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By:Amanda Lance

There was a funny sound coming from the back, and I instantly knew she wasn’t breathing right, and then I couldn’t breathe right, neither—like it was contagious or somethin’. The smoke wasn’t helping nothin’, either. I didn’t wanna give it up, though, as much as I wanted to look at her. Both things I couldn’t help.

Her face was all shiny with tears, and her pretty hair messy all over her face. Instead of moving it for her, though, I just opened the window and threw my smoke out. Not having the nicotine was hurting me, but after a few seconds, she almost sounded okay again, so I tried to deal with it.

Tapping my foot was the only way I could get myself to calm down, though Yuri could see I was having a hard time, and he kept eying me in the rearview. He’s way too goddamn smart, if you ask me. I thought all those child African soldiers were s’posed to be a bunch of illiterate jerk-offs who didn’t know how to talk nothing but ooga-booga. This one’s always thinking he’s a wise owl or something.

There was a million things wrong with this. On top of adding more heat to us, I had to wonder what Ben was gonna think ’bout the whole situation. On average, he’s pretty calm when it hits the fan, but then again we’ve never had anything go so bad before. And a girl like this has gotta have people looking for her—or if she doesn’t by now, she will soon enough. Suddenly, I was picturin’ crying parents and blubbering girlfriends and hearing the sound of bars slamming in the background. Taking off my jacket, I ran my knuckles up and down the vents that were letting the cool air in.

Goddamn, if this girl doesn’t ruin my life.

I couldn’t think ’bout that then, though. Taking another glance at her, her eyes were closed, and I almost got scared again, thinking she had gone and died on me. But as we headed under the freeway lights, I saw her stomach moving up and down just a little, and my own heart started up again. I was real careful as I reached back and slipped off her sandals, sticking them under the seat in front of me. If she was as smart as I thought she might be, it would be harder for her to escape without any shoes on. If she knew that, then hopefully she wouldn’t even try.

“You checking out the goods, Hillbilly?” Wallace laughed.

I told him to screw off.

Normally, I woulda hit him for saying something like that, or even worse. But instead, I thought ’bout what her name mighta been and tried to listen in real close.

I listened to the sound of her breathing.

Chapter 3

I woke up when Polo started laughing his ass off, nudging both me and Yuri while he jumped up and down in his seat. “Hey! Hey, guys! Look! She died from fright!”

I hadn’t been asleep that long, but the second I heard that, I was wide awake, the whole world spinning around me. The sun was barely up, and we were just pullin’ into the lot by the safe house, but everything seemed real far away like it wasn’t there at all—just watching it on TV or something.

I spun around and tried to look at her, but she had her face turned away, and her real messy hair covered just ’bout everything else. Feeling The Red rise up in me, I sprang to my feet, not caring a whole lot ’bout the looks I was getting’ from the fellas and with only one thing on my mind: how could I have let this happen? Why didn’t I pay closer attention? Making sure the guys were still inside, I tried to peek in on her from the outside, but with the sunlight and tinted window, I couldn’t see nothin’. I was already sick in the stomach before I shoved Wallace aside and the hit that little button on the driver’s side that let the cargo door open. Before it budged an inch, I was there, chanting quietly for her to still be alive.

There was a combination of relief and surprise when I saw her eyes open, ’cause a split second later, she sat up and barreled her way past me, hopping her way around like a little bunny rabbit or somethin’. Yuri cursed and Polo started freakin’ laughing again, but it didn’t make her stop. In a way, I was kinda amazed, amazed that she would still try and wasn’t too afraid to just give up and beg like they did in the movies. I ain’t never seen anybody so determined-looking before. Her eyes narrowed and focused, even though she musta known there wasn’t nowhere to go. A warm feeling rose up in my chest when I realized how much I liked that, that and the way her hair came undone, hiding the rest of her face.

Even then, though, she didn’t stop, and I took the opportunity to pick her up and toss her over my shoulder. I did my best to be as gentle as I could, but she was so light that I mighta put too much force into it and hurt her—not bad enough to keep her from kickin’ at me again, though.