Gabby and I sit at the bar at Shine Square, our favorite pub, and when I make a joke she laughs so hard that she bumps the guy sitting next to her. Of course, he takes one look at my roommate and decides that he needs to be in on our conversation immediately, so the small talk begins. The guys are in their early thirties, and all it takes is a quick glance at each other for Gab and I to start doing what we do best: lying to strangers.
“We graduated in 2020,” I say. “Work from home was nice, but I’m back in the office now.”
“I teach now, in Revere,” Gabby explains. “The commute isn’t great, but I love my kids.”
They buy us a drink, a beer from some microbrewery in Maine. Gab says she likes it, and we say we’d love to see them again, it’s just that we have to run right now, we have a yoga class in the morning that we can’t miss!
They walk us out to the Uber, and as soon as the door shuts, we start giggling.
“That was the worst beer of my life, actually,” she says, brushing snowflakes off her shoulders.
“We’re gonna have to wear disguises if we go back,” I realize, horrified.
“New rule. No lying to regulars.”
When a group of people in Allston ask why we’re leaving the party: “we have plans in the morning and we live over in Mission Hill, so we’ve got a long walk home.”
“So what are your majors?” the guy in front of Gab asks.
“Well, I’m business management with a minor in marketing,” Gabby rattles off, like she’s practiced. We’re Vanessa and Emily tonight, since Gab decided on the car ride over the bridge that we needed fake names on top of pretending that we go to BU.
“Oh, cool,” he says. I already forget his name; he’s wearing a Patagonia vest over a pink t-shirt that can literally only be from Vineyard Vines. “I’m econ.”
Gab pushes me forward. “No way. She’s doing econ too!”
Well, shit. I spend a few minutes pretending to understand basic economics while Gab tries to get the DJ in the Hawaiian shirt to play “Sexy Bitch” by David Guetta; it’s not until after her song comes on that she dances over to save me from Vineyard Vines Guy.
“Wait, Emily, can I grab your snap?” he asks, before we leave, and my response time to my fake name is noticeably slow.
“Umm, I don’t actually have Snapchat, I’m really into face-to-face communication, sorry!”
I drag Gab out the door before he can question my absolute bullshit attempt to cover up the fact that I am very much not econ-major Emily from BU.
“New rule,” I say, once we’re around the corner and waiting for the Uber. “Definitely no more fake names.”
At a bar in Beacon Hill, when a guy in a suit offers to buy me whiskey and asks what I do: “I graduated last year; I’m doing computer science research now.”
I’ve been at this MIT frat house for twenty minutes and I’m already planning an escape route. Not that it’s bad, yet, but the last time we went to an MIT house someone made us milkshakes. This place is packed, there’s no milkshakes, the music is shit, and it would all be fine except we’re in a huge room on the second floor and the lights are all on, which for whatever reason feels like a dealbreaker.
I’m ready to leave, but the guy who’s been hitting on my friend Hannah all night invites us out of the room for something that I can’t hear over the music.
“What are we doing?” I yell.
“I think he said shots?” she yells back.
We follow this guy down a set of stairs… and down another set of stairs. It’s the two of us and three girls from Lesley that we walked in with, and I’m getting increasingly weirded out as it becomes clear that we are going to the basement.
“So this is my room,” the guy says, leading us around a corner. He closes the door behind us. “And the whipped cream is in the fridge over here…”
“Whipped cream?” Hannah whispers.
“I think I need to run to the bathroom,” I say back, loud enough for our new friends and MIT guy to hear. The last thing I am about to do is whippets in some guy’s bedroom in a basement, thank you very much. “Do you wanna come with?”
I’m met with affirmation from each of the girls I’m with, so we abandon the bedroom and the whipped cream and run for the stairs. Once we’ve locked ourselves into the hallway bathroom—which is ridiculously nice for a frat house, what the hell—I take one look at the group and decide that our only solution is to lie our way out.
“Oh my God, babe, I’m so sorry, we’ll be right there,” I say as I leave the bathroom, making sure everyone sticks close to me. My phone is pressed to my ear in what is the world’s lamest attempt at a fake phone call, but me and the one drink I’d downed within minutes of arriving give it our all.
Whippets Guy has emerged from the basement, and I push Hannah and the Lesley girls past him and toward the door. “Sorry, we have to run, roommate emergency,” I say.
Safely outside, Hannah and I start the walk back to campus.
“New rule,” I say. “No basements.”
Waiting for takeout one night, my sister and I adopt the poshest British accents we can manage in the parking lot of our favorite pizza place. McKenna sounds borderline-Australian, but otherwise we’re pulling it off quite well—that is, until we see someone I went to high school with and run back to the car to hide.
“Bloody hell, gov’nor, that was a close one,” McKenna says on the way home.
“New rule, mate. No lying this close to home.”
I’m on a walk with Meg in the Public Gardens in the middle of June. She’s wearing a sundress and heels, straight out of a Newbury Street window display, and I’m in black shorts and a black tank top, looking like I’ve never set foot in the sunlight before. A guy walks past us, looking at Meg, and we don’t think anything of it until we hear footsteps a few minutes later as someone runs up behind us.
“I’m sorry,” someone says, out of breath, and we turn around and see the guy we just passed. He looks at me. “I just needed to tell you, your friend is very beautiful.”
“I—yeah,” I say, looking over at Meg, who’s equally confused.
“Where are you walking to today?” he asks, and I can hear the alarm bells going off.
“We’re meeting some friends in Beacon Hill. Actually, babe, we should probably get going, or the guys are gonna think we got lost.”
But Meg’s admirer clearly doesn’t understand context clues, because he ignores every lie that just came out of my mouth. “Do you think if I asked her on a date, she would say yes?” he asks me, again, like Meg isn’t standing right there with us. So, enough is enough.
“Actually no,” I tell him, and slip my hand into Meg’s. “Because she’s already dating me.”
He blinks at me like he doesn’t quite understand what I’m saying, and then turns to address Meg for the first time. “I don’t think your friend likes me very much,” he says. “Would you like to get coffee? Or dinner?”
Meg can barely keep a straight face. “No, I’m sorry—she’s not my friend, she’s my girlfriend.”
“Oh. So you’re—” It finally hits him! “—lesbians?” He says it in a whisper, and I can barely hold in the laughter.
“Yeah, and we should probably get going…” Meg starts to back away, pulling me with her.
“It was so nice to meet you!” I say before we turn around. Meg holds my hand for the rest of the walk, long after he’s out of sight.
When my uncle comes up to watch a Red Sox game with me once a year, I always tag him as Mark Ruffalo in pictures. They look oddly alike, and my friends like to joke that since I’ve never seen Mark Ruffalo and my uncle in the same place before, I can’t completely rule out that they’re not the same person.
“Oh my God, how did you meet him?” people always respond.
“He’s a friend of the family, we go to games together every year,” I say back. It’s become a running thing, just lying to people on my own Instagram and seeing who falls for it—the only person I’ve ever corrected is my step-grandmother—and my uncle loves playing along when people tell him they just loved him in The Avengers.
When Madi and I decided to go out tonight, I wasn’t too into the idea. I’d gotten broken up with in a text the day before, and we’d decided the only coping mechanism we could utilize was drinking wine and watching Bridgerton on her couch. We’d made it two episodes in before Madi decided that finding somewhere to dance was a much better cure to the message reading “it just fizzled out for me…” on my phone.
By the time we’ve made it through the door, Madi is friends with everyone in the line with us. I’m used to being the introvert friend tugged along by people far more willing to put themselves out there, but I haven’t learned this many names at once since the first day of freshman year.
“Hi, I’m Madison,” she says to literally anyone she can make eye contact with, and I stand a few steps away and laugh at everyone’s reactions to her bluntness.
Somehow, we make it to the bar, and whatever guy she’s already forgotten the name of passes me a beer. I look up to thank him and end up locking eyes with his friend, who’s hovering in the same way I am at Madi’s shoulder.
“I’m Jamie,” I offer, since we look equally out of place.
“I’m Mike,” he says, except he’s nearly drowned out by Madi interrupting to tell him that her name is Jamison actually, like the drink, did you know that?
“Wow,” he says, and he looks impressed. “How much did you pay to get your name on the bar?”
Madi wanders towards the dance floor, intent on making even more friends, but we stay where we are.
“Are you in school?” he asks.
I mentally run through my lines to find one that fits, but for whatever reason, nothing comes to mind. “I—yeah, I am. I go to Emmanuel?”
It comes out like a question, like I’m not sure if it’s right, and it’s weird—as much as part of my brain is telling me to start making something up, it kind of feels nice.
Maybe it’s because this guy seems about as awkward as I am. Maybe it’s because we take turns guessing the setlist of the shitty cover band and end up getting every song right, or because when I mention my favorite band, he knows who they are.
He asks for my number, and I give it to him, instead of one that’s one digit off or the one that RickRolls you if you call. He texts me, and I answer, and when he asks if I want to meet up and grab a drink later in the week, I don’t pretend I have work or class or any other excuse I could come up with in an instant.
We go on dates, and I don’t make up any crazy backstory or embellish things to make myself sound more interesting. I let him hold open doors and drive me home and kiss me goodbye each night, and the whole time, I only tell the truth.
He texts me a few days later to say I’ve had a great time getting to know you, but I’m not really feeling it, and I finally break my truth streak when I tell him it’s fine.
So. Maybe I’ll stick to lying after all.
Jamison O'Sullivan is a graduate of Emmanuel College with a degree in Writing, Editing, and Publishing. Her work has been published in Schuylkill Valley Journal, Rejection Letters, Moss Puppy Magazine, and more. She lives & works in Boston, where she enjoys wandering the city and curating her many Spotify playlists. You can follow her on Twitter @pajamisonn, and on Instagram @jkosullivann.