Loopholes, Chapter 15

Previous chapters: 1, 2, 3, 4567, 891011, 12, 13, 14.) (And ©.)


I wondered if I should call my grandmother to tell her where I was. But in movies, if you call home that’s how they track you down. Why make it easier for them?

It was afternoon, and there weren’t a lot of other kids around. Probably they were inside working on their homework. It might even be past five—a few of the stores were looking like they were getting ready to close. I wondered how long we’d been down in the tunnels. I walked past a Chinese restaurant, and a convenience store. My stomach grumbled. I decided I should get some food. You need things like food if you’re planning to take a bus to Massachusetts.

There was a little bell in the doorway when I walked in, and the guy behind the counter looked up. I did my best to smile at him, because I knew that you have to act like you’re not in trouble—especially when you are in trouble. I tried to whistle easily on my way into the back of the store, except that I am a terrible whistler so it didn’t sound relaxed and confident and I had to stop. I was breathing fast but he didn’t seem to notice. I grabbed a carton of chocolate milk, some pretzels and some beef jerky. And then a few Hershey bars with almonds. Because, you know, protein. Then, trying to act very relaxed and like I wasn’t running away from anything, I walked up and put it all on the counter. The guy stood up from his stool with a sigh and started to put thing on the scanner while he watched me. I could tell he was watching me, so I said, “Hello!” like I was a friendly person.

“Hello,” he said. And he watched me.

“I’m here to pick up my cousin from the bus station. You know, the one with the long distance buses?” I gave him my normal smile, which is maybe not as normal as I wish it was. “She’s coming in from Canada.”

“That’s pretty far,” he said. He put all the stuff in a bag and I remembered with a sudden sick feeling that I didn’t have any money. How was I going to get on a bus? And how was I going to pay for my food? “That’s $7.49,” he said.

“Oh sure, right.” I unzipped my backpack and started looking through it like I expected something to be in there. “Well that’s funny!” I said in a big, cheerful, normal-sounding voice. “I seem to have left my wallet at home!” And then in my regular voice I said, “Oh my God.” Because there, at the bottom of the backpack, was the duct tape wallet. I pulled it out, hoping. A whole sheaf of twenty-dollar bills was stuffed inside. Now I know what people mean when they say ‘a rush of relief.’ I felt almost dizzy. Thank you, Phoebe! I must have made some kind of noise, because the guy said, “What?”

I gave him a watery smile. “I’m just…surprised.” I cleared my throat. “Because it looks like I have it after all. The wallet that is. Um, here.” I gave him a twenty dollar bill—I never have a twenty dollar bill—and he put it in the cash register and gave me change. He was staring at me, and then I was staring at him. Because I noticed his skin, especially along the sides of his forehead and in streaks down his neck, had a silvery glittery sheen. My heart started beating faster again.

“So you’re heading to the bus station?”

“What? Oh, yeah.” I tried to look at him and not his skin.

“Make a left out of the door, and then it’s two blocks down, on your left.”

“Really? I mean, yeah, of course it is. I knew that.” I grabbed my bag of food and headed out, trying not to look down at my arms, or to think about his face. Except that I looked down—I had to. And my arms weren’t just silvery. They glittered. You could see it even in the normal afternoon light, like my skin was made out of stretched thin glitter fabric. My heart pounded high and hard in my chest and I looked up fast. So what if it was getting worse? It was only getting worse because they didn’t know what I was going to do next. I would go to Massachusetts, I would find…something. And everything would make sense again.

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