Sarah, Returned

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Chapter Four

Because I always keep one eye on Karen if I can, I see it coming. Unfortunately, there is no time to get away or do anything else to stop it. It’s not like I wasn’t expecting it. I just hoped she would at least have the courtesy give it a day or so after the celebration of life. No such luck.

As if in slow motion, Karen turns to me, eyes open wide, and quickly rearranges her resting bitch face into one of confusion and sorrow, tinged with just a hint of fear.

Shit. Whatever she’s been planning, she’s doing it now.

I tense my muscles, and press as far back into the wall as I can, keeping one foot against it to use as a springboard, if need be.

She notices my slight movement, and uses it to her advantage, taking a hard step toward me, and slamming her black stiletto heel down on the centuries-old hard wood floor with an audible bang. Shit. The bitch probably dented it.

Strangely infuriated that the floors could survive unscathed for over 300 years until they had the misfortune to meet Karen Bateman, I turn to face her, ready for a battle. Sure, I’ve still got to be careful with how I respond, but it doesn’t mean I have to take her crap lying down. I square my shoulders and narrow my eyes, hoping to anticipate whatever she is about to lob at me, and either deflect it, or throw it back at her.

“I am not here to take Matt away from you, Sarah!” she shouts, her shrill, nasally voice echoing off the plaster walls, and shattering the relative silence. “How many times do I have to tell you? Your jealousy is insane. I just want us all to be a big, happy family. You haven’t had a family in so long, you’ve forgotten what it’s like. I can show you, if you’ll just let me.”

Oh. My. God. Nausea wells up in me, traveling swiftly from my stomach to my throat, and for just a moment, I am sure I will vomit. The moment passes quickly, but leaves me shaking. Karen knew just what to say, what to do, what buttons to push to make the biggest impact with her accusations. It’s perfect, really. Wait until everyone but the immediate family is gone so I can’t hide in a crowd, and make sure to do it when the long-lost great-uncle I never knew existed is visiting, just to increase the embarrassment factor for me. She probably decided to do this as soon as it became clear Jacob really is related, and likes me.

I freeze, not knowing how to respond. Of course, I know how I want to respond, but I can’t slap her. That is exactly what she wants. Maybe a simple, calm rebuttal would be enough to diffuse the situation? It’s a thought. After all, Jacob heard some nasty things come out of Karen’s mouth earlier; maybe he will realize what she is doing now, and take my side

Matt is, sadly, another variable. There was a time when I knew without a doubt that I could count on him, no matter what. That’s how it’s been between us most of my life. However, Karen’s gradual brainwashing of him over the past few months has been effective. Thanks to her, Matt already thinks I’m too sensitive where she is concerned. I’ve noticed him starting to waver on deflecting the mental illness suggestions recently, too. Will he take my side over hers if I tell him she’s putting on an act? I can’t be sure anymore.

At Karen’s outburst, both Matt and Jacob come running into the hallway were the Evil Queen and I stand, glaring at each other. Matt’s expression is inscrutable, while Jacob’s seems sympathetic at first glance; I don’t know him well enough to be certain. I think he knows Karen is a rat, but will it mean anything to Matt if he says something? Matt remembers Jacob, but the truth is, they barely know each other. Bottom line: Matt probably won’t take Jacob’s side over Karen’s.

“Is there a problem, Sarah?” Matt asks me directly, a hard edge in his normally gentle voice. Great. He’s mad because he thinks I’ve upset the woman he inexplicably loves. Yep. I know who’s side he’s on in this war. Traitor.

I try to speak, but nothing comes out. Damn it, Matt. You’re supposed to be the one person I can always trust to have my back.

Confusion and fury end up battling for room on my face, and I just stand there, gaping like an idiot.

Perfect. In my imagination, I roll my eyes at my own stupidity.

Karen, however, is a shrewd witch, and probably planned for this response as one of several possibilities, because she moves quickly. Seizing the opportunity my silence brings, she piles the drama on even higher.

“You’re being irrational,” she continues, holding her hands out to me like she’s trying to reason with someone who is quite insane. “Can’t you see how paranoid you are? I’ve told you again and again that I’m not here to take Matt, or steal your part of your grandmother’s inheritance. I truly love this man, and I so want to love you, too, if you just let me. You must believe I have your best interests at heart, Sarah. I always have. Please, do what I asked. See a psychiatrist to help you overcome these delusions. Once you’re well, we can all be a family. Isn’t that what you want? A family? I’m offering it. Won’t you take i?”

A biting reply finally works its way to the tip of my tongue, but I nip it down, refusing to let it go past my lips. Oh, she’s good. I have to give her that much. She knows exactly what she’s doing. She knows as well as I do that there is nothing I can say right now to make this look any better on my part. With a few carefully designed words, Karen has managed to turn Matt’s opinion against me.

While there’s nothing he can do, I want to make sure Jacob thinks well of me, even if no one else here does. Biting hard on my lower lip to keep from crying, I lift my eyes above the witch’s head and meet his. He’s gazing at me from behind Matt. While my traitorous cousin merely frowns, shaking his head in disappointment, Jacob looks at me, the real me, those piercing blue eyes going straight into my soul. I sigh, relieved. Yes, Jacob knows exactly what is going on here.

Good. It means nothing, and everything. He knows it.

Happy to have at least one port in this ridiculous storm, I’m able to think more clearly, and my next step opens up before me in my mind as the clouds of bitter betrayal clear. I’ve got to get out of here. It doesn’t matter where. At this moment, I simply have to be anywhere but this house. Easy enough.

Sure, Karen will convince Matt to follow me. She’s a great actress. Her oh-so-concerned-about-my-well-being act will be enough to get Matt behind the wheel of a car. As they drive around town looking for me, she will give him a gentle reminder that she’s been saying I need a psychiatric evaluation all along, and he will agree with her. Damn him, he will agree. They will decide to put me on an involuntary psychiatric hold as soon as they find me.

Oh Matt, wherever Grandma is, she is so disappointed in you.

They won’t find me until I decide they can, of course. I’m not stupid. When you’re heir to a large fortune in a small town, everyone knows it. You learn how to take steps to protect your privacy pretty quickly. No one will find me unless I want them to. The tricky part is getting away from the house in the first place. They’re not going to let me go voluntarily at this point. Once I’m away, I’ll need to be careful of where I drive, and find a secure place to hole up as soon as possible. Matt and I have each other’s license plate numbers recorded on our phones; we did it years ago, in case one of us went missing. What was meant to be a safety measure will now be used against me when Matt calls in my plate to the police and tells them there is an irrational person driving the streets of Dover, one who could be a danger to herself and others. It’s what Karen will tell him to say, and he will do it.

My little green Prius is recognizable enough as it is. It will be noticed immediately if I go anywhere obvious. This means I can’t go to Carter’s apartment or his job at the university library. Since I’m a student there, anywhere on campus at the University of New Hampshire is out of the question. Also on the “do not go” list are my friends’ houses, their workplaces, and any of our regular hangouts. Matt, Karen, and the police will search all of those locations, anyway. I don’t need my lime green eco-car there, announcing my presence.

Because I’ll be considered an immediate danger to the public, the police won’t wait the normal three days to allow Matt to file a missing person report on an adult. They will start looking right away. And, considering my high-risk status for kidnapping as an heiress, they will probably pull out all the stops in their search. That means I can’t use my credit cards or my phone, as those things are all traceable. Even drawing cash out at an ATM will give them an idea of the direction I’m heading.

I have to go off-road, which means abandoning my car as soon as I get far enough away from the house. I’ve got $1,000 in my wallet, but it’s upstairs, in my purse. With that, I can buy a few burner phones and pre-paid credit cards to get me through until this all blows over. I’ll be able to call Carter and let him know I’m okay, and reassure my girlfriends; they’ll all understand why I can’t reveal my location. They could be forced to tell, if they knew. I can also get a few nights in a decent hotel, a cab to take me there, and buy food in the interim.

There’s the legal side of this to consider, too. I already have a lawyer on retainer. Thankfully, she’s not the same as Matt’s. We decided when Grandma went into assisted living that we each needed our own lawyers, and not just the family one, to represent our interests in the estate, and to handle our financial and legal affairs after. If I can make one quick stop in town, not far from the house, and get a little more cash from the nearest ATM, I can get a psychiatrist to see me, and testify in court that I’m perfectly sane. That’s the best thing to do. Hide out a few days, get a restraining order against Karen, and use my lawyer and psychiatrist to set up a competency hearing to prove my innocence and her deviousness. Only then, with my interests protected and Karen ordered 50 feet away from me at all times, can I come home. Matt’s opinion won’t matter at that point.

Get the purse, get out.

I shoot Great-Uncle Jacob a pleading look, and he gives me a knowing smile, backed up by kind eyes. He’s no fool. I knew he saw through Karen. With that smile, he lets me know he’s got my back.

Good enough for me.

Karen reaches out toward me, her long, red nails filed to fine points that look like they’re dripping blood. To me, they look like claws.

“Don’t touch me,” I whisper, taking a step back. The thought of her hands anywhere on my body makes my skin crawl with disgust.

“Let me help you, Sarah,” she entreats, loudly, making sure Matt hears every word. “I can get you the help you need. My family knows people who specialize in treating your kind.”

“My kind?” I blurt out before I can stop myself. Oh, hell no. Did she really just use that word with me?

“The mentally ill,” she says, feigning sympathy.

“Maybe she’s right, Sarah,” Matt says, more softly now. He puts his hands out tentatively, like I’m a rabbit he doesn’t want to startle. “You haven’t been yourself since Karen and I started dating. It’s just gotten worse since we became engaged.” He leaves Jacob’s side and comes to stand beside his puppet master. “It’s just been the two of us for so long. You and me against the world. It’s only natural you would feel a little jealous toward another woman in my life. But, you’re taking it beyond what’s normal. Karen has told me the things you say when I’m not around. Like, you’re going to do anything to break us up, and you’re going to tell her family she has an STD. I know you’re planning to accuse her of cheating on me. You have to know you’re taking it too far. I hate to say it, Sarah, but maybe you are having paranoid delusions. With the history on your mother’s side….I just don’t know anymore. You should at least get checked out, for my peace of mind. Don’t do it for Karen. I know you don’t like her right now. Do it for me.”

Aw, the big, earnest, stupid goof. He knows I adore him more than anyone in the world. Well, at least I did until recently. The genuine concern in his voice almost makes me want to do as he asks. Almost. But, not quite.

I check in with Great-Uncle Jacob again, a few inches above Matt’s head. Standing perfectly straight, he has about three inches on Matt’s six foot two frame. Jacob gives me a nod and a wink. It’s the kind of unspoken communication I’ve only experienced with Matt, and a pang of sadness hits me hard, as I realize how much I miss our former closeness. But, I have Jacob, and he recognizes Karen for the snake she is. He’s going to help me get out of here.

I don’t know what he’s going to do, but I trust him. Swallowing my pride, I summon my best community theater skills, and take Matt’s hands. As I grasp them, I lower my eyes to the floor in a sign of submission.

“Maybe you’re right,” I say, each word slashing my soul, wounding it. “Things have been all messed up lately, and I’m not sure what is going on with me. I’ll do it, Matt, only for you, because you asked me. Thank you for not forcing it. If you just let me go upstairs and get my purse, you may take me to get an evaluation.”

“Of course,” Matt says, nodding, pleased this went so easily. “I’ll get the car keys, and we’ll meet you by the back door. I know this is hard, Sarah, but you’re doing the right thing. Thank you.”

“I’ll go upstairs with her,” Karen announces. She’s not asking, either. “Just to make sure she’s okay.”

“No!” I snap, the word pulled out from somewhere deep inside me by an unknown force. It’s loud and vehement enough they both take a step back. Even Karen looks startled. No, no, no, no, I can’t freak them out now. This has to all go seamlessly. Every single thing from this moment until I leave has to appear voluntary on my part for my plan to work.

The perfectly made up features on Karen’s face twitch ever so slightly, and I know she’s about to make a big deal out of my unintended declaration of autonomy. I head her off at the pass. “Being around Karen is part of the problem, Matt,” I say, keeping my voice even and mild. I must sound unthreatening. “It’s when she’s around that I have the hardest time telling what’s real and what isn’t. I don’t know why. She just does it to me. Maybe the doctors can help us figure out the reason. But, if I’m going to go with you, of my own free will, I need for her to stay downstairs while I get my purse. Karen acting like my personal guard at the psych ward is not going to end up going well for either of us. I will be right back. Just please, let me get my purse alone, if for no other reason than to give me a moment to collect myself before we go.”

“I think that’s reasonable,” Matt blessedly agrees.

“I must object,” Karen says, defiant hands on her hips, shaking her head. “She’s unstable, Matt. She needs supervision.”

“Honey, she’s just going to get her purse.”

“And, I will go with her.”

“I really don’t think….” Matt begins.

“Matthew Morgan,” she says sharply, “are you really going to argue with me?”

Matt looks from me to Karen and back again, the proverbial “deer in the headlights” look plastered on his rugged, handsome face.

Who will you choose, Matt? Who will you choose?

“I don’t know,” he says, confused. “Maybe Karen should go with you. I’m not sure.”

Oh, screw you, Matt! How I wish I could say it to your face.

Karen and Matt are so immersed in this drama of Karen’s creation, they’ve forgotten Jacob is here. That works in my favor, because Jacob bless him, has been listening to this entire insane exchange. He takes this crucial moment, and follows through on his unspoken promise to me.

“Karen,” he says, that natural commanding presence of his carrying his soft voice to every corner of the room with ease. Karen and Matt both turn to him as one, seemingly stunned to see him still here. “You and I haven’t had a chance to get to know each other yet. You’re going to be joining the family, my girl, so why don’t you tell me about yourself?”

“Why on earth would I do that?” she demands. Why does Matt not see how rude she is? “You haven’t been in Matt and Sarah’s lives since they were children, and I don’t know you at all. Quite frankly, Mr. Morgan, this isn’t the time to be…..”

Karen’s grating tone trails off in the distance as I take the opportunity Jacob so graciously gave me, and bound up the stairs, two at a time. He won’t be able to keep her distracted for long. I’ve got to move quickly.

I hear Matt’s voice joining the melee as I reach the top of the stairs, but can’t hear what he’s saying. Probably trying to negotiate peace between another relative who doesn’t get along with his fiancée. That should be a clue, Matt. Take it.

I bound into my room and grab my purse and car keys, pausing only long enough to stuff a couple of changes of clothes and my phone into its oversized interior. Sliding around the corner into the attached bathroom, I pull out the makeup case I keep in there for overnight getaways, and sweep every toiletry I own into it with one hand. Good. I’ve got everything I need for a few nights to a week away. That’s enough time to put the rest of my plan into action. I won’t even have to call the university, because they’ve already given me approved time off school. Grandma was a big donor there; the administration wasn’t going to begrudge me a week off to mourn her if I asked for it, which I did. Besides, my grades are excellent. All my instructors know I can catch up on anything I miss without batting an eye.

Okay. Time to get out of here. I start to tiptoe back to the stairs, but a tugging sensation at the back of my mind stops me. There’s something else, something more I need to bring with me. What is it?

I hear a sharp, “Unhand me, sir!” from Karen downstairs. Jacob must have put his hand on her arm to stop her going after me. I’ve got to hurry.

Come on, Sarah. What do you need?

Grandma! I need something of Grandma’s. My intuition is quite clear on that point. But, what? Something of hers doesn’t want to be left behind.

Oh! I nearly smack myself on the forehead. Your mind can sometimes move so quickly, it actually makes you dense. Of course. I need her memory box. No way do I want that falling into Karen’s hands while I’m away, and I just know she’s going to be combing every inch of this place for hidden treasures the first chance she gets, if she hasn’t started already. I hate the thought of her frigid hands on anything of Grandma’s, but especially the box. She doesn’t get the box.

Grandma’s memory box is an octagonal wooden thing with a rusty metal hinge. A few tiny precious gems are attached to the top in a circle, using a method I’ve never been able to identify. Not glued or nailed, their method of attachment has always been a mystery to me. Inside the box are mysteries untold. It’s a good six inches deep, maybe more, so it holds a lot of mostly flat things. Matt and I always knew about it, and where Grandma kept it. We also learned from the youngest of ages, when our parents were still alive, that it was never to be touched. Ever. Once in a great while, Grandma would take it out and show Matt and me a few of the old black and white photos of her and Grandpa Morgan that lay on top of its mysterious stack of contents, and it was always a solemn, almost religious occasion when she did. If we ever asked about what else was in there, she always brushed off our musings, telling us it only held the objects of an old lady’s vanity, and assured us its hidden contents were of no interest to anyone but her. She taught us so well to leave the thing alone, I never once considered touching it. Even once she started exhibiting symptoms of “dementia,” and even when she no longer lived with us, I left the box alone. As far as I know, so did Matt. I saw it in her bureau drawer a few times when I was rummaging around, getting things I thought she might need at the home, but never thought about opening it. It was like Pandora’s Box. Not only would opening it be a violation of her privacy, part of me wondered if it might cause an earthquake or a hurricane or something. With only a few words in our early childhoods, Grandma infused that box with an enormous amount of power that ensured we never touched it.

Even now, I’m not sure I’m going to look inside it, though knowing what I know now, it is certainly tempting. I can imagine myself holed up in a nice hotel somewhere, going through its contents piece by piece. The secrets Grandma so carefully kept, including her origins, might be in there. Yet, part of me is concerned opening it might bring her ghost and those of all my ancestors crashing through the walls to take it from me.

Eh. I’ll decide what to do about the box later. All I know is I have to keep it away from Karen, and that means bringing it with me. I sprint down the hall to Grandma’s room, open the top drawer on her bureau where she kept her lingerie, and move a few well-worn slips aside. She always insisted true ladies wore slips, which meant I wore more of them than I ever cared to. There it is, under the slips, just like always. It looks like I was right, and no one has touched it since Grandma went to live at the assisted living facility. With great gentleness, I lift the box out of the drawer and place it on top of everything else in my purse, pulling up bits of clothing around its sides to cushion it.

I let out a sigh of relief. That was almost more harrowing than making my escape from Karen to come up here.

Okay. Now, I have everything I need. I just have to get out of the house.

I don’t think Jacob can help me there, as, from the noises I hear coming from downstairs, he seems to swiftly be losing his hold on their attention. They’ll hear me when I crank up my car, anyway, even if I manage to sneak out the back door without them noticing me. That’s not so much of an issue. Once I’m in my car, Matt and Karen can do as they please. I’ll at least have a head start, and that’s all I need to secure my freedom from Karen’s tyranny.

It’s now or never. Quietly and quickly, I begin descending the back staircase. It leads down into the kitchen and straight to the back door. Only a few more feet, and my hand will be on the doorknob. Once it is, no one can stop me.

“Really, I would love to hear more about your….” Great-Uncle Jacob’s voice trails off just around the corner. Is Karen merely brushing him off, as is her norm with most people, or is she….?

Standing right in front of me at the bottom of the stairs.

Damn it! I only had four more stairs to go. The back door is literally two steps from the stairs. How did she know?

“Just as I suspected,” she says, crossing her arms over her chest and shaking her head, like she can’t believe Matt and Jacob were so stupid as to think I was only getting my purse. “Trying to sneak out the back. I told you, Matt. You can’t trust her.”

I freeze. The only way to the back door now is through Karen, and I can’t plow her down, much as I would like to.

And, there’s Matt, standing beside her. A cascade of emotions makes its way across his strong, dark features: sadness, confusion, anger, disappointment. He genuinely hoped Karen was wrong about me. I just proved I can’t be trusted.

“You’re right,” he says, slowly. “Sarah, what were you thinking? What is going on with you lately? You’re so unlike yourself, ever since Karen came into my life. I’m worried about you. Sneaking out the back door like a kid? You didn’t even do that when you were a teenager. We always had total honesty between us. What happened?”

A guilt trip, Matt? Really? You’re better than that, man.

“You’re a high school teacher, Matt,” I grind out between clenched teeth. “Master’s degree in English and everything. You read a lot of mysteries. Figure it out.”

“Sarah,” Matt laughs, like he can’t believe what he’s hearing, “do you even know what you’re saying? Do you realize how you sound?”

“Crazy?” I demand, eyes narrowed. If he agrees, so help me….


I’ll kill him. Metaphorically, of course. With words. When all this is over.

“I am not going to the psych ward, Matt,” I inform him, an unintended hint of danger in my tone. “No way in hell.”

“Yes, you are. It will be okay. I’ll go with you, to make sure you’re settled in, calm, and being treated well. It’s going to be okay.”

Poor Matt. Love makes fools of us all. Or, so I’ve heard. Carter is my first serious boyfriend, and I can’t honestly say I’m madly in love with him, though I do care about him an awful lot. Matt, on the other hand, is apparently so in love with Karen, he’s lost his good sense.

“I won’t do it,” I tell him, looking him right in the eyes so he knows I mean it.

“Yes, you will,” Karen chimes in, her voice harsh, like she’s scolding a child. “And, Matt. I think you should stay here. Let the ambulance or police take her. You don’t need to go.”

“I want to make sure she’s okay,” Matt insists. He sounds like a child pleading with his mother to let him go outside and play with his friends, not the confident, cocksure Matt I’ve known my whole life. That Matt was always master of his own domain. But that Matt disappeared about four months ago, and I haven’t seen him since. It’s disgusting.

“Darling, she will be absolutely fine,” Karen says gently, putting a hand on his arm. “These are professionals who are going to be tending to her. They know what they’re doing. Honestly, you’re too soft on her. She’s used to having you to herself, anyone can see you’re wrapped around her little finger. It’s probably why our relationship has been so difficult for her. It’s better if you stay here, and just let the experts handle it. I’m sure they’ll let her call you when she’s stable.”

“Are you saying you don’t think I should visit her?”

Matt is, rightfully, incredulous at this suggestion.

“That’s exactly what I’m saying. It will do more harm than good at this point. If you think someone from the family should be with her, I’ll go.”

Oh, this just keeps getting more and more ridiculous. She’s going to ban my cousin, the one who raised me on his own since I was 12 and he was 22, from going to the psych ward with me, but she’s going to go? Someone I’ve only known a few months, and clearly can’t stand? Man, I cannot believe Matt is buying it. And Karen claims I’m the crazy one?

“I’m not sure that’s a good idea,” Matt ventures cautiously, lest he awake the beast inside his girlfriend. “You’re the one she has a problem with, after all.”

“Which makes it even more important that if anyone goes with her, it’s me. She has to get used to me being around, and participating in family decisions.”

Matt pauses for a long moment, looking from me to Karen and back again, over and over. He even glances Jacob’s way a few times; Jacob’s face is practically advertising in neon letters that Matt is an idiot for not seeing what’s going on here. I hate to admit it, because I’ve always looked up to Matt, but it’s true. Karen’s games are not sophisticated, and should be plain to anyone with even a hint of intellect. I’m still going with magical vagina as a reasonable explanation; men will do practically anything for a woman if the sex is good enough, and it can even make previously reasonable men become addicts, willing to do anything, go along with wild scheme, to keep getting their fix. The only thing is, they mistake the addiction for love.

Finally, after what seems like forever, all four of us standing in a sea of palpable tension, Matt comes to a decision.

“I really think I should go with her, Karen.”

Wow! Color me surprised. I didn’t think he still the balls to stand up to her.

Obviously, neither did she, because her face turns a bright shade of ruby red, and her eyes narrow to mere slits. Oh, she’s furious, and it’s not an act this time. Is this the first time Matt has asserted himself during their entire relationship? It has to be, or she wouldn’t look like she’s about to murder him with an ax. Karen thinks I’m used to getting my way with Matt? Pot, meet kettle.

She speaks slowly, her voice low and menacing, and punctuates each word to be absolutely certain he hears her. “Matthew Emerson Morgan.” She points a lethal looking red-painted fingernail at him. “If you set one foot outside of this house when that ambulance comes for Sarah, you will never see or hear from me again. We will be over. Do I make myself understood?”

“Crystal.” Matt’s eyes go wide and his face is ashen. He wasn’t expecting this kind of ultimatum. She didn’t even bother to fight with him about it. The woman just stated how it was going to be. It’s plain she expects Matt to fall in line. I think he will. He isn’t my Matt anymore. Karen has turned him into some kind of servile automaton.

“Then it’s decided,” Karen says, turning away from him, not giving him a chance to say if he agrees to her terms. “I will be going with Sarah.”

Matt says nothing, just stands there and stares at me like even he doesn’t know what just happened.

Though things seem to be decided, no one moves. This could be my chance. Going out the back door is the obvious choice, and Karen expects me to try for it. So, I look over to Jacob with purpose, making it obvious, so it looks like I’m searching for a way out the front door. To my surprise, Jacob winks knowingly at me. I almost laugh. He knows. Oh my gosh, but I love this awesome old man already. He’s got the most expressive face I’ve ever seen, and he’s on my side. Without saying a word, he’s telling me to get out of here, and he’ll back me up with whatever authority he needs to.

Since I’m absolutely not letting Karen and her minion do this to me, having Jacob’s support means so much. It may make all the difference in the world in how this turns out. Karen continues to stand in my path, blocking my access to the door, while Matt goes to call the paramedics. That leaves Karen alone between me and freedom, and I’m taller than her. We’re both naturally slim and willowy, but I doubt she’s stronger than me. She seems too prissy to do anything like work out and get sweaty.

My car keys are in my hand. All I have to do is push past her.

I need to be swift and sure, and move while she’s distracted by my staring at the front door. She’ll be prepared to move in that direction if I make a break for it. That means she’ll be off balance when I go the other way. All I have to do is move quickly, push her as gently to the side as possible, and make a dash for the car.

One, two, three!

I jump down to the bottom step, put one hand against Karen’s shoulder, and push. She stumbles to the side just enough for me to get past her, but instantly reaches out and grabs my hand before I can get to the door.

Unfortunately, it’s the hand that has my keys. No. Not unfortunately. On purpose. The little bitch isn’t grabbing for my hand at all. She’s grabbing for the keys.

I immediately pull my hand back, but not before she manages to grasp the tip of the longest key, the one to Carter’s apartment. I try to snatch it back, but she tightens her grip so hard I can see her fingernails digging into her palm, making little white marks where they press on her creamy skin. Then, shooting me a look of pure deviousness, she tugs down hard, twisting her hand slightly.

She let’s go, steps back, and screams.

I freeze, and Matt turns around, finally noticing the commotion going on behind him. Karen’s hand is bloody, with tiny droplets falling to the dark wood floor. Oh my God. She grabbed that key so tightly the jagged edges of it cut her palm when she pulled down and let go. She purposefully injured herself to make me look bad. No. To make me look insane. And, it worked.

Jacob saw what really happened. He lets me know with only a glance. But, it’s too late. Thanks to Karen’s Machiavellian machinations, I’ve now become violent in the eyes of everyone else who matters. Jacob will have a hard time convincing Matt, the paramedics, or the police of any other possibility. With Karen’s calculated and frankly psychopathic action, Jacob will now just seem like a kindly old uncle who refuses to see me for what I really am: a wild, mentally ill danger to others, who needs to be locked away in the psych ward indefinitely.

I know what will happen if I let them take me. I had a friend in high school whose dad went through the state’s psychiatric mill, and she told me all about it. I’ll be restrained until they’ve pumped me so full of psychotropic drugs that I have trouble remembering my own name. Only then, when I’m fully subdued, will I be allowed to talk to a psychiatrist or counselor. More meds will be prescribed. I’ll be forced to attend group therapy for who knows how long before the facility even considers releasing me to outpatient treatment. I’ll have to check in with a doctor regularly for blood work to make sure I’m taking the meds they prescribed me. If I don’t, I’ll get sent back to the ward. My free will, my Constitutional rights as a citizen, won’t make a difference to anyone anymore. The people at those places know they can get away with it with impunity, even though psychiatric patients ostensibly have rights. Those “rights” don’t matter once you’re behind facility walls. There’s no one there to be your advocate, and you are abused both mentally and physically until you comply. I’ll come out a shell of my former self, with Matt in control of me and everything I own, possibly forever. It all depends on how much “progress” the doctors think I’ve made. Any decision to release me from care, and Matt’s conservatorship, could take years.

No thank you.

“Sarah, what have you done?” Matt gasps in horror.

“She cut me. Your cousin cut me,” Karen cries, real tears streaming down her cheeks. She really is an excellent actress, better than I thought. “Matt, if this doesn’t convince you I’m right about her, I don’t know what will. Do something!”

“You need to come pick up my cousin,” Matt says into the phone, his voice tinged with disbelief. “It’s important.”

“Come with me, my dear,” Great-Uncle Jacob goes up to Karen and takes her injured hand, turning it over so he can see the wound. It must look pretty bad. The key is jagged, and would leave a cut that looks worse than it probably is. Jacob puts an arm around her shoulder, and holds her hand out in front of her with his other arm. “Let’s get you cleaned up.”

As he leads her away, toward the kitchen sink, he looks back at me, and silently mouths the word, “Go.”

I do.

In a flash, I’m out the back door, letting the screened one behind the main, wooden door slam shut with a metallic bang as I sprint away from the house to my car. Thankfully, it’s parked on the grass in the back yard instead of the garage as usual. We wanted to open up as many good parking spots to our guests as possible. That means my means of escape is right here, a few yards away from the deck. Bounding down the deck stairs, I land in the soft grass, and head toward it with the same focused intensity I would use if the Loch Ness Monster were chasing me.

I’m only halfway there when I hear the screened door open, and Matt and Karen calling to me. I pay them no attention, but soon hear footsteps in the grass behind me. Well, I guess Karen wasn’t hurt that badly if she’s chasing me down with Matt. She made sure the wound was deep enough to bleed, but superficial enough to heal quickly without leaving a scar on her pristine palm. That’s calculating on a level just this short of evil.

Thank God for keyless entry. I raise my car key high, rainbow heart keyring and other keys dangling below, and press the “unlock” button. When I reach my car, I open the door and slide right in, without having to fumble for my key or look for the key hole in the dark. I lock all four doors behind me, and crank it up, just as Matt and Karen reach the driver’s side window and begin banging on it, shouting words through the glass that I can’t quite decipher.

They’re going to have to chase me, and I’m sure they will. But, they have to go back inside to get Matt’s keys first, and around to the front of the house, where he parked his Hyundai on the street, just to the side of the garage, to leave the driveway open for guests to use. Even if they’re moving as fast as they can, it still gives me a good two or three minute head start, and that’s more than enough.

It’s dark this time of night in Dover, especially so in the early spring. Even better, the entire county is a maze, full of tiny, time-forgotten towns and unpaved back roads you won’t find on any map or GPS. And, I know it all intimately, having explored it at length with Mom and Dad, and then with Grandma, when I was a kid. I don’t know if Matt did the same thing. There’s a chance he doesn’t know Strafford County as well as me. As long as I don’t go anywhere obvious, I may not have to go far.

As I pull away from the house, around the deck, and toward the driveway out front, Matt and Karen race back to the porch, doing just what I expected. They’re just reaching the door when I pull out of their sight. They’re so intent on chasing me down, they don’t notice Jacob is standing by the porch railing closest to where the driveway and backyard meet. They brush right past him, oblivious to his presence. But, I see him. He’s got a huge grin on his face, and waves to me as I go.

Laughing and smiling for the first time in days, I wave back, then peel off into the inky Dover night.
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