#59: February

Whitley woke up on the couch in Koga's one-bedroom apartment. Her phone read 11:17 AM, and there were several missed messages and calls from her roommates. While Whitley had been capable of driving home the previous night, her midnight multi-margarita buzz, combined with the allure of Koga's plush couch-turned-daybed, had proved too formidable a foe. Despite its length, the couch could only accommodate the upper three-quarters of Whitley's body. Fortunately, she had years ago mastered the valuable tall-person skill of sleeping comfortably with her feet still on the floor.

Whitley lit the remainder of the joint from the previous evening and took several hits while admiring the living room’s rich decor. She counted at least a dozen plants hanging from the ceiling and sitting atop shelves, as well as a large potted palm in the corner behind her. Vibrant tapestries hung across the few stretches of the wall not filled with framed photographs.

The sound of cabinets opening in the kitchen suddenly caught Whitley's attention. Noting an occupied bathroom, Whitley placed the joint behind her ear as she dragged herself up from the sofa. She entered to find Alicia mounting her smartphone to the dining room table, framing Koga's small kitchen in a landscape shot. Alicia wore a sleeveless WonderCon shirt, short black workout shorts, and pink bunny slippers. Her hair was stuffed in a dark brown knit hat embroidered with a pink cartoon bear. Waving to Whitley, Alicia tiptoed to the opposite side of the table next to two full grocery bags and began her recording.

"Okay! So as you can probably tell I'm in someone else's kitchen and I don't quite know my way around. It's totally cool though since, as you can see, I brought my own ingredients!" Alicia hams for the camera as she grabs both full bags by the handles, giving them a few casual lifts before setting them back down. "Also—and I'm gonna be totally snooty here—I prefer to use my own ingredients." With a mischievous look, Alicia leans forward and whispers, "Because they're better!"

She ended the recording and started another.

Extracting items from the bags individually, Alicia fastidiously arranges them on the table. "So, we've got baking powder, cinnamon, sugar, eggs, carrot—pre-shredded, of course. For flour, I'm gonna actually recommend you use all-purpose flour since carrot cake is better dense and we're going for tender rather than light, which you'll get from cake flour. That tip comes courtesy of my oldest brother Chris, a pastry chef. Love you, Chris!"

Whitley chortled in-between the videos. Alicia stuck her tongue out at her and began recording:

"One last thing before we get started. I shall take a moment and celebrate the swag. First, thank you LadyGeekly for the hand-knit hat, because it's important to keep your hair both covered and cute when cooking." Alicia points to her chest. "We got WonderCon representin' on the pectoralis. Sorry guys had to slice the sleeves. I'm sure you understand" Alicia flexes both arms, pumping them twice as she winks at the camera. "Last but certainly not least, I got my Usa-chan slippers from my favorite people at the Anime Expo East Tokyo Outlet booth. Thanks, guys!"

Alicia stopped the recording and took a selfie of herself in front of the ingredients. She posted the video, then set her phone aside and turned her attention to Whitley. "Mornin' sunshine!"

"I figured it was Koga in the kitchen 'til I saw someone's in the bathroom. What are you doing here?"

"Making a cake. What are you doing here?"

Whitley paused, having to take a moment to remember. "Koga and I were planning summer volleyball camp, and that turned into margarita night, so—wait, why are you making a cake over here?"

"Because Koga has this sweet and super-expensive KitchenAid mixer," Alicia said, presenting it with jazz hands.

"I'm going to skip asking 'why are you making a cake' and jump straight to I hope you're making a—'"

Alicia held up a bag of pre-shredded carrot. "Carrot cake. Duh."

"You are my best friend for this morning."

"Good to know that's all it takes," Alicia said, curtseying. With all the accessories unpacked, she added ingredients to the mixing bowl, stopping periodically to double-check handwritten notes in a spiral notebook.

Whitley chuckled. "Not used to seeing you working from a recipe."

"I know, huh? I like baking, but I definitely gotta follow directions. It's more my brother Chris's thing than mine. He dropped out of Engineering school to be a pastry chef. Inspired me to do the same for cosplay, years later."

"What were you even majoring in?"

"Communications and Japanese." Alicia yawned abruptly, extending her arms in a full-body stretch. "Oh man, I'm getting tired just thinking about it. Time to wake myself up a bit." She started another recording.

"So, I could obviously let the awesome fantastical mixer do the hard work, but sometimes I like doing this the old-fashioned way." Alicia flashes a wink at the camera, then deftly whisks the eggs, sugar, and oil. Her brawny arms take center stage as she beats the mixture into a smooth yellow custard.

Re-energized, Alicia ended the video. Whitley, meanwhile, had been so captivated by the process she'd forgotten the camera was even on. Snapped out of her trance, she leaned back, resting her head against a box of mason jars atop the refrigerator. "So, Beefcake, what did you think of 'hashtag-glowing-vagina?' Too much?"

"Ha! That was hilarious, actually."

"Sure, I'm hilarious. You're the one who lit up your hoo-ha with LEDs."

Alicia giggled, and Whitley joined in, sending both of them into a full-fledged laughing fit. Setting down the mixing bowl, Alicia wiped her eyes. "Wow. Thanks. I needed that!"

Whitley picked up something unusual in Alicia's tone but was too stoned to feel comfortable probing any further. "So, not speaking of chinchillas, I kinda miss Rowan."

"You too? I thought you didn't like him!"

"He was a nightmare. He chewed on everything, he made a bunch of noise all night, and his accessories were crazy expensive. Of course, he also left chinchilla poo pellets all over Krysta's room and no one else's."

"Yeah, I kinda miss that too," Alicia said, sifting the flour, cinnamon, and baking powder into the bowl with the wet ingredients. "Shit!" Alicia suddenly exclaimed. "I forgot to record!"

The uncharacteristic profanity took Whitley by surprise. "You all there, Muscles? You seem a little off."

Alicia took a breath, shook her head, and sighed. "I'm good. Sorry, my brain is sucking at everything this morning."

"Well, I'm gonna return to the couch before the automatic mixer sucks me into another vortex. Feel free to chill with me after you're done." Whitley retrieved three spam musubi from the fridge and ducked out of the kitchen. Occupied with unwrapping her snack, she nearly collided with Krysta who was on her way out of the bathroom. Dressed in black sweats and a gray t-shirt, Krysta sat down on the couch and wrapped herself in the blanket Whitley had just slept under.

"What the hell are you doing here?"

"I dropped off Alicia."

"What are you still doing here?"

"I am going to show Koga the data analysis I did on the volleyball stats. Percy put me in contact with the NU Athletic Director and I convinced him to hire me as a stats consultant.

"Director Sleazy? I assume it was an in-person interview."

Krysta sipped her tea. "I did speak with Mr. Swazee. He supported my hire, and I imagine he'll be even more pleased to find that in addition to contracting 'an Asian geek with gigantic tits,' he has also employed the service of an expert statistician."

Whitley re-lit her joint. "Wow, that's a good idea, but do you even know anything about volleyball?"

"You hired Alicia for training and she knows even less about volleyball than I do."

"She's totally right!" Alicia yelled from the kitchen over the mixer. Krysta raised a proud eyebrow.

Whitley clenched her eyes shut and shook her head. She was having a hard time keeping up with the morning's twists and turns in her current state. "So, wait, if you were in the bathroom, where's Koga?"

"Running a few errands. She told me to tell you to wait for her to get back before you leave."

Whitley dropped back down to the couch, her long legs stretching across the small living room. She browsed her phone, enjoying the whirring KitchenAid and the clicking of Krysta's nails on the keyboard. "Okay, I know this is stoned me talking, but I am excited for that carrot cake."

Krysta offered a slight smile but didn't look away from her computer. "All I hear is the gentle creeping of the February fifteen sneaking up on me again."

"February fifteen?"

"I put on ten to fifteen or so pounds during my sedentary winter months and, naturally, that comes with an extra bump up above. As it warms up in the Spring, I release more outdoor content, go on a diet—more topless cooking videos—and then start exercising again. I get into shape and my followers get an abundance of boob bouncing videos. Everyone wins."

"We wouldn't want to disappoint your fans."

"Oh, it is not just about them. This will be my and Alicia's fourth winter together and those months are the worst for us. With con season not starting up again until Spring, she gets idle. That threatens the balance of our schedules and lives. We barely survived the first winter and only got through the second because I decided to spend nearly a month visiting family in Vietnam—partly because of that first winter."

"So, what was the solution?"

"Alicia finds a hobby. Last year she got into 3D modeling software, which kept her in the campus makerspace for hours a day. This year, she re-discovered baking."

"Well, she needs something. She's seemed a little off."

"She's probably been reading the forums."

"Doesn't she normally?"

"Yes, but the streams have a different...energy during the off-season when con-goers air their grievances about the year's goings-on.

"Did someone post somethin' messed up?"

Krysta shrugged and reached for her tea. Something occurred to her, and she set down her mug and stood up. "Alicia! Be sure and save me some frosting!"

"You gonna lick it off your nipples again?" Alicia shouted back.

"Yes, so white frosting please?"


"Thank you!" Krysta turned to Whitley. "You dye your nipples green once and your fans never let you forget about it. Now, if you will excuse me, I need to freshen my tea." Krysta stood and Whitley immediately snatched the blanket, wrapping it around herself. Krysta gave her a playful sneer.

Whitley grinned as she took a final hit of her joint before snagging her headphones from the coffee table. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to do my Sunday best."

Krysta snickered. "Personally, I prefer to wait until I am alone to masturbate."

"Nah, I'm not nearly that kinky. I'm going to watch YouTube videos until I fall asleep. Let me know when the cake is ready."

"I certainly will," Krysta said, turning away to hide her grin as she headed to the kitchen. She entered in time to nearly run into Julie Ravner with her purse on one shoulder and her camera on the other. Krysta swiveled to the side, yelping as her breast caught the corner of Julie's bag.

"Watch your tits, DinDin." Julie said. She waved to Alicia. "Hey, you."

"Hey, Jules," Alicia said, sliding two shallow cake pans into the oven. She took off her potholders and set to work on the frosting. "Cake should be done in about forty-five. Is Percy—"

"Pulled in right behind me," Julie said, looking around. "And Whitley is.."

"In the living room," Krysta said, "becoming the couch."

"Cool, I'll keep this in here, then." Julie set her camera on the table and paused, sniffing the air. "Whitley, you better share that joint!" she said, heading into the living room. Krysta followed, intending to use the distraction to retrieve her blanket. Percy appeared in the doorway soon after with his backpack. He set his bag down and came up alongside Alicia, sneaking an arm around her waist."Hey, Lady."

"Percy-kun!" Alicia gave him a peck on the cheek and an unexpectedly tight and sustained squeeze. While Alicia’s affections were nice, her snug embrace would leave bruises if he held on much longer. He tapped her side, indicating his surrender. Alicia jerked away flush with guilt. "Sorry," she said. "I kinda needed that."

"It's cool," he said, rubbing his side. "Gonna leave a mark, though. What's up?"

Alicia started to say something, but just as abruptly decided against it and returned to mixing her frosting "Nothing, it's been a day and I gotta finish this cake. How's Rowan?"

"Chewed his way out of his cage. Again."

"Again? We just got him a new one!"

"And got the same result. Ugh, Alicia, I want to like him but he's a pain in the ass. He needs so much freaking attention." Percy noticed Alicia wince. "Hey, hey, I'm not complaining. I said I'd take him until we can find a home for him. In the meantime, I'll look into a metal cage for everyone's sake. Okay?"

"Yeah, we're good." Alicia made a smile, then turned her attention to the increasingly cloudy living room. "Hey, what's up in there?"

Percy leaned back to look into the living room. "Looks like Whitley and Julie are watching YouTube videos on Whitley's phone. Krysta just looks annoyed."

"She's fine. She just needs someone to bring her a blanket."

"Gotcha. I'll snag her one." Percy popped on his toes and gave Alicia a peck on the forehead. "See ya, Lady." Alicia puckered, awaiting a second kiss, and Percy obliged. Giving him a smack on his butt, Alicia turned her attention back to her fans and began another recording.

"So, I apologize, I got distracted and missed a few steps. It's been a tough week, and I'm barely hanging in there. I really don't want to go into it but I'm just, grateful for all of you who support me as I am, for who I am. You all mean the world to me and it's all of you who inspire me to keep doing what I do. Thank you."

Alicia stopped the recording when the oven timer went off. Pausing briefly to wipe her eyes and take a few breaths, she slipped on her potholders, retrieving the cake layers from the oven. Placing them on the stove, she took several photos before beginning another video, keeping herself out of frame.

"Okay, everyone! Cake layers are cooling, which means it's time for decoration. I'm on a time crunch, so this'll be the last video, but I'll be sure to send a picture of the finished product."

She wrapped up as Koga entered, carrying two large plastic bags full of carry-out Hawaiian barbeque. Alicia bounded over and snagged the bags, surprised at their density. "Wow! Someone's ordering with Whitley in mind."

"There's also a tray of meat in the car. We can wait on that because Whitley would smell it and want to eat now. Speaking of which..." Koga sniffed. "It smells like pot and freshly baked carrot cake, neither of which are typical odors in my kitchen."

Alicia set both bags on the table. "I'm surprised you don't bake more. You have a great oven."

"Getting new appliances sort of softened the blow of the rent increase. Also plus: I also no longer have a stove with an outstanding safety recall."

Alicia chuckled as she turned her attention back to her cake. She removed both layers from the pans and her frosting from the mixer and began assembly. Koga admired the precision Alicia applied to every step of the process. She also noted a puffiness in Alicia's eyes.

"Hey, you doing okay?"

"I'm good I'm...still trying to sort things out with Rowan."

"Oh yeah! Whitley sent me a bunch of videos of you guys trying to chase him out of Krysta's room. How's he doing?"

"He's with Percy now, but he's just as much of a pain in the butt there. Percy said he gnawed through his cage again."

"He's probably not getting enough attention."

Alicia frowned. "That's what Percy said. "

"Chinchillas are social creatures that like to be challenged and engaged. It's not unusual."

"In animals."

"I wouldn't say that. Some people crave isolation, some people crave attention. Most are somewhere in-between. Either way, it's nothing to get after anyone for. Anyone complaining about someone else wanting attention is probably just pissed they aren't getting enough themselves."

Alicia gave Koga a suspicious look. "Have you been talking to Krysta?"

"We're paying her for stats consulting if that's what you mean."

"Nice! I know she loves that stuff."

"It was actually Whitley's idea. She texted me about it when she was super high last weekend. She probably forgot. That girl is an almost frustratingly high-functioning stoner."

"See, you start to think that, but then you see her burn up an hour on the couch looking up videos of chinchillas having sex."

Koga clenched her eyes shut. "Ok, wow. You guys sound like you're having fun over there. A little more fun than I'll ever be ready for but, good for you guys."

"Really? To me it just seems, I dunno. Ordinary."

"Either way, I'm jealous. It's weird living by myself. The rest of my family still lives in Hawaii. I thought I was going to go back after I graduated, but then I got this job, and I—"

Alicia grabbed Koga's hands. "Do you want a chinchilla?"

Koga's face lit up with gratitude. "I thought you'd never ask."

Alicia squealed, jumping in place and clapping her hands before pulling Koga in for a powerful hug. "OMG thank you so much! We'll work things out with Percy later. He's gonna be so happy!"

"I'm happy too," Koga squeaked, "but please, don't break my back."

"My bad," Alicia said, loosening her embrace. "Oh, and you can't rename him. He stays Rowan."

"Ugh, fine. Deal," Koga said, playfully shoving Alicia away. She looked down at the immaculate cake. "This looks so good."

Alicia took pictures of the cake from several angles, finished up with a couple of big-smile selfies, then gave Koga a thumbs up. "We're set. Let's get our girl in here." They peeked around the corner to find Krysta and Percy absorbed in their laptops and a glassy-eyed Julie absorbed in a sleeping Whitley's hair. Alicia waved them over and the three managed to get off the couch and into the kitchen without waking Whitley. Alicia waited for the group to gather behind the cake at the table before turning back to the couch.

"Hey, Whitley. Cake's ready!"

Whitley started awake at the mention of cake and was off the couch, across the room, and into the kitchen in a heartbeat.

"So, after I get done eating half this cake, I gotta show you this video. Two words: chinchilla threeso—wait, what are all you doing in here?"

"Happy 10,000 watchers!"

"Oh, you have got to be fucking kidding me."