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Sierra was staring at the ceiling, hands folded across her chest, thinking about tomorrow. It was her first night at Uni, and she was so excited she couldn’t sleep. Though she was a regular insomniac, her melatonin usually had her out by 2:00 A.M.. It was 3:17.
I watched her as she tossed and turned. I thought it was funny how she rolled to her side, on her stomach, and to her back again like rotisserie. No amount of concealer would save her from greeting new peers with half-moons under her eyes. Dammit, Sierra thought, pushing her head under the covers.
I was excited too. I wanted to see the campus and the people and the professors and, of course, the food. I wanted to see what the classrooms looked like and hear my voice echo off the theater-like walls. But tomorrow would just be orientation, so it’d be about tight smiles and menial chatter. I had seen the way Sierra did it before, when she went to her robotics trips and competitions or to sleep-away camp or whatever. It was always tight-lipped.
“Hi, I’m Sierra. What’s your name?”
“Nice to meet you.”
“Where are you from?”
“Where do you go to school?” Or now, I guessed it’d be “What do you study?”
“Ugh, I’m so tired. I was up till three.”
It’s not that I had a problem with meeting new people; I just hated the script. I hated that Sierra always shook so many hands, but never knew anybody. Not really. She was always so wound up, so folded, so… so… onion. And everyone else was the same, I guessed. They all had layers and versions of themselves they kept so wound up that, at the end of the day, there were just a whole lotta vegetables in the room.
Sierra hadn’t always been that way, of course. But around the time she got into high school, it felt like there were multiple Sierras running around. There were two Sierras at home — the one around mum and pop, who was respectful but distant, and the one who was with our little brother Syros. Syros’s version of Sierra was always snappy and on edge, ready to bite his annoying little head off. Then, there was the Sierra in classes, who was like mum’s version but with a little more bite. She was never disrespectful with teachers, but she was wary of their authoritarian flippancy and her grades often suffered for it. And, there was a whole flock of Sierras around her friends — the dark humor Sierra, the preppy Sierra, the nonchalant Sierra. They switched in and out like apparitions, animating the things she said and her hand gestures and her facial expressions. It seemed natural to the brief onlooker, but was a horror to view in its totality. I watched her reassemble every day.
There was a secret Sierra when she — we — were alone. She was flat and calm; unattended and expressionless. But she never lasted long, because soon enough she would FaceTime someone or another, or do her homework, or watch a show, or read something. She would check out. She never just sat alone. Never just sat with me.
I wondered which version would climb out of bed tomorrow, or I guess in the next three hours. How would she walk? How would she laugh? What words would she use and for who? Either way, she’d be new. Newness always made my stomach turn. I missed Sierra’s Sierra. Mine. Before she was all mixed up with parts of everyone else. But if I thought about that for too long, I’d get a lump in my throat.
She was finally sleeping soundly, and I was the one overly excited now, mentally prepping for her to shapeshift and multiply in her sleep. Sierra wasn’t the only one who’d meet a new cast of peers in the morning.
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