He noted the look on my face and said, “Look. I know you don’t like me. But we need you. And I can tell you need me too.”
I ignored that and replied, “Why exactly do you need me home? You keep saying that. But it doesn’t make any sense.”
He sighed. “Carrie… I wish I could tell you. But you wouldn’t believe me. As long as we’re back home by June 20th, we’ll be fine.” My curiosity level hit the roof.
“Why June 20th? That only gives us two months to find the thugs who took my mom,” I asked.
“You wouldn’t get it. But let’s get started so we find your mom, okay?”
I thought about the information I’d found out about my mom for the first time since seeing George. I cursed. “I forgot!”
I dropped my half-empty Coke and sprinted out the door. I heard George yell, “Hey!” and then shout, “There’s your money!” to the waitress, and start running too.
He’d caught up in only a few seconds. I ran harder, puffing and checking my watch, “I was supposed to meet a guy ten minutes ago!”
I ran until I was at the base of the Arch. Then I slowed and began pushing through the crowd. Almost nobody was here today. A bunch of protestors had started a riot a few days ago about a supposed terrorist plan to crash into the Arch. The police refused to believe it, but many civilians stayed away, just in case.
It felt like an eternity, but I was finally in a carriage that would take me to the top. It was a rickety old thing, and George had to duck to fit because he was so tall. When the thing finally reached the top I threw myself out.
I looked around for the guy who was supposed to be wearing a Cardinals hat and a long black coat. Nobody.
I swore again. “Missed him?” George guessed. I nodded. I went to the window, leaned against the side, and began an angry stream of profanities. Then I felt my angry tears well up again.
George stood awkwardly beside me and patted my shoulder. “I was so close!” I breathed. “I almost… I almost found her, and I let her slip through my fingers…”
“I’m sorry, Carrie.”
“What am I supposed to do now?” I asked. I looked at George, hoping he’d have an answer, but he just gave me a blank, helpless stare.
“I – I don’t know…”
“Um, excuse me, miss?” a quiet, high-pitched voice asked. I looked up, expecting someone to ask what was wrong, or to tell me to shut up. Instead, I saw a petite employee holding an envelope standing before me. “Hi… This guy in a baseball cap told me to give this to you… Well, he said to give it to a girl with long red hair wearing dark skinny jeans and a shirt that said “Josephine Collective” on it, like yours. He said that a guy like you might be with her.” She pointed at George. “And uh… he said you’d both be really attractive. I thought you might like to hear that.” She smiled. I thought about it, and then I smiled.
This time, she didn’t give me a weird look. She just handed me the package, and walked away, still grinning.
I took a deep breath, steadying my emotions. Then I sighed and headed for the exit elevator-things. George was still right behind me. I still wasn’t completely comfortable with him around, but I figured I’d have to get used to it if we were going to be around each other for at least the next two months.
“Aren’t you gonna open it?” he asked curiously. I shook my head.
“I’ll open it when I get back to the hotel. I don’t want anyone else seeing this.”
“Not even me?” he asked. The elevator hit the bottom and we exited, wading through the small crowd of tourists.
I shook my head. “No. I trust you, really I do, but I just have a gut feeling that I shouldn’t show anyone. And last time I ignored a feeling like this, my mom got kidnapped.” George frowned, but nodded.
George pushed open the door of the little shop and held it for me. Surprised, I paused, before thanking him and following him into the bright day. We wandered over to a bench and sat down.
I stared down at the envelope I held in my hands. It seemed pretty inconspicuous. Just a large yellow envelope, and from what I could feel, it just had a few papers, maybe some pictures in it. It was sealed with a sticker that had writing on it. It was organized like an address on a letter.
I gasped quietly and quickly flipped it over. “You know,” I said. Adrenaline pumped in my veins. “I think I’m going to go back now. I’ll catch up to you later.”
George’s eyebrows pulled together. “You sure? Well, where’re you staying? I’ll meet you there later today.”
“No,” I answered. I didn’t know why, but I felt I shouldn’t go out again today. “I think this stuff is going to take the whole day to go over. I’ll meet you at the park right over there tomorrow at ten, okay?” I said.
Before he could answer, I turned and rushed into the crowd. I glanced back and saw George standing up, looking rather dumbfounded. His green eyes were wide as he searched the throng for me. Then he sighed and shook his head. He sat back down on the bench. Now his face was clear and happy. He was smiling, a different smile than the one I remembered. His old smile was cocky and rude and it made me want to punch him. But this new one was just a smile of pure joy. His eyes lit up and he stared into the bright sun.
A breeze blew by, brushing his dark brown hair across his face. I didn’t realize how much it had grown out; he had to turn his head to the side to keep it out of his eyes. His smile fell to one side, showing his perfect teeth and a dimple in his cheek.
Unexpectedly, my heart suddenly thumped. I paused, confused. Where had that come from?
I shook my head, which got my hair in my eyes. I stepped backwards and bumped into someone.
“Hey, watch out!” the girl whined. I stepped back again. Brushing the hair out of my watering eyes, I spun on my heel and headed to the hotel. I tried to fill my head with other things, things that didn’t have to do with George.
Out of habit, I glanced around as casually as I could; making sure no one was following me.
When I’d reached the hotel, I hurried to my room. My fingers trembled with anticipation when I slipped my key card into the slot. The light turned green, the lock buzzed, and I opened the door.
I shut it tight behind me, feeling paranoid. I sighed. I rushed over to the bed with gold sheets and jumped on it. I sat Indian-style on it, holding the envelope in my lap.
Then I turned it over and looked at the sticker that sealed away my mother’s whereabouts.