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Authors: Todd Strasser

Boot Camp (17 page)

BOOK: Boot Camp
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A little while later the pickup starts to slow. Opening my eyes, I see a gas station with a convenience store ahead on the right. The driver pulls up to the pump. Without a word he gets out. Sarah, Pauly, and I swivel our heads to watch as he starts to fill the tank. Leaving the hose running, he comes over to the window. “I'm gonna get some coffee. Want anything?”

The three of us exchange looks.

“I'd love some coffee,” Sarah says. “With milk and sugar.”

“Me too,” I agree. It's a dream come true.

“No, thanks,” Pauly says, tersely.

“How about something to eat?” the driver asks. “Doughnuts?”

“Sure, great, thanks.”

“Be right back.” He heads into the shop.

As soon as the driver is out of sight, Pauly reaches for the door. “We gotta run.”

“What?” This catches me completely by surprise.

“He's calling the cops,” Pauly says.

“What are you talking about?” I ask.

“Come on,” Pauly says impatiently. “You heard him. He's got a friend who works at Lake Harmony. What the hell do you think he's doing?”

“Getting us coffee and doughnuts,” Sarah says.

“No way.” Pauly shakes his head adamantly.

“Why not?” I ask.

“'Cause he doesn't give a crap about us,” Pauly says. “It's his friend he's thinking about. I don't know about you, but I'm out of here.”

He pushes open the door and starts to get out. Sarah and I share a look.

“What do you think?” I ask.

Sarah shrugs.

“I think he's wrong,” I tell her. “But if
I'm
wrong, we're busted.”

Sarah glances at the storefront. The door is closed and we can't see inside. The driver could be getting us coffee. Or he could be on the phone.

Pauly is out of the truck now. He sticks his face in the window. “You really want to risk it? What do you think is gonna happen if we get caught and sent back?”

It kills me to give up that coffee, but Sarah and I get out. There's a cornfield across the road. The stalks are wilted and brown, but they're tall and thick and a good place to hide. We scamper into the field, our flip-flops catching in the soft, moist dirt. Finally we stop and peek back through the stalks. Goose bumps race up and down our arms as the cold air once again envelops us.

Across the road the driver comes out of the shop carrying a gray cardboard tray with coffees and a bag of
doughnuts. Halfway to the pickup he stops and frowns, then starts to look around.

“It could still be a trap,” Pauly whispers, although without as much conviction as before.

The driver slowly shakes his head, then puts the coffee and doughnuts on the front seat of the pickup and finishes pumping the gas. He gets back in the truck and drives off.

A bird chirps somewhere in the cornfield. In the distance a rooster crows. Sarah's teeth have begun to chatter again. “Now what?” she asks.

Back on the road a long semi barrels past.

“We'll just do trucks,” Pauly says. “Semis. That way there's a good chance the drivers won't be from around here. They're only passing through.”

Pauly may have some weird ideas, but he has some good ones too. We creep back to the edge of the cornfield. When another semi appears in the distance, Sarah gets out on the road and does her thing. Once again the driver isn't happy when Pauly and I appear, but he agrees to take us just the same. The good news is he speaks French and hardly any English.

We ride for a while. By now it's past breakfast and we're hungry, so we break out the stale rolls. It's not easy to eat them with nothing to drink, but we do our best. The truck driver watches impassively, saying nothing. And now there's another problem.

“I have to use the bathroom,” Sarah whispers. Pauly nods in agreement.

A little while later a truck stop appears in the distance.

“Could we stop for the bathroom?” Pauly asks the driver, who frowns.

“La
toilette,”
Sarah says in French.

The driver nods and pulls off at the truck stop, but not, I notice, at the gas pumps. We get out, but as we walk across the parking lot toward the restaurant, we hear the throaty rev of the semi's diesel engine. The truck starts out of the parking lot without us. Can't say I'm surprised.

As we cross the asphalt in our flip-flops, I notice that our feet are filthy brown—a telltale sign that we're on the run. Inside the restaurant the scent of bacon and coffee is almost dizzying. I gaze enviously at the people in booths eating. For a moment I just stand there. After all that time in Lake Harmony my brain has been rewired enough that I automatically wait to be told what to do.

“We'll use the bathrooms, then figure out what to do next,” Pauly suggests.

In the bathroom Pauly and I each go into a stall. A few moments later, when I open the stall door to leave, I catch a glimpse of a man in a cowboy hat who's pressed close to a urinal. As he turns his head in my direction, I quickly pull the stall door closed.

The toilet flushes in the stall next to me. “Pauly,” I whisper, hoping my voice is covered by the swirling water.

“What?”

“Don't leave the stall.”

He's smart enough not to ask why. I count slowly to fifty and then push the door open a crack. The cowboy-hat guy is gone.

“All clear,” I whisper.

Pauly comes out and asks in a low voice. “Who?”

“Someone at the urinal reminded me of the guy who brought me to Lake Harmony.”

We stop at the sinks to wash our hands and faces.

“Think he could be looking for us?” Pauly asks, drying his face with paper towels.

“If they hire him to bring kids to Lake Harmony, there's no reason they wouldn't use him to bring kids back.”

At the bathroom door I stop and peek out. There's no sign in the lobby of anyone wearing a cowboy hat. Pauly and I find Sarah near a news rack scanning a local paper.

“Anything about Lake Harmony?” Pauly asks in a low voice.

She shakes her head.

Just then Rebecca strolls around the corner, gazing down at a magazine.

TWENTY-ONE

“Any violation of the rules will result in demerits.”

My heart stops. She's barely a dozen feet away. I turn and pretend to look at the paperbacks in the rack. Pauly and Sarah have sense enough to realize something is wrong, and they also quickly turn away. When I raise my head again, Rebecca is gone.

“Who was that?” Sarah whispers.

“One of the transporters my parents hired to bring me to Lake Harmony,” I answer.

“Split up and walk out one at a time,” Pauly whispers. “We'll meet behind the Dumpsters in the back.”

“Try to walk out close to other people,” I suggest, “so it looks like you're with them.”

We head in different directions and one by one leave the truck stop. Outside, the sun has risen higher, and the air isn't quite as chilly. We meet by the Dumpsters, which stink of old garbage and are so full that bags and boxes poke out from under the lids.

“See anyone?” Sarah asks, arms crossed, hugging herself.

“No, but they've got to be looking for us,” I answer.

“How far do you think we are from Canada?” she asks.

Pauly shrugs and stares down at the brown banana peels and squashed lemon rinds on the ground. “Can't be far. Half the cars parked in front have Canadian license plates.”

“We're gonna have to stay off the roads,” I tell them.

“And go at night,” adds Pauly.

“I can't spend another night in the woods,” Sarah says. “I'll freeze. And what about food?”

The answers to these questions are not readily forthcoming. Canada may not be that far away, but without money and food and warm clothes, it might as well be across an ocean.

Pauly sniffs and glances at the Dumpster. A crooked smile crosses his lips. “I think we just found dinner.”

In the trees behind the truck stop we push together dry leaves to rest on until dark. In our short-sleeved shirts the leaves and twigs are itchy and uncomfortable. Still, it isn't long before Pauly's breathing becomes steady in a way that suggests he's asleep. I lie quietly
and watch a small ant crawl up a thin brown twig.

Sarah wiggles, trying to get comfortable. We're facing each other. Despite the thinness of her face, the dark rings around her eyes, and the raggedness of her short black hair, she's still a pretty girl.

“Can't sleep?” I whisper.

“Never was the outdoors type,” she whispers back.

“What do you think Pauly will do when he gets to Canada?” I ask.

“Huh?” Her pale forehead wrinkles.

“Think your aunt will let him stay with her too?”

“Oh … uh, for a little while, I hope. Then he'll have to decide. Anything's better than Lake Harmony, right?”

“Definitely,” I agree.

“What about you?” Sarah asks.

“Go back to New York, I guess. But not to my parents. At least not unless they promise not to send me away again.”

“I bet you can't wait to see Sabrina,” she says.

With a start I realize it's been days since I last thought of her.

“How did you meet?” Sarah asks.

“At the beginning of last year … no, wait, I mean, two years ago. I keep forgetting where I've spent the last seven months.”

Sarah nods. “Who wants to remember?”

I gaze at her eyes, more bright and lively than they ever were at Lake Harmony. “What about you? Almost three years.”

“We're not talking about me,” Sarah answers.
“We're talking about you and Sabrina.”

“She was a new teacher at my school. It was this instantaneous thing for me. I'd sit in class in a daze. A schoolboy crush, you know?”

Sarah smiles. “But it turned out to be more.”

I nod. The leaves under my ear are scratchy.

“How did it happen?”

“I kept making excuses to stay after class. I was sure that sooner or later she'd figure out what was going on and blow me off. But it didn't happen. I started to get the feeling she was looking forward to seeing me. She was new to the city, and I guess it was kind of lonely. But it was still weird. Like I couldn't believe she'd even be interested in being friends. And I guess she was having a hard time believing it, too.”

“I bet.” Sarah grins.

“So it turned out we're both major fans of manga and graphic novels, you know? And she mentioned that she'd discovered this great bookstore downtown—”

“So you went, hoping to run into her?”

I nod and feel my face grow warm.

“That's so cute!” she whispers.

How strange is it that even lying here shivering on the cold ground and scratchy leaves, my body sore and hungry, the memory of that time momentarily warms and fills me?

“So one day she showed up at the store, right?” Sarah guesses.

I nod. “It didn't take long. Later she told me she had a feeling she might find me there.”

“And?” Sarah asks, eagerly.

“She said we could be friends. And we were for maybe a couple of months, but then it changed. We started meeting after school. Nothing else mattered. I just wanted to be with her every possible second.”

The smile fades from Sarah's face. “She was your teacher. You didn't try to hide it?”

“We did, but not very well,” I admit. “I mean, try to understand. We were swept up in it. It wasn't like we sat around trying to think logically.”

“So what happened?”

“People saw us together. The rumors started. My parents found out. They went to the headmaster and got her fired.”

“Oh, God.”

“I was so pissed at them. I guess they thought getting Sabrina fired would be the end of it, but that just made me want to see her more. And by then it was out in the open, so I started staying over at her apartment.”

“Isn't it against the law?” Sarah asks. “I mean, you're a minor.”

“Be honest. Do I look, or act, like a ‘minor' to you?”

Sarah shakes her head.

“Seriously. It wasn't like one of us was taking advantage of the other. We just really liked each other and had a lot in common.”

“But couldn't your parents have gone to the police?” Sarah asks.

“They threatened to, but they never did.”

“Why not?”

“They were afraid more people would find out. They both have big jobs. My mom especially. Her whole business is about helping people avoid bad publicity. So she's totally insane when it comes to anything negative about herself. I think she was worried that if the case went to court it would look really bad. Like if she's so good at what she does, how come she couldn't keep her own son out of the news?”

“So when you started staying at Sabrina's … that's when your parents began thinking about Lake Harmony?” Sarah guesses.

“Right. They got completely unhinged. Like if they didn't get me away from her instantly, it would ruin my life.”

“Or your mom's,” Sarah adds archly.

“Exactly.” I yawn, and feel my eyes start to close.

Someone is shaking my shoulder. “Rise and shine.”

I open my eyes. It's dark and cold. I close my eyes and curl up more tightly. The last thing I want to do is get up.

The hand shakes my shoulder again. “Come on, Garrett.”

Leaves crackle beneath my elbows as I slowly prop myself up. Crickets chirp, and somewhere in the distance an owl is hooting. I'm hungry. For the past twenty-four hours all I've eaten is some bread.

Pauly is a dark shadow. Sarah is beside him, hugging herself to stay warm, her teeth chattering again.

“Ah-choo!” Pauly sneezes and sniffs.

“Bless you,” I respond automatically as I slowly get to my feet.

Sarah chuckles. “I remember the first time I heard you say that. The food hall, remember?”

BOOK: Boot Camp
6.26Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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