And they have even fewer choices than I do.
Dorothy shoos me away, motioning with her hands that I should take the SUV’s license plate and get on with switching it out with mine. I don’t know how she knows I’m supposed to do this, other than from experience. Maybe that’s how those kids went undetected: any time they thought they’d been spotted, they’d switch cars, and when they couldn’t, they’d switch plates.
Smart. How many other tricks does she know?
Not only does that tire fit, it inspires us to replace the other three. Might as well—they were looking worn and low on air. I doubt Hutch ever thought to get them rotated or had the funds to buy new tires every few years like I know you’re supposed to. Stuff like that becomes a luxury rather than a necessity when you get down to the bare bones of life.
It’s not until later, when we’re sitting a few blocks from the diner I’ve just bought us sandwiches from, with the windows rolled down and the Rolling Stones screaming out of the stereo, that I remember I never put a new zip tie around her wrists. I remember she took the gloves off to eat and never put them back on.
I remember, and I don’t really care.
“What’s your name, Dorothy?” I ask. “Your real one?”
She dips her finger into the ketchup that’s dripped onto the paper her sandwich was wrapped in and writes, in even, delicate strokes, ZU.
“Zu?” I say, testing it out. “What the hell kind of name is that?”
She reaches over and punches me in the arm—hard. I manage to wince only a little, but it’s an all-out inner war not to reach up and rub the throbbing muscle. Meanwhile, she’s looking at me, motioning like I need to exchange my name for hers.
But man, I don’t know. I don’t know what the point is, or what I’m even doing. It’s starting to feel hard again, all of it. It was nice to forget, for ten whole minutes, the reason we are sitting here together in the first place. The kinds of thoughts my brain starts turning over feel dangerous. Like: How can they be so bad? How can anyone not human like sandwiches and Mick Jagger and know how to change a tire? I start to wonder if maybe the things we’re so afraid they’ll do to us are the things they have to do to survive the tidal wave of hatred and fear we send coasting toward them.
“Sorry,” I say, just because I know it will annoy her, “you’re still Dorothy.”
I feel like I’ve been swept up and dropped on my head in a world that looks like mine but is slightly different. Brighter, more vibrant—or at least missing some of the dust and grime that’s collected over our lives after years of neglect. I can’t tell which direction is right or wrong anymore, but I know I want to stay.
OUR next stop is a lonely little gas station in Deer Valley, just south of Anthem and Cave Creek. I doubt Zu is familiar enough with Arizona to know how close we are to Scottsdale, and that from there, it’s spitting distance to Phoenix. But with no warning other than a sharp intake of breath, she seizes the steering wheel and nearly gets us into an accident as she jerks it toward the exit.
“Jesus—! What the hell?”
One hand points to the gas light and the other points to the gas station next to the off-ramp.
“With what money, Dorothy?” I ask. “I barely have enough for a gallon, since I still haven’t been able to turn your ass in.”
Trust me. I narrow my eyes, but she meets my gaze head-on. Trust me.
Unsurprisingly, we’re the only ones here. I navigate the truck around, picking the pump farthest from the small convenience store and the worker peering out his window at us. The gas tank is on the driver’s side, which means that Zu, when she follows me out, jumping down from the door, is blocked by the body of the truck.
“Now what’s your plan?”
She mimes putting a credit card into the slot, but I could have told her before that the pumps don’t take card payments anymore. You have to pay up front in cash.
Zu doesn’t look fazed. Instead, she jerks a thumb back toward the store and the man still watching me and then does that jibber-jabber motion with her hands, pressing her four fingers against her thumb repeatedly.
I shake my head, stuffing my hands into the back pockets of my jeans, but I do like she asks. Because there’s no chance that could go horribly wrong.
It’s already about thirty degrees warmer than it was in northern Arizona. I come down here so rarely that the hundred-degree heat always feels like opening an oven door and leaning in. The station attendant at least has the fans cranked up behind him, even if the owner is too cheap to shell out for real AC.
The bells above the door jangle. I glance back over my shoulder, surprised to see the formerly blank-screened pump suddenly light up with numbers. I don’t know what the attendant can tell from watching his register’s screen, and I don’t know what the hell the girl is doing, but a quick plan comes together in my head. It’s as dumb as it is simple.
I feign a big trip, crashing headlong into the shelves of candy. I thrash my arms out, knocking most of it to the ground in mess of epic proportions. The attendant must think I’m having some kind of a seizure, because all of a sudden, he’s at my side where I’m sprawled out on the floor, checking my pulse, shoving a thick candy bar between my teeth, like he’s afraid I’m going to bite my tongue off.
“Sir? Sir? Sir?” I don’t know that anyone has ever called me sir before, much less three times in fewer seconds. “Are you all right? Can you hear me? Sir?”
I make a big show of moaning, clutching my head as I turn onto my side. Just past the attendant’s hip, I can barely see the pump Zu is working, the way the numbers are spinning and ticking up, like she’s somehow pumping gas without paying for a cent of it.
“I’m going to call for an ambulance—”
The poor guy is so old and so genuine that I do feel a little sorry about all this, until he has the nerve to say, “It’ll be okay. You’re okay, kid.”
“I’m just… It must be the heat,” I say, grabbing his arm as he starts to pull away. “I’ll be okay. Do you have… Can I buy a bottle of water from you?”
Please say I have enough left to buy a water bottle.
“No, no, no,” the man says, rubbing what little white hair he has left off his sweaty forehead. “You wait here. I’ll get you a cup of water from the cooler in the back.”