They are bundled up, walking into the mall, footsteps crunching in the snow on the walkway.
It is dark, and they stick close to each other. Their breaths are frosty. A car lumbers past, people lug bags full of clothes and Christmas presents and yell at each other to hurry up, rápido rápido, mijo!
“I’m freezing,” she says, shivering. It’s the weekend after finals, first semester is finally over, and they are going out to celebrate.
The other grins, glasses balanced delicately on her small cute nose. “You’re always cold, Lia.” Her voice is slightly accented. She’s an international student from Shanghai and never quite got the hang of American. But, Lia considers, she’s quite good at English anyway.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t grow up in your freezing winters—” Lia stomps. A lock of black hair drifts loose from behind her ear.
“Why’d you choose a college here, then?” She elbows Lia in the ribs.
“Doreen!” She elbows her back. “I thought it would be nice to see snow!”
Doreen shakes her head. “Fucking silly Americans.” She’s still testing out how profanity-laden she wants her speech to be.
It has taken them a long time to park. So many people here, shopping. They’re getting clothes. And something hot from the food court, just for the sake of it — they’re here, why not get something nice?
The doors slide open. Lia shakes snow off her jacket and throws off her hood, cheeks pink. “Thank god for heater.”
“I’d have to agree,” says Doreen, and her eyes travel to the map erected in the center of the entrance. “Where’re we going?”
“GAP? Or Old Navy?” Lia suggests. “Or, I mean, we could just wander.”
Doreen takes her hand and squeezes it. “I vote for wandering.”
“Alright,” says Lia, and she squints at the map. “Well. Most the clothing shops seem to be that way.” She points.
Christmas music jangles as they head down the white-tiled floor. Light snake up railings, wreaths are hung onto the wall.
“I never understood why Americans are so into Christmas,” Doreen says.
Lia shrugs. “It’s a combination of Christianity and consumerism.”
She considers. “Fuck. True. Are you sure you’re not going home for the holidays?”
Lia shakes her head. She has just come out to her parents over Thanksgiving (the Taiwanese/Asian American version, with dumplings and spring rolls alongside mashed potatoes, and no turkey), and they are still processing. They haven’t talked since then. She isn’t going to start talking now.
They get to GAP.
It’s an hour of clothes shopping, of Doreen finding an ugly Christmas sweater within three minutes (“but you don’t celebrate Christmas?” “Shush”), of her hanging around Lia as she browses the shelves and racks of clothing (“Hurry the fuck up, He Jinxin”), of Jingle Bell Rock (“JINGLE BELL, JINGLE BELL, JINGLE BELL ROCK—” “DOREEN!”), of finally getting to the checkout line and having that vaguely embarrassing Asian argument over who should pay.
With their new clothes in tow, they exit the store, hand in hand.
They go up the escalator. Lia looks at the people on the bottom floor, bags in tow, milling around on the white-black tiled floor, the tinsel running up support columns. She tries to pretend that she is with her family here. Her family, and her girlfriend, and that they are laughing together. Doreen’s a computer science major; her dad’s a computer engineer. They should be debating search algorithms or something.
“So,” Doreen says, randomly. “Are you staying with me then?”
“Of course,” Lia says, and slings an arm over her girlfriend’s shoulder as they step off the escalator.
“Leaving all the living arrangements to me?” Doreen teases.
“I’ll help—” Lia says, suddenly embarrassed.
“It’s okay, dude. I’ve got it figured out.”
Doreen isn’t going home either; her parents don’t celebrate Christmas. Besides, she’d have to take a plane to the other side of the world, then fly back two weeks later. Not worth it.
Lia’s still vaguely ashamed. “Are you going home for Chinese New Year though?”
“Ugh maybe. I think it’s not around a break this year. I want to…”
“I’ve never gone to around then.”
“It’s amazing. Loud, but amazing. Dunno if it’s any different in Taiwan, though.”
Lia shrugs. They can hear the increased chatter of the food court. “Starbucks?”
“Yeah, sure.” Doreen glances up at the dark green circle. “Hmm. They need a name, don’t they?”
“The Starbucks person.”
“Mm…” Lia stares at it. Naming the Starbucks person is a ritual. “Dianne.”
“Dianne. And pronouns?”
“Ze/hir?” Lia’s older sibling came out as pansexual and genderqueer a few years ago, and they use they/them pronouns; Lia’s been hypersensitive to pronouns ever since. It’s part of why her parents are so annoyed. One queer kid they can handle, but two? That’s too abnormal.
She exhales and puts her hands in her pockets.
“Fucking neopronouns,” Doreen says. She doesn’t like them much. She has a hard enough time getting she and he straight already — in Chinese all the pronouns sound the same.
“Ze uses they/them too,” Lia amends. She wrenches her gaze off the once again named-and-pronouned Starbucks enby and onto the menu. “What do you want?”
They order, peppermint mocha and pumpkin spice latte (Lia doesn’t understand why everyone likes it. Doreen doesn’t know what else to get; she rarely goes to Starbucks). They wait. Lia’s vision blurs as she watches the barista make the drinks. She’s really cute, a white girl with purple-dyed short hair and nose piercings. Her hands curl around the red-and-white Starbucks cups patterned with reindeer and snowflakes.
“Christmas,” Lia says. She’s weirdly emotional today.
“It’s okay,” Doreen says, leaning on her shoulder. She’s a bit shorter, and cuter than the barista, of course.
Anger surges to her head. Doreen isn’t out to her parents yet. She doesn’t get it.
But she’s immediately mortified. Doreen’s parents wouldn’t be okay with it. They’re in the other-people’s-kids-can-be-gay-but-not-mine camp.
She sighs. The cute barista calls out Lia’s name, and she collects the cups with a mumbled thank you. They sit down at a table for two, warming their fingers on the cups. Dianne gazes out upon them.
“So. Pack your stuff. We’re sharing an apartment with a few girls I know from Comp Sci. I’ll meet you in front of your dorm room and we’ll drive there.” Doreen has a car, Lia doesn’t. “Here, I’ll text you the address anyway.”
Lia’s phone dings. 1780 West 23rd St. “Right.” It’s the first Christmas she’s spending without her parents.
Doreen sighs. “I think I failed all my finals, though.”
“Have your grades been entered already?”
She nods glumly. “Three-point-one GPA. Currently. All except Writing, anyway. Marcus hasn’t finished grading all those essays yet.”
“Rip,” Lia says. By Asian standards, at least. “That prompt killed me. What is an archetype.”
“Whatever.” Doreen raises her PSL. “To failing finals and not giving a shit.”
“Cheers,” says Lia, and toasts, and drinks, and her tongue’s promptly scalded.
Ding. She looks down. “Oh. Sorry. Hold on. It’s Kiaran.” Her sib. She reads: Have you heard from mom and dad abt xmas
Lia sighs. No
Them: Me neither dammit
You wanna come over
Kiaran’s in NYC too. They’re a fashion designer and really good, and they have a show on the twenty-second. They said that they’ll save them seats if they want to go.
Her: I’m with my gf so no but thanks
Them: K man yw
“Sorry,” Lia says. A smaller clone of Dianne glares at the ground from the cup as she takes a gulp. She makes a face. All powerful Starbucks.
“You want to see my sib’s fashion show?”
Doreen considers. “Yeah, sure. Good way to get out of the house if the girls turn out to be bitchy and not cute at all, dammit. What clothes are they sending down the runway in this weather, anyway?”
Lia shrugs. “Warm ones, I guess.” She texts Kiaran. Hey can we still go to the show?? Free seats still there??
Yeah, you coming
Yup. Both of us.
The more the queerier
That was really bad
I know. Merry xmas to you and gf 🙂
Merry xmas, she texts back. “They say yes.”
“Great,” Doreen says. “Hey, imagine us on the runway.” She grins, drinking her latte. “We would be amazing.”
“Oh hell yes. Even hotter than we are now.”
“We would get to the end at the same time and kiss. In front of everyone. And NYC would be that much gayer.”
“Yes. Watch all the clothes be shoulderless short dresses though.”
“I would sue your sib.”
“But you would be hot.”
“Are you kidding me? I’d be freezing.”
And they toast to the holiday season.
hopefully this is a semi-decent story (i can’t really tell) and you appreciated the amount of gay 🙂
merry christmas (eve) to those who celebrate, happy hanukkah to those who celebrate, happy kwanzaa to those who celebrate, late happy yule to those who celebrate, happy happy day to those who aren’t celebrating anything! RAINBOWS FOREVER!