I feel better now that I have a plan. It’s probably what I should have done in the first place, but it’s okay. Lesson learned.
The kid is still sitting on the floor when I jump back into the driver’s seat. There’s a rumpled piece of notebook paper smoothed out over her knees that she immediately tries to stuff back into her jean pocket. From my vantage point above her, though, I can read at least the first half of it: We love you. If you need help, look for
Look for who?
“Well, Dorothy,” I say as I turn the key in the ignition. My mind scrambles to come up with some excuse that won’t make me look pathetic. “They’re not accepting freaks at this location. Looks like you’ve got two more hours of freedom.”
I swear, she can see right through the lie and she looks…unimpressed, to say the least. I put the car in reverse and she climbs up into the passenger seat, dropping the handcuffs into the drink holder between us.
Okay. Seriously. What the hell?
The girl sighs, but deigns to show me her trick. With the cuffs in one hand, she slides what looks like a warped bobby pin out of her pocket. I glance between her and the highway as she wiggles the bent end of the pin in a small hole on the handcuffs I’ve never noticed before. The metal arm springs open.
“Kid, you have the worst sense of self-preservation I’ve ever seen,” I tell her, because now I know not to use the handcuffs on her. I’ll stick to zip ties. She’s trying to teach me how to do my job, and while a tiny part of me is impressed she knows how to do this, a bigger part of me wants to stretch out across the highway and wait for someone to just run me over. All my anger from the morning has drained me to the point where I can only feel humiliated and tired about all this.
“I didn’t rescue you,” I remind her, but she reaches over—gloves and zip tie and all—and turns the radio on. I listen to hip-hop or I listen to silence, so naturally she finds the one station blasting out Fleetwood Mac and sits back.
“I don’t think so,” I said, switching it off.
She reaches over and turns it back on, this time cranking the volume up just as the song changes to something that sounds like it could be Led Zeppelin. And the look she gives me as I start to turn the dial again probably should have caused me to spontaneously combust.
“Okay, okay. Geez.” I’m going to think of it like her last meal before death row. She gets this. Only this.
Thirty miles later, the truck’s back right tire blows out just outside Black Canyon City. Who fixes it?
I’m not an idiot, I know I’m not. I’ve watched my dad change out his tire for a spare before, but I never had the experience of doing it myself. I barely get the car onto the shoulder of the highway without losing my shit. Meanwhile, Dorothy hops out of the car, her hands bound, and goes around to the back, looking for a spare I know old Hutch is too cheap to have supplied. The look I get when I meet her around back can be summed up in one word: Seriously?
Traffic is light enough on the I-17 today that we can walk along the outer edge of the nearby string of abandoned cars without fear of being spotted.
Jesus. Is this what it feels like for these freaks—these kids? Constantly having to look over their shoulders, jumping whenever a car buzzes by, because in those two seconds, one wrong glance means the jig is up? I only have to be worried about another skip tracer spotting us and swiping my score; she has to be worried about everyone from skip tracers to grannies with access to phones.
We stop next to an SUV, and she crouches down, inspecting the tire. Her eyebrows draw together, and her forehead wrinkles, like she’s trying to mentally measure if this tire is the same dimensions as the others.
Dorothy holds her hands out to me, and I stare at them, confused. She nods toward them, giving them a small jerk, and I realize what she wants.
“You gonna run?”
She rolls her eyes.
“Nice. Real nice.”
I only cut the zip tie, expecting her to take the gloves off herself. Instead, she carefully adjusts them so they align with the right fingers. They’re laughably oversized on her, reaching up past her elbows—almost like the way a superhero would wear them.
I crouch down next to her as she uses the small tool kit and lift to remove the hubcap, then each nut holding the tire in place. She works quickly, methodically, but slow enough for me to keep track of what she’s doing.
“Who taught you how to do this?” I have no idea why the words escape. Maybe it’s because it’s such a nice day out; the sun is warm, not sweltering, and there’s a nice, cool breeze stroking down the sides of the nearby mountains and cutting across the valley. We ditched the evergreens a while back and have hit the full-fledged desert, but I swear the air still has that fresh flowery smell. This is the kind of landscape everyone sees when they think of Arizona. The part I grew up in might as well be Colorado in comparison.
“Your dad?” I ask. She shakes her head. “Brother? Yeah, your brother?”
Dorothy takes a break from what she’s doing and holds up two fingers. I’m surprised I know exactly what she’s trying to say. “Two brothers? Where the hell are they?”
Wrong thing to ask. A shadow passes over her face, and I get a stiff shoulder turned toward me in response.
“Was that other Asian chick your sister? The one who ran?” I ask, waiting for her answer. “No? Really? But you have one?”
Okay, two brothers and a sister. Interesting. If they aren’t with her, they must be too old to be affected by the Psi virus, in camps, or dead. Somehow, judging by the way her face lights up when she “talks” about them, I don’t think the latter is the case.
But where the hell are they? If I had a little sister, I’d be taking care of her. I would have clawed my nails down to broken stubs trying to keep her safe, not let her go running with a group of other kids. Where were they even going? Just bouncing around the country, from one place to another?
I think about the way she cried in the bathroom when she thought I couldn’t hear her, and I hate the way my heart seems to lurch down to the pit of my stomach. I shouldn’t have asked her those questions, no matter how curious I was. Because you take these freaks and you stop thinking about what they can do and instead focus on the people in their lives, where they come from, what games they liked playing with their friends, and you find yourself on unsteady ground all of a sudden. You start to let all those things seep in, and suddenly they’re kids again with bony skinned knees, grass-stained clothes, and hands always in something they shouldn’t be. They’re just…little kids.