I had the windshield wipers on full blast as I turned the rental car onto the main road in Dover, Washington, my destination. I let out a puff of air and for the first time in hours relaxed against the leather seat. My passenger Cooley, a fully black seven-year-old German Sheppard, leaned over the center console and gave me a small lick on the cheek, along with a tail wag as if he sensed my relief to have made it finally. I smiled and gave his head a quick pat then preceded to place my hands back at ten and two. Though Cooley was practically my best friend, nine hours packed to the brim in a small car with an oversized dog had made for quite an adventure, and not in a good way. I squinted and peered out the window as I made my way slowly through town, getting caught at every red light. It had been close to twenty years since I'd escaped the Pacific Northwest and it had not changed one bit. I passed The Lantern, a burger joint, on the left and Dalton's Outdoor Retreat Store on the right, which still had the same large sign out in front. My grip tightened on the steering wheel as unwelcomed memories of the last time I'd stepped foot in there flooded my mind. Memories I hadn't thought about in years. I swallowed the lump in my throat. Some things you never really forgot, I suppose.
I attempted to shake myself out of the funk my mind was headed towards and refocused. He isn't going to be there. He isn't going to be there. He isn't going to be there: My internal monologue throughout this entire trip. If it weren't for the money, I doubted I would even be where I was right now; but money was one hell of a persuader. I turned off the main road, made two lefts then a right, and I was back at the entrance of the long driveway, the same old rusty gate already opened. My heart was aflutter as I crested the hill and the small house came into view. The house had received a new paint job, and the tin roof had been replaced, but to me, it was the same small hellhole I'd spent many years in, and no amount of upkeep could keep the terrible memories at bay. I can do this, I said to myself. He isn't going to be there.
The lights were on in the house, and suddenly there was some movement in the front room. Keeping my foot on the brake, I turned off the headlights just in case more murderers were in that house; didn't want them to notice me. Two people dressed in all black, their hoods up, exited the house through the opened door. Cooley gave off a small deep growl, ears back, eyes pinned on the moving figures. The POD I had rented to load up what little belongings I had had been delivered and sat on the lawn right in front of the small porch. Cooley and I watched silently as the two people walked over to the POD and out of sight. I held my breath until I seen them again, carrying boxes in their hands. Adrenaline shot through my veins like liquid fire and the nervousness I had vanished entirely. They were stealing my stuff! I leaned over and pulled my loaded handgun out of my purse. I cocked it, but then I instantly felt guilty at my quick reaction when they began bringing the boxes inside the house. Making multiple trips.
About two hundred yards away from the hellhole sat a newly constructed home on top of a clean cut lawn. It surely hadn't been there when. . . Nevermind. I was not going to think about it. I looked back at the two who kept steadily unloading my belongings and made the assumption they must live in the beautiful home on the hill with its small hedges that lined the exterior. What nice neighbors, I thought, albeit sarcastically. With a sigh, I returned the gun into the dark abyss of my purse and made my way slowly down the drive with my lights still off. I put the car in park right next to the POD and had just pulled the keys out of the ignition when the two figures stepped back out of the house and out onto the porch. The taller one held up his hand and waved. It was funny how such a small gesture filled me with relief.
I pulled the hood up on my rain jacket, then grabbed my purse from the floorboard of the car. Never too far away from my gun, I strapped my bag on my shoulder an exited the vehicle. I turned to shut the door, but my dog was right there attempting to escape the rental.
"No Cooley. Stay!"
I grunted and fought against the door as he continued to push his weight into it.
"You need some help?" a male voice asked over the sound of the pouring rain.
Cooley instantly perked up and stared behind me at the people on the porch, growling as he showed his teeth. Ah-ha! I internally exclaimed as I was finally able to shut the door, locking him inside. Once Cooley realized what I had done, he completely lost it. His usual playful barks were deeper and wilder than I had ever heard. He clawed at the window, scratching so hard I was afraid he might break the glass. I backed away slowly from the car a little hesitant of my dog at the moment. I was scared to leave him alone in the car, but I had to. Besides if he tore up the car, the money I that had been promised would easily cover any damages. I tried to think optimistically.
Tightening my hand on my purse strap, I turned around and swiftly made my way over onto the porch and without a second thought, I was through the threshold of the house I'd spent many years in. I looked around. As the exterior of the house had had a touch up so had the interior. A wall had been knocked down opening the kitchen up to the living room. New dark hardwood floors flowed throughout the house, and all the walls were painted a light grey color. I was afraid to venture too far in the house just yet for the back right bedroom had been where he'd kept me, and I wasn't sure I could exactly handle that at the moment. I wondered if the locks were still on the door though I doubted it. Suddenly the front door shut behind me causing me to jump.
"Hope you don't mind us barging in like this, but my son here noticed the door on the POD was opened and-"
"Thank you," I blurted out, interrupting him. Quickly realizing what I had done, I turned around for a quick apology but found myself at a loss for words instead when he removed his hood.
The man before me was beautiful. There was no other way to put it. Calling him handsome just seemed like an insult. Like a step below his potential.
"You're welcome," he said with lips that looked as if they'd been chiseled in stone.
I pursed my lips together, and the silence began to grow awkward. I honestly had no idea what to say. God, I hoped I wasn't blushing. I did not do well in social situations, especially with strangers.
The man cleared his throat and said, with his hand on the young boy's shoulder, "My son and I will start bringing in the furniture if you want to finish grabbing the last few boxes that are left."
"Sure," I said quickly and scrambled out of the house.
I couldn't get out of there fast enough. I removed my hood in desperate need of a cool down from the rain. I was humiliated. They had to know who I was and why I was returning. The news of his arrest had made national news. Shame coated me, and I begin to think this had been a bad idea. Think about the money, I said to myself as I headed towards the POD. I tried to think positively and silently sent a thank you up to whoever it was that resided in the heavens for the man and his son. I really would have hated my stuff getting wet.
Though finishing up with the rest of the boxes was a pain to do in the rain, I finished in about ten minutes. They unloaded what little furniture I had: a coffee table, an old stained couch, my small round table with its mismatched chairs, and my two king-sized mattresses. After instructing them to place the bed in the room on the left side of the hall, I walked into what was going to be my new bedroom and looked around. Taking a deep breath I was glad to report that the house didn't smell the same, and for that, I was eternally grateful. The smell was one of the hardest things to let go; the stench stuck in my sinuses for years. Just then the man and his son appeared in the doorway and came into the small bedroom.
"My name's Lincoln Burrows, and this is my son LJ."
Lincoln removed his gloves and extended his hand out for me to shake. I took it, placing my small hand within his large one and we shook.
"Rosalie Walker," I said looking at the two as I introduced myself. "But you can call me Lee. Its what my friends do."
Like I had friends, but they didn't have to know that. LJ came over to shake my hand too. He smiled at me, and I instantly took a liking to him. Such a sweet an innocent boy. He had no clue about the horrors out there in this cruel and dangerous world.
"Nice to meet you," he said politely.
"Same," I said, and then I felt stupid, so I tacted on, "Thank you so much for your help, I appreciate it."
And I meant it. It hoped I showed.
"No problem," Lincoln said. "Well, we're going to get on out of here, it's getting late, and it's a school night."
"Dad," LJ whispered with an embarrassed chuckle.
"Here's my business card," Lincoln said to me as he handed the small rectangle over. "It's got my cell phone number, just if you ever needed anything."
Burrows Construction, it read.
I wondered if he was the one who remodeled this house.
"Do you own this and the land?" I found myself blurting out as I stared down at the business card in my hands.
"Everything but," he said with a small laugh.
"But this house," I said, looking at the new large window that had been put in. "Who did all of this?"
The last I'd heard it was still a pile of junk and it was what I had been anticipating; though it did make being here slightly more bearable.
"I did," Lincoln said, catching my attention again. "Well, me and my brother."
"I helped some," LJ interjected, proudness in his voice.
"It looks nice," I said turning my attention back out the window. I wondered if Cooley had wrecked the car yet. "It doesn't look at all like I remembered."
Holy shit! I couldn't believe I just said that out loud. Doing so practically admitted to the fact that I am indeed that same little girl who had been kidnapped from her front lawn as her mother went inside to retrieve her crying little brother who had just woken from a midafternoon nap.
"We'll let you get settled, Miss Walker. If you need us, call me. We're just up on the hill."
I was too mortified to speak, and for some reason, I felt as though Lincoln understood what I was going through. The two left in silence and once the door shut behind them, I fell backward onto the bed. Well, what do you know? The ceiling pattern was different. I knew I needed to retrieve Cooley from the car, but I felt glued to the bed. Those nine hours in had finally caught up to me, and I instantly fell asleep.
I woke with the sun in my eyes and Cooley licking my face. I reached up and rubbed his back with a heavy hand. But then reality sank in, and I suddenly remembered I hadn't gotten him from out of the car. My eyes popped open, and sure enough, Cooley was here in the flesh, or erm. . . fur, laying right next to me. Maybe I did it in my sleep? I wondered, though I didn't remember doing anything like that in the past. With a shrug, I sat up and decided not to overthink it. I had too much on my plate already, and it wasn't worth the extra effort. Fetching my phone from my bag, I checked it, and sure enough, Maya had left a few texts. She indeed was my only real friend in this world. With each no response from my end, the texts became more worrisome to where she'd even called and left a message, and Maya never did that. I wrote her back quickly, reassuring her I had made it safe and sound and that I would call her later this afternoon once the meeting with the lawyers was over.
The clock on my phone read 8:49 a.m. and I was glad Cooley had woken me because the meeting started at ten o'clock. I let him outside to use the bathroom while I began to rummage around boxes in search of necessary clothes and bathroom essentials. It took about ten minutes to find everything, and by the time I unloaded it into the newly remodeled bathroom, I wasn't in a good mood. Cooley was waiting at the door when I came back into the living room, and after I gave him food and water, I was standing under the warm jet of the shower five minutes later.
Once finished with the shower I quickly dried myself, pinned up my hair in the towel and got dressed. Packing the pantsuit in a box had not done it justice. There were creases and wrinkles all over but this was all I had, and I did not have the time or the money to go out and buy something brand new before the meeting. Ignoring the suit, I continued to get ready. I focused on my hair last, which I pinned in a bun on the back of my head. Slipping my feet into my only pair of dress shoes, I grabbed up my purse, bid Cooley goodbye and locked up the house. My heart sunk when I noticed the damage Cooley had inflicted on the interior of the car. What had caused him to act that way yesterday? Sure Lincoln and LJ were strangers, but Cooley had seen strangers before. I just prayed that what I had been told over the phone three days ago was true because if not there was no way I was going to be able to pay for this. The leather seats had been ripped to shreds, and the armrest on the door just hung there. Getting in, I carefully closed the door and put the key in the ignition. Turning the key over the engine rumbled to a start then just as quickly, it puttered out.
I tried it again, achieving the same result. I checked my phone and began panicking. I had only ten minutes to get there. A gleam from the morning sun caught my eye as it bounced off a window from Lincoln's house. Without thinking I searched my pocketbook for his business card. Finding it I did the only thing I could do, and I dialed his number.