/ Cathy Huang (Writer), Kevin Phan (Illustrator)
Fiction — 5 min reading time
We’re gonna rule the world one day, but right now we’re running through the parking lot because the bartender just called the cops on us. He refused to serve alcohol to minors, so Lila drew lipstick dicks all over their windows and gave everyone the finger. We run and run and the moon is swollen like a black eye. The stars scatter like blood droplets. I think our brains are too full, with languages and secret codes and what happens to a human body when it dies. So right now, we let it loose. We’re the stupidest kids on the boulevard, howling and cackling through the alleyways while the police sirens blare.
By the time the morning comes, we’re sitting in the deputy’s office. The man who pretends to be your dad comes in and picks us up. We always thought he killed your actual dad— took his identity to wear like a coat and his daughter to raise as a conqueror. We hadn’t met yet, but I think we were connected, anyway. Thirteen years later, it turns out we’re worth some pretty big bribes. The man— Mr. Poker Face, we call him, because of his stupid red-black-white suits— loads us into the back of his SUV and says he’ll kill us all if we keep causing the wrong kind of trouble. International espionage is the right kind of trouble. Trying to steal the neighbor’s stereo is not.
We know he’s lying. He won’t shoot his investments. Not until we pay ourselves off. I’m sixteen years old when I have my first time, stoic and unfeeling in Southern California. The sea swallows up the gunshot and we throw the body into the Pacific, then sit and watch the waves. We talk about anarchy and death and after an hour, we take your car to an In-N-Out and eat burgers on the freeway. From the passenger seat, I stare at the side of your face. You’ve always been so intense, so paranoid, watching the cars as though they’re enemies on the hunt. Your knuckles are white against the steering wheel, but I say something stupid and you still smile. The moon is our witness, and it follows us from the crime scene all the way down the I-5.
At ninety miles an hour, I think I am loved. With the rock radio shaking the car, I think I am loved. As the three of us squeeze into a single motel bed, I think I am loved.
At ninety miles an hour, I think I am loved. With the rock radio shaking the car, I think I am loved. As the three of us squeeze into a single motel bed, I think I am loved. But how could I tell? There’s blood on my hoodie, but none of us realize it until morning.
Mr. Poker Face makes us stop calling him Mr. Poker Face. It’s Mr. Claude Quintal, and we begrudgingly repeat it in the daylight. But he takes us to Berlin, Moscow, Zanzibar City, New York City. In Times Square, we manage to break away from him, only for a moment, to run into the crowd as giggling teenagers. Lila looks up into the cloudy sky and yells like a warrior going off into war, and no one stops to look or care. We run into the M&M store and buy fifty dollars of custom candies with our initials all together. Even with the noise, it took Mr. Poker Face Quintal an hour to find us again.
I don’t remember the moment when it changed. Maybe it was after Mr. Quintal kicked the bucket, and we moved from motels to high-rise apartments in the different cities of the world. Lila was sent to Moscow, and when she came back for Christmas, she didn’t talk to us. We spun the web further, and set up political figureheads in Russia, Japan, Canada, anywhere we could. We made powerful friends, sorted through them with bullets and cyanide—and it seemed so easy for you. It was a Wednesday night, of all times, when we were sitting in your living room, drinking wine with the big window behind us and the computer in front of us. In one screen we could see into the palaces of our labors. White House, Kōkyo, Buckingham Palace, the Kremlin— all at a glance. I don’t think I believed it until you quietly took my hand in yours. You hadn’t done that since we were eighteen and sitting in the parking lot behind CVS, drinking late night coffee and fearing the years ahead of us. I could feel the cold night air, as you squeezed my hand and we watched the President pick his nose in the Oval Office.
It changed because we’re not young anymore. It changed because your hair is already going white. It changed when Lila died alone in Amsterdam, bleeding in the back of a truck. Someone once asked me if I was ever scared of you. Why would I be? You know eight languages and could call for the Queen’s assassination any time, but you’re still my best friend. I’ve held your hair as you puked in a bird bath. You know the right bullet and the right head that could start the next World War. I think if anything happened to me, you would.
In my head, you’re still looking back at me as we run through the parking lot. We always looked at the stars, but now I see there’s a space between them. It’s that darkness where I think we are now. So close to the dazzle.