Erica sets out

Early afternoon, four years later, Erica tuned the radio to her mother's show. Part of the deal for Rachel was the radio show, but there was too much competition to give her a morning broadcast, though Saturday afternoon had brought some people in for treatment.
It impressed Erica that her mother's show was not about treating drug abuse. She talked about everything and anything else, featuring diverse conversations, creative reviews and long stretches of ambient, classical and world music, mentioning in closing what she does, and where. Magical to Erica, yet her mother knew it happened the same for good conversation, generally that those involved gravitate afterwards to one another's interests. "Like forming friendships," Rachel had said. "Say two people meet for something they both enjoy, and they have a conversation, they become friends. We just want to make it happen on a larger scale. Friendship is the key to everything."
"And love?"
"There is love," Rachel said, "but there's no unrequited friendship."
"What do you mean?"
"Erica, you have to stand for what you believe. Friendship is always there to be uncovered. Love is always work in progress, there to be cultivated. Friendship is complete."
"Did you learn this in school?"
"I learned how to stand for my beliefs in school. Actually, they taught compassion, which is I think a kind of love, meaning it can be good or bad or in-between. Friendship is always for the best, even when the other person isn't so good. Love isn’t so easy."
Erica's telephone rang. She muted the radio. It was Lauren, her friend with the hotel in Austin. She was there now, inviting Erica to visit. Lauren had left Mexico City days ahead of Erica's flight, making it to Austin as Erica reached Dallas. Erica wanted to leave for Austin, decided to skip a semester to travel farther with Lauren. Agreed to find each other there the next week, Erica called her father, postponing Belize until next summer, explaining she would rather acquaint herself with his new girlfriend somewhere other than on the boat, not sure to herself if that could be true, though liking the staid art teacher more than the idea of a deputy sheriff.
In Austin, Erica met Lauren downtown in a coffee shop. Lauren had covered her hair with a handmade denim and silk hat. "You're wearing that ring again," Lauren said. Erica explained about the vendor and Lauren laughed, "So you're wearing a pink and grey dress?"
Erica blushed, "I'm hoping to throw it off."
"Your dress?" Lauren said confidentially.
"Yeah no, the ring." Their frozen coffees were served, the barista saying, "on the house." Erica looked at the ring, its colors moving amorphously and slowly, the vermilion of a drying chili pepper, the gold streak turning powder blue. Lauren thanked the barista, turned to Erica and looked at the ring, and motioning to the back wall featuring a dragon painted in the same color pattern, asked Erica if she felt interrupted. Erica shook her head, saying it was a western dragon, belly full of fire. Lauren turned away and outward through the shop, looking out onto the street, asking Erica if she felt safe. Erica said so, asking Lauren why she was upset. Lauren said she had a bad feeling, a sense of being observed from below.
"Erica, let's get out of here." Lauren tipped the barista to put their drinks in carry cups, her manner decisive, ready and alert. Outside they started walking, sipping frozen coffee in the heat. Lauren said they had to go out of the way to a fabric store. After crossing the river to the south, heading towards the hotel, Lauren said she could make enough cash to keep herself comfortable by sewing denim and silk headdresses and selling them downtown. She picked three kinds of denim, two of silk, a bleaching kit, and said her other equipment was back in the halo room. "They put up a notice," she said. "In January they're demolishing the hotel. We can stay there through October without a hassle."
Lauren lugged her materials back to the hotel. Erica carried both cups. In Mexico City, Lauren was making purses, presently carrying not her own design, but a reproduction of a special order from the dean of students at the university. About the change in manufacture, Lauren said the denim was easier to work with and the simple headdresses sold better anyhow. She could make two or three styles per day, or a single, unique one, and then have no problems with idle talk of durability and warranty as the purses had garnered. Erica noted restaurants they passed by on the way to the hotel, where she would look for work waiting tables.
They stepped into the lobby of the hotel. There was a guy on watch. Lauren greeted him and introduced Erica. He took a picture of her and printed two copies, placing them in folders, one for the cabinet in the corner, the other on hand for the desk. Erica wondered where they got their electricity. The guy said they had an arrangement with the neighbor, a mom and pop corner store, that in exchange for light duty and errands, they needed little enough power in return, along with running water. "You,” he said to her, “are free," explaining that she was a guest and she could relax until situated.

The End

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