The Writer's Voice
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Ambivalent Eyes - Chapter Two
Nicole Starleigh Yeager
Up ahead, they could see the ambulance waiting in the park.
"Hurry!" Quinn said.
Cassie tripped on an exposed root and nearly lost her footing. As they reached the edge of the woods, the paramedics could see them coming, and ran to meet them with the stretcher. They helped the kids lift the man onto the stretcher.
"Thanks, guys, we'll take it from here," one of the medics told them. They put the stretcher in the back of the ambulance. One of them jumped in the back and closed the doors while the other got in the driver's seat, started the siren, and pulled away.
When they finally calmed down, Nate noticed Cassie looking back into the woods, waiting. Suddenly, he began to worry, too. "Where are they?" he asked.
Quinn had no answer. "C'mon," he said, leading them back into the forest. It was too quiet.
"Nate . . ." Cassie said, the panic strong in her voice, hoping her best friend had some kind of answer for her.
"It's alright, Cass, they'll be fine. They're with Jesse," he answered.
And they were. They met up half way into the woods. "We were watching from the woods," Jesse explained. "The house is ruined. The police had to call back-up; a lot of people were arrested."
"Did they figure out where we went?" Quinn asked.
"Yeah, but the reinforcements were there, then, and they never got to find us. You guys get him out OK?"
"I'm going to wait here with Dancing Water. We can't risk taking her anywhere right now, it's still too dangerous. We're going to take her to John Clayton's later. He will take her to the hospital, then."
"Good idea," Quinn replied.
"Are you alright, Sarah?" Cassie asked her.
The woman just looked at her, no energy to think or speak. She was still frightened.
"Nate, take my car and take Cassie home." Cassie started to protest, but Jesse stopped her. "I don't want you here. I don't want any one here that doesn't have to be. There's no telling where this thing could turn."
"But, Jesse," Cassie said.
"No. Cass, go with Nate. It's OK, I promise." He kissed her on the forehead. "I love you," he whispered.
Cassie nodded. She had yet to be able to bring herself to speak the same back to him. For some reason, she couldn't do it. Every time she wanted to, the words just would not come to her mouth. She stared at the ground.
Jesse realized this wasn't a very good time for her. He knew she wanted him to take her home, to stay with her, but he couldn't. He had to take care of Dancing Water. "Listen, I will call when I get back," he said to all of them. "In the mean time, you guys need to decide when we leave. I'll need someone to pick me up."
"I got ya," Nate answered, throwing his car keys to Quinn as Jesse handed him his. Jesse turned to Cassie. Mikki, Ashley and Quinn turned to walk back to the park. He pulled her aside and spoke softly. "Everything is going to be alright. This is tough for all of us right now. Try and get some sleep, if you feel like it. I can stay with you tonight, if you want."
She didn't look up.
He gently lifted her chin with his hand, then placed both hands passionately on her neck and kissed her. "See you at home."
"C'mon, Cass," Nate said, taking her hand and leading her away. Jesse watched her disappear. She didn't look back. When they were out of sight, he turned to Dancing Water. "We need a safe place to hide, where we can get a good view of the house," he told her.
"I know a place," she said, and she led the way through the woods, in the opposite direction than the others had gone.
In the parking lot of East Park, the others stood around the two cars. "We need to meet tonight," Ashley said. "We don't have much time. And they know we were there. At least they know Jesse was there. That means they're going to be coming after us, or at least watching us."
"She's right," Quinn said. "Whatever we do, we have to act fast."
"I say we ship out tonight," Mikki said.
"Tonight?" Cassie exclaimed quietly.
"We have to move. Rising Sun doesn't have much time. Who knows what they will do next," Quinn said. "It's now or never."
"We have to wait for Jesse," Cassie said.
"We can only wait a few hours. If he's not back, we have to leave without him."
"Quinn," Nate said sternly. He opened the passenger door of Jesse's car for her. With a half hurt, half astonished look on her face, she sat in the car and let him shut the door. She made herself busy with her purse, which she had left on the floor, so as to avoid any awkward eye contact.
Nate walked around the front of the car. "Why don't you think about what you are going to say before you say it," he told Quinn so Cassie couldn't hear. "Something very strange is going on right now with her and Jesse is the only one who knows about it. I'm sorry you don't understand what it is like to date someone who is really there for you."
Quinn's cheeks turned a light pink. He clenched his fists as Nate got into the car, started it and pulled away. He waved at Ashley as he left, but refused to look at Quinn or Mikki. Cassie was still looking at the floor. Ashley saw Cassie bring her hand up to her face as they pulled out of the parking lot. She thought she might have been crying but wasn't entirely sure because Nate had turned down the street and sped off.
"So, what's wrong with Cassie, exactly?" Mikki asked, as confused about the situation as any of them. "She acts like somebody is going to die or something."
"Don't say that," Ashley said. "We don't want to jinx anything."
"You of all people should be worried about that," Mikki told her, with a small laugh.
Ashley smiled, realizing the irony of what she had just said. "Yeah, you're right." She was, after all, the devout Christian of the group. She didn't even believe in jinxes.
"Mikki, drive Nate's car," Quinn told her, handing the keys off to her.
"So, are we meeting tonight?" Mikki asked, taking the keys.
"We should really get our things together and meet at someone's house as soon as possible. We need to be together," Ashley commented.
"Fine," Quinn said, still heated over Nate's rather embarrassing remark from a few moments before. "Meet at my house."
"No, it has to be somewhere that Jesse will know where to go to."
"Where do you suggest?"
Ashley looked at him awkwardly, as if he was playing stupid.
"Cassie's house," she said, a slight tone of impatience in her voice.
Mikki watched Quinn's face for a reaction. She knew what an impact Nate's little comment had had on him, but tried to pretend she didn't hear it.
"Fine. Cassie's house. Nobody use any cordless phones. Someone else may be able to pick up pieces of your conversation, and that could..."
"Quinn, we know," Ashley said. "We aren't stupid."
"See you at Cassie's, then," he said, hurriedly, and got into his car. He pulled out and drove off before either of them could say goodbye.
"What's up Quinn's butt?" Mikki asked.
"I don't have a clue. He'll get over it by tonight." They got into Nate's car and drove to Ashley's house.
In the meantime, Dancing Water had taken Jesse to an old abandoned tree fort that Matthew and his friends had built when they were younger. They could see the house perfectly from the window, but it was very difficult to see the tree fort from the yard.
They were waiting in silence, afraid that their voices might carry if they spoke. Dancing Water's tear stained face stared constantly at the floor, while Jesse never once took his eyes off of the house.
When darkness fell, it became more difficult to see. He strained his ears to try to catch any small bit of conversation from the front of the house. The forest seemed very quiet below them, as if all of the animals and insects had stopped to listen as well. Even though it irked him a little, he was grateful for the silence around them.
Jesse was praying over and over in his mind while he scanned the yard and listened for noise. It was something he had picked up from Ashley, who was almost always praying. He had never actually decided whether she did it because she believed God would give what she wanted, or for her own comfort. Maybe it was a little bit of both.
Jesse knew, though, that if this whole mess was going to be straightened out, they were going to need a lot of help. He tensed up when he saw a silhouette of a man enter the back yard, sneakily. He motioned to Dancing Water to be extra careful not to make any noise. She, too, was watching the figure creep across the back yard of her house. The unidentified man moved toward the forest and walked along the edge, as though he was trying to look for something among the trees.
Immediately, Jesse realized that this man knew they had hidden in the forest. He began to fear the thought of being found. What if this was another crazed rioter with a plan to kill? Had Nate gotten Cassie out of the forest and home safely? Would he see her again if they came face to face with this unknown intruder? They had nothing to defend themselves with, nothing to fight back.
Shaking off the fragile feeling, he concentrated on the stranger. They watched as the man moved swiftly about, his head darting in several directions. Suddenly, he let out a soft, panicky call into the woods. "Sarah!" Dancing Water gasped, grabbing Jesse's attention immediately.
"John," she whispered, acknowledging the man below them. "John Clayton."
Jesse looked down again. The man had stopped, now, and he knew that John knew where they were hiding.
"Sarah! It's clear now!" he called up to them.
Jesse poked his head out the small window. "John!" He called down in a hoarse whisper. "Is it safe?"
"Yes!" John called back up.
Finally, as they began to climb out of the tree house, Jesse could hear the crickets begin to chirp, and the night time noises of the forest come back to life. John "Bear Claw" Clayton met them in the woods.
He greeted Jesse with a firm handshake. "Thank you, Jesse. I will take care of her now," he said, putting his arm around Dancing Water. "Go home, before they find you. She will be safe with my family. How is Will?"
"He's at the hospital," Jesse answered. "My friends carried him out to East Park to meet an ambulance there. I saw them afterward, I know they made it. No one found them out. He is safe. I don't know if it's too safe to take her there yet, though."
Bear Claw nodded. "Thank you, my friend. Good luck," he said, reaching out an enormous hand in parting.
Jesse took the hand in his, knowing that Bear Claw knew about the journey he and his friends were about to embark on. "Thank you. We will need all the luck we can get."
"You better go. The police chased them off, but they might sneak back any minute. Take care of yourself, and your friends. And God be with you."
Jesse nodded. "Thank you. You too." He looked at Sarah. "We'll be back before you know it. And we'll find out what happened to Matthew."
She smiled and gave Jesse a quick hug. Jesse made sure they were safely off of the Corrigan property before he turned to leave.
Jesse made his way through the woods to the park, where he found a payphone and called Nate.
"I'm sorry, Jess, he's not here," Nate's mother said. "Hey, you kids weren't over at the Corrigans' this afternoon, were you? I heard about all the chaos and the out of control crowd," she said, sounding a bit worried.
"No ma'am," he answered. "Thanks, though. I have to go." After he hung up the phone he decided to call Cassie. Nate would probably be there. He's always there when I'm not, he thought. Strangely, he wasn't jealous at all. He trusted Nate, and had always been fine with their friendship. I'd rather have Nate be there when I can't than some other guy. He dialed the number and Jimmy picked up.
"Hey Jesse!" Jimmy said ecstatically. "You coming over too?" Jimmy liked it when Cassie's friends came to visit her. They treated him like one of them sometimes, and he enjoyed not being picked on when he was around them like he was on the school bus by other kids their age.
"Who's all over there, Sport?" Jesse asked.
"Everybody, except you. Nate brought Cassie here, and then he left and came back again. And Mikki and Ashley and Quinn are here, too. But, why is everybody acting so weird, Jesse? They've been locked inside Cassie's room all night long."
"There's some big tests coming up, bud, we have to take finals soon."
"Oh, yeah. That's right." In the background, he could hear Cassie's voice.
"Jimmy, who is that?" she asked her little brother.
"It's Jesse," he answered her.
"Why didn't you tell me he called?" He could tell she was moving closer to the phone.
"Here's Cassie, Jess," Jimmy said, as he handed it over to his big sister.
"Jess?" She said, anxiously.
"Are you alright? What happened? Where are you?"
"I'm fine. She's safe. I need someone to come and pick me up. I'll start walking, just meet me halfway."
"OK. You sure you're OK? I've been worried sick!"
"I'm fine, I'll see you soon."
"I love you," he said, hoping to hear it back.
"Uh huh," she answered.
Jesse felt a bit disappointed, but had expected it in the back of his mind. "Bye."
He hung up the phone and started walking toward Cassie's house, dodging the light of the street lamps on the way. The people in the crowd were sure to have seen his face when he looked out the window. He didn't know what one of them might do to him if he was seen walking through town.
"Nate," Cassie said, closing the door of her room behind her. "That was Jesse."
"Alright," he said, getting up off the floor and digging the keys out of his pocket.
"He's started walking," she told him. "Meet him halfway."
"Wherever you run into him, I guess," she answered. "I think he wanted to get out of the park incase someone showed up there, you know . . ."
"Right. OK. So, is that what we are doing then? I should stop at his place on the way back here?"
"Yeah," Quinn said, as he re-stacked the pile of backpacks for the fourth time. "Have him pack a bag, quickly. But make sure he gets everything he needs."
"We're really leaving tonight," Mikki said to herself, needing to hear it from her own mouth to actually grasp it.
"Can I go with you?" Cassie asked as Nate made his way to the front door.
"No, Cass," he said, affectionately. "We don't want to have too many people out and about right now. I'll bring him back as soon as possible. Just sit tight till we get here."
"OK," she said, waiting in the open doorway as he crossed the yard to Jesse's car.
"Jimmy! Time for bed!" Charlene called from the study. Cassie jumped and closed the door. The agreement was that not even their parents were to know what was going on. She wanted to leave no questions for her mother to ask. She quickly went back into her room and shut the door.
They could hear Jimmy arguing and trying to bargain with his mother over his "harsh" bedtime, as he liked to refer to it. "Hide the bags!" Cassie whispered. "She's going to come in to say good night!"
They stuffed all of the backpacks under the bed. They had just fit the last one in when there was a light knock on the door.
"Come in," Cassie said.
Her mother peeked in. "You kids can stay a little while, but I don't want you all getting rowdy, you hear?"
"Yes, Mrs. Smith," they sweetly answered.
"You're a good lot, you are. Where's Jesse and Nate?"
"Um, out, getting a book Jesse forgot," Ashley thought up quickly.
"A book?" Charlene questioned, wondering what they were doing with a book on a Saturday night.
"Yeah, Mom," Cassie said, trying to think quickly. "Finals are coming up, you know."
"Oh yeah, I forgot they give you kids finals to get you ready for college. But, studying on a Saturday night? Well, have fun and don't forget to put Bo out once more before you go to bed, Cassilyn."
"Yes, Mom," Cassie said.
"Goodnight kids. Oh, if you get hungry, there are snacks in the kitchen."
"Thank you," they answered as she shut the door.
They listened intently as she walked down the hall to her bedroom. When they heard the door shut, there was a collective sigh of relief, as though they had all been holding their breath.
"Good one, Cass," Ashley said. "I didn't know what to tell her."
Jesse was walking, his eyes darting about to make sure he was alone. Every little noise made him jump and think that there was someone there, someone sneaking up on him.
His thoughts swirled around in his mind. Cassie's dreams . . . the shocking news . . . the brick through the window . . . hiding in the woods like a fugitive . . . what was going on? Where was the missing piece that would tie all of this together and make it all right?
Where are you, Matthew? He thought to himself. What happened to you? As he walked along, his thoughts fell on Cassie. Is it really a big coincidence? It has to be, she's never had dreams like this before. It's really weird . . . I wish she would forget about them and things could be normal again.
Before he knew it, he was picturing himself in the woods again, with her, Nate, and Dancing Water. He saw himself kiss her and tell her he loves her . . . and his heart sunk with pain when, even with his own imagination, Cassie didn't tell him she loved him, too . . .
"Did everybody pack food and water?" Quinn asked, a thought that blossomed at Mrs. Smith's offering of the snacks from the kitchen.
"Yeah," Mikki answered.
"Yep," said Ashley.
"Check Nate's bag, will you Ash?" Quinn said. "Just to be sure."
"I forgot water," Cassie said, leaving her bedroom and going to the kitchen. She noticed that Bo was stuck to her like a shadow. She reached down to pet him as she grabbed two water bottles out of the refrigerator. She grabbed two more for Jesse, thinking about the rush he would be in when he got to his house with Nate.
She opened up the pantry, then, and grabbed a few bags of snacks to take back to her room in case he forgot to pack food, as well. She grabbed pretzels, chips, cookies, wheat crackers, popcorn, fruit bars, dry cereal, apples and a box of lunch cakes.
Balancing the enormous pile in her arms, along with the four water bottles, she went back to her room. Looking at their faces, she said, "In case Jesse forgets something to eat."
Quinn had dug the bags back out from under the bed. Cassie put her two water bottles into her bag and zipped it closed again. "What happens when we run out of water?"
"We stop and look for a spring," Mikki replied. "It is, after all, Pine Springs Forest."
"Right," Cassie nodded. Where were Nate and Jesse? The clock was ticking and the tension had begun to build. They were getting more and more nervous by the minute.
"Remember, as soon as they get here, we have to go," Quinn said, seizing the opportunity to be a leader.
"We're leaving the cars here, right?" Ashley asked.
They all looked at her. "Well, no, we were going to drive over to the park and go from there," Mikki answered.
"But," Ashley argued politely, "If they find the cars abandoned in the park, the first place they are going to look is in the forest. But if we leave them here, they won't have a clue where to look. At least for a little while anyway."
"She's right," Cassie said. "We have to buy as much time as possible."
The plan was set, and Nate was filling Jesse in on what he knew as they drove from the Davids residence over to Cassie's.
"So, we're leaving tonight, right?" Jesse asked, just to be sure.
"Yeah. As soon as I get you back there. Then we are driving over to East Park and into the woods we go," Nate answered. "How's Cassie holding up?"
"Better. She seems to do better when she is concentrating on something. She wanted to come with me to get you, but I told her the less people to draw attention, the better."
"Nobody knows what is going on. I mean, you know, parents and stuff. We can't trust them, because you know how Mikki's parents are. They hate Rising Sun. And Quinn's parents have always been a little more than hesitant about accepting that Quinn is friends with them. They might rat us out."
"We are going to be moving all night long tonight. We have to get as far into the woods as possible before morning, when they realize we are missing. We figured we can sleep a little - Ashley has a wind-up alarm clock - because it will take to mid afternoon before anyone realizes that we really are gone and just not out for a walk or something in the park.
Mikki is leaving her cell phone, so we will have no contact with any one back home."
"And we're only taking a few clothes because we are stopping once in awhile to wash the dirty ones with soap."
"Why not just take a bunch, enough for a week? I think we'll be back soon enough."
"No, we decided it would be a lighter load."
Jesse weighed his backpack in his lap. He was still letting Nate drive. "Good thinking." He opened his bag, rooted through the various snack foods and miscellaneous other items and pulled out his extra clothing. He left two shirts, a pair of jeans, and his boxers. "And we figure we'll be gone for a week and a half or two weeks. That is if we don't get lost."
"But, what are we going to do about finals, then?"
"The only solution we have is summer school. None of us like it, but it's a sacrifice we have to take, unless by some miracle, we find what we are looking for in less time than we expect."
Jesse sighed. "Right, we discussed that at Rising Sun's house," he said, dreading the thought of summer school. Even though it was only a few weeks long, he was looking forward to his second last summer of freedom. Especially since he was forming big plans in his head about making different trips, like to the beach and stuff, with Cassie and his friends. Those would have to wait. Rising Sun and his family were much more important.
The others were sorting out their food, double-checking to see that everyone had plenty. There was quite an assortment, between raisins, beef jerky, chips, crackers, candy, pretzels, cookies, brownies, trail mix, party mix, fruit bars, and granola. Cassie ran to the kitchen for more baggies. Quinn thought it was a good idea to try to pack as much food as they could possibly fit into their backpacks, so they began to fill the little baggies with the stuff Cassie had brought from the kitchen. Fifteen minutes later, they could barely get the zippers on their bags closed. Then they began to fill a few extras for Jesse and Nate while they waited for them to arrive.
They double-checked all of the things they had packed. Clean undergarments, each got two clean shirts and one extra pair of shorts or pants. They could take a jacket if they could carry it or wear it.
Between the six of them, they took 4 blankets. Jesse was to pack one for him and Cassie in his bag, which Nate had informed him was at his house. Cassie also took one in hers. They would use one to lie on. Quinn and Mikki had their own, and Ashley, whose bag was slightly larger than everyone else's, had one for her and Nate in her bag. It was large enough to fold over so they could lie on it and cover with it.
If it were her decision, they would all have their own blankets; she wasn't too keen on the idea of Nate getting used to sleeping next to her while they were out there. They all had their own pillows, which they would carry lodged between their backpacks and their back. They each had a small flashlight. Nate had a compass. They had a few basic necessities, like toothbrushes, deodorant, Ashley carried the community toothpaste in her bag, hairbrushes for the girls and a few rubber bands to pull their hair back when they needed to. Quinn had a first aid kit packed into his bag; very typical of him to do such a thing.
Jimmy had been woken from his sleep when he heard a car pull up in the driveway. He heard someone knock quietly on the door and threw the covers off of him, got out of bed and went into the hallway. There was another knock, but Cassie was still in her room. She didn't seem to hear it. Jimmy, in his cowboy pajamas and bare feet, tiptoed to her door and opened it up. He was about to tell her someone was at the door when he saw all the bags and things all over the floor.
"Jimmy! Why aren't you in bed?" Cassie said, panicking and angry.
She jumped up as the others sat staring at the boy like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming car.
"I... Someone's at the door," he said as she pushed him back out into the hallway and closed the door behind her. She headed for the door and Jimmy followed on her heels. "What's going on, Cassie? Are you running away?"
She didn't answer. She looked out the window by the front door and opened it quietly. She threw her arms around Jesse as he walked through the door. Nate followed in behind him, carrying Jesse's pillow. Jimmy tugged on her shirt.
"Jim! Go to bed!" She scolded.
"I don't want you to run away!" he began to whine.
"Shh!" She pulled him into her room with Nate, Jesse and the others. She closed the door. "Stop crying, Jimmy, you'll wake Mom up," she said, coldly.
Her stern voice made him stop instantly. His sniffles then filled the otherwise silent room. Bo sat on the end of Cassie's bed, watching with as much interest as everyone else.
"I'm not running away, Jimmy," she said, in a softer tone, to comfort him.
"Where... where are you going? Why do you need all this stuff?" His little eyes quivered as though they were about to spill the overload of tears welling up in them.
"I will be back before you know it," she told him.
"But, where are you going?"
"Jimmy, I can't tell you where."
"But, what if Mommy wonders where you went?"
Cassie's heart jumped in panic. "Promise me you will not say anything to her! Mom is not allowed to know!"
"But . . ."
"Jimmy, listen to me. It is very important that you do not tell Mom anything. You have to pretend that you never even saw us."
"It doesn't matter."
"Yes it does, tell me."
"No, Jimmy, don't worry about it. Now go back to bed."
"I'm gonna go wake Mom up if you don't tell me where you're going!" He said as he reached for the door. Cassie grabbed him around the waist and pulled him back.
"You will not!"
"MAAH-" His yell was cut off by Cassie's hand slapping over his mouth.
It was times like these that she hated her little brother. "If you promise not to yell, or make any noise, I won't kill you."
After a moment, she lowered her hand from his mouth. His eyes stared widely at her, waiting for her to speak.
"We need to help a friend of ours. He's really sick, Jimmy, and if we don't do this . . if we don't leave . . ." She didn't know how to finish the sentence.
"He could lose his family," Jesse said. "Would you want to lose your family, Sport?"
Jimmy shook his head as he looked up at Jesse.
"See, we need to go look for his son. His little boy ran away. We are going to go bring him home, so that our friend's family will all be together."
"Can I go?" Jimmy whispered, caught up in the moment.
"I'm afraid not, Bud. We have a long way to walk, and your legs aren't big enough to keep up with us yet. Next time, we'll take you. OK?" Jesse told him.
He seemed to like that bargain. A smile spread over his face.
"Remember," Cassie said. "You can't tell Mom."
"You can't tell anyone else, either," Jesse added. "Or we'll never find the boy."
Knowing that wasn't enough of an incentive for her little brother, who she knew all too well, Cassie added, "And we won't take you next time, either." Jimmy seemed to process that rather quickly in his mind.
"Promise?" Cassie asked.
He nodded. "Mm hmn," he answered. He looked around the room at all of their faces. "Good luck. I hope you find him." With that, he tiptoed out of her room and down the hall to his own bedroom, where he climbed back into bed. They're not really leaving, he thought. Cassie doesn't like the woods at night. They'll still be here in the morning. They were just kidding. He couldn't seem to rest. He got up and walked back down the hall to Cassie's room and stood outside the door, listening.
Cassie breathed out a long sigh. "Keep your fingers crossed," she told them. "He is only a ten year old."
"Quinn, buddy, why the weird look?" Nate asked.
"Yo, guys, I've heard stories," he answered.
"So have we. But the point is, they are only stories," Ashley said.
"But what if they're true? What happens if we run into the bear?" Mikki asked.
Jimmy gasped from outside the door and froze. Luckily, no one heard him. Were they talking about the legendary monster bear on Bear Mountain?
"There's no possible way. No one's ever even seen it," Ashley told her.
"Yuh huh," Mikki said. "People have seen it."
"Who?" Ashley challenged. "I have never met any of them."
"That's because they're all dead," Mikki said.
"Mik, don't worry. It'll be all right. We'll probably make too much noise and scare it off anyway," she replied.
Mikki still didn't seem to be satisfied.
"What about the... the thing," Cassie asked, as if the thought had just come to her.
"What thing?" Nate asked.
"The... the thing, in the forest," she began.
"Ohhh, that," Mikki said.
"It's nothing but a rumor, Cass," Quinn told her. "That I know for sure."
"Wait, what about Bobby Moore?" Nate asked.
"What about him?" Quinn asked. There was a short pause, then, "Oh, no. No, don't even go there. There was something wrong in his genes, and it was a complete coincidence that it happened while he was camping out there."
"But Simona said he told her friend something got into his head and tried to kill him," Mikki added.
Quinn smirked. "Hello! Bobby Moore has been in Special Ed classes since that happened. He can't talk! He has to learn how all over again. And since when do you believe anything Simona Reyes says?"
"I believe her. Mark Stauffer was with him," Nate said.
"Why was he with him?" Jesse asked.
"They're cousins," Mikki answered.
"And Mark told you it was a thing?" Quinn asked skeptically.
Jesse tried to hide his laugh.
"Mark told me Bobby started acting funny, like he was . . . not there. He said he would totally phase out, and the longer they were out there, the more often it would happen and the more severe it got," Nate said, shoving a pack of pretzels into his bag.
"What do you mean, severe?" Cassie asked.
"He never said. It freaked him out too much to talk about it. But, he said that Bobby could never remember anything. And that he seemed so empty and dark and helpless."
"Dark and helpless?" Mikki asked. "Like how?"
"I don't know. That's what he said. Then he got this huge chill and went to class."
"Weird," Cassie commented. She shivered.
"Bobby Moore has a genetic condition that reacted to the wilderness. And, according to his mother, none of that even happened. He passed out a few times. He had a stroke, as unbelievable as that might sound. That's all," Quinn said, matter-of-factly.
"How do you know?" Mikki asked. "When did you talk to his mom?"
"I didn't. My dad did. The Moores are patients of his."
"I thought whatever you tell your doctor is supposed to be confidential," Ashley implied.
"Only if you say you want it to be," Quinn answered. "She's a talker, anyway."
"What else do I need to pack?" Jesse asked, attempting to break the tension.
Outside the room, Jimmy began to tip toe back to his own bedroom. They really were going there. Even Jimmy knew all the horror stories that scared the kids away from the woods at night and especially on Halloween. But, why would they go there to look for the boy? He decided to go to sleep. He would be warmer under the covers anyway.
In Cassie's room, Ashley and Cassie helped Jesse and Nate fit the rest of the snacks into their bags. Cassie gave Jesse the two water bottles that she had grabbed for him. He shoved them in his bag. At exactly fifteen past one they opened Cassie's window, after turning out all the lights, and climbed out into the yard one by one.
"I thought we were driving to the park," Jesse said when he realized that the others were hiding in the back yard after leaving the house.
Nate was confused as well and pulled Cassie aside. "Change of plans?" he asked.
"Kinda," she answered. "Ashley said it would buy us some more time to leave the cars here rather than at the park, where they would know to look for us."
"Very smart," Nate said. He climbed out the window.
Jesse looked over at Cassie, who had sat back down on her bed to pet Bo. "He'll be here when you get back," he told her.
"I know. I'm just gonna miss him is all." She kissed the dog's black, fur covered head. "Be good, boy. I'll be back soon."
Bo whined and jumped off the bed. He ran over and stood in front of the window, as if he was daring them to try to get past him.
"Come on!" Quinn whispered.
But Bo wouldn't let them through.
"I'll put him in the hall," she whispered, taking him by the collar.
Jesse climbed out the window as she put Bo out, shut her bedroom door, and headed back to the window. She had one leg out the window when she heard Bo whining and scratching at her door. She stopped, unaware of doing so, and listened.
"Come on, hon," Jesse said, reaching his had up to her. "He'll be fine."
Cassie sighed and finished climbing out the window. Then they caught up with the others and headed off, dashing through dark back yards and dim alleys. It would be the end if they were seen by anyone . . .
Back in Cassie's house, Bo had pawed Jimmy's door open and whined until the boy woke up. Jimmy looked at him. "Come on up, Bo, you can sleep with me," he said, patting the bed.
But Bo didn't budge. Instead, he stared.
"What do you want? Do you need a drink?" Jimmy sat up in bed.
Bo looked down the hall toward Cassie's bedroom and let out a small woof.
"What do you want? You want to go outside?"
Bo snapped his head back at Jimmy, whining. He was sort of dancing into the hallway and back again, because Jimmy was still in bed.
"You want me to come?" he asked, feeling very proud that Bo wanted him to do something for him; Bo was Cassie's dog, plain and simple. Jimmy got out of bed and Bo left the room, leading the short distance to Cassie's door.
He pawed at it and looked at Jimmy.
"What? You want to see inside? Is she asleep?" He moved forward and Bo grew more anxious. Jimmy quietly took a hold of the doorknob and pushed it open enough to peek in. The room was empty. Jimmy realized that it really was for real. They really were gone. He thought they would at least wait until morning . . .
"They're already gone," he whispered to Bo. He was about to shut it again when Bo forced his way through and bounded for the still open window.
Panicking, Jimmy lunged after him, landing on top of the dog. He pinned Bo to the floor just as he was about to leap out the window to follow Cassie. "You have to stay here," he told him. He gripped the dog's collar and stood up to shut the window. "There," he said, letting the collar go. "Now it's OK. You gonna sleep in my bed, Bo? You can," he said.
But Bo stared sadly out the window.
Jimmy yawned. "Well, Sport," he said, using the nickname Jesse had given him, "I'm tired. See you in the morning."
He left Cassie's bedroom door open for Bo to roam around the house, and went back to bed.
3:15 AM, Sunday
They had reached the woods in record time, and had been in the forest for a good two hours. Jesse led the group, with Cassie at his heels, Nate behind her. Ashley followed Nate from a safe distance, still fearing he may have still been angry with her. She often secretly loathed Cassie, for none other than the fact that Cassie was Nate's best friend. Mikki and Quinn brought up the rear of the pack.
"Jesse," Ashley said, trying to catch her breath at the same time. "We've been walking for hours. Do you think we can stop soon?"
"No," he said, as he continued to walk. "We aren't far enough. We are still in the search radius."
"If they even look here. We have until tomorrow afternoon," she argued. "Cassie's mom is going to think we are sleeping in. Then, around 11 or 12, she would knock on Cassie's door to see if we want to get up for breakfast. Then she'll see that we aren't there and figure that we went out for a walk on such a lovely day like it is supposed to be tomorrow. By the time they realize that we really are missing, it could be late afternoon, or tomorrow night even. And there won't be a search party unless we have been gone for at least 48 hours. So we have plenty of time to stop and sleep now."
Ashley stopped in her tracks and crossed her arms over her chest. Mikki, who hadn't been listening (on purpose), nearly bumped in to her. Cassie tugged Jesse's arm to stop him. They turned around.
Jesse was impressively calm when he spoke. "Yeah, that's all fine and dandy, unless Jimmy opens up his mouth tomorrow morning at the breakfast table, and Charlene calls the police who suspect Rising Sun of murder and they all come after us anyway because they'll think he's plotting to kill all of us, too." He took Cassie's hand in his and kept walking.
Ashley looked at Nate for some back up. Nate felt a slight twinge of guilt inside that he should stick up for her. But he had never been as close to Ashley as he was to Cassie, and when she made the insensitive comment in the parking lot of East Park earlier, he'd grown incredibly defensive. It had not yet completely died down. He turned and followed Cassie and Jesse.
"Come on," Mikki said to Ashley, motioning that they follow before they get left behind.
Ashley wanted to cry. Not because Jesse had totally blown her off, but because Nate wouldn't back her up. She was glad it was so dark in the forest, because in case she couldn't hold the tears back, none of them could see.
Jimmy got out of bed, needing to use the bathroom. He looked in Cassie's room as he passed it; Bo was still looking out the window. He rubbed his eyes as he turned on the light in the bathroom, adjusting to the brightness.
As he was washing his hands, Bo pushed the door open. "I better put
you out," Jimmy said. "I don't think Cassie did before she left, huh?"
Bo looked hopefully at Jimmy. He reached the front door ahead of him
and whined for him to hurry up.
He hooked Bo's collar up to the leash on the ground, leaving him tied to the tree. The early morning birds were beginning to chirp as he headed back into the house. It was a little chillier than he expected. Jimmy closed the front door and sat on the living room couch to wait for Bo. I'll just lay down here until he's done, he thought, lying on the arm of the couch.
Moments later, Jimmy was fast asleep.
Outside, Bo was pulling against the taut leash in the direction he
knew Cassie had gone. He struggled against it over and over, but couldn't
seem to get anywhere. He tucked his head down and pawed at the collar,
trying to pull it off. He got a toe caught and tripped himself. He got
back up and took the leash in his mouth. He moved backward, trying to pull
the leash off of the tree. He was struggling against it when the loose
dirt caused him to lose his footing on the ground and fall. When he stood
up, he realized his collar was no longer taut on his neck. The leash had
The leash lay empty in the yard while Jimmy snoozed peacefully on the living room couch.
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