I had a hard time sleeping that night. The anticipation was greater than the first time we’d gone stealing. I was less naïve. Almost being caught last time emphasized the risk of what we were doing. But I was excited too. There was a certain thrill, because of the fact that we could get caught. It might not have been the healthiest way to get bring out that feeling, but the opportunity was right there. I’d regret it if I passed it up.
The sun was barely breaking through the window shades when I woke up. A glance at my watch told me that it was seven o’clock. I moved toward my dresser with some difficulty, muscles already tense from the stress. I didn’t want to wear the stealing clothes the whole day in case my parents got suspicious. I doubted they’d even notice the difference, but you never know.
Downstairs, my dad was already on the desktop in his “office”. Sometimes I wondered if he ever slept; since he seemed to be there at every hour of the day. He glanced up when I came down, but didn’t remove his headphones. A nod was all I got. Typical. He cared, but he didn’t connect. He was aloof, and distracted constantly.
In the kitchen, my mom was making pancakes, a Saturday tradition. The smell was welcoming, a contrast to the sharp odor of the bacon. I know everyone loves the smell of bacon, but to me it smells like burnt blood. Which doesn’t make any sense.
I sat down at the peninsula, waiting for her to notice me. Normally I’d be hoping for the opposite, but the quarantine changed that. Not being able to be on my phone or computer really put a damper on self-entertainment. I hated relying on people to be happy. They just disappoint and annoy you.
My mom finally looked up, and smiled when she saw me.
“Good morning Elie,” she said cheerfully.
Even if I wanted something to distract me from dwelling on tonight, it was hard carrying on a conversation with my mom.
“How’d you sleep, honey?”
“Good. What about you?”
She turned back to the stove, and I sat there, once again alone with my thoughts. I didn’t want to be able to think. Thinning lead to hesitation. Moreover, it was unpleasant. Who wants to contemplate such a stressful activity for the six hours prior? I needed something to do today.
Before I could start brainstorming, my mom spoke again.
“The pancakes are ready,” she announced.
I looked to see if I’d have to serve myself. She simply stood there, so I reluctantly got off of my stool and grabbed a plate out of the cabinet.
“Does dad want some?” I asked, taking three plain pancakes and a dollop of butter.
She pursed her lips. “I wish he’d eat more. He’s stuck on his computer so much, and he can’t even use work as an excuse with no internet. I have no idea what he’s doing.”
After a second of thought, her expression brightened.
“Why don’t you go check on him?” she asked, a hint of hope creeping into her voice.
However annoying Mom was at times, what she’d said made me worry about dad too.
“Okay,” I said, putting my plate down.
I walked into the “office,” and dad was in the same spot, the same exact position as before. I moved behind him and tapped him on the shoulder, but not before trying to discern what was on his screen.
A diagram filled up the right side, with an Excel document covering the remaining space. I knew he normally edited books and articles, so this couldn’t be for work. The diagram looked like a pump or engine of some sort, with an intake and exhaust, and two things on the top that could either be pistons or other places to attach hoses.
When I touched him, he jumped as if he’d been shocked, then turned around after minimizing the pages on the computer. Besides the two currently in view, I got a glance of many more previously hidden, but they were gone too quickly to recognize anything.
He took off his headset and asked brusquely, “What’s up?”
“Nothing, we just wanted to know if you wanted some food.”
“Oh, thanks.” He plastered a smile to his face for a moment, but it slipped back into a characteristic frown soon enough. “But I’m too busy right now. I’ll eat later.”
I laid a hand on his shoulder before he could spin back around.
“What are you working on?”
“Just some work stuff,” he mumbled, shifting uncomfortably.
I couldn’t think of anything else to say, and after a few seconds, he put his headset back on and turned around, waiting for me to leave before he opened up his documents again.
Back in the kitchen, my mom had an extra plate out, and looked at me expectantly. I shook my head ‘no’ and took my plate, where my pancakes were now lukewarm.
My mom came to sit next to me, and started to eat without speaking. I buttered my pancakes, then drowned them in syrup, imagining they were my dad’s stupid work. I didn’t have a problem with his reclusiveness, but clearly it annoyed my mom. Both of them got mad at me less when they got along with each other.
The pancakes were too sweet. The syrup slipped off the pieces as I lifted them to my mouth, dripping onto my shirt. I barely contained a curse as I remembered my mom’s presence. So excited when I woke up, then my dad had to ruin it with his isolation. I stabbed and sliced the rest of the pieces angrily, a safe avenue to release my emotions. If they didn’t get out somehow, I was liable to burst at my mom, and being grounded tonight was not what I wanted.
After breakfast, I went back upstairs and flopped down on my bed, annoyed I’d woken up so early. I had nothing to do for the next few hours, and the thought of stealing made me nervous. We were going to be inside someone else’s house. Not any different from before, but still. This time there wasn’t the failsafe of it being a teacher’s someone we knew.
With nothing else to do, I decided to get our stuff organized. I made sure the door was shut before walking over to my dresser, so my parents wouldn’t peek in. The shirt was the same one as last time, black and sleek, not loose enough to get caught on anything. The pants, taken from the bottom drawer, had enough pockets to store anything I’d need, and were also dark. The color was the most important aspect of the ensemble since we needed to be difficult to see in the shadows. It was better if we weren’t in anyone’s line of sight at all, but shit happens. After a second of thought, I decided to wear the pants this time instead of changing. Jeans would probably be fine anyway with stealing, but they had less utility. The cargo pants were more useful and my parents wouldn’t notice anything out of the ordinary by me wearing them. I also grabbed a sports bra and set that on my bed, then took the t-shirt for my headscarf and a pair of dark socks out as well.
All the clothes lay on the bed, and I had no reason not to put them on. Excited for it, pathetic as that small joy was, I thought I’d delay the moment of enjoyment, of seeing myself in full regalia, and took out the stuff we’d bought at Target. I also got the things we’d taken from the Mrs. Gissard’s house, the knives and pepper spray. The knives really had no purpose, since there was no chance we’d use them, but just seeing them sent a chill through my spine. The pepper spray was a different matter, and could be really helpful to escape. Of course it also made us guilty of assault if we were caught and charged, but that wasn’t going to happen.
My backpack could be packed and ready, with enough space for the stuff we stole, so I did that as well, checking the time before. It was only 8:30. That meant I had at least twelve hours until we were going to steal. Most likely somewhere around fifteen or sixteen. We had no idea how old the people were who lived in the house, and they had to be asleep before we entered. If someone was awake in the living room, or even upstairs, our mission would be dead, and we’d probably be found out.
I didn’t need to have the pepper spray in my bag. It made more sense to have that in a pocket. A knife could go in the bag, though it would be useless if I needed it. I couldn’t even imagine the appropriate situation to take it out so it didn’t matter if I couldn’t access it. I covered the tip and the blade of the knife in a magazine I found on my bedside table, so hopefully it wouldn’t cut my bag. The blade wasn’t too long, maybe five or six inches, but very sharp. I stuck the pepper spray in a pocket on the left side of my pants.
Well, my backpack was ready. I wracked my brains like I had in the store, before remembering the gloves I’d bought. They weren’t black, but were rubber, and at least purple. We could be more dexterous than if we were using cloth ones that were meant for winter. I stuck the box of one hundred into my pack.
With nothing else to do, I changed, slipping out of my sweatpants and into the cargo pants, then taking off my t-shirt and bra, and putting on the ones I’d laid out on my bed. Once that was done, I could have walked out the door that minute. Instead, I threw a sweatshirt on so my parents wouldn’t think that my clothes choice was strange.
I had nothing to do until we started stealing. Everything was ready to go, bag packed, me dressed, and I had hours to go. I would’ve hit up Janine if first of all knew her phone number, and secondly, if there was a working phone. Those two problems really inhibited that plan. I didn’t even know where she lived, and I doubted we were on good enough terms quite yet that I could just drop in uninvited.
Emma was another possibility, if I wanted to resolve that issue. I had no urge to. Janine had put off a final reckoning, and made the present station tolerable, so I felt no need to change that.
With no computer or internet, I went over to my old bookshelf, where the books from my childhood were kept. Nowadays I mostly read on the Kindle app on my computer or got books from the library, but when bored, sometimes it’s time for desperate measures. The Young Wizards series caught my eye as I was browsing.
I originally read the books in middle school on a recommendation from my brother. I got bored the first time through, but the second, they sucked me in, and I was non-responsive to my family for a week as I sped through all eight. My brother was slightly miffed at how little attention I paid to him while reading, since normally he liked to query me about my progress, oh, about every five minutes. Instead I stayed cooped up in my room with the door shut, and he only knew when I finished the book and needed a ride to the bookstore to get the next.
One thing that stuck out to me in the series was how plausible the magic system was. Not that any magic system is realistic, necessarily, only that it had hard and fast rules like the real world. There was a hint of romance in the books as well, something I’m always a sucker for. Strange how my real life preferences conflict with my literature ones. I guess opposites attract in this way.
When I brought up that point with my brother, the realism of magic, he’d asked me what I was talking about.
“Well,” I began, glad to have recognized an aspect of the books that he hadn’t, “the magic has systemic rules, and their use has an overarching goal. They do a lot of different things, but it isn’t’ just random, or like a random combination of words, there’s at least a little bit of order.”
“I guess I didn’t see that part,” he said. “I just liked them because they had normal people getting special powers and doing cool stuff with them. I know that sounds trite, but that kind of escape from the world we know is really cool. They also did good with their powers, like the most they could do, which I connected with.”
He was always so self-important, in an altruistic way, and took every chance he could to mention it.
“Of course you did,” I chuckled. “I thought the limitations they had were interesting. Like how they couldn’t do everything. If you are so limited, it makes everything much more rewarding when it’s finally accomplished.”
He smiled at me proudly.
“You saw so much in the books that I didn’t. You’re smarter than me, you know.”
We both laughed at that, but I think some small part of me believed it. He was the smartest person I knew, that anyone knew, and I was his sister, so I must have some of the same genes. And if he said I was smart, then I must be.
I remembered our talk with a hint of melancholy, but mostly anger. Tears welled up as I sat on the edge of my bed holding the book, and I put it down, trying to physically distance myself from my emotions. He’d just left. How could he do that? I was his sister. He’d promised so many things, then gone off and decided other people who he didn’t know, had no connection to, were more important than me.
I used to be like him: so self-sacrificing, nice to everyone. Treating them all as if they were me. That was probably why Ava, Jacoby, and Claire had become friends with me in the first place. He told me I was smart, and I believed him. Now I knew I wasn’t so much smarter than everyone. It was more that their thought processes were less complex and refined. They were all so stupid and inane. Maybe not as much or as many of them as I’d thought before, but still some. My new feelings towards Janine in particular made me realize, recognize again, that these people were human. At least partially.
I blamed Rick for making me feel so superior and, after he left, self-interested. He fed my sense of superiority with praise and comparisons to himself, then when he left, I knew that his grand altruistic spirit wasn’t worth it. Or maybe in some deep corner of my mind I saw just how much it was worth it and necessary for him to leave, and I didn’t want to see that. I didn’t want him to be right in abandoning me.
I read the first two books before the sun started going down. When it became too hard to see the letters on the page I looked at my watch. It was five-thirty. Even though it wasn’t completely dark yet, I decided to go over to Jacoby’s. We did decide to meet at six o’clock.
I grabbed my bag from my bed and headed downstairs. I didn’t want my parents to see the bag so after a quick glance into the living room, I put it on the front porch, then went back inside to ask permission to go.
After a short amount of searching, I found my mom in her bedroom, asleep. I gently shook her by the shoulder, and she rolled over with a moan.
“Ugh, hi Elie.” She looked at me with tired eyes, still half asleep.
“Can I go to Jacoby’s for the night?”
“Sure. Just be safe,” she answered, then rolled back over and was still within seconds.
I hated when she told me to be safe, especially in that context. I wasn’t going to have sex with him. If she had something to say though, I wished she’d just say come out and say it instead of weaving around the topic with implied statements. Anyway, if I did have sex with him or anyone, I would be safe.
My backpack picked up from the front porch, I set off, the wind whistling through the last few leaves on the trees. It sent a chill through me, broke through my sweatshirt. I was less nervous than before; the books had helped. It would be fun.