Gina spooned the gooey mixture of underbaked batter and runny icing onto a saucer and attempted to shape it into something resembling cake. Unlike her fellow work-study food-service employees, she respected the importance of presentation in dining. Even the past semester and a half of shoveling such wads of sugar couldn’t break her of that.
On the other side of the glass, a student huffed, tapped his feet, and reached out his hand. She passed him the dish, and he dropped it onto his tray, alongside a plate loaded with piles of yellowish beige corn, macaroni and cheese, and mashed potatoes–not a vitamin or protein in sight. She’d learned early on that unsolicited nutritional tips tended to be met with scorn and inexplicable rage, so she just set her jaw and hoped for his sake he’d change his ways before the onset of type-2 diabetes.
As he scooted away, she flashed a smile as empty as the carbohydrates in his meal and called after him, “Have a nice day! Looking forward to seeing you again real soon!”
The next person in line pointed at an item and asked, “What’s that?”
“Grapes, sliced bananas, and assorted melons suspended in a sweetened gelatinous substance,” she replied without looking up.
“It’s ghastly,” she confessed.
The customer snapped her fingers, and Gina finally decided to see who it was. “Rafaela?”
Her cousin smirked. “You have a shocking amount of dignity for someone with a plastic bag covering their hair.”
“Dignity is all I have at the moment,” Gina replied before examining the contents of her lunch: fried chicken coated in a glistening sheen of canola oil, a mixture of anemic carrots and peas the color of olives, and the aforementioned mashed potatoes.
“Don’t judge me,” Rafaela growled.
“Only students are allowed here,” Gina informed her.
“I totally pass as a student!”
“At your age?”
“That hurts,” she pouted.
“I thought you needed an ID to get past the door.”
“You thought right.” Rafaela slapped a card on the counter. “It’s a good thing I have one.”
Gina picked it up and turned it over. “This is the three of clubs.”
She took it back. “It’s whatever I want it to be. The spell even works on credit card readers. Cool, right? I got the idea from a TV show. You get BBC here?”
“Technically that’s theft, Raffi.”
She rolled her eyes guiltily. “I’m pretty good at rationalizing it,” she said.
“Hey!” yelled the student behind her.
“I’m deciding!” Rafaela yelled back.
“Just pick something!“
“I have a sensitive palate!” She turned back to Gina. “Anyway, I need to talk to you, ASAP.”
“Observe: I am working.”
“Can’t you take a break?”
“I. Am. Working.”
“Surely anybody here is qualified to sling this shit.”
“You’re being rude,” Gina told her.
“And you’re being as sensitive as my pallet,” Rafaela snorted. “Okay, I’m assuming there’s a franchise coffee joint somewhere in the student union. I’ll meet you there when you’re done.”
“Come on!” whined the next guy in line.
“Chill out!” Rafaela barked. “You’re young! You got all the time in the world!“
“I got class!“
“If you had any class whatsoever, you’d be patient!” She admitted to her cousin, “He’s right, I should probably pick something. What kind of pudding is that?”
“Either vanilla or banana,” she replied. “I can’t discern which.” She filled a small bowl and handed it over. “It’s unlikely you will be able to either.”
Rafaela grinned. “Don’t ever change, Gee.”
An hour later, Gina became a coed once more and joined her cousin, who was sipping on a blended an iced pumpkin-spiced chai mocha latte while objectifying the torsos of passing frat boys.
“What’s this urgent business?” asked Gina.
Rafaela unfolded an enormous sheet of paper. “I’ve scried up a matter of mild supernatural significance just off campus, and I think you should look into it.”
Gina told her, “This is a map of Doha, Qatar.”
Rafaela blushed and folded it back up. “That wouldn’t be helpful, would it?” She pulled out the right one and tapped her finger on a street corner in a posh housing development near the football stadium. “Nothing major, I’m betting,” she said. “Probably just a poltergeist or possession.”
“When do you wish to investigate?”
Rafaela’s shoulders fell. “Not us; you and your goofy friends.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Gee,” she sighed, “I need to leave.”
“Because I’m bored,” she replied. “There’s nothing to do here except hang out with college students at least five years younger than me, and when you say that out loud, it’s really gross.”
“At the risk of insulting you again,” Gina said, “your level of maturity is a greater match for theirs than mine. In fact, your experience with both their world and mine acts as a bridge between us. I’ve never been more comfortable here than I’ve been since you accompanied–“
“Shut up!” Rafaela snapped. “You are such a teenager! This awkwardness and confusion you’re feeling? It’s the surest sign you belong here. Every student at this school is as self-conscious as you are–class presidents, jocks, sorority sisters… Every. Single. Student. Besides, anyone I talked to–and I talk to a lot of people–think you’re the most together person they’ve seen. Aloof, but together. Your friends adore the shit out of you. Why do you think they tried to summon a ghost in the library last week? To impress you.”
“They failed to do so.”
“No, they didn’t.”
“No,” Gina breathed, “they didn’t.”
“Anyway,” Rafaela continued, “it’s better for the both of us if I take off. And since I’m the slip-out-the-back-when-no-one’s-looking type, I’m going to throw my shit in my van and slip out the back when no one’s looking.”
As her cousin stood up, Gina said, “I don’t want you to go.”
Rafaela bit her lip. “Please don’t, Gee. You’re killing me.”
“I’m so lost.”
“No, you’re not.” She kissed her on the cheek. “You know exactly where you are.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Yes, you do,” Rafaela told her as she strode off. But just before she reached the exit, she turned around and scurried back. “And don’t tell Susan I slept with her brother.”
Gina sputtered, “You engaged in sexual relations with Gerard?”
She shrugged. “I travel from town to town, righting wrongs. Him being a virgin? Totally wrong. Okay, I’m leaving for real this time.”
Rafaela wasn’t even gone for a full minute before Gina lost the fight with the grin that threatened to consume her face.