Three Weeks Later
I’m busy Pandora. Read the handmade sign posted on Camilla’s bedroom door. She placed it there before I went to bed last night, and almost eighteen hours later—way past a reasonable expiration time—it was still up! And the edges of the card stock, the most obvious place to look for attempts of removal, were completely smooth; no curls, wrinkles, folds, or anything!
This had to be a mistake.
She’d never leave it up this long.
Not her. Not Camilla. But someone else?
Someone who was holding her against her will, and preventing her from leaving, and—
I closed my eyes, counting down as I drew in the deepest breath I could, employing my therapist’s advice for times like this. She warned about Atwood triggering this kind of reaction and spent our last few sessions urging me to rethink this move. I knew she was just looking out for me; she had done a great job of that over the years, but she couldn’t have really thought something as small as paranoid feelings and occasional delusions would keep me from pursuing this—especially after all the work I’ve done. That’s what medication’s for.
I exhaled once I reached the number one, but the disturbing image of something awful happening to another person I cared about—right in front of me—was too hard to ignore.
I had to act!
So I pressed my face against the door. But it was silent. Then turned the knob. But it was locked.
I couldn’t get in!
I told Camilla blocking the door was a bad idea when I realized she was keeping a chair under the knob. What if there was an emergency? But instead of making a more accessible entry point, she replaced the chair with a lock. A deadbolt at that!
“Camilla?” I banged against the door, the intensity of my knocks, strong enough to do some real damage. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine, Pandora!” she said, no obvious signs of distress in her voice. “Isn’t the sign on the door?”
The sign was supposed to be temporary, for times when she needed privacy, like when her boyfriend was over, but he wasn’t, and he wasn’t last night either, and it had been eighteen hours, so the original rules shouldn’t have applied, but I don’t think she saw it that way.
I just needed to explain.
“So that means no knocking, remember?”
“I know but—”
“So that means no knocking, remember?”
But she didn’t give me a chance to, so I backed away from the door. “I remember…” And dragged myself back into the kitchen.
I’d just have to guess what she wanted for dinner instead.
A pound of Italian sausage and homemade pasta sauce later…
It was hard connecting with her, no matter what I tried. Somehow I was always either, coming on too strong, like my grandma used to say, or not getting the hints or seeing the signs, like my college roommate once said, and that’s what made this so difficult—the expectation of knowing the right way to do things, automatically, without being told because what felt strong to others and seemed like hints to most, didn’t… to me. So now, instead of welcoming me into her life, like I had pictured so many times before, Camilla was closing me out—in the most literal sense.
Maybe I should just tell her what brought me here?
Honesty is the best policy, right?
Maybe for everyone else, but for me, that’d probably just backfire too.
I should just focus on this pasta instead. At least that’s something I’m good at.
My self-hosted pity party was in full-swing, but then I heard the greatest sound imaginable—her door opening!
This must be one of those signs my old roommate was talking about!
I tossed the box of noodles I was holding on the counter and met her in the entryway.
“Camilla! He—” I cleared my throat, toning down the enthusiasm. Didn’t want to come on too strong again. “Hey… How was work?”
These appearances—the ones where she left her room for reasons other than bathroom breaks—were few and far between, so if I wanted to have an actual conversation with her, I couldn’t pass this up.
But she walked right past me. “Hey.” Way more interested in the bag of Hot Cheetos in the cabinet than anything I had to—
That’s it! Hot Cheetos! Another sign!
“Have you noticed how hard it’s been to find these lately?” I said, pointing at the bag of Cheddar Jalapeño—her favorite.
She gasped, her coveted snack clutched tightly to her chest like she feared for its safety. “It’s crazy, right?”
“Yeah! Almost like they’re going extinct.”
They weren’t going extinct. The shortage was caused by production issues at the main manufacturing plant. This, of course, created limited availability all over the country with some cities affected more than others, especially larger ones like Atwood, but sharing her Hot Cheetos Extinction Theory—the one I overheard her talking about on the phone once—could be the thing that finally brings us closer—like real sisters!
Her eyes widened. “This is what I’ve been saying!” As the joy of finally having these theories validated lit up her whole face. “Everyone thinks it’s crazy, but I swear I never had these problems back in Colebrook.”
See, Camilla! I understand you!
Half-a-bag of Cheetos later…
We were bonding! For the first time ever over these cheese flavored corn puffs she loved so much. It was like the slumber parties I would see in the movies when I was a kid—just in the kitchen without the actual slumber or… party stuff. But we were talking about all kinds of Cheetos-related things, from our favorite flavors to Flaming Hot supremacy, we even placed bets on what brands they would partner with next. I had never even tried Cheetos before, but this was so much fun!
Our super special moment that I’d been waiting my entire life for was going better than I could’ve ever dreamed, but then a knock at the door ruined everything.
We stopped, mid-laugh, the look we gave each other, sharing the same amount of surprise.
“Is that for you?” she asked.
“No.” I shook my head. “I wasn’t expecting anyone.”
I’m never expecting anyone.
She slid the bag of Cheetos on the counter and left the kitchen to investigate. “Yeah… Me either.”
I followed her to the door, mimicking her silent footsteps, just in case we were pretending not to be home or someone was—
“Oh my God!” She backed away from the peephole like the most terrifying thing she had ever seen was on the other side of it.
“What?” I tried to pass her to see for myself. If there was danger out there, it would have to get through me and my Black Belt training first!
But she grabbed my shoulders, pushing me back. “Shhh!” she whispered. “Amir’s out there!”
Amir? Her boyfriend? I get to meet her boyfriend?! This makes up for interrupting Cheeto-talk big time!
“Oooh! Your boyfriend?” I tried to get to the door again. “Can I get it?”
“What? No!” She shook me like I should’ve known that the guy she had been sneaking in and out for almost a month being here was a bad thing. “He can’t see me looking like this.“
This? A t-shirt, shorts, and a ponytail? She wore this kind of thing all the time. What was wrong with it today? It’s not like it was dirty, or there were holes or rips anywhere, so I didn’t see the problem, but the frazzled look in her eyes made me think I should have.
Is this another one of those signs? Or maybe it was a hint? Are they the same thing? Like synonyms that represent the same idea, but—
“Okay. Fineeee,” she said before I could identify the correct response. “You get the door.” She backed away toward the hall. “And stall him or something while I go change real quick. Can you do that?”
Can I do that? I can do more than that! If he wasn’t in love with her already, he would be by the time I was done with him!
“Yes! Of course!”
I squeezed the doorknob tight, struggling to contain my excitement long enough for her to get to her room. Once I was sure she was inside, and the door was opened, I think I understood why she wanted to change.
OH. MY. GOSH. HE’S. GORGEOUS!
I knew he would be good looking—I mean, look at Camilla—but he was so much more than I expected. His eyes, especially his eyes, his cheekbones, his lips—looked like they were crafted by the most talented man-maker in history! He was an Adonis, an actual Moroccan God!
She so deserves him.
I picked my mouth up off the floor and welcomed him in.
“You must be Amir,” I said, closing the door behind him. “I’m so excited to finally meet you!”
He smiled, just once, and a strange fluttery sensation took over my stomach, followed immediately by a feeling that wasn’t so pleasant.
This is not okay! This is not okay!
I would never, ever do anything to ruin Camilla’s life or relationship or anything! That’s so, so, so, so far from what I wanted for her—but he was just so dang handsome!
I cleared my throat, forcing the butterflies to dissipate. And as my eyes dropped to the floor, to save me from staring into his again, I noticed he was holding a bag. It was brown and large, like the kind you get from those expensive stores downtown.
He got her a gift?! He’s so thoughtful. I love thoughtful—and gifts! I love gifts!
“Is that for Camilla?” I asked, my excitement for her sending my hand straight for the bag. “Can I see?”
He moved it behind him, where I couldn’t reach. “I don’t think she wants you in her stuff.”
“She won’t mind,” I said confidently. “We’re best friends.”
We would be best friends soon. Claiming it now was just practice for the very near future, but he didn’t seem convinced.
“It’s true!” I said. “I know her better than anyone, like…”
I searched for the best example, something that would blow him away, something that would even help Camilla too!
“How there’s this guy in one of the downstairs apartments who’s always complimenting her when she’s walking through the parking lot. She ignores him every time because she only has eyes for you.”
That got me another glimpse of his beautiful smile.
“Real shit?” he said.
Oh my gosh, it worked! I can’t just stop here!
“Yeah! Even that other guy she talks to on the—”
“Hey,” she said, walking over to him, wrapping her arms around his neck as they shared a brief kiss. “Did you call or text or something? I didn’t see anything on my phone.”
Her new outfit was similar to the one she was wearing before, like in the same category, but different. The shorts had been traded in for leggings, the baggy t-shirt for a form fitting crop top, and her glasses were nowhere in sight. Her hair was kind of different too, draping over her shoulder instead of tucked away, and her lips were glossy, like she had just applied a layer or two of her favorite strawberry lip gloss. These changes were small, but gave her an entirely new look.
She’s so talented.
“Nah, I didn’t,” he said, holding up the bag. “But I got you something.”
He was always getting her something. Every few days she was coming home with bags, or flowers, or chocolates—or bags, flowers, and chocolates.
He’s such a romantic.
She grabbed it, ripping out the tissue paper, going through the bag at the speed of a kid on Winterfest morning.
Whatever was inside must’ve been on her wish-list because with the biggest smile, she said, “Aww, thank you.” Then pulled him in for another hug. “I love it.” Followed by a kiss that made me wonder if I should’ve left the room.
But I couldn’t leave, not while this real life love story was playing out right in front of me!
I loved this stuff, and spent most of my nights devouring book after book, losing myself in their worlds, imagining I was the princess who had caught the eye of the tall, handsome knight. Our love would be forbidden, according to the rules of the kingdom, but he would do whatever—even travel across dangerous seas just to be with me. He would be considerate of my feelings and know all the right things to say, he would love romance just like me, and show his affection with words, and flowers, and chocolates—especially chocolates. Camilla and Amir were just like the characters I had been reading about my whole life. I was not missing this show!
“Go put it on,” he said. “So I can take you out.”
She clutched the bag, still wearing that smile that had been there since she looked inside. “Where are we going?”
“You’ll see when we get there.”
He’s so assertive!
She handed him the bag, taking his free hand. “Okay, but you have to help me get dressed.”
And he smiled as she led him and his handsomeness back to her room. “I can do that.”
And out of my view.
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