Orange Soda

Chapter 1: God's Grace

31st, Dec. 20XX

5:35pm

"I do believe we made a wrong turn...darling," said the girlish woman in the white flowing dress as she crouched down beside her tuxedo wearing partner sitting behind a larger than life buffet table. His hazeled eyes were painted with splashes of confusion and irritation instantly. Though his head snapped toward her with intent to retort, it quickly swiveled back to whence it came after a jolt of pleasant shock. For the first time, he would have to truly admit that she was beautiful, radiant even. It was as if god himself decided to personify a noon cloud being lit by the sun. His fleeting glance was even able to take in the way her obsidian hair cascaded carelessly around her shoulders to contrast her swan like attire. It did well to compliment her dress just as a clear night sky complimented the moon.

"Fiddlefudge, Sunny look, they riddled my dress with ruin," she said as she ran her finger through the many holes that adorned the skirt of her wedding dress as if she needed to verify the very tangible evidence of the act. Sunny decided that he need not be distracted by that lacey, white wedding dress that seemed interwoven into her equally pale skin. Figuring that he was preoccupied with other matters, she gave up on her endeavor to make her plus one pity her. Eventually, she settled for leaning on his shoulder while she fiddled with a rather solemn bouquet. It was a gift from the others, but it was painstakingly apparent that they had no gift for floral aesthetics, and that her partner lacked the gift of gab.

"You mean to say, they ruined my dress Graciela. Why are you even talking like that," Sunny finally asked with an exasperated sigh, still fighting the urge to look in her direction lest she catch him blushing. "...Also, I still hate that nickname." Sunny punctuated his statement by inserting a new clip into his AR 15 then calmly observed the gun while burning steel flew freely and uninhibited throughout the room. Strangely enough, it felt like home to him. He shook off a rather unpleasant daydream before quickly passing the gun off to Graciela as he grabbed a similar gun attached to a sling across his shoulder.

"I thought I'd really dive into the role of a spoiled aristocratic brat," Graciela snapped as she would sling her gun onto her shoulder before motioning for her partner to switch places with her. She peaked around the corner of the buffet table only for whizzing bullets to urge her to return to safety. A knowing glance was shared between Graciela and Sunny before the former gave the bouquet a final kiss and tossed it out into the main hall. After two long seconds, a violent explosion boomed from the direction the bouquet was thrown.

"Well, that definitely should have bought us some time. I'll distract them while you book it." Sunny attempted to step over Graciela and proceed with his plan without much deliberation, but as he half expected, a weak tug on his arm was enough to give him pause.

"...Sunny, what happened to everyone else," Graciela stated without actually looking up at him.

"...Dead."

Graciela choked down a gasp as those words seemed to echo for eternity within the blinking moment they were uttered; however, even though she was sinking into her mental labyrinth of despair, disbelief, and confusion, she still had enough strength and mental wherewithal to prevent Sunny from pulling away. Perhaps it wasn't strength at all. Maybe it was her fear that allowed her to hold on to the remnants. Or maybe it was..."Sunny-,"

"We all made a promise to ourselves," Sunny cut in. "We promised we would get you out of here no matter the cost. Don't fight me on this."

Sunny gently removed her hand from his arm. He decided that he could finally gaze upon this frail moon one last time before going to sleep. Taking it all in helped steel his resolve as it was now his turn to grace the stage. However, Graciela reached over and pulled him down by his tie so that Sunny, who normally dwarfed her in height, was now on her level. She whispered something into his ear, and then planted a kiss on the lips of her partner before he could respond. He could only remain rigid, and frozen like a chicken wondering just why it was crossing a busy intersection; however, he eventually gave in and hesitantly returned her passion only to be interrupted by a foreboding click. His eyes traced that sound to his right hand that was handcuffed to the table, and then they shifted to a smiling Graciela. "Graciela," Sunny said calmly. "Graciela," he repeated. He began to fiddle, and rattle the cuffs violently as she made an effort to stand. Something else was said between them before she stepped out into the open, AR-15 in hand, and began to fire against the rain. A rain so loud and harsh that it drowned out the man screaming her name.

11th, June. 20XX, 10:14 am

The choir finally sheathed their powerful hymns; however, the remnants of their angelic voices reverberated throughout the quiet church, slicing through whatever silence would have been in its place. The collective gaze of the congregation hung on each step of the pastor who was now making his way to the pulpit, cloaked in a radiant white robe as the light filtering through the stained glass painted his garments in various shades of majesty. Every detail of this mortal man was soaked in by wanting eyes: The way his hands glided across to the edges of the mahogany pulpit, and the infrequent shifts of his worn but gentle jaw. Others felt some self projected warmth coming from the magnificent man, some could not help but feel anxious with anticipation, and there were those who felt as if they committed a sin by simply looking toward him; perhaps they did. His power, his crushing warmth, his righteousness, and his radiance produced in this spiritual palace might have even invoked an emotion on Graciela...if she were there. Instead, she would have to imagine being filled with the spirit through 1080 HD. Things could be worse; if she had to feel nothing, it was obviously better to be empty at the optimal resolution.

"Turn to Corinthians II chapter 6," the pastor commanded. The silence was enough to carry his voice for all to hear without much effort on his part. Graciela raised the volume on her laptop before scrolling through her Bible app for the requested chapter. She couldn't help but go off script and read ahead. She was certain that she would be allowed this freedom at the very least. Graciela continued to silently read ahead, and at some point her silent reading transitioned to that of an audible whisper.

"Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?

And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?

And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols…"

Graciela finished her reading and glanced once again toward the screen, as she listened to the Pastor echoing what she had already read. The camera panned across the solemn and stern faces of the congregation as Graciela unwrapped a candy bar. She couldn't help but think to herself that it was going to be one of those sermons. That said, it could have been the brimstone and plagues today, and even that might have been an upgrade to her current arrangement. For all she knew, the world outside of her lavish mansion could be consumed by a massive inferno and she was merely a victim of the darkest, complex practical joke in the history of mankind. Her cynical chuckle turned into a mild cough that resulted in small droplets of blood tainting the white cloth she used to quickly cover her mouth.

"...Ah...my daily reminder," Graciela said softly as she sprinkled two pills into the palm of her hand, popped them in her mouth and chased them down with a bottle of lukewarm water. She sat silently for a while, thinking of nothing...just existing...and now, even that was becoming a chore. She suddenly remembered she was supposed to be paying attention as she locked eyes with their jack of all trades butler through the overhead mirror of the car. For now, his role was driver turned babysitter in a parked car outside of the very church she was tuning into. For once, she was thankful that she was not allowed inside.

"...For we are his sheep and-"

I couldn't agree more.

"And those who willingly walk in the darkness will have no place in the kingdom of heaven while we will sit on his right hand."

The left hand must be used for smiting...

"And operate at the highest level apart from sinners and those who accept the embrace of worldly desires. For it is exactly the world...that we should desire not."

...Yep...that's definitely a butt cramp.

The rest of the sermon continued the theme of segregating from sinners, going through trials, and the like. There were tears, occasional shouts, cries, and of course the pastor got his well deserved tip for the day after driving the congregation into an emotional, some might say spiritual, frenzy. Then it was over and everyone returned to the belly of the beast they called home, Lavianna Mezza. She turned off her ipad and gazed at the horde of painted faces in the crowd through tinted windows. They wore them proudly. They wore them boldly. They wore them unaware. For some, the cheap paint covering their souls was melting before they could even unlock their cars. Some even resorted to the frequent mending of their masks until all that was left was the patchwork of something that formerly resembled a truth. Were there any genuine people mixed among them, or was the nature of humanity a contradiction to all that was good? It would be the only explanation on why a person would have to jump through so many hoops to travel to a land of the upright.

Graciela's father approached the black Mercedes while laughing with a couple whose path began to diverge from his. She concluded her people watching as she stuffed her candy wrapper into the side compartment and decided to shift her brazen blue eyes to the front of the car just in time to see their driver shake his head amusingly as he gave her a friendly wink. Graciela rewarded her driver with a sheepish smile. Given her condition, there were not many people in her life, but Kraus Winters was one person she could depend on. Though not related by blood, he was like a father figure to her, but on second thought his grey hairs might qualify him for the role of grandfather instead.

"Good afternoon Mr. Giordorno," Kraus said when Graciela's father finally entered the back of the car. "Was it a good service?"

"It was a long service," Mr. Giordorno retorted as he loosened his tie before buckling his seatbelt.

"Shall I assume we are heading home then," Kraus said as he shifted the car into drive without looking into the mirror to observe his master's face.

Mr. Giordorno's brows furrowed as he whipped out his phone and began bombarding the screen with calloused fingers. "No, I've set up an impromptu meeting with some members on the board to discuss company forecasts."

"Very well...then shall I drop off your daughter?"

For some reason, the way Kraus phrased this question irritated the irritable business man. However, whatever words he might have had for Kraus, he swallowed and instead turned toward his daughter who had yet to turn and reciprocate the gesture. The humming of the engine was the only sound being emitted for the time being before Mr. Giordorno chimed in with a sigh. "Graciela," he began. "You'll see how things are once you inherit the company," he began.

"I understand. It is a difficult job," Graciela said quickly with the tone of an AI unit who had determined this was merely the optimal response to this particular question. The fact that she had to wear a mask did not help to properly convey the emotions such a statement would normally display; however, that was never her intent.

Mr. Giordorno continued to look toward his daughter who had only moved to correct a stray lock of her jet black hair. He mentally shook his head and leaned back into his seat as his attention returned to his phone. "...Yes you can drop her off, but you will have to push it."

"I cannot help but feel the need to remind you that your daughter is in the car Mr. Giodorno."

"I can't help but remind you that it's my money that feeds your family," Mr Giodorno snapped.

The driver bit his tongue with a smile and tipped his cap before speeding out of the parking lot.

11, June. 20XX 1:28pm

The store bell chimed as two male officers in uniform walked into a 7/11. The first, a slightly bloated but tall man gave a half hearted wave to the cashier near the entrance. The trailing officer, fit, shorter than the officer who entered prior but still tall in his own right, smiled and gave a polite nod. "You see Nate, this is why I love this job, I doubt a newbie like you could appreciate this," the larger man said as he popped open a bag of pork rinds, recklessly seizing them into his mouth while the younger cop watched bemusingly with sprinkles of worry and heistance. "Why you lookin at me like that, he knows I'll pay for it! Go ahead and take your pick!"

"I'll have to take a pass on that Daniel," Nathaniel said politely as he passed up the offer to examine the different slurpee flavors much to Daniel's ire if his rolling eyes were any indication.

"Just peachy, turns out the new recruit is a 14 year old kid in a grown man's body. You want Boom Berry or Sunny Sunshine Splash," Daniel said in jest.

"I was looking for Awesome Apple actually," Nathan responded sarcastically before deciding on strawberry. You could never go wrong with strawberry. Despite his bravado, Daniel couldn't help but watch as the pinkish, red, foaming liquid filled the super sized cup and stopped just short of overflowing; however, he averted his eyes before they turned into a telling shade of guilty green. He decided that his weapon of choice against the pressing heat would be a bottle of lemonade. "This is great and all, but I thought the best part about being a cop would be the whole justice thing." By this time, Nathaniel had already begun paying for his items.

Daniel took an aggressive bite of his snack and snickered. "Oh, didn't know I was in the presence of Superman! Daniel joked with a light jab that wasn't so light. "Man to man, mentor to mentee, that crap gets old really quick. Also, half the scums we turn in walk out on the same damn hour. It turns out that people are just really shitty. You know what doesn't get old? The taste of salt and diabetes. Speaking of which, I need to get some of those day old donuts over there, and would you look at that...the chocolate is already starting to crack. Give it some time, you'll come around."

Nathaniel shook off Daniel's comments with a laugh and finished paying for his items before walking out the store to wait on his partner under the shade of a nearby sidewalk. The shade did very little to protect him from the sun's vengeful heat however. Nathaniel took a satisfying sip of his slurpee, reaffirming to himself that he had made the correct decision. He couldn't help but lament the fact that his first few days as a cop had been rather dull. He knew he was being immature, yet there were some things you couldn't help but hope for. Another thoughtful sip of his strawberry slurpy was enough to quench his thirst and further ignite his desire against the mundane. Without warning, not unlike the flash of lightning, a black Mercedes rammed into the side of a taxi on a nearby street. Nathaniel heard the crash before he saw it. That horrid screech of rubber against road, the wailing horns akin to disaster sirens, and the foreboding sound of metal rending each other asunder. Without hesitation, Nathaniel dropped his slurpee and sprinted in the direction of the wreck while Daniel, who saw everything take place from within the safety of his favorite pit stop, took off after him. Daniel, who had all but blocked out the sound of a frantic cashier requesting that he pay for his items, had narrowly avoided a pair of teenagers, one of which didn't seem the least bit concerned about bumping into the large officer. If it was any other time, Daniel would have taught the youngster a thing or two about respecting the law, even if that meant he would grow up to mistrust it. In fact, despite the emergency, Daniel couldn't help but give it thought. Nevertheless, he continued his sprint that quickly transitioned to a jog, shaking his head and shaking away thoughts of pounding the smug tanned teenager into the dirt.

11th, June. 20XX 1:21pm

"I think it's time we talk about your future with Dis Irae Inc." Graciela's father said cutting through the thick silence that had been building up since the start of this drive.

"Is this a bad time to tell you I'm seeing someone? A boy named E-Dog...he sells drugs," Graciela said without turning away from the window, wholly uninterested in the topic her father had chosen. She had no intention of delivering the perfect response this time around.

"Graciela, now is not the time for your sass. As the only child-"

"I lied. Her name is Rebecca and I'm a lesbian."

"Graciela Giodorno," her father stated sternly before sighing as he rubbed his temples. However, even his short display of anger did not change Graciela's face from underneath her mask. She looked toward that imperfect sky, wishing it was spotted with the free forming and free floating clouds she loved so dearly. For now, she would have to imagine them.

"...I'm not a lesbain," Graciela said after a brief period of silence. Her father muttered something under his breath; however, he realized this was the only opening he would get today.

"...You're almost an adult Graciela. You will be 18 before you know it, and because of that, you are privy to certain responsibilities as the sole heir to the family business. Your mother and I-,"

"Your wife," Graciela cut in. She couldn't help but mentally scoff at how desperate her father was at this point. She already knew that he and her step mom had been trying to have another child for years now. She could only pick up scraps of information at a time, but from what she could gather, they had stopped trying in the past few months. It was more than likely his fault. Now here he was, initiating back up plan Graciela as if she would humbly accept such a farce. To be honest, Graciela had nothing against Mrs. Giordorno. She was an excellent conversationalist, cooked well, had her own fortune, and lacked a lumpy pointy nose. In fact, Graciela only said such things to annoy her father, and it usually worked. Yes, it was a matter of being a cozy house built on a battlefield. Every now and then a missile would destroy your welcome rug, but it was nothing personal. Nevertheless, today, her father seemed hell bent on having this dull conversation to the point that he ignored the classic step mom jabs Graciela had honed over the years.

"...Your mother and I believe this can be good for you. Sickness, or not, everyone has responsibilities. Especially with my bid for Chief Executive of Lavianna Mezza, I'll need someone to manage the company in my stead. There's no one I'd trust more to run the company. .All in all, it would be better if you were on board before the transition."

Graciela bit on her urge to respond sarcastically and instead decided to place her chin on her palm as she continued to imagine the clouds in the sky. How to respond? Despite her issues with the guy, he had taken good care of her and that had not been an easy ordeal given her strange illness. She hated his guts, but was she supposed to spit in the face of everything he did for her? Then there was the responsibility of inheriting your parent's will. Did she even have a choice? She was certain that she was not the only child who had her life neatly mapped out for her, and the alternatives seemed anything but concrete. The smart decision would be to follow this paved road to success; yet, the unknown and all that it could entail seemed so tantalizing. Graciela imagined she could protest such a future, but that was all it would be...a protest. A protest that was only a minute deviation from the future written in stone in which case it was no better than a pointless tantrum. Her father wasn't asking her to run the company...he was telling her to. He was asking, however, for her to like it, to become enthralled with the idea of being , her plans to mope for the next 30 years as she lived her life begrudgingly were quickly flying out the window. As the silence continued to expand along with the universe, her father held out his hand. Offering her two small circular tablets. That's right...it was already time for her second daily dose. It went well with reality. Graciela grabbed the medicine and began to unscrew a bottle of water, but before she could react, her father pressed her against the seat with a protective right arm as he looked ahead to the front of the car.

"Kraus! The light is red," Mr. Giordorno warned, but it was too late. The car rammed into the side of a taxi that was beginning to turn left at the intersection. For a second, everything went white and Graciela's ears were ringing. She was so disoriented that it took her a moment to realize she was being dragged out of the smoking Mercedes to a nearby sidewalk. The first thing she saw when she came to was a caramel skinned cop whose mouth seemed to be moving; however, whatever words they uttered escaped her.

"R….i...a...yo….ar…..you…..a...ht."

Unable to comprehend what the cop was saying, Graciela simply stared at the wreckage. Even in her painless fog, she could presume based on the state of the two cars that she would be fine...physically at least. In all honesty, it didn't matter whether she was okay or not...not for her. Her eyes drifted off to the side where her father, two strange men wearing trench coats in the summer, and another cop stood. They weren't too far away, but there was a zero percent chance that she would hear their conversation; she could barely hear her own thoughts. Giving up for the umpteenth time today, Graciela's eyes returned to the two wrecked cars. The dark plume emanating from the vehicles seemed to cast ruin onto the perfect blue canvas of the sky, bringing an end to what was a peaceful Sunday morning. If one were to squint their eyes, the smoke formed a perfect imitation of a storm cloud tainting that vast mat of blue.

"...Are you alright," Nathaniel repeated again as he placed a comforting hand on Graciela's shoulder. Unsure if she could even hear him.

Her eyes still fixed on the sky, she said nothing.