Data has always been the quiet brother on the fringes of the club. Always there when you need him, but never quite fully engaged. That’s because he’s been harboring a secret. Long before he joined the club, he had a friend who meant the world to him; she disappeared, prompting Data to search for her… he’s been looking ever since.
A mysterious message appears on an internet forum: Does anyone remember Amalia Rose?
Of course he does, and he will stop at nothing to get her back. His secret is out, and life is about to change for everyone in some surprising ways.
I yanked open the door and leveled the gun at the man’s face. His hands went up along with his eyebrows and without any preamble, he said, “Mali, get your shit, we have to go.”
I blinked, my jaw dropping open as I squeaked out in disbelief, “Kyle?”
“Mali, I mean it – we have to go,” he said stepping past me into the kitchen. He went to the table and closed the lid on my laptop, yanking the cord from the wall and winding it around his fist.
I’d shut the door and went down the impressive line of locks flipping toggles and sliding chains demanding, “Where the fuck did you come from?”
“Home, which is right back where we’re going, we can talk about all this later – we have three minutes. Turn around.” I stared at him and he barked insistently, “Turn around!” which was quite the departure from the adorable nerd boy I knew in high school. So shocked, so startled by the fact that Kyle Cochran, my best friend from over seventeen years ago was really here, I swiftly turned around. He ripped open the sturdy Velcro holding my thick, vinyl messenger bag closed and shoved the laptop and cord into its gaping maw alongside the neatly stashed sketchbooks and graphite drawing pencils.
We both froze at the heavy footfalls on the wooden steps. My kitchen was at the back of the brownstone. A set of wooden steps leading to a small deck. Kyle and I exchanged a look. His liquid brown eyes which had once been so warm were cool and appraising as they whipped over my face. I could see the calculations going on behind his gaze and he produced a black gun from the back of his waistband, a long, slender finger from his opposite hand pressing to his lips. He ushered me behind him and told me, “Head for the basement.”
“Are you serious?” I whispered harshly.
“Mali…” his voice was low, concentrated, and bordering on impatient. I scoffed and tugged on the hem of his black leather biker jacket, which worked for him as much now as it had when we were teens, by the way.
Seeing her like this, it was like a punch to the gut. So far removed from the vibrant and carefree best friend I had grown up alongside since the third grade.
She wasn’t a child anymore. Nor was she a teenaged girl. She had aged beautifully into the woman that stood beside me. Her long dark hair as long as it had ever been, the ends dipped neon pink. Her figure filled out and lush, her dark eyes still lined in black but something about it, the line of it too crisp to be makeup – that, and it hadn’t run with the rain at all.
When she’d answered the door I’d seen the watercolor fantastic ink beneath her skin. Her arm sleeved out in vivid flowers. I wanted to see more of her, but I wasn’t about to push my luck. As it was, I pulled out one of my more impressive, black credit cards from my wallet that was under the name of one of the many shell corporations I had set up just for an emergency like this one.
I marched to the hotel’s front desk and ordered a suite while Mali stood off to one side and a bit behind me. I could feel her like my shadow and I was grateful she hadn’t cut and run on me. I didn’t know the shit she’d been through, had no way of knowing, not until she told me.
There were more immediate needs to be met, though. While I was dying to know what had taken her from me for the last seventeen years, I was more interested in making sure she was warm, dry, rested, and fed, first. That she was capable of going back into what was likely to be a very dark place. My obsession for answers took to riding bitch in the face of all of that. I had her by my side. No one knew where we were, yet. We had time, for the first time in forever.
She stood apart from me again in the elevator up to our room, her gaze vacant and fixed on the buttons. I didn’t try to make her talk. I didn’t try to intrude on her thoughts. I simply stood by and watched her, my own gaze roving over her from head to toe. Her hair was windswept and tangled, the dark roots fading into a bright, neon pink where it trailed over the cracked black leather of my old jacket. She clutched at the broad strap of her messenger bag between her breasts, her knuckles mottled white with how hard she gripped it.
Text Copyright © 2017 A.J. Downey
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
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