4 Chapter 4 – The Exchange Student

The girl was very pretty. She had she had tanned skin and high, strong cheekbones. She wore jeans and a grey hoodie and a backpack that bulged nearly to the point of breaking. The knees of her jeans were smudged with dirt and grass. She looked up at Turtle.

Donde estamos? Where are we?” she asked. She held out a hand so Turtle could help her up.

Turtle paused for a moment, wiped his hands on his pants, and lifted her off of the grass. She stood a good half head taller than Turtle.

“You’re in New York,” said Turtle. “This is Manhattan. In Central Park.”

“This is where I wanted to be,” she said, brushing herself off. “Thank you,” she said, with a hint of an accent. She smelled like some kind of flower, a rose and jasmine scent that Turtle could recognize from somewhere but couldn’t place.

She looked around her, catching her breath. She was frightened but the fear was going. Finally she turned back to Turtle.

“I’m Turtle. I mean Paul. People call me Turtle, though.”

“My name is Agata. Agata Llorente.” She pronounced it Yo-rent-ay, rolling the R slightly. A necklace slipped out of her shirt – it was a jagged-looking coin on a leather string. It was made of dull brass or copper, a bit green on the edges. She pushed it back under her shirt as she straightened up.

“Is there somewhere we can go? Can we get away from here?”

Behind her Turtle heard pounding on the door in the stone. There were men behind the door, shouting to be let out. They pounded for a while and then stopped.

Turtle looked around. A crowd of tourists was standing near the bench, taking pictures with the rock as a background. The Mytro knows when people are looking at it, thought Turtle.

“They were following me and they finally found me,” she said. “I don’t know why they didn’t come out.”

“I think this door doesn’t open out because it’s too exposed,” said Turtle. “Who is following you? Why?”

“It’s a long story. Let’s walk. Where are you going?”

“I’m going home. To my Grandmother’s…”

“Can I come? Say I’m a friend from school? I’m fourteen. Say I’m a… what do you call them? Exchange?”

“Exchange student?”

“Exactly. I’m an exchange student.”

Turtle looked at the girl and then at the door. The men behind it had guns. They were angry at her. She was in trouble. But why?

Her gaze followed his and then returned, her eyes pleading. “Please, Turtle. I need help. I’ll try to explain on the way.”

Her breathing was normal now but the look on her face – panic, fear, the need to escape – convinced him he needed to help. It was, after all, not every day that he saw a girl fall out of an invisible subway system in the middle of Central Park.

“Who are you? Where did you come from?” he asked, warily, but he was already sure he would help her.

“I’m from Barcelona. My father is lost somewhere in the Mytro. Someone kidnapped my mother. Those men are trying to find me now. They’ll find another door and then they’ll be after me. They have guns.”

“They’re after us, now,” corrected Turtle. “I’ll get you out of here, but we should go to the police.”

“Where will we lead them? To the Mytro? Police won’t believe us.”

Turtle stood thinking. She shook her head, impatiently and took Turtle’s arm. She led him away from the door as casually as if they were going for a stroll. It felt strange and wildly exciting. It was the first time a girl had taken his arm. Maybe kids walked arm in arm in Spain? thought Turtle. Softly, behind the stone door, Turtle heard the train rattle back in but soon they were on the main path and headed to the N subway stop. They walked past the old man on the bench who had by now awoken and looked at the Turtle and the girl quizzically, confused as to where they had come from and what the commotion had been about. He nodded off as they passed, perhaps exhausted by the hard job of being curious.

“Do you ride the Mytro often?” she asked when they were further down the path.

“Today is my first day,” said Turtle. “I just found out about it.”

“So we’re in the same ship.”

“The same ship?”

“Same boat? This is my first time,” she said. “So we are in the same boat.”

They walked to the subway stop at the foot of the park.

“If we act natural, your grandmother won’t care, right?” said Agata.

“I don’t even know,” said Turtle. “She’s really nice, but this is a pretty special case.”

“There is only one way to find out,” she said, smiling, and he let him lead her down the stairs into the subway.