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The first thing Trixie Mattel noticed upon arriving in Chicago was the sound.

People talked into cell phones and each other, cars passed by with honking horns or squealing brakes, the train above her clattered and rattled, metal against metal that no one else seemed remotely bothered by. Even the wind had a voice, blowing the hot summer air through her blonde ponytail and across the bridge of her freckled nose.

Trixie wasn’t a fan of unnecessary noise, just generally speaking she was always more comfortable in the quiet. But this wasn’t the kind of noise she was used to, something about the sounds of the city had an energy that settled into her skull softly and comfortably.

The moment she stepped out of that bus station and onto the street, one large suitcase, a backpack, and a worn out guitar case in hand, she could feel everything change. It was a cliche to say the least, and Trixie knew that she was the classic farm girl who had hopped on a bus from Milwaukee to Chicago with big dreams and little to no idea how to make them reality.

She was running, both towards and away from the things she loved most, the things she was most afraid of.

It shouldn’t have been surprising that Trixie Mattel got lost in the streets of Chicago almost immediately. With a dead cell phone and a few dollars in her wallet she was trying to save to buy dinner later, she was relying on the address on the paper in her hands. It was creased, having been folded and unfolded many times over and as she looked between it and the street signs high above her head she got increasingly frustrated.

Her worn out sneakers chugged along the sidewalk and she got more than a few dirty looks from pedestrians who had to dodge her suitcase. Trixie was sweating in the heat and overwhelmed by the sheer size and fast pace of everything.

She stopped abruptly in front of a small coffee shop, the pale pink skirt of her dress swinging around her knees and the man who had been walking behind her grumbling something about tourists . Trixie mumbled an apology that she was sure he didn’t hear and dragged her suitcase into the shop.

It was bigger than it had looked from outside, with a rustic aesthetic that looked like it was trying to be country chic . Trixie snorted, knowing that whoever had designed this place had never actually been to the country, at least not the country that she was used to. She looked around anyway, hoping to find someone who could tell her where the fuck Plymouth Court was in this godforsaken maze of a city.

“You need something, hon?” a woman asked from where she was filling a display case with fresh muffins. She was wearing more jewelry than Trixie had ever seen on one person. “Or are you just planning on standing in the doorway?” Her accent was thick, country but more southern than the nasally Wisconsin drawl that Trixie was used to.

“Oh, um, I was hoping--” Trixie rushed forward, stumbling as her suitcase got caught on the leg of a wooden chair and knocked it over. “Shit,” she mumbled to herself, face heating up with embarrassment more than heat at this point.

“Just leave it, I’ll get it later,” the woman motioned for her to join her by the counter and leave her suitcase behind.

Trixie obliged, pulling the deeply crinkled paper out of the pocket in her dress (all dresses should have pockets and if they didn't already she was going to add them, goddammit).

“I’m trying to get to Plymouth Court?” Trixie said, placing the paper on the counter between them and pointing to the address, making eye contact with the woman’s name tag instead of her actual eyes. Her name was Alyssa.

Alyssa took the paper from her and looked at it closely for a minute before she let out a breath of understanding.

“First time in the big city, college girl?” she asked, pulling a pen out of a nearby cup and beginning to draw on the Columbia College stationary.

“I--Um--Well, yeah,” Trixie said, embarrassed that this woman could read her so easily. She watched with confusion as Alyssa continued to draw, not quite sure how to go about asking her what she thought she was doing.

“I know the feeling,” Alyssa nodded. “I accidentally rode the train to the opposite side of town I was trying to get to on my first day here.”

“I guess it’s a good thing I don’t have my train pass yet,” Trixie attempted a joke, startled when Alyssa let out a boisterous laugh in response.

“Probably is, sweetheart,” she grinned at Trixie. “Where you coming from?”

“Wisconsin,” Trixie said, smoothing down the front of her dress self consciously.

“Cheese Heads!” Alyssa exclaimed enthusiastically. Trixie couldn’t help but laugh at that.

“That’s the one,” she responded, feeling more and more comfortable here with each passing moment.

“Okay, here,” Alyssa capped her pen and turned the paper around to face Trixie.

“You drew me a map ,” Trixie said in understanding.

“What’d you think I was doing? Entertaining myself?” Alyssa joked and Trixie shrugged sheepishly. “Alright, kiddo, so this is where we are,” she pointed to an X on the map. “And this , is where you’re goin’ with that big college brain of yours,” she directed Trixie’s attention towards a big star. “So when you leave here, you wanna turn left and go four blocks, then turn right and go three more blocks. Make sense?”

Trixie studied the map quietly for a moment and bit her lip, trying to make sure she knew exactly where she was going before she left this place.

“I think so,” Trixie nodded with determination, looking up to see Alyssa smirking at her.

“Well, get going then,” she said and Trixie nodded, turning around to retrieve her suitcase. “Oh! Wait,” Alyssa exclaimed.

“Yeah?” Trixie turned around to see Alyssa pulling out a small paper bag and a muffin from the display she’d just been filling.

“Take this,” Alyssa held out the brown paper bag and Trixie hesitated.

“I don’t have… I don’t have any money,” Trixie said sheepishly.

“Girl, I know. It’s free,” Alyssa cocked her head to the side and rolled her eyes. “Just take the stupid muffin.”

“Thank you,” Trixie said, a small grin pulling at her lips as she took the muffin and headed towards the door, suitcase now in hand.

“Good luck, Cheese Head!” Trixie heard her call as the door shut behind her and she was overtaken once more by the sounds of the city.

With Alyssa’s map in hand and a newfound sense of comfort in her chest, Trixie was able to make it the rest of the way to Columbia College’s dorms relatively seamlessly. For instance, she was only startled by a pigeon once and barely even squealed when it flew towards her face, so she was going to consider that one a win.

The building was massive with a classical architecture exterior and a far more modern lobby. Trixie had to weave through crowds of students and parents who were moving in more boxes and bins of things than Trixie had ever owned, just to get to the front desk so she could pick up her key.

Being alone made it pretty easy, however, to slide by unnoticed and slip into the elevator behind what she determined was probably the loudest family in all of Chicago at that moment. Trixie inserted her newly acquired key to be taken to the sixth floor, and clutched onto the handles of her suitcase and guitar case as a bickering father and son jostled her around.

To say she let out a sigh of relief when the doors opened and she could stumble out into the hallway was putting it lightly.

Rows of doors stretched out in both directions as she looked around, people bustling about as they got situated in their new living arrangements, meeting roommates and moving furniture. Trixie bit at her bottom lip in discomfort, feeling suddenly a little out of place amongst all of the chaos, just wanting to find her room and unpack.

She was looking at the slip of paper the receptionist downstairs had given her, looking for some clue as to where she needed to go, when her thought processes were interrupted.

“Can I help you find your room?”

Trixie’s head shot up in surprise to find a short, red-headed girl standing in front of her with a Columbia College t-shirt and a clipboard. Trixie was caught off guard for a moment as she wondered why everyone she had encountered in Chicago so far seemed to have a vaguely southern accent. Weird.

“That would be nice,” Trixie glanced around the crowded hallways, clearly overwhelmed.

“I’m Ginger, the RA for this floor,” the girl said with an understanding grin. “What’s your last name, doll?”

“Mattel,” Trixie said hopefully as Ginger scanned the clipboard in front of her.

“Beatrice?” Ginger asked, glancing up from the papers. Trixie felt her shoulders tense and her lungs tighten. She cleared her throat.

“Trixie,” she said, looking down at her shoes briefly. “Trixie is fine.”

“Mmhmm,” Ginger hummed absentmindedly. “Looks like you’re in room 612 with Kim. Right down that way past the mom who decided to wear heels for move in day.”

“Thank you,” Trixie smiled genuinely, grabbing the handle of her suitcase once more and moving to leave.

“You have family meeting you up here?” Ginger stopped her to ask. “They’ll need your key to get up.”

“Oh, um,” Trixie looked over her shoulder and floundered. “Nope. Just me,” she gave what she hoped was a reassuring smile, the kind of smile that convinced someone they didn’t have any more questions about the matter.

“Okay,” Ginger nodded. “You need help bringing up the rest of your stuff?”

Trixie really hated how kind Ginger was being, it was making it increasingly difficult to dislike her nosiness.

“This is it,” Trixie motioned to her suitcase and Ginger raised her eyebrows. Trixie thought she was going to get a scoff, some sign of judgment at how little she had both familially and materially. She braced for it.

“A minimalist. I like it,” Ginger chuckled before turning to help the next freshman who exited the elevator.

The first thing Trixie saw when she arrived at room 612 were the names plastered on the door, laminated print-outs screaming “KIM” and “BEATRICE.” She tried to ignore the bile that rose in her throat when she saw her legal name and just barely resisted the urge to tear it down immediately before she even opened the door.

She did resist it though, so that was another win, right?

There wasn’t anyone else in the room when she opened the door, but it was clear that someone had already moved in. Her roommate had already claimed a bed and the doors of her laminate-wood wardrobe were open to reveal a colorful assortment of fabrics hung neatly side by side.

Crumpled sheets sat in a pile on top of her bare mattress and artful posters hung on the wall next to a desk, messy with school supplies and makeup. Trixie felt a little bit like she was intruding on someone else’s space, like she was an outsider in what was supposed to become her own home.

She tried to push the feeling away as she unzipped her suitcase on her bed and began to unpack, hanging up clothes and tucking away her homemade sewing kit. Trixie had never shared a room with anyone before. She had Tyler of course, the older brother whose room was next door to hers growing up, but her little bedroom back in Silver Cliff, population four hundred and eighty-three, had always been pretty much hers .

It had been home for so long, pink and frilly (and featuring the false bottom she’d added to her sock drawer while her step-dad had been out of town one weekend when she was fifteen). Trixie knew that house like the back of her hand, could distinguish what door was being opened by the creak of its hinges down the hall or who was walking up the stairs by the way the floorboards squeaked.

But now the idea of living with a complete stranger was starting to hit her. The uncertainty of it, the not knowing what kind of person she’d be or if she’d even like Trixie was starting to weigh down on her chest with an all too familiar heaviness.

She was trying to remind herself how much she wanted this, how much she’d gone through just to get this far, when the door opened to reveal two girls. They both stopped in the doorway when they saw her, still holding a pajama top mid-fold on the other side of the room.

“Hi,” she said awkwardly when neither of them had spoken. “I’m Trixie.”

“It says Beatrice on the door,” the girl with more meticulous daytime makeup than Trixie had ever witnessed on a human person said as she motioned to the door.

“Right, legal name,” Trixie cleared her throat awkwardly. “No one calls me that. Trixie is good.”

No one she wanted to have to think about anyway .

The girl nodded, as if to say fair enough , before moving forward and holding out her hand.

“Kim,” she said, seeming friendly enough with the slightest lisp to her voice. “I’m your roommate.”

“Nice to meet you,” Trixie shook her hand enthusiastically in response.

“And this is Shea, she lives across the hall,” Kim motioned to the girl leaning in the doorframe.

“We were some of the only ones here yesterday, but it seems to be filling in now,” Shea said glancing out the door at the slowly diminishing bustle of move in day.

“I love your dress,” Kim said, plopping down onto her bed and kicking her shoes off as Shea came in and sat in Kim’s desk chair.

“Oh, thank you,” Trixie said, smoothing out some of the creases that the bus ride had left in the pink fabric. She glanced up to see Kim looking at her with expectant amusement. “What?”

“That’s when you’re supposed to tell me where you got it so I can track down that store,” Kim laughed. It didn’t feel like she was laughing at Trixie though, just at the awkward nature of the situation in general.

“Oh!” Trixie exclaimed, chuckling along with her. “You won’t find it at a store,” she tucked a loose piece of hair back behind her ear.

“Why not?” Kim asked in confusion.

“I made it,” Trixie said self consciously, going back to folding her clothes and putting them away neatly in her drawers. She had gone to public school in rural Wisconsin, she knew what it was like to have anything that pointed her out as the farm girl mocked.

“You design clothes?” Shea perked up at that, sitting up taller in her seat as a grin crossed her face. “I’m majoring in costume design!”

“Oh my god, me too,” Trixie spun around to face her, mood suddenly shifting as she beamed at the other girl. “I wonder if we have any classes together?”

“I've only got a couple design classes this semester because of gen-eds but girl, I'm so glad to meet someone in my major already,” Shea smiled at her genuinely, seeming excited at the prospect of having a new friend with similar goals and aspirations. Trixie could understand that.

“Yeah, rub it in why don't you,” Kim snorted, deadpan but clearly joking.

“What's your major?” Trixie asked, sitting down on the edge of her bed to face the other girls, muscles relaxing as she grew more comfortable with them.

“Visual Arts,” Kim shrugged. “But I think I want to become a makeup artist.”

“I think you might already be one,” Trixie raised her eyebrows and motioned vaguely to Kim's carefully painted face that somehow hadn't melted despite the summer heat.

“You have to promise as my roommate you won't spill all my secrets to the mere mortals of the makeup world,” Kim joked haughtily.

“You have my word, madam,” Trixie bowed low from where she was sitting, making both of the girls burst out into peals of laughter.

It was a good sound. Trixie thought she could get used to this.

The three girls spent the rest of the day together, all trying to pretend they were more comfortable with the incredible newness of dorm life than they actually were. Shea and Kim helped Trixie unpack, although she had done most of it herself before they'd even arrived, and Kim determined she was going to make it her mission to help Trixie properly decorate her half of the room because it just looks so empty and sad .

Trixie wasn't going to deny her.

They spent some time in Shea's room and Trixie met Sasha, her roommate who seemed to be majoring in about four different subjects, all of which she was already an expert in.

“Oh my god you have your own sewing machine?” Trixie gasped when she caught sight of the Singer poking out of Shea's wardrobe precariously.

“My mom got it for me as a graduation present,” Shea grinned with pride. “I used to use hers but since I was moving here she figured I'd want my own.”

“I used my mom's too, but it broke when I was fifteen so I mostly just used the one in the home ec room at school,” Trixie said, remembering how she had managed to get on Mrs. Davis's good side and had been allowed to stay late at school to sew to her heart's content. It was always better than sewing at home if Trixie was being honest, at least Mrs. Davis never reprimanded her for how loud the machine was.

“If you ever wanna use it just let me know,” Shea shrugged amiably.

“Are you serious?” Trixie’s eyes grew comically big at the mere suggestion.

“Yeah, of course,” Shea laughed, amused by Trixie’s eternal, bright eyed enthusiasm.

“You're the best, holy shit,” Trixie beamed at her.

“You’re so easy to please,” Kim commented with snort of amusement.

“Well, you’re just easy. Period,” Trixie shot back with a sarcastic head wobble. When Kim didn’t laugh immediately she froze, thinking that maybe she had crossed a line or they didn’t know each other well enough to joke like that yet. Her face fell and she opened her mouth to apologize but just at that moment, Kim burst out laughing.

“You bitch !” Kim cackled as Shea chuckled and pinched the bridge of her nose in what appeared to be reluctant amusement.

“You excited to live with me yet?” Trixie teased, a grin growing on her face once more with the knowledge that she hadn’t entirely fucked up her relationship with her roommate on day one.

“Excited to cut up all your pretty dresses while you sleep,” Kim joked in return. Trixie let out a high pitched scream of a laugh, doubling over dramatically.

Trixie wasn’t completely used to people getting her humor right away, wasn’t used to being so fully accepted for who she was without any need for convincing that she was worthy of the time and energy it took to be her friend.

She watched shows on television and read books about groups of friends that just got each other to their core. It was an obsession of hers, living vicariously through the love and support that fictional characters had for each other, and she was deeply envious of it. Friends like that were eternal, friends like that stood up for each other and looked out for each other and laughed at jokes that weren’t funny just because they knew it was worth the smile.

She had always dreamed that the day she moved out of her mother’s house would be the day she found her way to her people.

Maybe these were her people.

Later that night they were scheduled to attend their very first floor meeting. Trixie was excited to start putting names to faces and getting a rundown of what living in that building was going to be like. Kim grumbled as the two of them walked down the hall towards the communal lounge where they were meeting, fully uninterested in having to sit through what she was certain would just be a list of rules they were required to follow.

Trixie wasn’t bothered at the thought of rules though, more just giddy at the thought that her new life was finally getting started. This could be her new life. She was going to make it a good life.

Her and Kim were some of the last people filtering into the room, and they took a seat on the floor against the wall as it was already crowded with chattering freshman exchanging names and room numbers.

Ginger was leaning against the wall at the front of the group, laughing at something that a girl with dark blue hair had said. Upon seeing the brightly colored hair Trixie decided once again that she liked art school. No one in her home town would have ever been caught dead dying their hair a color like that, but this girl was wearing it with the confidence of someone who didn’t care what anyone thought of her look. She liked it, and that was all that mattered.

Trixie was about to mention something about potentially dying her hair pink to Kim when Ginger clapped loudly and got everyone’s attention.

“Shut up!” she cried out, effectively, well, shutting them all up. “Thank you,” she grinned, holding her clipboard casually as she glanced down to check her notes. “My name is Ginger and welcome to Columbia, children.”

There was a chorus of whoops and clapping in response to that. Trixie grinned and clapped and Kim rolled her eyes good naturedly beside her.

“I’m going to be your RA this year,” Ginger continued. “I’m a junior in the theater arts school and I’m basically here to make sure none of you die before you move out in May. Some RA’s may say they’re here to help you adjust and answer any and all of your questions ,” she said in a mocking tone. “And yes, I will answer your questions, so long as they’re not stupid .”

Trixie snorted. She had a specific image of what a traditional college resident assistant was like and Ginger was the complete and utter opposite. It wasn’t a bad thing though, Trixie thought she was pretty funny, and she wasn’t planning on needing an RA all that much this year anyway.

“Listen up, I’ll tell you what a stupid question is,” Ginger pressed on, raising her eyebrows at the dozens of freshman looking up at her, some with fear, some with confusion, but mostly with a certain level of disinterest. “A stupid question is anything you can google. Do not ask me google-able questions or I will find a way to get you evicted.”

“You can’t do that,” a girl snorted from the back of the room.

“Try me,” Ginger called back with a smirk. The whole room laughed at that one and Ginger looked pleased. Trixie was thinking more and more that she wasn’t actually a hard-ass, she just liked pretending to be one for the schtick.

Ginger continued for a few minutes, going over floor regulations and making more jokes about how if you bothered her when she was trying to sleep that she would find a way to open the suicide-proof windows to force you out of them.

Right as Ginger was explaining for the third time that she was in no way, shape, or form your mother , the door to the lounge swung open and bumped into a few students that had been sitting next to it.

“Oh shit, sorry,” a blonde girl hissed as she entered and shut the door behind her, some sort of antique camera clutched in both hands.

She was petite in both height and weight with shoulder-length hair that was styled into messy waves with bangs that looked vaguely like she might have cut them herself. She grimaced with bright red lips as she stepped around and over the mass of freshman girls sitting on the floor, holding up the hem of her long peasant skirt that looked like it belonged to Laura Ingalls Wilder herself. Her black boots were scuffed and the laces were knotted haphazardly and Trixie didn’t notice how closely she was staring until Ginger spoke once more.

“What the fuck are you doing here?”

“Capturing memories,” the nameless girl shrugged as though it was obvious, motioning to her camera before holding it up and pressing down the trigger as she pointed it at Ginger. The motor whirred and Ginger rolled her eyes.

“Katya, can you maybe save this new bullshit you’re on for when I’m not trying to instill fear into young minds?”

“Bitch, you’re always instilling fear into young minds,” Katya retorted, lowering the camera and cocking one hip out to the side as if to punctuate her point.

“I’m gonna instill my fist into your fucking face if you don’t put that stupid camera away,” Ginger shot back. Katya glared at her and Trixie thought she might actually be mad for a moment until she watched the blonde girl break into a grin and wheeze with laughter.

“You stupid cunt, I’m trying to make art! ” Katya cackled and the freshmen in the room had begun talking quietly to one another, tuning out the conversation at the front of the room. “And this camera is not stupid, thank you very much--Super8 was very popular in the seventies.”

Trixie was enthralled--intrigued? She wasn’t sure exactly what she was, but she was certainly captured by the scene in front of her. Katya seemed to be made of energy from head to toe, buzzing with a thousand possibilities as to what she’d say or do next. What surprised Trixie is that this didn’t put her on edge, instead just making her feel as though the air in the room was lighter, her heart a little more free.

“Do I look like I give a shit about what kind of cameras they used in-- You know what, no. You don’t even live on this floor ,” Ginger laughed. “You’re a sophomore now, I thought you’d have matured over the summer.”

“Don’t you dare ever accuse me of maturing, bitch,” Katya gasped in mock horror.

“Don't worry I won't be making that mistake any time soon,” Ginger rolled her eyes. “What are you doing anyway? Other than disrupting my work, of course.”

“All that I do, I do for the Union,” Katya stood in a stiff solute, her voice taking on an accent which Trixie assumed was Eastern European of some sort. She wanted to say Russian, but she honestly had no concept of what a real Russian person sounded like.

The scene was comical though, and Trixie couldn't help but to let out a loud, high pitched laugh. She covered her mouth as soon as she realized Katya had turned, but the blonde was already beaming at her from the front of the room.

“See?” She said, turning to Ginger and motioning broadly to Trixie, accent still in full effect. “The Barbie gets it. They would like this one very much in Moscow. Just look at all that blonde hair.”

Trixie laughed louder at that one, startling a few of the girls around her in her outburst before responding. She vaguely noticed Katya point her camera in Trixies direction and hold down the trigger without looking through the viewfinder.

“Oh Lordy,” Trixie said, accentuating her Wisconsin accent just enough to sound satirical. “The Russians wouldn't know what to do with my country ass, little lady.”

Katya stopped running the camera at that, flailing wildly with laughter that sounded somewhere between a wheeze and a scream but was one hundred percent joyful nonetheless.

She slapped her knee and it was the first time Trixie had ever seen someone do that fully without irony. She beamed and laughed right along with her, knowing that none of the words they had exchanged had actually been that funny but enjoying every single second of it still.

“What are you?” Kim looked at Trixie with a confused grin, chuckling at her new friends unencumbered enthusiasm.

“A Barbie apparently,” Trixie shrugged.

Ginger eventually managed to get Katya to sit down so she could finish the rest of the meeting and move on with her goddamn life , but Katya seemed fully incapable of sitting still for longer than a minute and a half at a time.

The blonde girl with her uneven bangs and denim jacket would change from one absurd position seated on the floor to another, sometimes pointing her camera up at Ginger or around the room and sometimes just fiddling with the knobs on the lens absentmindedly. She glanced over at Trixie once or twice, grinning when the freshman looked away hurriedly with pink cheeks.

The moment the meeting ended, Kim was practically dragging Trixie back to their room, comically exasperated on how long it had taken to get through the floor rules (most of which had not surprisingly had to do with what the punishment for getting caught with booze or weed in your room would be).

That night, after Trixie returned from her first shower in the communal, stall-filled bathroom, she curled up in an unfamiliar bed for the first time and sighed. Kim had fallen asleep quickly, but Trixie was wide awake, staring at the ceiling and thinking. Not necessarily thinking about anything in particular just… thinking.

When she rolled over she checked her phone which had been sitting on the stand beside her bed, the light of the screen making her squint after having acclimated to the deep black of the room.

There was only one message, but it made her heart feel lighter.

 

From: Ty

move in go okay?

 

Trixie smiled softly, quickly swiping the message to the right and typing out a response.

 

From: Trix

i got lost trying to find the dorm

but i made it and i’m all moved in!

my roommate seems nice

and i already met another costume design major!

art school is wild i already saw a girl with blue hair

blue hair ty! what would pastor harold say?

 

From: Ty

good to see college hasn’t mellowed you out at all, sis

pastor harold is like 200 and would be aghast that you, a woman, are going to college at all let alone meeting blue haired heathens

 

From: Trix

i’m a true abomination are you proud?

 

From: Ty

so proud

i’m sorry i couldn’t help you move

 

Trixie softened, scooting farther underneath the quilt she had made out of old baby blankets and dresses from her childhood despite the sweltering heat of a Chicago summer.

 

From: Trix

you had to work, i understand

don’t worry so much about it

i handled it just fine on my own i promise

 

From: Ty

you’ll have to send me pictures of your room

 

From: Trix

only once i’ve decorated

 

From: Ty

fair enough

 

Trixie watched as the three little dots appeared and disappeared a few times, signalling that her older brother was either typing out a longer message than he had ever written to her or that he was thinking long and hard about what he was trying to say next. She knew her brother well enough to know what was coming, but that didn’t mean she was thrilled by it.

 

From: Ty

you tell mom you’ve gotten settled?

 

From: Trix

not yet

 

From: Ty

kid, just send her a message to let her know you made it to chicago safe

 

From: Trix

i don’t live with her anymore so it’s none of her business

 

From: Ty

you don’t mean that

 

She didn’t.

 

From: Trix

i know i don’t

 

From: Ty

when she doesn’t hear from you she worries and i end up listening to her freak out on the phone for two hours

please text our mother

 

From: Trix

you’re the worst

 

From: Ty

only the worst for you

now go to sleep you have big college things to do tomorrow

 

From: Trix

i’ll text her

goodnight doofus

 

Trixie set her phone screen down on her stomach tapped her fingernails against the plastic of the case as she stared at the ceiling once more.

Leaving for college had meant leaving so much behind, and at first that had been terrifying for Trixie. As a young girl, she never would have imagined leaving Wisconsin, of living anywhere too far away from the mother she loved so dearly. But as she grew older, as she discovered so much about who she was and where she was from, the people that inhabited her town, she couldn't not dream of getting as far away as possible.

Trixie loved her mother, and she knew deep down that this had nothing to do with her, but she was so tied up in the middle of all of Trixie’s demons that sometimes it got hard to separate the two in her head. But Tyler was right, her brother was always maddeningly right, and so she unlocked her phone and sent off one last text before falling asleep:

I made it to Chicago. Promise to call soon.

Love you.

Chapter Text

They had a full weekend to get settled into their new college lives before classes started, and Trixie was determined to make the absolute most of it.

She went shopping with Kim to find a handful of trinkets and wall decorations for their room (mostly pink upon Trixie’s insistence) and got her hands on a train pass (which she then made sure she one hundred percent knew how to use before she tried to take the train alone). The two girls were attached at the hip for all of Saturday, helping each other get used to life in an unfamiliar city and start to try and make it feel more like a home.

On Sunday however, they had to part ways.  

“Trixie we’re leaving,” Kim said from where she stood at the doorway with Shea and Sasha. “This is your last chance to be fun and not boring.”

“Go ahead, I'll catch you guys for dinner I promise,” Trixie said. “I just really wanna get my books and start submitting applications for campus jobs before classes start.”

Boring ,” Kim groaned.

“I actually commend your dedication,” Sasha said with a thoughtful nod. Trixie had yet to pin down what kind of person Sasha was, but she was growing on her bit by bit.

“Whatever, we’re going sightseeing,” Kim said as she grabbed her purse and moved out the door. “See you at dinner, nerd.”

As much as Trixie loved her new friends, it was nice to have a few hours to herself. She hadn’t done much travelling in her life, and moving to a city she’d never even visited before was kind of giving her a bit of emotional whiplash, so solitude felt relaxing at that point.

She ran some errands first, getting a few things for her room that she’d forgotten to pack (or hadn’t had space to pack) and made sure she knew how to get to all of the buildings where she’d be having class in the coming semester.

The last stop on her journey was the university bookstore. It was bigger than she had expected, filled to the brim with rows of textbooks and Columbia College spirit wear. It was overwhelming at first glance, but she took a deep breath and pulled out her list of books, beginning her search through the shelves to find what it was she needed.

Twenty minutes later, her arms were filled with books and her chin was rested on the top of the stack as she wobbled her way up to the cash register. Trixie dropped the books with a huff, which granted her an exasperated eyebrow raise from the student working behind the counter.

She was wearing a t-shirt that read Ask Me Anything! but a facial expression that said fuck off . Trixie was a little intimidated to say the least.

“That all?” the cashier asked bluntly.

“Um,” Trixie floundered, glancing at her stack of books and counting them with her fingers once more. “Yeah, yep, that should be it.”

The cashier just rolled her eyes and started slowly scanning the barcodes of each book. Trixie tapped her fingers anxiously on the side of her thigh as she watched, feeling like this awkward moment might actually last forever.

“I’m here!” a voice broke out loudly from behind Trixie. “I’m late, but I’m here, Bee! I’m sorry!”

A body flung itself against the counter where Trixie was standing and she jumped backwards, startled. It took her a moment, but once she got her bearings, she recognized this noisy addition to her day as Katya.

“Wait,” Katya panted, clearly having run to get there. She had a backpack haphazardly slung over one shoulder, the front pocket open and displaying an array of pens, lighters, crumpled receipts, and a pack of cigarettes. “You’re still working?”

“Does it look like I’m still working, bitch?” the cashier raised her eyebrows and motioned to the books in her hands sarcastically.

“Oh my god you did it again,” Katya groaned, letting her forehead fall onto the counter. “You gotta stop with that.”

“It works, don’t it?” the cashier’s face broke out into a slight smirk. “Tell you to show up thirty minutes earlier than you need to be somewhere, you get there fifteen minutes late, but end up being fifteen minutes early . I’m a genius.”

“You’re a cunt, Bianca del Rio,” Katya lifted her head and scowled but Bianca just cackled.

Trixie watched on with wide eyes, never really having heard people talk to each other like that, at least not anyone that actually liked one another.

“Cut it out, you’re scaring the freshman,” Bianca chuckled, nodding to where Trixie still stood awkwardly.

Katya turned, seemingly not having fully registered Trixie’s presence until that moment, but she broke out into a wide grin when she finally recognized her.

“Hey, I know you!” she stood up straighter. “Good to see you again, Barbie.”

“You’re Ginger’s friend, right?” Trixie smiled softly at her, hesitant to show how well she remembered everything about her interaction with this whirlwind of a girl. She still couldn’t help herself from trying to be funny though, that just wouldn’t be on brand for Trixie Mattel. “The crazy Russian one with the camera?”

Bianca immediately started howling with laughter at that, setting aside what she had been doing and almost in tears. Katya’s jaw dropped and let her backpack fall to the ground before wheezing and walking away, stomping her feet dramatically a few times before returning to her spot next to Trixie at the counter.

“She got you, bitch,” Bianca said, catching her breath and still grinning maniacally.

“Literally no one has ever pinpointed me that well before, fuck ,” Katya grinned at Trixie and the younger girl felt her heart swell. “I like your style, Barbie girl.”

“Trixie,” she offered her hand out to Katya, pushing her shoulders back and smiling.

“Yekaterina Petrovna Zamolodchikova,” Katya grabbed her hand and shook it enthusiastically. “But I like you, so you can just call me Katya.”

“Wait, so are you actually Russian?” Trixie asked when they dropped hands. “That wasn’t an act?”

“Her parents are immigrants,” Bianca said, having fully abandoned her work at this point. “Got a problem with that white girl?”

Trixie snorted.

“I’m actually half Native American,” she said. “I just look like this because my DNA got colonized by the white genes.”

Girl ,” Katya wheezed and slapped the counter with her palm. Trixie couldn’t help but laugh along with her, thoroughly enjoying how easy it was to make Katya get like this.

“Okay, okay,” Bianca said, turning back to the computer in front of her. “Your total is on the screen. You paying with card?”

Trixie glanced down at the screen and visibly cringed at the number displayed there.

“Fuck me,” she muttered to herself as she dug in her purse for her wallet.

“Wait, you’re not buying textbooks from the bookstore are you?” Katya looked at her with an aghast expression.

“Um… yes?” Trixie said hesitantly, not entirely understanding the question at hand.

“No fucking way am I letting you do that, Barb,” Katya said seriously. “Come on,” she grabbed Trixie’s hand and began pulling her to the other side of the counter before Trixie even had a chance to protest.

“How many times do I have to tell you that you’re not allowed back here?” Bianca deadpanned.

“Understood. I’m gonna use this though,” Katya said, blatantly ignoring Bianca’s eye roll as she opened a browser on the computer and started typing furiously. “You can for sure find most of these cheaper online as used copies, and some might even be pdf’s somewhere if you’re lucky.”

“Oh, that’s one of them,” Trixie pointed at Katya’s search results to one of the books she was supposed to buy. “Holy fuck…”

“Half the price!” Katya said gleefully. “Here, let’s write down the site so you can buy it when you get home.”

Bianca groaned as Katya grabbed a notepad which certainly didn’t belong to her and began scrawling out very detailed instructions as to where Trixie could find cheaper copies of nearly every single one of her textbooks. Trixie just watched on with wide eyes, in awe both at how easily Katya seemed to make her life easier as well as how willing she was to do so.

“You’re amazing,” Trixie breathed as Katya was writing down the last extra website that she thought Trixie might be able to use in the future.

“You just blew the freshman’s mind,” Bianca smirked. “Can we go eat dinner now?”

“I can’t believe you were going to let her buy all those books,” Katya turned to Bianca dramatically.

“Literally just doing my job, bitch,” Bianca deadpanned with a shake of her head.

“Trixie!” Katya turned to her, enthusiasm radiating straight from her smile and into Trixie’s stomach. “You wanna come get dinner with us?”

“Oh,” Trixie let out a disbelieving laugh, not quite used to making friends this quickly, not quite used to someone genuinely wanting her around for longer than she had to be. “I promised my roommate I’d have dinner with her--but thank you! Thank you for all of this,” she hurriedly said.

“Of course,” Katya said as though it was simple, as though she hadn’t spent twenty minutes teaching Trixie how to do something that most of her classmates probably already understood. “I spend half my time trying to get on Ginger’s nerves, so I’m sure I’ll see you around.”

“Definitely,” Trixie nodded. The smile Katya gave her seemed so genuine and so warm that Trixie felt like all her guts were melting inside of her skin. It wasn’t unpleasant.

Something that Trixie had always felt pretty bad at was timing.

Not punctuality, she was painfully punctual to the point where she arrived twenty minutes early to every single one of her classes for the first two weeks. No, punctuality she was a pro at. Timing on the other hand? Not so much.

In high school, Trixie Mattel always got to the gym locker room just in time to have to change while everyone else was dressed and she was always the kid who ran outside to play just as a rainstorm started, forcing her to trudge home in muddy overalls and waterlogged socks.

Trixie Mattel was the girl who managed to get home from school just in time to walk in on her mom and step-dad at the peak of one of their screaming matches. She was the one who tried to use the sewing machine without realizing her step-dad was trying to take a nap. She was the one who managed to sneak to the kitchen for a late night snack at the same time that godforsaken man was turning on the television in the living room.

Trixie Mattel was not great at timing.

What she didn’t yet realize though in those first few weeks at college, was that somehow, against all odds, when her bad timing lined up with that of one particular Russian film major, they managed to cancel each other out.

“I’ve been in this class for a month and I still don’t have a fucking clue what’s going on,” Trixie groaned, letting her head fall onto the table of the small lounge while Kim chuckled at her from the seat next to her.

“Just keep trying, I’m sure you’ll get it soon enough.”

“The only way I’m gonna learn any French this semester is if I get abducted by aliens and have the language physically downloaded into my brain,” Trixie lifted her head and said to Kim, melodrama dripping from every syllable as it left her mouth.

“You’re literally the most extra person I’ve ever met,” Kim deadpanned.

Trixie was about to come back at her with what we can only assume would have been a witty and cutting remark, when the door to the lounge swung open, apparently having been kicked by the one and only Katya whose hands were occupied with a large DSLR camera strapped around her neck. She rushed to the window, eyes glued to her LCD screen without saying hello.

“I take that back,” Kim said. “Second most extra.”

“Goddammit,” Katya muttered to herself, running a hand through her tousled hair. Her dress was particularly interesting on this day, a patchwork of clashing patterns with long sleeves and a short hem that only someone as naturally eccentric as Katya could even dream of pulling off.

“Kat?” Trixie questioned, finally pulling Katya’s attention to the other people in the room.

“Tracy and Stacy! My favorite freshmen,” Katya’s distressed face melted into a grin.

“Do you actually not know our names or is this just who you are as a person?” Kim asked with a chuckle.

“Of course I know your name, Kartright,” Katya said, falling into a seat across from both of them at the table. “You and Tallulah are dear friends of mine.”

Trixie screamed with laughter at that, her miserable French assignment forgotten as she watched Katya beam at her from across the table.

“Oh, Katie, you’re a dear friend of ours too,” Trixie said in a saccharine voice as her laughter died down, only to make Katya stand up and pretend to leave the room before coming back to sit down once more. “What’re you doing on our floor anyways? Isn’t Ginger out of town for the weekend?”

Katya groaned and set down her camera on the table before slouching low in her chair and mumbling something in Russian. Trixie had learned very quickly that Katya was mostly fluent in Russian, but was fully fluent in Russian curses.

“I was gonna try to get a timelapse of the sunset from this view, but I completely spaced it until just now. Why does it get dark so early?”

“It’s 9:30,” Trixie said, holding back a laugh.

Still ,” Katya insisted, rolling her eyes good naturedly. “What are you ladies working on?”

Katya leaned across the table to look at the books and notes strewn out in front of them.

"Kim is writing an essay and I’m trying not to fail French,” Trixie said, grimacing down at the notes she’d taken earlier that week which she was certain were full of misspellings and grammatical errors.

“French?” Katya’s eyes perked up and a smile played at the corners of her mouth. “ Le langage de l'amour?”

Trixie’s jaw dropped, and it was totally because she didn’t realize how smart Katya was. That was absolutely the reason, it had nothing to do with the way Katya’s tongue wrapped so easily around those syllables, and who are you to question that?

“Oh my god,” Trixie practically whispered, and then much louder: “Do you fucking speak three fucking languages?!”

“Oui?” Katya said hesitantly, looking sheepish as Trixie groaned in frustration and let her head fall into her hands once more. “You want some help?”

“I am beyond help,” Trixie said, words muffled by her hands. “I can’t believe you speak three languages and I can barely even speak fucking English .”

“Your accent isn’t that bad,” Katya teased, granting her quite the look from Trixie when she lifted her head. “I’m kidding, I’m kidding. You can do this, come on,” she stood up and dragged her chair over to Trixie’s side of the table. “What’s giving you a hard time?”

“All of it,” Trixie muttered, motioning vaguely to her notes.

“Probably because you’ve been complaining for the past hour instead of studying,” Kim said, typing away at her laptop with a smug look on her face.

“Not all of us have the option of convincing the university we’re international students who don’t need a language requirement even though we moved here when we were four years old , and barely speak Korean, Kimberly ,” Trixie said, putting a comical amount of emphasis on her statement.

“I speak more Korean than you do French, so…” Kim shrugged and Trixie threw a pencil at her.

“Oh! You’re working on past tense,” Katya said from beside her, apparently having tuned out the spat between the other two girls in the room while she flipped through Trixie’s notebook. “She explained this to you in a super confusing way though, here give me a pen,” Katya lifted her hand and made grabby motions with her fingers.

“You don’t have to actually--”

“Shut up, this is happening,” Katya said, motioning once more for a pen.

Trixie sighed and handed her a pen, deciding that she needed the help more than her pride at that point.

As it turned out, Katya was very good at speaking French, but really pretty awful at teaching it. They ended up spending two hours in the lounge that night together (Kim getting tired of their constant jokes and leaving after twenty minutes) and Trixie learned a sum total of maybe three vocabulary words. Upon later consideration, Katya might have been too distracting of a person for Trixie to study with, but she wasn’t going to be saying that any time soon. She liked spending time with her too much.

Katya and Bianca only lived one floor above Trixie, and it turned out to be true that she spent about half her time in Ginger’s room. Trixie would be walking past the open door on her way to the water fountain and hear Katya’s distinctive voice calling out to her, usually wanting to show her whatever obscure accessory she’d bought most recently or a psychedelic scene from some short film she’d found on YouTube.

Trixie and Katya had clicked as friends so quickly, that it wasn’t surprising when they began spending a truly absurd amount of time together. Columbia’s film school happened to be less than a block away from the art and design building, and walking to campus together every morning became pretty routine.

Over the course of the next month, Trixie really started to feel like she belonged in Chicago, like for the first time in her life she had found a place where she never had to feel out of place. She had friends in Kim and Shea (and Sasha who had already changed her major three months into her freshman year). And she had Katya, who never failed to make her laugh or make her forget whatever new assignment had her on the verge of a mental breakdown on any given week.

Trixie had weekly phone calls with her brother, checking in and telling him lengthy stories about the shenanigans she had been getting up to ( Trix, riding the train at night isn’t really that special-- The times are all different! Shut up, idiot!) .

She was less good about staying in touch with her mother, calling her every once in awhile (usually after much berating from Tyler) and having a short conversation that would always end with the question of when Trixie was going to finally come home. (It always ended here because this is where Trixie would always abruptly hang up.)

Alyssa the coffee shop owner became something of a confidant in this regard, having no children of her own but having taken a liking to young, lost Trixie Mattel from the first time she’d wandered into her shop. Trixie had started going back to the small cafe when she had finally gotten acclimated to the city. Now that she knew where things were, she was able to make coffee runs in between classes to visit her favorite Southern Belle.

“The poor woman just misses her baby girl,” Alyssa said as she wiped down the table where Trixie was sitting, cup of coffee and (complimentary) muffin in front of her. She was working on a piece of embroidery that would go on a dress she was making for class.

“The poor woman just doesn’t trust me to live on my own,” Trixie huffed, pulling her needle and thread through the fabric meticulously despite her rough tone. “As if I’m not the one that got scholarship money and took out a loan and did all of the applications and--”

“Okay, okay, I get the picture,” Alyssa said, sitting down in the chair across from Trixie as the younger woman let out a tense breath.

“She doesn’t get it,” Trixie muttered, eyes glued to the ring of fabric in front of her.

“Have you tried to explain it to her--”

“Yes!”

“Without yelling?” Alyssa raised her eyebrows at Trixie, who opened her mouth before biting down on her lip and leaning back in her chair sheepishly. “Sounds to me like there’s just too much yelling going on to hear what it is either one of you is saying.”

“I don’t like you,” Trixie deadpanned, but Alyssa smirked and stood back up, going back to work.

“Shut up and eat your muffin.”

Trixie was generally a very closed-off person, so the fact she was as willing to be open with Alyssa as she was was something of a miracle. By midterms, Alyssa knew most of Trixie’s story, more than any of her friends her own age did. But maybe that had more to do with the fact that she knew Alyssa would never treat her with pity for the life she’d been leading until she moved to Chicago than anything else. Maybe it was just because Alyssa was so down to earth and frank with Trixie that she could mention things about her childhood to her that she wouldn’t dare to anyone else.

Not to Kim, not to Shea or Sasha, and certainly not to Katya.

Katya was so lighthearted in everything she did, so full of love and joy and enthusiasm for her life that Trixie couldn’t imagine ever forcing her to listen to the less than joyful things that Trixie still struggled with because of her life back in Wisconsin.

She never stopped to think that maybe there were things Katya wasn’t telling her .

“Hey, Bianca!” Trixie called across the lobby of her dorm building. Bianca turned and casually raised an eyebrow at her in question. “Is Kat still over in the editing lab? She’s not in your room.”

“Pretty sure she’s still editing that film she’s been working on,” Bianca shrugged. “What do you need her for?”

“I was gonna give her this celebration cupcake for finishing,” Trixie held up a small brown box that she’d gotten from Alyssa’s shop earlier that day. “But if she’s not done, I’ll just go give it to her as a motivation cupcake.”

“You’re a regular MidWestern housewife,” Bianca chuckled before walking past Trixie and towards the elevators. Trixie blushed at the comparison, but only for a moment because she was determined to find Katya.

Katya had been working on this particular film for most of the semester, something experimental that Trixie didn’t necessarily understand, but loved to watch Katya gush about. She was so passionate about her work that it reminded Trixie why she had wanted to come to this school so badly, to be surrounded by people who were as excited to do what they do as she was.

Trixie was also slowly realizing that she could listen to Katya talk for hours about nothing and not get bored. That was new for a girl who had trouble focusing on anything she wasn’t fully invested in.

The film school building was nearly empty when she arrived, save the security guard sitting at the front desk who checked her student ID. It was eery at night, being at school after regular operating hours always made it feel like she’d fallen into some sort of worm hole to a dimension that existed outside of her own reality.

Trixie found the lab easily, having picked Katya up here for lunch or sat and hand sewed a piece of detail work while Katya edited a number of times over the past few weeks. The door was open and she walked right in, but she didn't see quite what she had expected.

Katya was sitting at an editing table, legs pulled up against her chest in her seat as she stared motionlessly at a single frame of film magnified in front of her. Strips of film hung taped up around her haphazardly and her fingers fidgeted where they held her knees tight against her body.

“Kat?” Trixie said hesitantly.

“Fuck,” Katya dropped her legs to the floor and turned around suddenly. Her eyes were rimmed red as if she'd either been awake too long or had been crying. Trixie thought both might be true.

“You okay?”

“Yeah, yeah, sorry you just startled me,” Katya shook her head, plastering on a smile that didn't reach her eyes. “What're you doing here?”

“Bianca said you were still working so I figured I’d bring you a study snack,” Trixie lifted the cupcake box and shrugged. She could see Katya’s knuckles turning white where she gripped the seat of her workbench.

“You didn’t have to do that,” Katya said hurriedly, as though if she didn’t rush she wouldn’t get the words out at all.

“I don’t mind,” Trixie said simply. “How’s it coming?”

Katya turned back to the work in front of her and Trixie watched her breathing get almost imperceptibly labored. If Trixie wasn’t Trixie and if Trixie hadn’t seen all of these signs lined up side by side many a time before, experienced it many a time before, she might not have even noticed how goddamn terrified Katya looked in that moment.

“I--it’s--Um, it’s going--it’s…” Katya trailed off, still staring at the unfinished work in front of her as though the desk itself would open up and swallow her whole.

“Katya, talk to me,” Trixie said, softer now and with what she hoped was understanding in her tone.

“I’m gonna be here awhile you can--you should go--you should go home,” Katya ran a hand through her hair, making her bangs stick out in weird directions all around her face.

Trixie began walking over to her, setting the small box on the desk and sitting down on the wooden bench next to Katya as she spoke.

“I actually think I’m gonna stay if that’s okay,” Trixie said, body turned so she could face Katya even if Katya wouldn’t look her in the eye. “Because I think maybe you’re having a panic attack and shouldn’t have to deal with that alone.”

Something about that, Trixie wasn’t sure what, seemed to break down whatever had been left of the dam holding back Katya’s tidal wave of anxiety. She crumbled right there on the bench, arms wrapping around her stomach as she let out a choked sob and tears began to fall. Trixie’s heart broke as she watched Katya tremble with eyes squeezed shut.

“Hey, shhh,” Trixie mumbled, wanting to comfort her friend but not entirely sure what brand of anxiety Katya had, not sure what she should or shouldn’t do. “Can I touch you?”

Katya didn’t say anything in response to that, instead releasing one of her hands from where it was gripping her shirt and grabbing ahold of Trixie’s hand.

“Okay, c’mere,” Trixie said, pulling Katya fully against her in a warm hug, free hand that wasn’t trapped in Katya’s rubbing her back as well as she could from the awkward angle. “You’re okay, just breathe.”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry--”

“Hey, hey, hey,” Trixie pulled away and held onto Katya by her shoulders. “Stop that. No apologizing, just breathing, okay?” Trixie’s voice was stern but kind in a way that was just so very Trixie.

Katya nodded and tried to match Trixie’s exaggerated breathing, holding onto Trixie’s leg right above her knee with a death grip that Trixie would have made fun of in any other situation but gladly tolerated in this one.

Slowly but surely, Katya managed to regulate her breathing once more with Trixie tracing small circles into her hand and doing everything she knew that might help ground her. Katya’s tears slowed and Trixie watched as realization of what just happened passed across her face.

“God, Trix,” Katya breathed, taking back her hand and wiping under her eyes. Her dark eyeliner was smudged across the tops of her cheeks and in the creases of her eyelids, but even as she calmed down Trixie could see Katya returning to her eyes. “I’m a needy cunt, I’m sorry.”

“Don’t you dare apologize to me, bitch,” Trixie said, voice casual in hopes it would help convince Katya that this wasn’t as big of a deal as it felt.

“I just--I don’t know how I’m gonna finish this,” Katya’s hands fidgeted with the reel of film she seemed to be in the process of cutting, fingers absentmindedly turning the handle and pushing the film through the viewing monitor. “It’s due tomorrow and I’m stuck, I’m so fucking stuck, and I used to know what this was going to be and I just don’t anymore and--Fuck, I’m sorry, you don’t need any of this--”

“What can I do to help?” Trixie cut off Katya’s anxious rambling.

“You don’t have to--”

“Shut up, tomorrow’s a Friday and I don’t have any work due until class on Monday,” Trixie rolled her eyes before turning to the rows of film strips held to the editing station with masking tape. “Do you know what each of these is?” she asked, looking at how disorganized the whole situation seemed to be.

“Barely,” Katya sighed, fingers digging into her own thighs and knuckles white as she glanced around at the mess she’d made.

“You have a pen?” Trixie asked, standing up and holding a strip of 16mm film under a nearby lamp. She put out her hand expectantly and Katya looked at her with bafflement. “Kat?” Trixie looked at her, hand still outstretched until Katya seemingly accepted that Trixie wasn’t going anywhere until she handed her a pen.

“You really don’t have to stay.”

“This one looks like a shot of a train pulling away,” Trixie said, squinting at the film and uncapping the pen with her teeth. “I’m gonna label it,” she jotted down a shorthand on the masking tape holding it up. Katya gaped at her.

“That’s so smart-- like stupid smart,” she said in awe.

“Let’s label them all, and then you can start making actual editing decisions, yeah?” Trixie said, continuing to study film strip after film strip in order to determine a proper label.

“Yeah--Uh, yeah,” Katya said, standing up with a pen of her own and beginning to follow Trixie’s lead.

Trixie knew that Katya would have gotten to this point on her own eventually, that she had just been too caught up in the fear of not finishing that she couldn’t focus on anything else.

“Is this a shot of someone throwing up ?” Trixie furrowed her brow and stepped back with disgust as though the film itself was covered in vomit. “How the fuck did you even get that?”

“I have my ways,” Katya said, shrugging. She laughed when Trixie shot her a look. “Okay, I was at a party and got lucky. I got kicked out thirty seconds after I got that shot.”

“That’s gross,” Trixie said, but her facial expression read more as impressed than anything else. “What’s this film about anyway?”

“It’s kinda weird...” Katya grimaced as she held up a particularly dark strip of film to a lamp.

“Never would’ve guessed,” Trixie teased, successfully getting a chuckle out of Katya.

“I just wanted to play with the idea of a silent film that you can hear,” Katya shrugged noncommittally, seeming to lack confidence in the whole project. “So I shot on film because no sound--obviously-- and then I’m just putting together a collection of images that kind of evoke… visceral noise?”

“Oh my god,” Trixie stared at her, mouth slightly agape.

“Yeah, I know. Stupid,” Katya laughed and shook her head.

“Genius,” Trixie combatted, offended that Katya would call such an idea anything less than such.

Trixie could see Katya’s cheeks warm at the compliment as she clearly tried and failed to hold back a small smile. It was cute. Katya was cute.

Twenty minutes later, Katya seemed to be back in the groove, cutting and taping different shots together and calling out shorthand titles for strips so that Trixie could hand them to her. They worked together like a well-oiled machine, Katya making all of the creative decisions and Trixie keeping her focused and organized when she got distracted by how much she loved the Barbie doll hand on Trixie’s necklace.

“What happened to the bus doors opening shot?” Katya asked from her bench as Trixie scurried around the room.

“Got it!” she responded, setting the film in question in front of Katya. Trixie watched as Katya methodically cut off the piece she wanted and taped it in between two other shots. When she finished, she lifted her hands and looked hesitant. “You okay?”

“I think it’s done?” Katya said, voice ticking up into a question at the end of her sentence.

“Really?” Trixie perked up, eyes bright.

“I wanna watch it through one more time but yeah,” Katya said. “Yeah, I think so.”

As the two of them sat and watched as Katya’s film was projected on the blank white wall of the editing room, Trixie couldn’t help but think about how much better she felt like she knew her friend after this experience. Katya’s panic hadn’t colored Trixie’s perception of her in any sort of negative way, instead allowing the younger girl to see her as human for the first time.

Since coming to Chicago, Trixie had only been able to see how different these new people were from what she was used to, and she immediately categorized them as being unable to do any wrong because of that. Logically, she knew that they were still people and that no person was perfect, but then she had looked at Katya who had so much kindness and warmth in her heart, and couldn’t help but put her up on some sort of pedestal.

Trixie was an expert at finding people’s flaws and nit picking at them until she drove herself crazy, but not until that night had she really ever considered that Katya would have any. She hadn’t wanted Katya to have any because she just wanted to let herself keep enjoying Katya’s company.

But now she could see Katya as human, see the gaps in her armor and the places she was weaker. Trixie could see all of these things and still admire her, and suddenly, she felt as though she was releasing tension she didn’t realize she was holding. Trixie was learning that small flaws didn’t turn people into monsters.

Trixie was learning that not every flawed person was him .

It wasn’t until the fourteenth week of classes (two weeks before finals) that Trixie picked up her guitar for the first time since moving to Chicago. Music had always been a comfort for her, but between classes and searching for a job that would work with her student-dom and getting used to living on a college campus in the middle of a major city, it was safe to say that it fell by the wayside.

That all changed when she started getting to know a girl named Adore who lived three doors down from her.

It turned out that Adore was the girl with blue hair that Trixie had been fascinated by on her first night in Chicago. Since that night, Adore had dyed her hair at least six times according to Trixie’s count of how many shades the sink farthest to the right in their communal bathroom changed color.

Adore also wasn’t her given name and, when asked as such, she always responded, “Well I gave it to myself, didn’t I?”

Trixie liked her, even if Adore did have a tendency to barge into her dorm room unannounced.

“You play guitar?” Adore asked loudly from the doorway, startling Trixie into turning around from where she was writing an essay at her desk.

“What?”

“Do. You. Play. Guitar,” Adore said obnoxiously slowly and Trixie laughed.

“Sometimes,” she responded hesitantly.

“Dude!” Adore exclaimed as she stormed into the room and fell onto Trixie’s bed. “Why wouldn’t you tell me that? We could’ve been jamming all semester!”

“It’s just a hobby, I’ve never had any real training,” Trixie explained, but Adore was now hanging upside down to look under her bed, pulling out the guitar case that resided there.

“You gotta play for me,” Adore whined, sliding the case slowly across the floor towards Trixie with her foot.

“I’m crazy out of practice,” Trixie grimaced, ignoring the itch in her fingers to get back on the strings and run across the frets.

Please?”

Ten minutes later, Trixie wasn’t sure how she’d been convinced but she was tuning her guitar on the couch in the floor lounge. Her legs were tucked under her as she strummed a few cords and found the proper tune by ear.

It was becoming increasingly clear as her and Adore sat there (Kim, Shea, Sasha and a number of other girls milling about the room) that they had vastly different repertoires of music.

“You really are a country girl, aren’t you?” Adore laughed from where she sat on the floor after Trixie suggested Dolly Parton for a third time.

“I would die for Dolly,” Trixie deadpanned, sending Adore cackling flat on her back. Trixie smirked and began to strum the opening cords to a Dolly song she was certain Adore must know.

“Wait--Yes, I know this!” Adore sat up straight with bright eyes.

“Then why aren’t you singing?” Trixie yelled joyfully at her, repeating the intro so Adore could hop in at the right moment.

They soon found out that Adore mostly knew the words to Jolene, but Trixie was certainly able to fill in the gaps where Adore missed out. The two girls quickly drew a crowd as they sang and laughed, Trixie stumbling over cords here and there but getting her groove back relatively easily.

People from the floor wandered in, searching for answers as to what the commotion was, wanting to join in, or clearly just annoyed with all of the noise, but the sing along just got louder and more rambunctious as they went.

At some point, Trixie looked up to see Katya leaning in the doorway, Bianca stood by her side with crossed arms but eyebrows lifted in interest. Katya was grinning from ear to ear and began to dance when she met Trixie’s gaze, moving around in such a way that it seemed only Katya could make look intentional. Trixie laughed as Adore continued to sing, only being able to catch her breath and join in once Katya stopped and plopped down onto the couch next to her.

By the end of the night, most of their friends had trickled back to their own rooms and Trixie softly plucked a faint melody on her guitar, feet up in Katya’s lap as Adore and Bianca seemed to be lost in their own conversation a few feet away.

“I meant to finish writing an essay tonight,” Trixie laughed softly, laying flat on the sofa and staring at the ceiling.

“I think this was a worthy form of procrastination,” Katya said, patting Trixie’s pink socks where they rested in her lap.

Trixie rolled her eyes at that. She glanced over to see Adore grinning at whatever Bianca was telling her, eyes bright and soft in a way that she’d never seen them before. She also couldn’t help but notice that Bianca looked friendly for the first time since Trixie had known her. It was quite the sight.

“I didn’t know you were a singer,” Katya said, pulling Trixie’s attention back and away from the other pair.

“I sing sometimes--doesn’t make me a singer,” Trixie set her guitar on the floor and propped up on her elbows to look at Katya.

“That’s like Spielberg saying he makes movies sometimes but he’s not a filmmaker,” Katya scoffed. “You sing. You’re a singer, bitch.”

“I do therefore I am,” Trixie said in a pretentious, affected voice.

“Exactly!” Katya slapped Trixie’s ankle with a bit too much enthusiasm and Trixie squealed, almost rolling off the couch. “So, any other hidden secrets I should know about?”

Trixie felt her heart stutter at that, suddenly feeling paranoid as though Katya must actually know all about her and this was a test and she was going to fail --

“Kat?” Bianca pulled her out of her own head. “Not to pull you away from Miss Beatrice--”

“Don’t call me that,” Trixie snapped, sitting up and planting her feet on the floor as the tone of the room immediately shifted. She could feel Katya’s eyes on her as she watched Bianca stiffen. Trixie hated making a big deal out of this, hated making a big deal out of anything, but the way that name felt as is scraped against her eardrums put every nerve in her body on edge.

“It’s your name, isn’t it?” Bianca said as she stood up and straightened her shirt.

“My name is Trixie,” she said, jaw clenched and fingers digging into the cheaply upholstered couch.

“Just listen to her, Bee,” Katya said, reminding Trixie that she was still there, still on the couch next to her having just been in the middle of a lighthearted conversation.

“Yeah, let it go, man,” Adore added from the floor.

“Fine, yeah, just didn’t know the name Beatrice would be so dramatic. It’s really no big deal,” Bianca snorted.

“Then stop saying it!” Trixie let out a bitter laugh, almost sounding manic as she got off the couch and grabbed her guitar. She was moving towards the door in an effort to escape before she’d even had the chance to think it through.

“Trix,” Katya called after her. “Trixie, wait.”

Trixie stopped walking just outside the lounge as Katya rushed out after her, letting the door fall shut behind her.

“What’s wrong? Are you okay?” Katya asked softly, looking at Trixie with concern.

“I’m fine,” Trixie rolled her eyes, but Katya looked at her as if she wasn’t convinced. “I just don’t like being called that, okay?”

“Okay,” Katya responded hesitantly, obviously still not fully believing Trixie.

“I’m going to bed. I’ll see you later,” Trixie said, trying to smile softly at Katya but knowing it was probably closer to a grimace. “Tell Bianca I’m sorry for snapping.”

“Yeah, sure,” Katya nodded, biting at her lips, stained with day-old fading red lipstick. “Goodnight.”

Trixie was already closing the door to her dorm room when she faintly heard Bianca ask Katya what that was all about . She didn’t bother trying to hear Katya explain it, no one ever quite knew how.

Kim was already curled up in bed on her phone as Trixie changed into her pajamas and crawled under the covers. By the time Trixie was settled, she was pretty sure that her roommate was fast asleep.

 

From: Trix

i snapped about Beatrice tonight

 

From: Ty

you okay?

 

From: Trix

yeah

no?

maybe idk

 

From: Ty

you’re safe there, right?

 

From: Trix

so safe

which is why this is so stupid

 

From: Ty

not stupid

pretty justified if you ask me

 

From: Trix

and who in their right mind would ask you, dummy?

 

From: Ty

i am a highly sought after expert about many things thank you very much

but seriously kid

just remember you don’t live there anymore

 

From: Trix

will though

for three weeks over break

stupid dorms are closed

 

From: Ty

I’ll be there for a week at christmas

and i’ll find a way off work if you need me there longer

 

From: Trix

we both know you can’t afford that

no offense

 

From: Ty

fair enough

i just worry about you

 

From: Trix

no worrying necessary

i’ll put on my beatrice face and make it through alive

 

From: Ty

pinky promise?

 

From: Trix

pinky promise

 

The last two weeks of school flew by in a blur with exams and essays and projects all due at once. It was Trixie’s first college finals season and she suddenly regretted ever having complained about the finals she’d been given in high school--that was nothing compared to this hell.

It was almost enough to keep her fully preoccupied, to keep her from thinking about how she would have to hop on a Greyhound and ride it all the way back to Wisconsin and stay there for three weeks. She wondered how many other students were actually dreading time off from school. She guessed not many.

Trixie stayed through the end of the week, despite finishing her last final on Thursday morning, because her bus didn’t leave until early on Saturday. Most of her friends were gone as soon as they were done with their exams, and the floor felt empty as Trixie packed her suitcase with the door to her room wide open.

She was listening to a holiday country playlist through the tinny speakers of her laptop and folding bulky sweaters and scarves into her suitcase late on Friday night when she heard a faint knock at her door.

“Getting ready to head out?” Katya leaned against the doorframe with her hands tucked into the pockets of a much too big denim jacket that was thrown over a sweater dress and snow boots. Her hat was pulled down over her ears and it sported a large, fringe pom pom on top.

“In the morning,” Trixie stopped what she was doing and turned to face Katya. “That’s when your flight back to Boston leaves too, right?” Trixie leaned the backs of her knees against her mattress and fiddled with a stray piece of string hanging off of her sweater. Katya just nodded.

“You excited for break?”

“You’d think so, huh?” Trixie chuckled, running a hand through her hair awkwardly. It was getting too long for her liking, maybe she would cut it over break.

Something about the way Katya looked at her in that moment made Trixie think that maybe her friend was more in tune with Trixie’s past than she’d ever let on.

“Come with me, I wanna show you something,” Katya said, pushing off of the doorframe and starting to walk down the hall. “Bring a coat!” she called over her shoulder.

“Wait, what?” Trixie said, startled by the sudden change of pace but grabbing a coat and following Katya down the empty hallway nonetheless.

Trixie was confused when Katya led her into the stairwell, and even more so when she started walking up .

“Where are we going?” Trixie asked, making Katya look back over her shoulder with a smirk.

“Patience, young grasshopper,” she responded, to which Trixie just snorted and rolled her eyes. She didn’t stop following though.

Both girls were panting slightly as they got into the higher levels, and Trixie stopped worrying so much about where they were going and more so about her heart rate. Eventually they reached the very top of the stairs and Trixie planted her palms on her knees, catching her breath.

“What was the fucking point of that,” she panted, looking at the sign on the door in front of them that read NO ROOF ACCESS.

“Shhh,” Katya shushed her, pulling a bobby pin out of her hair and sticking it in the lock.

“What are you doing?” Trixie hissed, eyes growing to double their size.

“Shut up,” Katya hissed right back, bottom lip caught between her teeth. “I’m trying to focus.”

“This is illegal ,” Trixie floundered. “We could get expelled .”

“Then maybe you shouldn’t be so fucking loud ,” Katya shot back, but there was humor in her voice. Trixie did stop talking at that point, but wouldn’t stop looking over her shoulder as if someone might enter the stairwell and catch them at any moment.

About a minute later, Katya was pulling at the handle (up and towards her in a very specific, seemingly well-rehearsed way) and the door to the roof was opening.

“Ta da!” Katya whispered with glee as she stepped out and motioned for Trixie to join her. The younger girl did hesitantly, watching with curiosity as Katya stuck a rock in the hinge so they wouldn’t be locked out. It was pretty clear that this was not Katya’s first time visiting the roof.

The moment that Trixie actually took a few steps forward and looked out at the city, however, she understood why. There was a sense of peace up here, the white noise of the cars below faint enough to not be distracting but loud enough to fill the empty spaces in her head. The wind was cold because it was December in Chicago, but it felt fresher and crisper than it would down on the street.

“Follow me,” Katya appeared next to a dumbstruck Trixie and gently took her hand. Trixie let Katya guide her towards the edge of the roof.

“Did you bring me here to kill me because if so, I’d love to just convert to every religion real quick,” Trixie joked and Katya wheezed, but she continued to pull a now smiling Trixie along behind her.

“Here. Sit,” Katya said, sitting down on a large brick of concrete that seemed to have no real purpose but was the perfect height for a bench. Trixie obeyed and sat down next to Katya, pulling her coat tighter around her.

“This is…” Trixie trailed off, staring out at the lights of the buildings surrounding them with admiration.

“Fucking dope, right?” Katya said. Trixie could feel her grinning at her as though Katya was physically creating light.

“For sure,” Trixie laughed, glancing at Katya who had tucked her knees up under her chin. “I’m gonna miss you,” she said after a beat.

“I’m gonna text you non-stop, don’t you worry,” Katya smiled before turning to look back at the view once more.

“I hope you know I’m counting on that,” Trixie responded, a weight to her words that Katya seemed to understand without Trixie ever having to explain herself. For that she was grateful.

“Hey,” Katya said after a beat. “Congrats on finishing your first semester, bitch.”

“I survived!” Trixie cried out melodramatically. “This is when it starts getting easier, right?”

“Parts of it do, but also other parts of it really don’t,” Katya grimaced.

“That was both vague and uninspiring, so good job with staying on brand, Kat,” Trixie teased. Katya burst out into peals of laughter and Trixie joined in right alongside her.

As the laughter died down, they just sat there quietly for a few moments, breathing in the winter air and watching clouds of their own breath tumble off the side of the building.

Katya was the one to break the silence.

“I’m glad you got stuck on Ginger’s floor.”

“Yeah,” Trixie smiled. “Me too.”

It was going to be a long four years. She was ready.

 

Chapter Text

 

Arriving back in Chicago in January felt like taking a breath of fresh air to Trixie Mattel. Of course, there was more cigarette smoke and car exhaust in the air of the city than there had been in middle-of-nowhere Wisconsin, but it felt fresher all the same.

When Trixie arrived at her dorm, cheeks flushed with the way the cold Chicago air had whipped against them and breathing heavily from having dragged her suitcase all the way from the bus station, the door to her room was already open.

“Okay, and then that’s all I need to do?” Kim asked. Trixie watched her prop up a small camera against a stack of books while Katya stood over her shoulder, blonde hair in messy pigtails but lips as red as ever.

“Well, you should make sure you have autofocus on so if you get closer to the camera while you’re filming it will adjust on its own,” Katya said, grabbing the camera and scrolling through the menu settings.

Trixie smiled at the sight of it, familiar and new and wonderful in all its regular-ness.

“Honey, I’m home,” Trixie singsonged, pulling the other girls’ attention away from the camera in front of them and to where she stood in the doorway, striking a pose.

“Barbie girl!” Katya screeched, dropping Kim’s camera onto the desk and scurrying over to pull Trixie into a hug. “I missed your stupid face,” she mumbled into Trixie’s fluffy white scarf.

“I missed you too, idiot,” Trixie chuckled.

“I had a great break, thanks for asking,” Kim teased from where she sat in her desk chair, arms crossed melodramatically.

“I was getting to you, bitch,” Trixie laughed as she pulled away from Katya and enveloped Kim in a hug.

Katya plopped down on Trixie’s bed, curling her legs up underneath herself and bouncing ever so slightly with excess energy that had probably built up during her three weeks of freedom in Boston.

“Scoot over, I need to unpack,” Trixie pushed Katya gently to the edge of her bed so she could drop her suitcase on the mattress and begin putting away her clothes.

Katya obliged happily, lounging on Trixie’s pillows and chatting up a storm as if they hadn’t been texting and calling each other every day that they’d been apart.

Trixie truly had never been more grateful to have a cell phone than she was during those three weeks. With a group message to be able to keep in touch with some of her closest friends from her floor and an open and constant stream of consciousness coming directly from Katya's brain and into Trixie’s inbox, she was able to remind herself that she would be back in Chicago before too long.

Of course, she was happy to see her mom, and especially to spend a short week with Tyler. She loved her family, even if it was hard to sometimes, and she loved getting to tell them all about how happy she was pursuing what she loved and meeting people she loved.

There was a cushion of a few days upon her arrival back in Wisconsin that had made her think momentarily that moving out had really done her relationship with the family as a whole some good, but then Tyler left to go back to Indiana for his job, and it didn’t take long after that for everything to settle back into how it used to be. Trixie had nearly forgotten what it had felt like in the used to be .

“Oh, isn’t that wonderful,” Trixie’s mom gushed, holding up an intricately crocheted dress that Trixie had made during the semester.

“My professor said it was one of the more advanced designs she’s seen,” Trixie beamed at her mother’s reaction, holding on tight to the sense of pride glowing in her chest. Trixie was stood in front of the couch where her mother was seated, hands clasped tight over her stomach as the praise found a fluttery home in her gut.

“It’s beautiful, Trixie,” she smiled warmly in response.

“What’s this?”

Trixie clenched her jaw when her step-dad entered the room, which wasn’t entirely surprising because she always clenched her jaw when he entered a room. He could be doing nothing but asking about the weather and Trixie would clench her goddamn jaw because the sound of his voice made her wish she was deaf.

“Something Trixie made for class this semester, John,” her mom held it up with pride.

“You’re going to college to make dresses?” John snorted, leaning over the back of the couch to look more closely at it. Trixie wanted to smack his hands away from the beautiful fabric she’d spent so long picking out. “Weren’t you doing that already?”

“There’s more to it than that,” Trixie said simply, not meeting his eye and holding her hands tight within one another.

“Oh, there better be for how much that fucking school costs,” he said, leaning heavily on the couch behind her mother and staring Trixie down where she stood across from him.

“I’m the one paying so I don’t know why it matters so much to you,” Trixie muttered, sass evident in her voice.

“College made you smart-mouthed now too, huh?” John laughed bitterly.

“John, please. Not tonight,” her mom said, voice small and pleading.

It was a scene that Trixie was all too familiar with and she knew exactly how it would end before it had started. She also knew that she’d be able to avoid the whole ordeal if she could just learn to keep her mouth shut, but either she was more stubborn than she realized or simply hadn’t learned her lesson yet.

“Come on, Karen. You can’t tell me you’re okay with this--this choice . Your daughter is throwing her life away and in four years she’s just gonna end up back here, living off her parents,” he spat and Trixie could feel her blood boiling.

No matter how many times they got into this argument, she would never get used to how much it grated at every fiber of her being. Not only was it John’s insistence that she was a no-good freeloader, but also the fact that her mother never failed to stay quiet. Her mother, who Trixie knew loved and supported her, couldn’t even stand up to her husband for the sake of her daughter. She wasn’t sure whether this made her more angry or sad, but either way her heart felt heavy.

“I’m an adult, I’m allowed to choose my own goddamn career,” Trixie fought back, knowing that it was useless but unable to help herself.

“You really wanna talk to me like that in my own house, Beatrice?” John raised his voice and Trixie could see her mother growing smaller on the couch between them.

“You don’t get to police how I talk,” Trixie raised her voice right back.

“I get to do whatever I want in my house!”

“Oh, you’ve made that very clear,” Trixie growled, practically baring her teeth at him, fingers digging into her palms the only sensation keeping her from trying to physically fight him. Well, that and the sliver of common sense in the back of her head.

Beatrice !” John shook his head, rage building in every aspect of his being.

Trixie could almost see the last straw physically snap in John’s expression before he picked up an empty glass off the small table next to the couch and threw it straight at her, giving her just enough time to duck and hear it shatter against the wall behind her head.

Trixie flinched and could feel her hands shaking, could see her mother staring at her own fingernails, scared to speak up in that moment.

“Apologize!” John snapped. “Apologize to me and your mother for being disrespectful.”

Trixie hesitated, a familiar fear suddenly enveloping all of her senses and making it difficult to wrap her tongue around any proper words.

“I said, apologize!” John insisted and Trixie took in a sharp breath.

“I’m sorry,” she said quietly, biting at her lip. “I’m sorry for being disrespectful.”

She hated how broken she sounded, hated that she could hear it in her voice but couldn’t do anything to stop it. She hated that he affected her this way and she hated that her mother was still married to him and she hated him .

“You should be,” John said. “Now go to your room.”

Trixie didn’t hesitate to listen to him that time, closing her door tight behind her and curling up against her headboard with her palms digging into her eye sockets, trying to regulate her breathing. She was technically an adult, but she never felt younger than when she was forced to apologize to John for talking back or being disrespectful or any number of things that she was constantly trying to remind herself weren’t her fault.

Logic and reason fought long and hard with fear and self preservation deep in her bones, a never ending battle in which no one ever won.

Trixie almost jumped out of her skin when her phone began to ring in her pocket and she pulled it out and declined the call before she could even check the caller ID, knowing that if she was too loud, even from inside her bedroom, that she’d probably regret it.

The universe seemed to have it in for her, however, because her phone started ringing again almost immediately. This time, she looked down and caught sight of Katya’s name flashing across the screen before she declined, opening a new text message instead.

 

From: Trixie

sorry parents are asleep

didn’t wanna wake them up

 

Trixie was a great liar. She hoped beyond all hope that Katya was less perceptive via text than she seemed to be in real life.

 

From: Katya

my bad

thought my call didn’t go through the first time

you okay?

 

Okay, maybe she was somehow more perceptive. Trixie began to type again, hands still shaking ever so slightly and ears open for signs of distress from the living room.

 

From: Trixie

yeah of course!

 

From: Katya

good bc i have some crazy boston memes to show you

 

Trixie wasn’t sure if Katya actually believed her or not, because from that point on it seemed that Katya’s full goal was to make Trixie laugh with ridiculous signs and characters she’d seen around town over the course of the day. It was helpful and grounding and something Trixie would have killed to have when she was fourteen and her brother had just moved away for college and she was alone in that house.

So, it was safe to say she was thrilled to have Katya within walking distance again once she was back at Columbia.

Trixie fell back into her routine pretty easily, and actually managed to finally snag a job in the first week back at school, a fact that her bank account was pleased with. As it turned out, Bianca had gotten promoted to what was essentially a managing position at the campus bookstore, and somehow (Trixie knew Katya had something to do with it) had been able to get Trixie’s application to the top of the pile.

It wasn’t the most exciting job, but when she was working behind the cash register she had plenty of free time to work on homework behind the desk without fear of being reprimanded by Bianca who had quite literally told her as long as you don’t burn the place down I couldn’t care less what you do .

Katya made it something of a habit of coming to visit the bookstore when she knew Trixie would be working, opening her laptop behind the desk and editing a project for class while Trixie ran the register or worked on French homework (which she would always ask Katya for help with, because even if Katya was a bad teacher, she at least knew whether or not Trixie’s answers were right).

On one particular occasion, about a month into the semester, Katya arrived at the bookstore right as Trixie was about to clock out and go on a coffee run. Instead of finding somewhere to sit down at the bookstore and do the work she was planning to, Katya let Trixie drag her out the door and down the street.

“Where the fuck are we going?” Katya asked, amusement clear in her voice after they’d already walked two blocks.

“I want coffee,” Trixie responded as if it was obvious.

“We’ve passed, like, seven coffee shops,” Katya pointed out.

“Just trust me,” Trixie said, walking faster now and forcing Katya to speed up to keep pace with her.

Five minutes later, Trixie was leading Katya into Alyssa’s little coffee shop with the pseudo-country decor and display case full of muffins.

“Cheese Head!” Alyssa called from behind the counter, and Katya looked to Trixie with joyful confusion.

“Hey, Alyssa,” Trixie waved, taking a seat at her usual table near the window. Katya looked back and forth between the two women with big eyes for a moment before sitting down across from Trixie.

“Your usual, hon?”

“Yes, please!” Trixie said as she shrugged off her coat. “And black tea for this doofus,” she motioned to Katya.

“Comin’ right up,” Alyssa said from behind the counter, already working on making their drinks.

“Trixie Mattel, have you been hiding a secret coffee shop from me?” Katya hissed, leaning across the table to get close to Trixie’s face.

“I haven’t been hiding it,” Trixie laughed. “You just never wanna walk this far for a cup of coffee.”

“I would’ve walked farther if I knew I’d get to meet your mystery friend,” Katya said enthusiastically. “You’re a regular here, Trix. You have a usual. I’m so into that.”

Trixie just rolled her eyes as Alyssa approached with their drinks and a plate with two muffins on a tray.

“Alyssa, you don’t have to--”

“Shut it, college girl,” Alyssa shook her head and set the food down in front of them. “You’re always skipping meals with your busy schedule so I can’t in good conscience let you leave here with an empty stomach. Plus, you brought a friend today so that’s worth celebrating.”

“You act like I’m unkempt and friendless,” Trixie laughed to herself.

“Hi, I’m Katya!” she stuck out her hand brightly for Alyssa to shake, fully enthralled by this new information she was learning about Trixie’s daily life.

“Nice to meet you, Katya,” Alyssa said with a grin.

“I love your shop,” Katya said.

“Why thank you,” Alyssa said before turning back to Trixie. “I like this one.”

Katya beamed at Trixie as Alyssa walked away to serve a new customer, but Trixie just rolled her eyes, trying and failing to hide her grin with her coffee cup.

They ended up sitting there for nearly an hour, talking and laughing and pretending to get schoolwork done while Alyssa watched on with amusement and periodically brought them free snacks under the guise that she was trying a new recipe and needed their opinions.

When Trixie went up to the counter to pay for their drinks, Alyssa raised her eyebrows at her with a small smirk.

“What’s that look for?” Trixie laughed, waiting for Alyssa to give her proper change.

“She seems like a good catch,” Alyssa nodded to Katya, who was fully preoccupied with brushing a pile of sugar off of one of Trixie’s books. How she’d managed to spill it there in the first place was a mystery.

“She’s a little eccentric but I like her,” Trixie shrugged.

“How long have you been dating?” Alyssa asked. “I’m sorry if you felt like you had to hide it from me. I’m from the South but I promise I’m not a bigot.”

“I--Wait, what?” Trixie floundered, cheeks suddenly bright pink. “We’re not--I’m not--Alyssa, I’m not gay .”

“Oh,” Alyssa said in surprise. “Katya’s not your girlfriend?”

Trixie was flabbergasted and even a little bit embarrassed. Not embarrassed , but maybe confused? Okay, a tiny bit embarrassed, but not because she had any sort of issue with people being gay. Trixie Mattel wasn’t homophobic, she was just straight . Yeah, that was it. Not a homophobe, just only into dudes.

“Definitely not,” Trixie said, kind of hating how defensive she sounded because she was certainly not homophobic. Just straight, as we’ve covered.

“My mistake,” Alyssa shrugged, holding out change for Trixie to take, but the younger girl didn’t seem to notice.

“What made you--I mean, just,” Trixie laughed uncomfortably. “What made you think that?”

Alyssa raised her eyebrows at Trixie, a look in her eyes as if she knew something her young friend didn’t.

“I’ve seen a lot of people fall in love in my time,” Alyssa said. “Thought I saw it, but maybe I’m just getting old and senile.”

“Right… Yeah, we’re just--Just really good friends,” Trixie insisted, biting at the side of her thumbnail absentmindedly.

“I didn’t mean anything by it, girlie,” Alyssa said, quieter now with soft eyes.

“No! No, yeah, I know,” Trixie said. “I’m not offended--Not at all. I’m not like… anti-gay… or whatever. No, yeah, no worries.”

“Okay,” Alyssa shrugged. “Now, take your change and get outta here before that friend of yours breaks my favorite vase.”

Trixie glanced over her shoulder to see Katya inexplicably holding a vase (full of flowers and water) above her head to look at the bottom. Trixie couldn’t help but smile at how completely Katya it was.

Alyssa’s assumption didn’t stop running through Trixie’s head for days after their encounter. It wasn’t that Trixie felt at all offended by the conversation-- Trixie Mattel wasn’t a bigot-- it was just that she’d been caught off guard. The last time she’d been accused of lesbianism (not that she thought being gay was some sort of crime to be accused of) had been when she was fifteen years old in her high school gym class.

It had hurt then, because in that context it was being used as a weapon. It had hurt then, because those kids had wanted it to hurt. It had hurt then , because rumors liked to spread and she didn’t have the social capital to put any sort of stop to them.

But Alyssa hadn’t been trying to hurt her, hadn’t gone in with the intention of making Trixie feel like an outsider. Trixie was used to the way John would talk about gayness, the way he wouldn’t shut up for three weeks after marriage equality passed and the way it never failed to make Trixie feel sick to her stomach when he’d bring it up.

Alyssa on the other hand, had brought up the idea of Trixie having a girlfriend as if it was a regular, casual thing to be discussed. Not only that, but the idea that Katya being Trixie’s girlfriend was regular and casual. It was all kind of a lot, how much the thought of it both simultaneously wasn’t that bad and terrified the living hell out of her. So she pushed it back a little bit. Just let it sit at the back of her brain so it wouldn’t consume her every waking moment.

Three weeks later Trixie Mattel had a boyfriend. At nineteen years old, she swore it wasn’t reactionary, but years later she would admit it was.

His name was Brad and he was a Junior in her French class who had put off his language requirement for the first two years of his time at Columbia. Brad was apparently from California, hated the Chicago winters, and looked eerily similar to a Ken doll Trixie had bought with money from her piggy bank when she was eight years old.

But he had a good heart and a kind smile, and Trixie wasn’t about to turn down a date with a guy like that when she’d been dreaming of getting to be the girlfriend of a pretty blonde since she was in middle school. Wait, which version of blonde is the one for men. Blonde? Or blond? The boy one. That’s the one Trixie was interested in.

“The two of you together look like a fucking hair commercial,” Bianca said, lounging on Adore’s bed with Adore’s head in her lap.

“Fuck off,” Trixie laughed, taking a sip from the cheap bottle of beer someone had handed her earlier in the night. It was a saturday night and all of Trixie’s friends had wanted to do something , but instead of actually planning ahead, they had ended up piled into Adore’s room since her roommate was out of town.

There was cheap beer (because it turned out Ginger didn’t give a shit if you drank so long as you knew how to hold your booze and didn’t vomit on the carpet or break things) and bags of chips strewn across the floor, and the girls had ended up spending the whole night talking and laughing.

Trixie was sharing a blanket on the floor with Katya while Shea, Sasha, and Kim had taken up residence in the remaining bed.

“Not to take the devil’s side,” Shea said with a grimace. “But I think Bianca’s kind of right.”

Trixie gasped melodramatically and Katya wheezed with laughter next to her, grabbing onto Trixie’s knee.

“How dare you betray me?” Trixie said, voice dripping with faux offense.

“You look like you could be related to him, Trix,” Kim jumped in. “That’s not betrayal, that’s just the truth.”

“I hate all of you,” Trixie cackled. “Sure, I’m from Wisconsin so I’ve fucked my cousins but--”

“Tracy!” Katya screamed, laughing maniacally beside her.

“Oh, so I can date a guy that looks like he could be my brother but I have one quickie with a cousin,” Trixie joked. Katya fully squealed at that, wheezing and flailing like she couldn’t catch her breath. Trixie watched her and laughed softly, finding amusement in just how amused her friend was.

“You’re disgusting,” Adore laughed. “A real messy bitch, Trix.”

“Come on, guys,” Trixie said insistently. “Why is it only my love life we have to talk about all the time? Like, yeah, I know I have a deeply attractive relationship but still .”

“Your dumbass of a boyfriend is a five on a good day,” Kim said. “And you’re also the only one in a relationship so,” she shrugged.

“Someone else has to have something we can overanalyze,” Trixie groaned.

“Katya’s got a pretty active sex life,” Bianca said with a raised eyebrow and a knowing grin.

Trixie’s mouth dropped open and she turn abruptly to look at Katya seated next to her. Katya’s cheeks were pink and Trixie had the fleeting thought that she hadn’t ever seen Katya get embarrassed before.

Trixie actively ignored the way her stomach turned at the mention of Katya’s sex life. She didn’t understand that sort of reaction and she wasn’t about to try going down that rabbit hole.

“You can go fuck yourself,” Katya said to Bianca with a bright but menacing grin.

“Nuh-uh, I wanna hear about this,” Adore said gleefully. “Spill, Zamo.”

Trixie’s eyes were glued to Katya as she groaned and stuck her tongue out at Adore childishly.

“I like sex,” Katya said, putting on an obnoxious teenage girl voice. “I like sex a lot, and I’m not gonna apologize for that.”

“I really wish you would,” Bianca laughed.

“This is slut shaming, I’m being slut shamed,” Katya exclaimed, grinning all the while and clearly not taking any of it personally.

“Are you seeing someone?”

The words were out of Trixie’s mouth before she could have the forethought to quite frankly, keep her goddamn mouth shut and let this conversation pass. She wasn’t sure why she was so curious, maybe she was just hurt that there was a part of her friend’s life that she knew nothing about.

A flash of something that looked almost apologetic crossed Katya’s face when she looked at Trixie, but it was gone the moment it appeared.

“I'm a big proponent of casual sex without any commitment involved,” Katya said, more to the room than to Trixie. “But I'm always safe don't worry, Moms.”

“I don't know, that girl last week didn't seem--”

“Bianca, stop ! You cunt!” Katya shrieked with laughter.

The girls continued to banter back and forth, taking jabs at each other's various partners of seasons past, but Trixie remained quiet. She couldn't seem to find her words for two major reasons: firstly because she didn't have any partners of seasons past and secondly because Katya’s partners of seasons past seemed to be made up of every type of person and every type of gender.

Trixie Mattel was having too many sexuality-related revelations lately and she was ready for them to stop. (But not because she had anything against people of different sexualities. She wasn't sure why she was uncomfortable but that certainly wasn't the reason.)

Brad was a really nice guy (who also happened to be taller than her and objectively attractive) and liked to take Trixie out to dinner or walks in the park and Trixie liked him, she really did. Trixie definitely, absolutely liked her boyfriend, despite the fact that Kim regularly pointed out she’d never seen her so much as unpromptedly hold his hand in public.

On their one month anniversary, Brad took Trixie out to a dinner fancier than she had had in years.

“You really didn’t have to do all of this,” Trixie said, somewhat uncomfortably, when Brad pulled out her chair for her. She smoothed down the back of her dress, the nicest one she could find in her closet with tulle under the skirt to make it voluminous and white belt at her waist.

“Of course I did! It’s our anniversary,” Brad replied as he sat down across from her.

“Right,” Trixie said, smiling. “Well, thank you.”

“You look uncomfortable,” Brad said after a minute of silent menu perusing. “Do you not like it here? Should we go somewhere else?”

“No! No, this is fine, this is great,” Trixie rushed to say. “It’s just… A lot, um, fancier? Than I’m used to?”

“Oh, well I’m paying if that’s what you’re worried about,” he said with a shrug.

Trixie’s heart sank. Of course they both knew that he had more money than her, that his parents were helping him pay for college and support him financially while she was already drowning in loans and considering picking up a second job, but she wasn’t a huge fan of the fact that he knew that and she was definitely not a fan of him treating her like he knew that.

“Right, yeah, of course,” Trixie said, voice small and sounding a little bit too much like her mother’s for her liking.

“Hey, if you wanna leave--”

“No, no,” she shook her head. “You chose this place special, let’s stay,” her voice was determined and she buried her nose in a menu to hide the blush quickly spreading across her cheeks.

Trixie had never been in a relationship before and this was new for her, the anniversary dinner and dates and trying to always look nice for him because he liked it when she dressed up, even if sometimes she’d rather wear overalls and sneakers.

She was actively reminding herself to have better posture when something on the menu caught her eye and she snorted involuntarily.

“Something funny?” Brad asked with an amused expression on his face.

“Oh,” Trixie said, trying not to laugh. “It’s just--They serve calamari here and it reminded me of something Katya said--Did I tell you about--”

“Yeah, yeah, that was funny,” he brushed her off with a smile before returning to his menu.

Trixie didn’t mind, the memory was more enjoyable in her head than spoken aloud anyways. Calamari is just onion rings for stupidly wealthy people , Katya had told her one night when they were watching the Food Network. It’s like they want to eat fried food but they can’t be bothered to just go to a fucking Wendy’s, they gotta go into the ocean and scoop out tiny squids .

Of course, Trixie had told her that she was pretty sure that’s not how that works , but only after she’d finished cackling at the rampage Katya continued to go on about calamari and justice for the tiny squid population for the rest of the evening.

Katya wasn’t even there and she was putting a stupid smile on Trixie’s stupid face.

Trixie and Katya didn’t talk about Brad very often. In fact, they didn’t talk about dating or romance or sex at all when they were together for the most part. The two girls would talk about anything and everything, laughing all night on Trixie’s bed with a laptop playing some movie they would ultimately ignore in between them.

But Brad they didn’t discuss. Katya never asked and quite frankly, Trixie didn’t want her to. So, when they broke up after two full months of dating, Trixie wasn’t quite sure what to say. She was embarrassed.

The night started with a movie at Brad’s apartment and a shared bowl of popcorn. It didn’t take long for Brad’s hand to end up on Trixie’s thigh and his lips to appear on her neck. It wasn’t surprising, either, Trixie knew this would happen when he invited her over.

So, she let him kiss her neck, kissed him back when his lips met hers, let him push her back into the couch so he was on top of her, hands roaming her body hungrily.

Trixie was fine with it all, right up until the point where his hand made its way under the waistband of her underwear and she instinctively pushed him away, effectively breaking off their kiss the way she’d done many a time before.

“Babe,” Brad sighed. “Come on, just let me make you feel good.”

“Let’s just make out some more, how about that?” Trixie offered, trying to pull him back down by the front of his shirt.

“We only ever make out,” he said, falling back to sit on the couch and face her. Trixie propped herself up so she wasn’t lying flat on her back anymore.

“We’ve talked about this, I’m just,” she hesitated. “I’m just not ready yet.”

“It’s been two months ,” Brad insisted. “Are you ever gonna be fucking ready?”

There was an awkward beat during which Trixie and Brad’s eyes met.

“Of course,” Trixie said, fully aware she was lying and knowing Brad knew it too.

“For fuck’s sake Trixie, I can’t even tell if you want to be with me anymore.”

“What? Why would you--Brad, come on,” she floundered.

“Most of the time it seems like you’d rather be pulling stupid shenanigans with that Russian weirdo than spending time with me. It’s like I have to force you to go on a date,” Brad laughed bitterly.

“What are you saying?” Trixie’s voice was small, uncertain.

“You’re not even gonna fuckin’ deny it, huh?” Brad shook his head. “Jesus, Trixie, I don’t think we should keep doing this.”

“Are you dumping me?” Trixie’s brow furrowed. “Because I won’t have sex with you?”

“No,” he said defensively. “I just think we want different things.”

“Sure,” Trixie said quietly, nodding and looking down at her fidgeting hands. “Well, I guess that’s that then.”

Trixie stood up and moved towards the door, sliding on her shoes and grabbing her purse before reaching for the handle.

“Wait, where are you going?”

“I’m leaving?” Trixie said, figuring it should be obvious. “Because you just dumped me and I don’t particularly wanna be here anymore?”

“Let me walk you home, it’s late,” Brad stood up and walked towards her but Trixie scoffed.

“No,” she laughed bitterly.

“It’s not safe.”

“I have pepper spray in my purse, I’ll be fine,” she insisted, opening the door, but turning to him one last time before she left. “Bye,” she shrugged, unable to keep herself from laughing at how absurd it felt. She turned on her heel and left.

By the time Trixie got back to the dorm, standing in the elevator in her pretty pink dress with her hair perfectly curled and styled, she had managed to get fully and completely inside of her own head. She was angry and she was upset, she felt guilty and lost and confused, and all these meddling emotions were making her antsy. She didn’t want to sit down or go to bed, she didn’t want to cry about it or mourn the death of her relationship, she just wanted answers to all of the questions that suddenly wouldn’t leave her alone.

Which probably was part of the reason she found herself knocking at Katya’s door at eleven o’clock that Saturday night.

The door swung open to reveal Katya, already in mismatched pajamas with her hair tied up in pigtails, but Trixie didn’t even give her the chance to speak before she practically bombarded her.

“Am I too old to still be a virgin?” Trixie was very clearly tense and Katya looked taken aback, almost speechless.

“Wait, what?”

“Am I too old? Like, does it get more pathetic every day that I don’t have sex that I still haven’t had sex and like--”

“I’m gonna need you to slow down, Trix,” Katya said, barely catching any of what Trixie was saying. “Aren’t you supposed to be on a date tonight or something?”

“Yeah, and it was going great right up until he dumped me,” Trixie laughed loudly and her eyes were scrunched closed in the act of it so she didn’t see Katya’s face fall.

“Fuck,” Katya breathed. “Yeah, okay, get in here,” she opened the door the rest of the way so that Trixie could enter the room.

Katya and Bianca lived in a suite-style room, an upgrade offered to non-freshman still living in the dorms. This meant they had a small living area, individual bedrooms, and their very own tiny bathroom.

Trixie presumed Bianca was already in her room for the night as Katya led her to her own. Trixie dropped her purse on Katya’s desk but then just stood there with her arms crossed and her brow furrowed, gaze on the floor as Katya tucked her legs underneath herself on her mattress.

“You okay?” Katya asked softly, watching Trixie intently.

“You know what’s fucked up?” Trixie laughed again, and Katya found it a little unsettling. “I really am.”

“I mean, that’s good,” Katya said, confused. “Being okay is good.”

“I should care though,” Trixie nodded to herself. “I should care that he broke up with me, and I should care that we aren’t together anymore, but the only thing I’m upset about is that I don’t understand why I didn’t just have sex with him!” Trixie’s voice got gradually louder as she went and she paced the short length of the room frantically.

“Trix,” Katya said, trying to pull her friend back from wherever her head had rushed off to.

“He’s so hot , like he’s the epitome of traditionally attractive, and I should have wanted to have sex with him--I should’ve tried to bone him on the first fucking date, that’s how good he looked but I never wanted to and every time he tried I just pushed him away like an idiot --”

“Trixie, slow down,” Katya cut in.

“No, no, I won’t slow down,” Trixie finally looked at her. “Because there’s something wrong with me Kat. I don’t know what it is, but I’m old enough that sex shouldn’t fucking scare me anymore--I’m a goddamn adult . I just don’t know what’s wrong with me... What’s wrong with me?”

Katya’s eyes were wide when Trixie suddenly stopped talking and she looked like she was a little bit lost and a lot concerned.

“There’s nothing wrong with you,” she said slowly, regulating the pace and the rhythm in the room.

“I’m being so stupid,” Trixie mumbled, pinching the bridge of her nose for a moment. “Maybe if I just go back over there and tell him I didn’t mean it--like I should just go back and let him fuck me so I can get the whole thing over with and it can stop being a big deal.”

“No!” Katya shook her head adamantly. “No, no way, you should definitely not do that.”

Trixie sighed and looked at Katya’s small frame, wound up tight on top of her bed, eyes too big for her head, and hair falling out of her pigtails.

“Trix?” Katya said as though she was checking to make sure her friend was still there.

“Yeah?”

“You wanna come sit down? Maybe talk about this?” Katya asked hopefully. “I mean, I have an awful lot to say, but I also don’t wanna overstep--”

Katya cut herself off when Trixie kicked off her shoes and sat down on the bed next to her, leaning back against the wall and resting her head on Katya’s shoulder. Katya seemed to relax at that, knowing better how to handle Trixie in this state than in the practically manic one she’d been in when she arrived.

“Listen, there’s nothing wrong with you for not wanting to have sex or still being a virgin,” Katya began, wrapping her arm around Trixie’s shoulders.

“I’m nineteen .”

“Yeah! Exactly!” Katya hissed, hint of laughter in her voice. “Girl, that’s so young, you have so much time. And you know what?”

Trixie hummed against Katya’s pajama top in response.

“I’ll tell you what,” Katya continued. “If you never wanna have sex, you don’t have to. That’s so totally fine and not something to feel ashamed about.”

“I’ll be alone for-fucking-ever.”

“Now that’s a blatant lie,” Katya deadpanned. “There is no doubt in my mind that the right person for you will have as much or as little sex as you want because they’ll love you and respect your bodily autonomy.”

“You sound like Sasha during that month she was a gender studies student,” Trixie chuckled.

“Did she move on from that one already?” Katya gasped. “I thought it might actually stick this time.”

They both laughed softly at that, Trixie’s head still on Katya’s shoulder for a brief moment of comfortable silence before she sat up, chewing at the inside of her cheek as if she was thinking hard about something.

“You have a lot of sex,” Trixie said, more a statement than a question.

“Not nearly as much as Bianca likes to insinuate, for the record,” Katya said.

“Yeah, but enough to know you like it,” Trixie glanced at her to see Katya shrug in approval of that assessment. “Would you ever be willing to stop?”

“Yeah,” Katya said casually, zero hesitation in her tone. “I mean I like sex but I could survive without it. Plus, a lot of the time I can do it better on my own than with someone who doesn’t know my body as well as I do,” Katya laughed.

Trixie just nodded, looking down at her hands in her lap quietly for a moment before speaking up again.

“Thanks,” she smiled at Katya, almost sheepish but mostly just returning to a more mellow state of mind.

“For what?” Katya furrowed her brow in somewhat amused confusion.

“For lying to me,” Trixie chuckled.

“I’ve never lied to you,” Katya responded.

Something in the way she said it made Trixie believe it might actually be true.

Chapter Text

Trixie awoke one Saturday as the snow of winter was melting and the sun of spring was beginning to warm to a rude set of hands shaking her.

“Trixie,” Kim hissed holding her shoulder and jostling her awake.

“No,” Trixie groaned, rolling over and pulling the covers fully over her head, effectively escaping Kim’s hands and cocooning herself in the warmth of her bed.

“Trixie Mattel, I need you to get up,” Kim said, louder now and with more exasperation.

“Still sleeping,” Trixie muttered into the material of her blankets. Her whole body felt heavy, her eyelids weighed down with lead and her limbs full of cement. Some days, Trixie didn’t just want to sleep in late, she physically couldn’t make herself get up at all. This was one of those days.

“Trixie, I need to film a video for my channel,” Kim insisted, and although her face was buried, Trixie could distinctly picture her crossing her arms above her.

“Just frame me out, I’ll sleep through it and won’t bother you,” Trixie said, body hugging the wall as she curled up tighter around her covers. She heard Kim sigh.

“Are you sure?” Kim asked and Trixie just hummed in agreement. “You’re okay, right, Trix?”

“Just tired,” Trixie mumbled, already willing herself to just fall back asleep. It seemed to satisfy Kim, because Trixie heard her begin to set up and start filming her video.

Kim had started her YouTube channel at the beginning of the new semester, and had actually begun to build a small following in the months since. She was good at what she did, and her sense of humor seemed to come across well on camera. Trixie even learned a few things from her, and she’d been inspired to begin developing her own unique style of makeup.

It was a little bit too big and a little bit exaggerated, but she liked the way it made her eyes look wider and her lashes longer, and she liked that when she had it done this way Katya was sure to call her Barbie doll.

Her heart always felt a little warmer when Katya called her any number of absurd pet-- nicknames .

“Good day, my beautiful babushkas!” Katya burst into the room with a bright Russian accent and a flourish. “Oh, shit, you’re shooting a video,” she cut herself off and dropped the accent when she noticed Kim mid-eyeshadow.

“No worries-- I mean, as long as one of those coffees is for me,” Kim said, and Trixie knew without looking out from under her blankets that it made Katya smile a very specific type of smile. Katya had a different smile for every occasion, a testament to either how purely expressive her features were or her impossible enthusiasm for the world around her.

“Of course it is,” Katya said brightly. “And I’ve got one for Tracy too, where is she?”

Trixie squeezed her eyes shut, hating dorm life in this moment because as much as she adored Katya, she really didn’t feel like being around anyone at that moment.

“Sleeping in,” Kim said in a tone of voice that Trixie could tell meant she’s doing it again, I’m worried, please help.

Seconds later, Trixie felt her mattress dip and she groaned softly, trying to pull her blankets somehow even impossibly tighter around her as though that would block out the entire world.

“Hey, sleepy head,” Katya said, scooting onto the bed in the space Trixie had left by curling into a small ball. “It’s almost two o’clock, you eaten anything today?”

Trixie hummed her discontent with being spoken to into the mattress, but felt Katya place a casual hand on her shoulder anyway. Katya’s thumb began to trace small circles into the fabric of Trixie’s t-shirt where it peeked out above the blankets ever so slightly. It didn’t feel bad .

“I’ve got coffee and muffins from Alyssa’s place if you want something,” Katya said.

Trixie’s stomach growled against her will at the suggestion of food and coffee, and Trixie slowly pulled the blankets down from her face, turning over just enough to squint up at Katya in the too-bright daylight. Katya wasn’t looking at her, instead looking straight ahead with an almost imperceptible, knowing smirk on her face.

“Coffee?” Trixie asked, rolling all the way onto her back so her side was pressed up against Katya’s leg.

“Yep,” Katya looked down at her, grinning with her hand still on Trixie’s shoulder for a moment before she pushed herself off the bed and towards where she’d set down the coffee carrier and brown paper bag on Trixie’s cluttered desk. “But you gotta get out of bed for it,” she shrugged, sipping at her own coffee and leaning against the desk.

“Fuck you,” Trixie groaned, burying her face back in the pillow as she weighed her options.

On one hand, Trixie wanted nothing to do with the world outside her bed. However, she was also suddenly overcome with the distinct need to put caffeine in her body right then and there. It was a difficult decision, but when she glanced up again to see Kim start recording once more and Katya making goofy faces in the viewfinder behind her, the decision was made.

Trixie silently sat up, pulling her comforter around her shoulders like a cape and sat down in her desk chair, legs curled up in the seat with her. She could feel Katya looking down at her from where she stood as she grabbed the coffee labeled “Cheese Head” and began to guzzle it down.

Without speaking, Katya opened the brown paper bag and pulled out a muffin, setting it down in front of Trixie on the desk in the wordless plea to fucking eat something before I force food down your throat .

Trixie still wasn’t sure what she had done to deserve Katya, and she was waiting for the day when it would all fall to pieces, but until then, she was grateful to have her at all. Both girls struggled in their own ways, sometimes Katya’s brain moved too fast for her own good and sometimes Trixie couldn’t make her body move at all, but they balanced each other out and understood each other’s quirks seemingly better than anyone else on the planet.

The bad days had started coming a bit more frequently again for Trixie after Brad had broken up with her, not because she missed him, but (she assumed) more because he had been acting as a distraction for the many dysfunctions of her own head.

Of course, not all days were bad and not all days were good, because life doesn’t work like that and people are more complex than a simple binary can describe. Trixie was starting to come to terms with this fact, that no matter how much better things were overall in Chicago, she couldn’t expect perfection from herself or anyone else.

She was good, and she was generally happier than she’d ever been, and for that alone she was grateful.

Trixie was also doing well in her classes, despite feeling otherwise a lot of the time. No matter how many A’s she saw amongst her assignments, she could never quite shake the feeling that she wasn't doing enough. But she worked hard and she pushed through and some days she slept too much and didn't study enough but she was getting past it and maybe that was all that mattered to some extent.

“Hey, look at that, you finally picked up,” Trixie laughed, closing the door to the stairwell behind her as she took her regular phone-call seat on the top step.

“I’m sorry, I’m just too busy becoming an incredibly successful lawyer,” Tyler said on the other end of the line.

“Oh yeah, how is the burden of being the favorite child treating you?” Trixie teased.

“Oh shut up,” Tyler laughed. “What’s up, why’re you calling in the middle of the day?”

“I have a bone to pick with you,” Trixie said.

“And what’s that?”

“Why’d you tell Mom I was off for a full week back during Spring Break?” Trixie whined, leaning her head against the wall in exasperation.

“Because you were off for a full week?” Tyler said in confusion.

“Yeah, but I definitely told her it was only a couple of days and that’s why I wasn’t able to go home,” Trixie said as though this should have been obvious. “So now she’s mad at me because not only did I not visit, but I lied too.”

“Goddammit, Trix,” Tyler said through an amused sigh.

“I know, I shouldn’t be lying to her,” Trixie conceded. “I just couldn’t make myself go back, not when I’m spending all summer in Wisconsin.”

“I get that, and I support you making your own decisions about this stuff,” Tyler said genuinely. “But if you want me to cover for you, you just gotta keep me informed about what lies we’re telling Mom on any given week,” he chuckled.

“Yeah, okay, fair,” Trixie sighed.

“How mad was she?” Tyler asked, and Trixie could hear him cringing.

“Somewhere between Christmas of ‘07 and the time I accidentally stayed out until three mad,” Trixie shrugged to herself.

“And John?” Tyler's voice got more serious and Trixie’s heart sped up.

“About how you'd expect,” Trixie said simply.

“Listen, you call me if it starts getting bad again,” Tyler insisted, not needing to say more for Trixie to fully understand what he was talking about. Tyler hadn’t been there when it had gotten bad the first time, he’d been away at college and Trixie knew that despite her constant reminders that it wasn’t his fault, he still partially blamed himself.

“I'm okay, Ty,” Trixie pinched the bridge of her nose, glad she had discovered the stairwell as a viable place to have phone calls like this. It turned out that it was generally empty, no one bothering to take the stairs to any floor higher than the third.

“I know, just humor me.”

“Fine, I'll call , jackass,” Trixie said, trying to stay lighthearted.

“Pinky promise?”

“Pinky promise.”

Trixie’s freshman year was quickly coming to an end, and although she was ready to be done with classes and essays for the year, she was saddened by the thought of leaving everything she'd built in Chicago behind for three months.

So, three weeks before the end of the year, she was determined to spend as much time with her friends as possible. This meant a lot of multitasking, studying in the background of Kim’s videos, for hours on end at Alyssa's shop, or in the middle of the night in Katya's bed.

It was one such night when Trixie had been staring at the same page of her notes for fifteen minutes straight when Katya’s jittery personality finally started to drive her a little crazy.

“Why are you pacing , Kat?” Trixie groaned.

“Thinking,” Katya responded, running her hands through her hair absentmindedly.

“Could you maybe think quieter?”

“I forgot to do an assignment for my still photography class,” Katya blurted out, anxiety radiating off of her.

“When's it due?” Trixie asked, realizing she needed to be the sane and conscious one for a few minutes until this problem was solved. She was only partially aware of how easily the two of them traded off the role when necessary, only moderately in tune with how their individual flaws had loopholes when helping the other became a priority.

“Day after tomorrow,” Katya tapped the toe of her foot on the ground a couple of times in a way Trixie had learned meant she was trying to brush off some of her nervous energy.

“You can do it tomorrow then, no problem,” Trixie smiled hopefully at Katya.

“I need a model, it's a portrait project.”

“I'm sure Kim or Shea would be up for it,” Trixie assured her. “It's gonna be okay, you've got time.”

“Right, yeah, okay,” Katya nodded emphatically before finally meeting Trixie's eyes. “Would you do it?” she asked, as though she was having some sort of revelation.

Katya whipped her head around the room before Trixie even answered, starting to grab her camera and study the string of fairy lights tangled up on a shelf.

“Katya, no I,” Trixie laughed. “I'm not a model. But you'll get it done tomorrow.”

“I wanna do it right now,” Katya held up her camera with a grin. “And I want to photograph your stupid, beautiful doll face.”

Trixie's cheeks warmed but she rolled her eyes to try and cover it. She ignored the way her heart fluttered in her chest when Katya looked at her like that and talked about her like that and existed in the same space as her like that.

“I'm in pajamas--and no makeup,” Trixie reasoned. “Just hold off until you have an actual model.”

Katya however, seemed to be ignoring Trixie's resistance, moving her books off of the bed and taking her notebook from her lap. Trixie floundered as Katya plugged in the string of lights and shut off the overhead lights, draping the string across Trixie.

“What are you doing?” Trixie cackled, watching Katya rearrange the lights and step back to assess before moving them again.

“Shhh, just look pretty,” Katya said, brushing a loose piece of hair out of Trixie's face.

“I have no say in this, huh?” Trixie raised her eyebrows. Katya just shot her a grin in response, face just inches from Trixie's for a moment before she stepped back and began fiddling with the settings on her camera.

Katya lifted the camera to her eye and snapped a couple of rapid shots without warning.

“Oh god,” Trixie groaned and covered her face.

“Stop that!” Katya laughed. “Just trust me.”

Trixie lowered her hands slowly and glared at Katya. She didn't like having her picture taken and she was so exhausted that she had no doubt as to the inevitably monumental size of the bags under her eyes. But she did trust Katya, she trusted Katya more than she knew how to handle.

“Fine,” she grumbled good naturedly. “Just tell me what to do, and promise not to show these to anyone,” she pointed at Katya mock threateningly.

“Absolutely,” Katya lifted her hands defensively but she was smiling wider and wider with every passing second. “Okay, I'm just using these string lights and nothing else so we're just gonna mess around with positioning them as we go. You can just be your beautiful self, strike a pose, whatever you're most comfy with.”

“I'm most comfy not in front of the camera, is that an option?” Trixie laughed.

“Not even a small one, bitch,” Katya responded, lifting the camera to her eye and snapping a picture just as Trixie burst out laughing.

They continued like that for a while, Trixie getting more and more comfortable with the situation as she listened to Katya talk to her with jokes and adoration alike. Katya fiddled with the lights as they went, having Trixie hold them in various positions around her face while Katya put herself into any and all stances around and on the bed to photograph her from every angle.

The two were laughing and cackling and getting louder as the night got later, having very little consciousness for the people in surrounding rooms. This was probably why they really shouldn't have been surprised when Bianca threw the door open.

“I swear to god if you whores don't shut the fuck up so I can sleep I'm gonna fuck both your dads, become your step-mothers, and ground you,” Bianca said, face grumpy and hair a rat’s nest bun on the top of her head.

“When you find my dad, let me know,” Trixie deadpanned from where she sat on the bed, Katya’s camera lens hovering inches in front of her face. “It’d be great to meet him.”

Katya dropped her camera and let her jaw fall open as she stared at Trixie for a moment. Only when she saw a small smirk pass across Trixie’s face did she break out into a wheezing laugh, letting her head fall forward onto Trixie’s shoulder.

“I fucking hate you both,” Bianca groaned.

“Sorry, Bee,” Katya said through her laughter as she tried to catch her breath, and then in a comical whisper: “We’ll be quieter, we promise.”

“Yeah, sorry Bianca,” Trixie whispered, biting her lip to try and keep from grinning. It was pretty clear that the two of them weren’t actually all that sorry and were so sleep deprived that anything would be funny to them.

Bianca just rolled her eyes at the two of them before closing the door behind her and going back to her own room. Trixie and Katya looked at each other with wide eyes, and the moment they heard Bianca’s bedroom door close they burst out into near-silent laughter, holding onto each other as if they might fly away from the humor of it all.

Twenty minutes later, Katya seemed to be satisfied with the photos she had gotten, giving Trixie her books back and settling in on the mattress next to her to flip through the photos and begin selecting the best ones. Trixie kept looking over her shoulder at the pictures, impressed-- although not for the first time-- at Katya’s eye for light and shape. The girl knew how to wield a camera, that was for sure.

“Ooh, Trix look how good you look here,” she whispered, nudging Trixie with her elbow to get her attention. Trixie glanced at the photo on Katya’s screen and felt her heart warm. Most of the photos Katya had been selecting were the ones she’d taken once Trixie had figured out how to take a serious photo-- they were posed and intentional. This one, however, seemed to have been taken while Trixie wasn’t paying attention, in between actual posed shots.

Her hair was tucked loosely behind her ear as she sat in a partial profile to the camera, gaze on her hands and a small, amused smile on her face. Trixie didn’t remember the photo being taken, barely had any sense of what context she’d have been smiling like that in--soft and warm and content in ways she’d never seen herself look before.

“Neat,” she said, when she realized she’d been staring too long and that Katya was looking at her expectantly. Katya grinned with pride at her reaction, and it made Trixie feel so good inside of her chest that it almost hurt .

Trixie went back to her room later that night (or was it early morning at that point?) not knowing that Katya fully intended on printing out a full sized copy of that one specific photo to add to the collection scattered across her walls. Trixie fell asleep thinking about Katya’s smile and her skinny fingers wrapped carefully around a camera lens and the way she’d blow her bangs out of her face when her hands were full.

Trixie had never really had a best friend before, and she thought maybe she finally knew what that felt like. Best friends apparently gave you butterflies and consumed your every thought, and it only made sense that you’d want to call your best friend about every remotely funny thing you encountered over the course of the day. A best friend’s hand on your forearm was supposed to give you goosebumps and making them smile really should be your main goal.

Katya sure was a good best friend.

At the end of her second semester, Trixie realized that finals were never really going to get easier. It was overwhelming and stressful and she believed they were quite frankly unnecessary.

Not only was she trying to get through final projects and exams, but she was also constantly fielding phone calls from home, which had grown in frequency after Trixie’s mom had found out she had lied about spring break. Trixie felt like she was always on the phone, standing in the stairwell with her cell pressed to her ear and her eyes squeezed shut as she listened to her mother and John explain to her yet again that she may legally be an adult but she was still their child .

“Mom, I promise I will text you when I get on the Greyhound on Friday and keep you posted the whole ride back,” Trixie sighed, back against the cold, cement wall and arm held tight across her abdomen.

“Okay, thank you,” Karen sighed. “And when is your last final?”

“On Wednesday,” Trixie said, working hard to sound patient despite having relayed this information a dozen times already.

“And why,” John butted in, making Trixie’s jaw clench uncomfortably. “Aren’t you leaving until Friday if you’re done on Wednesday?”

“Because, John,” Trixie said, unable to keep a moderate amount of terseness out of her voice. “That’s the first direct bus to Milwaukee and I don’t want to mess with changing busses.”

“Don’t use that tone with me,” John warned, but Trixie was right at the end of her rope with dealing with him. She was already tired of his bullshit and she hadn’t even left Chicago yet.

“Well, I remember--”

“Trixie, don’t,” Karen warned softly, but Trixie ignored her.

“--Calling my mother and not you ,” Trixie laughed humorlessly.

“Goddammit, Beatrice, how many times do we need to talk about respect before you start to fucking get it ?” John was clearly angry and getting worse with every second that passed. Trixie immediately regretted talking back to him, couldn’t believe she hadn’t learned her lesson regarding this same situation years ago.

“I just--”

“Don’t start with me! You’re ungrateful and disrespectful and now on top of that a fucking liar too!” John yelled, forcing Trixie to hold the phone farther from her ear. Her hands were unsteady and her heartbeat felt too fast and irregular. “I have half a mind not to let you stay here for the summer, but I know how much your mother wants you home.”

The way he called it home made Trixie’s heart stop beating for a moment. She hated that his house had become her home and she hated that home would never be the picture perfect, white picket fence, happy fucking family environment she had thought it would become when they had first moved into that farmhouse in the middle of nowhere.

Trixie could kid herself into thinking that Chicago was her home just because she’d chosen to move there, but she knew that Wisconsin would always be her hometown, would always be the place she was born and the place where she had been forcefully molded into who she ultimately became.

“I’m sorry,” Trixie said, voice shakier than she’d wanted it to sound as she tried to hold herself together in the echoing stairwell.

“Yeah, you better be,” John continued. “And we’re going to have a real discussion about your attitude when you get back here on Friday, mark my words.”

“Okay,” Trixie said, biting down hard on her bottom lip and squeezing her eyes shut, wanting nothing more than to run away as she always had as a kid.

“Now, say goodnight to your mother and get back to your studies,” John said, terse and tough but quieter now. Quieter, but still terrifying.

“Goodnight, Mom,” Trixie said. “I love you.”

“Love you too, Trix,” Karen said, a familiar, soft voice on the other end of the line still not enough to calm Trixie down.

The walk back to her room felt like a dozen miles to Trixie, phone gripped in white knuckles and breathing as shaky as her hands. Kim was working at her desk when she came back in, but Trixie barely saw her as she opened the door to her small closet and tucked herself in the back corner, knees tucked up under her chin and fabric of half a dozen pink dresses brushing against the top of her head.

Trixie let her head fall into her arms where she held her legs tight against her, still shaking but not crying, just existing inside a cacophonous whirlwind of a headspace.

“Trixie?” Kim’s voice was muffled by the door of the closet, only open a crack. “Trixie, are you okay?” Kim opened the door a bit wider, but Trixie just reached out and pulled it closed again, startling her.

Trixie felt like she had forgotten how to speak, and although it wasn’t the first time this had happened, it felt newly painful in this context.

“Trixie, you’re scaring me,” Kim said from outside the closet, and as much as Trixie wanted to reassure her, she simply couldn’t. “Shit,” Kim muttered to herself, and Trixie heard her retreat.

Trixie hoped that this meant she’d be left alone until she could get herself back together; she’d done it before and sometimes it took hours, but she knew she could do it if she could just remember how to breathe. The closet was dark and if she closed her eyes she almost felt like it was her closet back home, that she was twelve years old and Tyler would appear any moment to hold her hand and tell her it would all be okay.

She never should have assumed that Kim wouldn’t continue to try meddling though, as she heard the door to their room open just a handful of minutes later.

“What’s wrong, is everything okay? Your text was super fucking vague, Kim,” the voice was distinctly Katya’s, at a speed that only Katya could maintain. “You don’t text 911 something’s wrong with Trixie and then not answer when I try to call you.”

“Quiet down, I’m trying not to startle her--or like, I don’t know I just feel like talking loudly was not the way to handle this,” Kim explained.

“She’s not even here, Kim,” Katya said as though it was obvious, confusion clear in her tone.

“She left to call her mom, came back thirty minutes later, and climbed into the closet without saying anything,” Kim explained.

“What?” Katya matched Kim’s quieter tone, starting to understand.

“She’s hiding in there and won’t talk to me and closed the door when I tried to check on her,” Kim said. “I have to leave to go take an exam and I was scared to leave her alone because I don’t know what’s going on and--”

“Okay, it’s fine, you can go take your test,” Katya assured her. “I’ll stay and make sure she’s okay.”

“Thank you,” Kim sighed. “I'll be back as soon as I'm done.”

“Don't worry about us, I've got this,” Katya assured Kim.

Moments later, Trixie heard the door open and close and gripped her hands tighter around her body.

“Trixie?” Katya said after a moment, breaking the tense silence that was enveloping Trixie. “Trixie I'm gonna come in there if you don't respond to me because this is scaring me a little bit.”

Trixie wanted to respond, she wanted more than anything to tell Katya she was fine, that she just needed to be left alone, but she physically couldn't make her mouth move or her vocal cords activate.

“Okay, I’m just gonna make sure you’re like, alive,” Katya said, opening the door to the closet and crouching down so she was at eye level with Trixie.

Trixie reached out blindly, head still down as she desperately tried to shut the door once more. Something inside of her head, no matter how illogical it was, felt determined to stay hidden from the outside world. She knew it had something to do with where she’d come from and she knew the exact significance of this location, but she wished she didn’t feel the need to act this way.

“Wait, okay,” Katya caught the door before it closed all the way and began to maneuver her way into the closet next to Trixie. “If the door needs to be closed I’d like to be on this side of it,” she said simply, shutting the door behind her and leaning back against the wall behind them.

Katya didn’t try to touch Trixie, seemed to be mulling over what to do or say in the dark space next to her for a moment before she spoke up again.

“What can I do?” Katya said softly. “What’s going on? Is something wrong with school? Or at home? You can talk to me, Trix.”

Trixie made a grumbling noise of disapproval, unable to fully process all of Katya’s slew of questions fast enough to come up with any real answers.

“Slower,” she muttered, barely loud enough for Katya to hear past the barrier of her arms and knees.

“Slower?” Katya repeated, perking up a little bit at the sound of Trixie’s voice, even if she was clearly not okay yet. “Okay, yeah, I can do slower-- Let’s start with: can I touch you?”

“No,” Trixie said immediately, knowing that that was the last thing she needed right in that moment.

“Okay, good to know,” Katya’s tone wasn’t judgmental in any way, just logical, as though she was puzzling her way through a complex riddle and just wanted to make sure she was doing it right. “Can I call your brother?”

No ,” Trixie said with more emphasis this time.

“Trix, I think he’d know how to help you with this better than me--”

“No, Katya,” Trixie said through her teeth.

“Okay, okay, got it,” Katya dropped the issue and sighed. “Trixie, I don’t know what to do. I want to help but I don’t know how.”

Katya’s voice was filled with earnest guilt, and Trixie hated making her feel this way but also couldn’t deny that she wanted-- needed-- her to stay. Just having Katya there was helping ground her to the real world once more, so she released a hand from around her legs and blindly reached out to Katya, resting it on her knee.

“Trix…” Katya was hesitant for a moment, but Trixie squeezed her knee as if to say it’s okay . Only then did Katya place her hand on top of Trixie’s, intertwining their fingers and rubbing her thumb slowly across the younger girl’s knuckles.

“Just need a minute,” Trixie whispered, voice cracking ever so slightly as she made her way back through the maze of her own brain. “But please don’t go.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” Katya assured her quietly, maintaining a steady rhythm with her thumb on Trixie’s hand.

They sat in silence like that for a handful of minutes, Katya’s eyes eventually adjusting to the dark and Trixie’s muscles slowly but surely releasing some of their tension as she calmed herself back down.

Trixie mentally listed the things she could currently feel as a means of finding her footing-- the wall she was leaning against, the fabric of shirts and dresses brushing against the top of her head, Katya’s hand.

Eventually, Trixie was once again at a place where she felt like she could move and speak and breathe like a regular human being again, feeling exhausted both physically and mentally as she lifted her head and rested her chin on her knees. Katya turned her head at the movement, clearly trying to assess Trixie’s status.

“My closet back in Wisconsin is tiny,” Trixie said, voice still quiet, but steadier now than it had been. “But when I was ten it felt huge -- like, there was more space in there than I knew what to do with,” she let out a small, almost imperceptible breath of a laugh.

“Yeah?” Katya urged her to continue, not sure where this was going but feeling like Trixie needed to say it.

“We moved into that house right after my mom married John, and it was so much bigger than what we were used to,” Trixie continued. “Tyler and I had our own rooms for the first time ever and there was just so much space because we were out in the middle of nowhere.”

“Sounds nice,” Katya said when Trixie seemed to be hesitating.

“Yeah,” Trixie said solemnly. “It really didn’t start out bad, y’know. He was such a good guy when they started dating, and he’d take me and Tyler to the movies once a month and help us with our homework and he called me Princess Beatrice and god I wanted a dad so fucking badly…”

Trixie trailed off, seemingly lost in her own thoughts for a moment. Katya stayed quiet, knowing she wasn’t done and letting her take her time.

“But then he lost his job and started drinking,” Trixie continued. “And, y’know… My closet didn’t feel quite so big anymore, but I felt safer there than I did anywhere else in that house.”

Katya let out a huff of a breath that said more than any words she could have said would.

“It’s not always bad,” Trixie said, and she wasn’t sure if she was trying to convince Katya or herself. “If it was always bad she wouldn’t have stayed this goddamn long--She wouldn’t have, she really wouldn’t have,” Trixie’s voice sped up and tears pricked at the back of her eyes as she gripped Katya’s hand even tighter, painfully tight.

“Breathe, Trix,” Katya said.

“I’m fine, I’m fine,” Trixie insisted, rubbing her free hand over her face. “I just--I’m just really realizing I have to go back for three months ,” she let out a bitter laugh.

Katya bit her lip next to her, brow furrowed in thought and concern simultaneously. She matched Trixie’s tight grip on her hand and took a deep breath.  

“Come stay with me,” she said abruptly, pulling Trixie’s gaze to her face for the first time all night. Trixie could see the outline of Katya’s golden hair from the light seeping in through the cracks of the closet doors.

“Katya,” Trixie shook her head slowly, hesitantly.

“I’m serious, come to Boston with me,” Katya insisted. “My parents would be fine with it, I know it.”

“I can’t do that,” Trixie whispered, eyes big and swimming with unshed tears.

“Why not?” Katya whispered right back, holding one of Trixie’s hands in both of hers, turning her body to fully face her.

“I can’t do that to my mom,” Trixie said. “My brother is off making something of himself and he can only come home every so often because of his job and we can’t just leave her there alone, I can’t just leave her there, it’s not her fault--

“Shhh,” Katya cut Trixie off as the younger girl let out a small sob and leaned forward to rest her forehead on Katya’s shoulder. “Okay, I’m sorry, you’re okay.”

Katya wrapped her arms around Trixie and held her tight, smoothing her hair behind her ear and out of her face. Trixie’s tall frame had to fold up to fit underneath Katya’s chin, but as she sat there with her hands gripping the patchwork blouse that Katya was wearing, she felt free for the first time in a long time.

Not free in the sense that she had escaped her past, she knew that was never really a viable possibility, no matter how often she had wished for it when she was applying to colleges as a hopeful high school student.

No, she felt free because she was finally able to feel all sorts of feelings that she’d been pushing back for so long-- her fear of John and fear for her mother, her love and hatred and confusion regarding where she’d come from, her curiosity as to what life could’ve been like without him, or with whoever her biological father was, how nice and soft and intoxicating the slope of Katya’s waist felt under her fingertips--

No, actually, that last one didn’t belong in there but the rest of them, all of those thoughts and all of those feelings, she finally let herself acknowledge them.

The timing of this revelation might not have been ideal, because Trixie had finals to take the next two days and bags to pack (with more things to take home than she’d arrived with all those months ago), but it was a good revelation to have nonetheless.

Katya finished her finals earlier than Trixie, having taken so many production-oriented classes that she mostly just had to turn in final projects instead, and had thus put herself on French flashcard duty for Trixie.

She spent the next two days almost entirely in Trixie’s room, helping her put things into suitcases or quizzing her on vocabulary and pronunciation while Trixie ate the take out food Katya had insisted on getting for her.

Kim didn’t mind Katya’s presence, having been grateful that when she’d returned from her final on that fateful night that Trixie was out from behind closed doors and eating pizza with Katya on her bed. Trixie had still been quiet, exhaustion clearly written on her face, but she was eating and seemed to relax a little when Katya had pulled up an episode of Project Runway on her laptop.

On the day that Trixie’s bus back to Milwaukee left, Katya volunteered to help her carry her stuff to the station. She sat with Trixie while she waited for the bus to arrive and held her hand when she noticed her getting antsy on the bench next to her.

“Hey, you’re not a freshman anymore,” Katya looked at her, grinning that stupid, amazing grin.

“And we can thank god for that,” Trixie laughed in response. “Fuck, I’m gonna miss this city. I can’t believe I’m gonna be gone all summer.”

“Yeah, it’s tough to leave,” Katya sighed, and then, a beat later, colored in equal parts humor and sincerity: “I’m also gonna miss your bitch ass.”

“Who are you gonna drag up to dangerous rooftops in the middle of the night without me?” Trixie teased and Katya laughed.

“Stop!” Katya shrieked in mock outrage, causing passersby to shoot them a look. “I’m gonna actually miss you, whore.”

Trixie’s smile softened, her heart heavy, sad, and light all at the same time somehow as she looked at Katya’s messy waves and bright red lips.

“I’m gonna miss you so fucking much,” she said, quieter now, more serious. Katya’s eyes were warm as they scanned Trixie’s face for a moment.

“The offer is always open--”

“Kat,” Trixie sighed.

“I know-- I know why you’re going back, but just,” Katya shook her head emphatically. “My house is always open if you need it.”

“Okay,” Trixie brushed her off with an eye roll.

“I’m serious, Trix,” Katya insisted, face earnest and a genuine care emanating off of her.

“Okay,” Trixie said more genuinely, squeezing the hand that still held Katya’s. “Thank you.”

Katya just nodded, gave her a shrug as if it wasn’t a big deal, as if she wasn’t the first person to ever give Trixie a safety net, the first person to ever make her feel safe .

“Hey, Kat?” Trixie spoke up again and Katya hummed in acknowledgment. “I’m really glad I met you, even if you are a crazy Russian filmmaker who talks too much.”

“That was almost very sweet,” Katya grinned, overjoyed. “I’m glad I met you too, Barbie girl.”

“You better fucking call me, bitch.”

“I’m gonna get that phone bill so high you’ll need to take it to fucking rehab,” Katya said, barely able to get through the sentence without laughing and making Trixie squeal with amusement.

“Okay there, Amy Winehouse,” she responded as she caught her breath.

Before Katya had the chance to shoot another quip right back at her, a Greyhound pulled up into the spot in front of them-- Bus 174 to Milwaukee. Trixie sighed, standing up and gathering her bags slowly, methodically, thinking maybe if she took too long it would just leave without her and she could stay in Chicago with Katya forever.

Katya stood up with her, handing Trixie her guitar case with a solemn smile. Trixie felt like she was on the verge of tears, but was determined not to cry in front of her friend, not again, not now.

“You have to text me when you get there safe,” Katya said adamantly.

Trixie nodded and bit her lip, looking Katya up and down before dropping her bags and pulling her into a suffocating hug. Katya hugged her back with just as much enthusiasm, burying her face in Trixie’s long hair and letting her petite frame be engulfed in Trixie’s warm curves.

“Okay, okay, you have to go,” Katya said, pulling away after a beat, and it almost sounded like she was trying to convince herself as much as she was Trixie. Katya picked up Trixie’s bags and handed them to her once more. “See you soon, Trixie Mattel,” she said with her hands on Trixie’s shoulders.

“See you soon,” Trixie said, voice cracking just enough that she knew she had to get away soon before she burst into tears.

Katya smiled at her, pulled her close and rose to her toes to leave a small kiss on Trixie’s cheek before pushing her towards the bus.

Trixie would have a small stain of red lipstick on her cheek for the remainder of the ride.

She really didn’t mind.

 

Chapter Text

 

“Oh my god, I love it,” Trixie gasped as she dropped her bag at the door and looked around the tiny apartment. “It’s a shithole but it’s yours , holy fuck.”

“Right?” Katya bounced eagerly around the living room, which was actually also the kitchen and the entryway all in one. “It’s all Bee and I can afford but we have our own place!”

Trixie walked around and examined the space with a hint of disgust but mostly pride at her friends’ newfound independence. There was a small window on the far side of the room which led out onto a fire escape and the wallpaper was a truly hideous shade of forest green that made the room feel infinitely darker than it actually was.

The carpet needed a good cleaning, or six, and the light fixture was missing a bulb, but there were framed pictures and posters stacked around the room ready to be hung and a big tapestry that had once been in Katya’s dorm room already taking up residence on the largest wall available.

“And look,” Katya said, pulling Trixie’s attention back to her. “I bought a couch, Trix! Like a real adult!”

Katya fell backwards to lounge on the worn-out couch, diving into floral upholstery that looked like it belonged in her dead grandmother’s house, but Trixie couldn’t help but grin at the sight of how purely and unequivocally happy Katya was.

“I’m so proud of you and your stupid fucking ugly couch,” Trixie laughed from where she stood, hands on her hips where her denim shorts met her pink blouse.

“It’s not ugly ,” Katya gasped, sitting up with a look of mock offense on her face. “It’s antique and beautiful and-- okay, come sit on it, it’s really fucking comfortable,” Katya grabbed Trixie’s hand and pulled her forcefully onto the couch next to her.

Trixie furrowed her brow and pursed her lips as she sat there, adjusting in her seat for a moment as if genuinely trying to judge the overall comfort of the couch.

“I guess it’s okay,” she shrugged with a smirk and Katya shoved her lightly as she laughed. “No, but this is so awesome, bitch. I hate that I’m still in the stupid dorms,” she rolled her eyes.

“At least you and Kim got a suite this year so you have your own room,” Katya pointed out.

“Plus, I can just come one subway stop away from campus and visit you and Bianca,” Trixie grinned. “Where is Satan herself, anyway?”

“Helping Adore move in,” Katya said with raised eyebrows and a knowing lilt to her voice.

“You’re kidding,” Trixie’s mouth hung open and she turned to face Katya, legs tucked under her like she was a teenager in a movie about to latch onto some really juicy gossip. “What’s the news there? Adore hasn’t told me anything, but I feel like--”

“You’re so fucking nosy,” Katya laughed.

“I’ve been in podunk Wisconsin for three months where the only gossip was about fucking cows , just let me have this! ” Trixie cried, bouncing up and down like a child in the middle of a tantrum.

“Okay, okay, but if I tell you what I know you have to promise you won’t be a blabbermouth like last time,” Katya insisted.

“Listen, Sasha was gonna find out about that surprise party on her own anyway,” Trixie defended for what felt like the hundredth time.

“You’re so bad with secrets,” Katya cackled. “Like, I have never met someone worse at keeping secrets.”

“I have too many of my own secrets to keep, it’s not like I have space for everyone else’s up there,” Trixie tapped on her forehead with a pink fingernail and laughed, but noticed a flash of something like concern pass across Katya’s face before she rolled her eyes.

“Whatever,” Katya chuckled. “So, apparently, Adore went to visit Bianca this summer and there may or may not have been a kiss,” she shrugged cheekily.

“Yes! Yeah, yeah yeah!” Trixie punched at the air with both fists enthusiastically. “Fucking finally!”

Katya screamed with laughter at Trixie’s reaction before joining in with the celebration.

“They are really cute, aren’t they?” Katya conceded with melty grin.

“The actual cutest,” Trixie said. “They’re so stupid, the fuckers are in love and they can’t even see it.”

“You’re more invested in this relationship than you were in your own with Brad,” Katya chuckled and Trixie shot her a look. “Too soon?” Katya teased.

“God, can you believe I dated a guy named Brad?” Trixie cringed. “Even his name was boring.”

“His personality was about as bright as this wallpaper,” Katya motioned to the disgusting shade of green surrounding them and Trixie screamed loud enough in response to certainly bother the neighbors. She figured they’d have to get used to it at some point.

It was only the weekend before classes started and Trixie had been back for less than twenty-four hours, but it felt good to be home in Chicago, to be sweating in the city heat and breathing in the hot stench of the subway. Trixie loved and appreciated every second of it, every moment that she got to feel independent and free and unencumbered by house rules that said to be home by a certain hour or not talk on the phone more than a certain amount each day.

The summer had been a blip, a rocky patch to get through on her way to getting back on track. She had picked up her high school job at a local ice cream shop, scooping cones out for teenagers ten hours a day just so she had a viable excuse to get out of the house (and make some extra cash that she knew would come in handy for the coming semester).

Katya hadn’t been lying when she’d promised to call-- the two talked on the phone practically every day, and Katya learned Trixie’s schedule quickly because of it. She figured out when were good and bad times to call, learned that it was better to text Trixie first to make sure she wasn’t in the middle of dinner and wouldn’t get reprimanded for her phone ringing while they were eating.

Trixie would send her goofy selfies in her work uniform-- a bright blue apron, baseball cap, and name tag with Beatrice crossed out and Trixie written in with marker-- and Katya would tease her relentlessly for it before ultimately making sure she was aware how fucking cute she looked.

It was still tough for Trixie to be home though, something that Katya let herself forget until about a month into the summer when she got something of a rude awakening. Trixie got home late that night, and knew that she shouldn’t have been on the phone, knew that if she was too loud it would be a problem for her, but had had a long day and wanted nothing more than to hear Katya laugh.

“No, Kat,” Trixie laughed as she climbed into bed. “This kid came back up to the counter with chocolate ice cream all over  his face and spent fifteen minutes trying to convince me he’d dropped his cone and should get a new one for free. I don’t get paid enough for that shit.”

“The longer you work there the more you sound like a grumpy old man telling kids to get off his lawn,” Katya chuckled, voice tinny through the speakers of Trixie’s phone, travelling all the way from Boston just to make her laugh.

“Oh, no I am a grumpy old man,” Trixie teased. “I just wear a lot of makeup.”

“I fucking hate you,” Katya cackled, making Trixie grin on the other end of the phone.

“You youngin’s and your crass language,” Trixie said in a gruff, deep voice, only making Katya laugh louder.

“Stop it!” Katya cried and Trixie laughed.

“And lose my brand? Never!” Trixie said back, laughing right along with her friend, blanket pulled up as she leaned back against her headboard.

“You’re such a nerd--” Katya was saying, but Trixie stopped hearing her when the door to her bedroom swung open suddenly and John entered, looking less than pleased.

“John--” Trixie started, dropping the phone from her ear slightly.

“Beatrice, you know you aren’t supposed to be talking on the phone past midnight,” John said, voice serious and shoulders tense. “Some of us are trying to sleep and it’s fucking disrespectful--”

“I’m sorry,” Trixie said with a soft tone to her voice that was so distinctly different from the one she’d been using with Katya that she almost sounded like a completely different person. “I’m sorry, it won’t happen--”

“Don’t interrupt me, Beatrice!” John cut her off, and Trixie’s hands shook as she ended the call with Katya. “I have half a mind to take that phone away from you!”

“No, please. I promise it won’t happen again,” Trixie insisted, grasping her phone under the blanket with white knuckles.

“John,” Trixie’s eyes grew wider when her mother appeared in the doorway, robe wrapped tight around her body. “Let her keep her phone. It won’t happen again, right, Trixie?”

Trixie nodded frantically, lungs feeling like they were filled with cement and wishing she had installed a lock on her door years ago.

“Fine,” John spat. “But this is your only warning.”

They were both gone and her door was closed again before she had a chance to respond. She let out a shaky breath, desperately hating how much stuff like this would always affect her, even if she knew how much worse it could be.

By the time she looked down at her phone again, it was lit up with a slew of messages.

 

From: Katya

Trix what’s going on

Are you okay??

Trixie please respond to me holy fuck

I hate that i’m not there

I don’t know what’s going on but please just tell me you’re safe

 

Trixie took one more deep breath to steady herself before typing out a response.

 

From: Trixie

i’m okay it’s no big deal

sorry i hung up on you

 

From: Katya

it is a big deal don’t downplay this

Not to me

 

From: Trixie

i swear i’m fine, kat

 

From: Katya

I know

i believe you

 

Trixie watched as three little dots appeared and disappeared a few times, Katya clearly either typing out a long message or starting over again and again.

trixie i hate him

A breath caught in her throat as she read it, not because she was offended and not because Katya had crossed any sort of line, but because Trixie had never had anyone on the outside that knew what her life was like or cared to really get involved. The message she sent back may not have seemed appropriate, may not have made sense to many people, but Katya understood that when Trixie said thank you it was for more than just that statement.

Katya and Trixie understood each other, and once they were both back in the same city, it felt like a part of them that had been out of sorts had finally been put back in place.

Trixie threw herself back into school at the beginning of the semester, kept her job at the bookstore, and told herself she was going to focus on her degree and her career more from that point forward. No more dating boring boys named Brad and no more letting her brain become fully consumed by what may or may not be happening miles away in Wisconsin.

“Do you think this skirt should be shorter?” Trixie asked, holding a pin-infested skirt up to her body in front of the full length mirror in the design studio.

“Depends who you’re gonna have model it for your photos,” Shea said as she pulled a pin out from between her teeth at a nearby work station.

“Shit, I forgot about that,” Trixie groaned and dropped the skirt back onto her desk. Her and Shea were the only two in the room, probably because it was a Friday afternoon and no one else wanted to come to campus.

“Whose measurements have you been using then?” Shea chuckled in disbelief.

“My own,” Trixie collapsed onto a stool melodramatically. “I guess I figured we were modeling our own pieces since that’s just what we usually fucking do,” she said in exasperation.

“Well, you’ve at least got your design down solid, so you’ve got time to alter it for a model,” Shea shrugged, continuing to methodically pull stitch after stitch through her own garment.

“Who are you using?” Trixie leaned her elbows on the table, ignoring her sewing duties entirely at this point and trying to just solve the new issue at hand.

“Sasha,” Shea shrugged. “It’s easy since we live together.”

“She’d also do anything for your dumbass,” Trixie snorted in amusement. “You’ve got that visual arts major wrapped around your finger.”

“She’s actually doing art history now,” Shea corrected.

“That girl’s gonna be in college for seven years if she doesn’t stick to something soon,” Trixie laughed.

“The bitch is good at all of it too,” Shea chuckled. “It’s infuriating.”

“God, tell me about it,” Trixie rolled her eyes. “I’m just trying to get my foreign language credit and Katya is over there spewing fluent Russian, English, and French in the same goddamn breath.”

“Why’d we have to become friends with smart people?”

“I don’t know, but I’m ready to get out of this hellhole whenever you are,” Trixie said definitively. “I apparently can’t even get anymore work done until I have a model or whatever.”

“You’re so bitter you could win an actual award for it one day,” Shea said, beginning to pack up her stuff alongside Trixie.

“Speaking of bitter, I want coffee,” Trixie threw her backpack over her shoulder and leaned by the door waiting for Shea to catch up.

“You always want coffee,” Shea groaned. “It’s seven o’clock at night and you’re gonna keep yourself awake and then complain in the group chat when you’re exhausted tomorrow.”

“But we’re going to Bianca and Kat’s party tonight so the booze will cancel out the caffeine,” Trixie grinned, nodding as Shea stopped in front of her and rolled her eyes.

“Fine,” she groaned and walked past her out the door. “But when Adore snapchats you drunk-singing Hannah Montana songs again, don’t come whining to me.”

Trixie just cackled as she chased her friend out the door and out the hallway.

They ended up at Alyssa’s shop, because where else would they have even considered going (and where else would let them in right under the wire of closing time like they knew Alyssa always would). Trixie had introduced most of her friends to Alyssa at this point, dragging them across town for coffee and muffins whenever she was craving them-- even if it happened to be later than anyone should be ingesting caffeine.

From there, they walked home, dropped off their bags and changed their clothes before hopping on the train and taking it one stop south to get to Katya and Bianca’s apartment. They were some of the first people there, not that the party would get too crowded throughout the night anyway-- a party for this friend group was mainly just an excuse to drink and spend time together amongst all of their busy college schedules.

“I want better music,” Trixie whined, just enough alcohol in her system that she was talking much louder than necessary as she reached over the back of the floral couch for where Katya’s phone was hooked up to a set of cheap speakers.

“Don’t you dare put on Dolly again,” Bianca pointed at her from where she and Adore were curled up in a nearby armchair. “Katya, don’t let that hick make us listen to her country bullshit again.”

“It’s fine, I’ve changed my password again, so she doesn’t know it anymore,” Katya laughed, watching Trixie frown as the password she attempted on Katya’s phone didn’t grant her access. Katya was, of course, also holding a camera and snapping pictures of everyone periodically.

“Fuck you,” Trixie dropped the phone with a frown and tucked her legs up to sit criss-cross and partially facing Katya next to her. “I’m just trying to educate y’all city bitches on the beauty--the majesty-- of folk!”

“Oh, god, the accent’s coming back,” Adore grinned. “Time to cut Mattel off.”

“I don’t have an accent!” Trixie cried out, with a distinct rural Wisconsin twang that sent Katya doubling over in peals of wheezing laughter. “Fuck off!” Trixie nudged Katya with her foot, trying and failing to act offended.

“I’m sorry!” Katya grinned and Trixie shot her a look of disbelief. “No, no really--your accent is cute, stop glaring at me!”

“Fine, but only ‘cause you called me cute,” Trixie said as she leaned her forehead to meet Katya’s shoulder lazily.

“I want snacks, do you guys have snacks?” Adore unwrapped herself from around Bianca, stumbling slightly as she stood and made her way towards the kitchen (which was really just the other side of the room).

“Oooh,” Trixie followed her enthusiastically. “Me too, me too.”

When she caught up, Adore was already rummaging around in the sparse pantry, grabbing a bag of Doritos and opening it after a couple of unsuccessful tries.

“Adore, are you in love with Bee?” Trixie asked, reaching into the bag and messily grabbing a handful of chips.

“Shut up, bitch,” Adore hissed. “You talk so fuckin loud when you’re drunk.”

You’re drunk,” Trixie replied as if it made any sense as a comeback, and they both leaned on each other as they laughed.

“Okay, okay,” Adore said as she caught her breath. “I’m gonna tell you something but you have to promise to keep it a secret.”

“Of course, oh my god,” Trixie said emphatically.

“I wanna be her girlfriend,” Adore whispered, face a mixture of embarrassment and earnest care that had Trixie squealing before Adore had the chance to shush her.

“I’m sorry, that’s just so exciting,” Trixie whined. “Go be girlfriends, I want y’all to be happy fucking girlfriends already.”

“I think we’re getting there,” Adore shrugged. “I just don’t wanna rush it with her, y’know?”

“Mmhmm,” Trixie hummed in agreement as she stuffed another handful of chips into her mouth sloppily.

“What about you?”

“What about me?” Trixie noticed how heavily she was leaning on the counter and tried to stand up straight before determining the counter was, in fact, necessary.

“Any dudes on the horizon?” Adore asked. “Or ladies-- sexuality is fluid, man.”

“Adore,” Trixie snorted. “Girls may be super pretty but I’m also super fucking straight.”

“But girls are s’pretty, Trix,” Adore insisted. “You’re lame.”

“Girls also wear pretty dresses,” Trixie pointed out, as if she was just realizing it. “Brad always wore such boring shit--girls wear pretty shit.”

“That’s so true , bitch,” Adore said through a mouth full of oyster crackers that she had somehow found while they’d been talking. “I’m sorry you’re straight, that fuckin’ sucks.”

“That means I get these,” Trixie laughed and snatched the bag of Doritos away from Adore before bouncing right back into the living room.

When she returned, Kim was pouring out another drink and immediately handed it to Trixie before beginning to pour another for herself. Trixie took it gladly and sat back down in her spot on the couch where Katya was tying off a braid--probably her third hairstyle of the night-- and her camera was abandoned on the coffee table.

“Ooh, how’d you do that,” Trixie asked with wide eyes, setting down her drink to touch and examine the blonde braided strand of hair.

“You’ve had too much to drink if you’re forgetting how to braid,” Katya laughed. “Kim stop feeding her more booze, you cunt!”

“We haven’t gotten to dancing like an idiot levels of Trixie Mattel drunk yet and that’s the only reason I came tonight,” Kim teased in response.

“She’s had twice as much as any of us at this point,” Shea raised her eyebrows in amusement.

“Not me!” Adore cackled as she fell back into the armchair with Bianca who just laughed and rolled her eyes good-naturedly.

“I love this,” Trixie mumbled as she continued to play with Katya’s hair. “Do me, do me, do me,” she sat down on the floor in front of Katya and pulled her hair out of its sinking ponytail.

“Words that have never left Trixie’s mouth,” Kim joked, but Trixie didn’t seem to hear her, too busy trying to convince a laughing, nearly sober Katya to braid her hair.

Kat, ” Trixie whined with a pout.

“God, you’re a bossy drunk,” Katya laughed. “Fine, okay, just sit still.”

Trixie grinned and turned back around so Katya could braid her hair properly. Trixie let her eyes fall shut and leaned back against the couch as Katya’s nimble fingers worked through her hair and across her scalp. She’d never really had anyone play with her hair before, but in that moment it was one of the best sensations she’d ever experienced.

Surrounded by friends and limbs warm and buzzing, the sounds of faint laughter and jokes filling the air, Katya’s hands in her hair, Trixie felt safe . She felt loved and content and like nothing in the world could possibly hurt her ever again. It was probably this feeling, mixed with the amount of alcohol in her system, that had her dozing off with her head resting against the back of the couch and legs sprawled out in front of her on the carpet.

Trixie only felt herself stirring when the white noise of chatter began to fade.

“She can just crash here tonight, no need for you to struggle with her on the subway,” Katya’s voice floated to her from the front door. “Even though I should be punishing you for being the one to get her drunk.”

“Thanks, Kat,” Kim laughed as she slipped on her shoes and followed the rest of their friends out the front door.

Trixie cracked her eyes open and noticed the pillow underneath her head where she was laying on the floor, hair braided neatly and falling over one of her shoulders.

“Kat?” Trixie called out, feeling more sober than she had been but definitely still tipsy.

“Oh, she speaks!” Katya chirped as she appeared next to Trixie once more, kneeling on the floor next to her. “Time for bed, drunky,” Katya offered Trixie a hand to help her get up.

“Okay,” Trixie said absentmindedly, letting Katya guide her onto the couch.

“Here you go,” Katya handed her a pillow and a blanket and let her start to get settled, and Trixie just watched her as she did.

“You’re really pretty,” she said, making Katya laugh softly. “No, sherious-- serious . You’ve got nice hair and like, okay, your bangs aren’t even ‘cause you try to cut ‘em yourself all the time but it’s cute--you’re cute,” Trixie poked at Katya’s cheek sloppily as she snuggled into her blanket on the couch.

“We should get you drunk more often if you’re just gonna compliment me,” Katya grinned, elbows leaning on the couch next to Trixie’s head.

“I’m not that drunk,” Trixie insisted and Katya raised her eyebrows.

“Whatever you say, Barbie girl.”

“No, look,” Trixie reached past Katya and grabbed her camera off of the coffee table, lifting it to her eye and snapping a picture of Katya before she could protest. “How do we look at the picture?”

“It’s film, babe,” Katya laughed. “Can’t look at it until I get it developed, but in a couple of weeks we can get you drunk again so you can make your point, okay?”

Trixie hummed in discontent before letting Katya take the camera back and burrowing her face deep in her pillow.

She fell asleep relatively quickly and woke up in the morning as Adore was sneaking out of the apartment, but Trixie definitely pretended to still be passed out. She heard the door click shut and rolled onto her back, stretching out the arm she’d been laying on awkwardly all night and trying to massage a kink out of her shoulder muscle.

Fifteen minutes later, Trixie was sitting on the counter in a kitchen that didn’t belong to her but she felt at home in, waiting for a pot of coffee to finish brewing so she could start feeling human again. The night before came back slowly in flashes of noisy friends and cheap booze, and she decided she needed to take a break from Kim’s mixed drinks which always left her hungover and full of regret.

The thing that struck her hardest however, the thing that she decided needed to be pushed aside for a more sober, less hungover morning, was the feeling of Katya’s hands in her hair. Those fingers against her scalp and the way Katya had smiled at her when she’d tucked her in for bed hovered at the back of her mind like something she’d always wanted but never known how to ask for.

Luckily, her thought process was cut off when the door to Bianca’s room opened. Bianca froze when she saw Trixie, who was now carefully pouring herself a mug of steaming hot coffee.

“Didn’t know you were still here,” Bianca said, very clearly putting a lot of effort into sounding casual. Trixie set down the pot and lifted her mug for a sip with a shrug.

“Slept on the couch,” Trixie said, relishing in the warmth of her coffee as she returned to the couch and curled up under a blanket. Autumn was beginning in Chicago and the chill of the morning was creeping in through poorly insulated windows.

“How long have you been up?” Bianca asked hesitantly, still standing in the doorway to her room with her arms crossed and eyes trained on Trixie who just raised her eyebrows in amusement.

“I didn’t see anything I shouldn’t have,” Trixie said simply. “And if I did, I was clearly still drunk so it’s not to be trusted.”

“Sure,” Bianca seemed to relax slightly before putting on her tough girl voice once more. “You best keep your dumb mouth shut.”

Trixie mimed zipping up her lips and throwing away the key with a small smirk and Bianca rolled her eyes before making her way to the bathroom, shutting the door definitively, and turning on the shower. Trixie just chuckled to herself where she sat on the couch, scrolling through her phone absentmindedly for a few minutes while she finished her cup of coffee and tried to get her act together enough to head home.

“How the fuck are you awake before me?” Katya grabbed Trixie’s attention when she left her room and collapsed on the couch next to her, now wearing baggy sweatpants and a t-shirt depicting what Trixie assumed was a hilarious Russian phrase.

“The day I’m able to sleep off a hangover is the day I change my mind about God being real,” Trixie responded, propping her feet up in Katya’s lap so they could share her blanket. “Thanks for letting me crash here, by the way.”

“Kim would’ve gotten frustrated and left you on a train platform if I had let her try to get you home,” Katya laughed.

“She wouldn’t-- Actually, yeah that’s exactly what would happen,” Trixie nodded with mock solemnity.

“And sorry for sticking you on the couch, I was afraid you’d wake up and vomit all over me,” Katya teased.

“Hey, I can hold my liquor,” Trixie combated with a brandished finger. “If I was going to vomit it would’ve been because of how ugly this wallpaper is. Like, Christ, are you ever gonna fix it?”

“Fuck you!” Katya cackled. “It’s not that bad. Plus I don’t think we as renters are legally allowed to do that.”

“Screw the law, wallpaper this dark requires an act of vigilante justice.”

“Are you-- Miss Hasn’t-Missed-A-Single-Class Mattel-- suggesting we break the rules ?” Katya gasped.

“I would break a number of federal laws if it meant your living room stopped looking like the inside of an old man’s shoe,” Trixie deadpanned.

“You just want to turn this place into your Dreamhouse, Barbie,” Katya grinned slyly.

“I know you're trying to make fun of me but Barbie actually has amazing interior design instincts so ha! Take that!” Trixie said with comical pride, to which Katya just responded with a soft laugh and joyful eyes.

“Are you offering to help us redecorate?”

“Uh, obviously,” Trixie shrugged.

“And what do you get out of it?”

“Just the knowledge that I've helped two more poor civilians rid their lives of bad wallpaper,” Trixie said haughtily and then, as realization struck her. “And you have to model a costume I'm making for class because I forgot to find someone and it's due next week--but mostly the first thing.”

Katya sat back with a hand on her chin as if she was in deep consideration of this offer, but Trixie rolled her eyes with the knowledge she was just being mocked.

“It's a deal,” Katya sat up straight and took Trixie's hand in a firm shake. Trixie noted that Katya’s fingers felt just as nice in between her own as they had in her hair.

“It’s a deal,” Trixie grinned.

A week later, Katya paraded around the design studio as Trixie chased after her screaming something about how there are still pins in that, idiot . The room was filled with people in Trixie’s class who were trying to finish up final alterations on their assignments despite the major distraction that Katya and Trixie had quickly become, tossing jokes and insults alike back and forth at each other over the hum of sewing machines and soft chatter.

“I look amazing,” Katya said as she twirled and posed in front of a floor length mirror. Trixie sighed as she caught up to her, crouching down to continue pinning the hem where she’d left off.

“You’re impossible.”

“I’m beautiful ,” Katya corrected with a teasing grin that Trixie only just caught when she glanced in the mirror. “And you should be grateful, I’m doing this for you after all, bitch.”

“I’ll be grateful when it’s done ,” Trixie groaned through the pin clenched between her teeth as she smoothed down Katya’s skirt. She stood up and positioned herself behind Katya, tugging and adjusting the garment on her friend as she looked at her in the mirror.

“Damn, you’re good,” Katya said, voice softer now, more impressed than anything.

“Turn around,” Trixie ignored the compliment, too engrossed in trying to get the stupid thing not just done, but done right.

Katya obliged and faced Trixie, who then ran her hands down the front of Katya’s stomach, smoothing out the fabric there and inadvertently noticing that hey, Katya’s kind of ripped , before stepping back to view the look as a whole. Trixie crossed her arms over her chest and felt her heart rate speed up of its own accord and discontinuing the thought of how nicely that dress hugged Katya’s hips before it was even fully realized.

“Take a picture, it’ll last longer,” Katya teased. Trixie rolled her eyes and didn’t think too hard about the slight pink tint that colored her friend’s cheeks.

Trixie sure did like the color pink.

Trixie especially liked trying to convince Katya and Bianca to paint their freshly wallpaper-less walls pink, which she would do exactly one month and three days later. The three of them (plus a massively unhelpful Adore) spent a full day freeing the living room walls from their dark green prison. It might have taken less time if they hadn’t needed to spend two hours searching the internet for how to remove wallpaper without damaging walls and getting evicted from your apartment.

“Oh! How about this one?” Trixie held up a paint chip to the now bare wall, hair tied up in a messy top knot and clad in a pair of old leggings and long-sleeved t-shirt that was two sizes too big and skimmed over the slopes of her curves. “It’s called Baby Pink and it’s super understated.”

“She says, as if having pink walls is at all understated,” Bianca mocked from the couch where she sat with Adore’s head in her lap, watching Trixie pace and talk exuberantly.

“What about brown?” Katya chimed in, laying spread eagle on the floor with her short hair fanning out around her head like a haphazard halo.

Brown? ” Trixie scrunched up her face and gagged.

“It’s a good color!” Katya defended, throwing her arms up towards the ceiling.

“Girl, if you’re trying to get her mind off pink,” Adore laughed. “I don’t think jumping all the way to brown is the answer.”

“You guys have a fucking floral couch,” Trixie continued her Why Your Living Room Should Be Pink TED Talk. “It has pink flowers on it!”

“Yeah, because it was cheap as shit,” Bianca said as if it was obvious.

“See, you could probably convince me of the pink,” Katya propped herself up on her elbows. “But it has to be a unanimous roommate decision and you’re never getting Bee on your side.”

“Don’t put this on me!” Bianca cried and Katya cackled.

“Why don’t you just leave it like this?” Adore suggested, clearly fed up with how long they’d already spent on this issue.

“It’s white,” Trixie managed to scrunch her nose up even further. “It’s so boring .”

“Oh my god,” Adore sat up straight, almost knocking Bianca’s teeth out in the process. “Leave it white and let everyone who comes to visit sign it or doodle all over it,” she said excitedly. “And then just cover it up with cheap wallpaper at the end of your lease so the landlord never sees it.”

“Holy fuck,” Katya sat up all the way too, eyes big and bright in the way that always made Trixie’s heart feel physically lighter. “You’re a genius, Adore Delano.”

“I have my moments,” she shrugged with a smug grin in response.

“Any counterargument?” Bianca looked to Trixie with raised eyebrows and a face that clearly said don’t you dare take this away from her .

“I actually kinda love it,” Trixie nodded.

“A consensus!” Katya yelled, clambering up off of the floor and hurriedly putting her coat on.

“Where are you going?” Trixie laughed.

“I need food like seven hours ago,” Katya said as she hopped on one foot and tried to lace her boot mid air on the other.

“We ate three hours ago,” Trixie deadpanned.

“I’m going to get dinner, either come with me,” Katya raised her eyebrows with a small smile. “Or stay here and get stuck in the middle of this ,” she motioned vaguely to where Adore and Bianca were still on the couch together.

Trixie mock gagged and grabbed her coat with one hand and Katya’s hand with the other as they left the apartment.

The semester ended relatively quietly.

Autumn turned to full-on winter and Trixie spent more time in the art and design building and Alyssa’s tiny cafe than she did in her own bedroom. Although she also probably spent more time in Katya’s room than she did her own so maybe that wasn’t saying all that much.

Ultimately, Trixie took her finals and said goodbye to her friends as she boarded yet another Greyhound bus and made her way out of Illinois and back towards home.

Trixie may have always been accompanied by uncertainty on trips back to Wisconsin, but she still truly did love Christmas. Some of her favorite childhood memories were decorating cookies with her mom in their tiny kitchen and building endless, lopsided snowmen with her brother. They hadn’t always had a lot of money for presents when she was a kid, but they had always found a way to make Christmas feel magical all the same.

“It’s crooked, you’re so bad at this,” Trixie said, arms crossed in defiance as she watched Tyler attempt to secure a small silver star at the top of their Christmas tree.

“I’m so glad I came home for the holidays only to be reprimanded by my baby sister,” Tyler deadpanned.

“Listen, I don’t care if you’re on your way to becoming a big-shot attorney,” Trixie teased. “You’re real bad at this.”

“Think you can do better?”

“Absolutely!”

“I missed you both, but this has gotta stop,” Karen entered the living room from the kitchen with a soft smile on her face. The three of them had been home alone all day, decorating and listening to Tyler’s stories of life in Indianapolis.

“Sorry, Ma,” Tyler chuckled, finally releasing the star (which was still slightly crooked) and climbing back down to the ground.

“I’m not,” Trixie shrugged and Tyler shot her a look. “What? I’m not gonna apologize for being right!”

That sent both her mother and brother into fits of laughter, which she couldn’t help but join. It felt good to be home in moments like this. It felt like she was a kid again, before things had started changing and before her world had turned inside out.

It was moments like this that reminded Trixie how much she loved her mother, how much she respected her and cared for her and wished the best for her. In moments like this, Trixie wanted nothing more than to pack up her mother’s things for her and drag her far away from that big house in the middle of nowhere.

But life didn’t quite work like that, did it?

It was four days before Christmas and snow had already fallen in heavy sheets across their house, blanketing everything in a thick layer of cold . Trixie had been home for two days and hadn’t unpacked yet, choosing to live out of her suitcase as some sort of reminder that she’d be leaving soon enough.

Trixie and Tyler had stayed up late talking in her bedroom for both nights that she’d been home, talking about what they’d been up to (the parts their mom didn’t need to know about) and more seriously about the ever escalating situation of John. Trixie told Tyler endlessly about her best friend Katya with the lopsided bangs and ice-melting smile and would then tell him in the same breath that they needed to get their mother on the next plane that would take her far away from this place.

She was lucky that Tyler knew how to follow her trains of thought through chaos and care.

They managed to maintain a relatively mild tone in the air for a while, but two days before Christmas Trixie finally snapped.

In her defense, it was a full day of listening to John passive aggressively demean her chosen field and dodging thinly veiled comments about who her friends were after he’d seen Trixie showing her mom a photo of Bianca and Adore. Something about that second one made her heart feel especially tight, cheeks burning hotter and hotter with each snide remark that left her step-father’s lips.

“What was that movie you told me to watch again?” Tyler asked as the four of them sat around in the living room after dinner that night.

“It’s called Frances Ha ,” Trixie said. “Katya showed it to me and I think you’d love it like, it’s a tiny indie film but something about it is just great. I can’t talk as well about it as she can though because she’s a filmmaker and all.”

“None of your friends are gonna be able to get jobs when they graduate, huh?” John snorted, clearly amused by his own joke. Trixie rolled her eyes.

“At least my friends aren’t gonna waste their lives in a company they don’t give a shit about,” Trixie mumbled, just loud enough that John could hear. How intentional that was, even she wasn’t sure of.

“Is that supposed to be a jab at me, Beatrice?” he raised his eyebrows and unwrapped his arm from where it had been resting across Karen’s shoulders. Trixie could see Tyler sit up a little bit straighter across the room.

“It was supposed to be a jab at people who perpetuate the idea that the only path to success is through money,” Trixie shrugged. “So, maybe.”

“God, I knew you were an ungrateful brat but do you really not understand everything I’ve done for you and your family?” he asked, becoming more and more angry with each passing second. Trixie scoffed which only made him lean farther forward in his seat with greater intensity.  

“You never gave us anything that we couldn’t have gotten ourselves.”

“Kid, you’d all still be out livin’ in that bullshit trailer park if it wasn’t for me and my boring job,” he seethed. Karen sat quietly, hands in her lap as she bit at her lip, clearly shaken up already.

“Yeah, well at least we wouldn’t have you around, would we?” Trixie fought back, spite dripping off of her every word.

“Trix--” Tyler started, as if begging her to reign it in, but he was cut off by John standing up.

“You best get off your high horse and accept that you never would’ve made it to that fancy school without me.”

“Really?!” Trixie laughed humorlessly as she stood up and faced him, feet of tense space between them. “So you got some of the highest grades in your graduating class and got a shitload of scholarships and took out fucking loans and moved yourself to Chicago--”

“Keep your voice down when you speak to me--”

“I think I’ll keep my voice up, actually!” Trixie was practically screaming at this point. “Because you have brought nothing but hardship to this family. You are cruel and violent and disgusting and not worthy of my mother’s time, and you are the lucky one that she so much as gave your rotten ass a second glance!”

“This has nothing to do with your mother,” John’s voice was raising to meet Trixie’s in volume and anger but certainly not in desperation.

“This has everything to do with my mother,” Trixie growled. “Do you think we can’t hear what happens in your bedroom at night? The walls are thin, John! My mother is a good and honest and kind woman who doesn’t deserve everything you’ve put her through. I would rather drop out of college and move back here to help my mother afford to live in a goddamn trailer park than have her be married to you for one more day!”

Trixie wasn’t sure if she should have seen it coming when he slapped her, wasn’t sure if she had been too blinded by the need to say everything she’d said to ever predict it, but the world froze in place when it happened. The sound of it echoed out through the living room and Tyler was standing at attention now, ready to fight if he had to.

Trixie lifted a hand to touch where his hand had made contact with her cheek, her fingers cool against the stinging skin.

She didn’t know what her next move was until she said it moments later. Only then did the answer seem so simple.

“I can’t do this anymore,” she said, hands shaking as she lifted her gaze from the floor to look at her mother’s frightened face. “Mom, I’m sorry, I can’t come back here anymore.”

“Trixie,” her mother breathed.

“I love you so much,” Trixie continued. “But you have to leave him,” she pointed at John with a trembling hand, voice cracking. “I will call you and talk to you but I won’t come back here until he is gone .”

“Beatrice--” John started but Trixie cut him off with a cold glare.

“Shut up,” she spat. “Mom, I can’t handle this, I can’t do it. I have so much for me in Chicago, there is so much out there for me, and he is this dark cloud hanging over it, you have to understand,” Trixie was begging at this point, begging for forgiveness for something she hadn’t even done yet, for leaving.

She could feel Tyler’s eyes on her, feel John standing an arm’s distance away and his handprint still on her cheek. She could feel her heart breaking and at the same time something finally snapping into place: an answer.

The answer to why she hadn’t been able to fully let herself live yet, for why she felt so stuck and slow-moving like molasses towards everything she wanted in this world. She was tethered to a place and a person and she had to cut the ties if she was going to ever grow up.

“I’m sorry,” she breathed, but she saw her mom nod slowly, a silent acknowledgement about what needed to happen, what would happen as soon as it was possible. “I love you, I have to go.”

And with that Trixie was grabbing her coat off the hook by the door and storming out into the snow. She wasn’t sure how much of her shaking was because of the bitter cold of a December night and how much was because of what she had just done.

She wrapped her coat tight around her as she trudged towards the end of the infinite driveway, not really thinking and not really feeling anything as she collapsed onto the icy curb with her phone clutched in her hands and snow from the mailbox tumbling onto the ground next to her.

Trixie let out the first sob of many as she sat there, eyes squeezed shut as she realized what she’d done, realized she didn’t have any sort of plan past this. She lifted her phone with shaky hands and tried and failed to unlock it multiple times before finally getting it open and scrolling through her contacts.

Tears streamed down her face and plopped onto the bright screen of her phone as she dialed and the sound of the tone in her ear sounded more like a doomsday alarm than a telephone as she waited for what felt like hours.

“Trixie! Hello!”

The voice was chipper, happy, excited, and it just made Trixie cry harder.

“Katya,” she sobbed. “Katya, I don’t know what to do.”

 

Chapter Text

 

Tears streamed down her face and plopped onto the bright screen of her phone as she dialed and the sound of the tone in her ear sounded more like a doomsday alarm than a telephone as she waited for what felt like hours.

“Trixie! Hello!”

The voice was chipper, happy, excited, and it just made Trixie cry harder.

“Katya,” she sobbed. “Katya, I don’t know what to do.”

“Hey, wait, okay--What’s going on?” Katya immediately jumped into problem solving mode when she heard Trixie’s voice. “Are you okay? Are you safe?”

“I’m so stupid--and I-- I just walked out -- I just left her there-- I’m so stupid,” Trixie rambled, words spilling off of her tongue, freezing and cracking once they hit the frigid air.

“What do you mean you walked out? Did you leave your mom’s house?” Katya clarified.

“I can’t go back to Chicago because the dorms are still closed, and I don’t know if I could even afford a motel for the next two weeks, and I don’t know what to do, I’m such a fucking idiot,” Trixie continued as if Katya hadn’t asked her a question. “I’m gonna have to just go back, fuck .”

“Trixie breathe,” Katya was more serious than Trixie thought she’d ever heard her, more adult. “Listen to me and be honest, okay? Is going back a real option at this point?”

Trixie hesitated, catching her breath and glancing back at the house at the other end of the driveway. The warm lights of the living room shone through the windows and she could see the faint outline of Christmas bulbs on the tree inside. She let out a heavy sigh.

“No,” she said simply, choking on tears and willing them not to turn to icicles.

“Where are you now?” Katya asked.

“Sitting in the driveway,” Trixie laughed through her tears, unable to resist because of how absurd it all felt. She was a child trying to run away from home that couldn’t make it past the goddamn mailbox.

“I’m buying you a plane ticket,” Katya said, the sound of a keyboard clacking echoing through the phone.

“Wait-- Kat, no,” Trixie protested, but she could hear Katya speaking rapid Russian on the other end of the line and knew she wasn’t being heard.

“Okay, my mom is buying you a plane ticket and you’re gonna come stay with us,” Katya returned to the phone in English.

“You don’t have to do that, I’m not asking you to do that,” Trixie said, wiping her face hurriedly as if she was trying to convince Katya she was fine even though logically she knew her friend couldn’t see her tears.

“You don’t have to ask,” Katya said. “I told you my house would always be an option and I may be a lot of things but I’m not a liar, Trixie Mattel,” she spoke definitively, and as Trixie listened, she was startled by Tyler joining her on the curb as he placed her suitcase in front of her. “I found a flight that leaves Milwaukee in three hours, will that work?”

Trixie met her brother’s eyes and bit her lip.

“Is it a direct flight from Milwaukee to Boston?” Trixie asked quietly, almost sheepish but without breaking eye contact with Tyler.

“Yeah, looks like it’s not too long of a trip,” Katya sounded hopeful, finally seeming to get Trixie on board with this plan.

“You’re sure this is okay?” she asked, voice soft and full of hesitance. She wasn’t just asking Katya as she took in her brother’s kind face in the dark.

Katya spoke up at the same time that Tyler gave her a small smile and nod.

“It’s the most okay thing in the world,” Katya said, as if it wasn’t a big deal, as if she wasn’t the first person to ever do something this drastic for Trixie.

“Okay,” Trixie breathed. “I’m gonna go. I’ll update you from the airport.”

“Yeah, yeah, okay,” Katya said hurriedly. “I’m emailing you your ticket and I have all the information so I’ll pick you up at the airport here and--”

“Katya?” Trixie cut her off and Katya just hummed in acknowledgment. “Thank you.”

“See you soon, Barbie girl.”

After she hung up, Trixie held her still-glowing phone tenderly in her lap, staring at the suitcase that sat in front of her with a furrowed brow and a heavy heart. Her tears had long stopped, logic taking over for the grief, but that didn’t keep her stomach from continuing to tie itself up in knots.

“Need a ride to the airport?” Tyler pulled Trixie’s attention back to him with so much understanding and love in his tone that Trixie wanted to strangle him. She hated him for letting her do this, she hated him for encouraging her to just run away.

“I can call a cab,” she said, unable to meet his eyes.

“Let me drive you, Trix,” he sighed. “I gotta say some things and you gotta get there.”

Trixie filled her lungs with frozen air and let it out in a cloud of hot breath, dissipating with the wind and lit only by the faint light of the front porch. She stood up.

“Let’s go,” she said simply as she picked up her suitcase and carried it towards her brother’s small car.

They were both silent for the first half of the ride. Trixie stared out the window and picked at the skin around her fingernails, everything about her body language screaming restless .

Tyler shot her many the concerned look as he drove, trying to find the right moment to speak up and eventually deciding that on a night like this no moment would be the right one.

“You know this is all gonna be useless if you don’t stop feeling guilty about it,” he said. Trixie’s shoulders tensed in the passenger’s seat.

“It’s all gonna be useless either way,” Trixie shot back. “I left her there alone with him. As if that’s going to help anyone.”

“She won’t be alone with him, I’m gonna stick around a bit longer to make sure things settle down,” Tyler assured her.

“You can’t do that,” Trixie furrowed her brow, turning in her seat to face him emphatically. “You’re so close to this lawyer thing-- you can’t take time off now.”

“Trixie--”

“I’ll go back--I’ll go apologize and hang around until everything settles and you can go back to Indy--”

“Trixie stop that,” Tyler let out a in a humorless breath of a laugh. “Everything you said back in that house was right. You need to get out of that environment, you need to be allowed to live your life,” he got serious again, insistent. “You were alone in that house with the two of them for four years after I left for college. I think it’s time I stepped up and took some of the weight off your shoulders.”

Trixie took in a shaky breath, letting it out slowly as she wrapped her arms around her middle and sunk lower in her seat. She felt smaller than she had in quite some time, younger than she knew she could after years of having to convince not only herself but everyone around her that she wasn’t on the verge of falling to pieces at any given moment.

She recalled nights alone in a house where she was punished by being sent to bed without dinner and getting caught stealing crackers from the kitchen at two in the morning. She remembered quiet conversations with her mother when they managed to be alone, begging her to leave, pleading with her to get up and go.

It all felt so distant, but she couldn’t shake how much of her had come from it all.

“You shouldn’t feel guilty for leaving either,” she eventually said. “It was all part of the plan remember? We had to get you out into the world doing something respectable so that when I left to be a fucking trashy artist it wouldn’t be as big of a deal,” she smirked ever so slightly and Tyler laughed.

“I just need you to--” Tyler pressed on. “Need you to let yourself be a college student. You’re allowed to be stupid and fuck up in college, so just, please have fun. Take care of yourself out there.”

“I can’t believe you went and turned this into an episode of fucking Full House,” Trixie deadpanned. “Heartfelt and shit.”

They were pulling up to Trixie’s gate and her heart raced knowing she didn’t have much time left in this seat, with her brother by her side.

“Fuck off,” Tyler laughed. “Are you hearing me? It’s important that I don’t drop you off on your Boston adventure without you hearing me.”

“I hear you,” Trixie said, more serious now.

She was nervous and conflicted as Tyler came to a full stop in front of her gate, putting the car into park and looking to her expectantly. Trixie didn’t know quite what she should say, had run out of words that could properly express everything she was feeling, so instead she just offered up her pinky finger in a familiar gesture.

Tyler grinned and wrapped his pinky around it, squeezing tight for a moment before releasing her finger.

“Okay, get out of here,” he said good naturedly, clearly trying to lighten the mood, or at least make Trixie feel like maybe this was normal in any sort of sense.

“I’m going, I’m going,” Trixie insisted, wrapping her coat farther around her as she hopped out of the car and opened the door to the backseat to grab her suitcase. She dropped it in the snow with a heavy thud and then leaned over to pop her head back inside the door. “Tyler…”

“I know, kid,” he nodded with a soft smile. “Let me know when you land, okay?”

“Yep,” she said, voice thick with something she couldn’t quite name. “Talk to you later,” she said, watching Tyler wave as she shut the door and grabbed her suitcase.

She rushed in through the sliding doors of the building without looking back and let out a weighty breath. It was December twenty-third and the airport was stacked to the ceiling with people trying to make it home for Christmas.

The garland hanging from every check-in desk and strings of lights adorning the small shops were a jarring juxtaposition to the crying children and perturbed passengers filling the space.

Trixie froze as people bustled around and pushed past her, suddenly overwhelmed by the amount of activity and realizing she hadn’t ever flown alone before. She hurriedly pulled up the email that Katya sent with her ticket attached on her phone and began scanning the massive room for any signs indicating where she could find American Airlines.

Eventually, she just started walking, dragging her suitcase behind her and praying she’d find where she was supposed to be going. Soon enough, she managed to make her way into the proper check-in line, shuffling forward slowly and checking her watch periodically to make sure she wasn’t going to miss the flight she was so desperate to get on.

“Next!”

Trixie hurried forward to the middle aged woman who motioned for her once she reached the front of the line.

“You got your ID?” she asked, sounding more bored than anything else. She leaned against the counter and looked thoroughly exhausted and had a name tag that read Kennedy. Trixie felt bad that she was working during what was probably the worst time of year to work at an airport.

“Um--Yeah, yep, here it is,” Trixie dug out her wallet and handed over her license.

Kennedy the airline worker glanced between Trixie and her ID photo, looking her up and down with a furrowed brow. It wasn’t until this moment that Trixie realized she maybe didn’t look all that great.

With red cheeks and tired eyes, mascara and eyeliner smudged across her lids and a distinctively distressed demeanor over her entire appearance, Trixie couldn’t deny that she looked like she was running away from something, which is not necessarily the best way to look on a visit to a high security place like an airport.

“Headed home for the holidays?” Kennedy asked.

“Um…” Trixie didn’t want to lie, wasn’t entirely sure what all you could get arrested for when it came to stuff like this. “Kind of,” she settled on a half-truth, hoping it would be enough.

“Kind of?” Kennedy looked at her suspiciously, still holding onto her ID.

“Just trying to visit a friend in Boston,” Trixie ran a hand through hair which had been tangled by the wind.

“Mmhmm,” Kennedy shrugged as if to say fair enough and continued the process of printing out Trixie’s boarding pass.

Before Trixie knew it, she was through security and sitting on the floor out in front of her gate. All of the seats were filled with people of all walks of life. Business women sat next to families and couples sat next to teenagers who looked like they were flying alone for the first time just like Trixie.

She had one hand resting on her suitcase next to her and pulled out her phone to text Katya with the other. Trixie spent ten minutes texting back and forth, trying to convince her friend that she didn’t need to drive to the airport at one in the morning on what would soon technically be Christmas Eve before eventually giving in to Katya’s stubbornness.

Upon boarding, the airplane was crowded, and Trixie was crushed into a window seat by a couple that seemed to be arguing about a set of in-laws that may or may not hate the woman to Trixie’s left. She tried to tune them out as they took off, wishing she could try to get some sleep but ultimately ending up just staring aimlessly out the window and fiddling with the hem of her shirt in her lap.

She couldn’t quite shake how odd this all felt, how inevitable and yet so new it was all at the same time. Trixie had loved and hated and been frustrated with her mother in ever shifting waves of turmoil for so many years, but she had never left. She had never even considered just up and walking away.

But here she was, most definitely walking away, or flying she guessed was more accurate, and she had barely even taken the time to look back, to think it through, to come up with a plan of action.

Trixie had no real plan, didn’t know where she went from here and wasn’t even sure if she’d keep the promise she had made just a few hours ago. Would she be able to stay away? If her mother never left John, would Trixie really never go back to Wisconsin?

She wasn’t sure, because while Trixie Mattel had always been one to keep her word, she had also never sworn to something of such magnitude before. Maybe she would live in Chicago for the rest of her life and call her mother on birthdays and Christmases, maybe she could move to Indiana so at least she’d be close to one member of her family, or maybe everything would actually work out in her favor and John would leave and Trixie could go home and return to a long-forgotten life with a happy family who may not have had any money but at least had each other.

Trixie wasn’t going to hold her breath.

The Boston airport was big and confusing and Trixie felt like she was sleepwalking as she followed signs towards the baggage claim, small suitcase (plain black but adorned in a number of colorful stickers that Trixie had accumulated over the years) rolling along behind her as she went. It was a numbing sensation and she wondered whether any of it had really sunk in yet, despite the hours of overthinking she had done thus far.

Trixie noticed Katya before Katya saw her, talking on the phone with her pajama bottoms tucked into snow boots and drowning in a too-big winter coat. Trixie could tell she was speaking Russian just by the way her lips were moving and wondered what she was telling her parents so insistently.

She paused for a moment, just watching Katya and letting busy travelers move around her. Trixie took a deep breath and chewed on her lip and tried and hoped and prayed that she didn’t look quite as tangled up on the outside as she felt on the inside.

Katya saw her the moment she started walking again and her face lit up as she quickly hung up the phone and tucked it away in her pocket, half-jogging towards Trixie and dodging other travelers awkwardly.

“Hey, hi, hello!” Katya called as they met halfway, and Trixie didn’t even hesitate before she wrapped her arms around Katya’s middle and slouched enough to bury her face in the puffy material of her friend’s coat. “Hey there, Barbie girl,” Katya said, softer now as she wrapped her arms tight around Trixie and rubbed her back.

“Thank you,” Trixie mumbled, words muffled by Katya’s shoulder as she gripped onto her coat with tense fingers.

“Any time,” Katya said into Trixie’s hair, rocking them back and forth ever so slightly. They stayed like that for a moment and Trixie relished in how tight Katya held onto her-- almost painful but ultimately distracting from the buzzing inside her head. It took a minute before Katya pulled away, forcing Trixie to look at her as she tucked a piece of loose hair behind her ear.

“You okay?”

Trixie took in a sharp breath through her nose, eyes tired as she looked into Katya’s bright ones. She didn’t want to lie to Katya, but didn’t particularly want to explain her presence in Boston quite yet either, so she decided to just shrug noncommittally and hope that would be enough for that moment.

“Let’s get out of here, yeah?” Katya asked, grabbing Trixie’s suitcase with one hand and linking their hands with the other as she began to pull Trixie towards the parking garage.

Trixie just let herself be led. She was so stuck inside of her own head that she barely absorbed anything going on until she was seated in the front seat of Katya’s mother’s beige minivan. It was clearly old but still in good shape and Trixie had enough space to curl her long legs up into the seat with her.

“When my parents first moved here, I think my mom was super into the idea of being an American soccer mom,” Katya said as she put the key in the ignition and began to back out of the parking space. “Of course, I’m an only child and never did soccer but I think the minivan might’ve done the trick,” Katya shrugged.

She was speaking normally, casually as though their very situation wasn’t so completely abnormal. Katya continued talking, pointing out landmarks as they made their way into the suburbs and towards Katya’s house.

Trixie nodded along as she listened but didn’t say much, which Katya seemed to understand. It was almost as if Katya was filling the car with mindless chatter simply so Trixie wouldn’t feel like she needed to do so.

It wasn’t the first time Trixie had been baffled by how well Katya seemed to understand her, but it might have been the most grateful she’d ever been for it.

Katya’s house was cute, not huge but big enough that Trixie knew the inside would be relatively spacious for three people. It sported bright blue shutters that seemed to glow with pigment even in the dark.

“Careful, it might be a little icy,” Katya said as she passed Trixie’s frozen stance on the sidewalk and began carrying her suitcase towards the front door.

“Right,” Trixie mumbled, digging her hands deep into her coat pockets before taking the first step to follow Katya up the walkway.

It took Katya a minute to dig her house key out of her pockets, pulling out jumbled receipts and movie tickets alongside paperclips and a blood red scrunchie. When she finally managed to find it and get the door open, it felt as though Trixie was knocked over with a wall of pure warmth .

Not only were the lights in the living room filling the space in a soft yellow glow, but as Trixie stepped into the entryway behind Katya, she saw a Christmas tree lit up with rainbow lights and walls covered in paintings, both framed and tacked up with tape alike. She could barely see the hardwood floors past the thick, fringe-edged rugs and smelled what she could only assume were the vague remnants of a homemade meal.

She felt immediately out of place, but had to choke it down and still her churning stomach when Katya’s parents emerged from around the corner. Their faces were just as warm as the space in which they existed, with deep laughter lines and sparkling eyes that took down every Russian stereotype that Trixie had ever known. She wondered briefly if they had always been that way or if Katya had somehow managed to bring light into this house the day she was born in the same way she had brought light into Trixie’s life the day she walked into her freshman orientation.

“You must be Trixie,” the woman said as she approached, Russian accent thicker than any she had ever heard leave Katya’s mouth. “I’m Anna, we have heard so much about you. Is wonderful to finally meet in person,” she wrapped Trixie in a hug, but was a petite woman like her daughter and had to stand on her toes ever so slightly to be the same height as Trixie.

She squeezed tight and Trixie hugged her back hesitantly.

“Nice to meet you,” Trixie said in what she hoped was a voice that even remotely matched the kindness she had been dealt by these people.

“Annushka, you are squashing the girl,” Katya’s father said, amused with his arms crossed behind her.

“I am just trying to make her feel welcome, Dmitri,” Anna scoffed as she pulled away, still holding an awkward Trixie by her shoulders.

“Okay, that’s enough from you two for tonight,” Katya chuckled, tugging on the hem of Trixie’s coat and motioning for her to give it to her.

Trixie obliged silently and watched Katya hang her pink coat up next to three others on identical hooks by the door.

“We are sorry we do not have a spare room for you, but Yekaterina says it will be fine to share, yes?” Anna pulled Trixie’s attention back to her and Trixie just nodded, still in something of a state of what she could only describe as culture shock.

“We’re good, Mom,” Katya said, returning to Trixie’s side and gently taking her hand as if she somehow knew Trixie’s head was starting to drift. “But it’s getting late so I think it’s time for bed.”

“Yes, yes, of course,” Anna said hurriedly. “We will see you both in the morning,” she grinned.

“Good night, ladies,” Dmitri said with a soft smile before leading his wife back down the hallway and towards their bedroom.

Trixie watched them go with an ache in her heart that she didn’t quite understand yet and a thickness in her throat that she wanted nothing more than to will away before it turned into tears.

“Follow me,” Katya smiled at her softly, still holding her hand and carrying her suitcase as she led Trixie down the narrow hallway and into a bedroom.

It was so clearly Katya’s that Trixie could almost feel it in her bones when she entered. The walls were decorated haphazardly with art and posters, a large tapestry hanging above a full bed. There were photographs pinned to bulletin boards and clothes spilling out of a laundry basket, but Trixie didn’t have the brain power to look at any of it with much of a critical eye yet.

“I can sleep on the floor if you want,” Katya said as she wobbled on one foot and struggled to pull a boot off the other with both hands.

“I don’t mind sharing,” Trixie said, realizing she hadn’t left her spot in the doorway since entering the room and deciding to open her suitcase and search for pajamas instead of standing there like an idiot.

She pulled out a pair of flannel pants and a t-shirt and changed right there, facing the wall as Katya climbed under the covers on the left side of the bed, closest to the door.

Trixie could feel Katya’s eyes on her as she slid into bed with her hands on her stomach and her gaze on the ceiling, the quiet dark of the room making her head feel all that much louder once more.

“Night, Trix,” Katya said quietly and Trixie hummed absentmindedly as she turned her head to look at Katya.

“Right, yeah, goodnight,” she said before she turned onto her side to face the wall and pulled the covers up to her chin.

It was warm in that room, in that house, in that space next to her best friend, and she felt like she was suffocating in it. Everything started to hit her all at once and what had been a steady stream of uncertainty making its way through her body all night became a flood of guilt at what she was continuing to do every second she stayed in Boston.

Trixie hoped that Katya was a heavy sleeper as quiet tears began to fill her eyes and spill out onto the pillow beneath her head a few minutes later. She hoped that Katya wouldn’t notice when her shoulders began to shake with the weight of her unsteady breathing because she had already put her friend through enough that night without waking her up for this bullshit.

But then she felt a slender arm wrap itself around her waist and Katya’s nose pressed up against the top of Trixie’s spine and she clenched all the muscles in her body out of guilt and embarrassment.

“Please don’t feel like you’re not allowed to cry,” Katya whispered. “You don’t have to hold it in, it’s just us.”

Trixie felt her lip tremble almost comically before she let out an audible sob, grasping Katya’s hand where it rested on her ribs in her own. Katya pulled herself closer to Trixie in response, her entire front pressed up against Trixie’s back as though she was trying to physically absorb some of Trixie’s pain.

“There you go,” Katya murmured, rubbing her thumb across Trixie’s hand where they were intertwined. “Let it out, I’ve got you.”

“I’m such a bad daughter,” Trixie choked out in between sobs, squeezing her eyes shut and gripping Katya’s hand close to her body. “I can’t believe I’m doing this, fuck .”

“Shh, hey no you’re not,” Katya rested her chin on Trixie’s shoulder.

“I ditched my family--I don’t have a family anymore, Kat,” Trixie insisted, knowing she was exaggerating but not feeling like it was an exaggeration at all.

“I don’t think that’s true,” Katya said. “And even if it was, you’ve still got me. I’ll be your family, okay?”

Trixie’s heart fluttered involuntarily in her chest and she wasn’t sure if it had more to do with Katya’s breath on her neck or the fact that she was still crying, but she turned over in Katya’s arms to face her all the same.

“Katya--”

“No, listen, I’ll be your family,” Katya raised her eyebrows emphatically over big, earnest eyes. “I’ll be your family even if all of this gets fixed next week, I’ll be your family no matter what happens because you can never have too much family, right?”

Trixie filled her lungs with a deep, unsteady breath, brow furrowed as Katya brushed yet another loose piece of hair out of her face. There was so much love in Katya’s heart that Trixie could physically feel it radiating off of her, could practically hear it in every sound and word and breath that left Katya’s lips.

Trixie nodded slowly, wiping at her tears and falling onto her back, frustrated and exhausted but feeling so full of love for her best friend that it was almost as if there soon wouldn’t be any room for anything else left in her chest.

“You know I love you, right?” Trixie dropped her hands back onto her stomach and turned her head to look at Katya. They didn’t say it all that often, didn’t vocalize how much they cared about each other, and Trixie genuinely wasn’t sure Katya knew. The idea that Katya didn’t know was painful as it sat in the pit of her stomach.

“I know,” Katya let out a disbelieving exhale of a laugh.

“Good, okay, yeah,” Trixie nodded to herself and rolled her head to look at the ceiling once more.

“Hey,” Katya propped herself up on one elbow, on her side facing Trixie in the only position where she’d ever feel like the taller one. Katya grabbed one of Trixie’s hands in her own and squeezed it. “I love you too.”

Trixie squeezed back and shot her a watery smile, curling up close to Katya with their hands still clasped between them.

Drifting off to sleep with Katya’s arms around her didn’t make Trixie feel like everything was going to be okay, but it did make her feel like she would be okay, no matter how everything else turned out. There was sawdust in her lungs that dissipated a little bit every time she told Katya how she was feeling and there were lead weights in her toes that were letting her build muscle, grow stronger with every step forward she took.

Trixie Mattel’s body was made of metal and wood and stone and she was either going to choke on the screws or build herself up into something sturdy. She wasn’t sure which it would be yet, but she did know that Katya seemed to be pretty handy with a hammer.

She woke up the next morning to an empty bed and the sound of her cell phone buzzing on top of her suitcase on the other side of the room. It took her a moment to take in her surroundings and recall the events of the previous night, pushing herself up and letting Katya’s blankets fall from where they had been tucked up around her shoulders.

Trixie rubbed her eyes with the heels of her hands, noticing how much more colorful everything looked in the light of day than it had in the blue glow of the moon. The photos taped up around the room had clearly been taken with the eye of a young person-- blurry shots of flowers and poorly framed teenagers with their feet awkwardly cut off-- but there was somehow still so much joy in them. Katya had never shot in black and white, it seemed, too in love with the saturated color that Trixie knew from her more current work.

Trixie loved every single one of those photos, and didn’t notice her phone had stopped ringing until it started up again. She forced herself out of the comfortable bed with a sigh, knowing she couldn’t ignore the real world for much longer and knowing just what part of the real world that phone call was coming from.

“Hey, Ty,” she said upon answering, leaning back against the door to Katya’s closet with the phone pressed to her ear.

“Thanks for picking up, thought you were dead,” Tyler deadpanned, clearly more relieved than actually perturbed.

“Shit, I forgot to call last night,” Trixie pinched the bridge of her nose.

“Yeah, you sure did.”

“I’m sorry, fuck,” Trixie sighed. “Katya picked me up from the airport and my head was not entirely on my shoulders after that, to be quite honest.”

“That’s fair,” Tyler responded genuinely. “I did tell Mom you texted me though. She was worried.”

Trixie bit her lip, pulling a piece of dry skin with her teeth enough that she knew it would probably bleed but not really caring all that much.

“How is she?” Trixie asked, voice soft like she was ten years younger and hiding in her closet.

“She came to talk to me after John went to bed last night,” Tyler said slowly, almost hesitant as to whether or not he should be imparting this particular piece of information when Trixie clearly did not have her head screwed on all the way.

“What did she say? Is she mad? How mad is she?” Trixie let the words spill out all at once as if they’d been sitting on the edge of her tongue just waiting for their moment to jump.

“She’s not mad,” Tyler assured her. “I think she feels guilty.”

“Did she say that?” Trixie furrowed her brow, because in all the conversations she had had with her mother about John in recent years, guilt had never been a topic they explored.

“Not in so many words…” Tyler trailed off.

“Tyler,” Trixie said in her don’t fuck around voice. He was well acquainted with it.

“Okay, fine. She didn’t say she was going to leave him,” Tyler sighed. “But kid, I think it was the first time she didn’t outright deny how fucked everything has gotten. I’d be hopeful about that.”

“Hopeful,” Trixie nodded, trying to embed the emotion in her skull just by saying it. “Hopeful. Yeah, we can be hopeful, right?”

“We can definitely be hopeful.”

“It’s better than the alternative, I guess,” she laughed bitterly.

“What? Hopeless?” Tyler chuckled. “You mean the Mattel brand?”

“Hey,” Trixie laughed. “At least you’re not the grown adult that ran away from home.”

“God, you really did that, didn’t you?” he teased. “I guess you get to be Queen of the Hopeless this time around.”

“Finally snatched your crown, huh?” Trixie laughed, a genuine smile on her face for the first time since she’d arrived in Boston.

“You can keep it, I’m hopeful now, remember?”

“Oh, right, my bad,” Trixie deadpanned. “I’ll take that one next.”

“Yeah, you better,” Tyler’s voice softened ever so slightly, actual and genuine brotherly love coloring his voice. It made Trixie’s lungs loosen up just enough to take in a deep breath without feeling like she was forcing air into her lungs that didn’t belong there.

“Keep me posted, yeah?” she insisted.

“Of course,” Tyler said. “Merry Christmas Eve, Trix.”

“Merry Christmas, Ty.”

Her phone felt heavier in her hands once she hung up, so she plugged it into an outlet to charge and left it off to the side as if that would let her ignore the new knowledge she had just attained.

Trixie took a moment to gather herself before she left the sanctuary of Katya’s room, assuming that once she left it she would have to answer all of the questions she didn’t yet have the words to respond to.

She wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Katya’s parents. From the brief encounter they’d had the night before, they seemed nice enough, but Trixie had a tendency to withhold judgment on this kind of thing.

However, the moment Trixie opened the door and stepped out into the hallway, she heard joyful laughter accompanied by fast-paced Russian and the clattering of kitchenware. The whole house smelled like the diner that Trixie had frequented with her family as a kid-- pancakes and syrup and bacon all mingling together in a cloud of familiarity.

Trixie rounded the corner to the kitchen awkwardly, almost afraid to interrupt what was clearly a fun family moment, but was immediately greeted by Katya’s wide, toothy grin.

“Trixie!” Katya beamed, rushing over to where Trixie stood at the edge of the room, grabbing her hand, and pulling her into the kitchen. “I’m so glad you’re here, I can’t remember the last time we had an American breakfast in this house.”

“Wait, did you do this for me?” Trixie asked in surprise as Katya pushed her into a seat at the table and returned to her mother’s side at the island where she was filling plates with piles of food. “You didn’t have to do that, Mrs. Zamolodchikova.”

“Ah! She can say our name!” Anna cried out gleefully, weilding a spatula in excitement.

“Trixie spent the first month of our friendship making me teach her how to say it right,” Katya laughed, beaming back at Trixie who couldn’t help but return the smile.

“Well, Miss Mattel,” Anna continued. “It is my pleasure. Apparently,” she shot Katya a look. “Russian breakfasts are not appealing anymore.”

“It’s rye bread and sausage, Mom,” Katya groaned.

Eto traditsionnyy!” Anna said indignantly.

“I don’t care that it’s traditional,” Katya rolled her eyes. “Let’s also try to maybe speak English when Trix is around?”

“Oh yes, habit,” Anna said apologetically. “I am so used to reprimanding you in only Russian.”

Trixie laughed out loud at that, suddenly understanding so much of who Katya was just by watching her interact with her mother. Katya snorted and picked up two plates of food, setting one down in front of Trixie and the other in the place setting across from her.

“Oh, do you want something to drink?” Katya asked. “My parents don’t really do coffee but we have stupid amounts of tea.”

“Tea is fine,” Trixie nodded.

“I will make tea,” Dmitri said as he entered the kitchen. “You sit, eat with your friend,” he motioned broadly at Katya who gladly obliged and sat down across from Trixie at the small wooden table.

“They’re really excited you’re here,” Katya whispered with a soft laugh, leaning forward on her forearms so her face was closer to Trixie’s.

“They’re way too kind, they don’t have to do all of this,” Trixie whispered back insistently.

“Shut up,” Katya laughed. “I like, never brought friends home in high school, so they’re living for this.”

Katya punctuated her statement by shoving a big bite of pancakes into her cheshire cat grin of a mouth and Trixie failed to hold back the smile that overtook her entire face.

Breakfast with the Zamolodchikova’s was a lively experience, with loud but good-natured debates about everything from local construction projects to United States politics. Every five minutes Katya would sigh in exasperation and remind her parents that Trixie doesn’t speak Russian , to which they would always apologize profusely and Trixie would assure them it didn’t matter, she was the one intruding on their home after all.

After breakfast and a shower, Trixie found herself waiting in their living room by herself, hair still damp as Katya got ready for the day. It gave her a chance to look around the room more closely, taking in the framed art pieces that had Katya’s childhood signature scrawled at the bottom and family photographs dating back what looked like many generations.

Trixie absentmindedly braided her long hair so it laid straight down her back and meandered around the room, seeing photos of a younger version of Katya’s parents when they were back in Russia and older, yellowing prints of who she assumed were Katya’s grandparents.

She couldn’t help but let out a small laugh when she reached what seemed to be the Katya section of photos.

“Oh, god, you found them,” Katya’s voice came from behind her and Trixie turned around with a grin.

“You were a ribbon dancer?” she almost squealed at this new information. “How did I not know?

“I was a rhythmic gymnast, thank you very much,” Katya crossed her arms and joined Trixie standing in front of photos of a young Katya sporting colorful leotards and holding ribbons on sticks. “It’s an Olympic sport.”

“You danced with ribbons!” Trixie teased. “Oh my god, is that why you’re so short? Did this stunt your growth?”

There was a bounce and liveliness to Trixie’s voice that hadn’t been there the night before. Katya seemed more pleased than perturbed at the situation because of this very fact.

“Listen, I am five feet and three inches of pure woman,” Katya insisted in a thick Russian accent, pushing her shoulders back and standing up straight. Trixie cackled delightfully.

“Did you do the one where you balance a ball on your nose like a seal too?” she asked, pulling out her phone and beginning to snap pictures of every embarrassing childhood photo she could get her hands on.

“First of all, it’s the seals that balance a ball like us,” Katya said indignantly. “And second of all, I’m gonna steal that stupid phone from you, bitch,” she reached out and tried to grab the phone away but Trixie stood on her toes and held it out of reach.

“How’s that five foot three life treating you now, huh?” she teased. “Fuck, Bianca is gonna have a field day with these.”

“Stop!” Katya screeched in laughter, jumping to try and reach Trixie’s phone, but the taller girl just ran away.

“Too late! They’re going to the group chat,” Trixie cried as Katya caught up to her and wrapped her arms around her middle, trying to pin her arms to her sides so she couldn’t send off the message. “The deed has been done!”

“You stupid cunt, I’m gonna get you back for this!” Katya said as she collapsed onto the couch, but she was grinning and laughing all the while so Trixie knew she didn’t actually care.

Trixie sat down next to her, legs criss-crossed underneath her.

“So I guess this explains the weird levels of flexibility,” Trixie said.

“I’m a five foot elastic band,” Katya said, lifting both legs up so her knees touched her nose.

“Five foot three elastic band,” Trixie pointed out and Katya nodded emphatically.

There was a small beat of comfortable quiet as they sat there before Katya spoke up more seriously again.

“You know this means they’ll know you’re spending Christmas here,” she motioned to Trixie’s phone which was already lighting up with enthusiastic notifications.

“They would’ve found out eventually,” Trixie shrugged. “I know about your Trixie Intervention group text, y’know.”

“Wait, what—I mean—shit—”

“I saw Adore’s phone one night when you guys were in the middle of a conversation about how much you hate John,” Trixie cut her off. “It doesn’t bother me, you guys are well intentioned, I guess.”

“You never said anything…”

“Like I said, it doesn’t bother me,” Trixie shrugged. “And if it means you talk to each other and don’t try to make me discuss it…” she trailed off.

“I’m sorry,” Katya said, resting an elbow on the back of the couch and placing her chin in her hand.

“It’s okay,” Trixie assured her.

“It’s really not, but we’ll be better about that shit. I promise.”

Trixie nodded in understanding and picked at her fingernails in her lap. She was used to her business being common gossip. Even in high school when people didn’t really know what was going on in her life, they still kind of knew.

Trixie Mattel was an amalgamation of red flags, had teachers make her stay after class on a regular basis just to check in and students whisper about her in the lunch line. At least this time it was her friends, not treating her situation as gossip so much as genuinely trying to find solutions to the problems at hand.

“What do you want to do today?” Katya asked, obviously trying to perk her back up.

“It’s Christmas Eve, you probably have family stuff to do,” Trixie brushed her off.

“Yeah, we sure do,” Katya emphasized, poking at Trixie’s leg with her foot. “How good are you with cookie dough?”

“Cookie dough?” Trixie asked with a soft laugh.

“Yeah, we’re gonna bake cookies and I need to know your level of expertise so we know what job to put you on,” Katya said with a roll of her eyes as if it was obvious.

“Oh, bitch,” Trixie leaned back and shook her head. “Bitch, I am a cookie expert.”

“Oh really?” Katya raised her eyebrows. “Prove it, bitch,” she stood up and gestured towards the kitchen dramatically.

“Don’t worry, I will, Ribbon Dancer,” Trixie stood up and walked past Katya towards the kitchen.

“You’re never gonna let that go, are you?” Katya groaned.

“Not a chance,” Trixie called over her shoulder.

Trixie soon discovered that baking cookies with Katya was just about the messiest thing she had ever done. When Trixie baked at home, she generally had the whole kitchen to herself and had the chance to make careful and precise measurements as she methodically put a recipe together.

Katya put a little bit of a wrench in that plan with her hectic personality and inability to properly follow any instructions that Trixie tried to give. It only took fifteen minutes for both of them to be covered head to toe in powdered sugar and for Katya’s parents to show up investigating all the screaming, but eventually they were sat, exhausted and worn out at the kitchen table, staring at trays and trays of cooling cookies.

With all of the excitement, Trixie almost forgot that this was the first Christmas she would be spending in a house besides her own. Almost.

“Okay, you win,” Katya said, sitting on the counter with a mouth full of cookie later that night after her parents had gone to bed. “You’re the cookie master,” she threw her hands up in mock indignance.

“Oh, I know,” Trixie smirked from where she was munching on a colorfully iced cookie of her own, leaning against the wall and facing Katya.

“Cocky whore,” Katya laughed quietly, so as to not risk waking her parents up and alerting them to the two girls stealing cookies that they were meant to save for actual Christmas day. Trixie covered her mouth with a hand to muffle her laughter.

“Do you guys always bake cookies on Christmas Eve?” Trixie asked as she watched Katya finish one cookie and grab another.

“For a lot of years, yeah,” Katya nodded. “Russian Christmas is technically not until January, but when I was a kid all of my friends had it earlier and I was a jealous, whiny brat,” she chuckled. “So we started doing some American traditions on the twenty-fifth and then more Russian traditions on January seventh.”

“So you got two?” Trixie asked.

“Yeah but Russian Christmas is unsurprisingly less exciting for a seven year old,” Katya chuckled. “And now that I’m always in Chicago for Russian Christmas, we just kind of do both in December.”

“Your parents are so great,” Trixie said, studying the cookie in her hands and the way the different colors of icing ran together so seamlessly.

“They’ve got their moments,” Katya said with a voice so full of love that it made Trixie’s heart liquify right there on the spot.

“I owe them big time for letting me crash a family holiday like this,” Trixie said before raising her gaze to meet Katya’s. “I owe all of you big time.”

“Shut up, we want you here,” Katya said, seemingly baffled that Trixie hadn’t caught onto that simple fact yet.

“Yeah, yeah, okay,” Trixie brushed her off with a soft smile and took another bite of her cookie.

Katya bit at the inside of her cheek, briefly mulling something over from her perch on the countertop before she spoke.

“Do you want to talk about what happened yesterday?” she asked. “I mean, obviously you don’t have to… but you can, if you want.”

“I don’t know,” Trixie shook her head. “I mean, on the one hand not that much actually happened,” she laughed humorlessly. “But on the other hand-- On the other hand, it felt like some sort of major fucking turning point. Like, when you’re watching a movie and you hit the moment of no return where the girl in the house can’t turn back now, she just has to fucking fight the guy with a knife and she’ll either live or she won’t but there’s no more running away?”

By the time she stopped to take a breath, she felt like she had left a pile of garbage on the tile in front of her. The words just wouldn’t stop and she didn’t have the energy to try and make them stop.

“I mean,” she continued, voice getting higher and faster and more frantic as she went. “We were just talking and then we were yelling-- and hey, even that’s not super abnormal for us-- and then he slapped me and the whole goddamn world froze--”

“He what?” Katya’s face fell but Trixie didn’t stop to acknowledge it.

“And it’s not like it’s the first time it’s happened, or the worst that’s happened, y’know? None of us were shocked by it, but I think that since I moved out and started living in Chicago and learning what it was like to have people actually looking out for me -- I think maybe my standards got higher. And yeah--”

“Trixie,” Katya breathed. Trixie didn’t even notice the tears in her friend’s eyes.

“Yeah, maybe I shouldn’t have left my mom there, and maybe you shouldn’t give someone in an abusive relationship a fucking ultimatum,” Trixie’s hands danced in the soft light of the kitchen, playing out a hectic scene in the shadows on the wall. “But I didn’t know what else to do. There was nothing else I could’ve done,” she let her hands fall back at her sides as she finished, chest rising and falling rapidly with breaths she’d forgotten to take.

When she finally looked back at Katya’s face and saw her wiping stray tears quietly from under her eyes, her heart broke.

“Shit, Kat,” Trixie took a step forward and closed the gap between them, resting her hands on Katya’s knees. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have yelled. I’m so sorry.”

“No, no,” Katya shook her head adamantly. “It’s not you at all, I just-- Fuck, Trix I’m so mad . And I’m stupid fucking weepy when I get mad,” she wiped at her nose, punctuating her statement. “He’s a monster,” she said in a voice lower and more serious than Trixie had ever heard uttered by her best friend. “I don’t talk about this shit with you because it makes me so angry, but god I want that man to rot in Hell.”

“Tell me how you really feel,” Trixie teased, but her heart clearly wasn’t in it. She squeezed Katya’s knee and watched her take a shaky breath to steady herself.

“You know you deserve better, right?” Katya asked, tears slowly as she continued to sniffle periodically.

“I didn’t used to,” Trixie said honestly. “But I think I’m starting to catch on. I’m here and not there after all, aren’t I?” she smiled softly at Katya who nodded in response.

“Yeah,” she said. “You’re here.”

The way they held each other when they fell asleep that night was not unlike the way they had the night before, but still managed to feel new in its own special way. Trixie thought about the idea of turning points as she drifted off, wondering if she would always be able to notice them from now on or if some would pass in the night with their head on her chest and their hand tangled up in hers.

She continued to wonder for the entire next day, as she helped Anna cook Christmas dinner and explained the world of costume design to an eager Dmitri. Every moment that she spent with the Zamolodchikova’s felt like its very own quiet epiphany, a realization that the fantasies she’d concocted in her dollhouse of an imagination maybe weren’t so artificial after all.

That night, after dinner as Katya and her parents were cleaning up the kitchen, Trixie retreated to the bedroom and dialled a familiar phone number with jittery fingers.

“Hello?” her mother picked up after a single ring, voice quiet and sounds of Wisconsin wind rushing across the speakers.

“Hi, Mom,” Trixie said, trying desperately to keep the tears that stood at attention in the backs of her eyes from making the jump onto her cheeks.

“Hi, Sweetheart,” Karen sighed. “It’s good to hear your voice.”

“Yeah, you too,” Trixie felt betrayed by the way her words trembled.

“Did you have a good day?” Karen continued the conversation, words casual but tone of voice anything but. They were both skirting around so much, actively choosing to avoid it at least for the sake of this one conversation, but it still loomed over every word that passed between them.

“Yeah, they’re being really welcoming.”

“Good, that’s good, I’m glad,” Karen said. Trixie could hear her mother’s heart breaking, could tell how awful she felt that her only daughter had needed to spend Christmas with another family.

“Mom?” Trixie’s voice cracked.

“Yeah, Sweetie?”

“I love you,” she said, desperate to make sure her mother knew that her intention was never to hurt her.

“I love you too,” Karen said. “Merry Christmas, Trixie.”

“Merry Christmas, Mom.”

The sound of the dial tone was loud enough to shift continents.

Chapter Text

“Wait, how many movies did you watch?”

“Adore, you’ve gotta understand I was living with the biggest movie nerd to ever exist all break,” Trixie laughed. They were sat on the train, rails rattling below them and commuters crammed into the small space all around them as they held hot cups of coffee close to their bundled up bodies.

“Answer the question, man,” Adore insisted.

“It wasn’t that many--”

“Mattel!” Adore laughed.

“Twenty-four,” Trixie mumbled into her coffee cup before taking a long sip with raised eyebrows.

“Jesus Christ,” Adore kicked her shin lightly with her boot. “You’re telling me you spent days on end, curled up on the couch with Katya Zamo, watching shitty old movies just because she wanted to?”

“They weren’t all shitty, and they weren’t all old,” Trixie said defensively as the train came to a stop.

“You’re so whipped for your stupid, Russian girlfriend,” Adore said over her shoulder as the two exited the car and made their way down the platform towards the escalator that would take them to the street.

“How many times do I have to ask you not to call her that,” Trixie groaned, feeling her cheeks burn bright pink at the insinuation that Trixie was-- whatever it was Adore was insinuating of her.

“Whatever,” Adore rolled her eyes and pulled her coat tighter as they stepped out into the cold wind of the city. “I’m just saying, she’s got you wrapped around her little finger and it’s an experience to watch.”

“Hey, she’s the one that bought me a plane ticket and picked me up at the airport because I got roughed up by my step-dad,” Trixie insisted, granting her quite the look from Adore. “Too soon?”

“You’re real twisted, you know that?”

“Hey, if you can’t laugh about disowning your entire family, what can you laugh about?” Trixie joked in a mocking tone. Adore just rolled her eyes.

“One week into the semester and I’m already sick of you,” she deadpanned.

“Not sick of one Miss Bianca del Rio though, are ya?” Trixie nudged her friend teasingly. She didn’t need to see past the big scarf blocking Adore’s face to know she blushed.

“Shut up,” she muttered.

“You’ve got it so bad,” Trixie laughed, giddy about the progress of this relationship that she was maybe more invested in than she needed to be. “All your punk rock edges have gone soft, Delano.”

“Love is very punk rock, bitch,” Adore said in defense. “Especially when your relationship is still taken as a political statement in some parts of the country.”

Trixie’s heart sank at that, because as much as she knew all of her non-straight friends loved who they loved unapologetically, she also knew that sometimes it didn’t take much to remind them that some people still didn’t accept them.

“Has Bee told her family yet?” Trixie softened her tone.

“Just her sister,” Adore shrugged. “But she’s getting there, it’ll happen.”

“Yeah, definitely,” Trixie nodded in support. “I can’t imagine what that’s gotta be like.”

Adore shot Trixie an intrigued look, almost as if she was trying to get answers out of Trixie just with her eyes.

“What?” Trixie chuckled.

“Nothing,” Adore shrugged. “I just always forget you’re straight or whatever.”

“Oh yeah, it’s me, the token straight,” Trixie joked.

Adore just hummed in acknowledgement and Trixie couldn’t help but get the feeling that Adore was aware of something that she wasn’t. It was a relatively off-putting sensation, if only because Trixie had always known Adore to be honest to a fault in the past, and being stingy with information had never quite been in her wheelhouse.

But Trixie let it go, because her brain was quite frankly too full of too much else to have to try and deconstruct one moderately off conversation with Adore. She was trying to concentrate on her academics, get back into the flow of school after spending break on Katya’s couch in Boston alternating between blatantly ignoring all of her emotions and having nervous breakdowns in the shower where no one could hear her.

Trixie was certainly still distracted, something that became clear to all of her friends and professors almost immediately when she had returned. She was still Trixie in the sense that she knew how to laugh at her own pain and knew how to direct a conversation off of her personal life like a professional, but there were many nights during which her friends would catch her letting her mind wander just a bit too far for them to be able to pull it back with ease.

They were concerned, and Trixie hated just how concerned they were.

“My advisor says that I’ll only have to stay an extra semester if I stick with art history and just minor in lighting design,” Sasha said, laptop perched on her knees where she sat on the couch next to Kim. “But I wanna double major if I can.”

“How exasperated was she when you showed up this time?” Kim asked with a chuckle, sketching something out in a notebook.

Trixie was sprawled out on the floor with a diorama she was making for a set design class she had decided to take that semester, hot glue gun in hand and tiny, meticulously crafted set pieces laid out before her. She wasn’t actively participating in the conversation at hand, not even really hearing most of what was being said.

“College is supposed to be about exploring until you find the thing you like best,” Sasha said in defense. “I’m just doing that.”

“Yeah, okay that’s fair,” Kim shrugged. “So lighting design, huh?”

“I’m just really into how you can manipulate tone with light,” Sasha explained.

At some point, Trixie stopped working, stopped listening, and let her head float away as she sat numbly on the floor of her dorm room. It wasn’t that she didn’t care what her friends had to say, and it certainly wasn’t that she didn’t want to be there with them, sometimes she just drifted and it took a few minutes to grab ahold of the ground once more.

“Girl, go for it,” Kim said encouragingly.

“You really think I should?” Sasha was still hesitant, tapping her fingers on the side of her laptop absentmindedly.

“I think you should follow your gut,” Kim shrugged.

“What about you, Trix?” Sasha turned to Trixie who was fiddling with the glue gun precariously in her two hands. “Trixie?”

“What?” she said with a start, fumbling the glue gun and burning her hand as she let it fall to the carpet. “Shit,” she hissed, shaking out the hand that she’d burned.

“You okay?” Kim asked with a furrowed brow.

“Yeah, yeah,” Trixie insisted. “I’ve burned myself on hot glue before, it’s no big deal.”

“No, I mean like…” Kim hesitated and Trixie saw Sasha already reaching for her phone. “Are you okay?”

“Put the phone down,” Trixie pointed at Sasha menacingly.

“What-- I mean-- I’m just--”

“You’re just trying to text Katya because you think something’s wrong with me and you figure she knows how to handle it,” Trixie accused in a huff.

“Trixie,” Kim sighed.

“You guys always do this,” Trixie laughed. “And then Kat feels like she has to come all the way over to make sure I’m still alive-- But, I’m fine. I promise I’m okay,” she let out an exasperated sigh.

“Okay, I believe you,” Sasha put her phone down in a sign of surrender.

“Thank you,” Trixie said as she stood up. “Now, I’m gonna rinse this under cold water because it fucking hurts.”

Trixie really was fine, she would have sworn her life on that fact, but that didn’t mean there still weren’t days she felt like she was going to break down in the middle of class or nights she wanted nothing more than to still be in Boston, ignoring the whole reality of her life and sharing a bed with her best friend.

She attended classes in a haze and spent evenings doing homework or searching for an apartment to lease once she got kicked out of the dorm for the summer and didn’t have a place to return to in Wisconsin anymore.

There were lengthy texts from her brother, urging her to check in with him more often than she tended to and no messages from her mother because, according to Tyler, John had forbidden her from contacting her own daughter. As if Trixie isolating herself hadn’t been enough.

It eventually got to the point where Trixie was tense all of the time. Trixie was tense when she was in class, and Trixie’s shoulders were knotted up when she tried to do laundry, and Trixie’s leg muscles felt like beef jerky when she was trying to fall asleep at night.

She couldn’t focus on anything because her body was sabotaging her every step of the way. It was as if all of her poor decisions, all of her regrets and worries and fears, had manifested themselves in an inability to just loosen up her goddamn muscles.

Trixie tried everything from heat packs to letting Katya teach her some basic yoga poses (which she didn’t quite believe were as basic as Katya claimed) but still ended up frustrated and wound up as she tried to fall asleep.

It was a Tuesday night and she was tossing and turning, desperately trying to rub out knots in the base of her neck, when an idea suddenly struck her. It was something that had been mentioned in jest at a party with her friends a week earlier. Trixie couldn’t remember who had said it or in what context (probably because she’d been drinking, but that’s not fully relevant) but in that moment as she laid in bed, she was just desperate and exhausted enough to think it might work.

It’s important to note that Trixie had never been one to masturbate. In all of her years of life, sophomore year of college was the first time that she had a door to her room that actually locked, and up until then, the fear of getting caught had always overwritten any sliver of desire she had to get off.

But supposedly, doing just that helped release tension, and so Trixie Mattel slid her hand down between her legs and underneath her pajama bottoms with one goal and only one goal in mind: falling the fuck to sleep.

It was uncomfortable at first, and she had to keep reminding herself that no one was going to walk in, especially not at two o’clock in the morning. Not until she was able to let go of that fear was she able to let her eyes fall closed, feel herself grow wetter and her clit grow more and more sensitive.

Her breathing got shallow and her hips involuntarily rocked against her fingers and within a handful of minutes she was squeezing her thighs together in a brief moment of clenched muscles before everything relaxed.

Trixie melted into her mattress with a deep sigh, letting her mind go blank and finally letting go of reality for just long enough to actually get some rest that night.

It became something of a habit from that point on. She never would have admitted it to anyone, but touching herself late at night for a quick release so she could clear her head, if even only for a moment, was her new favorite coping mechanism.

Trixie had never felt very sexually adventurous, as she made very clear when she was with Brad. In fact, she had something of a tumultuous relationship with sex. She wasn’t sure why, but the idea of having another person’s hands on her had always caused more anxiety than desire.

But now, Trixie was starting to figure out her own body, discover what she liked and she even started going so far as to read and watch porn in an incognito tab on her phone on those late nights.

Sometimes it still felt wrong and sometimes she still felt guilty about it, but it mostly started to fade until the first time she found herself reading about lesbians at three in the morning, the only light in the room the one of her phone illuminating her pink cheeks.

It felt like she was breaking some sort of rule, even though she logically knew this wasn’t the case, and she almost expected Pastor Harold of her childhood Sunday school to show up at her door and condemn her.

But for the first time in her life, she let herself not care . For the first time in her entire goddamn life, Trixie Mattel didn’t immediately feel like she was going to throw up at the vaguely (explicitly) non-straight nature of reading lesbian porn and being kind of (very much) into it. At least this personal crisis could take the place of all the other ones for a little while.

When she woke up the next morning and had to grapple with what it was she had done, what it was she was feeling, now that was a different story.

With as much as she was overthinking the whole ordeal, it was a miracle she so much as made it to class that day.

“Earth to Trixie, are you still with us?” Shea waved a hand in front of Trixie’s face, pulling her back to reality.

“What? Yeah, what are you doing?” Trixie flinched and batted her hand away, startled.

“Class is over, we’re leaving,” Shea said, motioning to the quickly emptying classroom.

“Sorry, I spaced out,” Trixie muttered, pulling her backpack into her lap and starting to pack up.

“I’ll say,” Shea said, looking pointedly at the notebook Trixie was closing without having written a single thing down all class. “I’ll send you pictures of my notes later.”

“Thanks,” Trixie sighed, standing and following Shea out of the room and down the hall.

“You wanna go get coffee?”

“Hmm?” Trixie responded absentmindedly. “Oh, uh, I think I’m just gonna head home.”

“Trixie Mattel, turning down coffee?” Shea raised her eyebrows at her friend as they exited the building and stepped out onto the sidewalk. Trixie shoved the guilt and fear down deep in her gut and tried not to let it show on her face.

The ice was melting and the sun was starting to make more appearances now in the windy city, although on this particular day, clouds seemed to rule the sky. Trixie just shrugged, not really feeling like explaining herself to anyone.

“What’s going on in there?” Shea asked, tapping a finger on Trixie’s temple.

What was going on was girls. Mostly girls. Just lots of girls.

“Don’t touch my hair,” Trixie flinched away from Shea, entire body feeling just a little too on edge for any sort of human contact.

“You’re more wound up than usual, are you sure you’re okay?” Shea softened her tone, struggling to keep up with Trixie’s fast pace as she hurried down the sidewalk.

Trixie was very much not okay. But she wasn’t about to say that.

“Hi, God, it’s me, Trixie,” she stopped walking abruptly, holding her hands together in mock prayer and looking up to the sky with a furrowed brow. “Why didn’t you bless me with friends who know how to mind their fucking business? I’ll take my answer whenever you finish damning Shea straight to Hell. Thanks, God.”

Shea snorted and Trixie started walking again, adjusting her backpack on her shoulders as she went.

“Okay, fine we don’t have to talk about it,” Shea said in exasperation.

“Thank you,” Trixie sighed heavily.  

“You’re impossible to be supportive of sometimes,” Shea chuckled and Trixie just flipped her hair over her shoulder mockingly in response.

“I’m an amazing friend shut the— ah, shit,” she cut herself off when her phone started ringing from inside her backpack. Trixie stopped right where they were walking and dropped her bag on a bench, rooting through it as her phone continued to ring. “Motherfucker.”

“How are you this disorganized and still a functioning person?” Shea stood with her hands on her hips watching Trixie fumble.

“That’s the secret,” Trixie said. “I’m not functioning… Aha!” she pulled her phone from her bag triumphantly and answered the call. “Hello?”

“Trixie Mattel!” Katya’s voice cried through the speakers of Trixie’s phone. “My beautiful, darling Barbie doll!”

Trixie couldn’t help but laugh at that, feeling some of her worries fall by the wayside at the sound of Katya’s eternally cheery demeanor. Katya was distracting, and boy could Trixie use a distraction.

“What do you want?” she asked, nodding to Shea who was insistently asking if Katya was on the other end of the line.

“Pssh,” Katya scoffed. “How do you know I need something and I’m not just calling to say hello to my dear, wonderful friend Trixie Joanne Elizabeth Mattel?”

“Because,” Trixie said with a chuckle. “You text me when you want to say hi, but you call me and flood me with compliments when you need a favor.”

“I don’t--What? No,” Katya blabbered, caught off guard by how easily Trixie seemed to be able to read her. “Okay, fine, I do need a favor--”

“Ha!”

“But that doesn’t mean you’re not also a wonderful, brilliant--”

“Cut to the chase, Zamo,” Trixie laughed as she cut off Katya’s persistent tyrade.

Shea motioned to her watch, mouthing that she needed to go and Trixie waved goodbye to her, deciding to sit down on the bench for the rest of her conversation with Katya.

“Yeah, right,” Katya said hurriedly. “So, I’m working as cinematographer on this short film and the director was telling me they were having trouble finding someone that plays guitar--”

“Nope.”

“And I said, hey, I know the greatest guitarist to ever live--”

“Kat--”

“And Jinkx-- she’s the director-- said, well, get her in here, we need that sort of brilliance!”

“She didn’t say that,” Trixie laughed.

“Maybe not, but that’s what she meant,” Katya insisted.

“I don’t like being on camera, and my guitar skills are rusty at best,” Trixie sighed.

“It’s a tiny role,” Katya said. “ Miniscule even-- And you were playing beautifully at that party with Adore last weekend!”

“You were drunk, your opinion doesn’t count,” Trixie snorted.

“Come on, Trix, please?” Katya’s voice got soft in that way that made Trixie’s heart feel lighter and her fingertips tingle. “It would mean so much to me.”

Trixie sighed because she knew as soon as Katya said that, she wouldn’t be able to refuse any longer. Trixie cared for Katya so deeply and she endlessly wished that she would one day be able to repay her for all she’d done in the short time they’d known each other, so there was never really any chance she’d say no to something like this.

“Yeah, okay,” she said simply.

“Really?” Katya sounded so hopeful that Trixie could picture the exact face she was making at that moment-- the one with the wide eyes and toothy smile.

“Yeah, yeah, I’ll do it,” Trixie brushed her off, trying to make it seem like less of a big deal.

“You’re a goddess, Barbie girl,” Katya insisted. “I’ll text you the details!”

And with that she was gone, leaving Trixie sitting alone on a bench in the middle of a busy Chicago sidewalk just as the heavy clouds above her began to cry.

“Fuck,” she muttered, pulling the hood of her sweatshirt up over her head and getting up in a hurry as she headed for the train that would take her home.

One thing about acting in Katya’s short film was that it at least took Trixie’s mind off of everything else for a few days. She got to study lines and learn a new song and listen to Katya ramble on about visual language and lenses and all sorts of technical film lingo that Trixie didn’t understand but was making Katya’s face fill up with that joyful expression that made her heart feel bigger so it didn’t really matter.

Working one-on-one with Katya was good for Trixie, but being on set, with a handful of other students she’d never met and a producer named Alaska who was possibly the most frank human being Trixie had ever encountered was maybe not the best environment for her current state of mind.

The scene in question had Trixie playing guitar at a party, surrounded by extras and playing a song that would ultimately act as a backing track for the major part of the scene in which the actual main characters were doing something or other that Trixie couldn’t quite remember. An hour into shooting, Trixie had already played said song seven times and was watching Katya move the camera and suggest a new lighting setup.

Trixie bounced her leg, partially out of nerves, but mostly because she had to pee. Maybe the nerves were partially because she didn’t know whether or not she was allowed to pee.

“Katya,” she hissed, trying to catch her friend’s attention. “Hey-- Kat--”

“Don’t bother her, she’s busy,” Alaska said with a deadpan expression that was nothing if not intimidating.

“Oh, sorry,” Trixie shook her head, immediately regretting her actions. “I was just going to--”

“Try not to talk in between takes, it slows everything down,” Alaska said as she scribbled something on the clipboard in her hands.

“Lasky, are you being mean to the talent again?” Katya said with a smirk without looking up from her camera.

“I’m producing,” Alaska drawled in response.

“Aren’t producers supposed to be the ones that like… get along best with the actors?” Katya shot her a look and Trixie watched curiously, never having seen Katya work in her element like this before.

She was so on top of everything, so calm and collected and not as easily frazzled as she was in everyday life. Katya fit here and not only did it make so much sense, but it also made pride blossom in Trixie’s stomach.

“I don’t tell you how to hold a fuckin’ camera,” Alaska rolled her eyes and Trixie couldn’t tell if she was being serious or not, but Katya laughed loudly so she assumed it was the latter of the two options.

“That’s because you wouldn’t know where to start, bitch,” Katya teased before finally turning to Trixie. “Did you need something, Barbie girl?”

“Um,” Trixie glanced awkwardly at Alaska before leaning forward and whispering hurriedly at Katya. “I kind of really have to piss but if you’re gonna start shooting again soon I can wait.”

“Trix, go ahead,” Katya nodded at her, stifling a laugh. “You’ve got at least fifteen minutes before these lights are right, there’s no reason to be miserable.”

“Thank fuckin’ god,” Trixie sighed before jumping up from where she was seated and rushing across the room and towards the bathroom. As she closed the door behind her, she couldn’t help but distinctly hear Katya’s voice.

“Would you leave her alone? She’s kinda doing us a huge favor.”

“Sorry, didn’t realize she was your Barbie girl .”

Trixie blushed at the exchange and actively turned her ears off so she wouldn’t accidentally eavesdrop on any more of their conversation.

By the time she returned to set, Katya had the tripod in a new position and seemed to be fiddling with the menu settings as she stood with one hand on her hip. The tripod was taller now, and Katya had to stand on the toes of her thick boots to look in the viewfinder, a sight that Trixie couldn’t help but find oddly cute.

Jinkx stood to her side, marking notes down on her script and crossing off shots from a list she had situated in a large binder. She glanced over Katya’s shoulder a couple of times, the two discussing something quietly as Katya reframed the shot ever so slightly.

Katya’s pigtails and massive sweater paired with her uninhibited confidence and ease in this setting made for an interesting dichotomy that Trixie caught herself smiling at as she sat back down in her spot.

“What’re you smiling at, bitch?” Katya asked, eye pressed up to the viewfinder as Trixie pulled her guitar back into her lap.

“You look so professional,” Trixie teased with a grin. “A real natural business slut.”

Katya doubled over with a fit of wheezing laughter at that comment, forcing Jinkx to look at her with a slightly amused shade of confusion.

“You stupid whore!” Katya exclaimed at Trixie.

“No! I like it!” Trixie defended. “It’s cute.”

Katya’s face was hidden behind the camera once more so Trixie couldn’t see her reaction, but when she spoke next, Trixie could tell she was smiling.

“You’re dumb,” Katya said fondly.

“You’re dumber,” Trixie rolled her eyes, gaze fixed to lens and making a funny face because she knew Katya would see it.

Trixie was so fixed on her conversation with Katya, stuck in their own little bubble, that she didn’t see it coming when Jinkx appeared next to her and clapped in front of her face to get her attention.

Her reaction was immediate.

“Shit, oh my god, I’m sorry,” Trixie rushed to say as she ducked her head and blocked her face with her hands, heart suddenly hammering involuntarily.

“Oh, just trying to get your attention,” Jinkx said, pulling her hands back the minute Trixie seemed to fall into a state of distress.

The minute Trixie realized what she’d done (and why she’d done it) she sat back up straight with burning cheeks and a heart that wouldn’t stop pounding. She was humiliated, and she knew that any sort of explanation would only really make it worse.

“And people say I’m dramatic,” Alaska commented from somewhere off to the side.

“Shut up, Alaska,” Katya said pointedly, clearly not about to take any of that shit.

“I’m just jumpy,” Trixie tried to brush it off casually. “It’s stupid, no big deal.”

“Okay, yeah,” Jinkx nodded. “Let’s get everyone set to go for another take.”

As people bustled around to get ready to go again, Katya leaned to the side to look past the camera and directly into Trixie’s eyes. She mouthed a clear You okay? to which Trixie responded with a nod and an exaggerated thumbs up. Katya narrowed her eyes at Trixie for a moment before deciding that wasn’t the moment to get into it and returning to her spot behind the camera.

It took another hour and a half for them to finish shooting the scene, and Trixie waited around for another thirty minutes after that so she could go back to Katya’s place with her.

They walked in silence for the first few minutes of their trek towards Katya’s apartment, both decompressing from the hectic environment that is every film set. Trixie glanced over at her friend now and again, taking in the face of someone who was satisfied, proud, and confident in what she’d accomplished. It was new, and Trixie was actively aware in that moment of how much she had watched Katya grow in the time she had known her.

“You’re staring,” Katya laughed hesitantly. “Do I have gaff tape on my face or something?”

“No,” Trixie laughed fully.

“What? It’s happened before!” Katya threw her hands up in exasperation.

“No, your face is great,” Trixie brushed her off. “I’m just—I mean—I guess, I’m just proud?”

Katya looked at her, eyes going soft at the sudden sincerity inhabiting the small space between them on the narrow sidewalk as the sun began to dip behind the Chicago skyline.

“You’re just,” Trixie continued, unable to help herself. “You’re so good at what you do, and I don’t think I realized how meant you are to do it until I got to see you in there. You bring everything you have to everything you do—you had a list of reasons for every shot you suggested to Jinkx and you stuck to your guns but knew when to compromise and I just… I’m really fucking proud,” Trixie shrugged as she trailed off from her complimentary tirade.

“Did you know that you’re like, my favorite person?” Katya said as she grabbed Trixie’s hand, and squeezed it for a moment before letting go. Trixie missed it the second it was gone.

“Shut up,” Trixie snorted, feeling herself start to blush despite her internal urgency to will it away.

“What? You use up your sincerity for the day, then?” Katya mocked with a grin.

“Girl, you know there’s a hard daily cap and once I reach it there’s no going back,” Trixie deadpanned with a shrug.

“God, you’re the stupidest,” Katya laughed. “You’re an idiot and I love you.”

Trixie wasn’t sure why, but she couldn’t find the words to respond to that. It was a simple enough statement, and one that Trixie had certainly heard leave Katya’s lips plenty of times before, but on this particular occasion, all she could manage to do was wrap her arms around Katya and pull her close to her chest.

Katya was startled at first, not quite accustomed to Trixie initiating contact so abruptly, but squeezed her back with just as much joy as she could manage.

It could be said that this was the moment that Trixie knew how she really felt about Katya, that her heart was being honest with her in ways that her head had never been, but Trixie wouldn’t realize that until some time later.

No, Trixie needed a little bit more time. Time to be introspective in scarily intrusive ways and time to pull all of her compartmentalized feelings out of their individual boxes and toss them up into the air where she could study them properly.

Trixie was a master of storing her feelings away, at not feeling things that she didn’t want to feel, and so this was quite the task for our young fashionista to take on.

Maybe she had always needed to distance herself from her family and upbringing to start working through all of this, or maybe it had more to do with needing to meet the people she’d met and grown to love in recent years. Maybe she had always known and maybe this moment in time was just the first of many in which she’d allowed herself to consider how her identity might be different than she’d always labeled it.

No matter the reason it had taken her this long though, no matter what had transpired in her life to make her such a late goddamn bloomer, she couldn’t really be mad about it.

There was no universe where she felt like she could have survived her teenage years in the closet. She had barely made it out of that house alive as it was, and she had never for a moment even doubted how straight she was.

And yeah, maybe she still liked boys and she wasn’t going to take that off the table, was nowhere even remotely close to being able to call herself a lesbian-- not after the years of absolute demonization of queer women she had endured and learned from and grown accustomed to. But she definitely, certainly, was at least ninety percent sure that she also liked girls.

Girls.

Wow, how had it taken her this long to see how beautiful women were? Trixie felt it so deeply in her bones that she didn’t know how she could have possibly ignored that for so many years.

The thought of it scared her a little bit. The thought of it kind of fucking terrified her a lot, and the thought of it was the answer she’d always needed and a real goddamn nightmare all at once. So, she stewed in the thought of it every hour of every day for weeks on end, trying to find words to describe how she was feeling and willing herself to just talk to someone about it.

It’s safe to say it took her a few tries to buck up the courage.

“And I was like don’t be like that, man or I’m gonna have to get up there and prove you wrong,” Adore said from her spot on her bed, tinkering away at Trixie’s guitar. “But he backed off so I didn’t have to prove him wrong. But fuck, dude, I sure could’ve,” she concluded definitively.

Trixie was at Adore’s desk, half listening and fiddling with a pen cap in one hand.

“Hmm, yeah, sure,” she nodded, biting her lip and furrowing her brow in deep concentration for a solid thirty seconds before speaking up again. “Hey, Adore?”

“Yeah, girl?” Adore looked up from the guitar where her fingers were almost in the right placement but not quite. Trixie didn’t feel like correcting her.

“Can I ask you something?” Trixie’s heart pounded in her chest as her stomach churned at the thought of what she was about to say.

“Yeah, of course,” Adore shook her head and laughed, confused by Trixie’s sudden sincerity.

“I, um-- I just wanted to talk to you about, um--” Trixie took a deep breath, mind racing too fast for any singular thought to take root and the butterflies in her stomach feeling a lot more like pins and needles. “I just wanted to see if you thought-- What if dyed my hair?” she finished hurriedly, catching a glimpse of what looked like moderate disappointment cross Adore’s face before she returned to her usual easy-going look.

“You wanna dye your hair? Your beautiful, Barbie blonde hair?” Adore asked.

“I guess?” Trixie cringed, not sure how to go along digging this hole she’d tossed herself into. “Yeah, sure, why not,” she threw her hands up in exasperation at herself.

Adore eyed her curiously, almost as if she was seeing just how far she could push this, which was clearly a cover for something, before she could get to the bottom of it.

“Pink probably, yeah?” Adore smirked, setting the guitar aside and leaving the room to head towards the bathroom.

“Um, I mean sure?” Trixie said hesitantly, following after Adore who was digging through the cabinets under the sink.

“I swore I had… Maybe… Aha!” she cheered triumphantly, standing up and wielding a box of pastel pink hair dye in Trixie’s face.

“Oh,” Trixie’s eyes grew wide, not realizing how quickly one slip of the tongue had become her reality.

“This would look so good on you, holy fuck,” Adore said, holding the box up next to Trixie’s face enthusiastically. “Let’s do it, we can do it right now!”

“I, um…” Trixie’s mouth opened and closed a few times as she searched for a reason, any reason to get out of this as Adore stared at her expectantly. “Fine,” she sighed, figuring that she couldn’t go back on her flub now, couldn’t just say Oh, my bad, I actually wanted to talk to you about how I’ve recently realized I might be into chicks .

Adore seemed to hesitate for a moment before subtly rolling her eyes and pulling her face into a broad grin.

“Sweet! This is so exciting,” Adore said, beginning to open the box and lay out its contents on the bathroom counter. “You’re gonna look so good.”

“Yep,” Trixie croaked, voice an octave higher than usual as she accepted her fate to having pink hair for the foreseeable future. How long did hair dye take to fade, anyways?

Approximately twenty minutes later, Trixie was sat on the top of the toilet seat with a towel around her shoulders and pink dye soaking into her beautiful, Barbie blonde hair. Adore peeled off the gloves she had used and dropped them in the trash, trying to rinse off any excess dye that had gotten onto her wrists in the sink before taking a seat on the edge of the tub.

Trixie bounced her leg anxiously, feeling more and more like something was bubbling up inside of her that would make her head explode if she didn’t let it out, didn’t vocalize it. The whole pink hair thing was barely even on her radar, wouldn’t have been had it not been for the dye currently coating her scalp.

“Okay, so we’ve got about thirty minutes until you can rinse that out,” Adore said as she set a timer on her phone.

“Cool,” Trixie nodded absentmindedly. Adore bit at her lip for a moment before letting out a sigh and leaning her elbows on her knees to scroll quietly through her phone.

Trixie watched her and continued to bounce her leg with nervous energy for a few awkward minutes, opening her mouth every so often as if she was going to finally speak up before closing it again once she considered how badly the whole situation could go down. She changed her mind a full dozen times over the course of five torturous minutes before she actually spoke up in a small and shaky voice.

“Adore?” she said, biting at the side of her thumb as if the sensation of it would distract her from the hundred-player drum corps playing in her chest.

“What’s up?” Adore looked up from her phone, eyes immediately softening when she caught sight of Trixie’s face.

“Earlier? When I said I wanted to talk to you?” Trixie paused hesitantly and Adore nodded, encouraging her to continue. “I wasn’t gonna ask you to dye my hair.”

“Okay,” Adore said, subtly urging Trixie to keep going.

“I just--I wanted, um-- I’ve been thinking a lot-- And I-- fucking hell,” Trixie covered her face with trembling hands in frustration before letting them fall back into her lap.

“It’s okay, take your time, man,” Adore said in a more sincere tone than Trixie had maybe ever heard her use.

“Yeah, okay,” Trixie took a deep breath and nodded to herself, fidgeting with her hands as she mulled over her words yet again. “Okay, I just-- Recently I think I might’ve realized… I mean, maybe not realized is the right word--I’m really not sure what the right words are, I’m sorry,” Trixie dug her fingernails into her own thighs, trying to ground herself to reality as she spit out the next sentence without ever meeting Adore’s eyes. “I think I might not be fully straight?”

The silence that followed was probably only a couple of seconds, but felt like decades as Trixie stared at the grimy tile of Adore’s bathroom floor. It felt like the entire world was collapsing and Trixie Mattel was at the center of it, taking the brunt of the rubble directly on her chest and crushing her lungs.

But then Adore spoke.

“Okay,” Adore said simply and when Trixie finally looked up she found her friend to be smiling at her, almost proud.

“Okay?” Trixie questioned, face still scrunched up and stomach still spinning.

“You’re not feeling so great about this, are you?” Adore asked quietly, understanding dawning on her.

“I’m…” Trixie bit her lip and felt tears pricking at the back of her eyes. “Yeah, no, I’m definitely not feeling great to be honest with you,” she laughed humorlessly. “But not like-- Not because I have anything against-- I mean--”

“Hey, you don’t have to apologize to me,” Adore shook her head adamantly. “Dude, if anyone knows what it’s like to struggle through a moment like this it’s my gay ass.”

Trixie let out a surprised laugh that turned into a tired sort of sob. She covered her mouth with her hand in embarrassment at the sudden tears that were slipping from her eyes.

“Okay, come here,” Adore slid off her seat on the edge of the tub, sitting on her knees in front of Trixie and resting her hands and chin in her lap to look up at her. “It’s okay to be unsure and it’s okay to have questions and it’s okay to be emotional about this.”

“That’s the first time I’ve ever said it,” Trixie admitted in what was nearly a whisper with how airy her voice sounded as she wiped tears from her cheeks.

“I’m real fuckin’ proud of you,” Adore said, grinning up at her from the ground. “Like crazy, stupid proud, man.”

“I mean, I barely even said it,” Trixie laughed bluntly. “And I don’t even know how to say it-- I don’t even know what I am.”

“And you don’t have to!” Adore insisted. “You can be ambiguously not straight for your entire life if that’s what’s most comfortable for you and we will all love you just the same.”

Somehow it was exactly what she needed to hear in that moment, and somehow Adore had just known the precise reason that Trixie was so terrified to bring this up at all, that she was scared-- no matter how illogically so-- that she could potentially lose everything she’d built with this one tiny fact.

Trixie let out an unsteady breath and nodded, trying to let the words sink in and trying not to forget this moment-- any of it.

“Sorry I’m a mess,” she said, making Adore laugh.

“Girl, you should’ve seen me when I came out in high school,” Adore scoffed. “Snot central. But it’ll get easier, and the more you say it, the more comfortable you’ll be with saying it.”

“Yeah,” Trixie said, nodding slowly. “I don’t think I’m ready to say it again yet, though.”

“I won’t out you, no worries,” Adore said with a soft smile.

Trixie might not have felt great about the whole situation, may have still had some underlying tension about the entire ordeal of it all, but in that moment, sitting on top of the toilet seat in Adore Delano’s bathroom, she felt the tiniest bit of weight lift from her chest and make it just a little bit easier to breathe.

She was still scared and confused and unsteady in her steps forward, but the ground below her felt a little more stable, as if just by saying it she had rooted her un-straightness in reality and given herself a bit more solid footing.

Fifteen minutes later, Trixie rinsed the dye from her hair and let Adore blow dry and curl it.

“I know you didn’t actually want to do this, but you look fucking dope,” Adore grinned as Trixie watched her run a comb through her freshly curled, baby pink hair.

“Yeah, I’m actually not mad about this,” Trixie touched her hair experimentally.

“What a productive ass night,” Adore put her hands on her hips triumphantly. “We should send a picture to Katya, she’s gonna lose her shit.”

“She might actually scream,” Trixie laughed.

“Oh! We should start a people you’re out to group chat,” Adore said, pulling out her phone. “So you have a place to talk about this shit if you ever want to.”

“That would just be me texting you,” Trixie chuckled.

“What?” Adore shot her a confused look through the mirror. “No, I gotta add Zamo.”

“Katya doesn’t know, Adore,” Trixie said slowly, making sure Adore was actually listening.

“You really haven’t talked to Katya about this?” Adore asked and Trixie shook her head.

“We don’t talk about stuff like this very often,” she shrugged.

“You tell each other everything,” Adore said as she put her phone away. “I’m pretty sure you know her social security number at this point.”

“I don’t know, shit like this just never comes up,” Trixie explained, feeling uncomfortable but not sure what about. “Like, I know she sleeps around but we don’t talk about it.”

“You really must not if you think she’s still sleeping around,” Adore raised her eyebrows and Trixie turned around to face her.

“What do you mean?”

“Bianca told me that Kat’s been pretty much celibate all semester,” Adore said.

“Really?” Trixie wasn’t sure why she should care as much as she did at this new information and knew that Katya never really had to tell her why she’d stopped having sex, but it felt vital for some reason.

“Yeah,” Adore shrugged. “Got back from winter break two months ago and just… hasn’t been having sex.”

“Weird,” Trixie muttered. “I hope she’s okay.”

“Why don’t you just ask her, you hopeless idiot?” Adore said, humor and disbelief flooding her tone.

“Fuck off,” Trixie rolled her eyes and ran her fingers through her long, pink curls. She glanced up at Adore in the mirror, who was tying her own turquoise hair up into a high ponytail. “I can’t be seen with you anymore, by the way. Our hair clashes.”

“You’re the worst,” Adore tossed her head back laughing and Trixie just grinned.

Maybe getting through this new wave of self discovery wouldn’t be so bad after all if she had people like Adore on her side.

Not a single person in Trixie’s life wasn’t shocked when they saw her new hair for the first time. Kim had gaped at her for a full ten seconds before saying something along the lines of you look like a glamorous troll doll, and Shea had asked her if she’d done it as part of a lengthy plan to ultimately not have a single part of her body not be pink. But Katya had mostly just screamed, insisting that Trixie let her play with it and then doing so for the next hour and a half while Trixie tried to write an essay.

Trixie knew that there were people convinced that the drastic and sudden change was some sort of cry for help. Bianca questioned her about it every time she was at their apartment in her own blunt way that you’d only know came from a place of caring if you really knew her.

The more time that passed though, the more Trixie began to get more comfortable with the reality of her new life. She was coming out of more than just one type of closet and taking on the world in ways she hadn’t ever contemplated before.

“Why do you need to find a new roommate again?” Alyssa asked, sitting down in the seat across from where Trixie had a dozen or so sublease options printed and fanned out across the table.

“Because Kim is doing that internship in New York so we can’t live together, Katya and Bianca are keeping their same lease for another year, and everyone else has already had their living arrangements figured out since the fall,” Trixie said as she circled the prices of each lease with a thick red marker. “I’m super behind since I figured I’d be back in Milwaukee for the summer.”

Trixie could feel Alyssa giving her what she knew wasn’t intended to be a pitying look but felt like one all the same.

“Well, gimme a stack, let’s look through these then,” Alyssa grabbed a handful of pages from in front of Trixie and began flipping through them.

“I don’t even care who the person is at this point, I just need to be able to afford it,” Trixie groaned.

“What about this one?” Alyssa motioned to a listing in her hands. “Two roommates, right near the train… Oof, that’s a big number.”

“Yeah, they all are,” Trixie dropped her head so her forehead landed on the table. “I think I have to get a second job-- there’s no way I can live on just the bookstore salary.”

“Could you go stay with your brother for the summer in Indy?” Alyssa asked, clearly just trying to help.

“He has three roommates and one of them already technically lives on the couch,” Trixie lifted her head and rested her chin in her hands. “Plus, I wanna stay in Chicago in case I can get that internship I applied for.”

“So you’re going to do two jobs and an internship?” Alyssa raised her eyebrows. “You’re gonna run yourself into the ground, kiddo.”

“I need the money and the experience, so yeah,” Trixie said. “It’ll be fine, I can handle it.”

“You don’t even need one of these places-- you’ll never be home anyways,” Alyssa said with a chuckle and a shake of her head.

“If you’re not gonna be helpful you can just leave,” Trixie teased, snatching the papers Alyssa was holding back.

“You’re in my damn cafe, girl!” Alyssa exclaimed lightheartedly.

Trixie rolled her eyes and glanced back down at the papers she was holding, catching sight of something she didn’t remember reading before.

“Wait…” she pulled the paper out of the stack and dropped the rest into a messy pile on the table. “Two bedroom, only one person living there, in my price range-- well, as close to my price range as we’re gonna get-- I think this might work?”

“Who’d you be living with?”

“It says a girl named Violet is living there over the summer, but the subleaser is going to be abroad for a few months, hence needing to fill the room.”

“I think that just might be your best lead so far, girlie,” Alyssa said with a nod.

“Oh, definitely,” Trixie said, already out of her chair and frantically packing up. “I gotta go contact her before someone else gets that spot.”

“Right now?” Alyssa watched her with amusement.

“Yeah,” Trixie said as she tossed her backpack over one shoulder. “Thank you for helping me, I’ll see you later,” she smiled at Alyssa.

“Okay, okay, but one more thing,” Alyssa called after Trixie as she headed for the door.

“Yeah?” Trixie stopped, still practically bouncing on the balls of her feet with nervous energy.

“If you decide to get a second job, you come to me first, yeah?” Alyssa said insistently.

“Are you hiring?” Trixie’s eyebrows shot up.

“Just looking for a broke, overworked, pink-haired college student to help me clean tables part time,” Alyssa shrugged. “But only if she determines a second job is absolutely necessary.”

“Thank you so much, Alyssa,” Trixie grinned.

“Yeah, whatever, get outta here,” Alyssa motioned towards the door with a good natured roll of the eyes.

“Love you, bye!” Trixie called over her shoulder as she dashed out the door and back into the symphonic voice of Chicago with its clattering train and bustling pedestrians.

Trixie’s feet knew Chicago’s terrain well by this point. The sounds that had seemed so foreign to her when she stepped off her first Greyhound and stumbled down these same streets with blonder hair and wider eyes now felt commonplace and comfortable. She had always found beauty in Chicago’s melody, but the longer she lived there, the more she understood it and the more she adored it.

This didn’t mean that she didn’t still miss home on occasion. In fact, the simple realization that she couldn’t go back to Wisconsin any time soon made her long for the country roads even more. But she was happy here, and she was finding herself, and maybe that could be enough for now.

Kim insisted on accompanying Trixie on her first trip to meet her new roommate, thoroughly convinced that Trixie was going to walk herself into a meth lab and not walk out if she went alone.

“She said she’s a model, are you sure you wanna live with someone that doesn’t eat?” Kim asked as they climbed the steps to the third floor walk-up that might potentially become Trixie’s summer home.

“That’s a gross misconception, I’m sure she eats , Kimberly,” Trixie groaned.

“You don’t know,” Kim insisted. “Everything you know you’ve gotten through minor email communication. She might’ve lied about everything, she might be some sort of sociopath.”

“You need to chill,” Trixie laughed. “I looked her up on Facebook, she seems normal enough.”

“Fine,” Kim threw up her arms dramatically. “But when I get news that your body was found in the lake, I’m gonna tell the police I warned you.”

“Will you do my makeup for the wake?” Trixie asked with mock sincerity as she stopped in front of the apartment labeled D7. “Wait, actually I think I wanna be cremated. Don’t let them bury me.”

“You’re impossible—”

Trixie cut her off by knocking on the door definitively and Kim rolled her eyes.

The moment the door opened, Trixie didn’t need any more proof that Violet Chachki, age 21, was a model. Her distinctive cheekbones and tiny waist paired with an air of confidence and grace caught Trixie’s attention immediately and she couldn’t help but look her up and down for a moment as they stood there.

“Hi,” Violet said. “You Beatrice?”

“Trixie,” she cleared her throat, suddenly aware that her mouth had gone uncomfortably dry, but deciding to link it to the use of her full name and not the leggings that hugged Violet’s thighs. “And this is my friend Kim,” she motioned to where Kim stood with her arms crossed, already on the defense.

“You’re not trying to both move in, right? I’m already in enough trouble with the landlady as it is,” Violet said, but her face didn’t show any distress at the situation.

“Why are you in trouble?” Kim asked.

“Ignore her,” Trixie rolled her eyes and shot Kim a look. “She just thought I was gonna get murdered if I went to meet a stranger by myself.

Violet snorted before turning around and walking back into the apartment, leaving the door open behind her. Trixie and Kim shared a confused look until they heard her call to them over her shoulder.

“You ladies coming? I don’t have all day.”

Trixie rushed to catch up to her, entering the small, but somehow still elegant apartment. The place was meticulously decorated, with simple yet clean furniture and an assortment of what were clearly very carefully chosen trinkets sitting side by side with fashion magazines and books of photography on tall shelves. It was obvious just from the main living space that the people who lived here not only had a good eye for this stuff, but also knew how to use it on a low budget.

It was safe to say Trixie was impressed.

“So, this is the living room,” Violet said with her hands on her hips, looking around the space nonchalantly. “And right through there is a small kitchen,” she motioned broadly, seeming not to be all that invested in whether or not Trixie liked the space.

“This is really nice,” Trixie said. “You have great taste.”

“Yeah, I know,” Violet said casually. It was the kind of comment that might have usually rubbed Trixie the wrong way, but something about the way Violet held herself made Trixie think it was less arrogant and more just a blunt honesty that this young woman was graced with. “We only have the one bathroom,” Violet continued. “But you’d have your own bedroom.”

“Can I see it?” Trixie asked. Violet just shrugged and started walking down a narrow hallway with two doors across from each other, a tiny bathroom at the far end.

“Pearl isn’t here right now, but this is it,” Violet opened one of the doors so Trixie could look inside. “She’s kind of a slob, you’ll probably wanna vacuum really well before you do anything else in this shithole.”

Trixie snorted, looking around at a room that was certainly cleaner than her own, and simply had a slightly overflowing laundry basket in the corner.

“So, you interested?” Violet asked, leaning against the doorway with her arms crossed and one hip jutting out. Her silky black hair was pulled up into a tight ponytail, but fell elegantly down over one of her shoulders as she raised her eyebrows at Trixie.

Trixie considered it for a moment, thinking about all of the options she didn’t have and how at least here she would still have her own bedroom. Violet didn’t seem all that bad either, and Trixie thought that she could even see them becoming friends eventually. She had managed to get on Bianca’s good side after all, and that’s not something many could say honestly.

“Yeah, I’m in if you are,” Trixie decided, sounding a bit more confident about the decision than she felt, because of course she was still nervous.

It was the first time she was going to live in a real apartment. Not a dorm, not her mother’s house, but a real place where she had to pay rent and utilities and talk to the landlady. She knew she could handle it, that wasn’t the issue. The issue was that this somehow made it real.

As she sat down with Violet and signed the necessary paperwork, Kim waiting patiently (or not so patiently) for her to leave, Trixie suddenly realized with total certainty that she was on her own. Yes, she had plenty of friends, plenty of people who still had her back and were there when she needed them, but there was really nothing left stopping her from making any decision about her own life.

She could be a costume designer, a stupid millennial artist chasing her stupid dreams. She could be gay or bi or any shade of queer that felt right on any given day and she could move in with one of the most objectively beautiful people she had ever met and no one could stop her because she was a free adult.

Trixie Mattel was an adult.

Trixie Mattel was free and all she wanted to do was to call her mom.

Chapter Text

Trixie Mattel lost her virginity during the summer between her sophomore and junior years of college.

It was pretty messy. On all fronts.

Later in life, Trixie would look back and consider that maybe the way she had gone about it hadn’t necessarily been the smartest. But, in the moment, getting drunk off her ass and boning down with her beautiful, stunning, emotionally distant, and most importantly temporary roommate felt like the most brilliant thing she’d ever do.

It had started out innocently enough, with Violet returning home from a bad audition wielding enough booze to send an army into a coma and the suggestion that Trixie join her so she wouldn’t have to drink alone. They had been getting along pretty well, not just as roommates, but as almost-friends who would ask each other about their days as much as twice a week and refrain from eating the other’s leftovers from the fridge.

So, Trixie had been more than open to getting drunk on that Thursday night, exhausted from running errands for her internship all morning and serving coffee at Alyssa’s cafe all afternoon.

“What d’you mean you don’t date?” Violet snorted, turned on the couch to face Trixie with her feet tucked delicately underneath her and her umpteenth glass of wine in her hand.

“I just don’t,” Trixie insisted. Both of them were slurring just enough that the conversation would have sounded comical to any outsiders.

“Come on-- you don’t even have a fuck buddy?” Violet grilled further. “What about that blonde that’s over here all the time--what’s her name? The one with the dresses that make me wanna vomit?”

“Katya?” Trixie snorted. “You think I’m fucking Katya?”

“She’s spent many a late night in your room, bitch. What’s a girl s’posed to think?” Violet rolled her eyes and Trixie hummed a sound of discontent.

Trixie had spent the summer up until that point distracting herself enough with work that she didn’t have the time or energy to think about things like girls with beautiful blonde hair who could feasibly put their legs behind their head-- Trixie had seen it and it was a lot to handle, okay?

“I don’t have a fuck buddy--you’re fuckin’ stupid,” Trixie said, as if that was any sort of argument in her case.

“Could if you wanted though,” Violet cocked her head to the side and shrugged. “You’ve got a good body.”

“What?” Trixie snorted indignantly, looking down at Violet’s objectively perfect physique compared to her own, slightly larger than average build.

“Don’t act like you don’t know you’re hot, bitch,” Violet said. “Anyone would be down. Myself included,” she raised her eyebrows mischievously and took a long sip from her glass, downing what was left and setting it aside.

Trixie swallowed thickly, fingers and toes and abdomen and really her whole body tingling in a pleasant waltz of fuzziness from the alcohol and clarity from the certainty in Violet’s voice.

“Be down for what, exactly?” Trixie asked in a register about an octave above her regular one.

“All sorts of things,” Violet said, inching closer to Trixie so her arm was resting on the back of the couch and their faces were mere inches apart. “Good things, like learning all about what’s going on underneath this pretty pink skirt of yours,” Violet’s eyes flickered up and down Trixie’s body and Trixie felt her breath hitch in her chest and warmth flood across every inch of her skin.

“Yeah?” she breathed, glancing down at Violet’s lips momentarily before meeting her dark eyes again.

“Is that something you’d be interested in?” Violet teased, placing a hand on the top of Trixie’s thigh, pushing up the hem of her skirt ever so slightly.

It might have been the wine, but in all likelihood, it was probably just the fact that Trixie had wanted nothing more than this exact scenario for months that led her to pressing forward and locking her lips with Violet’s, pulling the model closer to her by the back of her neck.

Trixie knew that she needed to do some self exploration, and some exploration of other people’s selves, if she was ever going to get a real handle on her little identity crisis. The only issue had been, she was scared. Trixie had been terrified of going out into the world and trying to get laid and just ending up making a complete fool of herself because she didn’t really have any idea what she was doing.

She spent months trying to work up the courage to just kiss a girl so she could see what it felt like, and now that she was doing it, damn did she know it was right.

Before she knew it, Violet was straddling her, and her shirt was on the floor. Before she had a chance to overthink it, she was following Violet to one of their bedrooms, letting her head fall back into the soft pillows and opening her legs wide so a woman could crouch in between them.

A lot of unexpected things had happened since Trixie had started college, but losing her virginity to a woman may have been the most earth-shattering.

“Fuck,” Trixie let out in a breathy moan, fingers in Violet’s dark hair and unintentionally pulling her closer as her tongue made contact with Trixie’s clit again and again. Trixie bucked her hips and Violet pulled away, replacing her mouth with her fingers and instead latching her lips onto Trixie’s neck.

“Jesus-- Fuck,” Trixie continued, unable to stop herself from being vocal at a time like that.

“Barbie’s got a dirty mouth,” Violet quipped as she moved her lips farther down Trixie’s collarbone, apparently dead set on leaving Trixie with enough hickeys that at least one would get spotted at work the next day.

Trixie wasn’t sure why, but something about Violet calling her Barbie made everything feel immediately heightened, and she let out a breathy, mewling sort of noise that even she didn’t know she could make.

“Say that again,” Trixie gasped, hands on Violet’s tits as she fucked herself on Violet’s fingers.

“Say what?” Violet asked absentmindedly.

“Call me Barbie,” Trixie said, not caring so much if she sounded ridiculous, more just curious if it would work a second time.

“Oh, you like that?” Violet smirked, laughing through what was clearly a put-on sex voice. “You like it when I call you Barbie?”

“Yeah-- I guess I fucking-- yeah,” Trixie stammered, because goddammit she really did. She didn’t have a single clue as to why but she wasn’t about to spend that particular moment worrying about it.

“Okay, Barbie-- I want you to come for me, and then you’re gonna eat me out like it’s your fucking job,” Violet said, increasing the speed of her fingers and rubbing her thumb erratically against Trixie’s clit.

Trixie just hummed in approval, eyes squeezed shut.

She did come, and she did eat Violet out like it was her goddamn job (albeit sloppily and with a lot of outside instruction), and they fell asleep in separate beds but she still smelled like sex when she woke up for work the next morning.

They didn’t talk about it right away, and Trixie wasn’t sure if it was because Violet regretted it or because it was just generally pretty awkward to sleep with your roommate, but that definitely didn’t mean Trixie wasn’t still thinking about it.

Trixie spent about seventy-two hours trying to convince herself she had no reason to be guilty, that she wasn’t some sort of predator that had taken advantage of the girl who was kindly letting her live in her apartment.

The sex had been good of course, that was undeniable, but so was the fact that for three days Trixie felt like she was lying to everyone-- including herself. Eventually, she kind of just snapped.

Trixie was sitting on the couch at the end of the day one Friday in July, absentmindedly flipping through one of Violet’s endless amounts of fashion magazines, and it all came pouring out the moment Violet stepped foot in the apartment.

“I’m sorry,” Trixie said hurriedly, to which Violet just raised her eyebrows, closing the front door slowly behind her and dropping her purse nonchalantly. “I mean-- I don’t know if I’m supposed to be sorry?” Trixie continued when Violet didn’t respond. “But we never talked about it, and I don’t know if you’re mad or regret it-- and if I took advantage of you in any way--”

Violet cut her off with a sharp laugh, tossing her head back. Trixie just watched her with a furrowed brow in confusion.

“You think you took advantage of me?” Violet asked with amusement, crossing her arms and jutting one hip out to the side.

“I don’t know,” Trixie said sheepishly.

“Girl,” Violet chuckled as she took a few steps closer to where Trixie was sat on the couch. “We fucked, it was casual, it’s not a big deal.”

Trixie swallowed thickly at the way Violet said it, at how it sounded being put out into the world in actual verbal confirmation like that. They had fucked. Trixie fucked a girl.

“Yeah, okay,” Trixie let out a breath and fell back into the couch, letting her shoulders press into the upholstery.

“Have you been stressing about that shit all week?” Violet asked, tone teasing enough to make Trixie feel genuinely embarrassed.

“No,” Trixie mumbled unconvincingly.

“Listen, if you wanna forget about it and pretend it never happened, that’s fine,” Violet said casually, seeming so unbothered by the whole situation that Trixie wished she could absorb some of the self-assured aura that was flowing off her skin.

“I don’t,” Trixie said quickly. “It was-- I mean, it was good.”

“Yeah,” Violet smirked at her as she kicked off her shoes and left them in the middle of the living room. “It could be good again, too… If you wanted that?”

Trixie’s breath caught in her throat, trapping her words there too and giving her only one real option: she nodded. Violet’s grin spread farther across her face and she started walking down the hall towards her bedroom.

Trixie watched in confusion for a moment, wondering if that was really how the conversation was going to end.

“You coming?” Violet called from down the hall, startling Trixie and sending her heart into overdrive.

It’s safe to say it didn’t take her very long to get into Violet’s bed.

The two of them quickly formed something of an understanding about their little situation. It was casual, either one of them could call it off at any moment, and no one needed to be in on it except for them. It was just easiest that way.

Trixie had never been a casual girl, had been obsessed with the idea of romance since she was little, but she’d also clearly never been particularly good at holding together a relationship either.

Trixie had also never been reckless, had never taken many risks and preferred to follow the path that she could be certain was safest. But, the longer she was separated from her family and the longer the tension of that whole situation began to build inside her chest, the less she cared about staying polished or professional.

If Trixie wanted to fuck her roommate, goddammit she was going to do just that and she wasn’t going to waste her time worrying about how it might affect her future. If she knew anything, it was that everything could fall to pieces at any given moment and she wanted to at least try to enjoy life right up until she hit her inevitable breaking point.

Trixie started going around blabbering about entropy and how everything eventually moved towards chaos so why not fucking enjoy it? The contrast between this relatively reckless, pink-haired woman and the freckle-faced MidWestern girl that had shown up in Chicago almost three years previously was stark enough to be noticable, but had happened gradually enough to not be fully concerning.

“I’m pretty sure we’re supposed to let the water actually start boiling before we drop the noodles in,” Trixie said, watching Katya pour an unmeasured amount of penne pasta straight into a still-heating pot of water.

“You’re a terrible cook, what do you know?” Katya asked mocked defensively as Trixie snatched the box of pasta out of her hand and set it on the counter beside them.

“We’re both terrible cooks, that’s why we’re doing this,” Trixie huffed scanning the instructions she had pulled up on her laptop for how to make the most basic pasta dish she could find. They were in her and Violet’s kitchen, and Katya had been grumbling all the way back from the grocery store about this new obsession Trixie had with learning how to cook.

“Yeah, we’re both awful, so why can’t we just order Chinese?” Katya rested her chin on Trixie’s shoulder, having to stand on her toes to do so.

“Because we always order Chinese,” Trixie chuckled, turning up the heat on the burner and watching the water begin to steam. “And I turn twenty-one next month, so I’d like to feel like a real adult at some point.”

“There’s no such thing as being a real adult-- I just turned twenty-two and I’m fully confident in my inability to make any real meals!”

“The day I start modeling my life after yours is the day I just give up and finally end it all,” Trixie said, sending Katya tumbling backwards in fits of wheezing laughter.

“You bitch,” Katya said in between cackles. “We already decided you’re not allowed to die first!”

“Yeah, I know, but I’m not sure how I’m supposed to outlive an immortal demon,” Trixie shrugged, unable to keep the amused grin off of her face as she sorted through the ingredients she was meant to make sauce with.

“I fuckin’ hate you,” Katya said as she pushed herself up to sit on the counter next to where Trixie was working.

“Yeah, yeah,” Trixie brushed her off absentmindedly. “There should be a saucepan in the cabinet behind your head, grab it for me.”

“When did you become so goddamn bossy?” Katya rolled her eyes as she turned around and loudly sorted through different pots and pans.

“Only very recently,” Violet appeared in the entrance to the kitchen, arms crossed as she leaned against the doorframe with a knowing smirk on her face. She had a tendency of seemingly appearing out of thin air, and it would never not throw Trixie off balance.

“Go fuck yourself,” Trixie said, aggressively chopping up a red bell pepper on the cutting board in front of her. The water on the burner began to bubble higher, louder.

“I have people to do that for me,” Violet teased, coming up behind Trixie and reaching around her with one hand grazing across her lower back as she snatched a piece of bell pepper and crunched down on it.

“You’re gross-- and that’s not for you,” Trixie said, feeling a blush rise up her neck and into the apples of her cheeks. Katya was oddly quiet during the whole exchange.

“What’s gross is your cooking-- are you really trying again? Even after last time?” Violet stepped back, assessing the scene in front of her.

“Nothing even caught on fire, I don’t know why you keep bringing that up,” Trixie scoffed.

“Girl, if literal fire is your benchmark for bad cooking you may actually be hopeless here,” Violet laughed. “And it doesn’t look like Katie is helping much,” Violet motioned to Katya.

“Trix,” Katya hissed, leaning over as if she was trying to have a private conversation with her, and Trixie hummed in response, looking up to meet Katya’s insistent gaze. “I don’t know if she really doesn’t know my name or if your roommate is actually that big of a cunt.”

Trixie snorted and brought her hand up to cover her mouth when she laughed.

“Don’t worry,” she stage whispered back. “She knows your name, she’s just genuinely the biggest cunt I’ve ever met.”

“Noted,” Katya said mock-seriously before turning back to Violet with a regular voice once more. “For your information, I’m offering a great deal of help--”

“She’s not,” Trixie teased.

“--I went to the grocery store--”

“And only complained,” Trixie commented.

“--And now I’m handing her the utensils she requires--” Katya was motioning broadly with her arms as though she was giving some sort of presidential speech.

“And complaining about it--”

“And most of all!” Katya cut Trixie off, making the younger girl laugh while Violet watched on as something of a third wheel. “I’m offering much needed moral support as young Trixie Mattel enters the horrifying world of adulthood!”

“I don’t know why I even tolerate you,” Trixie said as she wielded her knife at Katya with a stupid grin on her face. Katya leaned away from the sharp utensil but couldn’t help but smile right back at her.

“It’s because of all the moral support,” Katya said as though it was obvious.

“I think I’ve had my fill of this dynamic for the next year,” Violet cut in with her casual, droning tone.

“You want us to save you some?” Trixie turned and asked her as she began to depart.

“Not even remotely,” Violet said bluntly, making Trixie shrug as if to say fair enough .

When she was gone, Katya and Trixie continued to haphazardly try to throw together a meal, ultimately ending up with something that only kind of resembled alfredo sauce. Katya tried to put on a brave face and acted like it was actually very good, but the moment Trixie took a bite of it and grimaced she couldn’t help but laugh.

Trixie set her fork down on the coffee table where the two of them were sitting on the floor and watching Golden Girls reruns and looked at her plate as if it had betrayed her.

“You’re good at a lot of things, maybe this just isn’t one of them,” Katya shrugged goodnaturedly.

“Everyone should be able to cook it’s like-- Like one of the basic necessities of being a human,” Trixie groaned.

“Come on, you only started learning like last month, give yourself some time,” Katya said, never failing to astonish Trixie with how quickly she could go from the wacky art girl Trixie had met freshman year to the logical, well-spoken, maddeningly intelligent woman that she kept so well hidden from the public.

In fact, despite her disinterest in real adulthood , Katya seemed to be becoming more careful in everything she did. She took her time before she spoke more often than she would have two years previously and was taking every aspect of her internship as an assistant to a local photographer seriously.

Trixie admired it, wished she could even emulate it sometimes, but was too often caught up in her own fear and regret to figure out how.

“I just want to be able to make something edible,” Trixie snorted. “God, my mom is such a good cook, why didn’t I get that gene?”

Trixie was tense, and Katya could feel it and Katya could hear it and Katya knew it had more to do with the second part of that sentence than it did the first. The more she thought about it the more she figured that maybe that whole day had been in response to the issue of mother . Either Trixie was homesick or regretful or missing her mother but the tone of the room pointed towards answer D: all of the above.

She hesitated, watching Trixie push pasta around her plate and stare at the television without really watching it.

“How long has it been since she called?” Katya asked, voice low just in case Violet had a penchant for snooping because it certainly wouldn’t be surprising.

Trixie took in a sharp breath through her nose and bit at the inside of her cheek before responding.

“May seventh,” she said simply, staring at her plate.

“It’s been over a month?” Katya asked and Trixie could actually hear the anger bubbling in her chest.

“Please don’t get mad,” Trixie said softly.

She knew she couldn’t handle having to face the issue head on, not that night and probably not any time soon. Trixie really had been trying to busy herself all day, dragging Katya to the grocery store-- the nicer one, two train stops further away than their usual-- and insisting they have a sleepover and watch campy television.

“I’m not mad at you,” Katya said, confusion coloring her tone.

“Not at me,” Trixie sighed in exasperation. “At her.”

“Oh,” Katya said in realization. “Well, her I’m a little mad at--”

“Kat,” Trixie said warningly.

“She’s your mother and she’s sure not acting like it—”

Katya.”

“But we don’t have to talk about it,” she hurried to finish.

“Thank you,” Trixie said, slouching down and letting her head fall onto Katya’s shoulder.

“Of course, Barbie girl,” Katya said, wrapping her arm around Trixie’s shoulders and holding her close against her side. “Can I order us a pizza now?”

“Fuck you,” Trixie laughed, tucking her face into Katya’s shirt.

“I’m hungry,” Katya laughed right back and Trixie lifted her face to shoot her a look.

“Okay, but only if you tell Violet that this pasta was edible and we ate it all,” Trixie pointed a finger at her.

“Deal,” Katya said, already dialing the number of the cheap, local pizza spot she had saved in her contacts.

Of course, there was no way Violet wouldn’t find out that they’d thrown the pasta away and gotten a pizza, the box would be in the kitchen when she woke up the next morning, but it was the thought of the matter that really counted.

Sleepovers during the summer between Trixie’s sophomore and junior years of college were a pretty regular thing, and it was common for one or both of them to end up passing out on the couch before they could make it to bed. On this night, however, they both stayed awake long enough to change into pajamas (Katya having an odd assortment of clothing sitting at the bottom of Trixie’s closet for moments like this) and crawl into bed side by side.

It was well after midnight, as they were the kind of people who didn’t quite know how to shut up once they started having a conversation, and Trixie was perfectly content to curl up in her blankets next to Katya and simply fall asleep.

Something was keeping her awake though, and that something was the urgent feeling she seemed to get recently whenever Katya’s brain was working a little bit too hard.

“Kat?” Trixie whispered, turning onto her side to face Katya who lied flat on her back with her hands on her stomach.

“Mmhmm?” Katya hummed in response.

“You’re thinking really loudly,” Trixie said. “You okay?”

Katya bit her lower lip, and Trixie couldn’t help but notice how much younger she looked when she wasn’t wearing makeup and was lit by only the light of the moon. Sometimes Katya seemed so ageless to Trixie, that she forgot she was barely that much older than her.

Katya seemed to hesitate, hands fidgeting where her fingers held on to the blanket, and Trixie was definitely not expecting what she ended up saying.

“Are you sleeping with Violet?”

Katya’s voice wasn’t accusatory and wasn’t angry, but there was something more than basic curiosity that Trixie was too tired and too stunned to place in the moment.

Trixie hadn’t mentioned anything of the sort to Katya, they hadn’t discussed sex in ages and they certainly hadn’t talked about Trixie’s relatively recent but quickly budding love for women. Trixie didn’t know how her friend had figured it out, but maybe should have known that if anyone could, it would be Katya.

“I--” she hesitated, looking at Katya’s shoulder when Katya turned to look at her, not afraid for Katya to know but so used to no one knowing about any of it that she didn’t quite know how to say it out loud. Which may be why all that came out of her mouth was: “Yeah.”

Katya just nodded, letting out a long breath. She wasn’t surprised, not taken aback or concerned by the situation, and seemed more just content with having an answer.

“Okay,” she said, pulling Trixie’s gaze up to her soft face once more. “There’s a lot to unpack there-- You’ll tell me when you’re ready to talk about it?”

Katya’s eyes were so wide and hopeful that it made Trixie almost want to just pull out an itemized list of everything that had traveled across her internal monologue in recent months. But she was exhausted, and it had been a long week, and maybe she was still a little terrified at the idea of vocalizing any of the feelings she’d been having, so she just nodded.

“Yeah,” Trixie breathed. “I promise.”

She reached out her hand, the one she didn’t have tucked under her cheek, and grabbed ahold of one of Katya’s where it rested on her stomach. Katya gave her a soft smile and ran her thumb over Trixie’s knuckles.

They fell asleep like that, holding hands with secrets floating in the air just above them.

Trixie only lived with Violet for two and a half more weeks after that before she moved into an apartment with Kim and prepared to start the fall semester. This didn’t mean she didn’t still see Violet on occasion, their agreement hadn’t quite reached its limit yet and although not living together made it a little more difficult to keep it a secret, Violet’s roommate Pearl couldn’t have cared less about who Trixie was or why she was sneaking out of her front door at six o’clock in the morning on a Wednesday.

Trixie also didn’t talk to Katya about it further, despite knowing that it would have to inevitably happen at some point in the near future.

And so Trixie Mattel started her junior year of college as a new version of herself: impulsive and without worrying so much about the consequences for her actions. Even she wasn’t sure if it had more to do with her needing a rebellion phase or the fact that she felt like a freed convict and just wasn’t ready to grow up yet. Either way, it was a lot to handle.

Trixie found the concept of confronting her own inherently flawed nature to be deeply uncomfortable on a number of personal levels, but she was stubborn, and genuinely didn’t want to revert back to who she had once been, no matter how much more organized and on top of everything that girl was.

Ultimately, she just hoped that this was a stop her personality had to take on the road to becoming something better, the best version of her that she’d always wanted to achieve without ever knowing how.

It was easy to fall back into a routine living with Kim in their new, tiny box of an apartment, but the dynamic was just a little different than it had been a few months prior.

Kim was missing New York and her internship immediately upon arrival and Trixie was moody because that just seemed to be who Trixie was these days and they still loved each other but Trixie was spending more and more time alone in her bedroom or on the phone with her brother.

“What’s your schedule look like this semester?” Tyler asked.

“I’m taking Nosy Brothers 101 ,” Trixie snorted, sitting on the small ledge next to the open window in her bedroom, wishing for a breeze to break the miserably still August heat of Chicago. The sun glinted off of her hair, from which the pink dye had all but faded.

“You thought about doing stand up? You’re real funny,” Tyler teased.

“I’m serious!” Trixie said in mock offense. “I’m also taking Disappointment 260: How to Make the Most of Your Family Exile .”

“Jesus, Trix,” Tyler chuckled, but she could tell from his voice he was exasperated.

“I’m sorry ,” she replied in a mocking tone. “But Convincing Your Mother to Call You Back was already full by the time I tried to sign up.”

The other end of the line was silent for what felt like a solid minute but was probably only a handful of seconds, and Trixie could picture the look of discontent on her brother’s face. It would be the same look he had given her when they were in grade school and she would steal his GameBoy Color to play Pokemon.

“Trixie,” he sighed.

“Don’t do that,” Trixie wrapped her free arm around her ribs and rolled her eyes.

“Do what?”

“Talk at me like I don’t understand the complexity of the situation,” Trixie snapped.

“I wasn’t--”

“Yes, you were.”

“I’m--Just--” Tyler took a deep breath. “God, Trixie this whole thing isn’t easy for me either.”

“Really?” Trixie raised her eyebrows. “When’s the last time you talked to Mom?”

Another beat of silence.

“You don’t wanna tell me?” Trixie continued, voice growing louder and more combative with each passing second. “What? Was it in the last month? Week? Golly gee, maybe it was even yesterday!”

“I’ve tried to convince her--”

“Oh! Oh, you’ve tried to convince her to return my phone calls?” Trixie cut him off, not letting her brother get a word in because she knew his side already, she’d heard it enough times. “What about all the text messages I’ve sent her? Trying to check in and make sure she’s still fucking alive? That the bastard hasn’t killed her yet?”

“Trixie, stop.” Tyler’s voice was low, more serious than Trixie had heard it in ages.

“Too dark?” Trixie said with venom dripping from her words, standing up and beginning to pace the length of her tiny room. “I haven’t heard from my own mother in three months, Tyler. The woman that birthed me is fully pretending that I don’t exist.”

“She has tried.”

“Has she?” Trixie asked, pitch of her voice squeaking but full of spite. “I’ve tried every possible thing I know to try and find a way to get her to just respond to me.”

“It’s so complicated right now--”

“Do you think I don’t know that?!” Trixie screamed, tears in her eyes and voice cracking. “Jesus fucking Christ, Tyler. I started emailing my own goddamn mother to try and see if that would work! What kind of fucking person has to do that? What kind of pathetic piece of shit spends every day trying not to get too hopeful that maybe their stupid fucking mom will finally talk to them . I’m not asking for much! I just want her to respond--I’m her only daughter for fuck’s sake--She won’t even--She’s--I can’t,” Trixie sank into her mattress, elbows on her knees and pinching the bridge of her nose with one hand.

It felt like the world was too loud, but maybe that had just been her voice.

“I’m sorry, Trixie,” Tyler said quietly on the other end of the phone, as though he was afraid of setting her off again.

“I know,” she whispered back, tears falling silently from the corners of her eyes. “But I can’t talk to you about this--I don’t think you get it, Ty.”

“I do --”

“No,” Trixie said more forcefully. “You got to leave before it got bad the first time, and you have always been the one Mom goes to, you’ve always been the one she trusts . Ty, you don’t have a single fuckin’ clue what it’s like to be me right now--Like, sure you’re stuck in the middle of the mess, but y’know what I am? I am the fuckin’ mess.”

Tyler took in a sharp breath on the other end of the phone.

“You don’t get to pretend like you understand what it’s like to be me right now,” Trixie continued. “Because you’re not the one that abandoned their mother and has to deal with the consequences.”

“You didn’t abandon her,” Tyler insisted. “You found your way out of a bad situation. You’re just protecting everything you’ve built out there.”

“When are you gonna figure out that both of those things might be true?”

Trixie didn’t wait for a response before she hung up the phone, letting out a shaky breath. She looked around her room-- at the pink bedspread and the colorful array of fabrics and pieces of embroidery and needlepoint hanging from her walls. It all felt very reflective of what Chicago had meant for her since freshman year-- new and bright and warm , even in the winter when the heating went out in Katya’s apartment sophomore year and they ended up sharing Trixie’s twin sized bed for four nights in a row.

There were pictures on bulletin boards and tickets from museums and a sheet of paper that her and Shea had both doodled on when they were meant to be watching a documentary for one of their classes.

There wasn’t a single family photograph amongst the clutter.

Trixie pushed herself up off of the bed and out her bedroom door.

“Trix?” Kim asked as Trixie stormed out into the living room and pulled on the sneakers she’d left by the door. “Where are you going?”

Trixie knew that Kim must have heard the majority of Trixie’s rant, that there was no way she hadn’t with walls as thin as theirs. But she didn’t want to talk about it.

“I’ll be back later,” Trixie said simply before grabbing her keys and disappearing out the door in an instant.

She spent the rest of the day wandering the city absentmindedly, phone still on her bed and wallet probably in whatever the last purse she had used had been. Trixie walked until her muscles ached and the heat of the sun was making sweat drip down her back and leave a puddle at the base of her spine. She could feel her skin burning and her freckles becoming more defined across the bridge of her nose and she just kept walking, taking the city on one block at a time.

The fabric of her shorts began to chafe at her inner thighs and she let herself be absorbed by the sensation of it because if she let her mind wander too far away from simple things like the heat or her red skin, she might actually lose her mind.

As the sun began to make its slow descent from where it had perched at the top of the sky, Trixie found herself in a familiar part of town and walking into a familiar coffee shop.

It was empty save Alyssa, who was waving a paper fan in front of her face and flipping through a magazine behind the counter.

“Hey Cheese Head!” She said cheerily when she looked up and saw Trixie standing just inside the doorway.

Trixie felt her lip tremble, felt the pace of her heart quicken, and before she could stop herself she was sobbing in the middle of the store with sweaty hair still clinging to her neck. If her makeup hadn’t already melted off in the heat, she was certain it would after this.

“Oh, baby,” Alyssa got up quickly, dropping her fan on the counter with a definitive thwap and rushing towards Trixie. “Hey, baby girl, shhh, it’s okay I’ve got ya,” she said as she placed her hands gently on Trixie’s shoulders and tried to lean down to make eye contact with her.

Trixie just cried harder at that, dropping her head and placing her hands over her mouth as she let out a broken whine.

“Come sit down, I’ll be right back,” Alyssa said, gently guiding Trixie into a chair and rushing behind the counter.

Trixie sat, mortified, with her head in her hands and her shoulders shaking until Alyssa returned with a tall glass of ice water and a box of tissues. Alyssa pulled up a chair next to her and rubbed her back soothingly as she cried.

Trixie wasn’t entirely sure what had come over her. Well, that’s not entirely true. She knew that she was emotionally unstable just as a general rule those days and she knew she had been on the verge of a mental breakdown for months, and to be quite honest the only thing she wasn’t sure of was how she had made it this long before bursting into tears.

“Everything’s such a mess,” Trixie said, sputtering the words out in between ragged breaths.

“Oh, hon, I know but it’s gonna be okay,” Alyssa said. “Just drink some water and we can talk about it, okay?”

Trixie snatched a tissue out of the box in front of her and blew her nose loudly.

“How do you know it’s gonna be okay?” she asked, words barely coherent through the blubbering. “I ditched my family and my mom won’t call me back and I yelled at my brother and on top of all that I think I’m a lesbian!” Trixie wailed, falling into another bout of sobs and feeling more and more like a character out of an angsty teenage drama than she ever had or wanted to.

Alyssa sat in stunned silence at the sudden unloading of new information before she gathered herself and gently pulled Trixie’s hands away from her face.

“Look at me, kiddo,” she insisted softly, and then when Trixie wasn’t listening a bit more forcefully: “Trixie, come on, eyes on me.”

Trixie lifted her gaze slowly, eyes aching to match the weight of her heart and lungs stinging with the remnants of words she wasn’t yet used to saying.

“You’re gonna be okay,” Alyssa held onto Trixie’s shoulders and looked her straight in the eye as she spoke.

“Alyssa—”

“Nope, my turn to talk,” Alyssa said. “Because right now? Yeah, everything is a great big mess—a real shit show.”

“This is helpful,” Trixie deadpanned with a hiccup.

“Stop interrupting,” Alyssa raised her eyebrows. “What I mean is, just because everything is harder than you ever thought it could be, doesn’t mean you won’t find a way to get through it. You, Miss Trixie, are an enigma of a young woman, and I have no doubt in my mind that you’re gonna be okay at the end of all this.”

Trixie took in a slow, shaky breath and let it out carefully as a way to regulate her breathing. She hiccupped a couple of times as her tears slowed and Alyssa held onto her hands, just waiting for her to catch her breath.

“When my mom officially disowns me, will you adopt me?” Trixie asked with an unsteady laugh.

“Oh, but then I wouldn’t get to be your cool aunt,” Alyssa nudged her playfully. Trixie let out a teary chuckle and tucked her head into the crook of Alyssa’s neck.

The older woman responded by wrapping her arms around Trixie and holding her close quietly for a minute or two, because maybe all Trixie really needed that day was a good, long hug.

Maybe the reason Trixie had been so stuck inside herself, so caught up in her own little world of raging storm clouds and incoming hurricanes, was because she had somehow convinced herself that she was alone in all of it. But as she sat there with Alyssa, and when she returned home to a concerned but relieved Kim, she started to realize that she wasn’t.

Yeah, she hadn’t had contact with her mother in a number of months, and she seemed to now also need to apologize to her brother, but that didn’t mean she didn’t still have people on her side. Bit by bit, the fact that she wasn’t alone began to grow clearer.

Particularly on the day that Katya decided to drag her to yoga class.

“This was a bad idea,” Trixie hissed across the small amount of space in between her mat and Katya’s. Okay, they were both Katya’s mats and Trixie was borrowing one, but still.

“This was a great idea, you’re gonna love it,” Katya grinned back at her, legs out in front of her in a seated forward fold.

“Class hasn’t even started and that bitch has her legs behind her head,” Trixie pointed at a woman with long legs who had been transitioning from one complicated pretzel of a pose to another without breaking a sweat.

“Just take it at your own pace, calm down,” Katya chuckled. “You’re gonna be fine. It’s relaxing! You wanted my advice on how to relax!”

“This is not what I had in mind,” Trixie grumbled, looking around at the slim figured women and men preparing for class.

“Well, this is what I’ve got to give,” Katya shrugged.

“Have I mentioned recently that I hate you?”

“Only about once every five minutes for the last two years,” Katya deadpanned.

Trixie rolled her eyes and both girls stifled their laughter as the instructor stepped to the front of the room and began to lead them through the class.

Trixie found herself struggling for most of it, looking at Katya out of the corner of her eye and trying to emulate what she was doing but feeling more like a bumbling toddler still learning to walk than a grown ass woman.

Katya was graceful, had perfect form and beautifully executed transitions and Trixie didn’t particularly want to look away from the strength that was evident in her friend’s muscles. It was a particularly inconvenient time to remember that she was becoming more and more certain she was fully, completely, undeniably gay , but it was on her mind all the same.

It had been less than two weeks since Katya had questioned Trixie’s sorta-relationship with Violet, and although Trixie knew she would never have to feel rushed with Katya, she also knew she wouldn’t be able to feel like she had truly accepted herself until she’d talked to her best friend.

Trixie wouldn’t feel really and truly out until she was out to Katya, and she just needed to accept that.

By the end of class, Trixie was laying face down on her mat feeling sweaty and spent and Katya was poking at her with her toes.

“You still alive down there?”

“Fuck you,” Trixie mumbled into her mat, blindly swatting Katya’s foot away.

“I’m so grateful to have someone as supportive as you in my life,” Katya laughed and Trixie pushed herself slowly up onto her knees.

“I support you, just not yoga as a concept,” Trixie teased, haphazardly rolling up her mat and sticking out a hand in hopes that Katya would help her get up.

“We haven’t even gotten to the best part of yoga yet,” Katya grinned, pulling Trixie off the ground so she was once again the taller of the two.

“There’s more?” Trixie whined and Katya laughed, grabbing Trixie’s hands and pulling her towards the door.

“It’s smoothie time!”

Trixie quickly decided that maybe she could tolerate yoga if it meant having an excuse to drink girlie pink smoothies with her best friend.

The two girls situated themselves in the smoothie shop next door to the yoga studio, relishing in the air conditioning and sucking down fruity refreshments at a small, laminate table across from one another.

“Why don’t we drink smoothies more often? We don’t even have to do yoga we could just make them at my apartment,” Trixie said.

“Why not at my apartment?” Katya said in mock offense. “We only spend time at your apartment anymore.”

“Two reasons,” Trixie held up her fingers sequentially as she spoke. “One: Bianca and Adore could start fucking in any room at any time—“

“Fair.”

“And two: there’s no way in hell you actually own a functioning blender.”

“Hey! We have a blender, bitch!” Katya laughed.

“I will bet you twenty bucks right now that if we went and tried to turn it on it wouldn’t work,” Trixie teased.

“You’re wrong.”

“When’s the last time you used it?”

Katya opened her mouth as if she was going to fight back and closed it a couple of times. Trixie cackled.

“Fine! We’ll make smoothies at your stupid apartment,” Katya rolled her eyes good naturedly.

“Thank you,” Trixie grinned and took a long, satisfied sip from her drink.

They sat in comfortable silence with one another for a minute, Katya periodically kicking Trixie under the table to try and get a rise out of her but just making her snort into her smoothie.

Katya’s smile had barely left her face the whole day and in that moment Trixie felt so thoroughly and completely safe that she barely had time to consider it before her mouth and tongue were tag teaming her next hurried statement.

“By the way, I think I’m probably gay,” Trixie said it more to the table than to Katya and latched her lips around her straw the moment the words left her mouth. Her heart was pounding and she wondered if this would ever get even a little bit easier or if she would always be a shaking mess when she tried to discuss this with anyone and—

“Was the secret to getting you to talk about this really smoothies all along?”

Trixie looked up to find Katya smiling at her, something like pride in her eyes.

“Would you shut up and at least pretend to be surprised by this major development in my life?” Trixie raised her eyebrows as if she was annoyed but in all honesty, Katya couldn’t have reacted any better. She had taken the pressure out of the situation, made a joke and put Trixie back in a headspace where she was comfortable: humor.

“Sorry, sorry,” Katya threw her hands up in a defensive position and chuckled. “Spill your gay guts to me, Trixie Mattel.”

“I mean,” Trixie chuckled and shrugged. “That’s kind of it.”

“You don’t wanna get touchy feely about it? But that’s the best part of all this,” Katya said.

“You’re the one that likes being touchy feely,” Trixie gave Katya an exasperated look. “That’s not quite my jam.”

“Okay, fair enough,” Katya conceded, nodding quietly for a moment. And then: “Can I maybe be touchy feely for just, like, a second?”

Trixie took in Katya’s pleading gaze and rolled her eyes, a smile pulling at her lips.

“Knock yourself out,” she leaned back in her chair and watched Katya expectantly.

“I’m just— like Jesus Christ, Trixie, I’m so fucking proud of you,” Katya said as if she was getting something big and monumental off of her chest. “You do so much and you put up with so much and you’ve still managed to find ways to grow, if that makes sense? You’re so much more confident and so much more sure of who you are than when we met and sometimes it just smacks me in the face.”

Trixie’s eyes softened as Katya gave her little speech.

“And look,” Katya continued. “I know you’re dealing with a lot of complicated shit right now, but none of that changes how fucking far you’ve come. I just—okay I know I’m rambling and you usually cut me off when I’ve been going on this long so I don’t quite know how to stop so feel free to jump in whenever—“

Trixie cut Katya off, not by saying anything, not by making her usual quip about how Katya didn’t know how to shut up, but instead by reaching out and grabbing one of her rapidly gesticulating hands.

“Thanks,” Katya chuckled, taking a deep breath.

“I’ve never met anyone else like you,” Trixie said, a breath of a sentence that even she didn’t expect to say.

“Because I’m crazy?” Katya grinned, cocking her head to the side but not letting go of Trixie’s hand.

“Partially,” Trixie shrugged. “But mostly because you’ve got the biggest heart I’ve ever seen—I’m never gonna understand how you fit it in that tiny little body.”

“I’m not that tiny!” Katya said insistently.

“You’re not focusing on the right part of that sentence,” Trixie laughed. “I gave you a fucking compliment and you missed it.”

“I didn’t miss it,” Katya said, voice softer as she dropped her gaze ever so slightly.

Trixie blushed. They drank their smoothies.

Just a handful of weeks later, it was time for Trixie to celebrate her twenty-first birthday. Amongst their group of friends, turning twenty-one generally meant house parties because not everyone was yet of age. However, although Trixie wasn’t the youngest, she was the youngest without a functioning fake ID, and so a bar crawl seemed to be in order.

Everyone dressed up in their own versions of party attire, from Katya in a biker-chic black jacket and the ever present combat boots to Adore’s carefully curated grunge to Trixie’s own self-designed and self-made sleek fitting burgundy dress that made her look at least twenty-four when paired with the heavy makeup she wore that night.

Trixie was determined to get wasted, a fact she made unavoidably clear to all of her friends and a fact that made Katya volunteer to be the sober friend for the evening, the one that kept her wits about her enough to make sure everyone made it home alive.

And so they started out small with drinks at a casual bar and worked their way up to the point where Trixie was good and sloppy, pulling Katya by the hand to dance with her in the middle of a crowded club.

“Come on, you love to dance!” Trixie insisted, tugging at a gleefully chuckling Katya. “And it’s my birthday!”

“I’m not arguing with you,” Katya laughed and let Trixie hold onto her hands as she danced off beat with broad strokes of her hips and arms.

Trixie could feel her skin buzzing in the warmth of the club, blood warm and rushing with the booze in her system. She was happy, and she was going to keep letting herself be happy for the rest of the night because if one night on her birthday was all she got for a feeling like this, she was certainly going to hold onto it as long as she could.

She danced and she screamed song lyrics at the top of her lungs and she downed shots bought by people who found out that the loud girl in the massive pink hair bow had just turned legal.

And by the time the group of them stumbled out of the club in search of a new party at two in the morning, it was a miracle that Trixie was even holding herself upright.

“Are you done yet, party girl?” Bianca asked, Adore hanging heavily off of her.

“One more!” Trixie cried, throwing her hands up joyfully.

“We can go to one more but no more free shots from strangers,” Katya said with an amused but tired smile.

“Lame,” Trixie pouted. She was leaning on Katya and Katya had an arm secured around her waist and she felt warm and comfortable and safe and—“Shit,” Trixie fumbled as her phone began to ring.

“You okay?” Katya looked at her with a furrowed brow.

“M’ phone,” Trixie mumbled, trying to rummage through her purse with Katya’s hand resting on her upper arm as though Katya wasn’t fully convinced Trixie wouldn’t fall over at a slight breeze. “Got it!” she said triumphantly as she pulled it out, face bright until she caught sight of the caller ID and froze. “Oh my god.”

The words came out in a sobering whisper, and Trixie felt the all the noise around her fade into a slight buzz in the base of her spine.

Trixie started walking away, still looking at her ringing phone without speaking.

“Trixie?” Katya chased after her in both concern and confusion at the sudden but palpable change in tone.

Trixie didn’t answer her, pressed her thumb against the small green circle on her phone and lifted it to her ear.

“Mom?”

Katya took a startled step back but Trixie reached out and grabbed her wrist, needing something to ground her in reality because her world suddenly felt like it was flipped upside down and inside out. How drunk she was certainly wasn’t helping either.

“Hi, Trixie,” her mom's voice was quiet through the speakers of her phone, almost a whisper, almost as if she didn’t want anyone to hear her.

“Hi,” Trixie said in a breath. She was speechless and trying not to slur and could feel her fingers gripping Katya’s wrist like a lifeline.

“I’m sorry I’m calling so late,” Karen said softly, and if Trixie had been more sober she would have heard either the beginnings or remnants of tears in her voice.

“S’okay,” Trixie squeezed her eyes shut, feeling more dizzy than she had just moments before. She felt Katya take a step closer to her, letting herself be used as a crutch.

“Happy birthday, kiddo.”

Trixie’s breath caught in her throat and she felt her heart stutter.

“Thanks, Ma,” she croaked. She could vaguely hear Katya shushing her friends, pushing them back the way they had come as they approached to investigate.

“How does it feel to be twenty-one?” Karen asked as if she was just looking for excuses to stay on the line. Trixie wanted her to stay, but she didn’t know how much longer she could hold herself together.

“S’good,” she mumbled. “My friends threw-- uh, threw me a party.”

“That’s wonderful.”

A beat of silence passed before Trixie spoke again in a near whisper on the side of the road in Chicago, voice miraculously traveling all the way to Milwaukee through the speakers of her phone.

“I miss you.”

“I miss you too, Trixie.”

“I wanna come home,” there were tears in her eyes spilling out across her melting makeup which had been so painfully pristine at the beginning of the night.

“Just give it time, kiddo,” Karen sighed. “It’ll all be okay.”

“Do you promise, Mama?”

“Trixie…”

“Promise it’ll be okay,” Trixie said in a voice that would have been insistent had she not managed to slur every word of it.

“I promise,” Karen sighed reluctantly. “Now I’ll let you go, get some sleep.”

“Mama—”

“I love you, Trixie. Happy Birthday.”

“Thank you. Night, Ma.”

“Goodnight,” Karen said before a definitive click signaled the end of the call.

Trixie let the phone fall from her ear, looking at the screen blankly for a moment before coughing, turning around, leaning against the brick wall of the building, and vomiting onto the concrete sidewalk. She could feel the gravelly pieces of brick digging into the soft skin on the palm of her hand as she heaved, eyes closed but the sound of vomit on concrete enough to make her feel pretty goddamn disgusting.

She slowly collapsed onto her knees coughing and spitting to try helplessly to get the taste of it out of her mouth. Katya crouched down next to her and gently placed a hand on her back, pulling her hair back with her free hand.

“You want me to take you home?” Katya asked softly.

Trixie nodded wordlessly, leaning into Katya’s touch and wiping helplessly at her mouth.

“Okay, come on,” Katya wrapped her fingers around Trixie’s upper arm and helped her to her feet. She glanced over her shoulder where their friends were waiting anxiously. “You guys good to get home?”

“Yeah, do your thing,” Bianca assured, waving her off. “And text me later to let me know everything’s okay.” Katya nodded and wrapped her arms more tightly around Trixie.

Ten minutes later they were in a taxi and Trixie was tucking her head into Katya’s lap, gripping onto her leg with one hand without speaking or crying or making any sort of sound. Katya ran her fingers through Trixie’s hair, soothing her, scratching gently at her scalp with her fingernails.

By the time they got up to Trixie’s apartment, she was green in the face again and stumbled to the toilet the minute they were inside to heave buckets of alcohol back up and out of her system.

Her chest was tight and she clutched the edge of the toilet with white knuckles and nothing felt real besides the buzzing in her brain and the static in her fingertips. She leaned her forehead against the cool seat of the toilet and replayed the short phone call dozens of times before she felt Katya’s presence on the floor beside her and Katya’s hand pulling her hair out of her face.

“Y’don’t have to stay,” Trixie mumbled.

“Shut up,” Katya said softly as she pulled Trixie upright and pressed a damp washcloth into her hands. “Wash your face, it’ll make you feel better.”

Trixie did as she was told without any push back, still leaning most of her weight on the toilet as she ran the cool towel over her face.

“Do you want to go to bed?” Katya asked as she placed a hand on Trixie’s knee, running her thumb back and forth slowly.

“I don’t think that’s a good…” Trixie swallowed thickly and scrunched up her face. “I should stay here.”

“Okay, make room,” Katya adjusted their positions so she was against the the bathtub and Trixie could lean against her in between her legs if she wanted, facing the toilet.

Instead, Trixie sat upright in between Katya’s legs and rested her head on one of Katya’s knees, letting her eyes fall shut and trying to will her stomach to stop tumbling while Katya gently scratched her short nails up and down the length of her spine. Trixie ultimately failed and had to rock herself forward and heave into the toilet bowl once more.

As she finished, she let out a heavy, exhausted sob, legs sprawled out across the bathroom tile and cheek pressed against the toilet seat. She felt like a child, like a toddler who was crying over how much she missed her mama, but once it started she just couldn’t stop.

“M’sorry,” she sobbed. “Fuckin’ stupid—I hate—I’m so fucked, fucking fuck me,” she blabbered, not even realizing that she wasn’t expressing herself in any sort of coherent fashion.

“Shhhh,” Katya hushed, reaching behind her to rinse the washcloth in the tub and ring it out. She pulled Trixie to face her more and began running the damp cloth under her eyes and across her red cheeks.

“I’m going crazy—Kat, I feel—I feel like I’m losing my mind,” Trixie continued, letting Katya pull her closer to her chest.

The two had weathered many a breakdown together and amongst all of it they had learned how to get each other through a moment like this. Katya needed to talk things out to find her footing, and Trixie needed isolation (from everyone except Katya that is). Trixie needed help to get grounded, and Katya was the only one that really knew her system.

“Hey,” Katya said. “Breathe, Trix.”

“She promised—I made—I made her promise,” Trixie’s breath got shallower and she gripped onto Katya’s shirt and buried her face in her shoulder.

“Trixie—“

“I can’t fucking—I can’t—I just—”

“Barbie girl, you’re spiraling,” Katya said in a breaking voice, clearly more affected by the situation than she wanted to let on. “Please listen to me so I can help before it gets worse.”

Trixie nodded against Katya’s shoulder, feeling heaviness in every inch of her body.

“You remember the system you taught me?” Katya asked, and Trixie nodded again, humming in acknowledgement. “Okay, good. Start with things you can feel.”

Trixie took a shaky breath and pressed her cheek against Katya’s sternum.

“The tile,” she began slowly. “My face is wet, and I’m wearing a necklace, and um… Fuck.”

“It’s okay, take your time,” Katya breathed into Trixie’s hair, stroking a hand up and down her arm.

“Your shirt… Your hands… Your heartbeat,” Trixie said quietly, words still slurring together ever so slightly but tone more exhausted than drunk at this point.

“What can you hear?” Katya continued the regimen that Trixie had taught her ages ago. It had been after a particularly hard night in which Trixie had needed to talk herself down from a dangerous mental space and Katya had asked her how she did it, how she could help her do it again in the future.

“The fan is on, and the pipes are running because the pipes are always fucking running in this fucking apartment--”

“Slow down,” Katya said when she heard Trixie’s voice start getting into frantic territory. Trixie took a steadying breath.

“There are sirens outside, lots of cars on the street,” Trixie finished. She could feel her heartbeat steadying out and her grip on Katya loosen as she got ahold of reality once more.

“Getting there?”

“Getting there,” Trixie sighed. “Still feel like I might get sick though.”

“You wanna hang out in here for a little while longer? I can put a trash can by your bed if that’s better,” Katya suggested as she smoothed down Trixie’s wind-tangled, matted down hair.

“Can’t move,” Trixie muttered, barely audible against Katya’s chest before lifting her head slightly to look at her. Trixie’s face fell when she caught sight of her friend’s red-rimmed eyes and shaky features. “You’re crying,” Trixie reached up and wiped at smeared mascara with her thumb.

“I’m okay,” Katya shook her head. “Just relax, we’ll go to bed soon.”

“M’sorry. I didn’t mean to make you cry,” Trixie said, effectively ignoring Katya’s insistence of otherwise. “You don’t deserve to be sad--You’re, you’re, you’re so good. So good . You deserve good not sad.”

“I’m not sad, it’s okay, Trix,” Katya said, looking down at where Trixie was still collapsed against her.

“You’re crying.”

“Not your fault.”

“I ruined the party and made you cry,” Trixie’s face crumpled at the thought of it.

“You didn’t ruin anything, and I only cried because I care about you so much,” Katya said, receiving a confused looked from Trixie. “I mean, I just-- I see how much this stuff with your mom is affecting you and I know there’s nothing I can do about it.”

“You’re doing this,” Trixie said simply. “You’re so empa--empath-- empanada?”

“Are you trying to say empathetic?” Katya let out a soft, disbelieving laugh.

“Empathetic!” Trixie threw her head back and laughed. “Empanadas are food!”

Katya and Trixie both burst out laughing at that, breaking some of the tension that had been weighing down on them since their arrival back at Trixie’s apartment. Trixie let her head fall back into the crook of Katya’s neck as she caught her breath, finding comfort in the rise and fall of Katya’s chest as their breathing found a steady rhythm.

Trixie could feel herself dozing off as they both sat in comfortable silence at nearly four o’clock in the morning, but couldn’t bring herself to get up and go to bed.

“She called,” Trixie whispered with awe, nuzzling against Katya.

“Yeah, Barbie girl. She sure did.”

“I love you, Kat,” Trixie muttered as she drifted off to sleep in a position she knew would leave her neck aching in the morning.

She was fast asleep before Katya even responded.

“I love you too, Trixie Mattel.”

 

Chapter Text

 

It was a Thursday morning in late September when Trixie Mattel stumbled out of her bedroom in nothing but a bathrobe twenty minutes after her first class of the day had already begun.

Sunlight streamed through broken blinds and left stripes of warmth patterned across the magenta armchair they had bought at a thrift store a few weeks prior. The heavy, humid heat of summer was beginning to fade into a comfortable warmth that would eventually shift into a brisk Autumn and Trixie was tired. All the time.

“Kim, are you cooking?” She called out as she rubbed a hand over her eyes and yawned, making her way towards the kitchen.

“She made me eggs!”

Trixie’s eyes shot open at the voice, catching sight of a young woman with blue-gray hair seated at her kitchen table.

“Max,” Trixie coughed. “I figured you had left.”

“I wouldn’t leave without saying goodbye, silly,” Max laughed and went back to eating the food on her plate.

Trixie made eye contact with Kim, shooting her a look that more than anything else just said I’m going to murder you later . Kim just smirked and raised her eyebrows, glancing at Max before mouthing Her? and going back to scrambling a pan of eggs.

Trixie rolled her eyes and made her way into the kitchen to pour herself a cup of coffee. She held the warm mug close to her face and breathed it in, standing as far from where Max was seated as she could.

See, Trixie might not have had any shame, but when a one night stand was determined to stay the night and eat breakfast in her kitchen the next morning, she couldn’t help but feel perturbed.

“Don’t you have class?” Kim asked, scooping some eggs onto a plate and placing them on the counter next to where Trixie was leaning.

“Eh,” Trixie shrugged, stuffing a forkful of food into her mouth as a signal to Kim that they had had this conversation too many times and she was over it.

“Oh, I do,” Max said, wiping her mouth daintily before bringing her empty plate to the sink. “I should get going but thanks for breakfast, Kim,” she grinned.

“Yeah, no problem,” Kim shrugged. “Anything for a friend of Trixie’s,” she smirked and Trixie held back a groan.

“And thank you,” Max turned to Trixie, resting a hand on her forearm. “For last night,” Max reached up and kissed Trixie’s cheek.

“Yeah, sure,” Trixie muttered, bringing her coffee cup up in between their faces to create a barrier. Max didn’t get the hint.

“Text me later?” Max asked as she grabbed her jacket and moved towards the door.

Trixie hummed into her coffee and waved, knowing she was most certainly not going to text Max-the-Tinder-hookup later and let out a breath when the door was finally closed behind her.

Violet had moved to New York quite abruptly, leaving Trixie sexually frustrated and searching dating apps for ways to get off without strings attached. She quickly realized that she hadn’t appreciated her incredibly simple relationship with Violet while she’d had it.

“Remember when you were a virgin?” Kim said mock-wistfully. “And I didn’t have to entertain your sexual escapades in awkward morning-after encounters?”

“Remember when I was straight?” Trixie combatted. “Things change.”

“Poor bitch doesn’t even know she’s the third one this week, does she?” Kim asked with raised eyebrows.

“You know, we don’t have to talk about this,” Trixie said, carrying her plate and mug to the table to sit down across from Kim while she finished eating. “In fact, I’d be thrilled if we didn’t.”

“Oh, bitch, we’re talking about it alright,” Kim laughed. “You’re insatiable all of a sudden, like, what the fuck is going on?”

“Don’t slut shame me, Kimberly,” Trixie scoffed.

“You are a slut and I am shaming you,” Kim said. “But not for the gross amounts of sex.”

“Then for what?” Trixie laughed in disbelief. Kim shot her a disapproving look. “No, seriously,” Trixie said. “What am I doing that’s shameful?”

“When’s the last time you went to your morning class?” Kim deadpanned.

“What? I…” Trixie floundered. “None of your business.”

“Trixie,” Kim sighed.

“Don’t do all that,” Trixie said with a shake of her head.

“All what?”

“The pity voice and the disapproving mom stance,” Trixie motioned at Kim’s general demeanor broadly with her hands. “I can take care of myself. I’m fine.”

“But you’re clearly not fine,” Kim said with a humorless laugh. “Trix, everyone is worried about you and you won’t talk to anyone.”

“Did you give me these eggs so you could ambush me?” Trixie asked. “Are these ambush eggs?”

“I’m trying to be sincere for once in my life, would you listen?” Kim said with exasperation.

“I want you to get off my case,” Trixie said, picking up her plate and tossing it in the sink unwashed. “Sincerely.”

She walked back into her bedroom to leave Kim sitting alone in the kitchen. She wasn’t angry with her friends for being concerned, in a logical sense she even understood it, but Trixie was getting tired of the drama, and tired of being the center of it, so she was doing a lot of avoiding in recent weeks.

After breaking down at her own goddamn birthday party, Trixie hated the idea that anyone would see her as weak, would have even an inkling of how fucking terrified she was of most everything going on in her life. Her mental state had gone from not so great to teetering on the edge of a skyscraper and she was well on her way to not passing at least two of her classes that semester.

She wanted to fix it, she wanted to be the good student that she knew she could be, but she was so tired. She couldn’t find the energy to do anything about any of it.

“What’s a fancy, academic-sounding word for a lot?” Adore asked, sitting at Trixie’s desk with her laptop open to a half-written essay in proper MLA format-- twelve point font, double spaced, and all.

“What?” Trixie looked up from where she had been fiddling absentmindedly with her guitar.

“How do I make There’s a lot of issues sound like I’m a star of academia and not a music major forced to write a research paper for the first time since freshman year?” Adore said with a groan. Trixie chuckled.

“Um, try There are a plethora of elements to explore,” Trixie said in a mock-pretentious voice.

“Fuckin’ perfect, dude,” Adore turned back to her computer and typed the sentence frantically while Trixie went about with playing a handful of cords that didn’t match up and didn’t form any sort of melody or progression.

Trixie was wearing her pajamas still, hair tied in two messy pigtails because she hadn’t washed it and face only sporting makeup because she hadn’t taken it off before she fell asleep the night before. She wasn’t actively skipping class because it was a Saturday, but she was actively avoiding all of the work she needed to be doing for said classes.

“I haven’t heard you play in a while,” Adore said casually over her shoulder. “You learning something new?”

“Not really,” Trixie shrugged.

“Maybe you could bring your guitar this weekend?” Adore asked, a hopeful tint to her tone that didn’t go unnoticed by Trixie and made her feel a pang of guilt for just how distant she knew she’d been.

The upcoming weekend would mean the usual, but irregularly scheduled, party at Katya and Bianca’s apartment.

Those parties had once been a place where Adore and Trixie would force their drunken jam sessions down everyone else’s throats whether they wanted to hear them or not, and Trixie would be lying if she said she didn’t miss the pure joy that always accompanied moments like that.

“Yeah, maybe,” Trixie gave her a soft smile and Adore beamed as she returned to her essay.

A party was probably exactly what Trixie needed at that point in her life. Or maybe booze was what she needed, it’s hard to be sure. But in a tiny room smelling of cheap beer and burnt nachos surrounded by the only group of friends Trixie had ever felt this much love for, she felt relaxed.

Not good, it would take a lot more work on her part to get to feeling good again-- which, let’s be honest, was not something she had fully allowed herself to acknowledge yet-- but mellow enough to laugh at Katya’s carefree dancing and mercilessly tease Sasha’s eternal need to intellectualize everything.

Trixie wasn’t particularly talkative, and actually managed to spend most of the night either curled up in the corner of Katya and Bianca’s floral couch or on the floor while she doodled bouquets of tulips and tiny hot air balloons on their rapidly filling walls.

“Trix!” Adore called out, tearing Trixie’s attention away from the woman she was sketching out in Sharpie on the white wall. She was thus far faceless, but wore a baggy denim jacket and thick soled Doc Martens.

“What do you want?” Trixie turned to look at where Adore was standing on the other side of the room. Trixie groaned when she saw Adore holding up Trixie’s guitar case enthusiastically.

“Don’t be like that!” Adore pouted. “Come on, it’ll be fun,” she set the case down and opened it up.

Trixie was off the floor in an instant when she saw Adore pulling her guitar out of its comfortable safety net without permission.

“Be careful with that!” she reprimanded, making everyone in the room laugh as she gingerly took the guitar from Adore’s hands.

“You’re holding it, can we play now?” Adore asked.

“Adore,” Trixie groaned. “You’re fuckin’ relentless.”

“Why’d you bring it if you’re not gonna play?” Adore whined.

You brought it, dipshit,” Trixie rolled her eyes.

“Come on, Trix,” Shea chimed in. “We all know Adore’s not gonna shut up ‘til you give in.”

“Don’t pressure her,” Sasha smacked Shea’s arm, who in turn rolled her eyes.

“Oh my god, if it means you’ll all shut up I’ll fuckin’ play something,” Trixie groaned, carrying her guitar to sit down on the floor in front of the couch, using it to lean back against as she tuned her strings.

“Yeah, man!” Adore cried enthusiastically, rushing to sit down across from Trixie.

Katya slid to the floor from her seat on the couch, shoulder close to Trixie’s with a grin on her face as she studied the younger girls hands deftly fiddle with the guitar strings. Her fingers were nimble, unrehearsed but skilled, and it was as if she was cupid toying with a child’s heart, introducing them to their first crush.

They started out with Adore choosing song after song, pulling up the chord progressions on her phone for Trixie to study as she played. The weight of her guitar in her fingertips and against her palms felt foreign to Trixie, but the music that bounced off her strings sounded more like comfort than she’d known in months.

Slowly but surely, she started to get more into it, humming along and then eventually singing the harmonies to Adore’s melodies as they began taking requests from friends and fighting over who got to choose the next tune.

The music got louder and more boisterous, with people dancing and laughing-- Trixie was laughing -- before eventually mellowing out once more.

“You gotta let me play Landslide before we finish,” Trixie said, fingering the simple intro softly on her guitar.

“What’s it like living fully inside of Stevie Nicks’ ass?” Adore joked and Trixie let out a screech of a laugh, dropping the melody before picking it up with ease once more.

“Delightful, if you must know,” Trixie shot back.

“You should play it,” Katya said sleepily, letting her head fall into Trixie’s lap and clearly just moments away from dozing off into a content dream state. “I like it when you play that one.”

“The jury has spoken,” Trixie said, smiling softly down at where Katya was burying her face in the fabric of Trixie’s jeans, using her hands as a makeshift pillow. Trixie figured it couldn’t be all that comfortable of a position, but she wasn’t going to complain either.

“Whipped,” Bianca coughed, and Trixie rolled her eyes, trying to ignore the blush she could feel creeping up her neck.

Instead of responding, she started singing softly, watching her fingers on the strings and Katya’s sleepy profile in equal measure. No one joined in on this one, just listening to Trixie’s voice fill the small space of the shitty apartment that would always hold a special place in every single one of their hearts.

Nights like that, with friends and drinks and music, with a worn out floral couch and walls covered in signatures and crude doodles, with the soft, yellow light of mismatched lamps scattered around the living room. Nights like that Trixie remembered what it was like to feel human.

She knew those lyrics as if they were sewn into her DNA and she knew the feeling of Katya’s cheek against her thigh the way clouds knew how to bring rain at the end of a hot summer and for just a moment she felt certain that she could, that she would, be okay again.

Even if for just a moment.

That night, Trixie would fall asleep in Katya’s bed as they had done so many times before. She would fall asleep feeling light and loved and full of fuzzy warmth.

The difference in how she felt falling asleep and how she felt waking up to Katya’s alarm the next morning was stark, telling, and should have concerned her more than it did.

She drifted in and out of a heavy sleep as Katya moved around the room, getting dressed and packing her backpack up for whatever she needed to get done that day.

“Trixie?” Katya sat down on the edge of the bed and rested a hand on Trixie’s hip. Her thumb moved slowly back and forth across the fabric and Trixie melted into the soothing feeling of it.

Trixie just hummed in response and buried her face farther into the pillow. Katya sighed, because they had been here before too many times, because it hurt every time she looked at Trixie and saw her go back to that led weight of a headspace the younger girl wouldn’t even acknowledge as a problem.

“Trixie, I have to go to a shoot,” Katya said insistently. “Are you gonna be good here?”

“Yeah,” Trixie muttered. “Have a good day.”

“Don’t sleep all day, please,” Katya said. “And eat something for god's sake.”

“You’re gonna be late,” Trixie said, shoving lightly at Katya’s arm as if to push her out the door.

“Yeah, okay,” Katya said. “I’ll see you later, Barbie girl.”

“Bye, Kat.”

Trixie fell into a deep sleep the moment she heard the front door close, and stayed that way for another few hours. She wrapped herself up in Katya’s sheets, in the warmth of pillows that were molded to Katya’s shape.

It would have been relaxing if the act of it had felt at all optional, if she felt like she had any say in whether or not she was ever going to leave the almost uncomfortable heat trapping her amongst those blankets.

Eventually she woke up, eyelids heavy and brain too fuzzy to acknowledge that it was well past noon and she hadn’t moved all day.

She scrolled absentmindedly through her phone, taking in tweets without really processing what any of them said, all the while letting her hair mat up against Katya’s pillows. Trixie knew that she had things to do, knew that if she opened her email there would be a slew of assignments to finish and professors asking to see her regarding how many classes she had missed. And Trixie cared, Trixie cared too much about how she was actively failing but she couldn’t find it in herself to fix any of it.

So she stayed there, and she reprimanded herself for wallowing, and she cried a little bit, but quietly enough that if Bianca was home she wouldn’t hear.

Trixie was asleep again by the time Katya got home a number of hours later, and was woken up by the feeling of Katya’s arm around her ribs and her chin on Trixie’s shoulder.

“Hey, you,” Katya said, no malice in her voice but enough disappointment that it made Trixie feel like she might start crying again.

“How was your shoot?” Trixie rasped with sleep still clinging to her vocal chords.

“Went a bit long, but it was good,” Katya said. “I brought food home.”

Trixie didn’t respond, but let out a slow, controlled breath.

“Barbie girl, you gotta eat something,” Katya sighed as she sat up and looked down at Trixie. “You gotta get out of bed.”

Trixie rolled over so she was facing Katya and buried her face in Katya’s hip as if that would be enough of a response.

“I’m serious, Trix,” Katya continued. “This isn’t healthy.”

“I know,” Trixie mumbled, fully aware of her own eternal self destruction.

“Come on,” Katya took Trixie’s forearm in the grasp of her long fingers and pulled her into a sitting position. “I got you pad thai.”

Moments later, Trixie and Katya were eating out of take-out containers in Katya’s kitchen, Bianca nowhere to be found. Trixie assumed at the back of her mind that she was out somewhere with Adore, hoped they were having fun.

By the time they finished eating, Trixie was still near-catatonic. She wasn’t talking, was barely acknowledging anything Katya said or did, and Katya was very much over it.

“Okay, that’s enough of that,” Katya said as she put the last of the leftovers into her fridge.

“What are you talking about?” Trixie looked up from where she had been studying the outdated  checkered tile as she leaned against the kitchen sink.

“You’re shutting down,” Katya said.

“I don’t understand,” Trixie shook her head.

“You’re turning into a ghost, Trixie,” Katya said, hands dancing to the beat of her frantic plea. “You walk around day to day and barely interact with the world around you. It’s like we’re losing you and I hate it.”

“Well, sorry, my life is less than peachy right now, Kat,” Trixie deadpanned with obvious annoyance.

“No, I get that but--”

“You don’t get it,” Trixie cut her off. “If you’re trying to tell me to get my shit together right now then you really fucking don’t.”

Katya looked at her and tapped a finger against the top of her thigh, an anxious tick that few people outside of the two in that room would ever understand. Trixie glanced at it, knowing that Katya was debating with herself, debating whether or not to say whatever words were floating around her brain.

“Spit it out,” Trixie said with exasperation. “Whatever you’re trying to tiptoe around, just say it.”

“You’re giving up.”

“Giving up?” Trixie said, anger rising in her voice and her lungs. “I’m giving up? Really?”

“You’ve decided you’re broken and that there’s no way to fix it,” Katya said simply. “You’re giving up.”

“Jesus Christ, I don’t have any control over how this bullshit gets solved,” Trixie pushed herself off the edge of the counter so she was fully facing Katya.

“So, what?” Katya threw her arms up. “Because you don’t know when there’s gonna be a resolution you’ve just decided you’re gonna be silently angry indefinitely?”

“Don’t you dare tell me how to feel about this, Katya,” Trixie seethed. “My life is falling apart and I can’t do anything about it! I’m allowed to be mad.”

“Yeah, you’re allowed to be mad, sure,” Katya conceded. “But you aren’t acting like you’re feeling anything lately. Why are you so okay with this being your entire world for who knows how long?”

“Stop,” Trixie said with nostrils flaring and hands tightening into fists. “Stop it.”

“You wanna be mad? Be fucking mad, come on,” Katya grabbed a plate off of the countertop and hurled it at the floor so it made a definitive, shattering punctuation to her statement. “Break shit, yell, scream, I don’t give a shit. If you’re mad, act mad!”

“What the fuck is wrong with you?!” Trixie cried, looking at the broken plate on Katya’s kitchen floor, unable to help but wonder if it belonged to Bianca.

“You’re so angry and you’re not letting it out,” Katya said with determined and insistent eyes. “You’re bottling all this bullshit up and letting yourself seeth with it and letting it fester instead of fucking facing it.”

“I face it every goddamn day, don’t you fucking dare say I don’t,” Trixie took a step closer to Katya. There was no doubt that people in the surrounding apartments could hear them yelling at this point. “You think I’m not facing it?”

“I think you’ve been trying to go about your life as if nothing has changed,” Katya said. “And I think that’s clearly a mistake if you look at all the evidence. I think if you want to be at peace with the mess, you have to let yourself be a mess,” Katya took another plate from the cabinet and held it out in front of Trixie.

Trixie’s eyes glanced between Katya and the plate and she shook her head in disbelief. Katya bit her lip as if weighing her options, before ultimately taking the drastic one.

“Make a mess, Beatrice.”

Trixie’s eyes shot up and her jaw set as she took in a sharp breath with a deeply furrowed brow. The sound of that name in Katya’s voice was cacophonous in her ears and rang out through her skull for what felt like hours before she was able to make her mouth move and vocal cords activate in response.

“Fuck you,” she growled, grabbed the plate, and threw it full force at the tiled floor. “Fuck you!”

“Are you mad?” Katya raised her eyebrows, opening the cabinet behind her without losing eye contact with Trixie.

“You know,” Trixie took a deep breath. “You know full well-- Fuck off,” Trixie said as Katya held out a small saucer.

“Tell me to go fuck myself,” Katya pressed. “I deserve it.”

“You’re insane,” Trixie said with a humorless, bitter laugh.

“Yeah, I am,” Katya nodded and Trixie let out a frustrated groan as she took the saucer and chucked it at the ground.

“You’re insufferable,” Trixie lifted an accusatory finger. “You won’t-- None of you will get off my case-- None of you will leave me alone and let me figure shit out for myself!”

“We’re a bunch of nosy cunts,” Katya said in agreement, handing her yet another plate.

“You sure are!” Trixie exclaimed. “And you know what else?”

“Tell me.”

“I know that I can’t be mad at you because you’re all just trying to help!” Trixie yelled as she threw a ceramic mug to join the graveyard of broken kitchenware at her feet. “You’re saying I’m not letting myself be mad but you’re the ones not letting me! You stick your noses in my business and you’re stupid supportive and have my back and won’t let me make the mistakes I need to make, won’t let me feel anything because the moment I start to act sad or angry you’re all trying to make it better!”

“You deserve a chance to not have to try and be positive,” Katya said with a look of realization passing across her face and settling in her eyes. “You’re right.”

“And my brother, my fucking brother,” Trixie continued, now on a roll as she crunched broken plates beneath her shoes. “I haven’t even spoken to him because he doesn’t understand that this situation isn’t the same as when he moved away for college— and he keeps talking about what it was like when it was bad as if he was the one getting smacked around and forced to hide food in the false bottom of his sock drawer just in case he got sent to bed without dinner too many nights in a row!”

“None of us can understand what you dealt with,” Katya said, trying to hold back an expression that would show how new some of this information was to her.

Of course, Katya understood that high school had been hell for Trixie, but there were certain details that even she wasn’t privy to. Because Trixie very actively didn’t want her to be.

“No,” Trixie said with a shaky but determine voice. “No, you can’t.”

Trixie let out a slow breath, pushing her hair roughly out of her face and tying it into a bumpy ponytail as if it might suffocate her if she didn’t. She let her hands fall to her hips and looked around at the mess she had made as she regulated her breathing, her heartbeat, her adrenaline, once more.

“How many of these belong to Bianca?” Trixie asked, as if she hadn’t been screaming full force at Katya just moments before.

“Don’t worry about it,” Katya shrugged. “She’s used to me breaking shit all the time.”

“Like this?” Trixie scrunched up her face.

“Not quite, but it’ll be fine,” Katya assured her.

Trixie nodded quietly, just taking in the wreckage before speaking up again.

“That was…” Trixie bit her lip and avoided Katya’s gaze. “That was a lot.”

“Sorry I called you…” Katya trailed off.

“I get why you did it,” Trixie said. “But that was a dick move and if you do it again we’re gonna have a real fight. And I don’t think I’ll be able to forgive you for it.”

“Understood,” Katya nodded.

“I’m serious, Katya,” Trixie said with an intensity to her tone that was brand new to Katya’s ears. “You don’t get to pull shit like that with me. You may have been kind of right, but you crossed a line.”

“I’m sorry,” Katya breathed, biting her lower lip. “I promise it’ll never happen again. I went too far.”

“Yeah,” Trixie let out a heavy breath and dropped her head to look at her toes, crunching broken plates every time she shifted her weight.

“How do you feel?” Katya asked hesitantly.

“Not great,” Trixie said. “But weirdly enough, the most awake I have all week.”

Katya nodded. She tapped her finger against the top of her thigh.

“I wanna suggest something,” Katya said hesitantly. “But I know you’re not gonna like it and I know I’ve already said too much today.”

“Something other than destroying an absurd amount of dishes?”

Trixie grabbed a broom and dustpan that were leaning in the corner, beginning to sweep the shattered remains into at least some semblance of a pile. She paused when Katya didn’t respond.

“It can’t be that bad,” Trixie watched as Katya bit at the side of her thumb. “You called me Beatrice five minutes ago. Nothing's gonna live up to that, Kat.”

“I think you should try therapy,” Katya said, pushing the words out of her mouth as though they had been lodged in the back of her throat for days on end and this was the first time she had been able to breathe since.

“You’re right. I hate it,” Trixie said simply, but she stopped sweeping because she knew, she just knew this was going to have to be a conversation. That Katya was going to turn it into one.

“Just hear me out--”

“I’ve gotten this far without a shrink, what makes you think I need one now?”

“The fact that I barely had to prompt you into breaking a bunch of plates just now,” Katya motioned broadly to the floor between them, a battleground of Trixie’s traumas all laid out in cheap ceramic.

“Fuck you,” Trixie said simply, not with genuine malice so much as annoyance and exasperation.

“Just hear me out,” Katya begged as she took a step closer to Trixie, thick boots pressing shards of a blue plate into the tile below her feet.

“I don’t wanna have this conversation with you,” Trixie shook her head. “You’re my best friend and the more my life goes to shit the more you’re acting like some sort of guardian.”

“Why can’t I be both?” Katya’s voice was soft. “You’re both for me.”

Trixie’s face softened, her heart softened, every aspect of her being softened because Katya was so genuine and sincere in everything she did. Katya was open, she was honest and vulnerable and, sure, sometimes she went too far, but she was also willing to lay her head down on a set of train tracks for the people she loved. It hit Trixie in that moment, not for the first time and not for the last, that she was one of those people.

“Make your case,” she sighed, handing Katya the dustpan and motioning for her to help clean up the mess.

Katya smiled softly and crouched down to catch the pieces Trixie was sweeping up.

“Therapy is a good and healthy thing-- for everyone,” Katya explained. “It doesn’t mean you’re weak or broken, it just means you’re trying to take care of your brain.”

“Girl,” Trixie groaned. “We both know if I go to therapy they’re gonna have a fuckin’ field day. I’m a shrink’s wet dream of repressed sexuality and daddy issues.”

“And self awareness,” Katya looked up at her and shot her teasing smile that made Trixie expel a bubble of a laugh up and out of her stomach.

“Cunt,” Trixie rolled her eyes and swatted at Katya’s hip with the broom.

“No, listen,” Katya tried to sound serious again. “A therapist is someone you can say anything to, even if you just have stuff you want to get off your chest or you need a sounding board or anything, and they might be able to really help you talk through everything. Even the stuff you don’t want to talk to me about.”

“Even if I thought this was a good idea,” Trixie went back to sweeping. “I wouldn’t be able to afford it, Kat.”

“The university covers your first two visits to the counseling services on campus, and after that they’ll work with you to figure out payment and stuff,” Katya said in a confident voice that proved just how much research she had done before ever bringing this up to Trixie’s face.

“This means a lot to you, doesn’t it?” Trixie asked.

“I just know that it’s helped me in the past,” Katya shrugged. “And if there’s even a chance of it helping you, I mean...”

“You’ve done therapy?”

“Not for a while, but quite a bit in high school and freshman year here, yeah,” Katya said.

“Why didn’t I know that?” Trixie furrowed her brow, suddenly feeling like maybe she actually was the self involved, selfish kid that John had told her she was for so many years.

“I didn’t tell you,” Katya shrugged with a breath of a laugh. “How do you think I learned so much about generalized anxiety, though?”

“Right, I just--” Trixie floundered. “I guess I never thought about it.”

“See, no one’s gonna think anything of it if you go,” Katya said, standing up with a full dustpan and cocking her head to the side as she looked up at Trixie’s contemplative face.

“God,” Trixie pressed the heels of her hands into her eye sockets with the broom handle leaning precariously against her body. “How did I end up here.”

“I’m not asking you to commit to anything right now,” Katya gently took ahold of one of Trixie’s wrists and lowered it from her face so she could look her in the eye. “I’m just asking that you’ll think about it.”

Trixie took a deep breath, feeling Katya’s fingers delicately press against the pulse point in her wrist and knowing she could feel the rhythm of Trixie’s heartbeat.

“Okay,” she breathed in response, nodding slowly.

“Thank you,” Katya said sincerely as they just looked at each other quietly for a moment, the space between them filled with something more like trust than Trixie was entirely accustomed to. They were pulled out of the moment by the sound of a key in the front door.

“Shit,” Katya’s eyes bulged in her thin face and she rushed to the trash can to dump out the ghosts of dishes past, grabbing the broom from Trixie and placing it carefully back in the corner.

By the time Bianca entered the kitchen, Trixie and Katya were sitting awkwardly at the small kitchen table, clearly trying to look natural and failing miserably.

“What did you do?” Bianca narrowed her eyes at them as she dropped her backpack by the door to the kitchen and crossed her arms.

“What? Nothing!” Katya exclaimed with a too bright attitude and her chin cradled innocently in her hands.

Bianca just rolled her eyes, grabbed a banana off the kitchen counter and walked back the way she had come towards her bedroom.

The moment she was gone, Trixie and Katya burst into near silent laughter. Katya smacked the palm of her hand flat against the table and Trixie put a hand over her mouth to quiet her squeals.

Initially, Trixie went back to life as it had been after her conversation with Katya, but she didn’t stop thinking about everything they had discussed. She had never considered therapy before, had never let herself believe that there was a way to fix whatever was broken inside of her heart and brain.

In a way it was easier to just accept that she was ruined beyond repair, because if she was ruined, she could just cope with that. But if there was a way to move past it all, if there was some sort of path she could take towards feeling whole for the first time in so many years, that was terrifying.

Not because she didn’t want to feel better, because she most certainly did. No, she was scared out of her mind that she would put herself out there, be vulnerable, try to get the help everyone could see she so clearly needed, and still be broken at the end of it. What if Trixie tried, really truly tried, and still failed to put all her parts back into proper, functioning order? What then?

She didn’t know. And so she was scared.

Trixie Mattel attended her first therapy session in October of her junior year of college. She didn’t tell anyone she was going and quite honestly almost skipped the appointment, but was ultimately able to force herself onto the L train, into the center of campus, and up to the fourth floor of the Health Center.

The waiting room was nearly empty, but Trixie actively tried not to make eye contact with any of the other students who were scattered about, scrolling casually through their phones or typing on laptops as they waited for their own appointments.

She bounced her leg, fidgeted with her hands in her lap, and tried to keep her mind off of all of the reasons this was a bad idea.

“Beatrice?” a short, dark-haired woman called from the other side of the room from where Trixie was frozen.

Trixie looked up from her seat in a row of uniform, pseudo-homey chairs in the waiting room and felt her heart speed up. She stood and grabbed her backpack, tossing over her shoulder as she met the woman on the other side of the room. She was shorter than Trixie, but she held herself with pride and dignity that Trixie knew she personally did not have in that moment.

“I’m Michelle, follow me,” she motioned down the hallway and Trixie just nodded, doing as she was told.

Michelle’s office was about what Trixie had expected it to be, with two arm chairs facing each other and a clean desk, generic artwork on the plain white walls.

Trixie sat straight upright with her spine refusing to relax into the back of the chair and her hands clasped tight in her lap. She was uncomfortable to say the least, and fully fearful to say the most.

“So, Beatrice—”

“Could you—” Trixie cut herself off when she realized she had interrupted. “Sorry, go ahead.”

“No, it’s okay,” Michelle smiled softly at her. “Did you have a question, Beatrice?”

“Not really, just,” Trixie made intense eye contact with the pattern of the carpet beneath her feet. “Could you call me Trixie, please?”

“I think I can manage that,” Michelle nodded. “I’ve got plenty of patients who prefer nicknames.”

“Yeah, something like that,” Trixie muttered. She didn’t quite clock the look of moderate intrigue that passed across Michelle’s face, but only because she was too busy still staring at the floor.

“Ready to get started?”

“Depends what getting started means,” Trixie snorted.

“Well,” Michelle pushed forward as if Trixie hadn’t just tried to subtly discredit her profession. “This is just an intake session so I’ll be asking a lot of questions, but in future meetings you’ll be talking a lot more, don’t worry.”

“Oh boy.”

“I’ll be taking a few notes, but no one but me will ever see them and anything you say in these sessions is completely confidential,” Michelle continued. “Do you have any questions for me before we get going?”

“Yeah, how much of my personal trauma do I have to reveal to get the couch?” Trixie joked. Michelle raised her eyebrows and smirked at her, immediately jotting something down.

“You’re funny.”

“Your dad said the same thing last night,” Trixie deadpanned and Michelle actually laughed out loud at that one.

“Correct me if I’m wrong but you aren’t taking this all that seriously.”

“No offense, but I don’t think talking to a stranger is really what I need at this point in my life.”

“So then why are you here?” Michelle asked. She didn’t talk the way Trixie imagined a therapist to, she was casual, conversational in ways that made Trixie feel remotely lied to.

“I don’t know,” Trixie mumbled, all of her joke induced confidence suddenly gone.

“I don’t think that’s true,” Michelle pressed.

“A friend of mine really wanted me to try,” Trixie forced out. “It’s important to her.”

“But not to you,” Michelle said. It wasn’t a question, more a statement about what she had gathered from Trixie’s demeanor so far.

“You’re good,” Trixie mocked.

“I know,” Michelle said. “So if none of this carries any weight for you, why does this friend of yours think it’s so important?”

“You should ask her,” Trixie shrugged.

“I would, but unfortunately you’re all I’ve got.”

Trixie shot her a look and had to resist the urge to roll her eyes.

“Katya is convinced that everything can be fixed if you just talk about your feelings,” Trixie explained bluntly.

“You don’t agree?”

“What do you think?”

“I think you wouldn’t be here if there wasn’t a part of you that thought you needed to be,” Michelle said confidently. “You voluntarily made this appointment, Katya couldn’t force you to come.”

“You’d be surprised how convincing she is,” Trixie scoffed.

Michelle hummed and flipped absentmindedly through her clipboard.

“Well, I guess we can be done then,” Michelle said as she casually moved to get up.

“Wait, what?” Trixie let out a breath of disbelief.

“Yeah, if you don’t want to talk about why you’re here then I can’t really help you,” Michelle shrugged with one hand on the doorknob.

“I…” Trixie hesitated, mouth agape as she stared at Michelle. “You’re a smart ass.”

“And you’re free to go,” Michelle cracked the door open and motioned out.

It was only in that moment that Trixie realized she was pushing back for no reason, that with as fucked up as everything was, that going along with this one thing might not hurt.

“You wanna start with the abandonment, repressed sexuality, or daddy issues?” Trixie sat back and crossed her arms defiantly. Michelle suppressed a smirk as she let the door fall closed and returned to her seat.

“We can start wherever you want.”

An hour later, Trixie walked out of the Health Center feeling different. Not good, and not bad, but different in a way she wasn’t accustomed to. Sure, there was plenty she hadn’t let spill to Michelle in that first session, but she had spent that hour talking more about herself than she had in probably the entire past year combined, and that alone was exhausting.

By the time she got home, she knew she had two phone calls that she needed to make. The first was to Katya.

“Hey, Barbie girl, what’s up?” Katya answered the phone as Trixie sat down on the floor and leaned back against her closet doors, pulling her knees up to her chin like a child.

“Hey,” she responded. “I, um… I wanted to tell you something.”

“Yeah, of course,” Katya said. “Is everything okay? Do you want me to come over?”

“No, yeah, I’m fine,” Trixie brushed her off. “I just wanted… I guess this is probably stupid but… I wanted to let you know that I saw a therapist today. At the Health Center.”

“That’s not stupid,” Katya said in a rushed voice. “That’s the opposite of stupid, oh my god, Trix.”

“I don’t really wanna talk about it, but yeah,” Trixie nodded to herself. “Yeah, I did the thing.”

“I’m proud of you,” Katya said softly. “And that sounds condescending but I know, girl, I know how hard that was for you to do and I’m crazy fuckin’ proud.”

“Yeah,” Trixie breathed with her heart in her throat and her fingertips tingling. “Thank you.”

“Sure thing, Tracy,” Katya said with just enough joy in her voice to make Trixie’s lungs feel lighter.

“Okay, well that’s all I wanted to say,” Trixie forced out.

“I’ll talk to you later?”

“Talk to you later,” Trixie said softly, hanging up but remaining in her spot on the carpet.

She took a deep breath in an attempt to steady herself as she tried to prepare for the second phone call she knew she had to make. Trixie picked at the hard plastic case of her phone which had cracked after being dropped one too many times, absentmindedly stalling as she buried her chin in the hollow between her knees.

She knew that at this point she had momentum, enough of a push to make this jump back towards forward progress, and that if she didn’t just go for it, it might not ever happen. So, she dialed and held the phone up to her ear, and pinched the bridge of her nose with tense muscles and locked joints as the dial tone rang.

“Trixie?”

“Hey, Ty,” Trixie said, hesitant, soft, and trying not to sound like either.

“Oh my god, hi,” Tyler let out in a hurried breath. “Are you okay? I’ve been trying to call and--”

“And I’ve been ignoring you,” Trixie admitted. “I’m sorry.”

“You can’t isolate yourself, Trixie,” he insisted. “You scared the shit out of me.”

“I know. I didn’t mean--” Trixie let out a sharp breath, trying to collect herself and her words all together. “I didn’t mean to worry you. I just didn’t know how to talk to you… When everything is such a mess.”

“I’m always here for you,” Tyler said. “You know that. We’ve been here before, what’s different now?”

“We’ve never been here before, Ty. That’s the problem,” Trixie said, doing everything in her power to keep her voice from shaking but feeling her lungs creep up her throat as if her own body was trying to suffocate her. “I don’t know how to explain to you that this might never get solved.”

“So, then what’s your game plan?” Tyler asked in a quiet voice.

“I’m…” Trixie hesitated and pulled at a loose thread in her top, watching as it came unravelled, slowly but steadily. “I’m going to focus on taking care of myself for a little while,” she eventually said with what she hoped was certainty. “I’m a little bit fucked in the head and need some time to straighten things out.”

“And what does that mean for…”

“I’m not going to shut you out again, I promise,” Trixie answered his unasked question.

“Okay good,” Tyler sighed. “I can get behind that.”

“But we can’t talk about Mom,” Trixie continued. “Not right now, not when I’m trying to figure out who I am outside of that fucking house, not when I’m so, so, so--”

“Okay, okay, it’s okay,” Tyler said, trying to get her to slow down. “We’ll take a break from the drama, okay? Leave worrying about Mom to me.”

“Thank you,” Trixie breathed, dropping her head to her knees so her voice was muffled against her pants.

“What are you doing for Thanksgiving?” Tyler asked as though the thought had just occurred to him.

“I… I’m not sure,” Trixie said in equal bafflement.

Trixie didn’t have anywhere to go for Thanksgiving. It hadn’t hit her until that moment but she suddenly realized that she was going to spend yet another major family holiday without her family.

“Come to Indy,” he suggested. “We can have our own Thanksgiving, just for this year.”

“What about-- I mean I figured you’d go visit in Milwaukee?” Trixie fumbled over her words.

“You’re not the only one that’s not particularly keen on going back there right now,” Tyler said. “I’ll buy you a bus ticket, you can stay with me for your break.”

“Are you sure? You don’t have to work?”

“Of course I’m sure,” he said. “I miss you, kid.”

Trixie took a deep breath and looked up and out her window towards the gradually darkening skyline of the city. The stars hadn’t broached the atmosphere yet and the moon was hiding behind thick clouds, but Trixie knew they were there, waiting to drip their stardust onto her curls again one day.

“Okay,” she said. “Okay, I’ll come visit.”

Trixie hadn’t left Chicago since she had returned from winter break in January, and when the time came for her to pack for her trip to Indiana, she was at something of a loss.

“How many pairs of socks should I bring? Like twelve?” Trixie dug through her sock drawer and started pulling out her favorite pairs and tossing them at her suitcase.

“You’re gonna be gone less than a week,” Katya laughed. She was sitting next to Trixie’s suitcase on the bed, reading a book about screenwriting with a pen in her hair to take periodic notes with.

“I don’t know— what if it snows and my socks get wet!” Trixie threw her hands up in exasperation.

“Six extra pairs?” Katya grinned at her. “It’s gonna snow and you’re gonna get six extra pairs of socks wet?”

“Fuck off,” Trixie said, trying to sound annoyed but laughing instead.

“You’re ridiculous. You know how to pack!” Katya said. “You need about half of this,” she motioned to the pile of clothes spilling out of Trixie’s suitcase.

“You don’t know that!” Trixie pointed at Katya with an accusatory if not entirely comical finger. “I might need all of this.”

“You won’t.”

“I might.”

“You won’t,” Katya said with a chuckle before realizing Trixie may or may not have been actually nervous. “Hey, look at me.”

“What?” Trixie tore her gaze away from the suitcase and looked at Katya’s soft, big, unnecessarily pretty eyes.

“It’s gonna be good,” Katya assured her. “Seeing him is gonna be good.”

“Yeah,” Trixie nodded emphatically with a furrowed brow that told Katya she was really trying to believe it. “Yeah, I know.”

“What’s eating at you?” Katya asked, setting her book to the side. Trixie just shrugged and hummed a sound of discontent. “Okay, come here,” Katya scooted to one side of the bed and patted the empty space next to her.

Trixie joined her, crossing her legs and slouching enough that she was basically the same height as Katya in their seated position amongst the half a dozen or so blankets littering Trixie’s bed.

“What if everything is different?” Trixie asked quietly.

“What do you mean?” Katya wrapped an arm around Trixie’s shoulders and held her close against her side.

“I feel like I’m such a different person than I was when I left,” Trixie explained. “I’m not the same and I doubt he’s the same and what if we aren’t the same?”

“You might not be,” Katya said with a small nod. “But maybe that’s not a bad thing.”

“You think?”

“Yeah,” Katya said. “And you’re gonna call me, right?”

“Of course,” Trixie smiled softly.

“Then we’re all good,” Katya said with certainty. She pressed a soft kiss to the top of Trixie’s head and Trixie felt her heart stutter in between her ribs. If she had been a cartoon skeleton, she was certain that the sound of it beating would have played out like a xylophone against her bones.

Weird, because Trixie had never taken Katya for much of a musician.

Tyler’s apartment was small, and clearly inhabited by only men with it’s dark curtains and mismatched furniture, but he had set up an air mattress on the floor of his bedroom for Trixie, and he had washed the dishes and created boundaries between his roommates and his little sister (who was dealing with too much already to put up with their bullshit).

Trixie loved it there.

She spent the days that Tyler still had to go into work exploring the city, which was smaller than Chicago and had more of the Midwestern feel that she was used to back in Wisconsin. Trixie found herself in a number of boutiques and book shops, sifting through trinkets and stories that she couldn’t help but want to add to her collection.

At one small, family-owned jewelry store that she came across in the main city Circle, Trixie couldn’t keep her hands off of one necklace in particular. A thin gold chain carried the weight of a flat, heavy pendant-- an open, third eye with long eyelashes and bright blue iris. She knew that Katya didn’t wear much jewelry, but she bought it for her nonetheless.

When Thanksgiving day finally rolled around, Trixie and Tyler were the only two left in the apartment, with all of his roommates having made their way to family homes for the holiday.

Neither one of them was interested in trying to cook, knowing that it would probably end in disaster and would just remind them that they weren’t eating a home cooked meal with their mother. They might not have verbally acknowledged that last part, but it was implied.

So, Thai food it was.

They ordered three times as much food as they needed for two people and Tyler didn’t let Trixie help him pay for it when the delivery man arrived. They sat at the tiny kitchen table and talked and laughed and stuffed their faces with too-spicy curry that left Trixie’s pale, freckled cheeks flushed with heat.

“Wait, so you’re telling me she carries it around all the time?” Tyler asked, brandishing his plastic fork across the table from Trixie.

“She’s a film student, what did you expect?” Trixie laughed. “For her to not want to visually document everything on film twenty-four-seven?”

“I respect her dedication,” Tyler chuckled.

“I think it’s more compulsion than dedication at this point,” Trixie said, not without a great deal of admiration in her voice. “She’s working on a film right now that’ll show at the senior showcase next semester before she graduates and every time I see her she’s working on it.”

“What about you?” Tyler asked. “What’s new in your life? Any gossip, any drama, any boyfriends?”

Trixie’s heart stilled for a moment and she tried not to choke on the chicken she was currently chewing on. Somehow, amongst everything else that had been going on, Trixie had forgotten that she would probably, most certainly, have to come out to her brother eventually.

It seemed that this moment in particular, might have been her chance to take advantage of the clear amount of love in the air and jump off the cliff, but she was still hesitant and pushed her food around her plate.

“Hey,” Tyler said when he noticed her demeanor change. “You okay, Trix?”

“Yeah, yeah, I uh…” Trixie went to tuck her hair behind her ear to find it was already there, so she untucked it and tucked it again nervously. “There’s just something I should probably tell you?”

“You’re not, like, pregnant are you?”

“No, oh my god, definitely fucking not,” Trixie let out a surprised laugh. “Why is that your first guess? Jesus.”

“I don’t know! You got serious all of a sudden,” Tyler said indignantly.

“Well you’re not gonna be an uncle so you can calm down,” Trixie said, still making eye contact with her plate.

“What’s wrong, Trixie? What’s going on here?”

“I…” Trixie let out a huff of a breath, actively ignoring the tears prickling at the backs of her eyes.

She dropped her fork and moved her hands around as if trying to get comfortable: from flat on the table to her hips to her lap and back again.

“Trixie—”

“I’m gay.”

She squeezed her eyes shut, almost expecting the backlash of this conversation to smack her straight across the face, scared about what it would mean if it did.

In the span of the few seconds it took her brother to respond, Trixie found herself able to regret, be proud of, and fully hate her decision to say it right then and there.

“Really? Huh,” Tyler said casually and Trixie opened her eyes to see a kind face looking back at her across the table. “Thanks for telling me.”

“That’s it?” Trixie gaped.

“You want more?” Tyler chuckled at her.

“No I just—I thought— I mean I know you’re not—but still,” Trixie rambled aimlessly.

“Kid, as long as you’re happy, I don’t care who you end up with,” Tyler shrugged. Trixie let out a deep breath of stale air that had been sitting in her lungs long enough to be almost painful.

“Thank fucking god,” she breathed, collapsing back against her chair. “You really don’t have any questions?”

“Not really…” he contemplated. “Actually, wait, does this mean...is Katya...?”

Tyler raised his eyebrows in not so subtle implication and Trixie’s eyes grew double their regular size, big brown saucers on her flushed face.

“What? I—no—I mean—What?” Trixie stumbled over her words almost comically and Tyler gave her a skeptical look.

“Really? Okay,” he shrugged with obvious disbelief.

“No, seriously… what made you— what made you think that?” Trixie coughed uncomfortably in a way that someone who was genuinely unaffected by the question would not.

“The way you talk about her,” Tyler said. “I mean, if I had known you were gay I would’ve figured something had been going on from the first time you mentioned her.”

“I mean, I care about her a lot,” Trixie said as if she was trying to justify her actions. “Nothing is going on, I just—she’s super important to me, and she’s amazing, and I can’t really imagine my life without her, and like I’ve never met anyone that I clicked so well with and—”

Trixie cut herself off abruptly and her mouth fell open ever so slightly. Her heart started pounding in her chest as she recalled a montage of every time she’d gotten goosebumps when Katya touched her, of every time she had blushed in Katya’s presence, of how content her heart was sleeping in Katya’s bed, in Katya’s house, in Katya’s arms.

Her breath stilled in her throat for a moment because Trixie had never thought of herself as stupid, but she suddenly realized that she didn’t really have any sort of understanding of her own emotions.

Maybe it was because she’d never let herself have a real life crush on a girl before, but Trixie had managed to miss every single goddamn sign that she maybe felt more strongly for her best friend than she ever took the time to consider.

“Holy fuck,” Trixie let out in a breath as she ran her hands over her face and sank somehow lower in her chair. “Oh my fucking god.”

“Oh, kiddo,” Tyler laughed softly.

Trixie Mattel was falling in love with her best friend and she didn’t know what to do about it.



Chapter Text

 

“So, we’re a couple of weeks into the new semester now,” Michelle said from her armchair, notes set aside as she gave Trixie all of her attention. “How are you keeping up with everything?”

“You mean am I going to class, right?” Trixie snorted. Michelle was fully aware of the two classes Trixie hadn’t passed the previous semester, unable to catch up after months of severe, untreated depression blocking her productivity.

“Partially, yes,” Michelle chuckled at Trixie’s continuing inability not to turn everything into a joke during their sessions.

“Well, you’re looking at a girl with perfect attendance,” Trixie brushed her hair mockingly over her shoulder. “And I’m getting better at remembering to take my meds, so… killing it,” she deadpanned.  

“You can joke all you want, but that’s a big step,” Michelle told her.

“Yeah, okay,” Trixie brushed it off. “Can we not talk about school today, though?”

“We don’t have to if you don’t want to,” Michelle assured her. “What would you rather talk about?”

“I dunno,” Trixie said, still very much getting used to trying to be open with Michelle no matter how many sessions they had spent together at this point, in those same green chairs under those same fluorescent lights.

“Want to maybe talk about how things are going with Katya?” Michelle raised her eyebrows and Trixie groaned.

“I regret telling you about all that,” Trixie felt a familiar blush at the base of her neck. “It’s not a big deal.”

“Last week you said you were glad to finally get it off your chest,” Michelle pointed out.

“Well, that was last week, Michelle,” Trixie fired back sloppily before taking a deep breath. Then, quieter: “Sorry, I’m just stressed about it.”

“That’s okay, I’m sure it’s a lot to process,” Michelle said.

“Yeah, kind of,” Trixie laughed humorlessly.

“What do you think is so stressful about it?”

“I mean, I just feel like—” Trixie searched for words in the air as she talked with her hands, hoping to grab ahold of the right ones for once. “I feel so creepy,  I guess?”

“How so?”

“I have this massive crush on my best friend,” Trixie sighed. “And she doesn’t reciprocate so I’m just over here fantasizing about holding her hand and kissing her and all that stupid romantic shit without her consent.”

“You think having crushes is creepy?” Michelle asked. “Or do you think you specifically having a crush on Katya  is creepy?”

“Obviously crushes as a whole aren’t creepy,” Trixie scoffed. “That’s stupid, of course not.”

“So what’s different about this crush then?”

“Well… she’s— I mean… we’re friends, Michelle,” Trixie said as if she had made any sort of real argument amongst her blabbering.

“People have crushes on their friends all the time, Trixie,” Michelle insisted with a soft laugh. “I don’t think you’re answering my question honestly.”

“I’m not a liar,” Trixie grumbled.

“I’m not saying you are,” Michelle put her hands up in an act of peacekeeping. “But I do think there’s more to it than what you’re saying.”

“You’re doing that thing where you make me try and figure out what’s going on instead of just telling me what you clearly already understand,” Trixie said with annoyance. “I don’t like it.”

“Would you rather I tell you what you’re feeling?”

“Yeah, actually. Let’s do that instead,” Trixie gave her a mocking grin.

“Not happening, sorry,” Michelle said bluntly. “Now talk through it with me.”

“Fine,” Trixie said with an exasperated sigh. “One,” she held up a finger. “I have a stupid, idiot crush on my best friend.”

“And crushes in general are?”

“Not creepy,” Trixie rolled her eyes. “Two,” a second finger. “I feel gross about having a crush on my best friend.”

“Because?”

“Three,” a third. “I-- I don’t know. I genuinely don’t know, I’m sorry,” Trixie shook her head and let out a frustrated breath.

“Have you ever acknowledged having a crush on a girl before, Trixie?” Michelle asked, pressing, but not unkind.

“I’ve slept with a fuck ton of women. We’ve talked about it, remember? We labeled it as a coping mechanism that had something to do with my need for agency or control or whatever,” Trixie droned.

“A romantic crush,” Michelle emphasized. “One that’s about more than sex.”

Trixie hesitated, really thought about it, stared at the ugly carpeting in that room for a solid ten seconds of silence before letting out a whisper of a realization.

“No.”

“And, as we’ve talked about, this is because--”

“I grew up in an environment that was pretty anti-gay,” Trixie recited, fiddling with her fingers in her lap.

Michelle nodded and sat silently as she watched Trixie think it over, the gears in her head turning painfully slowly as she clawed her way through to a logical explanation.

“I’m equating having a crush on a girl with being, like, predatory or something, aren’t I?” Trixie suddenly asked, looking up to finally meet Michelle’s gaze and searching for some sort of sign that she was maybe finally on the right track.

“What do you think?” Michelle looked at her encouragingly.

“Yeah,” Trixie nodded slowly. “Yeah, I think that’s probably it.”

“So, do you think you’re maybe being a bit too hard on yourself about this whole thing?”

Trixie sighed, chewing on her words and doing what she could to still the churning in her stomach that always acted up when shit started getting a bit too real in therapy.

“Look, I logically get what you’re saying,” she eventually said. “I just— I don’t know that I can fully absorb it right now or like, do anything to fix what I’m feeling yet.”

“That’s okay, I didn’t expect you to,” Michelle said honestly. “Let’s start with this: every time you catch yourself feeling crush-like feelings, I want you to actively remind yourself that you’re not creepy or predatory for feeling them, that it’s completely normal, and that people have crushes on their friends all the time. Okay?”

“I’ll try,” Trixie said quietly without fully believing that it would do much of anything.

Trixie was doing better, was most certainly taking a lot of the right steps towards being properly mentally stable, but they were still just steps and she was still very much working on it.

Trixie had spent all of winter break jumping from place to place, a very stark reminder that she had become something of a nomad in recent months. She spent Christmas with Katya and her family, a few days with Adore and Shea respectively, and a good portion of time living on her own in Chicago, working full shifts at Alyssa’s shop and letting her world feel relatively calm.

It acted as something of a reset on her brain, allowing her to acclimate herself to what her life was becoming instead of what it had been for so many years.

Trixie and her adviser at the university had worked together to lessen her load for the semester, knowing it meant she would have to take classes over the summer to catch up in time to graduate, but acknowledging that a massive course load might ultimately only lead to a backslide that would put her even farther behind.

So, Trixie was taking a couple of classes she knew would be intense paired with a handful she needed the credits for but wouldn’t be quite as stressful.

Her last semester of French was one of the intense classes she had decided to take this time around.

“That one’s law firm —Wait, nope—” Trixie stared intently at the flash card Katya was holding up for her in one hand while the other fiddled with the eye-shaped pendant hanging from her neck. “Lawyer? Law. Yeah law .”

“Uh, close?” Katya gave her a look. “Starfish,” she turned around the neatly printed card and Trixie immediately groaned, letting herself fall backwards so she was lying flat on Katya’s bed.

“Not close, not even a little close,” Trixie said, throwing her arms over her face.

“You’re gonna get these, it’s okay,” Katya said. “Let’s keep going,” she tugged at Trixie’s ankle gently in an effort to get her to sit back up.

“I can’t fail this class again, Kat,” Trixie said without moving. “I’m already so fucking far behind.”

“You’re not gonna fail, I promise I’m gonna help you get through this,” Katya said with sincerity. “ Allez, fille Barbie.”

“That’s easy for you to say,” Trixie grumbled. “You’re a language witch and I’m just a big, dumb, country idiot.”

“I’m not saying it’s not hard,” Katya said. “But it’s also not impossible and you just have to finish this semester to be done with French forever.”

“Can we just go get dinner now, please?” Trixie peeked out from behind her arms to look at Katya hopefully.

“We said studying ‘til 7:30 and then dinner so,” Katya glanced at her thick leather watch. “We can go eat in twenty-eight minutes.”

“Fuck you,” Trixie moaned. “Fuck you so hard.”

“You can do whatever you want to me after we finish going through these again,” Katya laughed. Trixie covered her face up again to hide the blush that was coloring her cheeks and kicked blindly at Katya, who just laughed louder. “Bitch! Stop that!”

“Nope!” Trixie cackled, as Katya hopelessly tried to grab at Trixies’ spastic feet in the air.

“I will end you,” Katya finally got ahold of Trixie’s ankles and planted her feet back down on the bed.

“You wanna fuckin’ fight?” Trixie teased and Katya threw her head back in a loud belt of a laugh before letting herself fall forward so she was laying her entire body perpendicular across Trixie’s stomach.

“You would never win, fucker,” Katya said, still unable to stop laughing. Trixie shoved at her gently, feeling her heart race ever so slightly.

“You’re the size of a twelve year old, you really think I couldn’t take you?” Trixie fired back at her as Katya wrapped herself around Trixie like a koala bear.

“I’m an itty bitty powerhouse, just you fucking try,” Katya flexed her arm muscles enough that Trixie could feel them constrict around her body in a way that she suddenly wished was more unpleasant than it actually was.

Trixie felt her skin begin to itch and her heart race and her throat go dry and she realized very quickly that Katya actually was strong enough to avoid being moved by Trixie’s pushing.

Trixie wasn’t sure what she was freaking out about, didn’t know if it had more to do with the personal space issues that had been popping up periodically since high school or the fact that she wanted to kiss Katya so fucking badly, but the panic was rising nonetheless.

She was afraid to say anything, afraid that her voice would give away whatever her brain was struggling with, and she initially tried to internally solve the problem before ultimately having to speak up.

“Kat,” she said as she pushed helplessly at Katya’s shoulder. “Katya, get off— I need you to— I can’t breathe,” she forced out.

Katya was off of Trixie and on her knees looking down at her in an instant, but Trixie was already pushing herself off the bed, out the door, and towards the bathroom. She needed to shake it off, hated that she couldn’t handle literally anything without having a nervous breakdown.

“Trixie?” Katya said from the bed with confusion and worry all rolled into one.

“I’m fine, just gimme a second,” Trixie called over her shoulder. She could see Katya starting to get up as she closed the bathroom door behind her.

Trixie sat down on the edge of the bathtub, gripping the porcelain lip with white knuckles as she took a couple of deep breaths.

I’m not creepy.

I’m not predatory.

This is normal.

People have crushes on their friends all the time.

Michelle was smart, Michelle was a doctor, so if Michelle had told her these things they must have been true.

Trixie flushed the toilet and ran the sink as if trying to fake that she had sprinted to the bathroom for any reason other than a whole slew of personal insecurities and stepped out to find Katya leaning against the wall across from her with arms crossed.

“What’s wrong?” Katya asked immediately, in a voice that said there wasn’t much convincing her of everything being fine, a voice that knew something was up and wasn’t about to be fooled no matter how good of a liar Trixie was.

“What?” Trixie put a smile on her face. “Nothing, dummy.”

“Trixie—”

“Come on, I need to pass that exam this week and you need to teach me how to speak French,” Trixie cut her off and moved past her to get back to the bedroom.

“Don’t deflect, Mattel,” Katya chased after her, legs shorter than Trixie’s but stride just as powerful and determined.

“I’m not deflecting!” Trixie said with a high pitched, abrupt chuckle. “I had to pee, chill out.”

“You’re a bad liar,” Katya deadpanned as she followed Trixie and sat down on the mattress across from her, back in their original study positions.

“I’m not lying, you just overthink everything,” Trixie said. She grabbed the flash cards and offered them up for Katya. “A few more minutes?”

Katya looked at her, really looked at her in a way that made Trixie’s heart thump against her ribs uncomfortably. But Katya just sighed when she realized she wasn’t going to get any farther, took the notecards, and held one up.

“Um…” Trixie stared at it intently. “Supermarket?”

Katya’s face suddenly lit up.

“Yes, bitch!”

Trixie’s heart floated.

Two days later, Trixie took her French exam and two weeks after that her professor handed it back to her in class with a big capital B printed at the top of the front page.

She texted a picture of it to Katya with the little painted nails emoji and Katya responded with an eclectic collection of applause, heart, and various farm animal emojis that Trixie knew meant she was proud.

As it passed, the semester as a whole felt relatively uneventful, not because it was but because in comparison to what a nightmare the past year of her life had been, it was a goddamn walk in the park.

She made it to therapy (mostly) consistently and kept her absences from classes at a minimum, all while maintaining weekly phone calls with her brother.

Trixie and Tyler had stuck to their plan, letting Tyler take the brunt of the family drama for those few months while Trixie focused on finding her way back onto the path she’d ditched when her life fell to pieces.

She got a couple of emails from her mother, all of which she read a dozen times before she even began to try and respond. There were nights that she would sit in Katya’s bed with her laptop, pretending to study but not really convincing Katya that she was doing anything other than drafting letters to her mom. Letters that would say she was okay, letters that would impart some level of confidence, letters that put no blame or guilt or shame out into the air.

Katya always watched with concern, but could see how much Trixie’s shoulders relaxed once she hit send, and knew it was a necessary stress.

Trixie and Katya were ultimately both very busy. Trixie because she was playing catch up and Katya because it was her final semester before she had to enter the real world, find and claim a spot in the workforce, and hopefully figure out a way to keep making movies when she was no longer a student.

Over the three years that Trixie had known Katya, she had watched her grow and learn to manage her anxiety in healthy and effective ways. Katya knew how to tell when she was about to become overwhelmed and she knew how to avoid it, but there were certainly still moments that got a bit too much for her brain and heart to handle.

But Trixie knew how to handle her in these moments, and to be quite frank, it even made her feel useful to a certain extent. She never wanted Katya to be distressed, but knowing she could help her through it made Trixie feel a little less hopeless and pitiful at times.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen Tyler get this fired up about politics,” Trixie said, embroidery circle in hand as she sat in the spare chair in one of the editing bays where Katya was color-grading her film for the senior showcase.

“Being friends with him on facebook is honestly a gift right now,” Katya said, jotting down notes and numbers on a sticky note about color temperature and masks that Trixie knew she had no hope of ever understanding.

“He won’t stop posting about queer rights and it’s kind of adorable?” Trixie laughed and Katya kept scribbling. “It’s like once I was out, he immediately started daring people to fight him-- and every time that stupid governor of Indiana says something anti-gay Tyler is just all over it-- Bitch, John fucking blocked him and-- Kat?” Trixie cut herself off when she saw Katya lean back in her chair with arms crossed and brow furrowed, leg bouncing restlessly. “Hey, you okay?”

“It’s bad,” Katya shook her head but didn’t look away from the screens in front of her.

“What’s bad?” Trixie asked cautiously, heart speeding up of its own accord.

“All of it— it’s just— oh my god it’s so bad,” Katya careened forward so her elbows were on the desk and her face was in her hands.

“Katya, come on,” Trixie set her embroidery aside and scooted her chair up so she was directly next to Katya. “Don’t do that. Talk to me,” she said gently as she rested a hand on Katya’s back and rubbed slow circles.

“Look at it, Trixie!” Katya motioned broadly at the screen in front of her as she exclaimed in a shaky voice. “It looks so amateurish and the cinematography is bullshit and I didn’t even get the location I wanted and the script is stupid, the whole thing is fucking garbage and they’re gonna show it next to all the great stuff everyone else is coming up with!”

“Okay, step one: breathe please,” Trixie said without removing her hand from Katya’s shoulder blades.

Katya took an exaggerated breath and rolled her eyes at Trixie.

“Step two,” Trixie continued, ignoring the sass. “Take a step back from this.”

“No.”

“Katya—”

“I’m not taking a break, I don’t have time for a break,” Katya insisted. “They need the final cut tomorrow so they can make DCP’s for the screening and I haven’t finished getting all the levels right on this color yet.”

“I don’t know what any of that means, but I think you should, like, eat something and come back to it,” Trixie suggested. “You’re doing that thing you always do when you finish a film and you’ve seen it too many times to be able to see how fucking well you’ve done.”

“I don’t know,” Katya sighed, clearly able to tell that Trixie was right but not fully wanting to admit it. “I don’t think I have time to leave. And that’s not me being stubborn, I’m genuinely in a time crunch.”

“Okay,” Trixie said in honest understanding. “If I bring you food, will you eat it?”

Katya looked at Trixie with eyes that spoke guilt but gratitude all at once. Trixie nodded and squeezed her shoulder briefly before standing up and grabbing her bag.

“I’ll be back in thirty,” she said as she slid open the glass door of the edit bay.

“Thank you,” Katya said softly, watching her go.

“Don’t thank me yet. I’m gonna spit in your fried rice, bitch,” Trixie grinned, closing the door behind her to the sound of Katya’s stupid, perfect, laugh.

Trixie would be back in thirty-two minutes with a bag of food and a large black tea, and she would stay with Katya for the rest of the night. She didn’t speak much, but Katya didn’t need her to. Having Trixie just in the same room seemed to be enough to keep her sane until she could export a final edit that she was proud of.

Trixie knew that this film in particular was incredibly important to Katya. It wasn’t just her final film as a student at Columbia, but her first film to be screened at an actual cinema, big screen, red velvet seats and all. It was one of Katya’s biggest dreams, one that came up every time they talked about far off goals in the middle of the night.

Trixie knew she had to do everything she could to make that night, that screening, go seamlessly. Well, she didn’t have to, but she couldn’t imagine not trying, not after everything Katya had done for her during what wasn’t a very long friendship but was certainly an important one.

It was enough to help her ignore the heavy pit at the bottom of her stomach every time she let herself consider what it would be like to let Katya smear her waxy red lipstick all over her neck.

“Hey, Shea, can I borrow that new pair of scissors you got?” Trixie asked the moment she walked into the workroom in the art and design building.

“Hello to you too,” Shea looked up from the pattern she was cutting with amusement.

“Hi, hello, how was your day,” Trixie rolled her eyes as she dropped her things on the workstation facing Shea’s. “Can I please borrow the good scissors that won’t fuck up my very expensive fabric?”

“I mean yeah,” Shea shrugged. “But didn’t you finish this project like days ago?”

“It’s for a different thing,” Trixie said, pulling spools of navy blue fabric out of her bag and laying them out on the table.

The room was empty save the two friends and a freshman in the corner who they had no worries about trying to bother them. Trixie and Shea had something of a reputation amongst fellow costume design majors-- not because they were mean, but because they were good and knew they were good. They were something of an intimidating duo, and they got a kick out of it.

“You don’t have enough work on your plate?” Shea scoffed, sliding the previously mentioned scissors across the table to Trixie who caught them with yet another roll of her eyes.

“If I tell you what this is, you have to promise not to spill,” Trixie pointed an accusatory finger at her friend.

“Hey! I’m not the one that told Sasha about her surprise party freshman year,” Shea laughed.

“When are people gonna let that go?” Trixie laughed through her groan.

“When it stops being fucking hilarious,” Shea said as if it was obvious. “Now, give me the deets, what’s with all the dark fabric and what did you do with Trixie Mattel’s design aesthetic?”

“Fuck you, I use dark colors—not the point, right,” Trixie cut herself off when Shea shot her a look. “I’m making Katya her dream suit.”

“Her what?”

“She always says that when her first big movie premieres she’s gonna buy a dope ass tailored suit to wear on the red carpet,” Trixie shrugged. “I’m gonna make one to hold her over until that happens.”

“Wow,” Shea looked genuinely taken aback.

“Yeah, whatever,” Trixie rolled her eyes. “Go ahead and make fun of me.”

“No, that’s, like,” Shea shook her head. “That’s genuinely super cool.”

“Fuck off,” Trixie said with a faint warmth spreading across her chest under her sweater.

“Oh my god, you’re embarrassed!” Shea lit up with teasing joy.

“Why would I be embarrassed?” Trixie shot back. “I’m not embarrassed about anything,” she said unconvincingly.

“You’re going all soft for Katya,” Shea teased with a wide grin, completely ignoring what she had been working on as Trixie maintained laser focused eye contact with the bolt of fabric in front of her.

“That’s not true.”

“You’re right,” Shea cocked her head to the side. “You’ve always been a fucking softie for Zamo.”

“Don’t you have a project to finish, slacker?” Trixie deflected.

“That’s right,” she nodded. “I’ll be here all night. We can talk all about your many acts of kindness!”

Trixie groaned and fell forward so her entire front rested on the table.

“I hate your fucking guts,” she mumbled into the fabric of what was to become Katya’s suit.

“You’re gonna wrinkle your girlfriend’s suit,” she teased, dodging the pin cushion that Trixie chucked across the table at her with a cackle of a laugh.

This conversation didn’t keep Trixie from sticking to her plan of making the most baller suit of all time, but it also didn’t particularly help her ignore the feelings towards Katya she’d been desperately trying to push away for months on end.

Trixie tried everything she could think of: not touching Katya, spending less time with Katya, being less emotionally open with Katya, and any number of things that might help her separate herself from the feeling of butterflies taking over her internal systems every time she was in the same room as her best friend.

It’s safe to say she wasn’t successful.

And it’s even safer to say that people started to notice.

“Wait, say that again,” Alyssa laughed from where she stood behind the counter, filling out an order for coffee beans or flour or some other stocking necessity.

“Shut up,” Trixie rolled her eyes, wiping a table down on the other side of the empty cafe. They were closing down shop for the night, which was when the two had most of their heart to hearts in recent months. “I’m just saying your life seems pretty ideal.”

“Nope,” Alyssa pointed a finger at Trixie with a knowing grin. “You said you wanna be me when you grow up, girlie.”

“Listen,” Trixie said definitively, slapping her rag down on the table as punctuation. “It’s not you , just your lifestyle.”

“And what about my lifestyle is so appealing?” Alyssa teased, leaning forward against the counter with intrigue and amusement in equal measure.

“You just-- I guess I’m impressed that you’re so independent?” Trixie said with uncertainty. “I mean-- Like-- Well, you have all these awesome friends and run your own business, and you’re single by choice and don’t ever involve yourself with romantic drama.”

“All very true,” Alyssa nodded, but looked at Trixie quizzically, as if something was still missing from her explanation.

“Like, okay,” Trixie continued unprompted, waving the rag around willy-nilly and cocking one hip out to the side as she rambled. “Romance might be great and all, but it’s also super inconvenient-- Not to mention unrealistic.”

“How so?” Alyssa egged her on, because clearly Trixie needed to get this off her chest in some way or another.

“It’s all just so confusing,” Trixie said emphatically. “And if I can avoid having to be romantically entangled with anyone for the rest of my life, I feel like I want to.”

Alyssa hummed in acknowledgment, narrowing her eyes. Trixie looked up at her as she moved on to her next table and felt as if Alyssa was trying to solve some sort of puzzle.

“What?” Trixie asked. “Why’re you looking at me like that?”

“Just curious about who’s making you get all disenfranchised with romance lately,” Alyssa shrugged.

“No one-- What? I don’t-- What are you talking about?” Trixie floundered. “Why should this have anything to do with anyone?”

“I dunno,” Alyssa shrugged. “Just feels oddly specific.”

“I don’t-- You’re just-- You’re infuriating,” Trixie grumbled with hot cheeks as she scrubbed with unnecessary vigor at the table top in front of her.

“Oh my goodness,” Alyssa’s eyes got wide. “It really is about someone, isn’t it?”

“Nope.”

“I was kidding, but you’re all flustered,” Alyssa pointed out. “Who broke your heart? I’m gonna give ‘em a piece of my mind.”

“No one broke my-- Stop it,” Trixie couldn’t help but laugh through her embarrassment. “There was no heartbreaking, calm down. There can’t be a heartbreak if there wasn’t anything going on to begin with.”

“This is the juiciest gossip you’ve brought to me in months and you’re gonna be stingy like that?” Alyssa teased.

“It’s not that juicy,” Trixie said. “I have a stupid crush that won’t go away-- No big deal,” she draped the rag over her shoulder and threw her hands up as if to try and show just how little of a deal it was.

“A crush?” Alyssa gasped.

“It’s stupid,” Trixie insisted, but there was a faint smile on her face that Alyssa most certainly caught.

“I know who it is,” she challenged.

“No you don’t,” Trixie shot her a disbelieving look.

“Oh, I sure do,” Alyssa grinned.

“You definitely fucking don’t,” Trixie chuckled as she grabbed hold of her rag and started wiping down tables again.

“Katya,” Alyssa said simply. Trixie froze where she was for a brief moment and her pulse quickened and her eyes got big before she got a handle on herself, tried to brush it off, and continued with the task at hand.

“Nope,” she said, internally reprimanding her voice for betraying her with a slightly choked crack in the middle of the tiny word.

“Girl,” Alyssa cocked her head to one side, taking the wind out of Trixie’s sails pretty much immediately.

“Listen,” Trixie sighed, falling into a chair with a huff and fully giving up on her job to deal with the more pressing issue at hand: the nosy woman behind the counter. “It’s gonna pass.”

“How long?” Alyssa raised her eyebrows. Trixie bit at her lip hesitantly.

“Thanksgiving,” she muttered, barely audible but sending Alyssa reeling.

“And you ain’t said nothing to her yet?” Alyssa cried in astonishment.

“Because it’s gonna pass,” Trixie insisted.

“Oh, girl,” Alyssa shook her head, moving around the counter to take a seat across from Trixie at the still wet table. “Can I give you some wisdom?”

“I’d rather you didn’t, but something tells me you’re going to no matter what I say,” Trixie deadpanned.

“You’re convinced you have a crush,” Alyssa pressed on unbothered. “But mere infatuation looks a lot different from whatever this is,” she motioned broadly at Trixie.

“How so?” Trixie said in a mocking voice, bobbing her head in an obnoxious parrot of Alyssa’s earlier comment.

“You’re joking, but I’m gonna tell you,” Alyssa said with a chuckle. “Crushes do pass, but I’ve listened to you blabber on about that girl for years and that’s no crush, girlie.”

Trixie pulled at the fraying edges of the rag in between her fingers, staring at the chipping nail polish that she hadn’t bothered to touch up or take off for weeks on end. She didn’t particularly want to hear what Alyssa was saying, but something about it was keeping her fully intrigued. It was a lot like watching a train wreck, except the train was her cloudy head and the casualty was just her.

“What exactly are you insinuating?” Trixie asked, voice more serious all of a sudden with a leg bouncing underneath the table and the beginnings of tears lying in wait at the back of her eyes. Alyssa caught on to the change in tone instantly, and her face got soft.

“You ever consider that you might be falling for her, hon?” Alyssa asked carefully.

Trixie didn’t say anything, didn’t really have to because she looked up at the ceiling as tears began to fall and her lower lip trembled. She nodded erratically at Alyssa and let out a tiny sob as she brought up a hand to cover her mouth.

“Oh, sweetheart,” Alyssa said, moving to the chair closer to Trixie so she could rest a comforting hand on her shoulder.

“It’s stupid,” Trixie shook her head and rolled her eyes at her own dramatics. “I’m so fucking stupid.”

“Hey, no you aren’t,” Alyssa fired back with a determined voice. “You’ve got feelings-- Nothing stupid about that.”

“I’m gonna fucking lose her,” Trixie said as she wiped angrily at her tears, tired of it-- all the crying and melodrama and inability to properly categorize and manage her own emotions.

“Why on Earth would you think that?”

“I’m gonna freak her out and she’s gonna leave, Alyssa,” Trixie hiccuped through her tears. “I’m always too much and people always leave.”

“Trixie,” Alyssa said with a solid certainty in her tone, a kindness and a care that made Trixie feel so at home in that tiny cafe with its wooden chairs and colorful ceramic vases full of real, living flowers that Alyssa refused to replace with fake ones, no matter how hard it was to find daisies in a Midwestern winter. “Trixie, baby, I really think the only way you could lose that girl is if you aren’t honest with her. She cares about you so much. She ain’t going nowhere.”

Trixie took a deep, albeit somewhat shaky, breath and looked right into Alyssa’s earnest eyes.

“You’re saying I have to be honest with her?” Trixie clarified quietly. “Like, honest honest?”

“I think it’s probably a good idea,” Alyssa nodded. “If not for her, then just for your own sanity. You’ve been stewing in this for so long.”

“Right,” Trixie said, voice smaller than it had been in months.

Leave it to a single conversation with Alyssa to send Trixie into problem solving mode. She knew the mature thing to do would be to sit Katya down and have an adult conversation about her feelings, about how much she cared for Katya and wanted to hold her hand and kiss her stupid red lips and run her fingers through her stupid hair and--

Trixie was easily distracted. But, at least she wasn’t even trying to deny that she was falling in love with her best friend anymore.

So much in Trixie’s life was still so uncertain, but she knew two facts without a doubt: 1) she was a lesbian and 2) she was maybe, fully, entirely in love with Katya Zamolodchikova.

Stupid.

Katya’s senior showcase at the university cinema was exactly eight days later, and Trixie didn’t have it in her to try and solve this particular problem while Katya was getting prepared for such a big moment in her filmmaking career. So, she continued her general course of ignoring Katya and trying to keep a low profile all around right up until she showed up at Katya’s apartment to pick her up for the show.

“You’re early?” Katya said with a furrowed brow when she opened the door to see Trixie standing in the hallway with two garment bags.

“I’m gonna help you get ready,” Trixie said, pushing into Katya’s apartment without being invited and beginning to lay out the garment bags on Katya’s bed before the older girl even had a chance to process this information.

“Wanna explain what’s going on?” Katya leaned in the doorway of her bedroom, watching Trixie flatten out the garment bags methodically.

“What are you planning on wearing tonight?” Trixie looked at Katya over her shoulder. Trixie was in leggings and a baggy sweater, but her hair was perfectly curled and her makeup was flawless.

“I’ve got some dress pants I usually wear for this stuff,” Katya shrugged.

“You’ve had those since high school,” Trixie grimaced.

“They’re a staple!” Katya said defensively.

“They’re really not,” Trixie deadpanned.

“Well, you have a better idea of where I can get an outfit for cheap the day of?” Katya crossed her arms and raised her eyebrows, but Trixie just grinned and turned back to the bags on the bed. She unzipped one partially and peeked inside.

“Nope,” she zipped it back up and grabbed the other one, holding it up in front of her with a joyous grin. “Unzip this.”

“Is this some sort of prank?” Katya asked hesitantly, looking the bag up and down with skepticism. “Like that snake-in-a-can bullshit you pulled last April Fool’s Day?”

“Okay, that was hilarious and I don’t regret it, but no,” Trixie laughed. “This is not a prank.”

Katya narrowed her eyes at Trixie for a moment but Trixie bounced on the balls of her feet and looked so genuinely excited that Katya just took a few steps towards her and began to unzip the black bag.

Trixie held her breath as she watched Katya catch her first glimpse of the suit that Trixie had put innumerable hours into perfecting for this moment.

“What is this?” Katya held the suit jacket in her hands and ran her thumbs carefully over the fabric. “Oh my god, Trixie-- What did you do?!”

“I made you a suit!” Trixie cried enthusiastically at Katya’s flabbergasted face.

“Holy shit!” Katya screamed, laughing and grinning and maybe almost crying all at once. “Holy fuck! Trixie Mattel, you absolute cunt, you didn’t!”

“I did, I did, I did, here--” Trixie helped Katya take the bag all the way off the hangers that held a full three-piece suit. “I used your measurements from the last time you modeled for me but I wanted to come over early to make sure it’s all okay, and if you don’t like it you don’t have to wear it, and it won’t hurt my feelings if--”

“Trixie,” Katya places her hands on either side of Trixie’s face and pulls her gaze up from where she was staring at the garment. “I love it,” Katya grinned with all her shining teeth.

“Thank god,” Trixie breathed a sigh of relief, letting her head fall back for a moment before standing up straight and being all designer business woman once more. “Put it on so I can check the fit,” she shoved the fabric into Katya’s hands, both of them still buzzing with excited energy.

“Okay, okay,” Katya laughed. “But what’s in the other one?” she motioned to the second bag still sitting on her bed.

“That one’s mine,” Trixie shrugged. “I just didn’t wanna wear it on the train ride over here.”

“Ooh! I wanna see!” Katya exclaimed, moving towards the bag with excited eyes.

“Wait! No!” Trixie bound over to the bag and placed her body across it like a starfish. “Go try your stupid suit on.”

“You’re no fun,” Katya teased with a roll of her eyes before taking her suit and moving towards the bathroom to change.

Trixie was anxious while she waited for Katya to change. Not because she didn’t think it would fit-- Trixie was good at what she did and she knew it-- but because she didn’t fully trust herself to not accidentally bring up everything she’d been avoiding for weeks.

She just kept telling herself that she only had to get through one more night before she could bring out the well-organized script she’d started drafting and talk to Katya about all her feelings before she graduated in a couple of weeks.

Of course, Trixie knew that graduation wasn’t a strict deadline, and that Katya would be living in Chicago for at least the next year while she worked as a PA on various Chicago productions, but if Trixie didn’t set a deadline for herself, she knew she’d never do it.

So, she pushed it aside, and tried not to blush too much when she saw how goddamn good Katya looked in a well-tailored suit.

“You’re too short for this, hop up,” Trixie said, patting the countertop next to the bathroom sink with one hand and picking up a curling iron with the other.

“You ever think maybe you’re just too tall?” Katya grumbled but did as she was told.

“No, I’m perfect,” Trixie deadpanned. “Obviously.”

“I mean, I think so,” Katya grinned at her, hands on edge of the counter and legs kicking back and forth slightly like a kid on a swing.

Trixie was decidedly thrown off by the level of genuine earnestness in Katya’s tone and fumbled with the hot curling iron, hissing as she burned the side of her pinky finger.

“Shit,” Trixie dropped the curling iron on the counter and turned on the faucet, running her finger under cold water with a sigh.

“You okay?” Katya swiveled on the counter to look at Trixie, reaching out to take her wrist in her hands. “Here let me look--”

“Don’t touch me,” Trixie snapped, pulling her hand back. Katya retracted her hands quickly and with a surprised but furrowed brow. “I mean-- Just-- It’s fine, let’s just do your hair.”

“Yeah, okay,” Katya said.

As Trixie added a soft curl to Katya’s freshly grown-out hair and clipped back the bangs that were halfway towards no longer being bangs, she could feel a tension between her and Katya that hadn’t really ever been there before.

Trixie hated the idea that Katya could read her like an open book, could tell something was going on despite all her efforts to keep it on the down-low for one more fucking night.

She hated it and she knew that it was her fault, and she knew that all they needed was one honest conversation to (hopefully) get past it all, but she just pushed onwards and pulled on her dress and stepped out into Katya’s living room so they could get to the cinema and give Katya the night she’d always dreamed of, goddammit.

“Oh my god, it’s yellow,” Katya gasped-- yes, genuinely gasped-- when Trixie stepped out of the bathroom, still pulling on one of her heels as she held onto the doorframe. “Wow,” she said, under her breath and barely aloud.

“Shut up, I’m being versatile,” Trixie rolled her eyes and smoothed out the pleats in the flared skirt of her dress which hung right around her knees.

“No, no,” Katya shook her head adamantly. “You look amazing. Like-- Wow.”

Trixie felt her face heat up and actively didn’t look at Katya as she moved towards the front door, opening it and stepping out into the hallway.

“You coming?” she called over her shoulder and heard Katya begin to scramble.

“What? Yeah-- Yep, coming,” Katya scurried out the door to join Trixie in the hallway, pulling the door shut behind her and locking it.

The cinema was beautiful.

Of course, it always had been, but Trixie spent a lot less time in the old yet expertly refurbished moviehouse than Katya did.

They sat with their friends and watched a series of student shorts, some of which were certainly better than others and some of which were far too pseudo-edgy for Trixie’s taste. Katya’s was definitely not one of those, with her signature bright colors and expert use of sunlight.

Katya’s film was hopeful and complex and interesting and left Trixie more in love with her than she had been at the beginning of the night. The way Katya’s brain worked, the way she could put a series of images together so seamlessly yet full of discontinuous seams, left Trixie reeling.

It was a lot to take in, and she got caught up in the emotion of it, clapping like a crazy person when it ended and looking to her left to catch Katya already looking at her with a surprised but joyful grin.

Their eyes met and Trixie felt her stomach soar and she wanted to kiss her so goddamn badly, but instead she cleared her throat and looked back up at the screen and felt Katya deflate ever so slightly next to her.

Trixie watched Katya get congratulated by friends and professors, watched her best friend beam at compliments that she deserved in two- and three-fold.

The night was joyful, it was bright and kind and happy in every way that Trixie had hoped, and still yet the two of them were silent on the train ride back to Katya’s apartment.

“You can stay if you want,” Katya said over her shoulder as she unlocked the front door to her apartment building. “It’s late and I know I’m about ready to pass out.”

“Oh, that’s not…” Trixie floundered, thinking about sharing a bed with Katya and how she wasn’t sure her stupid, infatuated heart could handle it that night. “That’s not necessary-- I’ll just-- I mean, I’ll just head home. Don’t wanna get in your way.”

Katya raised her eyebrows at Trixie, pushing open the infamously sticky door with her shoulder and leading Trixie up the stairs.

“It’s not a bother,” Katya said, voice tinged with something like annoyance and just a smidge of hurt.

“It’s your night, I don’t wanna be in the way,” Trixie insisted, almost feeling like she was in physical pain keeping a secret from Katya. She had never kept secrets from Katya, had always been frighteningly honest with Katya, didn’t know how to lie to Katya without sounding distinctly like a liar.

“Trixie, you’re not in the way, Jesus,” Katya said with exasperation, still climbing the steep and rickety staircase up, up, upwards with heavy footfalls. “We sleep over all the time, it’s not a big deal.”

“It’s a little weird though,” Trixie said, letting the words slip out without thinking it through fully and knowing the moment she said them that it wasn’t the right move to make.

“Is it?” Katya deadpanned, stopping in her tracks and looking down at Trixie who stood a few steps below her. Trixie just shrugged and Katya rolled her eyes before turning around and continuing.

“It’s just unusual is all I’m saying,” Trixie tried to smooth over what had clearly struck a nerve with Katya, knowing that once she had the chance to get everything off her chest that they would probably, hopefully be okay, but that she needed to keep things light until then.

“Oh, for fucks sake,” Katya groaned, rolling her eyes as she threw open the door at the top of the stairwell and stepped out into the hallway of her apartment.

“What?” Trixie chased after her, breathing heavy from the absurd amount of steps they had to climb every time they wanted to get to Katya and Bianca’s fourth floor walk up.

“Would you stop being fake with me?” Katya looked to Trixie harshly, jiggling her key in the finicky doorknob unsuccessfully.

“When in my life have I ever been fake with you?” Trixie furrowed her brow and crossed her arms defensively.

“Ha!” Katya let out a high pitched, sarcastic, humorless laugh as she got the door unstuck and let it swing open. “Trixie Mattel not knowing she can be a massive brat! What a joke!” She exclaimed, striding into the apartment and kicking off her shoes as she went.

“What the fuck?” Trixie breathed, not raising her voice at all, and genuinely more confused by this situation than anything. She was trying to be a good friend, trying to make things better, trying. “I don’t have a fucking clue what you’re talking about, Kat.”

“This whole semester!” Katya cried. “This whole fucking semester— my last one by the way— you have been pushing me away and trying to put space between us and acting all weird—”

“I have not!” Trixie cut her off, but Katya just shook her head with a wry grin and tugged harshly at her tie.

“You’ve been acting so weird, like you don’t wanna be my friend anymore or something,” Katya continued. “And, like, if you wanna move on with your life, sure, whatever, I guess I can’t stop you, but at least tell me what I did wrong!”

“None of that is even a little bit true,” Trixie shot back. “You haven’t done anything wrong and I’m definitely not moving on with my life, what the fuck?”

“You tense up every time I hug you and you freak out when I say I love you and you think you’re covering it up but I can see right through you, Trixie!” Katya said with tears in her eyes as she tossed her tie to the side and unbuttoned the top button of her shirt as if it was suffocating her.

Trixie brought in the smallest gasp of a breath that barely made any sound but left her mouth hanging open ever so slightly.

“Katya—” Trixie sighed, realization finally dawning on her and knowing that this conversation was going to either happen or she could very well lose Katya entirely that night. Trixie couldn’t lose Katya.

“No. Stop trying to make excuses and just be honest with me for once in your fucking life,” Katya wiped angrily at a tear as it slipped down her cheek.

“I’m always honest with you,” Trixie said, sounding harsher than she intended but pretty much letting her emotions speak for themselves at that point.

“Bullshit.”

“No. Fuck you. I never lie to you,” Trixie raised her voice and spoke angrily with her hands. “I have spent my whole life covering shit up but I have never lied to you.”

“How long after you came out to Adore, after you started sleeping with Violet did it take you to fucking mention you’re gay?!” Katya shot back.

“Go fuck yourself,” Trixie growled. “That’s different and you know it.”

“You talked to so many people about that before you came to me! And you knew I would understand exactly what you were going through!”

“Don’t act all high and mighty like you haven’t kept shit from me too,” Trixie said.

“When have I ever—”

“Sophomore year after we got back from winter break you went full Mormon levels of celibate for months on end and we never talked about that did we?!”

“And why the fuck is that anyone’s business?”

“Why the fuck is sleeping with Violet fucking Chachki for a summer anyone’s goddamn business?”

“I don’t know!” Katya cried out with exasperation. “Maybe I just wanted to believe that of all the people in the world, at least my best friend was being honest with me.” And then quieter, more broken: “Just--  if something is wrong-- I mean, if I did something-- Jesus Christ, Trix, please be honest with me.”

Trixie took in a shaky breath, watched Katya’s big eyes swimming with hurt and fear and uncertainty, and felt her heart come dangerously close to bursting with the pure feeling of it all.

Trixie had never meant to hurt her best friend, didn’t have the words to explain to her that the problem wasn’t that she didn’t want Katya in her life anymore, but in fact that she wanted her too much, in every part of her life, for the rest of forever.

Trixie took a step forward, and then another, and another until she was standing a foot away from the shorter girl. Katya had her arms wrapped around her stomach as if she was trying to hold something in with all her willpower, and Trixie stepped out of her heels so she was closer to Katya’s height, but still towering over her.

Trixie’s heart pounded, but she reached up and up and up until her fingers were dancing softly against Katya’s pink cheeks, cradling her face gently between her hands with their shiny rings and band aids from where she’d pricked herself too hard with a needle while putting the finishing touches on Katya’s suit.

Katya just watched her, had stopped protesting and accepted Trixie’s nonverbal response although she did seem relatively confused by it, wanted more, wanted Trixie to just come out and tell her what was going on behind her eyes.

Trixie gave her more.

She leaned forward and pressed her lips against Katya’s cheek, and then the corner of her mouth without lifting up, brushing her lipstick-laden mouth across Katya’s skin and letting their noses bump against each other.

When Trixie pressed a soft kiss directly on Katya’s slightly gaping mouth, with all the gentleness of a butterfly and all the determination of, well, Trixie Mattel, Katya didn’t hesitate to bring her hands to grasp onto the yellow fabric around Trixie’s waist.

Trixie felt Katya’s thumbs run over her hip bones, but just as Katya opened her mouth to deepen the kiss, Trixie pulled away.

Katya opened her eyes hazily, a look of pure awe in her eyes that instantly became the most beautiful thing Trixie had ever seen.

They still held each other close, hands not moving from their homes on the other’s body as they both caught their breath from what should not have been a breathtaking kiss but had left them both searching for missing oxygen.

“That’s me being honest,” Trixie said, practically whispering but loud enough that it felt like the reverb of her voice bounced throughout the small room for seconds following. “Is that okay?”

Katya let out a shaky breath of a laugh, tears still in her eyes, but countenance suddenly more full of disbelief than anger or confusion. She looked down at where her hands rested on Trixie’s hips and then back up at her face, seemingly taking in every bit of her as if it was the first time she was really seeing her.

“You— I— you’re—-and?” Katya stumbled over fragmented words.

“I’m sorry, shit,” Trixie immediately panicked, voice growing louder and more hurried. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have— I shouldn’t be dropping this on you and— this was supposed to be your night and—”

“Trixie,” Katya breathed, digging her fingers into the curves of Trixie’s hips, most certainly wrinkling the fabric with her grip.

“Yeah?” Trixie took a deep breath.

“Be honest with me again.”

A grin passed over Katya’s face and Trixie let out a surprised laugh as she felt Katya’s hands pull her body closer.

Trixie lifted her hands to cradle Katya’s jaw once more and Katya pressed up just enough on her toes to bring their lips back in line with one another, making Trixie’s job of kissing her a whole hell of a lot easier. Not that Trixie wouldn’t have jumped through a thousand hoops, burning with orange fire and covered in barbed wire to kiss Katya again, because she would, because that kiss was more than she could’ve imagined.

Trixie’s lips slid over Katya’s and she knew that her lipstick was getting all over the shorter woman, but also knew that neither of them gave a shit. How could they, when the feeling of Trixie’s hands in Katya’s hair and the sensation of Katya’s body pressed up against Trixie’s and the light emanating from every inch of both of them was so powerfully joyful?

Trixie let her hands trail down Katya’s body and out of her hair, and although Katya whined slightly at the loss of contact, Trixie could tell she quickly got over it when Trixie’s fingers started pushing at the perfectly tailored suit jacket cloaking Katya’s shoulders.

“You looked so fucking good in this tonight,” Trixie said in a breathy voice as Katya relocated her lips to curve of Trixie’s jawline.

“Are you getting turned on by your own handiwork?” Katya said into her neck, letting the suit jacket fall off her shoulders and onto the floor behind her.

“I’m gonna turn you on with my goddamn handiwork,” Trixie said, laying her hands flat against Katya’s stomach and sliding up the center to touch each button as she went. She couldn’t even get through the sentence without laughing and Katya snorted in response to the cheesy line, burying her face farther into the space where Trixie’s neck and shoulder met. “Fuck off,” Trixie cackled, pulling Katya’s face back up to hers and kissing her with smiling lips.

Katya trailed her hands up and down the length of Trixie’s waist, starting at her hips and traveling up her ribs, right along where the underwire of her bra left grooves in the fabric of her dress. Trixie sighed into Katya’s mouth, humming with contentedness at this new way Katya’s hands were touching her, a way she’d never expected to experience but was falling more in love with every second.

Trixie moved her lips along Katya’s jawline, listening to Katya’s breath hitch as Trixie began to untuck her shirt from the waistband of her slacks.

“Trixie,” Katya sighed with her hands threading themselves into Trixie’s flawlessly curled hair, tousling each spiral and tangling them together with her nimble fingers. “Trixie,” she repeated when Trixie didn’t say anything, but again, Trixie just hummed against Katya’s neck in response, fingers pulling at the buttons of her dress shirt. “Should we talk about this first?”

“Do you want to?” Trixie asked, breathing heavily as she pulled her lips away from Katya’s neck but kept their faces inches apart, sides of noses resting against one another.

“I don’t— I mean,” Katya pressed a chaste kiss against Trixie’s lips as if she just couldn’t help herself. “I’m not doing a one night thing with you, Trixie. I can’t just fuck you and move on. I can’t.”

Trixie kissed Katya’s lips, she kissed the bridge of her nose and the side of her mouth and the apple of her cheek.

“I don’t just wanna fuck you,” Trixie said, voice soft. “I wanna hold your hand in public, and kiss you on the L, and re-introduce myself to your parents as your girlfriend, and go out to fancy restaurants that we leave after we eat the bread because there’s no way we can afford an entree, and instead you take me to that stupid art cinema you love and we watch a three hour movie in French that I don’t understand but I hold your hand in a bucket of organic popcorn the whole time, and yeah I really wanna fuck you right now, but Katya-- I want everything else too.”

Trixie had to pull in a deep breath when she finished, not just because the sheer volume of words she’d let spill out, but because the sight of Katya’s eyes just inches in front of her was stealing all of the air from her lungs and replacing it with fluttering butterflies with lace wings and feather feet.

“Goddammit,” Katya breathed out as she immediately pulled Trixie’s face back to her own and kissed her with as much love as Trixie had ever felt directed at her. Trixie reciprocated with just as much vigor, opening her mouth enough to taste Katya’s tongue and her breath and her stupid perfect teeth.

Trixie forced Katya’s hands off of her when she managed to get all of the buttons open on Katya’s shirt and push it off her shoulders and down her slender arms, leaving Katya in only her bra and slacks as the two women continued to make out like teenagers in the middle of the living room. Trixie figured they were allowed to act like teenagers for a moment, because they’d both just been very adult in talking about their feelings so openly.

Trixie was wrapped up in all of it, with Katya’s hands traveling everywhere they could reach. From her hips to her waist, squeezing her ass and caressing over her breasts until they slid back down over her belly and the tops of her thighs. She was more turned on by the small amount of contact than she had ever been by another human being.

“Take this off,” Katya murmured against Trixie’s ear, pulling unsuccessfully at the zipper on her side.

“You first,” Trixie rested her forehead against Katya’s and tugged at her slacks.

“Be careful, you’ll rip them,” Katya laughed.

“I made them, I can fix them,” Trixie smirked as she successfully unzipped the pants and pulled them to the ground, sitting back on her heels as she did so. “Step out,” she said, and Katya did as she was told, but Trixie pulled her back close with her thumbs hooked in the waistband of her cotton underwear.

Trixie splayed her hands out across Katya’s lower back and pressed a gentle kiss against her hip bone.

“Trixie,” Katya took in a sharp breath and Trixie noticed her strong thighs tense. Katya let out her breath unsteadily as Trixie trailed warm, open mouthed kisses down the tops of Katya’s thighs. “You’re gonna be the death of me.”

“You’re so hot,” Trixie said, lifting back up on her knees and letting her hands circle around Katya’s body to land on her ass, squeezing gently as she left an open mouthed kiss directly on the front triangle of fabric of Katya’s underwear.

“Fuck,” Katya tangled her hands in Trixie’s hair and pulled her away. “I need to sit down.”

Trixie just nodded, standing up and pushing Katya back onto the ugly floral couch that Katya and Bianca refused to get rid of for as long as they lived in that same apartment, with the doodles on the drywall and the dirty dishes out on the fire escape, waiting to be washed clean by rain.

Trixie stood in between Katya’s open legs and reached under her armpit to pull down the zipper of her yellow dress. Katya sat on her hands and watched with big eyes as if she didn’t want to miss a second of this process. Her eyes were so big and she looked so open and honest and real in that moment, and Trixie loved her so goddamn much that she thought she might burst.

“I’ve gained a lot of depression weight and you’re not allowed to comment on it,” Trixie said, dress halfway off as she held it up around her stomach.

“C’mere,” Katya scooted forward so she was sitting on the edge of the couch, pulling Trixie closer by her hips and gently taking the fabric of her dress and pulling it down to fall in a puddle of sunshine on the floor.

Katya immediately started pressing soft kisses across Trixie’s stomach, running her thumbs with a feather-light touch across stretch marks at her hips and on the tops of her thighs. Trixie sighed at the feeling of it, at the feeling of being adored and admired and cared for by who she was pretty sure was her real life soulmate.

Trixie had never been so invested in gentle touches and lingering kisses and pure unadulterated love with anyone she’d fucked in the past, and something about the way Katya was moving told her that Katya probably hadn’t either. This was new and nerve-wracking but also so right that they both understood they could take their time. There was plenty of future for them to go hard and fast and there was plenty of future for them to be fully disgusting and there was plenty of future for them .

“Kiss me,” Trixie eventually pulled Katya away from where she was practically worshipping Trixie’s curves, straddling the shorter woman and trapping her legs between her thighs as she kissed her hard and slow.

Trixie slowly, almost hesitantly, as if testing the waters, rolled her hips down against Katya’s. Trixie could feel her thong getting wetter and slicker with the friction of the fabric against her lips and the weight of Katya’s hands as they pulled off her bra and ran across Trixie’s nipples.

Trixie let out a breathy sigh against Katya’s lips and ran her hand down in between their bodies to cup the warmth at the juncture of Katya’s legs, running a finger gently up and down her slit. Katya’s grip on Trixie’s hips grew tighter and her hips pushed up against Trixie’s hand eagerly.

“Trix?” Katya gasped.

“Yeah?” Trixie responded without stopping her movements.

“Have you always been this big of a tease?” Katya raised her eyebrows and Trixie smirked.

“Only for you,” she hummed against Katya’s neck, biting gently at the skin there.

“Oh, fuck y-ooohh,” Katya’s rampage was cut off when Trixie pushed the fabric out of her path and inserted a finger without warning.

Trixie quickly discovered that she loved making Katya feel good. Of course, she always had, but this was discernibly different in context and method. With her fingers keeping a steady pace and her thumb on Katya’s clit, Trixie kissed Katya all the way to a whimpering puddle on that stupid, floral couch.

Trixie continued to kiss Katya lazily as she felt her come down and catch her breath, feeling wetter than she knew was possible and having more fun than she’d ever considered possible during any other sexual encounter. Trixie loved fun and she loved being funny, and in sex with Katya, those things didn’t feel as out of place as they had in the past. In fact, they felt perfectly in place.

“You’re not fucking real,” Katya said as she wound her fingers in Trixie’s hair, curls now a tangled mess and makeup smearing and melting across her face. Katya pulled their faces apart so she could look Trixie in the eye, and Trixie could feel her cheeks flushing just at the basic act of it.

“What do you mean?” Trixie held onto Katya’s waist, not wanting to stop touching her (despite the fact that she was still straddling her and wouldn’t be losing contact any time soon).

“It’s like I dreamed you up,” Katya shook her head in awe. “It’s like, you can’t be real because you’re so incredible. But also, I know you’re real, because you’ve been real for three years and I’ve watched you be nothing but real, and maybe I love you so much because of how goddamn real you actually are-- but just, look at you.”

Trixie let out a breath of a laugh, unable to hold back the smile that was tugging at every nerve in her body. She leaned down and kissed Katya with a grin on her face and Katya reciprocated with an eagerness to please in every miniscule movement.

“You love me,” Trixie said, peppering kisses in between words.

“God, of course I do,” Katya laughed. “We both know I started falling for you a long time ago, you stupid bitch.”

“You’re a piece of shit,” Trixie cackled, still pressing kisses into every part of Katya’s face and hairline and jaw that she could reach. “And I’m so goddamn in love with you.”

“Oh my god,” Katya pushed at Trixie’s shoulders until she was laying back on the couch and Katya was in between her legs. “Shut your dumb, beautiful mouth so I can eat you out.”

Trixie screamed out an exuberant laugh that had Katya grinning as she tugged at Trixie’s thong and pulled it off her legs. Katya left trails of wet but soft kisses across Trixie’s breasts, her abdomen and hips and thighs, before finally settling down in between her legs and immediately turning Trixie’s chuckles into moans.

Katya experimented with her tongue and lips and fingers until she discovered what it was that made Trixie the most vocal. She got Trixie all worked up, hips bucking and breathy moans escaping her lips, and then Katya pulled her face away.

Katya kept circling Trixie’s clit with one finger, but brought her lips back up to Trixie’s and kissed her like she fucking meant it.

“Kat-- Fuck, Kat,” Trixie mumbled against her lips. “I’m gonna-- I’m gonna come.”

“You should do that then,” Katya grinned, nibbling gently on her earlobe.

That sent Trixie right over the edge, because Katya was so smug but so joyful and Trixie never wanted to stop feeling that happy. Trixie had been fully and completely gone for Katya for much longer than she realized, but she thought maybe they needed that time to get their acts together individually before they could ever be this in sync together.

Trixie caught her breath with Katya laying on top of her, pressing lazy kisses into her collarbones and running a thumb back and forth over her hip. Trixie trailed fingers up and down Katya’s spine and closed her eyes and felt so content and—

The sound of a key in the front door sent her eyes shooting open and Katya tumbling off of her and onto the floor.

“My room— go!” She hissed, dashing for the other side of the room.

“Katya, get your fucking clothes!” Trixie hissed back as she scooped her wrinkled yellow dress up off of the floor and ran past Katya fully naked into her bedroom.

“Shit!” Katya scrambled back into the living room, grabbed her discarded suit, and managed to close the door to her bedroom behind her just as they heard Bianca entering the front door of the apartment.

Katya sighed and leaned back against the door, dropping the pile of clothes at her feet before looking at where Trixie was staring at her dress and bra in her hands.

“Fuck,” Trixie whispered.

“What’s wrong?” Katya asked, brow furrowed.

“My thong is definitely on your coffee table,” Trixie grimaced.

Katya gaped at her for a moment with big eyes before she fell into a wheezing laughing attack, hunched over as she tried to stay quiet. Trixie let out a surprised laugh and covered her mouth with a hand to try and keep the sound muffled.

“I guess this just means we don’t have to tell her,” Katya shrugged as she got control of her laughter and made her way towards the bed.

Trixie laughed and dropped her dress unceremoniously on the floor so she could climb under the covers. She could always iron it later.

Katya collapsed back into the pillows while Trixie stayed sitting upright as she pulled her long hair into a messy braid down the center of her back. She knew it was tangled and matted and that she’d have to deal with it at some point, but in that moment she just wanted to be in bed.

Katya kept a hand on Trixie’s knee while she watched her tie her hair back, silently urging her to hurry up and slide under the covers.

“You’re so pretty,” Katya said softly against the fabric of her pillow, pulling Trixie’s gaze down to her as she tied off the end of her braid.

“Shut up,” she grinned and scooted down on the bed so she could rest her head, facing Katya on her side. Katya lifted a hand and tucked a stray piece of hair behind Trixie’s ear.

“I’ve been shut up for three years,” Katya laughed quietly. “There’s no shutting me up now.”

“That long?” Trixie breathed as she leaned her cheek into Katya’s palm and rested a hand on Katya’s hip.

“Less intensely,” Katya shrugged. “But yeah. That long.”

“I would say me too, but I was still straight three years ago,” Trixie chuckled. “I’m a little slow on the draw, I think.”

“Slow and steady,” Katya mumbled as she brought her face up close to Trixie’s and pressed a chaste kiss against her lips.

“Slow and steady,” Trixie responded with a small, but meaningful smile as they pulled away. Trixie settled herself up against Katya’s side, with a hand draped over her stomach on top of the sheets and their legs tangled beneath them.

Trixie fell asleep to the sound of Katya’s steady breathing and the feeling of her skin against her own. Trixie fell asleep fully content in ways she had forgotten were even possible with images of tortoises and hares finding their way to meet back up at the finish line buzzing in her head.

It might have seemed fast, it might have seemed spur of the moment or reckless, but in reality, Trixie and Katya had really taken their time getting to this place, naked in the same bed with laughter in their lungs and joy in their hearts. They had tread their own paths and gone at their own paces, but had ultimately ended up in the same place nonetheless.

The race wasn’t over, but they could go forth from that point on together, because there was no denying that they knew each other fully and completely. They knew each other’s flaws, had seen each other at their worst and best and everything in between and still truly loved each other nonetheless.

When Trixie woke up the next morning with Katya spooning her and the bedsheets tangled up around her, she knew that for once in her life, she had been good at her timing.

She stayed there for a few minutes, relishing in the feeling of Katya’s quiet snoring on the back of her neck, but ultimately decided she really needed coffee. Trixie pulled herself carefully away from Katya’s grasp, tucking an extra pillow in between her arms in her absence, and began searching for something to wear.

Most of Katya’s clothes were too small for Trixie, and she didn’t particularly feel all that interested in getting dressed before she showered anyway, so she pulled on the fluffy robe that hung on the back of Katya’s door and snuck quietly to the bathroom to piss.

When Trixie finished in the bathroom and had washed the old, messy makeup from her face, she slipped out into the living room. She glanced at the couch and felt herself blush as she remembered that her thong was most certainly somewhere still out in the room.

She figured Bianca might have seen it already, but figured it didn’t hurt to find it and not leave it out in the open for anyone to comment on, so she began searching through the couch cushions.

“I put it in your purse last night,” Bianca’s voice startled Trixie into turning around to see the older girl standing in the doorway of her bedroom, still in sleep shorts and a t-shirt with her hair hanging loose around her face.

“Oh-- what-- I…” Trixie floundered, not sure how honest they were being about the activities of the night before yet.

“Hey, chill out,” Bianca chuckled. “I’m not gonna spill your secrets.”

“Wait, really?” Trixie let out a breath. “Why?” She asked, figuring that there was nothing her friends liked more than fresh gossip.

“If you of all people could keep mine and Adore’s business under wraps, then I can do this one thing for you,” Bianca shrugged.

“Bianca del Rio,” Trixie grinned. “Are you going soft?”

“Don’t fool yourself,” Bianca deadpanned. “If I find your fuckin’ underwear in my living room again, the whole world’s getting a picture.”

“Understood,” Trixie laughed.

“Okay, I’m showering,” Bianca brushed her off and moved towards the bathroom. “Try to not fuck on my couch next time, yeah?”

Trixie just laughed as Bianca shut the door and definitively ended the conversation, finally giving Trixie a chance to complete the task she had gotten out of bed for in the first place.

She looked out the tiny window in the kitchen as her coffee brewed, with its tiny trinkets on the sill and the little potted succulent that Katya was determined to keep alive.

It was drizzling that morning, not fully raining but leaving enough moisture in the air to make it taste heavy in her lungs and leave droplets of condensation on the glass. The scent of coffee beans mixed with petrichor and Trixie breathed deeply through her nose and out through her mouth as she pulled Katya’s robe tight around her body.

Katya stirred when Trixie slipped back into bed, sitting up with her back pressed against the wall and tucking her feet under the tangled blankets.

“Where’d you go?” Katya mumbled, burrowing her face sleepily against the side of Trixie’s hip.

“Coffee,” Trixie said simply, and then, nudging Katya with her hip. “I made you tea if you want it.”

Katya cracked her eyes open to look up at where Trixie was smiling down at her with two steaming mugs in her hands.

“Oh, you actual angel,” Katya sighed, sitting up and pulling a blanket around her bare chest. Her shoulder pressed up against Trixie’s as she leaned back against the wall and took her tea from Trixie.

Katya hummed contentedly as she sipped from the still-steaming tea and Trixie watched her with bright eyes and something fuzzy in her chest.

“Thank you,” Katya said, leaning her head to rest it on Trixie’s shoulder and then turning her face to place a small kiss against her shoulder.

“Mmhmm,” Trixie hummed in response, dipping her head to catch Katya’s lips in a smiling kiss, and another, and another. “Bianca found my stupid thong,” she said when they pulled away, amusement in her voice as Katya draped her legs over Trixie’s lap.

“Of course she fucking did,” Katya chuckled.

“She said she wouldn’t spill,” Trixie said. “But I don’t think I’d be bothered if she did,” she glanced down at Katya hesitantly.

“Me neither,” Katya smiled at her reassuringly.

“I don’t wanna-- I’m not rushing you, right?” Trixie asked as she held the warm mug of coffee close to her body, letting the heat of it encompass all of her in that moment.

“I don’t think a three year ramp up can ever be considered rushing,” Katya laughed. “ Je t'aime, Barbie girl.”

“Hey,” Trixie grinned. “I know that one.”

“Yeah?” Katya’s cheeks were pink as she smiled with all her teeth. “Prove it.”

Trixie rolled her eyes goodnaturedly but couldn’t keep the absolute joy off of her face as she rested her forehead against Katya’s.

“I love you.”

Katya graduated from Columbia College two and a half weeks later.

In the span of that time, all of their friends were informed of the slight shift in their relationship and although some of them were confused, it was only because they figured all of that had been happening since Trixie’s sophomore year.

Katya had an extra ticket to the graduation ceremony, and Trixie was thrilled to be able to attend, sitting next to Katya’s parents in that massive stadium in her yellow dress, only able to spot Katya in the crowd because she had decorated the top of her cap with Twin Peaks inspired black and white chevron.

Trixie held Katya’s film camera around her neck and snapped what she was certain were photos that wouldn’t come out properly, despite Katya taking the night before to teach her how it worked. She had fun nonetheless, and holding a camera to her eye made her feel somehow even closer to her girlfriend in that moment.

Trixie clapped and screamed and cried with pride as she watched Katya stride gleefully across the stage to accept her diploma, knowing the idiot was wearing the suit Trixie had made her under the long gown despite the warm humidity of May in Chicago.

They took too many photos and went to dinner with Katya’s parents and Trixie didn’t stop smiling for the entire day.

The Zamolodchikova’s took her to an Italian restaurant and Trixie ordered a salad because she knew they weren’t going to let her pay her share. Nonetheless, Katya not-so-surreptitiously slipped raviolis onto her plate and Trixie most certainly ate them with a bashful gratitude.

Trixie let Katya’s parents buy her desert.

Trixie held Katya’s hand under the table the whole time.

 

Chapter Text

 

“I’m so hot that it’s making me nauseous,” Trixie said, spread eagle on the floor of the kitchen she shared with Kim.

“Nauseated,” Sasha replied from where she sat in front of the open refrigerator. “You’re nauseated.”

“Are you sure?” Trixie turned her head and pressed her cheek against the tiled floor, willing it to be even remotely cool, or for a breeze to blow through the open window, or for the air conditioning in their goddamn building to get fixed. “Because I’m for sure nauseous.”

“That’s the wrong verbiage,” Sasha said. And then, with wide eyes looking into the near distance: “At least I think it is?”

“God, if the heat is melting your brain I can’t imagine what mine’s gonna look like at the end of all this,” Trixie said, laughing, but with a slow lethargy to her tone.

“I’ve never been more glad I shaved my head in my life,” Sasha groaned.

“I’m about three drops of sweat in my eyes away from joining you,” Trixie said, staring at the ceiling. “Like, your mom might be in remission, but I can still support her as she grows her hair back.”

“Something tells me that this is less about my mother and more about how disgusting this entire city feels in the summer,” Sasha droned.

“Careful,” Trixie warned. “If you say too many negative things about Chicago, Oprah herself will descend and gift you with a car that has faulty brakes.”

Sasha laughed brightly at that, tilting her head back enough that the sound of it echoed slightly through the nearly empty refrigerator.

“You’re so stupid,” Sasha said through her laughter, and Trixie grinned up at the ceiling with pride for her joke as they heard the front door open.

“We come bearing gifts of winter,” Katya’s voice trailed in from the entryway.

“In here!” Trixie called back, not daring to move from the ground for fear of expelling too much energy and getting somehow sweatier than she already was.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Kim deadpanned as Trixie lifted her head to see her roommate heavily setting down a large box fan with a huff.

“What?” Trixie asked innocently.

“Why couldn’t you shitheads come with us to get this stuff, again?” Kim asked, pushing sweaty hair out of her face.

“Someone had to stay here in case the maintenance guy came by, remember?”

“I despise you,” Kim said, picking up the box fan once more and turning on her heel. “And this is going in my bedroom, because I carried it here on the goddamn train,” she called over her shoulder, passing Katya who took her place in the doorway.

“I think the heat is making the poor kid grumpy,” Katya stage whispered.

“Fuck you, Zamo!” Kim’s voice echoed through the apartment, sending Katya into peals of laughter.

Trixie propped herself up on her elbows and grinned at her girlfriend, with her long hair in two french braids and sweat stains under the arms of her tank top. Her skin tone was somewhere in between being a surfer girl tan and glowing red with burns.

Trixie loved to look at her, loved how she refused to wear makeup on days that hot but still insisted on wearing heavy black boots every single day. Trixie loved that she volunteered to help Kim carry two massive fans across town so they would be less miserable in their half-baked apartment on her one day off for the week and still managed to look joyful beyond all belief.

Trixie loved her.

“You got the goods?” Trixie asked in a mock-gangster, gravelly voice that had Katya wheezing with laughter.

“Yeah, boss,” she reciprocated in an equally bad New York accent that actually was just a lot more of her Boston roots slipping out. “Where d’ya want it?”

“If this is your version of foreplay, I’d like to leave,” Sasha said with a look of mild disgust in her crinkled up nose.

Trixie laughed as she pushed herself up off the floor, leaving sweat marks on the tile as she did so.

“Shut up, you egg,” Trixie chuckled before turning her attention to Katya. “I would say we should put it in my room to be spiteful, but I’ll honestly probably sleep at your place until this bullshit is fixed anyway, so I’ll be gracious and leave it in the living room.”

“My girlfriend is a regular philanthropist,” Katya said as she reached out and grabbed Trixie’s hand, pulling her body close and kissing sloppily at her cheek.

“Gross, I’m leaving,” Sasha groaned as she stood up and closed the refrigerator. “I’m gonna go sit in the freezer at Spinelli’s Diner.”

“Have fun!” Trixie said sincerely.

“Yeah, you popsicle-ize that pussy!” Katya called out at the same time. Sasha just responded with an indecipherable groan and the sound of the front door closing behind her.

“You really are very gross,” Trixie said, front of her body still pressed up against Katya’s side. “You smell like hot garbage.”

“If you can’t love me at my hot garbage, you don’t deserve me at my freshly laundered sheets,” Katya said with mock-seriousness as she raised up on her toes just enough to press her forehead against Trixie’s.

“God, I love fresh sheets,” Trixie said wistfully. “ Cold sheets.”

“I know,” Katya tried to keep a straight face but failed. “It’s a weird obsession.”

“There’s absolutely nothing weird about enjoying cool, clean sheets,” Trixie insisted as Katya pressed a soft kiss to the bridge of her nose. “Would you rather I liked dirty sheets?”

“Nah, babe. I should be the only dirty thing in between your sheets,” Katya pulled away far enough so that Trixie could see her smirking.

“I fuckin’ hate you,” Trixie rolled her eyes with a genuine laugh despite the absurd cheese-filled nature of that joke.

“You look real pretty when you laugh, did you know that?” Katya whispered, tucking a piece of sweaty hair behind Trixie’s ear and kissing her softly on the lips.

“You’ve called my laugh a banshee scream on multiple occasions, Kat,” Trixie said quietly against Katya’s smiling lips.

“Maybe I have a thing for banshees,” Katya teased. “You don’t know.”

“I’m gonna break up with you the minute you finish helping me set up that fan in the window,” Trixie laughed, holding onto Katya’s hand and walking backwards to pull her into the living room.

“That might be a problem,” Katya said, glancing around with an awkward, scrunched up face.

“What? Why?” Trixie laughed.

“Because the fan is gone,” Katya motioned around the room broadly to prove that yes, the fan was in fact gone.

Trixie’s mouth fell open and she dropped Katya’s hand. She let out a loud huff as realization passed across her face and she stormed towards Kim’s bedroom.

“Kimberly!” Trixie yelled as she pounded on the locked door.

“Yes, Tracy?” Kim opened the door a mere crack and smiled at Trixie innocently.

“You took my fan,” Trixie crossed her arms over her chest defiantly. Katya watched the encounter with amusement, falling onto the couch and lounging casually. “You should give it back.”

“You should stop making kissy faces in my kitchen and pay attention to what’s going on around you,” Kim shot back teasingly.

“I was gonna put it in the fucking living room where we could both use it,” Trixie bargained. “You don’t need two fans in your goddamn bedroom.”

“Maybe she does because of how hot that pussy is!” Katya chimed in from the couch, granting her a look from Trixie.

“Do you want to get laid at all this year?” Trixie deadpanned and Katya mimed zipping up her lips and throwing away the key. “Kim, please. We don’t have curtains and the living room turns into a fucking oven in the afternoon.”

“Fine,” Kim groaned, opening her door the rest of the way and motioning to the fan on the floor. “Take it, you bitch.”

“Thank you,” Trixie said in a sickly sweet tone with a bright smile as she grabbed ahold of the fan and dragged it out into the hallway, only to have Kim immediately shut her door and lock it once more. “You wanna help me with your big, strong ribbon dancer arms?”

“Fuck all the way off,” Katya cackled as she walked over and helped Trixie get the fan back into the living room and up onto the windowsill.

They got it positioned and plugged it in and Trixie immediately stood directly in front of it and sighed at the feeling of still-warm air blowing on her because at least it was moving.

It was about a month and a half into summer when that particular heatwave hit, and the girls had already gotten into the swing of their routines. Or, they did so as much as you could get into the swing of the inherent unpredictability of their college and one-month-post-grad schedules.

Katya had picked up a job as a production assistant on a cable television show that shot locally, working much too long hours for much too little pay, but at least she got to touch a camera every once in a while.

Trixie was taking summer classes while working her job at Alyssa’s cafe, making coffee and cleaning tables while doing design sketches behind the counter on her breaks. She was catching up and getting her academic footing once more.

Their relationship was obviously still new, but in reality, not much changed save the hand holding, kissing, and sex. Okay, so a little bit changed, but they still spoke to each other the same way and teased each other and looked out for each other the way they had for the three years leading up to their inevitable pairing.

It was good. They were happy.

But they could also feel everything shift with the new change, not necessarily always as a result of the Girlfriend Thing but just as equally significant to their everyday lives.

It was slow and methodical, almost as if they could physically feel the earth spinning on its axis, bringing with it days and nights, summers and winters.

“I can’t believe you have to leave this place behind,” Adore said, holding a dry paint roller as she looked around the living room.

“I’m gonna miss this litter box of an apartment,” Katya said with sincerity in her voice as she ran her hand across the drywall that had been filled to the brim with doodles and signatures over the time of their residency.

“You got pictures of the walls, right?” Trixie asked for what was probably the seventh time.

“Yeah, for the last time, we did,” Bianca rolled her eyes. “Can we start painting now or do you need another decade to mourn this shitty room and our friends’ shitty art?”

“Excuse you, I left some masterpieces on these walls,” Trixie said with mock offense.

“Show me,” Bianca motioned broadly to the room. Trixie bit at her lip and looked around, searching amongst stick figures and scribbles for something she had added.

“This one,” she pointed definitively at what was essentially a fashion sketch of Katya in the corner of the room.

“This one?” Bianca pointed at the same one and Trixie nodded. Bianca looked her right in the eye as she took her paintbrush and painted directly over the drawing.

“You cunt,” Trixie gasped melodramatically.

“Come on, pull your weight,” Bianca picked up a spare paintbrush and handed it to Trixie who rolled her eyes but ultimately began helping, albeit begrudgingly.

They painted the walls (and Katya only put paint on Trixie’s face twice, which was a lower number than any of them expected) and by the end of the day the living room was barren and blank once more.

Trixie helped Katya pack up all of her things into boxes and carry them down the four flights of stairs to load up the moving van that would take them to Pilsen, a new neighborhood of the city and a new (but equally tiny) apartment.

Bianca and Adore finished loading up the van while Trixie and Katya went back up into the apartment to grab the last two boxes.

“I’m gonna miss this place, and I never even lived here,” Trixie said, wrapping her arm around Katya’s shoulders.

“Yeah, it was a good one,” Katya said. “It’s gonna be weird living somewhere else. We have so many memories in this place.”

“You getting all sentimental on me?” Trixie smiled, looking down at Katya who rested her head on Trixie’s shoulder.

“I’m serious,” Katya chuckled. “All the parties, and all the music that you and Adore made. Think about how often the whole group of us are gonna be in a room together once the lot of you graduate in May. This was our spot.”

“Yeah, it really was,” Trixie softened.

No, she had never held residency in that apartment, but her heart had become something of a tenant of that space with three-quarters of her college career being overwhelmed by drunken nights on that floral couch and essays written at that kitchen table.

She could remember the moment that she had first seen the space, so empty and unfamiliar but with so much potential. And now, as they were moving out it was empty once more, but the bare white walls were filled with warmth and laughter, enough goodness for the sake of goodness to keep the lights on without rent for a month past due.

“You know what else I’ll always remember about this spot?” Katya wrapped her arms around Trixie’s waist, holding her close.

“What, you big softie?” Trixie smiled at her.

“This is where you kissed me for the first time,” Katya said, pressing a kiss to the fabric of Trixie’s t-shirt where it covered her shoulder.

“No, actually,” Trixie pulled Katya a few feet to the left. “I think this is where I kissed you for the first time,” Trixie grinned down at her, placing her palms on Katya’s cheeks and pulling her into a warm, joyful kiss.

“Yeah, you’re right,” Katya kissed her again. “This feels right.”

Trixie laughed into a third kiss before pulling away.

“Bianca’s gonna get pissed if we take too much longer,” she reminded Katya, playing with the ends of her girlfriend’s long hair where it fell past her shoulders. Trixie missed the short hair, the bangs, but loved being able to play with this new style.

“Yeah, okay, right,” Katya righted herself and turned to look at the living room. “Apartment, you’ve been a real pal, and I just want to say thank you for all the good vibes.”

“Your acoustics were shit, but the sex was good,” Trixie added.

“Oh, the sex was great ,” Katya laughed. “Thank you, Apartment, for all the great sex-- Oh, and coffee, and picture-taking opportunities--”

“For the doodling space and Bianca’s weird, loud comedy specials playing at full volume!” Trixie chimed in and Katya cackled.

“For surprise birthday parties ruined by Miss Trixie Mattel! And eating sheet cake by the fistful on the floor of the living room!”

“For the stained-blue bathtub after you tried and failed to dye that roll of film!” Trixie fired back. Katya grinned at her then turned to look at the apartment.

Her eyes scanned the walls, the ceiling, the carpet with a faded square from where a rug had sat for the past two years. She swallowed thickly, maybe with nerves and fear, or maybe just with sentimentality, but either way it was easy as ever to see that Katya Zamolodchikova’s heart was ever overflowing with tsunami waves of feeling .

“Kat,” Trixie said softly as she squeezed Katya’s hand.

“Right,” Katya said. “Goodbye, Apartment,” she waved once, let go of Trixie’s hand, and picked up the last box. “Let’s go,” she said, leading Trixie out of the apartment.

Trixie watched her go with softness in her heart for a moment before she joined her with her own box. She shut the door behind them, leaving the keys locked inside as per the landlord’s request, and followed Katya down the steps and to the moving van.

Katya and Bianca’s new apartment was similar in a lot of ways to the original, with equally bad wallpaper that they immediately wanted to tear down and a tiny bathroom that was about the size of a closet.

It felt like growth, though, not because the apartment was better, but because it proved to all of them that moving forward, moving on from this era of their life was possible. They weren’t betraying any of the memories they shared in that apartment by leaving it, but instead were just making space for new memories, in a new place, in a new era of their young lives.

The thought of it gave Trixie hope.

Trixie needed hope, going into her senior year of college without a plan for where she was going to end up post graduation. Trixie needed hope, thinking about her mother and her brother in neighboring states and the separate lives they continued to lead. Trixie needed hope, that she wouldn’t ruin everything good she had built for herself during her time in college with only a few more months to be spent as a student.

Trixie needed hope, but then again, didn’t everyone?

“I’m on my way to work, what do you need?” Trixie answered the phone as she exited the train and began walking towards the street, backpack filled with a spare set of clothes to change into alongside all of her classwork for the day.

“What a way to greet a person,” Tyler laughed on the other end of the phone.

“I’m a very busy lady, don’t judge me,” Trixie chuckled good naturedly.

“You’re an art student who is also a barista,” Tyler teased. “You’re a cliche is what you are.”

“Oh, you wanna go there, MidWestern football player who got a business degree in undergrad?” Trixie teased.

“I quit football when I was fifteen, idiot,” Tyler fired back. “You, on the other hand, have been all arty since you were a toddler.”

“Did you call just to make fun of me or did you actually need something?”

“Actually, I just wanted to tell you that I got that client,” he said, excitement in his voice.

“Wait, really?” Trixie stopped dead in her tracks and grinned as people grumbled and moved around her. “The big one that you were fighting for, like, all of last month?”

“That’s the one,” he said. She could practically hear him smiling.

“Ty! What the fuck!” She exclaimed, bouncing on the balls of her feet as she began walking towards the cafe once more. “That’s so exciting!”

“It’s gonna be a lot of hard work, but it’s finally my chance to prove myself at the firm.”

“It also means that Creepy George doesn’t get it, which is always a plus,” Trixie laughed, thinking about the many stories she had heard about this one particular coworker who didn’t understand personal boundaries or how to just generally not be a creep.

“Oh, he’s pissed as shit at me,” Tyler chuckled.

“You have a real life nemesis, that’s fucking wild,” Trixie said, getting too much joy out of the idea of it.

“Yeah, yeah, enough about me though,” Tyler brushed her off. “How’s summer school?”

“I’m only taking two classes so it’s not completely miserable,” Trixie said as she paused at a crosswalk next to a woman walking her dog. Trixie made faces at the dog for her own amusement as she continued talking. “I mean, they’re trying to pack sixteen weeks of material into ten, so that’s a little tricky, but I’m gonna pass these and I’ll be back on track for graduation.”

“Hey, that’s good,” Tyler said, ever the supportive brother. “And how are things with Katya?”

Trixie rolled her eyes as she started walking again, now less than a block from her destination.

“Why you gotta say her name like that?” Trixie laughed.

“Well, she used to be Katya, but now she’s Katya because, well y’know,” Tyler said, clearly trying to be obnoxious about the whole situation.

“If you must know, it’s going very well and I’m very happy, so you can fully fuck off,” Trixie said as she pushed open the door to the cafe, waving to Alyssa as she made her way into the back room to drop off her stuff and get ready for her shift.

“I’m glad it’s going well.”

“Uh huh,” Trixie said mockingly, unconvinced.

“No, seriously kid,” Tyler insisted, genuine once more. “You sound good. Real fuckin’ good. And if she has anything to do with that, then I like the girl too.”

“Yeah,” Trixie smiled to herself softly, tying her apron around her waist and holding her phone between her shoulder and her ear momentarily. “Yeah, she’s good.”

“Gross, you’re smitten,” Tyler mock-gagged and Trixie rolled her eyes.

“Fuck you, I’m going to work now,” Trixie laughed.

“Have a good day. Love you, kid,” Tyler said.

“Love you too, bye,” she hung up the phone stored it in her bag and went to work behind the register.

Katya really was a big part of Trixie’s happiness.

Not that this was a new development, but Trixie loved being able to be nothing but loud and enthusiastic about how amazing her best friend-turned-girlfriend just so happened to be. She loved dragging her around town and being sappy and romantic on random Tuesday nights in the middle of the summer heat when both of them had frizzy hair from the humidity and exchanged puddles of sweat every time they touched.

This didn’t mean, however, that being in love with Katya suddenly fixed everything else that Trixie was dealing with.

Trixie Mattel was still a handful of credits behind if she wanted to graduate on time (which she had to, because that’s how long her scholarship lasted), and Trixie Mattel was still getting a handle on her mental health, and no matter how much Trixie Mattel focused on how in love she was, those things didn’t just disappear without a trace.

Ultimately, Trixie and Katya were together as much as they could be, but circumstances made it difficult, because circumstances included two women with fully booked schedules and very little free time.

Trixie spent many nights locked up in the library, not just because she had classwork to finish and exams to study for, but because it was relatively empty during the summers and she liked having the quiet time to herself.

There was one desk towards the back of the fourth floor where Trixie had unofficially claimed as her own, because she could put her back to the wall and face out towards the large windows while she read page after page about the history of fashion.

She loved that desk, but she didn’t want to spend all of her time there, especially not when it meant she got to spend less time with her beautiful, hilarious, nerd of a girlfriend.

Trixie looked out the window across the room from her, watching as the sun set behind the buildings and reflected off the mirrored sidings. She let out a breath and capped her highlighter, leaning back in her seat and giving her eyes a rest from the tiny text on the page in front of her.

There wasn’t anyone else currently on the fourth floor, and Trixie let out a groan as she stretched her arms above her head to try and get the blood flowing once more. She let her head fall to the right, then the left, rolling it back and forth to work out the kinks in her neck.

Her pseudo-calisthenics were sharply cut off by the ringing of her cell phone on the table next to her.

She couldn’t keep from smiling slightly at the sight of Katya’s name on the screen.

“Hello?”

“Barbie girl!” Katya replied, chipper on the other end of the line. “If I were to come to your place for the night, would you be there?”

“God, I wish,” Trixie sighed, letting her chin fall into her free hand as her elbow rested on the hardwood of the desk. “I’m stuck at the library until I finish this reading. I’m a fucking slow reader, Kat. I don’t know how I got through school this long being such a slow goddamn reader.”

“That’s okay,” Katya responded genuinely. “I was just gonna stop by and say hi anyways since I haven’t seen you at all this week.”

“Why can’t our schedules ever line up? Honestly, that’s homophobic,” Trixie deadpanned, much to Katya’s amusement.

“How about this: do you wanna get lunch tomorrow? I have an actual break scheduled in during the day for once and can meet you somewhere,” Katya suggested, voice hopeful enough that it broke Trixie’s heart a little bit.

“I can’t,” Trixie sighed. “I have to go see Michelle.”

“Weren’t you just there?” Katya asked, no malice in her tone but a hint of confusion.

“Yeah, she’s scheduling me more often again since they’re switching up my meds,” Trixie grumbled. “Apparently the transition period makes me more vulnerable or some shit, so she wants to keep in contact more frequently.”

“You didn’t tell me you were changing up your meds,” Katya sounded concerned.

“I didn’t?” Trixie furrowed her brow, searching her memory for a conversation she’d definitely intended on having. “Fuck, I’m sorry,” she scratched absentmindedly at her scalp. “Well, I’m switching meds, so if I try to off myself it has more to do with how the doctor’s are fucking with my brain chemistry and less to do with me actually wanting to be dead,” she put on a joking tone but she could hear Katya intake a sharp breath.

“Not funny, Trixie,” she deadpanned.

“I know, I know, I’m sorry,” Trixie’s teeth pulled at her lip. “Maybe you can come over for dinner tomorrow instead? I know you finish work late, but I’ll be up studying anyway and wouldn’t mind the break that cooking would give me.”

“Yeah, that sounds good, Barbie girl,” Katya said.

“Okay, yeah, good, okay,” Trixie said, as if she was trying to reassure herself of something. And then, after a beat of silence: “I’m so sorry,” she sighed into the phone, rubbing a hand over her face as she rested her elbows on that tiny table in that empty library.

“What? Why?” Katya’s confusion at the sudden shift in conversation was instantaneous.

“Everything was supposed to get better,” Trixie mumbled.

“You gotta explain what that means, babe,” Katya insisted.

“Like, we finally got our shit together,” Trixie blabbered. “And I love you so much, but I’m still a fucking disaster of a person, and I never meant to make you attach yourself to this goddamn mess--”

“Hey, slow down, stop that,” Katya said with a determined softness in every syllable of her words. “First of all, you didn’t make me do anything.”

“Kat,” Trixie sighed.

“No, listen to me,” Katya insisted. “I love you, Trixie Mattel. I am in love with you, okay? I fell in love with you when our lives were a big dumpster fire of a mess-- Hell, most of our friendship has been surrounded by messy bullshit-- So, some wonky meds aren’t gonna scare me off. You understand that, right?”

“Yeah, yeah, I do,” Trixie breathed out heavily. “I’m sorry, I think it’s just been-- I don’t know, it’s been a long day. And I miss you.”

“I miss you too,” Katya said. “But I’ll see you tomorrow and I’m gonna make out with your stupid doll face so fuckin’ hard.”

Trixie let out a high-pitched, surprised laugh that echoed through the empty library.

“Oh, I’m gonna hold you to that, bitch,” Trixie grinned.

“As long as the thing you’re holding me to is your hot bod ,” Katya said, sounding far too proud of herself but unable to keep the laughter out of her voice.

“You’re an idiot,” Trixie cackled. “Not even a little bit smooth.”

“Yes, we knew this,” Katya said with a mocking tone. “Okay, I gotta go, but I’ll talk to you later. Don’t sleep at the library, please.”

“I won’t, I promise,” Trixie smiled softly into her phone. “Love you, bye.”

“Love you,” Katya responded. “Oh, and Trix?”

“Mmhmm?” Trixie hummed, already uncapping her highlighter once more and digging back into her studies.

“You’re gonna get through it,” Katya assured her. “Slow and steady, remember?”

Those words were fast becoming the most important phrase in the English language to Trixie, and she took a deep breath, absorbing them, absorbing the sound of Katya’s voice through the tinny speakers of her outdated cell phone.

Maybe things were rocky, and maybe she still felt like a nuclear power plant right on the verge of a meltdown sometimes, but maybe that was okay, because maybe she still had time to take it slow. Steady.

“Slow and steady,” Trixie exhaled.

It wasn’t always easy for Trixie to accept the mentality of taking her time, of being slow and steady no matter how much she logically understood its validity to her situation.

She wanted a quick fix, wanted every wrong in her life to be righted and every mess to be solved by a series of easy to follow, DIY steps. Sometimes she wished she was still naive enough to believe that was even possible.

Instead, she was trying to figure out how to put the work in, what “the work” even entailed when it came to matters of the head and heart and family and friends and everything in between. A lot of this work had to do with a level of introspection that Trixie wasn’t entirely accustomed to and that left her feeling vulnerable in her very veins even hours after she left Michelle’s office.

She was remembering things she had long repressed and discovering pieces of her personality that were built from years of survival tactics and no matter how many times Michelle reminded her that sometimes it has to get worse before it can get better she just wanted to be at the better already.

Trixie and Katya didn’t share a bed every night, but they did share a bed often enough that it felt like a routine. Katya could see Trixie actively going through it every night that they spent together, and although she never pried, Trixie could tell she was trying to be supportive.

Trixie tried not to talk about any of it too much, because their relationship was still only a few months old and it wasn’t Katya’s job to carry Trixie’s trauma around on her shoulders. But because of this, Katya genuinely didn’t know what Trixie was dealing with until Trixie physically couldn’t control it any more.

She had had nightmares before, but they had never affected her quite as viscerally as they did on one July night, only a few weeks before she was meant to begin her senior year.

Trixie didn’t sit up in bed and gasp, she didn’t shake or talk in her sleep or yell out in horror like she’d always imagined a dream like that would leave her. No, instead she woke up with a dry mouth and aching joints, not quite able to place where she was.

It took her a moment of lying frozen in that bed before she realized what had happened, and climbed slowly out in the hopes that she wouldn’t wake a gently sleeping Katya in the process.

Her skin was crawling and her ribs felt too small to hold her lungs and she could feel her nerves buzzing all the way to the tips of her fingernails. The carpet of the bedroom scratched against the soles of her feet in a way she’d never noticed before and the fan in the corner was whirring louder than she knew anything that small and battery operated could.

Despite all of this, and even in the pitch darkness of four o’clock in the morning, Trixie still knew the layout of Katya’s bedroom by heart. Knew exactly where the slatted door to her closet was along the wall.

Katya’s closet was small, with a sliding door on tracks instead of a swinging one on hinges, but there was a cozy space in the back corner next to a pile of dirty clothes and that’s where Trixie sat down and curled up.

She held her knees up to her chest and buried her face in them as silent tears began to fall and she couldn’t help but think about how other kids had feared their closets when she had found such a haven in her own, how other kids had monsters in their closets while she hid from one in hers.

Trixie talked herself down and regulated her own breathing and as she did so, let her head fall to the side and lean against the wall of the closet. She rested there.

She rested there until she fell into a shallow, restless sleep and didn’t wake up until the door to the closet slid open a few hours later.

“Oh my god!” Katya grasped a hand to her chest at the same moment that Trixie shot awake, almost falling over at the sudden noise.

“Shit,” Trixie looked up at Katya, looked down at her own less-than-regular position, and pushed her messy hair out of her face.

“I thought you must have left for class already. Jesus, you startled me,” Katya said as she regained composure.

“I’m sorry-- Fuck,” Trixie sighed, leaning back against the wall of the closet, letting the back of her skull knock against the drywall a couple of times as if it would clear her head, wake her up, bring her back down to earth.  

“It’s okay. Did…” Katya chewed on her words. “Did you sleep in here?”

Trixie took a deep breath and pulled herself off of the ground, pushing past Katya and into her bedroom where she began searching for clothes to wear.

“Trixie,” Katya said softly as Trixie pulled off her sleep shirt and began pulling a thin sundress over her head. “Talk to me, please.”

“I’m okay, it’s okay,” Trixie turned to Katya, tying a fabric belt around her waist. She knew that Katya understood this to be a lie, that Katya had sat with her on the floor of a few different closets in the past and knew exactly what kind of thing sent her to that spot.

“Babe, we’ve talked about this,” Katya crossed her arms. “You can’t shut me out. It’s not good for either of us.”

Trixie stopped what she was doing and closed her eyes, trying to take a steadying breath but feeling her lip tremble all the same.

“I had a nightmare,” she said quietly, wrapping her arms around her middle and holding on tight. “But it was-- It was either very convincing or an actual memory-- I’m not sure,” Trixie let out a small sob and shook her head as if reprimanding herself for the tears. “I can’t talk about it with you. I’m not ready, I’m sorry, I’m not ready.”

“You don’t have to, that’s okay,” Katya took a few steps closer to Trixie but didn’t touch her. “I just like to know when you’re going through this stuff so I don’t inadvertently make it worse, okay? But you don’t have to talk about anything until you’re ready, Trix. I’m not gonna make you do that. Ever.”

Trixie nodded hurriedly in understanding and wiped at her tears with unsteady hands.

“God, I love you,” Trixie breathed, reaching up and winding both hands in Katya’s bedhead hair so she could pull her close and kiss her hard on the mouth.

“I love you,” Katya said with her hands on Trixie’s waist. And then, peppering smaller kisses all across her face: “I love you, I love you, I love you.”

“Okay, you need to get ready for work,” Trixie tried to find logic and steadiness through her tears as she pulled away from Katya. “And I gotta go home and get stuff before I head to class.”

“Yeah, for sure,” Katya smiled at her. “Get outta here, slut,” Katya lightly slapped Trixie’s ass as she began walking away, sending the younger woman into fits of teary laughter.

“When did you turn into a straight man?” Trixie looked at Katya over her shoulder as she grabbed her purse from the hook on the back of Katya’s bedroom door and slid on her shoes. She pulled a tissue out of the box on top of Katya’s dresser and blew her nose and wiped away any remaining tears.

“How dare you compare me-- You bitch!” Katya cackled.

“You love me, remember?” Trixie teased. “Love you, bye!”

“Bye, Barbie girl.”

Trixie was used to feeling sabotaged by her own mental state, but she wasn’t used to not knowing whether or not she could trust her own memories. She replayed her nightmare in her head dozens of times over the course of the next few days, trying to piece together how much of it was real and how much of it was a figment of her own fucked up imagination, but didn’t get very far.

It scared her, the idea that she couldn’t tell what was real, that she couldn't even trust herself to properly remember the things she’d experienced in life.

“I think I’m ready to talk about him.”

“Really?” Michelle cocked her head to the side in question of how much Trixie meant it.

“We’ve been skirting around it long enough,” Trixie said, tenseness in every aspect of her being. “I know you agree, you don’t have to say so.”

“Trixie, you don’t have to talk about anything just because you think I want you to,” Michelle assured her. “That’s not what this is all about.”

“No, I know, I get that,” Trixie said emphatically. “But I need to talk about it because I feel like I’m going crazy.”

“In what way?”

“I had a nightmare,” she said simply, thinking that would be enough to get Michelle talking but apparently wasn’t when she remained silent. “I think it was a real memory but I-- I’m not positive-- and it-- well it-- I don’t know.”

“Do you want to tell me about it?” Michelle was gentler this session than she usually was, reading how wound up Trixie was and not wanting to push her closer to the edge.

“It was in our trailer, so I was a kid,” Trixie said. “We lived in a trailer park right up until my mom got married, but John came and visited a lot when they were still dating.”

“John, your step-father?”

“Yeah, that’s the one,” Trixie laughed humorlessly.

“So, the nightmare involved him then?”

“He…” Trixie chewed on her words and bounced her leg restlessly. “If we were living in the trailer it should have been when he was still this great guy who took me to the movies and bought me toys,” she said, as if she was trying to solve a puzzle.

“Should have been?”

“Look, I think it must not have been real, I don’t think it lines up with the timeline, and I-- just nevermind,” Trixie shook her head.

“Why are you so certain it didn’t happen?” Michelle asked.

“Because he didn’t start hitting her until after they were married for at least a year or two,” Trixie said with equal parts certainty and fear. “And in this dream I was a kid watching him hit her-- He was-- He was-- Fuck,” Trixie’s voice broke and she looked up at the ceiling to try and keep the tears at bay.

“Breathe, Trixie,” Michelle said gently. “Explain it to me.”

“I had a friend-- Billie-- she lived in the trailer park and was just a couple years older than me so we played together a lot,” Trixie began shakily. “I spent the day over there with her because she had name brand Barbie dolls,” Trixie laughed. “I would bring over the McDonald’s ones that I had but she had the real thing.”

“Sounds like a good memory.”

“Yeah, we had fun,” Trixie smiled softly, albeit briefly down at her hands. “I was supposed to be home by dinner time every night though. That was the rule,” she continued. “So I packed up all my McDonald’s Barbies in their stupid plastic bag and walked back over to our trailer, but-- but before I went inside-- I could hear,” Trixie’s breathing got shallower as she recounted the day.

“Take your time,” Michelle assured her. Trixie noticed her hands gripping onto her clipboard a little tighter than usual.

“Michelle, I could see them through the windows,” Trixie let out a broken sob, reaching up to cover her mouth with a hand as realization passed across her face. It was real, she knew it was real, it had to be real. “He was screaming so loud and-- And the way he just,” she cried, cutting herself off.

Michelle silently placed a box of tissues on the small table next to Trixie.

Trixie took one, but mostly just tore it up between her fingers instead of using it.

“I saw him hit her and all I did was run back to Billie’s trailer,” Trixie sobbed. “I didn’t do anything-- I knew, before they even got married, and I never said anything!”

“You were a child, Trixie,” Michelle said.

“I let her marry him, Michelle!” Trixie was getting louder through her tears.

“You didn’t have any say in that,” Michelle said seriously, leaning forward in her chair. “That was not your decision.”

“What about when I was a teenager and I was old enough to do something and still chose not to?” Trixie fired back. “Was that my decision?”

“Trixie--”

“Or what about when I gave my mother an ultimatum? What about when I told her I wouldn’t come home until she left him?” Trixie was almost yelling loud enough to be heard in neighboring offices but she didn’t care, didn’t have it in her to give a shit. “Was that my decision? I left her alone with him. I left her-- left her to have to live like that,” Trixie let her face fall into her hands as the weight of all that guilt fell heavily across her tired frame.

“Trixie, I want you to listen to me,” Michelle said. “You are not responsible for the hardships your mother has faced.”

Trixie let out a shaky, breath of a sob into her hands as she looked up at Michelle through waterlogged eyelashes.

“None of John’s actions ever were or ever will be your fault,” Michelle continued. “You have no reason to feel guilty, you hear me?”

Trixie took a deep breath and let it out slowly, lungs feeling like tires too low on air to keep a car moving forward, to keep her moving forward.

“I should have spoken up sooner,” Trixie said quietly.

“What’s the point in thinking that now?”

“I don’t know,” Trixie shrugged. “I don’t understand how I could have forgotten that day,” she shook her head, still wiping at tears that didn’t seem to want to stop, throat tight and lungs hurting. “He was so good to us early on and I assumed-- I guess I just assumed he was good to her too.”

“Sometimes, our brains try to protect us from things that would only make our lives more difficult,” Michelle said simply. “I think you were protecting yourself from all of these feelings.”

“So why stop now?” Trixie asked. “Why now?”

“I don’t know if I can answer that one for you,” Michelle said, almost apologetic.

Trixie nodded to herself and the two of them sat in silence for a minute as Trixie gathered her breathing and shaking limbs and tired eyes all back together into one exhausted, but functioning human.

“I haven’t cried in your office in a while, guess we had to make up for lost time,” Trixie let out a watery laugh.

“I think crying can be healthy,” Michelle shrugged, giving Trixie a supportive smile.

“God, I must be the healthiest fucking lady on the planet.”

When Trixie left Michelle’s office, she felt heavier and lighter, broken and whole, lost and certain all at the same time.

It was a Friday afternoon and she was done with classes for the week, so she went on a walk around the city, something she had done before when everything was getting to be a bit too new and uncertain because at least the city felt familiar.

The rhythm of the train and the ticking of crosswalks and the chatter of people intermingled with honking horns was a cacophony of sounds that felt like home to Trixie, so she basked in it for a solid hour before directing her path towards an actual goal.

Katya’s face lit up when she opened the door to see Trixie standing on the other side.

“Hey, baby,” she grinned, but Trixie just took a step forward and wrapped her arms around her girlfriend, tight, warm. “Hey,” Katya said softer then, running a hand up and down Trixie’s back as she shut the front door. “Long day?”

“Long fucking day,” Trixie mumbled against Katya’s shirt, gripping onto her back for dear life.

“I have food left from dinner if you want some,” Katya nuzzled close to Trixie’s ear through her thick hair.

“I ate,” Trixie lied, knowing if she tried that she just might throw it back up.

“What can I do?” Katya asked, pressing a small kiss against Trixie’s temple where her head was bowed to rest on Katya’s shoulder.

“Just wanted to see you,” Trixie said, voice cracking from previously shed tears and yet to be told stories.

“How about you go change and climb into bed and I’ll make us some tea,” Katya suggested and Trixie nodded against her. “Okay, good, I’ll meet you in there.”

Trixie’s version of changing resulted in taking off all her clothes save her underwear and slipping on a massive t-shirt of Katya’s that she’d basically claimed as her own. She slid under the covers and basked in the feeling of the cool sheets against her tired skin, burying her face in pillows that smelled like Katya.

“You fall asleep?” Katya whispered as the mattress dipped next to Trixie’s face, and Trixie just responded by repositioning her head in Katya’s lap.

Katya smiled softly down at her, a steaming mug of tea in one hand as the other scratched gently at Trixie’s scalp and worked through knots in her hair. Trixie hummed contentedly and let her eyes fall closed for a brief moment.

“Here, drink this,” Katya pulled at Trixie’s hand to urge her to sit up and Trixie did so, leaning back against the headboard next to Katya and taking the warm mug into her hands and against her body.

“Thank you,” Trixie said, sipping on chamomile as Katya rested a hand on her knee, thumb rubbing back and forth methodically.

“Are you okay?” Katya asked softly.

“Yeah,” Trixie nodded, watching her own thumb as it skated around the lip of her mug. “I just had… Kind of an intense session with Michelle? And, I don’t know, I needed to see you to, like, remember that this is my life now,” she slouched down and rested her head on Katya’s shoulder. “I’ll tell you about it tomorrow. Right now I just wanna be with you, please.”

“I think we can manage that,” Katya placed her hand at the base of Trixie’s skull, tangling her fingers in her hair once more as Trixie drank her tea quietly.

Trixie just breathed it all in, the peacefulness, the quiet, the comfortable warmth of Katya’s body next to her own. She let the tea burn her tongue as the smell of it filled her nose and head and lungs.

“Do you want to sleep here tonight?” Katya asked. “You don’t have class tomorrow and I have to run in to work for a few hours in the morning, but you can hang out here as long as you want.”

“They’re making you work on Saturdays now too?” Trixie furrowed her brow and turned her head to look at Katya.

“Well, technically I volunteered,” Katya said. “They’re switching out some old equipment for newer modeled stuff and need a PA to catalogue it all as they go-- And if they like me, maybe they’ll let me move up to full time camera assistant instead of water cooler girl.”

“I think they should just go ahead and make you lead camera do-er person,” Trixie said emphatically and Katya grinned at her, taking the now empty mug from her hands and setting it on the bedside table.

“For now, I just want to be allowed to touch a lens or two,” Katya shrugged.

“You still have Sunday off though, right?” Trixie asked as she swung her legs across Katya’s lap in an effort to be even closer to her.

“Yeah, I do,” Katya wrapped her arms around Trixie’s waist.

“I work at Alyssa’s ‘til noon, but there’s an exhibit at the Tute that I wanna take you to,” Trixie smiled hopefully.

“Oh! The super weird one with the photo manipulations?” Katya’s eyes lit up.

“You wanna go?” Trixie chuckled at her enthusiasm.

“Bitch, I’ve been trying to find time to stop by and see that wacky shit for weeks,” Katya squeezed Trixie’s knee to emphasize her point. “I’ll meet you at Alyssa’s and we can walk over together.”

“Sounds perfect,” Trixie kissed Katya’s cheek, soft lips against soft skin.

They would stay up talking in bed for another couple of hours, but Katya let Trixie hold onto her for as long as she wanted, as long as she needed. They fell asleep tangled up with each other and Trixie woke up when Katya’s alarm went off in the morning.

Trixie made coffee for herself and tea for Katya, made her girlfriend eat a granola bar before she left the apartment, and then went back to sleep for a few extra hours.

It was all so comfortable for Trixie in ways that she hadn’t expected when they took their first steps towards diving off the cliff of relationship-dom. There was a lot that Trixie had always seen as being so mysterious and complex about a long term relationship, stuff she didn’t understand and worried she never really would. But what she was learning with Katya, was that a relationship was a lot like friendship.

There was give and take, a mutual support and respect that she and Katya had always had through the years. There was a necessity for communication and open honesty-- which Trixie was still getting a handle on but was better at than she ever had been in the past. And finally, there was patience.

Katya was eternally patient with how much Trixie had to work through on a daily basis, and Trixie was patient with how deeply engrossed Katya was in the progression of her career.

Trixie was starting to realize that most of love could be spotted in those patient moments, because for two people who were experts in running and rushing, waiting and slowing down was quite the sign of faith.

That following Sunday, Katya met Trixie as she was clocking out from her shift at the cafe, and the two of them held hands and talked and laughed for the entire walk to the Art Institute. They kept holding hands as Trixie got them tickets using her student discount and they kept holding hands as they argued over where on the map the exhibit actually was, and they were still holding hands when they wound up standing in front of a photograph that took Katya’s breath away.

“Wow,” Katya said softly, just loud enough that Trixie could hear her but that the other visitors in the gallery couldn’t. “That’s just-- I mean-- Wow.”

“Okay, I know I’m uncultured,” Trixie said. “But, can you please explain it to me?”

Trixie really didn’t need it explained, could live in a world where she could appreciate this particular piece of art for what it was without any sort of analysis, but she was also obsessed with just how enthusiastic, how passionate and bright and smart Katya was when she talked about this kind of stuff.

“Look at where they manipulated it-- the original would have all been cut and pasted on top of itself because it was entirely done on film,” Katya said, pointing at various spots in the art without any sort of condescension in her tone. “The artist, she took all of these unrelated subjects, different shapes and colors, stuff that doesn’t fit and shouldn’t fit together…”

“Yeah?”

“And she created this cacophonous fucking masterpiece that doesn’t have to make sense. Most critics while she was alive hated her work because it never told one distinct story-- there are about a hundred different things going on in this one alone, Trix, but like-- the point she was making was that everyone is going to zero in on one or two of those stories or subjects, and whichever one you zone in on tells you something about yourself more than it does about the work.”

Trixie turned her head to look at Katya, who was still looking intently at the framed piece in front of them. Trixie was in awe of her, in awe of her brain and her eyes, the way she saw the world and took her favorite pieces, pasting them together into a cacophonous masterpiece of a collage that she could dig her fingers into and tear apart and put back together a hundred different ways.

“Wow,” Trixie breathed as Katya glanced at her and grinned. “So which one did you zone in on?”

“That one,” Katya smiled brightly, pointing to a bright yellow tulip in the foreground of the piece.

“And what does that say about you?” Trixie nudged her with her shoulder playfully.

“I don’t know!” Katya replied brightly. “But I bet I’ll figure it out one day. What about you?”

“Me?”

“Which part stands out?”

Trixie chewed on her lip, studying the piece in front of her and trying to determine what had initially grasped her attention. She tilted her head to the side and tried to look at it from a different angle, she squinted slightly and furrowed her brow, but it was when she let out a heavy sigh of frustration that she finally noticed it.

“The roller skates,” she said as she realized it. “Right there at the top.”

“That's a good one,” Katya said softly, leaning into Trixie’s side ever so slightly.

“Did you know I used to be a master roller skater?” Trixie asked smugly.

“I don’t think I did,” Katya chuckled, running her thumb across Trixie’s knuckles where they were still linked by their hands.

“All the other kids in our trailer park had bikes, but I got hand-me-down skates from Tyler,” Trixie explained, a faint smile on her face. “I think we lost them when we moved, but I was very good.”

“Oh, I have no doubt,” Katya said with overzealous seriousness.

“I’m being serious,” Trixie insisted.

“I am too, bitch,” Katya said with just as much emphasis, sticking her face right up close to Trixie’s.

Trixie glanced down at Katya’s lips and swallowed thickly.

“God, you’re so hot when you talk about art,” she whispered.

“You think so?” Katya teased, smirking ever so slightly.

“How much trouble would we get in for making out in this gallery right now?” Trixie asked, glancing around faux-surreptitiously.

“I dunno,” Katya shrugged. “But I do know that I’m gonna fuck you so hard tonight.”

Trixie’s mouth fell open into a small, silent oh as she looked Katya straight in her big, earnest, eyes.

“Was there more art you wanted to look at?” Trixie asked, already pulling Katya towards the exit by their still linked hands.

“Oh, yeah for sure,” Katya grinned at her, but Trixie stopped in her tracks and dropped the act.

“Wait, okay, let’s find it then,” she pulled the map of the museum out of the back pocket of her shorts and began to unfold it, but stopped when Katya doubled over with a wheezing laugh. “What’s wrong with you?”

“I meant-- I was talking about you, dumbass,” Katya laughed. “I was trying to be cute and call you art or whatever. You’re so stupid.”

“Well, why didn’t you just say that?” Trixie rolled her eyes, a blush spreading across her freckled cheeks. (Katya loved how freckled her skin got in the summertime, would trace them with her fingers in bed and trail her lips across them.)

“I thought it was obv-- Oh my god, whatever, just take me home so I can fuck your brains out,” Katya said bluntly, but not without joy.

“See,” Trixie said as she started leading Katya out of the gallery once more. “That I understood. You just have to be more clear about what you want from me.”

“Mostly, I just wanna eat you out,” Katya said, loud enough that Trixie’s eyes got wide and she looked around the museum lobby, speeding up towards the front doors.

Kat,” she hissed with a laugh. “We’re in public, oh my god.”

“I’m just being clear,” Katya teased, struggling to keep up with Trixie’s long stride.

“For fuck’s sake, come on,” Trixie cackled as they stepped out onto the street.

They practically jogged to the train so they could ride it back to Pilsen and race up the steps to Katya’s apartment.

They never stopped holding hands.

 

Chapter Text

 

“Welcome to Columbia College, my name is Trixie, I’m a senior in the Costume Design program and I’m here to orient you,” Trixie said for what felt like the seventh time that day but was really only the third.

She had signed on to take freshman in the school of art and design through their orientations as a way to pick up a few extra dollars before classes got into full swing and she had to cut down on her working hours, but was quickly coming to regret that decision.

“This building-- the one you’re currently blocking the entire lobby of, please let people get past, thank you,” Trixie motioned with exasperation to a boy who was standing in the path of the elevators and rolled her eyes. “You’re freshman, so unless you managed to finish all of your gen-ed classes in high school, you won’t be spending much time here your first year. But it’s still good to get acquainted with the building, come on,” she turned around and lead the massive group across the small lobby and through a doorway.

Her feet were tired from having given two tours already and she was anxious to be home where she could let Katya order dinner for her so they could eat on the couch and watch whatever the weirdest documentary they could find on Netflix was.

“So, this is a study area,” Trixie motioned broadly. “But people honestly mostly just use the couches as places to nap. Which like, you guys are all still in the dorms so you can make it home to nap real easily, but some of us take the train in from Pilsen three days a week and don’t have time to leave campus in between classes. Now--”

“Why only three days a week?”

Trixie shot a look to the girl in the middle of the pack, short and young with an outfit that screamed potential but not quite stylish. Maybe a little bit like what Trixie looked like four years prior.

“Because the person I have hot sex with lives in Pilsen but I don’t sleep there every night,” Trixie deadpanned, too tired for anything other than blatant honesty. “Any other questions?”

There was a round of shaking heads, but the girl in the middle just laughed. There was a reason Trixie hadn’t been allowed to give tours to the parents.

She lead them through the building, giving them tips about which bathrooms to avoid and what times of day the hallways were most crowded, all the while entertaining herself and that one freshman girl with her deadpanned, offbeat jokes.

“This is a plotter printer,” Trixie said as she stood in front of the massive piece of technology in one hallway. “It’s super helpful if you need to print unnecessarily large images, I guess. I’ve only used in once, because I was making this banner for a friend’s surprise party when I was a freshman, but the only person I knew who understood how this piece of shit works was the girl whose birthday we were celebrating and now my friends still won’t let me live down the time I ruined Sasha Velour’s nineteenth birthday party so, like… Watch out for that when you’re using it.”

“Are you talking about Sasha Velour’s nineteenth birthday party disaster?” Shea’s voice echoed down the hall behind her and Trixie groaned with a roll of her eyes.

“Oh my god, I’m trying to work,” Trixie said with mock-annoyance as Shea came to stand next to her, pulling her into an unreciprocated hug in which Trixie kept her arms awkwardly at her sides and Shea rocked her back and forth.

“Look at you, teaching the children, passing on wisdom,” Shea teased.

“Bitch, let go of me,” Trixie laughed and Shea did so, but not without a mocking eye roll shot in Trixie’s direction.

“Has she filled you in on all the great ways you can use university resources for your own personal gain yet, because that’s important,” Shea turned to the group of freshmen and Trixie just crossed her arms with a chuckle, suddenly more awake because at least she had a friend on hand.

“I’m a professional,” Trixie raised her eyebrows. “So I am most certainly not going to tell these kids about the time you stole one minor piece of equipment per week for six months until you had a full, portable sewing kit. Absolutely not. That would be ridiculous.”

“Oh, okay,” Shea nodded solemnly. “So I shouldn’t tell them about how you lied to get access to spools of expensive fabrics so you could make a fancy suit for your girlfriend?”

“I would never,” Trixie gasped in faux-mortification, clutching a hand to her chest like a regular southern belle.

The majority of the kids in her group looked at Trixie as if they were looking at some sort of intimidating, war-torn mystery of a woman, but that one girl, right in the center of it all, was beaming at her as if Trixie was a real life superstar.

“Okay, we have places to be,” Trixie dropped the act and got back to business. “I can’t believe I’ve let Shea distract me for this long, come on, children,” she turned on her heel and started walking down the hallway.

“Try not to scare any of ‘em off before they’ve even started classes!” Shea called after her.

“No promises!” Trixie shot right back over her shoulder.

She lead her group of students back to the main lobby of the building and turned to talk to them in front of the doors.

“Okay, I’m taking you to our auxiliary building where you’ll have your own studios if you choose to do independent projects as upperclassmen, but we have to walk a couple of blocks so just, like, please don’t get lost,” Trixie sighed before nodding definitively and walking briskly out into the street.

Trixie readjusted the straps of her backpack, untangling them from her long hair as she walked with purpose, with certainty of where she was going and without need to even so much as look up at street signs to know she was on the correct path.

Her shoulders felt strong as she held them low, leaving air between them and her ears, creating a space for her ever-growing confidence to sit and keeping her head steady on her spine. Trixie could breathe in the city air, hot and humid with the stench of summer, but familiar and calming in its own unique way.

She was so caught up in her own love for that city, for the sky that hovered distantly behind silver-lined buildings and clouds that stood at attention, heavy with unshed rain but on the verge of being blown away by the wind of the city, that she almost forgot she was leading a gaggle of terrified, young, brand-new children through her happy place.

“Are you from Chicago? You know your way around so well.”

Trixie was startled out of her own head by that girl, the one that had been laughing at all of her jokes, now walking quickly beside her, hurrying to keep up with shorter legs.

“Oh, god no,” Trixie laughed. “I’ve just lived here for enough years to get the hang of it.”

“You’re a costume design major, right?” she asked hopefully.

“Yeah, I have been all four years,” Trixie nodded at her, trying to make her tone a little less dry than it felt, trying not to completely scare off a girl who may or may not have painfully reminded her of another young woman with clearly handmade clothes that had stepped off a bus and onto the streets of Chicago a handful of years ago. “What’s your name?”

“I’m Aja,” she said with what Trixie could tell was put-on confidence, a type of shield that she recognized all too well. “I’m trying to do that too, I just haven’t gotten into the program yet.”

“That’s not surprising, they’re super picky with direct admits,” Trixie nodded in understanding. “Apply again this year and there’s a good chance you can start as a sophomore, that’s what most people do.”

“That’s stupid though,” Aja furrowed her brow. “I’ll be all sorts of behind.”

“You really won’t be,” Trixie chuckled. “Freshman year is honestly almost entirely for gen-ed courses anyways-- Get those out of the way because you don’t want to be finishing some dumb intensive writing course the summer before your senior year. Trust me.”

“You left a 200 level class until the last minute?” Aja asked with a snort. “You seem like a real planner.”

“Watch your tongue there, freshie,” Trixie laughed. “I’m friends with professors that could make your life a living hell for the next four years.”

Aja laughed loudly at that, surprising Trixie into a curious grin.

“You can also still take intro classes if you’re not in the program yet,” Trixie told her. “I’m the AI for one this semester.”

“Which one?” Aja asked, pulling up the notes section on her phone. “It’s one I can take?”

“Yeah, girl,” Trixie chuckled at her enthusiasm. “It’s D104, an intro textiles class. Should be fun,” she shrugged. “And I’m pretty sure there are still a few seats open if you wanna sign up.”

“I’ve never worked with textiles before,” Aja’s face fell.

“It’s an intro class,” Trixie laughed softly. “You’re not gonna be the only one in there that doesn’t have a clue what they’re doing.”

“I dunno,” Aja said with a furrowed brow and Trixie rolled her eyes and held out her hand.

“Gimme your phone,” she nodded to Aja, who hesitated, but ultimately went along with it. “I’m gonna give you my phone number and you can text me if you have any questions.”

“Seriously?” Aja’s eyes lit up at the suggestion of it.

“Don’t you dare abuse it,” Trixie warned as she handed Aja her phone back. “And don’t call me because I only answer the phone for my family and my girlfriend.”

“I can’t believe you talk to your mother on the same phone where you talk dirty,” Aja joked. Trixie shot her a momentary bewildered look before bursting into a squeal of a laugh.

“Oh, bitch, you’re funny,” Trixie cackled as Aja looked on with a prideful smirk. Trixie didn’t mention that part of the reason it was so funny was the idea that she ever talked to her mother at all. “Okay, come on, we’re here,” she motioned to the front door of their destination.

Trixie had never felt like a particularly nurturing spirit. She was full of fire and wit, a dead panned humor that had gotten her into to trouble more often than she’d like to admit, but nurturing was never on her radar.

Of course, she had a soft side. She was kind in ways that a lot of people may not have realized and she cared for people, fully and deeply and with every inch of her worn-out heart. But she was also accustomed to taking care of herself first and foremost. She was an expert at survival as much as she was at self destruction and she wasn’t positive what it was that made her want to connect with Aja the Freshman on that particular day, but she did. She really did.

She went home and cooked dinner with Katya and didn’t even mention the young woman whom she’d somehow managed to invite under her wing in the few hours she’d been gone. Because it didn’t feel like vital information. Because Trixie was just following her gut.

Trixie wasn’t nurturing because Trixie looked out for herself. Or at least, she was trying to.

“Jesus Christ, Sash,” Trixie panted, leaning over to put her hands on her knees as Sasha continued jogging in place beside her. “You do this every day?”

“I usually take one or two days off a week,” Sasha replied, and Trixie gaped at how her voice barely gave away any sort of physical strain.

It was mid-October and autumn in Chicago was taking over with fiery trees and brisk breeze blowing through Grant Park. The fall air was soothing on Trixie’s burning skin, cooling the sweat on the back of her neck where the hair of her ponytail was falling out and sticking to her skin, but it burned in her lungs with each labored breath she took.

“I hate running,” Trixie said, letting her head drop briefly as she tried to regulate her pounding heart. Sasha stopped jogging next to her.

“Yeah, I know,” Sasha laughed. “Which is why getting a phone call from you asking to tag along on my morning run seemed deeply off-brand.”

“Fuck off,” Trixie groaned.

“No, seriously,” Sasha continued. “Why are you doing this to yourself?”

Trixie looked up at Sasha and rolled her eyes with moderate exasperation.

“I’m mentally ill, Barbara,” she deadpanned. “And this is supposed to be helpful.”

“I thought you were doing better?” Sasha softened, barely enough to be noticeable to anyone who hadn’t experienced years of prying eyes and obvious worry like Trixie had.

“I mean, yeah,” Trixie sighed, straightening up before sitting down on a nearby patch of grass beneath a row of trees. “But don’t forget that I spent most of last year wishing I didn’t exist so… What really is better?”

Sasha nodded in understanding.

“You really wanna start working out more?” she asked from where she was still stood on the path facing Trixie.

“I wanna see if it helps,” Trixie shrugged.

“Okay, here’s what we’re going to do,” Sasha said, settling into her problem-solving, academic tone that she usually dropped with her friends. “You stay here and stretch for a minute while I finish up my last lap, and then tomorrow morning we’re going to the gym to figure out which type of exercise is the most useful for you.”

“You don’t have to-- I’m not gonna put a wrench in your workout time, Sash,” Trixie shook her head.

“No, oh my god,” Sasha said enthusiastically. “No one ever wants to work out with me, this is amazing. The last time I asked Shea if she wanted to go to the gym she told me to go fuck myself with a dumbell.”

“You’re sure?” Trixie asked hesitantly.

“Yes, clearly,” Sasha said with amused exasperation. “Now, I’m gonna finish my run. Stretch out your calves,” she said as she began to jog down the path once more, leaving Trixie in a sweaty puddle in the grass.

She did go to the gym with Sasha the next day, and the day after that, and once more, until the two of them discovered that Trixie’s temperament worked well on a stationary bike.

It was repetitive and simple, she could listen to music while she did it and drown out the rest of the world, and she didn’t have to feel her joints crunching together every time her feet hit concrete.

Trixie didn’t want to work out to lose weight, had pretty much gotten over any minor insecurities she had with her body. Instead, she was focused on finding an activity that would let her clear her head every once in a while.

Working out made her feel stronger, even if she only did it once a week, and she liked being able to feel in control of something going on inside her body, even if it was just the ache in her calves when she forgot to stretch.

It was progressions like this one that made Trixie feel like she was grasping at least a little bit of her agency in life, wrapping her fingers tight around it and holding it close for fear of it slipping away again.

Life was moving forward, and Trixie wasn’t about to let it leave her behind.

“Do you think this one is even worth including?” Trixie asked, sitting on the floor of her and Kim’s living room a month later with stacks of fashion sketches piled up around her.

“Put it in the maybe pile,” Shea suggested as she glanced at the sketch in Trixie’s hand.

“My maybe pile is, like, all of them,” Trixie groaned. “What do you think, Kat?” Trixie turned to show Katya the same sketch.

“What?” Katya asked, lowering to the floor from a downward dog position. She was doing late night yoga after a long day of lugging sandbags and apple boxes around on set. “Oh, I like that one!”

“You say that about all of them,” Trixie whined. “I know you’re madly in love with everything I do, but I need objective artist Katya to help put this portfolio together so I can get a job when I graduate.”

“Okay, putting on the objectivity hat,” Katya mimed putting on an actual hat, making Trixie snort. “Which one is the definitely pile so I have context?”

“These,” Trixie picked up a small stack and placed them on Katya’s yoga mat.

Katya nodded methodically as she thumbed through the sketches, making small noises of approval every once in a while that made Trixie’s heart soar.

“Okay,” Katya set them aside and crawled over to sit on her heels next to Trixie. “Not this one— you’ve already got plenty that show off strict technique— but toss this one in there, because it’s beautiful and also super outside the box, so they’ll know you’re versatile.”

Trixie watched in awe as Katya started making her own piles, explaining decisions as she went with, well, blatant objectivity.

“And definitely don’t use this one. Why is this even a maybe?” Katya held up a sketch from Trixie’s freshman year with a laugh.

“I like that one!” Trixie cried out in defense.

“It’s bad, babe,” Katya said gently.

“That’s what I told her,” Shea said with exasperation.

“Y’all are haters, I don’t have to listen to this,” Trixie crossed her arms over her chest.

“Why are you so attached to this costume?” Katya said with a disbelieving laugh.

“I’m not attached to it more than I am anything else,” Trixie scoffed. “I just like it a normal amount.”

“You’re blushing, you dumb bitch,” Katya laughed.

Trixie had her mouth open and was about to fire something that would presumably be equally witty back when her phone rang and cut her off.

She rolled her eyes when she saw Aja’s name flashing on the screen.

“Didn’t I tell you not to call me?” Trixie deadpanned as a greeting.

“I texted you and you weren’t responding,” Aja’s voice crackled through the phone.

“It’s 10:30 on a Thursday, I’m a busy woman,” Trixie said before dropping the bratty tone. “What do you need?”

“An extension—”

“Aja, you know I can’t do that—”

“Just hear me out—”

“That essay is due at midnight and you know you have to ask for an extension at least twenty four hours before the deadline for me to even consider—”

“Trixie, I really just need another day,” Aja said, and something in her voice made Trixie stop in her tracks, stilled the air in her lungs. “Please,” her voice cracked.

“Hey, are you okay?” Trixie asked, standing up and moving her conversation into the kitchen to have a bit more privacy, feeling Katya and Shea watching her with confusion.

“I’m fine, it’s fine, I just, um,” Aja said almost frantically.

“Girl, I’m taking off my AI hat, okay?” Trixie said gently. “Are you alright?”

There was a beat of silence in which Trixie could only hear the sounds of Aja’s unsteady breath accompanied by the melody of cars driving on wet pavement.

“Aja, come on,” she said softly.

“I don’t know,” Aja whispered with tears in her voice.

“Where are you right now? Do you have a way to get home?”

“I think I’m maybe lost,” Aja said, words cracking as they tumbled out of her throat and across telephone lines.

“Go into the nearest restaurant, send me a pin drop, and don’t move until I get there,” Trixie said definitively as she stormed back into her living room and started putting on a coat.

“Trixie, I’m not asking you to—”

“You’re distressed and lost in an unfamiliar city, I’m coming to get you, kid,” Trixie said with a soft laugh as Katya appeared next to her and placed a soothing hand on her lower back, brow furrowed.

“Thank you,” Aja sighed, relief in her breath.

“See you soon,” Trixie said as she hung up, immediately searching her jacket pockets for her keys.

“Where are you going?” Katya asked.

“You know Aja?”

“The freshman you accidentally adopted?” Katya furrowed her brow.

“Yeah,” Trixie let out a breath of a laugh. “I’m gonna go make sure she gets home okay. She’s been off lately and she was definitely just crying when she called me and now she’s lost and I’m a little worried.”

“I’ll come with you,” Katya nodded, immediately on board to help a stranger as was such a Katya thing to do that Trixie could feel her heart swell with it.

“No, Kat, you’ve had a long day. Do your yoga, hang with Shea,” Trixie shook her head as she spotted her keys on the small table by the door and stuffed them in her pocket.

“You sure?” Katya asked, clearly exhausted beyond belief but wanting to help if she was needed.

“Yeah, I’ll be back soon,” Trixie smiled softly at her, resting a hand on her girlfriend’s upper arm and running her thumb across the fabric of her sweatshirt once.

“Okay, I hope she’s alright,” Katya nodded.

“She will be,” Trixie assured her as she pressed a soft kiss to her cheek. “Bye, Shea. Don’t fuck with my piles while I’m gone.”

“As if I don’t have better things to do,” Shea shot back with a grin.

Trixie rolled her eyes before she left, ending up out on the street just as a text message from Aja buzzed on her phone.

She snorted.

“You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me,” she muttered to herself as she took the familiar path down the street towards the train that would take her downtown.

Trixie thought that maybe she should have been more uncomfortable than she was, walking the streets of the city all alone at night. Of course, there was the underlying worry of being a woman in that situation, of what might be lurking around any corner or what might happen if she got trapped in a subway car with a stranger. That would always be there.

But she wasn’t scared of the city, not anymore.

For almost the entirety of her freshman year, Trixie had been terrified of living amongst the tall buildings, of crosswalks that cab drivers didn’t respect and the loud clattering of the train above her when she walked past the SAIC building. She had immediately seen the beauty in it, had loved it with her entire heart from the moment she had stepped off that stuffy bus and into city air, but she had still been scared of the unfamiliar.

Trixie knew it was in her nature to crave certainty, and the city was nothing if not uncertain in most cases. At least it hadn’t been. But three years later, she didn’t even have to glance at the train routes to know where she was going, didn’t need to check street signs to understand the path ahead of her.

In Wisconsin, the roads were eternally empty and her path may have been clear but never felt right. The air was supposed to be cleaner in the country, free from the smog of cars and trains and busses that Chicago was overflowing with, but Trixie had never known what it was like to breathe easy until she left.

A country girl by blood, Trixie thought maybe she’d found fresh air in the city.

The door to Alyssa’s cafe was locked when Trixie arrived approximately twenty minutes later, so she found the key on her ring (secured by a large, pink, plastic heart on a chain) and let herself in.

Aja was sitting on a stool at the counter, sipping on what Trixie assumed was a complimentary cup of coffee courtesy of the woman stood behind the counter, locking up the safe with the day’s earnings.

“You staying up late for strays now, huh?” Trixie teased as she closed the door behind her, bell ringing loudly in the nearly-silent space.

“That’s nothin’ new,” Alyssa grinned at her and leaned her forearms on the counter. “Took you in, didn’t I, Cheese Head?”

Trixie laughed at that as she sat down in a stool next to a clearly confused Aja.

“Of all the places in Chicago for you to end up,” Trixie shook her head. “You had to pick my place of business?”

“You work here?” Aja asked. Trixie could see the red rimming her eyes and the raw skin beneath her nose and Trixie felt her heart break for the girl.

“Employee of the month, three months in a row,” Trixie grinned at her.

“We don’t do that here,” Alyssa deadpanned. Aja just looked between them. “You’re one of my only goddamn employees.”

“If you wanna be the best at something,” Trixie whispered mock-conspiratorially to Aja. “Just find something no one else is doing, and do that.”

Aja laughed, her tight grip loosening ever so slightly on the mug in her hands. Trixie internally congratulated herself for being able to keep the mood light.

“Lemme get you a coffee to go,” Alyssa said, slapping the table as she turned around.

Trixie didn’t miss how the sound of it made Aja jump ever so slightly.

“You good?” Trixie asked softly so that Alyssa wouldn’t hear her over the sound of the coffee grinder.

“Yeah, yeah-- I’m good-- Fine,” Aja said frantically. “Just stupid and lost,” she added with a forced laugh.

“What do you need, girl?” Trixie said in a tone that quite simply said she wasn’t buying it, wasn’t convinced that Aja was in any way fine.

Aja hesitated and bit at her bottom lip for a moment before she let out a shaky breath.

“I just wanna go home,” she said quietly.

“We can do that,” Trixie nodded definitively, standing up and motioning for Aja to join her. “Rain check on the coffee, Boss.”

“Since when do you of all people turn down coffee, hon?”

“Since I have a beautiful woman sleeping in my bed at home and don’t wanna be all caffeinated so I end up awake and listening to her snore all night,” Trixie teased,taking the blame for their sudden departure and hopefully taking some of the pressure off of Aja’s shoulders.

“Fair enough,” Alyssa shrugged. “You have a shift Saturday, right?”

“Yep, see you then,” Trixie smiled as she led Aja out the door of the cafe and out into the cool night air. “Which dorm are you in?”

“The Arc,” Aja said simply, hurrying after Trixie to keep up as she started down the street with her long legs.

They walked in silence for the first few minutes, because Trixie wasn’t quite sure what to say. She wanted to help, but felt like maybe she wasn’t built for being the hero, was too used to being the crying, heaving mess to take on this new role of supportive guardian.

She glanced at Aja, a handful of inches shorter than her and staring at her feet as she walked. Trixie felt so oddly connected to this girl and she didn’t understand why, but she wanted nothing more than to make whatever was hurting her end right there and then on the sidewalk in front of a Lady Footlocker.

“Do you--Uh, do you wanna talk about it?” Trixie spoke up hesitantly.

“About what?” Aja asked.

“Girl,” Trixie pulled a face and snorted softly. Aja sighed.

“I’m sorry for asking for an extension, I still have an hour ‘til the deadline and I can--”

“You really think that’s what I’m worried about right now?” Trixie cut her off, practically aghast at the assumption. “Aja, you call me crying in the middle of the night, lost in a city that’s still pretty new to you, and you think I’m not gonna give you a goddamn extension on some stupid essay?”

“You’re gonna give me more time?” Aja looked to her with hopeful eyes.

“Yeah, of course,” Trixie said with a disbelieving laugh. “I’m just trying to make sure you’re okay, and that I shouldn’t be taking you to, like, a police station or a hospital or something right now.”

“Oh, no, it’s nothing like that,” Aja brushed her off. “I just got into a big fight with my boyfriend-- Stupid-- Not big, just stupid. He still lives back home, and I went for a walk after I got off the phone, and I guess I got lost.”

“Mmhmm,” Trixie hummed in discontented acknowledgment. Maybe it was because of where she had been in life, and maybe she was reading too much into it, but something about the whole situation felt off to her.

“It’s not a big deal, couples fight all the time,” Aja continued without being prompted, talking to herself more than Trixie in that moment. “We’ve been together since high school, it’s normal.”

“Yeah?” Trixie questioned, chewing on her words for how to handle something that she had a gut feeling about but in reality had so little context for.

“Yeah,” Aja nodded.

“Listen,” Trixie said, exhaling heavily. “This might be out of line, and my current relationship of four months is the longest one I’ve ever been in, but arguing periodically with your partner is normal. Fighting is not. Fighting on the regular is definitely not.”

“Yeah, I meant arguing,” Aja said hurriedly. “We don’t fight, he’s not like hitting me , Jesus Christ, Trixie.”

“Just because he’s not hitting you doesn’t mean it’s not-- I mean, that’s not the benchmark for a toxic situation,” Trixie said, glad she had Aja’s attention at least for the last two blocks until they reached her dorm.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Aja laughed bitterly, tucking her hands deep in the pockets of her coat.

Trixie felt her ribs tighten around her lungs.

“Kid,” Trixie sighed.

“Don’t call me kid,” Aja turned on her heel abruptly, stopping along their path and looking at Trixie with fire in her eyes. “You’re not my mom, or my sister, or whatever it is you think you’re being right now.”

“I’m not trying to be your mom--”

“Then get off my case!” Aja raised her voice. “You don’t know anything about my relationship. You don’t know anything about me or him-- He’s waiting for me even though I left to come here.”

“You don’t owe him anything,” Trixie pushed back, knowing it might be the wrong move but unable to stop herself in the moment. “If he’s not treating you well, you’re allowed to leave. Hell, if you just don’t want to be with him anymore, you’re allowed to leave!”

“He’s flawed! He’s a human being! Fuck off!” Aja cried with tears in her eyes and an unsteady voice.

“What, has he really convinced you that yelling is acceptable?” Trixie’s voice remained steady but her hands were clutching onto her keys at the bottom of her pocket, leaving deep grooves in her skin from the jagged edges. “I bet he really loves to place blame on you for all your fights. And then, hey, does he get all apologetic the next morning even though you’re still reeling from the things he said the night before? Maybe?”

Aja’s mouth hung open as she listened to Trixie and tears spilled silently out of her eyes for a moment before she let out a broken sob and brought a hand up to cover her mouth.

“Shit,” Trixie muttered to herself, taking a hesitant step towards Aja because now she’d done it, now she’d managed to really fuck up, and she was right all along that the only person she could look after was herself. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean--”

“It’s so fucked up, isn’t it?” Aja said through tears and Trixie froze.

“What is?”

“All of what you just said,” Aja continued. “It’s a fucking mess.”

“Aja…” Trixie said softly, not sure how to respond, not sure if this was in any way an acceptable method of handling the issue she’d been presented with.

Aja shook her head and looked at the concrete below their feet, crossing her arms over her chest in a defensive maneuver from whatever she was battling with internally.

“How did you know?” she eventually asked, voice quiet without making eye contact.

Trixie inhaled sharply through her nose, watching the cold air fog up in front of her as she let it all out in a breath.

“I’m telling you this in confidence, as a friend and not the person who grades your papers,” Trixie said, and then, softer: “I’ve got a pretty fucked up relationship with my step-dad. I know what it looks like.”

“I’m sorry,” Aja looked up and met her eyes. Trixie could see the hurt there, knew what it felt like all too well.

“Don’t be,” she responded, genuinely meaning it and making it evident in her tone. “I got out.”

“Yeah,” Aja nodded slowly, biting at her lip in clear contemplation.

“You’re so young,” Trixie said with a slight shake of her head. “You’re so talented--”

Aja scoffed.

“Don’t roll your eyes,” Trixie continued. “I’ve seen your projects. Please just-- I don’t want you to feel like you have to devote so much energy to something that makes you unhappy when you have-- You have so much going for you. Y’know?”

There was a beat of silence, filled with the faint hum of wind in her ears and distant brakes. Aja stared at her shoes-- sneakers that were still soaked through at the toes from trudging through puddles after the day’s storm. She let out a heavy breath and nodded, almost imperceptible but enough to make Trixie relax some.

“Come on, we’re only a block away and you should get some sleep,” Trixie suggested, taking her hand and beginning to lead Aja down the sidewalk towards her dorm once more.

Aja squeezed Trixie’s hand and hugged her tight when they parted ways at the front entrance of the building, and Trixie cried softly alone in a subway car on her way home.

She cried for Aja and she cried for herself, for sixteen-year-old Trixie Mattel who would have to wait so many years to get out of that house and for twenty-two year old Trixie Mattel who was still waiting for her mom to do the same.

Shea was gone by the time Trixie got home, Kim was asleep in her bedroom, and Katya was snoring in Trixie’s bed.

Trixie quietly changed into her pajamas, washed her face and brushed her teeth, and then slipped under the covers and wrapped herself around Katya as if she needed to remind herself that the woman she loved was real.

“Hey,” Katya stirred, sleep slurring her words as she placed a hand on Trixie’s where it rested on her ribcage. “You get the girl home safe?”

“Yeah,” Trixie said softly against Katya’s shoulder.

“You’re a real life guardian angel,” Katya murmured, already drifting off once more, halfway between reality and dreamland.

“Thank you,” Trixie whispered, quiet enough that she was gambling with whether or not Katya would even hear it.

“For what?” Katya yawned.

“For being you,” Trixie responded simply. “Go back to sleep.”

Trixie really was grateful for Katya, had been for years and always would be. The longer they were together, the more Trixie loved her girlfriend and the more she realized she would do pretty much anything to make her happy. Within reason, of course.

Katya brought so much light into Trixie’s life that Trixie wanted nothing more than to shed some of it back on Katya, with her broad smile and that necklace she always wore, the one Trixie had given her six months before they had even shared their first kiss.

Katya was small, five feet and three inches of kind-hearted joy and enthusiastic oddity, but she carried with her the weight of the world. Her size was deceiving, as was her kindness, and she was stronger and fiercer than most gave her credit for, smarter and more quick witted than people expected.

Katya had been unexpected in every sense, but Trixie couldn’t imagine a life without her.

Trixie hated seeing Katya distressed about anything, but would sit through anything to help her come out stronger on the other side. Trixie wanted to be for Katya what Katya had always been for her.

A stable, soft, comforting place to land when the fall got too intense.

“Hey, babe, are you home?” Trixie called out as she let herself into Katya’s apartment, dropping her vaguely snow-dampened coat on the couch and leaving her backpack on the floor beside it. “I found the roll of film you left in my fridge so I’ve got that,” she continued absentmindedly.

Trixie walked into the kitchen and put said roll of film in the refrigerator before becoming curious at Katya’s lack of response.

“Kat?” She called out, walking across the living room and peeking into the bedroom but not seeing her girlfriend. “Am I talking to myself?” Trixie chuckled before checking her final hope: the bathroom. “Oh my god.”

Katya looked up at her, startled with wide eyes as she held her ponytail in her hand. A ponytail that was very much her blonde hair and very much no longer attached to her head, with a pair of scissors in her other hand.

“You get tired of long hair?” Trixie asked, jaw hanging open slightly at the scene caught in front of her. Katya looked at her, glanced down at the hair in her hand, and then up at herself in the mirror before looking back at Trixie, jagged hair swinging around her jawline and crooked bangs hanging low across her eyebrows.

“I got stressed and lost all impulse control,” Katya said simply, anxiety in her countenance, body language, and noticeable in the slight shake of her voice.

“Okay,” Trixie nodded methodically in understanding as she leaned against the doorframe of the tiny shoebox of a bathroom. There were strands of hair on the floor next to Katya’s feet, in the basin of the sink, and tangled up with makeup brushes and bobby pins on the small counter.

“How bad is it?” Katya asked, almost fearful in a way that few people besides Trixie ever really got to see.

“Don’t worry about that,” Trixie said, shaking her head. “I can even it out. But are you okay right now? Do you wanna talk about what’s stressing you out?”

Katya bit at her lower lip, hard enough to turn the skin around it white as she looked at the fistful of hair she was still holding.

“C’mere,” Trixie said softly as she stepped fully into the bathroom and gently pried the hair out of Katya’s tight grip. “Don’t worry about this,” she left a hand on Katya’s upper arm and threw the hair unceremoniously into the trashcan next to the sink.

Trixie urged Katya to sit down on top of the toilet seat and took the scissors out of her hand, silently brushing through her hair and getting it wet with water from the sink. She crouched down in front of Katya and began finding the shortest piece of hair so she could even it all out at the bottom.

Katya let out a heavy breath as Trixie began to cut her hair, brushing stray pieces off of her shoulders as she went periodically.

“I hate my job,” Katya said after a few minutes, abrupt but not startling.

“Really?” Trixie furrowed her brow, but didn’t stop with the task at hand.

“I spend so much time there and I hate it so much, Trix,” Katya said as if she was revealing this massive secret.

“Do you not wanna work with cameras anymore?”

“No, it’s not that,” Katya shook her head.

“Stay still, please,” Trixie said gently.

“Sorry,” Katya resumed her position. “I just-- I love cinematography so much, but the television shows that I’m working on, there’s no thought, no intentionality to it. It’s such a formulaic thing and it’s the same every time and it’s boring.”

“Yeah?” Trixie urged her to continue, sensing that this was a line of thought that Katya had been dealing with alone, inside of her own head for too many months.

“And the environment on set,” Katya pushed forward with increasing fire in her tone. “I know that in the studio system you’re supposed to work your way up the ladder, but the way they talk to me-- I just-- If I act too masculine I’m a dyke but if I look too feminine I don’t belong on a camera crew and I’m so tired of it--”

“Did they call you a dyke?” Trixie froze and looked at Katya’s face in the mirror. “I’ll beat their sorry asses, the homophobic shitheads--”

“I’m just surrounded by men all the time and it’s so exhausting,” Katya continued without acknowledging Trixie’s question, essentially giving her all the answer she needed. “I’m so tired of it, I’m so tired, there has to be a better way of doing what I want to do.”

“Hey, there is,” Trixie said as she ran her fingers through Katya’s hair and moved on to trimming her crooked bangs. “And we’re gonna figure out what it is, I promise.”

“How?” Katya asked, closing her eyes as pieces of blonde hair fell onto her rosy cheeks.

“Well,” Trixie said. “I’m gonna finish with this, and then we’re gonna go make a list.”

“Is it a mess?” Katya asked. “How bad did I fuck myself over?”

“I think you look beautiful,” Trixie said. “But take a look for yourself,” she snipped a few more times before she stepped back so that Katya could stand up and look in the mirror.

She ran her fingers through it and pushed it back off of her face a few times.

“You’re a miracle worker,” she sighed and then, with more amusement back in her voice: “I look how I looked when we met.”

“Shoot me, I’m sentimental,” Trixie rolled her eyes.

“Thank you,” Katya turned to look at her with earnest brows and soft eyes.

“Come on,” Trixie brushed her off. “It’s list time.”

Moments later they were in Katya’s bedroom, Trixie sitting at the cluttered desk and Katya sitting on the edge of the mattress with her legs crossed and tucked close to her body as she fiddled absentmindedly with her fingers in her lap.

“Okay, so things you want out of a job: go,” Trixie said, uncapping a pen with determination in her every movement.

“Cameras,” Katya said.

“Cool,” Trixie began writing.

“And independence,” Katya nodded to herself. “I wanna be able to make the stuff I care about making.”

“You wanna be in control of the stories you tell?”

“Yeah, exactly,” Katya’s eyes got brighter as they went. “I wanna work with good people-- more women if possible.”

“Women make everything better,” Trixie nodded in agreement. “Feature films? Shorts? TV?”

“Features, for sure,” Katya said. “But if I have to start in the mailroom in some studio in LA I might off myself.”

“Noted,” Trixie said, barely containing a laugh.

“And if LA as a whole can be avoided, I think I’d want that,” Katya added. “I don’t care if I make it big in Hollywood or whatever. I just want to make movies that matter to me.”

Trixie looked up at her with that, taking in how passionate Katya was about this and admiring it so deeply that she could practically feel it vibrating through her bones. She wanted to give all of it to Katya, to place on a silver platter everything she desired in the world. She knew she couldn’t, but damn did she want to.

“Okay, so let’s look at this,” Trixie said, skimming over the list and taking in all of the various pieces of this specific puzzle.

“Am I being too picky?”

“Absolutely not, stop that,” Trixie said before a look of realization crossed her face. “Babe, I think you just wanna be an independent filmmaker?”

“But I don’t know what that means,” Katya sighed. “I don’t know how to make that happen.”

“Well, where do they make a lot of independent films?” Trixie asked.

“Austin and Atlanta are growing a lot recently,” Katya said. “But mostly New York still I think.”

Trixie looked up from the list again, a glint of something in her eyes that Katya didn’t know how to place in that moment.

“How do you feel about New York?”

“Good, I guess?” Katya shrugged. “I love the city, and it’s closer to home but I mean… It’s on the other side of the country and… And well, you’re here.”

“Kat, do you remember what I told you my dream job was?” Trixie asked, a faint smile playing at the edges of her lips, pulling at the apples of her cheeks.

“Lead costume designer for stage shows and musicals,” Katya said, still not getting it.

“More specifically: lead costume designer for stage shows and musicals on Broadway,” Trixie grinned and watched as sudden understanding passed across Katya’s face.

“New York,” she breathed. “But that’s crazy-- that’s crazy , right? You’re still a student and-- I don’t know, that’s crazy.”

“It doesn’t have to be,” Trixie said, standing up and joining Katya on the bed with one foot on the floor and one foot tucked underneath her. “I’m only a student for six more months and if you think this is the right move for you--”

“I’m never gonna ask you to move for me, not when you have your own career to start up,” Katya said. “We can do long distance if we need to, if I go to New York and you stay here for a little while post grad.”

“Katya, I want to be where you are,” Trixie placed a hand on Katya’s on top of the duvet. “And how am I ever gonna make it to Broadway if I don’t start making connections in New York.”

“Oh my god,” Katya breathed. “Are we really considering this?”

“I graduate on May fifth,” Trixie grinned. “On May sixth we can rent a U-Haul, fill it with everything we own, and drive east. We don’t have to decide anything right now, and you can always change your mind, but just imagine, Katya. New York City.”

“New York City,” Katya smiled at her with a breath of a laugh. “It does sound pretty good, doesn’t it?”

“Yeah,” Trixie kissed Katya’s cheek. “Yeah, it does.”

They didn’t discuss New York again right away after that conversation, but it was certainly there at the back of their minds when they considered what would happen at the end of the school year.

Every time someone asked Trixie what she was doing post-graduation, she didn’t quite know what to say, but she did know what she hoped would happen, and there was a U-Haul and a twenty hour drive involved.

Despite it being her senior year and watching senioritis take over most of her classmates and friends, Trixie was also the most on top of her schoolwork that she had been in a long time. She rarely missed class, never missed a deadline, and was doing everything in her power to prove to everyone, including herself, that she was built for this business.

She took her job as an assistant instructor equally as seriously, passing on wisdom about more than textiles to her students in their Friday discussion labs and watching Aja start to grow into her own skin more and more.

Trixie wasn’t used to being any sort of mentor, and when Aja came to her after class one afternoon to tell her that she’d broken up with her boyfriend, she still wasn’t sure that she was one, but she was sure that she was proud.

Everything felt very much like it was falling into place for Trixie, and she knew that there were battles yet to be fought, but she was enjoying the certainty for the moment.

“Okay, okay, no!” Trixie screamed with laughter as she finished pulling a dress on over her shoulders and hopped out of Katya’s closet. “This one!”

She was searching for an outfit to wear to an end of semester fashion show being held during the upcoming finals week, and had resorted so low that she was looking for answers in her girlfriend’s closet.

“You made that for me, you cunt!” Katya cackled, hands gripping the edge of the mattress as she kicked her legs wildly.

“Yes, I’m a very talented fashion designer,” Trixie insisted, a stupid grin taking over her entire, joyful face. “And what’s the point of being with a woman if you can’t wear her clothes, Kat?”

“I’m not upset that you’re stealing my clothes,” Katya said. “I’m upset that you look better in them, you bitch.”

“Stop that!” Trixie laughed.

“Stop what?” Katya cocked her head to the side in amused confusion.

“Being cute and shit,” Trixie faux-gagged as if the sweetness of it all was making her nauseated.

“Don’t you ever accuse me of--”

Katya’s teasing was cut off abruptly by the loud buzzing of Trixie’s phone, somewhere lost amongst the sheets of Katya’s bed.

“You’re so goddamn popular, aren’t you,” Katya mocked as she stretched to reach the phone from the mattress behind her.

“People love me and I’m not gonna apologize for that,” Trixie tossed her hair over one shoulder dramatically.

“Oh, fuck off,” Katya laughed. “It’s your brother,” she handed the phone over to Trixie.

“Shit, I should take that,” Trixie sobered up and took the phone. “Be right back,” she said to Katya, and then, as she answered the phone and stepped out into Katya’s living room: “Hey, what’s up?”

She waved to Bianca who stood in the kitchen as she balanced her phone between her ear and her shoulder so she could slide open the window and step out onto the fire escape. The air was brisk with winter wind and Trixie could feel it expanding once it hit the warmth of her lungs.

“Hey, Trix,” Tyler said on the other end of the phone. “You have some time to talk?”

Trixie wasn’t sure what it was, but something in Tyler’s voice made her skin crawl more than the feeling of the cold wind creeping across it.

“Is everything okay?” she asked immediately, no longer one for skirting around issues and far more interested in getting straight to the point.

“Yeah, actually,” Tyler laughed softly. “Everything is, um, everything’s good.”

“Tyler…” Trixie trailed off in a silent plea for context, for understanding.

“I’m outside Mom’s apartment,” he said, a smile in his voice that left Trixie’s jaw slacked.

“You’re-- Wait,” Trixie shook her head and gripped the railing of the fire escape with her free hand, frozen metal burning against her soft skin. “What’s going on? Stop being cryptic.”

“I’m outside of Mom’s apartment, Trixie,” Tyler insisted. “In Madison. Ben, who works with my firm in family and divorce court, is upstairs with her right now.”

Trixie took in a sharp, albeit small, gasp of a breath. Her free hand came to cover her mouth as she felt tears prick at the back of her eyes, realization hitting her like a freight train.

“Fuck off,” Trixie said, voice cracking. “Don’t fuck with me, Ty.”

“I’m not fucking with you,” Tyler said, soft and warm and full of light.

“This isn’t real,” she shook her head, trying to brush off years of false hope and worst-case expectations as tears spilled out of her eyes, freezing against her cheeks. “No way.”

“Kid, listen to me,” Tyler insisted. “Mom called me two days ago from a motel in Madison and asked me to help her find a lawyer--”

“Oh my god--”

“I drove up with Ben yesterday,” he continued past Trixie’s sobs. “And today she’s starting the process of filing for a divorce.”

“Are you serious?” Trixie asked in a small, but emotionally charged voice that would have broken anyone’s heart. “She’s doing it? She left-- She’s leaving?”

“She packed a suitcase and walked out while he was at work,” Tyler explained. “We’re not technically rid of him until the divorce is finalized, but--”

“But it’s happening,” Trixie breathed.

“Yeah, it’s happening,” Tyler replied with a breath of relief in his tone.

“Will you tell her to call me?” Trixie asked.

“She’s already planning on it,” Tyler said. “She said she wanted to call you right away, but wanted to make sure everything was actually set in place before she got your hopes up.”

Trixie let out a tiny sob.

“Where is she staying?” she asked, trying to keep her voice steady. “Can I come see her? I wanna see her, Ty. I wanna see both of you-- I just-- Oh my god.”

“We’ve got her in an apartment right now until we can find somewhere more permanent,” Tyler said, staying steady, giving Trixie something worth grounding herself to. “I’m gonna stay with her for a little while until she gets settled, but I definitely think you should come whenever you get a break from school.”

“I have three weeks off for winter break,” Trixie said hurriedly. “It starts next week-- I’ll-- I’m gonna buy a bus ticket tonight and-- Oh my god, Tyler, I’m gonna be home for Christmas.”

“Send me your bus information as soon as you have it,” Tyler said.

“Yeah, yeah, of course,” Trixie said as she wiped helplessly at silently falling tears before they could turn to icicles. And then, barely a whisper: “I can’t believe this is real.”

“Me neither,” Tyler said with a disbelieving laugh. “But, kid, I promise you it is.”

Trixie took a deep breath and let her eyes fall closed, feeling cold air in her lungs the same way she had two years prior in the driveway of a house that she no longer considered home. Her nose was running and her eyes were most certainly bloodshot, but she could feel her heartbeat grow stronger just in the moments that she was standing there. She could feel it pulsing in her fingertips and legs and feet and stomach, a constant reminder that she was a living, breathing, person.

“I’ll talk to you later, I gotta go,” Trixie said as she tried to gather herself, despite the seemingly endless tears still falling steadily across the rosy apples of her cheeks.

“Love you kid, call me if you need anything.”

Trixie took a moment between hanging up the phone and opening the window so she could climb back inside the apartment. She was still frantically wiping away tears as she walked across the living room, hands shaking with the weight of shock still rippling through her psyche.

Trixie vaguely heard Bianca mutter a soft oh shit as Trixie closed the door to Katya’s room behind her, leaned back against it, and tried to take a steadying breath.

“I think that if you’re gonna borrow something from me it should really be this one,” Katya said with her face in the closet, pulling a dress out on its hanger without looking at Trixie. “I really think that it’s a lot more-- Trixie?” her face fell as she caught sight of her girlfriend, leaning heavily against the door with tear stained skin and shaky demeanor. “Oh my god, are you okay? What’s going on?”

Katya dropped the dress she was holding and hurried to stand in front of Trixie, taking her hands in each of her own.

“I-- Oh my god,” Trixie let out a breath that existed somewhere between a laugh and a sob, her face displaying such a complex array of emotions that it was no wonder Katya was confused, concerned, worried out of her mind. “Holy fuck, Katya,” Trixie choked out, sliding her spine down the length of the door so she was sitting on the floor, Katya immediately joining her so their sides were pressed up against each other.

“Shhh, breathe,” Katya said softly, scratching her short nails back and forth across Trixie’s upper back where Katya’s dress wasn’t fully zipped, hanging loosely around her shoulders.

Trixie clutched her knees close to her chest and let her head fall into the small hollow between them, overwhelmed and shaking but not yet coherent enough to explain to Katya that it was good, that things were good, that she was good.

It felt like everything she had learned to be true, everything she had spent months and years accepting as fact, was suddenly being taken back, a rug that was pulled out from underneath her and sent her freefalling, albeit into a well padded ball pit instead of onto a bed of spikes.

Trixie could barely comprehend it, was having trouble breathing because of the utter shock of it all, but knew that once she caught her breath that this was her open door, a freshly made path towards an unbroken family who may have lived in a trailer park, who may not have had enough money to buy Trixie her own pair of roller skates, who only drove to McDonald’s once every three months because it was so far away, but was happy nonetheless.

“Trixie, come on,” Katya’s quiet voice pulled her out of her own head, forced her to take a deep breath and self regulate it as she slowly let it out.

Trixie looked at Katya, met her eyes and took in the sight of her just inches away and couldn’t help but laugh. She laughed heartily with a jittery enthusiasm and reached up to put her hands on either side of Katya’s face which continued to display ever-growing concern.

“Trixie--”

“I love you,” Trixie cut her off, grinning through her tears and pressing a kiss to Katya’s cheek. “I love you so goddamn much,” she pulled her in for a kiss on the lips.

“I love you too,” Katya assured her. “But you’re freaking me out a little bit, babe.”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Trixie shook her head and repositioned herself so she was on her knees, sitting back on her calves, facing Katya with her hands resting on her girlfriend’s shoulders. “I’ll explain.”

“Yeah, please do,” Katya let out a breathless laugh, seeming to release some of her tension as she saw Trixie smile.

“My mom is with a lawyer as we speak,” Trixie said, almost as if she still couldn’t believe it.

“What?” Katya’s face softened and she went ever so slightly slack-jawed.

“She’s getting a divorce, Kat,” Trixie said, tears renewed at the sound of the words coming out of her own mouth. She laughed and she cried and she knew she looked crazy but she didn’t have it in her heart to care. “She packed a bag and walked out-- She’s leaving him.”

“Oh my god,” Katya’s eyes got big and she reached out and grabbed Trixie by her waist, strong fingers gripping the curves of her hips. “ Trixie.”

“Tyler said we have to get through the proceedings before we’re completely done with him but, Kat,” she shook her head as her face scrunched up and large, cartoonish tears slid down her face. “I can go home,” she sobbed, letting her face fall into the crook of Katya’s neck.

“These are relieved tears right? Happy tears?” Katya asked softly as she wrapped her arms tight around Trixie’s shaking torso.

“I never thought it was gonna happen,” Trixie mumbled against Katya’s neck in response. “I thought I was gonna have to wait for the son of a bitch to die, Kat.”

“I know, I know,” Katya said into Trixie’s hair soothingly. “But this is good, you’re okay. She’s out of there.”

“I know, this is so good,” Trixie sobbed. “It’s so good but I can’t stop fucking crying and I don’t know why,” she sat up to look at Katya in the eye with so much emotion spilling out of every pore in her body that Katya held her tighter, trying to absorb some of it and make this all a little less loud.

“I think maybe you’re a little bit in shock,” Katya said as she placed a gentle hand along Trixie’s jawline and picked up tears with the pad of her thumb. “And a little overwhelmed.”

“I need to buy a bus ticket,” Trixie said abruptly, standing up and digging through her nearby backpack for her laptop while Katya just watched her in stunned silence. “I need-- shit, okay,” she sat down on Katya’s bed with her computer in front of her and started typing. “I need to get to Madison so maybe if I— I’ll have to ask Ty to pick me up in Milwaukee if— I just,” she muttered to herself, still sniffling and wiping away slowing tears.

“Trixie—”

“Fuck, I have to apologize to your parents,” Trixie dug the heels of her hands into her eyes. “They’re planning for me to be there and this is such short notice to back out--”

“They’ll understand—”

“And I need to talk to my professors, maybe I can take finals early and head up to help with all this lawyer bullshit—”

“Baby—”

“I wonder if she needs help getting stuff from John’s house,” Trixie continued to ramble as Katya climbed into the bed next to her, tucking her legs under her body and facing Trixie. “I should get some boxes so I can go pick up—”

“Hey, slow down,” Katya placed her hands on Trixie’s cheeks and turned her to face her straight on. “I know this is a lot, and I’m gonna help you do as much of it as I can, but take a minute to absorb it, okay?”

“But, I need to--”

“Nope,” Katya cut off her ramblings and shook her head. “You’ve been waiting for this for years, Trix. Take a minute.”

Trixie stilled, every single part of her slowed down as she took a deep breath and let it out methodically.

So much of her life had been defined by the feeling of brokenness that came along with what she had only recently learned to acknowledge as an abusive household. So much of who she was had been built on unearned guilt and justified fear.

So many of her choices had been based on survival alone and in that moment, as she listened to Katya and let herself absorb the resounding truth of divorce Trixie felt like the sand bags weighing down her arms had split open and spilled their contents out across the ground beneath her feet.

Sure, the ordeal of it made a mess, and it would take Trixie a minute to figure out how the hell you're supposed to clean up that much fucking sand, but her arms weren’t as occupied anymore and despite their aching from years of lugging unnecessary weight around, they felt like useful tools for the first time in her life.

Trixie knew that Katya was there, Katya was holding onto her and would be there to support her through all the madness that had consumed her universe, but Trixie also knew that she was becoming more stable, more capable and willing to tackle her own demons with each passing day.

But maybe Katya had  a dust pan handy, and Trixie wasn’t about to turn that down.

“I never have to be in a house with him again,” Trixie breathed, as everything started to quiet down in her head, leaving only remnants of emotion amongst all the sudden clarity.

“Never again,” Katya smiled softly at her and Trixie leaned her forehead against hers.

“He can’t,” Trixie took in a sharp breath. “He can’t touch me ever again.”

Katya’s hand on Trixie’s waist gripped just a hair tighter at that.

“Katya,” Trixie said with an air of heavy realization.

“Yeah?”

“She chose me,” Trixie laughed softly and sat back, closing her eyes briefly and shaking her head. “She picked me over him,” she said louder, and then, in a full on enthusiastic yell: “She’s getting a divorce, bitch!”

“A divorce!” Katya cried back with a bright laugh as Trixie slid off the bed and jumped and flailed as if shaking off excess energy, as if shaking off the past two years.

“Divorce! Divorce!” Trixie yelled and rushed to the door, throwing it open with a grin. “Bianca! My mom is getting a divorce!”

“Holy shit, are you serious?” Bianca turned around where she stood at the sink, water still running over a nearly clean plate as she set it down at the bottom of the basin.

“A lawyer named Ben is about to change my life, can you believe it, you stupid cunt?” Trixie declared to the living room as Katya laughed from the doorway to her bedroom.

“Are you gonna have to go to court?” Bianca asked.

“Bee--” Katya cut in with a warning tone, knowing that Trixie’s mom was about to have quite the fight on her hands but wishing just a moment of peace, a moment of freedom on the family that had already been battling for so many years.

“Probably!” Trixie tossed her hands up with a sharp laugh. “It’s probably gonna be a real shit show, but I swear to god I’m gonna make sure she takes him for all he’s fucking worth.”

There was spite in her tone and determination, a strength built up from years of feeling guilty about hating the man who had had such a hand in raising her.

“I don’t doubt you for a second, bitch,” Bianca said, looking impressed, almost proud.

“Kat?” Trixie turned around to face her girlfriend abruptly, a fire in her eyes replacing the shock and confusion from just minutes prior.

“What’s up?”

“Will you help me figure out the best bus to take to get to Madison?” Trixie asked, pulling up one sleeve of Katya’s dress that had slid halfway down her arm during all the excitement.

“Yeah,” Katya nodded. “Grab your laptop and we’ll figure it out.”

Trixie nodded frantically and rushed past Katya back into the bedroom as Katya took a seat on the couch.

“You worried about this at all?” Bianca asked quietly as Katya crossed her legs underneath herself on the couch. They could vaguely hear Trixie changing clothes behind the closed bedroom door.

“I mean, always,” Katya chuckled. “But don’t you think she’s more ready to handle everything that’s about to go down than she ever has been?”

“Yeah,” Bianca nodded. “Yeah, that’s fair.”

“And it’s not like I’m going anywhere,” she shrugged.

“Neither are we,” Bianca insisted. “You need anything, you talk to us, okay bitch?”

Katya grinned at her, but wasn’t given a chance to respond because Trixie came bounding back into the room, laptop in hand and wearing her own clothes once more.

“Okay, let’s do this and then I’ll call your parents,” Trixie said as she sat down next to Katya and opened her computer.

“Gimme that,” Katya reached out and took the computer to place it in her own lap. “She’s in Madison, right?” she asked as she began typing.

“Yeah,” Trixie nodded, leaning close into Katya’s side and reading over her shoulder.

“Okay,” Katya looked over and suddenly pecked Trixie on the cheek with a faint smile. “Let’s get you home, Barbie girl.”

Chapter Text

 

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.