To Join This Song

by Okō (織工)
illustrated by beili

Isabelle’s sophomore year at Julliard starts off well enough at first. Music theory is going to be a challenge this year, since she’s gotten beyond anything they covered in AP at Shattuck, but her teacher seems pretty good. The Operatic History and Practice class looks interesting, even if it is more writing than she’s ever had to do before. Her advisor thought she was crazy for changing languages after only one year, but Italian is easier than French, and she has help with her Russian homework whenever her brother Nick and his boyfriend Kolya aren’t traveling with their hockey team. And her voice lessons are going well: Ariana says she’s settling into her voice well, and okays Isabelle trying out for a few of the bigger campus productions in the fall semester.

“There’s no harm in auditioning,” Ariana tells her. “Just don’t get your hopes up too much.”

Isabelle knows she’s only a sophomore, and that there are more than enough mezzo-sopranos in her program to cast anything twice over, but she still tries out. When she gets the email asking her to come back for a second audition, Nick makes a face at the volume of her squeal.

“Izzy!” He protests from the couch. “What, do we have cockroaches again?”

That’s not fair, Isabelle thinks. That water bug in her bathroom had been freaking enormous, and it was only the once. Then she remembers her email.

“I got a call-back!” She squeaks out, coming into the main room of the apartment. “For Figaro, oh my god, Nicks, it’s the best part!”

Kolya steps around the divider from the kitchen, rubbing at his ears in exaggerated protest but smiling at the same time.

“Cherubino?” He asks, because Kolya is the actual best, and he read her preparatory lines with her on a rest day while Nick watched game tape a second time through, like he hadn’t memorized it already. Kolya knows how to take a break, unlike Isabelle’s hyper-focused brother.

“Yes!” Isabelle says, and checks the email again. “Oh my god, they want me to prep ‘Non so piu’!”

“Harder one,” Kolya observes. “Serious callback, then.”

Isabelle blinks, because that hadn’t occurred to her. They might have asked her to prep Cherubino’s other aria, Voi, che sapete, which has the smaller range, but they didn’t.

“That’s a really big role,” Nick says, proving he has been paying attention over dinner after all. “Damn, Izzy. Good job!”

He gives her a huge smile, and Isabelle grins right back at him, pleased at his compliment.  Nick doesn’t really understand opera – none of their immediate family really gets it, why she wants to be a singer so badly.  But Nick understands what it’s like to want something the way she wants to sing at the Metropolitan Opera, and that’s more than some of her friends’ family can do for them.

“Oh my god,” Isabelle says. “That means they’re sending all the emails. Amy’s going to flip.”

Kolya makes a shooing gesture.

“Go talk to Amy,” he says. “I can clean up.”

Isabelle grins at the two of them again and disappears into her bedroom to FaceTime Amy, who has just messaged her saying she got a callback for the part of Barbarina, and is Isabelle free to chat? Isabelle lets Amy run herself out, alternating delighted certainty that the role is hers with self-recrimination for not getting a callback for Susanna with pleased squeals for getting any callback at all. Amy has always been a little self-absorbed, but Isabelle figures it comes with being an only child and a soprano to boot.

“So?” Amy asks. “What about you?”

When Isabelle doesn’t say anything right away, Amy’s face falls.

“Oh, Bella, it has to be so hard – I’m sorry –” she starts.

“No, no!” Isabelle insists. “I – Amy, I got a callback for Cherubino!”

Amy blinks, face completely blank.

In retrospect, Isabelle thinks, that should probably have been a sign. In the moment, she’s too caught up in her delight to think much of it.

“I’ll run lines with Kolya,” Isabelle says. Usually she tells people she runs lines with Nick, but Amy knows Kolya, so it’s okay.

Amy sighs.

“I don’t know why you haven’t jumped him yet,” Amy says. “I mean, really, Bella.”

She manages to sound both intrigued and disapproving at the same time.

Isabelle shrugs. She can’t tell Amy that Nick and Kolya are dating: that’s one of their conditions, and besides, it’s not her secret to tell. It’s not like being a closeted gay hockey player is easy, and she wants them to keep trusting her. She can totally keep a secret.

“No hockey players,” Isabelle says instead. “You know the rules: I told you last year. My parents would lose their shit, and Nick would fucking kneecap the poor guy.”

“That’s hypocritical of them,” Amy says again. “I mean, Nick is a hockey player.”

“Yeah,” Isabelle says. “So we’ve all spent a lot of time at rinks. Trust me, Amy, hockey guys are way less hot when you’ve seen how many fake teeth they have.  Or when you know what the locker room smells like after practice.”

“Ugh,” Amy says, wrinkling her nose. “Leave me some illusions. I’m just saying, Nikolai is ripped. I’d bang him in a hot second.”

Isabelle bites back a laugh, because Kolya – Nikolai, as Amy insists on calling him – couldn’t be less interested in women. That’s another secret she’s keeping, though, so she changes the subject.

“New topic,” Isabelle announces. “When are you doing your essay for History and Practice? Do you want to get coffee and discuss themes?”

“Oh, god,” Amy says. “I hadn’t even thought about it. When do we have time?”

They settle on Wednesday afternoon at one of the many campus coffeeshops. When Isabelle goes back out, Nick and Kolya are watching tape of the Senators, probably from last year.  Kolya has his head in Nick’s lap, and Nick is carding one hand through Kolya’s hair while he takes notes with the other.

“K,” Isabelle calls, when there’s a stoppage of play. “Do you have time to read an essay on your next road trip?”

“Yes,” Kolya says. “What class?”

“Operatic History and Practice,” Isabelle says. “It’s more interesting than it sounds, I swear.”

Nick smiles, soft around the edges in a way Isabelle has only seen with Kolya.

“He’ll learn something,” Nick says, and taps Kolya lightly on the ear. “I think he’s bored, now that’s he’s graduated.”

Kolya makes a face, but he doesn’t deny it. Isabelle knows, even if she’s pretty sure that no one else does, that Kolya got his professors to write sealed letters of recommendation for graduate school. He won’t apply any time soon, not while he’s playing hockey, but she thinks that’s his post-hockey plan instead of coaching the way Uncle Jordan does, or commentating the way a lot of guys do.

“Thanks,” Isabelle says, with a little wave. “I’m for bed. Don’t stay up too late.”

Nick snorts, and Isabelle grins at him, but she goes to sleep that night to the familiar background noise of hockey plays drifting in from the TV nook.

* * *

Amy is late to coffee on Wednesday, but Isabelle has gotten used to that by now: Amy always runs into someone she has to talk to, or gets distracted flirting. So when Amy sits down, skirt fluttering around her knees, Isabelle has part of a draft outlined.

“So,” Amy starts, leaning across the table. “You would not believe what Isaac told me on the way over.”

Isaac is a tenor in the year above them, talented and personable and just a little bit too openly cut-throat in his ambition for Isabelle’s taste.

“Amy,” Isabelle says. “Can we talk after? I have to finish this draft by tomorrow.”

“You’re always so uptight these days,” Amy says. “You were so much more fun last winter.”

Isabelle shrugs. “My grades are looking better these days,” she says. “I mean, if Nick’s gonna shell out all this money, I’ve gotta make it worthwhile, you know?”

Amy doesn’t look convinced. “It’s not like he’ll stop paying your tuition if you get a B once in a while, Bella,” she says.

And that wasn’t really Isabelle’s point: she doesn’t think Nick cares about her grades, other than that she doesn’t flunk out, but she has the chance to really learn something here, to make something of herself. She can’t throw that away.

But Amy doesn’t see things that way, so Isabelle shrugs again. “Anyway,” Isabelle says. “I’m thinking about writing about Donizetti. I think the way he portrays female madness in Lucia di Lammamoor could be called progressive, right?”

Amy perks up at the mention of a coloratura soprano part, and they bicker amiably until Isabelle has to go to class.

* * *

When the casting is announced a few days later for Le Nozze di Figaro, Isabelle is shocked to see that she’s splitting the part of Cherubino with a senior. Amy is cast in the chorus, and is inconsolable at first because of the missed opportunity to shine in a leading role. Isabelle finally takes her back home and lets her drink some of Nick’s beer while they watch shitty reality television and Amy snarks about people’s clothing choices until she’s calmed down again. It’s kind of nice to have someone in the apartment with her: Nick has been on a road trip for nearly a week now.

It turns out that rehearsal for a main-stage opera production on top of classes is more intense than Isabelle had expected, and she ends up being really grateful that Nick has the money to pay someone to deliver meals a few days a week, and being a little jealous of her friends who live in dorms with dining halls who don’t have to do dishes.  Last year Isabelle could to cook most of the time, but this year she feels like she’s running in place, struggling just to keep up.

“Sit,” Kolya says one evening, when she emerges from her room after fucking up the lyrics to “Voi, che sapete” for what feels like the millionth time. “You learn it wrong, takes longer to un-learn. Take a break.” He pats the sofa next to him, and Isabelle slumps against his side.

“What are you watching?” She asks.

“Holmes Homes,” Kolya says. “Ridiculous prices in Toronto, almost as bad as New York.”

Nick comes back a moment later with three beers, and settles on Kolya’s other side. Isabelle takes one without comment, and sips gingerly: Nick has been trying darker beers recently, all bready-thick and malty, but he’s handed her an IPA from a Brooklyn brewery. Amy recommended the brewery last year, and Isabelle’s pretty sure Nick keeps it around so she’ll drink at home instead of out with friends, at least while she’s underage. She can’t get in trouble, not without causing problems for Nick, and it’s a hell of a lot cheaper to drink at home, anyway, so she doesn’t mind.

Kolya wraps an arm around Nick’s shoulders. Maybe Isabelle should feel like she’s intruding, but it feels like family to sit with them and watch Mike Holmes tell people about renovation disasters. It’s a little like when Isabelle was little, before Nick went off to New York City.  Back then he’d play with Isabelle and Emma and they’d collapse in a pile on the sofa to watch a Disney movie while Amanda cooked and mom and dad pulled in the last of the hay or took care of the hogs.

That was all before Nick left for the NHL, before Uncle Jordan moved in with them. Isabelle shakes her head, and blinks at the screen, where there’s a very distraught homeowner making faces at an opened section of wall.

“Don’t tell me,” she says. “Did they find knob and tube wiring in that wall?” Kolya laughs.

“It’s a very old house,” he says. “They’re so totally fucked.”

Isabelle sips her beer and watches the renovation process take longer and cost more than anyone wanted it to, while she and Nick and Kolya trade casual barbs at the buyers’ expense.

“This is schadenfreude,” she says, suddenly. “The way we feel happy watching this? This is textbook schadenfreude, oh my god.”

“Have heard Avenue Q,” Kolya says, quirking a grin at her. Nick blinks at the two of them from where he’s been nodding off against Kolya’s shoulder.

“Oh, fuck off,” Isabelle shoots back. “You know that’s just because Marc had ‘The Internet Is For Porn’ programmed as Nick’s ring tone for a week last fall before I taught him how to change it back.”

Kolya shrugs, and Nick gives them both the finger.

“Fuck you very much,” he says. “Thanks for all your help. I had to keep my phone on silent.”

“So hard,” Kolya says. He and Isabelle clink beer bottles, and Nick grumbles a little bit, but Isabelle can tell he doesn’t really mean it.

At the end of the episode, Isabelle gets up to go practice again.

“No more lyrics,” Kolya suggests. “Do reading, give your head a break. I’ll cue you tomorrow – only if you do something else now.”

Isabelle reads for music theory, and goes to sleep early. When she gets up, Kolya has already made coffee, black and sludgy the way Isabelle likes it, and is stirring cherry jelly into his dark black tea.

“You don’t have to help this much,” Isabelle says. She appreciates it, but she doesn’t want Kolya to feel like she expects it, like this is some kind of quid pro quo, that he has to help her with her schoolwork to buy her silence or something.

Kolya pushes her coffee across the kitchen island to her.

“I like it,” he says. “It’s interesting, and I like helping. I’ll tell you when I don’t want to.”

“Okay,” Isabelle says. “But only if you promise to be blunt about it. No dancing around things, no implications. Just tell me to fuck off and leave you alone.”

Kolya grins.

“You’d be a good Russian girl, I think,” he says. Isabelle knows him well enough to know this is meant as a compliment. “I’ll tell you to leave me alone if I mind. Now, are you going to run your lines, or not?”

Isabelle settles at the kitchen island and they get her past the second verse before Nick stumbles out in sweats and one of Kolya’s t-shirts, looking decidedly un-awake.

“Coffee,” Kolya nods. “Then practice. I’ll make omelets?”

“Mmm,” Nick hums, and Kolya hands Isabelle her notes.

“You want an omelet?” Kolya asks. Isabelle shakes her head.

“I’ll get something on my way to class,” she says. “Your eggs are too dry, K.”

Kolya laughs, but Isabelle knows he’s not offended, because there’s a travel mug of coffee waiting for her when she comes back out of her bedroom with her messenger bag and coat.

* * *

The production of The Marriage of Figaro goes up in early November, which means the entire fall semester is a break-neck race of preparation and rehearsal. Nick and Kolya are in and out for hockey, and maybe they’re a little weird from time to time, but Isabelle is so busy trying to keep up that she doesn’t have much time to worry about them.

When they announce the performance dates and put tickets on sale Isabelle gets tickets for Nick and Kolya based on their game schedule and invites her family to come from Minnesota. November isn’t a hugely busy time on the farm, so she hopes a few of them can make it out.

In the end, her mother and father and her sister Emma can make it to the second night of the show. Isabelle chooses to take that as good luck, since Nick will be on a road trip for the end of the production, and it means all of her family will be there on the same night. The director even arranges to have Isabelle be the one singing Cherubino that night, because it’s not opening night, and the senior with whom she’s splitting the role is surprisingly awesome about things.

Nick takes them all out for a late dinner after Isabelle’s production, at the Tavern on the Green, which is even more ridiculously posh than Isabelle expected, and humming with a blend of tourists and the quietly wealthy New York elite on a Friday night. Her parents compliment her on the production going well and Emma is enthusiastic about the costuming more than anything else. Isabelle is wired from post-performance jitters, but doesn’t have much to say that they’ll really understand, so she people-watches avidly while her family discusses the Rangers’ playoff chances, and Nick’s selection for the upcoming Olympics in Sochi.

“I’m sorry, Izzy,” Nick had said, pulling her aside when he told her that afternoon before telling their parents. “They’re going to make a big deal about it over dinner. It’s supposed to be your night.”

But Isabelle doesn’t mind that much, really. She’ll perform again, but Nick might never get to compete for the USA in the Olympic Games but this once, and it’s not like he had any control over when the team was announced.

“You’re totally taking me out with Kolya to make up for it,” Isabelle tells him, though, because Nick likes having a concrete thing he can do when he thinks he needs to apologize.

If Isabelle drinks a little more wine that evening than she should have done as conversation lingers on the Olympics for what feels like forever, well, she doesn’t have morning classes the next day, and Sarah, the senior, is performing the next two evenings: Isabelle just has the Saturday and Sunday matinees left.

Sunday evening’s performance is followed by strike. Some of the singers try to beg off, but Isabelle gets drafted by the lighting crew, who learned somehow that she knows left from right, can handle a wrench, and isn’t afraid of heights.

“I grew up in haylofts,” Isabelle tells Roy, the guy who is the show’s Master Electrician. “Never fell out of those, don’t think I’ll fall off a ladder here.”

“Oh my god,” someone dressed in all black snorts. She has short-cropped hair and a wrench on a bungee-cord at her belt. “A singer who isn’t trying to do costume strike?”

Isabelle makes a face.

“You think I know how to pack that shit up without wrinkling it?” She demands. “I’m not afraid of a little lifting or carrying.”

“Fine,” the other girl allows. “You’re with me. Keep up, and first round of drinks are on me; lag, and you’re paying.”

Isabelle could tell the girl she’s not old enough to drink legally, but that’s not the point. Besides if Isabelle can haul hay bales with her dad and uncle, she can manage an electrical strike. It’s just lights and ladders.

Turns out lights are heavy, gels are a pain in the ass to sort, and some of the ladders are rickety as fuck. Isabelle grits her teeth, grabs a length of leftover black rope to tie her wrench to her belt loop in case she loses her grip, and keeps up.

“Damn,” the girl says, when they’ve got it all tucked away in the boxes and bins and the pipes and things are all disassembled. “Not half bad for a singer.”

“Screw you too,” Isabelle says with a smile, because she spends time with hockey players. She knows rough affection when she sees it. “I kept up. Drinks are on you.”

“Ah, ah, ah,” the girl says. “One thing first.”

Isabelle must look confused, because the girl starts laughing.

“Damn,” she says. “I like you. Isabelle, right? I’m Erica. We’ve gotta wash up, get some of the black off ourselves. Look a little less chimneysweep Dick Van Dyke and a little more like we have running water, you know?”

Isabelle looks down at her hands, and sees that they’re smudged with shades of grey and black.

“Good idea,” she says. “But then drinks are on you.”

Erica laughs and ruffle’s Isabelle’s hair.

“Cast party it is,” she says. “But we’re hitting up a liquor store for vodka first, I don’t want to drink the punch. Everclear is really not your friend.”

The cast party is at the apartment of one of the seniors who played the role of the Count. Isabelle rolls up with the lighting crew, some of whom have decided to adopt her, one of whom is trying to woo her away from singing and toward technical lighting work. Isabelle laughs, but she can’t help but remember the high she’d felt when she nailed the high notes in Cherubino’s arias at the matinee performance today, the way Amy had lit up backstage and given her a kiss full on the lips – for luck, she’d said. Remembering it makes Isabelle glow all the more.

When they walk in, Amy is already there with the costume crew, holding a glass of punch and giggling at something Isabelle didn’t hear.

“Bella!” Amy says, and comes straight over to her. “You’re here!” Amy slides in under Isabelle’s arm and presses a kiss to her cheek, wrapping an arm around Isabelle’s waist. Isabelle tries not to lean into her too obviously.

“Hi,” Isabelle says. It looks like Amy has been hitting the punch. “Did you strike with costume?”

“Yeah,” Amy says. “God, it was so easy, it was great. But I heard you got stuck on lights?”

Isabelle flushes. “It was fun,” she protests.

“You’re so weird.” Amy says. “I’m glad you’re here, though.” And she wanders away.

Erica gives Isabelle a look. “Someone’s got it bad,” she says. Isabelle winces, and Erica just shakes her head. “Come on,” she says. “First round of drinks is on me. I’ll even mix something sweet and strong.”

Isabelle shrugs. “If it’s decent vodka, I’d rather do shots,” she says. Mixers are fine, but she doesn’t see anything except cranberry juice, which she hates.

Erica grins.  She, Roy, Dan from the sets crew, and a couple of guys Isabelle doesn’t recognize end up doing two rounds of shots. Dan watches Isabelle in a way that she’s sure would have her brother Nick looming, but Nick isn’t here, and it’s kind of nice. Then the conversation turns to some of the technical details of the theater: something about flies, or maybe booms, and Isabelle pours herself another drink of vodka and makes her excuses.

She’s just stepped into the living room when Amy finds her again, cuddling up against Isabelle’s side.  Isabelle puts an arm over her shoulders, because Amy fits there nicely. She could just stay there, Isabelle thinks.

“Guys,” Amy says to a bunch of people who must be the costume crew: Isabelle can’t think of anyone else who would wear that many safety pins in their jeans, or that many patches on their jackets. “This is Bella, who was a very handsome Cherubino in her very first pants role!”

The costume crew giggles, and Amy drains her punch.

“I’ll get more drinks,” she says, and Isabelle nods.

“Just soda,” she says.

“So. You prefer witches, bitches, or britches?” One of the costume boys asks, with a wink. One of his patches reads “Evan” in a looping embroidered script. He looks after Amy with a leer. Isabelle smiles politely because even after two rounds of shots she knows the costume crew can screw you over if they don’t like you, and takes a sip of the vodka.

“I guess I just like singing,” Isabelle says, trying to avoid the topic.

Amy gets back with their drinks soon enough, and if Isabelle drinks her soda faster than she should, well, it’s better than making conversation. She wishes she’d stayed with the lights and sets crews, who were definitely crazy and macho, but in a way that felt familiar after all the time Amy’s spent with athletes. Erica and the other techies would just tell her if she fucked something up, and they did just that during strike more than once.

Isabelle makes a face when she finishes her soda.

“I’ll get you another,” Amy says, and heads off. Isabelle sits down on the couch and just watches the party for a little bit. She must be more tired than she thought, because she feels heavy. Maybe the production adrenaline is wearing off.

* **

Some time later, and an indefinite number of drinks later, it’s clear that adrenaline wasn’t the problem. It was people slipping booze in her soda.

Isabelle stands, gathers her things, and takes a cab home from the cast party, because she doesn’t think she can handle the subway right now.

“You okay?” The cabbie asks. He has a Russian accent and kind eyes behind a leathery face. He reminds Isabelle a little bit of Mikhail, Kolya’s father. He looks tough, but he’s sweeter than anyone would ever give him credit for, at least to Isabelle.

“Nyet,” Isabelle says. “But I don’t want to talk about it, please.”

Bud’ chto budet,” the cabbie says. Isabelle has no idea what it means. “Beautiful girl, deserves good things.”

Isabelle bites back a sniffle and tips him well. She pastes a smile on her face for the doormen: she’s pretty sure they like her better than they like Nick, or at least well enough not to tell tales, but she wouldn’t put it past her brother to have asked them to keep an eye on her while he’s out of town. It doesn’t hurt that he’s the one who gives the tips around Christmas.

“Night, Tonio,” she says, waving cheerfully. “Tell your wife I say hi!”

“Night, Miss Isabelle,” Antonio says. Thankfully, his phone rings, so he doesn’t look up beyond checking that she is who he thinks, and she doesn’t have to explain her reddened eyes.

Isabelle holds it together until she gets into the apartment and into her bedroom, and then breaks down into ugly gasping sobs.

It’s nearly three am, and the Rangers have a game tomorrow: she can’t call Kolya. Her family won’t understand, not really, and her classmates will think she’s stupid for thinking Amy was someone she could trust, someone she should like.

Isabelle posts a black and white picture of her dying pitcher plant on her locked instagram, the one she keeps locked just for family. The caption reads only “Feelings suck.” Emma will make fun of her for being emo, but maybe Amanda will be willing to talk about it eventually.

Then she turns her phone off, clutches a pillow to her chest, and sobs, burying her face in the soft polyfill and wishing it were a person.  She desperately wishes that someone was here, that someone cared enough to tell her it wasn’t her fault for getting drunk, that she wasn’t stupid or being a sucker.

* * *

Isabelle wakes up to her phone’s alarm a few hours later feeling hung-over and dehydrated. The remnants of her stage makeup feel sticky in the corners of her eyes and mouth. She’s glad all over again that she doesn’t have Monday morning classes and her voice teacher canceled today’s lesson to let her voice rest.

She lets herself snooze her alarm once, then stumbles out of bed and gets breakfast together.  She cooks a complicated omelet with bacon because she knows how to make herself feel better, and if she keeps busy, she doesn’t have to think about how stupid she was to think Amy might have been taking things seriously last night.

Nick is out of town, so she doesn’t have to explain herself, or see his “my little sister was drinking” face, which is good. Of course, that also means that Kolya is out of town, and so Isabelle can’t go over to his apartment and complain to someone who might understand what she feels like. Nick tries, but he really doesn’t get it the way Kolya does.

Isabelle’s phone dings when she’s about to get in the shower, and she checks the notification on her lock screen before she looks at what it says. She has no interest in talking to Amy right now, or maybe ever, and she’s half-tempted to just delete all their texts.

But it’s from Makayla, the CUNY student who worked as a PR intern for the NY Rangers last year and whom Isabelle helped wrangle hashtags and social media when Nick was a total Instagram train wreck.

“U ok?” the text says.

Isabelle stares at it, then goes and takes a shower. She hasn’t talked to Makayla much since the end of the PR campaign, but Isabelle knows Makayla finished her internship last spring at the end of the school year and is doing something else now.

When she comes back out, her phone has a new message from Makayla. “B/W instagram filter??? Who do I bitch-slap?”

Isabelle can’t help her smile at that. Makayla always got along well with Nick’s more violent impulses, though she moderated it well when she was at “work” for the Rangers. Isabelle pulls on jeans and a tank top, and unlocks the phone.

“I’m fine” Isabelle sends. “Misunderstood something is all. Not anyone’s fault.”

Her phone rings a minute later. “Bullshit,” Makayla says, not even letting Isabelle say hello first. “What did that bitch Amy do to you?”

Isabelle catches her breath. “It was just a joke,” she says. “I mean – I just took it the wrong way, that’s all.”

“What was a joke?” Makayla asks. “Because you’re really not clearing this up, so Amy’s still on my shit list.”

Isabelle sits down, and wraps her left arm around her knees. “She made out with me kind of a lot at the cast party,” Isabelle admits. “I just – I took her seriously, that’s all.”

“No shit,” Makayla says. “You’ve been gone on her forever. Did she know that?”

“I – um,” Isabelle says. “I might have said something at the party. After.”

Makayla lets out a sigh. “Let me guess,” she says. “She didn’t mean it that way. She didn’t know, and she’s not gay, she’s just, what, heteroflexible? A bitch?”

It’s alarmingly accurate. Isabelle hasn’t dated women before, but it sounds like Makayla’s speaking from experience. “She wanted Jordan’s attention,” Isabelle admits. “He likes girl on girl porn, and Amy figured I’d be up for a threesome once she got me drunk on Everclear.” It almost worked, too, but Isabelle isn’t inclined to admit that right now.

“That bitch,” Makayla spits.

Isabelle wraps her arm tighter around her knees. “I –” she says. “I wasn’t that drunk?” She kind of was, though, is the thing.

“Oh, fuck that shit,” Makayla says. “Girl got you drunk to make out for a dude? Not cool. You’re not some performative porno cheerleader.”

Isabelle files that away to think about later, because it’s an alarmingly specific example. “I –“ Isabelle starts. “Yeah. It was shitty. I just left, you know?”

“Last night?” Makayla asks.

“Cast party, after strike,” Isabelle agrees. She wonders if she can change the subject. “I learned how to take down theater lights,” she offers. “It was pretty cool, and they were surprised I wasn’t scared of heights. I scared them with hayloft stories, I think.”

Makayla laughs.

“Okay,” she says. “Fine. But we’re talking about this eventually. Now tell me what your idiot brother has been up to, his Instagram has been completely dead.”

Isabelle segues into a running commentary on Nick’s summer, which she edits a little bit to protect Nick and Kolya.

“And his Russian shadow?” Makayla asks. “He still in that ridiculous apartment he complains about all the damn time?”

Isabelle laughs, because Kolya complains about his apartment an awful lot, but he seems to really like it at the same time.

“It’s bigger than the place he grew up,” Isabelle says. “I mean, they had two rooms and a communal bathroom when he was a kid, you know?”

“Damn,” Makayla whistles. “That’s tough. My grandma had a 2 bedroom, at least, and the living room had a door.”

“Yeah?” Isabelle asks. Makayla hasn’t talked about her family much, usually changing the subject.

“We all lived with her for a while when I was a kid,” Makayla says, and there’s an edge to her voice. “Mom and grandma in one room, kids in the other.”

“I shared with my sisters when I was a kid,” Isabelle says. “It was bunk beds and a lot of yelling.”

Makayla laughs. “Me and my brothers,” she says. “I took over the living room when I was twelve, put up a fake wall to have a tiny bit of space where they wouldn’t steal my tampons or pads to have a snowball fight.”

“Oh, ew,” Isabelle says. “Seriously? Boys are so gross.”

“Tell me about it,” Makayla says. “Seriously, I don’t know why anyone dates them.”

Isabelle laughs at that, because she knows Makayla isn’t out, exactly, not when she’s still in college and looking for a high-powered PR job, but Makayla isn’t closeted either, and she’s also not bisexual the way Isabelle is.

“I dunno,” Isabelle says. “Some of them aren’t so bad.”

“Yeah, well.” Makayla sounds dubious. “I don’t see the appeal.”

Isabelle stretches out her legs and leans back against the headboard of her bed, and settles into a discussion of the relative merits of dating men and women.

* * *

She and Makayla fall into regular contact via text and Instagram in the next few daysand it’s kind of nice to have someone Isabelle can talk to who’s also in school, but isn’t a theater person, isn’t a musician or a singer (or a singer who is offended at being called anything other than a vocal musician, which Isabelle just can’t handle the insanity of).

When Nick and Kolya get back from their latest road trip, Isabelle goes over to Kolya’s place in the evening with a stack of reading.

“No,” she says. “Nicks, seriously, I’m going to go study at Kolya’s, you watch game tape here, I want to get out of the apartment and not be on campus, okay?”

Nick shrugs in agreement, and Isabelle heads downtown.

“Izzy,” Kolya says. “Surprised.”

“I texted like an hour ago,” Isabelle points out. “You gave me a key, and I needed to get away from Nicks, he’s being nuts after those losses. He’s so damn cranky.”

Kolya shrugs. He’s wearing team sweatpants and an old Traktor shirt that’s a little too tight in the shoulders, and Isabelle can tell he doesn’t want to talk about it.

“Come on,” she says. “I have reading, and then I’m going to complain about Amy and you’re going to tell me I”m not a complete idiot, and that girls are stupid anyway.”

Kolya laughs, and steps aside to let her come in.

“Put ice cream in the freezer first,” Kolya advises. “You’ll get distracted reading, it will all melt.”

“How did you know I had ice cream?” Isabelle demands. It’s in her backpack!

“You want to complain about Amy,” Kolya points out. “You’re going to have ice cream with you.”

Isabelle settles on Kolya’s sagging couch and tucks her feet under herself while she reads a summary of the next opera she’ll be learning parts from. It’s one she’s never heard of before, a twentieth-century piece that looks decidedly weird, all about aliens and school children. Finally she’s finished her self-assigned reading. When she looks up, Kolya is settled at the far side of the couch, reading a battered copy of Pale Fire.

“Ice cream?” Kolya asks. Isabelle nods. “And vodka?” Kolya asks. Isabelle thinks about it, then shakes her head.

“Just ice cream,” she says. “For now.”

Kolya shrugs, and comes back with a pint of ice cream for her and a glass of vodka for himself, no commentary, just agreement.

“Amy,” he prompts. “Production went well, so what happened?”

Isabelle shoves a spoonful of the chocolate ice cream into her mouth and thinks for a moment. “Performative bisexuality, I guess,” she says. “She wanted to make out with me to impress the guy who played the count.”

Kolya swears in Russian. “Bitch move,” he says after a moment. It’s obviously not a full translation, but Isabelle picked up the gist of it anyway.

Isabelle eats another spoonful of ice cream, with a chunk of brownie in it this time. It’s cold against her teeth. “I’m more mad that she spiked my drink,” she admits. Isabelle doesn’t have problems being around heavy drinking the way her sister Emma sometimes does, but she wants to know what she’s drinking, have the choice on her own.

“She what?” Kolya demands. “Isabelle.”

“I had some vodka, because the punch had Everclear in it, and I –“ Kolya knows she doesn’t like grain alcohol. “She gave me a soda, told me it was straight from the bottle.”

Kolya swears again. “Then she kissed you?” He asks.

“Um,” Isabelle says. “Yeah?”

Kolya narrows his eyes.

“Only kissed you?” He asks. He sounds like he’s waiting for her, but not like he’s about to fly off the handle. This is why she’s telling Kolya, and not Nick, who’d just get fucking pissed and fly off the handle before Isabelle could finish talking.

“Um. No,” Isabelle says. “We played strip poker first. It got a little heated.”

Kolya swears again, and tips back about half of his drink in one draft. “You’re okay?” He asks. “She hurt you?”

Isabelle stares at him. this is going better than she expected. “Um,” she says again. “I mean, not, like, physically. I’m pretty pissed off.”

“Yes, good,” Kolya says. “Be angry. That’s fucking illegal, what she did to you.”

“She just wanted to get Jordan’s attention,” Isabelle says. “I mean, I get why she did it.”

“Still a shitty-ass thing to do,” Kolya says. “Not buddies. Tell me you’ve cut her off.”

“I–“ Isabelle says. “Not really. I mean, no one there knows she got me trashed, so I can’t really…” she trails off. “I mean, she’s acting like everything was fine and it was all my fault, so.”

Kolya finishes his glass of vodka. “Fuck that shit,” he says. “Calisse, Izzy, what the hell was she thinking?”

Isabelle shrugs. She doesn’t know, but she’s not sure it matters. It’s still going to hurt.

“Makayla says I can’t say anything to her face, because she’ll just drag me,” Isabelle says. “I think she’s right. Our year is more scared of Amy than they are of me.”

“Okay,” says Kolya. “Fine. Whisper campaign.”

Isabelle forgets sometimes, that Kolya grew up in Russia. Things like this remind her that his mother’s family survived Stalin’s purges, that his father’s trusting nature isn’t the only thing Kolya inherited from his family: his mother is more vindictive and protective than anyone else Isabelle has ever met, though you’d never guess it on first glance.

“Or we break into her apartment, put Nair in her shampoo, maybe reverse all her doorknobs?” Kolya offers, with a wry smile.

Isabelle smiles back. “No whisper campaign,” she says. “She’s better at that shit than I am anyway. And I’m not breaking the law, Nick would kill me.”

“Papa knows a guy,” Kolya says. Isabelle has no doubt that his father, MIkhail, knows someone: he probably knows a lot of someones out in Brooklyn, and some of his chess buddies would probably find breaking and entering to play a prank dead simple on the scale of things, not even really worth calling in a favor.

“Kolya!” Isabelle protests. “My god, no!”

“Think about it,” Kolya advises. “He likes you, he’d find someone quiet.”

Isabelle smiles. “No,” she says. “I’m not pranking Amy, I’m not trying to get back at her. I’ll just — not really talk to her much, I guess.”

“Could bring charges,” Kolya says. “She drugged you.”

Isabelle shrugs. “She says, she says,” Isabelle says. “I’d never get cast again if I did that.”

Kolya frowns, obviously thinking about this. “I thought it was better for you,” he says after a moment of silence in which Isabelle digs for brownie chunks in her chocolate ice cream and Kolya stares at the bottom of his empty glass. “You don’t have to worry about being outed, not the same way, as a singer, you know?”

Isabelle nods. “I mean,” Isabelle says. “It’s still easier to date guys, socially.”

Kolya makes the face Isabelle associates with any discussion of bisexuality, which is something between confused and disappointed. His life would be a lot easier if he were bi, what with Russian laws being what they are.

“But,” Isabelle says. “This wasn’t like, some kind of new thing. I’m just surprised it was Amy, you know?”

Kolya makes another face, this time his pissed off but trying to hide it face. “That’s not right,” Kolya says.

“What do you think happens to drunk girls at parties?” Isabelle says. “You’ve seen your teammates pick up, you can’t tell me they’re all paragons of affirmative consent.”

That’s a wince, right there.

“I’m not saying that to make you mad,” Isabelle says. God, she’s glad her parents made her get so much therapy after Uncle Jordan’s life exploded in their faces. “I don’t think it’s right, and I’m not making excuses. But I’m not surprised that someone spiked my drink, you know? I’m just surprised it was a girl who did it, is all.”

She shrugs and looks down at her ice cream. “It sucks,” she says. “It comes with the territory. Let’s talk about something else.”

Kolya tells her stories from practice, and about how he’s teaching some of the rookies to cook without burning down their apartment buildings, which Isabelle finds hilarious.

“I want to join you,” she says. “That sounds like fun.”

Kolya glares. “Nick will kill me,” he says. “No way.”

They bicker amiably until Isabelle’s phone buzzes at her.

“Gotta go,” she says. “Makayla and I are getting drinks.” Kolya smiles, and Isabelle gives him a hug. “Thanks for listening,” she says. “I’ll tell Nick sometime. But you know he’ll just get mad and try to hit something, get all red in the face the way he does. It won’t help.”

* * *

Isabelle doesn’t have Amy in any of her classes, but her fellow cast members seem to be everywhere these days. She takes to studying at home or in coffee shops near the apartment, sometimes ventures downtown to Think Coffee where she can camp out for an afternoon and they have free wifi and great grilled cheese.

Makayla meets her at Think sometimes, and they work on papers and reading together. Sometimes they split a sandwich, because Isabelle can’t manage a whole one without feeling kind of greased-out and Makayla thinks they’re overpriced.

“I’m not looking forward to the flight to Sochi,” Isabelle says one day, while picking at the last strings of fontina in the bottom of the wax-paper-lined wicker basket.

“You’re going to the Olympics.” Makayla sounds shocked.

“Nick’s playing,” Isabelle says. “We’re gonna cheer him on, you know?”

“It’s in Russia,” Makayla says.

“I know,” Isabelle says, and then, because languages have been on her mind recently. “It’s gonna be hard with all the Cyrillic. I think I can order food, but it’s gonna be really hard to get around, you know?”

“It’s –” Makayla drains her coffee. “You’re going to Russia for like five days and you’re worried about the language?”

She looks really upset.

“Yes?” Isabelle asks.

“I swear, you don’t even live in the same universe most of the time,” Makayla says. “Do you know how much those tickets cost?”

Isabelle nods. She’s the one who booked them and sprung them on her family so they wouldn’t feel as guilty about Nick paying for them. It’s an odd short-hand they’ve fallen into as a group, but Isabelle’s MO these days has become to ask Nick, then book tickets, then tell the family and ask their forgiveness, not their permission.

“My god,” Makayla says. “Look, I don’t want to talk about that kind of thing here.” She sounds upset.

“Nick’s out of town on a roadie,” Isabelle offers. “I could cook dinner at ours?”

It’s pretty close, is the thing, just a few stops away on the C train. They bundle up and Isabelle is too worried about why Makayla’s upset about the Olympics to really pay much attention until she’s unlocking the apartment door and they’ve walked in.

Makayla stops dead in the doorway.

“You said it was big,” Makayla said. “You didn’t say you lived in a million apartments knocked together!”

Isabelle looks around. Some of the architectural peculiarities of the space do make more sense that way, now that Makayla has pointed them out. She always figured the downstairs was another apartment, but didn’t think about the rest all that much.

“Oh,” she says. “Yeah, that makes sense. Probably three?”

“Oh, probably three,” Makayla parrots, and rubs a hand across her face. “Isabelle, you –”

“I mean,” Isabelle starts. “It’s big. It’s fancy. Nick plays in the NHL, you know? You knew that.”

“My god.” Makayla looks around, at the view out the windows.

“I love the view,” Isabelle says, trying to change the subject. “It’s amazing when the sky goes all different colors, it’s so distracting. The sunset never looks that nice on the farm.”

“Air pollution,” says Makayla. “We had great sunsets over the FDR, but it’s because of the haze from all the cars. Couldn’t play outside in the summer without choking down a lungful of car exhaust.”

“There aren’t enough parks in this city,” Isabelle says. “It’s just – I mean, what did you do when you had too much energy?”

“Get in trouble, mostly,” Makayla says. She staring at the kitchen, at the wall of cabinets that back onto the TV room, at the kitchen island and its barstools and how they divide the dining and sitting areas. It’s a lot like Isabelle’s parents’ house at home, in terms of space, but it feels bigger all of a sudden.

“I’m sorry,” Isabelle says. “I – let’s go somewhere else. This was a bad idea.”

Makayla waves a hand.

“It’s fine,” she says. “I mean, it’s not. It’s weird as fuck, but I’m going to have to get used to this kind of thing, you know? Most people I’m in school with didn’t grow up in a rent-controlled rathole in the projects and count themselves lucky to have two whole bedrooms.”

“That’s how I feel around Amy,” Isabelle says, because Amy’s apartment makes Nick’s look like their old farmhouse, like the old barn. Thinking about Makayla’s reaction that way makes sense.

“I mean, there’s all this now,” Isabelle says, waving a hand around to indicate the wide-open windows and large open-format dining and living space. “But, you know, Nicks didn’t make it big until I was in middle school. And the farm was a lot of work. Nick sent me to Shattuck for music, you know, but – we didn’t have all this stuff growing up, not ’till he got his contract.” She shrugs. “Emma and Mandy really wanted to stay on the farm, so it was worth it to them, but I fucking hate hog shit.”

Makayla stares at her. She looks less shell-shocked, and steps into the apartment and shuts the door behind herself.

“You are something else,” she says.

Isabelle doesn’t really know what to make of that.

“Most people show off places like this,” Makayla says. “You’re – are you apologizing for it?”

“It’s not mine,” Isabelle says. “I didn’t earn it. It’s just lucky.”

Makayla nods.

“Okay,” she says. “I guess that makes sense.” She pauses.  “Did you say Nick doesn’t appreciate the view?”

Isabelle laughs.

“Never does,” she agrees. “I yell at him about it all the time.”

“Well,” Makayla says. “At least one of you has a little sense.”

* * *

They meet at the apartment more often from then on, because it’s cheaper than paying for things at Manhattan coffee shops, and they can talk louder than in the NYPL branches they were meeting at.

But Isabelle can tell that Makayla is still a little uncomfortable in the common spaces of the apartment. She figured out fast that her practice room, where Isabelle usually hangs out with her Julliard classmates, just makes Makayla stare at the piano, distracted and a little pinched-looking.

So they hang out in Isabelle’s bedroom. It’s not a big deal to Isabelle: it’s her space, and she doesn’t like everyone in there, but she likes Makayla and it’s not like it’s a tiny room. She has a chair and they can sit on the double bed and watch Netflix on her laptop between them on the mattress, bitch about the latest episode of Scandal.

Makayla settles when they’re watching Scandal, like she feels more at home with things, like she can forget that Isabelle’s brother’s apartment cost more than either of them will ever be able to afford in their whole lives.

So they hang out in Isabelle’s room a lot. It has the added advantage of giving Nick and Kolya space in the rest of the apartment. The boys haven’t said anything about that, but Isabelle knows that Kolya’s apartment isn’t really a safe space for the two of them: too many of the Rangers’ rookies have his key, because Kolya is a trusting bastard and hands out keys to his place like they’re candy. Isabelle has one, Nick has one, and she doesn’t want to think about how many of his teammates have one as well.

Makayla coming over so often isn’t a thing, until it is.

“You just, what, Netflix and chill with this girl?” Erica asks, when Isabelle runs into her at one of the campus-adjacent coffee shops and they settle down to work on some reading for a shared class.

“Uh, not really?” Isabelle says. “Mostly we Netflix and bitch, but you know, it’s low-key. Good way to relax.”

“Huh.” Erica says. “Figured you’d be moving faster.”

“Oh my god,” Isabelle says, because she’s heard about Erica’s conquests from some of the other techies since the production of Figaro wrapped up. “Just because you jump fucking everyone who looks at you doesn’t mean I have to do the same thing.”

“No, no,” Erica says. “I mean, like, you two seem like you’re basically joined at the hip these days, it’s very modern butch of you.”

Isabelle glares.

“Stereotype, I know,” Erica says. She doesn’t look sorry. Isabelle wonders if she can get someone to transpose her practice music up a third as payback for her being a jerk, or maybe steal her favorite wrenches before her next lighting call. “But, Izzy, have you thought about making a move?”

Isabelle shakes her head. “You’re insane,” she says. “She’s, like, about to go on the job market. Why would she like me?”

Erica laughs.

“Dude,” she says, “You’re like the worst lesbian ever. What happened to getting married on the second date?”

“I’m bisexual,” Isabelle hisses. “And go fuck yourself, you wouldn’t know commitment if it tied you up and spanked you.”

“Nah,” Erica shoots back, completely unabashed. “But I’d sure enjoy it while it lasted!”

“That’s such TMI,” Isabelle says, and pulls out her libretto. “Shut up.” Changing the subject seems like a good idea. “Are you still taking French? I have some questions about pronunciation for Professor Anzoni’s class. Does she want us to roll the “R”s anywhere, or just sort of go Italianate on them?”

 

They focus on work for the rest of the afternoon.

But Isabelle thinks about it.

* * *

Erica’s comments aside, things are going so well that Isabelle should really have expected something to go sideways. It’s simple when it happens: Isabelle forgets to holler before they leave her bedroom one evening and she and Makayla catch Nick and Kolya kissing.

“Shit.” Isabelle says. The three others are frozen in place. Makayla’s blank PR face is in full effect, Nick looks guilty, Kolya looks defensive and a little shocked.

“Okay,” Isabelle says. “Shit.”

“Huh,” Makayla says. “Should have taken that bet after all, I guess.”

Kolya blinks, and his posture goes even more tense. Nick, paradoxically, goes a little more loose around the shoulders.

“Wait,” Isabelle says. “What?”

“One of the other interns was convinced there was some kind of forbidden romance thing going on,” Makayla says. “I was like, no way, they’re all too professional, but he set up a betting pool.”

She looks at Nick and Kolya and shrugs.

“For what it’s worth, he was the only one who bet on you two being a thing,” she says. “Everyone else was convinced he was seeing things, or that it was Carts and Marc, or like, I don’t even know who. Dude was pretty desperate for queer representation in pro sports, and you guys were doing the Junior Rangers thing, you know?”

Kolya seems to relax a little bit.

“Huh,” says Nick. “That’s something we should probably tell Dena so she can manage it if she has to.”

“Oh, she knows,” Makayla says. “That’s part of why she fired the guy. Said it wasn’t professional or respectful, and sent him packing.”

Kolya’s eyebrows go up.

“Anyway,” Makayla says. “I guess this explains why Izzy and I hole up in her room so often.” She shrugs. “You do you. Need me to sign an NDA?”

Nick blinks, and looks like he’s about to shake his head, but Kolya nods.

“Probably, yes,” he says. “For your protection, too, if it gets out. We don’t look at you, then, you’re safer. You’re too smart to break an NDA.”

“Sure thing,” Makayla says. “Have someone at legal draw it up, backdate it to whenever, I’ll come in and sign it, or you can bring it here if you don’t want me down at the rink.”

“You’re taking this well,” Kolya says. He sounds curious, and a little suspicious.

“It’s not my business,” Makayla says. “Plus, dude, you are going to get so much shit, I’m not going to dump on you. It’s bad enough being a black lesbian in PR, I don’t want to think about being a gay dude in hockey. Homophobes are worse to dudes, you know? Y’all are scarier or some shit.”

Isabelle can’t resist giving her a hug.

“You’re awesome,” she says. Makayla hugs back for a moment.

“Okay,” she says. “I still need that snack. You guys free now?”

Nick nods.

“Good,” Makayla says. “Because you’re going to need someone in PR who has your best interest at heart, not just the team. And I’m gonna tell you to find someone who’s already out of college and specializes in damage control, and you’re not gonna listen, are you?”

Kolya laughs.

“Not telling anyone else,” he says. “Too many people know now.”

“Fair enough,” Makayla says. “But that means you’re stuck with me. Because Dena is badass, but she’s paid to do what’s best for the team, and that might mean fucking you guys over if management doesn’t have your back the whole way.”

Isabelle catches Kolya’s eyes. He nods, slightly, and pulls Nick into the living room, a hand on the small of Nick’s back.

Isabelle smiles at Makayla.

“You’re the best,” she say. Nick and Kolya can still probably hear her, but that’s fine. “Kolya’s pretty freaked because of Russia, you know, so maybe talk pre-Sochi plans and post-Sochi plans, eh?”

Makayla nods.

“And I’ll grab us some food,” Isabelle says. She opens the fridge and hands Makayla a couple of bottles of beer. “Beer or kvass, or … ugh, green gatorade, that shit is awful.”

“Beer,” Makayla says. “Dark one?”

Isabelle hands her two light beers for the boys, and an IPA and a stout.

“I’ll get the food plated up,” she says. “Be right there.”

Isabelle rifles through the refrigerator cataloging their leftovers. There’s green salad and a quinoa-nut-raisin salad thing, baked chicken breasts that have been pre-sliced, and some pre-cut fruit. She puts together a tray and grabs a few forks: no one will mind eating from the containers.

“…kicked out of my church,” Makayla is saying, when Isabelle turns the corner, her voice low. “So I get that the stakes are high.”

“There are other churches,” Nick says. “There’s not another Russia.”

“Oh, go fuck yourself,” Makayla says easily. She seems unsurprised, and comparatively un-offended. “I’m not saying it’s the same, and Kolya knows that. I’m saying the emotional stakes are high, and I can help with some of the backlash if and when that comes up, because I know what it’s like to have people you’ve trusted your whole life write you off just because their programming says you’re going to hell.”

Nick looks surprised. Kolya, to Isabelle’s surprise, actually laughs, and holds up a beer for a toast.

“Knew I liked you,” he says, and Makayla taps bottles with him.

Isabelle drops the tray in the middle of Nick’s very sturdy coffee table and hands out forks.

“So,” she says. “Planning for a half hour, then we’re watching a movie. Too much serious all at once makes my head hurt, and Makayla’s getting paid a retainer or something, or hourly for her consult and her research hours.”

Kolya nods.

“I have a non-team lawyer for the NDA,” he says. “He draws up a contract, sets up tax forms for me. Then the team doesn’t know we have you on retainer. If they don’t know, they can’t plan against you.”

“Good,” Makayla says, just as Nick frowns.

“They’re not –” he starts.

“Gave my passport away once,” Kolya reminds him. “Didn’t get to the NHL for two years after that happened. You can trust them for me.”

Nick sighs, and Isabelle is pretty sure he’s not going to let it go, but Kolya’s got a lot of baggage about his Russian hockey team, and Isabelle’s not going there right now.

“Okay,” she says, taking a big spoonful of the quinoa salad. She chews, and then talks through the food. Nick makes a face at her that reminds Isabelle of their mom.

“So eat, talk ideas, tell Makayla how much research she’s in for, and she’ll research salary and retainer stuff and get back to you later.”

Makayla looks at her, paused mid-reach for the green salad.

“I’m your agent,” Isabelle says. “Or something. You’ll lowball yourself if I let you, and these assholes,” she gestures across the coffee table at Nick and Kolya, who look appalled at her vocabulary and amused, respectively.  “They can afford to pay you right, or to find someone else. Not your fault they won’t find someone else, and you’re good at what you do.”

Nick makes a face, and Kolya pops a piece of pineapple in his mouth.

“Not bitch at Izzy,” he says. “Chew, swallow, listen.”

Makayla asks a few questions, then sends Isabelle to get her a pad of paper, so she can take paper notes. Isabelle sits back and picks the mango out of the fruit salad, watching Makayla’s dreds fall into her face while she scribbles frantically, even her fast handwriting better than Isabelle’s.

Eventually they’ve got a plan, and most of the food is picked over.

“Not enough protein,” Kolya says, and shoves the chicken at Nick.

“Oh my god, they’re going to be all squooshy now,” Isabelle groans. “‘Kayla, save me.”

“I’m not sure you ate your vegetables,” Makayla shoots back, and Isabelle laughs out loud.

* * *

Isabelle gets a little stir crazy when Nick is gone for an extended period of time, and the Olympics are no different. She wasn’t able to take school off for the whole thing, and she wanted to see him play for sure, so she got tickets to the qualifying games.

Of course, this means that she’s stuck watching the final game, US versus Canada, from New York, when she’s been home alone for a week and is going a little crazy with wanting to see people in a context that isn’t class or studying.

So she invites friends over. Most of her opera friends aren’t really big into hockey, but one or two are, so she makes a party of it, and the offer of free beer on a weekend night is a pretty good draw, especially when she offers light beer for the folks who are watching their figures in hopes of being the next Kelli O’Hara or Emily Fons.

Isabelle spends the whole day beforehand cooking, pulling out all the stops and making the healthy versions of Kolya’s mother’s pelmeni, of her mom’s meatballs, and then a few salads and vegetable trays. There’s not much cheese, because singers are careful about lactose – well, some of them are, though Isabelle’s an exception. The she’s done, she sets everything out on the kitchen island and looks over it. She’s pleased with the balance of plate-food and finger-food, and the variety of color.

She’s just sat down at the kitchen island to make up a plate for herself to carb load before the guests arrive when the doorbell rings.

It’s Makayla, loaded down with a half dozen six-packs of beer from the place near her apartment that probably gets some of its stuff off the back of a truck, but which is definitely cheaper as long as you don’t care about things being close to their expiration dates.

“Hi!” Isabelle says, and steps aside to let her in. “Holy crap, that’s a lot, you rock. Let’s get it in the fridge, and I’ll settle up with what I owe you.”

Because this is Isabelle’s party: she’s gonna be eating leftovers for a while to pay for it, but she’s not going to make Makayla eat the cost, not now that she knows more about Makayla’s family situation, how precarious she doesn’t admit to it being sometimes.

Makayla makes space in the fridge, and grabs an IPA for Isabelle and a stout for herself.

“Talking heads before the games starts?” she asks, nodding at the television.

“Ugh, no, they’re so bad,” Isabelle says. “I recorded the women’s game a few days ago and haven’t gotten to it, we can watch that until the men’s game comes on.”

It’s a good game, and Isabelle wonders sometimes whether men’s hockey will become this elegant as the rules on checking get stricter, but it’s not something she dwells on, not the way most of her family does. Uncle Jordan has strong feelings about it, and getting him started is always an experience. Makayla is fun to watch alongside, with a good eye for skilled plays and uncalled fouls, and a willingness to get into it and yell when something absurd happens.

Isabelle’s classmates trickle in as the evening progresses, and Sven camps on the couch yelling at hockey in a way Isabelle associates with players and family, not with Juliard students.

“I played in peewee,” Sven admits. “Was terrible at it, much better at music. Stopped before I broke my fingers too much for clarinet, you know?”

Isabelle nods, and Makayla high-fives him.

Things are going well enough until Amy and Evan swan in around ten. Evan’s jacket is still covered in hipster hand-sewn patches. By now most folks have settled into two groups, either around the kitchen island and near the food, or in the TV nook watching hockey. Isabelle is trying to be a good hostess (she’s got the game recording, so she can watch it again later) but she’s a bit distracted by Nick getting a sweet assist.

“Oh my god,” Evan says. “Are you serious, I thought this was, like, a joke. Can’t we at least watch ice skating? They’re so much more attractive than those bruisers.”

Isabelle mostly ignores him, gets them settled with beers and their coats piled on one of the couches, and goes back to watching hockey. She’s not paying too much attention until the kitchen goes conspicuously silent. Isabelle doesn’t think the word she just heard was anything as innocuous as “trigger.”

“Say that again,” Isabelle hears Makayla say. Her tone is dangerous, calm, level.

“What,” Evan asks, all calm posh superiority. “You don’t like it, maybe you shouldn’t be such a goddamn dyke of a stereotype.”

Isabelle is in the other room before she’s aware she was moving.

Makayla looks fragile, now, like she’s holding onto her anger with fingernails and determination, like she’s about to fold.

“What did you just say?” Isabelle demands, because she knows she missed the worst of it, knows they won’t repeat this now that Makayla has backup.

“Just that she’s kind of hitting all the buttons for a bull dyke except a buzz cut, you know?” Amy says, as if there’s nothing wrong with this, with the tone of their voices on top of the words they’re using. “Like, seriously, hockey on top of the way she’s been watching you? Seriously, Izzy, I thought you had better taste in friends than charity cases from the fucking projects.”

That’s rich coming from the girl who drugged her. Isabelle sees red.

“Get out,” she says. “No one talks to my friends like that in front of me, and especially not under my roof.”

Amy looks honestly confused.

“Out,” Isabelle says. She raises her voice, channels the vocal power and breath control she’s been honing, lets herself yell the way she never does except at the hockey rink.

“Party’s over,” she hollers, and her voice bounces off the sleek white walls of the apartment. “Thank you for coming, thank Amy and Evan for ending it early by being inconsiderate dicks.”

Sven, god bless him, gets the hockey crowd up and out; Erica, who was there for the whole exchange in the kitchen, gets everyone there bundled up, and drags Amy out with a firm hand on her wrist.

“Get. Out.” Isabelle says, when Amy tries to linger. “Now. You’ve seen Nick fight. Don’t tempt me to punch you in the face, because you’d deserve a matched set of black eyes and plastic surgery to fix your smashed septum.”

Finally it’s just Isabelle and Makayla, who looks like she’s about ready to run away.

“Well, shit,” Isabelle says. “That – god, I’m sorry.”

“I’m not used to having people stand up for me,” Makayla says, after a long moment of silence.

“Yeah, well,” Isabelle replies, unsure what to say. That wasn’t the reaction she was expecting.

Those people are idiots isn’t right, and neither is I hate that my friends hurt you, or Tell me whose eyes to rip out for teaching you no one would have your back.

Isabelle didn’t get the temper in their family compared to Nick, but protectiveness runs deep in the Larsson kids:  her middle sister, Emma, got picked on a lot as a kid, and Isabelle learned the signs of bullying young.

“I should —“ Makayla starts, and Isabelle turns. She has the sudden fear that if Makayla leaves now, she won’t be back.

“No, wait,” Isabelle says, hands full of dishes. “Just — keep me company a little bit? You don’t need to go?”

“You sure you want some panting dyke up in your space?” Makayla asks. She’s – Isabelle is sure she’s parroting Evan, and Isabelle wants to punch him in the dick. Makayla still looks like she’s about an inch and a gesture away from leaving. Isabelle can’t stand the thought of never seeing her again. She grits her teeth and forces the words out.

“What if I do?” She asks. “You sure you want someone who splits the difference?” Isabelle knows what some queer people think of bisexuals. She should make up her mind, should pick a team. It’s never made sense to her, but Makayla’s never said that, either.

Makayla stares at her.

“You don’t have to be nice,” she says, and she sounds softer, more vulnerable than Isabelle has ever heard before.

“Fuck being nice,” Isabelle says. “I like you, okay. I’ve been trying not to creep on you for ages, because you seemed like you just wanted to be friends and I didn’t want to make things weird.” She puts down the plates she’s been holding. “Fuck, ‘Kayla, it seemed like sometimes you didn’t even know why you were hanging out with me, and then Kolya hired you, and I just — I didn’t want to fuck shit up.”

Makayla actually smiles.

“We’re idiots,” she says. “I mean, me too, all of that. This whole thing.”

But she doesn’t look as hair-trigger-fight-or-flight anymore.

“Okay,” Isabelle says. “Well, luckily we’ve got practice with idiots, what with all the hockey players hanging around. Try to work it out?”

Makayla comes over and stacks glasses. She brings them over to the kitchen, but doesn’t put them in the dishwasher. Instead she puts them down on the island counter, and boxes Isabelle in against it with her arms.

“I don’t know,” she says. “We might have to work really hard.”

She licks her lips, and Isabelle tracks the motion helplessly.

“I can work hard,” Isabelle says, and bites her tongue before she can say anything else.

Makayla grins, and leans up for a kiss.

* * *

Isabelle isn’t sure how they manage to get the apartment clean after that, because all she remembers is trading heated kisses every time they cross paths, and crossing paths a lot more often than is strictly necessary in a kitchen as large as this one.

Finally Isabelle closes the dishwasher, and Makayla hangs up a kitchen towel.

“I think—“ Isabelle starts, just as Makayla opens her mouth.

“You first,” Makayla says.

“No, you,” Isabelle insists. “I mean—“ she looks at her hands. “I was just —“

Makayla takes her hands.

“Way I see it, we’ve kind of been dating for a while now,” she says. “So maybe we can worry a little less?”

Isabelle takes a deep breath.

“God,” she says. “Let’s — bedroom?”

Makayla’s grin is wicked, and they all but run to Isabelle’s room.

* * *

Makayla naked is a revelation. She’s all soft skin and ample curves, curvy where Isabelle is lean, and so, so responsive. When Isabelle leans down to press a kiss to the swell of her breast, Makayla sighs, and when Isabelle feathers her fingers down Makayla’s side, she stretches into the touch with a little hitching gasp.

“Just like that,” she says. “God, please, Izzy. Wanted this.”

“You want me to —“ Isabelle asks.

“Anything,” Makayla says. “God, just touch me.”

Isabelle strips her shirt and bra off, and shimmies out of her jeans and socks before stretching out next to Makayla and kissing her deep and slow.

Makayla’s breasts are heavy against her side, and Isabelle can’t help but cup one in a curious hand, feel the weight of it, the change as the nipple hardens against her palm.

“So serious,” Makayla says.

“I’ve never really done this before,” Isabelle admits. “I mean, not, like, —“ not sober, she means, not except at the cast party.

“God,” Makayla says. “You’re going to kill me.”

She pushes Isabelle on her back, and leans down, presses lightly biting kisses down the column of Isabelle’s neck before cupping her breasts in warm hands. When she bites lightly on one nipple, Isabelle squeaks, and Makayla looks up.

“No?” She asks.

“Yes,” Isabelle says, because that shot a line of heat straight to her cunt, and she wants more yesterday.

Makayla pinches the other nipple as she nips this time, just a little rougher than Isabelle’s boyfriends have ever been, and Isabelle bites back a keening wail, back arching for more.

“Mmmm,” Makayla says. “Good.”

She presses soft kisses to the undersides of Isabelle’s breasts, and the sensation is ticklish and sort of fizzy, enough to distract Isabelle from wondering whether they’re big enough, whether they’re not a disappointment somehow.

“God, Isabelle,” Makayla says. “Tell me I can eat you out.”

Isabelle leans up on her elbows. “You want to?” She asks. It’s a surprise, even if maybe it shouldn’t be. “I mean, yes?”

Makayla nods, and presses Isabelle to lie back down with a hand on her shoulder.

“You’re clean, right?” She asks. “I am, and you haven’t dated anyone in a while, so?”

“Yeah,” Isabelle says.  She knows she should be more careful than this, but she — she wants, and she trusts, and dental dams taste gross.

“Thank god,” Makayla says, and strips off Isabelle’s underwear with deft hands. “God, Isabelle, look at you.”

Isabelle doesn’t have time to react, because Makayla just leans in and licks up the line of her, tongue shockingly hot and wet. Isabelle bites down on a palm and wonders if she’s going to need to invest in a white noise machine of her own. Her brother is out of town, but — Makayla licks again, and isabelle’s brain disappears in a shower of sparks.

It seems like forever and like no time at all before Makayla changes things up, and Isabelle has started rocking her hips impatiently, tacitly asking for more, before Makayla presses a sucking kiss to her clit. It’s like fireworks; it’s like a live wire. Isabelle gasps, and feels herself clench around nothing.

“Yeah,” Makayla says. “God, babe, look at you. So hot.”

“Fuck,” Isabelle manages, because she doesn’t know how to say ‘keep touching me or i’m going to die’ or ‘get your fingers in me yesterday’

“You want more?” Makayla asks. Her fingers skate between Isabelle’s lips, slipping in the slick and Isabelle keens and cants her hips. “I think so,” Makayla says. She bends down and presses another soft kiss to Isabelle’s clit, and then she moves away.

Isabelle makes a grabbing gesture, and Makayla laughs. She crawls back up the bed and kisses Isabelle, who kisses back greedily, licking into Makayla’s mouth and moaning when she realizes why Makayla’s chin is slick, what that means. She finds her hands, and after kissing for a few moments, even manages to remember how they work.

Makayla hisses against Isabelle’s lips when Isabelle slips a hand between her legs. She’s wet, thighs sticky with it, and Isabelle moans at the idea that Makayla liked eating her out so much.

“Let me try,” she says, and Makayla lets herself be pushed over onto her back. “You can ride my face next time,” Isabelle says, because she likes the look of that in porn. “Not this time, though.”

Makayla groans, and then gasps when Isabelle rolls the pad of her thumb across Makayla’s clit. The hood has slipped back, and Isabelle tries to be careful, because she knows she gets oversensitive fast.

“More,” Makayla demands. “Back and forth, faster.”

Isabelle follows instructions, looking back and forth between Makayla’s face and her cunt, and it seems like no time at all until Makayla is sobbing through an orgasm that reminds Isabelle that Makayla used to sing in her church choir, and has a singer’s lungs. THey’re going to need that white noise machine, and maybe also music.

Makayla pushes Isabelle’s hand away after a moment. “Too much,” she says. “Gimme a minute.”

That sounds promising. Isabelle didn’t even get to go down on her yet, but if she can go again, well. Isabelle licks her lips.

“You’re going to kill me,” Makayla says. “My god, get up here and kiss me, I can’t move.”

Isabelle complies gladly.

* * *

The next production Isabelle is cast in is Help, Help, the Globolinks!  It’s a weird Menotti opera about space aliens. Isabelle is cast as the mathematics teacher who helps the music teacher, who teaches the children, who save the world by singing, but at least she’s not one of the aliens, who have the stupidest costumes Isabelle has ever seen.

It looks like there’s some karmic justice, too, because Amy is a Globolink, and she appears to have had a falling out with Evan, the costume guy Isabelle didn’t much like. Her costume barely fits over her hips, and keeps falling down on top for the whole run of four performances.

Makayla comes to the first and last performances, and the cast party, and Isabelle kisses her in front of a room full of cat-calling singers, musicians and techies. They spend the evening with Erica and the lights and sets crews, and if Isabelle feels a little bit too much glee at watching Amy flit from group to group and be brushed off, well, she figures schadenfreude is a recognized concept. She wraps her hand in Makayla’s and goes back to learning about gel thicknesses and how 2×4 lumber isn’t actually 2 inches wide.

Read this piece’s entry in the Shousetsu Bang*Bang wiki.

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18 thoughts on “To Join This Song

  1. I was VERY excited to find an Isabelle story in this issue! When I saw you’d written something I had the half-thought that you might have written about her but I didn’t think I would actually be right. 🙂

  2. I got so excited when I realized which Isabelle this was about that I made a noise (….shriek) that made my wife, who was up a floor, text me to ask if I was okay.

    Kolya offering to whisper campaign or get his dad to get criminals to get back at Amy was so cute, and so good.

    Also, as a theatre student who spent a lot of time doing musicals, and later worked in opera, as an actor/singer who moved to tech, this all felt really real and familiar–the good and the bad. (I have never felt to pressured to drink as I do when I tell performers I don’t drink, ugh)

    Anyway this is great and I love Izzy and I love Nick and Kolya, and I now also love Makayla, oh my god.

    The art is also so hot and such a nice limited color palette!

    • Awwww! You rock, this comment made my day. I’ve done my fair share of tech as well, and hoooo boy, it can be a definite atmosphere.

  3. Picking up the Quebecois swears: “Calisse” hilarious.

    I’d like to see more of Erica in the future.

  4. God !!! I’ve been hoping you would write more about Isabelle and this is beyond my wildest dreams!! One of the things I love best about these stories is how you never shy away from serious issues with hockey culture and like general society, but it all happens so naturally, never too expository or “preachy.” All your characters have so much depth to them and unique voices and personalities, I love it (and them).

    I love the art for this too! The last one is so joyful, it fits so perfectly with the end of the story and all I hope for Isabelle and Makayla 🙂

    • Thank you so much. I’m so delighted to hear that it comes across seriously but not preachily – that’s definitely one of my goals. Eeee!

  5. I loved seeing more of Isabelle – she’s such a great character, she was definitely due some more limelight.

  6. Eeeeee! (sorry, it’s super late and you deserve a better comment but I had to at least say how happy I was to see another story of yours here)

  7. ok! much earlier in the day now so I can provide coherent comment. I really like how Makayla immediately realizes how big of a problem her knowing could be for the boys and takes immediate action to at least set Kolya’s mind at ease, to the extent possible. They both responded to that “oopsie” exactly as I would expect them to.

    B/W instagram filter??? Who do I bitch-slap?
    Tell me whose eyes to rip out for teaching you no one would have your back.

    I love that they both have very similar reactions to realizing that the other one has been hurt. It’s pretty sweet.

    • And in more detail – thank you! I really enjoyed setting up parallels, and I’m glad they came through. Also, the boys’ cameo was something I worried about, so I’m glad Makayla’s reaction to it made sense to you.

      Thank you!

  8. Ha, “Help Help the Globolinks” really is a Menotti opera with plot as described! Perhaps there’s a reason Amahl and the night visitor is more famous!

    • It really is a crazy pants opera. I was cast in it a long time ago and was not all that sad when I had to have dental surgery that prevented me from taking the role of a Globolink.

      • Not quite as strange but I was just reading about Strauss’ rarely performed ballet “Whipped cream”. Among lesser known works there sure are some oddities.

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