Olivia’s apartment is empty.
“You’re not her mom,” Tina says. “She doesn’t have to tell you when she leaves town.”
“I know,” I say. I feel weird standing in Olivia’s living room, afraid to touch anything, like I’m intruding on a crime scene. This concern for her is completely irrational, but after the idea that she’s connected to the ghostly photo Rivi took in her bedroom, it’s something that I’m unable to shake free from my mind.
“Did you try calling her?” Tina asks.
“Yeah. And texts.”
“This is why life was better before cell phones,” she says. “If you were out of touch for a few days back then, nobody had a hissy fit about it.”
“I’m not having a hissy fit.”
“You so are,” she says. “You might think you aren’t, but trust me. Complete hissy.”
“You aren’t concerned at all?”
“No, I’m not. Like I haven’t gone away before without telling you?”
“That’s different,” I start to say, but I know that it isn’t. Tina once went to Europe and I didn’t know about it until she came home, beating the postcard she had sent me from Amsterdam. I take another look around the empty living room. “I’m being crazy, aren’t I?”
Tina holds her hand up, finger and thumb held an inch apart. “Just a tiny bit.”
I exhale heavily. “It’s Rivi’s stupid photo. I thought it looked like Olivia.”
“Rivi’s a lunatic,” Tina says. “It’s why I love her. But there’s reality, and then there’s Rivi. You have to leave a little wiggle room in between them there. Now come on.” She holds out her hand, and I take it. “I’m going to buy you breakfast.”
“I’m not hungry.”
“Well I am, and you drove, so you have to come with me. You’re also going to have to get the check, because I forgot to bring my purse.”
“You said you were buying.”
“I’ll owe you.”
“You already owe me.”
“Shut up,” she says, “and let’s go already. My stomach demands pancakes, and it will not be denied.”
I lock Olivia’s door, and Tina goes to wait in the car while I slip into the small yard behind the apartment and put the key back into its hiding place by the jasmine plant. When I come back and slide into the driver’s seat, Tina takes one look at me and says, “Let it go.”
“Okay, okay.” I start the car. “Where are we going?”
“Anywhere. I don’t care. Long as there’s pancakes.”
“Let’s just go back to my place. I can make you pancakes. Won’t cost me as much anyway.”
“Fine,” she says. “But don’t expect me to leave you a tip.”
“I’ll leave myself one,” I say. “Since I was going to have to pay anyway.”
Traffic is strangely light for a Thursday morning, and it feels as though half the city has decided to take the day off. I wonder to myself if it’s a holiday and I’ve missed it.
“Look at her,” Tina says, pointing at a woman walking on the sidewalk on our side of the street. She is holding an oversized coffee cup up to her lips, using both hands to raise it. “Ever notice when you’re desperate for coffee, everybody else seems to have some?”
“Thought you wanted pancakes.”
“And coffee. Don’t be a peasant. You have to have both.”
“If I’m a peasant, that makes you..?”
“Queen, of course.”
“What makes you the queen?”
“Because I haven’t got shit all over me.”
“Hah,” I say. “Funny funny.”
“It’s what I do,” she says. “It’s my gift, and it’s my curse.”
When we get to my apartment, Tina disappears into the bathroom, and I head straight for the kitchen. I take the coffee from the cupboard and scoop it into the machine, then set about gathering the ingredients for Tina’s pancakes. I’m still not hungry myself, but perhaps the smell of them will get me interested as I cook.
“Cook faster,” she says, walking into the kitchen. “I’m dying here.” Her hair is wet, and she has taken off her shirt and wrapped it around her head like a turban, leaving her in a gray sports bra and jeans.
“Why..?” I start.
“Your towel smells like a wet dog, that’s why.”
“No, I meant why are you washing your hair in my sink? I’m used to you wandering around in your underwear.”
“I didn’t wash it,” she says. “Just got it wet. And don’t worry about it. Just bring the cakes from the pan.” She goes to the cupboard and gets out a cup, then fills it with coffee.
“Nobody understands you as well as I do,” I tell her. “And just so you know, I don’t understand you at all.”
“The way God intended it,” she says. She sits at the table and sips her coffee, watching me as I pour batter into the pan on the stove, preparing breakfast: one pancake, then another. As I am flipping the third, Tina says, “I changed my mind.”
“I’m sorry?” I say.
“About Olivia. I changed my mind. It’s very weird, her not calling or texting back. That’s not like her.”
“So I’m not crazy?” I ask.
“Maybe,” she says. “Jury’s still out.”
“So what do we do about it?”
“First thing we do,” she says, “is eat pancakes.”
“After the pancakes, I mean.”
“Call the cops, obviously.”
She shrugs. “Unless you know any psychics, I’d say that’s the most logical course of action.”
I put the third pancake onto a plate with the other two, and set it on the table in front of Tina. “I know a few psychos, but psychics are out of my area of expertise.” I take the syrup—pure maple, no artificial syrup in my kitchen—from a cupboard and hand it to Tina.
“Then there you go,” she says. She uncaps the bottle and drowns the pancakes in syrup. “Step one is the official channel. After that, we go to step two.”
“What’s step two?” I ask.
“We have Rivi take more pictures in her bedroom.” Tina stabs her pancakes with her fork, tearing off a chunk and shoveling it into her mouth. She chews noisily for a moment. “Oh, these are really good.”
“Secret family recipe,” I say. “Bisquick.”
“If I didn’t know you so well,” she says, “I’d have to marry you.”
“And then murder me in my sleep.”
She puts another oversized hunk into her mouth, nodding as she chews. Around the pancake, she says, “Oh God, yes. Within the first week. Smother you with a pillow, bury you in the backyard.”
“You say the sweetest things.”
“Of course I do,” she says. “I’m the queen, after all.”