Anna Todd (#1 internationally bestselling author of the After series) headlines this unique anthology of “imagines”—the first book of its kind—stories from Wattpad writers that immerse you in a fantasy world of fame, adventure, and flirtation with your favorite celebrities.
Imagine running around the city, dodging paparazzi with Jennifer Lawrence…
Imagine Justin Bieber setting up a romantic scavenger hunt for your anniversary, retelling the story of your love…
Imagine selfies have been outlawed, making Kim Kardashian a freedom fighter who needs your help in bringing justice and good lighting to the people…
Let your fantasies take over! That’s what the top Wattpad authors have done in this special collection of fictional scenarios that bring you up close and personal with the real celebrities you love—star alongside Zayn Malik, Cameron Dallas, Kanye West, Selena Gomez, Dylan O’Brien, Tom Hardy, Jamie Dornan, Benedict Cumberbatch, and many more!
Authors included in the book are Leigh Ansell, Rachel Aukes, Doeneseya Bates, Scarlett Drake, A. Evansley, Kevin Fanning, Ariana Godoy, Debra Goelz, Bella Higgin, Blair Holden, Kora Huddles, Annelie Lange, E. Latimer, Bryony Leah, Jordan Lynde, Laiza Millan, Peyton Novak, C.M. Peters, Michelle Jo Quinn, Dmitri Ragano, Elizabeth A. Seibert, Rebecca Sky, Karim Soliman, Kate J. Squires, Steffanie Tan, Kassandra Tate, Anna Todd, Katarina E. Tonks, Marcella Uva, Tango Walker, Bel Watson, Jen Wilde, and Ashley Winters.
Wattpad is a writing community in which users are able to post articles, stories, fanfiction, and poems about anything either online or through the Wattpad app.
Note: Although this book mentions many real celebrities, they have not participated in, authorized, or endorsed its creation.
|Product dimensions:||5.30(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.80(d)|
About the Author
Authors included in the book are Leigh Ansell, Rachel Aukes, Doeneseya Bates, Scarlett Drake, A. Evansley, Kevin Fanning, Ariana Godoy, Debra Goelz, Bella Higgin, Blair Holden, Kora Huddles, Annelie Lange, E. Latimer, Bryony Leah, Jordan Lynde, Laiza Millan, Peyton Novak, C.M. Peters, Michelle Jo Quinn, Dmitri Ragano, Elizabeth A. Seibert, Rebecca Sky, Karim Soliman, Kate J. Squires, Steffanie Tan, Kassandra Tate, Anna Todd, Katarina E. Tonks, Marcella Uva, Tango Walker, Bel Watson, Jen Wilde, and Ashley Winters.
Read an Excerpt
Kim Kardashian just posted a selfie, and your boyfriend is furious about it.
You were midconversation when his mood suddenly changed. Or, really, you were just about to be midconversation. You were gearing up to start the conversation. And now Kim’s selfie has ruined everything.
Your boyfriend had just gotten home from his very difficult and stressful job as a government agent, and it’s one of your rare nights off from your job at Best Buy. You’ve been hinting to him that maybe it would be nice to go out. He hasn’t taken you out on a date, an actual date, in a while. You’ve been together for a while, and it’s starting to feel comfortable. In the good way . . . but also kind of in the not-100-percent-good way. You don’t know how to have the conversation with him exactly, but you’re starting to feel, slightly, like he’s taking you for granted. Not that you don’t still love him! You definitely do. And you are positive that he loves you. You hate that you feel like you even need to have this conversation with him. You know his job is very stressful. Probably everything is just fine between you and you’re making up problems in your head.
But also: you’re kind of dying inside about another night of doing nothing, just falling asleep on his shoulder in front of the TV. You don’t want to feel bored, but, more than that, you don’t want him to think you’re boring. But you do feel bored, frustrated, overwhelmed on a level that maybe isn’t just about him. But you’re not ready to think about that yet.
You have resolved to bring up the topic. You say, gently, curiously, nonjudgmentally, “So do you want to do anything tonight?”
A very easy and blameless entryway into the conversation. Just putting the topic out there.
He’s looking at his phone, probably going through work emails even though he just left work. He’s obsessed. Not obsessed: driven. Highly focused. It’s a thing you like about him. But you ask the question and it looks like you have his attention, like he’s about to put his phone away and look at you, really look at you, and have this conversation with you, but then he swipes something on his phone and sees something that immediately changes his entire demeanor. A chill descends all around you. His grip on his phone tightens; his knuckles go white. He’s no longer looking at his phone but through it, at some distant object that has suddenly come into focus.
He’s no longer there in the room with you. You’re suddenly looking at him from very far away. And you know, immediately, that no way is he taking you out on a date tonight.
“What is it?” you ask. “What’s wrong?”
Your boyfriend inhales deeply. Something flutters just below the skin of his jaw. Finally he closes his eyes and turns his phone screen over.
“She posted. Another. Selfie,” he says, viciously spitting out each syllable.
And you know exactly who he means. There could only be one person he’s referring to, because there’s only one woman who ever posts selfies anymore. There’s only one woman who dares to.
You reach out to take the phone from your boyfriend. You want to see for yourself. You know you shouldn’t, but it’s like a car crash, a thing that you feel the need to witness, to experience firsthand.
You slip the phone from your boyfriend’s hand, but then his distraction breaks and he comes back to life. “Wait, no, you shouldn’t see it!” he says, worried.
And you know he’s right, but you look anyway.
Kim Kardashian has posted a selfie. She stares at the camera, at you, confidently, boldly, almost happily. Her makeup is perfectly applied, her skin so glossy it’s as if she’s lit from within. Her hair is sleek and black and shiny, like a cat disappearing into the night. Her lips are slightly parted and she’s only barely smiling, but there’s something in her eyes that tells you she is genuinely having fun. That she’s enjoying this.
The caption below reads: My sincere apologies to my haters for this perfect selfie! There is no law against loving yourself!
Looking at the picture, you feel something inside you. Something frantic and wild, clawing at the walls of a tiny chamber somewhere deep inside your heart. This selfie of Kim’s is going to ruin your boyfriend’s night, and by extension your night. The aching, the tiny panic inside your heart. It must be anger. At this woman who is acting in a way she shouldn’t. In a way that impacts you. Right? What else could it be?
You hand the phone back to your boyfriend. He’s eyeing you closely, waiting to see your reaction.
“Why does she keep doing this?” you ask. “She knows that selfies are illegal.”
“I don’t know,” your boyfriend says. Then louder, beyond frustrated: “I don’t know!” He turns away. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t let it get to me. I shouldn’t let you see. I just wish there was more I could do.”
“But you’re already doing so much,” you say, rubbing his shoulder, kneading the solid knot of tension in his muscles. “You’re one of the government’s top agents. You’ve already captured so many notorious celebrity selfie-takers. Lindsay Lohan, Rihanna, Willow Smith, Chrissy Teigen, Ariana Grande—all locked up because of you.”
“It’s not enough,” he says, staring off into the distance. “Until we catch Kim Kardashian, it’s not enough.”
“You’ll catch her,” you say. You hear the words and can almost see them floating up like strange bubbles out of your mouth. Do you believe them? It doesn’t matter. What matters is comforting your boyfriend. What matters is how he feels.
“She’s the most wanted criminal in the country,” you add. “You’ll catch her eventually.”
The sun is setting outside. The sky is going slightly gray, the same color as your boyfriend’s eyes. You were hoping to see a movie tonight. There’s a new Matt Damon movie, about a man who has to overcome certain obstacles. It’s supposed to be very good. They say it’s going to win awards.
It’s fine. You need to be taking care of your boyfriend, anyway. This is where you need to be.
THE GOVERNMENT, and particularly the men in charge of the government, felt that people were spending too much time looking at their phones, too much time taking pictures of themselves, too much time thinking about how they looked. They said it was weird and unhealthy for people to be constantly taking and posting pictures of themselves. They said it reflected poorly on us as a nation. They said it was a hazard, a safety issue. They said we should be focusing on other, more important things. They did not mention specifically what the more important things might be.
The government had already made so many decisions about what women could or couldn’t do with their bodies that in the end this was just one more thing. The act that made selfies illegal didn’t even have its own bill—it was just a line item tacked onto a longer bill that took away various other rights.
Certainly the law was not written in a gender-specific way, but it really only affected women. Men had never been good at selfies, anyway. What did they care if they were illegal? Frankly, it was a relief: one less thing for men to be terrible at.
At first, women kept taking selfies. No one believed the law could really be a law law. Was this really something they were going to enforce? But then front-facing cameras in phones were banned. Cars need to meet certain safety requirements in order to be safe for use by the public, the government said; so too phones. Front-facing cameras were too much of a threat. They encouraged people to look inward rather than outward, which was bad.
Then the government task force was formed, and they began going after the most egregiously selfie-taking celebrities, rounding them up and putting them in jail.
Everyone remembered the videos of Kylie Jenner, how the idea of not being able to take selfies anymore had driven her completely insane, the righteous fury blazing behind her demonic eyes as she was dragged, kicking, thrashing, screaming, from the courtroom to the psychiatric hospital.
And after Kylie was locked up, her sister Kendall disappeared and was presumed dead. It wasn’t clear if her hypothetical death was accidental or not, since they never found the body. But the notes left behind at her apartment indicated that if her sister was imprisoned and she could no longer take selfies, there was simply no reason to be alive.
The media and the government spun the story, like they do. Do you see? the government said. If this is how selfies make people behave, making them illegal must be the right thing to do.
As the task force rounded up more celebrities, there was less inspiration for regular, noncelebrity people to take selfies. And then marketing took over the rest. Instagram changed, pivoted to become a makeup company with a line of foundations based on the different filters of yesteryear. Who cares about selfies when you can look like a selfie all the time? It was a huge success.
People’s interests changed. People forgot why they had been so upset about the ban on selfies, why it had seemed so important at the time. Everyone moved on.
Everyone except Kim Kardashian.
Kim refused to go down without a fight.
Kim was an outlaw, a self-professed freedom fighter. She lived on the run. She had walked away from her entire life, from everything, and disappeared. No one knew how she lived, how she survived. They only knew that every so often she would turn up again online, post a selfie, leave everyone freaking out, and then go underground again.
The government had their best hackers trying to figure out where she was, how to triangulate her location, but they were never able to do it. They had software that they used to detect and erase selfies online. It had been a big help in discouraging people from taking and posting such images. But Kim was too good for them, too smart, always one step ahead.
They closed all her accounts, all the access points they were aware of. But then suddenly there’d be a new account, with just one picture on it. Her followers would find it and it would go viral, everyone sharing this illegal new selfie from the criminal, the one true master of the form, the once and future queen.
The men were furious. There was no way this was going to end well for Kim. They would get her eventually. It couldn’t last forever. With every selfie she posted, they got one step closer to catching her. They had fantasies about taking that phone away from her. Smashing it while she ugly-cried in front of them.
But all they had gotten for their troubles was more selfies. Kim’s calm, beatific demeanor, her contoured and highlighted face, smiling. At what, they had no idea.
ON THE DAY you meet Kim, you are feeling aggressively bad and hopeless about life.
It’s almost the end of your shift at Best Buy and your manager is completely hassling you. He says that he received a complaint from a customer that you had not been helpful, and that you hadn’t smiled enough during your interaction with this customer.
Like what does that even mean, smiling enough? You hadn’t smiled at all, actually, that you could remember. Why would you? The customer was a complete jerk. He asked you about Bluetooth speakers and you had politely and helpfully and accurately told him where to find them, even suggesting which one he might like the best. You had fulfilled your end of the social contract governing the interaction.
But then he had tried to flirt with you, asking things like how long you’d been working there, how was it you knew so much about music. Asking what you liked to do when you weren’t at work. None of his business! You are not under any obligation to return the unwanted flirtations of customers that you were aware of. Best Buy is a national consumer electronics chain, not a brothel, the last time you checked.
And then the customer saw that you weren’t being super receptive to his advances and switched tactics. He started arguing against your opinion about Bluetooth speakers, belittling the information you’d given him, explaining the myriad ways in which he thought you were wrong. About speakers! The thing that he had asked you for help with!
Which, fine, dude, whatever. He asked you a question, you gave him a solid answer; if he wanted to argue about it with you, that was his problem. You know more about electronics than he will ever comprehend in his entire life. But having to stand there politely while he berated you, you got just the teensiest bit eye-roll-y with him, and then he stormed off to find your manager.
So now you’re receiving an extended lecture from your hack manager about customer service. You could try to explain the situation to him, but what would that even get you? You really need this job. You barely have any marketable skills. You’d had a whole career path laid out in front of you once. Sort of. Was YouTuber a career path? You’d been really happy making YouTube videos about electronics. Reviews of products, teaching people things about how they worked. Showing ways to hack apps and software to get them to do things the companies hadn’t intended.
But you’d eventually decided to give it up, and “Minor YouTube Star” is not exactly something that impresses people on a résumé. Which was how you ended up with this crummy job at Best Buy, where you are easily the smartest and most overqualified person on staff . . . despite the fact that your boss and the customers routinely treat you like you’re an idiot. You are just really into electronics, and this seemed like a good, safe place to do something vaguely related to your interests. At least until you figured something else out.
But you’d never figured out the something else. And working here involved this terrible uniform of black slacks and ill-fitting, cotton-poly-blend polo shirt that makes you feel as unattractive as possible. Although apparently not unattractive enough to keep men from being creepy! So maybe there’s still hope! Who knows?
As your boss continues his tirade, you notice out of the corner of your eye that there’s a customer hovering weirdly close by. It’s a woman? Maybe? She’s idly perusing the cameras, which are kept locked up behind glass. She’s dressed in all black, a long hooded coat that sweeps across the floor, and giant, dark sunglasses cover most of her face. She’s standing there and pausing in front of the cameras in a way that makes you think she’s not really looking at anything, but rather eavesdropping on your conversation. LOL, “conversation.” Eavesdropping on the long one-sided lecture you’re receiving.
You can hear words coming out of your mouth, totally disconnected from anything happening in your brain. “Oh, yeah, customer service is key,” you’re saying, on autopilot. Just anything to get through this moment so you can go back to reshelving cables or whatever, something that makes you look busy enough that customers are less likely to come up and talk to you.
This is the fourteenth time you are hearing the words customer satisfaction during this little instructional moment, and it’s starting to sound insidiously sexual. That’s just your brain, right? Hearing a word so often it starts to lose all meaning.
He’s still talking, still saying the same thing over and over again, and you are wondering what could possibly ever end this lecture when the woman in black comes over and interrupts your manager. Like literally right between the words customer and service.
“Excuse me, are you the manager?” the woman asks. Her voice is husky, low.
“Yes, that’s me,” the manager says, surprised at the interruption.
“I wanted to ask your opinion about these cameras,” she says.
The manager looks curiously at the woman. “You want to buy a camera?”
“Oh, no,” she says, laughing, placing one hand on his chest in an obviously flirtatious gesture. “Not for me, for my husband.”
“Oh, sure, we’d be happy to help,” he says, looking around for you, but you’ve already taken your cue and walked away, leaving that conversation behind thanks to the momentary distraction of the flirtatious wife. And you certainly aren’t supposed to know very much about cameras anyway, so you feel safe walking away like you’re all excited to get back to work.
You mentally thank the woman for the moment’s peace and the grace of the exit she granted you. You spend the rest of your shift staying as far away from potentially threatening customers and your manager as can reasonably be expected while still appearing to perform a worklike function.
LATER, THE LAST CRABBY CUSTOMER has finally wandered out of the store, your team members are gone, the store is locked up, and you are alone in the storeroom, finishing up some inventory work your manager gave you.
You are rushing to get everything put away in its proper place when you hear a voice coming from somewhere back past the shelves of printers. You look at the rows and rows of towering metal shelves, each packed tightly and chaotically with different boxes and bins of consumer electronics. You peer into the place where the storeroom recedes into shadows.
“Um, hello?” you call. There definitely should not be anyone here. You’re probably imagining it. You go back to sorting boxes of SD cards.
Then you hear another noise. A box being slid along a shelf. And humming? Maybe?
So you are definitely not imagining it.
You start walking, stepping quietly toward the back in your standard-issue black sneakers. It does occur to you to wonder why you care so much whether there’s someone else in the store with you. Honestly, you should probably run in the other direction; the company doesn’t pay you enough to risk your life for consumer electronics. But after that interaction with your boss . . . ugh. One more thing and you are definitely going to get fired, and then you’ll have to tell your boyfriend, and he’ll look at you all pitiably because you know he thinks it’s dumb you work at Best Buy, anyway. And it is, maybe! But also you suspect that he imagines this life where you’re married and you don’t have to work, you get to just stay home and take care of his babies, and what if getting fired was the trigger that shot the bullet of the rest of your life coming at you? These are things you think you want? Maybe? But having this job is a way of having more time to think about it. Not that you think about it. You actively do not think about it.
But getting murdered in the storeroom of the Best Buy in the next five minutes would definitely prevent that decision from getting made. It would solve a lot of problems, actually. You wouldn’t have to work this job anymore. You wouldn’t have to wonder whether the feelings you think you feel for your boyfriend are real or not. You wouldn’t have to feel insane for wanting things you can’t even name.
You get to the back of the storeroom, and it’s totally empty and dead and quiet. So great, another sign that you’re completely insane. And maybe your boyfriend was right; maybe meds would be a good idea. It’s time to get out of here. Time to go home and crawl into bed with your probably already-asleep-and-snoring boyfriend, and lie there unable to fall asleep, and then move to the couch and watch that TV show you always watch, about the man who experiences difficulty but it causes him to learn something about the world and also about himself.
So you turn around to leave, and standing there in the shadows in front of you is a dark, hooded figure.
You shriek in surprise and the figure reaches out, plaintively, saying, “Sorry! I didn’t mean to scare you! Bible.”
“Well, you did, though!” you say, trying to catch your breath. The figure steps forward into the light, and you recognize her as the woman from earlier, in the store.
“Hey, what the heck,” you say. “What are you doing here? You’re not supposed to be back here.”
“Pssh, I’m not supposed to be anywhere,” the woman says. “I need to talk to you, but we have to hurry. We have three minutes before mall security does a sweep of this area.”
She pulls back her hood and reveals the glossiest, sleekest bun you have ever seen in your life. Then she removes her sunglasses and looks at you, smiling. It’s Kim Kardashian. Kim Kardashian is standing in front of you, exuding pure radiance and perfection in the messy, dusty storeroom of the after-hours Best Buy.
You are confident you’re about to faint as she starts walking toward you.
“I’m Kim,” she says. “And I really need your help.”
SO: IF YOU EVER WONDERED what you would do if Kim Kardashian surprised you at work and said she needed your help, the answer, it turns out, is that you would just panic and freeze and not move or say anything because you do not really believe this is happening to you or that reality is even a thing anymore.
You’re just a normal person. You have a boring, uninteresting life. You are irrelevant to everything. You’re a disappointment to everyone you’ve ever met, including yourself. You do not matter. But then Kim Kardashian is looking at you, and her eyes are like cinnamon with diamonds mixed in, and you have no response to anything.
“Uhhh, are you okay?” she asks.
You blink awake and try to force yourself to action. This is the most wanted criminal in the country. Should you be scared? You feel like you should be scared, but you’re not scared. You’re excited.
“No! I’m okay! You just surprised me. I wasn’t expecting to run into you here.”
Which is officially the world’s dumbest thing to say, because OF COURSE YOU WERE NOT EXPECTING TO RUN INTO KIM KARDASHIAN IN THE STOREROOM OF YOUR JOB AT THE BEST BUY AT THE MALL. Your brain is pleading with your mouth like Please shut up, you’re embarrassing us.
But Kim nods understandingly. She’s so gracious, so patient. “Kind of a long day, yeah? Is your boss always like that?”
You nod. “Kind of, yeah. Thank you for distracting him, by the way.”
“I was so annoyed! The way he was talking to you? I was seriously about to smack him over the head with my purse, like ‘Don’t be fucking rude,’ you know?”
“I appreciate it. He might still be yelling at me if you hadn’t intervened.”
“I wasn’t being totally selfless, if I’m honest,” Kim says. “I just came in for some stuff I need for my phones, but then I recognized you.”
There is no way you heard that correctly. “You recognized me?”
Kim nods. “You had a YouTube channel, right?”
You blink. “A long time ago,” you say. “I’m surprised anyone remembers.”
“You were so good!” Kim says enthusiastically. “You know so much about electronics and about hacking things . . . and decrypting files?”
You narrow your eyes at Kim. “I don’t think I did any episodes about decryption.”
“But you could have if you wanted to, right?”
You shrug. “Maybe. I don’t know.”
Kim tilts her head, and her eyes on you become slightly more intense. “Do you really not know? Or are you saying that because that’s how the patriarchy wants you to feel about your accomplishments?”
“What? What does the patriarchy have to do with anything?”
Kim exhales, shaking her head. “Listen, I’m sorry I’m in such a hurry, but I really need your help. There’s an encrypted file on this device. There was a link to it posted in a comment beneath my last selfie, and it’s important that I make sure it contains the information that I think it contains. Is there any way you could take a look at it and see what you find?”
She reaches out, and you instinctively take the thing she’s holding out to you. It’s a prepaid burner phone that looks like it’s been through a war. All scratched up, duct-taped in places.
Kim notices you inspecting the phone and shakes her head ruefully. “The government makes it very difficult for me to post selfies without giving away my personally identifying geo-tagged location. They make it hard to take selfies in general, LOL. I have a bunch of old phones that we mod, but it’s hard to keep them up and running.”
Kim shrugs. “Me and my . . . friends.”
“You modded this yourself?”
“It’s not as good as you could do, I’m sure. I’ve had to learn. I’ve had to get creative. I’ve always been good at adapting. I didn’t expect I’d ever get good at social media until I had a brand to protect, a brand that had been put at risk by a man. Sometimes things outside of your control force you to learn what you’re truly capable of.”
The sentence was stated very simply, but you can sense a deep hurt beneath her words. She’d been so famous, once. So ubiquitous. And now her entire existence was illegal. At one point it had seemed like life was all Kardashian, all the time. But everything has changed so much. Without Kim and her constant access to social media, everything has changed, fallen apart. Nothing is interesting anymore.
But here in person, you can see the outlines of the stress of her life, a life moved from the camera flash and into the shadows. Who knew what it must be like for her, having been so used to being on top of the world, having everything she ever desired, doing anything, going anywhere she wanted. And now she’s living on the run. Always hiding. You’ve read news reports of raids at places where they thought she’d been, based on anonymous comments, only to find they missed her by hours. What was that like? You want to ask. You want to find out more.
“I need to run,” Kim says apologetically. “It’s really very nice to meet you, and I’m sorry to surprise you like this. But I really need your help. Is it okay? Can I trust you?”
NO! your brain shouts. Your boyfriend will murder you. “Yes,” your mouth says.
Kim smiles, and you feel a small fire light within your heart, and you suddenly feel like you’re about to start sobbing and you have no idea why. She turns to go and then stops.
“I’m sorry work is so difficult,” she says. “Don’t give up hope, okay? It’s hard work, believing in yourself, and they make it harder for us all the time. But it’s worth it. I promise.”
You’re not sure what she means, exactly, and you’re about to say so when you hear a noise behind you. It’s the security guard, his flashlight bright on your face. You raise your hand to keep the light out of your eyes.
You turn back and see that Kim is gone, only shadows where she’d been standing.
“You still here?” the guard says, ambling toward you.
“Yes, just running some inventory for my boss. You know how it is!” you sing out, a little too jovially.
“You alone?” he asks, peering into the darkness behind you. “Thought I heard voices back here.”
“Um, yeah, that was just me. I was just, you know, talking to myself because I was so bored and lonely back here.”
You are so bad at lying to authority figures. Is a security guard even an authority figure? He’s a man. An old man. He doesn’t look like he provides much security to anything. He has a flashlight and a kind of official-looking uniform, but it’s just an outfit and it’s just a job. You could definitely outrun him. But still. It was hard to lie to someone like that.
“Anyways, I’m all finished up now and heading home,” you continue.
“Bored and lonely, eh?” He eyes you warily and nods to himself. Or maybe he’s just eyeing you. Then he turns and shuffles away.
A moment ago you had been speaking calmly and rationally with the country’s most dangerous villain, the government’s number one most-wanted fugitive. And it had been fine. Fun, even. And then this old broken-down security guard dude asks you one question and you freeze up.
What the hell is your problem?
YOU WAKE UP, all at once and in a panic, gasping for air and thrashing around wildly in the sheets. You quickly ascertain that no one is trying to kill you, no one is after you, nothing is wrong, everything is fine, and you try to calm your breathing and the insane beating of your heart. This happens more and more lately. Waking up feeling like you’re under attack and having no idea why. Like there’s some gap in communication between two parts of your self. This vague sense that your heart knows something is wrong and your brain is unable to remember what it is. But you’re okay. You’re in your room. You’re alone. It’s morning. You can’t remember whether your boyfriend was here when you passed out last night, exhausted, but he’s definitely not here now.
Your heart is still beating like crazy. What had you been dreaming of? It had been horrifying, whatever it was. All you can remember is that it involved meeting Kim Kardashian.
Your bag is on the floor by the bed. You lean over and haul it up onto your lap. If there are no illegal electronics in your bag, then it was definitely a dream. You fish around inside the bag and find a phone that definitely does not belong to you. You sink back down against the pillows, the details of the previous evening swimming back into your memory.
Kim Kardashian had recognized you. Had asked for your help specifically. Which was insane, because as much as you had enjoyed your YouTube channel, ultimately it had felt like a long exercise in self-hatred. You had really liked talking about electronics and software and the dark web and things like that. It had been really fun to learn about the topics and then find ways to explain them to your audience. It had been weird at first, filming yourself, seeing how you looked, how you sounded. But then you had gotten so lost in the editing of each episode, the timing, the beats of the messages you were trying to convey, that the physicality of it, the stress about whether you looked dumb or ugly or whatever, had fallen away. Because it was just for you, anyway. And it was a fun project.
Well, mostly fun. Because you were a woman talking about electronics on the internet, it was kind of a nonstop barrage of men #actually-ing in the comments. People continually hating on you in every conceivable way. Saying that you not only had no idea what you were talking about, but that you were ugly and not worth looking at. It was hard to push through. You tried, but over time you began to doubt yourself. And then one day it was just too much. You couldn’t take it anymore, so you stopped. You translated what few skills you had into the job at Best Buy. It wasn’t as creative as YouTube, but at least you didn’t have to read hateful comments anymore. Although, in some ways, not much had changed. People still assumed you had no idea what you were talking about. Your boss would interrupt you and undermine you in front of customers all the time. Customers would #actually you in real time. Whether because you were a woman or because they had read one article on a subject and were suddenly experts on whatever they were asking you about.
You turn the phone over in your hands, examining it to see exactly what Kim had done with it. The construction is sloppy—pieces mismatched, glue everywhere, but the result is effective. She had taken it apart, replaced pieces inside with pieces borrowed from other phones, drilled a hole in the front case, and glued it all back together. But how did she get a second camera in there? you wonder. Surely there would have to be a space trade-off somehow. Maybe she put in a smaller battery? But then, examining the back more closely, you realize what Kim had done—she’d taken the back-facing camera and turned it around and placed it in the front. Ingenious and devilish, actually.
For one thing, it meant she didn’t have to make any trade-offs in terms of battery life. It was also a much easier customization that way, basically using all the same parts of the phone but repurposing them slightly. The result was an extremely great camera for selfies. Now this main, high-powered camera lens could only be directed toward selfies. Only! You couldn’t even use this phone as a regular camera. So not only was it illegal, it was kind of a humongous “Fuck You” to the government: Not only am I going to take selfies, I’m ONLY going to take selfies!
You sit and wonder at it. It was kind of a lot of work, a long way around to make a point. Modding phones like this is dangerous, challenging work. Even Kim herself still only risks posting the occasional selfie online. You count back and remember maybe only four or five this year, total. Almost nothing. Especially compared to her previous body of work. But she took a lot of time and energy to create this selfie phone. You wonder how many more selfies she’s taking, relative to the few she’s posting. You picture them all lined up electronically on a server somewhere, like an army awaiting its orders, ready to lash out and strike, prepared for battle at a moment’s notice.
The image is so ridiculous you almost genuinely LOL out loud. You reach into your bag and pull out your laptop. You pause briefly to consider whether you should really be doing this. Kim Kardashian is a criminal. A criminal your boyfriend is actively trying to catch. He would kill you if he knew you were in contact with her, let alone if he knew you were helping her.
But, like, are you even really helping her? Not yet. Probably not at all, really. You’re just curious to look at the file, maybe. Probably you wouldn’t be able to do anything with it anyway. This is more of a challenge for yourself than anything else. Maybe you’ll find some useful piece of information that you could give to your boyfriend, and he’ll be so proud of you. Would you do that? You kind of know you won’t, but that’s what you tell yourself as you tuck your hair behind your ear, connect the phone to your laptop, and begin typing, looking through the file system for the one file in question.
You scan the phone and find a folder with a bunch of images. Kim’s selfies, it turns out. You feel weird, glancing through them. One, because they’re not supposed to exist. Two, because it feels like an invasion of her privacy, looking through all the selfies she took in her quest to find the perfect one to post. She looks amazing in every photo; how does she even choose? You flip through them, searching for variances. A slight tilt of the head, her mouth open or closed or her tongue sticking out, her eyes softer or more intense. All these little choices, creating all these little details. What does any of it even matter? It seems silly. It seems like a pointless waste of time. How could anyone stand to look at themselves that much, anyway. Maybe it’s different if you’re as pretty as Kim Kardashian. There is definitely no danger of you ever being able to do that.
Eventually you find the file in question. It looks like an image file but refuses to load. You open it up in a text editor and see it’s just a string of letters and numbers disguising itself as an image file. There are any number of things it could be.
You start researching encryption methods, downloading different heuristics programs that might help. The world falls away, and it’s just you and this puzzle to solve. You try different approaches, different ideas. You keep thinking you’re getting close, only to find yourself thwarted. Your heart is racing. You’re having fun. This is what you used to love, the creativity of technology. The artistic process of learning something and solving a problem.
You stay in bed, hunched over your laptop, for hours. You forget about showering, eating, whatever else you might have had planned for the day. And then, at last and all of a sudden, you figure it out. A wrong turn trying to reverse one encryption method reveals a partial clue in the text, and you use that like a thread to pull at, carefully, slowly, until the whole thing unravels and reveals itself. It’s a location, geographic coordinates, and a specific time. You have no idea what that information means or why it’s important, but presumably Kim does.
You sit back, kind of extremely pleased with yourself. You have information Kim Kardashian needs. She asked you for help, and you have totally been able to help her. Okay, there is the fact that you’ll be going to jail if anyone finds out, but still. Kind of a cool day. You’ll have to think a little bit about what you’re going to actually do now that you have this information. But now that you’ve started on this path, you do kind of want to see where it goes, if you’re honest. But would you really do that? Betray your boyfriend like that, your government, your country?
You look at the time and realize how late it is and decide to table that mental debate for later. You delete all your work and drop everything onto the floor, grabbing a towel and running for the shower. You have to be at work soon. A good lesson: never experience happiness, because something will immediately remind you not to be happy.
AFTER YOUR SHOWER, you’re brushing your hair when you accidentally catch sight of yourself in the foggy mirror. You flinch, like you’re seeing a ghost. You wipe off the glass to see yourself better. You stand there and look at yourself, hardly recognizing what you see. Honestly, you hardly look in the mirror anymore. Like, ever, if you can help it. You hate what you look like, so what is even the point if it’s just going to ruin your day and confirm what you already know to be true about yourself?
You’ve tried the Instagram makeup filters, and they kind of help, but not really. It’s not enough. You’re not even sure you’re doing them right. There are tutorials, lessons you can buy to help you learn how to achieve better results with the makeup. How to make it look like you know what you’re doing. You haven’t purchased them yet, but you feel, on a deep level, like you should.
You give up on your hair and your appearance and walk back to your bedroom, and your heart immediately launches out of your chest because Hi! There’s your boyfriend, standing in your room, holding the phone that Kim gave you.
“Um, hi?” you say, your voice more meek and unsure-sounding than you intended.
Your boyfriend looks at you, and those are not his eyes. “We need to talk,” he says, and that is not his voice.
“Okay,” you say, and you sit on the edge of the bed, waiting. You are in trouble. You are in So. Much. Trouble.
“Where did you get this?” he asks simply, coldly.
You do not 100 percent want to answer this question, but you sense this is kind of an important crossroads in your relationship.
“What are you doing here?” you ask.
“I asked you where you got this.”
“Why are you going through my stuff?”
You can see the thing fluttering beneath his jawline. “I came home to surprise you and saw you were in the shower, so I came in here to wait, and I saw this”—he holds the phone out, directly in front of your face—“on the floor, so I picked it up to see what it was, and now I have to ask: Where did you get this?”
You can feel every cell in your body vibrating. What is this conversation? What does it mean? You mentally scan through twenty different lies you could offer him, but they all sound terrible. And also: he’s your boyfriend. Since when do you lie to him?
“It’s from work,” you say.
“You found it at work? When? Or someone gave it to you at work? Who?” This isn’t a conversation. This is an interrogation.
“Kind of. Not exactly.”
“This is a phone with a front-facing camera. A front-facing camera like the ones used for selfies! Do you even know how illegal this is? If someone gave this to you, I need to alert my team. I need to bring them in immediately.”
“I—” you start to say, then stop, unsure how to proceed, really just wanting this conversation to be over. Wanting him out of your room. Wanting to fast-forward past the next big chunk of your life. You’d been in such a good mood when you decrypted that file, and now you feel like scum, like the lowest, most terrible person on the planet. Why can’t you just tell him where you got the phone?
“I wasn’t doing anything with the phone,” you say, trying to sound reassuring. “I mean, it’s not connected to the internet or anything.”
“That’s not the point. The point is there are laws, laws I have sworn to uphold. And I find out my girlfriend, right under my nose, has been—”
“I’m sorry!” you say. “I’m sorry, okay? I just brought it home yesterday. I’ll take it back tonight, and you won’t see it ever again. I don’t know what I was thinking.”
No lies so far, yay, you.
“What were you thinking?” he presses.
“I just . . . it was a project I was doing at work. I found the parts and just started messing around with them.”
Well, so much for that; those are definitely lies, and you are definitely terrible.
Your boyfriend is quiet, staring at you, and you finally meet his eyes. They reflect nothing back—no emotion, no love, no patience. This is awful. He must hate you so much right now. Why are you putting him through this?
“You made this,” he says.
“You?” he asks, for confirmation.
“Wait, are you saying you don’t believe I made it?” Your voice is rising; you start to feel yourself getting defensive. Okay, technically you didn’t make it, and it would never have occurred to you to make it, but is it beyond all reason or possibility that you could have? What kind of question is that for him to ask, anyway?
“What is wrong with you?” your boyfriend asks. “Why are you doing this to me?”
“Doing what to you? You don’t believe I could make this? I used to be pretty great at electronics, you know. It’s how we met.”
Your boyfriend had been one of the viewers #actually-ing you in the comments. Not one of the really nasty ones, of course. He didn’t say you were ugly or a slut or anything like that. He just suggested that you were misinformed about the usefulness of modding the firmware on your router. And it was obnoxious, but it was so comparatively less obnoxious than the comments you typically received that you responded and engaged with him. It led to a thread that suggested he was at least communicating with you in a way that took you kind of seriously. And that had led to emailing, and that had led to meeting up IRL, and that had led to the entire rest of your life up to this point.
Your boyfriend looks confused, conflicted, frustrated. You know you’ve backed him into a corner now. “It’s not that I don’t think you could have hacked this phone,” he says. “It’s just, it’s just—” His voice starts to quaver. There are almost tears in his eyes.
What is going on?
“Why do you suddenly feel the need to take selfies?” he asks. “Don’t you like the pictures I take of us?”
He’s shaking, dropping the phone down by his side, looking off at the wall. Oh. OH. This is about his hurt feelings. That’s different. That’s easy to fix.
“Oh, sweetie,” you say, rushing to him and wrapping your arms around him. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t want to hurt your feelings. I love the photographs you take of us. I love being in your pictures. I love all the pictures of us. You do a GREAT job. Better than any pictures I could ever take of myself. I don’t need to take selfies, I promise.”
He’s wiping the tears from his eyes. “I always try to take at least one good picture of us on every date,” he offers quietly.
“Yes, you do. And I love them,” you say. You’re holding his face in your hands. “I’m so sorry. I was just messing around at work, and I didn’t think about how it would affect you. The pictures you take of me are more than enough for me. You don’t need to be worried, okay? I’ll take the phone apart and put everything back at work. No one will ever know, I promise.”
He nods, sniffling, drying his eyes.
“Okay? Are we okay? I’m sorry. I’m so so so so sorry.” You lean up to kiss his cheek. He’s still not looking at you.
“I have to get to work,” you say. “Do you want to drive me? So we can get a little more time to hang out? I like when you drive me places.” You move away and start to get ready. You take the phone out of his hands and feel his eyes on you as you bend, as casually and meaninglessly as possible, to throw it into your backpack.
“Okay,” he says. “Sure.” There’s something going on behind his eyes. He’s still so far away. You feel like your love is a chain, you feel like he’s hanging off a tall bridge from the end of your love, and you have to haul that love, hand over hand, all the way up, to bring him back to the bridge, to reality, to life, to you. It’s delicate work—at any minute the love could slip from your hands and he’ll fall back down, and you’ll have to begin the work of pulling him up again. It’s exhausting.
“I need to finish getting dressed and then we’ll go, okay?”
You pick up your clothes and turn away, pausing briefly as you think of the phone lying in your bag on your bed. Part of you wishes there was a way to take the bag and walk away, and then just keep on walking, forever. But that’s not realistic. There is no part of you that’s capable of something like that.
HOURS LATER, it’s well into your work shift and there is another balding male customer yelling at you about something. You’re not really paying attention. You’re still thinking about your interaction with your boyfriend earlier and feeling weird about how you left things. He drove you to work and you apologized a million more times, and you asked for more details about his day, trying to be very interested and supportive, but it didn’t help. You felt like his mind was still elsewhere.
You asked if you could hang out later and talk after work, and he said he had a project that was probably going to keep him busy. He looked at you and you had no earthly idea what was going on behind his eyes. But you knew that it was your fault. You knew you should just tell him. About Kim, about the phone, the file, everything. Why not just come clean and start again? Really do the work of proving your devotion to him.
On the other hand, it was all going to be over soon anyway, so why even make a big deal about it? Kim would sneak back in after your shift, you would give her the phone and the information, and she would sneak back off to her life of illegal selfies, while you returned to your life of . . . whatever it was. To this. To getting yelled at by some customer because he didn’t like your tone.
You stand there and let the customer’s anger wash over you. You are a rock. His anger is a stream, traveling swiftly around you. Only wearing away at you on the smallest, most microscopic level. It would take years of this man yelling at you before it caused any visible damage. You have built up a thick, callused layer of emotional skin over the years of being yelled at IRL and on the internet. There is no way for you to exist, either corporeally or electronically, without being a vessel into which people can empty their anger.
Yes, okay, you are saying to the angry man, who hasn’t stopped to take a breath in as long as you could remember. You nod. Encouraging him. Letting him know that you are sympathetic, which you aren’t, and actively listening, which you aren’t.
It isn’t as though this is going to go on forever. The customer yelling, sure, he’ll lose focus and end the discussion and decide to be mad at someone else eventually? Hopefully? Although some days there seemed to be no bottom to the well of male anger. But also this, your job at Best Buy. Eventually something will happen. Maybe you’ll find another job? Or maybe when you marry your boyfriend you’ll have him and the house and the kids to focus on. That would save you from this job, anyway. Kind of a decent escape plan. Or is it? Is that your plan? Work at Best Buy until you have to get married and pregnant? Why does it all seem so inevitable? It shouldn’t feel inevitable, right? It should feel like there’s some kind of choice involved. But maybe that’s what love really is: not seeing any choices. Seeing only one way forward for your entire life.
Now the customer is demanding to speak to your manager. Which is excellent.
“Okay, I’ll get my manager—wait right here,” you say, and walk away.
You do a slow loop around the perimeter of the store, not looking for your manager but not not looking for him either. Nothing is going to help; this man is always going to be mad at you, and his anger will always be directed at you, and there is nothing you could have done to prevent it except not have been born. It’s dark out, at least, so soon the store will be closing and the angry man will have to leave. Although the store seems a little busier than it normally does this time of night. Lots of men kind of standing and hovering around, idly looking at video games or toner cartridges or GPS systems. Their glances shifting from one to another and then back to whatever. At least none of them seems interested in yelling at you. Small favors.
You decide to go back into the storeroom and hide until the angry customer is gone. As you’re leaving the showroom floor and turning down the hallway that leads to the storeroom, someone comes up behind you, uncomfortably close. You turn and try to distance yourself from them but they’re practically on top of you. They’re dressed all in black, hooded, and with a scarf obscuring their face.
“Um, excuse me, it’s employees only back here,” you say. The person lifts their hood and pulls their scarf down and you see, peeking out at you, the wickedly conspiratorial smile of Kim Kardashian.
“Kim!” you practically shout as Kim’s gloved hand shoots up to cover your mouth. You are weirdly delighted to see her. She nods and pushes you farther away from the showroom, following close behind, her hand on your lower back, guiding you where she wants you to go, but gently, affectionately, not aggressively.
She stops you behind the office, out of view of the showroom.
“Kim! What the heck are you doing here?” you ask. “I thought you were coming by later.”
“Sneaking in after hours is hard, and we had that close call with the security guard. I like to change up my schedule and try to never do the same thing two days in a row. And I’m kind of worried about my timeline, so I thought I would try to catch you early. But now I’m kind of regretting the decision—is it always this busy in the store this late?”
You frown. “No! It’s weird. Definitely more crowded than normal.”
Kim looks away, chewing over something mentally. You just keep staring at her because, ugh, Kim Kardashian. For the first time since this morning, you feel happy and kind of relaxed, which is weird and makes no sense, except this very famous and notorious illegal celebrity has come to visit you at work twice in two days? And it all feels kind of magical? She smells amazing, btw.
“Did you have a chance to look at that file?” she asks.
You nod. “Yup. It was definitely an encrypted file. It was a location and a time. It didn’t turn out to be super difficult to crack the encryption; it was just having the phone in general that was the problem.”
Kim hesitates and then smiles quickly, knowingly. “Why’s that? Were you tempted to take a selfie?”
“No, no, not really. Just that my boyfriend caught me with the phone, and it was a whole thing.”
Kim makes a sympathetic face. “Sorry. Boyfriends are trash; they don’t know anything.”
“Well, mine kinda does. He’s on the task force.”
All light and joy immediately disappear from Kim’s face, and it’s kind of heartbreaking for you. “Wait, what? The task force that’s looking for me?”
Kim’s eyes glint like light reflected off knives as she turns to look back to the store, worrying at an idea. “You said there aren’t normally this many people in the store this late.”
“No. Why? Is that important?”
“What would you say is the average number for this hour?”
“I don’t know, like three or four?”
“I counted fifteen men. Is that about what you counted?”
You realize that the showroom has become oddly quiet. Normally, even back here, you can hear all kinds of blooping and bleeping and yelling, the low murmur of people trying to assuage their vague unhappiness with rampant consumerism. But now there’s suddenly nothing. Just quiet.
“Um. I didn’t count the men. I spend my life trying not to think about them more than I have to.”
“They hate that,” Kim murmurs. She pulls her bulky jacket off, revealing a skintight black bodysuit. It looks like it’s been molded to fit her perfectly weight-trained hourglass shape. “We’re in trouble,” she says as she takes out a phone and begins swiping. She’s suddenly all business, highly focused. “Do you still have the phone I gave you?”
“Yes, in my bag,” you say. “What do you mean we’re in trouble?”
“And where’s your bag?”
“Just there, in my locker.”
“Okay, let’s get it. Stay low and quiet,” Kim says, ushering you back down the hallway.
This is suddenly weird, and you have no idea how stressed you’re supposed to be relative to how stressed Kim suddenly is. You both go to where the lockers are, between the storeroom and the showroom, and there’s a man standing there, a customer in an employees-only space. He’s one of the men who was browsing the store earlier. As soon as he sees you and Kim, he runs, practically diving back out into the store.
“Crap, hurry hurry hurry,” Kim whispers.
You fiddle with the combination, not totally sure what’s going on or whether it’s okay for you to ask questions, or why you have to be quiet or why the customer was being weird. You hear voices, whispers, coming from the showroom, and then footsteps, heavy boots, running, getting closer.
You have the locker open and your bag in your hand and then there’s a spray of red light across your face and then there’s a little red laser dot humming across Kim’s chest and she shouts, “GET DOWN!” and pulls you to the floor just as bullets start flying through the lockers behind you and ricocheting off the metal shelves.
You stay low, crawling with Kim back toward the storeroom. “I’m guessing that’s your boyfriend,” Kim says, already on her feet again.
“Um, that’s not my boyfriend,” you say.
A voice, distorted by a megaphone, calls out, “KIM KARDASHIAN, WE HAVE YOU SURROUNDED.”
“OMG, that’s my boyfriend,” you say.
Kim makes a very emphatic and wordless gesture that says SEE, I TOLD YOU.
“PUT YOUR PHONE DOWN AND COME OUT WITH YOUR HANDS UP,” your boyfriend’s megaphoned voice says.
Kim shakes her head as she swipes across her phone and holds it up to her ear. “See? What’s he talking about? Put your phone down? It’s not a gun; they’re the ones with the guns. What do they even think I’m going to do, exactly? Come on.”
You follow Kim, running through the aisles toward the back of the room.
“West side, three minutes, one passenger,” Kim says into her phone, then hangs up. At the back of the storeroom, she pauses. She’s looking at a map of the mall on her phone. “The back door leads to the loading dock, right?”
“They’ll have that blocked off by now. We’ll escape through the food court. Let’s go.”
“Wait,” you say, not moving. “What’s happening? Why are they shooting at us?”
“Because you told your boyfriend I’d be here.”
“I didn’t, though! I didn’t say anything about you! I said I made the phone myself. I swear I didn’t say one thing about you.”
Kim looks heartbroken. “Well, that’s worse. That means your boyfriend just really doesn’t trust you, like, at all. Come on, you’re coming with me now. Let’s go.”
“You’re kidnapping me?”
“What?” Kim looks at you like you’re completely insane. “I’m not kidnapping you. I’m saving you.”
“But my boyfriend . . .” you say, looking back in the direction of the store.
“Your boyfriend is complete garbage and he’s shooting at you, and I’m sorry, but you have to come with me now. Let’s GO!” Kim grabs your arm and pulls you along, leading you away from the loading dock.
“Stay right behind me,” she says, and you are too much in shock to do anything else. She shoves open the side exit door and leaps across the hallway, pulling you along behind her, through a door marked EMPLOYEES ONLY. You find yourself in the Taco Bell kitchen. Stainless-steel surfaces everywhere, hot ovens, a sweet, spicy smell filling the air almost oppressively, and some extremely confused-looking teenagers staring at you and Kim.
Kim has a pained look on her face as she continues walking. “Ohhh, I love Taco Bell! I wish we had time to grab something—I’m starving! Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Tacossss!” she exclaims sadly, reaching out toward a tray of empty taco shells as she passes, as though she’s being forcibly taken away from the love of her life.
Kim jumps over the front counter, and you follow right behind her, crossing the food court, rushing out through the doors, racing across the courtyard past the water fountain with the colored lights and around the corner, into an alley. There’s a jet-black Range Rover waiting there, and Kim opens the back door and pushes you inside and jumps in after you and yells “GO!” The truck immediately peels off, jumping down off the sidewalk, screeching out across the oncoming traffic, and away into the night.
YOU GET JOUNCED AROUND in the backseat as the SUV quickly screams across two lanes of traffic, brakes squealing and horns honking in its wake, and just barely makes an exit at the last minute. The car whips around the cloverleaf ramp, throwing you against the door. Once you’re on the highway, the driver floors it and the car takes off at top speed.
“Anyone following us?” Kim asks the driver.
“We lost them,” a voice, female, replies.
“Is the phone in here?” Kim asks, tugging at your bag.
“Oh, yeah, here.” You start to remove the backpack from your shoulder and then realize that in your panic about your rapidly approaching death when the SUV had started moving, you had pulled the seat belt down and locked it while you were still wearing the bag. Which makes removing the bag impossible. Further panic sets in.
“Here, let me—” Kim starts.
“I got it! I can do it!” you say, your voice sounding more upset and worried than you intended. You stop trying to untangle yourself and calmly undo the safety belt and slide it back, freeing the straps of the bag, which you hand to Kim. You lock yourself back in. Your hands are shaking.
“Thanks,” Kim says, eyeing you carefully.
This is mortifying. You’re sitting in an SUV next to Kim Kardashian and acting like an idiot who’s never been in a car before. Kim searches around inside your bag, pulling out random, irrelevant things. Your laptop cord. Your wallet. A half-empty Dasani. A bag of gummy worms that you didn’t realize was still in there. A magazine featuring an article you’ve been meaning to read about “The Top 10 Things You’re Doing That Turn Him Off.”
“Hmm, should I dump this whole thing out or should I . . . ?” Kim wonders aloud.
“Here, I’ll help,” you say, reaching over into the bag where it sits on Kim’s lap. You find the inner mesh pocket where you’d stashed the phone, slide it out, and hand it to her.
“Thanks,” Kim says, taking it delicately from you. “I’m glad to have it back. It’s not as easy for me to get phones as it once was. I have to hang on to them.”
You don’t really have a response to that, or to anything, really. You are not sure what’s happening in your brain. It’s kind of a mess of feelings and emotions and things you don’t totally understand, and honestly you can’t even really breathe, like at all; it’s like someone very heavy is suddenly sitting on your chest.
Oh, you’re having a panic attack.
“Whoa, hey,” Kim says. She undoes her seat belt and slides across the seat to you. She places her hand gently but firmly on your back. “Just breathe slowly. Close your eyes. It’s okay. You’re not dying. I promise.” You close your eyes and breathe and focus on Kim’s touch, her voice. She feels real. It helps you feel like you’re not completely disconnected from reality.
“That was pretty intense back there,” she says. “I’m sorry. I’ve gotten used to it, but I’m sure that was, like, a lot.”
You nod and turn to look out the window. You’re being driven away from the city. It’s just a mass of yellow lights receding into the darkness.
“Where are we going?” you ask.
“Somewhere safe,” Kim says.
“Are you dropping me off somewhere? A train station or something? I don’t mind. I’m not sure I have enough money for a ticket, but I’ll figure it out. I’ll be okay. I promise.” You nod at Kim, trying to reassure her. What are you reassuring her about? Why are you crying? Why do you feel like the thing inside your heart is about to claw its way out of your chest?
Kim keeps rubbing your back. “So. Your boyfriend has figured out by now that you know me. Which means: (a) he’s not your boyfriend anymore, and (b) you can’t really go home. And, well, (c) upside, they are definitely not expecting you back at work tomorrow. You’re safer with us now.”
“But I need to go back,” you say. “I need to explain.”
“What do you need to explain? Your boyfriend’s task force was shooting at you. They’re the ones who need to explain. I’m really sorry that I got you involved in this, but like, honestly, you kind of already were, whether or not you realized it.”
You keep running over the events at the mall in your mind. Had your boyfriend known you were with Kim? He’d known you were working, but the rest was just coincidence, right? He wouldn’t blame you. It would be okay. He was your boyfriend. He was just trying to do the right thing. And what were you doing? How were you repaying him? By hanging out with criminals.
At some point after dusk, the Range Rover exits the highway and is driving through a town now. Sleepy blue TV lights glow out from the windows on houses set far back from the street, far from each other.
You all keep driving until the town falls away and everything becomes empty woodland and farmland. Then the car turns off onto a dirt road that you definitely would never have found on your own, even with Google Maps.
“We’re just switching cars,” Kim says. “Then we’ll get to the house.”
“We’re going to your house?” you ask.
Kim shakes her head. “Just a house. I can’t risk staying anywhere too long.”
The car pulls to a stop. Kim opens her door, and you slide out on your side. The driver is already out of the car, and as you exit, she goes around to the back, lifts the tailgate, and pulls out a red plastic gas container, which she proceeds to dump all over the car.
Watching her, you see that the driver is tall and thin. Her hair is as dark as Kim’s, but her skin is paler, almost translucent in the moonlight. She’s wearing black boots, leather pants and jacket. There’s a gracefulness to every move she makes. Like a dancer. It’s hard to take your eyes off her.
Kim comes over and stands by you, holding your bag out to you. “Don’t forget this,” she says.
“Thanks,” you say, just as the driver flicks a match, and in the flame you see her face for the first time. “OH MY GOD,” you say as the driver throws the match and the SUV bursts into flames. “That’s Kendall Jenner,” you say to Kim.
Kim nods excitedly at you, like Good job figuring that out!
“That’s your sister!” you add stupidly.
Kim nods again politely, then says, “Come on,” pulling you along.
Kendall is already a good distance away from the burning SUV, her long legs taking her down a shallow ditch to what looks like just a weird brown shape in the night. She pulls a sheet back, revealing a small car underneath. A Honda Fit.
In the firelight you can see Kim’s upper lip curling. Kendall sees it too.
“Gotta play it low-key in the suburbs, Kim.”
“I didn’t say anything!” Kim protests.
Kendall lowers her eyes at Kim, then opens the front door and swings into the driver’s seat. Kim gets into the front passenger seat, and you climb in behind her. Kendall turns the engine over and starts easing the car down the bumpy dirt path, back toward the main road.
Kim is already fiddling with the radio. “No aux cord; not even, like, satellite,” she murmurs to herself.
“KIM!” Kendall says. It’s a very stern warning.
“I’m not complaining! I’m just stating a fact!” Kim says, sitting back.
The car continues in silence for a moment. “So I have a question,” you say when that moment has run its course. Kim turns back and nods expectantly for you to proceed.
“Kendall is alive?”
Kim narrows her eyes suspiciously at Kendall, then reaches over and pokes her firmly, once, in the arm.
“Are you alive?” Kim is smiling evilly; she knows she’s irritating not just her sister but everyone in the car.
Kendall lifts her chin and finds your eyes in the rearview mirror. “Faking my death just freed us up, gave us a little more room to move while we work on our plan. Don’t worry, I won’t be dead for much longer. And in fact, soon I’ll be more famous and popular than I ever was before. I mean, talk about a second act. Coming back from the dead beats being hospitalized for exhaustion any old day. I’ll probably be more famous than the amazing Kim Kardashian.”
“If that happened, I would kill you for real,” Kim says. She tries to poke Kendall again, but Kendall slaps her hand away, and there’s a brief slap fight before silence once again descends upon the car.
You have a million follow-up questions and you’re having trouble picking just one.
“So where are we going?” you ask.
Kim turns toward you and waggles her eyebrows. “Well, Miss File Decrypter, that’s what you’re going to tell us.”
YOU WAKE UP the next morning, calmly, easily. You are in a small twin bed in a room that’s otherwise empty. The shades are drawn, but you can tell from the color of the light that it’s late morning.
There are no other noises in the house, and for a brief moment you panic that you’ve been left here. That Kim and Kendall have ditched you in this random house in the middle of nowhere. They’ve realized that you are boring and dumb and useless and you’re on your own, forever. But then you hear voices, kitchen noises, Kendall yelling at Kim about something, and you relax.
You push back the covers and see you’re still in your Best Buy uniform. Gross. And you don’t even really want to know about your hair situation. You quietly wander out of the bedroom and down the hall toward the kitchen. You smell something heavy and oppressive. Is it gunpowder? Is gunpowder even still a thing people use? The smell is burny and metallic, anyway.
You arrive at the kitchen/eating area and find Kendall and Kim hunched over a laptop. You watch them for a moment. It’s so weird to see them together, just being themselves. They’re looking at something on the screen, and you can’t hear what they’re saying, but there’s a casual gracefulness to their interaction. A comfort. Kendall says something and Kim points to something on the screen, and then Kim starts to say something and Kendall is already tapping away, bringing up another screen, and Kim’s saying something else.
Kim looks up, her eyes instantly finding yours. “Hey, you. Good morning,” she says, smiling.
“Is everything okay?” you ask. “I smelled something burning.”
“FINE. OKAY, I AM NOT THE BEST COOK!” Kim says in mock outrage.
Oops. Whatever you smelled, it definitely had not occurred to you that it might be food.
“Sorry!” you say.
Kendall waves your concern away as unnecessary. “Kim has other skills. Like eating.”
“I heard that!” Kim says. “And I completely agree.”
Kendall motions for you to sit on a stool at the counter and puts a plate of something that looks vaguely breakfast-y in front of you. “Maybe scrape off the black parts?” she suggests.
“So, like, all of it?” you say.
“We’re looking at the file again,” Kim says. “Can you show us what you figured out?”
You nod and push away the alleged plate of breakfast. You lean in over the computer, and Kim moves away, staying close enough to be right next to you but not get in your way. You can feel her hair just barely grazing your skin. Which is distracting. But you give the sisters a quick tutorial, going back over the steps you took to decrypt the file.
“See? So it’s a time and a location. And if we put it into Google Maps . . .” You pause, waiting for the internet to do its thing. The map comes up, and the location pin indicates a psychiatric hospital.
“That’s only a few hours from here,” Kendall says.
Kim nods. “And the time on the encrypted file was like . . .”
“Tomorrow night,” Kendall answers.
“Whoa,” Kim says, a look passing between them. “Okay. It’s all happening.”
“What’s all happening?” you ask. “Why is the location a secure hospital? What’s happening tomorrow night?”
“That’s when Kylie is breaking out of jail.”
“Um,” you say. You have questions about this. But Kendall interrupts you before you can start expressing them.
“Hey, speaking of,” she says to me, “I think we can find some clothes that fit you in the stuff we brought for Kylie, unless you want to continue to demonstrate your fierce brand loyalty to Best Buy. I have been thinking of investing in a new microwave oven, if you want to help with that.”
“Ugh, yeah, no,” you say, horrified about your appearance. “Please, different clothes.”
Kendall nods understandingly and walks back toward the bedrooms.
Kim is still hunched over the computer, clicking around. “Awww!” she says, looking disappointed. “You didn’t take any selfies while you had the phone. I thought you would have at least tried it. Weren’t you tempted at all?”
“No, I don’t know. I didn’t really think about it.”
Kim shrugs. “You’re so beautiful, though. If I looked like you, I’d be taking selfies all the time.”
“Um, you are taking selfies all the time?” Kendall says, sailing back into the room with a pile of clothes in her arms. She arranges them on the back of a chair for you to look through.
“Shut it, Kendall,” Kim says. Then she turns to you. “Selfies are important. And you’ve got plenty of access to cameras now.” She unplugs the phone and holds it out to you. “You should take a selfie!”
You can feel your cheeks flushing. You’re wearing your smelly and gross chain-store uniform, standing next to two of the most beautiful women of all time. You are not about to embarrass yourself by trying to take a selfie in front of them.
“Ummm, I would rather die,” you say.
“WHAT!” Kim says. “Come on!”
“I mean, I probably shouldn’t? They’re illegal?” you say, mortified at how dumb the words sound as they’re coming out of your mouth.
“Selfies are not illegal,” Kim says, very seriously, very patiently.
“Yes, they are. Do you not remember my boyfriend and his task force shooting at us? Selfies are very illegal.”
“Nope,” Kim says, shaking her head. “Look. Take this phone. Go into the bathroom and take a selfie. We won’t watch, and we won’t look at it afterward. Just go do it. Just take one picture of yourself.”
“I can’t,” you say.
Kim nods understandingly. “Exactly. Because why? Share what you’re feeling right now.”
Kendall and Kim are both watching you, and you feel like you’re about to die under their scrutiny.
“Embarrassment?” you say. “Like I would look dumb. Like it would remind me how ugly I am.”
“That is exactly how they want you to feel,” Kendall says.
“It was never really about selfies,” Kim says. “Selfies aren’t illegal. Your self-esteem is.” Kim comes to you and puts her hands on your arms, gently but firmly. She looks into your eyes. “It is okay to look at yourself. It is okay to think you are beautiful. It is okay to think that you have flaws, but you also have to be mindful that flaws are a construct. It is okay for you to form your own independent feelings about your appearance. And it is not only okay but right, and important, and good, to feel good about yourself.”
“They tried to shame us for taking selfies,” Kendall says. “They tried to make us feel like we were wrong for having positive opinions about ourselves. And when they couldn’t stop us, when they couldn’t change the way we thought about our bodies, our appearances, our selves, they made selfies illegal. So they could keep trying to control us.”
“They do not want us to see how amazing and powerful we are,” Kim says. “They know what we’re capable of, and it terrifies them. They can make it the law that you have to hate yourself, but they can’t prevent you from loving yourself. But it’s okay if you’re not ready. I’m not going to pressure you into anything you don’t want to do. Except change out of that uniform. No offense, but come on.”
Kim picks up a top from the chair and holds it against your body. She crinkles her nose, then chooses another. “Hmm!” she says, nodding, looking to Kendall for confirmation, who nods approvingly, impressed.
You take the clothes into the bathroom and undress. You wash up and put on the new clothes that Kendall and Kim picked out for you. It’s just jeans and a T-shirt, but they fit, and maybe it’s just the relief of knowing you’ll never have to put on the uniform again, but you feel amazing. You catch sight of yourself in the mirror and you don’t flinch. You don’t stand there staring at yourself or anything, but you don’t immediately look away either. You throw your uniform in the trash, grab your bag from the bedroom, and start walking back to the front room. Suddenly you hear a helicopter overhead, like right overhead, impossibly close, its rotors whirring loudly.
“What’s going on?” you say, racing back to the front room.
Kim is standing to the side of a window, peering cautiously up. Kendall is hurriedly packing up the laptop in the kitchen.
Kim turns to you. “Your boyfriend is driving me up a freaking wall.”
“Well, his friends are, at least. He must have bugged your bag,” Kim says, slipping the bag off your shoulder. “Kendall?” she calls, and instantly Kendall throws a device at Kim, which Kim smoothly catches. She uses it to scan your bag, and it bleeps around one of the pockets. Kim reaches inside, finds a small metal object, and crushes it beneath her Balmain boots.
“What do we do now?” you ask.
“We run,” Kim says.
“Is that it? Should I, like, I don’t know . . . talk to my boyfriend?”
“Talk to him? About what?”
“I don’t know. . . . He’s my boyfriend—shouldn’t I try to reason with him or something?”
“Your boyfriend works for the people who made selfies illegal, and you want to try to reason with him? Tell you what: let’s run for now, and that can be a backup plan later. Kendall, are we all set?”
“All set,” Kendall says. She kicks over the kitchen table, slides back a small area rug, and lifts a hidden hinge in the floor that opens a trapdoor. Inside there’s a ladder leading down to a tunnel that runs underneath the house. Kendall shoulders her laptop bag, starts climbing down, and disappears.
“Come on,” Kim says, ushering you toward the ladder. “Stick to the plan.”
“There’s a plan?” you ask as you start descending the ladder.
“Of course there’s a plan,” she says, climbing down after you and then sliding the trapdoor shut. Just as it closes, you hear the front door being smashed in, booted footsteps tromping into the house, and Kim saying, “Overthrow the patriarchy.”
LATE THE NEXT AFTERNOON you’re sitting in a black Mercedes SUV in a parking lot a block away from the psychiatric hospital where Kylie is being kept. This SUV doesn’t have satellite radio either, but it does have an aux cord, so Kim is happy. Not that she’s playing DJ, anyway. It’s the golden hour, the sun will soon set, and the light is gentle, warm, and soft. Kim is taking full advantage of it, sitting in the backseat next to you, tilting her face so that it catches and absorbs the best light possible, taking selfie after selfie.
Kendall turns to you from the driver’s seat. “This is new; normally she only gets to take selfies when we’re dropping our sisters off at prison.”
It’s so weird to just be sitting here, doing nothing, in a car with Kendall Jenner and Kim Kardashian. Everything is weird. Not just the last twenty-four hours, the running from the government, barely escaping from the house, running through the tunnel that led out away from the house to a backup car Kendall had waiting. And now possibly being at least somehow tangentially complicit in breaking a known felon out of a psychiatric hospital. Everything about life is very weird. You tap your fingers anxiously on the door to keep from freaking out.
“You okay?” Kim asks, putting away her phone.
“So what do we have to do to break Kylie out of the hospital? What’s involved? Is this super illegal?”
“We’re not doing anything,” Kim says. “We’re just sitting here. We have some friends on the inside. Women who are sympathetic to our cause. They’ll make sure Kylie gets out safely without anyone knowing until we’re far away from here.”
“We’re part of a whole network of women who are working on this plan with us,” Kendall says. “It’s how we survive. It’s where our safe houses and vehicles come from. There’s no way we would be able to do what we do without the support of other brave women.”
Kim nods in agreement. “We’re much better organized than the government gives us credit for. It’s part of why we’re going to win, in the long run.” She checks the time on her phone and then looks out the window, scanning the quiet street. “Should be any minute now.”
You think back to the video of Kylie being sentenced. It had taken ten men to hold her down, to control her, to subdue her enough to get her out of the courtroom. She’d looked like she was in the full throes of a complete demonic possession. Like she would have torn down the entire courtroom with her bare hands if she could have.
“So, when we see Kylie,” you begin, not totally sure how to phrase your concern delicately, “is she going be, like . . .”
“Completely batshit insane?” Kendall says, laughing.
Kim joins in laughing, shaking her head no. “That whole thing about her being driven insane by not being able to take selfies anymore—that was just her cover story.” She looks at you sympathetically. “You know that can’t really happen, right?”
“We needed to get Kylie into the psych ward because there are other people in there who have information we need,” Kendall says.
“Information about what?”
“About the software the government uses to find and delete selfies. The systems they use to prevent us from expressing ourselves.”
“We’re going to take their software offline and post tons and tons of selfies,” Kim says. “Not just us. Women everywhere. All at once. Flood the internet with positive validations of our selves.”
“That’s the plan?” you say. “But what will that even accomplish? It’s not really going to change anything, is it? They’ll just get their software online again and start deleting selfies again.”
“Probably,” Kim says. “And we’ll take it offline again. But in the meantime we’re sending a clear message. Not just to the government, but to women everywhere. We’re here, we matter, and we are allowed to think that we are awesome, because we are awesome. And we are incredibly, incredibly powerful.” She watches you closely, trying to gauge your reaction. “You’re getting there. I can tell you’re almost there. You’re still thinking of selfies as inconsequential because they want you to think they’re inconsequential. But nothing could be further from the truth. Self-love is incredibly, incredibly powerful. And every selfie out there in the world sends a stronger and stronger message. Every selfie scares them more and more.”
“Oh, hey,” Kendall says abruptly. She turns the engine over and the car hums to life just as a woman in hospital scrubs and a hoodie pulled low over her face opens the passenger-side door and quickly slides into the front seat. Kendall pulls away from the curb as soon as the door shuts, easing the SUV out into the road. The car has gone eerily silent, a delicate bubble of hope encasing us for the next few minutes.
“Hi, everyone,” Kylie whispers from beneath her hood.
“Hiiii,” Kendall and Kim whisper in return. They both reach out and put their hands on Kylie. Kendall reaches over and touches her leg. Kim reaches up from the backseat and places her hand on Kylie’s shoulder. They both hold their hands on their sister for a moment, silently acknowledging her presence with physical contact.
The mood in the car remains tense and quiet as Kendall executes a few more turns, and then you’re on the highway, speeding away. No one followed you, no car chase, nothing bad happened. It’s done. Kylie removes her hood, and everyone instantly relaxes.
“We did it, yay, wooo!” Kendall says, laughing.
“OMG, that suuuuuuuuuucked,” Kylie says, slumping down into her seat.
“I’m sorry, sweetie,” Kim says cheerfully. “But we reeeeally appreciate you!”
Kylie lightly punches Kendall in the leg. “Next time I get to fake my death and you have to eat hospital food and have group therapy about your egotism.”
“Hmm, we’ll see,” Kendall replies.
“That sounds awful,” Kim says. “We missed you so much; are you okay?”
Kylie sighs. “Yeah, just tired, hungry. I’m so relieved you got the message my contacts sent you. I was worried you wouldn’t be able to decrypt it.”
“Nope, no problem!” Kim says brightly, giving you a look like She doesn’t need to know how close we were to not decrypting it in time. “So did you get the info we needed?”
Kylie nods. “Yeah. Our contacts were correct. There was a very helpful woman who’d worked for the government in there. I got all kinds of information about how to bypass their system and take it offline. A lot of it was over my head, though. I took serious notes, but we’re going to need someone who’s pretty awesome at networks and electronics hacking to pull this off.”
“WELLLLL, it just so happens . . .” Kim says happily, leaning over to nudge you with her elbow.
Kylie turns and sees you in the car for the first time.
“Hi there,” you say, waving and introducing yourself. Kylie just stares at you for a moment. Even just out of prison, in her drab hospital scrubs and her messy hair going everywhere, she’s amazing to look at. So comfortable in her own skin. Kylie is looking at you like she recognizes you from somewhere. Like you’re painfully familiar to her, but she can’t quite place you.
“Is that my shirt?” she asks finally.
“Yyyyeah, sorry, Kendall loaned it to me.”
Kylie turns to Kendall. “And do you have clothes for me to change into?”
“Well, we did, but then we were under attack and kind of in a hurry at the last safe house, and they miiiight have gotten left behind.”
“Kenny!” Kylie says, making a fist.
“Sorry, sorry! We’ll get you clothes at the next stop, I promise.”
You feel horrified that you have Kylie’s clothes on, and she’s stuck with nothing to wear. These are very unideal circumstances for you to be meeting Kylie Jenner.
“I’m really sorry,” you offer. “We could trade?” You say the words, but honestly, the idea of wearing her hospital scrubs turns your stomach.
Kylie shakes her head and smiles. “It’s okay. The shirt looks good on you. And if you’re riding with these two, then we must be family. It’s really fine. If that’s the only thing that goes wrong today, it’s really fine.” She turns around to face the road, and smiles, relaxed.
“Oh, sure, you let her borrow your clothes,” Kendall says.
This is insane. How is this happening to you? You’re hanging out with Kim and Kylie and Kendall and they, like, want you to be there. They’re not getting bored with you. They’re not going to ditch you by the side of the road when they realize how boring you are. They seem to actually want you here. You belong in a way that you have not felt like you belong anywhere, ever—not at home, not with your boyfriend, and definitely not at your job. You are somehow exactly where you’re supposed to be, and it’s here, with them.
Why does your face suddenly ache? You reach up to touch your face and realize you’re smiling. You’re smiling for, like, the first time in forever.
You look over and notice Kim noticing you smiling. “Not how you thought this week was going to go, is it?” she says.
“Definitely not,” you say, blushing.
“You’re hacking the government, you’re on the run with some of the coolest chicks ever, you’re single . . .”
“Wow, I guess I am single,” you say. “I never had any real closure about it with my boyfriend, though.”
“You ditched him—that’s better closure than he deserves,” Kim says.
“You should send him a selfie!” Kendall calls from the front. “Like, ‘Bye, hater.’ ”
The car erupts in laughter, the sisters agreeing that this is, in fact, exactly what you should do.
You laugh too, but more nervously. “I don’t know about that.”
“Come on, what do you say, electronics expert?” Kim asks. “You ready to change the world?”
“Um, I’m not really sure,” you say. “This plan sounds much bigger and more complicated than anything I could ever accomplish.”
“Listen, come here,” Kim says. She slides across the seat, sitting right next to you. “I need to show you something really amazing.”
She puts one arm around you, pulling you in close. With her other arm she holds her phone out, with the camera on, so your faces appear together on the screen.
“What?” you ask.
And Kim says, “You.”