I took a deep breath – this place promised to be different. Like any teenager, I was familiar with the California of photo and film, but looking at the real thing, I felt like the adventurer Cabrillo in 1542. Having just left the frozen tundra of a Canadian winter, California was like a movie set. I clambered down the stairs from the private jet. As usual, Dad was on a business call while checking his email on a second phone he pulled from an Italian suit pocket.
“Geez, these apps take forever to load!” muttered Dad to someone on the other end of the line. “Oh, there it is.” He turned to me without looking. “Hailey honey, your Uber will be here in 7 minutes. Go with Max.”
I sighed. Dad had been waist-deep in work since before I was born, or so I am told. He self-started his way from the Chicago projects to Forbes’ “Richest Entrepreneurs Under 40 List”. Mom, meanwhile, was meeting with directors of a philanthropy program for impoverished communities near our old home in Morocco. My parents were always involved in grand projects that overshadowed my meager accomplishments. They were successful in everything they endeavored.
“I’m stuck with you now,” I said to Max. He rolled his startling olive-green eyes and laughed as he punched my shoulder. Max had become family to me, and we had encountered many of life’s curveballs together. He offered to carry my bags but I insisted on carrying them myself. Max observed me with amused detachment as I dragged my bags, or maybe it was the bags dragging me, to the car. I finally submitted to defeat and accepted Max’s assistance.
The ride to the new house was quiet. I had never seen this house, since Dad was always making real estate purchases in far-flung locations and often selling them at a profit. It was just the usual conversation between Max and me, exchanging comments about Instagram posts, trying to make each other laugh, and pointing at famous landmarks and buildings that were framed in the tinted windows.
As soon as we got to the house, or should I say, the gated fortress, I gasped. Max was silent, staring. It never seemed possible that Dad would be able to find a house that would outshine the last, yet he always found a way.
I gazed at the expansive walls that enclosed what would be my room. The view was beautiful, but somehow the appearance of the surrounding grounds filled me with unease. Tripping over boxes, I made my way towards the middle of the room and sat, taking it all in. The hairs on my arms began to stretch upwards.
“Maxxxxxxxxx!” I screamed.
He appeared by the door in an instant. “What’s wrong, what is it?!”
“It’s freezing in here,” I said in an exaggerated tone that made him roll his eyes at me again. So typical of Max. “Is the heater set up yet?”
“Hailey, you scared me and no, not yet.” He sighed and went over to the bay window, cranking it open just a sliver so a warm breeze trickled in. “Natural heating,” he grinned.
“Well, I guess I’ll go outside and look around the neighborhood a bit.”
“All right, I’ll be unpacking the boxes and getting the house ready for when your parents are back home tonight.” Max looked into a box labelled “OFFICE”, then reached over and threw a tracker phone at me. These new models were especially annoying, consistently sending alerts to Max whenever I strayed too far from where I said I would be going. But still they were useful since they allowed my calls to go through to Dad during his tight schedule of conference calls whenever I had an emergency. I still remember how much I used to abuse that right when I was young, always interrupting Dad’s meetings to talk to him about small, unimportant things. But now I felt them more a nuisance than a toy. “Be back by six and Hails, don’t go too far down the hill! I’ll have Mrs. Marbella cook your favorite pasta for dinner tonight!”
Mrs. Marbella was my favorite family chef, and traveled from location to location with the family. Her rotini hair twisted into a tight bun and the smell of spices wafting out of the kitchen always set me in a good mood. I could almost taste her chicken cordon bleu, with its melted cheese and–
Lost in reverie, I found myself on a downtown street. People of all ages were sprawled along the strip, some wearing typical clothes and others featuring high-fashion or party attire.
“Welcome to Sunset Boulevard!”
Startled, I turned around slowly. Two girls standing by a palm tree were waving, motioning for me to come over. I dragged my feet in their direction. It had already been an hour since I’d left and Max was due to call me to come home anyway. I was lost in the city and making a few friends wouldn’t hurt.
The auburn-haired girl spoke first. “So Bev Hills, when did you move here and what are you doing all alone?”
“My name’s actually Hailey and I just got here today. I live in Trousdale um…”
“Estates,” the other girl finished. “Yes, I’ve heard of the area. I’m Hanna and this is Harlow. Oh wow you have the whitest, straightest teeth I’ve ever seen. Looks like someone had to go through the pain of braces.”
“Twice and for two years each,” I blushed, shying away from their prying eyes. I wasn’t used to this kind of attention.
“You know who you look like? Oh!” Harlow exclaimed, acting as though she had just had a revelation. “Taylor Hill but with wavy hair! Yes, that’s it.”
She was full of energy, talking a mile a minute, but I couldn’t help but notice that she was wearing some sort of uniform. They looked like the scrubs that doctors wear but not quite. Then it hit me! Of course, it was October 31st.
“You’re dressed up for Halloween! I totally forgot. What are you, like some juvenile delinquent?”
“Yeah definitely. Straight out of juvie!” They exchanged a look.
“Enjoying sabbatical from your incarceration?!” Hanna barely finished saying before doubling over in laughter and all of us joined in. She glanced around and began putting her hair up with a scrunchie. “Well what are we doing just standing here? Let’s go out and stir up trouble! Hey Hailey, do you by any chance have a car?”
Just as I was about to answer, my phone buzzed three times.
Max: Come home now, Mrs. Marbella couldn’t make it but I’m going out to get pineapple pizza now. Will be home in 30.
Mom: Caught up with work & probably won’t be home ‘til late love you 💓
Dad: Stuck in the crazy LA traffic!!
I looked up from the bright screen to the anxious faces of Harlow and Hanna, awaiting my response.
“Well Hailey Hills, you free for a little joyride tonight?”
I knew I shouldn’t but it was too perfect a chance to pass up. As we approached the house, I fought my inner angel that told me that this was a bad idea. I wanted to get to know the area and Mom and Dad weren’t here to show me anyway. I jumped into the driver’s seat of the white BMW that had come straight out of the local dealership. Gingerly pulling out of its new spot in our driveway, I felt a rush of adrenaline.
As they got in the car, Harlow, suspicious she already knew the answer, asked, “You’ve had your license for a year already?”
“Actually, I don’t have my license at all. I’m used to other people driving me everywhere, but don’t worry, I got this.”
I stepped firmly on the gas pedal and we were off. I suddenly felt the urge to stop. Reaching into my back pocket I retrieved my tracker phone and threw it out the window.
“Now I’m ready!” I hollered at the top of my lungs.
“Where are we even going?!”
Confidently I replied, “I have no idea.”
We wound our way up along the sparkling coast towards Malibu. The sun was beginning to set and everything felt like a dream. It was just the three of us, singing along to music, with our shades on and not a single care. I pulled the roof down so the wind danced through our hair and the rest of the world melted away, until it was just me and the road ahead.
Of course, I should have known that this feeling of freedom would soon come to an end. The tank, empty, left the car no choice but to crawl to a stop.
“We all forgot about gas,” said Hanna in a worried tone. “and my phone is dead!”
Harlow passed her phone to me and I quickly dialed Dad’s number. Straight to voicemail. Why did I throw the tracker phone away? I threw my head back, already knowing the amount of trouble I was going to be in. I slowly dialed Max’s number and brought the phone up to my ear. The rings felt endless, and I kept searching my mind for another solution while the seconds trailed on.
Max was upset, but more so for my safety than the fact that I had stolen my parents’ new car. He quickly assured me that a police officer, who was also a family friend, would escort us home and that he was sending over a tow truck for the BMW as we spoke. He hinted that he would be telling Mom and Dad what happened and a wave of dread fell over me.
“All right… ok… yes, I know thank you.” I hung up and breathed a sigh of relief.
Hanna and Harlow were still in a frenzy when the cop car pulled up.
“What?! Cops?! Are we going to be in trouble?” Frightened, Harlow stepped back.
“Don’t worry, it’s alright.” But she had already gotten on her phone and ordered an Uber before I could finish explaining what was going on.
“I’ll go with her to make sure she gets home alright,” Hanna said, seeming concerned for Harlow. And just as fast as they had been introduced into my life, they were gone.
I sat in the backseat going over how I would explain everything to Mom, Dad, even Max. It was strange. Taking the car had been a rash decision and not the sort of thing that I would normally do.
I was just trying to fit in, just trying to feel at home.
The sudden realization of my heart thudding loudly did not help me sort my thoughts. As dusk fell rapidly, it dawned on me. I had been working so hard to get myself used to this new, unfamiliar place that I forgot that my true home was with my family.
As soon as I arrived home, I stepped into the warm embrace of Mom and Dad. This was where I was supposed to be. There was not a single trace of disappointment or anger on Mom and Dad’s faces; they were smiling as if this was just another normal day and I was coming home. Max had covered for me. I glanced over at the kitchen counter looked at Max with gratitude in my eyes.
“Yes?” he said with a small smile playing on his lips. He already knew what I was thinking.
“I’m really craving some pineapple pizza.”