I must’ve been waiting in the dank alley for at least an hour. Maybe it would have been fine if it hadn’t been a place like this, the sorry in-between space of two restaurants swarmed with rats and garbage and the occasional untrustworthy cat eye from the shadows. I’ll need to remind Race that it’s deadly cold and rainy and I have no business waiting here in the earliest point of morning.
The only thing keeping me rooted to the wall is the knowledge that without Race, I’m not getting walked back to the Warehouse. Nothing is more depressing than a lone girl walking around Philadelphia at one in the morning. I fold my arms and stare forward at the place where the brick wall meets the cracked cement. A rat explores the contents of a sodden grocery store bag.
Slapping footsteps signal an arrival. I turn to Race, pushing the hood from my head. A raindrop spatters across my left cheek. “You said you’d be here at midnight,” I remind him. Race rolls his eyes and grins at me, his straight white teeth practically glowing in the near blackness. I self-consciously touch the gap between my front teeth with my tongue.
“I know. I’m sorry, Lia.” Race mirrors me, pushing back his hood. The faint light from the crescent moon illuminates his dark hair.
“You know I hate it when you call me that.”
Race flips the wet hair out of his eyes and continues. “Okay, okay. Talia, I’m sorry that I’m late.”
“Don’t call me that.”
I roll my eyes at him and punch him lightly on the shoulder. My curled fist is greeted by the soft brown leather of the coat he always wears. “Okay. Fine. But you’re still late.”
“Let me guess,” I say, trying not to smile and failing miserably. “You lost track of time and when you remembered you had to pick me up, you quickly grabbed something to give me to make up for it?”
Race rolls his dark blue eyes. “Maybe.”
“I accept.” He hands me a package wrapped in damp brown paper and kitchen twine. I wrap my hands around it and slowly rip the wet paper away. Race lifts the glittering diamond bracelet out of my hands and clips it onto my wrist.
I twist my wrist to look closely at it. It’s silver, or at least silver plated, and the stones are most definitely diamonds. I grin up at him. “Let’s get out of the rain,” he suggests, and we walk out of the alley together, triggering an angry hiss from a cat, scattering rats in our wake.
Philadelphia is beautiful at night, when the streetlamps cast long shadows across the wet pavement and the storefronts are all dark. We’re the only ones walking. Just two dark figures on rainy night.
I jog to keep up with him. He often forgets that his legs are longer than mine. We’re only a few blocks away from the Warehouse, which might be my favorite place on the planet. It’s where we all live; Race, Bowen, Octavia, Chance, Jakobe, Zariah, Zeke, Tyrese and Evelina. And, of course, me.
The buildings above us get shorter, the streets a bit more cracked. The Warehouse looms ahead, a black spectacle against an even blacker sky. We hurry to the front door and knock, first three times, then four, then twice. The door cracks open, revealing a sliver of Bowen’s face. He grins when he sees us and pulls the heavy door open. After the darkness, the lights gleaming off of Bowen’s bright orange hair makes me wrinkle up my eyes.
“What took you so long?” Bowen asks, in his typical half nosey, half curious style. Out of all of us, he’s the oldest, and acts sort of like our leader. He shuts the door and leads us into the main room of the Warehouse. I smack his shoulder in a way that means to shut up.
It’s my favorite place. Huge metal walls. Couches and armchairs and crates scattered about to sit on. Televisions against the walls. An enormous fireplace in the corner where everyone’s gathered. Bowen, Race and I head over to the rest of the group. We call ourselves the Elites. I pull up a crate and sit, while Race settles on a plastic molded chair.
“You guys are back late,” Evelina remarks. She’s my partner, in the way that we are the ones who can cause the best distractions. Like tonight, when I pretended to steal her purse so the other Elites could get past hotel security. She’s always the victim, because people naturally like her. She’s tall and pretty with long blond hair and big blue eyes. Not the criminal looking type.
“I had to find wrapping for a gift, because I was late,” Race says. “Even if it made me even later. Sorry, Tally.”
Tyrese snorts. “You just love sucking up to every girl you meet, don’t you.” He leans back in his chair, shadows from the fire fluttering across his warm brown skin. He has an easy smile playing across his jaw, as usual.
Chance speaks. “Enough.” But he’s smiling too.
Jakobe elbows me and I scowl at him. He grins back and tells me, “There it is. I wasn’t used to seeing you, ya know, smiling.” I roll my eyes at him and he throws an empty trash bag at me. It lands a foot short of my crate.
“Nice try, Jakobe,” I smirk at him. “I’m going to bed.” I get up and head towards the back of the Warehouse, where we’ve converted offices into bedrooms.
Mine is the third to the left. I walk in, slump on my bed, and grin. A successful job is done, we didn’t get caught, and everyone is here, together.
I wish it could always be like this. But I never know if it can.
The pavement is cold and unforgiving under my socked feet. A sharp rock cuts the bottom of the fabric and stabs my foot. I bite into my lip to save my breath and keep running. A flashlight beam cuts across the parking lot, sweeping over me at uneven intervals as someone runs with the light source.
The pavement ends and I feel one hot tear streak down my face. I can’t stop running, or he’ll catch me. I know he will. If he does, there will be consequences.
Grass rises up under my feet, untamed and yellow, angry even in death. My sock is bunched up at my toe, and rips away.
The chaser’s breath is getting louder and louder. He must be close, very close. I want so badly to turn around and catch a glimpse of him, but it will slow me down, and I can’t afford to slow down.
I fall, slamming to the ground. The spiky remnants of nature bite into my cheek. Heavy hands grab me, calloused fingers wrapping around my arms. My chaser jerks me roughly to my feet.
Tears blur my vision as I try to see who it is. I let out a hot breath. I blink furiously, wishing I had my hand so I could wipe them away, when his face comes clear into my focus, showing almost...regret.
I jerk awake in a cold sweat. I’m not running in a parking lot, or being chased. I’m not bleeding. Race isn’t here. No, I’m in my bed at the Warehouse, alone and safe. My heart pounds and I feel the residual signs of fear fading, a pounding head and my heartbeat in my hands.
I fall back against my pillow and pull the blankets up to my chin, even though I’m overheated. Like I used to when I was a child, I curl onto my side and pull my knees against my chest, creating a false sense of security.
“Tah-lee-uh!” Evelina yells, over pronouncing my name like she usually does when she needs something.
I walk to her room, the second on the left, and find her sitting on the bed. Her eyes are wide and rimmed with red. “What’s wrong?”
Evelina stands and shakes her hands. “It’s Chance . . .” she says, “He’s been arrested.”
I struggle to find my voice, and finally say, “What?”
Evelina holds out her phone for me to take. I read the screen, my heart sinking deeper the more I read. Member of infamous mobb finally apprehended!
I jam Evelina’s phone back into her hand and hurry away. “Race!” I yell, my eyes scanning the room desperately. Race must be at work. But we need to all be together.
I hurry towards the door of the Warehouse. I have to find Race. I grab the keys to Bowen’s car and leave the Warehouse, not bothering to shut the door. His job is close. Very close. There’s the building, right ahead. I illegally park directly in front of the building.
I run through the entrance and into the cold lobby. The lady at the front desk looks up and purses her lips, scanning me with judgemental eyes half hidden by purple cat-eyed glasses. I must look like I rolled off of the street, with my ripped denim pants and washed out black shirt.
I make my way to the desk and tap my fingers on the cool marble surface. The woman frowns at me. “Can I help you?” Her voice is nasally and her breath smells stale, like cinnamon and cigarettes. I resist the urge to crinkle my nose.
“Yes. I need to talk to Ra-I mean, Richard Dauley. It’s important,” I say, my words linking together.
She picks up the phone and has a quiet conversation, eyeing me suspiciously the whole time. “Mr. Dauley is coming to see you now.”
I mutter a “Thanks,” and make my way to a bench at the edge of lobby, a few feet away from the elevators. It seems like hours that I sit there, feeling more and more worried. Race needs to be down here now.
The elevator clicks open with a soft ding, the sound of money and importance and travel. Race steps out in his work clothes, looking professional and sure of himself. More of a Richard Dauley than a Race. His eyebrows lift a bit when he sees me. I can’t help it; I spring forwards and throw my arms around him, feeling the gaze of Shannon on my back.
“Race, we need you back at the Warehouse,” I say, quietly soonly he can hear it, if he listens well. Questions swim in his eyes, so I shake my head. Not here. We can’t talk here. He thanks Shannon and we leave. I don’t know what to say, now.
But by the time I’m settling into sleep, I know it will be a restless night.
I wake to the sounds of yelling and loud footsteps. I hear a loud, piercing scream that must belong to Evelina. If someone is hurting her, something bad will come to them, it will, it -
“Freeze!” screams a booming voice as my bedroom door nearly flies off of the wall. People with flashlights and guns stream in. Someone rushes behind me, and I panic, throwing out a hand. It doesn’t reach anything but empty air and someone grabs my wrists, wrestling them into cold metal cuffs. The wild animal inside me takes over; I kick and scream and even bite at anything that comes near me. Something heavy slams into my head and my world goes black.
There are people in front of me. Blurry people, slowly coming into focus. My head pounds and I groan. I’m sitting in a plastic chair in a small room, and two people sit on the other side of the brushed metal table before me.
“Talia Nelien,” one of them says, a middle aged woman with blond hair and a square jaw. Her watery blue eyes cut into me, as if they can see into my thoughts and expose my secrets. “I’m Detective Ross with the Philadelphia Police Department, and this is my partner Detective Abbate.” She glances at the man next to her, a younger man with flaming red hair and a generally kind looking face. I hate them both immediately.
I don’t say anything, so Detective Ross continues. “We were informed from an inside source of your location . . . you and all of your comrades. But we have still to find one of you. Somehow, Miss Evelina Vanderkoff managed to evade us. You have five minutes to tell me everything.”
I say nothing, but crack a small smile.
Detective Abbate leans forwards. “We could bring your sentence down by up to five years if you help us,” he says in a low voice.
“Can I ask,” I say with my best poker face, “who this inside source is?”
Detective Ross grins for real this time, her straight yellow teeth flashing. “Oh, I’m sure you’ve heard of him. From what I’ve read, you know him very well. Mr. Richard Dauley - or should I call him Race? -was a great help to us.” She smiles.
My heart pounds. I know they’re lying because Race would never do that to us. He is the one person in the world that I know I trust. So they must be lying.
But. But he has been disappearing a lot recently. I’ve seen letters in the mail addressed to him, more than usual. He’s been emailing people, but he wouldn’t tell me who. Race, working with the police, turning his back on us and on me.
I think I cry. At least, I want to. But I don’t feel any wetness on my cheeks and the detectives just sit there and watch me. “I’m not telling you where Evelina is,” I tell them.
The door swings open and someone walks in. A man in a dark blue suit with a clean shaven jaw and dark eyes. Familiar dark hair I’ve messed up countless times. A face that I’ve laughed at, laughed with, and cried with. Race.
“Tell them, Tally.” His face is free of emotion. I stare at him. He betrayed me and put me here. He has never cared about me and never will.
I clench my fists under the table and turn to him. “I hate you,” I tell him.
The holding cell is empty and humid. I’m lying down on the rundown cot and staring at the ceiling. Just a dark room with a girl inside, a lonely girl who’s been betrayed. A lonely girl who will never trust anyone again.
How could I have not noticed the way Race was pushing himself away from us? Trying to soften the blow for himself, I’m sure. Selfish. Race and his stupid beliefs and the way he tricked us all into thinking he was one of us. How stupid am I?
The door bangs open and I jump to my feet, ready for anything. Are they here to take me to a real prison? Why in the middle of the night?
A flashlight beam cuts across the cell, blinding me. I can’t see who’s holding it. Instead, I stare defiantly into the light and clench my jaw. I have nothing left to lose. Absolutely nothing.
“Tally!” It’s a familiar voice. My heart leaps and starts to beat faster. Elation spreads through me and I feel a smile light up my face.
“Evelina!” I cry, running forwards and wrapping my hands around the bars, hers meeting them there. But if her hands are here, who’s holding the flashlight?
“Tally?” Another voice. A familiar voice. Race’s voice. A spread of mixed emotions overtake my happiness. Why is he here? With Evelina?
I hear keys sliding and the door to the holding cell slides open with a dull metal clang. I burst out and Evelina tackles me in a hug. “Best friends forever,” she whispers jokingly into my ear.
Race speaks. “Come on. We have to go get the others.”
I turn to him and scowl. “First,” I choke out, suddenly upset, “you owe me an explanation.”
He sighs and sits down on a metal bench. I sit too, Evelina by my side. Race begins. “Detective Ross first approached me six months ago. She threatened me into working for her, so I did. They offered me a free life, a lawyer that works for the police department. So I helped them. I gave them information, and I started making friends on the force. It was a good life. But they kept wanting more information. So I told them, last night, where the Warehouse is.”
He blinks sheepishly and continues. “And Evelina got away. I went to find her. And then I realized . . . that you all mean more to me than any job ever could. And that’s when I knew I had to get you all out of here. And we have tickets.”
“Tickets?” I ask incredulously.
“Plane tickets to Los Angeles,” he tells me. I don’t know if I’m just happy to have him back or what, but I lean forward and kiss him on the cheek.
“Let’s go get the others.” He spins the keys around his finger and I flip on the lights.
“Look at that!” Race says, pointing over me to the window of the plane. He’s never been on a plane before, and his eyes are wide with excitement. Down below, the ground is patterned with green and brown and bits of blue, as well as bright streets weaving across the ground. I smile at him, and smile at the life that is mine.