The Mystery Woman in Room Three is a new 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 fourth part of six to be released over the next several weeks.
Before you continue, read:
BY THE TIME the four of us walk into the multipurpose room, it’s 9:50.
Heidi asks for Beth. Amandys told us that’s the woman who coordinates the musical entertainment.
A few minutes later, Beth comes out. She’s about Mami’s age, but wears a vintage dress and has her brown hair back in a messy bun. Heidi walks right up to her and introduces herself. “I’m Andi and we’re New School Throwback. When do we go on? And is there a better side for me to stand on? I’m the sign language interpreter.”
Beth blinks at us a few times behind cat-eye glasses. “I didn’t realize we had a youth act—I mean—” Beth stammers.
Heidi’s brow furrows. “Mary said she set it all up,” Heidi says. “This is Shady Orchards, right? We came all the way from across town on the bus. We have two songs ready to sing.”
“We can probably fit you in,” Beth says. “Just wait here.”
The concert begins, and we wait. We wait while a barbershop quartet sings harmonies, while a trio plays jazz, while a pianist sings show tunes, and while a petite woman sings a shrill and painful opera.
It’s past 11:15 and now I’m getting nervous. We don’t want the senator to wake up while we’re still singing.
But finally, Beth takes the mic and says, “And we have a special treat for you all.” She glances over at us. “A group that wasn’t in your bulletin. Please put your hands together for New School Throwdown.”
It’s supposed to be Throwback, but Heidi doesn’t bother to correct her.
The four of us step up to the mic and Amandys and I start to sing: “A wimbaweh, a wimbaweh…”
And then Davion comes in with a high tenor: “in the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight . . .”
I see a number of the elders smiling. This is supposed to be the throwback part. One lady even sings along all the way to the end of the song.
“Thank you,” Heidi says after we finish. There’s a burst of applause.
Then Davion steps up to the mic. “I’m Troy and next up we have a young lady who’s gonna take us to the next level. International. Please give it up for Amandys!”
She’s the only one whose real name we use, because some of the staff know her.
“Para bailar la bamba . . .”
Amandys really comes alive when she speaks Spanish. Her English is getting better, but in Spanish she’s totally confident and bold. She sings and dances around the stage. Or really just the part of the linoleum floor that they’re calling a stage. And Heidi translates the lyrics and signs the English versions of them.
When it’s over, we get the most applause of any of the groups.
“Thank you so much,” Davion is saying.
Apparently, we’re the closing act, because Beth asks for a final round of applause before she walks over to us.
“You all were fantastic,” she says. “You’ve got to stay and have refreshments.”
“Sorry, but we’ve got to go,” I say.
“Just meet our director,” she presses.
Amandys and I look at each other. I need to go upstairs with Heidi.
“I would love to meet her,” Amandys says. “Davion can come with me. I know you two need to go.” She looks at me and Heidi as she says it.
“Yeah,” I say. I pull out my earbuds and speak slowly in English. “Just be sure to text your mom that you’ll be late getting home. I’ll be calling my mom right now.”
Amandys nods. Her hair hangs down and covers her earbuds, but I can see her pulling out her phone. This is the time when we are all splitting up and need to be in phone contact.
I say goodbye and take Heidi out through the door with me. She has a big backpack, but I’m traveling light. On the way down the hall, we pull out our phones and Davion connects all of us.
“So nice to meet you,” I hear Amandys saying to the director. I wonder if the director knows about La Rica. We have no idea who is and isn’t in on it.
I pull out the key Amandys gave me as Heidi and I slip down the hallway to Room Three.
WHEN WE GET into the senator’s room, she’s still in bed. Knocked out.
“What happened?” Heidi asks. “I thought you guys changed the sedative for plain fluid.”
“I thought so, too,” I say. “Maybe Amandys changed the wrong one?”
But then, the senator abruptly sits up.
Heidi and I jump.
“I’m so glad it’s you,” the senator says. “When I came to, I remembered that you girls said you’d come back for me. I prayed it would be true.”
My heart is still in my throat.
“You scared us half to death,” Heidi says.
“Sorry,” the senator says, beginning to stand up. “With that double amount of fluids, I’ve really got to pee.”
“Wait, Senator,” I say. “We’ve got to put that monitor on my friend, or the nurses will know you’re up.”
“Good thinking,” the elderly woman says.
I introduce the senator to Heidi, who quickly clips the monitor from the senator’s middle finger to her own. There’s a slight change in the beeping, but nothing major.
With the wig’s dark hair, Senator Samuelson looks even paler. But then Heidi puts on some lipstick, and even rubs a bit on her cheeks to make her look less ghostly.
The senator tries to stand, but her legs are especially wobbly. We haven’t prepared for this. As I half-carry her to the bathroom, I hiss into the earbuds in Spanish.
“The senator can’t really walk,” I say. “All those weeks without moving and her muscles are weak. We need a wheelchair.”
“What are you guys saying?” Heidi asks.
“We need a wheelchair,” I say in English.
“There’s one at the end of the hallway,” Amandys says in English. “Davion, you just walked past it.”
“I see it,” Davion says.
“Push it to Room Three,” I say. I step out of the bathroom to give Senator Samuelson privacy to pee.
“No yet, Davion,” Amandys hisses into the phone. “Let that nurse walk past you.”
We all wait on the line for a moment.
“Now!” Amandys says.
I peek out the door and see Davion wheeling the chair toward me. I look up the hall and see Amandys barely glancing up from her phone.
Davion rolls the wheelchair to me, and I pull it quickly into the room.
“I need another gown,” Heidi says to me. “I’ve looked in all the drawers I can reach.”
She has the monitor on her finger and the line from the machine is stretched as far as it can go.
I open cabinets that are out of her reach until I find a gown. It has little blue sailboats all over it. She puts it on quickly over her clothes.
I bring the senator out of the bathroom in the wheelchair. As I unpack the pieces of the disguise, Heidi helps the senator put on the wig, which is an awkward job with just one hand. With the wig’s dark hair, Senator Samuelson looks even paler. But then Heidi puts on some lipstick, and even rubs a bit on her cheeks to make her look less ghostly.
Heidi puts her free arm around the senator’s waist, to assist her to stand. Meanwhile, I help her into the coat. After we wrestle it onto her, we ease her back down into the wheelchair. Heidi buttons and ties the coat in the front. The senator is especially thin, and the coat helps her look a bit more bulky. As a final touch, we put on the glasses.
“How do I look?” the senator asks, trying to lighten the mood.
Heidi smiles at her. “Like a mature Jane Russell,” Heidi says.
The laugh that comes from the senator is weak. The process of getting dressed seems to have exhausted her.
“Are we ready, Senator?” I ask.
“Yes,” she says. But her voice is small.
Then I unmute my phone. “Amandys,” I say. “We’re just about ready to come out. Is the coast clear?”
“There’s a doctor passing,” she whispers back. “Give it a few seconds . . . Ugh. She’s talking to someone. Hold on . . .”
“Davion,” I ask. “How’s it looking outside?”
“Great!” he says. “Mr. Howell is right here. He has the driver to take the senator to the press conference.”
“Okay,” Amandys says. “The doctor is heading down the hallway.”
“Good,” I say. “Everyone keep your phones on standby. We need to be in touch for this next transition.”
Heidi climbs into the bed. She has the gown over a tank top, and she keeps her jeans and shoes on, in case she has to make a run for it. She has the phone in her hand.
I wheel the senator to the door and shut off the light.
“Are we still clear?” I ask Amandys in Spanish.
“All clear,” she says.
I open the door and begin to wheel the senator toward the exit.
I LOOK LIKE I’M SCROLLING on my phone at the far end of the hall—away from the front door—but I’m really just looking at my home screen. When I see Mariluna come out of Room Three with the senator, I don’t even make eye contact.
I glance over the phone and see Mariluna’s dark curly ponytail and the back of the senator’s head in the straight wig.
As I watch them walk out, a car goes by outside. It’s in a weird kind of stereo. I hear it go by in the distance and then hear it much louder with a slight delay through the phone. Must be Davion’s phone. There’s background noise from the Sunrise Movement folks milling around.
“Heidi just texted,” I heard one of the Sunrisers say. “Something’s about to happen.”
“People gonna rise like the water, gonna calm this crisis down . . .”
And then, a closer voice, but speaking more quietly. In Spanish.
“No, my love,” the male voice is saying. “I can’t come this afternoon. I have to drive an old lady to Jacksonville. No way I’ll be home before evening.”
Then the Sunrise Movement folks begin to sing, “People gonna rise like the water, gonna calm this crisis down . . .”
I glance over my phone as Mariluna wheels the elderly senator out through the exit. And the glass doors slide closed behind her.
“I hear the voice of my great-granddaughter,” sing the Sunrise Movement activists, “saying keep it in the ground.”
Wait. What did that guy say in Spanish? He’s driving an old lady to Jacksonville? Who said that? Is the lady supposed to be La Rica—the senator? That isn’t right.
“Davion,” I say sharply.
“Everything okay?” he asks.
I can feel my heart beating hard. Something is definitely wrong. “Who talked?” I say. But my words don’t sound right.
“What?” he asks.
“¡Mariluna, ayuda!” I yell.
Part Five of Aya de León’s The Mystery Woman in Room Three
will be available next week.