We drove into Lakeville for dinner, choosing the diner over the one fast food restaurant in town. Allison babbled on and on about the horses, and what she had learned from Teddy. Dominic and I sat quietly listening to her. It was nice that she monopolized the conversation. That way I wasn’t required to talk as much, and when I did, I was talking to her.
After we had our ice cream dessert, we stopped in the little market for some provisions before heading back to the inn. We would be leaving in the morning, and I wanted to make sure we had snacks and drinks to last through the morning, at least.
Allison sprawled on the bench on the front porch of the inn, playing her DS while Dominic and I sat at the other side. Me lounging on the swing, him in the chair at my feet, leaning back, his feet kicked out to stretch his legs.
“Tomorrow, we should head east,” he said.
Surprised, I shook my head. “East? But that would just lead us back to the trouble we’re running from, wouldn’t it?”
He shook his head, his soft brown hair dancing with the movement, his eyes serious. “If Ritter came after us, he would’ve sent someone south and west. South, because that’s where he knows us from. West, because it’s logical to run that direction from the east coast.”
“What about North? We could’ve headed into Canada,” I pointed out.
“Too difficult to cross the border now,” he said. “The point is, we are safe at this point. Still in the northern part of the country, but far enough south to avoid a west-bound scout. And far enough in the middle of nowhere, too. Ritter would also expect me to stay in more populated areas where we could blend in with everyone else.”
“You seem to know him pretty well.”
“I told you, he’s been on my radar for a while. I’m supposed to know him well. That’s one reason I’m still alive, Ella.”
I took a deep breath and huffed it out hard. “Okay,” I said. “Where do we go when we head east?”
He picked up the Ohio state map from the battered wooden table beside him and unfolded it. “I think we can head east along this road.” He points to the map and traces his finger along the yellow line of what is probably a moderate road--not too highway, and not to country. The trail of his finger dips up and down with the curves of the road. “We’ll follow it till we get to seventy-seven. Then we can head north up to the Lake Erie and take ninety back into Pennsylvania.”
Heading back into the state we had just fled seemed a folly to me, but Dominic had the experience, so I would go with him.
He must have sensed my apprehension. “We’ll stop somewhere in Ohio tonight. But we’ll do it after we reach the lake. Tomorrow we’ll cross into Pennsylvania and travel along the northern border. Then we’ll head back toward home, but we’ll stay outside of Summerville and Church Hill. Ritter will be watching our houses, the bank, and the store.” He closed up the map and fixed his sea-green eyes on me. “There’s a safe house in the mountains just north of Church Hill. We’ll stop for food and such on our way down, and we’ll stay at the cabin until things clear up.”
“How do we know when that is?” I asked, the skepticism clear in my tone.
He smiled at me and squeezed my ankle. “The FBI will let me know. It shouldn’t take more than a week or two.”
“A week or two?” It came out as a harsh whisper. My eyes popped wide, then narrowed. “What am I supposed to do about Allison’s school? She’ll fall so far behind. Maybe I can call. . .”
“No,” he cut in. “You can’t call the school. We don’t know if Ritter has some way of getting information from them. We need to stay disconnected.”
“There has to be something,” I said, almost pleading with him. Then it hit me. “Allison?” I called to her across the expanse of the inn’s porch.
She looked up at me. “Yeah?”
“Did you bring your text books with you?”
“Yeah,” she said, puzzled.
“Do you think you’d be able to do some extra school work if we can’t get back home for a while?”
My too-old-for-her-age ten year old sat up, looking at me down the length of the porch. Then she stood, walked over to me, and sat in the chair by my head. I sat up in response. “Mom? What’s going on? We’re in the middle of Ohio. There were cops when we left home. And Daddy’s dead. What’s going on?”
The questions I had been dreading, and, yes, avoiding, finally came to smack me in the face. I didn’t know how to handle this, but In knew I had to try.
“Well, honey. . .” I paused, not knowing where to start. “Daddy was killed by a bad man.” The pain and terror that slashed across her face stabbed me in the heart. I took her hands in mine as the tears welled in both our eyes. “This man took Daddy from us, and he took Aunt Cassie and Lynnette, too.” I tried soften the blow as much as I could without leaving out details she would question later. “We left with Mr. Dominic because this man may come after us, too, and Mr. Dominic can help keep us safe.
“But, you’re going to miss some school. Maybe a week. Or two. So I need you to do what you can with what you have. Read your text books, and answer the questions.”
“But some of my teachers give papers with different questions,” she said with concern.
“Honey, that’s okay. As long as we try to keep up, you’ll be fine. You’re a smart girl. Given the circumstances, I’m sure that your teachers will accept whatever you turn in.”
I could tell she had questions, but she didn’t want to ask. I helped her ask. “Do you have any questions, honey?”
Her eyes flitted to Dominic and back to me. “Did the police send Mr. Dominic to help us?”
“No. He works with the FBI.”
“Why is the bad man after us? What did we do?” The pleading in her voice broke my heart all over again.
“We didn’t do anything, sweetie. The bad man doesn’t like someone that I’m friends with, so he’s using us to get to that person.” It felt like a good explanation--honest, but lacking specifics that weren’t necessary for her to know.
Should’ve seem that one coming. I dropped my gaze to the wooden planks of the floor, trying to figure out the answer. Dominic saved me.
“You’re mom and I grew up together, Allison. The bad man is really after me because I put him in jail a long time ago. When I found out he was after your family, I came to help.”
He gave her the details without letting on to our personal, and criminal, history. In fact, he made it sound like he was the good guy in the past.