Note: all the pictures in this part were edited to make it look like it was night.
I snuck out of the apartment that night to go meet Petrina, slipping into my jean jacket both to keep me warm and to conceal the pink material of my sweater. I wasn’t quite sure why I was even bothering to go — I doubted I would get anything out of our midnight meeting. But it was worth a shot. Mom and I were that desperate.
It was fairly easy to find Petrina’s house. I followed a uniform line of dogwood trees until I got to Marsley Avenue, then headed up the path amidst more trees until an iron scroll work gate appeared, beyond which was a private drive that lead to Marsley Mansion.
When I got to the gate, Petrina was already there, waiting for me. She gave a single, swift wave to let me know she had seen me. I returned the gesture.
I’d never actually been this close to Petrina’s home, though I’d walked past Marsley Avenue every day during the school year on my way home. I couldn’t help but wonder if Petrina’s family was as strange as she was.
As a drew closer to Petrina, I squinted through the shadows at the name embroidered on her black jacket: Isabelle. I looked pointedly at it and raised an eyebrow.
Petrina glanced down at the silver writing and explained, “My sister. She gave the jacket to me when it got too small for her.”
“It looks too small for you,” I commented. The jacket’s hem only came down to the bottom of her ribcage.
Petrina laughed lightly; it was the first time I’d ever seen her do that. “It’s just the style,” she told me. “It fits fine.”
I nodded. “Oh, OK. So, Petrina, why’d you call me here?”
She grimaced. “Don’t call me that,” she said. “I hate my name. Call me Peter, please.”
“Peter,” I repeated. “Sure.” I’d never heard of a girl called Peter, but there’s a first time for everything, I guess. I had to admit that a fancy name like Petrina didn’t fit the mysterious Marsley girl.
My thoughts were interrupted by Peter’s voice. “I said I could help you, and I will. But you’ve got to trust me and believe what I’m going to say next, or else we might both get killed. Can you do that, Devin?”
A tiny voice in my head was screaming no, but Peter might be my best chance to keep my home. So I said yes.
It was only after I’d agreed to trust her when the last part of her sentence set in: we might both get killed.
“Good.” Peter got down to business. “All we need to do is find Pamel, get inside, take the treasure, and exchange it for money. Then you and your mom can keep your apartment.”
I scoffed. All we need to do. She made it sound so simple, but how were we even going to find the nonexistent city of Pamel? And the treasure was just a silly story we learned in school. Peter couldn’t actually believe that all that stuff was real.
Peter was watching me with concerned hazel eyes. “You don’t believe me, do you?” she asked.
I had said I would trust her and believe her, so I hurriedly assured her with a fib. “Of course I believe you, and that’s a great plan.” I couldn’t help but add, “You do know where Pamel is, right?”
The corners of Peter’s mouth twitched up. “Why would I? It’s a lost city, remember?”
“Then how are we supposed to get there?” I demanded. Peter wasn’t making any sense. If we couldn’t find Pamel, then her plan was useless, and Mom and I would lose the apartment for sure. But I’d been expecting that. It would have been practically impossible for us to get the rent money in the week the landlord had given us.
“Clues and hints and hidden things!” Peter sang, dashing away from the gate. “Come on, Devin East, we’ve got a lost city to find!”
A smile crossed my lips as I sprinted after her. Even if we couldn’t save the apartment, at least I’d have an adventure.
As we ran, Peter told me a few important things about our plan: the whole trip should only take about a week, and we were leaving now. I asked her how she knew how close we were to Pamel, but she just flashed me a mischievous grin and chirped, “Hints!”
We passed my home on our way out of the town of Lemap (Pronounced Lem-app), and I scribbled on a tissue a message for Mom: Love you, Mom. –Devin. When she woke up to an empty apartment, at least she’d know I hadn’t been kidnapped.
I took the apartment steps two at a time and slipped the note under the door. I whispered, “I do love you, Mom, and I promise I’ll be safe.” At the time, I didn’t know that I wouldn’t be able to keep that promise.
Peter and I raced out of town, and I didn’t look back once.