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"But Mom-!" Chelsea Gabriel whined.

"No 'buts," Mrs. Gabriel said, giving her a stern look, "Besides, he's your neighbor. You're going to the same college, and what's a few hours in the car?"

Chelsea cried, "How's it my business that he's dirt poor?"

"Sssh!" Mrs. Gabriel hissed then whispered, "We're privileged and they're not, and as philanthropists it's our job to offer our assistance."

"But Mommy," Chelsea begged, using the last bits of ammo in her arsenal, "They act weird and his parents and grandma talk all funny."

Blaze Zelenka glared at Chelsea from across their lawns. He asked his mother, "Can't we just pawn the TV and buy me a bus ticket?"

Mrs. Zelenka's eyes flickered to Chelsea and her mother bickering in the neighboring lawn. "They are froufrou self-righteous Republican scum— not to mention Protestant— but you need a ride. Betty Crocker Junior's got a car."

"Yeah," Blaze's younger brother Evzen said, "She has a car. Hands off the TV."

Blaze took a blind swipe at Evzen and the rest of his siblings dodged in harmony, not unlike a swarm of bees. His siblings ran around in a group, buzzing with random outbursts of giggles and bickering.

Mr. Zelenka contemplatively rubbed his stubble as he glanced at the Gabriel family. He stared at their designer brand name clothing, all in cookie-cutter pastels. He took a long look at Chelsea; her halter top, her short shorts, her overpriced fluffy haircut, her manicured nails, her Prada sandals, and her Louis Vuitton purse. He patted his son on the back and muttered, "Good luck."

Blaze's grandmother shuffled up holding a plastic container and tin stacked on top of one another, and the swarm of children parted like the Red Sea. She told Blaze through her incredibly thick Czech accent, "Blazej, take the tin. Money is inside, money I saved as young woman. College is expensive; you need it for when things get rough."

Blaze imperceptibly shifted from his American accent to his Czech one as he gently spoke to his grandmother, "Grandmama Alzbeta, I cannot take your money-"

She cut him off, "Shush! You be quiet when I talk. In container is kolacky, old country recipe."

Blaze's father cleared his throat and placed his rosary in Blaze's hand saying, "Here."

Balancing the tin and container in one hand, holding the rosary in the other, Blaze nodded at his father. His father nodded back, and Blaze turned to Grandmama Alzbeta and said, "D?kuji, Grandmama."

Blaze hugged his mother, grandmother, and siblings goodbye. He picked up his military duffle bag, took a deep breath, and crossed the yard. Chelsea sighed, rolled her eyes, and crossed the lawn to meet Blaze at the driveway that sepparated the two properties. Chelsea cocked her eyebrow as her eyes raked up and down Blaze's skinny figure. She took in his military World War II era combat boots and duffle bag that were probably his grandpa's, grey jeans that obviously had been hand-me-down'd more than once, his ratty black long-sleeved shirt emblazoned with a pair of red lips and the words "kiss me kiss me kiss me", his dark neck-length hair, brown puppy eyes, and his pierced ears. She said, "I hate you already."

The ends of Blaze's lips twitched. He asked with a tone as dry as the Sahara, "So the feeling's mutual?"

Grandmama Alzbeta murmured something, the only discernable word being, "Kraut..."

"Pardon?" Mrs. Gabriel asked, her eyes narrowing, her anger so clear it radiated from across the driveway.

Chelsea snobbishly corrected, "We're also British."

Mrs. Zelenka planted her hands on her hips and cocked her head, brimming with attitude yet inquisitive. She said, "Not much better, if you ask me."

Mr. Gabriel spat, "Who's asking you, potato-muncher?"

Blaze muttered under his breath, "And we're not even in the car..."


After a few hours in the car, unable to stand each other for one more second, Blaze and Chelsea made a pit stop at a gas station. As Blaze wandered around the fountain drinks, Chelsea asked from the aisle over, "Jeez, why did your hag of a grandma and mom have such a problem with my parents?"

Blaze said as he searched for his drink of choice, "Your dad's British, your mom's German, my mom's Irish, and my grandma's Czech."

After a few moments of silence, Chelsea asked, "Is that like, supposed to be an explanation?"

Blaze paused and stared at Chelsea. After a moment, he realized she didn't know and laughed. He explained in the tone he used to speak to his five year old sister, "The Germans occupied Czechoslavakia during WWII. The Irish have been fighting for their independence from Great Britain for generations."

They moved to the cashier and placed their items on the counter, Blaze's shoulders shaking in silent laughter. Chelsea defensively sniffed, "What? What's so funny?"

Blaze asked, "The Troubles? The conflict in Northern Ireland? The Nazi occupation of neighboring countries? Do you ever watch the news? Did you ditch history class to go shopping?" Blaze surveyed her guilty face and asked the cashier, "Hey, what do you know about Northern Ireland?"

The Cashier wore a U2 "War" album T-shirt under a plaid flannel jacket with a pair of acid-wash jeans. The cashier asked Chelsea, "Girl, what do you think Bono was singing about in the song 'Sunday Bloody Sunday'? It was about the war, man."

Chelsea burst, red in the face, "I was ten when that song was released. It's 1988; the past is the past, they should get over it."

The Cashier and Blaze looked at one another and Blaze said, "But it's stilll going on."

Chelsea changed the subject, glaring at Blaze's items, "You're going to eat that?"

Blaze glanced at his Dr. Pepper and Funyuns that lay next to Chelsea's tea and health bar. Blaze shrugged and asked, "Yeah, so?"

Chelsea stared at Blaze's unfazed face and said, "You disgust me."

Blaze and Chelsea climbed back into the car and Chelsea pulled back onto the country road. A few hours later Chelsea pulled to a stop on the road. She had stopped in front of a new road that branched off the road they were on. This road wasn't even paved with gravel and was lined with wilderness. She asked Blaze, "Hey, do you think this road will get us there faster?"

He muttered, not looking up from his copy of James O'Barr's The Crow, "Yeah, whatever."

Taking that as a yes, Chelsea pulled onto the road after some more silence Chelsea asked, "Why do you have so many siblings? It's like an anthill of illegal immigrants at your place when the whole family's over."

Blaze put down his book and said, "Quite frankly I'd take a Valium-dosed monkey's opinion over yours, so why don't you just be quiet?"

Chelsea drove on in furious silence as Blaze pensively looked out the window, muching on the kolacky his grandmother had given him. Chelsea was annoyed by the fact Blaze was ignoring her, and just had to act on the compulsion to nag him.

"What the heck is that, anyway?" She asked.

He said around a mouthful of kolacky, "The essence of God."

"It looks really, really unhealthy."

"Yes, it is. It's a dessert. Desserts tend to be unhealthy. But seriously, it's called 'kolacky'."

"You can afford to make a heart attack in a bun yet you can't afford to improve that shack of a house your family lives in?" She said, "Truly, your house is an eyesore. On the bright side, it makes my house look that much better."

"Your pretty house and nice clothes do not change the fact your whole family can't think for themselves, have ugly personalities, and are complete slaves to comformity." Blaze lamely commented, brushing the crumbs off his lap onto the floor. He added, "Besides, kolacky's cheap to make. A new roof isn't."

Chelsea passive aggressively changed the subject as she always did, "How did your parents come up with 'Blaze'? It's such a stupid name."

Blaze grinned as he calmly explained, "'Blaze' isn't my name. it's an americanization of my name, which is 'Blazej'."

"Why americanize it?" She asked, "It sounds dumb either way."

"So idiots like you can say it." Blaze answered.

Chelsea again changed the subject, glancing at his shirt, "'Kiss me kiss me kiss me'? Like, seriously? Who would want to kiss you?"

"It's the name of The Cure's 7th album."

Chelsea was relieved to hear something she knew and understood, "The 'Just Like Heaven' guys?"

"Of course you would have heard of the song 'Just Like Heaven'... such a conformist. Case in point: You obviously like Top 40 songs. You pranced around in your undies singing along to Madonna last Sunday morning. Pitchily, I might add."

Chelsea swerved as she shrieked, "You were looking in my window? Stalker!"

Blaze said, "Believe me, it wasn't intentional, but apparently you rich people don't believe in curtains, so that image is forever burned on my brain. And honey, I wouldn't be interested in you if we were in the middle of nowhere and about to die."

Chelsea turned her body to face Blaze, bringing the wheel with her as she said, "Look here, a-!"

The car careened off the road, tumbling and rolling down a steep and rocky hill. When the car was forced to a stop by a tree, it resembled a crumpled piece of paper.

Chelsea was the first to regain consciousness. She felt the seatbelt dig into her shoulder, chest, and waist. She could smell smoke and blood, the stench thick in the air. Realizing what was happening, she reached down and tried to unbuckle herself. Finding that her seatbelt refused to budge,she took another look around the car, searching for something to free herself with. Seeing her nail file on the ceiling of the upside-down car and reached for it, panting with effort as she was being strangled by her own seat belt. She finally got a hold of it and used the sharp edge of it to saw through her seatbelt. As the belt was about to snap, she held onto the steering wheel to brace her fall. This did little to break her fall and she landed sideways on her neck. Ignoring the pain, she sat up.

Blaze groaned, suspended upside-down by his seatbelt with a cut on his head dripping blood. She had cut her palm trying to get at the nail file, and reflectively sucked on the wound. She thought about that play she was forced to read in school with the super famous line, "To be or not to be, that is the question." She put her own spin on it as she weighed her options, "To abandon the Jerk, or not to abandon the Jerk, that is the question". She loathed him, but she remembered what that cop that had come to her elementary school had said about the buddy system: "In a dangerous situation, two people is always better than one. Not just to ward off danger, but to come up with ideas." She hated to admit it, but she knew one thing for sure: The Jerk is smart.

She leaned forward and began to saw through his seatbelt, holding his head because she was pretty sure he hit his head hard. Blaze had a rude awakening when his body smacked against the ceiling. He opened his eyes, blinking through haze. A disheveled Chelsea was staring back at him. She asked, "You brain-dead?"

"Not yet." Blaze said, pulling himself up to the sitting position. He asked, "Hey, where are we?"

"I don't know, I thought you were keeping track."

"You weren't keeping track of where we were?" Blaze roared, "You mean you have no idea what state we're in? City? Town?"

She shrunk, saying, "I think we're somewhere in rural Pennsylvania... maybe."

Blaze put his hands on his face as he took a deep breath, trying not to concentrate on his throbbing head or the moron sitting in front of him. He attempted calmness and asked, "Do you know which road we were on?"

"Some unlabelled unpaved country road." She said.

For a moment Blaze stared at her, wondering how someone can be so dumb. He took another breath and said, "You know what? That's fine. Everything's cool. It's cool. I can figure out where we are by the stars."

"You can do that?" She asked, truly impressed.

He sighed, "Fortunately, yes. Close your eyes." Blaze climbed to the back and grabbed his old baseball bat, then bashed out the front windshield. At first he couldn't define the smell, but he smelled smoke. Smoke means fire. Blaze grabbed Chelsea by the back of her shirt and dragged her out with him, and sprinted a few yards in time for the whole car to go up in flames.

Blaze's shoulders slumped and he said to himself, "There goes our supplies."

He looked up at the sky. Huge fat thunderheads blotted out the sky. No stars. Blaze muttered, "There goes our hopes of navigation. Maybe we can try the road we were on, but there's a good chance it's just an old cattle road a rancher used that leads to nowhere."

Chelsea began to panic, realizing the gravity of her mistakes. She sprinted, blindly running into the woods to anything. Blaze went after her, trying to keep up with the quick hysterical socialite. By the time he caught up to her, they were deep into the woods and truly lost. He tackled her to the leafy ground, panting. He asked through gasps for air, "Do you run track or something?"

Still hysterical, she began beating him with her hands. He gave her a good slap, calling her back to reality. She began to sob. She said, "We're going to die. Why did you come after me?"

He gripped her hands to keep her from hitting him as he said, "We're not going to die." He pulled out the rosary his father had given him and said, "We've got this. And let's face it, you're a blonde blue-eyed white girl with overprotective parents. I need you because they'll be coming for you, not for me."

He grabbed her by the wrist and yanked her up. Blaze began walking up the slope, stepping over logs and expertly traversing the terrain. She just stood there, unsure and insecure. She observed, “You’re good at this for a punky dweeb.”

“Yeah, darn us poor folks and our family camping trips.” Blaze said, glaring at her. He simply couldn’t believe how obstinate she was being. Was he really that hard to agree with? He asked, “Coming or not?”

Chelsea inhaled, swallowed her pride, and followed Blaze, muttering profanity under her breath. After a moment, Chelsea said, “I’m hungry.”

Blaze stopped and reached into his pocket, pulling out a crinkled bag half-full of Funyuns. He offered, “Funyun?”

She eyed the bag as if it were radioactive waste and said, “That’s like, 5 pounds in a bag.”

“We’re facing starvation and you’re worried about your figure.” Blaze said, his tone mocking affection, “Cute.”

She reached two manicured fingers into the Funyuns bag, scrunching her nose as if she could smell the calories. She bit into the Funyun, eyes squeezed shut. She slowly chewed the Funyun, savoring the flavor on her tongue. She admitted, “This is really good. Salty.”

“Yup.” Blaze said.

Rays of golden gratitude shone through as Chelsea said, “Thanks for sharing.” She added, “But I still hope you’re struck by lightning and die a long and horribly painful death.”
Blaze sighed, wondering if he could shove her off a cliff and pass it off as an accident. After all, there are no witnesses. Instead of acting on impulse, Blaze continued. They hiked up the hill to the top that was flat and semi-wooded.
Blaze pointed to a spot and told Chelsea, "Sit there."

She obeyed, and he ripped the strange designer shawl blanket thing she had been wearing on her shoulder's off her. He stomped to one of the trees Chelsea was sitting by and broke off two branches, and in a few minutes they had a makeshift canopy to sit under. As Blaze made the campfire, Chelsea asked, "How do you know how to do all this?"

"My parents insisted I know how to do these things so I could take care of myself in an emergency." Blaze said, lighting the wooden teepee he had made of logs with his Zippo.

Blaze sat back and rubbed the temples of his aching head. His ability to stay alert kept faltering, making him sleepy. Chelsea asked, "What's wrong with you?"

"I have a concussion," He muttered, "So I can't go to sleep. Keep nagging me and I'll be fine."

She looked at the pearl and sterling silver rosary he was fiddling with. She asked as the rain began to pour, "Why will we be fine because of a rosary?"

He said, "There's an interesting story behind this rosary. In 1938 Hitler had occupied a lot of Czechoslovakia, but not all. In the March of 1939, the Wehrmacht took over the rest of Czechoslovakia. The same year, my politically outspoken grandfather was shot in the street. My Grandmama Alzbeta, now a widow, refused to have her children grow up in that world. So in 1940, she got a chance for her and her children to be smuggled out of country. Because they were poor, when they finally got onto an America-bound boat, she couldn't afford anything above 3rd class. She and all five of her children— all of which were under the age of 8—were forced to stand on deck for the voyage. When the storm hit all she could do to protect her children from being swept off the ship by the huge tremendous waves that crashed over them was to sandwhich them between the railing and herself, telling them all to hold on and to not let go. My father was the oldest child; he was seven at the time, and he had been given his father's rosary when he died. He wore it around his neck, and when an especially large wave washed over them, somehow the rosary came off. My father let go of the railing, desperately grabbing for the last piece of his father he had left. The next wave swept my father off-board and into the Atlantic. Grandmama couldn't do anything, for she would be risking the rest of her children if she grabbed for him. As my father was being pulled into the undertow, he managed to grab the rosary. As he was dying, he was praying to any higher power that may be that he would at least make it to the shores of America alive. As soon as he thought that, a life preserver plopped in the water above him. He held onto it and was dragged back on board. My father told me when he saw the Statue of Liberty, he bawled his bloody eyes out. He hasn’t cried since. From then on out, my father didn't ask for anything. He worked for what he got, and everytime he looked at this rosary he remembered how lucky he is to be alive, to be American. The point is, I believe that this rosary's a lucky charm. I believe I'm lucky. Because I believe that, I believe that we'll be rescued."

Chelsea nodded, and for the first time, she didn't argue. She repeated his mantra, "We'll be rescued."




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