The lone figure, alone on the dusky fall night, walked home, humming quietly. He was clad in blue jeans and a varsity team jersey, flipping through his phone. He grinned at the incoming text message.
Hey nerd, you on your way home yet?
He grinned and shook his head.
I took a little longer than expected on the AP exam…don't judge me.
Haha, you were probably checking all of your answers…ten times…
Drew smiled at his older sister. Sarah was five years his senior, and was in college, though studying was never on her mind. She flitted around the US, auditioning fro various theatre companies. Apparently none of the ones in Chicago were good enough for her.
The Kennedy's (no, not those Kennedy's) were Chicago natives, and Drew, at sixteen, wasn't planning to leave anytime soon. He loved this city. His family's apartment being a block from his high school was a bonus, and hey, who didn't love big cities? He loved the constant bustling of the cars on his walks home, he loved how crowded it was during the day. Drew was a natural city boy.
As he began typing his answer, passing back various shops and such before reaching the stretch of road to the apartment building, he heard a loud scream. He froze in spot as a man grabbed a woman coming out of a store and held a gun to her head.
"Why are you here? You told me you were at home!" He said in a husky voice through gritted teeth.
Drew was frozen. He couldn't move. He knew he needed to though. No one else was on the street that night, and all of the stores were empty. A sinking feeling appeared in his stomach…this was bad.
"I…I'm sorry…" the pretty blonde woman cried, trying to move away from the gun.
"Sorry won't cut it! Are you cheating on me?" He screamed at her.
Drew closed his eyes as the woman pleaded with the man. He tried to make himself invisible but it wasn't exactly working. Losing himself in thought, he was startled when there was a-
The gunshot was fired, and the man fled, running straight into Drew, who was standing there like he had no idea what to do. Which is pretty accurate, because he didn't. People who had been awaken were beginning to make their way outside, calling the police.
"You…" the man sputtered, then regained his composure. "If you tell anyone about me killing her, then I will kill you!" Drew's eyes widened, and the man ran. Someone had called the CPD and the next hour- it could have minutes, days, Drew wasn't sure- consisted of flashing lights and blurred faces as he tried to process what he just saw. A policeman questioned him, and Drew answered as honestly as he could. Sarah would be worried sick.
"Get in the car, young man," a policeman said gently. Drew did.
"What do you mean, he's not guilty?" Drew's father roared, looking at the police officer (and family friend), Officer Malcolm Tribeca, who was sitting in their kitchen, drinking coffee.
"He pleaded insanity," Malcolm explained, his mustache quivering as he took a sip. Mr. Kennedy, a loud, boisterous man that was balding and had a crooked smile, was seething.
"This guy murders his wife, and three other women, threatens to kill my son, and gets off without a sentence?" He said through gritted teeth.
Mrs. Kennedy, a much calmer individual, was less angry and more sad. "What does this mean for Drew?" She asked Malcolm.
He looked to the teenager in question and sighed. "Well, Harold Guthrie, the man who threatened Drew, will be staying in a local mental institution until next August, which he will then be moved to an out-of-state place. That's a whole ten months. Does Drew feel comfortable with that?"
"Uh…no," Drew deadpanned.
"This is stupid," Mr. Kennedy replied, "Drew doesn't deserve to be terrified for his whole junior year!"
"I can handle myself!" Drew countered, sitting a little straighter in his chair. He wasn't weak. He could handle this.
"Yes, well, the CPD doesn't think so," Malcolm said. "We, as a unit, feel it best to arrange, for lack of a better word, an alternative."
"Alternative?" Mrs. Kennedy asked, then looked to Sarah, who had been sulking the whole time. Her brown hair was in a side braid and her face was sporting a pissed-off expression. It wasn't her best look. Drew brushed his brown hair out of his eyes to look at Malcolm curiously.
"Think of it as a diluted version of WPP," Malcolm stated.
"My brother's going to be in Witness Protection?" Sarah exclaimed suddenly, her blue eyes alight. "Awesome!"
"No," Malcolm sighed, clearly frustrated with the whole situation. "He won't change his name or live in a different country or anything. If you are interested I can have an agent contact you."
"I think it'd be best," Mr. Kennedy said, before meeting eyes with Drew, who was panicking.
"What about football?" He asked. "And my junior prom with all my friends…"
"Your life is on the line!" Mr. Kennedy countered. "You need to be safe!"
"I can be safe here!" Drew argued. He really didn't want to do this.
"We'll talk to the agent," Mrs. Kennedy told Malcolm, who smiled at her.
"Alright, I'll have him call you," he winked. "I have contacts all over the country. Being head of the CPD has that advantage, you know!" They bid goodbyes to Drew's dad's longtime friend and closed the door behind him.
"Drew, this is for the best," Sarah said gently.
Drew glared. "No, it's not. It's not for the best. I want to stay here."
"You need to!" Mrs. Kennedy cried out, usually cool and collected. Drew's eyebrows raised. "I want you safe, Drew. You won't be safe until that man gets out of state. What if he breaks out? Then you'd be dead! He may have colleagues out to get you! Think logically here, Drew."
Drew took a deep breath. "Okay." He didn't like this. He didn't like it one bit.
At age five, Drew determined that he was going to be an astronaut. He knew NASA wouldn't let kids up into space, but when he was like fifteen years old he'd be an adult so he could do whatever he wanted. He was going to eat space food and stuff! And float because people float in space! He went to the space museum one time and he had so much fun…that's why he wanted to be an astronaut.
When he was seven, his mind had changed. Astronauts were lame. He wanted to be a zookeeper. He'd have all the animals he wanted and his mom couldn't ground him for bringing a lizard home or trying to touch the pigeons in the park. It was a great idea.
At age thirteen, he was convinced he was going to get drafted for the NFL. He was great at football, everyone said so, so it was only a matter of time, right? He was popular, girls liked him…
But at age sixteen, he had absolutely no idea. Which was bad, because he had college applications coming up soon and he needed to know what he was going to do. He wasn't sure. Was anyone ever really sure?
He woke up a week later on a Saturday and he wanted to close his eyes again. He thick brown hair was messy and wasn't falling right. His dad said he had "pretty boy hair". Drew liked his hair. He slipped on a gray tee shirt and walked downstairs. He was met with a man in a suit sitting on their couch, talking with his father.
"Son," Mr. Kennedy began, "This is Agent Golding. He has come to explain to us what exactly will be going on."
Drew glared and sat on the chair facing opposite the couch. "Hello, Agent Golding," he said stiffly, muscles flexing unconsciously.
The agent seemed friendly, however, and smiled, saying, "Hey Drew! I was just telling your dad that Officer Tribeca contacted me earlier this week with your case and I talked to my boss. I'm in charge of your placement. I have a friend who lives in Alabama who works in our Atlanta branch of the FBI, a state over. He said he'd be glad to take you in. While he is an FBI agent, he is also a pastor of a church in his town. He said he and his wife and daughter would be glad to have you."
Drew gaped. Alabama? He was being escorted to hick town? He sighed and looked to his dad, who was smiling approvingly. Drew conceded, and instead of declining said, "…A pastor?"
"Yes, he is a very nice man," Agent Golding said. "I think you'll be very happy there. You can go to the high school his daughter goes to. You can try out for the football team, and they have advanced placement classes, so the transition won't be too terribly difficult. The town is quite charming."
"There's a football team?" Drew's ears almost perked when he mentioned that. If there's a football team, it may not be too horrible. He could show up those farm boys in football. He was kind of looking forward to it now, actually…
"What do you say, Drew?" His father looked at him expectantly.
Drew Kennedy nodded.
"I've never been on a plane before," a cute old lady said, who was sitting beside Drew on his solo flight to Alabama.
"Me neither," he told her.
She smiled at him and he was lost in thought. He was only brought out of his head by the plane landing. He grabbed his carry-on, and exited the plane. The Birmingham airport was crowded and difficult to find his way around. He knew that the agent would be holding a sign with his name in the airport, so after baggage claim, he looked for the sign.
A medium-height man with a kind-looking face and with khakis and a button-up on was holding a white piece of paper with DREW written on it in marker. Drew dragged his suitcase over to the man.
"Drew?" He asked in a booming voice, which was surprising compared to his appearance.
Drew nodded. "Yes," he said.
"I'm Agent King, though you can call me Jason. Most of the people in town call me Pastor Jason, but you can stick with Jason," he winked. He had slightly balding blonde hair, and striking blue eyes. He was younger than Drew had suspected.
"My wife, Christy, is in the car. She's keeping it cool."
And as soon as Drew stepped outside, he could see why. Even for October, the heat was unlike anything he had ever experienced. He felt so dumb in his jacket. He took it off and was uncomfortable in his long-sleeved tee shirt. Jason laughed slightly at the expression on his face.
"This is warm day for us in October," he grinned. "Usually, we're in the early seventies by now…"
Seventies? Drew felt even dumber for packing heavy winter things. It appeared that he wouldn't be needed them. They reached Jason's pick-up truck, where a petite, pale lady was sitting elegantly in the passenger side. Jason hopped in, and Drew climbed into the backseat, putting his stuff in the seat beside him, unsure what to do.
"Hello, Drew, my name is Christy," the woman said. Her kind brown eyes almost smiled at him, and her brown hair was cut into a stylish bob. She was dressed modestly.
"I'm Drew Kennedy," he stated. Though he cringed inside, because of course she knew that.
"My daughter Emma is at home," Jason explained, though Drew never asked. "She's probably outside, doing something to get herself into trouble," he chuckled. Christy turned on the radio, and Drew was ready to listen to some music. Although, the station she turned it to was a Christian radio station. Drew groaned. He wanted his music.
He had to leave his phone at home, so all of his music on his iPhone was not available to him. He thought he might die.
The talking died down as Jason drove a hour to get to his town. Oxford, Alabama was a town about 60 miles from Birmingham. When they reached the town Drew looked out the window, hoping to see something interesting. The first thing he saw upon entering was a shopping center. It had your basic stores in it. Then, there was the high school, a little ways off and across the road. School wasn't in session, seeing as it was fall break for them, so it looked sad and empty. It wasn't very big, but it was built beautifully, with a football stadium behind it.
There were various restaurants and such, and then they came to a drive-in movie theatre.
"That's where all of the kids hang out," Jason said. "We don't allow Emma to go."
Drew raised his eyebrows. Was he going to be allowed to do anything? They drove longer till they reached a small, white church. Jason pulled into the parking lot, and parked. "Sorry, I have some church business. You can come in, sit down for a bit. Then we'll be on our way home."
Home. Drew rolled the word around in his head as he walked into the quaint old church. Inside, there were two sections of pews with a center aisle between them. A stage and a choir loft were present. A piano and an acoustic guitar were onstage. The church didn't seem to be very rich. They didn't have any microphones or anything. Drew went to church one time with his friend Matt, and it was really high tech. It was fun.
This church didn't look very fun.
He sat down on one of the pews as Jason went through a door, followed by Christy.
"Who're you?" A twangy voice called out.
Drew looked around, and then he saw where it had come from. A girl with dark blonde hair, messily braided (kind of like Sarah did her hair sometimes) was sitting in the balcony, peering down at him curiously. She was wearing faded jeans and a yellow tank top. Freckles dusted her cheeks below wide green eyes.
"Drew," he said.
The natural-looking girl made a face of recognition, "Oh, so you're Drew. Dad must have church business. I'm Emma." She ran and hopped off of the balcony, and Drew's breath caught as she landed on her feet, not harmed at all. "Emma King."
She looked to be the same age as Drew, though he wasn't good at determining stuff like that. She stuck out her hand for him to shake, and he did.
"Nice to meet you," he said. "I thought you were at home."
"Me too…" Emma said, "But then I began walking around the fields and ended up here. I guess I wanted to play the piano and didn't know it yet. Do you play anything?" She asked curiously.
Boy, this girl was weird. Drew shook his head. "Not really."
"Oh," she said, climbing onto the stage. She was wearing her jeans tucked into her cowboy boots. Emma sat on the piano bench and popped her fingers, before bursting into a soothing, jazzy tune. "I do. I sing a little too, though not as well."
Jason walked through the door, apparently finished. "Emma?" He asked, confused. "What are you doing here?"
"I wanted to play piano," she explained.
"You can't walk off like that," Jason scolded. "Come on, get in the truck, we're going home."
Drew and Emma were squished in the backseat together, but her cheerful chatter made it easier to bear. Drew kind of liked her. He would never be caught dead hanging around her back home, but in this sleepy little town, she could be a good friend.
They reached the King's home after traveling down a long dirt road to a beautiful farm, where a stately white house with green shutters sat. It was something out of a movie; it had two stories, a wrap-around porch, and giant oak trees surrounding it. It pure Southern charm.
Emma hopped out of the backseat of the truck, grabbing Drew's carry-on. "Follow me and I'll show you your room," she said quickly, running into the house, braids bouncing behind her. Drew grabbed his suitcase and dragged it across the yard to the front door.
If the outside of the house was pretty, the inside looked like it was from a magazine. He felt like he'd walked into Southern Living. Everything was clean and pretty and classic. He heard thundering going on upstairs, so he quickly walked up them to catch up with Emma. The stairs in front of the front door led to a hallway, where Emma was waiting beside a door.
"Took you long enough!" She joked, before flashing a pearly white smile and opening the door to the room. It was painted pale yellow, and it had a quilt instead of a bedspread making up the wooden queen size bed. There was a closet and a dresser with a mirror, and a desk looking out of the bay window. It was a fantastic view. Alabama was a beautiful place, especially with the leaves changing colors. His breath was taken away. He flipped his brown hair out of his eyes and saw Emma staring at him expectantly.
"Well…?" She trailed off.
"It's awesome," Drew told her.
"Great!" She said cheerily. "My room is down the hall. You aren't allowed in there, but you can knock if you need me!" She walked out of his room, her boots clacking on the wooden floor. Drew watched her as she walked away.
Maybe Alabama wasn't so bad after all.