97 Five Lies and a Truth 3
| Lie Four - 20 Years Old |
Two years to the day later, Carmen once again shows up at Xiuying's door in the middle of the night.
This time, however, she's not knocking on the crooked metal door of a cramped dorm room. Xiuying has moved to a swanky apartment in a waterfront high-rise, and Carmen doesn't make it past the Lieus' front door.
"How'd you find me?" Xiuying doesn't sound surprised, just flat and resigned. Her short frame fills the cracked-open doorway. The chain lock stays attached.
Carmen shrugs, tone airy, as if she isn't scared shitless by the very real possibility Xiuying will never let her through that door. "Hacked into Digital Discord's team database and found your address."
Xiuying's unimpressed frown deepens.
Carmen sighs and runs a hand through her hair. It's shorter now, Xiuying notices, shorter than her parents had ever let her cut it. And no longer honey-colored; those straight tresses are as violet as her eyes.
"Fine," Carmen gives in, finally opting for the truth. "I called your mom. Pretended to be a school friend of Eric's worried about his new lifestyle who wanted a chance to convince him to 'give up his silly dream' and finish high school."
Xiuying inhales sharply then lets out a low whistle. "Fuck. Well played."
Carmen leans against the doorjamb. "I know."
"How'd you even know they kicked him out?"
Carmen snorts. "Every petty-ass photo you texted them, you also posted on social media, for a full fucking year, girl. Your captions were brutal, yet informative."
Carmen sounds impressed, because she is, and Xiuying looks proud, because she is.
Xiuying unhooks the latch and pushes the door open, giving Carmen just enough room to enter.
"If you've been social media stalking us, you know Eric's away at a tournament."
"So are you here to apologize for dropping off the face of the fucking planet for two years?"
Carmen winces. That's Xiuying, always straight to the point.
"No," Carmen tells her honestly. The hot anger on Xiuying's face is replaced by confused hurt, and Carmen feels like dying. "Not because you don't deserve an apology, and not because I'm not sorry," Carmen continues in a rush. "I am. More than you could ever know. But I didn't come here to apologize because I don't know if you want to hear that from me. If I deserve the chance to say it."
Xiuying doesn't know, either. She's torn between a) holding onto her grudge for life and b) squeezing her ex-best friend silly, pretending no time has passed.
For now, she does neither.
Instead, she surprises Carmen, who expects to be grilled on why she *did* come, then, if not to grovel.
"All right, spill," Xiuying demands, arm crossed. "How'd you finally get out from under your parents' relentless, creepy-ass control?"
"How do you know I left for real?"
"You mean, other than the fact that you're standing in my home at two in the morning?" Xiuying rolls her eyes and steps into Carmen's space, reaching out to lightly run her fingers through Carmen's hair. The ends are uneven, and she's pretty sure Carmen cut it herself. Probably earlier tonight. "Your hair."
Carmen's eyes close and her breath hitches. "You don't like it?" she whispers.
"No, I do. It suits you. But baby girl, this is a break-up hairstyle if I've ever seen one." Xiuying playfully tugs before letting the strands fall from her fingers. "You just broke up with your parents instead of a lover. You never do like to do things the way other people do."
"Look who's talking, Lunatic Lieu," Carmen claps back, though it comes out a little breathless. She's finding it hard to focus with Xiuying suddenly so close, after years of seeing her only in dreams and pixels.
"Hey, that's all Eric, now. He's rightfully taken over the title." Xiuying looks even prouder now, so much prouder of her baby brother than she could ever be of herself.
Carmen smiles, acknowledging Eric's meteoric rise over the last year. He'd taken to pro gaming like he'd been meant for it all along, and he hadn't let the pressures of the high-level competition affect his signature playstyle.
Talk of the absent Lieu sibling calms down the tense atmosphere, and the girls take the opportunity to regroup (and remember how to breathe.) Xiuying moves them out of the entryway, deeper into the open apartment, and grabs a couple hard ciders from the fridge. Carmen sips hers gratefully and sinks into an ugly red overstuffed armchair so comfortable she decides to immediately buy one for herself...
...as soon as she has a place to live and somewhere to put it.
She drains half her bottle.
Xiuying wordlessly slides her cider across the coffee table and goes to grab herself another, plus a couple glasses of water.
"So seriously," she says once she's back and settled on the couch. "How'd you finally find the guts to leave?"
"Mostly you, of course."
Xiuying looks surprised.
Carmen offers a soft, crooked smile and tucks her legs up under her. "Your words have echoed in my head since I was twelve years old," she admits wryly. "Hearing about you landing that insanely competitive internship and winning all those tech awards just drove home the point that you were following your own path. And it was leading exactly where you wanted to go."
Xiuying hums, thoughtful. "My words were never enough before. And I scored that internship over a year ago. What's different now?"
Carmen doesn't know whether to laugh or cry. Why is Xiuying so damned observant? She settles on a quiet huff and rests her head on her knees. "Is it crazy of me to say that cantankerous, dorktastic brother of yours was the final push I needed?"
"In what way?"
Carmen gestures to the trophies on the mantle, the overflowing bookshelves, the funky posters and art, the cool lights, all the mismatched but comfy furniture; this space could not look more like the Lunatic Lieu Siblings belong here if it tried.
And Eric had earned this for them both at sixteen years old.
"The last time I saw Eric Lieu, he was a geeky fourteen-year-old homebody. He always had spirit, but he wasn't like you, Xiu. Going after dreams, standing up for himself—those things didn't come naturally to him.
I always wanted to be you, Xiu. But I've always really been like him.
And then he did it.
My guardians were overprotective assholes who refused to let me have a life of my own, but at least they always knew what I was doing. Your parents were barely around long enough to even know you and Eric were fed, let alone to know they had birthed two freakin' prodigies.
You relished that independence, but your brother craved their attention when they found the time to give it. He'd take scraps from them and come back begging for more. And yet, he didn't even blink when they said it was their way or the highway. He walked out the door with his mouse, keyboard, and holo, and never looked back.
I admire that. And I admire that he proved them wrong within the year, too. Rookie of the Year, League MVP, World Champion...
After all that, I ran out of excuses for why I was still living a life I never wanted.
Sure, I could never be as strong as Lieu Xiuying.
But fuck if I couldn't be at least as brave as her bratty little brother."
Frozen, Xiuying looks floored by the confession. With a fond sigh, Carmen reaches for cider number two.
The movement snaps Xiuying out of her surprise, and she shakes her head clear. With a disbelieving chuckle, she clinks her bottle against Carmen's.
After a long drink, she flops back into the cushions. "He did look back, actually. Once."
"He waited until the parentals left on one of their business trips. Then he made me sneak back in with him to grab all his figurines and his Batman mug."
Laughter bursts from Carmen, and it's the first real laugh she's had in over two years. "Of course. Shoulda known," she wheezes.
Xiuying smiles, glad to see a tiny fraction of the intense weight Carmen has always carried lessen. Gray eyes meet violet ones, and Xiuying decides it's finally time to ask, "What happened to you?"
A shadow dims those bright purple eyes. "Nothing."
"You're a bad liar, you know."
Carmen laughs, but it sounds sad. "Funny, sometimes it feels like the only thing I'm good at."
Xiuying swings off the couch and kneels on the floor in front of the red armchair. She reaches up to brush Carmen's choppy bangs out of her face. "Well, you can't lie to me."
Not for the first time, Carmen wishes that were true.
"Yes, I can," she says simply.
They both know it's true.
"But, I don't want to anymore," she continues in a pained whisper.
Xiuying sits up and leans closer, eye level. "I don't want you to, either. Let me in. Let me help."
It's why she's here in the middle of the night, why she risked staying in Seattle when she should be halfway across the world right now. But now that it's happening, Carmen wonders yet again if she's really doing the right thing.
"Once you're in, there's no getting out, you understand?" she says, serious and and harsh. "You can't un-know what I tell you, no matter how much you'll come to wish you never heard a word of it."
"I want to know," Xiuying repeats firmly. "I already know more than I ever thought I'd want to. But you know that. You know who I worked for."
"I've only scratched the surface, though," she adds, frustrated. "I want to know enough to actually make a difference."
The intensity of Xiuying's gaze is too much for Carmen. She takes a deep breath and her eyes flit away. They land on a picture of Xiuying and Eric, with their matching smirks and twinkling eyes.
"If we really do this, it'll take time. Years, maybe." She nods to the picture. "He can't know we're in touch. Can't know I'm in the city, or even alive. No one can. It's not safe."
Xiuying sits back on her heels. "I'm still with Arachne, you know."
Carmen's heart squeezes, but it's not as painful as it once was. "I know."
"Then you shouldn't ask this of me. I don't keep secrets from her. I don't like keeping secrets from Eric, either, for that matter."
Carmen turns to Xiuying again, and for the first time, she doesn't put up the walls she's been hiding behind her whole life. The weight of the pain behind her steady gaze almost cripples Xiuying, but she holds firm, refusing to back down.
"The price of learning the truth is lying about what you know every day for the rest of your life."
Xiuying gasps at the intensity in Carmen's low, husky voice.
"Is that a price you are willing to pay?"
Xiuying's heart thuds in her ribcage, and she feels lightheaded from the buildup of anxiety and shock of seeing her closest friend after so long...but none of that matters.
There's no question in her mind what her answer will be.