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Days of sadness and joy
The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the Lord: but the words of the pure are pleasant words.
The sun was low in the sky but had not quite set by the time we got back to Monica and Steven. They were sitting a bit closer than they were when I left them. I hoped they hadn’t been sitting there all day. I saw the half empty bottle of Kokanee beside her chair. I wished I hadn’t come back.
Monica saw my look. “I only had this.” She held up the bottle. “Who’s this?” she motioned to Julius.
After the whole meet-and-greet thing, Steven spoke up. “Monica and I were just thinking about taking my boat out for a bit. Do you kids want to come?”
Kids. I’m not a child, I wanted to tell him. And neither was Julius. Definitely not…”Do you want to?” I didn’t really want to, but my mom would probably be asking what Monica and I did today, and it wouldn’t sound too good if she told her that I hung around with some strange boy. That would not be good for Operation: Iris. Especially not if she had seen the news yesterday.
“Sounds like fun.”
I forced a smile for Steven and Monica. “Yeah. Thanks.”
At the dock, Steven backed the shiny red motor boat into the water, then he and Julius helped Monica and I in. I sat down shakily. The rocking motion of the motor boat was nothing like the smooth movement of the cruises I had been on or the yacht we had in Reno. I wasn’t sure if I liked it or not.
There were two levels to the boat. Julius took my hand and helped me up to the top while Monica stayed with Steven at the steering wheel thing. “This is amazing. I wish I had a boat.”
No you don’t, I thought as we tipped to the side. I definitely did not like this. “I think I’m going to be sick.”
The sun setting on the water made it seem like we were riding on liquid gold. It set Julius’s hair on fire, and brought out the gold tones in his dark skin. With his bare, sculpted chest and dark brooding eyes, he looked like some painting of an ancient war lord. He gazed at the sunset with untold reverence. “are you glad you came now?” he murmured to me, lips almost right at my ear. I am now, I wanted to tell him. but I only nodded.
I was locked in the moment with him. I never would have paid attention to stuff like this before I met him. despite his movie-star good looks, he was deeper than most guys, and he wasn’t hard to figure out. He was different. It wasn’t hard to fall for him in one day.
“Oh, look!” Monica shrieked. “Oh, my gosh, are those dolphins? Oh my gosh, they are.”
I rushed to the rail. Keeping a safe distance from the humming boat, they were sleek and shimmering, catching the last rays of sun and dragging them to the bottom of the sea. There were four of them. They laughed, playing, like children. The amazing creatures dipped in and out, like threads on a weaver’s loom. They were not anything like in the movies; they were real.
“Do you really ride dolphins?” I asked Julius.
He grinned. “Nah. I’m not that cruel. But look, there’s my favourite one.”
The largest dolphin swam right up to the boat, while the others swam circles far away. Julius reached out his hand, and it leaped right up and seemed to hover in the air. Julius stroked its long body before it dove back in. It chattered at him, and he looked to see my reaction.
We watched them until they disappeared. By then the sky was dark and the stars were out; they were so bright, out in the middle of the ocean.
“Steven wants to set off fireworks. I came up here to warn you.” Monica popped her head over the ladder.
“Is that legal?”
Monica shrugged. “We don’t study that at school.”
I raised my eyebrows, but didn’t say anything. Only someone like Steven would want to set fireworks off a motorboat.
They exploded in the sky like flowers, and then shimmered when they disappeared. We were far away from the shore, but I could hear the collective roar rise from the late-night beach goers. Julius didn’t seem that impressed. He couldn’t seem to take his eyes off me. He leaned over the railing, his face illuminated by the sparkling fireworks. “We can’t see the stars anymore,” he commented. Then he smiled and wrapped an arm around me. “But this is okay, too.”
Yes. I leaned my head on his chest. This was definitely okay.
The Train Station and the Little Red Dress
Friday, June 6th, day 6
But he himself went a days journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree: and he requested for himself that he might die and said, It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am not better than my fathers.
—1st Kings 19:4
My mother always said I was crazy, but I never really believed her until now. I must have been crazy to think it would be fun to ride on a subway train. We were never allowed to as children; the stories that circulated our home when relatives stayed to visit were never pleasant ones. For some reason, every relation that has ever come to our house had a story about the horrors of subways.
I just couldn’t believe that they were true. I mean, its an underground train. What could be better than an underground train?
My Aunt Tia’s words came back to me as I looked around the station: “Never touch the poles that hold the place up; you never know what could have been there.” I had pictured rats, scurrying up to escape the feet of crowds, and I knew that at least one warming would stick in my mind when I got the chance to try the subway.
Now, when I could see the dank station for what it was, I caught sight of the man leaning up against the metal pole, holding on to it with his bear hands as if he was tired. But as I watched, the man brought his fingers to his lips, sucked on them for a bit, and then put them back.
I stared at him, as he repeated the move. Nobody seemed to notice him except me, and I was thanking Tia with all my heart for her warning. My train wasn’t due for another ten minutes. I could leave now and get my ticket refunded. Or just leave.
Maybe the actual train part won’t be so bad, I told myself. It was an underground train, after all. The reminder didn’t sooth me. Everything that couldn’t find a place on the earth’s surface went underground. Like worms. And rats. And crazy people who had nothing better to do than lick germs off poles.
Someone tapped my arm. It’s probably just somebody asking for directions again, I thought with annoyance. Did I look like an information board? I turned around, about to tell them that, no, I had no idea where station six was, or where the bathroom is, or where you can exchange American currency for Dan Caenic.
But it was the Man Who Tastes Poles.
Slowly, I looked at my arm, then at him. he had a dirty face, dirty hair, and dirty clothes. And dirty fingers. My gaze dropped back to my bare arm. I expected to see green welts bubbling up. I turned a cautious and not very friendly smile down to him. “Yes?”
He smiled in a dopey way. “You have beautiful eyes,” he drawled.
I turned and half-ran for the ladies room.
Ew, ew, ew, I thought as I scrubbed frantically. He couldn’t have seen my eyes. My sunglasses were custom made and darker than midnight. Oh, ew. He had touched me. he had licked a pole and then touched me.
When I was done washing my entire left arm and my hands, I had seven minutes left till my train would arrive. I headed to the vending machine I had seen earlier and bought myself a raspberry soda.
“Stop! What are you doing?” screamed a voice from behind me.
“What’s wrong?” I shouted back, looking around frantically. There was a plump, short man standing at the other vending machine. He was yelling at me. “What’s the matter?”
“Stop!” he said again. he was just staring at me, yelling.
“What are you doing?”
“I was just getting a soda!” Was there something wrong with the soda? Or was I missing something about subway station vending machines?
“Stop! What are you doing?”
The man hadn’t moved from his spot. Only his mouth was moving. Now I was freaked out. Why was he repeating himself? I drew the conclusion that he was actually crazy. Everybody here was. I should’ve listened when they told me subways were not fun.
“Stop 14256357, with service to: West Central Tianam has now arrived. All passengers please make your way to Gate Six, station one.”
That was my train. Trying not to shake, I boarded the train with the other passengers. I still have no idea why I didn’t turn back while I still could. I guess I was determined to ride the stupid train to the end, to prove that I could do it. I sat down at the very front, so I could get out first. A woman with long brown hair took the seat next to mine. The doors closed without a sound. The train began its slow departure from the station.
As the train began to pick up speed, the lights flew by faster and faster. At the first bend, the people standing swayed slightly. I wondered how they could stand that way. I was almost falling over while sitting down. The speed was exhilarating. It made the crazy people at the station almost worth it. not quite, but almost.
It took me a while to realize that my seatmate with the long brown hair was staring at me, when I glanced at her once, to see if she was enjoying this as much as I was. She was staring at me with wide, unblinking eyes. I looked away. She probably just thought she recognized me. nothing wrong in that.
Now I had that feeling of being watched, along with knowing that I was being watched. My instincts were telling me to look, but common sense told me there was no point. Instinct won over. I looked. Her eyes widened, impossibly, and she just kept on not blinking, or moving in anyway.
Hadn’t anybody ever told her it was rude to stare?
Ten minutes left to go. One thing was for sure, when I was old and grey and I went to visit my grandchildren at Christmas, I would be sharing my own stories about the horrors of the subway train. Oh, and one more thing.
I would never do this ever again.
I didn’t dare stop to even breathe as I ran from the station. When I finally reached my destination, Old West Mall, I was panting. For more reasons than one.
I had only ever been to this mall once, when my mother had insisted I try out to be an Old West Mall Model. They took me on the spot; I hadn’t even had to go through the whole tryout thing. They had appointed me mentor for the other girls. The mall didn’t look much different, now, from then, except that there were new posters on the wall, with different girls than that year. One poster, though, was the same: the one of me in the lime green prom dress. In the floor-to-ceiling poster, my back was to the camera and I was looking over my shoulder. There was a bouquet of roses in one hand, and the other was toying with the silver cross at my throat. My hair rippled down my back in white-gold waves. The dress flowed along my body, and ended in a short train.
That poster was at least two years old. I wondered when they were going to realize that people wanted something new to look at. Given, I had sworn I would never model for them again, but still, they could photo-shop some other picture and at least put different clothes on me. Though it did show a sort of devotion that made me feel special.
I couldn’t stand and stare at myself all day, or people might start making comparisons. Lifting the hood on my pink hoodie, I kept walking. My shoulders were slumped and my head ducked so I wouldn’t seem so tall, a bad habit that Joe had broken me of when I first started. Now it was helpful.
I browsed through the jewellery stores, not finding a single thing that would do. I was looking for something for my mother, to try and sucker her into letting me go to Iris. Maybe a pretty bracelet or something. I had chosen this mall for the express purpose that most of the jewellers sold the chunky, contemporary stuff that my mother seemed to like so much. I was disappointed in them. As I was heading out to call Evela to come pick me up, I passed Iris International, a new add-on to the mall. Gazing at the title with longing, I caught sight of the dress.
Deep red with a pink sash, it was supposed reach about midway down your calf; the skirt was corrugated and would swing out when I twirled. A pink fedora and a matching shawl went with it. It was the perfect dress, and I had to have it; a strange pull lured me into the store.
It fit, like no other dress I had ever worn. I twirled and smoothed it into place, piling my hair in different ways to match it. it could’ve passed as a flashy summer dress or a coquettish party dress, or maybe even a dress to go on a date in. Julius? Yes, when he asked me out, I would wear this dress.
When I twisted one more time to look at myself from another angle, something plinked to the ground. I bent to retrieve it. it was a cross, smooth, made of pure gold, with a diamond in the centre. The silver chain that it hung on was beautifully braided, and perfectly intact. Engraved on the back were the words To my beloved sister, with love from her brother. May Jesus love you more. It was the cross I had ripped from my neck and thrown in the river.
“I closed my eyes so that I could not see; when he locked up his heart through away the key.” The voice was impossibly sweet and sad. “He slipped through my fingers like water, so thin, and then he was gone like a breath on the wind…” like that night, the voice rose and rose, like a helium balloon, and it seemed to fill the entire store and be coming from every direction.
There was no way I could find the woman in white like that.
“How’s it fitting you, Miss?” the woman outside the change room door asked. The voice abruptly cut off, replaced by Pitbull’s Day N Night.
“Um, great,” I answered. “I think I’ll take it.” changing quickly, I shoved the cross in my hoodie pocket.
There was no line up. The woman behind the counter took my credit card with a professional smile. “Is that all you’ll be purchasing today?”
I nodded without seeing her.
“Miss, you’re card doesn’t seem to be working.”
“I think it’s been cancelled.”
I shook my head. “That’s not possible. Can you try again, please?” She gave me a crabby look, and this time the swiping of the card was accompanied by a harsh beep.
“How can my card have been cancelled?” I wondered out loud.
“I’m sorry. I’m afraid I’m going to have to put this back.”
I stood and watched as she took back my beautiful dress, my shawl and my hat. She took out a pair of scissors, and cut my card into pieces. She gave me what she probably thought was an apologetic smile, and said, “Next!” A real line had gathered. Everybody was looking at me.
Never in my life had I been more grateful for a holey sweater and a pair of dark sunglasses.
In the mall parking lot, I pounded out my mother’s number on my phone.
“Yes, Hanna?” there was lots of noise in the background. I could barely hear what she was saying.
“Where are you, Mom?”
“Just a minute.” There was a shuffling noise, like she was brushing her hands on fabric. “We’re in Montego Bay, at the beach.”
“You’re in Jamaica? Why?”
“Your father decided I needed a break. You know how he gets. We took a cruise.” Typical. Send me away and then go on a random holiday.
“There’s something wrong with my credit card. It doesn’t work. The woman said it was cancelled.”
“Oh. That. I cancelled it, hon.”
I blinked. “Why?” It was because of her that my card got snapped in half?
“I saw the news on Tuesday, Hanuara. I’m not impressed.” Her tone turned serious.
“Mom! That wasn’t my fault.” That was the best argument I could come up with. My face was an open book when I wasn’t posing; my mother could probably have seen how much I was enjoying that stupid kiss. Stupid Lila. Stupid media chain. Stupid world.
“It’s not negotiable. You’re grounded from all your cards, and I blocked your bank account, too. So don’t even go there.”
Blood boiled in my face. “You can’t ship me here and then cancel all my money, Mother. That’s not fair and you know it. All I wanted to buy was a dress.” And a hat, and a shawl, oh, and maybe some earrings to go with that…
“Ask Monica. I’m sure she’ll get it for you. Her cards still work.” I swear I could hear her smirk.
“I’m not going to ask Monica for a dress.”
“Than I guess you’re not getting a dress.” Her tone was final, like that dreaded credit card snip.
This was ridiculous. This was unheard of. I was Hanuara Maria Fei-Ling, for crying out loud. I was a prodigy supermodel-on-the-rise. But now I had no money, and no little red dress. I was supposed to be unstoppable, a force of nature itself. Or at least that was what they told me.
We’ll see who’s the one smirking.
The picture of me on the wall seemed to be applauding my decision as I marched back in. The snarky woman looked up from her computer as I strode to the counter.
“What would you like now?” she said with forced politeness. I let my gaze trail over her casually. She was wearing a nametag: Priscilla.
There was no one else in the store; I flipped back my hood and yanked off my shades. The woman’s jaw dropped. I cut her off before she could speak. “Look, about that dress?” I spoke in a low voice. “I know my credit is nil, but I spoke with my associates, and we were wondering if I might be able to get a little discount. You know, since I was asked to be in the Equinox show and all? It would make my day so much easier.” I gave her my smile.
“H-Hanuara,” she stuttered, rising to her feet to look way up at me. “I didn’t realize it was you.” She blubbered like a fish for a while. I looked pointedly at my watch and frowned at her. “Right away, Miss. Right away. My apologies, Miss.” She stumbled over herself to get my dress, hat and shawl. “My humblest and most sincere apologies, Miss Fei-Ling. Not only will I give you a discount, you can have everything for free. Take it.” she shoved the bag at me with trembling fingers. I smiled darkly.
“Thank you, Priscilla. Oh, and one more thing?” I pulled my hood and sunglasses back on. “I was never here.”
With the shopping bag beside me in Monica’s limo, I flipped the golden cross in a slow circle. Just like the handprint in the window, the most obvious question was how it had gotten there. I had, after all, thrown it in the river.]
Or had I?
The realization hit me like a slap. Of course. I had been dreaming when I had seen the woman, and thrown the cross. I was such a vivid dreamer back then I sometimes navigated the house in my sleep. How easy would it be to rip a cross off my neck? I probably hadn’t thrown it in the first place.
But then how had it gotten here, after all these years? And why did it just fall out in the changing room? Did that mean I had somehow fallen asleep in the change room when I heard the singing? No, that was due to a vivid imagination, a hallucination triggered by what the cross represented.
Then explain the handprint, that stupid voice in the back of my head put in his two cents worth.
That’s not what I’m talking about right now. And anyway, I was half-asleep when I saw that too.
No you weren’t. You were getting dressed.
I thought about that, and came up with a diplomatic response: Shut up.
It was true, though. Too much weird stuff had been going on since I got here. The cross was just part of it.
But wait, the little voice piped up again, you know that weird stuff started happening on that night—the night of Adam’s murder. Remember the woman in white?
Shut up, I wanted to scream. I don’t want to remember the woman in white! I didn’t want to remember that day at all. And that was a dream, dopey. What were we just talking about?
But holding the cross in my hands brought it back again. Adam’s open chest, his still heart, my last cold words to him. I had been so caught up in myself that I couldn’t take one second and just look. My brother had to pay with his life.
I pulled my legs onto the seat, and dropped my head on my knees.
“We’re here, Miss Hanuara,” Evela parked the limo in the private parkade.
I lifted my tear washed face and hiccupped. North-East Eastern International Airport. I dropped the cross in my shopping bag before getting out.
Evela stayed in the car. I checked my makeup, and tried to get rid of the splotchy tone my skin had. It didn’t work, but I would be wearing wide sunglasses anyway. This whole cloak-and-daggers disguise thing was really coming in handy.
The bright, airy airport was full because it was Friday. I checked the arrival times. The plane I was waiting for wasn’t due to arrive for ten minutes. plus the time it would take him to get his bags and stuff.
“Pringle? Is that you?”
I whirled around. I recognized that voice, even after all these years; he was even using my pseudonym. Or my strange nickname, depending on how you look at it. “Christopher!”
He broke into a jog. His caramel coloured hair fell in his eyes. Instead of the gangly fifteen year-old boy he had been when I last saw him, he was now an adult, a man of eighteen years. Tears of joy threatened to spill over. It had been such a long time.
He dropped his suitcase and swept me up in his now strong and manly arms, and spun in a circle. “What are you doing here?” I asked, laughing breathlessly. “I thought your plane wasn’t due till six.” I didn’t let go of his hands as I beamed up at him. he was taller than me now, something he had always fantasized about.
“We got in early. I’m not quite sure why. I slept most of the time. You know its still midnight in Alberta, right?” his smile hadn’t changed. People gazed curiously when they heard his Canadian accent.
I hugged him again. “I’m so glad you’re here,” I murmured into his chest. “I’ve missed you.”
“I’ve missed you too. You could have called, you know.” He looked away from me.
“I—I wanted to, I mean I tried, but…” I tugged a strand of hair out.
Christopher patted my shoulder. “Hey, it’s fine. I just wondered, you know? But how are you doing, with…you know, the accident?” He brushed a hand through his hair, a nervous habit he always had.
“I’m fine, Chris.” I couldn’t quite keep the slight tremor out of my voice. To change the subject, I said: “You’re huge now, you know that?”
He looked a bit suspicious. “Yeah. You didn’t think you’d ever be the short one, did you? Hah!” I rolled my eyes. He pushed me back so he could look at me better. “You’re beautiful now. I almost didn’t recognize you with your hat and all. How’s business?” I looped my arm through his as we walked to the exit.
“What? You haven’t been stalking me on twitter or something?”
“You have twitter?”
“No. But it’s going good, I guess. Too many people recognize me, though. Sometimes it’s just better to not be seen.” I thought of Lila Benzik.
“Don’t tell me you’re getting bored of all this fame and glamour.” His look was one of mock horror.
We got to the limo. Evela took Christopher’s bags, without a word. Once Christopher and I were strapped in, he turned to me with his lopsided grin. “Now, its time for some real catching up.”
Evela looked relieved when we pulled up. Her task was done; now she just had to trust that I would keep my side of our agreement and not relay her mistake to my parents. I hadn’t really planned on ratting her out either way, but I had gotten what I wanted. The house seemed empty. It felt so still, like not a breath had ever been breathed there. I imagined walking in to find Monica sprawled on the floor. Christopher commented on how nice the place was. I called out to Monica that I had brought a friend over.
“Your room’s this way.” It was right across from mine; smaller than my room, light green walls. The bed was moderate and the dresser was wooden.
“Nice room,” Christopher said, tossing his suitcase on the bed. He yawned big and wide. “Especially the bed.” He plopped down, kicking off his shoes and lacing his fingers behind his head.
“No napping.” I pinched his arm.
Monica stood in the doorway, in a light-pink floral evening dress that made her black hair look like midnight. With a sleepy smile, Christopher rose from the bed and strode to take her hand. “Hey, Monica. You haven’t changed a bit. Thanks for letting me stay here, by the way. I really appreciate it.” she shot me a look, and I tried not to bite my lip.
“You’re very welcome, Chris. Any time, you know that. But would it be okay if I stole Mary for a minute?” she motioned to me, her expression unreadable. I followed her out to the downstairs hallway. She turned on me, anger flashing in her brown eyes. “What is he doing here?” she hissed.
I shrugged as diplomatically as I could. “I got bored here. Is it a problem?”
“What do you think mom is going to say about this?” she put her hands on her hips.
“Why? Are you going to tell her or something? He’s only staying for the weekend.”
She let out a breath and raked her hand through her hair. “You know what, Mary? Just do what you want, okay? I don’t care anymore.” She shook her head and walked away.
“Says the woman who sleeps with her sherry,” I muttered.
Christopher sat up quickly when I came in. The sun was shining in the room, illuminating the walls. Christopher had his own room in our house in Alberta. He was part of our family. I didn’t know what Monica’s problem was. It wasn’t like he was staying for a month; he would be gone the day after tomorrow. But I couldn’t think of that now. We were here to have fun, something I had been taking for granted.
I moved the Bible he had been reading to the nightstand and crawled up to lay against him, like we did when we were kids sleeping out in my tent. “What do you want to do now?” I asked him.
He considered for a minute, his arm draped around me. I knew his girlfriend Amy or Julius would not be particularly pleased to see us like this, but it wasn’t like we were doing anything wrong.
“Is this place really a Christian country? Like another Jerusalem or something?”
“I guess you could say that. at least, the entire city shuts down on Sabbath and they have holidays to remember Christian martyrs and stuff. They don’t sell cigarettes, booze, and stuff like that.” even though Monica seems to find some all the time. “It’s even shaped like a cross. The laws here come straight out of the Bible. Once a man was hung for adultery. It’s pretty intense.”
“That must be pretty cool.”
“I guess.” I looked away.
We decided on a tour of Tianam. The city is divided into nine sectors, which are divided by four. Monica lives in the North-Eastern sector, and the Eastern mini-sector. Which means she lives in North-East Eastern Tianam. I explained the division to Christopher as best as I could as we navigated the city. He was in the same state of confusion I had been in. The layout was strange but helpful, when you were trying to find your way around. I told him about the stupid subway I had been on before he came and he laughed. He said it was an amazing place.
He was silent for a couple minutes. We kicked stones out of our way at the park in South Central. “Adam would have really like this place, wouldn’t he?”
I went rigid. “Sure,” I said, scrambling to change the subject. I couldn’t look at him.
“I miss him, Hanuara. A lot.” His voice hitched. I stopped cold. His face was tight, his eyelashes concealing his eyes. I reached up and laid my hand on his cheek, gazing at him until he looked at me. his pain was my pain; I understood better than almost anyone. Adam had been Chris’s brother too. The three of us were best friends; we were there for Christopher when his parents got divorced; they brought flowers to my hospital room when I broke my toe; we had stood up for Adam when he got taunted in kindergarten for speaking the name of God. We had been through everything together, but that had changed. We would both give anything to get it all back.
I wrapped my arms around him. “I miss him, too, Chris. I miss him too.”
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~ Romans 15:13