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A Thing or Not a Thing (That Is the Question)

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“Wow, you’ve got one of those portable washing machine things,” the woman says, voice laced in wonder. She glances up at Taystee, her wide brown eyes betraying her excitement under the brim of her stylish fedora. “Is that included in the rental agreement, or do I have to hoof it to the Laundromat?”

“The Haier? Yeah, you can use it,” Taystee says, only a little confused. She wasn’t expecting the possible tenant who e-mailed her about her Craigslist ad to be so enthusiastic. The guy before her looked like a porn star, and the girl after had obviously never lived outside her folks’ house. “So, what did you say your name was again?”

“Poussey,” the woman says, straightening up and extending her hand. “Washington.”

Taystee almost laughs, just out of pure reflex, but she reminds herself she’s an adult, and this woman looks relatively normal, and she really needs to split the rent. She shakes Poussey’s hand. “What do you think? This place your style?”

“Girl, I can make any place my style,” Poussey says with a charming smile. “But I have to admit, this is a sweet deal. I’ll sign if you’ll have me.”

Taystee has a feeling in her gut that this is a bad decision. The woman is pretty and thin, her smile cocky, her clothes tight and vintage. She’s got a copy of Dr. Faustus in her tote bag, the same copy Taystee has on her shelf. And she’s obviously giving Taystee a once-over in the entryway.

“Let’s sign,” Taystee says, ignoring the butterflies, and is instantly glad she did.

*

“You’re fucking your German roommate,” Cindy says right as Taystee tosses a bagel and a Diet Coke onto the break-room table.

“Am not,” Taystee fires back, feeling her face and neck heat up. “Keep your voice down. We’re in public, dummy.” She sits down across from her friend at the small table in the airport employee lounge. “And I brought you lunch, so you better be nice.”

“Please, I’m always nice. And I can practically smell the sauerkraut on you.” Cindy laughs, mouth full of everything bagel. “You didn’t stand a chance with her Euro-pussy magic and all.”

“Gross,” Taystee says, rolling her eyes. “And she’s not German. She just knows German.” She found that out a week before when Poussey mumbled something distinctly rough and short as she came, body pressed against Taystee’s, and Taystee asked about it later. German may sound like a bunch of throaty grunts, but damn, you could spin some dirty shit with it. Taystee can’t even watch Inglourious Basterds on FX without getting turned on anymore.

“So you’re fucking the hipster who knows German,” Cindy says easily. “Better keep this good thing up until lease do you part.”

Taystee takes a sip of her soda, trying to find a way to justify her situation. She’s been doing so well—the best ever since getting away from Vee, actually. She’s got a good job, a too-good-to-be-true apartment only twenty minutes from the office, and a group of friends she could call decent on a good day and bat-shit crazy on a normal one. And now she has a roommate to share the sky-high rent with, putting a little extra in her pocket for the first time in her life.

So of course, she had to go and ruin it all by screwing her (gorgeous, smart, hilarious, sensitive) roommate.

“I’ll be fine,” she says, flicking a poppy seed at Cindy. “Mind your business.”

*

“You know, this doesn’t have to be, like, a thing,” Poussey says, rolling onto her back in Taystee’s bed. Her body is lithe and athletic, her breasts small and pert, and Taystee hasn’t spent a whole lot of her life thinking about other women’s breasts, but she knows Poussey has fantastic ones. “If this isn’t working for you, let’s just go back to being roomies. No harm done.”

“Says you,” Taystee whines, pulling the covers over her body to will away the city’s winter chill. “I’ve only had sex with five other people. You’re the sixth. You’re one-sixth of my sexual experience, and I do not take that lightly.”

“One-sixth? Hell, that’s not bad. That’s what, like fifteen percent?” Poussey gets up and slings one of Taystee’s fuzzy bathrobes on as she walks over to the windowsill to smoke one of her obnoxious French cigarettes. Taystee hates how much she’s attracted to Poussey’s confidence—the other woman just oozes sexuality in her walk, in her hand gestures when she tells a story, in the types of slow, lazy kisses that leave Taystee speechless.

“Something like that,” Taystee says sourly. But you’re 100% my experience with women, she thinks, but leaves that part out. “What if this goes belly-up? Then we’re stuck together until September.” She hates the thought of not being close with Poussey anymore. After three months of living together, they’re friends before lovers—they have the same taste in books and movies and snacks, and they’re always teaching each other new things. Taystee knows the city better, but Poussey knows the world better.

“Miss Jefferson, I think that you think too much,” Poussey says, straddling the windowsill. The morning light is soft and hazy, foretelling afternoon snow, and Taystee curls deeper into bed. “What if instead, we read Harry Potter and make Easy Mac and perfect our WASP impressions?” She flicks her ash out into the breeze. “What if we fuck and complain about our jobs and see where it all goes?”

Taystee lies back in bed, thinking. She’s never been the type to have a long-term plan—when you live day to day, planning is little more than dreaming. She certainly never planned to fall for her female roommate, but then again, she never planned to live outside the system, or get promoted at work, or afford cable TV. Life was full of unplanned surprises. “Shut the window, would you? It’s winter, you freak.”

Poussey just laughs and puts out her cigarette before jumping back into bed and pressing her cold hands against Taystee’s bed-warm body.