“It was right here,” Harp says.
We’re standing a couple of blocks uphill from my half sister Winnie’s apartment in San Francisco, staring at an empty space of curb. A space with no car parked in it. It’s early afternoon, and the sky is an unsettling red, like the inside of a blood orange. Harp steps off the sidewalk, moving her hands carefully around the general area where the roof of the car should be. Like it’s simply invisible. Like it’s still a tangible object in front of us.
“Viv.” My best friend turns to me. “I swear—this is where I left it.”
A year ago, before Harp and I were friends, when we were just girls who lived in the same neighborhood, one of us timid and aggressively well-behaved (me), the other a whirling dervish of schemes and creative combinations of expletives (her), I might have suspected Harp to be playing an unnecessarily cruel prank on me. But we’re coming off the longest night of our lives. We haven’t showered, we’re tired and frightened, and anyway, Harp has a wild look in her eye, so sharp I can’t look directly at it.
“Maybe it’s another block up.” I scan the stretch of road leading up the hill, looking for the little black sedan that has carried us so far. If I believed in some kind of god right now, I’d pray for Harp to be mistaken. “All these buildings look the same to me.”
Harp shakes her head and points to the house behind me. There’s a handmade sign propped up in the first-floor window: FRICK IS A PRICK.
“I remember seeing that when I got out of the car,” she says. “I laughed for a solid five minutes. Why did we never think of it before? The rhyme. So simple, so powerful.”
I try to stay calm. But the car is all we have. With it, we’re revolutionaries. If it were here, we’d drive back over the Golden Gate Bridge into the forests of Point Reyes, where Prophet Beaton Frick’s secret Church of America compound lies, to find two things: (1) Peter Ivey, the bluest-eyed boy I’ve ever met, whom we left behind when we escaped; and (2) evidence of the thing we now know to be true: there was no Rapture. The world is not ending, at least not in September, as predicted. The disappearances, the fear and panic, the families torn apart—all of it was engineered by the Church of America Corporation. Because they could do it. Because they could make money off it. Once we had evidence, we’d expose them. And then? There’d be no Church. My life wouldn’t go back to normal—it’s changed too much—but it isn’t hard to believe the lives of others would. With the car, we are the most dangerous teenage girls in America.
But the car’s not here. If we’ve lost it, we’ve lost everything: suitcases, clothes, most of our money, my diary, Harp’s Xanax. My only pictures of my parents—I want them badly now; I want the picture of my dad. It’s taken three thousand miles to get to this point, and along the way I’ve lost everything I’ve ever owned, and most of the people I’ve loved. The adrenaline I’ve been running on since last night fades, and with it, the pain in my hand—the hand I might’ve broken on the face of Frick—throbs harder. I feel the pinprick of a headache forming between my eyebrows.
“You didn’t park here,” I tell Harp. “You parked somewhere else. You saw the sign while you were walking.”
Harp looks confused. “Are you . . . trying to hypnotize me?”
“You didn’t park here!” I mean to sound confident, but my voice comes out shrill. “We’ll do a loop around the block. You just thought you parked here. You didn’t park here.”
She nods uncertainly, and the two of us spring back in the direction of Winnie’s apartment. Harp chews the inside of her cheek. I try to calm myself with rationality—what are the odds our car could have been stolen? What are the odds that since this time yesterday, I could have learned the truth about the Rapture, confirmed that my parents were dead, abandoned in the woods the closest thing I’ve ever had to a boyfriend, learned that actually my mother is not dead and has just been chilling in the Bay Area with the half sister I only recently found out about, decided to leave said alive mother in favor of taking down the Church of America alongside my equally pissed and confused best friend, and had my car stolen? What kind of vengeful Old Testament shit is this?
Harp is several paces ahead, but she stops to gape at me. I don’t understand why until I hear myself—I’m rooted where I stand, laughing in a gasping, hysterical way, tears streaming down my face. I taste the salt in them. It’s not funny, the way Harp looks at me, but for some reason that makes me laugh harder. She takes a tentative step toward me.
“Oh shit, dude,” she whispers. “Is this it? Have you finally gone bonkers on me?”
I shake my head. I can’t breathe. I want to say, My dad. I want to say, Peter. But I can’t calm down, and if I say their names, it will only get worse. Harp’s expression softens, and I can’t look at her, because I know she understands. If Harp understands, it’s real—I’m not imagining this pain—and if it’s real, I’m never going to stop feeling this way. I’m going to hurt this much forever. I tip my head back. I start to feel dizzy, like I’ve taken a half step outside my body. I have a brief, delirious moment of understanding: This is how I die. Not proudly, not fighting for the things I believe in, but of a panic attack in an unfamiliar city while Harp looks on helplessly.
“I’m really, really sorry about this,” I hear her say from somewhere far away.
Then—screaming pain. Everything goes white. I open my eyes. I’m on my knees on the sidewalk, and Harp has my injured hand in hers. She barely touches it now, but I know a second ago she squeezed it. She has a fierce look in her eyes, like she’s ready to do it again.
“No, no, no,” I gasp. I pull my hand from hers. “I’m okay. I’m okay.”
Harp leans down and hugs me. Even in my post-hysterics state, I’m surprised and weirdly touched by her willingness to publicly display affection for me.
“I know how it feels, Viv.” Her voice is rough in my ear, and I hold tighter to her. It’s only been a few months since Harp’s brother, Raj, was murdered by Believers, and if Harp’s Raptured parents escaped the fate of my father, we have no idea where they might be. “If we’re going to survive it, we have to feel it. Even when we think it’ll wreck us. We’ll lean on each other. You won’t let it wreck me and I won’t let it wreck you. I’ll be right here, and I’ll pull you out of it when you need to be pulled out. Okay?”
I nod. My eyes still stream tears, but I can breathe easier. “Harp?”