The loud slapping of plastic on wood brought her back to the room.
“Can you put your goldfish tendencies on hold and get this done?”
Marissa spun around in the chair and gathered up the folders scattered across the desk. She began to scan over the documents with no real intention of reading them.
She nodded and flipped the page, “Yeah, I’ll get on it right away. Thanks, Chole.”
“Really,” she asked, taking the papers, “What did the first sentence say?”
Marissa smiled; she didn’t have to read it. Her sister always wanted the same thing, the budget. That’s all she yelled at her for. That and spending too much time with the kids at the—oh shit.
“The budget for the orphanage needs to be done. A new branch will be opening soon or something like that,” she said.
“It’s nice that you remember about the budget that was due last week, but this one is for the party on Friday,” Chole huffed, throwing her hands on her hips, “You may have dad wrapped around your pinky, but if you screw this up, being his favorite won’t save you.”
“He loves us all equally. Daddy understands my need for creativity and freedom, just like he understands your need to control and micromanage everything,” Marissa said, grabbing the folder.
“You’re about to turn twenty-two; you need to grow up already. It’s about that time where you’re going to get matched.”
Marissa all but fell out of her chair with laughter. Her? Being matched? Chole may be the walking dead with her new werewolf husband, but that wasn’t going to be her.
“If Camila wasn’t safe, what makes you any different?”
“Both of you were made for married life. He knows, restrictions, and I do not mix.”
Marissa glanced at the clock. The kids should be getting out of class soon.
“You went to visit them three times this week already. We have to start making plans for the party,” Chole called out as Marissa stepped into the elevator.
“We’ll do it tonight, I promise.”
With that, Chole let her go in peace. One thing Marissa has never done was break a promise.
Getting to the neutral zone was a journey, but it was worth it. It was the one place where humans, werewolves, sea beasts, and elves could get together without starting another war. Entering a territory not designed for your people, uninvited, could get a lot of folks killed. The neutral zone had some of the best boutiques, restaurants, and clubs, but it also held the orphanage. One of the few things each organization could agree on was the kids; thank God for that. The checkpoint was the worst.
“You’ve been visiting a lot,” a guard said, shaking the contents of her bag out on the table.
She rolled her eyes and checked her watch. Caleb should’ve been on shift already; she hated explaining herself every time, only for them not to believe her. After not finding anything, he picked up the detector. Adjusting his loosely fitted pants, he began waving away. Marissa didn’t have time for this. She stopped to feed the ducks a little bit by the pond then grabbed a new outfit and earrings for her hidden piercings. At this rate, she’ll miss visitation hours.
“I visit the kids. Hell, it’s my job,” she said, slapping it away.
A few guards broke out in laughter, “Getting shitface is a job? Sign me up,” he said.
You get high once and cry at a beautiful statue; you’re considered a drunk.
“I’ll take it from here. Your shift is over,” Caleb said, placing his cup in the security booth.
“Great. You deal with the Princess of New Hope,” he said, tossing the detector to the table.
Marissa started to cram all of her things into her bag. Caleb picked up the scantily clad two-piece outfit with a raised thick brow. She snatched the outfit and quickly stuffed it in too. He was a vision, slim but toned; dark brown eyes, tanned skin unmarked, unlike her. Marissa had a taste for tattoos, but she had to keep them hidden from her family especially, her father.
“You’re not going to make it today,” he smiled, “How about a drink tonight after I get off?”
“I can’t; I promised Chloe I would help out with the party this weekend,” she pushed a stray dread behind her ear, “You and Lizzy want to be my plus two? Free drinks and food, then we can cut out and head over to Jessie’s party.”
Marissa checked her watch, and he was right. The new caretaker won’t let her in. A trip to the harbor for some ramen wouldn’t be so bad.
“Yeah, sounds good. You’re heading to Arte’s, right? Can you grab me—”
“Shio ramen with a soda, I know,” she said.
The street was lively as she made it to the docks. Everyone mingled together, smiling. As she paid for the food, she caught sight of some teens wearing the signature poop brown sneakers that are only given out at the orphanage. Five brave souls, the new caretaker, is old school and will beat them if they get caught sneaking back in. Heading back to the checkpoint, a scream sliced through the night. The light at the end of the dock switched from a pale yellow to red.
Marissa took off in the direction, the wood creaked under her feet, and her hands gripped bags that were no longer there. Four teens came into sight, yelling at the water while shining phone lights down.
“Did they fall in?”
“Something grabbed him! Jacob,” a girl cried.
Marissa cursed under her breath and jumped in.
When she broke back to the surface, “Go to the coast guard’s booth and get help,” they all took off.
If only they were this good at listening all the time. Marissa swam and yelled for him; the red glow from the light only lit a few feet in front of her. Loud footsteps above shook the dock, and then a shirtless man splashed in. He didn’t reemerge, but she felt something brush against her leg. It was too dark, and the water was too deep to see below the surface. A body came back up to the surface, facedown with the ugly shoes on.
Marissa peddled fast and hard until she reached him. As she pulled his body to shore, splashing broke out behind her. To her relief, she touched the sandy beach. She examined him, and he was covered in scales. Marissa didn’t know if he was a sea dragon or sea serpent; doing the wrong version of CPR could kill him.
“Move aside,” the man slurred.
Marissa slid out the way, “Is there anything I can do?”
“Hold this,” he handed her a bottle, then dropped to his knees and began cutting at the shirt.
She examined the bottle and sniffed it, booze. Tipping the bottle back, she took a big swig. Please live.
“Hey, go easy on the bottle,” he stuck his fingers into the kid’s gills and began pulling out debris.
“Will he be okay?”
“Yeah, it’s his first turn. He has to figure it out,” he said, taking the bottle, “Do you normally jump in monster-infested waters without thinking?”
“How else would I spend my nights,” she said, holding out her hand, “Marissa.”
He gripped her forearm, “Loc.”
Loc’s shoulder-length blonde hair clung to whatever skin it touched. He stared out onto the water rubbing his stubble face. The surrounding lights placed his colorful tattoos on full display, all but the ones leading into his pants. He was very fit and cut.
“Where are we going?”
“The kid, where are we taking him,” he smiled.
“Oh, just a few blocks from here,” she said, jumping up, brushing the sand off.
The taxi driver was not happy about her being soaking wet, but the driver was better than the caretaker. She might need to see a physician to check her ears. Chole would still be up, pissed, but awake and ready to work. To her surprise, Chole and her father were at the door waiting to welcome her. She contemplated having the driver go back down the driveway, but before she could make up her mind, her father came and pulled open the door.
“The Caretaker called. Are you okay,” he asked, grabbing her bag.
Of course, she did.
She nodded, “You didn’t need to stay up for me. Don’t you have a meeting in the morning?”
He embraced her tight and chuckled, “You’re going to be the death of me.”
Marissa was sure he caught on to her slacking.
She smiled, “I hope not.”
“We need to talk before Friday. Now would be ideal,” he said.
“Chole and I have a lot to get done before Friday, and I’ve kept her waiting too long as it is. Before the party; after I get ready,” she said, rushing to the door to meet Chole’s wrath.