Come See About Me | Chapter One

I can't listen to music with lyrics anymore. I can't read more than a couple of sentences from a newspaper or novel without losing focus. I've lost fifteen pounds since last January because I forget to eat, and even when I remember, I don't have much of an appetite. The first thing I do when I get up these days is shuffle out of the spare bedroom and into the bath because otherwise I'm liable to forget that too. I drop my skinny white body into the empty tub and let the warm water fill up around me so that Abigail, during the couple of weeks she spends here every few months, won't think she made a mistake in letting me stay and change her mind.

I can't have that. I don't want to go.

It was bad enough having to leave the apartment Bastien and I shared in Toronto. I should've figured out a way to stay and hang on to that little piece of the life we had together, but I didn't. I couldn't focus enough to solve that problem either.

So I've been living in Oakville, at Abigail's house, a fifteen-minute walk from the lake, for just over two months now. She swooped in and saved me when I didn't know what to do-only that I didn't want to fly home to B.C. and move back in with my parents like they were convinced was best, and that I couldn't humor any of my Toronto friends who'd offered to squeeze me into their shared apartments/houses either. People expect you to talk to them, even the ones who tell you they understand. They want energy you don't have. They want you to care about something and I don't.

Alone is what's easier. Everyone else would prefer that I pretend my life hasn't been hollowed out. They believe their expectations should carry some weight with me. Only Bastien truly carries any weight and people try to use that fact against me too and tell me what he would want for me. Some of the things they say about that might be right, but since he's not here he doesn't get to decide how I should handle his absence.

I dip my head back into the bath water to rinse the conditioner from my hair. It's always the last thing I do before I pull the plug. I was never the kind of girl to devote a lot of energy to my appearance, but I used to at least take the time to properly rinse the conditioner out of my hair. I'm clean, though; presentable. Abigail's house is too-mainly because I've been living light. I never have people over and have barely turned on the oven. My daily menu consists of cereal, fruit, bread, and microwavable items like noodle bowls.

That considered, my grocery bill shouldn't be much more than a small domestic pet's, but too often I stop into the nearest corner store and stock up there. They don't carry bread or fruit but they have the other things, at inflated prices. When I do make it all the way over to the grocery store or fruit market it's actually because of Armstrong. Hamsters need a small amount of fruit and vegetables every day and no matter how I feel I can't let anything happen to Armstrong. I guess that means I care about something after all.

Taking care of Armstrong is my biggest daily priority, and because hamsters are nocturnal, the first time I look in on him he's usually asleep, burrowed in his bedding or occasionally, if I've forgotten to take it out, his wheel. If I leave it in overnight he tends to run on it until he makes himself sick. Bastien was the first one to notice that. One night he was camped out on the couch composing a Chaucer essay for English class while I was fast asleep in the bedroom. The noise from the spinning hamster wheel kept breaking his concentration, so Bastien tugged on earphones and cranked up the tunes-classical music, which he always used to say was the only kind of music he could listen to while working. When he took off the earphones hours later the wheel was still squeaking away, propelled by a worn-out-looking but obviously compulsive Armstrong.

It's as though he can't help himself. He craves the wheel like some humans crave heroin or sex. So we started rationing Armstrong's wheel time for his own good, taking it out before we went to sleep ourselves. Sometimes now I forget to take the wheel out at night and wake up to the sound of Armstrong engaged in an endless marathon. His cage is in the spare room with me because I don't want Abigail to feel like I'm taking over her house, but I don't mind having him there anyway because he reminds me of Bastien. Our landlord said no cats or dogs, but he never said no hamsters and Bastien wanted a pet.

In the evening, after Armstrong's woken up and gorged himself on whatever's in his food bowl, I'll replace his wheel for him and he'll race around inside it like a junkie. In the meantime I drag my comb through my hair and head for the kitchen. Just coffee for now because I'm not hungry. I drink it with one sugar but no milk because there isn't any. I should go to the store today. Walk into town and hit the fruit market.

First, I curl up on the couch in front of the television and click on the remote. Abigail has a really crappy cable package, which makes sense since she's never here to watch it. I didn't used to watch much TV either, but now I need the background hum and keep it on for the majority of the day. They say TV induces a trance state and that the longer you watch the deeper the trance gets. I know it's true because I live that most days. Faces morph into other faces. Two women in bridesmaid's dresses screech at each other. Another woman is found dead in bed with her bathrobe on backwards. Gordon Ramsey acts outraged and then makes crab cakes. A taxi careens into the side of a van in the pouring rain. Doctor Phil makes a tepid joke and waits for his studio audience to laugh.

Sometimes, when I've had enough of that, I watch the news all day instead. Or sports. It could be anything really. As long as it's noise and moving pictures. Something to park my skinny, white, freshly-rinsed body in front of.

Other days I can't stand the pixels and talking heads anymore and walk down to the lake to watch geese and sailboats bob along the waves. An outdoor trance rather than an indoor one.

About ten days ago, two boys who appeared to be ten or eleven years old were throwing rocks at the crowd of geese and ducks gathered in the water, and I envisioned lifting a boulder effortlessly above my head, like Wonder Woman, hurling it in the boys' direction and flattening them dead. Why not? Weren't they demonstrating that they're destined to be serial killers or the future CEOs of soulless oil companies? No respect, no conscience.

The trouble is there are so many psychopathic kids (and parents) around that snuffing them out could be Wonder Woman's full-time job. In the old days I would have given the boys the evil eye and told them to stop-or if Bastien was with me he'd have lit into them before I'd even had a chance to open my mouth. He couldn't stand to see anything or anyone being hurt.

It's hard to rouse myself to say or do anything now that Bastien's gone. It's like fighting my way through a fog or trying to scream in one of those dreams where it's struggle enough to whisper. So I didn't say a word to them, just hated the boys silently from within my impermeable fog.

As it turned out, I wasn't the only one who disapproved. A woman clutching hands with a little girl in a sailor hat crossed towards the boys and said, "Hey there, stop bothering the birds, guys."

Her tone was dismay mingled with impatience and the boys' stunned glares made it clear she was a stranger to them. "You can't tell us what to do," the shorter one with the pinched face complained.

The woman was even more taken aback than the boys had been seconds earlier, and in the silent pause between them I broke through my murk with an unexpected flash of energy, shouting, from my place on the boulder fifteen feet behind them, "Do your parents let you throw rocks at birds?"

The taller boy's head sagged on his shoulders. He glanced guardedly at his friend as if to say, let's go. They dropped the rocks clenched in their fists and headed away from the water and up to the grass. The little girl with the sailor hat turned to stare at the geese and ducks while her mother and I swapped looks of solidarity.

Who needs Wonder Woman? My lips stuck to my front teeth as I began to smile, but the woman's gaze had already shifted towards the lake.

Today I don't want to deal with kids throwing rocks at geese, but since I have to venture further than the corner store I know I'll end up at the lake. Once I'm far enough from Abigail's house the water has a habit of pulling me towards it, like it wants me in its orbit.

When you don't have a car and don't live in Toronto anymore, the distance between places proves much longer than you'd ever realized, but Abigail's Oakville neighborhood is a pleasant place to walk: well-landscaped yards attached to equally picturesque houses. There's little traffic and little noise but lots of money and political influence. In an alternate life I might want to settle down here with Bastien in our late twenties, have the kids I'd never really stopped to think about before Bastien died because the future felt both distant and so certain that it didn't seem to require any consideration.

I force myself to turn off the TV, blow dry my hair and pull on a rumpled pair of jeans and pink T-shirt. As soon as I get outdoors I'm reminded, by the strength of an early September sun which feels more like August, that I should buy sunscreen. My nose is still peeling from my last burn. It doesn't matter except that when Abigail gets here next week I want her to believe I'm keeping my head above water enough for this arrangement to be a good idea. For that, I should look the part. In control of basic health and hygiene.

Having lost her husband, Abigail understands about needing time and space more than most people, but even then there's likely a line between accepting my sadness and rejecting it as something crossing the border into clinical. There's a cultural level of acceptable grief that I'm on the wrong side of.

Sometimes I wonder how Bastien would've lived with my loss. Maybe he'd be better at losing me than I am at losing him. Or maybe he'd be ensconced here at his aunt Abigail's house along with Armstrong, in hiding from a life that had taken a permanent wrong turn.

I just think all the time. About him. Us. The days and nights we shared in our old apartment. The smell of soap on his skin and how still, peaceful and self-contained he appeared when he didn't realize anyone was watching him. I was amazed, when I'd see that expression of perfect calm slip over his features, that I was the one sharing his life. How could I possibly be that lucky? And then it would strike me as utterly ridiculous that I'd failed to truly notice him in all the years we were in high school together in Burnaby. We could've had more years together, even if there was a fixed end date. I should've noticed him sooner.

The sun beats down on my flaking nose as I head down Douglas Avenue, squinting against the white-hot glare because, as well as forgetting sunscreen, I've left my sunglasses behind. My cloth shopping bags too. By the time I reach Lakeshore Road my forehead is beaded with sweat. It's even more humid than I'd realized and if I don't cool down within the next thirty seconds my armpits will be wet too. Closer to the square, there's a café I've popped into a few times over the summer. A place to sit down and soak up the air conditioning. Downtown Oakville is littered with restaurants, cafés, coffee shops and ice cream parlors, but I keep gravitating to the same few places: the lake, the fruit market, and The Cunning Café. On a couple of occasions, when I've needed to use the bathroom, I've dropped into the library too. In the past I could have spent hours there, but now it seems about as useful as your average cat might find a symphony, filled as it is with materials I'm unable to concentrate on.

I slip past the fruit market in favor of cool air and head for The Cunning Café. The décor is vaguely Mediterranean but not trying too hard to be hip. The first time I walked through the door I wondered if Bastien had ever been inside. I thought he would've appreciated the homey atmosphere, and began to construct a narrative in which I'd met up with him here after one of his classes at Sheridan College. I imagined what he would order-the meat cannelloni maybe, or veal Parmigiana. A curry chicken wrap if he wasn't too hungry.

The only things I've ordered here have been sandwiches or bagels. I could order one now since I still haven't eaten but my stomach isn't interested. You should have something, I lecture silently. Between the heat and not having bitten into any calories yet today, you don't want to pass out.

I don't feel faint but one evening at the end of July everything started to go dark for me while in the cleaning products aisle of the supermarket. Only a moment earlier I'd been steady on my feet.

I remember thinking, when I fell against the shelving unit and sent a jug of laundry detergent flying, that Bastien would've been angry at me for neglecting myself. He made me twinge with guilt from the grave. I can't keep going on with my life as though it doesn't matter that he's gone, but I can stay alive for him. That I can do. Eat and drink every day. Sleep. Breathe. Watch TV. Watch the waves.

I pick up a tray and select a bottle of lime soda from the fridge beside the counter. Then I peer over the head of the blond woman behind the counter to read the menu. There's only one guy in front of me in line and he's biting his lip as he scans the menu too, the blond woman smiling patiently at an indecision she must witness a hundred times a day.

"Is the chicken curry wrap very spicy?" he ventures. I'm not good with accents but I can detect a jaunty sort of twang in his voice that I assume is English or Scottish, because Abigail mentioned, when she first came to pick me up and get me settled in Oakville, that there were a lot of English and Scottish people in the area.

"Medium-spicy," the woman clarifies, raising her hand in a so-so motion. "If you're looking for super-hot it won't qualify, but it's tasty."

I've decided on the egg salad but the guy's still perusing his menu options, thinking it all over, and the woman's eyes flick over to me. "I like your shirt," she says.

I glance automatically down to remind myself what I threw on before leaving the house. At the end of last summer I snapped up a bunch of T-shirts on sale at the Yonge Eglinton Centre. Bastien and I'd been living together for three and a half months and were having a stupid fight about his mother not liking me because every time she phoned and I picked up instead she sounded like someone who'd just discovered a fingernail sliver amongst her nachos. Meanwhile Bastien refused to admit his mother had anything against me. He kept repeating that she was just a naturally aloof person and that I shouldn't take it personally.

I'd only met his mother three times in person then and didn't know what she was like with people aside from her family and closest friends. Later I learned he was right-his mother had a cold exterior that it took time to chip through-but I didn't happen to believe that at the end of last August when we stopped by the Yonge Eglinton Centre to pick up fresh bedding and food for Armstrong. Bastien couldn't handle relationship tension well and wanted me to drop the subject. When it became obvious that I wasn't going to oblige he stuffed his hands down into his pockets, rolled his eyes and said, with a finality that kicked my irritation up another notch, "You know what, why don't you take some time to cool down and I'll catch up with you later." He stepped away from me and I let him.

My heart was beating fast from being angry with him and I stomped off in the opposite direction, wondering which of us was supposed to buy Armstrong's supplies and deciding Bastien should be the one, since he'd ditched me. Then I'd prowled the mall and ended up with my arms full of T-shirts I didn't need, one of which I'm wearing today-emblazoned with the phrase "One Tough Cookie" under a cartoonish image of an outraged cookie (minus a single bite), shaking its two tiny cookie fists in the air.

The guy ahead of me in line follows the blond woman's gaze to ogle my T-shirt and then looks swiftly back at the menu as he realizes my chest probably isn't the most politically correct place for his eyes to settle.

"Thanks," I tell her after what I realize has been an uncomfortably long pause following her compliment. Like I said, I think about Bastien and us constantly. Part of my brain still exists in a reality in which he's alive and we're living in a basement apartment together in Toronto.

"Better make it the corn beef and cheese on Italian bread," the man says, returning us all to the matter at hand.

The blond woman nods. "Toasted?"

"Toasted," he confirms, flashing the briefest of smiles.

The woman slices into a loaf of Italian bread. "I love your accent," she says. "What part of Ireland are you from?"

"Dublin." The man's smile reappears, seeming more genuine this time, and their conversation ambles forward. With nothing further required from me, I drift back behind a curtain of fog until it's time to place my order. Once I have my egg salad sandwich I take a seat near the back door. There aren't many tables left; I'd forgotten that it was the weekend.

Chew. Swallow. Sip lime soda. Think.

Neither Bastien nor I really knew how to cook. We lived on frozen/packaged food and cheap takeout. I had this idea we could learn to cook together and bought a book of basic recipes. We tackled chicken quesadillas, teriyaki pork, sweet potatoes, sticky buns and cabbage rolls and then got bored and rotated the homemade quesadillas and buns into our diet of otherwise packaged food and takeout. Bastien was more of a natural in the kitchen than I was and I began to lose interest first, but the sticky buns were delicious. I can taste the memory of cinnamon and walnuts even as I swallow bits of egg salad.

The sandwich itself is fine. Good even. But I can't finish it. Two-thirds of the way through digesting another bite becomes impossible so, having cooled off like I'd intended, I wander down to the lake and sit on a shaded bench. Supervised children play in the park behind me, shrieking and laughing, but no one's bothering the geese. In fact, the geese themselves seem almost militant-not at all like creatures in need of human protection-as they march out of the lake and spread strategically out along the grass for a midday snack.

Even in the shade, the heat begins to get to me again after about an hour and I stroll back up to Lakeshore Road to visit the fruit market and buy bananas and berries for Armstrong and milk for myself. On the way to the market an old woman in a medical scooter whizzes by me on the sidewalk, stopping abruptly a few feet in front of me. She tugs gently at the long gold pashmina draped around her shoulders. It's too warm for a shawl-I don't know how she can stand it-but as I catch up to her I spy the reason she's come to a halt. One end of her pashmina is wedged under the scooter's rear left wheel.

I stop next to the woman and attempt to soften my expression as I glance down into her eyes. "Do you need some help?"

She smiles ruefully up at me. "I don't want to roll forward in case I tear it. Do you think you could try to slip it out?"

I crouch to examine the situation more closely and begin to work the delicate fabric out from underneath the wheel, slowly and carefully. At first I suspect it won't all come free and that she'll have to move forward and risk ruining her pretty pashmina.

"Is there anything I can do?" a male voice says from above me.

My fingers reclaim the final section of trapped fabric. "Oh, thank you!" the woman exclaims, beaming at me. Now that I'm really looking at her I notice she has arresting green eyes; it's like staring into the Caribbean ocean and having it stare back.

"You're welcome," I say, returning her smile. As I stand, I switch my gaze to the man who'd stopped to help, the very same one who wasn't interested in a medium-spicy chicken curry wrap at The Cunning Café earlier in the afternoon.

"She's got it," the woman announces gratefully, and for a fraction of a second I actually feel something other than loss: a tiny seed of pride. "But thank you both." She knots the pashmina around her chest and I turn to continue my journey to the fruit market. Three seconds later the woman's speeding ahead of me again on the sidewalk, waving as she passes.

"Excuse me," the man says, sidling up to me. "Could you tell me if there's a post office around here?"

I pause to digest the question. Someone else could probably answer in a snap but it takes me a moment to remember whether I'm in possession of the information he's looking for.

"It won't be open today," I tell him.

"Right, Sunday," the guy says, mostly to himself. "I'll have to go tomorrow then. Can you point me in the right direction?"

The street name's slipped my mind but I tell him about the shop with the post office counter where I've purchased stamps from time to time. It's only a couple blocks west from where we're currently standing-on the north side of one of the little side streets running just off Lakeshore. "You'll see a butcher's on the corner and there's an ice cream place down the same street," I add, pointing in the general direction.

"Thanks," he says, the same brief but polite smile on his lips that I spotted there earlier. He sets off down the road as though he intends to locate the post office now, despite me mentioning that it would be closed.

Maybe he just wants to scout out the location for tomorrow. Just to know. I used to be like that; always checking Google Maps and the TTC schedule before going someplace new.

I'd never been to Oakville before Bastien died. I was majoring in anthropology at the University of Toronto's downtown campus while Bastien's design program was split between classes at York University in Toronto and Oakville's Sheridan College. The only thing I remember him saying about the place is, "It looks like a nice town-especially near to the lake. Kinda sleepy but with some breathing room."

I would never have thought to come here if it weren't for Bastien's aunt Abigail, but when she offered me someplace to stay and I learned her house was in Oakville, moving here, at least temporarily, made perfect sense. This was a place Bastien knew, a place he'd walked and ate and painted and sketched. A place where I could live inside a trance as much as was humanly possible while still having to give directions to the local post office and consider necessities like bananas, berries and milk.

I feel for the twenty dollar bill I hope is in my pocket (and not another thing that I've failed to remember) and then step from the sticky air hovering over the sidewalk into the relative coolness of the fruit market.

Chapter Two

My best friend throughout most of high school was Iliana Lazaroy. She was the vice president of the student council and passionate about politics. In one of the candid yearbook photos of Iliana she's sitting next to the mayor of Burnaby in our high school auditorium, the two of them in mid-conversation and a magnanimous smile plastered across Iliana's face, her keen gaze demonstrating that she's listening intently to every word the mayor says. The yearbook committee captioned the picture "Most Likely to Rule the World," and they weren't talking about the mayor.

When we'd first gotten close at the end of ninth grade, Iliana and I were both honor roll students without specific career aspirations. For a long time I thought that I'd pick up a BA and then, if I still hadn't figured anything else out, try for teacher's college. Iliana hit on what she wanted to do before I did and at first she tried to guide me in the same direction. I helped her design posters and buttons for her election campaign at the end of eleventh grade, but the thought of having to do typical student council things, like organize funding drives and plan pep rallies, bored me to tears.

If Iliana and I both weren't such loyal people we probably would've drifted apart in twelfth grade. People change, especially during high school. But we hung on. Busy as Iliana was, we still hung out together, and every once in a while I put my name down for council led initiatives, like the time I signed up to do the student volunteer day at our local food bank. Bastien, one of the few black students at our school, was volunteering at the food bank that day too. We sorted dried and canned goods next to each for over an hour, until someone asked him and a couple of the other guys from school to help unload a truck of donations in the warehouse out back.

That hour was the most interaction Bastien and I ever had during high school. We'd shared a couple of classes over the years but moved in different circles and had never really gotten to know each other. Bastien's grades were as good as mine but he was one of the kids you'd always see carrying around a sketchpad, stubby piece of charcoal and some manga novel or comic book. Our first real conversation happened at the Operation Foodshare bank. This was back when the Winter Olympics were being held in Vancouver, so all of B.C. was wild with Olympic fever. Jon Montgomery had won the gold in men's skeleton for us only the night before and Bastien and I talked about watching his final fast-as-lightning run down the track.

When Shaun White and the halfpipe came up, Bastien's eyes popped and he switched the topic to Torah Bright. Her name was on the lips of practically every guy at school the day after she won gold, so that wasn't anything new, but I teased Bastien about it before admitting that she was hot, the kind of girl who'd be hot walking down the street in an old sweatshirt but was extra hot because she had super hero powers on a snowboard.

Bastien grinned at me. "You know, you sound like you might have a thing for her too."

"Everybody can tell when someone's beautiful," I said. "Whether they like him or her or not. Guys can tell about other guys too. They just don't like to admit it."
Bastien, still smiling, shook his head like he wasn't going to entertain the idea. I started naming male athletes anyway, and then actors and rappers, which was when things got interesting because Bastien said he didn't listen to pop music and hip hop much anymore and didn't even know some of the people I'd mentioned. "I mean, I hear it around, you know, because it's everywhere," he added. "And some of it's all right but I prefer, like, jazz, blues and classical."

"So you're an intellectual," I kidded.

Bastien squinted at me, his smile biting deeper into his face. "Yeah, look who's talking, Little Miss Honor Roll with her best friend in student council."

"By honor roll standards I'm a slacker," I countered, my hand wrapped around of a can of mandarin oranges that I'd pulled out of the sac between us. "But Iliana makes me look good. Besides, aren't you Mr. Honor Roll yourself?"

"True," he conceded just seconds before he was called away to unload the truck. And that was pretty much it for Bastien and me in high school. I had no clue which universities he was applying to-would barely have given him a second thought if he hadn't popped up in my life again eight months later clear across the country.

Iliana got into McGill University in Montreal while I'd been accepted at the University of Toronto (I still didn't really know what I wanted to do but was curious to see what east coast life was like). We'd sworn we'd take the train out to see each other whenever we could but lost track of each other fairly quickly. My classes were okay, especially anthropology, which I later decided I wanted to major in, but all through September my roommate Marissa made my life hell by sneaking a guy she was hooking up with into our room while she thought I was asleep. On the first occasion the sex was so swift and rudimentary-before they passed out and then both started to snore-that I pretended I was still sleeping, but that got tougher and tougher to do as they grew rowdier on each subsequent occasion until I felt like was part of a psychological experiment designed to chart people's reactions to unwanted exposure to live pornography. Watching their sloppy sex made me want to hold on to my virginity until I was least thirty.

When I complained to Marissa for the third time she acted like I was a stuck up prude and said, with a sullen expression, that they'd try to be quieter. "Quieter isn't going to cut it," I said bluntly. Even sexiling me would've been a step up, but she'd never even tried to knock out a workable arrangement with me. "I've had enough. You need to go someplace else. I would think you'd want to anyway-unless you get off on being watched."

Marissa folded her arms rapidly in front of her and scrunched up her eyebrows. "You're just jealous. Not like you're getting any action, is it?"

"Jealous? Please. More like totally grossed out, Marissa." That's not something I would normally say, even though it was the truth, but I was so sick of Marissa and her ridiculous fake orgasm noises (because even without any practical experience of my own I was certain there was no way that Trev, with his jackhammer impersonation, was giving her any real ones) that I could barely look at her without my mouth dropping automatically into a frown.

Several other unpleasant things were said by us both but Marissa didn't bring Trev back to our room after that. She stopped talking to me entirely and the unspoken tension between us proved almost as toxic as being an unhappy witness to her sex life.

When Yunhee Kang from my humanities class happened to mention that her own roommate had just dropped out and gone home to North Bay due to persistent health problems, I explained about my disastrous roommate experiences and begged her to let me move in. Thankfully, she didn't like living alone and readily agreed. By Christmas Yunhee, who reminded me a little of Iliana before she'd discovered her interest in politics, and a girl named Katie she'd gone to high school with in Ottawa became my closest friends at university.

None of us partied hard, but that doesn't mean we didn't like to have a good time. We joined the Asian Film Club, went to see bands together, and dressed up for the zombie walk near the end of October. As a zombie bride, drenched in blood and with an eyeball dangling from her cheek, Yunhee had the best costume of the three of us. She clutched a dismembered prop arm and bared her teeth as the three of us lumbered through the park amid throngs of assorted zombies-cop zombies, pinup girl zombies in push-up bras, cross-dressing zombies, you name it and they were represented in the park that day. Katie and I felt almost under-dressed in hoodies and jeans, our faces pale and trails of blood spilling from our mouths. Still, with my hair slicked back, a vacant look in my eyes and both my hands drenched in red, I would've thought I was fairly unrecognizable and anonymous.

Trying to stay in character while simultaneously checking out everyone else's costumes and zombie swagger was a big part of the fun. We lurched, growled and contorted our bodies, our faces fastened into blank expressions as we pretended to lunge at onlookers. But it was impossible to stay zombie for the entire duration of the walk and the three of us slipped periodically back into our regular selves to make small talk. We were ambling along, having temporarily returned to our human states, when a guy in broken glasses, green face paint and torn clothes fell into pace beside me. He bent his head to look into my face and said, "Leah Fischer, is that you?"

It took me a couple of seconds to get past his makeup job. "Bastien!" I exclaimed. There was dark red makeup smeared under his eyes and his tattered navy blazer flapped in the wind. "Hey, what're you doing here?"

His top teeth peeked out from between his lips as he smiled. "I'm taking a design program at York-living off campus with a few guys. What about you? I didn't know you were going to school out here. You still see Iliana?"

"She's at McGill. We keep saying we have to get together. Hey." I grabbed Yunhee's shoulder. "This is my roommate, Yunhee, and my friend, Katie."

"Hey." Bastien nodded at them. "This is the first time I've been introduced to zombies."

"We prefer the term undead," Yunhee joked, both her arms reaching claw-like in front of her as she delved back into her performance.

I spent the rest of the zombie walk talking to Bastien about our new lives in Toronto. It felt like catching up, which was funny considering we'd hardly ever spoken before. Bastien suggested that we should hang out sometime, and we exchanged cell phone numbers. Over the next couple of weeks we texted a little and then went for coffee twice. I thought we were just being friends until he dropped by my dorm room on his way to a basketball game and casually happened to mention another girl he was hanging out with. Instantly I was jealous, which could only mean one thing: I was interested in Bastien Powell, a guy I'd gone to school with for four whole years and only really bothered to speak to once.

When had his body changed from skinny to lean but well-muscled? When had he evolved from a comic book carrying dork into a creative, independent-minded person who had confident, interesting opinions?

And did he like me back? I analyzed our hours together with Yunhee, feeling at a disadvantage because of my limited romantic experience. I'd only had one boyfriend in high school and that had lasted a grand total of two and a half short months before we'd mutually lost interest.

Yunhee advised me to be bold and tell Bastien how I felt. At first I resisted, afraid my confession could change the dynamic between us in a negative way if he didn't share my feelings. But after approximately ten days spent burning myself out with wondering whether Bastien could ever be with me or if we were just meant to be friends, I turned to him, right in the middle of the Oscar buzz movie we were watching at the Varsity theater together, and whispered, "I need you to be absolutely truthful with me about something, okay?"

He stared quizzically at me in the dark. "That sounds heavy, Leah. What's up?"

"I'm going to be okay with whatever you say but"-I focused on the screen and then back at him-"is there something going on with you and Tabatha?" She was the girl he'd been mentioning from time to time, a fellow York U student. My left eyelid pulsed as I continued. "Or do you wish there was?"

Bastien tensed next to me. I felt that nearly as strongly as if it'd been my own body. Then he hunched over in his chair and said, "What do you want to hear?"

"Just the truth."

He nodded soberly. "So it would mean something to you if there was something going on with Tabatha?"

"It would mean…" I pulled my chin close to my chest and took a deep breath. "It would mean that I shouldn't think about you in any way other than how we are right now."

I watched Bastien exhale. "I didn't know you were," he said. "I mean…I never got that feeling from you."

"I guess I'm a little slow at figuring myself out," I admitted. My face was burning and I was grateful that it was dark so he wouldn't see the color in my cheeks. I could just about keep my voice steady, but I couldn't control an embarrassed blush. "And now I think I should just shut up so we can get back to watching the movie."

"No, no, Leah." Bastien's voice spiked, competing with the movie dialogue. "I didn't mean it like that." A lady shushed him from several rows behind us. "I meant…" He dropped to a whisper. "We can't talk here. Come with me." He cocked his head in the direction of the exit and was already getting to his feet. I trailed him out of the theater and we stopped in front of the tropical fish tank in the lobby. A handful of spilt popcorn littered the ground between us. I dug my hands into my pockets and looked Bastien's way, suspense building in the silence.

"Tabatha's strictly a friend," he told me. "But you..." He tilted his head as he gazed back at me. "I've been thinking about you too. I would've said something sooner but…" He shrugged, a shyness creeping into his eyes that I'd never seen there before. "I read you wrong. I thought I was just picking up a friendship vibe from you."

Behind us a luminous yellow fish was looping around an equally colorful piece of coral. I shook my head and broke into a giddy smile. "Maybe in the very beginning," I confessed, "but not now."

Bastien smiled too. Neither of us could stop. Then he took a step closer to me and said, "So, hey, why are you still standing so far away?" He bent to kiss me and his mouth on mine felt right from the start. I threw my arms around his neck and leaned into him. We went straight back to his place, made out on top of his bed and then in it, the sound of his roommate's music thumping through the dividing wall.

We didn't go all the way, though. We held back. It turned out that I wasn't the only virgin in our relationship and we were both having too good a time exploring to rush things. It wasn't until we were home in Burnaby for Christmas, curled up on a gray flannel blanket in front of my parents' fireplace while they were at a friend's dinner party, that we actually went ahead. And when it happened it was like a floodgate had opened up. We had sex so many times that night that we both started to feel raw and had to stop before we really wanted to.

"Maybe we shouldn't have waited," Bastien kidded, wrapping his arms around me and squeezing me to him. "Just look what happens when we try to exercise some restraint."

I smiled into his chest. "So you think if we'd done it back when we were sixteen or something we'd be over sex by now?"

"I think if we did it when we were the sixteen the experience would've been over significantly faster," Bastien admitted. "It probably would've been over if I saw you naked from across the room."

"Hah." I eased myself away from him and propped my head up with my elbow so I could stare into his twinkling brown eyes. "But I guess you're right; staring at each other from across the room would've been a lower impact activity." I was pretty sore right then but mostly I was just joking around.

Bastien's face softened and then turned playful. "Show me where it hurts and I'll kiss it better."

I swear he loved going down on me just as much as he loved sex itself. He told me once that he thought he could live down between my legs if I let him. We practically did live like that after we moved in together that May. In the back of my mind I think I'd previously believed sex would prove overrated-not specifically with Bastien but with anyone.

It was funny to find out I was wrong about something I'd never consciously realized in the first place. I suddenly understood how people could become so obsessed with sex. If you were having a bad day it could be your pick-me-up, and on a good day it was gravy. But more than that, sleeping with Bastien felt like speaking a secret language with your favorite person. Once we were living together hardly a day went by that we didn't find time to be together.

But the best thing about living with Bastien was plain and simple just being with Bastien, whatever we were doing. He was the person I wanted to speak to most every morning and every night, and even if I could, by some trick of the universe, still speak with him for just half an hour each day, I know that daily thirty minutes would be enough to make my entire life feel full. It wouldn't matter if there was no sex or that he was lousy at coping with the minor amounts of relationship tension that surfaced between us from time to time. None of that would matter at all.

It's the essence of Bastien that I miss, the guy who spent as much time in his head coming up with comic book ideas to write and draw as he did with me, the guy who made me coffee as he told me about his day and was just as eager to hear about mine, the guy who always rooted for the underdog (except maybe in the case of Torah Bright), and the guy who named our hamster Armstrong after both musical genius Louis B and astronaut Neil, the first human to walk on the moon.

"This hamster," Bastien began jokingly as he held seven-week-old Armstrong in his hands after we first got him home from the pet store, "should aspire to greatness."

In my opinion, we didn't have to aspire to greatness. We were already there.