The first thing I did when the door slammed on her too-tiny ass was grab my tweezers and hunt down the offending whisker. Dammit! There it was, shiny and proud, sticking out like a billboard announcing I was thirty, directionless and single. I know there aren’t too many people out there who are going to feel sorry for the poor little rich girl that was me, so I sat down and cried for myself.
When the doorman announced that Hannah was on her way up, I rinsed off the remains of my pity party with cool water and met her at the door.
“Your sister is such a bitch,” she announced, walking past me and dropping onto the sofa.
“I am very aware of that fact, but what did she do to you?”
“I saw her stomping through the lobby and the skank had the audacity to look right at me and wait for me to open the door for her. Which, of course I did. Then she pirouettes around on those gorgeous boots—they aren’t even out in the stores yet—and blows me a kiss with her middle finger.”
“She’s just jealous because we’re more like sisters than she and I ever will be.”
“Yeah, I’m sure that’s it. Sophia Avalon is jealous of me.” Hannah struck a pose.
I attempted to throw an errant packing peanut at her, but it decided it wanted to attach itself to my boob like a misshapen nipple. Perfect. “What are you doing here? I thought you were going skiing in the Alps for the holidays. Shouldn’t you have left already?”
Hannah’s face fell. “This is so embarrassing, but Daddy cut my allowance—again—and I don’t have the cash to go anymore.”
“What?” I faked my horror for her benefit.
Hannah Carlisle had been my best friend from birth, but the girl was seriously spoiled. I knew damn well that her monthly allowance was more than most American’s made in a year. And it hadn’t escaped my notice that for someone whose father was the president of a very large bank—read: serious bailout money—her spending habits over the last few years had been inappropriate.
I’d been noticing little things like that on a more frequent basis lately and really wished I could stop.
“It’s too bad you don’t ever want to go away for the holidays. I could have crashed with you. Now I’m stuck here while the ‘rents pretend that we’re one big happy family. Hah! I’d rather chew off my own leg than drive to that mausoleum for Christmas.
It was on the tip of my tongue to invite her to spend the holiday with us, but… traditions. And Hannah avoided any family gathering, not just her own. I did feel sorry for her though—her dad had always given me the creeps. He was like a slimy used car salesman in a ten-thousand dollar suit. And I’d felt that way before the twins grew big enough to hold his attention during our rare conversations. Eew.
She huffed a sigh, clearly understanding that an invitation wasn’t coming, yet conveying it wouldn’t be completely unwelcome. The statue caught her attention and she wrinkled her nose in distaste. “What’s that?”
“Luke sent it to me. I have no idea what it’s supposed to be.”
“Creepy. It looks like some sort of medieval torture dildo.”
Her observation startled a laugh out of me. “It does!”
“Is it a gift?” She stepped forward to take a closer look.
“I thought so at first, but Mom said he mailed my present to her.”
“I wonder what the inscription is,” she murmured, running her fingers over the depressions in the metal.
Like me, Hannah is passably pretty, although she downplays her better features by dressing like GI Jane. Unlike me, she is a certifiable genius. If she ever used her powers for good, she’d basically be a superhero. “Do you know hieroglyphics?” I ventured.
“No, but I bet we can find something on the Internet.”
An hour later, Hannah had researched the best translation software available. After seeing the outrageous price tag, she had quickly hacked into a museum’s mainframe to “borrow” it for free.
“You should work for the CIA,” I commented.
“I might have to if Dad keeps tightening his death grip on my checkbook.” Her attention was diverted as more nonsensical information scrolled across the screen. “Get a piece of paper and a pencil.”
I snagged paper from the tray of the printer before rummaging through the desk drawers and finding a handful of pens and one lonely crayon—no pencils. “What do we need it for? Will any of these work?”
Hannah took her eyes off the screen long enough to look at the wad of writing utensils I held in my hand. “We need something soft… this will do.” She waited for me to put the others back before handing me the crayon. “Wrap the paper around the statue and rub the crayon over the surface—lightly. That should give us a pretty good transfer to scan in. Then we can let the computer do the rest of the work.”
I did as she asked, feeling pretty proud of myself when the hieroglyphics began to appear. “Here,” I thrust the paper at her.
She waved the page away. “Put it in on the scanner.”
I felt a little put out by her bossy tone, but she was trying to help me so I let it slide. After I’d once again followed her instructions, she began typing furiously and the scanner beeped and hummed to life.
“Hurry up!” she yelled, making me jump.
“With what?” I looked around for what I’d missed. “I didn’t know I needed to do anything else.”
“Not you. I think I tripped a firewall. I’ve got you set up to be a ghost, but if we’re on here too long…”
Her serious tone sent up a red flag. “How illegal is this?”
“I’ll need to borrow money for my defense,” she quipped.
“Jesus, Han! Get out now!”
“I’m holding the security off, but eventually it will find me. The pings are getting too close for comfort, but we’re not at DEFCON yet.”
My foot was tapping of its own volition and my heart was running a marathon. Hannah had almost gone to juvie in the sixth grade for hacking the school’s computer system so that she could look at porn. It was a little funny now, but at the time it had been terrifying. I’d been guilty by association and geography (I’d been by her side when the dean had caught her red-handed) and my family had done everything in their power to break our bond.
It hadn’t worked.
I tried to love my family, quirks, neuroses and all, but there was something in Hannah that drew me to her. It’s not like we’re lesbians, in fact, I think we may have been the only two girls in our exclusive boarding school who hadn’t experimented. But we were soul-sisters. She was the family I’d chosen.
My wayward thoughts were interrupted by an alarm sounding from the computer, simultaneously followed by the printer churning out pages and Hannah issuing a girly war-cry. “I’m out!” she exclaimed, hitting a few more buttons before closing my laptop with a resounding click.
I rushed to the printer and looked at the pages, reading aloud, “A piece of Imhotep is in the air we breathe, the ground upon which we walk, the sun that lightens our days and the stars that guide our journey through darkness. Life is given and taken away, but the power to conquer death is with Imhotep. Imhotep is in your hands.”
Hannah grabbed the sheets from my hands, giving me a paper cut in her rush to view the results of her hacking. I sucked on the tender wound, lazily seeping blood, leveling my best death-stare at her. “You almost cut my thumb off,” I accused.
Hannah ripped my hand away from my face and looked at the thin line. “It’s not even bleeding.”
Her dismissal pissed me off, but before I could voice my complaint the page once again caught my attention. “Are you sure you did it right?”
She gave me her are you seriously doubting my mad skills look. “Not that I’m an expert or anything, but this is what the damn statue says—or as close as we’ll get to a complete translation without taking it to an expert.”
“Isn’t Imhotep that creepy guy from The Mummy?”
“Yeah, but in real life he was the Egyptian god of medicine and healing.”
I shook my head in wonder—how did she know this stuff?
“Maybe we should get a second opinion,” I suggested.
“Seriously? If you do that, my ass is in deep doo-doo.”
It took me a minute, but I finally got it. “There’s a record of what we did.”
“They won’t ever find out who ran the search unless you go waving it in their faces.”
“Dammit! Now we don’t have a way of verifying this.”
“Does it really matter?”
“I guess not. But if the translation is correct there may be some historical significance to the statue. I mean, Imhotep is in your hands? That’s basically saying we’re holding God. If whoever crafted this thing really believed that, then it should be in a museum.”
“Why? So it can be one more priceless artifact catalogued and forgotten? You remember that eighth grade field trip to the museum where they took us under the building and showed us miles of hallways with all those rooms filled with shit just like that statue. The world will keep spinning if nobody ever finds out about one ugly relic.”
“You’re missing the point. Luke sent that thing to me for a reason.”
“A reason he couldn’t be bothered to tell you about. Forget it.” Hannah tossed the pages on my kitchen table and shrugged into her jacket. “I’m hungry. Let’s go get something to eat.”
My house phone rang, but I was starving so I let the machine pick up. I listened to a computer generated voice instructing the caller to leave a message. I keep an old-school answering machine because I like to screen my calls, and old habits are really hard to break.
The beep sounded. “Hi Chloe, this is Jagger… um, Jagger Riley—Luke’s friend. Call me back when you get a sec.” He rattled off the digits and hung up.
“Whoa. What else have you been keeping from me?” Hannah placed her hands on her hips.
“Huh?” My brain had momentarily ceased processing all information. The man’s voice lulled me like a hypnotist’s swinging pocket watch. My mind emptied of everything but decades-old memories of wanting to catch the eye of my big-brother’s bestie.
Jagger Riley was the ultimate catch. He was handsome, rich, smart—basically every woman’s dream man. I had put him on a pedestal from the first day I’d met him, following him around until Luke had taken me aside to inform me I was making a fool of myself. Just hearing him say my name, even all these years later, gave me the incredible urge to start writing Mrs. Jagger Riley on every scrap of paper I could get my hands on.
“What’s up with that?” Hannah demanded, raising an artfully sculpted eyebrow.
In a fog, I noticed that she didn’t have any errant facial hair and wondered how I had missed the bus. I forcibly snapped myself back to the present. “I’m not hiding anything from you. Don’t be ridiculous.”
“Then why is Jagger Riley leaving messages on your machine asking you to call him? Hell, if I were you I’d totally be creaming my panties right about now.”
“He’s probably trying to get in touch with Luke.”
“He didn’t say to have Luke call him. In fact, he didn’t mention your brother at all.”
She was getting my hopes up when I knew my infatuation with Jagger was a lost cause. “Stop. I haven’t seen Jagger in years. I guarantee that he wasn’t calling to talk to me.”
“Well, I think you should call him back right this second. What if he’s in town and needs someone to keep him company?” She waited for me to do… anything. When I remained frozen in my tracks, she said, “If you won’t do it, I will.”
I grabbed her arm before she got her hands on the telephone and pulled her towards the front door. “Let it go. You’ll embarrass me if you call him back. It would be like sending him a note asking to check ‘yes’ if he wants to be my boyfriend for the week.”
Hannah reluctantly relented. “Fine, but you really should call him back. It’s not every day a guy like Jagger rings you up.” A mischievous gleam entered her eyes and she said, “Actually, playing hard to get might work in your favor. Letting him think you’re not interested can only make you seem that much more desirable, right?”
“Stop with the Cosmo gibberish and be real for a second. Jagger Riley is not interested in me. He never has been and never will be. I’m his best friend’s little sister and that’s all. Now let’s get out of here so I can drown my sorrows in something containing lard.”
“Like I spend my days reading Cosmo,” she scoffed indignantly. We were out the door when Hannah did an about-face. “Do you care if I take the statue home with me over the holidays? I’d like to do a little more research, see if you’re right… maybe it is important.”
I shrugged in agreement as she put the statue back in its box, tossing the printouts on top before closing it up. I didn’t really care one way or the other, but if there was something to find, Hannah was the woman to uncover its secrets.
As soon as I locked the door, the statue was pushed from my mind in deference to the much more important issue of where to eat. It took hours of self-recriminations for me to do the same with Jagger.