I'd grown accustomed to ignoring the sidelong looks she gave my husband when she thought no one was looking, ignoring the looks he returned when she looked away. What would the point have been? He was my husband, not hers. We had come to this place to start over, make a perfect life away from the cancer of the modern world. The cancer had followed us anyway, even as I fought it ignore it.
And then, Lucius was hurt, almost killed. Edward came to me that night, a frantic need in him as he entered my willing body. He cried out her name as he climaxed, and it was like a dagger to my heart. As soon as he was finished, I rolled onto my side, curling into a ball and crying myself asleep.
I was hardly surprised when he sacrificed our daughter to the Towns. He had to give her something he could never have. How fitting that Lucius is the son of Alice. The children could have what their parents could not. I tried not to let bitterness rule my heart, but it was hard to watch them touch without touching, love without loving. When had I become not enough for him? I, who had sacrificed so much for his crazy dream of utopia. Yet the fear that was here was no part of utopia.
When I found out I was pregnant once more, I began to know what I had to do. I opened the box that held the vestiges of our old life, removing the papers I would need to pick up where I had left off twenty years ago. Edward had no idea what I was up to, and I planned to keep it that way until the very last moment.
This birth was long and hard, and I could feel the weakness in my bones as I pushed our daughter into the world. "Her name is Alice," I whispered to Kitty as she cleaned her off. Alice looked at me sharply and I nodded to her, a hard smile on my lips. She fled from the room and Kitty handed me the child. I opened my dress and let her suckle, relishing in the feel of fluid leaving my body to nourish my daughter. She would have nothing to do with Edward, of this I was sure. Alice would be raised in the Towns, of that I was certain.
Kitty must have seen something in my look. "Mama, is everything all right?"
"Yes, darling, everything is fine. And soon, you'll know this joy as well," I answered, rubbing her stomach gently. Blushing, she nodded and held my hand there, letting me feel the strong kicks of her child, my grandchild. I would be leaving all this behind.
Edward knocked on the door and I beckoned him in, trying to smile as I did so. "I heard we have another daughter. And that you names her Alice."
"I did. It seemed fitting."
"She was upset when she left here."
"Was she?" I replied placidly, holding the child up to my shoulder to burp her.
"You know full well she was. What were you thinking, giving our child that name?"
"That it is a lovely name, and fits her hair color. See, she has auburn hair, just like her namesake." I turned my shoulder to show him the full head of hair on my daughter. "Now leave, please. I wish to rest."
I scooted down in the bed, laying my head on the pillow. I knew I would need my sleep if we were to leave once darkness fell. I let my eyes close, holding my daughter close. "Let's leave now, Papa," I heard Kitty say and then the door closed and I could sleep at last.
Hours later, I woke to darkness. Alice mewled lowly and I held her to my breast, praying that by feeding her she would be quiet on our journey's beginning. Once she'd finished, I changed clothes, putting on a fresh dress and then placed the baby sling around my body, putting her inside and making certain her face was clear to breathe.
As I picked up the rucksack I'd been filling over the months, I heard the floorboards creak and looked up into Kitty's eyes. "Where are you going, Mama?"
"Out for a walk to clear my head. Things have been so unsettled lately."
"You are not coming back, are you?"
I looked at my eldest daughter and knew I could not lie to her. "I'm not. Don't tell anyone until the afternoon. I'll need time to get away."
"Are the Towns really that wonderful?" she cried out in anguish, holding her stomach.
"No, but I cannot live a lie any longer. When your father asks, tell him that." I hugged her close to me, kissing her cheek.
"May I at least walk you to the edge of the woods, Mama?"
"I'd love that." She took my rucksack and together we walked through the silent village. No one was up at this hour and I was relieved there would be no one to explain myself to. The closer we got to the woods, the more nervous I became. Was I really able to take this step? I was forty seven years old with a new baby about to enter a world that had carried on without me.
"Well, here we are. Oh Mama, do you have to leave? Can't you and Papa work out you problem with Mrs. Hunt?"
"I wish I could, dear heart. This is the only way out for me. Watch over the little ones, I know this will be hard on them, but I can't take them from the only way of life they know." She sighed and hugged me, wiping tears from her face. "I'll always love you, baby."
"I love you, Mama."
I turned from her, knowing if I didn't leave now, I never would. I took a few steps into the woods, then turned and waved to her. After she'd gone, I pushed on into the woods, eager to put as much distance between the village and myself.
At first light, I fed Alice once more and then covered us with the cloak I'd taken, curling up on the forest floor. My sleep was short and fitful, but I felt a bit stronger knowing I was closer to escape.
By evening, I'd found the stone path that would lead me back to civilization. I slept next to that beacon of hope the night through, waking only to feed Alice. In the morning, I changed clothes, putting a fresh diaper on Alice. Putting her back in the sling, I followed the path to freedom.
Once at the fence, I searched the thick growth of ivy for the small door I knew to be there. I found it and hesitantly turned the knob. The door squealed mightily from decades of dormancy and I felt Alice stir against me. She began to cry lustily, and I opened my dress once more, feeding her.
I spun on my heel and faced my husband. "No, Edward, I won't. Go back to her to them. Tell them that the monsters you created killed me and my daughter. In a way, it's the truth." I turned back and stepped through the doorway into the unknown.
Looking down the road, I saw a truck coming toward us just as Edward stuck his head out the door. Seeing the vehicle, he slammed the door, shutting me out from my past life. The truck slowed, and then stopped next to me.
"Who are you? Where's Ivy?"
I looked at him quizzically. "How do you know my daughter?"
"Didn't she tell you? I'm Kevin, the one who helped her, who got her the medicine. I still have the watch she gave me, hoping she's reappear someday so I could give it back. Do you need more medicine? Is that why you've come?"
I regarded him for a moment, wondering if I could trust him. He did know Ivy, after all. "No, I need to get to a phone as soon as possible."
"Whatever you'd like, Mrs. Walker. Follow me, please." He turned back to the truck and I made to follow him when the door opened one last time.
"Tabby, please." His eyes were sorrowful and I almost broke down. "Come home to us."
I shook my head slowly. "No, Ed." I turned and got in the truck, ignoring his agonized cry as I shut the door.
"What was that cry?" Kevin asked, putting the truck in gear.
"Just one of the animals that inhabit the woods." I adjusted Alice in the sling as I buckled the seatbelt. "It's what, 2008 now?" He nodded. "What's happened in the last twenty years?"
"Uh, uh, where do I begin? Have you really been in these woods for that long?"
"Since 1987, yes. Well, let's start with who's president."
"George W. Bush. The election this year is going to be a tough one, what with Barack Obama running against John McCain. The country is really dividing, in my opinion. Before Bush was Bill Clinton for two terms and then Bush's father was president for a term before that." He sighed. "You've also missed a lot of heartache. We're at war right now, and a lot of people have lost their lives." He fell silent once more as he turned into a guard station.
I followed him inside and set my rucksack on the floor. "Do you happen to have a phonebook I can use?"
Kevin nodded and handed me a thick book. "This is just for Philadelphia. If you need an out of town number, I can look it up on the internet."
I made a noncommittal noise, though I wondered what this 'internet' was, and thumbed through the phonebook. My sister and her husband were still there on K Street and I dialed her number with trembling fingers.
"Mary? Is that you?"
"No, this is her daughter, Tabitha. Do you wanna speak to my mom?"
"If she's free." I wiped at my cheeks, tears clouding my vision.
"Hi, who is this?" My sister sounded the same and different, and suddenly I hoped that she'd recognize me. "Hello?"
"Mary Berry, it's me. Tabby."
"Oh my god, Tabitha. Where are you?"
"In a guard shack outside the Walker Wildlife Preserve. Will you come and get me?" I broke down sobbing, unable to hold my emotions in any longer.
"Of course, Tabs. Give me forty five minutes and I'll be there. Hold on until then." She hung up on me and I sank into the chair, holding Alice close to my heart.
She rooted hungrily at my breast and I blushed as I realized I had nothing to cover us with. "Here," Kevin lowly said, handing over his jacket. Gratefully, I accepted it and opened my dress, feeding my daughter. "How many children do you have?"
"She is my sixth, but the only one I could take with me. The others only know of life in the Woods and I couldn't take them from that." I looked up into his eyes, and saw he didn't understand. But who would?
"Are you guys hippies?"
I couldn't help but laugh. "No, just idealists who sought to build Utopia."
"Utopias never work. Isn't that the point More was trying to make?"
Maybe I'd been too quick to dismiss this young man. "Yes, they never work perfectly. But Ed has a handle on it by using fear to keep the people in line. Though, if you're strong enough to leave this world behind, you could be happy there, for a time."
"You left, though."
"That I did, Kevin." I bit my lip and looked away from him. "I couldn't bear being around them any longer, I had to get out."
"If you were my wife, I would never let you go." I looked up sharply at him, seeing the truth of his words in his eyes. "I would not look at another person."
"Certainty and fidelity pass, like a bell's vibrations. There is no constant."
"I refuse to believe that, Mrs. Walker. Even with all the horror and separation in this world of mine, I still believe in a true and everlasting love."
He did, I could see that in his eyes as well. "If you ever wish to go to the Woods, there is a way. Where I came out from, there's a stone path. Half a mile down it, turn into the woods and keep walking until you come to a clearing. You'll know what to do from there. Make no mention of the year. When you go, return the watch to Ivy."
It was his turn to look at me sharply. "How did you know my desires?"
"You're an idealist, like Edward." Alice released her grip on my breast and I burped her, and then held her close as I fixed my dress. "And they need a new idealist."
Kevin's radio crackled to life and an upset voice came out of it. "Kevin, I have a woman here who insists that her sister is in one of our guard shacks. Do you know what she's talking about?"
I watched him pick up the radio. "Yes. Send her to mile marker ten." He looked at me with something akin to adoration. "I have her sister. She was abandoned on the side of the road by her husband. Tell her to come quickly."
"Will do, Kevin."
I smiled up at him sadly. "Sometimes lies are the kindest form of the truth."
"Yes." I was surprised when he hugged me. "Thank you for giving me this opportunity, Mrs. Walker. I hope you find the happiness you deserve in my world."
"And I hope you find the same in mine."
"I meant what I said, though. If you were my wife, I wouldn't let you go so easily. I wouldn't be faithless, and it wouldn't matter how grave a vision Venus sent, you would be mine forever. Vows should never be taken lightly, nor broken easily."
I felt my eyes well up once more. He knew Auden as well and could turn a metaphor like the best of my honors students used to. "I hope they appreciate the fine mind you have," I whispered, wiping my cheeks free of tears once again.
We both turned to look at the door as it opened, revealing my sister. "Tabitha!" I stood and took a hesitant step forward, holding Alice close. She closed the distance and swept me up in a tight hug. "Oh my god, Tabby, I thought I'd never see you again! And you have a new baby? Where's Kitty and Ed? Oh, Tabby." She kissed my cheek, and I buried my face in her hair. "Everything's waiting for you, I've, we've been taking care of the estate for when you came back."
She led me to the door and I picked up my rucksack. "I need to get clothes for Alice and myself. I-I don't even know what size I am anymore." It was then she took a good look at me and my attire.
"My god, Tabby. Did he get you involved in a cult?" I nodded, feeling it easier to give her that twist on the truth. "Right, new clothes will be our first order of business. Oh, I'm so glad you escaped, Tabby." She shut the door and I turned to look at Kevin through the glass of the car window. He looked resolved and I nodded at him. Today would be the first day of the rest of our lives. I fastened my seatbelt and relaxed. I was home at last.