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1. DInner and a Run

Kate, Olivia, Hunter, Matt, Parker and I had gone out to dinner. We went to our favorite pizza place down on Maine Street. We are regulars and the owners know us by name. They are Italian and the pizza is the most amazing I have ever tasted. We go in at least once a month. The building is old and run down. The lights are dim and Italian music plays around the clock. 

Like usual, we got two pizzas; one meat lovers and one Hawaiian. We each ordered a drink and listened to Matt’s recent account of his trip to the beach with his family and Kate. They have been a couple since our sophomore year of high school.  Kate would put in her opinion of the trip every so often. Kate is soft spoken, but when she does talk, she is a spit fire. There is nothing that she won’t say.

We talked and laughed long after the pizza was gone. Barbara, the owners wife, came and refilled our drinks, sitting on the edge of the table next to us, listening to Matt’s story.

“So we had rented paddle boards and went out early one morning to take a swim.” He began. Kate then groaned and inserted her disgruntled opinion.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” She leaned forward and slapped her hands on the table “ok,” she said pointing to Olivia and I, “You two listen carefully and tell me how you would have responded to this. He thinks I was being over-dramatic.” She said sitting back.

“We paddled around for an hour or so when I saw this cliff that I wanted to jump. Kate said it was too high but I decided otherwise. I got off and climbed up a little ways to the edge. Kate help my board and kept yelling things from in the water.” He said, Kate rolled her eyes.

“He was at least 70 feet up. The sign at the marina even said not to take the risk! I was just being careful!” Kate said in defense.

“Now, I’m not a mean person, but standing up there, I got this idea.” He said with a smirk at all of us accept Kate. Kate decided to take the story from there. This is something I love about Katie and Matt. They perfectly finish each others stories. Not exactly sentences, but just the way one sits back and lets the other take control. It’s amazing how perfect they are together.

“So there I was, 70 feet below, watching my boyfriend plan his shortcut to death. I was so scared. I mean, if he got knocked out, I couldn’t pull him anywhere! He’s like 190 pounds! So I see him get to the top, look over the edge, then he disappears over the top. Then all of a sudden he comes flying off the edge at full speed, screaming his lungs out!”

“Hey you were screaming too!” Matt puts in.

“Well yeah! You were falling through the air!”

“I knew what I was doing.” He says.

“Mmmhhmmm. Anyway. So he turns his oh-so-elegant jump into a dive, which is even more stupid if you ask me, and disappears into the water. And you know, I figure he wouldn’t come up for a second. He dove pretty deep. But when he didn’t come up after about 40 seconds, I started to panic. I stood up on my board, looked around,” she continued dramatically, “and couldn’t see him anywhere. I started calling his name. Now I’m really panicking.” She says with a side glare at Matt.

“Ok. And all I did, was swim down and around to the other side of a rock where she couldn’t see me.” Matt said chuckling. “I waited for at least two minutes. When it sounded like she was going to cry, I figured I should probably come out before I end up single. So by this point, Katie is in the water splashing around looking for me. So I swim down and under right to where she is and come up and out.  She still doesn’t know that I was around the other side of the rock. So she’s all worried and high pitched, ‘Matt are you ok?!’”, he says in a mimic of Katie’s voice. “Then she realizes that I am in no way out of breath.”

“I didn’t realize at first. And it wasn’t his breathing that gave it away. It was the fact that he was trying not to laugh! I mean, if he had been serious, I don’t think he’d have been laughing! So I ask what was so funny.” She adds.

“I told her that I had been hiding the entire time. That’s when I thought she was going to cry. She starts hitting me and splashing around and screaming. I tried hugging her but she just paddled away. I thought it was hilarious but apparently it wasn’t.” He finished, laughing. It must be a guy thing because Parker and Hunter were laughing to.

Katie looked at the three of them like they were horrible people and demanded that it wasn’t funny. She turned to Olivia and I for back-up. “Liv? Beth? Come on. Tell me that I wasn’t over-reacting and that it so wasn’t funny!” She says, glaring at Matt again. Olivia spoke up.

“Matt, although it was funny,” Olivia began, getting a glare from Katie, “You should’ve done it to the guys instead of your girlfriend. Not the smartest move you’ve ever made!” she finished. I just nodded in agreement. It had been a long day and I didn’t feel like taking sides.

“Thank you!” Kate said sitting back and slapping Matt in the chest on her way. He rubbed his chest but just laughed.

Barbara took the remaining plates and went back to the kitchen, inserting her opinion.

“Just be careful Matty! You don’t want to scare off the only girl who will take you!” she began, the guys making o-ooo sounds, “Especially when she is so special.” Barbara said winking at Kate. Kate blushed and leaned towards Matt. He took her hand and we sat for a few more minutes before Juan-Pablo came and kicked us to the curb.

“Sorry kids!” he said, “But please come again. We love your business and company.” He smiled.

“You can count on it!” said Parker. We all said our goodbyes and headed outside after paying the bill. We split it 6 ways like normal. The first couple times we went, we considered it a date and the guys paid. After our fifth visit in two weeks, we all started pitching in.

We went outside to the curb where Matt and Hunters cars were parked. It was a crisp April night. Warm enough during the day for a t-shirt but cool enough at night for a sweater. All the shops were closed and there were absolutely no cars on the main street of our one-horse-town. I loved it here. We all grew up together in the same neighborhood. Our moms had all been in the same book club when we were 6 and 7. We got thrown in day care together twice a week and we all instantly became best friends. We have all had our flings. Accept Matt and Katie. They have always been the steady couple in the group.

We lived in a tiny town named Wenatchee about 2 hours outside of Seattle, Washington. The population was a mere 32,000. Everyone knows everyone and it’s not too hard to get lost around here. Matt opened the passenger door for Katie and she slipped in.

“Olivia, do you need a ride?” Hunter asked, standing by Parker.

“That would be great. My car is in the shop. I don’t know when it’ll be done.” She said, rolling her eyes.

“Who are you going with, Beth?” Parker asked. I looked around at the street lights and the stars and contemplated walking. It’s about 9 blocks to my neighborhood. I should be fine.

“Actually, I think I’ll walk.” I said. Even from inside the car, I could see the look of worry on Katie’s face. She rolled down her window.

“Beth, I don’t like the sound of that. It’s dark. Something could happen.” She said, being the mother of the group as always. Parker nodded. Back to that fling thing I was mentioning earlier, Parker and I kind of had something. Nothing big. We have just been flirting more than normal. The concern on his face was cute.

“I’ll be fine. Don’t worry about it.” I said giving a confident smile. She looked at me hesitantly as Parker climbed in with Hunter. Hunter and Matt started their cars and headed off. Just before they turned the corner, Katie stuck her head out and yelled at me to text her when I got home safe. I waved that I understood and started walking. I decided to go the long way through the park.

I walked two blocks down Maine Street, mostly thinking about Parker. He hadn’t officially asked me out, but had said we should hang out sometime. It’s not that I don’t like Parker, its just that I don’t want to risk out relationship. And he isn’t exactly my type. I kept walking, thinking about college. I was skipping a semester and working to save up money. Katie, Matt and Parker were all leaving in two weeks. But Hunter, Liv and I were staying behind for a while. Its going to be hard to see them go. We are all going somewhere different. Katie and Parker want to stay in the state, but Matt has always dreamed big. He is he smart one of us all.

I walked into the park, remember high school. I use to be in cross country and would run through the park every day. I was pretty good at running. Not the best, but definitely not bad. Then I heard something behind me. My dad was a cop and always taught me to be on the look out. I sped up a little but kept to myself. It was probably nothing. I walked farther and kept hearing things. I started to get spooked. Maybe I should call for a ride.  As I neared the playground, I heard rustling in the bushes. That was it. I pulled out my phone and called Parker.

“Hey, what’s up?” He asked. I could hear that he was still in the car, music playing, Olivia singing and Hunter asking who it was.

“Can you guys come get me? I’m sorry. I just got spooked.” I said, sitting down on a swing on the dark side of the play set.

“Yeah of course. Is everything ok?” he asked, concern in his voice.

“Oh, yeah of course. I just have the creeps. I’m at the park by the play set.” I said, looking around.

“Alright. Stay put. We’ll be there in a few.” He said and hung up.

I set my phone in my lap and kept a sharp eye. I’m not one to get spooked easily so something must be setting me off. I just want to get out of here. There was no one else here. I couldn’t see any animals. There was one street light next to the bench on the other side of the play set.

After two minutes, the guys still weren’t here. I pulled out my phone and looked at the time. I tightened my sweater around me. Then I saw headlights pull into the parking lot. I stood up and grabbed my bag. The car parked. Its not Parker. A guy got out and started walking towards me. I discreetly stepped behind a pole of the play set, nervously grabbing at my purse strap. I put my phone back in my pocket and watched the man walk. He was about 5”8. That was about all I could tell in the dark. He walked to the bench under the light and sat down. He had a hoodie on under a leather jacket, jeans and sneakers. He just sat there.  I wanted to check the time but I didn’t want him to see my phone light up.

What is he doing? He’s just sitting there. I watched silently from in the dark. After five minutes of no one showing up, I started to worry. Where were they? I want to leave. Badly. The guy keeps looking around. He pulls his phone out, glances at it, then puts it away. Then another car pulls in quickly. It parks crookedly and a guy jumps out. He slams the door hard. The guy on the bench stands up and stuffs his hands in his pockets.

The man walks over to Mr. Hoodie and starts talking. Loud enough that I can hear every word.

“What do you need?  I’m busy.” He says matter-of-factly. Mr. Hoodie takes a step back.

“I want out.” He says.

“What do you mean you want out?” the man asks, taken aback.

“I want out of everything. I didn’t sign up for this.” He says. Now I’m flat out scared. If they knew I was here, I don’t know what would happen. I consider calling Parker and telling him to wait. I don’t want them in harm’s way, but if I take my phone out, they’ll know I’m here.  

“That’s too bad. You don’t just get out. You already know too much for your own good.” He says.

“I don’t think that you get to decide this. I’m leaving.” Mr. Hoodie says and he starts walking straight towards me. I squish up against the pole as tight as I can.

“Kayden. You can’t walk away. They’ll kill you. Or worse, they’ll make me.”

“Then leave with me, Jason! Let’s get out of here. We can’t stay here if they’re killing people to get what they need.”

“We knew that’s what they did when we signed up. You can’t leave.”

“Oh yeah and how are you going to stop me?”

“Kayden, don’t be stupid.” The other man says.

“You won’t hurt me. We’re blood.” Hoodie says. He starts to walk away backwards.

“Blood doesn’t mean anything anymore.” He says pulling a gun out of his jacket. Hoodie is only 5 feet to my right. If I move, if I breath loud enough, he’ll hear me. I put a hand over my mouth to keep myself quiet.

Hoodie freezes. “I’m leaving one way or another, Jason. Dead or alive, with or without you. I don’t think you’ll shoot me.”  Kayden turns to walk away, and a shot fires. I jump and reach back for the pole to steady myself. My bracelet hits the hollow metal and makes a loud ringing noise. Everything is Quiet.

“Is someone there?” Kayden asks walking towards me. I can see him squint into the darkness. He walks towards me. 4 feet. 3 feet.

Fight or flight. That’s what my health teacher always taught us. It’s human nature. In an emergency situation, your brain picks one and acts on it. Apparently after assessing the situation, not to mention the gun, my brain chose flight. I turn and run. As fast as I can.

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