part one: stephanie

Stephanie stood by the side of the highway. This was not going well. She'd been running away from home for over seven hours now, and she'd only made it from her family's house to the highway.

She'd been hitchhiking, trying not to be spotted by anybody who knew her. It had taken a few hours, walking and stopping and walking some more, but finally she'd been picked up by a fat truck driver whose cab had been filled with pot smoke and whose glove compartment had been filled with snack cakes. She'd been just as glad when she'd learned he was taking the highway in the opposite direction from her.

But now – much later, much colder, the sky getting dark, still standing where the fat man had dropped her off – she was thinking that a few hours of sickly-sweet smoke and snacks might not have been so bad after all. She'd never smoked pot and never wanted to, though some of her friends had, but a cupcake would have been pretty good right then. Or pretty much any kind of food, really.

Then a car, an old green sedan, actually stopped for her. She ran a few paces ahead to where the car had pulled off the side of the road, and the driver looked at her. He was alone in the car, and he seemed to be about her father's age. His lean face was framed by dark hair, a goatee, and sideburns.

"Need a ride?" he asked.

"I sure do. If you–"

"Get in."

This was a little abrupt, but she wasn't about to be picky.

She pulled open the door and climbed in. She fastened her seat belt immediately, by force of habit, and then she noticed that the man didn't have his on. She decided not to say anything.

"Where are you going, kid?" he asked as he pulled back onto the road.


"Me, too. You want a ride all the way?"

"Uh…" she began, thinking of how many hours it would be, and should she offer to drive, and what if–

He interrupted her mental paralysis. "I'll tell you the plan. I'm going as far as Centerville tonight. I'll stay over there, and then start driving again in the morning. I figure we'll make U-town around midnight tomorrow. That work for you?"

"Uh, sure."

She was beginning to be alarmed that he didn't have his headlights on, but then she was even more alarmed when he tried to turn them on and it quickly became obvious that he had no idea where the control was. Was this not his car? Then he found the switch and turned on his high-beams by accident, not realizing it until a couple of cars in the oncoming lanes flashed their lights at him.

He barked a laugh as he turned down the high-beams, then he lit a cigarette. He'd apparently had the car long enough to figure out how to work the dashboard lighter at least. And he obviously didn't care that she'd figured out this wasn't his car. It could have been borrowed, of course, but she had a hunch it wasn't. And she didn't think rental cars were this old and dirty.

They were silent for a while, and Stephanie had nearly dozed off when the man barked, "Shit!" He slammed on the brakes, cut across a lane of traffic, and got them onto the off-ramp for Centerville by going over a small divider.

"Okay," he said. "Anyway, I'm renting a room in a motel for tonight." He glanced at her. "I'm not making a pass. You can sleep in the car if you want. Or I can circle back and drop you at the highway and you can see what else comes along. Up to you."

It was late and there had been very few cars on the road, so that was not an attractive option. But she wasn't stupid, and sharing a motel room with a strange man was not a good idea either. She would sleep in the car.

He turned abruptly and pulled into the parking lot of a pancake house. It was closed and dark. Stephanie sighed, suddenly imagining how good pancakes with butter and syrup would taste. Dinner was clearly not part of tonight's plan, and she didn't want to rock the boat.

He pulled up by the front door. She was going to ask what was going on, but then she saw the two pay phones next to the entrance. He started to go through his pockets and for a second she thought he was going to ask to borrow a dime, but then he found one in the little tray between the seats.

"I'll be right back," he said, turning off the lights and the ignition. He got out of the car, taking the keys with him, and went to the first pay phone.

The call was very short. He lit a cigarette as he got back into the car, and they were off again.

After the man registered and went to the room, Stephanie wandered all the way around the motel building. The place, which was set back a few hundred feet from the road and surrounded by trees, appeared to be nearly empty. There were only four cars in the parking lot, including theirs, and the place had sixteen rooms. She took her time walking around. They had agreed that he would take his shower first, then she'd shower before she went to sleep in the car. She was looking for a candy machine, but apparently the only one was in the lobby.

She didn't want to go in there. The guy behind the counter was around her age, and she had the idea he'd be the sort who'd make a comment about her being with a much older man. She didn't want a candy bar that badly, and she didn't want anybody to see her until she'd made some adjustments to her appearance.

She was carrying her bag. She hadn't been able to bring a suitcase – her parents might have seen her leaving the house with it – so she just had her school knapsack. She had filled it with extra underwear, socks, and a couple of T-shirts, plus her journal and a pen.

She knocked on the door of the room. "It's me," she called.

There was a creak of bedsprings, and then she heard the lock being turned and he opened the door. "Come on in," he said over his shoulder as he walked back to the bed and lay down again. His attention was on the television. The room was a little steamy from his shower. He was wearing boxer shorts, smoking a cigarette, and watching some sort of sports program. There was a flat silver flask on the bedside table, along with a glass with a couple of ice cubes.

He waved his hand in the direction of the bathroom. "Shower's yours," he said. She noticed that he was very muscular and hairy. There were a couple of large scars on his side where the hair hadn't grown back. She turned quickly, glad he hadn't glanced over to see her looking at his body.

She shut the bathroom door and flipped the little lock, reflecting that if he did want to break in he looked like he'd be able to yank the door right off its hinges.

She stripped off her clothes and wrapped a towel around herself. She ran the shower for a minute and stuck her head in, just enough to wet her hair. Then she reached into the outer pocket of her bag and brought out her comb and scissors.

Stephanie had never cut her own hair before, except for an ill-advised experiment with bangs the year before, but this had always been part of the plan. It was too bad, but her long blonde hair had to go. By tomorrow morning photographs of her would be circulated as a runaway, and she needed to look different.

The haircutting proved to be even more difficult than she'd anticipated, but at a certain point she decided she was done and she regarded the results in the mirror. Well, it did look different.

She dropped her towel and took a shower. At least shampooing her hair took a lot less time now.

When she was done, she stepped out of the shower and turned off the water. As she dried herself she heard noise coming from the room outside. It didn't sound like a sports show anymore. It sounded like…

Oh, no.

Had he brought a woman in? From where?

No, it was the television. Some sort of late-night motel porno channel. Oh, great.

Well, she certainly wasn't going to sashay out of the bathroom wrapped in a towel under these circumstances. She put her clothes back on, winding a towel around the remains of her hair.

She slowly opened the door. He was lying on his back, in his boxer shorts, asleep, the remote control in his hand. The television was blaring something that Stephanie was really trying not to look at, and the room was freezing. She tiptoed to the television and found the button to turn it off. The room seemed suddenly silent, even with the sound of the air conditioner. The man didn't react. Still asleep, and snoring.

She had decided she wasn't going to sleep in the car. She really didn't think this guy was going to attack her. But she was not going to sleep in this room with this awful air conditioning. It was a cool night – they could just turn off the AC and open a window.

She went across the room. He had pulled the drapes closed, and she reached between them to turn the crank that would open one of the windows.

There was a thump behind her and a hand grabbed her wrist. "I really–" he began.

She twisted free of his grip, batted his hand aside, and kicked something out of his other hand. The object thudded against the wall next to the TV, and she stepped back, crouching, ready for his next move. He just stood and regarded her, obviously amused, and then the end of her towel slowly untucked itself from above her forehead and fell across the bridge of her nose, blocking her vision.

"Don't laugh," she said, remaining motionless.

"I'll try not to," he said.

She reached up and tucked the end of the towel back in again. He grinned and went to pick up the gun she had kicked out of his hand. "I was going to say that I never sleep with the window open. Ever."

She straightened up as he went back to his bed. "Were you watching me? I thought you were asleep."

"I was. I'm a very light sleeper."

He put the gun on the table between the beds and pulled back the covers. "Turn down the AC if you want. Make sure the drapes stay closed. See you in the morning."

"Time to get up, kid. Come on."

She rolled over and blinked, and the man laughed, and then she laughed, too. He was looking at her short hair, which he hadn't seen the night before because of the towel. She was looking at his face, which was now clean-shaven. No more goatee, and no more sideburns. His hair was greased up differently now, too.

"So, kid," he said, "I guess you're on the run from the cops, huh?" He sipped coffee from a paper cup. "You probably tunneled out of the exercise yard in the middle of the night. I should have known you were a desperate criminal by the way you beat me up last night. Come on, drink your coffee. We've got to hit the road." He turned away, then he turned back, shifted his coffee cup to his left hand, and held out his right. "I'm Larry, by the way."

She climbed out of bed and stood up to shake his hand. "Stevie." He noticed that she had slept in her clothes, but he didn't comment. She sat down on the edge of the bed and drank some of the coffee he'd left on the bedside table for her. It was really foul and she didn't like coffee anyway, but she drank it because she hadn't slept well.

Larry had snored off and on all night, but even when he'd been silent she'd slept only fitfully. Other than a few family get-togethers (which had usually turned into all-night slumber parties anyway) she'd never slept in a room with another person. Every creak of his bedsprings had made her jump.

"I'm pretty hungry," she said. She would have been too nervous to say this before, but now they had been revealed to be fellow fugitives.

"Me, too," he said. "Don't worry, we're going to meet somebody for breakfast at a diner near here. He and I need to talk, so you'll have to sit at the counter until we're done. I'll pick up the tab for your meal."

She considered asking why he was being so nice to her, but she didn't. In any case, he wasn't really being "nice." He obviously didn't care what she thought, about him or anything else, but he wanted her along for reasons of his own, and she could tell the whole situation amused him.

The word "diner" had made Stephanie think of a small place, with one counter and a few tables, but this was the biggest restaurant she'd ever seen. It was a huge, square building, covered in chrome and neon, in the center of an even bigger parking lot.

Larry pulled into the lot, driving slowly. She couldn't tell if he was looking for friends or checking for trouble, but of course it could have been both.

He parked the car and they got out. She zipped up her jacket as he made sure the car was locked. It was colder than it had been the day before, and she was glad she wasn't hitchhiking today.

Larry lit a cigarette as they walked to the entrance. The parking lot was more than half full and she hoped they wouldn't have to wait.

They went into the large entrance area of the restaurant. There was a man standing by the row of pay phones, obviously keeping out of the way of the groups of people going in and out.

"Any trouble?" he asked as they approached.

Larry grinned. "Only her," he said, jerking a thumb at Stephanie. "Her name is Stevie. Stevie, this is Tom."

They shook hands. Tom was as big as Larry, but he had short, fair hair and a close-cropped beard, with dark blue eyes. He was wearing a tan windbreaker and jeans. Larry was wearing the same ugly plaid sportcoat he'd been wearing the day before. Stephanie had thought she was traveling light, but he seemed to have no luggage at all.

Larry tilted his head at the inner door of the restaurant. She nodded and went in. The tables were mostly full, but there were seats at the long counter.

Stephanie hadn't eaten since lunch the day before, and this was the type of place that served a big breakfast. A plump omelet, a pile of potatoes on a separate plate, and a stack of toast with butter and jelly. She had wanted a soda, but coffee or tea came with the meal and soda cost extra, so she had tea.

She put down her fork and yawned. She was going to have to take a breather before she ate her toast, even as hungry as she had been.

She thought about her journal. She hadn't written in it the night before because she hadn't wanted to do anything that girly in front of Larry. He probably wouldn't have said anything, but he'd have got a laugh out of it. But she thought she should keep track of what was going on.

Or maybe she'd write it as a story. After all, she was on an adventure, a quest, with unknown dangers ahead and other dangers (very well known) behind her. She had fallen in with bad companions, as far as she could tell, but she wasn't afraid of them. They seemed to like her, or at least one did, and in any case nothing could frighten her, not compared to what she was running from.

She reached for her bag, but then an arm like a steel band clamped around her waist and she was carried as easily as if she was a teddy bear.

"Hey!" she protested.

"We're leaving," Larry said as he carried her down a narrow corridor and through the kitchen.

"I can tell that! What about–"

"I've got your bag," Tom said as they went out the screen door and down the shaky wooden steps to the small parking area in the rear of the restaurant. There was a delivery truck there, the driver smoking as he leaned against the bumper.

"Where's your car?" Larry asked Tom as he placed Stephanie on her feet. She made a face as she wriggled around, trying to get her clothing straightened out.

She took her bag as Tom said, "Next parking lot." He gestured. "Other side of the appliance store."

And so they were off, through the underbrush between the parking areas and then along a ditch, crouching low as they ran so they'd be out of sight until they were behind the appliance store.

They came along the back of the big store (which looked more like a warehouse to Stephanie – it was the biggest building she'd ever seen) and turned the corner, and she saw only one car parked in that area, which was obviously not used very much. Grass was breaking through the pavement in a few places. The car was a beige sedan, even older and more dented than Larry's car had been.

A teenage boy was standing next to the car, a wire hanger in his hand. He was poking the end of it into the car window as he tried to unlock the door. He looked up and saw them. Stephanie remembered her father saying that some cars weren't worth stealing, but some people would steal anything because that's the type of people they were.

She grinned and started forward. "I got this," she said, but then Larry's hand clamped on her upper arm.

"I appreciate the effort," he said, pulling his gun, "but let's not injure the poor boy." Tom took a gun from his jacket pocket, too.

The teenager saw that both of the men were moving forward quickly, guns in hand, and he turned and ran, leaving his coat hanger stuck in the door. The men put their guns away and Tom unlocked the car door, throwing out the hanger. They got into the car, with Tom driving, Larry in the passenger seat, and Stephanie in the back. She considered complaining that Larry hadn't called shotgun, but she decided not to.

Tom glanced over his shoulder as he started the car. "Larry tells me you've had some training. Should I ask where you got it?"

She smiled. "Would you answer my questions? Like what we're running from?"

Larry barked a laugh. "She's got you there. Come on, let's get out of here." Tom drove the car around the edge of the parking lot and pulled out onto the road, turning left.

"This is the wrong way," Stephanie pointed out.

"It wouldn't be smart to drive right past the restaurant we just ran away from," Larry explained. "I'm sure the cops are still there."

"Okay, that makes sense," she said, a tightness in her chest at the thought that the police may have been looking for her. "But what–"

"Never mind that," Tom said. "How do we get to the highway from here?"

"Especially since we're going the wrong way," Stephanie added, forcing herself to be calm. If she let them see that she was upset, they'd just make fun of her.

Tom shrugged. "Well, we can turn around, as long as we do it on another street."

They were stopped at a red light, at an intersection with fast food restaurants at all four corners, each with a big parking lot.

Stephanie looked up. "Or we could look at the signs," she said, pointing. "Route 45 is the state name for the highway."

The light turned and Tom turned right, following the sign. Stephanie sat back, smiling. "So," she said, "why didn't you want me to beat up that guy who was trying to steal the car?"

Tom nodded. "Good question. If you beat him up, then he's all bruised and bleeding, which he has to explain to people. He'll try not to admit that he was beaten up by a girl, but maybe there's a slip and he describes us, and maybe the car, and maybe he even remembers the license plate. Which would be bad. But as it is, he was scared off by two big bad men with big bad guns, and he'll keep quiet about that because he was trying to boost the car, and he was scared off, and he doesn't have any bruises he has to explain. Make sense?"

She nodded, frowning. "Yes, it does."

Larry laughed and lit a cigarette. "Don't sound so surprised."

"So, child, what is your name?"

Stephanie jerked her head up and went Eeep!, much to the amusement of the two men in the front seat.

There was a fourth person in the car with them now, a woman, sitting in the back seat next to Stephanie. She was tall and slender, with long silver hair, dressed in a white pantsuit.

She was regarding Stephanie with amusement.

"Stevie," she said. "My name is Stevie."

"Your real name," the woman said quietly.

"Stephanie Ann Monroe. Ma'am."

"And why are you going to U-town?"

"To get an abortion." Why had she said that? "I've heard you can get them there." She had a cover story all prepared – why had she blurted out the truth? "Where I live, my parents would have to sign a form, and if I told them my father would have thrown me out. If I survived the beating." Stephanie didn't seem to be in control of what she was saying, but she wasn't as alarmed about this as she would have expected.

"Ah," the woman said. "And how old are you?"

"Just eighteen."

When had this woman got in the car? Had they stopped? Well, they must have, but had Stephanie actually slept through it? What else had she missed? She remembered Tom driving for a couple of hours, and then they'd got burgers and sodas from a drive-through and Larry had taken over. She must have dozed off after that. Now it appeared to be late afternoon. She hoped she hadn't drooled or snored while she was sleeping.

The woman held out her hand. "I'm pleased to meet you," she said. "If you have trouble obtaining what you need at the U-town hospital, come see me. Barclay Street, the last building before the river." Stephanie started to check her pockets for something to write on. "You'll remember," the woman said, and Stephanie knew she would.

It was only later that Stephanie realized the woman hadn't mentioned her name.

Larry laughed as Tom tapped him on the shoulder and said, "Ten bucks you owe me."

"You were betting?" Stephanie demanded. "On me?"

Larry shrugged. "You were running away from home, you cut your hair short, and you called yourself a boy's name. You were going to U-town, which is queer central. I had ten bucks on you being a dyke."

Stephanie laughed. "I guess I'd be better off if I was." Then she realized that it might not have been as late in the afternoon as she'd thought, because it started to rain.

"I'll get the rooms," Tom said. He got out of the car and ran through the rain to the motel office. Stephanie assumed they'd be divided by sex – girls in one room and boys in the other – but when Tom came back he handed one key to Larry and put the other in his pocket. She could smell the Chinese food they had picked up a few minutes before.

"Stevie and I are in number four," Tom said. "You lovebirds are in number twelve."

"So, somebody has to get wet?" the woman asked, smiling. "Couldn't you get two adjacent rooms?" Tom turned, a grin starting to form, but she held up her hand. "Never mind. Don't be vulgar. Dearest, park by our room. These other two can get rained on." Larry pulled up to the door of #12. "Is there perhaps an umbrella?" she asked.

"I think there's one in the trunk," Tom said, as Stephanie looked at how close they were to the overhang over the door to the room.

The woman smiled at Larry, who took the keys and got out, going back to open the trunk. A moment later he came up to the passenger door, holding a large umbrella. He opened the door and the woman stepped out. She walked to the door of the room with her arm through his.

The night was dark, but Stephanie saw something that surprised her. She had been sure that the tall woman had been wearing loose-fitting white trousers in the car, but now it looked like she was wearing a long, white dress with a slit up one side to her waist. There was a gust of wind which blew the skirt around, revealing her long, slender legs, and even, for a moment, her bare buttocks.

Then Tom was out of the car and over to the door as Larry opened it. Tom took the umbrella and brought it back to the car.

"Unless you'd rather sleep in the car…" he said, smiling as he opened her door.

"Nah," she said, picking up her bag. "I think I can handle you if I have to."

He got the plastic bag of Chinese food from the front seat and then came around for Stephanie. She opened the door and he handed her the bag as she got out. He held the umbrella as they walked quickly across the parking lot to their room. Even in that short walk, her sneakers and socks got wet. She hoped the sneakers would dry out by tomorrow morning.

Tom put the bag down on the floor by the desk as Stephanie sat on the bed and pulled off her sneakers and socks. She wiggled her toes, wishing she'd been able to bring a second pair of sneakers. Tom started to clear off the desk and take the containers out of the bag. She looked around, trying to figure if this room was even more seedy than the one from the night before. Her assessment was that it looked better but smelled worse.

"We're going to eat all that?" she asked as she walked over to the table, the rough carpet itchy on her bare feet. "What about the others?"

He smiled as he started to open the containers. "They'll be busy for a while. They can come over and get some later if they want." He gestured at the little square refrigerator in the corner. "If not, it's better in there than in the car."

He had taken the only chair, the straight-backed one that went with the desk, so she pulled over the little stand that was supposed to be for suitcases. She sat on it, miffed that it only emphasized how much shorter she was than Tom.

She picked up a container of fried rice and a plastic fork and started to eat.

"Have you ever been to U-town?" he asked. He grinned. "If I ask a question you don't want to answer, just say so."

She shrugged. "You already know my biggest secret. No, I've never been to U-town. I've never been anywhere, really. Well, we went to Indianapolis once, for a wedding. And we go camping every year, for vacation."

"With your parents?"

"And my sisters. I'm the oldest of three."

"And you read about U-town? In a magazine or something?"

She shook her head. "No, I… Hey!" There were two egg rolls, and Tom, having eaten one, had just picked up the second one. "I like egg rolls, too!"

He laughed and put it back.

"We studied U-town in school. When it started, my history teacher made a project out of it. We followed the news stories, and then she set up a debate in class. Pro versus con. 'Proposition: it is impossible for one neighborhood in one city to secede from the United States.' I was on the 'against' team. I wasn't a debater, but I did a lot of research. That's how I found out that they allow…"

He nodded. "Indeed they do. But I need to tell you something. Not to discourage you, but abortions are only provided for residents."

She shrugged. "I'll figure it out when I get there."

He looked like he was going to say something else, but instead he ate more lo mein.

"Who won the debate?" he asked finally.

"Oh they didn't have it. The principal called it off. He said it was too controversial."

After dinner they watched some television, getting into periodic arguments about which channel to watch that reminded her of the arguments Tom and Larry had had in the car over what type of music to listen to on the radio. At one point Stephanie took the umbrella and went out to get them candy bars and sodas from the machines.

"Come on," Tom said. "Time to get up."

Stephanie opened one eye. "I just went to bed ten minutes ago. And school doesn't…"

Tom smiled. She glanced the the small window over the television. Still dark.

"We've got to get there early," he explained. "Come on. Get up, or we'll have to leave you."

She sighed and stretched. "Okay. I get dressed fast." She gestured. "Turn around. Come on. My butt isn't this morning's entertainment."

He laughed, stood up and stepped aside, facing away, so she could grab her bag and scoot into the bathroom. She quickly added jeans, socks, and sneakers (still damp) to the T-shirt and underwear she'd slept in.

She threw open the door. "Taa-daa!" she said, but the room was empty. Hearing an engine start outside, she bolted across the parking lot to the car. Tom was behind the wheel. He grinned as she piled in next to him.

"That was pretty fast," he admitted.

"Would you have left without me?"

"No, because I can't leave without Larry and Angel."

"What…" she started to ask, but then there was a prolonged howl of either pain or pleasure from Room #12.

"That's why I had us at the other end of the place," he explained when it was over. "Angel is a screamer."

"I'll say," Stephanie said, her eyes wide. Her own experiences in this area, which were very limited, had all been conducted in near silence, afraid that parents might hear.

A moment later, more quickly than Stephanie would have thought possible, the door opened and Angel came out, her white clothes impeccable, her silver hair perfectly arranged. She said something over her shoulder, then she came to the car. She was smiling as she got in behind Stephanie, who reached down to slide her seat forward.

"Good morning, all," Angel said.

"Good morning," Stephanie said.

"Did everybody sleep well?" Angel asked.

"Not long enough," Stephanie said, looking out at the sky, which was still dark.

Angel smiled. "More than I did, I'm sure."

Stephanie wasn't sure what to say to that. The door to the room opened again and Larry came out, looking bedraggled and tired. He had scratches on the side of his face and on one hand. He hadn't shaved, and his hair was a mess. What had this woman done to him?

Not that he looked unhappy. Quite the opposite, in fact.

He lit a cigarette and came around to the driver's side. "We've got to switch around," he said. "Now our friend Stevie gets to use her driver's license. Angel should ride shotgun, with us in the back. Come on."

So, they all moved around, with Larry making a joke about a "Chinese Fire Drill," and then they were off. As Stephanie drove she heard Angel shifting around in her seat. At the next stoplight she glanced over to see that the tall woman had adjusted her shirt and snug white leather vest to emphasize the pale upper slopes of her breasts. She smiled at Stephanie.

"When performing sleight-of-hand, a little misdirection is always helpful."

"Can I ask what we're distracting people from?" Stephanie asked.

"No," said Angel.

Larry pulled the car up to the curb. "Good luck, kid," he said. Tom smiled, and Angel gave a small wave.

Stephanie got out of the car and closed the door. They drove off, and she waited for the light to change at the busy intersection before crossing the street to the bridge.

She smiled, thinking that at least she had finally learned why Larry had picked her up in the first place. They had passed through three toll plazas on the way to the city, and since Stephanie was driving the toll takers mostly got to see her – and Angel's cleavage, which had definitely impressed the skinny toll taker at the last place – and nobody had paid much attention to Larry and Tom in the back seat.

She looked around for signs as she crossed the street, but she didn't see any. There were rusted girders above her which had apparently once held signs, but the signs were gone. The bridge roadway was blocked by wooden barricades, but one of them had been pushed aside and people were walking through in both directions. She wanted to ask somebody if this was really the bridge to U-town, but she was nervous about talking to a total stranger.

She started walking across the bridge. Apparently no cars were going over, just pedestrians, and they all looked like they knew where they were going.

The first part of her adventure was over. She had made it to U-town. Now she just had to walk over the bridge, find out where the hospital was, and that would be that.

But then what? Go home again? Would they take her back? And, more to the point, did she want to go back? And, if she did go back, what would she tell them about why she'd run away and where she'd gone?

She heard a motor behind her and she turned. A mail truck was coming up the bridge, apparently from a different on-ramp, followed by two other trucks. She stepped aside and they went past her. The other people crossing were apparently used to this and they moved to the side without even looking around.

And what about the address Angel had given her? Did she want to go there? Did she want to see them again (and would they want to see her)? If she did stay, they'd be the only people she knew in U-town.

But what if Tom was right? What if she couldn't get an abortion at the hospital? As she thought about it, her stomach getting tight, it made sense.

She told her stomach to calm down. She'd figure this out.

She heard motors coming in both directions and she stepped to the edge of the road as the mail truck came back toward the city, and a truck full of corn, zucchini and other vegetables went in the other direction. It was cold on the bridge, with chilly wind coming off the river, and she zipped up her jacket and put her hands in her pockets. She wished she had a hat. With her hair short, her head got cold easily.

She remembered what Angel had said, and she did remember the address Angel had given her. Okay, so that would be Plan B.

But if she stayed, what would she do? Get a job? Doing what?

She came down to the end of the bridge. There were several trucks parked around, each surrounded by people with carts of various kinds, obviously buying produce and other supplies. The barricade was there, as she'd seen it in photographs, but it was more impressive in color. It was a huge piling that had been placed across the bridge road on the day U-town had been founded (and how had they moved it into position? that had never been explained). It was now painted a variety of bright colors.

There was a girl sitting on the barricade, facing away from the bridge. The big canvas bag next to her had "U.S. Mail" stenciled on the side. She was a few years younger than Stephanie and she was swinging her legs back and forth, apparently waiting for something or somebody.

"Excuse me?" Stephanie said as she stepped up onto the barricade and jumped down on the other side. She was really in U-town now. It was very different from the city. The people were younger and mostly sloppily dressed, there were no cars, and things were very quiet, except for the enthusiastic bargaining going on behind her.

The girl turned to look at her suspiciously.

"I was wondering if you could tell me where the hospital is," Stephanie said.

The girl's face was freckled and pug-nosed, and far from clean, but it was thoughtful as she slowly looked Stephanie over. Then she nodded and pointed down a street. "That way. Three blocks," she said in a surprisingly deep voice.

Stephanie thanked her and started off. She was sure that the girl had sized her up and had known exactly why she wanted to go to the hospital.

Go to:

Part Two: Erika

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