96 Five Lies and a Truth 2
| Lie Two - 15 Years Old |
"Ehhh, it burns," Eric Lieu grumbles, blinking rapidly, his usual surly frown plastered on his too-pale face.
"It's called daylight, kiddo," Xiuying Lieu chirps back, undeterred by her brother's usual complaints. Her tanned skin glows in the sunshine pouring in through Eric's now-open window.
It hadn't been an easy feat, this time. He'd actually gone so far as to nail the sucker closed.
Carmen's almost impressed, though his truly awful construction skills detract from the overall effect. She's pretty sure only three of the seventeen nails actually went through both the window frame and the sill.
She shakes the jar holding all the nails that weren't too bent for Xiuying to remove. "Excessive much?"
Eric's frown deepens, and he drops his gaze to fiddle with his Rubik's Cube. Carmen and Xiuying share a grin, knowing that particular look means the kid's embarrassed.
A strong breeze flies in, scattering the disorganized papers on Eric's school desk. He jumps up from where he's sitting at his holo-computer desk, which is immaculate and organized down to the last wire, to snatch up the sheets of unfinished homework now littering the carpet.
The grumpy pout he gives Xiuying is so hilariously adorable, Carmen has to bite the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing.
Xiuying just ruffles his hair and helps him gather the loose papers. "I wouldn't have to open the window so wide if you hadn't painted the glass black like a psycho."
"I wouldn't have to paint them if you wouldn't keep ripping open the blackout curtains so all the natural light glares on my screens," Eric gripes back.
"Fine, then go for a walk with us and get some fresh air that way, and you can hole up in your dark gamer cave all you want after."
Eric gestures with the stack of papers. "I have homework."
Xiuying snorts. "I'm calling bullshit, baby bro. That new game launches in an hour, right?"
His shoulders hunch, and he huffs, knowing he's caught.
In the end, Xiuying manages to drag him out for at least enough blocks to hit up the market and stock up on snacks for his inevitable all-nighter. Carmen and Xiuying buy enough candy, cookie dough, and chocolate milk to induce a diabetic coma, even though there's no way they'll be able to eat it all before Carmen gets called home.
The girls like to be prepared, just in case one day Carmen's parents actually let her sleep over.
They make it back with twenty minutes to go until launch, and Eric practically slams his door in their faces. The sunny glow peeking out from under his door disappears a few seconds later.
"Your brother is a scrawny punk with the soul of a cantankerous old man," Carmen says fondly, loud enough to know Eric hears her.
"Isn't it hilarious?" Xiuying agrees. "Barely twelve years old, and I half-expect him to yell at me to get off his lawn any day now."
The muffled "Bite me, Flower Power," tells them he heard just fine. Eric had dubbed them the Flower Power Duo a couple years ago, since they both have names with have floral connotations. (Xiuying means "gentle flower," and Rose means, well, "rose.")
Giggling, the girls head down the hall to Xiuying's room.
"The day he actually stops gaming long enough to get a good look at you, it's gonna be game over, you realize?" Xiuying says once they get comfy on the bed, snacks spread around. "He can only talk to you so easily now because he doesn't yet realize you're super hot."
Carmen rolls her eyes and spoons raw cookie dough into her mouth. "Oh really? And how do you know he'll find me attractive? Just because you do..."
Xiuying grins, not denying it. "We have the same taste. What can I say, the Lieu siblings recognize hotness."
Carmen looks doubtful. "Didn't he have a crush on Sasuke?"
"Okay, his taste in men is suspect. But I think all taste in men is suspect, so we were gonna agree to disagree on that regardless."
"Except Sebastian Michaelis."
Xiuying pops an m\u0026m into her mouth. "Doesn't even count. He's practically an incubus, canonically. Walking sex is walking sex, doesn't matter which team you play for."
"Facts," Carmen agrees.
"Baby bro is mostly straight though. He's anime crushed on everyone from Asuna to Raphtalia to that crazy Toga chick in BNH."
Carmen nods. "I can see it. Crazy and hot is still hot. Turns out your brother and I have similar crush aesthetics. I actually had a Sasuke phase, too."
Xiuying groans into her milk glass. "Ugh. Of course you did. Now I'm glad you aren't allowed to date. It never would have worked between us. You're officially too straight for me."
The tone is teasing, but both of them know what's hiding behind the light words.
The atmosphere gets heavy, and Carmen knows what her best friend's trying to say.
She repositions herself until they're sitting back-to-back. She can't look at those gray eyes right now. "You know we can't, Xiuying," she whispers, leaning her head back onto Xiu's shoulder.
Xiuying lets out a long breath and leans back as well. "I know. But I still wish..."
Carmen knows what Xiuying wants to hear. The truth fills her mouth, desperate to escape.
And then she swallows the words, 'I wish for it, too,' and they settle heavy on her heart.
Lie by omission.
That night is the last time Xiuying asks to hear it. Carmen pretends she's relieved.
| Lie Three - 18 Years Old |
Carmen shows up at Xiuying's dorm in the middle of the night.
She doesn't know what she's doing, doesn't know how she even managed to run from her house, her parents' angry shouts following her onto the dark street, but the second the door opens, relief floods her veins.
Xiuying will know what to do.
"It's your parents again, right? I thought you were going to tell them you wanted to go to uni. That you didn't want to just fall in line with the bullshit Life Plan they made for you!"
Carmen swallows, and her voice is small and sad. "I tried."
Xiuying's voice is, predictably, big and loud and angry. "This isn't a try situation, Carmen! This is do or die. This is your life!"
"You don't understand!"
"You're right. I don't. I will never understand why you let them dictate every facet of your life."
Tears fill Carmen's vision, and she wipes them away, angry and frustrated and overwhelmed.
Xiuying gasps, and Carmen realizes this is the first time she's ever seen her cry. It must really freak her out, because Xiuying moves them both to the couch and speaks in a soft voice. "Help me understand."
And it's there, at the tip of Carmen's tongue. This is hardly the first time these words have fought to escape her strict silence, hardly the first time she's wanted to just let go and tell her best friend everything.
Fuck the Rules.
She takes a deep breath, steels herself to lay her secrets bare—
"Xiuying? Is everything okay?" a beautiful voice, thick and muddled with sleep, calls out from the bedroom.
Carmen freezes. "I thought your roommate was studying abroad this semester?"
Something flashes in Xiuying's gray eyes. Guilt.
"I was going to tell you," she murmurs. "When I came to visit over winter break."
The bedroom door opens, and a sleepy yawn filters out from the darkness. "Honey? Is something wrong? Want me to put on the tea?"
A petite woman with jet-black hair, tousled from bed but still expertly framing her heart-shaped face, and large, vivid blue eyes shuffles into the living room.
"Carmen, meet Arachne. My girlfriend."
And the guilt is still there, for not saying something sooner, for not preparing Carmen for this meeting, but it's a small fraction of the emotion spilling from Xiuying right now. Mostly, she exudes happiness, adoration, contentment.
Arachne's face lights up in recognition, and she smiles warmly. "Xiuying talks about you all the time. It's wonderful to finally meet you!"
"I'm glad to meet you, too," Carmen lies.
It must be convincing, because both women look relieved and start chatting as if this were any other normal visit. They bustle around the kitchenette, putting on the kettle, pulling out oversized mugs and a sweet cat-face teapot, and generally moving with a casual comfort that causes an ache in Carmen's gut.
"I have to go," she hears herself say, though it sounds far away.
Xiuying and Arachne look at each other, and their easy, silent communication just causes the ache to increase. Arachne slips back into the bedroom to give them privacy, and Xiuying rushes over to grip her hand.
"No, stay, we'll talk this out. Figure out a plan for dealing with your parents."
Carmen shakes her head. "It's fine. I have a plan. Follow the Plan."
"But you don't want to!"
"People do things they don't want to do all the time, Xiu," Carmen says, suddenly tired. She pulls back her hand and pretends not to notice the hurt that flashes across her friend's face. "That's life. That's my life."
"It doesn't have to be!"
Carmen wants to scream, to cry, to smash that stupidly cute teapot into a million jagged pieces.
Instead she just smiles. "I'll be fine. I know what I'm doing. It's what I was raised for, after all. Be happy, Xiu. Be loved." She leans over, kisses Xiuying's cheek, and with a final, shaky breath, she leaves.