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Excerpt 132


She would no longer say anything that she did not intend to follow through with.  Her mind was nearly taken from her.  Mental control was something she had always assumed could not be taken away from her, barring disease.  Now she knew that even though someone could not take it away, it could be diminished.  Someone really could drive you crazy and take over your thoughts.

She would never again take advantage of her freedom and being able to say anything she wants to out loud. She would never say she would harm someone without meaning it.  And if she said something out loud about bringing harm to those men, she would be involving the person who was saving her life.

He turned into a fast food restaurant parking lot and approached the drive through.

“You should eat something,” he said.

She wondered how he could act she normal when she was barely dressed, had bruises and blood all over her body and was clearly disillusioned.  She did not want to eat in front of him because she worried that she had forgotten how to and would spit up. She looked at the menu board. None of the sun-bleached pictures of food looked appetizing and all of the corners were caked with dirt.

“I’ll have a piece of chicken.” He nodded and ordered.  She looked out the window, trying to recognize a store or a gas station.

The smell of the chicken was overwhelming and she could hardly unwrap it fast enough before taking a bite.  Although juicy, the first bite was very salty and she swallowed quickly, burning her throat.  The man handed her a cup of water as she peeled the skin off and threw it into the bag.  She peeled the meat from the bone and chewed slowly.  Just as she wished she had ordered another piece, the man handed her a biscuit.

“What is your name?” She asked, suddenly feeling self conscious with her misshapen hair and lack of makeup.

“Bruce,” he said and then didn’t ask her the same.

“Thank you for everything,” she said.

“I’m just glad I was there. And I was just thinking, you don’t have any identification, do you?”

“I don’t,” she said, remembering the smoldering pile burning. He nodded.

“I should probably just take you all the way home then,” he said.  “It’s not a good idea to travel without an ID.”

 

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Excerpt 128


The smoke was building up.  Ala hurried to the huge window and saw the tiny lights on the houses tucked into the mountains.  People were home and still awake.  Someone would be terrified of the position she was put in and of her story, and would have no choice but to help her.  Although she was dehydrating and hateful, she knew there were good people within reach.

The man rolled on the ground, but the fire continued to spread over his body.  She walked as far back across from the window as possible.  She shook out her feet, one at a time, and ran as fast as she could. When reaching the glass she threw herself against it.  The severity of cold shocked her and she fell to the ground.  She got back up and drew her leg up, bent her knee and kicked the window as hard as she should.

Pain rang through her bare foot. She knew that if she had a shoe on, she would probably be able to break through.  She looked at the pile, now a heap of fused, smoldering rubber and cloth. The screaming had stopped, and to her horror, Ala saw that the man had rolled into the larger fire and was now burning to death.  She ran over and reached around him, trying to drag him out.

The smell of his body burning invaded her nostrils and she had to let go once her panties had a hole burned into them from a rogue spark. She crawled over to the phone, the only item she had not burned, picked it up and hit the glass.  It shattered. She hit harder and it cracked.  She stuck her nose through the opening and coughed, trying to suck in fresh air. Being careful not to cut herself, she stuck her head further out and looked down.  The window was flush with the mountain and it was a straight shot down the smooth rock wall.

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Excerpt 111


Ala instinctively crouched down, planting her hand on the railing in order to peek up.  Had the gardener seen Danno leave?  Perhaps he knew she was alone.  There was no reason for him to be back after she told him his things were not in the house.  Fear curdled deep in her stomach.  His figure enlarged as he walked toward the window, closer to her.  She crawled on her hands and knees under the sill, trying to get to the back of the sofa.  She could not remember where she had left her phone.  Most likely on the kitchen counter.  If she got up now, he would see her going to the kitchen.

The house phone began to ring.  She looked up to see if the gardener was calling, and he was gone.  She crawled toward the kitchen and plastered herself against the back door before slowly inching up to look out of the kitchen windows.

She did not see him in the backyard, but saw that all of the dishes had been left out from the early morning breakfast.  She would have to wait to clear the table because Bruno could be lurking.  What did he want from her?  Perhaps she should call Emmanuel to let him know that a member of his staff was harassing her.  He would probably inquire about how everything else was going, and she wasn’t sure that she could adequately lie over the phone.  

Her stomach began to spin and she did not feel safe in the house any longer, at least not by herself.  She tiptoed to Emmanuel’s room and found a pair of her shoes, that did not require she wear socks, and slipped them on.  She retrieved her purse and phone and slowly made her way toward the front door.  There were no cars in front of the house, not to say Bruno hasn’t parked far away to throw her off.  She positioned the house key firmly in her hand and stepped outside, quickly locking up, then bolted down the porch steps.  She jogged, looking behind her frequently, to her parent’s house.  The porch light was turned on, welcoming her and she had never been so relieved to be going back to this house.

She let herself in and locked the door behind her, peering out to see if she had been followed.  The street was clear.  She sunk down on the bottom step to catch her breath and ran her hands through her hair.  The air was stiff and she fanned herself with a magazine from the end table.  The house has not been this hot the last time she was there.  She heard a whack, a quick high-pitched whip, coming from upstairs.

Her parents were surely still at this hour.  She heard a thump and then laughter.  She stepped carefully, not wanting to disturb the noise, or let her parents know that she was home.  Her parent’s bedroom door was open slightly, and purple light spilled out onto the carpet.  She approached and looked inside of the room, then stepped back quickly.  

A dozen naked bodies, all moving and squirming, were coiled together in a heap in the middle of the bedroom floor.  

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Excerpt 110


She put her hand on top of his.

“No,” she said. “This isn’t about me.  Go.”

He kissed her mouth. “Everything will be fine.”

“I know,” she said.  Going to a business breakfast at dawn, where she would have nothing to say, was not something she was interested in.  Danno was right in saying that not everything was always going to be perfect, in her opinion, all of the time.  Jase was so aggressive and quick to be mean. And she would fall apart whenever they disagreed or wanted two different things.  Danno was confident because he knew that he would not always be able to make her happy. Because it was not his job.  “I’ll see you when you get back.”

“What are you going to do?” He said.

“I’ll straighten up around here and sort through my things.”

“Sort through how?”

“Fold clothes, make sure everything is organized.”

“How many things do you still keep at your parent’s house?”

“Quite a few. It hasn’t been that long since I came back from Boston.” She thought of  the piles of boxes and stacks of books that were flooding the basement.  “Why do you ask?”

“We may want to come up with a plan to get everything out of there soon.”

“But I live there.”

“Maybe not for long.”

She would live with him if he asked, even though she had no idea where he lived.  She hoped she would not get so desperate that she would actually ask if she could live with him. She couldn’t bare the thought of not being able to indulge in their every whim when she had to leave Emmanuel’s house.

She returned his smile.  He left through the front door and she could hear Rainbow’s car running in the driveway.  She walked through each room, gingerly folding clean clothes and laying them in her suitcase.  She gathered up wadded, dirty garments and began a load of laundry.  She had not done anything normal in days and it felt nice to be caring for a home.

The doorbell rang.  She flocked to the foyer; sure that Danno had forgotten something and was locked out.  She stopped short of the bay window and in the lower corner could see Bruno, the gardener, on the front porch.

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Excerpt 99


She knew why already, but knew he wanted her to ask him.

“How come?”

“My mother only has one grandchild, and it’s that crazy pill popper’s.  She probably won’t even stay with my brother.  He’s such an ass to her.  And then he’ll have to battle with her to even see the kid.”

“I think you’re jumping ahead a little bit,” Ala said, touching his arm.  She felt him tense up slightly.

“I don’t.  I screwed up.  My mother won’t be able to see me get married.  She’ll never meet my kids.  And all of that could have been done by now. She put her life into this family and won’t even see it grow. My father worked to make life comfortable for this family and they won’t even enjoy it. Neither of them.”

He was always irrational when he couldn’t control a situation.

“Jase, you can’t get married and have a family for anyone but yourself.”

He parallel parked on his street and they got out of the car.  She let him walk ahead because he had the keys.

“I could’ve by now.  We could’ve.  There was no reason to not get married.”  He opened the heavy front door and stomped up the stairs.  She didn’t know if she should even follow him.  She had to though because all of her things were in the apartment.  And he would never forgive her if she didn’t.

“There was a reason, Jase.”

“Yeah,” he said, slamming the apartment door behind her, “What?”

She leaned against the card table in the dining room.

“To begin with, getting married is a big deal.  It’s not just a next step because you’ve been dating someone for awhile.”

“Says who?  Some feminist online publication?” He hit the top of one of the windows and opened it.

“No.  I do.”

“Why did you even move here then?”

“Because I wanted to be with you.  I moved here with love for you. But I realized that we weren’t working very well together.”

“You didn’t even try.  You fled.”

“I didn’t try?” She put both of her hands on the table to steady herself. “I know you’re upset.  This isn’t something we should talk about now.”

He paced the room, kicking off his shoes.

“I brought you into my whole life.  Into my family. I consulted with you before I made decisions about my future.  I thought we were building something.”

“I did too.”

This was a scene she had replayed many times since moving out of the apartment.  He wanted her back.  He wanted to make this work. He loved her as much as she had loved him.  It was a dream come true.  She could kiss him right now. He could lift her up and carry her into the bedroom and they wouldn’t have to ever look back. They could feel how they felt when they had first met. They could go back to their first time.

And she didn’t want any of it.  It wasn’t that she was over him, but that she felt how she had dreamt of feeling when being in love.  She couldn’t go back to what she had with Jase, because it didn’t feel as right as everything felt with Danno. She had known Jase for years and already knew Danno better.

Jase saw her looking out the window and slowly approached.  He took her arms with both of his hands and turned her toward him so they were face to face, eye to eye.  Her phone rang and her eyes darted to her purse. He held onto her.

“I know you’ve been with someone else,” he said, almost smiling. Ala wasn’t afraid of him or what he might do.  She realized he was so upset about his mother and so upset about her not wanting be with him, that he could kill her.  It was possible.  But she was happy that she was telling the truth very plainly, no matter what the outcome. She had come here out of concern for Abigail and to show support to his family.  Now he had turned the visit into their issues.  Her phone rang again and he snickered. “Come on, tell me you haven’t been.  Lie.”

 

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Excerpt 89


Ala chose the door handle to focus on and kept her eyes there.

“Bad?” She almost whispered then waited.  

He made a smooth left and kept the same speed.  

“Yes.”

“Like what?”

“When we were asleep, my wallet was stolen.”

“What?” Her eyes darted to his face. He stayed composed. “Stolen?”

“Yes. I woke up and it was gone from my pocket.”

“How could that have happened?”

“We slept for around two hours.”

“And someone just came by and took your wallet?” She was terrified and felt her pockets, which had nothing in them to begin with.  

She hadn’t felt violated before.  The thought of someone she didn’t know so close, watching them, touching them while they slept made her nauseous.  She took a deep breath.  Her overreacted was not going to return Danno’s wallet. 

“No one was around.”

“Apparently, someone was and we just didn’t see them,” Danno said.

How could someone have been following them when the trails were completely empty?  She thought carefully and couldn’t remember a car or any sign that anyone had been there. 

“How did they know we were asleep and not just lying there?” She said, near hysterics.

“They took a guess,” he said.

“This is too bizarre.”

“I’m sorry you’re frightened,” he said, putting the back of his hand against her cheek, comforting her, when his wallet had been stolen.

She turned and faced him, crossing one sore leg under the other.

“At least we’re okay. I mean, at least you can get a new driver’s license and cancel your credit cards. Everything is replaceable.”

She could tell he still wanted a cigarette.  She got the pack from the glove box and took one out.  She placed it between his lips and reached into his pocket to find the lighter.  She lit it and rolled down the window.

“The thing is,” he said, puffing through his mouth.  “Not everything inside is replaceable.”

“Oh,” she said.  She looked out the window as the trees rushed past, making a kaleidoscope of browns and grays with light peaking through.

“There was a code card from the man I work for inside.  I was supposed to go to his safe this morning to take out funds for a supplier. And, obviously, I didn’t.”

Ala scrunched up her face.  She knew all of this was too good to be true.  Behaving as they had brought consequences and now she wasn’t sure she would be able to help him.

“When are you supposed to pay him?”

“Tonight,” he said, tapping the cigarette on the thin glass of the window, dustings of ash flying out the car. 

“Are you supposed to give him a lot of money?” She said, unsure of how to ask the question without prying.

“Not a lot, but money I don’t have on hand.”

“How much?”

He squinted in the rearview mirror.

“A hundred thousand.”

Her eyes flew wide open.  

“Dollars?”

“Yes.”

“Well, surely you can call your boss and tell him what happened.”

He smiled and looked at her out of the corner of his eye.

“He’s out of town for awhile.”

“The supplier can’t wait?”

“I’m afraid not.  I’ll think of something.”

That wasn’t enough.  She would be ill with guilt if she didn’t help him with this. It was her fault for being desperate this morning instead of letting him carry on with his day.

She thought of the measly ten thousand she would be getting for doing a lousy job of protecting Emmanuel’s house.  He had trusted her and she managed to break the biggest rule on the first day. She thought of all of his careful instructions. A solution arose and punched her with adrenaline.  She instantly felt better. Better than she had felt since she could remember.

“I know where you could borrow the money from,” she said with shining eyes.

 

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Excerpt 88


She could hear before she could see.  The sound of waves, but softer and more tangible, like paper being crumbled very slowly.  She turned her head to the right and felt the ache from sleeping in an odd position.  She turned her head all the way to the left to try and nullify the pain, which never worked. Then she opened her eyes.  The sound was the trees, the leaves rather, rustling and blowing while clinging to the branches. The sky was still bright, meaning she couldn’t have slept for that long, in less this was a different day all together.

She rolled over to her side and pushed up to sit.  She spotted Danno.  He was sitting on one of the slate rocks a few yards away, talking on his cell phone. His pants were still rolled up from the climb and his face had gotten color from being in the sun several hours. She wanted to kiss him. She  got to her feet and hobbled over, still weak from the climb and lack of water.

As she approached, Ala saw him pull the phone away from his ear and hold it so that the receiver was directly in front of his mouth.  Then he said something very loudly, but the wind made his words inaudible to her.  He tapped a button and put the phone back into his pocket.  He smoothed back his hair and turned toward her.

A thin smile appeared and he stepped off the rock and met her halfway.

“You were out cold.”

“I know.  I was so beat from the climb.”

“I’m sorry,” he said, taking her hand. “I thought it would be a nice way to spend the day.”

“Oh, it was, really,” she said, the fear creeping back that he may be looking for a way to leave her.

“Should we head back?”

“Sure.”

This time they walked the outer perimeter of the hill, which was more of a downward ramp, to take their time.  Ala could not imagine climbing back down in one piece.

She almost began to cry when the car came into view.  She wanted to run, but didn’t risk it, because the boat shoes were sure to fall apart with any added impact.

They got in and Danno turned the air conditioning all the way up.  He opened the glove box and took out a pack of cigarette’s that said Shepheard’s Hotel on the gold foil on the front of the pack.  He pulled a shiny lighter from his pocket and lit one while it dangled sideways from his lips.

Ala hated smoking more than anything she could think of at that moment.  She pushed the button to roll down her window.  He turned the air conditioning off.

“I didn’t know you smoked,” she said, trying to sound casual, while also trying to evaluate whether or not the smoking was something she could live with.  As if he had asked her to marry him.

“Does it bother you?” He asked, looking straight ahead.

“A little, yes,” Ala said.

She watched his face for a reaction.  All she could see were the tiny lines in the crevices of his eyelids raising slightly.  He opened the window and tossed the cigarette out.  Ala rolled her window up.  He turned the air back on.

“What if I told you that I only smoke when something bad happens?” He said, keeping his eyes on the road.

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