Selena stood in front of a small, square bathroom mirror with a pair of white sneakers in one hand, now brown and drenched, like her hair. Her t-shirt clung tighter to her, outlining the shape of her body. Her pants were mud-spattered at the bottom but soaked all over. She placed her other hand on the sink, leaned in, and looked into her own eyes.
“Lesson learned,” she muttered to herself, “Don’t question the weather forecast.”
She placed her spectacles next to the faucet on the sink, soaked her muddy sneakers in a bucket and her clothes in another, and took a long shower. She didn’t want to follow her daily routine today. The weather had turned when she was just a few blocks away from home. She welcomed the sudden change and returned home, as she preferred to spend all day in bed, listening to music, reading a book, or playing a video game. Any activity would perfectly accompany the cold and gloomy weather outside. It had been a long time since the weather reflected how she felt on the inside.
Selena hadn’t smiled in the past month. It was unusual but understandable. She witnessed her parents’ decision to get a divorce and the death of Maximus, her 15-year-old Golden Retriever, who Selena had since she was three. Both incidents were strenuous. One disturbance alone is enough to bother most people. Selena, however, managed to seem unperturbed. She decided to leave early for college.
“It will be easier for me not to stay here and be constantly reminded of Max,” she explained to her parents.
Her parents agreed to her decision as they didn’t want to put her through any more stress. They were under stress themselves too. Neither questioned her nor persuaded her to stay. She left within a week of Max’s death. Selena had to keep herself occupied. She had to keep herself away from home. Less than six hours away from home, the apartment she lived in was more or less how she left it in her first year at college.
None of her friends were in town, and she had only a few. She was going to be alone for a little over a month until college resumed. She never did mind being alone. Perks of being an introvert, she would say. Every day for the past three weeks, she would walk to her college library instead of taking the bus. She would take a new path every day, memorizing each street she crossed and every shop she passed. Every morning, however, she would stop at the same café. She’d order the same items, a chicken cheese omelette, and a coffee for breakfast; and two sandwiches to go, for lunch. She’d spend her day reading in the library, anything that she could get her hands on. On the way back to her apartment, she’d take the same path that she did earlier that morning, testing her memory against every street and shop. She’d stop by at the same café and order whatever the waiter suggested. Every night she’d send her parents a text, ‘I’m fine. At home. ILY’, and not bother to reply to anyone else. She’d go to bed listening to music on her phone while scrolling through random apps. Every day, she’d try not to think about Max. Every day, she’d fail and be miserable. Every day, she’d cry herself to sleep.
Selena looked at herself, in the small, square mirror, and adjusted her specs. She changed into pyjamas. Her apartment building was taller than most buildings surrounding it. Through her window, she could see a swarm of colourful, bobbing umbrellas on the pavements below. They formed a line that extended down the street. The street merged into intersections on either end, and more people merged into and split from this long line.
“Was I the only retard?” Selena thought out loud as she tried to look for people without an umbrella or a raincoat. She tried to search for heads among the umbrellas, but her phone vibrated and caught her attention. It was her mother.
Mom: Where are you? Are you fine? News says thunderstorm.
Me: I’m fine. At home. Only rain. ILY
Mom: Okay. Take care honey. I miss you. Can we talk?
Selena hadn’t spoken to her parents properly since she left home. She didn’t bother replying to her mother’s text. Instead, she put on her headphones and resumed the last playing song on her phone. She looked at the time in her phone’s clock and realized that she hadn’t had breakfast yet. It was almost an hour to noon. Owing to the overcast outside she believed it was evening already. Had it not been for the sudden downpour she would already be reading a book at the library. Her stomach was growling with hunger. She’d decide later as to how she wanted to spend her day. But first, she had to eat. She went to her refrigerator, not remembering when she had last cooked or stocked the fridge and pantry. She took the last two eggs out and cooked an omelette. There was no milk; coffee would be black, like her burnt omelette. She emptied a bag of potato chips into a bowl and carried it to her bed. She took two long, hardbound books from her desk and placed the bowl of chips on one of them. Selena plugged her laptop in and placed it on the other book. She wrapped herself up in a blanket and sat upright, her back against the pillow. Selena had a bucket list of movies she wanted to watch. She added more movies to it than she crossed off of it. She removed the headphones from her phone and plugged them into her laptop. That day, she struck a trilogy off her list.
The clock on Selena’s phone read 8PM, and a few texts had filled her notification drawer. She checked every one of them but didn’t reply. Selena glanced outside the window. The rain hadn’t stopped; instead, it had turned into a violent thunderstorm. She saw a lightning bolt strike down in the horizon.
“One, two, three…”, she began counting under her breath, “Four, five, six…”
Deafening thunder interrupted her. “2 kilometres”, she deduced.
It was a neat trick her father taught her as a child. Divide the number of seconds between lightning and the sound of thunder by three. That’s how far that bolt of lightning is. It was meant to reassure her that the bolt of lightning couldn’t hurt her from a distance. She walked up to her window, which had water droplets racing down the pane. The scenery outside was reminiscent of a natural disaster documentary. The stretched line of umbrellas was missing. Whatever vehicles remained, drove at careful speeds. Incessant droplets of water hit every exposed surface, creating mists, and trees swayed from their trunks. The clouds rumbled louder, as did her stomach. She looked at the torrential downpour outside and wondered if any pizza place would deliver. She called up the cheapest first.
“I’m sorry, ma’am. The weather is too bad. We’re closing up right now.”
Selena hung up. Every other store she called, had similar responses. She threw her phone on the bed, dejected, cursing herself for not stocking her fridge with more eggs. She cupped her hand over her mouth as a thought crossed her mind. She raced to the stove, the knob was set to off; luckily, no impending explosions were in order. On top of the stove lay the frying pan in which she cooked her omelette. She figured it was still edible, and reheated it. It wasn’t enough to satiate her hunger, so she downed a bottle of water as well. Feeling somewhat better, she laid down on her bed and started scrolling through random apps.
Around fifteen minutes later, Selena shot up startled and stared at the door as the doorbell rang. The tube light started flickering uncontrollably, filling the previously silent apartment with its never-ending buzzing. Selena wasn’t expecting anyone at this hour. She got out of the bed and stumbled into the kitchen to get a knife. She then tiptoed to the door. From the spy hole, she saw someone clad in a black raincoat holding a pizza box. She adjusted her pyjamas and unlocked the door, opening it halfway, hiding the knife behind the door.
“It’s okay miss you don’t have to pay for the pizza. I don’t work there anymore.”
Selena had seen enough crime and mystery shows. She knew she could use shock to her advantage, so she swung open the door and pointed the knife straight ahead.
Eyes wide, face red, she ranted “I never placed an order! How do you know where I live? What pizza store is this? Why don’t you have a uniform? Walk away now or I’ll call the police!”
“Easy there!” the courier surrendered, “We have a customer database and caller ID and you had ordered from us five months ago and I live in this neighbourhood and I took the liberty to cost my boss a pizza cause he’s a horrible person and you were the only customer who called today and I took a bunch of pizzas for myself but that’s not the point. Anyway, why don’t you point the knife away from me? I’m sorry okay? I’m going to place this box down on the floor and never return here. Cool?”
“What pizza is it?” Selena questioned, her eyes and the knife, pointed straight ahead. She was still suspicious of the stranger.
“Baby corn, jalapenos, and olives. No animals were harmed during the making of this pizza.”
“Cool.” Selena nodded, but she didn’t turn the knife away.
The courier had placed the box on the floor and was now descending the stairs facing her all the time. “You’re crazy, woman. You could at least say thanks.”
Selena said nothing. She waited until she heard the footsteps recede. She picked up the box and noticed a card lying down on the floor. She picked it up as well and slammed the door shut. The tube light fixed itself. She held in her hand a fake ID in the name of a Max Bailey. Only the photo matched. The courier was too young to be forty. It must have fallen out of Fake-Max’s pocket somehow. She cringed at the ubiquity of her dog’s name. But smiled when she heard the courier in her head, “No animals were harmed during the making of this pizza.” Selena had smiled for the first time in a month. She did not cry herself to sleep for the first time in a month.
The skies had cleared by the next morning. The forecast didn’t indicate rain, but it was going to be a cold day. Selena awoke to feel happier than she had so far. Partly because of the previous night, which in hindsight, she found hilarious, and partly because she could visit the library today, the hiatus being shorter than she expected. The weather, for the second time, reflected how she felt on the inside. Selena went to the bathroom and conveniently ignored her muddy clothes from the previous day, which she had forgotten to wash. She freshened up, determined to followed her schedule and set out for the day. She looked around for the pizza box from last night, but couldn’t find it. She had probably kept it outside, along with the trash bag.
Her college was located 6 intersections to the north, including the intersection down the slope, and 8 intersections west. A grid-like street arrangement caused her no trouble in picking a new path each day for a month. She wouldn’t be having a problem anytime soon either. She had already calculated the total number of shortest paths available to her, with the restriction of visiting the same café every day. Even if she took different paths every time she walked, it would take her roughly a year and three-quarters to exhaust them all. Selena took a new path this time, memorizing the names of streets and shops. She had breakfast and packed supplies for lunch, and went ahead.
She spent all day reading a post-apocalyptic novel, Metro 2033. Moscow had been affected by a nuclear holocaust. The novel was about the lives of the refugees underground. About how factions were built and war was waged. About how mutated animals evolved, and how mutated humans gained psychic powers. She was most fascinated by the back of the book, which mentioned that there existed a critically acclaimed video game based on the same book. It had been a while since she last played a game. She had crossed three movies off her list in a day. She was going to save a video game for another rainy day, literally. Selena left early that day, a sudden urge taking over her, compelling her to buy the video game as soon as she could.
It was dusk, the sky glowed orange. Selena entered a consumer electronics store with her purse and a bag of groceries, which had an umbrella that she bought earlier. Convenient for her, the store was right opposite her regular café. She headed to the video games section and browsed for a minute. When she found the game she was looking for, she picked it up and examined it.
“I’m surprised you didn’t pick a game that involves stabbing innocent people with knives.” a voice called out to her. She spun around and saw the pizza courier from last night, Fake-Max, grinning at her. “Also, you’re not allowed to carry bags inside. They’ll think you’re a serial shoplifter. I’ll tell them they’re mistaken, you’re more likely to be a serial killer.”
“You’re one to talk” Selena stared back. She wasn’t the one with serial killer tendencies; she didn’t show up to a stranger’s place at night.
“I’m sorry about last night, I reflected on it, and it was a stupid thing to do. I could have given the pizza to a homeless person instead of frightening someone that way.”
“It’s okay,” said Selena. The apology seemed sincere. She looked down at her bag. All she could manage to do was simper awkwardly. It wasn’t that Selena couldn’t talk to people. She could always make small talk, despite categorizing herself an introvert. She hadn’t interacted with another human besides the waiters in the last month.
“Metro, huh?” Max pointed at the game in her hand. “How did you like the first one?”
“The first one?”
“Yeah, Last Light is the sequel to 2033.”
Max grabbed the correct game from the racks and took a few steps towards her, arms outstretched, handing the game to Selena.
“I won’t bite.”
“Thanks” Selena exchanged the game and added, “I’m sorry. I’m not usually this socially awkward. It’s just that I’m having a hard time dealing with my dog’s death, and you have the same fake name, and…”
“I fake what?”
Selena wondered if Max knew had realized an ID was missing. “Oh. I have something of yours.” Selena reached into the purse and removed the ID that she had stowed in there earlier, “You must have dropped it last night.”
“How do you know it’s fake? And why are you carrying this around?”
“You’re too young to be forty.”
Max squinted at the card and realized that an incorrect year was printed, “I never noticed this until now. I’m going to have to get a new one made. So when the bouncers let me in, they thought I was 40?” Max wondered.
Selena laughed. She had a remarkable laugh. Her laugh was the kind that made everyone turn their heads in her direction. Everyone in the store did too.
“Maybe, I never got your name though.”
Max grinned “If you want to know my name, prove it to me that you’re not socially awkward. I can’t stand such creatures. What’s your vice? Coffee or liquor?”
“Coffee, but see that place over there?” Selena pointed towards the café through the display window. “I’m heading over there for dinner. Why don’t you join me?” she was surprised at the ease of which she invited her new acquaintance for dinner. Eating out with a complete stranger wasn’t normal for her. Yet, she did, casually, and effortlessly. There was something telling her that had she not asked, she would regret it later. It was her second sudden urge of the day.
Fake-Max smiled “My mother always told me to be careful of strangers who offered me food. Doing so would be going against my mother’s advice. So, yes, I will join you of course. I just need to have a word with the manager.”
Selena laughed and held the game up, “I’ll go get this billed”. Selena did have a mesmerizing laugh. Only a few people turned their heads towards her this time, however.
Five minutes later, she was outside with Fake-Max and they crossed the street together.
“Are you a regular here?” Fake-Max asked Selena.
“Yes, I’ve come here enough times”
“In that case, why don’t we place an order for a parcel and continue walking? Clouds are beginning to form too.” Fake-Max grinned.
Selena looked at the clouds and agreed, “Okay.”
Fake-Max let her place the order. Selena ordered a large pizza. Baby corn, jalapenos, and olives. They sat down outside and made small talk while they waited.
“So, Max, what do you do?”
Selena thought about how she hadn’t addressed another living being with that name for a while and tried to force a smile.
“I’m sorry for your loss, I thought I heard you mention something about your dog.” Fake-Max looked at her empathetically.
“It’s alright. Go on.” Selena brushed it off.
“I’m a business student. College doesn’t start for another month. I spent the summer developing strategies to boost sales for whichever local businesses were willing to experiment. That’s what I was doing at this store. I’m working with seven local businesses at once. It’s also partly an assignment.”
Selena was impressed. She noticed Max’s backpack. It had her college’s emblem embroidered onto it. She pointed at it, “Is that your college?”
“Yes, and six, I don’t work at the pizza place anymore. The owner is a creep. Let’s not get into that. Wait, do you go to the same college too?”
“Yeah.” Selena smiled, “Small world.”
“What are you studying?”
“I’m studying literature there. But I’m not really sure about what I want to do with my life,” she admitted, “I spent my summer reading, mostly.”
“You sound like you’re all set to be a librarian. Lit fan, spectacles. And with the sweater, you’re totally nailing the look too!” Max joked.
Selena blushed and looked at her clothes.
“Although, I wonder if the sweater would look better on the floor,” Max smirked.
Selena was taken aback. She wasn’t expecting to hear anything along those lines. She had a boyfriend with who things ended badly. She had dated Chris for a year in school. Everyone in school thought that they’d go all the way; marriage, kids, a car, and a house. But they didn’t. Selena broke up with Chris after she found out that he had been cheating on her with two other girls for the last few months of their relationship. She had never given relationships a second thought. Until now. She couldn’t tell if she was attracted to Max. The concept seemed alien to her after Chris, even more so now. She was, however, deeply intrigued. Despite her concepts of what normal was, there she was, waiting for dinner with a complete stranger, considering flirting back. ‘There’s always a first time’, she thought.
“I think that was too soon.” Max apologized. Selena hadn’t replied for fifteen seconds; she had spaced out.
“I’m sorry. I don’t know your name. You haven’t brought me dinner yet.” Selena started “But, after that, and some more, maybe, we can decide who wore it better.”
Max smiled, relieved that Selena didn’t react like most girls. “I don’t know yours, we’re still waiting on the pizza, and I like the sound of that.” The pizza had arrived. Selena paid.
It had grown dark and had started raining. They could not stop exchanging ideas and anecdotes. Selena could only dream to hit it off so well with someone, let alone a stranger; and on the first day, moreover. Selena had explained her daily regimen to Max, who thought it was a great idea and wished to accompany her. They had finished the pizza but continued to talk under Selena’s apartment building, discussing everything that could be discussed with a stranger. From life’s history to world history. From religion and psychology to science and technology. From TV and movies to sports and food. Everything matched; their likes and dislikes, beliefs and principles. Both of them were dog people, liked comedies better than drama, preferred pop over rock, loved the same movies and sports, and they both could be equally bitter cynics. Selena felt as though she was looking at a reflection of herself, an image that she was projecting, that Max was only as real as her imagination. Max made Selena unsure of her own existence. After talking for hours, they felt it was time to leave. Alex didn’t have an umbrella so Selena offered hers. She accompanied Alex to the front gate of her building’s compound under the black umbrella.
“If you’re not pointing knives at people tomorrow I’d like to meet again.”
“Me too. I’m Selena” she said as she extended her hand.
They shook hands. It felt real. Selena was still unconvinced. Alex was only slightly taller than Selena. She locked eyes with Alex, hesitant. Alex seemed unreal, a figment of her imagination. She had to be sure that Alex was real. Her lips parted, pupils dilated, heart raced. Before Selena could inch closer, Alex grabbed her by her waist, pulled her in and kissed her. Selena felt alive, and her knees went weak. She embraced Alex, and didn’t want to let go. In that picturesque moment, sharing an umbrella in the rain on a streetlight-lit street accompanied by cold gusts of wind and roaring thunder, she felt alive, more than ever. She was sure, Alex was as real as she was.
“I’m going to the library tomorrow, meet me downstairs at eight,” they exchanged numbers, and Selena hurried off upstairs. Selena was amazed at what an eventful day it had turned out to be. She had no trouble sleeping. She was grateful for having given in to her sudden urges. For the second night in a row, Selena did not cry herself to sleep.
Selena awoke the next morning, trying to recollect the events of last night as vividly as possible, she wanted to be sure it wasn’t a dream. It was drizzling outside, and she hoped Alex did not forget to bring the umbrella. She went for a shower and ignored the soiled sneakers and clothes in the bathroom, yet again. She was excited, overtly, thinking about how she would spend her day with Alex. She didn’t want to alter her habit; she would drag Alex along with her to the library. Selena was ready within minutes. She trod downstairs and saw Alex already waiting for her with the umbrella.
“I’ve been waiting here for ten minutes,” complained Alex, as they greeted each other with a hug. They held hands and set off on their expedition.
Alex entered the café first to visit the washroom. Selena occupied her regular table next to the window of the café in the corner.
“Good morning ma’am! The regular?” her waiter enquired, as he poured her a coffee.
“No” replied Selena and ordered two chicken cheese omelettes, two coffees, and four sandwiches to go.
“Will someone be joining you today?” the waiter smiled.
“Yes, that someone is in the restroom,” Selena smiled back.
Alex returned from the restroom and sat down on the table. They ate, talked, and paid the bill. The waiter gossiped with his colleague behind Selena’s back as she left with Alex.
They spent the day reading, together. Alex was an avid reader too. Selena picked the sequel to Metro 2033, Metro 2034, making a mental note that she had to play the game she bought. Selena asked Alex if they could leave earlier than usual, but only after Alex had finished reading. They went to the café again. The rain had grown stronger. Alex had an umbrella but they shared one nevertheless, arms around each other. They didn’t care if people stared at them. They tested each other’s memories for the names they had memorized earlier. Alex could recollect every single name, and so could Selena. As they reached her apartment building, Selena said that she had a wonderful time, and so did Alex. They kissed each other goodbye. Alex promised to meet again the next day, and so they did the next day, and the day after that until college resumed.
About a week after college began, Selena’s parents had decided not to proceed with a divorce, but instead to undergo couples counselling. She was happy for them, as they’d be happier soon. She continued her daily regimen, and Alex accompanied her, every single day, replacing the library with classes. Selena had grown close to Alex, naturally. It is quite common for two people to grow closer as they spend enough time with each other almost every day. For some it’s a gradual process, sometimes, it’s accelerated. In either case, however, the levels of comfort are measurable and increasing. Selena too could measure these levels of comfort, along with, in their case, swiftly increasing intimacy and attraction, with every passing day. After Chris had cheated on her, she never felt that there was someone she’d be close to. But Alex was everything she could ever want, everything that she would ever need. All things considered, Selena was content and happy. She was happy because she was content and she was content because she was happy.
Alex had changed Selena in many ways. No more did she cringe at the thought or mention of Max. She had grieved enough. She began laughing more, even started doing her laundry on time and made it a habit to keep her fridge and pantry stocked. Selena’s texts to her parents, however, became increasingly infrequent, consisting only of ‘I’m fine. At home.’ She wasn’t replying to anyone else, and everyone else stopped texting her too. The only regular texts on her phone were to Alex. Selena often imagined how her life would have turned out, had she not been adventurous and asked Alex for dinner. Had she not given into her urges, she’d be crying herself to sleep even today. She shuddered at the thought every time it crossed her mind. When college started, things were more or less the same for her. They continued their expeditions, halting at her regular café, taking a new path every day. Classes went on as usual, but she found her mind wandering. She grew distant from the few friends that she had, naturally, as every time her friends made plans, she would apologize saying that she was busy. She always had plans with Alex. They would always walk to Selena’s apartment building together, and halt at the same café.
The first Sunday after college began, Selena invited Alex over to her place for lunch. She had plans for a movie marathon. The rains, although intermittent and not as violent as earlier, endured. Selena had swept and dusted the entire apartment, which wasn’t all that arduous as her apartment consisted of an adequately sized room, a kitchen, and a bathroom. She was interrupted by her vibrating phone many times. Her parents had been calling her nonstop for the past twenty-four hours. She ignored their calls, there was work to do. Selena set up her laptop on the bed, with the movie that she had picked opened and paused. Entertainment was ready. Selena could not cook, but she had lunch ready in her kitchen, takeaway, Chinese, the kind that could be eaten out of the package that it was boxed in. The food was ready. She had instructed Alex to grab a bottle or two of Coke on her way. Drinks would be ready. She was ready. She was going to make this day a memorable one.
The doorbell rang. Alex had arrived. Selena swung the door open and smiled “Hi you!” silencing the phone vibrating relentlessly in her pocket. Alex stood at the door holding up a bottle of Rhododendron wine, grinning back “Hi you!”
“I meant cold drinks Alex! You know I don’t drink!” Selena complained as she stepped aside for Alex to enter.
“But look at this beauty. A friend of mine had to smuggle it out of the Himalayas. There’s always a first time,” Alex tried persuading her.
Selena could not argue with that logic, as her mind went back to the day she was in the electronics store. She took the bottle, gestured Alex to occupy the bed and went to the kitchen to get the food. Her phone started vibrating again. She turned it off and placed it on the countertop. Selena grabbed the boxes and carried them to her bed. Alex started the movie.
The food was over, and so was the movie. The rain hadn’t stopped outside; it was dark. They had started the movie with both of them sitting upright. Now, however, Selena was stroking Alex’s hair, who ended lying down to her right facing the laptop. Selena herself had slid down her back, halfway between sitting up straight and lying down, with her left knee pointing upwards. As the credits rolled on the screen, Alex rolled around and looked up at Selena. Selena looked back affectionately, the day wasn’t as memorable as she wanted it to be. She had something else in mind. She took Alex’s hand into hers and began tracing ellipses on it using her thumb.
“What’s up with you? You look different. Did you not like the movie?” Alex asked, concerned.
It was the moment Selena had been waiting for. The last few weeks had been drastically different for her, and she had enjoyed every minute of it. She only had Alex to thank for it. She hadn’t however, made it known. Selena planted a kiss on Alex’s forehead.
“Do you have any idea how much you’ve helped me?” she cooed lovingly, trying to make her voice as sultry as she could.
“Did you drink the entire bottle while I wasn’t looking?” Alex joked.
“No silly. I just want to tell you, that, you’ve helped me a lot in life. Like, before you came along I was a mess. You picked me up, unknowingly. There’s still so much we don’t know about each other but I feel like we belong.” Selena said as she placed her hand on Alex’s cheek.
“I do too. And I’m sure you’ve had some at least.”
“No! I’ve been trying to say this for a while but…”
“But you’re drunk.” Alex interrupted and grinned.
“I love you.” Selena sighed.
Alex sat up straight and stared back into Selena’s eyes, a sudden seriousness replacing the mischief from earlier. Selena felt as if a burden had been removed from her shoulders. She stared into Alex’s eyes, waiting for a response. She knew what Alex was going to say.
“I love you too,” Alex smiled.
She placed her hands on the back of Selena’s neck and pulled her close. They kissed; this one, although evocative of their first, was far more passionate than all the earlier ones combined. Selena realized that this day could become even more memorable. She excused herself as she went to the kitchen to get the bottle of wine.
“If we’re going to do this” she explained to Alex “I’m going to need to loosen up.”
“Of course” Alex replied.
Selena brought two glasses of wine, one for each.
“To us” Selena toasted, gulping it all.
“To us” Alex toasted, her eyes wide.
They placed their glasses aside as Alex pushed Selena down onto the bed, below her and unbuttoned her own shirt.
After an hour of frenzied lovemaking, they lay in bed facing each other, satisfied but exhausted. Alex took Selena’s hand into her own and admitted to her,
“This was my first time with a girl.”
“Mine too” Selena blushed, “First time ever.”
“Get out! Guys would be throwing themselves at someone like you!”
“I was with someone for a while” Selena took her hand away and stepped out of the bed unclothed. She reached for her spectacles lying on the floor and heard Alex whistle.
She continued, “Quite a while actually, but I had never…” she stopped as she realised that her left lens was cracked. She looked around the room as she put on her spectacles. Her vision was partially blurred.
“Look at the mess we’ve made,” Selena said, half impressed, as she inspected her room.
The sheets were almost off, curled up in a corner at the far end of the bed. Their clothes were strewn on the floor, and Selena’s only pillow was on the floor covering the top half of her unbroken bedside lamp.
“Sorry?” Alex purred seductively, shifting under the covers.
Selena walked to the window and looked outside, carefully hiding behind the curtains.
“Did I ever tell you about Chris?” she asked Alex facing away from her. The rain had evolved into a thunderstorm. She looked absent-mindedly at the street outside. It reminded her of the day that Alex delivered pizza.
“Your ex? I don’t think so.” Alex replied.
“How do you know that he’s my ex?” Selena questioned as she spun around.
“Social media babe” Alex walked over to her and they both got dressed. She hugged Selena from behind and they both stared out the window.
“You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t feel like. Besides it will only kill the mood” said Alex.
“No. Nothing can. Not today.” Selena promised Alex.
They stood at the window, in each other’s arms, looking outside, saying nothing. Selena realised that Alex was right, talking about Chris could ruin the night. She chose not to say anything, but she was about to be proven wrong.
Selena’s eyes were fixed at a black sedan that had pulled to the curb below her apartment. She started breathing erratically, and beads of sweat formed at her temple. The colour disappeared from her face. A couple exited the car as its headlights went off. They were in their mid-forties. The man had gotten out of the car first and opened an umbrella for the woman. They had no luggage. If they did, it was in the trunk. They walked towards the apartment. She could recite the make and model of the car along with its number plate. She could do this because she could recognise the couple anywhere. Selena bustled into action upon realising that they’d be upstairs any minute.
“Alex, Hide!” Selena almost screamed.
Alex stumbled backwards as Selena ran towards the bed and hid everything that could indicate that she was not alone. The extra takeaway box, the wine bottle, and glasses went under the bed. Her room was still a mess, but it was the mess of a single person.
Selena snapped at Alex again. “My parents are here! Hide!” Alex calmly went to the kitchen and stood beside the fridge, hidden from view. “I haven’t told them about us, but I will today. Just don’t come out until I tell you to. You can’t be seen if you stay here.”
Selena wasn’t the kind of girl who could be depressed. Her parents believed that it was best to give her the time and space that she needed to deal with Max’s death. However, owing to her escalating withdrawal, they had deliberated for the last week whether they should ask Selena to seek professional counselling. After all, counselling was what helped them salvage their marriage. They decided that their earlier approach was incorrect and that Selena should talk to someone. However, when she hadn’t made contact in over a day, they thought they were too late and that the worst had happened. Guilt and anxiety made them rush over to her place. They waited impatiently outside her door. The tube light went off as the doorbell rang. Her parents’ anxiety increased on seeing the lights go off inside. Selena could navigate thanks to her father pounding on the door. She turned a light bulb on and opened the door. She had not rehearsed in her head about what she would say to them.
“Thank God! You’re alright honey!” Selena’s mother embraced her, tears forming in her eyes.
Selena was taken aback. She didn’t think that they would show up at her door.
Her father wiped the sweat from his forehead and scolded her “Do you have any idea how worried we have been? Why wouldn’t you answer our calls? Where is your phone?” He was relieved that his daughter was alright, as far as he could see. There were neither any cuts on her arms or wrists nor any tear stained cheeks.
“Yeah” was all that Selena could sheepishly manage to say. Her mother let go of her. They still had to talk about counselling, so her father suggested that they all go inside. Selena walked towards her bed and glanced at the kitchen, checking whether they would be able to spot Alex as they entered the room. The bulb was above the door and unlike the tube light, could not illuminate the kitchen. Nobody could see Alex from the room.
“This place is a mess,” Selena’s mother observed, as she placed her purse on top of the curled up bedsheet in the corner. She lifted the pillow and lamp in either hand and enquired “Why is my baby living in a pigsty? Why is this depressing light bulb on?” She bit her lower lip at the realization of how casually she had used the ‘d’ word and sobbed harder.
“Sit down Selena, we have to talk.” her father said as he placed the open umbrella on the floor to dry. “Wait…? Is that a…? Why are your spectacles broken?” her father’s anxiety began to grow again. He placed his hand on her face, guilty that his negligence led to his daughter harming herself. “Let me see that.”
“It’s nothing.” Selena jerked her head away and took a few steps behind.
“Mom, Dad, sit down I need to tell you something.” Selena looked towards the kitchen.
Her parents did not sit down. Her mother wiped her tears and said “We’re sorry baby. We know what you’re going through. You were always our strong kid, we thought all you needed was time.”
“You don’t have to say anything honey, we’ve made a list of therapists close by. We’ll come with you for the first…”
“Hold on.” Selena interrupted them. “I’m not depressed. That’s not what I wanted to tell you.”
“It’s alright honey, we don’t need to put a label on it.” Her father tried to comfort her.
“Guys, really, just stop” Selena tried not to laugh. She could see the genuine concern for her. But her parents did not know that she had been reinvigorated the past few weeks.
“I know I haven’t been talking to you properly, but that doesn’t mean I’m sad. I’m happier than ever, and that’s what I wanted to talk to you about. I met someone, and spending a lot of time with that someone is probably why I haven’t been talking to anyone else as much as I used to.”
Her parents were lost. Selena was smiling. But it wasn’t her usual radiant smile, something was amiss, different about it. Their concerns were only growing. They said nothing.
“I’m in love with someone. Alex and I love each other.”
“That’s alright Selena. We trust you to make sensible decisions. We wouldn’t interfere in your relationships until you come to us.” Her mother fretted, unconvinced that it was all Selena had to say.
“That’s good. I’m glad you said that. Alex is hiding in the kitchen right now.” Selena gulped.
“Oh” her parents muttered together under their breaths as they realised why the room was a mess.
“Alex, you can come out now.” Selena was trembling.
In the time it took for Alex to exit the kitchen Selena’s mind raced. Her parents were loving, as they had proved time and again. She wasn’t sure, however, if they would be okay with her being in love with a girl. Selena admitted to herself that perhaps the reason why she hadn’t been in touch with her parents was because she did not expect her parents to approve of Alex. She hadn’t seen her parents show outright contempt, or any other emotion, towards situations like hers. They’re probably indifferent to the idea, she thought. She did not know what to expect. Alex stepped out into the dim, warm glow of the light bulb. She stood still in front of the bathroom door and fixed her eyes on Selena, who stood at the window. Alex showed no emotion, her face was expressionless.
“Mom and Dad, Alex. Alex, Mom and Dad. She’s from my college as well.”
Nothing could have prepared Selena for her parents’ reaction. Her parents shifted their eyes from the bathroom door to the window and then back. Both their eyes welled up with tears. Nothing could have prepared them for what Selena had just told them. Her mother eyes went wide and she clutched her father’s bicep so hard that he winced. She opened and closed her mouth several times, trying to scream, but no words came out. She eventually covered her mouth with one hand and silently wept into her husband’s shirt. Selena was distraught by her mother’s reaction. She hoped that her father wouldn’t have as histrionic a reaction.
The light bulb had started buzzing like the tube light earlier. Selena saw Alex still staring at her, trying to contain her own excitement. Selena’s father consoled his weeping wife, and although he didn’t show it, he was devastated. He knew that it hinged upon him to handle this predicament well. He was terrified but mustered enough strength.
“That’s Alex?” He pointed.
“Yes, father.” Selena whimpered as she smiled at Alex. Alex’s face stretched into a grin. She had forced it despite her anger. She slowly turned towards Selena’s parents. The effect was macabre.
“Selena. Honey. Look at me.” Selena’s father stammered.
Selena was worried by her father’s ashen face. She leaned in.
“There’s nobody there.”