“You don’t know what you heard.”
No denial. I’d wanted denial and not hearing it tells me more than words. I turn away and start to get into the car.
“Don’t do this,” he commands, but there is a hint of a plea to his voice I’m not sure is real. Maybe I just want it to exist. Maybe I just want to turn back time and make last night, and so many things, go away. “You need my protection,” he adds.
I laugh, but it is all pain and no humor. “Your protection was never what I needed.” It was his honesty. His realness that I now doubt.
“You need my protection,” he repeats. “That’s what I was talking to Derek about. Me protecting you.”
Is the camera feed live? he’d asked Derek. That isn’t protection. “Lies don’t protect me,” I bite out, and duck to get into the car again.
“I didn’t lie to you.”
I stop moving, grinding my teeth at the realization that I ridiculously want him to give me a good reason for what I’d overhead. There is no good reason, I remind myself as I had a million times last night. I let my guard down with him and I can’t. Not when my family is already dead and I could be next.
“I can’t do this with you,” I whisper, not even sure if he can hear me as I lower myself onto the leather seat.
“I will find you,” he calls after me, and the words are pure conviction, a promise.
“You can try,” I say, and my heart is racing as I yank the door shut, lock it, and shout at the driver, “Go, go, go. Go now!”
The car jerks into motion at the same moment that Liam pounds on the roof. Scooting away from the window, I watch as he tugs on the locked handle. “Amy, damn it!” he growls. The man I know to be private and in control, at least in public, is nowhere to be found. “Open up.” We keep moving and he runs beside us, leaning into my view. “Don’t do this. Stop. Stop now.”
“Do we have a problem, lady?” the driver asks.
“Drive and we won’t!” I shout at him.
He guns the engine and we pull ahead of Liam and the absence of him beside me is both a relief and a blow. I twist around to stare at him, the baseball cap falling from my hair, my eyes desperately seeking Liam. He’s running after us. Running. Liam doesn’t seem like a man to run after anyone, but he’s running after me.
My fingers curl into my palms and I force myself to turn and sit down. Liam was desperate for me. I know this. It was in his eyes, his actions. In his voice. And I am desperate for him, for the man who I believed finally ended what felt like an eternal hell of being alone. But I do not know why he is desperate for me, if there might be reasons beyond real emotion, any more than I know why I am hunted or why he might be involved. I only know that he could be. And right now, I know why I let six years pass before I looked for answers. Not knowing who to trust, or how to find out what I need to know without dying first, is terrifying. But not knowing was a facade of safety that never existed and is simply no longer an option.
I will find you. Liam’s words play in my head and I know he meant them. He will find me if I give him the chance. My nails dig into my palms where my fingers are still curled. If I ever see Liam again, it has to be my choice.
I sit up straight and survey the area outside the car as we exit onto the highway and I think of the note in the JFK airport. Be smart. Don’t link yourself to your past. Stay away from museums this time. Be smart. We are traveling the expected path in a car that I’ve been spotted in by Liam. That is not smart, but calm slides through me as it had after the diner this morning, and I’m back in that ‘zone’ I’d found years before to escape the memories of the fire that had burned away my world. Stop and think, Amy, I tell myself. Stop and think before you act.
I resist the urge to scream for the first exit, thinking it, too, would be obvious. “Exit here,” I order several miles later, digging cash out of my bag and dragging the handle of my suitcase open.
The cab takes the frontage road. “Right or left?” the driver asks.
My gaze lands on a truck stop and a light bulb goes off in my head. “Get back on the highway,” I order, slipping my hair back under my ball cap.
“What?” the driver asks, sounding irritated. “You told me to get off.”
“I got confused,” I say and he stops at the light directly ahead of us and I open my door, tossing him cash.
My zone does not seem to stop my adrenaline from spiking like gasoline through my veins at the danger of being out in the open, a danger I’m ready to have behind me. Shoving the bag I’m using as a purse onto my shoulder, my singular suitcase in tow, I dart across the road. This will be over in a minute and I will be out of danger. I have a plan that is much better than the one I started with this morning.
The instant I’m inside the truck stop, I make a beeline to the back door that I can tell leads to the industrial gas pumps for the big rigs. I’m bypassing my Plan A, which had been to buy a cheap car off of Craigslist, one I wouldn’t need an ID to buy, and drive out of the state. Dangerous as it might be, I’m hanging onto my cash, and hitchhiking. It’s dangerous, but so is staying in the city any longer than necessary.
Stepping outside again, my plan is to find the most un-serial-killer-like person as possible but as I exit, a short, bearded man in jeans and a cowboy shirt grabs the door from me and stops a few steps from me. “You need help, sweetheart?”