Eliza:


The winding road curves around the hills just as it had for as long as I could remember.  However, this time I was leaving.  For how long I didn't know.  The glistening morning sun shimmered off of the ocean waves starting to appear on the horizon.  Farther and farther I was being taken away from the only home I had ever known.  Sam reached over with his right hand and firmly grasped mine.  

"Everything's going to be okay.  I promise."  I nod, so unsure of everything.  

My whole life was turned upside down because of the decision I made to forgive James.  What if all this time I was just fooling myself that people would change? 

By nightfall, the city skyline could be seen on the horizon.  Good thing too, the gas was running low in the car.  Sam found the nearest gas station and pulled the car up to one of the pumps.  

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"Do you want anything?"  I ask.  "I have to use the bathroom.  I can get you something to eat while I'm in the store."

"I don't know.  Are you getting anything?"

"Maybe just a water and something to snack on."  It's been a long day and we haven't eaten since eleven this morning.

"Okay.  I guess I'll have a water too.  Thanks."

I nod and fold my arms over my chest, blocking out the chilly sea air so unlike our small town's warmth this time of year.  I push open the heavy door and the tiny sound of a bell sounds throughout the room.  I walk straight to the back to use the bathroom.  As I wash my hands I can't help but smile at myself in the mirror from how different I've become in the past 48 hours.  A plain black hoodie instead of my usual, more patterned clothes.  Simple converse, my hair tied back into a bun like the old days, and a red tinge has been added to my lips from all of the chapstick I had been lathering on during the drive.

I make my way over to one of the miniature aisles of food in the store.  My eyes peeled for anything that might satisfy the growing beast in my stomach that had been bothering me for over an hour now.  I hear the chime of the bell but don't bother to look up.  My mind is having conflicting thoughts about whether to get chex-mix or a bag of pretzels.  I shrug and decide to get them both.  As I am grabbing them off of the rack, a conversation up at the front grabs my attention.  I stay low, keeping my face from view and freeze, catching every word.

"Sure is cold out there isn't it Son?  Been gettin' down into the fifties at night.  You look like you been havin' a long day.  Want somethin ta eat with that coffee?"

"No.  I've got to keep moving.  I'm meeting a few friends up north and I'm supposed to be following them.  They're getting farther the longer I wait here.  Plus I've got my girl in the car and you know how they can be when you take too long."
"Yeah.  Well you best be movin' there lad or you ain't goin' to be catchin' up with 'em any time soon, I s'pose.  Want me ta ring you up?"

"Yeah.  Oh, wait.  Damn.  I left my wallet in the car.  I'll be back."

The chime goes off again.  I stand completely still.  The hair on the back of my neck is standing on end.  I wait a second before chancing a glance out the window.  His car must be around the corner of the building.  If I hurry I can make it to Sam before he comes back.  
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I drop everything and pretend to walk casually out of the store and across the parking lot with my hood now tucked over my head and hiding my face.  Sam is just getting finishing filling the tank as I climb in the passenger seat with my heart racing. 

I keep my face turned from the view of anyone in the shop but every few seconds I risk a glance to make sure he's not following me. The door to the drivers' seat opens and Sam climbs inside. 

"Sam."  I whisper.  "He's in the store.  He's at the check-out.  We need to get out of here before he realizes who we are."

He draws a breath and takes a look.  Nodding, he starts the engine and gets us out of the parking lot, keeping an eye locked in the rear-view mirror.  

We stay silent for a few minutes.  It's almost as if we're afraid James will hear us and figure out where we are.  When he decides to break the silence, I know what's coming.

"How did you find him in there?  Did he see you?  Did he say anything?  Tell me everything.  I don't think he realized we were there.  But I'm just making sure.  We're going to take these back roads for a while.  I haven't decided yet but we'll need to stop somewhere soon.  I'm thinking we better stay here in the city.  It will be harder for him to find us in all of the crowds.  Plus we can easily keep to a hotel room until we find a place to stay."

I just stare at him for a moment and blink.  "Ok, well I'm going to try to answer all of that."  I force a smile.  "He didn't see me as far as I can tell.  He was talking to the clerk at the counter about following some friends up north.  He said that he was behind and needed to catch up.  Oh and he also mentioned some girl being in the car but I'm pretty sure that was just a cover-up story to get out of talking to that guy more."

"Alright.  At least I know this will keep us safe for a little while."

"Sam are we going to go to the police?"

He looks over at me.  "I wish we could.  But what proof do we have?  Your word?  Mine?  You've been missing.  People have seen James around town and been to his house.  You are the one thing they haven't seen.  Plus, if we tell them now he's going to come after you even worse.  This may just be him trying to get you away from me right now.  But if we get the police involved there's no telling what he'll do.  He might . . ." He pauses and I look a him intently.  I know very well what he might do.  Sam's right.  Our best bet is just to lay low for a while and see if he lets this go.  People think I'm dead.  Missing.  Whatever.  It's not like he can send out an amber alert for me anyways.  There's already one out there.  It's been out there for five years.  People would think he's crazy.  

"Okay."  I concede.  "It's settled then.  No police."

He focuses his concentration back on driving.  My eyes follow the trees whirring past the window.  They make my head spin so much I have to shut my eyes to keep myself from losing whatever bit of lunch I have left in me.  Thank heaven it just looks like I'm tired.  Sam would freak if he knew I'd been in this sort of condition the past few years.  

The car bounces over part of the curb leading into the parking lot.  We stop at a small motel.  
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Sam:


When I wake up I have new messages on my phone from Bianca.  I sigh.  

They read: "I stopped by to check on you today and you weren't home.  Some people in the building said you left yesterday morning.  Are you ok? Sam?  Sam?  Please pick up!"

I take my phone in my hand, glancing over to the other side of the bed where Grace is still sleeping peacefully.  So as not to wake her, I climb out of bed slowly and head outside to the porch, closing the door behind me.

I wait a few moments before Bianca's voice answers with her "Hi!"

"Hello?  Bianca, this is Sam."

"Sam!  I'm so glad you called!  I've been worried sick!  Are you ok?"

"Yeah, we're fine."

"We're?"

"I mean me.  Sorry."  I scratch the back of my neck awkwardly.

"Where have you been?"  The patio door slides open and Grace steps out in her pajamas.  She looks at me wonderingly.

"Uh, well I've decided to take a road trip.  Clear my head.  I'm up north at the lake."  Grace's face floods with relief with the sound of my words.  Apparently she wasn't so eager to let anyone know where we were either.  

"At the lake."  Bianca repeats my words.  "Ok, well please stay safe Sam.  Love you.  Good-bye."

"Bye."  I sigh.  The button beeps and our conversation ends.  

Folding her arms across her chest to keep out the cold, Grace asks, "Who was that?"  

"Bianca."

"Oh."  Is all she says.  "Well I'm going to get dressed and get some breakfast.  Want to come?"
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I nod, taking notice of how her pale skin seems even more pallid than usual.  

We hop into the car and make our way back to the gas station we had stopped at last night.  

"I'll grab the coffee."  Grace says.

Nodding I pick a couple muffins and other small snacks from the shelves.  As I do so, I happen to notice Grace over at the counter pouring the coffee.  Her hand begins shaking uncontrollably and coffee splatters everywhere from the jug.  She curses under her breath and examine the droplets on her shirt.  The man at the counter stops reading his magazine and looks at her accusingly.  

"I'm so sorry!  I don't know what's wrong with me!"  She looks like she's about to cry.

I drop the snacks off at the check-out counter and grab the cups of steaming liquid from her hands, setting them down and out of the way.  I place my hands on her shoulders and comfort her.  

"I'm sorry."  She whispers again.  "I can clean it up."  She says with certainty as she releases herself from my grasp and starts to bend down.  The clerk quickly gets up and assures her he can handle it.  I look at him gratefully and take Grace away from the mess.  

I look her straight in the eyes.  Worry creasing my brow.  "Are you ok?"  I murmur.

"Fine."  She huffs.  

"Grace-" I start but am cut of by the clerk.  

"Do you want me to ring you guys up?"

"Yeah."  I reply without reverting my gaze from Grace until I am forced to move from her and pay.
The chime from the door rings behind us when we leave.  "Please don't say anything Sam.  It was nothing.  I just haven't eaten yet."

"Grace, you can't expect me to believe that excuse every time.  What's wrong?  You need to tell me the truth."

"The truth?"  She glares.  But in her eyes I don't see anger.  "The truth is... Sam... I don't know.  I've been like this since a little after I found out the truth.  Maybe it's the trauma of everything but I was really weak when James "took me in" and have been ever since."

"We need to take you to a doctor Grace!  Someone who can-"

"Please Sam."  She whispers.  "No doctors.  James hired enough of those to come to the house.  All they are are liars.  They don't know anything.  Please."

Reluctantly, I nod.  But I feel so guilty.  I should have figured it was something more serious.  And after we... "Oh Grace, did I... Did I hurt you?"

"No!  Sam, I'm fine!  Trust me!  You can't treat me any different! Please. Stop worrying.  I'm fine!  Perfect actually."

I don't believe it but I concede for the time being.  "Fine.  I'm just worried about you.  I can't lose you again."  My voice fades.

She reaches up and strokes my cheek.  "You won't have to."
 


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