The Message on the 13th Floor
Some secrets were never meant to be uncovered...
Maggie May Martin hasn’t always been the most reliable woman in the world, and she isn’t the friendliest either, but she tries her hardest to be a good mom. Most days, she falls short on that too, but her three girls mean the world to her and she genuinely tries to do the best by them—so when she goes missing, they’re the first to notice and the only ones who seem to care...
Meghan Marie Martin hates the small town she was born and raised in and she can’t wait until she leaves for the Air Force after graduation. Her only concern is leaving behind her irresponsible mother and her two little sisters. Meghan has practically raised them on her own and she only hopes that when she leaves for the military, her mother will finally pull it together.
The problem, of course, is that her mother likes to party, so when Maggie May goes missing, Meghan not only has to take care of everything at home, but she also has to search for her mother, because Maggie May has a bad habit of disappearing, so no one else is officially looking. That is until Meghan begins to receive mysterious messages, almost as if someone or something is guiding her to a haunted hotel in Manhattan, where people say an elevator game will take riders to the mysterious 13th floor. Some say it’s an entrance to hell, others a portal to another dimension. Either way, Meghan must brave the game in hopes of discovering the truth behind her mother’s disappearance.
BUY THE BOOK
Realistically, I know nothing has really changed. The ride back from Albany is no different than before. The car is still the same. But I’m different now. The route is still the same. The car is still the same. But I’m different now. On this Wednesday afternoon, I’m not only a high school senior or a military recruit. I’m officially sworn in. I’m officially an airman. Me. Meghan Marie Martin. I’m an airman. In a little over a month, I’ll be eighteen years old, and in a little more than three months, I’ll be heading to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, where I’ll start basic training and a new chapter of my life. Goodbye Middletown. Hello World.
“Penny for your thoughts?” Mom asks, startling me out of my reverie.
“Oh…” I look over and can’t help but admire her profile. To me, my mom is the most beautiful woman in the world. She’s a true bombshell. Blonde. Blue-eyed. Built. She’s a little rough around the edges, and her reputation, unfortunately, precedes her, but she’s my mom, and I love her.
“You have to quit worrying so much,” she says as she reaches over and places her hand on my thigh.
I stare down at her hand for a moment and realize today marks yet another special occasion: my mother is sober. It’s a rarity nowadays, and a rarer day yet when she’s sober and motherly. Though, in her defense, Maggie May always tries to be a good mom. Most times she falls short on that, but I have to give credit where it’s due. She tries.
On that note, I put my hand over hers and intertwine our fingers, my skin so much darker in comparison. When I was younger someone had told me we were like chocolate and vanilla. I don’t remember who, but the saying has always stuck even though my mom isn’t pure or sweet and I’m not rich or dark. I’m mulatto. I’ve been told that word is dated and offensive, but I’ve always liked it, and it’s much better than the other things my sisters and I have been called. Mocha being another favorite. Oreo being one of my least.
“Your run times will get better the more you practice,” Mom assures me with a squeeze of her hand.
“I know,” I say, my future military physical fitness test being the least of my concerns at the moment. “I’ll be ready by summer.” Though I am worried about the heat. Texas in July, I’m told, is brutal. As a born and bred New Yorker, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to handle it, especially under such stressful circumstances. Great. I hadn’t been worried about it a second ago, but I am now.
“I know what will take your mind off it,” Mom offers as she exits the freeway.
“It’s not only that,” I say as I try to figure out where she’s going. “I’m just...” I glance over at her, the bags under her eyes noticeable even from this angle. In the past couple of months, since I started my recruitment journey, it’s like she’s aged ten years. Or maybe, now that I know I’m leaving, I’m starting to truly see her. I’m starting to realize how much I do for her, and I’m wondering if she’s going to be okay when I leave.
“You’re what?” she inquires as she weaves across two lanes of traffic to pull into the parking lot of a nail salon.
“I’m just worried about you and the girls,” I finally admit, then I eye the salon suspiciously. “What are we doing here?”
“I’m treating you to a pedicure.”
I roll my eyes. “Mom, I can do my nails at home for—”
“Yeah, yeah, I know,” she says as she throws the gearshift into park, pulls the key out of the ignition, and then turns to face me. “But you’re an airman now and your recruiter is worried about those ingrown toenails—”
“No, ma’am,” she says, wagging her finger in my face, “just because you’re an airman and this close to being an adult doesn’t give you the right to interrupt me. And don’t try to talk me out of it either. I know we don’t really have the money and I know we can do your nails at home, but here’s my motherly advice to you, Peanut,” my nickname for as long as I can remember, “always make sure you spoil yourself just a little bit. Otherwise, all that hard work with no play doesn’t ever pay off. You understand?”
I nod even though I don’t agree. The thing is, once my mom gets an idea in her head, it’s nearly impossible to get her to change her mind, so I don’t waste my breath. Instead, I try a different tactic. “I thought you said you had someplace you needed to be today.”
Mom snorts. “It’s way past noon, baby, so there’s no chance of sleeping in today.”
My brows furrow as I try to pick apart that particular mom-ism.
“Besides,” she says, “this is more important. My baby is almost all grown up and gone.”
When her eyes get all watery, I reach over and squeeze her hand. She’s been on this emotional rollercoaster the past few weeks. I mean, I get it. I’m leaving, which is hard and scary for me too, but I can’t express those feelings in front of her, because I’m her rock. If my dam breaks, hers will come crumbling down too, so I smile to lighten the mood.
“You’re still stuck with me for a couple more months,” I say as I throw open the passenger-side door and get out before the waterworks start. “You think they have an Air Force blue nail color?” I ask before I shut the door.
Mom gets out of the car and hurries after me. “I don’t think blue will look good on you,” she says, her voice back to normal. “Remember we tried it once when you were in elementary school.” She pulls the door open, the strong smell of chemicals practically slapping us in the face. Thankfully, the potent odor is enough to keep Mom from coming apart at the seams over that particular Easter memory.
“Right,” I offer as I hurry over to the sign-in sheet. “You getting your lip waxed today?” I ask without looking her way.
“No…” she says, but then she steps over to one of the mirrors. “Why? Do I need one?”
I shake my head. “I mean, I think it’s okay…” I intentionally leave that sentence hanging, though.
“Maybe I should?” Mom says just as a young, petite Asian woman makes her way over to us.
“I’d like a pedicure, please,” I tell the lady.
“Yes. Pedicure,” the woman replies, her Vietnamese accent thick. “Go pick color,” she orders while pointing toward the carousel of polishes.
I dutifully walk that way, but my attention remains focused on the conversation between my mother and the woman. They go back and forth about the price for a moment before they settle on a good amount. Then the lady signals my mother to follow her to the back for her lip wax. Relieved they’re gone, I swipe a pretty, red polish off the shelf and then hurry to the counter.
I set the polish in front of the elderly Asian woman and smile. “Hi. I’d like to pay for my pedicure now please.”
“You pay now?” she repeats, her English just as choppy.
“Yes, please,” I say as I quickly grab my wallet from my back pocket and retrieve my debit card. I’ve been saving my meager Dollar Store paychecks so I have extra money to enroll my sisters in a summer day camp program that begins right before I leave. Mom isn’t great at budgeting, and in the summer she always blows through cash trying to keep my sisters entertained, so the day camp will hopefully kill two birds with one stone: Mom won’t run short on funds and my sisters won’t kill each other out of boredom. If I had to bet though, I’d say my plan will partially work. The day camp will wear the girls out. My mother, unfortunately, will undoubtedly blow through her budget anyway, and so by virtue of her lack of restraint, I’m learning the art of saving. I won’t let my little sisters suffer the way I once did.
“You need receipt?” the woman asks after swiping my card.
“No, thanks.” I pocket my wallet and then follow her to the pedicure chair. I hadn’t planned on anyone working on my feet, so I’m a little embarrassed when I toe my sneakers off and see all the holes in my socks. Thankfully, at this time of day, in the middle of the week, I’m the only one in the shop. I quickly snatch the socks off my feet and stuff them into my pocket, then I slide onto the chair. I’ve just gotten comfortable when Mom emerges from the back room, her upper lip a bright red.
“What color did you pick, Peanut?” she asks as she makes her way over.
I point at the bottle the woman had set on her pedicure cart.
Mom nods her approval. “I like it!” she says with a whistle. “Subtle but sexy.”
I wasn’t going for either, but I thankfully don’t have to point that out because Mom is already on her way to the door.
“I’ll be right back,” she says as she fishes a pack of Marlboro Reds out of her purse.
I watch her disappear outside. She goes and leans against the hood of the car, lights up, and then grabs her cell phone out of her purse. I have no idea who she’s calling. She used to talk to me all the time about her love life and her friends, but as I’ve gotten older—and I’ve started acting more like the adult—she’s been more secretive around me and the girls, which is a good thing. We don’t have different guys in and out of the apartment as much anymore, but that means Mom tends to disappear more and more often. I’m here now, so that’s okay. I’ve always been able to handle the girls. But what about when I’m gone? Will they be okay? Will my mother make the right choices for their sakes?
As the woman begins my pedicure, I wonder about those questions and a million more. At the end of the day, I think joining the military is the best thing for me and for my sisters. I’ll be the role model they’ve never had, and I’ll be able to provide more for them because the military will eventually pay me more than the Dollar Store does. Not so much at first, when I’m lower ranked, but I plan to move up the chain as quickly as possible. Then one day, I’ll be able to come back to Middletown with my head held high. And then I’ll hopefully be able to get my mother and my little sisters out of this one-horse town.