We Are Okay(10)

By: Nina Lacour

“My dorms are different. Like mini-apartments. We have three rooms and then a common space with a living room and kitchen. Six of us share it so we cook lots of big batches of things. My roommate makes the best lasagna. I have no idea how it’s as good as it is—she just uses pre-shredded cheese and bottled sauce.”

“At least she has that going for her.”

“What do you mean?” she asks.

Before she gave up on me, Mabel sent me a litany of reasons not to like her roommate. Her terrible taste in music, her loud snoring, her tumultuous love life and messiness and ugly decorations. Remind me why you didn’t join me in sunny Southern California? she wrote. And also: Please! Come make this girl disappear and steal her identity!

“Oh,” she says now, remembering. “Right. Well, it’s been a while. She’s grown on me.” She turns to see what else she can comment on, but the plant and bowls are the extent of my furnishings.

“I’m planning on getting more stuff soon,” I say. “I just need to find a job first.”

Concern flashes across her face. “Do you have . . . ? I can’t believe I never thought about this. Do you have any money?”

“Yeah,” I say. “Don’t worry. He left me some, just not that much. I mean, enough for now, but I have to be careful.”

“What about tuition?”

“He had already paid for this year.”

“But what about the next three years?”

This shouldn’t be so difficult to talk about. This part should be easy. “My counselor here says we should be able to make it work. With loans and financial aid and scholarships. She says as long as I do well, we should be able to figure it out.”

“Okay,” she says. “That sounds good, I guess.”

But she still looks concerned.

“So,” I say. “You’re here for three nights, right?”

She nods.

“I thought maybe tomorrow or the next day we could take the bus to the shopping district. There isn’t too much there, but there’s the studio where I bought those bowls and a restaurant and a few other shops.”

“Yeah, sounds fun.”

She’s staring at the rug now, not yet back to herself.

“Marin,” she says. “I should just tell you now that I’m here with a motive, not for vacation.”

My heart sinks, but I try not to let it show. I look at her and wait.

“Come home with me,” she says. “My parents want you to come.”

“Go for what? Christmas?”

“Yeah, Christmas. But then to stay. I mean, you’d come back here, of course, but you could go back to my house for breaks. It could be your house, too.”

“Oh,” I say. “When you said motive, I thought something else.”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know.”

I can’t bring myself to say that I thought it meant she didn’t really want to see me, when really she’s asking to see me more.

“So will you say yes?”

“I don’t think I can.”

Her eyebrows rise in surprise. I have to look away from her face.

“I guess that’s a lot to ask you all at once. Maybe we should just start with Christmas. Fly back with me, spend a couple days, see how you feel. My parents will pay for your flight.”

I shake my head. “I’m sorry.”

She’s thrown off. This was supposed to go differently. “I have three days to convince you, so just think about it. Pretend you didn’t say no. Pretend you haven’t answered yet.”

I nod, but I know that—no matter how much I want to—it would be impossible for me to go back.

She crosses to Hannah’s side of the room and looks at everything again. She unzips her duffel bag and sifts through what’s she’s brought. And then she’s back at the window.

“There’s another view,” I say. “From the top floor. It’s really pretty.”

We ride the elevator up to the tower. Stepping out with Mabel, I realize it’s the kind of place the governess in The Turn of the Screw would find rife with ghostly possibilities. I try not to think about stories much anymore, though, especially stories about ghosts.

From the tower windows we can see the rest of the campus, a panoramic view. I thought talking might come easier for us up here, where there’s more to see, but I’m still tongue-tied and Mabel is still silent. Angry, probably. I can see it in her shoulders and the way she isn’t looking at me.

“Who’s that?” she asks.

I follow her pointing hand to someone in the distance. A spot of light.

“The groundskeeper,” I say.

We keep watching as he gets closer, stopping every few steps and crouching down.