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Losing It

Fiction, Sarah Liedtke-Packer


8:53 pm

heading to the shed soon

you should come through 

I toss my phone into Katya’s hands like we’re playing hot potato. 

“Oh bitch,” she shouts. “We’re going out tonight!” She throws my phone back to me, making a beeline for our tiny shared closet.

“The Shed is a bar,” I remind her. My thumbs hover over the keyboard as I mentally draft out my response. I’m not sure there’s a way to say ‘I’d love to, but I’m not old enough,’ without sounding like a total loser. 

“So?” Katya holds a black crop top up to her chest and frowns into the full-length mirror on the back of the door. “We’ll just stop at my sister’s on the way. She’s got a couple of old fakes lying around that we can use.” She turns to flash a mischievous grin over one shoulder. “Tell him we’re on our way. You’re getting laid tonight!” I duck my head to hide the shy smile creeping its way onto my face. 

“Don’t say it like that.” After graduation, my high school best friend and I had made a pact that we’d both try to lose our virginities by Thanksgiving break, hoping to shed our wide-eyed suburban naivete and emerge, reborn, as Hot Girls Who Fuck. At the time, it had seemed so far away; but now, faced with the possibility that it could happen tonight, I squirm to shake off the tingling that crawls up my spine and into the base of my skull. 

“Oh, I’m so sorry, madame. You will be fornicating with a fine gentleman posthaste.” Katya knows I’m still a virgin and loves teasing me about it like she’s on another plane of spiritual existence simply because she’s had a penis inside of her. She can’t wait for me to join her on the other side. 

“Ewww! Okay, I take it back, you made it worse.” I grab a pen off our coffee table and throw it at her but she catches it and tosses it right back at me, cackling. 

“Do you think Ruben’s going to be out with him?” She asks, suddenly quiet, and stares at me with wrinkles between her eyebrows. 

“They’re best friends, so probably,” I answer, shrugging. I cross the room and nudge her aside with my hip, pulling a red bodysuit off of a hanger and shoving it at her. “Wear this, he’ll love it.”

She grins at me and we bounce back and forth across our dorm room, feeding off each other’s frantic energy as we get ready. Each minute spent applying makeup or fussing with our hair is one less minute we’ll have to hang out with the boys later. 

On the walk to Katya’s sister’s place, we pass groups of people heading out on their own Friday night adventures. We’re salmon swimming upstream, heading away from all of the fun. 

“Cass!” someone yells from across the street. I whip my head around and see Eduardo from my Intro to Stats class grinning at me, white teeth glinting in the streetlights. He’s in the middle of a group of guys all wearing basketball jerseys over sweatshirts. The one next to him nudges him and he stumbles. 

“Hey, Eddie!” I shout back. He walks backward to keep looking at me while his friends peel ahead. 

“You’re going the wrong way.”

“Just gotta make a quick stop first!” Eddie’s eyes bulge and I twist my lips into a smirk.

“Alright, well save some for the rest of us. See you out there!” He throws up a hand in a casual wave and jogs to catch up with the group. As soon as he’s gone, Katya grabs my hand and squeezes it so tight that the tips of her acrylic nails dig into my skin. 

Oh. My. God,” she squeals. “He thinks we’re buying drugs!”

“What?” I ask, feeling my stomach swoop. “No, he doesn’t.” But the more I think about it, I realize that she’s probably right. What other errand would we be running in the opposite direction of all the bars and fraternity houses this late at night?

“We could, though.” Katya drops my hand and holds her arms out, turning in a slow circle, illuminated by the streetlight above us. “We can do anything!” 

I suck my lower lip in between my teeth but can’t help the smile that breaks through. It’s dark and the air has a bite to it; winter’s starting to take over. The season’s changing and I feel something changing in me, too. Blood rushes to my head and I take a deep breath, absorbing the night’s potential and claiming it as my own. We can do anything. 

Jasmine lives on the second floor of an old house. I hold on for dear life as we climb the rickety wooden staircase that leads up to the door.

Our polite knocks go unanswered so Katya starts banging on the door with a flat palm. 

“JAZZ!” she shouts. “It’s me! Open up!” 

When the yelling doesn’t work, she tries the doorknob. It rattles but doesn’t turn.

“I don’t think anyone’s home,” I say, nudging her and pointing to the dark windows.

“Damn it.” She lets her hand fall and pulls out her phone. It doesn’t even ring, just sends her straight to voicemail three times in a row. “Fuck. I think her phone is dead.” Katya’s bangs flutter with the force of her sigh. 

“Do you share locations?” 

“Yeah. I guess it wouldn’t hurt to check.” She taps around on her phone and then holds the phone out to me. The location pin labeled Jazzy hovers over the good dining hall. Seen two hours ago. 

“Okay, so she was eating dinner two hours ago. Where do you think she would have gone after that?” 

Katya takes a moment to think, lacing her fingers together behind her head. She paces back and forth across the tiny porch, rattling the wooden planks with each step. 

“Well, it’s a Friday night, so she probably went out, either to a party or a bar.”

“That’s a start. Party or bar.”

“Party or bar… party or bar.” She stops in her tracks and turns to stare at me with narrowed eyes. “Is Sig Ep having a party tonight? They usually have Friday parties, right?”

“I think so. Why, is she friends with them?”

“No, but her roommate is dating their treasurer, so I think she ends up there a lot.” I shrug and throw an arm out towards the stairs, raising one eyebrow. It’s as good a guess as any, although I’ve heard from some of the other girls on our floor that the Sig Ep guys get handsy when they’re drunk, so we’ll have to be careful. 

We trek back through town to the opposite side of campus. Frat Row is popping; it seems like every other house is having a party, and they all spill out into the street. There’s a group of guys standing in a circle on Sig Ep’s driveway, surrounded by a cloud of pungent smoke. I duck my head and quicken my steps, intending to scurry past them, but Katya slows to a stop and taps a skinny Black boy on the shoulder. 

“Hey, ma,” he says as he turns around to face her. There’s a joint balancing precariously in between his middle and pointer fingers and he holds it out to her. “Wanna hit?” She turns to look at me and I just shrug. If she wants to smoke, I’m not going to stop her. 

“Thanks,” she purrs as she leans in and closes her lips around the joint while it’s still in his hand. I watch, transfixed, as she exhales. A steady stream of smoke swirls around her head, blurring her face for a few seconds. She looks so cool, so at ease. I feel like a silly little high school girl next to her, even though I’m actually four months older. 

“How ‘bout your friend? She want some?” He tilts his head toward me with one eyebrow raised. My eyes dart between the joint, his lopsided smile, and Katya’s fluttering eyelids. Electricity courses through my veins, and my fingers twitch at my side. I’ve never smoked weed before. My middle school guidance counselor had me convinced that the only people who would offer me drugs were criminals, seedy men lurking in alleyways waiting for young, impressionable girls to prey on. But this guy is tall and lanky with a goofy grin that reminds me of my brother’s, and Mrs. Preston isn’t here to stop me. I can do anything.

“Yeah, I want some,” I say as I step forward, nudging my way into the circle between him and Katya. My fingers shake as I reach out to grab the joint but I refuse to give in to the voice at the back of my head that tells me not to do it, to think of the consequences. I don’t want to be that girl anymore, the one who lets indecision paralyze her into inaction. 

I bring the joint to my lips and inhale. The smoke burns its way down my throat and into my lungs. I try to hold it in but after a few seconds, my body rejects it in a coughing fit. 

Damn, girl,” the guy says, nodding as he takes the joint out of my outstretched hand. 

“Way to go, Cass!” Katya cheers, clapping me on the back a few times like she’s burping a baby. I turn to her, grinning. She reaches for the joint again and takes one last hit, holding it in with her chest fully expanded. A tiny flame of jealousy flares up in my gut. I wish I had grown up with older siblings to teach me how to do these things before I got to college. I shake my head to clear that train of thought before it can run any further and I take the opportunity to do a bit more reconnaissance. 

“Do you know if Jasmine Okyere is here?” I ask. The guy with the joint just shrugs and shakes his head, but someone from across the circle perks up. 

“Jazz?” he says. “Yeah, I think I saw her downstairs. Want me to show you?” His bulging eyes and wide, toothy grin remind me of the wolf-grandma in Little Red Riding Hood (better to eat you with!). I shake my head and tug on Katya’s hand to pull her out of the circle. 

“We’ve got it. Thanks, though!” 

Thumping bass punches me in the gut as I swing the front door open. We follow the vibrations through the hallway, stepping over crushed-up Solo cups and narrowly avoiding what looks like puke splattered over the top two stairs that lead into the basement. The sour tang wrinkles my nose and I shove Katya forward, eager to escape the stinky sauna of a stairwell. My brain does a somersault and then it feels like my head is filled with water, and my brain is just floating around in there like a piece of driftwood. Weed is weird. 

Downstairs, people are packed shoulder to shoulder like sardines. Making our way through the crowd is like playing human Tetris. It’s hard to focus on our mission when, everywhere I turn, there’s a big, bad frat boy leering at me and blocking the way. There’s a girl pressed against the wall next to the door to the stairs, her head flopped forward over the shoulder of the guy in front of her. His lips are attached to her neck like he’s a vampire, sucking her dry. I avert my eyes only to turn around and come face-to-face with the bared teeth and blazing eyes of another hungry wolf. 

“I haven’t seen you here before,” he says, leering at me over the rim of a red solo cup. “You a freshman?”

Adrenaline floods my body with warning bells, triggering a primal need to escape before someone takes a bite out of me. I let out a squeak and turned on my heel, ducking under someone’s outstretched arm. Beer splashes over the edge of his cup and cracks like an egg over the top of my head. I squirm as the lukewarm liquid drips down the back of my neck, and my elbow ends up in someone else’s side. He turns around, lips curled up in a snarl. 

“Hey!” he growls. But then his eyes drop down to my chest and his snarl spreads out into a smirk.

I duck my head,  pulling my arms tight to my sides. 

“Sorry!” I squeak, weaving through a gap between two girls, following Katya’s bouncing curls. 

“C’mon,” she says, turning around to grab my hand. She pulls me flush against her back so we don’t get separated. “I think I see her roommate!” 

“Thank God,” I mutter, squinting against the bright laser-beam lights that flicker on and off fast enough to cause seizures. I’m starting to regret not sending that lame text earlier. I don’t think losing my virginity is worth all this trouble, but I’m in too deep to back out now. Thinking about the crinkles in the corners of Tony’s big brown eyes as he squinted at me from underneath a curtain of dark curls and the feeling of his lopsided smirk pressed against my lips at the Lambda Theta Phi party last weekend helps. Warmth blooms outward from the center of my chest, shooting sunlight through my veins. He’s the perfect candidate, gift-wrapped in a Patagonia sweater and delivered just in time for the holiday. My toes tingle and I wiggle them as best I can in my skin-tight boots. 

We stumble off the dance floor, spit out by pulsating bodies and flailing limbs into the lounge area at the back of the basement, where a few old, worn-out couches are set up around a coffee table with three legs and textbooks stacked where the fourth one should be. A guy is kneeling in front of it, face down on the wood. When he pulls his head up, his nose twitches, and there’s a mess of white powder beneath his nostrils. Cocaine. My stomach clenches as we walk past him.

Mrs. Preston’s warning videos about weed usually ended with kids having to repeat a grade or getting kicked off the football team. But in the ones about cocaine? They always died at the end. 

 Katya approaches a girl with bleach-blonde hair. She’s perched in the lap of a Pete Davidson wannabe on one of the couches. He’s got his hand down her pants and his tongue in her mouth. 

“Hey, Lexie?” She asks, tapping the girl on the shoulder. Lexie tips her head back and looks up at us with vacant, kohl-rimmed eyes and a baby-doll pout. The guy is unbothered by our presence and moves his lips to her neck instead. 


“Is Jasmine here with you?” 

“Who wants to know?”

“I’m Katya…” Lexie’s face remains a blank slate, so Katya follows up with, “her sister?” Lexie shrugs like she’s never seen Katya before in her life.

“She just went up to the bathroom. Maybe you can catch her on her way back down?” 

Katya throws her thanks over one shoulder as we turn to leave. This time, we scoot around the edge of the dance floor, careful to avoid the hands that reach out to try and take a piece of us.


We run into Jasmine in the stairwell. Literally run into her as she swings the door open at the top; I have to jump down two steps to avoid getting smacked in the face with cheap plywood. 

“Oh my God, Kat!” She screams despite the fact that we are two feet away from her in an enclosed space. “What are you doing here?”

“Looking for you,” Katya says, swatting her sister’s outstretched hands away. “I tried to call you, like, a million times.” 

“Yeah, sorry, my phone died. But hey, you found me! Now let’s party!” Jasmine throws her arms around our shoulders. 

“No, I need your apartment key.” Katya shrugs Jasmine’s arm off and she sways, leaning all of her weight on me to avoid falling down the stairs. 

“Uh, why?”

“Because Tony Torres invited Cass to the Shed tonight and we need fake IDs to get in.” The wrinkles of confusion on Jasmine’s face smooth into wide-eyed admiration. 

The Tony Torres?” I nod, sucking my lower lip in between my teeth. “Damn, girl. My friend Jenna hooked up with him last semester, she said he’s a good fuck.” She winks at me and I feel a chill trickle down my spine, turning my blood to ice. “Okay, give me five minutes. Brandon’s sober tonight, I’ll get him to drive you over.” 

Fuck. The word clatters around in my brain, sharp and metallic, slicing the memory of his sunshine smile into pieces. Fuck. That’s what he’ll do to me; he’ll fuck me, because that’s what it means to lose your virginity. Fuck, sleep with, make love, have sex, fornicate… they’re all synonyms for the same basic concept, and yet, somehow, mean completely different things. If I couldn’t even handle it when Katya used the old-timey euphemism… I’m not sure I’m ready to be fucked. But my virginity feels like a dark cloud looming over my head, following me from high school to college and lurking in the shadows. I’m desperate to get rid of it, to shed the skin of my girlhood and step into my power as a woman.  

Brandon is the unlucky pledge who has been tasked with playing taxi driver all night. He drops us off in front of Katya’s building and peels away from the curb as soon as we shut the car doors behind us. 

“Oka-ay, rude,” Katya scoffs, flipping the bird at the back of his Honda Civic. “But whatever, at least we didn’t have to walk.” She sticks the key in the lock. It clicks open, and then we’re in. 

Katya pulls a shoebox out from underneath Jasmine’s bed, and we dig through loose rolling papers and the crumbly, burnt bits of weed spilling out of pipes for IDs that will work. 

“Why does she have so many fakes?” I ask as I sift through a stack of them, searching face after face for someone who resembles me.

“She sells them,” Katya explains, shrugging. “It’s cheaper to buy in bulk so she usually ends up with extras.” She holds up an ID and turns to face me, asking, “Does this look like me?” I lean over and squint, at the grainy photo, then shrug. The girl in the photo has a pointier nose and wider-set eyes, but otherwise, it looks okay. 

“It’s good enough. Now help me find one!” The pile of discarded plastic grows bigger as we shuffle through ID after ID without success. 

“Here’s another redhead,” Katya says, holding one out. I snatch it and hold it up to my face. It might be the closest we get, the hair’s too light and too curly but at least that can be explained away. The real issue is that her eyes are green and mine are brown. You can’t really tell by looking at the photo, it’s too small, but if the bouncer sees the letters GRE and decides to check what color my eyes are, I’m done for.

“If he asks questions, just tell him you’re wearing colored contacts,” Katya says, shrugging, as we toss the rejected IDs back into the shoebox. I roll my eyes at her.

“That would be lying,” I say, pulling my jacket back and mentally preparing to head back out into the cold. 

“And using a fake ID isn’t considered lying?” Katya raises one eyebrow at me and holds the front door open, ushering me through. 

“It’s a… means to an end.”


“Oh, so lying is okay when it benefits you, but when I do it, I’m being ‘irresponsible?’” She’s teasing, bringing up the first night we spent in our shared dorm when we stayed up until three am trading stories back and forth, too wired to sleep. 

“I’d argue that telling a twenty-five-year-old guy that you’re twenty-two when you’re really sixteen is irresponsible, yes.” 

“It’s not like I slept with him.” She scoffs and I roll my eyes, again, giving her a little push toward the stairs. 

“Whatever. Let’s get going, I’m freezing my ass off out here!” 

Brandon may have helped us save some time, but it’s hard to feel appreciative as we trek across campus for the third time tonight. Doubts swirl in my mind like letters floating around in alphabet soup. They’re loose, and every time I try to gather them up to try and make some sense out of them, they drift further away from me. Fuck, sex, love, fornicate… the letters arrange and re-arrange themselves in my brain like my subconscious is trying to send me a message. Words I’ve heard over and over, on TV and in movies, whispered behind hands in the backs of classrooms and under the cover of darkness at sleepovers. The mythical, magical beast I always thought I’d have to slay in order to become a woman. 

As the November wind picks up, Katya and I duck our heads to spare our faces and soldier on, quizzing each other until we can recite the addresses on our respective fakes without hesitating. 

The Shed used to be Archer Auto Repair before Jiffy Lube moved into town and put it out of business. It’s painted bright red and stands alone on the weird, triangular street corner where Tratt Street and Starin Road merge into Main Street. When you walk through downtown, it has the same looming presence as Cinderella’s Castle in Disney World. All roads lead to The Shed, or at least that’s how it feels. With each step I take, it grows larger and larger until it’s the only thing I can see, spread out in front of me in all its glory.

A line snakes its way from the door through the parking lot. We take our place at the back and shuffle forward with the flow of traffic as people are let in one by one. I go over the details on my ID while we wait, the words streaming through my head on a constant loop; Annie Bradley, born July 9, 2001. Address: 473 Walnut Lane, Plainfield, IL. When we get close to the front, Katya nudges me, and I pull my jacket tighter around my shoulders like that’ll muffle my pounding heart. It echoes so loudly in my ears that I barely hear the bouncer say, “IDs, please.” I hand over the little square of plastic and clench my stomach muscles in an attempt to quell my budding nausea. What are you supposed to do when a bouncer is checking your ID? Should I look at him?

Should I not look at him? Both of those options seem equally yet differently suspicious. I settle for staring at one broad shoulder as he holds the ID in front of my face. He squints, eyes flickering back and forth between me and the card, and I hold my breath, afraid that if I open my mouth, he’ll be able to tell that it’s not really me on the ID. For one, two, three long seconds, I hang suspended in time as he holds my fate in his hands. 

But then he nods, flashes it under the UV light, and hands it back to me.

“Next,” he says, beckoning Katya forward. I step through the doorway and a sigh escapes my mouth alongside a nervous laugh. The bouncer lets her through, too, and I turn to her with wide eyes, mouthing oh my God. She leans into my side and we stand there, just a few steps into the bar, giggling like little kids who stayed up too late at a sleepover. 

“C’mon, let’s get drinks,” she yells, grabbing my hand and pulling me through the crowded bar. My head swivels like an owl as I try to take it all in. It’s like the Sig Ep party on steroids. The lights are brighter, the music is louder —there’s an actual DJ, not just someone’s shitty Spotify playlist blasting through cheap speakers— and a smoke machine fills the room with just enough of a haze. It feels like a movie set custom-built for a scene labeled INT. COLLEGE BAR - NIGHT. The room buzzes with untapped potential. 

Ruben swoops in as we approach the bar, squeezing himself in between Katya and I to slide his credit card towards the bartender. 

“Two vodka crans and a PBR,” he says, slinging his arms around our shoulders. He turns his head to wink at me. “Tony’s in the bathroom. He’ll be out in a few.” I nod my thanks at him and take one of the cups once the bartender finishes pouring. I knock it against Katya’s and we take twin sips, toasting to our victory. The alcohol stings the back of my throat but warms my stomach. 

“C’mon, let’s try and find a table,” Katya says, grabbing Ruben’s hand to pull him towards the booths along the back wall. I try to wriggle out of his grip but he squeezes me tighter, turning us in the other direction. 

“Nah, we should dance!” He exclaims as he attempts to herd us towards the dance floor. Something doesn’t feel right; he’s way too focused on me. I wrap my free hand around his bicep and dig my nails in, pressing the acrylic tips into his skin until he pulls his arm away from me with a high-pitched yelp. When I turn around to look at what he was trying to keep us away from, I see Tony sitting at one of the tables with his arm around a girl with red lips and a halo of blonde curls. She laughs at something he says and he leans in to press that golden smile against her lips. 

“I’m sorry, Cass. I was hoping you wouldn’t see that,” Ruben says, squeezing my shoulder from behind. 

“We can head back if you want,” Katya offers, leaning over to wrap her arms around my waist. 

I know it should hurt, seeing him with another girl, but all of the tension leaves my body. My chest inflates and I start laughing. Maybe it’s the weed, or maybe it’s the fact that we spent three hours traipsing back and forth across town to get here, but I can’t bring myself to care. He’s just some guy I kissed one time, and honestly? I’m glad I caught him red-handed.

“I’m okay, really,” I say, turning to look at Katya and Ruben. “I wouldn’t have fucked him anyway.” Something in my chest hardens, and I realize that it’s true, that I’m not ready to lose my virginity yet. I’ve never had a boyfriend before, and the only guy I’ve ever kissed turned out to be gay. I should probably spend some more time in the shallow end before I try out the high-dive.


Katya sucks her bottom lip in between her teeth as she looks from Ruben, to me, and back to him again. I roll my eyes and lean in to whisper in her ear. 

“I’m not getting dick tonight but that doesn’t mean that you can’t.” Her mouth drops open and she slaps my arm with the back of her hand.

“Oh my God, Cass! Who are you, and what have you done with my little prude of a roommate?” I push her into Ruben and take a few steps back to put some distance between us. 

“Shut up and go dance before I change my mind and take you up on your offer to leave.” She widens her eyes and holds her hands up in surrender as Ruben wraps his arms around her waist from behind, pulling her into the pulsating mass of bodies in front of the DJ booth. 

I head back to the bar and snag a stool. Freed from the burden of fitting myself into the mold society has laid out for me, I’m just another college girl. No one knows who I am. I can be whoever I want to be and I don’t have to sleep with anyone in order to get there. I feel excitement start to build low in my stomach, buzzing like a bee trapped in a jar, desperate to escape. Even though I’m not ready to go all the way, I wouldn’t mind dipping my toes in to test the waters. 

I squint to get a better look at all the guys scattered throughout the bar. There’s a group of football players gathered around one of the pool tables that line the back wall and I see Eddie and his friends hovering at the edge of the dance floor, bopping slightly off-beat. He catches my eye and holds his drink up, pretending to cheers me from across the room. I lift my own cup in acknowledgment, then let my eyes slide past him, taking in the sheer number of options available to me. It’s an all-you-can-eat-boy buffet, and, suddenly, I’m starving. 

I tip my head back and down the rest of my drink and I feel lighter than I have all night. My lips curl up in the kind of smirk I’ve only ever seen on TV. I’m a Hot Girl, no fucking needed. I pull my shoulders back and take a deep breath, channeling the air into the deepest part of me, tapping into the very core of my being. Like a faucet in an abandoned house, nothing comes out at first. But after a few seconds, confidence comes bursting out, flooding my body until I’m overflowing with it, soaked in a sweet, tingly sort of magic. 

A tall blond guy squeezes in next to me to order another drink. My chest flutters; he’s fucking hot. I tilt my head to look up at him through my eyelashes, focusing on pouring some of the magic out of my eyes and into his. I have to shout so he can hear me over the music. “Do you wanna dance?”


Sarah Liedtke-Packer is a fiction writer in the MFA program at Columbia College Chicago. You can find her on Instagram @sarahliedtkepacker and


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