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“Oh, look!” Adam said, sounding way too cheery for the time-of-clock it was in the morning.

Too early o’clock. That’s what time it was. Which was why, for a moment, Chad wondered if he was dreaming as everyone followed Adam like a pod of baby ducks away from the gas station’s main store toward a little kiosk set up along the sidewalk to see what they could buy with their five dollars.

Who in the world would sell flowers this early? was all Chad could think as he trailed behind them. 

Wasn’t buying flowers more of an end-of-the-day kind of thing? Did anyone really buy them in the morning? At a gas station?

Apparently, because nobody else seemed to even blink at the sight of a perky co-ed in short-shorts selling them in the crack-dawn of morning.

Meanwhile, Chad took one look at the twenty-something girl manning the booth looking like she was ready for a sexy photo shoot, and all he could think was: It's time!

This chick was totally perfect to play decoy while the calvary rode in for the rescue. Chad couldn't have cast the role better himself.

Seriously. So perfect, was all Chad could think as he looked her up and down. Their driver clearly didn’t think the girl was a threat, which was genius. 

Chad's heart raced as he realized he might be on the cusp of going viral again with his next big escape. And the timing could not be better.

He needed to get home and practice to make sure he had the trick down when they filmed in 12 days. It was the responsible thing to do.

Plus, Bella was driving him crazy. 

She seemed to make it a point to stay in his line of vision and it was messing him up. It had him feeling things he’d really rather not and making him all the more certain everyone would be happier if he was gone. 

With him gone, Bella and Whitney could fawn over Adam without hearing Chad’s involuntary gag sounds. Also, that Kei kid would have one less person to compete with for Adam’s attention.

Because Chad had been paying attention, and Kei was definitely into Adam in a stalk-ery way that no one else seemed to be tuning into yet. But it was there.

And Chad was all about clearing the room for them so that Adam to have an actual teenage experience. He'd spent his whole life being saved from developing a personality because adults were always racing in and saving him from people like Whitney and Kei.

With Chad off the trip, Adam would have to deal with Bella, Kei, and Whitney with no scapegoats to distract him.

The guy could finally earn some of his stubble and everybody would win! Even the driver, who would have one less kid to take care of.

The timing seriously couldn't be more perfect for this escape. All this hot flower-chick had to do was give the signal and Chad would makd the escape of a lifetime. It would be epic and all caught on film. He’d go home as a hero and his dad would have to cancel his punishment because he’d go viral and eyes around America would all be focused on him.

It would force his dad not to follow through with the promised punishment, which meant Chad would be grounded and able to stay home until he turned eighteen.

Then he'd be an adult, with sponsors, and could move in with his friends. They’d build their brands and then Chad would retire by the time he was thirty and live like a king with all his millions.

It would be awesome.

Just imagining it had Chad itching to get the ball rolling on this whole escape thing as everyone started oohing and ahhhing at what they found in her store.

Chad didn’t really listen to what they were saying. The adrenaline pumping through him had him focusing on every sound and shadow around him as he waited for the moment when his team made their move.

Wherever they were, they were hiding well. All Chad heard were morning birds and chatter about flower languages from the hot chick as the cool of the desert night melted into the warmth of morning.

It concerned him a bit that he didn't see any vehicles that looked ready to make a move ... no escape hacks set up ... no ramps. Nothing.

Whatever the plan was that he was supposed to jump into, Chad wasn’t seeing it. All he knew was that the girl in the Eddie Bauer feather-lined jacket was playing her role perfectly. No one suspected her and they were definitely all planning on buying something.

“Five minutes!” the driver called from the gas pump and Chad braced himself to make a move … that didn't come.

“This one is totally me,” Bella said, drawing his attention to her tucking a fiery chrysanthemum behind her ear.

Chad had to admit she was right. The red-orange complemented her dark, silky hair perfectly and made her dark eyes seem mysterious and wise.  It matched her personality as well as her signature wild rose.

Chad couldn't get over how pretty Bella looked as she absently touched Adam on his deltoid as she selected a blue lotus and handed it to him.

“It’s beautiful,” he said in a high, sweet voice that somehow got Whitney jealous enough to demand he inspiect a perfect white rose. Meanwhile, Kei pretended not to watch Adam’s reaction.

Ugh. Chad would never understand why everyone fawned over Adam, but whatever. In thirty seconds or so, he’d be out of their hair and it wouldn’t matter.

Anytime now, Chad kept thinking as he kept looking around -- barely hiding his gag when Adam handed Kei a gloxinia for inspection as Bella and Whitney kept fawning over different specimens. The flower girl kept pointing to a color chart she had and explaining how the color schemes of flowers were a longstanding coded system that could be used to send messages without saying a word.

Perfect, Chad thought. So which flower means: Run! Now!

Chad was ready to ditch this sand town and escape to someplace where he didn’t have to watch Bella coo over Adam. Because her constant, casual touching of him seriously made his stomach hurt.

Yet, as seconds passed into minutes, the flower chick kept selling her flowers like she was waiting for a cue from him, or something. It was making Chad tense. His palms were sweating and Chad hated it when his palms sweat. 

Sweaty hands were dipped in chalk in his world. True, he was climbing a mountain or something when they got like this … not watching the girl of his dreams trying to get Adam to help her choose between getting a pink Gerber daisy or a lava-colored chrysanthemum whe nit was obvious which was her first choice.

Apparently, Bella and Adam were casual touchers now. Their time around the campfire the night before must have been super bonding.

Awesome. Yay for them. And just one more reason Chad needed an escape ramp out of this place. Stat. 

Give him anything with wheels, and he’d make it work. He just needed out. Fast. Before he did something he could never take back that may or may not involve removing Bella’s hand from Adam’s deltoid.

“So you pick the flower for meaning and the color for intentions,” the decoy girl was explaining to everyone, without so much as a wink to him.

Which was smart of her. She was really good at this double-agent thing. Chad just needed to buckle down and let her do her thing. Maybe someone was launching a business and this little booth was their commercial. Maybe the girl had a script to finish before everyone made their move.

Chad just had to play along and play cool and try not to be too obvious as he wiped his sweaty palms on his pants like a novice.

Then, suddenly, the hot chick was eyeing him with a look that somehow drew him closer to the booth.

“For you,” she said, handing Chad a silver daisy. He took it, but only in the name of not dissing a sponsor as he looked up at her color wheel and didn’t find silver represented.


Bella glared at him like she wished she could erase his existence as Chad reached out to hand the girl his five dollars. “I don’t have enough for something like this, but you can just have this for being up this early.”

The girl smiled at him like he’d just said something funny before cutting a deal with everyone else that had both Bella and Whitney heading back to the van with bright, perfect flowers tucked behind their ears in exchange for $25.

Bella had stuck with the chrysanthemum, as expected, while Whitney had switched over to a pink orchid and could not stop finding new ways to say how much she loved it.

Whitney seriously couldn’t stop talking, sometimes. Once the escape was all over, Chad looked forward to not hearing her talk for a while.

But time was running out for that.

Everyone was walking back to the van while Chad stood where he was -- palms still damp -- waiting for this flower girl to give him the sign that it was go-time.

But she just looked at him instead, and it was awkward. Especially since he hadn’t given her flower back yet. He was still standing there holding it like a loser.

“So … what’s silver?” he asked, wondering if waiting until everyone else was in the van before making a move was part of the plan. Because that was good. It reduced risk of interference and injury, which always played out better in the end.

The flower girl flashed him a smile as she gave her hair a little flip. “Silver is the color you give when you want to say May God’s strength be with you.”

“Oh,” Chad said, feeling a little uncertain as he handed the flower back to her.

The girl held her hand up in refusal. “No. Keep it. It’s a gift. For you.”

Well, that was awkward. He was a dude. What was he supposed to do with a silver daisy?

“Aren’t I supposed to be the one giving flowers to you?” he asked.

The flower girl smirked. “Look at you, being all twentieth-century sexist.”

Chad pulled a face. “Am I? I’ve never heard of girls giving guys flowers before.”

The girl leaned in, her perfume definitely floral as she looked deep into his eyes and said, “All that tells me if you’ve never been in love with anyone who has figured out that you know every one of the flowers here by name.” As Chad caught his breath in surprise, she winked at him. “Everyone else might believe it when you play dumb, but I see you.”

Chad felt himself physically blush in response as he prayed those words were not being broadcasted to a live audience. He really didn’t need that level of heckling in his life.

“It’s okay,” she said, straightening again. “I won’t tell anyone. But you’ll understand the day a woman sends you red tulips to see what you’ll do. Then you’ll get why women can give flowers, too. Because everyone has a heart and flowers are the language of the love.” She smiled as she put everything back in its position, before adding, “Even for Chads.”

Chad grew still—adrenaline spiking—as he realized she knew his name. Was this it? Was that his cue?

“Chad!” Gia called from the door of their slow boat of a van, like she’d been saying his name for a while.

“You’d better go,” the flower girl said. “She doesn’t sound happy.”

“Door shuts in TEN…” the driver yelled.

Wait. Was she seriously counting down like Chad was a toddler?


She totally was. That was seriously so embarrassing.


Chad looked at the girl. “Are you going to save me, or what?”


The girl’s head tilted. “Why would I do that? I’m just here selling flowers.”


Flower girl pulled a face. “That sounds serious,” she said, tilting her head toward the driver. “I’d run if I were you.”


Confused, and resisting the urge to argue with her about why she was really up at dawn, selling flowers in the middle of nowhere, Chad did exactly as she suggested and raced back to the van quick enough to beat the driver from calling out, “TWO.”

Chad tried to move past the driver to join everyone else on the can, but she moved so she blocked him.

“Let’s get one thing straight,” she said softly. “No one is coming to save you. If you want to leave, you must exit yourself. There’s no playing damsel in distress because no white knights are going to make it past my watch. Understood?”

Dude. When she put it that way.

“I don’t need anyone to save me,” Chad countered with a little more pout in his voice than he liked.

The driver’s eyes dropped down to the silver daisy in his hand, giving it a pointed look. “Are you sure about that?”

Chad nearly tossed the flower away in embarrassment, but it was so freakishly pretty that he swallowed back the impulse before giving into it.

Its petals kind of reminded him of bike spokes, which might help him with his dandelion problem when it came to mashing up his logo with Bella’s. Maybe he needed to try daisy vibes instead.

So Chad was keeping the flower as a reference, no matter what anyone said. A hot chick had given it to him, and she hadn’t even been there to save him. She just gave it to him and it was probably the nicest one she had.

He couldn’t insult her by throwing it on the ground at a gas station.

“Remember,” the driver said. “You can leave anytime you want to by simply walking off the property. I just can’t let anyone help you escape. If you go home, you must go with the people contracted to get you home safely. Understood?”

Chad brought his hand up in a little salute even as he realized he’d just spent five minutes waiting for nothing. Like a fool. 

Man, he was so stupid, sometimes. Or all the time, he thought with a glance to where Bella was glaring at him like he was the loser he was. And, with that, his humiliation was complete and he genuinely felt stupid.

“Aye-aye, captain. I hear you,” he replied to the driver.

“Okay,” she said, stepping out of his way and opening the path to get on. “All aboard then.”

A wave of resignation washed over Chad as he climbed aboard the van and slumped into his seat and frowned at the silver flower he’d received in lieu of an escape ramp. He gave it a little spin -- watching how its petals caught the light. Then he pushed in his earbuds, grabbed his sketch pad, and started to draw as the driver pulled out of the gas station and got them back on their way.


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