Chapter Fourteen

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"Where are you headed?" The tired-looking woman in pink scrubs glanced at me.

I shrugged, wary of drawing a Non too deeply into my issues. "Just needed to get out of town." That seemed like the safest response, and I hoped she wouldn't ask me any more questions.

She nodded thoughtfully. I saw her eyes flick toward me again, sizing me up, and her shoulders relaxed slightly. Evidently, she had decided I wasn't a threat. I didn't know about that, but I was grateful to be moving west.

"Thanks for stopping. I know nobody hitches anymore." I tried to sound bright and nonthreatening, but a tremor of worry crept into my voice. The nurse looked at me again.

"You didn't do anything illegal, did you?" I shook my head quickly. "That's okay then. And you're not fourteen or anything?"

"I'm almost seventeen." Even though I had just passed my birthday, I didn't feel guilty about the lie. Seventeen sounded a lot better than sixteen.

She nodded. "I thought you looked old enough. I don't want any trouble, but I couldn't leave you standing there when it's getting dark. You might have gotten hit. Drivers are crazy at night."

"Thank you."

She paused, squinting at the road ahead. "I live in Greensboro, so that's as far as I can take you."

My heart sank. I shouldn't have expected to get very far in one night, but I had hoped I'd at least make it across the state line. I didn't know how quickly Hecate would pursue me, and I wanted to put as much distance between us as possible. "That'll be fine. I'll try to get a ride from there."

We drove on in silence. The sixty-mile drive went much too fast, and before I knew it the nurse was dropping me off at a rusty gas station on the highway. "This is a safe stop; I always get my coffee here, and nobody ever bothers me."

I nodded, shouldering my bag. "Thanks again. Can I give you anything for gas?"

"I should be the one trying to give you some cash." She drummed her fingers on the steering wheel. "You sure you don't want to crash on my couch and get started tomorrow morning?"

The offer was tempting, but I shook my head. I couldn't do that to her; what would happen when Hecate caught up with me?

I waved as she drove off, but as her brake lights receded, I felt a wave of panic. What if I was stranded at the gas station for the night? Glancing around at the dark parking lot, I pulled my bag higher on my shoulder and headed inside to get a snack and to see if I could find another ride.

The bell over the door jangled, and I looked around to see if anyone had noticed me. The bored clerk was snapping his gum and reading a magazine, and there was only one other person in the store, a man in a baseball cap back at the coffee machine. Neither of them looked up as I came inside.

I paid for my candy bar with cash; I decided that I would try not to use my credit card unless it truly was an absolute emergency. Maybe the longer I stayed off the Nons' radar, the longer I could stay off Hecate's, as well.

As I pocketed my change, the guy in the hat stepped up and paid for his coffee. "Got a long ways 'til Atlanta!" he chortled as the clerk raised an eyebrow at the size of his steaming coffee. My ears perked up. This was almost too good to be true!

"Are you headed to Atlanta tonight?" I asked, trying to seem nonchalant. The man looked at me curiously and nodded. I exhaled and forced a smile. He wouldn't have been my first pick of traveling companion, but beggars can't be choosers, and I really didn't want to be stuck at that gas station all night. "I'm trying to get there. Could you give me a ride?"

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