Our last chapter of the year! Hope you kids enjoy.
“This is taking way too long.” Neve complained, then kicked a pebble across the quarry floor. The sun had dipped almost too low in the sky to see from the bottom of that massive bowl, and was now only a sliver of orange light on the horizon. They had been thrown into the shadows awhile ago, so now they were all standing in a shade that was at least twenty degrees colder than it had been during their long, long day.
Mica shivered and wrapped her arms around herself. For the umpteenth time, she wished she was wearing something other than a flapper-style showgirl dress. A few feet away, Riley stared silently at the ground, and she decided it was on her to give a reply.
“I told you Sorrel wouldn’t be back for hours at least, if she came at all.” Mica reminded her. “And hopefully she has the sense to run away and never come back.”
“But Feb’s not here either.” Neve pointed out, a hand on her chin. “That doesn’t seem right.”
Mica couldn’t really argue that point, but she couldn’t say if something was wrong. This was so unusual for all of them, there was no telling where February would be or what she would be doing. Riley looked up and shrugged.
“Maybe she wants to get here last so she can protect herself.” She spoke quietly. “This is a dangerous situation, after all.”
“I guess.” Neve said, though she didn’t seem satisfied with that. “But if Aidy’s okay then she and Sorrel should be here soon, right?”
“She is okay.” Mica said, though she sounded more confident than she really was. She had no idea if Aidy was truly alive, but she’d had to stay optimistic in front of her wife, for her sake, and now she had to stay optimistic again to keep Riley from calling her a traitor. She suspected that Neve too was beginning to blame Sorrel more than the unpredictable woman in that quarry with them, if Neve herself wasn’t the one responsible for all this. Mica felt a rage in her that wouldn’t go away, a pure, fiery anger that would only be quenched with the avenging of Celeste’s death – but even so, she found it difficult to suspect one of her own of something so heinous.
Riley cast her a doubtful look, and she scowled and hugged herself tighter as she felt a shiver run down her spine. Riley looked a little downcast, then unzipped her black jacket and held it out to her. Mica eyed it suspiciously for a moment, and Riley hummed her annoyance.
“Come on, a jacket’s not gonna kill you.” She said, then looked a little more earnest. “I promise it’s not laced with explosives or something.”
Neve snorted, and Mica hesitated a moment. Her eyes slid to the bag several feet away, the one on the ground stuffed with a grand prize that hadn’t been worth any of this. At the beginning of the day, Riley had advised her to take it, find Sorrel and run, the number one reason she couldn’t truly accuse her of this. But now she was saying the exact opposite, threatening her wife and waiting anxiously for her arrival so she could – what, yell at her? Try to kill her? Reveal herself as the villain? Mica couldn’t wrap her head around it, but none of the possibilities sounded any good to her.
“You trusted me in that parking lot. You said I would keep the cash safe.” She recalled. “Why don’t you have faith in me now?”
Riley frowned, and Mica noted Neve study her intently. After a long moment, she sighed.
“Does it really matter what I think? I know I’m the wild one, I know that’s why none of you feel like you can trust me right now.” She gave Neve a purposeful look, and Neve glanced away. “You can’t anticipate my next move. You can’t rely on me to be there for you.”
“There was a time when that was part of your charm.” Neve said quietly. “Yesterday and every day before that, as it so happens.”
“I want to know what you’re thinking.” Mica cut in. “You’re still my friend, somehow.”
Neve was the one who looked doubtful this time whilst Riley just looked somber.
“I didn’t consider Sorrel back in that parking lot. I didn’t consider anyone.” She admitted. “I’m sorry, Mica, this is just what makes sense. I’m not targeting you or your wife because I hate you or something. I still love you.”
“It’s just what you believe.” Mica finished her thought, and Riley nodded. It was almost worse, to really believe something so awful, but that was just where they were now. Could she really blame her for anger if it was what she herself felt in spades? She took the jacket. Grateful for the warmth as she slipped it on, she nodded to Riley, who only glanced down at her shoes and took a step back, further away from the group.
“This is still taking too long.” Neve said again. “I don’t like it.”
“So you’ve said.” Mica groaned. “What do you want us to do, Neve? We knew we’d be stuck here until Feb showed up.”
“Which I thought would be sooner.” She shook her head. “I’m giving her until nightfall, then I’m out of here.”
“Sorrel will be here before then.” Riley pointed out. “Just wait for her. That was our plan from the start, let’s not get jittery now.”
“Fine.” Neve said, her voice tight, and they fell silent for a long moment.
“Should we do anything until then?” Mica asked, caught between exhaustion and restlessness. She hoped that Neve would have some new orders to give them, but instead she just looked stern.
“I’d suggest that we start placing bets, but it seems that winning and losing are the same thing today.” She glanced over to the cash.
“Anyone have a deck of cards?” Riley asked, only half-joking, but Mica shook her head.
“I’m tired of card games. I’m tired of gamblers.” She said. “Sorrel and I are getting out of this stupid city after this no matter what happens.”
“I don’t believe that.” Neve said flatly. “I don’t believe you’d both leave your home and your family behind, even after this.”
“Whatever’s left of that family.” Mica muttered bitterly, and Riley frowned once more. “I can’t stay here anymore.”
“So if you can’t take Las Vegas you’ll settle for Reno, is that it?” Riley asked. “Not the best trade-off.”
“For you, Ry, I’ll stop by Area 51.” Mica smiled a little, then winced as a terribly painful thought came to her. “Celeste would have loved that.”
“I still say you won’t leave.” Neve jumped in quickly, maybe so she didn’t have to think of their fallen friend. “Wait before making that kind of decision.”
Mica said nothing. She didn’t want to flee, but she had no other choice. She could only hope that her wife would feel the same way, or at least sympathize enough to compromise and run off with her. It had been too painful today, and they’d lost too much already.
“We’ll need to take Celeste from the morgue.” She said quietly. Neve looked tense, and Riley glum.
“We’ll use her cut to give her a funeral.” Riley said after a moment. “We’ll pay off a mortician.”
“Feb will probably want something lavish.” Mica continued, and blinked back tears. “I don’t think Celeste could ever say no to her.”
“We can donate the rest.” Neve said softly, her eyes all red. “None of us have to take her share, we can give it to the orphans or something.”
Mica grimaced and squeezed her eyes shut. She’d forgotten about a funeral. Of course she had to stay for it, but not after. It was the worst thing to imagine, though it was easy to do so; there’d be so much sadness and almost as much anger and regret. Feb would make a toast and a grand speech, but who knew which of them would be there to hear it.
“I’m so sorry, Mica.” She heard Riley say, her voice raw, and opened her eyes to find her pouting and wiping away tears. Neve wasn’t crying, but she looked on edge for reasons Mica didn’t understand. She felt guilty for a moment – she’d been so angry and accusatory that she hadn’t considered that they’d all lost someone.
“I’m sorry, too, Riley.” She replied. “You lost a friend, too.”
“Why don’t you take a walk and clear your head.” Neve suggested, but Mica held up a hand.
“No, it’s okay, Ry, you’re amongst friends. We can take care of you.” She said, and took a step forward with her hand outstretched, but Riley flinched and drew back.
“But I can’t do the same, and I don’t deserve it!” She cried out. “And you should be as furious as Neve was. She was our friend, she was a little sister to me!”
Mica looked over to Neve, whose jaw was clenched as she stared at Riley as though she were attempting telepathy. She glanced back to Riley too, and the guilt shown so brightly on her teary expression that she was taken aback. It hit her then, as swift and cruel as she’d expected, and she felt the cold sweat of dread bead at her forehead.
“You’re the traitor.” She whispered, but Riley shook her head.
“No, I’m not, even though Neve accused me of the same. Even though you two have probably been planning something behind my back.” She said as Neve worried her lip. “I’m just the worst kind of murderer, Mica, and I’m so sorry for it.”
“Oh.” She said, then felt her chest tighten as tears began to drip down her face. “Oh no. Oh no, Celeste.”
She fell to her knees as she finally realized what had happened, and Riley was smart enough not to approach her. She could hardly breathe and just wanted to sit on the ground and cry for years and years, but somehow she found herself looking up to her remorseful friend.
“Why?” She asked, then felt the heat of her anger sear at her throat. “She was our family! She was innocent!”
“I – I thought you knew.” Riley hesitated, then glanced to Neve, whose expression had gone stony. “You – I thought you would have told her.”
Mica glared between the both of them. She had been right when she’d learned Celeste had died, right when she screamed that she couldn’t trust anyone anymore. And yet it still hurt more than anything to have that dark thought reaffirmed. For the moment, however, she needed to focus on the woman who murdered her best friend.
“Why did you kill her?” Mica asked again fiercely. “Riley, answer me!”
“Because I’m a selfish idiot! Because I thought Feb would fix this!” Riley bawled. “Because I’m a greedy coward!”
“It was for the money?” Mica practically snarled as she pointed to the duffel bag. “That’s what Celeste was worth to you?”
“For the cash, for us going back to normal! She made it seem so noble, Mica. To let her die for our cause.” She wiped a few more tears away, her entire face red. “It wasn’t, I was so stupid to think that. She always thought she had to pay a price, I never should have let her.”
Mica breathed hard as she absorbed the words, then shook her head.
“What did she think of you?” She seethed. “Did she love you? Fear you?”
“Maybe she loved me. Mostly she hated me.” Riley admitted. “She thought I was the traitor right to the end.”
“Smart girl.” Mica grimaced. She would say the same right away, pull out her gun and end this whole thing before Feb ever showed up, but Riley’s words earlier gave her pause, and she glanced over to Neve, who saw her immediately and seemed to dread the attention. “Did you know about this? Did she tell you before she abandoned you to the police?”
“Don’t act like I’m the bad guy here, Mica.” Neve warned. “Riley abandoned me twice. She killed Celeste.”
“And you knew and said nothing about it.” Mica pointed out harshly, and out of the corner of her eye saw Riley’s expression grow curious.
“I was waiting for February.” She said, and looked calm and earnest enough for Mica to begrudgingly believe it. “So she could keep things under control. You said you wanted to kill Celeste’s killer.”
“Don’t.” Riley pleaded. “Give me a chance to patch things up, Mica. I know I don’t deserve anyone’s forgiveness, but let’s see things through before we get to doling out punishments.”
“Shut up.” Mica warned, then turned back to Neve. “You would have stopped me from avenging our friend, is that it?”
“It’s not up to us. It’s up to our boss.” Neve said, and though she’d always been loyal to February, Mica sensed that something wasn’t quite right. “But I’m not going to risk my life to stand between you and a traitor, so it’s your decision now.”
Mica was torn. Riley had admitted it herself, and she knew for a fact that she had been terrible this whole time, but she couldn’t trust Neve either. When February finally arrived, could she trust her? The woman had been their boss for so long and had earned nothing but respect, but misgiving seemed to be the word of the day. She looked over to Riley, who’d gotten her tears under control but still had a quivering lip and a look of disgrace, and a thought came to her.
“Did she say something in the end? Any last words?” She asked, and Riley stifled another sob.
“Oh, Mica.” Riley squeaked out. “I’m sorry, but –”
“Guys?” A faint, almost hollow voice called out from the distance.
Neve screamed, and Mica watched Riley jump out of her skin as she did the same. Her hand flew to her gun as she spun around, and her eyes immediately landed on a pile of dirty, damp hair and an open wound that could have been from a zombie movie. But the moment passed and she instead saw a bedraggled, skinny girl in a shining dress and an ugly pair of shoes that matched her own. It was Aidy, still alive somehow and at the bottom of the path to the ground and headed their way with slow, cautious steps. Mica sighed with relief as Neve’s expression went slack, her knuckles no longer white on the gun she’d taken out when she first saw their nearly unrecognizable friend.
“Aidy!” Neve cried out thankfully, and dropped the gun she’d pulled as she rushed over and wrapped her in a tight embrace. Aidy looked beyond relieved and clung to her tightly. Her own eyes were wide, maybe not in disbelief that she was still alive but certainly in shock at her pitiful appearance. Next to her, Riley almost looked sick, though she couldn’t say why.
“Are you okay?” Neve asked as she released her, and Mica walked over just in time to see Neve examine her head and turn away to fight a gag. Aidy looked exhausted, pale with deep bags beneath her eyes, but she still found a moment to roll her eyes and give Mica a fond smile. Mica reciprocated it gladly as she fully realized what was happening, the fact that her wonderful friend was safe. But she was also alone.
“I’ll live.” She replied softly, and Mica stepped up and wrapped her in a tentative hug as her eyes scanned the quarry for another new arrival. She held her tightly, but released her after a disappointing moment, having seen no one else. Aidy’s eyes fell on Riley, who stood back and stared as though she’d seen a ghost.
“I really thought . . .” Riley mumbled, then furrowed her brow. “Where’s Sorrel?”
Mica looked to Aidy expectantly, but all at once her expression went as fearful as it did mournful, and Mica felt like she’d taken a punch to the throat.
“Aidy? Just tell me the truth, don’t be scared.” She managed after a very silent moment. “Where’s my wife?”
“Prison.” Aidy said as her eyes welled up. “I’m so sorry, Meek.”
Everything became a blur as she struggled to breathe, and next thing she knew the whole world tilted backwards.