Warning: This work has been rated 18+ for language.
Back home in Kiplett, Lilli’s room was decorated with posters of all the Broadway shows she had wanted to see in her lifetime. She fell asleep with the stars she idolized watching over her, show tunes ringing in her ears from a late night streaming soundtracks and researching the history of theater. She had never been much of an actor herself—even if her dad did like to see her up on stage—but she spent most of her time studying diagrams of concert halls, amphitheaters, modern and ancient spaces to enjoy the performing arts. She would print them off and tack them to a cork board until she moved on to a different period in history, or a different style of architecture, and then she tore them down and replaced them. She couldn’t even remember what color her walls were; it had been ten years since her dad painted them.
This room was white. It was white, and stark, and bare. Standing in the center of it, Lilli felt like she could see into eternity—three out of the four walls were completely blank except for the door, the closet, and the smudges where a desk and bookshelf used to be pressed up against the paint.
Even looking out the huge window didn’t help. It just made her feel like the world was shrinking, too small, too far below her to help. She was an astronaut on her way to the edge of the universe; she had left Earth behind for good. Lilli leaned against the glass that took up nearly an entire wall of her room and wondered who had thought that was a smart idea in one of the stormiest cities in the US.
She stepped back and pulled the curtains closed over the window—white. What else did she expect? The walls were white, the tiles were white, even the full bed was white all around, frame and bedspread.
A timid knock on the door frame interrupted her disgust. Lilli spun on her heel and forced a smile on her face. “Yeah?”
Cate focused very closely on the end of her braid as she undid it. “I almost forgot, I have to go into work for one last thing today. Boss wants to make sure everything’s filed away in the right place before I disappear for a week.” She ran her nails through her hair, tearing at invisible knots, and refused to even glance up at Lilli. “If you don’t mind, I’d rather not leave you here alone—I mean, you don’t know where everything is yet. It should only be an hour or so.”
Lilli bit back her automatic response—Do I have a choice?—and let her smile spread to her eyes. “Can we get something to eat while we’re out? I’m starving.”
“Oh, definitely! There’s this really nice Thai place on the way home, they’ve got sushi to die for.” Cate chewed at her bottom lip, her shaky smile collapsing into a slight frown. “And the public library is a block over, you know, since you probably don’t want to hang at the PD for an hour. I’ve got a library card you can use, if you want.”
It wasn’t worth protesting that. Lilli wouldn’t have spent that hour in the police department if she got paid for it. Law enforcement made her uneasy enough as it was; she didn’t exactly get along with the police back in Kiplett. Especially not after that outburst when her dad got arrested.
“Thanks,” she said. She wasn’t sure how to respond to that physically. Was she supposed to hug Cate now? Would Cate even want to hug her after that scene in the elevator? Lilli was touched-out for the day, she could have gone a week without skin contact with anyone else, but she wasn’t sure how her mother felt about that. Erring on the side of caution, she turned away and looked back at her horribly white room. “Can I unpack a little first?”
“Of course! I’ve got to change, anyway. Work doesn’t like it when I show up casual.” Cate’s trembling laugh echoed against the bare walls. “So we’ll head out in about an hour, okay?”
“Alright,” Lilli said. When she turned around, Cate had already disappeared.
- - -
Cate held true to her word and hailed a cab for their second excursion through the city. When they reached the stout, stocky building that housed the police department, Lilli climbed out of the back seat alongside her mother.
Inside, one thing became immediately clear: One of them was overdressed, or everyone else was underdressed, and Cate stood out like a cat at a dog show. She had pulled her hair into a sleek ponytail that popped bright red against her all-black ensemble. The trim on her dress shirt glittered gold in the fluorescent lighting, and with every step she took, her high heels rained thunder on the linoleum floor.
All eyes turned to face them as they passed. Lilli wished she could fade out of existence. She pressed a hand against her right cheek in the vain hope that she could hide her birthmark and maybe people wouldn’t think to comment on it.
Cate halted at the front desk and turned to her daughter. The corner of her mouth edged up in a nervous smile, and she reached out to pull Lilli’s hand away from her face. “You saw the library on the way here, right? It’s next to that law office with the gaudy doors.”
Lilli nodded numbly. She tried to tug her hand out of her mother’s grasp, but Cate was stronger. Couldn’t she see how uncomfortable her daughter was? Everywhere she looked, there were eyes on them from every corner of the room.
“Good,” Cate said. She dug a card out of the side of her organizer and pressed it into Lilli’s hand. “I’ll come by in about an hour and pick you up. It might be a little longer, I never know how fucking long they’re going to keep me here.” She said the last part loud enough for half the room to hear—even more eyes looking their way.
“Language, Moth.” The office chair at the front desk creaked. Lilli could have sworn it was empty, but there sat a boy who looked only a few years older than herself. He was dressed in a crisp dark uniform, his hair pulled up underneath a hat and his face screwed up in a pout as he played with one of the cheap pens at the desk. “You never know who’s going to hear you.”
“That’s Special Agent Moth, Cadet.”
“Cadet Sokol to you…Special Agent Moth.” The boy tapped his name badge and leaned forward, the pen in his hand swapped out for a phone receiver. “Miss Jensen?”
“As always.” Cate pressed a quick kiss to the top of Lilli’s head and pushed her away with one hand. “Go on, Lil. I’ll see you in an hour.”