:: previous – Paper Honey
“Your bridal gown is breathtaking on you.” Tehanie’s smile at me radiates with love.
I join her and Lux lounging on the couches in the loft. Music videos are playing on the TV. Aromas of sugary spice, chocolate and a touch of vanilla linger.
“I made mini–Tangled Jade brownies.” Tehanie scoots closer to me. She’s in good spirits. “Just some amuse-bouche.” She motions to the pink plate on the coffee table.
Her hair is a pleasant shade of brown blonde now, styled in a long, loose braid. She’s laid back and beautiful in her plain white tee and jean shorts.
“You gotta try them.” Lux says through happy giggles. She looks like a posh rockstar with her pin-straight lavender-black hair and all black on. “So yummy.”
“Oh, did you secure your gown with the code like I showed you?” Tehanie asks me.
“I just did. And I texted Emilian that if he tries to peek, the gown will self-destruct by ripping to shreds to preserve the secrecy of the design, like you said.”
“Good.” She smiles. “He won’t take any chances now, I bet.”
I grab a brownie.
Mm… So soft.
Like biting into a warm cloud with a creamy-thick chocolate inside.
“I missed you at Grim today.” She twists my curls around her finger and begins braiding my hair. Happy, tingling shivers slide down my back under her soft touches. “How was everything at the library? Good first day?”
“Yeah! It was amazing. I was super nervous this morning, but it turned out great. Everyone’s nice there. I only work from ten to four, and Mr. Paper, my neighbor who saved me from the drone, he’s so kind. He gave me a tour of everything. The place is enormous and full of history!”
“What will you be doing there?”
“This week I’ll perform page duties to get a feel for the library more before I’m put on assignment. I can’t wait. I love it.”
“Nice. Sweet. I’m digging the way you designed everything in the house, too. It’s such a cool mix of you and Emilian, I see it everywhere. Like dark and light made love.”
My cheeks heat. “Thank you.”
With Tehanie back, everything feels complete.
She returned yesterday from her getaway and is over tonight for dinner. As soon as Mili and West finish their business matters in the study, we’ll eat and watch the basketball game. They’ve been on the phone forever with their lawyers.
“Aw. You’re so adorbs.” Tehanie wraps her arms around me and it feels like my mother’s embrace. Warm and comforting, no matter what. “I’m excited for you and Emilian.”
“So am I.” Lux raises her glass of lemonade to me then drains it. “Ahh, this is nice.” She sighs and slides down to the floor, sitting cross-legged on the carpet.
We watch a guitar solo on TV while Tehanie continues braiding my hair.
Lux throws her hand at the screen, making the thin gold and black bracelets on her arm jingle.
“Amateur! Look at her hand position.” She shakes her head and snags another brownie.
Me and Tehanie do the same.
“Did you know… people would hang out like this on Earth and all they’d talk about was work?” Lux says. She’s sprawled on her back across the throw pillows scattered on the carpet. “I never understood it, but I did it too.”
Tehanie mimes playing the violin with a mournful expression.
“I never went out intending to talk about work.” Lux continues. “But there were colleagues who always went on and on about what so-and-so did or said about this-and-that in an email that plunged the top floor into a dark vibe, slowly dripping deep into the company. I got sucked in a lot. All the time. And then me and my office buddies would get together, drink and talk about it all. And laugh about it. Then we’d return to the place we complained about, recycling those office experiences back into bars and bowling alleys over booze. Unloading and ranting about it all over again. We were each other’s punching bags. Just bouncing aggression off each other. Comfortable, shared aggression… Oh, it got boring. So boring… But I’m in an unbelievable place now.” She sighs at the ceiling dreamily. “There was always this feeling I didn’t have a place there, on Earth… And I didn’t. I was right.”
“She’s up there.” Tehanie’s grin is sneaky.
“Ya. It’s cool that you’re feeling it. No one cares you are.”
“No.” Lux rises triumphantly. “I’m not.”
“Oh? Prove it.”
“I don’t know. Do whatever it is you do on the computer. The hijinks. The mayhem?”
“Nah, I don’t do… that… stuff.”
Tehanie looks at me and rolls her eyes.
“Misa won’t say anything.” She hands Lux a phone from her purse. “You can do it from this one. It’s a burner.”
“This feels… Did you plan this or something?”
“Maybe.” Tehanie grins. “Get into the Crown database.”
“What? No… The Crown? Why? Shadow tech doesn’t work anymore with them. No one can get through there.”
“You can. Just try.”
“West already tried—”
“But you didn’t.”
“Because he wanted nothing traced back to me if—”
“You have a unique, untraceable touch. Do it.”
“Maybe she shouldn’t.” I chime in.
I don’t know what they’re talking about, but it feels wrong.
Lux looks uneasy.
She stares at Tehanie for a long moment, and as if something snaps inside, her mouth slowly morphs into a mischievous grin.
“Fine.” She slides her bracelets off and stacks them neatly on the coffee table. “Make sure the phone’s off.”
Tehanie does as she’s told and sets the phone face up between the bracelets and the plate of brownies. On its black screen, Lux taps on the phone as if she were playing the piano at differing speeds. Fast, slow, fast again.
“What are you doing?” I ask.
“I’m going beyond.”
My sunflower hops onto the table to get a better look.
“It’s like, so complicated it’s not worth explaining right now.” Tehanie rolls her eyes.
We gather around the coffee table while the screen comes to life in black and white fuzzy static.
Lux resumes her knocks and taps on the screen as the static merges into a kaleidoscope of spinning, swirling, multi-color stretchy dots.
Pink, Green, Purple, Blue…
From the center, an ominous black hole rises, bordered in gold.
Wait—Micah’s phone would look like this sometimes.
Yellow, Orange, Red…
He said it was a game… I didn’t ask more.
Lux stops tapping and busts out a few dance moves. Sunflower mimics her with a jig to the beatbox sounds she makes with her mouth.
“Are you in?” Tehanie asks, squinting at the screen.
“Access the Personnel Department.”
“A boring yet specific request… Okay.”
A transparent number pad pops onto the screen. Lux taps away again.
“Alright. Where am I going now?”
“Accounting. Last name Grim or try Nightbell. First name Khiana.”
“Is this about the inquir—?”
Tehanie shushes her.
Lux looks at me, then turns away fast.
“What’s going on?” I ask.
“Nothing.” They say at the same time, still staring at the phone.
Lux resumes the invisible piano.
I heard Tehanie say Khiana’s name.
It’s okay if they’re looking for her. If found, authorities can formally charge her for killing Micah and send her away again.
My sunflower and I continue watching.
“Can you get a silent copy of her personnel file?” Tehanie’s big brown eyes bulge. “Full history from the beginning to the end?”
Lux squints at the screen.
All I see are tiny fuzzy gold dots.
What’s she reading?
“Mm… with this file size… Yeah.” She nods confidently. “Should be easy.”
“Then hurry. Do it. The less time we spend in this the better, right?”
“Yep. Wouldn’t want the mask on my fake handle to decay. Copying now.”
“Yeah. It’s working.”
“Girl. Just like that?”
“Just like that.”
“Dammit. I knew we should’ve done this last year.” Tehanie tsks. “Maybe I should learn how to do all this myself. I know the terminology from watching West, but I’m unsure what to tap.”
“Once you start, you’ll never stop.” Lux laughs. “Alright. It’s done. I’m getting out. You’re welcome.”
“It’s on the burner?”
“Not anymore, I purged the silent copy. That file is now one hundred pages of old school paperwork hot on the dark printer. We can stop by Grim after the game and grab it.”
“Kay. Thanks, girl.”
“I’d recommend scanning that paperwork for safekeeping. Shred it after.” Lux adds. “Kill the burner.”
“Will that paperwork help you find her?” I ask Tehanie.
“I don’t know, but I hope it proves the whispers… I know people in the District. I’m always listening, and I hear a lot. This time I hope West finally hears it too.”
“Are you and him doing alright?”
“Lux is great with West. But me and him are, you know. Some things take time. It’s awkward now with everything going on. The sky trick up there, your wedding, West’s insane obsession with his no-good fuckin’ ex. Plus, I left, which didn’t help, but I did what I had to do to clear my mind, so… He’ll get over it.”
“Oh.” I nod.
“Hey,” Tehanie strokes my cheek. Her smile remains. “Don’t worry, everything will be fine.” Her real phone chimes. She reads the screen. “Ah. West said he and Emilian ordered dinner. It should be here in twenty, and they’re wrapping up in five since the game just started.”
“Finally.” Lux groans.
She’s back on the floor, gently stroking individual carpet fibers.
Tehanie looks at me, her finger pointing up at the ceiling.
“I’m not!” Lux mutters.
We burst into laughter.
It feels good when we’re together.