By Nancy Kazar
Julia increased the volume on her device, but it didn’t drown out the shrill voices of her roommates or stop their relentless banging on the door. Julia removed her headphones and threw them on her desk.
“Julia, Julia, Julia. Open up, open up, open up. Come on, girl, open up!”
She threw open the door of her room.
“This better be important!”
Her roommates, Michelle and Kim, were staring at her with dim-witted smiles and oblivious expressions on their faces.
Blue, her orphaned cat, followed and stood beside Julia. The cat stared at them as if asking, why are you bothering us?
“Happy Birthday to you, happy birthday to you…” they sang out enthusiastically and out of tune—undeterred by Julia’s disheveled appearance and pinched facial expression.
Michelle moved closer to Julia and surprised her by placing a multicolor noodle hat beaming with LED lights on her head.
“What the …” Julia removed it, annoyed.
“Please,” Michelle pleaded. “You know what day it is? It’s your birthday!”
Julia felt bad and put the hat back on.
Blue, hissed in disapproval and got between the two women. The feline rubbed his tail against Michelle’s legs, marking his territory and attempting to scare away the intruders. He seemed pleased when Michelle stepped back with a nervous grin on her face.
Kim hesitated. “Can I?” She flaunted a bright pink lei and gestured toward the cat, as if asking for his permission.
“Come here,” Julia commanded the cat. Blue hesitated but obeyed.
“Awesome, let’s do this.” Kim, delicately shifted Julia’s body toward the oversize mirror at her door and placed the lei around her neck.
Julia looked at her reflection. The irony didn’t escape her. The year before, she had celebrated her birthday with Dylan on the rooftop of an exclusive nightclub in Beverly Hills. For those few fleeting hours, everything felt new and possible. The work promotion and Dylan hinting around about marriage. Doubts and insecurities had vanished, lifting Julia to a different realm. She’d gazed at the city lights from a surreal high where she felt secure, capable, desired, loved. The shy girl transformed into a worldly, self-assured woman who owned herself and her surroundings. Her black cocktail dress enhanced the curves of her body and as she moved, the red crystal teardrop necklace bounced delicately on her neck and beamed in perfect synergy with the music. The image reflected in the mirror months later—the hot pink lei on top of her old monkey pajamas, the few pimples that reddened her face, the silly mix of bright paper noodles and her unruly clamps of hair, and the unfulfilled look on her face. The real Julia.
“We have a surprise for the birthday girl,” Michelle said, bringing her back.
Blue growled. He appeared ready to pounce with his hind legs stiffened, the rump elevated and the back flat, tail hairs erect, nose pushed forward, and ears pulled back slightly.
“Be a good boy,” Julia said and grabbed the kitten as he sneered. She ran her hands over his lustrous coat and scratched his ears. He calmed down, or perhaps it was the other way around. She delicately put him back inside her room and closed the door.
Her roommates sighed in relief.
If not, for one being French and the other Hawaiian – one tall and the other one short, one white, the other one dark caramel-tanned – they would have been twins. Thus, the nickname. The twins from hell. Julia smiled at the thought. They were not shrewd or malicious; on the contrary, they were airheaded, utterly out of their minds, and naively loose. They went to church every Sunday, had regular daytime jobs. They dressed conservatively in the morning and transformed into scantily clad party goddesses at nights. Julia found the double standard hard to ignore, except for times when her mood lightened. Michelle and Kim were easily excitable and fun to hang out with when they were at home, especially when Julia felt depressed or lonely. After a couple of unpleasant experiences, though, Julia avoided clubbing with them.
“Thank you so much, girls, really appreciate you remembering my birthday. I have to go back to bed though. My schedule tomorrow is crazy.” Julia stopped herself from adding a snarky comment about their ability to party all night and go to work after a couple of hours sleep. Just as she turned back, Kim held her arm delicately.
“See what we got for you first. Come on! We spent the entire weekend looking for the perfect gift. Please, pretty, please,” Michelle said. Her voice was eager and passionate, her tone sweet, honeylike, as if trying to convince a child.
After the disastrous birthday dinner with Dylan the night before, Julia’s ego needed a boost. He seemed absentminded but attentive—imperceptibly going through the motions. When Julia complained, Dylan made up an excuse about work and refused to engage in another of their usual arguments. They parted ways with him promising to make it up to her.
“Kick up your heels, babe. It’s your day, come play with us,” Kim said with a wink and her usual charming smile.
Julia felt her defenses wearing off, as though her resolve crumbled at the first touch, revealing how docile, malleable, and susceptible her low self-esteem had changed her. They were not expert manipulators or benders of minds and wills; they were rather simple, their intentions easy to read. But Julia was at her weakest and thus easily succumbed to their charms. Michelle covered Julia’s eyes with a bandana while Kim held her hand and guided her through the corridor of their apartment.
“Ta-da!” Kim said, uncovering Julia’s eyes.
In front of Julia was the purple dress she had been eying for a while at the corner boutique. She drove by the place on her daily commute to work from Alhambra to Pasadena. “Oh, wow. How did you know? It’s too much guys, I can’t—”
“Nonsense. Try it out,” Kim urged.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
Michelle added, “Don’t make any plans for Saturday.”
“Oh no, you just ruined the surprise, bitch!” Kim said and pushed Michelle jokingly.
“Aw, you guys …” Julia’s eyes welled up with tears as she turned back toward her room. Once inside, she took a deep breath, took her monkey pajamas off, and tried the dress. The guffaws and childlike grunts in the background filled the apartment with their presence. The loneliness that always shadowed her subsided somewhat.
Early the next morning, Julia opened a small can of wet food and emptied the contents into the cat’s bowl. She poured a cup of fresh coffee in her favorite mug and sipped the hot liquid as she made her way back to her room. Blue, scurried back through the semi-closed door and stretched on the bed while she caught up with the news of the day.
It was still dark outside, so the light of the lamp shone on his deep black fur, emphasizing the tinges of indigo of his coat.
“What am I going to do with you?” Julia whispered, as if expecting a response from her feline companion. Blue climbed on her lap. He wasn’t the only one abandoned by his owner; she too had been left behind by her former roommate. It had been six months, but the pain felt as new as it had just happened.
Amy’s sudden transfer to manage a hotel in Utah took Julia by surprise. In a matter of just three days, she packed up her belongings and left, with the promise to send money for a month’s rent and to retrieve Blue. Complete silence followed her departure. Despite the time that elapsed, anger and disappointment were still latent. Perhaps, made worse by the cat’s presence—a constant reminder of his owner’s betrayal. She and Amy had shared more than just an apartment; they were friends, or maybe that was something Julia had conjured in her head. Amy had vanished, deserting her pet, and leaving Julia, stranded in an awful situation. Faced with paying full rent on her limited administrative assistant’s salary, Julia, hastily agreed to sublet her apartment to two women she had never met before, and whom a churchgoing neighbor of Julia’s had vouched for. “Kim and Michelle come to Mass every Sunday. They’re decent, God-fearing people,” the woman had said. Oh, the irony.
Why had Amy gone through such substantial lengths to bring this poor creature into their lives? Julia made it clear from the beginning: “I love animals, but I can hardly look after myself.” Amy had forced her hand, only to abandon Blue with complete disregard. More than ever, she hated her former roommate. Her stupid little face, her contemptuous attitude, her fake friendship. Blue, felt her neglect from the minute she stepped out of the door and filled her car with her belongings destined for Utah or who knows where. Since Amy had left, Bluehad gotten used to sleeping in Julia’s bed and following her everywhere, clinging to her, afraid of abandonment, afraid of loneliness, afraid of losing Julia too. Blue, lifted his head and gazed at her intently, as if he was able to read her thoughts.
Julia, felt guilty. She had seriously considered taking Blueto a shelter and putting him up for adoption, mostly to please her boyfriend. The last clash between Dylan and the feline still fresh in her mind.
“This fucking cat is ready to attack me…Julia, hurry back!” Dylan hollered.
Julia, couldn’t believe the scene that unfolded in front of her. Dylan was pinned against the wall, Blue hissed and spitted, his ears and whiskers pulled back, and his back arched ready to pounce. Julia approached the feline gently and cautiously. Blue’s body relaxed at her touch and stopped his aggressive behavior at once, but his threatening eyes were still centered on the man. She locked him in the bathroom. “Blue can sense how much you hate him,” Julia said.
“Are you blind? This cat is dangerous. I’m never going to set foot in this place until you get ready of that animal. He’s not even yours,” Dylan said and stormed out.
The relationship with Dylan took a deeper dive after that and halted talks of marriage or plans to move in together. It had been two months since that incident, and on several occasions, Julia had stopped at the shelter’s door with the cat in tow, only to be dissuaded at the last minute by his pleading green eyes and by the flare of the golden sparkles on his irises.
Julia’s need to move out on her own was pressing. Michelle’s and Kim’s risky behavior was worsening. There had been many occasions in which Julia met strange men wandering in their place and had to restrain Blue from attacking them. Julia woke up fearing similar encounters daily. What if one day they let the wrong person in? She grew increasingly concerned for her and the cat.
“Sorry, Blue.” All the lease applications she had filled out in the past few weeks specifically excluded pets. The poor thing didn’t fit anywhere, and he knew it. Julia caressed the top of his head and scratched his ears. “I feel you,” she whispered. Blue,closed his eyes and purred in response. “I’ll do my best, I promise.”
On Saturday, her roommates forced her out of the apartment. They claimed her presence would ruin the birthday surprise they’d planned. Julia, agreed begrudgingly and so did Blue, who was unhappy when she left. She was on the way to the beach, when on a whim she took the next freeway exit and drove toward Dylan’s apartment. Julia hesitated at the door, but after a few minutes of nervous wavering she knocked. No answer. She went down to the garage and saw his car parked in his spot. Julia felt dark energy swallowing her inside until it hurt. The cat presence was just an excuse.
After some hesitation, Julia went back to her car, and drove away with no idea where she was going. Her anger vibrated against the steering wheel and the accelerator. The phone rang. She looked over, and she almost hit a bicyclist. Julia, waved her hand in apology, but the man raised his middle finger at her as she continued on her way. She stopped and started sobbing uncontrollably. Her anger shifted to herself. Julia had known he was cheating; she’d felt his distance and coldness, and yet had ignored it.
When her tears dried out, she pressed the missed call.
Her friend Gabe answered. “You’ve been crying. What happened, Jul? It’s time to end it,” Gabe said.
Julia, found his certainty unnerving. “It’s not just him—it’s over between us. I’ve this pending trip for a family reunion in Venezuela … I don’t have a place to leave the cat … I’m still raving mad about Amy … my roommates are nuts … so many things at once …”
“Is the reunion about your mom’s anniversary?”
“Yeah. August 25th will be three years since she passed.” Julia’s voice broke.
“Why didn’t you say anything? I can stay in your apartment,” he said.
“That would be great. I can’t imagine leaving Blue alone in my place. Are you sure?”
“It’s not a big deal, Jul.”
“Do you want to hang for a bit or are you working?” Talking to Gabe was always like taking deep breaths during yoga. His even-keeled personality balanced her, as only he and Blue could do.
“I took the day off. Your roommates invited me to your birthday party.”
“Oh, the fucking party…I’m in no mood, Gabe.”
“I’m a bit tired myself, but sure, come on by. I warn you though, I just woke up … not a pretty sight.”
Once inside his apartment she felt more at ease.
Julia unburdened her feelings about Amy.
“You’re too harsh with yourself and others.” Julia looked at Gabe, surprised, but said nothing. He continued, “You’ve spent all this time blaming Amy for leaving Blue behind and you stuck with a full rent, or thinking it was your fault she left. That somehow you did something that warranted her just vanishing overnight. Maybe it’s neither.”
“Do you think something happened to her?”
“Hard to say. There’re so many things that could have gone wrong. Why not dig more into her disappearance? It’d give you some closure.”
“What do you mean? I tried very hard … Why didn’t you say anything to me before?”
“I tried, but you were mad as hell. I didn’t want to make it worse by insisting.”
“I sent emails. Nothing. Left countless voicemails on her cell phone and messages at work. Nothing. I would have sent her a letter by mail, but to where? She didn’t have relatives, so what am I to do?”
“She’s occupying an enormous space in your head. Maybe take a trip to Utah… I don’t know, do something, anything to relieve you from carrying this unhealthy anger with you.” Gabe got closer and rubbed her shoulders.
Julia closed her eyes. The knots that had formed loosened under his touch.
“Why don’t you take a nap before the party? There’s no better antidote to releasing tension than music and dancing.” Gabe got up and made his way to his room.
Julia’s eyes followed him as he pulled his shiny black hair into a messy bun and disrobed. It had been a while since she had seen him naked. She noticed he had been working out but resisted the impulse to follow him into the shower. Playing the “friends with benefits” game was unhealthy for both. She instead stretched on the sofa and pondered on Gabe’s words. Perhaps there was more to Amy’s silence.
Michelle opened the door of their apartment slowly for greater effect.
“SURPRISE!” everyone yelled at once as the place lit up.
Julia’s friends rushed to greet her with hugs and well wishes. She noticed there were a bunch of people she’d never seen before. The guys sported black slacks and shirts, and girls black cocktail dresses. She and Gabe stood out of place in their casual jeans and T-shirts.
“Do you know them?” she whispered in Gabe’s ear.
“Never seen them before. Must be friends of theirs.”
“You mean those special ones?” Julia winked.
“They look sane,” Gabe said with a reassuring smile. “Relax, Jul. Let’s have fun, come on …”
Throughout the night Julia monitor their movements. “Did you notice them sneaking off to the twins’ room for brief intervals?”
“You sound a bit too paranoid. I need to get some smokes,” Gabe said, twisting a crumpled cigarette packet in his hand.
“I’ll go with you. Those people make me uncomfortable,” she whispered in his ear.
“Can we drive around for a bit? I need some more air,” Julia asked after they left the store.
They listened to music and drove in silence around empty streets.
“Feeling better? I hate to bail on you, but have to work tomorrow, Jul.”
“I understand. You can drop me home.” Julia caressed his hair.
“Don’t play with my feelings.” Gabe lowered his gaze.
“Thank you for coming to my rescue. I had a blast,” Julia said with a forced smile.
“Happy birthday, beautiful.” Gabe hugged her and kissed her on the cheek.
Julia fought the desire to disappear into Gabe’s arms and forget her pain or think of the consequences. She rushed out of the car.
She’d barely opened the front door of her apartment a few inches when Blue jumped out unexpectedly and scurried in between her legs. “I almost stepped on you, crazy cat. What’s the matter?” Julia kneeled and lifted him into her arms. She pushed the door fully open and gasped. Was the scene unfolding in the dimly lit room for real, or was she still drunk? She reached for the lights and turned them on. Heads turned and gazed at her in surprise, others, including Michelle, continued uninterrupted. She couldn’t tell where Kim was among the mix of bodies and extremities. “Party’s over!” Her voice was stern.
Men and women scampered around getting dressed and gathering belongings. Some gazed at her, others avoided or dismissed her. One by one by one passed by her on their way out. Julia didn’t look at them. She centered her attention on Blue.
Julia slammed the door after the last person had left. She was about to face her roommates but decided against it. They were too high and messed up. Kim and Michelle made her sad for so many reasons. They looked like little girls lost in a grownup world.
Julia went to her room and cuddled with Blue in her lap. She felt her brain quiet down.
After that day, Julia kept her distance. She avoided her roommates and only had brief encounters, related to money. She collected rent checks and their share of expenses and made small talk. When home, she stayed in her room, reading, watching TV, or playing with Blue.
Julia was sitting at the airport terminal waiting to leave Caracas after two weeks with her family. She thought about her mother, her kind brown eyes, her gentle touch, her chamomile scent. Julia daydreamed of being a child, of rolling with Blue on the thick red soil surrounded by eucalyptus trees, when her phone rang.
“Hey, Gabe. What’s wrong?”
“It’s nice to hear from you too.”
“Sorry, but you know I’m flying back to LA. I take it you have bad news.”
“Not what you think. Michelle and Kim are behaving just fine. We’ve a problem with the cat, though.”
“What is it?” Julia tried not to sound curt but was doing a poor job. He wasn’t the person she was longing to hear from.
“Ever since you left—” There was a brief pause and then he continued, “The cat has gone mad, scratching furniture and curtains, hissing and swatting his claws when anyone comes close to him. Anyway, after hours of battling with the cat, the three of us took him to the vet last week. He had to give him a double of the dose of pills to calm him down, examined him, and cut his claws.”
“That’s so cruel! Why in the world would you do that?”
“Declaw or take him to the vet? You should see the scratches on my arms.”
“It makes little sense. Blue is a finicky cat, true. But most likely those two were terrorizing him. I can’t believe you did that to him.”
“Please don’t blame me, and you shouldn’t fault them either. Both showed their caring side.”
“You’d never … What did the vet say?”
“You’ll not like this—”
“Vet suggested the shelter.” His tone was sheepish, uncertain, weak. Julia loathed that about Gabe, but she detested more the feelings it spurred—a mixture of pity, resentment and anger, all brewing inside her at once.
“What the fuck is wrong with that vet? He’s not a stray cat!”
“We already left it there,” he said and sighed.
“You did what?”
“You don’t understand. He became evil.”
“Cute, tiny Blue? He’s always behaved fine with you and the twins.” For no apparent reason he’d became a monster terrorizing Gabe and her roommates—the entire thing was not only bizarre but suspicious. “They convinced you, didn’t they?”
“You don’t understand.”
“Unbelievable! I don’t know what to say.” Julia was about to unleash a barrage of regrettable words—she swallowed the venom before it spewed out of her mouth and held back as usual. She tapped her fingers against the wooden furniture. The contact with the inanimate object grounded her somewhat. Gabe made it so hard, almost impossible, to control her worst impulses. “We’ll get him back from the shelter.” She softened her tone.
“Remember LAX at 6:00 p.m.”
Julia pressed her face on the airplane’s window. Los Angeles viewed from above seemed like an interminable land mass, patches of green and brown expansive land, dried hills followed by sometimes random, sometimes orderly clusters of houses, and the closer to the city they got, buildings. As it got dark, there were lines of cars winding through the roads like giant snakes with red eyes. The place felt at once foreign and familiar. Anxiety and relief mixed into one giant knot in her stomach. Like it was always with her—never at peace, never complete.
Coming out of the gate, she spotted Gabe’s tall profile. His usual super-snug jeans, his tight fitted black T-shirt, and wavy long hair tied into a ponytail gave him a hipster look that didn’t match his old-fashioned personality. He waved at her as he approached. They hugged.
“I almost didn’t recognize you. I love the short hair and the red highlights. They bring out the green shades of your eyes.” Gabe’s eyes shone.
“Thanks, friend. But you see this, I must have gained twenty pounds,” Julia said, pushing her stomach forward in an exaggerated gesture.
“Nonsense, and so what? You look great.”
Julia admired his honesty. He was an open book—his feelings, his vulnerability on full display.
On the way to the apartment, he filled her with details. “Michelle and Kim kept to themselves, did their thing, paid their share timely, and kept the house clean …”
“Sorry, I’ve been so rude. I appreciate you staying at my place.”
“Don’t mention it. I want to hear more about your trip, about your family. When was the last time you were there?”
“Three years ago, for my mother’s funeral. At first it seemed like a lifetime ago, but as the days went by, I felt as if it had just happened.” For a few seconds Julia felt as if she was looking at herself from outside her body.
Gabe pressed her hands.
Julia sighed. “We rented the largest van available, enough to carry all the family and drove from Caracas to Puerto Ordaz …” As Julia recounted her adventures, Gabe listened in silence, his facial expressions fluctuating with the rhythm of her narration as if he were living every moment. Julia realized, with a wave of tenderness, that was one quality she appreciated the most about him.
“I hope you get to see them more often.”
“Somehow it feels like the last time.”
“I hope not. They’re your family.”
Once they got close to the apartment, her demeanor changed. It was back to reality: job, roommates, and the cat. “I almost forgot, it’s only 7 p.m. Let’s go get Blue,” she said as they climbed the stairs with her luggage in tow.
“Aren’t you hungry? Let’s go have dinner first,” Gabe said, inserting the keys and opening the door of the apartment.
“Nah, let’s get Blue first. Can’t stop thinking about the poor thing in that place.”
As soon as the door opened, Julia rushed to her room, followed by Gabe holding her luggage. She expected Blue to jump out and scurry in between her legs. She felt disappointed. Her bed, her books, her tables, the pictures on the wall, the familiar scents, everything was as she had left it—yet there was an oppressive emptiness floating in the air that overwhelmed her. “Are you staying here tonight?”
“No, I’ve an early meeting with a major client in Santa Monica. Where do you want these?”
They drove to the shelter and parked the car in the empty parking lot. Julia’s heart raced with impatience. She walked to the front of the building. “Oh no, don’t tell me.”
Seconds later, Gabe joined her. They stood outside the shelter staring disheartened at the sign posted on the entrance door.
CLOSED SUNDAYS 5:00 P.M.
“What the hell?” Gabe shook his head, disappointed. He went around the back of the building to see if he could spot one volunteer. “I’m so sorry, Julia … I shouldn’t …”
“Let’s not do this now. Please take me back.”
Once home, Julia grabbed a glass of wine and was putting the contents of her suitcase away when she felt a wave of exhaustion. Her brain had been wiped clear. She stretched on her bed and closed her eyes. She missed Blue.
Just as she was about to doze off, the abrupt landing jolted her awake. Two thin-slitted vertical pupils centered on her. They opened eerily wide, like two bottomless pits swallowing the green irises and vanishing into the golden sparks of light. An unknown force pinned her down.
After the initial shock that paralyzed her with fear, Julia relaxed to the warmth of his familiar presence.
“Blue, you’re back!” She moved to grabbing him, but her body remained glued to the bed, as if held against her will by his claws. “I missed you,” she said sorrowfully.
Blue gazed at her, jumped off, and disappeared underneath the bed.
Julia leaped up. “Blue! Blue!” she called his name to no avail, turned on the light, looked all over her bedroom, closets, and the bathroom. Nothing. She stepped outside just as her roommates entered the apartment.
“Hey, Jul. Welcome back!” they said at once.
“What’s wrong?” Kim asked, noticing Julia’s expression.
“Blue. Can you help me find him? He was just in my room. I don’t know where he went.”
“But … okay, okay, he must be hiding someplace,” Michelle said.
The three women started searching the apartment, turning everything over, looking into all his usual hiding places. No corner went unchecked, and they eventually got tired. The incessant calls of Blue’s name subsided and faded altogether. As they disappeared inside their respective rooms, the apartment descended into a heavy silence.
Julia felt spent yet couldn’t get to sleep. She tossed and turned. Blue’s eyes were frozen inside her mind’s eye, as if trying to talk to her in a language of his own, a sort of gibberish or superior tongue. Julia tried to decipher it until her brain felt like mush. His message was lost.
After a bumpy night, Julia opened her eyes, and everything came back to her. She called the shelter as soon as 9:00 a.m. hit the clock on her nightstand.
“Are you kidding?” Julia said, distressed at what she was hearing.
“We put the cat to sleep at 9:00 last night, ma’am. Sorry, we kept him for as long as we could. We love to keep every animal …”
“You closed at five o’clock!” Julia yelled. No longer able to listen to that intolerable voice, she hung up the phone. “Fuck, fuck, fuck!” she yelled at the top of her lungs, sobbing like she was a child.
Julia struggled to understand Blue’s eerie appearance. She grabbed her cell phone and dialed Gabe. He didn’t answer, and she persisted.
“I’m in a meeting, I’ll call you back.” He sounded annoyed.
Julia checked her watch over and over. Twenty minutes. Nothing. “He should know this is important,” she said aloud, and dialed his number again and again until he picked up.
Gabe covered the phone receiver, Julia heard the muffled sound of his voice, saying, “This is an emergency, I’ll be right back.” Julia could hear his steps hitting the floor.
“Why are you burning my phone? I told you yesterday. I’m in a meeting with my boss. What’s so important that you had to interrupt me?” His tone was harsh.
“It was terrifying. Blue blamed me. I know is my fault. I should have protected him …”
“Calm down, you’re not making any sense. What happened?” Gabe said, softening his tone.
“I didn’t mean to bother you at work, sorry. I couldn’t wait.” Julia told him what happened.
“Maybe he was trying to warn you.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, Blue’s sudden change of behavior and what happened last night leads me to believe he was in distress. Animals are sensitive to things humans can’t see.”
“Blue’s eyes were creepy, sad, vindictive, I don’t know… do you think something to do with the twins? I’ve been feeling unsafe here for a while.”
“I can’t …”
Julia insisted. “Please tell me what’s on your mind.”
“This is not the best time. But that doesn’t concern you, right? It’s all about when is convenient for you.” Gabe paused, sighed and continued, “Sorry, I’m having an awful day. Maybe Blue came to warn you about yourself.”
“About myself? Why?”
“Did you bother to ask: What’s happening with you, Gabe? Why are you meeting with the head of the department, Gabe?” Julia tried to object, but he continued, “I’ve loved you for a long time, Jul. But I can’t go on like this—I’ve had it. There’s always something pressing. A loss, an unreliable friend, a deceitful lover, dangerous roommates, or some unworthy character distracting you from being present, from being yourself, from living outside your head, from caring for those who care about you. I feel like the sabotaging didn’t stop just with you. It metastasized—it extended to me and everyone else inside your world. Do you realize the extent to which people feel used by you? Of course not. You do it over and over until there’s nothing, and people want nothing but to run away from you. Maybe, that’s what happened to Amy and others. Did it ever occur to you to talk to Kim and Michelle? Help them, perhaps? They’re not deviants or junkies, they are just lost, you understand? Anyway, it doesn’t matter anymore.”
The truth, thick and real. Julia had been self-involved, cold, unfulfilled, quick to judge the flaws of others, and most of all selfish. It was as though years of self-defeating behavior and beliefs peeled off her, like the many lives Blue lived.
“I’m sorry. That was cruel, uncalled for,” Gabe said. “Amy’s disappearance may not be of her own making. I’m sorry I said that.”
“No. You’re right,” Julia said in a thin voice. “Can we talk later?”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
Julia called all the places she had submitted rental applications. Asked her boss for the day off. Met with the manager of an apartment complex in Toluca Lake and with no hesitation signed a lease, paid the deposit, and got the keys. The studio apartment was tiny but was within her budget.
She stopped at a flower shop before going back to her old apartment. Once there, she put the fresh flowers inside an empty vase, placed it on top of the dining table, and underneath it left a note to her roommates, inviting them to join her for dinner the following night. Sent an email to Gabe asking to forgive her. Then she packed some essential items and drove to her new place.
When she opened the door of her studio, the smell of newness hit her at once. Fresh paint, new carpet, new drapes, new stove. Putting her things away in new drawers felt exciting. Julia opened the empty closet and stared at it with an enormous smile on her face. Soon the empty walls would be filled with her stuff and the place covered with her scent and the aromas of her cooking. There was just one thing missing, Blue.
Afterward, exhausted she sat cross-legged on the floor when she felt the weight of Blue on her lap. “Blue you’re back!”