XLI. Same Species
“So-” Nina’s eyes went towards Crystal.
Crystal looks in a mirror and fixes her hair. She grabs the ends of her hair and twirls around her tiny finger, “I’m pretty right, Jackson?”
Jackson smiles, “The prettiest.”
Josh and Caleb’s exchanges look then gag.
“Shut up,” Crystal said.
“Crystal,” I said in a stern tone.
“Sorry. Be quiet...or else." She chooses to threaten instead.
Nina came with her family earlier after our dancing session.
“Aunty Nina,” Crystal calls for her. “I’m pretty, right?”
“Of course, you’re pretty,” Nina replies.
“Yeah. A pretty big ego,” Josh mumbles.
Nina leaned in towards me, “What’s up with her today?”
“I have no idea, but all she does is stare in the mirror and hiss whenever I try to take away the tiara.”
“Where did she even get that tiara? Is it real?”
“When I stayed here, I went through a phase.” An I-want-to-be-a-princess phase.
Nina looks at Jackson, who ignores her looks as he continues to chit-chat with Matt. Her eyes went back towards me.
“Don’t give me that look,” I said. “I bought one tiara because of Abby’s birthday. You have like a gazillion.”
She raises her hands, “I didn’t say anything.”
“Your face says it all.” I turn my head, “Crystal are you done? We have to go.”
Crystal stopped twirling her hair and turned towards me, “Yes. Let’s go.”
Everyone stands up and grabs their stuff. “The person who’s watching them-”
“Don’t worry,” Nina reassures me. “Matt hired a bunch of guards. Even a bird will need a pass to fly through them.”
“Aren’t they going to be inside your house?”
“I meant to say-”
“I know. I’m just messing with you.”
Nina explained to Crystal and Dustin how they would go back to the house with Josh, Caleb, and Theo. When Crystal pouted about how she wants to see New York, Nina told her that she would take them out the next day.
Outside of the house, Crystal hung onto my leg, “How come you’re not coming with us? Where are you going?” After Nina’s explanation, Crystal would bombard me with questions about where I’m going.
“Adults stuff,” I respond. I can’t exactly tell her I’m going to investigate her dad’s stalker. “I’ll bring back food.”
Crystal ran her tongue across her cheek, “Hm.”
I squat down, “What’s wrong? You get to be with your cousins.”
Crystal hides her hands behind her back and sways her body. “Hm.”
“Hey. Crystal. Tell mommy what’s going on.” My mom’s sensory is picking up a signal - something is making Crystal feel uncomfortable.
“I just don’t want you to leave.” She squeezes her shirt, “I don’t feel...safe.”
I chuckle, “What do you mean by you don’t feel safe? I leave for work all the time.”
“But...you would always come home.” At that moment, I understood. Crystal didn’t feel comfortable in the environment she is in. Even though it’s her aunt’s house, it’s her first time there. It’s her first time in another state without a familiar adult to watch over her.
I ran my thumb across her cheek and exhaled softly, “Do you have your emergency cell phone?”
She nods, “Yes.”
I grab my phone and increase my volume, “Hear how loud my volume is?”
“Call me whenever you don’t feel safe.”
She nods again, “Okay.”
Despite being seven, almost eight, Crystal isn’t as independent as everyone assumes she would be. She likes exploring places, but only if she knows someone close is in the same building - preferably an adult.
“Piper. Let’s go,” Nina said.
“Alright.” I kiss Crystal’s cheek, “Call me okay?”
She nods, “Bye, mommy.”
I kiss Dustin’s cheek, “Don’t eat too much.”
One by one, they went into the car, and I could only follow along. This isn’t the type of meeting I want to take my children. Why? Because I know anything can make me burst. And I would rather die than let my children see that ugly side of me again.
That ugly mad side.
My phone rings.
I pick it up.
I turn around to see the phone press firmly against Crystal’s ear. She smiles weakly and waves at me.
I smile and wave in return, “Test passed. I repeat. The test has passed.”
Crystal’s smile drops momentarily before it resumes. She waves at me frantically, “Bye!”
I gave her one last wave before I got into the car and closed the door.
Feeling anxious is normal and natural. It’s part of the system. It’s what keeps humans safe.
“They’ll be okay,” Nina said.
“I’m just not used to it,” I told her. “It’s been a while since we went somewhere new, and I’m not with them.” Despite Nina’s constant reassurance, I feel even worse. The farther we were from my children and the closer we got to the woman who may know something about my husband, the stronger the electrical storm got. Quite honestly, it’s painful. Then, it arises - the headache. I search for the bottle of pills inside my back and take two. Once I swallow it down with water, I notice Nina’s attention is entirely on me.
Even with Matt and Jackson’s back facing towards me, I know their attention is on us.
Steadily, Nina grabs the bottle from my hand and turns it until the name appears. “How long have you been-”
I snatch it from her and shove it back into my bag. “It’s not a big deal. Just a light medication for my headaches.”
“You’ve been getting them often?” Nina asks.
“Not often...Once in a while...Sometimes.”
I know there is a reaction on my face that tells all. I couldn’t bear to look at Nina. Nina unbuckles her seatbelt and scoot into the middle of the car. She buckles herself up before she wraps her arms around me. Like when we were younger, I shove my face into her neck and hide from reality. I could hear the music growing louder inside the car - a sound that hides my light sniffles.
When we arrived at the meeting location, Matt and Jack got out of the car. When I hear the doors close, I wipe the tears from my eyes. Nina handed me a bottle of water, and I drank half of it. “Come out when you’re ready,” she said before she left the car.
Inside the car, my fingers curled against the half-empty water bottle. I unscrewed the cap and drank the other half until it was empty. After several deep breaths, I got out of the car. I know they know, but I’m still grateful that everyone pretended that my eyes weren’t red.
We walk into the doors, past the lobby, in the elevator, down the hallway, and finally, we stop at a large double entrance. Two men guard the entry. No, I’m confident the whole building is protected. One of the guards opens the door.
When I stepped into the large room, I noticed a girl and a guy at the end of the long table. They stop their conversation and stare at us. I turned towards Matt, “I thought there was only one girl,” I said. I could whisper, but I’m sure they would hear us in this empty room.
“There was supposed to be one,” Matt responds. “But, then I found another one.” He shrugs casually before he walks towards them.
I look at Nina, “Is he always like this?”
Nina releases a weird sound from her throat before she walks towards them.
I shake my head and follow them with Jackson behind me. Once we reach the table, each of us takes a seat.
The girl - Makena Kekoa - looks at everyone. Makena seems a bit older than the pictures I saw. She nods, “Wow,” she said. “I wish I had my camera. This-” she made a rectangle with her fingers, “is the perfect picture that’s worth thousands.”
“Okay,” I said. “Enough bullshit.”
She lowers her hands.
“Matt told me that you took a photo of my husband. Why?”
“Isn’t it obvious? You’re Jackson Martinez’s Cinderella!” Suddenly, an uncomfortable atmosphere drops into the room. “The girl who got away! Of course, I had to take a photo of the person who sweeps you off your feet!” I can tell she’s a sweet talker. Most likely, she talked her way through life. And saying something others want to hear does affect them. They’re more likely to let things slide or give you want you want.
I nod slowly, “Uh-huh. Yes, you’re so interested that you started an investigation.” If it were a simple picture out of pure interest, it wouldn’t be suspicious. But, this woman had been following my husband.
“Just a small one,” Makena responds. “Tiny innocent investigation. Curiosity.”
“Since my sister’s wedding?”
“Two years can fly on by. Am I right?” She nudges the guy beside her.
“Please don’t bring me into this,” he responds. “They’re powerful people, and I don’t want to die.”
“I’m under the assumption you’re not here under your own will.” We all look at Matt.
He clears his throat and straight out his back.
“So, you’ll let us go?” Makena asks.
“No,” I responded. “Why should I?”
“Because we’re not here under our own will?”
“Oh, I know,” I respond. “What I say was a statement. It doesn’t mean I’ll let you leave.”
Makena chuckles anxiously.
“I’m sure the wedding wasn’t the first time you followed us. So, I believe you have a gist of our personalities.” I lean forward, “And I’m certain, you know I’m not a nice person.”
Makena chuckle once before she rests an arm on the table, “I also know your mental state is the weakest out of the four.”
The guy beside her elbows her.
“What? We’re going to die anyway. Might as well die with style.”
“So, what you’re saying is, you won’t say anything.”
“What I’m saying: what do you have to offer?”
The edge of my lips tilted upward, “You’re a greedy woman, aren’t you?”
“Just makes me the same species as you and your sister.”
Matt and Jackson’s heads turn towards her. The look on their faces could wet anyone’s pants. Of course, that’s how she views us.
“You know what you want,” I said. “I like that.” I picked up a thing, or two in the wealthy lives during the past three months of summer. “I read about you. You’re a photographer - not wealthy. I assume since you’re not in any important magazines. Probably barely scratching by with whatever it is that you do. Most likely, breaking the law and such.”
“All my photos-”
“are on private properties. My sister’s wedding wasn’t on public property.”
“What are you going to do? Call the cops on me?” Makena isn’t afraid of authorities. She’s been to prison—more than a handful of times. Prison doesn’t scare her.
“No. I don’t want that. You know what I really want?” I move my head forward, “I want your prized possessions.” I smile, “I want all your works. Your cameras. Your little friend’s works. I want everything that you both have.”
“What we have is worthless.”
“To me? Yes. To you? Not so much.” I smile again, “And that’s why I want it.” I look at Jackson, “Tell the men to pack all their things up and send them to my house.” I giggle and look at Makena again, “Aren’t I such a greedy woman?”
This is it - one of the many reasons why I don’t want to be back. Being given power...knowing you can step past society’s boundaries. It makes you a lot...uglier.
“You can’t do that.”
“What are you going to do? Call the cops? Go ahead.” I laid out my palm, and the man behind us took it as a signal and laid down a phone. I slide it across the table, “Go ahead. Call for help. Let’s see who can stop me.”