There’s a scarcity of men in the world. These days, a cisgender man, especially. Add the adjectives “quality,” “attractive, ” loyal” to the mix and well, the commodity of a man becomes more prized than gold. Faith was aware of that, all too aware. That’s why she had perhaps settled for a person who was a little meaner to her than he ought to be. Treated her with roughly the same enthusiasm as a cat treats its daily meals. It’s great when it’s there, sure, but it’s also expected. Clinton was also not what those of the old school would call “dashing” in aesthetic. His uniform of greenish brown tapered leg pants and an oversized poncho got him through their Boston winters together, which had thus far amounted to barely one. They had met in grad school at Boston University, he just as he was finishing his degree in Global Studies, and she in the middle of completing hers in Fine Arts. The disparateness of their area of pursuit should have been telling of their fate–for the saying “opposites attract” never seems to include the disclaimer “and therefore ultimately repel.” Faith ignored his lack of sentimentality when it came to discussing art, writing off her favorite piece from the ancient art collection at the Museum of Fine Arts, Perfume bottle in the form of a trussed duck or goose, as “a testament to the longstanding frivolity of women.” The comment stung her at first, but then she realized this was just Clinton’s brash way, saying the first thing that came into his mind without filtering it in any way. She liked his frankness, and his drive. It was in contrast to the usual types she encountered in her classes, most of them still convinced that Picasso was god, never bothering to take to heart the styles of Tamara de Lempicka or Giovanna Garzoni. The reverence for the white male simply couldn’t be avoided in art school.

When Faith complained about this to Clinton over cheap pho at Pho Basil, he ceded, “It’s going to be hard for you to get through, but you’re probably used to it by now–you dealt with it in undergrad.” She nodded in acquiescence, not knowing fully then that it was the scarcity of men that was making her so tolerant of his rudeness.

They walked along the Charles River afterward, holding hands no less. It was moments like this that made Faith believe that enduring Clinton’s occasional bouts of curtness were worth it, that these instances of tenderness and closeness far outweighed any impetuous remarks tinged with vitriol. He was a rarity, it couldn’t be denied. And the more she overlooked the “subtle” viciousness of his heart, the more time they started spending together, until it reached the point where he finally felt it necessary to introduce her to a person she had only heard about ad nauseum in conversation: Lara. At first, Faith thought it sounded innocent enough, this friendship he had with a girl he knew since he was in kindergarten. But the more he talked about her with a certain light in his eyes that he never possessed when he looked at Faith, the more uneasy the latter became about what, exactly, the nature of their relationship was.

It had been three months since they had gone “official,” marked by Faith’s drunken askance, “So are you, like, my boyfriend or what?” outside of Beacon Hill Pub, after she spent most of the night watching him play arcade games. He laughed and kissed her. “Sure, Faith. I’m your boyfriend.” With that, he slung his arm over her shoulder and walked them back to her apartment, where he would soon fill the space that her roommate was leaving behind. Rebecca was more than a roommate though, she had become a constant cohort over their years in Boston together. A job with a prestigious law firm in London signaled the end of their roommate renaissance, and left an in for Clinton, even though it was too soon.

It was when he told Faith he wanted to have a housewarming party and include Lara at the top of the guest list that she started to get nervous. She was already imbued with a natural sense of jealousy as it was, hearing all those stories about trips they had gone on  together and the shit they had gotten into. It was clearly an unbreakable bond, one that she would either have to become a part of or risk inflicting a premature strain on her still fresh relationship.

The date of the party fell around Christmas, December 16th, so Faith opted to go all out in ensemble and cooking motif. Even though she had to finish a painting for her final, she poured all of her energy instead into this party, wanting–needing–it to be perfect for the sake of ensuring Clinton’s favor and smooth transition into acquaintanceship with Lara.

So she bought a red shift dress with white trim and a black belt, going for a Mrs. Claus chic look. For the appetizers, she wanted a festive flair, so she prepared a pasta salad with pesto sauce and lush red cherry tomatoes as an homage to the signature color scheme of the holiday. She also arranged an assortment of cheeses and grapes on a Christmas tree-shaped tray and set out pigs in a blanket on a round platter with sprigs of holly throughout. Working up to the last minute in the kitchen, her main course, a pot roast with potatoes was to be her crowning achievement–proof of the sexist adage that the way to a man’s heart was through his stomach. All the while, Clinton was busy with chasing a lead on an interview for his job as a journalist for the World news section of The Boston Globe. Faith didn’t think he would go for this more artistic angle of Global Studies (despite what people say, journalism is still writing). So no, he wasn’t involved in any of the party planning in spite of him being the one who wanted to have it in the first place.

As the night before the party dawned, Faith suddenly realized just how behind she was on her painting, an image of a woman alone at a kitchen table in blatant hangover form, a French press and a cup of coffee in front of her. She had doubted the value of the piece from the start, wondering what merit it could have, what statement it was really making. But it was too late to start from scratch now, so upon prepping the roast with its seasonings and allowing it to marinate overnight, Faith went about the task of completing her work in time to submit for the final. As she fretted over how much of certain color to use here or how severe the dark circles under her eyes should be there, Clinton proceeded to get roaringly drunk with a few of his friends in the living room after they had gathered to watch an episode of a warrior drama set in ancient Greece called Not Gay, Just Ancient Greek. When she briefly came up for air to politely request that they keep it down, they nodded in assent and went right back to the same noise level. Faith maintained this only further contributed to her lack of focus while wrapping up her project, which ultimately received a C-. When she mentioned this to Clinton later, he returned, “Maybe you just don’t have ‘it,’ I don’t know why you’re trying to blame me and my friends for your lack of talent.” But before she found out about the grade, there would be a series of other far worse events, all to occur at this housewarming/Christmas party.

The ill omens began the next day, when Faith pulled the pot roast out of the oven after an hour of cooking, only to discover that the oven had been turned off the entire time. “Fuck. What a fucking idiot,” she muttered to herself, assuming she had been the one to make the error in not turning it on. When Clinton came into the kitchen and asked, “What’s the matter?” she explained, “The oven’s been off this entire time, and it’s going to alter my entire serving schedule.” “Oh, I turned the knob the other way… I didn’t think anything was in there.” She glared at him. “Are you fucking serious?”

He caressed her shoulder and offered, “I’m sorry, babe. I’ll make it up to you. What can I do?”

His momentary sweetness threw her, and she suggested that he cut some cucumbers for another appetizer plate she was preparing. As he did so, however, he ended up cutting himself, taking Faith’s attention away from getting the potatoes ready so she could tend to his wound. When she was finished dressing it, she said, “Just go sit down or go get ready or something. I can handle things in here.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah, don’t worry about it.”

Two hours later, at 7:30, the party time had officially arrived. Lara was the first to arrive, bringing with her a bottle of wine and a covered food item Faith had yet to discern. Faith already hated that Lara was the type of person who showed up right on time to a party. It really said something about her lack of consideration for the host.

“Faith, it’s so nice to finally meet you. Clinton talks about you all the time.” It was then that Faith wondered when Clinton had found so much opportunity to speak of her to Clinton.

“He speaks pretty highly of you, too,” Faith reciprocated. Lara took off her trench coat to reveal an extremely low-cut and form-fitting black dress–a bit too summery for the current weather, Faith felt. She then thrust her unnamed dish at Faith and said, “Can you put this in the fridge? It’s a little surprise for later.”

“Sure,” Faith acquiesced.

As she went into the kitchen, Clinton and Lara proceeded to cozy up to one another on the couch. “This place isn’t very you, Clinty,” Faith could overhear her say from the kitchen.

“I’ve added plenty of my own personal touches, what are you talking about? Plus, Faith’s already made it so stylish.”

Faith took a deep breath and peered behind the foil of the dish to see that it was a homemade carrot cake. She rolled her eyes. Who the fuck did Lara think she was, trying to outshine her like this?

Pushing her feelings to the side, she went back out into the main room when the doorbell rang. Luckily, it was one of her own friends, Michelle, a tortured artist with sunken in cheeks, pale skin and short cropped black hair. “Michelle! Thanks for coming!” she said too excitedly.

Michelle looked at her quizzically. “Yeah, sure. You’re welcome.” She then thrust a bottle of Prosecco at her and said, “Got a bottle opener?”

About an hour later, the party was in full swing, and Faith had barely been able to spend any time with Lara and Clinton, who had been inseparable on the couch since the fête began. She didn’t like how it was making her feel, all hot and faint. And it was distracting her from playing the little hostess that she was meant to be playing for the night, for all she wanted to do was look over at them–and always at the wrong moments, when Lara would be stroking his arm or whispering in his ear. It was worse than she could ever have imagined.

Ah, but yes, it could be worse. Clinton’s mother, too, decided to show up, in from Hartford and wanting to see how Clinton was living. At least his dad had died of cancer when he was six so Faith didn’t have to deal with two parents.

Mrs. Martin, a 52-year-old woman who wore pearls and had the sort of haircut that borders on mushroom and bob, gave Faith a brief once-over and a polite greeting before heading right for Lara and embracing her with the affection one might reserve for her daughter.

Wanting to create a diversion, anything to keep Lara from getting any closer, Faith announced, “Everyone, it’s time for chocolate cake!” And it was. Freshly extracted from the oven and adorned with a white and red Santa Claus and reindeer design that Faith had created, she wielded it in the air like Rafiki holding up Simba. Lara snapped back, “Clinton can’t eat that. He’s allergic to chocolate. I brought his favorite cake though, so don’t worry about it.”

It was utterly humiliating, and all Faith could say was, “Oh, I guess I didn’t know that about him yet.”

“How could you have? You two have only been together for three months,” Mrs. Martin chuckled.

Back in the kitchen, Michelle smoked a cigarette and gave Faith a judgmental side eye in appraisal of the cake. “This is what you’re using your artistic talent for?”

“Don’t mock me, okay? I really like this guy.”

“Do you? Or is there just a paucity of options out there?”

Michelle had recently gone lesbian, and was therefore especially jaded about men. Faith rolled her eyes and cut Clinton out a piece of the accursed carrot cake Lara made for him.

She brought out a tray of the cake slices and presented Clinton with his special piece. He smiled, nodding his approval at Lara in spite of Faith being the one who served it to him. He took an amorous bite of the cake and seemed instantly to develop heart signs in his eyes. “Are you okay?” Faith asked.

He smiled as he looked at Lara. “Never better.” He then went over to Lara, who was talking to his mother, took her in his arms and kissed her. A collective gasp fell across the room. When their lips parted, Lara shrugged, as though this was the most natural thing in the world. Clinton then got down on one knee and proposed, suddenly sending pangs of agony throughout Faith’s body. Yes, she could tolerate a lot of imperfections in a man, but him having a witch and a bitch for a best friend wasn’t one of them.

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