Karina unlocks the front door to her house and tosses her backpack onto the couch in front of the TV. She yawns loudly.
It’s still sunset– those faint few minutes where the day’s glow can still be seen right under the horizon… though in a city as big as Atlanta, all the street lights are already glowing bright and the neon signs on the skyscrapers are flared up, you can barely see anything past the skyline anyway.
The sun sets on another day’s work.
The Social Media Killer’s grip on the city holds.
It’s just part of the normal routine as of late. Just as the sun moves around this stationary celestial body known as the planet Earth and definitely not the other way around, so does Atlanta swirl in circles around a singular force, apparently some disgruntled person bent on vengeance.
That’s life, I guess; fundamental forces of nature and the laws of physics altering themselves to suit the need of the hysteric public at any given point.
“I’m beat,” Karina says. “And I still have work and school tomorrow…”
What is tomorrow… Wednesday? No, wait, Thursday I think. It’s been a long week and everything’s blurring together already.
“I’m not sure if I have work or not,” I say. “That thing Larkins ‘assigned’ to me is so weird…”
“I don’t get it either,” she says. “He wants you to research an acquisition for a multi-billion dollar company? It’s just odd. I don’t trust anything Donald Blyth touches, though…”
Because her father works for rival company Sakaguchi Automations? Or because the guy wears gloves in the middle of March and shows up at branch office banks at nine in the morning?
He was a little off-putting to me, too. The fact that my sister is investigating him makes things a lot more interesting, but to be honest I can’t entirely trust her to tell the truth on anything whatsoever, so it’s not a sure bet she’s ACTUALLY investigating him or if that was her way of trying to manipulate me into unwittingly doing her bidding.
I try not to think about the mind puzzles she plays or else I’d go insane.
But… “If it means I don’t have to go to work tomorrow I’ll definitely look into Dreamtech,” I say. “Couldn’t hurt, I guess.”
“It could hurt if it turns out Blyth is the one that hired all the thugs to attack you,” Karina says.
I take off my shoes at the door and walk towards the couch. “That would be a really poor way of getting me to help him out…”
Despite healing faster than most and most of my physical injuries having disappeared, I’m still reeling a bit from that beating the other day. The lack of peaceful sleep and all the scurrying around town hasn’t been helping in that regard.
It’s a good thing the only thing we have to do for the rest of the day is go to sleep and get a good night’s rest. I don’t think I could do a single productive thing past this point without passing out.
Karina tries to take off her hoodie, but it gets stuck as she tries to pull it over her head, and she struggles to get it over with her face completely covered up. Her shirt pulls up with it, leaving her stomach and chest showing all the way up to her bra.
I try to dart my eyes away from her on instinct but… you know. I’m human. I can’t help but take a quick glance.
She seems to be stuck at the arms, too tight for her elbows to get past, and now it’s all tangled up so she can’t get any of it over her head.
Finally she gives up and releases the hoodie, letting it fall back into place. She growls.
“Do you… need help?” I ask.
Karina’s face is red, either with embarrassment or with anger. “Shut up, Morgan.”
I’m trying very hard to keep my composure and not burst into laughter right now. In fact, that would be the worst thing I could do right now, as that would only exacerbate the current situation. Laughing would be the natural reaction to a situation like this, but it would only upset Karina even more, possibly leading to some yelling and door-slamming, followed by about thirty-six hours of passive-aggressive curtness between us before she would end up giving up being mad at me because of how unproductive it would be to keep it going, though that memory of me laughing at her would forever be burned into her brain to the point that she could no longer look at me without a neuron firing in her brain to connect that memory with my face and forever impeding her ability to fully forgive me because her subconscious mind will not let that memory fade away over time, ruining our friendship over a slow period of distrust and embarrassment. I’d much rather not get involved in that sort of situation if I can help it, so I do my best to keep a straight face.
I snicker a little bit.
And then immediately cough to cover it up.
I take a couple steps closer to Karina, until I am right in front of her, our faces nearly touching. I put my hands on her shoulders. “Turn around,” I say. She complies.
Now I’m facing behind her. “Hold down your shirt.”
While she keeps her shirt down I grab the hoodie at the sides and pull it up to her armpits. She lifts her arms up in the air and then slips out of its arms as I raise the hoodie upwards.
Finally, the hoodie’s off.
Karina turns back around towards me. She’s wearing a plain white undershirt and now her glasses are tilted slightly from the hoodie going over her face again. She takes the glasses off and sets them on the table beside us.
“Thanks…” she says.
“Why do you wear hoodies in the Spring?” I ask.
“I don’t know…” she says softly. “I like them.”
“That’s a good explanation, I guess.”
Neither of us move.
Our faces are just a couple inches apart. And now Karina is staring into my eyes for some reason. Her expression is contemplative, her brows furrowed somewhat.
Well, I won’t relent, and start staring back at her, trying to keep my expression as flat as possible.
She notices this and follows along.
It seems we have begun another staring contest.
This may have been a foolhardy decision, as Karina has a special talent for the unremarkable skill of holding stares for extended periods of time. It’s like she’s staring deep into my soul, reading my mind…
If you can read my mind, Karina, then what am I thinking about right now?
Yeah, that’s it. Ha. Now your unfocused mind is distracted by lewd images.
She’s probably not telepathic, then.
As we continue to look at each other sans blinking, Karina extends her arm. From the corner of my eye I see her raise her hand, and then gently rub my arm with her fingernails. It’s a deliberate move done to make me itchy and break my concentration, but I will not relent.
What is she doing?
She puckers up her lips and starts moving her head closer to mine.
I reflexively reel back in surprise and–
Karina leans over laughing, so hard she starts to shed a couple tears. “Morgan…” she tries to say while still laughing. “Oh, man…”
“That’s totally cheating!” I whine.
She wipes off the tears in her eyes.
“Cheating at what?” she asks.
I guess we weren’t explicitly doing a staring contest, were we?
For some reason I’m still clutching the hoodie in my hands, so I toss it towards the couch. It lands on the floor in between the couch and coffee table.
Isn’t it weird? All of this right now? I feel like– I don’t know.
I mean, I could…
Probably shouldn’t, but…
“Your eye… the black eye. It’s already almost gone,” she says. She reaches up and touches my left eye. It doesn’t hurt anymore. I’m surprised she even sees it at this point, considering Marge barely noticed it this morning.
No, stop, don’t think about your sister during a moment like this.
She keeps her finger over my eye. The palm of her hand rests on my cheek.
We’re right here like this, and it would be so easy to just kind of…
We spend the next moment… just kind of standing and breathing.
Karina’s face once again turns red. I think mine does too.
“Do you ever get the feeling that you should just seize a moment? “
“All the time.”
“How about now?”
Both of us are breathing heavily.
This isn’t okay.
Holy shit. “Holy shit!” I shout. From the shock of the moment Karina jolts back and falls down butt-first onto the couch. She yelps. “I figured it out!”
“It’s got to be a high schooler!”
“What?” Karina looks down. She crosses her legs and puts her hands over her knee.
“I know, right?”
“What are you talking about, Morgan?”
“Uh… oh. I mean, the Social Media Killer. The Social Media Killer is a high schooler.”