When I was a little girl, everything hurt me. My mother called me tender heart, my father would often pull me into his lap as I sobbed after glimpsing a homeless man. Neither of them sheltered me, I think they wanted me to see. When I inquired as to the purpose of suffering, they’d say the same thing: because people are flawed and nothing is fair. I looked for the cracks in people after that, the things that made the world an unfair place. I wanted to avoid those kinds of people in case I became flawed and unfair as well. And there it was, my very own crack. I was looking for the flaws in others and that was unfair when I had so many myself. I looked instead for that which was good, and lovely, and pure. You could find it if that was your focus, and all of a sudden, when you looked at people you saw why they were worth loving. I was a cause kid, and though I had many causes from the age of six to sixteen, the one closest to my heart was the friendless. Yeah, you can sit with me. And everyone did because people want someone to sit with. Soon people were sitting on me. Shit gets heavy, you know? Especially when people realize you’re willing to carry their weight.
The best way to deal with this was to become friendless. No, you can’t sit with me, I like sitting by myself. So, I did. For a while anyway. People can smell kindness on you even when you act like an asshole to scare them away. Darius was the first person I gave a seat to, he called me on my bullshit so I had to. Once that happened, others came, but this time they didn’t try to sit on me. I shifted back into the friendship zone somewhat awkwardly. No one seemed to notice. By the time Fig moved in next door, I’d allowed the little girl with a cause back into my heart. I let her sit with us. I wanted to take some of her burdens and let her know it was okay.
But, this wasn’t normal. What I’d seen next door wasn’t normal.
I pulled out my phone to call Darius. It rang once, twice, and I hung up. It could be in my head, all of it. I was a fiction writer; maybe I was bored and exaggerating details in my mind. Maybe I was crazy, that was entirely plausible, but then my mind drifted back to that day in the park, the songs I’d found on her Spotify when I’d decided to take a look. Things I could no longer ignore even if I wanted to.
I pulled up her Instagram account, scrolling through the pictures, looking for what Darius had tried to tell me about so many times. What Amanda and Gail had pointed out. I’d ignored them, not because I didn’t see the similarities myself, but because I didn’t care. We were all copycats, weren’t we? We saw celebrities wearing high-waisted jeans and then we wore them. Our friends listened to music that we immediately downloaded and became obsessed with. We were a generation of see it, want it, take it. But, this—this was different. More sinister. I scrolled all the way back to the first picture she posted, two years prior: grainy, beige photos—somewhat depressing. Not a biggie, most of us had a rough start to Instagram. Around the time she moved in next door, her Instagram style changed dramatically. She’d changed the style of her layout to match mine, enlarged white boxes around her pictures. She copied the angles too—half of Seattle’s Ferris Wheel captured in the top right corner of the photo, the fruit stands in Pike Place Market, a close-up of radishes I’d taken, sunsets, a photo of a shirt I’d seen in a department store, a yellow building we’d taken family pictures in front of, jellyfish from the aquarium. It was all there, and each of her pictures were taken days after mine. But why? And did she realize she was doing it?
When he got home that night I told him everything, starting with the knick-knacks in her kitchen and ending with his cologne.
“Are you sure it was mine?”
“Darius, you’ve been wearing that shit for four years. I’m the one who bought it for you. AND I have to order if from fucking Timbuktu to get it. Nordstrom, my ass.” I was pacing the living room, my hands tucked into my back pockets. I spun around to look at him, to gauge his reaction. He was sitting on the sofa, head bowed, hands dangling between his knees.
“I’m so uncomfortable right now I don’t know what to say.” He glanced up at me, and I felt so terrible. This wasn’t his fault. I thought about the times I questioned him, got angry and accusatory. It was so wrong of me to blame him for something I’d invited in.
“I’m going to make you even more uncomfortable,” I said, holding up a finger. I ran over to my MacBook and clicked on the music list I’d compiled. I’d play him each song, make him see.
“Listen to this.” I played them all while he sat quietly next to me and listened.
“You think these songs are about me?” His words were clipped.
I nodded. “The lyrics, Darius. They’re about her being in love with someone she can’t have. She thinks I’m evil and you need someone better—her. Pair that with the cologne, the way she acts when you’re around, and look!” I pulled up a screenshot of her Instagram account. “She’s posted four pictures of you. Just you. I’ve never made a solo cameo on her account, not once. Why is she posting another woman’s husband on her Instagram, for God’s sake? That’s just weird.”
He didn’t respond. After months of Darius insisting she was stalking me, copying my every move, this wasn’t the response I’d expected. Something wasn’t right. I could feel it.
“Darius, did something happen between the two of you? Just tell me the truth.”
He looked alarmed. Hurt? I’d just done what I told myself I wasn’t going to do not five minutes ago. God, I was a mess. I backed down right away, apologized. I couldn’t keep doing this to him, accusing him. I started crying.
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