It took twenty minutes to pack.
Open a drawer, throw underwear into her much-graffitied Louis Vuitton overnight bag. Open another drawer, throw pants and T-shirts into the matching weekend bag. Tie the arms of her one nice jacket through the arms of the weekend bag, phone, charger, headphones.
The Hobbit bundle of cheese lay on her bed, nothing but crumbs left.
Her room – one of the few private rooms that her house had – would be safe while she was gone. And if it wasn’t, there was nothing so personal that it would hurt to lose. She was the weird, drunk loser, but her name protected her from a lot of the bullying she would otherwise be likely to receive.
As much as she hated her family, there were too many people well aware of exactly how much power they wielded, of how well-respected her father was in legal circles, of how her grandparents could destroy the careers of anyone who pissed them off.
So as much fun and immediately satisfying it would have been to make her life a living hell, most of her peers kept their bullying to shitty comments behind her back and whispered rumours when they thought she couldn’t hear.
She was ignored, and that suited her.
Now, if only the rest of the world would follow suit, she’d be happy.
The room phone rang, and she hit the speaker button. ‘Yes?’
‘Your car service is here. They’ve been instructed to wait in the visitor’s lot.’
‘Thanks.’ She ended the call, lifted her bags, and walked out of the room. She locked the door, jammed her keys into her pocket, then walked quietly towards the car park, trying to avoid drawing any attention from the few students roaming the halls.
The car was waiting, a sleek black town car – nothing fancy, but also nothing special – like the clothes James had gotten to replace her bloody uniform. It was of their class, but it was the bottom-tier of what was acceptable in public.
The driver was a handsome woman with short hair, in an impeccable chauffeur’s uniform. The driver took a quick look at her phone, then nodded. ‘Miss Mimosa,’ she said as she approached, ‘please let me take your bags.’
‘Sure,’ she said, and handed over both bags, but kept her phone and her headphones – the trip was easily going to be two or three hours, and there was no way in hell that she was going to attempt to make small talk for that long; or to live in silence for so many miles.
She opened the back, passenger-side door and paused. There were several packages there on the driver’s side, including several in the iconic Tiffany Blue.
A more naive girl would have wondered if the backseat full of expensive items were half a bribe and half an apology for beating the shit out of her. A world-weary girl knew the truth.
She straightened and looked at the driver over the top of the car. ‘You’re a courier, aren’t you?’
‘Yes, miss.’ The driver smiled. ‘This trip must have been pretty last minute to be lumped in with freight, huh?’
She gave the driver a neutral smile – there was no need to word vomit about her family situation. ‘Spur of the moment,’ she agreed. ‘And don’t worry, I’ll be as quiet as your other packages.’ She ducked her head and climbed into the car, careful to avoid throwing her phone and charger near the expensive items.
‘Let me know if you need anything,’ the driver said as she started the car. ‘Or if you need to stop. I’ve got a lunch break scheduled in ninety minutes, unavoidable, sorry.’
Stef gave another neutral smile – she was sure it was the kind of expression that the driver expected of speaking cargo. ‘If you pull into somewhere that does pasta, you can expense it to this account. And I’m bloody dying for a Coke if we can stop at a shop before we get on the motorway.’
The driver leant over the passenger seat, there was a soft noise, and she offered a can between the seats. ‘You’re not my first human cargo, so I keep a cooler of drinks. Anything else, miss?’
Stef shook her head, and cracked the can open. She gulped down half of the cool liquid, then slipped on her headphones, and resumed listening to Frankenstein, read by Alain Renard. She loved Alain’s voice – it was something like if Stephen Fry had crammed into a blender with a French aristocrat that had avoided the guillotine.
She was related to Alain somehow – and he was one of the few members of her family that she didn’t hate, simply by virtue of never having met the man.
Some pedants insisted on screaming “Frankenstein was the doctor, not the monster” every time the book was brought up – and she counted herself amongst the quieter variety of those people – accuracy was accuracy after all. But there was also the special pleasure of looking at the louder pedants who were only screaming the meme for the sake of trying to look smart and asking what they thought of the conjecture the monster should rightfully be called “Adam”.
The looks of confusion were a small prize, and she’d politely suggest that they read the book, expanding their own knowledge, instead of just pissing on people who hadn’t.
The scenery rolled, and she fell asleep listening to Alain’s voice.
The trip was uneventful. The driver didn’t try to make small talk – and even lunch was blessedly silent, each of them on their phones.
It was early evening when the car finally pulled up in front of Applegate Court. The driver jumped out and went to the boot to retrieve her bags, even as the concierge rushed to open her door.
‘Good evening, Miss,’ the concierge – his name badge reading “Keanan” said. ‘We’ve had your rooms serviced, the refrigerator filled, and the place aired out. We only have basic onsite food prep, but I can send along some menus if you’re after dinner, and one of our runners can go fetch it for you.’
Words. A lot of words. And fast. ‘Um, yeah, that would be great.’
Keanan accepted the bags from the driver, who tipped her cap and walked, scrawling on paperwork – likely to indicate the time her cargo had been delivered. Keanan looked at the smaller of her bags, at the vandalised LV’s and frowned. ‘I can have this cleaned for you if you like.’
‘Don’t bother,’ she said airily, trying to remember what her mother’s voice had sounded like. ‘I’m replacing it soon enough.’
‘Please,’ Keanan said, and lead her into the building.
Keanan, like the driver before him, knew better than to try and make small talk. Telling her room was ready was one thing, asking about the weather and her day was another.
After he deposited her bags on the desk in the entry area of the apartment, he handed her the keys and assured her that the menus would be up soon. She thanked him and locked the door behind him.
The small suite of rooms was bigger than the space she was afforded whenever she went back to the family estate – that was the smallest the standard spaces, a simple bedroom with an attached bathroom.
This apartment, however, was big enough to live in. Somewhere between a studio and a one bedroom apartment, many of the walls had apparently been knocked down sometime during the remodel in the nineties to give it a more open plan feel, to open up the space that was there in order to make the space feel bigger.
Bedroom with a king bed, kitchenette – no oven, but a full-size fridge, the entry area that functioned as a small office, a lounge area with attendant TV and couches, and a bathroom with a nice deep bath.
It was big enough to live in, not that anyone in her family would have ever considered it.
And there was no point in hoping that her father would just gift it to her, so that was a stillborn dream not worth entertaining.
In some other reality, it could have been a home, but for now, that word was hollow and without real meaning.
“Home” right now meant…probably her room back at school, if someone were to force an answer out of her – it was where her stuff was, where she slept, and…that was about it. It didn’t mean safety and comfort and somewhere she was truly glad to go back to. It was home by default, and therefore, not really home at all.
‘That’s how it’ s-‘ Inside voice, she had to use her inside voice, even when alone. It had always been a must, but now she had mere weeks to get it under control, or her future was going to be nothing but straight jackets and drugged oblivion.
If she didn’t escape her family, she’d never had even the shadow of a chance to find a home for herself – and even a worthless pile of shit like her probably deserved somewhere to call home.