There was a blue sedan waiting at the end of the road. Ignoring the dents and scratches littering the rusty doors, I climbed into the passenger side and tossed my duffel into the back. Ezekiel took the driver's seat, then gunned the engine and sped into the crowded street.
"Where are we going?" I asked, wringing my hands nervously as he zig-zagged back and forth between the two lanes.
"I have a friend on the outskirts who said he'd let us crash at his place for a few days," Ezekiel answered. I glanced sideways, surprised at his calm demeanor.
"You trust him?" I queried in a skeptical tone.
"More than I trust you," was the sharp response. I rolled my eyes, turning my attention back to the street outside of the windshield. "You see," Ezekiel continued in a voice that was clearly meant to gouge into my conscious. "Us criminals stick together. We look out for each other."
"I look out for my friends," I retorted, instantly feeling ashamed for allowing myself to be pulled into such a childish argument.
"Yeah, well," he shot back. "If one of your friends broke the law, would you turn them in?" I gulped, looking down at the dirty floor of the sedan. "Of course you would," Ezekiel went on in a dry tone. "Because you have to stand up for what's right, no matter what. Unless the life at stake is yours." I turned in time to see him shake his head, a frown etched across his face. "You people act so brave, but you're really just a bunch of cowards."
"Hey!" I shouted, scowling angrily. "I saved your life!"
"Because of some stupid number on my wrist!" he replied haughtily, throwing a harsh glare in my direction. "That doesn't make you a hero, okay? If anything, it makes you selfish."
"Selfish?" I sputtered, my eyes wide in rage. "I could have just ran away and let them come for you. But I didn't."
"And why is that?" asked Ezekiel, clearly struggling to keep his eyes on the road ahead of him as his voice grew louder. "I can look after myself. You're just determined to hold on to your dumb ideas and fairy tales."
"Look," I growled in a furious tone. "I don't care what you think of me, but I -"
"Wow," he interrupted. "That's the first sensible thing you've said."
"I'm just trying to survive here," I riposted.
"And what do you think the rest of us are trying to do?" was Ezekiel's response, his dark eyes narrow. A moment of silence passed as I pondered his question.
"If you really think I'm that much of a hassle," I muttered, drumming my fingers along the edge of my jeans. "Then why are you even helping me?" There was a snort from the driver's seat.
"Because some of us are worried about more than just saving our own skin," he said, then twisted his head to give me a pointed glance. "And believe me, it has nothing to do with the numbers." I nodded.
"Of course," I agreed, a sudden rush of heat spreading across my face. I looked away, and we lapsed into silence.
Eventually the towering skyscrapers and apartment complexes gave way to smaller buildings, although many of them were in a state of dilapidation and dysfunction even worse than Ezekiel's neighborhood. Sleek, shining walls turned to crumbling stone, and glimmering windows into shattered panes. The road was brimming with potholes and homeless beggars. I swallowed hard as we drove past a sea of ragtags, gathered in a melancholy throng in front of a rundown soup kitchen that looked as if it would bust at the seams at any moment.
At last, as the sun was waving its last farewells over the distant horizon, we turned onto a narrow, dimly-lit street. Lined by ramshackle houses and withering trees, the road was far from impressive. Ezekiel drove on to the last house on the left, then pulled into the driveway. The door to the garage creaked open as we approached, and Ezekiel managed to coax the sedan inside before screeching to a halt. The door closed behind us, and I couldn't help but gulp as the dull thud resounded throughout the small garage.
Grabbing the duffel from the backseat, I hopped outside, inspecting the garage carefully. There was a gold SUV parked next to Ezekiel's sedan, and a shelf along the far wall with a few sparse tools. A folded ping-pong table lay next to the shelf, but other than that, there didn't appear to be much to see.
As Ezekiel popped open the trunk, grabbing his own large duffel bag, the door to the garage opened. I pivoted around just as a short, squat young man with a round face, the beginnings of a beard, and scruffy brown hair bounded down the steps into the room.
"Zeke, you sneaky thief!" the man exclaimed, grinning wildly as he threw his arms around Ezekiel in a warm embrace. Ezekiel cracked a smile, although there was still a visible shadow on his face as he withdrew from the man's arms and faced him.
"Thanks for letting us stay here, Bo," he murmured, dipping his head gratefully.
"Yeah, no problem," said the man, turning his attention towards me and rubbing his hands together eagerly. "Now, explain to me how you managed to get a girl like this?"
"Oh," I exclaimed. "We're not -"
"She's not -" Ezekiel interrupted.
"It's nothing like that," I concluded hastily. Bo raised a skeptical eyebrow as he glanced between the two of us.
"If you say so," he said, shrugging nonchalantly. "But I do want to know what in the world's going on here. Come on in."
Exchanging an embarrassed glance with Ezekiel, I shuffled inside after Bo. I felt small, dwarfed by these two men, neither of whom I even really knew. It occurred to me how bizarre my situation truly was, and I felt the prick of the gun sticking into the back of my jeans. If nothing else, the weapon gave me a slice of comfort and assurance.
The door from the garage led into a tight hallway, off of which were a laundry room and a tiny closet of sorts. From there, we were led into a small kitchen, featuring a breakfast area that led into a messy living room, where a television set was blaring the Yankees game. Bo quickly rushed to find the remote and muted the volume, then ushered for us to take a seat on the sofa whilst he took the faded leather recliner. I took one side of the couch, and Ezekiel sat a healthy distance apart.
"There's not really much to tell," Ezekiel began, and I met his brown eyes briefly. I knew he was planning on doing the talking; something I was more than content to let him do. "The police are after us," he said, folding his hands together neatly as he leaned forward. "I promise you, we didn't do anything bad."
"Did your whole Robin Hood act finally fall apart?" Bo asked, his lips quirking upward in a smirk. Ezekiel sighed, running a hand through his black hair.
"You could say that," he relented.
"Hmm," said Bo, stroking his scruff-covered chin with thick fingers as he studied the both of us. "Well, you're more than welcome to crash here for as long as you need."
"Thank you," I said gratefully. "And of course we'll leave if there's any chance of putting you in danger." Bo chuckled, waving his hand dismissively.
"I've had my share of run-ins with the cops," he assured us. "And Zeke wouldn't have come here if he wasn't sure it would be safe." The man suddenly clapped his hands together, and I fidgeted slightly on the couch. "Now let's get you two settled in the guest bedroom."
I chewed nervously on my lower lip as both Ezekiel and I stood, tentatively following Bo into another hallway that branched off of the living room, and led us down to a small, but comfortable room. It held a chest of drawers, a queen-sized bed, with a nightstand on either side, and then a bathroom off of the right wall. Bo waved his arms grandly at the bed.
"More than enough room for two," he said. Ezekiel rubbed his temple in between two fingers.
"Bo, we're not -"
"I know, I know," Bo interjected with a mischievous grin. "Just stating a fact, in case you change your mind."
On that unpleasant note, Bo departed from the room, leaving us standing in an awkward silence as we surveyed the room.
"I'll take the floor," Ezekiel said flatly, hoisting his bag and heading for the bathroom.
"W-what are you doing?" I stammered, my eyes widening. Ezekiel glanced over his shoulder, an exasperated expression painted across his face.
"Changing my clothes, if you have to know," he said tartly.
"Oh," I responded. "Right."
"Glad we cleared that up," Ezekiel muttered, shaking his head as he stormed into the bathroom and shut the door behind him with a firm slam.
With the room cleared, I took the opportunity to quickly change from my jeans and blouse to a pair of light sweatpants, and a comfortable t-shirt. Stuffing the old clothes into my bag, I glanced at the gun I had removed from my jeans and placed on the bed. It glared up at me tauntingly. My gaze floated towards the bathroom door, and I couldn't help but think of Ezekiel's pistol. My stomach twisted into a knot.
What in the world had I gotten myself into? Running from the cops with a criminal? Both of us clearly distrustful of the other? This was a disaster waiting to happen. And yet a thrill seemed to rush through me as I shoved the pistol underneath the pillow and crawled underneath the sheets.
Ezekiel emerged from the bathroom a moment later, attired in checkered sweatpants and a v-neck shirt that complimented his lean frame. I wasn't, however, blind to the outline of the pistol sticking out of the back of his sweatpants. I struggled to keep my breathing steady as he grabbed a few blankets and a pillow from the foot of the bed, then laid himself out on the floor. I flicked off the lamp on the nightstand, and the room was thrown into darkness.
And then silence.
I bit my lip, shifting uncomfortably underneath the sheets. The only noise was the crickets chirping outside the window. It was a bit maddening, thinking of the man lying just a few feet away.
"Ezekiel?" I said quietly after several minutes. No reply at first, then a hefty sigh.
"What?" a weary voice asked. I hesitated, suddenly realizing I hadn't really thought of anything to say.
"Thanks," I replied at last. "For this." Another pause.
"Yeah," Ezekiel answered in a surprisingly soft tone. "Don't mention it." A brief stretch of silence followed, then he went on. "By the way," he said, and I found myself holding my breath. "You can call me Zeke."
"Okay," I said with a smirk. "But you have to stop calling me 'Angel'."
"I'll think about it," was the response.
"G'night Zeke," I murmured, testing the name. It had a nice ring to it.
As I rolled over in bed, the weariness finally starting to overwhelm me, the briefest hint of a smile crossed my lips.