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Authors: Elizabeth Scott

Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Family, #Parents, #Law & Crime, #Social Issues, #Values & Virtues

Stealing Heaven

BOOK: Stealing Heaven
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Stealing
Heaven

Elizabeth
Scott

 

 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Thanks to Tara Weikum for her dedication, kindness, and belief in
my work--you've been in my corner since the beginning, and I am so grateful for
everything you do; and to Robin Rue, for continually proving that she's the
best agent around.

Thanks also go to Katharine Beutner, Jessica Brearton, Clara
Jaeckel, Shana Jones, Susie LeBlanc, Amy Pascale, Donna Randa-Gomez, Nephele
Tempest, Marianna Volokitina, and Janel Winter for reading drafts,
encouragement, and all-around support as I was writing this book.

Special thanks to my husband for believing in me and being the
best man I know.

 

 

STEALING

HEAVEN

 

 

My first memory is staring through a window into a house that
isn't mine. I'm not very old, three or four at the most, and a hand rests on my
head and fingers tap twice softly on my left ear. I know this means I must be
extra super quiet and wait exactly where I am. I am good at being quiet. I am
good at waiting.

The window opens. Through it I see a carpet. It's all different
colors and enormous, stretching out as far as I can see. I stare at it for a
long time and then I hear a bag fall, clinking softly as it lands. I am scooped
up in a pair of arms and held tight, the only sound the rhythmic slap of feet
hitting the ground over and over again.

My name is Danielle. I'm eighteen. I've been stealing things for
as long as I can remember.

 

My first memory is of the Lanaheim house, which I guess everyone
has heard of, what with the Lanaheims being, well, who they are. It's not
someone's home anymore, it's a museum, and we went there again today, toured
the house.

Mom wanted to see what had happened to the place, and we didn't
have anywhere we had to be since we'd just finished up in Charleston, so we
went. She spent a lot of time talking to the tour guide, asking if Baltimore
really is as awful as everyone says and was it true that once someone broke in
and stole a lot of jewelry but left a diamond necklace sitting right out in the
open on Mrs. Lanaheim's dressing room table?

The tour guide laughed and told Mom yes, it was true, and then led
us into a big open room, which he

11

called a "formal dining room," and started telling a
story about daring thieves who were never caught. I didn't listen, just stood
staring at the carpet. It looked so much smaller than I remembered.

I stared at it until Mom's bright voice called out,

"Helen, sweetie, come and take a look at this--what is this
again? A highboy? What's it used for? Oh, storing dishes and silver. Well, that
makes sense, what with there being plates in there. Goodness, they sure are
pretty. Helen, don't you think they're pretty?"

I don't think I need to tell you Mom knows exactly what a highboy
is, right? What she really wanted was to stand next to something she'd passed
by a long time ago, to know she was somewhere she'd been before and could
easily come again.

She's laughing about it when we pull onto the interstate, talking
about that and how the famed diamond necklace wasn't all that great because the
center stone had a huge crack in it. "Funny how the guide forgot to
mention that, isn't it?"

"I remember the carpet," I tell her. "It looked so
much smaller than I thought it was."

"Well," she says, and glances over at me. "You've
grown up. Helen."

 

"Very funny," I tell her. "I think you pick the
most awful names you can to torture me."

She laughs. "Next place, you can be Sydney. Better?"

"Better. When will we get there?"

"Pass me a soda, will you, baby? No, not a regular one. Diet,
and none of that 'oh, it's full of chemicals* stuff, okay?"

"Fine." I hand her a soda from the now-warm six-pack we
got the last time we stopped for gas, and then stare out the window. I want to
ask where we're going but I know she won't tell me. A good thief never tells anyone,
even family, everything, but sometimes I wish Mom would break her own rules a
little and trust me.

When we were in Charleston, I got to chatting with a server when
Mom and I talked our way into a charity dinner in one of the houses we'd
targeted. I remember the server told me she'd taken the job because she
couldn't bear the thought of going home for the summer, that her mom drove her
crazy by always wanting to know where she was going and who she was with. I
laughed and said I totally understood.

I wondered if that's how Mom feels about me.

***

We end up in Aberwyn, Pennsylvania, which is full of very wealthy
people living in very huge and very old houses. There's a whole string of towns
like it lined up in a row right outside Philadelphia, and I've seen most of
them. Mom and I have even been to Aberwyn before, but not for a couple of
years. Mom will come back to the same place twice sometimes, but she usually
likes to wait awhile before we return.

Right now, I'm already more than sorry we came "back, as I'm
currently stuck in Mr. and Mrs. William Henderson IV's kitchen window, being
watched by the family dogs.

You'd think alarms would be our biggest worry, but they aren't.
The thing is, alarm trips are usually accidents, malfunctions, or someone
unable to punch their code in on time, and so most companies call the house
first and then, if there isn't an answer, call the police. And the police
usually take forever because they hate wasting their time as much as anyone
else. We try really hard not to set off alarms, but the few times we have,
we've been long gone with what we came for before anyone showed up.

The other thing is that most alarms are pieces of

crap. The companies come in and razzle-dazzle you, but nine times
out of ten what you end up buying is something that will go off if a door is
opened and maybe some motion sensors for the basement. Mom dated a guy who
worked for an alarm company once. "Cheap, boring, and stupid," she
always says about him, "but baby, did he know alarms."

Thanks to him, we know most people buy the cheapest alarm they can
and pick codes they can easily remember. You'd be amazed how many we've turned
off just by pressing "1" five, six, or seven times. Better yet, we
also learned that a lot of people don't bother turning on their alarm during
the day, figure it's light out and the neighborhood is safe, so what could
possibly happen?

Dogs, on the other hand, are trickier. I'm usually able to deal
with them, but there have been a few times--four, in fact--when I haven't. I
once got bitten by a poodle (they make surprisingly good guard dogs) so bad I
still have a scar on my arm. The other three times I was able to get out before
anything happened, but all four of those houses were ones we didn't get
anything from and sure as hell didn't visit again.

These dogs look okay though. I watched them as I pried the window
open, and even though I woke them up, their barks were halfhearted and sleepy.
Plus, it's obvious from the mangled shoes on the floor that these dogs haven't
been trained to do much of anything.

The window, however, is a bitch. It wasn't locked, which was
great, but as I was pushing myself through, it became real clear that it was
either put in for appearances or during a time when people were a little
smaller than they are now. The dogs have come over to investigate, and I croon
to them as I wiggle my hips and tell myself to focus, to stay calm.

That's the thing about dogs. They can smell worry and fear, and if
they do, it always sets them off. Right now I'm just a strange wiggling thing
for them to sniff, and I need it to stay that way.

"You're very pretty," I tell one of them, a golden
retriever who wags her tail and goes over to her food dish and picks it up,
then drops it on the floor. If I could just get my ass through this window, I
could find dog food, feed her, and have the run of the house.

The other dog isn't quite as accepting. Her tail is

7

16

wagging a little, but the fur on her back is raised and when T
finally--finally!-- push myself through the window and land on the floor, she
growls. I lie perfectly still and wait while she sniffs me, making sure to
avoid direct eye contact, which can be taken as a challenge. After a moment she
gets bored and flops on the floor, yawning.

"Good dog," I tell her, and very slowly sit up. The
retriever picks up her food dish and drops it again.

"Where's your food?" I whisper, and her tail wags very
energetically, the other dog's ears perking up as well. Good. I look at my
watch. I need to keep them distracted for ten minutes in case Mom has any
problems.

I feed the dogs, then turn on the dishwasher and the faucet to
drown out any noises Mom might be making that the dogs could hear. I don't hear
anything except their very energetic eating, and so ten minutes later I turn
the dishwasher off, refill the dogs' water bowls, and go back out the window,
closing it as soon as I'm out. One of the dogs has her nose pressed against the
glass, and I wave good-bye. Stupid, I know, but I can't help myself.

I wish I had a dog. I wish I had a place I could

come back to every day and call my own. I turn away and strip off
my gloves, stuff them in my pocket, and then walk to the car, which we've
parked a couple of blocks over. I drive back to the house, turn down the side
street that runs parallel to the backyard. Mom is waiting. I pop the trunk, see
her smile at me in the rearview mirror after she closes it.

"Go," she says when she gets in the car, and I do.

 

We take turns driving until we hit North Carolina and our storage
place. We keep everything in a rental facility, the kind of place where people
store old furniture and mildewed knickknacks and who knows what else. We park
the car a mile away and walk through scrubby trees and weeds that skirt the
edge of a couple of crappy subdivisions until we get there and then jimmy open
the unit we've been borrowing.

Mom did some checking, back when we started coming here, and
everything in it belongs to an old lady who died ten years ago and whose kids
can't or won't deal with coming down and picking through it. There's a lot of
stuff, but none of it is worth anything (we checked, ages ago) and so I guess I
can see why no one would want to go through it. But it kind

 

of sucks, doesn't it, that a person's whole life can be boiled
down to a few things stuck in a room no one ever uses?

'I swear, this crap gets uglier every time," Mom says.
"I'm going to have nightmares about the sofa."

It is pretty ugly, a big flower print with freaky green and yellow
knitted things on the armrests. Plus all the cushions are shiny, worn from use.
That's something I don't see much. Most of the houses I'm in, the furniture
looks like it's never been sat on. I think it's nice that people once used this
sofa, spent hours there talking or watching television. It seems cozy.

"Baby," Mom says, waving a hand in front of my face.
"Help me sort, will you?"

I sit down next to her, pull on my gloves, and start picking
through what she's spread out on the floor. A couple of pieces are crap, plate
or new stuff, but the main set is from the early 1800s and is complete right
down to the six zillion forks that people apparently needed to eat then. I
don't feel like looking at any of it. I keep thinking about the sofa and the
stupid knitted things on it, wondering what it must be like to call something
yours and know it really is.

"What's going on in there?" Mom asks, leaning over and
kissing the side of my head.

I look at her. She's turning a sugar bowl around in her hands,
running her fingers along the pattern etched on its sides.

"I was just thinking about the sofa."

BOOK: Stealing Heaven
8.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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