Chapter Eighteen

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One of the strands of police tape had come loose and fluttered in the light breeze.

A cold hand squeezed Michelle's insides. She turned to her brother in the driver's seat, expecting to see the same expression of horror, but his face weirdly his expression seemed more like... relief? 

She couldn't even process what that meant.

She slowly stepped out of the Corolla, leaving the door open behind her, walking toward the criss-crossing yellow tapes as if they might bite. The small front door had a black lock-box on it, the kind that realtors used. Would her own key still work? Or had they changed the locks, too?

The moment felt surreal. Even more than the initial "arrest" of the previous day, amid the noise and the flashing lights, Michelle felt as though she were moving underwater. The atmosphere pressed against her. No sounds except for the snapping of loose tape. Every move she made seemed jerky and slow, requiring conscious effort and input from her brain.

Lift key. Move towards lock. Insert key in lock—

"Hey!" The shout startled her back into real-time motion. Someone ran towards her from a parked car. "What do you think you're doing?"

"It's my gym," she answered, confused.

The man gestured at the tape covering the warehouse. "This is a crime scene, you can't go in there."

Michelle held out her key, awkwardly, her brows furrowed so tight that her forehead hurt. "But our classes start in half an hour and we have to mop."

The sound of a car door slamming. Bryan walked over. When she turned back, the man had pulled out a cellphone.

"Look, lady, this is a crime scene. So if you don't back away now, then I'm going to have to—"

Bryan had her by the elbow. "Come on, M."

"But the classes—"

"No classes today. Maybe not for a while."

"I don't—"

"Let's just get back in the car." Bryan gave a small wave of acquiescence to the man—who lowered his cellphone reluctantly—steering Michelle towards the open passenger door. "Come on. We'll figure this out."

She watched the Creampuffs banner in the rear view mirror until it shrank too small to read.

She stared at the muffin on the plate in front of her. "I still don't—we weren't charged with anything." She wasn't sure why this particular development shocked her more than the events of the previous day. Perhaps because she'd been whisked away to that beige warren to deal with it there; whereas this—the police tape, that man—this was happening in her normal life. Her business. Her routine.

Bryan sat across the patio table, texting, frowning. He had a coffee and a muffin in front of him as well, equally untouched.

She stared at the muffin he'd ordered for her, thinking of their mother's mother. They didn't see Bà often—she lived on the west coast, near their uncle, and died when Michelle was in high school—and mostly her memories were a jumble of little-girl confusion about why her grandmother didn't understand English and happiness whenever Bà insisted on stuffing her grandkids to bursting. After crying from a skinned knee playing with her cousins, her grandmother had led her to the kitchen, sitting her down and feeding her from a variety of treat tins and ancient orange-lidded Tupperware containers, murmuring in Vietnamese the entire time. Maybe Bryan had similar memories.

Along the edge of the muffin's crown, a large crumb dangled. Michelle picked it off, and then stared at its purple tinge in her finger tips. Where it had been revealed blueberry. She put the crumb down on the plate and tried not to think that the muffin was incomplete. "We're going to need a lawyer after all," she said, suddenly, surprising herself.

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