04 – Crossword Conundrum – Chapter 1: Goodbye, Kobi

cover art by Kat Ozkosar

Moving day for Kobi Gibson.

Karina arrives at my apartment doorstep, done with her morning shift at work and just in time to help us carry Kobi’s boxes down six flights of stairs. She’s come prepared, too; she’s wearing a loose-fitting T-shirt and some gym shorts, just the kind of clothes to change out of once we’re finished. Because we’ve got a long day ahead of us, even after this.

Kobi’s aunt is here, but waiting at the car parked on the side of the street instead of coming to help us out. I can’t imagine she is too pleased by any of this. Her brother, an estranged convicted felon living hundreds of miles away, has a teenage boy she’s never met, and the government is forcing him on her with as little notice as possible. She has to work overtime for two weeks to afford the cash to rent a car, drive up eight hours by herself, and then meet the slobbish young adults keeping this boy company over the wait. She has three other kids, all adults, so I just hope she’s able to raise Kobi with enough grace that he won’t turn out badly.

These kinds of personal matters aren’t ones I like to get involved with. A mother and daughter clashing, and the daughter getting roped into the Angels gang. Twin brothers fighting over the same girl, and hiring cyber-hitmen to ruin each other’s careers. A man coming out of the closet to his wife, and his wife putting him in the hospital. Sometimes, I’m roped into sensitive-issue missions by R8PR, and I hate them every step of the way because of the sheer number of eggshells I have to walk over. Not only do I have to save the girl, I have to make sure her mother doesn’t kick her out again and start the process over. Usually, I try to maintain the status quo as much as I can; as long as it isn’t a threat to Atlanta’s safety, it’s not my business. Maybe that makes me a bad person, but the thought of making things worse by wading into an issue I’m not fully informed on is a lot more terrifying.

I can feel the same situation here with Kobi’s aunt. As I carry a box full of clothes down the stairs, I gaze at Kobi’s aunt, who’s leaning against her rental car as she browses the internet on her portable PC. Her eyes are slow, her brows are low. Maybe she and her brother hadn’t talked for years. Maybe Max Gibson, better known as Moonslash, had eloped with his now-ex-wife and hidden Kobi from the rest of his family until now. Maybe she’s just tired. I don’t know.

Karina carries three boxes at the same time, passing me down the stairs going twice the speed. “It’s not a race, Karina,” I say. I am absolutely not only saying that because I am insecure about how much effortlessly stronger she is than me. Definitely not.

I’m supposed to be the one with cybernetically-enhanced special superpowers…

As I finally exit the stairway, she sets the boxes down on the sidewalk next to the car and rushes back up the stairs as quickly as she came down. Not that these are particularly heavy, but… I think I’ll stay here and load all the boxes into the backseat, make sure Kobi re-packed everything correctly.

Kobi’s aunt eyes me as I’m loading everything, a couple glances before setting her gaze back on her portable PC. She’s reading a blog series on Netnect about, from what I caught in a brief glimpse, how to talk to teenage boys about sensitive topics. She frowns as she reads it, but something in my heart raises to think that she’s bothering to try.

So with a sympathetic voice I start to ask her what she feels about this, if she needs any assistance, if she’s looking forward to meeting her nephew, but the words don’t come out. She has made no real effort to speak to us thus far. After all, this is such a big change in her life that it might be overwhelming for her too. I leave her be.

When Karina arrives back at the street with two more boxes and Kobi at the same time, his arms shaking with just one, it looks like it’s all ready to go.

Kobi gives a quick hug to Karina. “Thank you.”

“Awww…” Karina lets out reflexively. “No, thank you.”

He then approaches me. “Thank you for being my friend,” says Kobi, wrapping his arms around me and squeezing me tightly. “I’ll never forget you, Morgan.” His head only goes up to my chest and it is very uncomfortable, but I pat him on the shoulder a few times for good measure. Karina gives me a sweet look, and I shrug. I’m not sentimental enough, sue me.

“You’re welcome to stay anytime you come back to Atlanta,” I say. This is a lie, because I never in my life want to have an apartment as crowded as it’s been the past few weeks. But he was a good enough roommate while he lasted.

“I’ll come back to see you, I promise,” Kobi says, struggling to pick up one of the boxes on the sidewalk and load it into the car. I kneel down and pick it up with him. This IS the one with all his VHS tapes, so it’s one of the heaviest of the load.

“Thank you for looking after my nephew,” Kobi’s aunt says, not looking away from her computer screen. “Kobi, let’s go. We’ll make it to Tallahassee by dinner.”

Kobi waves a few times, and then steps into the passenger side of the rental car. She compresses her computer back into its arm accessory position, takes a one-second look at Karina and me, walks to the driver’s side, and starts the car. It pulls out onto the street and glides away towards the interstate, towards another city a world away from here.

He’s a good kid.

“He’s a good kid,” Karina says. “We should have kept him.”

“Maybe if we were married,” I say.

“Yep, maybe.”

One more tiring trip up the stairs later, and we return to my apartment. Karina takes a shower and I change into slightly nicer clothes than the tank top and short I was wearing before. I pick out a pair of leather pants and a moto jacket that Karina picked out for me back on May the Fourth, an outfit that has been steadily growing into one of my favorites. I figure that even if it’s getting incredibly hot outside, I might still be stylish enough to pull off. Maybe if I pair it with some aviators I’ll look hot enough to match the weather. I grab a pair off my kitchen counter and hang it on my shirt.

So when Karina steps out of the bathroom in a camisole and towel wrapped around her head, I wink and flash my fingers at her like guns. She does a double take. “Shit, Morgan. Don’t surprise me like that.” She tosses her box-carrying clothes over into my hamper (yep, I actually bought one while Kobi and Lamar were staying here; my clothes pile method simply wasn’t feasible anymore). “You don’t have to dress up for this. Do you even know where we’re going?”

“To, uh, go out on the town? Meet a lot of dames and sirs?” I walk into the kitchen and open myself a bottle of green tea. “You want one?”

“No thanks. And… It’s a Tuesday afternoon, Morgan,” Karina says. “If you had listened to me when we were discussing this last week, you’d know where.”

“I never listen because all I care about is spending a free day with you,” I say with a bright smile. Her response is a cold glare.

“We’re going to the Auto District to visit an old friend of mine, a robot named AR73. The one I met at the expo last year. Ring any bells?” I stare blankly and continue smiling. I have no idea what she’s talking about. “Well, that’s okay. You’re going to have a lot of fun, and that’s what matters.”

“I do like fun,” I say.

“I feel like our normal bantering roles are reversed today,” Karina says. “Did we both wake up on the wrong side of the bed? How is that possible?”

“Can a bed have two wrong sides?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Maybe we transferred consciousness and still haven’t noticed yet,” I suggest.

“So this is some Freaky Friday situation, but we also have amnesia and face blindness?”

“Perhaps. It’s worth an investigation.”

Breaking off the conversation before it stretches on any longer, Karina says, “Okay, get ready and let’s go. I don’t want to take so long getting there that the whole day’s wasted.”

“Says the one still in her underwear,” I say.

Karina’s face turns red and she yanks a change of clothes from her purse.

I still don’t know where we’re going. But I have a feeling there’s going to be some hijinks involved.


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6 comments

    1. Can you believe I’ve never played a Persona game before? You’d think I’d be all over that stuff, but I never had a Playstation and I stopped playing games much after college. So I missed out on the whole thing.

    1. Karina: “Hey A, what did the farmer say to the moose?”
      A: [Does not speak because letters do not say things]
      Karina: “I don’t know, you’ll have to ask the moose!”
      A: [Does not speak]

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