M. D. Grayson

Isabel's Run


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

4:45 p.m.

Isabel Delgado was in trouble. She sneaked a glance out of the corner of her eye as the uniformed security guard approached. She was seated on an iron bench outside the Terraces food court, pretending to be absorbed in a directory brochure of the Alderwood Mall in Lynnwood, Washington. The guard drew closer. Not again, Isabel thought. She fought to remain calm. She’d already been run off earlier in the day by a different guard when she’d been unable to come up with a quick answer as to why she was hanging around in the same area all morning long. That guard threatened to call the police and have her arrested for loitering if he saw her again. Isabel had left in a hurry. She’d completely circled the mall, figuring that the guard wouldn’t wait that long to catch her again. But in the end she had nowhere to go, so now, three hours later, she was back, and another guard was approaching.

Isabel had no desire to push her luck, but she was out of ideas, and she was out of prospects. She’d tried to lay low since the earlier episode while she waited for something to happen, and she’d been pretty successful-no one had even talked to her except for a cute girl with red hair a couple of hours ago who’d said that she, too, was running. But then the girl suddenly left ten minutes later, and Isabel was alone again. Since then: nobody. Which was fine with her. She knew she needed to do something-but she didn’t want to make a mistake. Above all, she didn’t want to be sent back home-couldn’t be sent back home. She’d decided that if she were arrested, she’d lie about who she was so that they couldn’t send her back. Meanwhile, she waited-waited for something to happen.

She used her peripheral vision and concentrated on the new guard. He was younger. If he stopped, maybe he’d be nicer. From twenty-five feet away, she could hear his footsteps as he approached, keys jangling quietly at his side. He whistled softly to himself, the same quiet, absent-minded way her father used to whistle when he came up the walkway to the house at the end of the day. Suddenly, the guard’s radio crackled and came to life, causing him to stop before he reached her. Isabel was startled, but she caught herself-she didn’t look up.

The guard listened and then keyed his microphone. “Unit Two, roger,” he said. “I’ll be there in five.” At least his voice sounded kind.

He resumed his approach. Isabel suppressed a shudder as the man paused when he reached her. She felt him looking at her. Steady, now. She looked up. The guard was tall and nice looking. Isabel thought he had kind eyes.

The guard looked at her for a moment. Finally, he smiled. “Hey there. What’s going on?”

Isabel fought back the urge to panic. She was a quick learner and, after the last encounter, she’d prepared a story. “I’m waiting for my mom.” She trembled inside but she worked hard to keep her voice even as she used the words she’d rehearsed in her mind. “She’s picking me up.”

“That right?” The guard considered this. “If she’s picking you up, how come you’re not waiting down at the benches by the curb?” He paused and looked at her. “Say,” he added. “Aren’t you the girl who we ran off earlier this morning?”

Isabel tensed up and started to panic. She hadn’t expected that particular follow-up question, and she was unprepared. She felt a quick surge of adrenaline. All she could manage for an answer was a quick shake of her head.

The guard studied her for a second-an eternity for Isabel. He pursed his lips, saying nothing, as if weighing whether or not to buy her story. Then, apparently coming to a decision, he reached for his radio. Just as he was about to key his microphone, though, he was interrupted.

“There you are!” Isabel jumped. She turned and saw an attractive young woman in her early twenties walking up the sidewalk, talking to her. Isabel had no idea who she was.

“I got mixed up,” the woman said, smiling brightly as she reached the two. “I thought we were supposed to meet at the front of the mall.” She turned to the guard, who’d frozen for a moment. “It’s okay, officer. She’s with me.” She turned back to Isabel, 'C'mon, sweetie. Let’s go inside and grab a drink before we take off.”

Isabel looked at the woman for a moment. She was dressed in a loose, shimmering green knit sweater over a white blouse. She wore tight black slacks and black shoes with heels so tall that Isabel wondered how she could stand up. Her dark brown hair cascaded over her shoulders in loose curls. Even her perfume smelled wonderful. She was one of the most beautiful women Isabel had ever seen. The woman made a small, urgent gesture with her head as if to say “C’mon.”

Isabel felt the guard staring at her, so she made up her mind quickly. “Sure,” she said, standing. “Let’s go.”

The woman smiled and took Isabel’s arm. Together, they left the guard standing on the sidewalk, watching them. They turned and walked through the double doors into the food court. Once inside, the woman said, “C’mon. Let’s sit over here for a minute and talk.” She led Isabel to a nearby table.

The food court at the mall is a large open area of dining tables surrounded by restaurants. There were few shoppers there-the lunchtime crowd had left, and the evening shoppers had yet to arrive. The smells of the food from the different shops instantly reminded Isabel that she was hungry.

“Whew, that was a close one, huh?” the woman said as she scanned the area around their table. She turned back to face Isabel. “I’m Crystal. What’s your name?”

“Isabel.” To say that Isabel was confused would be a big understatement.

Crystal looked around again and then back at Isabel. “I couldn’t help but overhear you talking to the guard, Isabel. It sounded like you might need rescuing. Are you really waiting for your mom?”

Isabel shuttered. “Yes,” she lied. She didn’t know this woman. “She’s coming to pick me up.”

Crystal smiled. “Good.” She studied Isabel intently for several seconds. “Have you been waiting long?”

Isabel couldn’t very well tell Crystal the real story-that she’d spent last night under the cedar tree by the trash bins, remaining out of sight of the roving security guards. Yet, despite her need to be guarded, she thought there was something about this woman that offered an invitation-a glimmer of hope. Something in her eyes and her tone of voice made Isabel think that Crystal might be someone who could help her. She certainly didn’t want to relive the frightening experience of spending the night under the cedar tree again.

Isabel nodded. “A little while.”

Crystal nodded slowly. “Can I buy you a Coke or something? While you wait?”

Isabel figured in the worst case, at least she’d be safe from the security guards for a while. “Okay,” she said. Crystal bought them a couple of drinks from one of the vendors and returned to their table.

The two chatted about nothing in particular-food choices, the way this or that person was dressed, movies. After a few minutes had passed, though, Crystal’s tone suddenly changed, and she became serious. “Can I ask you a real question, Isabel?” she said.


Crystal continued to study her. “You’re not really waiting for your mom, are you.”

Isabel tensed up. Crystal had phrased it in the form of a statement, not a question. “Yes, I am,” she protested. “Why do you say that?”

Crystal shrugged. Her eyes bored into Isabel. “Because we’ve been sitting here for oh-twenty minutes or so, and you haven’t looked back at the door even once the whole time. You forgot your story.”

Oh, hell. Isabel was mortified to realize that Crystal was right. She’d been so relieved to have someone to talk to that she’d completely forgotten she’d said she was waiting to be picked up. She tensed up and then started to push away from the table.

“It’s alright,” Crystal said, reaching across and putting her hand on Isabel’s arm. “No need to leave. Don’t

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