The sleazy motel owner had looked at them very strangely when they rented the room, but he wasnt one to argue: Caitlyns Visa card was good, and that was all he really cared. Both were girls? And muddy? With torn clothing? And horses? Hed seen weirder. Not a lot weirder, but weirder. As long as they had the money and didnt scare the other residents, he didnt care what they did in that room. But just to be on the safe side, hed given them the last room on the second floor, as far from the rest of the guests as possible. They might all be weirdos and losers, too, but he didnt want any trouble he could avoid.
Caitlyn was soaking what parts she could squeeze into the tub while Kim-na lay on the floor in their room, propped against the bed, watching the Discovery Channel. So I was thinking, said Caitlyn from the bath with the door cracked open, that we should stay here tonight and get a good rest, and then follow your paper first thing tomorrow morning.
Yeah, sure, whatevah, said Kim-na as the TV continued its narration.
What does it say we do first?
Yo, quiet, Im watchin this, said Kim-na. You evah see how they build the St. Louis arch? Awesome shizzle, yo.
You like documentaries? asked Caitlyn.
Thats not what
Yo, its all good. Relax, girlfriend. I aint meanin nothin bout it. Nah, see, I aint some dumbass ho. I savin ma money. Gonna go to night school next year and get a good degree. Get me the hell outta that rat-hole. Not that Im dissin my aunt and unc, yknow? They been good to me since my momma died. But you gotta do more in life, see? I was five years old, my daddys friend he took me up a skyscraper theys buildin, and that was the shiz, girl. Closest to flyin I ever been. You could see the whole damn city up there. I said then and there I was gonna be an architect and build me a big-ass skyscraper o my own. I gonna do it someday, too. Gonna stand top o the world.
Caitlyn smiled. The girl might be crude, but Caitlyn had to respect her ambitions. And with the kind of drive shed shown already? There was no doubt in Caitlyns mind that shed eventually pull it off.
So is it the skyscrapers you love, or is it just being high up? asked Caitlyn, scrubbing at her left front hoof.
Yknow, really, I aint sure, said Kim-na. I save my money, an on my Daddys birthday each year I go up the top of a new skyscraper, see the city from a new place. I like buildin stuff and I like makin stuff and I like bein up there and I like everythin about it, I think.
So what prissy white-girl job you do, girl? asked Kim-na, and Caitlyn smiled. The question hadnt been meant as an insult: It was a heartfelt attempt by the ghetto girl to get to know Caitlyn mildly insulting, but still heartfelt.
Im a... She paused. What was she, really? She wasnt a professional artist, that was for sure. Shed been just working for the rent for years now, her old dreams buried at the bottom of a never-ending stack of bills. Honestly, you want the truth, Kim? I get coffee and carry papers around. I spend all day getting coffee and carrying papers for a jackass of a boss, and when he doesnt need me for anything, I sit crammed into my little cubicle and I draw little sketches on used copy paper that then goes right into the trash can. I went to school for four years to learn to be an illustrator, and I ended up a gopher.
There was a chuckle from the other room. I feel you there, girl. Next life, we both come back as Queen o England, servants waitin on us hand and hoof, you hear me?
Caitlyn smiled wider. I hear you, girl.
* * *
The motel stay had been, at best, a frustrating night. The bed was lumpy and far too small, and theyd taken turns trying to sleep on it while the other slept on the floor, but neither surface was terribly comfortable. And there was a faint odor of mold coming from somewhere. And the street light just outside their window glowed right through the windowblinds. Still, they did their best, and some time around six in the morning, Kim-na disappeared into the bathroom, and reemerged about three hours later looking like a movie star. Caitlyn wasnt sure how the girl did it; after her own bath the night before, shed felt cleaner, but far from perfect, while Kim-nas hair was somehow wavering in the breeze just so and her tail shone like spun copper strands.
It aint the size of yo products, girl, said Kim-na. Its how you use em.
Caitlyn shrugged. Best not to ask, at least not now: They had bigger fish to fry. Kim-na went into her backpack and retrieved the letter, and they spread it out on the small brown desk and pored over it on a breakfast of weak Mountain Dew and mushy Oreos from the vending machines outside.
Yo, okay, so here what unca Ji say to do: If he been found out, or yo daddy been caught, we head to Washington D.C, and then to... Allytown? Arrowtown? Shit. And then... gotta meet with somebody... Monique... Martin... Mandy... and I think the ends got sumpin about that Long Island Project thing he was goin on about... damn, girl, this things so smeared it aint worth the stink in a cats ass.
Caitlyn slurped her soda and sighed. So what do we do now?
Hell if I know, said Kim-na. This yo adventure, not mine. I just along to pull yo ass outta the fire every once in a while.
Thanks, said Caitlyn grumpily. She slurped her soda a little longer. Well... I guess... Is there any way to contact Ji-chen?
Kim-na shook her head. I followin his rules. In three months on the dot somebodyll post a mean comment about some Tyler Rodriguez on this one sports website he know, and I gotta post back, Tyler? Tippecanoe yo ass, with my email. Then he emails me and tells me where he is.
Caitlyn sighed. So were on our own. So... I guess... okay, we need a car. Right?
I think we should try to follow the letter even if we dont know what it says. That looks like its probably Arlington. My my sister lives in Woodbridge; shes an hour south of Arlington, but I guess thats as good a place to begin as any. Shell probably let us stay at her house for one night. Either way, we cant go back to New York.
Actually, said Caitlyn with a grin, She doesnt really like me. Thinks Im lazy and a loser. I havent talked to her in ages, and I only met her husband once. But shes family. And shes probably right about me, too.
Yo familys as bad as mine, said Kim-na, kneeling down. Daddy left when Is eight, and Momma died o them cancer sticks two years ago. Auntie Sang and Unca Ji they didnt want no kids, but they got me when Momma got sick. Worked my brown ass to the bone when I wasnt in school, but Auntie Sang still think Im another lazy ho.
She reached into the backpack on the floor and hauled out a cell phone, which she tossed to Caitlyn. Okay, you call yo sis. I gonna go get us a car.
Trust me. Kim-na stood up with a mischievous smile, adjusted her dress, and headed toward the door.
Aw, girl, you no fun, said Kim-na, looking back over her shoulder darkly, and then suddenly she laughed. I was jokin! O course I aint gonna steal nothin. Auntie Sangd kick my ass if I even thought bout it. No, you trust me, girl, you get us the place to go, and Ill get the car.
Trust me, said Kim-na, and with a swish of the tail, she disappeared out the motel door.
* * *
The phone call went surprisingly well. Caitlyn had called her mother, first to tell her that shed better take a trip somewhere, and second to get Ellens phone number. Her mother hadnt been too happy about it, but shed finally agreed; Caitlyns aunt Phoebe lived in Connecticut, and shed been trying to get Sharon to come visit for years, so now would be as good a time as any. Then Caitlyn had sat for the better part of ten minutes trying to decide whether to call it, but in the end, she had called, and Ellen had answered. Ellen had been graceful, caring, genteel, in ways that Caitlyn hadnt remembered her being since childhood but maybe times really had changed her, and maybe blood was thicker than water. It had been years, so maybe Ellen had grown. All Caitlyn had asked for was a place to stay for a few days, but Ellen had offered her as much time as she needed, and a little money too.
And thankfully, whoever was after Caitlyn wasnt after Ellen. Ellen was probably much easier to find, but they hadnt gone after her, so she probably didnt have whatever they wanted. But Caitlyn didnt want to stay long: Whatever was going on, it was centered around her, and she didnt want to bring it down on her sister. Especially when her sister was actually being nice for the first time in decades?
Caitlyn thought back to all the fights theyd had. Ellen had been such a self-righteous jerk, so often. Convinced beyond all argument that money and power could get her everything shed ever want. Convinced that a hotshot education and a hotshot job could land her the life of her dreams, with the hot husband and the two-point-three kids and the dog and the house with the picket fence. Convinced that Caitlyn was throwing her life away, that all she needed was to open up a little military-grade whoop-ass on her teachers and later her boss and her life would suddenly be just as perfect as Ellens. Convinced that with a little yoga and a modern wardrobe, Caitlyn could be just as perfect as her sister obviously was. It hadnt helped that Ellen had been skipped a year ahead in school not once but twice, that shed finished college in three years and law school just as quickly, that Ellen was brilliant and self-righteous because shed genuinely earned the right to be. Which lead to lecture after lecture after lecture, every phone call, every time they met, and after a while, Caitlyn just stopped calling, stopped talking. Weeks apart turned into months and then years, and then Caitlyn had Changed, and didnt want to talk to anyone for a long time, least of all her sister.
But Ellen was willing to help now. Shed offered money, food, a place to stay. A chance at temporary normalcy, a glimmer of hope in this mess. Ellen, for the first time in years, really sounded like family.
The door suddenly popped open, and Kim-na was standing there, grinning, jingling a set of car keys over her head.
Its a pickup truck, she said. And a tarp. Im ridin in back. I aint changin even if it does muss up my tail.
Its older n dirt, she continued, an rusty as a sewer pipe, an smells like a buttcrack, but itll get us there.
Kim-na grimaced. When ya got it, flaunt it, baby. Woman let a man touch er boobs for five minutes and hell buy er the moon.
You but you
Prides a rich girls luxury, she said. Now get yo crap together and lets get the hell outta here.