Esther’s not one to tolerate my wallowing, so her impatient call is encouragement enough to get me out of the bathroom.
“What took so long? We thought you’d keeled over,” Esther says, swiping her keys from the hook.
“Hey, I said let women be women but she whacked me over the head.” “Ow!” Brian exclaims as Esther’s hand slaps the back of his head. “See! Exactly like that.”
I roll my eyes and Esther ushers us out the door impatiently.
Together, we head out to Brian’s car looking like the oddest mismatched trio in all of history. Brian’s skinny body modelling designers I’m not sure how to pronounce, with his wax sculpture hair and movie star smile - is strutting like a gangster in between a small, scruffy, purple-haired punk and her giant, bodyguard looking fema-thug. If this was the poster cover for the next Hollywood action comedy, it’d be a bigger blockbuster hit than Jump Street.
I am lucky that I have support, even if it does come from Brian Myer, but it’s hard to fully appreciate when your emotions are so messy that you can barely tell the positive from the negative.
“Wait how many thousand?! A random gift for a non-birthday celebrating seventeen year old kid cost how much?!” Esther gets side tracked by the quality of Brian’s car and he seems all too happy to have someone to brag to. He never gets the satisfaction with me. I’m more impressed by a person’s achievements than those of their parents.
“I was actually sixteen,” Brian boasts, without a shred of dignity to cover up the pride in his expression.
Esther’s demeanour starts to shift into the warning position I’ve come to realise means she’s about to burst into a lecture. I figure about now is the time to butt in. “Yes yes, he’s a rich boy. I think we already established this. Can we stay focused?”
“Oh right. Yes of course, sneaking into an evil demons’ layer. That’s what’s important right now,” she says seriously. But her tone changes as she starts to skew off course again, “not the child that lives in a town where everything is within walking distance, yet drives around in something that costs more than I could sell all of my organs on the black market for.”
“Actually,” I begin to correct her from my strange pool of knowledge on the subject, “you can make a clean mil just on the heart alone, that doubles if you throw in the liver and kidneys. Of course if you’re going black market you’ll make about ninety percent less than the legal route. But you’d still get a pretty penny more than the worth of this car,” I say, patting the dashboard.
“There’s a legal route to selling organs?!” Esther’s shock cuts into the prolonged silence and transfers to me.
“Okay… I think I’m just not gonna comment on that one,” Brian says, keeping his weirded out glare on the road.
“What? My nose spends most of its time in a book. You find out these things.”
I feel like a more satisfying defence is called for, but we just pulled up by Brooke’s Manor, our designated inconspicuous spot a street away from the house.
“I guess it’s go time gang,” Esther exclaims quietly as she slams the door. Brian gives a look and a head shake, thankfully keeping a lid on his pettiness for the gravity of the situation.
We walk side-by-side, synchronised footsteps and innocent, silent, sweet faces to drive off any suspicion. We make it up to the gate unnoticed, though before I get the chance to type in the code Ronda Young starts heading our way. Her tall, tan, toned self comes fully packaged with an all-inclusive nose for anything not her business.
I grab Brian’s sleeve and yank him behind the wall, just in time for her plastic eyes to miss us. But by the time Esther responds to my hissing, I hear the sound of Prada heels scrapping against the concrete and realise it’s too late.
And then it stops.
“What’s going on here?” A high pitched voice asks enthusiastically.
For a lot of these women, gossip gives them a purpose in life. So to them, drama is just another word for interesting conversation. It usually didn’t bother me too much, but unfortunately being on the other side of this wall means that the drama has finally found its way to me. I don’t do well with regular drama, but this kind can screw me in a hundred different ways.
“Um…” I cringe as Esther stumbles over a response. “I be ’ere to vater de ’ouse planties madamey.”
There’s a pause and my cringe doubles. Brian grabs a hold of my arm worriedly, both of us cursing without making a sound. I dart my head to the side to weigh up how fast I could get around the corner without being noticed and instantly dismiss the thought. I would be leaving Esther alone to deal with a mess she’s only involved in because of me. And that would be far worse than anything that can happen if I stay.
“Hmm,” Ronda says, the suspense making me clutch onto Brian’s wrist so hard that his whole hand turns pinker than Morgan’s wardrobe. “Okay, well take extra special care of the rare sapphire orchid. Miss Morgan no likey when people touchy the blue flower,” she says in a voice that’s surely meant for a deaf child.
Our widened eyes soften with the sound of Prada disappearing in the distance. That relief travels over my whole body, my height drops a full two inches and my bones sink back into place.
I let go of Brian’s arm and look up at him apologetically when I see the purple bracelet of nail marks on his wrist. He responds with that male, tensed-up “didn’t bother me” shrug that’s secretly saying “I’m in so much goddamn pain right now but I can’t say that because I have a penis”.
We scuttle out of the corner and share a group gasp of relief.
“What accent was that supposed to be? You sounded like an idiot!” I whisper shout at Esther as I desperately type in the code.
“It didn’t really make a difference Lannie, most of these women are racially ignorant sex slaves that think continents and countries are the same things.”
I turn to her ready to argue back the whole we’ve moved past the fifties debate… But I shut my mouth, ashamed to admit that it really isn’t the case here. There’s a reason why their lives revolve around gossip, they have no other way to spend their days. Every woman on this block has a maid, working or not, meaning their knowledge base doesn’t even stretch as far as cleaning tips.
That’s one thing I’ll say about Morgan, she may be evil, but she has more to give to the world than shiny nails and poofy hair.
“Thank God, I was bout ready to bail,” Brian says as the gate clicks open. On cue, all three of us ram past each other to get inside, anxious to not be spotted by someone with a higher IQ than Mrs Stepford.
My adrenaline is hyped up, removing the challenge of getting over the fence. We drag the trash can over and I climb up, pull myself onto the edge, twizzle around and hop down to the floor. Esther’s after me and she’s surprisingly nimble. She jumps onto the trash can and throws herself over the fence like a free runner, using only one hand to steady her movement.
Compared to Esther, I looked like I was an escapee coma patient. Though watching Brian’s attempt makes me feel more like an escapee crack addict. He tries to imitate Esther and rams right into the fence.
“Stop acting like a muppet and get over already, you’re blowing our cover!” I hiss. A series of grunts later and he’s over… On the floor, but over.
“I guess white boys really can’t jump,” Esther chuckles.
“Esther!” I chide, “only the bony rich ones.” Esther and I laugh and Brian crosses his arms with a grunt.
The lock is the part of the plan I’m most worried about. The garden is huge, a hundred different plants shielding us from the other acre that’s being tended to. But at some point, Chris, our gardener, is going to make his way onto the patio area to mind Morgan’s precious rose bushes.
I haven’t told Esther and Brian that the buzzing sound in the distance is actually on the same property. I figured the calmer I could keep them, the better for all of us. I don’t have that luxury myself. The stronger the smell of freshly cut bushes gets, the more my stomach churns.
Esther notices my stance in the thin reflecting glass on the door and starts to look worried. “Chill Lannie, I’m nearly done,” she says to my reflection.
She turns her head around, her hands keeping the lock picking tools in place. “If you get antsy, I get antsy. And if Essie gets antsy, she’s going to slap the gel out of rich boy’s hair.”
“Why am I involved in this?”
“There’s only two of you here ain’t there? Your mother not teach you not to hit a girl?”
“Are you a dude?!” Brian exclaims, “that explains so much!”
“Would you two stay focused,” I hiss, “we’re not on a damn lunch break here, we’re trying to commit a felony!”
They both simultaneously roll their eyes and Esther turns back to the lock, mumbling “my no balls are still bigger than yours.”
Brian goes to retort but submits to my pre-murderous rampage glare.
Esther fumbles around for another minute as I hop between my feet, hearing the humming of the hedge trimmers get louder and louder. She stands up. All I can hear in the moment that she pauses is my heart thumping. Almost as if she’s trying to be suspenseful, she wraps her fingers around the unmarked steel handle, pauses again, and then slides the door open.
She spins around and flaunts her jazz hands like she’s shaking a pair of maracas and I huff to repel her inappropriate enthusiasm as I speed walk into her. I push her from the gleaming garden and into the gleaming yellow sitting room. Her face tells me she’s not impressed.
I don’t often get that look from her. I’m not often caught up in this kind of a situation and Esther’s poorly timed behaviour isn’t usually more than a simple annoyance.
Today I’m serious. I’m not Elena the doormat, or Elena the silent sufferer. I’m taking back what’s mine. And I don’t mean the clothes, books and odds and ends you’ll find in my room.
I ignore the horribly nostalgic shiver of vulnerability running down spine. The sight of those obnoxious pastel coloured curtains and the fragrant smell of lemon pledge and one lonesome dust particle is enough to switch on my fight or flight reflex. Though right now, I go straight into the grey area; a place I’m not accustomed to. My emotions are a seesaw and I’ve been jumping from the ground to the sky so many times in the last few days that I can’t even remember if my head is to the clouds or my feet are to the floor.
I guide them up the stairs, after doing a quick check over for any wandering posh people minions and we manage to get to my room unnoticed. I didn’t honestly believe that we’d get this far. Sneaking in to a house in this neighbourhood, getting through the door, dodging the gardener and not running into a single roadblock? With my luck? The universe must have finally gotten tired of messing with me.
“What are you waiting for? A minute ago you were more ready to go than a freshman at a frat party,” Esther says, nudging my stone cold body. I wince and turn to her awkwardly as Brian pulls that “well?” gesture with his hands and eyebrows.
“It’s probably locked…” my words slow with the movements of my mouth. They both let out a deep groan, dipping their heads back.
“Aren’t you supposed to be like a straight-A girl, Plum?”
I return with a guilty eye drop and reach for the handle. The cold metal chills my hand as I grip onto it. I slowly turn it as the two people that have risked committing a crime for me wait anxiously by my side. If it doesn’t open, this was a wasted endeavour. And I’ll have to take the chance of creeping back out of here with absolutely nothing to show for it.
It clicks, signifying the end of the turn, and prompting my fear to reside in the tips of my fingers. I convey my elbow forward with no leverage to the lock. I follow through with my wrist and… Click. My heart reaches through my skull, pushing tears to my eyes. I have never felt relief like the sound of that door opening.
I suck in the feeling with a breath and march inside. Not wasting a second, I go straight to my wardrobe, shovel out an armful of clothes and drop them down on the bed.
“Uh… Elena. Why does your room look like it’s been ransacked by the CDC?” I look up from the pile to see that Esther and Brian haven’t moved from the doorway and my expression mirrors theirs as the state of the room comes into my vision. I had been so caught up in everything else that I forgot the initial scolding that provoked my running away.
“They really weren’t exaggerating…” I mutter, travelling my eyes over the open draws and piles of my possessions thrown over everything but the ceiling. I turn my head back to the wardrobe and kneel down with the motion of my heart sinking.
Pictures of my mother torn, chips of the silver ashtray I had made her, unread letters I had written to people I had both loved and hated; all pouring from the now damaged memory boxes that my mother had made by hand.
“What’s going on Elena?” Brian steps through the door, peering over my shoulder at my broken memories.
I ignore the voices in my head, the ones that tell me to replace my dismay with my former approach to action. The urgent situation I was in just moments ago has made its way into the past. I reach towards the card Evan had made out of popsickle sticks for my ninth birthday, one of the few items left intact. I prop up the box sewn from my mother’s old fur coat and place it inside heartedly. One by one, I clasp the items in my hand and place them carefully into the box.
I hear shuffling behind me, along with a few pitying murmurs. “I’m just gonna start bagging up some of this stuff, that okay babe?” Esther says, rummaging through the heap by my bed.
“There should be a few books,” I sigh, “old ratty-looking ones. That’s all I need from over there.”
I slink to my feet with the box in hand and place it down on the bed. Brian gives me a knowing half smile and starts to squish my clothes into my large, badge covered backpack. Esther pushes them down with the pile of books, and they stay in a silent circle around my bed, awaiting my next instruction.
Esther’s eyes switch to the floor beside her feet and her tone moves away from our collective despair. “Is this yours?” she asks curiously, returning to her feet with a small piece of card.
I lean over the bed and snatch it from her hand.
A blank off-white rectangle I hold, the three steel blue letters as bold as they are ambiguous.
Those three letters standing alone, only in existence, only in my hands to taunt me. Those three letters. “E.S.I.”
Our heads all snap to the hallway at the sound of the front door. And the piece of card floats to the floor, taking its significance with it.