“You know, your parents are going to be really disappointed in you.”
I was in the back seat, behind the chicken wire, and the police officer was looking into the rearview mirror to make eye contact with me, maybe because when you’re a police officer you don’t worry so much about getting a traffic ticket. His badge said Officer Rivera.
“But I wasn’t stealing anything!”
He shook his head.
“I just needed to use the phone!”
“Don’t you have your own phone? I thought all you kids had your own phones.”
“Not me,” I said, and then I had to stop talking or I was going to cry. I rested my head against the glass of the car window. I wondered how many depraved killers had been in that back seat.
“You know it’s called breaking and entering, don’t you?”
“I didn’t break anything,” I muttered. “I just entered.”
He shook his head. “The gentleman at the convenience store alerted us that a young lady was looking for the bus station. A very young lady. Are you running away? You seem like a smart girl. Why would you do that?”
I just shook my head against the window.
“Must’ve been a pretty important phone call.”
“It was an important phone call. See, I’m in trouble, and I needed to call my best friend—.”
“What kind of trouble could you be in?” He laughed. “Did your bike get a flat tire?” He was probably really a nice person, but right then I wanted to kill him.
“Could I use your phone?” I asked.
“Sorry, sweetheart. You’ll get a phone call down at the station so you can call your mom—,” like that would be helpful, “—and we’ll get you all taken care of.” Of course. My one phone call. I closed my eyes so I wouldn’t cry. I wasn’t getting to Massachusetts. That felt so bad it was like my chest was collapsing. But I wasn’t. I snuck a quick look at my arms, which were terrible, sparkling like I was covered with glitter glue. I swallowed hard. Phoebe was right. I had to find Emily and Adam. Stupid lizards.
I stared out the window, and we rolled past Burger King, then Staples, then a mall.
The mall. I turned as we went past. Didn’t Emily say she was going to a mall? We stopped at the light right next to it, and I wondered how many malls there were around there. I tried to read the giant sign that listed all the stores, but then the light changed and we started rolling again. I didn’t want it to get away.
“Hey, I kind of need to use the bathroom,” I blurted.
He looked in the rearview mirror again. “Is that so, now?”
“Yeah, it is so.”
“Well there’s a bathroom down at the station.”
“But!” I was so freaked out and terrified that somehow I just started crying. “But I really, totally need to go to the bathroom, and I’m in so much trouble, and I don’t know—.”
“All right now, all right.” He was turning the wheel, not into the mall but into some giant donut shop with two other cop cars pulled into the parking lot. “Don’t lose your mind over it. Come on, we’ll take you to the bathroom. I bet we can find a female officer in here.”
I held my breath because I didn’t want to jinx it. He looked back to check me in the mirror. “You’re going to stop crying now?”
“OK,” I managed.
“Come on.” He pulled into a space right in front. “OK,” he said. “Ground rules: you’re a good girl this time, all right? Can you be good?”
“I can be good.” My voice came out small.
“All right then.” He got out of the car and opened my door.
It was almost night, but still Florida warm, all velvety and dark. Officer Rivera walked with me into the donut place, where a bunch of other officers were all sitting in a booth. “How are you all?” he said.
“Hey, what’s up, Oscar? Babysitting?” a big officer called.
Officer Rivera laughed like I wasn’t there. “Seems like it’s more than you’re doing, Tommy. But isn’t Sheridan here?”
They all looked at each other, till one of them said. “She’s not on today.”
“Crap,” Officer Rivera said. I stood with my legs crossed to look convincing. “I got a girl here with a bathroom emergency who can’t make it to the station—Goddamnit.”
“Aw, come on, you’re afraid she’s gonna’ break out of here?” the big one said. “You can’t handle the tough ones, huh, Oscar?” They all laughed, and he shook his head, and I tapped his shoulder. “Excuse me?” He turned. And that’s when I saw the silver traces on his face, alongside his temples.
I couldn’t say anything for second, and he said, “Are you all right there?”
I tried to focus. “I really need to go to the bathroom. Like, bad.”
“Aw come on, Oscar. Let her go. I think we’ve got this one. She doesn’t look like she’ll get too far. Bad day, kid?” They all laughed, and I looked down.
Officer Rivera looked straight at me for a long minute. “You go use the bathroom, but then I want you to come right back out, you hear?”
“OK,” I said.
“Hold on.” He took me by the wrist and walked me down to the bathroom and opened the door and looked around inside. It was a nasty bathroom. It smelled awful, and it had a tiny Florida window with slanted glass slats set high in the wall. There was…something in the toilet. A dark brown giant mess of ick. And the smell was like the worst donut shop bathroom you’ve ever been to in your life. My eyes started to water. I tried to hold my breath.
“Sweet Jesus.” He waved a hand in front of his face. “You sure you want to do this?”
“Well be quick about it.” He went back out, and I heard the voice of the big officer calling something to him as it swung shut.
I was alone.
I looked up at the window. It was too small for me to fit through and way too high. But it was my only chance. How could I possibly get up that high? I wiped my tearing eyes, held my nose, and stepped up onto the rim of the toilet seat.
The smell was a million times worse there, even holding my nose and my breath. I tried to stretch out to reach over to the window, but I could barely touch it. I leaned a little farther. I had to let go of my nose to keep my balance, and rise up on my tip toes. I could just reach the window crank. I pushed at it with the tips of my fingers. I pushed it again, and then again, until the little glass slats were more horizontal. Leaning over, keeping one hand on the tiled wall for balance, my eyes squinted against the fumes, I tried to pull one out. It gave way faster than I thought, flying out of my hand and falling with a flat smack on the floor, breaking in two.
I froze, sure that a bunch of policemen were going to run in, guns drawn. Nothing. The smell was disgusting. I went up on tiptoe again.
My feet and fingers cramped from reaching. I jimmied out another slat and then another one, but I couldn’t hold them: each one cracked and broke on the bathroom floor. I was sweaty, and everything stank, and I kept wobbling on the nasty toilet’s edge.
And then I couldn’t get the last slat out, the top one. It was stuck, and I could barely even reach it. I flailed at it, but I couldn’t do it.
“Hey? You OK in there?” His voice was louder and closer than I expected.
I didn’t even have to try to make myself sound sick. “Yes, I’m just not feeling well.” Someone outside laughed.
“All right then,” he answered. “You try to come on out soon though.”
I eyed the window. It was high. It was narrow. I had no choice.
I reached across and leaped. I hung there, and for one second it seemed like I was going to make it. I scrambled my legs against the wall, like cartoon stuck in midair, then fell back. My foot skidded backward along the curve of the seat and splash! Ugh! My foot landed halfway up my leg in the vile toilet. I screamed.
“Hey, what’s going on?”
“I’m fine!” I pulled my disgusting foot out of the disgustingness, trying not to throw up. “I just have—,” I gagged, “a cramp.”
“Do I need to call you a doctor? I’m going to call you a doctor.”
“No, no, it’s just a girl thing,” I tried.
“Oh man,” I heard him mutter.
I shook my leg and something plopped on the floor. I gagged again, and tried to think of something to stall him. “Can you get a lady?” I figured if Officer Sheridan wasn’t on duty, it might take them a while.
“Oh man,” he said. “Hang on, I’ll be right back.”
His voice was disappearing down the hall. And dripping foot and all I stepped onto the edge of the toilet seat, took a deep breath, and launched myself out the window.