The family likes to pretend that I was a normal kid when I first started all this. That she was a bad influence on me. You know what I say – fuck that! I made my own decisions, and own everything that comes with that. Sure, it led to being in a Principal’s office, or like right now, a police station. But I own what was done, because it was what I thought was worth doing. If you want to see that as me being led by a nefarious type, that’s your choice. I knew going on what I was doing, and know what is going to happen now. Doesn’t really matter, because for these last few months, I have felt more alive than I had in all my life.
Like most stories, it all started with a girl. She entered my life at the lunchroom in school that fateful rainy day. I wasn’t what you’d call a popular kid. Had always kept to myself and sat in whatever corner I could find. A pale little nerd who just wanted to eat this place’s slightly-underrated food in peace. That’s me. A throwback to an age gone by, when I would read comics or books. Never did like the modern age. With all the tech, we lost our soul. I look around the lunchroom, and I just see people glued to their phones. Phone zombies. So many phone zombies.
She came over, tray in hand, and looked down at me. Her black jacket, with the skull shirt. The streaks in her hair, so short and blonde, covered by a beanie. Everything about her was cool.
“Anyone sitting here?”
I shook my head. Words didn’t come to me. Like my tongue was flopping around, unable to do as bidden.
Parking herself, she looked down at what I was reading. “Prey, huh? Cool fucking book. Scares the hell out of me every tie I see it. Like, this could happen. A sentient creature that’s just a nanoswarm. Freaky.”
A smile came to my face. “For real. I love it. Makes me think – this is how we’re gonna fuck ourselves up, you know? We get new toys and we just have to play with them. But one day, it’s gonna come back to bite us in the ass.”
A wink from the girl. “That’s why we gotta live as much as we can, right? So that when the end comes, we won’t have any regrets.”
I blushed a bit. “I’ve never been big on doing stuff. More the type who stays in my room and reads. Bugs my mom to death. She says that I’m going to wasted away in there.”
That got another wink. “Stick with me, shorty. I’ll help with that.”
From that moment on, I knew that this was a person that I would grow to call a friend. When she called me shorty, she was right. Girl was at least four inches taller than me. Muscular, too. In addition to being short, I am scrawny and thin as a rail. Not for lack of eating. For real, I get hungry all the time. But I just don’t grow, or gain weight. It’s strange, and a little annoying. My big brother called me a squirrel. Douchebag. Still, it made it easy for me to disappear. Consolations, gotta get as many as you can. Life’s a bitch like that.
Over the next week, she would come to the table I was at and eat with me. Told me so much about her. I was always really quiet. Apparently, she was a skater. Loved it too. Told me about some of her epic wipe-outs and how she busted her nose on the concrete once. It was a great to listen to. Made me wish I had those kinds of guts. In addition to being short, I am a total klutz. Was almost laughable, sometimes. One afternoon, when school got out, she took me somewhere where I could try out her board and not be seen by anyone when I wiped out Call me a noob.. Whatever. I knew that I wouldn’t be good at it. At least, I thought I did. Don’t get me wrong, I did wipe out pretty bad, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. For a couple minutes, I was doing alright. The girl was impressed, but still gave me shit when I did fall on my ass, or my face. It was okay, though. I was able to laugh at it too. In all my life, I had never had an afternoon as fun as this, even with the scrapes.
When I got home, Mom was in shock. She couldn’t believe that I had actually done some physical stuff that resulted in me getting hurt. Big Bro was impressed. Said he was amazed I didn’t pass out at the sight of blood. Fucking asshole. That was a great day. Though, peroxide stings like a bitch. Just sayin’. In any case, I was so eager to spend time with her again. Alas, she was busy the next afternoon. I did my best to hide the disappointment. It was only natural. Skater girl had her skater friends. Short, awkward kid who was pale as a corpse couldn’t go far with that crowd. Home I went, and it was a little depressing. All I wanted to do was see her, and spend time with her. Was so strange. Like a silent need that hurts but felt good at the same time. I couldn’t quite tell what it was, but I never wanted it to stop.
That night, I was lying on my bed and listening to some old rock, when there was a knocking sound. It was coming from my window. Pulling down my headphones, I got up. Given that I keep my room like a batcave, I could see someone standing there. I opened it and saw her, that girl with her streaked and beautiful hair. She was looking at me, a smile on her face.
“Hey…” I whispered back, unable to wipe the smile off my face.
“Sorry for ditching you today. Forgive me?” There was such a sweet smile on her face. Made my feelings melt.
“Of course.” How could I not?
“Wanna come see something with me?”
A nervous feeling. “I don’t know, Baillie. I…it’s really late. My parents would freak the fuck out if I went troloping off.”
She made the most adorable pouty face. “Please? It’ll only take a minute. I want to show you something awesome. Please?”
The willpower that I had disintegrated in front of me, at the sight of this girl wanting me to go with her. I would have gone with her to Hell in that moment, if she had asked.
“Okay. Just let me get something warm to wear.” Nights had gotten a lot colder at this time of year.
“Pussy,” she whispered.
“Bitch.” We both smiled at each other, as I went back and got something warm to wear. The whole house was asleep, save for my brother. Getting my shoes wasn’t hard. He was glued to his game. After lacing up, I slipped out through my window. The two of us slid into the night.
Something else you should know about this girl is that she is older than me. Sometimes, when we were together, I felt like the tag-along younger sibling. Other times, I felt like i was seeing into her the way no one else had. It was a strange feeling. Yet here I was, with this older girl, taller and more fit than I. Felt like being a little kid, going to make mischief. Rather prophetic, that thought.
The school was almost eerie at night. The lights being off, since the janitors had gone home. We had night security, but I knew that guy. Nice enough, but he is not made for patrolling, and he doesn’t. Guy sits in the security office, laughing at bad sitcoms. Again, I don’t fault him. After all, this place is in a pretty good part of the city. Not much ever happens here, except around Homecoming or a home game. So the two of us sneaking in wasn’t hard.
In those dark hallways, we made our way toward the gym.
“What are we doing here, B?” I asked. My heart was pounding. This was so nuts!
“Trust me! This is gonna be awesome!” The giddiness of her voice, it was making me excited too. But is that right? Should I be this excited? It felt wrong, but so right at the same time. Once inside the gym, She threw off the backpack she had, opening it up. Inside were several aerosol cans filled with spray paint.
My eyes went wide. “Holy shit! Is that what I think it is?!”
She winked at me. “Oh yeah! It’s time to make art! I’ve been doing this all over town, but I’ve never done it here. Thought that I should share that with you. Yeah?” That smile that she had. It was so kind, yet devious. I wanted to know what was at the end of that smile. There was a part of me, growing every time I was with her, that wanted to see what was at the end of that smile. So here I was, staring at her paint cans, scared to death. It made me feel alive.
“Thank you, B.”
“Some come on! Let’s tag this place! Can’t look any worse than it already does.” She held out a can of black paint. Shaking, I took it. My grip tightened around it, and I was going to make sure that I did my part.
“Let’s do this!”
When we got back home, there was light on the horizon. We got back to my window, and both of us could only smile at each other. No words had to be said. The two of us shared something tonight. I knew that it was something she had shared with other people before, but still. This feeling, it was everything in the world, to me. As we stood there, right outside my window, all I could feel was some joyful emotion that was aching to escape. What was it? My eyes looked directly into hers. Those beautiful, green eyes. That’s when it happened. I reached up, pulling myself up on her shoulder. My other hand went to her face. In that moment, our lips touched. It was the most amazing moment of my life. We looked at each other, and both of us were holding back some amazing feeling that was so alien. At least, it was to me. The warmth, the touch, the longing for it to never end. That was the world, to me.
Finally, we pulled apart, and I leaned against the wall. No words were necessary here, either. We both knew what it was. And we both knew that here was not the end of it. This was only the beginning.
Saying that there was hell to pay at the school that day is an understatement. The Principal was furious. The night security guy was fired. I felt terrible about that. Baillie saw how hurt I was. We met up in our spot, on the roof of the school. I was sitting on the ground, my back against the stairwell exit. She came up beside me and sat down, putting her arm around my shoulder All I could do was lean into her. We sat there, holding one-another for what felt like an eternity. I wished it would never end.
The unpleasantness aside, our art project was the talk of the school. Everyone was so stoked. Already, pics of it were going viral. We turned the school’s mascot mural into a great work. It was a bear, that we decided to turn into a multi-colored panda that was getting shot. It was pretty damn cool. Anyone who was caught looking at the pics of it got their ass chewed out by the faculty, but I knew for a fact that they were looking at the pics too. It was so funny. Of course, they were already talking about security cameras going everywhere. Guess that we could only do this once. That’s what I thought, anyway, until B assured me that we could do this a ton of times. Seems that security cameras had never stopped here. We left no evidence, other than the mural we defamed.
However, word had spread in a certain community. Rumors of a skater girl and some unknown accomplice having gone in and done this dastardly deed. Whoever could they be? The skater crowd was getting harassed big-time. Didn’t matter. It was nothing that they weren’t used to, and these people are loyal as fuck. No one was talking. Administrators were after them so hard that it was almost frightening, but no one broke. It was a crazy day.
A couple days later, there was another knocking at my window. My heart jumped out of my chest as I ran to open it.
“Can I come in?” she asked. Like I was about to say no.
We sat on my bed and I noticed that she didn’t look too great.
“B, is everything alright?”
Shaking her head, she didn’t look up at me.
“There’s something I gotta tell ya, shorty. I gotta come clean, because there’s things that I have been keeping back, and it’s kinda killing me.”
The room was suddenly silent. I couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t think. What could it be? Was it about the kiss? Had I done something wrong?! I thought she was happy. She seemed happy. What was going on?
“Shorty…I’m seeing somebody. It’s been…weird, being around you. You just, make me feel so young.”
It never left me that she was a couple years older than me, in addition to being taller.
“It’s been so amazing, spending time together and just having fun. But then, when we got home from the tagging mission, and you kissed me, it was the most perfect moment I’ve ever had. But, I’m seeing somebody else, and I can’t do that to him. That’s not who I am. You know?” Her eyes were looking right at mine, but I wouldn’t meet them. My vision was obscured by a deep pain that was welling up and crushing my heart.
“So, what? You want me to leave you alone or something?” That came out meaner than I had intended, but I was angry. I had every right to be angry. She was abandoning me, right after we had found one-another. Just when everything felt so right, it falls apart. But then I reminded myself – we’re both kids. She’s on the cusp of adulthood, but I’m not. So, was all this just puppy love that went awry? Was I just crushing and wanting what couldn’t be? Tears formed and started leaking out. My teeth were grinding together as I tried to maintain composure. This all felt so cliche. A kid who gets a crush, then loses it. First heartbreak. How fucking pedestrian. I become an archetype, just like that.
She was looking to start crying too.
“I don’t want you to think that I regret my time with you, shorty. I don’t. Really. You’re not like anyone else I’ve ever met. But I need to step off for a while, you know? Get shit all figured out. It might be for some time. But this isn’t the end. I swear to God, when I do know where things stands, I’ll come and find you again. I promise.” Just like that, the girl got up, looked back at me, and left.
Just like a little kid, I just sat in my room the whole night and cried, as quietly as I could. Nobody else could know what was happening.
A month went by. I sat in the lunch hall, back at my corner table. I was alone, again. Naturally. She was with her skater friends. Saw the boy that she was talking about. He was cute. I’ll give her this much – she has good taste. I needed to find a new place to eat. But then I would have to pack a lunch. Too much work. I finished early and got up to leave. The bitter feeling was growing.
In my free time, I couldn’t help but want to get out. Something I didn’t mention – I had the backpack. Baillie had given it to me before she left. Told me that her stuff might get searched. So, I still had the pack, full of all that spray paint. Every time I got home, I was staring at it. I looked up a bunch of tagger signs online. There was some cool shit! Made me want to work on my skills. But I would need a disguise. An outfit in black that I could slip around in. Not the hardest thing. Procuring the ski mask was the hardest part. To do that without raising suspicion, it wasn’t easy. Thankfully, Big Brother doesn’t ask questions. Given how averse I have always been to causing trouble, he didn’t believe me when I told him that I was going to be using it to go tagging. Right now, with nothing to lose, I felt free to tell the truth about myself in a way I never had before. But I had to be careful. When I had assembled the attire, I knew that it was time. Time to go out and pursue my destiny. Had to start small. Go somewhere and tag something that nobody would give two shits about. Refine my skills.
There was a construction site that hadn’t had anything going in a LONG time that I chose. Already, some people had gotten here. I figured that I would be the next. What would be my tagger ID? Initials? Way too fucking obvious. Then it hit me. When I was little, Brother had a name for me, because of how rambunctious and full of energy I was. He called me Zippy. So, Zip. Zip was my code name. With hours of time to kill, I made the most of my supplies. Procuring more would be a bit trickier. Well, that’s what the Internet’s for. Gotta give modern technology this much – it makes being a mischief maker that much easier. Find out who sells stuff and doesn’t ask questions. Two hours were spent making designs. This new identity as Zip, I was already excited. Once my supplies were spent, I made a point to toss them in a dumpster of a big apartment complex. Easier for them to not get noticed. After all, who really cares about spray paint cans?
The next day, I felt like a fucking ninja! It was so cool. I just did something bad, and it was me who instigated it. Not Baillie, me! I didn’t need her to be a badass! I was my own person! Fuck that treacherous bitch! Fuck her and her fucking boyfriend! The next day, I procured more supplies. Turns out, I didn’t have to really look very far. I could go to Home Depot and buy the paint and nobody seemed to care. I got that. What does the underpaid cashier give a flying fudgesicle if a kid buys spray paint? If nothing else, I probably look a lot less gangsta than the typical kid who probably buys this stuff. I was just little an assuming kid out of school. Ninja!
Two nights later, I was out on the town again. Had to find another target to tag. That’s when I found it – an overpass! The walls of an overpass wasn’t terribly original, but this place was clean. At least, it had been this afternoon, when my bus passed by. Time for Zip to debut!
My tag was so cool. At least, I thought so. My best work, and I had been practicing quite a bit. Conservation of paint was critical. I knew that I had to be careful. If I used it all up and went back tomorrow, the cops wouldn’t have to look far. Probably best not to use the same place twice in a row to get paint. Can’t be too careful! Whenever I would see headlights approaching, I would use my small size to my advantage. There was a space between concrete sections where it was always shadow. The average person would find hiding there difficult, but I could disappear and never be noticed. But it only happened twice. Since Zip is a short name to tag, this didn’t take long. The longest part was the coloring. Oh well. I took a brief moment to admire my handiwork, and then took off for home. What a night! The exhilaration! This must be what B was talking about, when she said that she was living. Maybe I should take up skateboarding. I seemed to have at least a little talent for it. But, one step at a time.
The next day, as I got on the bus, when we passed by, everyone was looking. A couple kids took their phones out and got a pic. My work would be immortalized on the Interwebs! What a day. Though, I was totally exhausted. That was another reason to slow down my double-life. Zip has schoolwork to do.
As I ate, I didn’t even notice her. It was the first time, in over a month, where I was strong, and that was a good feeling. I heard some people talking about Zip, asking what it meant. It took all the self-control I had not to tell them that it was a name. But that would be a dead giveaway. The smile on my face grew and grew, as I looked down at my hands. They were still a little cold. It’s cold work, being a tagger.
Another month passed by, where I was getting more and more into my double-life as Zip. Tagged the side of a store and a school bus at the bus-barn. That last one was a little scary. They have one camera on the entrance, along with a security guard, but the fence to this place was not even covered by barb wire. Just a skip and a hop and I was over. Made sure not to tag my own bus. Maybe throw the cops off. I heard teachers talking about whoever this Zip person was. Every time I heard that, it put a small smile on my face. Worked so hard to hide it.
Life seemed so much better. I was always careful. Made sure to dump my evidence when it was depleted, but never in the same place twice, and never near where I committed the crimes. I wiped off every can of paint before using it, and after I was using it, I had gloves. Truth be told, I was probably getting WAY too into this, but I am ninja! Ninja leaves no trace. It was all a big game, to me.
It all came to a head one night, when I was out on the prowl, for a new target. That was another thing – I made sure to scout out my locations. Find out how often cops passed by. Find out if they had cameras. Take a cue or two from Omar Little and get to know my spot. Tonight, I was looking at a grocery store. My hardest target yet! They have security cameras all over the place. But there had to be a shadow spot. Somewhere that I could slip in, tag, and then slip out undetected. It wasn’t great so far. Cities have too damn many lights. This was no good. My better judgment took over and told me to walk from this.
I was on my way home, when I saw her standing there. She was watching me as I approached. There was a cold look on her face.
“Where were you?” she asked.
The bitterness swelled right back. “What do you care? Don’t you have a boyfriend to talk to or something?”
“That is not fair, shorty! I thought you’d get being loyal. I thought you’d get why I wouldn’t want to hurt someone unnecessarily. What is up with you? You’re dressed all in black. Playing ninja or something?”
Crossing my arms, I didn’t look at her. “Yeah, or something.”
She stepped closer. “What’s going on with you, shorty? For real, you can talk to me. I am still your friend. What are you into?”
Shrugging her off, I stepped toward my window. She saw the backpack. “See you’re making good use of this. What’s in here?”
“None of your fucking business, B! Go home! Go to that guy who you apparently could only kiss me once for! Get the fuck lost!”
In a flash, she grabbed it. I hadn’t been holding on. She grabbed the zipper and opened it. Out fell all my paint. Eyes wide, she backed up.
“It’s you! You’re the person using the Zip tag?!”
I sloughed her off, grabbing the paint from the ground. “Yeah, so what if I am?! I like being Zip, B! Zip doesn’t give a fuck about what anyone thinks! Zip doesn’t need a girl who kisses them once and tells them to go away! Zip is strong!” Even as I said it, the anger and pain was just flooding back. “Zip doesn’t cry at night…” Turned away. Wasn’t going to let this bitch see me cry.
“Jesus, I am so sorry.. I didn’t realize what all this would do to you. I…I’m sorry, Z.” Her hand reached for mine, but I smacked it aside, looking right into her eyes.
“Zip doesn’t need your apologies, either. Go away.” Putting the paint back in my pack, I headed back toward my window.
“Tell you what – why doesn’t Zip meet me at the Billboard on top of the Deemo Building? I think I have something that Zip might like. Tomorrow night, meet me there.”
There was a huge part of me that wanted to tell her to fuck off, but at the same time, she had asked nicely. If nothing else, I owed her enough to hear her out.
“Oh, Zip will be there. Count on it!” With that, I went into my window and took off my attire. Like a superhero taking off the cape and cowl. Yes, Batman is my favorite anti-hero. That’s what he is. Don’t give me the hero of justice stuff. That’s bullshit, and you know it. The dude is a thug who will do everything but kill a person. That’s what makes him interesting. Crashing into bed, I wasn’t sure what was going to happen tomorrow, but I was stoked all the same.
The next day came and went. I was still in the mindset of Zip that whole day. The inner ninja just wanted to be free. It was such a long day, until I got home and waited. Waited for the night to come. When it finally did, I suited up, grabbed my pack, and headed out into the darkness.
I was running down the sidewalk to where I knew that B was waiting for me. Ducked into corners whenever I saw a cop car. Zip never gets seen by cops! After a little over half an hour, I was within range of my target. I took the fire escape up. It was cleaner than sneaking into the building and taking the stairs. I had been thinking about this billboard as a tagging spot, but I knew that it was a big risk. If cops saw me up here, I was very fucked.
When I got up to the board, there she was. That black jacket, and the black skull shirt. The beanie. She was still beautiful, but her back was too me. She was tagging the board! Even with how far I had come, this girl was still braver than me. It was both admirable and frustrating at the same time.
“Still being schooled by you, even now,” I said, to announce my presence.
She looked back and gave me a wink. “Zip gets schooled by no one!”
I just groaned, walking forward. She jumped down, and I got to see the tag in all it’s glory – B Loves Zip.
“That’s what I wanted to tell you. Z, you’re not like anyone I’ve ever met before. I dumped AJ. No matter how much I told myself that I had to give us a fair shake, I realized that I did give him and me a fair shake. I wasn’t in love with him the way he was with me. The way I am with you. I know that you probably can’t forgive me for what I put you through, but I did decide to take a gigantic and stupid-ass risk for you tonight. That’s got to count for something.”
There were no words. I just stepped right up to her. It was a tense couple seconds as she waited for my response. I just reached up, grabbed her neck, and pulled her lips to mine. The two of us held that kiss for what could have been a lifetime or two seconds. No idea. That’s when we heard it.
“Stay right there, lovebirds!”
Immediately pulling apart, the two of us were looking into the light of a cop. He was standing by the fire escape.
I looked up at B. “Zip never gets caught!”
A wink. “B goes wherever Zip goes.” Toward the stairwell, the two of us took off running. Given my speed, I got there first, threw it open and pulled B through. I slammed it right in the cop’s face. Stupid fuck. The two of us went running as fast as we could. I felt so damn cool right then. Granted, my ninja skills failed, but I they could be improved. Was on Cloud 9, until we got to the ground floor, and there was a cop waiting for us. Rolling boy’s partner. Fuck. As soon as his partner caught up with us, we were sprawled out and cuffed. A little excessive, but whatever.
So there I was, in holding, sharing a cell with B and a rather amiable blonde stripper who had been caught selling sexual favors for cash. Interesting gal. Even she had seen the tags of the infamous Zip. The girl couldn’t believe that I was the mystery tagger. My legend precedes me!
As I sat there, holding B’s hand, I realized that no punishment was going to take this moment away from me. Zip might have to take a hiatus for a while, but this ninja would rise again, with a new name and a new tag. Me, and my beautiful tagger girl.
Until next time, a quote,
“People do crazy things when they’re in love.” -Hercules, Kingdom Hearts II