If Miss Carling could see her car, I know I would have been expelled: there was mud splashed across it and there were several dents in the doors. I didn’t take the time to consider what the car had been through–I didn’t care. My head was heavy. I felt as though I was beyond sleep–I needed unconsciousness.
Aislynn was sitting in the driver’s seat, drumming her fingers against the wheel. She didn’t acknowledge Chay as he opened the door for me to get in. I sat, bending my head backwards and resting.
I heard another door open and close; I was surprised that Chay was sitting directly beside me. He reached over, buckling my seatbelt. I opened my eyes.
Actually, if Miss Carling saw her car, expulsion would be too light a punishment–she’d probably kill me.
Strapped to the back of the passenger’s seat was–unmistakable–a bomb. Multi-colored wires wove themselves around a black box, where a red light was blinking steadily. Chay reached for a pair of pliers on the floor, snipping the red and blue wires simultaneously.
“What was that for?” I managed to croak. Fatigue had swept over me so suddenly that I felt ill. I wondered if this meant the shock had finally worn off–erased by my outburst.
Chay shrugged. “In case we need another distraction.”
I tried to nod, but was too tired. I just closed my eyes, listening to the engine purr to life as the car began to accelerate. The steady hummmm of the road beneath the car sounded like a lullaby and I released myself into it, counting my breaths.
One, two, three….
I felt Chay grab my hands, then felt liquid washing over them. They burned as the alcohol washed over the cuts, but I was barely aware of what was occurring on the other side of my eyelids.
There was pressure and warm gauze as Chay wrapped bandages around my palms.
He grunted, tearing my t-shirt so that he could better see my arm. It began stinging again, and I squinted my eyes in response.
“Don’t want this to get infected,” I heard Chay mutter, as he poured the alcohol into the area.
This burned far worse, and I jerked. “Ow.” My voice was faint and I didn’t bother to open my eyes.
“Hold still, Todd.”
There was pressure as Chay cleaned the area, then the soft gauze again. The pressure remained as Chay wound a bandage around my arm.
I sighed. The burning began to ebb–whether because the pain really was lessening or because I was nearly asleep, I didn’t know. I leaned my head against the coolness of the glass, allowing myself to finally sleep.
The car was silent when I woke up. Sunlight hit my eyes harshly and I blinked several times. I sat straight almost immediately, watching as trees blurred past my window.
“Where am I?”
Chay turned toward me. He was leaning against the window as well, his head resting on his hand. “You’re okay, Todd. We’re going back to Agenton.”
I nodded, the events of the evening slowly filtering through my sleepy brain. “How much longer?”
“Couple hours.” Chay turned back to me. “You weren’t asleep long. You can rest more if you want.”
He turned back to the window, obviously in deep thought.
I shook my head. “No, I’m awake.”
I eyed my bandaged hands and set them in my lap gingerly.
Neither of us spoke; Aislynn drove as though she was unaware there were passengers in the backseat.
“Good job, by the way.”
Chay’s voice took my by surprise. “Excuse me?”
Chay shrugged. He still wasn’t looking at me, but had his eyes focused on the rapidly changing view beyond the window. “I wanted to congratulate you. At the gas station, you were very convincing. I would have honestly believed you’d run away. No wonder Henbane didn’t notice it was a set-up.”
I bit my lip. Yeah, it had been convincing alright–not because I was a great actor, but because I was gullible and untrusting.
“Thanks,” I mumbled.
Chay nodded. “And with Cyrus. You were very… noble. That took a lot of… a lot of courage.” Chay cleared his throat. He was now staring resolutely at the front seat. “You surprised me.”
I blinked. “Thanks,” I said again.
Chay jerked his head forward. “Keep it up.”
I didn’t respond. Instead, I licked my lips, contemplating a compliment of my own.
“You really surprised me, too.” I whispered.
Chay shot a strange look toward me.
I continued, not making eye contact. “At the gas station, you told me to go back to–”
Chay shook his head, his eyes darting to Aislynn.
“Don’t take it too seriously. I was doing a lot of acting.”
I nodded. Somehow, from how wide his eyes had grown, I couldn’t help but feel as though it hadn’t been a complete act.
I smiled, watching as the sun glinted off a lake outside my window. Maybe I wasn’t as alone as I thought I was.
There were a few birds flitting between the trees as we sped through a small forest, and the sky was a clear blue–not a single cloud in the sky.
I chuckled at the irony–it seemed impossible that last night had been real. The bandages on my hands and arms disagreed, but my mind felt downright calm.
It was a very welcome change to the frantic chagrin.
The rest of the trip passed soundlessly. Aislynn never once spoke, nor did Chay. The tension between them was so thick that I opened the window, just to give myself some fresh air.
I couldn’t help but feel guilty. Their silence was intolerable compared to the flirting I’d seen through my writing.
Well, I’d created this mess. Surely, I could fix it.
Those thoughts were the only ones that swarmed my mind as we finished the journey. By the time we pulled into Derek’s apartment, I was forcing myself not to smile.
Chay opened the door for me, telling me to “not move that arm much.” I hadn’t needed to be told, but allowed Chay to be protective. It was better than Aislynn’s uncaring gait as she flitted into Derek’s apartment. I followed them, Chay walking beside me.
Derek’s voice was high and irritated. He ran up to us as soon as we were inside the apartment. His eyes scanned me briefly. “You’re mom’s going to freak.”
“She won’t leave me alone.” He said, his mouth twisting around each word. “It’s driving me crazy.”
Chay chuckled. “Let me speak to her.”
“Be my guest.” Derek thrust the phone at Chay and he dialed it quickly. He waited as it rung and I watched him closely. “Hello? Cheryl? This is Chuck. Yes, Milo’s brother.” (He winked at me and I laughed.) “I just wanted to let you know that our fishing trip went swimmingly–no pun intended.” He laughed convincingly, sounding remarkably like a stereotypical uncle. “I apologize again for just snatching Todd up like that. It was a terrible misunderstanding. I’d like to know how that voicemail got lost. All’s well that end’s well, I guess.” Another laugh. “What’s that? Oh, Todd is fine. Got in a bit of a boating accident. No big deal. Just fell out and scraped himself up a bit. I’ll explain late–I said he was fine. Well, he-uh….” Chay inhaled sharply. “Hit the motor when he fell. Just a couple of scratches though, he’ll heal quickly–” Chay held the phone away from his ear and I could hear Mom’s shouts clearly.
I was laughing so hard that I had to sit down. Chay placed the phone carefully against his ear, saying, “Would you like to talk with him? I thought so.”
He handed me the phone, rolling his eyes.
I coughed, swallowing the rest of my laughter. “Hi, Mom.”
“TODD NICHOLAS EVERETT!”
I dropped the phone. Chay caught it easily and tossed it back to me; Derek muttered under his breath.
“Hey, mom,” I said nervously.
“Did you even think about how worried I was? Just going off and leaving with some uncle I’ve never even heard of?”
“He said he’d called you–it was… er… sorry, Mom, I know I should’ve–”
“Yes, you should’ve, Todd. I can’t believe you would even think of–”
I sighed. Mom didn’t know the half of it–heck, she didn’t know a sixteenth of it. Chay had assured me that it was best to keep things secret–the fewer people who knew the situation, the safer it was for everyone.
“I’m really, really sorry, Mom. I can’t apologize any more than that.”
I heard Mom sigh and I could picture her sitting, rubbing her temple. “Just–are you on your way home, Todd?”
I looked questioningly at Chay. “Yeah, I think so.”
“Just–just get back here. I’ve been so worried.”
There was that guilty feeling again. I said goodbye, telling her I loved her and that I’d see her soon, before hanging up the phone.
Aislynn was standing beside the door. “Chay, give me a hand with some stuff.”
He followed her to the car, leaving Derek and myself alone.
“So your computer crashed?”
Derek glared at me. “Could you sound any less considerate?” he snapped. “Yes, it did as a matter of fact.”
I nodded. “Umm….”
I reached in my pocket, extracting my IPod. “Could you take that thing out of my IPod. It’s making it slow.”
Derek growled, snatching it from my hands. “Whatever you want, prophet.”
He tossed it to the side. “Can’t let you go without your music.” He stalked toward the kitchen, muttering to himself.
I rolled my eyes. Derek wasn’t the best company. I walked toward the door, stopping when I saw Aislynn and Chay standing close. My heart perked slightly….
Until I heard what they were saying:
“You aren’t taking him back there?”
“His mother’s worried sick. It doesn’t do any harm.” Chay’s expression was unreadable, but he wasn’t meeting Aislynn’s eyes.
She was breathing stiffly, her head cocked to the side. “Chay, you have to think what’s in his best interests.”
“That’s what I’m doing, Aislynn.”
“How much longer do you think you can pull this off? The Department’s not going to let him stay in Agenton when Cyrus knows–”
“I know, I know. It’s not the safest, but I can protect him.”
“He’s still my responsibility. It’s still my judgement that matters.”
“You’re judgement is going to get him killed.”
Chay huffed. “I won’t allow that.”
“I’m keeping him in Agenton as long as I can, Aislynn. I’m not stupid enough to believe it will be long, but I can’t take any more away from him today.”
Aislynn opened her mouth to speak, then sighed, admitting defeat. “Do what you want, Chay.”
Chay nodded, turning back toward the apartment.
I bolted back into the living room, leaning against the nearest wall I could find. I banged one of my hands against a lamp and grimaced, staring at the bandages.
Chay found me and smiled. “Don’t worry–those’ll heal. You’ll probably be able to write again soon. The cuts weren’t very deep.” He frowned. “The spot on your arm will scar, though. I’m so sorry about that.”
I shook my head. “You don’t need to–”
Chay stopped me, putting his arm on my shoulder. “Let’s get you home, Todd.”
Copyright Sarah Davidson 2021