Present Day. Tuesday. 2:00 AM
Three figures slunk through pitch black darkness, one after the other. They tiptoed around box-shaped shadows and what felt like a woodworking table.
“Ow! Dammit,” echoed a voice in the dark; it came from the figure in the middle. “Watch your freaking elbow, Sarah.”
The silhouette in front stopped and turned around. “Screw you, Travis. We wouldn’t be stuck in the dark if you’d remembered the flashlight.
Travis grunted as the figure behind him pushed him into Sarah’s back. “Both of you shut up, please, and find a light switch or something.”
“Don’t get mad at me, Marissa.” Sarah said. “I held up my end and brought the booze.”
“Yea, and I brought the lock-release tech.”
Travis snorted. “Sorry I’m not a master criminal like you two bi—”
“Shh!” Sarah’s hand slammed into Travis’s chest, cutting off his words.
A hush fell over the trio, followed by a rush of wind and heavy, mechanical whirring.
“Shit, you said she was out all night!” Sarah pushed around her friends and tried to go back towards the door they’d come through, her plastic bangles clanging against one another as she shoved past Travis.
“All the rich people are at the Governor’s ball tonight,” he said. “My mom never gets home from that till four in the morning.”
“She works there, nimrod.”
Before he could dispute, and before Sarah reached the door, the garage scraped open and blinding white lights flooded the room. The three teens blinked at each other.
For a moment, everything froze. Time itself stood still. In a breath, Travis, Sarah, and Marissa bolted towards the open garage door.
Travis moved first, jumping over shipping boxes and sliding across the front of a jewel-toned teal Aventador K-model Lamborghini. Sarah followed and Marissa ran after her.
Marissa’s foot hitched against something hard and she crashed face-first on the concrete floor. Blood shot from her nose and she screamed, looking up through the tear-blurred brightness to see her friends disappear down the narrow cul-de-sac road. She glanced behind to find her foot tangled in heavy chains.
The car door slammed shut. Marissa tried to angle her head to see better from her position on the floor. A pair of expensive blue pumps clicked across the floor towards her.
“That looks painful,” said the warm voice from above.
Marissa twisted her neck further and found a wide, tanned hand extended for her.
“Let me help you,” the woman said as she reached down and pulled Marissa to her feet.
Marissa gasped. A beautiful black-haired woman with a dazzling smile stood before her, her hands still on Marissa’s shoulders.
The woman raised an eyebrow and looked around the cluttered garage. “I’m Diva,” she said. “Come inside. Let’s get you cleaned up.” She turned and clicked her heels as she walked to the inner door.
“Don’t you need to park your car?” Marissa asked.
“Anise will take care of it.”
“Are you going to call the cops?”
Diva smirked. “Are you afraid of the police?”
Marissa didn’t move. She chewed her top lip and gazed toward the open garage door.
Diva chuckled. “I won’t call them if you join me for tea.” Her keys jingled as she worked the lock and the door swung open. “Besides, only killers and weirdos are out this late.” She gestured for Marissa to follow her and slipped inside.
Marissa stood for a moment, struggling to decide what to do. Diva had seen her face long enough to make a report if she wanted. Marissa didn’t want to think about the trouble she’d get in if that happened.
She sighed and followed Diva into the modern house. She stepped back into the massive, immaculate home. It looked different with the lights on, somehow less cozy.
Diva lead the way into a bright, spacious kitchen. She pointed to a red-leather barstool near the granite counter island and handed Marissa a small, damp towel. She opened a few cabinets before finding a huge jar half-filled with green herbs. She spooned some into two mugs—one with flowers painted all over it and the other covered in rainbows.
Marissa took the seat and dabbed at the blood on her face and shirt. She watched in silence as Diva filled a kettle with filtered water and placed it on the stove to boil. She looked around the open room.
All the surfaces were shiny, as though they had only recently been installed. A set of silver pots hung across a strip of hooks—perfect and untouched, more decoration than cooking tool. The glass cabinet doors showcased expensive dishware—everything painted to match. That is, of course, everything except for the two mugs.
The entire room could be in a magazine. One thing stood out to Marissa—a small framed painting. The woman in the painting stared back; her hazel eyes seemed to spark with some sort of secret light. Marissa imagined this to be the light of defiance against the bullies of her time.
“An ancestor.” Diva leaned against the counter beside the stove, her arms crossed over her middle. “She started our family business.”
“What’s that?” Marissa broke away from the painting and blushed at being caught staring.
Diva fixed her with an interested gaze and smiled as the kettle began its plaintive song. “We fix problems.” She pushed away from the counter and turned to pour the boiling water into the mugs and placed one in front of Marissa. She sat across from Marissa and smiled.
“What kind of problems?”
“Mostly legal. Sad divorcees, property disputes, that sort of thing.” She stirred the tea, clinking the silver spoon against the sides of her mug. “I’m more interested in you, Marissa.”
The girl’s forehead wrinkled in confusion. “I never told you my name.”
Diva sipped her tea. “Your father’s a cop, right? I’ve seen you around.”
Marissa released a breath. “Is that why you’re not turning me in? Do you have some kind of deal with the Arborville PD?”
Warm laughter filled the room as Diva shook her head, her straight black hair dancing across her shoulders. “Nothing like that,” she said, smiling. “Your father worked security for a few events I’ve hosted.” She sipped her tea and looked at Marissa for a moment. “And I’ve seen you at every policeman’s ball for the last ten years. We even met once.”
Marissa narrowed her eyes and searched her memory for their meeting. She came up blank and shook her head. “I must have been young.” She shrugged and focused her attention on the pastel butterflies under her fingers. “I’m not going this year. I’m getting too old for those things.”
“Too old to support your father?”
Marissa rolled her eyes and chuckled, but said nothing. She swallowed the last of her tea and looked up at Diva. She admired the woman’s perfect manicure and found herself envious. Why did this lady get such a nice life?
“Why did you break into my house tonight, Marissa?”
The way Diva asked reminded Marissa of the family therapist—it dripped with pity. Marissa’s cheeks burned as she turned away from the older woman’s intense gaze.
“I know you think that just because I’m a cop’s kid, I’m rebelling because I won’t get in trouble. But you’d be so wrong.” Marissa’s voice came low and sullen, the words rushed out past mumbling lips. “So you can save whatever rationalizing junk you people like to spit out. We broke in because you’re rich.”
Diva raised an eyebrow. “I take that to say you aren’t? Rich, I mean?”
Marissa scoffed and rolled her eyes. She let out a huff of air. “Sure. I’m drowning in cash.” She pushed herself away from the counter island and off the stool. “Listen, lady, you know how much my dad makes. We just figured you wouldn’t notice if anything went missing. Plus we all thought some old hermit lady lived here, not you.”
Diva smirked and stood to take the mugs to the sink. “You’re an interesting girl,” she said over her shoulder. “You always have been, you know.” She turned just as Marissa was inching for the back door. Her face shifted for a brief second before returning to the cool, slightly amused look she’d had all night.
“You’re not leaving are you?”
Marissa shrugged. “It’s like 2am. I should probably head home, but thanks for not having me arrested.”
“I still could.” Diva grinned. “I won’t. But I meant what I said about dangerous people being out this late. You’ll stay here.” She gestured towards another doorway. “I’ll show you the guest room.”
Marissa shook her head. “Thanks, but I’ve got school in the morning and my parents would freak if I don’t come home.”
“How do you think they’d feel if they knew why you were out so late in the first place?”
Marissa stammered and looked away. She twirled a deep-brown curl around her finger and clenched her jaw.
Diva chuckled. “Look, I’ve got a great guest room, and Anise will make you breakfast in the morning. It’ll be like staying in a hotel. She’ll even wake you up and drive you home before you have to leave for school.”
Marissa bit her bottom lip. It would be nice to sleep in luxury for a night. And if that meant her dad would never hear about this, what did she have to lose?
“Fine,” she said. “I’ve crashed in worse places.”
The next day. Wednesday. 2:55 PM
Marissa walked out of Arborville Prep moments before the final bells rang. Diva had left her some fresh clothes that morning, so Marissa opted to go straight to school from her place. She’d overslept and figured she could make up a story if she made it home before her dad got back from work. She trotted down the engraved stairs toward the school’s small courtyard, stumbling at the bottom when she heard her name.
“Damn, Mar, that a new outfit?” Sarah came bouncing down the stairs with Travis trailing behind her.
Marissa rolled her eyes and walked faster.
“Hey, wait up!” Travis jogged fast to her side. Damn his long legs. He tapped Marissa’s shoulder as Sarah scuttled forward.
“What’s your deal?” she asked, scratching the back of her head. “You’ve been ignoring us all day.”
Marissa whirled to face her friends. “You assholes left me; that’s my deal.”
Sarah popped a stick of gum into her mouth and glanced to the side. Travis laughed and threw his arm around Marissa’s shoulders.
“It looks like you made it out okay.” He squinted down at her, his spiked Mohawk casting a red shadow on his forehead. He slipped a finger under the crisp collar of her blouse. “How much did you score?”
Sarah popped her gum. “And how did you get out, anyway?”
Marissa pushed out of Travis’s arm and sucked through her teeth. She turned to cut through the school’s narrow parking lot. “Screw both of you. I could have been arrested.” She jogged down the small, rocky hill and across the street, ignoring Travis and Sarah as they called after her, and dashed across the street towards home.
She walked two blocks before they caught up to her in Sarah’s pale yellow Hatchback. The old horn squawked behind Marissa and she glared at her friends. Sarah pulled up beside her, keeping the 2012 Honda Fit at a slow pace as they followed Marissa down the street.
Travis leaned out of the window. “Come on, Mar. We thought you were behind us.”
Marissa stopped, crossing her hands over her chest. She rolled her eyes and glared as Sarah pulled up to the curb.
“It’s true,” Sarah called over Travis’s shoulder. “We didn’t see you weren’t with us until we got to the car. What were we supposed to do?”
“Come back, maybe?” Marissa’s nails dug into her arms. “Freaking call me to see if I was okay? Or in jail?”
Travis laughed. “Your dad would never let you get arrested.”
“That’s hilarious.” Marissa scoffed, approaching the car. “He’d arrest me for having a bad attitude if he could. Get in the back.”
Travis climbed over the middle armrest, his foot missing Sarah’s black and yellow-blonde bangs by an inch, while Marissa slipped into the passenger seat. She rolled her eyes and leaned back.
“Just take me home. My dad probably wants to kill me already.”
Sarah opened her mouth and shut it again before pulling out onto the street. After a pause, she said, “So, you gonna tell us what happened? How’d you get away?”