Song: “Who Loves You” by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons
I rushed back down the stairs and leapt back into a subway car. I was closer to Four’s apartment, but if this man was right then my wife was in trouble too and she came first. I’d have to come back for Four.
I squeezed the pole until my knuckles were white and I was trying to keep my cool, even while a random girl was blasting the song “There Is” by Boxcar Racer from her phone. Who had that guy been? And what was he gonna do to my wife? And why was he doing this? He had said it was some kind of test that I would fail. What did that mean?
Ten minutes later I was sprinting up the stairs to our apartment and rushed through the door. To my shock, Eight was in the middle of a gunfight with a group of gunmen, shooting them back with ear-splitting shots from her shotgun.
“You gonna stand there or you gonna help?!” she shouted at me.
I jumped in and fired off rejections at two assassins I saw running out of the bedroom. The apartment exploded with gunshots, splintering wood from the walls, and puffs of cotton as we shot up the couches. But no more than two minutes later, they were all either running away or lying on the ground with rejections in their chests.
“Are you okay?“ I asked, catching my breath. “What did they want?”
“I’m fine,” she replied without looking at me. “And I don’t know.” She was already stuffing water bottles and snacks into a duffle bag. “But they know where we live. So we go to Five and regroup at his place.”
I looked around the apartment, grateful I’d made it over in time. But now I had to get to Four.
“I’ll meet you there,” I replied as Eight headed towards the door.
“What?” she spun to me.
“I promised Four I’d help her with something,” I said, walking past her.
“Are you serious? We’re under attack.”
“I promised her!”
“Why can’t you just say no to people!” she shouted, her face flaring as red as her hair.
“She needs me.”
Eight scoffed. “Whatever.”
I bit my tongue to keep myself from saying what I was thinking.
“I’ll be right back,” I said instead, heading out the door. “I promise!”
A minute later I was back on the subway heading uptown again, gripping the pole until my knuckles were white again while yet another kid was blasting music from their phone again. This time it was “No One” by Alicia Keys. At least this kid had his headphones on. But this time I was even less calm than I’d been before. I was tired, I was anxious, and I was annoyed. Some maniac was targeting people I cared about and I was the only one who could help them and my wife was upset at me for helping them. She hadn’t even thanked me. I’d busted my butt all the way uptown to help her–I’d gone out of my way to go to her first instead of to Four, but did that matter? No. It still wasn’t enough.
I shook my head to keep myself from spiraling. This train was moving too slow. It was crazy how this giant underground plane was only moving 40 miles per hour.
I finally made it to Four’s apartment and banged on her door. Every second longer she took to answer sent a dagger of panic piercing through my chest.
C’mon. C’mon! Please be okay. Please be okay!
I kept knocking, but got no answer. Finally, when I was about to kick the door down, she answered, standing in the doorway as her typical, eccentric, Four self: black and white Converses, faded blue high rise jeans, yellow sweater, and louder than life purple highlights accentuating her jet black hair. She looked normal. Or was she pretending to be and actually secretly crying for help? Was the man in the hood already in here and she was trying to tell me in code?
“Hey!” she cried. “What are you doing here?”
“I told you I was coming over,” I answered, eyeing the living room over her shoulder.
“Right,” she said. “You did. You did. But I don’t need help with anything…what did you say you were gonna do again?”
I chuckled, but I was still making a visual sweep of what I could see of the apartment from the door. I didn’t want to outright tell her that assassins were after her and freak her out. It looked like things were okay for now, but I still couldn’t rule out the possibility that this was all a cover. Better safe than sorry. “Can I come in?”
“Uhhhhh…” she looked over her shoulder nervously back inside the house. Was she looking for someone? Was this the signal? Was she trying to tell me something?
“Are you okay?” I asked, slowly reaching for my gun.
“Yeah!” she looked back at me. “Sure. Come in. Make yourself at home.”
I walked in and she shut the door behind me.
“You want anything?” she offered. “I’m no Rachael Ray, but I can microwave the heck out of leftover pizza.”
I chuckled. “No thanks.” I looked her up and down, checking for any bumps or bruises from any gunfights she wasn’t telling me about. “You sure you’re okay? It’s just me. We’ve been best friends like forever. You can tell me anything.”
“Yeah…” she said. “You’ve made that very clear.”
“Well…” I started, taking a deep breath. For now it seemed that everything was normal. I might as well get back to what I was originally going to help her with. But I’d still keep an eye out for that man. “You know how your gun is always jamming?”
Four scoffed. “Who doesn’t know?”
“I did some research on revolvers and how they work…and I decided to make you something.” I reached into my pocket and held up a tiny silver cylinder the size of my fingernail and Four held back a gasp. “It’s a…”
“Missing piece,” she finished. “That’s…that’s my missing piece.”
I smiled from ear to ear. “Yeah.”
She stared at it for a while in silence, not sure how to react.
“Here, let me…” I reached out and she handed me her revolver. I walked over to the kitchen counter and disassembled the gun as she stood there watching me from behind.
“You’re really amazing, you know that?” she eventually said. “Eight is really lucky.”
“Thanks,” I said, not even looking up. I wish Eight would say that. “And I’m lucky to have her. Marriage has been amazing. You’re gonna love it.” As long as they say thank you every now and then. “Here ya go.” I handed her the revolver.
“Thanks,” she took it and stared at it in disbelief. Then she rushed to her room to get new feelings then ran back out, aimed at a wall, and fired 5 straight shots.
They all fired without a single jam. This might not be unusual to you, but that never happened for Four.
She looked at the barrel and tears welled up in her eyes.
“It works,” she whispered. She looked up at me and a laugh came bubbling out. “Thank you! Thank you so much!”
“No problem,” I shrugged.
“Why are you…why are you doing this?”
“Because you’re my friend,” I replied. “That’s what friends do for each other. And you deserve–”
“Don’t-don’t-just…don’t ruin it,” she cut me off. “Thanks. I don’t know what to say…It’s so…I love…it! I love it! It’s so–”
Then something unexpected happened. I’ll never know why she did this, but the next thing I knew, Four fired a feeling straight into my chest.
I gasped and dropped to my knees, holding my hand over my heart. Memories came pouring into my mind–Four and I walking hand in hand on the beach, rolling down fields together, ballroom dancing together, kissing under the sunset. But none of this had happened. These weren’t memories. These were fantasies. Did she have feelings for me? This whole time? How had I missed that? We were best friends.
I heard shuffling above me as Four fiddled with something.
I couldn’t believe my best friend had had feelings for me this whole time. How long had she kept this from me? Could we…could we have been together? My head was suddenly throbbing with excitement. Or was it regret? Or confusion? Either way, I was with Eight and I could barely keep up with her. If I couldn’t keep her happy, I knew I would have never been enough for Four. So as flattering as this feeling coursing through my blood was, I had to fight through it and tell Four the truth.
“Four,” I said, rising to my feet. “You–”
Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!
She shot six rejections into my chest before I could finish.
I flopped and landed on the floor on my back, staring up at Four in shock. Then, in case I didn’t get the message, she ran over to me, swiped my gun off my belt, and shot me with my own rejections and I flopped on the floor like a fish.
I told you before that rejections hit me differently than they did other people. Usually they would force a person to relive all the moments in their life when they’d been rejected and they’d feel that rejection again. It would usually last for a few minutes, depending on how many rejections and on which part of the body they got shot. But when I got shot, I didn’t just relive past rejections. I relived future ones–ones that had happened and hadn’t happened yet, yesterday’s and tomorrow’s, rational and irrational, real and imagined.
“I don’t need your help!”
“Why are you even here?”
“Who told you to do that?”
“You’re messing it up!”
“You ruin everything!”
My head swarmed with the voices of friends and family members I’d let down. I saw myself bringing a present to a classmate in first grade only to have it thrown back in my face. Getting stood up for prom. Getting dumped by my first girlfriend. My mother kicking me out of the house. Then at the climax of this rejection montage, I heard Eight’s voice loud and clear:
“YOU’RE NOT ENOUGH!”
I climbed to my feet, limped to the door, then stumbled out without a word. I don’t remember much of the trip. But one moment I was stumbling into the elevator at Four’s apartment and the next I was standing behind Eight in Five’s apartment. I had her shotgun in my hand and aimed it at her back.
I fired a rejection and it blasted her to the floor. The gunshot rang in my ears and I could almost feel my skull vibrating. And suddenly, I had a moment of clarity. What was I doing? She rolled over and her mouth hung open in terror when she saw me.
“I’m sorry,” I breathed. Then I staggered out of the apartment and into the hallway. I barely made it past a few doors before tumbling down the steps and crashing on my face at the bottom.
I could still feel the rejection burning through my veins. It seared my sanity as flashes of memories streaked through my eyes like my mind was a malfunctioning highlight reel of pain.
Getting fired from my first job.
Getting picked last at recess.
“I don’t want him on my team!”
I heard footsteps above me and someone rolled my body over onto my back. I blinked through the visions and saw the man in the hood staring down at me.
“Let this be unequivocally clear to you,” he breathed into my face. “You can’t save everyone. You can’t please everyone. So everyone will hate you. Because at the end of the day, Two, nobody wants you.”
Then he aimed his gun into my chest.
Original artwork by Alyssa Pfingst