Chapter 22: You Beat Me To It

Kaitlyn Jarred

I snap my alarm off after one beep, easily waking. I patter to the bathroom, take a quick, cold shower, and dress in exercise clothing. I throw on an oversized sweater and grab my phone. I muffle a cough as I check the hallway. The bodyguards at the end of the hallway are alert, so I sneak my head back into my room without being seen.

We’re here.

The message sparks me into action. Sliding my phone into the outer pocket of my leggings, I push open my window. The sky is just beginning to lighten as I allow myself to feel the cool breeze, thinking how this might be my last day alive. I take a deep breath and lower myself to hang from the gutter. My arms tremble from the weight of my body as I swing. I throw my body and catch myself on another ledge, further down the wall. I breathe faster, in both fear and adrenaline. I repeat the process, landing again further down the wall. I take one more breath and slide down the rest of the wall, catching my sweater on a shingle and ripping it. I land behind a line of bushes as a guard sweeps a flashlight over where I’m hiding. I clap a hand over my mouth, only releasing it after the light drifts away. I stand and scamper across the lawn, keeping my body low to the ground. I reach the fence and duck behind the bushes once again. I stay in the bushes until I reach the gate, narrowing my eyes at the guards and clutching a stone in my hand. Throwing it into the bushes on the other side of the gate, I wait until the guards have rushed over to slip between the bars and hurry down to the road. I continue running until I reach a small car parked a block away.

I slide into the passenger seat, clicking my seatbelt into place. “Thanks for being with me,” I say, smiling at my two friends. “Even though I hadn’t wanted you to come.”

“We’re in this together,” Oscar says, pulling away from the curb and setting our course to Dulles Airport.

“We wouldn’t let you do it alone,” Valerie mumbles from the backseat. I reach back and reach for her hand, squeezing it when she places it in mine.

“I know,” I smile slightly at her, Valerie returning a small one of her own. Oscar slides easily into the freeway—it, surprisingly, is almost barren.

“The government put out a statement,” Oscar says, side-eying me while looking at the road. “General Wynn wasn’t able to find them, and the President chose not to pay them. Everyone was told to stay in their homes.”

“I still can’t believe you guys were able to sneak out,” I shake my head in disbelief.

“It’s more surprising you did,” Valerie raises an eyebrow. “Your parents were rather upset yesterday.”

I shrug, “It kind of surprised me too.”

We’re silent for a while, the only sound is the tires spinning against the pavement. As the Dulles Airport signs begin to show up, Oscar clears his throat.

“So, what’s the plan?” His voice cracks slightly, showing his fear. I swallow silently, pondering my response.

“I’m going to try to get Crystal to stop from releasing the disease.”

“But how?” Valerie leans forward to stick her head between the seats. I purse my lips, and Valerie makes a face, “You have no idea how, do you?”

“I have an idea,” I wince as I answer. Oscar exits the freeway and I take slow, deep breaths. Oscar drives right on to the tarmac, as we scan the area for where Nexis is hiding.

Valerie is the one to stop them, inside a hangar. Oscar pulls to a stop behind another hangar, adjacent to Nexis’ hiding place.

“Now,” I turn in my seat to make eye-contact with my friends. “Go notify General Wynn and the President. Hopefully, I will be able to talk Crystal down and by the time they get here, everyone will be safe.”

Oscar grabs my arm lightly before I can get out, “Please, be safe.” I nod, stepping from the car. Valerie steps from the backseat, pulling me into a quick and tight hug. She takes my seat in the front and I watch my friends drive away.

Safely.

I peer around the edge of the hangar, observing the Nexis members stationed in the front. I take one more deep breath, before stepping from my hiding place. I instantly put my hands in the air as I walk towards the hangar. As I approach, guns are pointed towards me and one of the guards runs toward me.

“Kat!” I squint my eyes at the running guard, recognition running through me. Chris grabs my arm, his face slightly panicked, “What are you doing here?”

I shake him off, scowling, “A better question is what you are doing here?”

“I—uh—”

Another guard comes up, her nails cutting into my arm as she drags me towards the hangar. Chris follows along behind, his eyebrows knitted in worry. I instantly zero-in on Crystal.

“Boss!” the woman yells, and Crystal turns. We make eye-contact and for half a second, I see Crystal’s confident outer-shell crack.

“Nicely done, Martinez,” she says, gesturing for me to be brought closer.

“Is this the girl?” A snotty-looking woman asks a similar looking man beside her. He scrutinizes me and I crinkle my nose in disgust.

“Can’t believe he’s into that,” the man answers and I cock my head sideways, the puzzle-pieces clicking in my head.

“You’re Nick’s parents,” I state and they scoff.

“Nickolas is refined, he would never be called such a degrading nickname,” the Duchess says. “I am Duchess Allegra and this is my husband, Duke Bartholomew.”

I snort at their names, trying to contain the laughter threating to spill over, “Allegra and Bartholomew?”

“Yes,” the Duke says, his nose high in the air. “And you will treat us with respect.”

“Enough of this,” Frost growls, before turning to Crystal. “How did she know we were here?”

Crystal flits her hand, “Does it really matter? She’s the only one here.”

Frost narrows his eyes, “Who’s to say there isn’t anyone waiting to pounce any moment?”

“I would’ve already given the signal,” I speak up, confidently holding Frost’s gaze. I move my eyes to Crystal, who I can tell is upset with me being here. I open my mouth to start pleading my case, when another voice calling my name interrupts me.

“Kaitlyn?”

I turn, breathing a sigh of relief, “You’re okay.” Nick rushes towards me, the Nexis guard releasing my arm as I am wrapped in his arms.

“And you’re okay,” he sighs into my ear.

I suddenly tense, pushing him away, “You’re with them?”

“No!” Nick answers, and his parents huff. “Well, I did say I was…”

“Have you always been with them?” I demand, barely aware we are the current center of attention.

“Of course not,” Nick shuffles from foot to foot, before pointing to Chris. “He was part of Nexis all along.”

“Excuse me?” I turn toward Chris, my anger bubbling. “You have always been a part of Nexis?”

“Well—um—” Chris stutters again and I glare at him.

“I bet you didn’t even like me,” I snap, concealing the fact I’m slightly hurt.

“Hey, that’s not true!” Chris finally speaks up.

Frost rubs the bridge of his nose, “Please, all of you, just shut up.”

We remain silent, although I can tell Nick has something else he wants to say. Crystal checks her watch, and I do the same with my phone. We still have 10 hours, but something tells me Crystal is considering doing it earlier. My assumption is confirmed when Crystal signals some Nexis members and they remove a massive tarp.

I stifle a gasp as a rocket is revealed. Connected to it are four cannisters, that I can only assume are holding the plague. I feel a hand wrap around mine, and I look up at Nick, surprised.

“If we die,” Nick says, turning his eyes from the rocket to me. “I want to tell you that I sort of like you.”

I smile, clutching his hand tighter, “I sort of like you too.” I pause, “If we don’t die, would you like to go on a date?”

He chuckles, “You beat me to it.”

I laugh softly, “Good.” I pull my hand away, and he gets a quizzical look on his face. After one last look at him, I step forward toward Crystal.

It’s time to put my plan in action.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

A/N
This chapter is a little different since it doesn't include Nick's point of view--but don't worry, that's the entire next chapter.
XOXO
sborek

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