Time to get this over with.
The guy is hot.
I’ve done everything I can think of to not think that way, but it’s hopeless. He can be an ass and he can be rude, and I can want to punch him in his face, but that won’t change the fact that he’s smoking hot. He has a small dimple in his left cheek, lower than it should probably be to make him cute. It deepens into a small line when he smiles, a little crooked imperfection that breaks the symmetry of his face and draws my eyes to his mouth. I can’t stop looking at his mouth. I even turned away from him entirely when we first got into the car, but that lasted all of five seconds, and now here I am staring right at his lips again.
“We’re having a bathroom break is what we’re doing. You wanna go first or should I?”
I can just tell he’s waiting for me to kick up a fuss about dropping my brand-new jeans and peeing out in the open. He has no idea how many church camps I’ve been on, though. “I’ll go first. Are you sure you aren’t gonna come with me? Stand guard in case I make a run for it mid-stream?”
He just laughs. “I’m gonna go out on a limb here and trust you.” A chunking sound echoes around the car—he’s unlocked the doors. I unfasten my seatbelt and climb out of the car, headed straight for the back of the Humvee. The massive vehicle is plenty big enough for me to squat down behind without him seeing a thing. It doesn’t take me long to finish up. I take a moment to stretch out my legs, though. I’m not used to all of this sitting down. Back in Seattle, I run track. I go rock climbing with Matt.
Oh my god, Matt.
My insides knot when I realize how badly he must be freaking out right now. Mom and Dad, too. It’s only been three or four days—with the head injury I suffered, it’s hard to be sure—but that will feel like an eternity to my parents. Sloane will be going out of her mind. She’s always been so overprotective of me, always thought of me as her responsibility.
I look up, pulling a deep breath into my lungs—the sky’s so damn blue. Feels wrong somehow. The driver’s side door opens to the Humvee, and Rebel climbs out of the car, sliding on a pair of shades. “Come here for a moment,” he says.
“Here.” He jerks his head toward the other end of the car. Stepping on top of the tire, he climbs up onto the hood of the Humvee and holds his hand out to me, offering to help me up.
“Why are we climbing on top of the car?”
He shrugs. “Why not? I need a moment. I’m sure you do, too.”
I look at his hand, suddenly exhausted by all of this. By thoughts of my poor, worrying parents. By thoughts of how to keep them safe. How to get away. How to cope. It all seems so…insurmountable. I take his hand, allowing him to pull me up onto the hood of the car. I can feel the heat of the engine through the soles of my new Chucks.
Rebel lowers himself so that he’s sitting on the roof of the truck, legs kicked out in front of him, crossed at the ankle. Seems like an odd pose for him; he’s always so rigid, back straight, chest proud. Right now, he looks pretty much how I feel—like he’s on the brink of saying fuck it and giving himself over to the powers that be, because what’s the point in fighting anymore? He nods at the spot next to him, raising an eyebrow.
“You gonna sit down or what?”
I sit down. Arguing with him would be futile. We sit there, side by side, staring off down the arrow-straight road, and for a moment I don’t hate him. He pulls a cell phone out of his pocket and taps something into it, and then he turns to face me, frowning slightly. “You believe in vengeance?”
“You mean like revenge?”
He shakes his head. “Revenge is a selfish act. Retaliation for something. Vengeance is a different thing altogether. It’s about obtaining justice, usually for someone who can’t claim it for themselves.”
This is an odd line of questioning but I decide I’ll bite. Maybe I wouldn’t if he were being a jerk like he was a couple of hours ago, but that’s not what’s happening. He’s pensive, the live wire that apparently runs through him dulled for the moment. “I don’t know,” I say. “Probably, in that case.”
“What if I simplified the question? What if I say, do you believe in justice?
“Then, yes, I do believe.”
“Okay.” Rebel fiddles with his cell phone again, and then he’s showing me a picture on the screen—a picture of the silver-haired man I watched die back in Seattle. He has a huge grin on his face, wearing a really bad Christmas sweater with reindeer on it, and a small kid is sitting on his knee. A baby, really. A little girl. She’s smiling so wide her little fat cheeks are round like apples. Can’t be any more than two years old.
“That’s Maddie,” Rebel says. “She’s older now, but not by much. She’s my cousin, but she might as well be my little sister. Ryan,” he points at the man in the picture, “Ryan got married late. His wife Estelle was in her forties when she had Maddie—surprise kid. They found out she had breast cancer at the same time, and she refused treatment so she could keep the kid. She hung on for three weeks after, got to hold her daughter in her arms, be a mom a little before she went. I guess that’s some consolation.”
I look at the picture, knowing what he’s doing. He wants me to testify so badly that he’s willing to pull the old poor-kid’s-mother-died-when-she-was-born-and-now-her-dad’s-dead-too card. It’s shitty and it’s underhanded. And it’s kind of working. “Who’s taking care of her now?”