No, we didn’t go bowling today – we rode the Max for hours.
Downtown to Hillsboro, all the way back to Gresham, then Gateway to the Airport. Back to Clackamas Town Center, then to PSU, briefly towards Beaverton, then back where we started. Why? Max is perfect for rainy day rendezvous, hand-holding and window staring and the occasional, uncontrollable make out session or crying jag – no one cares if you let your heart hang out.
Aurora is beyond words, and not just in good ways. Besides her obvious charms, she really is from another place, all hard and polite and world-weary at 16. It’s like she’s a militia member, or from an obscure sect with everyone married to everyone – the Collective she always tries hard not to mention. Apparently Mom has some serious ties, connections I don’t yet understand – all I know is that she was a wild one once.
I’m pretty sure Aurora is a wild one now, but she’s good at hiding it. For example, she has a way of looking at people – like the ones staring at us during well-deserved PDA – that makes them suddenly aim down at their own feet, like whimpering puppies. Really, she looks like she would desecrate your corpse, like she could kill entire species without breaking a sweat, and yet that intensity is balanced out by a joy beyond naivete. If she wasn’t the cutest thing in the world, I would run away screaming.
She’s also some sort of hacker, not the kind you see in the movies, with fake OSes guaranteed to be understood by 5 year olds, but the kind that reshape the world at whim. When we were about ready to get our all zone, all day TriMet tickets, she told me to step aside, and took out a clear, credit card sized thing from her bag. It wasn’t a normal card, because as she touched it, it changed color, with logos growing out of nowhere. She had the same far-away stare that Mom gets, and then swiped it like nothing out of the ordinary just happened. I was going to ask, but her smile wiped away my wonder and worry – I’m just fine with her piloting the invisible jet, just as long as I’m the only one along for the ride.
Still, as we criss-crossed PDX, I felt a little nervous. Not because we were openly together, not even because I knew she would be gone in a few days, but because something just seemed wrong. She had secrets she so clearly wasn’t telling me – she was great at complicating things to the point of confusion, but she was horrible at the Power Point mouse click.
She did tell me one thing that rang true, other than tales of Mt. Shasta boredom and our passionate arguments about our favorite bands. In between the kisses and smiles she dropped her guard for a moment, grabbed my recorder, and let me see inside.
“When I was 9 years old,” she started, “my parents took me on a long drive down to San Francisco. They were super nervous, always slowing to a crawl whenever the Highway Patrol passed by, and by the time we reached Marin County, they made me hide down in the back seat, so no one would see me inside. We pulled off the freeway right before the Golden Gate Bridge, circled up and through the hills that bordered the ocean, and eventually ended up by a fairly secluded beach. It was so foggy and cold, but the water – it was the first time I’d ever seen so much water!”
She squeezed my hand with excitement. “At this point they weren’t nervous any more. They just pointed at the shoreline and let me run wild, while they struck up a conversation with two women who were having a picnic on the sand. After teasing the waves, and getting salty because, I noticed a young girl staring, half way between me and my parents. She wasn’t any one race I could place, tan with curly hair and sort of an Asian air, and she definitely wasn’t like anyone I’d ever seen before, ever. As she approached, holding an air-filled, translucent red ball, it was like the world moved under her feet while she stood still. It was like the hills, and the sand, and the water collapsed to a flat snapshot that she was walking through, beyond. It felt like the world was falling apart like a waterfall, like a building collapsing over and over, and I could only stare, and smile, and marvel at her. Walking straight up to me, holding out the ball with arms outstretched, she turned on a hidden light switch in my heart, and I knew. This was Ai.”
She started to cry, and I held her tight. “You can’t understand! Ever since I was born, my whole life was an arrow aimed at one thing – Ai. She was all that anyone could talk about, the one that came in dreams and reached bare-handed into the white. Her antenna was born, not made, and when the time was right, she would wipe away our eyes so we could see beyond. She was the most important person in the world, in the shape of a 9 year old girl playing with me on the beach.”
I couldn’t understand such intensity, the sort that you imagine church going people have, the kind that starts wars and permanently ends loneliness. I could see that light switch, however, I could taste the ocean as I kissed away her tears.
“My parents had arranged the whole meeting, with A-Bell and Amber. Ai rarely goes out in public, but they wanted us to meet the right way, under the blanketing sky, with the seagulls and shells and tiny, polished rocks that most people ignore. They wanted us to wallow in the calm before the storm, before our fingers became bullets aimed at….. I promised you no crazy talk, didn’t I?”
“It’s OK. Just tell me your stories however they come out.”
“Ai isn’t the same girl that I met on that day. Now she’s like an avalanche, a lumbering glacier, like your imaginary Massive Cloud Burst. She’s a force of nature, and yet not even 16. Many people would die for her, and many people will die before her work is done.”
“Her work? Can’t she just be another girl hugging life?”
“It’s too soon, and I don’t know how you could ever understand, as naked as you are.”
“Naked?” I smiled, thinking that she was calling forth visions of sweaty warmth.
“Naked – you’re not etched. It takes months just for the generic template, and years to perfect the circuits, as you grow into adulthood. Like I tried to tell you before, your mother has denied you your birthright, she’s taken away the bow from your hands, and it’s just too late now. I can’t fix that mistake.”
She kissed me passionately just then, like I’d drowned and she was trying to breathe me back to life.
“Do you believe me?” She stared. “Do you believe in me?”
In her arms, I only had one answer, as the rain slid down the rumbling windows. It was always yes, she was always yes, ever since the first moment I saw her, a mysterious yes.
“I do. I will.”
As the next stop approached, the Washington Park one underneath the zoo, she took my hand and pulled me to the door.
“You’re not ready, but I don’t care.” We walked over to a wall, that had a long circular shaft of earth embedded into it horizontally. A drilling sample that was supposed to show the endless links of life.
“Do you see this, dear?” She pointed at the display. “We’re told to imagine millions, billions of years of change, with the implication that the line will persist uninterrupted.” She frowned. “What they don’t know is that is has been interrupted, will be interrupted, and soon.”
I wanted to believe her, but my mind was folding in on itself, like origami of a gun.
“Something is here, everywhere, from the wrong side of the mirror, and it’s hell bent on getting back at any costs. The Collective stopped it once, when you and I were just babies, but that broken mirror has a few lost pieces. They are hidden, and relentless.”
My mind was becoming a weapon, my spine a sword that thirsted for blood.
“You were hidden, but now it knows where you are. Who you are.”
Can a gun be its own bullets? Can a sword stab itself?
“Ai says you can’t know this truth, that it will ruin everything. I don’t care, because it’s you! It was always about you.”
“What is it? Who am I?” I was almost shaking at this point, ready to burst.
“You’re the last piece of the broken mirror. The chosen light will shine again….” She hugged me for dear life. “Now that I’ve found you, I don’t know how I can protect you.”
The train heading home yelled into the station, ignoring the history lesson, and our embrace, and everything but the hole it came from, and the hole it was going into.
She didn’t say anything else. All the way home, she just cried herself empty, and I sheltered her from the stares. When my stop finally came, I tried to take her out with me, but she wouldn’t budge – she could barely look at me.
“Please, come with me! I don’t care what you believe, I believe in you!”
For a moment, her eyes treated me like an invader, a disease, like I was nothing. But, before the doors shut, she managed to give me one, last, kiss, and then stood with palms against the wet windows as the train took her away.
I needed a few hours locked away in my room, but I managed to clear the cobwebs and confusion long enough to write this all. A few minutes ago, I texted her. “be with me tomorrow,” I pleaded, “i don’t care what you say you can’t scare me away.”
Those minutes have passed like decades, as I stare at the screen, willing the phone to bring her back to me. She hasn’t answered yet.
I’m squeezing the phone to death and nothing is happening.