And this scene was the best thing Cath had written all semester; she knew it was. Maybe Professor Piper wanted to talk about the piece in more detail, or maybe she was going to talk to Cath about taking her advanced class next semester. (You had to have special permission to register.) Or maybe just … something good. Something.
“Cath,” Professor Piper said when everybody else was gone and Cath had stepped up to her desk. “Sit down.”
Professor Piper’s smile was softer than ever, but it was all wrong. Her eyes were sad and sorry, and when she handed Cath her paper, there was a small, red F written in the corner.
Cath’s head whipped up.
“Cath,” Professor Piper said. “I don’t know what to make of this. I really don’t know what you were thinking—”
“But…,” Cath said, “was it that bad?” Could her scene really have been that much worse than everyone else’s?
“Bad or good isn’t the point.” Professor Piper shook her head, and her long, wild hair swayed from side to side. “This is plagiarism.”
“No,” Cath said. “I wrote it myself.”
“You wrote it yourself? You’re the author of Simon Snow and the Mage’s Heir?”
“Of course not.” Why was Professor Piper saying this?
“These characters, this whole world belongs to someone else.”
“But the story is mine.”
“The characters and the world make the story,” the older woman said, like she was pleading with Cath to understand.
“Not necessarily…” Cath could feel how red her face was. Her voice was breaking.
“Yes,” Professor Piper said. “Necessarily. If you’re asked to write something original, you can’t just steal someone else’s story and rearrange the characters.”
“It’s not stealing.”
“What would you call it?”
“Borrowing,” Cath said, hating that she was arguing with Professor Piper, not ever wanting to make Professor Piper’s face look this cold and closed, but not able to stop. “Repurposing. Remixing. Sampling.”
“It’s not illegal.” All the arguments came easily to Cath; they were the justification for all fanfiction. “I don’t own the characters, but I’m not trying to sell them, either.”
Professor Piper just kept shaking her head, more disappointed than she’d seemed even a few minutes ago. She ran her hands along her jeans. Her fingers were small, and she was wearing a large, narrow turquoise ring that jutted out over her knuckle. “Whether it’s legal is hardly relevant. I asked you to write an original story, you, and there’s nothing original here.”
“I just don’t think you understand,” Cath said. It came out a sob. She looked down at her lap, ashamed, and saw the red F again.
“I don’t think you understand, Cath,” the professor said, her voice deliberately calm. “And I really want you to. This is college—what we do here is real. I’ve allowed you into an upper-level course, and so far, you’ve greatly impressed me. But this was an immature mistake, and the right thing for you to do now is to learn from it.”
Cath locked her jaw closed. She still wanted to argue. She’d worked so hard on this assignment. Professor Piper was always telling them to write about something close to their hearts, and there was nothing closer to Cath’s heart than Baz and Simon.…
But Cath just nodded and stood up. She even managed a meek thank you on the way out of the classroom.
Thinking about it now, again, made the skin on Cath’s face feel scorched clean. She stared at the charcoal drawing of Baz pinned up behind her laptop. He was sitting on a carved black throne, one leg draped over its arm, his head tilted forward in languid challenge. The artist had written along the bottom of the page in perfect calligraphy: “Who would you be without me, Snow? A blue-eyed virgin who’d never thrown a punch.” And below that, The inimitable Magicath.
Cath picked up her phone again. She’d called Wren at least six times since she left class. Every time, the call went straight to voice mail. Every time, Cath hung up.
If she could just talk to Wren, she would feel better. Wren would understand—probably. Wren had said all that mean stuff about Baz and Simon a few weeks ago. But she’d been drunk. If Wren knew how upset Cath was right now, she wouldn’t be a bitch about it. She’d understand. She’d tug Cath back from the edge—Wren was really good at that.
If Wren were here … Cath laughed. It came out like a sob. (What the eff, she thought, why is everything coming out like a sob?)
If Wren were here, she’d call an Emergency Kanye Party.
First she’d stand on the bed. That was the protocol back home. When things were getting too intense—when Wren found out that Jesse Sandoz was cheating on her, when Cath got fired because her boss at the bookstore didn’t think she smiled enough, when their dad was acting like a zombie and wouldn’t stop—one of them would stand on her bed and pretend to pull an imaginary lever, a giant switch set in the air, and shout, “Emergency Kanye Party!”
And then it was the other person’s job to run to the computer and start the Emergency Kanye playlist. And then they’d both jump around and dance and shout Kanye West lyrics until they felt better. Sometimes it would take a while.…
I’m authorized to call an Emergency Kanye Party, Cath thought to herself, laughing again. (This time it came out slightly more like a laugh.) It’s not like I need a quorum.
She reached toward her laptop and opened her Kanye playlist. There were portable speakers in one of her drawers. She got them out and plugged them in.
Then she turned the volume all the way up. It was a Friday night; there was nobody in the building, maybe nobody on campus, to disturb.
Emergency Kanye Party. Cath climbed onto her bed to announce it, but she stepped right down. It felt silly. And pathetic. (Is there anything more pathetic than a one-person dance party?)
She stood in front of the speakers instead and closed her eyes, not really dancing, just bouncing and whispering the lyrics. After the first verse, she was dancing. Kanye always crawled right under her skin. He was the perfect antidote to any serious frustration. Just enough angry, just enough indignant, just enough the-world-will-never-know-how-ridiculously-awesome-I-am. Just enough poet.
With her eyes closed, Cath could almost pretend that Wren was dancing on the other side of the room, holding a Simon Snow replica wand for a microphone.
After a few songs, Cath didn’t need to pretend.
If any of her neighbors had been home, they would have heard her shouting the lyrics.
Cath danced. And rapped. And danced. And eventually there was knocking.
Damn. Maybe the neighbors are home.
She opened the door without looking and without turning down the music (Kanye-impaired thinking), but ready to apologize.
It was just Levi.
“Reagan isn’t here!” Cath shouted.
He said something, but not loud enough.
“What?” she yelled.
“Then who is here?” Levi shouted, smiling. Levi. Always smiling. Wearing a plaid flannel shirt with the sleeves unbuttoned at the wrists. Couldn’t even be trusted to dress himself. “Who’s in there, listening to rap music?”
“Me,” Cath said. She was panting. She tried not to pant.
He leaned toward her so he wouldn’t have to shout. “This can’t be Cather music. I’d always pegged you as the mopey, indie type.” He was teasing her; only genuine emergencies were allowed to interrupt the Emergency Kanye Party.
“Go away.” Cath started to shut the door.
Levi stopped it with his hand. “What are you doing?” he said, laughing, and pushing his head forward on the “doing.”
She shook her head because she couldn’t think of anything reasonable to say. And because it wouldn’t matter anyway; Levi was never reasonable. “Emergency dance party—go away.”
“Oh no,” Levi said, pushing the door open and sliding in. Too skinny. Too tall.
Cath shut the door behind him. There was no protocol for this. She’d call Wren for a sidebar consultation if there was any chance Wren would answer the phone.
Levi stood in front of Cath, his face serious (for once) (seriously, for once) and his head deliberately bobbing up and down. “So,” he said loudly. “Emergency dance party.”
And nodded. And nodded.
Levi nodded back.
And then Cath started laughing and rolled her eyes away from him, moving her h*ps from side to side. Just barely.
And then her shoulders.
And then she was dancing again. Tighter than before—her knees and elbows almost locking—but dancing.
When she looked back at Levi, he was dancing, too. Exactly the way she would have imagined him dancing if she’d ever tried. Too long and too loose, running his fingers through his hair. (Dude. We get it. Extreme widow’s peak.) His eyes were absolutely gleaming with mirth. Putting out light.
Cath couldn’t stop laughing. Levi caught her eyes and laughed, too.
And then he was dancing with her. Not close or anything. Not any closer, actually—just looking at her face and moving with her.
And then she was dancing with him. Better than him, which was nice. She realized she was biting her bottom lip and stopped.
She started rapping instead. Cath could blow these songs backwards. Levi raised his eyebrows and grinned. He knew the chorus and rapped with her.
They danced into the next song and through it and into the next. Levi stepped toward her, maybe not even on purpose, and Cath whirled up onto her bed. He laughed and jumped up onto Reagan’s, practically bumping his head on the ceiling.
They kept on dancing together, imitating each other’s goofiest moves, bouncing at the end of the beds.… It was almost like dancing with Wren. (But not, of course. Really, really not.)
And then the door swung open.
Cath jumped back away from it and fell flat on her mattress, bouncing and rolling onto the floor.
Levi was laughing so hard, he had to lean against the wall with both hands.
Reagan walked in and said something, but Cath didn’t catch it. She reached up to her desk and closed the laptop, stopping the music. Levi’s laughter rang out in the sudden quiet. Cath was completely out of breath, and she’d landed wrong on her knee.
“What. The. Major. Fuck,” Reagan said, more shocked than angry—at least Cath didn’t think she seemed angry.
“Emergency dance party,” Levi said, jumping off the bed and reaching out to help Cath. Cath held on to the desk and stood up.
“Okay?” he asked.
She smiled and nodded her head.
“Have you met Cather?” Levi said to Reagan, his face still shining with amusement. “She spits hot fire.”
“This is exactly the sort of day I’m having,” Reagan said, setting down her bag and kicking off her shoes. “Weird shit around every corner. I’m going out. You coming?”
“Sure.” Levi turned to Cath. “You coming?”
Reagan looked at Cath and frowned. Cath felt something sticky blooming again in her stomach. Maybe the scene with Professor Piper was coming back to her. Or maybe she shouldn’t have been dancing with her roommate’s boyfriend. “You should come,” Reagan said. She seemed sincere.
Cath tugged at the hem of her T-shirt. “Nah. It’s already late. I’m just gonna write.…” She reached for her phone out of habit and checked it. She’d missed a text message—from Wren.
“at muggsy’s. COME NOW. 911.”
Cath checked the time—Wren had texted her twenty minutes ago, while she and Levi were dancing. She set her phone on the desk and started putting her boots on over her pajama pants.
“Is everything okay?” Levi asked.
“I don’t know.…” Cath shook her head. She felt ashamed again. And scared. Her stomach seemed thrilled to have something new to twist about. “What’s Muggsy’s?”
“It’s a bar,” he said. “Near East Campus.”
“What’s East Campus?”
Levi reached around her and picked up her phone. He frowned at the screen. “I’ll take you. I’ve got my car.”
“Take her where?” Reagan asked. Levi tossed her Cath’s phone and put on his coat. “I’m sure she’s fine,” Reagan said, looking at the text. “She probably just had too much to drink. Mandatory freshman behavior.”
“I still have to go get her,” Cath said, taking back the phone.
“Of course you do,” Levi agreed. “Nine-one-one is nine-one-one.” He looked at Reagan. “You coming?”
“Not if you don’t need me. We’re supposed to meet Anna and Matt—”
“I’ll catch up with you later,” he said.
Cath was already standing by the door. “Your sister’s fine, Cath,” Reagan said almost (but not quite) gently. “She’s just being normal.”
* * *
Levi’s car was a truck. A big one. How did he afford the gas?
Cath didn’t want any help getting in, but the running board was missing—it was an especially shitty truck, she noticed now that she was up close—and she would’ve had to climb in on all fours if he hadn’t taken her elbow.
The cab smelled like gasoline and roasted coffee beans. The seat belt was stuck, but she still managed to get it buckled.
Levi swung into his seat smoothly and smiled at her. He was trying to be encouraging, Cath figured.
“What’s East Campus?” she asked.
“Are you serious?”
“Why wouldn’t I be serious right now?”
“It’s the other part of campus,” he said. “Where the Ag School is?”
Cath shrugged impatiently and looked out the window. It had been sleeting since this afternoon. The lights looked like wet smears on the streets. Fortunately, Levi was driving slow.