Was that a hiatus or what? College apps = lots of work

I tried something different this time.

So maybe jumping into a dumpster isn't such a stellar idea. I know Opal agrees with the way she frowns, shrinking away from the black plastic bags of garbage. Not that I expect anyone to enjoy giant metal boxes of filth. The stench permeates the air around us and my eyes water.

I hold my breath.

But not because of the smell. I lay still, waiting for the pounding footsteps to rush past. They disappear around the corner of the alleyway.

Hesitantly, Opal asks in a whisper, "Are-Are they gone?"

I carefully peek over the top. Other than the dumpster, a few scattered bottles, and a stack of cardboard, the alleyway is empty. The morning sun manages to break through the smoggy gloom. Rush hour cars roll by the entrance to the alley.

"Yeah," I reply, "They can't do anything to us in broad daylight anyways. It's not them we have to worry about."

I grab her hand and pull her into a standing position.

"Here, wait. I'll get down first."

I clamber out of the dumpster. After wiping off stray bits of trash, I call out, "Put a leg over and feel for a ledge type thing. Then swing the other leg over and I'll carry you down from there."

Opal pushes forward through the bags, feeling for the edge with her hands. She uses one leg to find the small metal rung that runs the length of the outside of the dumpster. Then she holds on tight and puts the other leg over.


I hold her by the waist and she tumbles down into me.

"You okay?"

She nods. A candy wrapper falls out of her hair. It gets caught in a draft and is blown out into the street.

"Come on, let's find Gary and Neala."

She takes my hand. I realize she must have lost her cane some time during the night. Then again, it wouldn't have helped. I had no idea where we were so I was just as powerless. The lost leading the blind. I'm pretty sure there's a punch line in there somewhere.

"Yo, let's stop here," Gary said, gesturing around in every general direction from his post in the passenger seat. Gary was in an alarmingly cheerful mood. Neala had driven since she took control of the wheel so he had literally hibernated until now. He didn't remember the last time he'd slept like he did. With no end in sight. It must have been back in the summer before eighth grade when the days were long and easy, when he was young enough to have no responsibilities and he was old enough to appreciate loafing around. By no means was he regretting his venture into the unknown; he had just forgotten the comfort of no expectations. Because when there were no expectations, he could make his own. He was in control.

"Oh, so you're able to talk now? I guess all good things do have to come to an end," Neala quipped.

Opal laughed from the backseat. Freddie...well, it's going to take more than that to get Freddie laughing.

"Funny. Very funny. Really, it was. I even nearly replied with a comeback, but then I remembered how funny it was. Very. Actually hilarious if you think about it. In fact, it was so funny-"

Neal rolled her eyes and cut him off.

"What were you saying about stopping here?"

Gary smirked. He could irritate the hell out of a statue if he wanted to.

"Yeah," he nodded, "let's stop here. It looks nice enough."

"Where's here?"

"How the hell should I know?"

"Well, you wanted to stop—"

"We're in Cleveland," Freddie offered.

Gary looked back with wide eyes. "Do you have a GPS somewhere in your brain? Have you been holding out on me?"

Freddie shrugged. "While you guys were...discussing between yourselves, a sign passed. It said we're in Cleveland."

Neala jerked the wheel to the right.

"So Cleveland it is," she said as the car zoomed onto the off ramp. Gary drummed on the dash in excitement.

"You idiot! I can't believe you! What was going through your mind?"

Neala had been shouting at him non-stop and he was getting sick of it. The whole thing might have been his fault, but he didn't need reminding. It wasn't as if he didn't know exactly what he was getting into. Except for a couple serious surprises, he had been expecting retaliation. Still, he wasn't going to take anything back anytime soon. That guy was practically begging for it.

"You better pray that we find Opal or I'll be stuffing your bloody carcass down the nearest sewage pipe.

But Neala didn't think so. Neala was supposedly more calm and level-headed. Goddamn mental chick. Who the hell wants to become a writer?

"Don't worry. We'll find her. Or them." Gary grinned winningly. "Trust me."

Neala's eyes flashed dangerously. Before she could open her mouth to screech at him some more (probably how she'd never trust him or about how he was a sack of worthless manure), he held up his hands haltingly.

"I mean we can trust Freddie. The kid's smart. And if he's as smart as I think he is, then I know exactly where they'll be."

Neala was silent for a moment. Gary inwardly celebrated his little victory at shutting her up.

"Fine," she relented, "Lead the way."

Our first and last visit to Cleveland starts at a rundown pub in the early hours of the morning.

Gary is at the wheel again, navigating through the city streets while I scan the passing buildings guiltily. We'd been set on getting a nice meal, but I had pointed out that nice meals cost money. My little revelation had put a damper on everyone's mood so I'd taken it upon myself to search for a cheap source of good food.

It's a hole in the wall kinda joint. I nearly miss it at first. Squeezed in between a pawnshop and a dance studio, the pub seems out of place and yet it fits in with its surroundings in the way that old shops usually do.

"Turn around," I say, "I think I found something."

We enter the pub as a ragged group. Gary goes first, pulling the door open and swaggering in like he owned the place, while the rest of us file in behind him. Inside it's warm with a cigarette atmosphere. The bar is littered with sloppy eyed drunks and all but two of the booths are empty. One is occupied by a couple of tattooed guys who seem to be racing through a plate of nachos and the second by three men with long dark coats, whispering furtively and appearing suspicious in every way possible.

We make our way to the corner booth. Neala, Opal, and I take seats, but Gary stays standing. He glances at the bar and says, "What do you guys want? I'll get the food."

"I'll have whatever the others are having," we all announce simultaneously. Gary rolls his eyes.

"So four orders of onion rings it is then."

He leaves before we can object.

"That guy," Neala says, shaking her head.

Opal laughs. "I think he's funny."

Her friend snorts in response.

"Yeah, funny looking."

Neala shoots a disgruntled look at Gary, who is apparently trying to convince the barman to sell him a shot. Neala's confession the other night floats to the top of my mind. With that and the eyes/daggers now fixed on Gary's back, I hope Gary learns to watch his step around both the girls for his own sake.

Suddenly a hulking figure is blocking my view of the bar. It's one of those nacho guys, a muscle head with bright red hair. He leers at Opal, grinning self-assuredly as he rests his hands on the table. His buddy is nowhere to be seen.

"Hey, blondie, how's it goin'? You wanna come with me for a little fun? Ditch these chumps?"

Opal raises her eyebrows, staring in the guy's general direction.

"Who is it?" She asks Neala.

I wince at the way Neala is grinding her teeth.

"No one. Just some loser," she says and glares up at Red. "You can piss off now, Red."

The muscles in Red's neck tighten and he leans down into Neala's face.

"Well, I wasn't talkin' to you, was I? Besides, I didn't know she was a 'blindie' not a blondie," he smirks at his own lame joke, "I don't want to have to tell her where my di—"

"Hey, wanna play some pool?"

Opal and I try to find our way back to the car, but the Mustang eludes us street after street. I know Gary parked the car a couple blocks from the pub. But we're having trouble finding that, too. Hope is quickly fading though luckily we had seen neither hide nor tail of the punks. But of course, they're not the only ones we're trying to avoid.

We trudge down another avenue. The sun is staring to heat up the sidewalk and we're both tired. We hadn't gotten to eat due to Gary's antagonistic reflexes so we're also even hungrier than before.

Opal tugs on my sleeve.

"Can we rest for a bit? My feet are killing me."

"Sure," I answer. I look around for a seat or something. There's a bench a few feet away and we gladly take the weight off our weary legs.

I groan with pleasure. Opal leans her head back, eyes closed.

"Remind me to thank Gary for letting us ride with him. That car makes the world all okay."

"Yeah, I know. I don't know what I'd—"

Behind us comes the sound of tires screeching to a stop followed by a car door opening. A slew of angry shouts fills the air, hurling insults at the car that had apparently stopped traffic. But the only voice that matters is quiet and calm.

"Nice to see you again, Fredward."

Even after all that running throughout the morning, Carl still isn't out of breath.

"Hey, wanna play some pool?"

Red has just enough time to look up with an annoyed look on his face before it's smashed in with a cue stick. He stumbles back into a table, sending sauce bottles crashing to the ground. Gary swishes the cue like a fencing foil and points it at Red's bloody face.

"Eight ball in the corner pocket."

Neala jumps out of her seat.

"Jesus Christ, Gary!"

If the previous commotion wasn't enough to gain the attention of the entire bar, then Neala's deafening surprise surely is. The drunks are peering curiously over their shoulders while the mafia guys stare emotionlessly, doubtless from years of practice against interrogation. The bartender throws his rag down on the counter and frowns. He makes to lecture our little scene, but before he can, Red's buddy comes strolling out from the bathrooms near the back.

He freezes at the sight of his friend weakly wiping the blood from his broken nose, threatened by Gary's cue stick.

"What the hell?"

In one simultaneous motion, we all bolt from the booth. Neala drags Opal by the hand and Gary still has the cue in his hand. Red shouts from his place on the ground, "Get those little fuckers!"

His friend, who I decide to call Blue, tries to catch us by vaulting over several tables, but we're already too close to the exit. We burst out of the stuffy pub into the brisk air outside.

The sun is barely breaking the horizon and if I had time I would've stopped and watch it rise above the city with its watery yellows and peachy oranges.

Part 1 Complete. The second half of this chapter will be up soon. At least sooner than last time. Also, forgive me for being disjointed. I wrote this chapter over a period of four weeks, about 5 or so lines every day.

Review! (And grammar/spelling, please.)