The Gardener(9)

    I waited until he was out of sight, then pulled the girl through the door and outside as I muttered, “This is so dumb, this is so dumb, this is so dumb.…”

    Still pulling the girl along, I ran down the sidewalk toward the parking lot. Two men dressed like me turned the corner, and I yanked her behind the hedge, where we crouched until they passed. But when I stood back up, I could see they were blocking our path to the sidewalk. “Perfect.”

    The girl frowned, then stepped over to the brick wall that bordered the back of the parking lot. “We need to climb over.”

    Even at my height, the top of the wall was nowhere near reachable. “How?”

    She bent in front of me and made a cradle with her hands. “Step up.”

    “Oh, come on,” I protested. “I’ve got at least a hundred pounds on you.”

    “Step up.”

    Just to prove my point, I lifted my foot and prepared to give her a little sample of my weight. But before I knew it, she’d hoisted me up like I was some tiny cheerleader.

    I almost lost my balance and grabbed her shoulder as I planted a hand on the wall. “Whoa!”

    “Grab the top of the wall and pull.”

    I didn’t need to do much pulling, because she practically launched me up and over.

    I had just dropped to the ground when her feet landed next to mine. The top of the wall seemed very far away. “How did you do that?”

    She didn’t answer.

    I heard a vehicle approach and saw Jack pulling up.

    Chilly rain dripped on us as we stood there. Her shirt was getting wet in spots.

    “That’s my ride.”

    She looked from the truck back to me. “I need a ride.”

    “Yeah, but—” But what? There was no use saying I wasn’t involved. Yes, she had run from the sixth floor all on her own, but I became part of that escape the moment I took her from Dennis. Could I really just walk away and leave her standing in the parking lot?

    Yes, I could. I had to.

    Didn’t I?

    “Holy crap.” So I ran to the truck, the girl right behind me. My hands trembled so much that it was difficult to open the door. The girl slid into the middle and I hopped in beside her and slammed the door.

    Jack turned to me, mouth open. “They have babes working here?”

    “Jack! Drive.”

    “Geez frickin’ Louise.” Jack shook his head, pulled out of the parking lot, and headed toward my house. “I work here all this time and don’t meet anyone under the age of eighty, and you’re here for, like, twenty minutes and—”

    “She doesn’t work there.” I needed to tell him. “She’s a patient on my mom’s floor.”

    Jack slammed on the brakes and we jolted forward as far as the seat belts would give.

    I probably should have waited until he was parked to tell him that. “Jack! Just keep driving.”

    He tromped on the accelerator and turned into the deserted parking lot of the Washington State Bank, then screeched to a stop. “She’s a patient? You stole a patient?”

    The girl watched Jack.

    I tried to explain what happened on the sixth floor. “She took off and I followed and this orderly saw us. I couldn’t just let her go back up there.”

    Jack’s eyes were wide. “So what? You just what, figure, oh, I’ll STEAL HER? What were you thinking?”

    “I didn’t steal her. She left first. I just chased her.” My voice was quiet. “She wanted to go.”

    “Oh, great, Mace.” Jack dropped his forehead onto the steering wheel. “This is just great.” When he lifted his head, his eyes blazed as he reached past the girl and stuck a finger in my chest. “You can’t do this all the time! Be the frickin’ hero! Some people aren’t supposed to be saved. Some people can’t be saved. Not by you, anyway.”

    I leaned away from him, resting my head on the cold window.

    But his curiosity seemed to overcome his anger for a moment. “What’s your name?”

    “I don’t know,” the girl answered, rubbing her eyes as she peered out the windshield.

    “Great,” said Jack. “I suppose you don’t know where you’re from, either.”

    “I’m pretty sure I’m not from here.”

    Jack smacked the edge of the steering wheel with a fist. “God, Mace! You know how much trouble we’re in?” He shook his head. “We’re taking her back.”

    “And telling them what?”

    I unbuckled and jumped out, stripping off the orderly uniform and rolling it into a ball, which I tossed behind the seat before climbing back in. “Jack, just go to my house. I’ll call my mom, figure this out.”

    Jack’s eyes narrowed and he said something not very nice under his breath.

    “I mean, really, how are you going to explain all this? You snuck me in, gave me an orderly uniform, I steal a girl.…”

    He put the truck in gear. “You suck.”

    The girl was quiet as we drove slowly through the town’s 25 mph zone, but then she leaned over me and placed both palms on the window. “Those lights.”

    Distracted by the nearness of her, it took me a moment to follow her gaze.

    Up on the hill above town, the lights from TroDyn illuminated the night sky with a bright glow. I said, “That’s just a company that—”

    She cut me off. “There’s something familiar about them.” She shook her head. “I’m just so … It feels like I have cobwebs in my head. I’m so fuzzy.” The girl slapped both hands to her forehead. “Oh.”

    “What?” Jack glanced over at her, then back to the road. “What? What’s wrong with her?”

    At once, her head jerked back so that she stared straight up. Her eyes were wide as she spoke. One of her hands clutched at my shirt. “We’ve got to get away!”

    Jack asked, “From where?”

    Slowly, she turned to face the lights of TroDyn. “From there. We have to get away from there.” And she started to rock back and forth, repeating, “We need to go, we need to go.…”

    I held out a hand to touch her, do something, but I didn’t know what, so I just put my hand back in my lap. “Jack, I think we should take her with us to the cabin.”

    His shook his head. “What? Are you nuts?”

    I banged my head against the window a couple of times. “I know this is insane and you’re pissed.” My voice lowered. “But you weren’t there, you didn’t see them. I just couldn’t leave her there.” I had to convince him. Or at least say the right thing to get him on board, and I knew what that was. “It was like … destiny that I wake her up. I mean, what are the chances of me happening to play that DVD in the same room as her?”

    He met my gaze and looked away.

    As I waited for him to respond, the clock tower downtown struck the first few chords of nine o’clock.




    “Mace, are you screwing with me?” Jack’s voice was drenched in doubt. As it should be, because I couldn’t give a crap about destiny.

    But, at that moment, I really needed him to think, to believe, that I did indeed give a crap. Because love, according to Jack, involved destiny. He got it from his mom, who met his dad only because she slid into a ditch on an icy night, and Jack’s dad was the first person to come along and offer assistance. Plus, he was lost and not even supposed to be on that road. I’d heard the story about eighty times, so Jack must have really heard it a lot.

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