Through the massive building runs an alley where a few small shops begin. There is a narrow shack out front with a neon sign that reads TEA in glowing pink letters. There are a few round tables around it with mismatched chairs and stools.
"I'm not getting bubble tea this time it's so cute and old timey but I think it makes me bloated," Lime starts, looking at the menu painted across the top of the window. A bored young dude stands inside, staring at Lime. I decide to order first.
"Can I get a green tea with melon, cold? Thanks."
"I'll take a bubble tea," Lime says, and starts rattling off her CASH code into the window before I can offer to pay. "Let me pay, I have some CASH to burn today, ya know." I nod and sit down at the table. It's metal and has a bright blue spiral painted on it. I trace the spiral with my finger, starting from the inside, moving out. Lime brings the drinks over. Big plastic cups with wide straws punched through the top. "I read that the city tried to outlaw these cups 200 years ago. Didn't happen. They wound up just banning a specific size cup instead? Weird, right."
"I guess it was only offensive if really small? People felt ripped off?"
"Apparently it was too big. It was 40oz."
"Dang." I imagined how awesome it would be to get 40oz of clean water from a soda fountain at 7-11 when I needed some water in a pinch instead of paying 2x as much for a small bottle or lugging the gallon jug home. "40oz is such a good amount though. Like I could get by on 40oz of water a day if I needed to."
"I'm sorry, Sugar," Lime says, putting her perfectly manicured hand on my grubby glove-covered one. I must have looked sad.
"I'm not sad," I say.
"Okay," she says, taking her hand back.
Lime tells me how living with J is different than it used to be. He's gotten used to her being there and thinks that she belongs to him. He doesn't like it when she eats the wrong things... "He mentions things that I was reading, as if he already knew about it like just to chit chat but it comes from places I know he doesn't read. And he's always got a new thing to bring up that I just happened to have just read about. I mean I think he's reading my history. I've been dying to get away from the apartment because I think he's watching my room. Like if I stay in there too long for him, he will open my door and leave it open until I come hang out on the couch with him. At first I honestly thought he was being caring and thoughtful. I thought that he thought I was depressed, you know. Or lonely. Or just needed help to get out of a rut. But he'll do it even if I'm busy. Like I was working on an article and it required all this research, you know how it is. So I was closed up in my room to keep out the distractions of the rest of the apartment, the girls and J's shitty little parties. And he would just barge in when I was right in the middle of working! He would even open the door and yell at me to come out when I was on a call. It was so humiliating. I had to call him back the next day and J, I swear he listened to the call because he tried to tell me that the guy was a creep and trying to take advantage of me. Even though he has no reason to think that. It was just for this assignment I was doing for USD. It was so weird. Then when I tried to go meet the guy, I figured it was the only way I was going to get the interview, I got stopped by the police on the way there and J had to bail me out of jail! It was the only time I have ever been stopped by the police and I have considered that I'm being paranoid but the fact is that he could've easily asked the police to stop me if he wanted to." She takes a long draw from her drink, large spheres of black goo slurp up the tube.
I can't believe that Lime was in jail and didn't tell me. I want to ask her what jail was like but I don't interrupt her.
"I don't know what I'm doing there anymore. I hate posing for his magazine. I hate hearing about it. I hate that when he makes extra money from a spread, he gives some to me. He acts so condescending when he does it too. "It's all thanks to your talent, Lime. You earned this." When I literally just stood there. I hate the fact that he has access to my registered credit account because he's technically my employer. It's so gross. I've got a ton of money in there, Sugar, and I don't know what to do with it! Every time I buy something he has to make some comment about it."
I wonder how much money she has in there.
"Sometimes I imagine moving out and like, I could pay for my own apartment for a couple years in advance, but they want all these background documents, credit history, and registration information. I don't have that shit. I'd need a new employer otherwise it would be J that is signing all the documents to get the new place. But even if I did find someone to register me as an employee, I would have to be registered with the city first, get a real ID and all that and then anyone would be able to find me. He would first. He would be just dropping in again like he does now. I feel like what's the difference if he is a few feet away in the other room or on the other side of the city, he can still touch me."
"He touches you?" I hear myself asking before thinking. I shouldn't have asked that.
"It feels like it. I can feel him look, Sugar. He is constantly hovering, listening, watching. He might as well be squeezing me until I explode because that's what it feels like." She puts down her cup and takes a quick look around. "I mean I feel okay right now. But the more I think about it, the closer he feels. That's why I've been staying in so much. I've been trying to find a way out by like, looking within. If that makes sense."
I'm not sure if it makes sense.
"I just feel like since I've been living with him, and even before that- I've been like, living a lie? I guess? Like I made a new life in the underground to get away from this false life that I had with my family and their ideas of who I was. I wanted to live for me, just how I saw myself. But I became Lime, and I'm not sure if she is who I am either. I mean if I'm completely honest, I don't think I'm Lime. Lime is like- who my family wouldn't let me become because they were afraid and that restriction made me want to see who she is. But lately I've been looking for a more complete truth than just "not my past." I have been trying to look inside, and every time I do, I see that Lime's fake. Lime's who I wanted to be, so I became her, but that isn't really who I am. But the thing is that I don't really know who I am. And every time I am attracted to something, and I think it's revealing something about myself, I just hit another dead end. And all I end up with is another fake persona."
"I don't think Lime is false," I try to tell her. "Who Lime is, that is a part of you, it's inside you too. And like yeah, there is also the Outside World Lime who is this cute bubble that the true you can float around in, but the inner Lime is inside that bubble too and like yeah, you might change the shade of the bubble, but that doesn't mean that Lime is fake," I try.
"But I feel like if I don't pop the bubble, I'll be living another bullshit life like I was with my family." She is talking so fast now. She is gripping the edge of the metal table.
"You dont have to show your deepest inner self to the world all the time in everything you do," I say slowly, hoping she will calm down.
"I'm not saying I want like complete exposure, I just don't wanna feel so fucking fake all the damn time. I feel like... like everyone at that party last night who wanted to talk to me, you know? They had this idea of who I am like... based on who I was, or who I let them see me as. And I realized that I have very little to do with that person. Like she and I both went to the same parties and wore the same outfits and said the same things but were we really the same person?" She has raised her voice but let go of the table.
"You can't control who other people think you are. I mean it's not your fault what they think. Like you aren't responsible for how they see you." I'm trying but I don't know if I'm helping at all.
"I don't think I want to control what other people think I am. I just want to be the real me. Like they can think whatever they want but I want to at least give them the truth so if they judge me, at least it is real. Because right now I feel like they don't even know who that is, so it just feel extra weird to talk to them."
"What exactly is the fake part?" I ask. She lets out a long sigh and takes a big gulp of her tea before answering.
"I picked up these symbols to stand for me. Like the color green, you know? Because I liked how it looked. It was unique and strange, not feminine, not pretty, and maybe I felt like all those things were me, but mostly I wanted to be special, I think? But I don't think you can just pick a thing that you like to stand for yourself because like, just because you like it, doesn't mean it's you. I mean green is more than unique and strange. Green has change and growth and vitality and health and I don't really see myself in any of those things. I feel constant, frozen, and like- this may sound weird but ancient? I have always felt so old. Not like connected to the earth or nature or ancient culture, but ancient like the cold is ancient. Like it always is. And it is so empty that we don't even think about it as a thing on its own, the cold. Some other "real" thing takes on the characteristic of being cold, but cold itself is never really just alone and recognized for itself. Even like- when you walk into a cold room, it's still the room that's cold. The air is cold. Your skin, in the room is cold. I feel like that. That people only talk about me in terms of other things- J's magazine, my photographs, my cold skin and body inside it even isn't really me." She pauses for a moment. "But you asked what the fake part is. I guess the fake part is all those other things. Like we see cold and think of frozen water. The cold in water, we think about what ice is, but not the cold. Like I just want to be seen without the water that I froze, you know?"
"I don't think we can see cold though," I say. I am trying my best to be honest. "I really think there are things that like, we don't have to try to show. That it's okay if they are left unexpressed or unnoticed. The world doesn't have to be privy to all aspects of you. You might be the only one to understand what cold is on its own and that's okay." I can tell from her face that she doesn't believe that I understand. But I think that I do. There are aspects of my life that I really can't explain to other people, that only make sense to them if I make them seem more concrete than they are.
She isn't saying anything. I don't know what that means. Maybe I should wait for her to speak again. Maybe I should try to explain myself more but I am worried I said too much. I put too much of myself in my replies instead of looking for her in her words. Sometimes I feel like a terrible friend.
The bench under my legs feels sticky. I feel weird still wearing all my gear. I rip the gloves and goggles off and shove them into my backpack. I don't want to go see Dial right away. Maybe there's something we can do first to help Lime feel better. I need new socks and maybe she'll want to go shopping.
"I need socks," I say. Suddenly I can feel my feet for the first time today and they prick and tingle. Can I feel the bacteria growing in there? I really should have got some while I was at the discount store yesterday. Or I should have just washed the damned things at Lime's. I still can't believe I stayed over there last night. And we are still hanging out together today. Maybe she'll want to come home with me tonight. I still have to go to Spiro's later and there is no way I could drag her along to that. He's pretty laid back about delivery policy stuff but he's a little obsessed with his privacy and the last person he would want in his house is a nightlife princess who could tell everyone where he lives or what he does for CASH.
"Alright cool we should go to Mundo's. Hey but seriously today is my treat though. I gotta spend it. It'll be gone tomorrow!"
We carry our half-empty teas through a lightly busy aisle past a few small shack vendors with boards reading "C-45L Batteries! Get em while we got em!" "homemade oils for peace and magic" and "MAC/DIOR/URNDA/TRIXI".
A giant globe of light, burning against the bright sun, turns on a stick with the word MUNDO wrapped around its electric equator. I hate going in here. The floor is painted to look like a beach, but all the footsteps coming in from the outside have left it worn so there is a black smear across the sparkling sands. I skate in and scan the tables that stretch across the expanse of the store for anything resembling a sock. I spot a familiar pair of black tubes with 3 violet stripes and push over to the table.
"OMG LOOK AT THIS!" Lime calls from behind me. I turn around. She is holding up a tiny pink tshirt with a white cube on it. "It's perfect for you!" I grab 2 pair of tube socks and return back to her.
"Your treat, means I'm getting it no matter what, I assume?" I say, taking it out of her hands. I pull it from seam to seam, to see if it is going to stretch. "There is no way this is going to fit," I say.
"Whatever, Sugar. You aren't even wearing a shirt today. It's at least as big as that bra right?"
"I thought that sports bras kinda count... as a shirt. Don't they count?" Lime and I both used to wear swim suits when we started running. She told everyone it was to be more aerodynamic. But really we just wanted to wear them because they were cute and it made it fun to jump straight into the pool at Lime's apartment after work.
"Hey I'm not judging, you know I'm not. I'm just saying, if you can fit into that sports bra, you can fit into this shirt and look how cute it is! It's a sugar cube!" Lime points to the white cube with her bejeweled nail, long and pointy.
"Fine." I sigh. "But I really need these socks the most," I explain.
"Don't worry I'll get you those stupid cartoon socks. But let's find some nice long socks too..." Lime flits around the store like a hummingbird, pausing for a moment to feel a fabric and then buzzing away to hover over a different pile of violet stockings, fuchia skirts, rose scarves, lilac panties. Watching her makes me dizzy and I check my messages. Nothing. Great.
She glides over to me with a bag full of stuff. I should be glad she is feeling better, but I guess I selfishly want to be feeling better too.
"Here you go! I dont care if that shirt doesn't fit, I have to get out of here before I decide I need something too." And with that she locks my arm in the crook of hers and we set back out into the sun and into the market.
I explain to her that I have to sell a hoodie for Mix, and I have to get a pickup from Dial.
"Uhg! Yes! I'm dying to see if Dial hasn't found himself something worth a damn in that shop of his. I feel like I haven't found anything worth buying for months!"
I spot an empty stool and take a seat on it and yank my feet out of my skates.
I inspect my dirty socks one last time. The old socks don't look that bad, but I really don't want to carry a pair of stinky socks around in my backpack for the rest of the day. I put on one of the new violet pair that Lime picked out. The socks are really tight on my thighs. I look like I'm getting squeezed. Lime assures me it will help them stay up. It's weird to have someone you trust to judge your clothes for you. Like I might think they are too tight and maybe someone else will too but if Lime thinks they look good, then I'll feel good wearing them. And it's even easier to quiet the voice that says, "Your legs are too big for them." Because the voice of "But Lime thinks they are cute" is louder.
I get back into my skates and roll up the old socks and leave them under the stool.