Chapter Three

Yalena took advantage of the daylight and began her journey the moment she awoke. Troy leaving while she slept was nothing new, hence why she had only ever seen him as a hobby. He could never be anything more than that. It was the same with Declan and Maria, the exception being that Declan was the longest running relationship of her life. But it wasn’t love. Not in the romantic sense, anyway. 
Sex to Yalena was the one power that she sought pleasure in. She enjoyed it, so she used it in a way that gave her the advantage. With her friends, it was about the closeness, the chemicals it unleashed, as well as the fun. It wasn’t to be kept to one gender specifically. 
Just as one shares a joke to lighten the mood or even a bottle of wine, sex could be far more powerful to do the same, provided one didn’t allow their emotions to take hold. 
Yalena had built up a wall long ago. It had made dealing with Big’s influence that much easier. Him raping her the day before was about power. But she had showed him her own power as she relished in his death. He had been feasted upon by those who he had once claimed to possess. Sure, it meant that he would haunt her for as long as she lived, but Yalena was able to tune him out at the best of times. Another defense mechanism needed for her survival. 
Over the past few years, Yalena’s survival had depended on her to not reveal her secret abilities to anybody. Declan had become privy to them along time ago when they had shared a foster family. They brought back a foster relative and learned firsthand that Yalena could create zombies. From that point onwards he had made her swear never to do it again. And she had done her best to keep that promise… Until now.

Yalena passed another sign as she took route 66, headed for Chicago. She still had a long way to go. Her music was loud, and her car was littered with food scraps and rubbish. But for once, she had nobody to answer to, so she didn’t care. 
The sun went down quickly and soon she passed a gas station. Its lights illuminated the night. She was at half a tank, but she had no desire to stop. A few miles further and she heard a rattling in the front end of her car and the car seemed to be losing power as it went. She pulled to the side of the road, just in time for it to die. 
“Don’t do this.” She turned the ignition but her car refused to start. She climbed out and looked under the hood, where the engine was smoking. She coughed, then looked towards the lights in the distance. Just maybe there was somebody in the town that might be able to help. 
Yalena took some money and stashed it into her pocket then hid the envelope of money under the mat which ran beneath her car seat. She started back down the long and dusty road, headed for the town, and eventually reached the gas station.

#
 
She reached the counter where a teenaged boy was tending to the desk. “Hey, do you know anything about cars?” she asked, knowing it was pointless. 
 The kid shrugged. “Not really.” But his mind was focused on the portable television by the cash register. 
“Would you know of a mechanic?”
 He shrugged but didn’t remove his eyes from the TV as he answered. “There’s Rod’s garage. But it’s not open. Try the diner. Look for my mom, Marla. She knows everybody in this town.”
Yalena sighed then stepped out into the dusty dark parking lot. The town was absolutely dead. No people or ghosts walking the streets. It felt good. In the distance, she saw the lights of the local diner and could hear the vague voices of its patrons. It had to be Marla’s Diner.

#

DING A LING! Yalena entered Marla’s Diner and looked around. It had an old rustic look and it was packed with patrons. Many faces turned in her direction, some whispered under their breath, forcing her to second guess her choice of clothing. She hoped that they couldn’t see the her facial bruises under her makeup. Yalena approached the counter regardless.
 A woman who looked to be in her fifties with a large booming, though friendly voice served her customers. Her hair was shortly cropped, and she vaguely resembled the boy from the gas station. That had to be Marla. 
“Excuse me?” But Marla couldn’t hear her. She was serving beers to some older men at the other end. Sitting beside Yalena was a blonde woman, who looked to be in her forties. Her eyes were drawn to Yalena’s neck. Yalena assumed, they eyes were on the marks that Big had left. So Yalena ignored her. She wasn’t there to make friends. 
Yalena looked back to Marla, who glanced over briefly, just in time for her to offer a quick wave. Marla approached. “What’ll it be darlin? Just don’t ask for fish because we’re out.”
Food and coffee sounded very appetizing and she sure could afford it, but it wasn’t what she had come for. 
“Do you have a phone?” Yalena’s very question seemed to rattle Marla into confusion. Of course, it would, nobody in this day and age would ask for a phone. But until now, Yalena didn’t have use for one. She and Declan had lived the last few years of their lives on the run, so there was no need for one. 
“Don’t you have your own?” Yalena debated explaining her scenario but resisted. Marla looked her up and down then a wave of sympathy crossed her face. “Sure, over there by the restrooms.”
Yalena turned her head. The phone was covered in graffiti, but at least it was a phone. She decided to push her chances a little further. “Would you happen to know the number for a mechanic?”
The look of empathy in Marla grew. She gestured for Yalena to lean in close, then pointed to a booth where a dark-haired man sat across from a woman, who by looks alone, Yalena assumed was of some relation. “You see that man over there?” 
“Yeah?”
“Well, that’s Jaxon Rodriguez. He runs the garage here in town. You should ask him.”

Yalena offered a short word of gratitude and headed over to the man known as Jaxon. He was reading a newspaper and didn’t seem to want to be disturbed. He looked about her age, dark hair and dark eyes. He was certainly attractive but in a boy next door kind of way. The woman across from him seemed the friendlier of the two. 
She had long dark hair past her shoulders, big brown eyes and a smile which lit up a room. “Hi, I’m Heather. This grump opposite me is the mechanic I heard you ask for.” Heather turned back to the man. “Say hello, Jaxon.” But Jaxon continued to read his newspaper. Heather grumbled then focused her attention back onto Yalena. “Grab a chair. Come sit with us. My evil twin here has really bad people skills, but he’s great at his job!”
Yalena pulled up a chair and sat beside Jaxon. “Hey, I don’t want to disturb you but my car broke down a few miles out.”
Jaxon responded without looking up. “What’s wrong with it?” he turned the page of the newspaper, took a sip of his coffee and continued on reading. 
“I don’t know. I’m not a mechanic. That’s why I was kind of hoping you would take a look.”
But Jaxon didn't look up. “Drop it by Rod’s Garage in the morning and I’ll be sure to take a look.” Yalena cleared her throat. This man was infuriating. She really didn’t need his ignorance. 
She needed to do something to spark his attention and to make him stop wasting her time.
She took hold of his hand and stroked it in a suggestive sort of way. “You really don’t understand..." Jaxon's entire body, froze, his eyes went to her hand holding his. With her other hand she lifted his coffee and took a sip before she finished her sentence. "I need my car fixed tonight.  I'll make it worth your while, but I really need to leave before morning.”

Heather giggled silently and finally Jaxon looked up. His expression was hard to read. He ripped his hand away. “What the hell is wrong with you?” His question gave her pause, but he went on. “What normal person just... argh! Look, I’ll help. But not for that. I’ll do it to get you the hell away from me.” 
Yalena winked at Heather, who was trying her best to hold back a large roar of laughter. Jaxon stood and Yalena followed him out of the diner triumphantly. 

#

The high beams of Jaxon’s 1984 Testarossa made Yalena’s blue Mazda look like junk sitting by the side of the road. Jaxon stared under the hood of her car and went over the damages with his torch. “I hate to break it to you, but I can’t fix this tonight. If you want, there’s a motel in town. I can give you a ride over if you like.”
Yalena shook her head and crossed her arms against her chest to keep out the cold. “It has to be tonight.”
He offered a sympathetic smile then shook his head. “The thing is there’s not just one issue with it. There’s a number of things. Not to mention the cost for parts, alone…”
“Don’t worry about money.” Yalena reached in through the driver’s side of the car and pulled out the yellow envelope, before she returned to Jaxon’s side. “How much do you think we’re talking about?”
Jaxon took one look at the cash and jumped back, holding up his hand. “Look, if you’re a bank robber, I can’t help you. I can’t accept stolen money.”
Yalena glared at him, offended. “Just relax, will you? So, can you help me or what?”
 Jaxon shrugged in defeat. “I suppose I have no choice but to.” 

Yalena waited by her car, as Jaxon drove his Testarossa to his garage and returned with his tow truck. He loaded her car onto the back and invited her to sit in the passenger seat as he drove them back to his workshop, doing his best to bring up conversation. “So, what brings you up this way?”
 Yalena remained silent. His question back at the diner ‘what is wrong with you’ struck a real nerve. His next assumption that she was a bank robber made things even worse.
This guy was a downright jerk. She bit down on her bottom lip and stared out the window, so Jaxon focused his attention back on driving. 
When they had arrived at his garage, he showed her into his office, where Heather was waiting casually with her shoes on the desk. Once Jaxon had left the room, Yalena sat, ready to vent to the woman. “You’re right. Your brother is a real grump.”

Heather grinned. “Yeah, that’s just his way. I was blessed with the social skills while he got the brains. Can you guess which one dad sent to college?”
Yalena thought for a moment. “Jax?”
“I wish. He believed I’d make him proud. But I showed him.” There was a bittersweet smile that followed her phrase. Her demeanor lightened as she changed the subject. “So that move you pulled on my brother, back there. You’re not a prostitute, are you?”
Yalena paused. Of course, she wasn’t a prostitute... anymore. But sex was power. She shook her head. “Let’s just say, I’m someone who knows how to survive in this cold world.”
Heather nodded. Yalena wasn’t sure if she agreed with her or if she was trying to read Yalena’s motives. They could hear Jaxon climbing out of his truck after having reversed Yalena’s car into the workshop, which sparked Yalena to ask, “do you know anything about cars?”
 “Of course, I do. I knew what a carburetor was before I could count. But don’t worry. Jax won’t screw you over. He’s not like us. To him, there’s good in everybody.”
 
The door to the office opened and Jaxon stood in the doorway, forcing them both to turn. Heather got to her feet and headed into the workshop quickly. But Jaxon’s attention was focused solely on Yalena. He leaned over and picked up the clipboard from his desk. “Yalena, was it? Your car's in the workshop now. If you like I can take a proper look over it now.”
Yalena stood, nodded and followed Jaxon into the workshop. 

The workshop was filled with tables and shelves lined with car parts, three broken down vehicles, including Yalena’s broken down Mazda as well as Jaxon’s Testarossa. Jaxon offered Yalena the clipboard, but her attention was on Heather, who had already set to work on her vehicle. Jaxon pulled back the clipboard and started to go through the questions. “Name?”
“Yalena.”
“Last name?”
 Yalena paused. That question would’ve been easy if she was somebody else. She was headed to Chicago to find the woman who found her by the dumpster. The name of that woman was Lorraine Kerbridge. But Yalena had no clue whether or not that was her mother. Her last foster family had given her up to Big, so there was no way in hell she would use their last name.
Sure, Declan’s foster father had freed her from Big’s clutches, but he was never a father to her, just a friend with the cash. Jaxon was waiting for her to give a last name.
“Can’t you just leave it blank?”
Jaxon looked a little off guard. “I suppose I could, but these forms ask for a few details that go beyond just a last name. They also ask for an address, a phone number…”
More questions that Yalena couldn’t answer. Clearly sensing her hesitation, Jaxon added. “Why don’t I just fill in these forms myself?”
Yalena shrugged, then looked back to Heather who was making her way over. “That’s gonna cost a lot,” she said, wiping her hands onto her pants. “You may as well just scrap it for parts and buy a new one.”
 Yalena shook her head. “How long do you think it’ll take to fix?”
“At least a week, maybe two if you're lucky.” Heather shrugged.
“I’m not sure yet,” Jaxon replied, peering up from his clipboard. “I’ll go over it in a moment and give you the verdict.” He went back to writing.
Yalena ignored Jaxon’s reply and focused on Heather. “Two weeks? I don’t have that kind of time.”
Heather shrugged. “We’re out in the middle of nowhere, Jax will need to send away for parts. You could be lucky if he can push it to one week. You’re gonna need a new engine, the starter motor will probably need replacing, among other things.” 
Jaxon placed the clipboard down on one of the worktables and made his way over to Yalena’s car. “I can’t give you a timeframe until I’ve gone over the damage.” He peered under the hood and visually assessed the damages.
Yalena looked to Heather, then back to Jaxon in confusion. “But Heather just went over it.”
Jaxon peered up at Yalena. “Heather, who?”
“You know, your sister?”
“My sister?” Yalena looked to Heather, so Jaxon followed her gaze. “Of course, you’re talking about my sister. How did I not figure that one out sooner?” He tugged at his ear and pursed his lips together. “What else did Heather tell you?”
Heather shrugged at Yalena. “He’s doing that thing again where he downright ignores me. Seriously, Jaxon. We have company. Don’t be a jerk.”
Yalena shook her head. “I really don’t want any part of your family feud. I just want my car fixed.” 
Jaxon rubbed at the back of his neck. “Family feud?”
 “Yeah. Please just leave me out of it. Heather, just tell your brother what you told me.”        
Jaxon followed Yalena’s gaze again and gave an awkward grin, “Yeah, Heather. Tell me what you told her.” 
“It’s the goddamn engine, Jax!” Heather shouted at him. “Just help her already.”
But Jaxon just shook his head. “I don’t hear anything.” He looked to the roller door, where Sheriff Paterson was now standing, then back to Yalena, who hadn’t yet noticed the man in uniform. “Your sister is right. You are a grump,” Yelena replied.  
Jaxon chuckled. It was all he could do to mask his aggravation as he approached her. “Miss, I think you should go.”
“What do you mean, I should go? I can’t leave without my car.”
 “Well that’s too bad. Because I don’t appreciate you joking about the dead that way, especially when it comes to my sister.”
Yalena’s mouth gaped open as she looked to Heather and then back to Jaxon. 
 Heather wore an apologetic expression. “I’m so sorry, Yalena. I should’ve told you.”
Yalena released a long, irritated breath. “Oh, you’ve gotta be fucking kidding me.” 
Jaxon registered Yalena’s shock, and for briefest of moments saw something that he hadn’t noticed before. Her honesty. “Wait, can you actually see her?”
 But his revelation came too late. The sheriff spoke up startling Yalena. “Is this the girl you called about Jax?”
Yalena turned to the sheriff and then back to Jaxon. Anger was an understatement. “You son of a bitch.” 

#

As Sheriff Paterson drove Yalena to the Sheriff’s department in his patrol car, she couldn’t help but question him from the back seat. “What are you arresting me for?”
 He was a relatively built man, with green eyes that reminded Yalena of an ex-military veteran. He looked to be in his forties but had a tired demeanor. “Are you in cuffs?” he asked.
 “No.”
“Then I’m not arresting you.”
 “Well, what are you holding me for?”
 “Jaxon Rodriguez was concerned you might’ve been involved in some crimes judging by the amount of money you were flashing around.”
“That’s not a crime.”
 “It might not be, but when you drive around a beat-up car and look like you do, one can’t be too careful.”
 “What’s that supposed to mean?” But as Yalena watched the sheriff peer in the rearview mirror at her, she knew what he meant. She could’ve told the sheriff where the money had come from, but that could’ve incriminated not only her, but also Troy. She couldn’t ask Troy to lie for her… Not again. 
“Do you have anybody I can call?”
 Yalena thought about Declan. Maybe his father might vouch for her and say that he gave her the money. But then that would only lead to more questions. Yalena shook her head. “No, there’s nobody.” The sheriff nodded. 

#

That night, Jaxon laid in his bed. He couldn’t sleep. His three-bedroom home had been built onto Rod’s Garage, back when his father first founded the business. Back when his mother was alive. Rod’s Garage, short for Rodriguez’s garage, which had been a family run business and had only ever made enough to make ends meet. 
But Jaxon and Heather barely knew their mother, and their father never remarried. For a very long time it had only been the three of them. Then, when Jaxon’s father could only afford the college tuition for Heather, that three dwindled down to two. Not long after that, it was just him, after his father committed suicide. 
Their father’s death had really taken its toll on he and Heather, so much so that Heather dropped out of college, her only ticket out of the tiny town. Selfishly, Jaxon was happy to have his sister back, even if she did resent their father for his death. 

For such a long time, Heather was Jaxon’s light. The twins were back in action and rebuilding what their parents had once founded, but then after Heather’s death that light disappeared again. The entire town believed that Heather, just like their father, had taken her own life. 
But to Jaxon, who knew her best, that was not the case. Her death was only four months ago and every single resident in that town stepped on eggshells around him. Nobody believed in the sheer possibility that Heather might’ve been murdered. 

Jaxon checked his phone from his nightstand. 2:33am. He wouldn’t be sleeping. He couldn’t help but think about Yalena. It was as if she was actually speaking to somebody that he couldn’t see. Jaxon liked to believe in the possibility of ghosts, but he had never actually seen one himself. Many who claimed to see them were either people giving others false hope to scam them for money, or delusional. Maybe Yalena was both. Or maybe she was right. Or maybe his desperation had him clutching at straws. Though one thing was for certain, he wouldn’t get any answers by laying in his bed thinking up theories. 

He entered his workshop with a fresh cup of coffee and searched through her car for any hint of who the mysterious girl might be. The passenger seats were littered with fastfood wrappers and a small backpack filled with clothes. But then he noticed a white piece of paper scrunched up into a ball. He picked it up and unraveled it, reading a note left on a page torn from a motel’s notepad. Sorry, didn’t want to wake you. The money’s yours. If you ever need me again, please don’t hesitate to call. Troy.
 He had left his cellphone number. That had to be the clue Jaxon was looking for. 

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