The note-writing is really just kind of an accident.
“Do we know anyone who actually knows how to make a decent-looking maki roll?” Amanita asks, slightly hysterically, and tries to push her hair back from her forehead without getting sticky rice on her face. Her shoulders slump.
“It was probably a bad idea to try something I’ve never made for my mom’s birthday dinner,” she sighs. “We’ll have to order Thai if I can’t figure this out in the next fifteen minutes or so.”
“Well,” Nomi starts, staring at the mess they’ve made of the kitchen. In her mind, she is scrolling through her gmail contact list, but before she even gets to “B”, her thoughts start drifting towards another group of people. Will is sadly still out, literally and figuratively, and Riley has got enough on her plate taking care of him. She thinks about Korean sushi, but Sun simply doesn’t strike her as the cooking type; and neither does Wolfgang, for that matter, who she knows can live off spaghetti and frozen pizza for months if you let him be. She’s got a feeling that Kala, the devout Hindu, might be a vegetarian, and she doubts that fresh sushi is a common item on the menu in Capheus’ family either. Which leaves …
“Lito, how good are you at making sushi?”
“Awful,” Lito says. He is tanning on his balcony in a pair of tiny speedos, sunglasses pushed down to the tip of his nose as he looks at her. “Emergency?”
He stands next to her now, glancing around Grace’s kitchen with something like horror.
“Emergency,” Nomi confirms.
Lito raises his hands in protest. “Oh, I don’t know how to cook at all.”
“What kind of gay man are you?” Nomi asks reproachfully, earning a strange look from Amanita in return.
Lito laughs. “The kind who is loved by someone who does.”
Back in Mexico, he picks up his phone without dialing, puts it against his ear as if he is in the middle of a call. “Hernando!” he shouts. “Alejandra wants to know how to make a maki roll.”
Hernando appears in the glass door, his gaze traveling over Nomi without recognition, coming to rest on Lito with a light smile. “And she called you?”
Lito shrugs, not at all offended. “She mostly called to ask about that agent I used to work with,” he says smoothly. “And I told her about the amazing maki you made the other day, and she wants to know how you did it.”
Hernando lets himself fall into a chair across from Lito, clearly pleased that his boyfriend is praising his food.
“Alright, Alejandra,” he says in the direction of Lito’s phone. “I hope you are listening.”
“I’m listening,” Nomi says in California, and reaches for her notepad and a pen. Amanita stops trying to force the nori into its intended shape and steps closer to look over her shoulder.
“You know you are writing this down in Spanish?” she says, after a moment, and Nomi pauses mid-letter to look at what she’s written so far. As it turns out, she has no idea what it means.
“Huh,” she says. “Sorry. Guess I was just copying what Hernando said.”
“No problem,” Amanita shrugs. “I can read that. That’s perfect, actually. Tell Lito I said thank you, will you?”
“No need,” Lito says, leaning against the kitchen counter. He makes a beckoning gesture, and when Nomi looks at him in confusion, he reaches for her pen.
“Oh,” Amanita says, sounding fascinated and intrigued, and Nomi looks down at the notepad. “No hay de qué, Neets,” it now says underneath the recipe, in a hand she doesn’t recognize.
“Did I write this?” she frowns, and Amanita says slowly: “Only technically, I think.”
“Hm,” Nomi says, and sets down the pen. “So that’s a thing.”
The note-writing is what really changes things, but it isn't how it begins. In fact, perhaps it all starts with Amanita’s mother, turning towards her with a thoughtful look as she heaps healthy portions of quinoa casserole onto their plates.
“How’s that poor boy doing, by the way?” she asks, and pours herself some wine.
“Poor boy?” Nomi shakes her head in confusion. She tries going through their list of male friends for someone who might fit that description, and comes up empty.
Amanita laughs and takes the wine bottle from Grace. “She is talking about Wolfgang’s friend,” she explains as she pours a glass for Nomi. “The one who got shot.”
Nomi frowns. “How do you know about Felix?”
“You had this long conversation with Wolfgang about him the other night,” she says around a bite of casserole, “and I was sitting right there. I mean, I only heard one half of the conversation, but I think I got the gist of it. Is he still in a coma?”
“No, he woke up,” Nomi says slowly. “But I think he’ll be in the hospital for a long time.”
“Oh, I’m so glad he’s awake,” Grace beams and presses a hand against her heart.
“We should send him some movies, don’t you think?” Amanita says, gesturing with her fork. “You said he likes movies, didn’t you?”
“He does,” Wolfgang says, right next to Nomi’s ear, and it takes everything she’s got not to jump in her seat. She glares pointedly, but Wolfgang doesn’t seem to mind.
“Hm,” he says, looking around the table. “I don’t really get the organic food thing at all, but this actually smells great.”
Of course, from the very beginning, Nomi is fully aware how incredibly lucky she is that Amanita took the whole voices-in-my-head thing pretty much in stride, and it’s something she will forever, always be grateful for. But it isn’t until Amanita says, out of the blue, over the rim of her chai latte, “Would you mind telling Kala that I really liked the book she recommended?”, that Nomi realizes it’s so much more than that. Her girlfriend is not simply accepting the existence of other people’s voices in her head – she is actually conversing with them.
“What do you mean, recommended?” she asks, and Amanita reaches for the last piece of German gingerbread and shrugs.
“Well, you left a book with the title Loving Ganesha on my nightstand the other day,” she says. “And since I’ve never known you to be particularly interested in Hindu mythology before, I assumed it must have been her.”
“Huh,” Nomi says slowly. “I don’t remember doing that at all.” But even as the words leave her mouth, a faint memory of handing over her credit card at a bookstore down the block floats through her mind.
“Yeah, I figured,” Amanita says, unconcerned, and leans a shoulder against hers. “Anyway, tell her I appreciate it.”
“I am so, so sorry,” Kala says when Nomi asks her about it later. She looks so distressed that Nomi already regrets even bringing it up, especially since Kala has been looking a bit worn around the edges ever since the day Wolfgang’s family went up in a cloud of smoke. “I didn’t mean to overstep.”
“You didn’t,” Nomi says, because anyone doing something nice for her wonderful girlfriend will never be a bad thing in Nomi’s book. “I was just trying to understand.”
“I was there when she had a conversation with her mother about the spiritual foundations of yoga,” Kala shrugs, still slightly embarrassed. “It sounded like she might be interested.”
“She liked it a lot,” Nomi says truthfully. The frown on Kala’s face melts into a shy delighted smile, and Nomi is struck once again by how gorgeous Kala is when she looks happy.
“How are you?” she asks and takes a seat on the sofa next to Kala in her parents’ backyard. Nomi leans back against the pillows and enjoys the quiet and peacefulness of the space.
“I am alright,” Kala says, her smile disappearing as quickly as it came. “The wedding is now off for good, but I am still no closer to figuring out what is really going on with Rajan’s father and the company, and Wolfgang –“ She trails off and looks away.
“You still haven’t made up?” Nomi asks, although the answer would be obvious even without the bond they share.
“It is not about making up,” Kala says unhappily. “It is about him trying to prove that he is the man he thinks he is.” She sighs. “And about me being scared of loving someone who would do the things he did.”
They are quiet for a moment.
“Well,” Nomi finally says and tries to recall what Amanita told her about the book. “Lord Ganesha, he is the remover of obstacles, isn’t he?”
“Yes,” Kala says slowly. “But I am not sure …”
“Perhaps some obstacles can only be removed by force.”
Kala skeptically raises her brows. “You are trying to tell me that Wolfgang is a remover of obstacles himself?” She actually laughs a little at that, although it sounds more hysterical than cheerful. “But Ganesha is a gentle, benevolent god,” she says. “Forgiving and kind.”
“But his brother is the god of war?” Nomi asks, hoping she’s getting this right.
“Yes,” Kala nods, “his brother Kartikeya, the war god. I still don’t understand what you are saying.”
Nomi reaches out and takes Kala’s hand, marveling once again at how she can feel the warmth of her skin, the soft hair on the back of her arm.
“Frankly,” she says, “I don’t know anything about Hinduism, so my metaphors may be way off. But I do know this: What we share, our connection, our bond, it’s not about similarity. It’s about complementation, about balance, in the world and in ourselves.”
Kala looks down at their hands. “I called it a miracle once,” she says quietly, and then leans forward abruptly and hugs Nomi, quick and firm.
“Thank you, Nomi,” she says, and now she is smiling again, even if it is a smile tinged with sadness.
“And tell Neets I said hello.”
The book about Ganesha stays on their nightstand. It slowly gets buried underneath other books, disappears under tissues and pens and lube, but once in a while, Nomi keeps thinking about it, and she wonders. Then the Sushi Incident happens, and even though the note-writing might have just been an accident, Nomi decides it’s time they start to experiment.
“Hello Sun,” Amanita says, waving a little at the living room at large.
“She’s over here,” Nomi smiles and points towards the opposite side of the table.
“Oh, sorry,” Amanita says. “Hey, so I bought this book about K-Pop at the flea market a while ago because I didn’t realize it was in Korean. I’ve got no idea what any of it means, but my younger cousin is really into Korean boy bands these days, and I figured I should brush up on my pop-cultural references a little. You willing to help?”
“Of course,” Sun says calmly and rises from her bunk in the prison cell, stretching her back. In San Francisco, she leans over Nomi’s shoulder, careful not to touch as she looks down at the open book. Then she picks up the pen and meticulously starts to translate the introduction page.
“Wow,” Amanita says reverently after a while. “That is so cool. Thank you so much for helping out.”
“No problem,” Sun writes as Nomi’s hand moves across the paper without her doing. “I have a lot of time.”
Amanita reads along and pulls a face. “Is there anything we can do to help?” she asks helplessly.
Sun smiles at her over Nomi’s shoulder and picks up the pen once more.
“You already did.”
“Are you trying to steal my imaginary friends?” Nomi asks later that night. Sun had stayed long enough to translate the first two articles, and there has been a slight ache in her wrist all day. It’s been a long time since she’s written this much by hand.
“They are not imaginary,” Amanita says, curling up against Nomi’s side in the bed with a happy sigh.
“So you don’t deny that you are trying to steal them?” Nomi asks, and of course it’s a joke, of course she is just teasing. Or at least she thinks she is, because Amanita looks at her with something like concern.
“What? No!” she protests. “I’m not – that’s not – what are you talking about? Nomi, are you actually jealous?”
“No!” Nomi says quickly, because that’s not – “No, I mean – I don’t think –“ She sighs, deflated. “Honestly, I really don’t know what I am. It’s just – it’s just weird. It is weird, isn’t it?”
“Of course,” Amanita says, but it doesn’t sound like she thinks it’s a bad thing. She runs a hand along Nomi’s arm, gently. “Honestly, sweetheart, I’m not trying to do anything you don’t want me to, it’s just – they are a part of you, right? I mean, not really, not like you are the same person, but like, like I am a part of you. They are your friends, or your family, I don’t know, but either way, they mean something to you, and I want to get to know them. And frankly, I actually like them.” She pauses. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love the community of friends we’ve built here in San Francisco, but – sometimes it becomes easy to forget that there’s other people out there, with other lives and other problems. I kind of like that they remind me of that.”
Nomi looks at her for a long time. “I knew there was a reason I love you so much,” she finally says and leans in for a kiss.
“You really are the best.”
The next morning, she wakes up to Wolfgang staring down at them from the end of the bed. Her first reflex is to pull up the sheets to cover her body, because it’s been a long time since a man has seen her naked, and she probably will never not feel conscious about that, whichever body she is in. But after everything they have seen and shared, it kind of seems pointless; so she simply sits up, lets the covers pool around her waist and wipes the sleep from her eyes.
“And here I thought you only appeared unannounced in Kala’s bedroom,” she says. It’s kind of a low blow, but she thinks he deserves it for sitting at the foot of their bed and watching them sleep like in a creepy scene from a Twilight movie. Then she looks at the way his jaw tightens and the worry line between his eyes deepens at her words, and already she feels herself soften.
“You holding up okay?” she asks, and he nods.
“Yes, sure, I’m fine,” he says, but he is not really looking at her. On a whim, she leans forward to take his hand, the way she had done with Kala just a few weeks ago. He flinches slightly, but doesn’t protest, merely looks down at their clasped hands with a smirk.
“Your girlfriend won’t mind that you are holding hands with a stranger in your bed?”
“Well, I guess it’s a good thing you are not a stranger,” Nomi says lightly, squeezes his hand one more time and lets go. He still looks serious, but his posture seems a bit more relaxed.
“Listen,” he says, “I really just wanted to say thank you.”
“For what?” Nomi asks, confused. Her brain is always off to a slow start before her first cup of coffee in the morning.
“The movies you sent Felix,” he says. “1970s action movies and lesbian porn? I mean, it was a bit difficult to explain where they came from, but you really made his day.” He smiles. It’s perhaps the first time Nomi has seen him smile since the whole disaster with Whispers went down, and she is surprised to find how content it makes her feel.
She waves him off. “Anytime,” she says around a yawn. “And besides, that was mostly Neets.”
He looks down at the sleeping Amanita with an oddly soft look on his face. “She’s nice,” he says thoughtfully. “I have no idea why, but I think she and Felix would get on really well.” He blinks, looks up. “Either way, tell her thank you from me as well.”
Nomi is about to nod and let him go, but then she looks at him again, looks down at Amanita, who is slowly starting to stir, and instead, she reaches for the notebook on her bedside table.
“You know what,” she says, and uncaps her pen. “Why don’t you just tell her yourself?”