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Lengthy bus rides during a Midwestern winter had never been particularly pleasant for one Trixie Mattel.

The heater often went out and she had experienced delays and midpoint stops due to snow and ice more times than she wanted to count. Everyone on board was equally miserable and equally terrified that this might be the Greyhound that sends my body into a snow ditch, and Trixie just wanted to be where she was going already.

But this bus ride in particular was different. In fact, a lot of things felt different after just three short but monumental weeks of time spent in Madison, Wisconsin.

As she stared out the window into fields of snow and grey skies, Trixie considered for a moment how new the experience of going back to Chicago felt, despite how regular it had become over the years. It took some time of staring down exhaust-stained snowbanks, but eventually she realized that for the first time that bus wasn’t a runaway strategy.

Trixie was coming home to Chicago with full knowledge that the people-- the home-- she was leaving behind in Wisconsin wasn’t lost forever. She wasn’t acting out of a need for self preservation, wasn’t begging the universe to help her just get by; for once, she was content with the events both directly behind and in front of her on the timeline of that highway.

She fell asleep on the bus for the final hour of her ride, her thick scarf acting as a barrier between her face and the rattling glass window pressing into her cheekbone. She only awoke when they pulled into the city, with a faint indented pattern on her cheek, recycled air in her lungs, and sleep in her eyes.

Trixie stretched her arms out as well as she could in the cramped seat, groggy and half awake as they pulled into the bus station. She was exhausted, both physically and emotionally, but was immediately wide awake the moment they pulled all the way up and she saw a familiar mop of messy blonde hair atop a houndstooth coat and salt-stained snow boots standing and waiting with her hands deep in her pockets.

Trixie sat up straighter and waved to get Katya’s attention, knowing she has succeeded when Katya’s face lit up and she started bouncing up and down, waving both arms enthusiastically.

Trixie didn’t bother to wait for her suitcase to be unloaded from the bottom of the bus when she pushed her way through the door and into the fresh air. Instead, she ran straight for Katya, backpack bouncing haphazardly against her shoulder blades until she collided with her girlfriend in a tight, swaying hug.

The hug quickly turned into a kiss which quickly turned into a series of I missed you’s and I love you’s until Trixie noticed her suitcase being unloaded and had to run to grab it.

They held hands on the trip back to Trixie’s apartment, as though letting go would somehow transport Trixie back to Madison once more.

It wasn’t as if they hadn’t spoken in their three weeks apart, they had certainly checked in every day, and Trixie had stepped outside for phone calls with a friend on more than one occasion, always paired with a look from Tyler that would be indescribable to anyone who had never before had a sibling cover for their closeted ass.

“Well, employers will really look more at my portfolio than my degree,” Trixie had said, leaning on the kitchen counter while she watched her mother boil spaghetti noodles on the stove. “But because of my classes, I’ve been building that up for almost four years.”

“I’d like to see some of what you’ve been working on if you’d be willing to show me,” Karen smiled over her shoulder at Trixie.

“Yeah,” Trixie smiled, cheeks heating up ever so slightly at the unfamiliar but not unpleasant situation. “I’ve got most of them saved digitally so I can show you after dinner.”

Trixie’s relationship with her mother had been in a strange place from the moment she had walked into that one-bedroom apartment on her first day of winter break. There had been tears and hugs and a little bit of laughter, and from that point on it was clear they were both desperately trying to make up for lost time.

“I would love that,” Karen said with a softness and sincerity in her voice.

Trixie was about to speak up again, about to try and find another line of conversation to keep her mother talking when, as usual, her phone cut her off.

“Sorry,” Trixie said apologetically, and was about to decline the call when she saw the name listed on her buzzing phone. “I should take this.”

“Go ahead,” Karen brushed her off with a smile. “Dinner won’t be ready for another fifteen minutes.”

Trixie just nodded as she accepted the call and moved towards the front door.

“Hey,” she answered quietly as she made her way outside.

“Hey babe,” Katya’s voice was bright on the other end of the line and it made Trixie’s heart feel lighter as she closed the front door of her mother’s apartment behind her and stood out in the cold, leaning over a small balcony of the second floor of the small building. “How are you?”

“Good, I’m good,” she said with a soft smile. “Things are good.”

“Did you guys go pick up that stuff today?” Katya asked. Trixie watched as a plow drove down the street below her, pushing mountains of snow onto the side of the street.

“Mom freaked out again, so we stayed behind,” Trixie sighed. “I hate that she’s so anxious about it.”

“I can relate,” Katya said with sincerity.

“Kat, all three of us have stuff in that house we want to get back,” Trixie insisted. “And I’m just not willing to let him lock it away when it doesn’t belong to him.”

“You went through so much just to get out of there,” Katya laughed bitterly. “The idea that you would have to go back at all is absurd. He should have to mail it to you or something the son of a--”

“Hey, it’s okay,” Trixie assured her. “I’m okay with going back. I’m not scared. I’ve decided that he’s not going to affect me like that anymore.”

“Yeah?”

“Well, I mean,” Trixie floundered. “It doesn’t always work but I’m trying... I’m trying.”

“I know you are,” Katya’s voice was soft and it reminded Trixie of the way the sunlight was reflecting off the mounds of snow below her-- effervescent and warm despite the frozen environment in which it was stuck.  

“But Ty and I are gonna drive up tomorrow,” she continued. “Mom has a meeting with Ben, and John should be at work, and I refuse to wait however many months until a court date comes along for the piece of shit to give us our stuff back.”

“Will you at least text me when you’re back on the road to Madison?” Katya asked, clearly knowing full well there was no convincing Trixie not to take this step but concerned about it nonetheless.

“You don’t have to worry so much,” Trixie responded simply.

“Trixie, please,” Katya breathed.

Trixie knew she was something of an unpredictable mess of a person at times, and she knew that this fact had caused a good deal of stress in Katya’s life throughout the years they’d known each other.

She also knew that Katya loved her, and it was that very love that caused the worry, because who wouldn’t worry when something genuinely concerning and earth-shattering and life changing was happening in the life of someone they loved?

And so Trixie appeased her. Trixie would always appease her because it never ceased to amaze her how much shit Katya was willing to put up with for her, how much she was gladly patient about when it came to Trixie’s world.

“Yeah, okay,” Trixie said. “I’ll text you, I promise.”

“Thank you,” Katya said, heart wide open so Trixie could hear the care in her words, the relief. “I love you.”

“I love you too,” Trixie said. “So much.”

The next morning, Karen left for her meeting with Ben the Lawyer and Trixie buckled into the passenger seat of Tyler’s car so they could make the trip back to John’s house.

The ride there was filled with laughter and music and obvious avoidance of serious topics that they had spent far too much energy on in days and weeks and years prior. The heater in Tyler’s old car was blasting as much as it could, but the two were still bundled up to their ears in coats and scarves and gloves.

Country roads got cleared less often, and as they trekked further from any actual town and more into the middle of nowhere, Tyler had to slow down and watch for icy spots on a road fenced by snow.

Trixie could see John’s house, out in the middle of a field, the only one for miles, long before they pulled into the driveway. During that time, her heartbeat stuttered and her hands started to sweat inside her handmade mittens. She had told her mother, she had told Katya and Tyler and herself that she had no issue with going back to that house for the first time since she had walked out.

She wanted so desperately to be fine, but the sight of it alone was enough to send her stomach reeling.

Trixie stared at the front door as Tyler parked the car and climbed out, frozen in her seat and trying to reason with herself internally.

“Hey,” Tyler leaned down to look at her, one hand resting on the top of the car and the other holding the door open. “If you wanna wait here, that’s fine.”

“What?” Trixie turned to him, startled for a moment before brushing it off. “Don’t be stupid, I didn’t come all the way here to sit in your car.”

She climbed out of the car and let the door slam shut behind her, storming towards the house with her key ring already out and ready, leaving determined footprints in the snow behind her as well as a slightly exasperated Tyler.

The house felt smaller than she remembered it.

Once inside, it was as if she was walking into a memory. The light fixtures were the same, as were the carpet and curtains, and that coffee table that had a chip in it from when Trixie and Tyler had carried it into the house and knicked the corner on the doorframe five or so years prior.

It had only been two years, but it felt like a lifetime since she had walked out of that very living room with tears in her eyes and fear in her heart.

Trixie immediately started scouring the house for anything they could take with them, filling up boxes with childhood photographs and that one set of pseudo-fancy china she knew her mother loved. It had yellow flowers around the edges, faded with time but cheery all the same.

In her own room, Trixie dumped piles of clothes and books and old CD’s into a box unceremoniously. She was moving quickly, and without any strategy other than getting out of there as quickly as she could.

The walls felt tighter around her than they ever had, seemingly starting their exponential shrinking the moment she’d moved in as a child and refusing to let up even now. Or maybe it wasn’t the wall that were shrinking, maybe she had just outgrown them and bringing all her newfound strength into that room had the drywall cracking at the seams.

She wasn’t able to fit everything in her room into a single box, but she was able to take enough that it looked noticeably empty, and that was most of her goal to begin with.

Trixie wanted her step-father to know that she had been there, knew it would eat him up inside that she had been able to sneak in and take back her power without ever having to say a word to him.

She looked around her bedroom one last time: the blinds that were broken in the middle and the dresser with the false bottom in the top drawer. The closet door still squeaked and the pink walls were faded in spots where pictures and posters had once hung.

Trixie Mattel said a mental goodbye to that bedroom, and in a way, who she had been when she’d lived there. She said goodbye to going to bed hungry or frightened, she said goodbye to nervous breakdowns in the back of her closet and to wishing for a sturdier lock on her door on the night’s when she couldn’t fall asleep.

She picked up her box, said goodbye, and walked out of that room.

She didn’t look back.

The car ride back to Madison was quieter. They were both tired, and Trixie texted Katya to let her know they were done at the house.

She would spend the rest of her winter break in complete and utter awe of how easily their family could feel like a family again. There was so much still to fight and so much still to get past, but Trixie felt at home in that tiny apartment in Madison, Wisconsin with her big brother and her soft-spoken mom.

And so when she returned to Chicago, it almost felt like it had all been some sort of dream. She almost didn’t believe that any of it had happened, and figured she might wake up at any moment, still estranged and still in search of domestic stability.

But she didn’t, and she wasn’t.

Trixie was happy and overwhelmed, loved and in love, nervous and excited and something she didn’t have a word for all at the same time. It was a lot, but she was trying her best to handle it.

The moment she and Katya returned from the bus stop, Trixie’s suitcase was abandoned by the front door and the two young women were making out in her bed.

It felt good to have Katya within reach once more, to feel Katya’s fingers in her hair and lips on her neck. It felt good. Of course it felt good because she loved Katya and being with Katya and sleeping with Katya.

It felt good except for the fact that Trixie’s brain was playing games with her, pushing her outside of her own body when Katya straddled her and put her arms on either side of Trixie’s head on the mattress. It felt good except for the fact that Trixie had been isolated on a bus all day, had spent weeks facing some of the biggest turning points she’d ever faced, and the stimulation of processing that paired with Katya’s hands was scratching at the inside of her gut uncomfortably and making her skin feel too heavy on her bones.

“Kat,” she let out in a sigh, Katya humming in acknowledgement against her neck. “Katya,” she said out, a bit louder but no less breathy.

“Yeah, babe?” Katya kissed her cheek and her jawline and—

“I love you—”

“I love you too,” Katya grinned against Trixie’s skin.

“I love you but— but I,” Trixie felt like her brain was almost short circuiting at the overstimulated nature of it all. “I gotta-- I gotta tell you something-- Can we stop-- I wanna stop for a second, I’m  sorry,” she sputtered out, Katya immediately pulling away and climbing off of her girlfriend without question.

“Hey, no, don’t apologize,” Katya said gently as she straightened her clothes and watched Trixie sit upright and lean backwards on her hands.

“I’m happy to see you, so happy to see you, I really am,” Trixie said, feeling as if she had to prove it somehow, as if Katya didn’t know.

“I know, I know,” Katya shushed her quietly, not touching her because she knew this version of anxiety on Trixie and knew that it was the touching that had gotten her there in the first place. “Just take a second,” she said softly.

Trixie brushed stray pieces of hair out of her face, let herself fall backwards onto the pillow with a huff, and let her hands fall to rest on her stomach.

“I didn’t come out to her,” she said softly to the ceiling. “I know I said I was going to but I didn’t.”

“Is that what’s stressing you out?” Katya furrowed her brow and laid down on her side to face Trixie.

“I just-- Everything was so good,” Trixie said with a choked up voice that was battling her own desire to be calm in that moment. “It was so good just to see her and spend time with her and talk to her-- And I told her all about you, I just couldn’t-- I was so scared.”

“Baby,” Katya breathed softly, but Trixie pressed on.

“I’m not ashamed of you, or to be gay, or anything like that,” she insisted. “I love you so much and it’s not because— it’s not because—”

“Trix, I’m not mad,” Katya hurried to cut her off, could see her guilt spiraling with each new word that slipped off her tongue. “Don’t for a second think I’m even a little mad about this.”

“I know,” Trixie sighed in a voice that told Katya she very much hadn’t known.

“Take your time with her, and don’t ever feel like I’ll love you less just because your mother doesn’t know we’re dating,” Katya brought her hand up to ghost over Trixie’s cheek, eyes holding contact that was nothing if not careful, kind. “I’m just happy you’re home.”

Katya leaned forward and pressed an almost impossibly soft kiss to Trixie’s lips, pulling away to see Trixie’s eyelids flutter closed and a small smile grace her cheeks.

Trixie let out a breath before she opened her eyes once more, took in the sight of Katya, a woman who was so unreal but the most real thing in her life, and captured her in a fiercely meaningful kiss. Strong, slow.

Katya kissed the same way she spoke: earnest and without an ounce of dishonesty on her lips. She could tell Trixie just exactly how she was feeling with a single touch of their lips, could make Trixie feel like she was a part of Katya’s ever-shifting, tangential, often eccentric, but always colorful world.

Every time that Katya kissed Trixie, it didn’t feel like the first time. In fact, it felt better,  more real and more certain. Trixie hadn’t realized what three weeks without Katya had done to her until that moment, didn’t realize that something about sharing a physical space with Katya somehow transcended every other physical feeling Trixie had ever experienced.

“I don’t deserve you,” Trixie said as she pulled away for a moment before pressing forward and kissing Katya’s jawline.

“God, I missed you,” Katya sighed and pulled Trixie closer so their fronts were pressed up tight against one another.

Trixie let her face tuck into Katya’s neck, smiling into her flushed skin with eyes closed and seeing the beauty of her girlfriend’s body only with her hands.

The new semester, Trixie’s last semester, started just like any other. It felt so regular and yet Trixie couldn’t help but notice just how absurdly irregular it all was.

She went to classes and did her assignments while simultaneously putting together resumes and portfolios and fielding phone calls from her mom and Tyler at least once a week. Never in her life had she spent so much time talking on the phone, and never in her life had she wanted to do so, but the act of simply saying I can’t wait to tell my mom about this was enough to send her heart fluttering in the expansive, open-air edifice of her ribs.

Trixie was also, however, hyper-aware of how behind she was in working towards any of her post-graduation goals. She didn’t know where she was going to end up in May or how she was going to get there, dreamed of a New York skyline and big, Broadway marquis as she jumped headfirst into searches for internships and apprenticeships all over the country.

She was going to find her way, she knew that she could, she just needed to figure out the how of it all.

“Oh my god, would you just look at the camera?” Katya laughed, lowering her DSLR from her face to look at Trixie with amusement.

“No, wait,” Trixie turned to look over her shoulder because she had, in fact, been facing the makeshift backdrop instead of Katya. “The buttons on the back are important, I want to make sure they’re in the shot.”

“You see what you’re doing right now?” Katya raised her eyebrows. “Looking over your shoulder in a way where I can still see the buttons? Let’s try that,” she laughed and lifted the camera once more, snapping a quick photo.

“No, no, listen to me,” Trixie turned all the way around and pulled awkwardly at the dress on her body.

It was one of her designs from her sophomore year, and although it still technically fit, it was less than easy to get into and less than comfortable to wear. But Trixie was determined to have a fully comprehensive portfolio by the time she graduated, including shots of designs she had actually constructed by hand.

“I’m listening,” Katya sighed and lowered the camera once more to look her moderately frazzled girlfriend in the eye.

“I need these to be perfect, like, since I don’t have these sized for a real model, I need you to focus on the fashion and not on my face or body or overall presence,” Trixie motioned broadly to herself as she spoke a mile a minute.

“Okay, first of all, I’m absolutely gonna make these perfect, trust me,” Katya laughed softly. “And second of all, doesn’t the garment look better when you can see a happy, beautiful woman wearing it?”

“Don’t you dare think you can sway me on this just because you called me beautiful,” Trixie pointed a finger at Katya who just squatted back on her heels and took a quick shot of a moderately pissed off Trixie. She pulled the camera away to preview the photo and grinned.

“I think that’s the one,” Katya joked and Trixie rolled her eyes with equal parts amusement and exasperation.

“You’re impossible,” Trixie tried to sound annoyed but there was still too much genuine delight in her tone to be taken seriously.

“Maybe,” Katya shrugged with a smirk. “But I’m also giving you high quality photos for free so--”

“And to your right,” Kim cut Katya off as she entered the room, holding a camera up with its tiny viewfinder facing her. “You will find a couple of lesbians doing whatever it is that lesbians do.”

“I’m bisexual, thank you very much,” Katya said with faux-indignation at the same time that Trixie piped in:

“Are you vlogging?”

“It’s not vlogging, persay,” Kim said with a look of mild disgust on her face.

“Oh my god, you’re vlogging,” Trixie said with glee. “You hate daily vloggers and you’re daily vlogging.”

“Shut your face,” Kim shot back. “I’m doing one day-in-the-life video and that’s it--”

“Katya, she’s vlogging!” Trixie cried out and rushed to Kim’s side to grin into the camera. “Y’all, I don’t know what you did to convince her to do this, but you have no idea how happy it makes me to see Kimberly partaking in a part of internet culture that exasperates her so.”

“You might remember my terrible roommate Trixie,” Kim deadpanned as she addressed the camera. “From one of the many videos she’s disrupted in the past.”

“Have you never seen the comments?” Trixie raised her eyebrows at her roommate. “The people love me, they live for me, they wish that I was the one on camera all the time and you were the annoying roommate who ended up in the background on occasion.”

“You’re an absolute narcissist if you’re searching for comments about you on my videos,” Kim teased.

“I’m not the one with a whole channel dedicated to making her face look pretty,” Trixie shrugged with an amused smirk, making Katya cackle loudly in the background.

“Okay, that’s enough of you two for today,” Kim groaned and walked back out of the room they way she’d come.

“Oh, come on!” Trixie called after her. “Give the people what they want!”

“That’s what I’m doing!” Kim yelled before shutting the door to her room and sending Trixie into fits of laughter alongside Katya.

“She’s gonna cut all of that out, you know,” Katya said, now seated cross-legged on the floor with her camera cradled in her lap.

“No she won’t,” Trixie scoffed with a grin. “I’m comedy gold.”

Trixie was happy and joyful and overwhelmingly warm inside of her jigsaw puzzle of a heart. She could see the light at the end of the tunnel and was oh so ready to graduate, while still being absolutely, genuinely terrified of graduation.

Overall, Trixie’s last semester of college was quite the clusterfuck of emotions, and as much as she tried to ignore the madness of it all, she couldn’t quite escape it.

There was no simple, smooth, or painless route to graduation for Trixie Mattel, and she had accepted that long before the universe brought on a brand new sort of havoc.

“I think that’s a great idea,” Trixie said, feet tucked up with her body in Adore’s desk chair. “In theory.”

“Oh, come on,” Adore scoffed with a dramatic eye roll, standing in front of her mirror and applying the smokey eye to end all smokey eyes. “Wouldn’t it be hilarious?”

“Sure,” Trixie shrugged. “In theory.”

“Stop saying that,” Adore snorted. “You know you think it’s funny.”

“Yeah, because it’s fucking absurd!” Trixie laughed. “Bianca doesn’t even believe in ghosts so any sort of ghost prank isn’t gonna spook her! She’s just gonna think someone is trying to break into her apartment and call the cops on you. So theory? Great. Practice? Not so much.”

“You’re a buzzkill,” Adore said.

“You would be dead if it weren’t for me,” Trixie deadpanned in response as her phone began to ring.

“Oh my god, you’re so popular,” Adore said in a nasally voice, making Trixie laugh.

“Fuck off,” she muttered, and then as she answered. “Hey, what’s up?”

“Trixie?”

“Yeah, Ben,” Trixie said, having gotten relatively used to brief phone calls with her mother’s lawyer over the previous few months. “Is everything okay?”

“Yes, certainly,” he said. “I was just calling to check in.”

“Oh, did my mom ask you to do that? She’s been a little on edge recently since you guys set the court date for summer,” Trixie fiddled with the hem of her jeans, pulling at a fraying piece in between her thumb and pointer finger.

“No, she, uh-- She doesn’t know I’m calling about this,” Ben said hesitantly and Trixie’s brow furrowed. She could feel Adore looking at her through the mirror.

“You’re being kind of cryptic and I’m not a huge fan of it,” Trixie said simply.

“Okay, here’s the thing,” Ben let out in a breath. “I’m going to ask you for something, but your mother has already shown disapproval and you are absolutely allowed to say no, okay?”

“Um, sure?” Trixie stared at the brownish-speckled carpeting of Adore’s bedroom.

“I think it would be helpful to our case if you submitted a written testimony,” Ben said.

“Like, of what?” Trixie asked, feeling her lungs seize up ever so slightly in her chest.

“I know that it’s a lot to ask--”

“Ben just be real with me,” Trixie cut him off with exasperation in her tone that made Adore raise her eyebrows.

“I think it would be helpful if we could show the judge just how disruptive he was to your living situation,” Ben said. “I already talked to Tyler, but he said it didn’t fully escalate for you until after he had moved out.”

“Yeah,” Trixie said, jaw clenched as she forcefully tugged a frayed piece of denim from the cuff of her jeans.

“Adding your experience to the mix--”

“I get the picture,” Trixie said. She was tense, immediately stiff at the notion of having to relive everything she had been through, no matter how helpful it could ultimately be in the long run.

“I’m not going to pressure you into doing anything that you aren’t comfortable with,” Ben sighed. “But, Trixie, cases like this are hard to pull off evidence-wise, and the more we have…” he trailed off and Trixie nodded to herself.

“When do you need it by?”

“Next week if you could,” Ben said, a little bit of hope in his voice.

Trixie took a deep breath and let her cheek rest against her denim-clad knee with eyes squeezed shut for a moment, hyper aware of how her phone was pressed up against her ear, and the sound of Ben waiting patiently for her to respond echoing through her skull.

“Okay,” she sighed. “Email me any guidelines you have and I’ll send it to you when it’s done.”

“Thank you,” Ben said, sincerity in his tone that made Trixie feel like maybe the whole situation wouldn’t end up being as miserable or as much of a disaster as it felt in that moment.

Trixie just hummed in response before hanging up the phone and placing it face down on the desk next to her.

Adore had stopped applying her makeup, leaving her with one eye practically bare and the other fully done up. She leaned against her wardrobe sideways and crossed her arms over her chest as she studied Trixie silently for a moment.

Trixie knew she wanted an explanation, but wasn’t about to give one until she was prompted.

“Wanna tell me what’s going on?” Adore asked, or rather, prompted.

“It’s not a big deal, don’t get all fired up,” Trixie brushed her off.

“If it’s not a big deal why have you got your big deal face on?” Adore raised her eyebrows up into her cherry-red bangs.

“I don’t have a-- Oh my god,” Trixie snorted. “I don’t have a face for when things are a big deal.”

“Okay, maybe not,” Adore shrugged. “But you do have a face for when you just had to talk to your mom’s lawyer and it’s not a fun one to look at.”

“The flattery is palpable tonight,” Trixie deadpanned but Adore was unamused.

“Come on, Trix,” she said softly.

“I have to write up a testimony,” Trixie sighed, defeated.

“For the trial?”

“Yeah,” she nodded. “Ben thinks that since we don’t really have a lot of evidence, that having a firsthand account from someone other than my mother about what it was like in that house-- that-- I dunno, that it’ll make the story more believable.”

“And you’re gonna do it?” Adore sat down on the edge of her bed, elbows on her knees as she tried and failed to make eye contact with Trixie.

“I mean, I have to,” Trixie shrugged.

“You know that’s not true,” Adore shook her head.

“Yeah, I know,” Trixie said. “But if I want this all to be over? Then… Well, then I do.”

“You gonna be okay?” Adore asked softly.

“Yeah,” Trixie nodded with a furrowed brow, and she wasn’t sure who she was trying to convince. “Yeah, of course.”

It took her a few days to really accept the task she had taken on. Every time she sat down with her laptop to try and type up a few sentences, a few words, she froze and had to set it aside.

Trixie talked through the act of it with Katya, thought that maybe explaining why it was such an important thing to do would help her push herself off the cliff and get something down on paper. But ultimately, it felt a lot like the words were sticky molasses, clinging to her insides with no hope of letting her release them out into the world.

Then, on Friday, she sat down on her living room couch, gathered all her willpower up, and started to type.

At first, it was just a sentence before she had to get up and take a lap around the apartment, grab a glass of water, shake out her legs. But then it was two, and then three, and eventually she had been typing and typing and typing for forty-five minutes with shaky hands and locked joints in that same spot on the couch.

Katya entered the apartment on minute forty-seven.

“Hey, babe,” she said absentmindedly as she set her things down and kicked off her shoes by the front door. “Trixie?” she looked at Trixie seated on the couch, dagger-like focus on her laptop screen but tears in her eyes and bottom lip white in between her clenched teeth. “Barbie girl,” Katya tried one more time as she moved across the room.

Trixie barely acknowledged her, just humming to show she had noticed her presence and cracked her knuckles with a loud snap.

“Hey,” Katya said as she tried to close the lid of Trixie’s laptop.

“Don’t,” Trixie grabbed ahold of it to keep Katya from shutting it.

“You gotta take a break,” Katya said softly but insistently.

“I’m on a roll, I gotta just push through,” Trixie said, voice choked just enough to thoroughly break Katya’s heart.

“Okay, I know you know that’s not healthy,” Katya sat down next to her, hip to hip with a hand resting on her back gently.

“Kat,” Trixie said sternly, still gripping onto her laptop with white knuckles. “I don’t know how I’ll finish it otherwise.”

“I know how important this is,” Katya said. “But you can take as much time as you need to finish and if you keep going like this I’m scared about where it’s gonna put you,” Katya placed her hand on top of Trixie’s on her laptop, silently urging her to hand it over.

Trixie bit at her lip, pulling at a tag of skin between her teeth as she stared at Katya’s hand on top of her own. Her brain felt too full and she felt queasy beyond belief and she let out a heavy breath as she closed the laptop, letting Katya take it from her hands and set it aside on the coffee table.

Trixie immediately let herself fall sideways, curling up with her head in Katya’s lap and burying her face in her girlfriend’s worn-soft jeans. Katya ran her fingers through Trixie’s hair quietly, giving her a moment to breathe before she spoke up.

“How far did you get?” Katya asked.

“Wrote a page and a half,” Trixie muttered against Katya’s thighs.

“And you still have more?”

“I’m trying to be thorough,” Trixie brushed off the obvious discomfort in Katya’s tone at the idea that a whole page and a half wasn’t enough to cover everything she needed to say. “But also, like, vague enough that it’s not miserable for everyone involved.”

“What do you mean?” Katya asked as Trixie sat up, opting to stand up and walk to the kitchen for a glass of water. Katya followed close behind her.

“They’re probably going to read at least part of it in court,” Trixie said as she pulled a plastic cup out of the cabinet. “Like, they’re gonna make my mother go through this bullshit all over again for the sake of theatrics or some shit.”

“Can’t you ask them not to?” Katya leaned against the opposite counter while Trixie let the sink fill up her cup.  

“I don’t know,” Trixie sighed, setting the cup aside when she realized her hands were shaking too much to be trusted not to spill. “Fucking hell,” she shook out her hands as if the jitters were water droplets she could rid from her skin with a few curt shakes.

“Trixie, tell him no,” Katya said, tone serious, no-nonsense, pleading. “This isn’t healthy, you know this isn’t good for you right now.”

“I’m fine, Katya,” Trixie pushed and pushed and pushed at the anxiety that still refused to leave her chest. “This isn’t your decision to make-- This isn’t your life and you don’t get to decide-- Jesus, Katya you don’t know my mother and you don’t know how important it is that this divorce happens.

“Okay, yeah, okay,” Katya said softly. “Backing off.”

“I feel like I’m gonna be sick,” Trixie said, leaning to rest her lower back against the counter, arms tight around her middle and gripping onto the fabric of her shirt.

“Hey, come here,” Katya said, pulling Trixie close against her, hands running up and down the length of her spine. “I know it doesn’t fix anything, but I love you a lot.”

“I love you too,” Trixie said quietly but without hesitation.

“And you’re not there anymore. I mean, look at this,” Katya pulled away enough to pick up a teapot off of the counter, painted with yellow and pink flowers, one hand still resting on Trixie’s waist. “Who else would ever model an entire kitchen off of a tacky teapot like this?”

“It’s not tacky,” Trixie snorted and Katya smirked. “I love that teapot.”

“Yeah, I know,” Katya laughed softly. “I was there when you bought it. For your new apartment. Where you live with Kimberly in Chicago, Illinois.”

“You’re good,” Trixie let out a shaky laugh before swallowing thickly. Katya moved closer to her and set down the teapot only to replace it with the glass of water from the counter behind her.

“Here,” Katya offered and Trixie gladly accepted, sipping at the water. She watched Trixie, who lowered the glass and ran her thumb around the lip of it in contemplation. “Any better?”

“Yeah,” Trixie said. “I just-- This whole thing is so absurd, y’know? Like, there is so much in my life that I’m fucking overjoyed about, but then this one thing comes along and really just-- Just tips it all over onto its side. And I feel like I shouldn’t be happy because everything is gonna keep being messy until this trial is over, but I still-- I still want to be happy. I like being happy.”

“Trix,” Katya breathed. “You can’t let yourself feel guilty for this. None of it is your fault.”

“I know, I know that,” Trixie said, and she did, she really did at that point. “I think I’m just learning how to let happy and fucked up coexist.”

Katya nodded, and without speaking, stepped forward and wrapped her arms around Trixie’s stomach, burying her face in her shoulder and holding on tight. Trixie set down her glass and pulled her close, placed a soft kiss to the top of Katya’s head, right where her hair parted in the middle.

Everything around them was always moving faster than either of them necessarily wanted, but in moments like that, they were reminded that together they could slow it all down. Together they were a force to be reckoned with, a dynamic duo that balanced each other out in ways that made them feel unstoppable at times and at the very least comfortable and grounded at others.

Trixie spent that entire weekend in a small studio in the Art and Design building, alternating between working on her independent study project and typing up a deposition that she was grateful she didn’t have to verbally give.

The walls of the studio were covered in sketches of the small collection she was in the process of making, the colors of it becoming brighter with each and every new draft, new rendition of what she was trying to say with cotton and tulle and thread.

It wasn’t often that Trixie was interrupted when she worked through weekends, but it wasn’t completely unheard of when Aja was in the building.

“Hey, sis,” the freshman knocked on the doorframe, startling Trixie into looking up from her sketchbook. “I heard a sewing machine and thought there might’ve been a ghost but this is far less exciting.”

“I’m at least eighty percent as exciting as a ghost,” Trixie deadpanned. “Eighty-five if you count my sunny disposition.”

“That’s a stretch, bitch,” Aja chuckled.

“When’s the last time a ghost helped you with your textiles homework?” Trixie raised her eyebrows but couldn’t help but grin at her young friend.

“Whatever,” Aja rolled her eyes before glancing around the small room. “What’re you working on anyway?”

“Thesis project,” Trixie shrugged, leaning back in her chair and sighing softly as she looked over her messy workstation. “It’s a work in progress.”

“Can I look at it?” Aja motioned to the sketches hanging on the walls, taped up with masking and scotch alike.

“Knock yourself out,” Trixie chuckled, throwing her arms up and letting them fall into her lap unceremoniously.

Aja studied the sketches in front of her for a moment, furrowing her brow at some and nodding at others.

“What’s it called?” she asked, looking over her shoulder at Trixie.

“Hmm?”

“The name of the collection?”

“Oh,” Trixie felt realization fall into her chest like a weight. “I don’t-- I guess I don’t know yet.”

“Well, what’s the story then?” Aja pushed, not with malice but with genuine curiosity.

“The story?” Trixie balked at her.

“Everything you make has a story,” Aja shrugged. “You always get mad at me when I don’t have one.”

“Fuck,” Trixie muttered, realizing where she had gotten caught up in her designs, why they weren’t fitting together the way she wanted them to.

“You forget about that part?” Aja teased.

“You can go ahead and get out,” Trixie pointed at the door, laughing softly at herself.

“Just trying to help!” Aja grinned back, putting her hands up and walking backwards out of the room.

“You’re a bitch,” Trixie called after her as she turned to leave. “Love you!”

“Love you too, idiot!”

Once Aja was gone, Trixie looked at her sketches, she looked at the colors under the glowing light of her laptop-- bright white from the Word document still open on her desk. She looked at the words and the shapes they created, thought about how those shapes interacted with the shapes of a Chicago apartment and a little yellow teapot.

She turned to a new page and started to sketch, grateful to know that no matter where she ended up after graduation that she probably wasn’t going to be getting rid of Aja any time soon.

Trixie would finish writing up her testimony on Tuesday night, send it off to Ben without proofreading it, and climb into bed at nine o’clock thoroughly exhausted.

She curled up amongst the warm blankets, holding the fabric close to her cheek with one hand as she dialed a familiar number with the other.

“I sent it to him,” Trixie said, before Katya even had a chance to greet her on the other end of the line.

“Are you okay?” Katya asked in response. “Do you need anything?”

“I’m okay,” Trixie said quietly, letting the words fall out of her mouth and onto her pillow. “It’s hard to explain, I just-- I don’t know...” she trailed off.

“Take your time,” Katya said softly and Trixie took in a deep breath.

“It’s like-- Okay, so my whole life I’ve felt like I had to hide all of this-- That, like, I couldn’t be happy if I accepted all that bullshit as part of my life or part of me,” she insisted and Katya hummed on the other end of the line, listening intently. “But if people know, then I don’t have to pretend to be anything other than what I am, right? Like… I was abused.”

She paused, let herself absorb the sound of the words as they fell off her tongue, heavy like lead and full and honest.Trixie couldn’t remember ever having said it, so simply or so matter of factly, as if she was recounting the day’s traffic or the weather.  

“I was abused,” she repeated to her empty room, to Katya, to the infinite universe hanging up above in the night sky. “And that’s always gonna be a part of who I am, and it’s gonna fuck me up sometimes, but I’m still happy,” she laughed. “And I have so much good shit in my life, and so many people who love me, and you. I have you.”

“I love you, Trixie Mattel,” Katya whispered. “And I am floored by how incredible you are every single day.”

“Ditto,” Trixie grinned into her pillow.

Trixie knew that Katya couldn’t fix everything, but she also knew that having Katya around made getting through the tough bits a little bit easier.

When Trixie looked back at who she had been the day she met Katya, she was amazed at how far both of them had come, both individually and collectively. They had grown and grown and grown, up towards the sun burning bright in the sky and yet neither had veered away from the other in their growth, instead following complementary paths towards the same destination.

It was something Trixie would be eternally grateful for, eternally in awe of.

“Okay,” Trixie said, printouts of New York apartments and scrawled personal notes strewn out on Katya’s kitchen table in front of her. “This is what I have so far, but I want your opinions on this stuff. I wasn’t sure what neighborhood is best for film stuff-- or even if there was one-- or like--”

“You did this much research already?” Katya fell into a seat across from her, mouth gaping open in stunned awe. “I would’ve helped you, babe.”

“Yeah, I know, but I’m really good at this stuff,” Trixie shrugged. “And it’s more fun than any of my assignments for class, so, y’know.”

“Okay, well walk me through it,” Katya sat up straight and placed her palms flat on the table, scanning the documents spread out in front of her.

“So we’ve got apartment options,” Trixie pointed to a stack of papers with a pink post-it note on top. “And then these are all the jobs I’m waiting to hear back from so you don’t have to worry about those,” another stack, this one with an orange post-it. “This is the information about renting a U-Haul and where we can pick it up and return it, and then this one is a bunch of productions that are going to start shooting over the summer but you don’t have to apply to any if you don’t like ‘em, I just figured they were options,” Trixie pointed out as Katya stared at her with wide eyes.

“I was just in your bedroom and you have piles of clothes laying around,” Katya with confusion in her tone. “Like there’s nothing in your closet because it’s all on the floor.”

“I’m multifaceted,” Trixie shrugged with a soft laugh.

“And I feel lied to,” Katya joked. “I thought I was dating a slob all this time.”

“Oh, fuck off,” Trixie laughed jovially. “I hate you.”

“Well, I guess that’ll at least make the break up easier,” Katya shrugged and Trixie cackled, kicking lightly at her shins under the table. “Okay, okay, no this is amazing, show me more,” Katya grinned and Trixie sat up straight, pride in her posture.

Trixie ran her through the details of all the information she had gathered thus far, giving important insight into where they were headed and where they would be in just a couple of months.

Katya, being the only one of the two who had actually been to visit the city, brought her own knowledge to the mix and together they came up with a relatively solid game plan. It was potentially the first time in Trixie’s life that she felt like she not only had a sense of direction, but that she had complete control and agency in every decision she made moving forward in that direction.

The rest of the semester felt long as it was happening, and Trixie couldn’t wait for it to be over. She didn’t want to be a student anymore, didn’t want to slave over work for classes that had simply become a tedious means to an end. But then suddenly finals were upon her, and sitting in the library night after night or spending long hours sewing in the design building, she couldn’t help but think how quickly it had all happened.

It felt like she had just moved into her dorm a week earlier but also as if that moment had happened over a decade prior. Trixie spent so much time rushing and rushing and pushing forward that she barely took a moment to consider that she would eventually be leaving.

For once in her life though, she wasn’t leaving out of necessity, but instead out of a desire to strive for more. Trixie Mattel was finally in a place where she felt she could reach for more instead of just enough .

“Thanks,” Trixie said softly as she handed in her final blue book of the semester— of her life— to her professor at the front of the large lecture hall.

She considered it for a moment as she left the room, the idea that maybe strength was just having enough faith in yourself to believe you’re leaving goodness behind for something even better.

The sun was out, barely a cloud in the sky and a big, yellow sun beaming down on her tired shoulders. The air was ever so slightly muggy with the early spring wind and it frizzed up the pieces of her hair that had fallen out of her ponytail to frame her face.

The moment of it all felt simultaneously incredibly anticlimactic and world-shattering. She was done, finished, moving on as a soon-to-be official college graduate. It felt wrong just to walk home in a moment like that, to treat it like it was just any other day and not a major turning point.

So, she did the only thing that felt right: she went to get coffee.

“One boring, black coffee for the Cheese Head,” Alyssa said, setting a large mug of steaming caffeine down in front of Trixie where she sat at the counter.

“God, thank you,” Trixie sighed, bringing the mug up close to her face and breathing in the familiar smell of it, letting the warmth dance across the freckles on her nose.

“Maybe not the God, but a god,” Alyssa smirked, sending Trixie into a fit of laughter, joy bubbling in every nerve ending of her jittery body.

“Fuck, what am I gonna do without your coffee,” she sighed as she took a long sip, not even really caring that she was burning her tongue.

“My coffee?” Alyssa scoffed. “Girl, what are you gonna do in that big city without me?”

“Don’t say that, I’m trying to make light of a sad situation,” Trixie whined , elbows falling to the countertop and chin cradled into hands. “Don’t you dare get sentimental.”

“But it’s part of my southern charm and you’re leavin, kiddo,” Alyssa fired back. “I’m gonna miss having all your drama around this place.”

“Hey!” Trixie cackled in mock indignation.

“I’m kidding!” Alyssa laughed at her. “I really will miss having you hanging around here all the time. You still have my number right?”

“Alyssa, I texted you this morning,” Trixie laughed softly. “I’ve had your number for years.”

“I know, I know,” Alyssa shook her head and leaned on the counter facing Trixie. “But you’re gonna keep using it, right?”

“Of course,” Trixie said, softening and suddenly sincere. “I’m gonna miss you a whole lot you old hag.”

“Oh, you little—”

“I’m serious!” Trixie laughed. “No, really. You have been there for me literally from the day I stepped foot in this city. You’ve given me work when I needed it, advice when I asked— and sometimes didn’t ask— for it. This place will always be home to me because of you, and I will never stop being grateful for that,” Trixie said, watching Alyssa tear up just ever so slightly. “And if you think for a second that I’m not calling the minute things get tough in New York begging for my job back, you’re insane,” she laughed.

“Oh, you better call,” Alyssa said with teary determination. “But only so I can remind you why you’re out in that east coast hell— to take those Broadway dummies by storm.”

Trixie laughed at that, actively trying to absorb what it felt like in that moment, to be so overwhelmed with love and support, to be in that place where it had all started just a handful of years prior when she’d gotten lost in a new city with a dead cell phone and a cumbersome suitcase.

“I love you, Alyssa,” Trixie said, voice quiet under the soft clatter of dishware.

“Oh, I love you too, Trixie.”

And so Trixie was done with classes. And she was done with work. And all she really had left to do was wait.

In all the waiting for her life to change, it gave her a lot of free time to think about how crazy it all was, how little she had expected any of what was coming down the pipe for her when she had applied to college at seventeen years old with the money she’d saved up from summers working at that ice cream shop in her apron and baseball cap.

She recalled nights when she hadn’t thought she would ever escape Milwaukee, let alone that house she’d grown to be afraid of. Trixie was a hopeful young woman, but there had been a number of years when she hadn’t been a very hopeful girl.

As she began to say goodbye to Alyssa, and Columbia, and ultimately Chicago, she found herself to be grateful for having been able to find her hope once more.

Only a handful of days later, Trixie met her brother on the street in front of her apartment, letting him wrap her up in a cozy, warm hug.

He was beaming despite the long car ride and wouldn’t stop congratulating Trixie on finishing even though, I’m not technically done yet, idiot.

Trixie carried his small duffle up to her apartment and dropped it on the pull out couch where he would be staying. He met Kim briefly as she rushed out the door to take her last ever final exam for some 100 level class she’d squeezed in last minute and had spent a sum total of seven minutes studying for all semester.

And then they waited for Katya to arrive.

“You have to go easy on her,” Trixie insisted. “She’s not always great at first impressions and she’s like— moderately wacky if we’re being honest.”

“Kid,” Tyler laughed from his seat in the chair facing Trixie. “I’ve heard enough stories to know what to expect.”

“Sure, but like, as much as you might think you know what to expect, you for sure don’t,” Trixie emphasized. “She’s— I mean she’s one of a kind.”

“I really want to make fun of you for how in love you are but that was so goddamn sincere,” Tyler laughed.

“You can fuck right off,” Trixie laughed right along with him, trying to suppress the blush she could feel growing across her chest.

“I promise to try not to scare her off, okay? Happy?” Tyler teased, but Trixie didn’t even have a chance to respond before there was a gentle knock at the door.

Trixie scrambled out of her seat and swung the door open to catch sight of Katya, wearing one of the few dresses she still had after the dress purge of a few months previously when she had finally decided she didn’t care if skirts were pretty, she didn’t want to wear them anymore.

“What are you wearing?” Trixie asked, flabbergasted at the image of Katya, demure and fiddling with her fingers in front of her body.

“What a way to greet a person,” Katya laughed nervously.

“No, I mean— you look beautiful, just, like, uncomfortable as shit,” Trixie said quietly still standing in the doorway.

“I’m trying to make a good first impression,” Katya hissed, clearly anxious about the magnitude of it all.

“You don’t have to— Katya just be you, I want him to meet you,” Trixie insisted.

“Are you gonna let her in or make her stand out in the hallway all night?” Tyler called from inside the apartment and Katya’s eyes got wide.

“Don’t stress, I’ve got you,” Trixie took Katya’s hand and pulled her in the doorway. “Tyler, meet Katya,” she said, coming to a halt as Tyler stood.

“Nice to finally meet you,” Katya said with a nervous smile as she shot her hand out in offering.

“Formal,” Tyler raised his eyebrows at Trixie as he shook Katya’s hand, but his sister shot him a look that he knew meant behave. “Nice to meet you though, I’ve heard a lot of good things.”

“Same,” Katya grinned, seemingly gaining a little bit of confidence as they all stood awkwardly in the center of Trixie’s living room.

“But to be honest, if I hear anything bad just once—”

“Tyler!” Trixie hissed, slapping his bicep lightly in a reprimanding fashion.

“No, it’s okay,” Katya rested a hand on Trixie’s lower back. “He can say his piece, he’s protective. I think we might be able to relate in that way.”

“Yeah, we probably can, huh?” Tyler grinned at her and Trixie rolled her eyes. “I need someone on the inside to make sure this idiot is eating her veggies and staying out of trouble.”

“I’m your gal,” Katya shrugged.

“Listen, I want you two to get along,” Trixie interjected. “But this isn’t quite what I had in mind.”

“Too bad,” Tyler said, just as Katya was giving a not entirely heartfelt “sorry, babe.”

Trixie groaned in mock annoyance, but in reality, the entire interaction made her heart soar. Tyler and Katya were two of the most important people in her little universe, probably the two most important people, and to have them in the same room, getting along and chatting like friends, that was a dream come true.

It felt like family, as they sat down in Trixie’s living room, drinking soda from her fridge and snacking on a box of Cheez-itz. Trixie felt her heart get physically more full every time Tyler laughed at one of Katya’s bad jokes or the two of them agreed on some point made in conversation.

It was a win in Trixie’s book, a monumental, joyous fucking win.

“You promised you’d show it to me when I got to town,” Tyler insisted from his seat in Trixie’s magenta armchair nearly two hours later.

“Yeah, okay,” Trixie brushed him off, tucked in close against Katya as the three of them had gotten comfortable during their conversation. “But that was before I finished it and it’s— okay I just don’t think you’re gonna like it or understand or whatever.”

“It’s a line of clothing, what is there to understand?” Tyler laughed.

“Oh, buddy you don’t wanna go there,” Katya teased. “She won’t ever shut up if you get her started.”

“Hey!” Trixie shot her a look.

“Not that that’s a bad thing!” Katya backpedaled immediately with a broad grin. “I love listening to you talk!”

“You’re on thin ice,” Trixie narrowed her eyes at Katya in mock-skepticism.

“Darling, let’s not cause a scene in front of your brother now,” Katya said with a put-on, terrible excuse for a posh British accent that had Trixie immediately squealing with genuine adoration.

“But my dearest,” Trixie returned with an equally bad accent, gripping one of Katya’s hands in both of her own. “We shan’t pretend not to be disagreeable when we are in fact acting as such.”

“As interesting as this interaction is from an anthropological standpoint,” Tyler chimed in. “I’d love to get back to the point.”

“God, okay,” Trixie laughed with a roll of her eyes. “I’ll show you the stupid thing.”

“Woohoo!” Katya threw her hands up in enthusiastic celebration as Trixie pushed herself off the couch and towards her bedroom.

“It’s really only a mini collection,” Trixie called over her shoulder as she started to drag a rolling clothing rack out from where it was tucked next to her bed and out the narrow doorway, not without difficulties. “And it’s basically just my thesis project so it’s still very clearly a student-made thing,” she stopped in the middle of the living room and motioned to the rack. “But ta-da I guess.”

There were about seven pieces in total, hung carefully with straight seams and smoothness only achievable by meticulous ironing. The rack was filled overwhelmingly with a glow of sunshine yellow, accented with a pastel pink so soft it was nearly white.

Dresses hung beside pants, hung beside tops and jackets and one pink overcoat with the texture and volume of a person-sized loofa.

The whole thing was loud and bright, happy in both its color and shape, somehow emanating a sense of warmth in pleats and hems. Katya stood up immediately and began looking closely at the clothes with wide eyes and gentle hands, Tyler close behind her.

Trixie watched them take it all in with her arms crossed right across her chest and jaw clenched tight in anticipation of someone saying something, anything.

The first words weren’t spoken until Tyler caught sight of the handmade tag sewn inside one of the dresses and inhaled sharply through his nose, immediately letting go of the fabric and looking up at his sister with fear and wonder and understanding in his eyes.

“Trixie—”

“This doesn’t need to be a whole thing,” she muttered, not quite able to make eye contact with him.

Katya looked between them with confusion for a moment before looking at the tag for herself and letting her jaw hinge open.

“Holy sh—”

“Okay, we’re done,” Trixie felt the tendons in her arms snap with tension as she uncrossed them and tried to pull the rack away, only to be stopped when Tyler spoke up.

“The Beatrice Collection?” He asked in a breath of a question, hesitance in his voice as the word he hadn’t dared speak in years passed across his lips as though he expected Trixie to break down right then and there at the sound of it.

Trixie froze and took a deep breath before she turned around to face the two of them again.

It was really just a word, just a name, just another something that had once belonged to her that had been taken in her youth, without her consent and without her say in the matter. It was a word used to make her feel inferior, a word used with the intention of reminding her who was in charge, of reminding her of the formalities and rules that had taken over her carefree and casual everyday life when she was far too young to understand I’m your new dad, but old enough to know that a full name meant she had done something wrong. That she was something wrong.

She hated that word and hated everything it meant and stood for. It wasn’t a curse by regular standards but in her own language, the one we each have based on the words we grow with and break with and rise and fall in the midst of, in that language it had become the worst word. That word was worse than any goddamn insult she could have thought of, and now it was on her very first collection.

Trixie spent months looking at that word at the top of sketches as she turned them in as progress reports, was absorbed by what it meant and what it could mean as she stitched together skirts she would ultimately scrap and saw her first complete piece hanging snugly on a dress form in the design building on campus.

It was a disgusting mess of linguistics that had spent years making her fearful to the point of nausea but she had plastered it all over something beautiful.

It was beautiful and joyful and she had hand-stitched every single piece of it with both shaky and steady hands in the name of reclaiming something that had once belonged to her.

That word was hers, that name was hers, and no one would ever turn it back on her ever again because she knew how beautiful it could be.

“I took it back,” she said simply with a shrug and then pushed The Beatrice Collection back to its snug home between her bed frame and her closet.

She took it back.

Katya stayed and had dinner with the Mattel siblings, but ultimately went home for the night, even though Trixie seemed desperate for her to stay as the reality of graduation and tomorrow came together and began to set in.

Trixie and Tyler stayed up for most of the night talking about anything and everything. They went over where their mother’s case was in the divorce process and shared scattered stories of where their lives had taken them since they last sat in the same room like that.

Trixie fell into a restless sleep around three in the morning and awoke to her blaring alarm at six, making her aware it was time to get up and shower and get dressed into the heavy black gown that would prove to the world she had done it. She was a college graduate, or at least nearly so.

An hour later, as Trixie curled her hair while Tyler re-tied his tie for the seventh time, her phone rang.

“Can you grab that?” Trixie asked with a long piece of hair curled up next to her scalp.

“Yeah, here,” Tyler said as he slid Trixie’s phone across the small counter so it rested in front of her.

“I meant answer it, but whatever,” she deadpanned, pulling the curling iron away from her hair and letting a perfect spiral fall to frame her face.

“It’s mom, you should get it, dumbass,” Tyler chuckled, eyeing his tie in the mirror before untying it and starting over for an eighth time.

“Oh, shoot,” Trixie muttered as she picked up the phone. “Hey, Mama, you in the city yet?”

“I just got in and I’ve been searching for your apartment,” Karen said, voice accompanied by the sounds of an early morning street and pedestrians on the other end of the phone. “And I think I’m on the right street but I don’t want to hit the buzzer on any of these buildings because I just don’t know which is the right one, sweetheart.”

“Yeah, the numbers on the buildings over here are tricky to spot,” Trixie laughed softly. “I’m gonna come downstairs and stand on the front step to see if you can spot me.”

“Oh, thank goodness,” Karen sighed.

“I’ll be right down,” Trixie smiled, set down her curling iron and slid on a pair of flip flops by the front door as she hung up the phone. “I’m gonna go let mom in,” she said to Tyler.

“Okay, see you in a minute.”

“If Kat gets here let her in please,” Trixie continued as she opened the front door and grabbed her keys. “Oh, and Mom still doesn’t know she’s my girlfriend or that I’m a massive dyke so maybe don’t bring it up, okay be right back!” she said hurriedly.

“Wait— What? Trixie!” Tyler called out after her, but Trixie just let the door fall shut behind her and hurried down the stairs towards the front entrance.

She hadn’t meant to put the outing of it off for as long as she had, had intended with all sincerity to mention it over spring break, or in a phone call sometime during the entire month of April. But something about every moment when she considered I could do it right now , something just hadn’t felt right, or she hadn’t felt ready, or she’d forgotten the speech she’d run through in her head a dozen or so times a night since she had decided she needed to tell her mother.

Trixie walked a block to find Karen standing on a street corner with her suitcase and a look of confusion plastered over her countenance and the sight of her was so natural and Trixie almost wanted to shout it out right there, but she didn’t. It wasn’t the time or the place. Not yet.

So there she stood, hair half curled in a robe and flip flops on the side of the road in Chicago, waving to her mother and hugging her and exchanging laughter and smiles and words of happy reunion, entirely as the straight girl she had always been.

“Let me take your bag—”

“I can handle it, Trixie—”

“It’s a lot of stairs, let me help you,” Trixie laughed, standing at the bottom of the staircase and trying to take her mother’s suitcase straight out of her hands.

“You’re the one we’re celebrating, you’re not allowed to wait on me,” Karen said indignantly and Trixie just rolled her eyes, grabbed the bag, and made her way up the stairs before her mother could protest.

She dragged the bag up the steps and pushed open the door to her apartment with her hip, grateful for a moment that Kim had decided to stay with her family in their hotel room for the night.

“Ty, you’ll never believe who showed up on my doorstep!” Trixie called out to the apartment.

“Obama? Axl Rose? Madonna?” Tyler called out from her bedroom, and then as he popped into the living room. “Is it Oprah?”

“Even better,” Trixie said with mocking but not unkind amusement. “Our mother the country bumpkin is in the big city!”

“Why I oughta!” Tyler said in an old west accent that had Trixie cackling.

“Oh, stop that,” Karen reprimanded through her own bubbling laughter. “How I ever raised such jokesters I’ll never understand.”

“Did you just call your children jokes?” Trixie gasped. “Is that how you feel about us?”

“Dear lord, you can write your stand up later, Trixie,” she chuckled. “We have to finish getting you ready.”

“I’m almost there,” Trixie said. “Just gotta finish my hair and makeup.”

“I’ll help you, it’ll go faster.”

“It’s okay, I can do it,” Trixie shook her head. “You don’t have to do that.”

“Maybe I want to,” Karen shot back. “You ever think of that?”

Trixie did think about it, as her mother helped her curl her hair that morning as the sun was rising, because she couldn’t quite remember the last time something like that had happened.

She thought about it, thought about all the things she had taught herself or learned from watching sitcoms and after school specials, and for the first time, watching her mother light up and the simple act of curling her daughter’s hair, that maybe it had affected her mom just as much as it had her. And maybe, just maybe, they were finally finding ways to make up for all of the time they had lost.

Karen helped Trixie finish getting ready, marveled over her makeup skills and gasped when she saw the yellow dress with pink flowers that Trixie had decided to wear, one that she had made by hand for her very own collection.

Trixie got all the way dolled up in the presence of her family and before she knew it she was watching Katya exchange pleasantries and small talk with her mother in the entryway.

Katya wore a broad smile, black slacks and a short sleeved button up covered in a bright pattern of roller skates and stripes. She looked so like herself and she joked and laughed and was more comfortable now than she had been just the night before and she didn’t touch Trixie even once.

They had discussed it, and Katya was nothing less than completely understanding about Trixie’s concerns in coming out to her mother, so understanding that Trixie felt simultaneously more and less guilty for making her lie.

But Katya wasn’t touching her, and Trixie couldn’t focus on what was being said because the reality of what lying felt like really started to hit her.

And in that moment, looking at Katya talking to her mother with bright eyes in her stupid patterned button up, seeing how okay Katya was with being the overly supportive friend willing to sit through another graduation ceremony for a pal, absorbing how all-in she felt with that dumb filmmaker and her massive heart, that was when it hit her.

Those few seconds in time and space settled into Trixie’s brain like a piece of a puzzle she had been missing and she couldn’t hold it in anymore.

“Hey, Ma?” Trixie cut into the light chatter of a conversation that had been taking place.

“Yeah?” Karen looked to her with a soft smile.

“I just…” she took a deep breath and moved a step closer to stand next to Katya, whose hand moved slightly as if with the intention of holding Trixie’s before moving away hurriedly once more. “I want to introduce you to Katya.”

“I know it’s early but you just did, sweetheart,” Karen laughed. “And I’m excited to meet the rest of your friends too.”

“No, Ma, just— just let me…” she let out a frustrated huff, wishing she had foreseen this moment and planned something to say.

“You don’t have to do this,” Katya leaned in to say softly into Trixie’s ear. Trixie shared a short look with Tyler, a look of support, of I’m on your side no matter what happens.

“I want to,” Trixie nodded to her before turning back to her mother. “I want you to meet Katya. My girlfriend, Katya.”

“Oh,” Karen’s mouth fell open into a small breath of a gasp, clearly taken aback by the blunt statement of the thing. Trixie stiffened, but she took Katya’s hand in her own, determined to hold her ground.

“We’ve been together for over a year now and I’m very serious about this relationship and I hope that you can accept that this is who I am, but I understand if you need time to come to terms with it—” she cut herself off with a tight squeeze from Katya’s hand. Trixie looked up from where she had been staring at her feet to see Katya take a small step forward and offer up her hand to Karen.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Katya said, all grown up and professional in her stance, but not without a great deal of earnest gratitude in her tone. “Thank you for raising such an incredible woman. She’s changed my life.”

Karen glanced down at Katya’s extended hand, then up at Katya herself, with her sparkling smile and bright, hopeful, sincere eyes. She let out a breath of tension and shrugged with a laugh.

“Well come here then,” Karen opened her arms wide and pulled a surprised Katya into a warm hug.

Trixie felt something in her stomach drop, felt her entire physicality shift at the loss of weight from atop her chest as she watched her mother hug the woman she loved. Her throat felt tight and she could feel tears begin to form at the back of her eyes.

“It might take a little while to get used to this,” Karen said. “But if you’re happy?” She looked to Trixie quizzically and Trixie nodded emphatically, unable to speak as fat tears rolled down her cheeks.

“Oh, sweetheart, if you’re happy then I’m happy,” Karen reached out and pulled Trixie into a hug.

“Thank you,” Trixie said through tears into her mother’s shoulder, gripping tight to the fabric of her shirt.

“Don’t cry,” Karen said with a soft but not unkind laugh. “You worked so hard on your makeup.”

“I know, I know,” Trixie pulled away and wiped gently under her eyes to pick up a few stray tears. “I just— I never thought— and I was so scared,” she let out a broken sob and Katya pushed past Karen to stand directly in front of Trixie, right in her space with one hand on her shoulder and the other on her cheek.

“Hey, look at me,” Katya whispered, quiet enough to make it feel like their own private conversation even with Trixie’s entire family still in the room. Trixie met her eyes, letting them steady her in the moment. “You’re fucking insane for trying to do that right now,” Katya said quietly and Trixie laughed, sudden, surprised and joyful. “But I’m in awe of you, and I love you, and if we don’t leave now we’re gonna be late for your graduation.”

“Oh shit,” Trixie laughed, glancing at the clock on the wall and wiping furiously at her face and turning back to Katya. “Did I royally fuck up my face?”

“Nope,” Katya grinned. “Looks perfect to me.”

“Okay, that’s very cute and all,” Trixie deadpanned. “But you’d tell me if I had mascara on my cheeks right?”

“C’mere,” Karen said, licking her thumb and holding Trixie still with one hand while she wiped under her eyes. “There. Beautiful.”

Trixie grinned, heart full of the same sunshine as her dress.

“Okay then, slowpokes let’s get out of here,” Trixie grabbed her robe and slung it on, snatching her cap off the counter as she made her way for the door. “I have to go get commenced.”

The ceremony itself was more emotional for Trixie than she had anticipated. She sat in a small, white folding chair with Shea on her left and Kim on her right, Adore in the row in front of them and Sasha the row behind. All of them had ignored the signs leading them to sit with their individual schools, caring more about being near to each other in the last moments of their college careers.

They whispered and laughed to each other through the commencement speaker-- some alumnus who had made a name for himself in the world of journalism-- and couldn’t sit still as the student speaker took the stage. All of them cheered raucously for each other as their schools were called to stand and by the time they were tossing their caps up into the air, Trixie couldn’t stop smiling.

All of it felt almost anticlimactic, to go through four years of intense work, of the absolute best and worst moments of her life, to simply graduate, right there and then in a matter of minutes.

Part of her knew that it simply hadn’t sunk in yet, because she had spent significantly more time as a student than as a graduate. Maybe when the following August rolled around and she wasn’t preparing to start up classes again, or maybe when her loans started asking for payments in six months, maybe then it would feel real. But for the moment, she just let herself relish in the sudden sense of freedom.

Trixie hadn’t hated being a college student the way she had hated being a high school student. College really had been her first taste of limited freedom and had brought her to a place she loved, doing things she loved, with her tiny chosen family of arty queer girls whom she loved more than anything.

Trixie was grateful for all she had learned, not just the new stitching and design techniques she had picked up, but the masterclass she’d seemed to have stumbled into on how to be a person. How to be happy despite all the sad and how to find love when your heart has only felt broken for so, so long.

Trixie Mattel was a college graduate, but she felt like so much more. She was a whole human person, equipped with the tools to keep growing and learning even without strict professors to guide her.

She had dinner with her family that night at a cheap Mexican restaurant that she had grown to love during the years she’d spent scraping together pennies for meals. She got to watch her mother and brother fall in love with Katya across plates of enchiladas, the girl with the camera still in hand to this day, still pointing it at Trixie every time she laughed because, as she had recently explained, Trixie is at her most beautiful when she screams like a banshee.

Trixie Mattel graduated with sunshine in her hair and skin and heart, laughter dripping from her eyelashes and joy stuck to the bottom of discarded high heeled shoes.

It was the end, but she wasn’t afraid.

She wasn’t afraid as she fell asleep with her mother by her side that night and she wasn’t afraid when she woke up the next morning surrounded by boxes bound for New York City.

That morning was the hottest of the year so far, and left the whole lot of them sweating bullets as they loaded first Katya’s and then Trixie’s things into the back of the U-Haul.

Bianca grumbled the whole time, but never once suggested she wanted to be anywhere other than there, sending off her friends with love and hugs to spare. Adore on the other hand, couldn’t stop silently crying throughout the entire laborious process.

She wept as she carried a box filled with spatulas and tableware down the stairs and as much as Trixie wanted to laugh at her, she wanted to join in equally as much.

Kim was less emotional, knowing that she would be joining them in the city in just a matter of months when her makeup artist apprenticeship started up in the fall, so she spent the entire morning telling Katya about all of the worst parts of having to live with Trixie.

“She pretends to be organized, says she knows the mess or some shit,” Kim said, dropping a box of miscellaneous items on the sidewalk with a grunt. “But in reality she’s just a massive slob so watch out for that.”

“Oh, I’ve spent enough time at your apartment to figure that much out,” Katya laughed, leaning against the truck in her tank top and sports bra, sweating just as much as the rest of them but looking effortless nonetheless.

“I swear to god if you two don’t stop,” Trixie said in between heavy breaths as she lifted a box into the back of the truck. “I’m calling this off and making you move everything back inside by yourselves.”

“Why can’t we all ever just have a nice conversation without Trixie turning to threats?” Sasha asked. She wasn’t so much helping as she was offering moral support, already reading a book she was required to for the graduate program she would be starting in the fall, eternally ahead of the game academically.

“Because Trixie Mattel has loved ruining our fun since freshman year,” Shea chimed in, sitting next to Sasha on the front step but without any sort of excuse for not assisting. She was job hunting in Chicago, still living with Sasha with a four year old Singer at the bottom of her closet. “Remember when she ruined your surprise party?”

“Oh shit,” Adore cackled through her still-continuing tears. “I completely forgot about that. You were so stupid.”

“She was the only one who knew how to use that printer!” Trixie cried out in exasperated defense.

“Then you should’ve asked her to help you print something different!” Bianca cried out in sudden but complete exasperation. Trixie’s jaw dropped and she opened and closed her mouth a couple of times like a dumb fish.

“Oh,” she said simply. “Oh my god, I’m so stupid.”

Katya screeched with laughter, doubling over to the point of having to set down the desk lamp she was holding.

“A college educated woman everyone!” Katya yelled out on that early morning, nearly-empty city street. “The love of my life, and a real life genius: Trixie Mattel!”

“I swear to god—” Trixie said with mock annoyance, laughing all the while and cutting herself off to tackle Katya in what was really nothing more than a bear hug.

“Oh no! She got me!” Katya said through actual real life giggles that made Trixie’s heart feel lighter and only added to the silkworms that had been spinning in her stomach all morning.

“Okay, you two,” Tyler stepped out of the apartment building with a box— one final box. “If you don’t head out soon you’re not gonna be there when you told that landlord you’d be there.”

“Party pooper,” Trixie shot back, still with Katya hanging onto her around her waist.

“Just saving your ass like usual,” Tyler teased.

Trixie felt her bones go soft at the sight of him, loading up her moving truck and double checking that she had everything she needed for the long journey ahead. Him and her mom, all of her closest friends right there and ready to help send her off into the great big world.

It was her family, lined up on the front steps of that cheap apartment building, that made this move so much more difficult than the one that got her to Chicago. On that move, she packed her own bag and left with what could barely be considered a proper goodbye.

Trixie Mattel was finally getting her proper goodbye.

“You sure you have enough cash?”

“Yes, Mom,” Trixie smiled softly at her.

“And you’ll stop every couple of hours? Sleep at a rest station if you need to?”

“Of course,” Katya nodded emphatically.

“Don’t pull over for any strangers and look out for each other,” Karen continued. “And keep your phone charged so you can keep me updated.”

“I promise,” Trixie said.

“Pinky promise?” Tyler chimed in with his pinky finger outstretched in offering.

“Pinky promise,” Trixie nodded as she linked their fingers in a tight sign of support, friendship.

“I’ll be back for the trial next month,” Trixie said. “I’ll see you so soon.”

Her mother nodded and pulled her into a teary hug, and Trixie wasn’t sure who she was trying to convince that it wouldn’t actually feel all that long.

She was ready, she knew that for sure, but it would still take adjusting so soon after having gotten her family back.

The two young women shared hugs with everyone, shed tears with everyone as they clambered up the step into the large truck. There were promises of phone calls made and expectations for visits repeated again and again.

As they climbed into the front seat of that truck, where Katya had to pull the driver's seat all the way forward just to reach the pedals, there was a lot they didn’t know.

They didn’t know that they would get lost on the streets of New York on their first day there, or that their apartment was actually a sixth floor walk up with no elevator that they would have to move into alone.

They had no idea that they’d have their first major fight in three months time when Trixie would forget to pay the electric and Katya’s alarm clock wouldn’t go off in time for work one morning.

They didn’t realize that they would fall in love with the city and each other every single day that they spent there, or that their days of eating microwave ramen for dinner were far from over.

They didn’t know that Trixie would spend the week after her twenty-sixth birthday sleeping on Kim’s couch because Katya had casually mentioned marriage and Trixie had been far from ready for that conversation.

However, they also didn’t know that Trixie would barely make it the week before going home, explaining her fears and hearing Katya out, determining together that they had time and that marriage wasn’t the be-all-end-all for them.

Trixie and Katya had no idea how big their world was about to get, how much they would see and make and do in the city that slept even less than they did. They were about to take the world by storm, and they genuinely had no idea.

“Wait, okay,” Trixie said, fumbling with her phone in the passenger seat as Katya drove them down Lake Shore Drive.

“I plugged the address in but I think the app is confused about where we are for some reason.”

“Refresh it maybe?” Katya suggested, eyes looking over to her and less devoted to the road than Trixie was comfortable with.

“Are you sure you’re good to drive?” she asked hesitantly.

“I love driving!” Katya said, slightly exasperated for having to say it for the hundredth time. “And you actively hate driving. So yes I can drive,” she chuckled.

“Okay, okay, right,” Trixie brushed it off.

“I do need you to help me navigate though, babe.”

“Right, wait,” Trixie looked back at the buffering app. “We need to turn— shit, we missed it,” she turned in her seat to watch their turn go by.

“I’ll swing around and go back that way,” Katya said.

“We don’t have time for detours,” Trixie groaned. “With traffic like this we’re cutting it close as it is.”

“Hey calm down, I promise I’m gonna get us there in a safe and timely manner,” Katya said as she made what was most certainly a dangerous and illegal u-turn that had Trixie gripping onto her seat.

“I love you but please follow traffic laws,” Trixie whined.

“My bad, that’s the last u-turn I promise,” Katya smiled awkwardly over at her.

“Okay, left here,” Trixie said, pointing to the street sign. “And then get in the right hand lane.”

“Got it, co-pilot,” Katya grinned, and Trixie couldn’t help but smile at that.

“We’re gonna make it in time, right?”

“We have so much time, don’t stress,” Katya squeezed Trixie’s hand across the dashboard. “We’ve got this.”

Trixie watched her, with the morning sun shining on her blonde bangs and reflecting in her massive sunglasses. She watched the way her long fingers wrapped around the steering wheel and the tangled up way her feet worked the pedals below the dashboard.

The air conditioning was blasting warm air in their sweaty faces and Trixie had a stock of snacks sitting in a plastic bag by her feet, a case of CDs and books on tape ready to go.

The road was open ahead of them as they made the turn onto the highway and headed east, leaving the noise of one city behind them and diving into a symphony of blaring car horns and wind.

Katya was right.

They had all the time in the world.