Gina was crouched on the ground feeding the campus squirrels when she got a call from her friend Adira. The squirrels looked at her like she was crazy, taking a call at a time like this—it was midwinter and the squirrels were getting hungry—but there was something Gina knew that they didn’t. This wasn’t your typical call from a friend; Adira had been needing Gina more and more lately and Gina held no grudge against her for it. Adira had once been one of those pretty girls with a perfect boyfriend, and now she was still pretty, but her boyfriend wasn’t so perfect. Two months ago, Roberto had been rear-ended by a drunk driver.
Roberto drove a Mini Cooper, the drunk driver drove a pick-up. Roberto now only had one leg and was recovering from a traumatic brain injury, which the doctors said he’d recover from just fine, but in the meantime he had to sit in a dark room and couldn’t walk or talk. Adira hadn’t been present at the accident, but she’d developed PTSD from the event anyway, which Gina didn’t really understand. Not that it was her place to understand. All she had to be was a good friend. Friends are just there, sometimes, not being anything in particular, although Gina had heard before that she had a resting sad face, the kind that made you want to look away, because she brought the mood down just by being there.
“Could you come over for dinner tonight? I have pasta. I’m so sorry, I really need someone over tonight. I’ve just—”
“Yes, of course,” Gina said quickly. It was midwinter and, like the squirrels, she was getting hungry. She always spent breaks on campus, because she didn’t get along with her parents, but that also meant she spent the break without food, because for some reason her fin aid didn’t qualify her for free meals when classes weren’t in session.
“Thank you, really. How’s seven?”
“Works for me.”
“And could you bring your stuff? The—you know. The woo-woo stuff. If you don’t mind.”
Gina waited a beat before responding, adjusting her squirrel-feeding crouch. “Yeah, yeah, of course.”
“I can pay you.”
“Of course you don’t need to do that,” Gina said quickly.
“Love! I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
“Love you too.”
Gina waited until Adira hung up, and then she unfurled from her crouch before sitting down on a nearby bench. The squirrels scampered away, because as Gina and they both knew, benches were no-feed zones. Gina let herself release a breath, like a balloon leaking air. She didn’t want to use her crystals on Adira again, and she didn’t want Adira to call it “woo-woo stuff” again, especially when she evidently still believed in it, but she was also really hungry. The only reason she’d been feeding the squirrels was because on one of her scavenger hunts she’d discovered bread that had crossed the boundary of safe human consumption: it was so old that more than half of it was blue, the other half covered in white fuzz. But Google told her the squirrels wouldn’t mind. Gina refilled her balloon. It would be okay this time; she had it under control. Adira definitely didn’t have it under control, but that wouldn’t shake Gina.
While Gina was walking to Adira’s barely-off-campus house, she meandered, as she always did. She could feel the weight of her silk crystals bag inside her otherwise almost-empty backpack. She knew a box, preferably lined with velvet, would be better for the crystals than a bag, but boxes like that were expensive. In the meantime, she was feeling the need to acquire another crystal, but that too was beyond her budget—not that Adira wouldn’t give her money, she just didn’t know how to ask.
She stopped at a house two blocks away from Adira’s. She knew the inhabitants of this house, because Adira was friendly with the whole neighborhood, and sometimes they paid her to feed their cat when they were away. And she knew they were never home before seven. In any case the driveway was empty. Still, she checked the window of the garage, where they never parked. The garage was empty.
As always, the lock of the bay window in the back of the house was so loose it flipped open and closed like a latch.
After she had slipped in over the windowsill, she heard a rustle on the other side of the room.
“Hey, Jerry.” She stroked the cat’s head gently. “What’ve you been up to today?”
Jerry gave her a calculating look, and she shrugged. “I know. I’m not here to feed you today. And your litter box is going to have to wait. You understand, don’t you?”
Jerry squinted at her. He seemed peeved, but forgiving enough.
Gina left Jerry in the living room and went into the office. There, beside the desk, was the huge crystal terrarium, full of too many hundreds of crystals for anyone to notice the absence of a single one—even a few dozen, spread out over months. Gina slipped a hand over the top and felt around. She closed her eyes, letting her hand guide her. Eventually her fingers closed around an oblong stone. She put it in her pocket without looking at it and left the house, just as she had done countless times before. Despite the undercurrent of dread she felt when she thought about going to Adira’s, she consoled herself with the fact that at least she’d get to have dinner without anyone else.
But when Gina got to Adira’s that evening, someone else was already there. A car was parked in the driveway of the multi-family house; Adira’s off-campus condo occupied the second floor. Gina knew who the car belonged to, because who else would own a red Range Rover? Chrissy, who was friends with Adira, but not Gina, was an Instagram model and the niece of a Greek king (though she’d attended an American boarding school), so she could basically get away with whatever she wanted. It was rumored her GPA was a 1.5, and it was a fact that she was currently in her “fifth year.” They’d all been in the same orientation group, Chrissy’s second freshman year.
As Gina walked up the stairs to the second floor apartment, she held her breath, but was only dimly aware of this fact, as though someone else would be reaping the consequences.
The door was unlocked. “I’m here,” she said uncomfortably as she stepped over the four pairs of slightly different white sneakers piled up in the small foyer.
“It smells like dinner’s almost ready,” Adira sang out. She was wearing one of her “sad-day” sweaters (a floppy black sweater that covered her whole torso in shapeless knitted fluff).
Gina stepped carefully over the shoes and entered the kitchen. The pasta smelled good; it would probably be overcooked, knowing Adira, but Gina was too hungry to care. Chrissy stood at the counter mixing a salad with plastic tongs. She did not look up when Gina entered, but started talking to Adira.
“My senior thesis is just not it. I mean, it’s all bogus anyway. I could write ‘blah blah blah’ for sixty pages and the result would be the same. You know what I mean?”
“Mhm.” Adira lifted the pasta pot off the stove and staggered over to the sink. “This is so heavy. God, I made too much again.”
“It’s just the water,” Chrissy said.
“I’ll take home leftovers, if you want,” Gina said.
They both watched as Adira poured out the boiling water. Her hands were trembling; her promise ring kept hitting the pot, making a ringing sound.
“You got it,” Chrissy said.
“Can I turn off the burner?” Gina asked. No one answered, so she stepped behind Chrissy and turned it off. Gina watched as Adira poured the pot of sauce directly into the pot of pasta. She didn’t ask before turning off the second burner.
“Dinner’s served!” Adira announced.
While Chrissy listed her favorite brands of concealer and complained about schoolwork, Gina wondered why she’d been invited. She was never spoken to and for all she knew she wasn’t there. She followed Chrissy on Instagram, but only because everyone did, and Chrissy most definitely didn’t follow her.
Adira, meanwhile, was—Gina thought sympathetically to herself—clearly not okay. Her hands kept putting down her fork and picking it up again, and she ate very little. She would let Chrissy talk for too long and then twist her promise ring around one way, then the other; and Chrissy would say, “And what do you think?” and Adira would respond with one or two word answers. Nevertheless, she was engaged in the conversation, and she did have things to say, and Gina was undecided as to whether Adira was expressing grief or upsetness or simply boredom with Chrissy. Especially at a time like this. Why was she even there, again?
Finally Chrissy said she had to go. It was almost nine, and all the dishes had been left in the sink. Chrissy refused to take leftovers, though she wanted to take a photo of Adira sipping her white wine. Adira insisted on taking a photo of Chrissy sipping her white wine, which evidently was exactly what Chrissy wanted. After Chrissy left, Gina excused herself to the bathroom and opened Instagram, refreshing Chrissy’s page to see how long it took her to post the photo. It took about three minutes; the photo was posted with a glossy filter. “Girls night!!” Gina was not tagged, but Adira was. She heard Chrissy’s car revving out of the driveway. Once she was sure Chrissy was gone, she flushed the toilet and went to the living room.
Adira lay face-down on the couch, sniffling.
Already? Gina wondered. But despite her sense that Adira was being overdramatic, once again, she knew this wasn’t the moment to criticize her. She sat down next to her friend and touched her lightly on the elbow of her sad-day sweater.
Adira sat up, drawing one sleeve over her eyes. “You’re so kind to me,” she mumbled. “I’m such a baby.”
“You’re not a baby,” Gina reassured her. “You’re kind, and intelligent, and mature. You’re just going through some hard things.”
“Chrissy doesn’t get it like you do.”
“I didn’t know she was coming over.”
“Me neither. She just wanted to tell me about this guy she’s been hooking up with.”
“Mm. Is there anything I can do to help you feel a little better?”
“It’s this Romanian guy who throws shot-put. But he has this friend too, that I keep thinking about, I don’t know if you’ve seen him, he has like this blond mustache and—but you don’t care, do you? You just look sorry for me. Ugh. I’m sorry.”
“It’s just my resting sad face,” Gina said, patting Adira on the shoulder. “You have nothing to be sorry about.”
Adira sniffled again. “It’s just that, every time she talks about guys, I think of Roberto, and,” she sniffled, “you know.”
“How is he doing, lately,” Gina stated delicately. She felt like she was supposed to ask, even though she knew all the details already.
“He’s okay.” Adira gave a small sob. “What am I saying? He’s not okay. Of course he’s not okay. He—he had a small seizure thing this morning. Or they’re not sure if it’s a seizure. Or maybe they are and I don’t remember. I don’t know.”
Gina couldn’t help but think that it was good Adira wasn’t in charge of Roberto’s medical things, because clearly she couldn’t keep track of any of it. “I’m sorry to hear that.”
“It’s okay. I mean—it’s not. But—we’re doing the best we can.”
“Did you get that paper extension after all?”
“Yeah. But I almost wish I’d fail this year.”
Although the thought was unsurprising, it also felt uncomfortable. “Why?”
“Because then me and Roberto can graduate together.”
“I’m sure he won’t mind,” Gina said, thinking about how Roberto would be lucky if he recovered within only a year, enough to re-enroll in college and get going on his senior thesis.
“No. He’s humble like that.”
It was true: that was the best part about Roberto, and the main reason why Gina felt so horribly ashamed about what had happened freshman year between her and Roberto: not long after he began dating Adira, they’d run into each other at a party. He’d thought she was Adira. He’d kissed her, full-on, and she hadn’t stopped him—after all, he was a good kisser. But in the end she didn’t really enjoy it. It was hard to enjoy anything when you felt like an impostor. The whole time she felt like he was going to suddenly realize who she was and be so disgusted that he would slap her across the face—not that that was the kind of thing Roberto would do. And anyway, he hadn’t realized. He’d said something to her and Adira’s name had been one of the words he’d said, and though he was addressing Gina nothing he said applied to her, but she’d just stood stock-still and in the dark he couldn’t see her characteristic resting sad face, and it had all been okay. And now she felt a strange closeness, or sympathy for him, beyond the fact that he was Adira’s boyfriend, because of that occasion, even and especially now in this unfortunate chapter of his life.
But Adira would be better off never knowing about this, no matter what happened to Roberto. Gina just nodded along as Adira kept talking, hearing every word and knowing it to be true before it was even said, yet never processing, just letting the words slip past her like the scent of something familiar but unplaceable, the scent of déjà vu.
“Would you—would you mind helping me with—you know—the things you do?”
“Mhm,” Gina said, feigning indifference. “Yes, of course.”
“Where should we sit?” Adira wiped her eyes again. There was an eyelash attached to her left cheekbone, and Gina resisted the urge to pinch it off.
“I think here is okay for you. I’ll sit on the other side of the coffee table.”
“On the floor? That won’t be uncomfortable on your knees?”
“I won’t kneel, I’ll sit cross-legged.”
“Oh, cross-legged. Yes, that makes sense.”
Gina couldn’t tell if Adira was making paranormal associations with sitting cross-legged, or if it just hadn’t occurred to her as an option. But it wasn’t worth pondering. She went over to her backpack and pulled out her bag of crystals. When she poured them onto the coffee table, they clinked like wine glasses.
“Close your eyes,” Gina said. Adira did so, her breathing slowing. “And lay your hands on the table, palms facing up.” Gina paused for a long moment. “What’s the emotion you’d like to work on first?”
Adira pinched her mouth. “Frustration.”
Gina placed a stone into Adira’s left palm. “This is celestite. Feel it in your hand. It will take your negativity and siphon it off into the ether… ”
As Gina spoke, she felt as though she were letting herself go, too, becoming one with Adira via crystal—the sensation was so strong she wondered how she’d never felt it before. Or had it been there all along?
“I want to see Roberto,” she heard Adira mumble.
“See him inside you, the part of him that is always with you,” Gina said, holding Adira’s hand gently. Adira had the tendency to speak as though Roberto were dead, and Gina felt no need to contradict this feeling—after all, it lasted no longer than the crystal sessions. Even still, feeling Adira’s promise ring under her own fingers, she couldn’t help but feel a sense of betrayal. Wasn’t she, Gina, there? Wasn’t she always there? Couldn’t she be more than Roberto ever could be?
She hated herself for thinking that, for a moment; after all, she probably couldn’t be Adira’s sexual partner—they were close enough that that would be weird. And that would be cheating on a semi-conscious brain-injury patient, which would be cruel. But what did he have to offer Adira? Pre-accident, let alone post?
“Feel your independent spirit coagulating within the moonstone,” Gina heard herself say, “and remember who you’ve always wanted to be.”
It was just past midnight, and Adira and Gina were on their third episode of Midsomer Murder Mysteries when the doorbell rang. “Would you get it?” Adira asked, eyes glued to the TV. “I’m a little invested.”
Gina didn’t know whether her lack of investment was obvious or whether Adira knew her investment was more important. She went to the door.
She couldn’t get it open. For some reason, the knob wouldn’t turn and the lock wouldn’t pop open. She considered calling Adira’s name, but thought better of it. She would get it open. She continued to struggle with the knob.
Finally, the door opened. Chrissy stood there, looking perplexed. She rushed in, stumbling over Adira’s shoes and looking past Gina into the living room.
Adira appeared to be asleep on the couch.
“Adira!” Chrissy started shaking her.
Adira opened her eyes, slowly. “What? Oh my god, stop touching me.”
“Adira, why didn’t you come to the door?”
“I had my key, but it was really hard to get open. I was banging and banging. Why didn’t you come to the door?”
“I was sleepy.”
“How come you didn’t hear me?”
“I sent her.”
Adira gestured vaguely at Gina, who stood horrified in the doorway. She started to speak, wanting to tell Chrissy that Adira was okay and they’d just been hanging out and somehow Adira must have fallen asleep, but it was fine—but Chrissy looked away as though she weren’t there.
“Gina,” Adira said.
Chrissy stared at her. “Who’s Gina?”
“Hey,” Gina interrupted. “I know we’re not, like, close or anything, but I’m right here. I’ve been here for Adira this whole time. Even when she’s been, you know, frustrating or whatever, I’ve been there. You show up when you want and leave when you want, it doesn’t matter to you. But I’ve been here this whole time.”
Chrissy was still staring at Adira. “But who’s Gina?”
Adira started to cry.
“And what’re all these—rocks—on my coffee table?”
Adira kept crying.
“They’re mine,” Gina wanted to say. But no matter how she tried to move her mouth, to dispel her poisonously lingering resting sad face, she couldn’t figure out how, it was like she didn’t have a mouth anymore, or if she did, it was filled with salt water. She ran over to the coffee table and tried to sweep the rocks up into her bag, but it was like they were glued to the table, she couldn’t get them to move. Chrissy just kept trying to talk to Adira—and all Gina wanted was to slap her in the face. I’m right here! But she didn’t have the courage.
Gina walked back in the dark, without her bag. She tripped over tree branches and sidewalk cracks because she couldn’t see them, or her legs.
But she didn’t trip over the fat raccoon which scampered across her path—she stopped short because it had stopped short. They locked eyes.
“Hey, buddy,” Gina said, trying not to sniffle. Raccoons have night vision, she was pretty sure, and she could sense the creature’s withering appraisal of her already.
Neither of them moved. Finally, not seeing a way to skirt around the raccoon, Gina began to step backward. “I’ll just go another way. It’s fine, I don’t mind.”
With that, the raccoon got up on its hind legs and came closer. Gina suddenly saw out of the corner of her eye two more raccoons, one much smaller, and one much bigger.
“I’m not gonna do anything to you, I’m just Gina,” she said, but she felt strangely unafraid. Wouldn’t they just pass right through her like Chrissy did through her?
She felt a warm tongue on her inch of exposed ankle, licking.
Her breath caught in her throat for a moment—and then she realized this was a fucking raccoon what if it had rabies what if tonight was her last night—and she jerked her leg away.
In the moment before she bolted in the opposite direction as fast as she could, she saw the raccoon’s bright eyes, head tilted in confusion.
Who’s Gina? it seemed to be asking.
By the time she got back to her little dorm room on the third floor of an unairconditioned building, she was shaking all over—with tears, anger, all of the above. She felt like she was grieving Adira, Chrissy, their friendship, though for the first time, not herself. But she reminded herself that was only how she felt, not necessarily how it was. She sat down on her bed, took off her promise ring, and fell asleep.
As she slept, finally her facial muscles relaxed, and she drifted beyond her resting sad face into something lighter, more tender—but perhaps not real.