Claire’s roommates threw her out on November third, for falling behind on rent and hogging the Xbox. During the next three weeks, she lived in other people’s houses. She missed the Xbox, but couch surfing was like a game. She had to not smell like coke-sweat or wipe her nose all the time in front of her hosts, and she had to figure out the magic words that would make them let her stay. At her aunt’s house, she praised a samovar. Ding-ding, x 3 nights. At her friend Abby’s mom’s house, she praised a sword, and held it, at the invitation of its owner, Abby’s mom’s boyfriend, a former Naval Academy instructor, and slipped it back into its wall-mounted case, resting the blade and pommel in the felt slot. Ding-ding, x 2 nights. In Abby’s mom’s boyfriend’s gap-toothed son’s house, she praised the smell of cows as the first snow of winter fell through sunlight and country music played on the stereo. Doo-da-la-ding, x 4 nights. In Abby’s bed, she and Abby had sex, and Abby said, “Why won’t you look at me,” but she couldn’t make prolonged eye contact with Abby. x 1 night. In Abby’s mom’s boyfriend’s gap-toothed son’s ex-wife’s house, she told the ex-wife about the gap-toothed son’s girlfriend, shared two lines with the ex-wife, watched her clean the living room, and held the ladder so she could wipe down the candle-flame-shaped light bulbs in the chandelier. x 2 nights. The cocaine made it even more like a game because when she found a place to sleep she didn’t really sleep. She dozed two or three hours and bolted upright. She wanted to stay in bed and also to get up and break things, but she never did anything, just lay there half awake until the sun rose, her alarm went off, and it was time to go to work. By mid-November, she was a master of the whole routine, she felt no fear. But then pilgrim hats and turkeys appeared in the windows of the stores, and the game froze.

The week of Thanksgiving there were no more places to crash, because everybody she knew was either traveling or hosting. Scottish Inns, the Rodeway, and the Granby Motel were all full. Even no-pics Puffton Village bedrooms on Craigslist were priced to take advantage of the holiday. Abby, who always let her stay in a pinch, had been turned against her by puritanical friends who considered her a bad influence. Claire was the only person Abby had ever done coke with, and Abby’s nerd mafia of beautiful, frightening Jewish and Armenian girls had freaked out about how Abby kept showing up at the bio lab spilling coffee and grinding her jaw.

Tuesday morning, Claire left one of the last cheap Airbnbs downtown and worked a six-hour shift at Dunkin’, where the tiles in the bathroom were large and brown, with wet tracks left by boots and sneakers. After work, she walked to the public library. The bathroom off the children’s zone had a lockable door and a diaper-changing station, where you could cut a line vigorously without having to worry about some of it spilling off the side, which could happen when you used the top of a toilet-seat-cover dispenser. The walls were pale orange, with a framed drawing of nineteenth-century animals absorbed in books. The changing station’s yellow foldout surface was shaped like a baby, with stubby arms and legs. A private bathroom, like this one, was a safe place for flatulence. That was one of her physical reactions to coke—it was possible that the coke she bought and sold was partly baby laxative—and the farting always started psychosomatically, after she’d poured some coke onto a surface but before she’d actually snorted any. She fretted a rail from a clump with her debit card, dead center of the baby, and when she did the rail it burned. Her right nasal passage felt exactly as if it had been stung by a bee.

She liked the corroded upper cone of her right nasal passage. It was trusty, like an old truck. And besides, this month, for some reason, her left nasal passage was ornery and sensitive. While she waited for the numbness, it was hard not to blow her nose, because when she was feeling the level of discomfort she now felt, she wanted to expel some mucus into a tissue and glimpse with her own eyes some sign of what the medical situation might be, to know for a fact that there was no crust, glob, or other blood event up there where the cone gave onto tunnels she couldn’t see. But if she blew her nose before her right nasal passage went numb, the pain would get worse.

Here was the numbness. She blew her nose and checked the Kleenex: the usual red spiders bathed in clear froth. Grateful that there was no bad news in the Kleenex, she did the trampoline. “The trampoline” was Abby’s term for the repetitive motion Claire made when she was happy: while doing knee bends, she clapped her fingers against her thumbs as if playing castanets. Claire was an eighth autistic, by her own estimate, the way some people were an eighth black or an eighth straight, and whatever eighth you were, that shit was going to come out in how you moved when you were pleased with yourself. She’d done the trampoline all her life—and she wasn’t the only one, she’d seen Scripps National Spelling Bee finalists do it on YouTube—but coke could bring it on. She bounced as she cleaned the baby-shaped table with her finger, rubbing her gums with the leftovers her finger collected. Then a woman with a baby knocked and said hello—she could hear the baby screaming on the other side of the door—and she had to leave the bathroom.

She abandoned the library, which, at this time in the afternoon, was ­liable to fill with kids any minute, and walked out into the damp air, her sneakers squishing on the slush-covered flagstone path that bisected the ­library’s front lawn. The late-November wind blew into her face, and the freezing feeling in her raw, unnumbed left nostril reminded her of a frigid morning last week, when Abby had walked outside, high, with her hair wet, and studied it, amazed, totally stupid, as it iced over and stiffened. What a cum laude moment. She had a brain, Abby—she was one of the top bio majors in the honors program—and she needed somebody like Claire, somebody more grounded in the real world. But it wasn’t just Abby’s science-genius retardation Claire loved, it was her head shaped like Tweety Bird’s, her sandy hair combed back from her pale forehead, the thin blue veins on her temples, the acne around her mouth. Her nose was even curved like Tweety Bird’s beak. That one time Abby had let Claire go down on her for fifteen minutes, that was the closest Claire had ever come to finding a grand purpose in life, forcing Abby’s face to go a hundred percent brainless. And fate was conspiring to bring them together because Thanksgiving had made Claire need to stay with Abby like never before. It was urgent now that Abby ignore her bitter, unexciting friends and acknowledge the insane and undeniable vibe that she and Claire had together. Claire was in the midst of an all-important revelation: Abby was the love of her life. She would present herself to Abby, bedraggled but proud, and the vibe would fill the air and Abby would be moved and turned on and take her in, to stay in her off-campus apartment, eventually for good. And Claire would make a speech at their wedding about how she knew how strong Abby was, how generous, when, during a hard time in her life, Abby had seen through the superficialities and put up with her. She would gaze across the crowd, point to Abby’s mother, and say, You have raised a daughter who is brave and good, and Abby’s mother would cry.

Best to approach Abby in person, about needing a place to stay, because the way to get Abby to hang out, historically, was to wave coke in front of her face. She looked on her phone to see if Abby had left any clues as to whether she was going to go anywhere or do anything specific today. And in fact, as it turned out, Abby had posted on Facebook that she was feeling fucked-up and depressed about the election, and that she hoped to see a lot of people at the Pride Alliance meeting at five.

The Pride Alliance meeting was happening at the Stonewall Center, in Crampton Hall. It was just for students, but Claire was a former student, and student aged. Claire killed a couple hours at Share Coffee, drinking a hot chocolate and a mocha, doing a follow-up bump in a stall, playing Warcraft on her laptop in the corner, trying to be quiet on the headset, still getting looks, and then bent her steps toward the university she’d once attended, the wide, rectangular towers with their fronts and backs vested in red brick, their sides bare concrete. Why had Massachusetts made its biggest college look like public housing? Wasn’t a college the opposite of a public-housing project?

It wasn’t really winter yet. Still, a tree dripped a finger of cold water down her neck as she walked beneath it, following the bike path to campus. To stay in the high, she thought of the Xbox games she missed. She liked the Zelda rip-offs, like Darksiders, because they moved fast and because she felt bad for the heroes and heroines. They were always in a kill-or-die situation, and you saw their backs, their little hard-working buttocks, the soles of their boots as they ran.

She reached the Southwest Residential Area, where she swerved to avoid the stubborn patches of ice on the salted paths. It was the weirdest thing about the university: anyone could just saunter on in. She’d been to Boston, to visit a friend who’d run away there, and at Harvard it was the same deal. You could cross Harvard Yard, lie on it. How did anyone at Harvard know it wasn’t full of people like her? How did the students feel safe with the gates open, and no one asking what she was doing, why she was there?

Crampton Hall was a long, four-story brick rectangle with yellow iron lozenges set in the railings as decorative accents. Claire walked into the Stonewall Center’s classroom precisely on time. A rainbow flag was pinned to the wall, and beside it hung a photo of gender-nonconforming people marching five abreast down a street in New York. The chairs were fitted with small desks and had wheels. Students sat at them and propelled them into a circle by walking their legs across the brick-colored carpet, or pushing against the carpet with both legs at the same time, a kind of rowing. The rowers got into it, rolled their hips, made the desks glide.

Abby hurried in late, sandwiched between two of her most narrow-minded and virginal-seeming friends. They were two of the friends Abby had named when she gave Claire a list of people who considered Claire bad news, counting them off on her fingers. They were looking directly at Claire with no expression, like that was supposed to frighten her or something. Claire admitted to herself that she found even the most awkward of the brain-girls who constituted Abby’s social circle attractive. These two were both strong looking, with thick legs and wide torsos, outfitted in pastel-colored winter clothing, like the posse that follows around a rapper. They were both wearing headbands! She laughed and crossed her legs, because she, Claire, was such a pointed contrast, merry and lithe, her eyes probably twinkling. She tried to twinkle them at Abby. Abby was wearing a gray hoodie that said pioneer valley light opera on it. She was pretending that Claire wasn’t there, that her friends weren’t gazing at Claire with consternation. She was sitting up straight with her hands on her knees and her chin in the air. To avoid meeting Claire’s eyes, she was studying the drop ceiling. The other students, oblivious to the war Claire was waging against Abby’s bodyguards, slumped in their chairs and clasped their hands behind their heads. Others sat cross-legged with their arms folded. One of the bodyguards stopped looking at Claire long enough to rub lotion on her hands. The other took a picture of the wind-whipped trees outside, pretending the trees were pretty, making awed sounds.

Elizabeth from Saugus started the meeting by saying that this was the first place she’d felt comfortable crying since Trump was elected. She put her face in her hands and sobbed. Daniela from Mattapan said that the joke among her friends was to bet on which one of them was going to get ­deported. Josh from Sterling had been called a faggot by kids on his street for the first time. Frank from East Longmeadow read aloud a Snapchat message from a kid he’d known in high school that said, “Now you will have to stop cocksucking or die.” Jasmine from Chicopee said that her friend’s little brother had chased a Muslim girl. Pauline from Lee said that the most important thing, in this nightmare situation, was for this community right here to stick together.

Claire tapped the side of her nose at Abby, which meant, Do you want to meet me in the bathroom? At first, Abby didn’t react. But then Claire did it again. She turned one nostril toward Abby and tapped it, and then she turned the other nostril toward Abby and tapped it, like the cancan except with nostrils. Abby started to break. She put her hands over her mouth. Then her hands parted, and she smiled in the way Claire loved most, like a scientist smiling at a bizarre creature she’d discovered under a microscope. Claire ­jerked her head toward the door. The bodyguards looked at Claire with drawn, furious faces. But Abby probably wasn’t going to ditch the meeting while everyone was getting emotional, Claire knew. She was too polite. That was part of Abby’s charm, the way she needed to be rescued from her own nature.

Vanessa from Easthampton said she’d thought this was a safe country to be in, but now? She frowned and kneaded her eyelids with her thumbs. “What are we going to do?” she asked.

Josh from Sterling said that he didn’t know, maybe they should have a dance party. This was not a serious suggestion. But then Frank played a song on his phone. It went, I live in the hood / Where fuckboi don’t come. Frank and Josh started to dance. One by one, the students rose from their chairs and joined them. Eventually, the bodyguards stood and danced with Abby, exercising their limbs without pattern or rhythm. But even the students who could follow the beat, like Abby, danced in quotes. Did students dance in quotes the world over? Claire hadn’t when she was a student here, she didn’t think. At any rate, Claire saw that she was an infinitely better dancer than everyone else at the meeting, so she danced. She danced like someone having sex with a little person, and some of the students copied her, dancing like people having sex with little people. She danced like someone being tased, and some of the students danced like people being tased. She danced like someone who’d drunk poison, staggering in place, and some of the students danced like people who’d drunk poison, and, finally, doing the poisoned dance, some of them stopped dancing in quotes and dance danced.

As the song faded, Claire dashed between the bodyguards and put her mouth to Abby’s ear. The weather had made Abby’s hair smell like the rabbit Claire had owned in elementary school. “What are you doing ­tonight?” Claire asked.

“I’m worried about you,” Abby said.

Claire nodded. She waited for her answer.

Abby whispered in her ear, so that the bodyguards wouldn’t hear. “I’m going to the Campus Progressives meeting at seven.”

 

At the Labor Center, where Campus Progressives convened, there were chairs with small desks attached to them, as in Crampton Hall, but here the chairs had no wheels. In order to arrange them into a circle, people lifted them into the air. There were wood-laminate bookshelves with cranks on their sides, and if you turned the cranks they trundled in one direction or the other, depending on which way you turned. Claire had done a tiny bump off of an upright piano in one of the practice rooms in the arts center, and now it was funny to crash one shelf into its neighbor, draw it back, and crash it again, in slow motion. After she did this a couple times, she noticed a sheet of paper taped to the door on which someone had written, in capitals, campus progressives, please download signal to receive communications. this means you!

Abby entered without her entourage shortly after Claire had ­downloaded Signal. Claire wanted to lift her into the air, like a desk. She patted the chair next to hers, and Abby sat in it.

“Hey,” said Abby, and waved, as if Claire were a fellow progressive who wasn’t in love with her and trying to sleep in her house.

“Have you downloaded Signal on your phone yet?” Claire asked.

Abby nodded. “Yeah, it’s got a pretty good reputation for privacy. It’s recommended by Edward Snowden.”

“Let’s go to your apartment,” Claire signaled Abby.

Abby didn’t acknowledge Claire’s proposal in real life. In reply, she signaled back an emoji of a video-game controller.

“Not just to play Xbox I promise I actually want to hang out with you,” Claire signaled, and sent Abby a list of things she wanted to do with her in bed. Signal, a tool of dissidents, its screen trimmed in periwinkle blue, made sexting feel life-affirming and brave, like masturbating on the toilet at work.

Abby coughed. “It looks like they’re getting started,” she said aloud.

Sure enough, the other people in the circle had begun to introduce themselves. Scott said he’d predicted it would just be the diehards tonight, since everyone was about to go home and eat cranberry sauce, and that he was personally wowed by the turnout. John said it was time to strike while the iron was hot, he’d never seen people so pumped, even though it was literally a nightmare come to life.

“Abby,” Claire signaled, “if I go to the bathroom now, and you follow me there after a second, no one will think it’s weird. We’ll just get a little bit high. It helps you concentrate when people are being boring.”

Jasmine said that if ever there were a time for activism, it was now.

“Abby.” Claire tapped rapidly with her thumbs, her phone on her desk. “Don’t you think maybe if you just do a couple of tiny little lines, then you are going to be an excellent activist for the rest of the meeting and beyond?” Abby had her phone on her lap, but she was still reading Claire’s messages, peering down at the screen of the Signal app when a message lit it up.

“Abby,” Claire typed, “you’re so fun on coke. I had a therapist once who said I should take a Xanax once or twice just to see what it was like to be relaxed, and I think coke is like that for you.”

Henry raised his hand. “I’m sorry to speak out of turn,” he said. “But I think it’s time to start talking about how a collective use of force could work, just at a regional level. Um. I’m not saying anything definitive about what one should do, but what one could do is interesting, regionally, because the university is half the population of the town, nine months of the year, and there’s a lot of momentum behind the idea of sanctuary areas. Could we, in effect, have a local secession? One town where we take over the police force, the schools, election boards, uh, the library, sanitation, um, parking? I mean it’s funny, but could a collection of people with our views actually take over? Say, this is one place, in this shit show of a country we’re living in, where hope is still alive? This one place where there are actually as many of us as there are of them, and by us, I mean a progressive community that’s ready to take off the gloves.”

The sides of Henry’s head were shaved, but there was a brain of hair on top. He was small, pockmarked, with full, wide lips. His jeans fit as if dryer fresh. After he’d spoken, he folded his arms and looked at his shoes. Claire applauded, and then almost every other person in the room applauded, even as some shook their heads.

Claire signaled Abby, “That guy is kind of cool. Wrong word? Actually moron?”

Scott raised both hands. “Look,” he said. “I think this is really interesting. But given where we’re going with this, possibly, we have to take a ­moment and consider security. Can we all agree, phones off, no pictures, no social media?”

Everyone nodded. Claire put her phone in her pocket. Then a number of people spoke at once about how the new community might work. In her attempt to catch everything, she found it hard to follow any given thread to its end. This was the problem with cocaine. She heard: post office, state cops, horticulture, university, dad’s generator in Maine, education major. They had so many ideas about how the town would be that it was like they were already living in it.

“We need an antihegemonic song,” a guy said.

“Are there even antihegemonic songs?” another guy asked.

“‘Everybody Wants to Rule the World,’” Abby said.

Oh, fuck, Abby! Fucking Abby! She was so funny, and now Claire was fairly sure she knew what antihegemonic meant. To have that voice in your head for the rest of your life!

There was a tap on her shoulder. It was Jasmine. Her face was close to Claire’s, and she was making her expression gentle. “I’m so sorry to have to ask this,” she said. “But, since it’s getting kind of sensitive, what people are saying, and you’re texting a lot while people are talking, which is actually making some people uncomfortable, and I’ve never seen you here before today, I have to ask you: Are you a student here?”

Claire laughed. She turned to Abby and said, with her face, Can you believe this shit? But Abby was quiet. She hung her head and blinked at the fake-wood plane of her desk. The other twenty people in the room were still talking about the practicalities of secession.

“I’m not writing down what you guys are saying,” Claire said. It was kind of adorable that they thought she was here to sabotage their plan to turn Amherst into a small Canada. If she wanted to, she could say, I used to be a student here, but I had to drop out for financial reasons. That would make Jasmine shut up. But when she imagined saying that—in essence pleading, Don’t be mean to me, I’m so poor and you’re so privileged, let me be a part of your awesome revolution—she felt what was left of her high turn into hatred. How was she supposed to seduce Abby if Abby had to watch her roll over on her back and show her throat?

“Sorry,” Claire said. “I didn’t mean to make anybody uncomfortable.” She picked up her backpack and walked out, wiping her nose so as not to have to look at anyone. It was possible, she thought, that Abby was watching her with longing and admiration. But if Abby was looking at the wall, embarrassed to be associated with her, she didn’t want to know.

 

It was now truly cold outside. The streetlight by the duck pond lit a fringe of ice and within the fringe a lip of semisolid white. Another problem with coke was the stretch when you wanted to die. Her backpack was heavy. It was purple, because she’d picked it out in tenth grade, and the main zipper had lost its tab so that now there was only a stud that had to be coaxed along the teeth. She slouched into the wind, her hands in her jacket pockets. The wind plucked a goose feather from the tear in the jacket’s arm, around the edges of the X of tape, and the feather twirled into the dark. Another feather nosed its way out of the tear, bit by bit, until the upper half of the feather’s spine was exposed and whipped against the jacket’s skin, and finally this feather, too, broke free and twirled away. It was time to call home. Or no, not yet.

Because here was an enormous crèche. The house was a symmetrical, wooden colonial, three stories tall, with a columned facade that shed chips of brown paint. Letters from the ancient world were nailed to the portico’s triangular face. Three boys conferred on the porch, between the columns, beneath the portico, gazing down at one of their phones, the phone candling their faces. All of the windows were lit, and silhouettes lurched across the golden squares. She had never sold coke at this particular fraternity, but she’d had some luck with a couple of others. What she really needed was a place to crash. That just wasn’t the way to put it, at first.

“Hey guys,” she said, on her way up the steps of the porch. “Do you know anybody who might want some cocaine?”

The rightmost of the three boys, a superhero-shaped athlete, laughed and clapped, his clapping muted by mittens. “Hello, random badass,” he said.

“Damn,” agreed the pudgy guy in the middle, who held the phone and wore a wool headband on his shaved head. “You are an honest person,” he told Claire.

“I’m serious, though,” she said.

The boys looked at each other. The leftmost, whose curly hair sprung from beneath a beanie, stroked his chin. “If I were you,” he said, “I’d see if there’s this one kid in front of the PlayStation. Little guy. He looks like . . . ” He struggled for words.

“Oh yeah,” said the athlete. “Kyle. He’s cool. His hair is cool. And this time of night, he’ll be at the PlayStation, most def. This is what he does.” With great precision, without cruelty, he impersonated the flailing of a gamer, mashing the buttons of an invisible controller, bending his torso all the way to one side, whipping it all the way to the other, and back to the middle again.

“That’s actually super helpful,” she said. “Thanks.”

They parted to make way for her, and she walked between them, across the porch and through the front door, which was propped open with an Oakley sunglasses case. She made her way through a dark, narrow foyer, upsetting a snow shovel before she passed into the living room, big, bright and medieval, with high ceilings.

The walls were covered in wool banners: the disembodied head of the Patriots, with its tricorn hat; the golden wheel of the Bruins; the leprechaun of the Celtics, twirling a ball and leaning on his knobby spike of a cane. There were two more bros drinking beer on a couch in the corner, listening to Madlib, and, as promised, a small, wiry bro playing PS4, cross-legged before a screen. Claire sat on her knees beside him and learned that his name was Kyle. His Delta name, he added, was Wagon Wheel, because he was good at singing “Wagon Wheel.” Right now, Claire noticed, he was showing a fair amount of skill at Bloodborne.

“I can tell you’ve done this nightmare before,” she said.

He nodded.

“You should try it on coke.” She shrugged. “I’ve got some. Have you ever done it?”

He laughed and shook his head. “The thing is,” he said, “I’m already on Adderall, so I’m worried it would just be—” He made a soft, explosive sound and continued playing. She sensed he was neural kin; there was the static, preoccupied expression, the rocking of the torso, the hiding eyes, the small body, the hair that stood in bunches. He was cokie, metabolically.

“You’d like it,” she said. “I can tell.”

“Are you a pusher?” he asked, as he worked the controller. “I thought that was something that only existed in movies.”

“I sell it,” she said. “I don’t push it on anybody.” Coke was way more fun than Adderall, she explained. A gram would be well worth his while, an investment. Anytime he wanted to offer people just a little bit and get the party started, he could. A hundred bucks was a reasonable price. It was not a lot of money for trying something that could be a good drug for him, a fun drug but also a study drug for when his prescription wasn’t enough.

The Hunter, operated by Wagon Wheel, was fighting the Wet Nurse in her lair.

“Do you always make the Hunter male?” she asked.

“I go back and forth,” he said.

“Me too.”

“Do you go to school?”

She shook her head.

“I thought so,” he said. “I was like, Why would she be selling the shit out of something like that if she was in school, with everything taken care of?”

She was starting to find him a little annoying. “Where are you?” she signaled Abby. There was no answer. “I’m sorry I fucked up,” she continued. “I know I was bad today.”

After a few seconds, there were dots by Abby’s name. Then: “Please stop contacting Abby. She doesn’t want to be in touch with you right now.”

She wondered which one of them it was. Jasmine? The bodyguards? Never mind, she thought, no point dwelling on it. She felt ill, but there was shit she had to do: get paid, get nights. Fuck those people and the bubble they lived in.

“Hey,” said Wagon Wheel. He paused the game and squinted at her. “Are you okay? You were looking at your phone and you just kind of . . . ” He pantomimed a slump. “Oh, shit,” he said, when he noticed she’d begun to cry. “What’s wrong?”

It was quiet with the game paused. “I like this girl and she doesn’t like me back,” she said. She gestured toward the controller, to indicate that he should resume playing.

“Sorry,” he said. “I’ve been there, with girls. It always feels like they’re killing you. And then they go spread their legs for some confident asshole.” He unpaused the game and continued the fight. She sat and cried and watched him run in circles to escape a spell.

“Hey, could I play for a second?” she asked. “I won’t fuck it up, I swear. I’m pretty good.”

He gave her the controller. She dried her eyes with her knuckles and wiped her nose with the heel of her hand. And everything narrowed to the keep in which the Wet Nurse lived. The Hunter’s health was diminished, but Wagon Wheel had neglected to use his arrows; the quiver was full. His problem was that he couldn’t figure out how to evade the Nurse’s swords for long enough to load the bow. Claire knew how to do it on the run.

She played. Wagon Wheel made primitive, approving sounds. He summoned the two boys on the couch and the three of them stood behind her to watch. She hummed along with the Wet Nurse’s lullaby, a waltz played on a harpsichord with loose keys. This was something she often did when she fought a boss, hummed along with the boss’s special soundtrack. She paused the game to take off her sneakers, and after a minute she found a groove. Over and over, she dodged a swipe of the claws, nocked an arrow, and retreated with a parting shot. Soon the Wet Nurse flagged. Claire ducked behind her and swung the poisoned scythe. When the Nurse’s final spell expired, Claire finished her off with Molotov cocktails, and the Nurse’s wails were drowned by the shouts of the Deltas, which were like the sounds of a real battle, the cries of boys who knew that they were slain.

She tossed the controller to the floor, to let Wagon Wheel decide what the Hunter should do next. It had been a while since she’d fucked with Bloodborne, and it had felt good to kill the Wet Nurse again. The boys were scratching their necks and asking for information: How did she know when to switch to the scythe? How did she jump backward at a diagonal, and how did she know when she was out of range of a spell? But Claire didn’t feel like explaining it all. She was so tired. It had been over a month since she’d had a good night’s sleep. It had been a long time since she’d cried. The last bump had been the tiny one in the practice room before Campus Progressives, and that was okay. She was sad in a way that didn’t call for cocaine, that called for soft surfaces rather than hard. The rug on which she sat was not luxuriant. Its pile was not high. It smelled of beer and ash. That, too, was okay. She stretched to her full length, and the boys shuffled out of her way. They had stopped waiting for her to answer their questions and were theorizing about her technique. Her puffy coat made a decent cushion. It released a feather when she rolled her head, and she watched the feather’s slow descent. Still humming the Wet Nurse’s lullaby, she spread her fingers to work the gamer’s cramp from her hands. With the Deltas standing over her, murmuring among themselves, and the game’s music swelling and victorious, she closed her eyes and dreamed.