by Sage Alfar
They say you never forget your first, and I guess that’s true, but it may just be that Mariana, by nature of being Mariana, was unforgettable.
“I think it’s cute how curious you are about it all, Demi,” she laughed.
“I just think it’s cool that there’s people like me, even if we’re not quite the same. Maybe I’m not a freak,” I rambled. “Same, but different. It’s still crazy to me that there’s a person out there who’s—who’s like me, and who’s with me.”
She reached up to tuck a lock of hair behind her ear, but her hand just found the end of her pixie cut. She once told me that the long hair worked better for tempting sailors, something about the Filipino beauty standard. She claimed she used to be whiter for the same reasons, which is weird considering how much time she spends in the sun, but that’s just how things work.
“You want to know a fun fact?” She looked at me kind of conspiratorially and smiled, between bites of cream dory. “I’m not even really that into singing.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Absolute bullshit. That’s your whole thing! That’s the whole thing!”
She shook her head. “Nope, nope. Listen, it’s like—okay, take a look at you. Your people, everyone can talk, right, so it’s not a big deal anymore. It’s something basically everybody can do, so it’s not even a thing, some people aren’t even into it anymore. When I joined this fucked-up society up here, I had to learn how to talk, and it’s fantastic –“
“And now you never shut up.” I smirked.
Mariana took it in stride, as she takes everything else the world throws at her. “And now I never shut up.”
My sunny-side-up eggs remained mostly untouched. I don’t really get hungry until about dinnertime, but I always make sure I’m getting enough nutrition every day, so it’s not that big a deal. Mar still always liked scolding me for not eating on a regular schedule though, so I made the effort to eat at the same times as her.
“Do you still eat people, or…” I trailed off. It’s kind of a personal question.
She nodded, but didn’t seem very affected by the inquiry. “Yeah, sometimes. It’s kind of troublesome, though.”
“How do you even do it? Do you have to cut them up, or what?” I asked. I couldn’t imagine that they had utensils down there. ‘Let’s have some nice human cutlet,’ that just didn’t sound right.
Mar grinned at me. “Like a snake.”
“Unhinge the jaw. Swallow it whole.”
I paused. Then, I whispered my main concern. “The whole thing?Bones and everything? That’s kinda gross, Mar.”
She laughed. “It’s like eating pork—you can’t just have the ‘good parts’ of the pork! You can make lechon, and sisig, and all kinds of stuff. No point in wasting any of it, if you’re going to do it in the first place.” She wiped her knife and held it up to use as a mirror as she re-applied her lipstick. “Still, eating the whole thing really fucks up my makeup, y’know? Fish will do.”
Mariana was always so sure of herself. I think I was looking for that when I was with her.
Anita would only meet me in the early, early mornings. I was busy with work in the daytime and afternoons, and always out at night. She could only ever show up just before the sun came out fully.
“How long?” I asked her, admiring the outline of her hands. They always looked so fragile and gentle, too dainty to be responsible for the things she’d done.
She pursed her lip, watching her legs swing over the edge of the rooftop we sat on. “Definitely a couple years by now, but I stopped keeping track a while back. What year is it?”
“2017, thank God.”
“Did something bad happen in 2016?”
I snorted. “A few things. Nothing you want to hear about, though.”
“Yeah, that sounds about right.” She laughs. “So, if my math is right, then it’s been about four or five years. I was seventeen, then.”
“So, now you’re twenty-one.”
She shrugged. “I don’t actually know if that’s how that works. At least I still look young and cute.”
“You don’t have to look young to look cute,” I reasoned, remembering how many times Mar had lectured me on that kind of thing.
She smiled, although it quickly melted into a sadder expression, but with the same curve at her lips. Something like sympathy, or maybe nostalgia. “Oh, you wouldn’t have gotten along with him. Then again, not many people did.”
“I realized that a bit late.”
“I don’t know how you do it, Anita.” I mused. My sigh swirled into mist in the morning cold. The Ber months were finally here.
She tilted her head.
“It’s just—“ I stumbled over words, trying to figure out how to say what I’ve been struggling to even think about logically for so long. “I feel like the world has taken so much from you, but you still seem so… whole. I’ve had it pretty good, I think, but I feel wrong. Torn.Different. For who I am, for what I do, for—“
“Demi, we are what we are. Things can change, and nothing is certain, and that can all be scary, and learning that you are not ‘normal’ is scary. Some people are born that way, and some become that way or choose it, like me, but what matters is that while we are here, we are here together. One thing we can be sure of is the changeability of hearts. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
“I think so.” I bit my lip, but when I looked up and saw her smile and felt her warmth, despite her barely even being there, I couldn’t help but smile too. “Yeah.”
We managed a comfortable silence for a while after that, and I placed my hand where hers would be. I could see the sunrise through her face.
“I –“ she began, but I nodded.
I got up with her, and took a few steps back out of respect. “You have to go again.”
She shot me a bashful, loving look before turning to look at the sky before her and the sidewalk stories and stories below her. And, just as she did every day, Anita jumped.
“I’m just, like, a really generous person, y’know?” Liga shrugged, shifting the many shopping bags hanging on her arms (the rest of which were on my arms).
“Uh-huh.” I rolled my eyes.
“I am! How dare you imply otherwise, Dem!” She laughed and bumped my shoulder with hers. “I like to help people, make their lives better. Happier.”
Throwing my hands up as best I could with all the bags, I laughed. “I never said anything!” I tried to adjust my shoulder, see if I could release any of the tension. “So, where are we bringing these today?”
“I don’t know yet. I’ll find someone.”
That was how it always worked with her. Ligaya said she did actually have a place of her own somewhere, but it was far, and she only took people to it sometimes. She much preferred waiting for people to invite her over for dinner. She’d join them for the night, eat their food, share stories, help out in the house where she could. Then she’d be gone in the morning (and more often than not, so would the most beautiful member of the household).
“Hey, are you sure you don’t want me to get you anything? My treat, I promise.” She flashed me a dazzling grin.
“Not this time, Liga,” I smiled, as I shook my head.
She pouted. “You always say that.”
“I don’t want to impose.” I knew better to take anything from her so carelessly. I’ve seen what happens to people who take gifts from people like Liga.
“I’ll get you one of these days, Dem.” She shrugged, with a sly look. “Really, though, I think you’re something special. If you’re ever ready, you should come with me. We could be happy.”
“I bet you say that to everyone you take on dates,” I joked, but she didn’t reply. We both knew I wasn’t the only one. “Anyway, I’m still figuring myself out. Maybe one day, maybe one day.”
“Are you afraid? I know it can be scary, but you don’t need to be so divided.”
“It’s all I know, I guess.” It was difficult with all the bags swinging and tangling, but I managed to slip my arm through hers. “But I’m growing into it.”
“Thanks for letting me crash, Demi, you’re a lifesaver,” Luna let herself fall right onto my couch, while I locked the door.
“It’s no big deal,” I replied, in an almost-too-eager tone. I had to be more careful about that. “I know New Year’s isn’t really your thing.”
“It’s the opposite of my thing. It’s my anti-thing. It’s my nothing. New Year’s should be nothing. Dissolve it, disintegrate it, erase it, just make it stop, Demi!” she whined.
Luna and I never dated, but there was something there. At least, I thought so.
I laughed at her mini-tantrum. “I don’t really know why it bugs you, though! You’ve always said how much you hate it, but never explain why.”
“It’s just too damn loud!” She groaned, smushing her face into the cushions. “I hate the sounds. You’re so lucky to live here, with the soundproof windows.”
“They’re not entirely soundproof, I think, just really insulating. Keeps it warm in the Ber months, and makes it hard for things to get in or out unless I want them to.”
“How do you get out?”
“Sometimes it’s a bitch to get it open, but honestly, in the long run it’s nice to feel so safe.”
“You’ve come so far, you know. When I first met you, way back when it was all Anita-this, Anita-that, you were so scared.”
I furrowed my brow. “Scared of what, exactly?”
“Of yourself, I guess. Or of everyone else. I don’t know, just scared.”
“I don’t think you’ve ever had an issue with yourself. It’s unfair.” I yawned.
“I know who I am. I figure it just never really occurred to me that it could be wrong.”
She started flicking through Netflix soon after that, hugging a pillow to her chest, her shoes kicked off her feet already.
I found myself looking at the moon. Some excited people were already lighting the fireworks. “How did it happen?”
“Hm?” She followed my stare. “Oh. Yeah, there’s a lot of different stories. You’d think people would remember how it happened. I like to think it was kind of a big deal.”
“There used to be seven, right?”
Luna furrowed her brow. “Was it seven? Something like that. Anyway, the real story is the one with the girl.”
“A forbidden love!”
“You know it.” But she said it without her usual cheekiness. “They burned down our house when they found out, and, I don’t know, it just really pissed me off.”
“So you thought, ‘Fuck it, those moons have to go.’”
There was her serpentine grin. “Of course.”
“Aren’t you supposed to be banned? From, y’know,” I gestured vaguely, “everywhere?”
She shrugged. “Big Guy probably forgot. Tarantado, he can’t even remember to watch his enemies. I’ll get him someday.” She patted the spot next to her, and shifted close to me when I sat down. “But not tonight.”
“Why don’t you go get the last one?” I nodded at the moon.
Luna took so long to answer I thought she might not have heard me. “I like to think that wherever she is, we might be looking at the same one.”
She let me put my arm around her.
It was late when I came home, but the window was open and the lights were still on. She waited for me, as always.
I squeezed through the window, and settled back into myself, whole again, one again, full again. Very full, in fact.It was good to be me.
“It has to stop,” Kaya spoke up, revealing herself in the dim corner of the kitchen, sharpening a knife. It was a stress reliever for her. Various objects in the kitchen—spice bottles, utensils, plates, glasses, spatulas and ladles—floated and drifted lazily just above the countertops. “I can’t – it’s just not right for me to – with –“
“With me,” I finished, walking over to her. I began taking the kitchen stuff piece by piece, and setting each down where it belonged. She always did this when she was stressed. The fact that she wasn’t haphazardly putting together some kind of concoction to soothe her nerves was already a good sign. I took my seat on the kitchen counter.
She leaned back against her end, eyes focused on the blade. The sound was rhythmic. It always was. Kaya has always been very meticulous.
“You know what I do, Demi. To things—people, like you.”
“And you know what I do, so I don’t understand why we’re having this talk again.” I gave her a tight smile.
“It’s just – it’s not so much a matter of morals, it’s a matter – a matter of tradition. My people – my family, forever – for always, w – we’ve –“ She gestured with one hand vaguely, but as she did so, a plate rose and crashed against the wall. “Sorry. What I’m saying is, we’ve always – always been the ones to t – take your people down. The n – normal folk, they see us as monsters, but n – not so much if we get rid of the others. Then we just – just become powerful humans. Tradition.”
“Nothing about us,” I gestured at the both of us, “is traditional.”
“Th – that’s the problem.” She glanced at the box sitting on the coffee table, in the living room connected to our open kitchen. I’d always wondered what was in there. The obvious thing is salt, but that didn’t make sense, because she could just use any old salt. Knowing Kaya, there was probably some mystical stuff in there I didn’t even understand, but would be more than enough to hurt me. Or kill me.
“So you’re afraid of what people will think? Of what your family will think? Kay, people will always think things, we can’t change that. The point is that we stay together despite that, even if people think we’re wrong.”
“It’s j – just not right. I shouldn’t even be here – be with you –“
I sighed through my teeth. “I don’t see why we’re even arguing about this again. You’re just going to kill me one of these days, grind up my wings for one of your potions or some shit.”
“Demi, it’s not like that, you kn – know that’s not how it –“
“Then how does it work?”
The knife sliding against the stone missed a beat.
“Let’s just go to bed, Demi,” she sighed. “Let’s just go to bed.”
Even under the covers, it was cold. She held me tight. I hesitated, but I still snuggled closer to her.
“I have to, I’m so sorry, I’m so – so sorry,” she mumbled, between quieted sobs. “One of these nights – one of – one of these nights, I have to –“
“But not tonight.”
I felt her shake her head. “Not tonight.”
She was gone when I woke up.
I always thought it was a big risk to take, naming your child like that, but it was a little different in Kit’s case. Rather than the word dictating that she would be beautiful, it was more like she dictated the meaning of the word. The very concept of beauty was derived from her existence.
Her favorite mug can hold about two cups of tea. She likes it because it delights her that she can say she’s had a cup of tea, when really she’s had two. It’s silly, because no one is going to judge her for having twice the tea she said she did, but Kit has always been a lover of the little things. She accepts the warm mug happily, pushing her laptop away when I come in to check on her, in the hours just before morning.
“In all my time on this earth, Demi, which is a very long time, I have not seen anything more wonderful than you.” She tugs at my sleeve, gets me to settle into her lap. She wraps her arms around me, always so protective, like the universe itself is always out to get me, and she wants to try and shield me from it. It’s cute, because we both know I can hold my own.
“That’s a lie, Kit, that’s a huge lie,” I laugh, but she just holds me tighter.
Her chin on my shoulder, she nuzzles into me. “I’ve seen basically everything there is to see up to this point. I’m pretty damn sure I know what I’m talking about.”
I roll my eyes. “Sure, sure.”
I peek at her laptop. She’s written even more today. She’s been at this for a while, trying to record everything she’s seen, or at least the parts she considers important (which appears to be quite a bit). She’s told me the story of beginnings—bamboo and birds and being—and stories of what happened after, discovery and destruction and destiny unfolding.
“I want to write down everything, tell the story of everything. I’ll write about my life, and there will be a hundred chapters that are just about everything I like about you.” She presses a kiss to the side of my neck.
“I thought it was supposed to be about your life.”
“It is. You are so much of my life.”
I sigh. “I don’t deserve you.”
“Yes, you do. We deserve each other. People, beings, whatever—we all meet each other for a reason. Then we choose to stay together, too, which is just as important.Every day, I am reminded how lovely and imperfect you are,” she hums.
“Kind of a mixed signal, Kit,” I giggle.
She laughs too, and it’s musical. “You know what I mean. I don’t love you despite your flaws. I love you, flaws included. I want everything.” She smacks her lips, she always does when she’s tired.
“I’ve always wondered,” I mumble, “if you ever miss him.”
She pauses. “I do, sometimes. I think everyone we’ve ever loved still has a place in our hearts, even if our hearts belong to someone else now. Feelings fade, but I believe that memories remain. Some loves are not the One True ones, but they can still be important to us. Don’t you think so?”
“Definitely.” I trace shapes on her hands.
She hands me the mug, and I set it back on the table for her.
“Good morning, cruel world,” she whispers, and I can hear the smile in her voice as she looks over my shoulder, at the sun beginning to peek out. She’s been writing for hours.
“I’ve heard the phrase is, ‘Goodbye, cruel world.’”
“Nope,” she states, matter-of-factly. “The world may be cruel, but I’m still kickin’,” she yawns.
Marikit is the last, but she feels like a beginning.