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Krista

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Krista last won the day on November 3 2016

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  1. Krista

    Chapter 33

    Lol, I get the feeling that was complete sarcasm. In the south we say, "Bless your heart," for things such as these. Sometimes we are our own worst enemies. It is, I enjoy writing them. It is getting a bit difficult to find the time and cooperation from my life to actually do it. I think Jackson loved so much were he was at, that he forgot about where he wanted to go. About the coach and lack of council from the people around him - I think in a small scene I had his mother did ask him about his future and the recruitment packages. That didn't spur him into action though. I want to explain my reasoning better, but I can't right now. So I'll allow the suffering to continue if you really want to know. Cindy... well we'll see Cindy again soon. Yeah, I've had some of those as well. Waiting for life to happen is the worst sort of waiting we can do. It is nice! If Jackson can pull all he wants off, he'll have to be rather determined. We've seen a determined Jackson before, maybe we will again. Thank you for sticking with it! I'll be fighting for more free time in the coming days so that I can hopefully get some writing for the next part done. Sometimes I wonder myself, how I come up with some of the things these characters say. I had forgotten for example, that Olivia retorted with, "In my pants," when asked where Connor's senior loyalty was. I laughed myself, so it was a nice surprise when I was reading it before I posted it here. Having read, "Standing In Shadows," after forgetting most of it, I surprised myself in that story a lot as well. Happy accidents like those are nice even for the authors that forget what they write.
  2. Krista

    Chapter 33

    After the shower Luke had to get back home, he didn’t know exactly when Cindy would be back home. I walked him to the door not wanting to let him leave, but knowing I wouldn’t be able to convince him to stay. That and it was a school night and I didn’t feel like another Cindzilla rampage on my front steps, I doubted mom would’ve handled that well. I also didn’t want to see the conviction he has now, leave him. The strong set of his shoulders and the boundless energy as he fidgeted at my door, me holding onto his hand like a lifeline. It was a car that went down the road that I silently cussed that broke us and he turned with a smirk and bounded off the front steps to the yard. Standing there with the door open watching the last fleeting glimpses when Mom came home had me shutting the door quickly and running up to my room. I wanted to make sure any evidence of what took place an hour or so ago was gone. Stepping inside my room I blushed at the state of the bed, but only smoothed out the covers and put the pillows back on the head of the bed. I heard her enter and take her shoes off at the front door when I grabbed my backpack and found my Calculus homework. I was finished with it, but pretended to be in deep concentration when she came up the stairs. She glanced inside my room and I gave her a small smile. “How was practice?” She asked and I looked down at my notebook remembering practice. I was there all of fifteen minutes before Tony sent me home. “It was okay,” I answered hoping Mom was tired enough to not stand just inside the door and talk. “You didn’t eat your dinner,” she said and I grimaced when my stomach growled. “Yeah I forgot all about it to be honest,” I said smiling when she shook her head. “I’ll go put it in the fridge,” she said and I watched her leave my door. When I heard her start down the stairs I slid my homework back inside my bag and did one last sweep of the room before I snuck across the hall to the bathroom. Seeing that it looked normal I walked down the stairs hoping I didn’t reveal anything. It didn’t help that the feeling of being penetrated for the first time still lingered as well. It wasn’t something I would be getting used to, but hoped wouldn’t last that long as well. It didn’t make me want to walk bow legged like a cowboy home from a long ride, so at least that myth wasn’t true and I was glad of it. “How was work?” I asked and when Mom cocked her eyebrow I knew that wasn’t a question I typically asked her. “Fine,” she said, still eyeballing me as she finished putting my untouched food into tupperware. Sliding them into the fridge for me to warm up tomorrow. “Well that’s good,” I said, looking away from her and mouthing swear words, my face getting warm. “How was school with Cindy?” Mom asked closing the refrigerator door then she turned and poured her a glass of water. She would usually have a cup of decaf, but she mostly drank water and a little orange juice here and there now. “Scary as hell,” I answered and she laughed. I didn’t want to tell her that it bothered Luke so much that he dumped my ass for a couple of hours. It wouldn’t have fit the happy mood that I was in now. “Maybe she should’ve worked there when you were a freshman,” Mom said, taking a sip of her water. “Maybe then we wouldn’t have been called in to see Steven Welker as often.” “Don’t wish that kind of torture on me, Mom,” I countered leaning against the pantry. When she laughed I pushed myself off the pantry as she walked with me out of the kitchen still holding her glass of water. We separated when I started up the stairs back to my room and she walked around the back of the couch. She had some papers spread out on the coffee table from earlier and probably will be up a little while longer looking over them. Back up the stairs I noticed the small bottle of lube on the nightstand that I missed on my earlier sweep of the room. Knowing Mom was in my room I shuddered as I opened my nightstand drawer and slid it inside, closing it gently back. Glancing at the clock, I saw that it was a half-assed reasonable time for a teenage guy to go to bed so I stripped down to my boxer briefs and pulled down the covers. After I got settled into bed I reached over and turned off my bedside lamp and stared at the ceiling. I ran my finger along the chiseled edge of the J of my necklace feeling the slight sharpness of it. I needed tomorrow to be normal, just a normal Tuesday where I was bored most of the day, amused by some shit Derek or Toby got up to until my open night of swimming with Charlie. Now that I had access to the pools again I wanted to make sure my conditioning was the best it could get heading into the championship meets. After tossing and turning I didn’t know when I fell asleep until my alarm went off. Groaning I rolled out of bed and swiped my phone with my thumb killing the alarm. Then I walked across the hall to the bathroom. After a pee and a shower that woke me the rest of the way up I smiled as I dressed. I wanted to have hope that Luke would be back to normal today and not let Cindy bother him. I also couldn’t help imagining ways to get Cindy back for some of this too. Thoughts of thumbtacks glued to her chair kept coming to mind, but it felt too juvenile and lazy. I needed something big, but nothing came to mind. Mostly because she scared the fuck out of me and I didn’t know how it would affect Luke. If things got worse, I doubted the threat of Welker taking prom away or even Luke could stop me. Some people just have it coming to them. Like usual Dad was in bed and Mom was already out the door. So I had my quick egg and cheese sandwich on toasted wheat bread Mom left for me and headed out the door. Unlike before, I was too early for school, but Cindy had been making Luke ride to work with her so I hoped he would be sitting in the cafeteria, maybe even sampling the nasty assed breakfast menu. When I stepped through the doors I scanned the room and groaned when the only person I saw at our table was Connor. When I arrived at the table he looked surprised to see me. Unlike lunch, I sat across from him not having to sit next to him. It would be odd looking for two guys to sit next to one another with so many open chairs as it was. “Mornin’,” I grumbled, glancing down at my phone. I thought about sending a quick text to Luke, but I wondered if he was being cooped up in Cindy’s classroom until the first bell. We still felt like lucky shits that she hadn’t found out about the phones. “Hi,” he said, holding a cup of coffee from McDonalds. “What are you doing here this early?” I asked, cocking an eyebrow. “I just broke into the Christian Athletes’ lockbox to repay some of my debts,” he answered shrugging. “How many more of them do you owe?” I asked, trying not to snicker. The thought of him going around robbing every club in school amused me, Connor just didn’t fit the part. I fit the part perfectly. “That was the last one,” he answered smiling. “Ally said the prank was good,” I said watching him take a sip of his coffee. He smiled around the rim of his cup. “I hope so,” he said, placing his cup back down on the table. “What is it exactly?” I asked and when he looked nervous I glanced over my shoulder, but when I didn’t see anyone there, I glanced back at him. I didn’t think my question would have made him squirm. “They told me not to tell you,” he answered, chewing on his bottom lip. “I will though, if you want me to.” “Nah,” I answered, cocking an eyebrow. “Good, I thought Heather was going to rip my balls off for not telling her about the Prom announcements,” he said leaning back in his chair, his eyes widening slightly. “She’s very determined.” “Sic Olivia on her,” I said smirking when he laughed. “So why are you here so early?” He asked and I fidgeted with my phone hoping the scowl on my face caused him to backtrack and apologize. When he didn’t I realized I might need to give Connor another dose of fear, I didn’t want to end up with my naked ass on his Mother’s phone again. “Woke up early,” I answered shrugging. “I saw Luke this morning when I was out sneaking around, his mother about made me piss myself,” Connor said, shaking his head. “Yelled at me for a full minute without taking a breath, I finally got her to see my school pass.” “You have a school pass to be here before school starts?” I asked, wondering how I could get my hands on something like that. “Not really,” he answered smiling. “I had it made, part of the master plan.” “Oh,” I said, still not picturing it. No one else came in that usually sat with us so Connor and I fell into an awkward silence. He slurped his coffee every now and then, which made me cringe hating the noise. I knew most of our friends wouldn’t be rolling into school until they were threatened with a tardy. Swearing at myself for thinking Cindy would ever let Luke out of her sight, I made a vow to never walk through these doors again with more than five minutes to spare. The cafeteria was filling up though, with underclassmen that didn’t drive and had to ride the buses. Some of them arrived hours ago red-eyed and tired. When I was forced to ride the bus I lived just far enough outside of town that I had to wait for the bus rather early, back when I was grounded and it sucked ass. “Well, have a good first half of the day,” Connor said, bringing my attention back to him. I only nodded my head with a half-hearted smirk as we both stood. I walked beside him to the trash can so he could toss his cup in the garbade and we left the cafeteria through the sea of underclassmen together. No one was at my locker when I got there so I just shoved my books for the later classes into it and grabbed my English homework. Closing my locker I jumped when Luke was standing silently on the other side of it. Seeing me jump he laughed and leaned against the cold metal. Ally was my locker neighbor and she never really came to it before first period now that we weren’t dating. The guys shared a locker on the other side of me, but they likely hadn’t even arrived yet. “What the fuck,” I hissed shouldering my backback. My first class was just behind me. All of the English and foreign language classes were down on this level. Seeing him calm though made me smile and I hoped I didn’t look like a goofy dumbass, but I couldn’t help it. “Well you’re not walking funny,” he whispered and my eyes shot around to the people within earshot. “Shut up,” I groaned, still looking around. “You’re fucking brave today.” “Yeah,” he said, sighing. “I figured I’d try acting more like you.” “So you want to be in Welker’s office before lunch?” I asked, cocking an eyebrow. Looking past him I already knew where my eyes would fall. Cindy was standing outside her freshman english class ushering them inside. She was looking at us though and I wanted to take a step back. With him leaning against the lockers and me standing so close, I wondered what we looked like. I definitely wasn’t this comfortable with Derek or Toby. We mostly shoved one another and goofed off, knocking one another into unsuspecting people walking by. We didn’t stand face to face smiling like idiots, maybe if we were still a bit tipsy from an odd party that happened on a school night. “I just don’t want to be scared of my own mother,” he said, offering me a tight smile. “Well then don’t turn around,” I said, turning back to face him as I took a half-step back pretending to readjust my backpack. “I know,” he said, glancing around the hallway. “I wish more of the guys showed up so it wouldn’t look so odd.” “It’s not odd,” I said, following his eyes as he continued to watch people. Although I had just been thinking the same thing. “We’re just fucking paranoid.” “And I hate it,” he added, rolling his eyes, turning back to me. “I better get going though.” “Yeah,” I said as the first tardy bell rang. The second one meant you were late for class. I gave him a small smile as I turned and entered my first class thinking about thumbtacks glued to seats again. The first half of the day was completely normal though. Ms. Chapel had me reading for longer than I thought she should’ve. My throat was dry by the time she called on someone else and I was thankful to just follow along. We were in the closing scenes of what I hoped was my final Shakespere experience. We’d be tested on it soon after, but I used cheat sheets to half-ass understand what I was reading. I just didn’t get poetry, even in play form. Calculus we had a pop-quiz that took up most of the day. Toby was scrambling with his homework when Tuck announced the damn thing. Swearing under his breath he just passed his half-finished homework forward and started drilling Heather on what he should know. How he managed a passing grade so far amused me, but when I finished and flipped my paper over I saw that sweat was beading on his temple as he concentrated. To her credit Heather did a good job leaning to one side to let him copy her work without Tuck noticing. Time was called just before he finished and he nearly fell out of his seat looking at Heather’s work one last time to get the answer. When he passed up his paper Heather glanced at it and swiftly finished his work before sending it forward. “I think I need to come over and tutor you before you flunk out and have to repeat the year,” Heather whispered as we settled in to relax for the rest of the period. “We wouldn’t get much done,” he said, winking at her. To her credit, Heather didn’t seem phased by what he said. She had to be used to it by now anyway. “So Church looked like he was in a better mood,” Heather said, turning to look at me. I would’ve rather been ignored and disgusted by their public display of affection. She had used his nickname that Toby gave him though. I wondered when that happened since the girls hardly ever did that sort of thing. “Yeah,” I offered, shrugging. “Cindy has him freaked out.” “You seem pretty fucking happy too,” Toby whispered leaning across the aisle towards me. “Yeah?” I said, feeling my face getting warm. I didn’t want to break eye contact with him, if I did I probably would have given it all away. Looking at Toby though, his face turned from an easy smirk to one of awestruck horror. “My fuck,” he said and we both glanced at Heather who already had an amused smile playing on her lips. “Shut up,” I groaned, turning back to my desk to gather my things ready to bolt if I needed to. “Neither of you are walking funny,” he said and I reached over and punched him in the arm. It was a harder punch than I intended and when he cussed and rubbed his arm Tuck nearly fell out of his chair. He was too engrossed in grading the pop quizzes to know who interrupted him, but more than a few people around us laughed. No one ever talked in here so I doubted he even recognized the different voices and I doubted he could place any of us. “You talk way too fucking much,” I said shaking my head. “Just wait until Derek hears about this,” Toby said, glancing at Heather. “He’s corrupted our poor Church.” Thankfully the bell rang before I could lean back over and get hold of him again. This time I was going to strangle the life out of him in the middle of the classroom. Grabbing my backpack they met me at the door and Toby reached over and wrapped me into a headlock as he muscled us through the door with me trying to get away from him. Heather followed us laughing as I finally managed to get out of his grip and tripped him. Not ready for it he ended up sprawled out on the hallway floor cussing me. “Boys, my room now!” Yelled from somewhere behind us. I didn’t need to turn around to know that it was Cindy. Glancing down at Toby I offered my hand and when he grabbed hold I pulled him back to his feet. “See you two idiots later,” Heather whispered, then she looked at Toby. “Do not get yourself thrown out of prom, so help me I’ll end you.” “I won’t,” he said as we turned and walked down the hallway towards her. Glancing around, more than a few people had stopped walking to see our slow march, one of them unsurprisingly being Olivia. She slow clapped when we passed and I shot her a glare. “Ms. Clarke get to class,” Cindy barked as we closed the gap between Mr. Tuck’s room and hers. Why the Math and English classes were down here, I never understood, but it probably had something to do with the Science classes being fire hazards on the top floors and all the exits being down here. “I’ll get there in plenty of time, Aunt Cindy,” she said, but Olivia didn’t wait for any response from Cindy. Rolling my eyes when she shot me a wink. When I turned back around I saw Luke hitting the last step. He came to a complete stop right in front of some freshman girl who knocked into him. If she hadn’t already had a hand on the railing she would have fallen. She looked completely put out by the sudden stop, but managed to walk around him. Luke didn’t seem to notice that he had been practically run over either as he stared at me and Toby. “Today boys,” she said as her next class of freshmen were starting to queue up at her door. I momentarily thought about walking slower, to run her out of time. She wasn’t a disciplinary teacher, she wasn’t even my fucking teacher. The only reason I was walking towards her now was to keep Luke from getting into trouble. “Mrs. Clarke,” Toby started as soon as we were within a few feet of her. “I tripped, I swear.” “Tobias Marks,” she said, shaking her finger at him. “That’s a lie I saw the whole thing.” “Of course you did,” he said, sighing as I elbowed him. “I should give you both after school detention with me,” she continued as she looked between the two of us. If that’s all she did, we’d be lucky, but I couldn’t imagine what after school detention would look like with her. I doubted it would be just sitting there doing homework like the few times I had it in the past with Welker. “Don’t you have something better to do with your time?” Toby asked and I shot him a glare. “We were just having a little fun, no one got hurt.” “Young man this isn’t the place for that,” she said and I saw her raising up to full Cindzilla. Her face was flushed and she hadn’t even gotten to the back talking yet. “You will be quiet now and you will listen to me.” “You’re a substitute teacher,” he said, waving his hands out to his sides. “Toby that’s enough,” I said hoping she didn’t hear me. “No she needs to get that stick out of her ass,” he said and my mouth fell open as she took a step towards him. “Welker’s office, now,” she said as he smiled and fell in step beside her as freshmen darted into the classroom with big assed amused smiles plastered on their faces. I half expected her to turn around and tell me to follow along. She never did though and as they rounded the corner heading to the front offices near the main entrances Toby turned and smiled at me before disappearing. Glancing around I saw that Luke still stood on the bottom step, but now he was looking at me. We had lunch next and only had to check in with our teacher for roll call before leaving so I walked over to him having to go up to the second level for Chemistry with Connor. “What happened?” He asked, reaching for my arm, but seemed to think better of it and let it fall back to his side. “Toby and I were goofing off,” I answered shrugging. “I think he took the bullet for me.” “I hope Welker goes easy on him,” he said as he took the final step down. “See you at lunch, I guess.” “Yeah,” I said and bounded up the stairs as the tardy bell rang. Mrs. Morgan didn’t really mind people being a few seconds late, but I would be pushing it. When I got checked in and back down the stairs, everyone else was already at the table. I was surprised to see Toby sitting there, I figured Cindy would just be getting started with him. He seemed to be in the middle of retelling what happened as I made my way to them. By the time I got there Heather was scolding him, shaking her head. Luke looked completely put out by the entire thing and Olivia looked like she was watching her favorite television show. All she needed was some popcorn. “Well at least you only got after school detention for the week,” Heather said, shaking her head. “We need to get that witch back somehow,” Derek said then he glanced over at Luke. “Sorry Church.” “Please don’t, I have to live with her,” Luke said and all the imagining of paybacks from me left me when I saw the defeated set of his shoulders as he looked down at his tray. “We’re just here for like two more months tops.” “Alright fine,” Derek said, sighing. “Only for you, though.” “I think it would do her some good,” Olivia said as she twisted the cap on her water bottle. “You do it then,” Ally said and I glanced over to see her mid-eye roll, “we can’t, we run the risk of missing out on prom.” “Speaking of prom,” Heather said and I glanced beside me to where Connor was sitting. He went rigid in his seat. “Not this again,” Olivia said, shaking her head. “If you could be trusted not to lose your shit, we’d tell you.” “I can’t believe you told her,” Heather said, still glaring at Connor. “Where’s your senior loyalty?” “In my pants,” Olivia countered and I looked to see that Luke was mid-swallow. When he started coughing Derek reached over and hit him squarely between his shoulder blades, his face getting redder by the second. “Olivia,” he groaned, still coughing up his water. I didn’t miss the glare he shot Connor either. For the first time he looked like his mother aside from her blond hair and brown eyes. I bit my bottom lip to keep from laughing wondering how Olivia hadn’t been kicked out of church yet. Either way, I knew I was leaving this shithole school in good hands for at least the two years she still had here. “I’m joking,” Olivia said in the most unconvincing tone she could manage. I looked over and saw that Connor was turning a sickly pale shade, it pretty much told me everything I needed to know as well. “I’m just tired of this prom nonsense. One of your themes was selected, the water damage from homecoming took a lot of funding to clean up and Prom took the hit.” “What theme?” Lily asked, leaning around Derek to get a better look. “The masquerade one,” Connor answered and I grimaced, not really liking themes to begin with. I just wanted to go and hang out with my friends, dance awkwardly, then get my crown and go out to a real party. “Nice,” Lily said, seeming relieved. “That’s the one I suggested.” “It is the one that works since most of the decorations would be on our own faces,” Connor explained, shrugging. “They’re doing a lot of fake red and black roses with drapery and a chandelier they’re borrowing from drama club.” “Do you know everything that happens in this school?” Ally asked, rolling her eyes. “Don’t you?” He asked and I feared for Connor’s health. Being put through all this couldn’t be healthy on anyone. Color was coming back to his cheeks though and he was calm enough to take a couple tentative drinks of water, still refusing to look at Luke. “Well it isn’t a complete loss,” Heather said, turning to Connor. “You could have saved yourself a lot of time by telling us earlier.” “At least this gives us more time to have the perfect masks made to match our dresses,” Lily said, sounding excited about the idea. I glanced at Luke knowing it was another high school milestone we couldn’t share together. At least homecoming came and went and we were able to skip that dance. Being covered head to toe in water based paints that glow under blacklights was a good consolation, but Prom wouldn’t go away. The school would have to burn to the ground before that happened. He only managed a tight smile, his face still red from choking before looking back down at his tray and I jumped slightly when a foot slid against my leg from across the table. The rest of the day all the talk ended up being about Prom. It was coming up in a couple of weeks. Cheerleading competitions were over and all the girls had to look forward to were basketball games. Their schedules weren’t as full as mine so they could visualize it better than I could. Toby and Derek had nothing to do now that football was over and I almost felt sorry for them having to pretend to be into all the discussions. I had districts before prom to keep me busy. I still would need to rent a tux though. I was relieved when the last bell rang, glad to get away from everyone. Luke would be riding home with Cindy. Toby would be left behind to start his detention. At least it was with Welker. I still had Charlie waiting for me at Tony’s so I slid into my car and drove home to eat a quick meal and grab my swimming equipment before making the just over an hour drive to the center. When I got there though, Tony’s shiny black escalade was parked beside Charlie’s car. He usually never showed up off hours. Grabbing my swim bag from the back seat I slid out of the car and locked it down behind me as I entered the front foyer. I could already hear Charlie in the water through the open doors and when I entered Tony was quietly watching him. Seeing me he waved me into the room with his hand, but he didn’t offer me a smile or hello. “Come on to the office Jackson,” Tony said when I got close enough to hear him. “Am I in trouble?” I asked, readjusting my bag over my shoulder. “No,” he answered over his shoulder as I quickened my pace to fall into step beside him. Charlie was working on his backstroke, but never broke technique to look at me. When we were in his office he flipped on the light and I let the door close behind us. He motioned for me to take a seat across from him. When I did he reached into his desk drawer and pulled out some thick and fancy looking envelopes. They were already open, but I couldn’t see who they were addressed to, but some of them had matching colors from the packages back home. Seeing them my heart rate quickened and I felt myself lean forward. “What are those?” I asked just as he was about to flip open the torn envelope and retrieve the letter inside. “These are letters from some of the universities that were interested in you,” he said, sighing. “Why didn’t you tell me you hadn’t looked at your recruitment packages?” “I don’t know,” I said, placing my hand on his desk. “What do they say?” “Due to the lack of interest from Jackson Forrest we have decided to close our recruitment and focus on other athletes,” Tony read, glancing up at me when he finished. “Will I receive more of these in the mail?” “Yes,” I answered, my mouth going dry. “I thought I had more time.” “It is nearly the end of the season,” Tony said as he reached up and rubbed his eyes before letting his hand fall gently back to the desk to rest beside his other one. “Are you no longer wanting to pursue swimming after high school?” “I do want to,” I answered, nodding my head. “The last time I saw you, you were upset,” Tony said, his blue eyes falling on me. “I don’t try to meddle with personal business, but I want to know if this has something to do with me?” “No,” I answered, glancing down at the envelopes. “How many of them have sent you letters like that?” “All but two,” he answered, “Now answer me, have I or anyone here caused you to reconsider your future in swimming?” “No it’s not like that,” I answered, swallowing hard. “I still love swimming.” “The last two aren’t good fits for you,” Tony said as he reached inside the same drawer he retrieved the letters from. He grabbed a small post-it note with the names of the last two universities that were still holding out on me. “One is a completely new program, they don’t have a lot of funding and no facilities are being built yet so you would lose a ton of time. The other one is a very strict, very religious private school and we both know that isn’t the place for you.” “No,” I said, nodding. “It wouldn’t be.” “I’m sorry to be the one to tell you,” he said as he balled up the post-it note and tossed it into the trash can beside his desk. “So what now?” I asked, trying not to cry in front of him again. “You advance to the State championship invitationals,” he answered, offering me a small smile. “If you do well in districts and regionals there will be interest, but you will have to actually open the damned packages.” “I know,” I said looking towards the door wanting to get out of the office and into the water. I was close to freaking out in front of him again and I didn’t want that to become a habit. I wanted to smell the familiar smell of chlorine and blink at the brightness of the center compared to the dimly lit office. “Don’t put added pressure on yourself,” he said as he stood and rolled his chair back under his desk. “Do what you are capable of and you will be fine.” “Have I messed up?” I asked reaching up to wipe a tear from my cheek before it got too far down. “Yes you have,” he answered and I knew Tony would never sugarcoat anything. “Some of those were some damn competitive schools and they wanted you. Just breathe and move on though, that’s all you can do.” “Okay,” I said and when he nodded for me to get the door I walked over and grabbed the handle. Being back outside of his office and seeing the water and Charlie taking a break I held the door open just long enough to realize that Tony had no intention of following me. Letting it close I nearly ran to the locker rooms to get changed. Time was something I forgot I never had. I should have ripped open those packages the moment I got home, but I hadn’t. The thought of them physically sitting on the kitchen counter waiting for me had me running to the toilet, but I calmed myself down before I lost my lunch. Tony must’ve said something to Charlie before I got there, because Charlie wasn’t the type to let people be upset. Remembering the hug from yesterday I finally started undressing, glancing up at my name carved in a brass nameplate on my locker and I wondered if I would ever see my name on another one. Tony said I still had time, but I knew I didn’t. My dream was to get out of this small shithole town and swim and take this as far as I could. For the first time I felt like my heart was being pulled two different directions. One back to a treeline beside my house where a blond haired boy liked to walk for fuck knows why. The other far enough away that no one knew my name or my story. “Let’s get in the pool, Jackson,” Tony bellowed from somewhere outside of the locker room. Hearing his voice I jumped and grabbed my goggles and nose clip. Sighing I walked out of the locker room knowing I was back where I started. I hoped the lie Tony told me back in his office somehow came true and I hadn’t completely messed everything up by living in small moments out in the woods with the guy I loved. I didn’t regret a second of any of it though and I wondered if that told me all I needed to know.
  3. Krista

    The Runner

    Yeah, maybe there is something to be said about first kisses in the middle of running for your life. lol. I don't know how many people could say their first kisses involved a good dose of fear. I really enjoyed the cat and mouse game the two guys were playing as well. It was fun to write and I could see it amusing and infuriating someone like Ty who was already battling with duty and having this odd character sitting across from him. I also don't know how much Jace would remember the maps, he spent most of his time in that room on his belly staring and swearing at a bulky table leg. Maybe his time should've been better spent studying. lol.
  4. Krista

    The Runner

    Thank you for taking time to review this story! Starting in the middle of action is just a good writing tool for some stories. I like there to be a bit of action, subdued or otherwise to start my stories. It just makes it easier for me, if I have to do three or four pages of world building I tend to struggle and think it is boring.
  5. Stupid allergies. 

  6. UV clothing is so soft, breathable, and light weight. I love wearing it out camping. It is moisture wicking and it dries very quickly when you're wet from swimming or something. So I highly recommend people do that - even the long sleeve options aren't hot or as hot as a heavier cotton for example. Especially if you're using clothes to cover up to keep from being sunburned. I don't have a sensitivity to sun like you either, I just want skin health. If I had a sensitivity like rashes, or blistering - I'd probably live in the clothing from May to late October.. lol. They are coming out with more fashion sensitive options in our area, before it was mostly tight one-note materials that looked more like athletic wear, etc. Although I don't care a whole lot about fashion when the temperatures hit ninety to triple digits regardless.
  7. We're in the same boat. I write stuff I know I like to read... be damned if everyone else does too. It would be a happy accident for sure.
  8. As an Eastern Kentuckian, I take offense (but I also know what you're talking about so fair play to you). You also speak the truth. We get a lot of our weather from the Gulf in the summer, so the humidity is what gets people. Dry heats aren't as bad - although - I bet no one feels comfortable in 110 - 130 degrees so I feel for those people that are living/have lived through the heatwave. Swamp ass is a thing here though and that's all due to the humidity making people sweat as soon as they walk outside. Not me though, I simply glisten. Still, if you're not a wildman living out in the wilderness, you have to wear clothes everywhere here. So I wear very breathable and very short shorts. If the occasion is more fancy I wear skirts. I can't get by without wearing a bra, so that's still very much a part of my wardrobe and thin t-shirts/strapless t-shirts. My hair is either braided or pulled up off my face and neck. I wear sunscreen. I wear more pastels and lighter colored clothing. Sunglasses are a must. Flip-flops are also a must. I've never been a fan of hats though, I feel even with the breathable ones they just makes my head too hot. I have dark brown hair, so it absorbs a lot of sun as it is. I'm surprised how many people are drinking sodas though. Sodas have sodium, sugar, and caffeine in them (one or two won't hurt you, but you still need to pair it with water if you're out in the heat all day), even if they're diet/zero sugar the substitutes still digest similarly. By that, I mean it dehydrates you quicker than drinking straight water. Dehydration causes body warmth and if you pair that with sweating, you're just hotter than you would be typically. So I only drink water and not severely iced down water either, quick/significant temperature changes that chugging cold water does to the body can make the rebound hotter than you were to start with. It also gives you headaches. Out camping I use a fan - we only camp where there's electricity, if that's not real camping please keep that opinion to yourself. So there is always air movement and shade trees/awnings are a must. Just being outside more helps. If you're stuck at home or work a lot your body becomes rather acclimated to the use of air conditioning. So just do more front porch/balcony/outside sitting when you can instead of being cooped up indoors. Early morning or evenings turn off the air conditioning and open windows. Just to change things up a bit. I spend a lot of time outdoors in the hottest months, I have to, I have children that enjoy that nonsense and I really don't feel like wondering what they're getting into. That includes a very tinker-loving husband and if I hear a boom I want to know first hand what happened.
  9. Krista

    The Runner

    Hi, Thank you for leaving a comment! I'm glad you took the time to read the story, the open-ending of the story was more of a.. "I'm running out of time and words," reason more than it being intentional. I still had to work through some issues to make the ending seem appropriate. I definitely didn't want to rush a lot of important scenes that I ended up leaving out, because the story easily could've been 50 - 75k words. I do like that it ended up with so many questions. There is no guarantee that he would even be able to lose his pursuers no matter what direction Ty tries to lead them, for example. Then there's the whole legal/justice angle that we know nothing about that would happen if he was to turn himself in or get caught. Anyway, thank you again for your response.
  10. Love, Victor, has to be one of the most unapologetically boring shows I've ever attempted to watch. My goodness. 

    1. clochette

      clochette

      I think I'm too old for it, not thr audience it's for. Might be good for young teen though

    2. Krista

      Krista

      Not even. No teenagers are that wholesome and boring. It is lame they're making the kids more mature than the adults. More responsible, etc. They talked like adults, they reprimanded their parents like adults... The parents just take it, there's no conflict where there should be, it is all.. passive conflict (frowns, silence, distance). The arguments are literally like two responses and done. I've only been able to watch the first episode of the second season, but the first season is just as boring. 

      It is okay for teenagers to be mature, but it feels like I'm watching people speak in perfect, grammatical, literal sentences. There's hardly any inflections or slang or usage that gives them differences and life. Aside from one character and since she is the 'only' one doing it, it feels forced and out of place.

      It was 'meant' for Disney+ but went to Hulu, if I was the creators I probably would've been like, "Hell yes, we're free.." but the show is so tame it very much could've been sent to Disney and be fine for that image. I mean I've seen worse in most of the animated films. :P 

      It is also a bit preachy and politically bent, so I usually turn the channel on those anyway. I want to escape all that when I go to watch a show, not have it shoved at me every other scene. 

  11. So I wrote chapter 33 of TBY twice. The first one I didn't like, the second one I think I like enough to edit/post.. lol We'll see and if not, third times the charm right? 

    1. wildone

      wildone

      Let me see #2 :P 

    2. Krista

      Krista

      I thought you were going campin? :P 

  12. Steven, we've had this talk before about oversharing. I see we'll need to have that talk again when you get back.
  13. Krista

    The Runner

    Thank you for leaving a comment, first and foremost. I feel the same way, he hasn't processed everything really as everything happened so quickly and he had his own safety to worry about - being out in the elements and such. I really do try to flesh out my scenes with senses. Smell, taste, what they hear, see.. etc. I just think it makes it easier to write the scene, if you leave those out - you really have to struggle to fill the space and you end up with talking heads in a bland background anyway. No hooking up when you're covered in days old sweat, dirt, and ticks Steven... there isn't anything hot about that. So MEET up, maybe. I think Ty doesn't want to just let Jace roam the wilderness. 1. It is dangerous. 2. He's made a connection. So I foresee him and Milly hunting him down later when the manhunt is called off for the evening. -- I do want to see what happens myself. I just hoped there was a bit more of a discussion on this, we'll see! I do want to thank you both again for commenting on this story, it is nice when people take the time to do so and it is far more impactful for motivation to move forward.
  14. Krista

    The Runner

    I was walking up the sidewalk, baseball bag draped over my shoulder, when I heard the crash, then my mother’s screaming. I didn’t hesitate as I ran up the rest of the sidewalk, bounding up the grand stairs to the wrap around front porch. I pushed open the door to see my dad pressing Mom against the wall with his hands around her neck. This wasn’t the first time I walked into the house to something like this; it was more common than not. He was swearing at her, inches from her face, calling her worthless. She was grabbing at his hands trying to free herself; her eyes were closed tightly, and her feet dangled inches off the ground. The coffee table was broken, and I could see Mom dripping blood from an unseen injury. I didn’t say his name, I didn’t yell, I wasn’t thinking. Instead, I grabbed my bat and pulled it free from my bag. Gripping the metal bat tightly, I ran at my dad who never heard me coming over his yelling, my mother now going limp in his arms. This time felt different, that he wasn’t going to stop. There weren’t going to be any apologies followed with threats and promises to trap her here in this house where he had all the power. Seeing her go limp in his hands, I gritted my teeth and brought the bat down across the back of his head. I heard the sound of the muffled thud and saw him release my mom. She fell limply to her knees, coughing and gasping for air. Dad stumbled backwards, blood rushing from the back of his head as I brought the bat around again, this time swinging like I would for a pitch at the plate. I struck him across his temple and blood erupted from his mouth and splattered against the wall and covered Mom. She let out another scream just as I struck Dad again; this time he fell limply backwards onto the broken coffee table, and his eyes stared blankly up at the ceiling. Mom found her footing and rushed across the broken glass and grabbed the bat from my hands as I readied to hit him again. Seeing her in front of me, my world seemed to refocus, and when I saw the blood dripping from the head of the bat, I shook my head and stepped backwards towards the front door, still standing wide open where I left it. Reaching out, I slammed the door behind me as Mom dropped the bat and rushed over to Dad. “Jim?” she called, her voice raspy and weak. She reached up and placed two shaking fingers on his neck, checking for a pulse. Watching by the door, I felt my stomach turn and I ran out of the living room and up the stairs to the second floor bathroom. I grabbed the sides of the toilet and vomited, then collapsed staring at the sides of the toilet seat, now smeared with blood where my hands had been. Everything I had just done came rushing back to me; I replayed striking my father three times. I watched him spasm and fall into the shattered coffee table. I saw the look of pure fear on Mom’s face as she took the bat from me before I could do more. I don’t know how long I sat there before I heard Mom coming up the stairs. When she turned the corner into the bathroom, I saw that her hands were covered in blood. Her eyes searched mine and when our eyes met, she collapsed to the floor and crawled over to me. Wrapping me into a hug, she started sobbing, her voice still weak from the strain of Dad’s hands around her neck. “You have to go,” she said, breaking the hug. “What?” I asked as she made to stand, pulling me up with her. “He’s dead,” she said, swallowing back her own sickness. She was pale, and I wanted to know how badly she was hurt. “I know,” I said, not feeling anything deeper than my lingering anger and my growing realization that I had committed a murder. It threatened to double me back over the toilet, but Mom held firmly to both my shoulders. “You know who your father was,” she said, not taking her eyes away from me. I did know who my father was, a drunk, a fool. Someone that would get angry if his food was lukewarm, even if it was him that stayed at the office late. Someone that demanded perfection and had everything laid out for me since birth and every time that I faltered, he would come into my room angry and looking to throw something or worse. Mom would always get in between us and take the abuse. What Mom meant though, was that Dad had leverage here. He was a famous judge that helped clean up the town. He had every prosecutor and every police agency under his thumb. He could have run for mayor, and it would have been a landslide. Dad saved his good side for those people; no one knew the monster that rampaged at home. And no one would believe that he tripped and fell into a coffee table, not after what I did. “Please,” I said, swallowing against another wave of nausea. “We can both run; we have nothing holding us here.” “There’s some money hidden under a loose floorboard beneath your bed,” she said, her voice becoming startlingly calm. “I’ve been saving some of my tips from the salon.” I was about to argue more, but we both heard a scream from the living room. Both of us jumped, and then Mom looked at me and held her finger up to her mouth. I could already see the bruising on her neck in the shape of my father’s hands. The scream was from Gina, Mom’s friend that popped over whenever she had fresh gossip. Mom stood and hurried from the bathroom, closing the door behind her. I could hear her footfalls as she raced back down the stairs to Gina, who was now calling out Mom’s name. I stood, pushing myself up off the floor and walked over to the sink. I turned the water on gently and held my hands under the water, watching Dad’s blood swirl around the basin of the sink before going down the drain. Then I reached over and pumped my hands full of soap and washed the rest of it away, making sure I didn’t have any staining my fingernails. Looking down, I saw that I had blood on my clothes. A cold rush pricked my skin, and my vision blurred as I looked in the mirror and saw that I had blood on my face as well. I would never be able to outrun what I did, but Mom was right, Dad was too powerful here and we could never outrun his reach. She had tried to leave with me when I was first born, but she only made it to the next town over before he caught up to us. He threatened to expose her as an unfit mother and take full custody of me. It was a story she told me when I was seventeen years old and about to graduate from high school. She wanted me to go as far away as I could get, to forget her, and never come home. I had seen the black eyes and broken bones though, and I feared what he would do to her when I wasn’t there to witness, to intervene, and take some of the punishments when she was too weak to fight. So I stayed and enrolled in a junior college forty-five minutes away, and Dad laughed and told everyone that I was a spoiled Mama's boy, too afraid to leave her tit. He assured people that I was the weak one, and that Mom was to blame for the embarrassment I brought him. No one had a second thought; no one came to my defence. I finally realized just how lonely Mom really was in this grand house in the middle of small town politics all these years. Always falling short of Dad’s perfect world that he projected when he stepped outside of the hell he made. Hearing raised voices, I got over my nerve of not wanting to see the violence in the living room and came back down the stairs. Seeing me standing just off the bottom step, Mom threw up her hands, her eyes streaked with tears. Dad was still lying on the floor where we left him, his pallor changing from the flush of rage to the paleness of death. Seeing him, I swallowed back another wave of nausea. “I knew he was here, Alyssa,” Gina said, turning to Mom. Her eyes were still wide-eyed, but the front door was closed and she was standing closest to Dad. “You don’t have the size or strength to do all that.” “Enough,” Mom said, turning her glare from me to Gina. “Swear you won’t say that he was here.” “No,” Gina countered, stepping around Dad. “You both have to run, get as far away from here as you can.” “I can’t,” Mom said. “They’ll know it was Jace; if I admit to it they’ll be satisfied, but if we run…” “Then don’t let them catch you,” Gina said, her voice flat. “The bastard deserved it, but in this town only you and I would agree to that.” “My mind is made up,” Mom said as I took a few more tentative steps into the living room. The pool of blood around Dad’s head had stopped, and his eyes were still blankly staring towards the ceiling. As much as I wished it had all been a dream, I knew I wouldn’t escape this. I was a murderer, and I had thrown my entire future away for an asshole that had too much power to ever fall. “I’ll stay here and I will call the police,” Gina said, “but I won’t do it until you agree to leave and not come back.” “I can’t ask you to do that,” Mom countered, reaching out to her best friend. “I don’t have an abusive husband,” Gina argued, closing the gap. Gina was a nurse, one of the nurses that worked at the emergency room that Mom frequented over the years when her injuries were just too severe to hide with make-up and baggy clothes. She saw the broken bones, cuts, and bruises firsthand. Even though she was the town gossip, she kept this one secret, even if it was a poorly kept one to begin with. I couldn’t be angry with her for not saying anything; it wouldn’t have done any good. “I’ll give you an hour; no one saw me here and I walked.” “No,” Mom said and she started shaking her head. Her crying was more violent now. Her hands were shaking as she still held onto Gina like a life preserver. “I’ll go get some things,” I said, not wanting to see Mom like this. It surprised me how she looked so much worse now than the time Dad broke three of her ribs. She was close to completely breaking down, like it was the first time she allowed those walls to crumble. Like she was finally free to feel all the sadness from the years of having to be strong for me. I hated seeing it, so I ran back up to my room and grabbed a small bag that wouldn’t be too missed from all my traveling luggage for when we actually went on vacations. I grabbed a change of clothes, then remembering the money Mom talked about earlier, I knelt down at the side of my bed and felt around for a loose floor board. When I found it, I used my nails and pulled it up; it came away easily. Reaching lower, I found the money protected by a Ziplock bag. When I pulled it out, I shoved it into my bag. Then I went back downstairs to see that Mom was no longer breaking down. Instead, she looked at me and when I held out the bag, she closed the gap between us and walked around me and upstairs as Gina watched. When we heard the bedroom door open, I turned to see Gina staring at me, her eyes puffy from crying and her face flushed. “Don’t feel like a bad guy, Jace,” she said, her voice a strained whisper. “You saved your mother’s life.” “That’s not how the world will see me,” I countered, wanting to look away, but she was the most pleasant thing to look at in the room. Everything else reminded me of my life; the life I lived in pictures hanging on the wall and my life ending with Dad’s body on the floor. Running is just the opportunity to steal a few more moments of freedom, in the back of my mind I knew we wouldn’t get far, no one who leaves this shithole town does. “I know honey,” she said as she bolted towards me and wrapped me into a hug. She was the closest thing I had to an aunt, to family outside of this house. She had her flaws, like everyone else, but she was here for Mom and me. We broke the hug when we heard Mom start back down the stairs. I turned to watch her walk down them on shaky legs. She had changed her clothes and when I looked down, I wondered if I should have done that as well. Mom looked between me and Gina again, but she was holding a slightly fuller bag and her purse, so I gave her a small smile and watched as she wrapped Gina into another short hug before breaking it. “I hope you’re a damn good liar,” Mom said as their hands slid apart and fell back to their sides. “Almost the best,” she said, her smile fading. “Now go, I have a phone call to make.” I had to pull Mom gently to get her walking and when she did, she collapsed to my side and buried her head into my shoulder. Her blond hair was still a mess of curls falling down her back. She was too beautiful for a life like this, but she wasn’t strong enough to look down at Dad one last time as we walked past him. I did it for her, silently cursing him and hating him again and when I turned the doorknob and opened the door, the fresh warm spring air hit us both in the face. Not wanting to show any neighbors anything, we separated and quickly closed the door behind us. No one locks their doors here, so it wouldn’t be shocking to see us leaving the house without turning to lock up behind us. Being out in the lingering afternoon sunshine, Mom seemed to be able to breathe again as she walked to the driver’s side. I quickly walked around the front of the white Lexus and slid into the passenger seat just as Mom slung her purse and the small bag we packed into the back seat. We buckled our seatbelts like we were going to run errands and not run away, and Mom slowly backed out of the driveway, and we gently went down the thirty-five mile an hour speed limit town to the first stoplight. Turning left, heading north, I sat back watching the only world I knew pass by me. I should be feeling nervous about the playoffs coming up soon. I was the clean-up hitter and second baseman for the junior college. I was getting offers to join Division I teams, even though I was denying all of them and keeping them a secret from Mom. She would have begged me to transfer and take them, but she knew as well as I did why I wouldn’t have. Once we hit our first welcome to a new town sign, Mom looked over at me and reached for my hand. I took her smaller hand in mine, and she squeezed it. It was silent in the car, and I was glad for that. It wasn’t a time for music, and I didn’t feel like talking. I still had the guilt of uprooting my life, the fear of not knowing what was coming, and a hatred of myself for what I did to my own father, even if he wasn’t a good man. I had gone beyond his evil and created my own, even if Gina called me a savior, I didn’t know how that could be. The lingering sunset was fading into twilight when the first sirens and flashing lights came behind us. Glancing over my seat, I saw a line of police cars coming down the road. When I glanced back at Mom, she had tensed and gripped the steering wheel until her knuckles turned white. She was staring at the rearview mirror as we accelerated only slightly. I prayed silently for them to go around us, to be responding to an unknown emergency, but when they remained behind us and a voice could be heard over the siren for us to pull over, I knew that we had been caught up to. “Mom,” I hissed, “don’t pull over.” “Be quiet Jason,” she said, glancing at me as she accelerated again; this time the car revved and geared up. We were topping seventy-five miles an hour in a fifty-five zone. Now it was a chase and I sat back in my seat too scared to look anywhere but forward, knowing that we weren’t cut out for this, we were just normal people living a shitty assed life until now. “I love you,” I said, turning to look at her. “I need you to know that.” “I know you do,” she said smiling. “You’ve always been my protector.” “Don’t blame yourself for anything,” I said as Mom slowed to go around a sharp curve heading out of another town. Night was falling quicker, and the flashing lights of the cop cars behind us became more harsh when they caught in the mirrors and reflected into my eyes. “I do, but don’t worry about that,” she said, blinking away tears. “Can you reach the bag we packed?” “Yes,” I said, turning to reach behind me for the small navy blue bag. “Take my clothes out of the bag,” she ordered and I looked from the bag I was holding to her. She was still looking forward as more tears came. Her voice was strong though, and I only nodded and unzipped the bag, a knot forming in the back of my throat. I wondered if I could somehow trick her into leaving me behind. I knew as soon as the blaring sirens pierced my ears that her mind would start going back to sacrificing herself for me again. “Just try to lose them,” I said as I started separating our clothes and pulling Mom’s out of the bag and putting them on the backseat next to her purse. She didn’t say anything as she concentrated on the road, and I found a small photo album stashed into the bag back from when things weren’t all digital. I knew my baby pictures were in there, and I lost control over my own tears, and I suddenly felt like the small boy that I would find if I flipped the top cover and looked inside. Not knowing why I would need that, I lifted it from the bag and gently added it to the top of Mom’s pile of clothes. Zipping up the bag, I heard Mom swear under her breath, and when I looked forward I saw a road block of more flashing lights. “Mom,” I said as she began to slow her acceleration. She was a baseball mom and housewife; she wasn’t going to slam into a line of police cars with people she knew had family that loved and wanted to see them safe at home later tonight. Instead, she took a hard left onto a side road with a large green welcome sign that I couldn’t see in the darkness. The police chasing us followed as we weaved down the uneven, unlined, small paved road. It was sheltered on both sides by forests, and there weren’t any street lights illuminating anything. No houses or landmarks that I could see. “Please try to forget me and move on,” Mom said, reaching for my hand again as we came out of another sharp curve. In the distance I could see a small yellow sign, and when we got closer, I saw that it was a dead-end sign and we were running out of road. “I won’t,” I said squeezing her hand. “You’re my mother and I’ll come back for you when I can.” “I love you, my sweet boy,” she said, slowing to a stop as the road ended at a green farm-style gate. “I love you too,” I whispered as she put the car in park and I let go of her hand and grabbed the door handle. The cops were closing in when I unbuckled and darted from the car, slamming the door behind me before their headlights came around the last curve to where they could see everything. In the treeline a few yards in, I turned around as the rush of voices yelled at my mother to show both of her hands. It was dark and the trees broke up the flashes of blue so badly that only a few were able to hit me where I stood. Knowing that they would still be searching for me, I reached up and wiped my eyes and slung the bag over my shoulder and carefully felt my way around the trees and underbrush until the sirens faded and the flashing of light didn’t penetrate anymore. Then I risked turning on my cell phone for the flashlight and held it out in front of me. There wasn’t a true trail or direction; I just kept walking. I couldn’t afford to be afraid of the dark. I couldn’t afford to think, and I most definitely couldn’t worry about Mom; I would turn around if I allowed myself that. I didn’t know how long I trudged through the forest, encountering steep hills and valleys. Despite my baseball conditioning I was winded and sweaty and a little bit cold. It was early spring here and the nights still got chilly. There wasn’t a moon and when I rested long enough to glance up all I could see was the branched-out canopy above me and the smallest array of stars. I was about to start walking again when I heard a trickling of water in the distance. I had to force myself to breathe quieter so that I could hear it. Turning towards it, hoping it would lead me to a more open area, I was hopeful to see some sign of civilization, a cabin, a boathouse. Something that felt less exposed and more human so I could rest and properly say goodbye to Mom. I knew I was already gambling having my cell phone on; I saw enough crime shows to know these things could be tracked. I needed the light though, without it I risked breaking a leg or falling over a bluff. Then when I was about to stop, thinking I imagined the sound of flowing water, I noticed that it grew louder when I wasn’t crashing towards the sound of where I last heard it. Stumbling through the underbrush, it surprised me when I stepped down a small embankment and splashed feet first into it. The shock of the cold water sank into my sneakers, and I used my phone’s light to briefly scan my surroundings. It was a wide creek, but it was gently flowing that I knew it couldn’t be very deep. Standing in the cold water, I swore out loud. There was nothing here for me; the other side of the creek was just as forested as my side, but despite the cold water I started walking downstream. Not having to fight the underbrush and valleys, I welcomed the change and I hadn’t heard the sound of any pursuit since I left them far behind me. I walked another hour and a half before my phone buzzed and dinged, alerting me to a weak battery. When I turned it over, I saw that the battery was on five percent. It wouldn’t be long before it completely shut down so I decided to just shut it off, then I threw it and sighed when I heard the splash as it entered the water. Then I rested as my eyes readjusted to the darkness until I could see the shadows of trees and jutting rocks again. The creek itself had made quite a few turns as I had walked it, and I really didn’t know which direction I was traveling. My toes were aching though, so I knew I had to get out of the water. Glancing around I made my way back to the side of the creek I entered, not wanting to cross the creek completely. I figured if I was to run into anything, it would be on this side. This side seemed to be the side of the creek that ran parallel to the main road, and I wondered if I could somehow find it again and hitchhike or use some of the money to pay someone to take me somewhere else. Fumbling back up the small bank and into the treelines was harder than it should have been. I was exhausted and when I got back on dry land I found the largest tree and slid down it, scraping some of the bark off of it with my back as I went. I quickly untied my shoes and pulled them off along with my socks. I sat them beside me and unzipped my bag grabbing the only other pair of clean socks that I packed along with a pair of jeans. The air wasn’t as cold under the tree as it was out in the water, and I could already feel my toes coming back to life as I rubbed them, trying to get the blood flowing again. When I was satisfied that they were dry, I stood and unzipped my wet jeans and slid them off, then felt around for my dry pair and slid them on. Then I slid my dry socks over my feet and sat back down at the base of the tree, leaning my entire weight onto it. I was too scared to close my eyes, and I was too tired to think of anything else but what I didn’t want to think about. My dad lying in a mess of blood and shards of glass. Mom sitting in a jail cell awaiting questioning and accusations. I also knew they would be looking for me in this forest in the coming hours. Maybe not right at this moment, Mom probably bought me a few more hours, but my absence at school would be telling. Everyone also knew that I commuted to and from school and should have been home. I should have already been accounted for, and I didn’t know how I could get from under this tree in the middle of nowhere to some semblance of freedom. It just didn’t seem attainable, not with what I had out there against me. Maybe it would have been better if we hadn’t run. Maybe we could have fought my father’s legacy and been the ones that finally won out against it. Then Mom and I both could’ve moved on from this fucking mess of a life we lived. Sighing, I pulled my legs up to my chest and glanced around at the brightening of the forest. I had been walking all night and the slow sunrise had started. I could definitely see better, but everything was still in shades of deep blue, black, and gray. Exhausted, I finally closed my eyes, evicting the last lingering tears I had from battling my thoughts and tried to deaden my mind. Then when I felt some of the warmth of the morning and the sounds of birds waking up, I slid further down onto the ground, using my jeans and bag as a pillow, I curled into a ball and fell asleep. A persistent fly woke me up some time later to a brighter day filled with greens. The ground was mossy, there were ferns all over the place, and the trees were leafing out thickly over the canopy. Birds were still singing their morning chorus and I almost forgot why I was here, but it all came back to me and I sat still, listening to make sure I was still alone. If people hadn’t realized I was missing by now it would surprise me. It also wasn’t like I had many places to go either; I went to school and home. Most of my friends got out of the shithole town and went away for college. They wouldn’t be back for another couple of months, and spring break wasn’t for another couple of weeks, and I was scheduled to do a skills camp for baseball anyway. Not hearing anything but the buzzing of insects around my face and the birds in the trees, I sighed and slowly slipped on my damp shoes. Then I stood and stretched out the soreness I had from my bumbling through the night. Scanning myself, I had a lot of small cuts and scrapes that I didn’t remember feeling the night before. I was also dirty and smelled of creek water. Grimacing, I wanted to find the road. I was tired of the cutting briers, the low hanging tree limbs, and the rocks and roots always tripping me up. The ups and downs of the valley were also exhausting, and I knew I needed to find some drinkable water somewhere, and I didn’t really trust the creek, even though it flowed. Knowing this side of the forest ran somewhat parallel with the small road Mom turned down, I just started walking in the straightest path in what I thought was the right direction. Then as I was about to give up and rest, I saw the trees thinning and getting smaller. Seeing more midday sunlight reaching the ground, I quickened my pace, hoping the road was just beyond it. It was short lived though, as soon as I stepped beyond the tree line all I saw was a grassy hill and no road in sight. Swearing to myself, I started up the hill and when I reached the top I collapsed, breathing heavily as I blinked away the salty sweat that had escaped my eyebrows. I was ready to just lay here and give in and hope someone finds me, to put an end to all this. It was a stupid idea to run, even if that was our only true option, it didn’t make a damn bit of difference in the end. Mom still got caught, and I was now out here in the middle of nowhere. Finally deciding to at least sit up, I looked around for any sign of the road, any bend or curve that I could see. I strained my ears to see if I could hear any distant traffic, a truck horn or even the bawl of a cow that would lead me back out of this place. Instead, I saw a tower. I knew this was some sort of national park; nothing like this stayed so pristine unless it was well protected. The ranger tower was the closest thing I would get to something even remotely human built though, so I stood and hoped it wasn’t an optical illusion as it seemed close standing on this hill. When I reached it I would radio in and tell anyone on the other side who I was, to come get me. I was done running. Running only worked when you had somewhere to go or someone to welcome you, and I had neither. I couldn’t start over, not with Mom rotting in a prison for something I did. I would never be able to forgive myself if I found a way out. There would be no freedom for me unless she was here to enjoy it too. So I walked with a new sense of purpose and to the point where I felt the ache in my feet and the burning of blisters on my heels from my wet sneakers despite putting on clean socks. I finally found the dirt and sparsely gravelled road, and instead of turning to let it lead me back out, I turned to walk on, deeper into the forest to where I knew the ranger tower and likely, a station, waited. It would be quicker this way, and I could wait for them to come get me; I was done walking. When the station and tower came into view though, there weren’t any vehicles. I wasn’t surprised; I didn’t think anyone would be stationed here all the time. Getting here though, the lingering stubbornness that I could still run away stopped me. I looked around for security cameras hanging around the building, but I couldn’t see any. There was a posted sign on the wall facing me by the door. It was a forest green door with a lock and no windows. Wanting to check it out, I carefully walked up to the door and grabbed the handle. I wasn’t surprised that the door was locked, so I let go of the handle and slowly made my way around to the other side. Unlike the other side, this side had a small covered porch and even a chair sitting shaded underneath. Stepping up two stairs onto the wooden porch, I collapsed in the chair and leaned into it as I toed off my shoes. My feet welcomed the fresh air, and I wiggled my toes in my socks as I looked towards more trees and a path that curved and probably led to the tower. Then I looked to my left and saw the door. It had another posted sign; this one I took the time to read, “Trespassers will be prosecuted, if you are lost call 911, if you don’t have a working cell use the radio located in the box beside the door. This is Ranger Station 4 of Blue Mountain Rise.” Looking at the box, I pulled on a small wooden knob and the front fell open. There inside was a radio with a corded speaker. All I had to do was turn it on and tell someone where I was. The thought of being rescued and brought back home made me reach for it, but I hesitated. It wouldn’t really be a rescue, I knew that. Even if I felt like I needed to be, I knew I would just be checked over by a doctor then sent to prison or questioned in some windowless room at the police station. “Fuck,” I screamed, shoving the radio back down into the box, not caring if I broke it. I slammed the box closed and reached up and rubbed my hands over my face. Letting my hands fall back to my side, I took a side step, the boards creaking under my weight, to the front door and I grabbed the handle expecting the front to be locked as well. When the door screeched then opened, I yanked my hand back and watched as the light breeze took the door. The handle was definitely locked when I had attempted to turn it. It was an older door and when I inspected the door frame it had been damaged or had begun rotting away. Tentatively I glanced around before entering the station. Unlike the door frame it didn’t look neglected. There weren’t any cobwebs or dust covering any of the walls or sparse furniture. There were maps hanging on the wall and a secondary radio on a table overlooking the only window in the entire place. There weren’t even any dead insects collected on the sill from being trapped. So I knew this place was still being used, I just didn’t know when. There was a cot and stacked first-aid kits on a small end table beside it. Looking up, I saw a pull string for the overhead light and pulled it. The light came on and when I released the chain I walked up to the maps. Ranger station 4 was a big green star on the map, and that is when I realized just how wrong I was about the road. I had followed the creek way too far into the heart of the park. Tracing the road with my finger as it curved along, I couldn’t really judge the distance from the main road entrance, but I was far enough in that I had to take a few steps to complete my backtracking. Stepping away from the map, I walked around the wall that it was hanging on and through a small entrance into the second room. The first thing I saw was the small eating table with two metal chairs slid up against it. Past that was a small counter with a sink and stove and on the other side of the sink, a small refrigerator that I probably would have bought for myself if I lived in a dorm. Bypassing the table, I walked to the fridge and flung open the door. Frowning at the emptiness that stared back at me under the weak light, I slammed the door shut and walked over to the sink, opening cupboards as I went until I found a plastic glass. Turning on the tap, I held the glass under it and watched as it slowly filled. When I was satisfied, I brought the glass of water to my lips and downed the entire glass in a few gulps. Then I held the glass back under the still running water and did it a couple more times until my stomach felt full. I thought about dipping my head under the water, but instead I just turned it off and hoped that one of the smaller rooms off the kitchen held a bathroom. The station wasn’t a large building, but the kitchen was a welcome sight and I didn’t really see anywhere else outside for someone to relieve themselves. Wanting to explore the place now that I was in here, I walked down a small hallway and grabbed a second chain that lit up the hallway. The first door led to a closet that had coats and boots for colder weather, but the second door where the hallway ended opened to a small bathroom. There wasn’t a sink, but a toilet, and I smiled, never thinking I would feel this excited to see a working bathroom. Then after tearing my eyes away from the beauty of the toilet, I looked up and saw a small shower stall. There wasn’t a curtain, but the tiled floor had two drains in it, one in the center of the room and the other under the shower. All of this was too good to be true, but I knew I was still on borrowed time here. The shower was too good to pass up though, so I quickly stepped out of the cramped bathroom and back down the hall to where I left my bag sitting out on the front porch. There I scooped up the bag and my sneakers and brought them all inside. I closed the door behind me and made sure the door handle was still at least locked, even if the door was too damaged not to secure the place. Then I grabbed a new shirt and a pair of boxer briefs. I had only brought two pairs of jeans and the other pair was still wet from the trek through the creek. Back inside the bathroom I turned the water on and held my fingers under the gentle spray of the shower until the water warmed. Stripping off my clothes, I put the toilet seat down and laid them on top of it, not having a better place to hang them. Stepping under the spray of the warm water I moaned, letting the water hit my face. I could taste my salty sweat as the water washed it from my hair and skin. I reached up and ran my fingers through my hair, not having any soap or shampoo, the water would have to be enough. Turning around so the water hit my back, I examined some of the cuts on my arms. None of them were deep, but I ran my hands over them to make sure I got all the dirt out of some of the worst ones. Then I bent over and did the same to the cuts on my legs that had somehow penetrated through my jeans. It was then I heard a loud thud from somewhere in the station. Jumping at the sound, my feet slid out from under me and there was nothing to grab hold of to stop myself from falling. “Fucking hell,” I groaned when my elbow slammed against the tile. I was just able to keep my head from smacking against the hard floor, but as the water hit me in the face, I heard the heavy footfalls of one pair of boots against the wooden floors followed by what sounded like quicker clicking sounds. Rolling over on my stomach, I pushed myself up onto my knees as the door to the bathroom came open. Not wanting to be caught naked, I grabbed my shirt and held it in front of my crotch as a man followed by a small black lab entered. The lab stepped around the man, its tongue lolling out of the corner of its mouth. Tail wagging, it looked at me and started towards me like it was excited to see me. The man on the other hand, had his hand on the butt of his pistol. “Milly sit,” the guy ordered, and the dog did a quick one eighty and sat by the man’s leg, still looking at me. “What the hell are you doing here?” “Taking a shower,” I answered, still holding the shirt over my crotch. The water was getting cold, but I didn’t dare make any sudden movements. “I can see that,” he said, and I saw that he was young, close to my age. “Who are you?” “Nobody,” I countered, feeling my heart begin to race. “You’re trespassing on federal land,” he said, stepping further into the already cramped room. “Didn’t you read the bulletin? Are you lost?” “Yes and yes,” I answered as my teeth began to chatter. “Oh shit,” he said. “Slowly now, turn the water off.” “Alright,” I said, taking one hand off my now soaked shirt. I reached up and turned the handle until the water stopped running and let it fall back to my side. “You know there’s a dangerous guy thought to be in the park,” he said, and then I watched as the realization of why I was there dawned on him and he took a step back and pulled his gun. “Let me see your hands.” “Really, I don’t think I’m hiding a gun under here,” I said, but I dropped my shirt and held my hands up by my face. I was too scared, having been recognized, to feel embarrassed about standing naked in front of a total stranger. “Shit,” the ranger hissed, waving his free hand. “Get dressed.” “Thank you,” I said, and we did a small dance around the cramped bathroom, him still holding a gun on me and me not wanting to get any closer than necessary and not make any fast movements. “I should have checked your pants for weapons,” he said after I had already managed to pull my boxer briefs and jeans on. I didn’t have a dry shirt with me, but not being able to towel myself off my clothes was already damp and uncomfortable. “Yeah,” I offered, shrugging as we stared at one another, still standing in the bathroom with a happy and a little goofy looking black lab still obediently sitting between us. “You’re Jason Fairchild,” he said, his voice more of a question than accusation. “I am,” I said, knowing there is no point in lying. He would know as soon as he looked in my wallet anyway. There was no hiding and no running now, and I cussed myself for risking all this for a damn shower. “Come with me,” he said, then he looked down at Milly. “Come, Milly.” We both followed him as he walked backwards out of the bathroom and down the narrow hallway. We stopped at the small plastic table and metal chairs, and he pulled one out for me. Then he walked carefully around it to the other chair and pulled it out for himself. He waved for me to sit and as I did, he reached to his belt and pulled free a pair of handcuffs, and I frowned and held out my hands as he holstered his gun, seemingly satisfied that I wasn’t going to be any trouble, and he gently closed the cuffs securely around both my wrists. “Now what?” I asked, resting my hands on the table where he could see them. “Now I call the police or take you in myself,” he said, not taking his eyes off me as he sat across from me. “I need to radio my boss.” “Alright,” I said, wanting this to all be over as quickly as possible. “Can you wait a minute though?” “Why?” he asked, narrowing his eyes as he studied me. He had nice light brown eyes that looked like they would be hazel in a better light than what we had in the kitchen. “I just don’t really want to be dragged back home just yet,” I answered, my heart no longer racing and despite having a gun pulled on me and my hands cuffed, I felt more relaxed than I had for the day and a half of running. I didn’t know if that was me being resolved to the fact that I failed or the realization that I hadn’t given up. “I should Mirandize you,” he said, glancing at his watch. He made no move to stand to call his boss though, and I leaned back, jumping slightly at the cold metal that greeted my back. “Go ahead,” I said, both of us still staring at one another. I wanted to know what he thought now that he knew who I was. I wondered if he knew why I was sitting across from him. The handcuffs gave me a hint that he did. “I was sent here to ready a search for you,” he countered, breaking the awkward silence. “I didn’t expect this.” “The door was open,” I said, sliding my hands closer to the edge of the table. “I just jiggled the handle.” “I know,” he said, reaching up to scratch the back of his head with his other hand still clutching his freshly holstered gun at his side. “I’ve been on the maintenance crew for months to get the damn thing fixed.” “How long have you been a federal officer?” I asked as Milly got impatient with having to sit by him and walked out of the room. I saw him glance at her out of the corner of his eye, but he seemed satisfied with how far she went and turned back to me. “A couple of months,” he answered, and I watched as his other hand, the one that had been lingering on the gun, came to rest on the table. He leaned back in his chair, and I heard his heavy boots shuffle as he got more relaxed in his seat. “So you know who I am,” I said, leaning forward in my chair. “You said my name, so you have to know why you’re out looking for me.” “You have the right to remain silent,” he started, but I smiled and shook my head. “I know my rights,” I countered. “I also haven’t talked to anyone but myself for almost two days and I’m tired of it.” “Alright,” he said, and I hated not knowing his name. He had his badge, but the low light of the kitchen and the angle of how he was sitting made it impossible to read. I was too scared to ask him though. “And yes, we were briefed on why you were a person of interest.” “I’m sorry,” I said, swallowing back the knot forming in my throat. For some reason I hoped that maybe he didn’t know, but of course he would have. They wouldn’t have sent people in blind, not after what I did. “I’m going to call my captain now,” he said, pushing his chair back. He stood and studied me for a moment. “Wait,” I said, holding up both my hands. “Can’t you just wait a couple of minutes?” “It will take them a while to get here,” he countered, pushing the chair back against the table. He held onto the back of it, studying me. “How old are you?” “Twenty,” I answered, letting my hands fall back onto the plastic top table. The cuffs were becoming uncomfortable, and I wanted them off me. I’d have to get used to it though once he made the call. The question struck me as odd as he stood opposite of the table from me. I didn’t lie to him though, there was no reason to. I had just turned twenty in January. Dad got drunk and belligerent that day. Mom had spent most of the day wrapping presents and baking a cake. Dad rammed his fist into the cake and threw the two presents Mom got me across the room. He told us both that I was too old for stupid birthday parties. Mom left him passed out on the living floor that night, and he had puked in his sleep. He was face down though, something Mom always made sure of, so he at least didn’t suffocate on his own vomit. If she hadn’t loved him, even up until the moment I killed him, we wouldn’t have been in this mess. I didn’t blame her though; I loved him too. There were some moments in my life that I could remember loving him, being proud of him. They were just so few that I could remember every detail about every one of them. Nothing good he did was blurry or forgotten, they were so rare. Watching him blink before pushing himself away from the table, I watched him turn the corner. Instead of using a phone, like I thought he would, he went to the radio. There was only one real exit that I knew in the station. The back door was still definitely locked, and my hands were cuffed. I didn’t have my bag and I was only dressed in boxer briefs and jeans. I wouldn’t get anywhere if I bolted. Milly stayed there with me, her tail slapping against the tile floor every time I made eye contact with her. She seemed like a friendly dog. I had wanted a dog growing up, but that wasn’t allowed either. Listening, I heard him talk into the radio multiple times. Craning my neck, I could just see his shadow bouncing off the wall. I was afraid to move, knowing he still had his gun. Then when he swore at the radio and slammed the receiver onto the desk, I sat back in my chair. His heavy boots already told me that he was on his way back into the kitchen. “The damn radio isn’t working,” he said, reaching up, scratching the back of his head. He had his hair cut short, not quite a buzz cut, but it faded shorter as it went down. He was taller than me by a couple of inches, and I wasn’t a slouch at six feet and so inches tall. My stat-sheet would say I was six feet, three inches. They exaggerated a bit though. He had to be around that height and he was fit. More of a natural fitness compared to my gym body, but he had strong arms. I wasn’t going to fight him though; I didn’t want that on my record too. I was already caught as it was, anything I did now would just make things worse for me and Mom. “There’s one outside,” I offered, hearing my handcuffs slide across the table when I readjusted my hands. “That thing hasn’t worked for months,” he countered. “Another thing I keep telling maintenance about.” “Oh,” I said as he pulled the chair back out from under the table and sat back down on it. This time he covered his face with his hands, seeming to peek at me from between his fingers. “I should probably just take you in,” he muttered, his face still covered. Despite myself, I smirked and he let his hands drop to the table. The smirk seemed to snap him out of his self-pitying and when his eyes found mine, I fought to hold them, even though I was still unnerved about being face to face with the person that was going to make sure I never saw freedom again. “What happened with my mom?” I asked, hoping he would tell me, but not really expecting anything from him. I didn’t even know his name. “She is in custody and being questioned at your local police station,” he answered, and I surprised him when I balled my hand into a fist and slammed it down onto the table. He jumped and reached for his gun. “Fucking hell that hurt!” I said as I had jarred my wrist against the metal cuff. “Don’t do that again!” he ordered, and Milly barked and scooted into the other room and I felt bad for having scared her. I had a soft spot for dogs, especially the ones that were all smiles and wagging tails. “They shouldn’t have taken her back,” I groaned, feeling a frustrating tear escape my eyelid and falling down my face. “That place, those people.” “Why did you apologize when you asked me if I knew what you had done?” he asked, still clutching the gun at his side. I doubted he’d trust me not to have another outburst. “I don’t know,” I answered, and we stared at one another again. I did know, but I didn’t want to tell him. I didn’t know him, and I knew he was only here because he hadn’t figured out what to do with me yet. He was still going to be taking me in, eventually, and I didn’t want to give him my confession or anything. “Yes, you do, but you know your rights,” he said, finally relaxing in his chair again. “Yeah,” I added, sighing. “Can’t you just take me in yourself?” “Yes,” he said. “Do you want me to?” “Uh, no,” I answered, cocking an eyebrow. “I’d rather you just let me go and forget my face entirely, but you know.” Surprising me, he laughed and leaned forward until his elbows rested on the table. The light in the kitchen and the living room was getting stronger, so I knew it had to be getting later in the evening; the sun had been most of the light in the rooms before then. Glancing out the window over the sink, I saw the late evening orange and pinks of a sunset. “Jason,” he said after his laughter faded. “Jace,” I corrected. “Please don’t call me Jason.” “Alright,” he said. “Jace, do you have any other clothes you can put on before we leave?” “They’re dirty,” I answered, but he only shrugged. “I guess you don’t care about that though.” “You should be comfortable, so I care,” he countered, studying me still and every time his light hazel eyes studied me, I wanted to know what he was thinking. “What’s your name?” I asked when he made no orders for me to stand and get dressed. He’d have to uncuff me for me to put a shirt on anyway and he hadn’t moved from his seat either. “Officer Gandry,” he answered, reaching up and showing me his badge. “Your first name,” I countered, rolling my eyes, but it was nice to finally see his badge. He hesitated and I heard his feet shuffle under the table. Then he leaned slightly more forward and curled his arms together, not quite crossing them against his chest as he studied me again. He didn’t seem annoyed or that he was going to flat out deny me knowing his first name so I sat there fighting every urge to look away to hold his eyes. It was something I never could do with Dad, but I figured I needed the practice. “Ty,” he answered, then unfolded his arms and held one up. “Not short for Tyson; it’s just Ty.” “Okay,” I said as he glanced at his watch. It surprised me he had one, but I also saw it had a small compass on the face of it, so I figured it was more helpful than a regular watch. “Is there any food here, Ty?” “No,” he answered, his eyes widening. “You’re worried about food?” “Yeah,” I said, fighting a smile. “I’ve only had tap water for nearly two days.” “I guess you are hungry,” he said, glancing at his watch again. “We can go; they’ll feed you once you’re processed into the system.” “You keep saying that like you’re asking my permission,” I said, before I was really thinking. When he looked towards the front entrance of the station, I figured I finally pissed him off and we’d be on the road soon. “I wasn’t expecting to be left out here with you,” he answered, sighing. “I was told to come here and wait for orders; I didn’t think you’d be dumb enough to walk into a ranger station like you owned the place.” “I didn’t really,” I argued. “The door….” “I know, it’s broken,” he said, waving his hand before he reached back and scratched the back of his head again. It was a habit for him, I noticed. He was becoming somewhat easier to read, and for some reason that comforted me a little. I’ll never see him again, but he wasn’t the worst company right now. The cuffs digging into my wrist aside, and the fact that he will get frustrated enough to haul my ass into the nearest station soon, I wasn’t having a bad time sitting here in front of him. “So you can’t really say I broke and entered,” I added, and when he laughed louder than I expected, I jumped. “You’re going in for murdering your father, and you’re scared about a breaking and entering charge?” he asked, still laughing. The question stunned me though, and I had to look away. He had finally said what I didn’t want him to say. What I was too scared to breach between us, because I thought it would ruin the last moments of the end of my life as I knew it. People would know it was because he was really evil behind closed doors, but no one would ever say a word against him, not outside of their own homes. Everyone had to know what kind of father he was and what kind of life I had. There are just some bruises that a person couldn’t hide, and I knew they saw them. Still, when they talk of me out in the freedom of being disconnected bystanders, I would still be the guy that murdered my own father. The laughter died suddenly and when it fell silent in the room again, I glanced at him and just realized my vision had blurred with unshed tears. With a rattling of my cuffs, I awkwardly rubbed them away before they could fall. With my other hand flapping in front of my face, I glanced at him and he was looking down at the table; at least he wasn’t going to watch me cry like a baby. “You ready to go?” I asked this time, offering him an out of this situation. For the first time I wanted out of it too. Maybe they will let me see Mom before they take us to different prisons to hold us without bail, since Dad would have that kind of pull in town, until our trials. It wouldn’t take long for them to find us guilty. We were guilty after all, and we deserved what we got; it was only justice. “I shouldn’t have said that,” he said, making no move to stand. “It’s true,” I blurted without thinking. “I killed him.” “Stop,” he said, shaking his head. “I was sent here to organize a search party for you in the coming days, not to do this.” “I took my bat to the back of his head when I walked in on him choking my mother,” I added, leaning forward in my chair, holding my hands out in front of me. “Then I hit him again when he stumbled backwards. I was coming home from baseball practice.” “I’ll have to put this into my report,” he said, his voice more pleading than anything. “You know he abused us both for over twenty years,” I said, tears falling down my face again. “Everyone in town fucking knew, but they were too scared of Judge Fairchild and his thugs. I’ll never get a fair trial. Me and Mom are as good as dead.” “You don’t know that,” he argued, looking like he wanted to be anywhere else but here. “I do know that,” I countered. “One way or another my life will be over.” “Well, you did take another life,” he said, and I winced and fell against the back of my seat. “Yes,” I said, my face flushing. “I’m not saying I don’t deserve what’s coming.” “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry,” Ty said, and I looked at him, feeling my anger boiling over. “But it doesn’t change anything, right?” I said, not really wanting an answer. “You’re still sitting across the table from a murderer, and that’s all anybody’s going to see.” We both fell silent then, him not looking at me, and after my anger ebbed, I didn’t want to look at him either. The only being in the station that looked happy to still be around either of us was Milly, and she was still unsure about coming fully into the kitchen after my first outburst. Her eyes were intently darting between the two of us, wanting some attention, but too obedient to ask for it. She probably didn’t think this was going to be as long of a day as it had been either. “Let’s get you dressed,” Ty said, breaking the silence. When he stood Milly stood and bounced around him until he snapped his fingers. It must have been some command, because she sat and looked up at him. “Fine,” I said, and I stood as well. Ty walked around the table then hooked his hand under my elbow and turned me towards the bathroom to where my bag of clothes were. When we were inside the cramped room again, he quickly grabbed up my bag and soaked shirt and led me back out of the bathroom. His grip wasn’t firm and it didn’t hurt. The only discomfort I felt were the cuffs digging into my wrists, and I wondered how long before I stopped noticing that. We bypassed the kitchen and he sat me down on the cot. It was closer to the ground than I expected, and I fell into it. The thud of my head bouncing off the wall wasn’t missed by Ty, and he muttered an apology before he looked through my bag. Finding the bag of money, he placed it on the desk and then found my shirt from the night before and my socks. “I think I have some socks in the truck,” he said as he placed my muddy socks back inside the bag with a grimace. They had to be getting pretty ripe by now, but he looked conflicted and I smirked when his hand found the back of his head again. He wasn’t looking at me, but to the closed front door. I looked out the window and saw that it was dark and jumped when Milly rested her head on my knee. “Some police dog you have,” I said, reaching over and massaging my fingers behind her ears. She melted further into my lap and when he looked down at her he sighed. “She is a narcotics, gunpowder, and search and rescue dog,” he said, snapping his fingers again. She lifted her head and went and sat down at his feet again. “How long has she been working?” I asked as he let his other hand fall back to his side. “As long as I have,” he answered, walking to the door. “Do you promise to sit right there while I go get you a clean pair of socks?” “I don’t have anywhere to be,” I answered, and he smiled and nodded, grabbing the door handle. He whistled for Milly, and she bounced up from her sitting position and darted out the door behind him. He didn’t close the door behind him, and I kept looking out of it. Moths that were attracted to the light had already begun to find their way in, and my heart ached for the outside air. I was shoeless and shirtless, my hands were cuffed, and he was just outside. It took some effort to roll off the cot and get to my feet. Hearing my almost silent footfalls, I walked to the desk and looked out the window. He had pulled the truck all the way around to the front, and I could see him moving stuff around in his truck. Looking for the clean pair of socks and clearing a space for me to sit. Thinking that was too nice of a gesture for what I was about to do, I grabbed the bag of cash and bolted from the front door. I bounded off the front porch, and I swore under my breath when my feet came into contact with the gravel. Still running, I heard him swear and slam the passenger side door. There wasn’t a lot of light, and when I turned the corner of the ranger station I fell into complete darkness, but I already heard him gaining on me when I crossed the road to a grassy area just before the forest. When his body slammed into mine, I yelled and felt the breath woosh from my lungs. The bag of money exploded like a feather pillow between us, and I felt some of the money falling on my face. Milly was bouncing around us barking, and I gulped air as he struggled to get off me in the tangle of our legs. “Why can’t you let me go,” I groaned when he finally gave up and rolled to lay on the grass beside me. The ground was cool against my back and a dew hadn’t fallen yet. “I can’t,” he said, breathing beside me. “You and I both know I’m not a bad guy, not really,” I whispered, looking up at the stars. It was a cloudless night and they were everywhere. “I know,” he said. “I know you’re not.” “Then forget about me,” I pleaded as a tear fell from the corner of my left eye. “Only you know I’m here,. I can leave and not cause you any trouble.” “Shut up,” he said, and I fell silent and listened to his breathing even out. “What were you thinking, running?” “I thought you wanted me to shut up,” I countered, still staring at the stars, trying to commit them to memory before all I had to look at most days were four walls and bars. “You didn’t even take your shoes,” he said, and I started laughing. “Shit,” I hissed, losing complete control over myself. “What,” Ty asked. “Why are you laughing?” “I don’t know,” I answered, still laughing and looking up at the night sky. It was a warmer night than last night, but that might have been because of the dampness of having walked most of the night through a creek. Lightning bugs were taking some of their first flights, blinking in a hypnotic and sometimes rhythmic way as they searched out their future mates. Milly had calmed down and was sniffing some of the money that had flown from the busted Ziplock bag and I laid still, too amused to move. Amused that I didn’t really know why I bolted. I knew this would be the outcome, and I knew I wouldn’t get far on bare feet and a bundle of cash. Ty was made for this environment too. He worked here and probably knew most of the land like the back of his hand by now. So I knew it was pointless, yet here I was trying to even out my breathing and ease some of the nausea in my stomach from being tackled to the ground. I could smell his cologne and Milly’s dog breath every now and again. It also surprised me that he hadn’t made a move to stand. I figured since I broke the promise, that I technically never made, to stay put on the cot I was done for. He would finally haul my ass up and into the truck. Hearing him agree with me about not being a bad guy also kept me still. I needed to hear that from a stranger, someone that didn’t know my situation firsthand. Glancing at him out of the corner of my eye, I saw that he too was looking up at the sky with Milly’s head between us, but raised listening to the sound of the tree frogs and cicadas. “If I let you have one more night,” he said, breaking the silence between us. “If I leave here and go get us some food, will you be here when I get back?” “Maybe if you cuff me to something sturdy,” I answered, and I watched him shuffle around to a sitting position, turning to face me. He looked odd, being such a big guy to sit cross legged style with me still on the ground. He wasn’t imposing at all, even though his gun was now in plain view, despite the darkness. “That’s how you’re going to answer that?” he asked, making a noise that sounded somewhere between a sigh and a snort. “I don’t know what you want from me,” I answered, trying to wriggle my way into a sitting position myself. In the end, he had to grab me by the elbow and pull me up far enough for me to right myself. Like him, I sat cross legged facing him. “I’m the one that has nothing to lose. Also, this could be one hell of a game of hide-and-seek.” “Yes, it could be,” he said, shaking his head. “Alright, let’s get on the road then.” “Fine,” I countered. “I swear to stay here if you give me one more night.” “How am I going to play this without getting fired?” he said as he reached between us and plucked a blade of grass. I watched him absentmindedly fiddle with it as he looked at me and then to Milly. “You can tell them the truth, but not when it happened,” I offered, feeling my heart pick up speed. He was really thinking about keeping me cooped up in the ranger station. “You could tell them that later at night I barged in on you while you worked.” “I could,” he said, letting the blade of grass fall back to the ground. “Or I could just take you in tonight.” “That too,” I said as he looked towards his truck again. “I don’t know what’s sturdy enough to cuff you to,” he countered. Unfolding his legs, he got to his knees, then he stood. He offered me his hand, and I took it and allowed him to awkwardly pull me up by both my arms. He didn’t let go until I found my balance and then I watched as he grabbed his flashlight and picked up every stray piece of money that had escaped the bag. After he was satisfied and I couldn’t see any more, he surprised me again when he handed it to me, the neatly stacked, but rumpled bills. “Thanks,” I offered as he handed me the plastic bag as well. “You’re just carrying it to the truck,” he said. “That’s evidence.” “Fine, but take some out and buy dinner with it,” I said, still hoping the plan was to leave me behind. “That’s illegal,” he countered, glancing at me as we walked. He walked easily, still in his boots, but I tiptoed on the loose gravel, grimacing and swearing whenever my feet found a sharp rock. “I think letting a murderer stay unattended in a ranger station is also illegal,” I added, and he stopped walking and turned to face me. “Are you going to run or not?” he asked, grabbing hold of my elbow as if I was about to do just that. “Or are you always so blunt?” “Both,” I answered, wanting him to drop his hand. Every time he touched me it bothered me. I didn’t think anyone would willingly want to touch someone that took another person’s life. I knew I wouldn’t. He also touched me in a way a trained officer would, to control and apprehend or someone trained to assist. It wasn’t casual, but it wasn’t rough either. “I told you I had nothing to lose. Mom doesn’t want me to go to prison, and I can’t help her get out if I do.” “So here I am,” he said, still holding onto my arm just above my elbow. His fingers softened slightly and I doubted he noticed, but I did. “Willing to put everything I’ve worked for, to give you one night of freedom, and you say you’ll run and throw it back in my face.” “Yes,” I answered, glaring at him. “That’s exactly what I’m saying.” “Then get in the truck,” he said as he started walking again. He still had hold of my elbow, and I thought my temper finally got the better of me. He needed to know what this entailed though, what my motives all night would be. I would run if I had the chance; one night of kindness wasn’t going to stop me. Since Mom and I pulled out of the driveway I had been of two minds always at war. To run or to accept my fate. It was almost a stupid game I was playing, and I knew that. Mom wanted me free so I would try for her and then Ty, and some part of myself wanted me to be hauled in to get the inevitable over and done with. “I’m being honest with you,” I said, jerking my elbow out of his grasp. He made to reach for me again, but I just stood there so he let his hand fall to his side. “Who the hell wouldn’t run in my situation?” “I know,” he said as we reached his truck. Milly to her credit had obediently followed behind us, but now that we were at the truck she walked to the back door of the dual cab and waited for it to open so she could climb up and get into her spot. “I know you’re being honest with me, that’s what I don’t get.” “Please just let me stay,” I said when I thought I had pushed him towards the decision that I didn’t want him to make. “Cuff me to something sturdy so I won’t be tempted and let me stay.” “So that’s how this will go?” he asked as he stepped around me. He opened the back door, and Milly hopped up inside. Once clear of the door, he closed it behind her and I waved a small goodbye with my finger as the cab light faded and left us both standing in darkness again. “Yeah,” I said, shrugging. “I’ll try not to run, but I can’t ever promise you that I won’t. So just don’t give me the chance to.” “You’re so frustrating,” he huffed, grabbing hold of my elbow as he led me back up the gravel drive to the front porch. He let go of me there and allowed me to walk ahead of him back inside the station. Once inside he closed the door behind us then stepped around me. I watched as he walked around the room pulling on tables or lifting up on things he thought were heavy. Nothing was nailed down or really heavy here and when he glanced in my direction I only shrugged, which seemed to both amuse him and annoy him. Not satisfied with anything in the front room, he led me to the kitchen. Everything that would have worked, like the sink, was covered by countertops. Sighing, he led me down the narrow hallway, and I was already picturing myself hugging the basin of the toilet, but when he turned to the only unopened door in the station I followed him inside. When he flipped the switch, the only room not with a pull string for the lights, I looked around and saw a meeting room. In the center was a large horseshoe shaped table and beyond that was a marker board blanketed on both sides by maps. Every inch of the wall seemed to be covered in maps, some of them with different colored pins marking spots on them. “What’s the pins for?” I asked, and he turned to glance at me. “Danger zones and landmarks along hiking trails,” he answered. “The green are caves, the blue are waterfalls, and the reds indicate sinkholes and treacherous climbing areas, the first places we look for missing hikers.” “Good to know,” I said, and I smiled when he glared at me and sighed. “If you somehow rip the leg off this table,” he said as he led me to the chair on the end of the table. “I’ll probably not get a paycheck for a month to pay for the damages.” “Alright,” I said, offering him a small smile as he gently grabbed one of my wrists. When he presented the key, I watched him slide it inside and when he turned it, I felt the cuffs release. “Sit,” he said, and I pulled out the chair and sat, already dreading the cuffs again. I watched him bend over and when he peeked over the edge of the table, I sighed and leaned forward, placing my hands on either side of the large wooden leg. Grimacing when the cuffs were tightened on, I already regretted the entire conversation we had outside about me running. “You know you could have just taken me to McDonalds,” I said, grunting at the strain the position put on my back and shoulders. “How long will this take?” “I don’t know, an hour?” he asked, and to his credit he looked like he felt bad about leaving me like this. “Alright, hurry back,” I answered, nodding my head towards the door. “I’ll try,” he said as he scooped up the money I had placed on the table before being cuffed to the leg. It would be the last I ever saw of that. Mom had scraped and worked hard to hide that from Dad over so many months as some semblance of a safety net for the both of us. Now it was officially evidence that he will use against me later. When he disappeared, I thought he was leaving, but he quickly returned with the pillow that was on the head of the cot in the front room. Still looking unsure of this decision, he placed it in front of me on the table. “Thanks,” I said, and he nodded and walked to the door. “Don’t smother yourself with it,” he said, fiddling with the door handle. “It will just make a mess for me to clean up later.” “I’ll do my best,” I offered, and again he didn’t seem completely satisfied with my answer, but he turned and left the room and this time I heard him walk to the front door. I heard him open it and close it behind him. Then I heard the door handle rattle as he locked up behind him, even if we both knew that if I managed to get myself off this table, that the locked door wouldn’t stop me. I strained my ears trying to listen for the sound of his truck leaving, but I couldn’t hear anything in this windowless room. So I settled in, studying the maps in the room since I had nothing better to look at. I noticed that the red pins weren’t all that plentiful, but the green ones that indicated caves were. I didn’t know the history of this place, but our state was known for their cave systems and hiking trails, so I figured this was one of the better areas to do all of that if you wanted to. I had never really been hiking, and the thought of never doing it did send a pang of sadness over me. There would be a lot of things I’ve wanted to do, but never would get the chance to. To his credit, Ty didn’t try to bluff me and see if I would try to escape and be waiting outside. He legitimately seemed like he had left to get us food. Resting my head on the pillow to ease some of the strain on my back and neck, I gave the cuffs a tug to see what would happen. The table only groaned, but stayed still. Leaning off the pillow, I tugged again, just past the pain I could stand and when the table didn’t move I sighed, tapping my foot against the wooden floor until the sound annoyed me. “Fuck you, Ty,” I hissed, sliding the chair as far back as I could. Instead of pulling on the cuffs I grabbed hold of the leg itself and tugged, trying to get it to slide across the floor. When it did, I fell slightly backwards in my chair, but was able to right myself. Then I quickly held my hands flat against the underside of the table and lifted up to see if I could lift this leg off the ground. When I saw that I could, I let it drop. The thud of the table vibrated the room. Breathing heavy and feeling sweat bead up on my forehead, I glanced around the room. There wasn’t anything but maps and pins and one dry eraser on the small shelf. Nothing seemed helpful within my reach. After resting I slid completely off my chair and down onto the floor. The leg of the table was fatter towards the top and narrowed as it went down. It was made of a thick slab of polished solid wood, and I moved my arms all the way down, kneeling as low as I could. Glancing up at the solid wood I sighed, then pressed the top of my head against it and tried to push upwards. The pain was too much and when I released I felt the room spin for a moment and just before I tried again I remembered the pillow and laughed at myself as I awkwardly reached up and snagged it between two fingers. Then I fought with the cuffs and my limited dexterity until I got the pillow smooshed between my head and the table and pushed again. Seeing the table lift, I reached down, my entire body shaking against the strain and I gritted my teeth as I tried to shimmy the cuffs under the leg. When I thought I was free and clear I released the tension, but when the table came down on the chain and took me with it, I groaned when my forehead hit the table leg and I splayed out on the floor. I spent the rest of the time trying to pull my cuffs out from under the table leg, but there seemed to be a knob or something keeping me from doing so. The most I had done was accidentally kick the chair over, which scared me enough for me to bang my head against the table leg again. That is how Ty found me some time later. I could only see his feet when he entered the room. “Well you got farther than I thought you would,” he said, trying not to laugh when he knelt down beside me. “Get this fucker off me,” I groaned, having stared at a table leg long enough, I wanted nothing more than to stand up and put something cold on my forehead. “I should leave you,” he said, and I could smell the fast food that he had placed on the table above my head. The fried greasy smell of it made my stomach growl and my mouth water. “To teach you something I’m positive you need to know. I just don’t know what that is exactly.” I only managed to shoot a side-eyed glare at him before he laughed and stood. I watched his hands grip the table and lift. When the leg was a few inches off my cuffs I slid them out and rolled out of the way. Then he sat the table down and walked around to where I laid staring up at the stark white ceiling. When he came into view, I lifted my hand and flipped him off, but took the hand that I was offered and when I was back on my feet I stretched and worked out most of the kinks. Milly wiggled her way through the door behind him, and I laughed when I saw her carrying a happy meal box as he pulled up my chair and stepped farther into the room. I sat down, no longer interested in escaping now that he was back and food was sitting right there in front of me. Again, I reserved myself to my fate come morning and sat down, reaching over to scratch Milly on her head behind her ears. Ty pulled a second chair around to where I was, and I watched as he grabbed the bag and took the contents out one by one. It was McDonalds and I smiled when he placed a burger in front of me. Then he ripped the bag and folded a portion of it a couple of times then sat my drink down on top of it. “They’ll kill you if you get a condensation ring on this bad boy?” I asked as he did the same for his drink. “Yeah, I think this table is in line ahead of me for a promotion,” he answered, smiling when I grimaced at the behemoth thing that took up most of the room. We ate in silence and I knew that he was watching me wolf down my food like a starving animal, but I couldn’t help it. My stomach hadn’t tasted solid food for two days. The Sprite in my cup wouldn’t have been my first choice, but even it tasted good going down and when I looked down at Milly, she had already eaten her nuggets and was nosing at the plastic wrapped toy, but she didn’t seem too pleased with it. When we finished, Ty gathered up all the trash and I followed him out of the room, carrying the pillow back to the cot. He bypassed the trashcan and took the food wrappers and paper cups all the way out to his truck and tossed them in the back seat. I watched as he closed and locked up his truck through the front window and when he returned, he sat in the small office chair at the front desk and I took the cot with Milly. She curled up on the end of it, taking up two thirds of it and sighed before closing her eyes, comfortable enough to fall asleep. “So,” I said, not liking the silence that fell between us. “What happens tomorrow?” “Tomorrow I will have to get hold of my boss and explain to him the reasons why I couldn’t reach him earlier,” he answered, seeming to not be looking forward to that conversation. “Then I make up a story about going for a training run with Milly and her picking up your scent and me being some kind of hero.” “Don’t take the credit for Milly’s fake hard work,” I countered, smiling. “But I won’t really feel like one,” he said, and I stopped with my hands mid-air ready to stroke Milly on her back. “Why not?” I asked, letting my hands fall back to my lap. “In a perfect world you wouldn’t have had to hurt your father to save your mother,” he said leaning forward in the small office chair, groaning under his weight. It looked to be older than I was and it didn’t have any arm rests. There was a tear in the green leather that dangled off the side just at Ty’s upper thigh. “But I just didn’t hurt my father,” I corrected, looking down at my bound wrists. There was a red circle all the way around them from the straining I did earlier. It would be a bruise by morning, and I wondered if Ty would have to explain that as well. “Did you intend to kill him?” he asked, and I watched him shake his head. “I mean you don’t have to answer; you know your rights.” “I don’t think I did,” I answered, and I had to admit I didn’t really know. “I just came in and saw the smashed coffee table, my mom bleeding from her sundress, and Dad choking her so hard that her feet were hovering off the ground.” “You hit him twice,” he said, remembering our earlier conversation in the kitchen. I only nodded. “Can we talk about something else?” I asked, not wanting the rest of my night to be focused on bad things. I could also feel the fatigue of the last few days weighing me down, but I didn’t want to sleep. I wanted to bleed out every drop the night offered. “Like what?” he asked, not looking as tired as I felt. “Where did you grow up?” I asked, and he studied me for a moment. “Here,” he answered. “I went to junior college where you go for two semesters then transferred to university.” “You went to my school?” I asked, sliding farther back onto the cot so that my back rested against the wooden wall. It was roughly treated wood, not too sturdy looking, but this was just a mere outpost it seemed. It definitely wasn’t supposed to be open to non-rangers like me. “Go Stags,” he said, doing the six-point stag symbol with his hands. “You play baseball there.” “Did you Google me on your phone as you got our food?” I asked, smirking, but he shook his head. “No, your name sounded familiar, but I didn’t know from where until I saw your face,” he answered, and this time I studied him. He hadn’t let on that he knew me, not on the debriefed level they gave him, but me as before the manhunt me. “I’ve even watched you play.” “Nice,” I said, smiling past the bittersweet feeling I now had at the thought of baseball. I doubted I would be doing much of that in the coming years either. “So you stayed close to home for your mother,” he said, making more of a statement than asking a question. I only nodded before looking away, yawning. “Sorry,” I offered, closing my eyes. “Get some sleep,” he said, and I turned to watch him lean back in his chair. “If Milly gives you enough room.” “Don’t you need sleep?” I asked as he too yawned despite him shaking his head no. “I wouldn’t even if I was; you’ve demonstrated some escape tendencies, as sloppy as they are,” he answered, stretching his arms over his head. That’s when I noticed a small fox tattoo on his inner arm past his elbow, but I didn’t mention it. “I won’t, I promise, scout’s honor,” I said, holding up my hands. “Were you in scouts?” he asked, cocking an eyebrow. “You’re catching on,” I answered, shaking my head. “How about this; I lay on the floor and you cuff my hands around the leg of the cot and you lay on the cot.” “No,” he countered. “Go to sleep; I’ll be alright.” “I’m not going to kill you in your sleep,” I said and grimaced at the thought, and I wondered if that was a secondary reason why he refused to sleep aside from the fact that he felt duty bound to haul my ass off to jail in the morning. Having no one ever trust me again will be torture enough, punishment enough for me. “I’m not afraid of you,” he offered and this time I couldn’t read his face. “You are the most un-criminal-like criminal I’ve ever come across.” “Thanks for that,” I said, “but don’t put that on your report. I’ll need the street cred where I’m going.” “I’ll make you out to be a hardass, don’t worry,” he said, grinning. “Now go to sleep.” “No,” I said. “Not until you cuff me to the cot.” “No,” he argued, reaching up to scratch the back of his head, and I knew he was weighing the option now. “You are criminally stubborn though.” “Yeah I’m going to win this,” I said, holding up my hands. “And you will have a hard time explaining anything to your boss with bloodshot eyes and bags.” “I don’t have bags under my eyes,” he countered, glaring at me. “I’m only twenty-four.” “Still, how are you going to explain this epic manhunt when you’re falling asleep?” I asked, and he sighed and pushed himself up off the chair. It rolled slightly backwards and his movement woke Milly. She glanced up at Ty as he closed the distance between us and took one of my hands in his as he grabbed the key from his pocket. When he released my hand, I made to move my hand down so that he could loop the cuffs around the leg of the cot, but instead he closed the cuffs around his own wrist. “There,” he said, looking down at our hands. “Well if this isn’t awkward as hell,” I groaned as he flexed his fingers trying to get comfortable in his own confinement. “Now I’ll know if you make any moves,” he said, smiling, but it was an uneasy smile. “You take the bed.” “No,” I countered and slid off the cot, which tipped slightly forward and sent Milly wiggling to get off it thinking it was about to fall. I stubbornly laid down on the dusty floor, my back against the cool, but unforgiving hardwood. “Stubborn, but you will take the pillow,” Ty muttered, shaking his head and as he was getting ready for bed, I noticed for the first time that his gun wasn’t holstered on his waist. I didn’t say anything, not wanting to let on that I noticed as he laid down on the cot as my arm flapped around until he got comfortable. He kept his flashlight close and called Milly back to the cot, and I smiled when she cuddled up beside him laying partially on his chest. I believed if I even made a step towards him in anger, her goofy and easy nature would change, and I liked that about her. Ty let his hand dangle over the side of the cot allowing my hand to rest comfortably against my chest, and when I breathed our knuckles touched. The first time he glanced over at me to make sure I wasn’t up to anything, but then he seemed to not notice. “Goodnight, Ty,” I said, closing my eyes and easing into the pillow for some semblance of comfort. “I’ll see you in the morning,” he mumbled, and I smiled as I drifted off to sleep even though I dreaded what came with the rising sun. The next morning my eyes fluttered open, and I almost forgot where I was. The floor was still hard though, and I groaned looking down at a weight on my chest. Seeing Ty’s cuffed hand splayed out, I looked up to see him resting his head on his arm looking down at me from the cot. Milly was still lying on top of him, her head rested on his side also looking at me. “That’s kind of weird watching me sleep,” I said, grimacing as I sat up. My wrist was burning, and I looked down to see a small blister forming. Reaching up, I readjusted it just as Ty presented the key and freed himself. “I’m just surprised I didn’t wake up to see you about to saw my hand off,” he countered, stretching out his own wrist. Feeling the weight of him off my hand I sighed, loving the relief, but held out my other hand for him to close the ring back on it. “Couldn’t find one,” I answered, and we both jumped when the radio on the table started chattering. It wasn’t clear, but Ty jumped off the cot, sending Milly flying off the bottom with a bark. Looking down I still saw my free hand, but stood there with my heart hammering in my chest. I knew what the morning would bring, but now that I’m here I didn’t want it to be coming so quickly. “Hello?” Ty said into the receiver. When he received only broken up words and static, he looked over at me. I couldn’t read him though; he looked as surprised to hear the radio as I was. I figured people were on their way; he was supposed to be organizing a manhunt. “No luck?” I asked when he sat the receiver down, still static on the other end. “Guess not,” he said, walking over to me. I put my hands back up ready for the shackles again, but he only grabbed my hand with the cuffs dangling and unlocked the other one. “What are you doing?” I asked, looking down at the red ring that was starting to scab over. “I never saw you,” he answered, his voice quick and hushed. “You never came here.” “What the hell?” I asked as he felt around in his front pocket. I watched until he pulled out a rolled-up stack of money. The money that he was taking for evidence. “Grab your things, quickly,” he said as he shoved the money into my outstretched hand. Milly was bouncing around between us then going to the door. He walked over and cracked it for her so that she could go outside. “Why?” I asked, still holding the money in my hand. I probably looked completely dumbfounded when he looked at me. I knew what he was saying, but not why. Was this some kind of trick? If I left, would he just use me as a training situation or a way to show off to his bosses when he caught me so quickly? “Stop being a dumbass!” He growled, grabbing hold of my naked shoulder. We stared at one another for a moment before he let out a frustrated sort of sound somewhere between a growl and a sigh as he closed the distance and kissed me. My eyes shot open wider, and I went stiff in his hands as his other one found my side. I didn’t jump or back away, but I could feel the hesitation in his grip so I moved my lips against his and he sighed into mine, his confidence coming back. When he broke the kiss, he pushed me away and let his hands fall to his sides. I stood there like an idiot until he pointed to my shoes. Looking down, my heart hammering in my chest, I sat down on the floor and slid on the pair of socks that I had on last and then my shoes. He had left me, no longer afraid that I’d bolt. He returned holding my bag and my wet shirt. Tossing the wet shirt to me, I slid it on grimacing against the cold. “It will dry before nightfall,” he said, not looking at me. “It is supposed to be clear and hot today.” “Why are you doing this?” I asked, blinking away tears that I didn’t want to let escape, but had no real time to worry about what he thought about me crying. I had accepted my life sentence already, but here he was stomping around the small ranger station gathering my things. It should be something I was doing, but I was still in shock from the kiss and his change of mind. I had never kissed a guy before. I knew I was into guys, but I was too chicken to do anything about it. I didn’t have a dating app or anything. I didn’t dare come out to my parents. Mom wouldn’t have been able to protect me from that, and I didn’t know how she would react either. I always felt that she’d love me through it, I mean we had already lived through worse. The kiss was too fleeting though, and it was far from perfect. I had morning breath, and I had slept on the floor in pants that I wore going on three days now. It wasn’t supposed to be like this, my first kiss, but I was grateful. It was the last thing I thought I’d get after what I had done. “I can’t see you rounded up and shoved into a life sentence,” he said, reaching up and scratching the back of his head as he watched me finish dressing. “I can’t think of you there after knowing what I know.” “I still killed my father,” I said and when he winced, I looked away. That part was still bothering him at least. “I believe you when you called him a monster,” he countered, and I looked up to see him standing there and just beyond him was the open door and sunlight. There was fresh air out there, a dog with a wagging tail, and freedom. For the first time, I didn’t want to leave where I stood, right now I just wanted to stand in front of Ty and have all the questions that raced through my head to be answered. I didn’t want to leave the one person that knew everything, called me a murderer, but still liked me enough to kiss me. “Just take me home,” I said, shaking my head. “Maybe things will work out, but if I run now.” “You have to run,” he said, blinking as he took a step closer to me. “They’re coming now; you have to run now.” “I won’t make it far,” I countered letting my arms fall to my sides. “When you leave the front porch go west,” he said, and I was about to argue about not knowing which way west was, even if I did look at the sun. He pulled a compass out of his pocket though and grabbed my hand and shoved it into my palm before closing my fist around it. “Milly and I will lead them north across the creek.” “Won’t that make you look bad?” I asked, glancing down at the small compass. “Not really,” he answered, smirking, but his eyes were still strained when he studied me. “Unless we catch you and you squeal.” “I don’t want this to go on Milly’s record,” I said, smiling when he laughed. “They’ll blame me, not her,” he said, his smile fading. “You have to go now.” “You kissed me,” I said, the memory of the kiss coming back to my lips. “I did,” he offered, stepping up to me again. This time he let his hand come up and cup the back of my head. There was no rush now when he moved forward and our lips met. This time I relaxed into the kiss, and this time he broke it too soon. “Now run.” And I stood there until he grabbed me by the shoulders and pulled me around until my back was facing the front exit. He gave me another quick kiss that I tried to fight to keep before he shoved me out the door and onto the front porch. He stepped out, closing the door behind him with a bang. Outside I breathed in the fresh air, no musty wood smell, just clean air. Looking around I saw that we were still alone, but hearing the front door close Milly came bouncing up to us. She sniffed at my pants leg before Ty snapped his fingers and she went to his side and sat. “Thank you,” I said, and he nodded. Then I turned and opened my palm, found the arrow pointing towards the west before closing it again. I didn’t look back, knowing that I wouldn’t go if I did. I already felt the stubbornness I was born with creeping back in. I was well into the treeline before I stopped and turned back towards the station. I couldn’t see him or the station and I was glad of it, now I was running again, but this time I couldn’t help feeling like I was leaving everything worth staying and fighting for behind.
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