ever seen.

“No… variation on the name?” she attempted to joke.

“Obviously not.” Alex peered at the collapsed figure. “Is she asleep again?

“Afraid so,” Meg replied.

Alex gave a hard smack to the back of Jane’s head. “Jane, you useless lesbian.”

Jane lifted up her hand to make the “ok” symbol, nails and all, then let it flop back down.

Miriam licked her lips, unsure of how she was supposed to interact with these women. She felt the barrier between them like the Berlin Wall, felt cold in her heart— yearning at the same time. “Your friend up there.” She pointed. “They have a nice voice.”

“Oh, yeah?” Alex took another shot. Miriam wondered where she was keeping the alcohol. “You should hear them rap when they’re having a manic episode.”

“They always put in a line about horses ‘cause they know I love horses,” Meg said, eyes evidently dreamy.

“Okay so, Lafayette’s literally the only girl I know who doesn’t have a crush on Meg. But they’re a nonbinary girl, so maybe…?” Alex leaned her cheek on her chin, squinting at the ceiling. Miriam noticed a thick, shiny white scar traveling from the crook of Alex’s elbow to her palm. She looked away.

“Think it has more to do with the fact that they already have a girlfriend,” Meg said.

“But Adrienne is still in Senegal—“

“And that’s still cheating.”

Alex waved her hand in the air, like this was somehow up for debate. “Hey Burr, pass me the water? I wanna dump it on Jane’s head. Don’t give me that look, I know it was free. C’mon, c’mon. All right!” She splashed it on her prone friend’s head. “That’s what I’m talkin’ about!”

Jane Laurens hazily lifted her head halfway up, ponytail now significantly less bushy. Her high, carved cheekbones were covered in freckles. “Heeey, Alex.” She picked up a piece of ice and crunched it in her teeth. “Who’s this chick? Should I guard your door?”

“Her name is Miriam, and she’s straight, apparently.”

Jane gave a heavy sigh and plunked her head back on the table.

Alex yanked it up again by the hair and pushed the glass toward her. “You need more water— waiter? Waiter, waiter! Agua.”

Jane sunk into Meg’s shoulder, and Meg nodded and rubbed her back in smooth circles.

Miriam wondered if Alex had only talked to her to steal her water, then realized that was ridiculous. Still, Alex seemed like one of those short people who overcompensated for it by being as loud and in-motion as possible. Miriam trained her focus on Meg, noticed white ink circling her bicep.

“Do you like it?” Meg noticed, and flexed a little, prompting Jane to pat her arm. Miriam liked her voice: rich, deep, settling. “It’s a snake. Here, you can look.”

Miriam hesitated toward her and squinted. It looked vaguely Celtic. “Ahh. Nice craftsmanship.”

“Yeah? We all have matching ones.”

“Yeah!” Alex plunked her foot on the bar and half-kicked off one of her sneakers. Indeed, there was a serpent, this one in dark ink, winding its way around her thin ankle.

Jane turned her hand to reveal one on her wrist.

“And Lafayette has one on their neck,” Alex said. “For their speech. Also because we were seventeen and kinda high maybe and they were feeling rebellious.”

Jane perked up. “Speaking of which…”

Alex rolled her eyes. “You wanna go out back?”

Jane nodded like a puppy who was falling asleep.

Alex sighed and took one last shot, then shook her head like she just got out of the pool. “C’mon, then, c’mon.” She glanced at Miriam. “How ‘bout you, hetero? You comin’?”

Miriam reached for her phone in her pocket. “Um…”

Alex rolled her eyes again. “Right.”

“No, wait, let me just call my friend….” Miriam dialed Tamara’s number, holding up a finger, then covering her free ear.

She was met with loud sobs on the other end. She couldn’t bring herself to be surprised. “Mi- Miriam?”

“Are you okay? Are you safe?” Miriam tried to give Meg and Alex a look, but they appeared to be arm-wrestling, with Alex clearly failing.

“I’m in the bathroom.”

“Okay. Some people I met want to chill outside for a bit. Is it okay if I join them?”

“Oh sure, just—“ A hiccup. “Just leave me like everyone else that’s—“

Miriam massaged her forehead. “Do you have a backup driver, just in case you forget I exist?”

“I can call Jem….” She seemed somewhat happier already through her despondency, as Miriam knew she would be.

“Sounds good to me.” She hung up and pocketed her phone before Tamara could respond again. “All right, I’m kosher.”

Meg and Alex were already dragging Jane up and towards the back, the middle girl gazing at both of them adoringly. “Meet you there!”

Navigating the club was a tricky business, but at least no guys were hitting on her here. Miriam kept her eyes low, doing her best to block all the girls out of her field of vision, and told herself her exit was because she craved the quiet. The person singing karaoke— still Lafayette, Miriam guessed— was halfway-lying down, their big, dark curls radiant around them.

Once outside, she gasped in the fresh air. She could never really get away from the noise in New York City, and neon lights spun all around her in the dark, but the music was muffled, and the sky was familiar.

The trio pushed out soon afterword, and slumped to the ground. Miriam joined them cautiously, mindful of the grimy brick.

Jane held a joint between those two long-nailed fingers, which Alex lit for her, and took a rather impressive drag. She blew it out slowly. “Haha, Alex, it kinda looks like a cloud.”

“That’s because it is a cloud. That’s the literal definition of a cloud.”

Jane looked over at Miriam. “You want any?”

Miriam shook her head. “Designated driver, remember?”

“Laaame,” Jane laughed while Meg took a hit. She evidently caught Miriam staring at her nails, because she made a peace sign and deadpanned, “asexual.”

“I wasn’t…”

“Everyone asks.”

“I didn’t ask!” Alex interjected, still too loud for outside. “’Cause I met her before she got them,” she said proudly to Miriam. Like this was her greatest accomplishment.

Jane clicked her nails together. “If I do this, I feel like a praying mantis.” She reached again for the blunt, but Alex smacked her hand away. Miriam wondered if she was this violent with all her friends.

“No way, amiga. We gotta get you home before you die.”

“I’m not gonna—“

“Not yet! Let’s go, let’s go.” Alex stood, stumbling a little, and pulled on Jane’s arm.

Miriam looked between the three of them. “Do you have a driver? How are you getting home?”

“We’ll walk.” Alex waved her hands, dropping Jane’s. “It’s just a few blocks.”

“Yeah, just a few blocks,” Jane echoed.

Miriam frowned. “It’s dangerous here at night.”

“We’ve done it a million times before. Come on.” Alex finally got Jane up, who promptly slumped against her shoulder.

“No.” Miriam fiercely shook her head. “I’ll drive you home.”

“You really don’t gotta—“

“It’s just a few blocks, right? You said.”

“Is this straight ally guilt? ‘Cause—“

Meg stood and crushed the blunt under her combat boot, then lay a hand on Alex’s shoulder. “Maybe it’s a good idea.”

Alex’s eyes flitted between the two of them. “I hate your ass,” she told Meg plainly.

“That’s not what you were saying when—“

“Okay! Okay, let’s go.” Miriam patted down her wig, swearing internally that if any of them made her car smell like weed, they were dead to her.

She let the three of them squabble for attention in the speaker in the back as they called their friend Lafayette. She popped down her mirror and concentrated hard on fixing her appearance instead of the hollow ache or fluttering anxiety in her chest. She stroked her eyebrows, fiddled with her wig, smoothed her mascara. It hadn’t run, praise be.

Lafayette knocked on the car window before climbing through the door, falling over Jane and Meg’s laps. “Oh, my loves!” they proclaimed, accent thick. “Who is this? This person? Oh, what a beautiful car.” They really did have a snake tattooed around their neck. When they talked, it wriggled.

“I call shotgun!” Alex shouted, and clambered between the seats before shoving her feet up on the dashboard, seatbelt unbuckled. She stretched her arms above her head while Miriam started driving and the other three laughed and tangled together in the back. She didn’t shave her armpits, either. Miriam focused on her lights on the road. Alex smelled like sweat, and tequila, and cinnamon, and… cologne, maybe? Get it together.

“’S our building,” Alex finally said, and kicked the passenger door open.

“Are you sure you don’t need help getting up there?” Miriam asked.

Alex tugged at her friends. “I think we’ll manage,” she slurred, somehow bitingly sarcastic while clearly off-balance. “Laf, did you bum Kahlua again? Ugh, you are gonna have such a hangover.” She smacked Jane’s ass and told her, “I better not see you complaining tomorrow.” Miriam blushed, again. Dammit.

“Speak for yourself, you smell like the whole bar,” Lafayette muttered.

“Just don’t blame me when we get arrested for possession of illegal substances!” Alex yelled, and then yawned.

Meg dragged her towards the building. “Maybe, uh, don’t say that so loud when we’re outside.”

“Right, right….”

Miriam watched them go, foot hovering over the gas. The noise of the city felt eerily quiet once they were gone.

She drove back to the dorm feeling disoriented, shaky, scolding herself under her breath. She’d promised herself she wouldn’t have any slip-ups here— and she hadn’t but— G-d.

Jem was gone when she slipped into the dark dorm room after fighting an intense battle with the lock. She flopped onto the bed, deciding to trust that Tamara had called her. She pulled her blanket tight around herself and stared into blackness.

She thought of the snake around Alex’s ankle. She knew it was pointless, because they’d never take her to get one, and she was scared of needles anyway. But she still thought it. She’d get one on her scalp, so that when her hair grew out, no one could see it. The serpent would be invisible while it chewed itself to death.

"Aren't they beautiful?"

Theodosia's laugh is brighter than the sunlight. She's pulling you by your wrist. You're breathless.

"You're beautiful," you say. Want to say. You forget whether you really said it.

The hill is covered in daffodils. Theodosia's dreadlocks twirl. The sky is so blue over miles and miles of green.

"We can be together here," she says, smile like sweet sugar. She's all you can see. "Just you and me, Miriam."

The sun is blinding. Her hair is a whirlwind.

"Just you and me."

"I feel like the zombie apocalypse just happened in my mouth."

Miriam woke up to the vision of Tamara Jefferson splayed on her respective bed, arm flung over her eyes and groaning.

"You'll live," deadpanned Jem Madison, who had a book in front of her nose while she rummaged through the fridge, still draped in her blanket.

"Janie Reeee," Tamara moaned, "I can't go to class today."

"Hm, you bet your sweet ass you can. Especially since you made the new girl go. Think of her first impression."

Tamara sighed again, mumbling something about migraines.

Miriam sat up, rubbing her eyes. She put the thoughts of last night and the dream out of her mind. As far as she could be concerned, she'd never met Alex Hamilton and her gang or ever set foot in the Revolution Club.

Jem plunked a glass of sweet tea on Tamara's bedside. "Please shut up now."

"You're a goddess," Tamara replied, stars in her eyes while she sipped her tea, spilling a little.

"I know."

"I love youuu."

"I know."

Miriam carried her clothes and wig materials down the hall into the nearby bathroom. She slumped against the sink in the early morning light, rubbing her blurry eyes. She could still hear Tamara’s whines as she showered and rubbed scar cream into her legs.

She had opted for the three-person dorm with students a year older not just because it was cheaper, but because she could blend in. The deal she'd cut out with Columbia had some scholarships involved, but not even those could cover all the expenses, especially after such an abrupt transfer.

So she'd been roomed with Tamara Jefferson, a tall, curvy junior with an enormous afro and penchants for hooking her thumbs in her belt loops and wearing crop tops that showed off her navel piercing (which probably would have driven her crazy if she were Miriam's type), and Jem Madison, a soft-voiced, five-foot-two fellow pre-law student who had black everything: black sweaters, black skin, black bob wig, black pants. Miriam wondered whether the air she breathed was black. They were glued together at the hip, and fit together, too, finishing each other like parentheses— childhood friends from wherever they were from, Virginia or something. Miriam felt distinctly like a half-mute third wheel, but she decided she could deal with that. It was better than nothing.

Tamara was still there drinking tea when she slipped back in, fully dressed. Jem talked to her while she read. "You fuck anyone last night?"

"Just my own ass. With a pitchfork."

"Hmm."

“She was too busy crying to me from the bathroom,” Miriam said as she rubbed unscented lotion on her hands.

“Sounds about right.” Jem bopped Tamara gently on the head with her book, which Miriam could now see contained the Constitutional Convention debates. “You gonna be okay while we go to class?”

“Mmmf.”

“I better not see you here when we get back, or I’m flushing Monroe down the toilet.” Monroe was the name of the Venus flytrap that held a lauded position on Tamara’s nightstand. Jem hefted herself and backpack up, grabbed some more school supplies, and turned to Miriam still wrapped in her blanket. “Ready?”

Miriam nodded. Blessedly, Jem did not try to engage her in conversation as they walked down the stairs and joined the early morning crowd for Civics. She instead observed Jem’s Oxfords, how she hitched up her corduroys to expose nothing but long, black socks between her shoes and her pants.

Miriam thought she had dressed rather well for her first week at a new college: flowing blouse, tight-fitted jeans, some practical flats. She’d been quite the charmer, in her day. Kept a steady pattern of boyfriends, real and then imagined, safe then distant then discarded. Good for company and not-very-enjoyable-but-still-not-terrible sex. And then she vanished out of their lives like so much mist. That way of life was easier. She wondered, briefly, when it had slipped away from her.

She tried to put the train of thought out of her mind but was nevertheless still spaced out when she got to class. She sat herself heavily in a corner, folded the edge of one of her notebooks. She started chewing on her pen cap. If she made a comment three-quarters through the third class later that week….

“Well, well, well. Look who we have here.”

Miriam startled up to see Alex (don’t call me Alexandra) Hamilton’s grin above her. She slowly felt her neck heating up.

“If it isn’t Miriam Burr.”

“I didn’t know you went to school here,” Miriam weakly managed.

Alex threw up a peace sign. “Since freshman year, baby.” She was wearing some sort of bomber jacket today (thank goodness; that scar made Miriam nervous), but she was still decked out in camo. Her shirt said, Though she be but little, she is fierce. Owning it, apparently. “The whole crew goes here.”

Well. Miriam’s life was definitely screwed.

She glanced at Alex’s damp ponytail. “How aren’t you ten kinds of hung-over?”

“Oh, I am! Everything is so loud and colorful, wow, what a beautiful world. But I drank, like, four cups of espresso so I think I’m good.”

Miriam was getting a headache from watching her hands as she talked.

Jem looked between the two of them. “You know each other?”

You know each other?” Miriam whispered.

“So to speak,” Jem said.

“We’re exes,” Alex said.

Fuck.

Jem seemed relatively unbothered, flipping open her notebook and writing down the date. “I suppose you two met last night when Tamara dragged her along. Revolution is such a seedy place….”

“Wait, your friend is Tamara?” Alex cocked her hip, one hand on Miriam’s desk, expression sheer disgust.

Miriam was ready to die. “We’re roommates this year.”

“Oh, hell no.”

Jem rolled her eyes.

“You… also know Tamara, then.”

“We’re also exes.”

Miriam wanted to ask Alex weakly how many exes she had, but then thought better of it. She ducked her head and took a deep breath. “Well, I know we may have had a… tumultuous start, and I’m not in your favorite company….”

“Not in my favorite company!”

“But this doesn’t have to be a big deal. We can just go our separate ways.” Separate ways, G-d, please, separate ways.

The prayer flew right over Alex’s head. “To say that Tamara Jefferson is not my favorite company is a GROSS understatement of the animosity I—“

Jem massaged her temples.

“And she is not as great at oral as she thinks she is, not matter what she tells you.” Alex directed that one at Jem, who continued reading as if Alex wasn’t there. “She and her little crony— that means you, Jane Madison— have put a slander to my name—“

“My name is Jane Marie,” Jem finally replied.

“I don’t give a damn about your Southern bullshit.”

“You just want an excuse to get angry because I reviewed last year’s thesis with her instead of you.”

“Should I move seats?” Miriam asked.

“Oh no, you stay right where you are,” Alex said. “You need to get filled in on all the sophomore year drama.”

“No, she doesn’t.”

“Yes, she does! Right there in the core curriculum.”

A couple more students were filing in now for the early morning crowd. One guy caught Alex’s eye, walked over. “Alex Hamilton?”

She rolled her eyes. “Hey, Adams. This is Miriam. Miriam— John. But don’t call him that. Too weird. We worked together, like, once.”

Miriam slowly nodded.

“Still pursuing a career of law, I see?” Adams adjusted his backpack.

Alex held up her head, squared her jaw. “I don’t see why I wouldn’t be. You know how I plan to graduate.” Jesus.

“And, ah, Miriam, you’re new here?” He held out a hand to shake. It was firm and clammy. “I’d be happy to show you around. I know all the best—“

“Can it, Adams, she’s with me,” Alex spat.

“With you?” Adams looked between the two of them.

Hands as panicky as her heartrate, Miriam stammered, “It’s not— no, it’s not like that, I—“

Adams had his eyes on Alex. “You don’t mean to tell me you’re a… that you’re…”

Alex gave him a deadpan stare.

“A homosexual?”

Before she could think, there were hands on her face and— Wow. Alex’s mouth was hot and open on Miriam’s, and her own mouth fell open in shock. Everything was warm, everything so— Alex’s thumbs rubbed circles on her jaw while her tongue flicked into Miriam’s mouth, and her hands were so soft, and then, oh—

Her mouth was empty. Alex had pulled away as quickly as she’d kissed her. The room spun; Miriam lifted a hand to her mouth.

“Does that answer your question?” Alex asked.

Miriam hid behind her hands, face so hot she was going to incinerate. She was going to spontaneously combust, trembling, and it was all Alex Hamilton’s fault, dear G-d, what was that—

Thankfully, there were still only a few students in the room, none of whom looked particularly surprised. Miriam let her head sink onto the table, wrapping herself in her arms to shield herself in cool darkness. As Alex walked away from her towards the front of the room, Miriam’s head buzzed and swirled.

She left unexplained halfway through the class, determined to never underestimate how screwed she could be ever again.

”Sweet name.”

She’s wearing green. Looks good, like she’s a breath of life. Brings sunlight into the room.

“Miriam.” “Sweet name.”

Sweet—

She’s a Lit major. Carefree. Jacket tied on her waist. Wearing about a million rings on her fingers.

Glittering. Like she brings sunlight to the room, all on her own.

“You can switch if you get sick of me after three weeks,” Theodosia says while unpacking, and you laugh lightly. (Sunlight) You don’t think that will be an issue.

Her hair is long, her fingers— You’re reading Paine.

WHAT WE OBTAIN TOO CHEAP, WE ESTEEM TOO LIGHTLY: IT IS DEARNESS ONLY THAT GIVES EVERY THING ITS VALUE.

Sunlight comes so precious, disappears so soon.

“Let me explain.”

“Absolutely not.”

“Look, I know you must be pissed at me, but I at least deserve the right to defend myself in—“

Miriam pinched the bridge of her nose. Alex kept rambling at her through Tamara’s phone, which she’d refused to cut off until they could talk. “This is ridiculous.”

“No, it’s not! There are plenty of adjectives you could use to describe it, sure, whatever, but it’s not pointless to want to preserve one’s reputation, especially in light of a new acquaintance with whom a first impression may not have been well made!”

Miriam wasn’t sure she’d ever get used to the way Alex talked when pressured. “What do you want?” What would make her shut up?

“I don’t know, half an hour? Coffee? I’ll pay.”

“That’s it?”

“Sure. Unless you want a Danish or something, I know a great donut place—“

“Coffee is fine.” Miriam took a deep breath. “We’re both tired, so this shouldn’t take too long.”

“Of course, right.”

Miriam followed the haphazard directions to the on-campus coffee shop Alex had suggested. She kept one fist clenched on her purse strap, surrounded by the noises of construction work even here. She hoped that she didn’t look suspicious, convinced, somehow, that they could all be monitoring her phone. Knew were she had gone, was going. Was meeting—

She took a deep breath when she entered, the rich scent of coffee calming her slightly. Alex waved conspicuously at her from the corner, and… Lafayette offered a finger-wave from the counter. Naturally.

Miriam shifted into the seat across from Alex as smoothly as possible. She kept her eyes on her purse. “You wanted to explain?”

Alex was jiggling her leg while she took off the lip of her large cup. “Do you want anything? Coffee? Brownie?”

“I’m not very hungry.”

Alex paused. “I made you sick, is that what you’re saying?”

How this girl could misconstrue the most innocuous sentence. “I’m watching my figure.”

“Okay. Wouldn’t be the first. I’m just saying.” Miriam glanced for a second to see a slight tension between Alex’s brows. She swallowed. Alex was dumping instant coffee into her cup of hot water. When she noticed Miriam staring, she smiled again. “I always bring my own coffee. It sucks, but it makes Lafayette so mad. Totally worth it.”

Miriam almost smiled in spite of herself, it was so nonsensical. Alex took a swig of her coffee and she remembered, vividly, how the same mouth had felt on hers that morning. Her neck was smooth, long. She felt like choking.

“Okay, okay, so…” Alex sighed. “Look, I’ve kind of had a grudge towards Adams for a while now.”

“You don't say.”

“He’s gotten preferential treatment in class, and he knows it, and he flaunts it in my face. He knows that— But that’s not the point.” She took a swallow of coffee. “I swear, every single time I tell anyone I’m a law student, they ask if I’m a lesbian.”

“That’s when they ask?”

Alex raised her eyebrows.

Miriam resisted hiding her face again.

“I’m actually bisexual, but it’s not like the people asking actually care, you know? And they never believe me, anyway. I don’t know why. They just want to get a rise out of me. So halfway through freshman year, when anybody asked, instead of taking fifteen minutes out of my time to explain to them why their baiting and stereotyping is harmful, I just… started kissing whatever girl was nearest me.”

“… I see.”

“Okay, it’s not as weird as you think!”

Miriam chuckled in spite of herself.

“It’s not! I’m with Jane or Meg or Laf like, almost all of the time, so it’s always been one of them or someone else who I knew loved to piss off straight people. Almost always Jane, though.” If there was an aggressive way to drink instant coffee out of an ‘eco-friendly’ cup, Alex was doing it. “So I was… a little out of line, not asking, but it was an impulse.”

“Ahhh.”

Alex eyed her, bit her lip. Sighed. “Sorry.”

Miriam nodded. The question of forgiveness didn’t so much enter her mind as the question of ease. “It’s okay. Just, um… don’t do it again?”

“Right.” Alex ran a hand through her hair. She really looked the picture.

Miriam picked at a nail. “Does it bother you? When people think you’re gay instead of bi?”

“Honestly?” Alex raised her eyebrows. “As a poor, first-gen, Latina, mentally ill, bisexual woman in the inner city? Somehow, it’s not my biggest worry.”

Miriam had to laugh. “Okay, I see your point.”

“But yeah, it does bother me.”

Miriam dissolved into giggles then. She wasn’t sure what did it to her. She snorted. Brushed down her wig. “Jesus.”

Alex half-smiled, warm. “Can I actually ask you a favor?”

Miriam squeezed her hands together. “Depends on the favor.”

Alex laughed awkwardly, then drank from her coffee again. “I haven’t really had a very steady relationship in a while.”

Her chest prickled.

“Could you, like…” Alex rubbed the back of her neck. “Pretend to date me?”

Miriam burst again into silent laughter, clutched her chest. Her incredulity had to show in her mirth. “You have got to be joking.”

Alex glared, but it looked more like a pout. “Just for the first semester. I just want people to know I can hold down a date for more than a week.”

“A fake date!”

“If you don’t want to help me out, that’s fine,” she grumbled.

Miriam looked to the ceiling for guidance. “You couldn’t ask one of your friends?”

“Meg and Jane are both my exes, and Lafayette has a long-term girlfriend. It’s just not convincing.”

“Couldn’t be any less convincing than dating a straight girl.”

“They don’t know you’re straight.”

Miriam looked at her. Alex’s eyes were wide, mouth a flat line, eyebrows drawn together. Shit, she was actually serious. Miriam licked her lips. “This is…”

“Just one semester.”

“They’re going to think I’m gay.”

“And that’s so bad?”

Alex’s eyes were such a deep brown, imploring. She was biting her lip again. And she had kissed her. And, well, Miriam hadn’t disliked it. Maybe if people thought she had a girlfriend, guys wouldn’t hit on her as much….

She laughed it off. She knew that wasn’t true.

She looked at Alex again, felt her mouth open. “There would have to be conditions.” Damn, did she have a weakness for big, brown eyes.

Alex smiled. “Of course!”

“Only on campus.” Miriam couldn’t believe herself.

“Absolutely.”

“And, um… please keep the kissing to a minimum.”

“Will do, hetero.” Alex slouched and did a two-finger salute. Fuck. “Want me to pull up a contract?”

Miriam laughed. “That’s fine, thanks.” She could shoot herself. She was shooting herself. Shooting herself in the foot. She swallowed. “Just a semester.”

“Just a semester.”

“You won’t tell anyone unless you have to.”

“No, I won’t.”

She took a deep breath. “Damn, all right. But if this gets me in any kind of trouble, it’s over.”

“Excellent!” Alex held out her hand. Miriam shook it. She felt a little dizzy. “It’s a done deal.”

Miriam nodded weakly.

“So.” Alex grinned. “You sure you don’t want any coffee?”

Miriam breathed. “Fuck it. Fine.”

“I’ll buy.” Alex flashed her a wink and a ten-dollar bill as she stood.

What Miriam meant to say was, Don’t buy me anything. She meant to say I don’t even like you. Don’t speak to me. She meant to say, thought she’d say, This plan is terrible and I won’t buy into it for a second.

What she said was, “I take it black.”

Miriam Burr officially had a problem.