Home > We Are Okay(3)

We Are Okay(3)
Author: Nina LaCour

I regret selling my textbooks back so soon. I had sticky notes and faint pencil scrawls on so many of the pages. In history we learned about the Arts and Crafts movement, and there were all these ideas I liked. I search for William Morris, read essay after essay, trying to find my favorite of his quotes. I copy a few of them down, using a different color pen for each. I print them out, too, in various fonts, in case they’ll look better typed. I search for a redwood tree that resembles my memories and end up watching a mini-documentary on redwood ecosystems, in which I learn that during the summertime California redwoods gather most of their water from the fog, and that they provide homes to clouded salamanders, who have no lungs and breathe through their skin. I press print on a picture of a clouded salamander on bright green moss, and once the printer stops, I think I have enough.

I borrow a handful of Hannah’s pushpins and arrange everything I’ve printed and written, and then step back and look. Everything is too crisp, too new. Each paper is the same white. It doesn’t matter that the quotes are interesting and pictures are pretty. It looks desperate.

And now it’s almost three already and I’ve wasted these hours and it’s becoming difficult to breathe because six thirty is no longer far in the future. Mabel knows me better than anyone else in the world, even though we haven’t spoken at all in these four months. Most of her texts to me went unanswered until eventually she stopped sending them. I don’t know how her Los Angeles life is. She doesn’t know Hannah’s name or what classes I’ve taken or if I’ve been sleeping. But she will only have to take one look at my face to know how I’m doing. I take everything off my bulletin board and carry the papers down the hall to the bathroom in the other wing, where I scatter them into the trash.

There will be no way to fool her.

The elevator doors open but I don’t step inside.

I don’t know why I’ve never worried about the elevators before. Now, in the daylight, so close to Mabel’s arrival, I realize that if they were to break, if I were to get stuck inside alone, and if my phone weren’t able to get service, and no one was on the other end of the call button, I would be trapped for a long time before the groundskeeper might think to check on me. Days, at least. Mabel would arrive and no one would let her in. She would pound at the door and not even I would hear her. Eventually, she would get back in her cab and wait at the airport until she found a flight to take her home.

She would think it was almost predictable. That I would disappoint her. That I would refuse to be seen.

So I watch as the doors close again and then I head to the stairs.

The cab I called waits outside, engine idling, and I make a crushed ice trail from the dorm lobby, thankful for Hannah’s spare pair of boots, which are only a tiny bit small and which she forced on me when the first snow fell. (“You have no idea,” she told me.)

The cab driver steps out to open my door. I nod my thanks.

“Where to?” he asks, once we’re both inside with the heat going strong, breathing the stale cologne-and-coffee air.

“Stop and Shop,” I say. My first words in twenty-four hours.

The fluorescent grocery-store lights, all the shoppers and their carts, the crying babies, the Christmas music—it would be too much if I didn’t know exactly what to buy. But the shopping part is easy. Microwave popcorn with extra butter flavor. Thin stick pretzels. Milk chocolate truffles. Instant hot chocolate. Grapefruit-flavored sparkling water.

When I climb back into the cab, I have three heavy bags full of food, enough to last us a week even though she’ll only be here three days.

The communal kitchen is on the second floor. I live on the third and I’ve never used it. I think of it as the place girls in clubs bake brownies for movie nights, or a gathering spot for groups of friends who feel like cooking an occasional dinner as a break from the dining hall. I open the refrigerator to discover it empty. It must have been cleaned out for the break. Instructions tell us to label all of our items with our initials, room number, and date. Even though I’m the only one here, I reach for the Sharpie and masking tape. Soon, food labeled as mine fills two of the three shelves.

Upstairs in my room, I assemble the snacks on Hannah’s desk. It looks abundant, just as I’d hoped. And then my phone buzzes with a text.

I’m here.

It isn’t even six o’clock yet—I should still have a half hour at least—and I can’t help but torture myself by scrolling up to see all of the texts Mabel sent before this one. Asking if I’m okay. Saying she’s thinking of me. Wondering where the fuck am I, whether I’m angry, if we can talk, if she can visit, if I miss her. Remember Nebraska? one of them says, a reference to a plan we never intended to keep. They go on and on, a series of unanswered messages that seize me with guilt, until I’m snapped out of it by the phone ringing in my hand.

I startle, answer it.

“Hey,” she says. It’s the first time I’ve heard her voice since everything happened. “I’m downstairs and it’s fucking freezing. Let me in?”

And then I am at the lobby door. We are separated by only a sheet of glass and my shaking hand as I reach to turn the lock. I touch the metal and pause to look at her. She’s blowing into her hands to warm them. She’s faced away from me. And then she turns and our eyes meet and I don’t know how I ever thought I’d be able to smile. I can barely turn the latch.

“I don’t know how anyone can live anywhere this cold,” she says as I pull open the door and she steps inside. It’s freezing down here, too.

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