"Is something the matter, Leah?" my dad asked. How he and my mom always knew was beyond me. I thought I had my voice so well controlled, and then their darned but lovable parental wisdom would always cut right through me.
I swallowed nervously and nodded, forgetting for a moment that he couldn't see me over the phone
"Um... actually, yes. I have some bad news. Something happened, but the first thing you need to know is that I'm okay."
"Okay," Dad said slowly. I could practically hear the myriad of possibilities rushing through his mind.
It's not too late- you could just make up a story and avoid all this... I bit my lip, torn.
“Tell him a guest trashed one of the rooms and you have to stay late to clean it!” Troy whispered loudly.
“Tell him your car broke down and your sleeping with a friend or something!”
“Hello?” said Dad.
Taking a deep breath, I closed my eyes and ignored Troy's distracting whispers.
“I'm still here! Sorry, I'm just very distracted right now.”
“Maybe it'll be better if you say it very quickly,” Dad prodded. In the back of my mind I felt the humor of the statement; he was quoting one of our favorite movies. But unexpectedly, I found tears in my eyes.
“The hotel was attacked,” I finally managed huskily. “Gunmen came- tore the place up.”
Every word felt like lead on my tongue. I struggled to keep my tone straight and calm.
I wished I could have seen the look on his face at that moment. Was he shocked? Was he laughing? Had he actually not heard? Suddenly, the words came like a torrent.
“I don't know, I don't know! They just came and started shooting-”
“Who? Are you okay?”
“-but we got away in a, a- a thingy! You know, the thingy that does the, uh,...” my traitorous brain refused to produce the word I was looking for.
On the other end of the line, I could hear my Dad struggling to understand and keep calm. “Where are you now? And who's we?”
“Troy is with me,” I paused, trying to reset my thought process.
“Troy? Like, Troy Davis?”
“Yes. I- AUGGH!”
I screamed as static crackled loudly in my ear and I ripped the phone away from my head. Scrambling to pick it up, I could already see that the call had been dropped.
“Crap!” I spat as I fumbled to redial. No signal anymore. I slapped my palm to my forehead and scrunched up my face, trying to hold back hot tears.
“No reception for me either,” Troy said quietly after a moment.
I sniffled and dried my eyes, shaking my head. “Bother it all...” I muttered. “I'm sorry, I didn't mean to break down like that.”
“ 'S okay. It's been a crazy night.” All the energy had gone out of his voice, and he blinked with bleary eyes.
I pocketed my phone and tried to relax. Blankly I stared into the horizon, wondering when I would wake up and find myself late for work. Ach, if only it were that simple! I closed my eyes and tried to stop thinking about it.
“Do you have any Kleenex in here?” I asked after a moment.
Troy paused, tapping his teeth together. “Uh.. maybe?” He fumbled around with his free arm for a moment, trying to open the center console. It was empty. So was the compartment in front of me, and the pockets in the doors.
I tilted my head back in an attempt to stop the slow drip from emerging in a most humiliating fashion.
Troy hesitated for a minute and drummed his fingers on the wheel. He glanced down out the window and seemed to consider something.
“There's a fairly decent motel down there right now,” he said haltingly, as if not convinced he should be saying it, “and I think... I think it'll be okay if we stop.”
“Are you sure? I cad holt od still,” I managed.
“Pretty sure. We should be safe for what's left of the night.”
“Do you habe edough bodey? I cad helb pay.”
Troy shook his head. “I got it. Hold tight, Leah.”
He tapped the screen to his right and I could feel the vehicle shift. Slowly and gently he twisted the wheel until we began a tilted descent. My stomach flip-flopped and I squeezed my legs around the seat, enjoying the thrill of it despite myself.
Smoothly we swooped down toward the ground. There was a cornfield on the outskirts of the town that could provide some cover. As we sank slowly toward the ground, crushing several healthy young stalks of corn beneath us, I cringed at the high-pitched whistling sound the propellers made.
Then, quite suddenly, the noise stopped, and all the lights in the vehicle dimmed. Slowly, the hatch overhead slid open, and the cockpit depressurized in an instant. I closed my eyes, reveling in the cool, fresh air as it touched my face. Until that moment, I hadn't realized how enclosed I had felt in the peculiar flight-craft.
Troy pulled himself up out of the cockpit and stepped quietly into the field, keeping his head below the level of the cornstalks.
“Follow me,” he motioned with his hand.
I plucked a corn leaf and dabbed at my nose, which only served to make it worse. There was nothing for it- I used my sleeve and hated myself. I was thankful that Troy's back was to me so he couldn't witness my humiliation. Funny how years after a crush is supposed to have ended, I still cared about what he thought of my appearance. How stupid.
A minute later, we emerged from the field and strolled toward the town as if that was nothing unusual. And actually when I though of it, it probably wasn't, what the area being mostly populated by farmers.
Although I could see the light of the street lamps ahead, I was still very much aware of the darkness that surrounded us. I hung close to Troy, thankful that I wasn't alone, and thankful that it was a familiar face who walked beside me. In the middle of this crazy mess, at least it was someone I actually knew; at least marginally.
Finally, we came to the hotel. Troy stepped ahead and held the door open for me, and I flashed him a grateful smile as I passed. Spotting a kleenex box, I darted forward and proceeded to honk and snort unashamedly until I was sufficiently refreshed.
Thankfully, there was no receptionist at the desk to witness that particularly unsightly necessity. Troy picked up the phone and dialed the specified number for service. A moment later, a rumpled yet attractive receptionist emerged from a backroom and greeted us with a tired smile.
“Good evening,” she said. “Looking for a room?”
“Yes, two singles, if you have them,” Troy answered, winking at her and pulling out his checkbook.
“You're in luck.” The receptionist flipped open a book and marked our names down. I barely paid attention to the proceedings as I closed my eyes and massaged my temples.
So much for my hot-cocoa and book-writing... I thought ruefully. This whole night was beginning to seem like one big blur, otherworldly and fake like a dream. To think that a few hours ago I had been doing laundry and scrubbing toilets in a hotel much like this one! I had been in much the same mood as I guessed that receptionist was in- bored, weary, and ready to go home.
And how long before I get home now? I swallowed and tried to empty myself of the suffocating panic that kept threatening to rise. The police will come soon, I thought, and then it will all be over. You'll probably write a book about it someday.
“Leah?” Troy's voice snapped me out of my reverie.
I opened my eyes and saw him holding out a toothbrush for me.
“I got our rooms,” he said with an understanding smile.
I nodded and took the toothbrush and the key he offered. With leaden feet and an anxious heart, I trudged up the stairs behind him and found our rooms, which faced each other across the hall.
“Get some rest, and hopefully things'll be better tomorrow,” Troy said. He rubbed his forehead, and I could tell he was tired too. “And listen... don't talk to anyone tonight. Those Ronan Corp. guys will be looking for us, and you already saw what they're willing to do.”
“Yeah...” I said, my voice hardly above a whisper.
“Tomorrow I'm gonna get you to the S.D. headquarters, and they'll protect you. Trust me, you'll be back with your parents before you know it.”
“'Kay. Good night, Troy.”
He gave me a small smile and disappeared into his room. I could see the regret and apology in his eyes.
Part of me felt like it should be angry with him for dragging me into this mess, but mostly, I was worried. Not just for myself, what with trained killers after us, but also for him, and the fact that he was mixed up in this kind of thing in the first place. How could a guy like Troy- laughing, charismatic, class ham Troy- end up involved in a secret government spy agency? I mean, I'd always known him to be a bit of a daredevil, but this just seemed so... surreal.
I shut the door to my room and leaned back against it, letting out a long sigh. Shrugging off my coat, I hung it on a hook by the door and lined my shoes carefully. In a crazy situation like this, at least one thing I could control was the cleanliness of my room.
After a moment's deliberation, I settled into bed with my clothes still on. If I needed to flee during the night, I wouldn't be doing it in, well, you know.
God in heaven, I prayed before falling asleep, Help me. Help us. Keep us sa...
I must have fallen asleep before even finishing the thought, because the next thing I knew I was coming back to myself from a fugue devoid of dreams. I opened my eyes.
It was still night. I blinked, trying to figure out what had woken me. Sitting up, I looked out through the window at the moon, and became suddenly aware of a raised voice coming from outside.
In a flash, I was at the window, looking for any sign of our pursuers. But down below, the parking lot was empty. Except, I realized for one lone figure standing just on the edge of the light from a street lamp. It was Troy.
He was pacing back and forth, talking to someone on the phone. I couldn't make out his face, but I could tell from the way his shoulders hunched that he was upset. Every now and then his voice would spike, and I could hear his distressed tone even from my window.
Frowning, I squinted to try to see more of his expression, but it was no use. I licked my lips, wondering if I should be ready to run with him again.
But, quite suddenly, Troy pulled his phone down and hung up, shoving it in his coat pocket. Tapping his foot, he sighed and threw his head back toward the sky. Then it seemed like all the energy drained from him and his shoulders slumped. Shaking his head, he turned and reentered the hotel.
I closed my shade and got back in bed. There was no danger tonight, that much was clear. But as for what had upset Troy.... I would have to ask him in the morning.