Last Year: October 5th
I’m about the same height as Sarah Dietz, with the same shoulder-length brown hair, so I knew no one would pay attention as I broke into her house.
It looked a lot like mine. Tan house on a large lot on a street of cloned homes. Her family was gone, else they’d have the same black Lexus or BMW parked in front.
As soon I was through the front door, I pocketed Sarah’s spare key. A few steps later and I was in front of the beeping alarm. 3-6-12. So easy I didn’t even need to write it down. Within seconds the house was filled with silence.
House as tan inside as it was outside. Dark brown leather furniture in the living room off the foyer. Creamy brown walls. I turned into the office. Built-in bookcases. Lots of leather-bound books. A few golf trophies.
We’d agreed: we wouldn’t steal anything that insurance and an AMEX card couldn’t replace, so I ignored the golf trophies. Except.
I pulled one of the golf clubs out of the mini-hands of a golden golfer. It slid out, leaving the little man in mid-stroke without a club.
The three-inch gold club fit into the pocket of my black sweater. First score.
This was as easy as Sarah Dietz after she drinks a couple of beers.
● ● ● ● ●
Saturday night: April 2nd
“More, Harper?” Alex didn’t bother to wait for my response before he topped my glass with whiskey from his dad’s stash, along with a splash of Coke.
“Good boy,” I said. I propped my feet up on the edge of the navy blue ottoman and sank back against the pillows of the matching couch in the Conways’ basement. Alex put the bottles on a side table before crashing down next to me. The jolt caused my drink to spill onto my sweater.
“Sorry.” Alex reached out to wipe the alcohol off my chest.
I swatted his hand away and said in a purposefully bored tone, “Touch me again and I’ll break your wrist.” I looked away from him like he was an insect under my sneaker.
He put his hands up in mock surrender before leaning back. He put his arm on the couch-back behind us, and I leaned away from him.
Paisley giggled across the room from where she knelt on the floor with Benji. He had a white cable in one hand as he tried to attach an iPad to the TV, while Paisley looked over his shoulder like a fluffy blond-haired puppy in a flouncy polka dot skirt. The curve of her hips and her tiny waist were perfectly accented by her tight white cardigan like a pin-up girl who landed on the demure side of the retro calendar. Alex was checking her out, but her eyes were only looking at Benji. She giggled again, her blond hair brushing against his dark brown hair.
“The mating cry of girls everywhere,” Alex said. “The drunken giggle. A playful tap. You know what it’s code for?”
“Just shut up and drink,” I said. The whiskey burned a path from my throat down to my stomach as I sipped. I waited for the first to burn through my fingers. My toes.
I glanced at my watch. Sarah had been gone for forty-five minutes. She should come back any minute, unless she’d decided to wimp out and not break into Gin’s house. Maybe she’d gone home and was curled up underneath the covers of her bed, hoping we hadn’t noticed she’d skipped out.
Gin. Saturday night would be a lot more fun if he was here, instead of spring skiing with his family. I glanced back at Paisley and Benji, who were lounging in front of the TV, as ice cubes clinked in Alex’s glass next to me. Nerves flittered in my stomach. Was Sarah still in Gin’s house? She better follow the rules.
“The show’s primed to go!” Benji crowed and stood up, pulling Paisley along with him. She giggled again, and he stooped down to kiss her. Alex’s knee bumped mine and I jerked my leg away.
I took another sip of whiskey.
Paisley and Benji collapsed on the other side of the sectional couch as some episode of a web series over took the TV and sound system.
“Pretty awesome sound, huh?” Alex said. He tried to stare into my eyes.
“Like I care.”
“Took Benji long enough to set it up,” Alex said loud enough for everyone to hear. “Good thing you weren’t needed to rebuild the carburetor in the Chevy earlier today.”
“Sorry I missed it. It would have been fun to work on it again with you and Uncle,” Benji said, briefly looking at Alex but then glancing away. I glanced between them, so alike in many ways, with the same chocolate-brown hair and blue eyes. But Alex was definitely the alpha in their relationship. I glanced back at Alex, noting the smug smile smeared across his face.
“Did you get the Chevy running again? I love old clunkers,” Paisley said.
“Its a ‘67 Chevy, not an old clunker,” Alex said.
I held back a snort and Paisley gave me a sweet smile. She’d noticed Alex’s dig toward his cousin. Way to stand up for your boyfriend, Pais, I said in my mind and held up my drink to her in a mock toast.
Alex was about to say something when there was a knock on the sliding glass door connecting the basement to the backyard.
“Our girl is back!” Alex said as he sprung up and opened the door.
Sarah sauntered in and struck a pose while holding a Louis Vuitton tote bag in the air. “Success!” She bowed, her hands brushing the floor as she leaned over.
Paisley and Benji clapped while Alex grabbed Sarah around the waist and gave her a big kiss. But as he let her go, his eyes found me. I gave him a sarcastic smile and took a gulp of whiskey.
“So how was your haul?” I asked. I kept my voice cool and unconcerned as I waited for her to brag she’d stolen something from Gin’s room, just to mess with me.
Sarah upended the tote bag onto the ottoman in front of me.
Benji picked up a Rolex with diamonds on the watch face. “Good score!”
“I can’t believe Gin’s mom left that in plain sight in her bedroom.” Sarah rolled her eyes dramatically as she spoke.
“Will we be able to pawn that? It’s distinctive,” I said, wondering why Gin’s mother hadn’t worn the watch on their ski trip. She had squealed when she opened it two months ago on her birthday and claimed it would never leave her wrist. Gin had nudged me with his hip and muttered, “Until my dad gives her something more blinged out,” in my ear.
Sarah knelt down and pulled a flash drive out of the mixture of drugs (Ritalin and Valium), a pair of platinum candlesticks, and a pearl-inlayed box about the size of a deck of cards. Nothing looked as expensive as the watch.
“What do you think is on this?” Sarah’s face dimpled as she flipped the flash drive up in the air a few times. Her hazel eyes sparkled. “I found it in his dad’s bedside table.”
“That has to be irreplaceable,” I said. My hands curled into fists. We’d promised, back when we started the thefts that we wouldn’t steal anything that wasn’t easy to replace. “There could be something important on that.”
Sarah smirked at me. “They’ll notice the burglary. Unlike some people.”
I flinched and hoped the expression didn’t flash across my face. My parents hadn’t filed a police report or told the friends about our house being burglarized when we went to New Hampshire for my grandfather’s funeral. But they’d notice the theft.
They’d reacted to the theft.
They just thought they knew the culprit—and it wasn’t me. Or Alex.
Or anyone in my clique.
“I’ll get my laptop from upstairs. Let’s see what’s on the flash drive.” Alex’s steps were steady even thought he’d had several whiskey-and-Cokes. I looked back at Sarah, returning her defiant stare.
She glanced at the ground. “We can return it after we check it out,” she said. Her eyes flicked to a framed photo of Alex and his dad on the wall. A smile blossomed over her face.
“Gin had some interesting photos of you in his room,” she said.
Paisley gasped. “Harper! Did you and Gin take some special photos?”
A snort escaped me before I had a chance to repress it. “No, Pais.”
“I wouldn’t have thought he’d be into forest-green, either,” Sarah said. “I enjoyed his room. But you’d know more about it since you spend more time there than I do.”
The ice cubes in my glass clinked as I took another sip, thoughts whirling through my mind. Sarah invading Gin’s space rankled me, and I tried to figure out why. If Alex had gone into my bedroom when he burglarized my house, he hadn’t left any signs, or anything out of place. He’d emptied the liquor cabinet and broken the lock on my parents’ medicine cabinet upstairs, clearing that out as well. He’d even stolen aspirin and over-the-counter cold medicine. He’d rifled through my mother’s jewelry box, leaving most of it behind but snagging a few rings and a pair of diamond earrings.
But my room, and more importantly Maggie’s, seemed untouched. Although part of me knew Alex had snooped in my room. So I shouldn’t be surprised Sarah had done the same. Although I’d ignored her bedroom when I broke into her house.
Paisley was vibrating her place. “So what was the photo?” she asked.
A small smile crossed my lips. Of course she’d focus on the photo. “Sarah probably saw one of us after one of Gin’s soccer games last year. It’s a great photo.” Maggie had taken it with her new phone and texted it to us immediately after, and then e-mailed it. Then she printed it at a pharmacy and gave us both copies. Gin had framed his while mine was on a bulletin board in my room.
A series of thuds told me Alex was on his way back to the basement. He set up his laptop on the bar on the far side of the room, and Sarah tossed him the flash drive. Benji joined him.
Paisley was saying something about her blog when Alex let out a loud chortle.
“Find anything interesting?” Sarah asked and she slinked toward the boys, swinging her bony hips. Paisley and I followed.
Alex laughed. “Guess who sees himself as an amateur Larry Flynt?”
“The king of porn from that movie?” Paisley asked as Alex turned the screen in our direction.
I glanced at the scene and then averted my eyes. “I didn’t need to see that!” I wanted to scrub the image of Gin’s mother posing naked for the camera from my brain. Her fake assets were clearly displayed, as was the glittery watch on her wrist.
Alex turned the screen back around to face him. “There are some folders labeled ‘financial docs,’ too. Wonder if they contain more porn?”
“We need to take that back,” I said. “Gin won’t be cool with this.”
“You mean you’re not cool with this,” Sarah said under her breath.
“Screw you.” I faced Sarah, and she pivoted toward me with her shoulders straight. I stared at her and she looked away after she’d made eye contact, reaching one hand up to twist the hair at the end of her ponytail.
“Girls! Let’s get some Jell-O or at least a camera before you get into a girl fight,” Alex said. “Are you sure you need to wear those sweaters if you fight? You should take them off first.”
I shoved my temper back down inside me.
Alex moved next to Sarah and put his arm around her. She gave me a smug smile. “Harper’s right,” he said, and the smile fled.
“About what?” Sarah asked.
“We do need to return this,” Alex said as he looked into Sarah’s eyes. “Since you took it, you should take it back.”
“Only if you come with me.” She gave him a flirty smile.
“You might be able to talk me into that,” he said, and so she stretched up on her tiptoes and kissed him.
“We can re-create some of the photos,” she whispered as they broke apart. She grabbed Alex’s hand.
“See you freaks later.” Alex pulled the flash drive out of his laptop before following Sarah out the door.
Paisley squealed as they left. “Do you think they’re going to—?”
Benji said “no” at the same time I said “yes.” Paisley laughed and twirled around. I imagined particles of whiskey swirling in the air around her.
“So creepy,” she said.
“I guess it’s a new place for them,” Benji said. “They like to do it in weird places. Remember when the janitor almost caught them in the boys’ room at school last month?”
“On that note, I’m going home,” I said.