Once they had delivered the True News inkjet-printed onto fluorescent orange paper into every mailbox along Crystal Gorge Drive, Paul and Vic returned to the black Beetle parked in the cul-de-sac. Rhiannon had beat them there and leaned against the side, picking at the leftover spots of polish on her fingernails as if playing a scratch-off lottery ticket.
“All good, Rhi-Rhi?”
“A triumph, Vicky,” she said, flicking holographic paint chips onto the pavement. “Newsletters in every mailbox on Kinder Way, Bordello Avenue and Greeley Court. And now, let’s feast.”
The summer sun had had no problem turning the car into a hothouse, and Paul regretted wearing shorts as he sat on the burning leather seat and felt his skin toast against it.
“Lunch at Paul’s?” Rhiannon asked as she put the car in drive. She didn’t wait for an answer before peeling away from the curb and toward the main road.
This was how summer days were now that Paul had found Vic and Rhiannon. He didn’t believe a word of what they dished out into the neighborhoods — all this claptrap about three vampires living in Paul Rudd’s basement, the werewolf spotted on Paul Giamatti’s lawn, the succubus lounging on a float in the middle of Taylor Swift’s pool — but spreading obvious lies was worth finally having two friends who actually seemed to like seeing him every day. And to them, it was all very real.
“I’m digging into a story that Nicolas Cage was Rudolph Valentino’s familiar before being turned into a vampire himself,” Vic announced, like he was reporting on sewer testing or a city council meeting. “Might be ready to run for next week’s edition.”
Paul knew better than to bring up that Valentino, silent film’s original Latin Lover, had died at age 31 from an infection — hardly the mysterious vampiric ending that True News prided itself in publishing. But to his surprise, Rhiannon took the lead in bursting Vic’s bubble.
“You’ve seen the same photos of Cage as I have, and you know that if anything, Valentino was his familiar. The man’s been alive since the mid-1800s, at least.”
They pulled up to the ranch house that Paul lived in with his parents and sister, Joy Lee. To his dismay, the garage door was already open, and his mom was sweeping out the floor. Paul hated coming home to find his mother doing housework: It made him feel bad for leaving to deposit buffoonery in upper-middle-class mailboxes.
“Hi, Mrs. Lim,” Rhiannon said, getting out of the car.
“Beautiful day out, isn’t it?” Paul’s mom said. “So, what’s the poop?”
Paul’s face went pink. His mother had been born in San Francisco on August 5, 1973, but talked like she was in her prime during the early 1940s. But it wasn’t her WWII-era slang that made him nervous: It was any time Rhiannon and Vic had an opportunity to tell her what exactly the three of them were doing to pass time on the summer days.
“We’re hungry,” he blurted before either of his friends could answer.
“Well, Joy Lee’s inside. She’s been experimenting in the kitchen again, so you’ve been warned.”
“Mrs. Lim, I’m so hungry I could eat Frankenstein’s leg. No fear here,” Rhiannon joked as Paul pulled them inside.
Joy Lee had definitely been experimenting. A thin veil of smoke draped above the kitchen, accompanied by the smell of cooking oil and fried dough. Last week she had almost burned the house down making a blueberry tart. Today she’d been trying to tackle various deep-fried snacks.
“Potstickers coming to the pass!” She yelled, practicing for her self-determined destiny on Hell’s Kitchen. “Hope you’re all hungry — and don’t mind some slightly-burnt edges. The oil got a little hot.”
“Smells great,” Vic said as they each slid into a wicker dining chair at the kitchen table.
Vic held a bottle of Purell in his outstretched hand, and Paul gratefully accepted a squirt. Rubbing his hands briskly, he was reminded of how many paper cuts he’d gotten folding the pamphlets— by the time his hands were dry, his eyes weren’t.
Joy Lee brought a tray out bearing potstickers, egg rolls and what were probably supposed to be jalapeño poppers, though their cream cheese filling had started leaking out the sides.
“I heard Jay-Z bought the mummy that they just found in that excavated pyramid,” Rhiannon said, spearing a potsticker on a single chopstick. Paul watched as it fell apart halfway to her plate, spilling searing chicken filling across the table.
“Think I heard that, too,” Vic said. “Makes sense, really, seeing as he’s married to Beyoncé.”
Joy Lee perked up at the sound of her idol’s name.
“What’s Beyoncé got to do with a mummy?”
“Great egg rolls, Joy,” Paul said loudly, hoping to turn her 13-year-old brain back to her number-one passion. “Perfectly crispy and not too greasy,.”
“Beyoncé’s an immortal Egyptian goddess in human form,” Rhiannon said matter-of-factly. “The mummy’s probably a long-lost lover. And with Jay still needing to make things right after that Rachel Ray nonsense…”
“…Rachel Roy,” Vic corrected her.
“Right, well, I wouldn’t be surprised if this isn’t the last mummy they buy,” Rhiannon finished. “How’s this for a headline, Vic? ‘Beyoncé’s buffoon brings back Biblical-age boy-toy to beg forgiveness for bad behavior.'”
Vic chewed the idea along with a potsticker while Joy Lee laughed. Paul couldn’t taste anything as he waited to see how these two storms — the believers and the uninitiated — would collide.
“Sounds like a Bossip headline,” Joy Lee said. “You should write for them!”
The jalapeño flavor came back to Paul’s mouth. Rhiannon looked flattered.
“Thanks, but I prefer the real news,” she shrugged. “Say, kid, you haven’t read anything in your Teen Vogues about Harry Styles’ fairy circle, have you?”
“That’s an awfully homophobic thing to say,” Joy Lee said, taken-aback. As she turned back toward the kitchen, she looked at Paul with distinct disappointment that he could find friendship with someone that close-minded.
“She means real fairies,” Vic said. “Paul, haven’t you shared the True News lexicon with your sister?”
Paul’s face got hot for the second time, and it wasn’t because of the jalapeño now sizzling down his throat.
“True News?” Joy Lee asked, returning to the table.
“We run a paper,” Vic said. “True News: All the things the normies don’t want you to know. This week we covered the amazons in Gwendolyn Christie’s family tree, Hayley Williams’ secret past as a wood nymph, and how you can see a pixie reflected in the glass in Stanley Tucci’s latest cocktail video.”
“Sounds cool,” Joy Lee shrugged. “Let me know if you ever want me to introduce you to the phoenix our grandfather brought from Hong Kong in a shoebox. Grandpa worked on movie sets back in the day. Got the bird as a gift from Bruce Lee after finishing Thunderstorm.”
Rhiannon almost choked on an egg roll as she and Vic turned to look at Paul in disbelief that he hid this from them. He buried his face in his hands as a birdsong trickled from the living room.