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best of times (worst of crimes)

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The first memory Fatin can distinctly recall is, like many of her memories, set in San Francisco. The original Jadmani Jewelers location falls right in the middle of the Business District, and though over the years it hasn’t gotten any less cold and aloof, there’s a certain warm familiarity in that in of itself.

In the corner of her father’s office is a little child’s desk. It’s circular, so as to avoid a kid accidentally bumping any body part on sharp corners, and it’s short, so much so that Fatin could use it as a chair. The accompanying chair still has the Little Mermaid sticker on it from one particularly boring summer day, and though nobody has sat in it for years, it still remains clean and available.

The sight of it pulls on Fatin’s heart. It’s not that she feels bad for what she’s going to do, because she doesn’t, she just feels sorry for her younger self. That term is used loosely, of course, because Hell, the thought of robbing her own father for millions of dollars of merchandise so that his competitor will get ahead would have been insane even a year ago.

Today it just seems like the obvious thing to do.

The janitor — Marcus — finishes his last round through the cubicles for the night, and nods civilly at Fatin as he passes the office. She nods back.

She’s not sure how long she stands there. The memories that seep out of pretty much every part of her father’s office take the breath from her lungs, but despite the open door or the fact that she chose to come here, she can’t seem to make her legs walk out.

There’s the stain on the cream-colored rug that has been spot washed so many times you wouldn’t be able to see it if you didn’t know to, but was from the time Fatin drew a heart in red Sharpie. There’s stickers from years of mandarin orange snacks that lie almost flush on the underside of her father’s desk, which only a small child would be small enough to see. The deep set office chair, which sixteen-year-old Fatin chose specifically for her father to try and help his back pain. It worked.

By the time she glances at the clock hanging on the wall — a gift from her mother — it’s already reading past midnight. Fatin stifles a yawn. She sweeps one last glance around, though she’s not sure for what, and then moves towards the door still propped ajar from Marcus’ rounds.

Her hand reaches for the handle, and she hears a click. Then footsteps.

For what reason she doesn’t know, but her heart starts to thump. “Marcus?” she calls uncertainly.

The footsteps stop.

“Who’s there?” Fatin says again. She tries to sound tough. She doesn’t know what that would sound like. Instead, she imagines it’s her father, and she’s saying everything that’s run through her head in the last two weeks. “I said, ‘who’s there?’ Answer me. Now.”

“Um,” a voice starts from around the corner. It’s not particularly high-pitched, but it is definitely a woman. “Hi.”

“Who are you?” Fatin says, gesturing at the approaching woman unnecessarily.

“Who are you?” the woman says, frowning. She’s pretty in a familiar sort of way, though Fatin is sure she’s never seen her before.

“Fatin,” she says. Then, when there’s no response, “Fatin Jadmani.”

“Oh.” A blink. “Rachel.”

“Do you want to tell me what you’re doing here at midnight?” Fatin says, more confused than anything.

“Would you believe me if I said it was an accident?” Rachel tries. She can’t be older than Fatin, but she’s not as young as school age. Her sweatshirt is fitted and pushed up her elbows, but there’s a slight bulk in the front pocket.

“Definitely not,” Fatin says. She’s really only half-listening to whatever Rachel is saying because the other part of her mind is thinking about the fact that Rachel just broke into one of the most secure offices in San Francisco. And did it undetected. “What did you do, pick the lock?”

“Sure,” Rachel says, patting her front pocket. “It wasn’t hard. Your alarm isn’t rigged.”

“I disarmed it so my dad wouldn’t know I’m here,” Fatin says. “Still. It’s impressive.”

“I guess.” Rachel seems wary to accept the compliment, like she doesn’t believe it’s genuine.

“So, like, are you going to call the police?” she says.

Fatin considers this. “No.”

Now it’s Rachel’s turn to look confused. “Why not?”

And what compels Fatin to say the next thing she’ll never know, but something deep down screams at her to do it, so she says, “Because I want you to help me with something.”

“So you’re blackmailing me.”

Fatin sighs, then gives a small smile. “No. I mean, your secret’s safe with me either way.” She arches an eyebrow. “But how would you feel about being a millionaire?”



It’s early February, and the cloudy, drizzling cast over Freiburg still hasn’t eased up.

It’s February 7th, to be exact, as confirmed by the little three on the face of Fatin’s smartwatch. She doesn’t know why she’s wearing it, because she never wears watches, and is pretty sure she’s made several public statements about how obsolete and ugly they’ve become what with cellphones commonplace now.

The rain is only relevant for two reasons. First, though excluding the obvious exceptions, Fatin prefers everything to be nice and dry. It’s convenient and predictable, everything she is certainly not. Naturally, flying from the least-rainy state ever to Germany gong through pre-spring has left her wholly unprepared.

Second, Leah dislikes rain.

Well, Fatin doesn’t really know that for sure, but she does remember Leah saying on two separate occasions that she enjoys visiting her mother in California because it’s always sunny. Or something like that. Her memories of Leah in general are fuzzy, though, and she’s sure that if it weren’t for her embarrassingly strong fascination with her that they would have faded long ago.

Experimentally, Fatin greets Leah with an almost-friendly, “Rilke,” as she walks through the door, and then says something along the lines of, “It’s raining today.”

Leah replies, “Yeah.” Her expression is stoic, though perhaps ‘bored’ is a better descriptor. Fatin hopes not.

She keeps her energy up through her rudimentary presentation anyway, and tries to seem extra peppy as she closes with, “And that,” she says, pausing with a finger poised, “is how I plan to single-handedly take down my father, make us the richest young women on the planet, and gain an epic cocktail party story.” The silence from the room is deafening, and she shrugs into a slump. “I mean, it’s literally foolproof.”

“I’m pretty sure you don’t know what any of those words mean,” Leah says. The chairs surrounding her are silent and empty. In fact, the entire conference room is empty.

Fatin frowns, and the faux aura of presenting to a large audience diminishes. “Which ones?”

Leah’s words are scathing. “Any of them.”

“Hey, you’re the one who asked me for a plan,” Fatin says, gesturing to her mediocre Google Slides presentation. “A plan you now have.”

“I think, if you’ll remember, I actually asked for a plan and a team,” Leah corrects.

This, of course, sends Fatin into a hysterical groan, which, of course, elicits an infuriatingly silent reaction from Leah.

It’s strange, Fatin decides, to be looking at her in-person and so… real. This isn’t images clipped into the inside of a magazine, or polished photos from a public Facebook page. It’s not curt greetings for formalities at a black tie dinner while their parents look on, and it’s certainly not distantly familiar glances throughout the years.

No, this is up-close and personal. This is the way Leah’s hair doesn’t seem to understand the idea of a sleek ponytail as shorter strands escape the hair-tie. This is the calculated glimmer in her eyes, and the way she scrutinizes Fatin like she’s solving a puzzle.

It’s been strange, Fatin thinks again. Strange. There’s really no other word for it.

How else do you describe the experience of growing up opposite another girl, and realizing that your lives mirror each others in ways you couldn’t admit even if you tried?

How else would she describe what it’s like to know the way Leah’s father speaks German to her when he’s upset, and English when he’s feeling nice, but for Fatin to not even know her favorite color? Or to remember that Leah eats her food item by item rather than a bit from each, but to barely feel comfortable greeting her? Or to have the crook in Leah’s smile memorized, even though they’ve really only met a dozen times? 

Most of all, how else could Fatin describe what it’s been like to watch a desperate look creep up in Leah’s eyes over the years, to recognize the way the two of them are parallel opposites, and to wonder whether there’s that same longing loneliness in her own?

Longing loneliness? Fatin frowns at herself. Is that redundant? She’s not sure, but Leah would know. Leah and her books, vocabulary words, and the way she’s been speaking like a sarcastic ninety-year-old since she was seven.

While Fatin travels to wherever her mind has taken her, Leah’s just sitting and wordlessly watching.

“You want a team, I know,” Fatin says, trying to recover herself. “But you’re killing me, Rilke. One thing at a time, please.”

It takes a second, but Leah sighs. It’s difficult to read, but when she unfolds her arms, she looks somewhat amenable. “Do you remember what I said the first time you asked me to do this?”

“I mean, duh,” Fatin lies, trying to come up with what she thinks she would have said to Leah if the roles were reversed, “you said you something about not trusting me, wanting me to have skin in the game, and wanting me to prove I was serious.”

“And so far you’ve done none of those,” Leah points out. She holds a hand up as Fatin’s mouth starts arguing before her mind has even caught up. “And before you complain, this plan of yours is barely a plan. It’s, like, a thought.”

“All plans start somewhere,” Fatin says, frowning.

“And all Leahs start when there’s a plan,” she says. She arches an eyebrow. “And a team.”

“So much talk about a team,” Fatin mumbles, “careful, Rilke, someone might think you’re lonely.”

“Only as lonely as you,” Leah fires back.

It’s a strange sort of self-burn posing as an insult, but somehow still comes out like a confession. Fatin’s left somewhere in the middle of sympathetic, turned on, and argumentative. It’s a bad combination.

She clears her throat. “Alright. A team.” Fatin points with a finger back at her presentation. “Most importantly we need someone to rent an office space in the Jadmani Jewelers Freiburg location. It has to be someone hot who can also speak well.” She winks. “And it can’t be you.”

“I’m flattered,” Leah says sarcastically, though the pink tint to her cheeks gives her away. “But I think the most pressing matter is the question of how you intend to convince me that you genuinely want to sabotage your own dad’s business.”

“Easy,” Fatin says, and this time it takes no effort to let honesty seep into every word. “Nobody hates him more than me.”

“Nobody?” Leah whistles. “And here I thought that was my dad.”

“Your dad hates my father’s success,” Fatin says, “I hate who my dad is.”

A pause. “Well, shit,” Leah says finally. “What’d he do to you?”

“Doesn’t matter,” Fatin says, sporting the same easy smile she’s perfected over years of public events. “Are you in?”

Given the fact that Fatin is fully aware she’s not the most convincing person on the planet, there’s no logical explanation for the slight nod of ascent that follows, but Leah gives one anyway. She quickly says, “But get me a team, and get me a better plan.” Fatin grins. It isn’t dimmed in the slightest as Leah holds up a finger and adds, “Then we’ll see.”



Just one. Fatin just needs one person who can do this for her.

Of course, it’s a tall order. The teammate — heist-mate? —needs to be cute, but not in a naive way, hot, but not in an intimidating way, smart, but not in a condescending way, and loyal, but not in a lost-puppy way.

Then there’s the other thing, which is that she also needs to be cool with robbing a building for millions of dollars.

Fatin huffs under her breath, and mutters to herself, “No big deal.”

She’s been staking out the University of Southern California campus for two days, and it’s not nearly as easy as she told Leah it was going to be. None of the girls walking by are right for the part, and it’s not like she can just go up to ask them.

One looks promising, but within twenty feet she’s greeted four people and started walking towards another building with two more. No, it can’t be someone with a lot of friends; too suspicious.

Another seems smart, but in a goody-two-shoes way, definitely not in a robber-mastermind way. There’s a blonde that gives off all the right vibes, but both of her shoelaces flop untied around her feet. That’s just a liability waiting to happen.

And then Fatin sees her.

It’s another blonde, but her hair falls in darker and thicker locks instead of an airy, platinum cut. Her eyes scan the people around her like she’s taking inventory, and though she must make eye contact with some of them, nobody actually seems to acknowledge that they know her.

She also has an honest-to-God backpack on, meaning she’s at college for the learning and not the parties, but she doesn’t seem at all awkward or nervous. On the contrary, her walk is confident without being performative, and just the right amount of charm when she stops a passerby.

“I’m sorry, could I trouble you for the time?” She has a slight Southern accent too. Not enough to be annoying, but charming. Foreign, so no roots here to check in on her.

She’s perfect.

Fatin rises from the bench she’s been sitting at for four fucking hours, and catches up to the girl in five long strides. “Walk with me,” she says.

“Well, alright,” the girl says. She doesn’t seem troubled by it at all. “Although I do have to get to class.”

I’ll walk with you then,” Fatin decides. The girl just shrugs, and keeps quiet, like this happens every day. “I’m Fatin.”

“Shelby,” the girl responds back.

She’s even cuter up close, and Fatin just knows she has that blonde, fair-skinned, yet American look that the German employees at Jadmani Jewelers will just eat up. They always did like that ’foreign, but could still be one of us’ vibe.

“What class do you have now?” Fatin asks.

“Technically it’s just office hours.”

“Can you skip it?”

“Um.” Shelby looks like she doesn’t know what to say. “I’d prefer not to.”

“What if I gave you two grand?” Fatin counters.

“What on Earth?” Shelby actually physically stops walking. “You’re going to give me two-thousand dollars?”

“If you come back to my hotel room instead of going to class,” Fatin says. When Shelby’s eyebrows shoot up, she quickly says, “And, like, that totally wasn’t meant in a prostitute-y ‘I’ll pay you to come to my hotel’ way.” She tilts her head to one side. “Not that there’s anything wrong with being a prostitute. I just mean I’m not trying to bang you.” Then her head falls to the other. “Actually, I definitely would.” Shelby just looks confused. Fatin sighs. “What I mean is that I want to talk to you, and it has to be in private.”

“This feels like one of those situations your parents always warn you about,” Shelby says.


Fatin doesn’t even try to hide it, and maybe that’s what makes Shelby nod.

“Okay then. Lead the way.”

During the car ride back to Fatin’s hotel room she learns three things about Shelby. Actually, she learns many, but only three things of much importance.

First, she was born and raised in Texas, but after two years of community college in Houston she transferred to USC. She’s twenty-three, and is halfway through her first year in California. Second, she’s strikingly intelligent. Not just in a book smart way, but also in the sense that she thinks about everything before replying, or the way she takes in what Fatin says like she’s devouring every word.

Third, she’s perfect for the role.

She has basically no friends, but is somehow totally charming and ready to play the part, is in need of a handsomely decent sum of money, and doesn’t seem like she’s got a whole lot to lose. And well, that might be because she already lost it.

Shelby had quieted, stared at her lap, and told Fatin about how her ex-girlfriend committing suicide is what drove her to make the big move in the first place. She’d given up on her personal life, or so she said, ghosted all her friends from back home, and threw herself into school.

Fatin is sympathetic, obviously, but she also sees how Shelby has kind of closed in on herself. And if Fatin she has the means to give her something to occupy herself and get her insanely rich, it’s the good thing to do to offer. Right?

The return to the hotel room is followed by a presentation much like the one Fatin gave to Leah. This time, rather than being generalized and persuasive, it focuses in on Shelby’s role, which will be to be the face that earns the trust of the security and employees at Jadmani Jewelers.

Interestingly, Shelby’s only issue with the entire thing is the location.

“I just don’t understand why it has to be in Germany,” Shelby says, frowning. “Didn’t you say there’s a branch in San Francisco?”

“That I did,” Fatin agrees, “but they know me too much. My dad would ask questions. Also, if it goes wrong, I plan to place the blame on the daughter of my dad’s rival, a German brand.”

“Leah Rilke,” Shelby states, “from Rilke Diamanten.” Fatin nods. “Does she know this is part of the plan?”

“No,” Fatin says, and tries not to feel too guilty. She does anyway, and maybe Shelby can sense that. The look of disapproval is enough to make her try to swallow down her shame for a second time, but just like the first, it lingers bitterly in her mouth.

Shelby gives a shrug. “Well, okay.”

Fatin blinks. “Okay? Just like that?”

A nod. “Yeah. Best case scenario I get enough money to take care of myself, which would make my parents mad.” Shelby gestures with her hands. “Worst case scenario I go to prison. Which would also make my parents mad.”

“I’m sensing a theme here,” Fatin says. Shelby’s wry smile says enough, but she keeps her mouth shut. “Well, then welcome to the team.”

A thousand-watt grin widens, and she looks actually excited now. “Great! So, who’s all on the team?”

“There’s me, there’s you, there’s Rachel,” Fatin says, ticking them off on her fingers. Her phone buzzes, and her eyebrows raise as she adds, “And then apparently there’s Nora?”

Rachel R

[4:02 PM]: My sister is in
[4:02 PM]: Her name is Nora.
[4:02]: Works in IT. Smart. Useful

“What do they do?” Shelby asks.

“Nora is, like, a tech-nerd,” Fatin says, summarizing the text in her own way, “and Rachel does mechanical stuff. And picks locks.”

“Cool. Okay, cool,” Shelby says, nodding a little bit more nervously than excited like before. “Just so y’all know, I’ve never actually committed a crime before.”

“Me either, Texas,” Fatin sighs. All she can offer is a shrug of her own. “Me either.”



The days tick away, and though the addition of Nora, Rachel, and Shelby move the plan along considerably, it does nothing to change the fact that none of them are actually criminals.

If Fatin needs a dress, she calls Cristina, the designer who’s been drawing up and ordering the Jadmani’s custom clothes since her parents were engaged. If she needs something good to eat, she calls Isa, the chef stationed at her parents’ house in the hills of Silicon Valley, who knows everything and everyone worth their salt.

But crime? Actually stealing? Robbing one of the most secure and wealthy diamond jewelry buildings in Europe? Fatin has nothing there. Nobody to call, nobody to ask questions.

“So, am I actually going to be doing the stealing?” Shelby asks. Everyone turns to look at her. “It’s totally fine either way, it’s just, you know, I’m curious.”

Everyone turns to Fatin.

“Depends,” Fatin decides. “If we have enough people, then no, besides the prep you’ll do beforehand, you won’t actually be on-site for the day.”

“Still guilty if we get caught,” Rachel reminds her.

“I know,” Shelby says, folding her arms. She peers up at the group. “Are y’all not nervous? About getting caught?”

“No,” Fatin lies easily. “That’s why we’re planning.”

“What are the odds of getting caught?” Rachel says, this time turning to Nora.

Nora takes a second to start talking. “Technically there’s no exact ‘odds.’ That would imply running a full hypothetical of every situation to see which fail and which don’t, but that can’t actually be done.”

“Roughly,” Rachel says, rolling her eyes.

“Decent,” Nora admits. When Fatin glares at her, her eyes widen. “What?”

“I’m trying to boost morale here,” she says, gesturing wildly at Shelby. “You think Texas is going to get less stressed if she knows we’re probably going to get caught?”

“Probably?” Shelby interrupts. “Nora said ‘decent.” Probably?

“I meant decently probably,” Fatin says, glaring at Nora. “Like, not, but also maybe.”

“It would help if we had more people to factor into our plan,” Rachel says, looking at Fatin expectantly. The other two follow suit, and Fatin resists the urge to huff under her breath.

“I’m sorry, am I the only one with friends here?” Fatin says, folding her arms. “I got all of you. Your turn to contribute.”

“I contributed Nora,” Rachel says immediately.

“I don’t have any friends,” Shelby says, shrugging.

“Back to you,” Nora says. She offers a placating smile, then turns back to the paper on the table. “Maybe it would help to start with making a list of the tasks and skills we need each person to have. Then we’d know what we’d be looking for.”

“Good idea,” Shelby says, pulling the paper over towards her side of the table. “Fatin wants us doing a lot of prep work that involves building.”

“A carpenter,” Fatin says, nodding. “Anyone know a carpenter?”

“Kind of,” Rachel says, frowning. “My trade school program has a few people doing things like that right now. But I can’t really just go up to them and be like, ‘You wanna rob a bank with me?’”

“It’s not a bank,” Nora says absently.

“It’s not,” Fatin agrees, “but also, yes, you totally can.”

“What?” Rachel looks like she’s a minute from flipping Fatin off. “And if they report me to the police, then what?”

“You think some rando college kids are going to report you to the police for a hypothetical robbing?” Fatin says. She colors her voice with disbelief, but it only makes Rachel glare at her harder. “A hypothetical robbing of one of the most secure jewelry vault locations, not to mention. Dude. If they don’t want to do it, you can just be like, ‘Oh, I was joking.’”

“That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard,” Rachel groans.

“I might know someone,” Shelby interrupts. She’s staring at her fingers, and looking highly uncomfortable, but she says, “I knew her back in high school. I don’t know if she has any real specific skills, but she was kind of a handyman back in the day.”

“‘Back in the day,’” Nora mumbles.

“Yeah, that was what, two years ago?” Rachel says, turning to look at Shelby.

Shelby barely draws her eyes up off of the table. “Seven, actually.”

“She’s older than us,” Nora whispers to Rachel. Unfortunately, it’s done in a way that is very much audible to everyone else.

“Get her on board,” Rachel says, ignoring Nora and nodding at Rachel. “It helps if she’s desperate.”

“She is,” Shelby says. Then she looks up, and when her eyes meet Rachel’s, even Fatin can feel the slight tension growing. “Desperation helps? Are you speaking from experience?”

“Everyone’s desperate in their own way,” Rachel replies, not at all phased by the almost-interrogation. “Some of us just know when to do something about it.” Before Shelby can continue, she says, “And I might know someone too. She’s studying to be a mechanic or something. But she and I were friends back when I was in Minnesota, so who knows where she is now.”

“Find her,” Fatin says, authority easing its way back into her tone. She nods. “Find her, both of them.”

“Yeah, I mean, my friend is probably in Texas still,” Shelby says. She looks around briefly as if to remind them that they’re in San Francisco.

“Find them, and all their travel expenses are paid,” Fatin says, ignoring the way Rachel and Shelby share a glance. “All your expenses are paid while we do this, by the way.”

“Is it rude to ask ‘how?’” Nora asks anyway. She blinks. “Because how?”

“Company credit,” Fatin says, shrugging. “My dad’s been trying to get back on my good side lately. I’ll be playing nice, and he’ll be funding his own downfall without even knowing it.”

“Remind me never to get on your bad side,” Rachel mutters.



“You know, this reminds me of a doing school play,” Shelby says brightly. Her enthusiasm is met with apathy at best by the rest of them, and Nora looks confused. To her right, the friend of the friend Rachel brought looks halfway interested. “I mean, we’re all sitting in a circle to introduce ourself and the thing we do.”

“Oh God,” the woman across the table from her groans. “Who invited Rachel Berry?”

“It’s Shelby,” she says, flashing a polite smile that Fatin reads clearly as ‘I know you’re being rude, but I’m electing to ignore that right now.’ “Shelby Goodkind. And you are?”

“Toni Shalifoe,” she says, sticking her chin up slightly. “I’m a mechanic.”

“Rachel, the one who invited her,” Rachel says, sticking a hand up, “and this is my sister, Nora. I’m a blacksmith and a locksmith, and she does nerd shit on computers.”

“Hey, man, I respect that,” says the woman next to Shelby. “I’m Dot. I’m kind of a… self-taught carpenter.”

“I need no introduction,” Fatin says, ignoring the way Rachel rolls her eyes instantly, “and this is Leah Rilke, the daughter of the owner of Rilke Diamanten.”

“And this is my friend, Martha,” Toni says, quickly nodding towards the girl next to her. Both of them look mildly nervous. “She’s picking us up.”

“Yeah, and I’m really grateful to you guys for letting me hang out,” Martha says, practicing bouncing on her swivel chair. She’s grinning widely, but it starts to fade when she tilts her head to one side to examines them all one-by-one. “Actually, I’m kind of confused about what exactly I’m picking you guys up from.”

There’s a stark silence as Toni grits her teeth, and the rest of them look at each other like, ‘No fucking way.’ and ‘Who’s gonna say it?’

Fatin does. “Martha, is there a chance Toni wasn’t completely honest with you about her plans here?”

“She’s hanging out with her friends, and wanted me to come?” Martha says, whipping her head back and forth between Fatin and Toni.

“Martha, we’re robbing a jewelry store,” Fatin says slowly. She wonders how the fuck Toni managed to get her to come to Germany without actually letting her in on why, but Martha seems so sweet — almost to a fault — and it starts to check out. “You’re supposed to be our getaway driver.”


“Jesus, Fatin, would it kill you to have some tact?” Toni grumbles. Pleading eyes turn on, and she says to Martha, “Marty, I’m sorry I didn’t tell you, but I knew you’d say no.”

“Yeah, ‘cause I don’t want to go to prison!” Martha gasps. She looks three breaths from passing out. “Look at me. I wouldn’t survive in there!”

“You won’t go to prison,” Fatin says, assuring her without any genuineness behind her words. “Just drive fast, and we’ll be good.” Then she frowns, turning back to Toni. “Although, what are your dear friend’s credentials for a job like this?”

“She looks innocent, and she knows how to drive?” Toni offers.

Fatin considers this. “Alright. She’s in.”

Toni immediately starts begging Martha, saying something about paying Bernice back for all she’s done for them. Dot starts freaking out that they might actually go to prison, and that if she gets caught the authorities might get suspicious, which doesn’t really make sense, but Fatin can’t dwell on it for long because Shelby and Rachel speak up to try and tag team her into staying with them. Nora offers prison statistics to Martha, as if it’ll help (it doesn’t), and eventually Fatin just can’t take it anymore.

“Hey,” she says. They just start bickering louder. “Hey!”

“Guys, shut the fuck up,” Leah snaps. Everyone quiets. Stoic, she nods to Fatin.

“Thanks,” Fatin says slowly. Turning to the rest of them, she says, “Look, if anyone doesn’t want to do this anymore, you’re free to go. I’ll pay for your travel back home, and we never have to see each other again. Seriously. It’s all good.” She takes a deep breath. “But after this, you’re in. No going back. So if you want to leave, do it now, and there’ll be no hard feelings.”

Everyone eyes each other, some with contempt, others with pleading eyes, and Martha with hopefulness that someone else will head out first so she can follow. Nobody does.

Looking around, Rachel nods. “Fuck yeah. Let’s do it.”

“Here we go,” Fatin agrees. She smiles. “Here we fucking go.”