Yuri smiled as he walked out of his dorm to class. He was legitimately excited for the day. It occurred to him that he had felt this way for weeks now. It was so simple. Life was just… good.
He met up with Adriana before trig and they shared a bagel at the coffee house on campus. They watched the crowds and talked. Adriana complained about her sculpting class.
“I mean, my mom told me to be open, right? Shop around before I pick a major. Jeez, do you know we’re using human models? I can’t get past the guy’s belly button. Wish I could drop it….”
Yuri laughed and Adriana finished up the bagel. She usually ate most of it—Yuri didn’t really like bagels. But on their first day here—two weeks ago now, he realized—he had stammered something about the bagels, and that was all it took. It was tradition now. He didn’t really mind. He liked watching Adriana carefully cut the bagel in perfect halves, then slowly start picking at his half as they talked. She didn’t even seem to notice. He couldn’t mind it if he tried.
“Well I’m gonna be late,” Adriana was saying. “Not that I really care…. Maybe I should just come to trig with you.”
Yuri raised an eyebrow. “You think you hate sculpting…”
“Good point,” she laughed.
They hugged and Yuri felt his face get a little hot. She squeezed him a bit harder than usual.
“Hey, thanks for just… listening, you know?”
Yuri nodded. “Anytime, Adriana.”
She paused. “Really?” she said. He nodded again, but she looked serious. “I mean really. Can I just… talk to you about stuff? Like, whatever?”
“Of course.” Yuri wasn’t positive what she meant but he didn’t think she could throw anything at him that he couldn’t take.
She hugged him again and her face stayed close to his.
“Thanks,” she said quietly. “You’re a good friend, Yuri.”
It was like the whole room went dark. She beamed at him and walked away and he just stood there, watching her go. Like he always did. Maybe… maybe like he always would.
You’re a good friend, Yuri.
Well, great. His mom always said being a true friend was the best thing a person could ever be. And in Shanghai it was all he could ever even try for with girls. In Shanghai, everyone was just friends. Married, divorced, single, dating—everyone just acted like… friends. He never saw anyone hold hands, kiss, any of that stuff. In Shanghai there was no way to tell if a girl liked him anyway, so he’d never bothered thinking about anything more than just that. Friends.
He should be happy, he guessed. She really seemed to mean it. She really thought he was a good friend.
So why did that feel like a death sentence?
Yuri got a text as he walked to history that afternoon, his feet dragging a little.
Can’t make it today—sorry!
He sighed. He felt a little sick. He had been worrying for the last two hours about what “friend” meant, and now Adriana wasn’t coming to class. He couldn’t help feeling like she was suddenly avoiding him. It was stupid, he knew. Nothing had even happened. He needed to just relax.
Halfway through class he got another text.
Can you come over?
He felt his forehead crease as he stared in confusion. A minute later he got another one.
Kind of an emergency… how much Chinese do you know?
Yuri frowned. Not much. He got up and left without even noticing whether the professor paid any attention to his sudden departure. He made it to Adriana’s house in about fifteen minutes. Good thing he had given her rides home a couple times, because the place was hard to find. She lived in a little apartment behind someone’s house. The houses in the neighborhood were all clumped so close together, you could hardly even see that her apartment was there at all.
Yuri’s stomach sank when he walked up and saw Adriana on the front steps, her head in her hands. She didn’t even seem to notice him until he sat next to her. She looked up at him with tears streaming down her face.
She choked out a little sob and laid her head on his shoulder.
She answered between hiccups. “I ran home because I forgot m-my books and my neighbor was r-running around the front yard and h-he ran up to me and shoved this bottle of soy sauce at me.” She started mimicking, shaking her hand violently, the tears coming in full force. “I didn’t know what to do! I just kept saying ‘NO, NO,’ and he said something, I think in—in Chinese, like… shong she tung. Yuri, I didn’t know what to do and then—then he just ran around and he—he just… fell.”
Her head dropped to her hands again and her shoulders shook. Yuri patted her back gingerly, eyes wide.
“I called 911,” she said. “They took him on a stretcher… I don’t know what happened.” She paused and looked up at him with big, clear, blue eyes. “Am I a horrible person?”
Yuri raised his eyebrows and put an arm around her as she cried. “You don’t speak Chinese, Adriana. That’s not your fault. You called 911. Maybe you saved his life.”
“What if it was too late? What did he want?”
Yuri shrugged. “I don’t know. Shong tung?”
Adriana nodded, her lip quivering. They went inside and Yuri looked it up with the best phonetic spelling he could manage. And then he finally found what he thought it was.
“Jiàng xiětáng. Hypoglycemic,” he whispered. “I think he was having an attack.”
Adriana put a hand to her forehead and let out a little gasp, sitting down quickly on the loveseat.
“Oh, I think I killed him.”
Yuri spun around. “He’s going to be fine, Adriana. The first thing they probably did at the ER was put him on an IV.”
“I could have helped him. He probably just wanted me to open the stupid bottle. Why couldn’t I have just done that?”
She lay down, looking like the star of a tragic movie. Yuri smiled a little.
“Adriana…” he said. “Really. I think it’s going to be fine.”
She looked at him and her mouth dropped open. “Are you smiling, Yuri Gartner? I might have just killed a man!”
He really couldn’t hide it. He sat next to her on the couch. “Has anyone ever told you you’re maybe a little… dramatic sometimes?”
She opened her mouth to say something, then paused, then shut it. She looked at him for a minute and he couldn’t read her expression.
“Yes,” she said sharply. She paused. “But I don’t want you to say it.” She frowned at him, but then she patted his leg. “I prefer, maybe… enthusiastic.”
He grinned. “You’re definitely that.”
“So… you really think he’s going to be okay?”
“Yeah,” Yuri said. “Really. Mr. Butler told me about this before. Hypoglycemia looks scary but all you have to do is get some carbohydrates in them and they’ll be fine.”
Adriana watched him thoughtfully. “That Mr. Butler,” she said. “You talk about him a lot. He knows everything, huh?”
Yuri sat back in the loveseat. “You could say it’s sort of… it’s his job to know everything.”
“What, so no one else has to?”
Yuri balked. “No! I don’t know, Adriana. It’s just… things are kind of different over there. It’s what he does. He’s always done it.”
She looked like she was about to say something, but then she stopped and just looked at him.
“You’re probably right,” she sighed. “Obviously I don’t get it. I mean seriously… soy sauce?”
Yuri laughed a little again. This girl was tiring him out. She was sighing again.
“I don’t know how you know all this stuff, Yuri. Sometimes I sit there in biology and feel like I don’t know anything. And it’s my major.” She paused. “Technically.”
Yuri grinned. “I just got lucky this time.”
“Yeah,” she said, a bit defiantly. “I bet everything else you know is Chinese voodoo, anyway.”
She gave him a nudge on the arm, but her face looked serious. She looked out the window.
“Well… maybe I should go to my next class, huh? Wanna give me a ride?” She grinned sideways at him.
Yuri realized something for the first time. He could tell that her smile was fake.
At Walgreens after school, Adriana was back to her normal self, jumping around the aisles and setting up displays like the energizer bunny or something. Carl, the store’s manager, seemed to think Adriana was the world’s hardest worker. Sometimes Yuri would watch her hop around the store and it occurred to him pretty quickly that she just had a lot of energy. She simply couldn’t sit still. Sometimes he had to look away—almost like catching his breath. She was just… exhausting.
But he was finding more and more that he couldn’t stay away from her for long.
He was manning the cash register, but the store was pretty empty. Adriana was restocking nail polish by the door.
A middle-aged man came in with a ripped neon yellow baseball cap. He was dirty and held a dog leash with nothing attached to it. The leash dragged limply on the ground behind him as he wandered up and down the aisles. Yuri watched him out of the corner of his eye as he wandered up to Adriana. He stood by her in silence for a minute, watching her restock. She didn’t even seem to notice him.
“Where’s my mommy?” he said abruptly.
Adriana jumped and almost dropped her box of nail polish. She tensed for a moment, but then her shoulders seemed to slump a little. She just stood there as the man grew agitated.
“Can you hold my hand and walk me through the store? I need to find my mommy!”
He reached for her hand and she raised her eyebrows at him. He dropped her hand. Then he dropped to the floor. Adriana looked over at Yuri and gave him kind of an exasperated look.
The man started whimpering. Then crying. Then throwing an all-out fit. Yuri looked around for Carl, or the police, or anyone. He started panicking as he saw that they were the only people in the store. The man was yelling something indistinguishable and pounding the floor with his fists. The apartments next door were going to hear him.
Adriana took a step back, looking largely unruffled. Yuri ran over, almost knocking over a display, and gingerly reached out a hand. He looked at Adriana, who nodded him on, and tapped the man’s neon head.
The man stopped. He looked up at Yuri and stared at him with wide eyes. Yuri didn’t know what to do. His hand was still stretched out awkwardly, mere inches from the top of the man’s head.
The man suddenly smiled. He was missing a few brown teeth. He stood up.
“You probably never had anyone do this, right?” he said.
He tipped his hat at them and walked out of the store, whistling. Just like that.
Yuri stared after him. After a minute he felt a hand pushing up on his chin.
“Your mouth’s hanging open,” Adriana giggled.
He looked at her and back at the figure of the man walking across the street.
“What the hell?”
Adriana shrugged. “You never know,” she said simply. She paused, considering him. “Maybe you should sit down.”
After their shifts, Yuri and Adriana got slurpees and sat in the break room. Yuri was still recovering. He felt stupid. Adriana had just stood there like nothing was happening, and here he was practically having an aneurism.
“I’d say we’re pretty much even, then,” Adriana said, smiling triumphantly at him. A real smile this time.
“What do you mean?”
“Well I freaked out about soy sauce guy. Now we’re even.”
Yuri kind of laughed. “Yeah,” he said. “I’m gonna argue that this was freakier.”
“I don’t think so,” Adriana said. “I was thinking more like… par for the course.”
“That’s happened to you before?”
She shrugged. “Stuff like it. You see all kinds around here. I saw an Asian couple breaking up one time. They were screaming at each other, I think in Vietnamese or something. And the guy kept trying to walk away, and every time he did she would chase him down and grab onto his backpack, practically tackle him. I think they were making out when I finally got off my shift. And I’ve had homeless guys trying to take my hair”—
“That’s it. It’s your crazy hair. It’s like some kind of signal.”
She laughed and punched his arm. “My hair is not crazy!”
Yuri smiled. He felt warm all of a sudden. “I didn’t mean that. I like it.” He paused. “It’s pretty.”
She raised an eyebrow at him. “You know I am a natural blonde.” She bit her lip, smiling a little. “Maybe not… this blonde…” she looked away, slurping loudly, and then peeked back at him with a little sideways smile.
“That’s okay,” he said. “I’m not a natural black, either.”
She laughed and pulled at his hair a little. “You kind of look Chinese,” she said. “You know that?”
“My mom’s Chinese.”
“Ha, got you!”
“So you’re not really Chinese.”
“And you’re not really blonde.”
She laughed. “We are quite a pair,” she said. She smiled at him and for a moment Yuri just looked at her, watching the way her face moved from expression to expression. She had these big blue eyes that looked brighter in the fluorescent lights of the break room.
“You know,” she said at the same moment that Yuri said, “So…”
She laughed breathlessly. “Go ahead,” she said.
“No, you,” Yuri said at the same time.
They looked at each other, laughing awkwardly. Yuri wondered if he was sweating obviously. He paused and she went ahead.
“I just was going to say… you’re pretty cute, you know. For a fake Chinese guy.”
She avoided eye contact and was running a finger up and down her straw, sipping again. It was quiet for a minute.
“Well, what were you gonna say?” she fumbled out quickly.
Yuri stopped, drinking his slurpee and feeling his heart beat way too fast. He took a deep, nervous breath.
“Oh, I was just… umm. I was gonna see if you needed a ride home.”
The silence in the room pressed on them like packed snow. His stomach was doing flip flops. Idiot. He was such an idiot.
Adriana’s face went red. She stood up immediately.
“That’s fine,” she said. “I drove. I’m good. I’ll, uh, I’ll see you tomorrow.”
She turned on her heel and was gone. Yuri dropped his head to the table and hit his forehead against the wood.