1Dim flee the downtown atmosphere.It’s a Saturday night,

1Dim lights reflect off of my bare skin as I stride past the street lights.”You really shouldn’t be out here, you know?” rasps a husky voice from behind me, “pretty girl, alone on the streets at night,” he pauses before continuing, “things can get dangerous.”I quicken my pace, speeding up the rhythm of my feet pounding down on the gray asphalt. He snickers behind me, the sound of his approaching footsteps growing nearer. I pull my hood, now wet with rain down, and cross the street with a frigid calm, blinding headlights irradiating a path for me. Once across, I break into a run down the damp sidewalk, humming to myself as I flee the downtown atmosphere.It’s a Saturday night, and guys cluster the street corners, talking loudly. The trash cans on the sidewalks are overflowing. The weather is gelid, and wind seems to caress my body each step I take. I’ve forgotten my coat, and am left to fend off the rain wearing but a sports bra and a beaten up hoodie cropped at the waist, exposing my skin. I’m walking back for the second week in a row, and am taking the individual opportunity to stress over the rent. My apartment is a flight up from a bodega with a dismal green awning: the ‘Spend Less Food Mart’. I, Lexa, have lived here for 4 weeks. I share the place with a roommate, Kaja Alvenfa. Today the rent is due, and I’ve come up short.I’m not very close-knit with Kaja. We met when I responded to an online listing I’d found. Before that, I’d been living at a youth hostel. I’d used the local library’s free computers and internet to look for apartment shares. When I first went to see the rental, Kaja was offering up the apartment’s living room as a bedroom. It was sectioned off from the rest of the rooms with a bright, orange, floral curtain. Kaja told Lexa her sister had recently moved away to their hometown, while she preferred to stay where she was. Kaja cleaned houses and worked as a barista, both for cash. She wasn’t legal to work in the country, and took English classes at the local community center.I told Kaja I had a job as a personal trainer. That was what I’d done before I moved. Kaja believed this. I had paid a month’s rent, cash, in advance. Kaja didn’t ask for ID, and I never spoke the name Alexandra.I had arrived in the city by bus. After what had happened, the name Alexandra Rose Harris disappeared from the world. I’d left school, too. I’d been seventeen and didn’t have to finish my education. No law said I had to.On occasions, Kaja’s friends come over, speaking foreign languages and smoking cigarettes. They cook stewed meats and potatoes in the kitchen, and the smells often waft over to where I lie still on my bed with my headphones on, listening to music and dreaming up unfathomable scenarios, a muted smile on my face. Sometimes, Kaja steps into my room with a bowl of stew and gives it over without saying anything.I used to live only a couple hundred miles away. I got hired to work for cash at a storefront gym in a strip mall. The owners never asked their staff to be certified trainers. They jacked their guys up on steroids there, and everything was less than legitimate.I put guys through workouts every day. Bouncers, bodyguards, even a few cops. I worked there a few months and put on muscle. The boss owned a crossfit gym a little more than a mile away, and he let me take classes there for free. With the money I earned, I could afford a laptop and a phone, but otherwise save my money.Lunch hours, I often walked a few blocks down the road to the shopping mall. It was a high-end place with fountains and expensive brand names. I read in the dusted book shop, and tried on makeup in the drugstore. I learned the names of the classiest brands, and reinvented myself with creams, blushes, and glosses. My face could look a certain way one day, and completely different on a later date. I never spent a cent.Now my rent was due. I’d been eating supermarket ramen. I had only five bucks in my pocket.No gym here would hire an unlicensed trainer. I didn’t have a highschool degree. I had no references because I’d ditched out on my first and only working job. Gyms would pay the best, I figured, and I’d get a little saved that could help to change my situation in the world. And when none of them would hire me, I’d look to try cosmetic counters, cleaning jobs, waiting tables, and any opening I could get. I’d changed in and out of my best dress 5 days in a row, looking every day, all day.Nothing.I step into the foodmart below my apartment, carrying a pit in my stomach. The supermarket appears to be very busy. I see people getting off work buying boxes of pasta and cans of chickpeas. “You look like crap” the store owner tells me bluntly when I walk up to the cashier with a pear in hand, “when was the last time you got some sleep?”. I ponder the question for a moment, then respond. “It’s been a while” I tell her drearily.Beginning to bite into my pear, I walk upstairs, my feet heavy with dread. The apartment is dark, and relief ensues inside me. Kaja must have turned in early. In any case, I don’t have to make excuses for not having the rent.2Kaja hasn’t come out of her bedroom yet. Usually, she is up at seven to work her barista job. At eight, I knock. “You okay?””I am dead” Kaja calls through the door.I peak farther into the doorway, the hinges creaking loudly, “You have work today, right?””At ten, but I’ve been throwing up all night. I mixed my cocktails.””You need some water?” Kaja moans.I ride the bus to the middle of town. All the seats are taken up by people fairing on their usual weekend routines. I stand in the middle of the car, holding onto a thin metal pole and squished between two people smacking gum loudly. I get off a few blocks away from the library, slipping into the mass of people before paying. I watch the people who pass me. It’s my favorite part about walking through the streets: getting to see all the different characters in my midst. Some people wear grins as they stride confidently through the crowd. There’s always a few people who look at me and then quickly avert their eyes, knowingly frowning down pitifully at me. I brush off my jeans and walk over to the restaurant nearest to the bus stop. It’s a cafe interiorized with wooden stools and tables. I grab the metal ‘pull’ handle, and open the glass door, my gaze headed towards the back of the cafe, where the washrooms appear to be located. There’s no wait, so I slip through the door. The washroom has white tile walls, and linoleum floors that feel cold to my feet as I slip off my shoes. Looking around, I start to change into my dress. It’s made of black cotton, with long sleeves. It hugs my body, and I walk back out of the restaurant free of any pitiful glances. The library’s eerily deserted, atypical to the bustling crowd it usually racks up on weekends. I browse the scratched mahogany shelves for a while, reading snippets of the novels I spot. I glance down at the carpeted floors, then saunter over to where the computers sit. I plan to look for job openings. I sit down next to an older woman with short brown hair, unalike to my own. She smiles at me faintly, then inclines her chair in my direction. “Nice weather, isn’t it?” she asks me meekly.I glance at the stranger who seems to be addressing me, curious. “Most people wouldn’t think so,” she explains, “but I like the cloudy weather, always an antecedent to rainfall.””Yes” I reply, “I agree””You don’t remember me, do you?” says the woman, speaking in a general American accent.”I—””Don’t worry. I remember you. You and my daughter Lark always looked like two peas in a pod, in your uniforms. Both so petite, and with those cute little freckles across the nose.I blink.The woman smiles. “I’m Lark Simmon’s mother, sweet potato. Call me Amber. You came to Lark’s birthday party freshman year, remember? The sleepover where we made ice cream sundaes. And you and Lark used to go shopping outside town. Oh, do you remember, we took you to Swan Lake at the National Theatre of Ballet?””Of course,” I tell her, hesitantly, “I’m sorry I didn’t recognize you right away.””No worries” Amber responds chipperly. “I’ve forgotten your name, I have to tell you, though I never forget a face. And you had that fun pink hair.”I look her up and down before responding. She’s quite pretty: tan skin with careful rouge and dyed brown hair. She has on a pink suit, complete with a blouse, blazer and skirt. She has bare legs and feet. A pair of strappy heels lay on the floor.”It’s Lexa””Of course. It was so cool that you and Lark were such friends, that first year of high school. After you left, she went around with these other kids I never liked half as well. And you seem to have grown to be quite the sophisticated woman, I see. Oh, what I would do to be able to fit into a dress like that again.”I glance down at my dress, perhaps the one piece of ‘sophisticated’ clothing I own.”Now, where are you in college, Lexa?” Amber asks me curiously, a hint of excitement in her voice.A split second. A choice. “Stanford” I answer. “But I’m not sure I’m going back in the fall”. I roll my eyes comically for effect. “I’m in a war with the financial aid office.” Everything I tell Amber feels delicious in my mouth, like melting caramel. “That’s unpleasant,” says Amber. “I thought they had great financial aid there.”My hearts beat speeds up. “Yes, they do generally,” I tell her, ‘but not for me.”Amber looks at me seriously. “I think it’ll work out. Looking at you, I can tell you’re not going to let any doors shut in your face.”I smirk at the irony of this statement.”Look,” Amber says to me, her tone even, “do you have a summer job, an internship, something like that?””Not yet””Then I have an idea I’d like to speak to you about. Just a crazy thought I’m having, but you might like it.” She takes a cream-colored card of her handbag and hands it to me. Her nails are polished a shade of pale pink. The card has an address on it. “I have to get home to my husband now. He’s not well. But why don’t you come by for supper at our place tomorrow evening. I know George would be thrilled to see one of Lark’s old friends.””Thanks, I’d love to.””Seven o’clock?””I’ll be there.” I confirm, and with that, Amber pulls on her heels and walks out the library door into the dreary weather.3I stand with Amber Simmons on a patio overlooking a park. The sun has set, and the park stretches out below my eyes, a dark shape ringed by the city lights.”I feel like an action hero or something,” I blurt out, “they look out over the city at night.”Amber nods. Her hair falls in big, rounded curls on her shoulders, and she wears a long cardigan over a pale blue dress, and pretty, flat sandals. Her feet look old, and have band-aids on the heels and toes, spots where heels would have normally left a mark. “Lark had a boyfriend who came over here for a large gathering once,” she tells me, “he said the same thing about the view. Well, Batman, he said. But Spiderman, Batman, just merely ‘action hero’, it’s the same idea.”I probe in response to her statement, “Is it? I would have thought not.” “Well, okay, but they’re both orphans,” Amber explains to me, “Batman loses his parents at a very young age, and so does Spiderman. They live with other guardians most of their lives.””You read comics?””Never. But I read over Lark’s college essay what seems like a thousand times for any errors.” Amber laughs wistfully, a look of nostalgia portrayed in her features. “She said that Spiderman and Batman are descended from all the orphans in these Victorian novels she likes. George and I adopted Lark, you probably remember. Lark always had an interest in Victorian novels, most specifically featuring orphans like herself; Jane Eyre, Great Expectations, Vanity fair, all sorts of novels. Anyways, it became the sort of thing she hangs her identity on. Some people define themselves as athletes, mathematicians, artists, theater kids. Lark, however, she thinks of herself as a Victorian novel reader.”I soak in the information. Amber goes on, “She isn’t the best student, but she enjoys literature. For the essay, she wrote that in these stories, being orphaned is a precondition for the making of a hero. She also said those comic book heroes aren’t simple heroes, but ‘complex ones who make principled compromises similar to the traditions of orphans in Victorian narratives.’ I think those might be the exact words from her paper, to be quite honest with myself.””I used to read comic books when I was younger, but stopped finding the time for them in more recent years.” I tell Amber.I turn to go inside, following after Amber. The Simmons’ penthouse is dramatic and modern, but cluttered with stacks of magazines and books. The floors are white wood, everywhere, and a breakfast table is covered with pill bottles, junk mail, and tissue boxes. The living room is furnished with black leather couches, next to one of them sitting an oxygen machine.George Simmons didn’t get up as Amber led me into the room. He was only in his fifties, but pain lines creased the sides of his mouth and forehead, and the flesh of his neck hung loose. He had a square jaw, and a thick mess of curly gray hair. He wore sweatpants and a gray crew-neck. His cheeks and nose were speckled with broken blood vessels. He bent forward slowly, as if moving pained him, and introduced two chubby dogs: Mocha and Tammy. He introduced Lark’s three cats, too.We go straight into the dining room for a formal supper, George shuffling and Amber walking slowly beside him. A cook brings us out bowls and platters, and we eat pork loin and a mushroom risotto. George asks for his oxygen tank halfway through the meal.During the cheese course, we talk about the dogs, which are fairly new to the Simmons household. “They’ve ruined our lives,” Amber tells me dramatically, a touch of sarcasm in her voice, “They poop constantly. George lets them do it on the deck. Can you believe that? The deck. I walk out there in the mornings, and have to weave my way around dog shit.””They whine to go out before you’re awake.” George says, unrepentant. He moves his oxygen tube, adjusting it so it’s comfortable. “What am I supposed to do?””Then we have to spray it with bleach cleaner. There are bleach spots all over the wood.” Amber says annoyedly. “It’s foul. But, I guess that’s what you do when you love an animal. You let them poop on your deck, I guess.””Lark was always bringing home stray cats.” George discloses. “Its was another kitty every few months in highschool.””Some of them didn’t make it.” Amber tells us somberly, “She would find them on the street and they would have kitty bronchitis or some other sickness. They would die a small, sad death, and Lark would break her heart over it every time. Then she went to college and left the little guys with us.” Amber strokes a cat lying under the dining table, “Devious and nothing but trouble, they are.”Amber rambles on at the dinner table, delighting herself with stories about Lark and I in high school. It was sad and oddly satisfying to watch at the same time.”Do you remember the winter concert?” she asks.”Sure” I respond, a smirk remnant on my face.”I can just see you and Lark, standing together. You were the tiniest girls in ninth grade. You all sang carols, and the Bates girl had the solo. Do you remember?””Of course.””They lit up the ballroom for holidays, with the tree in that one corner. Amber pauses before continuing, “Oh damn, I’m going to get teary, thinking about Lark in that blue velvet dress. I bought her a holiday dress for that was royal blue with darts down the front.””Lark rescued me on my first day of school there, you know?” I tell her, emotion layered into my voice, “Someone bumped into me in the cafeteria, and food spilled all over my shirt. There I stood, looking at all the girls in their clean, glossy, white uniforms. Everyone already knew each other from previous grades.” The story flows easily off my tongue. Amber and George are good listeners. “How could I sit at anyone’s table when I had sauce all over me?””Oh, sweet potato.””Lark came swooping in. She took my tray out of my hands. She introduced me to her group of friends, and acted like she couldn’t see the mess all over my clothes, so they acted like they didn’t notice it either. And that was that.” I say, triumphant in my skills. “She was one of my favorite people, but we never kept in touch after I moved away.”Later, in the living room, George settles down on the sofa with his oxygen tubes in his nose. Amber brings out a thick photo album with a suede green cover. “You’ll let me show you photos, won’t you?”We look through old photographs. Lark is exceptionally beautiful, in my opinion—short and a tiny bit impish. She has auburn hair, alike to my own, and fat, dimpled cheeks that through the course of the photos, later become high cheekbones. In many of the pictures she’s standing in front of some attractive destination. Amber provides commentary on the photos, remarking things similar to ‘oh, that was when we went to Paris’. I find Lark has a sense of style that changes frequently. Her hair is long in most pictures, and George sheds light on how alike the two of us look.”She never had any adopted friends after you left the school.” Amber says to us. “I always felt we failed her in that way.” Amber leans forwards. “Did you ever have that? A community of families like yours?”I take deep breaths, in through the nose, out through the mouth. In through the nose, out through the mouth. “I didn’t have that””Do you feel your parents failed you?””Yes.” I say, “My parents did fail me.””I think so often that I should have raised Lark differently. I would have changed so many things if I were to go back.”Amber rambles on, but I don’t hear her.My parents died when I was eight. My mom finally passing after a long and gruesome illness. Shortly afterward, my dad bled himself out, his body slack in a bathtub, and I had been raised by another person, an uncle, in a home that was not a home.No. I would not think about it anymore. I would erase it.I would write a new story for myself, an origin story. In this version, I grew up in a large house in a neighborhood full of children. I went to school. I had friends. My mom made me pancakes every morning, and my dad taught me how to drive. I graduated. I went to university. “We need to get to the point,” George tells Amber, wheezing, “the girl doesn’t have all night.”Amber nodded. “Of course. What I haven’t told you, and why we asked you here, is that Lark dropped out of college after first term.”George makes sure to add in, “We think she got in with the party people. She didn’t work up to her potential in her classes.””Well, she never did love school. Not the way you love Stanford, Lexa. Anyway, she left without even saying a word to us, and it was almost an entire month before she even got in touch. We were so worried.””You were so worried” George fulminates. He leans forward. “I was just angry. Lark is irresponsible. She loses her phone and forgets to turn it on. She’s not good with texting, calling, any of that. “It turns out that she went to Rarotonga” Amber announces exasperatedly. “We used to go there all the time as a family, and she ran away there, apparently. She told us she rented a place, but she didn’t give us an address or anything else.””Why don’t you go see her?” I ask.”I can’t go anywhere.” George says ashamedly. Amber leans down and kisses him on the cheek. “So we had the idea that maybe you’d like to go over, Lexa. To Rarotonga. We thought of hiring a detective—”George chimes in, “You thought about it. A ridiculous idea.””We did ask some college friends of hers, but they preferred not to interfere.””What do you want me to do?” I ask for clarity’s sake.Amber answers, “Make sure she’s okay. Don’t tell her we sent you, but text us so we know how things are going. Try to convince her to come home.””You’re not working this summer?” George asks me. ‘No internship, nothing like that?””No” I say “I don’t have a job.””Naturally we’d pay for your expenses to the island,” George explains. “We can give you gift cards for a couple thousand dollars, and we’ll pay for a hotel.”The Simmons’ were so trusting. So kind. So stupid. “I’d be glad to help you out”I take the subway back to my apartment. I open my laptop, do a search, and order a Stanford University T-shirt in navy blue.When it arrives in front of my door a couple days later, I yank the neck till it is loose, and spray the bottom edge with bleach cleaner to make a stain.I wash it repeatedly till it is soft and seems old.4 One week later, a guard stops me at airport security. “If you want to carry this bag on, miss, you have to put the toiletries in a clear plastic bag.” The man informs me. He wears a blue uniform. “Didn’t you see the sign? Everything has to be three point four ounces.”The guard goes through my luggage wearing a pair of cream-colored latex gloves. He takes my shampoo, conditioner, sunscreen, and body lotion. He throws them all in the trash.”I’ll send it through again now.” He says to me, zipping the suitcase shut. “Should be okay, you wait here for a minute.”I wait. I try to look as if I’d known how to pack for air travel and just simply forgotten, but my ears grow hot. I’m angry at the waste. I feel small and inexperienced.The plane is crammed, with little foot space and constant noise, but I enjoy the flight. It is a cloudless day. The shoreline curves down the coast, brown and green.My hotel is in a town called Avarua. It’s a Victorian building with white trim. I leave my luggage in my room and walk a few blocks down the street. The town is filled with vacationers. There are a couple of shops with nice clothing. I need clothes; I have the money, and I know what looks good on me, but I hesitate.I watch the women as they walk by. They wear jeans and short cotton skirts. Faded colors and navy blue. Their bags are fabric, not leather. Their lipstick is nude and pink, never red. Some wear white pants and espadrilles. Their bras don’t show. They wear only the smallest earrings.I take out my hoops and walk over to a shop painted a seafoam green color. There, I buy a pair of boyfriend jeans, three cotton tank tops, a canvas tote, a pair of white espadrilles, and a yellow sundress. I pay with the card and get cash from a machine.Standing on the street corner, I transfer my ID and money, makeup and and phone to the new bag. I call my phone’s billing service and arrange payment with the Visa number. I call my roommate, Kaja, and leave a voicemail saying I’m sorry.At my hotel, I work out, shower, and put on the yellow dress. I blow my hair out in loose waves. I need to find Lark, but it can wait till tomorrow. I walk over to a seafood bar looking out onto the ocean, and ask for a lobster roll. When it arrives, it’s not what I expect. It’s nothing but hunks of lobster slathered in mayonnaise and thrown on a bun. I had imagined it being more elegant.I ask for a plate of sweet potato fries and eat them instead.It feels weird to walk through town with nothing I need to do. I end up at a small amusement park, in front of a carousel.I buy a ticket. It isn’t crowded, just a few little kids.  He’s wiry, with developed deltoids and lats, possibly a rock climber, definitely not a weight-room guy. Some white and asian heritage, I guess. He has thick black hair, short and cropped. He looks like he’s been out in the sun. “I feel kind of pathetic right now” he tells me laughingly.”How so?””Well,” He begins, a smile slowly growing on his face, “