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Discord in the Spheres

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Arden is enormously elegant, a house like nothing in the City. Huge arched windows let the redwoods come right into the rooms, open lofts and decks reaching over the cliff seem like eagle eyries, and delicate hand-stitched grey and silver tapestries on the walls are like the mosses and lichens all through the forest. I could live here.

But I think I'm just here for a visit, sigh. Ros finally pissed off my dad enough to get fired--and all she did was her job. But Dad can't get over her father leaving the company and coming up here to--what? Meditate? Write a novel? I don't know what Uncle Everett does, but I'm glad he's doing it, and glad, so glad that Ros thought this would be a good place to come.

Dad and Uncle Everett, Ros's father, had an online foodie startup that made a pile of money as big as this house, and Dad still gets to make more, plus sample all those on-demand artisanal zucchini galettes and things. I can't see why it bothers Dad so much that Uncle Everett left. I kind of don't think he'll care that much about me leaving...

Ros is already pulling out her laptop and stretching her long legs out on the leather ottoman. I know what's happening. She's turning. Her long eyes slant up a little more, her full lips twist a little, and she flops her whole slender body at an angle--and she's him. She's Gianni.

The first time I saw Gianni, I couldn't believe it. Ros was laughing so hard she could hardly keep her hands on the keyboard, and she called me to look at what she was writing. It was advice. Relationship advice. Boyfriend tips. I wasn't sure what that was all about, but if Ros does it, I love it. So I was laughing too.

And then I got quiet, because I'd caught what she was doing. She was writing advice to Orly, that guy she met last month--and the advice was about her, and how Orly could get to her. Only she wasn't writing as herself--she was calling herself Gianni, and she had a user pic that made her look more like a guy than Orly himself.

But it still looked like her, too.

How could Orly miss it? Yeah, all that huge mass of waist-long extensions was gone by the time she took the photo, replaced by short curls, and there was a shadow on her face that could have been beard stubble...but still. Her gorgeous long golden eyes, her cheekbones, her sweet dark skin...even in that tiny shot, she was incredible.

When I figured it out, I stood up and went into the tiny kitchen. And poured a glass of wine, and drank it. When I came back out, she'd shut the laptop and was looking worried.

"What's up, CC? You don't think I make a good dude?"

"You make a great dude. But..."

"But what? I'm just messing with him. I'll hook up with him sometime and he'll laugh, too."

Here in Arden, though, I can see that she's really getting into being Gianni. I look over her shoulder. Now she's got Orly on FaceTime, doing role-play to show him how to come on to her, and get this. Get this. In the role-play, she's being Ros. So she's Ros pretending to be Gianni pretending to be Ros.

"He-e-e-y, baby. Want to grab a drink at Mike's after work?" Orly tries his best to be cool and unconcerned.

I know Ros would giggle at that, but now she's being Gianni, it's more of a snort.

"Come on, dude, talk like a real person."

She keeps her face out of the direct light and far back, so he's mostly seeing the room, but still, if he thought about it, he could tell it's Ros, not some guy. But he doesn't think.

Looking over her shoulder at the little screen, I see Oliver walking up behind Orly, and I cringe. But Ros is so into Gianni, she doesn't notice.

I back off and slip out for a quick hit of what's left in the pipe. Calmer now, I stand on the wide deck and the sun is sweet and warm in the cool air, burning off the last traces of morning fog.

Ros comes out with a cup of hot coffee for me, smiling. Smiling--sheepishly.

"I screwed up, CC. When you left, I turned around, and he could see the trees through the window. It was dumb, but I just got so into being Gianni, I started laying it on him, how gorgeous and peaceful it is up here, how sane I feel, all that."

"What's the problem with that? It is gorgeous and peaceful, and we are sane. Well, I am--I'm not thinking I'm two people..."

She bumps me with her shoulder. "I'm sane! Just a little game for a little while--but I got so into it I said something about Arden, and the next minute he's googled it and he's heading up here. Oh, shit."

She shakes her head and sits down. I don't react, because I don't really mind Orly coming. He's sort of like a well-dressed puppy, always so happy to see Ros and always so clueless about what she really feels. He's got a nice body and great eyes, but he's just not really hot. To me, anyway. And not to Ros, not with the games she's playing with him.

"It's OK with you, CC? Oliver's coming too. We can hang out, maybe go up the river..."

She stops and looks at me. I try to look cool, but I'm shaking inside and probably outside. I don't want to see Oliver, ever.

And the truth is, I like it so much when it's just me and Ros.

She watches me for a minute, and takes my hand.

"We'll have fun. I promise."

But I know I won't.

I'm not sure Orly will, either, when he finds out that his pal Gianni is really the woman he's been talking about--to Gianni.

We lie around in the sun for a while, and then go find some food. Ros takes a shower while I'm playing Black Ops, and then we settle down by the highest window to watch the road. They should be here soon.

Even though it's late September, the last light of the sun is still coming through the trees when we hear the sound of a car crawling up the road from the valley. I try to be calm and tell myself that I'll just sit back and watch the confused reveal like it's a reality show. But it's not working.

I'm holding on tight to the chair, and now I know I'm shaking. I'm trying to breathe deep and slow and think just about my breath, but I can feel Oliver getting closer and it feels like a storm coming, or a fire burning over the ridge.

I can't stop feeling that night again, when he and I stayed to watch the end of Twin Peaks while Orly and Ros went to get some wine. I'd met Orly before, but never Oliver. He seemed kind of quiet and aloof, but I could see that he could shut Orly down with a glance or a word, something about being brothers, I thought. They looked alike, but Oliver was harder, taller, better dressed. He had a degree from Cal, but Orly had just dropped out after a semester at State (money, he told Ros--who could believe that?).

I know Ros is beginning to watch me instead of the road, and I give her a little smile and try harder to breathe and stop shaking. But no way I'm going to stop the sweat from beading my forehead. She notices.

The sound of the car coming closer through the twilight makes that other night come closer, too. As soon as Ros and Orly left, Oliver slid over to sit beside me. His eyes stayed on the screen, but his hand was between my thighs. I slipped down the couch to get away, but I didn't want to act dumb, so I kept sitting there. He came close again, but this time, he grabbed my shoulders and twisted me toward him. He jerked at the waistband of my leggings and pushed me down.

Darkness is welling up through the trees now, and the tears are oozing down my face. Ros takes both my hands.

"What, babe? CC, what is it?"

I can't tell her. Ros would never let a dumb jerk like Oliver touch her body. She wouldn't just let anybody do anything.

I'm sobbing, with an ugly cry-face, I know. Ros hugs me, and the two nights mash together.

"I told him no, Ros, I told him no." I can hardly say it, but I have to. "He took off my leggings and put his hand on my mouth, and I couldn't even say no."

Ros is holding me close. I feel the softness of her body warming the place in me that had been cold and scared.

"Did he rape you, sweetness?"

She leans back a little to look at me, her golden eyes shadowed with love and pain. She's strong Gianni for a minute, a safe place for me.

I can't talk, just nod, and sink my head onto her shoulder. She strokes my back. Her hand leaves a trail of tingling behind it. I never want to move.

Ros again, she reaches for her phone and sends a text with one hand.

We sit there while the car drives up and stops, and then four dark figures come out of the house, grabbing Oliver and dragging him into the house. Orly stands in the yard shouting, but soon enough a sheriff's car pulls up and Orly gets quiet, trying to phone somebody.

We could watch the rest of what happens, but I'd so much rather keep slowly unbuttoning the shirt over the dark warm breasts. The moon doesn't bother us at all.