“Kat, c’mon. You’ve been studying or working or stressing all week, and you need a break.” Natalie switches off my laptop. I scream and jump out of my chair.
“I was in the middle of a paper! You ruined it!” I frantically push the power button to turn the computer back on, but Natalie takes it away. “Give it back! If I don’t get an A on my paper, I’ll ruin my GPA and I won’t get accepted into the program.”
“You haven’t slept, you’ve eaten nothing but individual servings of microwaveable mac and cheese, and you’re scaring me. Do you want to make yourself sick?” Natalie sets my computer onto the table, and I snatch it back.
“Like you could boil a pot of water without me to help! You’re the one who wanted me to go back to school in the first place.”
“Whoa.” Natalie shakes her head. “Wow. Can we not escalate this?”
I stare at her suspiciously. This is not normal Natalie behavior. “What’s wrong with you?”
She pauses to think before she answers, which is also not like her. She hasn’t made a move toward any of her hiding spots for the twenty wooden spoons hidden all over the house, but I check the exits just in case. “I feel like you’re not taking care of yourself, and I’m worried about you.”
My jaw drops open. I edge away, anger forgotten. “You’re being weird.”
She blushes. That’s usually my response, not hers. “I just thought…”
“What’s going on, Natty?” Horrible thoughts rush through my mind. “You’re sick. You’ve got a terminal disease, and you’ve resolved to start being nicer to me.”
That if anything should provoke her into giving one of her beloved swats, but she clenches her fists and lets her breath out. “Never mind. Go back to making yourself sick by turning into a permanent fixture for your computer.”
The light bulb flicks on. “You’re doing something with Dr. Mitchell, aren’t you?”
“Yeah,” she admits. “It’s stupid. Forget it.” She turns away.
I stare after her, guilt knotting my stomach. I didn’t mean to make her feel bad. For a wild moment, her lack of action makes me wonder if she no longer cares about me. Maybe she’ll shut me out the way she used to. I’ll never forget the way she flung words at me like icicles when she ended up in the hospital. She told me to get out, and nothing I did made a difference. I thought it would kill me, waiting and hoping desperately she would let me in. “I’m sorry,” I say in a small voice. Usually she has to whack me to make me apologize, but this time I’d rather she take a swing or two.
“It’s okay.” It’s not, but she shrugs. “Go back to your work. I won’t bother you again.”
“Natty,” I begin, and I hesitate. She tried something new, so why not me, too? “What did you really want to say?”
Redness creeps into her cheeks, and she lowers her eyes. My Natty can intimidate a roomful of self-important businessmen, but she cries out in the darkness from nightmares. “I miss you,” she says. “I want us to spend some time together.”
“Oh.” I sit back down on my chair. We don’t communicate like that. I get out of hand, she whacks me, I confess what’s bothering me, and we kiss and make up. That’s how Kat and Natalie have been since I walked into her dorm room so many years ago. Natalie saying how she feels is too new for me to comprehend. I’ve been given an amazing gift, but I can’t appreciate it because she’s turned my world upside down. “Okay.” I labor for words as her face furrows with worry. “Um, how?”
She holds out a movie to watch. I peer at it.
“Frozen? Isn’t that a kid’s—“ I bite my tongue.
“Yeah. It was a dumb idea.” Natalie hastens to put the movie away, but I cover her hand with mine. I stand on tiptoe to give her a kiss.
“It’s a wonderful idea. Let’s watch it now.” I’m going to fail my paper tomorrow, but I’ll figure that out later. Natalie asks so little of me, and nothing for herself. She sets rules for things she wants me to do for myself. Not her. If watching a silly children’s movie is something she wants, I’ll do it.
As we settle into the couch to watch the movie, Natalie moves the wooden spoon from under the throw pillow to her lap. I eye it warily.
“This was all a trick, wasn’t it?”
“Shh,” she answers, without taking her eyes off the television screen. “I love Idina Menzel.”
That’s news to me, but I relax. The images of an adorable young Anna chasing after her older sister Elsa make me smile. When Elsa creates the magical winter wonderland inside the castle, I sneak a glance at Natalie. I slide my hand over to squeeze hers, and she squeezes back. Anna leaps with glee, not bothering to look below her as she trusts her big sister to create bigger and bigger snowdrifts for her jumping pleasure. When Anna gets hurt and Elsa is stricken with guilt and fear, I nestle next to Natalie.
“Remember when we went sledding?” I ask. Natalie shoved me down the hill at our college, perched on a tiny cafeteria tray. I felt as Anna must have felt, hurtling through the air and laughing as if I had been born anew.
Natalie looks down at me, frowning. “I forgot about that. Did we?”
Shocked, I sit up. “How could you forget? It was one of my favorite times together. Remember the last time, when I got going too fast and rolled off the tray?”
She pauses and says in an undertone, “I try not to think back that far.”
Elsa shuts herself into her enormous room that grows icy with her fear and magic powers, and tears well up in my eyes. Just so did I knock on Natalie’s door time and time again. When she threw me out of her hospital room, when she came back to our dorm room after…after those boys hurt her. When she came to me, angry and brittle and locked away where I couldn’t reach her. I feel cold as I watch Anna knocking on door after door, sent away every time.
I don’t want to watch the film anymore, but Natalie laughs at the reindeer, kooky trolls, and courtship of a day. I curl up on the couch and lay my head in her lap. She strokes my hair, chuckling at the latest joke.
When Anna ascends the ice staircase begging Elsa to return home, I think of Natalie coming to my apartment and begging me to talk to her. Was I Elsa, too? I try to push the thought out of my mind, but it’s not easy.
“I knew it!” Natalie exclaims. “Prince Hans was a creep!”
And when Elsa throws her arms around the frozen Anna, Natalie reaches her hand toward mine. Natalie came to my bedside when I thought life wasn’t worth living. She broke down my ice palace and dragged me away from my isolation.
As the credits roll, Natalie asks, “What did you think?”
“The trolls were kind of dumb,” I say.
“Yeah,” she agrees, her voice trailing off.
“I liked Elsa’s ice palace,” I add.
Natalie agrees. “It was beautiful, but you’d freeze.”
That’s true. I can get cold in the summer if the air conditioning is on too high. I speak before thinking. Maybe Natalie’s openness is catching. “They’re kind of like us, aren’t they?”
“Anna. And Elsa.”
Natalie looks away, fingering the wooden spoon. “Yeah,” she says at last. She’s never been this reticent before, and I realize the movie wasn’t such an innocent choice, after all. She’s trying to tell me something, but what? I take the wooden spoon from her grasp.
“I kind of felt like Elsa,” I say. “When I was in the hospital and you…” I stop.
“Me, too,” she agrees. “When you tried to see me and I wouldn’t let you.”
“But you were like Anna, too, with all your friends and introducing me to everyone.” She was the social butterfly of our class when we were in college.
“So were you,” she says to my surprise. “You’ve got all your new friends at school now.”
I look up at her, and tears swim in my eyes. “But you put yourself in front of me.” I have trouble getting the words out, but it’s the first chance in my entire life to tell her the truth. “You put yourself in the way of Prince Hans’ sword so he couldn’t kill me.” My voice grows softer. “Because you knew it would kill me.”
Natalie caresses my hair and hugs me to her. “You did it for me, too,” she says. “You waited for me.”
“Let it go,” I warble, and she cracks a smile.
“We’ll never shut our gates again.”
I take the wooden spoon and toss it onto the floor. “Good, then we won’t need this.”
She smiles. “Don’t count on it.”
“Let it go,” I sing again, and she laughs.
“The past is in the past.”
She kisses my hand, and I curl my fingers around hers. “Yes, Natty,” I say.