By Efehan Elbi
Cover art by Jennie Ziemianin
Edited by Amanda Lucier
First eBook Edition
Published January, 2015
© 2014 Efehan Elbi.
All rights reserved.
Thank you to my initial readers: Kat, Mom, Pops, Aubs, Zak, Ilke, and Jennie, all of whom helped shape this book, and to Amanda, who quite literally re-shaped it once again.
And to you, of course. Thank you for diving in.
Soon you’ll be meeting Lain and Kallista. I hope you’ll hit it off.
Lain lay curled up in her bed, face against the wall, in her underwear and t-shirt, her hair a mess, her arm tingling. She blinked into the drywall, the cold surface pleasant against her face. She tried to imagine rising, getting ready for the world. The thought made her muscles ache. The blue glow of the falling eve wrapped her up and she let out a breath and fell back into sleep.
She awoke once more to the sound of her phone, an alarm, or maybe a call. She silenced it without looking.
It rang again and she opened her eyes, noticing the blood on the wall. She groaned, flopped onto her back, and felt beneath her nose. Yup, another nosebleed. Maybe it was a sign.
She pulled herself up and drifted over to the bathroom. Loaded up on toilet paper, she returned to her bed and contemplated the darkness outside her window, stuffing a wad into her nostril.
Her phone rang again and she checked the caller. Kalli. Silenced it again. Pulled up a list of her contacts and pressed David. Lain leaned back as the call connected, watching the twinkling lights taped in a swirl across her wall, curving up towards the ceiling.
Lain smiled. “Oh hey there. You’ll never guess what I’m doing.” She fingered her hair, flipping a reddish curl.
“Delaine! Could I call you back in a little bit?” On the line, the sound of footsteps. A shout, echoing.
“I guess. It’s just that, I was just thinking you could ask me what I was wearing, and I could ask you what part, like, you know, of you, you might be touching. And how it felt,” she smiled, “and, like, how hard —”
On the line, a crash, the clattering of metal.
Lain sat up straighter. “David, where are you?”
A thump and then a woosh. “What was that? I can’t quite hear you, Delaine! I may have to call you back!”
“Why?” she asked.
There was a scream, mortal pain. Gunshots. “I’m in the middle of an appointment. I’ll call you in an hour, okay?” The sounds of heavy impacts, muffled by the the signal, and then frantic footsteps. Heavy breathing, yells.
“Okay,” Lain replied.
What sounded like tires screeching as the line went dead. She looked at her phone. The signal meter claimed no cell signal.
Then it jumped back to halfway and a sudden barrage of texts arrived.
XOXO LAIN! Come to the party! XOXOXOXO
Come on! Come to the party!
Are you coming? <333
COME HERE, its fun!
>>>>> LAAAAINNNN <<<<
She sighed, and replied. Where?
U know. ;)
Yeah, Lain supposed she knew. Lain hopped off her bed, towards her dresser.
Lain stepped out of the house, breathing in the cold air. The snow was just starting to fall. She made her way through the flakes, all made to glow by the streetlamps above. Backlit snowfall, her favourite. Her headphones pulsed with electronic music. The city was quiet. A gentle place, everyone now tucked into cozy homes and warm buildings. The serenity made her smile.
Particles swirled around her, clearing her mind. She walked down an alley, found the perfect pile of fresh snow. Lain flopped into it, stretching her arms out and creating a three-swipe snow angel. Above her, the clouds roiled by. She listened to distant crunching, the sounds of wheels disturbing the city’s new blanket.
Behind her, she heard a footstep. She lay still, listening. The muffled noise of the city surrounded her.
And again, a scratch against something.
Lain tried to turn towards the noise as she heard a sharp intake of breath close by, then footsteps padding away in the snow.
She pushed herself up into a seated position, the snow crunching loudly beneath her. At the end of the alley, she thought she saw a dark shape ducking around the corner.
Lain was left in silence. She tried not to breathe, listening. Her heart was pounding.
She rose and continued quickly on her way, now glancing over her shoulder.
The convergent sound of all the voices and conversations dwarfed the loud music pounding from the house.
People lurked outside in small groups smoking on the front porch, laughing. She went inside, feeling like the party was swallowing her up, rattling her eardrums as it digested her.
A boy yelling in her direction, two people hugging, a lost girl striking up conversation with a stranger, her shrill laugh. Giggles here, laughter there. A greeting as someone patted her back. Lain squeezed her way through, ignoring it all and moving towards the back of the house.
She deduced that the music was a vinyl record. The same piece of music repeated endlessly, broken up by periodic scratches. She cringed each time.
Lain pushed past a couple making out, hands wandering. Two girls were cuddled in the corner, one boy was looking intently at a girl nearby. A dizzying social mess. Lain drew lines between them with her fingers, interconnections, drawing a few strange looks.
At last, she found her objective. Tucked in a corner, Kalli and another, their faces locked in intimacy.
A boy? Or girl? Hardly important. She gently pulled Kalli backwards. Her friend glanced over her shoulder.
“We gotta get out of here,” Lain yelled.
“What?” Kalli yelled back.
Lain rolled her eyes and looked at Kalli’s androgynous partner. Kalli was already drifting back to her-him. Lain pulled at her friend again, then glanced around. Found another person looking bored and shoved him towards Kalli’s partner. She didn’t wait to see if the match worked, pulling Kalli past the crowds and through a door, out into an overgrown backyard.
Kalli frowned, looking annoyed, but followed.
They emerged, and Kalli wrapped her arms around herself. Lain could see the mist of her own breath. Outside, the quiet snowscape was a balm to the noise inside.
Kalli began. “What the hell, Lain?”
Lain blinked. “I’m worried I’m dating a weirdo.”
“You’re always dating weirdos. Why did it have to —”
“I guess I just needed you. I was sad.”
Kalli sighed, couldn’t hold back a wry smile. Her sleek black shirt, low-cut, showed off her chest; her tights and boots stylish and matching. Dark hair fell over her eyes, and she swept it away as she looked at her friend. Lain thought she looked wonderful. Kalli moved close and hugged her, their foreheads touching, the steam of their breath mingling. Lain closed her eyes.
“Do you want to come stay tonight?” Lain asked.
Kalli nodded. “Let me just grab my coat.”
“Why? Just grab her coat.” Lain pointed to two people making out nearby, happy and oblivious. Kalli considered, then gently lifted the coat draped over them. One of the kissers made an unhappy moaning sound, so Lain pushed them closer together. Neither stopped.
“All warm now.” Kalli laughed.
Inside, a “DJ” was hard at work destroying the vinyl. Someone else was screaming, and two people ran past, streaking into the cold night, barely dressed.
“What kind of party is this?” Lain asked.
The snap of cameras, cell phone flashes, rings, laughter. Through the window, the pressing of bodies. Kalli looked at the house longingly, and Lain at her. Then Lain took her hand and led Kalli away.
The girls walked down the street. Fireworks rose and exploded above the house, glittering as they drifted beside the snow, now lit by falling flames.
They held hands and walked away.
The moon made a beacon in the sky, and the two didn’t talk.
Later, nestled in Lain’s bed, blanketed and warm.
Kalli, still in her party clothes, her makeup smeared all over Lain’s shoulder. The Christmas lights along Lain’s wall gave the room a warm glow. The lights from other electronics pulsated or blinked from various corners. A car passed outside, a sound like running water — sloshing closer then scrunching away, casting shadows along the wall. In the distance a train passed, the horn reverberating through streets, the sound warping as it made its way through the city.
Lain listened to Kalli’s breathing, felt the gentle rise and fall of her chest, inhaling the mixed odours of the party, the smells of a hundred other people and of her friend.
In the morning, Lain put off meeting David until after her first coffee. She needed preparation, to revel in the caffeine. Finally alert and awake, she walked towards the park where David wanted to meet.
His text had been alarming and obtuse. The words “we really need to talk” were a staple of the genre.
She saw him waiting near a large willow tree. Lain ran the last bit of distance and wrapped him in a hug. He stood there, stiffly.
“Hi baby,” she said, grinning.
“I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that term of endearment, Delaine,” David said tersely. “Can we use our proper names?”
“Oh, sure. Sorry, I was just trying something.”
“I appreciate your attempt, thank you.”
She blinked. “No probs.”
“Yes. How are you? Would you like to go for a nice walk?”
“Sure, but I’d rather take you home and make out with you.” She smiled.
“I see,” David said, pausing. “I am conflicted.”
Lain jabbed his chest. “Oh yeah? Bored of me already?”
“Bored of you? No, no, never. The fault does not lie with you, Delaine. Lain, I mean. Can I call you Lain?”
She had a sinking feeling in her stomach, now. “I’m honestly not sure. Can you?”
He seemed worried, taking a step back, putting some distance between them. She watched him, her mood curdling.
“I have to be honest, Delaine,” he said.
“Oh, please don’t.”
“I can’t be with you.”
Lain didn’t reply. Her stomach rumbled, a nausea.
He continued. “It isn’t safe for you. To be with me.”
She squinted at him. “What do you mean?”
“There are others that could use our liaison, and you, in a bid against me.” He gazed at her sadly. “I could never allow that.”
She searched his face for signs of a joke. “Who would do that?”
David frowns. “I really shouldn’t say.”
She watched him carefully. “Bad people?”
“Yes, quite possibly.”
“Like, I would be a hostage? Against you?”
“That … could be one way.”
Lain’s expression died. “Why?”
“I have responsibilities. A duty and a responsibility to a higher cause.”
Silence. Lain waited for him to burst out laughing, and then kept waiting. Then, “You’re like a hero?”
“Some might say that.” David looked away.
Lain watched him, then put her face in her hands. “Good god, not again.”
David came closer. “I’m so sorry, Delaine. I will love you from a distance.”
She stepped back, out of his reach. “No. You won’t.”
David seemed to have no answer for that and chose instead to straighten his posture. Was he trying to look noble? Lain wanted to push him over. Instead, she walked away.
David called to her back, “Love will find you, Delaine. Instead of the pain I would bring.”
She didn’t answer, watching her feet move. God almighty, why me? Why always me?
Behind, David gazed after her. He cocked his head as though listening. She was already half a block away from him and didn’t see David launch himself into the air.
Lain decided against texting Kalli for the moment.
She ended up at her favourite coffee shop, ordering an espresso. Sat at a table and pulled out her phone. Only one thing would make her feel better now. She opened the web browser and started scouring the internet for personal ads.
She perused and found a few promising posts.
One about a man, a documentary filmmaker, who wanted to do a short film on romantic foursomes. Apply within. The description sounded highly suspect. She loved it. Sent off a reply, woosh.
Found another, someone looking for a partner for a very important mission. The posting was absurdly vague. Another reply, woosh.
A third, someone looking for a model to paint. “Nude only”! This might actually intrigue her. A real reply, though carefully worded, woosh.
And finally, a missed connection, involving a man in a wheelchair and the tumbling of luggage, a helping hand. Was the writer in a wheelchair? A man or woman? Old or young? Who even knew, or cared. Reply, send, woosh.
She put her phone down as the feeling of rejection washed all through her. It was terrible, and paralyzing. The familiar hole in her stomach threatened to grow, and she decided to hide at home. Lain texted her mother a single heart (<3) and rose from the table, vibrating with anxiety and over-caffeination.
4 new emails.
Re: 4some realities
Re: my wheelchaired love.
Re: Applicant for partnership.
Re: Modelling fem 19-23 nudes ONLY!!!
Navigate mouse. Click open.
From: The Documan
Subj: Re: 4some realities
Thank you so much for your interest! Our project is funded by the Collaborative Equation Fund, so you would naturally be reimbursed for your time and energy. We have a special washroom for feminine preparation and anything else you may need, and essential oils are included.
My assistant Laggerty will be assisting, please come to 432 Princleton Lane, floor 4, unit 6, on December the 24th. You can bring company for extra assistance but please ensure it is female in nature. Our budget guidelines are very strict!
Excited to see all of you! Xxx
Laugh laugh laugh. (Special woman’s washroom, ick! Please ensure it is female!) Laugh.
From: Lovell G.
Subj: Re: my wheelchaired love.
Thank you for your snide and hurtful response. Is this a prank to you? I reached out to the world, hoping to rekindle a connection with someone who showed me a kindness. An act I am rarely afforded in the life I have been blessed with. I receive quite a lot of pity, veiled kindness, or frustration, and sometimes downright derision. I am called many names, kind and unkind, knowingly and unknowingly. He gave me a beautiful memory and I put my heart out into the world, and you made a joke out of it.
I wish you the best in your sad life.
Best and regards,
Feel genuinely bad. Consider.
To: Lovell G.
I apologize, I hadn’t thought my actions through. I take it all back. Best of luck finding your person.
Seriously, I’m very sorry.
Re: Applicant for partnership.
I’m sorry, applicant, but you’re not cleared for detailed information surrounding this task. You’ll need to attend an interview before I can divulge any details. A brief online search did not reveal what your credentials may be, if any.
Reply for further inquiry and interview location.
Lain leaned back in her chair, startled. She read it again. What her credentials may be, if any? She was being goaded into replying.
She glared at the screen, formulating responses. Any message beyond this point would break her anonymity and invite risk.
Instead, she closed her browser and walked away, getting a glass of water and some chocolate from the fridge.
From the living room, she could hear Kalli typing on her laptop. A work project, no doubt. Lain put her snack down, walked over, and hugged Kalli from behind. Kalli grunted and shrugged her off. Deep in the design groove then. Lain scowled, walked back towards her room, and slammed her door. Opened up her browser and decided it was time to watch some television. She pressed play on something, not caring what it was.
A knock at her door and she heard Kalli calling her name softly, apologizing for her rudeness. Lain grunted in return. Kalli entered, sitting next to her and asking what was wrong.
Kalli pestered her until Lain finally told her all about David, her brief obsession with him, and the freakish break up. Kalli laughed and held Lain close. “You’re a magnet.”
Lain smiled sadly and nodded. She asked Kalli to join her in watching the episode. Kalli agreed. They sat together and Lain pressed play.
Pause. Kalli looked at her, curious.
Lean over to keyboard. Open email.
(Kalli asks what she is doing, Lain doesn’t reply, reads G.’s message again.)
Hover over G.’s message.
Hover over delete.
“Lain, sweetie, I wish you’d reconsider my offer.”
“Mom, I don’t need it. I promise. I’m okay.”
“I know you get upset sometimes. Ever since your sudden, um, journey, I’m always worried about —”
Lain rose from the table abruptly, the chair clattering. Her mother let out a huff. “Okay, okay, I’ll drop it.”
“Thank you,” Lain said, quieting. “How have you been, Mum? Aside from worrying about me?”
Her mother put down her cup of tea and walked to the refrigerator, collecting ingredients. “Are you cooking yet? It’s great to cook yourself, manage your own nutrition. I bet your friend Kalli cooks on her own, doesn’t she?”
Her mother’s apartment was wide and spacious, minimalist furniture with tall ceilings, floor-to-ceiling windows, and gorgeous views.The sun was slowly creeping behind a building, casting a glow across the room. The flatscreen showed bright cookware and cheerful recipes. Cooking shows.
“Do you want me to give you some recipes? You can share them with your friend,” her mother asked.
Lain didn’t hear. Her mind was elsewhere, lost in the past. Faces flashed through, but one lingered. A girl, dark hair, dark skin. Her smile, cherished forever.
Her mother frowned and walked over to her, a pot boiling on the stove. “Why don’t you go for a walk, Lainy? It always helps.”
Lain turned to the sound of her voice, and then nodded. Her mother looked her up and down, and Lain went to get her coat. She knew what came next.
“You know, you could really use a new wardrobe. Why do you insist on dressing in these grungry t-shirts and worn out pants? I’ve never understood it.”
Lain wasn’t sure her mom ever understood anything, but she willed herself silent. She knew she really should go for a walk.
Lain donned her shoes. Her mother was still looking at her, holding a ladle.
“So,” her mother began.
Lain whispered the rest as she tied her laces, “Have you heard from your father recently?”
“Have you heard anything from your father lately?”
“Nope,” Lain replied, pulling open the door.
Her mother nodded, feigning disinterest. She dipped the ladle in the pot, spooned out a generous portion into a bowl. Brought her bowl over to the couch, sat on her brown leather sofa. “There’ll be some left when you’re back, okay? Have a nice walk.”
“Okay, Mom. Thanks.” Barely contained anger. She slammed the door behind her.
Lain knew she was being unreasonable, but couldn’t seem to retain control. Her mother insisted on pushing all her buttons, always. She imagined her mother sitting with her soup, laughing to herself.
That was harsh. And not true.
Memories arrived, unbidden, of what her mother had done. They burned bright, flares lit years ago, yet still aflame. Lain hadn’t spoken to her mother for almost three months after that horrible day and the grief-stricken week that had followed. It had taken her father weeks of pleading to convince her to open the lines of communication again.
Lain had written her mother a note, saying “nothing would ever be the same” between them. She had immediately regretted leaving it on the kitchen table, and further regretted it on seeing her mother’s face that evening. The words were damaging in a way she never could have comprehended then, Lain knew. She had wanted to take it all back. Forgive her mother, imperfect as she was.
Then the fire returned, and she wasn’t sorry, had never been.She would be again later, she knew. It was too confusing, and it was always that way now. Hot and cold.
Lain left the apartment building, stopped at the curb, waited until a garbage truck passed.
Wait, what? A garbage truck? It was still evening, they didn’t come here until late in the night. She noted the driver, an old white man. Greying hair poking out from beneath a cap, over a forgettable face.
The truck turned the corner and abruptly made a u-turn, coming back in her direction. The nondescript man seemed just as non-interested as before. Was he following her? He didn’t look like he cared about anything enough to be stalking her. He just looked so bored.
She snuck up behind the truck as it passed and grabbed the handle at the back, held on, and jumped onto the bumper, as she had seen the workers do.
She made it a block on the back of the truck, people staring at her as she rode by. Then it slowed to a halt. She heard the front door open, and footsteps. A face poked into view.
“You can’t ride there. Sorry, miss,” the old man said.
She turned, still holding onto the handle. “Not even for a little while?”
He shook his head, sadly. “Not even for a little while. I could get in big trouble.”
“Come on, please?”
“Not my decision. Believe it or not, driving the garbage truck wasn’t my primary calling.”
“What would you rather be doing?”
“Truth be told, I would rather be painting, building little worlds, landscapes and things. But we gotta do what we gotta do, little miss. I have to drive the truck, that’s my burden to bear. You have to let go of the handle. That’ll be yours.”
Lain really couldn’t argue with that.
“Here, I’ll help you down,” the old man offered. He took her other hand and held it as she hopped off. His hand was warm and perfectly smooth. A strange mix. Comforting, though odd. Like a grandfather. Or what she imagined a grandfather was like, since she’d never known any.
“Thank, little miss,” he said, and walked away towards the front of the truck.
She watched as the truck drove away, and decided she had probably cooled off. Lain turned back towards her mother’s apartment building. Checked her phone. No messages from David, or anyone. Kalli was visiting her family today.
Maybe it was time to get more friends? Lain decided to think on it.
She didn’t notice the truck make another u-turn. Didn’t notice another figure sitting on the edge of the building above her, watching her. Why should she?
It wasn’t until the following evening that she received an answer from “G.”. He mentioned in no uncertain terms that if she were late for her interview, her role on this task would be forfeit. He sent her a park name and a time. An annoying time: 4:52pm. He sent her a gif of a particular set of benches. And to make a creepy invite creepier, he mentioned a test she would have to pass to gain access to the interview.
Lain read the email, excited. She called Kalli, who picked up in a loud, raucous place.
“Where are you?” Lain asked.
“At a show! You wanna come?”
“I can’t! I just heard back from the dude.”
“Who? Oh, mission-creeper?”
“Yeah! He wants to have an interview tomorrow in the park.”
“You wanna come?”
“I’ve never wanted anything less.”
“Come over after your show! I need advice.”
“You need cuddles.”
“…Yes. I need both.”
She heard Kalli sigh through the yelling crowd on the phone, and Lain knew she’d come. Lain was fascinated by this meeting. She had deleted all the other emails, no longer caring. Her attention was focused.
Later, she and Kalli lay draped over each other on her bed, Kalli reading a book and Lain drawing. Her friend flipped quickly through Life of Pi. Lain pencilled something small in a notebook she always carried. She heard Kalli shuffling and felt the shift of her weight, the swish of pages and the thump of a book closing.
“Are you really going to go?” Kalli asked.
“Yes,” Lain replied absent-mindedly.
“You realize that it may just be the sketchiest meeting ever, right?”
“It’s okay, it’s on a picnic bench, I think.”
“That’s even worse, Lain.”
Silence followed. Kalli looked away. She looked upset. Lain knew that expression. Lain probed, “What are you thinking about?”
“You. Equations for work. Your unbalanced sense of personal safety and desire to jump into high-risk situations. I should come with you tomorrow.”
Lain frowned at that. “No, I changed my mind. I don’t think I want that.”
“What the shit. Why?”
“This is my thing, so far. You don’t need to meet a creeper.”
Lain felt a sharp pain as Kali shifted her weight, and got up to pace. A body descended across. A kiss itself planted on the top of her head and arms encircled her.
“Be careful, okay? All the parties in the whole world wouldn’t mean a thing without you.”
Taken aback, Lain craned her head upwards. Kalli was too close. She identified some dark hair and one eye, gazing at her warmly. “Wow. That’s the sweetest thing I’ve heard all year.”
“I’m not worried, okay?” She put on a big smile. “See? This is me, not worried.”
Kalli tried to continue reading, but seemed distracted.
Lain sketched a face, nice and round, then some eyes, filling in a mouth that looked out of place. She drew the hair, longer. The ears. The jaw. It took until the eyebrows before she realized who she was drawing and threw the sketchbook away. Kalli looked at her, alarmed. Lain just kept staring at the sketchbook, then stormed out of the room. Closed the bathroom door, locked it. Sat on the toilet and put her head in her hands. Something was direly wrong with her.
Kalli unlocked the door, using a quarter to turn the mechanism on the outside. She pulled Lain back to the room and plopped her on the bed.
Lain nodded and crawled half under the covers. Kalli turned down the lights, grabbed her computer, and sat beside her. Kept tapping away while Lain dozed nearby. The keyboard sounds reflected back and forth through her mind, leading her into her first dreams of the night.
In the dead of night, Kalli was still hard at work.
Lain tossed and threw her arm out, flopping over. Muttered, “Skellista, skellista,” and some other gibberish, a cruel laugh. Trailed off and drifted into a deeper sleep.
Kalli stared at her in shock.
The next morning, light streamed through the windows. Kalli was nearby, breathing softly, fast asleep. Lain woke looking at her.
Kalli was a beautiful creature. The curves of her shoulders, the way her bra straps fell over her clavicle. The hair on the sides of her face, under her nose, all perfect. The way her locks tumbled across the bed and her face, idyllic. Maybe morning sun makes everything oddly romantic, Lain mused. Even the drool out of Kalli’s mouth.
She left the bed as quietly as she could. Lain stripped down and put on fresh clothing, opting for a darker set of colours. Black underwear and bra, dark grey shirt, dark black jeans. Not that she had any intentions of showing G. her underwear, but it felt good to be serious today. This was apparently serious business, after all.
She leaned over Kalli, poised to kiss her cheek, but changed her mind and pulled the covers over her friend. She put on her lighter jacket and left, out into the bright day. Off to meet the creeperman.
The sun shone through the trees, filling the park with early morning light. Birds chirped and the trees rustled, cars honked in morning traffic. And Lain stood at the designated spot in the park, matching it against the gif she had pulled up on her phone. A fucking gif. Seriously. This guy.
She stood staring at four different picnic tables, each with a different person sitting and waiting.
On one, an old man clutching a worn bag. Texting on what looked like a cell phone from ten years ago. The kind with text-only “email” and a camera that took stamp-sized photos — now conventionally called a “dumbphone.”
On another, a young boy. Also texting, but on a low end smartphone (“averagephone”?). Having an endless conversation, or maybe three of them, or ten. His hair was cut short, the bangs swooping in an angle across his brow.
On another, a girl in a worn and well-fitted jacket. Writing in a journal, wearing a cat toque, ears poking out above her head. Very cute. Lain had trouble pulling her eyes away.
Finally, a pale young man, sitting on a bench beneath an almost leafless tree. Looking in a notebook. No phone in sight.
She looked back and forth between her four options and wished she was meeting the girl with the sketchbook and cute cheeks. But Lain already knew who it was.
Lain approached the pale young man. He didn’t seem to notice her. She waited, but he said nothing.
“I’m here for the interview,” she ventured.
“I’m sorry?” Disinterest.
“I’m here for the interview thing, and it pretty much has to be with you.”
He finally looked. “What has to be me?”
Lain glanced over her shoulder. Pointed at the old man. “It can’t be him, because for him to send me anything longer than a sentence on that dumbphone would take him the rest of his available life.”
She turned to the boy. “The young kid was a possibility, but unlikely, as he seems to be having twenty different conversations at once. I don’t think he’d rep that formal email style you’ve been using. And whether he’s playing a game there or chatting up a storm, he doesn’t look terribly interested with the outside world.”
Lain looked at the girl. “And I wish it was her,” she said quietly, “but your emails didn’t sound like a girl to me.” She looked at the young man again, then nodded. “Yeah. They sounded like someone like, well, you.”
He watched her, appraising.
Lain turned back to the other three picnic tables and all of them seemed to be watching or listening to them now. The pale young man nodded, and the three others rose from their tables. Walked out of the park, each going in separate directions.
“This is the weirdest,” Lain murmured.
“Have a seat,” he invited, and she climbed onto the table beside him. They sat, facing the same direction. She waited. The sounds of the park were relentless: a kid yelling somewhere near the basketball courts; a woman telling a story with great excitement, and another responding in kind; dogs barking; rustling of leaves; the sporadic thump of sports in action; children’s laughter, both innocent and malicious in turns.
And she waited.
“There are some serious flaws in your logic, but you appear to have figured it out. Congrats,” he finally said. She nodded, still waiting. He cleared his throat. “I have a few questions if you don’t mind. For the interview process.”
“Alrighty.” She put her hands together.
He checked his notebook. “Do you have an open mind?”
“As far as I know.”
He marked off a checkbox. “Do you think your capacity for dealing with shock is reduced?” he asked.
Lain didn’t understand the question and didn’t answer. She waited.
Her expression must have changed somehow, because he suddenly continued, stammering. “I’m s-sorry, I meant that because you seem to, I mean, you’re very beautiful and … yeah.”
This time her eyes widened. She opened her mouth to answer, then closed it again.
“Why aren’t you answering?” he asked. An attempt at commanding, but painfully nervous.
Lain got up off the bench and started walking away.
“What?” he asked after her, loudly.
She whipped around. “Help me clarify this. Did you ask whether somehow some part of me is reduced because I’m a beautiful woman?”
The boy stared at her in surprise. “Well, yeah.”
She nodded once. “If that’s your second question, I have no interest in hearing the rest.” She had intended to say it calmly, but each word emerged razor sharp.
He seemed to be speechless. She spun and continued on her way, away from the bench, away from this boy. She felt her eyes getting wet. She brushed the tears away, wondering what was happening to her. Made to cry by some fucking bigot in a park. Wonderful. Probably thanks to David’s oh-so-noble breakup.
She heard him calling after her, and the tone of his voice eased her to a stop. He didn’t sound angry. In fact, he sounded like he wanted to cry. She waited, still facing away.
“I’m really sorry. I’m sorry. Would you come back?” he pleaded.
Lain considered. Then walked slowly back, glaring at him. He looked abashed.
Lain stopped. “No more questions about my gender. That’s done.” He nodded, quietly agreeing. “Do I have to explain why that was out of line?” she asked.
He looked uncertain. “I … don’t know. Maybe.”
“Maybe?” she repeated.
“I don’t know,” he muttered, “I’m not good at this. I don’t talk to you guys very often.”
She laughed. “Us guys?” He nodded again. She waved at the other benches. “How did you get that one girl to wait on the bench?”
“I just offered to give her ten bucks if she waited until another girl came and talked to me. I didn’t have to say anything, really. Everyone likes ten bucks.” His voice grew quieter with each word.
She watched him as he shrank. Lain sat back down on the opposite side of the bench, to think. Couldn’t ever have imagined she’d be here arguing with some sexist, antisocial weirdo.
“I don’t even have the energy right now for all that,” she said quietly, “but I’m done answering questions.”
“Okay. Yes. No more questions,” he said. “You seem sharp.”
“Thanks,” she said.
He seemed at a loss for words. The boy gazed at a house across the street from the park. Lain looked at it, then at him. Looked at it again. “What are you watching?” she asked, reluctantly intrigued.
He took a moment in answering.
“What do you see?” he asked, sounding more confident.
Lain looked at the row of houses in front of them. Nothing grabbed her attention, it was just a row of houses. All built together, obviously, a typical set in the neighbourhood. Small variations, paint differences. Most with two floors, one with a third. Shingled roofs, fences marking lawns and property lines. None with driveways, none with garages. Again, typical of the neighbourhood. Garages would be buried behind in the alleyways, if they existed at all. One had a tree on the lawn. The other had a hedge, half as tall as a person. The one in the middle of the row had three windows on the main floor.
“Are you stalking someone?” she asked politely.
He grunted and shook his head.
“Are you sure?”
He nodded again.
“What do you see then?” she inquired.
He made a face. “There’s not much to see now, I suppose. There’s only one thing, but you probably wouldn’t catch it.” This prompted her to look again, examining each house in detail. Why did she think anything would come of this exercise? She rolled her eyes and rose to her feet.
“So, what’s your name?” she asked.
“G. I can only give you one letter of my name each time we meet.”
“Okeydoke,” she shrugged. “I’ll only need two.”
He eyed her. “It was n-nice to meet you, Lain.”
“I’m still not sure, G.”
He nodded. “That’s okay. Same time tomorrow?”
Same time tomorrow. What an assumption!
Lain took in his appearance, his slumped shoulders, his ratty hood and overly worn coat — ill-fitting, a discount purchase at best. His boots, overused. His pants, baggy, faded. His tired face and sandy hair. At least it looked washed, if not kept very well. His eyes, the bags beneath them, his acne. The stubble of his beard, maybe his most attractive feature. His beard and chin could have been from a different boy, a real babe. His posture, beaten down, like a boy who has been through the whole world before reaching his twenties. What could make this young man look so down, yet give him this strange determination?
Same time tomorrow?
She walked away. For the moment she was sick to death of boys, boys, boys.
She took her phone out of her pocket to call Kalli, but couldn’t find the number. Did Lain delete her? When? She grew frustrated. She’d never memorized Kalli’s number. Kalli lost phones and changed carriers often enough that any number was wasted brainspace.
As if responding to her frustration, the phone chimed abruptly. On the screen it said “Marple.”
Plz don’t be murdered - K.
She rolled her eyes again and waited a moment for the inevitable call. It came, and she picked up.
How did you know?
I dunno, who else calls me? Why did you go with Marple?
Thought it was funny.
Well done, lawl.
Oh gee, thanks. Wanna come swimming?
Alright, sounds good.
I’m bringing some guy.
Near the beach there was a wooded area. Lots of trees, very few people. It was one of Lain’s favourite places.
The splish of the water against rocks and the distant sounds of families and cyclists. No cars, only the occasional boat going by. She sat on her fave rock, her jacket sitting beside her. The weather had become warm again, and her coat was dead weight.
Her backbrain felt distracted. Lain was having trouble focusing on things around her. She tried to consider the interview, but found herself growing frustrated at G.’s lack of consideration. Yet the row of houses wouldn’t leave her mind. It was a devious trick, attracting her attention to an unknown detail. A challenge.
There was probably nothing there, she knew, though it would hardly stop her from obsessing.
Kalli burst into the scene, shattering the peace. Lain grinned, watching her tow some guy behind. Kalli’s laughter bounced across the water, out towards the distant boats. The boy said something and Kalli laughed again, pushing him. She jogged over to Lain and hugged her.
“How was your interview, babe?”
“Well, you found him on the internet. I’m just glad you’re alive,” she said, running fingers through Lain’s her, scratching her scalp, then turning back to her boy. Kalli introduced him, but his name went in one of Lain’s ears and out the other.
“Sup,” Lain said.
“Hi, nice to meet you,” he said.
Lain frowned at him, then looked back at the water. Maybe it was something about that middle house, the one with three windows. And the short hedge. She wished now she had looked into the garden to get a better view. Such a steeply angled roof must have been difficult to build. She supposed everything was difficult to build, in a way. The thought gave her pause.
Kalli watched her, then turned to her boy and shoved him into a rock. “You blew it, nimrod. You had one shot, I told you. Could you be any lamer?”
“I don’t understand,” he said, and Kalli shoved him again. This time he caught her arm and they tumbled over, laughing.
Lain took off her shirt and her pants, still watching the waves. She could almost see the house in the ripples, and she obsessed. The thin, thin gaps between houses, the plants just barely poking over the hedge. What was she missing?
“Let’s get in there,” she said, distracted. “I wanna see those houses.”
Kalli looked over. “In the water?” She pushed her boy. “You should probably get out of here, you really messed this one up.”
“I want to swim, though,” he whined. “I want to swim bad.”
Kalli walked over as Lain folded her clothes and put them on the rock. “Can he come?”
Lain nodded. “Sure, I don’t care.”
Kalli took off her shirt and threw it onto Lain’s nicely folded pile. Lain glanced at the boy and he was already undressed. Wow. Eager beavs. Kalli made to unhook her bra, caught the boy looking, and then laughed, shoving him over again and running into the water. Droplets scattered over the nearby rocks. The boy jumped in after, the two of them giggling and laughing. Lain touched the water gingerly with her foot, then slipped quietly in.
Ice rushed all along her body, over all her parts. She shuddered and gasped, then started paddling out, cherishing the feeling. Pure cold.
The boy had swum out farther, paddling his arms.
“Check it out, he looks like a puppy,” Kalli said, smiling.
“I just can’t figure this out.” Lain furrowed her brow.
She could see the houses on the horizon, sitting behind the waves. Something was off about the middle one, but what was it? Was it the three windows? Had there been three windows, even? She had assumed, but maybe it had been an illusion. How could it be an illusion, though? Maybe one of them was just a shadow from something.
Kalli drifted nearer. “You have to be more polite, Lain.” As she felt her friend’s hand running down her back.
“I know, I’ll try,” she answered, shivering.
Lain flopped back onto land, climbing one of the rocks, shaking from the cold of the water. Loving the feel of the sun on her skin. She curled up, letting the heat run across her back. Above, no clouds.
In the water, Kalli and the guy were nuzzling. She was raining kisses along his neck and shoulders. He seemed to be enjoying it. Kind of like a puppy, actually, the breathing and paddling and everything. Lain smirked and turned onto her back. Looked at the sky.
A tear fell sideways along her cheek. She wiped her eye, but more came tumbling down. Not willing to be stifled this time, the dam burst, and she found herself weeping quietly on the rock.
In the water, Kalli heard Lain’s sniffles and abruptly stopped kissing the guy. He misunderstood, lowering himself into the ripples and planting kisses on her chest. Thinking it was his turn, probably.
Kalli glanced down at him, and then pushed his head into the water. She snorted in amusement at his sudden flailing, then swam towards her friend, climbing out of the water.
Lain’s tears hadn’t stopped, and the sun and sky took on a blurry, fractured look. She felt Kalli arrive, a shape darkening the sky. Felt a hand on her stomach, and the tears flowed faster. Kalli gathered her up and held her as the sun and wind fought to warm and cool them, respectively. Battle of the elements. She shook against Kalli, letting out the occasional sound, a question. She asked it again and again.
Waiting until some of the wracking had stopped, Kalli asked her what she had said.
“I don’t know, sweets. You bring the deviants.”
“I know he was dorkie, and stuffy, but why do those ones always find me?”
“I really don’t know.”
“And you find the hot ones. They might look kinda strange, like dogs, but they’re nice to you.”
The boy splashed out of the water. “Wait, who looks like what?”
Kalli shushed him.
The tears were drying up. Lain looked out at the water, resting her head on Kalli’s shoulder.
“I don’t know what I’d do without you,” she said very softly.
Kalli didn’t answer, giving her a squeeze instead. The expression on Kalli’s face might have worried Lain, if she could see. Instead, with her eyes closed, she felt their wet skin together, the droplets rolling down her body.
“You guys hungry?” The guy.
“Yeah,” Kalli said.
“Yeah,” Lain agreed.
Kalli slapped her back. “Come on, Lainy. Let’s get you dressed. We don’t want this pup oogling your butt too much, your underwear got all clingy.”
The boy protested.
Her mind turned once more to David, superhero extraordinaire. How long had they even been together? Weeks? A month? She knew her attachments grew quickly, like vines along the side of a house. Creeping ever upwards, taking hold, whether or not the assholes deserved it. Kalli said it was her curse.
But Jess hadn’t called it that. (Don’t think of her, put it away.)
Kalli lost the boy somewhere near a subway station, and Lain told her about the interview. They discussed David’s excuses again. Somewhere near a train, Kalli mentioned some new friends that had invited her out for drinks.
“They’re so cool, you have to join us!”
“I’d love to,” Lain agreed, knowing already that she wouldn’t. She had almost zero interest in that.
They walked until late in the night, when the sky turned starry and hazy with city light and the snow started falling again.
Lain walked Kalli all the way back to her place, a dingy apartment building that hid surprisingly lovely rooms within. Like Kalli, maybe.
“This place is just like you, Kal. Kinda rough on the outside, but a beauty within,” she said, smiling.
Kalli looked surprised and hurt, then hid her expression. Lain quickly apologized, but knew the damage was done. Kalli waved it off, it was nothing, she said. But it was something.
A misstep on what might have been a great day. Her friend went into the apartment and Lain stayed still, staring at the closed door.
Maybe she wasn’t so different from good old G. Maybe not so much at all.
Her dreams for the next week were all the same. A nightmare of action. Running down paths, through airport terminals, through tunnels, along forests, across beaches, up forested hills, right through houses.
She was in a panic. Something lost, something lost. Sometimes she was Lain, sometimes she wasn’t, it didn’t seem to matter.
Whatever she had, it was gone, and no matter how she chased it, it wasn’t coming back. She never cried in these dreams, never emoted. Simply walked, simply ran, simply moved on and on, looking and looking. Never finding.
Just before she woke, it was always the same. Warm arms would encircle her.
Whatever Lain was looking for, it had been behind her, following the whole time. Looking for her. Always just behind, where she couldn’t see. With her all along.
Warm hands and a voice in the ear.
To a bed soaked with sweat. Shapes all around her. Shapes looming, staring. Reaching over her, hands outstretched. Shapes hiding in corners, behind her closet door, above her on the ceiling.
Eventually, the shapes would dissolve into familiar objects, everyday, their terror diminishing into the mundane. Still she would lie there, wanting those arms and never having them. The dream made real.
A whole day would pass in flurries of art and drawing. Her pencil found the sketchbook often. She drew without looking back or editing.
The weather fluctuated from cold to warm to cold. Everyone around her regressed to beds and couches. She imagined them lying beneath blankets in sweaty fits, or shivering in warm air. For two weeks Lain dodged the germs and their living carriers. By hiding, by not engaging with anyone.
Lain left him to his row of houses. She knew where he was.
For a week, she hid in her art, creating piece after piece. She filled a whole sketchbook. A $14.99 package of her thoughts in unprocessed form, $19.36 including the pens and pencils she had used.
Since starting her oh-so-magical journey through womanhood, Lain had learned to recognize some of her own patterns, the schedule of the eggs tumbling regularly out of her ovaries.
As soon as the crimping pain inside her body bloomed, she also began to feel restless.
She gathered up her things, found a way to shower and get dressed. And made her way to the park where good old G. would be hanging.
She had no doubt whatsoever that he would be there.
“Hi,” she said.
He didn’t hear her, and Lain was struck by a memory. There and gone again.
She greeted him again, and he jumped in his seat, surprised. She sat beside him, letting him adjust to her company. She may not understand this odd, sexist boy sitting on a bench, but she knew what it was like not to speak to anyone for days, and how alien it could seem.
He grunted. “I’m not sexist.”
“That’s usually the first thing a sexist guy says,” she noted.
He didn’t have an answer ready. “You came back. You didn’t have to.”
She thought back to the houses last time, looking at the row in front of her. Nothing much seemed to have changed. Evening was falling and the lights were on in many of the homes. Cars pulling up to others. Or people waking up, opening front doors.
But not the house in the middle.
“You’re watching the middle one, aren’t you? The house with the blue door.”
He nodded again and pulled his hood tighter. The wind was biting.
He gave her a side glance. A long silence, then he spoke. “What’s wrong? You seem angry.”
“I’m not angry,” Lain replied.
“You seem sort of angry.”
“I’m not angry. I just always feel weird when I’m on my period.”
His face locked in a strange expression. She sighed and didn’t continue. She didn’t have many friends that were boys. Not anymore. She’d forgotten this particular man syndrome. G. seemed determined not to reply, or look at her.
Lain wasn’t sure why she had come. What did she want from this? He was an outsider, kind of like her, but that didn’t put them in a club together. Outsiders were just as far outside from other outsiders, she had learned.
“If you see what I’ve seen here, you’ll never want to leave, Lain,” he said.
She looked at him, interested. She was on the verge of leaving, but he was doing that thing again. Hooking her. Was it intentional? Manipulation?
“What did you see?”
He shook his head. “You won’t believe. You have to see.”
She pondered that. “I don’t know, I think I can handle it. I love the supernatural. And I love the scientific. I love best when they’re together.” He was watching her. “Try me out, I’ll probably believe you.” She waited for him to answer.
He turned to the house with the blue door. Gestured at it.
“Tell me what you see. Something has changed since you were last here.”
He looked sincere, earnest. “I don’t mean to repeat myself, I ... I don’t want to disrupt your view of things. I know that I have issues, and I function on the belief that ...” he trailed off.
Lain waited, very curious.
He continued slowly. “I ... operate under the belief that I may be somewhat ... unreliable, in this regard. I was hoping someone — you — could help me sort out if that’s true.” He waited, looking nervous.
“You’re trying to see if you’ve gone off the deep end? Why don’t you look for counselling or help?”
He thought a moment before answering. “Counsellors, institutions. They ... approach me from the basis of their founding tenets. That they are normal and I am not, and they will help me, no matter what, no matter how. I … want an opinion that doesn’t assume I’m right or wrong, or that they are right or wrong. Just a blank.”
Despite his admittance of possible insanity, Lain found herself understanding. No psychiatrist or psychologist approached a problem with “Let’s see if something is wrong with you,” it was often “So, what is wrong with you and how can I solve it?” It was a pre-determined approach with a pre-determined response, with answers at the ready.
“I ... think I get it.”
He glanced at her, surprised.
“Don’t look so shocked, G. I answered an internet ad from a stranger and came to meet you. Alone. I may not be a good baseline for your validation.”
He laughed, a short, sharp sound. The first time she had heard any kind of mirth from him. It was something.
She smiled despite herself. While gazing at the row of houses ahead, an idea struck her.
Lain looked at her phone in a very different way. Put it, and the idea, away for later.
They sat together for another half hour, the conversation turning to less serious topics and eventually fading out altogether. She didn’t enjoy it, exactly, but she didn’t mind it too much either.
Kalli intercepted Lain outside her apartment, a surprise attack. She berated Lain for not returning her calls. Lain apologized. Kalli waved it off, asking her instead if she wanted to come to a concert tonight. Her friend was playing at a bar nearby, at what Kalli called a hipster hangout.
All Lain wanted to do was lie down.
Instead, she said yes, she would love to, and watched Kalli’s face light up.
When they arrived at the bar, Kalli’s friends from class were already there. Lain tried not to show her discomfort. She was used to having Kalli all to herself.
Kalli introduced them all, but their names drifted away. Lain feigned interest in their pleasantries.
They all sat at a table and waited for Kalli’s friend to appear on the stage.
Did Lain want a beer? Oh no thanks, she had to drive later.
What did Lain do for work? Oh you know, this and that, she was an artist by trade, taking a break, etc.
How did Kalli and Lain know each other? They had met years ago, in college. Kalli actually told the story farrrr better, why didn’t they ask her?
Lain escaped to the bathroom, catching an accusing glare from Kalli. Friendship: knowing all the lies someone tells. She opened a stall and was shocked and disgusted by urine all over the seat, all over the floor.
What the shit was this?
She backed out, and then noticed there were urinals in the bathroom. Realization clicked in, and she laughed. She had walked into the men’s. A man came into the bathroom, did a double take.
“Um, wrong bathroom?” he inquired.
She looked at the stall again and made a face. He leaned over to see, then made a face.
“Ugh,” he intoned.
“Why can’t they hit the bowl?” she asked.
He shook his head. “I honestly don’t know.”
Lain eyed him. He was kind of cute. Well put together.
No, Lain, she told herself. This isn’t happening. You’re not going to meet a boy in the men’s room.
She left before she said anything else. Her look wasn’t lost on him, but he didn’t follow her.
Lain crept past the table, using other patrons for cover. She escaped the bar while Kalli wasn’t looking.
Kalli’s friend had started singing and playing guitar, well-composed harmonies with a beautiful, melodious voice, and a rough rasp that trickled through her lyrics.
Lain left anyway.
Returning to his place at the bar, Bathroom Boy caught a glimpse of her coat as it fluttered out the door.
On the walk home, snow again. Reminding her of every other snowfall. Of running through the snow for what felt like her life. Their lives, with Jessica. Why did all her memories sometimes seem a thin wall away?
Lain hyperventilated on her walk home, hoping to pass out, but only burning her lungs with the cold air.
At home, the dreams welcomed her back into an endless journey of relentless searching. Her phone rang again and again, the calls powered by Kalli’s anger. She had finally figured out that Lain had vanished.
But Lain was dead to it. She heard nothing. Kalli called her all night, but Lain slept soundly, only wincing at the list of missed calls and texts come morning.
Sick of this visit, Lain tried to end the occasion as best she could. “Okay, Mum, thanks. Thank you.” Lain said, pushing her mother towards the door. The attempt proved futile.
“Don’t you think you should clean up a little? It’s terribly filthy in here, Delaine.” The full name denoted a serious topic at hand.
“Sure, Mum, I will,” she agreed. Lain hadn’t been ready for this visit. She was still in a t-shirt and underwear, unshowered. She pushed her mother again.
“Okay, okay, I got the message. Loud and clear.” Her mother laughed. Behind her, though, the front door burst open.
Kallista entered, glaring, opening her mouth to speak. She gave a start when she saw Lain’s mother, and closed it again.
“Hi Shannon,” Kalli said instead, smiling politely.
“Oh hi there, Kallista! So nice to see you!” Lain’s mother gave her a big hug, which Kalli returned dutifully. “How have you been, dear? I’m so glad you’re around to keep an eye on my little girl. How is your life? Are you seeing a nice boy?” Shannon paused, then spoke again. “Or girl? Whatever you want, dear.” A big, sappy smile.
Lain rolled her eyes.
“Well, she doesn’t need me to keep an eye on her. She’s just unique in all the world,” Kalli said, her eyes flashing. Lain looked away as her mother burst into gales of laughter.
“Unique, exactly. Oh Kallista, you’re a riot. Take care of Lainy, okay?” she implored, doling out a one-armed hug.
“Always,” Kalli assured.
Her mother waved to Lain and left.
Lain looked down, mumbled thank you. She waited. Saw Kalli’s shoes approaching, stopping in front of her. “Sorry, Kalli,” she muttered. Waited, still looking down. No yelling, no chastising.
She looked up. Kalli was watching her.
Lain rushed back to her room. Kalli followed, sat down on the bed while Lain changed her clothes. She didn’t like being chastised in her pyjamas. Pjs were for good feelings, not conflict.
The weather had done a swing again and it was almost like summer. Far above zero degrees. She chose a bright green bra and a colourful summer dress, one of her favourites. With some dark tights it would be perfect. Short red socks. A cute, thin-materialed beanie.
Prepared, now, she turned and waited.
“Whatever,” Kalli finally said. She breathed and started again. “You doing okay?”
Powerfully relieved, Lain said she was. “You?” she asked, nervous.
“I’ll be fine,” Kalli said, taking off her jacket. To Lain, the room seemed brighter.
Lain let out a breath. “Good.” She felt adorable in her dress, and Kalli wasn’t going to rip her a new one. This was turning into a great day.
Later, she lay on the bed, fiddling with her cell phone. “I hate this thing,” she announced.
“How did you ever afford that thing?” Kalli inquired absently, typing on her computer.
“It doesn’t do a single thing I want it to do. Not one thing.”
“Why did you get it, then?”
“It does one thousand things, and never the thing I want. It does all the things I’ve never wanted.”
Kalli sighed. “So?”
Lain considered her phone, turning it around and around. “Maybe it can do one thing.”
Kalli looked up. “You’re ignoring my questions, Lainy.”
Lain scowled. “Don’t call me that.”
Kalli smirked. “What are you doing today?”
Lain tossed her phone across the bed, letting it bounce against the pillow. She rose and stood in front of her mirror, admiring her dress again. She wasn’t excited to wear it for him, was she? That could be a problem.
“Third day with G.,” she said. She turned left and right, admiring her shape in the mirror.
“You don’t have to call him that, he’s ... not the worst ever.” Lain pouted.
Kalli looked up at her, her eyebrows raised. “Truly a glowing review.”
Lain agreed absently.
The clap of Kalli’s laptop closing. “Alrighty then, that’s my cue to leave.” A rustling as Kalli collected her computer and cable, stuffed it in her bag.
“Okay. I gotta get going soon anyway,” Lain said airily.
Kalli walked over and pecked her on the cheek. “Be safe, love.”
Lain smiled. “Ever and always.”
She did a few more turns, letting her mind wander.
Inside, Lain began the journey from idea to project. Something about her phone struck her. It was a beautifully made device. It had all kinds of tools, a full computer processor, and they weren’t doing much for her. Posting photos for comments seemed a waste of such technological prowess.
It had a camera.
It had a processor faster than her first computer by a thousandfold.
There was an answer in these things. Her eyes admired her own curves while her backbrain continued. The old grumps back there, she imagined, toiling away while she had fun.
From down the hall, Kalli called back to her. “Oh, some guy at the bar was asking about you. Came to our table, all aflutter.”
“Yeah. Kept calling you ‘the interloper.’ Once he called you ‘his bathroom girl.’ I think he was trying to be cute, but it was weird.”
Lain giggled. Kalli sighed, then she left, closing the door while Lain’s giggles still echoed down the hall. Lain had collapsed onto her bed again in a fit of mirth.
Lain put her headphones in, imagined her way to the park where G. would be waiting, and let her muscles do the rest.
She arrived there having listened to twenty songs, with four new ideas and the first actionable steps to get her new project started. The magic of creativity.
She approached the bench where G. was settled, walked up with the box of donuts she had bought. She smiled at the sight of his badly chosen outerwear. He didn’t seem to realize the weather had gotten warmer, or else he had nothing else in his closet.
Lain started to greet him, but halfway through her sentence he gasped and swore viciously, his eyes widening at the sight of her.
“What is wrong with you?” he demanded, looking horrified. Lain stopped cold, glancing around her. And then down at herself. “What are you wearing?” He was angry. Then beneath his breath, “and why would you think that would be okay for a job like this?”
She took a step back. Entirely unprepared for this attack, she stuttered out a response.
“N-no, I wasn’t —”
He bulldozed over her.
“You are the brightest thing in eyeshot.” He gaped. “I can scarcely look at you. What would possess you to wear something so awful to a surveillance job? You might as well dress yourself in the glare of the fucking sun!”
She shook her head, her stomach now aching again. Lain threw the box donuts at his face and walked away.
The street was dead quiet, except for the sound of cardboard impact.
While Lain stormed off and the boy stared after her, shadowy shapes slipped off from a certain house, emerging from a certain door and skittering out of sight.
Lain’s rage carried her for a while.
The encounter playing over and over again in her mind, she nursed her growing sense of displacement, of never fitting in.
A blur of time carried her to a nearby mall, a place where she could get lost amongst the lights and music and surround herself with manicured, shiny humans. People so polished she couldn’t even imagine them in a state of undress or disrepair. Like plastic dolls, their clothing included in the box. And beneath their immaculate outfits likely only smooth plastic curves with joints for pivoting and rotation.
Another streak of time and she was near water, considering a swim in the busy harbour. Her knowledge of all the chemicals and motor-related contaminants kept her from the dive. She watched the effervescent coating on the ripples and moved on.
Another blur and now she was in the same bar from the other night. She sat alone with a drink, drawing all the eyes in the room. She was a young woman in a sundress, in a bar during the middle of the afternoon. An oddity.
A man struck up a conversation. His appearance was rough, his clothing ill chosen, his hairstyle far out of date. She saw him pocket a ring on his finger as he spoke. She looked at him, and slipped gently into a favourite role: confused young woman.
Oh what should I order at a place like this, I just don’t know. He smiled and was happy to explain the process, his love for the bar. She moved closer to him, touched his arm and back amiably.
They laughed, he inched closer, his hands finding less and less socially acceptable places to plant themselves.
The bartender, a big woman, looked at him with suspicion.
When the man suggested they find a quieter place, she smiled and opined that they go back to his place.
He downright glowed for one more short moment.
Lain mentioned how she was out of an apartment currently, and could really use a place to stay tonight, if he caught her drift. His eyes widened. She would appreciate it so very much, she continued. And it would give them time to decide on how to rent a place, together. She knew which neighbourhood she wanted, but with his income at the ... Where did he work again? Was it a desk job? Did he have benefits? Because she had been without a plan forever, maybe she could hop onto his plan! She could introduce herself to his coworkers and friends, and they could share everything, and the apartment would, of course, not be big enough for the baby, when he or she finally came, she always wanted a she, but they would be homeowners by then and there would be room for a few more. Lain laughed. It would be wonderful, wouldn’t it?
Moments later, she sat alone again, sipping her drink.
The bartender winked at her and gave her another, on the house. “That’s for getting rid of the creep,” she said, smiling. Then noticing someone behind, the bartender waved excitedly as a man came through the doorway.
“Ryan!” the bartender called, and Lain turned.
It was him. Her bathroom boy.
He saw her too, and to Lain he looked like a child, big wide eyes at an unexpected gift.
Ryan came to her and they spoke. Flirted. Later they held each others hands, and then kissed. They found a quiet corner outside to explore each other.
Blurs and movement brought them to her apartment, and for a short while the rest was by the book.
Lain sat, typing on her computer. Updating her social networks, sending some emails. On the bed beside her, Ryan slept, naked, with his butt uncovered. She liked this view, and she would glance at him between sentences and posts. He breathed beside her, back rising and falling.
She looked at her computer screen. The computer screen looked back at her.
The status bar indicated it was almost 3am, a beautiful time. Before the sun returned for another day, yet after everyone decided to call it quits. Her time. Quiet time. LainTime.
The idea about her phone struck again, and this time she knew exactly what she could do.
Within an hour she had set it all up. Had managed to download the software and unlocked her phone for development. In one moment, she had converted her phone from a product she owned to what might prove to be a tool.
Her thoughts turned back to the houses in a row, the middle house. Something had changed last time she saw it, but her mind couldn’t pinpoint it. Such puzzles were much easier with ... well, with reliable “before” and “after” imaging, right? She smiled.
Ryan slept soundly through all this, rolling over once or twice and grunting. His rear end was her constant reward.
At last, the alert from her bladder superceded the obsession of her creativity. Lain climbed off the bed, being careful not to wake the naked man, and padded off towards the bathroom.
Spent some time in there. LainTime + bathroomTime = relief. She fiddled with her phone while she sat, her underwear bunched around her ankles. She had managed to create the very first inklings of an app for her phone. All it did was say “Lainlainlain” with a button that accomplished nothing at all. But it was a start, and truly exhilarating.
When she returned to her room: lo, the boy was gone.
She blinked and rubbed her eyes. Looked again.
The covers looked tossed and his clothing was missing. She looked around the room, at the ceiling, as though expecting him to suddenly be sleeping up there. No boy. She glanced back at her apartment door and saw it was slightly ajar. Quietly closed, a stealth job.
Well, this was a twist.
Lain didn’t know how to feel. She thought of his uncovered bum and felt sadness. She sat back down with her computer, acutely aware of being alone. A little relieved, too, perhaps. She burped. There would be no awkward morning to figure out.
Suddenly she realized he could have stolen from her. She glanced around her room, but could see nothing missing. Not even her wallet, or the money on her desk. All easy pickings.
It was a strange occurence, but not enough to distract her from programming.
Time became fluid as she typed.
A sound interrupted her concentration, something annoying. Something she knew well. Too repetitive. She broke away from the screen and realized it was that annoying ring tone everyone and their mother seemed to have. Motorola, she thought. “Hello moto,” it sang with glee, over and over. It was in her room. Why was it in her room? It wasn’t from her phone.
Lain tracked the sound to a pile of covers, and beneath: lo, a phone. Not hers. It jittered and jittered, motoing and glowing that “Kyla” was calling.
She picked it up and pressed Accept. “Hello?”
On the other end, a loaded silence. Breathing.
“Helloo?” Lain tried again.
“What the fuck? Who are you? Where’s Hanlon?” a voice demanded. A woman, most likely, but so hoarse she couldn’t be sure. Hanlon? Who?
“I honestly don’t know. Who’s Hanlon? I just found this phone in my room.”
“Kyla? Is that your name? It’s what it said on the phone. Tell me, who’s Hanlon? I was just with someone, did they steal Hanlon’s phone maybe?”
“I don’t ... I don’t know. Fuck. Who were you with?”
“A guy named Ryan? But he just ran off, apparently forgetting his phone. Is he a dirty thief?”
A sniffling, then the sound of crying.
The breathing turned ragged, hyperventilating it seemed. Lain waited, her concern rising. Would she have to call an ambulance for a person two phones removed?
She tried once more. “Hey, are you okay?”
“That fucking —” Then crying. A long delay. Lain waited patiently. Then, “Hanlon’s first name is Ryan, but he never uses it.” Between sobs.
Sniffle sniff. “Why were you with Hanlon? Were you studying?” A hopeful upturn at the end. Lain considered.
“Kyla, do you want the true-true? Or the non-true?”
The other seemed to consider it very carefully, if the thirty seconds of silence was any indication. “True-true,” she whispered across an unknown distance.
“Ryan, if it is the same guy, was here and we slept together. He just left without saying goodbye.”
“You fucking whore.”
“Not me, though I understand your anger. But he never mentioned you, I swear.” Silence again. Small sobs between. Lain sighed. “Are you his wife? Or something awful like that?”
A sob. “Something awful like that.”
“I’m so sorry, Kyla. He’s a charming motherfucker.”
“Listen, do you want to meet up? I can bring his phone and you can throw it off a bridge or into a wall or something.”
Sniff sob. Choked sound. “Okay.”
“Okay. Meet me at the valley bridge in an hour, alright? I have red hair and I’ll be wearing a white jacket. I’ll wave his phone at you.”
She tossed Ryan/Hanlon’s phone onto her bed and found her own.
Lain struggled to bring her mind back from coding mode and texted Kalli, kept texting until her friend answered.
The sky was brightening now. Kalli walked beside Lain in a daze of exhaustion and together they made their way across the valley bridge. Someone was waiting near the middle, leaning against the railing. The railing would be freezing cold, Lain knew, and wet from the morning dew.
Lain pressed the lock button and waved the lit phone across the remaining distance. The faraway girl rose, waiting for them to arrive.
Lain spoke first. “I brought a friend. In case you felt like throwing me off the valley bridge.”
The woman, Kyla, looked at her dully. “I don’t want to throw you off anything.”
Lain nodded, not totally convinced. “Okay.”
“Jesus,” the woman muttered, “you’re just a kid.”
“Well,” Lain said, looking away, “be that as it may. We brought beers. And the phone. And popperjacks. Maybe we can celebrate your new beginning?” Kyla gazed at her, silent. Her eyes might have been streaked with makeup. Or tears. Or dirt.
Kalli took out out the popperjacks and tied them expertly to the phone Lain was holding. Kalli held the now-rigged phone out to Kyla, who just stared at it and closed her eyes.
The phone had begun to ring.
Between the string and popperjack fireworks, the screen said “Home.” A photo of her and Hanlon/Ryan, looking so happy. Lain and Kalli waited, and Kyla seemed immobilized until the ringing stopped. She took it then.
Kalli flipped her a lighter. Kyla dropped it awkwardly and picked it up again.
Lain took out some beers and popped the caps off, gave one to Kalli, and held the other for Kyla.
Kyla held the phone and the fireworks. Then lit them with the lighter. Sparking fuse-light revealed her mournful expression. She waited, and waited. Lain started to lean backwards, making ready to retreat. Just before the fuses vanished, Kyla threw the phone off the bridge, away and out. The sparks spiralled through the darkness.
The phone exploded, fire and glitter arcing across the sky, the pieces falling towards the water below.
The three women watched, sipping their drinks.
Lain waited for Kyla to say something. Anything. Minutes passed in silence.
After a while, Lain and Kalli turned to leave, and Lain put a hand on the mournful woman’s shoulder. Kyla jerked away violently, looked abashed, then looked angry.
They parted ways.
On the walk home, Lain caught Kalli up. Her interaction with G. earlier, his horrible reaction that brought her to be entangled with Bathroom Boy, or apparently Possible-Husband Boy.
Kalli tracked back in the stories, pointing out to her all the ways in which G. was bad news. Sexist, somewhat insane. Possibly homeless. (Lain didn’t quite agree on that point. Probably not homeless. The homeless didn’t send too many emails, she was guessing.) Unstable, and an adventure that could only end in damage of one kind or another.
Lain nodded at all the right points. Smiled when Kalli was being understanding and looked somber when her friend chose to lecture.
She made promises when she needed to. Yes, she’d consider all these things. No, she wasn’t going to give him a chance to get crazier on her. She smiled and hugged Kalli, and her sleepy friend held her close. Kalli chose to say a few more words, meant to comfort her, and they laughed over the absurdity of Bathroom Boy and the end of the Bathroom Couple. Kalli’s laughter was contagious and Lain joined in.
They parted ways, too.
Lain checked her phone as she walked. Seven new emails, six of which were basically junk.
One wasn’t. It was from G.
Subject: A most sincere apology
I am truly sorry for how I treated you today. I’ve mentioned my social shortcomings, but I neglected to explain them thoroughly, and, well, you’ve seen them illustrated now.
I should never have treated you with such disrespect, and as your partner and mentor, it is my duty to make sure you understand things such as etiquette and the overall situation. I have failed you spectacularly.
I hope you will return to the task, but I understand should you choose not to. If you like, we can sever any friendship and keep our relationship purely business. The task is very important. Whether or not you enjoy my company, I wouldn’t want to lose your burgeoning expertise.
I apologize again.
Fucking partner and mentor. Lain focused on the signature, ignoring everything else for a moment.
She pondered his face, his stature. The way he carried his weight, even while sitting. His hair and skin colour. The stubble, the one feature she had actually liked. She thought of his eyes, his expressions.
She saved his email address to a new contact. Typed in a name in the proper entry field.
Registered it in the phones memory and watched the corner of the status bar spin, as her realization was synced to servers thousands of kilometers away. Backups upon backups created, stored, duplicated, and again. It seemed a lot for just one stupid guy’s name.
Still thinking of Graham, she walked on, towards her home.
With no body, no mass, it was so easy to fly. She whipped past places and times. It was so simple to move. She rolled everything back and forth like a video.
She watched Lain returned home, collapsed into bed, and fell asleep, still smelling Ryan or Hanlon or whoever she had maybe met.
Was she watching herself sleep at this very moment? The feeling made her nauseous and she moved away.
She realized she could follow any of the players anywhere. She moved back along Hanlon’s night, watching and reveling in the detail. Taking in all the little events that had brought him here, now.
Struck by the urge, she rewound by
years. Decades. Centuries. She watched, enthralled.
An ancient ancestor, trapped on a mountain with his clan, struggling to descend amidst unsteady stone and bitter cold, looking for shelter.
A long dead mother fighting for her life as a tiger picked off her family one at a time. The night a sheer terror. Under changing names, subsequent lives. Last names, clan names, business names. They made it long enough, bred enough, for his mother to meet his father.
In a café, a quiet place, his mother noticed a small, gorgeous man sitting nearby, and she boisterously made his acquaintance. She floated above, watching this meeting. They had a child, a boy, their pride and joy. Little Hanlon, first name Ryan. Their family had a tradition to use the middle name, and so that was what he went by.
She saw it in snapshots, her whole life. His mother had lived to escape the grasp of her stern family, her bitter father. So when she found a man she loved, she kept him by any means necessary. A choice of selfish desire and selfless hope for her child. In an age when single parents faced derision, their children mocked, she wanted all the chances in the world for her boy.
Time rolled on, as easily as a thought, and she kept her gaze fixed on the little boy.
Hanlon was an enthusiastic, unstoppable kid. He ran onto roads, into tunnels, out of buses, and all the while managed to avoid an untimely demise. A skill, perhaps, of his whole lifeline. And his mother loved him. Dearly. Relentlessly.
But their stories entwined less and less, and the little boy grew up, made his own opinions about his parents.The boy couldn’t bring two things together: his mother broke a basic tenet of her society. She led, and her father acceded to her, always. In all things. Hanlon developed vocabulary for his parents’ bond, helped along by his classmates. Words like “wimp” and “baby,” then later “subjugated” and “controlling.” Descriptors like “powerless,” “sissy,” and “bitch-whipped.”
His derision for his father was in full bloom.
This growing library of survived the
storm of his parents’ passing. His mother, a strong, indestructible woman,
faded in a hospital bed. The final years supporting her in her illness fell to
Hanlon himself. He was paying, as he saw it, to watch his mother die.
Abruptly bored, she forwarded again, and the hospital receded. Hanlon’s face grew and aged. To when he met the woman, whom she had so badly hurt without even knowing.
Years hence, now, Hanlon met a girl named Kyla. She hopped nimbly onto her line, now.
For Kyla all would be the same, she assumed: ancestors, forebears, all survived to bring Kyla here. Curious, she tried moving into the woman, to find a way inside. It was as simple as travelling to the past.
There, she saw the story from within.
Kyla was in dire straits. She wondered what could have brought her to this awful place. Sitting by the phone, her stomach twisted into knots so thick she feared they would never be undone. She’d already thrown up twice, wiping her mouth and brushing the taste away both times. Her dinner sat plated on the table, wasted. Made for a man who came home less often, who was out later each night. She had promised herself she would never do this again.
And here she was, living it again.
Kyla’s childhood was a shy, nervous, and tormented journey. She kept the stories of her embarrassment in a box, buried deep in her mind, and it was a box she would never open. And yet, one day she had come to a realization. She lived there, in that box, every day.
In the grocery store, a man had the nerve to cut in front of her. She politely reminded him that it was not his turn. Could he please move to the end of the line?
The man turned, knocked the grocery basket out of her hands, and she recalled the food falling to the floor, a carton of milk bursting over her shoes and pants. He cursed viciously as she stood there, stunned. She could see his tongue as he screamed.
Security took the man away and people around her had helped to collect her lost foodstuffs. But Kyla was shaking. She was sick of this shit.
She would not let anyone, even Hanlon, lead her around anymore. No matter the intentions, good or ill. Never would the basket be struck out of her hands again. Not ever.
To her credit, Kyla made good on this. The change was sudden and irreversible.
Hanlon was floored, daily. Things that had been no trouble at all, mundane choices like choosing movies, television channels, shopping schedules, all were now arguments.
Hanlon hadn’t realized how much Kyla let him lead on every front. And now she had taken all of it back, all at once, with no room for debate.
Kyla didn’t realize that this power, Hanlon’s ability to lead them, was a key part of his connection.
Their fracturing was sudden and destructive.
For Hanlon, the only answer was escape.
For Kyla, she pushed on stoically.
Hanlon chooses to return to a bar, and in there, is Lain. More accustomed to the experience, now, she watched their first interaction, amazed at herself, at him.
While Kyla was shopping at the nearby grocery store, collecting ingredients for a beautiful dinner, perhaps her best yet, Hanlon was flirting with a girl nine years his junior.
She wondered idly how this all ended. Where did it lead? She pushed forward and ran against a hard edge, a wall, from which she simply bounced back. She tried again, and felt it give just a little, and then pain in her head, powerful, and she was thrown back into the moment.
No cheating forward, she supposed.
Her head hurting, she watched herself flirt with Hanlon. It looked fun even now. She’d already lived this shit herself, so she dove into him, experiencing his night. It was terrifying, to see herself like this, yet fascinating.
Hanlon and Lain wandered outside for a while, and their conversation was a thing of beauty. The push and pull, jumping between topics, laughter and baiting.
And Kyla was home, cooking the pasta for dinner, adding ingredients at perfectly intuited intervals.
Lain was willing to engage, she was sensitive yet powerful. Hanlon knew he had misjudged her at first. He had thought her someone that needed him, but he realized as they walked back to her place, that maybe he needed her. Her apartment showcased her youth. Her room, the choice of her attire, her furniture. She was young, he knew.
They made a kind of love, her relative inexperience made up for by her energy. He enjoyed every moment of it.
The moment he reached orgasm, and unwound, the shame struck.
Pulling off the condom, he realized he had put the condom in his bag with this specific goal in mind. No accident, really. He felt abject shame at his weakness.
While he used the bathroom to clean up, and Lain opened up her laptop (her creativity fired by her, well, distinct lack of orgasm) —
— and far away Kyla placed her two servings of dinner, neatly packaged, into the fridge at the home she shared —
— Hanlon stared at himself in the mirror. And regretted the whole night.
In some girl’s bathroom, he realized that his fiancé, his beautiful Kyla, was trying to be just like Lain. Had always wanted to be, maybe.
Instead of supporting her change, her decision to be stronger, to own her life, he had walked away. No, he’d run away. Far away. To bars and alcohol and cocaine and everything but her.
He felt like absolute shit. But what could he do now?
Hanlon came back to the bed. Lain was typing away. He flopped over, and she patted his butt. He smiled, fighting his deep regret, and fell asleep. Instead of leaving, he slept.
And he slept.
And at home, Kyla threw up into their toilet and cleaned it with their toilet brush, washed her mouth in their sink. Knowing now that something was wrong, knowing deep down where Hanlon must be.
Lain typed away.
He awoke all at once, with Lain still typing. Continued to feign sleep. Lain eventually went to the bathroom and he rose, never before having moved so quickly. He was dressed, wearing all his things, and putting on his shoes before she even flushed the toilet.
His nap had dulled his senses and he forgot only one thing. Just that one thing.
On his way home, he thought of all the things he might say to explain himself, and all the things he might never say, to preserve their life together.
Watching, she felt how much he wanted to make it right.
He reached nervously for his phone, to see if Kyla had texted him. His hands found only the lining of his pocket, and his heart dropped into his knees.
At home, Kyla could take it no longer. She picked up her phone, and soon Lain picked up his phone. And the rest of this, she already knew.
She felt herself there, waiting, knowing this would all soon collapse. She could feel it, the muscles moving, the sounds and lights from elsewhere filtering in one by one. Before her, Hanlon and Kyla’s big reunion was playing out, and she stopped everything.
Mid-scream, their faces tense, tears and flushed cheeks. Dark circles under their eyes. Years of stress after years of life after years of ancestors. Their faces frozen, there was something in Kyla’s face. A twist, a shadow.
But she didn’t notice, and on a whim,
she jumped back onto Kyla’s lifeline and rode and rode.
Back, further. Lives zipping past. Faces unravelling into youth, and then skipping onto ancestors and unravelling again. Curious to see where this woman came from, her history. She expected a long train, like Hanlon’s, the number of lives growing into the hundreds, stretching back along the ages.
After only five of her ancestors, something went terribly wrong.
One last face, a gorgeous brunette woman, undoing itself into the simplicity of childhood. She watched the girl shrink back, her eyes growing in relation to her face, cute, adorable, and then unformed.
Then, abruptly: absolute dark. A terrifying, wholly enveloping void. She struggled to roll forward, back into the world, but there was no path. Ahead, the dark. Behind, the same.
She was trapped here, alone, at the beginning of all things for Kyla’s line, screaming for help but no one would come. Nobody would ever find her here, she knew, her yells drifted off into the inky depths. How could they? She had fallen away from everything.
Lain awoke in the dark, painful cramps in her side. Her own yells seemed to be echoing off the walls around her.
She was wrapped around a pillow, crumpled in the corner of her bed. Her mind swirled with remnants of dreams and a pounding headache. A vague sense of flight, of people, of being eternally trapped. Ages of the earth and family and abusive husbands. Not surprising, maybe, considering her recent adventures.
She hid her face beneath the covers, smelling the fabric. Scents of Ryan or Hanlon or whoever he was, traces of Kalli, and herself. This was how bad weeks started.
Her nightself would be queen for a while, she knew.
And so she was.
Sleep was a bottomless pit, never satisfying. In the fog, she remembered answering messages and calls, pretending to be a real human, all the while perfectly aware that her promises were lies, her updates false. Lain was on autopilot.
Nighttime kept her late. Waking became a daily appointment she couldn’t keep. Before she slept, her nightself took control. It might instruct her to walk into a bar, or not to worry as someone fed her shots and drugs, or might implore her to take him, take him, have him, now now now.
Lain fought off her nightself as best she could, avoiding the outside, the conflict the world brought her in this mode. She was following her dad’s most useful advice.
When Lain was still a child, her father had seen something in her, recognized a mood.
One day, catching her in a moment of rare quiet, he sat her down. The sky was full of pure white clouds and the radio was playing the Beach Boys. He knew how she felt, her father said.
Lainy squirmed and fidgeted, trying to escape. He knew, he told her, because he was the same. She stilled, listening dubiously, wary of a lecture.
He called it his riptide. She frowned and asked why. He said, smiling, that it was the mood where he felt like ripping everything apart — the couch, the pillows, the wallpaper. She listened, spellbound. It was a mood that was made to unmake, he said. That last sentence made her head spin, but the phrase caught there, too. Like a nursery rhyme.
Do you know what I do? he asked her. She shook her head.
When the riptide came, he hid. He tried his best not to see anyone, not to make plans, not to make promises. Not serious ones, anyway. She understood some of this.
He said when the tide was in, he was the Tasmanian devil. He lunged at her, wrapping her in a big hug and spinning her around, standing up as she giggled. Everything would be destroyed! he sang to her. Put her down. This she could relate to, and she grinned. You’re my little devil sometimes, Lainy, he said. Had rubbed her head and plopped her back on the ground.
Later on, in her teens, she grasped his meaning and she started hiding. When she felt like cursing at her friends, punching her classmates, she just hid. Especially after Jessica.
Lain applied his best lesson now, bucking plans with Kalli, avoiding contacting Graham, letting his apology sit in the air.
When her nightself was out, she was apt to do anything. Questionable things. Better to stay alone, to be herself by herself.
Her only outings were the result of desperate hunger. She would throw her jacket over pyjamas, not bothering with any makeup or beautifying, skipping the bathroom and the mirror. Out the door, directly to the corner store or, if she was really desperate, the supermarket, which was fifteen minutes farther. An eternity for the nightperson.
There came one evening, however, when she could no longer stay. Television bored her. Music sounded like noise, the lights grated on her, all her possessions, strewn and scattered, just pissed her off.
Her nightself took hold.
Lain made her way to the bathroom, stripped out of her overworn pyjamas, took a long shower. Brushed her teeth, examined her face, lightly covered any spots she didn’t like. Applied eyeliner carefully and deliberately. A striking, thick line of it, in a shade very near to black. She smiled at her own reflection. She was sleek.
Found a set of clothes that seemed appropriate for the night, put on her jacket, hat, and gloves. She left.
Outside, the world looked new to her. Every tree was rustling louder, glinting leaves were all shinier. It seemed to her the moonlight was laying out a path, just for her.
A moonline. She liked that.
Lain followed the splashes of luminance on the ground, leaping from spot to spot. Following it through a park, through a schoolyard. The night was quiet here.
A few blocks away there would be revellers and cars and buses and music. But here, behind the primary school, it was a sanctuary.
She seated herself inside a tiny little house, clearly meant for the littlest kids. Once she’d settled in, she listened to the night around her and looked out her tiny window.
Her grumpy backbrain knew someone would come now.
They would be following her. They would creep up to The Little House in the Schoolyard, where Lain sat, quiet, attentive. They would have something to say, whether frightening or surprising. It would fill up a part of her, this meeting.
The moon shone brighter, and through the tiny door she could see the path leading to her little house. It shone bright, and so madly obvious, almost shimmering. Anybody could follow it and it lead right to her.
Most people walked nervously through the dark, frightened of the shadows, clutching lamps and flashlights. But the night-person reveled in the dark, only felt complete there, hidden from sight. Listening, hearing, knowing.
Most of all, knowing.
She almost saw a shadow emerging, heard the footsteps. She breathed in, frightened but excited.
The silence stretched on.
No one came. Maybe the sounds were coming from next door, just one room over.
She heard something distant, noises, echoes, and then nothing at all. No sounds, no arrival.
Just Lain, sitting alone in a tiny house meant for children.
She was acting like a child herself. The thought made her bashful.
The night person bowed out and Lain was Lain again, sitting in a place she had no business sitting at midnight.
She made to rise when through the tiny window she saw a dark shape dart past, making only the faintest crunch. Lain stiffened, held her breath, and listened. The cramp in her side returned. She started to hear sounds. Real sounds. Not the ones from one room over, down a hallway she couldn’t reach. These were here and now. Padding, a whooping. A few sets of feet, or shoes. No, not shoes. They were too light, too careful. A small yip.
What had brought her out here?
She looked out, peeking around the corner. The schoolyard was empty, lit by the glow of fluorescent bulbs. No shadows moved. She could no longer see her moonline.
This was wrong.
The way that shadow at the end of the yard lay against the wall was unnatural. There was a shape perched below a nearby tree, entirely still, while the leaves and trunk of the tree rustled and moved. One of the schoolyard lights flickered in a pattern. Too regular. Something blocked another light. Perched on top, perhaps.
The wind did not still, but the sound of it faded. She heard the pounding of her own heart.
She waited. And they waited.
Whatever they were, they were patient. They had swept in while she cornered herself in the little home, now waiting her out.
What had brought her here? She had been sure someone was coming. Lain had expected Graham. That he’d finally reveal that he was stalking her, and those houses in a row were just the sham excuse of an obsessed boy.
Or she had expected Hanlon, maybe? He must have had a bad week since they met, maybe he wanted to come back to her, make her his rebound. Take his plan B.
None of these felt right, though. None felt like the thing that was supposed to happen.
Lain thought of her best friend. It was the first time she’d wanted to call Jessica in years. Lain was startled at how long it had been since she’d thought of her phone number. Sad and distant, those well-loved digits.
Lain had never told Kalli about Jessica.
Despite the fact that a city could be a tiny place, Kalli and Lain had met clean, no prior conceptions. A quality worth preserving, a chance to be a new and undamaged friend. Such chances were few and even fewer in a world with online networking, and Lain had snapped it up eagerly.
But tonight, a younger Lain had emerged.
Had she been watching that stupid movie about ghosts? Suddenly the night had felt ghostly, full of possibility. Had something so silly driven Lain out into the cold night to be surrounded by coyotes, or whatever they were?
Lain was aware of a new sound, the crunching of wheels and low purr of a motor.
She poked her head out and was blinded by the glare of a spotlight. The wheels and purring motor slowed to a stop. Her heart pounded in her chest. This was it, her arrival.
“Stay where you are, please,” and the kah-thunk of a car door opening then closing, followed by footsteps. A man stepped through the glare of the spotlight, wearing a uniform.
She sighed in relief. Looked around for the strange shadows she had seen, could discern nothing in the light. The police officer walked up to her, frowning.
“Miss, what are you doing here?” he asked. He shifted his belt with both hands, standing straight.
“I was just taking a walk,” Lain said, looking up at him. She couldn’t read his expression, thanks to the spotlight.
“I see,” he said, “and you ended up taking a little breather inside the playhouse?”
He looked back at his partner, who shut off the spotlight, poking his head out the window of the police cruiser.
“Why?” the man asked.
“I don’t know, I felt cooped up at home. Sorry, is this not allowed or something?”
The officer looked concerned. “You’re more than allowed, ma’am, but aren’t you aware that there’s been reports of a prowler in this area? Did you see anyone suspicious on your walk?”
Lain was surprised. “No, not at all. I actually saw no one at all on my walk.” She thought of mentioning the strange shapes, and then didn’t.
“I see. We have reports of a peeping tom somewhere in the vicinity, and we recommend that you head back to your home and stay indoors tonight. Thursday nights here bring out the drunkards. No offense intended to you, of course, just that the drinks and the energy can make groups of good boys and men into groups of bad boys and men.”
Lain was thoughtful. “Bad boys and men,” she repeated.
The partner chuckled from the car. The officer smiled. “Do you need a lift home?”
Lain grinned. “Are you offering? Can I ride in the back, behind the cagey thing?”
“As long as you don’t make a habit of ending up there.”
“Well, alright then.”
Lain snapped a photo through the cage of the cruiser. The partner, whose name turned out to be Dawson, looked back and grinned. Stinson and Dawson. Good names.
Polite conversation until they pulled up in front of her place. She thanked them, and tried to open the door. Dawson chuckled and got out to open it for her.
They waited until she unlocked her front door, then waved and drove away.
She watched them go, then glanced around, looking for shadows, or prowlers, or peeping toms. No one was around and all was quiet.
She entered her home, closing the door gently behind her.
Outside, shadows coalesced, congregating. Yipped and chirped, and then were banished with the eventual rising of the sun.
Order Moonlines in print at http://www.moonlit.ca or search on your favourite eBook retailer.
Stars and Gems (coming 2016)
Genevieve, Volume One
Genevieve Unbound (coming 2015)
Sleet & Snow (animated, efehan.ca)
Lain & Jess, a shorts collection.
See more at efehan.ca