We Are Okay(4)

By: Nina Lacour


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.

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.