Kesi Diya was tired of people thinking she was named after a cheese meal. “No,” she’d start to explain, “I was named after my aunt, it’s a family name…” but by then whoever she was talking to seemed bored. It was almost as though, by clarifying that she was indeed not a quesadilla, Kesi lost her appeal. She’d been on countless dating apps, but how many times had she arrived at her restaurant for her date to lean forward and whisper, as though they were the most original person on the planet, “Whatcha gonna order? No, no, let me guess,” and their eyes would glimmer, so hopeful, “The quesadillas?”
Needless to say, Kesi stopped eating Mexican food on dates. She wished she could have blamed it on something logical, like fear of all things mariachi, but the truth was, she couldn’t eat cheese. Kesi Diya was tragically, ironically lactose intolerant, and everytime someone made up a new joke about her name, she was reminded of it. She was reminded of the first few years of her life, where milk, cheese, and yogurts were her mortal enemy, constantly taunting her with stomachs and bad gas. But Kesi could never tell anyone her secret. If word got out that she couldn’t tolerate cheese, well, the jokes would escalate to a level even she couldn’t handle. That night, while Kesi once again was explaining to someone- this time a kind pharmacist- that no, her parents were not avid mozzarella monsters, someone tapped her shoulder. She turned around. A woman in leopard yoga pants and a cropped purple shirt was smiling at her.
“Did you say your name was Kesi Diya?”
Kesi sighed, “Yeah, why?”
The woman handed her a business card. “Look at my name.”
“Oh, uh, sure.” Kesi glanced at the card in her hand. The name, written in chocky blue font, said Hanna Burgher. “Hanna Burgher?”
She nodded aggressively. “Yes! Hanna Burgher! Like hamburger! People have been making fun of me for years!”
Kesi nodded, that made sense, but what did Hanna want with her? She couldn’t-
“I think we should be friends.”
Hanna placed a thin, finely manicured hand on Kesi’s shoulder. “I think we should be friends! I have a band, do you wanna be in a band? We can call it, like, The Snacks!”
Kesi backed into the pharmaceutical counter. “The Snacks?”
“Yes, because we have food names!”
“But I don’t play any instruments,” Kesi said, “And I cannot sing.”
Hanna frowned and pulled the threads of her sleeve. “Can’t you learn? It’ll be okay. You have my business card.” She started to flounce away, “Call me!”
Kesi turned back to the pharmacist. She took her medicine, thanked her kindly, and walked out of the grocery store. On the way back to her apartment, Kesi thought about Hanna. More particularly, she thought about whether or not she should call Hanna and ask her about the band. It sounded like a ridiculous idea, Kesi had to admit, but at the same time, it sounded fun. How many more chances would she have to hang out with someone who, as annoying as her yoga pants were, was named Hanna Burgher? When Kesi got home, she decided she’d call.
“Hi, is Hanna there?”
“Oh my gosh, Kesi, is this your number?”
“Yeah, this is Kesi. I was calling-”
“About the band! Yes, totally! I knew you would. Oh, I’m so glad. Let me tell you, when I say I LOVED your vibes…”
The next thirty minutes made Kesi semi regret calling Hanna. When, at 4:07 pm, Hanna finally said she had to go, Kesi bit her tongue. She couldn’t lose another friend, not this soon. “I’ll talk to you later! You’re coming by tomorrow? You wrote down my address?”
Kesi said, “Yeah, I got it. I’ll be there.”
She hung up and sighed. What in the world was she getting herself into? The rest of the afternoon, Kesi was listless. She wandered around her apartment picking things up and setting them down again, flicking through channels and, when cable bored her, switching to Netflix to scroll through movies she’d never watch. When her eyeballs began to physically pain her, Kesi flipped over to her laptop and pulled up an empty document, the same one that had been haunting her for the last four months. Four months ago, Kesi was writing a novel. Now she was staring at the blank document that used to hold over fifty thousand words, all deleted in a fit of writer’s block probably spurred by a blocked number and a broken heart. Thinking about it now still made her head hurt. Kesi’s mother would have told her to go buy a new dress, put on makeup, fold up her hair, and go out to the town. But the town didn’t sound fun. Kesi’s house and bed, those sounded fun. She would stay home all the time if she could, if she didn’t have to go to the pharmacy or to buy her groceries. And now she had to go to Hanna’s house. She contemplated cancelling, but if there was anything that she hated more than group activities, it was confrontation. So she didn’t cancel. She went to sleep.
“Hi!” Hanna greeted Kesi at the door of her giant, brick home, “I’m so happy you showed up. I thought you might cancel. But hey,” she grinned, “You’re early! Come in, come in.” She stepped aside to let Kesi into the house. Hanna was wearing cow patterned yoga pants and a dark hoodie with lopsided strings. Kesi still felt underdressed next to her. She tugged at the bottom of her t-shirt. Hanna noticed, and said, “I love your shirt. Yellow… That’s a hard color to pull off. But you do. Is it a band?”
“Is what a band?”
Hanna pointed at her shirt, “Your shirt. Are the people on it in a band?”
Kesi looked down. She shook her head, “No, they’re, uh, it’s a long story but basically when my grandpa died, his wife made all these shirts for our family to wear to his funeral service.” She jabbed a thumb at the man on her shirt, “That’s Akida, my grandpa, and,” she moved to the woman, “That’s Elsa, his wife.”
“She’s not your grandmother? Just his wife?”
“Like I said,” Kesi said, grinning, “It’s a long story. Um, your house is super cool.” She ran her hand along the wall, the panels of wood warm against her skin. “I love the ceilings.”
“Thank you! Oh,” Hanna grabbed Kesi’s wrist, “Let’s do a house tour!”
Before Kesi could object, they were walking through the many, many rooms. Kesi had never seen so many bathrooms in her entire life. The carpets, all of them, were soft and white and immaculate. They made Kesi nervous and comforted her at the same time. She wondered how Hanna could live here all alone, and then they got to the basement. The stairs were located near Hanna’s bedroom, which featured a four poster bed and several paintings Kesi was sure she’d seen at museums at one point or another, and at the end of the staircase was a door. It was painted bright blue and a small sign hung from a nail, reading: THE BASEMENT, as though there were so many things that could possibly lie behind this door.
Hanna, who Kesi was quickly realizing liked physical attention, grabbed her wrist again and pressed her palm to the door. “Kesi, babes, this is where the magic happens.” She pulled the door open. “Everyone, say hi to Kesi!”
For a minute, Kesi seriously doubted that Hanna was talking to any real people. There was a shelf of stuffed animals directly across from where they were standing. Had she ended up in this basement only to be murdered? And then, just as Kesi was backing up to run out of Hanna’s house, a shaggy headed person fell from one of the bunk beds- there were four of them leaned against the farthest wall- and waved from their place on the floor. Thank goodness, Kesi thought, that these carpets are so soft. “That’s Dell,” Hanna explained, “I’ve known them since, like, third grade. Dell, say hi.”
“I did. I waved.” Dell sat up. “Hello, Kesi. I’m Dell. Nice to meet you.”
On the bunk bed closest to Dell, a short blonde girl was on her phone. She glanced over to Kesi and nodded. Hanna smiled, “That’s Riian. She’s texting her fiance.” Kesi stared at her. “Because he’s in the,” Hanna dropped her voice, “He’s in the CIA. Only we’re not supposed to know that. So, Dell, Riian, and then Walter and Duckster should be here soon. They went to go get the mail, I think.”
“So they, um, live in your basement?”
Hanna shook her head, “No, they have rooms upstairs, but we all hang out down here. It’s our band room, wanna see the set up?”
“Sure,” Kesi said, knowing she didn’t have a choice anyway, “I’d love to.”
Hanna led her to a shiny curtain. Behind the curtain was a drum kit, a keyboard, and a tall box that looked like it might contain some other instrument. “So right now, we have Riian on the drums, Dell on the keyboard, Duckster does vocals, and I play the accordion.” Hanna sat down and tilted the tall box towards her. “Oh, and Walter is our lyrics guy. I’m thinking,” Hanna opened the accordion box, “You could help him.”
“What? No, I don’t know how. I don’t write music.”
“Maybe not, but you’re a writer. I can tell. So write our lyrics. I love Walter, I really do, but all he writes about is ketchup and trees. The songs sound great, but nobody wants to sing along to a bunch of people bopping their heads to, ‘oak trees, elm trees, eat them with ketchup’ seven songs in a row. It’s horrible.” Hanna, from the ground, reached for Kesi’s hands. “I need you, Kesi, I really believe the universe brought us together.”
Kesi shivered. Hanna had cold hands. “Right, yeah, the universe.” She sat down. “But you have to know, I haven’t written anything in over four months. I don’t even know if I can write for you guys.” She met Hanna’s clear green eyes, wide with flickering hope. “But I’ll try, sure, I’ll try.”
“Yay, I knew you would.” Hanna patted Kesi’s leg. “Your jeans are crunchy. Do you want to borrow yoga pants? They’re more conducive for writing, I bet. I have some-”
“No.” Kesi shook her head, “No, it’s okay. I’m good in my jeans.”
“Alright. But if you ever need alligator print yoga pants, let me know. My collection is one of the most renowned in the country.”
“Okay, thank you, Hanna.” Kesi started to say something else, but then she heard footsteps descending to the basement. Hanna’s eyes lit up and she bounced off the floor.
“That must be Walter! You’re gonna love him. And Duckster too, yeah, but mainly Walter.” She pushed aside the curtain, “He’s such a sweetheart, honestly, I wish it would have worked out between us.”
“You guys dated?”
Hanna laughed, “No, never, we were roommates, though.”
“So he doesn’t live here anymore?”
“He does. He’s just the reason I had to get more roommates. I couldn’t live with just him.” She leaned forward, “He cries in the shower. I couldn’t drown out the noise. So I met some new people.”
“You seem to be really good at that.”
“Yeah,” Hanna reached for Kesi’s arm, “Wait, I’m sorry, do you mind if I-”
“It’s okay, I’m just not used to it. My family’s not, like, super affectionate.” Hanna grabbed her arm and pulled her into the basement again. In the middle of the room stood a person with cupcake pink hair and the darkest eyes Kesi had ever seen and then, next to the cupcake, stood Walter. Kesi knew Walter very, very well. Only he didn’t used to be called Walter. Kesi knew him as Ta Coe. Taco. Her ex as of four months ago.
Hanna smiled, “That guy? Yeah, that’s him. What’s wrong?”
“Um, Hanna, listen, I am so sorry, but I can’t stay. I can’t write with him. I can’t-”
“Oh no.” Hanna suddenly blanched. “You’re K! You’re,” she backed away, “I’m so stupid, oh my gosh. Of course.” She pressed her hands flat against her face. “He hasn’t seen you yet. But don’t leave, please,” she pleaded, “We can make this work.” Kesi opened her mouth to tell Hanna to stop, but it was too late. She’d already waved over Walter, who was now gaping at Kesi as much as she was gaping at him. “Walter, this is Kesi.”
Walter looked as though he’d been slapped. Kesi felt like she’d been stabbed. Her stomach felt hollow. “I know who she is.”
Kesi’s knees buckled and she stumbled backwards. Hanna caught her. “Hey, it’s okay, you guys can do this.” She looped her fingers through Kesi’s and Walter’s and swung their arms. “We’ve got this! You can write our songs, I believe in you.”
Walter dropped her hand. “No, Hanna. I can’t write with her.”
“And I can’t write with him. Things ended badly. Like,” Kesi bit her lip, “Really badly. I’m sorry, I’ll leave.”
She started walking towards the stairs. Hanna ran after her. “Kesi, don’t leave! Maybe it was just a misunderstanding. We can work this out, come on.” Kesi stopped just as her foot hit the first step. “Let’s just all sit down and talk about it as a band, okay?” She waved her phone in the air. “I’ll order pizza.”
Walter sighed heavily, “Kesi, please. Hanna has nothing to do with me. Just come talk for a while. Strictly business.” Kesi flinched. He said, three hours before she discovered he was cheating on her with an artist from Manitoba, that it was a strictly business relationship. Liar. She drew her lips into a thin line.
“Hanna, I appreciate your offer. You’ve been very kind to me.” She stepped back into the basement. Hanna’s friends looked at her with drooping jaws, all too enthusiastic to watch the drama unfold. “I’ll stay, and I’ll eat your pizza, but I can’t guarantee that my songs will be any kind of,” she swallowed tears, “Collaboration with, um, Walter.”
“You don’t have to write with me.” Walter said, “You don’t have to look at me, talk to me, think of me.”
“I know.” Kesi sat down beside Riian on the bunk bed. “It’s fine.” She sighed and looked back at Hanna, who was rocking on her heels. “Can you order a pizza with extra anchovies for me?” She knew, all too well, that Walter hated anchovies. She hated them too, but if the smell made him sick, she would eat three pounds of them. She would become an anchovy if it made him sick.
“Oh, sure. Of course.” Hanna dialed the pizza place. “I’ll be right back. Behave, everyone!” She drifted back up the stairs, letting the blue door bang behind her. Riian put her phone down and stared at Kesi.
“This is why I keep my boyfriend overseas.”
“How did you know-”
Riian held up a finger. “I know everything, little Kesi. Just ask Walter.”
“I’m not gonna ask Walter.”
Everyone in the room was quiet. Walter drummed his fingers along the spine of a black notebook. “Maybe I should go help Hanna.”
Duckster laughed briskly, “With ordering a pizza? She talks her head off for a living. She’s got it.”
Walter sighed. “I know, I just feel like I’m not wanted here right now.”
Kesi almost jumped off the bed. Riian placed a heavy hand on her arm. “It’s not worth it, little Kesi. Don’t fight the man, be the man.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Riian shrugged, “I have no idea. My mom used to say it.”
“I don’t care if he’s uncomfortable. I want him to be.” Kesi stood up, shaking Riian off. “You,” she pointed at Walter, “Don’t deserve the air you breathe if I’m in the room. You’re not worth my time. I should leave.” She stepped over Duckster, who was doing some kind of convoluted pilates on the floor, and shoved Walter. He wasn’t a very solid person, and therefore tumbled backwards, shearing into the curtain and cracking his elbows against the keyboard.
“What the heck, Kesi?”
Kesi, horrified by what she’d done, held out a hand to help Walter up from his drum kit stupor. “I’m sorry,” she started to say, but Walter yanked her down beside him and struggled to his feet. Duckster the pink headed cupcake tackled Walter, sending them both crashing into the keyboard. At the same time, Hanna got back to the basement.
“Hey, guys, what’s up?” No one answered her. She was met with the sounds of keys crunching into the keyboard. As Hanna looked towards her precious curtain and saw that Kesi, Walter, and Duckster were, in essence, battling each other, she ran. “Stop! What are you doing?” Kesi’s natural instinct was to hip check Hanna out of danger, but Hanna didn’t know her intention and, upon the threat, poked Kesi between the eyes.
Riian’s boyfriend called her on video chat and asked what was going on. Riian sighed, turned her camera around, and said, “It’s a food fight.”