“It echoes in here.”
“It certainly does not echo in here.”
“Stop changing the subject,” he says, shaking more fruit into his mouth. “The point is, you were going to propose. Do you deny it?”
I look away, run a hand along the side of my neck, massaging the sore muscles. “I do not deny it,” I say.
“Then congratulations. And yes, I’d be happy to be your best man at the wedding.”
I look up, surprised. “I’ve no interest in addressing the latter part of what you just said, but— Why offer congratulations? I thought you were vehemently opposed to the idea.”
Kenji frowns. “What? I’m not opposed to the idea.”
“Then why were you so angry?”
“I thought you were stupid for doing it here,” he says. “Right now. I didn’t want you to do something you would regret. That you’d both regret.”
“Why would I regret proposing right now? This seems as good a time as any.”
Kenji laughs, but somehow manages to keep his mouth closed. He swallows another bite of food and says, “Don’t you want, to, like, I don’t know—buy her some roses? Light a candle? Maybe hand her a box of chocolates or someshit? Or, hell, uh, I don’t know—maybe you’d want to get her a ring first?”
“I don’t understand.”
“C’mon, bro— Have you never seen, like, a movie?”
Kenji stares at me, dumbfounded. “You’re shitting me,” he says. “Please tell me you’re shitting me.”
I bristle. “I was never allowed to watch movies growing up, so I never picked up the habit, and after The Reestablishment took over, that sort of thing was outlawed anyway. Besides, I don’t enjoy sitting still in the dark for that long. And I don’t enjoy the emotional manipulations of cinema.”
Kenji brings his hands to his face, his eyes wide with something like horror. “You have got to be kidding me.”
“Why would— I don’t understand why that’s strange. I was homeschooled. My father was very—”
“There are so many things about you that never made sense to me,” Kenji says, staring, flabbergasted, at the wall behind me. “Like, everything about you is weird, you know?”
“No,” I say sharply. “I don’t think I’m weird.”
“But now it all makes sense.” He shakes his head. “It all makes so much sense. Wow. Who knew.”
“What makes sense?”
Kenji doesn’t seem to hear me. Instead, he says, “Hey, is there anything else you’ve never done? Like—I don’t know, have you ever gone swimming? Or, like, blown out candles on a birthday cake?”
“Of course I’ve been swimming,” I say, irritated. “Swimming was an important part of my tactical training. But I’ve never—” I clear my throat. “No, I never had my own birthday cake.”
“What is wrong with you?”
“Hey,” Kenji says suddenly. “Do you even know who Bruce Lee is?”
There’s a challenge in his voice, but Kenji isn’t generating much more in the way of emotional cues, so I don’t understand the importance of the question. Finally, I say, “Bruce Lee was an actor. Though he’s also considered to be one of the greatest martial artists of our time. He founded a system of martial arts called jeet kune do, a type of Chinese kung fu that eschews patterns and form. His Chinese name is Lee Jun-fan.”
“Well shit,” Kenji says. He sits back in his chair, staring at me like I might be an alien. “Okay. I wasn’t expecting that.”
“What does Bruce Lee have to do with anything?”
“First of all,” he says, holding up a finger, “Bruce Lee has everything to do with everything. And second of all, can you just, like, do that?” He snaps his fingers in the direction of my head. “Can you just, like, remember shit like that? Random facts?”
“They’re not random facts. It’s information. Information about our world, its fears, histories, fascinations, and pleasures. It’s my job to know this sort of thing.”
“But you’ve never seen a single movie?”
“I didn’t have to. I know enough about pop culture to know which films mattered or made a difference.”
Kenji shakes his head, looks at me with something like awe. “But you don’t know anything about the best films. You never saw the really good stuff. Hell, you’ve probably never even heard of the good stuff.”
“Have you ever heard of Blue Streak?”
I blink at him. “That’s the name of a movie?”
“Romeo Must Die? Bad Boys? Rush Hour? Rush Hour 2? Rush Hour 3? Actually, Rush Hour 3 wasn’t that great. Tangled?”
“That last one, I believe, is a cartoon about a girl with very long hair, inspired by the German fairy tale ‘Rapunzel.’”
Kenji looks like he might be choking. “A cartoon?” he says, outraged. “Tangled is not a cartoon. Tangled is one of the greatest movies of all time. It’s about fighting for freedom and true love.”
“Please,” I say, running a tired hand across my face. “I really don’t care what kinds of cartoons you like to watch in your free time. I only want to know why you’re so certain I was making a mistake today.”
Kenji sighs so deeply his shoulders sag. He slumps down in his chair. “I can’t believe you’ve never seen Men in Black. Or Independence Day.” He looks up at me, his eyes bright. “Shit, you’d love Independence Day. Will Smith punches an alien in the face, for God’s sake. It’s so good.”
I stare blankly at him.
“My dad and I used to watch movies all the time,” he says quietly. “My dad loved movies.” Kenji only allows himself to feel his grief for a moment, but when he does, it hits me in a wild, desperate wave.
“I’m so sorry for your loss,” I say quietly.
“Yeah, well.” Kenji runs a hand over his face. Rubs at his eyes and sighs. “Anyway, do whatever you want. I just think you should buy her a ring or something before you get down on one knee.”
“I wasn’t planning on getting down on one knee.”
“What?” He frowns. “Why not?”
“That seems illogical.”
Kenji laughs. Rolls his eyes. “Listen, just trust me and at least pick out a ring first. Let her know you actually thought about it. Think it through for a beat, you know?”
“I did think it through.”
“For, what, five seconds? Or did you mean that you were planning this proposal while you were being poisoned in prison?” Kenji laughs. “Bro, you literally saw her—for the first time—today, like, two hours ago, after two weeks of being apart, and you think proposing to her is a rational, clearheaded move?” Kenji shakes his head. “Just take some time. Think about it. Make some plans.”
And then, suddenly, his reaction makes sense to me.
“You don’t think she’s going to say yes.” I sit back, stunned. Look at the wall. “You think she’ll refuse me.”
“What? I never said that.”
“But it’s what you think, isn’t it?”
“Listen,” he says, and sighs. “I have no idea what she’ll say. I really don’t. I mean I think it’s more than obvious that she loves you, and I think if she’s ready to call herself the supreme commander of North America she’s probably ready to handle something as big as this, but”—he rubs his chin, looks away—“I mean, yeah, I think maybe you should, like, think about it for a minute.”
I stare at him. Consider his words.
Finally, I say, “You think I should get her a ring.”
Kenji smiles at the floor. He seems to be fighting back a laugh. “Uh. Yeah, I do.”
“I don’t know anything about jewelry.”
He looks up, his eyes bright with humor. “Don’t worry. I’m sure the files in that thick head of yours have tons of information on this sort of thing.”
The plane gives a sudden, unexpected jolt, and I’m thrown backward in my seat. Kenji and I stare at each other for a protracted second, caution giving way to fear, fear building slowly into panic.
The plane jolts again. This time harder.
And then, once more.
“That’s not turbulence,” I say.
Kenji swears, loudly, and jumps to his feet. He scans the dashboard for a second before turning back, his head in a viselike grip between his hands. “I can’t read these dials,” he says, “I have no idea how to read these goddamn dials—”
I shove the cockpit door open just as Nazeera runs forward. She pushes her way past me to scan the dashboard and when she pulls away she looks suddenly terrified. “We’ve lost one of our engines,” she says, her words barely a whisper. “Someone is shooting us out of the sky.”
“What? How is that—”
But there’s no time to discuss it. And Nazeera and I hardly have a chance to try to figure out a way to fix it before the plane jolts, once more, and this time the emergency oxygen masks fall out of their overhead compartments. Sirens are wailing. Lights overhead blink rapidly, insistent, sharp beeps warning us that the system is crashing.
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