The Year of Second Chances, Page 9Jessica Sorensen
I think about how long we drove. It felt like hours, but my fear might have made time drag. Besides, the sun is still up in the sky and shining through the tree branches and into the window, so it has to be before five o'clock. What if I'm stuck out here after sunset? I don't have my phone on me, or any other source of light, for that matter.
Desperate to get back to civilization before the sun goes down, I untie the wire bound to my feet then race to the door, reaching for the doorknob. But I stagger to a dead stop when I hear faint voices on the other side.
"Do you think she saw us at all?" the deep, male voice asks. "Or do you think we pulled this off?"
"Of course we pulled it off," the woman replies snippily. "I planned everything perfectly. She won't even recognize our voices, thanks to my brilliant idea to disguise them."
"It wasn't all you," the guy snaps. "Stop taking all the credit."
"You didn't do a damn thing, and you forgot to gag her," she retorts. "I'm surprised you got her out of the warehouse without anyone noticing the scream."
"The power was out. I'm sure there were a lot of people panicking and screaming."
"So what? My instructions were to gag her, and you should've followed those instructions. Or do I need to remind you what will happen to you if this doesn't work out? That pretty, little reputation you worked so hard for will go poof."
The guy doesn't answer right away. "Gagging just seemed too ... I don't know, mean," he finally says. "I felt bad enough taking her like that."
Not really. In fact, I'm oddly unscathed for what just happened.
"You act like you like her or something," she sneers. "Did you forget this was all pretend?"
He misses a beat or two, and the impending lie burns through the silence. "No. I remember ... clearly, because you remind me every single damn day."
"Because I have to." Her tone is as cold as cookie dough ice cream. "And if this doesn't work, then the entire town is going to know your dirty, little secret."
"I get it. You don't need to remind me 24/7," he snaps. "I'm going to go wait in the van. You're getting on my nerves."
His footsteps are deafening as he storms off the porch.
"God, a little blackmail and he turns into a crybaby," the woman mutters. "Such a drama queen."
Stairs creak, and then something soft bumps the door. I skitter back and run toward the window, horrified she's about to walk in and see I've escaped.
I need to get out of here.
Carefully inching the window open, I listen for noises outside. The air is undisturbed, and the door behind me remains closed.
Is she not coming inside? Where did she go? Back to the car with the guy?
Hesitantly, I poke my head out the window and peer out.
Miles and miles of trees enclose the small cabin, the thick branches and leaves making visibility complicated. Along the far right, a woman is walking down a narrow dirt road toward a dark van. Her back is to me, so I can't see her face. The only detail I manage to make out is her blonde hair pulled up in a bun.
I wait until she climbs in the van before I slink out of the window and hurry around back.
Pressing my back against the logs, I eyeball the forest, debating what to do. Just take off into the trees and hope I find my way out? I've never had a great sense of direction.
Seeing no other option, I hunker down low and make a beeline for the trees, only straightening my stance when I'm out of eyesight of the van. Then I creep through the forest in the direction the road runs in. As I near the van, I crouch lower. My pulse races, and with every snap of a twig, a rush of adrenaline shoots through my body. I definitely don't feel numb anymore, but honestly, I want the feeling to return so I can stop shaking.
When I reach the strip of land that coincides with where the van is parked, I stop behind a large, leafy tree to catch my breath and prepare myself. If I'm not careful enough, they'll be able to spot me.
After a minute of psyching myself up, I summon a deep breath then race off in a mad dash. With every step, I worry someone is going to jump out and chase me down. But the doors remain shut, the air dead quiet.
Maybe I can make it out of this.
As I barrel around a large tree, I cast a quick glance at the van. No sign of anyone yet. Thank God.
I keep running for what feels like an eternity, refusing to slow down, even after the van vanishes from my sight. I don't move onto the road, though, fearing they'll spot me. I stay in the trees, going farther and farther into the unknown as the sun slowly lowers.
The longer it remains quiet, the more I start to think that I might get out of this situation alive.
I can do this! I can--
A car door slams.
"Isabella!" the guy shouts. "Stop where you are! Please!"
Quickening my pace, I throw a glance over my shoulder and spot a guy standing in front of the van. He's dressed head to toe in black, wearing a ski mask over his face.
Holy mother of all creepiness! Just like Kai said! I'm living in a goddamn real life horror movie!
My skin dampens with sweat as I run for my life, barreling through the bushes and dirt and winding around thick trees.
I don't know if he's following me or not. I tell myself not to look, that it'll only scare me more. But the fear of the unknown becomes too great, and I glance over my shoulder.
My heart literally stops.
Not only is the guy running through the forest at me, but the van is zooming down the dirt road, hot on my trail.
Any hope of making it out of here alive crumbles like the dirt beneath my shoes.
I leave the zombie paintball place in a mad dash, fear plaguing my every thought as I text Kyler. When he doesn't respond, I try to call. He doesn't answer, which adds fuel to my rage.
If I find out he had anything to do with this, he will pay. Big time. I just don't know why he'd do all of this for the flash drive. And how did he even know about the flash drive? The only people who know are Big Doug, Isa, me, Indigo, and I think Isa might have finally said something to her grandma Stephy the other night. So someone told the wrong person, or I'm wrong about Kyler being the one doing this.
My heart nearly stops dead at the thought. What if this isn't Kyler? What if some psycho has Isa?
I can barely concentrate on anything else other than getting to Isa as I dash across the gravel parking lot for the car. I need to get to her, need to save her more than I need to breathe. This day wasn't supposed to end like this. Nothing is supposed to end like this.
How could I let this happen?
When I make it to Isabella's grandma's car, I realize I don't even have the keys. Thankfully, the doors are unlocked. I climb inside, raid the car until I find a screwdriver in the glove box, and use it to hotwire the car. Once the engine is running, I speed off toward the apartment, hoping Isabella's grandma isn't there, or else I might have to explain to her why I'm driving around in her car without her granddaughter.
As I make the ten-minute drive, I rack my brain for the right way to do this. Should I call someone and tell them what's going on? The note said not to, but I'm worried this is more than just some asshole getting their kicks and giggles from tormenting Isa. And then there was the threat about never seeing Isa again if I showed up with someone. If I screw this up, Isa could end up hurt.
But what if they've already hurt her?
Knots wind inside my stomach, and I clench the life out of the steering wheel until my knuckles turn white.
Dammit! How could I let this happen! And what if I bring the flash drive, but they don't give me back Isa? What if they've done something to her?
I slam my fist against the steering wheel. "Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!"
By the time I pick up the flash drive from the apartment, I'm on the verge of losing it. Rage and guilt coincide inside me, ready to burst. I need to come up with a better plan than showing up at the address and hoping everything works out okay. I need help,
but the right help, someone who can keep an eye on things without getting noticed. Someone who can help if the bastards don't give me Isa.
Digging my phone out of my back pocket, I dial my friend Jules' number as I jog back to the car with the flash drive tucked into my boot. I met Jules a few months ago through Big Doug and occasionally did jobs with him. We don't hang out a lot, but Big Doug was pretty close with him and trusted him. Plus, he's dealt with some heavy shit and knows how to bug phones and homes, put trackers on vehicles, and is great at tailing cars and people. I figure, if all else fails and these people take off without giving me Isa back, he can tail them or at least get a tracker on their vehicle if they bring one.
I just hope he'll do me another favor. After just telling me that I could crash at his place rent-free, I feel like a douchebag for asking him. Then again, I have no other choice.
"Kai, my man," he answers after three rings. "I was just going to call you and tell you the news. I sold a shit ton of parts for your car. Made, like, fifteen hundred dollars."
I open the door and slide into the driver's seat. "Look, I don't care about that right now. I need another favor."
"Okay." He gives a lengthy pause. "Didn't I already give you a favor, though, by selling the parts and saving your ass from getting beaten by T?"
"Yeah, you did, but this is kind of an emergency." I quickly explain to him what happened as I rev up the engine and peel out of the apartment complex, heading for the location.
"Holy shit," he says after I've finished giving him the details. "That's some heavy shit."
"I know. I just wish I knew who's doing this." I make a turn onto the highway that stretches out of town and veers toward the rolling hills and forest. I've never been to the address before, but the GPS shows it being way in the hell out in Nowhere Land.
"What's on the flash drive?"
"Some files about a murder case. I don't know why anyone would want to steal it."
"What murder case?" he asks, intrigued.
I press on the gas, speeding up. "Isa's mom."
"Do you have any idea who would do this?"
"I'm kind of wondering if maybe my brother has something to do with this ..." I shake my head, not wanting to chitchat anymore. "Look, I really need to know if you'll help me or not before I get to this place."
"Yeah, I can do that for you, man," he says after what feels like the longest minute of my life. "Just give me the address, and I'll get there ASAP."
I yammer off the address to him. "How will I know when you get there?"
"You won't," he replies simply. "That's kind of the point, right?"
"Right." A stressed breath eases from his lips. "But you'll be there by six for sure?"
"Yep," he says. "Later, man."
"Later." I press end, drop the phone into the console, and drive like a bat out of hell to the address on the note, breaking a ton of traffic laws to get there, even though I have plenty of time.
The need to get Isabella back is too overpowering. I can't think straight anymore. The maddening silence creates too much time to think about what they could be doing to her, how I may never see her again, how I never told her how I feel about her.
I should've told her I love her. I should've really kissed her.
I'll never forgive myself if anything happens to her.
Thirty minutes later, at about a quarter after five, I arrived at the destination set in the GPS. The streets converge into a crossroad in the center of a thickly wooded area that surrounds Sunnyvale where no homes, no stores, no nothing are located. The emptiness is unsettling, along with the trees. Anyone could be out there, watching me right now, and I probably wouldn't know it.
Deciding to subtly scope out the area, I grab my phone and hop out of the car. When I notice I have no cell phone signal here, I lose my shit. That had to be planned--tell me to drive out to the middle of nowhere so I can't call for help.
When Isa first started receiving the texts, I thought maybe it was her half-sister Hannah. Then the flyers showed up at school, and my suspicions grew that not only was Hannah behind it but that she had Kyler's help. But there's no way they could be behind the kidnapping. No, either this is someone else entirely, or they have help from another source. Someone smarter.
Tree branches snapping jerk me out of my thoughts. My attention whips to the right of the dirt road as a figure barrels through the trees. I tense, wishing I had brought a weapon or something.
Fuck, why didn't I think to bring a weapon?
I'm starting to head back to the car to find a crowbar when the figure stumbles out of the forest and onto the dirt road just in front of me.
I've never been so relieved to see anyone in my entire life. I didn't even realize the terror I was feeling until now, and for a moment, I stand there, shocked. But I swiftly snap out of my trance, and then I'm running for her like nothing else matters ... because it doesn't.
"Kai!" she shouts, panting, her eyes wide as she stumbles toward me. "We have to go! Now! They're coming!"
My heart hammers inside my chest as I keep running toward her. "Are you okay!"
She nods, sprinting toward me. "Yes! But we have to go!"
We meet in the middle of the road, and she jumps into my arms without slowing down, nearly toppling me over. I manage to catch my balance and wrap my arms around her, holding onto her for dear life.
Her arms circle around the back of my neck, and her legs hitch around my waist. "Th-they're coming." Her body trembles. "W-we need to go."
My hands shake as I smooth them up and down her back. "Sh ... It's okay. I've got you."
She grips me tightly as I turn around and carry her toward the car. I open the car door and move to put her on the passenger side. I don't want to put her down, and she doesn't seem too eager to let go of me, either.
"Isa, baby, I've got to get you in the car, or we can't leave," I say, hugging her closer. The idea of letting her go feels physically impossible, like my body is incapable of doing it.
"I know." She gives a shaky exhale before prying herself off me and climbing into the car.
I eye her over, checking for wounds. Anger pulsates in my veins at the sight of what looks like a cut on her cheek.
"I'm fine," she insists, noting my stare. "I did it to myself when I was running through the trees."
Whether she thinks she's fine or not, my chest burns with so much rage that I feel like I'm about to erupt. Whoever hurt her will pay; I'll make sure of that. Right now, though, I need to get her out of here and someplace safe.
I rush around to the driver's side, tossing glances at the empty dirt road in front of us.
"You said they were coming?" I ask Isa as I slide into the car and slam the door. "Are they driving or on foot?"
She chews on her thumbnail, eyeballing the road. "A guy was chasing me through the trees, and the woman was in a van, driving down the road ... They should be here soon ... They almost caught me ... I thought I wasn't going to ..." She sucks in a tremulous breath.
I place a hand on her knee. "We're going to get you out of here. I won't let them hurt you."
She nods, her gaze sliding to mine, her eyes overflowing with trust. "I know you won't. I knew you'd come for me."
Sucking in a breath, I start up the engine, press on the gas pedal, and back onto the road.
Isa fidgets nervously, wringing her hands in her lap with her eyes glued to the forest.
"They're not going to get you," I promise, shoving the shifter into drive.
She starts to nod, but then her eyes pop wide, her fingers curling around the edge of the leather seat. "Kai! Drive!"
I track her gaze to a dark van hauling down the dirt road right at us. "Shit." I slam my foot against the gas pedal, and the tires spin as the car races forward, leaving the stench of burned rubber lingering in the air.
"Go, go, go, go, go ..." She chants under her breath as she twists around in the seat and watches through the window as the van pulls
out onto the road behind us.
"Buckle your seatbelt," I tell her as I speed the car up.
Without taking her eyes off the van, she draws the seatbelt over her shoulder. "It doesn't even have a license plate." She looks at me as she clips the seatbelt buckle in. "The van, I mean. Unless there's one on the back. But there's not one on the front, so I can't even write it down."
"We might not have to worry about that." I hold my breath as we near a sharp corner that winds around a steep drop off. Knowing the van can't take the corner very fast, I maintain my speed and grip the wheel. "Hold on."
Her gaze darts to the snaking road in front of us, and she instinctively reaches for the oh-shit handle above her. "Kai, be careful ..."
She leans back in the seat and grips on for dear life as we round the corner extremely fast. I struggle to hold the wheel steady, my instincts screaming for me to slow down. But this isn't my first time driving like this, and I know the car will make the turn, so I push forward, refusing to decelerate.
The van isn't equipped for such high speeds around corners, though, and the driver brakes hard, swerving to the right and slamming to a halt in the gravel that acts as a barrier between the road and the drop-off. A cloud of dirt rises in the air and surrounds the vehicle.
Isa releases the handle and cranes her neck to look out the rear window. "Holy crap! They almost drove off the edge." She twists around in her seat, breathing heavily. "Jesus, where'd you learn to drive like that?"
I cringe at her question. "From the same person who taught me how to hotwire a car."
Her eyes widen in shock. "You know how to hotwire a car?"
"Um ..." I glance at the steering wheel column. "I kind of did it to your grandma's car."
A pucker forms at her brow. "Kai, I don't wanna sound mean, but why didn't you call my grandma Stephy or the cops?"
"Because they threatened me. Said there'd be consequences if I did. I was worried they'd hurt you." I steal a glance in the rearview mirror at the windy, empty road behind me.
What the fuck? Where'd they go? Why aren't they chasing after us anymore?
"Oh." Confusion etches her features. "How did they get ahold of you? I mean, how did you find out I was missing?"
I take a deep breath and tell her what happened up until the point where she came running out of the trees. While I want to leave out the details about how this might be my fault, I care for her too much to lie to her about this.