She got a picture of the building, then began the long walk back to the fence. She'd already used up two minutes; she knew she had barely any time left. She felt that at any second, she'd be caught. And then. Everything happened at once. She heard a siren. A construction worker had appeared behind her. Where did he come from? He began marching her to the front gate. She went along willingly, not wanting to get in any more trouble. She was confused. Worried. Scared. What would happen? What was happening? Was Aiden right? The lone construction worker took her to the gate, where bright blue lights flashed in her eyes, momentarily blinding her.
A police car.
An hour later, Maria sat silently in a cell. She felt nothing. Just...numb. This one incident could change the way her future went. Forget the contest. Everything it meant paled in comparison to her problems in the future. She shook her head and curled up on the metal cot. Everything was still a blur, and she couldn't quite come to terms with what happened. Her eyelids shut slowly, exhaustion overcoming her fear and worry.
Maria's eyes flicked open at the sound of a lock clicking. She stared into the faces of her parents. The disapproving look stabbed at her heart and stomach. She'd never gotten that look before. They kept asking her questions.
"What made you do it? Why didn't you just turn away?" She didn't answer any of them. She still felt numb and exhausted. They were walking out the front door, and that's when the tears came. Everything became real. Maria shoved her face in her hands and could only manage one sentence. "I'm sorry."
The next day, Maria woke up considerably calmer. She understood what she had done had consequences. She was eating breakfast at the table in her kitchen when her mother first spoke. She came over and sat directly across from Maria.
"Maria. What were you even doing there?" Her mother's face showed concern and disappointment.
"I was getting a picture. For the contest. But I missed the deadline. I wouldn't even want to enter now. I'd feel terrible entering a photograph that was obtained illegally." Maria's face was completely serious, and she looked sorrowful, yet wiser than she was the previous day.
"I'm glad you feel this way and realize how wrong you were. Now, do you want some good news?"
Maria nodded solemnly.
"Well, the owner of the site has decided to drop charges. There is no fee, and you don't have to actually go to jail. However, there is now a black mark on your record. You've been arrested. That's not good. Maria, what have you learned? Will you ever do this again?"
She shook her head violently. "No. No way. I'm going to control my impulsiveness and be calmer."
Her mother nodded and gave her a hug. "I'm glad you're okay. Oh, you realize you're not going anywhere for, like, forever, right? And you understand that if I ever catch you doing something like this you'll be disowned?"
"You will NOT have to worry about that, Mom. I'm never taking a risk like that again."
A few days later, Maria sat in her bedroom. She went to her computer and pulled up the contest page, where the winner had just been posted. Maria sighed a heavy sigh when the almost smirking face of Thea's icon appeared under the prize categories.
"Guys, this is going to haunt me for years." She spoke over her shoulder to her pet sugar gliders.
An email alert came through, and another sigh escaped Maria as she saw the subject line and who sent it.
Thea K. <TheATeam@imail.net>
Subject: Winners can't be torn from their thrones, nor losers from their stools
Did you see the contest page today? Ha. No surprise there. I think we all knew "deep" inside that you would lose, and I would win. I looked through, and you didn't even rank top thirty! Yeah, your pictures are definitely the best around.
-Thea K (The winner)
Maria turned away from her computer and pulled one of her sugar gliders out of his cage.
"Next year." She sighed for the third time in the past ten minutes. "I'll beat her next year. And this time, I'll do it the RIGHT way."