I thought running away from home would be easy.
Man, was I wrong.
I can’t even find the damn car keys. The weekly cleaning company left five minutes ago, leaving every room spotless and orderly, and I’m getting more and more convinced my father brought every single key with him on his business trip to Germany. I groan as I search through his desk. Again. It’s not like the lack of a car will stop me, but I’d prefer my father’s sleek Mercedes Benz to a crowded, smelly bus. The plan had been to use Mikey’s car and road trip through Europe, but that’s not happening anymore. Not after he ratted me out. Now I’m expelled and friendless. Whatever. It’s not like either of us have a license, so it doesn’t matter what car I use because I’ll be driving illegally anyway. Mikey would have hated that, so maybe it’s for the best that he stays here in boring Norway. I’ll go on the road trip alone, and I'll make it a permanent one. Yep. Summer 2025 will be great.
Most people would be happy to get an extra month off from school, but the thought of staying at my father’s house for three consecutive months sends a scraping sensation through my nerves, pulling at them, urging me to run out the door without a second thought. So that's exactly what I’m doing. I hate vacations. The longer, the worse. I’m used to spending most of them at Mikey’s place, but this year I don’t have that escape. My hands grow shaky the more I think about my situation. How can I feel claustrophobic when I'm standing inside a fucking mansion? I flex my fingers and move onto the oak chest beneath the double windows, digging into the top drawer. The content makes me freeze. Underneath a couple of notebooks and folders, a golden picture frame sticks out. My stomach sinks. Even though my chest tightens so hard I can’t breathe, I pull the frame out. I have to see her. One last time.
There are three people in the picture. It was taken seven years ago on a vacation in Santorini, Greece, with glorious weather and my mother’s smile outshining the sun. My lips lift a bit at the edges, but a bitter taste fills my mouth. On the sides of the sun, there are dark clouds. Me and my father. It’s disgusting how much I look like him and how little I look like her. As if I didn’t hate myself enough already.
I put the picture back in the drawer and slam it shut. With my fists resting on the top of the chest, I stare out at the blooming garden and grind my teeth. I need to get the hell away from this place.
Another twenty minutes pass by before I stop mid-way through searching between the leather couch pillows in the living room, a revelation sparking to life in my brain. I turn slowly to the walk-in closet where we keep our outside clothes and shoes. Of course. I dart inside and go through my father’s coats and jackets. At the very end of the row, in a light linen blazer, something jingles in the pockets. It’s not the keys to the Mercedes, but I'm not too picky. The Rolls-Royce Sweptail will do.
With the keys in my pocket and a grin on my face, I run to my room to fetch my stuff. It’s not much, just a couple of sweaters, pants, and some underwear. Most of my clothes are back at my dorm room, so I have to stop by a mall to pick up a few things. With my backpack over my shoulder, I make my way into the garage. The Rolls-Royce is parked between the Mercedes Benz and a BMW X7.
I throw my backpack into the backseat and jump inside, revving the motor alive. Its purrs are low and comforting. I roll into the driveway, and as I wait for the gates to open, I check my phone – I don’t know why. There’s nothing there and I shouldn’t be expecting anything else. My father hasn’t made contact since he left three days ago, so why would he do it now? Mikey’s Instagram story tells me he’s home early, all ready for summer break, but he hasn’t said a word to me. I throw my phone at the passenger seat and press down the gas pedal. At least no one will miss me when I’m gone.
The drive to the highway is short, and within minutes I’m on my way downtown. It’s a quiet Wednesday at the end of May and there are barely any cars out. The golden midday sun shines its glory on Bergen, a rarity here in the city of rain. I crank the radio up on the Hip Hop channel and rap along while drumming my fingers on the steering wheel. Every time I close my hands around the black leather, I glance at my tattoo. FEARLESS is inked across my knuckles. Mom’s words. I swallow hard and rip my eyes away, turn the music louder, and clamp down the gas pedal, speeding past a slow semitrailer. He honks after me and I give him the middle finger.
“Idiot,” I mumble and take a left turn, getting closer to Bergen’s core. The skyline is a silhouette against the blinding sun, as if someone cut the buildings out of cardboard and propped them up. Maybe some of them were made that way. To make things appear normal again after the latest terrorist attack. I can’t make out the northernmost part of the city from where I’m at, and honestly, I don’t want to. I don’t want to see the shattered buildings or smell the smoke and death that still lingers there, even after a month. I was at the boarding school in Trondheim at the time, but the bombing was all over the news. My father’s secretary sent me an e-mail saying he was okay. Not that I care. Not after he sent mom to the terrorists four years ago and I lost the wrong parent.
My pale fingers tighten around the steering wheel so hard the leather squeaks.
I make a turn into the closest parking garage, driving straight in when the scanner registers the chip fastened in the upper corner of the windshield. I find a spot close to the entrance and get out, locking the car behind me. It’s so hot my t-shirt sticks to my back by the time I reach the entrance.
Inside, two guys prop a ladder against a corner. One of them climbs up to check a security camera while the other searches for something in their toolbox. I instinctively reach back to pull my hoodie up, but my sweater is in my backpack. Instead, I lean forward so my messy brown hair falls to cover some of my face. Cameras are everywhere these days. After the first and most devastating attack in Oslo in 2021, all the largest cities in Norway were required to advance their security systems.
My father was one of the first to take advantage of that. Being the CEO of Norway’s largest intelligence company, he’s worked tightly with the government ever since. Some claim the upped security hasn’t done anything, but according to the government, terrorist attacks have decreased. According to everyone else with eyes and ears, they’re still common.
The mall is bathed in sunrays through its glass roof. The long hall filled with stores on either side is as busy as my head feels, and I weave my way through complaining customers and slow-walkers. Restlessness coils through my limbs, prickling, and I pick up my speed. The quicker I get my things, the quicker I can leave. I pick up some clothes, a pair of new kicks, bathroom essentials, and a bag to put everything in. When I pass the grocery store, I decide I need some snacks for the road. My stomach rumbles when I smell fresh baked goods, and I grab some buns and donuts. On my way to the energy drinks, I linger by the alcohol shelf. I'm all alone here.
It happens before I can stop myself.
With a quick movement, I swipe a row of beer cans into my bag.
The police have already confiscated two of my fake IDs, but I can’t have a vacation without alcohol, so this will do. I wrinkle my nose at the brand before zipping the bag shut. Not my favorite, but it’s decent. I’d prefer vodka, but that’s not sold in regular grocery stores. I turn from side to side to locate any cameras that might have caught me, but I think I’m good. I just have to get out quickly.
As I make my way over to the register with the bag hooked over my right shoulder and an array of baked goods, energy bars, and drinks in my hands, the shop clerk narrows his round eyes at me. He sizes me up and down like I’m about to steal something.
Which, to be fair, I am. But he doesn’t have to be so judgmental about it.
Then I see the mall cop.
My pulse spikes, triggering adrenaline to seep into my veins. I force my face to stay neutral, carefree, but inside I’m fighting the urge to run. They don’t have anything on me, I tell myself. Better to pretend I’m nothing but a regular customer.
“Hi,” I say to the clerk, ignoring the mall cop. I empty the groceries from my hands and reach for my wallet, but a force pulling at the handle of my bag stops me. My gaze darts from the chunky fingers wrapped around the handle and to the owner of them: the mall cop.
“What?” I pull the bag closer.
“I need to check your bag, sir,” he says, refusing to let go.
“Get a warrant and I might let you,” I say. Maybe I should be more polite and helpful, but I can’t stop myself. “Oh, wait, I forgot. You’re not a real cop.” I shrug. “Too bad.”
He pulls at my bag so hard I almost lose my footing. “Either you let me see or I’m going to have to call the police.”
His nostrils flare and a drop of sweat runs down his temple. My armpits and hands are sweaty, and my heart is pounding, but I refuse to show how nervous I am. This isn’t my first rodeo, but I don’t want the cops to come. Sure, it can be fun sometimes, but I want to be free, not locked up.
“I’m sorry,” I say through gritted teeth, forcing a smile upon my lips. “Let me put this down and you can have a look.”
He nods once and releases his grip, stepping away while watching me closely. I move past him to place my bag on one of the benches right outside the store. But when he’s a couple of steps behind me, I turn on my heel and sprint away. My heart is in my throat and the bag bounces against my hip, the edge of a beer can poking into me.
I glance back to see him start after me. Adrenaline zips through me and I run so fast my lungs start to burn. A couple of people stare at me with wide eyes, but no one steps in. Typical Norwegians. After a couple of seconds, I’m far enough ahead to slow down. The mall cop is way back by the escalators, half-jogging while wiping sweat from his forehead and gasping for air. I maintain a slow jog and grin to myself. This wasn’t the plan, but the adrenaline rushing through me makes it worth it.
But when I turn the next corner, the rush falters.
Real cops. And they’re looking at me. I spin around at the same time they start walking. My eyes move from side to side, searching for an escape, but a third cop blocks the nearest exit. My breath moves unevenly as my pace quickens. A different mall cop than earlier comes up on my side, reaching after me, but I take a sharp turn before she can grab my arm.
A sharp turn that makes me bump into someone.
Someone wearing a light blue uniform and a police badge.
Her hands lock around my upper arms. Her brows cause her forehead to wrinkle as she bores her light eyes into mine.
The two other cops join us, each stare sterner than the last one.
“It’s him,” she says to them.
“No, it’s not,” I say and try to twist away.
A sigh escapes the tallest officer’s thin lips. I’ve seen him before and by the sound of it, he remembers me as well. Great.
“Charles Walker?” he says, more a groan than a question.
“How are you today, sir?” I pant and try my best to smile.
He shakes his head. I can practically hear him think ‘fucking idiot’, but instead he says, “You’re coming to the station with us, Mr. Walker.”
“Why waste your time?” I lift my eyebrows. We've been through this before. They know my father will get me out of this.
“Your dear father isn’t even in the country,” the female cop says. “He might get you out, but it’ll take a while.”
“And it seems you need some time to think about your actions,” the smaller male cop says. “Spending some hours at the police station would do you well. We’re simply helping you out.”
“You can’t arrest me, I’m only seventeen,” I protest, trying once again to jerk away. As a response, the tallest officer yanks the bag off my shoulder and pulls my arms behind my back with force. His fingers are tighter around my wrists than handcuffs ever have been.
“Police brutality!” I yell and throw myself forward, but he holds me in place. “Help!”
A few people slow down to send the officers judgmental looks. I put on my best innocent face with big, helpless eyes and a shaky bottom lip.
“We aren’t arresting you,” the officer behind me hisses. “But we are keeping you in custody.”
For a quick moment, he releases his grip. Something cold and metallic meets the skin on my wrists, followed by the clasp of handcuffs closing. I throw my head back in annoyance, but a hard shove against my shoulder flings me back forward, stumbling into movement.
“Be careful with that young boy,” I hear an old lady say to the officers. Finally, someone who doesn’t mind her own business. I knew I could count on the elders. She glances at them over the ridge of yellow-rimmed glasses, her mouth forming a thin, wrinkly line.
“Yes, be careful,” I agree. The officer grips my upper arm and squeezes so hard it hurts. I bite back a groan and glower at him. He only grins in return. I spit at his shiny boots and his gross grin quickly disappears.
It doesn’t stop them from bringing me in, though.
Nothing does. No matter how much I thrash or yell or threaten. They don’t budge.
My jaw tightens as I battle the dark defeat seeping through me.
I just want to be free. Free from my father’s stupid expectations. Free to start over again in a different country. Free from my mistakes. Instead, I’m brought into custody. The officers remove my handcuffs when we arrive at the police car and place me in the backseat. We drive by my father’s car and I cast a longing gaze after it. I jam my head against the window in frustration.
“Stop that,” one of the officers barks.
I bump my head against the window again, for good measure.
“Let me out,” I groan and my breath causes the window to fog. “I’ll pay you. You know I have the cash.”
They don’t answer.
“Idiots,” I mutter and draw a face in the fog, the mouth an upside-down U.