This is a fragment of a longer work begun on Upper Left Edge.
RECAP: Our protagonist is a former DEA agent called to Seattle to investigate a new drug that’s killing local youth. Investigating her first crime scene at the behest of former co-worker Dylan, she discovers the dead body of her long-missing younger sister, Betsy. What you’re about to read occurs immediately after.
Gala dinner with sparkly guests. Dylan promised small and quiet. After what she’d just seen, she needed small and quiet.
Dylan grins. “You wouldn’t have come if I’d described this.”
“No, wait, just hang out with me for awhile. I want to introduce you to some people.”
So they meet Mr. Handsome, a shiny blonde business tycoon who develops weapons for the military. Unnerving. But he’s all smiles and gaiety and even swirls her into dance with ‘newcomer’ talk. Old lines pour out of him like worn nickels from a slot machine — there’s something familiar about her, it’s like he’s been waiting his whole life for her, his heart is really responding to her. And then Blah-blah drones on about war injuries, operations, and a new heart that all leads to “being a new man now.” As if. Deflecting her disdain with a high-watt smile, he twirls her enough to raise red in her cheeks.
Thankfully, it’s Dylan who pulls her away and Dylan who receives a slap before she recognizes him. “Oh!” she exclaims, “I can’t believe I did that. I’m so sorry.” She deflates. “Maybe this isn’t such a good idea.”
“You’re right,” he says. “Let’s get out of here.”
Next thing she knows, she’s walking under a giant waterfront overpass and he’s explaining how it’s all going underground. Which is why they’re surrounded by construction. Fences. Pumps. Hoses. Wet pavement and porta-potties. Giant machine tunnels below them now so the future will be rosy, the view free from obstruction, a billion dollar waterfront, yada yada.
His words may be cool but his black leather coat and arm are warm around her so she doesn’t mind. Then lights pull her eyes to the water where a Ferris Wheel squats on the pier edge like a giant fairy toad guarding the abyss. A red carpet extends like a tongue, waiting for lovers to swallow.
Before she knows it, she’s pulling him that way, hearing laughter from her lips while he only mildly resists because all he really wants to do is give in without making it obvious. Soon, they’re there, breath frosting, gazing up at gondolas swinging like glass bubbles. Will it take us to the stars, she gushes breathlessly? Which surprises her, because she’s not like that. Not usually. But Dylan. And the day. And the lights in the night. All has bewitched her. Made her feel like someone else.
She’s a woman out of her skin now, a changeling. And the skin she wants to shed is the grief, the lies, the torments of years playing second fiddle to every goddamn man who towered over her and thought themselves smarter because their hair was shorter and biceps bigger. This was the Emerald City. A place she could make a difference. A place she had to make a difference. For Betsy. For the hundreds of teens glancing into the abyss of their lonely coffee cup lives waiting for the night and ’emeralds’ to take them home. To take them beyond. To take them somewhere. Not too different from where she wanted to go now — into the stars with Dylan.
He laughed when she squeezed his arm hard at the ticket booth. Had she said something funny? He looked at her like she was all of that and more, funny and startling and fresh. Was it the salty tang of the waterfront air that made this possible? The tar scent seeping from thick timbers underfoot? The moisture? The crazy city?
They were being helped into gondolas then and she felt her balance shift as their compartment swayed. You’re not safe, the knees said, trembling, and she sat quickly to quiet them. Then leaned into Dylan, who chose the water side so she could be closer to the lights.
And they lifted. She wanted to say soaring, but it was more like sliding up and into the night. They rose with a whoosh and the nervousness gripped her knees again. But the city! One could forget how dirty it was from up here. How many were dying, desperate and alone. The lights were souls rising, she thought, then wished she hadn’t, if only to preserve the safety of her night. The security of being next to him. The now.
They fell then, the pier rushing up, and just when she thought they would crash they spun up again into stars. Send me into stars like those other lights, she thought. Let my soul fly with Betsy’s, finding her as we rise. We can join hands and dance over this fair city, twirling and twisting with stardust streaming to fall on all who feel nothing is theirs to inherit but crumpled beer-can promises. And those bags. Those plastic bags of death. Death posing as fantasy life, gleaming and statuesque. Embraceable. Irresistible. Oh, Betsy.
Dylan wiped the tear from her cheek she wished he didn’t see. And she let him. He purred something but the city lights were rising now as they dipped again and she wanted off. She didn’t want to join the lights streaming heavenward. It wasn’t her time. Wasn’t Betsy’s time. Wasn’t time for the youth of Seattle. It was time to end this ride.
Reality came back in the form of a deck rising to meet them. The ride slowed to a stop and the door opened and a nice young man offered his hand. But it was Dylan who gave her his arm, insisting on helping her down the steps. Together, they walked firm into the night of a thousand falling stars.