Just as You Are
Everyone knows that when you throw a dinner party for a bunch of lesbians, at least half of them will be vegan. Which, unfortunately, was why Liz was going to be brutally murdered by her roommate.
Liz paused outside her apartment door, still panting from her sprint through Crown Heights to their third-floor walk-up. The weekend train from Manhattan had been agonizingly slow, and then she’d had to push through a million people on Franklin Avenue to get home: a crowd of parents waiting outside the karate studio, a line of couples outside the trendy pop-up restaurant, a large family barbecuing on the sidewalk, and dozens of people walking tiny, slow-moving dogs.
Liz said a quick mental prayer that Jane would be in a forgiving mood. Tonight’s party was going to be tense enough without them fighting, too. Then she flung open the front door as dramatically as possible.
“I’m the worst,” she said between breaths, bending over and grabbing her knees. “I know it. You don’t have to say it. You can have my firstborn child as repayment.”
Jane, a dark-skinned Black woman with her hair in long, thin braids, let out a loud humph noise from the kitchen, where she was shaking a pan of what seemed to be sizzling onions.
“You were supposed to be here two hours ago.” Jane released the pan without looking up and yanked open the oven with a clang.
“No,” Liz said, unlacing her Doc Martens and leaving them in the pile of shoes by the door. “I was supposed to be here an hour ago. Not two. You look great, by the way. And wow, it smells amazing in here! Is that risotto?”
“I said four.” Jane pulled out a tray of mini-quiches and laid them on the stove. She still hadn’t looked at Liz. “It’s six.”
“But we all know that you said four knowing I’d be an hour late and get home at five. So, really, I’m only an hour late.” Liz eased herself onto one of the stools on the other side of the breakfast bar, which was covered in a truly impressive number of onion skins.
“Which would have been helpful if it had worked.” Jane’s voice was clipped. “Now there’s not enough time to steam the beets.”
“Luckily I’ve solved that particular problem for you,” Liz said, trying to sound optimistic, “by not bringing beets.” She started cleaning up the onion skins so she would look helpful.
Jane finally turned around. “Are you serious?”
Liz did her best puppy dog eyes. “The store was closed by the time I got there.”
Jane clanged a lid down on a pot with more force than usual. “I’m going to tell everyone it’s your fault that we don’t have any vegan food.”
“No!” Liz abandoned the onion skins to clasp her hands together and beg. “Please. Charlotte will make me watch those videos on animal cruelty again, and I really can’t take that tonight. I’m fragile, okay?”
Jane glared down at the onions, now caramelized, as she transferred them to a platter. Liz studied her, worried that her roommate might actually be mad.
“Look, Jane, I’m really sorry,” Liz said, in a serious tone this time. “You’re right. I should have been back here, I should have gotten beets, it’s just—”
Jane started cackling. She uncovered one of the pots in front of her and tipped it toward Liz so she could see the perfectly steamed beets inside.
“Katie!” Jane yelled. “I owe you ten bucks.”
There was a triumphant scream from behind them. One of the doors in the living room opened and their roommate Katie popped her head out of her bedroom.
“I knew it,” Katie shouted, running into the kitchen wearing nothing but a lime-green towel. “Liz is the queen of five-hour dates. I knew there was no way she’d be back in time to get beets.”
“I am not the—”
“Wait, wait,” Jane interrupted. “Was it a Tinder date, a Her date, or a Lex date?”
Liz froze mid-sentence and narrowed her eyes. “Why?”
“No reason,” Jane said innocently. Katie giggled.
Liz crossed her arms and peered suspiciously between her roommates. “Her,” she finally admitted.
“Yes!” Jane pumped her fist. Katie booed.
“Okay, okay,” Katie said. “That’s five bucks off your tab. But you still owe me fifteen from that night at Scissors, when you thought Liz would go home with that drag king and I bet that she’d chicken out.”
“Will you stop betting on my life?” Liz went back to gathering the onion skins. “Also, I did not chicken out.”
“You really did,” Jane said, patting her shoulder. “He was so hot, and you totally blew it.”
“How did the date go, by the way?” Katie sat down on one of the stools at the breakfast bar, putting severe strain on her towel’s ability to cover her body. Katie was on the curvy side, which made her the only one of the roommates whose pants Liz could borrow on a regular basis. She had warm-brown skin, and her curly hair was usually styled up to show off her undercut, when it wasn’t still dripping from the shower.
Liz groaned, then went to the fridge. “Terrible,” she said. She got herself a pineapple White Claw, then handed a blackberry to Katie and a mango to Jane.
“Why are all of the dates you go on terrible?” Jane said. “You need to be better at filtering out weirdos.”
“What happened?” Katie asked.
Liz opened her drink and took a long sip before answering. “I thought we were getting along. Then, at the end of the date, she said she’s sorry, but she just doesn’t think she can date a Leo right now.”
Jane and Katie made identical sympathetic expressions, which only confirmed the suspicion that had crept into Liz’s brain about halfway through her subway ride home: Her date had just been letting her down easy.
“Well, personally, I think you’re dodging a bullet.” Jane turned off the burners on the stove and joined them at the breakfast bar. “Astrology people are always weird. Remember that girl who told you that your souls had connected in a past life?”
Liz made a face. “True. That was creepy.”
“Aww,” Katie said. “I thought that was kind of romantic.”
“Why? Do you feel like your soul and Lydia’s connected in a former life?”
Katie looked down, twisting the pull tab off her can, and didn’t reply. Liz wished she hadn’t said anything—teasing Katie about her unrequited love for Lydia, their fourth roommate, felt too mean.
“Sorry, Katie,” Liz said. “I shouldn’t have said that. I’m just in a bad mood because I’ve been on, like, forty failed dates this year. Forgive me?”
“It’s okay,” Katie said. “At least you’ve been on dates. I haven’t redownloaded Tinder since that guy told me Dominican girls ‘just taste better.’ ” She rolled her eyes and then laughed. Liz laughed along, grateful for her friend’s easy forgiveness. She promised herself for the hundredth time that she was going to think before speaking from now on.
“How bad do you think this party is going to be tonight?” Liz said.
“I mean, the food’s going to be fantastic,” Jane gestured over her shoulder toward the stove. “But everyone’s going to be depressed and sulky during the first half, then get wildly drunk and self-destructive in the second.”
“I guess there’s not really any other way for a ‘you’re all going to be unemployed next week’ party to go,” Liz said. All four roommates worked at the Nether Fields, a magazine for queer women, nonbinary people, and trans people. Living with three of her coworkers had originally sounded like fun, but now that they were all losing their salaries at the same time, Liz had to admit there were some flaws in the plan.
Jane sighed. “I just can’t believe the magazine is really closing,” she said, shaking her head. “I wanted to stay there forever. I mean, focusing specifically on trans issues at an all-queer magazine run by a woman of color? It’s the literal dream.”
“You’re an incredible journalist, Jane,” Katie said. “BuzzFeed
or somewhere will snatch you up, and you’ll be totally fine.”
“Yeah, but it won’t be the same.” Jane looked like she might cry.