Hi Guys! My deepest apologies for the delay in getting this chapter out to you guys. My younger brother was in the hospital and it's just been an all around rough couple of weeks but I finally sat down this morning and finished up this chapter so I could get it to you guys. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for the reviews from last chapter and I will update again the weekend following when I get 5 reviews for this chapter so if I get 5 reviews between now and next Saturday I'll update next Saturday - with my new job I really only have the weekends to post. Thank you again! Happy Reading:) ~PrincessH~
The dim lights of the dining room flickered into the hallway and created a soft amber glow as Julie and Adam approached the entry way from the main hall. Julie's eyes watched the flickering in the darkness for a moment too long, stopping them in their strides before they reached the doorway and causing Adam turned to look at her with confusion. For a moment, a memory flashed in front of her eyes of a cold winter night in Minnesota not too long ago. Greg had lit the fireplace in their living room to heat the house and watch the flames burn away some of Julie's most prized possessions. Dark memories went along with that night because it was the night she had returned from the first time she tried to leave him. The light reminded her of the feelings she had felt that night as she approached the living room where she knew he would be waiting her. She had stood in the hall just outside the room for many minutes contemplating what he would do to her when she entered. Anything she had imagined was nothing like what had actually happened. The burn marks her eyes had raked over earlier in the day were just the beginning of the torture of that night. She could remember the force of the backhand that had forced her to the floor in front of the fire and the sound of the porcelain tool being lifted from its rack next to the mantle. It had only taken seconds for Greg to heat the end to his liking before he had forever branded her with his abuse. Brushing her hand over her forearm her eyes remained on the lights for a few more seconds.
"You okay? We can eat in our room if that would make you more comfortable." Adam suggested with questioning eyes. Julie seemed to realize where she was and shook her head negatively, looking to Adam's face for reassurance that she was safe here. She hated relaying on him so much but it was times like this that Julie realized just what she had done by leaving Greg. She knew the consequences should he ever catch them. Her abuse would be nothing compared to what they would do to Adam before they killed him in front of her. She knew she wouldn't survive much longer after if she was forced to watch that in front of her eyes. Adam was all that was good in this world and if he got hurt because of her, she wouldn't be able to live with herself.
"No..." She nearly whispered. "No, I'll be fine." She promised, looking again to the light and silently watching it dance against the wall ahead of them. She couldn't seem to turn her brain off from its memories but maybe in some ways it was a good thing to remind her that she wouldn't go back to that. That she was stronger than that and it would never be her in that situation again. Adam's hand reached out for hers, gently squeezing her hand in his for reassurance that she could do this and placing a small smile on his own lips. Julie's eyes trailed down to their joined fingers before she nodded again to clear her head of any remaining negative thoughts. For the first time in a long time, her eyes met his and she gripped his hand back with a new found confidence that she could do this. He smiled again at her and turned to the lead the way into the dining hall.
The laughter of the occupants down the hall filled their ears as they approached without anymore words exchanged and made their way through the doorway, hands still intertwined. Dwayne immediately took noticed of them from his seat among the people already gathered around the table for the evening meal. He stood to pull out a chair for Julie to sit down in next to him and motioned for them to come further into the room.
"About time, we been waiting on y'all before we started to eat." Dwayne said, making it a point to not touch Julie as she sled into the seat he had presented to her and pulled in the chair closer to the table on her own. Adam sat to her left and their eyes met for a moment, their hands finding their way back to each other before they were brought to the center of attention.
"Everyone, these are my friends Julie and Adam. They're going to be staying with us a while. They had some car trouble getting here but I'm glad they made the trip down to these woods to see an old friend so let's make them feel welcomed." Dwayne said as everyone raised a glass to them or tipped their hats in the customary fashion of Texas. Adam raised his glass in return, wrapping an arm around Julie to show that she was appreciative as well. Julie nervously took a drink from her water glass, trying to hide behind it but also show she was equally appreciative without smiling.
"You already met my momma but this is my Daddy, Dwayne Sr." Dwayne said pointing the aging man at the head of the table. He had on a similar hat as Dwayne but his was white instead of black. Adam nodded in his direction affectionately, sitting his glass back down where it had been resting against the table cloth and reclutching Julie's hand in his own. Dwayne's Father nodded back at Adam before tipping his hat at Julie with respect. She cast her eyes down but nodded in his direction as to not appear rude. She still wasn't good with interactions especially with strangers.
"Pleasure to meet some of Dwayne's friends. We weren't able to make it up north when he was at school, so it's a pleasure to have you here now." He said, taking a drink from a bottle of some kind of alcohol he had placed in front of him. Dwayne sat next to Julie's right, having made sure her chair was tucked in and smiled encouragingly at her before he picked up his fork to start eating the meal that was in front of him.
"Now Dwayne, you know we say grace before we eat…" His Momma reprimanded him from across the table. Dwayne sat down his fork again and smiled with shame, the tips of his ears turning red with embarrassment the way always would. Julie had forgotten the look he always got when he was in trouble but the familiarness of it for some reason set her mind as ease and she was able to look down at her meal with a bit of interest instead of revolution. The steam coming off of her plate gently rose to her nose and set her taste buds on fire. Her stomach felt more than empty, it felt like it had never been full. She couldn't remember the last time she had ate a meal without being stopped to do something for Greg. Even when they went out to dinner, if Greg was done, it was time to go and there would be no exceptions. She had learned the hard way to get what food she could before it was taken away. Dwayne's hand seeking out hers from the right side had her nearly jumping from the seat to get away from the human contact as she looked to Dwayne's out stretched hand resting on the table to take hers. She wanted to yell out at him or run and hide away from everyone but it was in that moment she realized that she was the center of attention in the fact that the table was preparing to say grace before their meal. Dwayne had reached for her hand to complete the circle and here she was looking at him as if he had murder her family by touching her. Julie locked eyes with his Mother's and she tried to shrug off her reaction but the other woman was already staring at Adam with questioning eyes. Julie knew what they would think but the sad part was that their conclusions would be directed at the wrong man. Rather than cause more people to question Adam, Julie took Dwayne's hand in hers and hung her head to prepare for the blessing. Her mind was anywhere but on the words that were filling the room with the scripture of the Bible. Instead she was kicking herself for her reaction and hoping everyone forgot shortly after. Adam's hand gently squeezing hers let her know that he wasn't worried about what these people thought but she didn't want any trouble for him after everything he'd already done to help her. She continued to silently curse herself when the prayer was over and Dwayne let go of her hand to pick up his fork. Julie's head remained down as she tried to compose herself instead of making a fool of herself and Adam again. Instead of looking to the other occupants of the room and their questioning eyes, Julie looked to her food again. Dwayne's Mother had made meatloaf and from what Julie was smelling it seemed to be homemade meatloaf and mashed potatoes that had been made fresh. Julie felt her mouth water slightly and her stomach let off a loud growl. She took a glance up, hoping no one was still looking at her to hear the loud noises her stomach was involuntarily making for her. Dwayne was too busy digging into his plate to her right and Adam was deciding where to start on her left. No one's eyes were on her surprisingly enough. They weren't even on Adam anymore. It felt good for once to not be the center of someone's attention.
Carefully picking up her fork from the table, she tried the mashed potatoes first. Julie never bothered to make any potatoes herself anymore, Greg would call him starches that would make him gain weight, so she hadn't had them in ages. The buttery taste when they hit her tongue made her close her eyes to enjoy the flavors in her mouth and on her taste buds as they passed. The meatloaf too, once she got finished with the potatoes was just as delicious to her and before she knew it, she had eaten everything on her plate. Adam sat next to her, having finished his serving a few seconds before and watched her look around in embarrassment that she seemed so hungry and how fast she had eaten but no one was paying any attention to either of them. Adam tried to stifle his laughter as to not embarrass her further but Julie knew that laugh anywhere. Her head turned towards him, a look of shock on her face but he nodded it away.
"You're fine. You're getting your old appetite back... it's a good thing." Adam whispered into her ear. Julie's face was still red but she allowed a line to form on her lips. Not a smile but better than the frown she wore most of the time, Adam thought with hope that this was the start of a change in her. Dwayne was just finishing up next to her and looked to the two of them with questioning eyes.
"If y'all are finished, let's go out back and talk for a minute before y'all hit the hay." He asked. Adam nodded wordlessly before Dwayne looked to his Momma once again. "Excuse me but Momma we're going to out for some fresh air and catch up a bit?" Dwayne asked. It was only after the question that Julie realized he was asking for permission to leave the table, they way would have when she was much younger. She couldn't remember ever asking to be excused in the past ten years. Dwayne's Momma nodded approval and went back to her conversation with an older man that Julie could only assume was Dwayne's Uncle who sat next to her. "Come on, y'all." Dwayne said getting up fast before anyone said anything and throwing his napkin on the table. Adam instinctively grabbed Julie's hand in his, also tossing his napkin on the table and led the way from the dining room.
The moon was out and casting a light glow to the field behind the Inn. Adam wasn't sure what kind of crop grew in Texas but something was being grown back there. Julie sat down on the pouch swing behind him and gently rocked on the bails of her feet to make the bench swing in the night air. The soft squeaking of the old strings was calming as he turned to look at his friends. Julie was entirely too full but it was a good feeling knowing she was safe for once. Adam leaned casually against the porch railing opposite of her and watched her with interest as her fingers grazed the carvings in the arm rest. Dwayne shut the door behind them and checked to make sure that no one had followed them out before he started to talk. When he was sure the coast was clear, he turned to them with a smile on his face.
"How are y'all doin'?" He asked, looking to Adam's shoulder with interest. Adam tried to move his arm to rotate his shoulder but the ache was too much and he kept his arm tucked closely to his side not letting on how much it really hurt.
"The same, Julie's face seems to be healing up though." Adam said with a small smile, completely disregarding the pain in his arm for Julie's progress. Julie watched him nervously, wondering how he could care for her so much that her bruised face and broken cheekbone was more important that a gunshot wound in his shoulder. She'd had this injury many times before and knew how to deal with it. She doubted very much if he'd ever been shot. Dwayne nodded his heading understanding before looking to Julie on the swing.
"That's good to hear..." He trailed off into nothingness. Julie knew this was usually where he asked questions he deemed were going to be hard to answer as his eyes searched the wooden planks lining the floor. "So, I want to help y'all... I feel kind of useless at this point , not knowing nothing..." Dwayne trailed off again. Adam looked to Julie for reassurance before he spoke.
"What do you want to know?" He asked, still looking to Julie for confirmation to continue. Dwayne seemed to stand up straighter at the opening to talk that Adam had given him.
"Well I know y'all are running from Julie's ex and he's like all men in black crazy but why didn't y'all leave him to begin with? I mean the first time he hit you?" Dwayne asked, looking to Julie. Adam was going to answer for her but to his surprise Julie's meek voice started to speak first.
"I loved him... At least I wanted to believe that... It's hard Dwayne... You've got to remember him in college, how much he made me feel special..." Julie said, watching her knees move slightly as she rocked on the swing to keep busy. The motion helped her to not focus on what she was saying. It was easier to not think about how stupid she had been for the past few years. Dwayne only nodded, tucking his hands into his pockets with a nervous nod.
"I remember Connie didn't like him. If Connie don't like you than there's something wrong..." Dwayne trailed off again as to not offend anyone but he knew deep down that Julie should have seen the warning signs way before she had gotten into the situation she was currently in. Julie was a smart girl after all, she'd tutored him a time or two in many different subjects to keep him on the team. Julie only nodded in response.
"I know... I've thought about it a hundred times but I just... I wanted to be happy and he made me happy at the time." Julie said, trying not remember how many mistakes she had made because she was still so in love with the man across from her. Adam's eyes watched her for any sign this was getting to be too much for her. He would stop the conversation in a minute if he thought she was going to get upset. Dwayne knew when he should let a conversation go and so he decided to let that question go for now and move on.
"Russ called me earlier, said Connie was freaking out and had called all the Ducks to look for you guys. Said y'all was in trouble..." Dwayne trailed off. Adam hung his head. He suddenly remembered he hadn't called Connie back in a couple days. She was probably worried sick and no doubt driving Guy crazy. He glanced down at his watch and thought about calling her when they got back to the room and he could plug his phone in. It had been dead since yesterday or the day before, he couldn't even remember time anymore, it all seemed to blend together into the period before he found Julie and after.
"Yeah, I was going to call her back." Adam mumbled. Dwayne nodded away,
"Well she's freaking out. I told Russ y'all was here and you were safe for now." Dwayne said before Julie's eyes shot up.
"No, we don't know who it's safe to tell..." Julie said looking to Adam. Adam put his hands out in defense.
"They're the Ducks. They're not going to tell anyone." Adam assured her. She was more worried about them getting involved than anything else but she let it go for the moment to focus on their conversation. She'd talk to Adam later about talking to Connie.
"Okay, what are y'all planning on doing? You can't run forever..." He said, looking between the two of them. It was Adam's turn to speak.
"We really don't know. We've been running since Minnesota and no matter where we go, he always finds us..." Adam conveyed, a hint of hopelessness in his voice s he brushed his hand over his face with exhaustion in thinking about it. Julie sighed deeply, it was just as she had thought when they first left. It was ridiculous to run because he'd find them. Either by default or by some stupid mistake they made like tell anyone where they were. Hopefully the tape that they found had something that they could use against him and get him to stop chasing them. Bring the tape back to the forefront of her mind she looked to Adam to see if he would ask for the cassette player they needed to listen to it. His mind still seemed in the thought that Greg could track them where ever they decided to go next and that now they had turned their friends into possible targets. She too knew they couldn't stay here forever but she was hoping for a little while longer. Adam finally looked to her but she didn't know how to let him know what she was thinking. Instead she tried to ask herself without endangering Dwayne.
"Dwayne, you wouldn't happen to have a tape player, would you? A cassette player?" She clarified. Adam suddenly remembered the tape they had upstairs that may be their saving grace. Dwayne looked down at her with confusion marking his face.
"I'm sure I can dig one up around here but what's this about?" He asked with curiosity. Julie had been adamant she did not want to put anymore of the Duck's a risk but it seemed they all might be. She looked to Adam for a reason other than the truth but her mind coming up blank. Adam thought quick but couldn't find a reason to lie to their lifelong friend. He shook his head at Julie who looked down and silently shrugged as if to say what's the use in hiding before tears came to her eyes. Adam watched her for a moment contemplating going to her but he knew what they had to do.
"We found a tape, hidden in Julie's things that she took with her when we left. We think Greg is in to something big but we need a tape player to know for sure." Adam said looking to Dwayne. "I understand if you don't want to get involved, Julie didn't want to put you in danger. If we can just get the player we'll listen to it on our own." Adam said, standing from his spot on the railing. Dwayne looked at him with unbelieving eyes.
"Not put me in danger?" Dwayne questioned, looking between the both of them. "What are we talking here?" He asked. Adam's eyes fell again to Julie but she won't look up at him this time. He sighed deeply, there was no way around it now.
"We think it has something to do with the President..." Adam trailed off. Dwayne's eyes became as big as saucers and looked down, adjusting his hat on his head as he did so.
"Well by golly, we better have a listen to that tape, don't you think?" Dwayne said, stepping from foot to foot with nervousness. Adam only nodded before Dwayne took off back though the door to find a tape recorder. Adam looked to Julie once he was gone and slowly moved next to her, sitting down on the bench beside her. She was no longer rocking, she hadn't been since she realized there was no choice but to bring Dwayne into their mess. Adam didn't say anything to her as he watched the tears fall from the end of her nose. Her hands covered her eyes as she leaned her arms against her knees and curled up on herself once more. Adam placed his good arm around her back and placed the palm of his hand to her spine the way he remembered how when they were teenagers to get her to stop crying.
"Why did you tell him?" She sobbed lightly into her own palms, never looking at him. "Why did he tell all of them?" She sobbed. Adam continued to rub her back gently.
"Julie, we have to stop all this mistrusting... He's our friend and I know you don't want to get him hurt or anyone else for that matter but we need him and I think somehow he needs us right now too. He needs us to be okay... They all do..." Julie still did not look at him but her crying had slowed to a minimal and her back no longer shook with distress. The silence of the night filled them for the first time and Adam sighed in a bit of relief. It had been too long since he'd been able to sit still and admire the beautiful landscape. Too many cars honking and people yelling in New York for his taste. Texas seemed pretty bad from the highway but here it seemed serene and calming. Maybe it was the fact that he didn't have to look over his shoulder every couple seconds or the fact that he had Julie sitting next to him and she wasn't fighting to leave him behind to protect him. Rubbing against her back again, Adam hoped she was done with the protection ploy to keep people at a distance. He knew she truly did not want to get anyone hurt at her expense but in the same right, Dwayne and anyone else that wanted to had the right to get involved. They knew the risks just as he had and they were choosing to put themselves in that danger. Julie needed to understand that. Julie finally sat up next to him when the back door opened again and Dwayne came back out with a very old looking black stereo with the detachable speakers. Adam had to smile at the sight , he remembered when he had one very similar to it in his dorm room at Eden Hall.
"Well alright, let's listen to this tape of y'alls." Dwayne said with anticipation laced in his voice.