That's the compromise I seem to need. Some advanced planning, but enough wiggle room for both characters and plot to move into unexpected territory.
Today I discovered that Amara has a brother and that things that happened to the brother in the past have an important impact on how she relates to Matt. That certainly wasn't in my original planning for this story. Yet in making room for it, the plot, characters, and motivations become much clearer.
This snippet is from the scene where Matt becomes fully committed to the action that will dictate the endgame of the story. The place where he will choose to act rather than react. He's not quite there yet, but he will be and very soon.
Amara moved forward until she blocked the sunlight. I held my breath, looking back and forth from her dark shadow at the alley mouth to the chain link fence at its end. She slipped into the alley and hugged the wall until she was standing opposite me, both of us hidden from the street.
My hands were clammy. I wiped them on my pants. Her face was flushed and her eyes didn't leave mine. Seconds ticked away as we stood there. Cars squealed in the distance. A single horn blared. She was breathing as fast as I was.
"Take off your sweatshirt," she said.
"Your sweatshirt. Here, catch." She tossed me a dark windbreaker I hadn't noticed she was holding. "There's a baseball cap in the pocket."
"Where did. . . whose are these?"
She shrugged. "Does it matter?"
What's petty theft on top of grand theft? I pulled off my hoodie and threw it to her. "What are you doing?"
I shook my head. "I don't understand."
She smiled and even the alley seemed a little brighter. "Who do you think set off the fire alarm, stupid?"
I paused, the jacket half on half off, one sleeve flapping by my side. "You? I don't. . . why?"
"You didn't take that stuff. That's Bruno's crew. Payback for last week."
I pulled the jacket on and crammed the hat over my head. They were looking for a kid with light brown hair in a gray hoodie. That wasn't me any more. "Thanks"
"I owed you one," she said, turning around to the alley entrance. "Come on."
She stopped and turned back to me. "You want to stay here?" she asked, wrinkling her nose at the smell.
I hung back, shaking my head. "Look. I'm in a world of trouble. This doesn't involve you."
"The hell it doesn't," she said, her hands on her hips.
I smiled for a second. It reminded me of Lola. But I probably wouldn't see them again. Not Lola, Jack, or Trina.
"We're connected somehow," Amara said. "Whether I like it or not. Whether you like it or not. Now, are you coming, or are you going to hide in here with the rats?" She marched up the alley back the way she'd come.
She sighed. "What now?"
"How did you find me?" I didn't know I was going to come here, how the hell could she have known?
"I followed you."
I looked back the way she'd come. "We can't go that way."
She stopped and rolled her eyes. "The school is still a madhouse. No one knows you're here. Except me."
I stared out through the gloom of the alley. "You can't know that. Not for sure."
"Well, I barely caught you leaving school and I was looking for you," she said, shrugging. "But if you're that worried, you'll have to help me over the fence."
She was looking for me. My face flushed. I shouldn't have cared, but I did. I should've pushed her away again, but there was no one else. Besides, she was looking for me.