Sunday, March 6, 2016
1st 5 Pages March Workshop - Sullivan
The Jade Quest
It’s and they expect me to get off the school bus in fifteen minutes. When I don’t, the shelter will send an alert to Indiana law enforcement and school officials. It’s their legal responsibility. I’m officially a ward of the state.
I shove open the shade covering the tiny window at seat 8A. The sun is shining over the Caribbean, gleaming off waves rippling over the reef below. The coral is haphazard, some here, a bunch there—like diluted ink. I dig my nails into the arm rest of the airline seat and smack the shade down. I need to stay calm. I should clear customs in half an hour.
Then I’ll just be another tourist or student or stranger in Belize.
After that, it doesn’t matter how many reports the shelter files. Once the paperwork’s in and they’ve covered their butts, it’ll be, “Whatever happened to that girl? The one whose parents disappeared? I heard she transferred.” Something like that.
Still, my parents’ disappearance is famous enough—or it was a couple of months ago—that getting through customs unnoticed might be difficult. At least that stupid freshmen yearbook photo plastered all over the news doesn’t even look like me.
“You’re awake,” says the kid to my right. I finally really look at him. Tall. Lean. Haircut that requires styling. I can see gel or something in there—it’s shiny-looking. And he’s got a Prada backpack. Prada backpack. On the way to a third-world country. I give him a half nod and put my earbuds back in.
He’s staring. I feel it. I glance over and catch his Caribbean-blue eyes watching me. They’re almost turquoise. Boys with highlights (I swear that’s what it looks like) don’t normally pay attention to me.
Which is fine.
What’s he doing on this flight anyway? It’s a school day.
“Are you by yourself?” He asks.
The plane will be landing soon. If the school didn’t buy my excused absence story, they could have already alerted the shelter. What if passport control’s waiting for me? I won’t go back, and I don’t have a Plan B.
“What are you doing down here?” He says.
This guy’s not taking a hint. I hold my breath, then sit up straight. Fine, I’ll consider it a dress rehearsal. “Study abroad.” I try to shrug like it’s no big deal, but my shoulders jerk up awkwardly and my voice sounds half an octave higher.
“It’s the middle of the semester.”
“Weird time to study abroad.”
My chest feels hot. Why does he care? I’ve sat here, minding my own business since I changed planes in Atlanta. I even thought he was cute, but that’s when he was asleep. And watching his movie. And silent.
“What school are you going to?”
“Does it matter?” I snap, turning toward him. His skin is smooth and clear, his nose is straight, and I think he’d have dimples if he smiled. He looks air-brushed. I can’t turn away. His symmetry has me mesmerized. This gets on my nerves too.
“It doesn’t. I was just talking to you.”
Oh. “Sorry.” I twist the cord of my iPod around my finger. “I’m not having the best day, okay?”
“Parents making you? Enrichment or other such bullshit?”
“Uh, yeah.” I remove my earbuds. “Is that what you’re doing too?”
“No. I live here. With my dad. Mother summoned me state-side but now I remember why I chose to live with him.”
“He doesn’t know I’m coming back early, so I figure I’ve got five days to smoke a pound of ganja in peace before I’m subjected to his half-assed attempts at good parenting.”
“Oh.” I fold and unfold my hands. “Won’t your mom tell your dad that you left early?”
He smooths back an unseen stray hair. “Um, no. See, she wants me to do her dirty work and tell him she’s getting remarried. Believe me, she won’t send him so much as a bitter text until she thinks the deed is done. But I don’t want to deal with the backlash either, so I’m headed to the cayes.” He cracks his knuckles. “Snorkeling high is so intense. Like you’re inside an aquarium.”
This is now his second drug reference.
“So what school?” He asks again.
I was doing okay living on my own. At least I was in my house with my own stuff. I don’t know who called the Department of Child Services—though I have a list of suspects—but the next thing I know a judge tells me he’s temporarily placing me in a group home for my “safety” because I’m a “minor” living alone.
So what school am I allegedly going to? My mind is blank.
Then I remember the last time I was in Belize with my parents, a couple years ago. On our way to the airport, mom pointed at a building and said if she had to extend her archaeological fieldwork into the next school year, I could go there. What was it called? I haven’t been here since I was fourteen.
A flight attendant comes by with customs forms. As I reach for one, I smile at the kid next to me. It’s a triumphant smile. “I’m going to the International School. In the capitol, Belmopan.”
After I lend him a pen, he finally stays quiet while we fill out our forms. The plane’s on its final descent. I put my tray table away and reopen the shade. The water’s closer now. It looks like we’re skating on it. From my side I can see Belize City, the urban capitol hugging the coastline.
My big toes press into the twenties I’ve got lined under my socks on the inside of my boots. I’ve got $532 left, and $500 of it is in my shoes. It’s nerve-wracking even seeing that much cash, much less carrying it into a foreign country.
I used to have a credit card in my name for emergencies, but it quit working two weeks ago. It’s okay because cash is harder to trace (that’s how it works on TV anyhow), plus I figure no one would think to rob hiking boots. Either way, I hope it’s enough until I find my parents.
I press my shoulder blades against the seatback in anticipation of landing. The runway looks like it’s in the middle of the Caribbean. I take a deep breath and almost smile. At least I’m finally doing something.
“Dude. No more than thirty days,” whispers the kid. With his head close to my face, I can smell his cologne. It’s subtle and nice and it annoys me that I like it.
I raise an eyebrow.
He points at my customs form, gripped between my fingers. I can’t believe he can read my tiny block letters. I’ve gottwo months written by the intended length of stay in Belize question. Big deal.
He leans over again. I can’t place the exact scent. “They only stamp you in for thirty days. They might give you shit about a visa if you say more.” He straightens up as the flight attendant walks by, as though she’s a librarian and we’re in the stacks instead of on a plane.
Panic seizes my throat, like someone’s gripping it. “Thirty days? But the semest—”
“Whatever. I don’t care why you’re really here, but I’m telling you: 30 days.”