I stood by the door of the dining hall, squirming uncomfortably in my three-piece suit.
Hadn’t worn a three-piece suit since I’d gotten out of the hospital. Instead, I’d worn the button-down shirts Lusu had brought with her when she came to break me out.
This vest was the one Sam had worn, before we switched bodies. The pants were hers, too. I wondered where she was. I wondered how my body was doing.
I hoped she hadn’t died. Can you imagine that? Someone else dying in your body — someone else dying for your crimes. And yet there I was, wearing her body, getting ready to eat a fancy dinner in her three-piece suit.
I looked out across the ocean waves, wishing they’d smash me into oblivion.
“You look nervous,” Lusu said.
“I’m always nervous,” I said.
Lusu shrugged. She was wearing a white dress, which perfectly complemented the white pigment swirling across her skin. Thinking about it, I hadn’t seen her look anything less than stunning since I’d known her. Was that on purpose, or did it come naturally?
“Coraline doesn’t have white pigment in her skin,” I said.
“Quite the observational skills,” Lusu said, breaking into a smirk. “If you still had the job at the newspaper, it might be worthy of an article.”
She shrugged again. “The story behind Coraline’s skin is funny, actually.”
“Lusu,” her father said. It was strange. I hadn’t heard him talk to her like that before.
She didn’t seem to pay it much mind, saying, “She’s the one who’s keeping us waiting. I think it’s only fair I get to tell the story. If you want to be there when something’s said about you, you’ve got to be there when it’s being said! That doesn’t seem too hard now, does it?”
And just like that, Coraline turned the corner, walking towards us. Her hair bobbed in the night wind, her white dress practically glowing in the light of the two half moons. It was a strange thing: whereas Lusu’s dress accentuated the whites of her skin, Coraline’s noted its vacancy.
“Did I hear something about my name?” Coraline asked.
“As a matter of fact, you did,” Lusu said. “Sam here was wondering just how it was that you lost the whites of your skin.”
In an instant, the mood of the party seemed to change. Lusu’s father didn’t say much. He merely tilted his head slightly, observing the situation but not going so far as to look anyone in the eyes.
Lusu took on a bit of a smile: subtle, but definitely there.
Then there was Coraline. I couldn’t quite tell what Coraline was feeling, how she was reacting to the words Lusu had just slung. Was it pride on her face? Embarrassment? Discomfort? Shock? She tilted her head up ever-so-slightly, taking a step back.
“I ask a lot of questions,” I said. “Half the time, I don’t even think about what I’m asking until I’ve already asked it.”
“That,” Coraline said, drawing out the pause between the beginning of the sentence and the rest of it, “is a bad habit.”
“Let’s eat, shall we?” Lusu’s father said, desperate to please.
I nodded my head, thankful for the interruption.
“Yeah,” I said. “Let’s.”
Lusu’s father moved first, reaching to open the door. Coraline quickly entered the room first, head down. Lusu looked at me, that wolf’s smile spreading across her face.
I went before her, ladies first no longer being applicable to my situation. Lusu followed, then her father closed the door after her.
A waiter, seeing that we’d arrived, quickly rushed through the kitchen door. I had no idea what they were going to serve us, but a piece of me was excited.
I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been served like this. A long time ago, probably, when my fame had been more a matter of respect and less one of mockery.
This night wasn’t going to go well: I could feel it in my bones. But maybe there was an upside. Dinner and a show.
I don’t know. Things had been so bad for so long, making it feel like normal.
I sat down next to Coraline. Lusu sat next to me, at the head of the table. Lusu’s father sat at the other end of the table, across from Lusu. The Hero sat across from me, while the seat that sat across from Coraline was empty.
“I was glad to get the invite,” Coraline said. “Thought it was real nice of you.”
“You might call it charity,” Lusu said.
“I wouldn’t,” Coraline said, “but okay.”
“We wanted to talk to you about the dragon situation,” Lusu’s father said.
“I figured as much,” Coraline said. “I’m curious why you even think we need to summon a dragon, in this day and age. I thought we were trying to move away from that.”
“We are,” the father said.
“Good,” Coraline said. “I’d thought you might be just looking for an excuse to kill someone else for your pet project.”
“That’s not fair,” Lusu’s father said.
“I’m not surprised you feel that way.”
“Surely my father isn’t the worst person you’ve had to sit down to dinner with,” Lusu said. “I’d name names, but quite frankly I can’t even remember them all: all the pathetic excuses for elves who drank themselves to oblivion, knowing every step of the way where their drinking would lead them.”
“They were troubled,” Coraline said.
“They were drunks,” Lusu replied.
“Clearly you have a bit of a problem yourself, when it comes to drunk elves,” Coraline said.
“Sam’s not my lover.”
“Could’ve fooled me,” Coraline snapped.
“Surely not as much as the elves fooled you. How many times did they lie to you about your future?”
Coraline broke eye contact with Lusu. “They were troubled.”
“That’s one word for what they were.”
There was a moment of silence. Then the waiter walked back into the room. “Can I get anyone a drink?”
Nobody spoke up, until I asked, “Do you have any wine?”
“Yes,” the waiter said. “We have a variety of options, might I get you–”
“The cheapest stuff you have. Don’t waste the good stuff on me.” I saw the disappointment in Coraline’s eyes, so I said, “Might as well play to type — fulfill my destiny, and all that.”
“That’s sad,” she told me.
I nodded my head. “You’re right.”
The waiter looked somewhat stupefied, so Lusu merely said, “Water,” tossing her hand in the air as if to let him know how little it really mattered.
“Water,” Coraline said.
“Cognac,” Lusu’s father said.
The waiter looked anxious. He bowed his head and walked back to the kitchen.
“It’ll be good when your mother comes back,” Coraline said. “I just hope you’re here when she does.”
“I can assure you I won’t be,” Lusu said.
“She told me she missed you,” Coraline said.
“I–” Lusu stopped. The smile was gone from her face, and there was something I didn’t quite understand. I thought she didn’t care about her mother. I thought reincarnation made it all okay. “I’m glad to hear it.”
Lusu’s father cut in, “Of course she missed her daughter.”
“Of course,” Lusu echoed.
“Most people didn’t care too much that you’d gone,” Coraline said. “They’d known you, but not so well. I cared.”
“You shouldn’t have,” Lusu said.
“I did. How come you didn’t tell me or your mother that you were leaving? Why did you only say goodbye to your father, in the middle of the night?”
“My father was the one I wanted to say goodbye to,” Lusu said. “Surely that’s not so hard to understand.”
“I want to know when you stopped caring about me.”
“I always cared,” Lusu said. “That was my problem?”
“That was your problem?”
“One of many,” Lusu said. “We all have a lot of problems, and that was one of mine.”
“You knew all the bad things Rick was going to do to me,” Lusu said. “You knew what your own boyfriend was going to do to me, and you didn’t care.”
“I did care.”
“Clearly not enough,” Lusu said, “or you would’ve stopped it.”
“I did care,” Coraline said, “but you know I couldn’t have stopped him. Stopping him would disconnect him from the time stream. He told me how things were going to go, so I followed him.”
“And you don’t think that was abusive? Making you do exactly what he told you to do?”
“It’s the elf way,” Coraline said. “Sometimes an elf slips up, says something they shouldn’t. Then whoever they spoke to has to stick to the future. That, or see their loved one go mad. Surely your friend can tell you that.”
“I really can’t,” I said.
A beat in the conversation. The elf scrunched her face up a little, confused by my words. I chose not to explain them.
The waiter entered, carrying the tray of four drinks. He set them all down in silence. Then, he asked for our orders. We gave them, and sat there in continued silence.
“You know I’m sorry,” Coraline said. “I told you I was sorry.”
“I heard the words,” Lusu said.
“And I said ‘em because I meant ‘em,” Coraline said. “I’m sorry, sugah, but I just don’t know what else I can do. Are you just looking for a punching bag? Because I can be that. I’m a grown Hyalu and I don’t expect that you need to forgive me. But do you want to? Do I have a chance at your forgiveness, or are you just looking to sit here and snipe me?”
“I don’t want to forgive you,” Lusu said. “You don’t have a chance at my forgiveness, because you shouldn’t need to ask for it now. You should never have needed to ask for my forgiveness in the first place.”
“Lusu–” her father cut in.
“No,” Lusu said. “I’m not going to lie, Dad. Lies are a waste of time.”
I thought back to her and me back home — her telling me she didn’t know where Val had been the night Stellavia had died. She’d lied, then. Of course, there was little point bringing that up now.
“Your husband beat the shit out of me,” Lusu continued, whispering, voice quavering. “He got drunk, he got jealous of our friendship, and then he beat the shit out of me. And you let him. He emotionally abused you, he physically battered me, and you let him. He told you it was going to happen, and you let him do it anyway.”
“I had to,” Coraline said, cheeks wet.
“You had to?” Lusu repeated, slamming her hand on the table and standing up. “You had to let him beat me?”
“It was just one night,” she said. “I didn’t think–”
“Clearly you didn’t,” Lusu said, jabbing her finger at Coraline. “Because what could you possibly have thought that would make that okay? You thought that was just one night? You thought what he did to me would just be one night? I’d get up the next day and forget about it? Or I’d get up the next week and the bruises would be gone and that’s all that would matter? Because that’s not what happened, Coraline. What happened is that I’ve been afraid.”
She gulped air, wiping a tear. “What’s happened is that I don’t relax around other living beings, anymore. I can’t afford to, because I know what they can do. I know how much they can hurt me, and I know that sometimes it doesn’t matter how much I beg. Sometimes, you’re looking into the eyes of a madman and all you can do is hope he doesn’t beat you too hard.”
“That knowledge,” Lusu said, “has changed my life. It’s what I loved about Val. He made me feel safe. And then he died and came back to life and now I’m on this stupid fucking journey trying to kill him, coming back to see you even though I hate you. And do you understand? Do you understand what it’s like for me to have to sit here and pretend to not hate your fucking guts.”
Coraline didn’t make eye contact with Lusu. She kept her gaze planted on the floor. Scratched her forehead, and said, “I’m sorry.”
“That’s not good enough!” Lusu screamed.
“What do you want?” Coraline said, meeting Lusu’s gaze. Honestly, what do you want me to do about this? You want me to turn into a dragon and die? Is that really what you want?”
“You’ve been dead to me for a long goddamn time,” Lusu said. “Might as well make it official.”
“Fuck you, sugah,” Coraline said, pushing her chair back and getting up. “I hope you have to suffer through a million more reincarnations.” She moved for the door.
“Fuck you!” Lusu yelled. “Fuck you! You want to know something? I don’t even think the universe is going to be around that long, so I don’t even care anymore. I just want you out of my life! Forever!”
“A couple days, and your wish will be granted,” Coraline said, softly, not turning to look at Lusu. “One way or another, you’ll get your wish.”
With that, Coraline opened the door and left. Lusu stood there, her face undefinable. I thought I saw exhaustion there. Exhaustion, confusion, anger, pain. I knew I’d never know exactly what was going through her head in that moment.
I’m not sure I knew exactly what was going through my head, either. Anger?
There was a lot to be mad about, and I didn’t know where to begin. Had Coraline only had sex with me because I was an elf? Did she really care so much for elves that she’d let her own friend get beaten?
Damn. Damn! There was the Hyalu who’d made Lusu the way she was. There was a lot to like about Lusu: she was smart, she was funny, she believed in what she believed in.
But she was closed off, and it seemed like Coraline was to blame. Coraline had wrecked Lusu.
Lusu was a wreck. I was a wreck. Coraline really couldn’t see who I was?
The waiter came in, carrying a tray with five plates. The four of us turned to look at him. Lusu looked mad, her father looked embarrassed, and The Hero looked clueless.
Me? I had no clue how I looked.
Still, the waiter seemed to pick up on the mood of the room — which couldn’t have been all that hard to do. He gave each of us the food we’d ordered, then took the fifth tray back into the kitchen.
I sat there, looking at the lobster before me. It looked good and I was hungry. The smell only made things worse. I looked over at everyone else, but no one was touching their food. It was almost like they were afraid to.
I tore into the lobster, ripping it limb from limb. Lobster’s a good food to eat when you’re angry. Lets you tear things apart.
By the time I was done, I’d calmed down a bit. But the anger still simmered. It’d calmed down, but it was definitely still there.
The hurt was still in Lusu’s eyes, the embarrassment in her father’s, the cluelessness in The Hero’s. Not much had changed, I decided.
“I think I’m going to go,” I said, standing up.
“That’s fair,” Lusu’s father said, wiping his lips with a napkin, even though his lips weren’t dirty. “I think it’s fair to say that this party is over.”
“Before I do, though, how do you think the vote is going to go?”
“Honestly?” the father said. “I’m not sure.”
“Who’s vote do you need?”
“There are seven members of the cult,” he said. “Lusu and I are voting for Coraline, obviously. I’ve got a friend who’s on our side, too.”
“So you need one more vote,” I said.
“Do you think you’re going to get it?”
“I don’t know,” he said.
“Give me a name.”
“What are you going to do?” Lusu asked. “My best,” I said. It might not be much, but it was all I could offer.
“Nancy,” Lusu said. “Talk to Nancy.”