As I lie in bed, the light of the moon paints light shadows over my blanket. For the last hour, I haven’t heard Grayson stirring in his room. My red-hot anger with him has actually cooled to warm appreciation. He finished dinner with Ash and Laura to keep up appearances, though I heard him puking in the bathroom not long after dinner was finished.
Turning over and over in my bed, I try bringing to mind the movie this ransom scenario reminds me of. No use. The remembrance of that note, the hair, the ring, the blood spread over each of them—these things push everything out of mind.
I will chop Yasmin’s body to little pieces and eat them over the course of several meals if you tell ANYONE about what you have found.
The anger returns—not for Grayson, but for this no-name scribe who has stolen my ability to control my weeping. I run my palms down my cheeks, flattening and streaking them with tears.
Taken. The name of the movie that I couldn’t think of is Taken. How unfortunate it is that we have no response to give our kidnapper, no threat of special skill sets that will ensure that we will find and dispose of the enemy. Heck, I only trust myself to use a drill under Grayson’s supervision. I’m seventeen, and I don’t even have a license yet.
Whatever. I do have a bike, and I need to get to it. Sleep has outwitted me tonight. It’s almost one in the morning.
I don’t bother changing out of the white Adidas t-shirt and blue track pants I wear for pajamas as I scale my way to the front door. Blue light and billows of hookah smoke streams out from my father’s room. My stepmother Laura’s bedroom door is closed, while my sister Ash Wednesday lies sleeping on her bedroom floor in a bundle of pink blankets. She’s been playing pretend camping since school started.
I walk down the stairs on my tiptoes like a ski-capped robber. When I make it to the outside, I regret that I haven’t brought a coat. Arabella Park is settled in the Georgia Appalachians, and though it is only the beginning of September, our area gets the first flirtations with fall.
I look out at the driveway for my mode of transportation—a rusted and chipped travesty of a three-seater bike. Gray drafted me into helping him make the crappy thing three years ago when he took shop.
No surprise, the bike isn’t there. Grayson got to it before me. In light of the twenty pounds I’ve decided to lose, I suppose a walk will do me some good.
Arabella Park isn’t the kind of city where a girl has to look over her shoulder. Though today presents an unfamiliar dilemma, I figure if there’s a killer out there, he probably isn’t crazy enough to come for me under the gaze of our neighborhood watch, the group of old ladies who stay up all hours of the night spying out their window to make sure all is well in our little town.
Still, I take extra notice of my surroundings as I walk. Most of the houses, like my own, look like winter gingerbread houses, lined with willow and juniper trees. I pass the abandoned Orthodox church, with its helmet dome and its white paint peeling down the wood panels, as though it is crying tears of neglect. The eyesore serves as a half-way marker between our house and the school. A half dozen cafes and restaurants garnish the street until I reach Our Lady of Mercy, a very handsome white edifice stacked with four layers of windows and arched doorways.
“Our own little Hogwarts,” Mimi recently began calling it.
The school year having started two weeks ago, Mimi was still enamored by the quixotic idea of the fabulous new us senior year would bring.
As though slender ghost fingers are grazing my skin, a shiver crawls up my back at the remembrance of Mimi’s bloody hair and ring.
My little Mimi: A/B-honor roll student, future surgeon, aspiring Instagram model. Yasmin’s parents had plans for her to become a doctor since before she was born. She’s had this unrelenting obligation to make her tiger mom and deceased dad proud for as long as I’ve known her. It’s in the Filipino genes, she claims. I guess the two-inch, tiger-print press-on nails she sports these days is more epigenetic, arising from over-exposure to Love and Hip-Hop Atlanta.
From turning onto Nordumgehung Pasing, I reach my destination within five minutes. The bike is sitting destitute against the side of Mikey’s house. I walk down the inclined lawn that leads to the basement window. I kneel down and rap on the window, startling Mikey, Grayson, and Jenna off the bed. Grayson and Mikey push the window open and take me by the arms to squeeze me through the window. They immediately return to what they were doing.
The basement was converted last year into Mikey’s bedroom. It’s as slick and black as his perfect corkscrew curls. There is a leather sofa, a silk-sheeted queen bed, and a black flat screen television on top of an onyx chest in front of the bed.
On the television, Grayson is playing FIFA ’16. His eyes rest on the screen, half-closed, as though reading a book. It’s all so typical Gray, except the car-motor twitch in his hand and the frequent emissions of the F-word under his breath. He is losing the game; he never loses.
He is cushioned between Mikey and Jenna on the bed, lying with his torso at the foot of the bed for better access to the game. I zero in on his backward cap, an animation of Papa Smurf printed on the center of it. By happy chance, Papa Smurf is the same green-blue as his uniform tie. Beneath his cap, his hair is shaped into a high fade pompadour.
Mikey brows are furrowed as he stares at his phone. His brows are pinched together so hard that the space between them look like the folds of a hand fan.
There is quiet distress on Jenna’s sleeping face, lines etching out from the inner corner of her eyes. I wonder if she is really asleep. She can’t be. Of course, Mikey won’t break her sleep if she really is. First, she had a case of Braxton Hicks last week that freaked him out. Second, he is secretly in love with her more obviously than even he realizes; to him, she can do no wrong.
I sit on the floor in the corner, knees to chest, watching the three of them. Before Jenna quit the team when her pregnancy began to show, all three of them were top-rank soccer players. Yasmin and I have been their sideline accessories since freshman year, though Yasmin’s support has always been a thousand times more animated than mine. She comes to every game dressed in turquoise and white from head to foot with S-A-I-N-T-S painted from one cheek over the bridge of her nose to the other. Her high ponytail twirls round and round like a helicopter blade when she cheers or rebukes the refs over bad calls in her police siren voice.
I lose my breath at the remembrance. My eyes travel the room as I wait for the wave of nausea to pass. My gaze falls on Mikey’s dresser. Grayson has brought the brought the horrid plant here. I look over at him.
He turns his face toward Jenna. She is swaddled in a gray comforter.
“You can’t stay on that thing all night,” Mikey says to Gray.
Gray gives an almost imperceptible shrug.
“We need to talk about what we’re gonna do after this. Tio, you listening or what?”
“Yeah, I hear you.”
I jump to my feet and snatch the controller from Grayson’s hands. “Excuse me, but did we see the same thing today? What is wrong with you, Gray?”
“Out of my face, Kameron,” Grayson says with a steel cold quiet. I don’t impede his way as he stands. We’ve been in one brawl today. I can’t promise that he won’t take a swing back if I push him any further.
I sit down on the bed, watching him retreat from me. The ghost that touched my back on the way here now swims in my stomach at the sight of my rarely-serious stepbrother pacing with such nervous steam. I don’t recognize him like this.
He walks quietly over to the plant, skimming the nodes with his fingertips. “They’re berries.”
“What do you mean they’re berries?” I ask.
“I don’t know. They just look edible, is all.”
“They’re poison,” says Mikey. He hands me his phone. “Here, look. The plant is nicknamed Doll’s Eye. That’s what the note was getting at. Read it. It’s all right there.”
From the Wikipedia page he has pulled up, I read:
“Both the berries and the entire plant are considered poisonous to humans. The berries contain cardiogenic toxins which can have an immediate sedative effect on human cardiac muscle tissue, and are the most poisonous part of the plant. Ingestion of the berries can lead to cardiac arrest and death.” I stop. “What the—how did you know what kind of plant it was?”
“I took a picture of it and put it in Google Photos.”
With that, the three of us look down intently at the plant, as though observing a newborn baby.
“She’s dead,” I say, at last piercing the silence. “I know it. I feel it.”
“She’s not dead, K. You’re just scared,” Mikey says, though he can’t look at me.
Gray cracks his knuckles nervously and stares back at a still-sleeping Jenna. “We just need to wait to see what this dude, or these dudes, want.”
Mikey’s phone rings in my hand, cutting off my unformulated response. I hold it up, so that he can see the number. It’s an unknown caller.
He takes the phone from me and taps the answer icon. After a moment’s pause: “Hey, Mrs. Navarro. No, um, she’s not…she’s not here. I haven’t seen her yet.” Mikey squinches his eyebrows together with his thumb and index. “I’m up late studying. And no, I didn’t see her at school today. We don’t have the same schedule this semester.” He looks at me, helpless. “Maybe-maybe she went to Kam and Gray’s house to study and fell asleep.” Another pause. “Of course, of course. I’ll be sure to let you know if I see her. Okay. Goodnight.”
Before I can lay it on Mikey for suggesting Yasmin is at our house, my own phone rings. The number is Mrs. Navarro’s again.
I shake my head. “I can’t.” I won’t lie to her about her own daughter. Mrs. Navarro’s always been nice to me.
Grayson’s phone is the next to go off, in disaccord with my still-chiming phone.
He pulls the phone up to his eyes, scrolling through the series of messages that have arrived. His mouth parts, brows furrow.
“What is it?” I cry.
He turns the phone toward us, ceremoniously, as though unveiling a magic trick.
After a long night of thinking
I have decided what I require
For Yasmin’s safe return
I am nothing special
In regard to kidnappers
It’s not much
But it will do for the car I deserve
Exact change please
And thank you