Rainbows smiled, careful not to show her teeth. It was silly, she guessed, because she was completely alone. But old habits die hard.
She was walking up to campus, feeling the lightest breeze tickle her neck. She had her hair up in a traditional Chinese bun. She had gotten up early this morning to spend a little extra time ironing her clothes, fixing her hair, even putting on some lip gloss.
She wore a yellow sundress and white flats. She smiled again. She loved the way she looked in this dress. Mr. Chandler had bought it for her as a welcome present. Well, he’d given her the money, anyway. They had gone with the Gartners up to the Fashion District and Yuri had picked it out. He said it made her look like the sun.
She took it as an incredible compliment.
She had only been in LA for a week and already she never wanted to leave. The sun seemed to shine brighter here, there were more trees, the people all smiled, and everything was clean—well, cleaner than back in Shanghai, anyway. And she could walk all by herself up to the school and not even feel nervous.
A tourist bus passed slowly and she saw some young Chinese children with their faces up against the glass. Some celebrity must live nearby, because the star tours stopped by a lot. She loved feeling like a local, but she would always bow her head just a little when she saw a Chinese tourist.
I am like you, she felt to say. But at the same time, she didn’t want to be.
She followed the map of campus Yuri had given her until she met him in a little café in a big building. She knew she must look like a tourist with the big, crinkled map in front of her. But better a tourist in the right place than a local in the wrong one.
“Wow, Rainbows, you look great,” Yuri said, giving her a hug. “Really pretty.”
Her cheeks felt warm. “So… this is it?” she said, smiling and looking around.
“Yeah, I eat here every day,” he said. “Bagels.”
She wrinkled her nose. “I’ve never much liked bagels, Yuri.”
“That’s okay,” he said. “Me neither, really. But it’s American, I guess.”
She looked up at the menu. Everything seemed to be a pastry of some kind. She frowned and ordered a black coffee.
“Not in the mood to branch out?” Yuri said.
Rainbows faltered. She wasn’t used to anyone questioning the way she ordered. She quickly looked at the menu and added a breakfast burrito. Yuri ordered an Asiago bagel and more coffee, and they took their bags to a small round table.
Rainbows looked at her hands and found, to her surprise, that they were shaking. She felt so odd. And whatever was in her bag smelled awful.
She let Yuri show her the breakfast burrito, opening it to display its different components. Ham, cheese, egg… or something that was supposed to be egg. She took a bite and almost spit it out. Yuri laughed.
“I know,” he said. “I almost stopped you, but hey, now you can say you’ve tasted the famous breakfast burritos.”
She folded the burrito back in its greasy paper. “That is… truly disgusting.”
They both laughed. It was strange. With Yuri here she found herself missing Shanghai again. Or perhaps just missing the way it used to be. When they would eat lunch together at school and he would help her with her homework—or she with his, depending on the subject—and he would ask her questions and she would dodge them as best she could. He made her uncomfortable sometimes.
But most of the time he made her feel… different. Like she had something important to say. She didn’t always know what to do with the attention he gave her—especially now that she had been in Shanghai for months without him. She had retreated back into silence. It was strange to be given a green light to speak again. But she found herself excited.
“So we start with algebra,” Yuri was saying. “Then history”—
He paused and looked somewhere past her. He waved, grinning, and she looked behind.
A tall, tan girl with short blonde hair was striding over to their table. Yuri stood up to greet her and she hugged him up on her tiptoes, and their hug lasted too long. Too long to be proper, Rainbows thought.
Then Yuri turned to her and said, “Rainbows, this is Adriana.”
Adriana held out a hand. Rainbows frowned slightly. “I believe we’ve met,” she said. She paused. “Briefly.”
Adriana squinted at her for a moment. “That’s right,” she said. “Although I don’t know if I would call it meeting….”
Rainbows forced a smile and shook Adriana’s hand. It was an odd gesture, one she didn’t fully understand. It made her feel a little claustrophobic to have a stranger touch her hand. Hands were so… personal. She ate with them, felt with them, touched with them. It seemed strange that Americans were so liberal with their hands.
“Well, it’s very good to meet you now,” Rainbows said, though she had to admit she felt a little slighted by this tall, blonde Barbie with too firm a handshake.
“You too,” Adriana said. “Yuri told me you’re going to all his classes today. That means we get to have history together!”
Yay…. Rainbows didn’t know what to say.
“What are you studying in history?” was all she could think of.
Adriana looked at Yuri and shrugged. “The Civil War?” she said.
Yuri laughed. “We’re on John Brown right now,” he said. “The slave trade.”
“Oh, fascinating,” said Rainbows.
Adriana shrugged and dug into the bagel Yuri had ordered. “I guess it’s exciting. Kind of brutal though. I don’t really get why all we study in history is people killing each other.”
“History is always written by the victor,” Rainbows said quietly.
“What was that?” said Adriana.
Rainbows smiled politely and shook her head. She took a sip of her coffee, relishing the way the heat traveled down her throat.
“She said history is always written by the victor,” Yuri said. He smiled at Rainbows, who tried to smile back.
She felt an odd sensation like she might choke on her coffee.
Adriana talked. A lot. Rainbows found herself losing track of what she was saying after a while. Something about sculpting and a fight between her roommates. Twenty minutes must have gone by when Rainbows looked at her phone and saw that it was almost 9.
“Should we…?” she said softly to Yuri. He blinked and checked the clock on the wall.
“Don’t want to be late to your first day of college,” he said, winking at her.
Her stomach shot into butterflies. She wasn’t sure what caused them more—being here, or being here with Yuri.
Yuri and Adriana hugged goodbye, and Rainbows had to shake her hand again. It was a little sticky from the bagel. She wished she had brought hand sanitizer.
“She’s nice,” Rainbows said simply as they walked to class. “Thanks for introducing me.”
She could hear the lackluster in her own voice, but she couldn’t help it. She couldn’t fake everything. Yuri looked at her sideways, his face a little pink.
“She takes some getting used to,” he said. “But I… I really like her, Rainbows. I think you will too.”
Rainbows felt her face fall. Suddenly the last thing in the world she wanted to do was go to history, and sit next to this girl who had somehow convinced Yuri she was worth putting up with. Rainbows stopped. This wasn’t her. She didn’t think badly of people. Of course, that didn’t mean she had to like everyone….
But she was a girl of her word. She was a creature of duty. If Yuri wanted her to like Adriana, she would like Adriana.
But she would only do it for him.