Seeking roommate. District 4 apartment, 5th floor. 2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom, 1 living room (counts as the kitchen). Monthly half is circa 334, electricity bill included. I work a lot, we won’t see each other much. Contact me : email@example.com
Clutching the newspaper clipping to her chest - with both hands, in a symmetrical embrace - Catherine took in a deep breath, pressed the doorbell once, and crossed her hands behind her back. She was on her best behaviour - as, usual, really. When dealing with anyone other than Junie, she knew to be polite, succinct, and let no hint of anything else seep through. She was prepared, professional, on point. Nonetheless, she was caught off guard.
Even having exchanged mail, Catherine and Gabrielle had yet to see each other’s faces. Both of their addresses just used a default profile picture. Catherine had no expectations ; even then, they were blown away. The woman that stood across from her, hand still on the door she’d just opened, looked exceedingly similar to her.
The two weren’t doppelgangers by any stretch of the expression - but they shared an uncanny resemblance. Both were short - though Catherine was shorter - with the same toffee complexion, light brown hair, freckled cheeks, generous curves, button nose, and thick, rounded eyebrows. That said, Gabrielle lacked Catherine’s trademark pointed, wing-like ears ; hers were small and laid flat.
Gabrielle was clearly thrown off by their similarities, though she frowned it off. Catherine, on the other hand, was oddly unfazed by it - or, rather, the fact they looked like doubles wasn’t what bothered her. What upset Catherine was that, by her standards, Gabrielle’s looks were nearly perfect - more than a reflection, she was an upgraded version of her own appearance.
While Catherine uncomfortably carried all of her weight in her hips, leaving everything below her knees thin and unbalanced - a remarkable pear shape that Junie adored, but Catherine didn’t care for - Gabrielle’s hourglass waist was much more symmetrical, and her legs didn’t look like chicken thighs. She had coily hair that cascaded down to the middle of her back, framing her features elegantly while Catherine’s square-cut made her look five - granted, she had maintained that same hairstyle since she was about five. Catherine’s grey irises felt off, sad and unnatural - striking and mysterious, Junie found, but Catherine didn’t care for them - while Gabrielle’s deep brown eyes matched her hair and gave her an enigmatic, pensive gaze. On top of that, she also had much smaller eyes, and so her expressions felt less cartoonish, more elegant. This also made it harder to read what she was thinking - a trait which Catherine envied all the more.
After a dry ‘hello’, Gabrielle urged Catherine inside with a mere head tilt. The shorter girl replied with forced enthusiasm, desperately trying to mute her growing envy. The apartment was neat and well kept, but small and rather empty. It appeared that Gabrielle hardly ever spent any time there. Most of the furniture appeared to be designed for public buildings ; colourful, cheap and sturdy plastic shelves and tables. Catherine noticed a few garden chairs as well. The western wall served as the kitchen ; two long rectangular blocks used as counters, covered with this and that - a microwave, a blender, an electric kettle, a rice cooker - pushed up against the wall, a small wooden night desk used for its drawers, and a fridge. Gabrielle waved her hand towards the unstable looking table and chairs, glaring at Catherine with an expecting look. “Sit, I’ll make tea.” With that, Gabrielle turned on her heels in a sharp 180 degrees, walking over to the kitchen with effortless style. Catherine bit down on her lip, sitting down as instructed - and discovered that below the table lay a large and fuzzy carpet she hadn’t noticed until then. It was perhaps the liveliest part of the room - and looked to be the oldest, too.
Three minutes later, tea was served - in paper cups, with plastic spoons. Catherine cleared her throat, giving Gabrielle a beaming smile. Analysing the room had helped her calm down and find her bearings.
“Thanks for the tea. Pleased to finally meet you proper - I’m Catherine!”, she recited while extending a hand - which Gabrielle failed to take, all too occupied sipping her tea.
- I know your name. We’ve been exchanging emails for the past week.
- Haha. Fair enough.” Catherine retracted her hand and took a short sip of her tea, taking the opportunity to breathe in deeply. “Just thought I should - mark the occasion, or something. We’ll be roommates from now on, after all!” Still, no answer. Catherine gripped her cup tightly with both her hands, digging her nails into the frail cardboard.
“You work in this area, right?” She tried, again, with renewed enthusiasm.
- Barmaid downtown, sure enough.” Catherine’s face lit up - finally! Gabrielle smirked into her cup, causing her guest to lean back. That girl was - messing with her on purpose. Still, Catherine let no embarrassment or frustration show through.
“I see! So you work in a café? What’s it called?
- What’s it matter to you?”
Catherine took in a longer sip.
“Sorry, I didn’t intend to be nosy or anything. Just making small talk. Ah, as for me - I’m a newly employed GHH employee, a-
- I know. A C rank.
- Y...Yeah.” Gabrielle stopped drinking, raising her eyes from her cup for the first time since she’d sat down. A pesky smile stretched itself across her cheeks.
- So you’re basically livestock, ey? Look at someone wrong, and it’s off to AR...”
That... was probably her idea of a joke, so Catherine sketched out a smirk. Suddenly, she missed Junie’s love of puns ; her sense of humour was grating, but Gabrielle’s was just… sick.
‘AR’ was an acronym that stood for ‘Ability Removal’ - commonly referring to both a substance and the instance in which it was used, which was just what it sounded like. Machine-assisted, chemical amputation of one’s ability. It was probably the number one subject of most GHH controversies in recent years. Even ignoring the countless testimonies of painful, or faulty AR - the injection was known to provoke exacerbated immune reactions - abilities were seen as this sacred thing by many, and the mere idea of removing one was akin to that of the death sentence - or even torture. It nonetheless had its fervent supporters. Since abilitied crime relied on abilities, removing a criminal’s ensured they physically could not repeat the offence.
However, the government also considered allowing for the use of AR on GHH heroes. The laws had failed to pass multiple times - and it was unlikely they would any time soon - but many still feared the eventuality. If the law was put into place - though, if rumours were to believed, the GHH had already started this practice behind the scene - then heroes that were convicted of malpractice or otherwise culprit of needless harm and property damage could be penalised for it with AR. This fit with the GHH’s purpose : they had always valued civilian safety and damage control above all else.
It was a commendable effort. And one that many heroes thought themselves to be above. It was just much more gratifying and glamorous to play daredevil to catch the villain, no matter the cost. Countless unneeded deaths had been caused by heroes with oversized egos, and none of the GHH’s tamer penalties had managed to put an end to it. They figured that was a good enough argument in AR’s favour - public opinion disagreed. Not only did hero fans tend to side with heroes, they justifiably found the ethics of AR questionable.
“Oh, those rumours? I… wouldn’t give them much credit.
- Whatever you say.
- Plus - they wouldn’t waste AR on me, you know? My ability’s nothing remarkable. I can boil water for tea and freeze ice cubes for cocktails, and that’s about it. Haha!” Truthfully, Catherine had been warming up her cup continuously throughout their chat. Either her kettle was faulty, or Gabrielle had a critical misunderstanding of how infusion worked. She’d returned to her unfazed expression, barely honouring Catherine with a grunt of a response.
“...What about you? What’s your ability?” Catherine knew asking that was putting herself at risk of becoming even more jealous, but it was worth it if she could get to know Gabrielle any better. Spending the foreseeable future rooming with a judgemental wall may just be more grating than spending years of her school life with Junie.
Gabrielle shot to her feet, shaking the table as she pushed against it, her chair grinding backwards along the floor. Her cup tipped over - luckily, she’d long finished it. “Let’s just get on with the tour”, she
Catherine quietly obliged.
...touchy subject, then.
Catherine unpacked quickly. She opened her laptop, purposefully ignored the five messages she’d already gotten from Junie - she hadn’t sent them from her work email, so it was nothing urgent - and opened her search engine to indulge her curiosity - no, no. To acquire relevant information. It wasn’t wise to live with someone she barely knew anything about, so… this was fine. Her parents wouldn’t have even hesitated. But she… well, she wouldn’t have liked to have it done to her.
She typed in ‘Gabrielle Gabby’, and scrolled for the following hour… maybe more.