“First of all, he’s not dying; he’s hibernating. Second—jealous? You?” Lissa glided from the kitchenette across the room to hand me my tea. “Last time we talked about the future, you had dreams of heading off to cooking school in Paris to learn how to poach the perfect egg.”
“Paris?” I sat up to take the mug. “Seriously? When did I say that?”
“Well, I mean it’s not like I can pinpoint it. You were always talking about it. But I think that it was something you started in on sometime after you bombed that audition.”
“Chicago? You don’t remember? You wanted Roxie, and you made chorus.” Lissa dropped gracefully onto the futon. “It was back in December, and Birdie was working with Mr. Cutts and all the drama department people. I didn’t see your audition, but you weren’t happy about it. You were definitely pegged for a shot at the lead. I landed Velma—it was a lot of work, especially for my senior spring.” She rolled her eyes but she didn’t mean it; knowing Lissa, she had loved each grueling rehearsal. “Jeepers creepers, Ember, you could not be giving me more of a blank stare. You don’t remember? Well, you were a really good sport about it, but I think you were also feeling kind of like, okay, time to move on. Resolved, I guess. You had other plans.”
“Like culinary school…”
“For sure. Do you still cook? During winter break, you made me this scrumptious box of homemade truffles. It was like heaven. But I was surprised you didn’t get Roxie, personally. Gadzooks, but that all feels like a long time ago.” Lissa swung her long legs around, pulling into a seated stretch, her calves flexing élevé, relevé, élevé.
Chocolate truffles. Paris. An audition for Chicago. Nope, no recall of that. My tea tasted like hot, sweet campfire smoke. “I can’t remember. What about ‘waffles, waffles’—what’s that about?”
Lissa laughed. “It happened one afternoon after practice. We’d been planning to be all healthy and go to Siggy’s for those quinoa salads we always craved, but then we got there and checked out the menu and nothing looked particularly delicious—”
“Oh, wait—and we both said ‘waffles, waffles,’ at the same time!” I could feel the afternoon, a real-true click, the two of us hunched in the wooden booth at Siggy’s. “We wanted waffles and pancakes and French toast and muffins. Mountains of carbs.”
“Yes!” Lissa clapped her hands. “That was just the phrase you used. ‘Mountains of carbs!’ ”
The afternoon unspooled in a gust of wind and woolly scarves. Dashing out of the restaurant. Jumping on the subway to get to the IHOP over on Flatbush Avenue. “We were crazy; we must have each eaten for two,” said Lissa. “But that afternoon was hilarious.”
“And then we paid, big-time,” I remembered. We hardly ate a thing the next day except for carrot sticks. Dancers can pick and choose from eating disorders, but a satisfying afternoon of pancakes is just not in the game plan.
“Not your favorite part—the next two days of denial.” Lissa was right. I loved to cook, and I loved to eat—a simple pleasure, but any appetite, for a dancer, was a problem with a world of consequence.
Then I remembered something else. “So that was why we started saying ‘waffles, waffles’ to mean a spontaneous, off-the-radar new plan.”
“Ha. I love it,” I said. It felt great to have it again, too—it was a small, happy gift, like finding ten dollars in the pocket of my jeans.
Lissa stared at me over her mug. “Is this like a brain-damage-memory-loss thing you’ve got, from the accident? Sorry, not to imply you have brain damage. I mean, because you don’t, do you?” She squinched her nose. Lissa relied on her innocent adorableness to save her from her innocent tactlessness.
“I think of it more as missing pieces. Not damaged pieces,” I explained. “And I do get jolted back into memories. Like when I saw you at the club back on Halloween, I could feel these—sparks, I guess I’d call them—of what we did last New Year’s Eve. We hung out together that night, right?”
“New Year’s Eve, sure.” Lissa sighed. “You came over to my place before. We got dressed together.… Let’s see.… Oh, and that’s when I saw your leather jacket for the first time; you’d just bought it. And I made us mozzarella sticks, do you remember that? No? Or what about that stand-up mirror in my room at home that makes everyone look like they’re in a fun house? It was definitely shooting down our confidence, that mirror.”
“You’re from Williamsburg.”
“Uh-huh. I am.” Lissa gave me a quick double take. Probably astounded that I could misplace such a huge fact. But nothing was clicking with mozzarella or the fun-house mirror, and I had only a dim recall of Lissa’s home of old-fashioned furniture and flocked Victorian wallpaper and sconces that threw off blotted light.
“Okay, okay. Moving on to Areacode, which was where we went next,” continued Lissa, all business. “You’d been joining me on the club scene for a little while, and this dude—or wait, no, it was his brother—had given you a flyer earlier that week, up in Manhattan. You were dying to go—but you didn’t really know the dude. And you were kind of shilly-shallying about it, hoping he’d be there but trying not to get too excited.”
“Did the guy have a name?” I braced myself. “Anthony, maybe?”
Lissa shook her head. “No. I’d remember that because that’s my dad’s name. Who’s Anthony?”
“Just someone…” I breathed out. It was a relief in a way, every time I slipped a link to Anthony Travolo. It unnerved me to brush up against possible connections that I couldn’t recall. It also seemed disrespectful to his memory.
“No, I don’t think you knew this guy’s name. But I think you knew his brother’s name? Which is failing me. Now, I’d know that name if you said it.”
“How about Kai?” I said it just to say it, the way Rachel endlessly brought up Jake.
Lissa’s face stayed blank. “Last name?”
Did Kai have his dad’s last name? “Kai Ortiz?”
“No. Nothing like that.”
I shrugged. “I’m all out of names.”
“Okay. Well, anyway, we were super happy to get into Areacode. The sound was so hot, and I wanted to meet the DJ, or—whatever he called himself—sonoric artist. He was sublime.”