It was easy to convince Jess to let her go with Mal on their school trip. There was no suspicion on her part, and Mal was so happy she was going with them. Nova felt like shit because she knew she was using them, and if Jess ever knew about it, she would never forgive her. She didn’t think she could forgive herself, either. Jess called her teacher, and everything was set. Vicious was going to send the package for Nova before they get on the bus.
Throughout the night, she couldn't sleep. His threat was hanging on her neck like a noose. She willingly gave herself a role that she couldn't take back. This was not something she could easily change her mind about; this was a real deal. It hits her that this was a life or death situation, and it was all she could do to hold herself upright.
The next morning didn't come easy. She picked up Mal and drove to her school. Mal tried to get me to listen to all the things she wanted to do today, but when you're about to do something that could land you in jail and mixed with betraying your friend's trust, everything was sour, and peace seemed to be so far away from you. Nova wanted to tell herself that she could do this, but even the most confident people often faltered.
The school bus; a yellow vehicle with black detailing and the name of the school painted on the side was parked in front of the elementary school. A few kids' faces were pressed against the window, and the woman Nova presumed was their teacher was standing by the door, a clipboard in hand. She was ticking off the names of the kids that were lined in front of her before she let them climb into the bus.
Mal let go of her hand and ran to her friend who was already standing on the line, and Nova was left to check in with her teacher first, Mrs Elliot. Another woman was standing next to her; a volunteering parent that Mrs Elliot had informed her about. She greeted them.
“You must be Ms Hunt. This is Mrs Charity McCarthy. She will be joining us today.”
Nova nodded and offered a smile. “Nice to meet you both. Do you know when we would be leaving?”
“In ten minutes; we’re just waiting for two other students to show up. If you want, you can get on the bus now.”
She shook her head with a smile that didn’t seem to linger on her lips for long. In ten minutes they would be leaving, and if the package didn’t show up in ten minutes, what would all this be for? That would be the start of a nightmare.
“I’m just—” she pointed a finger behind her, the smile back on her face. “going to make a phone call first.”
“Sure! I will call you when we are about to leave.”
Across the street, parked discreetly was that familiar black sleek car. Vicious was leaning against his car, waiting for her. His presence wasn’t something she had expected to see but wasn’t surprised. She checked behind her, but no one was paying any attention to her before she started crossing over to him.
“Vicious,” she greeted when she reached him.
Leaned against the door, he regarded her impassively. “Nova,” he mimicked with the same tone; soft and full of mockery. “Thought you’d chicken out.”
She crossed her arms over her chest. “Do you have it?” she chose to ask instead, and he wasn’t prepared for that dismissal when his brows arched slightly. He neither confirmed nor say anything before he straightened and went to the trunk of the car. He walked back to her with a blue cooler box.
He placed it on the ground. “Your death certificate, but don’t worry; it doesn’t have your name yet. It all depends on you, really.”
Her nerves were thick in her throat when she swallowed. “Comforting.” She watched him open the cooler, but there were only beverages inside. Nova opened her mouth to speak when he answered the question that was on the tip of her lips when his hand dug deep inside the ice and pulled out a brown pack.
“There are six more like this inside. I don’t think I have to tell you to hold on to the cooler and keep it safe.” He looked down at her, face unreadable. “Lorenzo’s boy will meet you when you reach your destination.”
She swallowed, trying to rid herself of the nervousness rising from her heart. “I got it.” She took the cooler and turned away from him to get back to the bus. She knew he was watching her; she could practically feel his gaze burning through her clothes.
Nova got on the bus and walked down the aisle, holding her breath tight like that could save her from a beating heart that was restless. The bus was loud, with chatters and laughter. She made her way to the back and eased into the empty seat, and for the first time since she woke up today, hope welled up in her heart that she could actually make it. A smile pulled at her lips.
She was left on her own; Mal was with her friend, and Mrs Elliot and Charity were at the front. It didn’t bother her. She leaned her head back and shut her eyes when the bus was pulled onto the road.
The driver stopped the bus.
Nova’s head snapped up. He opened the door and stepped out; she shared a look with the parent before the two of them made their way to the door and climbed out of the bus.
Charity was ahead of Nova and Mrs Elliot, so she was the one who asked, “What’s wrong?”
The bus driver had the bonnet open, and it seemed that the engine overheated. Nova felt like she was going to get lightheaded, but overheated engines didn’t necessarily mean they were stuck here or had to go back home.
“Is there a way to fix this?” Mrs Elliot expressed her concern with tight brows, looking back at the bus to wave at the kids who were trying to see what was happening through the window.
“We need water,” he replied. “I had no idea this was going to happen, so I didn’t think to keep a gallon of water on the bus.”
Nova ran her fingers through her dark hair, but it wasn’t something to panic over. When it was time to panic, she would. But this was the time to think, and it helped when she suddenly stepped forward. “We passed a gas station a while back.”
He scratched his head. “I can’t leave the bus.”
Mrs Elliot glanced at the three of them. “I can’t leave the kids behind. They’re my priorities.”
“I can do it,” Nova volunteered in a beat. She had much more to lose, after all. The responsibility fell on her the minute she took on the delivery. No one seemed to object. “Alright, I’m just going to get the—” She paused. They stared at her. She couldn’t tell them she wanted to get her cooler to prevent raising suspicions, and she couldn’t very well leave it with them. But she had no other choice than to gamble with her life.
“Never mind,” she added.
The gas station wasn’t far, but it also wasn’t close either. All she had to do was keep running, and that was what she did. Her whole body was working; fresh air entered her lungs and blood flowed into all her limbs. She didn’t stop. She kept running. For her life that she wanted to save. For Vicious who didn’t think she could do it.
Her steps pounded in time with her heartbeat. She continued to run for what seemed like longer than it should have, but it had just been three minutes. The wind whipped her hair back from her face as she pumped her legs to gain speed with each push, darting past trees. She felt a bead of sweat roll down my forehead and splatter to her chin.
The breath was knocked out of her by the time she reached the gas station. She walked past the automatic door and went straight for the fridge, grabbing a bottle of water for herself and almost drank half of it. There was no one in the store beside her and the cashier.
She picked up the gallon of water and approached the checkout counter. The cashier rang her purchase. “That would be three dollars.”
Nova nodded and went to get her bag when she realised she had forgotten it back on the bus. She searched both her pockets, but there wasn’t even a cent inside. She lets out a harsh breath. The cashier arched a brow when she took too long to pay.
She wanted to scream and freak out; however, she didn’t have the luxury to do neither. Each second that passed, the cashier would grow suspicious, and she couldn’t leave without the water. Her eyes drifted around, then back at him.
“Lady, that would be three dollars,” he added, annoyance punching in his voice.
“Yeah.” She nodded, laughing nervously. “I just thought if I forgot anything, and I did.” Turning around, she stalked back to the fridge and grabbed a bottle of beer. When she turned back, he was staring at her again.
It was now or never, she thought before she made the worst decision ever. She aimed and hurled the beer at the cashier’s head, whose yelling echoed in the store before he ducked under the counter. Nova made a run for it and grabbed the gallon of water before dashing out of the store. She could hear him yelling and cursing, running right behind her. But she had a head start. He would have no choice but to return to his unattended store.
Her heart was throbbing in her ears; loud and irregular, but she could barely hear it, for her mind was clouded with what she had just done. She did what she had never done before; she stole from a store. She was a thief. She steadied her breath and tried to calm down. Not the time.
Nova ran so fast and didn’t stop until she could see the bus from a distance. She opted to walk to collect herself. She was burning from the inside and out. When she was at a close range, she was paralysed to the spot, the fear holding her in a tightening grip. The kids were out of the bus and lingering around the adults, while Mrs Elliot was handing some of them the beverages from Vicious’ cooler. Terror sucked the very breath from her mouth, washing over her.
“What are you doing?!” Heart pounding in her ears, Nova tried not to scream when she reached them and went for the cooler. They stared at her as if she had grown two heads, but they wouldn’t understand her fear; and when she realised Vicious’ packages were still intact, she almost collapsed in relief.
She picked it up and held it against her chest, blinking at the set of eyes that were gaping at her. “I was just thirsty. The gas station was far, and I had to run, sorry.” Not waiting for a response, she climbed on the bus and went back to her seat.
They were back on the road twenty minutes later. Nova felt like a lump was sitting on her throat every time she remembered what she did. She tucked an unruly lock of hair behind her ear and ignored her thoughts.
She doesn’t realise that she had dozed off from the lack of sleep she had last night when the bus began to slow down. Her eyes drifted open. She listened to the giggles of the girls, wondering why they were pressing their faces on the window. The answer came quickly, but so did the sudden shock that made her tense her muscles. A police checkpoint.
Her breath quickened each time a car moved past the checkpoint, and the bus moved closer. She held her breath when a police officer hopped on the bus; she gripped her arm until she drew blood and pain. He nodded at the driver before he stepped out of the bus.
They passed the checkpoint.
Nova clapped a hand over her mouth to stifle her laughter. She made it. She really made it. She never doubted her idea was good, but to be able to go through with it—she chuckled.
It was around five in the evening when she reached home. A car pulled up behind her, inching along the sidewalk. She knew who it was before she had a chance to turn and look over her shoulder. When she finally turned around as she held her bag, her eyes met Vicious’.
“If you’re here to apology for ever doubting me, you can fuck off,” Nova commented as she approached his car, arms hanging loosely by her sides.
There was a smirk dancing on his lips, and she considered throwing her bag at his face just for a moment before she remembered she had already done so much in one day and her mood wasn’t something she was willing to test today.
Dark sunglasses covered his vibrant green eyes as Vicious lets out a soft laugh, his one hand still on the wheel as he looked out the front window. “When I was handing out an apology, I was just a kid. You’re years late.”
She rolled her eyes. As expected.
“I’m here to say good job, and to ask you to have a drink with me, darling.”
She would not lie and say her heart didn’t flip at his request. Was it a request? A date? As tempting as the offer was, he wouldn’t have the same reaction if she had messed up with his delivery. In short, she didn’t feel like playing games with him anymore. She didn’t think she would trust anything he would tell her. What was the point of giving yourself up to a man who would threaten to kill you the next day?
“Well, darling,” she made the term of endearment sound more like an insult. “I’m going to say no to that. I’m sure it won’t be hard finding someone who will be dumb enough to go out with you even after threatening her life. Have fun, Vicious.”
She turned and walked back to her house.
She doesn’t even see his knuckles gripping the steering wheel tight.