LI. Emerson Hanson
I block the lower half of his face then smack my hands together, “Oh, yes!”
I remember it now.
When I was younger, I met Crystal’s dad a few times; but we rarely interacted. It’s vague, but I remember Crystal’s dad is the type of person who would stand in the background and listen to everyone talk. He isn’t big on socialization.
The only time I heard him talk was towards Crystal’s mom, Crystal, her younger brother, or when he needs someone to pass him some sort of food.
I think he asked me to pass him the hot sauce once. I only remembered because I squirted the hot sauce in my eyes and cried for three hours.
When Crystal’s dad married her mom, he took her family’s last name. Unusual. But that’s what they decided to do.
I didn’t recognize him without the beard. He always had this beard that made him look like a hobo. Crystal’s dad works in a factory, so he’s always covered in dirt.
I look closer to the picture.
“Are you sure that’s Crystal’s dad? He’s...pretty-”
Josh ran his hands across his chin, “I’m certain that’s him.” His eyes narrow, “I think. Like 70%.”
“You don’t know your own uncle?”
He shrugs, “Do you know how huge my mom’s side of the family is? You expect me to know every cousin and in-laws? Every time there’s a family gathering, I have a new cousin. I’m happy I know my own siblings’ names.”
Josh isn’t wrong. His mother’s side of the family is huge.
“Is there something I can help you with?” A voice pops out of nowhere.
Josh and I turn our heads. My eyes drop toward his name tag - Adam.
“Yeah. What’s this photo?” Josh asks. He’s never shy about how people look at him.
Adam, the strange man, who I assume to work here because of his uniform, looks at the photo Josh was pointing at. He nods, “Ah, these are all photos of previous Pandora Academy students. We like to take a photo each year everyone visits. It kind of became a tradition.”
My brows crunch at that statement. I never knew Crystal’s dad went to Pandora Academy. “Can I ask a question?”
He nods, “Sure.”
“Who is that guy?” I point at the young man in the picture.
“Ah. That’s Emerson Hanson.”
“Emerson Hanson?” Josh’s face scrunches up. “Son of Harrison Hanson?”
The worker nods.
“But, he’s from Harrison High School. I thought you said these are photos of Pandora Academy’s students.”
“That’s a photo of a few years back. A while back, actually. When Pandora and Harrison had a meeting for these two programs.” He rubs his chin together, “What are they called again?”
“M.I.N.D and E.L.I.T.E?” Josh questions.
The man smacks his hands together, “Yes. Those programs.”
I look at Josh, who stares back at me before we revert our heads towards the picture. Our heads tilt at the same time as we tried to decode the photo.
“May I help you with anything else?” Adam asks.
“No. Thank you,” Josh responds.
“Don’t you think this is weird?” I ask.
“What is weird?” Josh responds.
I point at the space beside Emerson, “This. I mean, he’s looking and smiling at...nothing. Everyone else is either looking at the camera or someone else, but Emerson is staring at...nothing.”
Josh narrowed his eyes further, “You’re right. What is he smiling at?”
“Isn’t Emerson Hanson, the founder of E.L.I.T.E?”
“And Aunt Alice is the founder of M.I.N.D,” Josh grumbles.
“So, does that mean this guy-” who is potentially Crystal’s dad, “and your Aunt Alice knows each other?” I ask. I feel like a detective. Maybe, I should take mom’s footsteps and go into the world of criminals.
Josh exhaled before he stood up straight. He turns around and looks around the room. Everyone was in their own world, chit-chatting with others or playing on their phone.
Josh grasps both sides of the frame.
I grab his wrist, “What are you doing?”
“Borrowing the photo.”
He removes the frame and tucks it inside his coat. His eyes roam around like a criminal.
“You’re stealing!” I whisper.
“Borrowing! I’m borrowing the photo.”
“I don’t want Crystal to see this picture.” He looks around once more before making his escape. Josh headed towards the elevator with me fast on his trail.
“Josh! There are cameras! If they find out you stole a picture. They’ll send you back to school or make you pay some sort of fine.”
“I rather pay a fine or get detention than to let Crystal see this picture.” He exhales, “I don’t want her to get sad.”
Josh pressed the button to our floor.
What if the guy in the picture is Crystal’s dad? Even if he isn’t, there is a possibility that Crystal may mistake him for her dad.
“I’ll return it.” He looks at me, “Keep her happy at least this week, okay?”
“This week-” I pause mid-way. “This week is-”
“It’s around the time Crystal’s dad passed away.”
Silently, I nod and follow Josh into his room. He hides the frame inside his suitcase. I look around the room, the same one as the one I’m in. Then, I saw it. Familiar luggage. “Ricardo is staying here?”
Josh zips up his luggage, “Don’t remind me.”
“Huh. I would’ve thought-”
“Ahmend asked him, and before I knew it. Bang. He’s here.”
“Wow. I can’t believe he said yes.”
“He didn’t say yes. Ahmend wrote down his name, and Mr.Timberland just put us all together.”
“I can’t believe Ahmend can get away with all these things.”
“Well-” Josh’s voice deepens, “he is a-”
“Prince,” we said at the same time before bursting out a peal of laughter.
I exhale, “Ahmend’s greatest accomplishment is being born into royalty.”
Josh shrugs, “Can’t blame the dude for being this way. His mom is a princess.”
“Still weird,” I mumble. “Doesn’t that mean Ahmend will become king one day?”
“Maybe. He is like 25th or something in line.”
“So you’re telling me if 24 people died. He gets to be king?”
After we rented the lobby photo, we went back to the snow. I admit, the guilt is eating me up, but at the same time, I felt like I was living. I can’t believe I am a part of thievery.
I saw Ricardo sitting on a single couch in the corner of the lobby beside the fireplace.
I am part of two thieveries.
“Hay Bag!” Crystal jumps me. “Ready for our girl’s night?”
I tilt my head. “With who?”
Madison walks towards us with Jasmine in the back. “Us.”
Jasmine smiles at me, and I return her smile. Then, she looks at Josh, and they bump fists.
“Oh! Tani!” Crystal screams and rushes towards the front doors. Taniyah looked around and got ready to escape, but Crystal was much faster. Taniyah isn’t going anywhere.
After some dispute, Taniyah gave up and went with us. Everyone heads towards the elevator.
I put my fist in the air.
Josh stared at it, “What are you doing?”
Josh chuckles and bumps my fist before he hugs me. “Don’t be weird,” he whispers into my ear.
“I’m not weird,” I grumble into his chest.
“But I like it when you’re weird.”
I grin widely.
After we changed, we met on the second floor. It’s a balcony with a hot tub and temperature set swimming pool.
“Woah,” Taniyah and I said at the same time.
Taniyah looks at me, “You’re the only normal one here.”
I smile, “Thanks?”
Madison and Jasmine were already inside the hot tub. Crystal and Taniyah strip down to their bikinis. Everyone stared at Taniyah.
“What?” she asks.
“What are those things on your chest?” Crystal openly stares at her boobs.
“How much are you willing to sell those for?”
Taniyah covers her chest, “They aren’t for sale.”
They got into the hot tub. I stood there and stared at the four girls in front of me. At that moment, I wonder if this is what it means to belong to a girl group. Then, everyone looked at me, and I couldn’t help but feel the temperature rise. My body fidgets lightly and steady I pull my shorts down.
“Woah! Pull that down, girl!” Everyone screams.
I pull my shorts up.
“Hailey, we’re playing around. Come in,” Madison said.
My lips pinch, and I take off my clothes until it reveals the blue bathing suit. I didn’t bring one - because I never thought I would need one when I’m going to the snow - so Crystal and I brought them at the resort gift section earlier.
I exhale at the warm sensation drifting around my body. The bubbles feel nice on my back. Resting my head against the edge, I look out to see the small sprinkle of lights on the snowy ground. My sight drifts upward to see the endless stars.
“We should go into town with the guys tomorrow,” Madison said. “I need new shoes.”
I want to tell them I can’t afford to buy anything. I spend all my extra money on the bikini.
“I can’t afford anything. I’m broke,” Taniyah said. I aspire to have a backbone like Taniyah one day. She turns her head, “Why are you looking at me like that?”
Because you’re my role model.