The group noshed on apples as Cydney drove them north of the city. Once they exited the big lights, she opened the roof, and they got to stare at the stars and the moon. One at a time, they shoved their hands through the opening to feel the wind pass between their fingers, and smell the odors that were new to them. Every now and then someone would ask a question about what they were seeing or smelling. They were like kids, all laughing and exclaiming, despite the seriousness of their situation.
N8 kept an attentive eye on the young woman behind the wheel. He could tell she was flagging. Between already putting in a full day at work, then adding the stress of these past few hours, she was on the verge of falling apart.
He stared at the long road ahead of them. The car’s headlights only illuminated a short distance in front of them. Every so often, they met another car coming toward them, but those vehicles stayed to the left. The few vehicles that caught up with them went around them when the way was clear.
They passed a speed limit sign that read 65. He checked the speedometer. She was keeping it right on target.
Cydney yawned and ran a hand over her face. “Hey, guys? Someone in the back? Can you pass me a bottle of water, please?”
A bottle was sent forward, and she unscrewed the top to take several large gulps.
“How long will it take to reach the next town?” he asked.
“At least another hour or so. We’ll pass through a few smaller towns along the way before then.”
Leaning over the center console, he murmured, “I can tell you’re exhausted.”
“What do you suggest?” she queried with a touch of bitterness. “None of you know how to drive. And we damn sure can’t risk being pulled over when there could be an APB already out on us.”
“All Points Bulletin. It’s police speak for be on the lookout.”
N8 grimaced. “You’re not making sense. I’m sorry.”
“No, I’m sorry.” Taking a deep breath, she checked the mirror again. “Everyone’s asleep.”
He looked behind them and noticed the others did appear to be dozing. He was on the verge of nodding off himself. Without asking, he took the bottle of water from the holder in the center console, twisted off the cap, and took a long drink.
“Help keep me awake at least for the next hour. Please,” she softly begged. “We’ll stop at a motel. Something small and cheap, and off the main road.”
A soft jangling interrupted her. Fear covered her face.
“What is that?” N8 whispered.
“My cell phone. Oh, shit! I forgot my cell phone!”
She fumbled under the seat until she found her handbag. Pulling it out, she dropped it into her lap and searched for the object. Lifting it up where she could see it, she repeatedly glanced at the screen. She pressed a button on it, silencing it, and dropped it back in her lap, but the mask of fear had turned into devastation.
He watched as she resumed driving. “That flat, palm-sized thing, that’s a telephone?”
“Yeah. Nowadays, everyone has one. Landlines are a thing of the past.”
“That seems to be very convenient. Why is you still having your telephone important?”
“Because they now have my location.”
N8 knitted his brows. “How? F8 found the tracking device.”
“Yes, but she doesn’t know about cell phones. And it doesn’t track constantly, like that device did. They had to call me first. That activated the cell tower closest to me. That’s what they can track. It’s not an exact location, but it’ll give them a general location.” She slapped the steering wheel as a tear left a glistening trail down her cheek. “Now they’ll know we’re heading north.”
He started to reply when she caught sight of something. Double-checking the mirror, she pulled over and stopped the car. He saw they’d parked in front of a small bridge. A sign a few feet away read Frazier Creek.
Cydney walked up to the barrier that had been erected on the roadside and threw what had to be the phone into it. After a moment, she came back to the vehicle, when she paused and buried her hands in her face. He saw her shoulders shake, and she leaned against the hood as her weariness and emotions got the best of her.
He quickly got out of the car and went over to pull her into his arms. She clung to him as she sobbed, unable to stop. N8 kissed her hair and stroked her back, letting her vent. Turning slightly, he pressed his backside to the vehicle and enveloped her tighter.
“I…hate...what they’re doing to you. What they’re forcing you to d-do, because you don’t kn-know any better,” she croaked. “I hate them! Damn them! Damn all of them!”
He tried to console her. “We’re grateful you had the courage to face up to them. We wouldn’t be here now if it weren’t for you.”
She shook her head. “I’ve only made it worse. Don’t you see?” she said. Lifting her wet face, she looked deep into his eyes. “I thought I w-was helping. But now they know. I made a stupid mi-mistake, and...and…” She burst into fresh tears and buried her face against his chest, clutching his t-shirt in both fists.
A car passed them but didn’t slow. N8 watched as the red taillights faded into the distance.
He nuzzled the soft hairs along her temple. “Why can’t we take off in another direction?”
“And go wh-where?” she hiccupped.
He chuckled. “Hell, I don’t know. You know this world better than I do. But think about it. They thought you were going to your apartment, and they can’t figure out why the tracking devices aren’t giving them any useful information. Let’s say they assumed you backtracked and headed west, but then someone got the idea to call your phone and found out you were going north instead. These people are cunning, but so far you’ve managed to stay a step ahead of them.”
He felt her lean back and wipe her eyes and nose on the tail of her t-shirt. When she looked up at him again, he saw a spark of hope in her expression.
“Why don’t we head east again? Is there a town east of here?”
“Umm, I think Yaegerton’s about twenty, maybe thirty miles away. It’s a bigger city. But we’ve already passed the cutoff.”
“Then we’ll have to backtrack and take the cutoff. That’s another thing they won’t expect. If they catch another signal from your telephone, hopefully they’ll think we kept going. They won’t expect us to go back the way we came to go a different route.”
She took a deep breath that shuddered through her. N8 cupped the side of her face as he stared down at her. Without thinking, without hesitation, he bent his head to kiss her.
Her reaction was instantaneous. Releasing his shirt, she slid her arms around his neck and kissed him back, pressing her body against his as the kiss deepened.
He did his best to keep up with her. He worried his lack of experience would bother her. It was a needless worry.
Releasing his mouth, she chuckled. Her breath was warm against his lips. “Am I the first woman you’ve ever kissed?” she lightly teased.
“You’re the first one I’ve ever kissed that wasn’t meant as a brief hello, goodbye, or thank you,” he admitted.
She gave him a surprised look. “I’ve never heard it explained that way before.”
He pulled her closer. “Then let me put it this way. You’re the first woman I’ve ever kissed who’s turned my world upside-down. Who’s given me hope for a future. And who’s made me feel as if I’m the most important person in her life.” He peered deeper into her eyes. “Tell me I’m wrong.”
“Never in a million years,” she promised, and lifted her lips for more of his.