"Tell me what happened between you and John," said Ollie suddenly, taking his usual stool at the breakfast bar.
Andy turned from the stove completely, leaving the spaghetti she'd been stirring to boil. She tossed her bronze hair over her shoulder, arms folding tat the question.
"Since when did John start crossing your mind?" she asked.
"I'm curious," shrugged Ollie.
She glanced over his features, from his dark brown bedhead to his hazel eyes, glancing over his general body as it leaned over the countertop. It wasn't like him to ask things about her life so suddenly, but there was nothing in his body language that she recognised as malicious. She leaned against the fridge, adjusting her purple tank top so her bra wasn't peeking at all.
"Nothing much," she said, holding down a sigh so as to appear more convincing. "He asked out Tamara, she said yes, we haven't spoken in a couple days, but whatever. People forget that shit when they're in a new relationship."
"You're pissed," stated Ollie.
"I'm pissed?" she watched him with hooded eyes. "You know if we didn't spend every day together in this apartment, I'd say you didn't know me."
"We have two bedrooms, but we share one very thin wall," said Ollie. "I can hear you at night. You were upset but you've bottled it down so hard that now you're pissed."
"You listen to me through the wall?" squinted Andy.
"You're not quiet," he retorted.
Andy flicked her eyes over to her pot and went over to settle the froth that had collected on top, smoothing it over with their cracked wooden spoon. The task gave her a minute to stall and think of something to get Ollie off of her back; of all the people in the world, she had to live with the one person she couldn't really lie to. She wondered to herself, if her parents were alive and she lived with them, could she lie to them? Probably, if not as effectively as she might want, she could pull it off. The sizzle of froth overflowing snatched her out of her reverie, she took the pot off the heat and dabbed a kitchen towel to the hot water on her black suit trousers.
"Damn it!" she hissed. "I can't ruin these trousers, I don't get paid for two more weeks and I will not go to college in my jeans."
"Why not? I do," said Ollie, having clearly forgotten about his little interrogation.
"Because I'm valedictorian," reminded Andy, sounding as if it was something she'd repeated more than a few times.
"You can't wear denim for one day because you have to make a speech at the end of the year?" queried Ollie, scoffing at the thought. "Sounds like a waste of material to me."
"Clearly you don't know what a valedictorian is," she shot back, placing the spaghetti back on the heat. "What do you want with this?"
"What are you having?"
"I saw some leftover chicken curry in the fridge," she said.
Neither was fazed by the idea of pouring day old Indian food over fresh pasta. Looking around what they called home, it wasn't such a shock that mismatched meals were the norm; their kitchen and living room were merged in what might have been planned as 'open space living', but it had become a cracked kitchen with a three-legged coffee table and ten-year-old TV. The whole apartment was carpeted in the same material used on bus seats and it smelled only slightly better; the previous tenant had four cats and the windows permanently closed, which explained why there was one window behind the TV that was smashed through from when Ollie could no longer handle the fact that the windows didn't open. He threw his IT folder through it. It worked, at least. There was one corridor to the left that ended with the front door, on the left was the bathroom, which included a temperamental shower, a sink and a toilet with the seat broken off. On the right were two doors, the one nearest the door was Ollie's, and the other was Andy's. In terms of colour, everything was grey.
"Is there enough for two?" asked Ollie.
"Do I really need to answer that question?" sighed Andy.
"I'll eat it plain, then," offered Ollie.
"You already know we're going to split it," she replied.
Andy took the plastic container out of the fridge, ignoring the fact that there clearly wasn't enough for one person, and gave it a sniff. Their fridge was on the good side of dodgy, but it never hurt to check. It smelt fine. She checked if the spaghetti was done and decided it was time to drain it, leaving the hot pot available to scrape the curry into to warm it up. She'd use the microwave, but the fire on the stove was already on. When it came to saving pennies, turning on extra appliances just seemed like something easy to avoid. She married the pasta to the curry and swirled it all around.
"I'll buy the food next time," said Ollie.
Andy chuckled lightly. "That usually requires money."
"Then you're forgetting how you and I began our little duo," smirked Ollie, circling the breakfast bar to help pick out cutlery. He thought about bowls, but it would just be easier to eat out of the pot – less dishes. "But this was my way of announcing that I got a job interview."
Andy looked over to him, genuine congratulations in her eyes. "Really? Where?"
"Chicken place down the road," he answered.
"It's sort of an all-inclusive occupation," he said, "you serve, cook, clean, and smile."
"The four foundations of minimum wage!" declared Andy, sticking her fork through a piece of chicken, spinning the pasta around her fork. She held the food up to Ollie's mouth, "a congratulatory bite."
He wouldn't pass up that kind of offer, and slipped the entire fork into his mouth, moaning and eliciting all the inappropriate noises he could think to conjure. He looked up into her eyes, watching as her mood swung from unimpressed to unamused. She stuck her fork in again, spindling a bit of pasta onto her fork and shoving it in her mouth.
"I wasted that nice piece of chicken on you?" she muttered. "I'm getting soft."
"I swear to God if you make a boob joke," she interrupted him. He watched her for a second with pursed lips, and then returned to their food.
They ate in a comfortable silence, sniping the tiniest pieces of chicken from the pot in a wordless way of offering it to the other. Andy leaned across the breakfast bar and picked up her phone, her tried and tested Nokia. She checked the time quickly and placed the phone down again. Ollie looked up at her.
"So, John," he said.
"Oh for-" she sighed. "I don't know what you want me to say. He's a nice enough guy, but I don't care that he's dating Tamara."
"Yes, you do," stated Ollie.
"I'm completely fine!"
"No, you're not."
"Okay, so maybe in the past there were feelings," she began.
"You mean in the present."
"Ollie," she stopped mid-sentence, her eyes revealing how her train of thought had suddenly halted. "Ollie?" she said again. He watched her, eyebrows raised. "We're eating Indian food."
"Technically, yes," he said, swallowing. "Although I think most Indians would disagree."
She readjusted her hunched stance, shaking her head in thought. "We didn't order Indian food."
A blue flash and a bang exploded on the other side of the breakfast bar, startling them both away from the food and up against the kitchen work surface. They stared forward, watching the smoke dissipate dramatically, and waiting for the shadow they could see to reveal who was casting it. They reached for each other and stuck together as the shadow moved its arms, raising one pair up whilst stretching another pair down. The silhouette flicked one of his wrists and cast the mist into nothing. His skin gleamed under the harsh kitchen light like blue topaz, making the greens and browns of his eyes pop. He had a red symbol painted between his eyebrows that reminded Andy of signs she'd studied in Theology. His long hair, black as the rarest pearls, flowed freely behind a crown so intricate and bejewelled that it shone a light all its own. He was donned in a pristine white kurta, which was like a tight jacket strung from linen with a high colour, trimmed with gold, and silky orange trousers breezing down to his bare, blue feet. He smiled politely at them as they stared. Andy blinked first, looking closer at the sudden entity that had appeared.
"Vishnu?" ventured Andy.
Ollie snapped a look at her and back to the blue beauty before him. The being before them closed his eyes and nodded slowly, his lips seeming to curl into the tiniest smile before he raised his head again, looking them each in the eye. He wasn't dressed the same as in the pictures, but perhaps fashion truly was a celestial art.
"Vishnu?" asked Ollie, his tone harsher, directing his question to Andy. "Vishnu as in Hinduism Vishnu? As in very powerful, God Vishnu?" He looked to the God before him, who didn't respond but his air seemed to accede. "All right. So, did you invite him and just forget to tell me or…?"
"Ollie, shut up," glared Andy, clearly not appreciating his casual reaction. She looked back up at Vishnu more patiently. "So, what can we do for you…Mr Vishnu?"
The deity's chuckle rand like soothing bells, his teeth slipping into his smile like a new moon carved out the night sky. He lowered his higher arms so all four were curved downwards. Andy remembered that in all depictions she'd seen of Vishnu, he'd been holding four objects: a conch, a mace, a flower and a disk that she'd learnt was actually a weapon. Standing before them now, he was empty-handed. He looked at them, his eyes as gentle as the southern breeze.
"Actually," they'd both expected a distinct Indian accent, but his voice betrayed no origin, "it is my desire to help you."
"Did you come here via chicken curry?" asked Ollie suddenly. He yelped when Andy hit him, but he stayed quiet.
"I did not," said Vishnu, "the curry was at once a gift and a test."
"A test of what?" asked Andy, tilting her head.
"Of our ability to keep track of our fridge?" guessed Ollie.
"Ollie," Andy hit him again.
"A test of your generosity and your loyalty to each other," answered Vishnu, seemingly unfazed by their smaller spats. "You understand, I do not appear before many. I wished to see your behaviour before I offered my intervention. You may guess that you have passed."
"Woo! I haven't passed anything since the entrance exam!" hollered Ollie.
"Ollie," said Andy again.
"You have persevered through trials that should not have been expected of you," stated Vishnu.
"Damn right, did you know we were once chased through London all the way from London Zoo? Chased by wolves, bears, tigers, pigs!" rambled Ollie, until Andy hit him again.
"I take it upon myself to compensate you for your trials," finished Vishnu.
"One question before we begin," said Ollie, raising his hand. His voice seemed serious and so he continued. "If you consider cows to be God-like and you're a God, are you allowed to eat beef?"
"Ollie!" hissed Andy, hitting him again.
"I'm curious!" he answered, raising his hands in surrender.
"You are human, therefore equal to other humans, yes?" said Vishnu, surprising them both by the fact that he'd answer such a question. "Would you eat a human?"
"Well…" shrugged Ollie, seeming to honestly consider think about it.
"Ollie," said Andy, her tone like an exhausted mother. "We're not discussing cannibalism with Vishnu."
"Well, not with that attitude,' retorted Ollie.
A gentle wind caressed them both, urging them back towards the breakfast bar over which they'd eaten their food. They stopped themselves at the fixture, set to behold the divinely white light emanating from their guest. His black hair floated on the same breeze, brushing past his long eyelashes until he opened his eyes again. The wind died. He looked to hem each as individuals, then settled on Ollie.
"Oliver," he said, passing his hand over the bar, bringing into existence a tiny house, sized to fit inside the palm of a hand. "You desire a home, the stability stolen from your youth. To not fear for the beginning or end of each moon."
"Moon?" queried Ollie, leaning to Andy.
She rolled her eyes. "Moon, as in month." He rolled back to his place and agreed swiftly.
Vishnu looked to Andy, catching her eyes and holding them with ease. He passed another hand over the table and conjured into reality a breathing, moving, miniature body of a girl with flowing dark hair to compliment her dark complexion. Andy stood straight, eyes wide.
"You desire the love you were assured you'd find you, the love you have found is different, but fills your heart to its stretched seams," said Vishnu. "Andrea, you desire to fill your heart with new pieces, above finding the old ones that left you."
Ollie leaned back to her. "I knew you were pissed about her and John."
"Shut up, Ollie," said Andy, no trace of fire beneath her words. Ollie stepped back, knowing when to back off.
Andy looked up at Vishnu, her lips thinly pressed together. "You can't give me her. No power on earth can make someone love something, not really."
"This is true," conceded Vishnu. "But I can give you something else." He cast his hand through Tamara's double, turning her to dust. He raised one finger, giving Andy an appreciative angle on his nails. She wondered if he got them done before deciding that Gods probably didn't go into nail parlours. His finger snagged something, a bright red string that started at a knot around Andy's little finger and was strung out the window. "I can lead you to the one you'll love forever, and who'll love you in return."
Vishnu lowered his finger back to his side, but the string and the house remained. They each watched their offers. To say they were tempted would be an understatement. They were sold. There was nothing to discuss, no questions to be asked…until:
"What's the catch?" asked Andy.
"Oh, don't ask that, Andy!" complained Ollie, putting his hands on his head. "There's no good reason to ever ask that! Right, Vishnu?"
Vishnu remained still a moment. "There is one detail."
"NO!" wailed Ollie. "No! Oh, come on! We were chased by pigs! That's catch enough, right?"
"There must be something to balance what I give you," said Vishnu.
"I don't get to see Tamara?" wagered Andy. It seemed like a reasonable guess since it was her figure that had been turned to nothing.
"I don't get to leave my house for any reason?" guessed Ollie, thinking along similar lines. "Because I can get deliveries that's not an issue!"
"You yourselves would have to be separated," said Vishnu.
They both stopped. Andy tugged on her string. Ollie looked into his house, certain he'd spotted a miniature him in the bedroom. They looked at their offers again, suddenly far more wary of them, as if they'd been dragged through the mud. Vishnu showed no obvious response to their new expressions. Whether he expected this or another outcome, it was unclear.
"So," said Ollie after a time of silence. He sunk down to his knees to look at his house more carefully, avoiding all other eye-contact as he spoke. "I assume by 'separated' you mean like you're going to cut me in half and I pick a half to go live in this house because I'm not sure how that's going to work."
"Ollie," sighed Andy, never certain if in moments like these he was certain.
"No," interrupted Ollie, "I could work if it was a deity doing it, plus we'd both have our own halves, so we could just become another whole person together. There might be some schedule clashes but-"
"Ollie," she said again.
"If you're worried about the whole lesbian thing, I'm totally down with whatever-"
"Ollie!" she yelled, stopping him. "Please."
He looked up at her, catching the way she forced her lips together in that way she only did when she thought she might cry. He knew better than to hug or console her, especially in front of someone else, be they God or not. So, he remained on the ground. Nobody looked at anybody. Nobody dare asked why.
"It is that you two are…" said Vishnu, stopping to find the right words in His complete vocabulary.
"Trouble?" tried Andy.
"Dangerous?" seconded Ollie.
"Unexpected?" Andy folded her arms.
"Anomalous?" Ollie rose to his feet.
"We walk in and Hell walks in behind us?"
"The poster children for chaos and disaster?"
"Magnets for death?"
Vishnu remained stoic throughout their passive-aggression. As any other deity, He had received his fair share of grief and bitterness. Tears touched the corners of their eyes, but nothing worth spilling.
"You two will always be the centre for much chaos in this world," said Vishnu. "Together, you may never find what it is that you desire. This would be the only way to know if it could be."
Andy threw her arms down on the breakfast bar, placing her on a strong standing to glare. "Well, nobody else ever knows if they'll find love or happily ever after. We're different in a lot of ways, none of which are good, why would this change that." She felt a hand touch her shoulder. She looked up at Ollie. He hadn't touched his eyes.
"Andy," he whispered. "Let's do it."
Her eyes blared open. "What?"
"You can't trade true love out for me," he said. "Besides, I want a nice house where I can throw my clothes on the floor without you having a go at me."
"You'd rather have a nice house and be alone?" squinted Andy.
"Who says I'm going to be alone?" pouted Ollie. "I can find true love too, you know. Without the divine intervention, I might add. And you can have your lovely, young Mrs and together you'll find that apartment in Paris you're always talking about."
"And what about us?" she asked quietly.
He visibly stiffened, but grinned through it. "What about us? We were hardly going to spend the rest of our lives together anyway! If it means I can own a fridge that doesn't attempt to poison me, we can hurry along the inevitable."
"Are you doing this for my sake?" whispered Andy. Ollie whipped around, his smile knocked away.
"Does that matter?" he asked.
Andy's face curdled into a scowl, wilder than a wolf's. "Don't think you can just sell me off and pretend that it's for yourself! If this is the last we see of each other, I want you to be honest!" She glared hard, shaking his façade a little. "I know you well enough to say when you're doing something stupid for someone else."
"We can't hope to have the things we want if we stay together," he reasoned.
"The Hell we can't!" she roared. "We can hope for anything. We can get anything. We've done this well."
"We're in a pit!"
"We started in the mud!" she stared through his eyes, down into his soul. "We clawed our way out, helping each other, boosting each other, until we climbed up and out. This is easy compared to that. Together, we do more than bring about chaos. And together, we'll make that work for us until we get what we want!" She swiped her hair back over her shoulder, regaining some of her collected demeanour. "And besides, I find true love and what am I supposed to do about a best man?"
Ollie crossed his arms, pouting. "I wanted to be Maid of Honour."
She rolled her eyes, smiling. They turned back to Vishnu, his smile as still and beautiful as ever. Andy rubbed her arms, feeling slightly awkward for having such a loud, emotional outburst in front of an exalted deity. Still, there was little more to do than say to him:
"Thank you for the offer, but we're going to decline."
Vishnu nodded, that smile appearing once more until he raised his head again. He returned his higher arms back into their raised positions, seemingly preparing to depart.
"Then, I offer you a token," He said, reaching up to his crown, fingers primed to pluck out one of his jewels. He rested it on the table, allowing it to shimmer in a mirage of colours. "To enable you to purchase what you need."
Before either had a chance to thank Him, He vanished into another flash. Andy carefully placed the jewel into her palm, watching it change from green to gold to orange to violet. Ollie circled the breakfast bar, hoping to lean over and get a better view of the stone. He stopped suddenly and began to laugh and point at the ground, not explaining until Andy asked him to.
"His footprints made the floor super clean!" he exclaimed.
Shocked to hear such a string of words, Andy circled the other way around the bar and looked at the clear footprints, making white of the grey tiles. She laughed as well until a thought popped into her head.
"Man, now I'm going to have to clean the floor so that doesn't look weird."
"No way!" disagreed Ollie, "leave it that way. We'll look at them and remember that Vishnu was here."
"Yeah, otherwise the whole event would fly out of my memory," sniped Andy.
She began walking over to the bathroom where they kept the mop, grumbling about something. As she walked, the door was neatly knocked three times. She stopped, glared at the door, thinking who would ever visit them other than grand deities, and walked over to it. She peered out of the peephole and saw a fountain of dark hair facing her. She gasped, stepping away quickly. She'd recognised that hair anywhere. She fixed her posture nervously, coughing before testing out different ways of saying 'hello', and took calming breaths. She reached over and quickly opened the door.
"Tamara?" she squealed, grimacing at how poorly she feigned surprise.
The other girl whipped around, beaming lightly through her gold eye shadow. She hugged Andy quickly, shuffling on her feet as a way of showing how happy she was. Andy couldn't contain her grin.
"What are you doing here?" she asked.
"I was just passing by," she said, waving it off as normal, "and I remembered that I lost my phone, changed numbers, blah, blah, it was a whole mess. But you once gave me your address, so I thought I'd give you my new number whilst I was here." As she spoke she held out a piece of paper that Andy took and held to her chest.
"Do you want to come in?" Andy offered.
"I would, but I left John downstairs," she said.
"Oh," Andy's smile dimmed, then burnt brighter. "Cool."
"Andy, he's so great, but after tonight, I definitely need some girl time," she said. "You busy tomorrow? We can order pizza."
Andy smiled, lacking the energy to pretend to be tempted. "Consider me there."
"Great!" sang Tamara, pressing a kiss to her cheek before skipping out of the door and down the hall.
Andy turned around as she let the door fall closed. She stepped back into the flat, thinking about whether her phone was charged and if she could realistically afford to charge it up. She convinced herself it was charged and grabbed the mop out of the bathroom. She spotted Ollie, sitting back on a bar stool with his fork in the cold pasta. He watched her reconsider the water that the mop would waste.
"You pissed?" he asked.
"Yeah," she grunted.