A life without Mirabelle Bravo was one she could get used to. It had been eight long days since they’d last seen any sign of her, eight days since both their golden girls had been shot. When Solana was supposed to be relaxing the next day Elvira heard her shouting in her room, and she and Candy both ran in to find her animated towards her television.
“She survived!” Solana yelled in response to their confusion, in a fury and a binding of sheets and bandages. “How do you survive a freaking harpooning?”
The reporter on screen was standing in front of a familiar hospital in South Beach, informing his viewers that a gang had broken one of their own out of police custody the previous night. Behind him, the officer that had watched over them looked extremely peeved, and a kind-faced doctor at his side didn’t seem that beat up about it.
“I know you’re mad, but I’m actually really impressed.” Elvira said, and Candy burst into laughter.
“Har har.” Solana threw a pillow one-handed and completely missed. “Fuck, I am too. That’s why I picked them as our big target, though. They’re worthy of our ire.”
She flopped back down onto her bed and groaned at the pain that no doubt rocked her shoulder. Elvira could tell already this resting thing wasn’t going to be very successful – though Solana had slept when they got her home and through the morning, she’d complained about lazing around as soon as she woke up and had a ten minute argument with Candy over a temporary phone confiscation.
“It’s just so you relax awhile. Ya know, that thing other people do sometimes.” She’d said calmly over whining protests. She had shown up the next morning looking well rested and peaceful, far better than any of them had been the night before. Sleep had done her well, because she brought Elvira a late breakfast and coffee and Solana a smoothie and tidied up an admittedly already neat apartment with a little smile on her face. “Jesus, when she wants to go on a run – and she will, that health freak – we’ll have to tie her down.”
Life went on like that. Solana had to recuperate, so she rested as much as she could stand and Elvira stayed at her place to watch out for her. If Candy noticed anything off about that in the time they spent together in her sunny little apartment she said nothing, which Elvira first thought to be politeness, or perhaps discomfort over the knowledge that her friends were banging. But then on the fourth morning she came in to find the pair snuggled in bed and walked right past them to open the curtains.
“Don’t let her get to you, Solana.” Candy had said, her nose practically touching her phone. “We don’t need two vampires on this team.”
She was definitely more distracted than ever: when Solana finally got her phone back and was reporting the goings-on of the city Candy was absorbed in her own, even for the juicy bits that Elvira couldn’t pretend to just casually listen in on.
“Candy, did you hear that?” Solana demanded as Elvira felt her brows raise. “Mirabelle hasn’t been seen at any of her damaged murals!”
“Hm? Yeah, totally.” She said, her fingers a rapid blur on her screen. When she realized both her friends were staring at her she clearly had a mental stumble. “Uh. I’m texting my mom. Trying to get on better terms.”
Which would have explained all the distraction as of late if it hadn’t felt like a lie. Solana swallowed it and moved on, seemingly for the sake of working on their next steps, but Elvira didn’t buy it for a second. For her friend (with benefits) she said nothing, but gave Candy a cool look that she didn’t seem to get. In fairness, she gave a lot of cool looks and their meanings were difficult to interpret from behind her hair. But when she and Solana were left alone together that evening she couldn’t help but question it.
“It’s like she’s not even here. She had to charge her phone twice, she was using it so much.” She called from the couch. Solana clattered around some plates in the kitchen, and Elvira rolled her eyes. “You can eat take out from the container, y’know.”
“Or I could use a plate. Like I’m not an animal.” Solana emerged with two plates and two forks and forced Elvira to take one of each. “Or like I’m a fully grown adult.”
“Hmm, daily naps? Babysitters? I’m not so sure you’re the adult here.” Elvira teased, and Solana fell silent. So far she’d been pretty strong and had barely revealed how rattled that day on the beach had left her, though Elvira could see it had been a significant degree. She was just terrible with emotions and wasn’t sure how to bring it up without tripping over her words. “You’ll – you uh, you’ll bounce back, Solana. You’re good at that. Like – you’re strong, I mean.”
Solana nodded appreciatively, but neither looked the other in the eye. She dumped some Spanish rice onto Elvira’s plate and she snuck a fried plantain with her fingers.
“Pendejo.” Solana attempted to slap her hand away and missed, which earned her a smug look that Elvira was personally very pleased with. “She’s allowed to talk to her mom. Maybe it’s a good thing, I don’t know.”
“You actually buy that? I don’t know who she’s texting, but she’s in too good a mood for it to be her mom.” Elvira ignored Solana’s critical look in favor of taking some ropa vieja bare-handed. “That’s not just hers by the way, that’s the industry standard.”
“Cállate.” She succeeded in slapping her hand that time. Elvira concealed a grin. “If she’s in a good mood what are you complaining about? Stop making trouble.”
“We’ve already had this conversation, except you were the one convincing me. She’s doing her job and doing it well, right? Shit, I still haven’t thanked her for saving my life, I probably look as rude as you.” She said, and Elvira’s breath caught. Solana had actually thanked them both several times as she wavered in and out of consciousness in the emergency room, between all the sweating and swearing and crying. Elvira wasn’t about to remind her of that, so she only swallowed and poked at her food.
“Okay. But as soon as she stops doing her job well we’re gonna come down on her. It’s been too long since I’ve put on my ‘too cool for this but also very disappointed in you’ face.” She leaned back, tilted her head, rose her hand as though holding a drink and looked down her nose.
“You’re a fucking idiot.”
“We were full on spooning, Solana. I had my lips on your neck.” Solana blushed and Elvira felt a burst of pride in her chest. “And she walked right past us to move a curtain.”
“So we got lucky.” Solana said, and Elvira opened her mouth pointedly. “Don’t.”
“Y’know, I drove you to the hospital. Did you throw yourself at my feet and thank me?” Elvira asked, and Solana snorted. “Did you dedicate your life to me? Did you liken me to a god in my mercy? I’m waiting, Solana.”
Solana flicked some rice at her, and the conversation ended there. Whatever Candy’s problem was, Elvira just had to deal with it, despite the nagging feeling that something big and bad was right around the corner and Candy’s undivided attention was badly needed.
The next morning she returned and they all convened on Solana’s couch for a business meeting she was leading: she looked confident, back in regular clothes instead of PJs with her hair not so greasy now that she’d managed a shower on her own. Much to Solana’s chagrin her usual sports bra and leggings combo had to be swapped out for a tee and sweatpants because of her limited motions and the strap digging into her shoulder, but Elvira still assured her behind closed doors that it was an improvement. She didn’t want to admit how desperate she was to see Solana returned to her old self, lest she go pink at the very thought, but when she glanced Candy’s way she was only making a face and avoiding the couch.
“I can tell you ate here last night, El.” She pointed to some dried up rice on the cushions and floor surrounding. “You’re such a slob sometimes, ya know that?”
“Not my apartment.” She sat next to the rice and gave Solana a look, who instantly put on a pair of puppy-dog eyes and grabbed pathetically at her arm.
“I can’t clean it.” She pouted. “My shoulder.”
“Vete a la mierda.”
“Oh my god, can you guys stop arguing for two seconds?” Candy rolled her eyes and pulled her phone from her shorts. “I swear, it might even be getting worse lately. If that’s even possible.”
“Anyway.” Solana lengthened out the word rather obviously and Elvira giggled. “We’re here to actually get a game plan. I’ve gathered up all the intel I can and from what I can tell, Mirabelle’s eschewing her work while the group’s caring for Drew. I imagine she’s in a pretty bad state so they’re really gonna let their criminal duties slip.”
“Yeah, if we’ve been cooped up for five days now for two gunshots they’ll probably be hidden away a lot longer.” Elvira reasoned, and Solana nodded. “So you’re planning something based on that.”
“I’m planning on going to them. Digging up more info, maybe finding a warehouse or a contact or something. Kick ‘em while they’re down, don’t let them forget that technically we won that beach fight.”
“That’s a big technically.” Elvira said flatly, and Candy looked up from her phone.
“No I don’t think we should do that.” She said, and Solana gave her a questioning look. “Something tells me their radio silence isn’t just for Drew. I think they’re gearing up for revenge.”
“They’ve been gearing up for revenge.” Elvira pointed out. “Always between gun-running and people-smuggling and what have you. They’ve never E-shooed their work before.”
“Eschewed, El, Jesus–”
“Exactly! Because this time it’s personal.” Candy said firmly, despite Elvira’s snort. She gave Solana an important look, not quite pleading but close. “Trust me on this. I think we should get ready to defend ourselves and then hole up.”
“Hiding away, no longer being a nuisance, that would give them a huge advantage.” Solana said, but was softened by Candy’s gaze. “But if you really feel this in your gut we’ll stockpile our weapons and cool it for a few more days.”
“I’m not so sure about this.” Elvira said honestly. She liked not having to deal with Mirabelle for a change – it was practically a vacation – but not going in for the kill while they had the chance seemed like a mistake, and the last move any of them would make. It seemed unlike Candy to suggest that, too: like even if she sensed danger she’d normally be the type to charge headfirst into it. She was always a tough girl, but lately . . . Elvira couldn’t quite say what exactly had changed. But definitely there was a catalyst she and Solana had missed.
“If we start seeing activity we’ll monitor carefully and get back out there if need be.” Solana assured her. “But for now we’re down a girl and they’re not doing anything anyway. We’re safe for a moment, let’s appreciate that much.”
That day was spent figuring out what weaponry they had and where, when they should collect it, and how deeply they should go into hiding. Solana was fine with staying in their apartments, and though Candy seemed nervous about that she admitted it was paranoid to completely bury themselves away in a safe-house. It felt so cowardly to Elvira, so out of left field, but if Solana felt the same she didn’t show it and chose instead to treat it as strategy. Candy left just after dinner – a bunch of salads ordered from one of those hip vegan places Solana, for whatever reason, enjoyed – to grab some guns they’d been keeping at their warehouse with a promise she’d return and distribute them tomorrow.
“That is kinda our thing.” Elvira had muttered as she picked at her salad. Her stomach was grumbling when Solana was getting ready for bed, and though she hadn’t left the apartment in the six long days since the beach incident she had no desire to run and get food now, even with the lack of caffeine and junk food in her system. When Solana stepped fresh-faced out of her bathroom Elvira was already curled up in her bed.
“El, you should really try this facial scrub. Surely after years of splashing water and rubbing, not patting, your skin could use a refresh.” Solana offered, and Elvira stuck out her tongue. “I’m going to wear you down eventually.”
“Wear me down into becoming a prep.” She shot back, and was trying to shoehorn in a My Immortal joke when Solana started changing into her pajamas. “Uh. Need help?”
“No, you can just stare.” She replied with a dastardly grin. Elvira couldn’t help her pride as Solana donned a fresh pair of sweats and a clean tee and climbed into bed. When she turned off the lights and slid down into her covers Elvira caught her staring at the ceiling and resisted a sigh. She sensed they were about to talk about feelings, disgusting as that may be, but she persevered for Solana’s sake.
“Are you scared?” She asked, and Solana stayed silent. “There’s no need to be. We’re gonna take Mirabelle down, we’re gonna make sure you’re never hurt again.”
“Mirabelle doesn’t scare me.” Solana said quietly. Something about the darkness made her so small.
“We don’t have to go along with what Candy says. Whatever’s up with her–” Elvira paused and shook her head. “You don’t have to shut yourself away. You’re strong. You’re fierce. I know you are.”
“Whatever’s up with her is something we haven’t figured out.” Solana said slowly. Elvira peered at her with uncertainty. “Maybe because we’re too wrapped up in each other.”
Okay, admittedly, that made sense. Enough sense to hit Elvira like a brick. She was slightly obsessed with her thing with Solana, especially after she’d been shot. Because they were friends and friends are supposed to worry about each other and take care of the other when they’re hurt, and also because she watched her bleed out in a back seat she was just realizing she’d never cleaned and it was kind of the most horrific experience of her life. Solana wasn’t ever meant to be so vulnerable, she was the strong one, she was named after the sun for Christ’s sakes and Elvira genuinely thought that was almost as cool as being named after the Mistress Of The Dark.
“Mirabelle doesn’t scare me.” She repeated. “I was thinking of you that day.”
“What?” Elvira’s breath hitched in her throat, and when she turned to face Solana she could see the discomfort clear on her face as she kept her eyes on the ceiling. “When you–”
“When I got shot and bled to death, yeah.” She said softly. “My last moments on Earth and I was thinking of you.”
Elvira lay in silence for a moment. She couldn’t quite decipher the meaning in Solana’s tone, but her actions all week felt like a clear sign that this quasi-relationship thing was going to continue, and if this was how they were both feeling it was threatening to drop the quasi. So finally she hooked an arm around Solana and curled up against her side.
“Not quite your last.” She finally said, and Solana’s laugh was mostly relief. “Is this why we’re taking a little criminal break? You need to figure some stuff out?”
“I guess. I don’t think I need to figure anything out. I think I’m just in shock.” She allowed herself a little grin that Elvira was quick to match. “We might like, actually for real start dating.”
“Unfortunately.” Elvira said, and was elbowed in the gut for it. “It’s a big change. We should probably tell Candy at some point, too.”
“Yeah, let’s announce that and then get stuck together for a few weeks.” Solana snorted and turned onto her side to face Elvira. When she went in to kiss her forehead she got a mouthful of hair. “Blech. We’ll have to carry on in our secrecy for just a little bit. It’ll be an adjustment period.”
“I’m fine with that. I just don’t want you to make bad tactical decisions because of me.” She said, and Solana brushed back her hair to lay on a more successful smooch.
“I’ve only made one bad decision in my life.” She gave Elvira a pointed look that should’ve earned her a return elbow, but Elvira felt no urge to give it. “Again, stop making problems. Time to sleep.”
“Fine.” Elvira said, and leaned her forehead against Solana’s. She was warm and steady as almost always, and despite any misgivings Elvira couldn’t help the implicit trust she had for her. “Y’know, I was nocturnal before you came into my life.”
Solana beamed at her for two days straight. While Candy was giving them weapons, while they were all hanging out watching movies together, while she was reading them all the news and drama off her phone (‘Florida Man Hoards Snakes In Yacht,’ one run-of-the-mill headline read, plus some excitement over local drag performances and Teonnie Douglas going back to purple). She beamed at her on the eighth day when Candy admitted to getting tired of Solana’s place and suggested they hang out at hers for a few days for a change of scenery. She even beamed when they all had to hop in Elvira’s car and ignore a smell of cleaner and a faded, rusty brown stain that wasn’t going anywhere. Elvira gave Candy a grateful look for the effort, but with her face embedded into her phone she didn’t see it.
Candy rented a cute little house in Little Haiti, not far north of Solana’s place. The ride over was quick, the day was cool and sunny, and Elvira had zero worries when she pulled into the driveway and looked up to a typical salmon-colored bungalow with Spanish tiles on the roof. She and Solana followed Candy to her front door, both quietly contemplating what they were going to start bickering about when Candy swung the door open and heard a click.
“What was–” Elvira began, but Candy dove to the floor so quickly she thought she was hurt for a moment. But she rose quickly with something in her hand – a near-invisible strand of fishing line with the smallest hook at the end of it. She turned and looked at the pair solemnly, her lips a thin line, and beckoned them forward. Elvira felt Solana clasp her arm as they shuffled nearer, just enough to peer into her living room. In light filtered by curtains they could just see the wiring circle the room, and along the white walls in eight foot increments were small devices with a little light shining from each. Elvira knew in an instant the whole house was rigged to blow, and pulled Solana back. Candy calmly pulled the door halfway closed, hooked the line, and shut it completely. When she stood Elvira thought she might faint.
“Back to the car.” She whispered, and they turned and walked rigidly back. When they all got in Elvira was unsure of where to go.
“They could still be here. Watching us.” Solana said quietly. In the tense, suddenly too warm space of the car it was practically a shout.
“Likely. They had to do it when I left this morning.” Candy whispered, but no one was fool enough to turn their heads and look.
“We can’t go home.” Elvira said, and met eyes with Solana. Their breathing was shallow, but somehow controlled. They were scared, but Elvira felt a sudden burst of confidence. Maybe not for a fight, but enough to get them out of there. Solana must have felt the same and nodded to her.
“Drive through the area, they’ll look out of place. If we can spot them we can shake them.” Solana finally said. “Candy, keep an eye out, you know the place best.”
Candy nodded and Elvira put the key to the ignition, but paused a moment.
“There’s no way they had time for an ignition bomb when we were walking up to the house, right?” She asked with a shaky laugh. Surely they thought the trio would walk right into the house and blow themselves up, but Inez was said to be a tricky one and could’ve planned ahead. Solana held her breath, Candy looked blank, and Elvira turned the key in the ignition.
The car sputtered to life as it always did and Elvira felt the tension ebb from her shoulders as she threw it into reverse and pulled out quickly. She weaved up and down residential streets for awhile until they reached a main street and drove past local businesses that arose no suspicion; a barber shop, a deli, a little cafe. Candy looked around as nonchalantly as she could, but spotted nothing. There was no time for any of them to let their guard down before they all heard a screech of tires and saw a familiar yellow blur. Elvira slammed the brakes just in time to avoid smashing into the side of Solana’s former ride.
“Shit, shit, shit.” She threw the car into reverse but didn’t move a foot before a shot fired through the back of her windshield and down into the console, so close to Solana it ruffled her hair and caused her to shriek. She hit the brakes and looked up just in time for Drew to get out of the passenger’s seat, pale and a little gaunt but with a massive pistol in hand, the same she used to shoot Solana. Elvira gave her a cautious look, and saw the fear and confusion clear on her face, and when she looked back Mirabelle stepped out and gave them a fiery look of superiority.
“Good morning, girls.” She said, the rage in her tone already celebratory, like she knew she’d already won. “And goodbye.”