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“Next town over,” I tell him. “Let’s stay local, but not right under their noses. Find us a motel.” I start to say something midpriced, but then I stop myself. That’s my natural inclination, but if Melvin’s been alerted to this event, he and Absalom will be looking for us. It’s a small pool of choices in this area. They’ll try everything cheap and anonymous first. “Find us a bed-and-breakfast. Something off the beaten path.”

He nods and tosses me a pamphlet. “Grabbed it from the gift shop in the hospital,” he says. “Should be some ads in there.”

 

 

6

CONNOR

Officer Graham told me, Never tell about this, and I haven’t. Not because I don’t know Officer Graham was a bad guy—I know that. He scared the hell out of us. He hurt us when he dragged us out of our house, too.

But I’ll never tell because of what he gave me. I know Mom would take it away, and I’m not ready for that to happen.

I leave the phone Lancel Graham gave me turned off. I tried to use it back in the basement in that cabin where he was holding us, but there wasn’t a signal. I turned it off and removed the battery when Mom found us because I didn’t want it ringing, and I didn’t want anybody tracking us with it.

I don’t really know why I haven’t just thrown it out, or buried it, or told someone I have it . . . except that it’s mine.

Officer Graham said, This is from your dad, and it’s just for you, Brady. Nobody else.

My dad sent me something, and even though I know I should get rid of it, I can’t. It’s the only thing I have from him. I sometimes imagine him standing in a store, looking at all the phones and choices, and finding one he thought I’d like. Maybe that’s not what happened, but that’s how I imagine it. That he cared. That he put some thought into it.

It’s lucky that it looks almost like the cheap phone I already carry. They’re both disposables, but I’ve learned to tell them apart by touch—the one Mom gave me feels a little rough under my fingers, and Dad’s feels as smooth as glass. They use the same charger. I keep both of them charged up by putting one under the bed charging when I’m carrying the other one.

But I don’t turn Dad’s on. I just keep it off, with the battery in my pocket, ready to go.

I’ve just taken Dad’s phone out of my pocket—not to use it, just look at it—when Lanny leans in the door of my room and says, “Hey, did you go in my room?”

I’m already feeling guilty, and the second I hear her voice it feels like there’s a spotlight on me, bright white and very hot. I drop Dad’s phone and watch as it spins across the floor and up against her foot. My mouth goes dry. I’m scared to death that she’s going to immediately frown and say, This isn’t your phone—where did you get it, and it’ll all be over, and everybody will be mad that I didn’t turn it over first thing, and they’ll all give me those looks again. The ones that wonder if I’m really like him.

But all Lanny does is snort, say “Way to go, Butterfingers,” and kick it back to me. I pick it up and jam it into my pocket. My hands are shaking. I shove Mom’s phone, still on the charger, into the shadows under the bed with my foot. She hasn’t seen it, I can tell. “Did you go in my room or what?”

“No,” I tell her. “Why?”

“My door was open.”

“Well, I didn’t do it.”

Lanny crosses her arms and looks at me with that frown that means she’s not buying it. “Then why do you look guilty?”

“I don’t!” I tell her, and I know that makes me sound guilty. I’m not a very good liar.

“Did you take something? Because you know I’m going to look!”

I don’t think. I just get up, shove her back, and close the door. It locks, which is good, because she immediately starts jiggling the knob.

“I’m not talking to you!” I yell at her, and I lie down on my bed.

I take my dad’s phone out of my pocket and turn it over and over again in my fingers. The screen’s dark.

I stare for a long time before I reach in my pocket and get the battery out. I open the back and slide it in, then put my finger on the “Power” button. Lanny’s gone away, probably to complain to whoever cares that I’m being a brat. Normally that would be Mom. Normally.

I press gently on the button, but not enough to actually make it start up. What happens if I turn it on? Will Dad know? Will he call me? Why did he want me to have this at all?

But I know why. Because he can track the phone if it’s on. He could find us, and Mom, and I can’t do that.

But it takes time, part of me says, the part that memorizes all the risks and tells me what’s safe, and what isn’t. He won’t be able to track you if you just turn it on, check it, and take the battery out again. It’s not magic.

That might be right. It’s probably right. I could turn it on and see if he called me, or texted. That would be okay, wouldn’t it? I wouldn’t have to read anything. Or listen to a voice mail. I’d just check.

I brush my finger over the button, again. Hold it a little longer this time. Not long enough, I think, because when I let go, the screen is still dark.

And then it buzzes in my hand, like something about to sting me, and the screen lights up and spells out HELLO in bouncing letters, then SEARCHING FOR SIGNAL.

I can’t breathe. My heart hurts, and I lean forward like someone’s already punched me in the stomach, but I can’t look away from the screen as it fades, and comes back, and it’s a clunky little collection of icons almost too small to see, but I can tell that there aren’t any phone calls. No voice mails.

No texts.

I select the CONTACTS icon. There’s one number programmed in.

Dad’s number.

I should stop right now. I should stop and give this phone to someone else. An adult, not Lanny, because Lanny would just bash it with a rock. If Mr. Esparza and Ms. Claremont have Dad’s phone number, maybe they can find him before he hurts someone. Before he finds Mom, or Mom finds him.

You’re killing him if you do that. I don’t like the voice in my head. It’s quiet, but it’s firm. And it sounds like me, but grown up. If they don’t shoot him the second they see him, they’ll take him back to prison. Back to death row. That means killing him. You’d be the one doing it.

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