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Where We Went Wrong
Her footsteps echoed across the white tile floor of the empty apartment. The only light came from the small fish tank on the table near the window. She slowly made her way to the bedroom. In the dark, she searched for the dresser. Sitting on top was that small, wooden box with the gold latch. She flipped it open and her fingers grazed the interior. She felt the softness of the velvet lining, accompanied by the cold metal of chains tangled together. She picked one up, and the diamonds glinted brightly, even in the dark.
This was not her apartment. It was not her jewelry. She wasn’t sure who it belonged to, but she had to get it. The instructions had been clear. Her heart pounded as her eyes adjusted to the light and she stared into the box at the silver and gold, and the gems all tangled together. They weren’t hers. She had a sick feeling in her stomach. She grasped the valuables in her manicured fist roughly, then froze. A framed photograph sat next to the box on the top of the black, antique dresser. The family stared back at her. A younger, married couple, smiling at the camera, holding an infant on the young woman’s lap. Behind them stood their parents, and the parents of their parents, she guessed. They all looked so happy, healthy, and so well-dressed. Another photograph of the baby was next to it, as well as another of the couple at their wedding. The young woman was beautiful, and it looked like the picture perfect wedding a little girl always dreams of. She picked up the picture. Around the neck of the young woman was the necklace she was holding in her hand. The one she was about to take.
She gently set down the picture. A tear escaped, and rolled down her cheek. She squeezed her eyes shut, and whispered, “I’m sorry…”
Through the silence, she heard the sound of voices in the hall outside of the apartment. She snapped out of the emotional outpouring, and shoved the jewelry into the convincing but fake Coach purse that hung at her side. Her breath quickened as she ducked through the bedroom door. The apartment was still empty. For now. She moved quickly and quietly back into the main room, and slipped out the window onto the back fire escape, closing the window behind her. Three stories below her was a silver Range Rover that was all too familiar. Cal leaned up against it, looking up at the fire escape. Mike was in the driver’s seat of the car.
“Toss it down, Rae.” Cal said, quiet enough to stay hidden and loud enough to be heard. She zipped the bag shut and tossed it down off the fire escape, watching it fall. Cal caught it, and unzipped the bag.
“Alright.” he grinned, transfixed by the glimmering metal. He looked back up at her. “Hurry, will you?” With that, he got into the front seat of the car. Rachel scampered as quickly as she could down the precarious, rusty ladder that stopped about five feet above the ground. No one was around in the dark alleyway to see her, but she was still careful to be stealthy and quiet. Her feet hit the pavement hard, the impact putting a strain on her ankles. Ignoring the pain, she slid into the back seat of the car and slammed the door. Before the door was even closed or her seatbelt buckled, Mike hit the gas and sent the car flying around the corner, and Rachel across the back seat.
“Christ, Mike!” she exclaimed. He just laughed and made another abrupt turn into the street. She sighed, buckled up, and tried to relax. Cal sat in the front seat, rifling through the gems and chains, sorting them out. He picked up that same necklace that had been in the photograph, watching the diamonds glisten in the streetlights.
“You did good, Rae.” He grinned, “I knew my instructions wouldn’t be too hard to follow. Even if you did take too long.”
“I was- I mean, There were..”
“Just do better next time, kay?”
“Yeah, I’ll be sure to do that, Cal.” She rolled her eyes. The rest of the car ride was in silence, rolling along a near empty highway. They pulled up to the motel no more than five minutes later.
“Yo, get me a beer!” Mike ordered, flopping down on the couch. Rachel started for the bathroom, annoyed.
“Get it yourself.”
“Please, Rachel? You can get yourself one too...” Cal gave her a puppy dog look with his long-lashed brown eyes. She knew it was all fake, but she was a sucker for that look. It wasn’t Cal being a jerk, anyways. It was Mike, which wasn’t anything new. Cal at least said please. She got three beers out of the kitchen section of the room, which consisted a sink, a microwave and a mini fridge, and sauntered across the rough, tan and green carpet to the ugly old couch on the other side of the room.
“Thanks, baby.” Cal pulled her next to him and kissed her on the cheek. She remained silent, and opened the tab on her can, taking a long drink. She needed it.
This was their last night in Pittsburg. Tomorrow they would divide the jewelry up, each sell their share at different places, and meet back up to head to Trenton. This was their fifth robbery this week. What they had stolen tonight would be worth about $12,000. Cal called it easy money, but it didn’t always seem like that. Rachel didn’t have the same kind of mind as he did. She always pictured the people she was stealing from. She always thought about where the jewelry came from, if it was something inherited from their dead grandmothers, or something passed down through generations that carried real meaning. Every time she sold it for the cash she pictured it being melted down in a refinery, lost for good. It wasn’t easy for her, but that was life. Cal always said those rich people didn’t deserve it, and they had enough money without it anyways. He wasn’t like Rachel. He had never been one of those rich people.
After finishing her beer and listening to Cal and Mike go on about how much profit they would get from Trenton for a while, Rachel got up from the couch and went to go change out of her heist outfit. Seven jeans, Coach sneakers, and a black Banana Republic shirt. She rubbed her ankles, which were still a little sore, as she took of her shoes. She let her long brown hair out of its high, tight ponytail, and changed into sweatpants and a plain tank top. It had been a long day, but nothing out of the ordinary.
She had been on the run for two years, since dropping out of college when she was 18. She was alone for a while, trying to find a way to make money to get through every day in any way she could. She went from crappy waitress jobs to even crappier cashier jobs, and eventually got herself into pickpocketing. She met Cal on the street in Manhattan, while trying to take his wallet. He had recognized what she was doing, being a theif himself, and pointed out the flaws in her technique. At the time, she had been nineteen, and he was twenty four. They got very close very quickly, and started ransacking together, using Mike as their accomplice. Jewelry was their specialty. Rachel had an advantage, because she was just a normal-looking, skinny brunette girl, who no one would suspect of theivery. And she was good at blending in. She usually was the one who actually got the valuables, because it was easy for her to get past neighbors and security guards without them noticing or suspecting her. Cal stood out a little more. He had tattoos and was pretty recognizeable, and was generally a lot more menacing. Mike wasn’t much better. Cal liked being the mastermind, and Mike liked driving the getaway car, and they still saw plenty of action. So it worked out for everyone. At least, it seemed like it.
“Did you get any food yesterday?” Cal broke away from the television for a moment. Rachel hadn’t even realized the guys had turned it on. It didn’t make much of a difference anymore. She blinked at hiim for a moment, having been lost in her own thoughts.
“Goddammit, Rae! I’m starving. What am I supposed to eat?” Cal demanded.
“I don’t know!” She threw her hands up in exasperation. “There’s a vending machine downstairs.”
“I don’t want any goddamn chips or candy bars. Order us a pizza.” And he turned back to the T.V. Rachel considered protesting, but decided against it. She flipped through the phone book on the desk, and ordered a large pizza. She turned back to Cal and Mike, but they were useless. They were both relatively drunk by now, and completely involved in some football game. This was nothing new.
Things had been really good between her and Cal at the beginning. They had to have been happy at some point, she thought, or she wouldn’t have gotten herself into all this. She had distinct memories of the two of them laughing together, being thrilled by each of their heists, and having some plans to have a real life in the future. Even Mike used to be fun to be around. In fact, the three of them were really close friends. She was addicted to the lifestyle of a criminal, but she didn’t mind, because she had Cal. When he was sober and in a good mood, he was still the same Cal. She was still in love with him. She wasn’t sure what had changed, or even when, but things just hadn’t been the same for quite a while. The crimes had become tiring, and the guys had both begun to waste away. She couldn’t get away from the thought that they were all serious felons, and they couldn’t keep this up forever. But they made money, the travelled the nation, and when things were good, Rachel sometimes felt like she had a real home.
It wasn’t that she hadn’t had a real home as a child. In fact, she grew up in Ridgeland, Connecticut. Her parents were still together, as far as she knew. Her father was a doctor and her mother was a realtor. She lived in a normal neighborhood, upper middle class, where everyone had three-car garages. Her parents had always been hard on her, and she couldn’t stand that. She wasn’t technically allowed to date, couldn’t go out more than two nights a week, and got regularly yelled at for anything and everything. She had a privileged life, sure. Nice clothes, nice house, nice car. But that wasn’t everything, and it certainly wasn’t what she wanted. Her older brother, Jeff, had much more freedom, thanks to her hypocritical parents. He used to go out drinking every weekend, and got into trouble at school every once in a while. He would always brag about all the crazy things he got away with, and tell Rachel that she was the innocent one. If only he could see her now.
She laid back onto the bed, and observed the guys as they were entranced by the game, wolfing down the pizza that had arrived a few minutes ago. She wasn’t hungry. Not caring about the non-smoking policy of the hotel, she sat on the bed and lit up a cigarette. By the time anyone figured out someone had been smoking in here, she would be long gone. This was a habit she had picked off almost the second she went off to college, looking for any way to rebel.
College hadn’t lasted long. After two months of more requirements and classes she didn’t really want to take as an English major at Penn State, she was done. She got into a fight with her mother about skipping an exam over the phone. It was the last straw. There was no real reason for her to still be there other than she was supposed to be, as dictated by society. So she hung up on her mother, chucked the phone into a trash can, and got on a train to Manhattan. That was the last time she had heard her mother’s voice. She probably thought Rachel was dead by now.
As a college dropout, rebellion wasn’t just a way of life for her, it was a necessity. She was constantly looking for new ways to get herself into trouble. Anything her parents would be horrified by, she did. She had to. Whether it was to go against her parents or to show up her brother, she didn’t know. She only knew that she couldn’t stop.
“Rae, wanna get us another beer?” The game had been over for about a half hour, and they had nearly gone through three six-packs.
“Know what?I really don’t think you guys need any more. Can we call it a night?” She sighed.
“When did you get so un-fun?” Cal scowled.
“I don’t know, maybe when you got so lazy and self-centered?” She snapped back, surprising herself. She usually avoided arguments with Cal.
“Hey! I just wanted a goddamn beer. You should be thankful we’ve kept you so long. You can’t even follow the plans exactly. Without all my planning we wouldn’t make any money, you know that?” He rose from the couch. Mike watched, looking for somewhere to interject his small-mindedness. “You would be nowhere without me, Rachel. You would be living on the streets.”
“That’s not true!” Her voice rose a few decibels. “I would be just fine on my own. I could take care of myself.”
“Yeah, right.” He scoffed. She felt the rage bubbling inside, and heat burning up her cheeks.
“What if I left? You’re the one who would be nowhere!! Without me you guys would get caught so easily. I’m the one who actually breaks into places, the one who actually steals! And you know what? Maybe I’m sick of being your little puppet!”
“Oh, really? Are you? All of a sudden Rachel’s all mad that she’s not in charge. You want all the money for yourself, don’t you? Thats what this is about, isn’t it?!” He took a few steps towards her.
“Go ahead and go if you want, but you’re not getting a cent! If you’re not part of the operation, you don’t get a share of the goddamn profit.”
“Is all you care about the money? Would it even matter to you at all if I left? Do I mean ANYTHING to you, Cal?”
“Don’t make this about-”
“I could be fine on my own. I could get a normal job and a real place to live. Maybe this was never what I wanted!” She was still yelling. Everything she had bottled up for the past few months was pouring out of her, and there was so much more anger behind everything than she had ever let herself think about.
“You wanna go, then get out. Get out of here. See how you do.” Cal crossed his arms. he was waiting for her to start apologizing, to sit down on the bed and say she wasn’t going anywhere, and she didn’t mean any of it. But she realized now that this was the same as college. It was something she just did. She had no reason not to, but she didn’t have any reason why she had to live that lifestyle. No one was making her break into strangers’ apartments and steal their jewelry. She had never wanted to live the life her parents wanted for her, that repressed, sheltered existence where you followed all the rules. But this wasn’t just the opposite direction. It was the wrong direction. And it wasn’t what she wanted either.
After a moment of silent tension in the room, she grab the still-packed suitcase of everything she owned, and walked out the door.
“Rae!” Cal called after her. “Rachel!!” He followed her out, desperately grabbing her shoulders. “Rae, I’m- I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it. Please-”
“I’m done, Cal.” she whispered. And without even one last glance at him, she was gone. Where, she didn’t know. But she was going to be someone she wanted to be this time.