“I feel as if today will be the last time I will see her in a while. But I know that’s not possible, so I try to get the thought out of my head. My dad takes the trash bag and says he is going to throw it out. I shrug and walk to my room to ponder over all my thoughts. For the first time, I think my dad wasn’t where he said he was.”
The bell rings. I grab my pencils and notebooks, and shove them into my bag. I rush to the front of the line; today I beat Nina. My class walks silently down the hall. In my head, all my thoughts are jumbled: Will my dad come to my basketball game? What will be his excuse this time? Unexpected business trip, a problem with the company? I can see Natasha looking at me with worried eyes.
”Are you ok?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.” I try to shrug off the feeling of disappointment in my dad, but I can’t. As soon as we reach the dismissal door, I grab Natasha’s hand and wait for the light to turn white. The second it does, I race down the block and karate kick the door open; guess I can thank my karate lessons. I hurry to the soda section while desperately searching for Fanta. I snatch the last bottle and watch Natasha put her Sprite on the counter.
The guy behind the counter says, “5.75.”
I dig into my pocket and pull out a crumpled up five-dollar bill and three 25 cents. Natasha grabs both of our drinks and heads to the door. I glance at my phone and look at the time: 3:20 PM. As soon I glance at my phone, I shove Natasha out the door, and we race down the streets as if it were a competition. When the subway station is within my sight, I walk down the stairs clinging on to my soda, hoping it doesn’t fall.
The F train comes right on time; Natasha and I high five each other and walk into a crowded subway. It smells like sweat and it’s really hot. About five stops later, a lot of the people get off the subway. We finally find ourselves some seats where we can sit and enjoy our soda. Especially since my house is a bit far away.
All I can think about is Masha, my dad’s girlfriend. Masha always takes me and Nat to get ice cream. Nat always gets two scoops of chocolate fudge, I get two scoops of oreo, while Masha gets one scoop of lemon. But then a sudden thought comes to me, and I remember my father never told me who my mother was or what happened to her. All I know is that my mother loved the beaches. It was almost like a perfect day at the beach, but then the clouds took over the sky, and everyone had to go home. I must have daydreamed too much because by the time I finish my thoughts, we arrive at Coney Island. While we’re walking home, I pass by a school, and another thought comes to me.
Why didn’t my dad send me to school here where I lived, instead of a school in Brooklyn?
I decide I’m going to ask my dad tonight. Although something doesn’t seem right.
But then Natasha wakes me from my thoughts.
”You have been really quiet today? Are you sure you’re okay.”
“Am fine. Don’t worry.”
“Ok, whatever you say, Angel.”
I hate that nickname, but that doesn’t stop Masha from calling me that. She takes the keys out of her back pocket, and unlocks the door. We climb up seven flights of stairs, huffing and puffing as if the stairs are Mount Everest. We reach Apt. 7D and open the door to walk into a cold breeze, which feels very good against the hot May air.
At first, I can’t believe my eyes, but then I realize my dad is standing in front of us. He is rarely at home and if he is, it’s only because something bad happened or he comes at 2 in the morning. His blue eyes are staring straight at Natasha and smiling. Natasha tells me that she just remembered she had a project, so she has to go home now. I help her get all her pencils in her bag, since we were playing the floor is lava on her stuff. Silently, I stand waving goodbye. I feel as if today will be the last time I will see her in a while. But I know that’s not possible, so I try to get the thought out of my head. My dad takes the trash bag and says he is going to throw it out. I shrug and walk to my room to ponder over all my thoughts. For the first time, I think my dad wasn’t where he said he was.
I guess I fell asleep because when I wake up, my room is pitch black, and I hear some faint creaking coming from the living room. I pat down my bed searching for my phone. I finally find it under a bunch of blankets. I put my finger on the button of my phone and look at the time. It’s 2:00 AM. It’s probably my dad, I wonder what he was doing at 2 AM. Something seems off again. I slowly get out of bed and open my door. Like a mouse, I creep down the hallway past Masha’s room to my dad’s bedroom, where I have never been. He told me once that if I go into his room, I’ll get in big trouble. So I never do.
I bring my head back to reality and reach for the doorknob, but then I hear a creaking behind me and a deep voice with a faint Russian accent. I can immediately tell it’s him, but he sounds madder than I’ve ever heard him. Although he rarely even talks to me. I can never forget that he forgot about my birthday three years in a row.
He flicks the light switch on, and I can see him staring at me. His blue eyes look more unfriendly than before. His face looks so intimidating that it just makes me want to fall in a hole to swallow me up.
“I will ask one more time. Why were you going to go in my room?”
“I um… I couldn’t uh… sleep, yeah, because umm… I thought I saw a, uh, mouse in my room.” It sounds like I’m trying to convince myself more than my dad.
He quietly walks in front of the door that leads to his room. His eyebrows are pushed together. It looks like he is thinking really hard. I silently walk backwards to reach the safe, reassuring feeling of my room.
“Give me your phone; that will be your punishment, and next time, follow my rules.”
I feel so relieved nothing horrible happened, so I go to my room to fetch my phone quickly. When I return my phone, my dad is shocked to see me smiling.
“Can Natasha come for a sleepover?” I give him the puppy eyes that Natasha taught me to do.
Fortunately it works, and he nods slowly, like he is still trying to make up his mind. There is something in his eyes, but I’m too tired to think about it. I manage to drag myself to my room and fall onto my bed.
The smell of pancakes wake me up. Finally it’s Saturday. I put on some ripped shorts and an orange T-shirt. I open my door and walk into the kitchen where Masha is standing, flipping over a pancake.
“Hey Angel, you hungry?”
“Ok good, because I made way too many pancakes.”
Before I can even open my mouth, she says, “And no. Dimitri won’t have breakfast with us. He had to leave because of some problems with the business.”
I shift uncomfortably and stare at the ground, feeling my eyes tear up. My dad told me to never cry because nothing was worth crying about, and I don’t want to show Masha that I am a 13 year-old who cries.
“Hey Angel, how about you put as much Nutella on your pancakes, just make sure to eat some strawberries?”
I smile and think to myself how much I wish my dad was like Masha. But he’s not.
After breakfast, I put on my Jordans and walk to the subway. I think about me and Natasha and the day we met. I chuckle a little thinking about how strange we were five years ago.
I get to the subway station, walk down the stairs while getting my MetroCard out of my pocket, and wait until the train comes. I get in and sit down. Today, the subway is empty. I take my headset out and listen to “wish you were gay” by Billie Eilish. I quietly hum to the beat, thinking about how I want a family like Natasha, where I wouldn’t be an only child, and I would also have two parents who really cared about me. I remember all the days at school when Natasha would complain to me about how her sister spilled juice over her homework or how her brother spray-painted her hairbrush. And I could never forget when her older brother, Jason, stole all of Natasha’s allowance to buy a PS4.
I finally arrive in Brooklyn. I walk to her house, looking at the trees and listening to the quiet surroundings. I look at all the houses with beautiful gardens in the front and perfectly-cut grass, and then I come across her house, which really stands out since there are bikes, scooters, balls, empty spray paint bottles, and chalk all over the ground. I try to avoid all the objects and get to the door safely without falling. Thank God I do because I wouldn’t want a sprained ankle for my basketball game or my karate practice. I ring the doorbell and wait for Natasha to open the door, but then Mrs. Smith comes out and asks me, “Why isn’t Natasha with you? I thought you two maybe had a sleepover since she didn’t come home yesterday.”
I can feel my face become pale and my palms start to sweat. I take a big gulp.
“Well, uh, you see, she told me yesterday she had to go home to finish a project, are you sure she isn’t in her room?”
But before Mrs. Smith can answer, she falls to the floor and passes out. I open the door more to put Mrs. Smith on the couch, when I see Jessie playing with dolls, while Nick is trying to spray paint his hair, and Jason is skateboarding in the house.
“Jason, Nick, come help me get your mom to the couch, she passed out.”
They both stare at their pale mom lying on the floor, drop their things, and run over to help. Jessie won’t stop crying while screaming, her mom is dead. As soon as we put Mrs. Smith on the couch, Mr. Smith walks in and asks us what happened, although his eyes won’t leave his wife. Nick and Jason say they don’t know what happened, and they just heard me asking for help to carry Mrs. Smith on the couch. Jessie won’t stop crying and screaming, “MOMMY’S DEAD.”
“JESSIE! Mommy is not dead, ok?”
Jessie hugs her doll tighter and sits in a bean bag. Mr. Smith looks me straight in the eyes and asks me what happened.
”It’s a long story.”
“Well, I have a lot of time.”
So I told him about how we went to my house, played the floor is lava, and then Natasha told me she had to go do a project, so she left, and my dad went to throw out the trash at the same time. Wait a minute. Does my dad maybe know something?
”Uh, I have to go. I just realized I have karate in 30 minutes.” It’s not completely a lie because I do have karate class, just not in 30 minutes. Halfway through the door, I shout, “Bye! Hope Mrs. Smith gets better!” I slam the door shut and run down a few blocks to get to Prospect Park so I can find a bench to sit on.
Could my dad, no, but maybe. I mean he was staring at Natasha and he did come home earlier. He also went to throw out the trash at the same time Natasha left. But would he do something to her? It was so much for me to process, maybe Masha could help me. I quickly look for her number and call her. Please pick up, please, please, please.
”Hey Angel, what happened? Are you ok? Where are you?”
“Thank God you answered and don’t worry I’m fine, but Natasha isn’t.”
“What do you mean?!”
“Can you just pick me up? I’ll tell you in the car.”
“Ok, I’ll be there soon. Wait, where are you?”
“In Prospect Park. I have to go. Bye.”
Now I have to call my dad. I take two big gulps and press the button to call him. I wait and I wait, but he doesn’t answer the phone. I really miss Natasha. Is she… no, she can’t be. And for the first time in a while, I start crying. I see a black car pulling up on the corner, and Masha rushes out of the car to me and hugs me. She smells like peppermint. I wish she could be my mother. As soon as I summon up all my courage, I tell her about Natasha going missing and my visit to her house. And about how Dad came early and was acting strange around Natasha. He also went to throw out the trash at the same time Natasha left.
Then I look back at her eyes, because my father said, “a person’s eyes can tell you everything.”
“Angel, I am sorry, but this time, I don’t believe you. Maybe you should talk to your dad. Also, I am going to Pennyslviana to visit my sister for three days, so let’s go back home and I’ll get my stuff when we get there.”
“And I can call your dad so you two can talk.”
I nodded my head, too tired to speak. When we get into the car, I sit in shotgun and change the radio to “Lovely” by Billie Eilish.
”You really love Billie Eilish.”
I stare out the window, looking at the people. Then I remember I forgot about my karate class. “I forgot to go to karate class,” I mutter.
”Nicki, your dad doesn’t like it when you skip karate”
There is not a lot of traffic today, so it takes us 20 minutes to get home. Masha opens the door, we climb up all the stairs, and for the first time, we don’t say anything to each other, which never happens since Masha and I usually talk a lot. She opens our apartment door, hugs me really tight, and then takes her backpack and her mini suitcase.
Before I close the door she hollers, “Don’t forget to lock the door!”
I laugh a bit and lock the door. I look at my dad’s door and decide that I want to see what I can find in his room. So I text my basketball coach that I’m not going to go to the basketball game because I didn’t feel well. I put my phone in pocket and walk towards his room. I can feel my heart beating. I know that whatever I find in there could possibly change my life forever.
I grab the handle and yank the door open, knowing that if I don’t do that, I would probably back out. I am shocked to see that everything about the room looks normal. Maybe Masha was right. I look around the room one last time to make sure I didn’t miss anything. All I see is a bed, a closet that’s wide open with business suits in it, a desk with no drawers, a rug, and a bookshelf with some Russian and English books. My dad made sure that I could speak Russian, German, and French. When I asked him why I had to learn those languages, he said because some of my family is from those countries, but now I know the only place my family is from is Russia. As I am about to leave the room, I see something under his bed. I pull it out from under the bed and see a big black box with Russian words on it, не открывать, which means “do not open” in Russian. I sit on the rug in case I faint when I find out what’s in the box.
I slowly open the top, and find a black gun with a bit of blood on it. I also find a piece of paper in a wooden frame that says, Мы убиваем за деньги, мы приносим смерть в другие страны, кровь на наших руках, мы убиваем, как медузы в коробке. “We kill for money, we bring death into other countries, blood on our hands we kill like a box jellyfish.” I breathe in and out three times, hoping something else in the box will prove my thoughts wrong. But they don’t. I find a knife and try to convince myself that it’s just an antique or a family relic.
The box has one last object in it. I take out a photo in black and white, with a picture of four men and two women. I see my dad standing next to a man with short blonde hair and dark eyes, and a woman with black hair in a bun and black eyes. None of them are smiling. Their faces give away nothing. In the back of the picture there is a sign in Japanese, ボックスクラゲ. I can’t understand it, so I Google it and figure out it means “box jellyfish.”
All of a sudden, a bunch of questions pop in my head. What does box jellyfish mean? Who are the men and woman in the photo? And why does my dad have a gun and a knife?
And then I realize my dad is an assassin. I look at my phone and start panicking. It’s 10 PM. I shove everything back into the box and push the box under the bed. I close the door to the kitchen, take two white pieces of bread, and put peanut butter on one and jelly on the other. I put the two pieces together, lick my fingers, and go to my room. I sit on the bed staring at the white walls and eating my sandwich. My phone buzzes and I pick it up. I press the answer button and am about to ask her where she is and what she’s doing.
But then I hear a deep voice with a Russian accent. I put myself on mute, so that no one will know I am listening. I pull the phone closer to my ears. It’s my dad’s voice. I immediately know what to do. Natasha and I watched so many movies and TV shows about people getting kidnapped. I have to distract my dad. Assassins are afraid of being caught, which means they’re afraid of police. I smirk a bit and call my dad. He has to pick up since Masha probably called him and told him about what I said about him, so he would pick up to avoid any suspicion.
And I am right. He does pick up. “Hello, who is this”
“Hey dad, it’s Nicki. So the police are standing in front of our door and they want to ask you some questions. What should I tell them?”
“Tell them I’ll be home in 15 minutes”
“Ok, they want to know where you are.”
“I am at my office.” And then he hangs up. What my dad doesn’t know is that Natasha and I keep pocket knives in our shoes. That makes me realize that my dad doesn’t know that much about me. Now all I have to do is wait, so I wait and then I hear the door unlock, and my dad walks in the apartment.
“Where are the police?”
“They’re not here. I lied.”
He takes his shoe off and takes out a gun, he growls, “What did you say?” He walks towards me and I walk backwards. I am pinned to the wall with a gun pointing towards my stomach.
I hold up my phone. “I’ll call 911 if you shoot.”
I can tell he is thinking. He moves the gun away from me and suddenly says, “Let’s make a deal. If you don’t call the police or tell anyone I’m an assassin, I won’t kill Masha.”
I hesitate. “Ok. But you have to leave Natasha alone.”
My dad looks at me, nods, and walks to his room. And I walk to my room, and now I know my father is an assassin and he tried to kill my friend.