We said nothing more as we reentered the room. It was bare now, except for Guy’s bag. His belongings were still strewn across the ground where they’d been dumped in my search for his phone.
The phone had been tossed on top; I put it to one side to start a trash heap. Most of the items in the pack made it to the ‘useful’ pile. From his wallet I withdrew a handful of credit cards, which we kept, along with the remaining twenty-dollar bills and several pictures.
I barely glanced at the images. Seeing his face intermingled with those of his late wife, daughter, and us caused tears to well up again. I tossed them onto the ‘keep’ pile and moved on in an attempt to stop myself crying again. Nicole and Briana came back in as I was dumping the trash into the can.
Nicole ran her gaze over the room before ordering us into the car. She was only a few minutes older than me, but she was always meant to be our leader. She had the backbone I sometimes lacked. To be honest, it had always been a relief not to be responsible for the hard decisions. However, sometimes it would be nice to have more of a say.
I paused and retrieved the phone from the trash can as I left the room.
We climbed into the car and Nicole took the wheel. I sat beside her and the others were in the back.
“Where are we going?” Briana leaned between the front seats.
“Away from here.” Nicole put the car into gear and reversed out of the parking space. “Away from South Carolina, too. I say we head to a big city, somewhere we can hide out and figure out what to do next. We’re still too close to the lab here.”
“Can we go somewhere with a beach?” Mouse piped up from the back. “Please? I’ve always wanted to see one.”
Like money, we knew what beaches were. We’d seen pictures of them, but had never actually been to one.
“I vote for the beach too,” Briana sat back in her seat.
Nicole turned to me. “What do you think?”
“Let’s go to the beach.” I pulled out Guy’s big map book and paged through it. “What about this one?” I handed it to Nicole.
“Sounds good.” She passed it back to Mouse and Briana, who readily agreed. It was perfect. A big city on the other side of the country with a long coastline. We could disappear completely.
“Los Angeles it is,” Nicole stopped at the intersection, looking left and right. “So, which way?”
“We need to find an ATM,” Briana said from behind us. “In case they cancel the cards. Remember when your Mom’s bank canceled hers and she couldn’t buy her medicine?”
“We need gas too.” Nicole said. “We’re running low.”
We stopped at the next town. An ATM was easy to find—there was one on the corner by a shoe store.
“So, um, how does this thing work?” I looked back and forth between the machine and the card. The other girls crowded around me, watching over my shoulders.
We argued back and forth until we finally managed to get five hundred dollars from the card. We’d tried for more, but the machine had said that was the daily allowance.
We used all of the cards, withdrawing the maximum amount from every one. Guy was lucky no one had ever stolen his wallet, since he’d left the pin numbers taped to the cards.
We returned to the car and stopped by a gas station before leaving the small town far behind us.
“I wish we could fly. Surely it couldn’t be that hard to get hold of a plane,” Briana whined when we were back in the car.
“You’ve only ever flown simulations,” Nicole said. “There is no way I’d step foot in a plane under your control.”
No one else said anything, opting instead to read magazines and stare out the windows.
“Nicole,” I whispered, when Mouse and Briana had fallen asleep.
“One day, if we have the chance, I want to go back to South Carolina.”
Her eyes flicked away from the road momentarily to look at me. “Why?”
“Mom wasn’t like us. She actually had a family. I want to see where she came from and if we have anyone left.” I stared at my hands. The others might understand, or they might not.
Nicole and I were the only ones who’d grown up with our mother around. Technically, she wasn’t even our biological mother, but she carried us, gave birth to us and raised us until she passed. Mouse and Briana had been abandoned by their carriers at birth, no strings attached, although we know money changed hands. None of us had biological family anymore.
“And if we find out she had family, then what?” A hint of scorn tinged Nicole’s words. “Do you think they’d want to know us? We aren’t actually related to them. Would they even believe us if we told them we were her children? And if they do know about us, what’s to stop them turning us over to the lab?”
I turned away as flames encased my vision. Why did Nicole think it was so wrong to want to find out about Mom and her family?
Staring out the window, I thought about Mom and Guy. The labs had taken away our childhood, and now because of them we’d lost the last person who cared for us. I couldn’t do anything about Mom, but I could sure as hell try to make it up to Guy.