All I can say is, thank God for decorative hedges. I landed in this one hands first, scratched and prickled and totally gross, but fine. Once I realized this, I took off running in the direction of the mall.
It was dark, or almost dark anyway, and I ran, my wet shoe squishing. I heard Officer Rivera curse somewhere behind me. I sprinted across the dead grass field between the mall and the donut shop, hoping it was dark enough. I tried to bend in half while I ran so no one would see me, and I got a horrible cramp, which made me bend down even further. A giant voice came out of a loudspeaker on top of the police car, “STOP RUNNING IMMEDIATELY.” The sirens came on, and one of the police cars screeched out of the parking lot. I kept running, heading toward the back of the mall, my heart beating so big and loud in my chest I thought it might explode.
“I REPEAT, STOP RUNNING. THIS IS THE POLICE.” A big light flashed from the top of the police car, stretching its long beam across everything, just as I got to the giant mall parking lot. Thousands of cars everywhere. I ducked into the row of them, got down on the ground, and collapsed.
I peeked under the wheels. People were walking around and wheeling shopping carts like there wasn’t a police car blaring out commands right there. I tried to catch my breath, and to kick off my unbelievably gross shoe.
“THIS IS THE POLICE.” They were driving through the mall parking lot in a police car, flashing some kind of flashlight thing as they drove, really slowly. I crab-walked between the cars, trying to get closer to the entrance. I got to the second group of cars and used the exhaust pipe of a fancy little car to push it off. And then I sat there, with only one shoe, with my wet and brown and disgusting pants leg, and tried to figure out how I was going to get inside the mall.
“STOP RUNNING AND COME BACK TO THE CAR.” I scooted back. A police car rounded the corner, driving just in front of me, flashing its light up and down the aisles of cars. I lay down, probably getting my hair in the gross gunk that came off my jeans leg, but at least a little bit invisible.
They drove on. And I got up and ran across the road behind them, and into the next group of parked cars.
I knew I had to get into the mall, fast, if I was ever going to get a chance to find Emily. My jeans were stiff and sticky with grossness. I got on my knees, and looked through the gap in the cars.
I could see a Strawberry’s and a Starbucks and a movie theater. And an entrance.
I tried to see where the police cars were. You could hear them rolling through, making their loud announcements, and see their lights flashing through the dark.
There were maybe two rows of parked cars between me and the entrance. I tried to peek out. A police car rolled past, and I scooched under the car until I was between the wheels. Then I heard the loudspeaker, except it wasn’t from the car, it was a person walking with a speaker, Officer Rivera for sure, saying, “Come on now, don’t make more trouble for yourself. We’re going to find you, and we’ll figure all this out. Come on.”
I lay there under the car. He walked right by, swinging his flashlight from side to side. It lit me up, and I could see the silvery tracings on my arms, and then the light moved on.
I inched forward, then looked through the car windows. Two cop cars now, winding through the rows of cars, but headed away from me, towards the exit and the road—at least for now. This was my moment. I measured the distance to the mall, stood up like I belonged, and started walking.
My pants leg was wet and cold and stuck, in the absolute grossest way, to my leg. At least my shoe was off, though the parking lot had tiny pebbles that hurt to walk on. The pavement was still warm from the heat of the day. I tried not to turn around to see where the cars were. I just walked, as slowly as I could make myself, trying to look like a kid who was going shopping, or to meet my mom, or something else amazingly unexciting. “STOP!”
The bottom of my stomach dropped out, but I kept on walking, not looking behind me. “Is that her?” someone yelled far off across the parking lot. “Who’s ‘her’?” someone yelled. “I’m a boy!” The sound of car doors slamming. I kept walking, slowly, slowly. The mall doors were ten feet away. “OK, MOVE ALONG,” the loudspeaker announced, just as I stepped up to the doors. The swept open electronically, I stepped through, and they closed behind me.