You are nine and Luna is seven and there’s a new kid next door who fits right between you, who hops over the back fence down into your tiny garden and at first you don’t know if the interloper’s a boy or a girl. Then she sticks out a raw-knuckled hand and says her name is Tamsin and she’s eight and she’s missing her two top canines, so her incisors just kind of hang there in her mouth looking too big for her face. She asks, “Have you seen a cat?”
You ask, “What’s it look like?” Her mouth puckers like she’s sucking on a lemon.
“He’s got two ears. Four legs. Whiskers. A tail. Um. He’s orange,” she says. “The movers left the door open and he ran off. He’s called Tigger. D’you want to help me look?”
Luna has always loved cats, despite (or maybe because of) not being allowed to keep one. “Can we, Stacks?” she asks you, and you glance towards the kitchen window before you nod.
“Mum’ll be cross if we’re not back for dinner,” you say, and follow Tamsin and Luna over the garden wall.
You miss dinner completely at Tamsin’s insistence, and by the time you find her cat there is mud squelching inside your trainers from stomping around down by the reservoir. You and Luna return home to a stern telling-off, and for you, a week’s grounding, because as the older sibling you ought to have known better. Tamsin climbs the trellis up to your bedroom that night and raps on the window and part of you wants to tell her to go away and part of you thinks she’s pretty swell. So you undo the latch and slide up the pane.
“I’m sorry you got in trouble,” she says.
You look down at her bare feet perched perfectly between clumps of climbing jasmine and think – here’s a girl who’s not afraid of anything. “It’s alright,” you say, and she grins.
“Cool, Stacks,” she says, without you ever telling her to call you that, and she doesn’t climb down the trellis – she jumps. And you think you might be a little bit in love with this girl who moves like a boy.
When you are twelve and Tamsin is eleven and Luna is ten, your father dies. After the funeral, you go out into the back garden with your sister and sit on the bench beneath the climbing jasmine in your cemetery blacks, the shoes mum picked up at the charity shop that are just a little too big and the suit that smells like mothballs. You and Luna are both quiet, your breathing falling into an easy, synchronized rhythm and you can hear the neighbour ladies chattering their condolences in the kitchen, because the window is always cracked open just a little.
Tamsin pokes her head over the wall, and the setting sun turns her messy red hair into a burning halo. She’s got a smear of grease on her cheek, and you know she’s got an engine up on blocks in the adjoining garden. “Can I come over?” she calls. You nod. Tamsin leaps from the top of the wall. You’ve learned this about her by now, that she’s always leaping, and there’s so much about her that confuses you. “Sorry ‘bout your dad,” she says, wiping her hands on the front of her jeans.
“Weren’t your fault,” you say, and without saying anything, Tamsin finds space between you and Luna on the bench where there wasn’t any before. She does that – she never wants the end, always the middle, always both Pentecost siblings if she can have them.
“That shit club owner, right?” she asks. “He should be locked up.”
One of the neighbour ladies brings out plates of food for you and Luna, seems surprised to see Tamsin sitting between you, and then brings out another plate. You eat – Caribbean curry hot enough that if there are tears at the corners of your eyes, you can pretend it’s from the spice.
“We should do something,” says Tamsin around a mouthful of potato. “Like Batman.”
You look at your sister. You say, “Luna, go inside.”
“But Stacks—“ she protests. You scrunch up your brow, and you deepen your voice, and you’re not just a little boy playing around anymore.
“Go inside,” you say, and Luna goes, stomping in her squeaking Mary Janes. You turn your attention to Tamsin and ask her, “What would Batman do?”
“Show the arsehole just who he messed with,” she says. “He took your dad and he deserves to lose something, too.” There is something ferocious inside her, fire behind her glass-green eyes. You nod, because there is something ferocious inside you, too, some howling, wounded beast ready to do whatever it takes.
It is Tamsin Sevier who pours the petrol, but you, Stacker Pentecost - you spark the flames. And you’re the one who gets caught because you won’t give Tamsin up. Because when only one of you can make it over the chain link, you shove her over and you face the headlights and your fate.
Days later, your trunk’s all packed and you’re leaving for military school tomorrow morning and Tamsin raps on your window. You have never been happier to see her. She climbs in and she looks at your trunk and she says, “Well, it’s not quite Hogwarts.”
You snort. Tamsin shoves her hands into her pockets and rocks on the heels of her bare feet. “I’m sorry I got you in trouble,” she says.
“I got myself in trouble,” you say, and you’re convinced of it - you were going to do something stupid with or without Tamsin. All that hurt and nowhere to go with it, something was bound to happen. “Bastard had it coming.”
You sit on top of your school trunk. Tamsin sits beside you and takes one of your hands in hers and you remember – there is so much about her that confuses you. That she is all hard angles but soft edges, that she smells like motor oil and dirt but also like Pears soap and jasmine. “If you don’t write to me, Stacks,” she threatens, “I’m gonna tell everyone we know that you’re a wanker.” She shoves you. You shove her back. “It’ll be boring without you around,” she says.
“You’ve got Luna,” you reply.
“That’s like wearing one shoe but not the other,” she scoffs, and then she turns to you and there’s that dangerous look in her eye. You’ve never figured out if you’re supposed to get nervous or excited when she gets that look. Both, maybe. “Hold still,” says Tamsin. “I want to try something.” So you hold still, and she kisses you, and you can feel every chapped spot on her lips where she’s chewed them raw. Her nose brushes softly against yours, and then she pulls away. You feel – bewildered, mostly.
“What was that for?” you ask, harsher than you mean it to be.
“Just to try it,” she says defensively. “And so some poshy bitch doesn’t go and do it for me.”
“Tam,” you say, because you’re not following.
“I thought that maybe if I did that you wouldn’t forget me, not matter what sorts of people you meet at school,” she says, looking down at your still-entwined hands. She pulls her fingers away from yours.
“That’s stupid,” you tell her. “I just said I’d write to you.”
“Well I didn’t kiss you cos I fancy you, just so that’s clear,” she retorts, and maybe she’s going to go climb back out the window but she gets about halfway across your little bedroom before she stops and goes back to you and pulls you into the fiercest hug you’ve ever had. “And you better not stop talking like you’re from Tottenham,” she hisses.
You watch her leap from your windowsill, and the last you see of her is the red of her hair as she disappears over the garden wall.
You are seventeen and Tamsin is sixteen and Luna is fifteen, and you know Tamsin’s kissed your sister because they’ve both copped to practicing snogging with each other. You know Tamsin thinks she needs to stop because it’s not just practice to her anymore because she told you so in a letter and you know Luna’s been feeling the same way because of a different letter.
Tamsin knows you’ve been trading blow jobs with another cadet from your sixth form program and every time she gets on the phone with you, she makes slurping noises like it’s the funniest thing in the world and you threaten to stop calling. She still does it. You keep calling. You don’t tell her that your sister fancies her and you consider yourself even.
You are twenty-one and Tamsin is twenty and Luna is nineteen, and you know they are pashing for real when they come home from RAF training for winter hols and go into Luna’s bedroom and lock the door behind them. You ask mum what she thinks of this development, and she smiles and hands you a bundle of rhubarb to slice up for pie. “As long as Luna’s not going to go and get herself pregnant, then who am I to judge?” she asks. “Tamsin’s a nice girl.”
You have kept the secrets of your childhood troublemaking long enough that even you believe this.
Tamsin slaps you on the shoulder when she sits down for dinner, says, “You couldn’t have clued us in, Stacks?”
You tell her, “You figured it out on your own well enough.”
“Sure,” Luna chimes in, “But it took four years.”
None of the three of you talk like you’re from Tottenham anymore.
You are twenty-seven and Tamsin is twenty-six and Luna is twenty-five, and you are sitting in a bar in some posh London hotel that you’ve already forgotten the name of, watching a news feed that looks like a science fiction movie and trying to make contact with your sister, but she’s not answering her phone. You want her to pick up and tell you that she’s safe.
Instead, she calls you and tells you that she’s about to fly into combat against the giant dinosaur that just took out the Golden Gate Bridge. Because she was nuts enough to volunteer to do it. Oh, and Tamsin says hi.
Trying not to let on how much the possibility of losing both of them scares you, you tell her, “Be careful. It looks like the apocalypse out there.”
Luna, sharp and fierce and beautiful. Luna, who raised herself because your father wasn’t there and then you weren’t there, either. Luna says – “Not if I have anything to say about it.” And there is so much you want to say to her between when you hear her over-emphasize the t and when the line goes dead and you say none of it.
You think you stop blinking. You think you stop breathing. You think you temporarily die.
Tamsin limps back to London with what remains of their squadron a week later. After the funeral – empty casket, a formality - you sit beside her on the bench beneath the climbing jasmine in your cemetery blacks, huddled beneath a single umbrella, and you feel Luna’s absence so keenly that the postage-stamp garden feels bigger for it. You remember a different funeral, spicy curry and the smell of petrol. “I taught her how to jump out of her window,” says Tamsin, leaning against your shoulder.
“Of course you did,” you say.
“I taught her how to not be afraid of anything. Not even death,” says Tamsin, shoulders shaking. “And I’m sorry I got her into trouble.”
“It wasn’t your fault, Tam,” you say.
Later, you lean on the bathroom counter and watch Tamsin cut her long red hair short. “I was always talking about doing this,” she says, fluffing her bangs. “Luna said she wanted to see it when I did.”
She sleeps beside you in your too-small single bed that night, in the room where there are still glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling that your dad put up when you were born.
You are twenty-eight and Tamsin is twenty-seven, and you are consulting with the Pan Pacific Defense Corps on how to take down Kaiju. Tamsin calls while you’re eating dinner, and you tell her that today, you moved a giant robotic arm using your mind. She says, “Sounds like something out of Gundam.”
“Well,” you say, “The enemy’s something out of Godzilla.” She laughs. Sometimes you think that the world broke last year, like some plot device Douglas Adams would have been proud to call his own, and now everything is running on cartoon logic and no one has stopped to really notice.
“Buy you a drink?” asks someone just out of your line of sight.
“Sounds like you’ve got an admirer,” says Tamsin. “Catch you later, Stacks.” The line goes dead. You look up at the freckled face of Hercules Hansen, who joined the project after the Sydney attack back in September. A widower, five years your senior with an angry speck of a kid who reminds you, in the strangest way, of yourself at that age. It’s not immediately clear whether this is a come-on or his idea of making conversation.
“I wasn’t aware there was anything to be bought,” you say.
“Pretty sure I saw some Coca-Cola in the commissary,” says Herc. “Hope I didn’t interrupt anything.” You shake your head as you get up from the table, and Herc walks a comfortable distance from you. He’s just trying to make friends, you decide. “What was it?” he asks.
“The phone call.”
“Oh,” you realize. “A friend from back home in London. We keep tabs on each other.” What would Tamsin say about Herc? Probably he’s cute, you should fuck him. But Tamsin’s always been a bad influence, and you’re pretty sure that she lives vicariously through your hookups because she’s been in a steady relationship since—
Well, not anymore.
Herc hands you a bottle of soda, buys an extra for his kid – wherever he’s gotten off to, and that could be anywhere. You remember being not much older, anger burning holes in the soles of your shoes if you stood still for too long. “What do you think about the move they’re talking about? Up to Alaska?”
“If the funding comes through,” you say, which you think it has a good chance of doing after today. “I’ll go. I’ve got every plan to be inside one of those Jaegers once they’re built.”
“Score to settle?” asks Herc.
“Don’t we all?” you ask. You know why he’s here - Sydney. You decide to tell him, “My sister was one of the fighter pilots who went down in San Francisco.” Herc nods, and you’re wending your ways back towards the temporary housing set up for staff and paying closer attention than you should be to the lines around his eyes.
“I should go track down Chuck,” says Herc.
“Thanks for the drink,” you say. So no, you do not fuck him.
You are twenty-nine and Tamsin is twenty-eight, and her first night beside you in the Jaeger academy mess hall, she looks down and across your table at the Hansen brothers and she says to you, “He’s cute, you should fuck him.”
“Which one?” you ask.
“The one who doesn’t look like he’s a gas mask and a pickaxe away from being a serial killer,” she says.
“You mean Herc.”
“Is the not-creepy one?” she asks. You nod. “Yes. Him,” she says. “He’s cute and you should fuck him.” There’s not a way to answer that that isn’t either embarrassing or unprofessional, but it’s not like you haven’t considered it. “You’re like Luna, Stacks. You can’t resist an attractive ginger in uniform.”
“Can we talk about this later?” you ask. She grins, sly like a fox, studs twinkling at the corners of her eyes. When the announcement came out that all pilot candidates would need a partner, you texted each other simultaneously. There was never, ever a question that you would be drift compatible. Of course you are.
Still, the first time they put you in the test drift rig, you rabbit so hard that the software crashes. Because you just want to slay a dragon be careful it looks like the apocalypse out there not if I have anything to say about it find the sod’s ball-sack and give it a proper kick I’ve got an idea sidewinder down its throat don’t do anything stupid I’ve got the shot I’ve got him watch your flank no no no no no Luna NO NO NO please don’t leave me here alone I don’t know how to be alone. You and Tamsin take off your helmets and vomit in unison. Dr. Lightcap is smiling.
“Well, that was an interesting reaction,” she says. You and Tamsin lean on each other as you get to your feet and there’s some kind of weird biofeedback going on where you’re pretty sure you can feel her hand on your forearm from her point of view.
“K-Day,” Tamsin says shakily. “His sister. I just showed him how she died, I didn’t mean to mess things up.”
“I wanted to see,” you say, because you did, and because you sure as hell aren’t going to let Tamsin take sole blame for this magnificent fuck up. If you stay, you stay together. If you wash out, you wash out together.
“Well, better you do it here than in a Jaeger,” says Dr. Lightcap. “It was a good connection. We’ll try again tomorrow.”
You stagger back to the barracks, still leaning on each other, and Tamsin flops onto your bunk because she’s too tired to climb onto hers. She watches you run the electric kettle. “Ever the Englishman, Stacks.” You brew two cups of Earl Grey from bags, no cream and no sugar but the warm mugs feel good on your hands, that’s the weird thing that getting inside someone’s head does, and the wearing off of it sort of feels like having a limb wake up from sleep, pins and needles all up and down your spine. You sit down beside Tamsin.
“She was my best friend,” says Tamsin. “I mean, not that you aren’t my best friend, but it was different with her. Because it was like – I loved her so fucking much, Stacks. I’d jump off a building if it meant having her back. And – I tried to tell her not to do it, and to tell her to look out, and they were going to call the retreat any minute and nuke the thing to hell and it was pointless that she died, Stacks. So fucking pointless.”
You feel the tears burning behind her eyes, red hot.
“We’d talked, you know?” says Tamsin, and you say you don’t know. “About what we’d do after we got out of the RAF,” she continues. “Because we only had a couple years left. We were going to do some traveling. Maybe get married.” She takes a long sip from her mug. “Probably get married.”
Tamsin falls asleep on your bunk that night, and when you try to climb the ladder to go sleep on hers, she grabs your hand and doesn’t let you go.
Mum gets remarried and you move and she promises there will be kids to play with at the new house
The stars on the ceiling are arranged like real constellations and you fall asleep to the light of Orion and Capricorn
The first time you three all got drunk together and tried to come up with secrets but there were none left to tell
A funeral in the rain for someone who doesn’t quite feel dead but isn’t alive either anymore, and the soles of your shoes sinking into the mud and you can’t believe you wore heels for this
When you were twelve in juvenile court and you realized no one thought anything good would ever come of you and you decided you were going to prove them wrong
An orange tabby hiding in the weeds
Tamsin laughing, her hair all lit up like the fire behind her, and oh shit
Shaking the first time she kissed you and it was for real
Sand on your lips and salt in your mouth
Chicken and potatoes hot and spiced and maybe you’re crying and maybe it’s the food
What would Batman do?
She never climbs down she always leaps
And you think you’re a little bit in love.