One last walk of the perimeter to make sure all was quiet and well, before he returned inside, careful to make sure nobody was watching him.
Tonight they had found shelter in an abandoned … who knows what this once was, now it looked like an abandoned property with some old containers that had once been a home but now were empty. Over the years of abandonment this had turned into the local dumping ground for all thing unwanted. Most recent addition: two teens.
As he climbed up to the upper container he felt much better. Nights were painfully cold, but in here a warming fire was finally going. It was far from safe, but they did not want to freeze to death in their sleep, so they chanced it.
He yawned repeatedly, rubbing his burning eyes and face. He was well past tired.
“Lay down. I’ll take the first watch.” Emmi told him
“No, it’s okay, you need rest too.” he declined.
“Go. To. Sleep! I got this, babe.” she insisted.
“Okay, but wake me as soon as you hear something, even if you think it may be nothing. Make sure the fire does not go out. We got enough wood to get us through the night. And tomorrow, we’ll go have some REAL food for once. Really sorry that someone lost their 40 Simoleons out on the street, but we are going to have food at the diner tomorrow!” Josh smiled drowsily.
“Sounds dreamy! And afterwards we’ll go and get the … you know. The thing.” Emmi added.
“Just say ‘pregnancy test’. Not like anyone would hear and I am like the last person who could judge you after all that happened!” Josh smiled at first, then the memory came back and he looked sad and guilty.
She walked over and kissed his cheek.
“What you did was be my hero and save my life.” she told him.
“Yeah, by taking someone else’s. I wished I had just kicked him or something.”
“And then he would have cut my throat. I do not doubt for a second that you saved my life, so please quit beating yourself up, Josh. You were awesome, you are not a killer. That man does not deserve your pity, trust me.” her smile faded too at the memory of her horrible experience.
“Sorry, bae, I didn’t mean to …”
“Just get some rest so you can keep protecting me like you have been doing.” she hugged him, pressing herself firmly against him.
After they let go she watched him curl up on some newspaper, covering himself up with an old pizzabox they found.
Unfortunately it had been empty, but worked well as a makeshift blanket and wasn’t as flimsy and noisy as newspapers.
Plus you smelled delicious when you woke up.
“Katie, slow down! If you run in like that they will think you were robbed or want to rob them!”
“It’s about Josh!” she called back over her should as she already reached the top of the stairs and pushed the doors open like Django, Everett trailing behind, now finally catching up with her.
“Good morning, can I help you with something?” the person behind the desk asked smiling.
“Yes, detective Ramirez called us last night, asking us to come by this morning.” Katie rattled down fast.
“Oh, you are very early. Let me check if the detective is in yet. May I have your name?”
“Cameron. Do you have our boy now? Have you found him?” Katie pressed.
“I am sorry, I would not know.”
“He’s not … dead, is he? Oh my God, he IS dead. That is why he called us, to identify the body!” Katie spiraled out of control fast.
“Ma’am, please calm down! I can assure you that it’s not that. Two officers would have come to your home and told you in person, not invite you to the precinct. I do not know why he asked you here, but it is NOT that. Please have a seat over there.”
They had to wait some time, then were picked up and lead to the detective’s office past many desks where there was already a hustle and bustle.
He greeted them, then updated them on a hot trace they had that unfortunately ended up running cold last minute.
“The kids spent some time at some abandoned warehouse building, we have been able to positively identify traces of them everywhere. Sadly, when the local task force got there, they were long gone. However, there is a rather … disturbing fact I needed to discuss with you two.” the detective looked uncomfortable.
“Is our boy hurt?!” Everett demanded, rather than asked.
“No. Well, maybe a little bit. We did find small amounts of his blood and DNA at the crime scene …” the detective danced around the subject.
“Blood!?” Katie repeated, eyes wide, her voice high-pitched with terror.
“CRIME SCENE!?” Everett parroted, before nearing a total panic.
“Uh yes. From what the investigators and the lab have been able to reconstruct the children were involved in a violent crime, leaving a man dead.”
“Who cares about a dead man?! Where is my son! You had better find him!” Everett said.
“I care, for one. I can see that you two are emotional and not very receptive so I will cut this short. The lab has determined that most likely the deceased had sexually violated the girl and likely been violent with both teens, somehow your son managed to get his hands on the man’s unregistered – and as I may add illegal – gun and … well … used it successfully. We found a deceased on scene, gunshot to his head. While the victim was not known to have a white vest with local authorities, some of his impressively long rep sheet includes domestic violence, it is still a crime and we need to persecute it. Since your son is underage I do not anticipate this to result in imprisonment but he will be brought before a judge regardless.”
Katie and Everett just stared at the detective.
“Huh?” Katie could not form another word.
“What?!” Everett thought he heard wrong.
“Josh shot and killed a man. Apparent self-defense and probably to protect himself and Emerson.” the detective summed up the essence of his words.
Everett began yelling at the detective until they realized Katie had collapsed to the floor and was sobbing about the news.
As the two finally reached a point on their long way where the diner they were going to have lunch at came into view, both smiled at each other.
The anticipation of a real, warm meal was written on their faces.
“I think I last was THIS excited about food when I was like 8 and mom and dad were still alive and took me to this frozen yogurt place and told me to get whatever I wanted!” Emmi smiled up at Josh.
For the past months their life had changed tremendously. Both from upper middle class families had taken a lot of things for granted in their teenage nonchalance, that were now no longer granted.
This even included basics like food, shelter, safety.
They had learned to sleep in shifts and to move hiding spots frequently, after the last few had gotten ransacked by other homeless people and the police seemed to have found the place they stayed at when the incident happened, which they realized just before walking right into the cops’ arms coming back from scavenging for scrap metal, bottles and cans to sell. They dropped their loot and ran, had been on the run since.
Their last night’s shelter had been their temporary home for three nights now, time to move on. They would not return. Both recalled a diner they had read about in tossed newspapers and it sounded delicious, plus with the paper money Josh had found on the street the other day, it was within their grasp, if they did not go overboard and it woulld leave enough to figure out whether Emerson’s stomach issues of late were just nerves and bad, infrequent eating habits or something worse.
They were a couple, but whenever they did engage in anything physical they were very careful, well aware that a pregnancy would be even more devastating now than for most other teens. Emmi’s rapist had not taken the time or courtesy to protect her – or himself. While she tried not to worry about it, she did.
And so did Josh.
The tensions of the rough past months and now this added worry had enough potential to break a couple up, especially one so very young, but on the teens it had the adverse effect, it had fused them closer together yet.
They reached the parking lot now and she pushed the dismal thoughts far away.
Food. Not healthy food, but tasty and filling food.
They entered were seated and ordered.
The prices were very reasonable, the portion sizes huge as they could see from the other patrons’ plates, they could really fill up for once. And they would!
Once the food arrived they were in seventh heaven. Eating, giddy, flirty, tasting each other’s dishes, free refills on their sodas … life was grand for these teens for just a few hours.
After lunch they started walking to a gas station with an attached convenience store to buy the dreaded pregnancy test, spending money they did not really have to spend, which could have been used for food and save drinking water.
The couple entered the store and started looking around the shelves, evidently searching for something.
The store attendant eyed them, but did not offer any assistance. Teens were not usually a popular crowd with gas station clerks.
“So where would stuff like that be?” Josh wondered out aloud.
“How am I supposed to know, never needed to buy one of those. Last one was handed to me by a nurse while I melted into a puddle of shame at school.” Emmi shook herself at the memory, frowning.
“Nothing to be ashamed of … only natural what we did.” Josh shrugged.
“… and it got us expelled and into this whole mess.” she retorted.
“Sounds like you are regretting it all.” his eyebrows drew together as he looked around shelves.
“As if you are not! Not exactly the life we have always dreamed of. We’re not made for this. Anyhow, there, by the condoms and feminine hygiene stuff … next to the booze on sale. Yeah, makes no sense, but whatever.” she shook her head and picked up one of the the boxes. Selection was sparse, one of each, except booze, candy and sodas, which they seemed to carry everything known to mankind.
“Look, they have hot water bottles by the feminine monthly stuff .. now that DOES make a lot of sense. That would mean gags, tranquilizer guns and duct tape should be one shelf over.” Josh chuckled.
“I am glad you are having fun.” she mumbled as she turned over the package of the pregnancy test to look at the instructions on the back.
“Why are you reading that? Not rocket science. Pee on this stick. The end. Oh … P.S. make sure your aim is good.” he snickered.
“Let’s just go and pay. Do we have enough money?” Emmi didn’t feel like joking.
“Yeah, barely.” he replied, pulling out the paper and coins from his pocket.
Ringing them up, the cashier measured both of them up, head shaking, causing both to blush. It was obvious what he was thinking. Teens doing naughty stuff, too dumb to use protection. If he only knew the truth.
As they exited, Josh told Emmi
“Good thing that wasn’t weird.”
“Hey, wait, they have a public bathroom here. Let’s do it here and now. So we both finally have peace of mind … or know we can freak out for realz. Either way, I can wash my hands after.” Emerson thought about the unhygienic way they were often forced to live.
They went back inside and under the watchful eye of the clerk Josh waited outside the bathroom door.
He grinned embarrassed.
Yeah, some boy standing guard in front of the bathroom door.
Not creepy at all.
Minutes later Emmi returned, her facial expression unreadable.
“Oh, crap!” he said.
They hugged, both immensely relieved.
While Josh would have been 100% supportive, he was glad this was not put to the test. What had happened to her was already bad enough, no need for a living, breathing constant reminder in their lives.
And if she ever had a child, he really preferred it to be his.
And not at 16.
“Phew, one scare off our minds. Imagine that ugly old nasty dude had … ugh!” Emmi frowned and looked like she was about to throw up.
“Try not to think about it. Let’s find a place to sleep, it’s gonna get dark soon.” he rubbed her cheek.
Randomly picking a direction they just walked, scanning the surroundings for potential hiding spot.
As they attempted to cross a street some bright red exotic sports car came flying around the corner at way too high speed, music blaring and nearly hit them.
As both of the teens jumped backwards, the car came to a halt with tires screeching, Josh’s eyes met those of the reckless driver for just a blink of an eye.
“OH SHIT! Emmi, run! The other way, just RUN!” Josh shouted as he was already turning to run.
They did not get far. It took seconds until Josh was pulled back backwards, captured and the impact of the pursuer grabbing his sleeve ripped him around.
Emmi stopped and cried, scared.
“So I am not soft in the brain! It IS you! Dude what the FUCK?! Sorry, ladies present. But seriously, are you deranged!?” the captor laid into Josh.
“Please don’t tell anyone! ” Josh begged.
“Seriously?!” the other guy snorted a laugh.
“How the hell did you catch us so fast?” Josh wondered.
“Used to be college track team captain. I like moving fast, and not just in cars. Sorry about that, by the way. I know you are Emerson, haven’t been officially introduced, but I am Massimo and this guy’s … uh … what are we to each other, Josh?” he seemed confused.
“I dunno. Cousin something removed maybe? Who cares? Please let us go.” Josh insisted.
“Yeah, whatever, so Emerson, your bae here and I we are somehow related around eight corners. Great meeting you, now let’s get. Sorry, my Ferrari is a two seater, but you two skinny kids will fit somehow, just take your girl on your lap and strap in, Josh. Let’s go.”
“Come on man, we can’t. Just let us go. Pretend you never saw us. PLEASE! What are you doing all the way out here anyway?” Josh tried.
“You are not leaving, unless it’s with me, and don’t even try anything cute kid, I played Rugby too. And what am I doing here? Really? Now you want to be my mommy? I am also already an adult, unlike you two! Let’s get going.” Massimo seemed annoyed.
“Where are you taking us? Please not to my parents…” Josh begged.
“Nah, let’s go to the friggin zoo, numbnuts! Of course I am driving you home! Duh! Do you know what your idiotic stunt has done to this family? My grandma almost lost her baby, which by the way was born while you were our spelunking in trash heaps, Cailean’s too. Both had girls. And Isabelle got hitched in some hush-hush wedding to an Ellington. She is balling now big time! So much has happened while you were gone. But you need to talk to your parents, man! They are THIS close to getting a divorce! YOU are 100% going back home! For you guys’ safetly but also so you can fix the shitstorm you both caused! And you as well. Basta!” Massimo seemed upset.
“WHAT!?” Josh felt like the rug had been pulled from underneath him. His parents? Splitting up? No way. Not them.
Josh and Emmi went with Massimo, piled up into the passenger seat, then he drove off. He dominated most of the conversation, updating them on all that had transpired since they left, complaining about them reeking bad and hoping it wouldn’t permanently ruin his ‘exquisite Nappa leather seats’, before telling them how silly they had been. Both teens were way too occupied processing the news and having been found to really pay much attention, plus it was obvious that it was his relief that made him so wound up.
While they were a long ways from home, he made it in record time, dropped off Emerson at her home first, since the exit to Windenburg came before the one to Brindleton Bay. She tried to get him to drop her off at the ferry landing, but he insisted on handing her over to her sister. Then on to Brindleton Bay. Josh barely spoke, and did not even beg to be let go. He needed to find out what was going on back home.
Massimo stopped his car, there was nothing sneaky about the loud roar of the powerful engine, which echoed off the walls of the houses in the quiet hamlet that was Brindleton Bay, as he climbed out of the low driver seat, the front door already opened and Katie emerged.
“Massimo, I wasn’t expecting you tonight. Did Vivian send you for her casserole dish?”
“Not here to pick up, here to drop off. Hey, come on bud, chop chop!” he said knocking on the roof of his car when the passenger door opened.
Katie screamed when Josh came into view, they ran to each other and hugged right as Everett came out of the house, screamed as well and joined in the hug.
Once they were able to let go they thanked Massimo, who just smiled his playboy smile and waved it off. Everybody knew that beneath his carefree exterior was a dyed-in-the-wool family man, a trait all Auditores seemed to inherit.
Everybody also realized that despite of the current excitement there would be a long road to recovery ahead for the teens and their families to work through all the terror and trauma the past months had caused …