John gone, p.14
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       John Gone, p.14

           Michael Kayatta
 

  Chapter 12

  Ronika piloted the scooter back into The Napoli and walked with John to her first-floor apartment. He’d spent most of their ride explaining what exactly she’d missed during Mouse’s hours of darkness.

  “You just laid there like that? All night?” she’d asked.

  “Until 3:14,” he’d answered her.

  “That’s horrible.”

  Kala hadn’t said a word since his argument with John in the forest.

  From the story he’d told her, she knew John had to be glad to be out in the open once more, free to breathe, talk, and move as he pleased. She was happy to at least share that with him.

  Ronika wore a worried look as she unlocked her front door. While John had been beneath the leaves, she’d been at home with one eye on a dark monitor, the other on a notepad by the keyboard. She’d brought it with her to the desk to write down ideas for removing the watch from his arm. It was still blank.

  Dr. Kala had done a thorough job of explaining John’s options, and had even made his own intentions perfectly clear. There was no deception to see through or riddle to solve; everything Kala had told them lined up perfectly. Why else would he tell John that he intended to imprison him if it hadn’t been the truth?

  No, Ronika thought. He isn’t lying. He just knows that the only logical outcome of this is for John to follow his advice and go down into the lab.

  She didn’t feel outsmarted, just predetermined, as if hopelessly tangled between the fine, humming wires in John’s watch, helpless to affect them, helpless to free herself or her friend from their web.

  She looked at John as he slumped onto her living room couch. His expression was blank, mirroring the monotone in which he’d told her the details of last night’s events.

  “Do you want something to eat?” Ronika asked.

  “Water, maybe,” he answered.

  “Are you okay?”

  “Yeah.”

  Ronika turned and walked into her kitchen.

  “I’ve been thinking a lot since last night,” he called to her from the living room. “I really can’t fight this thing, you know?”

  “I know,” Ronika answered, scratching one of her fox ears with one hand while pouring him a glass of water with the other.

  “Only one of two things can come from this,” John said. “The first is that I don’t make it. One of the jumps is going to kill me if the Advocates don’t do it first.”

  Ronika walked back to the living room, holding his glass of water and listening intently.

  “The other option is imprisonment,” John continued. “Alone, underground, and in the dark.”

  “There are fluorescent lights, actually,” Kala interrupted as his hologram reappeared on the watch’s face. “With panels optimized for processing vitamin D.”

  John ignored the comment. “If these are my only options, then I only have two or three days left. I just want to spend as much of that time as possible with the people important to me.”

  Ronika couldn’t help but smile despite the obvious pain of John’s epiphany. She walked toward him and offered him the glass.

  “So, I’m leaving,” John finished.

  “What?” Ronika blurted, nearly dropping the water.

  “I have to see Molly, then maybe explain this whole thing to my mom,” he answered.

  “Oh.”

  “Here,” John said, pulling Mouse from his bag. “I brought the arm, too.” He handed her the damaged robot and fished into the pocket of his messenger bag. He found the missing arm and placed it on the table.

  “Will it live, doctor?” John joked. Ronika struggled a weak chuckle in reply.

  “Alright, I have to go,” he said, standing. “I’ll be back before the next jump.”

  “I’ll just work on this, then,” she said softly, putting the glass of water she’d brought him down on the table and lifting the small robotic arm into her hand. She turned and walked toward her workstation as John left through her front door without saying goodbye.

  Outside, John mounted his scooter and drove straight for Molly’s house.

  “Mr. Popielarski,” Kala began. His hologram was faint and shapeless in the wind, but his voice held clear. “I think that you--”

  John interrupted him. “What did I just say about spending time with people I care about? I don’t want to talk to you.”

  “I know you inaccurately think me a monster trying to eat you up,” Kala said, “but tell me what you would do in my situation. Do you think it’s my fault I ended up down here? No. It was bad luck. It was the end result of reprehensibly evil decisions made by men with power over me. It’s unfair, but out of my hands. Your situation is unfair and out of your hands, too. If you take my place down here, then that is simply an extension of the situation that has already happened to you. It’s not me who‘s doing it.”

  “You’re just trying to use me to escape,” John said. “You don’t want to help me. If I came down there, you could just give me the tool and let me leave.”

  “I could,” Kala admitted, “but why would I? Would you do that for me? Do you honestly think you’re the hero of some grand adventure and that each of the side characters in your story should all leap at the opportunity to sacrifice themselves for you so that you can carry on with whatever life some spoiled sixteen-year-old has made for himself in Florida? I have a life too, John. I have people I care about, and goals, and aspirations. Why do I have to throw all of those away for you? Because you’re a kid? Well, grow up.”

  John considered Kala’s point. He found himself uncomfortably empathetic.

  “Look. You don’t need to try and convince me to come down there, okay?” John said, his tone friendlier than before. “I understand what you’re saying, and I understand how much sense it makes for me to listen. I just don’t want to be reminded of it constantly.”

  “You’re right,” Kala admitted. “I’m sorry. I’m not very good ... ” He paused as a loud car passed them going in the opposite direction down the road. “--with people,” he finished.

  “Maybe a miracle will happen and it won’t be necessary,” John said.

  “Miracles are just improbabilities that occur at odd or convenient times,” he said. “There is nothing that can help you now, improbable or otherwise. I’ll stop bothering you, but the longer you search for a magic trick, the more risk you put me in. And yourself. There. That’s the last I’ll say of it.”

  John slowed, now travelling down the street where Molly lived. He watched the addresses printed on the mailboxes as he drove by and searched for the number that would identify her house.

  “Who is this Molly person, anyway?” Kala asked.

  “My girlfriend,” John said. “Why does everyone keep asking me that?”

  John found Molly’s house and turned into her long driveway. He cut the engine and walked his scooter the rest of the way up the pavement toward her sprawling one-story house.

  “Oh,” Kala said, “I thought Ronika was--”

  “Was what?” John asked sharply.

  “None of my business,” Kala muttered.

  “That’s exactly what she is,” John said. “Can you turn off the light show? I don’t want Molly to freak out.”

  “As you say,” Kala answered. His image dissipated.

  “Can you still hear everything?” John asked.

  “Yes, believe it or not, the microphone is located in the watch, not the hologram,” Kala answered.

  John ignored the jab. “Can you turn off your speakers, then? I’d like some privacy.”

  “I can turn off my speakers.”

  “Will you?”

  “Fine.”

  “How will I know?”

  “That I’m not listening?”

  “Yes.”

  “You won’t.”

  “Can I trust you to do it?”

  “Scout’s honor.”

  “There’s no way you were a Scout.”

  “Scientist’s honor then.
What do you want from me?”

  “I have no idea.”

  “If I do as you ask, then how will I know when to turn them back on?”

  “3:14, the next jump.”

  “Alright, then.”

  “So you promise? No speakers until 3:14?”

  There was no response.

  John walked up to Molly’s front door and looked at her white rectangular doorbell. He imagined Molly’s father opening the door instead of her, yelling, maybe even calling the police if he recognized his face from the news.

  Dismayed by the idea of it, John decided against the front, and circled her house to find a better way in. There was a side door that led out into the yard, but he knew that disturbing it carried similar dangers to the front.

  John continued to scout the house’s perimeter, now focused on the windows instead of the doors. Most were closed with white slat blinds or bland beige drapery. In John’s mind, Molly’s window would be dressed with large pink curtains. To his amazement, he was right.

  A large window, completely enclosed by wavy white and pink curtains, was in front of him on the wall. He considered knocking on it, or maybe throwing gravel at the glass like people did in the movies. After quick consideration, he decided against both. Molly was already furious with him, so being scared abruptly from sleep wasn’t going to help his chances at a calm and reasonable dialog. And anyway, he thought, throwing gravel at a first-story window would be a bit silly.

  John wanted a foolproof strategy before destroying what would probably be his only shot at saving a relationship with Molly. He bent down and sat in the grass under her window while he thought of one. He was still tired from last night’s hike through the woods and had gotten no sleep under the leaves as he’d originally hoped. Sleep had been impossible knowing the Advocates were hunting him nearby.

  Thank God they can’t find me here, he thought.

  A moment later, he realized that he had no idea why they couldn’t track him back to the Longboard warehouse. He opened his mouth to ask Kala before remembering that his speakers were turned off. He thought about Boone. He wondered if the man had survived the night. He hoped so.

  John awoke the next day to the swift kick of a rollerblade. Its front wheel connected with his badger bite. He winced and opened his eyes upward to his assailant. It was Molly. The girl was difficult to see beneath the harsh sunlight reflecting off her bright red helmet, but who else would it be? Molly lifted her rollerblade to kick him again.

  “No, ow, stop,” he said, scuffling onto his feet. “Didn’t you see the dried blood there where you kicked?”

  “What do you think I was aiming for?” she said. “And what are you doing beneath my window, Creepy?” She asked the question between two pursing, accusatory lips. John preferred the name “Johnny” to “Creepy,” but decided her pet name for him wasn’t top priority in this already difficult conversation.

  “I fell asleep,” he said, rubbing the back of his head where he’d been leaning against the brick.

  “You’ve been here all night?” she asked.

  “Yes,” John answered, thinking it might earn him some sympathy. He was wrong.

  “That’s disgusting. Tell me why I shouldn’t call the cops!” Molly demanded.

  “Tell me why you should,” John retorted.

  “Uh, murder much? It’s all over the news, John. That one guy from that business place on the island or whatever, and that thing with the bus or something,” she said.

  “Well, at least you’re well-informed.”

  Molly kicked him again.

  “Quit it,” John protested. “I’ve got a brock bite there.”

  “A what?”

  “Listen, Molly,” John said calmly. “I came over here because I wanted to explain everything to you.”

  “Okay, go,” she answered abruptly.

  John suddenly realized he had absolutely no plan to explain something so complex and unbelievable. He had neither Mouse nor Kala to admit into evidence, and he couldn’t have her try to take the watch from his wrist without risking her safety.

  “I, uh,” John started poorly. “All you need to know is that I didn’t kill anyone. I’m caught up in something, and it’s not my fault.”

  “Of course it isn’t,” Molly mocked. “And standing me up three days ago? Was that your fault?”

  “I ... what? You mean our date?” John asked, incredulous. Molly stood silent. “Is that all you can think about? I’m suspected of murder!” he yelled. “Don’t you care about me at all? Don’t you know me well enough after our three weeks of dating to know that there’s a reasonable explanation?”

  “I’ll tell you what I know,” she spat. “Everyone is looking at me funny now. No boy will ask me out. I had to join a roller derby league just to get friends who’ll talk to me without making fun of me because of you!” she exclaimed, loudly flicking her plastic knee guard as if to prove the tale.

  “Ask you out? It’s only been three days!”

  “Of hell!”

  “For you? You have no idea what I’ve been going through.”

  “You are so selfish!”

  John was taken aback. Every wound on his body hurt at once: his jaw where Adam had punched him, the rope burns on his hands, the badger bite in his leg, and the cuts he couldn’t clean beneath his watch. He closed his eyes, forgot it all, and rebooted. Slowly, he raised his eyelids and looked at Molly. She really was pretty.

  “You mean everything to me,” he said.

  “You mean nothing to me,” she replied. “Get your criminal self off my street and away from my house. Take your electro-bike thing with you. It’s in the middle of my driveway, and Daddy is leaving soon. As much as I’d love him to back over it, I don’t want it denting his bumper.”

  She turned and skated away from him before allowing a response. Soon, she was six houses away, and soon after that she was gone from his sight completely. John walked slowly to the curb in front of her house and sat down. He cradled his face in his hands.

  “I have no idea what I’m doing,” he said. His eyes swelled with water.

  “Who does, really?” Kala answered softly.

  “I knew you wouldn’t turn off your speakers,” John said, his words muffled by his hands. “I knew you were there the whole time.”

  “No you didn’t,” Kala replied.

  “You’re an asshole.”

  “I can be.” Kala’s hologram appeared on top of the watch as John lifted his head. “Honestly, though, I am sorry about Molly. But there’s no going backward, John. Not from here.”

  John turned the camera in his watch away from his face and rubbed a tear that had slipped from his eye to his nose.

  “I lost someone special once,” Kala told him sincerely. “A girl someone. She’s why I’m trying to get back to the surface. By the time I find her, I don’t know if she’ll even remember who I am. She might not even be alive. But I have to find her, John. I have to.”

  “I can’t believe you didn’t turn off your speakers.”

  “I’ve been alone with no one to talk with for over thirty years. I couldn’t bring myself to turn them off.”

  John laid back into the grass behind the curb and looked into the clear, blue sky expanding above him.

  “I’m not spoiled, you know,” he said.

  “What?”

  “Earlier, when we were driving here, you called me ‘some spoiled sixteen-year-old.’”

  “I just assumed--”

  “Why? Was it because I live on the beach?” John answered quietly. “It’s not what you think. My dad left my mom three days after getting her pregnant. Three days. He didn’t tell her goodbye, he didn’t explain anything. All he did was leave her a house key in a crumpled up piece of paper with an address written on it. My mom won’t sell the house because she thinks it’s the one nice thing we have, but she’s wrong. It’s the worst thing we have. My mom has to work as a waitress, barely making enough for us to live on, while everyone e
lse on that island has never worked a day in their life. We’ll never fit in there. We’ll never be accepted. All I’ve wanted my entire life is to get off that damn island, so yes, I understand. There’s nothing worse in life than being trapped.”

  “I’m sorry that I jumped to conclusions before,” Kala said.

  John sat up. “When you do get out of there, I hope you find that girl you’re looking for.”

  “Me, too, Mr. Popielarski. And don’t worry about all this,” Kala said reassuringly. “Maybe that miracle you want is just around the corner. Maybe there’s some other solution I fail to recognize. What do I know?”

  “More than I do,” John said.

 

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