You can’t see any stars from up here.
Light pollution’s too high.
But despite the overpowering orange hue of the city around us, Karina and I lay on bedding and look up at the night sky, at the the sliver of moon that faintly peeks out through the urban haze.
I think they call the moon right now the waxing crescent. It’s smaller than a normal crescent, and it’s thin enough that it’s easy to miss it entirely when you’re in the middle of the city. But with nothing else visible in the sky, my eyes are fixed on that tiny bit of glow.
Karina is next to me, so close I can feel her warmth, and we’re both laying on top of my old sleeping bag–thank God it survived the break-in from March–with my comforter as an extra layer over it. Karina has a blanket wrapped around her, but it’s too hot out here for me already.
My hands are resting on the back of my head, propping myself up against my pillow. I am not going to act like I don’t realize Karina’s own head is perched right up against my elbow.
On top of my stomach is the box of chocolates that Karina brought over. We’re already halfway through.
None of this makes any sense to me. But I guess that’s part of life sometimes.
“We haven’t done this in a long time,” I say.
“We haven’t had the time,” she says.
“For a whole year?”
“It’d be nicer if the stars were out, wouldn’t it?”
“Why the chocolate, Karina?”
“Would you believe me if I said I got it from a secret admirer?” she asks.
“Well then, I got it from the convenience store on the way over.” Karina giggles. “I thought you’d be in the mood for a snack.”
“Huh…” Karina makes some strange inquisitive sound. She turns her head to face me, and I feel her nose as it exhales air onto my neck. “I thought you were going to say something else there.”
“What do you mean?” I ask.
“Like, some joking remark like you always do. The Morgan sass.”
“I’m not in the mood.”
“You should get in the mood,” she says. “I don’t want you to be upset or anything. That would be…”
I turn my head–no, my whole body–to face her. Before the chocolate box rolls off my stomach, I catch it and set it to the other side of me. “Karina, I don’t understand what’s going on. Why the hell are you here?”
“You… You told me you hated me and didn’t want to see me again. I did something so terrible and–”
“Shut up,” says Karina. She chomps down a piece of chocolate her hand, and her face loses some of the softness it once had. She’s grown more stern. “Morgan, you really hurt me today.”
“I know. I’m so sorry, for this and for everything. I’m horrible.”
“You hurt me… but beating yourself up about it isn’t going to help anything. Your self-pity party is a party of one.”
“I deserve to be alone,” I say. “You shouldn’t even be here.”
“And you get to decide that?” Karina rotates her body as well, so that we are both directly facing each other. Goodbye, moon. Hello, Karina’s teary-eyed face. I suddenly want to reach out and wipe off her, face, but…
“Well, no, but–”
“Then let me ask you something, Morgan. Why did you do it? Why would you do something like that?”
“I don’t want to go over it again.”
“You have to, or I’ll never forgive you,” she says. “I’ll hate you for the rest of my life, and… I don’t want to. I can’t live in a world where we aren’t friends.”
I gulp. The orange of the streetlights below us have suddenly gotten a lot brighter, and my vision is suddenly a lot blurrier. My lip quivers. “I’m sorry.”
“Morgan, please don’t cry.”
“I haven’t cried since my dog died… And now I…” I can’t finish my sentence for the sobbing coming from my throat and nose.
It’s an ugly one.
“I thought you were in trouble, I thought you needed help, I thought you needed me, but I just made your life worse. I’m such a bad person, such a moron, such a fucking baby, such–”
“And I forgive you,” she says. “I forgive you despite your stupid pity party. Bec– Shit.” Karina’s crying now, too. “Okay, I’m still really angry, Morgan. But I understand completely, and I don’t… hold it against you.”
“What? No, you should hold it against me,” I say. “You should hate me. You would be doing yourself a disservice not to.”
“I won’t, because you explained yourself, and you apologized.”
“I’m just stating the facts.” My body’s collapsed into a fit of crying. “I’m not worth it.”
“This is what makes you such a–” Karina cuts herself off. “Let me forgive you, Morgan. Please.” Tears fall from her face, but she keeps her face steady. Like she’s trained for this. Like she’s not even capable of crying unless it’s beautiful.
“I don’t think you should. But–” I interrupt myself with more crying. Karina grabs my face, palms on my cheeks, and stares into my eyes.
“Shut up, Morgan.”
I nod, her hands still gripping me. I don’t have the energy to argue this sort of stuff anymore.
We stay like this for a while, crying and facing each other. Maybe to an outside viewer it would look weird, but I don’t even care. Neither does she.
Finally, I regain control of myself; I stop crying, mostly. I feel tired, and sore, and sad, but it’s all so relieving. “Just one thing… Why are you forgiving me?” I ask her.
Karina lets go of my face and reaches past me. Her hand passes over my side and to the chocolate box. She grabs another piece and lobs it in her mouth. “Grape. Delicious.”
“You’re ignoring my question.” We’re so close now. Almost like…
“Did you know that grape flavor doesn’t really taste like grapes? They just call it grape because that’s what the candy companies started doing generations ago because they didn’t know the name for what it tasted like.”
“Literally every person in the world knows this, but what I don’t know is why you want to forgive me,” I say.
Her eyes narrow. “I got you to sass me.”
Her eyes widen and her mouth scrunches. She’s still crying, but it’s gentle, the kind you’d see on a TV commercial. She fights through the tears and tells me, “Morgan, I forgive you because you’re my best friend. You automatically get three strikes because of that.”
“That’s awfully generous.”
“So, what you… did earlier… That was strike two.”
“Strike two? What was strike one?”
“Hey now, that’s not– okay, that’s fair.”
“And… I also forgive you because I haven’t been honest with you. You have every right to be suspicious about me because of the weird way I’ve been acting lately. It’s rude of me.”
“You don’t have to tell me anything.”
“But I want us to be honest with each other. Completely honest about our lives.”
“Completely honest… Like, one hundred percent?”
Karina shakes her head. “Ninety percent.”
“I can do that. Before you got to my apartment, I was watching robot sitcoms.”
“Huh. From the way you reacted, I thought it was porn.”
“No, no, no. I… no.” She really knows how to push me into embarrassment. But I can spin this. “I’m not a nymphomaniac like you.”
It works. She stops crying and blushes instead. “Hey, I… I haven’t even, um, done anything since the time– Can you pass me a chocolate?”
“You reached over me fine a minute ago.”
With my right hand, I clutch her waist and bring her close enough to me that our noses are touching. She wraps her legs around mine. Her heart’s beating really fast. I know because I can feel it. She can feel mine too, I’m sure. “Here. Now you can reach it,” I say.
“Yes, Ms. Kodama?”
“Let go of me.”
“Sorry.” I do. She keeps my leg in between hers, though. “That was weird. That’s not…”
“Can you give me a chocolate?”
I turn back on my back and put the box on my belly. “Here, take what you want.”
“How many have you eaten, anyway?”
Karina takes out a few pieces and munches on them one at a time. Then, the last piece in her hand, dark brown, almost black, she offers to me. “Take this one, then. I don’t like dark chocolate.”
“What? It’s only the best kind.”
“Just like the best Alien movie is the first one?”
“Exactly. Mmm, this is good stuff. This is why we– Karina.”
She’s put her arm over my chest, pulling herself closer to me, practically laying herself on top of me. “I changed my mind. Hold me.”
“Alright.” I wait a second to let myself take all of this in. This entire scene. The circle of orange glow around us, the deep blue of the night sky above us, the silky smooth legs rubbing themselves against mine. “So, about this ninety percent honesty.”
“What are you trying to say?”
“I’m trying to say I’ve been keeping a secret and it’s going to be tough to say. You’re going to get upset.”
“If this is about your Friday thing…”
“It’s not. I’m sorry, but… That’s a personal matter. I can’t tell you about that, even if I wanted to. And I don’t want to. It’s not exactly… Yeah.”
So hanging out with her Japanese friends wasn’t the big secret? I’m not going to pry any further, I promise you that, but now I don’t know what to believe.
“I understand,” is all I say.
“But no, this is something different. And it’s something I should have told you a month ago, but you were busy with all that Cybermancer stuff, and you seemed so stressed, but then it got me all stressed, and so I kept hiding it, and then…”
“And then… Hey, did you cuddle up to me just to make me feel better about whatever this is?”
“I cuddled up to you because you’re the warmest human alive, Morgan.”
“I’d rather be hot than warm.”
“You’re pretty hot, too.”
If this were any other circumstance right now, we would have passed the threshold of no return. But instead, we stay like this. And this is nice, so that’s okay.
Karina takes a deep breath and continues. “I want to tell you that I’m leaving Atlanta really soon.”
“Yeah. It’s… My Grandmother is sick.”
“Oh no, is it…”
“Do you remember when I told you when I video called her back in the winter?” she asks. I nod. “Well, she’s gotten worse. A lot worse. And so… Father is letting me going to go to Japan for a few months to spend time with her.”
“To Japan? Really?”
“Right after I finish helping with the tech expo.”
“And your dad?”
“Father isn’t going. Just me.”
“Right after the tech expo… That’s in like two and half weeks, Karina.”
“Yeah.” Karina grips me tighter. “I didn’t tell you and I’m sorry. If you hate me… then that’s okay. I just hope you’ll forgive me.”
“No,” I say. “This isn’t comparable. What I did was just… I mean, this trip’s just a few months, right? You’ll be back. You have classes in the fall, after all.”
“Yeah. It’s just a few months.”
“Then it’s nothing.”
What goes unsaid on my end is that I had been planning on leaving Atlanta, permanently, just a few months ago. Or that I was hiding it from her in just the same way, and my only positive is that I decided not to do it.
Karina feeling bad about this is just absurd. She’s such a better person than me that it’s mind-boggling. Incomprehensible.
I rummage my finger through the box of chocolates and I can’t find any more pieces. “We finished this already?”
“More like I finished this already,” Karina giggles.
“Wait, no, I found one. Last one, it looks like.” I hold it in the air; it’s a black-and-white cookies and cream flavored piece. Oversized and beautiful. “Want to split it?” I break it in half and offer one to her.
“Thanks, Morgan.” She bites into it and lets out a pleasant sound. “So good.”
The sweetness is just about overpowering, but somehow in the haze of sugar, I can taste that tang of bitter chocolate inside. “Yeah. Good stuff. You really bought this at the convenience store?”
Karina sighs. “Are you sure you’re okay?” she asks.
“What do you mean? With you leaving Atlanta so suddenly?”
“Yeah. Aren’t you going to be…”
“I know sometimes you have trouble with letting things go, you know? And sometimes you aren’t good with too much alone time, so you act kind of strange. It’s nothing.”
I’m not sure I understand. I feel like I anti-understand what she’s saying. “Wait, are you insinuating something?”
“Ninety percent honestly?”
She pauses. “Ninety percent honestly, okay, yes I am. I mean sometimes you are a little clingy.”
“Hey now, you are the one literally clinging onto me right this instant,” I say.
“I don’t mean that in a bad way,” she says, likely using that ten percent of dishonesty. “I don’t want you to feel really upset because I’m leaving. We spend so much time together now already that I am just… not worried, but maybe… concerned.”
“Like, following me across the city concerns me.”
“I, uh…” I suddenly have the urge to cry all over again.
“It’s nothing, really, Morgan. I’m just over-worrying because I care a lot about you.”
“And I, uh, care a lot about you. I want you to do what makes you happy,” I say. “Does going to Japan make you happy?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never been before. But seeing my Grandmother again does.”
“Well then, I want you to go.”
“I hope so. Because there’s not a lot of time left before I do.”
“Then why don’t we make the best of that time?”
“I thought we were already.”
Suddenly, I turn on my side again and wrap my arms around Karina, hugging her so tight she yelps in surprise. My vision has certainly got a little bit misty all of a sudden. “Thank you for forgiving me,” I say. “Thank you so much.”
“I’m still mad about it,” she says, though her response is to hug me in return, nestling her forehead on my shoulder, and then to say, “I don’t want to leave you.”
“Don’t worry about me.”
“The correct answer is, ‘I don’t want you to leave me,’ Morgan.”
“That’s what I said, isn’t it?” I ask.
She doesn’t respond
We lay together, caught in an embrace under the faint moonlight on top of the roof to my apartment, cushioned by makeshift bedding and basking in the quiet droning of an Atlanta night. Every now and then, a car will honk from several blocks away. or a nocturnal bird will chirp a tune from its tree, or an airplane will rumble overhead, or the grinding metal of the sky rail will pass us by. Aside from that, it’s just me, Karina, and the wind.
I could fall asleep like this. No more insomnia for me. But then I’d miss seeing Karina’s dark eyes looking at mine. I can’t believe she’s still wearing her glasses, even when we’re cuddling. How don’t they fall off?
Karina looks at me, wipes off my face, and then puts her head back on my shoulder. “We haven’t done this in a long time. A long time since I’ve just… hugged someone.”
“Me too,” I say.
“For me, it’s been… since Noel, I think.”
“You remember Noel. We broke up when you and I first met and… Oh, I guess you wouldn’t know Noel.”
“No know Noel.”
“You’re really unfunny.”
“Noel I’m not.”
“Do you remember when we first met?” Karina asks.
“Uh, I guess.”
“I mean, you know… we met at the food court and then… I’m glad we became friends, Karina. That’s all.”
“Me too. I don’t think I will ever meet someone as great as you. Even if I’m really angry at you right now.” Her grip on me tightens, almost like she’s squeezing me into a chokehold. I deserve this.
“Do you want to go inside and go to bed?” I ask.
“So then let’s just stay like this for as long as we can,” she says.
We let go of the hug, but keep our arms and legs together, keep our faces pointed at each other.
Karina Kodama. The woman who’s saved my life more than anyone else not made of metal and circuits. The best pal anyone could ask for. The Green Hornet to my Kato. And someone who I’m going to have to let go of.
I should be taking this worse. Everything that’s happened in the past twenty-four hours, from The Vampire, to the Data Farm, to doing the worst thing a friend could ever do, to suddenly being treated like the best friend ever, to learning that my friend is leaving the country for several months… it’s been a whirlwind. But for some reason, I’m completely fine. Maybe I’m just too exhausted to be upset anymore, but I’m completely fine.
We in each other’s arms for the rest of the night, until the sun comes up and it’s time for me to go to work. It’s nice.
I don’t get any sleep.
Karina passes out though. And she’s a snorer.