Tammy arrived at the entrance of the building that housed her dorm. It was the biggest such building on campus. She flashed her student ID at the console next to the front door, which allowed her into a small rectangular vestibule with see-through walls (made presumably out of glass) where she pulled open a second door and motioned for Emily. Her friend went through this door as well and was joined on the other side almost instantly.
This was the first time Emily really paid attention to the lobby. Right in front of the entrance was an empty corner formed by two rectangular walls that stood on their own, extending straight out for three feet each. These separated the building initially into two hallways, each with an elevator and a flight of stairs at the end. In the space between those hallways, there was a semicircular counter where someone served as a sort of combination gatekeeper and checkup. Today that duty was served by Brendan, an exceptionally boring friend of Chris'.
"Hey," said Brendan.
"Hey," said Tammy.
"Hey," said Emily.
Both girls walked past him and around the walls to the actual lobby area. There were a few small tables, one bigger one in the corner, two big TVs on the wall and a foosball table off to the side. At the moment, those TVs were in use.
"Hello," said Edmond. Emily was immediately struck with an intense blush and struggling not to stare at his chest.
"Y-you're allowed to dress like that?" There was zero judgment in her voice, only confusion. The man laughed a jolly laugh and ran a hand through his hair, which provided a brief glimpse at his right ear. It had an earring in it that resembled a hammer.
"Amazingly, yes! My name is Edmond. I'm a friend of Tammy's." The two followed him as he turned, walked over to a couch, and flopped into it next to Walter. "Frankly, I'm amazed staff hasn't invented some kind of new rule to make it so I can't."
"Damn," muttered Emily as she pulled up a nearby...square shaped...plush...chair...seat...thing and seated herself on it. "Comfy."
"They are," quipped Walter. "Hey Tammy. You feeling better?"
"Yeah," Tammy muttered, "mostly. I only got like an hour of sleep though. Tired." Emily's mouth pulled into a frown that was uncomfortable both to have and to look at.
"Damn," Edmond visibly winced. "I don't suppose it's because you remembered you had a paper to do at the last second?"
"I don't wanna talk about it." Tammy pulled up a more conventional chair and sat in it.
"So," sang Emily, both to escape the silence and indignant at seeing her efforts to improve Tammy's mood undone, "What's this game?"
"Boyo Sky Glide," Tammy answered. "It's a racing game...sort of. Thing. I'm reaaaaaally bad at it."
"You could kick my ass at it I'm sure." Chimed in Emily with a voice full of cheer.
"Practice rounds starting now!" Someone announced. Walter laughed emptily.
"Oops, I guess my part is over. Tammy if you want to take part here, then you have like. Five minutes to-" she was already gone, darting all about in search of the sign up sheet.
"Like a golden retriever isn't she?" Walter snarked at Emily. She laughed, but her heart wasn't in it.
"Yeah...yeah. She kind of is."
"You sound bothered." Edmond moved about, unplugging the console they'd been using and deftly swapping it out for a different one. None of this information made it to Emily's brain, in spite of the fact she could see it happening. She laughed again, and this time it was even less convincing than the boy's laugh had been. Walter raised an inquisitive eyebrow. "Seriously, you look troubled. What's wrong?"
"I thought...I thought I had Tammy feeling better. And…"
"Fuck," Walter groaned. "She's like that sometimes, sorry. Her mood gets really unstable after something affects her and it...it lasts. It lasts for a WHILE." Emily pouted, frustrated and demoralized.
"This should help though. And...so should you."
"So should-" The video game that the event was using sprang to life and the scream of its name bellowed violently across the entire lobby. Its sound bounced and billowed and echoed in a piercing wave across the walls. Everyone present winced as someone Emily didn't know scrambled to pull a seat up to the tv. There was a moment of near silence as everyone stared at the poor guy. He scrambled onto the seat, stretched up onto his tippy toes, and smashed the volume down button. He was just in time-music sprang to life that started nearly deafening and quickly got reduced to normal levels of loud.
Emily and Walter both slowly relaxed out of their shared, pained wince. They exhaled breaths they'd held, relaxed, and turned to each other.
"Ow." Said Emily.
"Ow." Walter agreed. Emily noticed a mortified Tammy cowering by the wall, hands clutched over her ears. Emily's instincts took hold of her.
Tammy was not having a good time. Having her thoughts returned to her predicament hadn't helped. She actually did have a paper due soon. She'd planned to write it the day before, but…
A blast of noise assaulted her ears. It was like being punched straight in the brain. Her hands released the sign-up pen mid stroke and seized her ears like snakes striking their prey. She curled inward, away from that godawful sound, away from that deafening wave of hateful energy. She wanted to whimper, punch something, and sprint back to her room. She wanted to cry. But she couldn't. Not anymore. Not with Emily here. Damnit. Damnit. DAMNIT! GOD DAMNIT! GODFUCKING-
"Heyyyyy," she heard Emily behind her. She twisted around to face her. The noise was winding down. Good. She fearfully, tentatively, let go of her ears. No psychic wave threatening to surge past them and violently rupture her grey matter. "Are you alright?"
"Ye-" she caught herself. She couldn't lie like this to Emily, not after going to so much trouble teaching her emotional honesty. "No...I'm not…"
"Okay…" Emily's eyes were wide. Concerned. "Do you want to go back to your dorm?"
"No!" She blurted out, then chastised herself internally. "I...wanna stay. I signed up already." That was bullshit. She had signed someone up whose name was "Tan," and who signed with a flourish at the end that shot clean through several other sign-up lines like Proud's hair jutting out of the character select screen. An astute observer would notice that whoever this "Tan" person was, they weren't Tammy. But she wanted to be with friends.
"I see," replied Emily. "Can I go get you something from one of the vending machines?" Tammy nodded. Emily darted off to one of three such machines, which lined the far wall. Tammy went up to Walter while she waited.
"You didn't dye your hair."
"You didn't notice last night?"
"Holy shit." Walter regarded her. "You want a hug?"
"Not from you. No offense."
"From me, perhaps?" Asked Emily as she walked up. Tammy nodded sheepishly. The blonde pulled her into a hug and flopped onto a small couch nearby, her arms bringing Tammy along with her.
"I was using that," grumbled a boy standing close to it, "but okay." Neither of them noticed him. Emily squeezed her lover gently. She nuzzled the back of Tammy's head.
"It's okay Tammy. I'm here. Okay?" She whispered. Tammy nodded and squirmed a little. "Goood girl. Sit up?" Tammy nodded. The two shifted around until they were sitting up. "Here's your candy." She handed Tammy a bag of candy...that she didn't like. The hypnotist's face colored itself with a blush anyway.
"Thank you. I can pay you ba-"
"No no sweetie, it's-" Emily froze. Tammy wasn't sure why. "It's okay. Thank you though." Something about Emily's change in demeanor seemed...off, to her. She shrugged it off. She was bad at this anyway.
"First match is Tammy and Jim!"
Tammy rose from the couch and walked a few feet to a pair of chairs in front of the big tv. She took a controller out of one and Jim, the guy who had fixed the volume problem, sat in the other.
"Not gonna sit?" Asked Jim.
"No." Answered Tammy. "Unless it's distracting or something? I'll sit if it's-"
"No no," Jim reassured her with an easy smile, "that's fine. Just asking." The two picked characters. The game started.
Emily quickly recognized this one-it was a sequel to something she used to play as a kid at a cousin's house, whenever her parents took her there. She didn't know either of the characters she was watching kick the shit out of each other but that wasn't important.
She felt bad. Why had she panicked like that? She'd called Tammy "sweetie" before. She'd even told Tammy that she loved her! Tammy, who had a girlfriend!
"Are you okay?" Asked Edmond. He sat next to her.
"I-wait. Who are you?"
"I'm Edmond. Walter and I are dating each other."
"I see. Edmound? Like the guy from Closet Chronicle?" Emily asked. Edmond bellowed almost derisively.
"THAT little bitch traitor? No, no, it's spelled different."
"O...okay," Emily shrugged, "Nice to meet you Edmond." There was a brief silence between them. "What's it to you, if I may ask? Why should it matter to the boyfriend of an acquaintance's room mate?"
"Don't have a specific reason I guess. You don't trust men who don't have an ulterior motive? Smart." Emily snorted derisively. One of the characters on screen slammed an improbably large mass of metal into the other and catapulted them off screen where they exploded into a big, flashy, colorful cone of spikes.
"Are you saying this to make yourself seem trustworthy?" Emily countered by asking.
"No, it's. I'm just the only man in my immediate family. And my sisters...they have awful taste in men, and the luck to go with it. So it's...sort of a saying of ours." The character with the oversized weapon did one of the moves that takes away your double jump and fell to their death. "Never trust a man who claims to be a friend to women."
"Damn!" Emily almost bit her tongue trying not to laugh at Edmond's deadpan delivery. "That's a bit fuckin bleak isn't it?" Edmond laughed as well.
"I like to think so but I've never seen it steer one of them wrong. Except when they try to say it works in reverse too, which...has happened. Then it causes problems." Emily laughed again.
"So…" Emily asked, "you know Tammy?"
"Yeah. I met Walter in queer club and I met Tammy through him." Queer club-again with that name.
"Neat…" Emily watched as the character without the "sword"-some kind of weird...animal...thing with a tongue scarf-got knocked into the sky and became a star. The match ended. Tammy trotted over to her with a confident smile.
"I won!" She declared happily.
"Don't get cocky, Tammy." Edmond said and grinned.
"Next up, Walter vs Edmond!" Someone announced from a few feet away.
"Oh fuck you," muttered Edmond under his breath.
"This is homophobic!" Walter cried from the left chair with a grin.
"You just don't like when I beat you at something," Edmond snarked as he sat down. Emily found her spirits lifted by their playful banter. She smiled at Tammy as the pink haired girl sat down next to her. Tammy smiled back. Both awkwardly tried to think of something to say.
"I kinda figured you'd like the, uh...the little guy that sings." Emily said with a gentle tone. Tammy laughed happily.
"You know this game?" She asked.
"I played the one on, uh, the Boxwhale at my cousin's place a few times growing up." Emily answered.
"Round three! Charly vs Jackie!" Both girls bolted upright and cast confused looks at Walter and Edmond. The latter was scratching the back of his head as he handed his controller off.
"Damn." Emily said as the shirtless boy walked past her. "That bad, huh?"
"I'm just here to watch. Walter signed me up as a prank."
"That's a lie and you know it," snarked Walter as he approached and made finger guns at his boyfriend. "What the hell were you doing in the lab, my man?" Edmond rolled his eyes.
"I don't know, but I'd love to see you in my element, I'd probably crush you even harder." Edmond made a finger gun of his own, positioned like he was holding a pistol rather than like his hand itself was a gun.
"You would!" Walter smirked. "I know you would, because I've seen your sharpshooter trophies!" The two shared a laugh.
The rest of the event was jovial, for both Emily and Tammy. The dark clouds that had troubled their minds seemed, yet again, put at ease. Tammy's second round against Walter was close but she ultimately lost. That said, Emily had been cheering for her so she enjoyed it quite thoroughly.
The event concluded and both Tammy and Emily departed from the former's dormitory with their spirits high once more. Emily made her way to the cafeteria and Tammy, chattering, followed her. When they arrived, Tammy glanced at a clock. It was three fifty.
"Twenty minutes until my next class," she grumbled to herself. Emily overheard and she patted Tammy's head gently.
"Sounds rough. Got a class that late? I didn't know this place DID those. Night classes, I guess, aside."
"Yeah. I had a paper due Friday for it but…" Tammy winced. "It's not happening, now."
"Too late?" Emily asked. Tammy shook her head. A glum shadow started to take root in her face. Emily didn't like it so she scrambled to change the topic. "What're you majoring in, Tammy?"
"English lit. I wanna be an author."
"Wow." It struck Emily that it would sort of be wasteful, considering the girl's obvious talents in psychology-or at least, in her little bubble of the field. She decided not to press it, though. "Whatcha wanna write about?"
"Just...I dunno. Novels. I'm kind of all over the place, being perfectly honest."
"Oh! That's neat!" Emily started gently probing. They got their food, they sat down, and they ate. Her questions prompted a deluge of information that she was excited to hear but which came too fast for her to retain it and commit it all to memory properly.
Tammy liked romance and adventure stories, she gathered. Her roots were mostly pop culture things she'd never heard of. Tammy spoke at length about one particular influence, a story which seemed to be about a lesbian in a suit stumbling through an allegory for trauma while stabbing either flowers or abusive relationships out of people. It had...musicals, apparently? Emily could almost feel her head-
"Quiet down." Everything was calm. Emily relaxed. Tammy giggled. "A bit overwh-"
"Y-yellow!" Emily burst up back to the shores of her mind. The color seemed to drain from her face. Tammy looked horrified.
"Okay okay! Up up up! You're safe you're here you're in control is everything okay?" Emily slowly nodded. Her brain raced, and her heart raced faster.
Why had that panicked her like that?
"I don't-" it felt like she was in a fog. Like arms-something, maybe not arms-were trying to grab or dig into her, why and from where she could not tell. "Why did-why did that-"
"Breaaaathe," urged Tammy, hands splayed out in a "calm down" sort of gesture, "it's okay Emily, you're safe, breaaaathe."
"Breathe," complied Emily, "okay, breathe."
"Right. In, out, nice and slow." Emily nodded. She complied. The fear, the stress, the fog, all of it seemed to recede. Emily was safe.
Emily was in control.
"Okay...okay. I feel better now." Emily smiled. "I'm sorry. It's-"
"No, no, that was bad. I shouldn't have done that," insisted Tammy. "We've never discussed doing anything, you know...like that, out and about."
"Right, yeah." Emily nodded. It wasn't her fault. But…
Tammy hadn't done anything wrong, she felt.
"Anyway," concluded Tammy, "I know that was...a lot. I saw you were kind of lost and...um...I'm sorry."
"It's okay!" Emily tried to reassure her friend. "I...don't know why that freaked me out. Maybe we could…I don't know...try and dig for it? Find the reason in...y'know, my head?"
"Maybe," Tammy agreed. She finished her food, and then glanced at her phone. "Shit! I have class! Sorry Emily, I gotta go!"
Tammy walked out of her third class for the day. Once again, it had ended a little bit early: it was twenty minutes past five, rather than five thirty. She debated what to do. She could go back to her dorm as usual, head to the library and try to get some work done, stop by the cafeteria and eat, she had options. She wasn't feeling very hungry yet, though, and it seemed odd to her to eat now based on that. The dinner period had just started, too, which meant that it would be a bit packed. Maybe. She wasn't sure how quickly the place usually emptied out. She sighed heavily.
"I should try to work, I guess," she mumbled to herself. Her legs, which were more or less on autopilot, carried her to the exit of the building she was in. She emerged from it and paid no thought to her next movements, either, as she drifted to the right and wound up in the library. She almost hovered past her peers to a desk and flopped down into it. She needn't think as her fingers worked the keyboard before her and logged her into her school account, nor did she have to think as she opened a document so she could start. Her fingers then closed the document, opened a web browser, and logged her into the school's website using the same information that had granted access to the computer.
But then, Tammy's autopilot had an error.
"Where is it?" She muttered to herself. Her cursor danced angrily across the screen. Assignments. Reading. Upcoming assignments.
Where was it?
Where. WAS. It?
"Goddamnit," she growled, again under her breath. She knew there was a paper. She opened her class schedule. There it was, a notification on Friday. The paper was due.
The notification gave no details.
The notification had no link.
Irritation bubbled up inside her. Why, why, why?
WHERE WAS IT?
She darted back and forth across that infernal page for what felt like an hour, clicking every link, skimming over the syllabus, checking the graded assignments page, where was the paper where was the paper where was-
Tammy closed her eyes. She sighed. She forced herself to imagine her girlfriend smiling. Telling her to count.
"One...two...three…" she muttered. She breathed in and out. In time. In time with her beloved's sweet gentle voice, that seraphim's song that her mind could only conjure a pale imitation of, but that was all she needed, one two three, that's it Tammy nice and slow nice and gentle, you're doing your best I'm proud of you Tammy
Tammy sighed and opened her eyes. The panic was gone but that only helped so much. She opened her school email. Logged into it. Sent an email to the professor. Asked where to even find the assignment that had her struggling to locate it. She closed the tab. Then the other tabs. She logged out of the computer. She was struggling not to feel defeated. It was difficult. She rose from her chair...and received a text message.
Fara had been amazed when Tammy actually answered her phone call and let her talk. She was even more amazed ten minutes later, when Tammy came to meet her in the lobby like she'd requested.
"Hey," said Tammy. Her eyes were tired. They were expectant. Fara felt a sting in her gut. She tried not to give it too much thought.
"Hi, Pri-er, Tammy." An elephant seemed to park itself between them, seemed to force any genuine emotion to punch all the way through it to reach from either girl to the other. Fara wanted to reach her, but wasn't sure how.
"You said it was urgent?" Tammy prodded.
"I said it was important!" Fara corrected. "I never said it couldn't wait. But, erm...I'm sorry." Tammy nodded slowly. Fara's heart hurt. "I just-um. You don't wanna do this here, do you?"
"No. My dorm?"
"Yeah." The two took the stairs and ascended two flights in silence. Fara's mind raced. When they arrived outside the entrance to Tammy's dorm, Fara opened her mouth-and had nothing to say. "Use it?"
"What?" Asked Tammy. She unlocked and opened the door. Both girls stepped past it. Tammy pulled the door shut and locked it.
"The um…" Fara made a motion at her own head, like she was twisting a key. "The trigger. The-" Tammy rolled her eyes.
"The one that helps uncork the feelings you can't bring yourself to describe out loud?"
"Yeah," Fara laughed, "That one."
"Fara…" Tammy grumbled. She reached into her pocket and left her hand at rest within it. "I don't like that one. I told you I want to change it."
"Yeah, but…" Fara crossed her arms. "I wanna...talk about...stuff…"
"So that's what Emily is?" Tammy asked in a teasing voice with one eyebrow raised. "Emily's just...stuff?"
"I…" Fara loosed a sigh. It sounded defeated. "I don't know." She cast a mournful look up at Tammy. Tammy's phone vibrated in her pocket but she didn't seem to notice. There was no way she hadn't, though, her hand was right next to it. It rumbled, the quick variant that came with a text message, multiple times.
"Are you going to…?" Asked Fara.
"It's probably family," Tammy answered and waved a hand dismissively. "Right now my attention belongs to you." Fara frowned.
"Princessss," she looked down and crossed her arms. "Is this about…"
"Sweetheart, no, no!" Tammy's voice softened. Her face broke out in that almost downtrodden expression that it did when she was worried. "I'm not angry about the last time we talked, okay?"
"I promise." It seemed impossible to believe. No matter how gently Tammy smiled her way, no matter how many delicately chosen words were deployed to affirm her, it all fell before it reached her heart, like pearls offered to a lover transformed to swine. She pressed the pinky and thumb of her left hand together, screwed her eyes shut, dove inwards in search of a piece of programming that gesture was supposed to activate but it was nowhere. Guilt stabbed at her.
"I'm sorry," she whispered, "I don't believe you. I can't-"
"Accept love." A sense of warmth cascaded across Fara like she'd been physically struck by a pleasant heat wave. She grinned gently. The murky tar invading her brain fell away, it dissolved, its grip slackened and grew weak and came apart.
"I, Tammy, sincerely promise that I am not angry with you. Okay?" Fara grimaced.
"I don't…" the muck bubbled back up. It encroached on her. She was such a shitty subject, she couldn't even-
"There, there, that's okay." Tammy said. She was standing up against her. Their breasts were touching. "You were just trying to look out for me, isn't that right?" She asked Fara. Inside Fara’s head a voice, kind of like her own, bubbled up from the same direction as the tar pit..
"Yes," she answered off of its script, "I was only trying to help, but I hurt you and-"
"And you're forgiven." Tammy insisted, her mouth a warm patient smile that shimmered with patience.
For some reason, that pierced through to her where the other reassurance had failed. "I'm forgiven…" muttered Fara. She was. It was okay.
"You're a good girl. You're sweet and protective and kind, okay?"
"I'm...sweet...protective…" Fara's body shivered with glee. She WAS sweet. She WAS kind. "I'm a good giiiiiirl!" She grinned wide. She was proud of herself.
"That's a good girl." Tammy started to extend a hand towards Fara's chest, but after a moment frozen and hesitating she stopped and lowered it. "Fara, back." The warm glow and the bright cozy fog faded quickly from Fara's head. There was no more guilt in her.
"Woooow…" Fara felt weightless and happy. "That felt wonderfullll!"
"I'm glad," Tammy grinned. Her face looked to Fara like it had faltered for a second. No, that couldn't be true.
"Play with me!" Squealed Fara. She hopped up onto Tammy's bed and landed on her knees. "Come toy with me! Do whatever you want!" She knew that this would typically be a terrible thing to ask, but it was long since established that "whatever Tammy wants" was well within her own boundaries. Tammy hesitated, but she decided to grip the bottom of Fara's shirt and lift it over their head. They smiled at her, brilliant white teeth on full display. "I love you Princess! I'm yours! Degrade me, grab me, whateeeeever you want!"
Tammy, again, seemed to falter briefly. Fara paused and chose to specify. "Or, you know, whatever much gentler thing you like. I did say whatever you wanted!" Tammy nodded. Fara's tight little breasts seemed to catch her (now far more relaxed) eye. She reached out and gingerly inverted her submissive's bra. Then she started to grip them. Small, soft, firm, tight. Fara leaned over and kissed. Tammy kissed back. Both of their minds melted together in bliss.