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Posted: Oct 14 2016, 11:52 AM
Joined: 21-February 11
The morning after was shit.
Lila didn’t go back to sleep after she cried. She took a shower, which woke the other girl up. The girl rolled over and asked her what she was doing, and Lila told her, “Leaving,” and the girl didn’t argue. She turned away from the light from the bathroom and went back to sleep.
Lila picked her clothes up off the floor, dressed, and headed out the door. The corridor here was much nicer than her hotel - the carpets were cleaner and thicker, and nothing smelled. The elevator worked, and the lights inside it were warm and pleasant instead of white and glaring. The pleasantness underscored just how awful everything was. She wrapped her arms around herself and shivered. Sometimes her body was her own, and sometimes it wasn’t. Sometimes it felt like there was nothing she could do to get her body back from all the people and things that had touched it.
Outside, it was still dark, and she had to walk a few blocks to find a street where there were more taxis. At 4 a.m., there was a divide between the people who were waking up to go into work, and the vampires who were retreating as dawn approached. Standing at the curb, holding her arm out, she looked down the street. At the end of the block, she saw the two men from the park, watching her. She closed her eyes and shook her head, and they disappeared again. Maybe the drugs hadn’t worn off.
It was a quiet ride home. The cab driver looked at her funny from his rearview mirror, but he didn’t ask her anything else besides the address she was going to. The front doors were locked at the hotel, and she used her key to swipe herself in. The same old receptionist with the dyed red hair was there, glaring at her. The elevator was still broken. The smell of vomit had faded a little, but was still there. Her room was just as empty as she left it, and her bed just as uncomfortable. It wasn’t even that she wanted to sleep - she just wanted to be alone. She kicked off her shoes and laid down on her bed, and stared at the porous ceiling.
“Where are you?” She asked the question to the empty room. Did she want to be alone? No. But she did not feel less alone with people. There was only one person she could remember who made her feel less alone, and that person had disappeared a long time ago.
By the afternoon, her hangover was in full swing. Unfortunately that did not absolve her of certain human burdens like eating, and Lila was forced from her room again. She pulled her hair up and threw on the baggiest dress in her suitcase, and paired it with the biggest pair of sunglasses. She didn’t want to talk to anyone.
Outside, the smell and sound of everything was too strong. The honking of the car horns and the smog and the grease turned her stomach. She headed back towards the coffee shop she’d found near Central Park. Coffee would be fine, maybe with a bland sandwich. Then she could figure out what to do with the rest of today, and start forgetting that yesterday ever happened.
It happened again, a little, the thing where she zoned out and became lost in her own thoughts, and seemed to wake up again at her destination. Somehow she navigated the right trains and the right blocks to end up at the coffee shop, when the whole time she had been thinking about how much she hated her headache. Then she was awake, sitting down with her latte and her sandwich and lifting the sunglasses from the bridge of her nose. She took the first bite of the egg sandwich. Her stomach gurgled.
Maybe if she had been more awake, she would have noticed the men sooner. But Lila wasn’t more awake, so she only noticed them when they walked out of the coffee line and sat down at her table. Her sandwich was halfway to her mouth.
In her heart, she felt afraid. That fear was soon swallowed up by coldness and anger. “Can I help you?”
“Yes,” the first man said, “You could.” He was a white man with mussed brown hair, a bad five o’clock shadow, and an English accent. The mussed hair was partially hidden by a black beanie, but if his bangs were anything to judge by, Lila thought, the rest had to be worse.
“It was a rhetorical question,” Lila said icily. “The implication was that you could help me by going away.”
“Try not to be too hard on Lonnie,” the second man chimed in. He was friendlier looking, better put-together - a black man with a wide, bright smile and a clean-shaven face. “He’s not the best at being polite.” The second man extended his hand. “I’m Demetrius.”
Lila looked at his hand suspiciously. If she shook it, she was implicitly agreeing to this interaction. “Care to tell me why you’re here?”
Demetrius laughed, and dropped his hand, shaking it like she’d burnt it. “Tough crowd, tough crowd. But we knew that, didn’t we Lonnie?”
Lonnie was looking over his shoulder, scowling at the direction of the coffee line. The barista called out, “Large espresso for Mark!” and he got up.
Demetrius shook his head, and looked back at Lila. “Lila Salhab, isn’t it?”
“How do you know me?”
“Well.” Demetrius reached into his inside coat pocket, and took out a square of folded-up papers. He unfolded them, and then spread them out on the table.
Lila had to keep herself from lurching away from the table. The papers were old online advertisements and old profiles - print-outs from underground freelancing sites, if she used the word ‘freelancing’ liberally. Officially, the powered were all on-call government employees, either working directly in various areas of civil services, or required to perform various volunteer services as ‘repayment’ for their early and continued magical education. Unofficially, the rich and the powerful loved to hire the powered for personal security and entertainment. Her eyes skated across the pages, grabbing words like ‘gala’ and ‘festivities’. Her mind regurgitated images of skeletal women in sparkling dresses, giant roses blooming out of granite floors, the air thick with the smell of flowers, men in white boiling leaves and inhaling the leftover powder. On one page she caught the phrase ‘party of one’. Unable to stand the horror any longer, she turned the pages over on the table. She felt like she was going to throw up.
“What the fuck is this?” She asked like she didn’t know.
“Girl.” Demetrius put his hands over hers. She was so intent on keeping the pages face down that she didn’t snatch her own hands away. “I’m not here to bring up bad memories. I’m just answering your question.”
“Question fucking answered.”
At that moment, Lonnie came back with his espresso. He sat down and looked at their hands, then looked to Demetrius and arched his eyebrows. “You move fast.”
“Fuck off,” Lila said, just as something to say.
Demetrius picked his hand up. Lila dragged the papers towards herself. She wished she was Marielle, so she could set them on fire.
“Hey!” Lonnie kicked her under the table, then nodded towards the ground. Lila looked. A tiny root had sprouted up and displaced one of the tiles of the coffee shop.
She didn’t like to take her medicine in front of other people, but fuck, she had forgotten. Her hand dived into her purse as she sighed heavily and asked, “Alright. What’s this about? Where’s the party tonight?”
“It’s not a party,” Lonnie said. “Or. It’s not that kind of party.”
Lila rolled her eyes and took out the medicine bottle. “Uh-huh. It’s never that kind of party.” Until it was.
“My man speaks the truth,” Demetrius told her. “We’re not here to bring you to some uptown apartment and impress rich fools.”
“Oh yeah?” She popped one of the square pills into her mouth. “What’s the deal then? What’s the price?”
Lonnie rolled his eyes and reached into his jeans. He pulled out his wallet and opened it. Emblazoned in gold was the blind Lady Justice, scales in one head, a torch in the other. An angry eagle crowed above her head. Between them were the words ‘ FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION’. Beneath Lady Justice were the words ‘DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE’. The thought streaked through Lila’s mind, ‘When has justice ever come to me?’
“Miss Salhab.” Lonnie was speaking again. “You are going to pretend I never showed this to you, and that you never met me. My friend Demetrius is going to offer you a contract, and you’re not going to look very hard at that contract or that company. You’re going to do this job, and I’m going to forget about all of those papers on this coffee table. Do we understand one another?”
“Damn,” Demetrius said. “You don’t know how to talk to girls.”
Lila took another deep, shaking breath. She exhaled. “Okay. Okay. What’s the job?”