Chapter 18 – Yuri was relieved when the voice came over the intercom announcing they were almost to LAX.

Yuri was relieved when the voice came over the intercom announcing they were almost to LAX. He watched anxiously out the window. Twelve hours of floating midair across the Pacific, and now he was about to live the same day all over again. It was a strange feeling, like being transported in a time capsule. He always felt like he was hovering above time when he went back and forth between time zones like this.

He wondered again what it was going to be like, to feel like. Below, he could see circles and squares of green. So much green. He couldn’t wait to smell the fresh air. He sighed and pulled an object out of his pocket.

He had waited to open it until just an hour or so ago. Rainbows had made it seem so special, he wanted to really appreciate it. But then when he opened it, he found himself just… confused. He shook his head.

A jade necklace. Her jade necklace. She wore it everywhere—he felt stupid that he hadn’t noticed it missing from her neck at the party. She used to say it was good luck. It helped ward off evil spirits. Yuri wasn’t sure what he thought about that kind of thing, but he knew it was important to her. He cringed at the thought of wearing the thing around his neck, though. But he couldn’t just shrug away this gift. He wasn’t sure why, but he knew it meant a lot. He had known since the end of the party last night, when he had given her an awkward kiss on the cheek and she had blinked rapidly, covering a smile. He didn’t know for sure what it meant, but… it certainly meant something. He stuffed the necklace back in his pocket, deciding he could still keep it with him without having to wear it.

Yuri felt dazed when he stepped out of the airplane. The air was warm and smelled like trees—he had never noticed that before. LA was big, sure, but he realized it was nothing like Shanghai. There were palm trees everywhere, it seemed. People walked around with deep tans and tank tops. It looked like everyone was blonde. He touched his own dark hair and suddenly felt like an outsider.

Their first stop was his grandparents’ house where they had decided to retire in sunny southern California. The two seemed overjoyed to have them all back. They sat in the backyard and ate green bean casserole and meatloaf. It was food Yuri hadn’t seen in years, though he’d had mouth watering dreams every so often. He ate in silence, taking in the sounds, the smells. The backyard was lined in flowers, and they even had a swimming pool—something he never saw once in Shanghai. Everything was so familiar and yet so… unreal.

Yuri felt like he was in a dream. But he didn’t wake up. Days went by, and weeks, until he felt that this was his life now. Everything seemed to move a little slower, and the light was always off somehow. He got up, got dressed, double checked to make sure Rainbows’ necklace was in his pocket, and did whatever was on the agenda for that day. He enrolled at UCLA, bought his books, toured the city, signed up for a dorm room, even got a job at the local Walgreens. He did everything he was supposed to, he guessed. He just didn’t really feel much of it. He just did as he was told. But his parents didn’t seem too worried about him. He kept hearing quiet conversations between the two of them about “adjusting” and “getting used to things.”

On the first day of school, Yuri went to class obediently. He sat quietly through trigonometry and biology. Lunch was spent in the library, walking slowly down rows of books and pulling out the ones that sounded interesting. He figured his parents would be excited if they saw him taking an interest in something. He left with 15 minutes until class and about half a dozen books in his backpack.

He got to history early and sat on the end of the fourth row in a big classroom. It was what a good student would do, and he figured if he was creating an identity in America, he might as well start with that. He arranged his paper and pencils, then got out Gulliver’s Travels and started reading, hardly noticing the words on the page. He realized after a few minutes that he had no idea what he had read.

People around him had started snickering. Then cheering. He closed his book and looked around. Then he saw it.

A pretty girl with short, bright blonde hair was walking up the aisle. She had a jacket tied around her waist and—Yuri tried not to laugh—a shiny purple bra dangling out the side.

The girl was about to pass him, her cheeks pink and her gaze shifting.

“Uh—hey,” Yuri said, touching her arm. “You, uh, wanna sit by me?”

She stopped and looked at him suspiciously. He scooted over and tried to look as innocent as possible. After it seemed she decided he wasn’t too big of a threat, she shrugged and sat. Yuri couldn’t help but look down at the bra. She looked down too and her face went red.

Then she suddenly looked mad. She rolled her eyes, grabbed the bra, and stood up.

“What are you looking at?” she said to the cheering students. “You never seen a bra before?”

She sat down in a huff and shoved the bra in her backpack. The class quieted down to awkward snickers.

Yuri spent the entire class in a shock. He kept looking at the girl out of the corner of his eye. Her eyes were fixed straight ahead. But about halfway through class she slid a piece of paper to him.

I was in a hurry and I pulled the jacket out of the dryer. I didn’t know the bra was all tangled up inside!

Thanks for saving me.

Yuri’s face felt hot. He smiled at her, but she acted like she didn’t see him. He suddenly didn’t know how to act. He felt… awkward.

But he also felt awake, for the first time since he left Shanghai. He smiled. He wanted to thank her, but he was sure she wouldn’t understand. He spent the rest of class deciding how he was going to talk to her when it was over, and what he would say—and wouldn’t say—and how he could impress her, even. It felt silly, but it was exhilarating at the same time.

But he never got a chance. As soon as the teacher stopped talking, the girl stood up, said, “See you later,” and was gone. Just like that.

Yuri went to his last class on pins and needles. He kept expecting to see her. He started coming up with funny things to say when he did. Or ways to get her to stay and talk for a little while. It was like trapping a shy animal or something.

He felt like an idiot. He didn’t even know her name.

~*~*~*~

Yuri still felt odd when he walked into Walgreens after his last class of the day. He figured he should have been nervous on his first day of work, but the day had worn him out. And tomorrow would be all new classes. More new faces, more unfamiliar classrooms and voices and sounds and smells. Looking around campus, it seemed like everyone had already made friends somehow. And he just felt out of place.

Yuri stopped in his tracks as he walked toward the manager’s office. A tall, thin girl with short blonde hair was up on a step ladder, one foot popped behind her and her tongue sticking out the side of her mouth. She was setting up a big “SALE” display of back to school stuff. Yuri shifted from foot to foot, thinking he’d better say hi but not seeing an opportunity.

She was so intense. It was like the rest of the world didn’t exist. She had an armful of sharpies and was arranging them into a heart shape. When she finished that, she jumped off the ladder and grabbed scissors out of the box at her feet. She didn’t even look up.

The awkward feeling came back. Yuri tried to shrug it off—it wasn’t helping—but it was hard to ignore. He made his way to the manager’s office and was given a vest and some forms to fill out. He tried not to watch her out of the corner of his eye, but that hair—so blonde it was almost white—made her like a target. He spent most of his shift just trying not to look creepy.

By the end of his shift the girl still hadn’t even seen him. She spent the entire time running around the store, rearranging things and decorating and moving things all over the place. Yuri couldn’t believe she wasn’t getting tired.

It wasn’t until Yuri was clocking out that she finally seemed to notice him. She came over from her display and punched him lightly on the arm.

“Oh hey, you’re that guy from history!”

Yuri smiled awkwardly. “Yeah,” he said.

“I didn’t know you were working here.”

“Just started today.”

“Hmm. Carl didn’t tell me you were starting today. Well between you and me,” she looked around, leaned in, and put a hand to the side of her mouth. “You’ll hate it here.”

Yuri paused, realizing stupidly that his mouth was hanging open. She watched him for a second, then her mouth turned up in a mischievous smile.

“Oh just kidding,” she said, punching his arm again. “I’m Adriana.”

He paused, then shook her hand. “Yuri.”

She seemed taken aback by the gesture. Her hand was limp as a fish. Yuri dropped her hand quickly, feeling sheepish.

She raised her eyebrows. “Yuri? Are you… Russian?”

He laughed. “No, I’m nothing exciting. I think my parents were going through a phase or something.”

She grinned and nodded. Then she quickly punched numbers into the machine to clock out. “Well, cool, Yuri. I’ll see you around then. And uh, thanks again for saving me earlier.”

Before he could say anything she was gone. He stood there dumbly, watching her blonde head bob out the glass doors. She got into an old red Geo and drove off. Just like that. Again.

Yuri didn’t get it. He just didn’t understand. She was like a deer or something. He would spot her for a minute and then she would disappear.

The whole way home Yuri found himself wondering about Adriana. Where did she live? What did she do in her spare time? Did she ever stay in one place? Is this what she was always like?

He realized too late that he didn’t know where he was anymore. He instantly regretted waiting to get a cell phone. It took him an hour to finally find the dorms and by the time he got in, his roommate was gone—probably for the night.

Yuri had only met his roommate, Jeremy, once. The guy had a girlfriend who was a sophomore, and he warned Yuri that he probably wouldn’t be there very much. It was when Jeremy mentioned the sock on the door rule that Yuri thanked his lucky stars his parents only lived 20 minutes away. He decided to keep a suitcase packed under his bed just in case.

Yuri did his homework, called home, and finished unpacking. He looked around his dorm, feeling a little lost, and finally just went to bed. He lay there looking out the window for at least an hour. He could actually see some stars, which was a pretty big change from Shanghai. He tried to map constellations, but all he could find was the big dipper. He sighed. This new life of his felt just like trying to chart constellations in a cloudy night sky. He knew what he was looking for, but he had no idea where to find it.

He pulled Rainbows’ jade necklace out of his pocket, wishing he could call her. He checked the clock on the table. 10 p.m. It was 1 p.m. in Shanghai. She would be at school.

Yuri thought about staying up for a few hours so he could talk to her. But he found himself starting to drift off. He sighed and pulled the covers over himself. He kept the blinds open, letting himself fall asleep to the stars. He finally drifted off, the necklace clenched in his hand.

His dreams were full of Shanghai and plastic constellations.

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