My leg shook beneath the desk. My history teacher spoke in slow motion as the clock above the doorway seemed to slow to a crawl. I reviewed the plan again: wait until everyone left the school and then join up with Indigo and her friends in the alleyway nearby. Then we’d all take the subway to Breuckelen and see the abandoned factory lots and the massive loading docks up close. Maybe I’d be able to see the entire skyline of New Amsterdam from there! I haven’t been near there since last year!
I grabbed my pencil and began to sketch the skyline as I remembered. I placed the landmarks first: the Century Building closer to the water, the Four Brothers all the way in the back, maybe a little line in the middle for the Ivory Tower next to the massive apartment complexes around Central Park...
The loud hum of the bell knocked me out of my stupor as I caught the teacher’s last words: “Make sure to go over the material from class. There’s going to be a small quiz tomorrow. Have a good day.”
I slowly and methodically inserted all of the loose papers around my desk into my folder as the class emptied out. Even the teacher left before I finally organized my knapsack and shuffled out the door.
As I reached my locker, I decided to do some spring cleaning, even though I just got the locker last month.I moved the magnets around, adjusted the photos of my family, and erased my outdated “To Do” whiteboard. In place I wrote “history quiz, math homework” and took out everything but my math workbook, a folder of handouts, and a small spiral notebook of history notes into my locker.
Eventually, the hallway emptied out. I waited a few more seconds to make sure no one else was there, then I raced out of the school into the brisk afternoon.
The alleyway echoed with laughter and electronic music. My sister Indigo leaned against the wall, her arms folded across her gray sweatshirt. Her eyes were closed and her body swayed to the music as she popped a piece of bubble gum into her mouth. I knew that the other six people there were from our school, but I didn’t really know their names, since they were with Indigo in 11th grade. The only person I knew, Alyssa Simpson, wore a black sweatshirt emblazoned with the logo of the New Amsterdam Admirals baseball team. We were both freshmen, but Alyssa always had that air of cool about her, blending right in with the rest of the juniors like it was no big deal.
My sister woke up from her trance with a smug smile on her face.
“Hey, Caiti. You ready?”
I scratched the back of my left ear, a nervous tick I picked up from somewhere.
“Sure. All Mom knows is that I’m studying after class and going to a friend’s house.”
“Alyssa Simpson’s house, right?” Indigo confirmed, pointing towards the girl with the Admirals sweatshirt.
The girl slowly waved at me, like she knew I was coming and wasn’t so excited about it.
“Alright, people, if we want to get there while there’s still sunlight we gotta move.”
We started walking towards the subway. Alyssa and I stayed close behind the rest of the juniors.
“Finally decided to join us, Caitlin?” she said with a smirk on her face.
She didn’t know that I had to practically beg Indigo to let me tag along, especially after I found out where she was going.
“Yeah. Indigo’s been bugging me to come, but I’m always too busy.”
“Yeah, right.”I could hear the snark.
Alyssa just popped out her phone. “I think Indigo is just taking you along so you’ll finally stop nagging her.”
I could feel my ears turning red.
“That’s not true… Seriously, I never nagged her.”
Alyssa shrugged her shoulders in an indifferent “whatever” that killed the rest of the conversation. I walked silently alongside her, wondering why I’d even come. I decided to pop in my earbuds and listen to some music, but then I remembered that their power ran out during gym class.
A part of me considered turning around. Alyssa thought I was a loser already; maybe I’d save my dignity by leaving. Then again, I had waited all day for this. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad after all.
We all jumped the turnstile and piled onto the train, just before the doors closed on the subway to Breuckelen. After we all sat down, I looked at Alyssa. She was busy on her phone, and my sister was laughing with her friends. Maybe after this, I’d get included in the group’s other adventures, like sneaking into concerts at the TL arena, climbing the top of the Century Building, ferreting ourselves onto the Staten Island ferry without paying, and seeing the absorption center on Amsterdam Islandafter hours. We’d become rock stars, and by the time Alyssa and I will graduate, we’d have the coolest group in the school.Then my sister woke me out of my daydream.
“Be ready to get off at the next stop.”
It felt like we were on the subway for a long time. By the time our stop arrived, the sun had turned the sky a muted orange and bright pink.
“Okay, so the docks are a few blocks this way.” Indigo double-checked with her phone. One of her other friends led the way, saying something like “I know the place.”
After walking a few blocks, we reached a part of Bruekelyn that looked like it had died a long time ago, and only the bones remained. Shops were boarded up and tagged with graffiti, apartment buildings were stripped to the concrete and the roads were covered with sink holes. Even the streetlights stopped working. It was the kind of place Mom warned us about, where hoodlums sat like predators, ready to jump anyone nearby; somewhere I’d refuse to walk without a group, or at least Indigo. The only noise we heard was our own, but the other people didn’t seem to care, so why should I?
After a few blocks, we took a turn, and a massive chain link fence stood in front of us. A massive sign dangled over the fence: “KEEP OUT! Violators will be Prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law!”
As the sun climbed down over the horizon, Indigo and the others started climbing the fence.
“This is the place,” Alyssa said, turning to me. “We’re about to find out what’s in the warehouses on the other side.”
“I thought we were just exploring,” I replied.
“You kidding? These warehouses hold stuff from all over the world. Clothes, jewelry, you name it, it’s here for the taking.”
Alyssa raced towards the fence, the rest of the group already on the other side.
“Alyssa, we’re here to steal stuff?!”
She looked back at me with a fire in her eyes.
“Hell yeah, we are. C’mon. Don’t be a wuss about it.”
She moved fast, grabbing the chains with ease, swinging over the top and sliding down the other side like she’d done it a million times before.
“Okay, Caiti,” Indigo called through the fence, “your turn. Just pull yourself up, swing and slide. Just like we did.”
I knew it was a bad idea. The butterflies in my gut tried to stop me. Despite the red flags going off in my head, I decided to reach up and grab at the massive vertical wall of chain-link. The whole thing felt wrong. I shouldn’t have been there. I thought we’d be exploring, not robbing. But, with everyone’s eyes on me, waiting with impatience, I knew I’d come too far to stand around like a wimp.
My hands kept reaching up, as I slowly climbed. Below, I could see my sister folding her hands and tapping her hi-top shoes while everyone else watched.
“C’mon, Caiti! What the hell is taking you so long?!” Indigo grumbled. “We only have fifteen minutes before the security guards come around.”
My hands ached from gripping the thin metal and my sneakers were too wide to grip the fence properly. I whipped the auburn hair away from my face to gauge my height above the ground—damn, it was too high to jump and too close to the top to quit.
“C’mon, Caitlin. We don’t have much time!”
The top of the fence came within reach. I felt it between my fingers. Yes! Now just lift and swing, like Indigo said.
I rested my right forearm around the top bar and lifted myself up with both hands. I let myself take a breather while I rested on the top of the fence.
I ignored Indigo yelling at me from below. This part was easy, she said. It was like what we learned that one time our church’s youth group went rock-climbing… well, the time I watched them learn to rock-climb, while I sat around feeling sorry for myself.
I swung my left leg around, careful not to rip any more holes in my jeans, and resumed the climb. My feet barely gripped the fence as Indigo huffed impatiently.
“Okay, you know what? Guys, get to the warehouse and find a way in. I’ll stay here with Caitlin.”
They raced off, their sneakers making a faint sound against the concrete. I felt the blood rushing to my face.
In a lapse of concentration, my right leg slipped off.
Both legs flew out as I dangled from the fence.
I could hear my sister panicking as I tried to regain my footing. I should have taken that rock-climbing class. Now I’m going to die climbing a fence. This is not how I pictured impressing everyone.
I felt my hands slipping as my body tumbled down from the fence.
So this is what death feels like.
Then something knocked me awake. I felt hands roll me away.
“The next time you decide to try to die…” Indigo sat up, rubbing her head, “…just give me a heads up, okay?!”
“Sorry, Indigo. My-my hands slipped.” I looked down to the red slash across both of my palms. After a few short tearing sounds, Indigo shoved two strips of her shirt into my hands.
“Dress your wounds. We’re about to be rich anyway.”
She grabbed my denim vest as we raced along the pavement. The fence was the only barrier to the rows of warehouses on the shores of the East River. I saw glimpses of New Amsterdam glint in the cool air of the night, her lights sparkling like glitter as I ran with my sister. I could barely keep up as her long strides barely made a sound on the pavement.
“I told those guys to meet us at the next warehouse. If they’re in already, we’ll have ten minutes to grab some shit and bounce. Don’t touch anything.”
I could barely pay attention. My hands ached, the two pieces of cloth were soaked in my blood, and all she cared about was stealing some stuff.
She slowed down a bit in a show of mercy.
“I’m not gonna touch anything, Indi. Geez.”
“Good. Because they’ll test your bloody prints in their labs and trace it back to you. And what did I say about not calling me that?!”
“Sorry.” But I really wasn’t.
Indigo breathed a sigh of relief as she reached the door and found it unlocked. With a tug, Indigo pulled me into the warehouse. No one was around.
I thought I might help by calling for them, but a hand slapped my mouth shut.
“You want us to be found, you moron?! Shut up!” Indigo hissed.
My eyes widened while my head nodded. I didn’t want us to get caught, especially not on my first adventure.
“Besides,” Indigo whispered, “I don’t see them, we must be in the wrong warehouse.”
“Wait,” I said, grabbing Indigo’s shirt. “Look at that.”
Out of the rows of crates lining the entire warehouse, one was open, probably for quality control. I went to move the lid.
“Caiti! What the hell are you doing?!”
Indigo pushed me out of the way.
She lifted the lid and I gasped.
It was an entire shipment of MaraStrike 88 Pulser Jetpacks! My jaw dropped at the sight of the one thing that I had put on every Christmas and birthday wish list since I could even remember. I wanted one so badly, and here it was right in front of me. I grabbed for the first one I could get and tried to lift it out.
“A jetpack, huh? Certainly not the dumbest thing to steal,” Indigo quipped as she helped it out. My eyes narrowed at her smug face as I slung it over my other knapsack.
“I think I’ll take one too, before we go to the treasure room.” Before she could lean into the crate, flashes of blue and red flooded into the room.
“Shit,” Indigo squeaked as she grabbed me and hid away from the door.
“Indigo, what’s going on?!” I cried. Another hand slapped my mouth shut as radio noise grew closer to the warehouse. I shut my eyes and scratched my left ear, while Indigo barely made a sound.
“You see the flashing lights in this one, sir?”
We held our breath. This could be it. We could be arrested for theft. This could all be over. Mom would kill us both after the police got to us.
“No. The other warehouse. Quickly, before we lose them.”
The others! Alyssa!
“Indigo,” I said, grabbing at her shirt, “we have to help them!”
“No can do,” she retorted as she looked back towards the flashing lights. “Rule number one of trespassing: once the cops show up, it’s every man for themselves. The fence would take too long with this jetpack, so if I’m correct...”
Indigo’s phone lit up the little corner of the warehouse. “Yeah, there’s an exit at the far end of the lot.”
“Why didn’t we go in through there?” I whined.
“Exit means one way, stupid. People leave but can’t get back in. It’s away from the lights, so we’d have a chance. You ready to run to the other side and follow exactly as I say?”
I nodded as fast as I could.
“Good. We move in three, one, NOW.”
The two of us bolted for the opposite side of the warehouse, the jetpack’s straps pushing my homework into my back. When we reached the door, Indigo glanced through the dirty, small square of window.
“No cars on this side.”
The doorknob creaked as she opened it.
I ran through the door so fast the jetpack banged against it with a loud slam, and we bolted like marathon runners across the warehouse lot. I didn’t feel my legs—the adrenaline kept me on my toes and only a few feet away from Indigo. It didn’t feel like long before we reached the exit door.
I saw my sister check to see if anyone was watching us, then swung that door open too. With an all clear, the two of us raced out into the night and didn’t stop until the subway doors closed behind us.
We gathered our breath in an empty subway car. My sister’s casual demeanor told me that our escape had been somewhat normal, routine even. I took off the jetpack and with some effort, rested it between us.
There it was, in a protective case that only allowed the straps to be exposed. My wish had come true. Finally, I had a jetpack. I’d only ever seen them on the computer—never up close and in person—now I got to finally look at it. I had to pinch myself.
The MaraStrike Pulser was the most popular and fastest production-ready jetpack in the world. I imagined that these must have been earmarked for their flagship store that was going to open soon. Each of these could go for thousands. The model I held between my bloody fingers, the 88, was the most powerful and was probably $15,000, easily. I didn’t even care about the scratches on the protective casing. Okay maybe a little bit, but given the circumstances I’d still take it.
“Okay genius,” Indigo grunted. “Now that we’re walking around with a jetpack we look like sitting ducks. How the hell are we going to get this thing home without the cops, or anyone for that matter, noticing?”
I scratched my left ear as I formulated a plan.
Without hesitation, I turned and grabbed my own knapsack, the one pocket filled with papers that I was supposed to have memorized for tomorrow.
Indigo watched as I forced the knapsack’s mouth open. The jetpack was a little too wide, but all I needed to do was cover the front with the knapsack cover to give the illusion of a big knapsack. I looked over to see Indigo nod in approval.
“Nice job with the cover, Caiti. That’ll work until we get home.”
The familiar air of late-night barbecues, cheap perfume, and ranchera music washed over me as I slowly walked up the stairs. Finally; we were almost home, which became a relief since this bag was burying itself into my back.
The Mensink district wasn’t so bad this early. It was still around 9 pm on a Wednesday night, before any of the “crazy people” Mom talked about would “stalk” the streets. I’ve been out later than this, but now of course it was different.
Familiar red and blue lights flashed a block away. My feet froze in place. The jetpack. They were probably out looking for the kids who stole it.
“Caitlin, what are you doing?” I felt Indigo’s hand on my shoulder, shaking me out of my panic.
“The cops aren’t looking for us here. They’re probably getting something to eat from the convenience store.”
I shook my head. “No, they know. The security people told them about us. They probably traced us back here.” Tears welled up in my eyes as the truth really hit me: I, Caitlin Bridget MacCuaig, was a criminal. I imagined getting my mugshot and smudging my bloodied hands with that weird ink stuff they use to take fingerprints. Mom may pay for the bail, but she might make us stay there for a night to make us feel like criminals and teach us a lesson. That’s what her mother did. Then we’d make the front page news and be ostracized from every school in the district, maybe even all of New Amsterdam. I’ll never get to college and—
“Caiti!” Indigo shook me again, this time with both hands. “Calm down, you paranoid pipsqueak! They don’t know what you did, but they will if you keep acting like this.”
I shook my head again as my head flooded with fear. I’m standing in front of the hot white lights, holding the sign with my name and prisoner number on it.
“I can’t. I’m sorry...”
I could see Mom crying as we’re led away in handcuffs.
Indigo shuffled her feet impatiently as she grumbled something like, “I knew I shouldn’t have brought you, Caitlin...” But I didn’t care. I hated being a bad guy. All I wanted was to do something cool. Couldn’t that be like a wish of sorts, to be entitled to at least one cool thing in your life? Why did I have to be punished for wanting to be included in Indigo’s adventures?
“Okay, the cars are a block away. We can take a detour if that helps.”
I nodded in agreement. I wanted to put as much distance between myself and those cop cars as possible. As we walked down the block, I rubbed my eyes with the clean side of my hands. Then I realized how bloody my hands were. I pulled at the strips of cloth but they stuck to the clotted wound.
“Indigo, how the hell are we going to explain this to Mom?” I said, raising my hands to show her the mess.
My mind fluttered to the conversation we would be having with Mom. She’s no dummy. She’d put the jetpack and my hands together in a flash. Boy, was she going to be pissed.
Indigo looked at them for a second. “You’ll have to hide them. Put them into your pockets.”
The pockets of my vest were too small, but my jeans hid the cuts.
“Good. Now just hold them in until we get home.”
Indigo walked beside me on the sidewalk. It was almost like she dreaded seeing Mom as much as I did. The ranchera music grew softer in the air, like the police had come by and told them to turn it down. I turned to my sister as she took a deep breath.
“Indigo, we didn’t call Mom at all tonight.”
She swore as she dropped her head.
“She’s gonna be mad at that too, huh?”
I chuckled at the thought of Mom constantly getting angry tonight.
“Her blood pressure is gonna skyrocket after we walk through the door.”
Indigo snickered. “Yeah. When we walk in, she’ll be looking at the clock, then at your hands, maybe the massive backpack, and then just faint. Let's hope so.”
Our chuckles turned from snorts and giggles to belly-aching laughter.
We passed the yellow street lights, with the occasional white lights of cars washing over us. Ranchera music turned to noisy car horns. A familiar building poked out of the skyline.
“Caitlin, what’s our alibi for your hands?”
I looked down at them, wincing. “Since I’m carrying the backpack, why not say that I slipped and fell on some broken glass.”
“But your cuts don’t look like that happened at all,” Indigo replied.
“That’s the best I got, sis.”
My sister shrugged. Maybe she wanted a more creative alibi than that, but tonight had just been exhausting.
We walked in silence through the lobby of our apartment building as the elevator opened to take us up to the 20th floor. We took deep breaths as Indigo pressed the button. With each floor that passed, it felt like we were stepping closer to our doom. My legs shook as I held my bloody hands. I wish I had my music to calm me down. Indigo kept her head held high as her feet shuffled. A jazz number played in the elevator, but I could barely hear it through broken speakers. By the time I could get a feel for the beat, the doors opened.
“Let’s get this over with,” Indigo proclaimed, as she pulled me by my vest down the hall, past the garbage chute and the broken mail tubes, to the last door on the right. Apartment 202. A big “MacCuaig Family” sign hung on the door. This was going to be a disaster...
I hopelessly willed Indigo to stop and wait for a few more hours, at least until Mom went to sleep, so we could sneak in. Then she unlocked the door, and it screamed our presence. Immediately, the smell of camomile and meatballs welcomed us in.
“Girls! Where were you?”
I forced myself to calm down as Mom rose from her easy chair. She had changed out of her work clothes and had gracefully fashioned her bright red hair into a ponytail. Neither of us shared her green eyes and freckles.
“I didn't get one call from either of—CAITLIN, WHAT HAPPENED TO YOUR HANDS?!”
I froze as her thin hands caressed my damaged ones.
“She fell on some glass, Mom,” Indigo blurted out. “I put all of my things into her knapsack and she tripped and fell over.”
She examined the red marks on my hands like evidence. Her bright green eyes shot like lasers.
“What were you doing near glass anyway? Alyssa’s house is only a couple of blocks away, and Brenda’s not too far from there!
Indigo wrung her hands. “Well, she tripped with her heavy bag and slammed into some jagged pieces on the ground.”
“Where?” She sounded more angry at the glass than at us.
“I don’t remember,” Indigo replied.
"We’ll have to clean that up,” Mom announced as she stood back up to look at the two of us.
“Now then, if you were there so long without calling me, surely you can tell me something you learned tonight.”
Wait, I had something from class. I can tell some truth. I could save this!
“Well, I learned about Colonial New Amsterdam and why Peter Stuyvesant decided to fight the British instead of secede the colony.”
Indigo’s eyes lit up. “Oh, and Brenda and I learned some more words for the SATs,like the word ‘copious’.”
“What does that mean, Indigo?” Mom turned her green spotlights to my older sister.
“It means ‘plentiful’, Mom.”
“And what was the answer for yours, Caitlin?”
Wait, I had it. I thought I had the answer, but it escaped me. Mom and Indigo stared at me, waiting for any answer, ANYTHING.
I forced my head up to face her bright green eyes. “Because the Dutch hated the British,” I squeaked.
Her eyes narrowed. “Indigo, I thought you went to study with Brenda. You told me that word last week.I’d suspect you didn’t study at all, did you?”
Another shiver ran down my spine as she stepped back and folded her arms.
“Girls, are you lying to me?”
I looked back down again. The gig was up. I willed Indigo to say something.
“Yes,” Indigo sighed, as Mom’s hands crossed tighter.
“Where did you go, instead of studying?”
Indigo shoved her hands into her pockets.
“We went to Breuckelen.”
“To do what?”
The questions were digging into us, like she tore us apart joint by joint.
“To see the old lots and show Caitlin the New Amsterdam docks. We had to climb a fence. Caitlin got hurt.”
“You went to the side of town I forbade, and let this happen?”
“No, Mom. It was an accident.”
“An accident that wouldn’t have happened if you followed the rules! Indigo, the world can’t bow to your whim every time you want it to. I made them to protect you both.”
“I’M NOT FINISHED, INDIGO!”
She stepped back and took a deep breath, her arms crossed tightly across her chest.
“So that’s how it is, huh?”
Here it comes. She had pieced the whole thing together, and her repetition of our events felt like salt atop a wound.
“My two babies go and lie to me, their mother, to see some dead buildings instead of studying... and NOT only that, but trespassed on someone else’s property and risked getting caught? Indigo, I’ve told you DOZENS of times to stop doing things like that, and what do you do?! Disobey me again! I can’t believe you two would do something like that, especially when taking your younger sister!”
Her eyes turned into a sneer that pierced my soul as she turned to me.
“Your earbuds. Now.”
The weight on my shoulders pressed down even more. Hot tears fell down my face as I pulled out my earbuds from a zippered pocket on my vest.
“If you do well on your test, I’ll consider giving them back to you earlier than a week. Now, go clean up. Dinner’s in the oven.”
I race into my room before hearing my Mom’s wrath descend onto my older sister. For some reason I decided to stop and eavesdrop on their conversation, my body hidden behind my doorpost.
“That’s it. Indigo, curfew just got earlier. Oh, and your phone please.”
I peeked and saw the two of them shoot lightning bolts at each other as she reached into her pocket, pulled out her phone, and handed it over to Mom.
“Indigo, do you remember why I gave you that name,” Mom asked softly.
“Yes, Mom,” Indigo gruffed. You remind me every time I get into trouble.”
“Well, clearly not enough times, because then you’d stop. I added that name to yours after I found out your were an Indigo Child, that you were gifted and destined to do great things. That name gave me hope after your father died. I refuse to see you waste that potential every time you rebel against me.
“For your lies and intolerable behavior, you won’t be seeing this phone for a full month. Not until you can get your act together.”
As Mom sat back down on the easy chair, I leaped into my room. I turned on the lights and almost threw the knapsack on the bed before remembering that it was a $15,000 jetpack.I looked around my room for a place to hide it. My drawer was too small for it, and also too stuffed with clothes. My bed was too low for something that bulky. The closet was my only hope. I unfolded the door as looked through the few dresses that hung on a bar. Then I saw it—in the far corner of the closet, a space unoccupied by boxes of toys and old books. That was it! After removing the cover, I grabbed the jetpack and lifted it into the closet, straining myself to avoid slamming it down against the floor. I knelt down in front of the jetpack’s new home, and then saw my hands, still bandaged up from the disaster that was tonight. After touching the empty pocket where my earbuds used to be, maybe it wasn’t worth losing one thing to get another.