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Grace was worried. Which kept her from fully enjoying herself that evening. She left her little sister Bella with the neighbor. It wasn’t like she didn’t trust the woman. She did. But she didn’t leave her alone very often. She was the only one Bella had, so it was her responsibility to look after and care for her.

So, she didn’t have too much fun. She was too worried about getting back home.

A few of her friends had thrown a ‘back to school’ party. Even when she said she couldn’t go, they kept pestering her until she finally said yes. They wanted her to have a little fun, because they knew she usually didn’t let herself.

It was around 11pm, which was the curfew for kids under the age of 18 in her town. She was only 16, soon to be 17, so she was a little nervous about breaking the rules. She had seen what happened to people who didn’t follow the law. And she needed to take care of Bella, so she couldn’t get in trouble.

But she had lost track of time. They had spent the night watching movies and playing video games. She couldn’t remember the last time she had done things like that. Her friends had begged her not to leave, told her that she should just stay the night. Derek begged especially hard, his alcohol breath too close to her face. “You deserve one whole night just for you,” he slurred. But she felt too guilty.

Michelle was supposed to drive her home, but she had been drinking through the night and felt too drunk to drive. Everyone had been drinking. Well, everyone except for Grace. Since no one else could drive, Michelle insisted that it was okay to take her car home and Grace could return it the next day.

As the night went on, she couldn’t help but feel guilty. She knew, logically, that it was okay to take some time for herself—that Bella was safe with their neighbor and that she didn’t need to worry. But Bella deserved the world. She deserved all the undivided attention that Grace had never gotten herself. She wanted to give Bella everything. She wanted that precious little girl’s life to be so much better than her own.

She found herself buried deep in her thoughts on the drive home, until she saw the red and blue lights flashing in her rearview mirror.

Her stomach dropped when she looked at the clock and saw that it was 11:15pm. 15 minutes past curfew. And to top it all off, the car she was driving didn’t even belong to her.

She was almost positive she hadn’t been speeding. She didn’t have her own car, so she didn’t get to drive very often. But when she did, she always followed the rules and played it safe. Made sure to make a full stop at every stop sign. Made sure to slow down immediately when the lights turned yellow. Made sure to never go more than 3mph faster than the speed limit.

But she knew the cops didn’t pull people over for no reason.

By the time the officer came to her window, she was sweating with anxiety and fear. She knew it probably looked suspicious, so she tried her best to calm down and breathe.

When she opened her window, the wind rushed in and blew her hair back. It was mid-September, and the heat from the summer was still hanging on, sticky and miserable. It certainly didn’t help her stop sweating. She tried to smile, but it didn’t look very genuine. The nervousness was painted all over her.

But the smile she got in return was dazzling. “Hello, ma’am. How are you doing this evening?” His voice was rich and deep, authoritative. He smelled of cologne, but not too much. Just the perfect amount. Each time the wind blew, the smell of him drifted into the car with her.

He was handsome. Tall, dark hair, olive skin. A picture of perfection, she thought. She felt her cheeks get red and she tried to will it away. But he could probably see right through her.

She silently reminded herself over and over again to be as polite as she could. All she wanted was to go home. She figured the nicer she was, the more likely he would let her go without issue. She wouldn’t be able to afford a ticket if he decided to give her one.

Her voice was shaky when she answered. “G-good. Thank you, officer.”

“Do you know why I pulled you over tonight?”

She didn’t have the slightest idea. She shook her head.

“Well, I’ve been following you for a while, and I noticed you were swerving a bit. Have you had anything to drink tonight?”

She wondered if maybe he had the wrong car. Her? Swerving all over the road? Unlikely. She had been deep in her thoughts, of course, so she wasn’t giving driving all of her attention, but still.

And she hadn’t been drinking! She didn’t drink, she didn’t smoke, she didn’t do any sort of drugs. She had grown up in that world, and she wasn’t going to touch any of it. She wouldn’t let it swallow her up like everyone else.

“No, sir,” she answered. He asked for her license and registration. She handed over her license but explained to him that the car wasn’t hers. She was beginning to panic a bit, trying to explain that she didn’t know she was swerving and that she didn’t even have one drop of alcohol.

He flashed her a bright, reassuring smile. A little of the anxiety melted with that smile. But it didn’t last long. “Everything’s okay. No need to be nervous. Could I have you step out of the car for a moment for me?”

Tears began pooling in her eyes, threatening to fall. She was never good with high-pressure situations. All she could think about was Bella, and how she was going to get arrested, so Bella would be taken away and put in a foster home somewhere.

“Hey, no need to get teary-eyed. I just wanted to do a quick field sobriety test and then, if you pass, I’ll send you on your way.”

But she remembered hearing her mom’s ‘friends’ ranting when she was little that you should never consent to do a field sobriety test. You should always ask for a blood or breathalyzer test because, “cops are pigs and you should never trust them.”

She didn’t think that, of course. That cops were pigs. She never had a lot of faith in them, but she didn’t think they were pigs.

“I really didn’t drink, sir. But, is there any way I could take a breathalyzer test instead? Or a blood test? I’m really, really sorry. I don’t mean to be difficult. But I have bad balance, and I’m afraid I’ll fall over if I have to stand on one leg or something, or walk in a line,” she explained, which was true. She was clumsy and was often tripping over nothing at all.

The officer stared at her for a moment, thinking. His eyes were a beautiful piercing green, and it seemed as if he was peering into her soul. There was something behind them, some deeper meaning, but she couldn’t figure it out.

She was afraid he would say no or that he would get angry. But instead, he smiled and told her he didn’t have a breathalyzer in his car, and that he would need to take her down to the station to give her the test.

She thought that was a little weird. TV and movies had always led her to believe that cops always had a breathalyzer-machine-thing in their cars with them. But she was so relieved that he agreed to do the test, that she didn’t care. Besides, she wasn’t going to tell a cop how to do his job. That was a sure-fire route to a ticket.

“Officer, sir, since this is my friend’s car, would there be any way for me to call her and explain what’s happening? I don’t have a phone, but—”

He cut her off. “If everything with the test goes well and you don’t have any alcohol in your system, I’ll drive you back out here as soon as we’re finished. If the test shows otherwise, we’ll talk about that then.”

She knew she didn’t have any alcohol in her system, so she sighed in relief. Everything will be okay, she thought.

The officer offered her a bottle of water and she declined. But he kept insisting, so she gave in and took a couple of drinks. She just wanted him to leave her alone and get this over with. She didn’t notice that the lid wasn’t sealed when she opened it. It had a bit of a weird taste—bitter—but she didn’t pay it any mind.

That should have been her first hint that something was wrong.

He led her back to the car and opened the door. He put his hand on the small of her back, and it made her uncomfortable. When she tried to subtly shake him off, he just pressed against her back harder. He was much too close for comfort.

Another red flag.

But she just needed to stay polite, and everything would be fine. That’s what she believed. If she had to endure a bit of creepiness, she would. It was only for a little while, after all. In an hour, all of this would be over, and she would be back home.

He had pulled her over on a road outside of town, but the police station wasn’t very far away. Only a couple of miles straight North, on the same road they were on.

When he turned down a different road, she thought it was weird. But she didn’t say anything. He must have noticed the concerned look on her face in the rearview mirror. “Parking is in the back of the station, so we need to go around the back way.”

Made sense to her.

But he just kept driving. He didn’t turn on the next street or the next. “Isn’t the police station back there?” He didn’t answer.

She started to feel like she couldn’t breathe. The world slowed down around her, and everything got blurry. Everything sounded like it was getting farther and farther away until she could barely hear anything at all.

She tried to look at the street signs they were passing and which way they turned and how far they went, but everything was melting together in her brain.

“Where…,” she started to ask. Where what? Where are we? Where are we going? But she couldn’t remember what she was trying to say. Everything was so fuzzy, and nothing was making sense.

They drove for what felt like hours before she heard his voice from far away. “Everything’s okay. We’re almost home.”

Home?

Chapter Text

She fell asleep after that. She didn’t remember the car stopping or being taken inside or laying down.

When she woke up, she wished she hadn’t. Everything was still blurry. Wherever she was, it was freezing. But she was sweating. She could feel it seeping through her shirt on her back. On top of everything else, she felt like she could be sick at any moment. She shut her eyes closed tight and breathed, in through her nose and out through her mouth.

But the air smelled…old. Stuffy and damp. But mixed in, there were hints of ‘new’. The smell of new plastic and fresh sheets straight from the package.

She was so confused. She had no idea where she was, how she got there, or why she felt so sick. Far away, she heard a door open and shut. A moment or two later, she felt someone sit down beside her.

She opened her eye just a crack and found him.

He had a soft and caring smile on his face, instead of the dazzling and confident bright one he had used when he pulled her over.

“What’s going on,” she tried to say. But the words seemed jumbled, like they didn’t fit together in her mouth.

“Shh. You’re home now. Rest, you’ll feel better soon.” He swept the hair out of her face and behind her ear with gentle hands. He was right beside her, but his voice was so far away.

She smiled then. Because he said she was home. It didn’t smell like home. It didn’t feel like home. But if she was home, it meant that everything had worked out. Everything was going to be okay. Before she fell back asleep, she whispered, “thank you.

<<>><<>><<>>

She wasn’t sure how long she slept. If the aching in her body was any indication, it had been quite a while. She sat up, but she felt stiff. She grabbed her head with one hand, trying to steady herself. The room was spinning, but it wasn’t as blurry as before.

Her hearing was better, too, because she could hear someone snoring quietly close to her.

Then everything came flooding back to her.

She got pulled over. She was going to the police station to get a breathalyzer test. The cop took her in his car, but he passed the police station. He kept going and going.

And then he said she was home.

But this wasn’t home. At home, she slept on the couch. Their house was small with only one bedroom, so she let Bella have it. Here, she was in a large double bed. The sheets underneath her felt stiff and new, but the blanket on top of her was old and faded, soft after being washed so many times over the years.

There were no windows. And it was cold, despite the heat outside.

She tried to get up but heard metal clinking when she moved. She peeled away the blanket and found a chain on her ankle.

Panic rose in her chest and she had to swallow the bile that had found its way up her throat. She couldn’t figure out what was going on. He was a cop, right? So why would he have her chained up? And where did he have her chained up?

She pushed the blankets onto the floor and shivered from the cold. Goosebumps rose all over her body.

“Mmn,” she heard from the corner and turned her head to find him waking up, yawning. He was still in his uniform. “Oh, you’re up,” he said and stretched.

She noticed again that look in his eyes—like there was something behind them that she couldn’t quite understand. She didn’t like it at all.

“Where am I?”

“You’re home,” he said, smiling.

“This isn’t my home,” she said, staring him down. When he didn’t respond, she continued. “Who are you? What is going on?”

“I’m Ryan.”

Ryan.

Her eyes flickered down to the nametag on his shirt. R. Davis. Davis. She knew that name somehow, but she couldn’t remember from where.

She was getting frustrated. He was intentionally avoiding certain questions she was asking. “Why is my ankle chained,” she asked, gesturing to it. “Am I like…under arrest? Or something?” She knew it sounded stupid, but what else was she supposed to think? It didn’t make sense.

Maybe she was having a bad dream.

He was hesitant with his answer, like he was choosing each word carefully. “You haven’t been arrested. I…was afraid that you would try to run. I need to do it to keep you safe. I’m not going to hurt you, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

“What are you talking about?” Her breath starting to come quicker, and she could feel her heart beating faster as she began to panic. She’d read countless books about kidnappers and murderers before. And he sounded exactly like some of those creepy men.

“You don’t remember me?” She couldn’t read the expression on his face. Apprehension? Fear? Maybe hope?

“What?”

He let out a long breath, like he’d been holding it in since he woke.

“What do you mean ‘do I remember you’? I’ve never met you before you pulled me over!”

“We’ve met before. Well, not really. We didn’t talk or anything. But we were in the same room. You probably didn’t even notice I was there. You probably tried to pretend that no one was there at all. But I was. And I couldn’t get you out of my head. I needed to save you from all of that.”

She started to shake, tears welling in her eyes. The man was crazy. He kidnapped her. He was probably going to kill her. She decided that begging was the only thing she could do until she had more time to think. “I want to go home. Please, let me go home. There is someone there I have to take care of. I’m the only one she has, please.” She knew better than to mention Bella’s name. Who knows, the man might try to go after her, too.

He looked down in his lap, putting his hands together and twiddling his fingers. He mumbled under his breath, “I’m sorry.

“You’re sorry? Then please let me go! I swear, if you let me go, I’ll never say a word about this to anyone. Please. We can both just forget it happened and go on with our lives. I don’t want any trouble. People make mistakes. I get it. Please.” She was trying to say everything she could think of that might get her out of there. Tears were falling fat and heavy down her cheeks.

He raised his head and looked at her. He looked hurt, and maybe a little angry. It was so hard to read him. “I didn’t make a mistake. You’ll have a better life here. I promise. I’ll make it better for you.”

A sob broke from her, shaking her entire body, and she backed as far away from him as she could. The cold clacking of the chain on her ankle sent chills up her spine.

“I’m sorry. Everything will get better, though. I promise. Those two doors over there,” he gestured to the doors on the wall to her left, “are the bathroom and a closet. It’s a little cold down here right now. Sorry about that.” He stood up. “I’ll be right back.” And he disappeared up a flight of stairs, hidden from her view on the bed.

She heard beeping sounds and a ‘click,’ before a door opened up above and closed again.

She needed to find a way out. She tried to pull on the ankle chain, but her head was still a little dizzy. The effort made her sick to her stomach. It didn’t budge, but the chain didn’t look very sturdy. She wondered if she could break it somehow.

She crawled to the end of the bed, following the chain to see where it led. There was a lot of slack, but she found the end bolted to the floor in front of her. She looked around to see just how far it would let her go.

The floor looked like concrete, and she almost hissed at the cold as her feet touched the ground. She didn’t have any socks on. She was certain she’d had socks on before, though. She wondered what in the world could have happened to them. There was a pair of thin slippers on the ground, laid out like they were for her.

The room was quite large, with lots of empty space. There was the bed, maybe a queen size, a small fridge on the opposite wall, a small table and two chairs in one corner, a loveseat to her right, and a small bookshelf filled with various books. Other than that, it was bare. The bathroom was small, but thankfully clean as far as she could tell. The closet was empty except for some hangers and a couple of boxes. She wondered if there was anything in there she could use to get out.

She jumped when she heard the door click at the top of the stairs and she rushed back towards the bed, climbing in and pulling the blanket off the floor and over her. But she knew she wasn’t fooling anyone. The chain was clinking as she rushed back.

He smiled softly at her. “Sorry, this isn’t like a 5-star meal or anything, but I know you’re probably hungry, so I wanted to whip up something fast.” He carried a plate and a bottle of water. “I didn’t know what kinds of food you like, so I hope this is okay.”

He set it down on her lap and she just stared at it. Toast with peanut butter and banana slices. She didn’t know how long she’d been asleep, so she wasn’t sure when she last ate, but she had no appetite. Not in the slightest. In fact, it was making her nauseous again just thinking about it. She pushed it away from her and to the side.

“You really should eat. You’ve been asleep for a while, so you need something to keep your strength up. If you don’t want to eat, at least drink a little water,” he urged. The ‘caring’ tone sent fire through veins. What the hell was his problem? He kidnapped her. He was the villain. He didn’t get to play the ‘loving, caring’ character, too.

And then something in her mind clicked. “The water you wanted me to drink when you pulled me over…” He had been pushy, repeatedly offering the bottle to her until she relented and took a few drinks. It had left a bitter taste on her tongue.

“Yeah. Sorry. I just didn’t want you to struggle or anything. I thought it would be better if you were unconscious.”

She glared at him. “After doing that, you think I’m just going to drink and eat whatever you bring me?” Her voice was hard and cold.

She knew from books and tv shows that she should just cooperate with her kidnapper. She’d heard that it would make it easier for the victim in the long run. If the victim cooperates, the kidnapper is more likely to slip up, giving them a chance to run away.

Even serial killers had let their victims go before. Bobby Joe Long came to mind—he kidnapped a girl, raped her, but let her go. She convinced him that she was the only one who could care for her elderly father at home, and that she would become his girlfriend if he just let her go, and he did. He’d killed ten women before her.

Maybe this guy is a serial killer, too. The thought terrified her. She didn’t want to be tortured. She wasn’t good with pain. She didn’t know if she could handle it. Her body shook with fear and her lower lip quivered.

So, she should cooperate. But she was annoyed and angry and scared and she didn’t feel like playing his game.

She took a shaky breath and tried to compose herself. She didn’t know what the man was capable of, and she didn’t want to push her luck too much. So, she shut her mouth. Unfortunately, looking at the water made her realize just how thirsty she was. Her mouth felt sticky and dry. But she wasn’t about to give in and let him do whatever he wanted to her.

“You’re safe here, so you really don’t need to worry about anything. I’ll take care of you.” He looked at his watch. “Shoot. Listen, I have to go to work. I’m sorry. Please eat your food while I’m gone. There’s more water in the fridge over there,” he pointed to the small white mini fridge, “if you get thirsty. I also put some snacks in there for you if you get hungry. I didn’t have a chance to plan too well, but we’ll figure it out tonight. Have a good day.”

With a last smile, he disappeared up the stairs.

Have a good day? Sure, I’ll have a great day, chained up in some weirdo’s basement, she thought, grinding her teeth. And how long does he plan to be away? She wanted to scream and throw a fit. But she had work to do.

Chapter Text

She tested the length of her chain. She could make it into the bathroom and closet, but she wasn’t able to reach the door at the top of the stairs. From what she could see, the door had a keypad that she’d need a code for. She heard the beeping when he’d gone upstairs earlier.

She pulled on the chain as hard as she could. She wrapped it around a leg of the bed and yanked until her hands ached with the effort. Of course, not more than her poor ankle, which was getting rubbed raw.

But it seemed impossible. Finally, she collapsed back onto the bed and sobbed. She wasn’t sure how long she’d laid there, but eventually she fell asleep, leaving her nightmare behind.

When she woke up, she was groggy. In those few blissful moments of half-sleep, she believed that she was home. Her real home. But then she opened her eyes and it all came crashing down.

She looked around to see if there was a clock but couldn’t find one. There were no windows, either, so she had no idea what time it was or if it was day or night. The man—Ryan Davis, she remembered—told her she’d been asleep ‘for a while,’ but how long was ‘a while’? Could have been 8 hours, could have been 2 days. She had no way of knowing. But her bladder hurt worse than it ever had before. So, it must have been a long time.

Her thirst was even worse than before. Her throat felt dry and cracked. She looked longingly at the bottle of water, debating whether it was worth the risk or not. He could have drugged this bottle, just like the last one. But then she remembered—there was a bathroom right there! Presumably one with running water. And she didn’t think he would be able to poison a whole water supply. She drank some water from the tap before using the restroom.

Her stomach gurgled. She still didn’t have much of an appetite, but she figured she must have been hungry. Ryan said she needed to eat to get her strength back up. He was right, even though she hated to admit it. But not for the reason he intended. She did need to get her strength up, but only so she could find a way out.

But she certainly wasn’t going to eat the food he’d brought for her. Plus, it had gone stale since she’d fallen asleep. The breath was too hard, and the bananas were turning brown. In the fridge, she found some yogurt, but she didn’t find any utensils around. But at least the yogurt was sealed. She decided it was probably safe. She used the lid as a makeshift spoon, like she did when she was little and there were no forks or spoons or knives in her house. She never knew where they went to, but sometimes they just disappeared without a trace. A lot of the things in her house used to disappear like that.

She heard a noise at the door, and it took her by surprise. She choked on the bite she was taking and coughed and sputtered.

“Woah, hey, hey! Are you okay? Take a breath.” Ryan rushed down and patted her on the back.

Grace jerked away from him. Through coughs she choked out, “don’t…touch me.”

He frowned, but he put both hands in the air and backed away a few steps. “Sorry. Sorry. Are you okay? What happened?” She was finally catching her breath and calming down. In answer, she glared at him. She couldn’t stand to see his face. His frown got even deeper. “Listen, I’m sorry. I was just making sure you were okay.”

They were both silent for a while. She was hoping that maybe if she ignored him long enough, he would just leave her alone. But she was careful to keep an eye on him at all times.

“It looks like you were just eating yogurt, but if you’re still hungry, I’ll be making dinner here in just a while. So—”

“What day is it? And what time?” She interrupted him.

“It’s Saturday and it’s a bit before 6pm.” He took her on Friday evening. I’ve been here less than a day? She wanted to cry. It felt like she’d already been here for so long. “I’ll get a clock to bring down here, so you can—”

“Where am I? You didn’t answer me when I asked—I guess this morning? You just said ‘home.’ Where is ‘home’?”

“Just home. I can’t tell you more than that. Sorry.” He looked genuinely apologetic and it made her want to punch him in the face.

“How old are you?” He didn’t look very old.

“I’m 23.”

“Are you really a cop?” There were stories she’d heard of people pretending to be police officers, and she wondered if he was one of those people. It didn’t make sense for a real police officer to risk everything to kidnap someone. Plus, he seemed pretty young to be a cop. But maybe she was wrong.

“I am.”

“Why would a cop kidnap someone?”

“I told you, I brought you here to give you a better life. Don’t think of it as a kidnapping.”

All the anger that had been building up inside of her exploded. She stood up and yelled, “what the fuck do you mean ‘don’t think of it as a kidnapping’? You drugged me and took me somewhere against my will and I’m chained up in what I assume is your basement! I don’t know what else you’d call it!” She was breathing heavy. She rarely cursed. She even surprised herself. She wanted to seem somehow intimidating, but once she stood up, she knew that it wasn’t possible. He was maybe a foot taller than her, and he looked strong. She could see the muscles in his arms. And there she was, 5’3” and maybe 120lbs soaking wet, with no muscle to be seen. She ground her teeth together in frustration.

“I think we just need to calm down a little bit. I know it’s all really weird now, but soon enough you’ll get used to it and you’ll understand. I’m going to go make dinner. I’ll be back soon.”

Anger always made her cry. Which in turn made her even more angry. Every time she just wanted to yell and scream, tears came instead. “Wait, please,” she said, before he was able to go up the stairs. He stopped but didn’t look back. “Please, I have to go home. My sister is too little to care for herself. They’ll take her away. Please don’t do this. I’ll do anything you want—anything at all—just please let me go.”

She might as well have been talking to a brick wall. He didn’t respond, just walked up and out of her sight.

She cried for what seemed like hours, ugly sobs, until her nose was running, and here eyes were puffy and red. She didn’t know how she was going to get out, but she was definitely going to. She would find a way. She wasn’t going to let him win. She was going to make it out and see Bella and life was going to go back to how it was before.

Bella, please hang on. Don’t worry, sweet girl, I’m coming home as soon as I can,” she whispered.

Chapter Text

The next few days were more of the same.

Without fail, they had the same conversation every day. Usually multiple times a day. “Please let me go home,” she would say. “You are home,” he would reply. Over and over. It infuriated her. She wanted nothing more than to beat the man to death.

He had Sunday and Monday off. By Tuesday he was back at work, so it was more or less the same as the first day.

Ryan left early in the morning. He came down to wake her up to say goodbye. She just ignored him and went back to sleep. He came home around 6pm, made dinner, and brought it down for both of them to eat. She refused, and he took it back upstairs. All she ever ate were the granola bars and yogurt he left for her. After he’d eaten, alone, he came downstairs and sat with her. He tried to talk to her, but she never said anything back. Not only because she didn’t want to talk to him—but because she was afraid she would say the wrong thing and he would get angry. And then all of a sudden, she would find herself with a knife in her neck.

She tried not to think about that.

All of that would become a routine for them. Every work day, the same exact schedule.

He was always moving slowly around her. Cautious. As if she were a little mouse and if he moved too fast, she might be scared away. She wished she was a little mouse. Then maybe she could dig a tiny hole in the wall and escape.

She found out that the boxes in the closet contained clothes for her. It was disappointing. There wasn’t a single thing in the closet—or anywhere—that she could use to help her get out. She had to admit, though, that all the clothes were things she would have normally worn if she hadn’t been taken. Comfy things like sweaters, long tunics, and leggings. It made her wonder if he knew those were the kinds of clothes she liked. Maybe he’d been watching her. Chills ran down her spine thinking about it.

She was able to shower and brush her hair. The shampoo and soap smelled boy-ish, but at least she was able to get clean. It was crazy how much a shower could turn someone’s mood around. Even someone who was held captive in a basement.

He did bring her a clock, like he promised, and a little end table to sit beside the bed. The clock showed the date, as well, so at least she was able to keep track of how many days it had been since she got there.

The day after he’d brought her the clock was depressing, though. Worse than depressing. It was painful. She almost wished she’d never asked for the clock at all.

When he woke her up, it was a little before 6:30am. She was used to waking up at that time. She’d take a shower and then wake Bella up to eat breakfast and then they would walk to the bus stop together.

Here, Ryan would bring her breakfast, which she refused, and say goodbye.

Her first period started at 8:15. Science, with her favorite teacher, Mr. Hughes. But when it was just the two of them, he told her to call him Tom. She’d always had a crush on him. He was so much younger than all the other teachers—only 24. And he was attractive. Everyone thought so. So, she wasn’t the only one with a crush.

She was his lab assistant last period and she spent a lot of her free time in his classroom. They’d even had meals outside of school together, but he asked her not to tell anyone because he could get in trouble.

She was pretty sure he must like her, too, if he was willing to risk getting in trouble like that. And if she was honest, it made her a little uncomfortable. It was one thing to have a crush on a teacher, but it was a whole other thing for the teacher to have a crush on you, too. Because with a one-sided crush, nothing would ever happen. If it was on both sides, anything could happen.

She wondered if the school even knew she had disappeared. Maybe Mr. Hughes just marked her absent and went on with his day.

Around noon, she would go to lunch with her friends. She never had any extra money, but Michelle insisted that she come along. She always paid for her. Grace hated it, because she didn’t want to look like a beggar. But otherwise it was nasty school lunches, so she took it anyways.

Here, she was eating more yogurt. Ryan kept leaving her food, but she just couldn’t trust it.

She wondered what her friends were eating right about then.

She wondered if they were worried about her.

At 3:10 school got out, so she would go out to get on the bus after talking with Mr. Hughes. He was always offering to give her and Bella a ride, if she wouldn’t mind waiting for a while for him to finish up for the day. But she never wanted to be a burden. Plus, she thought it would be weird. She didn’t want to start any rumors or anything. She just wanted to keep her head down and stay out of the spotlight until she graduated.

She’d go out to the bus and Bella would always greet her with a big hug. Sometimes it was a running hug and she would slam into her, knocking the wind out of Grace. Her hair always smelled like the no-more-tangles shampoo she used.

She wished more than anything that she could have a hug from Bella right then.

Bella would tell her all about her day, about what she and her friends had done during recess, what new things she was learning. She would show her all the new books she checked out from the library. She loved to read. She was so smart. Grace was so proud of her.

Then, when they got home, she would make a quick snack and start dinner. Maybe spaghetti, because that was Bella’s favorite. That girl could eat spaghetti for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and still want more.

If she thought hard enough, she could almost imagine she was doing all of those things, instead of sitting in a basement bored out of her mind.

But about the time they would have started to eat, she heard the door at the top of the stairs click as Ryan got home. It made her sick to her stomach.

She should never have asked for that clock.

Chapter Text

On her fifth day of imprisonment, she was tired of just sitting in the same room with Ryan as he tried to talk to her, no matter how many times she ignored him.

She suddenly got the nerve to ask, “why me?”

“Hm?”

“Why did you take me? Why did you choose me over someone else?”

“It’s not like I was out there hunting for someone. It was always just you. No one else. Because you deserved better than what you had, Grace. And I’m going to fix that.” The same answer he’d been giving her since the beginning.

“What does that mean? My life isn’t so bad. Well, recently it isn’t so bad. I mean, we’re poor, yeah, but lots of people are poor.” Her life was certainly different from her peers. None of them had to raise a child on their own. Not that she was complaining too much. She loved Bella with all her heart and would do anything for her. But that didn’t mean it wasn’t hard. Because she had to play the role of a single mother and a high school student at the same time.

All of her friends had at least one parent to go home to. Her dad had been gone a long time. Ran away when she was very young. She didn’t know where her mom was most of the time. That’s not to say she wanted her mom to come home. She didn’t. Because she didn’t want her mom around Bella. Ever. She’d risk anything and everything to make sure her mother never got her hands on her again.

So, it was fine that she rarely came back. The only time she would come home was when she was giving them money to make it through another month. Because she had to, not because she cared. And even then, she usually just left it in the mailbox. Sometimes there was more, sometimes less, so Grace had to make sure to keep a tight budget so that they could pay all the bills and hopefully have money left over for other things. They usually didn’t.

So, her life wasn’t so bad. Not bad enough that she preferred to be locked in a basement.

“I think I’m going to head to bed. Goodnight, Grace,” he said, making his way to the stairs.

“Wait!” She just wanted answers. She deserved answers. “Why are you ignoring me? It would only be fair for you to explain what you mean. Why is it so difficult for you to tell me?”

He wouldn’t look her in the eye. “Later, Grace. Maybe I’ll tell you later. Just, not right now.” With that, he left the basement.

What did that mean? Why did he need to wait until ‘later’ to answer her questions?

She had a strange feeling in her stomach. There was something important that he wasn’t telling her.

Chapter Text

Ryan didn’t usually get angry. Sometimes she saw flashes of anger when she ignored him, or when she was intentionally rude to him, but even then, he would go back to normal pretty quickly.

She knew it wasn’t smart, but she almost wanted to make him really angry. Kidnappers are supposed to be angry, right? She was convinced that he was playing a character for her—and one day, he was going to show his true self. And it wasn’t going to be pretty.

She’d been there a week, and nothing had happened. He hadn’t hurt her. He hadn’t killed her. No one had come to rescue her. Seven whole days and she was still alive and in one piece.

She started to wonder if anyone was even looking for her. Usually when people go missing, their families are the ones asking for the search. They’re the ones who get on TV and ask for their loved one’s safe return.

But Grace only had Bella. And Bella was too young. No one would listen to her. Maybe Bella will think I just abandoned her. It made her heart ache to think about it.

She knew her mom wouldn’t care. She doubted her mom even knew she was gone.

She had her friends, too. But how much could her friends really do? They were all teenagers. Maybe the police would just assume she ran away. They did that a lot in the ‘70s and ‘80s. People went missing, and the cops assumed they ran on their own, so they didn’t look for them until later on. And sometimes it would be too late, and someone would stumble upon their corpse.

She supposed it was just easier to pretend they had run away. If they ran away of their own accord, the cops wouldn’t have to search for a kidnapper. Or worse, a murderer.

She wondered how long it would take them to find her corpse. She wondered if some well-meaning farmer would stumble upon her skull while walking his land in ten years. Or maybe some dog would dig up her bones and bring them back to their owner.

She couldn’t stop thinking about it. Being killed and dumped and laying there for years as her body decomposed into the land. Nothing left but a skeleton. The thoughts were making her sick to her stomach.

When Ryan got home, she somehow felt brave enough to ask. Or maybe her brain just wasn’t working right.

“Is anyone looking for me?” He froze when he reached the bottom of the stairs. She narrowed her eyes at him. “Ryan.” She never liked to use his name, so if she was using it, he would know she was serious. Or at least she hoped so. “Is there anyone out there? Looking for me?”

He finally glanced over to her quickly, then away again, like he was scared she’d know what he was thinking if she saw his eyes. “I don’t know.”

“Well, if you weren’t lying to me, you really are a cop, right? And if you’re a cop, you would have to know whether they’re looking for me. If they are, you’re probably one of the people trying to find me.” She pursed her lips together in a hard line, frustrated. “What cruel irony, ” she mumbled. “They ask the police to look for someone, but it’s the police who took them to begin with…

The thought made her grind her teeth together. She had been doing that a lot since she got there. Maybe she wouldn’t even have teeth when she got out. She might just grind them into nothing.

If she got out. She felt tears burning at her eyes. She held them back out of sheer will.

“So?”

“I don’t know,” he said again. “I’m making dinner. It will be done soon. I just came down to let you know I was here and to say hello. And here—” she hadn’t even noticed he was carrying anything, she was so distracted. It was a plastic bag from the grocery store.

She didn’t take it from him. Just looked at it. He set it down beside her anyways. “I’ll be back down in a little bit.”

She didn’t want to look inside. She really didn’t. But she couldn’t imagine what in the world he could have brought her. After sitting there for a while, she decided it wouldn’t hurt to just lean over and peak inside. Through the opening, she found sweets. Bags of mini candy bars. Gum. Her favorite wintergreen mints. The bag was full of stuff like that.

She wondered, why? What a strange thing to get from your kidnapper.

She had a chilling thought, though. That maybe he’d drugged them somehow. Maybe he stuck tiny needles full of poison or something else in each of the packages. The needles so tiny she wouldn’t even be able to find the holes they left behind. He’d drugged her water in the beginning, so she wouldn’t put it past him.

Years ago, she saw a news segment about people doing that and handing out the candy to kids on Halloween. She always thought they’d made it up, or at least overexaggerated it. But now she thought it might have been true. Which honestly sucked, because now she wouldn’t be able to eat any of it, just in case. And she really wanted to. Her mouth watered just thinking about all of it.

The door opened at the top of the stairs and she could smell something sweet. Almost like blueberry muffins. But muffins weren’t a dinner food, so she didn’t know what it could be until he came into view. He was carrying a large plate stacked high with pancakes—blueberry pancakes, from the look of them. He was carrying a couple plates and a bottle of syrup under his arm.

He glanced at the bag and saw it hadn’t been touched. He frowned a bit and set everything on the table. “Do you like pancakes? I hope so. I also have some regular pancake mix, if you don’t like these—they’re blueberry. It wouldn’t be too hard to make some regular, though, if you like those more.”

She furrowed her brows and stared at the ground, then at the bag. “Why?”

“Why did I make pancakes?”

“No. Why did you bring me that,” she gestured to the bag.

“It’s just candy and stuff. You can open it and see for yourself. It’s nothing bad.”

“That’s what I mean! Why would you bring me candy? You’ve already kidnapped me. You don’t need to lure me into your van anymore.” Then she added, mumbling, “you didn’t even need candy to lure me here in the first place. Your badge did that all by itself.”

He sighed. “You don’t eat anything I make. I thought maybe you’d eat something sweet if I brought it for you. It’s not healthy, but it’s better than eating just yogurt and granola bars all the time. There aren’t enough calories there. You’re skinny enough—you don’t need to lose any more weight. But you will if you keep starving yourself to prove a point.”

She shook her head in disbelief. “Something is wrong with you.”

She looked over from the corner of her eye and found he was gripping the back of his chair, knuckles turning white. “What do you mean?” She could hear the frustration in his voice.

She laughed then. It felt so out of place. Like it didn’t belong here, coming from her chest, in this basement. “I mean, what kind of a kidnapper brings their victims sweets? Ridiculous…” She laughed some more, because it was all just so stupid. But she stopped when she looked up and saw the anger burning in his eyes, his jaw set hard.

He closed his eyes, exhaling loudly. When he opened them again, the anger was gone. “Come on. Let’s eat.”

She wouldn’t admit it to him, but it did smell really good. “I’m not hungry.” But just then, her stomach growled loudly. She looked down at it and mumbled, “what the hell, stomach? My own body, betraying me.

“Maybe your body knows better than your mind what it needs.” His tone was smug, and she knew he had to be smirking.

She scowled. “I’m not hungry,” she repeated.

He sighed loudly again and sat down. She looked up at him, puzzled. When she said she wasn’t hungry, he usually left to eat upstairs and would come back down later. “Fine. Do what you want,” he said, setting the plates up.

“What are you doing?”

He raised an eyebrow at her. “I’m eating.” He said it in such a condescending way. Like she was stupid.

She glared at him with all the fury she could muster. “Yeah. I can see that. Why are you eating down here?

“Well, I’m already down here, so…” He took two pancakes onto his plate and added a generous amount of syrup. The sweet smell made her stomach growl again and she wrapped her arms around herself, hoping it would stop.

Please just let me go, ” she whispered.

He didn’t hear her. Or maybe he ignored her. Either way, he didn’t reply.

Chapter Text

Before she knew it, two weeks had passed. Two long weeks filled with anger, frustration, fear, and sadness.

The longer she was there, the more time Ryan spent with her when he was at home. At first, he at least gave her space, but not anymore. He would talk and talk, and she would ignore and ignore. Or at least she wanted to ignore him. But sometimes she was so bored that she did tune in to what he was saying. But she still didn’t reply much. Most of the time she tried to pretend he didn’t exist at all.

But it didn’t matter to him. He just kept trying.

That Saturday, he came home from work late with a few different bags from different places. “Hey. How was your day? I hope good. I went to a few different stores and I got some soaps and lotions and stuff. To be honest, I have no idea what I should be looking for, so I hope you like what I got. I got different scents and stuff. But I thought you were probably tired of using the boring soap and shampoo and stuff I put in the bathroom. This stuff will smell way better. Also, who knew that good soap and lotion was so expensive? How can women afford to buy this stuff all the time? It’s crazy.”

That was one thing they could agree on.

It all did smell amazing. She found out later, when he’d gone back upstairs. She wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of looking through everything while he was there. He said she was probably tired of the boring stuff he put in the bathroom. But all she had at home was the boring soap and shampoo, too. Granted, it smelled a lot more girly than what he had. But still, boring stuff wasn’t something new to her.

She was a little excited about using all the same stuff that her friends always used. Soaps and lotions that cost like $13 a bottle. That was a crazy waste of money to her. But that didn’t mean she didn’t wish that she could afford it. She felt guilty about enjoying it.

What a generous kidnapper she’d found herself with.

Chapter Text

You’d think after being there for three weeks, she would have been used to the daily routine. But, every day without fail, he would walk over to her and she would flinch back, worried about his intentions. “It’s okay, just going to take this off,” he would say.

Every time he went to take off the ankle chain, she thought about hitting him in the head. He was kneeled down in front of her. She could do it so easily—all she’d need to do was hit him hard enough to disorient him for a second.

But she knew she’d need a better plan than that. He was a strong guy. No matter how hard she hit him, it probably wouldn’t do much damage. Plus, he usually closed the door behind him when he came downstairs. There would be no use hitting him if she couldn’t leave anyways.

She winced when he touched her, the skin so raw from rubbing against the metal for weeks.

“I’m sorry about that,” he said, frowning down at her ankle. “I’ll get some bandages to wrap around your ankle, so it doesn’t hurt so much.”

But the next day, he didn’t put the ankle chain back on her at all when he left for work.

She reveled in the feeling of being free while he was gone. Well, not ‘free’, but free from the chain.

She thought at first that he forgot. She almost said something to him, but she caught herself. It was better for her if he forgot.

She went back and forth all morning, trying to work up the nerve to go to the door at the top of the stairs. By noon, she’d made it, but still didn’t attempt to open it. She was afraid he would know somehow.

By two, she decided that she would try it anyways.

She hesitantly typed in a four-number code, then pressed enter. She flinched, bracing herself for some sort of loud alarm to go off. Or for some booby trap to fall out of the ceiling and chop her head off. But when nothing came, she tried again.

The problem was, she had absolutely no idea what the code might be. She didn’t know anything about the man. So, she tried silly things. Things she knew were not the code. Like the year, the day she was kidnapped. She tried her birthday. But no matter what she put in, it didn’t work. After a few more codes, she decided it was useless to keep guessing.

Later, she heard footsteps upstairs when Ryan got home, but he didn’t come down right away. That was unusual, since he usually stopped in to say hello before making dinner and coming back down.

When he finally did come down, she smelled something delicious. She couldn’t pinpoint what it was, but it made her mouth water. She’d only recently begun eating his cooking, little bits at a time. She didn’t want to give him the satisfaction, but she also didn’t want to starve to death. How stupid would that be? Starving to death rather than your kidnapper killing you, she thought. She figured that if he really wanted to poison her, he would have found a way to do it already.

But he was acting strange. First, he didn’t bring himself a plate. Just one for her.

He didn’t try to talk to her. He didn’t even say hello. He just sat the food down in front of her on the bed where she was sitting cross-legged. She saw his eyes linger on the chain piled in front of the bed, like he was thinking of putting it back on.

She started to worry, thinking that maybe he had found out that she had been trying codes.

He sat down on the couch, but he still didn’t try to talk to her. He just sat there. He did stare at her for a while, though, which made her nervous. He’d never acted this way before. He was always talking, even when she wasn’t replying. It worried her.

She hated when he tried to talk to her. She absolutely hated it. But it was so silent then that all she could hear was their breathing. She almost preferred the talking.

He put his head back to rest on the couch.

She wasn’t sure what to do. She didn’t know if she should say something to him or not. But she couldn’t stand it anymore. Just as she opened her mouth to speak, he spoke instead.

“I got a notification today that someone had entered the wrong password for the door. Several times.” He lifted his head back up to look at her.

She tried to look away from him, but his eyes seemed to turn her to stone. She was stupid. She was an idiot. She knew she wouldn’t guess the code, but she tried it anyways. And now she had crossed a line. He would probably put the chain back on her. Or maybe worse.

After a long silence, he continued. “You’re not going to guess it. It’s useless to try.” Then, he just put his head back.

Then nothing.

“That’s it?” She asked, incredulous.

He raised his head to look at her again. “What?”

“That’s all you’re going to say? Just ‘stop’? No punishment? No repercussions?” She couldn’t believe it. It’s not like she wanted to be punished, but come on. She was just waiting for the other shoe to drop.

“What am I supposed to do, Grace? I know you want to leave. I don’t want you to. For your own good and mine. But I’m not going to punish you for putting some numbers into a keypad.”

If he knew she wasn’t going to guess the code, why even put the chain on her in the first place? It didn’t make sense. Unless it was some weird fetish thing for him. She shook her head and shivered, disgusted.

She looked him square in the eyes. She decided that she was going to push her luck. It wasn’t smart, but she genuinely wanted to know. “Why haven’t you killed me yet?”

He seemed taken aback. “Why would you think I would kill you?”

“You kidnapped me.”

He clenched his jaw and pinched the bridge of his nose. “I told you, it wasn’t really a ‘kidnapping.’ I brought you here because it will be better for you. I just wish you would stop fighting it. Once you stop fighting it, you’ll see.”

“How would you know what’s better for me? You don’t know anything about me.”

Anger flashed in his eyes. “I know you, Grace. More than you seem to think.” A shiver ran down her spine. She didn’t like that at all. What did he mean? She didn’t even know he existed before he pulled her over. So, there was no way he knew her.

Within a few seconds, his anger was gone, and she just saw exhaustion. “Let’s not talk about this. I’m not going to kill you. In fact, I want nothing more than to keep you safe and happy and alive—which is why you’re here. Please, you have to believe me. I would never in a million years do anything to hurt you.”

She frowned at him. “You already have, haven’t you? You kidnapped me. You took me away from my little sister. You took me away from my friends. I just started my junior year, you know. What am I supposed to do? I won’t graduate. I won’t be able to go to college. I won’t be able to get a good job. You’ve ruined everything for me.” She stopped to take a shuttering breath in, wiping at the tears now falling heavy from her eyes. “So, don’t you dare, for one second, think that what you’ve done is ‘good’ for me. From the second I met you, all you’ve done is screw everything up.”

She wanted to hurt him. She wanted to hurt him all the way to his core. But when his face dropped—when sadness overwhelmed his features—she almost felt bad. Why should I feel bad? He’s the one in the wrong. It’s not my fault. Even so, she couldn’t stop the annoying pangs of guilt buzzing inside of her. She put her hand over her chest, as if she could stop it from the outside.

“I’m…really sorry,” he said, his voice breaking. “I didn’t intend to hurt you so much. I didn’t mean for that to happen, I swear. I only want what’s best for you. I always have, since the first day I saw you.”

She pulled her knees up to her chest and put her head down so that he couldn’t see her face. She didn’t want him to see that she felt bad. She didn’t want him to see how conflicted she was. It was ridiculous to feel bad for your kidnapper. Just absolutely insane.

She heard the rustle of his clothing as he got up. Just before he closed the door at the top of the stairs, he said, “I’m really sorry, Grace.”

Chapter Text

He didn’t wake her up before he left the next morning. She only woke up in the late morning when a dull ache started in her stomach and back. She groaned and wondered what in the world could be happening inside of her. She felt something warm between her legs.

Her eyes snapped open. Oh no.

She crossed her fingers and hoped and prayed that she was wrong. But when she slowly peeled back the covers on top of her, she found she’d left a bloody mess on her pants and on the bed.

She hadn’t even thought about her period since she’d gotten here. She had been too busy thinking about how she was going to escape.

She carefully got up, fighting to ignore the aching in her body, and looked down at the damage. She hoped it was only the sheet, and not the mattress. But she knew it was a lost cause. And she found just what she’d been expecting.

She started to panic. She wasn’t sure how Ryan would react. She didn’t think he would hurt her, but after last night’s conversation, she didn’t want him to react at all. She was already embarrassed and conflicted by the feelings of sympathy for him. She didn’t need the added embarrassment of explaining to him that she bled all over the mattress—a mattress that looked pretty expensive.

But she knew from experience that the faster she acted, the less likely there would be remaining stains. She couldn’t do much with the mattress without baking soda and vinegar, but she could attempt to clean the sheets and her clothes. She brought all of it into the bathroom and turned the shower to the coldest setting. She ran water over each item, scrubbed at them, first with just water, but then with soap. Thankfully, she was able to get most of it out.

The ache just kept getting worse and worse. The pain was radiating inside of her, making her entire middle section a painful mess. She fought back the urge to cry.

This wasn’t new for her. She’d always had awful, painful, and heavy periods. It wasn’t normal, but she didn’t have the money to go to the doctor about it. At home she had pain medicine to help. She looked through the medicine and counter cabinets in the bathroom, but there was no pain medicine in sight. He probably thought she’d try to overdose on something if he left it down there.

However, she did find a box of pads in the back of the cabinet—she wondered how long they’d been there, if they were for her, or if they were someone else’s that used to live there. Maybe the last girl he kidnapped. But regardless, she was thankful she found them. Otherwise she would have a real mess on her hands. Literally.

She took a shower to clean herself up, letting the warm water relax her just the tiniest bit. But it wasn’t even close to enough to alleviate the pain. She hung her wet sheet and clothes over the shower bar, hoping they would dry some before he got home.

It felt like someone was taking all of her insides and squeezing them tight. It wouldn’t stop.

And, unfortunately, she knew from experience that it wouldn’t stop anytime soon. She was in for a rough day.

She laid down in bed, careful not to disturb the blood stain she left. She curled in on herself and tried to will herself to sleep. But the pain only got worse, keeping her wide awake as she wrapped her arms around her middle and hoped Ryan would come home soon. Maybe he would have some pain medicine upstairs she could take.

She realized how crazy that was—wanting him there, when usually all she ever wanted him to do was go away. But she was desperate, and he was the only one who could help her.

Over the next six hours, the pain came up and down like waves. Very intense for a time, then it would ease up, then back again.

She was just on the verge of falling asleep when she heard the door click from the top of the stairs. She tried to mentally prepare herself to throw away her pride and ask her kidnapper for his help.

She groaned again and curled further in on herself, if that was even possible, hiding her face.

“Hey, Grace. How—Oh! Grace? What’s the matter? What happened?” He came over and put his hand on her shoulder. She wanted to pull away, but it was too much effort. He sounded frantic, worried. He probably saw the blood stain on the mattress. Maybe he thought she was dying.

She kind of wished she was.

“I got my period,” she explained, closing her eyes. She knew that all girls dealt with it—she shouldn’t feel embarrassed about it. But even so, she did. “And my cramps are always really really bad.”

“Oh…oh. Okay. Have you been like this all day? I’m so sorry. I didn’t even come down this morning to say goodbye. If I had, maybe I could have done something. I’m sorry.” He rubbed his hand up and down her upper back.

She took a deep breath. “Do you have any pain medicine?”

“Yeah, I have like Tylenol and ibuprofen. Is that okay?”

She nodded, relieved that she would soon have a little relief. “Ibuprofen.” Then she added quietly, “please. Thank you.

“Of course. I’ll be right back. Just hold on.” When he came back, it almost sounded like he was out of breath. “Okay. Here is the medicine and a glass of water. And then I also have this heating pad? If that would help? When I’ve had muscle cramps in the past, it has helped, but I didn’t know if…”

She nodded. “Mmn. It would really help.” She finally looked up at him. He looked so concerned and worried, eager to help. He gave her a hesitant little smile. She continued, “also, I found pads in the bathroom, but…”

She had no pride left to swallow, so she just said it. “But is there any way you could buy tampons? Whenever you go out next? They’re easier to use. I hate pads.” She couldn’t believe she’d had the guts to ask him that. Not because it was an absurd request—but because she was requesting it from the man who kidnapped her. She probably should have felt lucky he’d supplied her the pads. The deer-in-the-headlights look he gave her in return almost made her laugh.

“Okay. Yeah, I can do that. Uh…what should I buy? Is there like a certain kind? Or something? I bought the ones in the bathroom, but I had no idea what I was looking at, so I hope they were okay.” He looked a little embarrassed. “Sorry, I’ve never lived with a girl before, so I’ve never really had to buy stuff like that.”

For the first time since he’d pulled her over, she genuinely smiled at him. Maybe it was the pain making her a little soft, but he seemed to be trying his hardest. And despite him being the cause of this situation for taking her in the first place, she appreciated the effort. Periods were a bitch, and he was the only person who could help. So, at that moment, he was playing both the villain and the hero.

“It’s okay. Thank you. I can give you the name of the brand I usually get, but the brand really doesn’t matter that much to me. Tampons are mostly the same, just different flow types and applicators.” She had to hold back a laugh at the look on his face.

“Okay. I am way out of my league here,” he said, rubbing the back of his neck and chuckling despite his embarrassment. “But I will do my best to get you what you need.” She took the medicine while he plugged in the heating pad. “Could you lay on your back?” He laid it gently on her stomach.

“Oh, the bed…” she said, remembering the blood stain she’d left. She felt her face get hot with humiliation. “I…started when I was still sleeping, so—”

He smiled and shook his head. “It’s just a mattress, Grace. No big deal. Plus, sheets are over it most of the time, right? With sheets on top, no one will ever know it’s there.” She nodded, thankful that he was trying to make her feel better about the situation she found herself in. “Do you want some dinner? Afterwards I can go out and grab you those things, so you’ll have them for tomorrow. Or tonight, or whatever.”

She shook her head. While she did feel hungry, she felt even more sleepy. As soon as the medicine kicked in, she knew she would be fast asleep.

“Okay. I’ll be back soon to check on you.”

She decided that, as far as kidnappers go, she was probably pretty lucky. If she had to pick one, Ryan was about as good as she was going to get. Not that it made the situation any better. But it certainly could have been a lot worse. She expected it to be worse. He could have been a psycho torturer and murderer. So far, he didn’t seem to be either.

And at that moment, it was enough.

Chapter Text

She had been taken on the thirteenth of September. On the twelfth of October, she woke up and stared at the ceiling. It was one day away from the anniversary of her kidnapping. It also happened to be her seventeenth birthday.

Bella always made her something for her birthday. Usually a drawing and last year a little clay figure she made at school in art class. What she wouldn’t give to have one of Bella’s drawings at that moment. Instead, she knew she’d be spending her birthday alone in a basement.

She had very little to do all day. She had the books he left in the little bookcase, but they weren’t really interesting to her. She enjoyed sci-fi and fantasy. One day when she was feeling more talkative, she told him that, after he asked her how she liked the books.

But at least it was something. She felt if she was left down there with nothing at all, she might pull all her hair out.

She expected her birthday would be the same as every other day had been.

But her day didn’t turn out like she thought.

Ryan didn’t come home on time. By 6:30pm, he still wasn’t back. Or at least he hadn’t come downstairs to say anything to her, and she hadn’t heard any footsteps upstairs. Around 7, though, she heard the click of the door. Once it opened, there was a lot of noise, like…balloons bumping around and hitting each other?

Her eyes widened when he finally came into view.

She was right. He had quite a few balloons, all different colors and patterns, some saying ‘Happy Birthday’. In his other hand he carried a little bouquet of blue, pink, and purple flowers.

He grinned at her once he finally got down the stairs. If she had met him anywhere else, she would have been charmed by that smile. “Happy birthday, Grace.” He held the flowers out to her. While the two of them had been ‘friendlier’ since he’d helped her with her cramps, she still didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of ‘providing for her’ as he thought he was doing most of the time. But she still hadn’t processed what exactly was going on, so she took them from him. She didn’t usually like flowers. They were a waste of money that she never had. But these were beautiful and smelled so sweet.

Or maybe they just smelled so sweet because she’d mostly smelt stale basement air since she’d gotten there.

He let go of the balloons and let them float to the ceiling. He held out one finger to her. “Wait just a minute, I’ve got more to bring down!” After he rushed up the stairs, she realized she didn’t hear the door click close. It must have been left open. For a half second, she thought she might have a chance to get out. But before she could think any further, he was already back.

She caught a waft of pizza coming down and it had her mouth watering. Was that…

“Alfredo’s Pizzeria?” She hadn’t even meant to say it out loud. But if it was, she was going to be so excited.

“Yep, and some desert, too.” He set the pizza on the mini fridge and a couple of bags on the floor. “I didn’t know what kinds of drinks you like, so I just got a couple different ones. And then, for your ‘cake’, I got these.” He reached into one of the bags and pulled out two small bundt cakes, one orange and the other red.

“Are those from Consentine’s?” Consentine’s was her absolute favorite bakery. She didn’t usually have a lot of extra money, so she wasn’t able to eat there often. But their cakes and pastries were the most delicious things on the planet.

He grinned again. “They are! Sorry I was a little late tonight. I had to pick everything up and prepare. You only turn 17 once, after all.”

She wondered how and why he knew it was her birthday and that she turned 17. She’d never told him. It creeped her out, but she decided to let it go for the moment.

After all, he had told her he ‘knew more about her than she seemed to think.’ So, there were probably plenty of things he knew about her that she didn’t know. She needed to ask him how he knew everything, but she wasn’t even sure if she wanted to find out. The truth might be hard to swallow.

“Ready to eat?”

For the first time since she got there, she didn’t even hesitate. These were her favorite foods—she was going to eat them even if it was the last thing she’d ever do.

Instead of the table, they sat down on the floor across from each other, pizza box in between them. Although, Grace backed away from him a few inches every time he wasn’t paying attention until her back was against the wall.

They weren’t even using plates. Instead, the pizza box was their plate. And she didn’t even mind. He had ordered the best kind: beef and bacon. She briefly wondered if he knew it was her favorite. But the pizza was so delicious that at that moment, she was grateful he knew at least that much.

“Good?”

“Mmn,” she answered, her mouth full.

The two of them ate the entire pizza. She probably could have finished the whole thing by herself if she tried. It was just that good. She didn’t even know how hungry she was.

Once they were done, he pushed the pizza box aside and replaced it with the two cakes. He pulled some candles and a lighter out of the bag they were in and put three candles in each before lighting them.

“I know it’s not 17, but I don’t think your wish is granted or denied based on the number of candles,” he chuckled. “So, make a wish.”

She looked at the cakes and thought for a while. She had never had a birthday cake before. No one had ever taken the time to make or buy one for her. What a strange turn of events. If she blew out the candles, would that be giving in to him? But then again, did it even matter if she gave in? It wouldn’t make a difference in the end. She would still find a way out, regardless. She felt a little silly, like a child, but blew the candles out anyways.

I wish to find a way out of here so I can go back and take care of Bella. She didn’t really believe in birthday wishes, but she made one just in case. It certainly couldn’t hurt.

She had never tried the orange cake before, and she was excited. She nearly moaned when the bit into it, as if she was in a food commercial. So moist and delicious. Possibly one of the best things she’d eaten in her 17 years.

She tried not to let it show too much on her face. She didn’t want him to know how much she was enjoying it.

That night, she’d eaten more cake and pizza than she ever had in her life, until she was uncomfortably full. Ryan kept worrying about her not eating enough—but she was certain she must have gained five to ten pounds in the past couple hours.

Ryan was making conversation, and she said a few things here and there, but she didn’t get too involved. He wanted to be her friend. She didn’t want to be his, though.

“’Kay, one more thing,” he said, again leaving the basement. When he came back in, he carried a large wrapped box. “A birthday isn’t really a birthday without a present, is it? And this is only part of it. I have something else that is still on the way.”

A present? He bought her a present. Her kidnapper. The man who drugged her and kept her chained in a basement.

This is crazy, she thought to herself. She wasn’t going to open it. She didn’t care what kind of gift he got her. Or…at least she didn’t want to care what gift he got her. But once he set it down, she was a little curious. And a little scared.

“Go on, open it,” he encouraged. He slid the box towards her.

It looked heavy. The wrapping paper on it was nice, but the wrapping job was horrible. He used a lot of tape. Too much tape. It was clear he’d never done this before, but he had seemed to make an honest effort.

He always seemed to be trying his hardest.

He frowned. “You’re not going to open it?” She didn’t answer him. Instead she looked down at the concrete floor. Earlier in the week he’d told her he would buy her a large rug to put down, so she wouldn’t have to walk on such a cold floor. But she wasn’t planning on staying long enough for him to follow through with that promise.

“I’m just trying to make your birthday a happy one, you know. I just want you to be happy here.” He sighed. “But I guess if you’re not going to open it, I’ll open it for you.”

When he did, her curiosity got the best of her, and she glanced inside. There were books. A lot of books, which all seemed to be from her favorite genres.

She didn’t know how to feel. Excited, because now she had all of these books to pass the time with? Annoyed, because he was giving her so many books, which reminded her he planned to keep her for a long time? Guilty, because she actually liked the present? Angry, because he was always so nice to her and that’s not how kidnappers should act? She just didn’t know. She stared into the box.

There were a few titles that she’d already read, but she was excited to read them again. At home, she never had the money to buy books, so she had to get them at the library. But, because she had to return them within two weeks, she didn’t always have the time to finish them. Between taking care of Bella, going to school, cooking, doing homework, and helping Bella with her homework, she had a lot on her plate.

“Do you not like them?” He asked. She could hear the disappointment and apprehension in his voice.

She looked up at him and hesitated. “No, that’s… That’s not it. I really like them…thank you.” She immediately chastised herself. Why in the world would you thank your kidnapper? What is wrong with you? But he had just seemed so disappointed. And she had always been too polite for her own good.

She wondered for a second at what the proper victim etiquette would be in this situation. Then she nearly laughed at how ridiculous it was. Victim etiquette.

Chapter Text

After a while of sitting in silence, she decided to start a conversation for once. “You keep saying that I deserve ‘better’ than what I had. What do you mean by that?”

He looked a little shocked at the sudden question. “You deserve better. I mean, you deserve a better life than the one you’ve had to live. You’ve been through some terrible things. No one should ever have to go through that, especially not you…” he trailed off.

How did he know what kind of life she had to live? There was no way he knew any of that.

She was slowly filling with anxiety, wondering if maybe he really did know.

<<>><<>><<>>

8 years earlier

“Gracie, get in here.” It was her mother calling for her. She didn’t like her mother’s friends, so she tried to stay in another room, or sometimes outside. But the older kids next door liked to pick on her when she was outside. So, she didn’t really have a ‘safe’ place to go. Her room didn’t even have a door, so she could always hear what was going on in the rest of the house.

She quietly walked into the living room, head down and hands together. Maybe if I’m quiet enough, they won’t notice me.

“This is her? She’s a little on the scrawny side. I know I’ve been paying you enough to keep her fed,” a man said, laughing.

“Oh, fuck off, Frank,” her mother said.

“And she’s how old?” A different man that time.

“Just turned 9 last week. Threw her a birthday party and everything.” That was true. She did throw Grace a birthday party, but she only invited her adult friends. And they drank that gross brown stuff and the smoke was so heavy in the house that Grace couldn’t breathe. It wasn’t like the birthday parties she had seen in movies before. There were no party hats or streamers. There wasn’t even a cake. She didn’t blow out any candles.

But at least they left her alone that day. They were all too busy doing adult things that they didn’t pay attention to her at all.

“Hmm… 9 years old. Well I’ve never had someone so young. This will be a treat.” Grace looked up to see the man talking. He was skinny and bald. His eyes were green and they seemed to slice right through her. She didn’t like him one bit.

“Gracie, get over there and give Frank a hug.” Grace looked at her mom, silently begging her to leave her alone. She didn’t want to hug that man. She was five feet away, but she could smell the smoke on his clothes from where she was standing.

“Momma, I don’t—” She was cut off with a sharp slap to her bottom. She yelped and jumped away from it.

“Gracie. What did I tell you about arguing with me? Get over there. Now.” Tears prickled at her eyes from the sting of the slap, but she held them back and did what she was told.

The man reached out and pulled her into his chest. Her face was smushed into his shirt and the gross smell made her sick to her stomach. She couldn’t breathe.

“500?” The other man asked. She turned her head as much as she could to look at him. He was a lot fatter than the man hugging her, and he had a sheen of sweat over his body. He was itching his arm and she saw that he had a bruise on the crease of his elbow, and red dots all over. Grace knew it was because he stuck needles there. She’d seen her mother do the same thing.

“Apiece,” her mother said. She didn’t know what they were talking about, and she didn’t care. She just wanted the man to stop hugging her so she could get away from them all.

“And if we want to tape it?” The bigger man asked.

“An extra 250 apiece,” her mother said.

“Fuck, you’re gonna bleed us dry, Nancy. How am I gonna pay rent?” The man was silent for a while before sighing. “Alright. Deal. You leavin’ us to it?”

“Yeah. You’ve got the afternoon to do what you want with her. Be gentle if you can. ‘Cause I can’t take her to the hospital after.”

Her mother was leaving the room, and Grace panicked. Hospital? Were they talking about her? Were they going to hurt her? “Momma, wait—,” she said, but it was too late. Her mother was gone, and she was left alone with the two men.

She was let go and she stepped back as far as she could. “Alright, girly. Clothes off,” the skinnier one said.

“What? People aren’t supposed to see me without my clothes,” she explained. She thought that was pretty common knowledge, but maybe they were just stupid. Most of her mom’s friends usually were. She just needed to teach them, that was all.

“I’m gonna ask you nicely one more time. Clothes, off, now.”

She stayed firm in her answer. “You’re not supposed to take off your clothes with other people,” she explained further. She thought all adults knew that.

“Looks like we’re gonna have to do it ourselves, Frank,” the bigger man said, smirking at the skinny one.

“What a pity,” he said, sarcasm dripping from his voice like poison.

They both stood up and she panicked. She bolted for the doorway, but she wasn’t fast enough. One of them grabbed her shirt and yanked her back.

She knew that what they were doing wasn’t right. She learned this in school. She was supposed to yell for help and find a trusted adult. “Mommy,” she screamed, hoping wherever her mom was, that she would hear her and come make the men stop.

But no one came.

She kept screaming, but every once in a while they would put their hands over her nose and mouth, to keep her quiet. They would do it until she felt dizzy and sick. Until her lungs burned in her chest.

She thought maybe that was what dying felt like.

But no matter how much she screamed or begged or cried, no one came for her.

She had to grow up real fast that day.

<<>><<>><<>>

Present day

A chill went up Grace’s spine and she had to bite her lip to keep the tears at bay. Her whole body was beginning to shake. She was usually able to block those memories out. She got good at that after a while. But sometimes the thoughts would just overwhelm her. She could still smell their stench and hear their voices. Them, and all the other men that came later. She was suddenly sick to her stomach.

But she took a deep breath and reminded herself, that was a long time ago. She was okay. As okay as a kidnapping victim could get. Because Ryan hadn’t hurt her yet. Not like those men did a long time ago.

“One of them is dead, you know.” She was pulled out of her thoughts and she looked at Ryan.

“Who’s dead?” She had no idea what they had been talking about.

“One of the men who…did stuff to you. Frank.”

She broke out in a cold sweat and her breath stopped in her chest. How did he know that name? Why did he know about that? No one knew about it. She never told anyone about it. She was too embarrassed, ashamed. So how?

“Hey, hey. Breathe,” he said, reaching a hand out before second guessing himself and pulling it back. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have been so blunt about that.”

“How do you know? You can’t know about that.” She was trying to control her nausea so she wouldn’t throw up all the pizza and cake she just ate.

“I… Sorry. I shouldn’t have brought that up on your birthday of all days.”

She didn’t care what day it was. She just needed answers. “Tell me.”

He looked a little sheepish, but then sighed. “The guy, Fr--,” he cut off and sat in silence for a while. He seemed to be working out a way to say it to her without hurting her feelings. “My Dad was a piece of shit. He was an addict, spent most of his money on drugs and booze. I rarely ever had food at home. The only meals I got were at school, so the summer time was hell. It’s ridiculous because my grandma was always giving him a lot of money, definitely enough to keep us well fed. Anyways, for the longest time, I didn’t know where all that money was going. It couldn’t have been just for drugs. But then he started to drag me along to places, sometimes. Places where he would…do things with people. Women, I mean. If I didn’t go or if I tried to put up a fight, he’d beat the living shit out of me until finally I just went so he would stop. He never made me do anything with them. I think he just got off on making me watch. He would scream at me if I looked away. He was a sick fucking person.”

She was trying to make sense of what he was saying.

“Usually it was grown women. And they were fine with it because my dad would spend every last penny he had on them. Then they could go and buy drugs or whatever. They were all trash, just like him. But one time he brought me along and…” He stopped for a while, frowning down at the ground before finally whispering, “it was a girl. A little girl. And I swear to God I have never been angrier in my entire life. I saw red. I wanted to kill him. Him and all the other pieces of shit in that room—and there were so many of them. God, there had to have been like six men in there. I wanted to kill each and every one of them, and anyone else who ever even thought about doing that to a kid. But I was a coward. I didn’t stop him. I stood there until I couldn’t take it anymore, then I ran. I just kept running. I didn’t go back home for a few days. Once I did, he beat me until I was black and blue, and I couldn’t go to school for a week. He told me if I told anyone, next time wouldn’t be just a beating. But it didn’t matter, because the only thing I cared about—the only thing I could think about—was that little girl who looked so lifeless, like she’d already given up. Powerless to do anything about her situation. And I didn’t help her. Every time I closed my eyes, I saw her. That precious child. And those dead eyes.”

He put his head in his hands. “I was only 15, but I still could have done something. I could have stopped it, maybe. Probably not, but I could have at least tried. But I didn’t.” His voice was trembling. She realized that he was crying. “And they called her ‘Grace’. That little girl. So, I decided that I would put an end to it. That I would save that little girl and make sure no one ever hurt her, so she would never have to go through that again.”

She started to cry. She didn’t know what to say or what to think.

She wanted to think he was lying. Or that this was all just some horrendous dream that she couldn’t find her way out of.

He sniffled and wiped his eyes with the back of his hand but continued to stare at his lap. “So, I thought up a plan to kill my dad. I wanted to kill all of them, but I thought I’d start with him. I thought about it every day. How to do it, when. Every time I saw his face, I imagined a hundred different ways. But one day I came home, and the fucker had OD’d in the living room. He didn’t deserve such a peaceful ending. But I guess that’s just one more way he screwed me over.”

She thought about it, too. Killing that man. She would have been lying if she said she hadn’t thought about killing each and every one of those men who touched her and hurt her, over and over, day after day. And her mom, too, for allowing it to happen to her. She didn’t know how, she just knew that she wanted them all gone. It really messed with her head. A little girl, wanting to kill a bunch of grown men and her own mother. It took her a long time to stop those thoughts from plaguing her mind.

But one thing she never forgot was that those men were still out there. She never really saw them, but she knew they were right there, just under the surface. They lived in her town, they probably shopped at the same grocery store. And they could do it to her again. She knew she wouldn’t be able to fight them off if they tried. She just wasn’t strong enough. So, she lived in fear that they would come and hurt her, or worse, hurt Bella. Even though they hadn’t done anything like that to her for years.

A sob ripped from her chest. Negative emotions and memories were drowning her, and she couldn’t breathe. It hurt too much. Bury it deep inside, just like always, she reminded herself. But the dam had been opened. Nothing could have stopped her tears.

“I decided to become a cop, later. After high school. So that I could save people like you and put people like my dad away.”

Stop, ” she begged him. She couldn’t deal with this. She couldn’t deal with someone knowing all about her deepest and darkest secrets and shame. “Just please stop. I can’t. Please.

She continued to cry, pulling her shirt over her face so he wouldn’t see it. Tears were weakness. And she never wanted anyone to see her as weak. But I guess he has already seen me weak, at the lowest of my lows, she thought. And I didn’t even know he was there.

He let her cry for a long time. He didn’t say anything, didn’t try to stop her or encourage her. He just sat there and let her do what she needed to do. She was thankful for that. For not trying to ‘cheer her up’ or tell her ‘everything will be okay.’

He only talked again once the tears were drying up and she pulled her shirt back away from her face. “Sorry I ruined your birthday,” he said. He sounded sad and genuine. “I shouldn’t have told you. Not today, at least. I’m sorry.”

She didn’t reply. She didn’t really know what to say. She was embarrassed. He had seen the things those men did to her. She didn’t want anyone to know that about her. But here he was, telling her he was there, and he was sorry, and that he wanted to save her.

So that’s what he meant when he asked her if she remembered him that first day. He wondered if she’d remembered him being in the room.

Ryan quietly got up and cleaned up the mess they made. He put the container tops on the two bundt cakes, half-eaten. He picked up the wrapping paper and the pizza box, too. He left the cakes on top of the fridge and walked upstairs with the trash.

“Happy birthday. I’m really sorry I ruined it. Goodnight, Grace.” She heard the click of the door as it closed and locked her in.

Chapter Text

Despite the fact that he kidnapped her, and she should hate him (and she did hate him), she almost didn’t want him to leave her alone. Because when she was alone, she knew the thoughts wouldn’t stop. She knew that they would eat away at her all night long. Things she had tried so hard to push down into the depths of her soul.

At least if he was there, she could focus on hating him, instead.

It had been almost comforting when he sat there with her, letting her cry. She never had anyone like that in her life. Sure, she had friends, and they were wonderful. But none of them knew what her life was really like. They knew that she didn’t have much money and that she was raising her little sister alone. But other than that, they knew nothing about her past.

Which was fine. She didn’t want them to know about her past. But it was tough sometimes, keeping that bottled up. It was tough knowing that no adult in her life helped her. Hell, her mother was the one who sold her. The teachers knew something was going on. They would give her those sad, knowing looks and ask her if everything was okay at home. But they never reported it, as far as she knew. No one ever came to investigate their house or her situation.

But maybe there was someone who cared. Maybe there was always someone there. Someone who wanted to help her. Someone who wanted to save her. She just didn’t know who it was.

And that felt…nice. Even if it was a little creepy.

Too bad he was the one making her life a living hell now, though. So maybe it wasn’t so nice after all.

She pulled herself up and crawled into bed. She wanted to cry even more, but there were no tears to be had. So instead, she curled into a ball and counted the hours until she was finally too exhausted to stay awake a second longer.

Chapter Text

The next couple weeks were…better. Ryan had continued to try to talk to her, and she actually talked back. Not all the time. Sometimes she wanted to kill him. But when she was in the mood for it, she didn’t mind talking with him.

This is all so weird, she thought, sighing. You’re not supposed to like your kidnapper, stupid. Get your head together.

She had been worried that he would try to talk to her again about her past. But after her birthday, he didn’t try to bring it up. He acted as if the conversation hadn’t happened. Which was just as well. She had no interest in talking about it any further.

She did believe him, though. She was hesitant at first. She didn’t want to believe it at all. He was a kidnapper, so he was probably very good at manipulating people. But after thinking about it long and hard, she realized that there was no way he would have known certain things—like how one of the men who abused her was named Frank. She didn’t remember ever seeing Ryan. She never really remembered any younger men there. Most of them were older as far as she could tell.

But he had sounded genuine and sincere. He sounded very sorry.

She hated him for making her feel like she should be grateful to him. Her kidnapper.

One morning in the end of October, she woke up early to the smell of bacon and eggs. It made her mouth water. She got up, took a shower, and just let the warm water run over her. She picked out some comfy clothes. It was a Sunday. So, leggings and sweaters were appropriate ‘comfy stay-at-home’ clothing. And lord knows she wasn’t going to leave the house, no matter how much she wanted to.

Just as she was walking out of the bathroom, she heard the door click at the top of the stairs.

“Good morning,” he said when he got to the bottom of the stairs, flashing her his bright smile.

“Morning…” she replied. Since her birthday, she hadn’t been intentionally rude to him. It was only making life harder for her. That’s what she told herself.

“Come here,” he said, holding his hand out to her. She furrowed her brows. He had tried not to touch her most of the time, so it was strange.

He saw how hesitant she was. “Come on, it’s for a good thing, promise,” he said, coming closer and reaching for her hand anyways. His hands were rough and calloused, but his grip was soft and caring. His skin was so warm. Which was strange. A kidnapper should be cold and unfeeling. Not warm and loving.

He led her to the stairs and started to walk up. Is he taking me upstairs? Without chaining me in some way? No way. A kidnapper would never be that stupid. Looking back at her, he smiled. He looked so excited, like a little kid wanting to show their parent something they made.

When she finally walked through the door, the first thing she noticed was the smell. Behind the smell of breakfast, it smelled like clean, fresh air. The basement was so stuffy.

The door led into a kitchen. The table was set with two plates and silverware for each—real silverware, not the plastic stuff he had given her so far.

Everything in there looked old-fashioned. Like when she went to her Grandma’s house when she was little.

“Here, sit,” he said, pulling out a chair for her.

And then he turned around.

He looked away from her, and there was no ankle chain. There was nothing stopping her from running. Her heart was beating a mile a minute and time seemed to slow down.

He was finally giving her some freedom, though. Should she really test it? Right then, in the very first minutes of being let out? She had no idea what she would find when she went outside. But if she screamed loud enough, someone was bound to hear her.

She didn’t know when she would have such an opportunity again. So, regardless of the outcome, she had to try.

She looked around. She wasn’t sure where the front door was, but if the size of the kitchen was any indication, it didn’t seem to be a very large house. So, she was sure she could find it. She looked down on the table and saw the fork set out for her. She grabbed it and before she had a chance to analyze her actions anymore, she bolted.

She turned and ran through a doorway arch and down a hallway. She heard Ryan shout at her and chase behind her, and she knew she had to find a door, quick. After all, he knew this house. She didn’t.

She was lucky. The hallway led straight to a mud room, and there was the door leading outside. She tried it, but it was locked. There was a lock on the knob, but also a deadbolt. Working as fast as she could, she unlocked the deadbolt first.

But before she could twist the door lock, Ryan grabbed her from behind and started to drag her back. She screamed and struggled. Then she took the fork and stabbed it into his leg as hard as she could.

“FUCK, what--,” and he loosened his grip.

That was all she needed. She pulled away from him and unlocked the knob before yanking the door open.

The cool October wind hit her, and she looked around. Past the yard, all around her were…trees. Trees everywhere, their leaves changing colors, desperately holding on before the harsh winter came to take them all away. There was a small path leading out, but she thought that it would be too easy for him to catch her going that way. Instead, she ran towards the trees. Maybe she could hide there.

She ran. And she ran. And she thought, just for a moment, that she was actually going to do it—she was going to go home to Bella, and everything was going to be just how it was before.

But only for a moment.

She heard heavy footsteps behind her, crunching through the fall leaves, then wham.

She hit the ground and the wind was knocked out of her. He had tackled her to the ground. She never knew how much being tackled hurt. With his full weight on her, she couldn’t catch her breath. She tried to struggle out, but he was too heavy. She tried to scream for help. She tried to just scream. Someone would hear her. They definitely would.

“Stop, Grace,” he said, breathing heavily. “Just stop.” His voice was calm. And that made her even more angry. How can he be so calm about all of this?

She kept struggling until her head was dizzy from the lack of oxygen. Eventually, her need for air was stronger than her need for escape.

When he finally got off of her, he crouched down and picked her up, throwing her over his shoulder as if she weighed nothing at all. As if she was no obstacle, just a minor inconvenience.

With a few moments to breathe, her fight was back, and she started hitting him in the back. His body felt so solid beneath her. She tried kicking, too, but he was holding her legs tight against him. She screamed. She screamed for help. Screamed for him to let her go. Just screamed and screamed until her throat felt raw.

“For fucks sake, Grace. I’m not letting you go, so just quit!” The calm tone he’d had just a moment before was replaced by anger and frustration. It scared her a little.

He had probably been lying when he said he wouldn’t kill her. Because until that point, she hadn’t really done anything wrong. Well, she’d tried to put codes into the door, but that hadn’t gotten her anywhere. But now she’d really done it. And he was probably going to kill her.

No matter how much she hit him, he didn’t stop. And then, they were at the basement door. He walked with her down the stairs, then tossed her off of him and onto the bed before going back up the stairs and slamming the door shut behind him. She felt the house shake with the impact.

I failed, she thought, tears coming fast and hot, rolling down her cheeks. He’ll probably never take me upstairs again. Or maybe he’ll kill me. I won’t get another chance.

She threw a fit like a child, throwing punches at the pillows and screaming. Finally, she wore herself out and fell backwards, staring up at the boring concrete ceiling.

The pain from when he tackled her caught up to her. She looked at both of her hands, scraped from trying to stop her fall. Her knees were in the same condition. And her body just hurt. She’d never experienced that before, and she had no idea how football players did it all the time. Of course, they usually had padding, but still. Ouch.

If she got the chance to run again, she’d need to bring a coat if she could. Or at least extra layers. She had no idea where the next house would be. She couldn’t see anything through the trees. And it was nearing the real beginning of winter. It would be getting much colder very soon.

For the second time that day, she stepped in the shower. But not to get clean. This time, she just sat under the spray. It relaxed her and helped her calm down. It also helped to hide her tears.

She stayed there until the water got cold before getting out. She put on the same clothes as before—they were dirty from the fall, but she couldn’t bring herself to care.

What was the point? Who was she trying to impress?

When she came out, Ryan was sitting on the bed. She started to close the door again, wanting to stay as far away from him as she could. “Grace, don’t. Come out here.” His voice was commanding, authoritative. Something about it made her want to obey. He sighed and added, “please.

She hesitated but did as she was told. She came out and closed the door behind her, sliding down to sit on the floor. She didn’t look at him.

“Are you okay?” He asked, but she didn’t feel like answering. “I’m sorry. I didn’t want to hurt you, but—sorry.”

“Oh really? You’re sorry? Sorry for what? Not sorry for kidnapping me. You’ve made that pretty clear. But sorry for stopping me? Sorry for letting me out of your sight in the first place?” Her words were laced with ice, like they had been when he’d first taken her. Cold, hard, mean.

“Why don’t you like it here?” She couldn’t believe what she was hearing, so she looked up at him incredulously. It had to be a joke, right?

“Are you kidding me? Why don’t I like it here? Oh, I don’t know, let me think… well, first of all, I’m trapped in a fucking basement.” She threw her arms up, gesturing to the room. She wanted to slap the concerned look off his face. “Second, I don’t want to be here. Third, a fucking psycho tackled me to the ground a couple hours ago. Is that enough? Or should I keep going?”

He flinched at the word ‘psycho’. “What can I do to make it better?” His voice was whisper-soft.

“You could let me go home,” she said, matter of fact.

“You are home.” She didn’t even know how to reply to that anymore. He’d been saying it since her first day there, and his answer just wasn’t changing. It seemed nothing was going to change his mind, and that pissed her off even further. Because she was not in the mood to deal with a delusional crazy person. “Did I hurt you?” He looked her up and down, looking for any obvious injuries.

She didn’t answer. She seethed in her quiet rage, wishing that he would just leave her alone. It was enough that she failed in her attempt to run, did he have to sit there and rub it in her face with his presence?

He sighed. “If you need bandages or pain medicine or anything like that, let me know.” He got up to leave. “I’m making lunch soon. I’ll bring you down a plate in just a bit.”

“Don’t bother,” she snarled, debating whether she should say the next part. Screw it, why not? “By the way, how’s your leg?” She asked him, smirking, hoping to get some sort of reaction from him. There was blood on his jeans from where she’d stabbed him with the fork.

She hoped it hurt.

He just looked down and left.

He brought her lunch, but she threw it on the floor in front of him. It was childish, she knew, but she didn’t care. She almost got out. She could taste the freedom in the cool fall air. And then he took it away from her. Again.

He clenched his hands into fists, and she could see him clench his jaw. She gave him a smug smile. If he was going to make her life miserable, she would make his life miserable, too. He didn’t respond, just got down and cleaned up the mess before going back upstairs without a word.

He came down at dinner time and asked if she was going to eat. She didn’t answer, so he just sighed and left for the night.

Chapter Text

The next morning, she woke up and found him putting the chain back on her. She wanted to scream in protest, in frustration, in outrage at the injustice of it all. She thought about trying to resist, but what was the point?

She didn’t know the code to the door. So, even without the chain, she wasn’t getting out of that basement.

“Sorry, I’m just going to be gone a couple hours. I’ll be back really soon.”

He came back before the morning was over. She heard him messing with the door. It sounded like he was carrying something heavy. It was a box for a TV, but she was sure it wasn’t actually a TV. That wouldn’t make any sense. ‘Let’s reward her for running away’. Silly. He put it down, smiled, then left and brought back two more boxes, one big and one small.

She didn’t know why he was still smiling at her after what she did.

“Remember I told you on your birthday that I had something else coming for you? Well, here it is! I know it’s probably really boring down here. So, I thought maybe some movies would help make the days go by quicker while I’m not here.”

So, he really was rewarding her. “Why would you do this?”

He looked up, confused. “Do what?”

“Bring me a TV. Why would you do that? I stabbed you with a fork and ran away yesterday. It doesn’t make any sense.”

“I can’t let you run away, Grace. But I know why you’re still trying. You don’t understand yet, and that’s okay. I will run after you as many times as it takes. This is part of your birthday, though. Why would I not give you your present?”

She guffawed. He looked at her, puzzled, as if this wasn’t the weirdest situation. “What planet am I on? No one ever gave me any birthday presents. Except…” She almost said Bella but caught herself. She would leave her out of all of this. “Except one person. But no one else has ever treated me so nicely. It doesn’t make any sense. I don’t even have a TV at my own house!”

“No one ever got me anything, either. But that’s not how I want life to be for you anymore. You deserve better. And if a TV will make your life a tiny bit better, I’ll make sure you have it.”

She didn’t have any words. She definitely woke up in the wrong universe back when he took her. The wrong planet, the wrong…something. Because even if he thought he was ‘saving’ her, this was still too much.

“I stabbed you. With a fork,” she reminded him again.

He nodded his head but gave no other reply. Instead, he got down and started opening the other big box. It didn’t have any pictures on it, so she didn’t know what it was going to be.

“This will be an entertainment center for the TV to sit on, but I’ve got to build it. Do you want to help?”

Oh, what the hell, she thought. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. It’s not like she had anything better to do. And if her life was going to be ridiculous anyways, she might as well lean into it until she found a way out.

And maybe she could steal a screwdriver or something in the process. It might come in handy on her next escape attempt.

In truth, she was excited that she would have a TV. It made her feel guilty, to be excited about something stupid like that when she had no idea what Bella was doing right then or where she was or what she was feeling. But he was right—it was really boring down there. She loved reading, but there was only so much of it she could do every day.

It took them about forty-five minutes to set it up. Ryan moved the mini fridge to another wall so they could set the TV up for it to face the bed, head-on. They moved the loveseat on the wall to sit in front of the bed. He then opened up the TV and set it up. The other smaller box was a DVD player.

“I’m also planning on hooking up the dish down here, too, so you can watch TV instead of just movies all the time. I’ll need to add another box to my service, I think. Anyways, I’ll figure it out in the next couple days. But for now, I have a bunch of movies upstairs that I’ll bring down,” he said, leaving the basement again.

He came back down, arms full of DVDs. “Could we watch a movie together?” Ryan asked, adding, “I’ll make popcorn.”

She was still pissed. She still wanted out. But while she was still in the basement, she figured she might as well make the most of it. She nodded her head yes, which elicited a big smile on Ryan’s face. “Be back in a minute,” he said.

They ate lunch first, then they watched a movie together. Then watched another movie, and another, and another, until it was nearly 9pm. He had all the ‘new’ movies that she hadn’t been able to afford to see in theaters. They hadn’t even eaten dinner, they were so enthralled. But they ate more than enough popcorn to make up for it.

She actually enjoyed herself, despite constantly telling herself that she shouldn’t be enjoying herself.

Ryan wasn’t a bad person to be around. He was nice and sometimes funny, too. She hated him for it.

The cognitive dissonance going on in her brain was driving her crazy.

But she kept thinking she probably would have been friends with him if they had met in a normal situation.

Once the last movie ended, they both yawned. “Ugh. I have work tomorrow,” Ryan complained, throwing his head back. “So, I should probably get ready for bed. Did you want me to grab you something to eat before I do?”

“No, thank you.”

“Alright.” He got up and stretched, then smiled at her. “Today was fun. I hope we can do it again. Goodnight, Grace. Sweet dreams.”

“Mmn. Goodnight, Ryan.” Using his name got an even bigger smile out of him before he went upstairs.

She laid down and thought about everything. About her life now.

She was lucky, all things considered. Ryan hadn’t raped her or murdered her. He hadn’t hit her or taunted her. He hadn’t even yelled at her. Not really.

She was still a victim and she still wanted to get out. But if she was going to be a victim, she was thankful that she got to be a comfortable one.

She felt like she was betraying herself with thoughts like that. But it’s not like she could deny it.

Instead of dwelling on it, she pushed it all away and fell asleep.

And she did have sweet dreams.

Chapter Text

A few days later, as promised, Ryan hooked up the dish for her, so she was able to watch different channels. Nothing really caught her interest, though.

Well, except one thing. She desperately wanted to watch the news. Ryan never told her she couldn’t, but she didn’t imagine he would be very happy if he found out. After all, a kidnapper probably doesn’t want their victim to be connected to the outside world. Plus, when she’d asked him if someone was looking for her, he wouldn’t tell her. If she watched the news, she might find her answer.

The whole weekend, she resisted. Finally, the next Tuesday after he left for work, she switched it on to see what was happening in the world. It was boring, though. Nothing that she was interested in. So, she tuned it out and read in the background instead. She liked when she could do that—have something on in the background even if she wasn’t paying attention to it. It made her feel safe. Comforted.

Please, we just want Gracie home. Whoever has taken her, please. Give her back to us. That’s all we want. ” Her head snapped up so fast she thought she would get whiplash. There, on the news, was her mother, weeping and holding a tissue to her eyes. The bottom of the screen read ‘NANCY NELSON’ and in smaller words ‘Mother of the Missing Grace Mitchell’ Grace clenched the book she was holding so tight that she could have snapped it in two. Her mom looked…healthy. Much healthier than she’d seen her in a long time. Not that she saw her often.

She didn’t hate her mother. She used to, a lot, but no so much anymore. She probably should, but she didn’t. It was a waste of her time to hate her. She just had no feelings for her at all. No like or hate. Nothing. But regardless of her feelings, she wouldn’t forgive what her mother did to her. Never, ever. And she definitely wouldn’t forget it. Her mother took everything from her—her childhood should have been happy and free like it was for many of her friends. Instead, she lived in a roach-infested crack house where strange people came around all the time. And then her mother let people pay her to… Grace shook her head, throwing out those thoughts.

But the woman standing there, begging for her return, was different. It infuriated her. Who was the person on the TV? Her mother never cared whether she was home. Her mother didn’t know what she was doing, ever. So why all of a sudden did she care? Why would she get up on TV and cry as if she missed her? Whether Grace was home or not, it didn’t matter. Her mother never would have known the difference, because she was never there to see.

She ground her teeth together and reached for the remote. She wanted to hear what the rest of the program talked about, but she couldn’t stand to watch her mother lie for another second. She was just about to turn it when Bella came on. The bottom of the screen read ‘ISABELLA NELSON’, Sister of the Missing Grace Mitchell.’ “Please let my sister come home. I don’t want anything else in the whole world—just my sister. Please. I miss her,” Bella sniffled.

Grace put her hand to her mouth. She was almost instantly a sobbing mess. Bella, her sweet little Bella. She needed to get out of there, find Bella, hug her, and never let her go. She never wanted to be the reason for Bella’s tears.

She was a little surprised when the next people on the screen were Devin and Michelle. Her very best friends. She wondered what happened to Michelle’s car after it was left on the side of the road.

Michelle started. “You took my best friend away from me. She is so sweet and so kind. She doesn’t deserve this. She needs to be here, with me. With us. And more than anything, she needs to be here with her sister. Please, do the right thing and let her come back,” she said, wiping her tears with the back of her hand.

“Please bring her back to us, whoever you are,” Derek pleaded, his voice cracking. “She needs to come home and be with the people she loves. Please!”

She didn’t even hear Ryan come downstairs. She didn’t notice him until he was half way to the TV. She straightened up and got nervous. She once again noted to herself that he didn’t tell her not to watch, but she couldn’t imagine he’d be happy with it.

He looked annoyed, almost angry, and turned the TV off.

Grace kept her eyes on him, wondering what his reaction would be. So far, he’d shown that he was level-headed. And when he wasn’t, he usually left the room until he’d calmed down. He hadn’t screamed at her or been mean to her. But you never know.

“He seems to really like you,” Ryan said. His words were awash with jealousy.

“He’s a friend,” she said, using her sleeve to wipe her tears. She wasn’t sure why she felt the need to clarify that. It’s not like it was any of his business. But she was only telling a half-truth.

He did like her. Derek had liked her for years. He had ‘confessed’ to her several times over, asked her out, stuck to her like glue.

But dating wasn’t really a luxury she had time for. Raising Bella was a full-time job, and she didn’t need anything to get in her way. So, even though there was a part of her that liked him too, she turned him down over and over again. She just couldn’t.

So, Ryan was right. Derek really did like her. But telling him that wasn’t going to help anyone, especially not her.

“Right. A friend. I’m sure he is,” he murmured, glaring at the now-black TV. But soon he turned around and all hints of jealousy were gone. It was scary how quickly his face could change like that. “I actually brought home some Chinese food today. Do you like Chinese?”

She wiped at her eyes once again. “Sure,” she said quietly.

“I got a few different things. I guess I should start asking you what you like before I bring it home. I will, next time,” he said, walking over and undoing the ankle chain. “I’ll be right back down.” Halfway up the stairs, he stopped. “Maybe you shouldn’t watch too much of the news,” he said, then continued up.

She actually tried to take his advice. Seeing Bella crying on TV did two things: one, it reassured her that Bella was healthy, and while she was hurting mentally, she looked to be unharmed physically. So that was great. But two: it made her heart ache even more being away from her. And seeing her Mom just made her angry.

By Saturday she was buzzing with curiosity again. Only a few days later, she turned it on. She waited all day but didn’t see anything about herself. The next day was the same. But the day after that, she had some luck.

Well, ‘luck’ wasn’t really the right word for it.

She was only half-focusing on the book she was reading when she heard the reporter on TV say something about police still looking for the missing teenage girl from a small town.

They talked about where she was last seen—driving home from Michelle’s house. And they talked about finding Michelle’s car empty on the side of the road. They played the same clips of Derek and Michelle, then her Mom and Bella. And then an unfamiliar-familiar face came on the screen.

It took her a few minutes. She knew the man but couldn’t put her finger on who he was. Then the banner at the bottom of the screen read ‘SEAN MITCHELL, Father of the Missing Grace Mitchell.’

Her father. The man standing there was her father. She hadn’t seen him since she was six. She remembered him as a drug addict and an alcoholic just like her mother. When he was still around, Grace was usually ignored. But when he left, that’s when her mother stopped ignoring her all the time and instead began being cruel to her.

If he hadn’t left, maybe none of the other stuff would have happened. Maybe it would have. Maybe he would have pimped her out as well. She wasn’t sure, because she didn’t really know him. But there was a possibility things could have been different. Still not great, but better than what actually happened.

But when he left, her mother decided that Grace was the perfect therapist. She constantly complained about him to her, saying he was a ‘man-whore’ and he was ‘off fucking every other bitch he could stick his dick into.’ Stuff that a kid shouldn’t hear.

The man on TV looked a lot older. He looked healthy, no longer skin and bones the way she remembered him, like he had gotten clean. He was wearing a sweater with a polo underneath it and nice slacks. His hair was slicked back. She could barely remember him, since she was really young when he left, but she still had some memories. In her memories, he looked so different.

Once, he taught her how to ride a bike. She was so happy and excited to finally be getting some of the attention she craved, until she realized he only did it so she would stay outside and play so he could do his drugs in peace. They would put her out and lock the door behind her so she couldn’t get back in.

He was crying. “I miss my daughter,” he said between sniffles. “Please, I want to reconnect with her and have her in my life. Please bring her home.”

There was a woman standing with him, rubbing his back to comfort him. Beside her were two young girls. “Please, all we want is for her to come home. Her little sisters really want her in their lives.”

“What a lying sack of shit,” she spat out. He never cared about her. Ever. No more than anyone else in her life.

All of a sudden, all the rage that had been building up inside of her was threatening to overflow. First, her mother goes on TV crying and saying she missed her. A lie. Then her father, who she hadn’t seen in more than a decade, goes on TV crying and saying the same thing? That he missed her, wanted her to come home? More lies.

And she wasn’t proud to admit it, but looking at his two beautiful little girls made her jealous. They looked happy, healthy. They seemed like a loving family.

She never got that. What made her so different? Why did he abandon her but not them?

She couldn’t control herself anymore. She wanted to scream and punch and kick something. Instead, she threw the book she had in her hand at the TV, knocking it backwards toward the wall.

She was breathing heavy, angry tears running down her face, but then she stopped dead in her tracks. The book she had thrown was hard-cover, not paperback.

And there was a crack. A small crack in the corner of the TV screen, the picture warped around it. The book must have hit the screen just right.

Ryan just bought this TV. He bought it just for her and she just broke it. She had never broken something so valuable in her life.

She had just been so angry that she lost control. But what kind of excuse was that? ‘Oh, my deadbeat dad was on TV, so I threw a book at it.’ Real mature. She hid her head in her hands. Why had she been acting so childish?

Just at that moment, before she could even plan how she would tell him, she heard him at the door, unlocking it. She couldn’t do anything but stare at him when he came into view, her eyes wide and scared. And most of all, sorry.

“What--,” he turned to look at the TV. “What the hell?” He raised his voice at her. “I just bought this fucking thing and I come home to find you put a hole in it?”

Tears came to her eyes. He had never yelled at her before. He continued to yell, and she pulled her knees to her chest and put her head down, not wanting him to see her tears. And not wanting to see the angry look on his face. “Sorry. I’m sorry, ” she whispered again and again. She didn’t even know if he could hear her, but she was really sorry.

He stopped yelling after a while and switched the TV off. She heard his footsteps walking towards her, still wearing his work shoes. She was sure he would hit her. She had that same foreboding feeling in her stomach she always got as a kid before someone hit her. She braced herself for it.

But the hit never came. Instead, the couch sank down to her side. She raised her head a bit, sniffling, and found him sitting there, staring forward. He took a deep breath, then let it out. “What happened? Why did you do that?” His voice was calm again, like it usually was. But there was a twinge of tension in there, too.

“I--,” she tried to start, but didn’t want to say what really happened. She didn’t like talking about her past. He knew some of it—he’d seen a snippet of the worst of it. And he had his own father issues, so he might understand. Maybe. But she didn’t want to bring it up, knowing she would just break down and sob before she could get the words out. It was almost stupid, being so angry about something that happened so long ago. Being jealous of two little girls who did nothing wrong.

She put her head back down. She could feel his eyes burning holes in her. “I’m really sorry, ” she whispered.

He sighed. “I shouldn’t have yelled at you like that. I had a bad day at work, and I was taking it out on you, which isn’t okay. I’m sorry. I know you probably wouldn’t do this on purpose. So, if you want to tell me how it happened, you can. If not, you don’t have to. It’s your choice.”

She went back and forth in her head. He said sorry, trusted her that she had a reason, so it would be okay to tell him, right? He would understand. If he wasn’t lying, of course. Which she didn’t think he was, but you never know. But she was also embarrassed and knew saying it out loud would make the embarrassment worse.

Finally, she took a shaky breath. “My dad, ” she said quietly. “He was on the news saying that he missed me.”

“Oh…right. I saw some of the interviews he’s done.” She wondered if Ryan kept a close eye on her story. She figured he probably did, but she hadn’t thought about it before. “And you got mad?”

“He doesn’t miss me,” she said through her teeth. “He was a piece of shit. He left me when I was six years old. He left me, and my mother took it out on me. He was a drug addict alcoholic just like her. He never cared about me. But he goes on TV saying he cares so much, misses me so much. And he stands there with his new family, saying my little sisters want to meet me. It’s all bullshit. No one has ever cared. And definitely not my parents. But now the whole world sees it and they probably think, ‘oh, that poor family…such a tragedy for them.’ But in reality, they’re just doing it because it’s expected of them. They’re doing it because they’re getting their fifteen minutes of fame. All at my expense. It makes me sick to my stomach. It makes me so angry I want to scream.” By the end of the explanation, she was sobbing, nearly hyperventilating. Each new sentence was a struggle to say between uneven breaths.

She didn’t want any of it to be true. But saying it out loud made it clear just how true it was. No one cared. No one ever cared about her growing up. Not enough to help her. Not enough to get her out of that situation.

Except, apparently, the man who kidnapped her.

It seemed like a sick joke.

She heard Ryan get up and move in front of her. He touched her shoulder, running his hand up and down, comforting her. “I’m sorry,” he said. And usually when he touched her, she hated it. But this time it felt nice. Safe.

She looked up at him, now kneeling in front of her. He looked at her with such sad eyes. Eyes that really did care.

She put her feet back down on the floor and fell into him. She needed someone—anyone—to just hold her and tell her everything would be okay, even if it wouldn’t be. That’s what she had always needed. He held her tight and let her sob into his uniform. He rubbed his hand up and down her back, told her he was so, so sorry that she had to deal with such an awful life. He told her that he would never let anyone hurt her again.

And maybe for the first time in her life, she believed that someone truly, undoubtedly cared about her.

She could feel her eyes swelling after shedding so many tears. Her sobs died down and she got her breathing under control before she finally pulled away from him. “Sorry,” she mumbled, wiping at her eyes. “I cried all over your uniform.”

He gave her a small smile. “Don’t worry about it. It’s pretty early, but maybe you need some rest. Let me go fix you something to eat real quick and then you can lay down.

He started to get up, but she grabbed onto his shirt. “I’m…not hungry. I think I just want to lay down and sleep.”

“You sure?” She nodded. “Alright. I’ll come down in a while to check up on you, in case you do get hungry.”

When he turned to leave, anxiety flooded her every nerve. “Wait, Ryan,” she called after him. She didn’t want to be alone.

She didn’t want him to leave.

“Will you…could you stay? Just for a little bit until I fall asleep?” She asked sheepishly. She immediately regretted asking him and felt her face flush. She felt stupid, like a little kid who needed a nightlight and a bedtime story. It was silly. She was seventeen. She was too old to act like that. And for Pete’s sake, he was the one who caused all of this! “You don’t have to, never mi—”

“Of course I will. Here,” he offered her a hand, helping her up from the couch. She crawled into bed and he pulled the covers up over her. She did that for Bella, too, along with a little goodnight kiss on her forehead every night. She didn’t know how comforting it was before that moment. He was looking down at her, smiling softly. “Lights off?” he asked.

She nodded. “Thank you.”

He turned off the lights and she heard him move to sit on the couch. “Sleep tight. I’ll be right here if you need me.”

“You could…” She didn’t know if she should say it. Maybe he would think it was weird. It was weird. But she was just too emotional that night. She needed it, so she asked, embarrassment be damned. “You could lay down, too. If you want.” She quickly added, “but if you don’t want to, that’s okay.”

“I would be happy to. Is it okay if I go change? These uniforms always feel so stiff and uncomfortable.”

“Okay,” she said, and heard him go up. It was pitch dark in the basement with the lights off. When he opened the door, light flooded one end of the room.

And it didn’t go away. He left it open, the whole time he was upstairs.

And at that moment, she didn’t even want to run. She just wanted to stay in bed and sleep. Running away was too hard. Staying was easy.

When he came back down, he closed the door behind him. He laid down on the other side of the bed and pulled the covers over himself.

Thank you, ” Grace whispered, staring up into the darkness.

In response, he searched out her hand under the covers. She almost flinched away at the touch, but instead she let him take it. He squeezed it in his own. A silent reassurance that she was safe, and he would make everything okay.

They fell asleep like that, hand-in-hand.

Chapter Text

After that night, he stopped putting the chain on her again.

She never knew how to feel about anything anymore. She couldn’t care less about her mother and father, but she desperately wanted to go back and be with Bella.

While she didn’t want to admit it, she actually really did like Ryan. She hated him, too. But she did like him. The TV was still working after she cracked it, but she decided not to watch the news much after that. Too painful, too irritating. She stuck with movies and books, mostly. When Ryan was home, they ate together, and sometimes they just talked. As if their arrangement was totally normal, like they were just good friends hanging out.

It was weird. Sometimes it made her feel sick and guilty. But she really didn’t mind spending time with him. The more time she spent with him, the more she liked him.

It probably wasn’t healthy, but it really didn’t matter much either way. She was stuck here for the time being, so she might as well lean into it.

Here, life was relatively care-free, other than the whole stuck-in-the-basement part. She always got to sleep in after Ryan left for work. She really loved sleeping late. She never got to do that at home. Bella was an early-riser, which in turn made Grace an early-riser as well.

Here, she didn’t have to take care of anyone. She didn’t have homework. She had no responsibilities whatsoever. And she hated to admit it, but she really enjoyed it. She wondered if that was how other kids felt during summer and winter breaks. She regretted not experiencing it herself.

But she supposed she no longer had to regret it. Because she had it now, even if it did come to her in an unconventional package. She was almost used to it. She silently chastised herself. How could you feel that way? Bella needs you. You’re being selfish.

Chapter Text

One day, Grace woke up much later than usual. Well, for her first wake-up that is. Ryan typically came down to say goodbye when he left for work, but when she woke up the clock said 10:30am. She sat up, confused. He usually worked Tuesday-Saturday, but it was a Thursday. And he hadn’t told her he had a day off.

The air smelled delicious. Food. Good food. It made her stomach growl.

The door at the top of the stairs opened and Ryan came rushing down, smiling. “Good morning. You should get ready! I will be done in about an hour or so.” Before she had a chance to ask what it was he was doing, he was already back upstairs, the door closing behind him.

She got ready anyways, wondering what he was so excited about. Honestly, it annoyed her. She had just woken up, and he was much too chipper. She was never excited about anything right after she woke up. But a shower helped wash out the excess sleepiness and prepare her for the day.

He came down, right on time, an hour later. “Let’s go,” he said, holding out his hand.

She was hesitant. “Wait, you’re letting me go upstairs?”

“Yep—come on!”

She couldn’t believe it. He was really bad at kidnapping. It hadn’t been that long since she tried to run and stabbed him with a fork. He was either crazy, or stupid. Maybe both.

But she wasn’t going to question it, so she allowed him to take her hand and followed him up.

She also decided she wasn’t going to push it. She was going to be good for a while, do what she was told. If she had any luck of getting out, she’d have to win his trust. The more he trusted her, the more careless he would become about watching her and keeping her locked up. She just had to bide her time until that happened.

When they got upstairs, he looked at her expectantly. “Oh! It’s Thanksgiving,” she realized.

He nodded. The table was set with various dishes in the center. There was a turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, noodles, deviled eggs, rolls, and mixed vegetables. There were so many plates that there was barely enough room for the two empty ones he set for the two of them. She wondered how he could have made it all himself.

“Wow,” she said. She’d never had a real Thanksgiving meal. The school always had a ‘Thanksgiving lunch’ the last day of school before the break, but it was never any good. Plus, they just didn’t provide that much food in general. So, this kind of Thanksgiving was something she’d only seen in TV shows and movies. Never in front of her. Never for her.

“Here, sit.” He pulled out a chair for her. She noticed that it was the opposite chair this time than the last time she’d been up there. So, if she tried to run, she’d have to go past him first.

The utensils were plastic, too. And the turkey was already cut up a bit, so there was no knife on the table. She supposed it made sense. Getting stabbed with a fork probably hurt pretty bad, so a knife would hurt even worse.

“You’re not religious, right? Like, do you want to say a prayer?” he asked. “I’m not, but if you are…”

“I’m not,” she said. She had no reason to believe in god. She wasn’t sure she wanted to have a god who let those awful things happen to her so long ago. If he did exist, she was sure he wasn’t the forgiving and loving type that people always talked about.

“Then great. Let’s eat!”

It was amazing. She had already tasted a lot of his food, so she knew he was a good cook. Much better than she had ever been. But the Thanksgiving food was beyond that. She wanted to eat every last bite of it. She ate way more than she should, until she was miserable.

Once they were done, Ryan asked, “So? Was everything good?”

“Very good.”

He chuckled. “Alright, let me clean stuff up. After, do you want to play a game?”

“A game?” she asked.

“Yeah, like a board game. Or a card game if you want. I’ve got lots of different ones. I just haven’t had anyone to play them with for a long time.

“Sure,” she said. It actually sounded like fun. She hadn’t played many games in the past few years. Other than kid games like Candy Land, with Bella. And there was only so much of that game she could handle. “I can help clean up.”

“No, that’s okay. I’ll get it,” he said, already taking dishes from the table.

“If I eat something, it’s only fair that I help clean up afterwards.

He smiled. “Sure, yeah. Let me get some bowls to save the leftovers in,” he said, rifling through a cabinet.

Once they were finished putting things away and washing dishes, he led her into the living room, right next to the mud room with the front door. It had a large sectional couch in one corner and a coffee table. There was a TV across the room, and a small cabinet against the other wall.

There was a window above the shorter side of the couch, but the curtains were shut tight. She wondered if she could get him to open them. She really wanted to see outside. All she’d seen when she’d tried to run were trees. So many trees, completely surrounding everything but the yard in front of the house. She wanted to know if there was more to the place than just that. Maybe she’d missed it in her haste to get out of there.

He opened the cabinet—and he wasn’t lying when he said he had lots of different games. Half the cabinet was full of them. A lot of them she’d never heard of.

“You pick,” he said.

“Hmm. Oh! Life!” She hadn’t played Life in nearly a decade. When she was little, her Grandma played it with her sometimes. Her Grandma was a terrible person. In fact, Grace would go so far as calling her a ‘bitch,’ even though she really hated that word. Even still, Grace loved going over to her Grandma’s, because it meant she didn’t have to be around her mom’s ‘friends’.

“Life it is!”

They played on the coffee table, sitting on the floor across from each other. And she had fun. They were close throughout the whole game, but in the end, she retired in the Millionaire Estates and ended up having the most money left over.

“No fair! I demand a do-over,” Ryan said, jokingly.

“Sure, if you want to lose again, I’d definitely play another round,” she replied, smiling playfully.

“I LET you win that time. You won’t be so lucky next time,” he declared.

After more laughs, she ended up winning twice more.

“Told you I would win! Do you just like losing, or…” she said, and they both laughed.

She couldn’t remember the last time she had so much fun. Even at the back-to-school party the night she was taken.

And that thought felt strange. It felt wrong, like she was betraying everyone she loved. She frowned. Suddenly, she felt sick.

What the hell am I even doing? He kidnapped me! He’s a bad person. This isn’t fun. I must just be so bored in this house all the time. Yeah. That’s probably it. I’m just bored.

"We can stop if you want,” Ryan said, putting all the fake money back in order.

“Hm? Oh. Yeah. I’m feeling a little tired.” She sat there for a while, watching him box everything up. “You said you haven’t played with anyone in a long time—who did you used to play with?” He had told her before that he was 23, which wasn’t very old. She was just curious why he hadn’t played with anyone for a while.

He frowned. “I used to play a lot with my older brother, Trevor.”

“Oh.” She hadn’t ever asked him about any other family. She only knew about his dad.

He thought for a second, like he was debating on what to say next. Sadness masked his features. “But then he got hooked on drugs like Dad. He was a lot older than me, and I used to really look up to him. I wanted to be like him.”

“Oh,” she said again. “I’m sorry.”

He smiled sadly. “Nothing anyone could do, really. He used to always talk about how he would never do drugs, and how I shouldn’t ever touch them either. But then he did, and he wasn’t the same after that. He’s still around here. This area, I mean. He used to come by this house every once in a while. He even lived here for a time. But I told him I didn’t want him around if he was going to be high and out of his mind. So, he hasn’t come back.”

“I’m…really sorry. That’s very sad.” She’d seen what drugs did to people, so she didn’t blame him. She didn’t want any drug addicts around her, either.

He nodded. “Thank you. Hey,” he said, going from sad back to happy in a split second. “Do you want to watch something? A movie maybe? We can watch it up here today.” He pointed at the TV across the room.

“Yeah, that sounds good,” she agreed. She felt bad for him. Whatever it was that happened between him and his brother, it was clear that the topic hurt him. She could see the pain etched into his every feature as he talked about him.

He was always changing his emotions so quickly, but she was starting to wonder if it was genuine or if he was just covering other things up. He would go from angry and frustrated to happy, or as she’d just seen, sad to happy. He seemed to be bottling everything up, just like her. She was really good at it, too, before she came here.

But she pushed the thoughts aside, reminding herself that she shouldn’t feel bad for her kidnapper. The TV helped her forget about everything for a while.

Chapter Text

December 13th came and went. She’d been with Ryan for three months.

On the Sunday after, he came down in the morning to tell her he had to go out for a little while. That was unusual, since he rarely ever left on his days off. But he came back just a few hours later, and she heard the basement door open. “Hey, come up here,” he called from the top of the stairs.

When she met him at the top, his nose and ears were red. She realized it was probably because of the cold outside. She really wished she could go out to feel it, too.

He led her into the living room and found that he’d moved the game cabinet a bit to make room for something else. In the corner now stood a tall fake Christmas tree. On the couch there were several large bags from different stores. “Want to decorate the tree with me? I’m not very good. And by ‘not very good’ I mean I’ve never actually done it.”

She smiled. “Sure.” She felt a little excited, but then a throb of pain went through her heart. Because at home, she always decorated the tree with Bella. Their fake Christmas tree was old and falling apart, and they didn’t have many ornaments, but they always had fun anyways. She always picked up Bella to put the star on. She was getting pretty heavy, though, so Grace didn’t know how many more years she’d be able to do that.

It might very well be the last year she would be small enough to do it. And Grace wasn’t able to be there. What if she’s too big next year, she wondered. What if I’m still here next year?

“Grace?” She was pulled out of her thoughts and found Ryan smiling at her. “I got a bunch of different stuff—ornaments and garland, things like that. Really, whatever I found in the Christmas aisles. But I’m way out of my league here. I’m pretty sure none of it matches.” He stared pulling things out of the bags.

“I think a tree that doesn’t match looks better—more home-y,” she told him. Completely coordinated colors and decorations were pretty, but they seemed too formal. At home, nothing they had matched, and it was just a random assortment of ornaments. So, the tree was always unique. It never looked the same one year to another. And each year they added a new ornament that Bella made at school.

She wondered what Bella’s ornament would turn out like this year.

“Well,” he started, looking down at all of his purchases, “that’s good then. Because I definitely didn’t do a great job.” He laughed.

She looked over everything. “I think you did a good job,” she said. “I mean, there are tons of different colors, but a tree with only one or two colors would be boring, I think. Oh, you got the colored lights! I’ve only ever had the white ones.”

They set to work, first stringing the lights and the tinsel before working on the ornaments. Her favorite part were the icicles—they were always a mess to clean up, but she thought it looked so pretty. Once they were finished, they had a very colorful tree. The ornaments didn’t match in color or design, but Grace thought it looked lovely.

It was just missing all those homemade ornaments. It hurt knowing how lonely her Christmas might be without Bella. And how lonely Bella’s Christmas might be without her. Would someone step up and buy Bella a present? Grace couldn’t ever afford much, but she tried to save up extra money through the year to get her a birthday gift and a Christmas gift.

“Well, I think we deserve a treat for our hard work, don’t you? I bought some cinnamon rolls in a can. All I need to do is pop them in the oven. Do you like cinnamon rolls?”

She nodded and tried to smile, but she knew it couldn’t have looked very happy. Ryan looked at her questioningly, like he was going to ask her what was wrong, but he thought better of it. He had Grace go back downstairs to wait.

She hadn’t had cinnamon rolls in a long time, and they tasted so good. The icing was warm and melted, and the cinnamon rolls were gooey. Just how she liked them.

It was strange how much food could change someone’s day. It was like those Snickers commercials. Angry? Eat a Snickers, or something like that. Sad? Eat a cinnamon roll.

“So, what do you want for Christmas?” Ryan asked her, mouth half-full.

She was puzzled. “What do you mean?”

“Like, what kind of gifts do you want?” She was pretty positive that the last person who had asked her this question was a mall-Santa many years ago. Her mom certainly never asked her, because she never got her anything.

“Oh,” she thought about it for a few moments. But there was only one thing she really wanted—to go home. But she wasn’t going to get that, so there was no point in asking again. “I don’t know.”

“Come on, there has to be something! Price isn’t an issue, so go big with it. I want to spoil you.”

She raised an eyebrow and smiled at him. “Oh? Then I’d like a Lamborghini. In blue, please.”

“Okay, so maybe price is an issue,” he replied, laughing. “Seriously, though. What do you want? Are there movies you want to watch? Some hobby you want to do? There has to be something you want.” He quickly added with a smile, “that costs less than a Lambo, I hope.”

The problem was, she didn’t have any hobbies. She didn’t have much free time. Well, she didn’t used to have much free time. Now she had nothing but free time. But it was difficult for her to think about the last time she wanted to try a hobby. Finally, she found something. “I want to knit.”

“Knit?”

“Yeah. But I don’t actually know how, so I’d need a book or something to help me learn.”

“Uh-huh. I see. So, what else?” Was he asking for more ideas or was he insinuating that there would be multiple gifts? Because she didn’t even expect the one, so getting more than one wasn’t even on her radar.

“I…really don’t know. Books, maybe, I guess. And I like really dumb movies. Like Will Ferrell movies. You have some of them, but maybe Blades of Glory? And Anchorman?”

He smiled. “You can’t go wrong with Will Ferrell. We’ll have to have a Will Ferrell movie marathon afterwards.” He sounded excited. She smiled, too. Because it really did sound like it would be fun. “Anything else?”

“Maybe notebooks? And a pen?”

He chuckled. “That’s not a Christmas present. You can have that right now. Why haven’t you asked before now?”

“I don’t know. I thought maybe you’d say no because I could stab you with the pen or something.”

He really laughed that time. “Well…are you going to stab me with the pen?”

She thought about it for a little bit. Because she thought that maybe she could. But would she? She’d already stabbed him with a fork. He raised an eyebrow at her, waiting. She knew it was suspicious to sit there thinking for that long. But he was smirking, clearly amused. Finally, she decided that, no, at that very moment she didn’t think a pen would be enough to make an escape, so it would be pointless.

Besides, if a fork didn’t stop him, a pen wouldn’t either. She shook her head. “I don’t think so.”

That caused him to laugh even more. “You don’t think so? That’s not very convincing. But, I guess I’ll trust you. I probably have a notebook around here, but I’ll pick you up some new ones after work on Tuesday.”

She was excited to have something to write on. And she was almost looking forward to Christmas.

Chapter Text

She wrote everything down. Since he’d brought her some notebooks, she had already nearly filled the first. She wrote down all of her thoughts. All of her feelings.

Other times, she wrote letters that she would never be able to send. She wrote letters to Bella, some happy and some sad. She also wrote nasty letters, to her mom and her dad and to all the other people she had anger for. Other times, she would write letters to Ryan. Most of them weren’t good or bad. She just wrote letters to him telling him exactly how she felt about everything. Although, she would never ever let him see.

Sometimes she would write fictional things. She would write little stories about anything and everything. Other times she would write a fictional version of her own life. Sometimes, where she never got taken. Other times, where she got out, and what may happen after that. Still other times she wrote about never getting out and staying there with Ryan forever. There was no real meaning to any of it. Just her wandering mind.

She just wrote. And wrote and wrote. Until her hands cramped with the effort and the pen ink had stained the sides of her hands black.

One night, Ryan came down and she quickly closed the notebook she was currently using. She had been writing a letter to her friends. He gave her a questioning look. “What do you write in there? You’re always writing. I’m curious.”

“Just…everything. Just stuff.”

“Hmm. Just stuff. Is it like real life stuff? Or fiction?”

She got a bit nervous. She didn’t think he would try to read it. He hadn’t shown himself to be that kind of person. But if he did get a hold of it, she would just about die of embarrassment. And if she didn’t drop dead immediately, she’d certainly want to.

“Relax, Grace. I’m not going to read it, whatever it is. I was just wondering.”

She nodded. “Real life stuff, I guess. Mostly, although some fictional stuff too.”

“Mmn,” he said, sitting down on the couch. “Do you write about me in there?”

“Yes.”

“Good stuff, bad stuff?” She stayed silent. “I’m kidding, you don’t need to answer that. Whatever it is you’re writing, if it helps you, then I’m glad.”

She started putting the notebooks underneath her mattress. Just in case.

Chapter Text

On Christmas morning, Ryan apologized to her, for about the 50th time that week, because he had to work during the day. But he promised her they would have tons of fun when he got home. She didn’t mind it.

But it did give her a lot of free time to fill. She tried to read some. She tried to write a little. But mostly she just got lost in her thoughts about life outside. And, especially on Christmas, life outside meant spending lots of time with Bella.

They always had a cute Christmas program at the school. She must have already missed it. She wondered what sort of theme they had. She wished she could have seen it. She hoped that somebody had stepped up and went to watch her. It would be heartbreaking for Bella to not have anyone there to greet her afterwards and tell her how good she had done.

She was worried that maybe her mom was with Bella. She’d been with her on TV. And she didn’t even want to think about all of the awful things that could be happening. It made her sick to her stomach.

By the late afternoon, she was so exhausted from the constant running thoughts that she fell asleep on the couch.

She woke up to the sound of the basement door closing. She got up and rubbed her eyes. Ryan was coming down the stairs, already out of his uniform.

“Hey, sorry, did I wake you? I came down a little while ago and you were sleeping, but I still needed to make dinner, so I left you alone. You hungry? I made lasagna. Oh, and Merry Christmas!” Her mouth immediately watered. She loved lasagna. But the ingredients to make it good were a little expensive, so she rarely ever got to make it for herself.

They went upstairs, and she fell in love. With the lasagna, that is. “Oh my god. This tastes so similar to how my Grandma made it!” Lasagna was another one of her Grandma’s redeeming qualities. No matter how rude her grandmother was, she always made sure Grace was well-fed before she left. “I mean, it’s a little different, but it’s so good.” She hadn’t even waited to swallow before she started talking, it was that good.

He chuckled. “This is actually my Grandma’s recipe. She used to make it for me when my dad would kick me out of the house when I was little. He’d call her up and tell her she better come get her grandson or I would be eaten by the coyotes.” His voice got cold towards the end. But then immediately it perked back up. “But my Grandma would always make me amazing food. I wish I could have just lived with her instead. I don’t think anyone ever loved me more than that woman did.”

“Is she…still alive?” Grace asked.

He stopped to chew for a few seconds. “No, she’s not. She was in bad health ever since I could remember. And I think having to deal with me made it even harder for her. She died when I was 12.”

“Oh…I’m really sorry.” She played with her food with her fork. “My Grandma passed away, too. When I was 8.”

“What was your Grandma like?”

“Not the best. She kind of resented me, I think. Because when my mom just really didn’t want to take care of me, she’d drop me off at my Grandma’s unannounced. She was always a little cold with me. But she always made good food. And she sometimes played games with me. Mostly I was just happy to be with her because it meant I wasn’t with my mom. Even if she didn’t like me, it was better being with her. She never hit me or anything.” She smiled sadly at the memories. They were kind of pitiful, but they were some of the best memories she had growing up.

He frowned. “Oh. I’m sorry. I wish…I wish I could go back to save you from all that. You deserved better. I bet my Grandma would have taken you in, too. This house we’re in actually belonged to my Grandma, before she died.”

“Oh, wow,” Grace said. It made sense when she thought about it—the kitchen reminded her of her own Grandma’s kitchen. Their Grandmas must have had similar tastes. “Did you have any other grandparents?”

“My mom’s parents were gone before I was born. It was my dad’s mom that I knew. Her husband, my Grandpa, died before I was born. So, she was the only one I had. You?”

“Only my Grandma. My mom’s mom. I don’t know where her dad is or was. Neither of them would ever give me a straight answer when I asked. So, he could be alive or dead, I don’t know. And I never met my dad’s parents as far as I can remember. I don’t know if they’re alive or dead, either. I don’t even know what their names are.”

He nodded his head. Grace finished her last bite and put her fork down, sitting back in her chair. “It’s kind of weird,” Grace noted, “that our family situations are kind of similar. Or were. Like we didn’t have the best of families, other than your Grandma.”

“Yeah. I wish that both of us could have had a better childhood than we did,” he said, sadness tinting his voice. “But,” he added, putting down his fork, “we can make it better now, right? And now that we’re done eating, it’s time to open presents! Let’s go.” He got up and grabbed her hand, pulling her with him through the hall and to the living room. He was like a kid in a candy store.

She stopped in the doorway. “What…” There were quite a few gifts under the tree. She could tell a few of them were DVDs, but there were also other things as well, boxes that were bigger. She looked at Ryan and the smile on his face might have been bigger than she’d ever seen it, and so genuine. And he smiled at her a lot, so that was saying something.

He tugged on her hand, “come on, I can’t wait for you to open them.”

They sat down in front of the tree and he handed them to her, one by one. The DVDs were the best kind of stupid. He got her the ones she asked for, plus a couple more she loved. “Oh my god, I forgot about this one,” she exclaimed, opening one that she hadn’t told him about. She couldn’t wait to watch them all.

In the bigger boxes she found a rainbow assortment of different yarn. She had every color she could imagine. Then, in a smaller box, she found all of the tools she needed, plus a few how-to books.

She had honestly never had so many presents.

It might have been the most fun she’d ever had on Christmas. With her kidnapper, of all people. God, what a messy life I’m living, she thought.

When there were no more presents left under the tree, Ryan said, “I’ll be right back. I have one more thing for you.” He unlocked the door and ran out. She heard a car door slam and he came back in with a manila folder. “So, I didn’t wrap it or anything, but,” he handed her the folder and sat back down in front of her.

She honestly had no idea what it could be. It felt like there were just papers inside. But what she found was so much more.

Pictures. So many pictures of Bella. She put her hand over her mouth, trying not to cry. “I know you miss her. And I didn’t intend for that to happen when I brought you here. These,” he pointed at the ones she was looking at, “are from her Christmas program recently. The school posted them online. There weren’t many good ones of specifically her, but there were definitely some. And this one,” he rifled through them, still in her hands, and pulled one out to put it on top, “is her school picture from this year. I thought you might want to see it. There are some others there, too, of her at events that the school posted.”

She couldn’t stop herself from weeping. The tears were falling so fast that one fell on one of the pictures before she was able to wipe her face.

She missed her. So much. And seeing her just made her ache even more.

I should be with her right now, she thought. I should be making her hot cocoa and reading her a Christmas story before bed.

Bella had gotten her hair cut before the Christmas program, it looked like. It was short and she had bangs now, where before it was nearly down her back. She looked like she was having fun, and it made Grace’s heart soar knowing that she could still be smiling and having fun despite Grace’s absence. That was what worried her the most—that her absence would ruin Bella’s life.

But, just like on the news, she looked healthy. And, at least in the pictures, she looked like she was happy. And that’s all Grace wanted for her.

After a while, she sniffled and wiped her eyes with her sleeve. She looked up and Ryan was smiling sadly at her. “I’m sorry. I really didn’t intend for it to be this way. I have some frames, too, and we can hang these up downstairs. Or up here, wherever. So you can always have her picture around. I asked around about her and did some digging to check how she was doing. A friend I work with is married to a secretary at the school and she said that Bella is doing well. She ended the semester with ‘good marks’, she said. And she’s living with your neighbor—an older woman, maybe 55 or 60? But your Mom is at your home, now. She’s been living there since about a week after. And from what I hear, she’s trying to get clean. I don’t know how well it’s working, but that’s what I’ve heard. She goes over to the neighbor’s house regularly, though, and I guess spends time with Bella. So. That’s what I know right now.”

Grace sat there for a long time. She wondered for a second if she could believe everything he was saying, but then realized that he had no reason to lie. He didn’t have to give her these pictures and he didn’t have to explain how she was doing. But he did anyways. So, she chose to believe him. If only to make herself feel better.

Bella got good marks. They didn’t have grades anymore for the younger kids, so ‘good marks’ was the best she could get on their scale. Bella wasn’t living with their mother. She let out a sigh and thanked god that was the case. She trusted her neighbor. She was nice, and she always took great care of Bella. She didn’t have money, but she had a lot of love to give. Grace grit her teeth, thinking about her mother being around Bella, but there wasn’t anything she could do about it. Ryan said her mom was ‘trying to get clean.’ But she didn’t have any hope that it would turn out well. It never did in the past. She selfishly hoped it wouldn’t work this time, either, and that her mother would leave again, so she wouldn’t put Bella in danger.

But right at that moment, it didn’t matter. Because Bella was okay. Bella was good.

Thank you, ” she said, putting the pictures back in the envelope and hugging it to her chest.

“Merry Christmas, Grace.”

She could see the irony in thanking him, of course. She shouldn’t have to thank him, because none of it would have happened had he not taken her in the first place. But she was thankful for that small kindness, even if it was his fault.

He was trying to fix his mistakes. And that gave her hope that maybe—maybe—he would decide to let her go one day.

“I need to go to the restroom,” she said, standing up and putting the folder on the coffee table. “Where,” she started. She’d never been to the bathroom upstairs before, so she had no idea where it was.

“Oh,” he said, standing up as well. “It’s in the hallway. Here,” and he left her to do her business.

She didn’t actually need to use the restroom. But she could feel her eyes starting to swell from the crying. It seemed that happened way quicker these days than it used to. So, she wanted to stop it before it got too bad. She splashed cold water in her face a few times before looking around to find a towel and drying off. She took a deep breath, then headed back out.

She went back to the living room to find Ryan cleaning up the wrapping paper she’d made a mess of. He stopped when he saw her, though. “You okay?”

“Yeah,” she said. Which was a little bit of a lie, but she didn’t feel like talking about it. Or anything.

“Wanna watch one of your new movies?” He asked, holding a couple up.

She smiled. “Yes, please.”

So, they put in one of her favorites and watched it there in the living room. At the end, Ryan got up and told her he’d be right back, then disappeared in the hallway. She heard the front door open, but he must not have gone out, because it was closed right after. Then she heard another door opening and some ruffling around before he came back with various heavy clothes.

“Here,” he said, tossing her a hoodie and a heavier coat. “Put these on.” He started putting on a coat as well.

“Are we…going somewhere?” She was confused.

“Outside,” he answered simply. Last time she’d tried to go outside, it didn’t end well. So why was he letting her go outside again? Even if it was with him.

She shrugged to herself and did what she was told. She was just happy she was getting the chance to breathe fresh air again. The clothes were much too big for her. Once she was all bundled up, he walked over and flipped the hood of the hoodie over her head.

He went back into the hallways and grabbed some more stuff—a big pile of pillows and blankets—then motioned for her to come with him. He flipped off all the lights and opened the front door, pulling her out with him.

She breathed in the crisp winter air. It was cold, but not as cold as she expected it to be. Thankfully, there was no wind blowing.

“Look,” he said, nodding up at the sky. When she did, she gasped.

It was so beautiful.

She could see every single star in the sky. She’d never seen anything like it. She’d always lived in town, so the street lights made it difficult to really see the stars. But here, there were no lights to block it out. And it was magnificent.

“Come on,” he whispered, as if he didn’t want to disturb the quiet. He pulled her with him towards a truck, the moon their only light. In the bed, he had set up a little mattress. He climbed up inside and put one of the blankets down to lay on. He held his hand out to help her up.

He threw the pillows down towards the cab of the truck. “Here, lay down,” he told her. Then he took the other blanket he brought and laid it over the top of her, before laying down beside her.

She shivered from the cold, but she couldn’t bring herself to care. “Beautiful,” she said in wonder.

“Isn’t it? My Grandma used to take me out here and do the same thing when I was little. You don’t get to see the sky like this when you live in town—too many lights. But out here, it’s pitch dark, so you can see every single star.”

Every once in a while, he would find something interesting up there that he wanted her to see. “Look, here,” he said, grabbing her hand and moving it to the point where she should look.

She wasn’t sure how long they stayed out there, but eventually, despite the cold, she started to feel tired.

She tried to stifle a yawn.

“Tired? Wanna go inside?” Ryan asked her.

But she didn’t want to. Sure, it was freezing, but she couldn’t believe she’d lived her entire life without seeing something so breathtaking. She wanted to stay there forever.

When she looked over at him, laying there beside her and smiling as he watched her, her heart started to beat a little faster. He was really quite handsome. For a second, she wanted to kiss him. She looked away quickly and pushed the feelings way, way down.

“We can do it again, some other night,” he reassured her, smiling. “Maybe when it’s warmer. Come on, you’re probably super cold,” he said, sitting up. She figured that he was probably much colder than her, since she had the blanket and he didn’t. Once she grabbed his hand as he helped her get up, she was sure of it.

“You’re freezing!” She exclaimed.

He just laughed. “I’m fine. I’ve been through worse, trust me. Come on, let’s go inside.”

“Shouldn’t we take in the blankets and stuff?”

“I’ll get them out tomorrow before I have to go to work. For now, let’s get in where it’s warm.”

He led her back down into the basement.

As he started to leave, she stopped him, grabbing the back of his coat. “Ryan.” He turned around. “Um…Thank you. For today. Tonight. It was…thank you.”

He nodded and gave her a tired smile. “Merry Christmas. Sweet dreams, Grace.”

“Merry Christmas. Goodnight, Ryan.”

Chapter Text

On New Year’s Eve, Ryan came home from work with a pizza so they could celebrate the new year. They watched movies upstairs in the living room until about an hour before midnight when they switched it to watch the festivities in NYC before the ball dropped. She had only watched it a few times before, so she was excited to see it again. She wondered if she’d ever get a chance to go there and watch it in person.

When the countdown started, she looked over and found Ryan fast asleep. “Ryan,” she whispered, shaking him. She wanted him to wake up to see the ball drop, since they’d stayed up all this time waiting for it. She didn’t want him to miss it. But he just turned his head and grunted in his sleep.

And then it occurred to her that she was upstairs. And Ryan was asleep. And she could run if she really wanted to.

Her heart started pounding in her chest. This was her chance. An even better chance than when she tried to run the first time. This time he wouldn’t stop her, at least not for a while, as long as she left quietly.

When she looked at him, though, she doubted the decision. Part of her brain was conflicted. The other part of her brain was screaming at her, are you an idiot? Run. Run away, fast, go, don’t stop. Bella needs you. He took you away from everything. Don’t be stupid!

Her hands shook with the anticipation. She sat there thinking for a few more moments, as the ball dropped, and midnight hit. She looked around, then at Ryan. She didn’t know what in the world she was feeling towards him, but she knew she shouldn’t be feeling it.

Did she…like him? Like, like him like him? No. Nope, stop, her brain chastised her. He’s a kidnapper. Run. Away!

She took a deep breath and slowly got off the couch and made her way to the door, unlocking both the knob and the deadbolt as quietly as she could. She poked her head back in the living room to see if Ryan had woken, but he was still sleeping peacefully.

She had her hand on the knob, ready to run. But she had a million doubts. First, she didn’t have any real shoes. She didn’t know what had happened to the ones she came here with. She had thin slippers on, but she had no idea how far away the closest town or house might be, so she didn’t know if they would hold up until then. Second, it was likely freezing out there. If it was anything like it had been on Christmas night, there was no way she would get too far with what she was wearing: leggings and a long thin sweater. The other day he’d wrapped her in a hoodie and a coat, and she’d still been cold.

But she didn’t have any time. He’d taken the ones he gave her that night they went outside, and she wasn’t sure where he’d put them. His bedroom, probably, but she’d never been in there. Did she have time to look around? Not if she wanted to make it out. If she moved around inside too much he was sure to wake up.

It was now or never.

And she chose now. She slowly turned the knob and slipped outside, closing it softly behind her. The wind was ice cold against her skin, like a thousand tiny needles poking her, and her clothes weren’t doing anything to help. She strongly considered going back inside.

I can’t do this, she thought at first, before changing her mind. No, no, no. I want to leave. I do. And I will. Because there is nothing for me here. It’s all a lie.

So, freezing, she started to run. His truck was there, but she didn’t have any clue where he might have kept his keys. She didn’t know, and she didn’t have the luxury of time to search.

Thankfully, the moon was still pretty bright in the sky, so it lit her way until she got into the denser trees. Most had lost their leaves, but others hadn’t. It was dark and she started to trip on things she couldn’t see.

After a while, she couldn’t run anymore. Her hands and feet were freezing, and it hurt. She stopped dead in her tracks when she heard…howling?

A symphony of coyote yips and howls erupted around her. They were probably more afraid of her than she was of them. Or at least that’s what she tried to tell herself.

They probably weren’t even anywhere near her, but it sounded like they were everywhere. She put her hands over her ears and continued to walk.

After a while, the wind blowing started to burn rather than freeze. It seemed that no matter which direction she turned, she was walking directly into the wind. And at some point, she got turned around. She didn’t know which way was forward and which way was back.

She couldn’t walk anymore. Everything hurt. Her entire body was shaking, and she couldn’t feel her fingers. Every place on her body not covered—and even some of the parts that were—felt like it was burning with each new gust of wind. Her brain was screaming at her. You’re weak. Are you really going to give up? You coward.

She sat down by a tree and brought her knees up to her chest, trying to curl up tight enough so that the wind wasn’t hitting her face anymore. She could still hear the coyotes, even with her hands over her ears.

Oh shit. I’m going to get eaten by coyotes. Is that really better than being nice and warm with Ryan? You idiot! What were you thinking, Grace?

She wished she’d never left. She wanted to go back, but she didn’t know which way ‘back’ was. She didn’t know how far away anything else was, either.

I’m going to die out here. I’m going to freeze to death right here. I’m so sorry, Bella. What a stupid, stupid way to die.

She had no idea how long she’d been out there, but it must have been a while.

Grace!

She thought she heard her name from somewhere, but it was probably just the wind whistling at her. Probably making fun of her for being such an idiot. She would, too.

But then she heard it again. “Graaaace!

Ryan. Ryan was out there, somewhere, looking for her! She wanted to go to him, but it hurt too much to move. Her limbs felt frozen.

She tried to respond, but her teeth were chattering, and her voice was scratchy from the cold. Again, she tried, but her voice was too quiet.

She started to cry, tears cooling immediately on her skin.

Grace?!” Ryan must have heard her somehow. “Grace, where are you?” He was getting closer and closer.

Grace,” he said, voice full of relief as he dropped to his knees in front of her. “Oh, shit. Grace, what have you done? Fuck. Okay,” he said. “Alright, come on, you have to get up.” She wanted to, but everywhere he touched her, it hurt. She whimpered.

“I know, sweetheart, I know. But we have to get you inside. Come on, stand up, just a bit more.”

Once she did, he wrapped something heavy around her and suddenly the wind didn’t hurt as much.

“Alright, here we go,” he said, and picked her up, carrying her in his arms as if she weighed no more than a small child.

She buried her face in his neck, grateful to be pressed up against something warm. Grateful to be shielded from the wind. Grateful to being going…

Home.

Chapter Text

Her hands and feet were aching. Everything was so cold. But she could feel that she was in…water? Why am I in the water? I’m so cold.

She groaned in pain and tried to move, tried to stand up, but something stopped her. Something warm. “Hey, hey, hold still.” Ryan? “You’ve got to stay right here, don’t move. I know it hurts.”

She opened her eyes and looked down. She gasped when she found she was only in her underwear. In her haste to cover herself up, she splashed water everywhere.

He glanced away from her. “Sorry. I had to get you out of the cold clothes and make sure you didn’t get frostbitten anywhere.”

Please, I’m so cold, ” she begged, voice scratchy and broken.

“I know. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. But we’ve got to get you warmed up the right way. I don’t know how long you were out there, but it must have been a while. If we try to warm you up too quick, you’ll end up hurt.” She could feel his warm breath hitting her skin. She leaned back against the tub.

I’m sorry, ” she whispered. “Sorry. I’m sorry. So sorry. ” She really was. Because everything he’d done for her was so sweet. Other than the kidnapping itself, of course. But he had been so nice to her. And this is how I repay him?

He sighed. “Shh,” he said. “It’s okay. You’re safe now. That’s all that matters.”

<<>><<>><<>>

She was warm again. Maybe too warm. She was sweating. At some point, she must have fallen asleep. But when she woke, she was laying in her bed, smothered in blankets.

She squirmed around under the covers and heard metal clinking. Her eyes went wide. She was back with the ankle chain. It’s not like she didn’t expect it, but she still didn’t like it.

But she supposed it was her own fault. She knew the consequences and she did it anyways.

She was probably back to square one. Ryan probably lost all trust in her. And she probably wouldn’t be allowed back upstairs for a while. Or maybe ever. He’d given her too many chances already. He would be stupid to give her any more.

She heard him opening the door and listened to his footsteps as he came down the stairs. She didn’t want to face him.

But she had a question. It was a stupid question. She already knew the answer. He’d kind of answered it before. But she needed to ask it anyways.

“Good morning. Well, afternoon, I guess. How are you feeling?” He put the back of his hand on her forehead and she winced. The skin was so tender there. “Your body seems to be back to temperature. But I need to check how your hands and feet are doing. I think you escaped frostbite. But your poor face and hands are red as tomatoes. Wind burn, probably.”

He pulled all the blankets off of her and inspected her hands and feet. Her feet felt fine, but her hands were tender, just like her forehead. She winced again. “Do they still hurt pretty bad?” He sighed and shut his eyes tight, pinching the bridge of his nose in frustration. “Grace, I don’t know what the hell you were thinking. You could have died out there. What if I hadn’t woken up when I did? What if I had just slept until morning? And what if I couldn’t find you? I would’ve—” He stopped for a moment. “It could have been so much worse than this.

She tried hard to keep them away, but the tears came to her eyes anyways. “Sorry, ” she whispered.

He sighed again and put one blanket back on, leaving the rest in a heap beside her. “I’m going to make you some soup. I’ll be back down in just a few. Don’t try to move around too much. You need to rest.”

She closed her eyes and listened to him walk away. She decided to ask her stupid question. “Ryan,” she said, and he stopped on the stairs. “You really are going to keep me here forever, aren’t you?”

There was a long pause and for a moment she wondered if he was even still standing there. But then he cleared his throat. “Yes.” And with that, he went upstairs.

She nodded, to no one in particular, and let the answer sit with her for a while. Of course, she knew the answer before she asked. So, it wasn’t like it was a shocking revelation. She just needed to hear it out loud.

She learned her lesson, though. She wouldn’t try to leave again when it was so cold. Maybe again, in the spring or summer, when it was warmer. But for right now, she had to stay put.

She had a long road ahead of her. So, she decided right then and there to just go with it. She wouldn’t fight anymore. She’d get along with Ryan, just like she had been. She wouldn’t test him. She wouldn’t make any stupid plans.

Nope. She was just going to pretend that this really was her home, until she found the right time.

So, all things considered, it was good to be home.

Chapter Text

The next day, she felt a little better. She was able to get up and walk around. As far as her chain would allow her. Her face and hands were still tender, but certainly getting better.

The day after that, she felt a little worse. She didn’t feel well when she woke up, but sometimes you just have those weird days, so she didn’t say anything to Ryan before he left for work.

But as the day went on, things got worse and worse. She ate the oatmeal Ryan left her for breakfast. Halfway through the bowl she felt a little nauseous, but she pushed through. Within twenty minutes of the last bite, she was emptying her stomach into the toilet. Her body temperature seemed to be fluctuating. Sometimes she was sweating. Other times she had the chills, even buried deep inside her blankets.

The nausea and vomiting continued until it was just dry-heaving. There just wasn’t anything left to purge. Her entire body ached.

In short, she was miserable.

When her eyes were open, the room spun around her. So, she kept herself in bed, with a trash can nearby so she wouldn’t have to get up when her body decided she needed to dry-heave some more.

She was falling in and out of sleep. Too tired to stay awake, too miserable to stay asleep. When she heard Ryan at the door, she whimpered.

He could take care of her. He would help her. He saved her from the cold, so he could save her from this, too.

“Grace?” He asked, before he reached the bottom of the stairs. He must have heard her pathetic whines. “Oh god, what happened? Are you okay?” He rushed over to the bed and put his hand over her head. It was still slightly tender, but his hand was cold, and it felt good. “You’re burning up. When did this start?”

She tried to open her eyes, but the room was rotating, so she closed them tight again. “Morning,” she answered.

“Why didn’t you say anything before I left?” He tsked. “You poor thing.” He brushed the hair off her sweaty forehead. “I’ll get you some medicine and a wet wash cloth for your head, okay? I’ll be right back.”

“Mmn,” she replied.

When he came back, he made her sit up and take some medicine to reduce her fever. She almost immediately threw up the water, along with the pill, but she was able to hold it all down through sheer force of will. Then he laid her back down and put the washcloth over her forehead. By that point, she had the chills again, so it felt too cold.

“You definitely need to eat something. I picked up some more soup after work, so let me go heat some up for you.” Before he could leave, she reached out and grabbed his hand.

She was too far past the point of caring what a victim should do and how a victim should act with her kidnapper. It didn’t matter anymore, anyways. She was just going to do what she wanted, regardless of whether she should or not.

And right then, she wanted him to stay.

Please, stay, ” she asked, squeezing his hand.

“You really should eat something. But I promise I won’t be long.”

“Not hungry. Please.”

He contemplated for a minute before nodding. “Okay. Just for a little bit, then we need to get some food in you.” He moved to the other side of the bed and laid down beside her.

A shiver rolled through her body, and she sought him out for warmth. She snuggled up against him and let him hold her before falling asleep.

<<>><<>><<>>

When she woke up, she couldn’t quite remember what happened. All she knew was that someone warm and comforting was holding her, and she didn’t want it to stop. She froze when she heard his soft little snores.

Ryan. Ryan was holding her. Or maybe they were holding each other. Either way, she didn’t know how she got to that point.

She thought about pulling away. But for some reason, she didn’t hate it. In fact, it felt nice. So, she decided not to think too much about it, and snuggled in a bit closer and fell right back asleep.

Ryan called in sick the next two days to take care of her. On the second day, she was feeling a bit better, but he insisted that he needed to be there, just to be sure.

No one had ever taken care of her like that before. She’d been sick plenty of times as a kid, but her mother never helped her. So, she cleaned up her own vomit. She got her own ice-packs.

It was nice having someone take care of her for once.

By Sunday, she felt almost good as new. She could eat again and keep everything down. The wind burn on her face and hands was gone, so no more pain.

And, even though she felt better, Ryan slept downstairs Sunday night. Then Monday night, too. It wasn’t anything weird. Most of the time, they didn’t touch. But she liked it. It felt comforting to have him there beside her. Being behind a locked door day in and day out was suffocating. At least if he was there, she wasn’t alone.

After he started sleeping upstairs again, she was almost disappointed. But she buried the feeling deep inside, just like so many other things in her life.

He stopped putting the chain on her when he was gone. Again. She didn’t see any point on putting it on her at all, but she wasn’t the kidnapper here, so who was she to tell him how to do his job?

She worried. She worried about Bella. She worried about a lot of things. Her Grandma used to say, “you’re going to worry yourself to death.” She hoped that people didn’t actually die from worry. If they did, though, she would probably kick the bucket any day now.

School. If she didn’t finish high school, she wouldn’t be able to go to college. And without college, she didn’t think she’d be able to get a job that could properly support her and Bella if they moved off on their own, which is what she planned. She was going to move them both far away, so that their mother could never find them.

Plus, with her October birthday, she was already a year older than many of the kids in her class. Her birthday was too late to start the year earlier, so not long after kindergarten started, she was already six, while almost everyone else was five. She hated being the oldest. Once she got out, she’d be even older than the new juniors, so it would be even worse.

So, she worried and worried.

But she also basked in responsibility-free life. She could watch movies and TV whenever she felt like it. No one interrupted her when she was reading. She started to learn to knit, but she didn’t seem to be any good. Still, she kept trying. Ryan told her he thought she was doing well. Even if it was a lie, it gave her a bit of confidence.

And the weirdest thing of all: she actually looked forward to Ryan coming home every day. While it was a scary thought, she wasn’t going to run away from the truth. She enjoyed his company. They had the same sense of humor, similar viewpoints on life, and most importantly, similar histories. They each knew a little about what the other had gone through.

He kept her updated on Bella and how things were going outside as much as he could. Not that it made up for him taking her in the first place, but still. She was going to take what she could get.

Outside, her life had come to a screeching halt. But here, her life went on.

Chapter Text

Some days, Ryan spent less time with her than others. And sometimes when he came down, he was dirty, his hands blackened. She had no idea what activity was getting him that way, but she was positive she’d never done anything in her life that would have gotten her so dirty. He’d never mentioned what he did, and she’d never asked.

But one day he came downstairs wanting to know if she had any requests for dinner. She ignored that and instead decided to get down to the bottom of it.

“What do you do when you’re not down here?”

“Huh? I work on things, I guess. Different things.”

“How do your hands get so dirty?”

He looked down at them, turning them over, as if he had never noticed. “Right now, I’m working on a truck.”

“Is it broken?”

“Kind of. It’s really old, something my Grandma kept from when my Grandpa was still alive. So, I’m trying to kind of re-do it, I guess.” He had a small smile pulling at the corners of his lips.

“Was it the truck we laid in? It didn’t look very old.” Of course, she’d only ever been out when it was dark, or when she was running away. And the curtains on most of the windows upstairs were shut tight, so she never really got to look around for any other trucks. Or anything at all.

“No, that’s the truck I drive every day. This truck is in back. There’s a garage back there.”

She was curious. “Could I see?”

He looked surprised, but she could also see how happy it made him. “Really? It’s cold out there right now. There’s no heater. But if you want, I’d love to take you back there.” She was a little scared—she used to love the cold, but now she could only think about how she almost froze to death in it.

But they got all bundled up—well, she did. He just put on a tan-colored heavy coat, like the ones she sometimes saw construction workers wearing in the winter. It was stained with what she assumed was oil and other various fluids you might find in a garage. But she liked the smell of it. It was hard to describe, but it smelled like hard work.

He gave her back her shoes, the ones she’d been wearing when she got there. He said he’d just had them in the closet and hadn’t thought to give them back to her, because he didn’t expect her to go outside for a while.

She was happy to be wearing them again. They weren’t anything special, just old black slip-on sneakers, worn out from years of use. They weren’t name brand. But they were comfortable, and they were familiar.

He held her hand tight as he led her outside, and she figured her hand would be all dirty, too, when he let go. Maybe he was afraid that she’d run again, now that she had the proper clothes to survive out there. She wouldn’t, though. Not until it warmed up. Then, she would try again.

The yard was bigger than she thought. It stretched around the house and into the back and kept going for a while. But even the backyard was surrounded by trees. It was almost like a fairytale—a house all alone in the forest.

She was pretty sure people in fairytales usually didn’t get drugged and kidnapped, though. But then again, Hansel and Gretel almost got baked into a cake by an old witch, so maybe she really was stuck in a fairytale. Or at the very least a cautionary tale for children. Except, she didn’t get to leave a trail of bread crumbs to find her way back home.

There was a large garage back there, just like he’d said. It might have even been bigger than the house. They walked inside and it was dark as sin, with no windows to bring in light. If he had brought her here when she’d first been taken, she probably would have assumed it was his torture chamber. His ‘toy-box,’ where she would meet her doom. There was a serial killer like that. The ‘Toy-Box Killer’ had tortured and murdered countless women in his ‘toy-box’ trailer. The thought made her sick to her stomach. She shuddered, and not from the cold.

She was incredibly lucky that it was Ryan who took her, and not someone like that.

He flipped the switch and the fluorescent lights came to life, starting on one side until the whole building was flooded with light. There were a few that simply flickered, not on, but not off, either.

Her eyes opened wide. She had never seen so much stuff. There was a pathway to walk, but the rest of the room seemed covered in everything imaginable. Tools, different cabinets and tool boxes, furniture, hoses, boxes, a lot of stuff made of metal, and a lot of stuff she didn’t know the name to. Just filled to the brim. She’d watched a bit the show ‘American Pickers’ in a doctor’s waiting room once, and this garage looked just like a barn she saw on there.

He laughed at the look on her face. “Yeah, according to my Grandma, my Grandpa was a bit of a hoarder.” He looked around. “Okay, maybe more than just a bit.”

He led her down the thin pathway and she was surprised when it opened up. The back of the garage was clean and organized, free of the clutter. Well, what she’d just walked through was worse than clutter, but she didn’t have a better word to describe it. A ‘disaster’ maybe.

There were shelves on the walls, tables and stands covered in different tools and different things he seemed to be working on.

“This part used to look like all the rest of it, but I cleaned it up.”

“That sounds horrible,” she said, completely serious. If she walked into a building like this and was told she had to clean it up, she might just walk right back out and never look back. He just laughed.

The truck he was working on was old. It also didn’t really look like a truck. It had a bed like a regular truck, but the cab looked more like a van. It was white and there were bits of rust here and there. The motor, or what she thought was the motor, was hanging in front of the truck.

“What kind of a truck is this? I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“1961 Ford Econoline Pickup. It’s pretty neat, isn’t it?” She nodded and walked up to it, looking around. She ran her fingers along the side of it, and when she pulled them away, they were chalky white, just like the paint.

“What’s wrong with it?”

“Well, right now I’m putting a rebuild kit on it. Replacing the pistons, rings, gaskets, that kind of stuff.” She was dumbstruck, because she didn’t know what any of that meant, and it must have shown on her face, because he couldn’t stop himself from laughing. “Basically, just rebuilding the motor. Then I’ll worry about the body later.”

“How do you know how to do stuff like this?”

He furrowed his brows. “My dad taught me. The only good thing he ever did for me. He was a mechanic before he got heavy into the drugs and stuff. So, sometimes when I was young, I’d find him working on a car in the backyard—not here, but my house I had growing up. When he had sober moments, he’d talk me through what he was doing and tell me how he was going to fix this or that. So, it started there, then the rest of it I’ve kind of self-taught. I’m not an expert or anything, but it’s fun for me.”

“I wish I could do stuff like this. Stuff that might help me out one day if I can’t afford to take a car to the mechanic or something. I mean, I don’t have a car now, but someday.”

He had such a genuine happy smile on his face. He just seemed so excited that she was interested. “It’s pretty handy knowledge to have. If you want, you can come out here sometimes and I’ll show you what I’m doing. This truck’s a lot older than what we drive today, so it’s going to be a little different, but I could teach you basic stuff.”

She nodded. “Okay. I’d like that.”

“Do you know how to change a tire, change the oil, stuff like that?” She shook her head, a bit embarrassed. “Oh,” he chuckled, “well we should probably start there then, before we get you tearing into an engine.”

She shivered. Somehow, it always seemed colder inside on freezing days, without wind, than outside.

“But for now, how about we go warm up and eat?” He put his hand out and she took it, following along, back through the too-small pathway.

She hoped that he would start teaching her soon. Because it would be nice to take those skills with her when she finally found a way out.

Chapter Text

By February, he was letting her hang out upstairs again, but he was cautious never to fall asleep, lest she pull a ‘New Year’s Eve’ escape. They were always back downstairs way earlier than bed time.

They played games a lot. Uno and Yatzee were quickly becoming their favorites to play together.

On a Sunday in late February, they woke up to find it had snowed heavily overnight. He had heard about the chance at work, but he had no idea it would be so much. There had to be a good 4-6” on the ground.

After breakfast, he smiled deviously at her. She just raised a brow at him, still a little grumpy from just waking up. “What?”

“Do you want to build a snowman?” He sang off-key and laughed at his own lame reference.

Just the week before, she’d asked him to bring home some Disney movies and she forced him to watch Frozen. She knew all the songs, since it was Bella’s favorite. Bella begged every day to go over to the neighbor’s house to watch it on their TV. “Only if we can call him Olaf and bring him to life,” she answered, returning to her food.

He laughed. “No, I’m serious. Do you want to go outside and build a snowman with me?”

She hesitated for just a moment before agreeing. She still wasn’t a fan of the cold. But if he was there, she supposed she’d be safe. He’d saved her last time, after all. By the time they were all bundled up, this time with hats and gloves, too, she was excited.

They did build a snowman. The snow was a little too soft and powdery to really build anything solid, so he was droopy and misshapen, but he definitely loosely resembled a snowman. Ryan got up to go inside to get a hat and a scarf to finish him up, but when he turned around, Grace suddenly felt the urge to hit him with a snowball like a little kid.

Quickly, she crafted one up and threw it at him. It exploded as it landed in the middle of his back. He turned around, faking shock. “Too scared to throw one back?” Grace asked, challenging.

“Oh, you are so on!” He ran off to create his own little arsenal.

They played like children. She didn’t think she’d ever played like that in her life, even when she was an actual kid. But it was fun. Eventually, she ran out of snowballs first and he used the chance to tackle her.

Snow flew everywhere. It was on her face, inside her coat, down her shoes.

They laughed for a long time. She tried to get out from underneath him, but he had her locked there. She looked up at him.

And she wanted to kiss him again. Like the time they watched the stars.

She coughed a little and turned her head to the side. What is wrong with me?

Ryan cleared his throat and got up, helping her up as well.

She had never in her life had an urge like that. Not even the first time she’d wanted to kiss him. And Derek, the boy she thought she liked, and the boy who definitely liked her—she never had the urge to kiss him like that. Never.

But laying there, laughing and playing, it almost seemed ‘right.’ She was drawn to it. She wanted it.

They went inside, noses and ears red from the cold. She went downstairs to change, and Ryan yelled down asking her if she liked marshmallows in her hot chocolate.

“Of course. What kind of a monster doesn’t want marshmallows in their hot chocolate?” She joked. She tried not to think about how soft and red his lips looked, a little swollen from the cold, just inches above her own.

When she was finished, she went up to the living room. Ryan left the basement door open most of the time, these days. When he was home, that is. She sat on the couch and pulled her knees to her chest. She couldn’t get over the feeling she had. It was driving her crazy.

“Grace.”

. . .

Grace.” She whipped her head up to find Ryan in front of her. “Where is your brain?” He asked, chuckling as he handed her a mug.

“Thank you.” She held it in her hands and savored the heat it gave off.

He sat down beside her, and she could feel him staring. “You okay?”

She gave him a fake little smile and nodded. He seemed unimpressed with the response.

Did he feel the same urge, too? Or was it just me?

Shit. I think I really do like him.

What is the matter with me?!

“Are you sure you’re okay? You don’t look okay.”

She sat there for a second before shaking her head no. She was definitely not okay.

“What’s wrong?”

She bit the inside of her cheek. “I…just…” She didn’t know how to say what she wanted to say. Or if she wanted to say it at all. “What kind of relationship did you intend to have with me when you brought me here?” She didn’t look up to see his reaction. She didn’t want to see it. Either that, or she didn’t want him to see her reaction. Because surely if he saw her, he would just know what was going on inside of her brain.

He waited a long time to answer, and she was afraid it was because he must know why she asked the question, and he probably didn’t feel the same way. And how embarrassing would it be to be turned down by your kidnapper? She’d never be able to come back from that.

“Why are you asking that all of a sudden?”

“Just because. Please answer.”

“Well, I didn’t really go in expecting anything. I just wanted to keep you safe and give you a better life. That was the main thing. I hoped maybe you would get used to it. But, what did I want?” He stopped for a while. Maybe he thought she would jump in and save him and tell him he didn’t need to answer after all. “You’ll probably hate me if I tell you.”

“Just tell me. Not before, but right now. What kind of relationship do you want right now?” She still had her face hidden.

“I’m in love with you, Grace.”

Her heart throbbed in her chest.

“Don’t look at me,” she told him.

“What? Sorry, Grace, you asked, so I just—”

“I can’t say what I’m about to say if you’re looking at me,” she said, interrupting him. “So just don’t look at me.”

“Okay. I’m not looking.”

She sighed. “I think…” Her voice sounded too loud, so she whispered the next part. “I think I might like you.”

“Are you messing with me?”

She shook her head. “Why would I mess with you about something like that? This is humiliating for me. I shouldn’t like you. I should hate you. I mean, I still kind of hate you. But I like you, too, and I shouldn’t. I still want to leave. I will leave. But, in the meantime, I think I like you.”

She heard him chuckle and shift in his seat. “Well, I’m not here to force you to feel any type of way. If you like me, I would be incredibly happy. Happier than you can imagine. But I wasn’t expecting you to feel that way, so any way you feel about me is fine.”

She chewed her bottom lip. If she didn’t say it now, she wasn’t sure she would ever have the courage again, so she just did it. “What if I asked to kiss you?” She had probably never been this forward to anyone in her entire life.

“You can do whatever you want to me, Grace. If you want to kiss me? I would love that. If you want to hit me? That’s okay, too. I wouldn’t love that as much, but if that’s what you want, I’ll take it. But I don’t want you to do anything you don’t want to do.”

“Close your eyes.” She peaked out to make sure he really had them closed. She put her mug on the table, then took his out of his hand and put it on the table as well.

She turned on the couch, facing him more. She was nervous. She’d never kissed anyone on her own before. She’d been kissed, but…she shook her head. That’s not what she wanted to be thinking about. She wasn’t going to let her past ruin this for her. She put her hand on his cheek and twisted his head to look at her. Then, she went in. It was just a chaste kiss. Just a quick peck before she pulled back quickly. She could feel her cheeks heat up.

“Can I open my eyes now?”

“Yeah,” she replied.

He smiled at her. He was so handsome. She had really tried not to notice it all this time, but how was she supposed to ignore it? He was with her every day. Every day for nearly half a year.

“Now, can I ask you something? What if I asked to kiss you?” Her already speeding heart sped up just a bit more.

“Okay.” She internally cringed at such a nonchalant response to this major thing that was happening.

When he kissed her, it was with a little more passion. A little more depth. It caused butterflies to flap around in her stomach. She didn’t know that kissing felt so good. He pulled back and rested his forehead on hers. “If at any point, you don’t want to kiss me, or even touch me, don’t do it. If I ever do anything you don’t want, tell me to stop right away. This has to be your decision. Don’t let my feelings influence yours. Okay?”

“Okay.”

He pulled back and planted a kiss on her forehead. “I love you.”

She nodded her head in reply. She didn’t love him. But she definitely liked him. That much she was sure of.

Chapter Text

Okay, so Grace really liked Ryan. And the thought made her a little sick to her stomach. Because nothing about their situation was normal. Nothing about it was okay.

It just shouldn’t be. But it was.

She climbed into bed that night, thinking about the day. Her first real kiss. Her first voluntary kiss.

She laid there, just staring up into the darkness, waiting for Ryan to go back upstairs to sleep. “Ryan,” she whispered before he was able to make it to the stairs.

“Yeah, Grace?”

She continued to whisper. If she talked too loud, it would make everything too real. “You could…stay down here.” She immediately backtracked a little, clarifying herself. “I mean, I don’t mean I want to like…I just mean to lay here, not to…” She groaned in embarrassment. This was probably the most awkward she’d ever been in her life. And she was pretty awkward, so that was saying something. “Nope. Never mind. Forget what I said. Goodnight. ” She turned and buried her face in her pillow

She heard him chuckle. This time, he whispered, too. “I know what you meant. If you want me to leave, I will. If you want me to stay, I want to, as long as it’s okay with you.

Stay, ” she mumbled into her pillow.

He chuckled again. “Let me change, I’ll be right back.”

She listened to his footsteps go up the stairs and she took a deep breath and exhaled loudly, trying to blow away the embarrassment that still had her cheeks red as a tomato. She was nervous. It’s not like they hadn’t slept in the same bed before. Hell, when she was sick, she woke up and found herself curled up in his arms.

But this felt different. Because before, she hadn’t acknowledged her own feelings about the situation. Now, she knew, and even worse, he knew. So, this was a whole new game they were playing.

He came back down and got in bed beside her. After a long while, she whispered, “Ryan?

Yes, Grace?

Could I…would it be okay to move closer to you? ” She wanted the feeling she got when she was sick. Wrapped in his arms, she felt safe and cared for. Like no one in the world could hurt her.

Of course,” he said, and adjusted himself so she could lay her head over one arm. Once she was close, he put his other arm over her waist.

Is this okay? ” she asked. She wasn’t even sure what her question really meant. Was laying there with him okay? Was cuddling with him okay? Was liking him okay? Probably not. But, here she was.

Mmhmm. It’s more than okay.

Okay…goodnight,” she said, snuggling in closer to his chest.

Sweet dreams.

Chapter Text

Spring sprung. Well, not officially. It was still a few days away, but it was starting to warm up outside. Not actually warm, just warmer than 30 degrees.

She was actually excited to see the outside in the Spring and Summer. Which scared her a little. Because she was looking forward to being there longer. She had told herself that she’d leave once it got warmer. But her ‘escape’ day kept getting pushed back in her mind.

Oh well, she decided. It’s not my fault if I like it here. It’s his. If it was his fault, she didn’t have to take responsibility for the feelings that felt like they were splitting her in two—one half the Grace that existed before Ryan, and the other half the current Grace.

Still, she really did want to see the place when it was warmer. It was probably gorgeous in the summer, surrounded by all those trees, full with their leaves.

She turned off the water to the shower, wringing the excess water out of her hair. She toweled off and looked in the mirror. Her hair had gotten a little longer since she’d been there. It was just to her shoulders when he took her, now it was a couple inches below.

If she stayed here, would it mean never getting a haircut again? She wasn’t sure if she could handle that. She loved short hair. It was more convenient. Easier to handle. Her head was filled with these thoughts when she opened the bathroom door.

And she shrieked. She slammed the door shut once again, running back into the shower and pulling the curtain closed.

A spider. There was a spider. A giant, disgusting, monster of a spider, right outside the bathroom door.

She tried to take deep breaths, in and out, but it wasn’t working. It felt like spiders were crawling all over her skin and it made her shake.

She knew that a fear of spiders as bad as hers was generally irrational. She lived in the Midwest, so it wasn’t like they had giant bird-eating spiders like Australia. Or at least she hoped they didn’t.

But logic didn’t have a place in phobias.

When she thought about it, she was actually quite lucky. She hadn’t seen any creepy crawlers down there, and she’d been living in a basement. Basements are notorious spider caves. The image that thought conjured up made her nauseous and she put her hand over her mouth.

When she was back home, Bella used to kill the spiders for her. She was the bravest little girl Grace had ever seen. She wasn’t afraid of spiders or snakes and always acted as Grace’s savior when they crawled her way.

Without Bella, she didn’t know how she would have lived. Every time she saw a spider, she might have just packed up and left, leaving the previous house on fire, just to be sure they were all dead.

That was an exaggeration, but still. It’s what she felt like doing, sometimes.

But Bella wasn’t there. Ryan was at work. Grace was alone. And all she could think about was that spider getting underneath the door and coming inside the shower with her.

Bile rose in the back of her throat and she had to swallow it down.

She had slept in late, though, and she hadn’t showered until around two, which meant she only had about four hours to wait for Ryan to come home and save the day.

She groaned. 4 hours.

In the meantime, she quickly jumped out of the shower and grabbed the clothes she left on the counter before pushing the towel she used to dry off against the crack under the door. She hoped the spider wasn’t quick enough to have run past her already, just waiting to pounce once she turned around. The thought made her skin crawl.

She must have fallen asleep at some point, because she half-woke-up to the sound of a knock on the door. But she decided it wasn’t worth her time and dozed back off. Somewhere in the distance she heard a door opening, then the shower curtain, then she jolted awake when someone shook her.

Thankfully it wasn’t a giant human-sized spider. It was only Ryan.

“Why are you sleeping in the shower?” He asked her, a little amused.

She wished that she shared in his amusement.

Instead, she was embarrassed. She hated how afraid of spiders she was. Her fear was way beyond reasonable. No sane person would hide in a shower for four hours, afraid that if they open the door a whole spider army would spawn and attack.

But here she was.

She put her head in her hands. “Spider,” she mumbled.

“What?”

She sighed and sat up but avoided looking him in his eyes. “There was a spider outside the door. And I am really terrified of spiders. So, I couldn’t come out.” She didn’t mean to cry, but she was just so embarrassed. Tears started falling anyways. “Sorry, I know it’s stupid. I just can’t help it.”

He wiped the tears away. “Don’t cry. It’s okay. I understand. Let me look around and see if I can find it. When did you see it?”

“Around two?”

“Two? You’ve been sitting in here for four hours?” He asked, incredulous.

She shed more tears. “Please don’t make fun of me. I know it’s crazy, okay? I know that.”

“Hey, hey. I’m not making fun. I just can’t believe you’ve had to sit here so long, waiting for someone to come rescue you. Alright, well, let me look and see,” he said, walking around outside the bathroom door. “Well, I don’t see anything, but give me just a second. I have some spider traps and stuff upstairs.”

Before she could protest, he was gone. But thankfully he was back just a few moments later.

He set to work putting the sticky traps around the room, including one in the bathroom.

“Alright, now we’ll catch him, for sure. Why don’t we go upstairs and eat?”

She was happy to get out of the tub, but terrified that the spider would dart out at her somehow, hellbent on revenge. Revenge for what, she didn’t know. She carefully made her way across the floor, looking out for any creepy crawlers that might have found their way in.

They spent the rest of the evening upstairs, talking and watching movies. Around bed time, she hesitated at the basement door. She was scared to go down.

Ryan came up behind her. “Why don’t we sleep upstairs tonight?”

Relief flooded through her, but also embarrassment. “I’m really, really sorry. I know it’s stupid.”

“Don’t sweat it. You can’t help what you’re afraid of. Let me go grab you some pajamas and we can sleep in my room.”

Once he was back upstairs, he shook the pajamas out for her to show her that there were definitely no spiders in there. She really appreciated that he humored her. He headed to the bedroom, but she stopped in the kitchen for a glass of water.

She couldn’t believe it, but she’d never actually been in his bedroom before. She’d seen him go in and out, but she never really had a reason to go in there herself. He was still in the bathroom when she walked in, so she looked around a bit.

Something caught her eye. A flash of something reflective on top of the dresser.

His cellphone.

Her heart started pounding in her chest.

She could leave. She could call someone, and they could use GPS to find her.

She looked back at the door to make sure he was still gone before walking over. She turned it on, surprised that it wasn’t locked. She pressed the little phone at the bottom of the screen.

And then she just stared.

She should call someone, right? She should. I’m not supposed to like Ryan. I’m not supposed to like it here. It’s ridiculous.

So, she should.

Who would I even call? She didn’t know her mother’s number—or if her mother even had a phone. And even if she did, Grace would rather die than call her first. Bella obviously didn’t have a phone. She knew her neighbor’s number and Michelle’s number, but it didn’t feel right to call either of them.

She thought for a second about calling 911. But Ryan was a cop, so maybe that wouldn’t be the best idea.

She dropped down to her knees and let the phone fall to the floor.

She was making excuses. Excuse after excuse of why she couldn’t call this person and shouldn’t call that person.

Tears watered her eyes when she realized that she might actually want to stay more than she wanted to leave. Which was so stupid, because she knew it wasn’t true. Right? It can’t be true. That would be silly.

And then it occurred to her. She’d doubted the word ‘love.’ Ryan said he loved her, and it made her heart swell. But she told herself that she didn’t love him back. She liked him, but she didn’t love him. She couldn’t love him, because that would be crazy.

But she was lying to herself.

Because she did love him. She loved him. Ryan, the man who had kidnapped her over half a year earlier. Ryan, the man who originally chained her ankle so she couldn’t even try to put a code in for the door to escape.

Ryan, the man who got her her first birthday cake. Ryan, the man who held her when she cried and told him no one had ever cared for her. Ryan, the man who came after her and saved her from dying in the cold. Ryan, the man who took better care of her when she was sick than anyone ever had. Ryan, the man who knew her past, and didn’t judge her for it. Ryan, the man who was always so patient, even when she was intentionally trying to annoy and piss him off. Ryan, the man who laid down with her to show her the most beautiful starry sky she’d ever seen.

Ryan, the man who cared more about her than anyone else ever had.

Ryan, Ryan, Ryan.

She loved Ryan.

She didn’t hear him come in the room, but behind her she heard, “Grace.”

She jerked around, surprised, eyes wide. She wiped the tears from her face with her sleeve.

She looked at the phone she’d dropped on the floor, then back at him. “I didn’t—” she started, but she wasn’t sure what to say. ‘Oh, I was going to call someone, then I realized I loved you, so I didn’t, now everything is fine’? That would sound like a lie, even though it was true. Well, aside from the ‘everything is fine’ part.

Without anything else to say, she looked up, tears falling heavier. “I’m sorry.”

“I know you didn’t,” he said.

“Huh?”

“You didn’t call anyone. I’ve been standing here watching you the whole time. I wanted to see what you would do.” He kneeled down in front of her and wrapped his arms around her. Emotions overwhelmed her and she sunk into it. She grabbed onto him and hugged him back, holding him as close as she possibly could. “Thank you,” he said. “I know you could have called someone, and I know that was probably really hard. Thank you.”

They stayed like that for a while, before she said, “Ryan.” He pulled back a little, but still held onto her. She was still crying, but she looked him straight in the eye, so he would know she was telling the truth. “I love you.”

His eyes got wide. He opened and closed his mouth a few times, struggling with what to say. “I’m not going to punish you or anything, so you don’t have to—”

I love you,” she said again. “I love you.”

He pulled her close and kissed her, smashing their lips together. It was a passion she’d never felt before. A feeling so pure, it made her want to cry.

She loved him.

When he finally pulled back, they were both panting, out of breath. He put their foreheads together. “Say it again.”

“I love you,” she repeated.

“I love you, too,” he said, his voice breaking. They stayed there on the ground for a while, holding each other before he finally pulled back. “Go get dressed. Then let’s go to bed, okay?”

She nodded and headed for the bathroom.

She missed a golden opportunity to escape. And she was…relieved.

Chapter Text

Days became weeks. Weeks became months. And before she knew it, it was mid-June.

Her plans for escape kept getting put off. ‘Well I can’t do it right now, because…’ or ‘it would be better if I did it at this future date, because…’

Who am I kidding? I don’t have any plans to escape any time soon.

She missed Bella. She really did, every day. But she didn’t want to leave Ryan, either.

She could run. She could go any time. There were days where Ryan didn’t close the basement door when he left for the day. And she could have walked right out the door. She could have followed the path that led out from there. She could have found a road, found a person, gone to the police.

But she didn’t.

She knew it was nuts. She knew it was crazy. Some days, the guilt twisted so badly in her stomach that she got nauseous.

But she didn’t want to go.

She opened her eyes just as Ryan leaned down to kiss her goodbye before he left for work. “Good morning. Remember, tonight is movie night! You get to pick the movie this time,” he told her as he headed out. “Oh, and I’ll have a treat for you, too.”

“A treat? What kind of treat?”

“It’s a surprise, so I can’t tell you.” He smiled. “Love you. Goodbye.”

“Love you, too,” she called after him.

She knew her life was weird. But she had finally found peace with it.

Since the summer started, she’d learned lots of new things. She learned how to change a tire. She learned how to check the oil in a car, and how to change it. The pipe under the kitchen sink busted, so she got to learn how to fix it.

She sat with Ryan in his garage a lot, too. She didn’t really learn that much in there, though. It still sounded like he was speaking a foreign language to her when he told her all about what he was doing. She decided that she wasn’t cut out for all that. But she still pretended to be super interested, because he always got so happy teaching her new things.

When Ryan got home, she could smell the pizza before she saw it. She went upstairs and found that he left the pizza on the coffee table—her absolute favorite, from Alfredo’s Pizzeria—but went outside for something else. The hot muggy summer air leaked in through the open door.

She didn’t really like the cold anymore, but she hated the heat.

He came in and kissed her. “How was your day?”

“Fine,” she replied. “Yours?”

“Annoying. Frustrating. I just wanted it to be over so I could come home. About that surprise…Guess what it is?”

“I have no idea.”

“Consentine’s has a new flavor of bundt cake. And you’re going to love it.”

“Ooh, what kind?”

He pulled it out of the bag. “Red. Rasberry. Look at this amazing creation! Doesn’t it look delicious?”

It really, really did.

“But I suppose that’ll have to wait until after pizza,” Ryan said, setting it down.

“You know what,” Grace started. “We should taste test the cake first, don’t you think? We’re both Americans, right? We should exercise our right to eat our cake when we want to eat our cake.” She acted as if her argument was incredibly serious.

He chuckled. “Is that what being an American is?” he asked sarcastically. “I always thought it was about freedom of speech, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and all that. But freedom to eat cake before dinner sounds way better.”

“I don’t know how it didn’t make it into the final cut of the constitution,” she agreed. “The founding fathers messed up on that one.”

“Mmn, they did. Alright, cake it is,” Ryan said, popping the top.

At the first taste, she was conflicted. “Bitter,” she noted.

“Yeah, definitely bitter. Not nearly sweet enough. Well that was a shitty surprise,” Ryan said, putting down his fork. “So, what do you want to watch tonight? And please for the love of god don’t say we should watch Blades of Glory for the thousandth time. I can only take so much of men’s figure skating. I swear, one of these days that disk is just going to magically disappear.”

“Oh, you know you secretly love it! But fine. No Blades of Glory. Hmm,” she mused. But they both froze when they heard a car door slam outside. “Who—”

Ryan jumped up, knocking the cake to the floor. “Downstairs. Now.”

Her heart started to beat wildly in her chest. She had no idea who it could be. No one had ever come there before. She tried to get to the basement, but it was too late.

“Ryan, it’s me, man…”

The door wasn’t locked.

Grace froze, unsure of what to do.

The man who walked in looked a lot like Ryan, but older and a lot skinnier. Crackhead skinny. She’d seen it a million times before. He looked up at them. “Oh, shit, sorry, I…” Then his eyes went wide as an owl’s. “Holy shit. You’re…”

Ryan stepped towards him. “Trevor, listen. It’s not what you think. It’s—Wait—”

Trevor? His brother Trevor?

But the man was already turning around, heading back to his car.

“Fuck,” Ryan said, running after him. But Grace heard tires spinning out. “GOD DAMNIT,” Ryan screamed. She’d never heard so much anger in his voice before. It scared her. He came running back inside.

“What—” Grace started to ask, but Ryan interrupted her.

“Come here,” he said, grabbing her wrist tight and yanking her towards the basement. She yelped from the pain of his tight grip. “Fuck. Sorry,” he said, loosening his hold. “I didn’t mean to hurt you. Listen, I have to go. I will be back as soon as I can, okay? I’m sorry. I’m not going to close this door or anything,” he motioned to the basement. “But promise me, if you hear ANYONE outside, you shut this door immediately, okay?”

“Ryan—,” she started, but he didn’t give her a chance to reply. The front door slammed, and she was all alone.

She went downstairs. She paced back and forth. Trevor? It had to have been his brother. He looked just like him, except older and skinnier. Why would he just walk in without knocking? Did he recognize me? Is that why he said ‘you’re…’? And what was Ryan planning to do?

Her head was throbbing from all the worry. She constantly felt like she was going to be sick. It got later and later, and Ryan still hadn’t gotten back. Eventually, she fell asleep, too tired to stay awake another second.

He wasn’t there when she woke up the next morning either. She was worried sick, wondering if he was okay, or if something happened to him.

She busied herself cleaning up the mess they’d left the day before. When Ryan had gotten up, he accidentally knocked the cake over, and she couldn’t seem to get all of it out of the carpet. It was frustrating her to no end, but at least it gave her something to focus on.

Around noon, she heard a car door slam outside and she jumped up. She wanted to run and see who it was, but Ryan had told her that if she heard anyone, she should go to the basement and close the door.

She fought the urge to look, and instead waited just inside the basement door, heart pounding.

She nearly vomited when she heard someone messing with the door. She held her breath.

Please be Ryan, please be Ryan, please be Ryan.

When it finally opened, her breath rushed out all at once. Ryan.

“Grace,” he said, nearly falling forward and wrapping his arms around her, hugging her tight. She hugged him back, relieved that he was okay.

Once they pulled away, she looked him over. He looked horrible. Tired and distraught. “Are you okay? That guy…was that your brother? Did he…Did he know who I was?”

Ryan sighed and pulled her close again, kissing her head. “Yeah. That was my brother. And he knew who you were. But don’t worry. Everything has been taken care of.”

“But--,” she started, but he squeezed her tight again.

“Shh. Everything is okay. Nothing to worry about. Sorry I had to be gone so long.”

Grace wasn’t convinced in the slightest. How could it be fine? If he knew who she was, then they were both in danger. She thought for a second that she could just say she ran away on purpose, and that Ryan hadn’t kidnapped her. But Ryan was a cop. If he knew where she was the whole time and he didn’t say anything, he would be in trouble anyways. There was no way to win if his brother decided to turn him in.

“You look exhausted. You should rest for a bit,” she told him. He declined, but she insisted. “Just for a bit. I’ll lay down with you, too.”

He only slept until five. She begged him to sleep longer, because he looked like he needed it, but he refused.

She made dinner, for once. But when they sat down to eat, he barely touched it.

She could see the sadness etched into his every feature. She couldn’t take it anymore. “Something is wrong. Please tell me.”

He gave her a sad smile. “Everything is okay. I just…don’t want to talk about it.”

She frowned, but she could see how serious he was about it. She knew that everything wasn’t okay. Something was clearly wrong. But she didn’t want to push him any farther.

“Hey, why don’t we play Life?” he asked.

Playing seemed to liven him up a bit. He laughed and joked around, falling back into their routine.

After playing a few games and watching a movie, it was getting late. She knew Ryan really needed to sleep. She had never seen a person look so tired. It hurt her heart just to look at him. “Why don’t we go to bed?” She suggested. He looked at her, emotions swimming on his face that she couldn’t decode, before reluctantly agreeing.

She got up, but when she walked in front of him, he grabbed her hand and pulled her down towards him. He pulled her forward, so she was straddling his lap.

“What are you doing?” She stopped in her tracks when she saw how intently he was staring at her. So many emotions in those beautiful green eyes. “Ryan—” But he stopped her with a kiss.

“I love you,” he said, kissing her. “So much.” Another kiss.

She pulled back and held his face in both of her hands, searching for something—anything—any hint of what might be happening. “I love you, too,” she replied.

“You’re so fucking pretty, Grace. The most beautiful person I’ve ever laid my eyes on, I swear.” He put their foreheads together. “So smart, so beautiful, so good. Just perfect. Love you. Love every single thing about you.”

Tears came to her eyes, because something was horribly, terribly wrong. There was so much pain in his eyes, in his voice. It felt like her heart was being squeezed tight in her chest. It hurt. “Ryan, please. Just tell me what’s going on. Please. I’m begging you.

Another sad smile. He brought his hands up to wipe away her tears. “Don’t cry. Nothing is going on. I just love you. I just need you to know how perfect you are. How did I ever get so lucky for a girl like you to love me back?”

He told her not to cry, but she just couldn’t stop. “Shh. Stop,” she said, kissing him again. She could taste the salt of her tears. “I love you.

After a while, he said, “Alright, let’s go to bed.” He helped her off of him and held her hand as they went.

When they got downstairs, he didn’t bother with pajamas. He just stripped down to his boxers and fell into bed. When she followed him, he grabbed onto her and held her so tight that she couldn’t breathe. He kissed her forehead. “Love you so much, Grace. So, so much. I love you.”

He let her go just enough that she could breathe easier. “Love you too, Ryan. I love you.”

Soon after, she heard his soft snores.

Chapter Text

Grace woke up to a loud bang. “Ryan--,” she started, turning over, but he wasn’t there. Instead, on his pillow there was an envelope labeled ‘GRACE.’

Another loud bang. This time, it was the basement door being slammed open, then several pairs of feet running down the stairs. She started to shake violently. She was terrified. She had no idea what was going on, but she was sure she was going to die.

RAY COUNTY POLICE DEPARTMENT,” someone screamed.

Police department?

Where’s Ryan?

Several men came into view, guns drawn. Then, someone said, “we found her,” into their walkie talkie and they all seemed to relax a little bit, lowering their weapons. The threat was gone. For them, at least.

“Grace Mitchell, I’m officer Troy Donovan with the Ray County Police Department. You have nothing to worry about, ma’am. You’re safe now.”

She glared at the man. “What are you talking about?” Her voice shook with her body.

“Everything is going to be okay. You are safe now.”

She ground her teeth together. “Leave.

“Ma’am—”

Where is Ryan?

“You don’t have to worry about him. He can’t hurt you anymore.”

Tell me. Where. Is. He?

“We’re here to take you home.”

Rage lit her insides on fire. “You are STANDING in my home, right now. Get out. You have no right to be here.”

The officer frowned. “Ma’am…”

Hot tears came to her eyes and flooded over. Those angry tears that she hated. They made her look weak. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. But you need to leave.”

“Officer Ryan Davis kidnapped you in September of last year. We’re here to take you home. We’re not sure what he may have told you, but you’re safe now,” another officer said.

“Don’t tell me what fucking happened to ME. You have no fucking idea what you’re talking about.” She had wanted to go home. She wanted that, for so long. But now that people were actually here to ‘save’ her, all she wanted them to do was leave. “Get the fuck out of my house.” Yes. Her house. Her home.

The first officer who had talked started to come closer to her. “We’re here to help you,” he said slowly, as if she was stupid and couldn’t understand.

“I know what you’re here for. I’m telling you I don’t want it.”

She was being irrational. She knew that. She wasn’t supposed to act that way. She was supposed to be happy to be rescued. She wasn’t supposed to want to stay. She was supposed to run off with her saviors and say thank you. How she was acting didn’t make any sense. How she felt didn’t make any sense.

But it didn’t matter. Because it is what she felt. All she wanted was for Ryan to be there. So he could hug her tight and tell her everything was okay, even if it wasn’t. Because he could protect her.

“We can’t leave until we have you in our custody, Grace. You’re not thinking clearly right now. But I promise, everything is going to be okay. We’re here to help.”

She reached over to grab the envelope on Ryan’s pillow, but it fell out of her hands when two of the officers rushed over and pulled her out of her bed. They had her on the ground. She screamed, then. She tried to thrash and shimmy her way out of their hold. She tried to hit and kick.

One of the officers somewhere asked, “should we cuff her?”

The first officer said, “for her own safety.”

She wanted to hit and kick them some more, but it was too late. They already had her wrists cuffed. And then not long after, her ankles. She wasn’t able to go anywhere. They pulled her up and out of the basement.

These men—they were trying to help her, but she didn’t need help. Why won’t they listen?!

She kept screaming. She screamed and screamed and screamed, until her head was pounding, and her vision was blackening.

Everything was wrong. She didn’t want this. She wanted to go back. She wanted to go home, even if it wasn’t the most rational desire.

They put her into the back of a police van outside. They continued to ignore her, and eventually her screams were replaced by sobs.

Please. I don’t want to go,” she begged them.

Chapter Text

They kept telling her she was a victim. Over and over that word was tossed out. But they treated her like a criminal. It made Grace furious. She was supposed to be the victim, but no one wanted to hear what she had to say. Everyone that came in pretended that they were there for her, but they wouldn’t answer the one question she had. ‘Where’s Ryan?’

Everyone kept telling her that she was safe and that he couldn’t hurt her anymore. But she’d always been safe with Ryan. He never would have hurt her. There were so many opportunities, but she hurt him more than he hurt her. She stabbed him with a fork. Maybe they should have been protecting themselves from her, because if they came into that room and gave her a fork, she just might stab one of them with it, too.

When she got to the police station, they’d given her one of those trauma blankets, as if she was the star of some TV show where she survived a horrific plane crash. But it wasn’t cold outside. In fact, it was hot. Why would they do that? She threw it on the floor, annoyed.

For the past nine months, she was in one place. She only ever saw their house, their yard, and Ryan’s garage. The room she was in now was awful. Bare white walls, two chairs, and a little table. So small. At least when Ryan kidnapped her, she had an entire basement.

There was no code on the door, but when she tried to leave the first time, two officers stopped her.

She felt trapped. Which would have been funny if she wasn’t so angry and upset. Feeling free with the man who was supposed to be the villain and feeling trapped by the people who were supposed to be the heroes.

They didn’t feel like heroes at all.

And she wasn’t stupid. Ryan wasn’t the hero, either. He had always been the villain. He kidnapped her. He might have done it for what he thought was a good reason, but he still did it. And she hadn’t wanted it at first. So, Ryan was the villain. But sometimes villains turn out to be good under the surface. And Ryan definitely was.

But those ‘heroes’ who took her weren’t very heroic. They broke into her home and dragged her out of bed. Literally. They restrained her, the victim, so she couldn’t fight. They took her away, but she didn’t want to go. She begged them, but they didn’t reply. That was villain behavior if she’d ever seen it.

They were only doing their jobs, she knew. But Grace thought a victim should get to decide what they want. Victims of kidnapping are taken against their will, without a choice. And that’s why people are sent to rescue them. But her rescuers didn’t give her a choice, either. How ‘good’ could they possibly be? She hadn’t been able to choose anything for herself since she’d woken up to men stomping down the stairs.

She laughed out loud at the cruel irony that she’d been kidnapped twice by authorities—once by a police officer nine months ago; and then again that morning by a whole fleet of them, this time kidnapping her from the first kidnapper.

The door opened behind her, but she didn’t have the energy to turn around. It was just going to be another person telling her that she was ‘safe’ now. Then they would refuse to answer any questions she had.

A small older women came into view. “Hello, Miss Mitchell. I’m Dr. Jordan and I’ve been assigned as your psychiatrist. I’m just here to talk to you for a little while.”

“I don’t have anything to say to you, unless you can answer my question.”

“I’ll do my best, dear,” the woman said, smiling and settling down in the chair across from her.

“Where is Ryan? What is happening to him?”

“You’re safe now, dear. He can’t hurt you anymore.”

She ground her teeth together in frustration. “He never hurt me in the first place. Where is he?”

She smiled sadly. “You may not believe that he hurt, you, dear, but he did. I’d like to talk with you about that a little more. Could you explain to me what happened? From the beginning?” Grace glared at her. “We are all here to help you, Grace. Would you like me to get you something to eat or drink?”

“Where’s Bella?”

“Bella is your little sister, correct? She has been told that you were found, but we can’t let the two of you reconnect just yet.”

“Victim. That’s what I am, right? But why keep a ‘victim’ away from her family? Shouldn’t that be like first priority? Reuniting me with the people I love?”

“Dear—”

“Stop calling me dear.” It was really pissing her off. The fake ‘you matter and are very important to us’ spiel. She’d heard it over and over.

She knew how rude she was being. But she didn’t really care. Because no one was helping her, so why should she help them?

“Miss Mitchell, we really need you to work with us. There is so much we need to sort through, and you’re the only one who can help.” After more of the silent treatment, the woman sighed. “I’m going to grab some coffee for the both of us. I will be right back.”

She knew all about the questions the woman would ask. But Grace didn’t have any answers for her. Because Grace didn’t care how she was supposed to feel, or how she was supposed to act. She wasn’t going to pretend to feel something she didn’t or act a way she didn’t want to. She wouldn’t put on a show for them. Because in reality, she wanted nothing more than to go home and have lunch with Ryan. And if that was wrong? Well, she was way past the point of caring. They could find it wrong all they wanted, but the only opinion that should have mattered in that situation was her own—and she didn’t think it was wrong at all.

All she wanted was to sit beside him. And if she couldn’t, she at least wanted to know where he was. Would that be so hard? To just tell her? She imagined he was probably sitting in a room just like the one she was in. Maybe they were interrogating him, asking him his side of the story, too.

They probably thought she had Stockholm Syndrome. And maybe they were right. But it didn’t really matter what they called it. It was real to her. She loved him, and putting a psychological name on top of it wasn’t going to change that fact. And, once again, she felt her opinion should be the only one that mattered.

They weren’t victims. She was. But they didn’t seem to care about her opinion at all.

<<>><<>><<>>

Once the woman left, she tried to leave again. She assumed the two people who had stopped her earlier would be there, but she had to try. To her surprise, there was no one in the hallway, so she quietly snuck out. She didn’t know exactly where she would find what she needed to know, but she was going to look for it anyways.

She was still wearing just leggings and a thin tank-top, like she’d worn to bed. It made her feel naked.

She debated going back in and getting the trauma blanket she threw on the floor, but she stopped when she heard two people talking around the corner.

“. . . Officer Davis . . .“ Her ears perked up at the mention of his name and she quietly sidled against the wall until she could hear a little better.

She heard a woman, first. “…can’t believe he was this type of person. I never would have imagined. He was always such a nice guy.”

Then, a man. “Well, at least he’s gone. She won’t have to see him again and won’t have to face him in court. Killing himself was the best thing he ever did for that girl.”

She didn’t understand what they were saying. They couldn’t be talking about Ryan. Not Ryan. Definitely not Ryan.

She came out from around the corner. “Who are you talking about?” The two of them looked at her with wide eyes, like children who had just been caught trying to steal from the cookie jar. Whatever they were talking about, Grace wasn’t supposed to hear it.

The woman stepped forward. “Miss Mitchell, why don’t we go back in, and then—”

“Who were you talking about? You weren’t talking about Ryan.”

The sad look the woman gave her made her want to scream. The woman stepped towards her and reached her hand out, but Grace pushed it away.

Tears came to her eyes, unbidden. “Ryan wouldn’t kill himself. You’re lying. He wouldn’t. He had no reason to. He wouldn’t do that to me. Tell me you’re lying.”

The psychiatrist from before came from a room across the hall. “What in the world is going on here? Why is she out here? She isn’t—”

“Is it true?” Grace asked.

The woman looked at her, then nervously at the two others. “I’m not sure what you’re talking about.”

“Is he…” She couldn’t say it. Because it wasn’t true. As long as she didn’t say it out loud, it wasn’t true.

The woman grabbed onto her arm. “Why don’t we go back.”

Grace yanked away from her, fury rushing through her veins. “WHY WOULD HE KILL HIMSELF? HE WOULDN’T! He wouldn’t. He isn’t dead. TELL ME HE ISN’T DEAD!”

“Sweetheart, I’m so sorry,” the psychiatrist said.

The world seemed to stop.

All of a sudden, she didn’t have any control over her body. She felt her knees hit the floor, then her face. The tiles were cool underneath her. It felt good.

Buzzing. All she could hear was a buzzing in her ears.

People were moving her, flipping her over. She could see their mouths move, but she couldn’t hear them.

She smelled the metallic scent of blood and realized it was her own. Her nose was bleeding from when she’d hit the floor, but she couldn’t feel any pain.

She couldn’t feel anything. She couldn’t hear anything.

Ryan wasn’t dead. He wasn’t. He couldn’t be.

Because if he was, she would be all alone.

Just focus on the buzzing. Just focus on the buzzing.

Chapter Text

Grace’s mother was on her knees in front of her. She was begging. Grace didn’t want to hear it. She didn’t want to hear anything. When she tried to take Grace’s hand, Grace yanked it away.

How dare you? She wanted to scream. How dare you even think about asking me for my forgiveness? You want forgiveness? Go ask someone else. Maybe one of the men who paid you to rape me all those years ago.

“Please, Gracie,” her mother said, crocodile tears falling down her cheeks. “Please, forgive me. I know that I can never ever fix what I did to you, but please, let me show you I’ve changed. Let me show you…”

She looked down the hallway and saw her father. The first time she’d seen him in person since he ran away when she was little. She didn’t have any interest in talking to him. She didn’t have any interest in talking to either of them.

Ryan told her he would never let any of them hurt her again. He promised he would protect her.

But he wasn’t there, so she had to do it herself.

She wasn’t going to let them weasel their way into her life. She didn’t need them, and more importantly, she didn’t want them. They were bumps in the road, and she fully intended to drive right over them.

<<>><<>><<>>

She lost all control of her emotions when she saw Bella running down the hallway towards her. Grace dropped to her knees and hugged her with all her might, petting at her hair, telling her there was no need for tears, because she was right there, and she was never going anywhere again. Grace’s tears, though, wouldn’t stop.

She felt so much bigger in her arms, even though it had been less than a year. Her beautiful, sweet, little Bella was growing up.

Bella was the only one she wanted to see. She wished everyone else in the world would just disappear. All she needed was Bella.

She wouldn’t let go of her once she could finally hold her again. She would hold her hand, or hug her, or simply rest her hand on the little girl’s shoulder. Because she couldn’t believe she was seeing her again. She was afraid if she let go, everything might disappear.

And she’d already lost enough. She couldn’t lose any more.

Other than Bella, she just wanted everyone to leave her alone. She hadn’t had more than ten minutes of silence since they dragged her from her home.

Home.

She started to cry, for about the millionth time. Bella tugged at her hand. “What’s wrong?” She asked, concern clouding those beautiful big brown eyes.

Grace wiped her eyes and tried to force a smile. “I’m just very sad, about a lot of stuff. But not about you. I am so, so happy to see you. Happier than you can even imagine. I love you so much, Bella. I missed you more than anything.”

Bella squeezed her hand and Grace could see how hard she was trying not to cry. Bella was trying to be brave for her. “Love you. Missed you.”

Chapter Text

Everywhere Grace went, she heard them. She heard the whispers, the comments. She couldn’t stand it. It made her sick.

I’m glad he killed himself,” she heard a woman say at the police station.

He took the easy way out. He should have lived and faced the consequences. What a piece of shit,” she heard a man say when she was sitting in the parking lot, waiting to leave.

Oh, that poor girl. Who knows what he did to her. He got out easy killing himself. He deserved a much more painful death,” a woman said in the lobby of her psychiatrist’s office, where she had to go twice a week.

She wanted to say something. She wanted to tell them they were all wrong. That they didn’t know what they were talking about. They didn’t know him like she did. He wasn’t the person they said he was.

There were so many rumors about what had happened to her. And no one spread those rumors faster than the press.

Flashing lights and reporters. That’s all Grace knew any more. When she tried to leave the police station, they had swarmed her. She was staying with her neighbor for the time being. And every time she tried to walk outside, there was another one waiting for her. For nine months, she’d only seen Ryan. So, being around so many people made her anxious, to the point where she couldn’t breathe.

They were vultures, and she was the latest roadkill. And if they got to her, she would be smeared all over the front page of the newspaper. They all wanted to know how she was doing. How she was adjusting. But she knew those weren’t the real questions they wanted to ask. They didn’t care how she was. They cared about their deadlines. They cared about their bottom-line. Not her. Never her.

She ignored them as best as she could.

Everyone was so frustrated with her, because she refused to tell them what happened. The officers assigned to her case. The psychiatrist working with her. Everyone. She could see how annoyed they were.

She told them what she felt they needed to know. She told them how he pulled her over. She told them how he drugged her. She told them how she woke up in a basement. She told them how he kept her there. She told them that he never once hurt her or touched her inappropriately. Just for her own entertainment, she told them that she stabbed him with a fork. And then, nine months after she got there, the cops burst in and it was over.

There was no middle to the story. Not for them.

She wasn’t going to give the story to anyone. Because it didn’t belong to them. It belonged to her. It belonged to Ryan. And no one else would ever have a part in it.

It was their story, all the good and the bad. And she was going to keep it that way.

Chapter Text

Ryan,

I’m not sure how I should start this out, so I guess I’ll just say hello.

I have so much I want to say. And I wish I could say it to you, and not to this piece of paper. But this will have to do.

First: I miss you. I miss you so much, Ryan. My heart hurts every time I think about you. It makes me want to rip it out of my chest and throw it away.

Why did you leave me? That wasn’t fair. That wasn’t fair at all. Because you’re the one who started it. You’re the one who took me. If you hadn’t taken me, maybe I wouldn’t have fallen in love with you. But you did, and I did. And then you took everything away from me again.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand why. You didn’t want to go to prison. That makes sense. But why didn’t you wake me up? Why didn’t you tell me goodbye at the very least? Tell me you had to leave?

Maybe you did tell me, though. In that letter you left. They won’t let me have it, you know. They say it doesn’t exist. But I know it does. I saw it. I had it in my hands for a few seconds before they pulled me away. And I wanted to go back to our house to find it, but I don’t know where our house is. Or was. I should have paid attention when they dragged me away. I should have looked where they were going, so I could retrace my steps. But at that time, I thought I’d see you again.

I wish I could see you again.

I think I might have to kill your brother. Okay, not really. I wouldn’t kill him, because I know you once loved him and respected him. So, I wouldn’t ever do that. But you probably already know, I guess, that he turned you in for the reward money. I wonder if that’s what you were doing when you left to go find him: negotiating terms. Did he only give you one more night with me? Was that the deal? I hate him. He’s a horrible person, and if I ever see him, I’m going to hit him. I swear on my life I will.

I wanted to ask him where the house was, but he refused to talk with me. Coward. He ran off and now I don’t know where to find him. But nobody else will tell me either.

I think I’ll keep looking, though. It can’t be too far away from here, since you drove to work every day. I don’t know what I’ll do if I find it, though. Look for the letter, of course. Hopefully it will still be there. But what else? I’ll probably just sit and remember, all the good and the bad.

I want you to know that I hate you. I hate you for ruining everything. I hate you for taking me away from Bella. I hate you for keeping me locked up.

But you know what I hate most? I hate that I love you. I love you so much and it fucking hurts, Ryan. It hurts so much that I’ll never ever get to see you again. It’s not fair. And I guess I should have known. Nothing in my life has ever been fair. But this is more unfair than anything I’ve ever had to deal with. And you of all people know that’s saying something.

I wish you were here. I wish I could fall into your arms. I wish you could hold me and make me feel safe again. I wish I could kiss you, just one more time. I wish I could see your smile. I just wish you were here.

I need you here, Ryan.

I don’t believe in God. But I wish that I did. Because then, maybe, when I die, we can go back home together. But hopefully I’ll stay upstairs this time.

I wish you would have just met me in a normal way. Why didn’t you try that first? Why didn’t you try to talk to me? In a normal setting? If you had, maybe you’d still be here. Maybe you’d be here with me. Because if I could fall in love with you as my kidnapper, imagine how quickly I would have fallen for you if you’d just gone about it the right way.

So, I hate you for that, too. But maybe not. Maybe it wouldn’t have happened that way at all. Maybe I wouldn’t have fallen for you. And as stupid as it sounds, just thinking about that hurts.

I wish it never happened. I wish I never met you. I wish everything was different.

…or at least that’s what I want to wish. In reality, I don’t wish any of those things. In reality, I’m so glad I met you Ryan Davis. Even if we had to meet through a kidnapping. I’m still glad I met you. Because I always thought I was alone. My whole life, I thought no one cared. But you were there, in the background, and you cared more than anyone. I’m grateful for you. More than you know.

I’m glad I fell in love with you.

Even though it hurts. It hurts worse than anything I ever could have imagined. It’s like someone is ripping my heart to shreds over and over.

But, I’m still glad.

They say I have Stockholm Syndrome. And maybe that’s true. But, does it matter? Even if it is true, it doesn’t make my feelings any less real. And I know they’re real, because I feel them so intensely every single day. I know that I love you. And putting a fancy name on top of it doesn’t make it any less true.

Who knows, maybe there is a God and a heaven. Maybe when I die, I’ll find you again. And I’ll get to eat delicious pizza and cake with you. Maybe there will be an endless supply, just for us. I’ll get to watch movies with you. Maybe if God has any mercy on you, he won’t allow me to have Blades of Glory. If he does, though, get ready. We’re going to watch it a lot. I’ll get to look at the stars with you again. I’ll get to play with you in the snow. I’ll get to sit with you as you tinker with stuff in your garage. I’ll get to eat all of your delicious cooking again. I’ll get to celebrate all of the holidays with you. Next time, I promise I won’t run away on New Year’s. I’ll get to play board games with you. But I’ll warn you, even in heaven I will beat you at Life.

We’ll get to do all of things we didn’t get to do here.

If any of that is true, then when this is all over with, will you meet me at home?

I love you.

- Grace

Chapter Text

Grace,

I don’t know how to put in words what you mean to me. There are no words in the entire planet to sum that up.

So, the first thing I’ll say is: I love you. More than anything in the world.

I’m sorry I didn’t say goodbye. I didn’t know how, and I didn’t want to. I know that’s selfish, but how could I possibly say goodbye to you? I wouldn’t have been able to, even if I tried.

Before you came, my life didn’t have much meaning. I was just a void. A void that wanted nothing more than to protect you. But then you came, and you filled up every single tiny bit of that void. With your soft and happy sounds, your laugh and your smile. Even when you were so angry with me. That filled it, too. I would take you happy or angry. As long as I got to be with you, I wasn’t empty.

I never told you, but I didn’t always want to take you like I did. For a long time, I just wanted to protect you from the shadows. I made sure your house was always secure. I watched and made sure you got to school safely. Not every day, of course, but a lot. I don’t even remember when I decided I wanted you to come home with me, because it just felt like that’s what I’d always wanted. The more I followed you around, the harder it was to stay away.

I couldn’t help but fall for your smile and your sweet laugh. I knew that I was being a creepy stalker, but I just needed to be near you. I honestly can’t believe you never noticed me around. But I had the best intentions in mind, I swear.

I should have talked to you, first. I know that. But I was terrified that you would know my face. I was terrified you’d remember me, and you’d run away. I didn’t want that. I just wanted to keep you safe. I never wanted to be a reminder of such a horrible thing that happened to you.

I want to say sorry. I’m not sorry for wanting to save you or for wanting to protect you. I’m just sorry I made it so difficult for you. Every time you cried and screamed at me, I swear to you it felt like my heart was falling to pieces. All I wanted was for you to be happy. So, I did everything I could think of—short of letting you leave—to make it easier for you.

I tried to give you space. I failed at that, sometimes. Okay, I failed at that a lot of the time. Because I was selfish, and I wanted to be near you. I wanted to talk to you, even if you didn’t talk back.

So, I’m sorry. I’m really, truly sorry that I made your life such a living hell for so long.

But I loved you. I love you. Before you, I had never felt anything like it. You were, and are, everything to me. You always will be.

My life was dark. But when you came home with me, you were a blast of sunshine. You flooded all of the deepest darkest places with light. Which was strange, since your life was just as dark as mine, maybe darker. How could you be so bright, when everything you knew was so dark? I love you for that.

I love you for everything.

Most of all, I’m sorry for leaving you. I really am, Grace. I’m so sorry. I know it isn’t fair. But I just couldn’t be without you. I was scared of not being able to see your beautiful face every day. I couldn’t handle that.

You deserve nothing but the best, Grace. I mean that. I hope you can be happy. That’s all I’ve ever wanted.

You are perfect. You are everything.

There is so much more I want to say. I just don’t know how to put it into words. If I could, I’d make this letter last forever. But I don’t have much time.

Thank you for being my light.

If by some miracle there is an afterlife, I’ll be waiting at home for you.

I love you.

- Ryan