Who knew two days would make so much of a difference? As I looked into the bathroom mirror, I searched for any sign of my old self, the inquisitive but cheery one I’d been forty-eight hours before.
Bloody veins now rimmed my muddy-brown eyes. My olive skin seemed paler and dotted with scrapes and cuts from the shrapnel. Newly shorn tufts of once shoulder-length and chestnut hair, recently dyed to an inky-ebony, stuck out in a pillow-inspired halo. With shoulders hunched beneath fatigue, the muscles in my back and legs added their yearning to return to bed and cease keeping me upright. I leaned onto the counter and stared into the motel’s pristine sink.
Like my reflection, the unfamiliar surface gazed back with just enough familiarity to set my nerves on edge. A haunting sense of déjà vu caused me to shiver. Then, a knock on the door made me flinch.
“We need to get moving.” Paul’s voice, steady, calm and only slightly muffled, sent another chill across my skin.
The alteration in his tone, and his actions during the past day left me apprehensive. His typical professorial demeanor had been completely undermined by the gun fight, car chase and the depth of his knowledge about being hunted. I gave the tiles at my feet a wary glance and then chided myself for worrying the floor might also reveal its true nature and shift into quicksand
“Yeah,” I said, gripping the sink’s rim, “I’m going.”
After a brief shower in the dregs of the hot water, I toweled off, and then tugged on the jeans and button-down shirt from yesterday. A bit of glass from the shattered windshield lingered on one sleeve, and added a fresh slice on my arm. I found the shard and tossed it down the drain.
Turning the facet off, I caught my reflection again. I raked a hand through my hair, as if to inspire some style. The locks, already dry, stuck out where they wanted and I gave up.
As I exited, Paul offered my bag. He’d already shouldered his pack, and I could see the bulges where he’d stowed his arsenal beneath his plain sports jacket. A baseball cap shaded his piercing blue stare.
“We’re almost there,” he said.
I think he was trying to make me feel better. Getting there, however, meant dealing with those who had undermined my life; who had come after me and my family with all the force of a SWAT team against a terrorist; who had made me look like a liar to my entire profession because I had found and voiced the truth.
Paul’s friends, he assured me, would be able to set things right. I didn’t by think by right he meant back to normal, but so long as I didn’t ask him to clarify, I could live in a bit of delusion. I clung to the hope of regaining my original hair color and figured if everyone else simply survived, then this mess had turned out well.
I took my messenger bag and slung it over my chest, as I had every morning for the past three years. The documents I’d examined, and which had caused this clandestine journey, weighed upon me like the world itself.
“Ready?” he asked, hands stuffed innocuously into his jean’s pockets.
“No.” I drew a deep breath, knowing he’d grasp the sarcasm. I withdrew my matching hat and sunglasses, donning them with a sigh. “Let’s get this over with.”
He nodded, and led to the door where he unlocked the bolts before peeking into the hallway. After a stilled heartbeat, he beckoned, and slipped out of our room. I clenched my hands into fists and willed myself to follow.