By: Alex Masse, Staff Writer
Vancouver’s January air struck through the bones, the same as always. That is to say, it was cold, but if you expressed this to anyone outside the Lower Mainland, they’d laugh at you.
She pulled her scarf tighter and, with numb fingers, sent her fifth text in as many minutes.
You’re 20 minutes late now.
It was embarrassing, but being here hit a nerve. The sun was on its way out, its scarlet rays peeking through the stationary SkyTrain cars across the street. Soon even that would be gone, and she’d be alone in the dark, in the middle of nowhere.
And then she heard her. “Oh my gosh, sorry, I missed a bus on the way back from lecture.”
SFU didn’t even turn around. “That wouldn’t be a problem if you just let me meet you on campus, UBC,” she muttered.
UBC either ignored the aloofness, or didn’t notice. She joined SFU on a bench by the bus stop, sidling up beside her.
“You know this is how things have to be, Si,” she said, smiling almost apologetically. Her tone was soft, but she still snuck in a note of force. Classic UBC. “We have to be careful about who sees us.”
SFU scoffed. “Are you still burned over what happened last spring break?”
“UVic just about saw us holding hands!” UBC shot back, her eyes wide. “He would’ve told everyone. And you know how our parents would’ve reacted. My mom has a bumper sticker that says ‘Proud UBC Parent’ on her Tesla, for goodness sake. I’m sure yours are just as loyal.”
SFU’s parents would be overjoyed if she brought anything with a pulse home. It’d be taken as proof her classmates not only existed, but were more than a bunch of raccoons in trench coats. She tried that one already. The options are slim on a commuter campus, unfortunately.
“We really should talk about things, Bee,” SFU said out loud finally.
UBC poked her in the ribs. “Okay, I get you’re a communications major, but—”
“Wow, such a difference,” UBC teased, leaning in closer. Even in the cold, she was a beacon of warmth, her own little hearth. SFU leaned away: she didn’t trust herself not to melt. She gets a McDonald’s within walking distance of her and she’s this charming?
“Do they, like, remind you guys to talk to each other because you’re stuck on that mountain all the time?”
SFU rolled her eyes. “You’re so pretentious.”
“And I’ve earned that!” UBC exclaimed, a mischievous grin on her face. “Go on, Si, tell me: who’s the number one university in BC, again?”
“Who’s the most comprehensive university in Canada, according to MacLeans?” SFU shot back.
UBC groaned. “What does that even fucking mean?” She prodded SFU again, so hard it actually kind of hurt. Under all the blouses and cardigans, she was buffer than she had any right to be. Probably thanks to carrying all her stupid overpriced textbooks. “This is why I can’t take you back to my parents, you know.”
“That’s why?” SFU barked out a laugh, all bitterness and no humour. “I thought it was because I’m not from your school. You know, we aren’t even that different. You’re from an upper-class Vancouver suburb. I’m from an . . . almost upper-class Coquitlam suburb. Well, technically Burnaby but, like, the lines kinda blur — um, yeah. We both spent all of high school overachieving and being the best just for no entrance scholarships. A couple years from now, we’ll both be in crummy studio apartments, digging our way out of debt.” She was out of breath by the last sentence. She hadn’t even known all those feelings were writhing around in her. Probably under all the Zoom fatigue.
For a long time, UBC just stared, digesting her words. SFU got the feeling she wasn’t used to being disagreed with. She was the top — uh, on top of things all the time.
Finally, and rather grudgingly, she said, “Yeah, I guess I could’ve taken to someone like Douglas, huh?”
“Hey, don’t knock Douglas!”
UBC snickered. “I thought we agreed I could have my superiority complex as long as I didn’t use it on you.”
God. They had agreed to that, hadn’t they? SFU pinched the bridge of her nose. “What do I see in you?”
“You see what I am: the best.”
“Modest, too,” SFU muttered. “You’re such a jackass.”
UBC’s head rested on SFU’s shoulder. “Yeah, but I’m your jackass. You love me.” Her hand slipped into SFU’s, their fingers intertwining. “You know, if you’re so hellbent on being open like that obnoxious Convocation Mall of yours, how about a real date?”
“A real date? What, a UBC engineering party where I’ll never see you again among all the Christophers and stock market talk?”
“NO!” UBC said, her life flashing before her eyes. “We’d have to go somewhere cheap, because I just paid tuition.”
“You did? Or your parents did?”
UBC glared up at her. “You’re literally no different.” She perked up. “Hey, what if I took you to my dorm? You deserve to see what an actual university campus looks like.”
“We have three campuses, actually!” SFU objected.
“Oh, please. That Silent Hill looking hellscape? And is SFU Surrey even real?”
“Geez, Bee, Silent Hill jokes stopped being funny years ago. Stop living in 1908.”
Snow began to fall from above, light as a kiss on SFU’s bare skin.
“You know,” SFU said, “I could show you all the places they’ve filmed stuff. Because apparently our campus is a dead ringer for sci-fi dystopias. So . . . your place this week, and mine the next?”
UBC smiled, and suddenly the cold meant nothing. How could it, when she looked at her like that?