Technically they’re not allowed to drink in the dorms, but Gideon Nav has never been a stickler for the rules. She barely knows these people—it’s the first week of college, classes haven’t even officially started—but hey, that’s what a party is for, right?
So a handful of them are sitting on the floor of some girl’s room, mixing vodka with orange juice in solo cups and trying to get acquainted. Gideon is here because she had orientation with Palamedes who is rooming with Isaac who is friends with Ianthe whose sister is Corona, whose room this is. She thinks. The details are hazy and not that important.
Even though, once she focuses again, she realizes that the conversation is currently about roommates. Enthralling stuff.
“She didn’t want to room with me,” Corona is saying, shoving Ianthe in the shoulder. They’re twins, it seems. Sort of a sun and moon thing going on. Corona is pretty enough that it feels vaguely like an insult to everyone else in the room. “Got a single and left me to brave the roommate lottery all by myself.”
“I think you’ll be just fine,” Ianthe says. Of everyone, she probably has the most alcohol in her cup, and is probably showing it the least. “Where is your roommate, anyway?”
“No idea,” Corona says. Her eyes wide and innocent. “I told her a few folks were coming and that she was welcome, we’ll see if she accepts.”
Isaac rolls his eyes. “If a bunch of people I didn’t know were invading my room I would make myself pretty scarce,” he says. Gideon nods her agreement, and he points at her. “Look. The linebacker agrees with me.”
“I’m not a linebacker,” Gideon says, smirking, “but thanks.” She’s drunk, but just enough that it feels good. The edges of the world sanded off and polished.
“You must do something,” Corona says. She doesn’t try to hide the fact that her eyes are on Gideon’s arms. It’s a good evening.
“Fencing,” Gideon says. She’s damn good at it, too, but they don’t need to know that yet. A few of them already look impressed.
“And who’s your roommate?” Corona presses.
“Her name is Harrowhark,” Gideon says. “Nnnnsomething-or-other.”
“Oh my god,” Palamedes says, eyes wide. “You’re rooming with Harrowhark Nonagesimus?” And just like that, Gideon has everyone’s attention.
“Sounds about right,” she says, shrugging. “Do you know her?”
“Do you not?”
“Her family’s…super fucking rich,” Corona breaks in. “Her dad was like the first bajillionaire in the US or something.”
“That’s an exaggeration,” Palamedes says, rolling his eyes.
This…kind of makes sense. Gideon thinks back to Harrow’s sharp haircut, her pristine shoes, her neat possessions. She figured the girl was just careful, but the picture also fits if she’s rich.
“What is she like?” Corona asks. Even Ianthe seems interested, turning her face towards Gideon for the first time that night.
“Um.” To be honest, Gideon barely knows. They haven’t really…talked. Whenever Gideon is in the room, her black-haired roommate is either reading with headphones in or simply not there. Gideon can’t say for sure where she goes or what she’s like.
It’s not on purpose. Gideon is certainly willing. But she has spent a lot of time exploring her new campus and trying to meet people, because being alone in a new place is awful and she wants to scrub off the newness as quickly as she can.
“Quiet,” she says. “Neat. We haven’t talked a ton.”
“Your fault or hers?” Palamedes asks, laughing. “You’ve barely said three words all night.”
“I’ve been perfectly fucking amicable,” Gideon says. “I’m waiting for someone to start a game before I fall asleep in my orange juice.” She’s good at deflection, and she’s good at egging people on. She doesn’t want people’s attention just because of her famous roommate—she wants it on her own terms.
Those terms being her absolutely superior prowess at the impromptu game of beer pong they set up on the floor. Gideon feels like a fucking champion. She’s in a new place with new people, but her feet are still under her and her bright red hair is still attracting admiring glances.
It’s late and dark and quiet when she gets back to her room on the ninth floor, humming as she lets herself in. She trips over her shoes and laughs a little.
In the dark, something moves across the room.
The very first sentence Harrowhark says to her is, “Are you drunk?”
“Hello,” Gideon says pleasantly. “Lovely evening out, don’t you think?”
“Oh my god.” The shape flips over in bed. “Just try to stay quiet, all right?”
“As you wish, my lady,” Gideon says, amused. She tries to kick off her shoes and succeeds in launching one halfway across the room, where it hits Harrowhark’s bed frame with a far-too-amusing thunk. “Fuck. Sorry.”
“Just go to bed.”
“I’m going.” She collapses onto her mattress. The sheets and blankets are still unmade and she wraps herself in them—a little Gideon cocoon. “It’s nice to meet you, by the way,” she adds.
Harrowhark’s voice is positively frosty. “Goodnight.”
That night, Gideon dreams that she’s floating in space, watching the planets drift by. She thinks that if she just reached out hard enough, she could change their directions, make them spin in whichever way she wanted. But she just can’t get her fingers to reach.
She wakes up with a headache and a sour taste in her mouth.
“Welcome back to the land of the living.”
She sits up in bed and rubs her eyes. Harrowhark is awake and sitting at her desk with a journal and a pen. She’s clearly been awake for a while—she has a hot mug of coffee at her elbow and a fresh, put-together vibe that Gideon hates and envies in equal measure.
“Good morning, Harrowhark,” she croaks.
That gets the other girl to turn around. “Gross. It’s Harrow. What the fuck.”
To be honest, it’s the first good look Gideon has gotten of her roommate’s face, and she’s stunned quiet for a moment. Harrow is…so small and sharp. Like a little knife concealed in someone’s boot. Her black hair is straight and cut in a sharp line at her jaw, and her eyes are a flat gray. It takes a moment for her words to filter in, and once they do, Gideon feels attacked. “Well, how was I supposed to know? Your name was Harrowhark on the roommate assignment.”
“Yeah, but it says Harrow on our door,” Harrow says cuttingly. Her eyes dart all over Gideon’s flame-red hair and the clothes she slept in.
“Then good morning, Harrow. Where did you get coffee?”
“The dining hall.” Her tone makes it clear that she thinks Gideon is the dumbest crustacean to have ever crawled out of the water. Far from being offended, it makes Gideon grin.
“The promised land,” she says. “Eden for the pathetic and hungover. Want to go down again?”
Harrow stares at her. “I already have my coffee,” she says.
“Just offering. Stretch your legs. It’s good for you.” To demonstrate, Gideon sticks her leg up in the air and reaches for her toes. Harrow keeps staring. “Or don’t,” Gideon adds. “No skin off my back.” She wants to be friends with her roommate, but if her roommate doesn’t want to be friends back there isn’t really anything she can do about that.
“If you can wait five minutes,” Harrow says finally. “I just want to finish the paragraph I’m on.”
“Perfect,” Harrow says, and jumps out of bed to get dressed.
There isn’t really time to be self-conscious in front of this girl. They live together now. Gideon refuses to spend the year running to the bathroom every time she changes her shirt. She keeps her back to Harrow and dresses quickly and figures that’s good enough. “Ready?”
“That was only three minutes.”
In that moment, Gideon decides that her roommate is kind of a bitch, and also that Gideon likes her a whole lot. “Oh, excuse me,” she says, and then makes the executive decision to start counting down from 120. She does so loudly and cheerfully, and Harrow threatens to murder her—the first such threat of the year, but certainly not the last.
And then they go get coffee, and Gideon thinks to herself that everything is going to be just fine.
(“Where are you from, Harrow?”
“Not far from here.”
“Had a hard time leaving the nest?”
“You know, it’s usually polite to ask a person questions in return.”
“I think you lost your claims to politeness when you stole my muffin.”
“We’re roommates now. What’s yours is mine.”
“That’s not how that works.”)
In the following weeks, classes start and the wheels of college begin to grind and Gideon learns a lot of things.
She learns that she loves the seediness of frat parties but she hates the boys, and that Harrow hates parties of any kind.
She learns that their RA is a very nice senior named Abigail who is dating another RA on a lower floor, and as such is frequently not monitoring the ninth floor because she’s spending all of her time with him; this suits the residents of the ninth just fine.
She learns that it’s easier to wake up for an 8am class when Harrow is waking up too, because then they can get coffee together and it’s the one thing that keeps Gideon alive.
She learns that other freshman will leap out of her way when they see her coming because of her sheer size, and that no one she meets believes that she’s a freshman herself.
She learns that people will leap out of Harrow’s way too, solely because of the offensive nature of her neutral expression.
She learns that no one on the university’s fencing team is a match for her, and that each and every one of them is beyond excited to see her in competition with their rivals.
She learns that Harrow likes to read a lot and has stacks of classics and autobiographies, books of essays on feminist action and political theory. She learns that Harrow considers Gideon’s collection of bodice-ripper romance novels to be nothing more than smut, even against Gideon’s protests that she reads them for the plot.
She learns that if the blinds are open when they’re trying to go to bed, Harrow will yell at her until she gets up to close them.
She learns to wash her sheets every once in a while or she will be, according to Harrow, “marinating in a stew of her own filth.”
She learns Harrow’s class schedule so that she can get herself off without worrying about her roommate unexpectedly bursting back in the room.
All in all, it’s a very instructive time. College! What a place of learning!
She also learns that it’s very easy to forget that Harrow is supposedly very rich, because she certainly doesn’t act like it. She doesn’t casually mention exotic location spots or talk about rubbing shoulders with diplomats or anything that Gideon would expect from someone with her pedigree. If Palamedes and the others hadn’t mentioned it, Gideon would have no idea at all.
Well, except that people have continued to ask Gideon about it, and have a tendency to point at Harrow and whisper behind their hands whenever they see her in the dining hall. Harrow ignores it all with chilly precision.
Which, honestly, just endears her to Gideon even more. She starts telling people who ask that she’s pretty sure Harrow is a vampire.
By the end of their first month they’ve basically established a nonverbal language for certain things. Harrow will hit her water bottle against her bed frame; Gideon will stick one foot in the air. Roughly translated, it means, I’m going to fill up my water bottle; would you like me to fill yours? and, in response, yes please, Harrow, light of my life, apple of my eye.
Well, the embellishments are Gideon’s creation. She wouldn’t say them out loud. But the message gets across anyway, because Harrow always rolls her eyes as she picks up Gideon’s water bottle on her way out of the room.
And so the second month of the semester passes much the same as the first, and Halloween is on them before they know it.
“What do you mean, you don’t have a Halloween costume?”
Harrow is folding her laundry and looks vastly unimpressed by Gideon’s surprise. “You just said that you didn’t have one either,” she points out.
“Yeah, but I have the intention to make one!” She has to, and it has to be a good one, because she’s going to a party being thrown by a hot junior who Gideon really wants to bang. She needs to make an impression. At this point it’s vital to her health.
“It’s just not my thing,” Harrow is saying.
Harrow throws a sock at her. “It’s another excuse for everyone here to get drunk, and I don’t drink,” she says. “And I always feel ridiculous.”
“Well then don’t dress up as a bumblebee! You’re an adult, you can wear something hot like any other self-respecting college student.”
Harrow’s glares really are incredibly withering. Gideon always wonders if her life force is being sapped somehow. “I don’t see the point,” she says. “No one is going to see it.”
“Oh yes they are,” Gideon says, “because you’re going to this party with me.”
“When was that decided?”
“Just now.” Gideon crosses her arms. “When I realized that it’s my job to make sure you don’t turn into a thirty-year-old accountant before you hit twenty-five.”
“Maybe my costume should be an accountant.”
“Sexy secretary would be better. You have the legs for it.”
Harrow throws another sock at her. This one catches Gideon square in the face and she crows with delight. “Okay, sexy baseball player. Sexy professor. Sexy Jane Austen. Any of those sound good?”
“Why do they all have to be sexy?”
Gideon performs an elaborate pair of finger guns. “Halloween costumes exist on a spectrum of hot to ridiculous, and you already said you didn’t want to be ridiculous.”
Harrow looks thoroughly unamused. “What did you go as last year?”
“I was in high school, it doesn’t count,” Gideon complains. “I had to keep it school-friendly.”
“So what were you?”
“A bottle of Sriracha. I was very hot. Get it, Harrow?”
“I wish I’d never met you.”
Gideon spins around in her desk chair, thinking. There are always a wealth of distinctive redheaded characters for her to choose from, but that doesn’t really help Harrow. Not that they need to match, of course, even though the idea makes something delighted spark in her chest. “Do you have any, like, shit for your face?”
Harrow tucks a strand of hair behind her ear. “Define ‘shit for your face.’”
“I mean, I don’t own any make-up. I have naturally striking features.”
“You have features that I naturally want to strike.”
“Good one. Do you have anything? We can cobble together something cool.”
“You’re still assuming that I’ll go with you.”
“Well, yes,” Gideon says, giving her a huge grin. “I’m really just looking out for you, Harrow. I’d hate for that massive stick up your ass to turn fatal.” Harrow rolls her eyes, but she does get up from her bed and procure a small makeup bag from the closet. Gideon cheers and makes grabby hands for it. “Let’s see what we’ve got.”
Unsurprisingly, there isn’t much. Pale shades of foundation, neutral lipsticks, a few black eyeliner pencils. Gideon pouts.
Harrow scowls at her. “What?”
“These are so boring,” Gideon complains. “Like, sorry I don’t want my costume to be the sheer tights section of a shoe store. Sorry I don’t want to be a middle-aged heterosexual’s beige living room. Sorry I don’t—Harrow, why do you have white face paint? Do you moonlight as a mime or something?”
Harrow snatches it back. “It’s leftover from when I was a teenager,” she mutters. “I haven’t touched it in years.”
Now that Gideon is looking, she can see a similar little jar of black face paint. A beautiful idea lights up in her brain. Like a divine lightbulb with little skulls all over it. “Did you have a goth phase? Harrow. Harrow Harrow Harrow you have to answer me right now.”
“No you didn’t have a goth phase, or no you won’t answer me?”
“Just no,” Harrow insists.
Gideon crows with delight. “You spectacular bitch. Wait, let me guess. You were into MCR, weren’t you?”
Harrow’s face flames red and Gideon almost falls off her damn bed.
“Shut up,” Harrow snaps. “I bet you were into something equally as bad.”
“Sure,” Gideon says amicably, “but I’ve never tried to deny that fact.” She picks up the black face paint and tries to twirl it on her finger. It drops unceremoniously onto her bedspread, and divine inspiration strikes again. “Oh my god we should go as skeletons.”
One hour later Gideon and Harrow are climbing the steps to Dulcinea’s porch, ready to fucking party. Gideon topped off her skeleton makeup with a slick pair of shades and one of her fencing foils and she looks badass. Harrow had begrudgingly agreed to paint her own face—she had done a much neater job than Gideon—and was wearing some sort of dark blue shawl as though it were a cape.
They can already hear music thumping inside. Gideon hammers on the door and turns to smile at Harrow, who looks small and stern and uncomfortable. “It’s going to be fun,” Gideon promises.
“Fun,” Harrow echoes.
The door opens.
“Gideon! You came!”
“Not yet,” she says, striding inside, “but we can work on it.”
Dulcinea, the aforementioned hot junior and also the host of the party, gives her a wide smile. She’s dressed as some sort of fairy—could be a movie reference, Gideon doesn’t know—and her face is sparkling with expertly-applied makeup. “Oh, you brought a friend,” she says, noticing Harrow.
She looks like a diminutive angel of death on the doorstep, glaring at Gideon. “I hope that’s all right,” she says, shifting her flat gaze to Dulcinea.
“The more the merrier. Come in, come in. Are you supposed to be the skeleton army?” Still chattering, Dulcinea leads Gideon into the party by one arm.
It occurs to Gideon suddenly—and Harrow, judging by the look on her skeletal face—that no one here will be able to recognize Harrow behind her deathly makeup. No one can point and whisper. Everyone is happily on their way to being wasted and the lighting is bad.
She’s tried taking Harrow to parties before, without success. But this night? It’s a perfect storm.
Dulcinea pats Gideon on the cheek and shouts something about going to check on the drinks. Here in the main room—it’s probably usually the living room of the house—it’s impossible to think. Loud, heavy music is layered thick over a multicolored tangle of bodies and costumes and hands clutching alcohol. Gideon hangs back against the wall with Harrow at her side.
“This is the first one I’ve these I’ve been to that actually looks fun,” Harrow says, right in Gideon’s ear.
She has to duck to put her head next to Harrow’s. “It’s not a frat party. Better energy.” It’s mostly, like, Literature students, unless Gideon misses her guess. Less Greek life, more Greek tragedy. English majors and theater majors and stoner communists and co-op anarchists, judging by the crowd.
“Still loud as fuck.” Harrow almost has to shout to be heard.
“Well, I’m going to dance.”
“Wait. I’ll come too.”
Gideon wants to say really? but she doesn’t, because doing so might scare Harrow off. She just navigates them into some small space in the crush of dancers, where they can move without anyone else’s elbows in their ribs.
Usually, Gideon likes to be in the thick of things. Bodies pushing back and forth like ocean waves, jumping and pounding and feeling her pulse in her fucking face.
But Harrow still has her shoulders drawn in like she needs to protect her collarbones. So they stay in the corner with a little more air.
And Gideon discovers, to her delight, that Harrow can’t dance.
She’s stiff and self-conscious. She doesn’t know what to do with her hands or hips or eyes, so she just sways and stares at Gideon. And listen, Gideon can’t say she’s a stellar dancer either, but Harrow looks more suited to a haunted house than a house party. Which is saying something, given that everyone here is supposed to be full of Halloween spirit.
“Do you want a drink?” Gideon asks. “I can go get us drinks.”
Harrow’s stare is even more flat and terrible from her eerie skeleton face. “Fine,” she says. So Gideon fights her way across the room and unearths a pair of solo cups. When she turns back around, Harrow is exactly where she left her.
It’s not really something Gideon wants to Notice or Give Much Thought To, but Harrow is. Attractive. Pretty. She’s an objectively nice-looking individual.
Gideon groans and tips her head back. She’s so attracted to Harrow that she wants to melt her own face off. It’s a bad idea. She’s heard horror stories about people hooking up with residents of their same hall; it’s widely regarded as a bad move. She can’t imagine what circle of hell fucking her own roommate would land her in.
And that’s assuming Harrow would ever give her the time of day. Looking across the room at the smaller girl’s perpetual grimace and upturned nose, Gideon can predict with a near-mathematical certainty that it is never going to happen.
She tips back her beer and drinks the whole thing in one go. Then she weaves her way across the room to Harrow. Like a tipsy ship, nose eternally pointed towards a dark and pissed-off north star.
Harrow looks her up and down judgmentally when Gideon finally makes it through the other party-goers. “You look like a mess,” she says.
“Sorry about that,” Gideon says with a swagger, “I just got back from doing your mom, she likes it a little rough.”
Harrow freezes. She looks angrier than Gideon has ever seen her. “Do you think that’s fucking funny?” she demands.
Gideon looks down at her. “A bit, yeah,” she says. She can’t help her little grin.
“I’m going home.”
“What?” Gideon blinks, uncomprehending, and in that second Harrow manages to get several steps away. “Hey, wait, come on, we just got here. I brought you a drink”
“I’m tired and I want to go home,” Harrow says. Her tone is clipped and furious and Gideon wonders if someone spilled beer on her shoes, or said something nasty while she was across the room. They were having fun, before.
“I’ll go with you,” she says. Harrow shouldn’t be out alone this late.
“No,” Harrow says. “You stay. I want to be alone.”
Gideon stops. “You sure?”
And then she’s gone. And Gideon is left on the edge of the dance floor, feeling off-kilter and strange, holding a beer that wasn’t supposed to be hers.
So she drains it. And when Dulcinea comes by five minutes later with another drink, she drains that one too. It’s fine. She’s Gideon Nav. She has a tolerance of steel. She can drink anyone under a table.
At least, that’s what she’d like to believe about herself.
Before long, she’s kneeling over a toilet, reminding herself that she’s Gideon Nav, still a freshman, who doesn’t drink often because she can’t fence if she’s hungover.
There’s no one there to hold her hair back. She wishes Harrow could. She also hates the thought of Harrow seeing her like this. She also recognizes that her hair is too short to warrant anyone holding it, anyway.
She isn’t sick, but it’s a near thing. She opens the door to a line of girls who are waiting to pee and chatting easily in the manner of drunk strangers. One of them ogles Gideon’s arms openly as she passes.
“Leaving so soon?”
She turns around at the door. Dulcinea is there, looking like a perfect cupcake that Gideon just wants to cram in her mouth. Even if the thought of eating makes her feel ill again. “What time is it?” Dulcinea fishes out a phone and reads out the time. It’s both earlier and later than Gideon thought. “Yeah, I have, you know, things tomorrow,” Gideon says. “Time to be off.”
“Well.” Dulcinea steps closer. “I’ll have to catch you some other time.” She kisses Gideon on her skeletal cheek. “Get home safe.”
“You too,” Gideon says stupidly. Then she all but flings herself out the door.
She doesn’t really notice the walk home. She does remember trying to walk upright and normal like a sober person through the hallway of the dorm, and then slumping against her own door and knocking because trying to unlock it is positively beyond her.
Harrow opens it within seconds. Her face is clean, through traces of black linger in the corners of her eyes. Gideon grins, feeling light and happy at the sight of her. “Hello, Harrowhark.”
“Get in here,” Harrow grumbles. “You’ll get in trouble if Abigail sees you.”
Gideon snorts as she swaggers into the room. “There’s no way she’s in her room. Ten bucks says she’s down on the fifth with Magnus.”
“I’m not taking that bet.”
“Because you know I’m right.” Gideon tries to turn around and trips over herself. She finds herself holding onto Harrow for balance.
Harrow makes a very aggravated leaning post, it turns out. “You’re a disaster,” she says.
“I might be sick,” Gideon admits blearily.
Harrow’s consternation turns to concern at the speed of light. “Do I need to call someone?”
“Oh my god, don’t be a narc, Harrowhark.” Gideon wheezes out a laugh. “Hey, that rhymes!”
“You’re a disaster of a human being and I hate you.” Back to consternation.
Gideon starts singing, just to be a little shit. “Harrowhark’s a fucking narc!”
“Would you shut the fuck up?” Harrow hisses. “I’m not going to narc but you’re going to get us both in trouble, and I swear to god I’ll kill you.”
“And then narc on yourself.” Gideon smiles down at her. “Your moral code is too strong.”
Harrow’s face twists. “Not that strong,” she mutters.
“Happy Harroween,” Gideon says, and gets dropped to the floor for her trouble. “Ouch.”
“Get your ass in bed,” Harrow says. “I’ll get you some water.” Out of instinct, Gideon sticks one leg in the air. Harrow rolls her eyes so mightily that it looks like it hurts.
Getting in bed is an epic journey, one that deserves a ballad from one of those literature types. The ballad of Gideon’s drunk ass. She stares at the ceiling. She’s tired, which is a pleasant surprise. Sometimes she gets so wired after a party that she can’t sit still, has to do push-ups or jumping jacks until she gets worn out.
Harrow comes back with water and makes Gideon drink it down with all the stern disapproval of an old-timey nurse. Gideon might even call her Nurse Harrow when she says goodnight. She’s not sure—the words are somewhere caught between waking and sleeping, and Gideon doesn’t know which side of the line her feet are on anymore.
She dreams about hunting for something small in a range of black mountains. In the dream, it flickers just out of sight ahead of her. No matter how quickly she moves, she can never catch up.
Somehow, she and Harrow become better friends after that night.
As though dressing up as skeletons and dancing badly for five minutes and Gideon’s drunken buffoonery broke down some walls, eased some barriers. Harrow is still as prickly as ever, but perhaps a bit more willing to join Gideon when she makes a midnight run for pizza, or tries to climb over the wall into the study carrels into the library.
She even deigns to eat with Gideon and her friends, in the vague span of days between Thanksgiving and the end of the semester, when they all catch each other in the dining hall. Gideon has just sat down with Corona and Palamedes when she catches Harrow’s eye across the room, and before she can stop herself she’s waving her roommate over. “Act normal,” she hisses at Palamedes and Corona.
“I want her to be my best friend,” Corona says, watching Harrow approach with her food. “Then she’ll take me on vacation with her and I can spend Christmas in the tropics.
“Like that’s going to happen,” Palamedes says scathingly. He seems entirely unconcerned by Harrow’s approach. Apparently they have a discussion section together and they spend most of it disagreeing; Gideon has had to be sympathetic to both sides of their stories.
“The lady at the pizza station actively wants me to die,” Harrow says, when she reaches the table.
“She and I have that in common,” Gideon says. Corona lets out a shocked laugh. “Did you get me any breadsticks?”
Harrow gives her an unimpressed look. “I didn’t even know you were here.”
“I feel like you should just always get me breadsticks, though,” Gideon says. “Like, just in case. As a ceremonial offering for me when I’m gone.”
“If I burn them will that ward you away from me?”
Gideon clutches her chest. “Doesn’t even joke about that.”
“About having to stay away from me?”
“About burning breadsticks. It’s sacrilegious.”
“You’re my least favorite person that I know,” Harrow informs her calmly, and then catches Corona’s eye. “What?”
“It’s nice to meet you,” Corona manages. Clearly, Harrow isn’t what she expected.
“Likewise,” Harrow says. “I have class with your sister.”
“Oh, I didn’t know you two were friends!” Corona says brightly.
“We’re not. She never talks to anyone.” Harrow takes a bite of her salad. She always has a salad at lunch, like some sort of alien.
“That’s rich, coming from you,” Gideon can’t help but say.
“And that’s rich, coming from you,” Palamedes interjects. “I’m sick of the strong and silent type.”
Gideon starts to grin. “See,” she says, “but to fit that type, Harrow would have to beef up her little noodle arms.”
“I think you have enough arm for all of us,” Corona says. The conversation seems too sharp for her, but she’s making a valiant effort.
And gets a flat stare from Harrow for her trouble. “What do you mean?”
Corona blinks at her. “I mean, have you seen the size of Gideon’s biceps?”
Harrow frowns, as though she has not, until this point, considered the size of Gideon’s arms. That stings a little. They’re maybe her best attribute and she’s proud of them.
“I don’t look at…arms a lot,” Harrow says.
“You live with the biggest pair of guns on campus and you haven’t ever wanted to take a shot? Incredible.”
“Man, shut the hell up,” Gideon says. Maybe she’s made peace with her own attraction to Harrow, but she doesn’t need the complete lack of reciprocity brought up while she’s trying to eat her damn sandwich.
But now Harrow is studying her openly, and it feels a little bit like being x-rayed and a little bit like being interviewed.
“We keep telling Gideon she needs to let us come to one of her fencing matches,” Corona adds. “I think guys with swords are hot.”
“They’re foils,” Gideon says, rolling her eyes, “and no one looks hot when they’re dressed up in a glorified beekeeper’s suit.”
Corona pouts at her. “You ruin all my fun.”
“Which is precisely why I don’t let you come.”
Harrow breaks in to say, “I’d like to see one, too.”
“Gonna get your mom to drive you?” Gideon teases. The thought of Harrow watching her during a bout makes her skin itch. “The next one is, like, three hours away, and I don’t think I can get you on the team bus. Especially not with your sparkling personality.”
Harrow’s expression has gone sorrow and cold. “Never mind, then,” she snaps.
Corona and Palamedes share a glance. Gideon steals a crouton off of Harrow’s salad and laughs at the punch on the shoulder she gets in retaliation.
Harrow stays moodily quiet for the rest of the lunch, which earns her a few more glances from Corona and Palamedes, but Gideon will be damned if her day is ruined by her acerbic roommate. She forces the conversation along by bitching about the frat house across from the dorm that insists on blasting music every Friday night. More than once in the past she’s threatened to get out her foil and go terrorize the brothers, but this time she really does think she’s close to snapping. Palamedes tells her she’s being ridiculous. Corona says she should do it, and film it. Harrow just rolls her eyes.
They head back to their room after lunch so Gideon can pick up a notebook for class and Harrow can do…whatever the shit Harrow does with her time outside of class. Start cults. Plot murders. Whatever.
“I’m glad you came to eat with us,” Gideon says as they walk down the hallway. “I worry about you rotting away in our room. I don’t want to have to be the one to deal with your corpse.”
“I don’t think they wanted me there very much,” Harrow says. There’s no concern or self-consciousness in her tone whatsoever. As is typical for her, she doesn’t seem to care.
Even so, Gideon shakes her head. “Corona thinks you’re cool,” she promises. “And Palamedes is always like that. And especially these days, we’re trying to coach him on how to talk this girl he has lab with. He’s been too much of a coward so far.”
“Oh,” Harrow says. “I thought Palamedes was into you.”
Gideon snorts. “He’s really, really not. Besides, he and I don’t play for the same team. He and I don’t swing the same way. He and I don’t float the same boat.” Harrow is staring at her. Gideon sighs—it’s so difficult to find a good audience in this economy. “I mean that I’m gay.”
“Well I already knew that.”
Harrow rolls her eyes. “I follow you on Instagram, you absolute dumbass. ‘While you were busy being heterosexual, I studied the blade’ is not as clever a bio as you think it is.”
Gideon grins. “I think it’s plenty clever,” she says. She barely ever uses her account, mostly has photos of herself sweaty and beaming at fencing tournaments. She didn’t even realize that Harrow followed her. “If you knew I was gay why did you ask about Palamedes?”
“I mean, I didn’t know you if were exclusively gay.”
“Oh yes,” Gideon says, nodding. “Very exclusive. VIP lesbian right here.”
“Literally shut the fuck up.”
She wants to ask, What about you, Harrow? What gets you going?
Sometimes, though, Gideon is a coward.
This is one of those times.
Later that night she opens Instagram and goes looking for Harrow’s account. It’s set to private—of course. Gideon stares at it for a moment before pressing follow.
The next morning, as she blearily eats her cereal in the dining hall, she sees that Harrow has approved the request. She immediately goes to see what sort of things her roommate would put on social media.
And finds next to nothing. Photos from lectures she’s attended and books she’s read. Not even laid out artistically or aesthetically—no thought given to making anything look good, because she doesn’t need to, because she doesn’t care.
It’s sort of perfect, really.
The photos don’t go back far, and almost none of them show Harrow’s face. The ones that do, well… Gideon doesn’t need to look at them long when she has the real thing back in her room, now does she?
She finishes her cereal. If she keeps Harrow’s page open the entire time, well, that’s her business.
There’s a parcel wrapped in plain brown paper on her desk when she gets back to the room. Gideon walks in, sees it, and asks, “Is that a bomb?”
“What the fuck?” Harrow asks. “Who would leave a bomb on your desk?”
“I self-identify as a weapon of mass destruction.” Gideon tosses her jacket on her bed. “The Feds could finally be trying to take me out.”
“I wish they would,” Harrow mutters. “It’s your Christmas present. Stop being weird.”
Gideon looks incredulously at the back of Harrow’s dark head. “My what?”
“I got you a present.” How do those words still sound like a curse? “Do I need to explain the concept of a present to you?”
“No, you don’t,” Gideon says. “But…I didn’t get you anything.”
She can almost hear a smile curling at the edge of Harrow’s mouth. “You should probably open it before you start feeling bad.”
Gideon attacks. She’s never seen the use in saving wrapping paper, so it goes on the floor in shreds and she beholds the book in her hands.
It’s gray. It has a yellow binding. The cover, in recessed letters, declares How Not To Be A Dick.
She stares at it in silence for fully ten seconds. “Harrow,” she says, when she finds her voice again.
“This is the funniest fucking thing you’ve ever done.”
Harrow is grinning down at her desk, pretending like she’s still working but clearly not. “I tried to ask myself what you really needed,” she says innocently. “I put a lot of thought into it.”
“Never in my life have I been roasted by a Christmas present. You’ve just upped the ante for everyone I’m ever going to encounter in my entire life. This is so backhanded. It’s perfect. I love it.”
“You’re so weird.”
Gideon collapses onto her bed. She feels giddy, and that’s a dangerous way to feel around Harrow. If Gideon is a soap bubble, Harrow is a needle intent on destruction.
Still, for a moment, she lets herself feel it.
“Do you want anything for Christmas?”
Harrow is bent back over her work by now. “For you to shut the fuck up.”
There’s the pinprick. Gideon keeps on smiling.
The book gets a place of honor at the very top of the stack on Gideon’s desk. Every time she sees it, it makes something warm and pleasurable uncurl in her chest. It’s a nice feeling to be feeling, particularly in the hell that is exams week. Gideon just wants the semester to be over.
She’s going to spend most of the holiday travelling, mostly. Fencing competitions and the like. Herself and the open road and slightly-more-festive-than-usual coffee. She’s looking forward to it.
Except that the semester being over means not seeing Harrow for, like, a month.
Harrow’s plans are a complete mystery, of course. She hasn’t said where she’s going, but she has to be going somewhere, doesn’t she? The school dorms shut down over the winter holidays. She can’t stay, and Gideon doubts that she’ll be embarking on the tropical vacation Corona had predicted.
Gideon wants to ask, but she doesn’t know how. And the days continue to slip by until their first semester of college is done, it’s over, and Gideon is about to leave and she feels as though she’s forgotten something important that still needed to happen. She keeps dreaming about chasing things down, and wakes up with her hands empty and a hollowness in her chest.
Also, she doesn’t want to go out in the world and wake up in rooms that don’t have Harrow in them. But there isn’t really a way around that.
Her bags are packed and her car is full of gas. She putters around the room as though she’s tidying, even though she’s really only stirring things up more. It’s a problem for January, she decides. New year, new Gideon. She’ll make things happen. She won’t waste her time.
Harrow is in bed reading a biography of…someone. Gideon doesn’t want to look long enough to glean the title. It’s not quite the same as looking at the sun, but there’s something. As if looking at the moon had the danger of burning her eyes out.
Finally, she can’t delay any longer.
“I’m heading out,” she announces. She picks up her back and slings her coat over one arm.
Harrow looks up from her book and gives a wave that manages to be both sarcastic and sincere. “Bye, Gideon.”
It doesn’t feel like enough. Gideon wants to hug her. She can’t, in a million years, do that. “Have a good holiday, Harrow,” she says, and then she leaves.