Jack’s ears pop. The engine noise is getting louder and changing tone.
He opens his eyes to the back of a white seat. He looks into the aisle to his right. The spacious walkway is lined with wide, plush seats like the one he’s sitting in, with tables and even long couches interspersed. He stretches his arms and makes a little grunting sound.
Jewel, standing a few feet forward talking to some other passengers, glances back.
“Sleeping beauty awakes.”
Jack doesn’t feel ready to respond to any lame attempts at humor. He flips up the window shade on his left and a light midday sky glares back at him. Rows and columns of city buildings, as well as highways with what look like little toy cars pass closely under him.
Jack reaches for his pocket, forgetting again about his phone. “Hey, when can I get my phone back?”
“You don’t need your phone.”
“Hell I don’t.”
Jewel walks over to Jack.
“What you needed was sleep. Which you just got.”
“When can I get it back?”
“Trust me on this, Jack. You don’t need it and you don’t want it.” Jewel stands above him, looking down sternly. “You want to put your friends in danger? Because that’s what would happen if you started texting them, posting updates, or whatever it is you do on that thing.”
Jack can’t help but crack the hint of a smile at Jewel’s old-person notion of what he might use a cell phones for. But he fixes his stone-face. He wants to stay angry at him for confiscating the phone. He turns to the window.
“Where are we?”
“Just south of D.C.”
Jack continues to look out the window, strangely mesmerized by the aerial view of the passing hamlet below.
Jewel sits sideways on the seat across the aisle from Jack. “Don’t fly much, huh?”
Jack looks over to him. He’s smiling back. He starts to feel petty not being at least minimally polite. “I flew once. I was like six or seven.”
“Where to?” Jewel sounds suddenly chirpy.
Jack is groggy. Minimal politeness he can manage, but he’s not going to open this up into a friendly conversation.
“The Grand Canyon.”
Jewel nods with recognition. “Good family vacation destination.”
“Yeah,” Jack says, remembering that trip in a wave of images and sounds that he hasn’t thought about for a long time. Sophie and him running around hopping on the rocks. Playing the license-plate game in the car from Los Vegas seemingly for hours. Mom splurging at the restaurant, getting them all big desserts. They laughed sitting at that big table. That meal together was the strongest image. A strange, random experience to leave such an indelible mark.
“How long you been on your own?”
It strikes Jack that this guy probably knows all about his life. He’s probably read his file. “Me and Grandpa, just a couple years. The accident was in the fall, my freshman year.”
“You’re lucky they didn’t take you away then.”
“Grandpa still had some sense. They said he was a ‘competent guardian.’”
“Then you became the guardian.”
Jewel leans forward. “I get that you had to make some tough choices, maybe some bad decisions along the way. Pretty clear you’ve sort of been living on the wrong side of the tracks. I can understand that. But that’s all behind you now. Your life is what you make of it from this point forward. I truly believe that.”
Jack looks at him skeptically. “Thanks for the advice. What are you, Tony Robbins?”
Jewel smiles, gets up, and walk forward into the cabin.
“Hey,” Jack calls after him.
Jewel stops and turns back. “We’ll get you your phone back, but it has to get secured first.”
“What’s that mean? You going to delete everything?”
“Most of it.”
Jewel remains standing, looking at Jack.
“How did they know?”
Jewel wrinkles his brow.
Jack explains. “Those guys who came to my house. How did they even know about me?”
Jewel takes a deep breath and steps closer.
“Let me guess. You can’t say.”
Jewel nods. “Something like that.”
Jack nods back, trying to read Jewel’s face.
“You’ve done a little hacking, haven’t you Jack?”
“Depends who’s asking.”
Jewel smiles. It seems like Jewel is about to tell him something, but holds it back. “Better if you don’t know certain things. All I can say.”
“This code-of-secrecy thing is getting annoying. It would just be nice to know why I’m such a big center of attention all of a sudden.”
Jewel laughs big, then cups Jack’s check like a baby. “Aw, you’re very special, Jack. You’re a snow flake.”
He laughs even harder at his own joke.
“Okay, okay. Real funny.”
“I’m just messing with you, Jack. You heard the doctor. Not a lot of people show the kinds of results you showed on that test, that’s all.”
“But what does that even mean?”
The pilot comes on the speaker. “We’re lowering the landing gear in the final approach to Davison. Please fasten your set belts.”
“Jack, I recommend you just behave yourself, and do what they tell you. Things will work out okay.”
Jewel glances down at his waist. “I guess I should put on a seatbelt or something.” He laughs, then takes the same seat as before, across from Jack.
The pilot makes more announcements, and Jack feels the landing gear lowering beneath him.
Jewel snaps his seatbelt. “Hope you’re rested up. You’re going to want to be for today.”
“You’re going to meet the others.”
Jewel looks at him for a moment, then laughs harder than Jack’s seen him laugh yet.
“What—what’s so funny?”
“You did think you were special!”
Jack shuffles in his seat. “Shut up.”
“You crack me up.” Jewel leans back in his seat and sighs audibly. “One of them’s a girl. About your age.”
Jack looks at him, sending his eyebrow up a twitch.
“You probably wouldn’t like her, though. Not your type.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Jewel gives him a knowing smile. “Well, let’s just say, she’s from the right of the tracks.”