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Imagines, Page 2

Anna Todd

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 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.”

  “ ‘We’?”

  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 he
r 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, 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?