Years pass and bring changes, the way years do. The environmental NGO decides to unload its risky properties, those that climate forecasting predicts to be in flood zones in the next ten years. One of these is the lot where Case has been living. He’s risen in the organization, as a result of being so successful in the projects he’s managed, and during one promotion, he’s able to do a swap–land over salary increase–and so he ends up with the deed to the property. It’s a double-edged deal, for he can’t get flood insurance, and he needs to fill out a bunch of paperwork to complete the title, since the lot is off-the-grid, but eventually, after squeezing out every last drop of his executive functioning juices, the property is his. He makes a few improvements, including building a second story, so he can sleep inside when he wants to, rather than in the tent he’s been camping in this past decade, and putting in an actual kitchen, so he has something to cook on rather than the old rusting grill.
It’s at about this time when Ira tells him one day that she’s been evicted. Gentrification in the neighborhood where she lives across the bay. They’re tearing down her old apartment building to put in condos.
“Move in here,” Case says. He’s got the second story now, with room enough for two single beds.
So move in she does. There’s so much to love–the garden, the bees, the steady drip-drip of the blue dew collectors.
At night, while she sits out front to watch the northern lights, strange visitors wander by, Vlad and others. Ira imagines they’re vampires–they do all have pointy canines. It’s her secret joy, pretending that there are vampires, and that they stop by. Maybe she’ll become one, she fantasizes. The night belongs to me!
Other guests drop by uninvited, too–Alexander Goth and Brytani Cho. Was Case’s home always so popular? Of course it’s only been a home this past year. Before then, it was two-rooms-on-a-lot.
“What are you doing here?” Ira asks Brytani and Alex one morning. They’d been helping themselves to breakfast.
Brytani doesn’t answer. She’s a celebrity. She can go where she likes.
“Case said I could drop by,” Alex replies.
“Um, no,” says Ira, “I don’t think he’d say that.”
“OK, um, uninvited guest?” Alex tries.
“OK,” says Ira.
On Case’s 33rd birthday, Ira and Case decide to throw a party.
“You sure you want to?” Ira asks.
“If you do,” Case says. She does, but only if it’s OK with him. After about 20 minutes, they decide it’s OK with each of them. The invitation list is sort of random. Case knows a lot of people, but few actual friends. He wants to invite the butterfly girl–that exchange they had when he first moved here was important to him, a touchstone for the path of his entire career, actually. He’d met her mom at the garden center, so it’s easy enough for track her down.
“Uh, my mom said I was supposed to come?” Elsa says when she arrives.
“Welcome then,” says Ira. “Make yourself at home.”
Of course Case invites Aadhya, one of his oldest friends in town, and Ulrike, one of his more recent friends from the garden center.
“So you live here now?” Ulrike asks, or rather exclaims (Let’s change the question mark to an exclamation point–“So you LIVE here now!”), while Aadhya walks by.
“Yeah, I moved in,” Ira says.
“I knew it!” yells Ulrike.
“Uh, no, it’s not like that,” says Ira. “It doesn’t always have to be like that.”
“Oh, well, whatever. Friendship is cool, too, right?” Ulrike’s not going to insist.
“Yeah, I needed a place to stay, and we’re best friends, and I had a key, I was over here all the time anyway, so it just made sense.”
“That’s cool,” Ulrike says. “Roommates! With or without benefits!”
“I cannot frigging believe this,” Aadhya mutters. “I am such an idiot. Such a loser. Why do I always do this to myself?”
As usual, with parties, everyone gathers in the kitchen, regardless how small, regardless if they already know the others there or if they’re all strangers. They won’t be strangers long–tiny kitchens have a way of cooking up instant intimacy.
But Aadhya stays out front. Somehow, she’s just not in the mood for crowds right now. Especially in Case’s kitchen. Especially if Ira is also there.
“This was supposed to be me,” she says to herself as Gideon, Faye’s son, walks by.
“Aren’t you coming in for cake?” Gideon asks.
“Oh, no. I’m not feeling so well,” she answers.
“Want me to bring you a cup of tea?” he offers.
“No, no. I’ll be fine. I think I’ll just sit here. Think a bit. The quiet will do me good.”
It’s far from quiet inside. Case ponders his life–what’s there left to wish for? For himself, nothing really. But can you make a birthday wish for the planet?
Case gives it a try–and the confetti and noisemakers and cheers gives him hope that maybe the great all-and-everything heard this wish. At any rate, let me be your tool for change, Case thinks.
It’s hard to let dreams go. And when the dream life that’s been running parallel to your own actual life has been composed, since junior high, really, of series after series of attachments to boys or men who, in their actual lives, are completely unavailable, it makes you wonder. Why did you have those dreams, anyway? When they’re gone–finally and for good–what do you replace them with?
For now, Aadhya doesn’t replace them with anything. She just feels that big hole inside, where her fantasy used to sprout and flourish and bloom. Now she’s empty, faced, only, with her own life, which, to her at least, seems irreparably sad.
She leaves without saying goodbye. Case hasn’t even realized she’d come. He never expected all his friends to show up–they’re busy. They have their own lives, too. And that’s fine with him.
He has plenty to think about. Right now, he’s pondering this project that the community labor specialist and community resettlement director are coordinating, involving tracking down those who’ve been put out of work and forced to relocate by the shift from industrial to sustainable jobs. The hope is to offer them employment with some of the green energy and local garden projects, provide them with help and incentive to move back here. It’s a pipedream, Case realizes, but it’s a pipedream he finds inspiring.
He sleeps in the tent that night, so he can be alone with the ideas the flow through his mind.