Twenty-five

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We hit the road again in silence, only the sound of the radio to be heard as I close my eyes, trying to curb my queasiness.

I tell myself I just need to sleep. I just need to sleep and then maybe I won't feel so guilty, or sad, or like I'm making the biggest mistake I've ever made by leaving my friends behind. But deep down, I know that's not quite true.

At some point in the journey, when my arm is resting in the space between the seats, Reece reaches over without looking at me and takes my hand in his, causing me to tense in surprise. His hand feels nice and strong in mine and I can't quite tell who the gesture is supposed to reassure, but either way, I'm grateful.

It has been hours since we left the diner, and when a darkness begins to cloak the sky, Reece pulls up to a shabby two-story building with the word 'motel' lit up in fluorescent letters.

"Where are we?" I ask in a small, hoarse voice, stretching my aching legs out in front of me.

"Tennessee," Reece says. "We're going to stay here for the night."

I want to tell Reece that the longer we stay in one place, the easier we make it for Marine World to find us, but I suppose Reece has to stop and sleep at some point.

He's only human, after all.

I get out, too, trailing after him with my arms wrapped around my body. With the darkness, the air has turned chilly and all of a sudden, my Marine World guest clothes don't seem so appropriate.

We make our way toward the front desk, where a man around my age with frizzy hair and wire-rimmed glasses sits half asleep in his chair.

"I need a room with two beds," Reece says, causing the boy to jerk out of his slumber and readjust his glasses.

He stares at me first, his mouth hanging open slightly as he takes in my long, bare legs. My stomach clenches for just a moment, afraid he might recognize me for what I really am.

He clears his throat, shifting his gaze towards Reece before glancing at the screen in front of him. "Only room available has a double bed," he says in a nasally voice before wiggling his eyebrows at Reece. "Lucky you."

Reece shoots him a glare before reaching into his back pocket and pulling out his wallet. "Fine," he says curtly, placing his cash on the counter. The man behind the desk grabs it before stuffing it into a drawer under the table.

Something in my chest tightens at the thought of having to share a bed with Reece, and I involuntarily glance toward his exposed, muscular arms, knowing how easy it would be for him to overpower me. I've spent plenty of time with male trainers, of course, but sharing a bed? Being so close to a member of the opposite sex at a time I'll be the most vulnerable?

The worst things seem to happen at night, when we're asleep and unsuspecting. Isn't that when Jackson had taken advantage of Muriel? When she was safe and sound in the bottom bunk whilst I slept soundly above?

Deep down, I know I'm being ridiculous. If Reece was another Jackson, he'd have tried something already. He'd spent countless nights visiting my night enclosure back in Marine World, and any one of those nights he could have chosen to do something, but he didn't. I force myself to cling to this thought as the man behind the desk unhooks a key and hands it to Reece, giving him a knowing smile.

"Enjoy kids," he says with a wink, though I am certain Reece is a few years older than him, and Reece simply grabs the key before striding out.

We head toward our motel room in silence, my stomach still twisted into knots. The room is on the bottom floor, overlooking a cluster of overgrown hedges and a section of the parking lot.

It is nothing like the night enclosures back in Marine World. The double bed is positioned in the middle instead of to the side, and the red satin covers seem to match the dark crimson walls, which remind me of the color the pool had turned once mixed with Muriel Two's blood.

"I'll be back in a little while," Reece says as he drops his bags to the floor. "Lock the door and don't leave this room."

I nod, relieved I'll be able to have a moment alone to process my thoughts. As soon as he leaves, I perch myself on the ledge of the window and stare outward, my eyes scanning the empty parking lot over and over for signs of movement through the dark.

It is a strange feeling, knowing somebody could be out there looking for me whilst I'm busy sitting still. Almost as if I'm just waiting to be caught, and deep down, though I hate to even think it, I know my capture is inevitable. Marine World is never going to stop trying to find me and there is only so far and so fast I can run before they do.

A/N

Hey readers! I know I just updated but I finished editing this chapter and so I thought I may as well post it. Hope you enjoy! 🧜🏽‍♀️🧜🏿‍♀️🧜🏻‍♀️

Anyone feel bad for poor Asia and Jewel still stuck in Marine World? 😢

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