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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/1631931-Friendship-Part-2
Rated: 18+ · Short Story · Gay/Lesbian · #1631931
Morgan has a rough Thanksgiving break.
The Winter Holiday Season, 2003


“Yes! In your face!” I cheered as I won the last match of Killer Instinct Gold over my cousin Hector.

“Damn!” He said, throwing down his controller. Everyone in the room gave me some dap as congratulations. Hector had been running his mouth all night both before and after Thanksgiving dinner about how no one could beat him as long as he chose Spinal, a saber-welding skeleton as his character. I watched as he beat all comers with a cheap upper-cut like attack, and finally challenged him when I felt I had him timed properly. After three hard fought rounds, I beat him with my favorite fighter Sabrewulf, a werewolf with prosthetic metal claws. “You cheated.” He said with a large frown, his eyebrows knitting together like warring pipe cleaners.

“You just forgot how to chain together a proper…Combo Breaker!” I said, imitating the game’s announcer. Not that I was bragging, but I did kill his Spinal with an awesome thirty-hit Ultra Combo.

“That was really cool.” Said my twelve-year old cousin Dalia. She had been one of several who had fallen for Hector’s cheap one-hit tactics. “How did you do that?”

“This used to be my favorite video game.” I said. I sighed a little. Even though I had knocked Hector off his high horse, I didn’t feel like playing any more. My Aunt Sandie’s game room was usually a refuge for me on Thanksgiving. Her living room was more for couples to show off. I wanted to be out there with a girlfriend, showing everyone how sweet she was. How nice she was to me. But I didn’t know anyone like that. “You want to play for me?” I asked my cousin Dalia.

“Thanks!” She grabbed the controller before I could change my mind. I got up from the floor, where there were other cousins and relatives younger than me waiting for their turn to play the game, and looked out of the window. I didn’t know why I bothered. It was well after nine o’clock, and pitch black as far as I could see. I wondered what all my friends were doing. Surely they were having more fun with their relatives than I was. I didn’t think there would ever come a time when I wouldn’t feel that alone.

“Morgan. Mom’s leaving.” Said my brother Colby, entering the room with his girlfriend. He was a taller, lighter skinned version of me, dimples and all, so he never had a problem getting female attention. His girl was kind of cute, I had to admit, even if her hair weave was a little too long and too colorful to be natural. I didn’t say what I wanted to say. That he was a stupid idiot for going through women like toilet paper. That I’d be a better girlfriend than he was a boyfriend. I settled for brushing past them silently and out into the living room, the one place I didn’t want to go.

“Morgan. I haven’t seen you all night! Come over here and give me a hug!” I turned to the familiar voice of my Great-Aunt Christine. I smiled in spite of myself. She was a short, copper-skinned woman of about five feet one, but she more than made up for it in spirit and energy. She was almost like my surrogate grandmother, which made sense because she was my  deceased grandmother’s sister. She always said I could talk to her about anything, but I didn’t know how to talk to her about not having a girlfriend. I rarely brought up the topic of me being gay, although everyone in the family had known since I was in high school, if not earlier. It made me feel really awkward.

“Hi, Aunt Christine.” I said quietly, giving her a hug.

“Come on, Morgan. Let’s go.” Said my mother, impatiently calling out to me from the doorway. She was wrapping a scarf around her neck, and putting her coat on. Usually it wasn’t very cold in the wintertime, considering how far south it was, but that Thanksgiving it was definitely chilly.

“Can you give me just a few minutes with my Great-Niece?” asked my Great-Aunt Christine.

My mom nodded. “Just a few minutes. I have to go to work tomorrow.”
My Aunt led me over to a quiet place in the house that was miraculously unoccupied by relatives, my Uncle Bass’s office. “So…” I said nervously sitting down in an old office chair. “What did you want to talk to me about?”

“I know it’s not your way to talk, but something seems like it’s eating you alive. I think you’re the one who needs to talk.”

I rubbed my arm, not looking at her. “I’m alright.”

“Morgan, I’ve seen and heard it all. I’ve had eighty-one years of seeing and hearing it all.” She waited patiently until I finally said something.

I shrugged and looked at feet. “I don’t have a girlfriend.”

“That’s all?” She said, pursing her lips together the way she always did.

“Yes, Ma’am. Everyone else has a girlfriend. I can’t say I’ve ever found one. It doesn’t seem like I ever will.” I was hoping my Aunt Christine wouldn’t jump in and condemn me to hell or something, but she just listened. “I just feel like I’m by myself all the time.”

“Morgan, you’re only by yourself when you sit off in a corner somewhere.”

I shrugged. “I don’t think it matters.”

“It matters. Everyone has something that makes them different.”

“It’s more than being different, Aunt Christine. I feel like a freak. Like I’ve got horns sticking out of the top of my head.”

“Well, you have to stop thinking like that.” She chuckled a little.

“What’s so funny?”

“No one sees them but you.”

I shrugged. “I guess.”

“Is this really all that’s bothering you?”

I got a little huffy. “Well, it’s a big problem to me. Everyone in college just wants to play with me to see what it’s like. No one wants to be with me for real.”

“Then you don’t have a problem at all.” Aunt Christine said with a smile.

“What do you mean?”

“You’re intelligent, beautiful, and you’ve got a big heart, even though you try to hide it half the time. The problem is, you’re trying to find the same thing by hiding who you are.”

I frowned. “I’m not hiding.”

“Morgan. You don’t tell anyone anything. If I hadn’t stopped you from going out the door, would you even have said anything to me?”

I hung my head in shame. “I’m sorry, Aunt Christine. I just got caught up in myself, I guess. I just feel like everyone has something I don’t.”

“Everyone’s got their something. Even if you don’t think so right now.” Aunt Christine hugged me. “You should go. Your mother has work tomorrow.”

“Thank you, Aunt Christine.”

“You think about what I told you, hear?” She chided me before letting me go.

“I will.” I promised.

I left the room and hurriedly went outside to my mom’s car, which was already warming up. I got into the backseat, next to Colby and his girlfriend. “So what did Aunt Christine have to talk to you about?” Asked my mother.

We locked eyes in the rearview mirror. I didn’t tell my mother anything about anything, even if it was a simple conversation. I knew it was childish. I knew it was wrong. But I didn’t feel she had the right to know anything about me. I felt safer that way. “Nothing.” I said.

“You don’t tell anyone a damn thing, do you?” Said Colby.

I shrugged and looked out of the window, smearing a circle in the glass so I could see outside. I didn’t pay any attention to Colby and his girlfriend as they giggled and flirted next to me. I just thought about school, wondering if I should get a jumpstart on my term paper. I had been a loner in high school, so there was no one to hang out with when I was home on vacation. I usually spent my holidays in my old room, studying as hard as I did in my dorm room. My mom would try to talk to me, but of course, I usually didn’t say much. It hurt too much to be reminded of what she let happen to me.

Colby’s girlfriend was dropped off first, at her apartment on the north side of the city. After that, it was quiet in the car.

“So what did you think of Colby’s girlfriend?” my mother asked me, breaking the silence.

I shrugged. Colby’s girlfriends were a dime a dozen. Always attractive, always clinging to his arm, and always gone after six months. “She was alright, I guess.”

“She attends Bethune Cookman College. Colby met her there last year when he was a senior.” My mother noted.

I shrugged. “So Colby can’t find a girl in the real world. What else is new?” I only made a smartass comment so everyone would shut up. I didn’t want to talk. I just wanted to go home and sleep.

“Twenty years old, and still no girl.” said Colby. He whistled shrilly. “Damn. No wonder you’re such a bitch.”

“Colby! Don’t talk like that!” snapped my mother. She always made sure Colby’s little digs at me never went too far, but I knew she was just overcompensating for what happened to me years ago.

“Sorry.” grunted Colby.

I closed my eyes, and didn’t say anything. After all, he was right, so what was there to talk about? He went through women like Kleenex, and I couldn’t even get one to hold my hand in public. Nothing else was said when my Mom pulled up to our apartment. I got out of the car, unlocked the apartment, and ran into my room, locking it behind me. I sat on my bed, and cried as quietly as I could.

I must have fallen asleep, because my mother’s knocking woke me up. “Morgan, please open the door. Someone’s calling for you.”

I got out of bed, and opened the door a crack. “Who is it?”

My mother put the portable phone to her ear. “What’s your name again?” My mother listened and nodded. “It’s Katrina.”

“I’ll take it.” I took the portable phone and quickly shut the door. “Katrina?” I whispered into the receiver in disbelief.

“Hi, Morgan. I hope you’re not worn out from Thanksgiving dinner.”

“No. It was just boring.”

“Do you have a large family?”

“Kind of. Aunts, uncles, cousins, and people I may or may not be related to, but I’ve known them forever so it doesn’t really matter. What about you?”

“It’s always just been my parents. My dad thinks of his relatives as losers, and my mom’s family doesn’t like my dad, so it’s usually just the three of us for Thanksgiving. God, I should have just stayed at my apartment. My parents keep asking me if I’ve met anyone. I don’t know what to tell them. I‘ve met at least three guys in the past month.”

I chuckled harshly. “Well, at least you’ve got options. It could be worse. You could be me.”

“Geez. It was that bad, huh?”

“Yeah.”

“We should go out.”

“There’s no way. You probably live in Atlanta or Miami.”

“I live about twenty minutes away from the city.”

I was speechless. “Really?”

“I thought I told you before we left. I could meet you at a club, or we could see Scary Movie 3.”

“Let’s watch a movie. The clubs are deserted.” I gave her directions to Regency Square Mall, and we arranged to meet for a late 11:30 show. I left my bedroom and grabbed a drink of water from my mother’s kitchen. Then I took my keys and started to leave.

“Are you going out?” asked my mother.

“Yeah.” I told her. “I don’t know when I’ll be back.”

“Are you meeting someone?” she asked.

“A friend.” I said, a bit stiffly.

“I know you’re a grown woman now, but you be careful.” she said.

I nodded and left, thankful my mother didn’t question me any further. I drove about seven miles away to the movie theater, and waited in my car. Within thirty minutes, I saw Katrina’s familiar pink Dodge Viper. She pulled up next to my car and I got out.

“Hey.” She said with a smile, shrugging under her large, off-the shoulder pink turtleneck sweater over flared khakis and pointed-toe stiletto boots. She came over to me and gave me hug, making her silver charm bracelet jingle behind my back. For only the second time since I‘d known her, I hugged her back. “I missed you.”

“It’s only been two days.” I told her.

She chuckled. “Still…”

I smiled at her. It was strange, but that one little hug made my day. “We should go and get our tickets. It’s freezing out here.” After getting our tickets, we sat down in our empty theater room and talked through the previews. Since no one else was there, we had fun talking through the movie as well. And all too soon, the movie was over. We took our time leaving the theater, and talked some more beside our cars until the cold really started getting to us and the theater attendants turned off the outside lights.

“I’m going back to my apartment first thing in the morning. Being at home is so boring. It’s not the same as being at college.”

“The campus is just as boring now. There’s no one there. Donohue’s home in Miami, and Vicky’s in Atlanta with her boyfriend‘s family.” Then I remembered that Katrina had other friends besides me and the few people I hung out with. I felt a little stupid for even mentioning it. Surely she had a guy friend who could keep her warm.

Katrina shrugged. “I guess you’re not going back early, are you?”

I sighed, letting my cold breath leave my lips in cloud-like puffs. “It was a waste of time to come back. I’m not really doing anything here in the city, but at the same time, I don’t feel like getting up first thing in the morning and driving back to my dorm.”

Katrina looked a little sad, but to my surprise, she didn’t pout or plead with me to change my mind. She just hugged me again. “Alright. Give me a call, or come by when you get back on campus, alright?”

“Yeah.” I told her.

She got in her car, and drove off, and I drove back home. After taking a quick shower, I crawled under the warmth of my worn flannel sheets and went to sleep.

At eight in the morning, I awoke to the smell of leftover fried turkey from the night before. I went into the kitchen and grabbed some apple cider from the fridge to make semi-homemade spiced cider. It was still cold, and the weather report said that it would get into the freezing temperatures in the next forty-eight hours.

“Don’t eat any of my turkey.” grumped my brother, folding his arms as he guarded his sliced turkey breast as it rotated in the microwave.

I raised an eyebrow. “I don’t want any of your damn turkey.” I said, slamming the refrigerator door.

“I know how greedy you are. Fat ass.”

“Suck it, Colby.” I told him rudely. “You think I’m fat? Watch this!” I downed the whole half gallon jug of cider, and handed him the empty container with a smile.

“I didn’t get any!” he yelped.

“That’s what you get for being an asshole.” I said, belching loudly.

“I fucking hate you.” said Colby with growl, as my mother walked into the kitchen wearing her housecoat. “Mom, Morgan drank all the cider. She should have to buy it back.”

“I’m not buying shit. You woke up with a gigantic stick up your ass. I was just shoving it in another inch.” I retorted.

“I thought I raised two grown adults. And now the two of you are fighting over a three dollar jug of juice.”

“Cider.” I corrected.

My mother sighed. “Whatever.”

“It’s my cider. She should have to buy it back.” Colby continued.  “If you drank up your roommates’ stuff, you’d have to buy it back!”

“I don’t owe you anything-” I started to say, and then I realized that I no longer lived there. Arguing about a stupid half-gallon of cider was a waste of time. “You know what? I don’t have to take this from you. I’ve got somewhere to be.” I turned around and started to pack my stuff. Katrina had had the right idea about going home, I realized. Who needed drama, when you could be in your own space with people who didn’t treat you like shit?

I was ready to go in ten minutes, carrying my textbooks and lugging my suitcase behind me. “Morgan. Don’t leave.” said my mother tiredly.

“There’s nothing for me to do here, anyway. At least in my dorm room I don’t have to put up with drama.”

“You know how he is, Morgan. He’s only acting that way so you’ll talk to him.”

“Whatever.” I muttered. But I knew she was right. I could go months without talking or seeing any of them and be just fine. But my brother would always find some way of getting my attention. On my birthday he’d send me a mean card so I’d call him up to curse him out. On Christmas, he’d send me a can of nuts and make a rude comment about me being a lesbian. Again, he’d get a curse out over the phone. My pride was hurt though, and I knew I needed some space before I could forgive him. “I’m still leaving.”

“You could at least stay for me. Next year you’ll be on your own.” She said, wrapping her faded pink housecoat around her more securely.

I shrugged and looked down. I felt guilty that I still hadn’t forgiven my mother for what happened to me, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I knew I should forgive her, but I just couldn’t. And I couldn’t stand being around her. I’d get angry and say things I didn’t want to say, and she’d cry. I disliked my mother, but I knew I shouldn’t treat her like I did. It was another reason why I didn’t let her change my mind. “Bye, Mom.”

My mother looked sad, letting her shoulders fall. “Drive safe honey, okay?” She turned away and went back inside, not expecting a hug or a kiss goodbye. That made me feel awful, so awful I went in after and hugged her tight. Then I ran off, got into my car and drove away.

I drove for thirty minutes on auto pilot before I even realized I was on the highway. I turned up my radio as loud as it could go, and drove ninety miles an hour the rest of the way to my dorm. The usual two hour car ride took an hour and fifteen minutes. I drove into my dorm parking lot and just circled the building, trying to calm down. All my familiar feelings of hurt and betrayal rose up in my throat, like a burning shot of whiskey coming up the wrong way. I took my time circling my dorm, breathing deeply to calm myself down. After five laps, I parked and went inside. I was about to go inside, but I heard my roommate talking to her boyfriend inside. I frowned, remembering that she had decided to stay in town with her boyfriend. I knocked on the door so I wouldn’t walk in on anything I didn’t want to see.

“Morgan?” asked my roommate when she took the deadbolt off the door. Her boyfriend was sitting on the loveseat looking annoyed. She let me in, and I walked inside, quickly dumping my books and my suitcase in my room. “I didn’t think you were coming back until Sunday night…”

“Rough holiday.” I said with a shrug. I took a look at my bed, and realized it looked a lot more disordered than usual. “Did you do something in my bed?” I asked, more disturbed that there had been a man in my bed than angry.

“Well, I thought you were coming back Sunday…” She said weakly.

I collected my books, and left my room “Wash the sheets, and I’ll forget it ever happened. Okay?” I said with understanding as I slammed the door to the dorm behind me. I sat in my car for a few minutes, trying to decide where to go. The library was closed until the following Monday, so I couldn’t study there, and Vicky and Donohue were still out of town, so they were out of the question…then the answer hit me like a brick between the eyes. I started my car again, and drove to Katrina’s. I walked down the long hallway and was halfway to Katrina’s door when I bumped into Alice, who was rounding the corner.

“Sorry!” I said, a little mortified. I had only met Alice a few weeks before. She was a strange thin-boned red-haired beauty, like she was some kind of fairy, or elf, especially with her grey almond-shaped eyes. She was about ten years older than me, which made me feel embarrassed to have walked into her. I knew graduate students had the tendency to look down on undergraduates, and I didn’t want her to think I was just another loudmouth college kid.

She looked at me and smiled slightly. “I’ve been meaning to paint you.”

I frowned a little at that. “What?”

“I’m a painter. That’s what I do. Come in. I’ll show you.” She opened the door to her apartment and walked in, before I could refuse her. I looked at Katrina’s door down the hallway guiltily. I knew Katrina didn’t like Alice, for reasons unknown to me, and I didn’t know how my friend would react if she saw me leaving Alice’s apartment. A flash of gold out of the corner of my eye made up my mind for me. Alice was holding up a picture of a school of koi. The koi were all the colors of rainbow, and outlined in gold leaf. The fish seemed to glow against the blueberry blue background, and when Alice moved the painting to hold it up to me, they looked like they were moving. “What do you think of this?”

“It’s very…pretty.” My words felt like a huge understatement, but I couldn’t think of anything else to say.

She just gave me her mysterious slight smile again. “Thank you. It’s one of my favorite paintings. Koi are my favorite fish. But I was hoping to paint a person for once.” I stepped inside and looked around in her apartment. There were animals everywhere: Black panthers that shimmered in blue-black shadows; Umber-orange giraffes twisting their necks to reach forest canopies of tea and teal; Yawning golden brown lions flashing teeth of ivory crème against a blood-red sunset. It was as if she had painted a cageless Technicolor zoo. There was color everywhere, and no too paintings had exactly the same shade of any color.

“Who taught you how to paint like this?”

“My maternal grandfather was an artist. I learned a lot from watching him paint.” I handed her the painting of the koi. “Thank you.”

“So why do you want to paint me?”

“I lied actually.” She said in a matter of fact way.

“Why?”

“I wanted to talk to you. I didn’t know if Katrina wanted you to hate me or not.”

“I don’t understand this. What is it with you two?”

Alice waved me towards a sofa in her living room. It wasn’t nearly as expensive as Katrina’s, but it was made of a softer synthetic material. I seemed to sink into the couch, like it was made of nothing but plushyness. “It’s a little embarrassing, actually. I hit on Katrina when she first moved in here. I came on pretty strong to the point where she bitched me out and said she wasn’t a lesbian.”

“Ouch. That doesn’t seem like her. Then again, she did freak out when I first met her too.”

“It really is embarrassing. I usually have perfect gaydar.” She smiled at me knowingly.

“Me too. I knew you were gay right away.” I said, smiling back. “This is the first time someone has used a painting excuse as a reason to get them into their apartment.”

“Do I get points for originality?”

“Of course you do.” I leaned forward to kiss her. Her lips were soft, moist and pleasant.

“I thought I was supposed to make the first move….”

“Since I’m just a lil’ ol’ baby dyke.” I finished for her.

“Well, I can at least make the second move.” She drew me to her and kissed me, exploring my mouth with her tongue. We sat there on her couch just kissing until I remembered what I really wanted. A girlfriend. Not some random hookup. I pulled away from Alice, still tasting her on my lips.

“Is something wrong?”

“Are you out?”

“Yes. Is that a problem?” She looked as if she was holding her breath, waiting for me to leave.

I grinned in relief. “That’s great.” I ran my fingers over her beautiful red hair. “That’s the sexiest thing anyone’s ever said to me.”

“You’ve never been with someone who’s out?”

I shook my head. “Everyone wants to play. No one wants the title.”

Alice chuckled. “I don’t know if I would call it a title. But I do claim it.”

“I’m surprised you don’t have a girlfriend. You’re gorgeous.”

“Thank you.” she said, smiling graciously. “Many women can’t appreciate my schedule as an artist. I can be very…devoted to the process.”

“Well, considering how beautiful your art is, it’s understandable that it would take up a lot of your time.”

Alice smiled toothily. “I knew I would like you. Most women your age are very clingy.” She leaned in for another kiss, but I pulled back, remembering that I wanted a girlfriend and not a hookup.

“I was actually going to surprise my friend.” I admitted.

“I see.” She said in a sour tone. I could tell that she didn’t like Katrina either from her expression.

“Don’t be mad. I’ll come back and see you later.”

She nodded graciously, but refused to smile. “Alright.”

“I really like you too.” I said in apology.

She smiled then, lifting her mouth a little at the corners. “We’ll see each other later then.”

I walked down the hall and knocked on Katrina’s door. “Just a minute!” she called out. “I just got home.” I heard her walk to the door and pause as she looked through the peephole. “Morgan!” she squealed. She opened the door and gave a big rib-bruising hug.

“Ow!” I said.

“Sorry! It’s just that you said that you weren’t coming home early. Come in. I was just about to watch Dark Angel season 2 on DVD.”

“I was just going to study-”

“What? You can’t just come over to my apartment to study on holiday break!”

“You know, you can’t be offended if you study with me.” I suggested.

Katrina just tossed her hair in annoyance. “One of these days, I’m going to teach you how to relax. Starting now.” She took my hand and dragged me to her couch and made me sit down. “Rule number one for the rest of the break: no studying.”

“I have a scholarship-”

“Bullshit. Not on Thanksgiving vacation you don’t.” She took my books from me and set them on her table.

I folded my arms in annoyance. “My studies are important to me.”

Katrina rolled her eyes. “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. If you want to study so bad, then why are you here?”

I shrugged. “My roommate has her boyfriend over.”

Katrina sighed. “Just sit tight, and I’ll go change.”

“You look fine.” I told her. She was wearing casual clothes, just her red and black college t-shirt, and jeans. I hadn’t ever seen her without makeup on, but she still looked pretty. Her face looked a little tired, but otherwise it was the same old Katrina.

“Yeah right. I’ll be back in a minute. And no studying.” With a wink, she went into her bedroom. Taking a deep breath, I turned on the t.v. I flipped through the channels, being momentarily confused by the new Power Ranger Series. “Since when is the blue ranger a girl?” I muttered before turning to Comedy Central and laughing at an old Absolutely Fabulous episodes.

“You like Absolutely Fabulous?” asked Katrina, sitting next to me. “I don’t get British comedy.”
I wrinkled my nose and turned to say something sarcastic, but she was too beautiful. She had on soft gold eyeshadow, blush, and soft pink lipstick. “What?” she asked me. “See something you like?” She asked with a wink.

“Not really.” I muttered, whipping my head back around to the t.v.

“What’s the show about anyway?”

“An irresponsible rich mother who has a super responsible teenage daughter. It’s funny because there’s a lot of physical humor. You can turn the sound off and still laugh at what’s going on.”

Katrina grimaced. “Looks dated. I’d rather watch Dark Angel.”

I shrugged and handed her the remote. “It’s your apartment.”

“Well…I think I can stomach one or two episodes of Absolutely Fabulous. You are a guest after all.”

“Guest my ass. More like voluntary prisoner!” I snorted. Katrina gave me a playful shove, and then we settled down and watched  Absolutely Fabulous. Katrina eventually got the hang of the accents and started to laugh along with me.

The episode was about Edina’s fortieth birthday party, and the hilarious guests that showed up. “I could never have a birthday party and have all my exes come over. That would not be good for anyone involved.” Katrina commented once it was all over.

“Yeah. You’d have a houseful of them. Everyone would end up spilling out into the hallway.” I joked.

Katrina opened her mouth to say something, but all she could manage was a loud, “Whatever!” and a slight blush. Then she started putting in her Dark Angel dvd.

“I never watched the second season. Is it any good?”

“Not as good as the first one. But still pretty good.” We watched about two episodes of Dark Angel before I started to get drowsy. “Do you want to lie down for a minute? You can have my bed if you want.”

The thought of sleeping in Katrina’s bed made me spring upright immediately. “I’m alright.”

Katrina shrugged, and looked a little hurt. “I was only offering because I thought you were tired. I didn’t mean anything by it.”

“Sorry.” I rubbed my shaven head with a little shame. “I didn’t mean to react like that, but I’m okay. I’ll try to stay awake.” I thought about going home, so Alice wouldn’t see me leaving Katrina’s apartment too late, but I made myself watch a few episodes for Katrina’s sake. “Alright, I’m going back to my dorm now.” I announced, after watching half of the second season.

“You don’t have to rush home.”

I shrugged. “It’s cool. I’ll be fine.”

Katrina folded her arms. “Do you need me to go over there and kick their asses?”

I grinned. “Thanks but no thanks, big sister.”

Katrina blushed. “Sorry. There I go again being pushy.”

“It’s okay. I’m used to that by now.”

“So I’ll see you tomorrow?” She asked hopefully.

I hesitated. I didn’t want to push our friendship to the side, but I wanted to get to know Alice a little better. “Sunday maybe.”

“Aw, come on. You didn’t come all this way back just to stay cooped up in your dorm room. We don’t have to stay here. We can go out and do something.”

I shook my head. “I need one day to myself this weekend, but I promise on Sunday I’m all yours.”

“Really? You get to be all mine on Sunday?” teased Katrina.

I thought about Alice and got annoyed. No wonder Alice got a gay vibe from Katrina! “Whatever.”

Katrina noticed my tone and looked stunned. “Are you alright? You’ve been acting really weird since you got here.”

“I just need to get going.” I collected my books and walked to her door.

“Whatever it is, I’ll find out.” mused Katrina from her sofa.

“What are you talking about?” I asked, irritated that she knew I was keeping something from her.

“You think I’m some stupid rich girl who doesn’t have a clue about anyone else’s feelings. But I do. I know you’re hiding something.”

“So what if I am? You’re not my girlfriend, Katrina.” I snapped.

Her big brown eyes got even larger, if that was possible. “That’s not what I meant…”

“Whatever.” I left her apartment and stomped down the hallway to my car. I was mad at Katrina’s nosiness, and her snide confidence that she’d figure me out. “Whatever.” I muttered to myself as I started up my car, and drove back to my dorm. Thankfully, my sheets had been cleaned and there was no sign of my roommate or her boyfriend. At that point I wouldn’t have cared anyway. It had been a tiresome day and I was asleep in a few minutes.

In the morning, I studied until I got a phone call from Alice. “Hi.” I said nervously.

“Can you come see me?” She asked.

I checked my clock to make sure I heard her right. “Are you sure? It’s not even ten o’clock yet.”

“I wanted to have breakfast with you.”

“Breakfast sounds good.” I admitted. Still, I was surprised that she wanted to see me so soon. “I’ll get dressed and head over there.”

“Whatever you decide to put on won’t really matter. I’m already waiting here with nothing on…”

I almost choked. “Ex-excuse me?”

“I’m not much of a comedian, Morgan. I usually speak the truth. Does that make you uncomfortable?”

“Um…no.” I lied. Although I wasn’t a virgin by any stretch of the imagination, and she was a gorgeous older woman, I didn’t know if sleeping with her would be such a good idea. After all, giving it up without so much as a date would make me easy. “But maybe we should get to know each other.” I gulped. I knew I sounded like a cheesy Public Service Announcement for lesbians, but I didn’t want her to think I was that hard up.

“So you’re the kind of woman that like to be wined and dined, hmm?” she asked. I couldn’t tell if she was mocking me or taking my opinion seriously just by listening to her voice.

“Not really. But I’d really like to date you.”

“Date me?” Her laughter was light and high like tinkling glass. I swallowed hard. Was she laughing at me? Did she think it was beneath her to date me?

“Yes. I’d like to date you.” I said, feeling embarrassed at being laughed at.

“Sure. Why not?  I haven’t dated anyone in while.”

“Gee. Thanks.”

“Well, you know how it is.”

I nodded my head, feeling sheepish for overreacting. “Yes. For sure.”

“So where should I take you?”

I blinked. “What makes you think I can’t take you out?”

Alice gave me more light laughter. “If you think you can handle  taking me out to eat at Paradigm, then by all means, pick me up for a late brunch.”

I gulped audibly. With very little money to my name, taking her out to eat at the trendy, well-known restaurant would make me broke for sure. “Sure.” I made myself say, hoping I could think of something.

“Excellent.” She said. “Eleven would be perfect.”

“Great. Great…” I said, swallowing hard.

“I’ll see you then. Bye.”

“Bye.” I hung up my phone and frantically dumped out all the contents of my wallet. I had a few ten dollar bills that my mom had given me when I came home from Thanksgiving, but not much else. One, two, three, four of them. I frowned. That was probably enough for a meal and a half, but not enough for two people. I crossed my fingers, hoping that brunch would be less expensive than dinner, while vowing to settle for water as long as Alice could eat her meal.

I dressed in a long-sleeved black shirt under a shearling white vest with some black pants and loafers. I took one step outside of my dorm into the parking lot, and ran back inside for a jacket. I read the weather report and was reminded of the large cold front that was slowly moving across the state. After cursing about it, I rushed over to Alice’s.

Alice was already waiting outside, bundled up in a red leather coat, and warm-looking cerulean cord jeans from the Gap. “It’s freezing! Please tell me your car has heat!” she exclaimed as soon as she got in.

“Uh. Yeah.” I said, turning it up to full blast for her benefit.

“Thank you. I just figured it didn’t.”

I raised my eyebrow at that. “It may be am old car, but I make sure that it has the essentials.”

“I wasn’t trying to be offensive. I just thought I was being realistic about you driving a twenty-year old car. I’m surprised it still runs!” She flooded my car with her light, bubbly laughter, but it seemed heavy to my ears. I felt ashamed of my car for the first time in months. I swallowed hard and didn’t look at her. Alice didn’t seem to notice my expression. “Come on. Let’s get there before all the good seats are taken.”

I tried to swallow my pride. After all, she was speaking the truth about my car. I was already eligible for a visit from Xzibit to come and pimp my ride. The recent paint job only made it look good on the outside. On the inside, my steering wheel cover was peeling off, the stitching in the seats was coming undone, and my shocks were bad, giving me a very bumpy trip on most days. Thankfully, it was a quick drive  to Paradigm, and I didn’t have to feel ashamed of myself for too long. At least, that’s what I thought then.

Me and Alice walked into to Paradigm, where white-aproned waiters ran around frantically trying to balance platters of English muffins, bagels, and assorted breakfast pastries and glasses of orange juice. The restaurant was loud, inhabited by well-dressed people who mostly talked with their hands, or raised their voices to get their point across. The host directed us to a table towards the side of the restaurant, out of the way of most of the chaos. I took in most of the restaurant when I sat down to take off my vest. The theme of the restaurant seemed to be an ode to science, with hard back chairs in the shape of geometric shapes, and the tables balanced on top of pyramids. It was a bit intimidating to say the least.

Before I could barely take a breath, our waiter was at our table with menus, which were designed to look like old-fashioned black slates. I raised my eyebrow at the brunch section. Thankfully, none of the brunch selections were more than fifteen dollars each. Anything Alice chose would not have me in the back washing dishes to pay for it.

“I’ll have the ham quiche, please.” said Alice, barely glancing at her menu.

“I’ll have the croissant with sliced bananas and praline sauce.” I said, calmly, even though the table next to me and Alice was involved in a heated debate over abstract art versus realistic art.

“Anything to drink?” asked the waiter.

“I’ll have water.” said Alice.

“Water for me too.” I added.

The waiter nodded. “I’ll be back with your water shortly.”

“Excellent choice. The croissants here are perfect. Buttery, but not too buttery. You must have a sweet tooth this morning.”

“I like bananas. And the praline sauce sounded too good to pass up.”

We talked about ourselves awhile over our meal. Alice was a half-Japanese, half-Irish American “mutt” (as she called herself) raised in San Francisco. “It’s so different here. Everyone is so closeted. No one here knows how to be themselves. In Frisco, you could kiss another woman in public and no one would bat an eye. What was is like for you? Growing up gay on the east coast, I mean?”

I shrugged. “It was weird, I guess. There was no one else in my family like me. I didn’t know anyone else who was gay. But I knew who I was. In college, I just came into my own and did what came naturally.”

“Like banging every curious girl who made eye contact with you?”

We both laughed at that, my throaty laughter mixing together with delicate giggling. “Not every single one, but yes. I’ve had a few women in my bed.” I sighed. “You must have been so lucky to have grown up in a place like California. Where people can be themselves.”

Alice sighed. “It wasn’t all fun and games. California is a very expensive place to live, not to mention a very expensive place to earn your degree. When I decided to get my Master’s, I decided to defect from the West and get my degree over here.”

“That takes a lot of guts. To just pick up and move to the other side of the country.”

Alice shrugged. “I was bored too. I needed inspiration for my work. New scenery.”

“Do you like Florida?”

“It’s not as diverse as California, but it has it’s merits.” Her lips curved into an easy smile. “Like cute Senior co-eds for example.”

“I’m sure they have beautiful senior co-eds in California too.” I pointed out. “And I’m sure you’ve had your share of those.”

Alice dabbed away the last of her quiche from her chin. “Maybe.” Her eyes were on mine, narrowed slightly. I couldn’t read her expression. She caught the attention of our waiter, who was busy at another table, and waved him over. “I’d like the check. Put it on this, please.” She told him, handing him a credit card.

“I thought I told you I was paying for brunch.”

She waved her hand at me in annoyance, as if she were swatting away a fly in the summertime. “You need the money more than I do. There’s no sense in you going broke for one meal.”

I squinted out of annoyance. “It’s not a big deal.”

“Pride will get you nowhere with me.” She said, leaning towards me with a smirk. “I suggested the place, so it’s my treat.” I frowned and stared at my empty plate, smeared with remnants of croissant bits and praline sauce. Sure she was right, but it was so humiliating to be called poor. Her soft, thin hand covering mine made me look up again. “You are adorable when you pout like that.” Her fingers drew my chin to hers, and her kiss made me forget about any embarrassment she may have caused me.

Everything after that was a blur: She paid for the meal, and then I was driving back to her apartment, and then we were in her apartment, discarding clothes any and everywhere. She was just as beautiful unclothed as she was with clothes on. She had a petite body with small breasts, sprinkled with freckles that I found fascinating. But her small size didn’t make her delicate by any stretch of the imagination. She had her small, strong legs wrapped around me like steel rebar, and wasted no time pinning me to her bed and scissoring me into orgasm. Before I could recover, she was eating me out, making me cry her name as she fingered me and sucked my clit simultaneously. She was insatiable, but so was I. As soon as she started to slow down, I flipped her onto her back and gave her the tongue fucking of her life. We went back and forth like that for hours. I tried things with her I hadn’t dared to mention to my fellow undergrads. Things like strap-ons…and vibrators. Before I knew it, it was late afternoon, and I didn’t think I’d ever be able to walk again. Not that I wanted to.

Alice brought me a glass of chianti in bed. “Thank you.” I told her. “Is this a California thing?”

She responded by straddling my lap, and giggling. “Maybe. Maybe not.”

“You’re going to make me spill all this wine.” I said, oddly nervous after all we had done together.

“So sip slowly.” She said, raising the glass to my lips. She held my eyes with her clear, gray vision as I sipped. The bold and fruity chianti warmed my throat as it slid down into my stomach. After I drank the whole glass, I felt a heady buzz that I hadn’t felt from drinking anything else before.

“Did you put something in my drink? I feel funny.” I asked, with a wide grin on my face.

“No. It’s just very good wine.” she said. She tossed her arms around my neck. “Tell me how you feel.” She whispered into my ear.

“Very good.” I chuckled. I ran my hands down her back and stroked her ass appreciatively.

“You don’t know what you’re getting yourself into.” She said, gasping as I tightened my grip on her.

“I guess you’ll have to show me then…” I let my voice trail off before I kissed her.

“I think it was a mistake letting you drink first…” she muttered against my neck. “Now you’re too cocky for your own good.” She kissed my cheek. “I think I liked you better when you were sweet.”

“I’m still sweet.” I murmured into her ear. “But you can taste me again just to make sure…” I gave her earlobe a long, teasing lick.

Alice giggled in my arms, grinding her crotch against mine. “I’ll just have to fix that attitude of yours with a long, hard fuck young lady…”

By the time we started our second round of sexual Olympics, it was well into the night, and we were both exhausted again. “I’m going to go.” I said, more out of habit than out of the actual ability to get up and go.

“You aren’t going anywhere.” Alice told me, pulling me close to her.

“This is kidnapping.” I teased.

“I’m keeping you close in case I need a midnight snack.” she teased back. We shared a kiss before we settled in together. Alice went to sleep soon after that, but I stayed up for a while, basking in the moment. I wanted to jump up and down on the bed like an excited little kid.

Somehow, I managed to fall asleep, but I wasn’t asleep for long. At five a.m., I woke up to the sound of water running, and realized that Alice was taking a shower. I sat and started to get up before I winced. My body ached all over, not to mention the fact that I had a shitload of scratches on my back. I groaned and got to my feet, hunting for my long-lost clothes. I couldn’t help but chuckle as I found my shirt caught on a lampshade, my vest in the living room, and my bra dangling from a ceiling fan. I never actually found my panties.

I grinned when I saw Alice wrapped up in a towel, slightly bruised from what we did together the day before. “How do you feel?”

“Like I just got turned out.” She waved her finger over to me, and opened up her towel up a little with a little shimmy action. All my aches and pains seemed to vanish when I held her hot, naked body against me and kissed her. “Save some of that for later. I have to get started on a painting.”

I sighed but nodded. “Alright. I need to recover anyway.” Then I remembered that I was supposed to hang out with Katrina. “Yeah. I really have to go.” I quickly tossed on my clothes and left her apartment. I took a shower in my dorm, and managed to get a few more hours sleep before Katrina knocked on my door.

“Hey. I know you were pretty bored by just sitting around all day watching DVD’s and TV at my place, so I thought we’d go out and do something fun.” said Katrina as she walked in.

“Katrina, it’s freezing outside, and I’m a tired as hell.” I said. “Just hanging out would be perfect on a day like today.”

She squinted at me, and then laughed in recognition. “Oh my God! That hickey on your neck is huge!”

I bit my lip and covered the spot on my neck with my hand. “Crap!”

“Oh my God!” Katrina repeated, moving my hand away. “I think I need to contact The Guinness Book of World Records. That’s got to be a record sized mark somewhere.”

“Quit, Trina!” I said, annoyed that she had called attention to my love-bite.

Katrina giggled. “Okay, fine, crybaby. But how are you going to cover that up in public?”

“I’ll wear a scarf. It’s cold enough to wear one.” I grumbled. “Where are we going, anyway?”

“It’s a surprise. Come on. I’ll drive us.”

I reluctantly bundled myself up in two layers of clothes, being sure to cover up my neck, and followed Katrina out to her car. “This had better be good for me to leave the safety of my warm bed on a Sunday morning.” I muttered as I buckled up.

My friend made a disgusted sound in her throat. “Why are you so lame?” She asked. I just folded my arms and shrugged. “You’ll like this.” She drove us to the Fine Arts Building, and I was surprised to see several cars parked in the parking lot. Unusual since all of the department buildings were supposed to be closed.

“What’s going on here?” I asked.

“It’s a surprise.” She said with a bright light in her eyes.

“As long as it’s free, I’m game.”

“You’ll love this. Come on!” She jumped out of her car, and when I slowly removed myself from my seat, she caught my hand, slammed the door behind me, and raced for the Fine Arts Building.

“Hey, slow down!” I shrieked as I struggled to keep up with my long-legged friend.

“I’m freezing my ass off! I need to get inside!” She yelled back. We were inside the Fine Arts Building in under a minute, but I was still out of breath when we got inside.

“You…totally…suck, Katrina.” I panted, bent over and holding my stomach from a minor side stitch.

“Oh come on. I thought you worked out.”

“Working out is not the same as sprinting across parking lots and up stairs.” I told her.

“Do you guys want some hot chocolate?” asked a overly happy underclassmen from behind the counter of the concession stand to our left. She was extremely thin and long nosed, and not very pretty, but her personality more than made up for it. “Hey, Katrina!”

“Hey Kylie! I’m glad you finally got that part-time job you were looking for.”

Kylie’s expression drooped, reminding me of a sad penguin. “It’s not really a job. I’m just helping out the band. They thought it would be cool if they could offer everyone free hot chocolate.”

“The band? What band?” I asked.

“Didn’t you know that Sugar Free is performing here? They’re a great band, and sometimes they invite people up onstage to sing along. They’re really cool.” Kylie gushed.

“What kind of music do they play?” I asked, wincing mentally.

“A little bit of everything. Southern rock, grunge, classic rock, rap, r&b…and they love to cover different songs. They have got to be the greatest band ever!” Kylie squealed. She literally sounded like a little kid.

My eyes momentarily widened at her exclamations before returning to a normal size. “Sounds great.”

“We’ll take two cups of hot chocolate, please.” said Katrina.

“Sure.” said Kylie with a bright smile.

God she’s green, I thought to myself. I hope this band is worth my time. I had always been pretty picky about my music. Considering my musical education as a kid, I didn’t have much choice.

“Here you go!” said Kylie, handing us two steaming Styrofoam cups. “Have fun!”

“Sneak out once in a while to catch a song. I won’t tell if you won’t!” said Katrina with a wink.

“I will!” said Kylie, waving to us like were going on a cruise.

Me and Katrina walked inside the nearly-empty auditorium and took our seats in the front row. The audience was seated all over the auditorium, but I quickly counted at least fifty people. I frowned. Usually the auditorium was full for concerts. The band wasn’t any good, I decided. I sighed heavily, slumping into my seat slightly.

“You are really going to like this.” said Katrina.

“Then why are there only a couple of people here? And how come I’ve never heard of them?”

Katrina rolled her eyes. “Thanksgiving break, remember? That’s why hardly anyone’s here. And Sugar Free isn’t from around here.”

I bit my lip. “Alright. I’ll give them a chance.”

“Katrina! Hey!” whispered a guy from my left. He had black, short spiked hair, and a dark complexion that made me think he was either Italian or Greek.

“Fredo! How the hell are you?” She whispered loudly.

“No. How the hell are you?” He whispered back. They giggled together, and proceeded to catch up. Apparently they had met at another Sugar Free concert and I inferred from the way that they talked to each other that they had either hooked up, or came close to it. I rolled my eyes as they talked over me until Katrina decided to introduce me to Fredo.

“This is my friend Morgan. This is her first time listening to Sugar Free.”

Fredo looked like he was about to have a heart attack. “Get outta here! This your first time? You know what this means!”

I frowned in confusion. “What does that mean?”

Fredo opened his mouth to say something, but Katrina cut him off. “Don’t tell her.”

“I don’t like surprises.” I said, feeling uneasy.

Fredo chuckled. “Then you should leave now! Sugar Free is full of them!”

I frowned. “What’s so special about Sugar Free, anyway?” Katrina and Fredo looked at each other and laughed. I rolled my eyes yet again. God, these two should get a room!

“Do you think we should start the chant early?” Katrina asked Fredo.

“Why the hell not?” he replied. He stood up and raised his fist. “Sugar Free is sugar fucking free!”

Katrina stood up and repeated the phrase. “Sugar Free is sugar fucking free!”

Before I could blink and ask what the hell was going on, the entire audience had taken up the chant. Whoa, I really need to get the fuck out of here! I thought, looking for an exit. Everyone was on their feet, pumping their arms and chanting. No one was sitting down in their seat like I was. Everyone in that auditorium loved that band. I had never seen anything like it.

Suddenly the curtains slid away from the stage, exposing the band. It was a quartet: a buzz-haired male drummer, with a pretty hawk nosed brunette on bass, a heavy-set blonde on lead guitar, and strangely enough, a black woman with a wild mane of hair on acoustic guitar. They all looked like they were pretty bored up there, and viewed the auditorium with mild annoyance.

“Hey!” said the woman with the acoustic guitar. “We’re trying to practice here!”

“Bullshit! I didn’t hear any music!” yelled Katrina.

“Your amp’s not even plugged in!” Fredo called out.

The acoustic guitarist looked angry, and then burst out laughing. “Alright. You caught us.”

“Are you supposed to be talking to them like that?” I asked Katrina.

“Of course! That’s what makes them the best band ever!” Katrina exclaimed to me.

“I think I’m looking at a new person in the audience.” said the guitarist with a mischievous grin. She was looking me straight in the eye. I was horrified. She made a tut-tut sound. “Relax. This isn’t the Metropolitan Opera. It’s just me having a good time with my friends. That’s what music should be about.”

“Um, Les? We kind of have a show to do.” said the brunette.

“Yeah. The non-paying show that you talked us into doing.” added the blonde.

“Stop bugging her, you guys. We were all bored, anyway.” said the drummer.

“Gee thanks.” muttered an audience member loud enough to be heard.

“There you go, pissing off the fans again, Cox and Stimson!” said Les. “Thanks for having my back, Aesop.”

“He’s got more than your back.” muttered Stimson. The audience broke out into cat calls and hoots.

“Well, I think it’s about time to start our song list now!” said Les, suddenly eager get on with it. They didn’t act like anything they said was rehearsed, and I didn’t think it was. I had to admit, them being blatantly honest with us was pretty cool. “So let’s hear it! Sugar Free is-”

“Sugar fucking free!” yelled the audience.

“And don’t you forget it! One, two, three, four, y’all let’s do this!” The band started with a very interesting R&B rendition of “Fighter” by Christina Aguilera. I was taken aback by it, but it was really good. Then the band covered Kelis’s “Milkshake” but played it like a Nu Metal song. I was stuck to my seat, in shock by the raw talent of the band, but the rest of the audience stood up and sang along, or danced in the aisles. It was an experience unlike anything else I’d ever seen from a concert.

The band’s talents weren’t limited to unusual mashups. They had an impressive repertoire of their own original material, songs that were flavored with punk, rock, and R&B. Occasionally, they would pick someone out of the audience to get up on stage with them and sing a song. Of course, no one in the audience could compete with Les’s vocal range, but it wasn’t about competing. It was all about having a good time. I felt I wasn’t watching a performance at all. I was having a good time with people who loved music. It made me almost want to cry. I loved music too, but I could never get myself to sing. It hurt too much.

“Isn’t this great!” asked Katrina in the auditorium bathroom during on of Sugar Free’s breaks between sets.

“It’s amazing.” I told her. “I’ve never seen anything like it. Where are they from?”

“They’re from a small town in southern Georgia. They were going to break up, but a music scout saw them and convinced them to sign with J Records. We’re so lucky to see them up close like this! And for free!” Then Katrina looked sad as she washed her hands. “After this, they’ll be selling out theaters and stadiums all over. I may not be able to see them again.”

“You act like you know them.” I said.

“They’re friends of mine.” She said. “Maybe not close friends, but they’re still friends. I’ve seen them perform before, and they’ve always been like that. Always making everyone a part of the show. Inviting people from the audience to sing along onstage. I’m not even much of singer, and it didn’t matter to them.” She sighed. “I’ll miss them.”

I was quiet for a while, just thinking. Was it possible for me to ever get onstage and sing just for fun, without worrying about failing, or my own private pain? I didn’t think so. It made me envious of the band. “They don’t know what they have…” I said, with a little more venom than I had anticipated.

“Huh?” said Katrina. “What are you talking about?”

I just shook my head. Katrina would never understand how I felt about music. Music could never be fun for me if I sang. “I need to go.”

“Why? Don’t you like the band?”

“The best band in the world…” I muttered, musing painfully over Kylie’s words. “They sure are.” They were good enough to remind me that I’d never be able to perform like them, no matter how much of me loved music.

“You don’t like the band?” said Katrina, mistaking my pain for sarcasm. “How can you not like Sugar Free? They can do anything! They’re amazing!”

I shook my head, knowing she would never understand if I explained myself. “I just need to go home.”

Katrina looked absolutely angry with me. I had never seen her like that. I could have sworn that thick, white plumes of smoke were going to rush out of her ears any second. “It’s almost over with anyway.”

I felt panicked remembering that Sugar Free often picked audience members out of the crowd. “I can’t stay here any longer. I’ll walk home if I have to.”

“You can’t walk home! It’s 25 degrees outside, and your dorm is five miles away!” Katrina exclaimed. Then she took a deep breath and smiled again. “You know, if you don’t like what the band is playing, you can always request something.”

I shook my head vigorously. Hearing Sugar Free playing one of my favorite songs would only break my heart. “I just need to go.”

“I am not letting my best friend walk out in the middle of a winter storm.” said Katrina evenly.

My eyes opened wide at that. “Best friend?”

“Yeah. Who else would put up with your mood swings?”

I ducked my head, feeling ashamed with myself. “You’re not serious.”

“Of course I’m serious.” She put her hands on my shoulders. “What’s wrong? Never had a bestie?”

I felt too embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t, so I just looked at her. She blushed for some reason, but before she could say anything else, Kylie burst into the bathroom. “Why are you still in here? The next set is about to start!”

I brushed off Katrina’s hands and followed Kylie out into the auditorium. I took my normal seat next to Katrina, but I didn’t say anything to her. I just wanted it to be over, and I hoped I could get through the rest of the concert. Sugar Free started out by playing “I Can’t Let Go” by Mariah Carey as a depressing country ballad. I couldn’t move. It was like they weren’t even trying to think when they performed. The music just flowed naturally from them. It made me angry. Angry that they could be musicians because they enjoyed playing. I gripped my armrest in a white-knuckle grip, and my breaths came out shakily.

Katrina’s hand covering my own made me freeze. “What’s wrong?” she whispered to me. “Why are you so upset?”

I wanted to cry, but I settled for biting my lip. The band played more songs, and I felt like I was an emotional rollercoaster, hanging on by the seat of my pants. Sugar Free played “Chop Suey” as an 80’s hair ballad, turned “Heard It Through The Grapevine” and “Sunny Came Home” upside down by playing them like punk songs, and “Gotta Tell You” by turning into a modern alternative rock song. The audience was on their feet the whole time.

At the end of “Gotta Tell You”, Les looked straight at me. “All right newbie. It’s your turn. It’s traditional that anyone new to our shows have to sing with the band. Come on up here.”

I just looked down. I couldn’t get up there. Not without feeling sick to my stomach. Not without wanting to run away and curl up into a ball in some dark corner of the auditorium. Not without wanting to die.

“Morgan. It’s okay. No one expects you to do be a Mariah Carey up there.” whispered Katrina.

“You don’t get it.” I said, tightening my grip on her hand.

Les unstrapped her guitar, and jumped off the stage. She walked over to me, with the wireless mike in her hands. “Stage fright isn’t going to get you out of this.” She said, handing me the mike. I shook my head. She didn’t understand. I had no fear of crowds. “Come on. We can play anything you want.”

I shrugged, and squeezed my eyes shut, not wanting to look at her. “Pick anything you want.”

“Do you know ‘The Sweetest Taboo’ by Sade?”

I grinned ironically, determined to hide my panic. “Who doesn’t?”

“I’ll sing the first half of each verse, and then we can harmonize for the chorus. Can you handle that?”

I laughed. Harsh, mocking laughter. The auditorium got silent, until I finished. “Of course.” I said, once I stopped laughing.

Les looked at me strangely, and got back up onstage. Katrina looked at me with a horrified expression on her face. “What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to give you a singing lesson.” I said grimly. Then I smiled. I couldn’t remember the last time I had sung anything. “I hope you enjoy this Katrina.”

Katrina looked at me and swallowed hard, noting the bitterness in my voice. I spoke into my mike as sweetly as I could. “I’m ready when you are, Les.”

Les nodded at the band, and they started playing the song. Les sang the first half of the chorus soft and sweet, and I sang the second half of the song just as sweetly. I didn’t allow myself to think about what I was doing, but I could feel that familiar numbness creeping across my skin again. I sang the song perfectly. Les was grinning throughout our duet, and everyone was moving to the music.

“Wow!” said Les. “I didn’t know there was anyone who could sing like you.” She said when we were done.

I smiled faintly. Already I could feel myself slipping away, withdrawing into myself. I extended my arm out to Les to return the microphone, but my fingers failed me, and I dropped it. “It’s happening again, isn’t it?” asked Katrina.

I nodded quickly. “I need to go home.”

“Okay. I’ll take you home.” She took my hand, and started leading me out of the auditorium. My feet felt heavy, and my vision started to blur. Just outside the auditorium side door, my knees buckled, and I fell. I didn’t even think to catch myself as my head connected with the hard tile of the foyer.

“Uhn!” I cried out, but in truth, I could barely feel it. My whole body felt like it was made of lead.

“Morgan, you have to get up.” Katrina was shaking me, but I couldn’t move. I couldn’t do anything but close my eyes and hope I wouldn’t wake up in the hospital.


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