Content warning: Eating disorders
She couldn’t pinpoint the exact moment it happened, but somewhere between her sophomore and junior year of high school, Melissa had decided she was a bee. Not just any bee, either. When her hive came to collect her, Melissa would become the queen. This wasn’t to say she was a nobody. Although she was no queen yet, people at school treated her like royalty. They looked at her straight blond hair and radiant skin, at the way she floated around in her size-zero dress, and felt sick with envy. Melissa lapped up their reactions like nectar from a flower.
Of all the drones vying for her attention, Melissa had chosen Sam McGarry. He was captain of the lacrosse team, and a prom king front-runner by all accounts. Their biology class’ field trip to the honeybee farm would be their first official outing as a couple.
The beekeeper guide was dressed in a hospital-room-white suit, with a mesh mask hanging around his neck. After the tour, he offered each of her classmates a piece of honeycomb, heavy with amber dollops of wildflower honey. Everyone ate theirs and licked their sticky fingers afterwards, but Melissa declined, despite her stomach’s protesting rumbles. She wandered away from the souvenir kiosk, back toward the flaxseed field where the hives rose like straight rows of teeth out of the uneven grass.
“I’m here,” she whispered to the buzzing creatures. Drone, worker, queen. Melissa knew all there was to know about bee colonies. She lowered her bare hand into the closest hive, expecting the bees to nuzzle against her. Soon I’ll be ready for you. Soon.
A sharp pain stabbed her hand, causing her to jerk away. Incredulous, she brought her forefinger to eye-level. Her fingertip was swollen; the stinger was still planted inside the red welt like a tiny blossom. The owner of the stinger was almost certainly dead or dying, the sacrifice an attestation to her hive’s rejection.
Melissa stumbled back, clutching her hand. She bumped against a warm, solid chest in her haste.
“Hey, you alright?” Sam asked, concern furrowing his features.
She hid her bulbous finger behind her back and plastered on a smile that hurt her cheeks. “Fine. Just dizzy.”
“Have you had breakfast yet? Wait here. I’ll get you something to eat.”
Sam loped back toward the kiosk, where most of their classmates were still gathered in distinct groups. Melissa drifted farther into the hypnotic rows of hives, away from him and his promise of food that felt more like a threat. The bees had rejected her for now, but it was okay. Soon she would be thin and pretty and worthy.
And then she’d claim her rightful place at the throne.
In the months following the apiary incident, Melissa buckled down and doubled her efforts. She’d already given up everything sweet, sour, and spicy. Now, she only ate leafy greens and drank bottle after bottle of mineral water.
Sam kept asking what was wrong. One time during sex, he told her he could count her ribs. Melissa thought it best to avoid him after that. She ghosted him online and let all his calls go to voicemail until, eventually, he stopped reaching out. Her heart felt too numb to count this as a loss.
Melissa knew she was on the right path when, one morning, she spotted the pale, bee-like fuzz growing on her skin,. When she tried to get up and dress for school, she found that she couldn’t lift herself out of bed. There was a ringing noise in her ears, a buzzing. She may as well have been surrounded by a swarm of insects. This is it, she thought with elation, and fell back against her pillows. A thousand pair of wings fluttered inside her chest.
She waited and waited, but her hive didn’t come for her. Nobody pronounced her their queen or asked her to join them in flight. Instead, her mother knocked on the bedroom door, and Melissa was too weak to tell her to go away.
Footsteps padded across the floor, and cool hands pressed against her clammy forehead. “Honey girl.”
Mom used to call Melissa that when she was younger. She’d come to detest that name. Honey was sticky and viscous. It slowed you down, made your membranous wings heavy and unwieldy, your body round and flabby.
Her wings gave a few experimental flaps. Although her body was light as dandelion fluff, her wings had atrophied and were too weak to carry her, or even to stretch out from her emaciated human shoulders.
Melissa’s vision blurred and blackened. The buzzing in her ears grew to a frightening crescendo until it was swallowed by the dark.
“Honey girl,” Mom’s mellifluous voice greeted her when she came to. Familiar fingers ran through Melissa’s dull blond locks, the bed creaked uncomfortably beneath her. In her addled state, the doctor looming over her and shining a penlight into her eyes resembled a beekeeper peeking inside a hive.
“Don’t call me that,” she croaked through a sour-tasting mouth.
Mom’s face twisted into a pained grimace. “Melissa, this can’t go on. You had a heart attack today.”
Melissa said nothing, only played with the strings of her polka-dotted hospital gown.
“Please. Let us help you.”
Mom’s words had stingers that dug deep into her thin skin. They reminded Melissa of all the ways she fell short, how she was no queen, how she hadn’t been able to help herself. Still, through the incessant drone in her head Melissa heard herself forming the word, “Okay.”