Night fell. Bray had been sitting on the edge of her bed, plotting for a way out of this shit hole. The hallways were climbing with the voices of young women, shouting and threatening one another. She thought about Roxie. She felt an uncontrollable anxiety. She knew that she did not belong here. Not at all. She didn't trust the doctor, or anyone else in this place. Because of Roxie, there would be no sleeping tonight. She would have to stay awake and keep on guard. She looked around the room for something that could double as a weapon, and then everything went dark.
When it happened, the whole floor seemed to shudder in unison. Bray heard screams from down the hall. A series of nurses ran past her door. She couldn't make out what was really going on.
"Bray!" A male voice shouted. It came from just beyond her door. Her heart squeezed with fear.
"Bray!" The voice whispered more urgently, "C'mon, we gotta get outta here!"
Harlem! It took a moment to recognize his voice. Without hesitation, she ran to him.
"What's going on?" She asked as she stood with him against the hallway wall.
"I was able to hack their system," he whispered. He held his laptop by his side.
"What?! That's genius!"
"Shh!" He snapped at her and then turned his head.
To their left, the locked exit beckoned. The light on the door alarm flashed green. Nurses were distracted by the teens, who were now running freely through the halls. Roxie was edging her body along the wall to Bray's right, ever closer to her. Bray began to panic.
"C'mon." Harlem waved her along.
Together, they ran down the hall toward the front entrance. Harlem pulled the entrance door open. Bray felt warmth as he gripped her arm with his free hand and pulled her to the other side. Her heart raced. She felt the desperate chiming of her gut, telling her she needed out of this place.
Entering the glaring, silver elevator, the doors slid closed.
Is this really happening? She asked herself.
Harlem pushed the Stop button on the elevator's control panel.
"Hurry," he urged, "put these on."
He tossed a plastic bag to her and she caught it in her arms. She pulled out a button-up flower shirt, a pair of polyester blue pants and a pair of old tennis shoes.
"You're kidding, right?"
"They're my grandma's. It's all I could grab at the last minute. C'mon, we have to hurry."
"Okay." She grinned at him. She wanted to tell him that she missed him.
Harlem turned away from her. He couldn't believe he was really doing this. Was this a good idea, helping her escape? He didn't know the answer. He knew he'd be in deep shit with the law, and that was the thought that kept racing through his mind as he waited on her.
"Okay," she said.
"Great, let's go." His voice quickened as he turned the Stop switch back and allowed the elevator to fall to the ground level.
Passing through the yellow-walled hospital, trying to act normal, they finally arrived at the parking garage. An alarm screamed behind them.
She followed Harlem along a line of parked cars. As they approached the corner of the garage, she noticed it. He still drove the same four-door hatchback, with a few extra dings on the right side and bird droppings along the back window.
Stepping inside, Bray slumped into the passenger seat and shut the door. Harlem tossed his equipment into the backseat before taking his place beside her.
He turned the key, and the orange vehicle stuttered to life.
"No blaring music?" She smiled at him, noticing the silence around them.
Harlem's eyes shifted to the rearview mirror as he cautiously pulled out. He was impressed with the fact that they hadn't gotten caught yet.
"I had to disable the radio," he responded.
He stopped the car, pressed down on the clutch, and switched gears.
"Because it had a GPS chip in it."
She stared at him. She didn't understand the connection.
"They'll track us...find out where we are."
"Oh." She understood. "You're so paranoid. Maybe you should've been in that fucking psych ward."
Bray hadn't seen the city in about a year. She tried to guess how long it had been, exactly. Its streets were packed. They were at a stand-still on 23rd street. Bray noted the signs pointing in the direction of the White House, and she thought about her parents.
"So now what?" Harlem's voice entered the space between them.
"I got you out. Now what?"
"We need to go west." she knew.
"Out west? What's out there?"
"I don't know." Bray shook her head. "Something better than here. I just get this urge...it's like a feeling, telling me to go out west."
"This is a bad idea. Ain't nothin' out west but dried up states and abandoned land."
"Ain't nothin' out west but dried up states and abandoned land. "
"I know that. But I can't question these feelings I have. They're all I've ever known." Bray paused. "You remember that time when we were kids, and we were playing out in the street and I said we needed to get inside?"
"You remember how we went inside and then that pack of dogs that got loose from the shelter came running through the street, and they attacked that kid?"
Harlem nodded. He remembered it as though it had happened yesterday. He was only ten, which meant she was only seven, and she had saved his life.
"This is that same kind of feeling. Like this city is unsafe for me, and something's telling me to go out west."
As they pulled away from the brightness and intensity of the city, Bray found herself nodding off. Harlem's eyes were fixed on the road before them. She placed her head against the window and drifted off to sleep.
A voice. Something pushed at her left arm. Her heart lurched.
"Huh!?" She jumped.
"Hey!" It was Harlem. "Look!"
Harlem pointed his finger up and to the right. There, standing several feet above the highway and glaring down at them with disdain, a highway traffic notification flashed in bright orange letters:
17 YR OLD FEM CAUCASIAN
VIRGINIA LICENSE #AEI 067
"Is that us?" Bray sat up.
"Yep. Only took them an hour and a half."
"Shit! Fucking parents." She paused to think. "I need to change my identity so I'm not recognized."
"Probably not a bad idea," he replied.
Pulling off the highway, he rolled the hatchback around the back side of a Total-Mart parking lot and climbed out, leaving Bray inside. He walked to the back of the car and stopped. He crossed his arms. His body shifted and his knees bent. He kneeled down, his head facing the license plate.
Bray sat and waited. She turned again and he was gone, now jogging into the store. She glanced out into the darkness at the midnight shoppers. She noticed one man transfixed by the hand-sized screen attached to his cart. His side rested against the door of his car, the cart pushed against its backside with a pile of bagged purchases inside, as the bright blues and whites from the screen flashed into the man's face, illuminating it in darkness.
Harlem neared the car. His face displayed a half-grin, as though he had outsmarted someone. She felt relieved that he was with her. She trusted no one else.
Harlem stepped inside the car and slammed the door.
"Here ya go." He tossed a pair of scissors onto her lap.
"I thought you'd get some shears for cutting hair."
"Seriously? That shit's expensive."
Bray ripped the scissors free from their packaging and lifted them to her head.
"You're gonna do it now?"
"Why not?" She shrugged.
As Harlem backed out, Bray pointed the scissors at her hair. She grabbed a chunk of it and squeezed at the plastic handles, feeling the thick, brown pieces fall. She cut on the left side, then the right, then the back, and just kept going until she felt free. She didn't care what it looked like. Harlem grinned and shook his head.
"Now you really look crazy," he joked.
"Don't make me stab you, because I will," she hissed while motioning at him with the scissors.
Reaching for the visor above her, Bray pulled it down and opened the mirror. He was right, she did look crazy, but she liked it. She noticed how her hair burst out in spikes and uneven points, and it reminded her of the aloe plant her mother had sitting in the kitchen when Bray was a child.
"Uh-oh," Harlem said, "we've got a bigger fish to fry now."
He pointed to the sign outside her window:
TOLL IN ONE MILE
"They'll ID my car right away," he said.