I’m dying. Even Sabotage by the Beastie Boys isn’t enough to make me feel like I can run any farther. I’ve hit the wall and I’ve hit it hard. But I have to put as much distance between me and Lake Oroville as possible before whatever Billy’s done to their trackers wears off and they find out where I really am. I’m not even sure if putting the device at the bottom of a lake is enough to keep them from being able to find it, but if it is, I would hate knowing that the reason they figured out where I hid it is simply because I collapsed just a few miles away.
But my legs burn. My lungs burn. My lips are dry. I can taste blood from how cracked they are. How long has it been since I’ve even drank any water? Of course, I was too stupid and too hung up on getting away from the lake that I didn’t even take a second to grab some water while I was there.
On the bright side, the complete dehydration of my system is apparently keeping me from needing to take a pee break.
I look at Eve. Stare at her, really. I know what I have to do, but I also know what it could mean for us. For how much time we have together. And I can’t stand the idea that the last words I said to her before I ran off into the sunset are about how I don’t trust her.
She’s looking at the ground, apparently having given up on anything useful happening for us. She must not have heard The Geek talk to me before he left.
All I know is that I need to get her attention, need to talk to her quietly. And I preferably need to do it without those goons hearing me.
I cough lightly.
Luke and Dave look up quickly, as though my cough may have been me pulling out a weapon of mass destruction or something. Eve, however, doesn’t even flinch.
I cough again and again Luke and Dave look at me, although this time more out of annoyance than concern that I might be trying something dangerous.
“You better quit that, kid,” Luke or Dave says warningly. “I don’t know what you’re up to, but I don’t like it.”
“Sorry,” I mutter. “Just a little dusty down here, I guess. Eve, do you have a lozenge or something?”
“No,” she mumbles without a twitch.
She really isn’t going to look at me, is she? Is she mad at me? Is that what this is all about? Or maybe she’s simply that scared about this whole mess we’ve gotten ourselves into. Maybe—
“Cyrus,” she whispers. I look to her. She’s still entirely focused on the cement floor.
“Hey, quiet down over there,” Luke or Dave says louder than the previous warning.
I stare at Eve some more. Did she really say my name? She’s still in the exact same position as before, so I must have been hearing things.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see her hand is moving. Just barely. Slowly. Across the floor.
She’s written something in the dirt.
It says, “I’m sorry.”
Sorry? For what? What did she do? What could she have possibly done that she should feel sorry about? I’m the idiot who couldn’t just admit that I do trust her because I am absolutely and irrefutably in love with her and I didn’t know how to admit that to myself. Because what if she doesn’t love me back? What if it’s just me and she’s really just trying to trick me, like Maxine, or Alvin, or…The Geek…
Eve coughs lightly and taps her message on the floor.
“I said shut up!” Luke or Dave says angrily.
She’s sorry. And she wants me to know this. But the reality is, I want her to know that I’m sorry.
I lean close to her, and slowly, as carefully and unnoticeably as possible, I reach my hand down to her note and tap it lightly with my finger.
I hope she somehow gets the message.
She looks up at me, right in the eyes. And, well, I don’t know, it must be pretty dusty down here because suddenly my eyes feel all red and scratchy.
Eve wipes her hand against my face and somehow her hand comes back wet.
Look, okay, I’ll admit it, I’m sad here, okay? I have so many things I want to tell Eve before I do what I’m about to do, because I don’t know if I’ll ever get the chance to tell her if I don’t do it now. I have a plan. And I think it’s a really good plan. Well, it’s not really that much of a plan, but it’s a plan. And it definitely means the end of our time together. It probably means the end of my time on this earth, if I’m being completely honest. But it’ll fix everything.
But it would feel so much better if I could just have one single minute to say what I need to say to her before I go.
So, once again I tap the message on the floor, before I stand up and make my way to the back of The Corral.
“Where you think you’re going?” Luke or Dave asks me.
“Gotta take a leak. Be right back.”
“Uh, no, I don’t think so. You stay in here.”
“Oh, come on, man. I’m just going to pee. You don’t want me making a big puddle on the floor, do you? In front of my girlfriend?”
He hesitates and looks to the other man questioningly. “Follow him in there and make sure he’s not up to anything fishy,” the man says in response.
“Ugh, fine,” the first man groans. “Let’s go.”
I lead the man back to the bathroom and make to shut the door behind me.
“Don’t think so, bub,” he disagrees. “Door open. I don’t want to find out you’ve locked me out and are escaping through a window or something.”
“Take a look for yourself,” I say, gesturing to the interior of the bathroom. “No windows.”
“I don’t care. Door open.”
“But Eve’s out there, man. Could you come in here and stand with me or something?”
“But I can’t pee if I know she’s watching.”
“Girl,” he shouts into the main room. “Don’t look.”
“Okay,” Eve replies, sounding confused.
“But I’m just not going to be able to do it. Come on, what am I going to do to you? You’re like ten times my size. You think I’m going to overpower you simply because we’re in a bathroom together?”
“You’re going to make a big deal out of this, aren’t you?”
“I just really need to pee and I get stage fright, you know. Especially around girls I like.”
“Fine, whatever will get this done faster.”
“Great,” I say with a smile. He steps into the room with me and I shut the door behind him.
“Go,” he commands.
“Yeah, working on it.”
I do my business and zip up my pants.
“Alright, get out of here,” he says, opening the door and gesturing for me to exit first.
I stop just outside the door and turn to look at him. “Oh, crap, did I forget to flush?”
He turns to look and I shove him into the room and slam my fist hard against the invisible wall panel just above the light switch. A heavy metal door slams down between me and the large man, locking him inside. Well, technically, since it’s a panic room, I’m locked outside, but since he doesn’t know the code to open the door, he’s definitely locked in.
“What’s going on over there?” the other man asks as he comes around the corner. Eve catches on to what’s happening and is on her feet running toward the man whose back is turned to her as he comes to inspect what I’ve been doing. She jumps onto his back and knocks him off balance. I bolt past him and up the stairs to find Alvin storming down them, apparently trying to determine what the noise was all about. Eve pushes past me as I stop in my tracks and she punches Alvin directly in his left eye. Alvin falls down flat.
I’m so taken aback by what’s happening in front of me that I don’t notice the burly man storming up the stairs behind me. He grabs me by the throat and growls at Eve.
“Where do you think you’re going, missy?” he says in a way which makes me happy my plan involved a bathroom break first.
Eve looks at me wild-eyed and then glances down at Alvin, who appears to be out cold.
“Run, Eve!” I shout, trying to hold the man back as he slowly collapses my windpipe. “Get out of here!”
Eve looks at me, helpless. I can tell she’s struggling with something. Struggling with the idea of leaving me behind. But I can also tell she’s got an idea. A plan. Something nagging at her. Something telling her this is her chance.
With tears in her eyes, I hear her croak out the words, “I’m so sorry, Cyrus. I love you.”
She turns to the room and begins searching through everything frantically.
“No, I’m sorry!” I shout over the madness happening around me, as I strain to hold the man behind me back. “I should have trusted you. I do trust you, I—”
“I’m not playing around here, girl. Don’t think I’m not willing to break this little boy’s neck.”
Then she finds it. Whatever she’s looking for, she finds it. The man sees what she’s found and I feel his hand tighten on my neck even further.
“Don’t think about it,” he says, sounding scared. “I’m serious here.”
Eve looks to me again, her cheeks wet. I’m finding it hard to see her through my own blurring vision.
“I love you,” I say.
“I love you, too,” she replies breathlessly.
For a moment we stare at each other and I almost forget about the man I’m attempting to hold back, even with his death grip on my throat.
“Oh, isn’t that sweet,” he growls.
“Run!” I yell.
Eve sighs deeply and then in one quick movement she bolts to the dining room table, picks up something and runs out the front door.
The man yells several curse words before looking me deep in the eyes. “What the hell do you three think you’re doing?” he growls as his hand grows tighter and tighter around my neck.
“Just,” I gasp out, “saving the world.”
Stars fill my eyes and I see The Geek storm into the room with something in his hands. A loud shrieking noise fills the air just before everything goes black.
Go to Chapter Thirty-Three