Can you roll down a window?
I just wanna feel the wind blow in my face
Cause these moments come one blink at a time
That's why I never wanna close my eyes
I can feel the riot in the air tonight
Kinda trouble you can taste
Ava had been walking for thirty minutes, sticking to the shadows with her cap pulled low, her shoulders hunched and her arms hugging her unusually thin frame, in an effort to keep the cool night air from slipping into her jacket. This was but a small sample of what the harshness of the world, broke and on her own, had to offer. She gritted her teeth against the bite of the wind. To be a survivor she had to steel herself against discomfort, after all, in the grand scheme of escaping her conflicted captor, and now her god father’s men, this was nothing.
The gun resting against her hip reminded her of that.
For the umpteenth time on her great escape, she wondered if he was okay. If the Syndicate men had caught up to him. If they’d been successful…
She shook the thought away. Entertaining the possibility that Aiden had lost (annoyingly) made her feel a little lost. He was awful and she hated him (she reminded herself), but Aiden was the last person she knew had her back no matter what. He couldn’t die. In this new world of guns and grey areas, lost was the last thing she wanted to feel.
She had to be brave.
She was heading back in the direction of the hotel. With all the guest travelling through there, she figured it would make it much easier to hitch a ride…though maybe the amount of opportunity had probably dwindled since she and Aiden (mostly Aiden) had left a pile of bodies and traumatised people behind. She’d make sure not to get too close. She wasn’t sure if she was ready for another run in with the police just yet.
She’d thought about turning herself in. It was the simplest option, but with no idea what would happen if she went into custody, the thought unsettled her. It didn’t matter that she was just as much a victim in this as anyone else. She knew she hadn’t done anything wrong…aside from taser a man…but that was in a (futile) attempt to save him. She’d also unwillingly been an accessory to several murders. On top of that, she was the daughter of a crime lord -there was no way in hell they’d listen to her.
Aiden and her father had fucked her life up royally.
She eventually came across a rest stop a few miles from the hotel and politely asked to use the bathroom, throwing in that she was on her period for good measure. The male cashier handed her the keys and shooed her away.
Under the starkness of florescent lights, in fingerprint smeared mirror, Ava took a good look at herself. She frowned as she touched her face. It was thinner, her features sharper, her skin blemished and dark circles made her eyes look haunted. Her hands moved to her cap. She tugged it off and cringed when she saw the dull, almost matted state of her hair. If her mother could see her now she’d smack her in her head with a comb like she used to do when Ava was a child, refusing to sit still and kicking up a fuss as her mother tried to style her hair. She undid her two cornrows, tearing her finger tips through the knots that had developed on top of them, then splashed her hair with water till the curls were more a little more manageable and defined. She attempted to finger comb them, but after two weeks of neglect, it was quite reluctant to cooperate.
She splashed her face with cold water, pinched her cheeks to make them rosier, unzipped her coat and tied a knot in the back of her top to make it more form fitting.
It wasn’t the greatest transformation, but until she had better resources, this would have to do.
Back on the M1, forcing herself to mentally block out the breeze, with only the thin material of her tightened top to combat it, Ava walked tall with her chest high, nipples as hard as cherry seeds, and her thumb stuck out. She knew the risks that came with hitchhiking, especially as a young woman alone, but she had a gun (that she hoped that she wouldn’t have to use).
Cars zoomed by her for miles but eventually a Volkswagen pulled over.
“You okay there, love?” a middle-aged man frowned at her.
“Um, hi! Hello, sir,” She crouched a little to get a better look at him and gave an awkward wave. What was hitchhiker etiquette anyway? “Thank you so much for stopping. I really need a lift.”
“What on earth are ya doing all the way out ‘ere?”
She inched closer tentatively and gave her best woe is me expression, “My boyfriend and I got into a huge fight and he ditched me. I’ve been walking for miles.”
“Well now,” his northern accent became more pronounced making him sound warm and sympathetic, like one of those telemarketers that you didn’t immediately hang up on, “That’s not right at all. It’s not safe out ‘ere, especially for a woman…” he put his hands up immediately, “I don’t mean any offence by that.” He pushed up his rectangular wire frame glasses, avoiding her eyes, “I know you are all capable of taking care of ya’selves without men, as me daughters like ta remind me,” he chuckled.
He was a father.
“Anyway,” he scratched the wispy salt and pepper hair around the inner edge of his bald patch, “Where ya headed, love?”
“Oh,” he frowned, “Well, I’m going as far as Nottingham, if that helps.”
What other choice did she have? It wasn’t like it mattered anyway. “It helps.”
“Okay, well get in,” he smiled. He shifted a pile of papers, wrappers and cold takeaway from the passenger seat and Ava got in. The heat inside the car was welcomed.
“I s’pose I should introduce me’self. I’m Roy,” his eyes cloudy blue eyes crinkled around the edges and he stuck out his hand. His wedding band glinted in the dashboard lights.
He was a father and a husband.
“A..ven,” she quickly cleared her throat and shook his hand, “Heaven.”
“Nice ta meet ya, Heaven.”
They pulled off down the M1. Her plan was in action.
Ava locked her fingers and twiddled her thumbs but the contact made her palms grow clammier faster. She pressed them against her thighs. “Roy,” she said meekly, “I was wondering if it would be all right if I used your phone to call my parents? All my stuff is in my boyfriend’s car. I wanna let them know I’m okay.”
“Oh sure, sure.” He reached into his coat pocket and produced an outdated smartphone, unlocked the screen and handed it to her. Two small, bright faces beamed up at her from his home screen.
Her face softened, “Aww,” she cooed like you were supposed to when you saw pictures of people’s children, “Are these your daughters?”
“Oh no, I’m too old for that. Those are me grandkids,” he smiled fondly at the little faces. “That’s Joanna and Kaitlyn.”
A father, a husband and a grandfather. She felt three times as terrible as she had when he’d pulled over and turned out not to be a creep. He hadn’t even stared at her pert breasts once.
“They’re adorable.” It was the first honest thing she’d said since getting in his car.
“Don’t let their angelic face fool you,” he chuckled, “They’re little devils, especially Kait.” His smile was far too wide for her to believe that that was what he really thought. He clearly adored them.
Why couldn’t he have been some lecherous sleaze ball? It would have made things a whole lot easier.
Her palms were full on sweaty, to the point that even when she tried to wipe the moisture away on her jeans, a fresh layer replaced it immediately, and an uncomfortable knot was growing and twisting in her stomach. Roy was a good man who had people who loved him waiting on him back home, and unfortunately, he’d been the only one nice enough to come to her rescue.
She fake-dialled a number and pressed his phone to her ear. After waiting the appropriate amount of time, she spoke. “Hi Dad…” Her throat grew tight and heat flared up behind her eyes. This conversation wasn’t real and it would never be real again, even if she wanted it to. “I’m…I’m okay,” her voice cracked. Roy frowned at her. She took a deep breath. She had to keep it together, just until this was over. “I’m on my way to Nottingham and I don’t have my phone. …Yeah, but we got in a fight and he ditched me. I know, I know,” she rolled her eyes, imagining how her father would launch into a lecture. She used to hate when he did that. He’d go on and on, getting progressively louder as he made his point, and go off on all sorts of tangents that only vaguely related to the situation. She never thought she’d miss that. She nodded, pretending that that was exactly what he was doing, and in the back of her head it was almost as if she could really hear him telling her how bad Aiden was for her. “I should have listened to you. I’m sorry…” she blinked back the tears that had begun to gather along her waterline. She cleared her throat firmly; keep it together Ava. You just have to get through this. Don’t mess it up now. “Can you come get me, please? …The train station?” She looked at Roy for confirmation and he pursed his lips with a gentle, relieved smile, and nodded. “That’s perfect…Okay. …I love you too.”
She fake hung up and turned Roy’s phone face down in her lap, avoiding Joanna and Kaitlyn’s beaming faces. They were driving past vast fields of darkness now with no other cars surrounding them. She couldn’t waste this opportunity.
“He’s going ta meet ya at the station?”
She sighed. “No.”
“What? Well why the ‘ell not? You’re his kid!” he gripped the steering wheel and his pale face reddened, “That ain’t right!”
Ava pocketed his phone, pulled out the gun and put it to his temple. Her face hardened, “Because my dad is dead.”
“What?” Roy’s grip on the wheel tightened, and his face, once so flushed with emotion, drained, leaving him as white as the taut skin over his knuckles. He leant away from her gun as much as he could, pressing his body against the car door, “What’s happening? What are ya doing?”
Watching this sweet man shrink into himself made the knot in her stomach increase tenfold, but she had to do this to someone, and it truly was a shame that it had to be him.
She gritted her teeth, “Pull over.”
“Please,” he tried to lean even further away from the barrel, “For god’s sake, I ‘ave a family.”
“Pull over, Roy.”
He pulled the car over to the side of the road, his cloudy blue eyes glazed over, checking his mirrors, praying to God that he wouldn’t die tonight, wishing that somebody would pass and see what was happening and help him. Please, somebody. Help.
“Now…” she readjusted her slippery grip on the handle and forced her voice to cut through the quivering in her throat, “Give me your wallet.”
“Ya don’t need ta do this,” his hands trembled as he produced a worn leather wallet from his jeans.
“Put it on the dashboard,” she gestured with the gun, “Then get out of the car with your hands up.”
He slid his wallet onto the dashboard. “I was trying to help you_”
She squeezed her eyes shut, “Stop. Talking.” She flipped the safety off. The sharp click reverberating through the barrel of the gun silenced him. She welcomed it. His grovelling only made this harder than it had to be. “Hands up and get out slowly.”
She watched him get out and kept the gun trained on him. With his back turned it was okay for her hands to shake, for her shaky breath to blow heavily out of her quivering lips and for her to acknowledge how rapidly and how violently her heart was beating against her ribcage.
She got out of the car and pressed the barrel to his back, “Walk.”
“Are ya going ta kill me?” he whimpered as she marched him towards the field.
Ava didn’t reply.
Once they were far enough away from the motorway, hidden in the dark expanse of the field, she stopped. “Drop your trousers.”
His eyes widened and he gawked at her over his shoulder, “Ya can’t be serious!”
She mimicked Aiden’s slow, calculated head tilt that always had a way of instilling the fear of God in her. “Do I look serious, Roy?”
She nudged him with the gun, “Drop them and leave them around your ankles.”
She looked the other way as he lowered his jeans, exposing a set of briefs hat had seen better days.
This was humiliating for both of them.
“I don’t believe this,” he muttered and shook his head with a pained laugh, “Ya gonna steal me car, me money and rape me too?”
Ava jumped back, “Rape you? What? Ew! No!” she said shrilly, offended and disgusted that he would think such a thing. She diverted her eyes again and waved the gun at the grass, “Get on the ground and lie on your front with your hands behind your head.”
Once he was in position she went through his pockets finding only a stick of gum, house keys and a crusty used tissue. She’d made him drop his pants to make things more difficult for him if he decided to get up and chase after her, but she figured hurling his house keys across the dark field may also assist in her escape.
“Seriously!” He sounded more pissed off than frightened now. “I was trying to make sure you got home safe and this…honestly, I…I… What is the matter with ya?”
Her mouth twisted as her guilt bubbled over. “I’m so sorry about this,” she broke.
“No, honestly, I am. I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t have to.” He moved to turn over but she pushed the gun to his head, “Please stay where you are. I don’t want to hurt you Roy, you’re a good person and I feel truly awful. This isn’t me…” her shoulders slumped, “If I ever make it out of this mess I promise I’ll make it up to you…now, count to 1000.”
“You want me to count?”
She pressed the gun further into his scalp, “Yes.”
As soon as he got to ten, Ava sprinted back to the car, the squishiness of her soft heart pressing through the gaps in her ribs each time it thumped. She could hear it over the sound of her ragged breath that filled her lungs too much, too fast for her to believe she wasn’t about to explode.
She jumped in and pulled off, racing away from what she’d done as if putting distance between herself and the father, the husband, the grandfather laying bottomless in a dark field off the side of the M1, would lessen her guilt.
She felt awful for doing that to him, but…a part of her was also a little proud. She’d done it. Her first successful carjacking, by herself. She didn’t think she’d have the guts to pull it off at first, but desperation had fuelled her determination. She’d run away from that restaurant with nothing but a gun and foolish bravery, and now she had transport, money…and Roy’s cold hamburger in a greasy fast food bag that she flung out of the window with bittersweet glee.
She wound the windows down to help with her mild hyperventilating and turned the radio on to Classic FM. Violins sang sweetly, the wind rushed through her wet hair and her heart slowed.
There would be consequences for this...
But right there...
Ava was free.