Authors: Julia Mayer
I went back to my reflection's school the next day and looked for her at lunch. With my mom back home where she belonged, I could focus all of my attention on my reflection. I wanted to find out whatever I could about her. She was sitting under a tree eating her lunch, lost in thought. This was my moment. I sat down next to her.
“Hi, I'm Dee. I don't think we've met. I noticed that you were sitting over here under the best tree in the place, and I don't think you get to hog all the great space. I just moved into the neighborhood so today is my first day at school here. What about you? Did you grow up here?”
“You're new?” she asked, glaring at me.
Was I? It was the first time we'd met, but we'd actually been spending hours a day together since we were born without knowing it. From her perspective, I supposed I was new, though. I had been haunting the school for a few days now, so I wasn't exactly new to the school. “New to you,” I finally settled on.
We talked for two hours. She must have missed at least one class, and I hoped she would be willing to miss another one to hang out with me for the afternoon. I invited her to go ice-skating with me after school that day. There were signs all over saying that a new indoor rink had just opened and that the hockey team would be playing there.
“Just the two of us, once you agree to come,” I said, and I saw her smile for the first time.
But she said no. She said she wasn't properly dressed for it. “Besides,” she said, “the best part of ice-skating is watching the Zamboni anyway.”
“Why?” I asked her.
“I used to want to be the guy who drives the Zamboni. My mom thought that was a great idea. My dad thought it was a bad goal for me to have. He wants me to do something, I don't knowâ¦bigger, I guess. But my mom thought it was great. She said they always need Zamboni drivers.
“Those things are so powerful, and the ice looks so clean after they're done. It wipes away all the scars from people's skates.” She paused. “And leaves the ice clean and new. Like nothing had ever cut into it at all.”
I smiled. I can't think of a kid I know who
want to be a Zamboni driver at one time or another.
I started to explain to Samara who I really was at least twice that day. “Samara,” I said, “I want to explain something to you. I think you need to know something about me.” But while I was pausing for a deep breath, I would see her looking at me with her big innocent eyes and I wasn't be able to finish. I chickened out and said something like, “When I was little, my room was separated from the living room by a shower curtain with ducks on it.” And she smiled and said, “Good to know.”
I was afraid the whole thing would scare her; it scared
. So I left her believing we were just really good friends. Instant best friends, the kind you would give half your Popsicle to when you were a kid. I figured I would wait until the right time and tell her then that I was actually her reflection.
All Samara needed was a friend, and I was prepared to be exactly that for her. I wanted to help her through whatever she was going through. She was clearly in pain, even though she never said it.
We spent the afternoon wandering around parks and in and out of stores. At one point we passed a graveyard, and I was a little thrown by how freaked out Samara got.
“Can we speed up?” she asked.
“Sure,” I said. “Why?”
“I justâ¦graveyards. They creep me out. I've never been in one, and it makes me think ofâ¦I justâ¦I just don't like them.”
After that, I thought it was time to go inside for a while. We went into a cafÃ© to warm up. Eventually, Samara said she had to get home. She asked if I lived in the same direction as her.
“I don't think so,” I told her. I told her I was going to get another cup of coffee or something like that before I left for home. She nodded. I waited until she had turned the corner in the other direction before heading for the cafÃ©'s bathroom. There was nobody in there, so the bathroom mirror seemed safe for me to go through. Just as I stepped in, though, I heard someone walk in behind me. I turned around, and there was Samara, standing and staring at me, pale faced, mouth open, eyes wide. I didn't know what to do. I tried to stay as calm as possible.
“Samara, this is going to be really confusing for you, but I'm just going to say it. I'm your reflection, or you're my reflection. I'm not a real person in your world, but I am a real person. I think. I'm as real here as you are there.”
Samara looked at me, screamed, and ran out of the bathroom.
“I didn't want you to find out, not like this,” I called after her. But the door had already slammed shut.
I had wanted to become friends before I told Samara. I'd wanted her to know that I liked her and that she could trust me. I felt like I needed to be there for her, and I didn't want to lose that opportunity because she was scared of me. Scared of who I was or who I wasn't. I mean, this
terrifying. But at least we could be terrified and excited by it together.
I went home that night and began figuring out what to do. I knew I would have to win back Samara's trust. She was going to have to understand why I did what I did and why I hadn't been able to tell her who I was when I'd met her that afternoon. Otherwise, everything would be ruined, and I could never spend time in the mirror. I needed to help Samara. I needed her to talk to me again.
The Final Proof
There was paint on the walls, and the third layer down under the peeling yellow and gray in the coffeehouse bathroom was the exact same color as the green of Dee's eyes. As she stood staring at me, stumbling over words to try to explain herself in the mirror, all I could see was the peeling paint on the walls, peeling to reveal true colors underneath.
Dee had lied to me. She had betrayed me and completely hidden who she was. I couldn't believe how much I had opened up to this complete stranger in a day. And how could I be surprised when she'd turned out to be nothing? After everything I had been through, I had tried so hard to avoid letting anyone else in. But I couldn't help it. It was the same as with all the boys I had told myself I didn't have to care about. I had let her in despite my best efforts to avoid it.
I had been right all along. I always am. I try to force myself to believe that someone else can care about me, that someone might want to get to know me just because I'm a cool person, just because they think they might like me. I've done it with everyone in my life.
But Dee was just using me, and I didn't even know for what. Usually I at least know what I'm being used for. I didn't know who Dee was, or even
she was. I didn't know what she wanted from me, or what in me had told me that it was safe to open up to her and give it to her.
Angry as I was, I could hear a tiny voice in the back of my head begging me to go back and find out the answers to all the questions I had. What was Dee doing here? What was this other world she talked about? Was she real? Had I finally gone as crazy as everyone thought I was?
When I got outside to the parking lot, I felt that voice getting stronger. I wiped the tears from my eyes and stood, unable to decide what to do. I turned in circles a couple of times before finally deciding to go back into the cafÃ©. I took a deep breath and pushed the door open. I looked in the mirror in front of me, andâ¦nothing. She wasn't waiting for me to come back. She wasn't standing in the mirror. There was just
looking back at me. She had just walked away.
I wondered if I had imagined the whole thing. If Dee was just something I had made up on my way to losing my mind, like hearing things or seeing people who didn't exist. I heard someone flush a toilet in one of the stalls. Real, concrete. If Dee existed at all, it was only barely. It wasn't real. She wasn't here; she wasn't in this world. I felt the tears well up again. I ran out of the bathroom and all the way home.
I had tried to be open again, tried to let in people, to care. One of them had disappeared without a trace, and the other one had turned out not to be real. I ran up the stairs to my room and slammed the door. I saw the full-length mirror on my closet door in front of me. I slammed that door too, and was left with nothing to do, so I lay there on the floor screaming silently, hearing only the quiet whir of the ceiling fan.
The tears kept coming, faster and stronger than tears had ever come for anyone else in my life. It was like every failed relationship in my life had been leading up to this moment. To this betrayal. This dual betrayal. I pulled myself off the floor and went into the bathroom, automatically grabbing the razor blade I had put underneath the soap dish.
I started cutting my hipâcarving would be a better wordâand I would have gone all the way down my leg, but watching the blood drip down was enchanting. I couldn't take my eyes off it. The blood, the physical color and smell, calmed me the way a cigarette calms an addict after years of not smoking.
The bathroom was blue and green with white tile, and the red blood was such a necessary addition to this cold, unforgiving room. I could feel Dee calling to me. Telling me to talk to her. But I couldn't. I was tired of being lied to, tired of people taking advantage of me. I wanted to know who and what she was; I wanted to find out about her. But I hated her, and I refused to give in.
I was sitting in the cabinet under the sink with my knees pulled up to my chest, leaning sideways to avoid the drainpipe and staring at the dried blood on the floor when my father knocked on the door. “Samara. Samara, it's almost time for dinner. Are you okay in there?” I took a deep steadying breath.
“I'm fine. I'll be down in a second.”
I splashed cool water on my face, avoiding the face staring back at me in the mirror, reapplied mascara, and walked downstairs to eat dinner with my father. It was the only time we would eat together that week. He asked about my day, and I nodded as nonchalantly as I could. I wasn't sure I could make something up that would make it sound like I had had a normal day.
“I have some good news, Pumpkin.”
I looked at him, chewing and not really taking in what he was saying.
“I said I have some good news,” he repeated.
“Oh?” I mumbled into my spaghetti.
“I was promoted at work. VP of purchasing. It's a big change for us. It means not only college but a master's, if you want it, or an extra year abroad or whatever makes you happy. And without any debt when you finish.”
I nodded, chewing slowly and swallowing.
“Congratulations, Dad. That's great! I'm soâ¦Well, that's great.”
“Thanks, Sam. There's a downside, though, that I should tell you about. It means a lot more traveling for me. A lot more time out of town. Is that okay with you? I want to be able to spend more time together. But this could be a big difference for us. For you. In our lives.”
Time out of town didn't seem like a bad idea to me at that moment at all. Some time alone sounded perfect. Sounded like exactly what I needed.
“Definitely, Dad. Take it. It's great. Congratulations.”
He smiled at me from across the table and nodded. I did my best to smile back at him, and we sat in silence, lost in thought for the rest of dinner until I eventually said I needed to get upstairs and finish my homework.
I swore to myself that I wouldn't give in to the curiosity. I wouldn't give in to missing her the way that I did. I wanted to be mad; I wanted to separate myself from everyone, especially the people using me for their own twisted gain. It lasted three days. Then I gave in.
I was lying in bed. I had been awake most of the time since I found out the truth about Dee, or I had at least spent most of the time between nightmares awake. My mother's death, the boys who had left, a father whose main talent was a disappearing act. I know I had told him it was all right, but his promotion was only the latest addition. One more reason for him not to spend time with me. If it wasn't this, it would've been something else he didn't bother asking permission for.
Losing Dee would just be another in a long line of bad dreams. I sat up in bed. I knew I wasn't going to sleep again if I didn't understand what had happened, what Dee had done, or what she wanted from me.
I walked over to the mirror and looked in. I thought I saw her for a moment, but then I was sure it was a figment of my imagination. I sank down to the floor, put my head in my hands, and whispered, “Where are you, Dee? How could you do this to me? I just can't understand.” I looked back up into the empty eyes of my reflection and saw another face appear behind mine. I turned around slowly. And there was Dee standing behind me in my room, face streaked with tears.
“I'm so sorry, Samara. I won't lie to you again. I didn't mean to do this. It just happened and then I didn't want to tell you because I thought you wouldn't understand, so I didn't tell you and thenâ¦” she trailed off. I tried to control it but I couldn't. I collapsed into sobs. “I never meant to hurt you. I wantedâ¦I wanted you to be the sister I always wished I had. Please, please trust me.”
She looked so earnest, standing in my bedroom at 2 a.m., apologizing. I tried to shake my head, tried to back away, but I couldn't. I nodded and fell into her arms, still crying. She stroked my hair for a moment, and I could feel her tears mixing with my own as they fell.
“I promise not to disappear again. I'm not going anywhere, not until I've told you everything you want to know. Not until you tell me it's okay to leave.”
I leaned back for a moment and looked at her. “I promise,” she told me, “you'll never lose me. Not for as long as you want me here.”
We sat there quietly for what felt like ages before I said anything. I wasn't sure what to say. “Talk to me. What's the mirror world? Which of us is the real one? How did you find this? How did you find me? How did you find out about it?” Every question I thought of led to ten more questions I wanted to ask. And Dee started to explain.
She told me about the party she had been at with Jamie, what he had said, and how she had thought about it for ages. “I was bored out of my mind in my world. I needed to meet someone different and exciting and new. Someone with some personality. The people in my school, in my life, are so boring. I wanted to find, umm, find a mirror opposite,” she smiled, “to all of that. I'm just lucky it was you.”
“How does it work?” I asked her, turning back to the mirror in my closet and tapping it lightly.
“I think that what happens is that I can only come through when you're looking in the mirror. When I'm here and you look in the mirror, you see basically a photograph of yourself. It's a two-dimensional reflection. But when the two of us are both at the mirror, we see each other.
“My mom was able to get through more easily than I was, I think, because her reflection would be your mom and your mom is dead. If she wanted to, I think my mom could get through any time.”
I stood up, staring at the tear-streaked girl looking back at me in the mirror. “So this is what I actually look like? It's strange, isn't it? You and I don't look, well, I mean, we look similar, but we don't look exactly the same. But I've never noticed that I don't look like my reflection, I don't think.”
Dee had no explanation for that one. I guess I didn't really need one. She and I look similar enoughâespecially that night when we were wearing matching yellow pajamas with pink moonsâbut Dee was much prettier than I was, and I wasn't sure how that could work. If she was my reflection, shouldn't we have looked the same?
After that, Dee started going to her own school again. I went to school but I had never liked it, and now that I had conversations with Dee to look forward to, the days trudged by even slower. I started sleeping through classes just to be fully rested when I talked to Dee at night.
We would both change, brush our teeth, and go sit in front of the mirrors in our rooms talking. “Okay, Dee. You've lived in both worlds. Which one is better?”
“Here's the thing about the different worlds,” she said. “I don't think one is better than the other necessarily. Except that I've lived in this world all my life so I find it pretty boring. Yours is more interesting. There are all sorts of crazy things happening and new people to meet.”
“You just think that because you didn't have to do anything while you were here.”
“What do you mean? I had to stalk you!”
I laughed. I supposed that was true. “Of course, stalking your reflection is more interesting than going to classes. And writing bad papers. I mean, come on. If you had to actually live my life, you wouldn't think this world was so great.”
“Maybe you're right. But, wellâ¦”
“Nothing. I mean, not nothing butâ¦another time.”
I rolled my eyes. But my limited experience with Dee told me that I would probably find out sooner if I just kept my mouth shut and waited for her to bring it up again.
I changed the subject. “There's nobody in my world like Jamie, though. Nobody suggested a place to look for an alternate universe to me. So your world has at least one thing on mine. You guys figured out the alternate universe. I never would have figured it out if you hadn't come through to find me.”
I saw Dee smile for a second, twirling one of her curls around her finger. “That's true. My world does have Jamie. Or, I mean, people like Jamie. You've got good people in your world too, though. What about that teacher you told me about?”
“She was great. But she disappeared on me. It doesn't sound like Jamie is going anywhere.”
“No, he's not.” Dee's smile flickered again.
Dee was always asking questions about my dad. My mom too, the one time, but mostly my dad. I guess it was because she doesn't have a dad, she didn't know how little I wanted to talk about him and the parade of bimbos he'd brought home and the allegiance he felt to his job over me.
“Are you close to your dad?”
“No. At least not anymore. We used to be, I guess, before Mom died. But even then I was much closer to her. She's the only person I ever met who was right about everything. Once in a while we would argue, and it was never long after I stomped off that I realized she was right. I used to hide in here after we fought.”
“In your room?”
“In my closet. She'd come up eventually and slip a cookie under the door or ask me to meet her downstairs for a walk or to sit on the swings in the backyard. We used to swing together all the time. When I was little, I always thought she was just thin, but I guess âgaunt' would be a better word. But since she was so small, we could both fit on the tire swing in the backyard. Then we'd spin it around and around.
“Once in a while, instead of spinning we'd pretend we were the Flintstones and try running as far as we could in our wheel car. And she would quietly explain what she had been saying before and she would be right. She justâ¦always knew what to do, I thought. I guess. I mean, she had a dark side, but she tried to keep it away from me.
“I never really got to say good-bye to her when she died. My dad wouldn't let me go to the funeral. I guess he thought I was too young. And now, I justâ¦I just can't. I miss her, though.”