Part 2 - Maya

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My hands shake, and the tarp wavers above me as the truck lurches to a stop. My breathing stops, and I hold perfectly still.

"Do you really think she made it all the way to town?" Brady asks.

"She might have hitched a ride." Trevor chimes in.

"Shut it, dill-weeds," Nick snaps angrily, and I feel my body shake. "Doesn't matter. She wasn't on the farm, so she probably came into town."

I suck in and hold my breath as Nick slams the driver-side door shut with a bang. He walks by, and I swear he's going to pull the tarp up and find me. But the seconds slowly tick by as I hear them walking further and further away. My body is numb from holding still, but I urge myself to peek outside my hiding spot.

I tell myself I'm doing the right things, the only thing. On the count of three, I fold back a small tarp flap and catch Brady walking around the corner. They're heading towards the bar. I look around. We're on the side of town near the interstate. I don't know how long they will be gone, but it's now or never.

I take my chances and jump out. I land on the pavement with a light thud. I look behind me, but the streets are empty. No one to shout, "there she is!" I grab my school bag, but the frayed strap gets caught on a hook. Yanking gets me nowhere, and my arms start to tremble with each passing moment. They could be back any moment. I could leave it here, but then they'd know for sure I'd been here. Urging myself to take a breath, I use the back wheel as a step and lean forwards to unlatch the bag. My pulse hammers away, but I have the foresight to fold the tarp back over so they won't be the wiser.

I glance down the road that leads to the interstate and start running. Staying in town will be too risky. One of their friends could see me, or somebody might rat me out without knowing. Being the town freak doesn't help, but at the same time, I feel invisible. I don't slow until I see the glowing lights of the truck stop diner. Slowing my pace, I catch my breath.

Headlights flash behind me, and I freeze like a deer. I can't move. What if it's them, I should move, but I can't make my mind up. A moment later, a small car drives past, and my wildly beating heart almost stutters to a stop. I'm safe for now.

Ignoring the light sheen of sweat that's broken out on my skin, I make my way up to the diner. A giant rig and a couple of cars are parked off to the side. I notice the old yellow paint chipping off the diner as I walk up the rickety wooden stairs, and the sign is missing some neon letters. The door chimes as I walk in, and I'm instantly bathed in a warmth that smells of coffee and burgers.

As I take a seat at the counter, I realize I don't have any money. My hands begin to sweat in my lap as an older woman in an apron walks over, holding a pot of coffee—her name tag says Rita.

"Hello dear," she smiles softly. "I'll be with you in a moment."

I nod and watch as she walks over to the other side of the diner. My eyes skate over to the large windows overlooking the parking lot. I know I'm not safe yet. Nick is one thing, if not persistent. He'll look all over town looking for me, not stopping until he finds me. I shiver even though the diner is warm.

I keep thinking back to this evening when I arrived home from school. I stepped off the bus, and the horrible feeling I'd had all day got stronger as the worn-out souls of my sneakers touched the ground. I clutched the textbook I held in my arms tighter across my chest. All three of my older stepbrothers were home. That was never a good sign. But this was something more, telling me to turn around and get back on the bus. But before I could, the bus pulled away.

"Here you go, sweetheart," the waitress places a big slice of cherry pie onto the counter in front of me. "You look like you could use some comfort food."

"Thanks," I say shyly. "But I don't have any money."

The woman laughs. It's rich and sweet like my mama's had once been. "Don't worry. It's on the house, honey." She pats my hand, and I can't help but smile.

It's been so long since anyone's shown me kindness. Brady, Trevor and Nick made sure of that all throughout school. Not only did they pick on me, but their friends did too. I thought I'd be home free this year since all of them had graduated, but the damage had already been done. Nobody would talk to me, afraid they'd be next like I was some kind of plague.

My stomach growls, and I remember I haven't eaten anything since yesterday at lunch. Apparently, I'd forgotten to wash the dishes last night, even though I know I had. My shit brothers had come home late and ransacked the fridge. As punishment, their father, Rick, took away my kitchen privileges.

The scent of fresh cherries and buttery crust fills my nose, and my stomach grumbles angrily.

Maybe just a small bite? I bring the scrumptious-looking pie to my lips, salivating before popping it into my mouth. The taste explodes on my tongue. I've never had something so delicious in my entire life! I go for seconds, moaning in ecstasy when headlights fill the diner.

The dessert turns rancid in my stomach. I know without looking from the sound of the engine that it's Nick's truck. I bolt off the stool, the pie forgotten, and race through the kitchen, past the unsuspecting cook and out the back door.

My heart hammers in my chest as I look for a hiding spot. The forest behind the diner is sparse; the only hiding place is behind the dumpsters. My hope of escaping them quickly dwindles when my eyes land on the giant rig. I make my way around to the opposite side so no one can see me. I try the handle on the door. It cracks open, and I almost cry in relief.

I clamour over the seat and into the back without looking around the cab. I'm surprised when I find it's got a small bed. It's dark and hot in here, but I still pull the blanket over me and hunker down on the cold steel floor. I'll wait a while; hopefully, they'll be gone by then, and I can slip out and try to find a ride out here.

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