Hope Swann (coffeebased) wrote,
Hope Swann
coffeebased

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A Foreign Country

"The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there."
-Leslie Poles Hartley


.:⇔:.


"Talking about high school," she said as she shifted the clutch into another gear, "Is kind of like talking about being in a war."

I agreed, quietly, trying to sink into the passenger's seat. We had passed several road signs in the last hour, each one a more indistinct blur. A crossing guard had tried to wave us to a stop a few miles back, and I thought that he'd recover. Eventually.

"You're the only other person I know who'd get it." She flashed me a brilliant smile, but all I could focus on was the fact that her eyes were off the road.

"The road," I said urgently, "No one's looking at it. It gets sad, thinks you don't like it anymore."

I could almost feel her roll her eyes at me but she focused on the wide stretch of avenue. There really wasn't any reason to worry, ever since they'd closed the school, a motorist only had tufts of grass to contend with. The machines were kept on the campus, in preparation for the next day's groundbreaking.

We continued on in relative silence, her iPod was plugged into the dashboard, blaring music that contained very little else but solid bass lines and high-pitched boys. I began to relax, feeling my shoulders settle into the comfortable leather.

After another few minutes of quiet, she piped up again, "Dude, this was your idea." She drummed her fingernails into the steering wheel. "I was all for commemorating this with a bottle of tequila."

"And fire, I remember." I contemplated my fingernails for a second, "How is that nun effigy holding up?"

"I'm naming it Sister I-Touch-Myself-for-Jesus." She turned suddenly, "Two rights, and then a left, right?"

"We're going to die, and our bodies will be pillaged by seagulls." I said absentmindedly, trying to read the map I'd scrawled into my journal. My cell phone could only manage for seconds at a time, and the sun was setting quicker than I could find the appropriate lines. "I think we turn on Anchor Street, if that helps."

"Jules, how would that help? Do you see any street signs?" She turned the car's headlights on to high, and blinked them for emphasis, "Why did we even go to this school? It's in the middle of nowhere."

"They had an excellent honors program." I gave up, and pitched my bag into the backseat. "Look, just drive until you see it. It's the only building in the area, and we're on the only road. Statistically-"

"Theoretically, technically, possibly, in all honesty," Ananda sing-songed at me.

I lapsed into an annoyed silence.

.:⇔:.


The town of Shipton had slowly died over the years following the closure of St. Mary's College. It had been very small to begin with, a main street flanked by matching sets of houses. The dormitories of the faculty and students had taken up a great deal of the bulk and the rest had been filled with the families of the maintenance men and women.

When the nuns had announced that the school had to be closed down, there had been protests in the street. Small ones, consisting of the families that existed solely to service the college and its students.

Nan and Jules had just graduated from university when they'd heard. They hadn't really minded, filled with the casual apathy of those faced with the enormity of the future, too intent on finding jobs and homes to think about dear old St. Mary's.

All the other girls in their batch had rallied outside of the wrought-iron gates, together with almost six generations of students, but they'd chosen to watch it from Nan's new television, bought cheap and the only piece of furniture in her new apartment other than the lonely table she'd stolen from her parents' house. Julia had bought Chinese food with her first paycheck and they gorged on dim sum while laughing at every person they recognized.

At the end of that school year, St. Mary's died. The nuns, all five hundred of them, were moved to satellite convents all over the country. The town tried to make it past the next year, but one by one, ten by ten, the families moved out of Shipton and into the cities surrounding it.

And, that was that. Jules had just gotten out of a really horrible relationship with her boss, one that'd gotten her fired, so she wasn't really that clear on the details. She'd barely lasted two years as a copy editor at that firm. Didn't even get a severance package by the time the legal department had gotten through with her. Jules' mum said it was some kind of penance; you don't fuck married men for heavenly brownie points.

Eventually, she'd gotten a job teaching English at some pisspoor example of a language center. To Ananda's surprise, Jules managed to hold on to that one for five years and a handful of months before applying to the local library as an Assistant Librarian. She was, instead, hired as a librarian's assistant, a world of difference in the simple switch around of words.

The local Annex of the Central Library housed more than ten thousand books, and it was her job to a) dust the covers, b) return errant books to their shelves and most importantly, c) cover new additions in plastic. The first six months were humbling, to say the least. But Julia carried on and after another two years, was promoted to Assistant Librarian when Hazel, her superior, went off to the great Card Catalog in the Sky.

Hazel had been part of the library for forty years. When she'd been discovered, wide-eyed and cold in the microfilm section, her immediate superior, Miss Grommet, the Head Librarian, had simply cackled and cut another notch into the front desk, beneath the paste pot. Miss Grommet had been part of the Annex for longer than man's memory, Jules thought.

While Julia had hopped from job to job, Ananda had done the opposite.

.:⇔:.


"Are we there yet?" Ananda turned into another corner. "Are we there yet?" She sang under her breath.

It was easy to ignore her. While there were no houses left in the entire area, I could make out the outlines of decayed sidewalks, crawling up the hill with us. We had found ourselves within the speed limit miles back, and I was enjoying the view. Most of the buildings had been torn down when the banks had foreclosed the town's mortgages.

They'd done a clumsy job of it. Sidewalks and asphalt melted into street corners and alleyways, noticeable only by the lick of asphalt running through them. The people and town were gone, but the roads to St. Mary's stood out in the twilight. When the nuns had established the school, the town had grown around it, like ripples in a pond. The school building itself was the center of a giant roundabout.

And there it was, rising in the distance.

"There it is!" She made to speed but I grabbed her knee and knocked my knuckles into the steering wheel for my trouble. "Look what you did. Jules, honestly, use your words."

"Can we not rush?" I eyed the gigantic stone cross that topped the chapel off. It was now too dark to see, but it had always been the pride of the nuns. Sister Kate had said that it had been shipped in specifically from the town the order had sprung from, hundreds of years old and full of rampaging granite knots and thorns. On sunny days, it had cast a shadow over most of the town, and I remember the games we'd play just to avoid stepping in its shadow. "There's all kinds of debris and I know for certain you didn't replace your spare from New Year's."

.:⇔:.


The nice thing about Nan was that she never really changed.

Same job? Check. Same, empty flat without a view? Check. Never-ending amount of black pantsuits. Oh god, check.

Jules had muddled through her first year out of college without really knowing what the hell she was doing in the outside world. Meanwhile, Nan had simply traded her denims and corduroys for crisp linen shirts and sumptuous satin business clothing and gotten on with her life. To Jules' eye, Nan had the staidness of an automaton, going from task to task with a surety that had to be genetic; Auntie Zinnia and Uncle Peter were dreaded in the world that their offspring had entered. An entire family of financial analysts, the Potts, pirate-ninjas of the accounting world.

The most Julia had to offer in the way of a professional dynasty was that her parents published a tiny conspiracy magazine, the kind that proclaimed popular movie stars to be aliens from another dimension. She had imprinted on words early in life, and she had thought that taking journalism in university would help her break into 'real and serious' news, as she called it.

But her first month had been harrowing, a never-ending parade of problems, big and small. Initially, she had put the blame on her superiors, her major had been very specific, and goodness knows that she would have taken Photocopying and Faxing 101 if someone had told her she needed it. But as the weeks had passed and the technological collateral damage rose, she felt her self-esteem slip past her shoulder and somewhere around her skirt hem.

"Oh my god, do you think somebody made a mistake?" Jules moaned into her cellular phone. "They were just handing those diplomas out like chips, maybe I was supposed to be kept back a few more years or something." She collapsed against a filing cabinet, seemingly exhausted with the past day's events.

"You sound like you're calling me from inside a closet." Nan's voice was tinny, but disapproving.

"File room." She rattled the drawer of letters M through Me with a sigh, "But yeah, same difference." Over the line, Jules could hear the pile of paper that her friend was sifting through. She closed her eyes and listened to the rustling chaos. "I can hear you auditing."

Nan managed to laugh, a small snort that barely carried through the miles. "Hey, some of us are happy at our jobs." The connection crackled as she transferred the phone to her other ear. "I want you be happy, I really do, Jules. But if you'd wanted to be a well-educated secretary, you could just work for me and have done with it."

"You're just smug 'cause you're doing awesomely." She kicked a broken heel into the metal monster in front of her. "And everyone starts out as a grunge."

"I'd impart some of my awesome, but the world would blow up." Nan's voice was gentle, despite the jibe. "I hope it gets better, soon." Suddenly, a veritable tidal wave of angry voices came from her side of the conversation, echoing through the line. "Shit. Jules, call you later, okay? Computers crashed again. Love you."

"Love you too." Jules shut her mobile with a practiced flick of the wrist and stood with a wobbly movement that threatened to pitch her into a pile of office supplies. She scrubbed her face dry with a frustrated palm and hobbled out of the small room, head held higher than it had been all day with the though that somewhere in the city, Nan was on her side, as usual.

It was almost worth the astronomical phone bills she couldn't afford.

.:⇔:.


"Do you think they've got guards or something?" Nan put the car into park and shut the engine off with a practiced flourish. "I like guards."

"God, you show-off." I unlocked the car door and hopped out. I could feel each bone in my body screaming with joy as I stretched my spine out. "I don't think security will be a problem." After all, they'd cleared the school out years ago. There had been a large auction, the proceeds going to the school's pet charity.

"Yeah. It's not like anybody's crazy enough to break in or anything." We leaned against the body of the car, shoulder to shoulder, just watching the school for a few breaths. She fidgeted and I made to elbow her, only to watch as she pulled out a cigarette case from her pants pocket. "Want one?"

"Oh, shut up." I pushed off, dusting my backside. "When did you start smoking?" It's hard to sound disapproving but of all the filthy habits Nan could pick up in a single workweek, she had to pick the smelly one.

"Last week." Her lighter flashed silver in the low light before the she flicked it on. Nan's face came on into stark relief in the orange glow, familiar features painted in shadow. "It's kind of soothing, if you do it a lot."

I listened to her take a drag, a rough pull that caught in her throat. Let me just roll my eyes in the darkness. "And I'm a bad influence!" I watched the firefly tip of her cigarette bob in midair, just knowing that Jules was smiling. "Look, we're a minute back at school and you're already back to your old tricks."

"I'll have you know that I was a straight A student in high school until I met this girl." But she got the hint and the stick was ground out underneath the heel of her sneaker.

But the blue smoke stayed, heavy in the country air. She took my wrist, gently pressing her fingers into my palm. "Look, it's now or never and never is too long."

.:⇔:.


When she'd been no less than fifteen, Jules had found herself at the mercy of the student council's bullyboys. Nan couldn't remember exactly what her friend had done, and it wasn't important.

She'd waited at the library for an hour after school before she realized that something was wrong. And it took another thirty minutes for her to run through the entire school to find Julia, room after empty room flashing past her.

And when Ananda had seen that well-loved face, bruised and bloody in the clinic, she had felt her heart shudder to a stop in her chest.

"Oh, dude." She had sat down, hard, at the foot of the bed. To her credit, she didn't cry much, just enough to get Jules' school tie wet. "Don't tell me you fell down or I'll bite you or something."

Julia had smiled and promptly winced. "I didn't even say anything yet. Way to harass me on my sickbed." Despite her flippant tone, her nose was a gory mess, blood and snot in dried rivulets all the way down to her collar. Her left eye had been swollen shut; bruises purpling on all the visible skin. "Get the nuns to let me out and I'll let you nurse me back to health, okay?"

"Shit, Dawson." Nan had whispered that night, out of hearing range from the clinic nuns and their rosaries, "Shit and fuck them to hell." She'd helped Jules undress and shower and while cleaning away the blood and dirt from her skin had gone a lot towards improving her looks, their uniform had hidden a multitude of sins in their dark folds. "You've got nail marks on your back."

She'd touched them lightly with the tips of her fingers, following the scrape down the other girl's shoulder blades and all the way down the small of her back. Nan had seen the muscles clench underneath the skin and she'd pulled away with a murmured apology.

The rest of the girls had gone home for the weekend, so they'd had the whole dormitory to themselves if they discounted the senior girls, studying for university. So no one minded that Jules had cried, long and loud, into the night.

.:⇔:.


"Please don't tell me that you're hearing phantom children at play." She squeezed my fingers.

Somehow, over the course of being dragged up the uneven cobbles, Nan had snuck her hand into mine. I wasn't complaining. For all that my ring was digging into my skin, I loved that she felt more familiar than the stone buildings looming ahead of us. "Sweetheart, I'm not the one who hears voices in my head."

We finally reached the front door. I resisted the urge to look over my shoulder, knowing full well that I was too big of a chicken. She stepped up onto the stoop, the hems of her jeans dragging in the dust. "I'm just going to go in," Nan said a little too loudly for my comfort. "Hold the flashlight up, dude."

Ananda opened the door slowly, and to my surprise, it didn't creak or jam. The entrance to the Main Corridor was a behemoth of a portal, dark solid oak that gleamed dully under the dirt and time.

I'd always thought that they'd put in the door specifically to intimidate the new kids. I mean, you didn't put great hunks of wood like this unless you were fighting off invading barbarians. "Cheese and crackers, Shaggy, I think I need a Scooby snack."

She ignored me and pushed it all the way open. We promptly flinched at the escaping smell, stale air and damp, rotting wood. I shined my light up to the rafters and saw that most of the ornate ceiling's gilt and faux-Renaissance paint were gone. Instead, I could see the stars winking faintly where the roof had been.

"Smells like teen spirit. And hello, where's the floor?" Nan stepped forward, trying to nudge the shingles and splinters to the side. "I really wanted to see the tiles here."

"Let's not fight through, okay?" I let go of her hand and pointed to a sort of path winding around the heaps. "I haven't gotten my tetanus shots."

.:⇔:.


They'd met on the very first day that Nan transferred in. Julia had been in St. Mary's since she was in Nursery school, much like all of her pretty posh classmates. It was rare to have a transferee and the other two classes had been envious for weeks when they found out that section C was getting the newcomer.

The nuns hadn't been as pleased.

St. Mary's had been the kind of school you grew into. Jules' mother had a large picture of her in the dark blue and purple gingham pinafore framed and mounted on the staircase landing. Little Jules had a magnificent scowl painted across her tiny face, clearly discontent with her new living accommodations. In the background, the cavernous preschool dorms with their twenty double-decker bunk beds and dark, damask curtains.

Dormitories were a fact of life to a student of St. Mary's. Even townies whose families lived less than a hundred meters from the walls were bundled in.

As students made their way through their years at the school, rooms became more private. But only the high school seniors were allowed to have double or single rooms. Rooming was a large part of the St. Mary's experience; future partnerships and alliances were molded over many a communal sink.

So it had been a slight logistics nightmare when Ananda had transferred into the school in the third grade. It was whispered that she had to be related to someone important as no one had ever heard of anything like a transferee, not from their mothers, their grandmothers or in one girl's case, her great-grand aunt. It simply hadn't happened before.

Beds were shifted crucial inches to make way for the extra one, centuries-unchanged bathing rotas were shuffled and many parental feathers were ruffled. The nuns had been in tears for months before the hubbub died down.

But despite the difficulty of finding the physical space for one extra girl to fit into, Ananda herself found that her classmates found her a shiny novelty and had been accepted with less fuss than the new mandatory hair ribbons. And sooner than expected, it was as if she'd never not been there.

"It was my aquiline nose", she told Jules many years later as the other girl traced down it with a tentative thumb.

"I dunno, Sister Thea called you Ski jump Sally for years." Jules tweaked the tip, "It's the hair, look at this." She carded her fingers through the bangs, enjoying the strands' silky feel and letting the sunlight gleam off what was left of the ringlets that had so captured the imaginations of their classmates. "Like effing Goldilocks."

"S'why I cut it, you know?" Nan rolled over and pillowed her cheek on the other girl's chest. "Corkscrew curls are all well and good when you're nine-"

"You were ten."

"Nine and three quarters, but it's just too weird when you're going into university." She'd had a barber cut the mass of curls off at her chin and had stalked into the double dorm room that she shared with Julia carrying the hair in a forlorn ponytail.

Julia looked down at her girlfriend, "I have no idea what made you think this was a good idea." She pinched the tender flesh on Ananda's newly exposed nape. "You look even younger than your usual pubescent look."

Ananda hissed back in response, before settling deeper into the covers. She enjoyed the view instead, the other bed's teetering mountain of books and paper. They hadn't bothered to get another shelf installed, choosing instead to employ the unused bed as their closet. It was comforting to see the way her things mingled with Jules' smelly socks and her own terrifying pile of mismatched paper.

They only had a few months to go before they had to sort through everything and pack it all away into packing boxes. Nan knew what it was like, as soon as the Christmas holidays were over, everything would come to a head with frightening speed. She'd cut her hair because she didn't know what else to do about anything, and she needed to feel that she was in control of at least one thing in her life.

Jules had, predictably, exploded like a nuclear firecracker as soon as she handed the bundle of hair over with a large smile.

"Nan, are you paying attention to how displeased I am?" She blew into the other girl's ear, ruffling the shorn locks even more. "Sweetheart? What are you thinking about?"

"Nothing much. Having a Jo March moment."

"Ha!" Jules allowed herself a shimmy of victory that jostled the bed hard enough to creak.

And I'm thinking about endings, Ananda didn't say. I'm thinking about being eighteen and leaving. I'm wondering whether it was smart to let this happen, this wonderful thing where we seem to be irredeemably mashed into each other's lives.

"I think maybe we should break up."

.:⇔:.


We walked for about five minutes before she suddenly stopped. I knocked into her back and nearly dropped the flashlight, "What? Is it a rat?" I whipped the light up and began to shine it around myself.

The roof was solid in this area, dark enough that we couldn't see further than two feet ahead of ourselves. Nan had pulled out her own little light and it shone like white fire in her hand as she surveyed the floor.

"It's different from what I remember. Like here," She focused the beam on a tile. "I remember it being daisies. Blue and white daisies." Nan knelt beside it, tracing the pattern.

"I didn't even notice that it had a pattern." I bent to look closer at it. "I thought that the floor in the Hall was just blue." The tiles were shaped like diamonds, patterned in such a way that the floor was a never-ending field of lilies twining darkly around each other.

"You'd think for all the times you fell on this floor, you'd have known it by heart." Nan pulled something out of her jacket.

"Is it really time to have a smoke?" She held up something metallic and I realized what it was. "A chisel! You're going to bring a souvenir home?" Then again, I don't know exactly what I was surprised about, I'd seen Nan tuck the strangest things into her designer purses.

"Just one tile." Nan dug the tool into the grout and started chipping away.

The pieces were loose after years of being ignored. It was a waste really. All around us St. Mary's languished in decrepit beauty; hand carved wooden moldings, peeling wallpaper covered in gossamer designs and empty rooms with high, arched ceilings. We could never see it all in one night. All these details going to seed just outside of the reach of our flashlights, gorgeous for only one night longer before being crushed and wrecked to the ground.

"Bingo." She pulled the tile out of its place and lifted it triumphantly in my face. The glaze had to be half an inch thick, and the blue dye ran smoothly throughout the cream surface.

I took it from her and slipped it into my bag. It settled at the very bottom with a surprising weight. "Can we get up now? I can't feel my knees."

Nan brushed her hands off on the thighs of her jeans and got up. "Here, old lady. We've got a long way to go yet."

"Going all out?" And here we were, still barely past the front door. I pulled myself up and flashed the light down the remainder of the hallway. "We've got four more floors. And the side building. And the gym."

She cocked her head at me and raised her eyebrow delicately. "I didn't drive all those miles for some cheap tour."

"Main building."

"And the gym."

"No gym, but I'm willing to go to the baseball field."

Nan smiled and stuck the chisel into her jacket. "Deal, Dawson."

We turned towards where we remembered the curves of the Grand Staircase, hidden in the darkness.

.:⇔:.


It had been raining for three days straight. At some point the ceiling of one of the music rooms had given out and a waterfall of smelly, gray water rolled down the staircases from the fourth floor downwards. So they had to have classes in drowned rooms and wade through corridors with squishy socks. And for some reason or another, the entire campus didn't have actual running water flowing through its pipes.

It was so painfully ironic that you couldn't go an hour without someone butchering Coleridge and sighing about being surrounded by water without a drop to wash their hair, clean the dishes or flush the toilets.

Jules had even heard a few girls in the higher grades punning forcefully about being 'Maryners'. She'd mock-fainted into Nan's arms from the pain.

St. Mary's was like that, falling apart at the seams, breaking a bit at a time.

Eventually, water was restored and the deluge stopped as the sun made a half-hearted appearance in the sky, shining feebly as the clouds chased each other away.

"And just in time for it to set," Jules had said as she wrung out her skirt. "I feel like I'm soaked to my bones." They'd had to brave a run across the baseball field and had just arrived on the dormitory doorstep when the rain had let up.

Nan slopped her tangled hair into a ponytail, "Just be thankful. I was getting tired of being cold and damp." Their laundry had to be hung, hopefully, in front of electric fans and on top of radiators. She'd scorched a perfectly good pair of underwear the night before. The other girls in the dorm hadn't been better off; one could still smell the stench of singed cloth in the air from when someone's school jacket had burst into flame.

"It's kind of pretty though." Jules turned to survey the open space around the dorm, hundreds of puddles pooling in the uneven concrete between them and the other buildings. They all mirrored the late afternoon sky, a dusky sky splashed with the fiery red setting sun. She waited half a breath until Nan turned to look, then jumped off the porch and straight into a puddle, splashing both of them from head to toe.

"Hey!" Her friend had spluttered, "What was that for?"

"Um, puddles?" Jules giggled at Nan's expression; the other girl was blinking furiously at her, and spitting out some of the water that had gotten into her mouth. "We're already wet anyway."

"That kind of logic will get you killed one day." Nan stepped into a puddle delicately, it was deep enough to cover her ankles. "And that day? Is now." She stamped down with all her might.

Jules had shrieked loud enough to wake the dead.

The entire student body had gotten a stern lecture the next day. Jules didn't know how a private little waterfight had turned into a campus-wide brawl. A little over a hundred jostling girls running wild throughout the grounds. It had all been really tame, actually, until someone had brought out the water balloons and gardener's hose. It really wasn't that clear in her mind anymore.

But if she closed her eyes, she could see the way the water droplets had glistened orange in the waning sunlight. They'd been strewn like gems in Nan's hair, bedewing even her lashes.

The rest of the world was just one big, wet silhouette next to Nan.

.:⇔:.


The Grand Staircase was wide enough to accommodate ten girls standing side by side, with banisters that slid all the way down from the highest level and ended in a sedate curl a foot above the floor. It had been a particular delight of mine to coast down the railing when I was much younger, despite its grandiose proportions.

There were other staircases scattered across the building to keep it in code: thin, rickety ones that unfolded neatly into the middle of hallways and rigid, metal spirals that pierced upwards in the airy library. But everyone loved the familiar and richly worn Grand Staircase best.

"Do you remember," Nan said suddenly, "when the Mother Superior had a stroke on the top of the second floor landing?" She and I were picking our way up the steps and our every breath was punctuated with the crunch of dust and rat droppings on the wood.

"Mother Superior Mary Sophia." Of course I remembered the story. One minute she was descending down the staircase in a righteous rage, and the next she was nothing more than a series of thumps and a crumpled body on the bottom. The nuns told us that she'd died of an aneurysm, even before she'd fallen. "What about it?"

"Nothing." She shrugged and the beam of light shining above us wobbled with the movement. "I just remembered it all of a sudden."

I gave her a sideways glance, worried and not really sure why. "Okay."

"Stop worrying." We finally reached the second floor. I was feeling itchy and it was no wonder really. I rubbed my face and felt granules of fine dust sticking onto the sweat I'd worked up climbing. My flashlight caught millions of dust motes with every swing; Nan and I were stirring up enough dust to make fine pottery.

"I'm not worried." I lied as I wiped the sweat out of my eyes with the back of my hand, "It's just odd that you'd remember it out of nowhere."

"Left or right?" She walked a ways down to the windows in the corridor wall and with a grunt, opened them up. The night breeze was too cold for summer, even though the rains had stopped over a month ago. It felt delicious on my skin, especially after the long trek up the staircase.

I didn't even remember the last time I'd taken the stairs. The Library I worked at only had one floor and sprawled in all directions like a fungus and the building I lived at had four elevators alternately ferrying passengers up and down. It was embarrassing to be so out of shape, but I couldn't stop the slight wheeze I was making. I actually did have a place I wanted to go to, and very badly at that.

"Is that your asthma acting up or just regular being unfit?" Nan pulled the hair out of my face and gathered it to one side. "Nod once for I'm dying, help help."

"Very funny." I swallowed dryly and licked my lips when my throat caught on itself. "Our library was on the right, if my legs remember it correctly." She gave me a measuring look, and I knew she was considering if I should be bundled right out and to a hospital.

But she just nodded and let me lead the way there.

.:⇔:.


The first thing she'd bought for her apartment, after the bed and microwave, was a bookshelf. Her parents had been kind enough to donate their minifridge to her cause. The moment she was sure that she'd covered all the unpacked boxes with a drop cloth, she rang Nan up and bothered her until the girl rolled out of her own bed to visit.

"So, this is it?" Nan said when she arrived a half hour later. "You called me out of bed to show me this?" She threw out her arm expansively, taking in the cracked cement walls and floor, the water stained ceiling and the single, swaying light bulb.

Jules eyed the dingy greyness and bit her lip, "At least I've got a window." They turned looked outside at the inspiring view of a graveyard at nine in the morning. "They say I've got excellent sunrises to look forward to." she offered her friend a can of soymilk, still frosty cold.

Nan kicked her flip-flops off and settled on the bed and busied herself with pulling the tab off. "You know, I wasn't kidding about you moving in with me." She looked younger than her twenty-three years, barefoot and wearing jeans hacked-off at the knee. Jules could see the toll of the past two weeks on her face though, the deep circles cut into the skin under her eyes.

She ignored what Nan said, "How's that big account going?" She sat at the foot of the bed, gingerly favoring her right side. The entire thing was queen-sized and had been smack dab in the center of her flat for half a week until she gave up and pushed it beside the window, giving herself a path to the kitchenette.

"Why are you doing this?" Nan's eyes were narrowed, watching the way Julia settled onto the purple cotton sheets.

"I just wanted a change." Jules made to stand but stopped when she felt her friend's fingers wrapped around her ankle. "I just thought it was time to get out of my parents' house."

"Fuck that. I talked to your mother." Nan tugged on her leg and Jules slid the short distance towards her and she scrabbled as she tried to stop. "They kicked you out." Nan pushed the edge of Jules' shirt upwards on the right side. "Because of this."

And there it was, a palm-shaped bruise spread on the butterfly of Julia's ribs, turning yellow at the edges but a dark blue and red in the center. Nan hissed and pressed it gently. Jules couldn't move, her heart jangled in her chest like it was trying to break out of the cage of her bones.

She didn't know what to say but an apology was resting on the tip of her tongue, bitter and insincere. Nan was looking at her, eyes sharp enough that she couldn't imagine why she wasn't a pile of bloody ribbons where she lay.

"You won't leave him." It wasn't a question, and Ananda took advantage of Julia's close proximity to press her lips to the mark. Jules gasped at the familiar feeling and heat of the pain blossoming under her skin. Nan exhaled over it when she sat up. "He's hurting you in bed and cheating on his wife, but you won't leave him."

Jules tried to get up but Nan was right there, her arm pinning her to the bed. "Let me up." She tried to push the other girl off, "It's none of your business what I do."

"It is part of my business when you're hurting yourself." Nan's eyes were filling up and Jules couldn't bear to look at them anymore. "I can't believe you didn't tell me about him."

"You don't have the right to demand things of me anymore." Julia's voice was breaking over the words. "You're my friend, and I love you. But you were the one who left me." She pushed Ananda's suddenly weak body off of her. "You were the one who wanted to be just friends."

Nan stood up, nearly stumbling on her discarded slippers, "It just wasn't the right time to start things up again." She shoved her feet into them, "I explained it to you. It doesn't mean you should go off and be some man's midlife crisis."

"I'm not the one who keeps giving up!" Julia shouted. "I'm not the one who keeps on changing her mind. I've never been the one to say no to you, Nan." She got off the bed and threw the door open. "But I'm saying it now. I'm not giving him up, I'm not letting you save me." She spat the last words out. "I'm happy and I want you to leave!"

.:⇔:.


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Tags: a foreign country, mininano
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