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“Stay?” I looked around at the RV.
Only wealthy Citizens owned private vehicles, but I wasn’t sure where an RV ranked on that scale. I’d never actually been in one before now. I looked back at Jericho Lang. The piercings and the tattoos didn’t necessarily mean he didn’t have money—although the shabby interior and the state of his clothes weren’t promising.
“I just told you I murdered someone and you’re asking me to stay in your RV?” I almost choked on the word “murdered” and took another bite of the Ramen to hide it. “You don’t even know me.”
“I know you’re from Cook’s, I know your age, and I know you need me,” he stood in the kitchen now, washing some dishes.
“How—what makes you say that?” my voice was hoarse and I licked my dry lips.
“Well, I know you aren’t from around here. Given your age and the fact that you’re here alone at night, it was the logical guess.”
“What do you know about Cook’s?” I asked.
“It’s an all-girl orphanage. They give you an education that’s probably slightly better than the average public institution, and they turn you out when you turn eighteen,” his lips tipped in a smile. “I won’t wish you a happy birthday, under the circumstances.”
“I’ll only get you in trouble if I stay,” I swallowed past the bile that rose in my throat.
“I know a thing or two about trouble,” he lounged back against the counter, drying a bowl.
I let his statement slip without comment, holding out my now empty mug. I realized I still had on my knapsack and slipped it off, keeping it close.
“I hope you liked the Ramen,” he said.
When I didn’t say anything he turned.
“I’ve never had it before,” I said.
“Whiskey and Ramen,” Jericho shook his head. “Now that’s a birthday dinner for the books.”
He glanced out one of the curtained windows and froze.
“It’s the Nat,” he turned to me.
I stared at him in shock. The National Police—if they found me, I was worse than dead. As an orphan, almost the lowest class Citizen, I’d be lucky if they just shot me in the RV. They were going to kill me.
“Back here,” Jericho grabbed my arm and pulled me off the couch, shoving me towards the bedroom.
I watched as he heaved the mattress up with one swift movement, revealing a dark cubbyhole, little bigger than a coffin. I couldn’t afford to hesitate and climbed in, cramming myself into the narrow space. I tried to breathe slowly, fighting claustrophobia until I realized there were small holes drilled into the bed’s base. I could taste fresh air and I could hear the Nat officers pound on the door. Jericho glanced back at the bed and gave it—and me—a reassuring nod.
“Can I help you, Officers?” he asked, swinging the door wide.
“Citizen, state your name,” one said.
“Jericho,” he supplied.
“Citizen Jericho, you were seen in the company of a young female this evening,” the Officer looked around and saw the two glasses, the bottle of whiskey, and the dinner things. “Do you know this girl?” I assumed he had a photo of me and blanched. How did they get a photo so fast?
Jericho took a moment to consider and I could feel my heart trying to crawl up my throat.
“I know a lot of girls, Officer, but not that one,” his tone was suggestive. “Not that I would mind….”
The Officer snatched the photo back by the sound and I was worried Jericho stepped over the thin line he walked. The floor creaked and I could see the Officer lean in to take a closer look at the RV.
“Is this your…vehicle, Citizen?”
“Yes sir, it is. I have the papers if you’d like—”
“That won’t be necessary. We can run the license plates,” the Officer cut him off. “If you see this girl, inform the nearest National Officer or your local Protectorate. She is highly dangerous and mentally unstable. For your own safety, do not approach her. We do not need to tell you it is in your best interest neither to aid nor harbor this fugitive.”
“Of course, Officer. If there’s anything at all I can do to help, I will,” Jericho sounded so sincere I wondered for a moment if he was going to reveal me.
The Nat must have believed him; the door swung shut and I could hear their boots fading away on the pavement outside. I went limp with relief, still afraid to move in case one of them was still there. The mattress was wrenched off and light and air poured in on me again. Jerico hoisted me up by my elbow and let the mattress fall again. I sank down on the edge of it.
“They have a picture,” I whispered.
‘They do—not a bad one either,” his attempt at humor fell flat as I looked up at him through my hair. “We won’t make it far without some changes.”
“Why are you helping me?” I asked. “You’re obviously a Middle Citizen—if not higher. This could get you into a lot of trouble.”
“I told you,” his voice was carefully light. “I can handle trouble.”
I shook my head helplessly, feeling the shakes starting again. I had no choice but to trust him. I didn’t want to—didn’t want to risk his life, too. “I can’t thank you for this,” I said finally.
“I know. And, after you hear what I’m about to say—you probably won’t want to,” he said.
I looked up at him.
“That photo was dead on, no doubt about it. But, I think we can make you less noticeable—even unrecognizable,” he turned back towards the little kitchen and began rummaging through the drawers.
Jericho turned back towards me brandishing a wicked pair of scissors.
“What are you going to do, cut off my nose?” I asked.
He tilted his head considering, then sighed and shook his head, “I don’t think it would help.”
I smiled weakly and pushed my hair back from my face, “The hair then?”
“I think it’s the best shot. Do you want to do it?” he held the scissors out to me.
I shook my head, “At at least you can see the back of my head.
He pulled a trashcan over and had me sit on the side of the bed, facing the back of the RV with my back to him. I could feel the hesitation in his fingers as he ran a section of hair through his fingers. I felt the tugging and the snipping begin and tried not to think about it as my head grew lighter and lighter.