The woods encroached on the back corner of the cabin, so I went there to start my collecting. I wandered in a few yards before crossing a deer trail. My gaze followed the trail to where it disappeared over a small hill. It’d probably be a good idea to know these woods a little better. Just in case, I thought as I picked my way along the trail.
At the top of the hill, the forest stretched in front of me. A maze of hardwood trunks and shrubs. Off to the left, in a small gully, looked to be a stream. A patch of tall pines lined the opposite bank and extended along the side of a much taller hill beyond. Boulders dotted the hills, creating what appeared to be cave-like holes in some places.
I mentally mapped the area and committed it to memory. Once Dominic had a fire going, I’d bring Allison with me to explore further. After our run in with the other car, I wanted to know our options for hiding. We may have been in the middle of nowhere, but nerves were still on edge. My intuition kept poking me in the ribs to keep alert. I didn’t feel completely safe.
There was something else I wanted to go over with my daughter, too. It frightened me to even think that it might be necessary, but I would feel better once it was done. I would feel that she was safer, too.
With a pile of sticks in various sizes bundled under my arm, and a handful of tiny tinder, I headed back to the cabin.
A few hours later, we had a blazing fire heating the thick iron of the stove and radiating warmth through the room. We had eaten grilled ham and cheese sandwiches and were lounging on the sofas. Allison stretched out on one, playing her video games. Dominic and I occupied the other, sitting at opposite ends with our stockinged feet mingling on the middle of the three cushions.
“I cooked,” I said, and pointed at him. “You get to wash.”
“Okay. That’s fair,” he replied with a stretch. “I’l do it in a little while.”
“I want to keep this place clean and ready to leave at a moment’s notice, so wait too long.” I looked at Allison engrossed in her game. “I want to take Allison out to explore the woods soon.” My gaze fell on Dominic’s green eyes again. “I want to know the land as best as we can. Just in case.”
His look sobered from the relaxed glaze that he had taken on. “I get that. Maybe we should all go together.”
With a shake of my head, I said, “No. I just want the two of us to go. I need to go over some other things with her, too. If you want to explore, go right ahead. But not with us. Not this time, at least.”
His eyes swam with concern and a touch of sadness. He stood and reached for my hand. “Come talk to me a minute.”
I slid my feet to the floor, and took his hand. He pulled me to my feet and led me into the sleeping quarters, never relinquishing my hand.
Sitting side by side on the worn patchwork quilt Allison had spread over one bed, Dominic turned to me. “You still don’t trust me, Ella?”
I sighed, looking at my hands in my lap instead of meeting his intense stare. “It’s not that I don’t trust you, Dominic. But, there’s still a lot we need to discuss.” Hesitating, I lifted my eyes to his. I thought I was prepared for his wrath at my lack of trust. I wasn’t prepared for the look of utter betrayal that filled those green depths. Maybe I was wrong to doubt him? But it wasn’t just for me. Allison came first. That meant I had to question everyone and everything.
And something still didn’t feel right with this whole situation. A piece of the puzzle was in the wrong place, or turned so it didn’t fit right. And, because I couldn’t figure it out, it was me and Allison against the world. For now.
We didn’t say anything to each other for a long minute. Then, at the same time, we both spoke the other’s name. We half smiled, and Dominic said, “Go ahead.”
I took a deep breath and let it out, ruffling my hair. “I want to go over some things with Allison in case something happens and she has to defend herself. That’s all, really.”
Concern flooded his features as my intentions dawned on him. “Are you sure?”
“Yes,” I said with conviction. “I need to know she will have the best chance if anything happens to me. Or you.”
“Okay. You better get going then. It’ll start getting dark soon, and it’ll get darker faster up here.”
I stood to leave him. “Thanks for understanding. Will you be going out, too?”
“Probably.” He shrugged. “Hey, there’s a flash light on the table. Take it incase it gets dark on you.”
“Okay.” I left him sitting on the bed.
Tapping Allison on the shoulder pulled her out of her video game daze. She twisted her head around to look up at me as I stood behind her. “What’s up, Mom?”
“Let’s go for a walk,” I said.
Ever the obedient child, she sat and put her shoes on right away. “Where are we going?” she asked.
I had collected the flashlight from the table and was putting my own shoes on. “Just a walk through the woods. I want to make sure we know the land in case one of the bad guys finds us here.”
The immediate tension in her body revealed what I had feared. She felt safe here. It wasn’t that I didn’t want her to feel safe. It was just that I wanted her to know that the possibility of being found was still there.
She followed me out the door, but I stopped her on the porch. “Wait here a minute. I need to get something.” I went to the car and reached under my seat.
Sliding the gun into my waistband at my back, I pulled my shirt over the weapon and signaled to Allison. She bounced off the porch and skipped to me as I walked toward the deer trail I had followed earlier.