Artwork by Indi Maverick

Part Two: Alliance

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 second part of six to be released over the next several weeks.

 

Before you continue, read Part One

 

 

CHAPTER 4

 

MARILUNA

WOMEN ARE TAUGHT that we need to change how we look. Sometimes, I see articles like “Your Favorite Celebrities Without Makeup!” They are generally pretty shocking. But the change in this woman is extreme. On television, she looks like a vibrant, middle-aged woman of about fifty, with long fiery red hair and glamorous makeup. This woman looks . . . old. Frail. They buzzed off her dyed red hair, and there’s an inch of light gray showing. No lipstick. No blush. No eyeliner. No false lashes. No one but her family could recognize her.

“Senator Samuelson,” I ask. “What happened?”

Amandys gets the senator more water. Her throat is still froggy.

“The last I remember,” she says. “I was in my house . . .” Her words are a little bit slurred, but I can understand her. “The house in Jacksonville . . .”

From what I remember, Jacksonville is several hours’ north of here, not quite as far as the capital of Tallahassee.

Her eyes lose focus and she seems far away. I gently shake her hand to rouse her.

“You remember being in your house?” I prompt her.

“Yes,” she says and coughs. She blinks like you do when you’re swimming and you come up from underwater.

“I was getting ready to come back from leave,” she says. “My first phone call was to Martin Miller, the Senate minority leader. I thought I would be gone only a couple of days, but it had been a week . . . maybe . . . ?”

She drifts off, as if trying to recall exactly how long. That doesn’t seem important, so I prompt her. “You had just called Senator Miller?”

“Yes,” she says. “I called him about the Green New Deal. I told him I had changed my mind. I was going to vote for it.” She takes a sip of water. She can now lift the cup by herself. “The Democrats had a majority, but he was going to filibuster. The Democrats needed sixty to be able to pass it in a filibuster-proof majority. They had fifty-nine. I was going to break ranks with the Republicans. I did it for the impeachment, and I’ll do it again. Because I had been on bereavement leave. My youngest grandchild, Evelyn, died . . . she drowned. . . .” Her eyes begin to fill with tears. “Evelyn was my first grandchild. So smart, from the earliest . . .” She begins sharing a garbled memory of her granddaughter as a little kid.

I’m not sure what to do. Should I press her to focus? It seems rude to interrupt a grieving elder. But then I hear a burst of laughter from the corridor and decide to press.

“Senator Samuelson,” I say gently. “I’m so sorry about your granddaughter. But can you tell us a bit more about changing your vote?”

She clears her throat again and continues. “Yes,” she says. “Yes, that was the final straw.” She seems to gain a bit of strength and conviction. “Constituents have been pressing me to take action because of the flooding, the scientist’s reports, but I—I didn’t want to believe it. I didn’t want it to be true. All the changes the environmentalists were asking for were going to disrupt our way of life. I didn’t want to accept that our way of life has been threatened more and more by climate change. And then my granddaughter Evelyn was in East Africa in the Peace Corps, and they had that terrible cyclone. And it just—it sort of broke through my denial. This is what it looks like to lose someone you love to the climate crisis. Something families all over the world are experiencing every day. Something more and more families will experience if we don’t act—if I don’t act.” Her eyes were shiny with tears.

“Some people said the cyclone that killed my granddaughter was just a natural disaster, but too many others said it was a result of climate change. Both sides have been sending me studies from different scientists. I couldn’t always understand the information. You know, I tried to study science in college, but there were so few women then. I changed to majoring in sociology . . .”

She breaks off again, lost in recollection. This time, I don’t wait. I bring her right back. “Your vote, Senator?”

“Yes . . . right . . . my vote. . . . When my granddaughter died, I took a bereavement leave. After the funeral, I just couldn’t go right back to work. I needed some more time. . . . I just shut myself up alone in the Jacksonville house. And I realized I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t go along with the Republican line. I started listening to that teenage girl. That Greta Thunberg. And that Black girl from Detroit. Little Miss Flint. They said they were tired of people in positions of power who didn’t take action. Maybe if we’d taken action earlier, Evelyn would still be alive.” This time her face crumples and the tears fall. She wipes them away, and she seems much clearer now, her words hardly slurring at all.

Amandys refills her the cup and the senator takes a big gulp of water.

“I—I didn’t want any more deaths on my conscience. I was gonna join Senator Markey and vote for the Green New Deal. I was informing Martin Miller as a courtesy. I told him I would be announcing publicly the next day.”

She clears her throat. “Anyway, he thanked me for letting him know. I should have been suspicious when he didn’t even try to talk me out of it.”

The senator continues, “I was planning a press conference, so I was getting my hair touched up. The woman wasn’t my usual colorist, but I didn’t want to have gray roots showing on TV. Anyway, she said I seemed tense and she was giving me some kind of aromatherapy. But I took one whiff of whatever that was and passed out. The next thing I knew, I was half-conscious in a moving vehicle. The woman was peeling off my false eyelashes. ‘Miller was right,’ the man next to her was saying. ‘Without her hair and makeup, no one will ever recognize her.’ I kept my eyes shut so they wouldn’t know I could hear them.”

“Did you get a look at the vehicle?” I ask. Detectives on TV ask that type of thing.

“No. I must have nodded off again, and the next thing I knew, they were wheeling me on a gurney into this place. They put a mask over my face and I was knocked out for real. I didn’t wake up until I saw your friend.”

“Ms. Samuelson,” I say. “Who can we get to help you? Who can we trust? Is there someone we can call?”

“I—yes,” she says. “I guess they took my phone. I can’t remember any of the numbers by heart. But you can call my office.”

“Can we really trust them?” I ask. “I mean, they might be on Miller’s side.”

The senator’s face clouds. “Oh,” she says. “I hadn’t thought of that. I guess you could call . . .”

But she breaks off because we all hear someone just outside the door and Amandys shushes us. Amandys and I look at each other, and she quickly takes the clamp off the IV drip.

We hurriedly creep to the unoccupied bed to get our things. But then the footsteps and the voice outside the door move on down the hall. False alarm. We return to La Rica’s side to ask more questions, but the drugs have begun to take effect. La Rica—Senator Samuelson—is nodding off again. So dated.

Amandys looks from the senator to the door. “We should go,” she says. She walks to the door and silently turns the knob to unlock the bolt. I nod, and the two of us gather our stuff. We creep into the bathroom and use la salida de emergencia, climbing out through the window and letting it lock behind us.

 

 

CHAPTER 5

 

AMANDYS

WHEN MARILUNA AND I climb out the window into the shrubbery behind Shady Orchards, we’re both stunned by what we learned. Did I understand right? Senator? Senadora? Is La Rica really Senator Jane Samuelson?

“Can you tell me what she said?” I ask Mariluna.

“On the way,” she says.

“The way to where?” I ask.

“My house,” she says.

The two of us are hidden behind a strip of hedge at the back of the Shady Orchards senior facility. The lawn beneath our feet is soggy with water from the flood earlier that week. We peek out from behind the hedge and see that no one is looking. As we troop across the lawn, it feels unnaturally springy.

“What’s wrong with this grass?” I ask.

“A lot of places have had to put in fake grass,” Mariluna says. “The seawater kills a lot of plants.”

I nod and keep my head down.

 

By the time we’re nearly back to Mariluna’s on the bus, she’s translated the whole thing.

“You promised we’d help her?” I ask.

“And we will,” she insists.

“But how?” I ask.

“I have no idea,” Mariluna says, as the bus pulls up to her stop.

 

As Mami and I walk home from Mariluna’s, she says she hoped I could hang out at Mariluna’s house some more after school.

She also says Mariluna’s mom gave her some inside info: “There might be a one-bedroom available in her building,” Mami says. “Wouldn’t that be the best?”

I agree. It definitely would.

 

The next day at school, I wait for Mariluna in the cafeteria. They’re serving burgers and fries.

I see when Mariluna and her friends come in. She waves goodbye to them and comes to sit with me.

“I told them we were working together on a project,” she says, eating a French fry. “Well, we are.”

The night before, we looked online to find out when the vote is on the Green New Deal. Next Monday. So we have less than a week. It seems like La Rica—well, Senator Samuelson—was just about to tell us who from her office or family we can trust. But the damn nurse had to come. Maybe we should have stayed and asked. But we couldn’t wait another hour for the new sedative to wear off. I have a gut feeling that we’ve already pressed our luck as far as it goes. Mariluna and I agree: we can get more info from the senator after she escapes. Next time we go in, it’ll be to get her out of there.

“So, what are we gonna do?” I ask.

“I thought about it after you left last night,” Mariluna says. “Our best bet is to get someone who is gonna really get invested in helping us. So it should be someone who is 100 percent down for the cause.”

“Senator Samuelson’s family?”

“No,” Mariluna says. “Someone much closer to home.” She pulls the burger off her tray and wraps it in a napkin. Then she slid it into her pocket.

“Come on,” she says. “I’ll show you.”

Mariluna walks me out to the school courtyard. I haven’t spent any time out there sitting on the wooden benches or leaning on the brick planters. Why would you go outside to look even more conspicuous about not having any friends? I stick to the crowded spots inside. The cafeteria. The library.

But Mariluna always walks around like she owns the school. This time, she walks over to a group of white kids kicking a soccer ball back and forth. Sitting on the brick planter next to them are several lunch bags. I expect brown paper bags like the kids take to American schools on TV, but these are all made of cloth.

“Hey Heidi,” Mariluna says.

A blonde girl looks up from the game, shielding her eyes from the glare.

“Can we talk to you for a minute?” Mariluna asks.

Heidi trots over, and Mariluna introduces me. “This is Heidi Duvall, president of the environmental club here at Lyndon B. Johnson.”

I like the way Mariluna speaks English around me. Nice and slow. I can understand her better than most. I nod hello to Heidi.

The environmental club president looks kind of like a cliché. She has super short hair dyed blonde, but brownish at the roots, and glasses. Her clothes look well worn and seem to be made of natural fibers.

“Can we talk to you after school?” Mariluna asks. “We have something . . . well . . . related to the environment.”

“You want to join our upcoming school cleanup?” Heidi asks.

“Maybe,” Mariluna says. “Are you free to talk?”

“I work after school,” Heidi says. “Can you all walk me to my job?”

She identifies the grocery store where she works, and Mariluna agrees that we can walk her. I still don’t know my way around, so I just nod along.

After we say goodbye, I turn to Mariluna. “Are you sure we can trust her?”

Mariluna shakes her head. “I have no idea. We’ll have to check her out.”

“I guess you’re right,” I say. “We don’t have much time.”

 

After school, Heidi meets us on the front steps. She’s tall and a fast walker. I have to practically jog to keep up.

“So . . .” Mariluna begins. “What do you think of the Green New Deal?”

“Are you kidding me?” Heidi says. “I love it. It’s the best idea to come around in a generation. The vote on the Green New Deal is coming up in the Senate and we don’t have the votes yet. We need every single senator to know that the American voters want this. That this bill is our best shot at making sure we have a livable planet, and if they don’t vote for it, we won’t forget. I mean, I only do the environmental club on campus so that people will seek me out to talk about this other stuff. I’m working to organize a climate strike in the next couple weeks.”

Mariluna and I look at each other.

“But isn’t a strike against school rules?” Mariluna asks.

“I don’t care,” Heidi says. “We aren’t gonna defeat the fossil fuel industry by playing nice. I want to organize a training. In case people get arrested. You need to learn how to go limp. It’s when you just let your whole body flop. You’re not resisting arrest, but it makes it harder for the cops to take you in.”

“So you’re willing to make trouble?” Mariluna asks.

“Good trouble,” Heidi says. “Like the late Congressman John Lewis. I’m ready to do what we have to do. We might have to shut things down. Better we do it than the climate crisis does it.”

The three of us walk up in front of a small produce store.

“I gotta get inside in three minutes,” Heidi says. “Is that it? You wanted to ask me about the Green New Deal?”

“What time do you get off work?” Mariluna says.

“What is this all about?” Heidi asks.

“It’s something big,” Mariluna says. “Something we can’t explain in the three minutes before you have to work.”

“I get off at six,” Heidi says.

“Okay,” Mariluna says. “We’ll be here.”

 

“So you’re willing to make trouble?” Mariluna asks. “Good trouble,” Heidi says. “Like the late Congressman John Lewis. I’m ready to do what we have to do. We might have to shut things down. Better we do it than the climate crisis does it.”

 

After she goes inside, we walk down the street until we find a little park.

“So, what do you think?” Mariluna says. “Can we trust her?”

“I don’t know,” I say. “On the one hand, she seems ready to take some risks, but . . .”

“But what?” Mariluna asks.

I look down at the ground. “We don’t have papers,” I say. “If I get in trouble, it could mean we get sent back to the Dominican Republic.”

Mariluna lets out her breath. “We don’t have papers, either.”

“You don’t?” I ask.

“My aunt does,” she says. “But not Mami or any of us kids. We managed to get out of Puerto Rico after the hurricane, and we were supposed to go back to the DR. But our visas expired and we just . . . stayed here. I tell people we came from Puerto Rico, and they just assume we’re citizens.”

I nod. It all makes sense now. Why I feel so at home with her. Not only is she Dominican, but her life also looks more like mine than I realized.

“Here’s what I think,” I say. “They did everything they could to keep La Rica isolated. But she woke up that day for a reason. It was me, not the nurse, who found her, for a reason. This Green New Deal could change everything. And these guys will do whatever they can to stop it. For some reason, we’re the ones who know what’s going on, and we don’t know which of these adults we can trust. Heidi is who we’ve got. These scientists are saying we’ve only got a few years left to turn everything around. If the Green New Deal is the best chance we have for the planet, we’ve gotta try.”

“Okay,” Mariluna says. “Let’s try.”

 

At 6:15, the three of us stand in the park.

We swear Heidi to secrecy, and she crosses her heart and swears on her grandmother’s grave and everything. But a promise not to tell is only good if the person is trustworthy. Mariluna and I have no way to tell if she is or not.

We decide to take the gamble. I have my phone out and it’s playing the recording.

It’s just like with Mariluna. I can see the shock blooming on Heidi’s face.

“You two found Jane Samuelson?” she asks.

“Shhhhhh!” Mariluna and I both shush her.

“This is—this is totally amazing,” Heidi says.

“Yeah, but we gotta get her out of there,” Mariluna says.

“I know who we should call—” Heidi begins.

“Don’t talk so fast,” Mariluna says. “It’s hard to understand you.”

“Sorry,” Heidi says. “I have friends I could call in the Sunrise Movement.”

“It’s not that simple,” Mariluna says. “As soon as anyone says anything, they’ll move her. They’ll keep her hidden until after the vote.”

“Then we need to tell the police,” Heidi says.

“No way,” I say. I startle myself with the English phrase that just jumps out of my mouth.

“The police in Proctor are really racist,” Mariluna says. “I don’t trust them at all. Haven’t you heard all the stories of Black and brown people like us calling the police for help and we’re the ones who end up in trouble? Besides, there was a cop demanding to keep her quiet the first day she woke up.”

“Well, then what are you asking me to do?”

“We’ve thought a lot about it,” Mariluna says. “Tell your Sunrise Movement friends that you’re onto something but don’t tell them what it is. Just get them ready to receive her after she gets out.”

“But who’s gonna get her out of there?” Heidi asks.

I find the words in English, and I look her square in the face. “We are.”

 

 

Chapter 6

 

AMANDYS

THE NEXT DAY AT LUNCH, Mariluna and I are sitting with her friends in the cafeteria. I see what she meant. One of the girls is going on and on about her boyfriend. Apparently, he goes to a different school, has a car, calls her every night, and wants to marry her after they graduate.

It’s funny. I thought this group of girls was so out of my league. But it turns out that they’re just girls. And given what Mariluna and I are working on, they seem like girls who are kind of caught up in things that don’t matter very much. Like the girl with the boyfriend, Yamila. And then Caridad and Salma are sort of . . . like her entourage or something. It’s like Mariluna said. Having a boyfriend makes Yamila the group’s leader, and the other two are sitting at her feet trying to learn her ways.

“And what about you, Amandys?” Caridad is asking me.

I blink at her. She’s talking to me? I missed the question.

Mariluna rescues me. “Yeah, Amandys, who do you think is cute here at school?”

I shrug. “I’m still so new here,” I say. “To be honest, it’s so overwhelming just getting used to it that I haven’t had time to notice anyone.”

So that first part is true. I’m pretty overwhelmed with just figuring out how to navigate the school. But the second part isn’t really true. There’s that boy with the short dreadlocks. One day I was totally lost, and he helped me out. But the thing was, he could barely speak Spanish. Still, he took the time to stumble in his awkward gringo-speak, and he was even late to class helping me get where I needed to go.

He’s definitely cute, but not super standout handsome. He’s probably Black American or Caribbean. From his awful accent, I would say he’s definitely not Latino. He has skin the color of the top of a flan, when it’s cooked extra dark. He has big eyes and a great smile.

And his timing could not be worse, because suddenly, as if our conversation has conjured him up, he’s standing right next to our table in the cafeteria.

Beside him, Heidi is asking if she can talk to me and Mariluna for a moment. If they both can.

“Hola, muchachas,” the boy says in his awkward Spanish.

The rest of the girls laugh, but I’m sure I’m blushing. Thank goodness I’m dark enough that it doesn’t show.

Mariluna and I stand up with our trays.

“Heidi,” I hear Mariluna hiss. “Why did you bring Davion?”

“I think we need him,” Heidi whispers back. “I’ve been texting you all morning to see if it’s cool and you never got back to me. Time is short and it’s Friday. We need the weekend to plan.”

Mariluna pulls out her phone, and sure enough, she has ten texts from Heidi. And one from someone named “Caribbean Airlines” that’s just a heart.

“Have you told him anything?” Mariluna’s sharp whisper to Heidi pulls me back to the cafeteria.

Heidi shakes her head.

Mariluna and I say goodbye to the girls at the table. I finish the last few bites of macaroni and cheese on the way to dump our trays.

I don’t bother with the rest of the soggy peas, just throw what’s left into the trash.

“You should really compost that,” Heidi says.

“Don’t give her a hard time,” Mariluna says. “She’s new here.”

“That’s right,” the boy says. “Como esta tu tiempo aqui en nuestra escuela?”

I laugh. “School is okay,” I say in English. “I’m learning more every day.” And then, so randomly, the thought that runs into my head is, The dog is moving quickly across the grass.

“So I see you’ve met Davion,” Mariluna says. “He’s the editor of the school newspaper.”

“Davion is a serious journalist,” Heidi says. “I asked him if we could talk to him about something off the record, and he said yes.”

“It’s a matter of journalistic integrity,” he says. “I won’t divulge it, and I won’t reveal my source. But I will dig to see if I can find independent corroborating evidence.”

“The lunch bell is about to ring,” Mariluna says. “Let’s all meet afterschool on the front steps.”

“I can’t,” Davion says. “I have to meet right with some newbies at the newspaper after school. But we can meet there around 3:00. Mr. Howell’s room.”

“Okay,” Mariluna says. “We’ll meet you there.”

“Till then,” Davion says, and heads out.

“What do you think?” Heidi says. “I reached out to the people I knew in Sunrise. I didn’t tell them anything in particular. Just that we needed to have a big group of activists and some reporters for a big press conference. They say they would have a hard time getting the press, based on just the word of a high school activist. One who didn’t have a big platform. But they could turn out at least twenty activists. I just thought we needed someone with media contacts. And Davion is a good guy.”

“I don’t know,” Mariluna says. “This is such a big thing. I guess you’re right that we need someone else, but with each person, there’s more risk.”

“I agree,” I say in English. “But Heidi is right. We need the media. It’s what will guarantee Senator Samuelson’s safety. And it would be good to have another member of the team who is . . .” I lock eyes with Mariluna. “Who is American.”

She nods.

“What does that have to do with it?” Heidi asks.

Right then, the bell rings.

“We can talk about it later,” Mariluna says. “See you in Mr. Howell’s room at three o’clock.”

 

We swear Heidi to secrecy, and she crosses her heart and swears on her grandmother’s grave and everything. But a promise not to tell is only good if the person is trustworthy.

 

The afternoon drags on. School always feels painfully slow, but today it seems to crawl. The only moment that goes quickly is when I’m walking down the hall and Davion smiles at me. I wave back. In that moment, it feels like we’re on two trains rushing past each other, and I have to work to get my smile in place and wave before it’s too late.

But then I’m in another class, with the teacher droning on in English, and the clock ticking off the seconds like minutes.

 

Even though we aren’t meeting Heidi and Davion till three, Mariluna and I meet outside Mr. Howell’s room right after dismissal at 2:20.

“It was so weird to finally sit with you and your friends,” I say. “I can totally see what you mean. They’re all about boys.”

“I know,” Mariluna says. “But they’re not really like that. Or at least they used to . . . not . . . be. I mean, Yamila is an amazing dancer. She used to talk about wanting to dance professionally. But now she talks more about how the dance conditioning is really keeping her body so toned. And Salma wants to be a doctor. And Caridad is an amazing artist. She won the design contest last year for the yearbook cover.”

“Well, why don’t they talk about any of that?”

“I don’t know,” Mariluna says. “It’s just boys, boys, boys. All the time.”

“So why don’t you tell them it’s annoying?” I ask.

“I couldn’t do that,” Mariluna says. “It would be rude.”

“What?” I say. “You’d be doing them a favor. Yamila is so caught up in her boyfriend that she would have absolutely no life if they broke up. That’s not a healthy way for a girl to set up her future. And Caridad and Salma are kind of pathetic.”

“But it’s their thing,” Mariluna says. “They all like talking about boys so I just let them do their thing.”

I turn to her and tilt my head to the side. “I can’t believe you,” I say, and then I look around to make sure no one is listening. When I go on, it’s in a whisper. “We just met. I tell you about a national, like . . . kidnapping and crime that could change the fate of the planet. And you are, like, let’s risk our lives and everything. But you can’t tell your friends at school to stop talking about boys all the time?”

“It’s their choice if they want to—”

“Who are you right now?” I ask.

“Look, those girls were there for me when I came to this country,” Mariluna says. “Like I’m here for you.”

“Is it about ‘Caribbean Airlines’?” I ask.

Her mouth falls open.

“Is he one of the boys they like?” Then my mouth falls open. “Is he Yamila’s boyfriend?”

“No, it’s nothing like that,” she hisses back.

“Are you sure?” I ask.

“Of course I’m sure,” she says. “I’m gay.”

After she says it, we both freeze. She looks at me like she would swallow the words if she could. But she can’t.

Slowly a smile creeps over my face. “Okay,” I say. “Then who is Caribbean Airlines?”

Mariluna bites her lip. “This girl I met over the summer. She comes every year to stay with her grandparents.”

“So you’re gay and you have a secret girlfriend?” I ask in a whisper, my eyes wide with an openmouthed grin.

“And none of my friends know,” she says. “And I want to keep it that way.”

“So what?” I say. “You’re afraid if you complain that all they want to talk about is boys, they’ll know you’re gay. I like boys, but I don’t want to talk about them all day.”

“Really?” she says. “I thought it was just a gay thing. Because I feel like I could talk about my girlfriend all day.”

“I don’t think it’s a gay thing,” I say. “Maybe it’s an in love thing. But we need to postpone the intervention in conversation topics for the friend group until after we save the world.”

Mariluna nods. “Agreed.”

 

By now, I’ve gotten used to what it looks like to watch someone listen to the recording of Senator Samuelson telling us her story. I even listen to it a few times on my own. Now I understand all the English words.

But it’s a little different to watch Davion hearing it for the first time. Watching his brown eyes go wide. Watching his mouth drop from a neutral “I’m listening” to a perfect “O.” In the middle, he picks up his pad and begins to scribble notes. By the end, you can almost see the wheels in his head turning.

After I shut it off, he asks us a ton of rapid-fire questions. I can’t keep up with his English.

“Slow down,” Mariluna says. “And just one question at a time.”

Over the course of the next hour, he asks for all the background and context of Shady Orchards and my connections there. We agree that this is all off the record, so he can’t quote it or share it.

I tell him everything. Including the room key and the fact that I’m not supposed to be there. I tell him everything except the fact that Mami and I don’t have papers.

“This is incredible,” he says after I answer the last question he has on his pad. I look over his shoulder and see his neat, small script on the green steno pad. “Us four teenagers are the only ones who know about a plot to change the course of history.”

“The only ones who aren’t in on it,” Mariluna says.

“I know I can help,” he says. “My mentor works at the Miami Herald. He really trusts me. I can tell him I have a huge scoop. One that will be national news. International news. And that I need him to get some of his reporter friends to a particular location. If we can produce the senator, then we can make it happen.”

“And I’ll get the supporters from the Sunrise Movement to help,” Heidi says.

“So then the big thing we need is to figure out is how to smuggle a heavily guarded kidnapped senator out of a nursing home,” Mariluna says.

“Yep,” Heidi says, with her typical dry humor. “No biggie.”

 

Davion offers to make his place our headquarters. His family has an actual house, and we can meet in their garage. “They’re used to me having big projects for the paper,” he says. “They won’t bat an eye.”

Davion explains that he’s the youngest in his family. His older sisters are away at college and his parents work a lot.

Davion rides his bike home, but Heidi walks with me and Mariluna. Turns out that she doesn’t live far from either of us. She lives with her mom and brother in a small apartment. Apparently, they lived in a bigger place with her dad before her parents’ divorce.

We drop off Heidi first, and then I walk with Mariluna to her apartment. We’re halfway up the stairs when I ask, “Before we go in, aren’t you going to show me a picture?”

“Of what?”

“Caribbean Airlines,” I say. “I’m assuming you wouldn’t show me in front of your aunt.”

She looks horrified.

“Okay, then,” I say. “Let’s see.”

It’s the first time I’ve seen Mariluna look shy. She scrolls through her photos and then looks at the screen for a couple of seconds before she shows it to me.

There’s Mariluna. Her hair a bit shorter than it is now. She stands with her arm around another girl. If I didn’t know it was her girlfriend-girlfriend, I might think they were just friends. Maybe they were at that point. The other girl has shorter hair, a sort of bob, and light brown trigueña skin, a few shades lighter than Mariluna.

“What’s her name?” I ask.

Mariluna shakes her head. “Caribbean Airlines is all you need to know.”

 

 

Ready for more? Read Part Three: Plotting, of Aya de León’s The Mystery Woman in Room Three.

 

 

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Aya de León teaches creative writing at U.C. Berkeley. She writes adult novels about climate justice and racial justice for Kensington Books: her award-winning Justice Hustlers series, A Spy in the Struggle (out now), and Queen of Urban Prophecy (out in December). She is currently working on a YA spy girl series for teens and a memoir of her body that explores the intersection of food, body image, race, and the environment. Finally, her Justice Hustlers series has been optioned for television, and she is currently working on the pilot. Visit the author’s website here.

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