Authors: Jennifer Rush
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #General, #Love & Romance, #Science & Technology, #Juvenile Fiction / Action & Adventure - General, #Juvenile Fiction / Love & Romance, #Juvenile Fiction / Science & Technology
NICK DROVE OUT OF TOWN AND TOOK
the freeway. I couldn’t tell where he was headed. Maybe he didn’t know, either.
I leaned my forehead against the window and closed my eyes as I felt a familiar burn deep in my sinuses. I didn’t want to cry. Not now. Not in front of Nick.
“It’s not like they’re dead,” he said.
No, but it felt like I’d never see them again.
“I hope you don’t keep doing that,” he added. “Because we’re not going to get anything accomplished with you crying.”
“And we’re not going to get anything accomplished if you keep acting like an asshole.”
He went rigid. I tensed, knowing that I’d crossed a line.
But a hint of a smile spread over his face. “Now that we got the petty shit out of the way, why don’t we make a plan? Unless you want to write in your diary about how sad you are and how you got saddled with the fucking asshole.”
“It’s not a diary,” I muttered.
“Good. Because diaries are for douche bags.”
I laughed. “Was that an indirect compliment?”
He furrowed his brow. “No.”
“I’m pretty sure that was a compliment.”
“I’m pretty sure you’re irritating me.”
“I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
“Great, so are we going to argue, or are we going to do something about this?”
“Do something about it,” I said, and he nodded. “I have to go to Port Cadia.”
“What?” he shouted.
“My uncle lives there. He might know something. He has contacts in the Branch.”
“In case you forgot, the last time we went looking for one of your family members, we ended up screwed.”
“Come on, Nick! What else are we going to do? Go to Branch headquarters and blow the place up?”
I sighed. “Please. This is important to me. And I think meeting him could help. He might know something worthwhile.”
And he was there the night my parents died
, I thought. I would have used it as additional ammo if I were talking to anyone other than Nick. But he didn’t want to learn about his past. He’d made that painfully clear. So he wouldn’t understand my need to learn about mine.
“Nick?” I tried again.
“Do you know exactly where to find him?”
“Dani is going to contact him.”
He grumbled in the back of his throat. “This keeps getting better and better.”
“Fine. But if Sam finds out about this…”
“Oh, yes, he will. It’s Sam we’re talking about.”
“Just head to Port Cadia, and I’ll deal with Sam when the time comes.”
What would he do when he found out where we were headed? I didn’t think I wanted to know.
Nick took several back roads as we headed north. He found a local rock station, and the music filled the silence between us.
I dug in my bag for my journal, finding it wedged on the bottom beneath a hairbrush and an extra gun clip. I grabbed my set of colored pencils next. It was always hard to predict how long we’d be on the road and whether or not there’d be a free minute to sketch.
I could go from eating a turkey sandwich to getting shot at in the span of two seconds. Drawing seemed like the last thing I should be wasting my time with. But it helped anchor me to the real world. It was something that was familiar, something normal.
So I started sketching.
I didn’t have a particular image in my head, and I was fresh out of travel magazines for inspiration. I considered asking Nick to stop at a grocery store so I could buy something to browse, but then I reminded myself this was Nick I was talking about, and no way would he stop for a magazine run.
As usual, I started with a warm-up. I had a few pages in the very back that I’d designated as my doodle pages. There were waves and hearts and 3-D cubes. I scribbled in a goldfish, then an umbrella, then more hearts.
I looked over at Nick. His left hand rested at the top of the steering wheel. His right hand held tightly to the stick shift between us. His black hair curled around his ears and over the collar of his coat. Even in profile, with only a sliver of his eyes in view, I was taken aback by how shockingly blue they were. How he had this way of looking at things like he didn’t care at all, when I knew deep down he was taking everything in. Every detail. He forgot nothing. And he would use it against you as soon as the perfect opportunity presented itself.
Nick downshifted when he got stuck behind a semi waiting for the car in the next lane to pass. His jaw tensed. His eyebrows sank in frustration.
I turned to a fresh page and started drawing. I thought I’d sketch Nick driving, but the further I got into the sketch, the more I realized it wasn’t of Nick sitting next to me, now. It was of him pushing someone into a darkened room, panic creased around his eyes. There was a four-poster bed behind him.
I was studying the image, trying to figure out if it was real or imagined, when the journal was snatched from my hands.
I looked up. The car was parked in front of a gas pump. Nick spread the journal open on the steering wheel.
“You drew this just now?” he asked.
“Did I tell you about this?”
I frowned. “No.”
He stared at the penciled image for a long time. A car pulled up at the pump on the other side of us.
“What is it, Nick?” I finally asked.
“This is one of my flashbacks.”
I sat forward. “It is? What is it about? Who are you pushing?”
He slammed the journal shut and tossed it back to me. He climbed out of the car and went around to the gas tank. I climbed out, too. The frigid air hit me before I was ready for it. Salt crunched beneath my boots.
“Nick? Who is it?” I asked again, even though I had a sudden sinking feeling that I knew exactly who it was.
Nick flipped open the gas tank, unscrewed the cap. He punched at the buttons on the gas pump, and it beeped in response.
I took a step closer. “It was me, wasn’t it?”
“Yes. Okay. It was you.”
My breath puffed out between us. “What happened? Why were you shoving me in a room—”
“It was a closet. And I don’t know.”
I pressed my back against the side of the car. Sam and I had been to my old house. In one of the rooms, we’d found the empty frame of an old four-poster bed. In the closet, I’d found a picture of me and Dani, stuffed in a keepsake box along with a—
I gasped. “A paper crane.”
Nick furrowed his brow. “What?”
“In the closet in the house in Port Cadia, I’d found a box with a picture of me and Dani and a flattened paper crane.” A million theories started running through my head. I paced. “And in one of my flashbacks, there was a boy sitting on my bed with me. Dani and Sam were fighting down the hall. I could hear them and I was upset, so the boy showed me how to make a paper crane to distract me.” I met his eyes, suddenly realizing what my brain had been trying to tell me for a while now. “That boy was you.”
His eyes grew distant. “My mother showed me how,” he said in a voice barely above a whisper.
I nodded. “That’s what you told me in the flashback.”
“It’s the only thing about her I remember. I don’t even know what she looked like.” He blinked and pulled the gas pump from the car. “What kind of person leaves their kid, anyway? A godda—”
He cut himself off and looked away.
Just like that, our moment was over. Nick was back to being Nick, but I was going to celebrate the victory, no matter how minuscule it was. Nick had opened up. Maybe there was a part of him that did care after all.
Dani called later that morning. “I got a message out to Uncle Will that I found you and that I was sending you his way. Hopefully I’ll hear from him later with a specific meeting time and place.”
“Thanks. Does Sam know you’re doing this?”
“No. I called while he and Cas were in the bathroom. We’re at a rest stop right now.”
I exhaled. “Thanks for that. I don’t want him knowing yet.”
Nick snickered beside me.
“No problem,” Dani said. “Will you make it to Port Cadia by tonight?”
“Yeah, I think so. We’re getting food right now and then we’ll be back on the road.”
“Good. I’ll call as soon as I know more.”
We said our good-byes, and I tossed the prepaid into the center console.
“What do you want to eat?” Nick asked.
“I don’t know. I’m not picky.”
He whipped the car into the nearest shopping lot and parked in front of a little café in the lower level of a huge redbrick office building.
Wind chimes rang out above us as we opened the door. The barista perked up. “What can I get for you guys?” she asked, readjusting the visor of her green hat. Her ponytail was wound in a loose bun and hung out the back.
“I just want black coffee,” Nick said.
“Nothing to eat?” I asked.
“Nope.” He sauntered off and picked a table near the windows but not directly in front of them.
I ordered a coffee and a sandwich and waited for our order to come up. When it did, I shuffled over to the bar area so I could add tons of cream and sugar to my cup.
My stomach grumbled at the sight of the food and the smell of the fresh-brewed coffee. I tore open a sugar packet and upended it over the cup. Out the corner of my eye, I saw Nick shove his chair back and wind his way through the occupied tables.
“Here’s your coffee,” I said to him.
“We have to go.”
Instantly I was on alert. “Why?”
“Why do you think?”
I glanced out the front windows. A black Suburban was parked in the street. And there were agents headed for the café.
“Oh my God.”
Nick gave me a shove toward the back of the building. We turned left down a hallway. There was an alternate exit there next to the stairwell and an elevator. Nick peered out the tiny window in the exit door.
He cursed beneath his breath. “We have to go up.”
“Up the stairwell. Go.”
The sound of wind chimes clanging together at the front door got me moving. In the stairwell, we rushed up an entire flight. I was extremely grateful for having the endurance to keep up with Nick.
“This way,” Nick said and motioned me to the second floor. We entered a carpeted hallway. Two women in pencil skirts and suit jackets walked past. “Excuse me,” Nick said. “Is there another exit in this building?”
The woman closest to him nodded and gestured with a tip of her head in the opposite direction. “On the east side of the building.”
Nick smiled. “Thanks.”
When the women walked away, Nick pushed me down the hall. We took several wrong turns, passing office after office before locating the second stairwell. Nick reached for the door at the same time it rushed open.
A gun was shoved in Nick’s face. “Don’t move,” the agent said.
Nick put his hands up. A second agent came out of the stairwell. A woman. She positioned her gun on me.
Using his free hand, the man pressed a finger to his ear, to the device attached there.
“We got them,” he said right before Nick pulled out his gun and shot him in the head.
THE FEMALE AGENT WIDENED HER EYES
and swung toward Nick. I ripped a fire extinguisher off the wall and whacked her over the head with it. She dropped next to her fallen partner.
“Jesus!” I shouted at Nick. “She had a gun on me. She could have killed me!”
“Start stripping them.”
“Just do it.”
I peeled off the woman’s boots, then her pants. I tore off her hat, and a cascade of brown hair fanned over the floor. I had to wrestle with her jacket and T-shirt.
“Now what?” I asked.
Nick scanned the empty hallway before darting inside a darkened office. The door said it was an accounting business. “In here,” he said. He dumped the first agent’s clothes in a closet, but saved the walkie-talkie. I dumped the woman’s clothes next to the other pile and shut the door.
“Out,” Nick said, pointing at the window.
Without questioning this time, I unlatched the window and shoved upward. The wind pulsed inside, rattling the bamboo blinds. I eased onto the ledge, which overlooked an adjoining office building. Nick came out next and shut the window quietly. He held the agent’s earpiece between us. I could hear voices faintly through the device.
“Unit one, check in,” someone said.
“Unit one, roger,” a woman said.
“Unit two, check in.”
“Unit two, check in.”
Nick spoke through a tiny microphone on the device’s cord. “Unit two momentarily knocked unconscious. We seem to be… um… missing our clothes.”
More silence. My teeth began chattering together as I pressed against the building’s exterior. I could already feel my nose turning red in the cold.
“All units,” the person said, “identify your partners. Suspects are believed to be posing as agents in uniform. I repeat, identify your partners.”
A smirk touched the corners of Nick’s lips. “Ready to jump?” he asked.
The next building was also a two-story building, but it was at least six feet shorter.
“What if I break my leg?” I said, more to myself than to Nick.
“What if an agent hits you with a tranq and takes you into headquarters, and they wipe your memory?”
I cringed. “Point taken.”
“On three,” he said. “One. Two. Three.”
I jumped and my arms spun. When I hit the roof of the next building, I tucked into a forward roll to avoid breaking any bones. Nick did the same, and we took off at a run. We leapt over a small ledge between buildings.
A bullet hit the brick chimney two feet to my left. I slid over a patch of ice as I slowed, glancing over my shoulder.
Riley was standing in the window we’d just escaped from, his gun aimed right at me.
Nick yanked me in the opposite direction. Another bullet blazed overhead, pinging off a return air vent.
Nick ran to the edge of the roof, where the row of buildings ended in an alley. He didn’t slow, and every instinct told me to pull back,
dig my feet in before I leapt to my death. But Nick had never put me in harm’s way.
I had to trust him. The alternative wasn’t any safer.
We leapt off the roof. My stomach dropped to my knees. The air in my lungs fluttered in the back of my throat. I didn’t even have the presence of mind to scream.
We landed in a Dumpster piled high with black garbage bags, enough to soften our landing. Without pausing, I jumped out onto solid ground, with Nick just behind me.
“Go right,” he said, so I did.
At the mouth of the alley, Nick and I slid to a stop as an agent rounded the corner, his gun directed at us.
“Got ’em,” the agent said. “Alley between West Fifty-Fifth and Huntley.” To us he said, “Don’t move.”
But, as I knew all too well, Nick didn’t like orders, and I was beginning to feel the same way.
I grabbed the agent’s gun, stepped to the left, shoved up. A shot went off, the bullet lodging itself in the wall next to us. Nick swept in, kicking the man in his now exposed left side. A rib cracked. Nick kicked again. The man’s grip loosened on his gun, and I wrenched it from his hands as his legs buckled. Nick kneed him in the jaw. I shot him in the leg.
Nick and I looked at each other. Something unspoken passed between us. An understanding, maybe. That if we stopped
butting heads so much and started working together, we’d be unstoppable.
“Go,” Nick said. Our path was clear for now, but who knew how long we had before more agents arrived.
I could guarantee it wasn’t long enough.