1 - Lost & Found
The sound of my panting is in sync with my rushed footsteps as I make my way through the city’s streets, ducking into any alleyway I can find which thankfully guides me deeper into the city instead of a dead end. My breaths are visible in the chilly night and the wind blowing through my light brown hair makes them fly about wildly.
I groan when my arm scrapes a stone corner as I round it, but I can’t stop to inspect the area which is starting to sting quite painfully. I must keep going. I must get away.
The streetlamps illuminate the deserted road for me but there’s not one person in sight. I jump out of my skin in fright at the sound of his yell from behind. I sprint faster with the hope that the darkness ahead will blanket me in time before he catches up and drags me back to my personal hell.
Tears of fright and frustration brim my eyes, blurring my sight. But the determination to be finally free keeps me moving forward. It has been a grueling year and enough is enough. When I found my chance, I didn’t hesitate to take it. And now, here I am running for my life.
Just as I slip around a corner into another street I press myself against the wall to catch a breath. His faint screams and threats reach my ears, shaking me to my very core at the thought of him catching me.
And so, I run through the narrow street and into yet another deserted road. Looking around wildly I worry my bottom lip when I can’t find a taxi in sight. I know well no one would be willing to let a stranger hitchhike at this hour, certainly not when they happen to take a good look at my appearance.
Walking on a few steps I finally spot a wine-red pickup truck parked at a gas station with supplies filled in the back. A moment of desperation hits me, urging me to go to any extreme that will save my life. It’s a do or die at this point.
I rush forward and swing myself over the truck before noticing a worn looking piece of fabric. Picking it up I slip underneath and hide myself, making sure that I’m fully covered. Where I’m laying is right in the middle so there are supplies all around me and hiding my huddled figure from view.
I lay perfectly still and hold my breath when a familiar voice yells out my name in the distance. My heart rate spikes as I panic. Willing myself to calm down I take slow and even breaths. In a matter of minutes, I’m completely silent and still as I listen to him yell out another threat but this time he’s much closer.
However, my concentration is broken by the sound of footsteps making their way towards the pickup truck. I wait with bated breath to see if the people will come around to the back and find me but the two men, from what I can judge with their deep baritones, simply open the doors of the truck and hop in.
The engine starts with a low growl before the sound of teasing and laughter floats to my ears. The vehicle lurches gently and makes its way down the street. When it’s safe to do so I peek out from under the makeshift blanket to see the stars twinkling above with the occasional houses and streetlamps passing on either side.
With a start I realize that I’m finally free. I finally did it. My life isn’t bound to my tormentor anymore and I’m free to live however I please. Hot tears stream down my cheeks as I silently cry for my freedom. Never did I think it would be possible to feel like this again and yet here I am, in the back of a pickup truck to who knows where with just the clothes on my back and a duffel bag with my meager necessities.
A relieved sigh escapes me as I finally relax and let a smile bloom onto my lips. It’s the first genuine and content smile that has graced my lips in a long while and boy, does it feel good. I just hope this will last.
Gazing up at the thousands of stars littering the sky I admire the view as I lay in the back of the truck. The sounds of faint murmurings of the passengers and the midnight sky with diamonds twinkling is certainly a good way to fall asleep. When my eyelids droop of their own accord and I let out an involuntary yawn I close my eyes and finally succumb to sleep, thankful that I have survived to see this day, to sleep without having to wake up and be tormented.
The next day.
I’m roused awake by the makeshift blanket being pulled off me, exposing me to the sun’s bright rays and the cool wind kissing my cheeks. Sighing, I sit up and rub my eyes while wondering why my back is so sore. I blink to see two young men staring right back at me with wide eyes and dropped jaws.
It all hits me like a ton of bricks. Running away last night, seeing the pickup truck, hiding underneath the blanket one of them now holds and finally falling asleep. I gulp and look at the two men who I assume are brothers with their identical light green eyes. They are both the same height but the one with the light brown hair is far more muscular than the blonde haired one. However, I can tell one of them is younger and probably still attends school.
“Who are you?” The right one asks with eyes narrowed in suspicion while the other one asks, “And why are you in our truck?”
I fidget nervously as my eyes dart around in panic. “I...I’m uh -”
“Boys!” A deep voice calls out from behind us.
The men look to the side and wave the person over which makes a bundle of nerves erupt in my stomach. How will I explain this? I think to myself in dread. Soon, a man and a woman round the side of the truck to stand beside the other two. I immediately assume they are their parents.
They glance at me only to double take. A petite woman, seemingly in her early-forties, with flowing blonde hair and fair skin looks back at me as her blue-green eyes widen. A man stands tall beside her, slightly tanned and muscled with dark brown hair and green eyes. His arm is wrapped around the woman’s waist and he looks to be a little older than her, perhaps in his early fifties.
Glancing at the others, I see the same suspicious expression on their faces which makes me shiver uneasily. Biting my lip, I wince when it stings and reminds me of the punch I received last night. Oh great! This is not a good first impression, I think in despair as I realize how I must look with bruises and scrapes littering my pale skin.
“I-I’m sorry.” I start with my voice almost like a whisper.
I’m at a loss of how to explain myself and the situation I was in last night. It certainly looks bad that I hitched a ride with the boys without their consent or their knowledge but I was helpless. Last night, I needed to escape and in order to ensure that I couldn’t alert them that I was in the back of their pickup truck. What if they told me to get out and left me on the side of the street for him to find me? I shudder in fear at the thought before praying that I never see him again.
When I open my mouth to explain myself as best as I can, the lady steps forward. An involuntary whimper escapes my lips and I huddle into myself as a reflex action. I shut my eyes tight before opening them again to see that the woman has stepped back after my reaction. Her husband’s hand rests on her shoulder with a frown on his lips as he and his wife both stare at me.
“We need to get you nice and clean. Why don’t you come down from the truck, sweet pea?” The lady holds out her hand to me with a warm smile on her lips.
I hesitate as I stare at the family with caution. They seem like nice people and I don’t think they will hurt me. I can clean up here and thank them before leaving to find a place to stay and a job, to start a new life.
I place my hand in her warm ones, surprise flickering through me when she pulls me off the truck bed with her petite build. She gently praises me before wrapping an arm around my shoulders, keeping my hand in hers while guiding me forwards.
I almost gasp out loud at the sight before me when I look up. There’s a large ranch house made entirely out of wood with black slate roofs standing proudly. Behind it is a grassy hill with trees surrounding the right side of the house. A spacious lawn stretches out around the house and is fenced in with the same wood that was used to build the house. There’s a large patio and I can see another cabin at the back with a stable and barn nearby. Glancing to the side I see a pen with horses of different color and size trotting about. All in all, this looks like a dream for someone who loves being in the country.
The men walk a little bit behind us and I can hear them muttering among themselves, probably wondering how and why I ended up in their truck. The woman guides me through the front door and into
She sits me down on a couch which is made of light brown leather and decorated with soft orange-red cushions. There’s a table behind the couch I’m sitting on with picture frames I can’t see but noticed when we walked in. There’s also a plain coffee table resting in the center and small tables to either side of the couch. A fireplace has been carved into the stone wall with a light oak wood cabinet to the side and an archway on the other. The home has been beautifully decorated.
But I had failed to notice when the women disappeared while I was admiring her house. She hurries back with a red medical kit and sits beside me before swiftly opening it and rummaging around for the right supplies. A noise of exclamation escapes her lips once she seems to find what she was looking for before turning towards me. Her slender fingers grip my chin lightly, angling my face towards her so that she can dab the antiseptic on my lips. Flinching when it stings, I shut my eyes and welcome her hand that grasps mine reassuringly.
She works on me in silence, softly praising me as she does so. Pulling back from my face she rolls up my sleeves to my elbow only to gasp quietly when she notices my bruised and raw arms. I know there are rope burns on my wrists and that they are going to hurt like hell when she tends to them. Regardless, I try not to make a sound or indicate that I’m in pain by biting the inside of my cheek, although sometimes I unknowingly grip her hand too tight and she stops to let me take a breather.
I can’t get over how kind and thoughtful she is. She’s caring and gentle, like a mother. I blink back the tears threatening to escape at the thought and look down in case she sees me. Eventually, she finishes and my wrists are now bandaged and my bruises and cuts are disinfected and clean.
“Thank you.” I whisper as I graze my thumb over the white bandage before I look back up her.
She smiles at me in return before giving me a hug and her boldness surprises me. Once she pulls away it’s then that I notice the men standing in the room. However, this time there’s another man who is watching me with no emotion in his eyes. He looks to be much older and more rugged than the two men from the truck. I admit he is quite handsome and assume he is the eldest. He too has a muscled frame much like his father with dark brown hair and slightly darker green eyes. He has a perfect tan and oozes masculinity too.
I take a deep breath as I know it’s time to explain with the way they are staring at me expectantly. “Again, I’m sorry for stowing away on your pickup truck. I-I needed to get away and hid myself there. When you drove off, I was too exhausted to let you know and fell asleep. The next thing I know, it’s morning and I woke up here.”
“Who did that to you?” The boy from earlier demands curiously as he leans against the stone wall with his arms crossed.
“Noah!” His mother gasps from beside me with a deep frown. “Don’t be rude!”
His father then turns to me and shoots me a small smile while his fingers overlap with each other as he crosses his hands. “So, mind telling us your name?”
“...Ella.” I hesitate before whispering.
“Lovely name. I’m Evan Jackson and this is my wife Michelle.” He gestures to the lady beside me before introducing the boys. Roman is indeed the eldest son. After that are the men whose pickup truck I was in, Noah and Theo with Noah being the youngest child in the family. “How old are you?”
“Nice to meet you all.” I nod nervously. “I’m twenty-one.”
There are a few seconds of silence as I think about what to do next. I have some cash left that will get me a taxi to a hotel nearby, after that I can change my identity and start job hunting. I subconsciously nod to myself as a plan forms in my head before looking back up at the family.
“Um...I should get going. Thank you for your help and I apologize once again for the trouble.”
I stand and start towards where my backpack lays on the table when Theo stops me by saying, “Where will you go?”
I shrug before lifting my bag up and holding onto the strap. “I’ll just check into a hotel or something.”
I turn to face Michelle when she gasps and stands while shaking her head. “No, you certainly will not! You can stay here.”
I immediately refuse and shake my head vehemently. “Oh no really, I’ll be fine. I’ve already caused you enough trouble, I wouldn’t want to be a burden.”
“Do you have a job? A home or family?” Roman asks quietly while crossing his arms intimidatingly.
I bite my lip and remain silent. I don’t have anything anymore. I’m literally going to try and make something out of myself in an unfamiliar place. However, I don’t want to trouble the nice family any more than I have already plus I can’t have them finding about my past. I have left it behind and that is where I intend it to stay; in the past.
“Are you any good in math or accounting?” Michelle asks while resting a hand on my shoulder.
I nod in reply as I glance at her curiously. I wonder why she asked that question and frown when Evan, Noah and Theo grin widely. Roman remains stoic as ever and it’s like he refuses to show any emotion.
“We have been looking for an accountant for days and have found nobody. If you want you can stay here and work for us? We’ll pay you and all you have to do is help with the books and occasionally some office work.” Evan proposes and his words make my eyes widen.
They’re willing to let me, a stranger, stay in their home and handle their finances for them? I think to myself in shock. Plus, they’re going to pay me too. I ponder over the thought of accepting his proposal as maybe I can earn enough for me to secure my future. But before I can reject or accept the proposal a voice cuts through the silence like a knife.
“Who wants Ella to stay?” Noah asks with his hand in the air before glancing at me with a mischievous look in his eyes as if daring me to object. I stare at him in shock with my mouth agape. Everyone’s hands raise with big smiles accompanying them.
“Girl, you have nowhere to go. Why not stay here until you find your bearings?” Evan speaks gruffly as he tries to convince me into staying.
“So, Ella...do you accept?” Michelle asks before hushing the boys when they whisper-shout at me to say yes. I laugh softly at their antics before shrugging. What could it hurt? I excelled in my studies so maybe I can earn myself some decent cash and save up.
“I guess I do.” I nod with a smile when they cheer joyfully.
“Okay wait, where is Ella going to stay?” Theo asks loudly over the noise of the others.
“Oh, you are right honey. Evan –”
“The guest rooms are free.” Roman waves off their concerns.
Michelle stands and demands for Theo to follow her before hurrying out of the room with him. I watch him follow her upstairs and her voice is rushed as she talks about making sure the room is clean first. I look back at Roman who is watching me, as if trying to uncover every secret I hold dear. We stare at each other until his mother calls him from upstairs. He gestures for me to follow him and I do.
“You’ll be safe here, Ella.”
I stare up at him in slight shock. I know that he has his theories about what happened to me but decided to remain silent instead. I murmur my thanks, appreciating that he let me have space. And with that, we carry on upstairs to where the matriarch of the family is fussing loudly over the room.