Artwork by Indi Maverick

Part Five: Escape

The Mystery Woman in Room Three is a serialized young adult novel by Aya de León about two undocumented teenage girls in Florida who uncover a kidnapping plot to stop important climate legislation. This is the fifth part of six to be released over the next several weeks.


Before you continue, read:

Part One: Exposed
Part Two: Alliance
Part Three: Plotting
Part Four: Undercover



Chapter 10


I’VE JUST WHEELED the senator out through the door when Amandys yells for help.

“What’s up?” I ask in Spanish.

“Hold on!” she says. “Something’s wrong. Ask Davion who’s standing near him.”

I translate.

“Just Mr. Howell,” Davion says.

Beyond the crowd of activists milling around, I see a car at the curb. Standing next to it is Davion beside Mr. Howell. I can see the vague form of someone behind the wheel through the car’s tinted windows.

“Should we keep going to the car?” I ask Amandys.

“No,” she says. “Did you hear that voice? That voice speaking Spanish?”

“I wasn’t paying attention,” I say.

“Don’t take La Rica to the car,” Amandys says. “Take her somewhere else.”

“Where?” I ask.

“I guess . . .” Amandys begins. “Take her to where we exited the building that first day.”

What the hell is going on? I turn left and head toward the side of the building, behind the hedge where we climbed out the window. Unfortunately, there isn’t a walkway. I have to cross that spongy fake grass, which makes it extremely hard to push the wheelchair.

“Hang on, Senator,” I say.

“Ask Davion who was just speaking Spanish,” Amandys says.


“Hang on, Senator,” I say and tilt the wheelchair back onto just the big wheels and push hard to get through the grass.


I translate.

“The driver,” Davion says.

“Where’s the press conference?” Amandys manages to ask in English this time.

“Here in Orlando,” Davion says. “About twenty minutes away.”

“The guy said he was driving an old lady to Jacksonville,” Amandys says. “Something’s wrong.”

“What’s going on?” we all hear Mr. Howell’s voice in the background on Davion’s phone.

“Just a delay,” Davion says. “I’m not sure why, but it looks like the senator has a different ride. I’ll text the address to my friends.”

The wheelchair will barely roll on the fake grass.

“That’s not going to work,” Mr. Howell says. We can all hear the tone shift in his voice. He isn’t even trying to sound friendly anymore. “Davion, you’re way over your head here. Tell your friends that we need to be the ones to transport the senator.”

“Okay,” Davion says. “Let’s go into the building and tell her to come out.”

“Nice try, kid,” Mr. Howell says.

I look over my shoulder to see Mr. Howell by the red car looking straight at me. He bangs on the car twice and then starts walk-jogging across the fake lawn toward me. Davion is right behind him. A young Latino guy scrambles out of the car and comes running behind them.

“Hang on, Senator,” I say and tilt the wheelchair back onto just the big wheels and push hard to get through the grass.

“What’s going on?” Heidi asks.

“Mr. Howell sold us out some kind of way,” Davion says angrily.

“He’s coming after us,” I say as I dip behind the hedge. I can’t see him anymore, but I know he’s coming.

“I’ll call on the Sunrise people!” Heidi says.



When I come running out of Shady Orchards, I see about twenty young adults in Sunrise Movement T-shirts sort of standing around. Meanwhile, Mr. Howell is hurrying across the lawn, away from his red car. I look over to where he’s headed and see Mariluna struggling to get the wheelchair behind the hedge.

I start running after them.

Behind me, I hear a young woman yell: “I just got a text from Heidi. She says we need to protect the senator.”

“This way!” Davion yells.

The Sunrise folks start running toward the senator.

Mr. Howell sees them coming and tries to speed up, but some of the Sunrise folks are in much better shape than him.

Two women from Sunrise outrun him to the path behind the hedge. The strip of grass is narrow there, cutting between the brick wall of the building and the thick hedge. The two women block the way. They’re a mismatched pair, one small white girl with a strawberry blonde asymmetrical buzz, the other a thick Pacific Islander girl, with bronze skin and dark, wild hair.

Mr. Howell walks up to them and tries to push past. But by then, the rest of the Sunrise people have caught up and are squeezing in front of and behind the two women. They make a wall of bodies and the teacher can’t get through.

“Luis,” he yells. “Help me!”

But the Latino man takes one look at the developing situation and shakes his head. He backs away and then turns and runs to the red car.

“What’s happening?” Heidi asks.

“It worked!” Davion says. “Sunrise is protecting the senator!”

“How do we get out of here?” Mariluna asks.

“I’m calling you a rideshare!” Heidi says.

“Where should it pick us up?” Mariluna asks.

“The bus stop,” I say. I don’t know if I say it in Spanish or English. But the next thing I know, Davion and I double back and circle around the hedge.



Chapter 11


I SEE AMANDYS and Davion come around the corner of the building and catch up to us. Then the three of us are pushing the senator’s wheelchair across the grass to the sidewalk. Once we hit pavement, we move more quickly and I take over pushing. Thank goodness we have the wheelchair. Not only is the senator unable to walk, she’s basically passed out.

Up ahead, a bus is at the bus stop. When it pulls away from the curb, we can see a rideshare waiting. But before we can get there, the red car pulls into the bus loading zone and cuts us off. Before the car has fully stopped, Mr. Howell leaps out of the passenger seat and blocks our path.

“You kids are way out of your league,” he says. “Let us professionals handle this. We know what we’re doing.”

I’m not sure what to do. Should we try to go around him? Should we try to fight him?

“Mr. Howell,” Davion says. “This isn’t what we talked about.”

“Things change,” Mr. Howell says. “This is the story of a lifetime. There’s enough credit to go around. I’ll make sure you get a byline out of it. Now hand over the senator and let me work my magic.”

“This isn’t about me getting a byline,” Davion says. “This is about keeping your word to us.”


“This is the story of a lifetime. There’s enough credit to go around.”


“Sorry, kid,” Mr. Howell says. “One way or another, she’s coming with me.”

“No way,” I tell him. “This isn’t school and you can’t expect us to just do what you tell us. Either move out of our way or we’ll run you down.”

“Well, that might be a problem, don’t you think?” Mr. Howell says. “When I press charges and you’re in this country illegally.”

It’s as if an earthquake hits my gut. A terrified nauseous feeling ripples out from the center of my body.

He looks from me to Amandys. “Sin papeles,” he says, and I see that Amandys gets it too. She looks sick.



Chapter 12



WE CAN’T get sent back to the Dominican Republic. We just can’t. They don’t understand. Even Mariluna doesn’t understand. It’s not safe for us.

Until six months ago, I had basically been someone else. My mother and I lived in Santo Domingo, the capital city of the Dominican Republic, and it was almost the beginning of summer. My mother’s boyfriend had money, and had brought us to live with him in a really nice house. He even paid for me to go to that private Catholic school. Which I hated, because I didn’t fit in at all. The girls looked down on me. Even in the identical school uniforms, they knew that my mami didn’t have money. That she wasn’t even married to the rich guy who paid my tuition.

From the first time I met Juan Carlos, I didn’t like him. He was charming and had clearly swept Mami off her feet. But I didn’t trust him. Something in his charm was creepy. Like he paid for everything, and when the salesclerk would say the amount, he would raise his eyebrows and repeat the number. Then he would smile and say, “Totally worth it.”

Mami was so impressed that he thought so, but I heard the message that he was the one who got to decide what was and wasn’t worth it. Which I didn’t like at all.

They had met because she was the cook at a restaurant he frequented. When he brought us to live with him, she cut back on her hours. Only cooked lunches during the week. Was home with dinner on the table for him in the evenings. But then he began to insist that she should quit her job altogether. Why did she need to work? He was providing everything.

But she enjoyed her job. Why didn’t he want her to work? He worked days. She was home when he got home. She kept the house clean. Had the food ready. What was the problem?

He acted like being a cook was beneath her, beneath him. I’m a professional. My woman shouldn’t be sweating in the kitchen of some restaurant. She should be eating in restaurants.

“What’s wrong with cooking?” she had asked. “It’s okay for me to cook for you, but not for other people in a restaurant?”

“This is my house!” he said, and banged his fist on the table. “I’m offering you everything. Any woman would be appreciative. But instead, you’re ungrateful. I’ve lost my appetite,” he said. And swept away from the dinner table.

That night, I heard them arguing in the other room. Him in low tones that were tight and angry. Her in a soft voice, placating. Pero, querido . . . and ay, no, mi amor . . .

I finally put on music in my headphones and fell asleep.

She eventually quit her job. And then she had nothing to do all day. She would go into town to visit her friends and he criticized that, too. They were single women. He didn’t approve of them. She said she just wanted to go shopping. He said she could shop from home and have everything delivered. Soon, she was like a prisoner in his house.

One day, she came to the school to get me. She said we were moving, were leaving. She had packed our stuff. Just the things we had brought to his house. We took a bus to visit her uncle out in La Romana. We’d been there for a few weeks. Mami had almost secured a job at a new restaurant. She was looking into schools for me. We had just come from checking out one of the schools when we got back to Tio’s house and there was Juan Carlos.

None of the angry voice now. He had his eyes downcast like he was sorry. But I could tell that it was fake.

I looked at Mami. She looked from Tio to Juan Carlos. Then she took my hand and we walked past the both of them and into the house.


I felt sick to my stomach. I didn’t say anything to Mami, but that night I woke up screaming from a nightmare and it all came out.


“I told you,” she said to her uncle later that night. “Not to let him know I was here.”

“He called me crying,” our uncle said. “What could I say?”

“He wants me to live like a prisoner,” Mami said. “You could respect my request.”

Juan Carlos came by every day for the next week. The restaurant job didn’t work out.

“You need to get this settled,” Tio said to her. “This man loves you. He’s offering you a home. You can’t sleep on my couch forever.”

Between the two of them, I think they just wore her down. We went back to the capital.

It was worse, because I didn’t go to school. Mami was depressed. We just sat around watching telenovelas on TV—women whose lives were worse than ours. Then, in the afternoon, she would get up, tidy the house, and start dinner.

And now, he was critical of everything. The dinners never tasted right. I had been eating her cooking all my life and I knew it tasted exactly the same. But he would only criticize. Finally, Mami couldn’t take it. She talked back. And he blew up, yelling at her.

A week later, she had secretly gotten a job cooking on a private yacht that was headed for Florida. In the morning, he drove us to the school. Mami said we had an appointment to try to get back in. But after he dropped us off, she caught a taxi to the port. We jumped ship in Key West and she found a job working under the table in Proctor.

All that time is nearly a blur. But I do remember one thing Mami said: “A woman should always have her own money. That’s why I didn’t ever want to quit my job. We never would have been able to leave if I hadn’t had any money of my own.”


I was listening to music on her phone one day on the yacht, when a text came in from an unknown number. “You blocked me, but I can keep getting new phones. Wherever you are, you still belong to me. Wherever you go on the island, I’ll find you.”

I felt sick to my stomach. I didn’t say anything to Mami, but that night I woke up screaming from a nightmare and it all came out.

“It’s okay, my love,” she said. “We’ll be safe in the U.S. He won’t be able to find us. I’ll get a new phone. Trust me. Everything will be fine.”

And she told me to let it go with La Rica, but I wouldn’t. Now, I’ve ruined everything. Mami was right. I should have kept my mouth shut.


The Final Part Six of Aya de León’s The Mystery Woman in Room Three
will be available next week. 


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