“What I don’t understand,” Shaw started, leaning her butt against the customer side of the customer service counter, “is why Mr. Thornhill, our ‘friendly’ owner, keeps denying my time off requests. We work in a beach store, selling beach stuff. Time off for trips to the actual beach should be encouraged.”
Root smiled from the other side of the counter and bent forward, resting her arms on the lacquered wood and hooking her fingers into Shaw’s back pockets. “Maybe you could buy something from the store as a show of good faith?”
Shaw snorted, looking over her shoulder at Root. “They don’t pay me enough to shop here.”
Laughing, Root nodded. Their store was pretty expensive, selling summer clothing and beach accessories to suburban mothers. When Root had moved to Miami, she’d expected to spend her days tanning and meeting cute Cuban girls in crowded nightclubs. Instead, she’d moved into a small house with two nice girls and they’d helped her get a job to pay the bills.
The store itself was huge, with different sections dedicated to specific summer activities. There was the camping corner that had fishing gear, camping gear, and various weaponry. Next to it was the pool corner that always smelled like chlorine and wet plastic. Root’s personal favorite was the swimsuit section. Sometimes, when they were closing, Root could convince Shaw to have a swimsuit fashion show.
Even if it wasn’t what Root had expected, it wasn’t all bad. She’d made some friends and found some great food spots. Miami even had enough of a seedy underground for her side business to thrive. If Root wanted to, she could quit this terrible minimum wage job now and just live off her hacking, but a certain angry coworker kept her around.
“Just go after work,” Root said, releasing Shaw’s khaki shorts and resting her chin on her hands. “Don’t you get off early on Wednesdays?”
Shaw dropped her head back to glare at the ceiling. “It’s the principle of the thing, Root. I should be allowed to have time off. I hate this job.”
“Then quit,” Root suggested. “Didn’t that gym you go to offer you a job as a trainer? Do that instead.”
Shaw’s head tilted to the side and she met Root’s eyes. For a moment, they just looked at each other and, not for the first time, Root wondered if Shaw was like her, if she even needed to work a real job at all. Root didn’t know too much about Shaw and that was usually a sign that something was going on.
She’d met Shaw on her first day of work, immediately becoming obsessed. Three years ago, Shaw had had short hair, barely passed her shoulder, and she’d worn tank tops exclusively. Root had watched Shaw lift a box of ceramic pool tiles onto a high shelf, muscles rippling, and decided to stay here as long as she could.
She and Shaw had hooked up fairly often, but it wasn’t serious. Root’s roommates liked to throw parties at their house and everyone they knew would come. Inevitably, Root would end up in her bedroom and Shaw would end up there, too, and in the morning, Root would drive them to work. Root was starting to fall in love with Shaw’s scratchy morning voice and sleepy eyes.
Root ran her eyes over Shaw’s face, taking in tanned cheeks and full lips. She liked their casual arrangement, but she wouldn’t be opposed to dates and daytime make-outs. They could take Root’s car to the beach and spend the day swimming and rubbing sunscreen on each other. Shaw sighed loudly and Root jumped, remembering where they were.
Pushing her hand through her hair, Root stood up, backing away from the counter. “It’s so dead today.”
Shaw turned around, pressing her hips into the counter and sliding her hands the smooth surface. “I’m glad. It was crazy yesterday. You should have been here.”
“Unlike you,” Root said, smirking, “I get my time off approved.”
“Fuck you,” Shaw sneered, not really angry. “You got in good with Thornhill, that’s why. He loves your nerdy shit.”
Root picked up a pen from the cash register, idly fiddling with the cap. When their manager, Mr. Thornhill, had first hired her, they’d fought a lot. His methods were stupid; people were assigned to replenish shelves during the day, but a whole separate crew did it overnight. The store was just trying to do too much and so nothing got done.
She’d won him over eventually, though. Once she learned he liked computers, she’d started talking about her computer science degree and her coding projects. He loved her after that. Now, she could choose her schedule every week and he let her use his bigger discount.
“You gotta step up your game,” Root joked, smiling. “That hot jock thing won’t work on him.”
“It works on you,” Shaw pouted, looking away. The front door chimed as a middle-aged woman walked in. “Welcome to Summer Sensations.”
The woman ignored her, walking further into the store. Shaw raised a hand, giving the woman’s back the middle finger. Root laughed.
“One day, Thornhill is going to see that. Or worse, that new dude in camping will see you and tell Thornhill.”
Shaw groaned, dropping her arm. “I hate this job so much.”
Root took pity on her and turned around, dropping her pen and moving to the other side of the counter. She had a hidden stash of chocolate bars in the drawer next to the computer. It was for when she had her period or special occasions, but she could spare one to make Shaw’s day a little better.
Pulling out a candy bar, Root tossed it to Shaw who reached up instinctively to snatch it out of the air. Shaw looked at it and groaned happily.
“How do you always know what I need?” Shaw asked, ripping the package open.
“Experience,” Root answered, winking. “I know what my girl likes.”
Shaw rolled her eyes, taking a big bite. When she spoke, her voice was muffled around the candy. “You know you can’t wink, right? You just blink and your mouth gets weird.”
Root shrugged, unbothered. “You think I’m cute.”
Rolling her eyes again, Shaw turned away from her, looking around the store as she ate her chocolate. Across the store, Root’s roommate, Anna, was talking to the woman, smiling with fake cheer. Root didn’t know how the other girls did it. They’d been working here longer than Root had, but they still enjoyed it. It only took a year or so for Root to start dreading work.
Shaw’s thick ponytail swung as she turned her head and Root smiled.
“What time are you done today?” she asked. “Five?”
Looking over her shoulder, Shaw shook her head. “Four.”
“Damn, I’m done at five. If you’re willing wait around, I can drive you to the beach.” Root pushed her hands into the pockets of her khaki shorts. “I think North Shore is doing Movie Night tonight. We could swim, get dinner, see a movie?”
Shaw’s face shifted, suddenly guarded. Root knew this look. It was the look Shaw got when she wasn’t sure what Root’s intentions were. The few times Root had asked Shaw on an actual date, she’d gotten this look and then a sharp ‘no.’ Root held her hands up.
“Nevermind,” Root sighed. “Just a thought.”
“No,” Shaw blurted out around a mouthful of candy. “Let’s do it.”
Root’s mouth dropped open in surprise. “Really?”
Shaw shrugged, her face flushing slightly. “I mean, I don’t have anything better to do.”
Grinning, Root pulled another candy bar from her drawer. “It’s a date.”
“Need a ride?”
Shaw scoffed and stepped off the sidewalk in front of the store and hopped into Root’s car. “You think you’re so cool with your Gold Jeep and your pick-up lines.”
“You think it’s dumb, but I have a great tan and a cute girl.”
“You don’t ‘have’ me,” Shaw muttered under her breath as she buckled her seatbelt and stuffed her bag under the dashboard. “You have a lame car.”
Root grinned and hit the gas, taking them out of the parking lot and onto US1. Shaw leaned back in her seat, staring up at the blue sky. She had to admit that she liked Root’s car. It was open on every side but the front, and the cool breeze felt nice against Shaw’s hot skin. In the mornings, their private time, Shaw liked the way Root’s hair looked in the rising sunlight. Besides, when it was 100 degrees every day, the wind was nice.
It had been a particularly long summer with very few days off and Shaw was starting to feel restless. Her early morning workouts weren’t as much of an escape as they used to be and her late night work didn’t relieve her tension. If Root didn’t work in her store, she would probably have quit a year ago and moved to a better city.
She turned on the radio, loud Latin music filling the air. Her crop top blew around her as they sped down the expressway towards the beach. Shaw rarely hung out with Root in the day time and she was expecting it to be awkward. It was one thing to hang out at home and know it was going to end in sex and another to plan a date.
Should she assume this would end in sex, too? Or were real dates different? Was Root expecting to drop Shaw off at the end of the night and kiss her on the porch? Shaw wasn’t sure what she should expect. They’d known each other for three years now, but it had been as coworkers, then kind-of friends, then fuck buddies.
Leaning forward, Shaw dug into her bag for her sunglasses. She pulled them out, sliding the large aviators onto her face and leaned back again. Turning her head to look at Root, eyes hidden behind dark shades, she wondered if she should make conversation.
At work, Root was always talking, flirting and joking. Now, Root seemed content to drive without talking, the only noise Power 96. Shaw watched her tap her long fingers on the steering wheel.
“Do you speak Spanish?” Shaw asked over the music.
Root glanced at her before turning the music down. “What?”
“I asked if you spoke Spanish?”
“Enough to get by,” Root answered. “I haven’t studied it.”
Shaw nodded, looking away. She couldn’t think of any follow up questions, so she just stopped talking. People asked their girlfriends questions to get to know them, but Shaw wasn’t sure what kind of questions. Not that she and Root were girlfriends. They were friends at best. Shaw told herself she barely knew Root at all.
“What about you?” Root asked. “I think I’ve heard you speak some. Are you fluent?”
“Yeah,” Shaw replied, crossing her arms. “My dad taught me.”
“Was he Hispanic?”
“No.” She adjusted her shades. “He just spoke it.”
Root nodded, smiling slightly. “Was he from Miami?”
“What is this?” Shaw scoffed. “20 Questions? He wasn’t from anywhere. I’m not from anywhere.”
“Mysterious,” Root murmured, smile spreading. “Sameen Shaw, the girl from nowhere.”
Shaw rolled her eyes, feeling like she’d lost control of the conversation. She was just trying to be nice, friendly. Root was too nosy for her own good.
“I’m from Texas, originally,” Root offered. “Bishop. Small Town.” She shook her hair out of her face. “I disowned it. I’m from nowhere, too.”
Running her eyes over Root’s face, Shaw leaned back in her seat. Root surprised her sometimes. Shaw used to think that Root was some innocent girl who had stars in her eyes and nothing in her head, but was amazing, crazy smart and a little wild.
“I guess we’re just two girls with no past then,” Shaw said as the wind whipped her ponytail around. “Nowhere to go, but up.”
Root watched Shaw carefully, moving her legs and arms in slow circles to keep herself afloat. The beach had been closed because of a shark spotting, so they’d gone back to Root’s house and jumped in her pool. Shaw was upset. She’d spent the whole drive angrily staring out the window.
Root wondered if she should tell Shaw tonight, about her feelings, or if she should just try to pull more information out of her. Maybe there was more to the ‘I’m not from anywhere’ fact. Before they’d found out the beach was closed, Shaw had seemed open to talking, if a bit lost. Root decided to calm Shaw down and then try and find out more.
Shaw was floating on her back, staring up at the fading light. It was almost 7 and the sun was starting to set. The sky was slowly turning pink and orange and it made Shaw glow against the blue pool water. Root swam forward, closing the distance between them.
“So,” Root started, her voice startlingly loud in the quiet backyard, “want to try the beach again tomorrow?”
Shaw’s eyes slid to the side to look at Root. “Are you that desperate to spend time with me?”
Root frowned, offended. “You can leave. I’m not keeping you here.”
Shaw didn’t respond, but her eyes turned back to the sky and she frowned. “Do you ever want more?”
Pushing her arms through the water, Root touched her toes to the bottom and rested her chin on the water’s surface. “From you?”
Root looked away, pretending to be interested in her yard. Of course she wanted more. Hacking was fun and she liked spending time with Shaw, but it wasn’t the only thing she wanted out of life. She wanted to create something incredible, be part of something important, but she hadn’t found it yet.
In her spare time, Root was working on an AI program, something to give her some power, but right now, she was 27 and living in Miami and her project was a lot harder than she thought it would be. She wanted a mentor, someone with more experience who could really guide her. Root had gotten herself out of her shitty hometown, but now she needed help.
“Yeah,” Root finally answered quietly. “I want a lot more.”
Shaw’s legs dropped and she propelled herself backwards so she could stand. “I want to move to New York. Maybe go back to school.”
Shrugging, Shaw looked at Root with hooded eyes. “I almost went to med school. I could do that again.”
Root raised her eyebrows, surprised. “Med school? What happened?”
“I’m not exactly the comforting type,” Shaw said dryly. “Can you imagine me telling someone their father died?”
“No,” Root laughed. “I guess not. You could do something else? Like…Work for the CIA.”
Shaw rolled her eyes. “I think the CIA would want me to have a clean record. I’m not in great standing with the law.”
Grinning, Root swam closer, keeping her body low as the pool got shallower. “Oh, yeah? Are you a secret criminal, Sameen Shaw? Beach Jock by day, Diamond Thief by night?”
“I rob banks, thank you very much,” Shaw joked. She splashed Root half-heartedly. “Jewelry stores are too easy.”
Root watched her carefully, looking for the truth. She wouldn’t be surprised if Shaw actually was bank robber. She was smart, small, and looked great in black. Maybe that’s why Shaw’s online presence was almost nonexistent – she needed to keep a low profile and hide her wealth.
“Well,” Root said, smirking, “I’m an assassin. Mostly rich white men who live on Star Island, but I’ll do the occasional mob hit, if it pays enough.”
Now Root waited as Shaw looked her over. Root knew she didn’t look the part of a Miami Assassin, but that was part of her success. Everyone opened doors for a scared, pretty, white girl. After a moment, Shaw looked away, swimming across the pool.
The lights around the pool turned on as the sky darkened and the orange house lights flickered weakly. In the fading light, Shaw looked even more beautiful, the shadows accentuating her features and making her eyes sparkle. For a second, Root wondered if Shaw thought she was beautiful, too.
“We can go to the South Beach tomorrow,” Shaw said into the silent night. “There’s a movie theatre over there. It’s not outdoors, but it’s something.”
Root’s heart warmed and she crossed the pool to Shaw. “You still want to go on our date?”
“I’m interested in the assassin business,” Shaw replied, glaring at Root. “It’ll help if I have an in.”
Root couldn’t tell if Shaw was joking or not, but she was just happy to get another chance at their failed date. This wasn’t so bad, though, swimming with Shaw as the sun set. They’d go inside to have dinner eventually and inevitably end up in bed together. Maybe Root could find a home for them in New York.
“Come here,” Shaw ordered her, back pressed against the wall of the pool. “You keep chasing me around, but keeping your distance. You’re all talk and no follow through.”
“Oh,” Root murmured, finally standing and walking to Shaw, “I always follow through.”
Shaw’s lips tasted like chlorine when Root kissed her, soft and wet and cool. They slid open willingly and Shaw’s tongue was hot as it brushed against Root’s. Root’s rested her fingers on Shaw’s strong jaw, touching her lightly, like it was an accident, like if they acknowledged this was happening, the world would end.
Shaw’s hands splayed across Root’s stomach, the water dampening the feeling. Root thought Shaw might push her away. Instead, Shaw’s palms ran over Root’s skin to her sides, gripping Root’s hips and pulling her closer. Her teeth sunk into Root’s bottom lip and Root moaned, the sound echoing in the almost dark night.
Root pulled away just enough to talk. “I don’t want to ruin this, but I think-“
“Don’t,” Shaw sighed, nails digging into Root skin and making her heart race. “Don’t complicate it with feelings.”
“I have them,” Root said quietly. “I can’t do what you do. It’s been years and I have feelings.”
Shaw didn’t respond. Her face shifted, guarded, and Root looked over her head, trying to focus on the rose bush planted against their fence. The night was silent except for the chirp of Cicadas and Root could hear the blood rushing in her ears.
She could always move again. Miami had never been her final destination and her skills were always needed. Maybe it was time to stop pretending she could be normal and move to Chicago or DC or New York and become a full time assassin. It wouldn’t be too hard and Root was sure she’d stop missing Shaw after a while.
Shaw sucked in a loud breath and wrapped her arms around Root’s waist, pulling her close.
“I’m never going to like you back,” she said slowly, “but I have to admit you’ve grown on me.”
Root dropped her head, looking down into Shaw’s dark eyes. It was almost impossible to see her now and Shaw’s eyes looked like deep, empty pools. Root couldn’t read them, but she’d gotten used to that by now. Maybe it was part of Shaw’s charm, that Root had to fill in the blanks. Maybe Shaw’s eyes were empty, so Root could pour all of her extra emotion into them.
“Like a fungus,” Shaw continued, grimacing. “You’ve grown on me like a fungus.”
“But a cute fungus,” Root laughed. “That’s what counts.”
Rising onto her toes, Shaw closed the distance between their mouths and Root gripped Shaw’s jaw with purpose. They hadn’t made any promises, but Root felt better. She groaned as Shaw’s hands slipped into her bikini bottoms and touched her with confidence. Tonight was a baby step, but who knew what tomorrow held.
Later, after dinner and another round of sex, Shaw lay naked in bed beside Root, staring at the map of the world stuck to Root’s ceiling. She hadn’t expected Root to say anything, to voice her feelings, but Shaw had to admit that it made her feel a little bit better. Now they could move forward, figure out how to exist in the same place.
She really did want to move to New York. It might not be for Med School, but a big city called to her. Shaw wanted good food and seedy clubs and bigger targets. There were only so many places to rob in Miami and they never paid out as much as she wanted. New York held more for her.
She was 25, with her whole life ahead of her, and absolutely no purpose. If her parents could see her wasting away at a crappy day job and a boring night job, they’d be so disappointed. Shaw had ended up in Miami by accident or fate and now it was time for her to make real decisions.
Root’s hand tangled in her own and Shaw dropped her head to the side. Root’s eyes were closed, her mouth turned down in a frown. She was still naked, too, and Shaw ran her eyes over Root’s smooth, tan skin. She loved Root’s body as much as she loved Root’s mind, maybe more.
Carefully, Shaw pushed Root’s hair from her face, trying not to wake her. Root was laying on her side, long legs draped over Shaw’s. She looked stressed and upset. Should Shaw wake her? Try to talk? That wasn’t really Shaw’s style.
She stretched to the side and brushed her lips over Root’s, startling her eyes open. Root pulled away, the corner of her mouth turning up.
“What was that for?”
Shaw flushed, shrugging. “No reason.”
Root smiled like she knew what Shaw was thinking. That look annoyed Shaw to her core, but she let it pass because the night was going so well. It would be just like her to let something good happen and then ruin it in anger. Root squeezed her hand.
“Can I ask you a question? A real one?”
Shaw hesitated before nodding. “Sure.”
“Are you really a bank robber? I’m not a narc; I just want to know.”
“I am,” Shaw confirmed, turning onto her side to face Root, “but I’m running out of banks to rob.”
Root laughed softly. “I still have plenty of rich white men to kill.”
Shaw licked her lips, body tingling at the thought of Root killing a man. Did she strangle them? Root was too weak for that. Maybe she tased them and then strangled them. Shaw knew from experience that Root’s long fingers were stronger than they look and very good at cutting of air supplies.
“Do you like Miami?” Shaw asked, almost whispering. Their faces were so close together Shaw could see Root’s eyelashes flutter. “Or do you want to live somewhere else?”
“Are you asking me to move to New York with you?” Root asked, somehow scooting closer. “I’ll go. I hear there’s a man out there trying to make a new AI system. I’ve gotten some weird messages point me to New York. We can leave tomorrow.”
Shaw rolled her eyes. “You’d leave your lucrative career at Mr. Thornhill’s Summer Sensations Beach Emporium?”
“For mysterious messages and a shitty apartment with you? Of course!” Root laughed loudly, climbing on top of Shaw and grinning wolfishly. “Maybe we could start a crime empire. You’ll be the boss and I’ll be the muscle.”
Shaw snorted, reaching up to tug on Root’s hair. “You’ll be the muscle? I’d love to see that.”
Shaw sucked in a breath as Root lowered her body, pressing into Shaw, hands balling in the sheets on either side of her head.
“Let’s do it,” Root murmured, her voice low. “Let’s move to New York and leave our mark. I want to see you sweaty and covered in blood.”
Shaw moaned, imagining Root’s wild eyes peering at her over the barrel of a gun. She loved the idea of robbing banks in a big city, working with Root as an assassin, spending nights fighting and fucking. She ran her hands over Root’s chest and over her collarbones.
“Let’s do it.”