I throw the covers off of me and reach over to the lamp, flipping the switch. The room fills with light and I scream at the realization that someone else is in my bed. As soon as the scream escapes my mouth, he wakes up and shoots straight up on the bed.
“What the hell are you doing here?” I whisper loudly.
Holder glances at his watch, then rubs his eyes with his palms. When he wakes up enough to respond, he places his hand on my knee. “I couldn’t leave you. I just needed to make sure you were okay.” He puts his hand on my neck, right below my ear, and brushes along my jaw with his thumb. “Your heart,” he says, feeling my pulse beating against his fingertips. “You’re scared.”
Seeing him in my bed, caring for me like he is…I can’t be mad at him. I can’t blame him. Despite the fact that I want to be mad at him, I just can’t. If he wasn’t here right now to comfort me after the realization I just had, I don’t know what I would do. He’s done nothing but place blame on himself for every single thing that’s ever happened to me. I’m beginning to accept the fact that maybe he needs comforting just as much as I do. For that, I allow him to steal another piece of my heart. I grab his hand that’s touching my neck and I squeeze it.
“Holder…I remember.” My voice shakes when I speak and I feel the tears wanting to come out. I swallow and push them back with everything that I have. He scoots closer to me on the bed and turns me to face him completely. He places both of his hands on my face and looks into my eyes.
“What do you remember?”
I shake my head, not wanting to say it. He doesn’t let go of me. He coaxes me with his eyes, nodding his head slightly, assuring me that it’s okay to say it. I whisper as quietly as possible, afraid to say it out loud. “It was Karen in that car. She did it. She’s the one who took me.”
Pain and recognition consume his features and he pulls me to his chest, wrapping his arms around me. “I know, baby,” he says into my hair. “I know.”
I cling to his shirt and hold onto him, wanting to swim in the comfort that his arms provide. I close my eyes, but only for a second. He’s pushing me away as soon as Karen opens the door to my bedroom.
I spin around on the bed and she’s standing in the doorway, glaring at Holder. She cuts her eyes to me. “Sky? What…what are you doing?” Confusion and disappointment cloud her face.
I snap my gaze back to Holder. “Get me out of here,” I say under my breath. “Please.”
He nods, then walks to my closet. He opens the door as I stand up and grab a pair of jeans from my dresser and pull them on.
“Sky?” Karen says, watching both of us from the doorway. I don’t look at her. I can’t look at her. She takes a few steps into the bedroom just as Holder opens a duffel bag and lays it on the bed.
“Throw some clothes in here, babe. I’ll get what you need out of the bathroom.” His tone of voice is calm and collected, which slightly eases the panic coursing through me. I walk to my closet and begin pulling shirts off of hangers.
“You aren’t going anywhere with him. Are you insane?” Karen’s voice is near panic, but I still don’t look at her. I continue throwing clothes into my bag. I walk to the dresser and pull open the top drawer, taking a handful of socks and underwear. I walk to the bed and Karen cuts me off, placing her hands on my shoulders and forcing me to look at her.
“Sky,” she says, dumbfounded. “What are you doing? What’s wrong with you? You’re not leaving with him.”
Holder walks back into the bedroom with a handful of toiletries and walks directly around Karen, piling them into the bag. “Karen, I suggest you let go of her,” he says as calmly as a threat can possibly sound.
Karen scoffs and spins around to face him. “You are not taking her. If you so much as walk out of this house with her, I’m calling the police.”
Holder doesn’t respond. He looks at me and reaches out for the items in my hands, then turns and places them into the duffel bag, zipping it shut. “You ready, babe?” he says, taking my hand.
“This isn’t a joke!” Karen yells. Tears are beginning to roll down her cheeks and she’s frantic, looking back and forth between us. Seeing the pain on her face breaks my heart because she’s my mother and I love her, but I can’t ignore the anger and betrayal I feel over the last thirteen years of my life.
“I’ll call the police,” she yells. “You have no right to take her!”
I reach into Holder’s pocket, then pull out his cell phone and take a step toward Karen. I look directly at her and as calmly as I can, I hold the phone out to her. “Here,” I say. “Call them.”
She looks down at the phone in my hands, then back up to me. “Why are you doing this, Sky?” She’s overcome with tears now.
I grab her hand and shove the phone into it, but she refuses to grasp it. “Call them! Call the police, Mom! Please.” I’m begging now. I’m begging her to call them—to prove me wrong. To prove that she has nothing to hide. To prove that I’m not what she’s hiding. “Please,” I say again, quietly. Everything in my heart and soul wants her to take the phone and call them so I’ll know I’m wrong.
She takes a step back at the same time she sucks in a breath. She begins to shake her head, and I’m almost positive she knows I know, but I don’t stick around to find out. Holder grabs my hand and leads me to the open window. He lets me climb out first, then he climbs out behind me. I hear Karen crying my name, but I don’t stop walking until I reach his car. We both climb inside and he drives away. Away from the only family I’ve ever really known.
Sunday, October 28th, 2012 3:10 a.m.
“We can’t stay here,” he says, pulling up to his house. “Karen might come here looking for you. Let me run in and grab a few things and I’ll be right back.”
He leans across the seat and pulls my face toward his. He kisses me, then gets out of the car. The entire time he’s inside his house, I’m leaning my head against the headrest, staring out the window. There isn’t a single star in the sky to count tonight. Only lightning. It seems fitting for the night I’ve had.
Holder arrives back to the car several minutes later and throws his own bag into the backseat. His mother is standing in the entryway, watching him. He walks back to her and takes her face in his hands, just like he does mine. He says something to her, but I don’t know what he’s saying. She nods and hugs him. He walks back to the car and climbs inside.
“What did you tell her?”
He grabs my hand. “I told her you and your mother got into a fight, so I was taking you to one of your relatives houses in Austin. I told her I’d stay with my dad for a few days and that I’d be back soon.” He looks at me and smiles. “It’s okay, she’s used to me leaving, unfortunately. She’s not worried.”
I turn and look out my window when he pulls out of the driveway, just as the rain begins to slap the windshield. “Are we really going to stay with your dad?”
“We’ll go wherever you want to go. I doubt you want to go to Austin, though.”
I look over at him. “Why wouldn’t I want to go to Austin?”
He purses his lips together and flips on the windshield wipers. He places his hand on my knee and brushes it with his thumb. “That’s where you’re from,” he says quietly.
I look back out the window and sigh. There is so much I don’t know. So much. I press my forehead against the cool glass and close my eyes, allowing the questions I’ve been suppressing all night to re-emerge.
“Is my dad still alive?” I ask.
“Yes, he is.”
“What about my Mom? Did she really die when I was three?”
He clears his throat. “Yes. She died in a car wreck a few months before we moved in next door to you.”
“Does he still live in the same house?”
“I want to see it. I want to go there.”
He doesn’t immediately respond to this statement. Instead, he slowly inhales a breath and releases it. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
I turn to him. “Why not? I probably belong there more than I do anywhere else. He needs to know I’m okay.”
Holder pulls off to the side of the road and throws the car into park. He turns in his seat and looks at me dead on. “Babe, it’s not a good idea because you just found out about this a few hours ago. It’s a lot to take in before you make any hasty decisions. If your dad sees you and recognizes you, Karen will go to prison. You need to think long and hard about that. Think about the media. Think about the reporters. Believe me, Sky. When you disappeared they camped out on our front lawn for months. The police interviewed me no less than twenty times over a two-month period. Your entire life is about to change, no matter what decision you make. But I want you to make the best decision for yourself. I’ll answer any questions you have. I’ll take you anywhere you want to go in a couple of days. If you want to see your dad, that’s where we’ll go. If you want to go to the police, that’s where we’ll go. If you want to just run away from everything, that’s what we’ll do. But for now, I just want you to let this soak in. This is your life. The rest of your life.”
His words have tightened my chest like a vice. I don’t know what I’m thinking. I don’t know if I’m thinking. He’s thought this through from so many angles and I have no clue what to do. I have no fucking clue.
I swing open the door and step out onto the shoulder of the highway, out into the rain. I pace back and forth, attempting to focus on something in order to hold the hyperventilating at bay. It’s cold and the rain is no longer just falling; it’s pummeling. Huge raindrops are stinging my skin and I can’t keep my eyes open due to the force of them. As soon as Holder rounds the front of the car, I swiftly walk toward him and throw my arms around his neck, burying my face into his already soaked shirt. “I can’t do this!” I yell over the sound of rain pounding the pavement. “I don’t want this to be my life!”
He kisses the top of my head and bends down to talk against my ear. “I don’t want this to be your life, either,” he says. “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry I let this happen to you.”
He slides a finger under my chin and pulls my gaze up to his. His height is shielding the rain from stinging my eyes, but the drops are sliding down his face, over his lips and down his neck. His hair is soaked and matted to his forehead, so I wipe a strand out of his eyes. He already needs a trim again.
“Let’s not let this be your life tonight,” he says. “Let’s get back in the car and pretend we’re driving away because we want to…not because we need to. We can pretend I’m taking you somewhere amazing...somewhere you’ve always wanted to go. You can snuggle up to me and we can talk about how excited we are and we’ll talk about everything we’ll do when we get there. We can talk about the important stuff later. But tonight…let’s not let this be your life.”