Everyone was already talking by the time the girl got inside.
Darn, the girl thought.
She shuffled over to her seat. It wasn’t her seat, exactly, there was no assigned seating. But that was the funny thing about getting to choose their own seats, everyone ended up sticking with the same ones. Easy, to settle into a routine of sorts.
Three long tables, placed together to form three-fourths of a square, the opening faced a whiteboard at the head of the room. The girl grabbed her usual seat at a corner of the makeshift shape, closest to the board, and farthest from everyone else.
No greetings as she settled in, everyone was too busy to notice her.
About three minutes left before things got started. The girl tried to find a conversation, an opening for her to jump into. She didn’t find any.
Jasmine sat right next to her, but she was deep in a discussion about a movie that just came out. The girl hadn’t seen it yet, Mom didn’t get the chance to take her to the movies on Saturday. Money was always tight around this time of year.
She could try with Andrew, but he still had his headphones on, nodding to whatever he was listening to. Probably some rock band she’d never heard of.
Emily was closer, but she was way too preoccupied with Justin, who kept picking at her hair and joking about her height… even though they were all sitting down. Like their seat arrangements, it was routine for them, too. The jokes never got too bad, or mean-spirited, it was more like teasing. Maybe Justin was letting on more than he intended with the constant pestering.
The girl looked around, but there were no good openings. Everyone was too busy for someone like her. She resigned to staying quiet, keeping to herself.
She hated keeping to herself. She hated having nothing to do. She’d even settle for reading a book.
There was a bible within her reach. Was she that bored?
Yes, she was, but the boredom didn’t last long. Mrs. Phan entered the room, and a hush followed. Everyone was quiet.
“Good morning, class,” Mrs. Phan said, accent heavy. “And Merry Christmas.”
The class answered in unison. “Merry Christmas, Mrs. Phan.”
None of the levity from earlier was present, the same levity the girl wanted to get in on. It was instead replaced by a heavy feeling of anxiety. If one fell, the girl could hear a pin drop, and the floor was carpeted.
Mrs. Phan was short, about the same height as the girl, but her presence stood well above the rest. Her hair was long but done up, styled and kept in place with hairspray, with a swoop across her forehead. A retro look, but it aged her.
Her sweater was a bright red, with snowflakes and reindeer knitted on, with black pants and shoes to finish the look. The end result was tacky, but it was fitting for the season.
If it was Mrs. Phan’s intention to look this way, to lighten up the mood, the effect was marginal. Everyone’s lips remained sealed. They were waiting for her.
Mrs. Phan then started off the discussion for the hour.
“So, what week are we on in this Advent season?”
“The third week,” the class answered, all at once.
“Correct. And what color is the candle on the wreath?”
Mrs. Phan pointed to a corner on the whiteboard. A wreath was up in the corner, crudely drawn in marker.
“Correct again, but Lilly, I didn’t hear you there, speak up next time, okay?”
A squeak, from the table opposite the girl. Lilly. She was quietest person in class, second only to the girl herself. Not that she wanted to be in that position. It was a reluctant quiet.
Mrs. Phan went on with the review. “So that means it is the third Sunday of the Advent season, and next week is Christmas, the birthday of Jesus.”
A small ‘woo’ came from one of the kids. Mrs. Phan turned to try and find the culprit, but no one was caught. Even the girl couldn’t find who was responsible.
Mrs. Phan went back to the board, and continued writing.
“Alright, this season is a very important time for us as Catholics. In fact, the season doesn’t end until well into January. Does anyone know what else happens during Christmas time?”
She put a pause in her writing, and looked back to the class.
“How about… ah, Alexis?”
The girl felt a pang of panic. Her name was up.
The girl… Alexis, examined the board for a hint. Nothing. Mrs. Phan’s handwriting wasn’t the best, and it was most likely just an itinerary for the hour.
She looked to the other kids for help. No luck there. They looked either too bored or too disinterested to offer an answer, or whisper anything. Most weren’t even looking her way. Not even Jasmine, and she was right there.
Alexis was completely alone.
She turned back to Mrs. Phan, hoping the expression on her face would be enough, that she had no idea what the answer was. Didn’t work, Mrs. Phan still looked expectant.
The question was vague, the correct answer unclear. Alexis thought back to last Sunday, but she couldn’t remember that class very well. She hadn’t paid much attention.
Something about… God, and Jesus… and giving.
No hints, and her friends weren’t going to help. Alexis was on her own in this.
She ventured a guess.
“Um… Santa comes and gives gifts to all the good boys and girls?”
Mrs. Phan raised an eyebrow, then raised it some more, as if to inject ire in a neutral, at most curious expression.
She wasn’t satisfied with that answer.
Here and there, kids snickered. They were silenced as Mrs. Phan asked, “Would you like to give that another try, Alexis?”
She was going to make her try again? Alexis really didn’t know, and putting her more on the spot wouldn’t do anyone any favors. It was a waste of time.
Alexis was a waste of time.
But, she made the others laugh a bit. That was worth it, in part.
And if she didn’t know the answer… might as well have some fun.
“Yeah,” Alexis said, leaning back into her seat, “Santa’s gonna come and give everyone presents. And because Jesus was born on Christmas, and he was extra good, he got like, three presents that day!”
Alexis held up three fingers to accentuate her point.
The joke landed, sort of. Not necessarily by execution, but rather by how inappropriate it was, and Mrs. Phan’s reaction. Her face twisted, opening her mouth wide, and yelled.
But it was drowned out by laughter. The joke sort of landed, after all. The other classmates were tittering and giggling, and looking at Alexis. She wasn’t sure if they were laughing with her or at her, but they were laughing all the same.
Looking her way, smiling, showing teeth. Giving her attention.
It filled Alexis with a strange sense of satisfaction.
Mrs. Phan continued to yell, but the sound was farther, now. The laughter overtook it, and filled the girl’s ears.
Then, the scene collapsed, with only the faint ringing of laughter remaining, and the pieces changed, new actors and props moving onto the set.
A new scene was being recalled.
An intimate one, but also equally not so.
The girl… and a boy. Already the details were muddy.
There was Alexis, but the boy’s name wasn’t recalled. His face was blurry, too, smeared like an oil painting, damaged by water.
Even the setting was nondescript. Four walls, a window, a door. A bed.
Alexis sat on the bed as the boy made sure to lock the door.
His name and face were lost, the details maybe even dropped on purpose. It could have been anyone. But the context rooted this moment and gave it meaning.
Alexis had only met the boy a few weeks ago. The tall, athletic type, that much was certain. They were in the same class, and their desks were right next to one another. It helped that the teacher allowed the class to work in pairs…
They had gotten to talking, going from mere acquaintances… to something more. Not boyfriend and girlfriend, but the awkward step before that.
The boy didn’t even have to do much, and what he did do hardly impressed her. Some lame jokes, some corny compliments.
But she was in the mood for lame, for corny. And she was looking for what the boy had provided in spades.
She wasn’t getting it from the kids at Sunday school, part of the reason why she ditched them. There was a barrier, a subtle but effective wall around them that she couldn’t get over. And she had a hunch as to why.
She was too different from them.
Something like that didn’t matter at her school, though. She’d found friends, and activities she could do with those friends. Like sports. Partying.
Other stuff. Stuff she’d never done before.
The boy turned, facing Alexis. He approached her, slow in his steps, giving her time to take off her shirt.
The fabric flew over her eyes, and the boy was much closer, now. He leaned in, and she met him head on.
The scene collapsed before anything more could happen.
New actors, new props. Everything was moved around.
The new scene started with an explosion.
“God, it’s like you’re looking for a reason to be pissed off!”
The words spat out of the girl’s mouth before she was fully conscious of them.
Her mother’s face twisted, turning sour. The feeling churned in the girl’s stomach. She stood her ground though. Tried to.
They were in the kitchen, arguing over something. Emotions were too high, now, too hot for either of them to remember what exactly this argument was about. Something about the spilled coffee on the table, maybe? Maybe, but it seemed too trivial, too trite.
This was a long time coming, then, for both sides. Bubbling tempers, the lids shaking, needing only a spark for everything to blow up.
And blow up it did.
Her mother took a second to formulate a response, words to throw back at her daughter.
“I would not be like this if you did just listened to me the first time.”
She wasn’t yelling, but she matched Alexis in intensity. Holding back just enough to let Alexis know that there was more to come, should she push her there.
“I was just about to get around to it, if you could have just waited like one second!”
She saw her mother open her mouth to respond, and threw out more words before she could.
“That’s your thing, you’re impatient and you jump the gun, all the time! Can’t you just cool it, for like a minute?”
She saw a twitch, a small delay in her mother’s movements. Riled, blinded, she took that opening.
“Maybe that’s why that guy left you, right?”
Stinging. Burning. Like a grenade that went off too early. Friendly fire.
Everything stopped. The weight of her words brought their world to a screeching halt.
Her mother… it was as if all life was drained from her. Her skin was white, her eyes had a dreary look to them. Hollow.
Alexis was stunned. The regret was immediate. But it always seemed harder to take it back, especially when emotions flared.
She was moving before her mother could attempt another word, trying to get out of the kitchen. Her mother was closer to the faucet, so the path wasn’t blocked. A stroke of luck.
She left the kitchen, fleeing to her room, the door slamming behind her.
She leaned, and found herself on her side, down. It hadn’t registered to Alexis that she fell.
Tears started streaming, not down her face, but across the bridge of her nose, past one ear.
It wasn’t true. Not one word she said was true.
Her mother could be uptight, but Alexis knew she was patient, how forgiving she was to her daughter. She could cool it, for much longer than a second.
And that guy didn’t leave her… he left them. He never came back. She never got the chance to learn his name.
She didn’t want to. Fuck that. Fuck that guy.
She knew she’d have to go back out there. She’d have to apologize. She wanted to.
She didn’t have power to stand up now. She’d stay down, keep herself down.
Here, at the bottom.
I’m a terrible person.
As the tears fell, so the scene, collapsing all around the girl.
But, a new scene wasn’t being recalled. The stage was left blank.
It was just the girl, in an ever-expanding expanse of darkness.
She opened her eyes, and looked at her bare arms and legs. Her bare torso.
Scars, enough to outline her entire body. Bruises marked her skin, colored it, like blotches of paint on a canvas.
She wasn’t embarrassed, or ashamed of the blemishes. They defined her, gave her a shape.
All that she was, and all that she would be.
Here, there was no Alexis, no other labels. Just the core underneath it all. The scars.
The girl tested her voice, and it carried in the darkness, echoing forever.
“I don’t get it. Why show me that, all that ugliness. Is this your idea of a stronger foothold?”
No voiced answer. The darkness emitted.
The darkness swam, forming faint, weak images. As if being seen through static.
Less ugly scenes, scenes that were less taxing to share. Playing on a playground, running on a track, helping in the kitchen. Pleasant, but the grainy filter distorted the images, making it impossible to get a proper view.
The darkness relented, and the scenes dissipated.
“You want the same things I do, huh? Alright, I get it now.”
The voice echoed, reaching into the darkness, affecting it. The darkness rippled in response.
The girl managed a smile.
“I guess I’m capable of understanding, I managed with Benny. Okay, you… no. There aren’t really winners and losers in this, are there? Not me, not you.”
The girl breathed after what felt like an eternity, and it rejuvenated.
Spoken as an objective fact. The truth.
The darkness reacted.
It slinked, moving over arms and legs. The scars and bruises were being washed away. A warm sensation hit the core. A healing that was long overdue.
“It’s not going to be pretty, I’ll tell you that right now. But we’ve gotten used to it, haven’t we? The ugliness.”
An absence was now starting to settle in, spaces where darkness once occupied. White. It began to solidify, taking its own shape.
“Take a deep breath, because it’s as close to a heaven as we’re going to get. It’ll get much hotter from here on out.”
The darkness pulsated, as if it understood. An agreement.
It finished, and the scars and bruises were gone. Not one mark was left.
The arrangement was simple, clean. Some darkness remained, keeping the checkerboard pattern.
Under her own power, the girl stood.
“Let’s burn it all to the fucking ground.”
V responded. “Yeah?”
“You’re kinda spacing out there. You okay?”
V smiled, warm. “I’m okay.”
Justin gave her another look over, but he sat back, letting it go.
Emily jabbed him in the arm. “Stop looking at her like that.”
“Ow, what’d I do?”
Too late, the damage was done. Emily turned up her nose, and looked away from Justin. Where she was irritated, he was equally confused.
V found the whole thing amusing.
They were in a Vietnamese restaurant. Phở Nam, at the Asian market, somewhere in the edge of downtown, away from the bigger buildings. A nice change of pace, to not have buildings towering above.
Justin and Emily had reached out again, to hang out with Alexis. Grab some lunch, maybe catch a movie later. Spending a day with the OG Francis Xavier youth group… except the rest of them couldn’t make it. V wasn’t particularly surprised, or disappointed.
The couple felt that three wasn’t enough of a crowd, though. They heavily suggested that Alexis could invite anyone, bring them along. V immediately knew who to reach out to.
Katy was on her phone, and Maria sipped from a small bowl of soup. They were all around a table, waiting for their food.
It was a calm scene, the atmosphere lowkey. Nothing to worry about, nothing that would ruin their day. They could just sit, and be okay.
V checked her watch.
“Emily, babe, I wasn’t actually…”
Justin kept trying to explain himself to Emily, but he was badgering her by this point. She looked like she was having none of it, but the gesture was exaggerated. She was teasing him.
“If you get me a molten lava chocolate cake after this,” Emily said, her voice high, “I might be able to look the other way.”
Justin scrunched up his face. “You’re just toying with me, aren’t you?”
“I dunno, am I?”
His concerned expression dropped, replaced by a grin.
“Ah, fuck you,” he said, then took a sip from his own bowl of soup.
“How long have you two been together?”
It was Maria that asked.
Emily dropped her act to answer. “Oh, couple years, I think. Beginning of high school.”
“Last day of school, actually,” Justin said, wiping his lip with a napkin. “But it was during freshman year. I asked you out right by your locker.”
“That’s right, but does that really count? I remember saying no, then.”
Maria gave a look of shock.
“You said no?”
Justin looked hurt. “You weren’t supposed to tell people that.”
“But it’s true, and she asked. I can’t just, you know, lie.”
“Fine. But hey, she did say yes about a week later, so who really won in the end?”
Justin pointed two thumbs in his direction.
Emily rolled her eyes, groaning at him. She seemed to mean it, that time.
“Babe, I was kidding, I was joking…”
Maria laughed at Justin’s expense. Justin seemed annoyed, but he rolled with it. All in good fun.
V checked her watch again.
“It’s alright,” Katy said, finally off her phone. “We still have time for a movie, if you haven’t crossed that out, already.”
“Oh, um, right.”
V had to tell herself to stop checking.
“Speaking of,” Justin said, “Is there anything good out right now?”
“There’s that Water… Shape… something movie,” Emily said. “That looks interesting. But, man, that’s too recent. I’m not very fond of crowded theaters.”
“Same, girl,” Maria said. “I’d rather wait until I can stream it at home. That way, I can stay in bed and watch a movie with my own damn popcorn.”
“That sounds like a dream.”
Emily lifted a hand, and Maria matched her, a solid high five.
They’re getting along, V noted. That’s good.
It wouldn’t be perfect, but it could be good.
V tapped a finger on the table, downing half her glass of water.
Katy asked, “Something on your mind, Alexis?”
V spun her straw around the lid of the glass.
“Nothing really. Just waiting.”
Katy proceeded to make a comment, but V couldn’t quite catch it. The tone was odd, though. Not accusatory, but it was pointed.
“Damn, it’s loud,” V said, her voice raised in turn.
“It is pretty busy,” Justin said, looking around the restaurant. “Even at this hour.”
“Ever since, uh…” Emily stammered, eyes darting around. “Ever since he… did the things, people have been flocking to these places. It’s been rough couple of weeks.”
“Like a kind of refuge?” Maria asked.
“Kind of, I guess.”
Just from listening, it was easy to tell the place was busy. People were talking, conversing, shouting in Vietnamese across tables to call waiters. Noon during the holiday season already made things hectic, but another factor added to all the activity.
Harrian was the he, and him attacking a school were the things. A big incident like that meant big ramifications, and they stretched far and wide. A whole subsection of the city’s population were thrusted into the public consciousness, and neither were used to it. People who were already used to being hidden in plain sight, and a light that was too sudden, too harsh, and too bright. It lead to a push and pull from both sides. It lead to friction.
Here, it was Katy and Maria who were in the minority. The rest of them were those who wanted to find a place to feel at ease. To hide in plain sight. Refuge.
It was either this, or another riot. And this city had already seen more of its share fair of those. The cage was being rattled one too many times.
Here, there was peace, as relative as it was.
“I’m, dang, sorry guys,” Emily said. “I didn’t mean to bring that up. I’m not trying to be a downer.”
“It’s alright,” Katy said. “It’s not nothing, but it’s alright. That kind of thing affects a lot of people. We’re not that special in that regard.”
“But you,” Emily started, but she had the decent sense to not press that point. She shut herself up.
“Happy thoughts, guys,” Maria said, filling the dead air. “Happy thoughts.”
Katy threw in another comment before that dead air could come back again. “Saying it like that makes it more awkward.”
The group chuckled, trying to lighten the mood. V had joined in to keep appearances.
With everyone distracted, she stole a glance at her watch for a third time.
Maria gave it another try. “Emily, the reason why I thought you two were so funny earlier was because I kind of did the same thing, too.”
“What thing?” Emily asked.
“When my boyfriend asked me out, I didn’t give him a yes until like, six months later.”
Emily gave a her own look of shock.
“Holy shit, six months?”
“It’s a long story, obviously, but yeah, it took a while before I realized I was being dumb, and then I went to him. I’m still baffled at how he didn’t get another girl at that time.”
“Oh. Handsome guy?”
“Oh yeah,” Maria said, sounding proud.
“Aw, sounds like he was hoping you’d change your mind.”
“That’s what I tell myself.”
“Geez, I think I’d kill myself if I ended up waiting six months,” Justin commented, out of the blue. “Or, maybe I would have found someone else by then?”
Emily made a grunt.
“Please, you’re lucky that I gave your ass a chance!”
Justin looked physically pained to hear that, with Maria and Emily laughing at him again, sharing another high five.
“How about you two,” Emily said, turning to V and Katy. “Single?”
V and Katy looked at each other. V gestured for Katy to go first.
“I am,” Katy said. “And I’m not exactly looking for a guy, either.”
“Fair.” Emily looked at V, moving her eyebrows up and down. “And you?”
V brought her glass close, drinking more of her water.
“Same here,” V said. “Not interested at the moment.”
“That, I don’t believe. You’re hiding it, but you’re practically glowing.”
“I am not,” V said.
Emily’s eyebrows hadn’t stopped going up and down. “Don’t lie, we’re all friends here. I have a good eye for stuff like that. Something happened, and it was recent. Come on, spill the tea, girl.”
The sudden attention on her was more than she needed. V had to fight herself from checking her watch again.
She settled for drinking more water.
“No no,” Emily said. “Don’t hide behind your water. I wanna hear the details.”
A bubbling sound. V had ran out of water, her straw getting more air now than anything else.
“You must be seeing things, then,” V said. “Because you’re wrong. There are no details, and even if there were, and there aren’t, I’m not up to sharing.”
Emily pouted. “Ah fine, I’ll let you off the hook.”
She shot V a look though, the corners of her mouth folding up. She resembled a cat.
“She’s just being shy,” Katy said, giving V a sidelong glance. “Usually you can goad Alexis into sharing a few stories. She actually has some good ones. Remember the lake?”
V didn’t even try, but she knew there was a barrier, there. A mental block.
“I do,” V lied. “But I still don’t want to get into it.”
Katy’s glance lingered, but she then dropped it, moving on. V briefly squinted at her.
“We can talk about other stuff,” Katy said. “Like Maria’s boyfriend. This is the most I’ve heard of him… ever. I’m actually kind of shocked.”
“I’m full of surprises,” Maria said.
“Keep surprising me. I want to hear all-”
A shout had cut into everything. Katy talking, the restaurant bustling.
“You fucker! I been waitin’ for thirty goddamn minutes! When am I getting served?”
A man, standing up from his table, his chair sliding back away from him. It was cold out, somewhat chilly in here, but he had on a baggy white shirt and jeans. A bandage over one hand.
Mexican, just from his face alone, and he was probably the tallest one here, mean mugging anyone who was looking up at him.
He had a crew with him, sitting at the table. Dressed in a similar fashion. They didn’t seem disconcerted about their friend’s behavior. Unconcerned, maybe even disinterested.
The man yelled at the nearest waitress.
“You speak English?”
The waiter struggled to get out a word.
The man yelled some more.
“Fuck, speak English! We’re in America. I’m here, you’re here, speak some fucking real words!”
He spread his arms, fast and hard. He almost swiped at the waitress, who backed away, hitting a table. Water and tea were spilled all over.
“Fuck!” he yelled again, arms high. It was as if he was being mad just to be mad. Like putting a show.
“What a dick,” Emily said, under her breath. It was certainly one way to put it. Everyone’s lunch was ruined, the atmosphere spoiled.
Sitting in her seat, Katy looked tense, unsure of what was to come next. Maria retreated into herself, trying to appear smaller.
V checked her watch. She waited.
“Sir, please calm down.”
A woman walked to the angered man, hands in a placating gesture. Vietnamese, probably the manager.
The man’s face contorted.
“Calm down? How I can fucking calm down? We be waitin’ for a fucking hour by now!”
“Sir, you said thirty minutes.”
The man just yelled.
“See? No fucking wonder everyone’s been beating on you squity-eyed fucks! You’re all the same.”
Words mattered. They affected people. And they riled up the crowded restaurant.
Everyone began to voice their protest.
Yelling, shouting, it all mixed into a cacophonous wall of sound. Even Justin heated up for a moment, yelling out a profanity, then sitting back in his chair.
The man didn’t care. He was looking around, egging people on, getting a rise of them. He took his time, staring down each and every person.
He was facing V’s table when others started getting up, too. From the other tables, looking to pick a fight with the man.
“I think it’s time for you and your friends to leave,” one of them said. Another man.
“I agree,” another said. A girl.
The man clearly did not agree.
“Sit your flat-ass down, or I’ll make you.”
He lifted one side of his shirt, revealing a holster he had on his hip.
V got up from her seat.
“Alexis?” Katy questioned.
“Hey, dick,” V said. She ignored Katy.
The man turned. He wasn’t that far, and she was loud enough.
He took a second longer that needed to get a look at her face, as if he was studying her.
“Fuck you doing here?” he asked.
“If you’re really going to harass a girl, you really shouldn’t do it in a restaurant with a lot of people. Someone might catch you.”
V had thought over her words.
The man chuckled.
“Bitch, you stay outta this!” He lifted his shirt move, reaching for his gun.
Everyone moved. Everyone jumped out of their seats. Most ran away from the man. A select few dared to run towards him.
V was among that select few.
She heard Katy from behind.
“Damn you, don’t!”
V ignored her for the last time.
She was fast, faster than anyone else here. She got to the man first.
But his hand was faster. He was already holding the handgun.
V swung with her arm, aiming for-
A finger was faster than an arm.
The shot rang out.
She could have gotten back up, sprang back to her feet, but she didn’t. She stayed down. Her ears ringing. Head aching.
Past that were the sounds of more commotion. Screaming, shouting. Fighting.
She wasn’t hurt, no bullet had even grazed her, but V didn’t get up.
V played dead.
Loud. Tables being flipped over. Metal on tile. Some water dripped on V’s head as stuff got thrown around. She didn’t move.
V felt hands on her. Then, she felt the floor move away from her.
She was being lifted.
She tried moving her arms, her legs. Budging just a little. Nothing. She was being held tight.
“We’re moving out!”
The man. He sounded close.
Bobbing. Rough. They were running, and she was being taken with them.
Cold. The door has swung open, exposing her to the weather outside. She felt a chill.
The men didn’t break stride. Another shot rang outdoors.
A hard stop. She heard the rumbling of an engine.
“No! Put the others in the back, this one stays here, alone!”
The man was barking orders.
Footsteps, moving fast. Doors sliding open and closed. Fast. They were working with haste.
V was tossed, landing on leather.
Tires screeched as the door slid closed.
The van was at top speed as it pulled away, leaving the restaurant behind.
V clenched her hands, making fists. Counting down from ten. Getting her focus back. Loud sounds really did get to her.
The van sped through corners, making the turns tight. V was jostled around, and it was hard to make herself upright.
She felt more hands press into her body, keeping her steady. Small.
“Almost there! If we can make it to that back road, we’re in the clear!”
A yell, but the voice was small. Young.
The ride was fast, then bumpy, speeding along anyways. It continued for several minutes.
That was directed to her. V opened her eyes, slow, finding that she screwed them tight.
She needed time to get her bearings.
A girl was watching her, looking after her with care. Her arms were out, holding her, as the drive jerked them around. Neither were of them were wearing seatbelts.
She saw V come to, and gradually moved her hands away. She was smiling as V managed to sit properly.
V pushed her hair back, fixing loose strands.
“How are we doing on time?” the girl asked, still watching V. She had a phone in her hand, now, taking only small, needed glances. Her eyes were on V, otherwise.
Someone else answered. The driver.
“Good on all counts. Decoys are in place, and everyone’s moving on their assigned routes with no trouble.”
V was blinking, checking her watch. A simple but sleek design, an all-black face with no numbers or markings, with gold hands. It was a quarter to one.
She had this watch during the Eastside raid. She had it with her.
I really am a sentimental one.
She looked up and saw D, with her trademark grin. She gave her a nod.
“You’re late, Dor-,” V said.
“That’s my grandmother’s name,” D said. “Operation was a success, we’re off to Wanderland, now. We can do whatever we want. Play chess all day, feed our curious appetites, whatever. We never have to grow up. So sit back, relax, and enjoy yourself, it’s about to get extra fun.”
D smiled wider.
“Or, would you rather have something to drink?”
She looked pleased with herself for making the various references.
The girl managed to return one of her own, deciding to indulge her. It didn’t feel forced.
“Something sweet, please,” Wendy said.