I could never say that I grew up like any other girl. I had two mothers, an unconventional father, and more siblingsthan most have in their age group.
But what we lacked in normality, we made up for with love. We always knew we were loved, from the moment wewere born through every day that followed, and so we naturally loved each other as well.
Of all of them, though, it was my twin sister, Astraea, that I loved most. I know I shouldn’t say that, but it was true.As infants, we shared a womb. As twins, we shared no less than a soul.
But it all went terribly wrong. I lost everything – everything that mattered. My soul was torn, my twin taken fromme.From everything.
“Why can’t I speak to her? Why won’t she talk to me?”“Some people just don’t come back. I’m sorry, Roxanna. I’m so, so sorry.”
I have always had the ability to see beyond death, to see those the rest cannot.They were my friends, my confidants. I could trust them to keep my secrets, my confidences, everything I ever heldprecious safe. There were days I spent more time with the dead than with the living.And yet, the one soul I wanted, the only one I truly needed, was not there for me.I didn’t want the gift anymore. Not if it couldn’t get Astraea back.
I lived in pain, no matter how they tried to draw me out. I did not smile. I did not cry.I simply existed.
I started hoarding money. When we took money for lunch, I pocketed my share rather than eating. I wasn’t hungryanyway. It wasn’t easy to lie to my siblings, but nonetheless, I did it.
Over time, that money became enough for me to leave on my own.It took me all of a week to make my decision.
I left a note. I’m sure it broke their hearts.
I went through every town with a cheap motel. Sometimes I’d stop for a day or a month, but I wasn’t ending up inany of those places. You can’t go unnoticed in small towns and the closest I could come to Astraea was beinginvisible.
So I kept moving until I got to the one place I could disappear.
I took a few days to settle in. No. That’s a lie. No one “settles in” to Sim City in a few days. A few lifetimesmaybe…I don’t know.
I guess it’s best to say that I stopped flitting about like a squirrel on a highway. I stopped looking up at thebuildings. I became a part of the faceless masses.In the city, you don’t see anybody and nobody sees you.
I changed my hair, letting it flow over my pointed ears. They were just one more thing that set me apart fromeveryone else, and unlike my skin and eyes, they were easy to hide.It felt strange at first, as though I was slowly losing bits and pieces of who I was just by changing my face. But,then again, losing your face is the first step to becoming invisible. ***
There aren’t any motels in Sim City. It’s all sky high hotels or run down dives – one too expensive, the other toodangerous.I spent my first day in the city at one of the parks, drinking cheap coffee and reading the classifieds. They had aboard up, where people could post ads and stuff. Most of it wasn’t useful: tutoring services, babysitting, dogwalkers, some lost pets. But there were a few rooms to rent, so I wrote down the locations and the phone numbersand headed out to look.
Most of them were busts. There were rooms the size of closets, rooms that were too expensive, rooms in terribleparts of the city, rooms without locks and with landlords I wouldn’t trust without some pepper spray close at hand –and a couple that had all of those problems and more.
Finally, as it was starting to get dark, I got to 34 King Street. This one had one benefit: the ad had specified femalerenters only.
I climbed up the stairs and knocked on the door. An older woman answered. “Um, hi,” I said. “I saw an ad to renta room? It said to ask for a Jean Greene.”“I’m Jean Greene. What’s your name?”“Roxanna. Doran.” I reached up to push my hair behind my ear, then thought better of doing so.
She looked me up and down. I had no idea of what she was thinking, but she nodded and told me to come in.
She took me on a brief tour of the main floor, pointing out the kitchen, the dining room, the living room, and thesmall half bath. It looked homey, lived in. Miss Greene (I learned quickly that she’d never married) kept up aconstant stream of chatter as she showed me around.When we were done with the main floor, we headed to the stairs. “Upstairs is my room and two of the others I rentout. There’s not much else up there to see. The room I have available is downstairs, along with three others.”“Are all of them occupied?”“Yes. This is the last room I have to rent out.”
The main room downstairs was set up as a workout space, with machines and a stereo. There was a door to thebackyard and four other doors – to the four bedrooms, I assumed. Miss Greene led me to the door on the left, whichshe unlocked and opened.The room was very plain, but also very nice. There was a bed, two end tables with lamps on them, a dresser, and asecond door, which I realized must lead to a private bathroom. It was clean, it was private, it was gorgeous.There was no way I could afford a place like this.
I turned back to Miss Greene. “How much is it?”She looked at me, pursing her lips. “$500 a month. Dinner is included, but you’re on your own for breakfast andlunch.”I’m sure I gaped at her.She shrugged. “I trust my gut, and it’s telling me that you will be a very good tenant, Roxanna Doran.”
I bit my lip. There was no way I could refuse that offer. “Well. Alright.”We shook hands and she gave me the keys to my new room. There were two keys on the ring and she answered myunspoken question. “This one is for the front door, so you can get into the house. The other is for the room itself.”I tucked the keys into my pocket. “Now,” she said, “won’t you join the rest of us for dinner?”I wasn’t all that hungry, but it couldn’t hurt to meet everyone else. “Okay.”
Dinner was a loud affair, and I let the conversation flow over me, a part of it but not truly involved.I did manage to learn everyone’s names, though. Miss Greene (Jean) I already knew, and the two women next toher – who both dressed similarly to her – were Helen Perkins and Theresa Rodgers (“call me Terri, dear, I am not aTheresa”). Next to Terri sat Shelly Murphy, then Kathy Richardson, while next to Helen was Lisa Rowe, then me.
And I guess that’s how I settled in. I spent every evening at the house, having dinner with my housemates –though Shelly, Kathy, and Lisa all missed dinner fairly often, for work or dates or various other things.
I also started working. Odd jobs, mostly, because I wasn’tqualified for much else. I thought about going back to school(and I’m sure Jean was the one leaving brochures aboutvarious colleges under my door) but I knew I didn’t want to.How could I, without Seren or Ma’or or – without them?I tended bar for a while, worked as a barista, bagged groceriesat the grocery store, sold magazines, even worked as a DJonce or twice. None of them were permanent jobs, of course.But they paid my rent and that was equally (maybe more)important. ***
About two months after I’d moved to Sim City, Kathy came home from work late one night.I guess everyone was sick of being alone, because we’d wordlessly migrated as a group to the living room afterdinner. Jean and Helen were playing chess, Helen with a look on her face as though she was wondering why she’deven accepted the challenge. As she was losing horribly, I can’t say I blamed her. Shelly was practicing piano, Terriwas on the violin, and Lisa was lounging on the couch simply listening. As for me? I was reading an email fromMa’or on the one computer in the house.Or, well, I was trying to, anyway. I’d been sitting and staring at my unread mail for half an hour (and it was stillunread) when the front door slammed open and Kathy came storming into the house.
Lisa moved over barely enough for Kathy to sink down on the couch, resting her head on the back. The rest of us allstopped what we were doing to look at her (I even turned my chair to get a better view), and Helen quickly sneakeda knight into a better position while Jean wasn’t looking.“What’s wrong?” Lisa asked, looking mildly disgruntled that her space had been taken over.“Taylor quit.”“Who’s Taylor?”“Bartender. I got stuck covering the end of his shift after he walked out in a huff.”Lisa grimaced. “That sucks.”
Kathy put her head in her hands. “And now I’m stuck on his shift tomorrow, which was supposed to be my day off.”“They haven’t hired someone new?” Shelly asked.Kathy shook her head. “In one day? Are you kidding me? I’m sure Walter’s looking, but this shit takes time. I justhope it’s not too long. I can deal with one day, but if I’m still working Taylor’s shifts next week, it is not going to bepretty, and I’m sure everyone else is gonna be just as unhappy.”
Suddenly she sat up straight and looked at me. “Roxanna!”“…What?”“You don’t have a job! Not a full-time one, anyway. And you’ve worked as a bartender, right?”“A couple of times…”“Great! You can come in with me tomorrow and interview with Walter for the position.”“Wait, what?”
“Londoste needs a bartender and you need a full-time job, and I know you’re qualified. That way we can get this allsettled and I won’t have to cover any more shifts than I already have.”I bit my lip. She had a point. “Okay. I’ll go in with you and interview, if it’s okay with your boss.”Kathy squealed. “Thank you so, so much! I’ll call him right now!” She practically skipped over to the phone to callher boss, while everyone else grinned and went back to what they’d been doing – Shelly and Terri returning to theirmusic, Lisa lounging over the whole couch once more, Jean picking up her pawn and then accusing Helen ofchanging the board while she wasn’t looking.
I smiled as I turned my chair back around and returned to my email, finally clicking on my unopened mail. ***
It turned out that Walter actually liked me, and I was actually a pretty good bartender (I’d picked up far more doingtemporary gigs than I’d realized), so I got hired the next day. It was nice having a regular job – something I’d neveractually had before – and working with Kathy as well. Our shifts didn’t always coincide, of course, but when theydid, we walked to and from work together.
As far as I could tell, getting me a job meant that Kathy felt like I was her responsibility, because she started invitingme to hang out with her and her friends.They were nice enough people, I suppose. I’ve never been the most talkative person, really – Seren always bargedinto social situations and dragged the rest of us along with her, so I hadn’t had to be. Still, it was good, and as Ispent more time with them, I started to learn their names and faces and they became, if not friends, at leastfamiliar.
I didn’t spend all of my time with them, of course. I need a certain amount of alone time in my life, and my roomwas nice enough that I didn’t mind spending time there, especially once I started using my wages to add a few moredecorations.
On one of my afternoons off, I was sitting in bed, reading a book. The house was quiet; Lisa was usually asleep atthis time of day, Kathy was running errands, Shelly was already at work getting ready for the night, and Jean, Helen,and Terri had gone out for coffee.I was fine with that. Quiet isn’t always a bad thing.
That’s when I realized that it wasn’t quite as quiet as I’d thought.“We have got to stop doing this, Lisa.”“Why?”“Because.”“Because why?”The voices were coming from the other side of my wall. Apparently they weren’t actually all that thick, somethingI’d never noticed before.
“Because you know as well as I do that we’re better off as friends.”“So?”“So what if you find the right person? Or what if I do? I don’t want to meet someone and try to date them while I’mstill sleeping with you.”
This was none of my business. I got up and left my room. There were chairs on the porch, a couch in the livingroom – plenty of places I could sit and read that weren’t eavesdropping on someone else’s private conversation.
As I locked my door, the door right next to me slammed open and a man came rushing out. He almost bowled meover without noticing me.He stopped short. “Oh. Hello.”Lisa’s voice came from her room. “Marcus? Who’s out there?”“It’s just me, Lisa,” I said. “I was, um…”
She came to stand in her doorway. “You heard, didn’t you?”“It’s none of my business, who you’re sleeping with.”The man – Marcus, I gathered – grimaced. “Have you been able to hear us, well, um…”I blushed and shook my head. “You get in from work so late, I must always be asleep.” This wasn’t a lie. Lisadidn’t leave the gas station until 3 in the morning, so even with my hours at Londoste – which sometimes ended at 1– I was almost always asleep by the time she (and apparently Marcus) got in.
Marcus looked at Lisa. “This is over.” Her face fell and he sighed. “Just the woohoo. Not – you’re my best friend,and you always will be, but I can’t woohoo if I think someone might be able to hear me.”“I, um, I…” I utterly failed at making an excuse; instead I clutched my book and rushed up the stairs.
About a half hour later, they came up the stairs. Lisa hugged Marcus and opened the front door. “I do love you, youknow,” she said.“I know. But you’ll love someone else too.”“Yeah.”“And Lisa? I love you too.”“Thanks.” Then she closed the door behind him and sat down next to me on the sofa.
I closed my book. “I’m sorry if I–”“No, don’t worry, it’s not your fault. It was probably time anyway, and he’s right. I’m not in love with him, he’s notin love with me, we’re never going to end up together…I will miss the woohoo, though.”I smiled at her. “Who wouldn’t? I get what you mean, anyway. Ziggy – my first boyfriend – he and I were nevergoing to end up together long term. I sometimes think we dated because everyone around us was dating andneither of us wanted to be alone. He was a good kisser, though.”She grinned back at me in a moment of shared understanding. ***
After that, I started spending time with Lisa and Marcus as well as Kathy and her friends.That moment of shared understanding with Lisa brought us together far quicker than living in the same house everhad. We spent time together in the early afternoons, on our days off – we even went out once in a while.
I never expected to have nearly as much fun dancing and drinking at The Hub as I did, but Lisa brought that out inme.
We ended up having dessert on the roof once we’d danced for a while. “Why do you always dress like that?” I askedas we looked over the menu. I’d been wondering for a while, since I’d realized that Lisa never seemed to wearanything but her pajamas, but I’d never gotten up the nerve to ask.“What do you mean?”“In pajamas. I get it when we’re at home, but don’t they mind at work?”She shrugged. “Not really. And working at a gas station, I get so dirty all the time. There’s no point in wearinganything nicer.”“Not even for going out?”“Not really.”
“You’re looking for a guy, aren’t you? No man is going to look twice at you in pajamas.” I must’ve been a littledrunk by that point. I’m not usually so blunt.“Marcus did.”“Marcus is messier than you are.”“Well what about you? Why don’t you wear makeup?”I smiled sadly. “I’m not looking for anyone.”
“No. It’s more than that.”I looked down. “Yeah. It’s not…it’s not something I want to talk about.”“Okay.”I looked up again. “Okay? That’s all?”She shrugged. “You don’t push me on who I’m dating, you didn’t ask questions about what was going on with meand Marcus, if you don’t want to talk about something it’s not something I’m going to push you on.”“Thanks.”
“Thanks for what?” Marcus asked, sliding into the booth across from me. He hailed one of the waiters and ordered acrepe.“Not pushing,” I said.“Ah, the dangers of pushing,” he said wisely. Or, well, fake-wisely. I giggled and Lisa cracked a smile. “So what arewe not pushing about today?”“Clothing. And makeup.”
He shuddered. “Makeup. One of those things I don’t get at all.”“That’s because you’re a guy.”“Don’t worry, it’s one of the things I liked about you,” Lisa said, patting him on the arm. “You like me as I am, evenif it’s not love. I never had to change for you.”I nodded slowly. “That’s why you wear the pajamas all the time.”She shrugged. “This is who I am. I wear pajamas, I don’t wear makeup. I’m a slob. If a man wants to make menot what I am, then why should I want him?”
“But what about a job? Don’t you want to do something else one day? It’s all well and good for dating, to beyourself, but they say you should dress for the job you want, not the job you have.”Lisa shook her head. “When I want to move up, I will.”Marcus grinned at the waiter who delivered his crepe, then looked back at me. “You can’t argue with comfort,Roxanna. We’re happy with what we do, and isn’t that more important than moving up?”
I moved my fork around, playing with the remains of my tart instead of eating it.Why, exactly, did I want Lisa to try and get a better job? I was…well, not happy. Content, I suppose. I was contentin my current job. I didn’t need anything better, so why should she? Why should Marcus?Or did it have more to do with dating? Was I trying to live vicariously through my closest friend?I had a lot to think about that night. ***
A week later, Lisa and Marcus and I went out again, this time to Rodney’s Hideout. We played pool, danced, drank –basically, we did anything and everything that we thought might be fun.
“I bet you can’t make that shot.”I smirked, just a bit. “I bet I can.” Lisa had gone to the bar to refill our drinks, so it was just me and Marcus at thepool table.“You’re going to have to bounce it twice.”“So?”“So I say you can’t do it.”“And what do I get if I can?”
I blushed as I realized what I’d just said. “Um, don’t mind me,” I said. “I think I’m a little drunk.”“If you’re that drunk, you won’t be able to make the shot.”“You’re still harping on that? Fine, then.” I leaned forward and eyed the balls, aimed carefully, and shot.
“Aha!”Marcus shook his head. “You’re better than I’d have thought.”“And how bad did you think I’d be?” I asked.“Not bad! Just not that good.”
I’m still not sure how I would have responded because a hesitant cough interrupted us. “So…Roxanna won, then?”Lisa asked.I jumped. “When did you get here?”“A couple minutes ago. You guys didn’t notice me.”I tilted my head at her, then looked back at the pool table. I quickly sunk the eight ball. “There. Now I’ve won.”Marcus shook his head. “If I were a less honest man, I’d be trying to get you to hustle someone else right now.”Lisa and I both laughed. “Our Roxanna?” she asked. “In your dreams, Marcus. In your dreams.”
I liked hanging out with Lisa and Marcus – they made me smile in ways I hadn’t in a long time, not sincebefore…well. Not since before. Marcus was especially good at making me laugh, with witty comments and amusingobservations. Being around him made me happier, and even though I felt guilty about being happy – how could I,after everything – I couldn’t stop myself from wanting it.
Marcus walked us home that night before he headed home himself. When we got back to the house, he huggedLisa, then smiled and waved at me.I smiled back as he left, then headed inside with Lisa. It was late – almost 2 in the morning – but I didn’t have to beat work until 4, and I knew Lisa wasn’t on until even later, so it wasn’t that big a deal. I collapsed on the couch andwaited for her to join me.She didn’t.“What’s wrong?” I asked.
She shook her head. “You like him.”“What?”“Marcus. You like him. And he likes you.”I sat up straight. “What are you talking about?”“You two were totally flirting.”“I wouldn’t do that to you.”
She finally sat down. “It’s okay. I’m not dating Marcus. I don’t mind if you do. I think you’d be good for eachother, actually.”“I’m not in love with him, Lisa.”“I wasn’t saying you were. Just that you were in like with him.”
Was I? I couldn’t be, could I? “I’m not ready for a relationship,” I said instead.Her gaze was more penetrating than I expected. “This has to do with whatever happened to you in the past, doesn’tit?” I didn’t respond, but my lack of an answer seemed to tell her enough. “I just thought you should be aware thatyou’re acting like you like him.”“I…thanks. For letting me know.”“No problem.”
We sat in silence for a while, which is probably why we even heard the voices.“Is there someone upstairs?” I asked, looking up.“There shouldn’t be, should there? Jean and Helen and Terri are, like, old,” she said. “They go to bed early andstuff.”We exchanged a glance, then got up and began to silently move up the stairs.
It was Jean and Helen and Terri, standing in the middle of the hallway. As I looked around, I realized suddenly thatI’d never actually been upstairs before, even though I’d been living here for a few months.
Helen’s eyes widened when she saw us. “Roxanna! Lisa! What are you doing?”Jean and Terri turned to face us as well. Terri hid something behind her back as she did so.Lisa and I glanced at each other, then back to the trio in the middle of the upstairs hallway. “We heard a noise,”Lisa said. “We thought it might be a burglar.”“We just got home from Rodney’s Hideout,” I added. “We didn’t expect any of you to be awake.”
All three of them looked guilty. Jean spun some sort of tale about talking until late in the night, but I didn’t believeit, and I’m sure Lisa didn’t either. People don’t stand and chat in the middle of a hallway when there’s couches andchairs to sit on. However, we weren’t given much chance to protest and were hurried down the stairs while Helenand Terri entered what I presumed were their bedrooms.I took a long time to fall asleep that night, tossing and turning as I thought over both my friendship with Marcus andwhat Jean, Helen, and Terri had been up to. ***
I didn’t have any days off at the same time as Marcus for awhile following that night.That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Instead of spending timewith him (or with him and Lisa together), I spent time with myhousemates.I practiced music with Shelly, worked out with Kathy, watchedTV with Lisa, and had a very confusing afternoon tea with Jean,Helen, and Terri.
“So are you planning on staying in Sim City, then?” Helen inquired as she poured my tea.“Well, I guess so?”“Good. That’s good,” Terri said. She smiled at me and I smiled hesitantly back.
“I’m glad you’re planning on staying, Roxanna,” Jean said. I turned to her. “I think Sim City could use more peoplelike you.”“More people like me?”“Yes. You’re a good person, and this city needs more good people.”“Um. Thanks?”“Of course.”
The conversation continued on that note (and believe me, I was even more confused half an hour later) until Jeanlooked at her watch. “I’ve got to go, I’m expecting a phone call.” She stood up.Helen and Terri exchanged a glance, then Helen yawned. “I think I’m going to take a nap.”“You know, a nap sounds like an excellent idea,” Terri agreed. “I think I’ll take one too.”
They left quite quickly, leaving me alone at the tea table. I sat, staring after them. What on earth were they up to?When I had finished my tea, I took the cups up to the kitchen to wash them.
“Is something weird going on with Jean and Helen and Terri?” Shelly asked. “I saw them rushing up the stairs.”I put the last cup in the dishwasher and turned to her. “Don’t ask me. Something is odd with those three. Lisa andI saw them when we got home a couple weeks ago. At two in the morning.”Shelly’s eyebrows rose. “They were awake?”“Weird, right?”“What were they doing?”I shrugged. “No clue. They sent us down and went to bed themselves, I think.”
Shelly looked more clearly at me then. “Want to go sunbathe? We can get Kathy and Lisa to join us?”“Sure,” I said. “In the backyard or on the porch?”She grimaced. “Porch. The backyard has grass and flies and stuff.”
Kathy and Lisa weren’t hard to convince, so the four of us spent the rest of the afternoon sunbathing, while Jean,Helen, and Terri did…whatever they were doing.I highly doubted it was phone calls or naps.
They seemed normal at dinner that night, anyway – and it was actually all seven of us, for the first time in a longtime, as Kathy, Shelly, Lisa, and I actually happened to have the same day off.Jean, Helen, and Terri didn’t mention what they’d been doing all afternoon, I didn’t mention my past, and I’m surethere were things Kathy, Shelly, and Lisa didn’t mention.Nonetheless, we had plenty to talk about, from a new show at the art museum to a very odd couple Kathy and I hadboth served at Londoste the night before to the new building going up on 11th Street.
After dinner, we all ended up in the living room again. I even took a turn on the piano while Shelly dragged Lisa intodancing.Other than the oddness of the elderly trio earlier, it had been a good day. ***
“Roxanna! Are you in there?” The banging on my door was loud and pretty frantic, so I got up from my bed(despite still being dressed in my bathrobe) and answered it.“Kathy? What’s wrong?”“I need a favor.”“What?”“Joseph O’Neal asked me on a date!”“…Who?”
“Joseph O’Neal! You know, the one everyone jokingly calls Mr. Big.”“Oh. Um. Right. Why are you telling me?”“Because he asked me to go out tonight and I’m supposed to work tonight!”“So tell him you need to go out another night.”She shook her head. “No, I don’t have off any weekend days this week. I can’t ask him to meet me on a weekday!Can you cover my shift today? I’ll take yours on Tuesday.”
How could I say no? “Of course. Um, what time are you supposed to be there.”She blushed. “Four?”“Kathy! You couldn’t have told me earlier?”“Sorry?”“Alright, I’ll be there, just…shoo. I need to get dressed, and I need to start now if I’m going to be at Londoste in anhour.”
She shooed and I got dressed. At least I can be quick when I have to.
Walter was not happy that Kathy had called him that day, especially as it was Friday, but he accepted that I wasthere to cover – and I had covered some of Kathy’s shifts a few weeks before, when she’d had the flu, so I knewwhat I was doing without more training.I covered Kathy’s shift (nothing went wrong, at least) and around a quarter to midnight got ready to walk home.
“Well…shoot.” King Street was blocked off between 10th Street and 9th Street for overnight construction. It must’vebeen set up while I was at work. “I hope the date was worth it, Kathy,” I muttered.There was nothing for it. I was going to have to take a detour.The only choices were left and right. I went right. At least it wasn’t a very long detour – though, still, it meantwalking two extra blocks, and the blocks downtown aren’t all that short.
About fifteen minutes later, I was approaching the next turn when I saw something very unusual. There was an oldhouse on the other side of Mendoza Lane. It looked completely unoccupied on the outside, but it couldn’t be, couldit?
Because, coming toward me from the house, was a young woman – not much older than I was – who was screaminglike the hounds of hell were chasing her. “HELP ME PLEASE!” she screamed. “ANYONE! PLEASE!”
She started banging on the gate, still calling for help.I looked around. The streets weren’t empty – not in this part of town, not on a Friday night – but no one elseseemed to be paying attention. I had heard of the bystander effect, but…it seemed a bit excessive.
Then, eight other people came out of the house (going through the walls, I noticed with one corner of my mind) andsurrounded the young woman.“Now, now,” said the eldest woman. “You know you can’t escape us, so why try?”“Yes, Rainelle,” the eldest mad said. “You belong to us. Just accept it. After all, it’s not like any of them can hearyou. Not when you’re already dead.”
I watched, silently, as the other ghosts pried her hands off the bars and started dragging her back toward the house.Her eyes met mine. Save me, they said.
I turned away and continued walking home.If I couldn’t have the one I wanted, then I wouldn’t have any ghosts. No matter what. ***