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Fiction Friendship Suspense

“Escaping the city is impossible.” Sara lifts Kelley’s large suitcase out of the trunk, the garage door closes and locks. “People at the barricades blocking the streets and highways are streaming online, others are streaming at the airports, train stations and bus depot.”

Kelley nods. Her smaller suitcase feels like it weighs forty pounds. She struggles to extract it from the trunk before grabbing her carryon bag. They didn’t feel this heavy when Kelley left the hotel, exhausted, spent, and relieved. Kelley said a word of thanks to the person who suggested putting wheels on suitcases and closes the trunk of the car.

Sara rushed over to Kelley’s apartment building when the names of the jurors were released to the press. She was waiting for Kelley when Kelley arrived. Sara grabbed Kelley’s large suitcase and crammed every piece of clothing she could into it. Kelley protested. Sara ordered Kelley to pull her hair back into a ponytail and put on Sam’s hoodie making sure Kelley’s hair was covered before leaving Kelley’s apartment.

When they reached the parking garage, Sara ordered Kelley into the back seat. Kelley shut off her phone and pulled the battery out while Sara loaded the trunk. Once Sara verified Kelley had removed the battery, she had Kelley recline across the seat. Sara covered Kelley with a blanket and then positioned grocery bags filled with empty boxes on top of Kelley. Too tired to argue Kelley acquiesced.

“Don’t move or make a sound until I tell you it’s safe.” Sara said easing her car out of the parking spot.

“What the hell did they expect?” Sara charges into the house leaving the doorway open. Kelley followed securing the door.

“I can carry the cases upstairs.” Kelley said. Sara and Sam hosted Kelley when she first moved to the city letting her stay in the guest room at the top of the stairs. Sara is one of those people who just has the touch for decorating. The guest room feels like what Kelley imagines the rooms at spas or upscale hotels feel like. Everything is white, crisp, clean, with a couple of abstract paintings providing a splash of color. Definitely a few steps up from the hotel the jury was sequestered at. Miles away from Kelley’s studio apartment.

The bathroom off the bedroom is cozy with enough room for a shower. the prospect of hot water massaging Kelley, washing away the residue of jury duty draws Kelley towards the stairs. Then Kelley would slip on clean pjs before falling into bed and sleeping for days. Well, she can sleep for hours at least before heading into the office tomorrow.

“No, we’re heading to the library.” Sara flings the library door open. “Put your bags by the desk.”

“I really hate inconveniencing you-“

“Nope, this is what friends do for friends. You will stay here until things calm down.” Sara slides into the chair behind the desk and boots up the laptop. “When things kick off, we will have to move fast.”

Kelley maneuvers her bag beside the large suitcase. “You think things will kick off?” Kelley scans the wall of bookcases. Maybe reading will help her fall asleep. She hasn’t clocked more than a couple of hours a night while they were sequestered. On the floor in front of the second bookcase from the window sits another set of luggage, hard cases in teal. Kelley’s suitcases have soft sides in a green vine pattern. Something about the luggage looks familiar. Of course, Sara used them on that trip to Cancun two years ago. Sara and Sam had made reservations. A few weeks before their trip Sam gets activated to respond to a disaster area, he gets activated for disasters both home and abroad. Sam changed everything so Kelley could go with Sara. Two weeks at an all-inclusive resort, heaven. Days were spent by the pool and evenings spent hanging out at the bar. The only real vacation Kelley has had in the six years she’s worked for her boss.

“Whoever planned this planned it well. This is far too organized to be spontaneous.” Sara flicks through screens too fast to read anything but captions or headlines. She stops at one scrolling through the information. “I knew it! Your home address, phone number, and your driver’s license photo are all posted identifying you as juror number eight.”

Getting chosen for jury duty had been a relief. Kelley’s boss tried to get her out of serving, writing a letter to the court stating Kelley is the only one in the office that can do her job. You would think someone indispensable to the office would be better paid.

Kelley’s salary keeps her head above water the way someone tips their head back to keep their nose out of the water so they can breathe as they scamper for shallower water, only Kelley has nowhere to scamper to. Her studio apartment, outfitted with cast off furniture from family, what Kelley prefers to think of as cozy, but others might call cramped, eats up almost half of her monthly income. The past few years have been an exercise in finding the cheapest option or deciding what Kelley could live without. It would be nice if she made enough to put some money aside.

Being sequestered required Kelley to be out of touch with the office, completely. The first she went a business day without a call from the office since the trip to Cancun. Staycations is what Kelley can afford, when she can get vacation time approved. Even then her boss assumes Kelley will be available to answer any questions that come up during the day. She has a co-worker who in theory is there to carry half the load. Being the boss’ daughter has perks like not needing to know your job while getting praised and rewarded for the work Kelley does.

Since Kelley’s trip to Mexico her boss asks what her plans are when she asks for vacation time. The office was a mess when Kelley returned. Took Kelley the better part of a week to get everything straightened out again though the praise went to the boss’ daughter. Didn’t score a pay raise either, just a lecture on needing to be a team player.

“Power cut.” Sara said before Kelley had time to register the lights had gone out. Sara slams the laptop closed killing the only light in the room. “This is going to get bad.”

The sound of a drawer opening and being rifled lets Kelley know Sara is still at the desk. Light appears, drawer slams. Leave it to Sam to have a flashlight stowed in the desk. Sam is a boy scout on steroids when it comes to being prepared.

“We better move.” Sara walks to the bookshelf closest to the window scanning it, looking for something. “There you are.”

There’s a click. Sara backs up. The bookshelf swings out revealing a passageway. Sara ducks into the passageway. She bends over to fiddle with something. Light streams out of the passageway. Kelley squints.

“Move the suitcases in here. I’ll start carrying them down.”

Kelley grabs her small suitcase and carryon bag. On the other side of the bookcases is an open door, in the floor, with steps descending into what Kelley assumes is a basement equipped with emergency lighting.

“I’ll carry these down while you move the rest.” Sara jogs down the stairs with Kelley’s bags like they are empty. Kelley turns to get the other suitcases. Sara is at the top of the stairs before Kelley has the last two pieces of luggage in the passageway.

“Can you get your suitcase down the stairs?”

Kelley nods more out of pride then any faith she has the strength to wrestle the suitcase down the stairs.

“Good. I’ll close the door. I can manage my bags.”

Kelley is not quite a quarter of the way down the stairs before Sara catches up to her. Kelley focuses on the next step. Sara doesn’t say a word, just follows one step at a time.

At the bottom Kelley is greeted with the view of what looks like a giant pipe that has been outfitted as a living space. The curved walls and ceiling are the color of freshly fallen snow. Light strips are secured to the walls but point upwards resulting in a diffused glow throughout the space.

“Welcome to the bunker.” Sara edges past Kelley. “You have a choice to sleep in a top or bottom bunk. Bathroom is straight ahead through that door. Kitchen is behind you.” Sara heads in the direction of the bathroom door. “Just a little sitting area and some office space.”

“Where are we?” Kelley looks around. The kitchen looks like a galley kitchen that is bigger than what Kelley refers to as her kitchen. Embedded in the wall opposite the stairs is what looks like half a picnic table. The chairs in the sitting area look comfortable, inviting even. Desks or more accurately half desks on either wall are tucked between the back of the chairs and shelving crammed with supplies. Bunk beds on either side with drawers below the beds come next. The sound of a toilet flushing jolts Kelley. Sara is nowhere to be seen. The sound of running water comes from the bathroom.

“I needed that.” Sara said, opening the bathroom door. “So, what do you think of Sam’s bunker?”

“Bunker?”

“Yeah, when Sam decided to build this house, he put this bunker in. Just in case ya know.”

“Just in case?” Who thinks of putting in a bunker? Sure, it was fashionable during the cold war but who thinks they will need a bunker now except for survivalists living out in the country.

“Just put your suitcases by the beds. You can unpack later.”

Kelley shuffles her suitcase into position.

“You could do with a cup of tea.” Sara heads towards the kitchen.

Kelley follows. Why would they need to unpack? Surely, they won’t need to be here long. Things can’t be so bad they need to hide in a bunker.

“You like chamomile tea, right?” Sara asks without looking at Kelley. Sara fills a kettle and pulls mugs out of a cabinet before Kelley can respond. Sara appears to be as at home in this kitchen as she is in the kitchen upstairs.

Kelley sinks into one of the plush chairs letting it envelop her, embracing her, inviting her to sleep. Maybe she is already sleeping, and this is all a dream. She needs to just shut down for a rest, recharge, recover from jury duty.

“You take sugar, right?”

“Yeah, no milk.”

“I’m putting extra sugar in yours. Sweet tea is good for shock.”

“I’m not in shock.”

“Just hasn’t sunk in yet.” Sara said.

Kelley opens her eyes half expecting to be in Sara’s kitchen. The kitchen upstairs with the island Kelley sits at to stay out of Sara’s way. Sara doesn’t like having other people in the kitchen when she is cooking but you can sit on the other side of the island and talk to her. Sometimes you even get to help with a task that Sara hands to you but only if you remain seated.

“Give it time to cool a bit. I want to see it all gone though.” Sara hands Kelley a mug, steam wafts out of it. Kelley inhales the chamomile, the heat soaks into her hands and the thigh she rests the mug on.

“I’ll show you how the shower works after you finish your tea.” Sara settles into a chair at one of the desks and opens the laptop.

How many laptops do Sara and Sam own? “Checking what’s happening?”

“No, just locking up the house and making sure the alarms are set.”

“Alarms?”

“Sam believes in redundancies.”

“You don’t think this is an overreaction?”

“No,” Sara closes the laptop before moving to the chair across from Kelley, “I’m surprised the authorities weren’t better prepared. They should have seen this coming.”

“You know we did our best. We weighed all the evidence presented. We made the only decision we could with the evidence we were given.” Kelley lifts the tea to her lips. Still too hot to drink. Kelley rests it on her other thigh.

“I know. I followed the trial every day.” Weeks of arguments preceded the announcement the trial would be televised. Then there were weeks of arguments to move the venue. You couldn’t turn on a TV or look through social media without hearing about the trial. Being sequestered came as a relief.

“You took off work?”

“No, recorded it and watched in the evenings.” Sara pops the left armrest open revealing an area to place her mug. “I also kept an eye on the chatroom discussions. It was going to blow up no matter what the verdict was. At least you didn’t deadlock. That would have brought out both camps.”

“No. We all agreed on the verdict.”

“Well, after this is over if you need a new job or identity, Sam has contacts that can make it happen.”

“Do you think it’s that bad?” The offer of a new job sounds inviting. Kelley rejects the idea of a new identity, but visions of working in a different office floats through her mind. Kelley shakes her head to clear her head. Things aren’t going to be that bad. People will understand the jury made the only decision it could. “I’ve been thinking about changing jobs, but I wouldn’t want to be an inconvenience.”

“No problem. I like you, so Sam likes you.” Sara sips her tea.

“Where is Sam?” Kelley takes a sip of tea and almost spits it back in the mug. Sara wasn’t kidding when she said she was making it sweet. The tea slides down Kelley’s throat, the warmth spreading through Kelley’s body. Muscles Kelley didn’t realize were clenched start to relax.

“He’s working. He’s been doing his best to organize a response for when things kick off. The politicians didn’t want a show of force. Doesn’t matter what call they make it will get criticized so why not enable a show to be put on.” Sara drinks more tea. “Both sides are focused on spinning whatever happens for all it’s worth.”

“Do you really think it’s going to get bad?”

“With the jurors’ identities released we’ll be lucky if no one gets hurt or killed. Politicians have been whipping their camps into a frenzy of hate and distrust. If the decision goes in their favor, then it’s justice, but if it doesn’t, then it’s proof of a conspiracy against them and their supporters.” Sara takes a long sip. “We will be safe here for days, weeks, or even months if necessary.”

“But we made the only decision we could.”

“Folks don’t care.”

Kelley raises the tea to her lips and takes a long sip.

May 07, 2021 23:22

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