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Stained Glass

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She hangs up with Aunt Dana just as they find a spot in the bushes behind Aubrey’s house.

“How’d she take it?” Jessica whispers as they settle onto the ground. She hisses, leaning to the side to pull a stick from under her.

“She’s not happy,” Chloe says, which is an understatement. Aunt Dana had sounded very angry and also very breathless, like maybe she was running here. Considering they had taken her van, she might be, for all Chloe knows.

“We’re so all getting grounded.” Ashley chuckles. “We’re nearly thirty. And we’re definitely going to get grounded.”

Chloe smiles as they laugh, because she’s right. Mamma is going to throw a fit and probably never let any of them leave the house again. At this point, though, Chloe wouldn’t mind that at all. She just wants all of her girls together again, piled in front of the TV or a bonfire. She wants Amy to argue with Lilly about mafia tactics, Cynthia Rose to braid Ashley’s hair while Jessica reads funny recaps of their favorite TV show, Flo to practice cartwheels with Eli, Stacie and Emily to stop pretending they don’t have something going on. Because they have not been subtle. Even Chloe, who is, admittedly, not the quickest to pick up on some things, has known for a while that there was something there.

She wants Aubrey to listen to more of Beca’s music, to see more of what made Chloe fall for--

Oh, wow, what a time to have that thought.

Chloe tunes back in to what Ashley and Jessica are saying, trying not to think about how she feels a little like she just hit the drop on a roller coaster.  

“--I don’t see anyone inside anymore. They must all be in the back rooms.” Jessica leans further out of the bush to squint at the market.

“Do you see Beca or CR?” Chloe pushes aside a couple branches to take a look too. Nothing moves below them.

“Nope.”

“Good.” She lets out a quick breath, gritting her teeth and eyeing the treeline herself.

All three of them jump when something crunches back near the house.

She rolls up to one knee, putting a finger to her lips. Jessica and Ashley follow her lead and rise to half-crouches behind her. But before they can do more than creep a few paces toward the house, Mickey steps around the corner, onto the back patio. His jeans and shoes are caked with dried mud and his jacket sleeve is torn at the elbow. There’s mud under his chin.

He stops. “Sissy?”

“Mickey?” She motions for him to get down. She knows there’s really no obvious reason to be whispering or even hiding. They could just be a group of people hanging out in their backyard. But Aubrey was probably kidnapped from this very house and supposedly being held in the very fish market it overlooks, so she stays low and motions for Mickey to get down. He does, blinking owlishly.

“What are you doing here?” He tugs at his sleeves, crouching so his knees are pressed to his chest and his hands meet in front of his ankles. It’s strange, how much smaller he looks than she remembers him. “Where are the cops?”

“What are you doing here?” She ignores his second question. “You said you saw Aubrey in the market and you got away from here.”

“I did.” He pauses to wrap his fingers around the toes of his sneakers. “But I came back. In case you needed me.”

She hates that she doesn’t immediately accept that, but she trusted him before. She’s here. So she finds that again and nods. “How did you find her?”

“I was looking. When the cops showed up, I got Uncle Lew to give me a ride to town. Asked around.” His nose scrunches suddenly, like he might sneeze. “Asked a bunch of people you wouldn’t like me talking to...but I found her!”

“Did you actually see her?”

“Yeah, yeah. I, um. Look.” He rocks forward onto his hands and knees and crawls past her, following the line of bushes to the end of the backyard, where the ground drops away suddenly, headed for the river bank below. She remembers Aubrey saying something about it not being a “child or pet friendly” property when they’d first gotten the house. But she’d loved the view of the bustling market on the weekends and the bay windows in the office so much that Jesse had sworn he’d build the sturdiest fence in the world the second one of those things came along.

But now, it’s basically a cliffside. The drop isn’t actually that far, but she leans back from it anyways.

Mickey twists around, pulling a folded piece of paper from his pocket and opening it. It’s one of the pictures Mamma was handing out to the volunteers. “Old boy Shek said he saw her at the market when he came to get some, uh.” He glances at her. “Some tuna or some shit, I don't know. But he went in and he swore he saw a girl that looked like her in one of the back rooms when they opened the door. I wanted to be sure before I called you guys though, so I came here and one of the ladies said they were closed. So I came up here and nobody seemed to be home at this place.” He gestures vaguely to the house, closing one eye and Chloe realizes he doesn't know whose house it is. “So I snuck back here and slid down to the water. It’s real shallow. Walked close as I could and hid under the docks.”

She eyes his jeans again, and the dried flakes of mud that crack off every time he shifts.

“They were moving her from one room to another and had her hands tied, Sissy.” He thrusts the crumpled picture at her. “I only saw her for a second, but it’s definitely her.”

She takes the picture, glancing down at Aubrey’s smiling face. She’s riding on Jesse’s back, her chin resting on his head. Jesse’s smiling too, his eyes closed, his fingers resting on the forearm she has wrapped around his neck.

Mickey tugs his sleeves down over his hands as soon as they’re empty.

“You don’t even know Aubrey. You’ve never met her.” She holds up the picture. “Are you sure it was her?”

He nods, no hesitation. “I’ve seen her before. On your Facebook. I look sometimes.” Her nose itches and she blinks quickly, hoping it will stop. “But it’s her. So I got out of there and called you.” His eyes are wide, adamant, begging her to believe him.

She takes a deep breath, folding the picture up and slipping it into her own pocket. “Okay. You know I had to ask. After everything.” After all the years of him lying to her, to Mamma, to everyone. After years of him not talking to them at all.

Pausing, he clicks his teeth together a few times, his jaw shifting out to the side. “Why’d you come?”

“What?”

“Why’d you come? If you don’t trust me.” There’s no anger there, just a quiet sort of acceptance. It’s just a fact. She doesn’t trust him. She has good reason not to and they both know it.

But Chloe’s here. She trusts him with this. “You wouldn’t lie to me about this.” He flinches a little when she reaches out and presses a closed fist against his bent knee. “I just had to know how sure you were that you’re right.”

“Should we call Beca and CR?” Ashley says, hushed, but Chloe still almost jumps. She’d nearly forgotten they were there.

“Yeah, they should know Aubrey’s definitely inside.” She pulls out her phone, already dialing.

“Where are they?” Mickey turns around, like he expects them to climb out of the bushes they were hiding behind when he arrived or come out of the house.

“They went down the hill to check things out,” Jessica says.

Chloe listens to the phone ring a few times before she hears her own voice say, “You’ve reached Beca Mitchell’s phone! She’s unavailable right now, but leave a message and she’ll get right back to you!” She hangs up. She’d fought Beca for hours to let her record that voicemail.

Mickey reaches out, tapping a dirt-crusted nail against the edge of her phone once. “You can’t call her then. Phones don’t work down there.”

“Yes, they do.” Chloe calls Cynthia Rose. A few rings, then a husky, “Yo, it’s CR. Leave it after the beep.” She frowns, hanging up. “I’ve been there plenty of times. I’ve never had a problem before.”

Mickey shrugs. “I know. Me too. But my phone wouldn’t work when I was down there. Didn’t start working again until I was, like, halfway up the hill.”

“Shit.” Chloe presses the edge of the phone into her thigh, focusing on the slight pinch in her skin instead of the anxious bubbling in her chest. “So we can’t reach them if something happens. Shit.”

Ashley takes out her own phone. “Maybe that’s why we couldn’t get a hold of Lilly and Flo. Do you think they're down there?”

“Call Stacie,” Jessica says. Ashley nods and quickly starts dialing, putting it on speaker.

She answers on the first ring. “Hey! I was just about to call you, what a coincidence, um--”

She’s talking too fast and it strikes a warning bell somewhere in the back of Chloe’s head. “Stacie,” she says, cutting her off. “What happened?”

“Okay, so. We’re up the hill, sitting in the van. And, uh. Well, Amy said she saw something and so Legacy and I were looking. But then I turned around and…”

“Amy was gone,” Chloe sighs, running her hands back into her hair. “Oh my god, of course she is. Listen, Stacie. Mickey’s here. He says that phones don’t work down by the market. We can’t call Beca and them if something happens.”

“Shit,” Stacie’s voice crackles at the end, slipping into white noise for a second. “--we need to let them know. Somebody should--”

But Chloe isn’t listening anymore. Because a woman has come out of the market below, headed for the water. She squints, unsure if she’s really seeing what she thinks she is. But then the small woman drops her plastic tub on one of the docks and tosses her hair in such a familiar way that Chloe gasps. “Flo!”


The water is warm as she slides quietly into it. Her back is aching and she's a little shaky from their slide down the drop off from Aubrey's place. She's pretty sure she left behind a few layers of skin along the way. Mickey keeps hold of her hands until he’s sure her feet are steady. Then he pulls out his cell and holds it over his head as he wades deeper. There are a few trees between them and the docks, but not enough to really hide them if anyone should come out, so Chloe follows him, glad she left her phone with Jessica and Ashley.

Beca’s going to kill her, she thinks as the water rises past her waist and lifts the hem of her shirt to lap at her stomach and back. Of course, there’s a very long list of people that will kill her when they find out what she’s doing, but she thinks Beca might be tied for number one spot with Mamma, Stacie, and Aubrey. She’s going to be murdered four ways to Sunday.

So long as she doesn’t get herself actually murdered by a water moccasin or something else in this river. Or by kidnappers. Because she really should have waited until Mel came back or Aunt Dana arrived, but it’s Flo. And she’s inside. So Lilly must be too, she hopes. But what the hell are they doing in there?

The water’s at her chest now and she grimaces, brushing aside a beetle floating in the water as she follows Mickey toward the docks. Flo’s gone back in already and everything is still again. She hopes Stacie managed to find Beca and the others before they return to Aubrey’s house and find her gone. She hasn’t even gotten to ask Beca out officially and she’s so going to be in the dog house.

Mickey leaves the shallows and swims under the first dock, reaching up to catch one of the crossbeams to keep the water from bobbing him away. She copies him, flicking wet hair off her chin. The air under the dock is heavy and rancid, burning at her nostrils and eyes. Fish guts, she thinks, looking down toward the third dock, the one Flo and those women earlier had been on. “Now what?” she whispers, turning her nose into her arm to breathe against her sleeve.

He closes one eye and grins so suddenly that she momentarily forgets to breathe. Because he looks so much like their dad. If he had on a backwards baseball cap and a grease-covered t-shirt, she wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. “We hang out until your friend comes back.” He swishes his hips side to side to demonstrate that he is actually just hanging from the crossbeam, not floating in the water.

“Oh my god. You’re an idiot,” she hisses at him.

His grin morphs into more of a twisted grimace and he shrugs as best as he can with both arms above his head. “Yeah. Kind of.” His nose scrunches. “So. Beca.”

She knows that tone. It’s the same tone Uncle Lew had used when Chloe had first brought Tom around. Of course, he’d been right to be suspicious, but it had annoyed Chloe then. Back when she thought Tom was a sweetheart with romantic move after romantic move up his sleeves. And it annoys her now too, but differently. Because Beca is not Tom. She’d barely known Tom when she started bringing him around, all young and stupid in love. But she knows Beca better than she knows herself sometimes. Tom was made of lies and distrust so she never ended up with a complete picture of him in her head. Everything was always a little blurry with him. But Beca is solid. She’s purple and music and afternoon naps. She’s that disgusting grape yogurt she loves and random facts about everything. She’s secretly softball and swimming and sudden Pitbull lyrics. She’s hidden equalizer bars and slow dances when Chloe’s too full of emotion to speak. She’s the best damn roommate this side of the Atlantic and Chloe will be damned if anyone tries to question her.

Especially Mickey, with his many years of silence floating between them. And she’s just opened her mouth to say so when he continues.

“She seems cool.” He readjusts his grip. “I mean, I only saw her for, like, a second in the kitchen and when I got to the house. But she looks like she takes good care of you.”

Oh. She blinks at him, rethinking the tone she thought she’d heard.

He must take her lack of a response as not believing him, because he turns to catch her eye. “‘Cause you were crying about Aubrey? And she did the whole hugging and reassuring thing pretty well.” A frog croaks somewhere. “Sorry I didn’t do that stuff. I was kind of out of it.”

She listens to the water slap at the dock’s support beams for a few moments, then whispers, “Withdrawal can do that to you, I hear.”

Mickey doesn’t respond, so she focuses on wondering if whatever she just felt brush her leg was a fish or a water moccasin. She hates snakes. Or, oh my god, what if it was an alligator? There’s fish guts in the water. That should attract alligators, right? Why didn’t she think about this before she got into the river?

To be fair, she hadn’t known there were fish guts floating under the docks, but she maybe should have. This is a fish market.

She hears a muffled voice from somewhere above them and goes still, listening. She knows that voice, muttering quietly in Spanish. There’s no other voices, so she risks leaning her head out a little.

Flo’s alone, heading for the third dock again, carrying another large plastic tub, which Chloe can now see if full of fish guts. She puts it down on the edge of the dock, still ranting away to herself in Spanish.

“Flo!” Chloe hisses, then a little louder when Flo doesn’t answer.

She looks up, plastic tub half-tilted toward the water as she frowns around the docks. Finally, she spots Chloe. With an indignant huff, she rights the tub and straightens, hands on her hips. “Chloe! It’s about damn time you get here!” She pauses. “What are you doing down there?”