Hey, kids! It’s Thursday, that means another installment of THE GIRL WHO WOULD BE KING.
You can download The Girl Who Would Be King Chapters 7 & 8.
You can download The Girl Who Would Be King Chapters 1 – 8.
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I hit the ground and go into a crouch, my hands and feet sinking slightly into the soft ground. The feeling of being alive doesn’t leave me. In fact, as the mud seeps into my shoes and through my fingers I feel somehow deeply connected to not just the earth, but to everything. The world feels big and I feel a part of it in some important unspoken way. I stay there for a long while, just feeling.
When I finally move again I put everything back to how it was and sneak back in the kitchen door and lock it up. Upstairs I take off all my clothes, careful to put both my mother’s bracelet and Jenny’s locket on the sink edge, and rinse the clothes and my shoes in the sink, so that they are only wet and not dirty. I wash my busted up hands, wincing as the water runs into the tears where the bricks cut into my knuckles. I clean off my body and then both my bracelet and Jenny’s locket. Looking inside of Jenny’s locket I see what was more important to her than anything. The locket has two pictures that are by some miracle barely damaged. They look like they could be her parents. I think of all the things I would do if only I could have a picture of my parents and Jasper.
I look up and catch a glimpse of myself in the dark mirror. I’m always shocked by how much I look like my mother – the same long arms and legs, broad shoulders, red hair, pale skin, and smattering of freckles. My eyes are dark blue like hers but my mouth is a little wider and if I grow any taller I think I’ll be taller too. I guess if I can’t have a picture it’s nice to carry her around on my face. I just wish there was some of my father in there too.
When I go back into the sleeping room I put my clothes under the bed, hoping they’ll dry a little before morning, and the last thing I do before I crawl into bed is place Jenny’s locket in her sleeping hand, cupped perfectly, as if waiting for it. I think I won’t be able to sleep with all the excitement of the night and worry about having to hide my damaged hands from the staff, but my body takes over and I’m asleep almost instantly.
I dream of my mother.
It’s the first night since my parents died that I don’t dream about the accident and I’ve never been happier to have a different dream. But the dream is confusing. She’s just as I remember her, looking like me, but far more beautiful. The same deep red slightly gold hair and dark blue eyes, the same long strong bones that I’ve been slowly growing into these past years. She’s tall and slim, but built strong, rather than delicate. Her skin seems delicate though, like clean sheets of paper sewn together.
I’m pushing on her in the dream to hold me, to keep me, to love me, but she keeps slipping away from me; gently, like a loving mother to an impatient child, but there’s an insistence in it that worries me. It feels like there’s a purpose behind it, rather than just some casual thing my head would imagine. She’s shaking her head at me softly, and she looks, not sad, but concerned. She puts a hand on my shoulder, as if to steady me, to link us; I don’t know why because I’m too busy drinking in her smell. I ask her dozens of questions that all sound like ‘why.’ She cannot hear me, or she chooses not to answer. Her eyes become wild, frantically searching blank horizons around us for something. Occasionally she looks back at me as if to comfort me, but there is no comfort in the worry that lines her face.
Finally her distance gets to me in the dream, the blind happiness of seeing her before me is overrun with the frustration that she will not hold me, will not take me in, will not speak to me. My face starts to crumble, emotion breaking through, despite my efforts to contain it, and my eyes flush wet with salty tears. I haven’t cried since the last time I saw her. It angers me that I’m incapable of crying without her around, and that she should elicit such a reaction in me. I don’t want tears to be what I feel when she is here; I want it to be love, and maybe peace.
But there is no peace here.
She leans down to me, taking my shoulders in her hands, as if sensing my frustration. Believing I have finally gotten her attention I begin to pout, frustrated by the dream, and for my role in it all, but convinced that my childlike behavior is finally forcing her to acknowledge me.
But then I see.
I see what it is that is causing her face to knit up with worry. Behind her a giant pulsing river threatens to overflow and there is a car on fire. On the horizon at the very edge of my vision I see wolves running in a long silvery line and a lonely cow with big soulful eyes stares at me from beneath a charred tree. The images make no sense. The wind kicks up, dust and dirt swirling around our feet, rising and stinging my arms in its frenzy. A storm builds all around us.
She tries to speak to me, but no words come out, just her lips moving, with no sound, as if someone has forgotten her soundtrack. One of the words lost on her lips looks like ‘coming’. She looks behind her and turns back to me and mouths it again. COMING. I look behind her to better see what might be coming, but all I see is desert and the strange thunderstorm building. Cracked barren ground stretches for miles, darkening fast with the clouds. Lighting strikes, light up the sky like day for moments in disorienting blasts. They come one after another with a relentlessness that makes me wince. The sky seems to cry out as it pulls itself apart, breaking into thousands of storms. Even the storms themselves seem confused and unsure. The wind blows strands of my mother’s hair into her face. She turns to me again in the wind and screams at me without sound.
Behind her, from the clouds above us emerges a giant black bird – a crow maybe – and she flies above me, nearly swiping my face with her inky black wing. I watch her transfixed. The lightning in the distance causes a glistening flicker on her thick body. I watch her, almost unaware of my mother’s presence now, and she splits into three birds with a crack of thunder. They circle above me as if preparing to feast on my limbs, alive or dead. The rain begins in earnest now, drops falling into my eyes as the storm intensifies. The sky darkens another shade and the crows split again, and again, and again, until they are hundreds, flying above me like a jet-black undulating carpet. It looks like something from a horror movie, but I’m unafraid. I feel my mother’s fingers taking my hand and I look at her finally, but she’s as transfixed by the bird sky as I am. I look back to the birds and feel part of them – part of something I don’t understand as we fly with great purpose toward the desert storm. Me linked with the birds, the birds linked with me. I don’t want to fly into the storm but I don’t get the feeling I have a choice.
I wake to the sound of crying. Not my own, even though the tears and blown sand from the dream are still choking my throat. I look at Jenny to see her crying quietly, the locket pressed to her chest. She looks up at me suddenly, her eyes wet with relief and happiness. She knows. I don’t know how she knows it was me, but she does. I smile at her, silently confirming her suspicions. She smiles back as if to assure me that my secret is safe with her. Eventually her friends wake at her sniffling and come to see what’s wrong. They see the locket and their chatter begins. Jenny keeps looking at me through their crowding bodies. I know I’ve made an ally. I don’t think it will change how my life is here, but it’s comforting in some small way. And my chest swells with an emotion I’m not familiar with…happiness? Pride? Comfort? I’m not sure what it is, but I suddenly feel compelled to do things that will make me feel this way all the time, which gives me pause, as that seems a little dangerous too. Surely it is no coincidence that the dream of my mother has come only after my good act. But what about the storm on the horizon she’s clearly trying to warn me about…does that come only if I keep doing these things…or does it come regardless? What is it that’s coming? For the first time in my life I have a true sense of something greater than myself, a larger picture that I never imagined existed. I feel like I’m getting just the tiniest taste of it, and it’s both thrilling and frightening.
I come in wearing street clothes, but with my sweet cat suit on underneath, just in case. I left my new necklace in my motel room this time. Felice motions me over to a table with four other guys. Two of them are old; one Spanish looking and one an average white guy with a big gut, the other two have dark hair and their backs to me. I walk up to the table and Felice smiles at me. “This is her,” she says to the four men, who seem not the least bit impressed. The two who had their backs to me are younger than the other two, and the youngest is surprisingly cute, which makes me oddly nervous.
“What’s your name?” the white guy with the gut asks.
“Lola,” I say. The entire group chuckles. I really don’t know what the hell people think is so damn funny about my name, but I get this reaction a lot. “You got a problem with my name?” I ask, crossing my arms. Felice stands up.
“No, no,” she gestures to her seat. “Sit down, I’ll get you a drink, what do you want?”
“A beer is fine,” I say, pretending I drink beers everyday and not taking the offered seat. She leaves and I look at the white guy that asked me my name. “What’s your name?”
“Melvin,” he says with a straight face. I crinkle my nose.
“And you’re making fun of my name? Jeezus.” This causes everyone to stop smiling and the entire tone of the table changes. The older Spanish fellow breaks the silence.
“Felice tells us you have a pretty impressive necklace that you stole from that jewelry store last night…you got a crew that help you with that?” Felice returns to the table and gives me the beer. I take a drink before answering. It tastes bitter; it’s actually kinda terrible.
“No. I work alone.”
“You’re a pretty young thing to be working on your own, don’t you think?” asks the less cute of the two younger guys.
“No. I don’t think,” I say wiping my mouth. This causes the youngest and cutest one to chuckle again.
“I’ll bet,” says Melvin looking me up and down. I look at him with the hardest look I can come up with and then shrug my shoulders like I don’t care what he thinks.
“It seems to be working out pretty well so far,” I say. The table gets silent. I drink the rest of my beer as fast as I can. “Actually, I don’t even know what I’m doing here. I don’t need to be grilled by a bunch of nobodies.” I walk away while the rest of the table argues, Felice asking why they are such morons and rambling on about something involving me and decoys, which I don’t like the sound of. As I walk back into the Nevada night, the cute one follows me.
“No,” I say, not easing up on my pace.
“Lola, c’mon…hold up.” He jogs the rest of the distance between us and I roll my eyes and sigh heavily so he knows he has inconvenienced me greatly before slouching my shoulders and stopping.
“What the hell do you want?” I ask. Looking directly into his eyes though I suddenly regret throwing the ‘hell’ in there, he’s exceptionally cute.
“Don’t take them too seriously, y’know they just don’t love outsiders. I think you should come back in there. Felice thinks you’ve got some talent.”
“And why do you care what Felice says?”
“She’s my sister, and she’s pretty smart too. Been playing the game longer than me. She got me into it actually…she’s not so bad. She thinks you’d be an asset.”
“I don’t think so; I’m not too into being a decoy anyway, not my style,” I say, looking off into the distance, trying to seem detached. He does a double take.
“How did you hear – ?” he trails off looking at the restaurant and then back at me.
“Let’s just say, your sister isn’t wrong, I have some talent,” I cross my arms over my chest trying to look tough and then change my mind and put them on my hips. “What’s your name anyway?”
“Alright, see you Adrian. Good luck.”
“Wait,” he says. I stop, again.
“What already?” I ask, exasperated.
“We won’t go back in there, but come get a coffee with me,” he says, flashing a lopsided and crazy charming smile at me. This softens me a bit. Nobody has ever asked me to coffee before.
“Alright. But just coffee.” It seems like the right thing to say. He smiles the cute crooked smile again and we walk side by side towards a coffee shop a few blocks away. My hand brushes his once and the electric feeling that pulses through me is new too. It is a nice kind of new though, unlike most crap in my life.
Over coffee I decide Adrian is the most attractive person I’ve ever seen in real life. I myself am not particularly pretty, just kind of normal pretty, maybe. I’ve come to accept this, though I secretly hope that with age I will become prettier, beautiful even. But even at normal pretty I’m kind of extraordinary to look at; even I know that. At 16 I’m already almost 5’10” and I have this really long lithe body and slender legs. I don’t have much in the boobs department, but the shape of my body is pretty, and I have this long wild curly-ish dark blonde hair that men are always ogling. I have big light blue eyes, which I think make me look kind of innocent, which works to my advantage often enough, and I have a nice mouth, though my teeth are not as straight as I’d like. I’d begged Delia for braces one year when I realized there could be something done about the teeth, but she’d laughed herself practically into a coma at the idea that I wanted to put metal inside my mouth for a couple years.
Adrian had either put metal in his mouth, or just been really really lucky in the genetics department, because though his smile is a bit lopsided in an adorably cute way, his teeth are perfect, like a movie star.
We slide into a vinyl booth at an all-night diner two blocks away and order coffee and pie. I don’t know why Adrian gets pie, but I get it in the hopes that it will cover up the flavor of the coffee. The waitress has left and we’re sitting there staring, the silence heavy between us and I’m beginning to think this was a mistake despite his movie-star smile and charm.
“So what’s your deal Lola?” he says suddenly, but not unkindly.
“My deal?” I echo lamely.
“Yeah, you got balls of steel or what…?” he trails off. But I have no idea what he’s freaking talking about so I wait for more. “I’ve never seen anyone stand up to Melvin like that…even Felice is a little bit afraid of him. I once saw a dude piss himself after getting yelled at by Melvin,” Adrian says, chuckling lightly at the memory. The waitress sets down our coffee and pie and leaves.
“Really? Hmm. I wasn’t that impressed,” I say, taking a sip of my coffee. “He looks like someone’s loser uncle that drank about a thousand six packs too many and likes to touch little kids for fun.” I finish. Adrian laughs, nearly losing a mouthful of coffee back into the cup.
“Balls of steel it is then,” he says, and then adds. “But don’t ever say that to his face…seriously,” he says, suddenly looking a quite serious and a bit pained. We sit there for another long moment, sizing each other up. He’s definitely handsome. I never thought a guy as good looking as Adrian would ever be interested in me, superpowers or no, but he is; I can tell from the way his heart beats. The way his pupils dilate. It feels like hunting, sitting there with him. I feel like the hunter now, but I’m worried about falling in love with him. Won’t that then make me the prey? Regardless, I suppress this strong desire to taste him. Literally to just like reach out and lick his cheek. I imagine it would taste bittersweet. People all have different flavors to me. Felice, tastes salty, almost briny to my senses, while Melvin feels rancid, like something past the expiration date. There’s something else about Adrian. Vibes or pheromones or something that he’s giving off. Something refreshing and new. That’s it. New. He feels new. Like a clean sheet of paper with no mistakes. It’s tempting as all get out. I’m resisting it, but so far it’s kicking my ass, and it’s only been like, an hour since I met him. I don’t want to fall for this guy. This would be a very inconvenient time to fall in love. I have so much to do, and I never put love on the list. I don’t know how to insulate myself from it. Or protect myself from it if it catches me.
“So Lola,” he says, finally breaking the silence. “I gotta ask, how old are you?”
I gulp hard on my pie. I’m not sure whether to lie or not. At the last second I decide not to, I don’t know why, “Sixteen. How old are you?”
He smiles broadly, “Seventeen.” I can tell we’re both relieved and there’s a long pause between us, “I’m sorry I laughed at your name,” he finally says.
“Oh, I forgot all about that …” And I’m not lying this time either, I did forget. Who could remember something silly like that when you’ve got Adrian flirting with you. He looks into my eyes at that and I just know how things are going to go with us. It’s almost like I can read his mind, all his plans for us mapped out so clearly in his dark eyes. I swallow hard.
It’s going to be really hard to keep my head with that smile around all the time.
“So, I guess you better tell me about these people…your…what do you call them…crew, team…what?”
“Crew is as good a word as any I guess. They’re mostly good people. Melvin is a dick, but he’s definitely the brains and connections, and leader by default I guess, so there’s no helping that. Felice, my sister, she and Melvin met up years ago and have been working together ever since. Enrico is an old friend of Melvin’s; he’s a good guy. A little more even tempered than Melvin. Felice’s boyfriend Jorge also works with us. He’s a nice guy, a little dense sometimes, and definitely not super talented, but he’s trustworthy and stable, which is kind of key.”
“So what do you guys do…exactly.”
“Well…” he looks around cautiously to see if any of the scattered diners are listening, they’re not. “I mean, we do the kinda stuff that you did the other night. We usually go a little bigger than what you did…I mean in the sense of a bigger take, y’know since it’s got to be split five ways…”
“Well there was plenty of other stuff to take when I took the necklace,” I say. “It’s just the one thing I had my eye on.”
“I kind of love that about you.”
“What?” I blush
“Just that you pulled that heist all on your own just cause you saw a necklace you wanted. It shows that you know what you want. It’s good…it’s great.”
“Um…thanks,” I say, my face getting hotter by the moment, pushing my plate of mangled cherry pie bits away. Adrian does the same with his plate of blueberry.
“You want more coffee?” he asks, hand half up to motion to the waitress. I shake my head no, and he changes his gesture to one signaling for the check. On the way out the door he opens it for me, which seems sweet and almost old fashioned. Despite all his excess charm and nefarious occupation, he’s a good boy. I can sense it down to the hairs on the back of my neck. We stand for a moment outside and make plans to meet for a late lunch tomorrow. He kicks at the curb when it gets quiet again.
“Can I walk you home?” He asks suddenly, seeming shy. I stumble, because I desperately want him to, but I know it’s probably a mistake to let him know where I live.
“Oh, no, it’s not that far,” I stammer.
“I don’t mind.”
“Let’s just say goodbye here for now.”
“Okay,” he says, leaning into me. I honestly don’t know how to react. The everyday me would push him off, probably violently, but I’m finding a gentleness I didn’t even know I had. He puts his arm against a lamppost behind me, slightly pinning me, and nuzzles my neck. Which is…unexpected. It seems like both an animal thing to do and a sweet thing to do. And I like it, and him even more for it.
“Goodnight Lola,” he says into my hair. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow,” I say quietly under my breath as he walks away.
I wait until I’m sure he’s gone before heading back to my hotel. I take a roundabout way home, just in case, but never see anyone tailing me. When I get back to my room I fall into my bed feeling giddy like a schoolgirl I have never been, never had the chance to be, never thought I’d be. I know already that it’s probably a mistake to trust him, but I also know that resisting it will be pointless. What’s the worst thing that can happen anyway?
A few eggs get broken, right?
I don’t know if I’ve ever thought of the idea of actually being in love before. I mean, like anyone I have crushes. Being awesome has not made me immune to being a teenager…or something, but I still always kind of thought “love” sounded stupid.
But all those thoughts fly right out the goddamn window after that coffee with Adrian. Hell, after I first saw him and he smiled at me with that crooked smile of his, I knew I was in trouble.
I guess I just don’t want to get my heart broken.
Is that even possible?
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