Fall 6.3: Malcolm

Christmas dinner had been more than a little awkward.

 

Shay’s cooking was delicious, and Joey had tried lightening the mood with some jokes, but none of us could really take our minds off the fact that we were all going to die soon.

 

The only solace I had was that I doubted Smog was smart enough to realize that all of my guns were alive. He probably didn’t even know he was committing murder when he killed Erica. So, at the very least, my sisters would make it through this.

 

With Joey having gone home and Carter going to bed early, Shay and I had decided to ease our pain with some drinks. We needed a way of getting home though, so I volunteered to just have soda so I could drive later.

 

We were on our way to the bar.  Shay was driving my bike, and I was holding on to her. Obviously I’d be driving us  home, so she’d volunteered to drive there.

 

“So what was your favorite?” she asked in that beautiful voice of her’s.

 

“Favorite what?” I asked, unsure of what she was referring to.

 

“Your favorite food that I made,” she said. “I worked pretty damn hard you know.”

 

“Hm,” I muttered thinking back to the meal.

 

Carter’s favorite dish from the meal had seemed to be the re-fried bacon stuffing. Shay herself seemed partial to the turkey risotto, which, while not for me, was decent enough. And Joey had basically gobbled down the entirety of the bourbon-glazed ham, so I hadn’t really gotten to try much of that.

 

“It’s tough, but I think I’d have to go with the dessert you made. I love me some cheesecake.”

 

“Probably not as much as Carter,” Shay said in oddly cheerful way.

 

“The kid does have a sweet tooth,” I responded. “He probably does love cheesecake.”

 

“Oh, like you have no idea,” Shay continued cheerfully, a few giggles coming out.

 

Lack many times in the past, I wasn’t sure if this was an amnesia thing or a generational thing causing me to not get the joke.

 

Maybe if I say something else, she’ll respond with something that’ll make me understand, I thought.

 

“Yeah, with how tasty it was, I’d bet he looks forward your cheesecake all year.”

 

For reasons I continued to not understand, that caused her to burst out laughing.

 

“Oh my god, Malcolm,” she said, rubbing one of her eyes as she regained her composure. “You’re awesome.”

 

I sighed.

 

I may not have had any idea what it was that I’d said, but I’d made her laugh. And that was something I counted as a victory.

 

“But for real,” she started.  “Even with everything on our minds, I’m glad everyone was able to enjoy the food.” Her attention hopefully still on the road, Shay looked up at the night sky. “You know, I don’t really think I want to drink.”

 

“Really?” I asked, surprised. “That’s a first.”

 

Shay nodded.

 

“Unless one of us gets a random, out of nowhere power-up like the characters in those anime Carter watches do, Smog is going to kill us all.”

 

In one swift motion, she turned my bike around, and parked it on the side of the street. With the speed she was going, I barely would have been able to pull that off.

 

“We should do some good,” Shay said, turning her head to me. “I think knocking some bad guy skulls would make us both feel better.”

 

“Definitely,” I said, happily going along with what she was saying. “What did you have in mind?”

 

“Well,” she started. “On the off chance Bluejay City survives, there’s still going to be crime. And right now, two people control most of the crime in the city. Esteban Loyarte and Andrew Davenport.”

 

“We still don’t know for sure that Andrew is the big mysterious crime lord,” I interrupted.

 

“Come on Malcolm. Think about it. Raina’s organization gets “taken over” and yet she, nor any of her lieutenants, died. She must have given it over to him.”

 

Much as I hated to admit it, she was probably right. I just had to hope that the kid hadn’t gotten herself into anything too shady.

 

“I guess you’re right. Like usual”

 

“Believe me, some days I wish I wasn’t.” She coughed. “Now then, I’m still not sure how to go about bringing down Andrew, but the police and several federal governments already have mountains of evidence on Esteban.”

 

“Meaning he’s fair game,” I said smiling, more than ready to get payback on this guy for beating and shooting me.

 

“That’s right. And, thanks to some old connections, I know that he’s back in Bluejay for some reason.”

 

“Do you know where he is tonight?” I asked.

 

“Who do you think you’re talking to?” Shay replied, grinning.

 

“Alright!” I shouted, pounding my fist against my chest. Let’s go get him!”

 

“Easy my friend,” she said calmly, putting her hand on mine and lowering it. “Let’s swing by our places and get our gear first. Don’t wanna go in half cocked.”

 

*

We’d been closer to my apartment, so Shay drove us there first.

 

Even though I’d told Carter that it was the reason that I crashed at his place sometimes, I really hadn’t been lonely since Eve had moved out. Human interaction had proven to be amazing over the last few months, but I was mostly satisfied just spending time with my sisters. The only reason I didn’t sleep in the apartment every night was so I could spend more time with Shay.

 

I entered my apartment, and, not wanting to keep Shay waiting, darted straight for my room. The floor was a mess since I never bothered to clean up, resulting in me almost tripping on a beer can.

 

“If I survive the next week, maybe I should consider cleaning up once in awhile,” I said to myself, regaining my footing.

 

Hey bro, a few of my sisters shouted as I entered my room.

 

How was Christmas? Zelda asked.

 

“Good, good,” I said. “We’re actually gonna have to talk more later. Shay’s outside and…

 

Oooooooooh, most of them said in unison.

 

Did you finally get the balls to ask her out? Katie asked.

 

“No, and I’m not going to,” I replied. “I’m probably around 40 years older than her. It’d be weird.”

 

Then what pray tell are the two of you doing tonight? Lillian asked.

 

Just then, a thought popped into my mind.

 

“We’re going to finally take out Esteban Loyarte. And you’re coming with us.”

 

About time, she replied as I put her in a holster.

 

Esteban’s gang had been the one using Lillian for evil against her will. She deserved to be there when he went down.

 

I stripped down out of the clothes I was wearing, changing into my Decker costume. I still didn’t see the point of it personally. I was the hero, not the clothes. Still, Shay and Carter insisted I continue to wear it, and so I did.

 

Before leaving, I also took some flash grenades, an Anti-Demigod knife, and a pair of Anti-Demigod knuckles, a gift from Olivia.

 

Bye Malcolm! Chewie shouted as I left. Bring me his severed head if you can.

 

Returning to Shay under the night sky, her and Lillian greeted each other.

 

Good evening, Shay.

 

“Nice to see you Lillian,” Shay replied. “I’m sure Malcolm already filled you in on what we’re doing tonight. We just have to stop by my place first.”

 

It took a while, Shay and I passing the time by talking about different soups we’d had, of all things, but we eventually reached our destination.

 

“I’ll be as quick as possible,” Shay said, pulling up by the gates to Raina’s mansion. “You guys just sit tight for a few minutes.”

 

Once she was out of sight, Lillian spoke.

 

Please just tell her how you feel already.

 

“Lillian,” I moaned, sliding my hand over my face. “We just went over this.”

 

I’m sorry. I just think it’s silly. You clearly care about her deeply, and even if she may not feel the same way you do, she obviously does care about you too. So no matter what her response is, I’m sure that your relationship either be maintained or it will grow; it will not diminish.

 

“Wow,” I said, scratching my head. “How do you know so much about relationships? I mean, I’ve been with tons of women and if you’re right, then I clearly know nothing.”

 

Because Bro, she started. I don’t just sleep with women. I am a woman.

 

I shook my head.

 

“You really think I should tell her?”

 

We all do. No one’s told you, but we’re getting pretty sick of you acting like a hormonal teenage boy.

 

“Heh.”

 

Besides, if you’re so sure that you’re going to die soon, why leave this world with regrets?

 

Lillian was definitely the smartest of my sisters. She may have been the newest addition to the family, but once I was gone, there was no doubt in my mind as to who I was going to leave to take care of all the others.

 

Around 11:15, Shay came out in full Panda gear.

 

“Ready for some danger, Decker?” she asked.

 

“More than you know.”

 

*

The Bluejay Docks seemed strangely familiar to me.

 

In the months since I’d arrived in the city, nor in the brief times I’d been in Bluejay previously, had I ever come to this dank, fishy smelling place, and yet as Shay, Lillian, and I reached our destination, it felt as if I’d been here a million times before. A million times before…with a friend.

 

“Alright,” Panda started, taking out her binoculars. “We know that Esteban is getting in a cocaine shipment tonight. It doesn’t seem to have arrived yet though. And,” she paused. “Damn. In addition to half a dozen armed men, he also has all three of his Demigods here.”

 

“Fuck,” I commented. “Must be a big shipment for him to bring that much muscle.”

 

There were an abundance of ships lined up along the shore. Some were dinky little fishing boats, while others were massive yachts. One of them I even recognized as Raina’s personal yacht, “The Lady Gabrielle”, which she’d named after her late mother.

 

All around the ten dickish criminals were large, stacked, wooden crates, and across the water, I could see the neon paint which covered the buildings of the Negative District.

 

“I know one of them has the power to change the type of matter of inorganic objects, but he’s the only one whose power the news has reported. Do you know the others?”

 

I nodded.

 

“There’s an older woman who can emit a deadly gas. She’s the reason the cops can never get to Esteban. And lastly, there’s the one I’ve had the displeasure of fighting, a guy who can make his sketches come to life.”

 

“He’s the one who had dinosaurs chase you, right?”

 

“The very same.”

 

To be honest, I wasn’t completely sure if that was what had actually happened. I’d been pretty drunk at the time, and I wasn’t positive that it was actually dinosaurs which were coming after me.

 

“Hmm,” Panda sounded.

 

The look on her face made it clear that the gears were turning in her head. Me? I shot first and asked questions later. But Shay? She wasn’t just an incredible fight. She was also very smart.

 

Still, I didn’t want to be the weak link. So, I decided I’d come up with a plan myself, starting by analyzing the situation. The men who were either Medians or had no powers at all were carrying fully automatic assault rifles. Not needing that much extra fire power, Esteban and his three other Demigods merely had sidearms at their hips.

 

The ones without powers would just serve as distractions to the bigger threats. It would be best to quickly use disabling moves on them, subdue Esteban, and then take on the Demigods.

 

“Do you hear that?” Panda asked softly. “They’re talking. We should get closer.”

 

I nodded, and, quietly as we could, sprinted over from our spot behind a wall to a spot closer to the assholes, behind some of the wooden crates.

 

“…it!” I heard Esteban shout. “We’ve been waiting here for hours. When is it getting here?”

 

Bleh, Lillian exclaimed. He smells as putrid as ever.

 

“Patience,” his rather ugly female lieutenant said. “It’s a virtue.”

 

“I’m still not sure why we all needed to be here,” a ginger with a sketchbook in hand said. “I mean, when was the last time you had all four of us in one place?”

 

Seemingly angered by that,  Esteban, teeth clenched, grabbed the ginger by the collar.

 

“That’s because we’ve never done anything this important!” Esteban roared. “Do you have any idea what’s arriving?”

 

“No,” the ginger replied, breaking free of his boss’s grip. “Because you haven’t told us.”

 

“Didn’t you say they were just getting a big cocaine shipment in?” I whispered.

 

“That’s what my snitch said,” Shay replied, a sense of concern in her voice.

 

“Well,” I said, loading Lillian. “Best we get to this before the shipment arrives then.

 

“Right,” Panda said, nodding. “And remember…”

 

I cut her off.

 

“No killing,” I said with a smile.

 

“Right,” she replied, satisfied that she’d gotten me to quit killing…at least while she was around. “Now I was thinking…”

 

I cut her off again.

 

“We take out the weak ones first, make sure Esteban can’t get away, and only then take on the Demigods?”

 

“Um, yeah,” she said, clearly surprised that I’d come up with that plan. Regaining her composure, she said, “Follow my lead.”

 

With those as her only directions, she hopped up on the stack of crates we were hiding behind, effortlessly pulling herself up.

 

What exactly does follow her lead mean? Lillian asked.

 

“We’ll know in a sec,” I answered.

 

“Attention ne’er-do-wells!” Panda shouted, her hands on her hips. “Cease you activity or prepare to be mauled.”

 

Immediately in response, the six men without powers aimed their assault rifles at her.

 

“Gee, that’s not a warm welcome,” Panda mocked.

 

“I really don’t have time for wannabe heroes right now,” Esteban said coldly. “Kill her!”

 

The six guns went off. By the looks of them, I’d guess they were shooting 900 rounds per minute. And yet even with that much speed, Shay was able to dodge everything thrown at her, backflipping off of the crates, and going straight into a continuous cartwheel around the docks.

 

Their attention was solely focused on her, and the three Demigods had surrounded Esteban as a precautionary measure.

 

This was what Shay meant. They wouldn’t see me coming.

 

Time for action? Lillian asked.

 

“Time for action.”

 

Moving away from the crates, I aimed Lillian. She had 12 bullets in her. Then I’d have to reload. 12 bullets. 12 kneecaps to hit.

 

“Piece of cake,” Lillian and I said simultaneously.

 

Bang, bang.

 

One man down.

 

Bang, bang, bang, bang.

 

Three men down.

 

Man this felt good. I’d impressed Shay with my plan, I was shooting pieces of shit, and soon enough, revenge on Esteban would be mine.

 

Bang, bang, bang…

 

Before I could shoot my last three bullets, Lillian screamed.

 

Malcolm!!!

 

“Lillian! What’s wrong?!” I asked in horror, the air around her starting to match her color.

 

Get me me out of his si…

 

She didn’t get to finish. She’d evaporated.

 

“NOOO!!!” I shouted. “Not again!”

 

As I dropped to my knees, Shay finished off the last hired gun standing with a series of elbow strikes to the neck.

 

“Decker! What’s the problem?” Panda asked.

 

A man dressed in all black lowered his raised arm, and laughed.

 

“You’re good, Panda,” he said. But I think your partner might have a few screws loose.”

 

“Damn it,” I said, tears forming in my eyes.

 

Because…because they’re alive, I’d forgotten that guns were inorganic. That bastard…he’d turned Lillian into a gas.

 

It was all my fault. First Erica. Now Lillian. How many more of my sisters were going to die in this city?

 

No! It isn’t the city! It’s me!

 

I’m getting soft!

 

I’m getting weak!

 

That’s why the people I love keep dying!

 

“Decker!” I heard Shay shout.

 

I didn’t look up, but it sounded like she was in trouble.

 

“Decker! I don’t know what’s going on with you, but I’m about to killed by a bunch of scribbled gorillas!”

 

I shook my head.

 

She could handle it. Shay was strong. Stronger than me.

 

Shay was able to have human relationships, and not have them weaken her.

 

Me?

 

Caring about people had just made me weaker. And now two of my sisters were dead.

 

“He’s lost it,” Esteban said. “Margaret, kill him.”

 

“Fine,” I whispered.

 

What did it even matter if we died here? Smog was just going to come kill us in a week. And even if we survived him, some bigger shit would probably just come and kill us all soon enough. What was even the point of fighting at all?

 

Finally getting me to look away from the ground was a kick to the chin from the ugly lieutenant. Up close, she was even less attractive, and I could see that she was wearing steel toed boots.

 

“You make poison gas, right?” I asked in a monotone. “Just get it over with.”

 

“Decker! Please!” Shay cried.

 

Looking over at her, Shay’s situation was dire. Two of the scribbled gorillas were holding her in place, while a third was beating her to death. Her face was already a bloody mess.

 

“Man, this is fun to watch,” the man who’d killed Lillian said.

 

Margaret smiled in a sister way at me.

 

“A hero who uses guns. A hero who has a mental breakdown when his gun disappears!” she laughed. “You really aren’t cut out for this gig.”

 

Punch. Punch. Punch.

 

Shay was being beaten horribly.

 

But it didn’t matter.

 

“I know. I’m a failure,” I said.

 

She smiled triumphantly.

 

“Now then. I believe you asked me to get it over with.”

 

A green gas began coming out of her skin, every pore opening up to release it.

 

Margaret laughed.

 

“I’ve killed heroes before. But I’ve got to say. None were as pathetic as you.”

 

As I embraced death, I looked over at Shay. And I thought about the last words I’d just heard.

 

No, I wasn’t a good hero.

 

But I knew someone who was.

 

Two someones.

 

The Myers siblings.

 

Carter and Shay.

 

What would they be doing if they were in my shoes? Die? Give up?

 

No! They wouldn’t! They’d fight to do the right thing until the end! No matter what the circumstances!

 

Shay looked to be almost dead, and I was feeling sick already.

 

It’d be so easy to just die now.

 

“Any last words?” the bitch asked.

 

I knew exactly what to say to that.

 

“Get set,” I whispered.

 

“What was that?”

 

“I said,” I continued, speaking louder. “Get set to get decked!”

 

I stuck my hand into my pocket, slipped on my anti-Demigod knuckles, and delivered a swift uppercut to Margaret.

 

That alone wasn’t enough to knock her out, what with her being a Demigod, so once she was down on the ground, I punched her face repeatedly until it was bloody, and she was unconscious.

 

I was actually kind of glad she’d made me sick, and the final thing I did to this bitch was barf all over her.

 

“Now then!” I shouted, standing up tall. “Hey monkeys! Leave her alone!”

 

I didn’t know if these things were self-aware or if the ginger was controlling them telepathically, but the scribbled gorillas tossed Shay aside, and charged at me.

 

“No one else I care about  dies tonight!” I screamed.

 

And with one punch to each of them, the gorillas dissipated.

 

“How’d he do that?” Esteban asked. “No one is supposed to be able to do that!”

 

“It’s those knuckles he’s wearing,” the ginger replied. “They must be made of anti-Demigod metal.”

 

From where I was standing, I was straight across from Esteban and his two remaining henchmen.

 

I wanted him to make the first move.

 

“Can’t you turn them into gas?!” Esteban furiously asked the man in black.

 

The bastard who’d killed Lillian shook his head.

 

“Fine,” Esteban grunted, drawing his sidearm and aiming it at me. “I can’t have you getting in the way of my conquest of this city! So I’m gonna do to you what you’ve done to so many of my men. Shoot and kill you!”

 

“That so?” I asked in a gruff voice?

 

“Don’t act tough,” Esteban said as his two remaining men also aimed their guns at me. “I’ve seen you fight before. Unlike the cunt, you can’t dodge bullets.

 

He did not just call Shay a cunt.

 

“True,” I said. “But I wasn’t planning on dodging.”

 

I charged forward, bullets passing through my arm, legs, chest, and assorted other places. I was running on pure adrenaline, and when it wore off, I was a dead man. But damn if I was just gonna let these guys gets away with killing Lillian and hurting Shay.

 

“Why won’t you die?!” Esteban cried, as I finally got near him.

Using the little strength I still had, I disarmed the three men using a series of kicks, and spoke.

 

“Death is for pussies,” I said, pulling out my anti-Demigod knife and slitting hit throat.

 

“That…felt…”

 

I was unable to finish that sentence, as I fell over.

 

“Man, you really thought you were gonna survive all those bullets?” the ginger asked. “You dumb!”

 

“All you’ve done is put me in charge,” the sister killer said.  “So thanks for that. As thanks, before my shipment arrives, I think I’m gonna go kill that partner of yours.”

 

I didn’t even have the strength to shout “No.”

 

My eyes closed.

 

But rather than hearing a gunshot kill the woman I loved, I heard what sounded like a series of sword slashes.

 

Suddenly, I started feeling better. The pain, the sickness, the incoming death via bullets, it was all fading away.

 

I opened my eyes, and saw a strange looking man wearing red overalls and a propeller beanie leaning over me. There was light coming out of his hands, and the same light seemed to be filling up my bullet holes.

 

Looking over toward Shay, there were signs of the ginger and the man in black. Ones I was very happy to see.

 

All that was left of them was an assortment of body parts resting in a pool of blood.

 

Then, I noticed that the man healing me had a sword strapped to his back. He’d killed them.

 

“Hey,” I said.

 

“Hello,” the man said awkwardly.

 

“Um,” I swallowed. “Thanks for healing me. And uh, thanks for killing those guys.”

 

The man smiled.

 

“Wait a second,” I said, horrified by my realization. “You’re…”

 

“Good evening, Malcolm,” a horrifying voice said from the sky, a woman who I guessed was the vampire Raina had fought by his side.

 

“You!” I shouted. “You’re! You’re!”

 

“Helping you, yes,” Smog said as he and Salaran descended to the ground. “Don’t get the wrong idea. My plans and intentions haven’t changed. But, you and Carter are still players in my game. Can’t have you dying on me just yet.”

 

His smile was sickening.

 

Smog’s light blue hair was the same as always, and for once, he wasn’t dressed in a ridiculous costume. Instead, he was wearing basic black robes.

 

“All done,” Gordon said, pulling his hands off me. “You’re now more than fit to give it your all against my master next week.”

 

Gordon was an angel, so I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, but his healing abilities were incredible. In just a matter of seconds, he’d gotten the toxins out of my system, and gotten rid of all the bullet wounds.

 

“You wouldn’t show up just to save me,” I grunted. So why are you here?”

 

“You’re in no place to ask questions, mortal!” Salaran shouted. “You should be worshipping Master Smog for saving your worthless life!”

 

“Down girl,” Smog said, smirking. “And you are correct,” he continued. “That shipment that’s arriving tonight? Well, there are things that even I fear, and I need to make sure this in particular one makes it back to whence it came. So, since our business isn’t for another week, why don’t you get your girlfriend, and…”

 

By and large the most satisfying thing to have happened since I’d gotten here, Shay cut Smog off, coming out of nowhere, and kicking him in the head, knocking him to the ground.

 

Shay was hunched over, and blood was still all over her face and hair, but damn if she wasn’t still beautiful.

 

In response to their master being assaulted, Gordon drew his sword and shield, and Salaran growled, her teeth getting sharper.

 

“Gordon, good to see you again,” she said.

 

Gordon nodded, not moving his sword and shield from their current positions.

 

Smog stood up and spoke.

 

“Stand down you two,” he said. “This is someone I’ve wanted a chance to meet for a very long time.”

 

Gordon sheathed his sword and shield, Salaran withdrew her fangs, and Smog got right up in Shay’s face.

 

“A demon wanted to meet little old me?” Shay asked rhetorically. “I’m flattered.”

 

“A demon?” Smog laughed. “Is that all you pests think I am? I’m insulted. Regardless, from what I’ve seen of you, I think you might have made a much better contender in my game than the heiress or Mr. Stump down there.”

 

“Glad I’ve impressed you,” she said sternly. “Now leave before I kill you.”

 

Smog laughed at an ear-bursting volume before putting his face within licking range of Shay’s.

 

“And how would you do that?” he asked with a smug grin on his face.

 

Shay kept a stone cold look on her face, the chill in the air matching it.

 

“You hurt my little brother. I’d find a way.”

 

For a few moments, the two just stared at each other.

 

Smog backed up, and Gordon and Salaran assumed positions behind him.

 

“Shay Myers, I say with the utmost sincerity that I hope that once I’ve killed Malcolm and your brother, you’ll do everything in your power to stop me.”

 

Shay shook her head.

 

“You’re not killing anyone.”

 

Smog sighed.

 

“Anyway, you two can go do whatever it is you humans enjoy doing for fun. My associates and I will handle the shipment.”

 

Shay and I exchanged looks.

 

Like with our plan of attack earlier, we were on the same page. There really wasn’t anything we could do to stop Smog, let alone his entourage, and whatever was coming on that boat, it seemed that Smog wanted it away from Bluejay as much as we did.

 

Shay helped me to my feet, and, in silence, we started walking away.

 

*

 

“Give me another,” Shay said to the bartender, going on six shots of straight vodka now.

 

“Impressive,” I said with an awkward smile.

 

“Still pretty far off from my record, but whatever,” she replied, the same awkward smile on her face.

 

We sat in mostly silence, Shay tapping her fingers against the bar, as the bartender poured Shay more vodka.

 

“Okay, I’m tired of this,” she said. “You want to tell me what happened back there?”

 

“You mean with Smog?” I asked, playing dumb. “I’m not too sure, but I’m ready to kick his ass more than ever.”

 

“You know what I’m talking about, Malcolm,” she said, putting her hand on my shoulder. “What happened to you?”

 

I clenched my fist.

 

“You know how Lillian didn’t come here with us from the docks? It’s because one of Esteban’s men killed her.” I shook my head. “Smog killed another one of my sisters a few months back.” Nodding rapidly, I raised my lower lip. “I admit it. I had a breakdown. And it almost got us killed. It…it should have gotten us killed. But before it was too late, before I let myself die, I thought about you.”

 

“Me?”

 

“You…you and Carter. The two most heroic people I’ve ever met. I just thought about what you two would do, and, well, it gave me the strength to pull through.”

 

Shay shook her head.

 

“The strength was all yours.”

 

I laughed a little.

 

“That’s so cheesy.”

 

“Hey,” she said, chugging her shot of vodka. “I may be super cool, but I’m still Carter’s sister.”

 

I smiled.

 

Lillian had given me advice earlier. And whether it was good advice or not, I owed it to her to follow it.

 

“Shay,” I started. “There’s something else I need to tell you.”

 

“What is it?” she asked, a look of concern on her face.

 

“It’s nothing to worry about,” I said. “It’s just…let’s be honest. Next week, Smog most likely is going to kill us.”

 

“Probably,” she agreed.

 

“And, I’ve lived an empty enough life for the past 14 years. I don’t want to die with regrets.”

 

“What are you trying to say?”

 

“I’m saying, Shay…” Oh my God, I was really going to say it. “…that I love you.”

 

A million thoughts raced through my head.

 

What should she say? Would she be mad? Would she say she loved me back? Would she question my potentially horrible timing?

 

She didn’t do any of those things.

 

Instead, she laughed, snorting with her oversized, gorgeous nose.

 

It wasn’t a mocking laugh though. It was a laugh of joy.

 

“Malcolm,” she said cheerfully. “We’ve only really known each other for about two months.” She softly put one of her hands on top of mine. “If you’re saying you have feelings for me, that’s fucking awesome. I have feelings for you too. But,” she snickered. “Let’s keep the word “love” out of the picture at least until we potentially survive Smog’s attack. OK?”

 

My face lit up.

 

“You…actually have feeling for me? You don’t care about my age?!”

 

I was genuinely shocked.

 

“I’ve dated plenty of guys my own age. They never really did it for me.” She clenched my hand tightly. “I’m ready for something new. Or, I guess, something old.”

 

We smiled at each other, and I leaned in to finally kiss her. To kiss Shay Myers, the girl of my dreams.

 

“No,” she said, blocking my lips with her index finger. “You’re mourning. I don’t want you to have a single bad thought about our first kiss.”

 

I nodded, understanding.

 

“So,” I said, squeezing her hand. “What should we do then?”

 

Shay grinned widely, picking up and slamming down her shot glass.

 

“Mark! Get us some champagne!”

 

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