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“Colony Crash” by Rebecca Lovell @becca_el

“Good news,” Mal sang as she came through the door of the loft. “I found you a new girlfriend, little brother!” Her face was bright with excitement and Matt had no idea how to reply to this. Song sighed and continued to tighten a tiny screw on her tripod.

“I didn’t realize I was in the market,” Matt said. His twin sister shared his sandy brown hair and hazel eyes, but when it came to personality they were night and day. Mal threw herself on the couch beside him and shoved her phone in his face hard enough to send his glasses askew. A half-blurred picture of her with a dark-haired woman appeared and he tried to scoot away.

“It’s my friend Jessi. She’s a huge fan of the channel and she has a crush on you.” Along with Mal and her friend Song, Matt had a fairly popular YouTube channel where the three of them played video games. They mostly played simulation and rhythm games, and their two most popular features were The Sims and Rhythm Heaven Fever. Mal flicked to another picture. “You should have seen her laugh at that Sims stream. She said she didn’t even know you could die like that.”

“I don’t know if I’m comfortable dating someone who saw some incarnation of me fuck myself to death,” Matt said uncertainly.

“Oh come on, she had a crush on you before that stream,” Mal said, shaking her head. “Besides, you’ve dated weirder.”

“And that’s why I’m single.” A knock on the door made him look toward it and Mal flew off the couch to answer it. Matt had a pretty good idea of who was there, and he was already dreading meeting this woman, but he wanted to be polite. The woman standing in the doorway looked like she was going to work. Her hair was back in a ponytail and she was wearing jeans with an N7 hoodie, a pair of work boots on her feet. She looked as uncomfortable as Matt felt as Mal grabbed her arm and dragged her into the studio.

“Matt, this is Jessi,” she said, hauling Jessi in front of him. Her face was red, as if she had been climbing up stairs, and Matt couldn’t help thinking she was actually pretty cute. “She studies bees and enjoys video games.”

“You sound like a Tinder profile,” Jessi said, rolling her eyes, and Matt wondered if she liked coffee. She offered a hand. “Nice to meet you.”

“Yeah, it’s great to meet you too,” Matt said, at a loss for what else to say. He motioned to the couch. “Wanna sit?” Jessi nodded and he stepped aside so she could sit while he took the other end of the couch. “So you work with bees?”

“I’m an entomologist but I specialize in apiology,” Jessi said, relaxing a bit. “I study their activity and social structures.”

“So you’re a bee-haviorist?” He was greeted by a groan from Song.

“We shouldn’t let you talk,” she said, pushing the camera away from her. “Your jokes are violence.”

“Admittedly, that was funnier in my head.”

“Stop. Just stop,” Song said.

“It was funny,” Jessi said, blushing as she spoke. Matt smiled at her and she seemed to get even redder. “I’m sure my labmates will think so.” She looked around. “I don’t want to be rude but I have to be out at the lab in a couple of hours and you mentioned having lunch. I still have to go to A&M and check on the hives, and I don’t want to get stuck in traffic. If I don’t get out there, the geneticists will start getting pushy.”

“Oh, yeah, I knew I forgot something,” Mal said with a shrug. “We can go out somewhere, it’s no big deal.”

“I can just get UberEats to deliver us something,” Matt offered. “They’re pretty fast around this time of day.” He took out his phone and opened the app, then looked up at Jessi. “What do you like to eat?” She smiled at him, seemingly more comfortable.

“I really like tacos,” she said. “My favorite is Tio’s but I don’t mind the cheap stuff.”

“We’ll get Tio’s then,” Matt said. His apprehension about Jessi had disappeared now that he’d met her, and he motioned for her to come to his end of the couch. She moved closer to him and Matt noticed that she smelled nice, as if she’d just washed her hair. “Here. Just get whatever you like.” While she bent over his phone, he hazarded a look at Mal to see she was grinning at him in the infuriating ‘I told you so’ way she had. He focused his attention on Jessi, who tapped two things and handed his phone back. “That’s all you want?”

“I don’t eat much around lunch,” she said with a shrug. “I’m never hungry during the day but I pig out at night.” Matt handed the phone to Mal, then turned to Jessi, hoping she wouldn’t retreat to the other end of the couch. When she didn’t, he smiled at her. If she watched their channel he knew the perfect way to start a conversation.

“So what’s your favorite game?”

***

A knock on Mal’s door surprised her out of a doze on the couch, and she paused the show she wasn’t watching to answer it. She wasn’t expecting anyone but when she looked out the peephole and saw Jessi standing on her doorstep she opened it immediately.

“I’ve got a problem,” Jessi said before Mal could even speak. “Remember Ginny’s mattress?”

“The one she got off Craigslist?” Mal wrinkled her nose. Jessi’s roommate was famous for her cheapness, and loved to bring home furniture she found. “Ugh, yes. I’m still not convinced someone wasn’t murdered on it.”

“Worse. Bedbugs.” Jessi sighed. “I came home and found out I’m not allowed in my apartment because they’re fumigating. Can I crash at your place for the night?”

“Oh, yeah, no problem.” Mal stood aside and let her in. “You don’t have clothes or anything, do you?”

“No, but I don’t mind sleeping in my jeans.” She sighed. “With the exception of lunch, this day has been a bust.”

“You sound like you need a drink.” Mal went into her kitchen and took out a colorful pouch with a tiny straw. “One margarita, no waiting. So what happened?”

“I drove all the way to College Station and couldn’t even get into the apiary,” Jessi said, more than a little affronted. “No one would explain anything to me, just that they couldn’t let me in and that they didn’t seem to care that my keycard wasn’t working.”

“I hope you didn’t get fired,” Mal said.

“They wouldn’t dare,” Jessi replied, stabbing the pouch with the straw. “Thanks for letting me stay here. I’m going to head out there again in the morning and let Ginny deal with the bedbugs, since it was her stupid mattress that caused this. I’m not leaving until someone fixes my keycard and tells me what the hell is going on.” A drop of rain hit Jessi on the nose and she swiped at it irritably. It looked like rain but they were indoors. Both she and Mal looked up to see another fat drop of water gathering on her ceiling. “I think you might have—” Jessi was interrupted by a torrent of water that broke through the ceiling, and she ducked out of the way before she could get soaked. The couch didn’t fare quite as well and Mal stared at it in shock.

“What the hell is happening?” Before they could think it over, there was a banging on Mal’s door and she ran over to find her super standing outside looking harassed.

“Pipe burst upstairs,” he said. “We fixed it but now it’s coming through the floor. I have to get something under that leak before it ruins the carpet.”

“Screw the carpet, what about my couch?” The super ignored her and Jessi continued to sip her drink. “I guess they’re going to be at this all night.”

“I’ve got to find a place to sleep,” Jessi said. “Especially if I’m dealing with work in the morning.”

“I’d call Song but all she has is that horrible couch and she was trying to deal with a couple of bees in her bathroom when I left earlier. Let me call my brother, he’ll still be awake.” She grabbed her phone and sighed. “Hey,” she said, mere moments after she hit call. “We’ve got a situation over here and need a place to sleep.”

“Yeah, of course,” Matt said. “What kind of situation?”

“It’s raining in my living room.” She went to the bedroom and threw a pair of jeans and a t-shirt into a bag, along with two pajama sets and after a thought, two pairs of panties. Jessi seemed like the same size as her. Then she nodded to Jessi and looked up at the super. “I’m leaving for the night. Lock up when you’re done and don’t go through my stuff.” The super didn’t acknowledge her and they went out the door with a roll of Mal’s eyes.

***

When Matt answered the door, he wasn’t expecting to see two women. He’d only been expecting his sister, and he was suddenly nervous when he saw Jessi.

“Hi,” he said, raising a hand at her. Jessi smiled, but didn’t say anything. Mal pushed her way through the door and threw her bag on the couch. “Mal didn’t mention you were with her.”

“Bedbugs,” Jessi said, as if this explained everything. She flopped down on Matt’s couch and put her hand over her eyes. “I’ve had a hell of a day.”

“Make yourself comfortable and I’ll grab us some beers,” Matt said, just as Mal’s phone rang. She put it to her ear with a frown that grew deeper the more she listened to whoever was on the other end.

“Slow down,” she said. “What do you mean there are more bees in your loft? It’s freezing out.” She listened a little longer, then sighed. “Well what do you want me to do about it?” Mal winced and Matt could hear someone yelling. “Okay, fine. Chill. I’m on my way.” She hung up and gave Jessi a lopsided smile. “I’ve gotta go. Song has more huge bees all in her apartment and she’s freaking out.”

“Bees?” Jessi frowned. “In her loft? It’s too cold for bees.”

“She says there’s bees and she needs my help.” Mal looked at Matt. “Can she stay with you for the night?”

“Of course,” Matt said, smiling at Jessi, who blushed. Without another word, Mal went back out the door, leaving him alone with Jessi and an awkward silence. “I can still get those beers.”

“Sure. Thank you,” Jessi said as he went to the kitchen. “Your couch looks comfy.” Matt returned with the beer, shaking his head.

“Nah, go ahead and take the bed. I’m used to sleeping out here.” He laughed sardonically. “I got a lot of practice before Mina left.” It came out sounding more bitter than he expected but Jessi smiled. “Anyway, the sheets are clean and there’s actually shampoo if you wanna shower.”

“Thanks,” Jessi said, taking the beer and opening it. “I usually shower in the morning, though.” Matt considered his options, then sat down beside her. Jessi sighed. “I really hope they don’t hurt the bees. They’re probably just looking for warmth.”

“I’m sure they won’t. Song’s a vegan, she wouldn’t hurt a bee.” He pointed at the TV. “You, uh, want to watch a movie or play a game or something?” Jessi blinked at him and he laughed nervously. “Sorry, this is just kinda weird,” Matt said. “Mal said you had a crush on me and I don’t want you to think I’m trying to put the moves on you.”

“Mal’s got a big mouth.” Jessi’s face was bright red and Matt thought she was adorable. “I swear I’m not just some YouTube weirdo. I’ve always really liked your show.” She sampled her beer. “I sound like a loser.”

“If you’re a loser, so am I. I’m the one that plays video games for a living.” Matt decided to take a chance and leaned toward her, then stopped. “I don’t want to be too forward but I would really love to kiss you.”

“You would?” Jessi looked at him in surprise and he nodded. “I mean, sure. You don’t have to ask.” Jessi met him halfway and Matt pressed his lips to hers, surprised when she kissed him back enthusiastically. It seemed out of character for her but he liked it. He moved closer and put a hand on her waist, wanting to pull her closer when a bee landed on Matt’s shoulder. He waved it off, thinking absently that it was weird for there to be a bee in his room too, and Jessi pulled away and shook her head.

“No, don’t hurt it,” she said. “It won’t hurt you.”

“I’m not going to,” Matt said with a smile. “I wouldn’t intentionally hurt a bee. They’re cool little guys.” His phone rang and he reached over to get it and saw Mal’s name on the caller ID. He frowned. There was no way she was at Song’s already, and he picked up. “Is everything okay?”

“Stay inside,” Mal screamed, and Matt could have sworn he heard the sounds of buzzing and metal crunching. “Don’t go outside, they’re everywhere and they’re huge! You can’t—” The line was cut off abruptly and Matt stared at his phone. Jessi put a hand on his arm.

“What’s wrong?”

“Mal says not to go outside,” he said, getting up. “She didn’t get to tell me why.” He went toward the window just as a shape rose out of the darkness, large enough to be the sort of monster that showed up in horror movies, but there was something familiar about it. It blotted out the streetlights and the buzzing that Matt could hear through the windows made him dizzy. Jessi looked over at where he was frozen.

“What is it?”

“Bees,” Matt said hoarsely. “It’s bees.”

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