Note: This is a follow-up to this short story. You may want to read it first, but it’s not strictly necessary.
When it comes down to it, we all want something we don’t have. Trying to find happiness as a solid state, as a thing you put on a shelf, or in a box, is like trying to count to infinity. No matter how far you get, you’re not even close. And infinity isn’t a number, anyway.
Happiness isn’t a thing, or a place, or a person. It’s a state of mind, as fleeting and ephemeral as that feeling you get on the night of the first snowfall. Or the memory of it. Of standing under the clear November moonlight, watching as my father painted his words with the dancing snowflakes. They clustered and expanding as he spoke, forming stick figures with crude, cartoonish props. A sack of gold, a house straight out of a child’s finger painting, complete with a smiling sun and smoke curling out of a crooked, off-centre chimney.
He was telekinetic, but still a terrible artist.
My name is Samantha, and I am my father’s daughter, in all the ways that really count. If my grades are anything to judge by, I’m no better than he was as an artist. And on a good day, I can do a lot better than moving snowflakes with my mind. On a bad day, I can do a lot worse.
On my worst days, I can ruin lives.
It was the first weekend of September. School started on Monday, so all I cared about was filling my lungs to capacity with my last gasp of freedom. Sounds dramatic, I know, but that’s high school.
My best friend, Karin, and I had tickets for an all-ages show on Saturday night. The band was Black Lung. They had a few songs I liked, with aggressive, driving choruses that I could dance to, which is really all I wanted. But Karin adored them, especially the sisters who fronted the band, Lin and Tish. They were all she could talk about for a month leading up to the show. Which was fine by me, because, like I said, the other topic was school, and I got enough of that from my parents.
On the night of the show, I met up with Karin near the club. She handed me a laminated card on a string. Before I could ask what it was, she blurted, “Backstage passes,” grabbing it back so she could put it around my neck. “Dad got them for us. An early birthday present, he says, but I know he just wants me to go with him when he moves.”
I pulled my hair out of the pass’s necklace. “Will you?”
“Hell no,” said Karin, and we began walking toward the club, where I could see a line forming. “There’s no way I’m leaving the city for some boring suburb, and you’ve met his new girlfriend. My mom isn’t that great, but Jennifer is a straight up bitch.”
“Yeah,” I said. It was a tricky situation, and I didn’t know what else to say. I was glad Karin was staying with her mother after the divorce, because I didn’t want her to move, but you don’t tell someone that. Not now. She deserved a night of pure distraction as much as anyone.
“Besides,” she said, and clapped me on the back. “I can’t abandon my best friend on the eve of victory. One more year and we’re out of that viper pit for good.” Karin threw her arms up and began to sing, “School’s out for the summer! School’s out forever!”
“A little late for that, don’t you think?” I said, and grinned.
“Come on,” she said, and together we sang, “School’s been blown to pieces!” while the crowd turned to stare.
The mostly teen-age crowd didn’t seem to mind the limited and over-priced all-ages menu inside the club. As Karin and I entered, the hipster behind the narrow bar was a skinny-jean clad hummingbird, almost a blur in the poor lighting as he tossed out bullet-shaped energy drinks to the swarm. Karin wanted to get something, but I wasn’t going to endure that lineup for a 400% markup on a can of Coke. Not when we were already losing spots near the stage, which was the best place to dance.
As we pushed through to as good a position as we were going to get, the house lights were going down. The jittery energy in the room peaked in a collective shiver of anticipation as the band took the stage under cover of a rolling fog and a grinding bass riff. Purple and gold laser light, then the bass shifted abruptly as a keyboard hum joined in, and then again as Lin and Tish stepped through the mist to the opening bars of their first single. Cheers and screams drowned out half the first verse before a collective voice joined in to shout the chorus back at their idols.
Karin had the wide-eyed, open-mouthed look of someone experiencing a religious epiphany as she repeated the song’s lyrics like a hymn. I could feel it, too. I let the intense start-stop rhythm move my body, let the concentrated, rapturous emotion of the crowd lock me into the pressure-bubble moment. For the rest of the show, nothing existed outside this building.
After the show, we made our way to the back of the club. I was still feeling the electric high from the encore, and Karin could not stand still, even without an energy drink in her. She shoved her pass into the face of anyone who looked in our direction, until we found the dressing room. The door was open, so we walked right in.
It smelled of hot sweat, dirty leather, with an undertone of acrid alcohol. The band had already started to scatter. The drummer, a tall man with copper skin and long, grass-green hair, lay passed out on a beat-up easy chair in the nearest corner. The lead guitarist and keyboard player were missing completely, but that hardly mattered to Karin. When she saw Tish and Lin sitting in front of a mirror that covered the room’s entire back wall while they checked their phones, she went catatonic with excitement. It might be the first time I’d ever seen her at a loss for words.
Lin turned to look us over. I recognized her as the taller, but younger, sister. They could have passed for twins otherwise, especially in their stage outfits of matching purple suits and short, feathered platinum-blonde haircuts. “Hey there,” she said, her voice a little hoarse from singing.
“Hi,” I said. “I’m Samantha, and this is Karin.” I shoved my friend toward them. “She’s a big fan.”
“That so?” asked Lin.
“Yes,” said Karin, her voice near a whisper. She clutched at her backstage pass like it was the only thing she was sure was real.
“You want to speak up?” asked Tish, watching through the mirror.
“I do,” said Karin. “But I’m afraid I might scream.”
The two women laughed. Lin stood up and clapped Karin on the shoulder. “How about an autograph? We’ve got some posters in the equipment room.”
Karin nodded, and followed Lin into the next room.
The drummer was drinking a smuggled-in beer and telling a story about the time his last band’s van broke down on the highway, forcing them to hitchhike to the next town in the back of a moving truck. He’d gotten to the part where the police had them pulled over and wanted to arrest the driver for smuggling immigrants, and Tish, who was also drinking, spit a mouthful of beer onto the dirty hardwood floor as she laughed. Which made me laugh. Until I heard shouts and something heavy falling in the next room. It was Karin, and she didn’t sound excited.
I leapt to my feet. Tish said something and grabbed for my arm as I passed, but I wasn’t listening. I pushed the door open and burst into the equipment room.
Karin sat on the floor next to a disassembled drum kit, arms crossed protectively over her chest. Her jacket was in Lin’s hand, and her shirt was stretched and torn at the neck, showing a bare shoulder and the strap of her bra.
“What the fuck?” I yelled. I snatched the jacket from Lin and knelt beside Karin. “What happened?”
“It’s a misunderstanding,” said Lin.
“What happened?” I asked Karin again. I could see tears on her face. She shook her head, but said nothing. “We’re going to leave now,” I told her, and helped her stand.
“Hey, be cool,” said Tish. She stood in the doorway, blocking our way out.
“At least let me autograph her jacket,” said Lin, reaching out a hand.
“No,” I said through clenched teeth. Leaning into me, Karin shuddered and squeezed at my hand.
“It’ll only take a second,” said Lin, “and we can have a few beers and talk about this.”
I looked at Lin’s hand as it touched Karin’s jacket, looked at her sister leaning casually against the door frame. I felt trapped, as was obviously the intention. Trapped, but not scared like Karin was.
I didn’t get scared. I got angry.
Lin’s hand bent up at the wrist, a sudden, sharp jerk. Her scream nearly drowned out the sound of snapping bones. Tish’s eyes went wide, her mouth opened to say something. I didn’t want to hear anything else from her. I raised a hand, and she flew across the room, hitting the exposed brick wall before landing, nerveless and still. Silent. Good.
Lin was holding her broken hand and cursing at the top of her lungs. “My playing hand. You broke my fucking playing hand.”
I pulled Karin to the door, through the dressing room. The drummer was on his feet, but we were in the hall before he could react further. An emergency exit on our left. We spilled into a dark back alley, and the door slammed behind us, cutting off the confused, angry curses coming from inside. I ran, pulling Karin along, and didn’t stop until we’d put a couple streets between us and the club.
“I’ll call my mom, she’ll come get us,” I said. I thought I could hear sirens. “Are you alright, Karin? What did she do to you?” My body was still shaking. I’d never used my power in public like that, or to hurt anyone. Exhilarating.
Karin stood away from me while I pulled my phone out, her jacket hanging limp in her hand. She stayed like that, staring at me, while I called my mom and asked her to pick us up as soon as she could. When Karin still hadn’t moved by the time the call ended, I finally felt the fear.
“Talk to me,” I said. “Please, Karin.”
“You hurt them,” she said in a hollow voice. “You threw Tish across the room without touching her.”
“Yeah,” I said. “They weren’t going to let us go. I had to get you out of there.”
“It’s just, I don’t know, Karin.” All the hundreds of imagined conversations I’d had about telling her, none of them were like this. “It’s something I can do.”
Karin sat down on a nearby bench. The streetlight overhead cast a long shadow from her body, making her seem smaller and paler than I’d ever seen. She put her head in her hands, rocked up and down as she shook the sobs out. I sat next to her, and she didn’t flinch or move away. I thought that was a good sign. I wanted to put my arm around her, to hug her. But the way she’d looked at me. I didn’t want to push it. We sat together for a while, the centimetres between us feeling like gaping kilometres of previously unknown distance.
“Karin,” I said. “I have to ask this.” The words were thick in my throat, like they might choke me. “It’s not fair, but I have to ask this.”
She looked up at me, smears of dark eyeliner around red eyes. “I won’t tell anyone,” she said.
Lights passed at the end of the street, flashing red and blue. I felt the sweat on the back of my neck. The sirens pulsed, the rise and fall making it feel like they were probing, searching for something. I looked down and saw the backstage pass still hanging around my neck. I pulled it off, breaking the string, and threw it at a nearby trash can, nudging it along in flight so it wouldn’t miss.
My mom drove up a few minutes later, while Karin was wiping away tears with her fingers and palms of her hands. “Get in,” she said through the open window. I sat in the front, Karin got in the back. She pulled out.
We dropped Karin off first. All the way over to her house, none of us spoke, though my mom kept looking at me. Once Karin was gone, leaving with a promise to see me at school, my mom let out a long breath. “We’ll talk about this when your father gets home,” she said. I nodded. Then she let out a clipped snort. “God, I sound like my mother. What matters right now is that you and Karin are safe. Whatever you did, I’m sure you had a good reason.”
I never saw Karin again. She texted once, saying that she was glad to have met me, and that she would always keep my secret. I went to her house after the first day of school, and her mother told me that Karin decided to move in with her father after all, and then offered me a drink. I declined and left.
Karin was my best friend. The only real connection I’d made at school. Maybe it was my mistake, investing myself too heavily in something that would never last. In a clear moment, I could tell myself it was the folly of youth, but that didn’t dull the pain. Despite everything, all the lessons and meditation, it hurt.
Black Lung cancelled their tour. Rumours were that Lin broke her hand in a fight with a crazed fan, and Tish was in a coma that she might never wake up from.
Turns out, she didn’t. But by the time I heard that news, another death was the least of my problems.