Noah’s eyes repeatedly darted to the rearview mirror, and I swiveled to see out the back window. The sun disappeared behind the mountains bruising the horizon. Shadows stretched across the road, and my heart skipped when I thought I’d spotted motion—a vehicle, but then it was nothing.
I felt like we’d been swallowed by a monster, caught in a gel capsule, catapulting down a dark, curving intestine. The car smelled like nervous sweat and the interior pressed down on me, squashing my lungs against my ribs.
It had gotten dark and I was glad for the cover. I didn’t have to peek into the mirror to know I looked like a plate of raw chicken. Plus, it meant I could cry without worrying Noah, as long as I did it silently. I leaned my head against the cool window, eyes closed, surreptitiously wiping salty tears off my face.
We drove in silence for what seemed like hours, with only thenoise of the wipers intermittently squeaking across the windshield.
I wanted Noah to reach over and take my hand or grip my leg, or anything to reassure me that everything was going to be all right.
For us and with us.
He didn’t. His hands remained firmly on the wheel at two and ten.
I dozed off.
It’s pitch black until a strike of lightning jags across the starless sky. Shadows flash, trees bow in the wind. Noah’s face. Water streams down his olive skin, drops falling from long dark lashes.
His hand clasps mine and we run.
The wind whips my hair across my face. I can’t see. My heart pounds, loud, along with the heaving of my rapid breaths.
We’re being chased.
But by whom? And why?
Rain batters my face. It drenches my hair, soaks my shirt.
Noah disappears through a hole in the fence. I go next.
My shoulders scrape. My shirt’s caught. I writhe and twist, but I can’t move. I’m stuck.
They’re going to catch me.
I awoke with a gasp.
Noah shook my shoulder. “You’re dreaming.”
The sound of his voice after so many hours of silence was jarring.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
My head throbbed and I drew circles on my temples with myfingers. “I dreamed about us, running away from Grandpa V’s house. They were chasing us. I got stuck in the fence.”
Noah swallowed. “There’s Tylenol in my pack.”
I reached for it, retrieving the pills and slugging back two with what was left of our stale, days-old, bottled water.
“The battery’s low,” he said, lifting his chin toward the dash.
“Are we going to run out of juice before we reach Reno?”
We’d used the back roads to get here which was why it had taken three days. Main highways had better surveillance systems, something we needed to avoid at all costs. Agent Grant was on our tail.
The GPS on the dashboard indicated that we were about ten minutes away from the outskirts of the city. I pulled my knees up to my chest, feeling a strong need to curl into a ball, wishing I could make myself disappear.
Noah glanced my way. “How’s your head?”
“Okay,” I lied. Pain sliced through my brain.
Lights glimmered like jewels in the distance and the sight of it energized me for some reason, like sparkles of hope.
Or at least like something new.
Noah geared down. “We need to get something to eat. I’m starving.”
My stomach twisted at the thought of food, but maybe a few carbs would help to settle it.
“It’s pretty late,” I said. The time on the dashboardindicated 3:17 a.m.
“Reno is open twenty-four hours. There’ll be something.”
He reached over and tugged my hair. “We’ll have to get a disguise.”
“You want me to cut it?” I was startled by the thought.
He paused and I waited for him to say no but instead he said, “We don’t have any scissors.”
He slowed as we passed an abandoned fuel station, left over from the gasoline years. The wooden structure leanedprecariously in the wind and I thought it would cave in any minute.
Noah pulled up beside it. “We’ll deal with the battery tomorrow. Help me push it to the back,” he said. I groaned with the effort but soon it was well hidden in the long grass.
I fished out my shoulder bag from behind the seat and slid the handgun between my flesh and waistband, sucking back as the cool metal passed along my skin. Noah ripped out the interior sideboard of the driver’s door, and I jumped. My eyes widened when he pulled out stacks of bills and stuffed them in his bag.
“Where’d you get all that money?” I asked.
His eyes flickered toward me then back to his bag. “I made a rather large withdrawal. Before…”
“Before you took me? I didn’t know you had that much money.”
He shrugged, and awareness dawned. He’d had access to my chip.
“You withdrew from my account!”
Hestraightened and shifted the bag to his back. “I didn’t have a choice. Besides, you still owed me.”
He was right. I’d hired him to help me find out what happened to Liam and didn’t get a chance to pay. Still, I felt violated, though I knew the feeling was irrational. He’d taken it to save me.
I stepped in behind him as we made our way through the long grass back to the main road. We traveled along the shoulder, careful to watch out for thesoundless hybrids.
“Don’t make eye contact,” Noah said. “We’re not hitch-hiking.”
I was completely exhausted when we finally entered the suburb sprawl. I, at least, had slept a little in the car. I didn’t know how Noah did it.
We came to a convenience store.
“We can get something to eat here,” I said.
Noah grabbed my arm, stopping me from entering. “You can’t go in. Someone might recognize you.”
“They might recognize you, too.”
“It’s not as likely.” He pulled a ball cap out of his bag and twisted it on his head.
I was beginning to wonder if he was ever going to touch me again, when he put his hands on my shoulders.
The evenings were chilly; I couldn’t contain my shivering. Noah unbuttoned his top shirt and wrapped it around me. “This should help.”
He maneuvered me toward the window. “Keep your eyes on me.I’ll try to stay in your line of sight. Bang on the glass if you get nervous or scared.”
I nodded and he kissed me lightly on the forehead before heading in. I stared through the glass into the brightly lit store, feeling like I’d just got left behind on the moon. I placed a hand on my lower back, comforted by the loaded gun there.
Noah moved about the store, keeping his face toward me. He was taller than the shelves in the middle aisles and he kept his eye onme as he grabbed at items.
The clerk watched Noah’s hands, not trusting that he wouldn’t pocket something without paying. Noah placed a couple of sandwiches and something else I couldn’t identify on the counter and paid with cash. The clerk gave him a double-take before accepting the cash, then shrugged and shook his head. No change.
“I have to use the restroom,” I said when he returned.
“I figured. They’re around the corner.” He handed me a key and shoved something else in my hands. “Put this on.”
“A wig?” I blurted out. “It’s pink!”
“They’re stocked up for Halloween. It’s this or green.”
A deep moan escaped my lips when I looked in the bathroom mirror. A bare bulb hanging from the ceiling gave off a green hue. My hair was a mess and my skin was pasty due to lack of sleep and too much stress. I looked ghoulish. Perfect for Halloween. I tore the wrapping of the wigopen with my teeth. The glossy neon-pink nylon strands were attached to a cheap membrane. I twisted my hair into a pile on the top of my head and covered it with the wig. It felt awkward and I patted it with my hands to flatten the hair underneath.
Noah’s lips pulled up in a tight grin when he saw me.
He ran his fingers through the nylon strands. “You look cute.”
I grumbled a response, then unwrapped my sandwich.
We walked until we spotted the flashing of a motel sign. It was attached to a long, stucco building with paint-chipped trim and wooden doors. The woman in the office sat behind a desk, casually dressed in poor-fitting slacks and a blouse. Her eyes diverted back to the little TV hanging on a bracket on the wall. I recognized the soap opera, and was glad she found the program more interesting than us.
Noah paid the lady with cash. I kept my pink head down and followed him to room 109.
Noah used the key card to open the door and we were hit with a waft of air that reeked of cigarette smoke. It felt like a cramped storage room, with only a tiny table, two wooden chairs, an ancient TV attached to the wall, and a double bed. The orange carpet was worn through to the flooring beneath it. It took two steps to get anywhere, including the bathroom, which stank like urine. I winced at the thought of having to use that shower to get cleanedup.
I raised my eyebrows at Noah. “This is the best we can do?”
Noah closed the door behind us and fiddled with the thermostat. I rubbed my hands together, not sure what to do with myself. For the last three nights we’d slept in the car. This was the first time since we’d become fugitives that we’d shared a real, if gross, room together. I tossed my handbag on the table and then sat in one of the wobbly chairs.
“Itshould warm up quickly,” Noah said, turning to me. “Do you mind if I have a shower first? I’ll be quick.”
As much as I’d like to stand under a spray of hot water, I wasn’t eager to remove my layers now that I was finally starting to beat the chill. Plus, that shower stall…
I folded my arms and closed my eyes. I started trembling, my heart racing, and my forehead grew clammy. Was this what post-traumatic stress was like?
“TV on,” I said, then chastised myself. Of course, it hadn’t been programmed to recognize my voice. I went to it, scanning the surface of the screen. The voice-programming feature wasn’t obvious. This model was so old, it probably didn’t have that. I searched for a way to turn it on, finding a hand held remote in one of the drawers. I clicked it and turned it up, barely loud enough to hear. I didn’t want to watch anything; I just didn’t want to feel alone.
Noahreappeared. His hair was glossy and damp, dripping onto a wrinkled shirt. “Your turn.”
I nodded and shuffled to the bathroom and began peeling off the layers. I could smell myself. Yuk. I needed a shower desperately.
I turned on the hot water and stripped down as fast as I could. Noah had left his soap and shampoo for me to use. I sniffed the lid. It smelled like him.
I scrubbed down as fast as I could, finishing just as the hot water depleted. Ijumped at a tapping on the door.
“Zoe?” Noah’s voice reached me, and I shut off the water.
“I’m going out for a bit. I won’t be long. Wait for me, ‘kay?”
I wrapped a towel around myself, water pooling on the floor, but when I reached the door to ask Noah what he was going to do, he was already gone.