Wrong Turn – Toby Neal

AUNTY ROSARİO NARROWED her eyes at her niece and adopted daughter, twenty-one-year-old Lei Texeira. “You’ll be careful? Mexico can be dangerous.” “Too careful, like I always am,” Lei snorted, rolling a T-shirt neatly and tucking it into her duffle bag. “Glad I have Kelly to loosen me up.” Rosario fussed with a row of bird nests atop the bureau. Lei had been collecting them on their nature walks since her aunt had brought her, at age nine after her mother died, to the little bungalow on D Street in San Rafael, California. “I wish you girls had a boyfriend with you.” Lei turned to face her aunt, opening her mouth to challenge her guardian’s sexist comment—but Rosario’s cheeks were pale, and her brown eyes shadowed with worry. “Oh, Aunty.” Lei dropped the shirt into the bag. “We’ll be fine.” She walked over to give the short, plump woman a hug, resting her cheek on her aunt’s silver-streaked, curly hair. “Don’t worry. I’ll call you as soon as we reach the resort at Cabo San Lucas.” Rosario wrapped her arms around Lei’s slender body, and squeezed.

“It’s the first time you’ve left me since you came.” Lei pulled back from her aunt. “Really?” Rosario dropped her arms. “Really.” “Then it’s past time I got on the road. I’m probably the only person my age who’s never been anywhere without her guardian.” “Just—be careful.” “Don’t forget—I’ve applied to the Hawaii police academy, Aunty. I’m going to be a cop. I can take care of myself, and Kelly too.

” Lei resumed packing, reaching for her sensible one-piece swimsuit. “I’m more worried about leaving y o u here. This neighborhood has been going downhill.” A series of break-ins nearby had put them on high alert. “Those robbers don’t seem to care that people are home when they break in.” “I can’t imagine anyone would break into this house.” Rosario flapped a hand dismissively. “I know everyone on my street, and everyone knows me because of the restaurant. Momi and Deke will be checking in on me, too.” Aunty Rosario ran a popular Hawaiian food restaurant nearby.

Rosario’s business partner, Momi, and her husband were like extended family. Rosario looked at Lei. “But I do have an idea I think you’ll like, for when you get back.” “Oh yeah?” Lei shoved a pair of jeans into the duffle and zipped it up. “If it’s something to keep me from moving to the Big Island, Aunty, I’m sorry but I’ve made up my mind. I need to return to—where it all began.” “I know, Lei-girl.” Rosario straightened the bird nests one more time, and sighed. “I understand why. With your father in jail and your mother dead of the drugs—I know why you need to go back to Hawaii and be a part of making things better there.

It’s good for you to go on a little vacation, have fun like girls your age do; I worry, that’s all.” She looked up and caught Lei’s eye. “But I thought of something that could help us when you get back.” A car horn tooted from outside the house. “That’s Kelly!” Lei exclaimed. “I have to go, Aunty.” She grabbed the duffle and headed for the door. Rosario stopped Lei, resting her hands on the young woman’s shoulders. “Don’t you want to hear my idea?” “Of course, Aunty.” Lei made herself hold still, stifling her impatience.

“Tell me.” “I think we should get a dog. A police dog. People can adopt animals that didn’t make it through the K-9 training program.” Lei frowned. “I don’t know. Sounds like a lot of responsibility. Let’s talk about it in ten days.” She kissed her aunt’s forehead. “Love you, Aunty! I’ll be back before you know it.

” Lei hurried out of the bedroom, down the hall and out the front door, waving to her pretty blonde friend waiting in the red Mustang convertible parked in front of the house. “All right, Kelly. Let’s get this party started!” CHAPTER TWO THREE DAYS LATER, Lei pressed down on the accelerator, and the bright red convertible surged forward. Hot wind tossed her curly hair. Desert streamed by, populated by saguaro cactuses and tumbleweeds. Beside her, Kelly shrieked with glee at the speed, leaping up in her seat to throw her arms in the air. “Yeehaw!” Lei flicked a glance at her friend, smiling. “You gotta lose that Texas speak.” “Heck no! And y’all better know it!” Kelly sat back down. “How far to the resort?” “Another hour or so.

” “This has been the perfect road trip.” The girls had left the Bay Area three days before, tooling down Highway One along the Big Sur coast, spending a night in Pismo Beach and another in Los Angeles. They’d crossed the border into Mexico some hours ago. “And we’re just getting to the real fun—the margaritas and cabana boys.” Lei throttled back, pulling in behind a jacked-up pickup filled with rooster cages. A couple of pit bulls lolled their tongues out the back, panting in the heat. Lei smiled at the sight. This Mexican scene could be straight out of her old neighborhood on the Big Island of Hawaii, where she’d grown up. Kelly pulled slim tanned legs up onto the seat, propping open the glossy Cabo San Lucas brochure on her knees. “Five days and four nights of epic partying.

I’m ready for the dancing and dating.” “Me too,” Lei said, suppressing a quiver of doubt. Kelly had begged for them to go for a real vacation during spring break, after a heavy semester at their college. Lei was working on a Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice and Kelly was completing a nursing degree. An unlikely pairing, the girls had hit it off in one of their first general ed classes. Kelly, from a wealthy Texas clan that had moved to California in her senior year of high school, had latched onto prickly, loner Lei—and somehow the friendship worked. “I wish you didn’t have such an eyesore of a car, though,” Lei complained. “We could take out a billboard advertising what tourists we are. Seriously, we could always tell in Hawaii, whenever we saw one of these, that someone was ‘off the boat.’” Lei was proud to be a local Hawaii girl: half Japanese, one-quarter Hawaiian, and onequarter Portuguese.

The mix of races had given her unique looks: curly brown hair, big, tilted eyes, freckled olive skin, and a lean runner’s build. “Hey. I’m not ashamed of who I am,” Kelly said. “Got big hair and big boobs, too.” She bounced, illustrating her words. “I’ve never understood your need to blend in.” “No act,” Lei said. “A saying we have in Hawaii. Means don’t get above yourself. Standing out isn’t a good thing.

It can be dangerous, too, in a place like this.” Lei gestured to the barren landscape. Lei already knew too much about the many ways people could prey on each other. “Fortunately, we’re on a pretty major road.” “But how are we going to get any action except by getting attention?” Kelly set the resort brochure back in the side pocket of the car’s door. “I’m looking for some fun. That’s why we’ve got separate rooms—I plan on some chandelier swinging and wall banging, and not by myself, either.” Lei chuckled. “Thank God we have separate rooms, then.” She smiled at her friend, but that quiver tightened her belly again.

She, too, hoped to meet someone nice and have fun—but she was way too messed up to just bring someone back to the room for sex. On the other hand, she didn’t want to be tied up in knots about it anymore, either. She was determined to get past the hang-ups that Charlie Kwon, her mother’s drugdealing boyfriend, had given her through his abuse. “You fall down, girl, you get back up,” Aunty Rosario always said. They reached a crossroads. Lei slowed to a stop under a blinking red light that dangled between a couple of poles. “Can you check the GPS? I think we keep going straight here, but we should see the ocean by now.” “Sure.” Kelly set down the bottle of tanning lotion she’d been applying to her shoulders and picked up her phone. “Shoot.

We lost signal when we crossed the border, but I brought a map. Pull over so I can look at it.” Lei eased the Mustang onto the soft, sandy shoulder as Kelly unfolded the map. She stayed alert, watching the other cars and trucks approach and move on. Most of the traffic treated the red light as a mere suggestion. A pickup full of young men wolfwhistled and called out compliments in Spanish, along with crude hand gestures. “Hurry up, Kelly!” Lei slid down out of sight in her seat, getting more nervous by the minute at their vulnerable position. “It’s another thirty miles, and we need to make a right here.” Kelly folded the map at last. “Good thing we stopped.

” Lei pressed the gas pedal and hit the signal for a left turn back onto the asphalt—but when she accelerated, the rear-wheel drive of the sports car lost traction in the sand. She increased the gas, but the tires just spun, spraying sand behind the vehicle. Lei turned the wheel back and forth, seeking purchase with the front tires, but instead they seemed to be working themselves deeper. “Shinola!” Kelly exclaimed, not one for swearing. A large, battered Ford truck pulled up in front of them with a winch on the rear bumper. “Hey. Maybe they’re stopping to help us.”

.

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