Midway through Spring Break, Diana came to visit— ostensibly to work on the group project.
The air was warm and the sun was shining, so Dad had taken it upon himself to open every window in the house. We were surrounded by birdsong as Diana stepped inside.
She was wearing a loose heather shirt underneath a North Face jacket, white tennis shoes and the ends of her hair decorated with pony beads. They clacked gently against the strap of her backpack as she entered. Her dark eyes were round and wet, on the verge of crying.
She cast her gaze around the room. “Oh. Where’s, um. . . ?”
“Eris?” Dad asked.
I smirked. “She’s never up before noon if she can help it.”
Dad swooped her up, then, and dragged her into the kitchen. He questioned her very gently as I filled two glasses of orange juice. Her head was drooping, her hands folded. Apparently, if there was anything to read into her soft-spoken manner, family life was still rocky.
“And what are you planning to make for this project?” Dad changed the subject with a deft hand.
I had already requested that he help me dig up old family photos to photocopy into a trifold. Evidently, Diana had thought about it even less than I had.
She twisted her ankles. “I was thinking of um. . . something to do with superstitions.”
I frowned, setting her glass in front of her. “That doesn’t have much to do with heritage, Diana.”
“Maybe.” She was looking at the table.
Dad sent us off shortly after. In my room, we sat on opposite sides like poles of a magnet. I laid belly-down on my bed, notebook in front of me. All my hopes to be productive, however, were dashed within minutes.
Diana’s presence made it impossible to concentrate. She lingered in the corner of my vision like a spider at the edge of its web. My pen scrawled and swirled and fell limp between my fingers. I stared at her back, at the scrunchie holding her mane of curls at bay.
She unfolded my laptop. Her hands ghosted over my keyboard. Without asking, she entered my login.
Groaning, I grabbed my folder. It was One Direction themed, a birthday present from a distant relative. I had scribbled over their faces and filled the inside with loose printer paper. One side held the pages I had already covered. The other side was fresh like snow for me to piss on.
Blank page in front of me, I looked at Diana again. The question was on the tip of my tongue. What should I draw?
Knowing Diana, she would’ve chosen something cutesy, like a unicorn or a fairy. I would fulfill the request, but only by making the unicorn gut something with its horn, or the fairy smashing Sydney’s skull. She would squeal and cry over the finished project, but hang it up on her wall once she got. . .
“What are you doing?” I rolled out of bed.
Diana moved as if she’d been burnt, hands flying away from my keyboard. “Uh. . .”
She had just clicked on something. As I approached, it finished loading. It was a black webpage with red and white text.
“Are you a Twihard for real now?” I put my hands on my hips.
“No!” Diana gasped and covered her face.
I sighed. “That was a joke, Di.”
As I moved to sit in my chair, Diana inched out of her shell. With a sweep of my arm, I closed the webpage.
“Um, I was still looking at. . .”
“I’m not letting you fail.” I went to the Google homepage and typed puerto rican supersitions.
As it loaded, Diana nudged me. “Aren’t you at least a little interested in. . . ?”
“I’m not a little kid,” I said. “I don’t really care.”
“Oh.” Her eyes followed mine to the screen. “Try that one.” She pointed to a link.
We scrolled in silence through some lady’s blog. Diana leaned an arm on my desk, inching closer and closer to me. My eyes flickered over to her hand, laid flat beside my keyboard.
“Who were talkin’ to on Pictochat the other day?”
Her hand curled up, like an armadillo threatened. “I don’t. . . really know. They only sent doodles.”
Click, click. “A prank?”
Diana shook her head.
“What’s your guess, then?”
“I think it was maybe someone. . . we couldn’t see. . .” I shot her a look, and she jumped like a startled cat, into a different subject. “You know, I think you’d really be interested in that vampire thing—”
She shut up. I clicked and clicked, but I couldn’t follow my own advice, either. I shot backwards and hung my head over the back of the chair. “What if we just made it all up?”
“This is boring.” I spun to face her. “History is boring. So, what if we made it up?”
Diana looked put off, but she also didn’t shut it down. “How?”
“Okay, imagine. . .” I pushed myself up, nearly slipping when the chair rolled out from under me. “On the day of the project, I show up in a nice crisp suit, and I have one of those clickers business people use. I click and the Smartboard has a nice picture of you on it, right? And I say, ‘This is Diana Maria Colón. We don’t know anything about her heritage. She was abandoned as a baby on the steps of a bowling alley’.”
Diana let out a startled laugh. She held her chin, thinking. “And I would say. . . ‘This is Lauren Olivia Krepshaw. Her family came to America when, um. . . uhhh. . . their pirate ship got beached’?”
I gestured to an invisible presentation, backing up so I had the floor. “The owners didn’t notice at first, since she was so small and round. She got loaded up in one of the machines and stuck in the gutter.”
“Lauren, no!” Diana gasped. “That’s horrible.”
“What happened to my pirate ship?”
“It— gosh. . .” She chewed her lip. “They set out in search of— bacon? But there was no bacon on the beach, so they had to go really far up the river. And then their captain fell into the canal!”
“Did he get chopped up by the water wheel?”
“Y-yes?” Diana blushed. Her hands dropped, hanging in front of her. “I’m really bad at this.”
“No, you’re not!” I laughed. “Just because the bowling pins turned your brains to boogers doesn’t mean you’re stupid.”
Her eyes were wide, round as dinner plates. “Um—um—”
She covered her face, whipping around and away from me. The beads in her hair clicked. Her shoulders were shaking.
The laughter that had bubbled up within me popped like a balloon. I began creeping towards her.
“I was joking,” I said. “I know your brain isn’t really broken.”
I laid a hand on her shoulder, but she didn’t respond. She was… ah, crap, she was reallycrying. It was Easter all over again, and I was powerless to stop it.
Despite myself, the anger returned. Here I was, in my own house, wasting time supposed to be spent studying trying to decode Diana’s stupid temper tantrum over a nothing joke. My hand holding onto her tightened.
Stop it, I thought. Stop it! Why are you doing this to me?
I said, “I’m going to the bathroom.”
She still hid her face as I brushed past her. I took my time in there, keeping quiet to make sure no one tried to help me with my troubles. Was Diana getting weirder? I thought so. Making up imaginary friends in Pictochat, shutting down at the drop of the hat. The vampire thing.
Upon returning, Diana had sorted herself out somewhat. She sat in my desk chair, taking notes. Her cheeks were still ruddy and slick with tears, but she only sniffled once in a while. I thought that would be the end of it.
I went back to my bed. On my back, I folded my hands over my stomach and stared at the glow-in-the-dark stars and Black Parade poster above. I took a deep breath, readjusting myself.
“If you want, we can change the story. You can be the pirate.”
But Diana obviously wasn’t listening. She scratched at her notebook, the soft paper rustle filling the room. When she did finally speak, it was nonsense.
“I found a website with pictures of real angels.”
“Okay.” I didn’t look away from the ceiling.
“I think I saw a real angel. The other night. You. . . the dream I told you about? I had another.”
“I don’t want to talk about this.”
Silence. When I turned over, Diana was packing her stuff. Her face was blocked by her hair. Underneath the rustling, I thought I heard her sniffle again.
“You okay?” I asked.
“Mom wants me home before dark.” She swung her backpack on.
“Tell Dad. He’ll drive you.”
A pause. Finally, glancing my way, she nodded. “Bye, Lauren.”
“See ya.” I turned back to the ceiling.
“Alright!” Dad dropped a big cardboard box onto the kitchen table, huffing and puffing from his trip up the basement stairs. “Let’s get started, huh?”
Eris and I exchanged looks, holding in our laughter.
The box contained two leather-bound volumes, one plastic photo album light green and covered in flowers, and a smattering of other random photographs. Some were framed, but most were still loose, lining the bottom of the box like mulch.
Carefully, I picked up one of the framed ones. I blew off the dust, revealing a stern looking woman in pearl earrings.
“That’s your Great-Grandma,” Dad said.
“Cool.” I set her aside.
As we shuffled through, Dad actually managed to get Eris to speak about herself. It might’ve been the most I’d heard from her about anything that mattered.
“Do you know anything about your ancestry, kiddo?”
Eris yawned, covering her mouth with delicate fingers. “Yes, actually. I’m descended from an old noble family.” She flipped her hair over her shoulder.
“Wow.” I already knew I didn’t have anything nearly that interesting in my family tree. “Do you know anything about them?”
“I’ve seen their crypt.” Eris grinned. “All gray and moldering. The name’s been dead for generations. Karnstein.”
A shiver went up my spine. To distract myself, I turned to Dad, who was flipping through one of the leather albums. I pointed to a random one. “Who’s that?”
“Oh! That’s your Great-Uncle Patrick in front of his favorite tractor. Did you know. . .”
He regaled us with a story that wasn’t nearly as interesting as he thought it was. Something about a raccoon and a pie. I tuned it out and grabbed a pile of the loose photos. I flipped through them, one-by-one. The words faded away, then shorted out altogether.
He stopped mid-sentence to see what I was holding up— a small photo, no larger than a Polaroid. At the sight of it, he laughed. “Now, where’d you get that dress?”
The photo was of two women in a field, one sitting and one standing. They were wearing folk costumes— headpieces, vests over poofy white sleeves, strings of beads and long striped skirts. The woman in the foreground was staring into the camera with a face just like mine. Even her hair— what little was visible— was the same as my natural texture, coarse like straw.
“Eris, check this—” I turned to my side, but Eris was gone. “Huh?”
“I think she went to the bathroom, honey.”
Pouting, I withdrew my hand and returned to studying the photo. I had been so shocked by my doppelganger that I had failed to notice the second woman. But now, looking closer. . .
“And she looks like Eris!”
It was less obvious. The woman was standing in silhouette, further from the camera. But she had the same curtain of thick hair and button nose as my friend. She wasn’t smiling, though. This woman looked out at the fields with a glower.
Dad took the picture from me, flipping it over. “Ah, well that explains it! Lauren, you're a dead ringer for your Great-Great Aunt.”
I crouched over the table, perched on my elbow to get a better look at the back. “What about the other girl?”
Dad shrugged. The back of the photo only had one name and a year: Olga Krejpcio, 1928.
When I looked up, Eris was back. I swiped the photo, putting it in her face. “Look, I found us!”
“Oh, how interesting.” She hummed. She didn’t actually sound interested; it was the tone adults used when humoring an annoying little kid.
“Let’s not get distracted,” Dad said.
We did get distracted, but not in my favor. Dad found the baby picture album. Something about Eris cooing over my toddler self made dread pool at my feet. The back of my neck prickled. While they sat side-by-side on the couch, I wandered back into the kitchen.
“. . . And this was our first trip to the zoo. . .”
I washed out my glass of soda, temporarily drowning out Dad’s running commentary. In my anxiety, I dropped the cup into the soapy soup pot.
“. . . Aww, little Diana. She and Lauren used to play dress-up. Lauren was always the pink one— I know! Hard to imagine, now. . .”
I marched over to the table, covered in loose nonsense, and tucked Great-Great Aunt Olga into my sleeve.
A shadow crossed my room.
From my bed, I looked up. Eris was standing in the doorway. I tugged off my headphones. “What’s up?”
She didn’t speak at first. She only raised a hand, grinning. Dad’s car keys swung on her finger. “Wanna go for a ride?”
While I pulled on my hoodie, I spared a glance at the stolen photo on my desk. Eris followed my line of sight. Her smile never left.
She didn’t bring it up until we were already in the car and moving. It was dark, too warm to bundle up but too cold to open the windows. Eris had brought a burned CD of her own, ejecting Dad’s They Might Be Giants album with a wink.
I laid my head against the cold glass and nodded along with the violent track that followed.
“You really liked that photo of me, huh?” Eris’s voice broke through the sound.
I made a face. “It looked like me, too.”
She hummed. “What are you going to do with it?”
I sat up, staring through the windshield. I hadn’t thought that far ahead. “If. . . if Dad’s not mad, I’d like to hang it up in my room.”
“How romantic of you.”
“Huh?” I whirled to face her, but she was already turning the music up again. My face was red; I could feel it.
Eris turned a corner. It caught me off guard— there was no turn signal. I stared at her. The dashboard lights turned her skin pale green, bouncing garish against her hair. Her piercings and eyeshadow were matching, matte black. They didn’t reflect any lights at all.
“Eris. . .” I started. Then, I swallowed.
The CD blared, “I came blood inside of her—”
“I have this friend,” I blurted out.
“Okay?” I could barely hear her over the music.
I stuffed my hands between my knees. As I slouched, rocked by the car’s movement, my seatbelt bit into my neck.
“I have this friend. . . that I’m having trouble with. . .”
Eris reached out and tweaked the volume knob. She turned it way down, but not off. I gnawed my lip, waiting for her to speak.
“It’s, um— it’s Diana. You met her, once. . .” I trailed off. “I’ve known her for, like, forever. We went to the same preschool. We did First Communion together. I— she— we’ve always been there for each other. . . but lately, I can’t help but feel. . .” My nose burned in anticipation of tears. “. . . that we’re drifting apart. I know she’s sad because her sister’s dead. . . but I think it’s more than that. I don’t know what to do.”
“Hm.” Eris nodded, but stayed quiet. Looking through the window, I realized that we were driving over the bridge out of the city. Distant lights lit the river, zooming past. My eyes centered on the spot the school overlooked.
“I just— sometimes she just makes me so angry,” I said. I flicked off the music, and desperately tried to fill in the empty space. “It’s like— what’s wrong with her? What’s wrong with me? That I can even think about a friend like that. She started crying and I didn’t know what to do, I just– left!”
“Sounds like you don’t even want her in your life.”
“Huh? But— but of course I do.”
“You said that you ‘know’ her,” Eris said, “not that you like her.”
I had, hadn’t I? But that went without saying. I couldn’t imagine living without Diana. I couldn’t imagine being left alone like that.
But wasn’t that what I’d been doing?
“Can you help me?” I turned to Eris.
No music. The only sound in the car was the engine’s hum, gravel crunching underneath wheels. Eris continued to stare straight ahead. My eyes traced the wrinkles along the sleeve of her leather jacket.
“No,” she said. “I think you should let go.”
Her words hit me like an anvil. I wished I was having this conversation over Skype. I wished there was a screen between us. I wished I could’ve walked away. I wished, I wished. . .
“Don’t cry, Ophelia.”
“I’m not—!” I covered my face, even as tears slipped between my fingers. “I just— it’s so dark out, and I. . .” My voice wavered, but my heart leapt in anticipation, champing at the bit to change the subject. “The other night, I had a really f-ed up nightmare.”
“Fucked up,” Eris said with a smile.
“Y-yeah.” I nodded. “There was this cat, and a bloody room, and a psychologist and—”
“Did you read too many creepypastas?”
“Hey!” She had cracked open a window without my realizing. Black woods surrounded our SUV, the wind rustling my hair. “This is serious, you know! I was stupid scared. I thought it was really happening.”
“Of course,” Eris said. “Do you think it’ll happen again?”
“I hope not.” I collapsed back in my seat.
“I told you—” The seatbelt bit my jugular again. “It scared me.”
Eris shrugged. “Fear is just another form of love.”
Her words. . . again, their effect on me was almost physical. It was like someone had poured soda over my icy insides. I was bubbling over, filled with sharp pain that begged to escape.
“Eris. . .” My voice was miles away. “Have you ever been in love before?”
That agonizing pause. I wished the windows were closed; I was so cold.
“Once,” she said. “And a million times.”
What did that mean? “That’s a lot of love.”
“It is.” She looked at me then, tilting her head so her hair spilled forth like lava. I froze in place. I wanted to warn her to keep an eye on the road, but my throat was filled with something pounding and swelling, blocking the opening.
When she turned back, I asked, “Where is it now?”
Eris’s hands tightened around the steering wheel. “Dead.”
“Oh. . .” I felt horrible for ever bringing it up. “I’m so sorry.”
Her expression resolved back to her placid smile. “No need to apologize, sweet Ophelia.” She reached out and touched my head. “Love is only waiting. Girls like us, we’re caterpillars.”
The sentence caught me off guard. I laughed. “What?”
We were leaving the dark woods. She’d raced us to the town over, where farmlands filled the horizon. I felt totally alone, in complete darkness. With her. With Eris.
“Do you ever think about how it must feel to be in a cocoon?” Eris said.
I shook my head.
“The caterpillar melts into mush. But it does not lose itself. Instead, its insides are dissolved and re-approportioned. It is a process that only brings pain. Don’t you think that, at some point before the end, that little bug will have died?”
“So. . . love is a butterfly?” My head hurt.
“The girls will be.” She took my hand, fingers intertwining. “When they emerge.”