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Winter

Caleb breaks it off; Chyler, despite everything, ticks days off the statute of limitations. On the thirty-second he dozes on her couch, and she brings him hot chocolate with cayenne pepper in it, and together, they hesitate.

And Renee? First she can’t sleep. Then she sleeps all the time. She goes off spaghetti for a while–goes off eating, really, but gets over it. She gets better with her guitar. She finds love less piercing and friends less tart.

Like anything glued well, she’ll never break along quite the same lines again; but it’s her story, now, that’s worth following.

Fall

Chyler meets Renee and she’s exactly as great as Caleb said: sweet and clever, humble and funny, not beautiful enough to hate, but, well. Prettier.

Caleb looks a little bug-eyed the first time the three of them all bump together, but he aplombs it and from then on they’re a tricycle. Renee practices Spanish guitar while Caleb cheats from Chyler’s notes. Caleb cooks them spaghetti in the filthy dorm kitchen. They get each other by.

Caleb left the book in Chyler’s mailbox, their first day back: it’s called Anthropology. She reads it in an hour, and she doesn’t tell Renee.

Summer

Summer’s hot. The news tells Caleb that people are dying of it, in some city up north.

He starts smoking again, ostensibly to help him adjust to the night shift. Nicotine and Cheetos. Stocking boxes bulks up his shoulders, and the hours tire out his eyes.

Caleb’s not stupid: he knows why he and Chyler fell out. He knows the first move is his if it’s anyone’s, but he doesn’t know her address and email won’t cut it.

In September he needs an umbrella: only two weeks until the start of the semester. He visits Renee and, leaving, buys a book.

Spring

Chyler tells herself she was already over it. Someone shinier will come along.

But she’s stage-managing Virginia Woolf, and somehow he becomes her ASM. Hours alone together in the black box: he smiles at her, plays along with her power trips, talks about Renee. Chyler becomes a little afraid of rehearsal. She gets mad at herself for that. Then at him.

She gets colder and colder; it’s 3 a.m. and they’re striking the set, and for no real reason it finally comes to a fight. Everybody watches him storm out the sliding door.

They don’t speak; and then it’s summer.

Winter

Caleb and Chyler meet without meeting on the last night of winter, at a Mojoday party, apparently. She showed up for Diego, who disappeared after five minutes. Caleb just came to the wrong house.

He walks her home and turns everything bright and nervous. Chyler is a promise of better days to Caleb, who’s tiring of his girlfriend’s friends; it’s 11:59 p.m. and he’s about to explain this when he slips on the grass. Chyler catches his arm. It’s not electric, not slow-motion, but it’s a touch.

He pulls her off balance. Heedless and headlong, they stumble into spring.

Chyler

“The central ethos of Harry Potter–” Fantine begins.

“I’m going to stop you right there,” Chyler says. “I’m doing you a favor. Please understand that, because I like the books, you know? I like them. But when you expound like that you are using a jeweler’s loupe to examine the product of a BeDazzler. Get it? You and Tarantino and fucking Derrida’s ghost–”

“Easy, Chyler,” says Caleb, wandering in and looking startled, so perfect. So Renee.

“You don’t get to talk,” she snaps, and thunders outside. She wants to smoke an angry cigarette, but, she’s disappointed to remember, she doesn’t smoke.

Chyler

“I was informed that there would be pillowfights,” says Diego.

“I think first we do each other’s nails? And talk about boys,” says Caleb.

“Actually,” says Chyler, “we probably complain about our thighs while eating the whole damn box of Oreos.”

“I like my thighs okay.”

“That’s why you’re no good at this.”

“We can do the leopard spots in your hair, but not your eyebrows,” explains Ayane. “If it gets in your eyes–”

“But I wanted stripes in them!” says Kai, under the apron. “Like the leopard is hunting them. Zebra eyebrows! Zebrows! Wa-ching!

“Pillowfights?” Diego says sadly. “Pillowfights.”

Chyler

When Chyler comes back with the marshmallows he’s already asleep where he sits–he hasn’t even moved enough to spill his hot chocolate.

She takes it from his hand. “Weak, boy,” she says. “It’s not even three yet.”

“Um not sleep.” He hasn’t opened his eyes yet, so she tackles him sideways and pins him to the ratty couch. Caleb looks up at her then: a little red-eyed, a little smiling, a little something else.

Their faces are very close. Chyler wants the credits to roll right now, to leave the two of them perfectly undecided, here in this beautiful hesitation.

Chyler

Chyler wonders whether this is what’s called butterflies, but she doesn’t feel anything in her stomach; it’s her arms and shoulders, which feel tense and oddly bouncy, like springs being twanged. Her hands want to tangle in fabric.

She realizes suddenly that it’s been way too long since she said anything. Say something! Don’t be boring, don’t waste this! She tries to think of jokes. She wants to be clever, smooth, are her legs shaved? When was the last time she–crap!

Caleb’s really enjoying the evening, walking with a new and interesting person. He’ll have to introduce her to Renee.

Chyler

Fantine’s holding forth again, just a bit off the point. Thirty degrees off, maybe. Still horribly wrong.

When she stops to breathe Caleb leaps in to grab the tiller, steering conversation back to saner waters: the weather. Chyler sighs with relief.

“Sure,” she says later, as Fantine pouts, “but I’d rather have snow anyway–”

“Because you can’t throw rain?” Caleb asks.

She looks to him; he looks up; their eyes catch. Flash. Freeze. Chyler swears there are words in his face and crooked smile: You understand, he says. We understand each other. In charm, in understanding, this is our conspiracy.

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