Illustrated by Charis Shargel (She/Her)
Jenny and I met in the early days of middle school, when everyone was all acne and gangly legs, and got on like a gasoline-soaked house gets on with a match. Frankly, it was a nightmare for our parents. My mom, who I know had been quietly worrying about my ability to make friends, was suddenly unable to enter a shared space in our house without me bombarding her with requests to go to Jenny’s house, stories of something funny that Jenny had said at school today, of Jenny’s new puppy that she got last week. She took it in stride, however jarring it must have been, and was lenient about Jenny and I spending nearly all of our free time together throughout middle and high school. We quickly became each other’s everything: she was the Lancelot to my Arthur, the Will Turner to my Jack Sparrow, the Chandler to my Joey. We were Piper and Jenny, the inseparable pair.
And honestly, Jenny was the most perfect person I had ever met. She was pretty, extroverted, and charismatic — skills she used more than a few times to get me out of trouble with teachers, mall cops, and, once, the real cops. But most of all, she was a good friend. Despite my less-than-social nature and tendency to piss off the people around me, she always had my back and took me to the many, many parties she got invited to without making me feel like a charity case.
When the years of football games and science fairs ended and it came time to apply for college, Jenny and I applied as a unit to various in-state schools and got into all of them despite the minor disciplinary infractions on my record. The decision for University of Michigan was an easy one; she wanted to be an aerospace engineer, and it had the best aeronautics program in our state, and I was obsessed with the campus.
It had never occurred to Jenny and I to not go to college together, even after my dad gently expressed his worries about us being codependent; we had been a team since day one, and only one slightly awkward conversation about it solidified the fact that neither of us planned on losing that partnership. So we moved into a criminally small dorm room with two twin beds and took on the adventure of college together.
Our friendship went as smoothly as it had during the first five years we had known each other; we stayed up late studying, caffeinating ourselves to the brink of delirium and binging the movies from our childhood when we were homesick.
I still didn’t get invited to parties, yet somehow attended more in the first couple months of college than my entire high school career thanks to Jenny’s position in one of the campus sororities.
Tonight was a frat party, and Jenny was looking stunning as ever in a tight-fitting mini skirt and crop top. Shit, I could barely keep my eyes off of her as the colored flashing lights bounced off of her curves – there was no way she was going home without some boy candy on her arm. This thought occurred to me with not a small amount of bitterness, thinking about going home to an empty room and spending the rest of my night quietly, trying to banish the thought of her from my mind.
But right now we were here, and Jenny was holding onto my fingers with tastefully ringed hands and pulling me through the crush of bodies. I allowed myself to sink into her presence as she turned towards me and started bumping to the music. Her face was so close to mine that I could smell her perfectly applied lipstick, the waxy scent that I never could stand but somehow didn’t mind when it was on her.
“We need someone for you to dance with!” She yelled into my ear. I felt my mouth go dry but nodded anyway, forcing a smile. I loved Jenny, but we didn’t exactly have the same taste in men. The guys she picked out for me… well, to put it as nicely as I can, they were fucking idiots. I’d ended up back at our dorm before midnight far too many times.
Then she caught Mateo’s eye from across the floor.
They had slept together more than once, a fact I was privy to considering he would walk out of our shared bedroom with messed up hair and a shit-eating grin some mornings after parties like these. On the nights she took him home, I stayed at a different friend’s house or just walked around all night until my feet were killing me and daylight slipped over the horizon like a pat of butter melting on the pancakes we made on Sunday mornings. Anything was better than sitting in the hallway outside our room to hear her scream through the walls, with Mateo’s voice accompanying her like some horrid discordant harmony. He sounded like a fucking twelve-year-old with how high his voice got. Not only was it annoying and loud as all hell, but it also always made me ache to hear her like that. I think it’s discomfort, but I tried not to hang around long enough to figure it out.
Mateo danced his way over to us from across the room; he looked like an idiot, trying to find a rhythm and failing and saying “excuse me” to every single goddamned person he ran into, which was a lot considering how packed the house was. I don’t understand why she likes him. I mean, he’s cute, I suppose, with black curly hair and smooth tanned skin, but he’s nothing special.
But she did like him at least enough to fuck him, as was evident by the way she started to move through the crowd – much more gracefully than he did, might I add – her posture and facial expression changing as she did so. Following her probably wasn’t the brightest idea I’d had all night, but I was tipsy and didn’t know anyone else at the party. I just wanted to be near Jenny, and I wanted Mateo to fucking go away and that sentiment was enough to make me push through the crowd after her and watch bitterly as they started grinding on each other like animals.
Maybe I had no right to be angry – she was a cute girl in college, not to mention an adult, and she could sleep with whoever the hell she wanted. But watching her smile coyly over her shoulder and his hands graze the softness of her hips and thighs, I felt something boiling in me, eating through my insides and bubbling up in my throat like heartburn.
It finally became too much to bear when she laughed. God, her laugh. The force of that thing in my chest screamed at me to do something, so I stomped up to them as fiercely as I could while navigating through the press of bodies, and all but screamed over the music in her ear, “I’m leaving.”
Even I could hear the malice in my tone, and Jenny’s face fell from the lustful glow she’d had before to confusion and sadness, which immediately made me feel like complete and utter shit. But the awful fire was still burning, and it was just barely enough to get me out the door.
The coldness of outside cooled me down a little, but every time I thought of fucking Mateo touching her like that, I swear I saw steam rising off of my skin. Maybe it was just because I was an angry drunk when I was stressed – and I was with finals right around the corner – but the thought of them together tonight… it was just too much.
Jenny had obviously already called my name a couple times, because we were a considerable distance from the house now and she was only a couple paces behind me. And she sounded pissed. But I was in just the right mood for a fight, the type of mood where, on a normal day, I would take myself to the boxing gym, or a skate park with all of those bratty fucking guys, and blow off some steam. But right now Jenny was right in front of me, and she looked like she was ready to scream, so I was ready to scream back.
“What the fuck is your problem?” Her cheeks were flushed from some mixture of alcohol, the cold, and the residual heat of the small house, and her perfectly pink lips were turned down at the corners in a way I would say was very cute if she didn’t look like she was about to rip my head off.
“Why do you even like him?” The words were out before I could stop them.
Her anger was momentarily quelled by confusion. “What do you mean?”
“Mateo,” I said miserably. I kicked at a rock, sending it skittering towards her, but she didn’t kick it back like she usually did when we walked side-by-side on the way to classes or parties. Now we were face-to-face in the cold, a different picture that I don’t think I liked very much.
She threw her hands in the air. “I don’t know, Piper! I like him because he’s hot, and funny, and he has nice hair. What I want to know is why you have this problem with him! Are you jealous or something? I mean, I set you up with guys all the time, but you never seem to like them. So what is it about him in particular?”
“I don’t like seeing you together,” I blurted out.
Her face twisted, and she let out a snort. “So it is jealousy. Well, I’m sorry that you think he’s cute–”
She kept talking after that, but the ringing in my ears drowned her out. I felt my frustration beginning to mount, mixing with confusion in a blend of emotions that could not possibly lead to anything good. How could she possibly think that I liked Mateo? It was a notion that would never have crossed my mind in a million years, and the fact that she thought it was so was making my brain short-circuit. Maybe it was the lukewarm beer from earlier, but I could not for the life of me find any words that would explain the truth behind my anger. So, in a hazy moment of desperation, I chose something else.
My lips crashed against hers after two wobbly steps forward, my unsteady state making our teeth clack together unpleasantly. As soon as we met, her hands gripped my upper arms so tightly I thought I would lose circulation, and my fingers found their way into her hair, which made it even more awkward when she pulled away.
Her hands were shaking where she brought them up to her lips, touching them with a strange expression on her face. When she spoke, her eyes shone with tears.
“What the fuck was that, Piper?” She said quietly. Her voice broke, and I felt my heart break with it. The times I had seen her hurt lived in my memories as some of the worst experiences in my life and this time, knowing it was my fault made it infinitely more painful.
“No, is this some kind of joke? Why did you do that?”
It’s not like I had thought out anything that had happened tonight, but this is not how I expected that to go. Maybe drunkenly kissing my best friend of seven years wasn’t the best decision I had ever made, but now it seemed more serious than that. Like, friendship-ending serious. Numbly, I realized that it had started to snow, fat flakes drifting down and landing in her hair and eyelashes. In my hazy, pained state, I swore that in the crystalline shapes I saw memories – play dates, sleepovers, parties, everything we had falling, falling, falling until they dissolved on the pavement. Desperation filled me to the brim as I watched, and when I focused on Jenny’s face again, it was heightened by the sight of her tears falling.
My mouth still burned from where I had kissed her when I spoke haltingly, not knowing what else to do.
“Jenny… I don’t like seeing you with Mateo because, well–” I cleared my throat, finding it difficult to get the words out. “I mean, I like you. I think I have for a long time now, I just didn’t realize it.” I stopped to gauge her reaction, but she was just standing there. “I mean, I just always hated seeing you with him so much, and I didn’t realize why, well, until now, I guess, and–”
She surged towards me and grabbed the front of my plaid flannel with something I almost thought was violence, like she was rearing back to hit me, but then her lips met mine and every thought I had ever had left my mind at once. This time, her kiss was slow and sweet, and her fingers twisted gently into my shirtfront. I’ll admit, I flailed rather embarrassingly at first, so stricken with shock that my body responded on its own. After a second, I laid my hands on the small of her back, pulling her closer, closer, closer until we were pressed up against each other, sharing warmth in the cold of the night.
This, I realized, was the reason behind the inexplicable ache in my chest that blossomed when she had her first kiss in seventh grade, when she slept in my bed at slumber parties, when her knee touched mine on the couch while we watched movies, when her hair was wet after a shower, anytime I saw her laugh, whenever she pulled me into a hug. This was the reason I had never been able to find solace in the embrace of anyone else, no matter their wit or kindness or good looks – it was Jenny, it had always been Jenny.
She disconnected far too soon for my liking but didn’t pull away completely. We stayed close, our breaths fogging the air between us. I was hyper-aware of the press of her thighs, hips, torso, and chest against mine (which was doing something incredibly not platonic to me), and her hands, which had moved from my shoulders to cup my face.
“Piper,” she breathed, and it was like she was saying it for the first time.
“Jenny,” I replied with a smile that grew so wide I thought it would split my face in half.
“Let’s go home,” she said.
The separation of our bodies wasn’t as painful as I expected it to be, perhaps because I knew they would reconnect once we got back to our too-small dorm room.
She grabbed my hand, and our fingers stayed interlocked as we walked down the sidewalk as Piper and Jenny, the inseparable pair.
Author: Emma Blakely (They/She/He)
Artist: Charis Shargel (She/Her)
Copy Editors: Brooke Borders (She/Her), Bella (She/They)