The mirror held a stranger seemed at the same time so familiar and yet so absolutely alien to the woman standing in front of it. She moved her hand in front of the mirror and the stranger matched the movement exactly. She turned her head and so did the person in the mirror. She stared into the depths of that person’s eyes trying to recognize it as she knew it was familiar to her, but the figure stared right back into her, leaving her feeling unnerved at the entire exchange.
She had no idea how long she had been staring into the mirror, but eventually her senses pulled back from her focus on that and looked around to process the rest of the room that she was in. It was a small bathroom, and she was standing over the sink. The shower was running, but she was fully dressed. The water was cold, and it seemed odd to her that she hadn’t noticed the sound of the water running now that she was aware of it.
Another moment passed and she heard a pounding coming from outside the room. Another moment and she recognized a voice coming from outside, starting to sound more than a little worried. She stepped over and opened the door. It took her two tries because it was locked and she had to figure who to open it for an awkward moment.
As soon as the door cracked open, someone on the other side tugged the door open as fast as could be. A short woman with rainbow hair stared into the bathroom with a look somewhere between anger and worry. “Is everything okay, Rebecca?”
“Rebecca.” The woman in the bathroom said, repeating it as if was some strange new word that she had never heard before. The name felt familiar as if was supposed to belong to her, and in truth memories bubbled up into her mind of that name, but at the same time it felt wrong, like that name and those memories belonged to someone else.
“You do not look good, and I think that you’ve been there all morning. Is everything okay with you?
“The person who was probably Rebecca stared dully and the rainbow-haired woman. Memories swirled around again of her, even if they did seem out of place. She was a friend. And a roommate. “Josey.”
The woman the rainbow hair frowned at the name. “Okay there has to be something wrong with you. You haven’t called me anything but Josephine in almost two years. What’s happened to you?”
Rebecca frowned ever so slightly. It felt as if someone had swaddled her mind in linens. Just focusing on the question was a challenge in itself, and a moment that seemed to linger forever, she simply shook her head with a shrug, not knowing what else to say.
“Okay, you’re scaring me,” Josephine said with that worried look of hers. She gently took Rebecca by the hand and pulled her gently out of the room. “Let’s have a sit and try to figure out what’s going on, okay?”
Rebecca yielded to her friend and allowed herself to be led to their living room. Josephine sat her down onto their couch, then walked back into the hallway. A moment later, the shower shut off and more footsteps were heard. But in the meantime, Rebecca found herself fixated with staring out through the window. She could tell that it was a bright blue morning, but the view that she had memories of seemed to be so different. The sky seemed to be flat and two-dimensional like some sort of a pseudo-realistic cartoon. And it all felt pressed in and closer to her than it should be. “What’s wrong?” Rebecca asked once Josephine had returned and sat down beside her.
“That’s what we’re trying to figure out, dearie.”
Rebecca shook her head, pointing towards the window. “No, outside.”
Josephine frowned, then stood back up and walked over to the window. She looked around, even leaned in close to see if anything was amiss just below. When she found nothing that looked out of the ordinary, she shook her head. “You’re going to have to tell me what it is that you’re seeing, because I don’t see it.”
“It’s wrong out there!” Rebecca replied, her voice getting louder.
Josephine walked back over and sat down besides Rebecca, gently putting a hand on her shoulder. “I’m not trying to call you a liar. I believe that you’re seeing something, but I’m going to need you to tell me what it is that you see.”
“It isn’t right. There’s something wrong with it.”
“It doesn’t look real. Like some kind of a cartoon. You can’t see it?”
Okay, no I don’t see it. But that doesn’t make anything that you are seeing less true right now. Vision is subjective to everyone, you know?”
Rebecca didn’t respond, just kept staring out the window.
“Hey,” Josephine said, giving a quick poke to draw Rebecca’s attention to her. “Let’s try a different approach right now, shall we? Do you know who you are?”
“Rebecca, she replied slowly, without much confidence.
“Now, do you know that because I already called it you and you’re just repeating me, or do you know your name?
“Both,” she said after a long hesitation.
“That isn’t a very helpful response, dearie.”’
“Rebecca is familiar. But it also doesn’t really feel like it’s right.” She replied, focusing hard on the question.
“Can you explain that to me a little better?”
I remember being Rebecca. School, job, you. But it doesn’t really feel like me. I don’t know if I’m her. Or if I’m anybody.”
“Okay, I know that you have never really been the type to do any kinds of drugs stronger than a cup of caffeine and a handful of aspirin, but have you been experimenting on anything new lately in your bedroom? Or did you go out for some friends, maybe wind up with something in your drink that shouldn’t have been in there?
“No, of course not,” Rebecca replied without hesitation. Then she continued after a short pause. “Am I real?”
“Of course you’re real. It doesn’t get a any more real than flesh and blood.”
“Then what’s wrong with me?”
“Oh, that is way about my pay grade. I will be more than happy to help you figure it out, but that isn’t something that I can tell you. I barely understand what is going on right now, but we can try to work this out, together.
“Nothing feels right in here.”
Josephine frowned, hesitating before she responded. “You know, this seems like the kind of thing that we should get a medical opinion on, you know?
Rebecca shook her head stubbornly. “Don’t like doctors.”
“I know that. But something has clearly happened to you, and if we don’t know what it is, then it could be something that will get worse if we do nothing about it. Will you promise me to reconsider that if things don’t get better.? I don’t want to see anything bad happen to you.”
“If things get worse, then maybe.” Rebecca replied.
Rebecca sat in the class doing her best to focus in on the professor giving a lecture over something about nutrition. It was near the end of the lecture, and the page of Rebecca’s notes were still absolutely pristine. She had tried her best at the start of the class, but when she had tried to start, her right arm had immediately felt like it had swollen up like a ham, and she was halfway afraid that if she tried to move her arm to write anything down, she was going to accidentally hit her neighbor sitting beside her. After that, she had stared blankly at the professor. The words and the text of the slide came near her, but her head still felt so stuffed up that nothing could actually make it through. After that, her mind had started to wander and focus on what felt like the unreality around her. She had thought that the screen had been foggy as soon it had been on, making the words hard to even read, but after about an hour of nobody else complaining about it, she had started to accept that it was most likely another thing in her head.
After a while of that, she had began to give up on trying to listen in on the lecture, and her attention had began to drift across the room. Most of the people in the class were in the same program, so she had been in varying classes with most of them, but she had always been the kind of person more driven on succeeding in school instead of making friends. She was on first name basis with some of them, but no one there she would call a friend except in the most casual sense.
When her attention drifted to the right side of the room, there was a quick moment where one of the other students turned her head and gave a quick wink to Rebecca before turning her attention back to the lecture. Rebecca froze at the action, unsure in her present state if she had seen that happen in reality or not. So, whether out of curiosity or, well, generally being too numb to move on with her gaze, it remained there as she tried to decide if it had really happened or not. The woman was cute though, and Rebecca wasn’t too far gone to notice that particular detail. As the class was coming to an end, the woman turned back around and stared Rebecca in the eye for longer, then stuck out her tongue playfully before returning to face forward.
As class finished, and the students left as quickly as they could, Rebecca stayed in her seat, trying to process things with a brain that had gone on holiday. She started to wonder if she had started to hallucinate at this point, or if the things that she had seen the woman do had actually happened or not. Which was not an easy thing to do when she could barely tell the difference between real and unreal. Finally, she gave up on reaching any semblance of an answer sitting in an empty classroom and gathered her things and walked out into the classroom.
“Finally!” Rebecca heard someone explain almost as soon as she had stepped out into the hallway. She turned to look, and found herself face to face with the very same woman that she had spent much of the class staring at. And then froze in place, having no idea what to do. Somewhere in her brain, she felt like she was supposed to be embarrassed, but that message didn’t seem to make it through to her body.
“Well, what do you have to say to explain yourself?” the woman asked, walking up closer to Rebecca and putting her hands on her hips.
Rebecca’s brain was in no position to ha handle a question like that, so she just stared at the woman and said the first thing that came to mind. “Hi?”
The woman laughed, simple answer catching her off guard. “I suppose that is acceptable! I don’t suppose that we’ve met yet, but you’re Rebecca, right?”
“So they say,” Rebecca replied, then frowned. It seemed that there was an expectation of knowing her name, but she had no idea what it was. “umm, how do you know me?”
The woman gestured back towards the classroom. You just spent an afternoon staring at me. I think you ought to be able to figure out where we should know each other form.”
“I don’t know your name.” Rebecca replied, racking her brain. The semester was almost ever. Even if this was their first class together, then surely the professor had used it before. But her mind refused to cooperate, and she had no idea.
“Oh, fun!” The woman said, clapping her hands excitedly. “I tell you what. Buy me dinner and I will tell you my name.
“Why would I do that?” Rebecca asked, frowning with confusion.
“Because I’m certain that nobody would ever stare at a girl for as long as were at me unless they want to buy her dinner.”
“I mean, I wasn’t staring at you that long.” Rebecca said, hoping to not sound like she was being creepy towards this woman.
“Look, if it makes a difference, I’ll buy dinner for you. Does that help?
“Why would you buy me dinner?
“I already told you why.”
“Umm, okay?” Rebecca said, beyond confused. At this point, he was rather lost in the conversation.
“That counts!” the strange woman said excitedly as she took Rebecca by the hand and led her through the hallway. Her grip was loose, and she could have let go with no effort, but the moment she just found it easier to go by the flow for the moment. After it was clear that Rebecca was staying with her, the woman stopped them for a moment. “It’s Helena, by the way.”
Dinner had become friendship had become study buddies. And now Rebecca found herself in Helena’s very empty of roommates apartment with Helena to celebrate the end of the class. Rebecca’s issues had not particularly let up throughout the previous few weeks, but she had discovered that she was better able to focus whenever she was around Helena. The symptoms had never particularly let up, but her best guess that she just tried harder to appear normal around her.
“So how do you usually celebrate the end of a semester?” Helena asked when they were both seated on the couch.
Rebecca frowned, realizing that the answer to that would sound embarrassing, “I usually don’t I usually just start clearing out everything from the last semester and prepping for the next one.”
“Oh, that is just sad! No cutting loose? No getting a little crazy? No unplanned trips to Florida where you get halfway there before you realize that you’re so broke from school that at this point you can barely afford to get back home. And then you have to live off of ramen and saltine crackers until the next semester’s funds kick in?”
“Well, that hardly sounds any better than any of what I do. I may be boring, but at least I don’t have to lived off of ramen and suffer through a ten hour drive with nothing at the end of it.
“Hey! There were saltines too. And, well, depending on the person that you’re riding with, it can be a hell of a good time.”
Rebecca looked nervously up into Helena’s eyes. “I suppose that a road trip with you might be fun with you, even if we don’t go away.”
Helena froze for a moment, then gave a encouraging smile. “And why is that, if I dare to ask?”
“You, you make me laugh. I… don’t really laugh when I’m not around you.”
“Well, that’s a start. Are there any other reasons?”
Rebecca frowned, then just shook her head. “Helena, I don’t really know who I am. Or much of anything, really.”
Helena just shrugged her shoulders, not really getting the point of it. “It’s college. Nobody really knows who the hell they are here.”
“No – I’m not entirely sure if I’m anyone at all.”
“I can tell without a doubt that you are someone, Rebecca. A very wonderful person, in fact.”
“I don’t know. I just – whenever I’m around you, I feel like I’m someone. And if you’re not around, I don’t feel like that anymore.
“So, who do you think that you are when you’re near me, then?”
Rebecca dropped her eyes to the floor, practically mumbling the next words. “Someone who is whole around you. Someone who wants a relationship with you.
Helena laughed, then leaned in and hugged Rebecca. “Well, duh! We’ve been doing that since we met. Longer, than that, really. It’s not like that was the first day that you had been sneaking glances my way.”
“I’ve never really been sure if that feeling was real or not, to be honest.”
Well, of course it was. You and I had been watching each other from the start. Because, well, sometimes gaydar is real.”
“Wait, I thought you’d just caught me staring at you. What do you mean watching from the start?”
“Oh, I never mentioned that? I thought I did.”
“I mean, you might have. It’s hard to keep track of things sometimes.” Rebecca replied with a shrug to acknowledge her limitations.
“Well, it turns out that if I sat in that exact seat and put my laptop in the same spot every time, then I could see you in my screen reflecting off of the window.
“So you caught me looking at you because…”
“I was looking at you first. And that day, you seemed so lost that I just had to check up on you. And then one that led to another, and here we are.”
“What if I’m not here for you?” Rebecca asked, unsure.
“We’re not talking about a lifetime commitment here. We both obviously like each other and are interested in dating, so what’s to stop us? I don’t expect you to be free of baggage. Hell, it’s not like I don’t have any baggage myself. But I like you as you are and not as some hypothetical version that you may or may not become at some point down the road. And if it doesn’t work out, well, that’s just life for you. It doesn’t mean that it wasn’t worth trying.” Helena said, finishing with a nonchalant shrug.
Rebecca stared blankly at Helena for a moment, then nodded. “I’ve been absolutely terrible at doing anything other than existing for a while now. And I’m honestly not all that sure that I’m even doing that. But you are the realest thing that I have ever met, and of course I want to be with you.
“Wonderful!” Helena said with an excited laugh.
“Sometimes I’m not really sure why it is that you would ever want to be with me.” Rebecca said one night when she was too tired for her inner filter to stop herself. Plus, they’d shared a bottle of wine that night, and while she wasn’t drunk, it certainly wasn’t helping her at the moment. They were cuddling on THEIR couch, watching some cheesy movie.
Helena pulled her arm more tightly against Rebecca, then softly kissed her on the temple. “There’s nothing wrong with you feeling that way, my wonderful little dove, but at the same time, it does hurt me a little bit to hear you say that.”
“I mean, it’s not like I think that that all of the time. But I look at you, and I see a beauty with the figure of a Greek goddess, who is brilliant, kicks ass at everything that she does, and, well, if there’s something that you want, then you get it done. It’s like the universe itself bows to your desires. And me, I’m plain at best, I struggle to get “C’s”, and days when I manage to get myself out of bed before noon are rare.”
“Most of those things aren’t the exact truth, and I think that you know that, on some level. I have my lumps and imperfections. I know that I’m very good at schoolwork, but I still work very hard for everything that I do. And saying that the universe bends away from me, I think would be taking away all that I do to succeed. And you, you’re far more than plain, even when you’re at your worst and you have been too miserable to shower for three days straight. And everything else – you’re far better at things than you give yourself credit for.”
“You’re way outta my league, Helena.”
Helena shook her head. “What the hell is a league anyway? There’s no dating castes, just people who want to find love, or at least companionship. I’m with you because you’re a wonderful person, beautiful person who makes me wonderfully happy to see everyday.”
“You basically started dating the only other lesbian in your class.”
“Oh, that’s not even true, sweetie. I’ve been in classes with at least a dozen women in the potential dating pool. And another three or four ones that I suspect were but was never sure about it. I’ve been on dates, but I was never really interested in dating anyone. And certainly nobody that I would have wanted to go Uhauling with so quickly.