The Impossible Thing

by Rebecca Kelly

Author’s notes: Ariana is the creation and property of Amanda Rohrssen, and is used with her permission and input. It should be noted that, although this does fit into my canon (obviously), it does NOT fit into Amanda’s canon; this story shouldn’t be misconstrued as a crossover, since it contradicts a number of things in Ariana’s actual history. I’m not going to go into any spoilers; if you haven’t read “The Other McCawber Girl” yet, go do it now! In any case, the changes were made with Amanda’s awareness and permission, and I deliberately didn’t go into much detail on them since the story is from Beth’s POV and she doesn’t know a lot about Ariana’s life story. I wanted to leave a lot of a sense of mystery about Ariana; maybe I’ll fill in some gaps when Beth and Ariana meet again... Whenever that may be... :D

Beth Webfoot is the creation and property of Zebeckras. The ideas of St. Canard and Duckburg are the property of the Walt Disney Company.

The corkboard at the University of St. Canard was large, and littered with signs. Some were handmade, some typed; one or two looked professionally printed. Some gave the phone number just once, expecting the reader to write it down for themselves, while others provided helpful little tabs for interested parties to tear off and carry to the nearest phone booth.

Beth sighed. The last time she'd tried this, it was in a smaller student area and during the off-season; this was the polar opposite, and the results were almost overwhelming. She realized that she actually had no idea where to start: last time she hadn't had to pursue anything, since a friend had happened by and she'd just stepped right into what had been, at least for a while, a perfect housing situation.

Well, best to get started, or at least to try. She took her notepad out of her bag, found a pencil, and stepped up to the board to read the tiny print on a few signs. In her peripheral vision, she saw movement, and realized there was someone else there as well; fretting, she stepped backwards so that the other person could see too, and mumbled a quick "Sorry!" The distance left her stuck squinting at the board, but she didn't have much choice otherwise.

"It's okay," said a gentle voice at her left. Beth snuck a quick glance at her fellow housing-hunter. She found herself looking at a petite blonde duck, her hair flowing down onto bare shoulders, hands clasped before her as she looked intently up at the board. She had large gray eyes, a blue dress, and an almost ethereal quality that was probably brought forth by the way the sun glowed upon and through her hair, giving it the appearance of a halo. There was something about her that was striking; Beth felt oddly that she was looking at an old photograph of a girl, rather than a living person.

The girl - whose age Beth couldn't be sure of, but she was certainly within a few years of Beth one way or the other - turned her head back and forth, almost imperceptibly, first towards Beth and then away again. After a moment Beth realized that she was staring, and that the girl had noticed and was growing understandably uncomfortable. She looked back at the corkboard again immediately, feeling her cheeks grow hot.

They stood there in silence for several long moments, and Beth was too aware of the company to manage to concentrate on what was on the board. She sighed in defeat; maybe it would be better if she just left for now, and came back when no one else was there. But then she realized that the girl hadn't moved in all this time - she hadn't taken a number, written anything down, or even stepped closer to read any details on the board.

She shot another look at her companion, and found that the girl was looking at her hands, her expression worried.

Beth fidgeted, wondering if she should say something, or if it would be too presumptuous: she didn't want to look overbearing or give the impression that she thought the girl looked foolish, but...

Well, it was always nice to try to help, right? Besides, the blonde looked so harmless, and so helpless, that she almost couldn't help herself. "Um... Excuse me, do you, is there - I mean -"

The girl looked up at her, her eyes wide, and Beth noticed that her eyes were actually silver and not gray. It only added to her otherworldly quality. "What?" she asked, and it was a startled question - almost guilty - rather than an accusation.

"I - Well, I don't want to imply anything, but you just look, you look kind of like you're... um... lost," said Beth, wondering why it took her so long to get out the simplest of sentences. Her mind always seemed to be working too fast for her to formulate her ideas properly. The girl's brow furrowed, so Beth automatically backtracked. "I'm sorry, I mean, I don't want to step on your toes, I just thought - if you could use some help...?"

"Well... Actually..." The girl sounded hesitant, but just those two words were enough to relieve Beth of a load of tension. She felt like her shoulders lightened. The blonde girl went on, "I've never actually done this before..."

"Oh, okay! Well, I'm not exactly an expert myself, but I tried this once, and I know some other people who have, and so - well, I mean it's not rocket science anyway. So, um, just ask any questions you have and maybe I can answer them! I'm Beth, by the way."

The girl smiled tentatively. "I'm Ariana. It's very nice to meet you," she answered, and turned back to the cork board. She frowned at it slightly. "I think I just need to know..." She trailed off, and Beth waited as Ariana tried to formulate her question. After a few moments, she seemed to give up, and just said, "How does this work?"

"W-well," Beth tried; it wasn't a hard question, but it was kind of a big one. "It depends on what you're looking for. I mean there are a bunch of different kinds of listings, and they use codes for them, and so you just look for the codes to what you want and try to find one in your price range. Like, um, if you wanted a multi-room house it's usually '2 BR H', or you might have 'BR and BTH' for bedroom with bath-" Beth stopped herself. "What are you looking for?"

"Um... anything?"

"Okay, um..." Beth took a stab in the dark and hoped she wasn't somehow offending the other girl, "one-bedroom?"

Ariana nodded. "Yes. Something... small."

Beth turned to look over the listings, then turned back. "Oh, and what's your price range?"

The answer was another lost look. "I don't... have one?"

"...Oh." Beth didn't know what to do with that, so she just turned and scanned over the listings. "Okay, one-bedroom in a shared house, non-smokers only, um... $350 a month? Is that okay?" Ariana blinked her wide eyes and looked uncertain. "Do - do you want to write this down? I have some paper -" Beth tore out a sheet and handed it to Ariana, along with a pen. "And here's one, $275 a month for one room in a house with three other - oh, they're all guys, is that a problem?"

Ariana blushed. "I don't think I could do that."

"Yeah, me neither," said Beth. She smiled, and was pleased to see Ariana smile back, but the blonde girl's expression quickly slipped away and was replaced with a look of worry. "What's wrong?"

She paused, then asked, "Is $350 a lot of money?"

Beth turned her head back to the cork board to hide the fact that her mouth was hanging open in surprise. She had no idea how to answer that, especially not without prying. "Um... I guess that depends on... how much money you have." It was, she guessed, either quite a lot or very little.

When Ariana didn't answer right away, Beth turned back to check and see if she'd offended her. She found that the other girl was staring at her hands again, her expression even more worried than before. "Not much," Ariana breathed at last. She looked up, meeting Beth's eyes. "I... I just got here, and I thought the first thing I should do would be to find a place to stay, and the second thing would be to find a job... Only... Maybe I got that backwards."

"Well," said Beth, and then couldn't follow up with anything else, so the word just hung there for a few moments. She didn't have a job either, but she had enough in her savings account from Duckburg to cover her for about a month or so, until she was registered at the University of St. Canard and hopefully working there. Ariana, on the other hand, had such a sense of vagueness to her plans that there was something almost desperate about her situation.

"You know -" Please, Beth thought, please let this be right. She didn't know how to read the situation, and it was possible this would mortally offend Ariana to the core, but Beth felt certain that the girl needed help and this was the only way she could think of to provide it. She steeled herself, and said, "Maybe, um, maybe I could go around with you to a few places, and help you get started."

"Oh," Ariana said, the word leaving her like a soft, surprised breath. "You don't have to do that..."

Hoping that this wasn't just a polite way for Ariana to ask to be left alone, Beth offered, "It's not a problem at all! I mean, I've never done this either, so we can... I don't know, we can be moral support or something, and - and of course, if you don't want to, I totally understand!"

With a growing smile on her face, Ariana stepped forward and nodded. "Okay," she said simply.

For some reason she couldn't quite explain, this made Beth feel good for the first time in days. She smiled too, in relief.


The day seemed to fly by. As a ground rule, the two girls agreed that they would go to all the open rooms together and each pick out whichever one they liked best. If they both picked the same one, then they agreed that neither one would take it, to be fair.

After a full afternoon, and six different houses, neither of them had found quite what they were looking for; everything seemed to be too expensive, or was run-down, or had roommates that they didn't feel they'd get along with. But it was starting to seem that they'd have to lower their standards if either one wanted to find a place. Beth found that she was much more anxious on Ariana's behalf than she was on her own.

Feeling overwhelmed, Beth offered to pay for dinner and Ariana accepted readily. Beth settled on a Hamburger Hippo at the edge of town, to no objections, and the two girls had a seat and made small talk. It wasn't long before their meals were all but forgotten, as the conversation picked up and expanded; the more they talked, the more both seemed to have to say.

Beth had no idea what made the conversation so easy; the only time she'd ever been able to talk to another girl this way had been with Nicola, and even then, she'd done most of the listening. Ariana, on the other hand, seemed more than willing to listen as Beth chattered about whatever came into her mind - and she was really listening, not nodding every few seconds whether the story called for it or not, but even springing in occasionally with her own additions. It wasn't something she was used to: she'd never met a kindred soul before, someone who seemed to feel and understand things the same way she did, and their connection was too immediate to feel anything but natural.

The funny thing was that they barely spoke of anything personal. Beth outlined her plans for her life in St. Canard - enrolling at the school, attaining her Ph.D. - and gave a drastically abbreviated version of her background at Duckburg U. She, in turn, found out that Ariana had just finished school (though not which one), and that the blonde was from out of state, had an older sister who lived somewhere in St. Canard - Ariana wasn't entirely sure exactly where, and hadn't tracked her down yet - and was about a year younger than Beth. Beyond that, nothing was volunteered, not even the name of her hometown.

At one point, Beth had vaguely wondered out loud what had brought Ariana all the way to St. Canard, and there was a moment of such quiet awkwardness that Beth realized Ariana had something she really didn't want to talk about - possibly, unless Beth was projecting her own motivations, something she was running away from.

Well, Beth didn't feel like talking about her own recent past yet, either; so she didn't pry. If it was important, she was sure it would come up eventually... Just as she would eventually tell Ariana her own background, her experiences in Duckburg, what had happened with Dix. Well... she'd probably tell her, anyway... Assuming they still managed to see each other once they'd found places to live.

Then a light bulb seemed to go on over her head.

"You know what," Beth said spontaneously, after she'd rediscovered her now-cold french fries, "I think we're going about this rooming thing all wrong."

"You do?" asked Ariana, who still had yet to finish more than half of her cheeseburger and didn't seem to be about to do anything towards that end.

Beth nodded. "We've been looking for individual rooms, right? Don't you think-" She made a gesture towards her plate, offering her french fries which were now undeniably gummy; Ariana refused, probably wisely. "-Don't you think that we might as well, I mean, wouldn't it be easier if we just went in together on a house?"

There was a part of her, somewhere in the back of her mind, that questioned this idea; she had met Ariana all of five hours ago, and she knew next to nothing about her. She briefly recalled that she didn't even know Ariana's last name yet, and made a mental note to ask about that as soon as it seemed logical. But other than a sense that it was wrong only because it wasn't the way people did things, Beth couldn't actually think of a reason not to. She felt like she understood Ariana; she felt, even more importantly, like Ariana understood her. For once in her life, something really felt right.

That feeling was solidified when Ariana beamed and said, "I was hoping you'd say that!"

"Really?" Beth was so delighted that she couldn't properly formulate a follow-up for a minute or so. "I mean - well, not 'really' because obviously - well, just, great! I'm so relieved! And happy, I mean -"

"Me too," said Ariana excitedly.

"This is going to be so much fun!"

"I know! I've never shared a house before!"

"We can have movie nights! And - um..." Since Beth had no interest at all in most of the shared activities her previous housemates had enjoyed, she was at a loss of what else to suggest.

Ariana suggested, "And trade books?"

Her eyes wide, Beth sort of half-said and half-breathed, "Oh yeah." This started them on a five-minute discussion of the books they'd read, which ones they both liked, and which ones the other had never heard of. Beth felt a kind of greedy glee when she realized that she didn't know at least half of the books Ariana mentioned.

It was almost too perfect.


The third house they went to was perfect - small, but not too small for only two people. The price range was excellent, and the location was close to a lot of public transportation and to the USC campus.

Mostly, though, Beth loved it because it was bright, and tidy, and hers. Okay, hers and Ariana's - and it was rented - but still, they had chosen it together instead of her just taking what she'd been offered. As she filled out her half of the lease application, she felt optimistic and excited, as if her life really was starting over on a new, wonderful track.

Ariana apologized repeatedly for not being able to pay for her half of the rent, or for the deposit, but Beth didn't mind at all. She had no doubt in her mind that her friend would pay her back as soon as she was able, and once they both had jobs, money wouldn't be an object anymore.

She signed her name on her portion of the lease, then waited as Ariana completed her half. When they were done, the landlord looked the contracts over (and peered confusedly at Beth's for several moments; she blushed, aware that her handwriting was abysmal) and then gave them their keys and left them.

They spent another couple of hours going over the house - which was just two levels, with a kitchenette and a common room on the first floor, and two bedrooms on the second, plus an unfinished basement - and figuring out what would go where, how they would decorate, and other details. By the time they realized they were hungry, the sky was already dimming.

"Let's go someplace nice," Beth said. "Or at least, nicer than Hamburger Hippo."

"Oh, but... A-are you sure? I mean... with the budget, and..." Ariana began, looking worried again. Her concern just doubled Beth's resolve to splurge.

"No! Well, I mean, okay - yes - but starting tomorrow. It won't break the bank to splurge one night, right?"

Once she'd talked Ariana into it, they wandered around the city a little bit in search of a good place to eat. The area wasn't the best, and the restaurants reflected this; they were mainly diners and pizza parlors and pubs, not the sort of place Beth was looking for. As the sun set, they seemed to hear more and more police sirens in the distance - and, as time passed, a bit closer.

Beth tried to act like she wasn't nervous. "I guess crime is sort of a given in the big city," she said. She cleared her throat. "But, um, I guess it's a good sign that there are so many police around."

"Is it?" asked Ariana, looking somewhat surprised.

"W-well, I mean, that way we know they're out there catching criminals and things."

"Oh..." said the blonde, and her footsteps slowed as she looked around the street area, nervous concern etched into her features.

Beth realized that, far from offering any reassurance, she had just made Ariana more nervous. She started trying to revise her point, and ended up talking in circles: "It wasn't much like this in Duckburg. It was actually kind of boring, sometimes. That's part of why I decided to come to St. Canard." They turned down a street and finally saw a row of sit-down restaurants. "Oh! Okay, I think this is what we were looking for."

Ariana looked behind them, frowning. "Do you... know where we are?"

"Um, not really, but I think I can find our way back home. I'm pretty good at backtracking, usually."

They picked a restaurant almost at random, and after they were seated, Beth said, "Oh yeah - but as I was saying, I picked St. Canard just to have some variety. Or, well, a little bit. The big city, you know, it's just ... exciting."

"Well, it's definitely big," Ariana agreed. "But sometimes... don't you think maybe... it's a little bit overwhelming?"

"Oh, absolutely," Beth agreed readily. "But we'll get used to it."

They had a seat next to a window and were able to watch the last of the sunlight dim and disappear throughout their meal, while discussion continued almost nonstop, just as it had the day before. When the conversation turned to jobs and next moves, Beth found that she felt a lot less confident than she had just the day before about her plans to get into the University. "I guess I need to go in and set up an interview, or... something. I didn't do it in this order before, I applied from home and they called me - plus I don't have any of my transcripts..."

"I'm sure it'll be fine!" said Ariana. "Maybe there's an admissions office that can help you..."

Beth smiled weakly. "That would be great. I hate having to take care of these things." For a moment, she found herself missing her mother. If she still lived with her parents, her mother would be taking care of all of this. She shook herself out of it, though; she'd been independent for almost four years now, and she could take care of herself. "So - what kind of jobs are you thinking of looking for?"

"Oh... I really don't know," Ariana answered uncertainly. "I don't even know where to start..."

"Well, okay, um... What kinds of things are you good at?"

There was a brief pause, and then Ariana asked uncertainly, "What do you mean?"

"Oh, you know... I mean, not just what job skills do you have, but what are your hobbies, what do you like to do?"

Ariana frowned slightly, looking at the tablecloth. "Oh... Well, I like to cook, and write and draw, but I couldn't do those kinds of things professionally." She traced her finger around the curve of her glass lightly, and didn't elaborate.

"Well, um, I don't know where to tell you to start - but oh, you know, maybe you could look at the University! Maybe they'd have some jobs, or... Or some leads for jobs! And in the meantime, you could get a part-time job while you're looking for something more permanent!"

Even though Ariana looked as reluctant to go inquiring about job possibilities as Beth would have been, she agreed that this sounded like a good plan; they both agreed to go looking around the area for part-time jobs the next day, once Beth had been by the registrar's office at the school.

After that, a silence fell over both of the girls, as they stared out of the window. After a moment, Beth broke it. "I wish we could just wave a magic wand and get all this hard stuff done and over with," she said longingly.

Ariana looked at her in surprise from across the table; Beth, staring distractedly out of the window, didn't notice that the blonde looked troubled, almost guilty. "...What?"

"Oh, you know," said Beth, her bill forming a melancholy smile, "wouldn't it just be great if we could say some magic words, cast a spell, and have everything fall into place? Just make it easier?"

"It... It wouldn't make it easier," Ariana said quietly. Her attention drifted purposefully back outside.

Beth looked at her finally, snapping back to attention. "Oh, I know! I know it's not easy... I just wish it *was*, you know, just... Just fantasizing. Being silly." She laughed lightly, and felt a need to explain herself some more. "What I mean is - there's no such thing as magic, or any shortcut, and it just would save us so much anguish..."

Ariana, looking at her napkin now, said softly, "No it wouldn't."

"Well..." Beth was at a loss; she didn't know what she'd said, and she couldn't seem to make it any better. Ariana was looking progressively more unhappy by the second. "I'm sorry - it's not going to be *that* hard, Ariana! People get jobs and make it in the city all the time! Besides, we can rely on each other, right?"

Ariana looked up at her again suddenly, and smiled with so much genuine affection and gratitude in her eyes that Beth was almost surprised by it. "Thank you," she said, and then repeated it: "Thank you, for everything you've done for me."

Beth had never been able to take any kind of compliment, and now was no exception. Although deeply pleased, and equally grateful to Ariana just for her company, she could only stammer her way through a deflection. "Oh, it's- it's nothing much, I mean... I'm happy to... Um."

As they stepped out into the night air a few minutes later, a car whizzed past at high speed. Startled, Beth looked after it, then turned to say something about it to Ariana; before she could, they both jumped as a purple blur buzzed past at high speed, apparently following the same route.

"What WAS that?" Beth asked, peering after it down the now-empty street. "A motorcycle? Can they go that fast?"

"I don't know... maybe we should get back home," Ariana said nervously, crossing her arms tightly.

Beth, although she was resolved not to say so, was nervous as well. She was sure there was no need to be; as long as they didn't draw attention to themselves, they should be fine. Thousands of people lived in this city and did just fine, so there was no reason for them to worry.

Certainly, there wasn't. Almost certainly.

She tried a smile in Ariana's direction, but wasn't sure she managed to pull it off. "Okay, let's get going - I think it's only about ten minutes from here."

As they walked, Beth kept a running stream of commentary in an effort to keep Ariana's mind at ease. They were just discussing the fact that neither of them had actual beds yet, and maybe they should stay one more night in the motel, when a figure stepped around a corner, blocking their way. Brought up short, Beth gasped; behind her, Ariana clutched at her arm.

It was a man, and he was taller than either of them, and when he spoke, it was so much the worst thing he could have said that Beth almost couldn't believe it was really happening. "Your money. All of it. Now."

She was staring at his face, which was shadowed underneath a short-brimmed cap, and until Ariana's fingers clenched again on her arm Beth didn't even notice the gun that he was holding. Again, a sense of unreality washed over her, and Beth distantly heard herself saying, "I... I don't have any."

Why had she said that?! she wondered. It was a lie - would he know it was a lie? - he had a gun - but maybe, maybe he'd leave them alone...

Instead of leaving, or even lowering the weapon, he swung it around just over Beth's shoulder and aimed it directly at Ariana. "Then I guess I'll have to take it all out of this one," the man said.

Beth heard Ariana breathe in quickly, so softly that it nearly wasn't even a gasp at all; and the blonde's hand shot up to cover her mouth, while at the same time, she actually stepped forward, in front of Beth. The gun stayed trained on her. Beth stared in horror, and Ariana's eyes went from the gun to the face of the man holding it, and back to the gun. And then, she simply closed her eyes and waited.

Without any comprehension of how this could even be happening, Beth watched the gunman's hand tremble as he glared at Ariana. "Come on! COME ON! NOW!" he began to shout, and when Ariana didn't move, he seemed to reach a decision and with his thumb he flipped the gun's safety off.

Beth broke herself from her paralysis and yelled, "NO! No, I - I have money, just, just d-don't shoot, okay? Sh-she doesn't have any, I'm the one. Here," she fumbled to get all of her remaining cash from her pockets, and held it out to him. As an afterthought she took her checkbook out and offered that as well. "H-here, you can have a-all of it, okay?"

He was looking at the money with an incredulous expression on his face, as though it was somehow an insult. Ariana slowly opened her eyes again and turned them to Beth, looking almost as if she'd just awakened from a dream.

Beth swallowed, and found that her hands were shaking violently. She offered the money one more time, then knelt and put it on the ground, and took a step backwards. "Th-there. Th-that really is ev-everything..."

The gunman looked at the pile on the ground, and when he looked back up at her, he looked incensed. "You lied to me?" he asked in a quiet voice, and the gun swung towards her, and he shouted, "You don't LIE to me! Maybe you're still holdin' out on me! Maybe I oughta just make sure!"

And Beth realized that she had done every single thing exactly wrong.

That was when the impossible thing happened.

The first part of it was that the gun began to tremble, and that in itself wasn't so odd; the gunman was agitated, clearly anxious, and shaking was almost expected. But then it seemed to jerk, and then with a twitch the gun pulled itself right out of his hand. He stared at it with his mouth open stupidly, and Beth, still having trouble even keeping up with what was going on, stared too.

It wasn't until she heard Ariana speak that she thought to look at her friend; in fact, when Ariana *did* speak, Beth almost didn't register the word at first. It was just one word, but what caught her attention was the determination, the firm and decisive way it was said.

"No," said Ariana, and when Beth looked at her, the blonde was staring in concentration at their attacker. A moment later, the gun went spiralling off down the street as if it had been thrown. Beth half-expected to hear it go off, since it had been cocked, but there was no sound of gunfire.

The now-unarmed gunman stood and stared for a moment longer, and then he looked at his hand, as if wondering what had just happened to the weapon he was sure he'd had a moment ago. He looked up again at Beth, apparently deciding she was the one responsible for whatever freak accident had just taken place, and took a step towards her. "You-" he began, and that was as far as he got.

"NO!" Ariana repeated, and this time she gestured and said, "Procul meus mos, incohare glacies!"; the man stopped in place, glowed for a moment, and then began to turn blue. As Beth watched, cringing, frost gathered over his feathers and icicles dripped from his chin.

Ariana let out a breath and relaxed, stumbling backwards. She put her hand to her head and held it there, covering her eyes. There was silence between them for several moments.

"Wh..?" Beth finally tried to speak, and found that the small, questioning noise was all she could manage. Ariana still did not look at her, and as she goggled at the frozen man who had just tried to shoot them, Beth tried to make sense out of all this. She turned her full attention to Ariana, and squeaked out, "Did... did you... do that?"

Ariana lowered her hand from her forehead, but kept her eyes on the ground. After a long moment, she nodded. When Beth didn't say anything further, she cautiously looked up at the brunette, her eyes questioning and frightened.

It didn't make sense. It was impossible, and it was against everything Beth knew, and it was alarming. Beth seemed to have a million questions, but they all boiled down to one, and it was the next thing she voiced. An edge of panic that she hadn't known she felt escaped when she asked, "What... did you do?"

Her eyes dropping to the ground briefly, then coming to focus on her hands, Ariana said quietly, "He... he was going to hurt you, and... and I... I think he'll thaw in a - a few hours..."

"But-" Beth looked at the man again, and a shiver went down her back, because it wasn't *possible*. "But what did you do?"

"I... I just didn't want him to..." Ariana held her hands to her mouth, and her eyes met Beth's for a fraction of a second before she looked away, as though afraid of what she'd see there. "Please don't be afraid... please... don't look at me like that..."

Beth didn't know how she was looking. She couldn't really think of much of anything. Speechless, she shook her head, and Ariana let out a sob and said, "I'm sorry!" Before Beth knew what was going on, the blonde was running. She turned a corner, and Beth gained enough mental cohesion to realize that she had to follow.

But when she ran to the corner and turned, there was no sign of Ariana at all. She stopped, perplexed, and tried to listen for something - footsteps or a voice, anything - but the city's ambient noises surrounded her, and she had nothing to guide her. She stood, feeling lost.

"Ariana?" she called. There was no answer. Louder, she repeated, "Ariana?? Ariana, wait!"

Nothing. A couple passed her by, and looked at her curiously. Beth wondered if they'd seen her friend run by them, but couldn't bring herself to ask. She stood very still, waiting... Waiting for something that didn't come, something that was gone, perhaps forever, and it was only her fault. As always.


It was her third big interview. Beth hadn't had any luck on the first two, and she was starting to feel both discouraged and desperate.

When she'd discovered that transferring to USC wouldn't be possible - since she'd somehow managed to miss the deadlines for filing all her paperwork to withdraw from Duckburg U, she'd been terminated within the system and had been informed she'd need to start from scratch in any grad work she did, at any school; Beth felt deep down inside that she should be able to fight to fix this, but she knew it would take time and courage and stamina, and she didn't feel like she had any of those things, so she let it go - without an option of going back to school, Beth had decided to enter the work force.

It should have been easy; she had an excellent educational background and a lot going for her intellectually. What she didn't have, however, was experience. And without experience, she didn't know how to make herself sound like a worthwhile candidate for any of the positions she was applying for.

She'd gone through job listings, looking for any kind of position that would suit her - in research, as a medical writer, even anything related to plants - and once she'd taken out all the ones that absolutely required a minimum of five years' experience she was always faced with a much shorter list. And to those openings, she sent an even shorter resume, then sat back and hoped.

She'd put out ten resumes and had received three offers for an interview. That had seemed like amazingly good luck, until she'd done so poorly on the first two; she wasn't even sure why, since she'd heard that having holes in the interview was a bad thing so she'd made a point to fill up all the empty spaces in the conversations. But she hadn't heard anything back.

This one was her last chance, and she had told herself in the mirror that she was going to get this job. It was a starting-level position as a research assistant in botanical biology, and it was one that Beth really wanted.

And she was going to knock over the interviewer's coffee cup.

She could just see that it was going to happen - the cup was on the edge of the desk, and it kept attracting her attention. Her arm had nearly grazed it twice already, once when she was shaking hands with her interviewer and then again when she was bringing out her references. When she'd looked at it again there was a little drop of coffee on the desk next to it and she nearly panicked - she was sure that drop hadn't been there before and she could only think that somehow she'd dislodged it. That didn't make sense - she was SURE she hadn't touched it yet - or had she?!

"Ms. Webfoot?" said the interviewer, a slight expectation in his tone, and Beth realized that he had said her name more than once already, and that she had been staring at the cup.

"Oh - yes," she said, tearing her gaze away from the cup with a horrible sinking feeling inside herself. "I'm sorry, you- um, you were saying?"

"Please tell me more about your studies in plant biology," he repeated. The wording was polite but there was something in the way he said it that seemed... stern, was the only way she could describe it.

"Oh, sure! I mean - well, although my actual major wasn't in botanical studies, I always made it a point to take classes in it, because I just love plants. So..." She went briefly silent as he picked up his coffee cup, sipped from it, and put it back down; it looked closer to the edge of the desk than it had been a minute previously. "Um... I, I mean-" Beth shook herself back to the important thing, which was the interview, and tried to keep her focus away from that cup. Realizing she had no idea what she had been about to say, she just barely kept herself from asking if she could start over, and tried to pick up the thread of her answer again. "I-in any case, I've got a pretty good background in cell biology, and coupling that with my knowledge of plants, um... I-I think I have a pretty good... background." She trailed off weakly, and the double use of "good background" rang in her ears. She hoped she was being oversensitive.

The interviewer grunted, marking at the sheet he had before him, and said, "Great."

Meanwhile, Beth's eyes drew slowly back to the coffee cup.

The interview seemed to drag on, with another five awkwardly-answered questions filling the time. Beth wondered if she was doing as poorly as she felt - or maybe she was doing even worse. She swallowed - her mouth felt very dry. She wished she'd asked for some tea or something; if they had coffee, would they provide tea as well?

"Well, Ms. Webfoot-"

"Yes!" she said quickly, sitting up at attention.

He looked at her levelly for a moment, then went on. "I've enjoyed talking with you today, and I think we'll definitely be in touch."

Beth's breath seemed to catch in her throat. She stammered, "R-really? Oh, that's great! I'm... I'm looking forward to it, and I'm available any time...!"

"Pleased to hear it," said the interviewer. He rose, and offered her his hand to shake when she did the same. "We'll be having a second round of interviews next week, and we'll be in touch about possible scheduling."

She was so delighted that she could barely speak for a moment, and somehow the room seemed smaller than it had a second ago; and when she reached enthusiastically for his hand to shake it, she went too low and barrelled into the coffee cup. There was an awful shaky moment when it was still technically upright, and she fumbled with it, and her shaking hands managed to send the contents spilling even farther across her interviewer's desk, soaking a stack of papers and ruining almost the entire surface of the desk.

When she left his office seven minutes later, her fingers stained with mopped-up coffee, she had to duck into the ladies room to cry for about fifteen minutes and she was well aware that she would not be getting a follow-up call.


She wasn't cut out for interviews. She wasn't really cut out for anything, it seemed, except school and studying; every single effort she had made at living within the "real world" had been thwarted, undermined, or just embarrassing. As she walked home, Beth considered - as she had done more and more frequently of late - packing up her things and going back to live with her parents. It would be the easiest thing to do and probably the most sensible. She was going to run out of money soon; even with a roommate and a modestly-priced house, she couldn't possibly live much longer without an income.

But she had signed a lease for the next 11 and a half months; she couldn't possibly get out of it. And she'd be leaving her roommate, Hester, in the lurch. Hester had been good enough to sign on to rent the vacant room without even knowing Beth beforehand, and she was an easy, if not exactly sociable, housemate. She worked nights, tending bar at a local club, and Beth usually didn't even see her until 5pm or so as she was getting ready for work. Hester usually sported a heavily-gelled mohawk, as well as several impressive facial piercings and some of the thickest eyeliner Beth had ever seen on anyone but a mime. Not that Beth was judging this at all; some people were just cooler than others (and she was definitely in the "others" category here). Hester looked a little intimidating, but Beth had found that she was perfectly happy to do her own thing and barely speak to Beth at all, which was a giant relief for all concerned.

Beth stopped for a moment on her way home, and leaned against a storefront, thinking. She didn't know anymore where to go or what to do. She couldn't go back to school, but she felt in her heart that she couldn't go home. She couldn't find a job without experience, but how could she gain experience without a job?

What did people do in her situation?

She thought hard, trying to figure out exactly how much - or how little - money she could survive on for the next few months. She wouldn't need that much - her rent was low, and she ate very little and almost never bought luxuries. Maybe... if she just got a part-time job for a little while, to cover her necessities, she could take some of the stress out of her full-time job search. Then even if it took another few months to find a real job, she could keep her head above water, and she could just quit once she was set up in her new career.

Buoyed by this thought, she decided to look around and see what options she had, close to her house. She walked down the street with the intention of stopping in at the stores that were hiring, collecting job applications, and sorting through them at home.

The first place she saw with a "Now Hiring!" sign was a hardware store. She knew nothing at all about tools, but this was a part-time job; how much would she need to know?

When she asked the manager on duty for an application, the woman looked her up and down almost critically, then asked her a few questions about the kind of job she was looking for, what kind of background she had, and other questions. After about five minutes, Beth realized she was being interviewed on the spot. She must have said the right things - in any case, she tried to be as agreeable as possible - because soon the woman smiled and started telling her about the hardware store, what the job consisted of, and how most of it was just working with people, which was "the great part". Apparently the woman, who gave her name as Henny, loved working with people and knowing the tools wasn't the important part, it was how you treated the customer, on and on, and Beth found that she was not only getting nervous about dealing with people but she also couldn't get a word in edgewise. She just stood and nodded away, and within another ten minutes she was walking out of the store with a job.


Sometimes Beth wondered if maybe Ariana had been a dream, or something. Not always; in fact, for the first two weeks after Ariana had disappeared, Beth had been resolutely convinced that she would show up, somewhere, somehow. For the first three days she hung around their house night and day, barely leaving even to procure furnishings or food; for the remainder of that first week, she had looked almost obsessively around herself as she walked through the streets, sure that she'd see a flash of blonde hair, of silver eyes. She didn't know what she'd say or how she'd apologize, but she ached for the chance to try and make things right.

When the first week passed without any sign, Beth became even more worried, and didn't sleep for two nights. Ariana had almost nothing, and she was so helpless (or, well, no she wasn't - but that couldn't have been real, could it?), and what if she'd been mugged or murdered, or...? The anxiety became so much that Beth had to force herself into optimism, into a "wait and see" mentality, and just resigned herself to patience. She'd hear from Ariana somehow, and soon.

And when she didn't, she scoured the newspapers, going back each day until the last day she'd seen her friend. When she didn't find any record of a murdered blonde girl, she relaxed a little bit - at least Ariana was probably still alive, which was something - but couldn't get past the deep, biting ache of knowing that after two weeks, Ariana was not likely to just show up again like nothing had happened.

By now, just over a month since the incident, Beth sometimes wondered if she had signed the lease on this house by herself and imagined Ariana. They'd certainly hit it off so quickly it was almost unreal, and she'd left no trace; Beth still didn't even know her last name. (Though really, that was surely a sign that Ariana was real; if she'd made Ariana up, wouldn't she have made up a last name?) It all seemed hazy now, and so pleasant until the last, impossible part of it.

It would be so much easier to find out that it had been a dream. So much simpler, because then she wouldn't have driven away the one person who had seemed to understand her, and to like her for herself, out of all the other people she'd met throughout her life.

Things had gone alright, once Beth had given up on Ariana's returning. She'd put up an ad at the corkboard, found Hester, and managed to recoup a little bit of the first month's rent that she'd covered (of course, she had pro-rated Hester for the first two weeks). She was still down for the deposit, but once she had a job, that would be covered too. Or something. In any case, the money was gone, so there was no point worrying over it. Now things were finally looking up, she thought as she walked around to the side door that she and Hester used to enter the house since the front door was in an odd state of painted-over disrepair.

It was noon, but when she entered the living room, the blinds were drawn and the place was dark. There was a figure lying on the couch watching TV under some blankets, and when Beth stepped into the room, the figure sat up and blinked owlishly at her. It was a young woman Beth didn't think she'd ever seen before, with deep red hair framing her face and ending at her chin.

"Oh - hi," said Beth awkwardly. This must be a friend of Hester's - someone from the bar, maybe. It would sure help if Hester was around, but she didn't want to appear unfriendly, so she stayed planted in the doorway of the living room and tried to think of something appropriate to say.

"H'lo," said the girl, and she switched the TV off and stretched. "Uh, sorry, lemme clear off of here. Did you wanna sit down?"

"Oh, no, that's okay. You can stay there," Beth answered, though by the time she'd said it, the blankets had already been swept off and were being folded. "Um... You don't have to move... I'm sorry, I just didn't know you were down here, I didn't see you when I went out-" She spread her hands apologetically, and added, "Welcome."

The girl looked a little perplexed. "It's no prob... I didn't know it was getting this late. But you don't usually come in until later, right?"

"I guess not, most days..." The conversation was starting to creep her out, since it made Beth wonder what Hester had told the girl about her. She said, "Um, is Hester... still asleep, or in the shower or something...?"

The girl eyed her with a strange expression, then said, "Seriously? You really don't recognize me?"

Beth blinked, and noticed the piercings that were barely visible in the dim light, and said "Oh gosh - Hester??"

"Present," said her housemate. Her voice was distinctive, husky and slightly sarcastic, but Beth didn't speak with her quite often enough to know it unmistakably.

"Oh gosh," Beth said again, blushing. "You... you... wasn't your hair purple yesterday?" she asked lamely. Purple, not to mention in a mohawk and offset by severe eye makeup? Without these things, Hester looked mostly normal, which was almost an unthinkable sight.

"Yeah, well, it had been like that for nearly three weeks, it was getting old," Hester said, and tossed herself back on the couch once she felt reassured that Beth was not going to use it. When the brunette nodded, Hester nodded too, as if they'd reached some cosmic agreement. Then she sat up again and reached into the pocket of the jeans she was wearing, and pulled out a folded envelope. "Oh yeah - this came for you sometime. I picked it up last night when I got in. I guess someone shoved it under the door."

Beth took the envelope, noting that there was no name or return address on it, only Beth's own name written in a curly, rather pleasant script. "Oh. Thanks," she said, unsure if she should add anything else, just to be conversational. She couldn't think of anything - she was, actually, pretty tired and felt like reading in her room for a while - so she excused herself politely and headed for the hallway.

"Oh hey," Hester's voice followed her, "fair warning: the stuff I use on my hair leaves a mess, I'm gonna clean the bathroom later, so don't freak when you see it, okay?"

Beth felt a little freaked just by the warning, but tried to fight the reaction down. "Um... okay," she called back. As she entered her room at last, she relished the sunlight that had been banned from the living room, and shut her door firmly behind herself.

Settling down on her bed, she looked closely again at the envelope. It was no one's handwriting that she recognized... Couldn't be from her family, so maybe it was school-related? Though that was unlikely, why would they stick something underneath her door in the dead of night? So what was it?

An idea occurred to her, suddenly, and she fought hard to keep it from forming all the way. It wouldn't do to get her hopes up. Wouldn't do at all. Just open it, and see, and then react.

She tore open the envelope and peered inside, hoping for a note or something - an explanation, a reassurance, SOMETHING.

But what was inside was not a letter, or an explanation, or even a name.

It was money. Beth frowned, puzzled, and counted it. After she'd counted it twice she realized that it amounted to half of the deposit on the house, plus half of the first month's rent - in short, half of what she had paid up front when she and Ariana had signed the lease.

It meant two things: on the one hand, it meant that Ariana was okay. Wherever she was, she had money, so she had a job and presumably a place to stay.

On the other hand, Beth realized, it meant that she was never going to see Ariana again. For the second time that day, she cried, this time not for what she couldn't get but for what she had lost.