She said the neon on the river will light my way
And everything that we've been dreaming of
We'll make it real one day
Alex and Ben walked through the little tunnel to the plane. She had made sure they were the last people to board.
They passed a door on the side of the tunnel. Alex stopped suddenly and opened it.
“What are you doing?” Ben asked in alarm.
“We’re not getting on this plane.” She pulled him down the steep metal steps.
“What? Alex, why?”
“I’ll explain in a moment.”
They ran across the tarmac. Workers in orange reflective vests yelled at them that they weren’t supposed to be there, but they just kept running. Eventually they found another plane that was about ready to take off. They entered through the tunnel to that plane. The were the last ones to board so they just took isle seats next to each other that were empty.
“Where does this plane go?” Ben asked.
“I guess we’re going to find out.”
“Gra— Alex, what was that about?” he whispered, leaning over to her. “Why did we just have to do that?”
They sat upright and looked front for the safety demonstration and waited until the flight attendants walked by to check the over head carriers. They started moving and drove towards the takeoff lane.
Alex saw the plane they were supposed to be on ahead of them.
Their plane screeched to a halt as the tail of the plane in front of them suddenly exploded, destroying the last third of the plane.
“That’s why,” Alex said quietly. Their plane shook a little from the shock of the explosion.
Ben looked at her in horror. People all around them were panicking.
An emergency evacuation was ordered and they were led back to the airport. Airport workers were running to the burning plane by the dozens to help those that had survived the explosion.
“Alex, what the hell was that,” Ben whispered harshly to her as they were ushered back to the airport.
“I knew our leaving wouldn’t happen easily,” she said.
“You didn’t just tell someone there was a bomb on the plane?!”
“I couldn’t. I didn’t know for sure and I didn’t know that was what he would do. Plus it would be suspicious if I turned out to be right.”
“People were killed, Alex!”
She looked down. “I know.”
“Who is he? Who’s doing this?”
Emergency vehicles drove past them to put the fire out.
“The one you were supposed to marry?” Ben asked.
“Yes. He must’ve known I didn’t really mean anything I said to you. I wasn’t expecting them to know I had left until later tonight. I’m sorry I brought this.”
Once back inside the airport, they immediately separated from their group and disappeared through the chaos. Alex led them out of the airport through a back door. They found the bus terminal and took the bus to the greyhound bus station.
“What are we doing?” Ben asked.
“No flight in the area is going to be leaving for a few hours and we need to get out of here now.”
She bought them two tickets without even looking at their destination on the next bus out. They got on a found seats right before it took off. She sat by the window so she could look out.
“Are we going to be safe on this one?” he asked.
“We should be. I’m smarter than him; he wouldn’t think of this. For a while at least he’s going to think he got us. He likes to think he won.” The bus started moving. “I suggest you sleep,” Alex told him. “It’s going to be a long ride.”
He nodded and closed his eyes. He was asleep in a couple minutes. Alex stayed awake looking at the things they passed, watching for some type of sign that something would go wrong. She never saw one.
In his sleep, Ben shifted so his head was resting on her shoulder. She looked at him and knew that she had made the right choice in choosing him over James. She had been engaged to James since they were eleven simply because they were the best two spies in the institution. She was the only girl – she was supposed to be a boy but they took her anyway when she wasn’t – and her only purpose was to give the institution genetically perfect children once she turned 18. She was supposed to marry James on her 18th birthday which was only a couple weeks away.
Instead, she chose to run off with Ben. Ben was a normal boy and was in no way related to spies. They had met in the café he worked at and he insisted they get lunch together. From there they fell in love, but Alex had always known they wouldn’t be able to be together. She had tried to get him to not love her by telling him all the things she had done but nothing could change his mind. For that she was glad.
He saved her from having to marry James. He saved her from settling with the institution and thinking that was happy. He was the first person that really cared for her for who she was and he took the time to get to know her. Even though she had given him a fake name, and she could tell at times he still almost called her Grace instead of Alex, she was able to be herself around him.
Ben was the reason she dared try to leave the institution. There was only one other person that had left the institution for a reason other than death, and that was Keaton, the creator of the raemen. Keaton was an institution spy, but he didn’t like the things he was made to do so he started his own group. The only reason he had managed to be alive was because he had tricked the institution into thinking he was already dead.
Alex had been kidnapped by the raemen and pretended to join them. She still had a blue thumb nail from when she was sorted into one of their levels. Her nail was dark blue, which meant she was in a higher level and was pretty lethal. Though she was really just pretending to be on the side of the raemen, occasionally she found herself actually being on their side. She agreed with their views of the institution, but more importantly they were offering her a better life. With the raemen she was respected by all and all of them acknowledged her existence. That was more than she could ever hope to have with the institution.
In the end, though, she was loyal to the institution. That was what she had been taught and she had always learned that she was to stay with the institution until death. She couldn’t just leave them. She was loyal with them up until she left to run away with Ben.
Now James was after them. Alex had led him on for a while, making him think she had feelings for him. He had been trying for a long time to get her to like him because he knew they would be spending the rest of their lives together, but she resisted. James was egotistical and never thought he was in the wrong. Alex hated that about him, but she was still able to convince him differently. She didn’t know if he was being sent from the founders at the institution to get rid of her or if he was acting on his own, but she knew he would not rest until he saw her dead body.
Alex and James were the two best spies not only in their training, but in the entire institution, yet Alex was better than James. Most at the institution would say James was better just because they didn’t like the idea of a girl coming in and beating them all.
Because she had been taken practically right after birth, Alex never knew her parents. She didn’t know who they were or if they were even still alive. She didn’t know where they lived or what they looked like. She could assume they looked something like her, but blond hair, blue eyes, and light skin made her pretty average looking. And with an entire country of people to look through, chances were she would never find them.
She also didn’t want to find her parents. With the life she led, having someone you’re emotionally attached to can just create a target for your enemy. She was already putting Ben in enough danger by keeping him with her; she didn’t need a family also.
Alex watched the world pass by outside the bus. She had never been away from the city the institution was in. Some spies traveled for their missions, but she had never been given that option. Even though she was the best, she was rarely given very important missions just because so many in the institution didn’t want to see her succeed.
Her last mission had been to assassinate Ben’s neighbors. They had accidentally gotten mixed up with a secret weapons organization and the institution viewed them as a threat. At first, Alex was only using Ben to get information on them and to have a reason to be around their house, but as she developed feelings for him, that changed. She stopped using him lest he found out, but she ended up telling him anyway. She had needed him not to love her and she knew that by telling him that, she would scare him away.
No matter what she did, though, she was never able to scare Ben away and that made her happy. She was happy with him. She was perfectly content to sit there with him asleep on her shoulder and feel him breathing gently.
They passed through many cities with no sign of trouble. Ben woke after a couple hours.
“Sorry I feel asleep on you,” he said as he sat up, rubbing his face.
“It’s fine,” Alex told him, still looking out the window. “How did you sleep?”
He shrugged. “I guess as well as I could, considering all that’s happened today.”
She looked at him. “It won’t always be like this.”
“I know.” Ben put his arms around her and pulled her to him. She rested her head on his chest and listened to his heartbeat. “Have you figured out where we’re going?” he asked.
“Oh great. I've always wanted to visit there.”
“Don’t be picky,” she scolded. “It’s somewhere and it’s safe.”
“Is this what your life has always been? Doing things and going places because they’re safe?”
“No. Most of the time I run towards the danger.”
He laughed. “That I believe.”
Many hours later, the bus pulled into another greyhound station. They got their things and stepped off.
They were instantly greeted by a wall of heat. It wasn’t just heat, but it was the dry heat that sucks all the moisture from you in an instant. It was already dark, but since it was June, it was still hot.
They went to the little motel nearby. “You kids running away?” the young woman behind the desk asked. She looked very bored and chewed her gum with a smacking sound.
“We’re not running,” Ben told her. “We’re starting over.”
“You must have quite a past to need to start over at your age.”
“I’m sure I will soon.”
She got them the last room they had available for the night. Unfortunately, it only had one bed.
“I’ll take the couch,” Alex offered when they were in the room.
He set his suitcase at the foot of the bed. “It’ll be fine if we share the bed. Nothing’s going to happen. We shared a bed that one night at my house when you kept me safe. It’ll be like that.”
Ben kissed her cheek then walked into the bathroom. Alex turned on the TV. The news was giving a report on the plane bombing. It had been ruled a terrorist attack but there were no suspects.
“Will they ever figure out who actually did it?” Ben asked, sitting on the edge of the bed next to Alex.
“No. We can cover our tracks quite well. It will continue to be a terrorist attack because that’s the easiest way for us to hide things. The institution is very good at passing off blame.”
He looked at her. “Like how?”
“That bridge that collapsed in Minnesota a couple years ago? 13 people died. The National Transportation Safety Board said it was due to poor design.”
“But you guys were involved?” he guessed.
Alex turned to him and looked him straight in the eyes. “A spy in a training a couple years ahead of me was there on a mission. He needed a distraction. He also needed something pulled out of the water. There was something that the recovery team pulled out of the Mississippi that no report will tell you.”
Ben was completely captivated by the story. “What was it?”
She shrugged. “Even I don’t know, but that was not the main intent of his mission. He used the bridge as a distraction.”
“Did he just get lucky that it happened then or did he cause it?”
Alex just looked at him. The news reporter on the TV gave the weather report in the background.
Ben couldn’t believe it. “He caused it?” he almost yelled. “How?”
“A simple bomb. He only had to take out part of the structure and the entire thing would fall. It really did actually have poor design.”
He stood. “People died! That’s the type of distractions you guys make? You don’t care about other’s lives, do you? Hundreds of people could die and it wouldn’t matter as long as you completed your mission!”
“Ben, calm down,” Alex scolded. “That’s not how it is. Normally people don’t die. We don’t try to kill people and create mass chaos. Sometimes it just happens.”
As if on cue, the local news changed from the weather report to an update on the plane explosion. “Twenty people are confirmed dead,” the woman said. “Seventeen others were taken to the hospital with serious burns, but almost all are expected to be okay. Further investigation is still needed to determine what type of bomb it was and how it got there.”
Alex could feel Ben looking at her, but she just kept looking at the video of the explosion on the television. “I’m not like them,” she said. “I don’t do what the institution tells me to. I don’t just kill people and pass them off as necessary casualties. I’m not like them.”
Ben sighed and sat back down. He took her hand in his. “I know. I know you’re different and that’s why I love you. You’re too good to just go around killing people.”
She looked down at their hands. “You’re wrong about the institution, too,” she said quietly. “They don’t like just killing people. They’re different than that.”
“Grace, you don’t have to defend them anymore.”
She looked at him and studied his face. He had slipped up and said the wrong name, but he had only known her real name for 12 hours. That wasn’t the problem, though. He seemed so against the institution and she couldn’t bring herself to see them in such a bad light. She acknowledged they did some bad things, but they weren’t a bad group.
Ben sensed the conversation was over. “I’m going to get ready for bed,” he said. “It’s been a long day.” He pulled a small bag out of his suitcase and went into the bathroom.
He just couldn’t understand her. He thought she had made her choice to leave the institution, but yet she still defended them. She had said herself that to leave the institution was to give up all of their values and ideals. He just didn’t want her to slip away from him. She had made her choice and left them, now she needed to be with him.
When Ben came out of the bathroom, Alex was sitting in the same spot and staring at the television, not really paying attention to what she saw. He sat down beside her and pulled her into his arms. She was always the strong one for him and now he could do the same for her.
“Everything is going to be okay, you know,” he said quietly in her ear. “Between your skills and my ability to go unnoticed, they will never find us.”
That managed to make her smile a little.
“What are you thinking about?”
Alex curled up a little more in his arms. “I’m 18 in less than a month.”
“I’m 18 in five months,” he replied.
She looked at him. “I’m supposed to be married in less than a month,” she said sternly.
Ben stared at the wall. “I know. I was just trying not to think about it. You were the one that told me to just forget about it.”
Alex stared into his eyes. “You never cease to surprise me.”
“You actually did just let that go. You weren’t the one to bring it up. You did what I told you to do.”
He smiled down at her. “If it’s something you ask, I will always do as I’m told.”
She kissed him gently then got up and pulled her pajamas out of her backpack. “Don’t look,” she said, facing the wall.
Ben made a point of rotating his torso a couple degrees so he had more of his back to her. Even then, out of the corner of his eye, he could see her as she pulled her shirt off. Her back was covered in almost-healed cuts he figured she got while trying to scare his neighbors. She was supposed to be thrown into a wall, but there was a china cabinet there instead. He could also see faint marks and bruises left over from other fights.
He just wanted to protect her. He just wanted her to be safe and whole, not covered in battle wounds, but he knew she wore those proudly as a mark of where she came from and all she had to do to get where she was. People didn’t like a girl being the best in the institution and she had had a long struggle to prove she belonged among the boys.
When Alex turned back around, she was wearing a baggy t-shirt and basketball shorts. Both items looked like they were meant for men, which is how a lot of her clothes tended to look.
She crawled back onto the bed next to Ben.
“There’s just one more thing I need to know,” Ben said as he put his arms back around her. “Is there anything else you haven’t told me?” She started to speak but he kept talking. “And don’t tell me you can’t tell me or it’s better if I don’t know. We are past the point where that can protect me.”
Alex was silent for a moment. “Do you remember how when we were kidnapped, you didn’t show up in the newspaper article the next day and no one seemed to know there was a second victim?”
“The raemen kept you out of the media.”
Ben looked down at her. “Why would they do that? They were perfectly fine with just killing me.”
She took a deep breath. “If you had been placed at the scene with me, the institution would have investigated you. Chances are they would have found out about your crush on me and Grace,” she said, referring to the fake persona she had created with that name.
“So why not let the institution take me out and keep their hands clean?”
Alex looked up at him. “They didn’t want you dead,” she told him. “You gave them leverage over me. Keaton knew-”
She realized she had never told him his name. “The leader of the raemen. He knew that if I was in love with an outside boy, I would be looking for a way out of my engagement. And he could offer that to me.”
“And the offer would be so enticing that you would take it,” Ben guessed.
She nodded. “Correct. And that’s what I did do. Maybe not at first, but after a while he was actually sincere about the offer. So by joining the raemen, I could avoid a marriage with James and be with you, so that’s what I did.”
Ben took her left hand in his and looked at her blue thumb nail. “I would’ve been content with our short time together. You didn’t have to do this.”
Surprisingly, Alex laughed. “No you wouldn’t have. You would’ve been doing everything to convince me to leave and get out of it. Even though you knew we couldn’t have been together forever, you still hadn’t accepted it.”
“But now I have you. Forever.” He kissed her forehead. “We should go to bed. It’s been a long day and I’m assuming we will have a lot more like this.”
She crawled under the covers and he turned the light off.
Ben couldn’t sleep. His mind was too restless. He was thinking about everything that had happened that day.
In one day, he learned the girl he loved wasn’t really who he thought she was, ran away from home without so much as a note for his parents, narrowly escaped being blown to pieces, and rode a bus all day to a different state. On top of that, he knew there was still so much more he had yet to learn about Alex.
He started thinking about everything he was missing by running away. He was going into his senior year of high school, which meant football games, senior prom, and graduation. Plus he was really looking forward to his government class.
He would also probably never see his friends and family again. His parents would be devastated. He was their only kid. They had always provided him with everything he wanted; he had no reason for leaving. His friends would never understand because they didn’t know anything about Alex. Eventually they would assume he was dead. That would cause them so much pain.
Alex rolled over in her sleep so she was curled up against his chest. Ben put his arms around her and buried his nose in her hair. Choices were made and now they had to live with them.
The official numbers for the plane bombing were 33 dead, 27 critically injured, and two missing.
When Ben woke up, Alex was already up and changed. She was standing next to the desk shoving things in her backpack. He saw a spare gun and small knives.
“How did you get through airport security with those?” he asked.
A mischievous smile crossed her face. “I bypassed security.”
“But I was with you. We walked through together.”
Her smile only got bigger. “Didn’t you forget to take the coins out of your pocket? The sensors didn’t go off for that either.”
His eyes got big. “You didn’t.”
Alex shrugged it off. “They’ll just assume it was related to the terrorist plane bombing.”
“Alex, actual dangerous people could’ve gotten through with more bombs.”
She folded a t-shirt and placed it in her backpack. “Relax. It was only the one station and it was only for about half an hour. Plus I was keeping an eye out for people that did pose a threat. I had it under control. Everything was okay.”
Ben didn’t relax much.
“Get up and get ready,” Alex said to change topics. “We need to keep moving.”
He grabbed some clothes out of his suitcase and went into the bathroom.
Alex paid for the motel room in cash. They walked to the bus station and got two tickets on the next bus out. They then went and got breakfast at a fast food restaurant while they waited.
“Where did you get all this cash?” Ben asked quietly as they ate.
“I borrowed it.”
“You mean you stole it,” he corrected.
She shrugged. “You could put it that way.”
“400 from the institution and 100 from the raemen.”
Ben raised an eyebrow. “You stole 500 dollars?”
Alex shook her head. “Thousand.”
He almost choked on his breakfast sandwich. “You stole half a million dollars?” he whispered harshly.
She remained calm. “They probably won’t even notice. It’s okay.”
He continued looking at her.
“I’ve been taking it slowly over the past couple weeks,” Alex said. “They haven’t noticed yet so they won’t notice any time soon. It’s okay, I promise. No one will be able to track us through this.” She put a hand on his arm.
Ben just looked at her. Half a million dollars was so much money. He made thirty dollars a day working minimum wage at his job, and all Alex had to do was walk in and take the money. He started wondering how much money the institution and raemen had that they wouldn’t notice a couple hundred thousand dollars missing.
They finished breakfast and walked back to the bus station. They sat down on the bench to wait the last couple minutes before their bus actually arrived. Ben took her hand.
A mom and her four year old son walked up. He had a superhero backpack and she was carrying a small suitcase. Alex and Ben scooted over to make room for them. The little boy sat down next to Alex.
As she looked at him, she started thinking about all the boys his age at the institution. They would never get to know their moms or have backpacks with their favorite superheroes on them. They wouldn’t even know what superheroes were until they were old enough to go on missions. Thinking about that and realizing that that was also the life she led made her sad.
The little boy looked up at Alex and smiled. He had a missing front tooth. She smiled back.
“We’re off to visit Grandpa!” he said proudly. “Where are you going?”
His mom suddenly looked slightly worried because he was talking with strangers. She studied the two teens.
Alex looked at Ben. They really should have created a cover story. For a while, people all over would be asking them where they were going and why. “We are on a trip this summer before starting college,” she said, hoping making them a whole year older than they actually were would be helpful later on if they stuck with that story.
Thankfully, the little boy started talking about how excited he was to go visit his grandfather and Alex didn’t have to make anything else up. He talked until the bus pulled up.
Alex and Ben let the other two board first then found seats near the back of the bus away from the other passengers. Alex again sat by the window.
“So we’re in college now?” Ben asked with a smile.
She shrugged and glanced outside. “We can pull it off. It’s only one year older. Plus we just really needed a story.”
“I like it. It’s believable and it doesn’t lead to many questions.”
The bus started moving. Country music was playing on the radio.
They were silent for a couple minutes. “So is this our life now? Bus hopping from town to town?” Ben asked.
“Only for a little while,” Alex said. “Eventually they will give up looking for us or we will get far enough away that they won’t bother coming that far. Then we can settle down somewhere.”
“How long will that take?”
“It’s hard to say. Probably at least a month. If it was anyone else, it would be a couple weeks at most, but they’ll really want me back.”
He put his arm around her. “I’ve always wanted to travel, but I’m really looking forward to after.”
She looked up at him and smiled. “You can finish school if you want and get a degree in something. Or I could just forge you a GED certificate and you could go right to college.”
He had to laugh. He had forgotten she was also trained in falsifying documents. The institution didn’t do anything that was related to the government like get drivers licenses. They just made their own. “What else was I going to learn senior year anyway?” he joked. “Just some second-year Spanish and calculus. When would I ever use those?”
“You still know more than I do,” Alex pointed out. Her education stopped somewhere around a sixth grade level. Anything else she knew she had taught herself or picked up on missions.
“I can teach you,” Ben offered. “We are going to have a lot of downtime when we are just traveling and stuff. I can teach you then.”
She smiled. “That would be wonderful.”
“What do you want to start with?”
“Whatever would be the most useful,” she said with a shrug.
Ben thought for a moment. “How much math do you know?”
Alex pulled a small notebook and pencil out of her backpack. As the hills rolled by outside and cars full of daily commuters and families drove by, Ben started teaching her exponents. He hadn’t done them himself much since freshman year, so he had a little trouble remembering them at the beginning, but soon he became comfortable with teaching her.
She listened attentively to everything he said and did everything she could to commit it to memory. By the time they got off the bus in the middle of the afternoon, Alex knew exponents, graphs, and some basic geometry. She felt pretty accomplished with what she learned. She wasn’t sure when she would ever find the area of a trapezoid in her life, but it made her feel good to know more of what everyone else her age learned long ago.
“Thank you,” Alex said as the bus was coming to a stop.
“It was no problem,” he replied. “It actually helped me remember it too.”
They were the last ones off the bus. Ben thanked the driver as he passed him. Alex glanced at him and for half a second, she could swear she saw blue on his thumb nail. She forced a smile and quickly got off.
She didn’t stop walking once she was on the cement. Ben ran to catch up with her.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
Alex didn’t slow down.
“Alex, what did you see?” He stumbled trying to keep up with her.
She turned a corner and stopped.
Ben almost ran into her. “What the hell was that?”
“I don’t know for certain, but I thought maybe I saw that his thumb was blue.”
She quickly backtracked. “I don’t think it actually was because he didn’t look like anyone I had seen at the raemen and they have no reason for placing a man this far away. I’m sure it was just my paranoia.”
Ben put his hands on her arms. “You know you can tell me the truth.”
“I know.” Alex studied his eyes for a moment. She really wasn’t hiding anything; she was just really unsure if she actually saw it. She didn’t want to worry him over something she wasn’t one hundred percent on.
He looked around them and saw they were standing in front of a movie theater. “Hey, I know you weren’t a fan of the movie we watched at my house, but why don’t we go see one? They’re different when you watch them in a theater.”
She shrugged. They didn’t have anything else to do. “Sure.”
They got two tickets to the next showing of the new James Bond movie, which was supposed to be the best one yet, according to Ben. Alex was also able to sweet talk the man at the ticket counter into storing Ben’s suitcase for them during the movie. She wouldn’t give him her backpack, though. There were too many weapons in it.
Ben told her they had to share some popcorn because movie theater popcorn was the best. Then they found two seats near the back of the theater.
“So what is this about?” Alex asked.
He explained the basic premise of the movie and who James Bond was. When the movie finally started, she tried her best to pay attention. James Bond was the spy Ben had first compared her to, after all.
The movie was definitely fictionalized. She had never met a spy that drove a fancy car, wore a high end suit, or always had a sexy woman with him. No one at the institution or raemen acted anything like James Bond. They weren’t stupid enough to tell people their name, plus they didn’t have last names to use either.
Then Alex started thinking that James Bond was how James saw himself. He probably wanted that grand life of fancy things and dangerous stunts, but he would never get it. The only car he would ever drive was the one from the institution. Spies didn’t make money to buy things for themselves or go on missions to Europe.
When she paid attention to the events in the movie again, the Bond, James Bond was capturing the bad guy. He was pretty beat up from a fight, but the bad guy looked worse. Alex laughed to herself because it wasn’t always that convenient.
Ben turned to her as the credits rolled. He had an expectant look on his face.
“It wasn’t very accurate,” was all she could say. She didn’t hate it, it just reminded her too much of the life she was trying to leave behind.
He laughed. “Well yeah. It’s Hollywood. They’ve never met real spies.”
Thankfully he didn’t ask her anything else about it. They left the theater and got Ben’s suitcase. Alex gave the ticket man a wink.
They realized they were quite hungry. The movie had killed enough time that it was now evening and they hadn’t eaten since breakfast. They checked in at a little one story motel and went to find a place for dinner.
As they sat across from each other at the table, Alex remembered that the last time she had been out to dinner with someone was with James.
She wondered if he had figured out they were alive yet. If he had, was he currently searching for them? It was only the day after the plane explosion so she wouldn’t be surprised if he still thought he won.
“What are you thinking about?” Ben asked tentatively. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know, but they were going through everything together now. He wanted to know everything that was going on with her so he could support her, even if it terrified him.
Alex sighed. “James. I was just wondering if he has figured out we made it out yet.”
He felt anger well up inside him. He hated James so much. He was the one Alex was supposed to marry. He had kept tabs on both of them and was possibly also double crossing the institution and raemen, only with him, there was no telling which side he actually supported and which side he was playing. Then, to top that all off, he tried to blow them up and in the process killed innocent people without a care. He hated him so much.
Alex was looking at him with a slight look of shock. He realized he was gripping his menu so hard his knuckles were white and his jaw was clenched. He took a deep breath and relaxed.
She put a hand on his. “I hate him too, believe me. I don’t like bringing him up, but honestly he is probably our biggest threat. He will do anything to get us, even if the founders call off the search. The honest truth is he will probably never stop. So I have to think about him because I need to figure out what he’s doing.”
He took her hand in both of his. “I know. I just hate all that he’s put you through and everything he was supposed to put you through. I’m not jealous, really.”
She gave him a small smile. “I’m thinking I really want a hamburger.”
Ben chuckled. “That actually sounds really good.”
The waiter came over to their table and they got two cheeseburgers and sodas. As they waited for their food to come, they talked about things they could do while in that town. They decided that they would go for a walk after dinner and watch the late spring sunset. Alex didn’t think she had ever actually watched a sunset. She had caught a glimpse of one a couple of times while she was out working on a mission, but she was usually always back at the institution by the time the sun set.
Their food finally came, and neither of them was sure if it really was the food or they were just that hungry, but they were some of the best cheeseburgers either of them had ever had. Granted, Alex had a very limited history with the food, but Ben didn’t and he thought they were amazing.
Alex paid for dinner with the cash she took and they left. Ben took her hand and they started wandering around the streets. He was really glad she had a very good internal GPS because otherwise they would’ve gotten completely lost.
“Navigation was something they spent a lot of time on while we were young,” she explained with a shrug.
They continued to head west until they got towards the edge of town and there were fewer buildings in the way of their view of the sunset. They were even able to find a park with a bench that faced west. They just sat and watched the sky turn colors in silence, both of them feeling completely at peace.
For the first time in her life, Alex didn’t have any worries. Just for the moment, she wasn’t thinking about where they would go to next or what would happen if they ran into spies or how long they would be on the run before they could stay put somewhere. All her spy instincts told her that she should be thinking of those things, but right then, in that moment, she didn’t care. It just felt so good to sit on that bench with Ben next to her and his arm around her shoulder. The spring air was a little cool, but she just curled up closer to Ben and his body heat kept her warm.
Ben kissed the top of her head. She looked up at him, smiled, and kissed him on the lips. They sat there on that park bench and kissed while the sun set behind them.
“I love you,” Ben breathed when they pulled apart.
“I love you too,” Alex told him.
The sun was almost below the horizon. He kept his arm around her shoulders as they walked back to their motel. She had her arm around his waist. She still felt so calm.
Ben kissed her again when they were outside their room. Alex opened the door and stopped, all her previous worries and fears rushing back to her.
On the bed that she had put her stuff on, there was a piece of paper folded so it stood up like an upside down V. On the side facing the door was her name written neatly in black.
“What is it?” Ben asked.
“I don’t know.”
She slowly walked to the bed and picked it up. She didn’t recognize the handwriting or the paper. It was on nice, thick stationary, but she had never seen anyone from the institution or raemen use it.
“We will find you,” it read. “You can’t hide from us forever.”
Alex was finding it a little hard to breathe. Someone had found them. Someone was there in that town. She didn’t know if it was the institution or the raemen.
Ben read the note over her shoulder. “Who is it from?”
“I don’t know,” she said quietly.
“What should we do?”
Alex was still for a moment before she suddenly grabbed her backpack and dug out a pistol. She put it in his hand. “Take this for a moment and stay here.” She pulled out her gun and walked out, the note still in her hand.
Ben didn’t know what to do. He didn’t know what she was doing or if there were really people out there. He sat down on the bed but got right back up. He walked over to the window and closed the blinds so no one could see in. He tried sitting again but this time he started pacing. He was trying to remember the time Alex taught him to fire a gun.
The door opened suddenly, making him jump. He pointed the gun at the door.
Alex put her hands up in surrender, her gun hidden and the note gone. “Relax. Everything is okay. Besides, you left the safety on so you wouldn’t have been able to do anything anyway.” She took the gun back and put it away.
“Where did you go?” he asked, still recovering from the shock.
“I was just scouting around the building, making sure no one was out there.”
“We’re safe,” she said simply. She didn’t see any traces of anyone having been on or around the building so she just burned the note in a trashcan and returned to the room. “I’m sorry if I worried you,” she added.
Ben pulled her into his arms. “It’s okay.”
Alex could hear his heart still beating faster than usual. She let him hold her until he had calmed down completely. “Everything is okay,” she whispered.
“I trust you.”