College is a lot better for Joan. She’s been reading feminist literature, trying to move past her internalized misogyny, and she has a single dorm room and the time to self-improve. She needs to invest in herself, become her own person. Her and Abe broke up after high school; they were really both interested in dating an invented version of each other. Abe only thought about her once she fulfilled his ‘hot girl’ fantasies, and Joan was more invested in dating the Abe she made up in her head. Plus, Abe made her nastier than usual- not that she wasn’t nasty usually, but the poison of jealousy was a heavy one. They lasted for a little while, but ultimately broke up after senior year. It was a good thing.
Abe ended up going to Clone University instead of Clone State along with Gandhi. Joan sees them on the weekends, and it’s enough for her. She has some new friends in the Clone State chess club and film club. It’s 2004: the world is bursting with shitty opportunities for college freshmen like her.
The weirdest part about State is that she sees Cleopatra and JFK around a lot. Cleopatra was a selfish person, but she didn’t force Abe at gunpoint to make the choices he did, so Joan tries to be less angry at her. It isn’t Joan’s place to judge her choices in high school or in college. God knows Joan wasn’t the greatest either. JFK seems the same. Joan and Cleopatra and JFK don’t hang out in the same circles, per se, but she catches glimpses of them in the dining rooms, in the quad, in the hallways. After she gave JFK her virginity at junior prom, JFK got back together with Cleopatra, and unlike Joan and Abe they stayed that way. Open relationship, though, if Joan heard right. It doesn’t matter until second semester, when JFK is in her Women’s History class. She knows it’s JFK because he stands up during role call.
“I, ah, would just like to say, ah, that I think it’s time we stop hearing about history, and start hearing about herstory,” he says in his broad voice, Boston accent stretched out like taffy with his big dumb smile, looking directly at her.
Joan slides lower in her seat and puts her hands over her face.
“Thank you, Mr. Kennedy,” the teacher says, flatly unamused.
JFK sits down and winks at Joan, just in case she missed him.
The class passes without incident, mostly going over the syllabus and checking that they had their books. Joan is hardly listening, and instead absently peruses the backs of the books. Women used to be locked up in rooms to think about Jesus, Joan learns. Feminism is getting to walk around and think about different men. Whoo.
JFK slides up to her as she’s gathering her things.
“Funny seein’ you here, ah,” he says. “This is a good class for pickin’ up chicks.”
Joan rolls her eyes. “Shut up.”
“You, ah, wanna hang out?”
It’s an offer that doesn’t immediately imply sex, so she doesn’t hit him, but she doesn’t respond, either, just shoulders her backpack and starts to leave. JFK follows.
“You, me, ah, my pants off,” JFK offers.
Joan punches his arm.
JFK follows her anyway. “It’s nice to see you.”
“Suck it,” Joan says, fully intent on going back to her room and listen to her The Killers album and avoiding eye contact with everybody she went to high school with. “Let’s never do this again.”
The next time Joan seriously runs into JFK- outside of light chat before class, or walking somewhere together- is at a party that Andy Warhol invited her to. It’s the theater kids hosting, but the apartment is full of anybody that enjoys weed and cheap pizza. She immediately loses Andy in the fray. In the living room, there’s a group of guys playing video games on a tv leaning up against the wall; they’re all laying on bean bags. Joan quickly exits into a bedroom, where about a dozen people take hits off of the singular dirtiest bong Joan has ever seen. One of them is definitely the fat Elvis twin. She backs out to a different bedroom where she finds people watching House of a Thousand Corpses , if the DVD case on the floor is to be believed. One of these people is JFK, for some reason, and he tugs her down to sit in between him and Cleopatra. It’s surprising there is even any room, but she settles half on top of both of them, her legs splayed out in front of her.
“These dudes are really weird,” JFK says. “I, ah, haven’t even seen a thousand corpses yet.”
“You can’t count that high,” Joan deadpans.
Somebody behind them shushes. “You’re talking through it!”
JFK turns around and shakes his fist. “You shut up, you chowder heads!”
Cleopatra whispers into Joan’s ear, “This is absolutely the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen.”
“It’s not you,” Joan whispers back. “So obviously not.” She felt bad immediately after saying it, after all she had said about trying to improve herself, but- oh, it was easy. It’s easy to be mean.
“Sorry,” she says after a minute. “Old habits die hard.”
JFK leans in close. “I’m hard.”
Cleo and Joan both elbow him hard in the side and laugh when he wheezes.
They spend the rest of the movie making fun of the acting and the general lack of story. Cleo hides her face when people get murdered, but Joan and JFK laugh. Some guy in dumb looking glasses is murdered for artwork. Cleo is a lot funnier than Joan would give her credit for in high school when she can watch to mock it. Especially since it seems like the director is either trying far too hard or not enough at all- it was like bad abstract art put to film.
After the movie’s over, they go out to the living room to watch JFK try to beat people at FIFA soccer, which he doesn’t. Cleopatra cheers for him, which is distracting for the lowlifes on the bean bags, and Joan laughs whenever his avatar falls over or loses the ball. It might have been the contact high, but it was a surprisingly good time at a party for Joan. JFK and Cleo seem to be having a good time, too, judging by JFK’s wide grin and Cleo’s sharp little smile. At the end they exchange phone numbers, Cleo scribbling hers with flair on Joan’s arm and Joan giving JFK her blocky numbers on the back of his hand.
One fun thing about college is that Joan figures out that she’s bisexual. In pursuit of this, she elects to read some LGBT literature. It’s not her fault that she spent her adolescence in love with a clueless guy and therefore couldn’t enjoy self-discovery. So it’s Rubyfruit Jungle and Tipping the Velvet , which tell her that being gay is depressing, even if she can manage a relationship. Which she might not, given her incredibly successful track record with her one (1) boyfriend after years of pining.
To put it simply, Joan finds everyone attractive, which is easier to appreciate when she’s not super involved with one guy. She admires the lean soccer players and the baggy-pantsed skaters of all genders, and she understands why people in MSI and Melissa Etheridge shirts give her a once-over. She can nod back at them now, and even starts wearing a thumb ring. She’s got to find dates somehow.
When she comes out to JFK and Cleo, they take it way better than she expected. She mostly thought JFK would make threesome comments and Cleo would ask Joan not to hit on her; instead, JFK and Cleo admit that they’re both bisexual as well.
“What do you, ah, think me and Ponce were doing?” JFK asks.
“Dudes being guys,” Joan says, laughing.
Cleo joins in. “Dudes being gay.”
“Hey-” Joan starts.
“I’m bisexual too,” Cleo says.
Awesome, Joan thinks, for no reason she can discern, and somehow she also blurts it out.
“Thank you,” Cleo accepts, gracing them with one of her genuine little smiles.
It’s finally warm enough to go outside regularly, the sun bright and the air brisk. JFK and Joan are playing basketball on the old courts by the football fields. The blacktop is cracked with weeds coming up, paint faded, and the net of the hoop is almost falling off. Cleo sits on the sidelines with a beach blanket, sunbathing and doing some assigned reading. She doesn’t cheer for either of them. They’re evenly matched, anyway: JFK is better on defense, but Joan is more accurate.
“It was bullshit that they, ah, didn’t let you play on the team,” JFK says as Joan makes a three-pointer.
“No women and no animals,” Joan says, letting JFK get the rebound and make an easy layup. She admires the curve of his ass in his tight 70’s style basketball shorts.
“We might have won a game if you were on the team,” JFK says. “At least he didn’t play football.”
“He wanted to so bad,” Joan says. She makes a shot from the outside J that barely teeters in.
JFK laughs. “I remember his giraffe movie.”
“I wish I didn’t,” Cleo calls from her sunbathing spot. She was reading a business textbook, but now it lays open over her face.
“My movie was so bad.” Joan drags her hands over her face. “Ugh, Abe.”
“Nobody understood what that was about,” Cleo reassures her.
JFK shoots from the free-throw line, the muscles in his arms bronzed from the sun and shifting deliciously. It bounces off the rim. “Ah, I don’t know why we have to talk about that chowder head.”
“Did you do your homework?” Joan asks, catching the ball and passing it back to JFK.
“We only have one class together, JFK,” Joan says. “It’s the reading and questions online.”
He gives her a big shit-eating grin and shakes his head.
“Cleo at least tries to do her homework,” Joan points at Cleo, who still has the book over her face.
“I’m at my limit for knowing numbers today,” Cleo explains. “And my GPA is higher than both of yours.”
Joan raises her eyebrows at JFK, who nods, the lack of his usual big smirk telling her Cleo’s for real. He shoots again and bounces off the backboard.
“You need to follow through with your elbows more,” Joan tells him.
“Make me,” he fires back, making his next shot with his elbows purposefully flying out.
Joan rolls her eyes and watches the ball come dangerously close to hitting Cleo. “You are luckier than you deserve.”
“Nothing bad ever happens to the Kennedys!” he shouts.
Joan convinces JFK to spend more time on their academics, so he studies in the library with her. Their professor loves assigning a ton of useless tiny papers, which drives Joan up the wall. It’s a bunch of useless work, once they get to a certain point, but it rounds out JFK’s average. Cleo tags along even though she inexplicably knows everything all the time anyway. Her notes, whenever Joan catches a glimpse of them, are color coded and efficiently organized. She hears that Cleo’s the top of her business classes. It makes Joan feel worse about spending so many years calling her a stupid whore.
JFK finds a cool little nook behind the super-old dictionaries and newspaper archives on the second floor. It’s two fat chairs and a low, flat table shoved in next to a window; Cleo reclines in one chair with Joan leaning forward on the other, books piled up around her and stacked up on the table to bring them up to her. JFK sits cross legged at the middle of the long side.
“What are, ah, your spring break plans?” JFK says, pushing Joan’s notes back to her.
“I was thinking of going back up to Canada, maybe see Ashley Angel again on the sunny shores,” Cleo says.
Joan pushes away her desire to tell Cleo that Ashley Angel was a naked mole rat and a jackass all rolled into one, but her mouth still opens and says, “Ashley Angel is a loser.”
“He didn’t even follow up on his dance scholarship,” JFK says.
Joan smiles at him, pleased to have an ally. There’s no reason that Cleo should spend any time with such an ass when she’s better than that. Beach dancing, please. Cleo knew about the stock market and real estate, two completely incomprehensible subjects. And nobody liked O-Town or whatever. Like Ashley Angel had ever taken a girl to O-Anywhere.
“That is true.” Cleo frowns in contemplation. “Ugh, but being stuck in Exclamation Point all spring break…”
“Like every other time of your life?” Joan points out.
“I’m looking forward to seeing Catherine the Great again,” JFK says. “What a lay.”
“Gross,” Joan says. JFK didn’t even like fucking Catherine or fucking like her.
JFK scooches himself over to lean on Joan’s arm, looking at her open book. His stubble prickles against her skin. “I don’t understand what the middle ages were about.”
“Plagues,” Joan says, ignoring the tingle that he gave her, attributing it to simple awareness of others. “Burning people at the stake.”
“Speaking from personal experience?” Cleo asks, smirking.
“Seen any snakes lately?” Joan bites back.
JFK puts his hand over Joan’s. “Come on, dames, are we going to bring up convertibles next?”
Cleo laughs. “Sorry, Joan,” she says.
“Yeah, me too,” Joan says. She means it, and feels so struck by her backslide into rudeness that she doubles down: “And I’m sorry for everything I said in high school. Really. I know you’re not vapid or an idiot.”
Joan meets Cleo’s measured gaze, her dark eyes unreadable. She would be very good at poker, Joan thinks. They examine each other for what seems an eternity.
Finally, Cleo nods. “I said things I shouldn’t have as well. Which I regret.”
It’s probably not the most magnanimous apology in the world, but it’s honest. That’s what Joan wants, and when they smile at each other it feels like all the sins of the past have disappeared.
The first few times Joan and Cleo hang out alone it’s a little weird. Joan gets along with JFK because he’s a simple guy, but Cleo is different, capable of mental machinations. She tends to drop by Joan’s dorm to do nothing once she knows where Joan lives, so Joan will be reading Sabriel or listening to Nirvana and then surprise! Cleo is here to paint her nails and complain about people in her business classes. Joan stays silent and watches, most of the time. Cleo has really steady hands, never a single shake as she lines her full lips or making a sleek cat’s eye with her eyeliner.
This time, Cleo comes in and removes about half of a makeup counter from her bag. She moves Joan’s desk chair over to the mirror hanging on the door.
“Joan,” Cleo says, gesturing to the chair. “Sit.”
Joan slumps down in her bed. “Nope.”
“Don’t be difficult,” Cleo says. “And turn off your sad boy music.”
“This is Green Day.”
“I said what I said.”
Joan reluctantly slides out of her bed and stands next to Cleo. She doesn’t turn her down her radio or sit in the chair.
“You remember when I gave you that makeover?” Cleo asks.
Joan shakes her head. “I blacked it out.”
“I think that maybe that wasn’t the best idea,” Cleo admits.
“Makeovers are about confidence,” Cleo says, “And while I am, in fact, the hottest, and making you look like me did make you look hotter, your hottest potential is still inside you.”
Joan raises an eyebrow. “Is this a compliment?”
“No, the point is that you’ll be confident when you look like the hottest version of you!”
“I will be?” Joan asks. “Am I not hot now?”
“You’re hot now obviously,” Cleo dismisses her with a wave of her hand, “But wouldn’t you like to know how to do some better winged eyeliner?”
Joan thinks that maybe yeah, she would like to know. So she sits down and lets Cleo apply makeup to her face, guiding Joan’s hands with her own, as gentle as Cleo has ever been. Cleo compliments her on her fashion sense- apparently green and black are “her colors”- but sometimes she concentrates so hard that she’s frowning, which is cute. Joan alternates from having her eyes super open, having to look at Cleo’s sharp nose and dark eyes, and having them closed, only feeling Cleo’s breath on her face and the electric energy of having somebody right up against your skin.
When Joan opens her eyes for the final product, she looks just like Cleo said she would; Joan, but amplified. Her lips are glossy and darker and her eyes look bigger. It’s not at all like Junior prom.
“Whoa,” Joan breathes.
“See!” Cleo kisses her enthusiastically on the cheek.
It leaves a scarlet impression on Joan’s face, which makes her blush.
They all go on drives in JFK’s van at night, weaving through the suburbia surrounding Clone State and into the woods that surround them. The houses become few and far between, the hills rolling up and down, trees stretching up into the dark sky. Clone State is an hour away in the town over from Exclamation Point. JFK drives away from it. Joan sits and watches the white and yellow lines of the road blur, the radio fizzing in and out of the pop station Cleo prefers, until JFK pulls over at a random shoulder and they drink wine coolers in the back of his van. Joan purposefully doesn’t think about all the times that JFK and Cleo had sex where they’re all sitting right now. Instead, she leans her head onto Cleo’s shoulder and listens to JFK do impressions of his Phys Ed professor or his coach or something. It makes Joan feel warm and fuzzy, like the streetlights.
Honestly, Joan doesn’t realize how much time she spends with JFK and Cleo until she goes to hang out with Abe and Gandhi at Clone University. She finally gets to see their dorm room instead of the diner they usually meet at. Abe’s got his typical eight hundred Abe Lincoln paintings up on his side and Gandhi has a TV and a Dane Cook poster. They leave all their clothes on the floor and keep nothing but Monster energy drinks in their fridge.
They are still alive, though, so that surpasses Joan’s guess on how long they’d last.
Abe is sitting on his bed, lanky legs hanging off, while Gandhi bounces around from his desk chair to standing on his desk to his bed. Joan sits at Abe’s desk and listens. Abe joined the basketball team, but he’s still bad. Gandhi is killing in both his dance clubs and his improv troupe: he gives her a flyer of clip art and poor font choices which feature his name for both. Abe grew out a full beard for a while but decided that the sideburns were still the best look. Gandhi gets women’s numbers by telling them he was “G-Spot” who “rocks the g-spot” and Abe strikes out. Neither of them had chosen a major.
“And Marilyn Monroe, man, she is into me,” Gandhi went on, “‘Cause of my mad raps.”
Abe, behind him, shakes his head. Joan laughs.
Joan tells them about her new idea for a short film, Triangles in Spring , her classes, and some funny stories about JFK being drunk and Cleo accidentally beaning Thomas Edison over the head with her umbrella the Friday morning before Joan came. She’s still working general studies, though she’s hardly taking boring sports-related classes like Abe. Joan suggests that back in town over spring break they should get milkshakes at the Grassy Knoll like they used to, but maybe Cleo and JFK could come too.
Abe gets up to use the restroom and Gandhi slides over to Joan.
“So you and JFK, huh?” He wiggles his eyebrows.
Joan shoves him, reddening. “No!”
Gandhi’s eyes widen. “You and CLEO?”
“No!” Joan shouts, full-on blushing. “God, neither of them even like me.”
“You just spend all your time with them,” Gandhi says. “And I know you can’t be friends with anybody without a crush.”
Joan gut-punches him. She can so be friends without a crush! She just thinks that Cleo is platonically the most beautiful woman she’s ever seen and JFK is simply objectively hot. This is like science: pretty people existed. It was a known fact of the universe. It didn’t mean anything that all her stories revolved around being with them. Friends hung out all the time.
Gandhi, curled up in a ball on the floor, groans as Abe opens the door. He looks down at him and then at Joan standing over him.
“He had it coming,” Joan says.
“Aw, man,” Abe says, and helps Gandhi off the floor. He flashes one of his easy smiles at Joan, the kind that used to give her heart a pang. The feeling of her heart being entirely unaffected is sweeter than any pang ever was. It’s the beauty of forward motion.
JFK is always willing to come along on Joan’s more gothic adventures- if she wants to do photography at a graveyard, JFK will down some beer and come over. Sometimes he’ll even bring some and they get tipsy and make fun of the names on the graves. She gave him a crummy peace sign and a smile stick and poke by his peapod and gave up on ever becoming a garage tattoo artist. They play video games together too, switching off on keeping Mario alive and doing their best in Mortal Kombat. Joan’s not as good as JFK, but it’s fun to sit on his bed shoulder to shoulder and play around on his xbox.
They talk about things like “Remember, ah, how shit the olympics were this year? Brown can pull the Pistons to a championship but can’t bring home the gold?” and then talk basketball strategy or “What the hell is Mileena wearing, god this game is so sexist.” JFK makes fruit jokes and sometimes plays his holiday music before he releases it- apparently he’s still a hot commodity in Exclamation Point.
Tonight, they’re wandering around a river in search of a nocturnal frog Joan wants a picture of to splice into Triangles in Spring . Joan has the camera while JFK has the flashlight, both of them trying to keep out of the water; JFK is surprisingly sensitive about his Nike beer shoes.
“Don’t you have anything better to do?” Joan asks as JFK kicks a frond-y plant.
JFK laughs. “Better than spending a night with a sweet dame?”
“I don’t know,” Joan says, taking a picture just to illuminate their surroundings. The click-flash interrupts the crickets and exposes that she’s about a foot from the river and the long grass and cattails that populate the edge. “Chugging beer somewhere, banging May Teck? Helen of Troy? Nightingale?”
“Pretty sure, ah, Nightingale’s gay.”
“Not my point.” Joan saw May Teck’s arms looped around JFK’s neck at some frat party a week ago. She was in one of Cleo’s business courses. Cleo says she lies about being German to get dates! Joan grits her teeth, trying to squash her irritation- her irritation at women who lie! Joan hates lying.
“Nah,” JFK says, shining the light so his face is partially illuminated. “I thought we been over this- there’s no other betty I’d rather spend a night with.”
Joan looks away, flushing. “I- you’re- hey. Shut up.”
Spring break is okay. Joan spends it mostly with either Abe and Gandhi or JFK and Cleo, making her feel like some kind of cheating husband with two families. The one time they all get together at the Grassy Knoll is a disaster; Abe is still blatantly attracted to Cleo and JFK is all too willing to beat Gandhi up. Joan, as usual, is left to be the voice of reason, kicking Abe under the table to get him to stop looking at Cleo’s boobs and elbowing JFK every time he calls Gandhi a little nerd instead of his name.
Afterward she pulls Abe aside and tells him that he should stop being so shallow and think of women as individuals instead of breast racks. Cleo was a person, Abe, god.
Abe looks at her like she’s a pod-person the entire week. Weirdo.
Cleo has a pink flip phone that both JFK and her use to text Joan, having gotten her number at that first, auspicious party, so she receives texts on her phone at all hours that were both misspelled, sexual, and oddly persuasive. She feels like Abe, magnetically pulled into Cleo’s orbit and terribly confused. Sometimes Cleo texts her “@ prty blt dmm druk!1! cm her” and Joan has to put her sweatshirt on and go over to the ELT dorm and find the loudest party and rescue Cleo from the lap of some handsy frat guy and JFK from climbing shirtless onto the roof and herd them back to her single. Then she always wakes up with Cleo’s boobs in her face and JFK snoring on the floor because her twin is only so big and she doesn’t want to deal with what he would say if they shared a bed again and god forbid if she leaves Cleo on the floor- she did that one time and Cleo spent the whole week bitching about it…
Needless to say, Joan is spending even more time with them than usual and it frazzles her. She grows kind of used to seeing JFK’s hair mussed and slightly flattened from her floor and Cleo’s smudged eyeliner, which she didn’t even see in high school. It makes her feel- well- not fuzzy. Not fluttery. JFK and Cleopatra are her friends. They are in a relationship, albeit incredibly non-monogamous. Neither of them think she’s even attractive, and there’s no way that either of them would ever want to date her, not after high school.
Sure, JFK slept with her, but JFK would fuck a pumpkin with a hole in it. The bottom line is that they are all friends and Joan will not ruin this. Sure, sometimes she looks at the people they hook up with and feels an all-consuming rage, but that’s probably Joan being a bad feminist. She needs to stop being so judgemental and read more feminist literature- something pro-sexuality, maybe by Ellen Willis.
The chess club is having a tournament, open to all but participated in by few. Some she knew from high school, like Anne Boleyn and James Madison, were competing, along with some other club members she knew less, like Johannes Zukertort and Vera Menchik. Joan hoped she was going up against somebody she had played against before. Joan is only middle-tier, but it’s a fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon; she told JFK and Cleo to do homework on their own.
So it’s a surprise when she walks into the second-floor classroom of the English building and sees the chess club members plus JFK and Cleo watching them set up the two boards.
“What are you doing here?” she whispers at them.
“We’re, ah, watching you play,” JFK says at his regular loud volume. “You’re going to kill all these nerds.”
Cleo claps enthusiastically. Joan realizes she’s wearing her old Clone High cheer uniform, which is really just a orange skirt and a CHHS shirt under JFK’s letterman jacket.
Joan smiles. “Really?”
“This is important to you, right?” Cleo asks.
“It’s not, you know,” Joan looks away, “Unimportant.”
She doesn’t want to admit that it would be kind of cool for her to have Cleo and JFK watch her win at least one match. There’s only so many chess championships a year, after all. It’s nerdy, and Cleo and JFK value nothing if not athleticism and being “cool”.
“Then we’re here,” Cleo says.
They wait patiently for Joan’s round to happen. JFK perches on a desk, bouncing his leg, and Cleo leans with a hand on his shoulder and her other arm around Joan’s. Vera Menchik beats a blonde guy, then Johannes Zukertort gets beat by the bearded president of the club- Will, maybe, and then Anne Boleyn outfoxes Harry Tudor in one of the fastest matches yet. Joan’s heart beats faster and faster as time passes. She can sink a free-throw no problem, and chess is so much like basketball, Joan sarcastically reassures herself.
Finally, Joan slides into the seat across from James Madison. He’s better than her, but only by a little bit. He’s short and scrawny but with big, clever eyes. In high school his strategy was to fake his opponents out, Joan remembers. She’s about ninety percent sure he’s a political sciences major. Hopefully he’ll be distracted by Cleo’s cleavage, which is right next to Joan’s face as her and JFK stand behind Joan for moral support.
Joan lost the coin toss, so she’s the black- well, red- pieces. She starts with a classic French defense, in honor of her clone foremother. Madison counters, sliding his pawns out to make a diagonal line. They move into a rhythm, whacking the timer as the pace accelerates. It’s an aggressive opening, full of moves that strategically change meaning on Madison’s part and mostly reactive action from Joan, that slides into a furious midgame. Joan sacrifices a lot of pawns and a bishop to take Madison’s rook and a bishop. Madison, however, is boxing her in. She can see the endgame in his eyes. God, she can’t believe JFK and Cleo showed up only to see her lose.
“Oh no,” Cleo’s voice, sultry and low, floats from over Joan’s shoulder. “This milk is getting all over me.”
Joan resists the urge to facepalm watching Madison’s face redden to a beet color. She doesn’t turn around.
“Guys,” Joan whispers harshly, “You don’t have to do this.”
“Let me just eat this banana…” Cleo continues, then, in harsh whisper, “JFK, the banana,” before she goes, rather sensually, “Oh, what a big banana.”
Joan valiantly powers through the sex noises, though Madison is visibly shaken to the point where he doesn’t look at the pieces when he moves them. He loses track of his knights, and Joan goes on the offensive to take out as many pieces as she can, driving towards Madison’s king.
He tips over his king once she’s got him in a checkmate. Joan can hear Cleo emptying a whipped cream bottle onto herself as Madison does it, and then JFK breaks out into raucous cheers. Joan only feels a little bad, because she might have won on her own, and she can’t control Cleo pouring milk on herself.
JFK and Cleo pull her into a slightly wet celebration hug, which pleases Joan even if Cleo smells weird.
“Good game,” Anne Boleyn calls out to Joan, and winks.
Joan waves back. “Yours too!” Anne, Joan knows, whole-heartedly believes in the validity of outside factors. In high school she would win just by scaring the other nerds.
They shuffle away from the competition.
“You know, you can go back to your dorm and change,” Joan says to Cleo.
Cleo knocks her head against Joan’s and keeps smiling. There’s a matching the one on Joan’s face.
“No, we should party,” JFK says, wrapping his arms around them. “Celebrate Joan’s win!”
“Seriously, Cleo should change,” Joan insists. “And you guys are not allowed to do that next time.”
“Of course not,” Cleo says, blatantly winking at JFK.
JFK steers them out the door once Joan gives him a pointed look and they start walking to Cleo’s dorm. Cleo and JFK live in the same building, Westley, the oldest dorm on campus with the barely-functioning elevator. The ceiling tiles regularly got punched out and left in crumbs on the tacky 1970’s faded carpet. At least three times a week the whole place would reek of weed, giving it the apt nickname Weedley.
They don’t often go there as a group. Cleo’s roommate was a weirdo who smelled of sauerkraut and sweat and stayed in all the time writing what was probably Star Wars porn on her laptop. She also had a killer evil eye, though that might have been because Cleo left her entire wardrobe on the floor. JFK’s roommate was out pledging to some fraternity, but when he was there he was painfully hungover and/or frantically doing homework. Thank god Joan had a single.
Cleo’s room was on the second floor, left corridor. JFK opens the door and Joan and Cleo go in. It’s the standard double room, two beds and two desks. Cleo’s bed is lofted with her dresser underneath it, while Sweaty Sauerkraut’s is low to the ground, Sauerkraut piled under blankets on top of it. Cleo strips her shirt off and throws it on the floor, going over to pull her dresser drawers out. Joan doesn’t mean to stare, but Cleo’s boobs are pretty large, and she doesn’t even stuff her bra anymore.
“Nice boobs,” JFK says, obviously meaning to stare.
Joan elbows him. “Have some respect.”
“I respect boobs,” JFK says, “That’s why I’m taking classes with betties in ‘em.”
“You make me so tired.”
Cleo puts on a crop top with Baby Slut emblazoned on it. “Do you guys think this is hot?”
“Yes,” JFK says. “I should, ah, get one of those. My abs could see more sun.” He pulls up his shirt. His abs are still perfect enough to grate cheese on.
Joan’s eyes dart between JFK’s abs and Cleopatra’s exposed cleavage. Her stomach swoops. Why has she never been friends with ugly people?
“It’s a medium. You can have it and I’ll wear another one.” Cleo whips her shirt off and throws it at JFK. He takes his red polo off and fits the crop top over his broad shoulders.
“You want to wear my polo?” JFK offers to Cleo.
“No,” Cleo says, “Look at this.” She puts on a white wifebeater.
JFK wolf-whistles. “Hot.”
“She wears that every day,” Joan points out. JFK and Cleo make outraged faces at her. She rolls her eyes. “Yes, it’s hot.”
Cleo cheers. “Time to party!”
A week later Joan gets an email that politely bans herself and her friends from Chess club competitions on the grounds of “undue influences” towards the other players. It’s so funny she can’t even be mad.
Triangles in Spring is going well. Now that Joan finally has the cast and crew arranged, she can go all out with her surrealism. She’s planning on a lot of budding flower imagery alongside the female form; she enlisted two soccer players, Lily Parr and Helen Matthews, to be silhouettes, and a basketball player, Rick Barry, as the lone guy. JFK and Cleo both auditioned but she turned them down- she doesn’t want to have to play favorites. They seem okay sitting with her as she directs and watching the process of the film being created. Cleo gets along swimmingly with the crewmen, making them a lot more amiable to Joan’s vision, and JFK will hold an afterparty for an hour of shooting.
Lily Parr invites her out to get coffee sometime, but Joan turns her down. It wouldn’t be right to get into a relationship with her heart elsewhere, and she thinks Lily understands. They still exchange numbers, though.
After that Cleo and JFK are a lot colder with Lily than the rest of the cast. Weird.
The problem with being cool and not developing feelings is that the chess club is only the beginning of JFK and Cleo acting odd. Not odd in spending time with her, but odd in how they keep complimenting her all the time, and then sort of somehow making Joan compliment them back? So not only do they spend a ton of time together, but JFK and Cleo are now laser-focused on Joan for some reason. They haven’t drunk texted solo or together from a party for a week and a half- a record for them.
Joan tries to sit alone in her room and contemplate this, but unfortunately Cleo has learned to pick locks, and JFK throws way-too-big rocks at her window. They’re like puppies, Joan thinks, that need to be constantly attended to. She asked them to back off a little and the only change is that sometimes they ask before doing whatever they were going to originally.
It’s a sweet thing, though, with the way that JFK slings a protective arm over her shoulder when guys try to awkwardly hit on her and Cleo gets Joan to pay when they go out to foreign movies without JFK. He hates subtitles, because he’s an idiot. Cleo and Joan go to his basketball games, even the ones that they have to drive to, in order to cheer him on. If Joan looks too down, they drag her out to parties, and Joan loathes standing in a strobe-lighted corner watching them grind on each other. Even if it is hot. Sometimes they take their shirts off.
Also, for the weird tally, sometimes she walks over to them and they obviously change the subject. It’s not hard to tell when JFK always resorts to pointing at birds and Cleo starts going on about her earrings. What’s that about- her friends are not exactly known for cunning subterfuge.
A knock on her door interrupts her thoughts.
“It’s me,” Cleo says, knocking again. “See how I’m being respectful of your boundaries or whatever?”
Joan sighs. “Come in, Cleo.”
Cleo walks in and looks at Joan, unshowered and in her pajamas at her desk, listening to Nine Inch Nails .
“You make me sad,” Cleo says, sitting on Joan’s lap.
Joan wraps her arm around Cleo. “Rude.”
“Mhmm,” Cleo hums, settling her arms around Joan’s shoulders. She traces a fingernail down Joan’s jaw. “Do you ever think about high school?”
“I didn’t go to high school. I was grown in a tube and then sent to college,” Joan says, using her vast personal strength to not look down at Cleo’s breasts.
Cleo laughs. “Oh, Joan. I’m being serious.”
Cleo’s lips were hypnotic, Joan thought. At least she could never get a boner.
She’s still talking. And sitting on your lap, Joan, zone in! Zone in!
“... so would that be good for you? Even though high school happened?” Cleo has a watery look in her eyes and she bites her bottom lip in a nervous way that makes Joan fold like a house of cards.
“Oh, yeah,” Joan agrees. “High school is the past.” She squeezes Cleo lightly around the middle. Whatever she agreed to will be worth it.
“You like it?” Cleo pulls herself together, her typical aura of confidence. “Oh, it’s not like I was worried, JFK said you’d like it! He says you’re not as prude as you were.”
“JFK’s an idiot,” Joan says. She was never a prude.
“Yesterday he asked me if animals were mammals.”
“I’ve seen him try to fight his own reflection.”
Cleo laughs. “I’m glad he was right about this, though.”
“Me too, sure,” Joan says. Is it too late to ask what she agreed to? They had kind of circled back to it. Now’s the time to make her move-
“Anyway, we’ll be exclusive, of course,” Cleo says. “JFK and I like to mess around but we can be committed too.”
Joan is having a heart attack. Or a stroke. Or her blood has stopped pumping. Because JFK and Cleo are going to be exclusive! Of course, that’s why Cleo brought up high school. And Joan’s prudeness, because she would have to watch them sucking face at all times. Now that they were exclusive, and would be going on exclusive dates. Joan would be third wheeling at best and unwanted at worst.
She pictured Cleo and JFK making out like they did in the Grassy Knoll, herself sitting across from them completely ignored. When they weren’t exclusive they didn’t date, but exclusive meant that JFK would be jacketing her, or one of his other stupid sexist terms. Joan would fade out of their memories like the kid from Back to the Future in that photograph- why did Gandhi make her watch that entire series!
Could she talk Cleo out of this? Maybe, just maybe, if everything stayed exactly as it was, Joan would remain in perfect limbo with their friendship triangle. Time to broach this subject very cool and collectedly.
“Hey, what- commitment- commitment isn’t all that,” Joan says. “I mean, marriage, hah, what a con.”
Cleo raises her eyebrow. “I’m pretty sure marriage is out of the question here.”
“You know what I mean. Don’t you and him like to get out there? Play the field?” Joan asks.
All of the sudden Cleo crushes Joan to her, Joan’s mouth inches away from Cleo’s collarbone, and sighs heavily. “Don’t even worry about commitment. Me and JFK are going to be so committed. We’ve really thought about this, you know.” She sighs dramatically. “It’s serious, and we’re going to be serious.”
“Great,” Joan chokes out. Cleo’s skin is so warm and soft; she tries to memorize the feeling before she’s eventually cast out for JFK’s fraternity pin. Ugh, everything terrible happens to her.
Joan decides that between suffering or bowing out gracefully she choses bowing out. It’s not like she has to see them all the time, she thinks, and they’re not going to miss her if they’re busy boning in JFK’s van. What do they need her for? They don’t have that much in common and it’s not like Joan could buy them alcohol.
But they don’t peel away because of their new relationship, eating every dinner with her in the cafeteria and getting closer and closer physically. It drives Joan wild. She says to them that she wants to study alone at the library and she finds JFK skulking around the stacks. Cleo waits outside of JFK and Joan’s history class to walk them to lunch.
Joan can’t stop hanging out with them on her own, though, due to the genuine possibility that JFK might die if left to his own devices, and Cleo can only be counted on to save him if she’s not already embroiled in scandal herself. Apparently the campaign for next year’s student body president is already heating up, which just has to happen at the same time that JFK learns how to climb a tree and fall out of it extensively.
It’s Abe all over again, to be stuck with unwanted emotions. Every time JFK pulls his shirt off or says something inadvertently kind, it pulls Joan’s heart right to her stomach; when Cleo verbally spears some loser hitting on her, or leaves a lipstick kiss on Joan’s cheek- it’s too much. Every second they’re near gets Joan steadily more flustered, her heart getting hot and her hands sweaty.
JFK’s dumb puppy dog face convinces Joan to go out to a restaurant off-campus with them. Cleo- or maybe JFK- texts her to “dress noice” so Joan puts on her one black dress and waits for JFK’s van to roll up outside her dorm.
It comes to a screeching halt and JFK rolls down the passenger side window. “How you doin’ tonight!”
Cleo throws open the sliding door with a thunk and gestures Joan in. “Bonjour!”
“Uh… hey,” Joan says, stepping awkwardly into the back of the van. They- probably JFK, knowing Cleo’s propensity for hard labor- had vacuumed the shag and cleaned the diamond windows, even emptying out the trash can typically full of gas station receipts and beer cans. “Wow.”
“I know, right!” Cleo is bursting with excitement, her strapless red dress accentuating every movement. “It took JFK like three hundred hours.”
“Of course it did,” Joan says. “And what did you do?”
“Made myself beautiful.” Cleo flips her hair and smiles suggestively.
Joan’s brain stutters. “You- you need three hundred hours to look like- like that?”
“Awwww,” Cleo coos, and slams the door shut. “Drive,” she barks at JFK, who obediently presses the gas. Cleo and Joan brace themselves as they go forward, Cleo’s arm protectively around Joan.
“Good job on the car,” Joan says to JFK. “And you look nice too.”
“Aw, thanks,” JFK says. He’s wearing a bow tie the same color as Cleo’s dress and a black shirt. “I hope you, ah, like the restaurant.”
“I haven’t heard anything about it,” Joan admits.
“It’s french,” JFK says. “Le Papillon.”
“We do like the french,” Cleo says, making JFK laugh.
Joan is confused, but shrugs. “I would hope so.”
Cleo and JFK share a glance and laugh again, and then they spend the rest of the short ride to the restaurant listening to the mix CD Joan made for the van. It’s a perfectly calibrated fusion of pop rock that appeals to all of them without becoming stylistic mush that soothes Joan’s nerves.
JFK pops out of the car and opens the door for them, immediately more gallant than any actual date Joan has had with him, and helps them out.
Joan is in the middle as they walk in, JFK’s bold voice shouting out for his reservation. It’s a comfortable wooden space, with a bar to one side and booths encircling the tables in the middle. A single glass chandelier hangs down from the high ceiling, providing soft lighting. The maitre d’ shows them to one of the tables in the center of the room, JFK pulling out both of their seats after an elbow to the sides from Cleo.
Joan is across from Cleo, her eyeliner winged to perfection and her lips ruby red; she can’t look away, at least not until JFK noisily clears his throat.
“You are the two most stunning broads in the whole world,” JFK says.
Joan waits to see if he’s going to add anything to that.
JFK smiles one of his big dumb grins and his eyes dart back and forth from Cleo to Joan.
She guesses not.
“You both look ravishing tonight,” Cleo says, extending her hands over the table towards them. “Joan, you are so hot that I would date you even if you still lived under bleachers. JFK, I’m proud of you for tying that tie without having to call your dads.”
JFK nods, and they turn to Joan expectantly.
“Uh, you guys are the best?” Joan doesn’t know what they want her to say. “I’m having a good time and we haven’t even gotten to the bread yet?”
This satisfies the two compliment beasts, and the waiter- Rob- comes to ask about their drink choices and if they want an appetiser. They all go for water, and Rob disappears to get the bread.
Cleo asks JFK if he’s managed to start his essay for Medieval Women, which devolves into good-natured ribbing. She likes to joke that JFK has nothing under his perfectly coiffed hair, just the roots sticking into his barbie doll plastic skull. Joan mock-defends him, but they don’t reach a conclusion before the waiter comes for their orders.
After that the conversation drifts towards other topics; Cleo rented Legally Blonde again, which JFK thinks is a “chick flick”. Joan hates blockbuster films in general.
Sitting there with JFK and Cleo in such a nice, almost romantic, restaurant makes the Joan feel like she’s a ship on a storm. Why would they want her third-wheeling their date? Shouldn’t they be tonguing vigorously by candlelight? The image makes her flush with jealousy and- embarrassingly enough- the low heat of attraction. Her stomach roils and she rubs her palms against her thighs.
“... Joan?” JFK interrupts her train of thought.
Joan starts, sitting up straight. “Your hair looks so soft,” she blurts out, blushing.
“It is soft,” JFK agrees. “You know what’s not soft-”
“Shut up,” Cleo says, even though they all knew what JFK was going to say.
Joan reaches over and punches JFK’s arm.
The whole night passes as lovely as it could with the company she keeps. The food is good and JFK makes her laugh so hard she chokes on her water. He keeps passing her a flask under the table, his eyes reassuring, and her head gets cotton-stuffed with goodwill from the drink.
It’s a really great night, and she tells them as much as they head out, JFK paying the bill and slinging his arms over their shoulders. It’s dark when they leave the restaurant, the multiple streetlights making their shadows fuzzy as they play across the pavement. Joan leans her head into JFK’s shoulder, drowsy with good food and good times and half-rate liquor. Cleo presides over the two of them with her sharp smile.
They tumble into the van. Joan lands half on JFK, who lands pretty wholly on top of Cleo, who squeals as JFK and Joan laugh.
“This dress is expensive!” she shouts, trying to push them off.
Joan shifts to lay more on top of JFK’s chest, feeling it reverberate with his hokey laughter. A dopey smile stretches over her face. God, it makes so much sense that Cleo and JFK like to be drunk. This is pretty cool, she thinks as she closes her eyes.
“God, are you two drunk?” Cleo asks.
JFK hiccups. “Maybe.”
Joan tries to keep focus on their conversation to keep herself awake, but JFK’s so comfortable, even after he shifts to let Cleo up. She slips in and out- Cleo complains about having to drive- JFK says something about sex- the rumble of JFK’s van changing gears- first something, Cleo replies, on the third- blinking red and green stoplights- Joan hears her own name-
She wakes up in her own bed, Cleo crammed up against her and JFK against Cleo, if the large hand on her hip is to be judged. Cleo’s hair smells really good, and it’s nice to be a big spoon. At least one of them. She’s too tired and hungover to think of anything but how nice it is.
Joan closes her eyes and nuzzles back into Cleo, going back to sleep.
Joan takes JFK and Cleo as her guests to the student film festival. They’ve been with her every step of the way of her work, so it’s only fair that they see the end product.
Triangles in Spring comes out great- Joan’s first color film- and the rest of the films in the student festival aren’t bad either. It’s held in the theater, a big screen for projection descended from the ceiling; Joan gets them seats in the middle. Triangles in Spring is, as she tells the audience, about the transformational power of knowledge. The main character is a silhouette becoming three dimensional and then joining two other former silhouettes, cut together with flashes of growing plants and abstracted art. Lily, Helen, and some basketball player did a good job.
The afterparty is held in the lobby, with some shitty appetizers set out and informally dressed college students milling around. Joan and JFK split to grab drinks while Cleo holds down a table. They come back to hear her charming several pallid, cave-dwelling film majors in Eraserhead and Kill Bill shirts, along with Andy Warhol and his boyfriend.
“... but obviously my girlfriend Joan’s was the best,” Cleo says, accepting the drink JFK hands her. She sets her other hand on Joan’s lower back.
Did Cleo really have to rub the complete platonicness of their friendship in with the heterosexual usage of “girlfriend”?
“Hey Joan,” Warhol says, “Nice work.”
“You too,” Joan replies. Warhol had made a gay almost-porn art film that Joan enjoyed, even if some of the others in the audience didn’t. He’s an almost albino jokester; sometimes Joan would have entire discussions with him and Jesus about the nature of art only to discover that Warhol didn’t even agree with his own position.
“I liked the part where the guy finished,” JFK says, taking a swig of his drink. He was on the other side of Cleopatra, his arm around her waist.
Joan cringes, but Warhol and his boyfriend take it in good cheer.
“I think that’s everyone’s favorite part,” Warhol says, winking.
Cleo starts to gently run her knuckles over the length of Joan’s spine, making her shiver. “I- uh- yeah, it’s great,” she stammers.
“Do you have a favorite?” Warhol asks, looking between JFK and Cleo. He’s teasing- though about what Joan can’t tell. JFK and Cleo? Their friendship with Joan?
“Me,” JFK and Cleo say simultaneously, then turn to Joan.
“Uh,” Joan says. “Neither?”
Two puppy-dog faces make eyes at her while Warhol laughs.
“Both equally,” Joan decides. “It’s not a competition.”
“I like Joan best, obviously,” Cleo says.
“I like Joan more than you do,” JFK says. “I took her virginity.”
Joan chokes on her drink. “JFK-!”
“I asked her to go out with us,” Cleo says, drawing her full, regal bearing over herself like a cloak. “And I’m Cleopatra! I shouldn’t have to ever ask anyone out!”
Go out? Joan has time to briefly think before JFK starts again.
“I do way more -”
“Hey,” Joan interrupts, “Let’s not fight in public.”
“Fine,” Cleo says, ice cold.
“Aw, wanna make out?” JFK offers.
“Not in public,” Joan reminds them.
“If you admit that I like Joan more,” Cleo says.
JFK frowns. “Wait, does that mean you like Joan more than me?”
“No, I like you both equally,” Cleo explains, “But my emotions are stronger than either of yours.”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” Joan says.
“I’ll take it,” JFK says, puffing his chest out. “It’s good to let the dame win, anyway.”
The argument is then derailed further by Joan lecturing JFK on respecting women. She doesn’t remember when Warhol left or when the party ended, the three of them still debating as they venture out onto the quad.
The school year comes to a close with JFK and Cleo still taking her out on special occasions about once a week- first the restaurant, then professional basketball game, and a double feature of The Hunger and From Dusk Til Dawn . If they are dating, they’re being incredibly subtle about it, which was not a word ever used to describe JFK or Cleo. Joan doesn’t even see them kissing, and sometimes when they go out there’s awkward pauses where they lean in close to her and don’t do anything? Cleo and JFK both do it, just invading her personal space and lingering? In front of each other, too. Joan always stays still, enjoying the electrical closeness they gave her and the fact that her heart will give out before she’s thirty.
Something about it is odd, but she can’t exactly put her finger on it.
Joan sits in her room, half-heartedly doing her homework. It’s a Saturday afternoon, warm sunlight coming through her window, and the ability to put things off to Sunday is becoming more and more enticing. Worksheets are lame, and she can only ask Cleo to explain math to her so many times.
JFK opens her door and pokes his head in. “Doing anything important?”
“Kind of,” Joan says. “Depends on your definition of important.”
He comes all the way into the room and leans up against her desk, arms crossed. “What are we, ah, going to do for our anniversary?”
“What anniversary?” Joan erases her last answer and replaces it with something equally stupid and probably wrong.
“What anniversary,” JFK says, laughing.
“I’m trying to do this stupid worksheet-” Joan says.
“C’mon, Joan, if we got a gift together we could spend more money,” JFK interrupts. “You know how Cleo likes expensive stuff.”
Joan gives JFK a flat look. “You’re not seriously trying to get me to spend money on your girlfriend’s anniversary gift.”
“Your girlfriend too,” JFK says, rolling his eyes. “If you want to get a gift on your own then that’s fine.”
Joan drops her pencil and scrubs at her face. “What.”
He raises his hands in submission. “Don’t hit me!”
“Repeat what you just said to me.”
Joan resists the urge to hit him. “No, before that.”
“If you want to get a gift on your own then that’s fine? Cleo’s your girlfriend too,” JFK says slowly.
“My girlfriend too…” Joan says, thinking.
Those times Cleo and JFK were really, really close to Joan’s face.
All three of them have been dating this entire time.
Oh, god, Joan thinks. She tallies up the days in her head. JFK is talking about their one month anniversary, which is next week. They’ve been dating for a month.
Joan thumps her head on her desk. JFK and Cleo have been wanting to kiss her for a month. And Joan just. Joan just stands there. Like an idiot.
JFK sets a hand on her back, strong and reassuring. “Are you, ah, okay?”
Joan groans at him.
“I can buy a gift and put both our names on it? Is that it?”
Joan doesn’t even know where to start with that.
“You want to make out, then? I know Cleo said you wanna go slow but I’d do it for you. Cleo’s gunna be here soon, though, so we’d have to make it quick.”
Joan takes her head off the desk and looks up at JFK. His eyes are smiling and trustworthy, the half-lidded gentleness convincing her to spill her guts.
“I had no idea we were dating,” Joan admits.
JFK’s eyes widen in surprise. “Oh, ah. Damn.”
“I- it’s not that-” Joan tries to explain.
Cleo opens the door and announces herself, cutting Joan off. “Good afternoon, it’s me, Cleopatra, the greatest thing in your lives.”
Joan puts her head back on her desk. JFK keeps his hand on Joan’s back, but Joan can imagine the desperate look he’s sending Cleo.
“Joan doesn’t want to date,” JFK says, panic clear in his voice.
“That’s not what I-” Joan mutters to the desk, only to be cut off by Cleo’s shriek.
“What!” Cleo’s tone of voice indicates that she’s in her hands-on-hips, aggressively angry state. “What does that mean!”
Raising herself up, Joan tries to start, only to be interrupted again by Cleo dramatically throwing herself on Joan’s bed and crying:
“What do she mean she doesn't want to date?”
“I don’t, ah, know!” JFK takes his hand off Joan to raise both of them in confusion.
“Did we do something wrong?” Cleo asks.
“We can fix it!” JFK says, turning to Joan. “Right?”
“What is going on, Joan-”
“I said I didn’t know we were dating, not that I didn’t want to,” Joan snaps, a little harsher than she intends.
A minute of silence follows her words, then JFK turns his surprised expression on Cleo.
“I thought you, ah, asked her out?” JFK says.
Cleo’s brow furrows. “I did!”
“When?” Joan asks, head still spinning with the implications of her obliviousness.
“After Lily Parr from the soccer team asked you out,” Cleo says, “Like, remember? We had that whole conversation about high school, and then I told you that me and JFK thought we should all be in a relationship together-”
“That’s what we were talking about?” Joan interrupts.
Cleo gives her an incredulous look. “What else could it have been about?”
“I was distracted!”
JFK snickers. “I bet you were distracted.”
“Shut up,” Joan says, smacking JFK’s shoulder. He rubs at it, unable to contain his ear to ear grin. “Don’t smile at me.”
“Distracted.” JFK titters.
Cleo preens, tossing her glossy hair back and her eyes smug. “I am distracting.”
“It’s too, ah, bad you didn’t know we were going steady.” JFK’s smile dims a little. “That’s sad.”
Silence settles over them as Cleo and JFK consider what he said. Cleo frowns, her eyes gaining a shine of sorrow, while JFK makes small, incomprehensible whining noises. His hand moves again to Joan’s shoulder in unspoken support. Joan can feel the pity radiating off of them over this miscommunication, and it's nothing like pity to make her feel burning frustration.
“Ugh,” Joan knocks her head back onto her desk. “I’m such an idiot. I really liked you guys, and I just didn’t do anything about it, like an idiot-”
“Aw, you’re not an idiot,” JFK says. “And if you were, hey, what’s the harm?”
“Says the idiots,” Cleo says, affectionate. She moves over to tap Joan’s shoulder. “Sit up.”
Joan, semi-reluctantly, pulls herself up, Cleo then JFK leaning down to give her soft kisses. They’re quick at first, trading off, just a whisper of Cleo’s soft lips and JFK’s five o’clock shadow rubbing against her face; then Cleo lingers, more insistent, before she moves away and lets JFK resume. He, of course, wastes no time trying to shove his tongue down her throat. It’s not bad, and Joan finds herself leaning in-
Cleo inserts her hand between them. “Nobody’s allowed to have that much fun without me,” she says, her voice teasing- JFK and Joan moved towards her-
Joan has never been so happy to be wrong in her whole life.
Joan and JFK and Cleo aren’t exactly clear about their relationship to the outside world; JFK doesn’t care to explain anything, Cleo likes to fuck with people, while Joan is simply never asked. At college, though, they can get away with this. Lily Parr gives her a thumbs up after seeing Joan kiss Cleo and Andy Warhol obviously approves.
When they go home, Joan faces questions.
“I may be blind, but you oughta be careful, Joanie,” Toots says. “I’ve been juggling ladies before and it rarely works out.”
Joan rolls her eyes. “Sure.” She doesn’t bother telling him that she’s not juggling anybody. She watches JFK and Cleo make out pretty regularly.
JFK’s gay foster dads are used to the revolving door of JFK’s bedroom habits, so they’re naturally suspicious of JFK having one serious girlfriend, much less two. They’re nice about it, though, and inevitably they end up supporting him no matter what. They bought him that recording studio, after all, and if that doesn’t say love is forever nothing does.
She tells Abe and Gandhi at the Grassy Knoll. Gandhi points and laughs. “I told you you couldn’t be friends without a crush!”
Abe, on the other hand, spends several minutes looking like he’s picturing Cleo and Joan together. Joan smacks him and he ends up congratulating her. She doesn’t think they’ll be going on double dates any time soon, but she’s glad they approve.
The best part of it, even if people say stupid shit to her, is definitely being with JFK and Cleo. Even if JFK plays Mario with the sound all the way up and Cleo spends like two hours on her makeup, a time period where if Joan approaches the mirror she will be shot. They let her play her rock and roll and she sees them without shirts, though, so it balances out.
Joan is blissfully happy and the summer stretches on before her, full of possibilities and dates at the beach with her boyfriend and girlfriend.