Addison 3

Addy prepped. This was all she did now, prepping and waiting. Her friends had long since left her, and here she was alone. In her room. But it was OK this way, or Addy tried to tell herself it was. Genius is never recognized in its own time, and Addy wouldn’t be either. Meg didn’t talk to her anymore since she punched KC over a sandwich. Trent avoided eye contact, and KC… KC didn’t do much of anything anymore. He just sat around. He didn’t talk to Addy anymore, but then again he didn’t talk to anyone else.

Addy’s grades had gone down. She stopped brushing her hair weeks ago, her teeth soon followed, she barely showered or even slept or ate. Everything took too much time away from what she was doing. She was becoming a superhero, and she had made herself an arsenal. She had a suit–leather with a silk cape and high boots. It was uncomfortable, but she looked good. No, not good, she looked powerful and capable of making a change. Of course people were worried about her, but they didn’t have to know she was stockpiling machine guns and grenades. They didn’t have to know that she always carried knives now, that she was finally practicing again after having earned her black belt three years ago. They didn’t have to know how many people she planned to kill, all they needed to know was that after she was done, the world would change. Addy had a plan. And it was a good plan, a great plan to save the world. A plan that could save the world, at least, if everything worked out. Addy was confident in most of the stuff she was working on, but there were a few loose ends to tie up. She could save the world from people with evil intentions, who killed without sight or purpose. Like the people who had killed her dad long ago–a teacher, murdered in a school shooting. Addy could take those people out of the world and discourage new ones from popping up and if she could do that wasn’t it a crime to not do it? To not take this chance to change the world?

Addy went to school the next day a little confused–kind of smelly, wrinkled and looking sickly. She sat at her desk, which now was on the opposite side of the room as KC, Trent and Meg, and sat down, rifling through her books. She didn’t need those people any more. She looked up at the person who was sitting next to her. He was new, she’d never met him before, but he was definitely cute and for the first time in months, Addy forgot about her plan. “Hey,” the guy said, holding out his hand, “I’m Max.”

Ella 2

“A job?” I asked, trying not to let my voice crack. It did.

“Yes, honey, a job,” the woman said, rolling her eyes, “a good paying job, too, better than the one you have in that factory. It’s a win-win here, and I have about a thousand documents to sign, so could we PLEASE hurry up here, hun, just a yes or a no.” the woman clicked her tongue and adjusted her winged glasses.

“I… uh…” not working in the factory with the creepy dudes any more was an obvious win for me. But trading that in for twenty armor-clad swat agents? I didn’t think so. “I think–”

“She’ll take it,” Max answered.

“What?” I asked him. I had been about to decline the job. Why did he want me to take it?

“El, you speak Spanish fluently. You can defend yourself. You’re smart and sharp like mom. And you’ll get some money, El, and that’s what a person like you deserves. To make money and be awesome. I would take it, if I were you.” Even after he stopped talking I still stared at him, trying to look directly into his soul. He stared right back.

The woman, who had been staring at Max as well, decided that this was the time for more information. “May I mention that it’s not a guaranteed job. You’ll have to pass an Initiation, which is just a written and physical test. But then yes, if you pass, you’ll have the job.”

 

About a half hour later, I sat at a round white desk with three other people–most of whom looked older than me. There was a girl with brown hair who looked as ripped as any dude I’ve ever seen, a lanky guy with bright orange hair and glasses, and the real competition–a twenty-year-old freshly-graduated-with-a-criminology-degree man whom I later learned was named Will. He had dark black hair and stark green eyes. I was going to crush him.

“You will see in front of you there are four sheets of paper. This is the first written test,” said the same woman who had burst into my house unannounced. “You have half an hour. Please use the number two pencils in front of you only, no pens or anything. And above all, no cheating, because I. Will. See. You.” she made eye contact with each one of us as she said the last four words. I cringed a bit in my seat. “Go.”

The other three turned their papers over instantly, but I hesitated, unsure. Looking back on it, I’m not sure what I was unsure of, but it was important enough that I had a split second of hesitation before grabbing it and flipping it over. On it, there was one simple question.

Why do you want this job, Ella?

It had my name on it and everything. I looked at my competition, writing furiously on their white papers, and then looked back at my own. Why did I want this job? What about it seemed to appeal to me? I mean sure, I hadn’t really signed up for it, but I did want this job and I wanted to crush the competition to a pulp. I could have said no at any point. I could have backed out, but I didn’t. What was keeping me here?

I waited for inspiration. And waited. And waited. I tapped my pencil on the table, which appeared to be plastic. I didn’t know why I wanted this job. Why on Earth did I stay?

I glanced at the clock on the wall, a round thing with a black border. Fifteen minutes left. What would I write?

I don’t want this job, my paper began, I need it. When I was little my dad left, and my family was poor and alone. We lived in a cardboard box, and all we had was each other. And then my mom left, and all me and my brother Max had was each other. And that was it. That was all we needed, at that time in our lives, to survive, to make it to the next day. But now, my hand started hurting and I flicked my wrist a bitwe need more than that. When you’re a kid, it’s easy to survive on your own because people pity you. But now that we’re grown-up I still held on to the hope that these people didn’t know I was sixteen, not twenty, it’s getting harder. So what I’m telling you is this–I don’t want this job. I want to be at home, with my family, snuggled under a blanket watching reruns of Seinfeld. I want to be going to school and making friends and having fights with my over-protective brother. But that option was ripped away from me by my dad, and my mom. And the only person who has stood by me all this time is my brother Max. I don’t want this job. I’m taking this opportunity because a brother who will stand by his little sister through everything–the time I had pneumonia and we couldn’t afford a hospital trip, the time I punched him because he got fired from his job and we couldn’t eat, the time I was chased by a cop and he had to save me. A brother who can not only withstand and endure that but also never get angry, never raise his voice, and always be back to hug me when I was hungry or angry or confused or sad, a brother like that deserves a better life than the one we got. So I don’t want this job. I’m taking it to repay a debt. I’m taking it to give someone what they deserve. I’m taking it to slap the devil in the face and tell him that he can’t always win and make the good people lose. I’m taking this job for my brother.

That was it. That was all the writing I could muster in those fifteen minutes. Sure it wasn’t the best paper if I wanted to actually get this job, but it was honest and true and from my heart and if they didn’t give me the job then so what? I could always take another job for my brother if I needed. I wasn’t sure it would make up for the pay this job had (the woman had told me at our apartment and holy heck it was a lot of money) but it would be something. Next, for the physical exam.

Aaron

I watched her sweet chocolate hair swing in the moonlight. Her face was perfect, her eyes were ice blue and burned with intensity like fire. She laughed with me, she pushed me gently on the shoulder. I hadn’t really been listening, I didn’t know what she was talking about. All I could see was how pretty she was right there. In that moment, in that space in time. I captured the moment, and saved it in my head, but it was all but a  fleeting memory much too soon.

“Moments pass, Aaron.” The fire behind her ice-blue eyes had gone, her chocolate hair too, and all that was left was a frail form of her–bald, pale, lifeless and sad. She smiled, but it was weak and dishonest. The doctors called her a fighter, but really all that was happening was that she was dying. There was no fighting going on here. And I couldn’t take it. “We need to save them. Aaron, there is no such thing as a sad moment. But a sad perspective is something we see all too often.” I would have answered her, but I couldn’t. There was nothing to say, because she was wrong, so wrong. This, right here, was a sad moment. The moments for the next three months would be sad, and then, somewhere at the end of three months, she would die and it would be the saddest moment of my entire life. And there was nothing that I could do to stop it. Helplessness and sadness confused my every waking moment. I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t eat or sleep or breathe without an intense, stabbing pain that wasn’t anything close to physical. Every time I stood, or drank, or talked, a stabbing pain shot through my heart like someone had shoved their fist inside of my ribcage and was trying to tear out my heart. The doctors told me that all of this was normal, but I didn’t believe that.

“I want to… I want to save you,” I managed. “I want you to come back.” I am a selfish human being. Complaining to my wife with cancer that her cancer was inconveniencing me.

“You can’t, hun,” she remarked. And we sat, by the bedside, holding hands for hours, like we did yesterday and the day before and the day before. This was not a happy moment. There wasn’t any such thing as a happy moment. Not anymore.

 

When I woke up it was dark, the moonlight showed through the trees outside of the hospital window. Again I woke up, again I hoped that this was all a dream, and I looked down. And it wasn’t. And I was scared and frightened and confused and–
“Mr. Smith.”
I looked around and found one of the doctors tapping me on the shoulder. She was short, dark hair and dark eyes, smiling at me. Who would smile at a time like this? “Yeah, Judy, hi.” Of course I knew the doctors at this hospital, I’d only spent the last three months coming and going to visit my wife.

“I found something.”

“You what?”

“Experimental drug trials? Like the ones you were talking about. I found something that might work. Your wife has stage four thymoma, which metastasized. She doesn’t have very long. However, we think that we might be able to give her a new drug… It sounds kind of dangerous, and it is, but your wife… I mean, she’s not in a good state anyways, and she’s deteriorating quickly. Some of the side effects of this drug can be dangerous, but I know you’ll–”

“Do whatever it takes,” I said.

“That. So I’ll need you to sign…” she handed me exactly eleven pieces of paper clipped to a clip board and I signed every last one of them. Then Judy left and I hugged my wife. “Good-bye, sweetheart,” I whispered, and then kissed her on the head. She stirred a bit, but I was out the door in a flash, tears streaming out of my eyes. I had seen experimental drug trials work in the movies, and I had thought that maybe there was one last chance to bring her back. I tried not to get my hopes up, but I couldn’t help myself as I walked home. I smiled for the first time in months.

Exactly one month later I attended her funeral. Exactly one month later I sobbed into a tissue as my mother-in-law hugged me. My wifes fate was worse than death. She had died at the inattentive, clueless hands of her own husband. She had died the day I signed that paper.

Addison 2

Addy’s long fingernails clicked against the wooden table at the diner where she, Meg, Trent and KC sat. The three others were caught in a conversation, but Addison was watching something else. The news castor was talking about school shootings–statistics, data, what we could see when. Addy’s heart broke watching this. She was nineteen and she didn’t have the courage or the ability to do anything about this problem, and that bothered her. It was like one of those algebra problems with no solution, or where you get an answer like 7=6.
“Addy, come back to the real world.” Meg asked.
A long pause followed. Addy didn’t want to come back to the real world. She wanted to be a superhero–someone who could fly and go away and save all of those people. The starving kids in Africa. The many who had been terrorized by shootings. Car accidents, plane crashes–all Addison could think about in that moment was what she could do about these things.
“I was just… watching the news,” Addy stated, truthfully.
“Awful, isn’t it?” Trent asked. “I mean… wow. I don’t understand how someone could hurt their friends like that.”
KC elbowed him in the ribs with a smile on his face. “They don’t know the bro code.”
“What?” Meg asked.
“The bro code. I’m sure there’s something in the bro code about not shooting your bros in the face,” KC said, smiling. Why was he smiling? Addison was terrified, shocked, confused. What was happening in this world?
“You don’t even know what the bro code is,” said Trent.
“This is true,” KC admitted, “but I can assume.”
KC was pretty attractive. Black hair, dark eyes, and that always-mischeviously-smiling face. Addy had had a crush on him since second grade, but she was an outcast–a weirdo, with no friends, who thought a lot more about death than she did about life. She wasn’t odd on the outside, but on the inside she was something else: not a KC, not a Trent, not a Meg. She was a deeper being. She thought not just about things she couldn’t do and could do, but things she could have done. She thought about trying new things. She furthered herself every single day, and her thoughts and actions and deeds had reflected that in every way. Addy was something else. That’s why KC would never like her, and Addy told herself that that was OK. She had Meg and that was all that she needed.
“Ad, I think we’re going to have to go home early,” Meg said, pointing up above at the darkening sky, “looks like a big storm is coming.”
“Hey, Addison, can I talk to you really quick?” KC asked. What did he want?
“Sure,” Addy answered, and he led her outside.
As soon as they got outside KC blew up at her. “What are you doing?” He asked, teeth bared like an animal. “You used to be so fun. So nice and kind. And now here you are, ruining our day out. You know those annoying friends who never say anything and only think about themselves? Well you’re one of them, Addy! What is happening to you?”
“Nothing,” she practically shouted, she hadn’t realized what she was doing, that it was bothering them. She hadn’t noticed the lull in their conversation.”I’m just… I’m trying to become a better person, and I am. I am a better person.”
A long silence followed, but it wasn’t really silence. KC stared at Addy and shook his head disapprovingly. And that’s when Addy had her revelation. She knew what she had to do. She had to drop them. These people were holding her back, trying to bind her where she was. It had been so long that Addy had thought about doing something to change the world but she couldn’t because of her friends. Her friends that actually hated her.Her friends that had lied blatantly to her face for hours, if not days, if not weeks, if not months, if not years if not their lifetimes. They wanted to hold her back and Addy couldn’t let that happen. She had to get away from them so that she could get out there and change the entire world. She understood, now, why bros would shoot other bros in the face. Because other bros are not actually your bros. They are backstabbing, horrible people who are twisted and want to help no one. They want to hold you back to their standards and forget about the things in you that they don’t like and Addy was sick of that, Addy was done with it.
“I’m better than all of you,” she said, and with that she turned on her heel and marched off without waiting for Meg.

Ella

“No,” the man said, before he slammed the door in my face. Anger boiled inside me, like red-hot firey rage but I didn’t do anything. Momma had said not to, but people were being mean. I made a face at the closed door and sprinted back to where my mother and brother were sitting, waiting for me.

“Momma he said no, momma how are we going to eat today?” I asked, worried. My stomach growled. Ever since Papa had left us, we had been so poor. We couldn’t afford food or our house. Now we lived in a cardboard box, but momma always says we have each other and that’s what matters. But the little monster inside of me that I called hunger did not agree. “I want food momma, momma please.”

“Ella, take a breath,” my brother, Max said. “We’ve just got to wait a little longer, OK?”

“I can’t wait a little longer,” I cried, the monster was going to consume me–already my fingers shook, my arms felt weak, my skinny legs had trouble holding me up. And on top of all that, the Hunger Monster roared inside of me–growling and groaning and grumbling. “I’m sorry hunger monster,” I whispered, “I can’t feed you right now.”

I saw my mothers heart break from the outside, so obvious I couldn’t imagine what it must have felt like inside. “How dare they say no to a ten year old, what mean people they are.” tears streamed down her face and landed on her tattered skirt. “We just need food, how hard is that for them to give?” She got up and stormed off, leaving a trail of footprints behind her in the dust.

I didn’t know it, but that was the last day I would see my mother. Whether she died the day after, whether she just ran far away because she was ashamed of us, I don’t know. But at ten years old with just my thirteen year old brother to console me and a hunger monster consuming my stomach, it was the saddest day of my entire life.

I got my first job at the age of thirteen in a factory. Of course, I told them I was sixteen, and Max told them he was my dad, and then I had a job where I made pipes. My job involved a lot of fire and steel and while it was fun I worked the night shift and made very little money. I worked with a lot of people who were a lot older than me, many of whom were remarkably creepy, many of whom I hoped I would never see again.  The job wasn’t much but it was something, and in two years Max and I had enough money that we could actually move into an apartment on the outskirts of Philidelphia. Both of us worked all the time, neither of us had been to school since we were five, but we were scraping by and that was all that mattered. I learned to fend for myself–to protect me, at all costs, against large scary men and evil women. I toiled away at my factory job, and I had no friends, no family, nothing. All I had was Max.

Then The Day happened, the day when everything changed. It started with a knock on our door.

“Hello, my name is Meryl. I work for the FBI and I need a um… Ella Smith?” I only heard the words, Max had opened the door, but I quickly scampered into the bathroom and locked the door to the only hiding place in our tiny apartment. “You must be Max. Don’t worry, you guys aren’t in trouble. We just want to talk to your sister and maybe see about… a job opportunity.” at the word job, I unlocked the door to the bathroom a tiny bit, very slowly. There was a long silence. I tucked my knees up to my chest and tried not to breathe, swiping a finger through the short blonde hair that sat in a mop on top of my head.

“El?” Max called, out of the silence. “Ella?”

I panicked. I quickly looked around, flushed the toilet, washed my hands for no reason and walked confidently out of the bathroom… Or as confidently as you can walk if you’re walking out of the bathroom. “Yeah, hi. What’s up?”

I looked out the door and found that there was not one, not two, but twenty-one FBI agents, eleven of them with rifles, all of them with hand guns and twenty with bullet proof vests. The woman in the middle, the only one without a bullet proof vest, was short and pale with black hair and a pinstriped skirt suit. She looked incredibly official and she scared me more than any of the people with guns.

“We need you to come with us,” she said, forcefully. “We hear you’re a fighter and a fantastic liar and I think we have an opening for someone like that.”

Another long silence.

“We want you to go undercover. How well do you speak Spanish?”

Addison

Addison had never liked her name. It didn’t reflect who she was or why she was there, sitting in that classroom, staring at that dumb community college math chalkboard for the four hundredth time this week. She pushed her blonde hair away from her green eyes and tried to focus. So the square root of fifteen times twelve to the second power plus…her mind trailed off. It was too much information for her brain to process at this point. “I already took algebra in high school,” she whispered to Meg, the girl sitting next to her. “is there a reason for me to take it again?” Meg frowned at her notebook and displayed the notes she had been taking for Addy to see–it was a simple portrait of the teacher, but in Meg’s hands it had taken the persona of their grumpy, dumpy, frumpy middle-aged teacher with her winged glasses and vivid lipstick. Addy laughed, happy that someone was as fed-up with the class as she was. She popped her lips together and hunched over again, starting to scrawl notes out about the Pythagorean theorem or whatever they were learning about. Her tiny hands and long nails made quick, neat strokes across the page. As she was writing, her hair fell onto her paper again. Annoyed, she pushed it back and kept scrawling, thinking about what she would do after class rather than what she was doing now.
Only an hour later but after what felt like a lifetime, Addy had finally escaped from class. She stood outside, alone, wind brushing at her rosy cheeks, books hugged to her chest. She took long, slow breaths of the fresh, crisp air. The parking lot of the college stretched in front of her, pretty far away, and Addy stood alone in the freezing cold–no one would have accompanied her on a day like this, and she didn’t mind. Another student raced past, trying to escape the cold, windy air outside. From behind Addy, a high-pitched voice rang.
“You’re one crazy girl, you know that?” Meg asked, walking briskly towards Addy. Nine inches shorter than the blonde girl and with insanely curly red hair, Meg looked downright frozen. Meg was flanked by two tall, black-haired boys who Addy knew very well.
“I think she does,” said Trent, a tall boy with black hair whom Meg had become extraordinarily good friends with. “She’s just rubbing it in our faces that we’re wimps that can’t stand the cold weather.”
“It’s ’cause you are,” Addy said, with a grin.
“I’m not a wimp,” blurted KC, Trent’s best friend.
“Oh yeah?” Addy asked, turning around to face them with her arms outstretched, nearly dropping her books in the process, “I’m not the one who ran screaming across a football field being chased by a two year old with a plastic bat.”
“It sounds worse when you say it like that,” KC whined.
“It sounds worse when you say it at all,” Trent countered. “C’mon. Are we all ready to get something to eat? Something about math just makes me hungry.”
“Where’s Jess?” Meg asked the group. “I haven’t seen her all day.”
“Neither have I,” Addy mentioned. “I’ll call her.”
She called Jess’s cell phone, but no one picked up. Addy resigned to calling her sick for today, and guessed she wasn’t going to meet us at the usual place for dinner.
“I can’t get through to her,” Addy told Meg and the others, who were now in a heated debate about the importance of the Hoverboard.
“It’s a freaking skateboard,” KC practically yelled. “It’s like a recipe for breaking an arm.”
“It’s a segway without a handle, KC. Relax a–what, Addy?”
“Jess isn’t picking up. I figure we can just go without her. I don’t think she’ll mind, she’s not like that.”
So they all went out to get something to eat. This was how every day went–routine, classes, food. Friends. Addy longed for a change, but she wasn’t sure what that change was yet. But she could still make it happen.