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The Cuddle Puddle of Stuyvesant High School

“ ’Cause you ended up like a hippie?” Nathan asks.

“No, ’cause I went further than I think they wanted me to go.” Despite the bravado, there’s a sweetness to Alair. She sings in the Trinity Children’s Choir. She does the dishes without being asked. She’s a daddy’s girl and her mother’s confidante, though she hasn’t always managed to skirt trouble away from home. She got kicked out of her middle school, Columbia Prep, after getting into an altercation with a girl who had been making her life miserable. (“I threw a bagel at her head, all right? I attacked her with a bagel.”)

“My mom’s like, ‘Alair, I don’t understand you. I want to be a parent to you but I have no control at all . . . As a person you’re awesome. You’re hilarious, you entertain me, you’re so cool. I would totally be your friend. But as your mother, I’m worried.’ ”

“I can’t say I was pleased,” her mother tells me about first learning of Alair’s bisexual experimentation. “But I can’t say I was upset either. I like that she’s forthright about what she wants, that she values her freedom, that she takes care of herself. But I have all the trepidations a parent has when they learn their child is becoming sexually active.”

Of course, none of these kids will have to deal with their parents quite this directly in another year or so—a fact of which they are all acutely aware. College is already becoming a pressing issue. Everyone thinks Elle is going to get into Harvard. “If I fail physics, my average drops like a stone,” she frets. Alair and Nathan want to go to the same college, wherever that may be.

“You do realize,” Alair tells him, “that, like, we’re two of the most awesome people in the school.”

“We would room,” Nathan says. “We would totally room.”

“Fuck yeah. But I’m gonna need a lock on my door for like, ‘I’m bringing these five girls home, Nathan. What are you doing tonight?’ ” She mimics his voice, “‘I’m reading my book.’ ”

“Ouch!” Nathan scowls at her.

“It’s the Kama Sutra!”

“Oh, right, right.”

“I’ve actually read the Kama Sutra,” Alair informs the table. “Some of that shit just isn’t gonna work.”

“I know!” says Jane. “We have three editions at my house.”

“Like, I’ve tried it. You need a man that’s like ‘Argh!’ ” Alair pumps her arms up above her head. “I’ve got one of those guys, actually.” She’s talking about Jason, the boy she was hanging out with last night, another frequenter of the cuddle puddle. “He’s so built.”

“He’s in love with you,” Jane says drily.

“No, he’s not!”

“Yes he is!”

Some girls hook up with other girls to please guys. But, Jane says, “boys make out with boys for our benefit as well.”

“How could he not be in love with Alair?” Nathan reasons.

Jane nods in Alair’s direction. “He bought you gum.”

“He bought you gum.” This cinches it for Nathan. “Yeah, he loves you. He wants you so in his underwear.”

Alair looks at him blankly. “But he already has that. We’re friends.” There’s no need to bring love into it.

But later, back at Jane’s apartment, as the afternoon is turning to night, Alair has the look of, if not love, at least infatuation, as she waits in the hallway for the elevator to take her back down. Only it’s not Jason she’s saying good-night to—it’s Jane. “You make my knees weak,” she says. And then to cut the tension: “I showered for you and everything.” She leans in and gives Jane a kiss.

It practically takes a diagram to plot all the various hookups and connections within the cuddle puddle. Elle’s kissed Jane and Jane’s kissed Alair and Alair’s kissed Elle. And then from time to time Elle hooks up with Nathan, but really only at parties, and only when Bethany isn’t around, because Nathan really likes Bethany, who doesn’t have a thing for girls but doesn’t have a problem with girls who do, either. Alair’s hooking up with Jason (who “kind of” went out with Jane once), even though she sort of also has a thing for Hector, who Jane likes, too—though Jane thinks it’s totally boring when people date people of the same gender. Ilia has a serious girlfriend, but girls were hooking up at his last party, which was awesome. Molly has kissed Alair, and Jane’s ex-girlfriend first decided she was bi while staying at Molly’s beach house on Fire Island. Sarah sometimes kisses Elle, although she has a boyfriend—he doesn’t care if she hooks up with other girls, since she’s straight anyway. And so on.

Some of the boys hook up with each other, too, although in far fewer numbers than the girls. One of Alair’s male friends explained that this is because for guys, anything beyond same-sex kissing requires “more of a physical commitment.” If a guy does hook up with other guys it certainly doesn’t make the girls less likely to hook up with him; and the converse is obviously true.