The Last Emperors
Chapter Twenty- Two: Monsters
By Jolie Adam
The moment Laurent has announced to the press the identity of The Last Emperors, he felt great, powerful, omniscient and vindicated. The betraying words had spitefully spurted off his tongue in a great release. He was sick of people constantly taking his trust and good nature for granted. It’d been the main reason why for so long he kept women in a rotating cycle, organized conveniently by cities, countries and towns. It was the simplest way to stay unattached yet romantically occupied at the same time. Tokyo offered a change of pace, a flicker of hope and novelty, a trace of promise and when Lorra had come along, he’d felt there was finally the potential and opportunity for something more. Not initially but gradually, he began to feel as though he was appreciated and valued for being himself. Just Laurent. Not one half of Les Twins. It seemed like it had been enough but apparently not. Girls always seemed to want the ribbon on top of the icing and the cake. They wanted to date and settle with one twin but fuck the other. It’d be hypocritical of him to sit there and pretend he had never pursued or welcomed the pursuit of one of Larry’s girls. Mostly they flocked to him once Larry was through with them. It was the nomadic artist’s lifestyle and the boys fully embraced it. But every once in a blue moon, if one was to indulge in a courtship that was more than just a fleeting physical encounter, they had boundaries in respect for one another. And Lorra crossed that boundary.
Yet less than an hour afterwards, Lau sat front row to the Chanel show, guilt creeping under his skin like a spreading rash. The dark lights in the room gave him the liberty to not have to conceal his increasing discomfort. He pursed his lips and sighed semi-loudly trying to avert his gaze from the side profile of his twin. Larry hadn’t said much which wasn’t surprising but the energy between them felt weird. At a time like this, he needed his brother’s support more than ever. He wanted reassurance that he did the right thing, that Larry had his back and that everything would be okay. He kept thinking about her reaction, wondering how the media would play it out. Even though he felt like the indiscretion was justified, he couldn’t get over the fact that she would know it was him. And that it would really be over for good.
Lorra covered her mouth with her hand to muffle the gasp. She felt robbed of air and oxygen as her knees buckled weakly under the imperceptible pressure. Her eyes watered momentarily but she was more shocked than angry or sad. No other emotions had yet begun to surface but the sheer astonishment of what was going on. This was far worse than a little reciprocation, this was just malicious back-stabbing. Had it been anyone else, she might have been able to digest it a little more but the fact that it had come out of his mouth. The man she’d opened up to, literally – that would take some time to wrap her head around. Dawn was running her mouth in the back, profane words swirling around the room like a condensed spritz of Febreze. Her coping mechanism had been to go in defense mode and fight fire with fire. Julia was uncharacteristically quiet although as of late, everything was seemingly always a little out of character. Lorra tried to gather herself, although her frown was engraved deep in her facial traits, her nerves working hard to prevent tearing up. Julia spoke out, cutting Dawn’s angry rant,
“Lo, don’t beat yourself up. No one could’ve foreseen something like that. You only told one person. It’s not your fault he decided to tell everyone else.”
Dawn followed Julia’s reasoning, “She’s right. Even though what he did is fucked up and nasty, it’s not your fault. Relationships are about opening up and trusting and you went above and beyond.”
Although her friends were making plenty of sense in their attempt to exonerate her from revealing their identities to someone she thought she could trust, those very same things seemed foreign to her. If he could do something of the sort after such a minuscule argument, how could she even pretend or begin to believe this was someone worth trusting or opening up to? She swallowed her hurt, pride and ego, stammering as she said,
“Guys, I-I’m so sorry.” Mascara tears stained her cheeks.
Dawn approached her and wrapped a comforting arm around her shoulder.
“Lo, it’s okay. Come on, don’t cry. It’s not that big of a deal.”
Julia shook her head, also deceived. She thought she’d read Laurent so well. She wouldn’t have batted an eyelash if Larry had done this but it was just so out of character for Lau. Dawn got up,
“I’ll make us some tea.”
Julia smirked, “I have a better idea.”
Twenty-five minutes later, there was a subtle but audible knock on the door. Julia rushed to open and began a casual conversation with someone struggling to respond due to some language barrier. His voice sounded amiable and friendly. You could tell they knew each other fairly well. Julia’s roaring laughter rang through the doorway before she finally said goodbye to her friend. The girls looked at her in wonderment, surprised that she’d befriended someone and at the Ziploc bag containing two large blunts.
“Something you care to tell us?” Dawn asked, hands on her hips, attitude turned up high. They’d never experimented with drugs, not even the medicinal kind. At least never together. Dawn had gone through the occasional pothead phase during her senior year of high school. She’d indulge in a nice joint before exams or important tests to mellow out and actually focus on the questions instead of freaking out at their sight. The minute the university acceptance letters came rolling in the mail, she dropped the habit.
“I just thought we might need this right now,” A huge grin plastered on her face, she already looked high.
Dawn lowered her hands and pouted her lips exaggeratedly as if considering it.
“Fuck it, light that bitch.”
Julia moved to the island counter in the kitchen while Dawn looked in the cupboard for something to light it with.
“I have a lighter.”
Dawn raised an eyebrow, “Now, how occasional is this new habit of yours?”
“Snoop Dogg occasional.”
Dawn chuckled and mumbled something to the likes of, “Damn, Tokyo got us effed up.”
Lorra looked at her friends, glad for the welcome distraction from her thoughts and the glum moment. How distant had they all become if Julia was smoking weed and neither of them had suspected a thing? Had she been so obsessed with constant, menial considerations of Lau that she completely overlooked her friends? It certainly seemed that way which made the whole situation almost feel like a blessing in disguise. Perhaps this was the wake-up call she needed to get back on her A game.
As she arrived at the kitchen counter, Julia lit the second blunt and put the first one in rotation. She tried to emulate what her friends were doing, taking a loaded drag that filled and burned her throat, coming right back out harshly with hard coughing. Her eyes watered as she gasped for air, trying to force a passage in her esophagus. Julia patted her hand and Dawn rubbed her back.
“Take it in slowly, inhale then exhale. Let it out.”
Lo seized the blunt again with lubricated eyes and a sore throat and followed Julia’s instruction. Although it still felt harsh and brash, she could imagine the smoke blooming in her lungs like a blossoming flower, sifting through her organs in a whimsical way. That thought alone reassured her she was already high. Everything slowed down, to the point where it felt like the movement around the room was freakishly fast. Before she knew it, the joint was in front of her, being passed from the right, burning slowly at the mouth. She sucked greedily and sloppily, her senses overwhelming her logic. The taste of mildew and grass on her tongue, in her mouth and even on her lips – now numb and tingling with plumping energy. They felt huge on her face. Heavy lids, parting, smiling lips and radiant energy, she felt blissful but centered. She was here, standing and she could just picture how every nerve and vein and joint inside her body looked and functioned. The dim light in the corridor shone much more brightly, more vividly, as the amber and the yellow fused together, blending into the color of the lamp. Night lights, crazy lights, wild lights were all lights but all so beautiful. So euphorically tantalizing to look at. Even her skin felt hot, like a flaming torch, sensitive as the stillness of the room engaged her.
“I think she’s good.” Julia smiled in her direction.
“Yeah, I’m good,” She smiled, “Am I high?” She asked, surprised at the sound of her voice.
“When you ask whether you’re high,” Julia started, “You’re high!” Dawn said in unison, sending them all into a fit of ceaseless laughter.
Lorra laughed from the gut, her chest rising and falling rapidly trying to keep up, as her cheeks ached in tiredness of laughing so hard and so long. Yet she didn’t know what was so funny. Maybe it was her. Because Dawn and Julia kept pointing at her and rolling in laughter. Her skin was on fire, in fact it felt like all of Tokyo was on fire. If she was going to burn in Tokyo, Tokyo would burn with her. She closed her eyes and meditated on that thought and the calmness that ensued. She was Zen. In the midst of all it, she was okay. She would rise again.
An hour and a half later, they’d gone through 9 boxes of sushi between the three of them. Somehow, they’d managed to sober up enough to eat and catch up. Dawn filled Julia in about the full extent of Larry’s interaction with Tatiana and his attempted attack on Lo. Julia told them she’d been hanging out with a retired champion of Sumo Wrestling, just in case they needed back-up. And Lorra hadn’t been able to share as much as she would’ve liked since most of her stories were centered on Laurent. Fighting with him, sleeping with him, falling for me, telling him the truth and now wishing she’d never met him.
“So what do we do now?” she snapped out of reverie and asked, “They know who I am. That was our whole thing. How do we move on from that?”
“By grabbing this opportunity to come out. All cards on the table.” Julia answered. They both looked at her like there was some genius to her crazy idea. She continued, “Right now, they think we’re weak. Our secret is out. Revealing the rest of our identities is the best way to regain power and retrieve our limelight. And you’re wrong. Dancing was our whole thing. Maybe, there was some added interest because of the mystery but at the very core of everything we have accomplished is the fact that we can dance. We have talent. We know this and the world knows this.”
“She’s right. I like that idea. Let’s lay all the cards on the table. Do the interviews, answer the personal questions, and give them what they want.” Dawn added.
“How do we do this?” Lorra asked, wrapping her head around the idea.
“Right now.” Dawn interjected. “Let’s clean up and go to the after party.”
“But how are they going to know who we are?” Lorra continued her line of questioning.
“Have you seen you tonight? They’ll want to know who we are.”
“I’m in like Finn.” Julia said and they burst out laughing again, uncertain of the analogy.
“I think I’m going to head home. My head is spinning.” Lau finally said when the show was done. The set the DJ had played during the show gave him a throbbing headache although he could argue that wasn’t the main cause of it.
Deep down, Larry was frightened to be alone at this party. After what his brother had exposed, everyone would be on his ass, wanting to know more. But he also wasn’t gaining anything by going home prematurely. He didn’t just sit through some weird, supposedly artistic show just to go home and be alone with his ruinous thoughts. He needed something to occupy his mind.
“What are you going to do if you go home? Drive yourself crazy waiting for her to call and yell at you?” Larry instigated. He knew exactly how Lau felt. Despite trying to overcome his own feelings by disclosing Shao’s secret, he was hurt. And that hurt was rapidly evolving into guilt and remorse. The minute he was by himself, he’d inevitably break down.
“I don’t care about her.” Lau retorted rebelliously.
Larry got closer to make sure no one else would hear this, “Maybe you can lie to the press and to yourself but you can’t lie to me.”
Laurent looked his brother in the face, suddenly feeling angry at him. Not for what he’d just said but for something else even he wasn’t sure about. Somehow, he had a piercing intuition that Larry had done something. Looking right at him, he could see that something was wrong yet he couldn’t dig that far into his instinct to pinpoint what it was. Maybe his twin was right after all, maybe he was just angry at himself. That made more sense considering they were more or less alike.
“Just come, have a nice time, we’ll meet some people, some girls. I promise you you’ll feel much better than if you just go home by yourself.”
Lau didn’t take long to ponder on the idea. This was the escape from everything else he’d have to go home and face and it sounded pretty damn good.
They waited for the rows behind them to exit before beginning to make their way out. Surprisingly, no one approached them about The Last Emperors or anything of that sort. In fact, no one approached them at all which allowed them to get into the first available car and head to the after party. Lau gazed out of the window and observed the active nightlife. People crossing the streets in funky, creative and kooky outfits of all sorts. Vitality roiling above the city, trickling from the tallest buildings and skyscrapers, descending all the way to the ground where it took a life of its own and inhabited the population. It was such a lively city. Boisterous but quiet. Timid but bold. He continued looking at everything in passing and sight, admiring the synergy of the couples holding hands, laughing, talking, and walking together. He would never have this with her again. He missed her. He looked down and reverted back to his seat, focusing ahead, afraid yet anxious to check his phone, to see the extent of the damage. But he didn’t, he looked straight ahead as the driver cruised the city streets of Tokyo.
The carpet was black, the fashion was hot, the crowd was hotter and the night was young. A huge graffiti sign was put up on the side of the adjacent building in honor of the bustling annual event. Huge eclectic colors supported the backgrounds as the words “Night Crawlers” sprawled out from the embedding. The media here was much more glamorous and tenured as they gracefully welcomed and complimented the incoming wave of upscale people, celebrities and associated acts and commoners. Known fashion bloggers were a dime a dozen, waiting for anyone to inquire about their online fame just so they could boast their extensive resume or exclusive rolodex. Mercedes-Benz and Louis Vuitton logos were imprinted on the black Persian carpet backdrop, standing out as the principal sponsors. Expensive labels, jewels and cars were all present as the attendees took turns showcasing their wealth in all of its materialistic glory. Tokyo’s Night Out event was looking more like Tokyo’s Richest and Sleaziest.
Laurent and Larry arrived a while ago before the other “one percent”, having done a good job of integrating themselves in the crowd briefly before entering the building. They paired well together, one looking morose and angelic, the other dark and sleek. Larry jumped right into the social scene which was so unlike him but it was the only other option besides spending the night next to a pensive and brooding Laurent. Lau tagged along, listening, watching, nodding, and waiting for the other shoe to drop. Deep down in his gut, the remorse churned sharply with the two glasses of champagne he’d downed to calm his nerves. He was on edge, catching everything that moved, looking for a familiar face, using the full extent of his sight, expecting for someone to appear in his side vision. But the night seemed to be going smoothly so far. Everything was simply copacetic. If only he hadn’t opened his big mouth. If only he had taken the higher road, he would have been able to relax and enjoy the wonderful night ahead.
Dawn, Julia and Lorra stepped onto the carpet looking like three million bucks. Dawn had managed to pull every single visible strand of hair into her glossy, impenetrable, rigid and high-fashion bun topping it off with huge J-Lo hoop earrings. Her makeup was simple, shimmery and finished with a high sheen and pigmented lipstick. Julia had also kept it fairly simple, embracing her tom-boy nature in loose beach waves to dress up a low cut jersey dress. Lorra stood out like a modern Marilyn in the body-hugging dress, the red pouty lips, the light gold glitter dusted on her cheekbones. They’d kept her make-up the same and just cleaned up the mascara streaks and augmented the fabulosity. Lens zoomed in on her, captured her outfit, hair, makeup and shoes from all kinds of angles, wondering what famous celebrity’s girlfriend that was. Dawn made sure to add more than she would usually because she knew the frenzy they were about to cause and luckily, being photogenic was one thing they wouldn’t have to worry about.
The paps asked who she was, who she was with, what she was wearing, if she was modeling. Lorra stood taller, sucked in her tummy a little tighter and arched her back a little further. Standing in her best pose, she released a beautiful, enthralling smile, looking at the crowd with longing, seductive eyes before stating clearly, confidently and proudly,
“I am Lorra Bernal. I am Shao Mein. We are The Last Emperors.”
Bulbs flashed furiously, trying to capture all three of them as they grinned and posed for the camera. Let it be known that strong women exist, and they exist in us, thought Lorra as she blinked gracefully, ready for her real close up.