Desert Fire

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I thought the drive was bad before…now it’s absolutely miserable. I’ve been curled in a ball, leaning my head against the window for two whole hours. It took the first hour to finally stop shaking, but a tremor still rocks through me every few minutes, because she’s still sitting next to me. Having her so freaking close, still holding the gun in my direction, does weird things to my head. My imagination has her finger slipping, a bullet coming toward me, blasting my brains all over the window. No matter how many times I yell at it, my brain will not shut up.

Kay hasn’t moved either and I feel slightly guilty, because she’s probably blaming herself for what happened. It isn’t her fault; I would have gone without her anyway, but I also really want to whine about how all the bad stuff happens to me. After all, it was her fault the last time Scarlet put her hands on me. I said I forgave her, but I’m not really the forgive and forget type of gal. I kind of want to hate her and put all the blame on her, because it’s so much easier than admitting I’m at fault.

No one, besides Scarlet, has said a word since we left the base. We stayed silent while she went on and on about how some of the Elites’ agents showed up at the castle shortly after we left. They told Scarlet they were taking Bryn and Eva and she readily handed them over. Not that they weren’t excited for the opportunity, she told us. Of course, they were proud; they’re sadistic bitches, exactly like the one sitting next to me.

Apparently, before the agents left the castle, they tasked Scarlet with finding Kay and Payton, because they didn’t know about me, yet, which totally blows my mind and clearly pissed her off, because she kept glaring daggers at Cadmar while talking about it. I want to ask him about it so bad, but I won’t give her the satisfaction of knowing she’s piqued my interest. That seems to be Cadmar’s thinking, as well, because he just let her talk all our ears off.

She seemed to especially enjoy gloating about waiting at the base for Cadmar to come, because she knew he would come for the flash-drive. When he showed up, she hid in a compartment on the jet until she was certain he wouldn’t see her go in behind him. Kay and I showing up was a bonus…more like the worst thing ever!

While she spoke about that, I kept wishing for my iPod, for some screaming music to pound the memory of a gun pointed at my head out of my brain. It’s in the back of Cadmar’s chair, where I left it when we got out of the Jeep at the base. I want it so bad, but the gun still pointed in my direction makes me think twice about grabbing it. I couldn’t even bring myself to move when the phone vibrated in my pocket while she was chattering about something or other. Payton must have finally answered my texts and I want to know what she said and tell her what happened. I wonder if she’s worried I haven’t answered. I want to tell her about Scarlet, beg her to come to our rescue or warn her we’re coming for her, something.

Scarlet must have finally gotten irritated with us for not getting hooked on her bait, since she fell silent about fifteen minutes ago and is now glaring some more daggers at Cadmar. It’s funny, because I don’t remember her ever being the talkative type before. Does she actually miss Cadmar? Is this her pining after him? The thought makes me want to laugh.

I have no idea where we are; I think the last sign we passed said we’re in Utah, but this is bound to be an even longer, more miserable drive. I glance at the rearview mirror for the millionth time, begging Cadmar to look at me, but his gaze remains on the road as it has this entire drive. The silence drives me nuts—I almost miss Scarlet’s jabbering—and my stomach is eating itself. If I don’t get some food in me pronto I might pass out, which may actually give me some relief from this awful situation.

“How much longer?” Scarlet asks, the sound of her voice causing another shiver to move through me.

Ignoring it, I glance in the mirror again, wondering if he’ll answer. My eyes meet his and they’re looking right at me, giving me a hard look, as if he’s trying to tell me something. But what? I’m not a mind reader, Cadmar!

“Only another hour,” he says after a long silence. An hour, what? “She’s in Salt Lake,” he adds and it takes everything in me not to give him a questioning look and give whatever this is away.

We’re not actually getting Payton? He’s not letting Scarlet win?

Oh holy day! The clouds are finally parting.

Kay doesn’t react in the slightest, making me wonder if they talked about this while getting the Jeep. I can’t believe I didn’t think about that! Did they come up with a plan to get us out of this shit situation? Oh, sweet baby Jesus, please say it’s so!

“Ah, you sent her ahead to do the grunt work,” Scarlet’s awful voice cuts through my awesome train of thought. What does she mean, grunt work? Is this database thingy in Salt Lake? “I didn’t think you had it in you to use the girls, especially her,” she spits the word like its poison in her mouth, showing how much she despises Payton. Gosh, she’s a psycho! “There may be hope for you yet,” she muses, but Cadmar doesn’t respond, doesn’t make any indication he’s even listening.

I want to know what the plan is, want to somehow sneakily get the deets from Kay, but it would be impossible without giving something away. Her silence makes more sense now, though. Forcing myself to stay curled in a ball, I look out the window, hoping Scarlet won’t sense the anticipation coursing through me. After miles and miles of boring, bare highway, we’re finally nearing a city.

Oh please, please, please get us some food!

This mental trauma is eating away at my reserves and I don’t have much left. I need some form of food going in my body every couple hours to keep my energy up. I look back in the mirror with hopes to portray my message of needing some fuel to Cadmar, but no such luck; his eyes are glued back to the road.

I want to shout for joy when he signals for an exit in Provo. Oh, sweet Lord, did he see my look? Or is he just a mind reader?

“What are you doing?” Scarlet snaps, pointing the gun right at my head.

I hate how I flinch; showing the fear, which instantly consumes all other thought. She will shoot me if she thinks anything is amiss—Kay’s nifty word.

Without taking his eyes off the road, he answers, “We don’t have enough gas to make it the rest of the way and the girls need to eat.”

Food, that’s right!

“This tank can easily get us the rest of the way,” she retorts, leaning forward to look at the gas gauge, “and they’ll be fine.”

From my little crack on the left side of Cadmar’s headrest, I can see his hands grip the wheel, his knuckles whitening. “You have tortured them enough flailing that damn gun around. I will not allow you to starve them, as well.” The tone he says this in is completely calm, quiet, but she of all people should know that’s when Cadmar’s at his most dangerous.

“Their hunger will mean nothing once we hand them over to the Elites,” she informs him in a cool tone. Okay, so she apparently doesn’t realize how pissed he is. Leaning further forward, but keeping the gun held high, she adds, “It would mean even less if they were dead.”

I wish her saying things like that wouldn’t affect me, but it does, causing the damn shakes to start up again.

“I thought I warned you about making threats,” he says, almost sounding casual while he pulls onto the off ramp.

“Your warnings mean nothing when these girls lives hang in the balance,” she snarls, leaning far enough, she’s almost right in his face. “I realize now how they mean more to you than anything else. There was a time when you felt that way about me and I will get it back. Now get back on the highway or your precious Reiley goes first!” She’s screeching so loud I barely hear the deep growl rumbling in Cadmar’s chest, but I do hear it.

Is he growling for me? That sounds so lame, but it makes me think he cares; he actually cares! His hands grip the wheel tighter and tighter; I’m afraid he might pull it off, but he doesn’t respond.

“That’s right,” she keeps going and I want to tell her to stop, because she’s only poking the beast, but I want the beast to come out. I want him to kill her. “Don’t think I don’t know who’s she is.”

Wait, what? Who’s who is?

I want to voice these questions, but she continues. “I’ve known all these years. How could I not? She’s the damn spitting image of her. And the suspicion was only solidified when I found out you haven’t told the

Elites about her. Probably for the same reason you insisted she wasn’t ready to go on assignments.”

“Enough,” Cadmar barks, but I actually don’t want her to stop. I want to know more. I need to!

Who’s am I?

Why was he keeping me a secret?

It doesn’t make sense.

“I say when it’s enough!” she screams, the gun shaking in her hand.

Oh, God, is she going to shoot me out of pure anger?

The thought has my stomach clenching. I don’t want to die before I get my answers. That’s inconceivable! I keep my eyes on the gun while she continues yelling for him to get back on the highway. I’m so caught up in fear and loathing I can’t look to see if he complies.

But a thought occurs to me while I literally stare down the barrel of the gun. If he wasn’t letting me go on assignments simply because he was protecting me that means he doesn’t think I’m weak. He may even think I’m strong! The thought gives me strength, helping the fear ebb and the shakes to stop. I get a crazy idea.

That’s a terrible idea! My rational side screams.

But it could work! I know it could! You might screw up their plan, idiot.

Or I might help it along, so shut it, brain!

If only I can do the one move Cadmar taught me to get a gun from someone. I can do it! Cadmar taught me, and he’s the best there is; now is the time to make him proud. She calms down slightly, her voice quieting. Is he getting back on the freeway? The time is now!

In one move, I uncurl, wrapping my hands around hers, twisting it to get the gun away. It’s working, but she screams something, squeezing the trigger when I pull the gun away. Kay screams, Cadmar yells something, my ears ring, but I keep the gun pointed at a laughing Scarlet.

Wait, laughing?

It doesn’t matter; keep the gun on her!

I do keep it steadily trained on her, taking in several deep breaths while she continues laughing. My hands are steady; I’m not shaking!

My ears keep ringing, but I hear her say, “You aren’t going to shoot me, but props on getting the gun away. I didn’t think you had it in you.”

“Wanna bet?” I snarl, the fury and power of having the gun consuming me.

“I also didn’t think you had it in you to shoot your own sister,” she says before starting to cackle again.

“What?” I say in a daze, finally looking up front.

Kay is slumped in her seat, her glasses askew, and Cadmar has one hand pressed against her side, covered in blood, the other steering the Jeep. Oh, God, what did I do? Is she dead? My ears buzz some more and the world spins, causing the gun to fall from my hands, clunking on the floor.

“Reiley,” Cadmar says my name, and the only reason it registers is because of how softly he said it.

My blurry eyes meet his in the mirror. His are so troubled, filled with pain; they cause sobs to wrack through me. I don’t know what to do. What do I do?

“I’m going to kill you for this,” I think I hear him say, causing fear to consume me.

He’s going to kill me.

“I didn’t do it on purpose!” I plead, sobbing, over and over, but a loud screech sounds next to me before the Jeep swerves in a quick jerk.

My seatbelt locks, holding me in place, but a sick, cracking sound comes from Scarlet’s side. I glance at her to see she’s slumped in her seat, as well. What just happened? Was that sound her head? Am I losing my freaking mind?

“Reiley,” Cadmar says my name in that soft tone again, making my gaze jerk to his.

Both his hands are on the wheel, one of them drenched in Kay’s blood.

“I didn’t mean to, Cadmar, I didn’t.” I shake my head, tears pouring down my face. “I was j-just t-t-trying to help. I d-didn’t mean for anything…to…happen. You h-have to b-believe me. It just…the gun…she wouldn’t stop…it was pointed at m-m-me.” I blubber incoherently.

“Reiley,” he says, firmer now, his hand returning to Kay’s side. “It wasn’t you. You didn’t do this, but I need you to focus right now.”

“But I did do it,” I insist. “I tried taking her gun.

I was the—”

“Reiley.” Him saying my name in that composed tone seems to calm me enough to let him talk. “Your finger was not on the trigger. Now please focus; we only have a minute before she wakes.”

Removing his hand from Kay again, he fishes in his pants pocket, pulling a syringe out. He holds it out to me and I take it with trembling hands. “You had a plan.” The sobbing starts again while I stare at the syringe. “I k-knew it. I knew y-you had a plan and I r- r-ruined it. I killed Kay!” Her name wrenches from my lungs, making my whole body ache.

“Please, Reiley,” his pleading tone has my sobs instantly subsiding. He never pleads. “Yes, we had a plan, but it was nearly as dangerous and could have caused the same chain of events. Kadence is not dead, but I need you to help me make sure Scarlet stays unconscious, so you can assist me with keeping Kadence alive. Can you do that?”

With a quivering lip, I nod before turning to Scarlet. My heart jumps in my throat at the sight of her shifting around, groaning loudly. I quickly stab the needle in her leg and plunge the liquid in. Her eyes snap open, looking at the needle in her leg then at me with a fierce glare before slumping in her seat again.

“Good job, Reiley,” Cadmar commends when I drop the syringe on the floor. “Now in the side pocket of my duffle bag is a first aid kit. In it is a large syringe with thick, stacked discs in it. Get it. I need you to act; don’t hesitate.”

Without saying anything, I unbuckle and do what he said. Reaching over my seat to his bag, I find the kit easily. I sit back down, ignoring unconscious Scarlet, and pull the weird syringe out. Thankfully, my hands have stopped shaking.

“Got it?” he barks.

“Yeah.” I lean forward, holding it up.

“Stick it in the wound and press the plunger,” he instructs.

I go to follow his instruction, leaning further toward Kay, but pause, sucking in a sharp breath at the sight of the bullet hole in her side and the blood slowly streaming out of it. Act! I yell at myself and hurry to do what he said before giving Cadmar a terrified look. “Can she survive this?”

His jaw clenches, one clean hand, one bloody, gripping the wheel. “The bullet went straight through,” he says, but it sounds as if he’s talking to himself rather than to me. “Those are little sponges, which will stop the bleeding and apply pressure simultaneously. I can remove them and fix her up once we’re somewhere safe.”

With that, we fall silent while he speeds down the road and I stare at the bullet hole in the glove box in front of Kay.

I hate myself.

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