Daniella shut off the engine and turned off the lights, putting the transmission into neutral and coasting down the hill. From the grade, the pale yellow Toyota had enough momentum to continue coasting down and around the corner. In the warm summer air, with the windows down, she could hear the squeak of her tires on the asphalt and then the crunch when the asphalt gave out and became gravel. She hoped it wasn’t as loud outside as it seemed to her. In particular she hoped it wasn’t audible inside the house where her landlord and roommate lived. Or, better yet, that Laurelee was asleep or even not home. The chances of that on a Tuesday night, however, were slim.
Navigating silently (she hoped) past the other parked cars on the dark West Hills street, she craned her neck as she pulled up to the house. The light in front of the garage was on but that was on a motion-detector and something else might have tripped it. The garage door was closed, which was a bitch, because that could mean Laurelee was home or wasn’t home. As the windows of the house came into view, slowly, so very slowly, she saw that there was a dim light in the kitchen and from the back of the house, where her landlord’s bedroom and computer room were.
Shit. Shit shit shit.
The street was at the bottom of the hill, and Daniella would have had to start the engine again to drive up and out of this cul-de-sac. Her stomach full of acid, she coasted as far as she could, two houses down, and swung up next to the curb. She pulled the emergency brake in the center console up with more force than necessary and nearly screamed when the handle gave a snap and went limp on it’s hinge; a cable snapped or something.
One more fucking repair bill. She hoped it was a cheap one.
She leaned forward, her arms on the steering wheel and her forehead on her arms. A shitty night on a shitty day in a shitty week of the shittiest month of her 27 years. She considered just starting the engine again, driving far away from here, changing her name and coming up with a clever story and never looking back.
She took the keys out, and opened the door as quietly as she could, closing it with the quietest push she could muster. It barely latched, and she sighed. Fuck it, she thought, if someone steals it they’ll be stuck with the repair bill. She used the spare key to open the hatch, because her main key didn’t work for some unknown reason, and got out the packing tape and the flattened boxes she’d cadged from the corner store up the hill. She needed at least two, maybe three.
From this angle she could approach the house and keep the separate garage between her and the main living room windows. The basement door was on the rear corner of the house. If she circled around the garage she could stay out of sight, climbing down the embankment through the ivy into the backyard, hopping the fence if necessary, and probably get to the door without being seen.
But when she got to the basement door, she saw, in the dark, a piece of paper tacked up. She used the flashlight app on her phone to read it, hiding the light as best as she could.
You are now two full months behind in rent. I’ve been lenient but I must demand payment. I know you’ve been working. If you pay me $400 in 24 hours, I will let you have until the end of the month to pay the rest.
Irregardless you must find other accommodations by the end of the month. I cannot put up with this.
The acid in her stomach grew, and Daniella’s face burned. Steeling herself she put her key in the lock. “C’mon, c’mon, don’t have changed the locks,” she whispered. The key turned, and she opened it and stepped inside, willing the door to make no noise at all.
The basement was dark and smelled of mildew and bleach. She crept past the washer and dryer, and angled around the brass pole mounted vertically in the middle of the room. Putting her Chucks down on the concrete floor carefully. Made it to the door to her room, which was closed. Another copy of the note was pinned to this door, too, goddammit. Again, with as much stealth as she could muster, she opened the door and went inside.
This would have been easier if I could have done it in the daytime, she thought. But the daytime had been spent driving out to the boonies to visit her aunt, using most of her tank of gas and coming back with a plate of chocolate chip cookies and a lecture on budgeting. Daniella hadn’t even had the courage to ask for a loan but somehow Aunt Sam had just known.
I haven’t really changed much in the last couple of years, have I?
The packing tape, she decided, would be too loud, so she assembled one of the boxes without it. She’d just grab some clothes, including some bikinis and lingerie she could work in, her favorite pair of heels, her spare phone charger, her journal… they all went into the box. She looked around. She didn’t have a lot, at the moment. A bookshelf full of old textbooks and used books that even Powell’s wouldn’t buy back, with empty spaces for the books she had been able to sell. Some posters. Her futon. Should she bring a blanket? To keep her warm when her car breaks down and she has to sleep on the street?
Getting on her hands and knees she reached under the dresser she’d paid $20 for at Goodwill. Tucked up underneath and behind the drawer was a flask of cheap vodka, half gone. She took a quick swig for courage, sat back.
Tears, hot tears blurred her vision, ran down her cheek. She swiped at them angrily and spilled some vodka on herself. Great. I guess I can change my shirt now that I’m here.
She stood, in the dark, and stripped off her shirt, then pulled open a dresser drawer.
There was a polite knock at the door. “Daniella? Can we talk?”
“I know you’re in there. I can hear you.”
Daniella carefully screwed the lid on the bottle and set it on top of the dresser. It seemed worse to be caught with that than without a shirt. “Fine. Come in.”
Laurelee stepped in, turning on the light, making the room seem suddenly smaller; no dark corners anymore. She was dressed for bed, in a cheap t-shirt and basketball shorts and ridiculous Pokemon slippers. “The note is gone so I know you’ve got it. Were you really just going to slip out in the middle of the night? Oh my god can you put a shirt on? It smells like booze in here.”
“I don’t know how to respond to any of that. I don’t know what to tell you. I don’t have the money.”
“You’ve had the money but you spent it on… what? Gas, I suppose, and eating out, since you never eat here anymore. Where does the rest of it go?”
“Kyle is pissed at me and hasn’t given me an evening shift for two fucking weeks, Laur’. I’ve been having to make do with breakfast shifts. Nobody makes any money on breakfast shifts at a strip club.”
“That’s probably not true, or why have them?” Laurelee countered. “But that’s just the last two weeks; you’ve been behind since May.” She kicked the box Daniella had been filling up. “At least I see you’re planning on continuing to work.”
There was a sharp loud bell ring, a chime like a giant clock. Daniella jumped, and Laurelee jumped in response.
“I see you’ve been paying your phone bill,” Laurelee said as her tenant pulled her phone out.
“Holy shit! My bacon is saved! I can have your money by tomorrow evening!” Daniella waved her phone in front of her landlord’s face.
The phone showed a text:
$100 Dave wants 2 C U. Tmrw nite. Git UR azz in by 9
Daniella was whooping it up and jumping around like a crazy person. “Please, this is going to work, he hasn’t been in for months and months. He loves me, and he never leaves without dropping at least a thousand! If I get some rest and maybe get my hair done, and a full set, hmmm, maybe I can talk Gordon into fronting that for me…” She looked at her landlord and old friend. “I can pull this off. I can get you the money, I know I can. If nothing else, I can get you the $400 you’re asking for, and probably the whole thing!”
Laurelee was silent a moment. Shaking her head, she turned and walked out, pausing at the door.
“Do you want this light on, or off?”
“On, please,” Daniella responded. She’d expected a much bigger reaction. Maybe not happy, but at least relieved.
First, though, she needed some beauty sleep.