“Have I told you today how incredibly beautiful you are?” he asked, his nose tracing a line from my chin to my nose, where he stopped to kiss me.
“If I haven’t, I deeply apologize. That’s something that should be recognized on a daily basis.” He easily unfastened the first button of my blouse, moving to the second.
“You can say it however often you like, as long as you’re doing that while you’re saying it,” I smiled.
His cel phone rang, and we both sighed.
“Of course,” I said.
He rol ed his eyes. “It’s Claire.”
“Old habits die hard.”
He flipped it open. “Ryel.”
A stream of words I couldn’t understand blurred in different tones. Jared’s expression caused me to panic.
“Okay. We’re headed to the airport, now.”
“The airport?” I said, watching Jared dial again.
“I need to charter a jet to Ramstein. No, not Frankfurt-Hahn. Yes, the Air force Base. It’s the closest airport to Landstuhl. I’ll take care of it, Frank, just get it done.”
“We’re going to Germany?” I said in disbelief. “What’s going on?”
Jared ignored me, dialing again. He spoke in German this time. The only thing I understood was Landstuhl. It was the largest military hospital outside the United States, near Ramstein, Germany. The hospital was mentioned in the news frequently because the majority of wounded soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan were flown there.
In that moment of understanding, I shoved al of our things into the backpack, frantical y pul ing on my motorcycle helmet. Jared immediately climbed onto his bike, and I jumped on behind him, gripping his jacket as he took off at ful speed.
Everything I had feared since the moment I learned of Ryan's decision to join the Army had happened: Ryan had been injured, and Claire was alone, waiting to die.
We stopped at the loft long enough to grab money and passports, but we left everything else behind. Jared was quiet, and the way he was rushing to get to the airport made me fear the worst. He led me through the terminal so quickly that I had to jog to keep up with his long strides.
The plane was ready and waiting when we walked onto the tarmac, escorted by only a handful of the jet's employees. Jared spoke quick instructions to the pilot, and then we rushed up the stairs, barely greeting the flight attendant as we passed.
Jared didn’t speak during take-off. His fingers were on his lips as his mind processed the situation, and the consequences. I left him alone with his thoughts. Just as worried as he was, I wondered about call ing Beth, or Kim, or even Josh. Tel ing them what I knew would only welcome questions, and explaining how I knew before Ryan’s mother, or his best friends would be far beyond my lying capabilites.
Two hours into the flight, I fought with my eye lids to stay open. After the fourth time of jerking myself awake, I final y broke the silence. “This is ridiculous. How could I possible be sleepy right now?”
“Maybe you should try to sleep,” Jared said without looking at me.
I nodded, settling into my seat. My leg jerked, and my eyes popped open again.
“Dreaming?” Jared asked with an amused smile.
“I think I was riding a bike to Germany,” I mumbled, leaning against his shoulder.
Sinking back into oblivion, my breaths grew even. It didn’t take long to let the airplane noise fade into the background.
The lights were dim in the fuselage. My eyes were blurry, and with the poor light, it was hard to focus. Jared had left his seat. I wondered how long we had been en route, and looked behind me to the restrooms.
“Jared?” I call ed back.
I stumbled to the back of the plane, and knocked on the lavatory door. When he didn’t answer, I opened it.
My eyes strained to see in the darkness, but I could vaguely make out the top of Jared’s head. He was back in his seat, patiently waiting for me.
“Thirty-thousand feet in the air with nowhere to hide and you stil keep me guessing,” I said, fal ing into my chair.
But it wasn’t Jared. Sitting next to me was Gabe Ryel.
I recoiled, the arm rest digging into my back as I leaned away from him. “What are you doing here?”
“It’s been a while, Nina.”
“I’m dreaming, aren’t I?” I said, perturbed. Knowing Gabe was behind my sleepless nights and the reason why Jared could no longer be within two blocks while I slept mustered up suppressed resentment, resulting in a bit more guts than I usual y had.
“Talk Jared into turning back, Nina. We don’t have time for this.”
“Time for what? Why do you insist on being so theatrical? Just tel me what we need to do and we’l do it.”
Gabe didn’t react. “Turn back, Nina.”
His eyes were black again. It made me more than just uncomfortable. His ice-blue eyes replaced by glass bal s in his sockets was downright disturbing.
“No. Claire needs us.”
Gabe didn’t react to my insolence. He simply looked down at his intertwined fingers sitting atop his lap. He wore an expensive suit, the same I remembered when seeing him shadow my father, but his fingers were dirty and worn, as if he’d been digging in soil.
“Find the book.”
“How? Jared has talked to Eli, Samuel…no one wil tel us anything!”
“This fight is not Jared's. It's yours.”
“Great. More riddles,” I said, crossing my arms. My muscles relaxed, thinking about the situation at hand. I looked to Gabe. Even with his shark eyes, he was stil someone from my childhood that I loved. “Is Claire going to die?”
The plane hit turbulence, and a bit of bouncing evolved into what felt like a several-hundred-foot drop. As I gripped the arm rest, Gabe turned to me once again.
“I can’t listen if there’s nothing to hear!”
“Listen,” he repeated.
The plane fel again, causing the overhead storage bins to vomit various items, and the already dim lights flickered violently until they surrendered, and the fuselage turned dark.
I jerked awake, and Jared sat where Gabe had been. The lights were on, and the floors were clear of debris.
“It’s you,” I said, relieved.
“Yes,” he said with a confused smile, “who did you think it would be?”