The wind whipped through my clothes light a thousand little daggers, stabbing my face, and my arms, and abdomen as it blew angrily. I wrapped my arms around myself in a tight hug, trying to lessen the amount of my body that was accessible to the bitter wind. I leaned against a glossy black Mercedes car, belonging to a Deputy Marshal by the name of Hennity.
The old Marshal said I could lean against his car, after he rescued me from the police officer that was interrogating me. The Marshal said I could even get in the car, and turn on the heater, maybe listen to the radio, if I wanted to. I didn’t. I didn’t figure anything could take away the cold, numb feeling I had inside, so I didn’t see any point in trying to take it away from my outside. Even so, it was nice of Deputy Hennity to offer. He seemed to be a kind man, even though I still wasn’t quite sure how I felt about him.
I glanced up at the arrogant voice. An officer stood in front of me. I narrowed my eyes. I wasn’t sure what this jerk’s name was, but I recognized him. He was the one they sent to escort me to Hennity’s car. He manhandled me most of the way, and even threatened to handcuff me when I refused to walk at his brisk pace—the result of giving a little person authority.
“What do you want?”
“The Captain wants to talk to you.”
I hesitated. I wasn’t sure who the captain was, or what he wanted—but I knew that I couldn’t answer many more questions. I’d already told several officers exactly what happened, and I couldn’t say my sister’s name anymore without choking on it. I already knew it was my fault. They didn’t need to keep telling me so.
I glanced at the shoddily trimmed brown lawn behind him, wondering what my chances were of survival if I decided to run. I crossed my arms, lifting my chin slightly as I looked back at the Marshal and decided to see what happened if I acted like a bitch. “Well here I stand.”
“And there you’ll sit,” he threatened, gesturing at the back of a police cruiser. “In handcuffs, if you don’t cooperate.”
“Oh yeah?” I challenged, clenching my fists, a different plan suddenly coming to mind. I’d already taken a shot at one man today. At this point, I didn’t really see the difference in taking a swing at a Marshal. I probably wouldn’t do much damage. I doubted I’d even manage to give him a bloody lip on my first swing, and figured I’d get shot before I could take another. It didn’t matter.
“Yeah.” He drew himself up, to loom over me. “I will personally make sure of that.”
“I’d like to see you try.” I hoped he would shoot me. Hoped I wouldn’t have to run too far before I got a bullet to the chest, like Leah had; like I actually deserved. I darted to the side, turning so that my back was to the yard rather than a car. Room to run. I slowly backed away from him, glaring as fiercely as I could through my still watery eyes.
The deputy turned on me and started advancing, glaring down at me. “Oh. Is the little girl going to run away?”
“I was thinking of it.” I glanced behind myself briefly, to be sure that I wouldn’t trip over anything. When I glanced back, I saw his hand resting on his sidearm. I scoffed, hoping to rile him, nodding toward his gun mockingly. “What? Are you going to shoot me?”
“I was thinking of it,” he answered in a tone that ran right through me.
“You don’t scare me.” I hoped I sounded more convincing than I felt. I felt my heart fluttering in my throat, as I glanced over my shoulder again. As much as I deserved that bullet, I was too cowardly to actually stand up and take it. I need to run now, if I’m going. I tensed, ready to bolt, as the deputy prepared whatever insult he was going to toss at me.
“He doesn’t scare anyone.”
I hesitated, stumbling one step to the side, as I suddenly stopped myself just as I committed to run. I turned my head towards the owner of the third voice. A young man, probably in his mid-twenties, wearing cowboy boots and a fedora stood just behind the deputy. The officer turned to glance at the man, and I backed away another step. He huffed. “Stand down, Grayson.”
“No, I don’t think I will.” The young man stepped forward, until he was barely in front of the first deputy. I took another step back as I suspiciously watched the young man. His attitude was one of calm, confident command. I didn’t figure the first deputy would win an argument with this man, Grayson.
“I’ll tell the Captain.”
“Go ahead. In the meanwhile I’ll actually accomplish job he gave you.”
I could see the first deputy’s face flushing a deeper shade of red as he glared at the man called Grayson. My eyes flicked over the young man once more, trying to figure out just who he was. He was a cop. That much was obvious from the way he argued with the deputy, and from the gun that hung on his hip—but it was hard to tell what sort he was. He wore a suit jacket over a red checkered shirt, and a pair jeans.
“You dirty little—“
“We are in the presence of a lady.” Grayson interrupted quickly, nodding to me. “A young lady, at that. I’d recommend you think again about what you want to call me.”
The deputy’s middle flew up as he cursed at the young man, before storming off muttering that Grayson could do whatever he wanted. I took another step backward as the young man turned his attention to me. “Hello.”
I tensed, staring at him.
He offered a small smile. “Miss Conner?”
I nodded, once.
“Okay, well, Miss Conner… Ariya. Can I call you that?”
I lifted a shoulder. “It’s my name.”
“Alright, Ariya. My name’s John. John Grayson.”
“Okay.” I wasn’t sure what response he wanted. I didn’t really care what his name was. All I wanted was for them to leave me alone, so I could grieve, in private. Or shoot me. Either solution would work.
I took another step backward, glancing over my shoulder. I was starting to doubt that running would be in my best interest. Grayson was far slimmer and younger than the other officers. I wasn’t confident that I could outrun him—and he seemed rather inclined to be civil to me. I figured I’d get chased down rather than shot, if it was up to him, and that wouldn’t be fun at all.
“Hey, now. Let’s just talk about this before you do something silly.”
I found my path, a small hole in the rotting fence that surrounded my yard. Beyond the fence was a stand of pine trees, and then, I knew, a river. If I could just get to the river… I glanced back at Grayson. “I don’t want to talk.”
“Understandable… but I don’t think you really want to run, either.”
“You don’t know what I want.” I glared at him.
“Fair enough… but I’m pretty sure that running isn’t it. I mean, you running just causes trouble for both of us.”
I glared at him suspiciously, unwilling to rise to the bait and ask what he meant.
“It’s true. Beyond the obvious fact that we’ll both get hot, and sweaty, and out of breath, it would just strain our relationship. Don’t you want to start out on a good foot?”
“We don’t have a relationship.” I glanced over my shoulder again, backing toward the hole in the fence.
“But we could.” He was staying fairly close, walking towards me as quickly as I could back away. He was speaking gently as he tried to reassure me, his hands still out in front of him.
“Or I could go do what I want, and not be bothered with answering all of those questions twenty bloody times each.”
“You really think running will get you out of any of this?”
“It’s worth a try.”
“Yeah? How far do you think you’ll get?”
I narrowed my eyes. It’s hard to say, if I make it past the river. “…I’m faster than I look.”
“So am I.”
I stopped backing up, as I tried to figure the likelihood of something other than me getting arrested happening. The odds didn’t seem to be in my favor.
“But,” he said, “As I mentioned, I don’t want to see who’s faster. I’m a fat boy at heart. Don’t much like running.”
I snorted and crossed my arms. I might as well hear him out. He’s not going to shoot me, regardless… and I can always get myself arrested later.
He took another step forward. “That’s better.”
“Mm…” I glanced back at my house, still filled with officers. “So what now?”
“Now, we take you in to the office. The Boss wants to talk to you.”
“You gonna arrest me, then?” I wasn’t sure whether I was more scared or annoyed by the thought of being arrested. I remembered the terror I felt the last time I was arrested, but I wasn’t sure that it would be as bad the second time, now that I’d know what to expect.
“I don’t think that’s really necessary.”
“What, then?” I shivered.
“Well, there is a front seat in my truck.” He shrugged his jacket off. “I’d be honored if you rode shotgun.”
“You’ve got a truck?” I tensed, but didn’t back away, as he stepped closer to me.
“I do.” He draped his jacket over my shoulders.
“I’m fine.” I tried to shrug the coat off.
He put his hands on my shoulders, holding the jacket in place. “Please. I don’t want you getting pneumonia.”
“I won’t. I’m fine,” I insisted. “I’m tough.”
“Of that I have no doubt. But you are wearing a thin shirt, and it is only about fifty degrees.”
“It’s long sleeved,” I argued, as he gently pushed me toward the street. “And I don’t want to take your coat. Now you’re wearing nothing but a shirt.”
“It’s long sleeved.” He smirked as he used my words against me.
I rolled my eyes. “Well, it is only about fifty degrees.”
He chuckled. I gave up fighting a moment later, and slid my arms down into the sleeves of his jacket. The jacket was still warm with his body heat and felt nice against my cold arms. I crossed my arms in front of me, pulling the jacket closed to keep the wind out. His coat was thick.
He walked to my left, his hand resting on my right shoulder, gently guiding me toward the street. He stepped ahead of me as we approached a small black Ford Ranger. I snorted as he slid his key in the lock of the passenger side door and pulled the door open for me. “This is your truck?”
“Yeah… What? You don’t look very impressed anymore.”
“You’ve got a little danger Ranger.” I stopped short as a memory flashed across my mind’s eye, like a blow to the gut. Leah and I, teasing Uncle Diehl when he bought his junky little Ranger a few years back. Leah liked calling little trucks danger Rangers, whether they were Fords or not.
“It’s a work in progress.”
“Yeah…” I said absently, as my mind carried me back to the bedroom. Leah’s cold hands, her blood so hot it burned me. Burned my hands, and my face, and my heart.
“Come on.” Grayson said gently, urging me to get into his truck. “It’ll be okay.”
I nodded numbly, and slid into the passenger side of his little truck. He shut the door, and hurried around the front of his truck, quickly getting into the driver’s seat. There was a tense silence between us as he put his truck into gear and turned around.
As we approached the end of the street, Grayson cleared his throat uneasily. I glanced at him, before fixing my gaze out the window once more. “I do trust you.” Her words echoed in my mind, torturing me. She trusted me…and I failed her… I failed her, and she died because of it.
I started as I suddenly heard Grayson’s voice. I turned toward him, frowning slightly. “What did you say?”
“I asked if you were hungry. If so, we can stop somewhere.” He repeated.
“Oh… no. I’m okay.”
“You’ve got to be hungry.”
“No,” I insisted, crossing my arms. “I’m not.”
“Well I am.” He glanced at me coolly. “So you could get something, since I’m going to be stopped anyway.”
“I could.” I snapped a bit harsher than I meant to, as my attention was suddenly drawn to his pestering. “And if I were hungry, I might consider that possibility.”
He grinned. “Alright. Fine. Have it your way.”
I turned my back to him as best I could and fixed my glare out the side window. We rode in silence a few minutes longer, down several streets, through the small town of Akton, where I was from, and out onto the highway that lead to the bigger city of Leui. As we approached the town, Grayson turned into a fast food restaurant. I rolled my eyes, carefully avoiding looking at him.
He pulled up to the window and ordered then turned to me. “What do you want?”
I sighed and turned to look at him. Peace and quiet. “Nothing.”
“Come on, don’t keep the lady waiting.”
“I’m not, you are. Finish your order and go pay.”
“Make that two.” He turned back to the window, “And then that’s everything.”
I glared out the window, refusing to so much as glance at him as he pulled up the next window and got his food. He started talking at me happily as he began pulling all of the food out of the packaging, putting a straw in my drink for me, asking where I wanted him to set my box of fries.
“Look, Deputy-officer-mister-whatever-the-heck-you-are Grayson, I don’t need a baby sitter.” I turned snarl at him. “And I surely don’t need some arrogant, overbearing jerk to try to force feed me when I clearly said that I’m not hungry.”
My treacherous stomach growled just as I finished my rant.
He waved the carton of fries under my nose, tempting me. “They’re hot.”
“If I eat, will you leave me alone?”
I lifted my eyebrows.
He chuckled. “Fine, yes.”
I snatched the carton from him, annoyed, sighing deeply. “Fine, then.”
I glared at the fries for a long minute, my stomach still queasy. I never could handle blood. My mom used to tell me that I was a wimp. Mom… I wiped at a rebel tear that dribbled down my cheek. I hadn’t realized how alone I felt, until just then. With Mom dead, and Dad in prison, the only person I had was Leah, and now she was taken from me too.
“…The deal was that you actually eat the food, not just hold it.”
“Dep-officer—what are you, anyway?”
“What? Can’t snarl at me without my title?”
“Then I guess I’d better tell you. I’d hate to miss that fun.”
I turned back to him once more and locked him in a death glare.