“So what’s your story?” Lily asked, take a sip from her drink.
We had walked to a small café in the center of town. After ordering some organic pastries and drinks, we made our way to an empty table in the corner. We pulled out our homework and got to work, quickly finishing it as she had predicted. We had then moved into more relaxed positions, and began talking about our lives.
“Yeah. You move to our wacky town, seemingly on a whim, and no one knows you. A lot of people seem to know your mom when she was young, but that’s it” she said, taking another drink. “Why here? Why now?” I leaned forward with a smile.
“I’m not the only mysterious one here” I said, desperate to get the topic off myself. “You’re quite the puzzle yourself.”
“I prefer to think of myself as an enigma.”
“Ok, Enigma, what’s your story?”
“No way. I asked you first” she said, a challenging smile crossing her lips as she leaned forward.
“What do you mean ‘so’?”
“First’s the worst, second’s the best” I replied childishly. “I win. Start talking.”
“Not going to happen.”
“I suppose we’ll just sit here in silence then.”
“I guess so.” I leaned back in my chair, and she mirrored my movement. I stared out the window, waiting for her to speak first. I knew she was waiting for me to do the same, but I wasn’t about to give her that satisfaction. Hope always said I was stubborn; I might as well get something out of it. We stayed like this for several long minutes, occasionally taking bites of our pastries, neither one of us wanting to speak first. She sighed, running a hand through her hair. It was a nervous movement, an imperfection in the otherwise flawless façade, and I loved it.
“Fine” she said softly.
“I’ll make you a deal” she said, more loudly.
“The only way I’m going to get you to talk is if I let you ask me questions as well, so I’ll make you a deal. One question, one truthful answer. We take turns. Deal?” She held out her hand, her slender fingers firm. I took her hand and shook it once.
“Deal. On one condition.”
“A condition is a required part of an agreement, but that’s not important right now.”
“Thank you. My condition is that we restrict broad questions, such as “what’s your story”. Specifics only.” She thought for a moment, her hand warm in mine, before nodding. We dropped our hands, and I felt a sort of missing piece, like she took part of my hand with her. I brushed the feeling off and nodded in her direction. “Ladies first.”
“You moved here with Hope. Where is your father?”
“Wow. Way to start with the heavy stuff. He died in the line of duty when I was little.” Her confident smile fell as she thought she’d crossed a line.
“I’m sorry. I had no idea.”
“No, you didn’t. Hence the game” I said, and her frown disappeared, the competitive look returning to her eye. “What do your parents do?”
“My mother is a historian of medieval literature and my father is a physicist.” My eyebrows rose in surprise.
“Wow. Those aren’t even remotely close. How’d they meet?”
“Ah ah. One question at a time” she said, wagging her finger at me. “Besides, that’s a question for them, not me.”
“Very well. I believe it was your turn?”
“Okay, this one has two parts. What is your favorite book? And why?”
“The Three Musketeers. It has just the right amount of romance, intrigue and swashbuckling adventure. Same question, back at you.” She was stoic for a moment, considering her answer.
“Othello. It teaches us to consider the repercussions of our greed.”
“Not technically a book, but I’ll let it slide” I said with a smile. She returned the smile with one of competitive rivalry.
“Thank you, O Grand Master of Books.” I bowed my head graciously.
“You’re welcome.” She playfully hit my hand, and my heart fluttered. She skin was so soft, it was like a silk sash had stroked my hand. Keep it together for the nonce I scolded myself, forcing my smile back onto my face.
“My turn” she said, drumming her finger absently while she thought. “Okay, I’m going to go heavy again, you ready?” My nerves spiked as she said that, hoping beyond hope that I wouldn’t have to lie to her.
“What is your middle name?” The breath I didn’t realize I’d been holding escaped in a small sigh.
“Solo? Like cup or Han?” I laughed.
“Han. My dad was a big science fiction lover, so I’m named after his two favorite space captains, Mal and Han.”
“Malik Solo Owain” she said, as though feeling how my name tasted in her mouth. It made my stomach flip.
“No one else can know.” She made a sign to zip her mouth shut and throw away the key. “Good. Okay, what’s yours?”
“This game isn’t going to be as fun if you keep copying my questions” she said, a stern look on her face.
“Okay, okay. What is your full name?” She smiled at my maneuver.
“The name my parents gave me is Lily Stephanie Tinibu.”
“Whoa, that last name came out of nowhere” I said, surprised. She scowled, thinking I was mocking her name, and I backpedaled. “No, I just mean that you have two very Americanized names followed by a traditional African last name.”
“My father is from Uganda, originally. My mother is French.”
“The more you tell me about them, the more I want to know how they could have possibly met.”
“I told you: that’s their story.” I raised my hands, conceding.
“Sorry, I forgot. For the record, I think it’s a pretty name.” She smiled meekly and glanced down at her pastry, picking at it with her fingernail.
“Thank you.” The table fell into a comfortable silence for a long while as we both busied ourselves with destroying our scones at a molecular level. Something she had said struck a chord in me, and I perked up.
“You said something-“
“I’ve said a lot of things, but thanks for noticing.” I gave her a tight smile before continuing.
“You said that was the name your parents gave you. What did you mean?” She smiled a large smile, and leaned close to me over the table. Sensing she was going to say something important, I leaned in as well.
“It’s not your turn” she whispered, before leaning back with a laugh. I joined into her laugh, surprised at my own gullibility. After a moment of pondering, she turned and looked me directly in the eye, holding my gaze. “What is the weirdest thing to ever have happened to you?” My blood ran cold. Did she know? How could she know? Hope and I have always been careful to not accidentally reveal anything. Had we been careless? As my mind raced for a lie, her phone rang, saving me from having to answer. She glanced at the display and a dark look crossed her features. She picked up her phone and stood.
“I’m sorry, I have to take this.”
“Of course.” She quickly turned and left the café, answering the phone as she walked through the door. I strained to hear her voice, but there was too much ambient noise to hear anything. I glanced around the café, taking in my surroundings with any kind of interest for the first time since we’d arrived. It was a large, one-room café with the bar along the back wall. In one corner sat a small stage with a lone microphone stand in the center, waiting for the next hopeful soul to sing to the patrons. Several people sat in the café with us, all in varying states of lively conversations.
Two young friends sat in the corner opposite ours, debating the validity of the Apollo moon landing loudly. A young man sat at a table at himself, books splayed open before him. White earbuds were pressed firmly into his ears and he drummed along to his music with his pens. Two people sat near the drummer, both immersed in the same book, in what looked to be a tutoring lesson. The baristas behind the counter laughed as they cleaned glasses and rearranged the food in the display case. Lily stormed back into the café, a look of annoyance plastered to her face. She got back to our table and quickly centered herself, wiping the annoyance from her face, changing into one of abject sadness.
“What’s wrong?” I asked as she sat down.
“My mom needs me at home. Some… family matter.” The way she spoke, I got the impression she was hiding something, but I didn’t push it.
“Oh. That’s fine. I should probably go too.” She looked sad at having to leave, but dutifully rose and packed her things into her backpack. I followed suit and soon we were back on the main street, which was, coincidentally, named Main Street.
“Will you walk me back to the school? I’m meeting a family friend there who will take me back home.”
“Of course” I responded, and fell into step next to her.
“She really means a lot to you, doesn’t she?” Her voice was soft, as though she didn’t want to push the boundary of our conversation too much.
“Well, of course. She’s my mom” I said with a laugh.
“No, I mean more than that. Like something bad happened to you once and she got you out of it.” My mind went back to the day Carl had tried to punch me, and all the subsequent problems I’d had with myself and my powers. Hope had always been there; patient and kind, helping me through everything, even if she didn’t understand much of it herself. I’m not sure I could have coped without her unwavering support.
“Yeah, you could say that.”
“You’ll have to tell me that story someday” she said, her voice hopeful.
“Someday” I replied, lost in my thoughts. We walked on in silence, enjoying each other’s company while immersed in our own worlds. We arrived back at school faster than I’d wanted, and found a large black SUV idling in the parking lot. An Arabic man sat behind the wheel, watching us closely as we walked. She turned and face me.
“That’s my ride” she said, gesturing behind her.
“Thanks for spending the afternoon with me” she said with a smile.
“Let’s do it again.”
“I’d like that.” Before I knew what to do, she hugged me, wrapping her hands around me. I quickly recovered from my shock and returned the embrace, willing my blood to stay put just this once. She let go and walked towards the SUV, leaving me feeling like I wanted more. After a few steps, she turned back around, and before she could lose the nerve, she darted back to my side and kissed me! Okay, she kissed my cheek, but she still kissed me! My heart fluttered and I could feel the heat rise in my face. She turned and ran back to the SUV, getting into the passenger seat. The Arabic man peeled out of the parking lot and disappeared around the corner. I raised my hand to where she had kissed me, gently touching my cheek. I walked back down the hill and towards home, a smile on my face and a bright spring in my step.
I walked into the house and made my way to the kitchen, dropping my backpack on the stairs. I grabbed a water bottle from the fridge, shut the door and jumped. Hope had snuck up on me, waiting behind the open door.
“Ah! What’s wrong with you?” My heart pounded in my chest, coming down off the burst of adrenaline she had caused to course through my system. She hopped up on the island next to me.
“How was scho- What is this?” She grabbed my chin forcing my head to one side as she examined my cheek. I pulled away and rubbed my cheek with a slight smile.
“Nothing my ass. You got kissed! I want details.” Sometimes it was hard to think of Hope as my mother instead of the older sister she sometimes acted like. I broke into a smile and jumped up onto the island with her.
“You tell me how your first day was and I’ll tell you mine” I said. She grabbed a bag of chips from the counter and tore into them, bringing her legs up and under her on the counter, facing me.