Chocolate Insomnia – Chapter 3: I Shouldn’t Do This, But…

It’s just a coincidence. I was just going out to the grocery store. The Asian grocery store this time, of course. There’s Asian grocery stores across the city? Yeah, maybe, but the cheap ones are all around here. Just a coincidence, honest.

…I’m rehearsing all the excuses I’ll have to make if Karina catches me following her.

Seriously, seriously, it’s just curiosity. I’m not trying to be creepy or anything. It’s just, we got on the same zipline bus, and it’s going in the same direction, towards J-District. My apartment is several stops further, but who’s to say I didn’t want to get off early and walk the rest of the way to get some fresh air? Ignore the fact I am infamously bad with directions.

Don’t look at me like that. I know what I’m doing.

Come on, you wouldn’t? I just want to know what Karina does. I won’t follow her the whole way. I just want a hint. Just a peek. Don’t make me feel bad. We’ve all wondered it, where she goes on Friday nights.

We’ve been in the same bus for twenty minutes now, but she has barely torn her eyes away from her computer screen the whole time, and definitely hasn’t noticed me yet. The fact we’re both standing and it’s very crowded probably helps things here, too.

I think it’s funny. 

Well, part of it, at least.

It’s funny that I’ve been less than fifty feet away from her and she hasn’t even seen me, but I’m very worried that the actual events of this Friday evening are not something to laugh at.

Something in Karina’s life is making her feel like the kind of girl who ends each remark with a bite, the kind of girl who’s outwardly cold in order to disguise her inner emotional vulnerability. Okay, maybe that’s a huge exaggeration based on the fact that I make way too many snarky comments to her, and maybe it is me who is truly the problem in our society. But fi whatever is going on with Karina is related to whatever secret she is keeping about what she does on Fridays, I want to know because I want to be there to help her.

I know I’m the one who got killed and brought back to life, the one who risks life and limb (and all three other limbs) on a weekly basis to save Atlanta from whatever the next big villainous evil may be, but I’m not the only one who has secrets to keep. Karina has hers, and as much as I don’t want to pry, as much as I don’t want to potentially hurt her… she’s my best friend in the world, and I can’t let her head into trouble all by her lonesome. 

She certainly SEEMS fine right now, at least… I wonder what song she’s listening to on her headphones.

But until I get to the bottom of this, I can’t let myself jump to any conclusions. 

I mean, hey, it could be that she’s finally snagged a role in a movie like she’s always dreamed… just one that happens to shoot exclusively on Friday evenings for a few hours at a time… Gosh, I hope she’s alright.

As I was beginning to suspect, she gets off at the J-District main station stop. From here, you can transfer anywhere across the city, because there’s a rocket boot highway ramp, four subway lines, and just about a billion buses. So no matter where Karina may be going, she was probably going to head here first.

Of course, I quickly realize that she’s not headed into the station itself, as she keeps walking along the sidewalk. Part of me is glad for that, because I would have a hard time keeping track of her in the station crowd, whereas she’s still pretty easy to spot out in the open. 

Karina is no longer glued to her portable PC, since she’s walking down a city street, but she still pulls it out once every two or three minutes to send a quick message over wireless modem. Whoever it’s with, it must be related to wherever she’s going. She’s tensed up, walking with a straightened back and puffed out chest, the same way she always gets when she’s nervous about something.

I wonder what’s up with her…

We’re getting closer to “downtown J-District;” obviously not the real downtown of Atlanta, but the central location of all the Eastern Union-centric businesses and shopping malls. I like it more, in a way, because it’s kind of smaller, “homelier” than the main downtown area. Not as oppressively neon-lit, not as many giant LED screens advertising Mega Busters 1: The Beginning

The atmosphere isn’t exactly calm, though; it’s a Friday night, after all, so there are a ton of people out, most of them of Asian descent. Normally, that’d mean I’d stick out like a cyborg in an android convention, but the sheer number of people on the streets right now means that I can blend in just fine. 

Then, almost at the same moment, Karina turns her head back, looking at something behind her. With the most of my reflexes, I side-step behind the closest object, which happens to be a CNN news kiosk.

An older couple eyes me eyeing Karina. They look at me suspiciously and mutter something in what sounds like Thai. How rude. I am just, uh, checking on a friend’s well-being from afar.

Doesn’t look like she noticed me, because she’s still walking.

If Karina is coming out here to J District, though, then I have to think she might be… No, it couldn’t be, she’s wearing shorts and a t-shirt. Unless it’s a really casual thing. In that case…

My heart’s pitter-patter is turning into a pitter-pitter-pitter-nothing-patter now, and I don’t know why. Okay, I know exactly why. 

As I see her stand by the Gunpei Yokoi statue, her headphones removed and her eyes scanning the crowd for someone, I realize that there is a sizeable possibility that she is here for a date. Even not dressed up, if she goes on dates weekly, she might be at the point where… 

No. She and I have been… If that were true, surely I’d… Well, it’s not like…

Ugh, why am I getting jealous of someone who might not even exist? Why am I getting jealous at all, for that matter?

Just kidding, I’m not jealous. 

That was all just a lie. Sometimes I tell fibs to you just to keep you guessing. I hope you will still consider me a trustworthy narrator of events even so. I swear I will not lead you astray. 

Any amount of jealousy I have is for just how LAME whoever it would be who would ever go on a date with a weird dude like Karina. Haha, right? Plus, Karina going on a date would mean that she’s just doing healthy adult things, and that all this Friday night business would turn out to be completely innocuous. So yeah, I want her to go on a date. Really. 

As a good friend, that’s exactly what I want, and I’m rooting for her for whatever she wants. Maybe I myself have not gone on a romantic date in like… Well, you don’t need to know that kind of sensitive information, but trust me when I say I’ve struck out recently. In the cosmic clock scale of time. So, um, maybe I myself haven’t been particularly lucky, but if Karina has, then that just makes me happy.

Not that this is necessarily anything, since I have no idea what she’s actually waiting for. Nah, she’s not going on a date. She’d tell me something like that, for sure. Wouldn’t she? Unless her entire secret was…

Ugh, I can’t believe I started to make this entire Friday night thing about me, when things are clearly more serious than they seem at first glance. What kind of asshole even does stuff like that?

And then…

And then I see them. Karina’s guests.

It’s most certainly not a hot date, I realize when I see three girls–each with loose bell-bottom pants and wearing thick red lipstick to match their pitch-black hair–approach Karina and greet her with warm smiles and warmer hugs. 

My heart rises.

The four begin a rapid discussion in what my enhanced hearing can barely make out is Japanese, and Karina seems instantly set at ease, her shoulders easing up and her hand gripping the purse hung around her shoulder. They’re having a friendly conversation. 

It’s her friends. It’s just her friends.

Ha.

Out of all the possibilities for what she does on Friday nights, where she goes every week, it never occured to me that it might be something so simple as meeting up with friends. Something so plausible I hadn’t even considered it. I feel like an idiot, once again because I am one.

It turns out, in everything, that Karina actually has a life outside of me. That Karina is a person who is in my life, but exists when I close my eyes.

The fact that my mind is considering any of this a surprise speaks to my selfishness. Of course she would be doing this. Of course she would hang out with friends on a Friday night Why wouldn’t Karina, a Japanese-Georgian, have Japanese-Georgian friends and spend her time in J-District? We hardly talk about that side of her life, and now I realize that that’s probably because she wants to keep those spheres separate.

And I’m a jerk for trying to sneak in and shove my way into her life in this one area where my awful life of being a bum and being a secret technological crime fighter has enveloped her every being. For someone who is already as ridiculously busy as Karina, the fact that she is even able to dedicate a specific block of time to her friends like this is amazing, and I love that she has been able to stick steadfastly to it.

Of course, there’s the strangeness of the fact that she committed to these Friday night excursions even during the middle of pretty risky adventures like the quest to uncover Social Media Killer. And the fact she hid all of this from me. Is it that important that she had thought I’d be better off not knowing? I mean– Wait, time out. No, I’m not making this about myself again.

Karina is my best friend, but she’s also her own person. She has an entire cultural side to her that I know nothing about, made even more obvious by the fact I’m standing by a street corner where all the road signs are in languages I can’t read. It’s seflish and jerkish to do anything but support her.

So no judgments. Just relief that Karina isn’t in trouble like I feared.

She looks like she’s having a great time with her friends. Seeing her smile with her teeth, seeing her eyes beaming so bright her glasses are glaring, seeing her posture fall into relaxation– it makes me really happy.

Karina’s okay. Whatever’s been wrong with her lately, it’s not showing here.

The only thing I can do, as a friend, is to get the hell out of here and forget I ever saw any of this.

Since I’m in J-District already, though, I might as well go by a Fami and buy a bowl of oden. They do make it better out here, though I have certainly had my heart warmed by the salty broth of a delicious bowl of convenience store oden on the way home from work on many a cold winter night. 

In fact, I’ll probably skip the grocery trip, because my brain would never allow me to go shopping at two stores in a row. I’ll just buy a carton of eggs at the Fami, and then I can go to the grocery store tomorrow after–

I’m being watched.

My eyes dart around the scene, around the Japanese character-marked buildings, at the Yokoi statue, at the fanny pack-wearing tourists by my side. I can feel someone watching me, and–

I see the pair of eyes staring right at mine.

And the pair of glasses in front of those eyes.

And the furrowed brows above that pair of glasses.

And the heart-shattering frown on my best friend’s face.

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