The trio approach the home, patting down bags and stretching their hands into pockets to make sure all their supplies are ready to go. Twenty feet from the driveway’s edge, the leader, Jane, halts at a tree and motions her comrades closer with a wave of her fingers. Danielle catches the slight movement, but Robbie keeps walking, causing Jane to lunge forward and catch him by the crook of his elbow, and pull him back to the giant oak rooted on the terrace.
“Sheesh. What?” Robbie asks, ripping his arm from Jane’s grasp to entwine it with his other arm across his chest, obscuring the flaming basketball on his shirt.
“Do we need to go over the plan again?” Jane whispers, her amber eyes flicking between the two friends standing in front of her, neither of whom seem as committed to the mission as she is.
“I think the fives times in the car covered it,” Danielle says with a chuckle that Robbie punctuates with a quiet snort.
“Yeah, it’s not exactly super complicated,” Robbie adds. “Just chill. The more you freak out, the less likely this is to work. I mean, all we need to do is一”
She takes a breath, because—let’s be real, she is kind of freaking out. While they’re technically not doing anything wrong, it still feels like a gray area of rightness.
Robbie throws his hands together in a clap. “Let’s get him.”
One at a time, they make their way up the driveway lined with boxes and baskets and tables. Near the garage, Mrs. Conroy sits at a TV dinner table, placing money into an old cash box Jane knows comes from an antique dealer she liked to frequent. Jane tips the brim of her fading baseball cap further down, casting her face in shadow. She doesn’t have a problem with Mrs. Conroy per se. Generally, their relationship would be classified as amiable—except for the cluster at the end when all the tectonic plates shifted out of Jane’s favor.
Jane, Danielle, and Robbie take their set sections—Robbie to the CDs, Danielle to the clothes, and Jane to the everyday knicknacks—with their list of sought-after goods. Jane knows they may not tick the box next to every item, but she’s one thousand percent sure they’ll find at least some of them. A few months ago, she wouldn’t have thought so, but since, Mrs. Conroy’s son had been consistently upending her expectations.
Within a minute, Jane is proven right when Danielle subtly clears her throat—the signal they had designated in the car. In her hand, Danielle holds a gray, vintage Disney World sweatshirt. It’s a small midriff cutoff sweatshirt, clearly belonging to a woman—or at least to a petite guy with a hefty load of self-esteem and a well-defined six pack. Adam would’ve liked to say he has both, but really, what he has is self-esteem that looks strong and bold until it is challenged. Then the thin armor encasing it drops away to reveal a creature with as little shielding it as a blob fish.
It’s a sweatshirt soaked in memories of summer vacations to Cinderella’s Castle and EPCOT, of a world brimming with innocence and goodness, one where you knew who the villains were from the beginning of the story. One she mistakenly left at his house on a day that turned out warmer predicted. One, that after they were no longer together, he said he couldn’t find.
Of course he’d put such a low price on something that he knew meant so much to her.
Even so, the smile stretches across Jane’s face, and she has to restrain herself from appearing like a manic Cheshire Cat. She forces her muscles into a frown and gives Danielle a nod. With it, Danielle walks over to the shelves pretending to be interested in the dime book spines, but turns into herself, pulling her messenger bag against her stomach, lifting the leather flap, and slowly folding it inside.
People mill around Danielle, and Jane watches them, waiting for someone to call out “Thief!” Her pulse drums in her neck like a Whiplash percussion solo, and no matter Robbie’s recommendation to be chill, a cold sweat beads on the back of her neck.
People could call it stealing, but all Jane wants is to take back what was rightfully hers. She had left it by mistake. She had asked for it back. And Adam had no right to sell it for his own profit. She isn’t the thief! Adam is.
From within the piles of what the Conroy family had decreed as useless to them, the three scavengers find more of their checklist. Two CDs—one of The Chicks and another of Khalid that Jane once shared, and both of which Robbie now shoves gleefully in his sweatshirt pocket. Her copy of The Hunger Games, which Adam had said he’d return. The brightly-colored skeleton she made in art class and let him use for his Day of the Dead project.
Scavenging through the items, some make her long for what used to be, like when they laid on a fleece blanket on the outskirts of town, and the Khalid CD hummed from his dashboard, becoming the background noise of their night along with crickets and hooting owls. She also remembers manipulation, and sadness, and inadequacy, swallowing up the pining.
As the memories land into her mind, and the items into a pocket or purse, the emotions—good and bad—are aided by a growing rush. Their rummage sale heist is sticking it to him, just like Adam stuck the stickers to her belongings.
That is, until she hears his voice.
”…How we doing?” The rush dries up like a stream veering into the desert.
With as much speed as a sloth, she cranes her neck over her shoulder just enough to see him bending down beside his mom, his sunny locks mussed in the wild way she found so attractive. His finger slips down the list noting the prices of the things they’ve sold, while his other hand holds onto a waffle half-smothered in peanut butter—his favorite breakfast.
“This is all I’ve sold?” he says before munching on the waffle.
“It’s early, dear. I’m sure there will be more,” Mrs. Conroy replies.
She’s sure he’ll recognize her, but somehow, he stares right through her. It seems like its own blow, but also a reassurance. It may be morally ambiguous, but she knows she’s doing the right thing. That she can feel in her marrow.
His presence signals that it’s time to go. Jane taps Robbie on the shoulder as she passes him, and he does the same to Danielle, forming a line like ants carrying contraband home rather than food.
At the base of the driveway, Jane pivots onto the sidewalk, her feet positioned forward, but her gaze catches behind her on the boys at the table. This time, he doesn’t look past her as if she’s made of glass. At first, his expression is inscrutable, but as she pulls the rainbow skeleton from the bag, he startles. She smiles, and dashes down the stretch of sidewalk to the getaway car.