Chapter 12

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The sun refused to be ignored despite the overcast sky, it's heat splashing down to the desert ground and sucking the color from any plant life that dared to brave the harsh elements. The cloud clad heat brought sweat and fatigue, while prolonged exposure brought faintness and an assured death.

Miguel knew that the water he had snagged from the hose would only get him so far. He needed to find water and he needed to find it soon. As if his mounting thirst wasn't enough, he knew that he also needed to keep an eye out for those two guards that were after him. He felt guilty but hoped that whoever the guards were tracking would prove to be enough of a distraction for him to get away. He also hoped that they had gone the opposite direction of where he was walking now. Following the road would likely increase the chance of him getting picked up by True Patriot but it was probably his best chance of finding somewhere that had food and water.

The open landscape made it possible for Miguel to see a car driving down the same road that he was walking. He thought about trying to hide, in case it was the search party, but he was beginning to think that being captured was better than dying of thirst, so he stayed on the road and continued with his shuffling pace.

The car came into focus and Miguel was relieved to find that it was not the SUV that the guards had been using. Instead, it was a baby blue hatchback that had luggage haphazardly fastened to a rack on the roof. As the car drew closer he moved to the edge of the road and stood with an awkward thumb out. I'm just a hitchhiker, no big deal.

The car slowed as it neared him and pulled off onto the shoulder. The tires chewed on the gravel and then the car came to a stop about five feet away from him. The passenger side door opened and a young man stepped out and gave him a friendly wave.

The past few days had taught Miguel to take stock of people and situations in a quick manner. This guy was probably a few years older than him, tall with tan skin and blonde hair that was side shaved and combed back. He wore a black t-shirt with some print on it, black gym shorts, and black Adidas shoes. His clean shaven face helped complete the look of a California metalhead, the crowd that Laila hung out with when she wasn't with Miguel or Zed.

"Hey!" the young man said. "You need a ride, dude?"

Miguel nodded and tried to speak but the words got stuck between his dry throat and swollen tongue. He tried again but all that came out was a weak croak, a terrible sound that he was glad the young man couldn't hear. Upon realizing Miguel's condition the man trotted over to take a better look, swiping away the loose strands of hair that fell into his eyes.

"Uh, hey. I'm Andrew," he paused and said quietly, "You don't look so good, man. You can ride with us if you want. It's a little cramped but we got the AC on." Miguel didn't try to speak this time and just nodded. He followed Andrew to the car and the man opened up the rear passenger side door. Miguel maneuvered himself on shaky legs and slumped into the chair. Andrew closed the door and then returned to his seat.

The car smelled of vanilla air freshener that wafted on the waves of the cool air emanating through the vents. Faint music was on but Miguel couldn't quite place it, other than that it sounded like folk. He did a quick look around the car and saw that his fellow passengers consisted of Andrew and three girls. The scent of dry shampoo settled in his nostrils, a subtle smell that worked with the air freshener and perfume spray to mask the odor of unwashed bodies.

The girl in the driver's seat looked up at him in her mirror and smiled. Her curly, blonde hair was pulled back with a headband and her steely blue eyes peered up over a small nose with pale, freckled skin. "Hi," she said brightly. "I'm Kelly."

"Hi," Miguel said, barely getting the word out. He basked in the cold air of the car and then shivered, his skin tingling with goosebumps at the sudden change in temperature The two girls next to him were silent and still, likely feeling uncomfortable with having what looked like a homeless man being placed in such close proximity to them.

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