The only visible reaction Em had to May’s announcement was the tension pulling at her shoulders.
“Where?” she whispered, throwing quick, surreptitious glances to her right and then left. She didn’t want to tip whoever was following them that they had noticed.
“A few feet behind us,” May whispered back, knowing that breaking into a run would have been the worst decision she could make but desperately wishing she could anyway.
The memory of the relentless Loyal woman who had pursued them more than a year ago in Tenna, flipping their whole world upside down, flashed through May’s mind. Her stomach clenched.
“No.” Thank goodness.
Em licked her lips and May could tell what she was thinking – they were sitting ducks out in the open like this; they needed to lose the agent.
Based on the amount of people milling through the massive main hall of York Central Station, it was clear the city was a busy and popular place to be. Everyday commuters wove expertly through swarms of gawking and disoriented tourists. May noticed a rather large gathering – a tour group from the looks of things – congregating close to a coffee stop built into the smooth limestone. She nodded discreetly in their direction.
“Good call,” Em muttered. Without another word they crisscrossed through a stream of people heading in the opposite direction, splitting up just enough to make it harder to keep an eye on both of them without wandering out of sight of each other.
May got to the tour group first and wedged her way into the cluster as if she belonged there. She kept her head down and, rather than stopping in the false sense of security the densely packed crowd provided, continued through to the other side. The tourists themselves were in such a state of disorganization they didn’t spare her a second glance. She emerged in time to see Em skirting around the far side of the group, the hood of her sweatshirt up and ducking low.
Moving faster now, they scurried into the coffee stop and around the line. Em scanned the room.
“If there’s a way out of here,” she said. “It’s going to be through their back room.”
Behind the counter and the three hectic baristas hung a curtain that blocked the back from sight. May homed in on the solitary woman working the bar – young, pretty, with plenty of black eyeliner – and leaned over the counter to get her attention.
“Do you need the bathroom key?” the barista asked, sounding not unfriendly but certainly distracted.
May shook her head. Em watched her carefully, wondering what her girlfriend was up to with the frightened look she had pulled over her face like a mask.
“Is there a way outside through the back?” she asked in a hushed, hurried voice. “There’s a creep who was on our train and now he’s following us around.”
For the first time the girl stopped moving, her expression dropping in an instant. Her dark-lidded eyes flicked up to the buzzing line of customers as if she might be able to pick the guy out without knowing more than what May had told her.
May was banking on the chance that the barista probably could have, had their pursuer been real.
“Shit,” Em hissed, turning sharply away from the crowd and tugging on the drawstrings of her hood. “I just saw him lurking in the hall.”
“Okay.” The barista glanced quickly at her co-workers before nodding toward the curtain. “Come with me.”
She waved May and Em around the counter and held back the curtain so they could slip through.
“Right there.” She pointed to a heavy-looking metal door against a back wall. “It will let you out in the alley.”
“You’re a lifesaver,” May whispered in gratitude.
“The world needs more sisterly solidarity,” Em said, giving the barista a salute. “Thanks for leading the charge.”
The girl smirked. “Good luck out there.”
Out in the alley, May let herself smile.
“That was brilliant, babe,” Em said with a laugh. “Quick thinking.”
“I feel a little guilty about lying to her now,” May admitted.
“Don’t. Women can be creeps too. Now which way should-”
Mid-turn, Em stopped dead and stared open-mouthed at the entrance to the alley. May looked over her shoulder. It was as if the world itself ground to a halt; the Loyal woman was already there.
May grabbed Em’s arm and tried to pull her in the opposite direction, but she stood solid, transfixed.
“Please stop running,” the woman pleaded, hustling up to them while throwing anxious glances behind her. “You’re going to draw attention to us if you keep this up.”
Em was still gaping. “You’re…”
“Marina,” the woman finished, looking flustered. “Connor’s sister.”
And just like that, the world resumed spinning, leaving May feeling nauseous.
“All that freaking out for nothing.” She doubled over, hands on her knees. “There had to be a better way to get our attention without scaring us like that!”
“Consider it a compliment to your evading skills,” Marina said, still fidgeting. She shifted her weight from foot to foot, twitching at every sound. “I had a hard enough time following you as it was. But we’re not out of the woods just yet. Come on, we’ve got to get you two out of the open.”
Silently May and Em followed Marina as she sprinted down the alley and to a curb in front of the building. As soon as she stepped out into the open a white SUV tore out from a row in the sprawling parking lot and lurched to a stop in front of her. They piled in, the vehicle speeding away before the girls even had a chance to sit down.
May wrestled off her pack and pulled it onto her lap as she sat back. Eyes closed, she let out a sigh of relief. When she opened them again, she looked to the driver’s seat, wondering who their getaway driver might be.
But the driver’s seat was empty.
“What’s going on?” May shrieked, fresh terror flashing through her like a flood. “Where’s the driver?”
Em looked up from the seatbelt she was trying to stretch around her, pack and all.
“Please stop yelling,” Marina begged. She was focused on her phone, typing rapidly as the vehicle sped along, driverless.
“This car is driving itself.” May felt like she was dreaming. “You can’t blame me for freaking out!”
At a stop light, Marina crawled into the driver’s seat and buckled herself in. She pressed her thumb into the screen embedded in the dash. The lights illuminating the dashboard features faded from green to blue and suddenly it was clear that Marina was in control.
“You know,” she remarked, meeting May’s wide eyes in the rearview mirror. “Most people are impressed when they see my auto-valet program in action.”
“Yours?” Em leaned forward between the seats. “As in, you invented it?”
“Concept, code, and fabrication,” Marina replied, her eyes firmly trained on the road. “Now sit back, the windows aren’t tinted up here.”
May looked to Em who whispered.
“She always was a smart cookie.”
She gave up on struggling and buckled the seatbelt around herself, pack still on her back.
Marina steered them down a winding series of side streets, through sleepy neighbourhoods and passed bustling mom and pop shops selling produce and home furniture, far away from the chaos of the downtown core. The space between houses grew wider, the homes set farther back from the road, and eventually Marina slowed and turned the vehicle down a tree lined drive. May pressed her face to her window, peering through the trees at the expansive, lush grounds leading up to an impressive home that looked like it could have housed three families comfortably.
“Woah,” she muttered, awestruck. Not even Mr. Anoki – the well-to-do theatre director back home in Omea with all his glamorous galas – had a home like this one; May had never seen anything like it in her life. “Do you live here?”
“I do,” Marina answered. “With my family.”
Em’s gaze was intense as she scanned the front of the house. “Are the others already here?”
In the driver’s seat, Marina shifted, her lips pressed into a tight line and tapped a button on the dash screen. She didn’t say anything, acting as if steering her SUV into the yawning mouth of the garage ahead took every ounce of her concentration.
“Marina,” Em pressed, louder and impatient.
The garage door clunked into reverse as Marina shut off the engine.
“No, they’re not,” she answered without glancing back. Her tone sent a shock of cold racing through May’s veins. “Let’s talk inside.”
[ Next Chapter ]