No matter where I went, I was always the new girl. Dad was a danger to society, and Mom kept a tight leash on his empire in his forced absence.
Yaay, my life.
At least they loved each other, and called me when they could. Usually, it would be the person in charge of the house who handed their phone to me with a solemn look in their eyes. The time I asked about it, I’d had to hear it from another guy that no one liked to be reminded who they were taking care of. I was sheltered when I tried to sneak out, moved away when I got too close to anyone.
Damn near everything, including high school, was a blur of faces, names, even the classrooms all started looking alike after a life of house-hopping. The teachers were either Sir or Ma’am, and the other kids my age were kind of a curiosity to me.
They all had similar dynamics, different trinkets and words.
And then there was Hell.
Junior and Senior year of the last high school I’d ever attend. He stood out to me because he seemed to inhabit the same undercurrent as I did, flowing around everyone else’s conversations as if we didn’t really belong anywhere.
Except, he was useful for growing up here.
His name was Hector and I was told they used to call him Heck when he was a kid. His parents had been unfortunate bystanders in the park, leaving behind an only child. By the time I met him, the guy had a permanent resting bitch face and his knuckles looked well-used. Obviously outgrew the nickname as his reputation darkened, so Hell it was.
He stared at me with his dark chocolate eyes sometimes, when he sat deep in thought and mostly alone, and I ignored him. Only once, he almost bumped into me in the hall, but I quickly slipped away.
He wasn’t the first person to try to get “friendly”. I’d learned to avoid being in places that led to those situations, and he didn’t get a chance to run into me again. Though, I did sometimes wonder what would happen if he did. Dreamed about it, even, and chalked it up to hormones.
As soon as we graduated, he disappeared, and I breathed a sigh of relief when I did, too.
My parents had summoned me to their hidden throne by private jet, and for once in my life I enjoyed a quiet family meal. Despite the wealth and dangerous power, they seemed to finally have found a small measure of comfort in a bungalow, surrounded by waterfalls and miles of forest.
They waited inside, already laughing over drinks, and my nerves dissolved at their easy love. I could always hear their affection over the phone, but to see it for myself was a weight off my shoulders.
Two pairs of eyes like mine looked up as I walked in, and a meaningful silence fell over the table. My escort saw himself out.
My dad couldn’t stop smiling throughout the simple dinner set on a low table, his button-down open just enough to tell me they were behaving in front of me, and it called my attention to the golden chain. It was a locket.
Mom had a small smirk beside him, she kept looking at me like she wanted to say something, and did other things instead. A drink, another bite. An offer of some other dish.
I guess none of us knew where to begin.
‘Hello’ just didn’t cut it, and before we knew it, too long of a time had passed for it to be appropriate anymore. But it was a comfortable silence, and one which surprised me with an offered drink. Mom poured into a clean glass in Dad’s hand, and he passed it onto me.
So I drank with them, and figured one of us would eventually find the words.
It was me.
“Where to, now?” I asked, wanting some kind of direction in life. Nothing in school had appealed to me, and I didn’t really believe I had any talents beyond avoiding people.
Dad shrugged. “What is it you want to do?”
“If it was up to me, she’d let us catch a break,” Mom hedged.
My eyebrow quirked up. “What, so suddenly this is a family business?”
Mom gave me a diplomatic look, delicately nibbling a slice of meat.
“Always has been, sweetheart,” Dad said easily. “Just need to know where your head’s at.”
“Babe,” Mom warned quietly.
He shrugged again, waving at my face. They watched me think.
I could go almost anywhere in the world, as long as it was business. I’d have no issues with travel or food, provided I stayed within our own zones. I could sleep just about anywhere, I wasn’t picky, and I’d finally be around people who might even remember my name.
I grinned. “Yeah, okay. I figure you guys deserve to chill for a minute.”
They laughed with a shared secret.
Mom shook her head and her finger at him, her face a shade of love that was quickly edging away from levity. “That one has no ‘chill’.”
My lip curled up unpleasantly.
“Alright that went from cute to EW real quick,” I half-joked, standing with a last piece of fruit in my mouth. “Mind if I shower?”
Dad nodded, replacing his glass on the table to make a sound of agreement.
“It’s outside. Ask someone to show you.”
And with that, my induction was complete. At least, unofficially.
The next year and a half was a strange fast-paced bubble of suits, double meanings, quick getaways, and lots of “Dad, what the fuck?!”
Mom was right, he had zero chill factor, and I dare say he was still alive only thanks to her.
Despite the very real danger, they were all smiles and warmth and laughter until the day they retired.
The seriousness of their faces made me remember the moment very clearly: Dad took my hand, his arm around my tipsy Mom. Crazy pair of humans, but still in love.
“Do us proud, sweetheart.”
Mom was completely sober for an instant. “We’ll call you.”