Although she would never admit it, knowing that she could easily destroy Regina George’s life is somewhat gratifying to Karen; sometimes, on nights where Regina’s comments are especially scathing and Gretchen cries silent tears, Karen is tempted to watch Regina’s world burn in one of two ways: either tell everyone that Regina’s favorite song is Toxic, or tell everyone that she’s gay.
She would never. Through a few conversations with Damian and a quick google search, Karen has concluded that Regina is suffering from ‘internalized homophones’ and a slew of other issues that make her, well, a bitch. Karen knows that if she ever brought it up to the blonde, she would be met with extreme denial and a few choice words. She’d call Karen an idiot, ridicule her, ask her what put such crazy ideas in that empty little head of hers.
If that were to happen, however, Regina would be missing one key detail about the taller, seemingly clueless blonde; Karen may be dumb, yes, but she’s observant. She watches. Day by day, she takes countless mental notes on Regina’s words, behaviors, mannerisms- because, really, what else is she going to spend all her time doing?
In the past few years, Karen has noticed things. She’s noticed how sometimes, the cold, queen bee façade momentarily disappears when Regina looks at pretty girls (which she does a lot). She’s noticed how those girls probably think that Regina is judging them, but if they looked closer, they’d find a softness in her gaze. She’s noticed that Regina is a big fan of sexy Halloween costumes, and that she’s a little too into Pitch Perfect. She’s noticed that Regina perfectly exhibits the rule of twos; she works like the devil to get everyone to fear her, but really, take off the mask of confidence and curls and Regina George is more terrified of herself than anyone else is.
Once, a young underclassman rushing down the halls did the unthinkable and walked straight into Regina, an action that was nightmare-inducing for most Northshore students. Books and phones flew, and Karen remembers preparing herself for the hell about to break loose on that poor girl. Regina wasn’t evil, but she had a reputation to uphold and dominancy to assert; freshmen were just collateral, after all. Instead, the opposite happened; Regina simply handed the girl her dropped books and stalked off, glaring only at the incredulous bystanders. The young girl was all freckles and brown eyes, and she had raised her eyebrows at the blonde with naïve defiance. Regina had given her a strange look- Karen remembers it as equal parts soft, amused, and almost endearing.
(Later, Regina will admit that she thought that girl was really cute).
(She’ll do so with a laugh).
Of all the things that Karen has noticed, however, the biggest one is how Regina feels about Janis Sarkisian; this one doesn’t require much observing.
(Regina talks about Janis when she’s drunk).
She’s guilty, terrified, and a little bit in love. Karen pities her.
She thinks it tears Regina apart knowing that Janis hates her for good reason. She thinks Regina’s biggest fear is the word “dyke” scratched on her locker with a key. Karen thinks that somewhere, under her armor, the stony girl misses her old best friend- her colored hair, her confusing wardrobe, her paintings that make no sense to anyone but Regina. But this is all speculation, and a little bit too much to think about, so sometimes Karen just decides that Regina is a flaming bitch with no internal struggles. It’s easier that way.
Cady Heron changes things.
It’s a Tuesday when Regina sees her, not so subtly checks her out, and invites her into their tightknit group. The new girl is sweet, clueless, and a little confusing. Karen struggles to understand her; she can’t comprehend why she likes math so much, what she needs all those pockets in her cargo shorts for, and why she’s nice for no reason but to be, well, nice. Regina makes an easy target out of her, and Karen can’t help but feel bad. Cady probably thought that she had left all the vicious predators behind in Africa, only to find another one stalking the halls of Northshore High.
When Cady starts paving the path to Regina’s destruction, Karen pretends not to enjoy it.
Karen starts to pay more attention to Regina, because everything that’s happening is making an interesting story; Regina gets less and less stable by the day. She starts dating Aaron again, but seems even less interested in him than before. She unapologetically tells Karen and Gretchen about her hookups with Shane, but one Thursday, Karen happens upon Regina sitting alone in the auditorium during one of their scheduled hookup times. She silently turns on her heel and walks away.
Regina yells a lot these days, and Karen despises it. She doesn’t seem to think about the cruel words that leave her mouth, but their effect is daunting. She’s irritable when people ask her innocent questions, when someone disputes her even slightly, when her mother asks how her day was. One day, Gretchen asks why she was googling art shows in the area, and Regina snaps at her so viciously that even Cady looks fearful.
(She later remarks that Regina’s roar is worse than a lion’s).
Suddenly Regina is gone, and Cady has taken her place. She’s far nicer than her blonde counterpart, a change that Karen appreciates, but she’s known Regina for years and has an uneasy feeling about what’s to come. Time passes; Karen notices that Gretchen’s smiles are still forced, and Cady looks more and more like a stranger every day.
A few weeks later, she walks into school, sees burn book pages littering the floor, and is hardly surprised. The events that follow are so chaotic that Karen hardly understands them, but everyone seems to be going through some kind of character development, so she just goes along with it and observes. Janis speaks freely, Cady looks guilty, and Regina just fumes.
Karen notices a lot of things, but she doesn’t notice the bus.
(Neither does Regina).
Regina lays in her hospital bed and cries, and Karen holds her hand.
After everything that’s happened, she knows that Regina is far from deserving of comfort, but the armor has been broken and Karen is ready to forgive the girl under it. She runs into Janis on her way out and wonders if the nervous looking girl has come to the same conclusion.
Cady acts as the glue that brings her two friend groups together, but it’s not long before glue isn’t necessary. Karen, Gretchen, Janis, and Damian warm up to each other quicker than anyone could have expected, and they form an unlikely group. The former plastics are in awe of how unabashedly the two embrace their individuality, and Karen finds herself genuinely happy and unafraid of what anyone thinks. Janis and Damian laugh with Karen, not at her; she’s not sure when the last time that happened was.
As the people who have spent most of their time with her, Karen and Gretchen notice the immense difference in Regina’s personality. Traces of the old, fierce Regina are still there, with rude comments slipping out at times, but the effort she’s making is evident. The group gets to know a different girl- a brave, intelligent girl whose subtle actions show how much she cares. Everyone knew her words could start fires, but the new Regina is proving that she’s just as capable of putting them out.
Karen figures that Janis and Regina are in some sort of strange dance, floating somewhere between awkwardness and friendship. The tension between them has dissipated significantly, and on good days they laugh together with ease. The closer the group gets, the closer Janis and Regina get, and one warm summer day they go out alone for the first time in years. On Damian’s insistence, the rest of the group hide in his car and trail the pair to a nearby coffee shop (“It’s not stalking, it’s friendship”). Hours later, they stop by the coffee shop again and Regina and Janis are still there, simply talking. Cady breaks the silence in the car.
“I think they’re going to be okay.”
Regina doesn’t officially come out, because, as she puts it, “I don’t owe anything to anybody.” Instead, she goes to a party, hooks up with a hot girl from another school, and takes her home, leaving everybody to come to their own conclusions. When she meets up with the group the next day, Damian nonchalantly asks about it, and Regina utters the words “I’m gay” for the first time in her life; she’s met with nothing but support, as well as a few choruses of “I knew it” and “Oh, that makes sense.” Thinking about the small, scared Regina she used to know, Karen is filled with pride.
“Did you really think we would react any other way?” Janis’s voice breaks through the celebration. Regina lets out a deep breath and looks away, but it seems like the weight of the world has just been removed from her shoulders. Janis takes a step closer to Regina, a blank look on her face.
“So, if I’m a space dyke, what does that make you?”
The room is silent and Regina looks down, guilt flashing in her eyes. For a split second Karen is nervous, but before she knows it Janis breaks into a shit-faced grin, and Regina breathes a sigh of relief. Laughing, she leans forward and gives Janis a hug, and for once the other girl doesn’t stiffen or break away. Karen can’t help but notice how Regina’s head fits perfectly in Janis’s shoulder, as if they’ve been doing this for years.
“What more can she fucking want from me?”
Regina angrily throws down her bag, and Karen can immediately tell that she’s had a bad encounter with Janis; it doesn’t happen often, but old feelings tend to resurface on bad days. Gretchen is at a loss for words, but Karen isn’t afraid to push (or perhaps shove) the frustrated girl in the right direction.
“Well, you did ruin her life,” she comments bluntly, an airy smile plastered on her face. Regina looks up at her strangely and Gretchen’s eyes widen. After an uncomfortable amount of silence (which Karen uses to plan an escape route, just in case) Regina softly speaks up.
“I know.” She turns her head away from the two girls in a poor attempt to conceal a tear-stricken face.
Gretchen butts in hastily. “She kind of ruined yours, too, so maybe- I mean, isn’t it like, equal now?”
There’s silence again, broken only by the sound of a heaving sob, and Karen takes the chance of wrapping her arms around the crying girl. Gretchen joins her, and Regina doesn’t shy away from their embrace. Karen understands that no matter how far she’s come, Regina’s biggest fear is still herself- specifically, her feelings for a certain artistic outcast.
Regina still talks about Janis when she’s drunk, and it’s one of those instances when she first admits her feelings for the girl. Janis is out of town, but that doesn’t stop the rest of them from letting loose in Damian’s basement. Gretchen has supplied more alcohol than necessary, and they’re feeling like stupid teenagers, so they spend the night drinking and laughing and doing who knows what.
Maybe it’s because Janis isn’t there, or maybe she’s just feeling particularly free that night, but Regina doesn’t hold back. She drinks, laughs, and makes stupid jokes, and Karen can’t help but think that this is probably the best time Regina has had in a while.
“Wish Jan was here,” she says out of nowhere, a slight slur evident in her voice. There’s a murmur of agreement around the room, but Regina continues. She talks about Janis’s art, her favorite things, what they used to do when they were kids, things she noticed even when they were mortal enemies. The group passes it off as drunken blubber, but they all go silent at her final comment.
Regina shakes her head sloppily. “I’ve been in love with her since eighth grade or some shit- fuck” Gretchen and Karen grab her as she’s about to fall and bring her to the couch, where she promptly passes out. Karen can’t help but giggle at the sight.
Cady turns to Damian. “You’ve been quiet.”
He pulls the three of them close and smiles softly. “Janis talks about Regina when she’s drunk, too,” he says with a sigh.
“She never shuts up about those blue eyes.”
Throughout the rest of the summer, Karen keeps a watchful eye over Regina and Janis’s relationship, except this time she’s not alone; Cady, Damian, and Gretchen are all just as invested as she is. They all want nothing but happiness for the two, and it’s becoming more apparent every day that they’re finding it in each other.
They flirt jokingly, but every day it seems less and less like a joke. They hang out alone, spend hours talking, laugh at each other’s jokes. It’s apparent that they’re no longer walking on thin ice around each other, and their dance between awkwardness and friendship slowly becomes a dance between friendship and something more.
The last weeks of summer are filled with carefree nights, and on this particular one, the six of them are gathered in Regina’s backyard around a bonfire, listening to music and joking around like nothing else in the world matters.
Going inside to get a drink, Karen stops abruptly in the kitchen doorway, eyes widening at the sight unfolding in front of her. Regina and Janis, oblivious to the world, foreheads together, slow dancing to the soft music coming from outside. Karen stands there, mesmerized by the swaying girls, until the rest of the group walks in and sees what she does. Damian claps a hand over Cady’s mouth to stop her from squealing, and Gretchen just smiles.
Placing a hand on Janis's cheek, Regina starts to lean in, and Karen decides it’s time to give the girls some privacy. SHe pulls the other three back outside and lets out a victorious laugh. Cady grabs her hand excitedly.
“Did you notice the way they were looking at each other?”
Karen just smiles.
Karen may be dumb, yes, but she’s observant. She notices things.
She notices that Regina takes every opportunity she can to hold Janis’s hand, place a kiss on her temple, play with her hair. She notices that on the first day of senior year, when Regina and Janis walk into school hand in hand, they’re both standing taller than ever. She notices that Regina has new artwork around her house, and that Janis has started to paint with pink. She notices that they’re happy.
Karen thinks about how last year, Regina was guilty, terrified, and a little bit in love.
These days, she’s just in love.