Melika had just started telling her closest friends that she was a woman. She was wearing makeup to queer bars. She was finding dresses and women’s formal wear that she felt comfortable in. Melika didn’t know if she’d ever be able to afford hormones or surgery, but she was going to exist as a woman and do so outside the confines of her own head.
Melika had heard the rumors about Jardin and wanted to explore those lustful impulses for herself. As Melika prowled the dance floor, she received invitations to the multitudes of sexual congress. Queer women and femme-leaning genderqueers waved beckoning fingers and stole hungry glances, but, after an hour, Melika was sitting at the Rosebud, sipping a screwdriver, and trying not to cry.
Vol. 1: Overture
By Dawn Saas and Nic Frankenberry
Powered by the Apocalypse and the work of D. Vincent Baker
as well as
Urban Shadows by Andrew Medeiros and Mark Diaz Truman
Microscope by Ben Robbins
Content Warning: Depictions of gaslighting, psychological abuse, drug use, violence, queerphobic language and queerphobic violence
“It’s not for everybody.”
Melika turned and Todd was sitting on the stool next to her, stirring a gin and tonic with his straw.
Todd was in his trademark shirt and blazer.
Melika’s heart was racing. Todd was looking her right in the eyes. He was smiling like he’d just seen the most beautiful woman in the room. Todd’s smile danced. He wasn’t staring at Melika quizzically; Todd was soaking her in.
Todd’s eyes glistened at the question. “This place. I mean, it’s fun. It’s why I’m here… but all of that,” Todd gestured to the writhing bodies on the dance floor, “it can be kind of a lot.”
Melika started to nod. “Right? I don’t know these people. How am I supposed to feel comfortable enough to relax or enjoy myself? Maybe I’m not cut out for orgies.”
“I think I can help you out there.”
Todd pulled a small baggie out of his blazer pocket. The baggie contained a dozen sugar petals that pulsed with a coral glow.
“I don’t know that this will make you an orgy person, but it should help you relax.”
Melika wasn’t a stranger to drugs. She’d accepted she was trans twelve hours into a twenty four hour acid trip. Melika smoked grass every weekend, but she had never seen a drug that glowed of its own accord before.
“What is this?”
Todd opened the baggie and removed two petals. He put one in his mouth and placed the other on a napkin and pushed it towards Melika.
“Orchid will make your whole body spark and open your mind up to the universe.”
Melika rolled her eyes. “I’ve done Molly. This isn’t my first candy flip.”
“This isn’t Molly. Orchid makes Molly feel like caffeine and acid like a dream.”
Melika stared at the petal with a deep thirst.
“How much you want for it?”
Todd waved his hand at Melika dismissively.
“Your money’s no good here.” Todd’s face was transformed by a wolfish grin. “How about one dance? I could be convinced to part with my product for one dance with a beautiful woman.”
Melika blushed and had to momentarily look away. When she returned Todd’s gaze, Melika blazed a confidence she hadn’t known she possessed. There was arousal and anticipation etched into her face. Melika extended her hand in offer to Todd.
Todd reached out and gripped Melika’s hand with a firm but tender grasp. She felt the handshake in the soles of her feet. Melika broke the grip and winked at Todd as she snatched the petal and popped it into her mouth. Melika grabbed Todd’s hand and dragged him onto the dance floor. Melika was a foot taller than Todd and nearly lifted him off the ground on more than one occasion as she took him to their little corner of Jardin‘s chapel of dance.
Melika and Todd danced for more than the negotiated single song. The Orchid hit Melika much faster than she’d expected. The first song hadn’t even ended before Melika felt a presence creeping down her spine. The sensation was akin to a finger caressing every neuron in Melika’s back at once. When Todd placed his hand on her hips, Melika felt every sexual impulse in her body wake up. Melika was hard before she realized what was happening, and no amount of mentally reciting cricket statistics was enough to make her sex go back to sleep. Melika felt like Todd had reached inside of her being through her hips and was softly massaging her very essence until she felt awake and alive in a way she hadn’t thought possible in years.
Melika and Todd danced for two hours before they finally kissed. Melika’s hands explored Todd’s face and shoulder and back and chest. Her yearnings were earnest and eager and unapologetic. Todd responded to Melika’s touch with quiet shivers and reflexive moans. His fingers were nearly as dexterous as hers. Todd traced Melika’s arms, his ghostly touch evoking memories of old lovers that she had never known.
Todd pressed his hands against the small of Melika’s back and gathered her in a tight embrace. When the pair pulled apart from the kiss, Melika was so lightheaded that she stumbled and found herself short of breath.
Todd invited Melika back to the PittU dorm where he worked and lived as an RA. He was a senior at Pittsburgh University and worked at Thibodeaux Estates #3, part of a dizzying grid of 40 story tower dorm apartments. Todd broached the topic by asking if Melika wanted to listen to some records and just talk. She didn’t want to presume where she thought the evening was heading, but Melika was immensely grateful for the hint of possibility and if nothing happened but a talk and music, those were wonderful nightcaps in their own right.
Todd and Melika took the drunk bus back to Thibodeaux. They talked the entire ride back to Oakland from the Strip. Melika was falling fast. Todd was inviting her to a meeting for a group of socialist activists he was involved with. Melika and Todd were both higher than a kite on Christmas day, but she tried to catch every word about how Todd’s friends didn’t front politicians in bourgeois capitalist elections like those bootlickers in the DSA. They focused on grassroots community organization with an internationalist perspective. Melika figured Todd was a red. She knew plenty of desi kids on campus that were.
He wouldn’t let up about how much everyone in his group would love her. Melika was so tired of all of the neolib talkers at Hodges. Here was a man that was living theory and praxis, and he still knew how to have a good time to boot.
Melika hadn’t said she was trans out loud to Todd, but she couldn’t see how Todd wouldn’t know. Melika wasn’t on hormones. Her erection had brushed Todd’s side when he’d first touched her hips. Yet, he had never said or done anything to make Melika feel like she wasn’t the beautiful and alluring woman that she was. Melika was intoxicated on the ease of her connection and the otherworldly drug she had ingested. The Orchid was still coursing through her system, and Melika couldn’t believe how exultantly alive she still felt while maintaining a clarity of her feelings and her surroundings. Melika believed she could do anything. She could conquer any fear, work past any trauma.
Melika’s magical evening began to fall apart when she and Todd arrived at Thibodeaux.
Melika and Todd didn’t make it to the dorm until 1 AM. It was early Saturday morning, and hundreds of inebriated freshmen were being funneled back into the vertical sprawl of the housing complex. The chattering roar of eighteen year olds and the basso proclamations of alpha masculine dominance were raising Melika’s hackles. She hadn’t felt any tension or stress since Todd had sat down beside her at Jardin. Now, the fear that Melika knew all too well was coming back. That inescapable knowledge that one of these men could explode at any second.
After waiting for fifteen minutes, Melika and Todd had almost reached the entrance to T3 when a fight broke out just behind the anxious lover and impenetrable predator.
“Watch where you’re walking, faggot!”
A 5’10”, 150 lb white freshman in an Ed Hardy shirt and snapback had pushed a much smaller black man who was wearing a Welders jersey and ripped jeans. The smaller black man had an undercut. The buzzed hair which had started growing back in was dyed a baby blue. He was returning from Jardin with his boyfriend. The burly, bearded 6’4″ ‘mo decked the instigator right on the jaw and the Ed Hardy Bro dropped faster than his G.P.A.
A mini-riot broke out within minutes.
The white friends of the EHB jumped the gay couple with a vicious efficiency. Ripped Jeans was curled up in a ball as four guys kicked him in his back, stomach, and head. Burly Bear was being held by the two biggest of the frat bros as three others took turns hitting him in the stomach and his face. The queers were outnumbered and would have stayed that way, but some of the other black students in the crowd — including two freshmen linebackers for the Welders — saw a bunch of peckerwoods kicking the shit out of a little black kid. At first, the new group just tried to break up the fight, but the frat bros were itching for a brawl. The couple’s rescuers’ decision not to back down left all hell breaking loose as half the crowd chose sides in the fight. Those decisions rode predictable racial and political lines.
Campus security surged out of the Thibodeaux dorms and converged on the worst of the fighting. The pigs reserved their most violent tactics for the black students that had tried to break up the fight in the first place.
Melika turned towards Todd as the chaos raged around them.
“Do you need to help? Should I head back to my place? This is really bad, right?”
Todd put his arm around Melika’s shoulder and kissed her gently on the cheek.
“This happens every weekend. Besides, the school doesn’t pay me enough to fight drunk, screaming guidos from Jersey.”
Melika nodded quietly and was trying to stave off an anxiety attack when the Ed Hardy Bro began to stand back up after his temporary sojourn to La La Land. The queer couple had retreated to the shadows of Thibodeaux #5 but they were still nearby. The brawl was getting bigger and bigger. More campus police had arrived and a cop on a loudspeaker said they were going to fire tear gas if the fight wasn’t broken up in the next five minutes.
The twink had his shirt off and was using it to clean the blood off of his bear’s face. The EHB saw the two share a brief, bloody kiss and an equally tender embrace. The EHB’s face flushed with rage. Melika watched as he pulled a switchblade out of his back pocket.
“Motherfucker,” Melika muttered under her breath.
As the EHB started to disentangle himself from the raucous crowd and began to advance to the couple’s little hideaway, Melika stepped forward and grabbed the EHB’s wrist and twisted it until he dropped the knife. The EHB tried to turn and swing at Melika, but he was drunk and he swung wide. Melika dodged his punch with ease and put the man in a full Nelson. Melika had her arms wrapped against the back of the man’s head. He thrashed and kicked, but Melika’s grip was firm.
“Chill the fuck out, and I’ll let you go.” Melika’s voice had dropped an octave.
The EHB thrashed some more and tried to surprise Melika with a swift head-butt, but he signaled the maneuver with no grace. As he flung his head backwards, Melika released her hold and spun herself til she was in front of and facing the EHB. As he staggered, Melika nearly took his head off with a clothesline.
The EHB was back on the sidewalk, unconscious and bleeding with some intensity from the back of his head. Todd was staring at Melika with intense concentration. Melika became self-conscious and tried to avert Todd’s gaze.
“I used to wrestle back in high school. He’ll be fine… probably.” Melika’s voice was back to its normal pitch.
Todd walked up to Melika and ran his fingers through her hair and beamed.
“I like a girl that knows how to take care of herself. Boy, my friends are going to love you.”
Melika started to blush again, but the line to get back in to Thibodeaux had thinned out as the brawl persisted. Todd grabbed Melika’s hand as the campus police began to advance in force on the dorms and led her inside of the tower.