Sarah, Returned

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Chapter Five

I stick to the back streets, the ones people only use if they live there. These hidden, sometimes unpaved roads go for miles between houses and get almost no traffic. I’m sure Matt gave Jacob my plate number and asked him to call the police, though I can’t prove it. It doesn’t matter either way. Jacob won’t call.

It doesn’t mean I’m safe. Karen may have placed a call of her own from her cell phone. It would be just like her to make doubly certain the police are looking for me. If I’m found, it will go much easier if it’s Matt and Karen who do the finding. That’s why I‘m taking every precaution to ensure I stay out of sight. The best thing is if no one finds me.

While I’m tempted to get lost in Concord or Manchester, the only two large cities in the state, it’s not a good idea. Most people would think the crowded streets would mean anonymity, but I know they are traps. More people means bigger police departments with cruisers patrolling the streets. Law enforcement is in communication with each other; if there is an order out in Dover to find me, that command will get transmitted to every police department in the state.

Crossing over into Massachusetts or Maine is another tantalizing option that simply isn’t practical. Once I’m over state lines, there is little anyone can do about me. I haven’t committed a crime, unless Karen is going to claim assault with the key incident, so there’s no reason for out-of-state police to help locate me. It’s getting to the state line that’s the risky part. Even crossing over in an out-of-the-way border town like Plaistow means getting on some moderately populated roads to get there. I can’t take the risk. Hiding out in plain sight near home is my best option, at least for tonight. Daylight may bring enough traffic cover in the nearby small towns to usher me over the state line without being noticed. I’ll make that call when the time comes.

I want to call Carter and let him know what’s going on, but I’m concerned my phone can be traced. It’s why I’ve turned it off completely. That way, there’s no chance of it pinging any cell phone towers. I don’t think the police will go that far with their search yet, but Matt and I are on the same phone plan. He can easily call the phone company and ask where the most recent activity on my phone originated. Even if I stay ahead of him, that’s enough information to keep him on my tail, when I want him as far away from it as possible. I need to get to a store and buy some burner phones and pre-paid debit cards, but I don’t feel comfortable stopping anywhere yet. Someone will stop by Carter’s apartment, if they haven’t already; it’s the most obvious place for me to go. When he hears I’m missing, and what happened, he’ll guess what went down. Like me, he hasn’t trusted Karen from the moment he met her. Until Jacob, Carter was the only one who took my side about that woman. I’ve always been grateful to him for it.

As I drive around the county, zig-zagging my way around the back roads, my frustration fades, and a tiny kernel of anger forms in its place. The longer I drive, the larger it gets, until I’m absolutely fuming with rage. It’s not at Karen, though it probably should be. My fury is directed solely at Matt.

And, why shouldn’t I be mad at him? He brought the Evil Queen into our lives, brushed off my concerns about her any time I brought them up, and is now siding with her against me regarding my actual sanity. How dare he? Grandma would never have allowed any of this. Then again, if she was there and not putting on the dementia act when Matt met Karen, they wouldn’t have gotten together in the first place. Matt is, normally, sweet, sensitive, smart, and sexy. He’s had plenty of short-term girlfriends, most of whom wanted to be his wife. He wasn’t ready to settle down. He was happy.

Karen is a woman after money, with a ruthless determination to get it. When she came along, Grandma was in the home, and not likely to last much longer. A man with a life-changing inheritance coming soon was a delicious prospect for her. She got her claws in Matt and forced him to love her by bending his iron will to her stronger one (or hypnotized him with her magic vagina….I haven’t decided which one it is yet). If Grandma had been here, and in her right mind, I’ve no doubt Karen would have moved right past Matt onto more lucrative pastures. Who needs to wait around for what may be a few years for that inheritance when there are plenty of other rich men and heirs in the sea?

Matt let it happen. Magic vagina or not, I place the blame firmly on him.

After about four hours of driving, I check my gas gauge. Crap. I’m nearly on empty. I’ll have to stop soon, but I don’t want to take the chance of my car being seen under the bright lights of a gas station. I’m going to have to ditch the car, at least until morning. I’ll blend in much more seamlessly with other patrons if I fill my tank at a bustling station during the day.

Since I haven’t bought my debit cards yet, and no hotel I know of will take cash anymore, there question of where, or if, I’m going to sleep also looms large among decisions I need to make right now. It’s too risky to sleep in the car. Even if I stash it well, there’s always a chance the police will find it. I can’t let them catch me unawares. If they come up on me asleep in my car, there won’t be any chance to escape.

What to do, what to do?

Drumming the fingers of one hand on the dashboard, trying to think of the smartest move at this point in the game, I realize I’m close to Dover again. An idea washes over me, and I smile. Going back there makes the most sense. It’s a safe town where not much goes on after dark. Also, I haven’t seen any other cars on the road for the past half hour. That means I’m pretty far off everyone’s radar right now. There’s a high likelihood police are stationed near my house and Carter’s, and maybe some of my girlfriends’ houses. They don’t, however, appear to be cruising around in great numbers. Matt and Karen are probably on the outskirts of the county by now, or even over in Rochester County, looking through the medium-sized town of Portsmouth. If I’m quick and careful, this offers me an excellent opportunity.

I’m going to have to camp out. There’s no way around it. Thanks to my well-stocked car, that’s no problem. I’ve got food, water, clothing, and blankets in my “stranded in the snow” kit. As far as camping out in Dover goes, the safest place is Garrison Hill, no question. It’s Dover’s most famous and visible landmark, rising up above the rest of the town like our very own Mount Everest. In reality, it isn’t a mountain at all, or even a comparatively large hill, but it is the tallest thing in town, natural or manmade. It isn’t a mountain, or even a very large hill, but it is the largest natural or manmade thing in town. Apartments and small houses circle its base, some even finding room to exist on ledges about a quarter of the way up. The rest of the hill is a tangle of trees, thickets, and shrubs, until you reach the summit. At the top is a popular public park, and right now, it is closed for the night. There’s a parking lot up there, as well as some picnic areas, and a tower you can climb to get a bird’s eye view of the town. All I have to do is drive around the barrier at the bottom of the public access road, park the car on the summit, and hide out in the bushes on the borders of the park until morning. It’s perfect.

Driving down Central Avenue, the main drag in town, is somewhat of a risk, but I have to use it to get to the hill. I think I can make it there. There are no cars around, and every business is closed. All the houses look like their occupants went to bed long ago. Dover isn’t exactly a happening night spot. In all probability, everyone looking for me will think there’s no way I would come back to Dover tonight; I really believe they are far from here, still searching for me. Still, I lean my foot a little bit heavier on the gas pedal than I normally would on this street, eager to reach the hill as soon as possible.

Thankfully, it doesn’t take long to get to Garrison Hill once you cross into Dover proper, and I arrive at the hill’s base without incident. I turn into the nearly vertical road to the park, put the car in Neutral, get out, and move the orange and white barricade with the “Closed” sign on it. Of course, I can’t leave it that way, or it will attract police looking for after-hours park trespassers, so I drive a few more feet past it, then get out again and put it back in place. That should do it. I could have left the car in one of the apartment parking lots at the bottom of the hill and hiked up, but all the bramble makes it rough going, and I’m not wearing the shoes for it; it’s probably get caught on a prickly bush, or worse, slide back down the hill. The road is really the best way up, if you’ve got the stomach for it. I’ve seen visitors look at the long, impossibly steep road and turn back, deciding a visit to the park wasn’t worth it. Going back down is like being on a roller coaster. I’ve been down it before in winter, when a thin sheet of ice covered the whole thing, and it was harrowing. The ice turns the road into a giant slide where brakes do nothing, and you feel like you may fly off into orbit once you reach the slight uptick in the pavement at the bottom. Fortunately, there’s no snow or ice on it tonight.

Once I reach the top, I back into a parking space instead of pulling in forward, just so anyone driving up the hill behind me won’t have an immediate look at my plate. The bright green Prius sitting up there all alone is a strong enough clue that I’m probably nearby, if anyone does drive up here tonight. Why make it easier to locate me?

Slinging my purse and overnight bag over a shoulder, walk around to the back of the car and open the hatch. I take a jacket, a pillow, a flashlight, a few granola bars, and a couple of bottles of water out of my emergency pack, and roll them up in one of the two spare blankets I keep back there. This way, I can tuck the blanket under my arm, and carry everything I need with ease. Now, the only question is where to go? It has to be an area on the edge of the park, where I’m unlikely to be seen, but not on one of the steep edges. The last thing I need is to roll down the whole damn hill, or get stuck in the bushes with a few broken bones for my trouble.

I think the thicket on the far end of the park, just beyond the metal tower, is a good choice. I used to come here a lot as a kid, first with my parents, then Grandma, and even a few times with Matt, so I know it well. If I’m remembering correctly, that slope is rather gentle. Its position across the park, far from the parking lot, means it is relatively shaded from the think shadows the dim lights from the town reflecting off the clouds make up here. I will make a little burrow in the thicket, and it will be my shelter and refuge for the evening.

It’s harder to wriggle my way into the brush than it was when I was a kid, but I manage, and even avoid getting any scratches on my face. I wish I wasn’t wearing a dress, since the weather is cool and crisp this time of year, even more so at the top of the hill. I pull on the jacket and spread out the blanket on the ground in the little hovel I made. If my legs get cold, I can always wrap them up in it. Once I’m in the hovel and settled, branches and twigs above my head pushed far enough away they don’t tickle my face, I reach back out and grab the purse and overnight bag, pulling them in with me. With a little more re-arranging of branches to conceal the opening, I’m relatively comfortable and, most importantly, completely hidden from the outside world.

As I’m organizing my supplies from inside the blanket to keep them far enough away I can stretch out if I want to, but still within easy reach, I notice there is a nice patch of meadow just beyond the thicket. It’s only a few square feet wide, but it’s clear to the sky, which means I can stand up, stretch, and even sleep out there if I want to, without being seen. The thicket continues on all sides of it, so it’s a protected spot. I’m not sure I would even be visible in there from the top of the tower. The far edges of the meadow, where the thicket begins again, are good locations for relieving myself, if necessary.

I’ll stay in my little pocket of bramble for now, on its far side, closest to the meadow, but it’s good to know I have options if I get tired of sitting in here. I prop my pillow up against some of the stronger branches behind me and give it a test. Good. The branches support me without breaking, but bend just enough to be comfortable if I want to lean back. Yes, I think I’ve found a good spot to hide out for a while. I’ll decide what moves to make from here tomorrow.

Maybe I should hire a lawyer. That seems like a smart idea. A lawyer will look out for my best interests, and protect me from Matt and Karen’s accusations. My $1,000 should be enough to retain one, and get a judge to order any psychiatric evaluation of me to be suspended until an investigation is done into Karen, and what really happened with the key. With that kind of protection, I can use my credit cards, phone, and the ATM without being concerned someone is tracing me. Even without my part of Grandma’s inheritance officially in my possession yet, I still have a generous trust fund upon which to draw. Grandma managed it for me first, then Matt, but I gained sole possession and control of it the day I turned 18. It’s paid for college, my car, and many other important things. Now, it will pay for a legal way out of this mess.

The first thing I’m going to ask for is a restraining order against Karen. Banning her from my home with legal backup? That will be wonderful.

Okay, that’s settled. The only question remaining is what to do right now, while I wait for either sleep or sunrise. I really should call or text Carter to let him know I’m okay. He’s almost surely been contacted by someone about me by now. But, I’m still concerned about my phone activity being able to be traced. Carter will have to wait, but I know he’ll understand. He’s a smart guy, an environmental engineering major at UNH. He’ll deduce the real story right away, and will know I’ll contact him as soon as it’s safe for me to do so. At least, I hope he does. I don’t want him worrying about me, on top of everything else. Trust his intelligence. It’s all I can do at the moment, where he is concerned.

With the blanket spread out under me, my supplies tucked neatly in the bramble to the side, I’m pretty comfortable. Seeing as I’m not tired at all yet, and I feel pretty secure, I really wish I had a book. Ah, the one thing I didn’t think to pack.

But, I do have something else I could explore.

Do I dare?

Let’s look at the situation. I’m safe, bored, wide awake, and have literally nothing else to do until morning. And, what I’m contemplating might answer some pretty important questions for me. It may even give me information I can use to my advantage by sharing it with my lawyer.

Without looking at what I’m doing, I unzip my purse and put my hand on Grandma’s memory box. It seems like if I don’t watch myself lifting it out, it won’t be such a violation of Grandma’s privacy. Touching the box without her permission still seems so wrong, somehow.

Grandma had a lot of secrets. That much is clear. What is also clear is that she thought, for whatever reason, that she was protecting not just Matt and me, but the entire family she built, by keeping those secrets.

Whatever is in this box, beyond the few pictures on top, Grandma didn’t want us to know.

I need to know.

Will I really be invading her privacy if I open this, or is that something she doesn’t care about anymore, wherever she is? Would she approve of me looking now? If I do this, is her ghost going to come snatch the box away from me, or can I do this with her blessing?

Even if she doesn’t care if I open it now, do I have the right?

What was it Jacob said? Matt and I have the right to know our family history.

I believe him. I feel the truth of it, deep down inside me. Intuition, or whatever you want to call it. Now that Grandma is gone, it is my right to look in that box.

I leave my purse unzipped, and lay the box carefully, reverently on my lap, my fingers tracing its rough wooden edges.

This is something I have to do.

“Sorry, Grandma,” I whisper aloud, my voice disappearing into the brush that lines the edges of Garrison Hill. An offering of regret, just in case she disapproves of what I’m about to do. “I have to. I hope you understand.”

I lean back a bit, as if I’m about to open the box that contains the spirits of all my ancestors, and I don’t want them to come flying out at me. Gently, I lift the little metal latch on the front of the box. Then, with a finger on either side of the lid, I open it.

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