You wake up to someone opening the blinds. The sunlight crashes into your room like an uninvited party guest and fuck, your head.
“Oh my god,” you say, suddenly more aware of your tongue than you ever wanted to be. “Oh my god.” You squint against the sun. "Jane, is that you?"
It is Jane. She's silhouetted in the bright morning light; a shining angel that sets off your hangover almost immediately and proclaims Hark ye, maiden of the grain and grapes, today will be a Day Moste Shittey.
“Let’s go, missy,” she says briskly. “You have class in an hour.”
You want to tell Jane that she has done something really awful by waking you up; that this sleep in particular was a really good one. You want to tell her that you mapped out every blood vessel over your eyelids only to lovingly ease them closed, and whispered promises to your heart to slow it down. This sleep was a goddamn work of art.
Instead you curl up into a little ball and yank your covers over your head, like if you can't see her, she can't see you.
“No," she says, and grabs a hold of your comforter. “Come on, upsy-daisy.”
“Jane,” you say, holding onto it, trying to keep a reasonable tone. “Jane, no.”
She tears the blanket from your shivering body. You curl up like a shrimp.
“It is so fucking cold,” you say.
“Then get in the shower,” she says.
She locks you in the bathroom with a promise that you won’t be let out until she hears water running.
You turn the shower on and sit on the sink, nursing a bottle of your emergency bathroom tequila. Never before have you been so impressed with your past self. You keep this particular bottle behind the floss, next to the Listerine. Upon further examination, it is the Listerine.
You take a drink and swish it around in your mouth. She knocks.
“Do you need a towel?”
“What?” you yell. “Janey, I can’t hear you over the sound of, like, all this running water. In the shower. That I am in.”
“I’ll bring you a towel,” she says, and walks away.
God, your mouth tastes like ass. Better have some more tequila(?) to get rid of that.
Jane comes back, and: knock knock knock.
“There aren’t any clean towels,” she says, like it's your fault you haven't done any laundry in two weeks and instead let the towels sit and gather a third crust of mildew and dirt. The hamper has its own goddamn ecosystem by now.
“I wanna study marine biology,” you say, leaning your head against the mirror. There is a moment of silence.
"You aren’t taking a shower, are you.”
“Because, like, the animals. They are so in need of my expertise and endless compassion.”
“Expertise? Dearie, you went to Seaworld. Once.”
“But, I mean, they loved me. The dolphins loved me. I know that when they balanced that little red ball on their snouts what they were really saying was: I love you.”
She unlocks the door.
"You can't drink Listerine," she tells you, pouring it down the drain.
"Well, okay," you say. "Semantics. I can drink Listerine, and I was drinking Listerine. Try, 'you shouldn't drink Listerine' and then I'll change the subject to something affable and totally friendly, like: why are you here."
"I'm here," she says, "because I care."
You kick your shoes off.
"Cheap answer. Whatever. I bet Strider called you."
She purses her lips and busies herself tidying up your bathroom. You peel your socks off and toss them in the garbage.
"I bet he said," and here you adopt a sparkling baritone that sounds more like Santa Claus than any mutual friend of yours, "Jane, I am long-word very long-word indeed because Roxy is lying on the floor in a 'big word for puddle' of her own bile, big-word big-word, statistic about alcohol poisoning."
"Spot-on. You should do impersonations," she says, but she's not really smiling. You wriggle out of your jeans and put them in the sink.
"It's just like, hell-ooo," you say, and frown at your hips in the mirror. "College. I'm a big girl now."
"I'd be a lot more comfortable knowing that you weren't living alone," she says, organizing your shampoos. You take your shirt off.
"I have my baby," you say in reference to The Great Catsby, who spends his days licking himself and eating cat litter.
"He's dying, you know," Jane says.
"He's not dying."
"My word, dear, that cat is nearly as old as you are."
You pluck at your bra straps for a while.
"Should I get another one?" you ask. "A cute little tabby. Come with me. We’ll name it something stupid."
In the mirror, she finally smiles.
"You're such a bitch," you tell Dirk, wrapped in a snuggie with a beer in your hand. "You're a traitor, that's what you are." He counts stitches and ignores you.
He snips off a loose thread.
"Snitches," you say, "get stitches."
"It was clearly a big fucking mistake biding my time throughout high school," he says. "If I'd betrayed you back then, I could have abandoned my compulsory education without further notice."
"Because I just schooled you."
"I hope you get hit by a bus."
"Shit, Rox, you wouldn't know what to do with yourself," he says. "If not for my ever-constant presence in your life, where would you be?"
"A lot goddamn happier?"
"Spare me. You would have an immediate breakdown. 'What am I to do?' you'd wai, wandering the darkened streets without a shoulder to cry on or a fridge to pilfer. 'Where am I to go?'"
"Did you know that some of the tech guys call me a fag hag?"
"Not because of Jake."
"Poor Mr. Crocker."
"I would die if he was gay," you say with feeling.
"I could do with a new fag hag," he says, and turns the fabric inside-out. "Jane would be exemplary, I think."
"She'd try to make you bake things."
"She wouldn't quaff all of my alcohol in fits of self-destruction."
"She'd hook you up with fugly people because they have a 'nice personality.'"
"Or dykes," he says, holding a thread in his mouth. "In any case, I believe my intervention was for the best. The first step is admitting you have a problem."
"You're the one with a problem. Did you know that the only edible thing in your fridge is apple juice?"
"My brother sent a care package," says Dirk, with the long-suffering, self-righteous air of a martyr.
"Cute." The front door opens and slams shut.
"Hello, all!" Jane says. "I have coffee and donuts."
Jane makes dinner. Your stomach kind of rebels against the sight, like, ‘What? Solid food? I don’t understand.’
“Eat up,” she says.
“I feel sick.”
“You used to love my stroganoff,” she says, pushing it around with a spatula as if to make it more appetizing.
“I would eat it all in a heartbeat if I weren’t so sick.”
She rests her chin in her hand, watching you. Her eyes behind her frames are bright, frosted glass. You can’t really look at them for too long.
“You’re giving me frostbite,” you tell her, which is a normal thing to say.
“Your mother is very concerned,” she says.
“My mother does the whole ‘feelings’ thing about as good as a rock,” you say, and make a grab for the cooking sherry. Jane pushes it out of reach.
“About as well as a rock,” Jane says.
"Will you eat now?"
"Oh, come now."
You buckle immediately under the pressure, put a noodle in your mouth, and chew.
"It's delicious," you tell her.
"Henry the Eighth."
"Canon in D Major."
"Mr. Butterworth," says Jane, and tsks at someone who runs a red light.
"Scholarch Eurydice," you say, resting your feet on the dashboard.
"Magnum P.I. Where on earth do you get these names?"
"My mom. Meowgistrate Twinkles the Just."
"I like that one."
"He does too," you say, peering into the crate on your lap. Your new kitten mews up at you.
"Twinkles is a lovely pseud, Meowgistrate," Jane says. "It's debonair!"
You pick at a thread on your skirt.
There are a lot of things you understand, like why elephant seals molt and why sometimes in the Arctic the sun never sets and why penguins are in the Neognathe infraclass and not the Palaeognathae. But outweighing those are the things you don't understand, a delicate thing called friendship and a fragile thing called trust and something else: something fluttery you don't have a name for but it flickers in and out of your pulse, right behind your heart, whenever light gets trapped in Jane Crocker's eyes.
"Why are you here?" You've asked this five times today, and each time you get a different answer.
“I was in the neighborhood.”
“Your mother asked me to check on you.”
“I was thinking of moving down here.”
But this time she takes her eyes off the road and smiles at you, softly.
“I’m here,” she says, “because I missed my best friend.”
“Oh my god,” you say, and start to cry.
"It's Shark Week," you tell your two cats, your head turned towards the television. They're kneading your shirt and purring. It's not easy taking shots when there are animals on your stomach, but by god, you're making it happen.
"Shark Week is the shit," you say, and The Great Catsby moves to your ribs. "Catsby, that tickles." You pour yourself another two fingers and Meowgistrate Twinkles the Just sticks his nose in your shot glass. "Oh, no, Meowgistrate," you say, holding it away from him. "This is people drink. Cat drink is there." You point at the glass of ice water on your coffee table. Meowgistrate, as it turns out, is a real snob and refuses to ingest anything not prepared just right. He and Catsby are going to be best friends forever.
Shark Week soon dissolves into a blur of horror stories and what to do to avoid an attack. It's late.
"Well no fucking duh," you tell a couple who went skinny dipping at dawn. "Buncha morons. Why don't you just, like, strap some chum to your feet and put on some seal-skin swimsuits, that'd get the job done way sooner." Your cats curl up by your feet, lapping at their paws. You nudge Catsby in the stomach and point towards the tv.
"Can you believe these chumps?"
"No, you can't call Jane, cats can't use the phone. Jane's gone. She's outta here."
He fixes you with a look that you interpret as highly judgmental.
"Don't give me that face, Catsby. Trust me, my fine feline, Jane is a hella happy camper no matter where she is."
Meowgistrate pipes up with a small "mew." You nod at him.
"You make a damn good point, Twinkles. I did send her off on a wild goose chase and then lock the door. But why dontcha tell me," you shift and sit up on your elbows, "how else was I s'posed to make her hit the road?"
Your cats purr.
"Okay, yeah, I totally understand. You like her. Too bad, so sad, my darlings. She wanted to leave, trust me. I just helped her so she wouldn't get all--" you search for the word, "guilty-Jane-faced about it." A key rattles in your door. The cats leap off of the couch and trot eagerly towards the noise. "Oh, shit," you say, and pretend to be asleep.
"Hello, kitties," Jane says, closing the door. "Where's your mommy, hm?"
They meow (traitors) and she scritches their ears. You squeeze your eyes shut and lay perfectly still.
She walks in and turns off the television. A shark hunter is cut off in mid-lecture. She steps over some debris and kneels down next to you.
"Roxy," she says, "you're not fooling anyone," and your blood turns to ice.
You don't meet her eyes and you don't say anything.
She looks at you for a while.
"Okay," she says quietly, and leaves.
You break into Dirk's room at 3 in the morning.
"Dirk," you whisper urgently, shaking him awake. "The lunar landings were faked."
"The only reason you're not dead right now," he says, keeping his eyes closed, "is because I could detect your inebriated stumble from a mile away. It has a certain signature; a strangely elegant finesse not seen in many drunks."
"Do you still sleep with that katana under your pillow? Cuz I told you before, that shit's bananas."
"You'd be an atrocious burglar, Lalonde."
"You on the other hand would be an excellent one. Now hear me out. Kennedy said that-"
"My god," he says, opening his eyes, "you are hammered."
"You're not listening to me."
"Usually it takes at least two glasses of Chardonnay for you to even broach the subject of the Loch Ness Monster. Thank you for that lecture, by the way, your dissertation on cryptozoology livened that New Year's party considerably. I still cannot believe you carry that Powerpoint around in your fucking pocket."
"There's-- Nessie's real, goddammit."
"I could make a frighteningly accurate line graph showing the direct corrolation between your blood alcohol content and how batshit insane your conspiracy theories get."
"I tripped over your sewing machine just now," you say, suddenly overcome with guilt.
"And I sabotaged your robot in the eighth grade science fair because I thought it would beat out my two-headed cat," you say.
"I don't want her to leave," you say, and you feel very, very small.
Something amazing happens then.
You're not sure if it's because he thinks you won't remember it in the morning, or if he's half asleep, or if it's because of Lil Cal cuddled snugly in the crook of his arm, but you guess small miracles do happen:
Dirk says the right thing.
"Then what the fuck are you doing here?"
"Goddamn, you're right," you say, and trip on his sewing machine going out.
She's getting into her car with an air of finality. You rip open the passenger seat door and jump inside, slamming the door behind you.
"Jane," you say, catching your breath, "can you stay? God, I just-- will you stay with me? You can teach me how to bake without burning stuff and we can stay indoors and cuddle by the heater when it's cold and we’ll buy the cats those totally retarded holiday sweaters and we’ll watch every single episode of that new Sherlock series on BBC because-- god, if you just stay, I promise I'll do shit around the house like-- like-- laundry. I'll do my laundry, even if it takes weeks, which it will because I’m a hopeless slob but you, you’re-- god, you know what, I'll, I’ll do my fucking dishes, all of them, I will do hokey pokey stand-up comedy for you to make you laugh until you cry and we can go to the store and buy fake moustaches and those stupid fake ice cube bugs because fuck," you pause for breath, "I really kind of love you.”
She stares at you.
You notice the grocery list in her hand.
“I was just off to the store,” she says.
“You needed laundry detergent,” she says.
“You are so,” she says, “stupid, you incredibly silly woman--” and she grabs your face and smooches you right on the lips.
“Yes,” she says, bumping your foreheads together. “Yes, I am staying. But so help me Lord, I am holding you to that holiday sweater business.”
“I don’t know if those actually exist,” you say, and she grins at you.
“Then you'll just have to learn how to knit.”