The first one arrives two weeks after they get home, before their trophies are even properly on display. She doesn't see it at first: it's on the corner of her desk sandwiched between the application pack from Berkeley and a circular from cheerleadingonline.com. It's only when the parental nagging finally gets too much and she's stuck working her way through college applications that she finds it.
There's an action shot on the front, slightly blurred, standard postcard fare: she recognises the white and black of New Pope High, a blonde girl at the peak of a basket toss, legs straight and split wide as she reaches for her toes. The printing is too cheap for her to recognise a face, but National Cheerleading Championships 2000 is printed across the bottom in bright yellow type.
She stares at it for a long time before turning it over, and doesn't notice herself smiling.
It's not signed when she does, but that doesn't matter. The handwriting is round and strong, in black pen against the white card, her address spelled out neatly on the right. On the left is written, simply, Same time next year?
She laughs, and stands the card carefully in front of her mirror.
For all that she looks at that postcard every day, it takes her almost two weeks to get up the courage to send something back. With no postcards to hand she settles for a photo; one her mother took on the day of semi-finals, the Toros and Clovers up on the stage together.
She thinks for days about what to write and in the end, seals it into an envelope and sends it on its own.
Two months after Nationals college season is in full swing, and Torrance is obsessively checking the mail at least four times a day. She has offers from Memphis and Pomona but failed on the scholarships to Southern Kentucky and South Carolina; for a whole week there's been nothing at all. And then she checks after dinner and if there's no letter with a college stamp, at least there's this, propped up flat against the inside of the mailbox so that she nearly misses it after all.
This time the card is portrait and the picture is of a girl in dark blue and red at the top of a double down spin, two muscular bases with bare arms raised waiting to catch her. The photo is much better, captured sharp, a sense of excitement and speed and adrenaline like she only knows because she's been that girl. There's no text this time: she can't tell if this one is from Nationals, too, though she can't think where it might be from otherwise.
There's nothing written on it but her address, in the same strong handwriting as before, and a phone number with an East Compton code.
Talking to Isis should be awkward, but it's not. It's easy, especially when they start to talk about routines and practices and games. She's a sounding board when East Compton has new candidates to pick from: in return she gets tips on where to sharpen the Toros' new routine, Isis teasing her mercilessly to take the help, that this time it's okay.
Despite Isis' opening gambit they're not going to compete against each other again, which somehow makes it easier. One night they talk about college, and the future, and Torrance finds herself lying back with her eyes closed and the phone hugged to her ear long after they've hung up.
She and Missy both get into Berkeley; Cliff chooses Ohio State, majoring in music theory. She cries when he sees them off, because she's going to miss him terribly and because she knows it's probably going to be over between them now, both off at college and meeting new people, doing new things. She can't wait, but she's glad of having Missy to drive: it takes her a few minutes to be able to see through the tears.
Orientation is crazy – one moment they're in line for something, she doesn't even remember what, and the next she's fumbling a key into a lock and stumbling into her dorm room with a bag over each shoulder while dragging a case behind her. There are a dozen things already stuck under the door; one bag falls off her shoulder as she tries to scoop them up, bangs her shoulder against the wall and tips the case over to smack hard against her ankle.
She limps cursing over to the bed and throws the whole pile down, excited and overwhelmed and exhausted, untangles herself from all the luggage and flops down on the bare mattress, and that's when it catches her eye.
It's face down: plain white card and familiar handwriting stands out between the nightclub flyers, band posters and fast-food coupons. The address is on the wrong side, and it's not hers: a different dorm on the other side of campus, clearly an invitation. She smiles and turns it over.
The picture is of her team, all in Rancho Carne red, all with their hands raised high in the Toros sign. Courtney is central in the frame, grinning, wild and fierce; Whitney and Darcy and Jan around her; Kasey and Big Red lifted high behind.
And there's her, Torrance, on Big Red's right hand with Les lifting her up in a perfect chair. She's grinning too, both hands up with the rest of her team, pure joy in her face and she remembers that day, that moment - the last time they won with a stolen routine, before she knew anything about that at all, when it was all just about the work and the cheering and everything in her life, for that one moment, was just right.
There's a desk on the other side of the room, and an empty pinboard on the wall above it. Torrance is not prepared enough to have brought push pins, but she wedges the card under the lip of the frame and sits on the unmade bed and stares at it for a long time.
Suddenly this feels much more like home.
It's been a week and she's still unpacking when there's a knock on the door. She runs over and opens it, hoping it'll be Missy and hoping it won't at the same time, even though she's not entirely sure why.
Isis grins, bright and unapologetic at having tracked her down. "Hi."
She blushes, and she's not entirely sure of why she does that, either. "Hi. I, uh-" and she doesn't know what to say next, because there was clearly an invitation, and she really did mean to answer it, but college is so huge and new and busy and -
"Freshman tryouts are in two weeks," Isis says, saving her from her own social failure, and holds out a piece of paper. She's wearing a sleeveless clover green shirt and black track pants, and she looks like she's been running. "Come on, you have to see their gym," she says, still grinning, and her hand is warm on Torrance's wrist.
She drops the form on the floor - she'll pick it up later - and grabs her keys.
Tryouts are hard. If she had any doubts that Isis is a top-class cheerleader worthy of any trophy, they're gone by the time they both race off the field, sweating and exhilarated. Watching Isis gulp from a bottle of mineral water makes her throat hot: she looks away and doesn't notice Isis smiling.
If tryouts were hard, waiting for the squad list is terrifying. She's convinced she hasn't made it, so much that Missy and Isis team up to distract her from dawn to midnight for three days solid until she's staring at the computer screen that says Torrance Shipman and Isis Union and her head is spinning and she's screaming with joy and Isis' arms are warm and strong and hugging her hard - and when she looks over Isis' shoulder, Missy's grin is something she can't quite fathom.
When she gets back to her dorm room after class that night, there's a postcard stuck to her door. The picture is of a Berkeley cheerleader, posing rather than performing, the college crest in one corner; when she pulls the pin out and turns it over, it says told you so! in thick Sharpie across the entire back of the card.
She laughs, shaking her head, takes it inside and pins it with the others above her desk.
The UC Berkeley uniform is purple and white, with black edging: the order takes a week and then Isis turns up at her door with a bag in hand and barrels inside, and Torrance doesn't think twice as they strip down to try it on.
She struggles a little to stretch the new fabric: she's just pulling her top down when she realises Isis has stopped; is dressed; is staring at the pinboard over her desk, those four simple pieces of card pinned face-down, and it's only then that she realises that this is the first time Isis has ever been in her room.
She wants to be able to speak but her throat is hot again, and she feels very undressed in a way she's never felt in a cheerleading uniform before.
"Tor," Isis says, and her voice is low, and hot, and then she turns around and Torrance has never noticed how incredible anyone can look in a cheerleading uniform before, either. Isis looks strong and beautiful and has smooth skin everywhere and a slow, hot smile and warm hands and oh, soft lips and a quiet, happy laugh that tastes like that one right moment all over again when she breathes it into Torrance's mouth.
Missy teases her, of course, but hugs her delightedly and offers to drag her along to the Gay & Straight Alliance too, so it's not so bad.
Torrance worries a little about them both being on the squad, but really, only because she's afraid one day they might switch uniforms by mistake.
Even when they move into a shared room at the start of their sophomore year, Isis keeps on leaving her postcards.