Okay guys, I'm not gonna break this up into chapters or anything, at least not right now. Here it is if you want it. Just...remember this is a year old (when I was a completely different person) and unedited, but...hell, you guys are the first ones reading it. Here goes nothing. Also, Madison, my husband, is a whore and went through this putting in random side notes where I wouldn't notice, and I'm too lazy to find them all, so if you happen to read something that sounds particularly strange or out of place...just...Madison. -

Chapter 1

Running. Running fast. Faster than I've ever moved in my life. Heart thumping. Thumping hard. Thumping so hard I know it's going to burst through my heaving chest. I have to reach them first. I have to reach them before he does. I turn the corner, slipping on the hall rug. My rug. Our rug. He bought me that rug for no reason two years ago. He said it was just because he loved me. Where was that man now? I can see their bedroom door now. I'm going to reach them. I'm going to reach them first. He won't touch them. I'm going to reach them. Hands. Hands in my hair, yanking me backwards. Hands around my neck. A hot whisper in my ear. Heart pounding. Sweating. A scream building in my throat. I open my mouth. Hand on my back, hand on my neck. Hands shove hard. My face hits the wall. Once, twice, again and again. I try to scream. Instead I hear his primal growl erupt to a bloodcurdling howl. Hands on my shoulders. Hands shove again. I hit the ground. Hard. I try to crawl. Try to reach them. I can't see. Too much blood, tears clouding my vision. Heavy impact on the back of my head. Pain. Darkness.

I shoot up in bed. I'm hyperventilating again. I try desperately to calm myself. I woke the children last time. Glancing around the room, it's too dark to see any details, but not so dark that I don't see I'm in my home. My real home. Not that awful place. That was never a home. That was hell.

I slouch over, pull my knees up to my chest and steady my head between my knees, just like Dr. Wagner showed me. I hug my knees, pull them in closer, as if they could be any tighter, trying to fold in on myself, trying to make myself become the smallest, tightest being I can, and then becoming even smaller.

When my breathing finally slows, I wait, making sure it doesn't spontaneously start again. When I'm sure the episode is over, I relax my tensed muscles and lift my head, only to place it in my hands. I gently cradle my head, just like I did years ago when the children were still infants. I feel my damp face, cool from sweat and tears. There's a warm spot. It's sticky. My nose bled again. As my hundred mile-per-hour thoughts slow, I realize for the first time there's a hand on my back, making slow, steady circles, heavy and warm. I turn my head slowly and see Jim sitting up beside me. His eyes are electric, filled with intense concern and fear, not of me, but for me. Behind this, I can see the pure love. This alone makes me collapse again, sobbing in his warm, bare chest.

And he doesn't say a thing. That's something I love about Jim. He knows when I need soothing whispers, and when I can't bear to hear any human's voice. He simply rubs my back, wrapping the other warm, strong, protective arm around me, forming an impenetrable my sobs finally subside, we sit in silence for a time. He slowly, ever so slowly lies back down, bringing me down with him, but not forcing me. Never forcing me. I listen to his heartbeat. Steady and even. I'm safe here. I'm home here.

After what seems like hours of perfect tranquility, a haven after my earlier episode, he finally speaks, slowly, gently, with his deep hearty voice.

"Rissa?"

"Ya?"

"How are you?"

"Better."

"Was it the same dream again?"

I sigh. "Yes."

He lifts the arm wrapped around my waist, brings his hand to my chin, and lifts my head so I'm looking into his smoldering eyes.

"He will never hurt you again. He will never touch you again. I promise I will never let him near this family. Never. He's locked up in maximum security and he is never ever getting out. "

"I know." I stutter. "I know. He can't touch me again, but that doesn't mean I can forget. Every night, he's there. He will never leave me alone. Not really."

We lay in silence again. I can sense him thinking. He wants to ask me, but he doesn't want me to break down again. I answer before he can ask.

"No. She wasn't there this time. I didn't make it to their room. I never came to after he kicked me. This time."

"Do you think it's better that way?"

I think to myself. After a few minutes "I don't know. I hurts to see her, like that, but…I don't know."

I begin to cry again. Not sobs this time, but a steady stream of tears, as my mind is flooded with thoughts of her, thoughts that hurt so badly to remember, but thoughts I couldn't bear to repress. Thoughts of her beautiful face, her long hair and slender limbs. Memories of her exuberant smile, her magical aura, her infectious laughter. Laughter I will never hear again. A smile I will never see. An aura that will never penetrate my being, never again. I'll never see her again. My baby girl. I allow the floodgates to open and the memories pour in.

Chapter 2

I was sitting on her favorite blanket. Yellow and blue, checkered, faded, tattered. I gazed at my surroundings, the dry white sand, the crashing, melodic waves, the sun, balanced precariously on the horizon, threatening to soon sink below the line of ocean and bring the darkness that meant the end of our special day. Sand seeped through the various holes in the ancient piece of fabric. So many times, I tried unsuccessfully to convince her to let me throw it away, let me buy her a brand new blankie. 'No, Mama!' she'd cry when she was so small she could still wrap her whole body in it and have plenty of extra cloth to spare. 'Don't take blan-blan!' She never told me why she loved that blanket so much. I think she mostly loved it because it reminded her of the first blanket I gave her, which I threw away when she was like two. I should have asked. I finally threw it away one day. I'll never forget the tears when she realized it was gone. I'll never forget the guilt I felt when I lied, when I told her blan-blan had gone away but was very happy with her new fairy friends, not sitting in a dump somewhere covered in garbage. Why didn't I let her keep the damn blanket? Why was it so important I throw it out? Why did I have to be so selfish? That day on the beach was one of blan-blan's last outings. Sitting there, admiring the breath-taking atmosphere, I secretly thought to myself how happy I was that the stupid bunny movie had sold out. I knew she'd remember a birthday on the beach with the family much more than an hour and a half of obnoxious cartoon singing rabbits and a happy meal. "Mama!" She squealed from a few feet away, her attention diverted from her 'sand castle', more a sand pile, and now focused on something the waves had just carried up to her tiny toes. She bent down, snatched a pink object, a tab larger than her miniature palm, and ran to me, kicking sand behind her all the way. She never stopped herself in those days, just let the nearest object heavier than her force her to a halt, and still she didn't give up then, pushed and pushed, determined to overcome the obstacle. She collided with me in moments, giggling, the tinkling laughter sounding in my ears. "Mama! Look, look!" She held her arm up high above her head, displaying her prize, stance like something off the cover of a cheesy adventure novel, the muscular, meat-headed hero thrusting his sword to the heavens. Here was my little girl, trying to be the great conqueror, the brave heroine she aspired to be. I laughed at this picture, my child on the cover of those awful books, clad in loincloth atop a mammoth mountain with a symbolic sword far too heavy for her to ever lift. Her squeals of delight pulled me from my daydream. "What is it Nola, what? What have you got for Mama?" I asked in feigned enthusiasm, simply to excite her and allow her to shine in her imagined moment of monumental success. "I got it Mommy!" She said as she cupped her hands directly below my chin revealing a squirming, angry crab. My maternal instincts overtook me as I ripped the creature from my child's hands. "No Nola! No baby! He can hurt you, see? See his claws? Ow, baby, ow!" Nola reached around me, grabbing for the crustacean. "Mama! I want him!" The desperation in her eyes and my fear of a possible injury battled it out in my head. Finally, I sighed and handed the animal to her, but insisted she let me hold the claws out of reach. I smiled in spite of myself at my daring, un-fearing child, absorbed in this strange world she was still so new to. We set the crab, which she dubbed Runny, on the blanket and giggled together as it scuttled around, looking for a way back to the water away from my curious child. I pulled Nola into my lap, cradling her as we said farewell to Runny and watched him escape back to the sea. Nola laughed and placed her tiny hand on my cheek. I leaned in to her touch, feeling the soft, moist skin, not yet hardened and calloused from a long life. I sat there in our perfect embrace, absorbing the pure love concentrated in those single moments, glowing in my elated aura. Suddenly, I felt Nola tense in arms. A threat loomed nearby. Unconsciously I tightened my grip, my unwilling sense of fight or flight kicking in already. No one would harm her, not while I was here. I looked up just as he reached us, and I wondered what was in store. "Hi Papa." Nola mumbled cautiously. "Anthony" I smiled up at my husband, hoping, praying he would return the warmth I tried to project. He didn't. "Get up." He said, cold and even, kind of like an ice cube. "We're leaving. Now." "No Papa!" Nola wailed suddenly. She was out of my arms before my mind registered to shield her from her father. He grasped the front of her magenta swimsuit in a fist, pulling her face in level with his, nose to nose. "I. Said. Now." He spat. She recoiled at his touch, squirming and whining, her silent way of pleading for freedom. "Anthony!" I whispered violently, my words my only weapon as my body was frozen in place, too petrified to yank my daughter away from the clutches of this monster. He slowly turned to glare at me, his ferocious eyes penetrating my false strong front, my tensed pose crumbling under the weight of his gaze. He violently released Nola, the force too much for her fragile body causing her to stumble back and fall into my open lap. Anthony gave us one final glare before turning mechanically and stalking towards the parking lot. Nola turned and gazed into my eyes, hers a mixture of fear, wonder, and pleading. I stared back at her, our silent language transferring my pathetic attempts of comfort to her. I tucked her head between my chin and neck, ran my fingers through her thick, wavy hair, before gathering up my two other sleeping children, devastated that my little girl's otherwise perfect day had come to such a traumatic close at the hands of the monster she called 'Daddy'.

Chapter 3

Somewhere in the middle of my reminiscing, my recollections turn to dreams as I drift off into a light sleep, remembering the few wonderful times I spent with my youngest child that remained unspoiled by her unworthy father. I awake the next morning, dazed from my nighttime journey. It's been so long since I allowed myself to recollect those precious memories and convince myself for even a few hours that my magnificent child is still with me. I remember now why I so often repress the need to envision her, jubilant and vivacious, as I am overcome with the violent surge of realization and the severe pain that comes with this. The tears flow again, and I let them, as I lay in bed, forcing my mind to go blank, trying to eliminate the throbbing ache that overwhelms me. When my eyes dry and I pull myself together, I am forced to realize today is a new day, and I have to carry on with my life.

'Ok.' I think, 'What's first? What day is it? Saturday? Yes, Saturday.'

I am unconsciously made aware of this fact by several clues I reflexively pick up on. First, the sun is starting to come in through the window, shining directly in my eyes. It's late. If it's late, the alarm didn't go off. Yes. Jim shuts it off on the weekends. I worked yesterday, so it can't be Sunday. The smell of bacon forces its way into my bedroom. Jim always makes eggs and bacon for us on Saturday. Sunday is Pancake Day. Usually I welcome the hearty, sit-down breakfast after a long week of cereal and granola bars before rushing out the door, but today even the thought of food makes me sick. My stomach still hurts too much from the amount of crying I did last night. Nighttime sobbing is not unusual for me. The dream sends me into a panic attack in my sleep at least once a week if not more. The tears for remembering Nola this night were extra.

I push myself unwillingly out of bed, slip on some fuzzy boots and my plush white bathrobe, both Christmas gifts 'from' the kids, although I know Jim of course bought them. I drag myself over to the mirror on the dresser and look at myself. The blood from my nosebleed is cleaned off, and my face is still damp. It should be dry of tears and sweat by now. But I'm used to this. The dampness is the sign that Jim wet and washed my face with cool water after I drifted back to sleep. My hair is tangled. I force a comb through it briefly until I look fairly acceptable. I gaze into the mirror for a moment. My eyes are dead. They always are after a long night. I glance next to the mirror. Family photos. One of me, my first day of college, long before I met Anthony. My eyes are exhilarated, intense. They were always like that. My mother used to say that's why no one could stay away from me. The eyes are the windows to the soul, and mine showed an electric spirit, fervent, passionate, breath-taking. That girl was long gone.

My attention is pulled back to the mirror. I gaze into my numb eyes for a while. Finally, I begin my morning routine. Crack my back, stretch, and roll my shoulders. Look back into the mirror, force false life and joy into my expression, plaster on a fabricated smile and prepare to return to another day in the world of being Mrs. Marissa Shorely, suburban mother, never a victim of domestic abuse, never the mother of a lost child, never the wife of an animal.

Chapter 4

I make my way downstairs and find my two children sitting drowsily at the island in the kitchen, patiently awaiting their crunchy bacon, white bread toast cut diagonally with margarine on one half, peanut butter on the other and scrambled eggs with cheese. I think to myself how these silly little details would seem pointless to anyone who doesn't know our family, but how this exact ritual every Saturday morning is a crucial part of the already weak glue holding this family together.

I walk up behind my children and wrap my arms around their shoulders, pulling the three of us into a brief group hug. I gingerly kiss the top of their heads with a sing-song "Good morning Livvy. Good morning Timmy" in each of their ears. Olivia mumbles incoherently, something that sounds a lot like "G'mornin' cookie' and Tim leans his head against my stomach, eyes shut and sighs "Good morning Mommy". I smile to myself at this little gesture. Ever since Timothy transitioned to the fifth grade this year, he refused to call me "Mommy" or "Mama" as he always had, in public. But he always makes an effort to use these little words when it's just the two of us, my reminder that my big grown-up fifth grader is still my little boy.

I swing around the island over to Jim who turns from his post at the stove and opens his arms to me. I gladly enter and am engulfed by his embrace. He whispers in my ear "Alright?"

"Alright." I sigh contently. And I almost feel guilty, enjoying this one moment of true happiness, standing in my kitchen in my home, held by my loving husband, my children a few feet away, undisturbed by ghosts of the past and fears of the future. I wish I could take this moment and freeze the world and remain here, in this perfect serenity forever.

I am released from the moment when Jim gently pulls out of the hug, kisses me lightly on the forehead, smiles, gazing in my eyes for a single moment, then spins around and flips the eggs from the skillet onto the children's favorite plastic plates, orange for Olivia and green for Timothy.

He turns to them and in a thick, cheesy French accent clears his throat and announces "Excusez-moi"

The children look up from the counter, suddenly removed from their daydreams.

Jim continues, switching badly from a French accent to a Spanish one. "Mademoiselle and mousier, your eggs are, uh, how you say…ready."

My kids giggle as their step-father places their patiently-awaited meal in front of them and it's my turn to laugh as I watch them dive into their plates of food, scraps splattered all over the counter, and I am happily unconcerned with the fact that I will have to clean up the mess later.

Jim joins me, watching the children, oblivious to how much we enjoy their juvenile conduct. He wraps his arms around my waist and rests his chin on my shoulder, smiling.

"Can I make you anything, love? The usual?" he asks.

"No, I'm alright. Thank you sweetie." I steal a quick peck from him before untangling myself from his arms and making my way over to the fridge for a glass of orange juice. I settle in the chair opposite Olivia and Jim sits next to me, happily observing the kids.

"So Livvy," I say when she finally slows her rapid eating pace and settles against the back of her chair, "you ready for practice? Coach Carrie says you've been working real hard on your back handspring." Olivia was passionate about three things in life; ponies, chocolate chip cookies, and gymnastics. She attended her gymnastics lessons at the local YMCA every Saturday, Monday, and Thursday. Timothy on the other hand, also had his own passions; monster trucks, video games, and baseball. I'll never forget the day he hit a home run for the first time. He stood at the base, watching the ball fly far away, mouth hanging open in amazement. It took him a minute to realize he had to run, and let me say, I've never seen a happier 8 year old in a little league uniform.

The rest of Saturday ritual meant rushing the kids off to their various practices, picking them up and then usually depositing them at that week's birthday party or play-date before bringing them home for the evening in which we usually enjoyed some silly family movie full of values and lessons that we laughed all the way through. Sometimes, I feel like a real housewife. But I'd be lying if I said I didn't like it. So what if my life is some giant cliché? I'm happy. That's what matters. Happy until nighttime at least, when my mind insists on reliving my last life, full of trauma and experiences that will scar me forever.

As the kids finish eating and ramble upstairs to prepare for the day, and Jim gathers up the breakfast dishes, I find myself wandering into the living room and switching on the news. It's not that I really care what those stuffy reporters have to say about how terrible the world is. It's just a reflex I've developed in my time as a mother. Catching a few minutes of news before rushing out the door with the kids seems the sensible thing to do. As I flip the channels to the least annoying morning news station, the headline of the morning catches my eye. JAILBREAK is scrawled across the bottom of the screen in huge, block letters. My eyes flash to the picture in the upper right corner of the screen, just over the reporter's shoulder. It's a mug shot, a tired looking man with wild eyes, untamed hair and developing stubble that badly needs trimming, glaring out from the photograph. I freeze. My peripheral vision notes that the blond correspondent's red lips are still moving, but I hear nothing of what she is saying. All sound is overridden by the intense, high-pitched buzzing in my ears. Perspiration dampens my scalp, my hands automatically begin to tremble and my mouth, wide open, is grasping for the sound caught in my throat, an ill sounding cross between a gasp and a moan. My mind is racing, my heart pounding. My instincts tell me to run, run far, far away from the mere photograph displayed on the screen. I feel helpless, as though I am surrounded by people, screaming, thrusting my arms wildly about me, and not a one seems to see me. Questions sky-rocket through my head. How? Why? When? How long do I have? What am I going to do? How did the impossible, the one thing that cops, judges, physiologists, doctors, EMTS, relatives, friends, every person I know has sworn will never ever happen…happen? It takes me a moment to realize I'm on the ground, my cheek pressed against the cool, hardwood floor, the taste of vomit filling my mouth.

Chapter 5

I lay on the ground, my mind which was nanoseconds before racing at the speed of light, halts, suddenly, like on a roller coaster when the ride goes from eighty mph to zero in a second, your head snaps back and hits the padding and it takes you a few moments to realize you're no longer being thrust violently through the air. Only my head didn't hit padding. Mine hit the wooden ground, hard. My head is numb and I can't move a single part of my body, not because of my possible brain injury but because I am almost positive I am currently in full-blown shock. I realize I should cry out, that I need help, but my body doesn't seem to be connected to my brain. Thankfully, I hear Jim call out.

"Riss? You ok? What was that noise?"

Silence. He knows something is wrong. I hear the dishes clatter in the sink and he rounds the corner into the living room in a second. He spots me on the ground and rushes to my side, lifting me up to a sitting position.

"Marissa? What is it? What happened?"

It's then that the television catches his eye, and he too is silent as the realization sinks in. He sinks down beside me, mouth slightly open, eyes glued to the screen. When the story ends and the station cuts to commercial, Jim seems to find the ability to move again, unlike me, and finds the remote, clicking off the television. We sit in silence, the both of us in absolute shock and for once, in all the times panic has brought me to my knees, Jim has nothing to say and no comfort to offer. As I think this, it seems to finally occur to him I am sitting beside him in total catatonia. He turns to me and stares into my eyes, his a reflection of mine, filled with disbelief, wonder, and most of all, a badly masked fear.

"…Riss…" he moans in shock.

I find my voice finally and stutter in response "I…I…oh…"

"Shhhh, shh, love." Jim whispers, overcoming his moment of panic. He wraps me in one of his warm, protective hugs but I feel no comfort this time. Of all the awful things I have ever experienced…this was possibly the absolute worst. Being tortured by him, losing a child to that monster, my life disintegrating, none could compare to this. I finally had a real life, in which I was reasonably happy, in which I had finally begun to heal and in this single act, he ripped it all away from me.

My eyes are still wide in amazement and my mouth is still hanging open. I want so badly to give in, to wait for him on the doorstep of my home just so he can just end the misery for me now, but I remember my children. Olivia and Timothy. Upstairs, preparing for a normal day, unaware of the bomb that has just been dropped on our lives.

I sit upright, trying to steady myself enough to stand, pulling out of Jim's embrace as if I am unaware of his presence.

"Time…we haven't got much time." I stagger towards the kitchen, calculating in my head. The jailbreak happened at approximately…eleven pm? Yes, that's what the reporter said. What time is it now? Ten am. Eleven hours had passed. Eleven hours he had to make his was to us, and I sat, idle, unaware, unprepared, unexpecting. I couldn't panic now. He was at the Supermax facility in Florence, Colorado. They swore to me. They swore it was the best maximum security facility in the country. How did they let him escape? No. Stay calm. Think. From Florence to our home in Montgomery, Pennsylvania. Assuming he had a car or had hitched a ride with someone, he had started out approximately 1700 miles away, the shortest distance to here was along I-80 east. How long did we have? 1700 miles…that's a little over a day. A day…and four hours maybe? Twenty-eight hours. And I had done nothing to protect my family for eleven of them. Seventeen. Seventeen hours away. In seventeen hours, my life, my husband's life, my children's lives…

I reach the phone and punch in three digits into your mom. Two rings. Once, twice. Too long. Those five seconds could make all the difference.

"Montgomery emergency dispatch, fire or police?"

I'm silent. I try to say 'police', try to cry out, make any noise at all.

"Hello? Hello there?" sighs the woman on the other line, bored. I subconsciously envision the person that matches the voice. I imagine a short, tubby woman sitting at the dispatch desk, clad in a sweater vest and too-tight cotton stretch pants, her mind on other things like, tonight's prime-time schedule while I stand on my end of the line, life in crisis, unable to speak, convinced today is my last day to be alive.

"Hellooo? Fire or police?"

"…POLICE! POLICE! POLICE!" I find myself screaming hysterically into the receiver, my words interrupted by sobs and manic wailing. The woman can't transfer me fast enough.

"Montgomery county police. What is your emergency?" The responder realizes I'm sobbing. "Ma'am? Ma'am, are you alright?" He asks, more urgency in his voice.

"Detective. Jonas. Please." I choke out. Again, I'm transferred in seconds.

"Jonas." Comes a husky voice on the end of the line.

"Ed!" I wail. "How? Ed, how did this happen?"

"Marissa? Is that you?"

The phone is out of my hands. Jim has taken the cordless from my shaking hand and has placed his palm in its place. I yank my hand from his and collapse full-force into him. While I sob into his chest, Jim switches the phone to speaker and talks to his old partner.

"Eddy? It's Jim."

"Jimmy, what's going on? Is everyone all right?"

"You never did watch the morning news. Ed…he escaped last night."

Silence. Ed experiences the moment of disbelief Jim and I are still recovering from.

"That. Is. Impossible." Ed finally answers, each word broken, staggered, separated into it's own sentence.

"Turn on the news." Jim instructs.

I hear the click of a remote and the raspy old TV in Jim's old office coming to life, choking and groaning from over-use years after what should have been retirement. I hear the young blonde's voice on the other end, the loop of the breaking news story on another repeat. Jim holds me tight as we hear the awful story repeated again, the details I don't want to know, the information I desperately need left undelivered.

When the story is finished we hear the rustle of the phone being lifted off the desk.

"Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy. I can't believe it." Ed sighs. "I'm so sorry. Listen, I'm on my way over. Don't go anywhere, don't do anything. I'm gonna tell my captain what happened. He might send some dispatch over to guard the house or something but I'm not sure. For now, just sit tight. I'll be right there."

"Alright. Thanks Ed." Jim hangs up the receiver and places the phone on the counter, leaving another arm open for a full embrace. He pulls me in and holds me close and we sit there for a moment, holding each other, trying to believe the major catastrophe that was dropped on us mere minutes ago is not really happening. Finally, I manage to speak.

"Jim. We have to go. We can't stay here. He's coming, you know it."
"Marissa…sweetheart, I know you're scared. I'm scared too. But you heard Ed. He's on his way. We just need to stay calm and wait."

"Stay calm…and wait?" I growl. I break the embrace and stagger backwards practically rabid. "He expects me to stay calm and fucking wait?" I screech. "How the hell do you expect me to stay fucking calm when they man who brutally battered me and my children-our children and murdered my daughter is on his way here right this very moment to kill us?"

"Riss! Calm down! Stop it!" He tries frantically to calm me as I stomp around the living room screaming violently. "Riss! I know you're angry but you've got to stop this. For now, the kids don't know what is going on and we need to try to keep it that way. If they know, it will only traumatize them. Please, Marissa…please."

Jim cradles my palm in his hands, staring imploringly into my eyes. I want to scream, want to throw every object in arm distance, but the desperation in Jim's eyes causes me to melt, crumbling on the floor, breathing deeply, praying my meltdown has finally come to a close.

"Ok. Ok" I finally manage.

"Ok." Jim repeats, as if I am a child and repetition will help the message sink in.

The doorbell sounds through the house suddenly penetrating the taut silence, and I can't contain the shriek that erupts from my mouth.

Chapter 6

The front door bursts open. I am overcome with relief when I see Ed standing on the threshold, having just kicked in the door, expecting the worst when he heard my scream.

"What happened? Is everyone alright?" he questions, for the second time today on my account.

Jim helps me off my knees and I stumble to Ed as quickly as I can, wrapping my arms around his neck when I reach him. Jim comes up behind me and places a hand on my waist. Ed rubs my back with one hand and places the other on Jim's shoulder. For the first time since the news broke, I feel safe with my best friend comforting me and my husband ever-protective.

"Jimmy." Ed says, a statement caught somewhere between a greeting and a utter or concern.

"Hey, Ed. How'd you get here so fast?" Jim asks.

The same thought Jim must have just had occurs to me now. How did Ed reach us? We got off the phone not five minutes ago, less perhaps, and the station is a good ten to fifteen minutes into town.

"What do you mean? I used my lights of course." Ed responds, referring to his siren.

"Ed…you know you're not supposed to use them for personal trips." Jim says, this statement also a mixture, his of compulsive scolding but also gratefulness.

"Jim, do you really think that matters to me, in this situation?" I smile to myself, grateful for a friend as compassionate as Ed. "Besides," Ed continues "I told the captain what happened to ya Jimmy. There are three patrols on their way here now. One's gonna guard the house and the other two are gonna escort you guys down to the station with me. Go get the kids and pack some bags fast. We're placing your family under protective custody."

I gape at Ed, but quickly shut my mouth and do as I am told. I dash up the stair and approach Timothy's room, Jim, right behind me, turns in the opposite direction at the top of the stairs and heads for Olivia's room. I stand before Tim's door and try to quickly compose myself. I close my eyes and practice inhaling slowly. After a moment of this, I pull myself together, pull my perfected fake smile out of hiding and rapt gently on the door.

"Timmy? Sweetie, can I come in?"

"Yeah!" Comes a rushed voice on the other side of the door. I crack the door open and see Tim trying to pull on his baseball pants while hopping around the room searching for his cap.

"Hey Mom!" He says excitedly. "I'm almost ready! Just gotta find that dumb hat."

"Good honey. Listen, Timmy," I begin hesitantly. "Um, we're not going to baseball practice today."

Tim stops where he is.

"What? Why not? We only have a few more practices until the next game!"

"I know, sweetheart but…" I search desperately for something, anything to say to make him understand that won't terrify him. I fail. Sighing, I bend down on my knees. It occurs to me that Tim has grown, his eyes now level with the top of my head, forcing him to look down at me. Whenever I used to bend down, his hazel eyes were level with mine, and I would resist the urge to ruffle the sandy blonde collection of hair on his head. I knew he hated that. No wonder he was so eager to get his buzz cut, not just because 'that's what all the fifth graders are doing."

"Mommy? What's wrong?" Tim asks, drawing me back to the present.

"Listen, Timmy. Something happened last night. Something important. Now, I can't tell you just what, but that isn't what's important. Right now, what is important is we have to leave. Uncle Eddy is waiting for us downstairs and we're going to go down the police station with him, you know, Daddy's old work? What I need you to do is grab your backpack and I'm gonna help you put some clothes and things in there. We're gonna pack like we're gonna be gone for a few days, ok? I know this is hard to understand right now, but it's very important that you listen to me and do as I ask. Ok? Can you do that for me?"

Tim stares into my eyes for a moment, searching. I try desperately to mask my fear, try to assure him through my eyes there is nothing wrong at all. After a second, his eyes flash with understanding. He is far too perceptive for a ten-year old.

"Oh no. Did…is he…is he coming for us Mommy?" I stare into my child's eyes, his faced contorted in fear, desperation and confusion. I can think of no comforting words, so I simply wrap my arms around him and pull him into a hug. He stays put, trying to comprehend the situation.

At that moment, Jim pops his head in the door.

"Livvy's getting a bag together." He notices me holding my rigid child. "Is everything alright in here?" He looks to me and I know he's wondering if I told Tim the whole story.

I turn to him, one arm still around my son.

"He's a very interpretive boy." I mutter, loud enough for Jim to hear, but not enough for Tim to realize what I'm telling my husband. He is too distracted with his own thoughts to pay attention to his parent's dialogue now.

Tim finally pulls away. "Ok." He says, his eyes full of a new intensity. "Ok." He repeats, nodding. He reminds me so much of myself.

He whips around and dumps his backpack of school books in a corner and starts pulling out a few days worth of clothes, his toothbrush, and of course, his Gameboy. He stuffs this and a couple of other little things he loves into his pack and turns around, standing erect, as if at attention.

"Ready." He says, and I want to pull him to me and cradle him like a baby as I watch my little boy showing the first signs of soon becoming a man.

There comes the knock of a tiny fist on Tim's door and Olivia waltzes in without waiting for permission to enter. Jim and I exchange looks.

"Baby girl? Can you come here a second?" I ask.

"What is it Mama?" Olivia asks, as sweet and innocent as an angel. Oooh, she's definetly up to something.

"Can I just look in your backpack please honey? Thank you baby." I say, slipping the pack off her frail shoulders. I unzip the Disney princess bag to see it stuffed with…well, stuffed animals.

"Honey," I begin, "where are the clothes Daddy asked you to pack?"

"I don't need to bring clothes. If we're going on an adventure, all I need are my friends." Olivia smiles her big toothy smile and I turn to Jim raising one eyebrow.

"Adventure, huh?" I ask.

He stifles laughter and takes Olivia's hand, encouraging her to let him repack the bag for her as they stroll back to her room.

For a moment, even this moment in time, in this situation, under these circumstances, I find it beautiful I have found a reason to smile. My children, unaware of the looming threat in our near future, have found a way to make me, the woman who was only a few moments before on the verge of a mental breakdown, laugh.

I look to Timmy and see him struggling hard not to laugh along with me. I smile at him, a real smile this time, happy and hopeful and joyous. He hesitates at first, then returns my smile, full-force. I extend my arm to him, and he takes my hand. We meet Ed, Jim and Olivia at the bottom of the stairs. Ed has already gathered bags for the two of us. By now the patrolmen have arrived. Ed exchanges a few words with them and our family of four piles into Ed's squad car. Ed gets in a minute later and turns on the engine. I smile at my family, finally hopeful for the first time that we may actually have nothing to fear. He's still far away, and they're going to take care of us. As the car chortles awake, the police scanner comes on just as the familiar name is mentioned.

"…all units take note. The recent escapee Anthony Morgan has been sighted in Peoria, Illinois. Arrest on sight."

Peoria. Peoria, Illinois. I do the math in my head. No. That can't be right. 830 miles? In eleven hours? He's been traveling at around eighty miles this whole time. There's no longer any doubt in my mind. He's coming for us. He's coming for us and there may be nothing that can stop him.

Ed winces with the realization of what was just said on his radio. "Sorry." He grumbles, switching it off. I catch his eye in the rear-view mirror, and his soften as he sees mine, once again wide as they were in my catatonic state.

Chapter 7

Ed's car and the two escorts scream down the main road, carrying us to the police station. Cars move aside to let us pass, and I stare out my window, seeing familiar faces in every car. Our neighbors, Olivia's first grade teacher, the local librarian, our favorite waitress from the restaurant downtown. Each face looks in to the squad car to see me and my family, huddled close, fear on our faces. Each face flashes with some emotion, some confusion, some surprise, some concern. I can just imagine the cells phones being whipped out now, each person speed-dialing their best friend, the word traveling like wildfire throughout town. Everyone knew our story when we moved here, and it took weeks for the gossip to die down. After a year and a half here, we had finally gained acceptance among the scandal-loving inhabitants of the town. There was no turning back now. For those who hadn't seen the story on the news this morning, they surely had heard about it by now. I could accept that life here, when we returned, was going to be nonstop questions and drama I didn't need. I knew the kids and I couldn't stay here. Not with all the bad talk flying about. But how could I ever ask Jim to leave his home? I knew he loved us, but he'd spent his whole life here. I couldn't uproot him just for my personal issues.

As these thoughts fly through my mind, I feel my cell phone vibrating in my pocket. I jump and pull it out, hesitant to answer. I recognize the number as the neighbors across the street. Mrs. Wallis. Perhaps the town's biggest gossip whore. Of course she would call me to get all the dirty details at this, perhaps the most traumatic moment of my life. I consider answering simply to take out my frustration on her, but I remember my children sitting next to me and, sure that my fit would involve vulgarity, think better of it. 'In fact,' I think to myself as I press the power button on my phone, shutting it down.

I sit back in my seat, this small gesture a tiny comfort, now assured I won't be hoarded with calls from my family, friends and others. Of course some would be calling completely out of concern for me and I appreciate those people, but I couldn't deal with a phone call from my mother right now. I would change my voicemail at the station, assuring everyone I was alright but I couldn't accept calls.

We pull up to the station. Jim jumps out of the passenger seat first and opens my door, angling himself so that he is blocking my children and I. It is only now that I realize the building is surrounded by curious on-lookers and press. Captain Sheppard is speaking into the microphone of a greasy looking reporter a few feet away.

"No comment, no comment!" he yells. He glances towards our car, noticing me and the rest of my family emerging from the squad car. Every reporter and bystander seems to follow his gaze. It's like a slow-motion scene from an action movie as every person on the premises seems to run at full speed to our car. I jump in front of my children, wrapping my arms around them, ready to protect them from the charging crowd. My efforts are unnecessary as the two patrolmen whom escorted us here are out of their cars guarding us, and two more cops appear behind us. They form a human barrier and we all shuffle towards the building, heads down, huddled together, avoiding the shouts of reporters and the explosions of flashbulbs of cameras.

Once we make it up the steps and cross the invisible line of safety that the double doors of the station present, the huddle of people break apart. I thank the officers, each holding my hand nodding, offering a pat on the shoulder and some word of comfort. We stagger into the staff sleeping room and collapse on the cots. Captain Sheppard is right behind us.

"Marissa. Jim" He says as he shuts the door behind him.

"Malcolm. What is that all about outside?" I ask.

He looks at me confused. "You, of course."

I stare, mouth open. All that commotion over us?

"What are we going to do?" I ask Malcolm, feeling like a child, unsure of myself and looking to my all-knowing parent for advice.

"Perhaps we should take the kids into another room for this conversation." Malcolm smiles at Olivia and Timothy, offering them his hands. They bounce off the cot and walk to him, Olivia skipping gleefully, blissfully unaware of the danger ever-approaching. Malcolm walks the kids to the door, handing them off to a patrolmen.

"Officer Swifton, why don't you take the kids down to the basement and get them some ice cream from the machine." He says, smiling enthusiastically at the children.

"Come on guys." Gary Swifton says, looking down at my kids with a look almost a mirror of the captain's. It makes me want to cry again how these friends are so overly concerned with the well-fare of my children's physiological state in this our darkest moment.

Gary flashes me a quick consoling smile before exiting the room with my children. I turn to Malcolm, and his eyes soften dramatically as they catch mine.

"Marissa, I am so sorry for this. I don't understand how…I'm sorry." He finishes sympathetically, pursing his lips.

"Thank you Malcolm." I say quietly.

Jim, clutching my hand, squeezes and Ed sits next to me rubbing my back. I rest my head on Jim's shoulder. I feel Ed's touch hesitate and stop momentarily, before returning to rubbing my back methodically.

"We're going to have to relocate the family." Malcolm informs me. I wish this was a shock, but somehow I was ready for this. I nod silently, keeping my eyes shut, trying to stay calm.

"As you may know, Anthony (I shudder at his name) is much closer than we expected. We need to get you out of here immediately. We're taking you to the airport with some escorts. We already booked a flight."

I sit in silence for a moment, mulling this over.

"Where are you sending us?"

"WE are going to Boston" he says, emphasizing the we.

"We? What do you mean?" I ask sitting up.

"I'm coming with you" he informs me matter of factly.

"Captain Sheppard, you really don't have to do that." I say in disbelief.

"I know. I want to do it. I'm not letting you guys run off into hiding on your own without a damn good amount of protection."

I can feel tears stinging my eyes again.

"Malcolm. Thank you."

"No problem guys. We're leaving for Hackenburg- Penny Airport in 3 hours. Your flight is at four this afternoon. I know it's a while to wait around, but it's the best we could do."

"I understand. We'll wait here."
"Thanks. By the way, did you guys grab your cell phones?"

"Yes, but I shut mine off."

"Well, turn it back on. In case of emergency, we need to be able to contact you." Malcom said, reverting back to business.

"But…I'm gonna be drowing in calls from everyone."
"I know Rissa," he said understandingly, "but this is important. Do this for me, ok?"

"Alright. Ok. I'll turn it on." I sigh defeated, pulling out my phone.

The little blank screen comes to life with the touch of a button. It plays a happy jingle and swirly non geometric shapes dance jubilantly across the screen. The montage ends with a little message "Hello MARISSA!" before sending me to my home screen, a photo of the family at the beach from last summer, smiling excitedly and waving at the camera. I want to hurl the damn thing across the room and watch it shatter. How dare it be lively, vivacious and thrilled when my world is crumbling around me. How dare it.

I realize how silly I'm being. In my head I am tormenting the phone with angry words. A silly little piece of technology. I shove the stupid thing into the front pocket of my jeans and hug Jim's arm, leaning against him, tucking my head into his neck. Jim leans down and looks me in the eyes, steals a quick peck, and turns back to the captain.

I feel Ed freeze behind me and stand up. I turn to him, questioning in my eyes, but before I can, a gentle knock comes on the door.

"Yes? What is it?" Malcolm calls.

Gary pokes his head in with the kids in tow, each holding a quickly melting popsicle, a yellow one for Olivia, I guess banana and chocolate for Timmy.

"Hey. Are we all set in here?" Gary asks hesitantly.

"Ya, we are. You can let the kids in." Malcolm smiles re-assuringly. The kids bustle in and dash over to me.

"Momma, want some po-sicle?" Olivia says, mispronouncing the word as always.

I laugh a little to myself. "No, honey, that's alright. I don't want a POP sicle" I say, trying to emphasize the phrase, teaching her, my maternal instinct over riding my fear of the moment. She shrugs and smiles, and continues licking her frozen treat, sugary liquid dripping down her chin. I pull off my scarf and wipe the dribble from her face and she smiles up at me appreciating.

"I'm sure you all would like some time to decompress. We'll let you know when it's time to go. Is there anything you need?" Malcolm asks.

"No, I think we're ok. Thank you." I smile as warmly as possible at him. He returns the expression and leaves with Gary, and, after a moment's hesitation, Ed follows behind the two of them, closing the door behind the procession.

I don't even have a moment to breathe before the questions come.

"Mommy? What's going on? Why are we here? I wanna go home. I'm missing gymnastics!" Olivia whines.

"I know sweet heart, I know." I say soothingly, running my fingers through her mess of curly hair. She and Nola had the same hair. My heart twists as I think this, and I force myself to forget.

"Something important happened last night honey bear." Jim explains slowly, squeezing my hand as we share a look.

"Olivia…do you remember your father?" Jim asks quietly and evenly.

Olivia freezes. I can see the memories flash across her face, pain in her otherwise innocent, happy eyes. She looks at the ground and shuffle her feet.

"You're my Daddy." She says almost inaudibly.

"Yes baby girl. Jim is your Daddy. A Daddy is someone who loves you very much and takes care of you. Jim is your Daddy. But, Olivia, you have a father. He is not your Daddy. Or at least, he wasn't a good Daddy. That's why he went away. Do you remember him?"

Olivia nods feebly, her eyes still glued to the floor.

"Well your father…Anthony…he went away to a place where they are supposed to keep him so he can't come back to us. But they didn't do what they are supposed to do and he got out. He's trying to come back to us but we can't let that happen. So Ed and Malcolm and Gary are all gonna help us to stay away from him. Ok?"

Olivia nods again.

"Ok sweet heart. Hey, listen. We're gonna be ok. Alright? I promise you, everything is gonna be alright." I say this not only to Olivia, but also look over at Tim who has hoisted himself into Jim's lap and is listening intently to my explanation to Olivia. He nods slightly, his eyes intent and focused.

"Mommy?"

Olivia's voice draws my attention back to her. It seems smaller, fuzzy, now, as if she is far away.

"You said my…father went away because he was bad, right?" She struggles with the sentence, but instead of looking to me or Jim for guidance as she so often does, she refuses to remove her eyes from the dusty wood floor beneath her feet.
"Yes honey. Why?"

She draws in a deep breath.

"Was she bad too? Is that why Nola went away?"

My heart lurches and plummets into my stomach. I suck in far too much air. I try to answer, but collapse in silent sobs in Jim's shoulder. He pulls me in tight and pulls Olivia into the embrace with his other arm. We sit in silence, the four of us, huddled together in the musty, quiet room, holding on for dear life on the last things we do hold dear in this world, not knowing how much longer we will have the opportunity to embrace each other and wondering if and when the monster that holds so much power over our lives will rip our arms apart and tear from us that last of the love we each have in life.

Chapter 8

About an hour and a half drag by slowly. We talk, we tell stories, we play little games. Jim switches on the six inch television in the room and surfs the limited channels. Thankfully, the public broadcasting station is playing some un-original cartoon that quickly sucks the kids in. I am anxious about arriving in Boston. Boston. Memories flood back to me. I went to college in the city. That's where I met him…I try to distract myself. I don't want to remember that. I lay in one of the cots to rest, thinking lying down will soothe the various aches and pains that have spontaneously sprung up.

As my head hits the pillow, I suddenly realize how truly exhausted I am. I try weakly to force my eyes open but slowly give in to the fast approaching wave of sleep that overcomes me.

(insert quote from famous classic novel hereMy weathered copy of (famous classic novel) seems to protest as I turn each page hungrily, pulling against the almost non existent binding that barely holds the yellowed pages together. I drink in each word, the café in the book store just around the corner from (insert college name here) seems to have disappeared around me, the bustling of various customers and vanished, the clanging of mugs and kettles and the hissing of steam from different coffee makers silenced. It is only when my hair begins to tingle, something inside me, a sixth sense almost tells me that I am no longer being ignored by the busy people rushing in and out of the building. I peek sneakily over the top of my book. There's a man sitting in the arm-chair across from me. He stares intently at me, a small smirk turning up just the corners of his mouth. His dark hair, short, but in longer tufts as if it is just starting to grow out is ruffled in a messy, bed head way. His black eyes bore through me. I remember after a moment I was supposed to be pretending I didn't know he was there, but his gaze…somehow, he eyes held a power over me. It's not that I could not look away, it's that I forgot I should. After a moment of the shared silence, his little smirk turns into a full grin. "Hey." He says softly. His voice is raspy, quiet, sexy. It pulls me in. I want to drown in his voice. "Hi." I breathe back, taken with him. "I see you're reading(blah blah blah insert random classic novel/ novelist here). I love his work." "Oh…yeah."I smile shyly. "Is that for a class or something?" he asks. "No, um, this is my copy. This is like, the billionth time I've read it." I laugh nervously. "Wow. Well, then. I've only ever read his pieces for school. Are you in school around here?" He asks. "Yeah, actually, I'm at (blaaaahhhh blaaaah big dumb prestigious college name here) around the corner." "Wow. Again." He laughs. Our conversation progresses. I finally glance at the clock after an hour of talking. "Well, Marissa, you're, um, amazing? I guess that's the easiest way to put it." I giggle, now comfortable with his presence. "Do you want to get out of here? Go do something fun?" I consider this. I really should be getting back to my dorm. Brandy, my roommate, had planned a study party for me and two other girls in our building, my closest friends at college. "Yeah." I finally nod, re-assuring myself. "Just one sec." I rush to the counter at the café and ask Liz, my favorite waitress if I can use the phone. She hands it over and I dial my dorm room. No answer. The machine picks up and I whisper furiously "B! It's me, Riss! I met the most unbelievable guy at the café. He wants to go do something. I just…I'm going. I'm sorry, I'll make it up to you. Wish me luck! Love you babe!" I hang up and hand the phone to Liz. I turn to Anthony. He smiles from across the café and offers his arm. I glide over to him and link my arm with his, staring up at him, feeling myself tumbling into what I think may be love.

Two a.m. Brandy is going to kill me. I stayed out until two a.m. We're never out this late unless we're with each other, or Alice, or Nicky. Never with a guy, NEVER without checking in. It's our rule. If you're going to be with a guy, make sure the other knows where, when, how long, who and all the other details so no one gets kidnapped by a psycho. Or something like that. I sneak up to the door room; slip my key in the hole, giddy from my evening but trying desperately to remain silent. I try as hard as humanly possible to push the door open without making a noise. I lift up and push gently, ever so gently, trying to avoid the damn squeak. I knew I shouldn't have put off fixing that. I successfully slip in to the room, shut the door noiselessly, and sigh in relief. Then, the light flicks on. I freeze as I feel eyes on me. I turn around sheepishly. Brandy, Alice, Nicky, and Jean and Hannah, girls from the dorm next door all stand in pajamas in a line, arms crossed, glaring at me. "Heeeyy guys." I smile guiltily. "Marissa Karen Oswald. You are just now arriving home at two a.m. two days before the exam, without calling, without checking in, and you were, of all places, with a strange boy you've just met?" God, Brandy sounds so much like my mother right now. "Uuuhm, yes?" I say with false enthusiasm, praying the beating won't last long. "Marissa…"Alice begins, stern and angry, "We are so damn proud of you!" She squeals suddenly, and my eyes bug out as all five girls tackle me, hugging me and hurling random questions. When the group finally calms, we all sit in a circle on the ground, the girls all pressing me for details about this night…and morning. After recounting the whole experience, from dinner at a cute little german restaurant we found to the concert we snuck into and were thrown out of less than an hour in to spending hours in the park, running, laughing, singing, dancing. "I don't know guys…he's…different. I've never met anyone like him. I can't believe this…I think I'm in love with him." The girls explode into enthusiastic screeches. I laugh along with them, but my head is still whirling from the whole night. I am still drowning in his face, his voice, his eyes. I can't get the image out of my mind. I'm in love. I. Am in love.

I wake with a start. Tears are rolling down my cheeks. I almost miss him. Almost. Remembering the wonderful times we spent together before…before…I miss him. Then Nola's face flashes through my mind. Nola. Nola. I again remember why I want him dead. Had I only known back then…had I only known that day the perfect predator that hid beneath the beautiful man I fell in love with in eight hours. He drew me in just like any monster is supposed to do to his prey. Make them believe in you. Make them trust you. Then they attack. Then they slaughter. The bastard. The monster.

My phone jingles in my pocket. I pull it out. The screen reads 'Unknown Number'. I don't know why I answer. But I do. "Hello?" I ask groggily

A raspy, quiet, tired but blood chillingly familiar voice answers.

"Hello, Marissa."

Chapter 9

I hold the phone to my ear, gripping so tightly I'm amazed it hasn't shattered.

"…How…" Is all I can utter.

"You let me worry about that sweet heart." He says, malice and an enraging giddiness in his voice.

"Don't…you…dare…" I begin.

"I'll call you whatever the hell I want bitch. You can't stop me. You can't stop me from coming to get you either. You're days are numbered. You shouldn't have done it bitch. You shouldn't have done it."
I finally scream and throw the phone to the ground. It hits the ground with a sickening crack. I pray the call was disconnected, the phone destroyed, but don't bother to check, just collapse to my knees hyper-ventilating.

Jim is by my side, Gary is rushing the kids from the room, Ed and Malcolm are bolting in.

"Riss! Rissa! What happened? Who was it?" Jim hollers over the sudden commotion in the hall.

I turn and stare into his eyes. "It was him. He found me. He found us. He…he…"

Jim quiets me, and I try to return my breathing to normal. I know I can't panic now. I need to stay calm.

Malcolm picks up the phone.

"Hello?" he says in to it. He listens and the color drains from his face. The damn phone didn't break.

"Anthony…" Malcolm begins sternly. "Stop this. If you turn yourself in now it will be a lot easier for you…No, you can not talk to her…Anthony, listen to me…"

His face changes. Fear flickers, then is masked by pure anger.

"Over my dead body." He spits and slams the end call button so hard the phone is knocked from his hand. He takes a moment to breathe.

"Jason!" he yells finally, through the open door. "Did you nail him?"

An unfamiliar man runs into the room. "We got him captain! You held the call out long enough and we got a trace. (insert location)"

"Oh my god." I mutter.

"Come on. We're leaving for the airport. Now." Ed helps Jim lift me up off the ground.

We stumble out of the room, Gary pulling the kids along behind us. We turn the opposite direction we came in and are rushed out an emergency exit greeted by two patrolmen. Our group is loaded into two squad cars and we scream out of the lot, pursued pointlessly by some desperate reporters who quickly give up.

I finally acknowledge my children by my side, looking up at me, frantic fear dancing through their eyes. I force a smile, comfortingly smooth Tim's hair and whisper:

"We're ok guys. We're ok."

After what feels like seconds in the car, we are pulling up to the airport. The patrolmen bustle us into the airport and we breeze through security, escorted by policemen.

Chapter 10

We finally find our seats on the plane and I collapse into mine. I'm sitting between Ed and Jim with Gary and the kids behind us and Malcolm in front of me, sitting next a sweet young Asian couple. The whisper happily, jokingly in a language I don't understand. He runs his fingers through her hair and she giggles quietly. How I wish I could have that care free happiness right now. The plane takes off and soon we are in the air, high above the land below and for once, I feel safe, knowing that at least for the next hour, aboard this plane, I am safe. My family is safe. We really are ok, for now.

After a little while, the seatbelt light flashes off. I gratefully click out of mine and stand. I glance at Jim, fast asleep in his seat. I suddenly am overcome by a wave of guilt. I've put him through so much in the past year and a half, especially in this one day. Sometimes I wonder if he'd be better off without me. I know we certainly wouldn't, but is it really fair to put all this responsibility on him for a family that isn't even truly his?

I dispel these thoughts at once. I remember, he's here because he chooses to be, and because he loves us. For this, I love him in return. I brush a stray piece of hair out of his eye, and smile to myself, realizing how truly beautiful he is. Ed, sitting on the aisle side, stands, and instead of stepping to the side to let me out, he grabs my wrist and pulls me towards the bathrooms. We arrive in front of the lavatories in the cabin and he stops, standing in front of me as if to shield me.

"Marissa, we have a problem." He whispers fervently.

"…What? Yeah, I kinda figured that out on-"

"No you don't understand. Marissa, I…" he looks quickly over his shoulder, as if he is sharing an important secret and his authority is just around the corner. "I don't trust him."

"What? Who? Ed, you're not making any sense."

"I know, I know, I'm sorry. I just…I don't trust Captain Sheppard. He's…something is wrong. I know this sounds crazy, but we have to get away from him. I don't trust him."

"Ed, he's your captain. What do you mean you don't trust him?"

"Riss…I think…I think he's helping Anthony get to you. To the kids."

I breathe in sharply.

"That's impossible! Ed, Malcolm would never try to help Anthony. What are you…you can't be…" I search desperately for the right words. He can't mean this! Malcolm would never betray us like that!

"Rissa…he's not acting right. And I mean, don't you find it strange that he tells you to turn on your phone, and Anthony just so happens to call? How did he even get your number? And why would he book us a flight to Boston of all places? Anthony knows Boston like the back of his hand. He grew up here. This is where you two met. This place means something to Anthony so whether or not he knows where we are, he would feel drawn to this place. Marissa, I'm telling you, something is not right. Please, you have to believe me. I don't trust him. I am almost sure he's helping Anthony."

"Ed, I…I don't know. What reason would he have?"

"I don't know Marissa but that isn't what matters. You can't trust anyone. Anthony is manipulative, cunning and dangerous. You have no idea who he could have bribed or threatened. Please, if anything happened to you…"

I'm shaken by his words. I remain silent.

"Please, Marissa." He says, now pleading. "Who are going to trust? Captain Sheppard? Or me? I'm your best friend Marissa. You have to trust me."

I take a moment to think. He wants so badly for me to say yes, to tell him I trust him. And he's right. He is by far the one I have more faith in. Malcolm is doing his job. Ed is being my friend. I have to trust him. After everything he's done for us. I have to trust him.

"Ok." I sigh finally. "You're right. I trust you. So what are we going to do?"

He sighs in relief. "It's already set up. There's a car waiting for us at the airport. When we get off, there will be a diversion. Stay close to me, and keep the kids close too. When it happens, I'm going to separate us from the others and we're going to get in the car and run."

I mull over the plan. A small detail catches my attention.

"Wait…you said you, me and the kids, right?"

He nods.

"What about Jim?"
"Marissa…I trust Jim. I care about him…but he trusts Malcolm far too much. He'll never leave him. We have to go…without him."

I am shaking my head furiously. I feel like such a child. I can't leave Jim. I won't.

"No. No. No, Ed, I'm not going anywhere without Jim."

"Marissa…" he says, gently, understanding. He takes my hand and holds it in both of his. "I know you don't want to. But we have no choice. He will stop us from leaving. We NEED to leave. Think of your children, Marissa! Their lives depend on it!"

I want to cry again. I want to turn to my mother, ask her what to do. I can't do this on my own. I know these wishes are fickle. I look to Ed, stare into his pleading eyes. For the first time, I really see him, really see his face. I never before noticed his structured jaw, pointed, strong. Or his brown eyes, flecked with little hints of gold. I never realized that he was so handsome.

"Alright." I say fiercly, power in my voice, strength I've stolen from the intense energy in Ed's eyes. "I'll do it. Stay with you, and at the distraction, run."

Ed nods.

"Yes. And don't say anything of this to Jim. You know he will only try to stop you."

"I know. I know." As Ed nods again and turns to go back to the seats, I grab his arm. "Thank you for looking out for us. Thank you for taking care of me."

For a moment, Ed stares at my hand in his, then looks into my eyes. Something has changed. In his face, I think I see a flicker of fear. But he quickly reverts to his re-assuring look, and smiles at me, nods, and walks me back to our seats.

As I sit in my middle seat, I wait for Ed to sit, but he shakes his head and points to the front of the cabin, indicating the steward's area, the area with the only phone aboard the plane. I nod and he continues on. I turn to Jim, staring intently in to his slumbering, peaceful face. I think he senses my gaze. He stirs and his eyelids flutter open revealing his melted emerald eyes.

"Hey beautiful." He mutters, smiling.

"Hey yourself sleepy head." I force myself to return his smile, already guilty about the what I'll be doing to him in less than an hour.

We do not speak any more, but instead we stare in to each other's eyes, the contact an unexplainable communication only the two of us share. He combs his fingers through my mussed hair, crazy from the stress of the day, but never breaks his gaze. Finally, he smiles, wraps his arms around me and pulls me into a tight hug. I wrap my arms around his, rest my head on his shoulder and bring my legs up onto the seat, my knees right below my chin. I think, for the millionth time, if only I could spend the rest of forever wrapped in his arms. Remembering that in mere minutes I will be torn apart from him for who knows how long renders a pain in my stomach I try to unsuccessfully to ignore. Ed returns, and when he finally looks up from the ground, his eyes meet mine and he stops in the middle of the aisle. A few people glance up at him, and he seems to remember himself and continue to his seat. As he sits, I try to send a questioning look but he will not meet my gaze.

Chapter 11

We stumble off the plane and into the arrival area. Malcolm is leading the way, and Ed is right behind me. I find myself shaking slightly, afraid, unsure of the secret plan Ed has put in place. I hold each of my kids' hands, my bag and Olivia's slung over my shoulder and Tim carrying his own. I keep glancing to Jim, walking on the other side of Olivia, staring ahead, focused, ever watchful for unexpected danger.

Ed approaches behind me, taps me gently on the shoulder, and I know it is time. I grip both my children's palms tightly and slowly but surely start to drift away from Jim and Malcolm. Suddenly, a scream erupts from ten feet away. Everyone stops short, the whole place goes silent for a moment. Then abruptly, chaos. People are running, shouting, and altogether losing and Malcolm turn, searching the crowd, looking for some clue as to what is happening and trying to find out if there is any way they can help. Now, Ed grabs me. I grasp Olivia and Tim and then we are running. Ed is ahead of us, running at full speed through the oncoming crowds. He barrels through people, creating a path. A run as fast as I can push myself to do and drag my kids behind me, for some reason not hearing Tim's cries of confusion and Olivia's shrieks of protest. We manage to overcome the room in seconds and burst through the doors at the entrance. There is a green truck waiting for us. Ed flashes his badge and the driver leaps out, leaving the driver's side door open for Ed. He leaps in, and hurl myself and the kids into the back, slam the door and the car is moving. We barrel out of the airport and onto the highway in moments, almost hitting eighty miles per hour.

I finally return to my senses and become aware of my surroundings. As we are no longer running manically through a crowded airport, I feel my adrenaline slow, my heart stop pumping insanely, and I hear my children's pleading voices finally.

"Mommy!" Olivia cries fearfully, "Mommy, what happened? What are we doing? What about Daddy?"

This question strikes a chord. Daddy. Jim. Oh god, what have I done? What will he do? I can't believe I did this to him. I try to answer but my mouth just gapes. What have I done? Tim climbs unsteadily over to me, shaken by the speeding truck.

"Mommy?" he asks, calm, composed, but yet he cannot hide the fear in his child voice. "Mommy? What are we doing?"

"Guys…" I say slowly, taking each of their hands. "We had to run away. Ed doesn't trust Captain Sheppard. And I trust Ed. Ed said we should run and I said yes and that's what we're doing. We're running away from…from your father and anyone…anyone who may be helping him." I finish as gently as I possibly can.

Olivia looks confounded, staring at the hands in contemplation. Tim nods, understanding, not removing his eyes from mine.

"But Mommy? Why did we have to leave Daddy?" Olivia asks, clearly very upset by this.

"Because sweet heart," I sigh, "Daddy trusts Captain Sheppard too much. Daddy wouldn't have come and he would have tried to stop us from running away. We needed to run. I only did this to protect you guys. I'm sorry for this but I only did this because I love you. Ed said it was the only way, and I trust him."

Tim nods again. "Ok Mommy. We trust you."

"Thank you baby." I say, smoothing his hair. I suddenly notice the children and I sitting in the swerving truck unprotected. "Oh my god! Oh god, you guys, I'm so sorry, Mommy's distracted. Come on you two, let's get you into some seatbelts." I buckle them in, smile, ruffle their hair and climb in to the front with Ed, clicking into the passenger seat.

I glance over at Ed driving and he quickly returns my gaze, smiles, and turns his attention back to the road.

"Are you alright?" Ed asks cautiously.

"Yeah, I'm…no." I sigh, defeated, making sure to talk quietly enough so the kids won't hear, although their attention already seems to be diverted from me and Ed. "No, Ed, I'm not alright. I can't believe what I just did. I can't believe we left Jim."

"Marissa…we can't go back. It's too late now. We have to run until they get him. And until I can prove the Malcolm is helping him."

"I know. But Jim…he's going to lose it. Ugh, what have I done?" I groan, my face in my hands.

We sit in silence for a while. Suddenly, my cell phone comes to life, the tinkling ring tone sounding in my pocket. Ed and I both jump. I pull my phone out gingerly. I'm praying…don't let it be who I think it is. It isn't. It's Jim. I should have known this would happen. I take a deep breath and open my phone, prepared to try to explain to Jim. Before I realize it, the phone is out of my hands. Ed grabs it and quickly smashes on the end button with his thumb. The phone goes quiet.

"Ed! Why would you do that? It was Jim!"

"I know Marissa!" He yells, equally as frustrated. He breathes in slowly, trying to calm himself. "I know. But you can't answer his phone calls. You can't answer any phone calls. He's only going to try to talk you out of it. And besides, if you take a call, they could try to get a trace on it and they could find us. We can't let that happen. We have to keep running. We can't trust anyone. I'm sorry Marissa. I know this is hard."

I want to cry again, but I know it won't do me any good. I sigh and nod, take the phone from Ed, press the power button, shutting it off and shove it in my pocket. He seems hesitant to let me take it back, as if he doesn't think I'll follow his directions.

"It's ok Ed. I'll listen to you. I trust you."

His eyes linger on me a second too long, concern flickering across his face, before he turns his eyes back to the road.

"What?" I ask

"Nothing. Just…nothing." He mutters. I decide not to pursue it and allow him to drive.

Eventually I find myself drifting off to sleep. For once I don't protest, just allow exhaustion to overcome me.

I'm sitting. The chair is hard…plastic…cold. The room is empty except for the table and chairs, a file cabinet, and a bulletin board with a few posters. I stare at the table, my hands clasped on it as if I'm a small child about to be reprimanded for some miniscule crime. I can't think. My mind is blank. All I can manage to do is to remind myself I have to breathe in and out. In. Out. I don't want to breathe. I don't want to be alive. Not when she isn't. Not when she's…I can't bear to say the word, even in my head. The door opposite me swings open suddenly and I jump. Two men and a woman walk in. I recognize the two men. They were some of the first to arrive at the house.

"Mrs. Caruso?" One of the men says. I recognize him. He was the man who pulled me out of that hallway. He picked me up, hysterically crying and screaming, and carried me out of the house. He held my hand all the way to the hospital. He sat beside me while the doctor examined my injuries. He drove me back to the police station and brought me to this room moments ago, promising to be back in a second. I was terrified when he left.

"Mrs. Caruso?" he asks again. I look up, feeling a look of incomprehension on my face. Mrs. Caruso. That's me. Isn't it? I don't know. I don't know anything right now.

"Marissa?" he tries again, gently. I contemplate this for a moment. I look back to him and nod. Yes. Marissa. That's my name. He comes to me, sits in the chair beside me and turns to face me. "How are you holding up?"

I look into his eyes. For a moment, I forget where I am, looking in those eyes. Green. But not just green. They are emeralds, hot, intense. Melted emeralds. His hair, chocolate brown, cut just above his eyes matches Olivia's color I realize. Matches Nola's. Nola. I am dragged back to the cold chair in the cold room surrounded by strangers, caring for me after the world has ended.

I realize the man is still waiting for my answer. I continue to stare. I open my mouth slightly, wanting to answer, but I realize I've forgotten how to form words. Even if I didn't, I don't know what word to use to describe what I'm feeling right now. Heartbroken…destroyed…devastated…not one of these compares to my emotional state at the moment.

"Shh, shh, it's ok." He says gently. I realize tears are rolling down my cheeks and I'm breathing so quickly my head begins to spin. He lays a strong hand on my shoulder. "I'm sorry for everything that's happened to you. We're going to take very good care of you. I promise you, you're going to be alright."

I want to scream. I want to hit him. No, I'm not going to be alright. My Nola is gone! Nola's gone. Nola's…I stop myself. Why am I considering screaming at this man. What has he done? He is the only thing keeping me calm right now. He's the reason I'm alive. I close my eyes and nod.

"This is Detective Emily Schwartz and Harold Norman. They want to ask you a few questions. Are you up for talking?" I nod slowly, my eyes locked on the ground. The man smiles and stands, preparing to leave. I grab his hand before he can walk away. I don't know why I do this but the thought of him leaving me scares me more than anything. He glances down at my hand clasped in his, looks at me for a moment, and smiles.

"Ok. I'll stay." He says reassuringly, sitting down. For the first time, I feel a slight smile in just the corners of my mouth. He squeezes my hand, his sparkling eyes locked on mine.

"Oh, by the way, I never introduced myself, did I?" he says, smiling an infectious smile I can barely resist.

"My name is Jim Shorely."

Chapter 12

I wake up in the car several hours later. Ed is still staring intently at the road before us, the kids fast asleep in the back. I yawn and stretch.

"Hey." He says smiling, "How'd you sleep?"

I sigh, "Not well. I dreamed about the first time I met Jim. I miss him…"

Ed tightens his grip on the steering wheel.

"I know, Riss, but we already went over this."

"I know, I know. That doesn't stop me from missing him."

We sit in silence for a few minutes. It occurs to me that it's dark out. We are no longer on the highway, but driving down a deserted road with pasture on either side. "Ed, where are we?" I ask.

"We're on the way to my friend's cabin. That's who I called on the plane. I was asking him if we could use it for the night. He let me know where the spare key is."

"How long are we staying?"

"Just for the night. Tomorrow we need to leave again."

I sigh to myself, pull my legs up on to the seat, wrap my arms around them and rest my chin on my knees. I think to myself how badly I wish Jim was here. I wish he would hold my hand. I wish he would hold me tight, help me sing the children to sleep, tell me he loves me and watch me fall asleep, my ever protective guardian.

After a few hours we pull on to a narrow dirt road, ever green trees brushing against the car on either side of the road. We pull up to a small log cabin, one story, perhaps two or three rooms. Ed cuts the engine, I open my door and jump down from the tall truck. I walk to the side door, pull it open as quietly as possible and unbuckle the kids. I lift Tim up and turn around to see Ed just behind me. He offers his arms. I place Tim in his arms and silently thank him with a smile. I pick up Olivia, snoring slightly, a baby's snore. Sometimes I forget how young she really is. I've placed so much on her shoulders. My brave little girl. I cradle her in my arms and gently kick the door shut. Ed walks up to the house and I'm amazed by his ability to find his way around the area in the dark. I follow close behind him, careful not to trip and wake my sleeping child. He reaches behind the broken lamp on the side of the door and pulls out a small, rusty key. He places it in the lock and pushes the door open which creaks and groans in protest. We slip into the cabin and shut the door. Ed uses his shoulder to hit the light switch and a dim, slightly flickering lamp comes on, hanging from the ceiling. The light reveals a quaint living area with a small round wooden table with a native American looking print tablecloth surrounded by four small chairs, a few mismatched bookshelves scattered throughout the room stacked with old looking books, some classics, and some that look like reference books. To the left of the room is a small kitchenette equipped with an ancient stovetop, a mini fridge, a microwave, a sink and a coffee maker set on top of a few wooden cupboards. To the right are three doors. One ajar presents a toilet, sink and a tiny shower that looks as if it will barely fit a short adult. The stucco tile has been ripped up and the wooden paneling underneath is visible. The two other doors I assume are bedrooms but judging by the width of the house, they can not be very large, possibly fitting two twin beds and a few inches between them and barely any walking space to shuffle in and out of the room.

Ed walks to the middle door on the right and swings the door open. I was wrong. The room is tinier than I expected and only fits one twin bed.

"The kids in here?" He whispers. I nod.

We set the children in the bed and there is barely enough room for the two to fit, one of Tim's arms dangling over the edge. I gingerly remove their shoes and set them at the foot of the bed. Ed waits by the door as I kiss both on the forehead and whisper quickly "Goodnight baby. I love you."

I turn to go and Ed gentlemanly extends his arm, motioning to me to exit first. I laugh silently and smile. I leave the room and he quietly shuts the door behind me.

I turn and curtsy and whisper "Why, thank you kind sir."

"Well it's not trouble at all, lovely miss. Have a wondrous day m'lady." He says chuckling and bowing deeply

"I shall, I shall good mister."

We both begin to laugh hysterically. I slip down to the ground and sit cross legged, my face in my lap, trying desperately to quiet my manic giggles. Ed crumples beside me, laughing equally as hard. As our laughs die to spontaneous scattered chuckles, we turn to smile at each other.

"Come along, madam. I shall escort you to your sleeping quarters." He says happily, offering his hand. I take it gladly and we stand, walk to the second room and open the door. I stop for a moment when I realize the sleeping accommodations. One bed. A full.

"Who's sleeping here?" I ask.

"You are, of course." He says, still smiling.

"What about you?" I ask, concerned.

"Oh. I was just going to hang out in one of the chairs, maybe read a little." He says shrugging.

"Ed! No, you've been driving all day and you're going to be driving all day tomorrow. You need to sleep. I'll stay up."

"Marissa I can't let you do that. You need your sleep. You have had an extremely stressful day and you need to rest.

"Well…what do we do?" I ask.

"Well…we could both sleep in it." He offers, somewhat uncomfortable.

"Oh…ok…well, I don't mind. Is that alright with you?"

"Of course. I don't mind at all." He says quickly.

"Well…ok." I say smiling.

He nods and looks about smiling, seeming almost nervous. I shrug and ignore this. I go to the car and retrieve the four bags. I pull them into the house and set each on the table. I realize I have no idea what Ed had packed for me and Jim. I go to the tiny bathroom, about the size of the miniscule ones aboard the air plane, and dig through my bag, looking for pajamas. I find a pair of jeans, some denim cutoffs I've never worn because I cut them far too short and a ruffled skirt I only wear for special occasion. For tops I find a red V neck top, a black fitted sweater I wear for work and a pink lacy camisole I only ever wear under tops. I find the one night gown I own stowed at the bottom of the bag. It's a powder blue silk one, lace around the bust and the bottom hem that hits mid thigh. It's a random assortment of the clothes I own and I guess that Ed must have just grabbed the closest ones, not considering practicality for the trip. I notice he also grabbed some undergarments. I blush slightly. I'm glad he remembered it, but the thought of poor Ed having to dig through my underwear drawer makes me feel a little uncomfortable and sorry for Ed. Three pairs of bras and underwear. Matching sets. All lingerie. I sigh to myself. I wish Ed understood that the few pieces of lingerie I own are terribly uncomfortable. But of course he wouldn't understand. I shrug to myself and slip into a black and white lace set covered in ribbons and bows. The lace is already itching but I decide to not complain. Ed has done so much for us already. I pull on the nightgown and peer in the tiny mirror. I groan slightly. My cleavage is about as obvious as day. I glance down at the bottom of the nightgown, and realize to my dismay it's shrunk. It barely covers my butt and I know if I bend down I'm screwed. I tug at the hem trying to stretch it to no avail. I feel bad. Poor Ed. Ah well. He'll understand I'm sure. I pack up my dirty clothes and leave the bathroom. I find Ed sitting at the table, already changed into a pair a sweatpants. I realize he's not wearing a shirt. He turns when he hears the bathroom door open.

"Oh. Hey." He says. At the same moment we seem to realize he's staring and he smiles and turns away quickly.

"Sorry." I say. "I know it's kinda weird but that's all there was."

"It's my fault, I should have grabbed you some sweats or something."

"No, no, it's alright. Thanks." I smile gratefully.

He returns the smile. I notice his bare chest. I realize he's worked out since the last time I saw him. His chest and arms are more toned, strong, muscular.

"Yeah, sorry, I, uh, I forgot to grab a t-shirt. I was kinda rushing." He mumbles.

"That's alright." I respond.

We both stand stiffly in our spots. I realize my fist is clasped around the hem of the gown, yanking down and my other arm is across my chest, holding on to my other arm.

After a moment of silence, Ed finally speaks.

"Well, I'm going to go to bed." He starts towards the bedroom, stops, and turns to me. "Are you coming?"

"Oh no, I was going to stay up for a little. I just want to sit, you know, try to clear my head, sort things out."

"Oh. Ok. Goodnight." He mutters.

He turns and goes to the bedroom, shutting the door behind him.

I exhale and wander over to the table, sit and start rooting around in my bag some more. I find there is also a pair of sandals and heels. I sigh disappointed as I had been wishing for a pair of sneakers. I continue to look and find a toothbrush, a hairbrush, makeup bag, some perfume and lotion. I'm glad he grabbed these, a few little items to make this feel more like a normal day, not a frantic run. I sit for a few minutes listening. I hear Ed get into bed and wait for about five minutes. When I guess he's asleep or close to it, I pull my cell phone out of my jean pocket in the bag and silently slip out the front door. I walk a few feet away from the house, wishing I'd grabbed my sweatshirt as I realize how chilly it is. I rub my arms and huddle in on myself as I press the power button on my phone and watch it come to life. As it brings me to my home screen I realize I only have half battery power left. I don't think Ed grabbed my charger.

'Excellent.' I think sarcastically. As the phone registers the surroundings and finds a server, a pop up appears. It reads 'thirty two missed calls. Fourteen new texts.' I want to cry as I realize every one is a frantic message from Jim. The last call is from less than an hour ago. I listen to a few voicemails and click through my inbox. I see Jim's emotions change as the day progresses. First fear, then anger, then pleading. The first few messages are mere minutes in between as if he would call, hang up when there was no answer and redial. As the day continues, they grow further apart, as if he realizes I won't answer. The last few are about an hour apart. His last text message breaks my heart.

"Marissa, please. I'm begging you. Answer me. We don't know where you or the kids are. I'm terrified. Please Marissa. I love you. Call me."

I weep silently, heartbroken that I've left him behind. I contemplate calling him but before I can, my ringtone makes my jump. I read the number and recognize it as Jim's. I am frozen. I want so badly to answer, to assure him we are alright, beg him to come find me. But I swore to Ed I wouldn't. I hold the ringing phone tightly. Before I can think I am flipping the phone open and hitting accepted.

I hold the shaking phone to my ear and breathe in.

"Hello?"

"Oh my god! Marissa! Oh my god! Marissa, where are you? Sweet heart, where are you? Are you ok? Are the kids with you? Are they alright?"

His frantic mile per minute questions make my head spin. I breathe deeply.

"I'm ok. We're ok. Yes, the kids are with me. We're with Ed. He said we had to run."

"Wha…Run? What? Why do you need to run?"

"He doesn't trust Malcolm. And I don't trust him either." I realize this as I say the words. "I couldn't risk the kids' lives like that."

"Marissa what in the world do you mean?"

"We think he's helping Anthony."

"Why didn't you tell me this? Of course he's not! That's insane!"

"I knew you'd do this! Ed said you would do this!" I realize I'm shouting, tears in my eyes.

"Marissa, there's clearly something wrong with Ed if he think Malcolm would ever, ever help Anthony."

"There's nothing wrong with Ed! He's trying to protect me! How dare you!"

"Marissa, calm down! Stop shouting! You're over reacting. I'm sorry." He says gently, trying to calm me.

"I won't calm down! How dare you! Ed is your best friend and he's trying to help us!"

"Marissa! Stop!" he yells back, his frustration getting the better of him. I hear him take a breath. "Please Marissa. I'm sorry. Just tell me where you are."

"Jim I can't. You can't know where…" I stop. I pull the phone away from my ear. A minute and 15 seconds. A minute and thirty is needed for a trace. They're tracing the call. I know it.

"I have to go." I say frantically.

"No! Marissa! Don't hang up! Don't! Damn it! Marissa!" he screams into the phone. I slam the phone shut, ending the call.

Tears flood my eyes. I am suddenly sobbing to myself. I squeeze the phone, hold it to me, wishing it was really Jim, that I had not just disconnected my only connection to him. I run into the house, slamming the door shut and shrinking down against it as if I've left my pain sitting, crumpled in a ball in the drive, just as I am now. I sob into my knees. I hear the bedroom door open but I don't look up. Ed is crouched opposite me in a moment.

"Marissa? What happened?" he asks frantically.

I sense him notice the phone in my hand. He pulls it from my iron grasp and checks the recent calls.

"You talked to him? Marissa! What did I tell you?" he asks frustrated.

"I'm sorry! I'm sorry." I mutter between sobs, wiping my eyes with my wrist.

He sighs. "It's alright. Hey, don't cry. It's alright."

He leans forward and wipes the tears from my eyes with his thumb. I look at him through my clouded vision; stare into his beautiful brown eyes. He stares intently back, holding my gaze. I inhale sharply. He leans forward slowly, his hand that dried my tears now cradling my face. He presses his forehead to mine and caresses my cheek. My mind is screaming but I can't seem to hear it. Then his mouth is on mine.

His kiss is firm, passionate. I sit numb, allow him to kiss me fervently, work his mouth around mine. I know I shouldn't do this. I should push him off. I shouldn't want this.

Before I know it I'm kissing back, matching his zeal. He lifts me up off the ground, holds me under my butt and I wrap my arms around his neck, my legs around his waist, our lips never parting. He carries me to the bedroom we're sharing. He drops me on the bed. We both stop for a moment and realize at the same time I'm still crying, a new wave of tears now, guilt for what I'm doing. He doesn't seem to care. He pulls off his pants anxiously and climbs on to the bed, naked, on top of me. He kisses me avidly again and yanks my nightgown off. I feel his hands on my bare hips, my waist, my chest. He unclasps my bra and pulls it off of me, running his hands over my breasts. His hands run down to my underwear and I feel him tugging them down.

I open my eyes mid-kiss and something clicks. It's as if I realize for the first time who this is on top of me. The shock jolted through me when I open my eyes and I don't see Jim in front of me causes me to tear my lips away. He doesn't notice and kisses my cheek, my neck, my shoulders, working his way down.

"Stop…stop…Ed…" I whisper weakly. The panic builds in me and in a moment I am almost shouting furiously. "No! Ed, stop! Stop it! Get off! Ed! No!"

He finally seems to realize I'm fighting, pushing him, shoving. He stops, stares, and sits up. I scoot backwards on the bed, my underwear around my knees

"What? What's the problem?"

"I…I'm sorry. I just…I can't do this. I'm sorry."

Ed sits back, confused, as if he doesn't understand.

"I'm sorry…" is all I can manage.

He slowly leans down again so his face is inches from mine.

"Marissa…" he whispers.

I try to protest but his lips are on mine again. I fight for a second but lose all my strength. I consider…it would be so much easier to just let him. He moans in my ear passionately. No. This is wrong. This is not Jim. This is wrong.

"No!" I screech. I shove with all my might and throw him off me. I jump off the bed and press myself up against the wall.

He stares at me from the bed.

"I can't do this. I'm sorry. I just…I can't."

He is silent. After a moment, he finally grunts and gets off the bed, picking his clothes up off the floor.

"I'm sorry too Marissa." He says pulling his pants back on. He turns and stares at me. I become uncomfortably aware that as he stares he takes in me in all my nudity. I quickly pull my clothes from the floor and tug them on. Without another word I slip out the door, leaving him standing there alone, staring after me.

Outside the room, I lean against the shut door, hating myself. I jump when I hear a loud, frustrated grunt and a heavy impact on the wall of the inner wall. Ed punched the wall. I feel awful.

I walk to the table quickly and grab the kids' and my bags off of it and quietly slip into the children's room. Both are soundly asleep, unaware of the circumstance altering events of the evening. I find a few blankets tucked under the bed. I pull out two, one folded up to use as a pillow and a heavy wool one. I lay down alongside the bed, close my eyes and try to will myself to sleep, desperately trying to forget the crime I've just committed against the one person who really cares for me.

Chapter 13

The next morning, I wake up before the kids. They are both snoring lightly into their pillows. I lay on the floor praying to God last night was only a dream. But I know it wasn't. It was all too real. How could I have been so stupid?After a few minutes of lying awake, I climb out of my makeshift sleeping area and stand, stretching. I noiselessly open the door and slip out of the room.

I turn to face the rest of the cabin. I look around; thankful Ed is no where in sight. I feel guilty for this, but I know having to greet him today will be one of the hardest things I'll have to do. I wander in to the kitchenette and see the coffee maker is already prepared, a dirty mug in the sink. I find another mug below the sink and fill it with coffee. I sip it gratefully, anxious for caffeine. It tastes awful, as if it has been sitting around for months, maybe a year. For all I know, it could have been. I try to force more down my throat, knowing how badly I need to be woken up. I give up and dump the rest down the sink, rinse the cup quickly and leave it in the sink alongside the other. Just then I hear the bathroom door swing open. I turn and lock eyes with Ed. Subconsciously I pull the top of my gown up to cover my chest. He looks away and tries not to acknowledge me. I can't bear this. I move into the other room quickly as Ed is sitting at the table.

"Ed?" I ask cautiously.

He looks up in response.

"Hey. Can we…can we please talk about last night?"

He looks at his hands, raises his eyebrows quickly and says "Yeah, I guess so."

I go and sit beside him, waiting to speak until he looks up at me.

"Look, I'm not totally sure what happened last night. But…I'm sorry. I was upset and I'm sorry I led you on. I shouldn't have done that. It was unfair to you and…and to Jim. I'm so sorry. I really am."

He sighs.

"Marissa…I'm not sorry. I'm sorry you stopped. I know you're with Jim and all, but, Marissa…I love you."

Even after all the signs, I am still taken aback by his confession. He stares at the ground and I want to cry for him. I take his hands in mine and he looks up at me.

"Ed. Ed, Ed, Ed," I say, shaking my head, "I'm sorry. I love you too. But not the way you love me. I love you like my brother. What happened last night…that was me letting out my emotions. I know how wrong it was to do that to you and I'm so sorry. But…I just don't feel that way for you. I'm with Jim. I love him."

Ed sits in silence, holding tight to my hands. Finally he nods.

"Ok. You're right. I'm sorry."

"I really am sorry. I hope we can move past this."

He nods again. He offer him a sympathetic smile but he only looks away. I watch him, wishing he would just return my smile, say it was all ok. I lean forward and gently press my lips to his cheek, just for a moment. I pull away and he stares at me. I gently pull my hands from his and hug him quickly, smiling as best I can before turning and returning to the children's room.

I walk in just as Tim begins to stir.

"Good morning sunshine." I say quietly. I move to Olivia, gently rubbing her back, trying to wake her.

She rolls over on to her back and nearly falls off the bed, but I catch her before the impact. She giggles sleepily and I sit her on the bed, pull a brush from her backpack and try to brush through her hair, slightly tangled and mussed from sleeping.

Finally as the grogginess wears off, the kids sit up and look about the room.

"Mom, where are we?" Tim asks curiously.

"We're at Ed's friend's cabin. We're packing up and leaving in a little while."

Tim nods and Olivia rubs her eyes with her tiny fist, yawning, still not fully awake.

"Ok guys, let's get dressed." I say, pulling each of our back packs on to the bed. I root around in Olivia's bag and pull out her favorite pink dress spotted with green polka dots and a pair of navy blue cotton leggings. I help her pull this on while Tim hops into a pair of jeans and a yellow polo.

After the kids are done getting dressed, I hand them their toothbrushes and show them to the bathroom. While they brush their teeth I return to the bedroom and pull out red v-neck and jeans. As I pull on the jeans, I already know it's far too warm out for them. So my options are down to the skirt or the cut-offs. I go with the shorts. Wonderful. They're also shorter than necessary. I start to wonder for the first time if maybe this isn't a random assortment of clothes.

I pull the clothes on along with the black low top converse I wore yesterday. I leave the bedroom and walk to the bathroom. Ed's door is shut, and I guess he's changing. The kids sit at the table flipping through an ancient copy of Macbeth, trying fruitlessly to pronounce the Shakespearean language. I snicker to myself and slip into the bathroom with my makeup bag. I apply just a little eyeliner, mascara and some lip gloss so I look presentable. I step back to try and see my full appearance in the tiny mirror. I sigh, frustrated, as I realize how much I look like a slutty teenage girl. At twenty six, I'm surprised to say I'm disappointed I could pass for eighteen. I exit the bathroom as Ed leaves the bedroom wearing a t-shirt and jeans. I thought he had said he didn't bring a t-shirt. He looks me up and down quickly and stares for a moment. I am suddenly again self conscious about the outfit I ended up choosing. The children's laughter distracts me suddenly. I smile at their ignorance. I glance at Ed and see him laughing too. When he catches my gaze, he stops but slowly a smile spreads across his face. I return his smile.

"Ok guys." Ed says turning to the kids. "Let's hit the road. We'll stop somewhere and pick up some food on the way."

I nod and we gather up the bags, the children hopping off the chairs, leaving the open book on the table. I shut the light off and we slip out