Chapter 2: Sunshine State
:PLANT CITY, FLORIDA, USA:
Cory sits on the floor of the forest, knees tucked up to his chin, playing the waiting game; ready to crawl over to the tent or to bolt if anyone else entered the scene.
He was impressed with himself – his diagnosis of the world-hopping side effect was dead on. Aubna and Jason came over in an anesthesia-like state, completely unaware of their surroundings. Cory ushered them into the waiting tent, zipped it up, and sat in wait for their stupor to lift.
It felt good to be home, but something still felt wrong. The barrier that had been erected between himself and the real world while he was away was miles high and thick. Home, home world and town, but he was forced to hide in the shadows, locked out of his house and his old life. Of course, it wasn't being enforced by anyone. Cory is free to leave and walk through his front door any time he'd like, but it would be reckless to try.
Much like Cory had in the speeding van, Aubna wakes up quite suddenly. Blinks and rubs her eyes. She stares up at the roof of the tent, consciousness and energy increasing exponentially with every second awake and alert.
Like waking up on an awaiting morning. A holiday, an exciting day, something thrilling that you're relieved is finally here, the night is over. She did it. She is awake on the other side.
Jason still appears asleep. Aubna crawls on her hands and knees to the zipped opening of the tent. Cory hears the rustling and scrambles around to meet her.
"It's me," she whispers.
"Who's me? Are you really awake? What's your name?" he quizzes.
"Aubna Brummet. I'm fine, I'm not braindead. Can I come out?"
"If you're ready."
Very ready. Aubna slithers out of the tent and into the small forest clearing, into the late afternoon sun. She shields the light with her hand and squints skyward.
"Welcome to the Sunshine State."
Aubna slowly rises to her feet, taking in the magnitude of the event. She looks over at Cory and lowers her hand. "What's that mean?"
"It's a nickname, it's usually hot and bright down here."
While heading in his direction, Aubna spins around in a slow circle, taking in the sights of the unfamiliar trees around her. "And…and where are we, Cory?"
"Just outside of town, my house is right through the trees. Let's go take a look."
Jason emerges from the tent's opening, jaw planted on the ground. "Impossible!"
"Apparently not," Aubna informs him.
"It doesn't look all that different here from the island. You swear you didn't prank us?"
Cory nods over his head. "Come on. I'll show you."
He leads them through the Floridian jungle, out to the break in the trees at the end of Erika's fence. I hope I'm a good tour guide, a good ambassador. I'm representing everyone I know.
They kneel behind the brush's last line of defense, looking out at the development's street scene. "Okay, here's the big plan, or my idea at least. It looks like the third piece is far away, and you can't just walk everywhere around here. It's different. If this thing's a thousand miles away, that's no good. Especially if I'm with you. I've been missing a long time, people are probably looking for me."
He points at the second house down on the street ahead of them. "That's my house, two down on the left. And the car in the driveway…is my brother's." A pale blue sedan, old and on its way out in life. "Neither of my parents are home, they both work."
A car rolls by on the street in front of them, making the turn. "Watch it!" Jason nudges Cory to duck back down.
"Hey, that was Natalie's car. Anyway, so, no one's home. Kevin's probably out in the truck, he's selling the car and buying something else used. We need a car; we'll take that one." He glances between the others. "One of you guys has to sneak into the house and swipe his keys and his wallet, and then later tonight, we'll take it, and be far away enough in the morning that the cops where we are won't be looking for it."
"Well you're a moral one," Aubna groans.
"What do you want me to do, go ask my dad for a ride? My brother's a dirt bag, I don't care."
"Why can't you go?" Jason presses.
"Cause I can't just go out in broad daylight. If I get seen, or if someone comes home and walk in, it's all over and I stay here. If one of you two gets caught in the house, you're just, you know, some crazy kid thief."
"Yeah…yeah, that makes sense. You got a key?"
Cory stares down the target. "No, the garage has to be open. Or the back door." He stops talking, and holds up both hands to silence them, straining to listen in to something faint. Somewhere in the distance, a car a bad muffler is rumbling around. "Oh, it's Kevin, he's coming in the truck!"
"And Kevin's your brother?" Aubna clarifies.
"Yes!" Cory shouts, acting and speaking quickly. When pressed into action, he's very efficient. "Aubna, run down to the end of the street and distract him, do whatever it takes, just hold him up a minute!"
"Now! Go! Jason, go into the house, upstairs, ah, room on the left around the corner is his, the stuff's in an ashtray on his nightstand." Jason nods, absorbing information. "And go into my room, and get the black trash bag from under my bed! Black bag!"
Aubna and Jason clear out of the area, branching off their own ways. Jason hustles into the Danby's garage and disappears. The junky truck chugs around the far corner of the development, entering the battleground, and Aubna speeds up to catch it, jogging down the center of the street.
She's never been a good actress or good at improvisation when it comes to speaking. She racks her brain for possible distractions that don't involve shedding clothes – what does she know? Aubna knows literally nothing about the area, she's a stranger to the entire world.
C'mon, stupid. Think.
The truck nears, ready to swerve around her.
"Hey!" she stops, waving her arms at Kevin in the driver seat, pointing for him to stop.
As lost as Cory was in the world for his own reasons, his older brother Kevin had his own problems that were keeping him separated from society. A promising young man whose life had been derailed, sending him on a downward spiral that had left him a freeloader in his early twenties, living at home, scraping together cash to fix up cars and trucks.
He isn't a splitting image of Cory; lankier, taller, rougher. Cruising down the street with a blank stare, indifferent to the world around him. Dirty shirt and a trucker hat.
Kevin drifts the car to the side and rolls up to the curb, just behind Aubna. "Hey!" she shouts.
He rolls down a window. "What?"
"Ah…do you know where uh, town hall is?" Town hall? She hoped they existed here.
Kevin doesn't appear interesting in being a help, but tries to oblige. Bored, with nothing better to do. "Oh yeah uh…go out around that way, and…turn on the road and uh…first big light hang a left, and uh…"
Cory watches the scene play out on the street from back at the woods edge. Eyes darting back and forth between the scene down the street and of his house. "Come on," he mumbles. "Get out of there."
Looking back down the street, Kevin has started to drive away, with Aubna fruitlessly trying to get his attention back again. She gives up, and runs across to the other side of the road, waving both arms in Cory's direction. Kevin's too close for an escape out the front now. Two houses down. One away. Pulling into the driveway, stopping in front of the garage.
"Oh, damn." Kevin hops out of the truck and trudges up towards the house. "Get out, Jason…look out…"
With Kevin inside, Aubna sprints back towards the forest, winded.
"Did it work?"
"I don't know, Jason's still in there! This is not good!"
"No," Cory insists. "Just stay here. If he makes it, he makes it. He'll make it."