Solana was suffering the most intense case of deja vu she and very likely anyone else on Earth had ever experienced. It was a different hospital, of course, but there was only so much variation in thin paper gowns and off-white linoleum tiles, and this time it was Candy in the wheelchair as she and Elvira zipped past nurses and security guards and hoped no one would ask questions. And – how could she forget, what with the perennial joy it gave her – this time around there was no rusted old car to jump into. Granted, that meant they had to wait at the bus stop in front of the hospital, which was a bit nerve-wracking, but they didn’t spot sirens until the bus pulled away and they got off scot-free.
Candy was looking alright, all things considered. There was a massive cast on her leg that had to stay for awhile because her tibia had been badly broken, and she was still a mess of sweat and blood, but physically she was alright. She wasn’t even that high, either, even though the doctors wanted to put her under to remove the bullet. None of them felt safe enough to wait around for that, so she asked for a local anesthetic and had it pulled out right in front of them. Solana turned away, tucked her chin into her chest and squeezed her eyes closed, but she could still hear Elvira going “Ew ew ew cool ew” the whole time. Then she was given some pain relievers and only took the minimum dose, so she was definitely foggy, but still had her bearings: Solana knew she wasn’t the type to let her motor functions slip, not when there was always an opportunity to throw a punch.
But she didn’t think Candy was in a punchy mood. She used to be, all the time in fact, but lately she was quiet and soft and kind-eyed and now they knew why. Which, wow, was too much to process sitting in a bus or any sort of public transportation. Candy was, at that moment, very obviously pining. She split her time between checking her phone and staring out the bus window so forlornly it was like an old Kelly Clarkson song was playing. Solana and Elvira kept exchanging looks like ‘what the hell is going on’ and ‘what do we even do now’ and ‘I can’t believe you had two flasks of Nesquik on you you freak.’ There was a lot going on, but they elected to deal with it once they got back to Solana’s apartment, though privately her head was spinning at this weird new world they were living in where Candy had a lofty girlfriend and Mirabelle Bravo was instructing them to escape hospitals. The Mirabelle Bravo who tried to ambush and murder all three of them an hour earlier. She felt like a second cousin caught in a conversation with the world’s most formidable mother-in-law.
After what felt like a tremendously long ride they hopped and wheeled off at the corner of Solana’s apartment complex. It had been dark for awhile and was finally starting to cool down, but with all the bugs out they moved inside to the lobby quickly. When Elvira waved her arms and called it hospice she got one nervous grin and one flummoxed, uneven stare and ushered them into the elevator without another word. They went up in silence, and Solana opened the door, dropped her keys in the inspirational-quote-catchall (Elvira scoffed but very wisely made no comment) and the rest followed into the living room.
“You should take the bed.” Solana said in a tone that left no room for argument. “Elvira and I will take the chair and the couch – call couch.”
“Damnit.” Elvira walked over to the kitchen and stared in the fridge a moment until she returned with a bowl of strawberries and set them on the coffee table. As soon as Solana saw them she realized she was starved, though she was suspicious of Elvira setting out something that’s vitamins weren’t added artificially. Was she hoping a family meal would make for a more civil conversation? Candy took one, looked at her phone, sighed, and took a quick moment to pine once more before she addressed the girls.
“So.” Candy began. “Uh, so.”
“I’m sitting down.” Elvira said again, and sat. Solana could only plop down on the couch next to her.
“So.” Candy said again. “How pissed are we?”
“I’ll say a solid eight out of ten.” Solana said, because this was a huge secret to be kept and one that put their lives at risk, so yeah, she was mad. And because she was their unofficial babysitter she was pretty pissed that she found one of her kids running with scissors, putting everyone else in literal stabbing range. Everyone else being herself (and she could handle herself, but ya know, she got shot last week) and Elvira, whose unnecessary endangerment caused her blood to boil. “You could have gotten all of us killed, asshole. You played with our lives to hit on some girl!”
“Who by all accounts is some prissy little princess, which I think probably fueled your weirdo desires.” Elvira said, and Candy blushed. “Wow! Didn’t think I was that on the mark.”
“Mirabelle’s gang is some serious shit, Candy. Not to be trifled with outside carefully planned and staged trifling, which is what we’ve been doing for half a year thanks to my currently undermined work.” Solana said. She was mad about that all falling apart, too, given how much effort had gone into months of ankle-biting; threatening people, buying information, networking, and buying weaponry was a lot to do. But still the fact that this affair was so, so dangerous was freaking her out. “You could have killed us! You could have killed Elvira!”
“I know, I know. But in my defense–” Candy went all moon-eyed again, and Elvira rolled her eyes. “–she’s so pretty. And so sweet. And such a girl.”
“And her best friend bombed your house. And her sister tried to kill Solana.” Elvira said flatly.
“They’re not sisters. But that sucks. We have to work on that.” Candy frowned, but then the moon-eyes took over again and Solana thought Elvira was rubbing off on her because she held back a gag. “But she’s so smart. And so thoughtful. And she understands the memes I send her and watches the dumb Youtube videos and replies with cat pictures and–”
“Oh my god you’re getting soft.” Elvira groaned. “We should have figured out what this was ages ago. Idiots! Blind idiots!”
It was more like distracted idiots, but Solana had no plan on bringing that up right now. “Okay, but the danger factor being off the charts was not missed on you, right?”
“No. I understand and I’m sorry. It sucks being caught in a turf war when you like someone.” Candy said, and though her apology was marred with moon-eyes Solana felt it was genuine. Elvira smirked beside her, but that seemed to be more for the word ‘turf’ than anything else. “I really like her. She’s all softness and affection and she just expects the best and wants it for everyone, including me, including you guys. And neither of us knows how to stop things, because Mirabelle hates all of us and you’ve worked so hard and neither of you can stop without the other gobbling you up alive and I – I don’t want it to be like this. But it’s out of our hands.”
Damnit, now she felt sympathetic. And from the poorly feigned indifference on Elvira’s face it was clear she did too. Her anger reduced to a simmer in a matter of seconds, and she decided as group babysitter she had to be the bigger person. This just wasn’t worth fighting about.
“Fine. Still mad, but fine.” She said, and Candy was so surprised she missed the little look of affection Elvira threw Solana’s way. “Like, I’m not blessing the relationship now, but we have bigger fish to fry.”
“Yeah. Because of your secret tryst we have to steal a cruise ship.” Elvira said, and the pair gave her a flat look. “Listen. She challenged us regardless.”
“So you said a fucking cruise – never mind.” Solana pinched the bridge of her nose. “It’s true, she did challenge us because of your dalliance, so now we have to figure out how to do this or we’ll be kicked out of our home town and I don’t even know where to go from there.”
“Back to Mexico? Or we can visit your homeland, do some storm cleanup.” Elvira suggested, but Solana had never been to either places and the thought of leaving Miami sickened her.
“Las Vegas is cleared out.” Candy suggested grimly. “Or if you want to take on another big baddie like Mirabelle you can go to–”
“We’re not going anywhere.” Solana said firmly. “We’re winning this competition, you get your girlfriend and we get Mirabelle’s empire.”
“That’s the spirit.” Elvira cheered. “I suggest we celebrate this momentous occasion with some take-out. Some salty, fatty, greasy take-out.”
“As long as there’s whole grain tortillas I’m game.” Solana said, and Elvira raced to the kitchen where Solana kept a stack of menus. “Candy, are you okay to do some heist planning, or do you need some rest?”
“Yeah, but – I just–” Candy squirmed and looked at her shoes. Solana sensed some emotional talk coming and was grateful Elvira hadn’t rubbed off on her too much – she leaned forward and gave an encouraging nod instead of sticking out her tongue or making a bawdy comment. “Solana, you know you can tell me anything.”
Uh oh. Solana brushed some errant sawdust off the sweatpants she was getting sick of to keep from looking Candy in the eye. It did have to come out at some point, but she was hoping it could wait until this whole mess was over and she and Elvira could sit down and make a game plan.
“And I just wanna say that you don’t need to hide portions of yourself or act a way you don’t want to act for the sake of outward appearances.” She said genuinely. Elvira returned and hovered over the couch with a rare degree of uncertainty. “The way you’re going about things – you don’t need to. Being better doesn’t involve a whole charade of ‘being better.’ It’s something to work at, not something to perform.”
Solana was admittedly very moved, and had to draw in a tight breath as she nodded, her eyes still on her lap. Then she glanced to Elvira, who gave her as encouraging a look as she ever did in front of a fellow(?) human being. Solana knew now was the time for bravery, and looked back to an expectant Candy.
“Wow, Candy, thank you. So how did you know Elvira and I are fucking?”
“You’re WHAT!?” Candy screeched and fell out of her wheelchair. From the floor, again: “You’re WHAT NOW!?”
“Shit.” Solana said as Elvira cackled. “I thought – what–”
“Why would you tell me this way!? Why say it like that!?” Candy yelled as Elvira laughed even harder. “This is how I have to learn? I can’t. Te odio.”
“Well what the hell were you talking about?” Solana yelled defensively. Elvira rubbed her shoulder gently and Candy yelled again.
“But I guess I’m the liar, yeah, that’s cool.” She said, and Solana crossed her arms. “I mean yeah, Mirabelle’s liaison, it’s bad, but you two!? You two, who three days prior had a twenty-eight minute argument concerning pasteurized lime juice?”
“Vitamin C is very heat sensitive and degrades under HTST processing.” Solana repeated herself primly.
“Who cares about vitamin C when you want to put some lima on your burrito bowl?” Elvira retorted. “Who even keeps fresh fruit?”
“Normal people!” Solana protested. “I am not doing this again.”
“Well that was what she was talking about.” Elvira huffed. “Your insane dietary restrictions. Life ain’t a fitstagram post.”
“I only meant your lifestyle seems unnecessarily prohibitory and it doesn’t seem to be making you happy! But I guess you’re sourcing your joy from elsewhere.” Candy grumbled, realized what she said, and grumbled further. “No puedo creer esta mierda.”
“I enjoy eating healthy!” Solana said, and Elvira gave her a look. “But maybe I guess I’ll tolerate a churro with my usual order.”
“That’s the spirit.” Candy grinned and began to haul herself back up to the chair. “Elvira, why didn’t you say anything? You could’ve kept your weird awful relationship a secret indefinitely.”
“Thought it would be funny.” She answered, and pulled out her phone to order takeout. They ordered and ate in relative ease, though everyone was groaning about everyone else’s relationships, asking questions and then demanding not to hear answers. Afterwards Candy retired to the couch (“What has happened in that bed? I cannot be in that bed.”) and Elvira and Solana curled up in her room to finally end the longest, weirdest day of her life.
Come morning Solana made a big batch of smoothies, finally donned in a mauve sports bra with leggings to match as her shoulder was past any tremendous pain. Still, as she threw last night’s uneaten strawberries in the blender she knew she wasn’t at the top of her game and Candy was one-legged as well, which would be a concern come cruising time. When Candy woke up on her own and Solana yelled Elvira awake they sat at the breakfast bar, half-conscious and ready to plan.
“We need an appropriate time frame to do this in.” Solana said as Elvira tried and failed to make her spoon stand in her bowl. “Too quick we fuck up tremendously, too long they’ve beaten us to it.”
“I guess like, a week and a half would be good.” Elvira mumbled through a large rat’s nest of hair. “I’d say a full fourteen days but they have better resources, more people, and Inez as an advantage.”
“So we’re gonna need departure schedules, a ship’s blueprints so we know our way around – it should be a small one, something we can easily man.” Candy said thoughtfully. “And we should do dock surveillance.”
“Which would be easier with a car.” Elvira mumbled again, this time with a dirty look thrown in Solana’s direction. Solana returned it smugly and Candy did some rapid texting. “Hey Romeo, don’t get distracted. You’re cool to do this, right?”
“Fuck yeah. I mean I feel bad for them, but it’s not murder, it’s just kicking them out.” Candy reasoned. “So let’s kick them out so I can get my girlfriend and you, Solana, can get your empire.”
“Good answer.” Solana said. “For today let’s just check out the docks, see if we can spot some sort of pattern, a rhythm to their work that’ll be key to sneaking in.”
“We’ll need to do that when the ship is as empty as possible, then I guess herd everyone to a lifeboat? Maybe after we lift anchor?” Candy thought, then glanced to her phone. “Elvira, Shay says to check your Venmo.”
“I dunno, I guess we’ll work out what’s most convenient when we pick a ship.” Elvira said as she pulled out her phone. Then: “Twenty three dollars? I asked for five hundred!”
“That is about what the car was worth.” Solana mused, and was rewarded another dry look. “Finish your smoothie bowls that I graciously didn’t garnish with chia seeds and let’s move.”
They had to steal a car, some nondescript sedan, and borrow a pair of crutches from a woman across the hall who Solana remembered had three little soccer players. This was all for the drive to Dodge Island, home of the Port of Miami where nearly every cruise ship in the city (that being a very high number) departed. The drive itself was a bitch and a half, not far but all crowded highways, lengthy bridges, confusing tolls and paid parking. Once they got to the actual port and found a parking spot, walked as close as they could to the central terminal and took a look around Solana noticed roughly a million more problems.
For one, the security was insanely tight, as would be expected, but she didn’t exactly know how to get around it: they leant some ‘entrepreneurs’ a helping hand at airports and cargo bays, but for the most part other people did the sneaking in and Solana did the doling out. This security was meant to protect civilians from terrorists, not keep out money launderers, which made it a whole different ballpark. And they wanted a smaller ship, which one would think involved less security – and it did! But smaller ships were at smaller terminals and had to pass larger terminals, larger ships, and more clearances to approach open water, and there was no other way to get through what with the bridge trapping anything but the little yachts and sailboats. It seemed physically impossible to steal some of the larger ships, but the small ones were certainly so.
“I don’t even know how we could get onto those ships.” Solana said after a few hours of walking around. They were at a bus stop now, pretending to read the schedule. The sun was blistering like it had forgot it was supposed to be spring, but the water was so near a breeze relieved them. Elvira seemed to be in a mood at being so close to seawater, likely reminded of their little beach incident, and Solana squeezed her hand every once in awhile. Candy responded with groans and complaints whenever her face wasn’t buried in her phone screen. “The obvious solution is to fake passports and tickets, which would be no problem, but then we’re going in the same time as all the customers.”
“We can’t exactly kidnap a thousand plus people.” Candy lifted her eyes from her phone in serious pining-mode. “Maybe we could disguise ourselves as people who work for the ship.”
“Maybe.” Elvira looked thoughtful. “But I would assume the least security would be down at that concrete embankment right on the water, and waitresses and stewardesses aren’t going down there. Three women amongst dudes driving trucks and hauling luggage are going to stick out like sore thumbs.”
“So what if we fake passports and tickets now and sneak up to see – well, I don’t know if we could catch crew members going in. Maybe we can disguise ourselves as security guards, just for research–” Solana said, then paused with a sigh. “You still with us, Cans?”
Candy tucked her phone away with an overabundance of despondency and gave her the most puppy-eyed look in all of human history. “Shay hasn’t really been texting me. We’ve both got so much work to do she thinks it best we stay focused.”
“Dude, take a note from her then and listen to the business being dealt.” Elvira said with an encouraging look to Solana, who swelled with pride. Candy only pouted. “My god, you know you used to be a badass, right?”
“What’s eating you?” Solana asked bluntly. “If it’s the whole ‘banishing your girlfriend’s family from their home town’ thing I’m gonna need you to compartmentalize that.”
“No, it’s – well, yeah, it’s that, but – don’t you kinda think that we’re being a little terrorist-y right now?” Candy asked, and Solana gaped. “We’re trying to get around the coast guard, the Miami-Dade police, the FBI–”
“To take a joy ride, not kill innocent people!” Elvira cut in. “Why are you so wimpy lately? Mirabelle’s gang is doing the same shit we are at this exact minute.”
“Yeah, but – I feel like we’re not good people.” She said, which was maybe the dumbest thing Solana had heard in all her twenty five years of life.
“No fucking shit, Candy, we’re criminals. Get your head out of your ass.” She snapped. “I thought that criminology degree was from your lack of understanding which side of the law you wanted to be on, not a product of you being a goody-two-shoes!”
“Oh, so you feel good throwing three women out of their homes? You enjoy blowing up murals innocent artists painted?” Candy asked, her tone short. Solana suddenly felt twenty degrees warmer in both her anger and embarrassment.
“Of course not, but that’s what we have to do! That’s how we get to the top!” She seethed, and Elvira put a shockingly gentle hand on her arm.
“You two need to calm down.” She said, and nodded her head to a distant security camera. Solana nodded stiffly, and Candy gathered up her crutches. “Let’s grab a late lunch and head home.”
They sat in traffic that made Solana want to bang her head on the steering wheel before they picked up some BBQ (Elvira really wanted to watch Solana eat ribs, enough to make Candy extremely uncomfortable) and ate on the way back (lots of cornbread, pulled pork sliders and much to Elvira’s chagrin, zero ribs). It was generally pretty miserable, even as Candy got an email from Inez and read it aloud.
“Hey Aaron Carter themed love interest – here’s the instructions on de-bombing your house. Don’t blow yourself up. Sorry for shooting you I guess.” Candy read aloud, and Elvira let out a sharp laugh. “P.S. Thanks for stealing Shay from us and ruining all of our shit, great job. P.P.S. Fuck you.”
“I like her a lot more now.” Elvira noted seriously. “Who’s Aaron Carter?”
“He covered the ‘I Want Candy’ song we’re legally not allowed to sing in front of nuestra dulce.” Solana said, and Elvira laughed again. “Am I dropping you off, then?”
“Please.” Candy said, then looked thoughtful. “What if – and this is a lot, I know, but what if we steal a small plane and just land right on top of the boat?”
“Does anyone here know how to fly a plane?” Solana asked, though she already knew the answer. “Right. Well, if we can learn a boat we can learn a plane because that does seem the quickest way to go.”
“We’ll just have to figure out when the ship is at its emptiest.” Elvira hummed to herself, and they fell into a thoughtful silence until they returned Candy to her home, still all pining and uncertainty. Solana’s eyes lingered on her in the rear-view for a long while before they pulled away.
“Do you think she’ll be okay?” She asked, and Elvira hummed like she knew they weren’t talking about the bomb in her living room. “She’s slipping. She doesn’t want to be a bad guy anymore.”
“I think she just doesn’t want to be this type of bad guy.” Elvira said softly, and Solana fidgeted. Again, she was caught in sympathy for her friend, but not in understanding. Elvira somehow read her mind. “I dunno, I think it’s the new girl having a negatively positive affect.”
“Well we’ve got crimes to commit, there’s no space for this and she knows it.” Solana said quietly. She was hot, tired, restless, and her life depended on stealing a cruise ship in the next few days. Maybe after all this was over, just to keep Candy from permanent misery, they could discuss lowering the general evil-ness of their daily lifestyle. Until then: “Let’s go to my place and do some planning. We’ve got shit to steal.”