Home > We Are Okay(4)

We Are Okay(4)
Author: Nina LaCour

I say, “My room is warmer.”

I reach for one of her bags carefully, so our fingers don’t touch. I’m grateful for the weight of it as we ride the elevator up.

The walk down the hallway is silent and then we get to my door, and once inside she sets down her suitcase, shrugs off her coat.

Here is Mabel, in my room, three thousand miles away from what used to be home.

She sees the snacks I bought. Each one of them, something she loves.

“So,” she says. “I guess it’s okay that I came.”

Chapter two

MABEL IS FINALLY WARM ENOUGH. She tosses her hat onto Hannah’s bed, unwraps her red-and-yellow scarf. I flinch at the familiarity of them. All of my clothes are new.

“I’d make you give me a tour, but there’s no way I’m going back out there,” she says.

“Yeah, sorry about that,” I say, still fixed to her scarf and hat. Are they as soft as they used to be?

“You’re apologizing for the weather?” Her eyebrows are raised, her tone is teasing, but when I can’t think of anything witty to say back, her question hovers in the room, a reminder of the apology she’s really come for.

Three thousand miles is a long way to travel to hear someone say she’s sorry.

“So what are your professors like?”

Thankfully, I manage to tell her about my history professor, who swears during lessons, rides a motorcycle, and seems much more like someone you’d meet at a bar than in a lecture hall. This topic doesn’t make me a gifted conversationalist, but at least it makes me adequate.

“At first I kept thinking all my professors were celibate,” I say. She laughs. I made her laugh. “But then I met this guy and he shattered the illusion.”

“What building is his class in? We can do a window tour.”

Her back is to me as she peers out at my school. I take a moment too long before joining her.

Mabel.

In New York. In my room.

Outside, the snow covers the ground and the benches, the hood of the groundskeeper’s truck, and the trees. Lights on the pathways glow even though nobody’s here. It looks even emptier this way. So much light and only stillness.

“Over there.” I point across the night to the furthermost building, barely lit up.

“And where’s your lit class?”

“Right here.” I point to the building next to us.

“What else are you taking?”

I show her the gym where I swim laps every morning and try, unsuccessfully, to master the butterfly stroke. I swim late at night, too, but I don’t tell her that. The pool is always eighty degrees. Diving in feels like plunging into nothing, not the icy shock I’ve known forever. No waves cold enough to numb me or strong enough to pull me under. At night the pool is quiet, and I swim laps and then just float, watching the ceiling or closing my eyes, all the sounds foggy and distant, the lifeguard keeping watch.

It helps me get calm when the panic starts.

But when it’s too late at night and the pool is closed and I can’t stop my thoughts, it’s Hannah who can steady me.

“I just read the most interesting thing,” she’ll say from her bed, her textbook resting in her lap. And then she reads to me about honeybees, about deciduous trees, about evolution.

It takes me a while, usually, to be able to listen. But when I do, I discover the secrets of pollination, that honeybees’ wings beat two hundred times per second. That trees shed their leaves not according to season, but according to rainfall. That before all of us there was something else. Eventually, something will take our place.

I learn that I am a tiny piece of a miraculous world.

I make myself understand, again, that I am in a dorm room at a college. That what happened has happened. It’s over. Doubt pushes in, but I use our twin beds and desks and closets, the four walls around us, the girls who neighbor us on both sides and the ones who neighbor them, the whole building and the campus and the state of New York to fend doubt off.

We are what’s real, I tell myself as I fall asleep.

Then, at six a.m., when the pool opens, I go swimming.

A movement calls me back. Mabel, tucking her hair behind her ear. “Where’s the dining hall?” she asks.

“You can’t see it from this window, but it’s across the courtyard in the back.”

“What’s it like?”

“Decent.”

“I mean the people. The scene.”

“Pretty mellow. I usually sit with Hannah and her friends.”

“Hannah?”

“My roommate. Do you see the building with the pointy roof? Behind those trees?”

She nods.

“That’s where my anthropology class is. It’s probably my favorite.”

“Really? Not lit?”

I nod.

“Because of the professors?”

“No, they’re both good,” I say. “Everything in lit is just too . . . ambiguous, I guess.”

“But that’s what you like. All the differences in interpretation.”

Is that true? I can’t remember.

I shrug.

“But you’re still an English major.”

“No, I’m undeclared now,” I say. “But I’m pretty sure I’m going to switch to Natural Sciences.”

I think I see a flash of annoyance cross her face, but then she smiles at me.

“Bathroom?” she asks.

“Follow me.”

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