“You could just line them up on the windowsill.”
“No, they'll get faded by the sun.”
“But they're all used. Does it matter?”
“Of course it matters,” Frances says. She doesn't elaborate, too busy trying to decide whether to organize the books into genres or alphabetical order by title or alphabetical order by author. Maybe she should cross-reference like a library. All she needs is working knowledge of the Dewey decimal system. That's not hard to learn, right?
Sophie makes that sound under her breath that she does sometimes when her frustration is growing, then peers inside the box again. “You could just stack them against the walls in uneven piles like they do in interior design magazines.”
“Are either one of us interior designers?”
“I didn't say that. I said like interior design magazines. Like.”
Frances huffs out a breath, sending a lock of tangled blond hair skyward for the briefest of moments. “Just take all of the pieces out of the box, Sophie. Come on, I want to get these put together by the time we have to go to dinner.”
“So now I'm Bob the Builder and Speedy Gonzales?”
“Shut up,” Frances says, and throws a wadded-up strip of packing tape at Sophie's head. It sticks in her hair, clinging for dear life, and Sophie winces as she carefully begins to extract it.
The wind howls outside, and both of them share a smile at the skitter of bone-dry leaves across the sidewalk outside. Sunday afternoons in fall bulge with so many memories Frances is sometimes unsure how they all fit inside her head. She remembers that time two years ago when she and Sophie went out in October and bought fifty dollars worth of school supplies just because, and that autumn day in senior year they got drunk at one of the sororities and stumbled through the quad singing Queen songs until a security guard poked his head out of the theater and they made a run for it. She remembers lots of things, except now it's with a bit more hazy fondness instead of with a childish desire to drag Sophie out to do those things all over again. She feels like an adult, except … you know, a kid in adult's clothing. It's just that now the kid's gotten better at faking it, she guesses. She likes to think so, anyway.
Sophie nudges her glasses up her nose and starts gently removing pieces from the box, placing them aside in order by the lettered stickers on their sides. Frances isn't so tidy, tearing aside the cardboard in great loud rips which leave harsh red marks on her fingers where she has to grip the cardboard hard. But it makes a great sound. So, maybe not entirely grown-up just yet.
“You're so messy,” Sophie says.
Frances shrugs. “I can put the pieces in your box to take it out for the recycling.”
“Undateable,” Sophie singsongs, and Frances throws a shredded piece of cardboard at her, firstly because that's her and Ben's thing, and secondly because that's not true anymore. They're double-dating tonight, Sophie and Patch, she and Ben. She still doesn't get how that works. Sophie and Patch are married, she and Ben are … she and Ben. She's still trying to wrap a name around the concept of she and Ben dating that doesn't make her stop in the middle of the sidewalk and flinch as though someone's just called her name.
It only takes them five minutes to remove everything from the boxes they picked up at Target, these super-cheap chipboard things which only need to last until Frances can afford more, like, actual furniture. People furniture. The kind of furniture you don't leave behind on the sidewalk with a cardboard “Free” sign when you move.
Not that she's planning on moving anytime. This is her first real apartment by herself. It's not true, but it feels like that means she gets to keep it forever even if one day she moves out, or moves in with Ben, or moves in with someone else, or buys a house or something.
Sophie passes her the other empty box, and Frances starts stuffing the pieces of her box into the spare. “I still think you should have just saved up for a nice bookshelf from that store with the sun artwork in the window,” Sophie says.
“That's where I'm planning to go,” Frances says. “But I need to save up. Are you really going to stop me when I'm being tidy?”
“I don't have any instructions with mine.”
“I have instructions with mine. I'll just read them off and we'll both do them at the same time.”
“We only have one hammer.”
“Yes, but we have two screwdrivers.”
“One of each, Fran. Phillips and flathead. Not two of the same.”
“Oh.” Frances squints at the instructions and frowns. “I'm already not good at this.”
Sophie smiles. “Oh, just wait until you start hitting stuff with the hammer.”
“You think I'll break a nail?”
“I think you'll break a finger.”
Frances chokes on a laugh and unfolds her legs, wiggling around awkwardly until she's kneeling next to Sophie, their knees almost touching. She spreads out the instructions before their respective piles: Sophie's orderly layout, Frances' cluttered mess. She lays out each of their tools next to the instructions like fancy silverware, first one screwdriver, then another, then the new hammer she bought when she moved in. Sophie reaches out and plops down each set of screws, nuts, bolts, and nails before them, then nudges the instructions more towards Frances. Frances is better at interpreting them anyway.
“You sure you don't want to read them?” Frances asks anyway.
Sophie shakes her head. “I read enough at work. You know how telemarketers hate being on the phone in their off-time?”
“Well, they do, and it's like that.”
“If you say so.” Frances leans closer and nudges Sophie with her elbow. Anyone else might have thought it was an accident or something, but Sophie just smiles and bangs her own elbow against Frances' in a silent response. “You ready?”
Sophie sighs, and it sounds as though that sigh is rising up from her toes, from the deep down bottom of her. Something about it makes a great wide grin spread across Frances' face like a rainbow.
“When you are,” Sophie says.