My leg shook beneath the desk. Mrs. Vanderwaal, my tenth-grade history teacher, spoke in slow motion as the clock above the doorway seemed to slow to a crawl. She had been speaking about trades between England and The Netherlands but I couldn’t pay attention anymore. All of her words began to melt into each other. Every second felt like an eternity. I was too excited. It felt like school was ending for the Summer, even though it started only a couple of months ago.
All I knew about the plan was that I needed to wait after school with Alyssa and it involved seeing warehouses near the East River. Normally my days would end with taking a bus back home and reading the jetpack forums. Speaking of which, a company that makes them, MaraStrike, just announced that they’re planning to sell their newest model, the Interceptor, at their store in New Netherlands next Fall.
I must be the only 16-year-old in the world obsessed with something that ridiculous. Better yet, it wouldn’t fit at all in Mensink Heights, the poor neighborhood where I lived. It was all because I watched a movie where the main hero used a real jetpack in the climax to fly across the city. I must have had the same dream of flying a jetpack for a year.
A big copy of an old New Amsterdam map hung on the wall near me, on the other side of the classroom. It was missing a few buildings, and the docks, hell anything from the past two hundred years. I imagined where they’d all be on the map: the Century Building and Atlas Arena near the Breukelen Bridge; St. Mary’s Church near Wall Street; a bunch of crowded apartment complexes around Central Park and the other ludicrous apartments near the West Waterfront, the Four Brothers all the way in the back, near Haarlem...
Someday I’ll fly up over my hometown and take a real photo of it. In the meantime, I guess I’ll have to settle with seeing the skyline from the abandoned docks on the East River. I shouldn’t complain, though. I begged Indigo to let me join her on one of her adventures. She always seems to have the best ones. Maybe one day I won’t have to beg her to join. Maybe someday someone will invite me.
The loud hum of the bell knocked me out of my stupor as I caught the teacher’s last words: “Make sure to go over the material from class. There’s going to be a quiz tomorrow. Have a good day.”
I methodically inserted all of the loose papers around my desk into my folder as the class emptied out.
A familiar face in a New Amsterdam Aces sweatshirt slipped into the empty seat next to me.
That’s what some people call me. My name is actually Caitlin.
“Almost there, Alyssa,” I muttered, still paying attention to my papers. I’ll need them to be organized if I was going to study them before the quiz.
“Look, I know you’re trying to be slow because of the plan, but there’s no one left in the class.”
I looked up from my methodical work. Turned out she was right. Even the teacher had left already.
“Well, I didn’t want to mess anything up. Indigo wanted us to be the last ones out of the school so that no one would see us.”
“True, but she was out a while ago. She probably went to hang out with her friends beforehand. C’mon, let’s get out of here.”
No one was in the hallway, even. It’s almost like everyone in the school didn’t want to be there any longer than necessary.
We raced out of the school into the brisk afternoon.
The alleyway echoed with laughter and electronic music. My sister Indigo leaned against the wall, next to her other friends from 11th grade, her arms folded across her black sweatshirt. Her friend Brenda sat on the other side, at least I assumed that’s who it was. Her name was mentioned so many times in our household that Mom hated that Indigo hung out with her. They always broke some rule that got Mom pissed.
Alyssa walked right up to all of them and began talking. I stayed behind, so lost in what they were talking about that I just watched them from a distance. Alyssa and I were both sophomores and friends since third grade, but she always had that air of cool about her, blending right in with other juniors like it was no big deal. Sometimes I felt like she was more friends with Indigo than me, even though we hung out more. I think she even idolized her.
My sister had apparently woken up from her trance with a smug smile on her face.
She stared at me funny. I must be doing something weird.
“You okay? You’re just standing there. It’s kinda awkward.”
Right. I was just staring at everyone from far away. I must have looked like a stalker.
I scratched the back of my left ear, a nervous tick I picked up from somewhere, and moved closer to my sister. We looked nothing alike save for our noses, according to Mom. I had auburn hair and mom’s green eyes, she had brown hair and brown eyes. She smirked at me with a merciful smile, the one you might get out of sheer sympathy.
“Does Mom think that you’re studying with Alyssa?”
“Yeah,” I said with a nod.
“Good,” she approved, turning away to face Alyssa, who was laughing with Brenda at the moment.
“Okay girls, if we want to get there while there’s still sunlight we gotta move.”
“Have fun babysitting, Indigo,” Brenda laughed as she passed us in the alleyway. Indigo flipped her off as we walked the other way, towards the subway.
I couldn’t believe I was actually doing this. My ear itched again and I felt a bead of sweat run down my back. Normally I’d have been excited to do something this cool, but now that I was about to do it I hesitated to keep going. My feet willed myself to move forward.
We started walking towards the subway. Alyssa and I stayed close behind my sister.
“Finally decided to join us, Caitlin?” she teased with a smirk on her face.
I smiled back.
“Yep. Might as well.”
“Wait ’till you see the warehouses, Caiti,” she replied. “It’s crazy.”
“Hey! Don’t tell her anything until we get there,” Indigo interrupted, “It’ll be a bigger surprise if you don’t know anything yet.”
“Aww, c’mon Indi,” She whined, “her eyes will get really big when I tell her. It’s so adorable when she does that.”
“Hang on,” I said, “when have you two been there before?”
The two of them felt farther away in an instant.
“For secret stuff, sis,” Indigo snickered.
Secret stuff? Yeah, right.
“If you had come earlier, you’d know.”
“Oh come on,” I protested, “it’s not my fault every big expedition of yours has to be the night before tests.”
“Expedition. Ooh, what a fancy word,” My friend said with a hint of sarcasm. “Someone’s been studying for the exams.”
“I don’t want to abandon everything about school. Mom would kill us.”
“Well, that’s not my problem, Caiti,” Indigo said, “it’s not like you could go out and forget school for just a night or something.”
I couldn’t believe I had to defend myself for being a good person.
“Yes, I can,” I defended, “I’m going out now, right? Doesn’t that mean something?”
Even from behind, I could tell Indigo rolled her eyes at me. Alyssa raced up to talk to her, so I decided to pop in my earbuds and listen to some music. After pressing the power button a couple of times I remembered that their power ran out during gym class.
A part of me considered turning around as the other part hummed the last pop song I heard. Maybe I’d save my dignity by leaving. Then again, I had waited all day for this. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad after all.
We all jumped the turnstile and piled onto the train, just before the doors closed on the subway to Breuckelen. After we all sat down, I looked at Alyssa. She was busy talking with Indigo and another group of juniors from our class who happened to be at the station.
I sat on the side and hummed along to another pop song, this time with my hands keeping tempo on my knees. Maybe after this, I’d get included in their other adventures, like sneaking into concerts at the Atlas Arena, climbing the top of the Century Building, ferreting ourselves onto the Staten Island ferry without paying, and seeing the absorption center on Amsterdam Island after hours. We’d become rock stars, and by the time Alyssa and I graduated, we’d have the coolest group in the school.
Then my sister woke me from my daydream. The other juniors were gone.
“Be ready to get off at the next stop.”
It felt like we were on the subway for a long time. By the time our stop arrived, the sun had turned the sky a muted orange and bright pink.
“Okay, so the docks are a few blocks this way.” Indigo double-checked with her phone.
We passed a part of Breukelen that looked like it had died a long time ago, and only the bones remained. Shops were boarded up and tagged with graffiti, apartment buildings were stripped to the concrete and the roads were covered with sinkholes. Even the streetlights stopped working. It was the kind of place Mom warned us about, where hoodlums sat like predators, ready to jump anyone nearby; somewhere I’d refuse to walk without a group, or at least Indigo. The only noise we heard was from our own footsteps, but no one else seemed to care. I couldn’t help but walk a little faster, closer to Indigo but not too close, so Alyssa didn’t think that I was too scared.
We took a turn, and a massive chain-link fence stood in front of us. My jaw dropped. A big white sign dangled over the fence: KEEP OUT! Violators will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law!
As the sun climbed down over the horizon, Indigo and the others started climbing the fence.
“This is the place,” Alyssa said, turning to me. “We’re about to get ourselves some treasure.”
“I thought we were just exploring,” I said.
“You kidding? These warehouses hold stuff from all over the world. Clothes, jewelry, you name it, it’s here for the taking.”
I stopped to take that sentence in.
No way. We couldn’t be, could we?
This whole operation became horribly wrong. Instead of walking through some empty buildings, we were going to steal from warehouses? This is not what Indigo promised me.
“Alyssa, we’re here to steal stuff?”
Alyssa raced towards the fence, joining Indigo on the other side. She looked back at me with fire in her eyes.
“Hell yeah, we are. C’mon. Don’t be a wimp about it.”
She moved fast, grabbing the chains with ease, swinging over the top and sliding down the other side like she’d done it a million times before.
“Okay, Caiti,” Indigo called through the fence, “your turn. Just pull yourself up, swing, and slide. Just like we did.”
I knew it was a bad idea. The butterflies in my gut tried to stop me. Despite the red flags going off in my head, I decided to reach up and grab at the massive vertical wall of chain-link. The whole thing felt wrong. I shouldn’t have been there. I thought we’d be exploring, not robbing. But, with everyone’s eyes on me, waiting with impatience, I knew I’d come too far to stand around like a wimp.
My hands kept reaching up, as I slowly climbed. Below, I could see my sister folding her hands and tapping her hi-top shoes while Alyssa watched.
“C’mon, Caiti! What the hell is taking you so long?” Indigo grumbled. “We only have fifteen minutes before the security guards come around.”
My hands ached from gripping the thin metal and my sneakers were too wide to grip the fence properly. I whipped the auburn hair away from my face to gauge my height above the ground—damn, it was too high to jump and too close to the top to quit.
“C’mon, Caitlin. We don’t have much time!”
The top of the fence came within reach. I felt it between my fingers. Yes! Now just lift and swing, like Indigo said.
I rested my right forearm around the top bar and lifted myself up with both hands. I let myself take a breather while I rested on the top of the fence.
I ignored Indigo yelling at me from below. This part was easy, she said. It was like what we learned that one time our church’s youth group went rock-climbing… well, the time I watched them learn to rock-climb, while I sat around feeling sorry for myself.
I swung my left leg around, careful not to rip any more holes in my jeans, and resumed the climb. My feet barely gripped the fence as Indigo huffed impatiently.
“Okay, you know what? Alyssa, get to the warehouse and find a way in. I’ll stay here with Caitlin.”
She raced off, her sneakers making a faint sound against the concrete. I felt the blood rushing to my face.
In a lapse of concentration, my right leg slipped off.
Both legs flew out as I dangled from the fence.
I could hear my sister panicking as I tried to regain my footing. I should have taken that rock-climbing class. Now I was going to die climbing a fence. This was not how I pictured impressing them.
I felt my hands slipping as my body tumbled down from the fence.
So, this was what death felt like.
Suddenly, after falling onto a softer surface, hands rolled me away.
“The next time you decide to try to die…” Indigo sat up, rubbing her head, “…just give me a heads up, okay?”