My eyes open, the black ceiling confusing. I can still see the Nyx. For a moment, I look at my body and see the gray skin that “Moira” sported. My eyes cringe as the light crosses my face. I blink and my skin appears normal. I turn; realize that my hand is empty. Izzy’s side of the bed is neat. I grab my flimsy from the end table and attach it to my arm. I put on my vintage smart watch and connect via the net. A text is waiting. I read it and quickly rush out of bed.
“Zara,” Tanaka rushes to me as I enter our office. His frenzied manner makes me survey the room. Was there any news since his text? The clock display is clear of news. My flimsy inactive on my arm. “The latest kill, it,” he puts his hand up to his chin. Tanaka brings his hand back down, looks me over, turns away.
“Come out with it Tanaka,” I cross my arms and lean against my desk. My “Karma is a stern mistress” mug just behind me filled with coffee Tanaka set out for me.
“The perp’ killed… a man.”
I stand straight up, “but, his MO. He killed women. Where are the details – do you have pictures?”
Tanaka pulls up his arm and holds it out. He transfers his data from his flimsy to mine. The image is of a man with black hair. His bangs feathered around his face. The hair short in the back. The eyes have epicanthic folds. The lips firm, plump and round. The nose long with a soft, bulbous end. The face is so beautiful. The face so strikingly similar to Tanaka. The major differences being a mole and the shape of his ears.
“First of all, Zara, we don’t know if the killer is a man. Second, how the hell does this guy look so much like me? He even left the mouth intact!”
I put my arm down. Walk sedately to my chair. Turn it around after I sit so Tanaka can not see my face. “I need to think.” For the first time, the other realms have not helped with the search or Izzy’s sight. For the first time, there is a paranormal perp’ who exhibits the characteristics of a serial killer, but now this. The only reason that the killer is known is because of the burns from his navel up. The body is an obvious message. Tanaka is right to be worried. He is the face of the business. Maybe, somehow, they, he, she, whatever. This killer knows. Knows that Tanaka is helping to find them.
I can hear Tanaka’s chair swivel as he sits. From experience I don’t need to see him to know, his head is in his hands. He rarely gets that look, but when a desperate situation arises he is there, cradling the one thing he worships; his seat of reason. A part of me is tempted to pray to the gods of my mother or call to the ancestors as is sometimes done by Brujas of the island. Tapping into my upbringing as a witch seems counter intuitive. I already tried to get information from the other realms. What can my ancestors do that those other beings could not? Besides I have tried tracking down the ghosts of those killed. There was nothing left. Usually, someone traumatically killed at least leaves a remnant of that moment in space. Wait. I swivel to face Tanaka who lifts his head.
“I know you’re not going to like this.” He is sighing already.
Ryan sits across from me in the dark corner of my favorite Cuban cafe. I lean back, the corner of my mouth upturned, my legs crossed. Ryan crosses himself after he sits down. “What are you up to now?”
“Only the best strategy to catch our most wanted perp. You may even get a promotion.”
“I have a wife and kids.”
My laughter, throaty and unrestricted causes Ryan to shift in his seat. He smiles, puts his hat down. Ryan lifts his latte up to his mouth. The whipped cream leaves foam on his upper lip. I motion to a napkin and he wipes it off. He clears his throat. “I thought you got nothing from the last body. You haven’t even been able to see the stuff you normally,” he scans the room, “see.” He had plain clothes on, to me he looks more suspicious with his apparent anxiety about being overheard.
“Oh, Ryan. You underestimate me. I am more than just paranormal. I have tracking skills. Hunting is a part of our job, is it not?”
Ryan folds his hands into a steeple, his eyes stern, “the last time I checked, you are not a cop.”
Ryan sat back, “there is only so much I can do to help you get contracted when you keep turning up with no leads. Why are you dangling a promotion? What’s going on?”
I lean forward, “now that you are done insulting me,” Ryan rubs the back of his head, “listen.” I breathe deeply. “The reason there are no leads is because the perp’ is not a serial killer, in fact, they do not follow the convention at all. Most killers leave traces in the aether. I had to ask myself why? Why are all the paranormals stumped when this seems so clearly paranormal? Why no traces on the body? In recorded history, no paranormal has drained a person dry of their energy to the point of there being no record of who they were or what happened left. As if, their very soul had been taken.”
Ryan scoffs and shifts his chair back, “I will hear nothing of this. You are proposing a paranormal did what only god himself can. What? Are you saying he is an angel of death?” People turn to look in our direction.
“Ryan, we may have to find a more suitable place to talk.” I motion towards the rapt crowd. He grabs the edge of his seat, “sorry, she is a conspiracy theorist. Ridiculous, I know.” The crowd sits, though some watch us.
“I take it you won’t support my following this possibility?”
“If it were true, your people will be in a lot of trouble.” An icy fear creeps up my spine. Isolation, a singularity of existence, even in a crowd they do not understand us, me. My face is stone as I confront the truth once more. Even Ryan would be powerless to control the backlash if this was found out.
“What a ridiculous notion, of course, you’re right. You all should continue the investigation—by the book.” Ryan nods but winks at me. Okay, so I have one official backing me if it all goes awry. Tanaka will not be too happy to hear we are carrying out our plans on our own. We adjourn our little meeting. I take the remnants of my espresso and nurse it as I walk out the cafe.
My flimsy vibrates. I have a call from Izzy.
“Hey, what’s,” her voice interrupts me at a high pitch, “Zara, it’s Tanaka.”
My arm drops. I am too late. The car drops me off at the ground level. My feet touch the earth and I make my way to a transport that will send me to our living district. Our home, a tiny gem in the suburbs, greets me with its crimson door. Although it looks like those of the 20th century it swooshes open to allow me entrance. There she stands, her apron stained. She had been cooking when she received the message.
“Zara,” I walk up to her and grab her. Pulling her into my arms I place a comforting hand through her hair.
“It will be okay.” She thrusts her arms against me. Her eyes glaring as I release her.
“How could you make those plans without me?”
“There was nothing else to do. Tanaka is not equipped to deal with this. His abilities are not suited.”
“What is wrong with you?” Izzy puts a fist against my chest. Her eyes scrunched up. Confused I grab her bunched up hand.
“Do you know something you’re not sharing?” Why else would she react this strongly?
“You sent him away. Now you are on your own. This case, it is too much for you. Let it go.” I step back from her, releasing her hand.
“In this area, I am the only one capable of dealing with this criminal. Do you think the police can really take down someone that leaves bodies psychically dry?” Izzy’s eyes search me like a rake over hot coals. I won’t tell her what we planned. Not the truth. Anything, but that.
“Make me a part of this case, Zara. No other seer will do and you know it.” I sigh. Reverting to my marble gaze. I step forward.
“I respect your agency, but you must respect mine. Stay away from this. There is a reason things are being conducted this way.” Izzy shows me the message Tanaka sent her.
“We have agreed. It is best that I go visit some family.”
“All of this reaction for a simple text? It could be anything.” I cross my arms. Izzy put a hand on her hip.
“I called him to find out why. Are you insane? Don’t you date him? How can you let him go back unsupervised? How can you put yourself in danger by being alone?”
“Please, Izzy. Not everything is as it seems,” I slowly move my eyes around the room then wink at her. Izzy smoothes out her apron.
“Fine, don’t tell me. Don’t get angry with me if I do the same.” Izzy stalks back to the kitchen. The smell of arroz con gandules fills the air. My stomach rumbles. One minor victory was won. Izzy turns from the stove to look at me. I am sitting on the couch. Izzy points a large spoon at me, “get ready, we have guests coming.”
My suit and tie off, I look through my closet. I have a few jumpsuits, but I don’t want to piss Izzy off more. So I try to appeal to her fashion sense. I pull out a black corset and dress. After putting on my fishnet stockings I look in the mirror. My biker boots make the outfit. I look more like a punk version of Morticia Addams, but it will have to do. I don’t often wear dresses and frilly things. I like them but on other people. Okay, maybe I do like wearing them. I poke my butt out in front of the mirror the lace bouncing off from the motion. No one need know I was cutesy for a moment. My long black hair reaches the hem of my dress. A jacket not hiding the length for once, I realize, I look wild; like some dark witch who can eat someone for dinner. I smile.
Izzy is in the middle of removing her apron. She turns holding it in her hands. Her form-fitting sleeveless sweater hugs her curves. It has been a year. A year since—“Zara?”
I shake my head, “what?”
“Hm, you seem,” she walks towards me smiling, “distracted.” I look into her eyes and swallow.
“It should be illegal for you to be that sexy. Do I have to warn some man about bringing you home on time?”
Izzy giggles and sighs. Her arms folded she cocks her head. Her eyes blinking as she opens her mouth to speak – the doorbell rings. Damn it. I was almost tempted to have, that talk. The face of the visitor appears on the door.
“Enter,” we say in unison. My cousins Jael and Peter walk in. Uncle Henry in tow with a bag and dad.
“Dad, tio, guys?” I look back at Izzy, “hi.” Although it is standard for Puerto Rican families to visit each other with a last-minute warning. I had gone through putting my family through the delicate training process of not arriving unexpectedly for the sake of my sanity. Apparently, they are still stubborn on this front. The elders ignore me approaching Izzy. My cousins walk up to me and hug me. “Happy birthday!”
“Oh,” when I turn I see Izzy with my father and uncle putting a box in the fridge. I turn back to the door to see that Tanaka managed to pass through.
“I thought we discussed this.”
“You forgot it was your birthday. I made an executive decision.” He saunters over to me and places a kiss on my cheek before backing away. He acknowledges the elders in the room first, before greeting my cousins. My father approaches Tanaka and places a hand on his shoulder, “come on let’s play some dominoes, Ken.” Tanaka glances at me before agreeing. My uncle and father abscond with him into the side room. “Bring us some maltas,” uncle Henry calls from our small living room. I sigh, Izzy stops me before she grabs some drinks from the fridge. “Don’t you dare lift a finger, birthday girl.” She grabs the drinks and brings them over. You would think some things changed over the centuries. Apparently, machismo isn’t one of them.
Jael puts on some music over the wi-fi. My favorite, the classic Suavemente by Elvis Crespo starts blasting through the house. Izzy finds herself in my arms. We dance in tune to the salsa. Her smile, it does something to me, like suddenly summer has come after a long winter. There is no one else. I feel the warmth of her hands. The electric feel of her pulsing through me. The smell of the rice she made for me makes me want to cry. There is someone missing today. I feel her bitterly as we dance joyfully. The beautiful morena my father fell for, my mother. Something about Izzy’s warmth brings up the memory. Even though her voluptuous frame and curls are entirely different. I step away once the song is over and go to our office. “I need some air,” I call out randomly to no one. Of course, someone follows me in, because that exit was too suspect. I sigh and turn to greet the interloper. “You have been sighing a lot lately.” Izzy shuts the door behind her.
“I am sorry.”
Izzy’s eyes widen, “are you ok?” I turn away from her.
“Yes, I just. I thought of her.”
“Mom, huh?” Izzy had called her that too. She calls her own mother, “mommy.” Not that she does that too publicly. It is a little odd at her age. Izzy approaches from behind. I feel her wrap her arms around me. I let out a breathe as if I had been holding in the world. I lean back into her.
“Izzy,” I grab her hands and turn to her, “there is something I have been meaning to tell you.” Her face is soft. Her lips slightly open as she glances at me in question. I could bite those lips. I look at the door fearing interruption and lean closer to her. She doesn’t back away.
“Please don’t hate me. I don’t want things to change for the worse, but I can’t hide it anymore.” She grabs my cheek. My heart trembles. “I love you, I am in love with you.”
“It took you long enough,” She pulls me toward her lips. I have to get up on my toes a little because she is taller than me in her heels. My arm wraps around her waist. A moan escapes from her lips as we kiss. The music stops outside the room. We release each other. I am certain my skin is flushed. I try to calm my inner fire with sobering thoughts. The door opens. Uncle Henry is standing there. He glances at Izzy then back at me as if, somehow, he knows. “You gonna’ eat or what?” It’s our house, but dutifully we walk out. We set up the table with my cousins. The family sits together. My uncle and father at opposite ends of the table. Izzy and I sit at each side of my father, Tanaka to the right of my uncle and next to me. My cousins taking up the rest of Izzy’s side. Izzy knows my relationship with Tanaka is mostly open and we don’t have anything against kissing other people. I watch her to see her reaction when Tanaka leans towards me and whispers in my ear. I feel his breath on my skin like a kiss, but look at Izzy and feel every inch of my skin now I know I can have her. It seems this birthday is more than just a memorial day.
My father clears his throat when my uncle folds his hands in prayer, “a little prayer is good.”
I nod, “I agree, shall we start then.” We all link hands. It is my house. If we have to pray, we will do it my way.
“Thank the gods for the food we will eat. Thank you to the animals who have sacrificed their lives and those who provided the meal we eat today. May our food be blessed by the divine and may we eat in good health. So mote it be.”
Everyone else, except uncle Henry, says, “amen.” We all dig in, a poignant silence filling the air during our meal. Mother would have said “god” to make tio comfortable. He has always disliked me. He can choke on the word “gods” a little. He coughs and I stop thinking ill thoughts. That must have been a coincidence. Father breaks the silence first. He is serving himself from a plate of pasteles that they brought. Izzy would not make that by herself, it is far too much work. During Christmas, the extended family lines up just to make it, including Peter, while dad and uncle Henry roast the pernil on a spit.
Music is still playing but at a less loud, and slower pace. The list is modern pop from Jael’s selection. Father clears his throat and places his fork down.
“There is something I need to tell you.” He looks at everyone. We all put our forks down and face him.
“I am going to the Puerto Rico house this weekend – to stay.” Izzy and I look at each other. I turn to look at my uncle to see if he already knew. He is calm. His eyes knowing as he shares an intimate stare with my father. Anger blackens my heart. He told him first. Before anyone can say anything father continues. “I can leave like this because I have spoken with Ken. He has something to say.” Father looks at Tanaka who kneels next to me. Frozen in my seat, my mouth hanging uncharacteristically open as he pulls out a ring, “Zara, you have been faithfully by my side through the years. I want to take care of you. Make a family with you. Will you marry me?” I stand up and back away in shock. Father and Izzy have neutral faces. Tanaka stands and approaches me calmly. Looking me in the eyes as if we are sharing a secret. I look from him to Izzy. Torn. What is he doing? What do I say? Father clears his throat, “I believe Ken asked you a question?” My heart drops. My uncle has a smile on his face. My cousins are staring as if their favorite drama is playing right before them. I look back at Tanaka angry but also surprised. Moved. My heart trembles again, but at that steady pace, it does when you’re with someone you have been intimate with for years. We can do this. But, do I want to. I can only marry one person. Do I want that person to be him? How dare he ask this way?
“Yes,” falls out of my lips without thinking. The ring finds its way onto my left hand. What have I done? Izzy’s face is blank. I could have said I need time to think. My relatives all get up shouting congratulations. My cousins grab Tanaka calling him, “cuz’” and “primo” interchangeably. Izzy gets up and congratulates us. She begins clearing the table to make way for the inevitable cake. Idiot. I want to facepalm but smile and kiss Tanaka instead. Happy, but shamed, I listen to my cousins chatter about our wedding and how it will be organized.
My family leaves quickly after we eat the cake. Most likely the reason they picked a work day is because my uncle and I can only tolerate each other for so long. Tanaka remains awkwardly behind. Helping to clean with a guilty face. Not that his face shows that much emotion usually, much like me, but I know his tells. The way he averts his eyes. Bows slightly at the top of his back as if he has just been chastised. Izzy had announced she was going to take a shower. The water is running when Tanaka finally breaks his silence. I want to hear him explain and my arms are crossed. My foot tapping. He looks down for a moment, then confidently faces me. His eyes locking with mine. “Zara, I meant every word.” I put my hands on my hips, “You did not discuss it with me beforehand.”
“You told me your father would want me to ask him first.” I had told him that.
“I didn’t think you would ever actually ask. I thought you didn’t want to get married.”
Tanaka swallowed, “I didn’t when we were younger. I also got the talk.” I stomp my foot.
“Are you telling me you gave into your parents? That is the only reason you asked.” Tanaka bunches his hands into fists. Walks right up to me and puts his arm around me. He grabs my chin with his other hand, parting my lips with his thumb. He looks into my eyes asking with his own, can I? I part my lips and he takes mine. He leaves my lips abruptly. I am panting from the aftershock of his passion. “You are the only woman I want to marry. I want you to be mine. I want to be yours. Sure, you want a woman on the side, fine. Frankly, I don’t need anyone else.” My heart is thumping so hard, I am afraid he hears it.
“I love you,” the words sound like a blanket on a cold night. Like a sacred prayer uttered on certain holidays. He rarely says it, but I know it to be true in my heart.
“I love you too, but, this could not have been more poorly timed,” I call him closer to me as if Izzy can hear and tell him what happened earlier with her. He pulled back, “I guess it is good I staked my claim. She can share you, but I get first dibs. She had enough time.” I gasp.
“You are too much. I am not an object, sir.” I point at him.
“Seriously though, what do we do, Zara? Should we sit down with her?”
“I think I should talk with her separately, first. Are you staying the night?” Tanaka nods, “if things get hot and heavy, just stick a sock on the door – unless I am invited in that is.” I walk up to him and slap his arm lightly, “you know I don’t do threesomes.”
“A man can dream. Besides, I know that. I just like messing with you.” Tanaka walks towards the living room as Izzy steps out the bathroom. Tanaka and his timing. Gods, that man.
My eyes capture Izzy’s. I nod toward my room. Her mouth trembles, she takes a deep breath and heads toward her own room instead and motions me over. Her room is the farthest from the living room. She shuts the door and locks it. She stands in front of it.
“You told Tanaka, didn’t you? What exactly were you thinking today? Were you getting cold feet and testing the waters?” I hold up a hand in response to indicate I want to collect myself first. My back meets the wall and my arms crossed it is time to explain.
“Look, I didn’t know he would ask me either. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to be with you.”
“Oh, so you want me to be your side squeeze after all these years?” I wince.
“I know it took me a while to say anything, but you didn’t either. Also, you have been and always will be my best friend. Tanaka and I have been dating for years. Can you really delineate between you who has put more in?”
“I don’t get you, are you friend zoning me? You keep acting like I am Venus. Then you turn around and decide to marry a man?”
“I didn’t even know you swung this way until today.” Izzy stands right in front of me. Her eyes looking me up and down.
“You are about to know it, very well.” She walks up to me. Gently kisses my cheek. She runs her hand from my face down to my breasts.
“Izzy, this isn’t a good time for this.” She rubs my nipple through my shirt. Leans into me spreading my legs with her knee. Her breasts push against me. I gasp. Izzy. She withdraws as requested slowly. Not before lightly caressing down to my skirt. I quiver.
“Remember that feeling tonight.” She opens the door and walks out. I crumble to the floor.
“Zara, are you coming?” Her voice rings from down the short hall. I get up and fix my skirt. My biker boots thump on the floor. Izzy is sitting on an armchair across from Tanaka on the loveseat. I take the other armchair. Tanaka looks at me, then I look at Izzy. Izzy looks at us both.
“Congratulations on the engagement, who gets Zara on the weekends?” The bitterness in Izzy’s voice sets me off guard. Tanaka leans forward folding his hands.
“Tell us how we can make this better. What is it that is upsetting you?” Izzy stands and stomps looking down at him. She sways her hip and leans to one side. Her hand taking its perch, fashioning her glorious one-handed grab. Her ass perfectly jutting out and breasts moving slightly forward. I put a hand over my forehead, covering my eyes.
“She has obviously been in love with me for a long time. You knew this. I thought we agreed to give her time to accept it. Then you turn around behind my back and get her a ring.” My hand drops.
“Wait, what the hell are you talking about?” I look at Tanaka. He puts both hands up.
“Look, Izzy knew and approached me about it. Since I am your boyfriend, er, fiance now.” He smiled obnoxiously, then continued, “we decided not to pressure you.”
I stand and look at Izzy directly. “Hah, who is treating who like a child?”
Izzy glares at Tanaka before shifting her glance back to me. “Yes, you have been through a lot. We considered your feelings carefully. It was hard enough after your mother died; your uncle freaking out when he found out about her faith. Adding you being bisexual to mix just wouldn’t be well timed.”
“As if the jerk can’t tell.”
Tanaka stands up and bridges the gap to join the two of us. “Zara, one thing at a time was what we thought. I erroneously thought Izzy had given up.” Izzy scoffs, “okay, I selfishly wanted more of you to myself.”
“I see.” I return to my seat and cross my legs. Both of them follow my cue and do the same. This talk is not nearly close to finished.
“Okay, so clearly Tanaka wants to marry me and I want to marry someone.”
“Hey,” he looks me up and down then smirks. Yeah, ok bud.
“Izzy, in your ideal world what do you want? From me, or maybe even from him?”
Why couldn’t I just be in love with one person? Life would be so much more simple. A fuzzy feeling comes over me. For a moment I feel as though someone is listening. The feeling then passes shortly after.
“I want you, every day, here. To see you in the morning and at night. To be the one to cook for you. When you need someone to hold you—I want to do it.” Izzy puts a hand to her chest, “at first your boyfriends were fine with me,” Tanaka was not my first boyfriend, but certainly the last for more than a few years now. Izzy continues, “—they were outside our domestic realm. Simple distractions to pleasure you. This though,” she looks at Tanaka like a piece of trash, “threatens to take you from my daily life. That I will not have.” Her eyes sparked with anger, Tanaka’s drawn into her smoldering gaze. He sits back. his arms on the back of the sofa. His face saying “fuck you” all over it. I have never seen such animosity between them. They have been friends for years. I let out a measured breath.
“Fine, then what if Tanaka sold his apartment in the first tier and moved down here with us?” They both turn and look at me in unison. It is comical the way both of them cock their heads like mirror images. We have been doing this all along without realizing we were.
“Tanaka comes to stay the night anyway on occasion. We don’t have a fourth bedroom, but maybe we can convert the office for nights he just wants to be by himself.” He sits up casually putting his hands over his legs.
“I get to be, first-wife,” Tanaka remarks stone-faced. Izzy and I start laughing at the obvious reference to the period dramas we have all watched together.
“Fine, I have dealt with Zara enough that I will be second-wife” Izzy puts a hand to her mouth as if to exclude me from the conversation, she whispers, “and have some affair on the side. Just know, the children of my union with her will take over the family fortune one day. Also, I am the favorite.”
Tanaka slaps his leg, “It’s settled then, I am moving in.” I didn’t expect them to agree so easily. Did they have a private conversation about all of this? If I keep thinking they are working behind my back together I will go crazy. This confusion simply does not suit me.
“Good, now that that is settled. You two make up.” Time to go into the office and do the thing I was planning on. I wink at Tanaka. He nods while Izzy grabs him to hug him and her head is turned. She can not follow me in. Not with what I am about to do.
In the morning the smell of eggs and pancakes fill the air. Tanaka is serving a plate to Izzy. They are chatting as if they hadn’t fought the night before. Seeing them both first thing in the morning—it, it. My fist pounds my chest. I am home. They both turn to look at me.
“Hey, sleepy head. Your man made breakfast.” I walk over and hug Izzy. She takes the opportunity to kiss my cheek. I look at Tanaka, “thank you for making breakfast.”
“My pleasure, mi reina.”Blush. He hadn’t called me, “my queen” before. In Spanish the connotation is endearing.“Would you like it if I made you some food for work,”pause, “Ken?” His face turns tomato red. Normally I say his last name in public. Tanaka, a sansei (third generation Japanese-American), still speaks Japanese at home on occasion. He has not really taught me much of it. I should put effort in too. I don’t want my kids not knowing their culture from either side. Kids. What the hell? He brings out this domestic drivel in me. There is no time for babies. We hunt killers now. A hand is waved in front of my face, “Hello?” Izzy is waving her hand in front of my face.
“Sorry, I am—distracted.” Plate in hand, we all sit at the table. Automatically, per my upbringing I have yielded the seat at the head of the table to the man of the house. I cringe slightly as he sits in my seat. “What’s wrong?” Izzy has been watching me the entire time, “I let Tanaka sit in my seat.” Izzy nods, understanding. Normally when he visits overnight, which is rare, he and I just eat on the way to wherever we are going. All three of us eating breakfast together, doesn’t normally happen. Possibly, it had to do with all the unstated feelings and unclear boundaries.
“I can move if it is important, Zara.” I shake my head.
“I fancy myself the head of the house and Izzy entertains me. Since I usually take the lead in our relationship. It’s also an awkward remnant of gender roles in our culture.”
Tanaka nods, “as you know we do the same at my parent’s house. In our own home we can do what we want. What do you prefer?”
I look at them both tentatively, “I would like to sit between you if that is ok?” Both of them look at each other and nod. I sit in the head of the table and begin eating my eggs. Tanaka is now sitting opposite Izzy where I was. The silence is not strained as it was last night, but it is obvious we are all trying to navigate the modified relationship. Izzy and Tanaka are not interested in one another romantically. However, navigating what feels comfortable for all of us is still a process – even if they are not romantically linked.
Izzy is sipping at her coffee when she mentions the previous day, “So you are a year older, engaged, and dad is leaving? A lot has happened.” Izzy calls my dad, dad, out of habit. Although, she didn’t spend as much time around him when we were growing up. We were generally out doing something with mom. He sometimes came, but most of the time was with his brother, Uncle Henry, a widower. We were split up when we were eight for ten years while her mother, Macey Sanchez, moved for a job in Florida. Eventually things fell through and my family helped Izzy’s mother come back to Jersey. Our relationship partly survived because we were each other’s only confidants. Izzy and I are used to just airing out all the deep things together. Tanaka, aware of this, listens to our banter without interrupting.
“I stopped counting the years obviously.” Forgetting my own birthday is a concerning matter, but, we’ll just smooth over that for now. “The engagement, well we all know,” I smile, “Ken’s proclivity for getting his way with me.” He grabs my hand for a moment, an uncharacteristic public display of affection. He seems to really like me calling him Ken. “Dad leaving though?” I stare down at the indigo tabletop.
Tanaka speaks up, “Your father explained that some last night. He feels lonely without your mother and the house reminds him of her. He wants to be near his extended relatives and away from all the hustle of Jersey.” I nod. The culture here is so fast paced, it makes sense so much of us flock south where the pace of life is slower. Even if, historically us northerners look down on our southern counterparts (not that they don’t do the same). Puerto Rico, once a commonwealth now a state, still has a slower more relaxed culture. Cultural purists fought using their claims to Taino native roots to keep the island from being subject to certain technological changes. One being the tier system enacted in the states where shops, businesses, and governmental buildings are housed in one of the airborne island tiers in the sky. The tourism industry in response jacked up prices claiming La Isla del Encanto is one of the few places on earth that has a true view of the sky, not an artificial one through the ground dome.
“Father asked me to visit today to grab some things. Since it is a Saturday, He plans on renting the house out.” Tanaka laughs.
“What is it?”
Izzy smirked, ignoring my question, “you just realized it Tanaka?”
“What?” I look between them.
“We celebrated your birthday on Friday the 13th—of October.” Tanaka guffaws and Izzy joins in on the laughter.
“It was too perfect, she even prayed to the gods and brought up animal sacrifice!”
I raise my hands, “Wait now, that was in relationship to them giving up their lives to become food.”
Izzy covers her mouth while trying to stifle more laughter, “Tio Henry, he, he must of have really been uncomfortable yesterday.”
I shake my head, “guys, he, he is always uncomfortable with me.” He used to care about me before I was registered as a paranormal. Before I started sharing my stories, being myself. We hung out so much, he was like a second dad.
Me being myself, that was how people left my life. Even amongst paranormals I am not considered normal. Izzy and Tanaka are more powerful than most, which is more threatening than cool – like me. Tanaka, is a paranormal with exceptional skill that is easily hidden or glossed over—the way he likes it. Seeing my emotionless face on display, Tanaka, familiar with this particular nuance of it changes the subject.
“Speaking of oddly timed things. Our plans, Izzy has a right to know in my opinion.” Izzy has this glazed look like any moment she might burst into tears. My keeping her out of the loop has obviously affected her.
I take a breath, “The rest of the conversation will be through a private telepathic link. I will link the three of us.” Tanaka and Izzy by themselves, can not telepathically speak to one another, but through my ability we can exchange thoughts privately.
Zara: We suspect, it is possible the perp’ is using an ability to track investigators in the area. Somehow he knows what Ken looks like.
Izzy: Are we calling him Ken now?
Zara: No, just me.
Tanaka: I am going to “disappear,” but stay at home. If the killer is targeting me it may affect the messages he leaves, if we can’t get to him in time to stop the next murder.
Izzy: I think Zara would agree you are safer here.
[Zara leans back.]
Zara: This is why I keep you out of this. What if he hunts Tanaka to our house and finds you instead?
Izzy: Safety in numbers. The more of us to fight him, besides, you would come home at some point if Tanaka can’t handle him.
Zara: You are the only one who can’t fight. I have been telling you to take up kickboxing, martial arts, wrestling, something, anything! Living with me puts you in danger.
Izzy: You are so full of it. You just like telling me what to do sometimes. Did I not take that self defense class?”
[Zara face palms.]
Zara: That doesn’t count. You wouldn’t survive in a street fight, let alone survive an encounter with a powerful paranormal.
Tanaka: Izzy can see the future. You’re like an overprotective mother.
[Zara slams hand on table.]
Zara: Better to be overprotective. Izzy I just have this feeling—the less involved you are the better.
Izzy: Leave the future advice to the seer honey. You can’t have all the power here on earth, hun. Wrong world.
I scoff, “Ok, well clearly that conversation went almost nowhere.” The psychic link is broken.
Tanaka takes a sip of his juice, “I agree with her. Final decision.”
“You get too many executive decision passes. Unacceptable.”
Izzy laughs. We all get up and bring the dishes to the sink. Izzy insists on doing the dishes. Apparently, birthday girl treatment carries over into the next day. I follow Tanaka to the room. He shuts the door and takes me into his arms. My head fits under his chin perfectly. “Zara, just because Elsie left us, doesn’t mean Izzy will too.” A tear rolls down my cheek. “Did you get to make offerings to her and pay your respects?” My mother did the same with her parents, leaving them their favorite things and praying to them.
“I burned some lavender and left out a can of soda.” Tanaka strokes my hair. We all have an unspoken agreement not to mention that my mother died on my birthday.
“Did you see her spirit?” I swallow, “No, our other ancestors sometimes show up, but mom—never came back. I thought at least we could have that. Tanaka tensed for a moment. I pull away to look at his face, “what?”
“Her soul is untraceable?” He says pointedly. Mom was not the only soul that had gone without a trace.
My mouth hangs open. I scream, my voice trembling over the waves of my telekinetic outburst. The windows in my room break and the walls creak despite the quality of the material. My body trembles as I pace my room fuming. Tanaka opens the door.
“You okay, Izzy?”
“Yeah, I knew it was coming. Was ducking in the tub. You?”
I come back to myself and stare at his skin. Shards of glass dot his shirt and pants, which are made of durable fiber strong enough to be used as a hammock material though soft. His skin has tiny flecks shining in the light
“Oh, no.” I walk up to him and look him over. I don’t see blood.
“Why aren’t you bleeding?”
“Izzy told me this would happen last night. I have a protective skin on.”
When I went into the office, that must have been when they spoke. The door locked, burned palo santo in my hand, a cleansing herb equivalent to sage used by the brujas of the island. (Not that most Puerto Ricans practice witchcraft. Being Christian is still a majority religion.) The citrus smell of the wood filled the space. My energy and the energy of the room felt much cleaner. I put a pillow in the center of the room. Unlike my mother, I created my own traditions meshing esoteric beliefs from around the world. Protective stones were set down to ward off negative energy around the pillow at four corners. I took salt and made a circle inside the wide stone arrangement. I folded my legs and put my hands on my lap. Closed my eyes. Invoked my guardians and gods to protect me. Gentle vibrations released using my telekinesis. I felt the aether like an instrument. Tuned myself into the plane where spirits roam. The energy around me shifted until my mind’s eye saw the souls traveling through the spiritual earth plane. Walls around me were seen as opaque layers of energy. Spirits walked through the walls of other homes with ease. Mine was protected. I saw a familiar soul that stalked our street. He had refused help crossing over for years. It was time to ask him a different set of questions.
“Is there a being on the spirit plane eating souls?” No point beating around the bush. Our ghost neighbor, a deceased man wearing a tracksuit rubs the back of his head. He glances sideways at the house he once lived in. Where his now elderly husband lives.
“Zara, we have not told you the truth because—” his eyes dodge back and forth as if he is seeing beings encroach on his space. “We can’t” He vanishes.
“Vick?” I try sensing other vibrations and planes for him. Thankfully, his aura is familiar. Across the planes I pick up his auric signature. My mind jumps to a place I have not visited in years, The Crossroads. The cavern is filled with creatures hustling from one tunnel to another. I see Vick in the distance being dragged by robed figures.
“Vick!” I run up behind them. They turn, their eyes red, skin marble white. Hair flame red and yellow. Their forked tongues show as they speak in unison. “What are you doing here, Moirae?” I stare into their slit red eyes, “let his soul pass peacefully. He betrayed no one!” What am I talking about? Here, I feel like I know, more. Something that I have forgotten feels so close to me. Flustered they release his arms, “as you will.” Within moments they leave. Vick fell to the ground, his spirit a material essence bound by physical laws in this place. “Vick, you can’t haunt your husband anymore. It isn’t safe for souls back home.” I am not sure it ever was based on what I just saw.
“Ok, Zara, but, tell me, tell me you will watch over him.”
“I will,” my hand is outstretched to him. Vick grabs my hand, his soul passes through me when we make contact. Gone. The crowd gasps. People around make a wide path around me and kept their heads down. What am I? No, this can’t be real. Vick’s signature is no longer traceable. In my heart I feel it though—he went to the right place. Death is beyond the realm of paranormals, a law unto itself.
“Ken, I think our serial killer is supernatural, not just paranormal.” Izzy is standing at the door. Her face is serious. She knew. She has known all along, but what? How much? Ken looks at Izzy, “This is the thing you told me to believe? No matter what?” Izzy nods and enters the room. I am reminded she is the best seer I have ever known.
Tanaka arranged for a car to “pick him up” and drop him off with his family in Connecticut. He is to remain in Jersey in our house. He already closed his account with the apartment complex and had his furniture moved to storage by drone. His clearance as an investigator allows him to travel in secret without the need to be scanned en route. That clearance and the official paperwork he insisted on us getting was a huge part of today’s plans. He tends to be right. I just never admit that to his face. Izzy had mysteriously stated she was taking the day off and holed herself up in the office. Neither of us allowed in, we figured she was working from home. For the first time, I am headed into the office to work by myself. Tanaka and I arranged for our flimsy armbands to be connected by audio and video. A quick press of a button and we can have privacy, but another press and we could see what the other was doing. This is the most protection I can afford without looking suspicious.
When I enter the office, officer Ryan is standing there staring up at the clock. I don’t know how he got in without clearance from the scanners. Something is off. He is in his officer uniform his hands in his pockets. At the sound of my entry, he turns to look at me. Officer Ryan doesn’t smile. Boldly, I walk forward. Capture his eyes with my own. “Hello Ryan, I see you let yourself in.” My irritation is open, mocking. “How may I help you?” Ryan, the man I have been working with on cases for a good seven years holds up his flimsy. The police badge logo shining off it like a 3-D hologram. “I have the suspect in custody.” For a moment there are no words. “What the hell are you talking about Ryan?” He shuts off his flimsy which is against protocol.
“The most recent murder leads me to believe you are involved.”
“Involved? The perp’ killed a guy that looks like Tanaka.” I hold up my engagement ring, “my fiancé!”
“I know that once I explain you won’t throw a psychic tantrum because you will end rights for your people if any violence is recorded against a police officer.” I shut down, weighing my freedom against the lives of the many.
My anger becomes so intense, a tear drops from my eye. My head throbs. “Ryan, don’t you trust me?”
He nods, but says nothing, “you will have to trust me.” Confused I turn around and lift my hands in the air. He takes them down and cuffs me. A formality. I could have gotten away at any point. Killed him instantly if I wanted. He is going to be in so much trouble! Ryan removes my flimsy and shuts it off with the police codes. I am disconnected from the grid. The traceable one. When I get a chance I will reach out. Try to connect with someone I know telepathically.
“It is not a good idea to use any of your abilities. They can be picked up by our sniffers.” I blanch.
“Sniffers?” He begins walking me back to the police car which was parked at the back of my building. “Sniffers meaning the hunter paranormals that catch criminals who run away.” Criminal? We get into the car. He restrains me in the seat next to him. A divider between us up to the neck ensures I can’t surprise attack him. When the doors close he presses a code. Locks the doors and my cuffs fall off.
“Now we can talk.”
“What the hell Ryan?” I glare at him, “for a moment I thought you might be the killer!”
Ryan started laughing, “I had to get you to safety.” The car starts moving on a predetermined route. There are no recording devices or scanners inside the police vehicle. There is even a protective barrier commissioned by the government for every vehicle. It is said no paranormal can penetrate the barrier. For the first time, I am able to check for myself to see if it is true. I can not sense anything outside the car. Meaning no one can sense me. My flimsy is still not on my arm. A chill runs down my spine.
“Congratulations on getting engaged.” Ryan is watching the tiers of various cities pass beneath us. We are still on the third level where most businesses and shops are run. We are moving along the police tube where non-authorized vehicles do not travel. It is a barrier that can only be penetrated by vehicles with police frequencies. Meaning if Tanaka somehow managed to triangulate our location by tapping the code he could not follow us directly. He wasn’t a hacker by smarts. He was a rare Paranormal that could cling onto frequencies and track them to the end of the earth if necessary. If the police force had him, he could be deemed a “sniffer.” The word brings disgust as if we are compared to dogs.
“Thank you, you were going to explain why I should trust you.” I smile leaning to emphasize the barrier between us. Without a thought, Ryan brings it down. He knows what I can do. Either he is an idiot, or he knows I am powerless.
“Here is your flimsy. I think you need to see this to understand.” He hands me my flimsy. Locked on my arm it turns on and a picture comes up. A woman with small breasts, plump lips, a long nose with a bulbous end. Pale skin, coal eyes and long black hair graces the screen. She looks like she could be related to me. Today is one of those days for being creeped out apparently. I shake and catch my breath. My vulnerability so apparent to me. Trapped. If something happened to Ryan, the car would still fly to where it is going. Thoughts of home with Tanaka and Izzy flood my mind.
“The perp’ knows what I look like? Why did you take me? You didn’t even read me my rights.” Ryan puts a hand to his temple, “Zara, this is not an actual arrest in my eyes. It was all I could do. This was the first time too that a note was left.” He swipes and the text shows up on screen. The killer had used a pen and paper. Something so traceable it was brazen.
At The Crossroads
Face the reaper
Know the truth
Watch as they die
Your assignment is almost done
Your last breath my gift to you
I jump back in my seat. This is crazy. My breaths are shallow. “I didn’t think you wrote that letter. You see that boss?” I turn in shock. A surly old man is on the screen of Ryan’s flimsy.
“That isn’t definitive proof Ryan.”
“Hey, why would I threaten myself and my fiancé?”
“To look innocent.” I try to steel myself. Force my breaths to be deeper, slower. Am I the killer? It would be possible to do it while I sleep, but then how could I not know?
“I am not the killer. Keep me in custody if you need to. You’ll see. I can’t kill people if I am in custody. Another body will probably turn up.”
The man on the line laughs, “that only proves you might have someone corroborating with you, para.” I cringe. Para is a pejorative term for paranormals. It is a way of saying we are extra, beyond what is necessary for the human race. Of course, Ryan’s boss is prejudiced.
“So all of those cases I helped solve mean nothing?”
“There are many reasons to help the enemy, including getting away with your own crimes.” I put my hand to my head. “I won’t speak to you further without a lawyer present. That includes you, Ryan.” I am tempted to spit at him but look out the window instead. My mind racing in all kinds of directions.
“Zara, you are safer here with me than anywhere else. This person is clearly out for you. I wouldn’t be here with you if I thought you did it. Look my flimsy is off.” I turn and see that it is set in a charging port. It can charge via wi-fi, but ports are still used so people can take technology off their skin.
“Remember, ‘I have a wife and kids.’” I look at his hands. A ring is on his ring finger.
“What does that even mean?” I refuse to use words that can be used in soundbites like, “yes,” or “no.” My eyes resume scanning the surrounding area. Based on the scenery we are headed south. My flimsy is on passively recording everything once more. Hopefully, Tanaka is listening.
“Somewhere on the mainland.” Ryan isn’t an idiot. He sets the windows to blur out the landscape. “Somewhere south of the mainland, southeast judging by the trees.” Ryan takes the flimsy from my arm and shuts it off. “How did you even get clearance to do this?”
“Under the law, any high powered paranormal who becomes a suspect loses their rights. The police can do what they want. I fought to get you transferred to where we are going. Once you are cleared of any involvement I will personally bring you back express on my dime.”
My stomach lurches. I am going to a holding facility. Tanaka and Izzy are left alone unprotected without me. “You are taking me away from the people I love.” I can’t say I can’t protect them. It could be used against me later as if I were making a threat. My eyes are pleading. I have Ryan in my hold. He doesn’t know it. No scanners in the vehicle mean there is no instrumentation to pick up what I am doing. “Your flimsy looks like it is off.” His hand raises and shuts it off. So now it really is just in the charging port. Before I can make the next suggestion. The car shakes. I release him. We both are looking around. He sets the windows back to viewing mode. There is a car running parallel the police line, I look inside hoping to see Tanaka. The face is wearing a ski mask. Seriously?! A ski mask? Come on, what century is this and the person is wearing a ski mask?
“Exactly as I suspected.” Ryan shifts the car out of autopilot.
“Woah Ryan, what are you doing?” He looks at the other car and salutes the masked stalker.
“A killer doesn’t write you a love note to get in your pants, sweetheart. I suggest you tighten that harness.”
I do as he says. Ryan swings the car down through the transport field out into the traffic. Tiers of cars on autopilot are streaming around and below us like networks of data. The sky is so congested. We have to weave through patterns of traffic narrowly missing a few cars. The car is jerked in different directions. The system begins issuing a warning, “resume autopilot, resume autopilot” It warns over and over. Ryan issues a command in code. His flimsy turns on and transfers an official override. “Badge number 45122300, ID Ryan O’Leary, is being chased by an unidentified vehicle.”
“Issue a BOLO on the details of the vehicle, now!” The computer launches a scan and assessment of the car in pursuit. Zara sighs in relief when she realizes it was not Tanaka on some crazy pursuit. He would definitely go to jail otherwise. Then she realizes it is worse. If it isn’t Tanaka then they could very well be being chased by the killer.
“Don’t these cars have some self-defense system?!”
Ryan laughs, “Just like paranormals are suspect so are the cops. We are not trusted with shiny things. You can thank the early 21st-century rap sheet for that. So many murders, we lost some privileges. Especially during the…” He trails off looking at me. I nod. We both know the stats on the number of paranormals killed after The Rising. People were so scared of what the paranormals could do. Forgetting that they had lived alongside them for centuries peacefully. If you engage someone with hostility enough times eventually they fight back. It was the civil war no one had expected. The paranormals lost. Outnumbered, betrayed. Then there were the concentration camps.
A jarring motion kicks me back into attention. Ryan takes a nose dive towards the ocean. My hands are clinging so tightly to the handle on my right and the armrest on my left that my knuckles go pasty white. The sensation of falling is so intense I feel as though at any moment everything will go black. “Ryan! Are you trying to kill us?” I lose all composure and caution with words.
“Just trust me Zar’” Within a few feet of the ocean he pulls up and the car behind nearly crashes into our rear. He initiates a traction beam that holds the vehicle. The person inside jumps into the water miles out from the coast. Suspended in the sky I am breathing hoarsely. Glad to be alive. We watch the perp’ swim back. “Aren’t you going to go get that guy?” Ryan sighs, “I don’t get paid enough. You sure don’t either. I have a feeling it will take more than two people to take that person down.” As if in answer police cars surround the swimmer and set down nano restraints to ensnare the perp’. Every single car explodes with the occupants inside. Not one shred of metal left. Ryan inputs command codes into the computer and we head back to the police tube. “The amount of paperwork I have to do is ridiculous.”
“You just saw a squad of cars vaporized with the cops in them and all you can think about is paperwork?”
Ryan leans back in his seat and puts his hands behind his head, “I mean the paperwork I have to do to prove your innocence. You owe me one.”
I scoff, “You kidding me?”
“You get to go home today, Zara. It is hard to prove your involvement or justify taking you to the Hole when you did nothing to assist that brute and even insisted on an arrest.” I sigh.
“Besides, didn’t you see? He has explosives.” Ryan winks. So he knows that guy killed them using his abilities but is going to cover it up. Time to investigate further into standard Ryan’s background.
When we arrive at The Paranormal Investigation Task Force building I am tempted to kiss the solar glass sidewalk. Tanaka is inside waiting when we arrive. He grabs me and kisses me fiercely. An uncharacteristic display of affection. Then holds me in his arms. His eyes locking with Ryan’s, “you should have spoken with me.”
“We cleared your girl of involvement.”
“Zara deserves better than the treatment she just received. Jenna?” A woman in a business suit steps forward, “This is our lawyer. Do you have anything else to discuss?”
Ryan smiles and scratches his head, “He really loves you, Zara. Be safe. Sorry for all the fuss guys.” With that, he leaves the building.