Strangers In Moscow

Adeline Alexandra Kouris was the odd girl out in Cuyahoga High … but not in the way Carrie Sawyer was.

Adeline was the daughter of a famous tech-magnate and an English literary genius.

Carrie was the daughter of a Scottish alcoholic and an unemployed ex-hippie.

So it was strange to Carrie—the strangest thing of all that “Lin” —as she insisted on being called—actually took an interest in her.

In fact, for most of that winter in 1995 / 1996 Carrie could hardly avoid Lin at school.

And, the truth being told, she didn’t mind that much. It was nice not just being the hobo-girl from the country for once.

But it was also awkward.

And then things had gone from awkward to embarassing that Wednesday morning shortly before Christmas.

*

It had only been about a week after Lin’s Big Party when Lin popped the question Carrie had been dreading:

“Why don’t I come over to your place?”

Yeah, why don’t ye … girl-who’s-about-to-inherit-the-seventh-biggest-company-in-the-state? Carrie thought and felt something she thought was vertigo.

They were hanging out in a break outside Cuyahoga High on the faded canvas of green that fronted the familiar red brick facade of the school. Winter hadn’t entirely killed the grass or the athletic field to the east, although the delineation between the white chalk lines and wisps of snow was becoming less and less clear.

“Sure thing, that’d be … fine,” Carrie said.

“You sure?”

“Yeah, yeah – just come by.”

“Today?”

“Uh … yeah, why not? My mom’s probably home, though.”

“So?”

“Well, we … it’s a small apartment.”

Suddenly, the noises from the yard seemed crisp and intent, as if they were all zooming in on Carrie. She glanced around. Denise passed by the shed, some new boy wrapped around her, but Carrie wasn’t sure if she looked in their direction.

“I’m sure I can fit in,” Lin said. “I’m not that voluptuous.” She flashed a grin and heaved up her A-cup breasts. Carrie tried to find a stance that indicated to people who were looking that they weren’t having this conversation.

“Okay,” Carrie managed to confirm. “Ye can come.”

“Okay!” Lin sparkled even more. “Can I go with you after the last lesson?”

Carrie nodded, feeling as if somebody had strapped an anvil to her neck.

“Maybe I should call first? It’d be better if she’s out.”

“I wouldn’t mind meeting your mom, Carrie. I’m sure she’s nicer than mine.”

“Lin, it’s only two rooms.”

Lin’s eyes widened for just a sec, and then she quickly found the ‘normal mask’ again.

“So?” Lin shrugged.

“Lin, ye live in a castle!”

“So maybe I’m tired of that. Did I tell you my mom’s gonna sell everything and move back to England?”

“Really?”

“Yeah, everything – the company’s going to some cousin or something. But she gets a lot of money. She won’t have to work for the rest of her life.”

“And ye?”

Lin shrugged again. “I’ll tell you later. Let’s go back in. I think I saw Old Hacksaw heading our way. He probably thinks we’ve been smoking again.”

“Admit it, Lin – ye have the hots for him.”

“Oh, I’m sure the old fart likes petite girls, but I’m not gonna be one of them. I’d rather be Willie the Groundskeeper’s wife!”

They both cracked up for a few joyful moments, but enough to notice – for the first time that day – that the winter sun over Cleveland felt mild.

*

“Deborah Sawyer speaking.”

“Mom—I’m bringing a friend home.”

“Caroline? Are you already off from school? Guess I lost track of time there … ”

“Mom, are ye … up?”

“Yes, yes—of course, I’m up. Why are you calling, hon?”

“Ye sound … tired?”

“I just have a little headache. What is all this about? You never call from the school.”

“That’s because I can’t afford a cell, mom. If we had the money for one of them I might call a bit more often, don’t ye think? The payphones in the school basement ne’er work, remember?”

“Apparently you found one that worked, sweetie. So what’s all this about?”

“I’m just bringing a friend. We’re going to be there half an hour after the last lesson. So maybe two hours from now.”

“Do you want me to make tea? Does he drink herbal tea?”

“It’s just a girl.”

“Okay, someone from class?”

“We have some classes together.”

“So … you think she’d prefer that a little cleaning lady comes around before she steps through our door, is that it?”

“Yes, that’s what I think.”

“I’d better call her up then.”

“Please, mom. Just a little … ”

“Don’t worry. I might as well try to find those damn pills … ”


*

Carrie finally heard the blessed door to the stairway slam shut.

“Oh, good – at last! She’s out!”

Deborah Sawyer had been the model of politeness when they came home, only lifting an eyebrow when Lin threw her Denim designer jacket on the floor in the hallway under their second-hand parka coats. Then she had excused herself.

That was now all of one minute ago …

Carrie fell back on her couch/bed as if she were ready never to get up again. Then she noticed where Lin was still sitting.

“Ye sure ye don’t want to be up here?”

“I’m fine down here,” Lin assured her with a tone of honesty that chilled Carrie for a second, although she had no idea why.

Lin patted the floor in Carrie’s room and moved her pillow around unnecessarily. Then she sipped more Diet Coke, slowly and attentively, before continuing to memorize every CD in the stack on Carrie’s little night table.

Mariah Carey sang about heaven on the radio, and outside, frail snowflakes silently fell over the neighborhood and dissolved immediately as they kissed the concrete roofs.

“Your mom’s not so bad, you know,” Lin said.

“Aye … I guess.”

“No, really.”

“She’s an old hippie who spends way too much time flirting with transcental meditation and too little time getting more hours.”

“Transcendental,” Lin said.

“Whatever.”

“She works as a sub, right?”

“Right … she just took over for a three-month run at a school downtown, sick leave or something. But I don’t think there’s anything new or anything coming up.”

Another careful sip.

“Must be hard. My mom’s never had to worry about money, although being an English professor isn’t a goldmine. But my dad always provided the gold.”

“Ye said he left ye some of it?”

Lin nodded and looked out the window as if there was something she was missing that was waiting just out there. But there were just the snowflakes, dying against the window.

“Two million …”

“What?! Lin – that’s …”

“I know. I know.”

“Jesus …”

“You’re thinking about Jesus again?”

They both welcomed the laughter. It postponed the rest of the conversation a little.

“I’m not that much into Jesus, Lin.”

“Is your mom?”

“No, it’s more Eastern stuff …”

“I saw that.”

“I wish we didn’t have to go through the living room to get here.”

“Come on, Carrie – your apartment is not that bad.”

Carrie propped herself up on her elbows. Across the room, Michael Jackson’s poster seemed to challenge her:

‘Tell her! Show her!’

But she wasn’t going to repeat old mistakes. She wanted to be Lin’s friend, even if it already felt impossible.

And it was crazy. She knew that. What was she to Lin? Some kind of girly Oliver Twist that Lin had scooped up to care about?

“I feel shitty about living here, that’s all.”

“I can understand that.”

“Can ye?”

“Don’t give me that look. Just because I’ve been imprisoned in that cheap imitation of some French mansion for most of my childhood doesn’t mean I liked it there!”

“No, but ye had a wee bit more space, did ye nae?”

“I sure did. Do you want it? It’s for sale now.”

“Ha-ha …”

“Look, I mean it, Carrie. I may not know what it’s like to live in a two-roomer, I admit that. But I can feel how much it bothers you. I can—”

“Sure ye can.”

“I’m sorry. It’s just that …”

“No,” Lin interrupted. “I’m sorry …” She looked down. “You’re a good person, Carrie.”

“Ye hardly know me.”

“I feel like I’ve known you for a long time.”

“Why do ye want to know me? I live in this dump and ye …”

“I suppose …”

“What?”

Carrie sent her the firmest ‘it’s-closing-time-for-this-subject’ look.

It wasn’t.

Lin finally got up from the floor and sat on the couch.

She took a deep breath, pulled her legs up into a tailor-position, and let her hands drop in between, fingers slightly folded as if she were readying for prayer.

“Carrie – what if I bought you a condo? Just for you?”

“Are … ye crazy?”

“No, I’m about to become a millionaire.” Lin shrugged as if she was talking about lunch. “Okay, the money isn’t mine until I’m 18, but that’s a little over a year away. We can look for the right place in the meantime.”

“Lin – I can’t … I …”

“Why not? You hate living with your mom. This place is way too small. I don’t have any use for the money – I don’t even want it. It’ll be a win-win. I’ll donate the rest to charity or something.”

“I just can’t … It’ll be too m…”

“Why not?” Lin sounded almost aggressive. “Do you often get an offer like this?”

“No, but … it’s just too much …”

“Too much to receive? Why?!”

Carrie was at a total loss for words. Mariah Carey hit her high note, and Carrie killed the radio immediately. But it was only a one-second respite.

“Lin, I cannot receive that much money from a …”

“… a stranger? I thought we were friends!”

“We are. I mean, we’ve known each other for a week but we’re— we’re friends.”

“We are. And we’ve known each other longer.”

“Yes, we have. Yes, but we started being… friends for real… a week ago. Lin, this is crazy! Ye cannae buy me a bloody condo!”

“What if I want to?”

Something shone in Lin’s eyes, but it was something Carrie dared not look at. It was the kind of shining that comes in the eyes before you take your last breath or something.

“Forget it— just forget it,” Lin said. “It was a stupid suggestion anyway. And maybe you’ll hate me after Christmas, and then you wouldn’t want to be indebted to me like that. Stupid. I say crazy, stupid things sometimes. Can you forgive me?”

Carrie wanted to smile. With just a little bit of willpower, she managed to make it, and it felt like a relief.

“I say daft things sometimes, too.”

“Good.” Lin smiled, too, but quickly. “Then we’re made for each other.”

“Do ye … want to listen to something else?”

“Whatcha got? More Mariah?”

“Goodness, no.”

“Yeah… how about Michael, then?” Lin nodded towards the poster, where MJ was frozen in eternal moonwalking.

“Ye like his new album?”

“Love it. Put it on.”

“Friggin’ CD-player’s making trouble again.”

“Try knocking on it.”

“I already did—oh, there.”

“On disc 2!”

“Oh—okay. I’ll just change it.”

“You don’t have to if it’s too much trouble.”

“No, no, not at all. There. Ah—Jesus is with us today. It works!”

They both snickered, and it felt bloody good, too. (Carrie was sure Jesus wouldn’t mind.)

Then there was Michael, more Diet Cokes, more dying snowflakes, and more talking about… everything.

Deborah wisely stayed out until late in the evening, but by that time Lin had already caught a cab home.

Carrie was left alone in her room, not really believing that Lin had been there to begin with.

Something automatic kicked in, something that didn’t want to accept this new reality. It was too weird. Too far out.

It wasn’t happening.

Adeline Alexandra Kouris did not just drop by for Diet Coke in her messy little room.

And they did not just have a hell of a good time.

It just didn’t happen.

It couldn’t.

Not… her and Lin Kouris?

Carrie tried to convince herself that the first real friend she seemed to have made in Cleveland was probably already gone by the time Christmas was over. It couldn’t possibly last. They were too different.

And crazy, right? Lin just offered to buy her a place to live!

No, it can’t last.

And so Carrie thought it was the last time when she closed the front door after Lin. And that she should feel relieved.

She really should.

Carrie kept rehashing it, over and over, in her mind before she went to sleep—as if to find some way to convince her brain that this was really both the first and last time.

But all she could think of was that when she really admitted to herself… what she wanted … then she knew that it was not to close the door on Lin as she did a few hours ago.

Not ever.

*

“So… have ye been to your father’s funeral yet?”

Lin shook her head, while at the same time having a minor struggle with her jacket. It looked a bit ludicrous, and Carrie almost managed to forget that it wasn’t.

Lin didn’t mention her father’s funeral again, and Carrie didn’t ask.

Just as she didn’t ask about the condo again.

After all… you couldn’t just receive that kind of gift from someone you’d barely known for a week.

But it sure would be good if you could.

*


Last edited 14 June 2024


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