Arizona (May 1999)
Gia Jaxon stared down into the gorge below her. She had no idea how high up she was, but she was confident that when she jumped the fall would be enough to kill her. She’d planned to wait until her eighteenth birthday to do the deed, but screw it. Today was the day that her miserable little life would finally come to a tragic end.
She thought she’d feel relieved. Or at least a little less dead inside. For the first time in a long time she was the one who was taking control of her life, rather than the other way around.
But she didn’t feel anything. As the Pink Floyd song went, she was comfortably numb.
She didn’t leave a note. She couldn’t think of anything to write that didn’t sound like a ridiculous cliché. The teen angst thing was completely overdone anyway.
As she gazed at the jagged rocks below, Gia wondered if she was supposed to say something before she took a swan-dive. Not that she felt like much of a swan. She was more of an ugly duckling. And the place she selected to take a dirt nap was secluded, so it wasn’t like there was anyone around to hear her last words anyway.
As she inched towards the edge of the canyon her heart began to pound in her chest. What if she botched her suicide like she botched everything else in her life? She could end up in even worse shape.
She decided to take a run at it. It would give her enough velocity to ensure that she made it to the bottom of the ravine.
As she slowly took a few steps backwards she was startled by a deep male voice behind her. “Don’t do it.”
Panic surged though her body as the sound of his footsteps in the gravelly desert moved closer towards her. She attempted to take a step but was frozen with fear. Now she wasn’t just an ugly duckling, she was also a sitting duck.
The guy circled around her. Then stood like a muscular wall between her and the gorge so that she couldn’t jump.
It wasn’t too often that someone in Arizona wore all black, especially in the late Spring when the temperature was just starting to hit the triple digits. The guy looked like he had stepped out of a bad teen horror movie. As if his dark cargo pants and black military boots weren’t pretentious enough, he was wearing his dark hoodie like a cloak.
Gia stared into his coal black eyes. There was something creepy about the way his irises blended with his pupils. She wondered why she wasn’t more frightened of the guy than she felt. He was probably 6 feet 5 inches and powerfully built. With her petite frame, he was easily twice her size.
As odd as it sounded there was something about the guy that put Gia at ease. There was a gentleness about him that offset his physically intimidating presence.
“What are you doing here?” she asked, her voice wavering.
When he pushed his hood down she got a better look at his face. There were several deep scars on his light bronze skin. One from the edge of his right eye to the middle of his cheek. The other straight along the center of his chin. They made his rugged appearance look even rougher.
“I’m saving you,” he said matter-of-factly.
She bit her bottom lip in an attempt not to laugh because he looked so serious. “I don’t need anyone to save me.”
His words were clipped and his tone no-nonsense. This guy was all business. Too bad he was right in the middle of her business.
“Why don’t you let me do what I came here to do?”
My life is not worth living, she thought.
“Yes, it is.”
Gia knew she didn’t say the words out loud, but he responded anyway. She briefly wondered if she was going crazy. Not that it’s sane to jump off a cliff to one’s death.
“Look. Dude. I just want to be left alone. I came here for one reason. You’re cramping my style.”
He looked her up and down. “I’ve never seen a style like that before.”
“You’ve never heard of the Retro revival? The reemergence of the Mod scene?”
As he shook his head, the blazing Arizona sun reflected off his shiny dark hair giving it a blue, iridescent sheen like a raven’s wing.
“Whatever you’re selling, I’m not buying. Okay?”
“It’s not okay.”
Gia heaved a sigh. She was determined to jump whether he liked it or not. If not today, then some other time. “If you don’t let me do the deed, I’ll just come back later when you’re not here.”
As he crossed his arms in front of him, he seemed even more impenetrable.
“Just forget it,” she grumbled in frustration. “I’m out of here.”
She turned and stomped away, but the guy was right on her heels. When she stopped, and turned to face him, he nearly ran into her.
“Why are you following me?”
“I want to make sure you get home safely.”
“Why do you even care?”
“Someone has to.”
Gia didn’t remember the last time she felt like someone cared about her. Maybe before her dad started drinking heavily. But that was a long time ago.
“You don’t have to follow me home.” The guy didn’t seem to take a hint. Gia clearly didn’t want him around.
He obviously had other ideas. He continued to walk beside her as she made her way through the scrubby desert behind her father’s trailer. Her dad called the bald desert land his little piece of paradise.
To Gia it was more like a slice of hell.
Gia didn’t realize it, but she would never be alone again. The stranger with the dark eyes would never let her out of his sight. From that day forward, he’d always be with her.
Arizona (Present Day)
“I’m not the guy you’re looking for.”
I’m standing in front of the man who is supposed to be my father. He’s thirty-eight, but looks ten years older. His shoulder length hair is already starting to grey, and his tanned skin is dry and weathered. He bears little resemblance to the handsome guy from my mom’s high school year book. Time has not been kind Colton Clark.
“My aunts told me…”
A wave of his grease-stained hand stops me midsentence. “Those witches don’t know what they’re talking about.”
Technically my aunts aren’t witches. They are fortunetellers. They claim to be psychic, but I think they’re just skilled at telling people what they want to hear. They raised me after my mom ran away. My entire life they’ve told me that my mom took off with Colton, the guy she dated in high school. They led me to believe that he was my father.
I drove two hours on my Vespa scooter to the middle-of-nowhere northern Arizona to finally meet him.
When he coughs, it sounds like he’s going to hack up a smoke-filled lung. I take a step back to avoid the spewing phlegm.
He reeks of stale cigarettes and beer, like he spent the night partying at one of the biker bars I passed by on the highway, and never bothered to take a shower.
“How did you find me?” he asks when the coughing finally subsides.
It wasn’t easy. It took a little bit of detective work. “You signed up for your Cordia High School Reunion Group online.”
“Oh, yeah.” He rubs his temple. “I don’t know why I bothered. I don’t care about any of those people.”
“What about my mother?”
Her memory brings the hint of a smile to his otherwise somber face. “She’s the only person in that Podunk town who cared about me.”
“But the two of you weren’t a couple?”
He shakes his head. “Nope.” Then stares out into the open desert that surrounds his rundown trailer. “We covered for each other.”
“What do you mean?”
He rubs his scruffy chin for several moments. Then exhales. “Your mother didn’t want anyone to know about her real boyfriend. And I didn’t want anyone to know about my boyfriend.”
“It was the nineties. A few years before the tech boom in Cordia. It was still rural Arizona. Things back then weren’t like they are today. If you were gay, you kept it to yourself.”
“Can you tell me anything about my mom’s boyfriend?”
Even though he shakes his head I can see in his pale eyes that he knows more than he’s saying.
“Please…” I bat my big brown eyes at him and try to look like Oliver Twist pleading for more gruel.
He glances around even though we’re the only two people in the remote area. “You can’t tell anyone that I told you this. Got it?”
There’s fear in his eyes, even after all these years.
I gulp. “I’ve got it.”
He bites the inside of his cheek. He still seems hesitant.
“If you really cared about my mom, please tell me.”
“The guy she started dating…it was like he appeared out of nowhere. He didn’t go to our high school. I’m not sure he went to high school at all. There was something really weird about him. I have no idea where he came from, but it definitely wasn’t Arizona. He always wore all black, even in hundred-degree heat in the middle of the summer. I’m talking about long black pants and a long sleeve black sweatshirt. He was the biggest guy I had ever seen. Your mom was tiny like you. Only five three. Maybe a hundred and fifteen pounds. This guy was twice her size. No lie. He was huge. And scary as hell. He had these scars on his face like he’d gotten into a knife fight. And he had these huge dark eyes. They were as black as onyx. Once he and your mom got together, he never let her out of his sight.”
“Do you know his name?”
“The guy never spoke to me. Not once. He’d just stare at me with those eerie dark eyes. The dude totally creeped me out.”
For a moment Colton seems to be lost in the memory. Then he starts to hack up his other lung. He holds up a finger as if he has something else to say, so I wait as patiently as possible.
Anyone who knows me knows that patience is not one of my virtues.
“Your mom said his name was Luca. That’s all I know.”
“For what it’s worth, not everyone wants to be found.”
As I ride my Vespa down the dusty dirt road back towards the highway, I feel heavy with the disappointment of not finding my father. After several months of research, I’m still no closer to discovering the truth about what happened to my parents.
I blink back tears. I’m not the world’s best driver. The last thing I want to do is cry while I’m trying to make my way back home.
Have my aunts been lying to me all these years? Or did they truly believe that my mom ran away with Colton? As soon as I get back to Cordia I’m going to push them for answers.
When my scooter begins to sputter and finally stops, I realize it’s out of gas. In the middle of the Arizona desert. Without a service station for miles.
Could this day get any worse?
I pull my phone from my pocket and pray to whatever gods may be out there that I have cell service.
I dial my best friend Gunner’s number. He answers on the first ring. “Did you find him?”
I heave a sigh. “I found Colton, but he’s not my father.”
“You’re sure he’s not your dad?”
“What really sucks is that I’m out of gas in the middle of nowhere. Any chance you can get the truck and pick me and my scooter up?”
He laughs. “Do I have a choice?”
“Unless you want your best friend to die in the desert and my rotting carcass to be eaten by vultures.”
“You know you have a way with words. And not a good way either.”
“So I’ve been told.”
“Where are you?”
I give him directions.
“You are in the middle of nowhere.”
“Which is why I need your help.”
“I’ll be there as soon as I can. Don’t take rides from any strangers.”
There’s nothing but scrub brush and tumbleweeds as far as my eyes can see. I don’t think I’ll be running into any strangers.
“Please tell me you brought water,” I say as soon as Gunner hops out of his dad’s beat-up old pickup.
“Nice to see you too.” He hands me a cold plastic bottle.
I quickly open it and guzzle down half of its contents. “Thanks.” Then I lift my brown ponytail and place the bottle on my sweaty neck to cool it down.
“My dad was supposed to head out to a gun show this afternoon. I grabbed the keys to his truck while he was on the toilet.”
Gunner’s parents own a gun shop just outside of Cordia, in an area that’s now referred to as the West Side. Twenty years ago, before Cordia became the Silicon Valley of the Southwest, it was one of several small towns located between Tucson and Phoenix.
That was before GenomeTech moved to Arizona and brought all its bioengineers and biotechnologists with it. The great weather and low taxes made Cordia an attractive option for the high-tech companies that followed, relocating their offices and employees from the West Coast to the booming rural Southwest.
In less than two decades, Cordia went from a sleepy one-stoplight town to a high-tech haven. It was like the California Gold Rush, but in reverse. And instead of prospectors, there were thousands of scientists and computer geeks making their way to Arizona to stake their claim in the rapidly growing city.
The old-timers, who used to call rural Cordia their home, were relegated to the West Side of the city. The area closest to the highway and furthest away from the lovely mountain views.
Gunner’s parents’ gun shop is less than a mile from where my aunts live and work and where I grew up.
“Your dad’s not going to be mad, is he?”
Gunner shrugs. “He’ll get over it.”
We carefully load my yellow Vespa into the back of the truck. Gunner knows how much the scooter means to me. It was one of the few things my mom left behind when she took off. I found it in the storage garage behind my aunt’s house. Gunner and his dad helped me restore it to its original glory.
We both hop into the cab of his dad’s truck. Gunner turns the radio to a classic rock station even though he prefers country music because he knows how much I like it.
Gunner and I have been best friends forever. No exaggeration. My aunts took care of him whenever his parents went out of town for a gun show so we were raised like a brother and sister.
As soon as we’re on the road I fill him in on some of the details of my practically fruitless endeavor. “Colton did give me some information about the guy my mom was dating before she ran away.”
“I know how important this is to you, Jericho. But I don’t want you to get your hopes up again. I hate to see you disappointed.”
“Finding my parents is the only thing in my life right now that is important. I feel like I can’t move ahead until I know where I’ve come from.”
“Most people our age do everything they can to escape from their pasts and their parents. You’re obsessed with finding yours.”
I’ve been told that I have a one-track mind. I’m determined to do whatever it takes to find my mom and dad.
“I’m sure there’s a good reason your mom left Cordia. Look around you. Can you blame her?”
A tumbleweed rolls by as if on cue. He’s right. When you’re raised in a family that can’t afford the beauty of a manmade country club lifestyle, the harsh desert can be a bleak home.
“She didn’t just leave Cordia. She left me too.” And I want to know why.
I need to find out the truth.
We both listen to the music for a while, getting lost in our own thoughts.
When Gunner runs a hand through his messy brown hair, I sense he’s getting ready to restart our conversation. He does that whenever he’s got something on his mind. Maybe the gesture stimulates his braincells. “Aren’t you going to tell me what you found out? About the guy who your mom was dating,”
I give him a condensed version of what Colton told me.
“The guy sounds like an alien,” Gunner says matter-of-factly.
“Do you think he took my mom back to Mexico?”
He laughs. “Not that kind of alien. The ones from outer space. Extra-terrestrials.”
I roll my eyes. “Please. Not another one of your conspiracy theories.”
Gunner gets it from his parents. They’re preppers who believe in some wild stuff. The government is trying to kill us through our cellphones. The attack on the Twin Towers was an inside job. Astronauts never actually landed on the moon. Not that my aunts are much better. They make a living reading tea leaves and tarot cards. That went over well in a school filled with kids whose parents are scientists and engineers.
I was a social outcast.
“Eyes as black as onyx,” Gunner says thoughtfully. “That sounds alien to me.”
“You do realize what you’re saying. If my father is an alien...” That would make me one too. Or at least half of one.
“I always said that you’re one weird chick. That would explain a lot.”
I don’t believe in the paranormal. I’m a skeptic when it comes to anything supernatural. I believe beings from outer space belong in science fiction movies.
After Gunner unloads my Vespa from the back of his dad’s truck, I give him a quick kiss on the cheek. “Thanks for everything. I don’t know what I would do without you.”
“I’m your trusty sidekick. Always there to save your behind.”
“I appreciate it.”
He slams the truck’s tailgate shut. “Don’t forget to get gas next time. Especially if you’re planning another trip into the wild Arizona desert.”
“I will. I promise.”
“I’d better get the pickup back to my dad. Don’t forget about Grad Night on Saturday.”
“How could I forget? You’ve reminded me six hundred and forty-two times.”
“Don’t forget about Grad Night.” He removes the toothpick from his mouth and grins at me. “Six hundred and forty-three times. I don’t like even numbers.”
As soon as Gunner takes off I hurry into my aunts’ house. It’s an old bungalow that was built in the 1920s that they have meticulously restored. They also added a large enclosed porch with a separate entrance where they see clients and do psychic readings.
They’re sitting at the kitchen table paying bills when I enter.
Anya, the older of my two aunts, looks up from the ledger she’s holding. “If you’re going to live with us after you graduate, you’re going to have to get a job and help out with the bills.”
“Unless she takes classes at the community college,” Delia says.
“She could still get a part-time job.”
My aunts have a habit of talking about me as if I’m not standing right in front of them.
Anya and Delia are in their mid-fifties. They both have shoulder length blonde hair and bright blue eyes. They’re my mother’s half-sisters, all with the same father. My mother was the product of their father’s second failed marriage.
“Colton Clarke isn’t my father,” I blurt.
My aunts stare at me, wide-eyed. I wait for them to say something, but no words come out of their gaping mouths.
“If you were really psychic I think you would have known that. Or maybe you’ve been lying to me all these years.”
Anya closes the ledger now resting on the table in front of her and carefully places her pen on top of it. “We never lied to you, Jericho. Your mother didn’t tell us she was leaving town. One day she just disappeared, and we never saw her again. We assumed she left with Colton. They were very close to each other.”
“Colton is gay. Did you know that?”
My aunts eye each other. Then Anya says, “We had our suspicions.”
“Did you know that my mother was dating someone named Luca?”
Even though my aunts shake their heads, I feel like there’s still something they’re not telling me.
“I’m going to find my parents. Whatever it takes.”
Delia places a hand on Anya’s arm. “We should give it to her. I think it’s time.”
Anya heaves a sigh. “Perhaps you’re right. No use postponing the inevitable.”
She rises from the table and Delia follows her. I trail behind as they exit the kitchen area and head into the living room.
Sitting on the mantle over the fireplace amongst their trove of crystals and other metaphysical treasures is a small wooden box. When I was younger, I took it down from the mantle once and tried open it, but it was locked and I couldn’t find the key anywhere.
Delia grabs the box. When she pushes in the center of the maze that’s etched on the top, the box unlocks.
Inside the box is a silver horseshoe pendant on a chain and a folded note that’s not much bigger than the fortune inside of a cookie. Delia hands both items to me. “Your mother left this in an envelope right next to your crib.”
The note contains a single handwritten sentence: Don’t trust the man of your dreams.
I have no idea what the cryptic message means.
I examine the pendant. It’s the size of a quarter and has a thick silver chain. I undo the clasp and put it around my neck.
The moment is anticlimactic. In movies when the orphaned child is given a symbolic token that’s supposed to reconnect her with her long-lost parent, it’s always so dramatic. A lone teardrop escapes down the orphan’s cheek while poignant violin music plays in the background.
All I can hear is the highway noise from the traffic on I-10.
“Your mother wore that all the time.” Delia points to the horseshoe. “Our father used to joke that a horseshoe would give her protection from the alps.”
She shakes her head. “In German folklore alps are the demons who cause bad dreams. Alpträume. Nightmares in German.”
Don’t trust the man of your dreams. Did my mother have nightmares? I rarely remember my dreams at all.
“There’s one more thing,” Anya says. “We saved it for your eighteenth birthday.”
“I told you I didn’t want to celebrate my birthday,” I remind them.
Saturday is the milestone. Even if I had any friends to invite to a party, which I don’t, they’d all be at Grad Night at the high school anyway.
“Step into the office with me,” Anya says.
Delia and I follow her to the back of the house where their office is located. A large picture window that takes up half the room overlooks their Zen meditation garden in the backyard.
Anya opens the small safe that sits underneath their desk. She removes a discolored manila envelope and hands it to me.
“What is this?”
“It’s the deed to our father’s property north of Cordia. He wanted you to have it.”
I’m not sure what to say. My grandfather died when I was a baby, so I never knew him. He had a massive heart attack not long after my mom disappeared. My aunts like to say that he died of a broken heart. The story is a bit sappy if you ask me, but I’ve never been the sentimental type.
“There’s an old trailer on the property,” Delia says. “Maybe you could fix it up. Live there if you want to. Or sell it. It’s up to you.”
“We’ve already paid the taxes on it for this year,” Anya says. “But next year they’ll be your responsibility.”
I gulp. The only things I’ve ever been responsible for are the gas and insurance for my Vespa. Having land and a trailer is a huge responsibility. As mature as I like to think I am, I’m not sure I’m ready to be a property owner.
And I don’t even have a job lined up yet.
“Want to take a trip with me?” I ask Gunner.
“Where?” He yawns. His hair is askew and the shorts and t-shirt he’s wearing are more wrinkled than his attire usually is.
“Were you taking a nap?”
“Maybe…what’s it to you?”
“You’re like a bear that never stops hibernating.”
“Sleeping is one my favorite hobbies. And I’m good at it. Do you know why? Because I get lots of practice.”
“Do you want to come with me or not?” I tap my foot on his parents’ creaky front porch for emphasis.
“You’re so impatient.”
“It’s one of my virtues.”
“I think you’ve got the whole virtue thing a little mixed up.”
“I really want you to come with me, Gunner.” I try my best not to whine because I know he hates it.
“Translation from Jericho-ese to standard English: I really want you to drive me there and then help me do whatever it is I’m going there to do.”
I give him a wide grin. “You know me too well.”
“I know you better than you know yourself.”
“You’re the most important person in my life, Gunner. I really want you to share this experience with me.”
He gulps. Then he moves the toothpick in his mouth from one side to the other. He seems uncomfortable for some reason. “Fine, just give me a few minutes to get changed.”
As he heads into his parents’ ranch house I yell to him, “You might want to comb your hair too.”
“Your map sucks.” Gunner is a master at stating the obvious.
We’re standing next to his mom’s Jeep, on the side of a dirt road, staring down at a hand-drawn map. It was in the envelope that contained the deed to the property my grandfather left me. According to the deed, the property doesn’t even have a postal address. Just coordinates from a county survey map.
We’re at the foothills of a small mountain range that borders one of Arizona’s First Nations communities. The land my grandfather owned is somewhere around here. It’s just a matter of finding it, which is harder than it sounds. The entire area is undeveloped with no significant landmarks. Everything looks the same.
“This isn’t a place I want to get lost in,” Gunner says. “That’s how tourists die. They get turned around while they’re hiking and never find their way back to where they started from.”
“Please, let’s try one more time. The turnoff has to be around here somewhere.”
“You still haven’t told me what we’re doing out here. Why is this so important to you?”
“It just is. Please. My birthday is tomorrow. You can call it an early birthday present.”
“Maybe I already got you a present.” He gives me an odd look. One that I’ve never seen him give me before. It’s the same look Alexander Roth gave me in first grade right before he tried to kiss me on the playground.
I clear my throat in order to clear away the discomfort that I’m feeling. It doesn’t work. “Give me ten more minutes. Then we can go.”
“Fine. Ten minutes. I’m setting the timer on my cellphone.”
I glance down at the map again. “Let’s backtrack the way we came and see if we can locate the trail. It’s been almost twenty years since my grandfather lived out here. Maybe it’s overgrown.”
“You’ve got nine minutes and thirty-five seconds left.”
Just as we’re about to hop back into the Jeep I notice a man walking down the middle of the dirt road towards us. He seems to have appeared out of nowhere. Granted I was preoccupied with the map, and the odd looks Gunner was giving me, but I usually have a better sense of what’s happening in my surroundings.
As the man gets closer my chest tightens and my heart starts to beat more rapidly. He’s dressed in all black: a long sleeve black sweatshirt, black jeans and black boots. He’s massive in size, like a huge boulder walking towards us.
He stops just a few inches in front of me and stares at me with his cold, dark eyes.
They’re the color of onyx.
My heart is beating so fast I feel like it could explode.
He looks similar to the man that Colton described. The one who Gunner joked was an alien. Except this man doesn’t have any scars on his face.
“Are you lost?” he asks.
He hasn’t even glanced in Gunner’s direction. The man’s attention is completely focused on me.
My throat feels drier than the desert surrounding us. “I…um…”
The man continues to stare at me, his face expressionless.
I hold out the map in my hands. He doesn’t even glance at it. “I know where you want to go.”
How is that possible?
Gunner’s complexion has turned ashen. He looks like he’s going to be sick. “Who are you?” he mutters.
The man doesn’t respond to Gunner’s question. He doesn’t even look at him. It’s as if Gunner doesn’t exist.
The man’s attention is drawn to the horseshoe pendant around my neck. He stares at it intently as if he’s examining it. “I can take you there.”
Gunner and I exchange a wary glance. What if this guy is dangerous? He could easily snap both of our necks.
Gunner isn’t that much taller than I am, and he’s not the type who works out. He’s no match for Black Eyes.
“Maybe you could just give us directions,” I stutter.
When the man turns, and walks away, I whisper to Gunner, “What should we do?”
“I have no idea.” Gunner is so laid back I’ve never seen him afraid of anything before. Right now, he sounds petrified.
“If he was going to kill us, he probably would have done it already, right?”
“Unless he wants to get us off the road and into a more desolate area so it’s harder to find our bodies.”
When the man stops, and turns back toward us, Gunner and I freeze.
“Are you coming or not?”
As I take one tenuous step towards the man, Gunner grabs my arm. “Are you sure about this?”
“No.” I continue to walk towards Black Eyes anyway.
Gunner stays glued to my side.
“This way.” The man points to a narrow trail that doesn’t look much wider than a foot path. No wonder it was so difficult to locate from the roadway.
We follow Black Eyes as he makes his way up the trail towards the top of the bluff. I wasn’t expecting a trek in such rocky terrain. The black sandals I’m wearing are definitely not the right shoes for the challenge.
Gunner and I struggle to keep up with Black Eyes. He’s obviously used to hiking in the rugged outdoors. I was lucky to pass Physical Education in high school. If it wasn’t for the fact that they lumped our Health classes in with the sports they tortured us with, I wouldn’t have been as fortunate.
By the time we get to a plateau, and Black Eyes stops, I’m struggling to catch my breath. Gunner hasn’t fared much better. His face is so red I’m afraid he might have a heart attack.
“This is it,” Black Eyes says.
I look around. The land is barren except for a dilapidated trailer in the distance.
“How did my grandfather get that up here?” I point to the trailer.
“There’s a road on the other side of the bluff that goes out to the reservation.”
“Are you a member of the tribe?” I ask.
The man shakes his head. Another dead end.
“What’s your name?” I ask.
When he stares into my eyes a shiver runs through my body. I feel like he’s looking right through me. “Nico,” he says finally.
“I’m Jericho. This is my friend, Gunner.”
Gunner gives him an awkward wave that goes ignored.
“You’ll be able to find your way back to the main road.” It’s a statement rather than a question.
I answer anyway. “I think so.”
“Do you live around here?” Gunner asks.
Nico crosses his massive arms in front of him. He doesn’t seem interested in sharing any additional information with us.
“I guess we’ll take a look inside the trailer.”
Nico doesn’t budge. He continues to gawk at me. Awkward.
“Thanks for your help,” I say hoping he’ll take the hint and skedaddle.
No such luck.
“We’ll be fine,” I assure him. You can leave now.
“Watch out for pack rats. The trailer is filled with them.”
Gunner and I glance at each other. He wrinkles his nose in disgust. We are clearly unprepared for this venture.
“We’ll keep that in mind,” I say to Nico. Then I grab Gunner’s upper arm. “Let’s go.”
I pull Gunner with me as I make my way over to the trailer. When I glance back, I notice that Nico is still in the same spot and still watching us with his eerie eyes.
When we’re finally standing a few feet from the trailer I whisper to Gunner, “Is he still back there?”
Gunner slowly glances behind us. “No, he gone.”
“Seriously?” I take a quick glance and sure enough he’s disappeared. I breathe a small sigh of relief.