That night, after a large bowl of chili that I devoured while Crabtree watched, I slept in the little room above the first floor of the cabin. Crabtree took the couch. It was just the two of us because Crabtree and his ‘friend’, while they chatted away outside, had decided that’s how it would be.
When Mr. Green, or Bob as Crabtree introduced him, finally came in the house he stayed less than an hour and said barely anything before hopping back in his car and driving away. He was a strange cold man. It was Crabtree who jumped in saying the words I needed to hear to feel like I was as safe as they claimed. He was much younger than my teacher, not that it matter to me, but had a twitchy way about him that very much did. All the time he was in the cabin his eyes darted from me to Crabtree as though he wasn’t sure who he was having the conversation with.
I would have bet a million dollars Bob was a smoker trying not to be, the way he nervously rubbed his fingers together. In fact, I thought I’d prove it to myself when I showed them what I could do. I was sure they would want verification that I had a skill in need of protection. I told them all about it. Every unbelievable detail. The next logical step was for them to demand a display. I figured Bob would be the guinea pig grabbing my head for proof and so I thought carefully what I would ask. It couldn’t be too serious but it had to be something he hid so I settled on letting him tell us about his addiction to nicotine.
But it never happened. The second I offered Crabtree turned me down. Forcefully. He was adamant that my word was enough. Actual evidence was totally unnecessary and Bob agreed. Which kind of made me hate him.
The other annoying thing about Bob was the impression I got that he was uncomfortable, if not completely unfamiliar, with his name. I had to say it twice each time I used it to get a response. It didn’t surprise me that he would use a fake name just that he was so awkward about it. This couldn’t have been the first time he’d done it.
I tried to cut Bob slack. A career of whisking kids into a new secret life must wear a guy down. However, each time he floundered I found myself thinking about my ex-boyfriend. Marco wouldn’t mess up like Bob. He’d adapted to his pseudonym like a pro.
Oddly, that knowledge filled me with pride.
And that kind of made me hate both of them.
Bob left hinting at NGO’s he knew of that would love to meet and protect me. Nothing solid, but he promised to return when things were. Whenever that happened.
Meanwhile, back at the house we had a lot of time on our hands. Crabtree killed some fantasizing about the kind of work I would do (one day). I found myself waffling over changing my appearance. According to everyone, that had to happen and the sooner I got on board, the better.
Mostly though, we watched TV until it was late enough to have dinner and call it a day.
After eating, twenty four hours of running and hiding and worrying hit me like a brick wall. Exhausted, I could barely keep my eyes open. Crabtree even had to help me up the stairs.
I fell dead onto the single bed shoved up against the wall. The last thing I remembered before sleep took over was Crabtree pulling a heavy cotton quilt across my shoulders and tiptoeing out of the room.
I slept hard and woke early. Still, even with the sunlight leaking through the curtains, I didn’t feel ready to be up. Sleep clung to me like a hot wet towel.
Too hot, I thought. Then I realized it wasn’t a towel at all, but the air, thick and moist. Warm air rises and in Crabtree’s cabin that turned the upstairs room into a sauna overnight. My pillow was damp and my neck covered in sweat. I wiped it dry with the quilt and I sat up.
I was still tired but the room was too warm to sleep in anymore. I needed air. so I pushed up and shuffled across the room to open a window.
It was locked. Really locked, with a key, not just a latch. There was a metal strip with a keyed knob wedged into the frame that blocked the pane from sliding open.
Ugh. Crabtree. Padlocked front door, locked windows…why would anyone want to live like that?
My head was cloudy. I was sweaty and just wanted to go back to bed. Since the window wasn’t moving I decided to get water. Maybe that would cool me down enough to pass out again.
The door wouldn’t open. The handle turned, but the door itself wouldn’t budge. My head was so heavy, I thought it was my imagination. But then I tried again.
What the hell?
I shuffled back to the bed slowly waking up, but too weak to stand there any longer. What was the deal? Was the door stuck? I sat on the mattress with my chin in my hands, staring at the door. Why wouldn’t it open?
Then I heard footsteps. Crabtree was coming up the stairs. I stayed in place wondering if I should call out. The only thing on the second floor of the cabin was the room I was in, so he must be on his way to check on me.
Crabtree paused outside the room, flipping on the light in the windowless hall and casting a long shadow through the gap at the bottom of the door. He didn’t knock, and the handle didn’t turn, but he was busy doing something. I heard a click, metal to metal. Then the door moved in slightly, just enough to rest against the latch and show me that it hadn’t been that way before.
My heart began to beat faster. Blood pumped into my head, clearing the fog and waking me up for good.
Then Crabtree, without checking on me and without saying anything, left.
I counted to fifty before trying the door. It gave freely. The damn thing opened up without any problem. I slung it in and inspected the side facing the stairs. Near the top was a second latch, a mini dead bolt that slid sideways into the frame, securing the door in place.
Crabtree had locked me in.
Marco’s warnings echoed in my ear. This time when I hear his voice it was almost sneering.
What did I tell you?
For once, I wasn’t sorry to have him in my head. In fact I wished my next thoughts would travel straight into his.
Oh Marco. What have I done?