Authors: Julie Daines
Cover image: Artistic Eye Â© Bluberries Advertising
Cover design copyright Â© 2013 by Covenant Communications, Inc.
Published by Covenant Communications, Inc.
American Fork, Utah
Copyright Â© 2013 by Julie Daines
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any format or in any medium without the written permission of the publisher, Covenant Communications, Inc., P.O. Box 416, American Fork, UT 84003.Â
This is a work of fiction. The characters, names, incidents, places, and dialogue are either products of the author's imagination, and are not to be construed as real, or are used fictitiously.
First Printing: February 2013
To my sister
I wish you could be here for this, even though you would have
read the last chapter first and ruined the whole story.
Of the one million people I need to thank for their help, support, and expertise on this project, I'll start with my fantastic writers group, The Sharks and Pebbles: Yamile Mendez, Jaime Theler, Taffy Lovell, and Scott Rhoades. Your input has been the difference between life and deathâat least for some of the characters. Special thanks to Tiffany Dominquez, who planted the writing seed in the first place, and to Michelle Ratto, beta reader extraordinaire, who wasn't afraid to tell me she liked the other book better.
I'd like to thank Kirk Shaw, whose support and encouragement has meant more to me than he'll ever know, and Samantha Millburn for getting the manuscript into shipshape form, and the whole team at Covenant for all their talent.
The biggest thanks of all goes to my husband, Dave, who would give me the moon if he thought it would encourage me with my writing. The tuna sandwich is for you.
There is none so blind as those who cannot see.
âOld English Proverb
Christian vs. The Stowaway
I always thought making life-or-death decisions would be more dramatic. Thrilling. Like something from a movie. I should have known better.
Last week I chose death. It didn't work out.
Today, after serious reconsideration, I chose life. And for me, that meant leaving.
I tossed the last of my gear into the back of my Range Roverâthe car my father gave me just after I turned sixteen. That was over a year ago. He hadn't spoken to me since. Maybe I should have felt guilty for using it to run away, but I didn't. Just because he had a son didn't mean he wanted one.
I drove a few blocks to the 7-Eleven and filled the car up with gas. I bought some ranch-flavored corn nuts and a few bottles of sports drink. Bouquets of wilting roses stood in a rack by the counter. I grabbed a bundle of those too.
In ten minutes, I arrived at my next stop. The cemetery. I pulled in and followed the wide curve of the lane until I came to an immense cedar tree. I took the cellophane-wrapped flowers and wove my way through the forest of headstones to my mother's grave.
I'd sat there many times, telling her about Dad, how he hated me, and how my life was messed. It never changed anything, but I felt betterâfor a few days at least. She died when I was nine. My dad remarried last year. Enter trophy wife, Gloria. I didn't know if he made her feel the way she did or if it simply came naturally, but I suspected she hated me too.
Eight years was a long time. Most of my memories of Mom were as faint and eroded as the weathered tombstones surrounding me. More than anything, I remembered after she died. When Dad fell apart and never really came back. At least not to me. For him, it was like I didn't exist.
And now, the time had come to make that a reality. How else could I avoid a repeat of last week's lapse in judgment?
“Hey, Mom. I won't be seeing you for a while. I'm heading out.” I laid the flowers on her smooth headstone and trudged back to my car.
I took the Sunset Highway heading east and crossed the Willamette River, skirting downtown Portland.
Just as I reached the end of town, something bumped the back of my seat. “What theâ”
I craned my neck to look behind me. The driver next to me laid on his horn, and I swerved back into my lane. Another bump and a rustling sound. I'd left my car doors open while I'd loaded my stuff; maybe a stray cat had crawled in.
I pulled off onto the shoulder, jumped out, and opened the back door. Something huddled behind my seat, hidden under the clothes and bags, but it wasn't an animal. It was a girl.
“Get out,” I ordered.
Her hands fumbled to grip the handle. Leaning heavily on it, she slowly stepped out.
She was small but definitely older than I first thought. Sixteen, maybe seventeen. She had a layer of chin-length, bright-pink hair framing her face; the rest was short and jet-black. She wore a tight, black T-shirt that had a red circle with a blue line through it and the words
Mind the Gap
A meticulously shredded jean miniskirt hung to her thighs, followed by black tights. Heavy, black combat boots with laces
buckles completed the look.
I took a step back for a better view. Portland had its share of unique inhabitants, but we tended to err on the side of earthy
. I was pretty sure we drank recycled toilet water. Maybe she was part of the crowd that hung out under Burnside Bridge. I tipped my head to the side. Not bad-looking though, in an unconventional, punk kind of way.
“Please don't leave me on the motorway,” she said in a thick British accent. Dark sunglasses concealed her eyes, and she kept her head down, speaking to my feet.
“Who are you?” When I asked, her head snapped up, and a tiny, diamond nose stud sparkled in the late afternoon sun.
That told me nothing, except her parents were terrible at naming. “What are you doing in my car?”
“I needed a lift.” Her voice quivered, and she wrung her hands together hard enough to remove a layer of skin.
“Sorry to be the one to tell you this, Scarlett”âwhen I said her name, I tried to mimic her fancy accentâ
â“but you can't just go around sneaking into people's cars. Not unless you're a carjacker or a rapist.” Not that she posed much of a threat. She couldn't weigh more than ninety pounds wet. “Where did you come from?”
That wasn't exactly what I had asked. I hoped for something more along the lines of how she'd managed to slink into my car undetected.
Whatever. She wasn't my problem. I had a plan, and it did not involve her. Especially after the whole stowaway act. I pointed up the road. “There's an exit about a quarter mile up the highway. Follow it to the airport. You'll find lots of taxis, buses, and airplanes to take you anywhere you want to go. But you know what? I'm not one of them.” I climbed into my car, rolled down the window, and waved. “See ya, Scarlett.”
By the time I'd pulled away, her shoulders shook and she was wiping her face with both hands. I checked the rearview mirror as I rounded the bend in the highway. She hadn't moved.
I pounded the steering wheel with both hands. “Shoot!” I'd promised myself I wouldn't turn out like him. And now I had turned my back on someone. Just like he had turned his on me. My dad cared nothing about my life. He cared about looking good for the firm and avoiding anything that might remind him that he had a son. When it came to lowlifes like me, he couldn't be bothered.
But that wasn't me.
I could at least give her a ride to the airport. It was the closest hub of transportation. I turned off at the exit I'd told her to walk to, crossed the viaduct, and reentered the highway on the southbound side. It was less than a mile to the next exit. I got off and turned around again, heading back onto the northbound road. Would she still be there? What if a creep had picked her up? My departure strategy had not included a guilt trip.
She was there. She hadn't taken one step. I stopped the car in front of her. A line of shiny tears leaked out from under her sunglasses. I leaned across the shotgun seat and flung the door open.
“Fine,” I said. “I'll take you to the airport.”
She reached out her hand and stepped forward. She fumbled again for a handhold then pulled herself in.
“Thanks,” she said, sniffing.
“Sure.” Why do girls do that? Cry. I hate it. They turn on the faucet, and suddenly, we can't help ourselves. We have to fix it. Stupid, stupid girl.
I put the car in drive and merged into the traffic. Five minutes later we pulled up in the passenger pickup lane of Portland International Airport.
She'd probably just gotten separated from her family and didn't know how to get back. “See over there?” I pointed out the passenger window, my arm almost brushing the tip of her nose. “Cross that walkway, and you'll find the taxis, buses, and hotel shuttles.”
She stared straight out the front windshield.
“Do you have a hotel?”
“Is your family here?”
“Where are they?”
She shrugged. “Dunno. I haven't seen them in ages.” She shifted in her seat and tucked a pink strand of hair behind her ear. “I was away, at a special school.”
Ah. She rode the short bus. Maybe she just needed money for a cab. I leaned to the side and pried my wallet out of my back pocket then dropped some money in her lap. I had plentyâafter stealing a wad from my dad's safe before I hit the road. “This should help you get wherever you need to go.”
She took the money and thumbed through it. “How much is it?”
Didn't she just count it? Maybe she struggled with American money. It could be trickyâwith the numbers printed in every corner and then spelled out at the bottom . . . on both sides. I rolled my eyes. “It's a hundred dollars.”
“Uh, yeah.” I was beginning to see why she went to a
school. Not everyone home upstairs.
“Thanks.” She felt around the door until she found the latch, opening it with a soft click. Her foot dangled out of the car, searching for the ground.
A suspicion crept up inside me. “Scarlett, wait.”
She turned her head but didn't quite face me.
I waved my hand in front of her face. No reaction. I stuck my tongue out. She didn't respond. I waved my hand again, harder. Still nothing.
She was blind?
I'd left a blind girl standing on the side of the freeway in the middle of rush-hour traffic. No wonder she'd looked terrified. So much for avoiding the guilt trip. And now I was dumping her on the curb of PDX? I couldn't do it. I was a better person than that. Or at least I wanted to be.
“Where are you headed, exactly?” I asked.
She shrugged. “Where are you headed?”
“Vancouver.” I had relatives there that I thought might take me in. From my mom's side, of course. But no way was the little stowaway coming with me.
I looked at her again. No purse, no bags, apparently no money. “Vancouver, BC. That's in Canada.” Vancouver, Washington, was half a mile away across the river. I wanted to make sure she knew which Vancouver I meant.
I'd known her a total of ten minutes. Did she actually believe I'd take her with me? Time to put a stop to that line of thinking. “Do you have your passport with you? This isn't the European Union. You have to have ID to cross the borders.”
She reached into a pocket and produced a laminated card. It had her picture, her nameâScarlett Becketâand her birth date. She'd just turned seventeen. According to the fine print, this was an ID card for the Shepherd Hill School for the Gifted located in Islington, London N6. No phone number.
I had assumed her
school was in Portland. Otherwise, what was she doing here without family or friends?