A bundle of spider-web black hair held together by blood
A tarnished silver ring
Donald Barthelme once said that the best way to live is by not knowing what will happen to you at the end of the day.
I suppose he’s right.
Then again, I wouldn’t really know. My life is so dismally regimented, I can map the day out from beginning to end with 99% precision.
Lately, I’ve been feeling like a little avatar in an RPG: Wake up…Turn off Alarm…Head to School…Stay for Student Council After School…Return Home…Watch Television….Sleep…Rewind…
I can only hope things will change this year.
It’s senior year at Our Lady of Mercy High, one of six official German schools in the United States and the third best private school in the East…according to niche.com, anyway. The site measures things like AP Test rankings and composite SAT scores. Obviously, they don’t know what to measure to determine if a high school’s really worth attending.
Being one of only six German schools in the country carries a particular prestige for the ten percent of us who weren’t born in or have family from Germany.
I reluctantly take the title of one of the so-called elite ten percent.
Seems I can’t escape that kind of branding, being the single-spawn of an Armenian doctor and a Persian lawyer. Most of the kids at my school believe that together, Armenians and Iranians basically own the country. Guess you can’t blame them after that stupid Shahs of Sunset reality TV show and them good ol’ Kardashians.
Granted, my father probably believes his medical practice and string of antique stores might just lead him to Kardashian wealth, but don’t get your hopes up—I don’t look like a Kardashian. I’m more like a Kim Kardashian remix. You know how Kim K’s got the huge boobs and flat tummy? Take the inverse, and you’ve got me.
Further distinguishing me from the Kardashian clan is the fact I’m not Christian, despite attending a German Catholic school. I’m Muslim by birth, atheist by trade, and American for whatever it’s worth.
Kameron Kasparov’s the name, better known as Kay.
Kay is for Karma, not Kameron.
I’m Karma. Simply put, if you cross me or my friends, I’ll find a way to pay you back, you can be sure of it.
I suppose that might make me sound quite caustic. But don’t worry—people are rarely what they seem…
Sitting beside me in the backseat of Mikey Ferrera’s car, my stepbrother Grayson looks up from his cell phone for the first time since we started our joy ride. He centers his full attention on the side of my face.
I scrunch my brows. “Why are you staring at me?”
“No reason. Just trying to imagine you with a mustache and full beard.”
I dangle my ponytail over my upper lip. “Won’t be that hard if I don’t wax soon.”
He smiles at me, though there is a mismatched expression in his eyes. It’s pity. It hasn’t left him since last week. Last week—when my boyfriend sent him to break up with me.
“No, seriously,” he says, pushing his corn-colored hair out of his face. “I’m just trying to remember what you look like for when you abandon me.”
Grayson is referring to the mail I received today—my acceptance letter to Columbia. He made my announcement to our friends Mikey and Jenna when they picked us up in the Mikey-mobile, a refurbished 1989 Dodge Challenger his father recently bought him.
Mikey and Jenna applauded my victory, immediately asking if I’d given our friend Yasmin Navarro the news. Mimi will presumably be most ecstatic, considering we have plans to take Columbia by storm together.
Mimi has missed all three of my victory calls. I would’ve texted, but I need the ever-jaunty rhythm of her voice to help grow my own excitement.
Mikey has insisted on congratulating me by dropping the car’s top for the special occasion. I probably would have been more inclined to tell him how annoying it is having the wind toss my hair into whorls over my eyes if the gesture hadn’t been so sincere. I mean, he is sort of pulling out all the stops, considering how we’d normally be faux-feuding right now over anything from religion to which of us will take the valedictorian spot. Besides, without the lid of the car roof, the scene of the falling scarlet-gold sun on the horizon makes the city that much more picturesque. Downtown Arabella Park, with its gold-themed stores and restaurants can be quite stunning at sunset.
“Yo, seriously, what’re we gonna do, Kam? No way I’m getting into Columbia,” Grayson continues. “Even if I could, I don’t know if I’ll be believable as a East Coast rapper.”
“Did you get the news, tío?” Mikey says.
“What news, what’s up?” Gray’s tone is intensely curious. He hasn’t detected Mikey’s sarcasm. It’s pathetically obvious where his mind is.
“Facebook, Snapchat, WeChat, Skype, FaceTime, G-Chat, Twitter, Periscope,” Mikey rattles off with the same high-speed he speaks Puerto Rican Spanish. “All forms of media with over a billion users on the planet. Trust me, you aint gonna forget what that mug looks like.” He grins at me through the rear-view mirror, his crescent-moon dimples making imprints on his tawny cheeks. “That beautiful, gorgeous Karma K mug.”
“Okay, cool,” Gray says with a shrug. “Now, we can focus on more important things.” He attends his phone once again, scrolling down the screen with a smooth thumb. He slides down in the seat to spread his long, cramped legs, looking up at me once to make sure I’ve caught his humor.
From the side mirror, I watch Jenna roll her eyes. She’s both captivating and devastating to look at with her gold skin and luminous blue eyes. She inherited the strong contour of her cheeks from her Ethiopian mother and the butter-blondness of her hair from her Norwegian father. She’s even harder to take my eyes off of now that she’s eight months pregnant.
“Guess nothing could be as important as future bae, huh?” she says to Gray. “Not even your sister getting into one of the best schools in the country.”
“I love how you just get me, Eeyore,” Grayson returns, using the name he’d given her years ago for the listless tone she often employs.
“Anything for you, Pooh Bear. If Mimi were anywhere to be found today, she’d be cheering you on. I mean, she’s always had blind faith in you.”
“Seven billion people on earth, Eeyore, and you chose me for that lame joke?” He switches his phone from one hand to the other. “Well, looks like Future Wifey ain’t on The Gram. I’m not even sure what her name really is. Guess we’ll just call her dimples and swag for now.”
“Or we could call her London Griffin since that’s the girl’s name,” Mikey offers. “She’s in my AP Lit class sixth period.”
“She’s in your class? Dude….” It is a dude of sheer wonder. “Did she say anything about the lunch battle thing? You think she likes me?”
Jenna half-smiles. “No doubt. How could she not be impressed by your incredible linguistic abilities?”
Mikey makes a dumb, stuttering sound, imitating Grayson as he watched the new girl effortlessly steal the crown off his head when she crushed him during the cafeteria rap battle this morning. Jenna and I crack up. Grayson takes it in stride, returning to his Instagram search.
Like a fiend, I return to thoughts of my ex-boyfriend Robert Schwartz: six-three; gelled, porcupine brown hair; perfect square teeth a little on the big side but awful white for how much weed he smokes; amber eyes that branch out in deep lines at the corners when he’s excited. It was those eyes that actually caused me to believe him when he said—
“Shit!” Mikey’s car jerks, thrusting me out of my thoughts.
“Ooh, Mikey said a bad word,” Grayson says, hardly looking up from his phone.
Jenna turns to Mikey, holding her globular stomach, breathless. “Did we get a flat or something?”
“Turn the wheel and pull over to the shoulder,” I say.
Mikey wrestles with the steering wheel, the car slowly crunching and dragging over the asphalt.
“Just pull over,” I insist.
“Shut up, Kameron!” Mikey yells. After managing to get the car onto the shoulder, he turns back to face me, not meeting my eyes. “Sorry.”
His apology embarrasses me. “Whatever. Let’s just check the trunk for a spare.”
Mikey opens his door and heads for the trunk. Grayson follows behind, not wasting the opportunity to hop out over the side of the convertible. I make my way to the boys’ side, while Jenna stays in the car, anchored down by the baby in her belly. Mikey wrestles with the trunk’s old lock. When he finally manages it open, the three of us take a reflexive step back, faced with the startling contents of an otherwise pristine space.
A slight wind dances one of the contents out of the trunk. It is a single type-written paper that turns cartwheels in the air until Grayson reaches for it, suspending it between his fingers.
He flattens the paper, then holds it out to allow Mikey and me to read it over his shoulder. Our collective silence is layered over the sound of traffic as we digest its meaning, a meaning made clearer by the other contents:
A bundle of straight, black hair glued to the inside of the trunk with blood.
A silver ring tarnished by the same blood.
A message is spelled on the trunk carpet in the red liquid: ONLY BELIEVE.
“What’s going on?” Jenna hollers out of the window. She manages to raise herself from the car, toddling toward us. “Guys, what’s up?”
I can’t answer her. My breath has hitched, stopped in the center of my knotted throat. My heart stomps like a wild horse. And my knees—they are putty. Looking up at the fast-spinning sky is all I can do to remain standing.
Not yet having stolen a glance inside the trunk, Jenna snatches the note out of Grayson’s hand and acquaints herself with the staggering situation the three of us have just been confronted with.
I have her. I cannot make it plainer. I will not attempt to. You will carry the burden of gathering belief.
I trust that you will doubt the evidence. All Catholic school children have doubts. I will offer you the advice of Christ Himself: Only Believe.
If you must, test the DNA of the blood evidence I have so kindly left you. I don’t know how you will do so without informing someone about what you have found in the trunk.
Here is something you should not doubt: I will chop Yasmin’s body to little pieces and eat them over the course of several meals if you tell ANYONE about what you have found. Anyone means anyone.
As your Bible so clearly states, the power of life and death is in your hands. I recomend that you choose life. Life is so much better than death, isn’t it? A life like Yasmin’s deserves to be lived to a ripe old age. I trust that you will agree with me. More than that, I hope we can work out a deal that will ensure Yasmin’s safe return.
Now, to the question that is on all of your minds: What do I want? Unfortunately, I don’t know the answer to that presently. I will let you know what I have in mind soon enough. In the meantime, prove yourselves trustworthy enough to hold a secret. A life depends on it.