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Mr. Opana woke up and rubbed his eyes, just like every morning. He put on his slippers and bathrobe and stumbled to the bathroom, holding the wall for support along the way, just as he did every morning. He put in his dentures and brushed them. Then he washed his wrinkly old face with cool water and mint-green soap, repeating a ritual he performed every day. Feeling more awake, he staggered back to his bedroom and sat on his bed. Then, he began his daily decision of what to wear. And, as every day, he chose a button-down shirt in a various color and wore it with a dark grey sweater-vest and slacks. His socks matched his shirt every day, and his shoes were always shiny. Completely dressed, he grabbed his cane.
Breakfast was made the same way every day by Mr. Opana’s private chef. Eggs Benedict waited at the 9 o’clock position on his plate, with a side of bacon staring them down from the opposite side of the plate at 3 o’clock. Grapefruit mediated the whole thing at 12 o’clock, and a small crowd of vitamins and supplements sat dejectedly at 6 o’clock. Mr. Opana enjoyed his breakfast with a cup of milk and a cup of orange juice. He had never been a big coffee drinker. Each morning he had his cups of milk and orange juice, and that was simply the way things were.
After breakfast, Mr. Opana went, as usual, out to the mailbox for the morning paper. And, as usual, there was none.
“Oh well,” Mr. Opana said, “perhaps tomorrow.” He said this although he knew the paper would not come tomorrow. It never did.
Because he knew he really couldn’t put it off any longer, Mr. Opana went back inside and hobbled over to his fireplace.
“I am really getting too old for this,” he groaned, and pushed a button concealed in the nose of the portrait above the mantelpiece. The gate of the huge fireplace slid back to reveal a fluorescent green tube on the floor of the fireplace. Mr. Opana heaved a sigh and jumped into the tube, cane and all.
He slid down the tube, just like every morning, holding his cane tight to his side, as he had learned to do over the years. The tube spit him out onto a large pile of various pillows. There were designer pillows, therapeutic pillows, body pillows, woolly pillows, down pillows, pillows shaped like different cartoon characters, pillows that were cylinders with tassels on the ends, and even pillows that had once been t-shirts. Mr. Opana grunted and wobbled to his feet, putting most of his weight on his cane. Mr. Opana was not a heavy man; he weighed about as much as a petite woman. He was quite small, and yet he was quite agile. A plaque on the wall of the large basement he had just fallen into declared that he had done an outstanding job on the test and had received his nineteenth-degree black belt in karate.
Mr. Opana wasn’t some washed-up karate star. The plaque was from the previous year. He was well-trained in other martial arts and held a license for the use of most types of weapons, including bow staffs and maces. He was also an expert jouster and javelin-thrower. He could speak twelve different languages and had been to countries in all seven continents. He frequently engaged in sword fights.
Why? You may ask. Why would a man of that age engage in such dangerous activities that could potentially be hazardous to his health?
Mr. Opana did these things because he was a spy. And he wasn’t just your run-of-the-mill, every-day spy. He was one of the KLC’s best. And he was retiring. He just had to tell that to his boss, the director of the KLC, Paul Taal. Mr. Taal was not going to be in a good mood. Not that he ever was; he wasn’t. Each day he looked like someone was holding something that smelled unpleasing under his upturned nose. Even though his name was Paul Taal, he was only 5’2”. He always had an expression on his gaunt face that said, “who are you, what do you want, and can you pitch it to me in less than five seconds? I’m a busy man.” It was true that he was quite a busy man. Running the KLC is no small task. But it would have been much easier for him if he’d act more pleasant to his employees.
Mr. Opana sat at his desk and faced the large plasma screen on the wall. He dialed up Paul Taal on the computer and it sent a videophone call to the director. His secretary picked up on the fourth ring.
“Hello, you have reached the offices of Paul Taal. Mr. Taal is probably busy now. How may I help you?” the secretary’s sugary voice was monotonous, just like every day.
“Hello, Sheryl. Henry Opana here,” Mr. Opana said with a slight smile on his face. He always found it entertaining to call the offices of Paul Taal. The secretaries were named Cheryl, Sheryl, and Sharon, so Mr. Opana knew if he said ‘Sheryl’, that it was most likely the correct name.
“Oh, Mr. Opana. This is Cheryl,” said the secretary.
“That’s what I said,” Mr. Opana wheezed, having inhaled some air too quickly.
“No, I’m afraid you said Sheryl, and my name is Cheryl,” the secretary corrected him snootily.
“Dang nab it,” Mr. Opana said, “I’m your senior in more ways than one, and if you ask me, this conversation is absolutely ludicrous. The whole reason I called was to talk to Paul. Is he around?”
“I suppose, for you a least Mr. Opana,” Cheryl grumbled. “I’ll transfer your call.”
“Thank you, Sharon,” said Mr. Opana, purposely calling the secretary the wrong name.
“Cheryl,” she automatically corrected.
“Yes, sorry dear,” Mr. Opana apologized, “my old brain’s just not what it used to be, Sheryl.” Mr. Opana laughed away from the telephone. Cheryl nearly growled in anger and frustration, but transferred his call to Mr. Paul Taal.
“Opana,” Mr. Taal barked, “talk to me.” He stared at Mr. Opana down his nose at the videophone call on his computer screen.
“Paul,” Mr. Opana began, only to be interrupted.
“Mr. Taal,” Paul Taal said. Mr. Opana didn’t care, but because he was polite and courteous, started over.
“Mr. Taal, then. I have news for you.”
“Opana, as my number one spy, you’ve had news for me every day for the past seventeen years I have been at this job.”
“True. But today is different. This time the news is about me.”
“Go on, prompted Mr. Taal. Mr. Opana cleared his throat.
“You may want to sit down,” he suggested. Mr. Taal got an angry look on his face.
“For God’s sake, man! I AM sitting down! Now out with it! I haven’t got all day for idle chatter, you know! I am a very busy man!”
Mr. Opana forced a smile and began again. “I am 76 years old, Mr. Taal. My health is steadily declining, and I need to make arrangements for the rest of my life. It doesn’t help that every few weeks I am sent on a dangerous mission from which I may not return.”
“Oh, but Opana, you’re my number one spy! I need you out there! True you get sent on dangerous missions from which you might not return, but you always do return! And that’s why you’re my number one spy! You can’t bail on me now!”
“I’m afraid I must,” Mr. Opana sighed. “I’m getting too old for this sort of thing.”
Paul Taal sighed also. He ran a hand through his short dark hair, flashing his Rolex at Mr. Opana and reflecting the New York sun in the old man’s eyes.
“All right, Henry,” he exhaled, “but you know what you need to do to retire. You have to find someone to replace you. A son or nephew of some kind.”
“I know,” Mr. Opana beamed, “I’ve already got it figured out. All I have to do is train the boy.”
“Boy?” Paul Taal asked. “Boy?? You must be joking, Opana.”
“Well, man more like. He’s sixteen you know how they are at that age. Not still a boy, but not quite old enough to be called a man.”
“All right. Is he your… grandson?” Mr. Taal asked.
“Heavens no. Kindly remember, Paul, I have neither wife nor children,” Mr. Opana said lightly. This was a delicate subject for him.
“Well then, who is it, man? How do you know the boy? Er… man. Ban. Moy. Whatever.”
“He’s my chef.”
There was a long, awkward pause as Paul Taal digested this information. Mr. Opana could see a vein pulsing in Mr. Taal’s temple. His chin on his fist, Mr. Taal sighed multiple times.
“He’s quite a good one also,” Mr. Opana added, “from Spain.”
“How did he manage to come into your employment?” Mr. Taal asked, picking up a ballpoint pen to click away at the end of it.
“Four years ago, I was sent on a mission to England. There I stopped in at a crowded, smelly, orphanage. I asked for a boy who was relatively independent and also a good cook. Immediately they suggested Damien, who had been at the orphanage longer than any of the other children. He had no living relatives, and he was an excellent cook. They were very eager to get rid of him on account of the fact that he only spoke Spanish, and no one at the orphanage could understand a word he said. And of course, once I heard his name, I was very interested in him.”
“Why?” Mr. Taal asked, dropping the pen on his desk and leaning forward. “What’s his name?”
“Am I supposed to know who that is?” Mr. Taal asked in a slightly irritated tone. Mr. Opana smiled.
“His father was Alejandro Cuietro,” he revealed.
“THE Alejandro Cuietro?” Paul Taal asked, pronouncing the name with a horrible Spanish accent, and causing Mr. Opana, who spoke Spanish fluently, to wince. He nodded anyway.
“Ah,” said Mr. Taal, “well, that changes things, doesn’t it?” He paused for a moment, considering Mr. Opana. “All right, well, go ahead and train the boy for the necessary six months. Then call me back.” Paul Taal’s haughty tone was returning to his voice. “And for God’s sake man, don’t bother me in the meantime! Or until then! Goodbye, Opana!”
“Goodbye, Paul,” said Mr. Opana, hanging up the phone. He sighed, and sighed again, just like every other day.
“So,” Mr. Opana said at lunch. “Sit down, boy.” Damien looked at the old man curiously, like maybe he didn’t understand.
“Take a seat!” said Mr. Opana, much more harshly than he had intended. Damien nodded quickly and sat down awkwardly.
Mr. Opana didn’t talk much to his chef. True, they had lived in the same house for four years, and true, each day Damien cooked a meal for the old man without fail, but they had never really taken the time to get to know each other. It was a shame, because as Mr. Opana had told Paul Taal, Damien really was a remarkable boy. Man. Ban. Moy. Whatever.
“Yes, Mr. Opana?” Damien nearly whispered. “Are you somehow… eh… unhappy with the food I make for you?” He really did sound like he was from Spain. Even his English sounded a lot like Spanish.
“No, Damien, no. It isn’t about the food,” Mr. Opana said, trying to decide how best to explain to Damien what was going on.
“Did you know your father? Do you know who he was?” Mr. Opana asked, folding his bony hands bent from arthritis and placing them on the table.
“Ay. Mi padre,” Damien whispered. “He was a fantastic man, I am sure. I do not have any distinct memories of him, or my mother, but I know he was great. I do not know his name, his profession, or even really what he looks like. Sometimes I think I can picture him, but I can never be sure if it is really what he looks like, or just something my imagination has created.”
“I understand,” Mr. Opana said, although he really did not. He sighed, a wheezy, old-man sigh. He unclasped his hands and rubbed his wrinkly face. Then he smiled at Damien.
“Your father was a great man–”
“You knew him?!” Damien was shocked.
“Only by reputation,” came the elderly man’s reply. “He was a spy.” He gave Damien some time to digest this information. “As you will be…” he added slowly.
“Huh?” Damien asked, clearly confused. Mr. Opana explained how he would train the boy for a year, and then Damien could decide whether or not he wanted to be a spy.
“I’m ready to start,” said Damien.
“Good. We can start tomorrow. In the mean time, I am going to rest. My bones hurt, and my brain hurts twice as badly. I need to think of how I can best teach you.”
“Let me make you some lunch,” Damien suggested. The old man smiled and nodded as he slowly walked up the stairs to read a book in his favorite easy chair. He was glad that the boy had agreed to take on his job. Now if only he could think of a way to teach Damien everything he had learned from experience! Mr. Opana sat in his chair, looked out the window, sighed, and closed his eyes, thinking.
The next morning, after his usual hearty breakfast, Mr. Opana and Damien headed down to the basement to begin.
“So. Damien,” Mr. Opana attempted to smile in a fatherly way, but, since he had never had any children, the attempt failed. “When you’re a spy, you need to know how to not get caught. But we’ll get to that later. In the mean time, we will focus on what to do if you do get caught. Sound good?”
“All right,” Mr. Opana continued, “good. So. A good spy knows how to fight. But a great spy knows both how to fight, and when to run. So we will work on your running, of course, as part of your physical training. First, I will teach you how to fight.”
“Now, what I need you to do is to think of something or someone worth fighting for, as motivation for you.”
Damien thought for a moment. “How about… wanting to live?”
“Well, yes,” Mr. Opana said, “but even more. More than just wanting to live.”
“So… something I value more than life,” said Damien, thinking. He always was an intelligent boy. “How about… a family. A proper family; one of my own.”
“Yes,” Mr. Opana whispered. He was emotionally blown away. How could this sixteen-year-old boy know? How could he know that this is the exact thing that Mr. Opana had wanted all his life? The same thing Mr. Opana had fought for all his life as a spy?
He couldn’t. Of course he couldn’t know. How would he know? Mr. Opana blinked away tears and continued. He taught Damien how to fight not with his mind, but with his heart. They worked also on running. To do this, Damien was put on a treadmill with virtual reality glasses. The glasses showed a pack of bulls running close behind him, nearly catching up. So Damien ran on adrenaline for a good amount of time. Then Mr. Opana made him a lunch of fajitas. Mr. Opana had never been a good cook, but he was capable of making passable fajitas.
Damien’s training was intensified the next few days. He was taught how to creep in and out of rooms silently, find ways to move around a room, regardless of whether or not there was any space to do so. He became more agile every day. Mr. Opana also taught him the basics of different languages.
After a few weeks, Damien was definitely beginning to show signs of improvement. Then, everything changed with one phone call.
The phone rang right after Damien and Mr. Opana had finished lunch one day. Mr. Opana answered the rotary telephone closest to him. Damien listened carefully, as he had been trained to listen carefully as a spy.
“Hello? Oh. Hello. Seven years. Yes. Yes. Yes. All right. Who? Lauren? How old? Sixteen? Good God, it has been too long. Yes. Oh. Wow. My condolences. I’m deeply sorry. Yes. All right, that sounds fine, but when? Of course I have room. For sure. All right. I will talk to you more later. All right. Yes. You’re welcome. Goodbye.” The old man turned to the boy. “Any guesses?” he asked his trainee.
“Hmmm. No idea,” Damien confessed.
Mr. Opana smiled. “That was my brother’s son-in-law. He is sending his daughter to live here due to a family crisis.”
“What kind of family crisis?” Damien asked.
“He said his family’s house had burned down in the recent Wildfires in California. They lived in a big house in Santa Clara, near what’s-his-name… ehh… that fellow from ‘Happy Gilmore’ and ‘Click’.”
“Adam Sandler?” suggested Damien.
“Yes. Anyway, he has a daughter named Lauren.”
“Adam Sandler has a daughter named Lauren?” asked Damien. Mr. Opana shook his head, looking like a small grey elephant.
“No. My nephew’s daughter is named Lauren. Due to their recent family crisis, she will be coming to stay with us for a few months.”
Damien nodded, thinking hard. He knew something was wrong with this situation, some sixth sense deep inside of him told him. But it didn’t seem suspicious to the ear, so he decided to just put his uneasy feeling aside for now.
“Okay,” he said. “Where will she sleep?” This was actually a bit of a ludicrous question. Mr. Opana’s house would easily be classified as a mansion. It had three floors and a basement, thirteen bedrooms, and nine bathrooms. There would easily be enough room for one girl. Mr. Opana’s house could comfortably fit a whole Opana family reunion.
Damien was still troubled. He had more questions bubbling up inside him by the minute.
“So this Lauren, what is her last name? Opana?” he asked.
“No,” the old man said. “Her name is Lauren Brady. She’s sixteen. Your typical Californian.”
“Hmm…” Damien replied. Both were quiet in thought for a moment.
“I don’t like this,” confessed Mr. Opana. “Do you know why?” Damien nodded solemnly.
“There are no wildfires in California at this time of year. Not only that, but Santa Clara is on a very small island not far from the coast of Southern California. It would be difficult for there to be a wildfire on an island.”
Mr. Opana smiled. “Precisely,” he said. They were both silent for a moment more.
“Well,” said Mr. Opana, “we will have to dig deeper.”
Lauren arrived two weeks later, in late August. She came dressed in clothes better suited for hot weather. Her long red hair was pulled into two ponytails, and a pair of large rhinestoned sunglasses was perched on top of her head. As she walked off the jet way, she put her iPod into her purse with one hand, while also using that same hand to carry a lime green duffel bag. She wheeled a medium-sized pink and lime green polka dot suitcase behind her with her other hand. She stopped and looked around. Mr. Opana turned to Damien.
“That’s her,” the old man said, indicating with his cane. His knees had been hurting him all morning, so he had resorted to sitting in a chair at the gate. Damien had sat next to the old man for hours, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees, thinking.
“Could you please go and get her, Damien?” requested Mr. Opana, wincing in pain as he tried to get up. Damien stuffed his hands in his pocket, nodded, and went over to her. She was facing the opposite way, still looking for Mr. Opana.
“Lauren?” he asked. She turned around. Her freckled face and blue eyes looked confused.
“Yeah…” she confirmed. Damien shuffled his feet.
“Uh, I, uhh, I’m Mr. Opana’s… well, that is to say, I live with Mr. Opana,” he explained. “He’s over there.” He indicated Mr. Opana’s seat with his forehead. “Come on.”
“Kay,” Lauren said, grabbing the handle of the suitcase.
“Uh, I’ll take your other bag,” offered Damien.
“Kay,” Lauren said again, smiling. She handed it to him. He took it and led the way to Mr. Opana, who had successfully gotten up. He held out his hand to Lauren.
“Hello, Lauren. I’m Henry Opana; your great-uncle,” he said.
“Kay. Sounds good,” said Lauren, shaking his wrinkly old hand.
“I see you have met Damien,” Mr. Opana observed. Both the teenagers nodded. Mr. Opana smiled. “All right. Shall we go?” More nodding. The men started heading towards the exit.
“Wait!” Lauren said. “We have to get my bags!” Damien and Mr. Opana looked at each other.
“Aren’t these yours?” Damien asked, indicating the duffel he was holding, the suitcase Lauren was pulling, and her purse. Lauren shook her head and giggled.
“No, silly. Gosh. I’m going to be here for months. I brought way more clothes than just this.” She rolled her blues eyes. They headed for baggage claim. Lauren picked up another, larger suitcase and another duffel bag. Damien, gentleman that he was, ended up carrying a duffel bag and rolling a suitcase. Lauren had a suitcase and her purse, and Mr. Opana carried a duffel bag. They crammed it all in the trunk of Mr. Opana’s old Cadillac.
Then there was the problem of who would drive. Mr. Opana had driven to the airport, but he said his knees hurt very badly. Damien offered to drive, having gotten his license recently, and that was the end of that.
When they got back to Mr. Opana’s house, there was the problem of where Lauren would sleep. Obviously the issue wasn’t lack of room, it was more how to choose which room. She ended up choosing the Rose Room, which was the third floor’s largest room. It was mostly pink with an attached yellow bathroom. It was on the west side of the house, while Damien’s room was on the east side of the third floor. Mr. Opana’s room was the master bedroom on the second floor.
As Lauren busied herself in her room with unpacking, Mr. Opana and Damien convened in the kitchen to discuss.
“She seems normal enough. Not mysterious,” said Damien.
“Yes,” agreed Mr. Opana. “But I still sense something wrong with this picture. There is a reason why Lauren is here, and I am sure the reason is not a wildfire.”
“Uhh, Mr. Opana?” came a voice from the bottom of the stairs. It was Lauren. “Okay, so not that I like school or anything, but don’t I have to, like, register for my classes soon? My dad said to talk to you about that soon, so I, like, wouldn’t forget.”
“Yes, Lauren,” Mr. Opana smiled at his great-niece. “You and Damien are registering for school together three days from now. I was actually going to bring that up at supper.” He looked at Damien. “Speaking of supper, soup sounds nice tonight…”
“I’ll get right on that,” Damien promised, heading for the pantry. Lauren watched him go.
“Woah,” she said. “Does he, like, always cook supper?” Mr. Opana’s smile grew even wider.
“Yes. And breakfast and lunch. Damien was originally taken on as my chef.”
“Woah. That’s awesome.” There was an awkward silence.
“So…” said Lauren. “What can you tell me about the local high school?”
“Astoria High School is relatively large, and it is in biking distance from here, which I am sure you and Damien will do in fair weather.”
“But I don’t have a bike,” Lauren interrupted.
“That’s all right. I have an old tandem bicycle in the garage somewhere… anyway, it’s a good school, and I am sure you’ll have a pleasant year there. And I am sure you and Damien will be the best of friends.”
Lauren sighed. “Yeah.”
Mr. Opana had never been married; never had any children of his own. The closest he had gotten to a family was Damien. The boy was becoming more and more like a son to Mr. Opana each day. But as far as a daughter went, Mr. Opana had no experience whatsoever. He never knew what to say to Lauren, usually improvising something. He made a mental note to discuss this with Damien later.
“So,” said Mr. Opana. “Did you unpack successfully?” Lauren nodded.
“Yup,” she said. That was it.
“Do you think your room is suitable?”
“Yup. It’s rad.”
Rad?? Mr. Opana thought. What sort of words do kids these days use? He shrugged it off, hoping that “rad” was a good thing.
“So, uhh, what do you all do for fun around here? Do you, like, go places? You know, like, regular teenage stuff?” Lauren asked.
“Oh,” Mr. Opana said, clearly taken aback. He honestly didn’t know how to answer this question. All his and Damien’s free time was spent training. Speaking of, just as he opened his mouth to admit he didn’t know, the boy walked in, carrying a tray of baked potatoes and a bowl of Caesar salad. He set the table as Mr. Opana asked him Lauren’s question.
“Damien?” Mr. Opana said.
“Yes?” Damien replied, looking up from the salad forks.
“What do young people such as yourself do for fun around here?”
Damien looked at the old man blankly. He blinked his long Spanish eyelashes four times and shrugged.
“I’ve been to the movie theater before with a few friends from school. It’s not bad.” He shrugged again and continued to set the table.
“Hmm,” Mr. Opana said thoughtfully. He raised his eyebrows at Damien and said, “Damien, I would like to see the soup you have prepared: if you would be so kind as to join me in the kitchen…” They went into the kitchen. Mr. Opana stood near the sink as Damien hopped up on the counter.
“Damien, I think while I call in to the KLC, you should take Lauren to a movie.”
“But, Mr. Opana, that would be–” Mr. Opana held up a wrinkly arthritic hand to silence the boy.
“You can talk to her about why she had to come here. Maybe you can get some information from her; see what she knows. You don’t have that awkward generation gap.”
“But I do have the language barrier,” Damien joked. Spanish was his first language, and Mr. Opana could speak it fluently, so they sometimes spoke Spanish around the house.
Mr. Opana smiled. “Yes, well, I think if we need to discuss something privately, that will definitely come in handy.”
“All right, well, I will gladly take Lauren to a movie tonight.” Mr. Opana nodded gratefully and they went back into the dining room, Damien carrying the pot of soup, to find Lauren sitting at the table listening to her iPod. Damien put the soup down and took a seat by her.
“Um, I’m going to go… take my… insulin…” mumbled Mr. Opana, who wasn’t diabetic. “Go ahead and start without me.” He shuffled out of the room. Damien turned to Lauren.
“So…” he said, desperately trying to think of something not lame to say. “What are you listening to?” Lauren turned off her iPod and wrapped up her headphones.
“Road Crew,” she said, putting her iPod in her pocket, “my favorite band.”
“Really?” Damien asked, surprised. “That’s one of my favorite bands also! Have you heard ‘Curtain Call’?”
“Yes!” Lauren replied. “That’s my favorite one!” There was a silence, but it wasn’t necessarily awkward.
“So, I was wondering…” Damien began. He stopped, not knowing how to continue. He had never learned now to ask someone to a movie in English. He closed his eyes and did his best to translate.
“Would you want to go with me to a movie?” he asked. Lauren’s pretty face slid into a smile.
“Yeah. I’d love to. What movie?”
“Umm… I don’t know. What’s out now?” Damien asked.
“Well, there was this one in Santa Clara that looked good. It was called ‘Something Normal’,” suggested Lauren.
“Oh, I think I have heard of that,” Damien said, nodding. “I’ll check on the theater’s website.”
“After supper?” asked Lauren. Now Damien smiled.
“After supper,” he promised.
“So,” Paul Taal said. “What can I do for you, Opana?” Mr. Opana sighed and leaned back in his chair.
“Could you please set out a search for Patrick and Allyson Brady? They have a daughter named Lauren. There is something suspicious going on with them; I am sure of it.”
“All right Opana, I’ll do it just for you. After all, you are my best man in the field. And I’m sure this Damien kid of yours will measure up,” said Mr. Taal in an accusatory tone. Mr. Opana was pleased.
“I assure you, he will,” Mr. Opana promised. He knew Damien was becoming one of the best. The boy was as physically fit as would ever be necessary, and he could be more persuasive than Mr. Opana at times. Hopefully he was using his persuasive powers on Lauren at that very moment…
… which of course Damien was. He had bought Lauren a soda and found them a good seat. They still had five minutes for the previews to start, so he decided to try and get something out of her.
“So,” he said, “it must be really hard for you to just pack up and leave.”
“Oh. Yeah,” Lauren said, fiddling with her sweater in her lap. “Luckily the fire didn’t spread too quickly. They stopped it before it got most of our house.”
“Well, that’s good,” Damien said. Lauren nodded.
“But it destroyed my dad’s home office, so he and my mom are really stressed about all our finanKLCl plans and insurance and stuff. Plus these guys who are from my dad’s work are calling a lot asking him for money.”
“Why do they need money?” asked Damien subtly. Lauren shrugged.
“I don’t know. Why does anyone need money?” Damien shrugged now. “I think,” Lauren continued, “that maybe he had borrowed some from them. Which wouldn’t make sense; I mean, we have money.”
“Mmhmm…” Damien encouraged. Lauren shrugged. Unfortunately, the previews started just then, so he let the subject drop. For now.
Something Normal was actually quite a good movie. It was about a regular teenage guy who made himself a superhero in his sophomore year. The movie was funny, exciting, and dramatic. Lauren also seemed to enjoy it. After the credits had stopped rolling, they left the theater. As they were walking into the bright sunset, a group of Damien’s friends pounced on him from behind.
“Dude!” one exclaimed.
“What are you doing here?” asked another.
“He’s on a date guys!”
“With that girl?”
“Yeah, with that girl!”
“Who is that girl?”
“Yeah, Damien, man, who is this girl?” one of his friends asked, indicating Lauren of course. Damien looked at all of them and blinked a few times.
“Hey guys!” He said. “Uhh, yeah, this is Lauren. She’s Mr. Opana’s great-grandniece from California. I just thought I’d welcome her to Astoria by going to a movie.” All of his friends started talking at once, some to each other, some to Damien, and some to Lauren.
“Sure, man,” someone said to Damien.
“Dude,” one said to another, “so she like lives with him?”
“Since you’re not going out with Damien, can I have your number?” one asked Lauren. She shook her head and giggled. Damien turned to Lauren.
“Yeah, we could go,” he suggested. Lauren smiled and shrugged.
“Okay,” she said. Damien said goodbye to his friends and they headed out into the parking lot. They got in Mr. Opana’s old Cadillac and drove back to the house.
They found the old man playing tennis on his Wii. He played with surprising agility for such an old man. By the way he moved and anticipated the ball, Damien could see how once upon a time Mr. Opana could have been a great spy.
Mr. Opana did not stop playing, but he began to speak to the teenagers. “Ah, Damien, Lauren: sit down. There is something we need to discuss. Damien indicated the couch and he and Lauren sat, waiting expectantly for Mr. Opana to speak.
Suddenly, Mr. Opana fell hard on his bad knee. Lauren and Damien heard a horrible cracking noise, and the old man cried out in pain, falling to the floor. Damien rushed to his side. Neither the boy nor the old man was breathing. Damien was holding his breath. Lauren ran to call an ambulance. Damien rolled Mr. Opana over on his back. There wasn’t much more he could do. Minutes felt like hours, but the ambulance came and some EMTs put Mr. Opana on a stretcher. Damien wanted to go with him to the hospital, but they wouldn’t allow a minor without parental consent to come along. Lauren comforted Damien as they went back into the house to wait.