The Wanderers

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chapter 4

I blinked, adjusting my eyes to the darkness. Looking out the window, I had noticed the sky had turned black. I must have fallen asleep. Pulling off the blanket that was draped over me, I head upstairs to change out of my bathing suit and into some comfy clothes. I follow the sound of chatter and find everyone outback huddled around a fire. My eyes traveled around the group. The whole McNaughton family was here including Jasa, and two girls I didn't know sitting on either side of Dean.

“Well, hello, sleeping beauty,” Josie said, patting the seat next to hers and handing me a cup of hot chocolate.

“How long have you been here?” I asked her.

“About an hour. Dean said he would wake you, but your mom insisted we let you rest.”

“You kids have fun. We’re going to head inside and have some adult time,” Mrs. McNaughton said. This translates to drinking till she passes out, again. My mom followed her inside while my father and Mr. McNaughton retreated to the den.

“Perfect timing Ella, we were about to tell some ghost stories,” Dean said.

“Alright Jake, time for you to go to bed.” Josie stood up, ready to escort him inside.

“It’s not my bedtime,” he whined.

“No, but I don’t want you getting scared and then crawling in bed with me later.”

“I’m not a baby and you’re not the boss of me,” he said, sticking his tongue out at her.

Josie opened her mouth to yell at Jake, but I intervened. “It’s fine. I’m sure Dean won’t tell any stories that will be too scary,” I said, eyeing Dean. “Because if you do, Jake will be sleeping with you tonight.”

“He wets the bed,” Josie warned.

Jake’s face turned bright red with embarrassment. “No worries. I have faith in Jakey not to get scared. I know he’s a brave little guy,” Dean said, giving Jake reassurance and getting a proud smile in return.

“I’ll start,” Xander volunteered. “You guys hear the one about The Keeper?” he asked, looking around at each of us.

“The Keeper?” Jasa questioned.

“It’s some old wives tale,” Dean mumbled, unimpressed at Xander’s choice of story.

Xander rolled his eyes at Dean. “Anyway, The Keeper is this old guy who used to live right here in these woods about fifty years ago.” He held the flashlight under his chin, casting creepy shadows across his face.

“He lived here all his life. The towns’ folk say he kept to himself, never married, and never had kids. When he would come into town to get supplies people stayed away from him, saying he was strange. He smelled like burning flesh. His hair was long and white with a matching beard. He always wore the same thing: a red and black flannel shirt and denim overalls that were stained head to toe. They also said he liked to hunt,” he paused for dramatic effect, “humans.”

I rolled my eyes, having heard this story a thousand times. “They say for each person he hunted, he would keep a piece of their body as a trophy. That’s how he got the nickname ‘The Keeper’. One night one of his victims managed to get away. When he returned home he told everyone what he saw.”

“His cabin was covered with the skin of his victims which he used as blankets to warm himself at night.”

The two girls with Dean shivered and he put his arms around both of them for comfort. I tried hard not to gag.

“His fridge was filled with jars of preserved human organs; everything from eyeballs, hearts, and kidneys.”

“How did the lucky one escape?” Jasa asked.

“Late one night, while his captor was sleeping, he mustered up the courage to escape. He was able to sever the ropes that bound his wrists on a rusty nail that was protruding from his rickety chair. He used one of the pokers from the fireplace and bashed it over The Keeper’s head. He ran like hell and never looked back.”

“He ran as fast as he could. All the way to the local police station and told them everything. By the time the police reached the cabin, searching it top to bottom, The Keeper was nowhere to be found. They searched for hours, days, weeks, but they never discovered his whereabouts. They say he still walks these woods searching for his next victim.”

As if on cue, we heard a twig snap in the distance. I jumped and Jake’s eyes grew wide with terror. “What was that?” he whispered.

“It’s The Keeper,” Josie said wickedly. Jake shivered and this time we heard a louder crack. Jake jumped into my lap, covering his eyes, and cowering.

“Jake, it’s probably just an animal. There’s no reason to get scared.”

“Let’s check it out,” Dean said, jumping up and reaching for a flashlight. “C’mon Jake, I’ll prove there’s nothing to be afraid of.” He took Jake’s hand and led him into the woods.

“Dean, don’t,” I called after him, following them with my own flashlight.

“I better go with them,” Xander said as he and Josie joined us.

We slowly and cautiously made our way into the woods, careful not to frighten whatever creature that might had made the noise.

Dean and I led the way, Jake in the middle, Josie and Xander following closely behind.

There was a rustle to the left and Dean shined his flashlight in that direction to see that it was just a raccoon. “See Jake, nothing to be afraid of. It’s just a raccoon.”

“Then what’s that?” he pointed a tiny, shaky finger into the depth of the woods to a giant shadow peering out from behind a tree. We froze when we heard whispering.

“Turn the flashlights off,” Dean said softly. I moved my lips to speak, but Dean quickly covered my mouth, putting a finger to his lips gesturing for me to be quiet. I glowered at him. “Stay here,” he mouthed, and waved for Xander to follow.

“Oh, hell no,” Josie said, running to catch up with them and almost running right into them. I took Jake’s hand, not wanting to be left behind. I passed Jake over to Josie and took the lead in front of the boys.

Dean pulled me back, but I ignored him and took a step closer to where we heard the whispering. Dean signaled for Xander to go around to the one side while he took the other. I followed Dean, ready to surprise whoever or whatever was there.

Xander gave us to the count of three to make our move. All three of us simultaneously jumped out from behind the massive oak tree and were surprised to find nothing on the other side. We all looked at each other and shrugged.

Suddenly, we heard someone curse. Moving closer to the voice, we spread out, making a circle to surround whoever’s there. I was startled by the sound of leaves rustling. Instinctively I took a step back.

I spun around, startled and screamed. So did Dean. My body hit something solid. I spun around and screamed. So does Dean.

Our Screams were echoed by the object I ran into.

“Marissa?” I asked, breathless.

“Jesus Ella, you scared the shit out of me!”

“What are you doing out here?” Before she could answer, Kevin jumped out from behind a different tree causing all of us to scream again. Xander, Josie, and Jake came running over and instantly calmed when they realized who our mystery monsters were.

“Sorry,” Kevin said with a chuckle. More people emerged from the woods, two of Kevin’s friends as well as Marissa’s clan. “What are you guys doing out here?” Kevin asked.

“Well, we heard a strange noise and came to investigate. What are you guys doing?”

“We were on our way to your house. I ran into Dean at the club and he told us to stop by tonight.”

“And you decided to take a stroll through the woods?”

“Genius here, said it would be fun, claiming that he knew a short cut. Needless to say, we’ve been walking for over an hour.” Marissa groaned and I tried to conceal a laugh. Kevin just shrugged his shoulders and pulled a flask from inside his jacket and took a swig. Dean swiped the flask from Kevin, taking a large gulp to calm his nerves. I covered my mouth to hide my giggles.

Jake pushed his way between Dean and me. “Did you guys see The Keeper?”

Kevin looked at me puzzled. “Jake, it’s just a story,” I said, giving Xander a dirty look.

Xander knelt down in front of Jake. “Jake, I promise I made it all up. There is no such thing as The Keeper.”

“Hey, I heard about him! He’s the one who keeps pieces of the victims he kills, right?” Marissa chimed in. Josie looked like she was about to kill her.

Jake’s eyes grew wide and he shivered. “I thought you said it was make believe?”

“He did,” Kevin said, jumping in. “He told me the story and I told it to Marissa. It’s not real buddy, I promise.”

Jake looked to Xander for conformation. “It’s just a story, I promise.” Xander lifted him up. Jake wrapped his arms and legs around him ducking his head down.

“Good job princess,” Josie muttered in Marissa’s direction.

“What did I do?” Marissa questioned, oblivious of what just took place. Kevin shook his head at her as we made our way back to the cabin.

I kept in step with Dean. “I can’t believe you screamed like a little girl.”

“You tell anyone and I’ll start a rumor that you still sleep with your teddy bear, Mr. Cuddles,” he threatened.

“I do not.”

“They don’t know that and I can be very convincing.”

On that note I decided to keep my mouth shut.

Jake fell asleep in Xander’s arms on the trek back so we carefully put him to bed in one the tents they had set up earlier. Josie thought it would be fun to sleep outside tonight. After Jake was tucked in tight we continued our ghost stories with our new guests.

“Now that we put the kid to bed, I have a good story to tell,” Dean said as Kevin passed his flask around the circle. Since the temperature had dropped and the fire wasn’t quite enough to keep us warm, I handed out blankets to everyone. Josie cozied up to Trevor, one of Kevin’s friends while I sat on the opposite side of them with Mark, his other friend. I remembered Mark from the few times he hung out with Kyle, which wasn’t much but he was always nice.

“Okay this is a good one and not some lame old wives tale,” Dean shot Xander an annoyed look. “And it’s a true story. It happened when I went to visit my uncle last summer in Ireland.”

“We don’t have an uncle who lives in Ireland,” I interrupted.

“Yes we do Uncle…” Xander started coughing, his eyes tight with a warning to Dean. I searched both of their faces for some sort of tell, anything that would let me know what they were hiding. I got nothing. “He’s more of an old friend of the family, which is probably why you don’t remember hearing about him,” he said brushing it off. “Anyway, one night while visiting, he took me to a local pub. This friend; I’ll just call him Uncle Bobby, I learned was a heavy drinker and quite the ladies’ man, or so he thought.”

“He got so drunk he was slurring his words and stumbling all over the place. He hit on every chick that crossed his path. To him, it didn’t matter what they looked like. Fat, old, scarred, basically anything with tits he hit on. One of them was even a guy, but that’s a story for another time,” he laughed.

“After the fifth shot Bobby bought me I was starting to feel the effects and decided to step outside for some fresh air. While outside I was smacked in the face with a cloud of smoke. I waved it away to reveal a beautiful woman standing in front of me. She wore a mini skirt showing off her long, luxurious legs, and a dingy white fur coat to keep her warm on this chilly night. Her long blonde hair blew lightly in the breeze and her dark red lipstick stained the end of her cigarette.

“‘Fancy a fag?’ she asked in a raspy voice, offering me a cigarette.”

“No thank you was all I could manage. Uncle Bobby stumbled out of the pub just then, throwing his arms around me.”

“C’mon, I found us some nice little girls to play with.” Dean tried to mimic an Irish accent, but he sounded more like a bad interpretation of the leprechaun from Lucky Charms.

“‘I’ll be in in a minute,’ I told him, as he turned his attention to the woman who stood before me.”

“‘Nah, lad, don’t waste your time. You can’t afford her.’ He pulled me back toward the bar. The woman flicked her cigarette at Bobby, smiled, and walked away. ‘Ah...’ Bobby growled, dragging me back inside.

“We drank all night until Bobby passed out on the bar. I had to practically carry him out of the pub.”

“We made it about five feet outside the door before he keeled over and started puking. I took a step back in just enough time to dodge the splatter and putrid smell of his vomit. That’s when I saw her again, the woman from earlier.

“She was standing in the shadows, in an alley off the side of the pub. She signaled for me to follow her. I was hesitant at first, but I felt a strange pull to her. Before I could reach her she disappeared into the darkness. ‘Hello?’ I called out, but got no response.”

“I squinted and gave my eyes time to adjust to the dark night. I spy her at the other end of the poorly lit alley. My feet involuntarily make their way to her. She turned around and her eyes were glowing. I froze in my tracks too petrified to move. There was foam dripping from the sides of her mouth.” Dean paused and looked around at everyone.

“She closed the distance between us in one swift movement. Exposing her razor sharp teeth, she leaned down to sink them into my neck. I shoved her away fast, not wanting to get bitten. Searching for a weapon, I reached for the splinter of wood I spotted sticking out of a trash can. I dove for it and spun, staking her in the heart. She cringed at the impact and exploded into dust at my feet.”

“A vampire? Really Dean?” Josie said, interrupting his lame story.

“True story… I swear.” The only people who seemed to believe him were Marissa, her clan, and the two girls Dean brought along.

“You really expect me to believe you escaped being devoured by a vampire?” I tucked the blanket tighter around my legs, trying not to roll my eyes.

“You don’t believe in vampires?” he asked credulously.

“No. I have a harder time believing you didn’t piss your pants when she attacked you,” I said doubtful. Xander laughed out loud and Dean narrowed his eyes at him.

“Sorry Dean, but Xander’s story was way better,” Josie said , slipping her arm through Trevor’s.

“Well, I had enough of these children’s stories. Come on Jasa, let’s go to bed.” Xander and Jasa wished everyone a goodnight and headed inside to retreat for the night.

“You were so brave to face that vampire,” said one of Dean’s girlfriends. I tried hard not to choke on my hot chocolate.

“I believe in vampires,” said the other girl. She stared off dreamily into the night sky. “I leave my window open every night waiting for Robert Pattinson to fly in and bite me.”

“You know, he’s not a real vampire. He just plays one in the movies,” I said pretending like I was talking to a five year old.

“I know,” she said snidely. “But I’d still like him to bite me.”

“Mmm…I’ll bite you.” Dean leaned in and nibbled on her neck. She giggled and playfully pushed him away saying, “stop,” even though she didn’t mean it. You could tell she was the type of girl who played innocent, but was really promiscuous.

God, where does Dean find these girls?

“Well, now that the squares went to bed, let’s have some real fun,” Dean said with a devilish smile. Getting up, he slipped inside one of the tents and pulled out a bottle of vodka. Unscrewing the cap, he took a swig and made his way around the circle, pouring some into everyone’s cup, stopping at me.

“What, you think I can’t handle it?” I asked, annoyed.

He just smiled and poured some into my hot chocolate. “You are a McCallister. I have no doubt you can handle your liquor.”

We were all enjoying our spiked drinks when Dean suggested we go swimming. “It’s freezing,” said one of the girls.

“I’ll keep you warm,” Dean cooed and she giggled. Again I had to fight the urge to gag.

“Sounds like fun. I’m in,” Marissa said and her followers nodded in unison like little bobble heads. Marissa stood up and put her hand out for Kevin. He reluctantly followed and we all headed down to the lake.

“Wait, what about bathing suits?” I asked.

“Oh lil’ sis, you need to live a little,” Dean said as he stripped down to his boxers. His girlfriends followed suit and stripped down to their bra and underwear.

As did everyone else.

“You comin’ Ella?” Josie asked while taking off her shirt and pants.

“Maybe later,” I said. Josie shrugged her shoulders and joined Kevin’s friends, Trevor and Mark, who were already in the water.

“Kevin?” Marissa looked at him wondering while he still had his clothes on.

“I’m gonna hang here with Ella for a bit,” he said. Marissa didn’t give it a second thought and jumped in the water. A small shriek escaped her lips, letting us know how cold the water was.

“You don’t have to do that. Go ahead. Don’t let me stop you from having fun. I’ll be fine,” I said to Kevin.

“It’s okay, I don’t mind. Besides, by the looks of it that water is pretty cold,” he laughed while we watched everyone shudder and holler as they got in the freezing water.

Kevin shifted from one foot to the next, stuffing his hands in his pockets and looking uncomfortable. “I want to talk to you about last night.”

“Talk about what?” I asked, playing dumb. But I had a pretty good idea what he was referring to.

“The kiss. You have to know I’m truly sorry about that. I would never…”

“Kevin…really, don’t worry about it. It’s ancient history; already forgotten.”

He let out breath and his shoulders relaxed. He offered me a sip from his flask.

Marissa waved frantically from the water. “You coming in or not?”

“I guess I should go in before she throws a hissy fit.” Kevin sighed as he tugged his shirt off over his head. Marissa cheered. “You sure you don’t want to come in?”

I took another swig of his flask. “What the hell, why not? You only live once.”

Kevin waited for me to strip down to my underwear and then walked down with me to the water. He stuck his foot in and then quickly jumped back. “That cold?” I asked, nervously.

“C’mon you big babies!” Marissa shouted.

“How about on the count of three we just go for it. Jump in and get it over with,” Kevin suggested. I bit my fingers knowing that probably wouldn’t make it any better.

Kevin watched me, waiting for my answer. “The count of three?” I raised my eyebrows.

Kevin smiled as he slipped his hand into mine. “One…two…three!”

We sprinted into the freezing cold water. The shock of it took my breath away. My entire skin was covered head to toe in goose bumps. Even though my toes were semi-numb, it felt exhilarating. I loved every minute of it. Kevin grabbed me and picked me up into the air, laughing. “You did it.”

I looked down into his eyes and for a moment all I saw was Kyle. Kevin quickly set me down, worry and concern in his eyes. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing…it’s nothing, sorry.”

The creases in his forehead deepened and I could tell he didn’t buy it, but Marissa had already made her way over. “It’s about time you guys joined us.” She slipped her arm around his waist and pulled him away to a dark spot over by the trees—probably to make out with him.

Josie swam over to me bringing Trevor and Mark with her. I noticed Mark was checking me out all night and even more now – probably because I was in my underwear. “Hey,” Mark said.

“C’mon Trevor, let’s let these two talk,” Josie smiled while tugging on his arm. I shook my head at Josie. I didn’t want to be left alone with Mark. I wasn’t ready yet, but I knew this was Josie’s way of pushing me to move forward. No matter how many times I argued with her she insisted I needed to at least try. Josie pulled me to the side. “Ella, look. I know you think you’re not ready and I get that, but don’t you agree that Kyle would want you to move on?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“It’s not like I’m saying jump in the sack with the guy. All I’m suggesting is to have a little fun. No harm in that, right?” Mark was cute and a nice guy, but I still wasn’t sure. I also knew part of me would never really be ready if I didn’t give myself a push to try.

Josie shoved me in Mark’s direction and then grabbed Trevor’s hand, pulling him away. “Where are we going?” Trevor asked.

Josie shook her head. “We’re going to find a quieter spot to hang.”

“Why can’t we hang here?” Josie looked at Trevor like, “is this kid really that stupid?”

“Cause we're not actually going to be talking,” she said, trying to give him a hint.

“Huh? Ooh! Gotcha,” Trevor said, finally catching on. He picked her up and carried her to a more private place. “Hey Ella, watch out for those one eyed snakes in the water,” Trevor laughed. Josie dunked him in the water and they wrestled playfully until Josie attacked him with her lips.

“You’ll have to excuse my friend. He had too many blows to his head playing football this season.”

“What was his excuse before he played football?”

Mark laughed. “You’re funny,” he tugged on a strand of my hair. “That’s one of the things I like about you.”

“One of the things?” I smiled bashfully.

“Yeah, I kinda used to have a crush on you.”

“Used too?” I bit the inside of my cheek, feeling the heat rise up from my toes despite the chilly water.

“Well, okay, still,” he blushed.

“Why didn’t you ever tell me?”

“Cause, you know, you were dating Kyle.”

“Oh,” was all I could say remembering how Kyle and I were inseparable. If Mark really did have a crush on me then, I would have never noticed.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bring up…”

“It’s okay, it’s bound to happen,” I said, grazing his arm accidentally. A seductive smile played across his lips and before I could stop him he was kissing me. Surprised at his abruptness, I pushed him back.

“Sorry I just, um…” he ran a hand through his hair and looked down.

“It’s okay. You just kind of took me by surprise.” I put my hand on his shoulder bringing his attention back to my eyes and away from my chest. “How about we try this again?”

He smiled and slowly this time, brought his lips to mine. The kiss was nice, different. Mark was only the second boy I ever kissed. The first was Kyle. In a way I felt like I was cheating on Kyle, but I knew that wasn’t true. I felt myself pulling away and chastised myself for being silly. I put the past back where it belongs and allowed myself to enjoy the kiss a little more.

All too soon the kiss turned aggressive. I guess he thought me kissing him back was an invitation to move further. Mark slid his hand over my behind and squeezed. Then his hand slid up my side and cupped my breast. He pulled me into him pressing himself harder against me, slipping his hand under my bra.

Okay, this was more than I wanted. He was getting way to touchy feely.

I pushed him away trying to catch my breath. “Okay you need to slow down there,” I said, keeping my hand on his chest.

“Sorry, I tend to get carried away sometimes. Why don’t we head back to shore and dry off?”

I agreed.

We gathered our clothes and made our way back to the fire.

Mark wrapped blankets around us and rubbed my arms furiously to try and warm me up. I heard a girl giggling from one of the tents. Then I heard Dean’s voice say, “It’s okay girls. No need to be shy.”

“Uh, gross,” I groaned and Mark chuckled.

It wasn’t long before everyone else started making their way back to the fire. “I am fucking freezing,” Marissa whined. Kevin wrapped a blanket around her and held her tight to help warm her up.

“Save me a seat. I’m going to check on my little brother quick,” Josie told Trevor. She popped her head in Jake’s tent. “Hey Ella, this is the tent Xander put Jake in right?”

“Yeah?”

“Then where is he?”

“What?”

Josie frantically threw blankets around inside the tent. “He’s not here!”

“Okay, relax, maybe he got cold and went inside. You check the other tents and I’ll check the cabin. I’m sure he’s here somewhere.”

Josie let out a breath and started searching the other tents while I scoured every bedroom, spare room, bathroom, and found nothing. I headed back outside to see if Jake had turned up.

“Anything?” Josie asked. My heart dropped down to my stomach as I shook my head no. “Where could he be?”

“Do you want me to wake my parents?”

Josie bit her nails nervously while she thought it over. “Yes.”

I went back inside and knocked on their bedroom door. “Mom…Dad?”

“What is it honey?” my mom asked.

“We can’t find Jake.”

“What do you mean you can’t find him?” My dad sat up and turned on the small lamp by their bed.

“He fell asleep and we put him in one of the tents, but now he’s not there.”

“Well he couldn’t have gone far. I’ll call the McNaughton’s.”

“No!”

“No?” my mom asked confused.

“There’s no reason to worry them yet if we don’t have to.”

“True, alright, wake up Xander and Jasa and gather everyone. We’ll find him.”

I left my parents room and woke up Xander. He was out of bed in seconds.

My parents, Xander, and Jasa double checked the house calling out Jake’s name and coming up empty. We all gathered outside and handed out flashlights and lanterns to everyone. My dad immediately took charge and directed everyone on what to do.

We kept close to each other making sure we didn’t miss one spot. We called out his name hoping we’d get a response. “Anything yet?” Josie asked in hopes of finding at least some trace of her brother.

“No, nothing,” Kevin called from over the left side.

We searched for over an hour and still nothing. No footprints, no signs of a struggle or injury. “Don’t worry Josie, we’ll find him.” I tried comforting her, but even I was starting to feel skeptical.

We had reached near the end of the woods and found nothing. “Alright everyone, let’s start heading back,” my dad said.

“What! No! We can’t! We haven’t found him yet,” Josie cried.

“Josie, I think it’s time we called your parents and notified the police.” She nodded her head in agreement.

As we retraced our steps back to the house, I caught movement out of the corner of my eye. My gut instincts told me to check it out. I made a quick left. “Ella?” Dean called, following me.

I carefully searched the area and when I came upon a ditch by a large oak tree, I found Jake curled up into a ball. I jumped down and gently placed a hand on his shoulder. “Jake?”

He flinched and whimpered. “Jake…it’s okay…it’s me, Ella.” His bright eyes welled up with tears. He leapt into my arms and squeezed me so tight I could barely breathe. “I found him!” I yelled.

Beams of bright light bounced in our direction as everyone rushed over. Josie tore him out of my arms. “Jakey, thank god! Are you hurt?” She pulled him back and looked him over checking for scrapes and bruises, but there wasn’t a scratch on him.

“Alright, let’s get him back to the house,” my dad said.

Everyone was relieved we found Jake unharmed. Due to the unscheduled excitement we decided to call it a night and parted ways with our friends. Josie and Jake stayed in my room, determining that sleeping outside was no longer a good idea.

Josie gave Jake a clean pair of pajamas and helped him settle into bed. “Jake, what were you doing in the woods?” Josie asked him.

“I heard something and I thought I’d prove how brave I was and check it out. I followed the noise too far and got lost. Then I saw it and got scared and tried to hide.”

“Saw what, Jake?” Josie tucked him snuggly inside the blankets.

“The man…the man with the glowing eyes.” Josie sat up straight and looked at me over her shoulder. I shook my head not knowing what he was talking about.

“What man Jake?”

“His eyes glowed yellow…they scared me JoJo.” JoJo was his nickname for Josie.

“It’s okay Jake. There’s no reason to be scared anymore.” She gave Jake a giant hug and readjusted the blankets. “And were going to keep this between us right? No need to tell mom and dad about your little venture in the woods, okay? It will be our little secret?”

Jake nodded and closed his eyes. Josie and I left the bedroom and headed downstairs to watch some TV before we fell asleep. I thought about what Jake had said, ‘the man with the glowing eyes’. Maybe I wasn’t crazy, but then again, this was coming from the mouth of a six year old and fear can make your mind play tricks on you. I brushed off the thought, thinking maybe he overheard Dean’s lame story. It was nothing more than coincidence.

I ended up falling asleep on the couch. When I woke up I was alone. My guess, Josie had gone up upstairs ad crawled into bed with Jake. Folding up the blankets, I placed them back in the closet before I head to my room to change. When I saw the door to the den open, I made a detour knowing my dad was already up and working. I peeked my head in the door way. “Good morning, dad.”

“Good morning sweetheart. How’s Jake doing?”

“He seems fine.” I made my way over to his desk.

“That’s good. Gave us quite a scare, that little one.” He shuffled some papers together before placing them in a folder.

“No kidding,” I said more to myself. Something occurred to me. I never had gotten the chance to confront Dean and Xander about their horrible attempt to cover up their story about this so-called ‘Uncle Bobby’. “Hey dad, can I ask you something?”

“Sure sweetie, anything.”

I placed my palms flat on his desk and twirled my toe in the carpet. “Who’s Uncle Bobby?”

My dad looked taken back a second. “Just…an old family friend,” he said awkwardly as he averted his eyes to the pile of papers on his desk.

I picked up a pen and twirled it in between my fingers. “Yeah that’s what Dean said. How come I never heard of him?”

“We don’t talk much.” I could tell my dad was hiding something by the way he avoided looking at me and kept his eyes on his desk. This was a tactic he used when there was a subject he did not want to discuss. “Anything else?"

“No,” I lied. I had a million more questions, but wasn’t sure my dad was willing to answer them. It was too early to battle it out with him and I knew when I should push or back down. The throbbing vein on the side of his neck and tight jaw told me it was one of those times when I should walk away. I pushed off the desk. “I’ll let you get back to work then.”

“Can you do me a favor and tell Dean I’d like to speak with him please.” His voice was restrained and calculating.

“No problem.”

Crap.

I had a feeling I just got Dean in trouble, but for what I didn’t know. Regardless, I would deal with the wrath of Dean for opening my mouth later. “Hey, dad wants to talk to you,” I told Dean and headed to my room, well pretended to. I was curious and wanted to know why my dad seemed upset.

After Dean stepped into the den, I tiptoed down the hall. “Close the door Dean.” I heard my father say. I pressed my ear to the door so I could hear them better. “What exactly did you tell Ella about Uncle Bobby?”

“Nothing.”

“Don’t lie to me!” my Dad yelled.

“I didn’t really tell her anything. I just told a story how we got blitzed one night, that’s all.”

“That’s all…that’s all! Just her knowing he exists is more than she should know!”

“She’s gonna find out eventually. What’s the big deal?”

“You have no idea what you have done! And she better never find out!”

“You can’t stop it.”

“Yes I can and I will!” My dad was furious and I didn’t understand why.

“No you can’t! It’s gonna happen whether you want it to or not!” Now Dean was yelling. “You know it, too! Better she find out now than later.”

“Ella!” Xander whisper shouted. I jumped, placing my hand over my heart that was pounding. My cheeks instantly felt hot at being caught eavesdropping.

“Shh!” I whispered and ran up to Xander.

“Ella, how many times did I tell you it’s not polite to spy,” he scolded.

“Whatever, don’t act like you never did it.”

“Yeah, but I was never dumb enough to get caught.”

I rolled my eyes and made a W with my fingers, throwing it in his face.

Dean walked out of the den looking defeated, as if my dad had smacked him. He didn’t even look at us as he slammed the bedroom door behind him.

Annoyed about being caught and missing the end of the conversation, I asked Xander about Uncle Bobby. “He’s just a friend of the family. Drop it Ella,” Xander said and stomped off.

What the hell was going on? So there’s some big secret everyone was privy to, but me. And what is the big deal? Knowing I wasn’t going to get a straight answer from anyone anytime soon, I let it go…for now.

After I changed, I said goodbye to Josie and Jake and headed downstairs for a family breakfast that included my father, this time, and Jasa. After breakfast we packed everything up. With the eventful weekend I had, I was ready to go home and hoped to have some normalcy before heading off to school.

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