“Your benefactor is my friend,” Cindi says after she closes my door behind her. We stand together in the eight-by-eight room. I think how a cell might be a better word to describe these quarters. Bars even grace the high, narrow window. Still, it’s clean. It should go tonight to an actual homeless person, but it comes to me. I am the house that guilt built.
“I know who you are,” she says. I process. How many will be invited into Evelyn’s inner circle?
“I just wanted to tell you how much I admire what you’re doing. I couldn’t do it. You are the bravest woman I’ve ever met. Thank you for doing this.”
Now she has my attention. I don’t feel brave. I don’t feel like I’m doing much of anything but destroying my life.
Cindi sits on my bed. At least she’s cleaner than I am. The room is spare. I stand.
“You can’t stay here for many nights at a time,” she says. “It would make too many questions for me. Look, I’ll offer you whatever I can…but E said you can’t work yet. I get it. You’re face is everyplace.”
“Thank you,” I say. It’s a spacer, really, I haven’t decided how I feel about this exchange.
“You are totally welcome!” She smiles. Her teeth stand straight and white. I finally notice her familiarity.
“You’re her sister.” No question.
She lowers her head, then brings it up again. “Writers notice all, huh?”
“I guess. So your name’s not really Cindi.”
“It’s the name I use here. I have enemies. They don’t need to know too much about me. E knew I’d be more useful off-screen, so she called me super early, like before the interview. Did she tell you about me?”
I hate that I feel comforted. I hate that Evelyn controls so much of my existence. I hate that I love her forethought.
“I thought all her sisters were at the dinner we had.”
“I’m the sister born in America. Dad didn’t want me to be too attached to the family, you know, for my own good. I love that man, but his ideas take some getting used to. Anyway, I sometimes meet up with everyone in Maine, but I am otherwise treated as a daughter to my adoptive parents.”
“Your parents gave you up?” I feel slapped.
“Their good, white friends adopted me after I was born. I was a ‘surprise’. I always knew. We lived next door. It all seemed totally normal until I was a teenager. Then I figured out how nuts the whole situation would look from the outside.”
“I’m so sorry,” I say. I feel mortified. How could this be a thing?
“Nah, it’s cool. I have two awesome families.” She goes quiet. I have no words. “But, hey! It’s why I can help you now, so…”
“Yeah,” I say.
“Anyway, in the drawer you’ll find some things E wanted you to have. I’m supposed to trim your hair and color it tonight. Did you know?”
I shake my head. It makes sense. “Cut it as short as you can. It hurts, unwashed.”
Cindi leads me to her room where she has more space and a full private bathroom. I shower here because I can. She cuts my hair into a brief pixie. I’ve never had my hair colored before now. I wonder how long I’ll remember its true color, if I’ll ever be able to find it again. Of course not. I’m lost. Indefinitely.
The new hair is bright pink. So much for being unnoticed.
“E said you’d never go pink on your own.”
E was right, I think.
“She also said you’d be less noticeable with such light hair, especially with this shade. Do you hate it?”
“Not at all,” I lie.
“Good. Well, I’ll let you get some sleep. You can come back every fourth week for a couple of days. I don’t have to report people who stay less than forty-eight hours or less often than every three weeks.”
“Thank you,” I say because it’s the polite thing.
Cindi wraps me in a bear hug. I feel as dead inside as was intended.
I plan to spend the next thirty-six hours asleep. It’s the only escape available.