“I'm gonna call my mom before we head in,” he said, going around to the trunk to get his cell phone from his duffel bag.
I followed him around. The diner wasn't very crowded, so I could afford to wait through his phone call, and I knew his mom would probably want to say hi to me before the conversation was over. I stretched my arms above my head as he dialed, trying to get my limbs back in working order after being in one position for so long. This was the first stop we had made in over five hours, wanting to get our bathroom, gas, and food breaks in all at the same time. We were making good time. Things were finally looking up, relatively.
I could hear a faint ringing, and the click as someone picked up the phone.
“Hey mom,” Jason said, and suddenly there was a stream of conversation from the other end.
I watched with interest as he furrowed his brow, listening, his mouth opening to say something, but then closing again as the voice kept talking. It was definitely his mom's voice, but she sounded frantic. He looked over at me, and his face went a shade paler as he kept listening. I strained to hear what was being said, but it was too faint to make out the individual words.
“Okay, mom,” Jason finally added, when his mom's voice petered out, “okay, yeah, we're half a day away.”
There was some more talking, and Jason turned away from me to look back in the direction we had just come from.
“Okay, yeah, late tonight,” he said, still turned away.
She said something else, this time more quietly. I could barely hear her now, since he had the phone turned away from me.
“I love you too. Bye.”
He hung up, and turned back toward me. His face was still pale and his eyes were wider than normal. All the joking of the previous few hours had disappeared in an instant.
“What's going on, Jase?” I asked, not sure if I really wanted an answer.
“What about her?” I kept my face neutral.
The answer could be a couple of different things, but the absolute worst was-
He was watching me, probably to make sure I wouldn't break down or something, and I held his gaze for a moment before I was forced to look away. I did not want to have this conversation here.
“Get in the car,” I said, not waiting for an answer as I slammed the trunk closed and went around to the passenger side to slide back into the seat I had been in for the last 6 hours.
Jason slid into his seat soon after, turning his concerned gaze on me. “Those cops came by my parents' house. They said they wanted to talk to you. We have to go back.”
“No,” I replied automatically, the vehemence in my voice taking him aback.
He still had that look on his face, like he wasn't sure if I was going to crack. This time, though, he should have been worried about himself. Marci's eyes flashed through my mind as I closed my own and leaned my head back on the seat. I could still see her blood on my hand. I wondered if Amy had buried her in the woods, like I assumed. Wherever she had gone, it wasn't far enough.
“Tricia, she was murdered!” he shouted, now looking at me like I had already cracked.
“Yeah,” I said, looking out the window at the diner.
I still didn't want to have this conversation out in the open, but it looked like I wasn't going to have a choice.
He was silent next to me, but I couldn't make myself look back at him yet. I didn't want to see him like this. Jason breaking down was not something I handled well, even under the best circumstances. The sounds of the cars driving by on the street in front of the diner were like white noise. Finally, Jason shifted next to me.
I nodded at him, still turned away.
“Why didn't you tell me?” he demanded, and the accusation in his voice was painful.
I didn't have an answer for that that he'd want to hear. I sighed and turned to face him. He was looking at me like I killed his puppy, and I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes. His face was getting blurry as they built up.
“You need to go back,” I told him, trying to make him understand.
He was just staring at me, unblinking, as the tears finally broke and ran down my face in hot trails. I was staring right back, daring him to contradict me.
“You need to go,” I repeated, and the waver in my voice made me angry.
“What the hell is going on, Trish?” he finally asked, in almost a whisper.
I wiped my eyes, but the dam had broken and there was no stopping the crying anytime soon. The last few days were catching up with me, and I was emotionally drained. Jason was the only thing that had kept me going, but I couldn't get him any deeper into this.
“You have to go back, Jase,” I said, trying to make him understand, “I can't right now, but you can. You weren't there. You didn't see-”
Marci's dead face flashed through my mind again, and put my head in my hands, trying to get myself under control. I knew I did the right thing not telling him about it, but him finding out now was almost as bad.
“I'm not going back,” Jason said, his voice strong in its insistence.
I looked up at him sharply, and he was still staring at me, but now he looked almost angry.
“I told you I was in this all the way,” he said, and that was the thing that broke me.
I started sobbing in loud ugly gasps, and he pulled he to him, as close as we could get in the front seat of his car, holding on tight as the tears rained down and I tried in vain to catch my breath. I didn't want to fight it anymore, so I let him, crying on his shoulder, the wetness seeping in through his shirt.
I didn't know how long we sat like that, and I had no idea if anyone walked by the car, but I couldn't have cared less. I cried until the tears stopped on their own, and he held me tightly the entire time, saying nothing.
When I was finally sure I was done having my emotional breakdown, I backed out of his grasp, pushing myself against the car door and wiping my face again. I wiped my nose on my sleeve and looked back at his face. He gave me a pained smile, and I almost started crying again, but I managed to keep it pushed down.
“I think she was killed by the same guy that got Kim,” I said, gratefully accepting Jason's bottle of water when he handed it to me.
I took a big gulp, “that's the only thing that makes sense.”
“How did you know?” he asked, screwing the lid back on the bottle.
“I saw her.”
“Jesus, Trish,” he replied, and for the first time I noticed that he looked like he had been crying a little too.
His eyes were rimmed with red and he looked exhausted.
He put the bottle of water back in the cup holder and glanced up at the diner entrance when a couple exited, heading off in the other direction from our car.
“Is that why you wanted to leave town?”
I shook my head, “no, Jase. I had to find this guy. I still have to.”
He nodded, still gazing off toward the diner. “Okay, so we'll find him.”
“This is serious, Jase,” I replied, not entirely convinced he understood the magnitude of what he was deciding. “the cops are going to think I was involved if I don't go back. They're gonna be looking for me.”
“Then we'll have to make sure they don't find you.”
I stared at him like he had just sprouted a second head. “you want to get involved in this?”
He looked back at me, his expression more determined than I had ever seen it. “I am involved, Trish. And I'm not gonna let you do this by yourself.”
I really did love this boy.
“Okay,” I agreed, and for a moment he looked relieved.
He had thought I was going to refuse and send him on his way. I probably should have, but I wasn't strong enough. My weakness might have been destroying my friend's life, but my own relief at having him there made it a moot point.
“So what do we do?” he asked.
My stomach rumbled with a sharp pain. “First we eat. We'll talk about it over cheeseburgers.”
He nodded and we got back out of the car and headed inside. I prayed I didn't do the wrong thing not making him drive back home the instant he got off the phone.
The diner was much cheerier inside than J.C.'s with it's bad florescent lighting and dying waitstaff. This one was more in the vein of a 50s style theme restaurant. It had red and white booths and signed photos of celebrities covering the wall. There was a jukebox in the back corner pumping out classic rock, which I was grateful for. A break from the constant stream of Jason's radio was nice. He always managed to somehow find the stations that played nothing but his favorite barely signed bands 24/7. The Who was currently singing about a teenage wasteland at a non-deafening volume, which I found sadly appropriate for my life.
The waitress by the bar that showcased an assortment of pies indicated that we should sit wherever we liked with a gesture of her hand, so I led us to the back corner booth, passing by several empty tables on the way. The place wasn't exactly bustling, but it was doing enough business for there to be a buzz of chatter over the music.
I pulled some menus out from their resting place behind the red and white napkin holder and salt and pepper shakers, and handed one to Jason, who flipped it open, no doubt heading straight for the burgers. I skimmed over the drink selection, since it was the only thing my stomach seemed to be okay with getting a variety of. I had managed to keep a soda and a coffee down since this whole thing began. It was nice to not have to limit myself to a chunk of meat and a glass of water for every meal. It was something I didn't want to dwell too long on, since it made no sense to me, but I would enjoy it to its fullest.
The waitress came over and asked us what we wanted with a smile. It looked like the dinner shift waitstaff was better off than the graveyard shift.
Jason requested his usual coke and cheeseburger, and I added a triple burger, plain, and a large Dr. Pepper to the order.
“So you can still drink normal stuff,” he said, echoing my thoughts as she left to put or orders in.
“Thank goodness,” I replied, leaning back in the booth, “I can't imagine how tired I would be without the caffeine.”
“Maybe we should start making a list,” he said, with a hint of a grin, “things Trish can and cannot do.”
His moods were changing quicker than I could keep up, but I was glad the old teasing Jason was still making an appearance.
The music grew silent, and the jukebox whirred as the record changed, audible over the conversations going on around us. Mick Jagger's voice started singing over a strong bass and we both sat back, listening to it and silently agreeing to save our serious conversation for after the meal.
The waitress came back with our sodas, and we sipped them in silence, not wasting breath on small talk when we both were distracted by other things. It was probably a first for Jason, since he thrived on small talk. A few minutes later, just as Van Morrison had started crooning about a moondance, the burgers came. We dug in, both of us eating like it was our first meal in days. Jason always ate like that, but I was starting to challenge him when it came to who could down a meal the fastest. When our hunger had been mostly sated, my stomach going back to its usual dull roar, and our sodas had been refilled, I finally dove into the conversation we had been putting off.
“I have enough cash to get us around for a while,” I said, and Jason sipped on his soda, watching me, but not interrupting.
“I can get out as much as they'll let me from the ATM, and we need to ditch the car.”
He sputtered into his drink. “Why?”
“Because they'll be looking for both of us now, and your car is a dead giveaway.”
He grumbled at that, but didn't disagree. His car was one of his favorite things. Now I felt even worse for getting him into this. Fantastic.
“Why don't you just go into the bank and withdraw the money?” he asked, moving on from the car for now.
I knew he'd be back to his grumbling when we actually had to leave it behind.
“They don't have my bank around here. Besides, I don't know how far this has gone, and I don't want them calling the cops on us or something.”
He nodded, looking thoughtful. “I should ditch my phone.”
I agreed with that. Everything I knew about going off grid I had learned from the movies, but people were always getting caught by using a credit card and cellphone, so both those things were out.
“We still have the cash my mom gave me,” he said, patting his jacket pocket, where it had been hiding for the entire trip.
“We can try hitting more than one ATM and seeing if that helps. I should have gotten some out before I left.”
I had no idea what the max withdrawal was, but I had over $10,000 sitting in my account, and it was most certainly less than that. I was hoping it was more than like $500 though. That wouldn't get us very far.
“So we're a cash only business from now on,” he replied.
It would have to do for now. I was hoping to eventually head back home and clear everything up, but that was looking less and less possible every minute.
The waitress came by and dropped the check on our table, and for once I didn't try to get it from Jason. He grinned at me and pulled out his envelope of money, taking some bills off the top and stuffing it back in his jacket.
“Looks like we finally got over our argument about who pays the bill,” he said, standing up to head to the cashier to pay, “so, you know, silver lining.”
I snorted and downed the rest of my soda, trailing behind him.
“The first order of business is a new car,” I thought to myself as we walked back out into the dimming afternoon.
We'd have to ditch the Camry and get a new one for cash, so I'd let him drive it one last time to find some ATMs in the area. He rubbed one hand over the roof, in a loving gesture, and I rolled my eyes at him before getting back into the passenger side. At least with a new car, he might finally let me drive.
He gunned the engine a few times before pulling out of the lot, and I almost laughed. He was definitely going to hold a grudge over this one.
“Let's find an ATM and see how much magic I can work,” I shouted over the extra loud music.
He was having one last hurrah with his baby, so I didn't even try to turn it down. He nodded back at me, pulling onto the main road and beginning our hunt for an ATM. I used the small bank by the high school, that only had two other locations, so any ATM would do.
He pulled into a Bank of America a few blocks down from the diner, and I hopped out, my wallet in my hand, and jogged over to the walk-up ATM in front of the small branch office. I tried for $1000, but it would only let me get $500. It was a start, but I was far from giving up. They were going to end up feeing the hell out of me, but I'd hit up as many ATMs as possible, to give us a fighting chance.
I got back in the car and handed the pile of bills to Jason. “Put this in the envelope with the rest. Let's find a different bank.”
We drove to the next ATM we could find. After two hours of driving around, and eight stops, I had a total of $3000 in cash added to Jason's stash. I had discovered the maximum daily limit to my bank's withdrawals, and had racked up $25 in extra charges. It would have to do.
We ended up backtracking to a bus terminal about 20 minutes away. The parking lot was half full, and he pulled the car into a space near the back, under a broken streetlight. It was almost full dark now, and the Camry blended in with the rest of the cars. It would give us some time to get another vehicle and get out of town. I pulled my suitcase out of the back and looked at it in dismay. We had passed a car lot a few miles away that looked promising, but I didn't relish the idea of dragging my suitcase behind me.
Jason was still looking at his car with despair. If he could leave it behind, I could man up and take only what I could carry. I unzipped the suitcase and opened my messenger bag, swapping out my school supplies for clothes and toiletries. I grabbed the sewing kit and put it down on the ground. After a little more time rearranging, I was satisfied that I had everything I could not live without stuffed into my smaller bag. I looked up to see Jason watching me.
“I can't believe we're leaving all this stuff behind,” he said with a frown.
“It's just stuff, Jase,” I replied, even though I felt exactly the same way.
I should have planned better, but I was in such a rush to get out of town, I didn't take any time to think about worst case scenarios. I zipped the suitcase back up and looked around the dim lot. There was a small utility building nearby with a dumpster sitting next to it, the lid open and banging against the metal in the wind. It wouldn't take them long to find all our stuff if they looked around, but I could at least make them work for it a little. I grabbed the rest of the snacks out of the back of the car and put them next to my messenger bag and sewing kit. The empty wrappers were stuffed into the empty plastic grocery bags, and I gathered them together with my suitcase, hauling the load toward the dumpster. Jason watched from the car as I hefted the suitcase up and over the edge, throwing it into the large metal container, where it landed with a thunk on the pile of trash inside. I threw the plastic bags in after it, then hoisted myself up to see how everything had landed. The suitcase sat on top of a pile of black garbage bags, looking forlorn.
“A little help,” I called to Jason, who came jogging over.
“Hoist me up,” I said.
He leaned down and made his hands into a foothold, helping me to the top of the dumpster. I grabbed the edge and pulled myself up and over, landing on top of the suitcase. As I pulled some of the big garbage bags out from beneath me, the smell hit me and I had a sudden flashback to waking up in a dirty alley. I had come full circle, but at least this time I knew how I had gotten here. I ignored the smell and pulled enough bags up to cover the suitcase, not finished until I had gotten it pushed down to the bottom, completely covered by smelly black plastic.
“Okay,” I said and looked up at Jason, who was holding his breath and frowning.
He grabbed me by the waist and helped to maneuver me back out and down onto the ground.
“Now you smell like dumpster,” he said, pinching his nose shut.
I rolled my eyes at him, walking back to the car, “you're such a dainty flower.”
He grumbled at me, something he would probably be doing a lot more in the next few days, and followed me over to our stuff, which sat on the pavement behind the open trunk.
“Is that it?” he asked, eyeing the small pile of bags.
I looked through the car one last time, making sure it was completely empty, and grabbing the atlas, which I rolled up and shoved in the side pocket of my bag, where it stuck out high above the strap.
I nodded at him, and he slammed the trunk shut. The sound made it final. Time to fall off the grid until we had a better plan. We headed off toward the sidewalk that ran around the parking lot, both looking over our shoulders at what we were leaving behind.
“I couldn't do this without you, Jase,” I said quietly, hefting my bag up higher on my shoulder and pushing the atlas to a less awkward position.
He saved the smart remarks and just nodded. Things had just gotten a whole lot harder. I made him wait outside at the first drug store I spotted, going inside and walking straight to the haircare section. There was an entire rack of hair dye for purchase, but I stuck to the cheaper end. I didn't want to blow all my cash on this, but I also didn't want to make it too easy for the detectives to find us, so I grabbed an assortment of different colors. I grabbed some scissors at the end of the aisle and took my purchases up to the front.
“Can't decide?” the cashier asked.
She was an older woman with a fake tan and even faker bleach blonde hair. I gave her a smile and a shrug, conscious of the security camera over my left shoulder. I paid her in cash and took the bag from her after she gave me back my change.
“You should go with the lighter colors with your complexion, hon,” she said, and I flashed her another smile, eager to get outside.
Jason was standing by the side of the building, waiting for me. I led him across the street to a gas station bathroom that was on the outside of the building, no camera in sight. After a quick look around at the deserted parking lot, we slipped into the ladies room and I locked the door behind us.
“There is no way I'm dying my hair,” Jason said, looking through my purchases after he dropped our bags on the dirty floor. “I don't care how many cops are after us.”
“Relax, that's for me,” I replied, and took the scissors from his hand, “these are for you.”
“Oh, come on, Trish, don't you think you're going a little overboard here? We're not exactly on America's Most Wanted.”
“I'm not taking any chances,” I said, and forced him to turn away from me, facing the mirror.
I could see the exhaustion in his face. We had been driving around all day, and we both needed a place to crash, but we had a few more hours before we would get to that point.
“My mom doesn't even know where we are,” he said, “she just knows we were 6 hours away when I called.
“Oh shit, give me your phone,” I said, feeling stupid for not taking care of it back at the car.
He turned back around and pulled out the phone, trading me for the scissors. I pulled the back of it off after a few tries, and pulled out the little card inside. I didn't really know what I was doing, so I crushed everything in it under my shoe with a few jumps. After I was satisfied that it was broken enough, I reached down and picked it up, nose wrinkling at the feel of the disgusting floor under my hands. Oh well, I already smelled like a dumpster anyway. I threw the smaller pieces in the toilet and flushed them down, the water making a loud noise as it swallowed up half his phone. The rest I threw in the trashcan behind the door.
“Wash your hands,” Jason said, holding the scissors away from me.
I complied, if only because they felt gross and I didn't want to smell any worse than I had to, and then took the scissors from Jason, turning him around again and forcing him to bend over the sink.
“The sink smells like dumpster too,” Jason said in a muffled voice as I cut his hair off in big chunks.
I ignored him and continued to cut it, making sure it all landed in the sink for easy disposal. I pulled his head up and he had his eyes scrunched closed. Wimp. He was such a girl about his hair. This might even be a bigger sin than getting rid of his car.
“Okay,” I said, after I evened out the sides.
His crazy curls were gone, replaced by something short enough to have almost been done with a razor.
“I get to do you, right?” he stated, after looking at his new hair in the mirror for a moment.
Well, that didn't sound good. I ignored him again and crouched down to look through the hair colors. I needed something very different than my natural dirty blonde, but not so garish that it made people notice me in a crowd. I finally settled on a dark brown that looked like it might almost match my eyebrows.
The dying process took 40 minutes total, with Jason complaining about the smell for about 20 of those minutes. The bathroom wasn't exactly vented, so halfway through waiting for the dye to settle in, I let him peek his head out and fan the door back and forth when he saw that no one was around. After it was securely closed and locked again, I rinsed the dye out and used the provided conditioner on it once to get rid of the smell, then I handed him the scissors.
“I trust you,” I said, catching his eyes in the mirror.
His expressions were easier to see without his hair falling in the way. He gave me a mock pout.
“Well, now you've ruined it. If I give you a mullet, I'll just feel guilty.”
I smiled at that, hoping his skills with the scissors would be adequate enough to not give me a mullet accidentally. He cut chunks of my hair off, catching them as they fell and tossing them in the sink. When he was done, I washed them down with a spray of water until the sink was cleaner than when we had come in, finally looking up at myself when I was done. Overall, not bad. He was no professional stylist, but it was definitely different. It was a lot shorter and looked straight enough to not need any more cutting. It was a dark brown, that would fade a little when it dried, and anyone who was used to seeing me with the same hair for my entire life would certainly not recognize me at first glance.
“Perfect,” I said, grinning at Jason, who smiled back at me, rubbing a hand over his shorn head. “Let's go dump the rest of this stuff somewhere on the way.”
I grabbed my bags and waiting for him to grab his, checking to see that the coast was clear before we headed out across the still empty parking lot and down the street.
The walk to the car lot took another hour, and I was worried it was going to be closed by the time we got there, but the lights were still burning and a few customers were wandering around the lot. It was Thursday night, and it looked like the end of the week was a busy time for car buyers. I made Jason wait by the side gate with most of our stuff, trying to keep him out of view.
I wandered through the rows of cars, looking mostly at the prices. There were a few that were well within our price range, but I was hoping for something that would keep running longer than a day. I finally spotted an old taurus that looked like it had been taken apart and put back together a few times, the brown paint peeling off in places.
One of the salesmen approached me, his jacket sleeves rolled up, and a smile on his face.
“She doesn't look like much, but she'll run a while yet,” he said.
“I was hoping for something in the $300 range,” I replied, not wanting to take the time to haggle, but also not wanting to end up broke.
We still had to pay for all of the necessities, after all.
“Well,” he replied with a grin plastered to his face, “come on inside and I'll see what we can do.”
He led me inside to a dingy office and I took a seat in front of his desk. I would be willing to pay a little more to get it in cash and get out quickly, but I waited for him to pull up something on his computer.
“I tell you what,” he finally said, “I can give it to you for $400 if you're willing to pay in cash.”
Jackpot. I was sure the cash part was sketchy on both sides, but we needed to get out of town as soon as possible. I tried to keep from jinxing myself as I thought of how lucky I was to stumble into the shadiest dealership in town. He might be selling me a lemon, but who was I to argue at this point.
“Sounds like a deal,” I replied, pulling $400 out of the envelope that was crammed in the top of my bag.
“I will need to see some id,” he said, looking at me like he knew I was just as shady as him, “can't just give it to you.”
I pulled my fake id out of the other envelope and passed it to him. I held my breath as he studied it for a long moment, looking back up at me.
“Looking for a change?” he asked, motioning to my hair and putting the card down on his desk to type some information into his computer.
“Yeah, just needed a new look for summer.”
He was starting to get a little too curious, but I kept my cool.
“Do you like it? I wasn't sure if it was really me.”
He shrugged and finished typing, handing me back the license.
“I don't really know one way or the other,” he replied, “you'd have to ask my wife about that.”
I laughed at that, relieved when he stood up and unlocked a case of keys behind his desk. He found the right ones and handed them to me.
“Looks like we've got a match,” he said, “that was my easiest sale all day.”
“I'm just looking for something to get me back to school, maybe a little longer,” I replied, taking the keys from him and trying to keep from letting my spontaneous cover story get out of control.
“Well, now, she'll do the trick,” he said, ushering me out of his office and back through the rows to the dumpy looking car, handing me some papers and a receipt.
“Thanks so much,” I said, using the key to open the driver's side door and dumping my bag in the passenger seat.
I turned around to shake his hand.
“Sure thing, Miss Weiss,” he replied, taking my hand in a firm grip, “you have any problems, you just call us up and ask for Bill.”
“Thank you, Bill,” I said, getting in and starting the car.
Bill shut the door behind me and grabbed the flyer proclaiming $500 – GOOD CONDITION off of the windshield. He gave me a little wave, and watched as I pulled out of the row and across the parking lot. I breathed deeply and smiled as the engine stayed strong. I pulled out of the lot and turned to the right, getting into the flow of traffic. He was still watching me from the parking lot, but before he disappeared from view, I saw another customer come over and grab his attention. If I could keep the cops from connecting me with my new identity, I'd have it made. Somehow, I knew that would be easier said than done.
I circled the block and pulled into the lot about a block down from the dealership. Jason was already heading for the car when I pulled to a stop, probably having watched me pull out of the lot in the other direction.
“Sweet ride,” he said, moving my bag to the backseat and throwing the rest back with it.
“Yeah, I'm thinking of naming her,” I replied, with a huge grin on my face.
He grinned back at me, his relief almost as palpable as mine.
“You know what the best part is?” I asked, my grin turning into a smirk, “radio's busted.”
I laughed at his sour expression and backed out of the lot, heading back around to avoid the dealership entirely.