Thea bit on her lip, hoping someone would stay and chat. Her classmates seemed fun. In class, laughter followed the jokes they cracked. Mostly inside jokes with giggles shared, just not with her. One by one they left. The chain of exiting two-tone beeps concluded with Thea’s sigh. It was probably easier breaking into Area 51 than one of the cliques. It was hard making friends when everyone was already tight with someone else.

“Hey.” Imiry perked up from her slumber on the couch. “I’m here, you know.”

Thea smiled. Imiry could read her like a book. She did read a lot, mostly self-help. It was funny how Imiry never needed help with anything while she, on the other hand, could benefit from a book on mindfulness. A whirlwind was ripping in her mind. The initial gust was her recent exam result—the third one in a row that she had barely passed. What was up with her?

“Thea, snap out of it.” Imiry tugged on her arm. “You need a walk. Let’s go.”

Thea shrugged her off. “Walks won’t get me any eights and nines.”

“Neither will studying in this state. Come on, let’s get some fresh air.”

If only she could be as carefree as Imiry was. She sighed and rubbed her bleary eyes before opening a literature. Her eyes were miners with blunt pickaxes, slugging at the wall of text.

Imiry thew her hands up, exasperated. She went to the window, letting the sun’s rays warm her face. This wasn’t how the first year of school was supposed to go. Instead of making new friends, visiting wacky museums and joining parties, most of their time had been spent cooped up in this tiny apartment.

It wasn’t all gloomy though. Imiry was enjoying the bubble they were in, just the two of them.

She liked it when they went through dozens of movie trailers saying, “we should watch this” but never watching any. When they did, it was always a campy, cliché horror flick that scared the crap out of them. Thea’s goofy, frightened squeals always amused her.

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Even more than that, Imiry loved relieving memories they had at rock concerts. Sure, having an album on blast and jumping around in the living room wasn’t quite the same. But a whole lot of headbanging and hair whipping to their horrible pitchy voices was in its own category of amazing. Thea would end the sessions smashing an imaginary guitar before leaping into the ‘crowd’. When Thea wasn’t so uptight about school, she was a lot of fun. 

Ping! An email notification popped up on Thea’s screen. It was a reply to a job application.

One of many applications, to be exact. She had seriously underestimated how hard it was finding part-time work. It felt as if she jumped through hoops of fire just to get an interview for a house-keeping role. Her efforts paid off with the interviewers seeming convinced she was suited for the job. She was perfect for it, evident from how tidy her apartment was— mostly because there weren’t many things to begin with.

She clicked the email and read it aloud.

“Thank you for your application. You have a likeable personality and will make an excellent house-keeper. We ask that you apply again in the future as we are unable to hire due to the current pandemic measures.”

Thea blinked a couple of times and stared at the screen.

“Wow.” Imiry said, peering over and reading it for herself.

Even though Thea’s face was blank, Imiry sensed the confused and furious thoughts building in her. Why the hell did they list the job knowing the pandemic measures were already in place?

A highly creative chain of curse words followed.

“Screw this.” Imiry shut her laptop. “Who needs that crap job anyway?”

“I kinda do, Imiry.” She checked her bank balance for probably the twentieth time today.

There weren’t a lot of digits on her screen.

“Two months. That’s how much we have enough for.” A bottle of Jack Daniel’s replaced her phone.

“Two. Friggin. Months.”

She took a swig from the bottle. The liquor ran out a month ago so it was actually water she drank. The effect was the same if she believed strongly enough. Wasn’t that how placebos worked?

“Three if we start skipping breakfast…oh, wait.”

It worried Imiry how Thea’s clothes were becoming baggier.

“I wish you paid rent.” Thea tried but struggled to put humour in her voice.

“Believe me, I really do too.”

The constraints of their friendship weighed on Imiry. Thea slumped against the chair, exhaling hard. She sat unmoving for a few moments before looking up.

“Yeah. I do need a walk.”

***

Thea and Imiry slowed to a stop, finding themselves at a secluded park. They sat on an old, dusty bench and listened. Even the crickets were quiet tonight. Imiry started one of her mindfulness breathing exercises. Thea noticed, following along. Their coordinated, rhythmic breaths diffused into the silence.

The lone lamp by the side of the compound flickered, struggling to stay alit. The bulb crackled for a couple more seconds before the fuse blew out with a faint click. The quarter moon shined a weak glow, casting the faintest of shadows. They sat in the dark with Thea wondering how it was possible the silence had grown louder. A gentle breeze tickled her hair. It faded quickly, carrying away any calmness she had felt. Her heart began racing, beating loud as a blacksmith hammering on an anvil in a newborns’ ward.

“I’m scared.” Her voice came out cracked and pitched.

Imiry pulled her close, feeling Thea tremble as she sobbed. The tears flowed, moistening her shoulder. Imiry felt her heart pound on her chest. Both of theirs were beating in perfect synchrony.

“It’s going to be okay.” She cooed, caressing Thea’s hair. “You’ll be okay.”

Her cries grew more uncontrollable. It was matched only by the growing, soothing warmth of Imiry’s embrace.

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