ACOA

 

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Last week I had a mirror wall installed in my bedroom. Call me a narcissist, but watching myself full scale in a mirror feels pretty great. I can check the results of my Pilates classes and the effort is certainly paying off. Just look at those legs!

I’m still getting used to the mirror, though. It doubles the size of my room, and although I love the fake sense of space, it seems overly…empty. Well, ‘lonely’ is the better word. This might sound weird, but sometimes I have the feeling of being watched from beyond the mirror, that it’s not just me and loneliness around. But it only lasts a second.

Complete nonsense. I’m sure this will stop once Craig and I become more intimate and he starts coming over.

Craig is a cute Wall Street broker I’ve been going out with—wait, just ‘cute’ isn’t right. Craig looks like a freaking Adonis, with perfectly defined muscles and a flowing black mane suited for a shampoo commercial. We’ve had two dates so far, but things are looking good.

Not to sound like an obnoxious, self-absorbed ass, but I’ve earned the right to a guy like Craig, and the mirror wall, and my fancy apartment near Times Square. When you’re one of the biggest criminal lawyers in New York, you deserve the sweet cosmopolitan lifestyle that comes with the package.

It’s not all fun and money, though.

Last week, I won three pro bonos that made some families in need very happy. I didn’t get a dime, but that’s okay. Giving back to society is enough. A part of me wonders if that’s because I’ve wronged it so many times…but it doesn’t matter.

No one cares.

After checking out my perfectly Pilates-shaped body one last time, I drop over my bed. It’s been a hard day’s work, like any other.

I spread my hands over the silky purple sheets, and my reflection does the same: that honey-eyed beauty with black hair tied into a long braid that cascades over her chest.

Seeing myself in a T-shirt and sloppy shorts is unnatural, though. I spend so much time at the office that anything other than business clothes feels out of place. But something else is wrong…

Something is off with my reflection. She stares directly at me, but I’m not staring directly at her. She widens a long smile and adrenaline shoots through my body, because my reflection just smiled. I didn’t.

The woman in the mirror keeps staring at me with a crooked smile that isn’t mine.

What the hell is going on?

I’m alone. With her. Cold sweat beads on my forehead. The muscles in my legs tighten, but I shouldn’t run. This is a hallucination, it has to be. I raise my hand and arch an eyebrow. My reflection follows my actions, as it should. She doesn’t smile, because I’m not smiling.

Obviously.

That was weird…I must be too tired; anyone would be if they worked a twelve-hour day. I should spend less time at the office.

Seeing things in the mirror can’t be a good sign.

Perhaps a good night’s sleep is all I need. Falling over the comfortable sheets and wrapping them around my body, I doze off as easy as counting one, two, three…

“Santana Banana, wake up.” The whisper cuts through the darkness, but I ignore it.

“Banana,” it insists.

Banana?

My best friend Barbie used to call me Banana. As kids, teens, and then Ivy Leaguers, we were inseparable. But when she slept with my boyfriend five days before graduation, well, that was it. We never spoke again.

I blink at the mirror. My reflection stands, but I’m pretty sure I’m lying in bed.

Rubbing my eyes, I mumble, “What on earth?”

“You know, I really like dreams,” she says with my voice. “People are less rational when they dream.”

“What do you mean?”I sit up straight.

“You’re talking to your reflection. Doesn’t that seem strange?”

“Huh?”

“My point exactly.” She giggles. “You’re less resistant, less aware.”

I try to understand what she means and what’s happening, but I can’t think straight, like there’s this wall in my brain and I can’t climb it. “You mean I’m dreaming? Right now?”

She nods, eyes shining with excitement.

I scratch the top of my head. “Was I dreaming before? When you smiled?”

“Nah. I figured it would be better to do this through a dream. It wouldn’t freak you out as much.” She rests her hands over her hips. “Bad thing about dreams is that you usually forget them. Could you try to remember something?”

“I guess?”

“Catch me if you can.”

She starts running through her room like a manic bee. I jump from the bed and try to fetch her, following her moves as if her world and mine are one. I’m giggling like a six-year-old, because I’m Peter Pan, chasing his shadow in Wendy’s room.

“I can’t catch you, silly! I’m on the other side of the mirror!”

“Catch me, Banana!” my reflection says.

The scent of wet grass fills my nostrils and sunlight floods the room. Suddenly, I’m running through the backyard of my first home. I’m six, maybe seven.

“Catch me!” Barbie says as we play tag.

My tiny fingers almost reach her golden locks that shine under the sun, but she speeds up, adding distance between us.

This whole situation is so familiar…

Mother soaks us with the hose as we run around the yard in our flowered bikinis, but I barely notice her. I need to catch Barbie!

“Stay still, Barbiiiie!” I stop to suck in some air, but soon I’m running again.

Grown-ups grill burgers and chat in the background, the sun blessing them. The smell of grilled meat wrestles with the scent of wet grass and wins. My best memories have these glorious summer weekends as scenery.

“Come on, Bananita!” Barbie shakes her bottom mockingly in front of me. The lace of her pink bikini swings left to right. “Or else I’ll be gone baby, gone!”

I stop and squint at her. This is nothing new; it’s a memory.

Shaking my head, I’m back in my grown-up body, standing in my room and peering at my reflection. Her bright blue eyes stare back at me as if they’re deciphering my thoughts. But I don’t have blue eyes. Barbie does.

“Catch me,” she says in a voice that’s not really mine. Then she speeds to the mirror and stamps her hands against the glass with a rascal smile.

I wake up gasping for air. I’m in bed, heart beating in my ears. I free myself from the duvet and step toward the mirror. Sliding two fingers down my cheek, I watch Mirror-me do the same. I show my tongue and so does she. Of course. It’s only my reflection.

It was a silly dream, that’s all.

Calming down, I study the room in the mirror. There’s nothing different between her room and mine. Dark brown dressers match perfectly with the dark brown bed frame and stylish wardrobe behind me, all contrasting with the white from the walls. Flawless. It didn’t come cheap, of course. My designer is one of the best in Manhattan.

The alarm clock over the mirror-dresser shows 00:L0? Shit, it’s seven a.m.!

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I run to Pilates, finish at eight, shower, and after bumping into five people to catch my train—which I almost missed—I arrive at work at nine. My hair is messed up like a cuckoo’s nest, but after five minutes in the bathroom, Santana Jones, junior partner and rising star, is ready for another day.

Five seconds after I enter my office, my intern, a guy who could be handsome if he didn’t look fifteen, knocks on the door and lets himself in.

“Morning, Miss Jones. Mr. Baker has requested you to review the file on Chase Mayhew.”

Checking the papers on my desk I say, “Already did, Jim. Not taking the case.”

“But…”

One raised eyebrow, that’s all it takes, a silent message saying, I’ll deal with Mr. Baker. “Anything else, Jim?”

“Of course, I apologize, sorry,” he stutters, then clears his throat. “Hmm, Bob from Bingham Associates called. He’s offering seven thousand.”

“Oh really?” I pick up the phone and dial. “Hi Bob, Santana Jones.”

“Morning, Santana.” He’s gloating, I can tell from his tone. “Did you hear about my offer?”

“Yes, I did.” My red nail polish is chipping, so I add a mental note to schedule a manicure.

He lets out a happy victory laugh. “You’d have to be crazy to refuse it, huh?”

“Well Bob, your client accused my client of theft and battery, when all he tried to do was help. Now my client has been proven innocent and your client is filthy rich.”

He’s silent for a second. “Let’s not get carried away now, I think—”

“I smell countersuit here, Bob, and I know I’ll get more than seven thousand if I go ahead. So save us the trouble and give me an offer I can consider.”

He waits for a while.

“Fine. Ten thousand.”

“Oh, that’s very generous. Fuck you, Bob.” I hang up.

My intern stares at me.

“What?” I ask, but the phone rings before he can tell me. It’s Bob’s number. “Santana Jones.”

“This is a pro bono for Christ’s sake!” he barks from the other side. “What’s in it for you?”

“I’m still going to fight for my client even though he can’t afford me.”

Bob is silent for a while. “Fifteen thousand, that’s the last of it.”

“Hmm, let me check with my client. Send my regards to Jill.”

I turn to my intern and wonder for a second if baby face could ever grow a beard. Probably not.

“Jim, tell Mr. Trotter that we got three thousand more than we had discussed. I think he’ll be very happy.”

Jim nods, but before he leaves he turns back to me, mouth half-open. He wants to say something but for the life of him, he can’t.

“Yes?”

“Nothing Miss Jones.”

I like Jim. He’s always ready to help and eager to learn, but he’s scared of everything. He has zero self-confidence. It puzzles me how a guy like him manages to survive in the concrete jungle.

“Jim, you can ask me.”

“W-was it wise to curse at another attorney?”

A snicker comes out. “Definitely not.”

“Then why did you do it?”

“Because I know Bob is a gentlemen’s club kind of guy. He likes his whiskey dry, his cigars Cuban, and his women in the kitchen. He won’t respect or fear me unless he sees me as one of his peers.”

Jim’s lips shape an ‘O.’ “Meaning you know how he ticks?”

I wink at him. “A fine skill for a lawyer, Jimmy-boy.”

He glances at the ground, a tiny smile curling on the left side of his face. “Mr. Baker said you can read anyone like a book in only two minutes.”

“Not nearly as fast as Mr. Baker himself.”

Jim nods and excuses himself before going for the door, leaving me alone.

He looks up to me and I wish he didn’t. I’m clearly not the best role model. Then again, it’s not my fault that two psychopaths walked. The system was built to protect my peace of mind: The judge ruled the sentence, the evidence was lacking, but the lawyer? She was doing her job, that’s all. She’s not freeing scumbags back into society. The system is.

So why does the idea of someone looking up to me sound so wrong?

I shake my head, sending the thoughts away, but they land somewhere else: the phone, its keypad, and Barbie. I was chasing her in my backyard, and I was chasing her in my room. In that crazy dream, Barbie was my reflection.

What does that tell me?

I lean back in my chair, and a tiny part of my brain that hasn’t fully evolved yet, tells me that there must be a reason for the dream. Even though that’s nonsense, my right hand hovers over the phone.

I know we all make mistakes, God as my witness —wherever He is, if He is— but Barbie’s was catastrophically big. Ending our friendship felt like cutting off my right arm, literally and metaphorically, but what was I supposed to do? Best friends don’t sleep with each other’s boyfriends. Besides, what would I say after all this time? Hey, had a dream about you yesterday, and, um, yeah…that’s it?

Perhaps I’m overthinking it. Maybe calling her will shut up this irrational little voice that tells me it’s the right thing to do.

I pick up the phone and dial the numbers I’ll always know by heart. I’m faced with eternal ringing, then a perky voice says, “Hi, you’ve reached Barbara Townsend. Leave your messa―” I hang up.

There. She’s not home. I did my share of the bargain.

Three seconds later the phone rings and my heart stops.

“Santana Jones.”

It’s a work call about a case that will hopefully increase my quarterly bonus by ten percent: a famous football player caught selling cocaine. I forget all about Barbie for the rest of the day.

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