The trip back was far easier. With the bars having let out, cops were busy stalking for drunk drivers. With the route Quinn had, she knew how to avoid them without difficulty. All nights should be this simple. It was pretty great. Riding high on Cloud Nine, the trip to the abandoned home had her putting in $23,000. A good haul for one night. Opening the lockbox where she kept all the winnings underneath the floorboards, a smile came to her face. Inside was sitting now $110,000. It was a fund designed to help secure her future. All she needed was one major score and she could pay back Father McCormick for her time at Oceanview Academy of St Galentine.
It had been a point of guilt for her – the fact that Father had been basically paying her way to be at one of the top Catholic boarding schools in the country. Or at the very least that her being there was eating out of their funds because they weren’t being compensated for her. The guilt had been eating at her since she heard Sister Sarah talking about the cost of tuition there. It wasn’t fair that she was effectively able to cheat the system to get one of the best educations a girl can get. It was one guilt point of a dozen that she had inside.
She genuinely was trying not to pick fights with Sister Margaret. It was so fucking difficult. The two were constantly butting heads, about absolutely everything. Of course, when they would fight, the Sister would take it to Father. Then they would fight. A non-stop cycle of the two of them going back and forth and him having to play the peace-maker. But no matter what she did, it didn’t stop. Maybe she’d wear the white shirt. It was worth it if it made his life easier, right?
Once she turned 18 and graduated, she’d have the money come to the school by way of an anonymous donation. She had already learned the process a year ago, when she began her poker habit. Then there was no guilt for her, and Father would think that the Good Lord had provided his school with a kindly donation.
Going to a Catholic school, one of the big requisites is that you believe in God. And…she didn’t. Not at all. It all just seemed so silly to her. A celestial patriarchal entity created this planet in six days, but then created everything else as a huge afterthought? Who told his prophet to kill the men of their enemies and take the virgin girls as sex trophies? She read the book from cover to cover in order to acclimate herself to the new environment and what they studied, and the whole thing just rubbed her as a primitive book written by primitive people with way more allegory than actual stories.
Bringing that up to Father, however, was totally off the table. He believed this stuff so fervently. It was incredibly important to him. Who was she to question it? It would just be something he believed in and she would just play along with until she got out. Then she’d tell him the truth. He seemed like a man who was caring and wouldn’t throw it all away because of something like that. At least, that’s what she hoped. It was hard to say.
Climbing up the hill to the tree, she was out of breath before even getting to it. Leaning against it, she panted. While her mind is a sharpened instrument that can do battle with the best of them, her body was so weak. She was average height for a girl, but was skinny and almost underweight. The various PE courses they had her do were always the worst. Her running times were abysmal, on par with the most out of shape girls in the school. You’d think that she would have some camaraderie among them, but her reputation of being from a poor family colored so many people’s perception of her. A poor girl at an elite school trumped some level of empathy for being physically weak among those who shared in her plight. Irony.
Perhaps she could cozy up to Lisa? Given her situation, there may be a way to use this newfound friendship as a way to get out from under her own problems. Felt bad, using a new friend like that. But she wasn’t just going to be using her. Their conversation yesterday had informed her that this girl was quite smart herself. She even had a PDA! It seemed this young lady wanted to put her mind to work with technology. Admirable. Getting past a physical handicap and also putting an exceptional mind to work. This girl was worthy of respect.
Climbing up the tree and making her way back in, more thoughts came to her. What about the roommate? She seemed nice enough. Had even heard her music and jammed with her. That was something friends do, right? Or at least they could be friends. A warm thought.
Back inside school grounds, it was a race to beat the rising light levels. More Sisters would be around the grounds soon. She could NOT get caught now! After an evening this good, failure to get back to her dorm quick enough was unacceptable. At the very least, if she could get close enough, she could say she was using the bathroom if caught. No! No compromising the vision of a perfect escape. She must get back inside flawlessly.
She peeked from the darkness inside the area around the window she used to escape. Still clear. Going back into ninja mode, she slipped through and closed it behind her. Now it was moving as fast as her poor physical stamina would allow. Sliding down the stairs was easy. Getting back up was less so. Her ears perked for the sound of footsteps. With luck, the Sister on duty was catching some shut-eye herself.
Each tiny squeak made her heart pound. It was always the most stressful part, no matter how many times she did it. Getting to the top, there was one more hallway turn, and she was on the home stretch. Again moving as fast as she could without making noise and without her stamina causing her breathing to be audible. So much stress. As she was about to turn the corner to the last stretch, noise! Footsteps! Looking behind her, she saw it. Bathroom!
With a flash, she ducked inside. The footsteps got closer, then passed by. Waiting until she couldn’t hear anything, she came out and hurried to her dorm. Closing the door behind, she slid down it and sat on the floor. Success! Victory against the forces of academic oppression! Crush the system! Well, maybe not that, but still, victory.
Might as well get a couple hours of sleep before class. She was already going to be a zombie. So worth it. Stripping off her hoodie, she pulled down her pants and grabbed her PJ pants.
“Where did you go?” a voice called out.
Spinning in terror, she saw the outline of her roommate lying in bed. Couldn’t get a clear look at her face. Oh shit! This was about as terrible as it could be. All that work, only to be busted by her roommate?
“I had to pee.”
“You were gone all night. I remember waking up, and you were gone. Woke up a little later, and you were gone then too. You’re taking off your shoes. So you left.”
Basic reasoning, but on point.
Sitting on her bed, she let out a sigh. “I…I can’t tell you, Kaye.”
Her roommate sat up, her face clearer in the growing light. It was a mask of concern.
“Why? Is everything okay?”
This nagging feeling tore at her. Don’t lie to her! She’s legitimately concerned about you. Is there no one we can be honest with?
“Because, what I go out and do every now and again…it’s illegal.”
Kaye’s hand went to her mouth. “Oh goodness. Is it drugs?”
She shook her head. “No, nothing like that.”
Awkward expression. “…Prostitution?”
A chuckle. “Don’t think I have a body good enough for that.”
If she could see the color on Kaye’s face, she was reasonably sure it was beet red. Something just told her it was.
“So what? What is it? I won’t tell anyone, Quinn. I promise!”
Now the feeling was ripping her to pieces. Just fucking tell her! Don’t make her worry like this!
“I gamble. I go to a private place and play poker for money. I’m ridiculously good at it. To the point that I have yet to go to a game and not run the table. Tonight was a challenge. First time in ages. Might have found an opponent who could be worthy, with some experience. It was incredible.”
Her roommate cocked her head to the side. “Why do you do it?”
Leaning back against the wall on the other side of her bed. “I don’t know. There’s this itch that I get. Something deep inside. It wants me to prove that I’m better than people. I’ve destroyed every girl here at chess, mahjongg, whatever game you can think of that uses your mind. But those games didn’t scratch the itch. I needed something where I was genuinely risking something. Where I would be putting something on the line and have the fear of failure. Then I heard about the place and went there to play.”
Quinn’s eyes lit up. “It was amazing! The anticipation. Since we were playing Texas Hold ‘Em, there was the math I’d do about who had what hand. What the odds were there that someone had a better hand than me. It was great! This was not a game with professionals. I destroyed them. From there, the itch got scratched. It was months before I needed to do so again. Went back, this time to a real game with real players. It was even better! This time I was able to carefully play each individual and be tactical about my approach. Won a big pot.
“Now I am building on it. Growing my reputation. I can walk in there now and nobody questions it. Not the bouncers, not the Bank, not the Dealer. Every night I do it, I prove that I’m better than my opponents. My mind is sharper than theirs. It’s such a rush!”
Hearing herself say that out loud, it sounded way more like an addiction.
Apparently she wasn’t alone in that thought. “My mom sounds the same way when she talks about booze.”
That hurt. What was she addicted to? It wasn’t gambling, because that was just a symptom, not a cause. Adrenaline? Made some sense. An adrenaline junkie. There are worse things, right? This didn’t make her feel better. It would have been easier to lie. Whoever said that the truth sets you free was full of shit.
Turning her back to her, Quinn lay on her bed and closed her eyes. She was in control of this. No one else. Guess friendship only did go so far.
Her alarm went off and she didn’t feel any less tired. Worth it, for sure, but today was going to be a long day. Sitting up, she turned to see her roommate getting dressed. No sense talking with her. Part of her wanted to see if Father could get rid of this problem, but she had just thought last night about how she didn’t want to make life more difficult for him.
Looking over at the white shirt, she let out a sigh. Speaking of not making things difficult for him. Taking off her shirt, she went to grab the white shirt.
“Oh my god!” she heard from behind her.
Looking back, she saw Kaye looking absolutely mortified.
“That mark on your shoulder. It’s a brand!”
Putting on the white shirt, she started buttoning it up. “It’s just a birthmark.”
Kaye gave her an ugly look. “That’s a lie, Quinn!”
Turning to face her. “Yeah, it is. Because it’s none of your fucking business! So tell you what, you keep your fucking judgmental comments to yourself and I’ll keep out of your hair!”
In a second she realized that she had just fucked up. This girl knew not only what she’s doing, but why. Making an enemy of her would do nothing but make her life immeasurably more difficult. If she snitched on her to Sister Margaret, not only would she make life for Father difficult, she would almost-certainly be expelled. Then given over to the cops and go to juvenile justice. This is why she didn’t make friends here! Emotional connections lead to making decisions based on emotions. Guess the white shirt didn’t matter now, did it?
In a flash Quinn grabbed her shoes and was out the door. No way she was gonna get caught here. No way was this going to be where her story ended. Get to the safe-house with her money, and from there figure out what her next move was going to be. As she left, she thought she heard a voice behind her. What did it say? Didn’t matter.
The gate was open now, so she was able to walk right out of the school. Good thing too. Walking quickly, but trying not to draw attention. She got to the gate and was about to head out, when a voice called out to her.
“Quinn!” This was a different voice.
Part of her wanted to just keep going and ignore it, but another part told her to look.
Lisa was in a car, backing up to her. “Hey! Where are you going? Class is gonna start soon.”
She awkwardly stood there, trying to think of a clever way to get out of this without giving a direct answer. Maybe she could be half-honest?
“I…don’t wanna go to class today. I’m not feeling it.”
Giving her a worried look. “Everything okay?”
“No. Something happened and I just want to get away from here for a while.”
A thoughtful look came to Lisa’s face. Then she smiled at her. “Well, if you’re looking to play hooky, want some company?”
That made her incredulous. “You’re joining forces with a miscreant now?”
She nodded. “Sure! Perk of having medical problems. I can get away with all sorts of stuff. Hop in! We’ll go to the pier and wander around like a couple of tourists!”
Not being able to help herself, Quinn smiled. “Alright. Sounds good. Let’s do it.”
Getting in on the other side, the driver waved to her. He looked to be a kindly gentleman. Dressed in a rather nice suit himself.
“Where to, ladies?”
“Drop us off at the pier! Quinn will be my caretaker today.”
“Very well. Shall I notify the school of your absence?”
She thought for a moment. “Yes. And make sure to tell them that Quinn is helping me with feeling not well and keeping up on my classwork.”
Quinn gave her companion a smile. “Awfully nice of you.”
“I’m sure you’ll still get an earful, but at least it won’t be as bad, right?”
Not particularly caring, as she assumed trying to go back would result in her getting expelled, she just shrugged. One more good day before being on the run.
The car came to a stop at a parking lot by the pier. A place where tourists gathered. As it was still August, there were still tourist trap stores open. It was all so tacky. Brought back memories for Quinn of spending time here with Father McCormick. What would he say when he found out? It pained her to think about how disappointed he would be with her. How it would break his heart to sign an order expelling her, and losing his guardianship as she went into juvenile detention. Assuming she got out before she turned 18, she’d be in some group home. The horror stories about those places are numerous.
“You okay?” Lisa asked.
Looking over at her, she feigned a smile and nodded. “Yeah. I’m alright. How are you?”
“The morning was no rougher than usual.”
She frowned. “I suppose that’s a good thing.
“Yeah. Well, as you are my caretaker today, let’s go look at the ocean! Take me to the far side of the pier. Let’s take in the scenery.”
A caretaker, eh? Sounded fine. “Yes ma’am.”
Since it was still early, cool air blew in their faces.
“You cold?” Quinn asked.
“A little, but I’ll be alright.” A little chuckle. “You’re a lot different than I expected. Way everyone talks about you, I kinda figured you’d be the queen bitch of the universe. But you’re super nice.”
While hearing how her peers thought about her hurt, she did appreciate the compliment.
“Something about not believing everything you hear and judging books by covers.”
Looking up at her, Lisa smiled. “Word!”
The two finally arrived at the end of the pier, looking out at the sea. Since this was the west coast, the sun rose behind them. Made everything in front of them glow.
“Beautiful,” Quinn remarked.
Standing there until the glow subsided.
“Let’s get something to eat. Cinnabon is close.”
That sounded absolutely perfect.
“You’re gonna get fat in that chair,” She chided.
“Please, I have to push myself around in this damn thing all day. Burns crazy calories.”
“Surprised you don’t get fat. I’ve seen you put it away, but you’re so lanky. I’m guessing you don’t do a lot of running.”
Her expression dimmed. “You’re not wrong. I’ve never understood people who do all that running. Seems like a horrific waste of energy. My assertion is that my metabolism is like a freakin’ squirrel. So that’s why I don’t gain weight. Yay me.”
Lisa chuckled again. “Trying to imagine you fat. It’s funny.”
Bopping her on the head. “Bad girl!”
“Whatever! Come on, pick up the pace. Could have wheeled myself there by now.”
“Careful, or I’ll let you test that theory.”
That got an obstinate look. “Mean.”
“Gotta live down to my reputation.”
When they got to the door, it opened as a client was leaving and the absolutely intoxicating smell drifted out to meet them.
“My tummy is growing just thinking about that!”
“Mine too,” Quinn agreed.
After ordering, they sat outside by a bench. So much sugary goodness, and it was worth the calories. It was such a shame that this was going to likely be the last time she got to enjoy such a thing, at least for the foreseeable future. It was pretty simple – get her car and get out of here. She knew how to drive, just hadn’t had much experience. As in hardly at all. Something new to learn, right? A challenge to undertake? Seeing life as a series of challenges had gotten her through a lot so far. Could it get her through juvenile detention? A grim thought.
Pulled out of her morose line of thinking, she looked up. “Hm?”
“What were you doing last night?”
Once-again, her insides went cold. “What do you mean?”
“I saw you out on a dirt-bike super early. Like, crazy early. What were you doing?” The way she asked, it wasn’t judgmental. It was curious.
But she had learned her lesson from before. “Just out for a little joyride.”
Lisa frowned. “Where did you get the dirt-bike?”
A little honesty couldn’t hurt here. “I knew some people and they owed me. So I got it for cheap.”
She perked up. “Well that’s cool! So jealous. Think you could ever give me a ride sometime?”
Could she? They were both small enough that she could get on. Problem was the bum leg. Lisa’s leg would be a liability. Especially if it was injured. She wouldn’t know.
“I don’t know if you could, with your leg.” There was genuine sympathy in her voice.
“I’m sorry. I would if it were some other way.” In reality, this was an excellent out for her.
“Thanks. I believe you would.”
Smiling at her, Quinn took a napkin and wiped her cheek. “You’re a messy eater.”
Her companion just stuck out her tongue.
They sat there and ate. Lisa talked about how she was wanting to learn tech stuff, maybe get into that. Because of her disability, snagging a good husband wasn’t the first option. So she figured that she would snag a good career instead. Made her parents proud. Making the most of a bad situation.
From her bag she pulled out a PDA.
Quinn marveled. “That’s so cool! Being a rich kid really does have the perks.”
That got a wink. “You know it! Since I always have amazing grades, daddy spoils me with whatever I need. Helps that I’m stuck in a medical facility each night.” Her face darkened. “I know they feel guilty. It’s not their fault. I was born with this. But still.”
Probably felt bad that their daughter was constantly looking at kids run and play, while she couldn’t. For a second, Quinn thought about if there was a way that she could work out to secure her leg to the bike. Actually take her on that joy-ride. But then she remembered – about to be going up shit creek soon. It was a nice thought, though.
Hours passed by as the two went down the boardwalk, going from tacky tourist shop to another equally tacky shop. Trying on shades, looking at cutesy fishing lures, laughing at the terrible Oceanview tourist merch. It was great. For a little while, the precariousness of her situation faded away. Just a fun day, with someone who understood what it was to be an outcast.
The afternoon was starting to show up when a familiar face came into the shop that the two were at.
Quinn looked up. “Kaye?”
Lisa gave her a look. “Who’s that?”
“My new roommate.”
Walking over, her roommate looked awkward. “I heard you skipped class today.”
Also looking awkward. “Yeah. Just looking after a friend.”
Kaye did the best smile she could. “Hi. I’m Kaye Evers.”
“Lisa. So, what’s it like to live with Quinn? She as much of a problem at home as she is at school.”
That got a mean look from Quinn. “If you weren’t in that chair I’d smack you.”
A wink back. “Gotta love me.”
Kaye looked over. “She’s got crazy music,” she said.
The girl pouted a bit. “Well I’m sure anyone could have told me that.”
Chuckling, Quinn shook her head. “I do what I can.” She was gonna miss the CDs since they would be confiscated. Would Sister Margaret burn them? Do it in holy fire to purge the evil Devil music.
Looking over at her, Kaye looked somewhat apologetic. “Can I talk to you for a bit?”
Part of her wanted to hope. It was a fool’s hope, but still.
“Sure.” Turning to Lisa. “Don’t you go anywhere.”
Another wink. “No promises.”
The two walked outside.
“Look,” Kaye began, “I’m sorry about what I said last night. That was mean. I can see from your mark that a lot of stuff has happened to you. It wasn’t my place to say that.”
A real apology. Not one of those fake ones you see little kids give.
“I’m sorry too, for yelling at you this morning.”
Strategically, Quinn had to do this. If she was offering an apology, that meant she hadn’t told the Sister about her. It meant that she wasn’t in the doghouse or worse. But it felt good too.
Kaye went in and hugged her. That took her by surprise. Definitely never had the hugging treatment. Still a new day? At least she knew she had an earful coming from Sister Margaret. Time to see what would happen next.
Until next time, a quote,
“Hey, this ain’t like me, but I managed to change ‘cause you were here helping me. I got you all wrapped up in this shit, but you stayed with me ‘til the bitter end. You didn’t abandon me.” – Ryuchi Sakamoto, Persona 5