Calico

Black Cat was everything to Calico - brother, teacher, saviour... and traitor? Calico couldn't accept that the one person she could remember trusting would betray so brazenly. But now she was on the run, and as she searched for a safe haven, she would have to come to terms with the terrible, awful betrayal Black Cat had saddled her with. An entry for "The Fault in Our Stars" competition.

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4. Betrayal

Our return to the yellow and brown mansion saw us back at our hideout with my pockets stuffed with the most exquisite jewelry imaginable and Black Cat hiding several fine shirts under his scruffy coat. We even made the paper. Black Cat almost burst with pride when I showed him the article in a paper I’d ferreted out of a trash can. Black Cat kept all the shirts but we sold almost all the jewelry, except for the silver chain with the cat pendant that he’d seen me gazing longingly at. Since then, I’d worn it everywhere, despite Black Cat’s warnings. We dined well that night, staring out the window at the Palace with the newspaper nestled at our feet.

 

From then on, we struck in Utopia alone, frequently enough to make the police blame several groups for the robberies. Black Cat found that particularly funny, though the mention of the police made something tighten in my throat. Cat burglars don’t get caught. I had to remind myself more and more often when we went on our forays into Utopia. Black Cat chose our targets indiscriminately; being a Utopia house was his only criterion. The weeks blurred into a rainbow of bright mansions, darkened by night and alive with the risk of discovery. Now I knew why Black Cat had chosen me - I had a unique talent of finding ideal entry points for us. I never knew until Black Cat ordered me up a drainage pipe to get to a window. Climbing it was easy enough, but I stopped before the window he’d told me to open, something telling me that wasn’t the right way in.

 

“What’re you doing?” Black Cat whispered furiously. “Get in already!”

“Wait!” I spat, surprising us both. I shinnied back down the pipe and slipped around to the back of the house. Black Cat, still silent at my outburst, followed me reluctantly. My sixth sense told me to go to a particular window and I slipped my nails into the thin gap between the window and the frame. A gentle tug, and the window was open. Black Cat’s jaw dropped and I grinned triumphantly.

 

“Well done Calico,” he said softly, ruffling my hair as he leaped in. Pride flared in my heart and I followed him in. Black Cat treated me with more respect after that, even teaching me how to drive the beat-up car we’d stolen from the other side of the city. Which was the only thing that had kept me alive up till this point. I could see the lights of the police cars in my rear view mirror.

 

I wasn’t sure how many months had gone by since we’d first visited Utopia, but it must have been a year when Black Cat stopped in front of a stately white mansion, even plusher than the rest, and squeezed my hand. Our target for tonight. I was scanning the front of the house for entry points when I saw him. The man who’d stopped us all those months ago. He hadn’t changed one bit. Then I saw the silk banner spread from the upper window. Brazen gold with a black lion stamped on it, the lion crowned and rearing. And the undeniable letters. CQR. My breath caught in my throat. CQR. I began shaking and Black Cat nudged me impatiently.

 

“What is it?”

“Him.”

 

Black Cat’s head snapped up and he saw the man. The hard look crept back into his eyes and his grip on my hand tightened till it hurt. The man glanced up and saw us watching. The old fear came rushing back but the man didn’t seem to think much of us and directed his attention elsewhere. Black Cat must have felt my fright.

 

“It’s okay. He won’t recognize us, especially in these clothes.” He had a point. It was winter again, and we were no longer the scruffy boy and girl who had intruded so rudely on this posh neighborhood. Black Cat had on a black wool jacket and black pants, with solid laced boots. His hands were clad in soft gloves but I could still feel his fingers through them. I was wearing striped stockings and a warm red dress, with red buckled shoes and white mittens.

 

“Tonight, Calico. Our last trip. Then the Palace is ours,” he whispered as we hurried away. I believed him completely. Tomorrow, I would be waltzing in the Palace with Black Cat. We would be stars. The rest of the day was a blur, getting ready, and in no time we were at the mansion again. But it was night and all the lights in the house were off. I didn’t see the man anywhere.

 

“Do you think that man will be there?” I asked as we scaled the black bars that walled the compound. Black Cat got over before I did and hit the ground with a muted thud. I was beside him a second later.

 

“Nope. He won’t even know we were here.” We crept towards the house, taking care to dust away our footprints behind us. I allowed my instinct to guide me and we ended up at the back of the house. I crouched and examined the ground. Black Cat frowned.

 

“Nothing here.” I held up a hand to silence him and brushed away the snow. A metal handle came into view, followed by a wooden door. Black Cat knelt down to help me and before long, a cellar door lay before us.

 

“Honors are yours, Calico,” said Black Cat, gesturing expansively at the door. I smiled and lifted the handle. The door opened easily on smooth hinges. We scurried down and found ourselves in a dark cellar. Black Cat nudged me.

 

“There. Stairs.” He slipped up them gracefully and I followed. We entered an opulent living room, marble floors, handwoven rugs and all. I stared through the front window spellbound. The moon was full and cast a silver light into the room. The crystals of snow that framed the window glittered, and everything had a pearly sheen. I couldn’t resist putting out a hand to touch a porcelain vase when Black Cat slapped my hand away.

 

“We need to be quick. Take what you can. I’ll join you here in five minutes.” And he disappeared into a doorway. I darted off in the opposite direction. Thieving had made me adept at navigating places in the dark, even places I’d never been to before. This was a typical house for Utopia - rugs that ran along the length of the passageways which took care to reveal the expensive stone floors ever so often, portraits in gold frames that watched me disapprovingly, carved tables that stood beneath mirrors, chalices of dried flowers, rows and rows of polished doors that were usually locked. At the corner of one passage, I saw a round table with three twisted legs proffering a vase of flowers and an ostentatious box overly studded with jewels. I smirked. Hide things in plain sight, nobody looks there. One of the biggest lies ever told. I opened the box and my suspicions were confirmed. Necklaces, bracelets, rings, even a tiara for crying out loud! I stuffed the loot in my pockets and hurried back to the living room.

 

Black Cat still wasn’t back. Not too unusual. I settled myself on one of the sofas and after a second’s thought, put my feet up the way rich ladies usually did. It was so easy to pretend in a place like this. Slowly, the chandelier flickered on and the room was filled with muted chatter, the occasional laugh. People were clustered throughout the room, holding thin-stemmed glasses filled with sparkling liquid. I was in a deep blue dress, my hair was pinned up and I was wearing the tiara I had found. The conversation flowed easily, though I had no idea what everyone was talking about. All I had to say was No! Oh my goodness. Why, of course darling! How simply divine! I giggled at how silly the thing was. I was saying nothing but they all loved me. Everybody... loved... me.

 

“NO!” shouted a deep voice. I leaped off the sofa and ended up bumping into the platform holding the vase, sending it crashing to the floor. Alarms were blaring and I swore I could hear the police sirens wailing up the road. “Black Cat?” I called. “Black Cat!”

 

And suddenly he was there, taking my hands in his. “I’m here Calico, I’m here! Come on, we’ve got to get out of here!” Without any further ado, he pulled me to the window and we leaped through in a shower of glass. I felt a dozen bursts of pain explode on my face but the rest of me was fine. Black Cat didn’t stop though, and I half-stumbled, half-ran to the gates. But it was too late. Police cars were skidding to a halt in front of the house and inside, I could see lights snapping on. The sirens were wailing, doors were slamming and from within the house, I suddenly heard a scream. I tried to run to the back of the house, but Black Cat’s hands held me where I was.

 

“Don’t move,” he muttered. I froze, and then we were trapped in the eyes what felt like all the spotlights in the city. We weren’t cat burglars anymore. We had been caught. There was a moment of silence as the predators regarded their prey.

 

Then someone yelled, “It was her, officer! She did it!” Shock held me fast but I felt like falling. The voice was familiar, trusted, loved. It wasn’t someone from the house. It was Black Cat. Black Cat was turning me in. I suddenly realized I had been holding something all this time and held it up to the light. It was a knife. And it was covered with blood.

 

I knew what had happened but I couldn’t say it, couldn’t even form the thought clearly in my head. It involved too much emotion, too much love, too much trust, too many experiences and too many truths. Finally I saw it clearly - Black Cat had murdered someone and he was framing me.

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