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Dare to Defy

Parallel World Book Three

A PARALLEL WORLD WHERE IT’S ILLEGAL TO BE OVERWEIGHT

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Chapter 1

I held on to Billy, my arms wrapped around his waist, as we sped away on the borrowed motorcycle. I listened to the Enforcers’ sirens in the distance and felt numb—devastated—that I was still in this world. My hopes that going through the tunnel would take me home had been so high that the reality had been all the more bitter when it had turned out that I was still here. 

Even though deep down I had suspected that I might be returning to the tunnel too early, I had still harbored the foolish hope that the date didn’t matter and that I could go through the tunnel before November tenth. Now it was all too clear that the date did matter. November tenth was the date I had come through the portal, or whatever it was, from my world. But when I had arrived in this world it had been early September, so it would seem November tenth was the magic date.

Now, as I clung to Billy, I also clung to the hope that I only had to survive in this world for six more weeks, then it would be the right date for me to walk through the tunnel. And on the other side would be my home world. A world where it wasn’t illegal to be overweight. A world where my family was intact. A world where an Enforcer named Hansen didn’t want to kill me.

I shuddered as I vividly recalled Hansen’s threat just hours before. “I. Will. Kill. You.” I could understand his anger—I’d quite literally stabbed him in the back using the knife Billy and I had used to cut the tracking chips from our arms. But I knew that was just the last straw for him. He’d hated me ever since the night he and his partner had tasered me in my own home, then dragged me to the Federally Assisted Thinning Center where I was locked up as a criminal for being a few pounds overweight—not to mention my serious crime of handing out homemade cookies at school.

I forced thoughts of Hansen out of my mind when I realized the sirens were fading as Billy and I raced away from my old neighborhood in Fox Run. The neighborhood that had led me to the tunnel. The neighborhood I would have to return to in six weeks if I wanted to get back to my world.

I pressed closer to Billy, grateful beyond reason that he was with me. I never could have gotten this far on my own. I’d met him at Camp Willowmoss—the F.A.T. Center where I’d been locked up—and he had wanted to escape that place as badly, or worse, than I had. He had been with me every step of the way, making sure we succeeded in breaking out of the government-controlled facility. Once we were free, he’d gone with me to Fox Run, even though he’d had no idea why I insisted on going there. When I’d finally admitted to him that I was from another world, I could tell he doubted me—maybe even thought I was crazy. But he was still here, still helping me. 

We left the leafy neighborhoods of Fox Run behind and entered the freeway, eating up the asphalt, mile after mile. We rode for another fifteen minutes before Billy coasted off at an exit, turned onto a side street, and stopped. 

As soon as he put down the side stand, I slid off the back of the motorcycle, then took off my helmet, enjoying the feel of the late September breeze in my face.

He climbed off and removed his helmet too. “We’re almost out of gas.”

Still shell-shocked by the discovery that I was still in this world and that we were still being hunted by Enforcers, I looked back the way we had come. The sun had nearly set, making me feel somewhat invisible in the dusky evening light. I turned to Billy, but too numb to speak, I didn’t say anything.

“If we leave our helmets on while we get gas,” he said, “they won’t recognize us.”

Visualizing the pictures of Billy and me that I’d seen on the news earlier that day when we’d stopped at a convenience store, I nodded. It had been a terrible picture of me, taken the day after I’d arrived at the F.A.T. Center—not smiling, my face bruised, my lip swollen. I looked like a criminal, which is exactly what the news called both Billy and me.

Billy reached out and touched my cheek. “How are you doing? Are you okay?”

His sweet kindness warmed me, bringing a half-smile to my face. “I’ll be fine.” I wasn’t sure if that was really true, but he was clearly relieved when I didn’t collapse in a heap of hysterical tears like I had at the hut when I’d realized I was still in this world. I needed his mind focused on what we should do next, not on me.

“Good.”

“What should we do, Billy? Where should we go?” My only plan after escaping the F.A.T. Center had been to get to the tunnel. I hadn’t allowed myself to consider anything but success, so I hadn’t thought beyond that.

“Now that the Enforcers know we’re in the area, they’ll be all over the place. I say we keep heading north.”

My shoulders slumped. We hadn’t slept in nearly thirty-six hours, and in that time we’d managed to escape the F.A.T. Center, jog for miles, ride bicycles for even more miles, then travel on the motorcycle for hours until we’d reached Fox Run. Then I’d made the devastating discovery that I hadn’t gotten home. I was physically and emotionally drained.

Billy must have seen the weariness in my face. “Look, I know you’re tired. So am I, and I promise I’ll find us a place to get some sleep. But first we need to put some distance between us and the Enforcers.”

“I know.”

“Okay. Let’s gas up and keep going.”

We put our helmets back on and rode to a nearby gas station. I stayed next to the bike while Billy went inside to give the clerk twenty dollars—half of the money Mrs. Duncan had given us when she’d let us take her son’s motorcycle. I wasn’t sure if that would be enough to fill the tank, but I hoped it would take us far enough to stay out of the hands of the Enforcers.

We were parked next to the gas pumps closest to the door and I waited nervously as I watched Billy get in line behind two other people. I glanced at the pump and wished we could have just paid outside, but since we had cash, we had to go inside. 

A car pulled into the station, catching my eye. It didn’t have a light bar on the roof, but there was no mistaking the uniforms on the men inside.

Enforcers. 

They pulled up to the pump right on the other side of where I stood. My heart thundered in my chest as I turned away, and I prayed they wouldn’t notice me. Were they on the lookout for a boy and a girl on a motorcycle? I stepped closer to the gas pump, hoping it would hide me from view, and watched Billy. He was handing money to the clerk, then he turned to come back outside. I had no idea if he’d seen the Enforcers and didn’t know how to warn him. 

We had a pair of stun guns stashed in the backpack I wore on my shoulders. Should I take them out? 

The thought brought a vivid recollection of the night before when Billy had used the stun guns on the Enforcers who had tried to stop us from leaving—including Hansen. That was after I’d sunk the small knife into Hansen’s back. 

His promise to kill me was fresh in my mind.

Billy walked through the door and headed toward me. With both of us wearing our helmets, it was difficult for me to communicate, but I gestured with my right thumb for him to look behind me. He must have gotten the message because he shifted his trajectory so that the gas pump would help block him from the Enforcers’ view.

He finally reached me and muttered, “Keep cool.”

My hands shook, so I shoved them in my pockets and wished I could be as calm as Billy. It was nearly full dark, but the bright lights of the gas station made up for that. Billy began pumping gas into the tank and I heard the Enforcers talking as they got out of their car. It didn’t sound like they were talking about Billy and me. Maybe they hadn’t heard about us. But that was unlikely.

I heard the beep of the pump as they used a card to pay for their gas, then I heard the sound of them putting the pump into their car. I watched Billy pumping gas into our motorcycle. It seemed like it was going extra slow, even though I knew it wasn’t. Finally, he finished and placed the dispenser back into its slot, then screwed the cap on the tank.

One of the Enforcers laughed and I hoped they were too busy talking to pay attention to us. Billy climbed onto the bike and I jumped on behind him and wrapped my arms around his waist, then he turned on the engine.

One of the Enforcers called out, “Hey, I think it’s those two kids.”

Billy turned and looked at them, and through his face plate I saw him grin. 

We shot forward, out of the gas station and onto the street. I couldn’t see what the Enforcers were doing, but in my mind’s eye I pictured them snatching their radio and alerting any Enforcers in the area where we were, then jumping into their car and taking chase.

I tightened my arms around Billy and strained to hear sirens.

A moment later, I heard them.

* * *

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