Steven broke up with Kelly after she was stung by the bee.
I can confirm this because I was there. According to Kelly’s version of the story, she broke up with Steven before the bee sting.
I don’t know what I expected when I called her out on the discrepancy.
“I was going to do it. Before the bee stung me, before Steven laughed, I was literally about to do it, but then I had to tell him off. I started screaming and he started screaming back, because–well, you remember. Anyway, the point is that he beat me to the words, but in my mind, I had already broken up with him. So, yeah, I’m allowed to tell people that I did.”
“That’s not how the world works,” I responded. “Doing things in your head isn’t equivalent to doing them in real life. People keep asking me what happened.”
“One, you’re not my PR rep, so you don’t need to answer. You can say you don’t know instead of trying to gain clout off of my business. Two, why are you so concerned about how I chronicle my breakup?”
“It’s my life, not yours. You’re supposed to have my back. You’re a shitty friend,” she snapped. “If you want to fuck Steven, just say that.”
Then she hung up. That was last week. Kelly and I hadn’t spoken until she called me yesterday.
“I’ve been reflecting on the breakup. And the relationship,” she said, as soon as I picked up. “I think Steven’s gay. It’s the only logical reason why we ended. He needed an ‘out’ from the relationship. That’s why he started laughing when the bee stung me. He knew I’d freak out and he’d have an excuse to walk. Everything makes sense.”
“You are delusional.” I hung up.
Then she unfollowed me on Instagram.
. . .
“I heard you laughed when the bee stung Kelly,” Rebecca said at brunch, three days prior to Kelly’s and my last conversation, “and didn’t chime in when they started fighting. You knew Steven was gonna break up with her that day, didn’t you?”
“It’s really not my place to discuss Kelly’s love life.”
Rebecca tilted her head. “So why were you there?”
“Because she invited me! Why the fuck would I go otherwise? You think Steven told me to ambush their date? What the hell, Rebecca?”
The family seated beside us stared.
Rebecca took a long sip of her drink. “You’re getting awfully defensive for someone who supposedly had zero involvement in the situation.”
“Because I’m not sure what you’re trying to get out of this. And you’re, like, the fifth person to ask me what happened, but I’m not relevant to the story. The afternoon would’ve transpired the same had I not been there.”
I lifted the menu. Brunch had been my idea. Rebecca wasn’t enthusiastic when I texted, but I knew she wouldn’t decline mimosas. “You gonna order anything? The french toast here is amazing.”
Rebecca downed her drink and threw cash on the table. “I would, but I gotta go. Long workday tomorrow. Nice catching up with you, though.”
She left before I could answer. I would’ve told her that we’ll plan something soon, but she didn’t imply that she wanted to.
. . .
Kelly, Rebecca, and Jessica stopped writing in the group chat we’d maintained since college.
“I think they created a new one. Without me. Yesterday Jessica posted a picture on Facebook of them at dinner.”
My sister and I strolled through Zara, stopping in front of a sale rack.
“You think this would make my ass look good?” She held a magenta bodycon dress.
“Are you even listening to me? I’m telling you I’ve been exiled from my friend group and all you can think about is your ass?”
She rolled her eyes. “I am listening. Actually, you just sounded exactly like Kelly. No wonder you two are best friends.”
“Well, if you were paying attention, you would’ve heard that Kelly has decided not to be my friend anymore. The other girls, too. With me, I mean. They’re all still friends.”
“Who cares? I never liked those bitches. You didn’t do anything. You never do, yet they’ve been ganging up on you since college. That’s high school behavior yet you’re all twenty-four. Ridiculous.”
I stopped walking, catching myself in a mirror. “You know… they do kind of gang up on me. But why is this the inciting incident for them to shun me?”
“Because this is the first time you’re defending yourself.” She tossed the dress on a table. “Let’s go. Everything here is ugly.”
. . .
I couldn’t sleep that night. My dream awoke me. Nightmare, really, because Kelly, Steven, and I were back in Central Park, on the infamous day, but Steven didn’t break up with Kelly. He told her that the only way to fix their fractured relationship was to have a threesome with me. Kelly started crying. Steven and I had sex anyway, right there on Kelly’s quilt. Hundreds of bees swarmed our bodies and coated us in honey. Passerbys formed a circle. Kelly recorded the scene on her iPhone and posted it on the internet.
I woke up sweating and enraged. There was no way I’d fall back asleep, so I grabbed my notepad.
Three things define Kelly:
1) She has never been dumped.
2) She is the Queen Bee of our group, and the world.
3) She is allergic to bees.
These details had to be connected.
I circled item one. Kelly never dated men who hadn’t already fallen in love with her because every man she met fell in love with her. Granted, she’s shaped like a Coke bottle and her face resembles a China doll, but men don’t solely want to bang Kelly–they want to marry her. Kelly entrances everyone, which brings me to point two.
Hilarious, I scribbled onto my pad. I met Kelly the third day of my sophomore year. She sat in our dorm lounge, surrounded, as she recited a conversation she had with her history professor. The anecdote wouldn’t have been half as riveting if someone other than Kelly told it. Kelly could joke about a car manual and the audience would roar.
Extroverted. I had walked into the lounge to fill my water bottle, and eavesdrop, because I wanted to see what the fuss was about. Kelly paused her tale to introduce herself and ask if I lived on the floor. She roomed with her two best friends, Jessica and Rebecca. They invited me out with them that night. I must’ve told thirty strangers my name because Kelly couldn’t take a step without someone stopping her. Through her, my identity finally mattered.
Direct. In movies, the Queen Bee asserts her dominance through snark and aggression. It’s the lid that covers the Queen Bee’s boiling self-doubt, which threatens to overflow and tarnish the pot. Contrarily, Kelly’s confidence isn’t superficial. She doesn’t need to boss people around because they choose to follow her.
The stereotypical Queen Bee’s head is too far up her ass to advise her minions, let alone respect them. However, Kelly is a loyal friend. A frat guy called me fat after I rejected him. Not only did Kelly get him kicked out of his frat, but he ended up transferring schools. I’m still not sure what she did. I never questioned her powers.
I never liked those bitches. You didn’t do anything. You never do, yet they’ve been ganging up on you since college.
Do the girls gang up on me? I mean, sometimes they laugh at me. Like when I trip. They call me their “little klutz.” They think my Russian doll collection is weird. And my “dad jokes.” They insist on dressing me before evening plans because my fashion sense cannot be trusted. They hate my sweater vests. And Birkenstocks. They really hate my Birkenstocks.
My heart beat faster. I called my sister.
“I need to ask you something. Please answer honestly.”
She groaned. “What could you possibly need to ask me at four in the morning?”
“I want to know if I’m weird. Like, am I a weird person?”
“You woke me up at four AM to ask if I think you’re weird?”
“Correct. Please answer.”
“Yes. You are weird. Goodbye.”
I rocked back and forth. “Oh my God,” I murmured, squeezing my teddy bear, “They’re cutting me off because I’m weird.”
The knot in my stomach tightened, but not due to my potential conclusion. I gripped my notepad. The situation still didn’t feel resolved.
. . .
She is allergic to bees.
I used to think nothing terrified Kelly, not even three-hundred-pound club bouncers or cops. I credited that to her childhood with four older brothers. In May of our sophomore semester, though, as we lounged in the grass, a bee flew onto Kelly’s cranberry vodka. She knocked over her red solo cup and screamed so loud that the entire campus must’ve heard. The bee chased Kelly and she began to sob, harder than Rebecca did after her boyfriend dumped her for a freshman.
“Relax, it’s just a bee.” Jessica and Rebecca glared at me.
“I’m allergic to bees!” Kelly shrieked.
Apparently, when a bee stings Kelly, her skin turns red and swells like a balloon. She’d only been stung twice–first, while upside-down on her kindergarten’s monkey bars, and second, on her cheek, the day before eighth-grade graduation–but these moments traumatized her. Kelly managed to survive over a decade without encountering another bee. Somehow, that streak ended the day of The Breakup.
This couldn’t be a coincidence.
. . .
Sunday, nine A.M., I scribbled. Kelly invites me to a picnic in Central Park.
“I should be free around one. Are Rebecca and Jessica coming? And Steven’s friends?”
“No. It was supposed to be just me and Steven.” Kelly’s voice lowered through the phone. “Friday night we’d planned to go today, but we fought a lot this weekend. Long story.”
“Are you guys fine now? Because I’d rather not come if it’ll be awkward.”
“Yeah, we’re good. I also figured it’d be less awkward if you were there. I doubt he’ll start up if there’s a witness… and it’ll be like old times, right?”
This should’ve been the part when I told Kelly that I forgot I’d booked a haircut. I might’ve suspected Kelly was using me–well, my presence–but I don’t know if that’s my hindsight realization.
That’s the thing about retrospection. When reflecting, you must separate your present thoughts from your incidental thoughts, but your incidental thoughts become harder to recall as the present thoughts overpower them, until eventually your present thoughts become so intertwined with the incident that
they imprint onto it.
I closed my eyes. I showed up to the picnic with cups, a wine opener, and Chardonnay. Kelly’s favorite. She and Steven brought cheese, crackers, fig jelly, and a flowered quilt. Kelly wore a yellow sundress and a white bow tied to her braid. I could smell her perfume before I hugged her, as if she bathed in it.
“You look so cute,” I’d said. “I love that dress.”
She beamed. “Borrow it whenever.”
Steven was hyper-focused setting the quilt and food. He looked up to us looming above. “You guys gonna sit?”
“Pass me the wine opener.” Steven swiftly opened the bottle and poured. “Cheers.” He shot his signature crooked smile. It was the one Kelly fell in love with, but this time, it didn’t meet his eyes.
. . .
I tapped my pen on the page. The story began long before Kelly and Steven’s official relationship.
Steven lived next door to us during our junior year. Max, Steven’s roommate, was hooking up with Jessica, and their other roommate, John, was seeing Rebecca. We became a group, ending most nights in each other’s apartments. Everyone knew that Steven liked Kelly. She’d flirt with him, but she had a boyfriend and would often invite him over when she knew Steven would be in our apartment. She liked to make Steven jealous. Again, I’m unsure whether I recognized this at the time, or only now.
I can’t confirm what happened that first Saturday of April. Kelly avoids talking about it and we know better than to ask. John bought a bunch of mushrooms. We took them on our rooftop, where we stayed for a few hours, until Max and Jessica migrated to her room. Rebecca, John, and I were so immersed in the sunset that we didn’t notice when Steven and Kelly also retreated.
Kelly broke up with her boyfriend the next day. She dropped the news casually, the way one says, “I’m heading to the deli for lunch.” We asked her why, but she answered ambiguously.
“I realized things during our trip. Like, I had epiphanies. My gut told me he wasn’t the one. So I let him go.”
We asked if Steven influenced her decision. She said we sounded like conspiracy theorists.
That week, Kelly and Steven argued in the hall. When she crept into her room, I heard her crying through our paper-thin walls.
Kelly never cries. Except when she’s stung by a bee.
We stopped hanging out with Steven and his friends for the rest of the semester. Then, at the start of senior year, Steven had a girlfriend. Kelly never mentioned him again. When we did, her demeanor darkened.
Somehow, though, when we all moved to the city after graduation, Kelly and Steven rekindled. She dropped the news three months later when he officially became her boyfriend. Unlike her previous ones, Kelly rarely discussed Steven. She’d excuse herself when he called and return in a mood. The most she’d divulge was that “he created problems out of nothing.” We told her to break up with him because she could score any of the city’s eligible bachelors, but she insisted that she loved Steven. By the way she averted her gaze when she spoke, I could tell that unlike her feelings towards her past boyfriends, these feelings were different.
I stared at my notes. As the sun gleamed through my window and glared onto the word ‘bee,’ I understood.
. . .
“I figured it out. Kelly used me as her pawn,” I blurted into the phone.
“Hello to you, too,” my sister yawned.
“Wait. Listen. I outlined the entire plot. You know how Kelly could bag any guy? Like, because they’re all obsessed with her?”
“We know this.”
“Listen. Steven was the one guy who perceived Kelly as a normal girl. She captivated him in the beginning, but that was when she played games with him. Anyway, when we all took shrooms and they slept together, Kelly wanted to be with Steven, but his infatuation had worn off. Or, alternatively, Kelly felt Steven’s infatuation wearing off prior to the sex, and that was what sparked her interest. Regardless, her ego couldn’t handle the rejection. Are you following?”
“She tried to forget about him, but when she heard he moved here, I’m pretty sure she was the one to contact him after. That’s why she didn’t tell us. I don’t know if he wanted to date her when she pursued him again. Maybe his feelings returned. But remember, he didn’t worship her like her other boyfriends did. Steven was a challenge and she grew even more attached to him.”
I glanced at my notepad. “I think he was going to break up with her the Sunday she invited me to Central Park. Or maybe sometime that upcoming week. And no one dumps Kelly.”
“If she had that hunch, wouldn’t she beat him to it, earlier?”
“Yes and no. She didn’t want to break up. She loved him. Or loved the idea of him. Who knows. But I think she accepted that they weren’t compatible and the relationship wouldn’t last. Basically, she planned to end it in Central Park, and I’d be the witness to corroborate her story. She wanted a bee to sting her; Steven would laugh at her meltdown because he resented her, and she’d use his reaction as her excuse to dump him.”
I exhaled as I waited for my sister to respond.
She burst into laughter. And kept laughing as I asked what was so funny.
“You think Kelly planned for a bee to sting her? Are you serious?”
“Yes! That’s why she wanted to sit under the cherry blossoms. And if she dumped Steven over something trivial, not only would she beat him from dumping her, but she wouldn’t have to face that he didn’t love her the way she loved him.”
“I know Kelly can be conniving, but this is a lot. You know this sounds crazy, right?”
“We have a lot of mutual friends. Think about it. Whatever Steven would’ve told people, if he trashed her, she’d call him the bitter ex and I’d vouch for her. But her scheme failed. She’s cutting me off because I won’t back her narrative. You were right. I was the group’s weakest link and now I’m not.”
My sister told me she enjoyed my hypothesis but needed to get ready for work. I needed to get ready for work, too, but I’d have extra time this morning. I decided to skip my coffee pit stop. Today, I craved tea.
I grabbed a mug and the green tea box in my cabinet. Instead of opening a sugar packet, I reached toward my cupboard’s left corner, until I felt the ridges of my honey bottle. I might’ve been sleep-deprived and delirious, but the bee on the label seemed to wink at me.
My name is Melissa Kerman and I’m a writer from Long Island.