I got outside without having to meet anyone’s gaze. I could still feel them staring at me, though. There’s something monstrous about any crowd of strangers. Suffering judgment for your failings hurts. And it hurts worse when the weight of a group is behind it, and worse still when they don’t even have to know you to condemn you for what you’ve done.
It hurts worst of all when you know they’re right.
The cold night’s air stung my cheeks. I scrubbed the moisture from them with the back of my hand. I wasn’t crying. I wasn’t!
I started to walk toward the parking lot, but stopped just before getting there. I couldn’t leave. For one, Megan still had her keys. For another, I was still her designated driver. Although, I guess Megan could probably get a ride with Katherine. Was Emma Katherine’s DD?
No, Megan didn’t need me around. I had to be honest with myself. I was stuck because I was too afraid to take a cab and I didn’t have anyone else I could call. I mean… there was Fumiko. But she’d always been more Megan’s friend than mine. So she wasn’t an option anymore. Any of Megan’s friends would hate me for hurting her.
I know I did.
God, I was helpless without her. How pathetic is that? I really wasn’t Megan’s friend. I was just a parasite taking blatant advantage of her without even bothering to notice her feelings.
I was still staring down the empty street, unmoving, when I heard someone call my name.
I turned woodenly and Emma stopped a few steps in front of me. She bent over and huffed for breath.
“Oh,” she gasped. “Whew! I thought you might have been gone already.”
Why had she come after me? Didn’t she understand what a terrible person I was? Maybe she did. Maybe she just wanted to tear into me for using her like that; making her complicit in hurting one of her friends. She had to be furious with me.
I deserved that. I could accept that.
But first…. “How’s Megan?” I asked quietly. No matter how bad it was, I had to know. I’d hurt her. I was responsible.
Emma shook her head, though. “I couldn’t find her in the bathroom,” she said, “But the club has plenty of dark nooks where people can grab some privacy. Katie is looking for her now.”
I nodded. “Okay,” I said. Then I did my best to brace myself for the yelling to come.
Emma took another step toward me. “How are you?” she asked quietly. Probably to determine how much worse I should feel – but I didn’t think I could feel worse.
Emma didn’t need to know that, though. She deserved to get to yell at me, too. I didn’t say anything.
Emma reached out for me. I tried not to, but I flinched anyway. She hesitated, then put her hand on my arm. “Hey,” Emma said. “It’ll be okay, alright? Megan’s a big girl. She probably just needs some space to get her feet back under herself once she finishes kicking herself for not pouncing you first, you know?”
I shook my head. “No,” I said numbly. It was so cold out I was starting to tremble. From the cold. Not because I still wanted to cry. “I didn’t know. How could I have?” Megan had only ever told me about boys. I’d thought she was straight. I bit my lip and blinked away tears. I was just cold. I was not going to cry. “I thought she was straight! How could I have known?”
I mean… other than the fact that Megan was always there for me. That she always went out of her way for me. That she was a social person but would rather spend her evenings alone with a freak like me instead of out partying with her friends. Or all the hugging and casual physical affection. For that matter, what about all the times she’d told me she loved me? Why had I always mentally tacked ‘as a friend’ onto those? Was I really that blindly stupid?
But Emma didn’t know what I was thinking. “Well… She did just take you out to an LGBTQI club,” Emma said hesitantly. “But if you haven’t been here before then you totally couldn’t have known about that. And, I mean, even I thought the friend she was crushing on was Fumiko, you know?”
I blinked. There’d been a LGBT campus group back at our college. It stood for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and… to be honest, I’d never really been clear on the T. I only knew about them because Tim was their secretary and Fumiko could always count on his support when she was campaigning for the anime club to start a yaoi series.
“What’s the Q and I?” I asked dully. I had been to Club Luminescence before – once. And I was only now belatedly realizing that the brightly colored letters of the club’s glowing sign were brightly rainbow colored. For that matter, so were Emma’s mismatched, multicolored bracelets. Oh, and that explained all the women doing the ‘hey guys, we just might be lesbians’ dance. And, for that matter, all the guys doing the ‘hey look, girls, we just might be gay’ dance. God I really was that blindly stupid.
“Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex,” Emma rattled off. “Plus straight allies that are into goth or punk or techno… Frankly, the whole alphabet’s welcome, but once you start tacking too many letters onto the acronym it just gets hard to say.”
I nodded dumbly. After bisexual it hadn’t made any sense to me, but… Megan was bi? That didn’t bother me. Not knowing about it did. I was supposed to be her friend. I wanted to be her friend. We’d talked about sex a lot. Why hadn’t she talked with me about… that?
Emma took a deep breath and blew it out. “Come on,” she said. “It’s freezing out here. Let’s go back in and wait for Katie to find Megan, and when she’s ready you two can have a really good talk.”
I shook my head. “Katherine threw me out,” I said. I wasn’t welcome there.
“So?” Emma shot back. “Look, Katie might act like the queen of the place, but she isn’t. I love her to bits, but she shouldn’t have thrown you out like that. Or blown up at you like that. Frankly, if anyone was going to out Megan it should have been Megan, herself. What Katie did was kinda selfish and mean to both of you. She isn’t normally like that, I swear. She’s just mad because…” Emma trailed off.
“…because she’s in love with Megan,” I finished for her. Maybe I wasn’t stupid – just blind. “That’s why Katherine was always standoffish with me,” I added. “And why she invited Megan out to the club that first time.” And why she’d warned Megan away from Mr. Salvatore.
Emma sighed and put an arm around me. “Yeah, probably,” she conceded as she started to guide me forward. “Now, let’s go in. You’re freezing.”
I nodded and managed to choke back a sob. It came out as something akin to a hiccup. “I’m sorry I ruined your evening,” I managed to apologize.
“Psh,” Emma said dismissively. “What’s a little drama between friends? Besides, I was having a blast until Katie showed up – so really, that’s on her, too. I’m going to insist she treat us all to apology ice cream when we sit down to sort this out. The club is going to be way too noisy for that, but there’s this little ice cream shop off campus I was wanting to visit before – well, before I turned into a shut-in for a while.”
I walked toward the club with Emma, and a tiny sliver of me was quietly amazed. Emma was fragile. Megan had said so, and I had seen some of Emma’s vulnerability when we’d been out of the public eye. But she was doing a much better job of dealing with it in the face of a crisis than I’ve ever been able to.
Emma kept up a stream of essentially harmless chatter that I didn’t really need to listen to or respond to as we returned to the club. I was intensely grateful. I even leaned on her to keep from limping too badly. I still wasn’t convinced it would be okay, but… maybe?
And then Katherine burst out of the club. She looked about as panicked as I usually felt. “I can’t find her,” she gasped. I froze in horror. We’d left Megan alone, and now she was missing? A chill – worse than the night’s cold – raced down my spine as I realized how easy it would be for Mr. Salvatore to case the club. Hans had known Megan and I were going out tonight. He could have told Mr. Salvatore. Even without supernatural powers, how hard would it be for two men to overwhelm a single distraught woman who’d run off by herself?
Katherine grabbed me by the shoulders and shook. “Where is she?!”