by alejandra

"I'm in Africa," he says to her over Americanos. He doesn't put sugar in his; he never does. "It's hot there."

She's halfway done with hers and trying to make it last longer. If she can make it last longer, she can stay with him longer.

The eyepatch is disconcerting, but she likes to stare at his face. He makes her stomach fluttery, like the first time she met Billy. His mouth always looks like it wants to smile but doesn't remember how; that reminds her of Billy too. She knows how that feels -- the smiling thing -- although she thinks he knows a bit better than her.


"Are you still in Africa?" she asks next time. She sips an iced latte slowly. There's a lot of vanilla syrup at the bottom that she can't stir into the coffee because there's too much ice in her cup.

"Nah." He's stretched out, one leg on either side of hers under the table. If he brings his knees up to sit properly instead of slouching, she thinks they'd totally unbalance the table and spill his overfull mug of hot coffee. He's drinking it black today.

She kind of likes the way his legs are hot against hers.

"Where are you now?" She takes another sip of latte and gets only the syrup again. It's a little bitter, when it's not mixed into coffee.

"Flying to China."


"There's another." He stops for a second, his eyes darting one way and then the next. "We shouldn't be here; it's not safe."

"It's safe," she says softly. "I promise."


He's rubbing his eye. Well -- he's rubbing the patch.

"Does it hurt?" She wants to know. It's rude to ask, but he doesn't look offended.

"Not much. Not really. The memory does." Hot, black coffee again. He looks tired. His t-shirt is ripped at the collar. They're in a different café this time -- he says this one is safer because it's indoors. She pretends she doesn't know that nothing is really safe for anyone anymore.

"Memories are --" She pauses. Her coffee is black too, because he ordered it for her. She was late today; things were happening. She sips it. It's bitter like the vanilla syrup from last time, but hot and it soothes. Kind of. "Memories hurt more, I think. Because, you know."

"Yeah, I know. Over and over and over." His voice is grim. He must still be in China; China always depresses him. But not as much as Thailand does, or South Korea. He's been to both places and he doesn't like to talk about it. She's never -- she's been to Germany and Canada and New Zealand and Australia, and once she went to Mexico, and she's been to every state, even Alaska. He told her he was sure she didn't want to go to South Korea, and she's sure he's right.


"You're late again," he says. Her coffee is waiting for her. It's frozen, with whipped cream on the top.

It took her a minute to find him this time, because he was sitting in the back, with his back against the garden wall, at a small table with an umbrella over it. The rain doesn't seem to bother him; he must be in a desert.

"Sorry," she says. "My brother. He."

"Your brother?" he asks. She doesn't usually talk about her family to him -- he needs her more than she needs him, and she knows it. He knows it too, she thinks. Maybe that's why he's always waiting for her -- she never has to wait for him.

"He's kind of, like, famous," she says. Understatement of the year much? But he's nodding like he knows. But he doesn't. He can't.

"Yeah," he finally says. "I have some friends like that."

"Like -- her?" she asks. The girl who is always in the corner, watching, suspicious of everything, her long blonde hair blowing in the breeze, even when there's no breeze. She's not even wet.

"No. That's Tara. She watches out for me. Sometimes." He glances at her -- at Tara -- and then back to Hannah. "It's hard."

"What about..." Hannah stops, hesitates. "Am I allowed?"

"Of course you are." He glances up at the umbrella. "Maybe next time, okay? I think I'm late." And then his arm starts to bleed. Hannah looks down at her coffee, and when she looks up again, he's gone.


She sees Tara first. Now that Hannah knows her name, she sees her a lot, even after he's gone, even when Tara isn't supposed to be there. Tara is really pretty, even though she's always dressed like she's going to a Renaissance fair.

Noticing Tara has Hannah noticing other things, too, like even when it rains, it's bright and sunny. Even when the coffee sits between them for hours, it never gets cold -- or, sometimes, the ice never melts. That's his magic, Hannah thinks.

"I don't have magic," he tells her. "I'm the one who's normal."

"Why would I be here if you didn't have magic?" she asks, but he doesn't answer her.

Instead he says, "Tell me about your brother?" and she feels annoyed.

"Not everything has to be about my brother," she replies, and then, feeling rude, adds, "Tell me about your famous person."

He laughs, shortly, and says, "You already know about her. Everyone does, even if they don't realize it. She's the one who keeps the sun out."

"The sun looks like cheese today," says Hannah.

"That's something else," he says.


There's cheese on the table. That's funny -- there's never food.

"The cheese stands alone," he says, and smiles, a real smile, and his whole face looks different. When he smiles, he doesn't look old.

"What are you doing today?" she asks.

"I'm back in England," he says. He's really tan, and there's a frosty glass of water next to his coffee. Black. No sugar. "I've got meetings."

"What kind of meetings?"

"The boring kind." He's been smiling a lot now -- he must be near his famous girl. Or maybe further away. It's a faraway smile, like he's thinking of nice things. Like the kind of smile Dom gets when Billy calls, or her mom gets when Zack comes home.

"I wish I had some boring meetings," she says wistfully. "It's just the same thing over and over -- parties and drugs and Kelly fighting with her parents..."


He makes jokes sometimes, and speaks in a weird cadence like he's fifteen years old, and when she observes it he says, "Sometimes I am fifteen, I guess."

"Did you have two eyes when you were fifteen?"

He's quiet for a moment. Hannah notices out of the corner of her eye that Tara is coming over, and then Tara is there, and one hand is on his shoulder. He doesn't seem to notice.

"I had two eyes and two friends," he says finally. "And when I was sixteen I had a girlfriend, and when I was seventeen we blew up the school."

"Like that movie," says Hannah, and he looks at her sharply.

"What movie?"

"Heathers." She frowns at him. "What did you think I was talking about?"

"Nothing that exists anymore." He relaxes back into Tara's embrace, and Tara smiles at Hannah. "Well, whatever," he says. "I'll tell you about when I was fifteen. I was in love with this teacher, and it turned out she was a preying mantis."


He's bleeding from his fingernails and eye. There's blood coming from under his eyepatch.

"What's wrong with you?" she asks, but she doesn't feel worried. Whatever it is, someone will fix it, like they fixed his arm. They couldn't fix his eye, but that's negligible.

"It's a virus," he says.

There's condensation on Hannah's cup and it's making her hand wet. That's new.

"What kind of virus?" She frowns at him. Now she's worried, but only a little. Tara's not there with her arms around him, and there's still no sun.

"The bad kind," he says but she doesn't understand. He clarifies: "The evil kind."

"Evil?" Hannah looks around for Tara, but Tara's not there. His coffee isn't steaming anymore, and there's oil gathering on its surface.

"You know, like with the badness?" He shakes his head and a drop of blood lands on her hand. "It's new for them. You'll see. Just be careful at night. You don't know this kind of evil."

Hannah shrugs. Panic is rising in her; she feels like she did when she and Lij and Dom ate too many shrooms and she thought the roof was falling in on them and she couldn't stop it. "You know what I say?" she asks. He's sweating blood. "I say that between two evils, I always pick the one I've never tried before."

He tries to smile at her, but his gums are bleeding and he winces instead, and her voice is wobbly when she says, "Don't go."


She's distressed, and he's not there, not anymore. The cheese sits on the table where they left it, in the sun, in the rain. It's snowing, and it's dark out, and Tara's not there either.

"The cheese stands alone," says Hannah, and sighs, and puts her chin into her hands and stares at the cheese until it disappears.


She wakes up feeling shaky, but can't remember why. She shrugs it off and hits the kitchen. No one else is awake yet, so she makes the coffee. It's nine in the morning; she should get a move on if she's gonna make it to Kelly's house for brunch.

When she looks outside, it's dark, like something is covering the sun.

Her coffee gets cold too quickly and the water in her shower won't warm up. The house is too quiet; no one is there. The television isn't getting any reception, the radio is all static, and the phones are dead. Too weird. Too too too weird.

Hannah feels a weird compulsion to fill her pockets with pencils. She takes her mother's necklace, the one her father gave her, the one with the big ugly cross pendant, and puts it on. She doesn't feel any safer, but she feels -- prepared.

Yeah, prepared. Weird.


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