“What?” Sky asked. She stared down at Jamar and worried that his grief had gotten the best of him. “Jamar, what are you talking about? She’s the woman in the picture. Right?”
“I don’t believe this,” Jamar said to himself. He ran his hand over his mouth and sat back on his heels. He hands hung limply between his legs.
“Tell us what’s goin’ on, son,” Art demanded. His patience was wearing thin.
Jamar crawled out of the hole and collapsed on the ground. He stared up the sky, a blank expression on his face. Sky knelt by his head. “She doesn’t have the tattoos.”
Jamar pulled out his wallet and gave it to Sky. She found the picture and stared. On Kurisu’s neck were tattoos of three red stars. Sky looked down into the pit. The woman’s neck was bare. “The fuck? Who is she, then?”
“Kurisu’s twin, Ryuuko. What the hell is she doin’ here?” He covered his face with his hands.
“God damn it,” Arthur grumbled before walking back into the house. “Someone tell me where the cigarettes are!” he called from the kitchen. Kris followed him in.
Sky stared at the body. She wondered how mixed Jamar’s emotions must have been in that moment: relief, grief, hope, despair—he probably felt them all. “Why didn’t you tell us she had a twin from the start?”
“You think me and my in-laws are distant? Get this: I never once met Ryuuko in person. She’s been in North Dakota the whole time I knew Kurisu. She never even told her she was in town.”
“Yeah, well, that’s what I get for being different.” He smiled, and Sky couldn’t help returning the gesture.
“Come on. Kurisu’s family doesn’t hate you ‘cause of your skin color.”
Jamar shrugged. “I dunno about that.”
“Well, you can’t help who you love,” she said.
“No, you can’t.”
Sky kicked a nearby pebble. “I’m sorry for your loss.”
“Not my loss. I never knew the woman, except what Kurisu told me.”
“Well, she’s still family.”
“Yeah. I s’pose you’re right.”
Sky lay down next to Jamar and together they stared at the clouds billowing by. They turned from white to oranges and pinks as the sun dipped beneath the horizon. Kris and Art eventually made their way back out, a fresh cigarette dangling from the old man’s lips. Looked like Jamar’s in-law’s had a pack lying around after all.
“So what’s next?” Arthur asked as he lit the stick with his Zippo. “Have we come to our senses and decided it’s time to move on?”
“I don’t know where else to look,” Jamar admitted.
“Come on. Think,” Sky pleaded. “She’s gotta be somewhere, right?”
“Maybe you oughta try thinkin’ for a change,” Arthur suggested. “We’ve stuck around too long as it is, and findin’ Kristu or whatever the hell her name is will be like findin’ a needle in a stack of needles. It’s time to hit the road.”
Sky furrowed her brow. “But—”
Sky looked at Jamar. “What?”
“He’s right,” Jamar repeated. “I’ve looked everywhere.”
“You can’t be serious. She’s your wife, Jamar.”
“Even if she is alive, the last thing she’d want is for me to risk my skin travelin’ all over Chicago lookin’ for her. I’ve grieved for her.” He looked at Art and stood. “Let’s give Ryuuko a proper burial and just move on.” He sounded defeated.
“Amen.” Arthur grabbed a shovel and shoved it into a pile of dirt, ready to get the task over with.
“Shouldn’t we say something first?” Kris squeaked with a raised finger.
Jamar grabbed the other shovel and rested his hand on its end. “Uh, wherever Ryuuko is, I hope she knows peace. And I hope her parents are free from the suffering of losing a child.” Satisfied, he dropped the first pile of dirt onto Ryuuko’s corpse.
The sun had dipped beneath the horizon by the time they finished covering woman, taking turns so as to not overexert themselves. When the last pile had been added, Jamar patted the dirt down, dropped the shovel, and went back inside. The others followed, leaving Ryuuko in peace.
“Anyone want a beer?” Art asked as he peeked inside the fridge.
“Yes,” Jamar said at once, plopping himself on the couch. He caught a can Arthur tossed from the kitchen and opened it, spilling foam over his jeans, the furniture, the carpet. He drank deep.
“Anyone else?” Art said.
Sky shook her head.
“Um, I’ll take one,” Kris said.
Sky shot a surprised look his way. He merely shrugged. “I’ll take one, too,” she said, not wanting to be the only one sober after such an awful day.
Everyone drank in silence for a while, quietly brooding as the only source of light sank out of view for another night.
“So this shit’s real, huh?” Jamar finally said to no in particular.
“Sure is, pal,” Arthur said with grim confidence.
“Damn.” Jamar chucked his mostly empty can at the wall, letting it fall and spill beer that pooled into the living room carpet. “So. What’s next then?”
“Sky mentioned a car dealership not far from her apartment,” Art said. “That’s our first stop—unless, of course, you have a vehicle lying around somewhere, Jamar.”
“No dice,” he replied.
“Wait,” Sky interjected. “Are we really giving up on Kurisu that easily? What if there’s a clue to where she went here? What about her parents? What if they’re all together nearby? Can we really just call it quits?”
“We already agreed how close to impossible it would be to find this woman,” Arthur explained in an impatient droll. “Even Jamar admitted he wouldn’t know where to look next.”
Jamar nodded. “He’s right, Sky. I can’t put you three or myself in jeopardy chasing a ghost.”
“So that’s it?”
“What do you want me to say?”
Sky grunted in frustration and stormed outside. She slammed the sliding glass door behind her and stood under the infinite expanse of the night sky.
With all of Chicago in a blackout, Sky could see the endless field of stars above her, a view she’d never witnessed living in the city. She instantly forgot her anger and instead was awed by the beauty of space.
Seconds or minutes later—she couldn’t tell which—her admiration was interrupted by the sound of the glass door opening and closing. She turned to see who’d joined her and was happy it wasn’t Jamar or Arthur.
“Hey, Kris,” she said. She took a sip of beer and went back to stargazing.
“Hi.” Kris walked up and stood beside her. He looked up into the palpable darkness, then at Sky. “Um, are you okay out here?”
“I’m fine,” she said, not pulling her eyes from the stars. A comet flew by, leaving a streak against the expanse. “Ooh! Didja see that?” she proclaimed, pointing.
“Yeah. The view is pretty clear in Rosemont.”
“I’ve never seen it before,” Sky whispered.
“Really?” Kris asked, apparently perplexed and appalled by this revelation. “Do you, um, wanna see some of the constellations?”
Sky looked at him, and he gazed back. In the darkness, his eyes were lost beneath the bill of his greasy trucker cap and the thick frames of his horn-rimmed glasses, but Sky still sensed the friendliness there, the warmth, the person behind the reticence. “Yes.”
There was just a sliver of a moon—Kris explained a new cycle had just begun—so it was easy for him to point out the constellations: the Big and Little Dippers, Cassiopeia, Cepheus, Draco.
“How do you know all this?” Sky asked, shocked and amused by Kris’s knowledge.
“Uh, well, ya know…” Kris pulled off his hat and scratched his shaggy hair. “I just read, ya know?”
“And not just comics, huh?”
“Actually, Captain Star Lazor is based on scientific f—”
“Don’t even finish that sentence, dude,” Sky laughed.
“Hey,” Arthur hissed from behind, causing Kris and Sky to start.
“Jesus, Art!” Sky shouted. “Mind giving a warning before sneaking up on us?”
“That was my warning. We need some flashlights in here. Go grab some from the shed, would ya?”
“Yes, fine. God.”
Arthur vanished back into the house.
Sky walked over to the shed, Kris on her heels. She pulled the door open. “It’s darker in here than it is outside. How are we supposed to find flashlights in here without, I dunno, flashlights?”
“I guess we just feel around,” Kris said.
Sky stepped in and reached out with her hands, prodding the walls and shelves. She felt power tools, cords and wires, trash bags, and finally her fingers wrapped around something cold and metallic. She ran her hand over the object until she pressed a button and light flooded the cramped shed.
“Found one.” She let her eyes adjust to the bright light for a moment before swinging the beam across the shelves. Kris found another flashlight and a battery-operated lantern. “Hopefully this’ll shut Art up,” Sky muttered as she turned to leave.
“Wait,” Kris said. Sky spun around. “What’s that?”
He stood pointing at the back corner of the shed where two metal doors lay flat against the dirt floor. Sky approached cautiously. She gripped one of the doors’ handles, gave Kris a reassuring look, and flung the portal open. Leading down was a staircase, and at the end: light.
“Oh, my God,” Sky whispered.
“Um, you want me to lead the way?”
“No,” she said, regretting her answer instantly. “Stay close to me, though.”
Sky put one foot in front of the other, slowly making her way down the concrete steps. At the bottom, she turned left and stepped into a compact bomb shelter illuminated by a dim lantern just like the one Kris had found.
Sky traced her flashlight along the perimeter. She dropped it with a gasp when the light fell upon a terrified person who looked just like Ryuuko.