My leg shook so hard it rattled the desk. I should have been paying attention to what was going on in history class. But I couldn't, because I was about to commit a crime.
I, Caitlin MacCuaig of New Amsterdam, was about to commit a crime, to become popular.
I couldn't even focus on what Mrs. Vanderwaal taught. All that exists is the plan. The plan that my sister forced me to memorize. The plan that -she claimed- would get me friends and finally take me out of my "freshmen funk", as she called it. I called it "not getting involved with people because being bullied sucked".
She wanted me to join her and her friends as they trespassed through the warehouses near the East River. Usually, my days would end with taking a bus back home and reading the jetpack forums, but I had to do this; I couldn't face a disappointed Indigo.
My phone buzzed with a news alert. The company that made jetpacks, MaraStrike, just announced that they're planning to sell their newest model, the Interceptor, at their store in New Netherlands next Fall. I wish I could read the Forum right now about it. It would be full of people claiming to have predicted it and a bunch of jokes about flying Long Islanders.
I must be the only 16-year-old in the world obsessed with something that ridiculous. It wouldn't fit at all in Mensink Heights, the neighborhood where I lived. It was all because I watched a movie called Scotty Driver, Secret Agent with friends. The guy who played Scotty -someone I can't remember- had flown across the city in a jetpack, and that was the first time I had ever seen one. I must have had the same dream of flying a jetpack for a year. The idea of flying through the clouds, feeling the wind whip through my hair, the rush of soaring up and descending as fast as possible.
I needed to distract myself from my forced criminal activity. The colossal copy of an old New Amsterdam map that hung on the wall near me was missing a few buildings and the docks. Hell, it was missing that was built within the past two hundred years. The Century Building and Golden Tower should be next to the Atlas Arena near the Breukelen Bridge. St. Mary's Church should be somewhere near Wall Street. Instead of the open green spaces around Central Park, there should be a bunch of crowded apartment buildings. There should also be other ludicrous apartments near the West Waterfront. The Four Brothers Apartment buildings should be in the back, near Haarlem.
Someday I'll fly up over my hometown and take a real photo of it.
The loud hum of the bell knocked me out of my stupor as I caught the teacher's last words, something about a quiz tomorrow.
Remember, Indigo warned me in my head. Be the last one out of the classroom. Time to methodically slip all of the loose papers around my desk into a folder like I was a surgeon.
I was barely done before a familiar face in a New Amsterdam Aces sweatshirt sat in the empty seat next to me.
That's what some people call me, usually friends and family.
"Almost there, Alyssa," I muttered, still paying attention to my papers. I'll need them organized if I was going to study them before the quiz.
"Look, I know you're trying to be slow because you don't normally do this, but there's no one left in the class."
I looked up from my work, and it turned out my best friend was right. Even the teacher had left already.
"Well, I didn't want to mess anything up. Indigo wanted us to be the last ones out of the school so that no one would see."
"True, but she was out a while ago. She probably went to hang out with her friends beforehand. They're coming with us, too."
She had a whole group of friends, like over fifteen, that she knew well. They're mostly juniors but also a mix of seniors and sophomores from the other class. They'd probably see me as that awkward kid and see me as a mercy case or something.
"I don't want to do this, Alyssa. Indigo forced me to come because she thinks I'm so boring and quiet. Tonight won't help at all."
"C'mon, Caiti. Don't be such a wimp. It'll be fine. Let's get out of here."
No one was even in the hallway. It's almost like everyone in the school didn't want to be there any longer than necessary.
She dragged me out into the brisk afternoon, my bag full of homework and folders. After a few blocks, we turned left between a pawn shop and some army surplus store.
The alleyway ahead of us echoed with laughter and electronic music. My sister Indigo leaned against the wall, next to her other friends from eleventh grade, her arms folded across her black sweatshirt. Her friend Brenda sat on the other side, at least I assumed that's who it was. Her name was mentioned so many times in our household that Mom hated that Indigo hung out with her. They always broke some rule that got Mom pissed.
Alyssa walked right up to all of them and began talking. I stayed behind, so lost in what they were talking about that I just watched them from a distance. Alyssa and I were both sophomores and friends since third grade, but she always had that air of cool about her, blending right in with other juniors like it was no big deal. Sometimes I felt like she was more friends with Indigo than me, even though we hung out more. I think she even idolized her.
My sister called me from her place against the wall.
She stared at me funny. I must be doing something weird.
"You okay? You're just standing there. It's kinda awkward."
Right. I was just staring at everyone from far away. I must have looked like a stalker. Damn it. Already I came across as awkward.
I scratched the back of my left ear, a nervous tick I picked up from somewhere, and moved closer to my sister. We looked nothing alike, according to Mom. She smirked at me with a merciful smile, the one you might get out of sheer sympathy.
"Does Mom think that you're studying with Alyssa?"
"Yeah. That's what I told her at breakfast," I said with a nod.
"Good," she approved, turning away to face Alyssa, who was laughing with Brenda at the moment. Indigo got everyone's attention with a whistle.
"Okay, everyone, if we want to get there while there's still sunlight, we gotta move."
I counted five people coming with us, including a few juniors and sophomores. My ear itched again, and I felt a bead of sweat run down my back.
My feet moved me forward. Alyssa and I stayed close behind my sister and Brenda while the rest of the group laughed ahead of us.
"Finally decided to join us, Caitlin?" Brenda teased with a smirk on her face.
I smiled nervously. "Yep. Might as well."
"Wait 'till you see the warehouses, Caiti," she replied. "It's crazy."
"Hey! Don't tell her anything until we get there," Indigo interrupted, "It'll be a bigger surprise if you don't know anything yet."
"Aww, c'mon Indi," Alyssa whined, "her eyes will get enormous when I tell her. It's so adorable when she does that."
"Hang on," I said, "when have you two been there before?"
The two of them felt farther away in an instant.
"For secret stuff, sis," Indigo snickered.
Secret stuff? Yeah, right.
"If you had come earlier, you'd know."
"Oh come on," I protested, "it's not my fault every big expedition of yours has to be on a school night. Mom would kill me if she knew."
"Expedition, what a fancy word," Brenda said with a hint of sarcasm. "Someone's been studying for the exams."
I scoffed. "I don't want to abandon everything about school. Mom would kill us."
"Well, that's not my problem, Caiti," Indigo said, "it's not like you could go out and forget school for just a night or something."
I couldn't believe I had to defend myself for being a good person.
"Yes, I can," I defended, "I'm going out now, right? Doesn't that mean something?"
Even from behind, I could tell Indigo rolled her eyes at me. Alyssa raced up to the rest of the group, so I decided to slip on my wireless headphones and listen to music. After pressing the power button a couple of times, I remembered that their power ran out during gym class. Damn it again.
I thought about turning around while my head played a song that popped into my head. I could save my dignity by leaving, but I had waited all day for this. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad after all.
I paid for my ticket as everyone else jumped the turnstile, and we piled onto the train to Breuckelen. After we all sat down, some noisier than others, I sat on the side and hummed along to another pop song, this time with my hands keeping tempo on my knees.
I looked at Alyssa. She was busy talking with Indigo and another group of juniors from our school. The other sophomores were taking selfies across the car.
Maybe if I thought about the positives of this situation, it could be easier than thinking I was about to commit a crime. After all of this, maybe I could just go to some parties. I know not to drink, so I'd just sit there and make sure people don't do anything stupid. Maybe by the time Alyssa and I graduated, we'd be in the most popular groups like Indigo is. Finally, I'd feel like I wasn't in the shadows of the cool kids' lockers. And I'd keep my jetpack in my locker.
Then Indigo woke me from my daydream. "Be ready to get off at the next stop."
I counted fifteen stops from when we started, according to the map on the ceiling. By the time our stop arrived, the sun had turned the sky a muted orange and bright pink.
Indigo double-checked on her phone. "Okay, so the docks are a few blocks this way."
We passed a part of Breukelen 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 stripped to the concrete, and the roads covered with sinkholes. Even the streetlights had stopped working. It was the kind of place Mom warned us about, where hoodlums sat like predators, ready to jump anyone nearby, where I'd refuse to walk without a group, or at least Indigo.
The only noise we heard was from our footsteps, but no one else seemed to care. I couldn't help but walk a little faster, closer to Indigo but not too close so Alyssa didn't think that I was too scared.
We took a turn, and a massive chain-link fence stood in front of us.
My jaw dropped. A big white sign dangled over the wall: KEEP OUT! Violators will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law!
Wait, this was a working warehouse lot. It wasn't abandoned, as I thought. Oh, no.
As the sun climbed down over the horizon, Indigo started climbing the fence.
"This is the place," Brenda said, turning to me. "We're about to get ourselves some treasure."
"I thought we were just exploring," I said.
"You kidding? These warehouses hold stuff from all over the world. Clothes, jewelry, you name it, it's here for the taking."
I stopped to take in that sentence.
No way. We couldn't be, could we?
This whole operation took a turn. Instead of walking through a shipping lot or something, we were going to steal from warehouses? This is not what Indigo promised me.
"Brenda, we're here to steal stuff?"
Alyssa raced up the fence, joining Indigo on the other side.
Brenda looked back at me with fire in her eyes.
"Hell yeah, we are. C'mon. Don't be a loser."
Indigo's friend 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 whole thing felt wrong. I thought we'd be exploring, not robbing. I shouldn't have been there. The butterflies in my gut tried to stop me. Despite the red flags going off in my head, I knew I'd come too far to stand around like a wimp. I reached up and grabbed at the massive vertical wall of chain-link. 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 Alyssa watched.
"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, I was too high up to jump and also 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 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 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? Alyssa, get to the warehouse and find a way inside. I'll stay here with Caitlin."
She raced off, her 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 was going to die climbing a fence. I didn't picture myself impressing them like this.
I felt my hands slipping as my body tumbled down from the fence. So, this was what it felt like to face impending death.
Suddenly, after falling onto a softer surface, hands rolled 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 at the red slashes across my palms. After a few short tearing sounds, Indigo shoved two strips of her shirt into my hands.
"Dress your wounds. We've gotta keep moving."
She dragged me by my denim jacket as we raced along the pavement. The fence was the only barrier to the rows of warehouses on the shores of the East River. This was not what I wanted to do tonight.
"Indigo, this isn't what you told me you were doing."
She turned back to me with a huff.
"Caiti," she snapped, "I told you we were going to warehouses. Brenda wanted to steal, but I told her not to."
I tried arguing, but my mouth stayed open in surprise.
"Look," Indigo breathed, "Just run along with me, and everything will be okay. Trust me; I won't let you get in trouble."
I saw glimpses of New Amsterdam glint in the fresh 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 her to meet us at the next warehouse. If she's inside already, we'll have ten minutes to explore the place and bounce. Again, don't touch anything."
I could barely pay attention to her. My hands were bleeding out, and all she cared about was doing some exploring. She slowed down a bit in a show of mercy. I hated this whole night already.
"I'm not gonna touch anything, Indi. Geez."
"Good. And what did I say about not calling me that?"
"Sorry." I didn't mean it.
Indigo breathed a sigh 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 her, but a hand slapped my mouth shut.
"You want us to be arrested, you moron? Shut up!" Indigo hissed.
I didn't want us to get caught, especially not on my first trip.
"Besides," Indigo whispered, "I don't see her. We must be in the wrong warehouse."
The storage building was probably an aircraft hangar at one point because it was freakishly huge. Big wooden boxes lined aisles upon aisles, marked with a few numbers and a big logo of a comet flying upwards. Wait, is that the logo of the-
"Caiti, isn't that the Jetpack company, MaraStrike, or something?"
I nodded as I looked behind to see if anyone was coming. When I looked back, Indigo was already on the other side of the box, away from the door, prying one of them open.
"Indigo!" I exclaimed between gritted teeth. I raced forward to try to stop her.
She kept pulling on the latches and opened the box.
"Caiti, are you still in that jetpack phase after seeing that ridiculous movie?"
"It's not a phase," I protested in a whisper.
"Ha, whatever," She snickered as she reached into the open crate and pulled out one with two hands. My jaw dropped at the sight of the beautiful piece of machinery.
It was the first-ever commercially-ready jetpack. The engine was a lightweight, high-powered electric motor that could accelerate from zero to sixty miles an hour in under 5.98 seconds. It's the first jetpack to use electricity to pump out air for thrust. It cost as much as a luxury car.
"Caiti," she began," I know tonight's been rough, but let me make it up to you."
Indigo held out the jetpack for me.
"Happy belated birthday."
Forgetting that my birthday was about a month ago, I stared down at the metal and wooden casing etched with the MaraStrike logo. It blew me away so much to see it up close.
Then I felt a barrier between me and the jetpack. I wasn't supposed to take it.
"No, Indigo. I can't have this."
"Yes, you can. Just take it by the straps."
"Indigo, I don't want it."
"Trust me. This jetpack is as good as yours. You love jetpacks, then just take one. No biggie."
"But how the hell will we get it out of here?"
"It's as big as your knapsack. You can wear it. Come on!"
"I don't want it. No way!"
"Caitlin, don't be a wimp. Just take it."
As I pushed it away, I felt the smoothness of the wooden and metal case.
Then I saw the streaks of blood my hands left behind. I stared at the blood on my hands, then back at the jetpack. If I didn't take it, they would connect me to this crime scene and my life as I knew it would be over.
Suddenly, flashes of blue and red flooded into the room.
"Shit," Indigo squeaked as she grabbed me and pulled me down, hiding from the door.
"Indigo, what's going on?" I cried. Her 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.
I heard a deep voice outside the door.
"Did you see the commotion in this one, sir?"
We held our breath. This could be it. The police may arrest us for theft, and Mom would kill us after the cops got to us.
My phone started vibrating. The ringtone would follow. I felt Indigo's eyes widen at me as I silenced it before the first notes of the ringtone could be played.
"No. The other warehouse. Quickly, before we lose them."
"Indigo," I whispered, grabbing at her shirt, "we have to help her!"
"No can do," she said as she looked back towards the flashing lights.
"Rule number one of trespassing: once the cops show up, it's everyone for themselves. The fence would take too long with this jetpack, so if I'm correct..."
Indigo's phone lit up our 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. Are you ready to run to the other side and follow exactly as I say?"
This was insane. Indigo was insane. She was going to get us into trouble, running out into the open with the jetpack. I felt the cops open the door behind us. My heart was beating so hard that I felt it in my throat.
Then I saw Indigo's coolness as the phone illuminated her face. She wasn't scared of running into chaos. I nodded as fast as I could while strapping the jetpack over my back.
"Good. We move in three, two, one, NOW."
The two of us bolted for the opposite side of the warehouse. The jetpack's surprising weight slammed my homework into my back. When we reached the door, Indigo glanced through the dirty glass window.
"No cars on this side of the lot."
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 track 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.
My sister checked to see if anyone was watching us, and then swung that door open too. The two of us raced out into the night and didn't stop until we reached the subway tunnel.