Appearing annoyed with me, Victor takes my hand and yanks me out of the car.
I hardly protest.
We’re only in the store for fifteen minutes tops before we make it back outside, me with a new pair of casual gray yoga pants, a plain white t-shirt and a pair of running shoes. He also let me snag a package of low-cut white socks and a six-pack of white cotton panties. The whole time I felt like I was forgetting something, but it’s not until we’re back inside the car that I remember: I should’ve bought a bra. It’s been so long since I owned one I really did forget their importance.
I had expected to show up at a regular airport and get to fly on a passenger plane, but instead we drive to a place back in Green Valley and board a private jet. It only makes sense I realize, since he can’t very well get past a security check in any public airport with a suitcase full of guns, a duffle bag with a mound of cash and another chock full of suspicious items.
While on the tiny plane Victor presents me with my very own fake driver’s license, which looks so real it could easily pass for something from the DMV. I wondered where he got it, but never asked, assuming that earlier in the morning just before we left he went down to the front desk in the lobby to pick up a ‘package’.
I’m twenty-year-old Izabel Seyfried of San Antonio, Texas, today.
And the photograph, I’m not even sure how he managed to take it, but it’s definitely of me and so recent that I’m wearing the same filthy tank top I had been wearing since I escaped the compound. The natural background of the photo has been removed and replaced with the dull blue DMV background, so I don’t have any idea where I was when he took the photo, either. I don’t know, but I have a driver’s license and that’s good enough for me.
“The place where we are going,” Victor says, “is safe, but the woman there should not know your real name. No one should from here on out. I will refer to you as Izabel and you need to answer to that name as casually as you would your own.”
“OK,” I agree. “Who is this woman?”
“She is a liaison…of sorts. Though more like a contact.”
Confused, I ask, “But if she’s one of you, why lie to her?”
He takes a sip of water and sets the glass down on the little table jutting out from the wall of the plane underneath the elliptical-shaped window.
“It’s just a precaution,” he says, leaning his head back against the headrest. “When one person is wanted by many wealthy others, just about anyone can be swayed.”
I raise my back from the seat. “Wait a second, what are you saying? Do you think everyone else knows I got away from Javier?”
“I’ve received no confirmation of that, but it’s best to prepare in advance.”
As if I wasn’t already on edge enough….
Our flight lands in Houston just after twelve and there is an ordinary blue car—looks like something my mother used to drive—waiting out front for us. Victor grabs all three bags and conceals them inside the trunk. The woman driving I’m assuming is the contact. But she looks so ordinary, just like her car. I expected more sophistication, like Victor in his black suit and expensive shoes, but really she looks more like me.
“I haven’t seen you in years,” the woman says after Victor gets settled in the front seat. I sit in the back, just behind him.
“Yes, it has been a while,” Victor responds.
When the woman smiles over at him, deep lines form around the corners of her mouth. She has blonde hair, her age showing through her hair most of all, judging by the amount of gray mixed in. And she’s much older than Victor, by ten years at least. But she’s very pretty and clean and I feel embarrassed comparing myself with her in my current state.
We pull away from the building near the private landing strip and head for the freeway.
“I wonder what brought you to my neck of the woods,” she adds. Then she glances back at me briefly. “And who did you bring along? Pretty girl. I get the feeling she’s not—”
“No, she’s not,” Victor interrupts.
I’m not what, exactly?
Then he starts speaking to her in French.
Spanish, German, French? How many languages does this man speak?
I hate it that I can’t understand what they’re saying, but I know they’re talking about me. The woman glances at me in the mirror a few times, a little knowing smile tugging the corners of her lips. But even in a language that I can’t understand, I can tell he’s not being completely honest with her. Or, maybe I can’t. Maybe it’s just because I know deep down that I have nothing to worry about when it comes to Victor.
That fact surprises me more every day.
“It’s nice to meet you, Izabel,” she says.
I smile slimly at her and decide that since I have no idea what all Victor just told her about me that I’ll be better off not speaking much to avoid contradicting his story.
Many minutes later we pull into the driveway of a humble little house situated next to other similar houses. Two boys zoom past along the street on their bicycles when we get out. Directly across the street a man washes his car in the driveway. The woman we’re with raises her hand and waves at him and he waves back. It’s a very typical neighborhood, the kind that all of my friends from school lived in when I was growing up and was more respected by the popular girls than a trailer park.
The woman pops the trunk from a button inside the car and I join Victor at the back as he grabs his bags. But I don’t get a chance to ask him privately about what he might’ve said when she joins us seconds later.
“You’ll have to excuse the mess,” she says, fingering her keys; a purse dangles from the other shoulder. “I did clean up, but if I had a few more days to prepare I would’ve hired the Molly Maids.” She waves at us to follow. “Come on in. My poor Pepper is going to tear up my window blinds the longer we stand out here.”
I hear the barking of a small dog muffled by a side window as we approach the door underneath the carport. The blind moves erratically behind the curtain. There’s another car parked in the drive, under the carport cover, but it’s old and looks like it’s been sitting up like that for several years. When she opens the door, the smell of food, delicious food, instantly causes my stomach to rumble and ache.
“Lunch is ready,” the woman says leading us into the kitchen. She sets her purse down on the counter; already her yapping Pomeranian is making its rounds, deciding whose leg to sniff longer, mine or Victor’s.
“Have a seat,” she says gesturing toward the kitchen table.
Not having to tell me twice, I sit down in the nearest chair where an empty plate awaits me.
Victor takes the chair next to me.
The woman waltzes over with a ceramic bowl filled with whipped potatoes in one hand and a plate full of fried chicken in the other and sets them down in front of us. A smaller bowl of corn and a basket of rolls follow.
Not feeling right about being first, I wait to see if Victor will reach for something before me.
“What would you like to drink?” the woman asks. “I have soda, tea, milk, lemonade.”
“Water is fine,” Victor says and then he looks at me, casually nods his head toward the food, giving me the OK to start filling my plate. “From the tap,” he adds at last second.
I reach for the chicken first and pick up a piece with the tongs.
“I’ll have water, too,” I say, looking up at her as I drop a chicken leg on my plate. “Thank you.”
She smiles sweetly and walks around the bar toward the refrigerator and begins preparing our drinks, scolding the little dog verbally to send it strutting out of the kitchen and away from us.
By the time she makes it back with our glasses, Victor and I both have put all of the food we want onto our plates.
She sets our drinks in front of us.
I thank her again and feeling better about ‘going first’ now, I pick up my spoon and start to eat, but Victor stops me, placing two fingers on my wrist and lowering my hand back onto the table. My face flushes and I lower my eyes, hoping the woman doesn’t think I have the worst meal etiquette ever. I figure she must be the religious type, that we have to hold hands around the table awkwardly while she talks to Jesus and tells Him how thankful we are for this food and for the troops and all that stuff.
“Oh Victor,” she says playfully, “you can’t be serious.”
He doesn’t say anything.
I glance at him to my right, wrinkling my brows. Maybe he’s the one that feels it necessary to pray.
The woman sighs and rolls her eyes a little bit as she reaches over and slides my plate away from me.
I’m thoroughly confused now. I fold my hands in my lap underneath the table because I’m not sure what else to do with them.
I turn to Victor, momentarily lost in the mysterious depths of his eyes under the bright light from the fixture centered above the table. I swallow nervously and come back to reality when I hear the woman’s voice again.
“He doesn’t trust anyone,” she says to me as she scoops some whipped potatoes from my plate, into her mouth. She points her spoon at me and continues with her mouth full. “Never has. But it’s to be expected.” She swallows. “And completely understandable, being in his line of work and all.”
Her eyes veer to Victor’s and suddenly she changes the topic as if he gave her some private look of warning that I missed by the time I turned my head to see him, too.
“Anyway,” she goes on, now taking a bite of my chicken, “you two can stay here for as long as you need. Spare room is at the end of the hall.” She takes a bite of my corn and then my roll, finally washing the food down with her tea.
Then she slides my plate back to me. I take it hesitantly, fingering the edge of the plate and feeling uncomfortable about eating anything she just double-dipped her spoon in.
Victor slides his plate toward her next and she does the same to his food.
It worries me that in the home of one of his contacts he feels the need to have her eat the food first to prove to him that she didn’t poison it. I wonder briefly about our water but realize that must be why he requested it from the tap. He had been watching every move the woman made the whole time while I was metaphorically drooling over my first home-cooked meal since I hung out at Mrs. Gregory’s house.
Victor nods at me, letting me know that it’s OK to eat now. And I don’t give the germ exchange another thought and dig right in.
The woman, whose name I learn is ‘Samantha’, does most of the talking for the next thirty minutes while we eat. Every now and then Victor will add a few comments here and there, but I find that his conversation willingness is even more lacking than it was with me or Niklas. But she doesn’t seem to mind. In fact, she’s more accepting of it than I would be. If the two of them were on a date right now, it would be obvious to everyone in the restaurant that he is not at all into her and she’s completely oblivious to that fact. But this isn’t a date and I get the feeling that I’m the only one in this room who is oblivious to what’s going on.