Saturday, October 21
We’ve been in the car since we left East Raven, only stopping to get gas and go to the bathroom every few hours. But my mind still plays back the last few moments that I was there.
Sander and me at homecoming.
The explosion that rocked the school.
The worst part about it all is that I don’t know if everybody is safe. I take comfort in the fact that my stepbrother, Charlie, is safe. But I don’t know anything about my friends. Was anybody injured? Or worse?
I won’t let my mind go there, but I don’t think I could live with myself if I got somebody else killed.
I literally can’t help where my mind goes next...
I can’t even imagine what his family is going through right now. All because their son met the wrong girl. And I know that it isn’t my fault, but I can’t help but blame myself. If he hadn’t known me, he would still be alive. It makes me sick to my stomach to think about it.
“Are you okay?” Sander asks from the driver’s seat. He’s been driving the entire way so far.
Nobody will tell me where we’re going. All I know is that we’re headed south. Maybe even they don’t know?
“I’m fine,” I say, pushing a stray hair out of my face. My messy bun is kind of falling down at this point, but I can’t bring myself to care. I just can’t stop thinking... maybe over-thinking a little. The hair falls right back into my face, so I push it away again. And again. Until I end up just ripping the entire rubber band from my hair in frustration.
“You don’t look fine,” Sander says.
I ignore him, putting my hair back up.
He wouldn’t be fine if he didn’t know if all his friends were safe or not, either. Then again, he probably is used to this life. His friends are in danger all of the time. It’s his normal, everyday life.
Maybe I’m not cut out for Spy School. There is no way I could live like this.
“Do you need to be distracted?” he asks.
“I could drive,” I say, grinning at him. “That would help distract me.”
He rolls his eyes.
The answer is an obvious no.
I would love to drive right now. We’re on the open road and there isn’t much traffic because we’re in the middle of nowhere. I’m from LA, where the traffic is usually bumper to bumper, no matter what time of the day it is. I’m a bit envious.
“We could use snacks,” Hunter says from the backseat, reminding me that Sander and I aren’t alone.
Hunter and Jaxon are with us. Which is a good thing, I think. The two of them mean more protection. Plus, I’ve grown rather fond of having them around.
“I could really use an energy drink,” I say.
He sighs. “Fine. We’re almost out of gas, anyway.”
“Yes!” Hunter says, holding out a knuckle for me to bump.
Yeah, okay, road trips are kind of fun. Especially when you’re with friends.
My stomach hurts again, thinking about my friends at East Raven Academy. There is really no point in worrying about them right now. Soon, I will find out exactly what happened. I know Sander will tell me when he knows something. And he can’t find out right now because he can’t contact the school.
A few miles up the road, Sander pulls into a gas station right off the side of the road.
“Am I allowed to get out?” I ask.
Because, sometimes they say no. They always make sure it’s safe before I’m allowed to even go pee.
“Yeah,” Sander says. “But stay with Hunter.”
“Aye, aye, captain,” I say, saluting him.
He doesn’t look amused.
It’s warm outside, so I slip off my hoodie, leaving it in the car. It’s so nice out here—a little humid maybe, but nice.
Hunter, Jaxon, and I walk inside. I have to pee, so Hunter waits for me outside the girls’ bathroom. Afterwards, we look through the store for snacks. I grab an energy drink from the fridge and then begin looking through the chips.
“Dill pickle flavored chips,” Hunter says, making a face.
“Seriously?” I ask, then spot the bag. I grab them. “Yum.”
“You are so gross,” he says.
“I like pickles,” I say, shrugging my shoulders.
Pickles are awesome.
Hunter grabs a bag of plain chips, which just looks boring to me. Afterwards, he grabs some jerky and a candy bar. I’m not sure I can handle anything more than chips on my stomach.
When Hunter and I meet Jaxon and Sander at the front counter, they both frown at my chip bag.
“Haters gonna hate,” I say.
“You are so weird,” Jaxon says.
“Might be good,” Sander says, defending me.
“Is the car going to smell like pickles now?” Hunter asks.
I just smile at them.
After paying, we head back to the SUV and get back on the road again. Sander continues driving. I’m just glad we’re somewhere warmer than East Raven was.
When I open my bag of chips, Hunter complains about the smell, so I taunt him and wave the bag in the backseat. Jaxon just laughs, saying it’s not as bad as he thought. Everybody tries one, even Hunter.
After eating, everybody seems to be in a better mood, me included.
“Are we at least going somewhere warm?” I ask, as the guys continue to ignore me when I ask where we’re going.
“Yeah,” Sander answers. “I think you’re going to be happy.”
“Why can’t I just know?” I ask.
“Because it’s a surprise,” he says.
“I hate surprises,” I say.
Okay, maybe not. I’m excited about this surprise.
I miss East Raven already. I definitely miss my friends. But not being trapped on campus anymore has potential.
I have freedom at last.
Eventually, we cross the Florida state line, which makes me sit up straighter. It’s starting to get dark and I was tired, but now I’m wide awake. We drive on the road with the Atlantic Ocean to our left and the sun setting on the right. This is amazing.
“How much longer?” I ask, looking out at the ocean.
“About five and a half hours,” Sander answers.
“Are we going to be on the coast the whole time?” I ask.
“Yep,” Sander answers.
Okay, yeah, this absolutely makes me happy. Insanely happy.
We’re going to be somewhere warm and on the beach. And while it isn’t exactly the same as being back home, I’m still very happy about the discovery.
We stop in a town just outside of Jacksonville to get gas and some food. I want something good, but the options are limited today.
“I miss Jaxon’s cooking,” I say, taking a bite of my chicken sandwich.
“I told you real food is better than fast food,” Jax says, smiling smugly at my comment.
“Yeah, yeah,” I say.
Maybe I have gotten spoiled by his food, though.
I don’t generally eat a lot of fast food at home. Mom isn’t much of a cook, but she did hire somebody to cook for us. Mom claimed she was too busy to cook. We all knew it wasn’t true, but we were all glad she hired somebody, just so we wouldn’t have to eat her food anymore. Even my stepdad, Rick, seemed happy about it.
“Are we going to Miami?” I ask, looking back at the road.
“Why can’t you just let us surprise you?” Sander asks, sounding completely defeated.
Which means I’m right.
We are going to Miami.
I grin. “Because I’m too impatient. And oh, my gosh! Miami! I’ve never actually been to Miami before. The closest I’ve ever been is Orlando. My dad took me to Disney World once. It was awesome.”
“You live in LA. Don’t you go to Disney Land all the time?” Hunter asks.
“Sometimes,” I say. “But Disney World is better than Disney Land. And it was fun to go with my dad anyway. I don’t get to spend as much time with him as I want, especially since he ran for office.”
Which is why I am now currently on the run with three boys.
The car falls quiet at my response. They’re probably all thinking about my dad’s political career. It’s been short so far, but definitely chaotic. Well... chaotic for me. And I know he’s gotten a lot of time on national TV because of all the drama. I just hope it doesn’t hurt his career. Especially since this whole thing at East Raven happened.
Despite all the problems my dad being in office has caused, I’m glad he’s sticking with it. I want him to be able to make a difference. It’s why he ran for congress to begin with. And I feel like he’s doing a lot of good. I’m proud of him.
I watch as the sun dips down and disappears over the horizon, making the water harder to see. But it’s still beautiful out here. Beautiful in a different way than Malibu is.
Well... Malibu is still there. Just not my house.
“Have you heard anything more about my mom?” I ask Sander.
“No,” he answers. “I know they’re currently on location filming a movie. They’re keeping everything under wraps for everybody’s safety. Plus, I think whatever the movie is, it’s going to be a surprise.”
“Oh, okay,” I say.
That’s good that they’re safe.
Mom is probably miserable, though. She hates going to film locations, unless they’re in the tropics. For mom and Rick’s sake, I hope they’re filming in Hawaii or Bora Bora.
“Do you think I’ll get to talk to my parents again soon?” I ask.
“Maybe,” Sander answers.
If it’s safe.
I know that the guys are doing all they can, but this entire situation still sucks. I try to not focus on the negative, though. Instead, I focus on the fact that we’re in Florida, on our way to Miami. I hope that wherever we’re staying is on the beach and that I get to spend a lot of time outside. I miss the sun and the warmth. And even more, I miss the water. I miss surf club. And even though I love my life at East Raven Academy, I still miss my life in Malibu.
As soon as I know if everybody at East Raven is okay, I think this might not be so bad. It’s like a mini vacation in October where I get to miss school for a while. That isn’t so bad.
My window starts to roll down and I look to see Sander rolling all the windows down. I breathe in the fresh smell of salt water, and smile.
Yeah, okay. This is definitely okay with me.
“Can we stay here until the bad guys are caught?” I ask, loving the warm air hitting my face.
“We’ll try,” Sander says.
I guess there isn’t much he can do if we have to leave. So, I will enjoy the time I’ve got here. I’ll enjoy every second of it.
Just after midnight, we finally arrive in Miami. We get a hotel right on the beach—a penthouse with a balcony that overlooks the water. It’s like something straight out of a TV show, and I’m not sad about it. I can’t wait to see what it looks like in the morning.
The penthouse is two separate rooms, each with two beds in them. Jaxon and Hunter are rooming together, so I guess that leaves me with Sander. It won’t be so bad sharing a room with him.
Technically, Sander is my boyfriend now. He asked me the night before homecoming... before everything. With everything going on since we left, I hadn’t given it a whole lot of thought until right now, as we are getting ready for bed. Separate beds. But still.
I get a quick shower, feeling icky after the drive. But I do take the time to shave my legs. There wasn’t much a point at East Raven, since it was too cold to wear shorts or anything, but it’s like summer here.
After my shower, I go into the living room area where everybody else is. I see everybody else has wet hair, so they all had the same idea as I did.
“We don’t have to train tomorrow, right?” I ask Sander, noticing the clock says it’s just after one in the morning.
“No,” Sander answers. “But Monday we will start back.”
“What day is it?” I ask. I’m not really sure, because all my days have blurred together.
“It’s Saturday,” he says.
“It’s Sunday morning,” Hunter corrects him.
“Right. Sunday morning,” Sander says.
“I’m exhausted,” I say. “I think I’m going to go to bed.”
“We all should,” Jaxon says. “We will figure everything else out tomorrow morning.”
“Sounds good,” Sander says.
Jaxon and Hunter go to their room and I follow Sander into ours. I still feel a little weird about sharing a room with him, but I’m more comfortable with him than I would be with Jaxon or Hunter.
“You okay?” Sander asks, once I shut the door behind me.
“I can sleep on the couch in the other room if you’d like,” he says.
“No,” I say, walking to the bed on the right and pretty much collapsing. “I’ll sleep better with you in the room, I think. I’ll feel safer.”
I’m not sure the part about sleeping better is true, but I will definitely feel safer.
“Let me know if you change your mind,” Sander says, walking to the other bed and lying down.
“‘Kay,” I say. “I’m glad we’re in Miami.”
“I figured you would be,” he says. “I’m sorry we couldn’t go to Malibu.”
“It’s okay,” I say. “I might’ve run into somebody I know there, which wouldn’t have been good. Plus, Malibu isn’t the same, considering the rest of my family isn’t there.”
“I’m sorry this has all happened to you.”
“It’s not your fault,” I say. “Thank you for protecting me.”
“I’ll always protect you, Phoenix,” he says.
His words bring a smile to my face.
I love this boy a lot.
“Go to sleep,” he says.
“Okay. Night, Sander.”
“Night, Phoenix,” he says.
I fall asleep easily and with a huge smile on my face.