Lu texts Carla selfies of two potential graduation outfits.
I like the one with the bow, what do you think?
She and Carla used to send each other style shots while getting dressed for school all the time, even when they were hardly speaking, so a tiny part of Lu, the dumb, childish part, hopes that she'll reply. Of course she'd never say that out loud.
She starts chugging gin from the flask she smuggled in while they're still at the ceremony - not having her parents attend her graduation is totally a perk - so she'll be drunk enough to make it through the party at Teatro Barcelo later. Nadia does most of the talking when they accept their award and Lu manages not to fuck up her two lines of thanks by keeping her eyes on Guzman and no one else while she's talking. He told her to do that. Lu almost feels a little pathetic for actually taking his advice, but whatever. It works.
The party is harder. Some time after 2 am, Lu finds herself in the club's bathroom, mascara running down her cheeks as she angrily stabs at her phone.
I hate you how dare you just fucking leave
After 15 minutes of throwing up the mix of gin and champagne and tequila she's had all night, the term self-respect has lost all meaning to Lu.
Today sucked without you, I wish you'd come back
Nadia finds her shortly after that. Lu should probably be embarrassed about how Guzman and Ander have to half-walk, half-drag her out of the club, but when she finally passes out in Guzman's bed, she's just glad that the night is over.
She starts hanging out with Polo of all people. They can chill by his pool and not talk and it isn't weird. They go shopping for college together, too, something that Lu always assumed she'd do with Carla. But turns out Polo is surprisingly good at finding accessories that are chic yet affordable under her new budget. (She won't get used to having to check price tags any time soon.)
Bitch, I spent three hours at Ikea with your ex today. The one with a good sense of style, not hobo Harry Potter. Did you know you can get bed sheets for under 50 euros? Wild.
The last week of June, Polo and her fly to Barcelona together to see Ariana Grande. Lu bought the tickets almost a year ago as a graduation gift to herself and Carla. Halfway through the show, when Polo takes a selfie of the two of them and then immediately starts typing on his phone, Lu suddenly wonders whether he's texting Carla, too. Maybe he's just as pitiful as her, still not over someone who carelessly left them in the dust. But then she gets a notification and sees that Polo posted the shot on Instagram.
Did you see that photo on Insta? Yeah, I took Polo to see Ariana Grande and she was fucking amazing. You know I bought the tickets for us, right? Best girls night ever and shit. Your loss.
She stares at her phone in the dark of their hotel room. Fuck it. If she can't be honest in her texts with Carla, what's the point?
It would've been more fun with you.
Val practically moves in again as soon as their dad leaves for Mexico. Lu doesn't even pretend to hold off - his very first night back, she's in his bed kissing him so aggressively she can taste blood when he suddenly pushes her back. "Lu, wait." She whines. "I just don't think it's a good idea for you to-"
There's a gentleness in his eyes that she cannot deal with, so she roughly grabs his hand and shoves it down against her soaked panties. He groans, his breathing gets heavy and Lu knows she's won. She tells him to be rougher, scratches at any part of his body that she can reach, until he finally drives into her so hard that the line between pleasure and pain blurs. The next morning Val gets upset when he sees the bruises he left on her arms and throat, but Lu shuts that shit down right away.
"You say you're here for me?" He nods.
"Ok." Lu kisses him. "This is what I want."
Even though she's lost all her inhibitions, she stops short of making out with him in public. Sure, she's leaving for New York in a month, but he's staying in Madrid and she doesn't want to ruin things for him.
Val is asleep next to her when Lu gets out her phone at 4 am one night.
I've been in love with Val since I was 13.
She waits for a reply for a second, but of course it doesn't come. Not even that can make Carla text her back.
I was so ashamed. I thought I was disgusting and I tried to shut it down, but I couldn't. God Carla, the sex is fucking amazing, but it's more than that. Val makes me feel whole.
Lu has to take a deep breath before she continues.
Yeah, I seriously just got all emotional about fucking my half-brother. You better not be judging me, haha. Seriously, I hope you don't. It feels so good to finally tell you.
She pokes Val's arm until he lifts it up, so she can curl into his side. He grumbles a little and lets out a sleepy "Hey, you ok?" and only then does she notice she's crying.
"Yeah." She quickly wipes away her tears so her cheeks are dry when she puts her head down on his chest again. "Go back to sleep."
At some point, Lu almost stops noticing that Carla doesn't text her back. It's not like her best friend going silent on her is totally unheard of. She still feels close to Carla when she's complaining to her about how Nadia freaks out about last-minute "emergencies" before their move to New York - or when she's drunk-texting her at 2:30 am on a Thursday.
They're at Goya and Lu is laughing so hard that she has to hang on to Cayetana - Cayetana, can you fucking believe it - to not fall over. She's so glad she decided to come out with Omar, Ander, Polo and the con artist herself, because the music is amazing and her hair looks fucking fantastic and new drinks just keep appearing in front of her and God, she loves these people. Only thing that could make the night better? Her best friend being there with her.
Lu takes a shit ton of photos of them dancing and of when the waiter brings over their drinks and lights them on fucking fire and of Ander and Omar making out like 14-year-olds and yeah, maybe the shots are a little bit blurry because it's dark and she wasn't able to hold still, but she still wants Carla to see them all so she can feel like she was there.
[25 pictures sent]
It's a week before Nadia and her are supposed to fly to New York and Lu can't get out of bed. Putting on clothes, eating, moving have become insurmountable tasks. There was no specific reason, no trigger, it just suddenly came back as bad as the first day after and now Lu starts crying if she does anything but focus on the tight grip she has on the pillow her face is pressed into. She cried when the light hit her eyes this morning after Val pulled up the blinds, before he had noticed what was going on. She cried when he dropped to his knees in front of the bed and asked what he could do. And she almost hyperventilated when he tried to force her to drink a glass of water.
Eventually, Val lies down behind her, not touching her, just close enough so she can feel his body heat. Lu doesn't know how long it takes, but finally, the pain fades enough for her to be able to scoot back until she's in his arms, where she falls asleep.
As soon as she wakes up, she reaches for her phone. Maybe the sadness will let up if she just admits how alone she is, how she can't do this without her best friend by her side.
Please come back
Val stirs behind her. "What are you doing?"
She quickly locks her phone. "Nothing."
The next night is the goodbye party Guzman is throwing for her and Nadia. Lu doesn't want to miss seeing all her friends one last time (most of them, except for the one person that matters), so she wills herself to be well enough to go. But it's a close call. Val has to wash her hair and help her get dressed.
When they get to Guzman's place it's actually nice for a while. She doesn't contribute much to the conversation, but leaning into Omar and letting him braid her hair while they laugh about Ander's attempts to barbecue burgers is soothing.
And then Samuel walks into the backyard.
Lu hasn't seen him all summer - he looks like a wounded puppy. All it takes to set her off is his quiet "Hey" and the way Guzman briefly squeezes his shoulder. She jumps up and is in front of him with three large strides.
"What is your fucking problem?" She pushes him hard enough that he stumbles back a few steps. "All of us are making an effort and you show up here like this??"
"I… I'm sorry, Lu, but I-" There are tears in his eyes. Tears. Lu loses it.
"You knew Carla for all of five minutes!" She's screaming and someone's hand is on her arm pulling her back, but she is not having it. "How dare you cry about this? Did you think she'd stick around for you if she didn't for Polo, or… or-" Her voice breaks. "Or for me?"
Samuel is quietly crying now and looking at her with his puppy eyes. Lu tries to slap him, but Val is next to her and grabs her wrist. "Ok, that's enough. Lu, come here." He tries to pull her into a hug while Nadia is leading Samuel away, but there is just one person Lu wants to talk to right now.
She pulls away, grabs her phone and walks back toward the house. When Val follows her, she turns around. "Don't! Please, just leave me alone!"
She's crying so hard by the time she gets into the house that she's practically blind and can't tell who it is that she bumps into. When she makes it out the front door, Lu collapses against the wall and slides down to the ground. She's ignoring the tears running down her face as she's typing.
I just saw Samu and he looks like shit. I lost it Carla. I'm so mad-
"What are you doing?"
Lu didn't hear Guzman come outside, but suddenly he's standing right next to her. "I heard you yelling, then you run out like the house is on fire and now you're texting?" In one swift motion he grabs her phone out of her hand.
"No!" Lu scrambles to her feet and tries to get it back, but she can tell from the look on Guzman's face that it's too late.
"These… these are texts to Carla."
She struggles to control her breathing enough to speak. "Please give it back," she finally manages through her sobs. "I want my phone back, you have no right to-"
"Lu." Guzman looks at her with compassion. It just makes her angrier.
She takes a step closer and tries to physically wrest her phone from him and then suddenly he has his arms around her and is holding her to his chest until she stops struggling.
They both end up on the floor. She's given up and lets Guzman scroll through the chat, all the way back to that fucking pool party.
The day she spent getting drunk while her best friend got high and drowned.
"Why are you doing this?" Guzman asks her quietly.
"She didn't talk to me." Lu has her eyes closed. If she wasn't leaning back against the wall with Guzman's arm around her to hold her up, she'd be lying on the floor. She's too exhausted to resist anymore - the words just come out.
"Carla was struggling so badly and she didn't tell me. Because I wasn't there. She quietly slipped away and I let her. We used to text nonstop, every day, and at first, when she stopped, I kept trying but… I got so caught up in all the bullshit with my dad and in the Columbia program that I stopped, too. How hard would it have been to just send her one fucking text a day? Just one reminder that I was still there, that she wasn't alone? But I didn't and then she-"
She can feel Guzman's hand on her arm, her cheek, stroking her hair. "Lu, nothing that you did or didn't do-"
"Don't tell me it wasn't my fault! I know that I didn't do enough, but I also know that I didn't push her to get high that day. That was on her."
She finally opens her eyes and sees Guzman look surprised at her change of tone.
"Carla couldn't see anything but her own problems!" Lu's voice is getting louder now, her anger clawing its way up her throat. "I know she didn't do it on purpose, she didn't jump into the pool because she wanted to die, but… but she didn't care. Not for one second did she think about what could happen, and what that would do to the people who love her. She only cared about herself! And now she's gone, and I'm alone and I… and I don't understand how she could just leave me here like this."
She's grateful for the fact that Guzman has stopped talking and is letting her cry in his lap, holding her like a child. By the time she hears footsteps approach them, Lu is so out of it that she can't follow the quiet conversation that's going on right above her head. Then someone is picking her up, they walk back into the house and up the stairs and then she's in a bed, under the covers.
"It's ok, I'm here, you can go to sleep," she hears Val whisper into her ear. Miraculously, she drifts off minutes later.
When Lu wakes up the next morning, she feels 100 years old and lighter than she has in three months at the same time. After breakfast, Guzman sits her down together with Nadia and Val. He told them, Lu realizes, and she's ok with that. They tell her that going to New York is still an option, but that she doesn't have to if she feels like she can't handle it. Nadia squeezes her hand and smiles at her. Either way, at this point Val takes over from Nadia, they want her to talk to a therapist, be it in New York or Madrid.
"And you don't have to make this decision alone," Guzman says. He briefly looks at Val and then continues. "We think you should talk to an adult."
Lu is ready to storm out, but Val adds quickly "And it doesn't have to be dad!"
Later that same day, she's sitting in Ander's mom's study and is trying to string coherent sentences together with tears streaming down her face. Azucena only interrupts when she has to, and doesn't force Lu to let her look at her phone. Lu still tells her about the texts, even reads a couple of them out loud. When Ander comes in an hour later with tea, Lu is exhausted, but she isn't crying anymore. And with Azucena's help, she has come up with a plan.
This is hard. I'm so sick of crying. Seriously, it's worse than when we went to see The Fault In Our Stars. But I think you'd be proud of me.
Lu doesn't feel guilty when she puts her phone down. She isn't going to break her habit in a day, she was upfront about that with Azucena and then, later, with Val. The very concept of "moving on" still seems absurd to her - from what? From her best friend? But after today, she at least feels slightly less alone.
Nine months later
Lu is walking out of the lecture hall after Econ 101 when Rachel, her classmate and study-buddy, comes up behind her.
"Please tell me you have any idea what the hell he was just talking about for the last hour," she says to Lu. "If so, do you wanna grab a coffee and explain it to me? Or, you know, grab a coffee and commiserate?"
Lu laughs. "I can't. It's Wednesday, I have-"
"Therapy, right." Rachel smiles. "Tomorrow morning then?"
"I'll bring the coffee." Lu waves goodbye and walks to 116th Street to catch the uptown train to Columbia's Medical Center.
Her first appointment with Dr. Seligmann was three days after Nadia and her had landed in New York. Since then, she's been seeing the middle-aged therapist with the funny haircut once a week. Lu likes to think it's going well. They talk about guilt, about her fear of loneliness and once, she's even briefly alluded to her situation with Val, something the older woman neatly noted down, but didn't push any further. One thing at a time, Lu is more than ok with that.
It's not always smooth sailing. Two months ago, Lu got into a shouting match with Nadia about how she was still texting Carla "too much" and "lying" to her therapist about it, which… was true. Lu hadn't been fully honest with Dr. Seligmann about the amount of times each week something happened that triggered her reflex to reach for her phone and tell Carla about it.
But after skipping one session, Lu went back the next week, holding on to Nadia's hand the entire train-ride uptown, and confessed the truth in her therapist's office. Since then, Lu has made a serious effort. Two weeks ago, she sent Carla the text she had spent hours crying over, in therapy, at home with Nadia and via Skype with Val.
I can't believe it's been a year. I still miss you so much. But I'm doing better, too. I rock at therapy and I'm in the top 10 percent of my class. You better not be surprised to hear that! I still think of you every day, I'm sure you know that. Even when I'm not texting you anymore. I hope you're happy, wherever you are. I love you.
In therapy today, she can honestly tell Dr. Seligmann that she hasn't texted Carla in 13 days. The older woman gives her the bright smile Lu has come cherish. "It's ok to have setbacks, too," she says, "but I'm really proud of you."
Lu stops by the flower shop next to the subway entrance and buys a big bouquet of sunflowers for her and Nadia's dorm-room to celebrate.
And then, when she gets off at her stop and walks up the steps, the first thing she hears is the chorus of "El Momento," that Casa Azul song she and Carla were obsessed with for months when they were 16. The music is coming from the Colombian bakery she loves. She peeks inside and sees the owner, his wife and their three children dancing in front of the counter. When the owner spots Lu, he pulls her in by the hand, his eyes shiny with tears. "Maria got the scholarship she applied for!" he tells her. "My oldest is going to college!" Everyone is so happy that Lu gets swept up in the moment and dances along with them. When she walks out the door a couple of minutes later, she's left the flowers with Maria and got a bag full of Mojicones in exchange.
She makes it three steps, to the bench in front of the bookstore, before she pulls out her phone.
Carla!!! You will never guess what song I just heard: El Momento! The family in that little bakery I told you about was having a dance party - you would have loved it. AND I ended up with fresh Mojicones, for free. I'm so happy right now. Best Wednesday ever.