Miranda stood outside of her condo building, staring up at it. She held a glass jar with her goldfish in it, and her car was packed to the brim with boxes and bags alongside the street behind her. No matter what, though, she was determined not to cry.
Hackett’s car turned the corner then slowly eased into the parallel parking space behind hers, and Miranda tensed up, not wanting to see him. The door was still dented, and she couldn’t help but think about how out of character that was for Hackett, who had always been so prompt and meticulous for as long as she knew him.
Both Hackett and Alice got out of the car, and he approached Miranda while Alice hung back. He looked grim, but said softly, “I heard that you were moving today. Alice thought that we should come by and see if you needed anything.”
“I’m fine,” Miranda snapped. “I have everything finished already, and I was on my way out.”
“Miranda,” he replied in that annoyingly stern way of his. “We’re here to help you, not to gloat. Don’t be unpleasant about it.”
She took in a deep breath, counted to three, then let it out. “I’ve been put on probation until I complete community service and drug rehab. I decided that it would be best if I didn’t have my mortgage payments eating up my savings account during this time, so I’m downsizing. It’s not a big deal.”
“You look profoundly unhappy about it.”
“I liked my condo.” Miranda tightened her jaw. “I heard that you argued to have Damon sent to your prison, and even signed a pledge to give him fair and unbiased treatment. Why would you do a thing like that?”
“I have my reasons.” The corners of Hackett’s mouth twitched upwards slightly. “Besides, I’m grateful that he relinquished his paternal rights over to me, so it seemed like the least that I could do. I hope he didn’t hurt you too badly.”
Miranda tightened her grip on the jar. “You really should be gloating,” she fumed. “You should look down at your nose at me and declare, ‘I told you so!’ then laugh at the mess I’ve made. I get it, okay? I screwed up big time, and now I’m paying for it. I deserve all of it.”
Hackett was quiet as he looked over at Alice and nodded. Timidly, she approached with a wrapped present, which she held out to Miranda. “I made this for you,” she almost whispered, visibly nervous. “Please take it.”
Miranda wanted to go on the attack, but she didn’t dare lash out at Alice with Hackett standing right there. She bit her tongue as she took the package, trying not to glare. She hated Alice more now than she ever had before.
“If you’re squared away, then we’ll let you be,” Hackett said, putting his arm around Alice. “Take care.”
Miranda regretted chasing them away as she watched them climb back into their car and drive off, wishing that she had let herself share her sadness with them. She got into the driver’s seat of her own car, and carefully buckled her goldfish jar into the passenger seat beside her before turning on the engine. With the car idling, she paused to unwrap the present that Alice had given her.
It was predictably a knitted scarf, made out of a soft dusty purple yarn. Miranda scoffed at how ridiculous Alice was, and thought about tossing it callously into the back. But as she picked it up, she felt a piece of paper carefully folded up inside it, and curiosity got the better of her. Pulling it out, she discovered a handwritten letter from Alice. It read:
I think that we might be the only two people in the whole world who can understand each other right now. Damon has a way of sucking you in before you realize what’s happening, and being with him can be both wonderful and agonizing. I’m sorry that it happened to you, too.
I just want to tell you that you still matter. I hope that you can rebuild and start over, and if you ever want to talk to me, I’ll be here to listen (I swear I won’t tell Basil anything).
Miranda angrily tore the paper in half and flung it to the floor, then hung onto the steering wheel as she screamed with hot tears streaming down her face.
She realized why she had always existed in the shadow of Alice’s memory, never able to compete with her for Damon’s affection, and why Hackett had been so quick to marry her: Alice genuinely cared about others in a way that Miranda never did.
That made her hate her all the more.
Later that night, Miranda finished filling up her fish tank, then carefully measured out a small amount of salt and water conditioner, making sure that everything was neatly in place before she gently scooped her goldfish out of the jar and placed it in the water with her hand. She sat for a moment and watched it swim around, seemingly unaware that anything had changed.
She went back to sorting through boxes to unpack in her new apartment, despising how even the walls felt cheap and smothering compared to her condo, when she came across the purple scarf. Picking it up, Miranda turned it over, studied the yarn, and wondered if her life would have turned out better if she had been more like Alice.