Connection (R)


 

Fox dropped his duffel bag on the floor of the living room. This should be a nice weekend, quiet and restful. Mom was visiting her cousin in Pennsylvania, not that she would ever come here, and Dad was out of the country again doing whatever it was he did.

Who knew when heíd get back here again? Heíd be leaving for England in a few weeks and had a lot to do before then. It was still early in the season; in fact he hadnít seen anyone else up here on the way to the cabin. He had to smile; nothing had changed here since he could remember. Itís not like they were up here enough to wear out the upholstery or anything. He turned around in the room, those lamps had been here when he was born and the extra jackets hung on the pegs by the back door. Heíd had pretty good time here as a kid, teaching Samantha to swim and ski and catch a softball. His smile faded, only memories now. He shook himself, donít think about that.

He headed back to the car to bring in the groceries heíd brought up for the weekend. Heíd been sure to bring food, canned beans and soup were usually the only things left up here besides cleaning supplies. Trips up here had been rare the last few years, he wasnít sure he could even trust the soup.

Fox glanced over at the lake and shivered. It looked beautiful, but he knew exactly how cold it was this time of year. Maybe he could take the boat out anyway. He should check on it in any case. That caused him to look over at the boathouse. He stopped in his tracks; the door was slightly open. Great, someone had broken in. Hopefully there still was a boat. Heíd better check it out.

He started down the worn path to the lake; grass would never grow here again if it wasnít already. He and Samantha had pounded down this path a million times as kids. At the last second he hesitated and picked up a piece of firewood from the stack outside the back door. Whoever had broken in was probably a couple of states and two months away, but why take chances.

The movement inside the boathouse brought him to a stop and caused his hands to tighten on the wood he held. He should be able to take them, at least he had the element of surprise. People didnít normally think of swimmers as athletes, not like football players, but he was in good shape. He just needed to be careful.

He slipped in through the door without a sound and spotted the form of the person bending over the boat. Without missing a beat he had his arm around his throat pulling him back, the wood coming up in his other hand to be used if necessary.

This was just a kid, filthy and smelly but a kid nevertheless. "What the hell do you think youíre doing?"

"Let go!" The kid jerked in his arms and his gripped loosened as he realized he had hold of a girl.

"Iíll let go if you promise to stay still." The girl nodded sullenly and he released her stepping back but holding the firewood ready if she came at him. She backed away from him and he had his first good look at her.

He really couldnít get a sense of what she looked like. She looked like sheíd lived in the woods for weeks and what she was wearing could not be considered clothing by any stretch of the imagination. It might have been at one time, now it was shapeless rags of indeterminate color and size. Her hair seemed to have a red glint to it and when she looked up at him for just a second he saw how blue her eyes were. Even as they stood there frozen he saw the grimace of pain cross her face.

"Are you okay?" He took a step toward her and stopped as she cringed away.

"Iím fine. Leave me alone."

"The last thing you are is fine. Did you run away?" She looked up startled, but didnít respond. "Did you run away from home?" He repeated.

She relaxed slightly at that, which made no sense. "No. Are you going to let me go?"

He had to stop and think about that. She had broken into the boathouse but obviously hadnít taken anything. What she seemed to need most was food and a bath. He realized suddenly that he was speaking.

"Come on up to the house and eat something." Her eyes narrowed suspiciously and she didnít move. "Come on, I wonít bite."

Her eyes turned to the piece of wood he still held in his hands and he glanced over at it himself. He lowered it and leaned it against the wall of the boathouse, raising his hands away from it. "My nameís Fox, and you are?"

She ignored that still shying away from him, slightly hunched over and turned away. He saw that grimace of pain again. "Are you hurt? Do you need a doctor?"

"No!" Well, at least heíd gotten a reaction. If sheíd come out from the side of the boat where he could see her heíd have a better idea of what was wrong.

"Look, Iíll stand over here and you can get past me without me even being close enough to touch you. Head on up to the house and Iíll fix you a sandwich. Okay?"

She glanced again at the piece of wood heíd placed against the wall, between the fishing equipment and some old towels. "Iím not going to hurt you."

"Who else is here?" Paranoid little bitch, ungrateful too. Should he admit he was alone? Hell, he could take her.

"No one. Look, if you donít want the sandwich, fine. But youíre getting out of here, so either head up to the house or toward the road. Go on."

You would have thought heíd asked her to pick which death sheíd prefer, knives or guns. What had scared her this bad? But she did step toward the door. He waited where he stood on the far side of the boat, giving her all the room she obviously needed to feel safe and when she was out, followed her with his hands out to the side, showing that he had not armed himself again.

Well, sheíd opted for the house. Hunger must have won out. "Wait, I havenít had a chance to unlock this side of the house. Come on around."

She followed him at a distance now, watching his every move carefully. He stepped inside, but didnít hold the screen door open for her. He sensed that would put him too close for her comfort. He headed immediately for the fuse box and switched on the power to the house.

"Why donít you wash up. The bathroom is over there. Iíll make you that sandwich. Oh, thereís not any hot water yet, but it wonít be long." She didnít respond, merely turning toward where he had indicated, seemingly glad for the excuse to be out of his presence. He sighed and began unloading the groceries he had brought with him.

He made her a turkey sandwich, being generous with the meat and adding a thick slice of tomato and lettuce. The drinks heíd brought werenít really cold but he didnít think sheíd complain.

He glanced up when he heard the bathroom door open, then turned back to the task of storing his food in the rapidly cooling refrigerator. Well, sheíd tried to clean up a little. Sheíd gotten at least two layers off of her hands, and her face was obviously cleaner.

She seated herself awkwardly on the stool and stared at the sandwich. "Hey, itís okay. Go ahead and eat." She didnít wait for a second invitation, but attacked the sandwich. She had fine table manners, but it was no secret that she was ravenous. Damn, if he fed her often he would be down to the soup and the beans.

"You want another one?" That sandwich was history as well as the chips heíd opened for her.

"No, uh thanks." She didnít want to face him.

"Listen, the waterís hot by now. Do you want to take a shower or something?" She looked up quickly and then away, but not before he saw the longing in her face. "Itís okay with me. Thereís a good lock on the door and Iíll be on the porch reading or something."

"You sure?" Still not able to face him.

"Yeah. Thereís soap and shampoo in the shower I think, if not itís under the sink. And towels in the closet in there. There should be a robe hanging on the back of the door."

"Why?"
 

"Why what?"

"Why are you doing this?"

That question caught him off guard. He didnít know. Why was he trying to help this kid? He still didnít even have a name for her. He shrugged, "It just feels right, like something Iím supposed to do."

She nodded and turned on the stool. She placed her hands on the counter to help herself up and he wondered again if she were injured, not that sheíd let him get close enough to check. Well, a shower would help. He heard the lock turn on the door and finished cleaning up the kitchen.

He grabbed one of the books heíd brought for the weekend and settled himself on the screened in porch, feet up, soda at his side. His attention kept wavering from the book. Why was he helping this girl? She was obviously a runaway, probably did drugs, she hadnít gone into the boathouse by accident. What had she thought she could steal from there? His head turned involuntarily when the water shut off in the bathroom and he found himself waiting to hear her emerge.

It was still a while before he heard the door open and he waited to see what she would do next. She didnít come out to the porch and eventually his curiosity got the best of him and he placed his book on the small plastic table beside the chair and stood.

He walked quietly to the entry to the living room, not consciously trying to take her by surprise, but wanting to see what she was up to without being observed himself.

She was wrapped in the old robe his father had always left here, sound asleep on the couch, her back to him. Sheíd put her wet hair up in a ponytail and her skin was pink from the scrubbing sheíd obviously given it.

Well, if she had fallen asleep that quickly she was as exhausted as she was hungry. Okay, she wasnít hurting anything and maybe it would do her good.

He stepped back out to the porch to try to get into his book this time and found himself instead picking the book up and bringing it inside, to read in the large chair that his father had always used, facing the couch. Why? He couldnít think she was going to do anything now? It didnít seem to matter, it felt right, so go with the flow.

Heíd read a couple of chapters, occasionally glancing over at her. As the deep sleep of the deathly exhausted passed, she began shifting around on the couch, dreaming he assumed. She managed to roll over and her hand came up to caress her stomach.

"Oh my god!" The sound woke her and she struggled to a sitting position, staring at his saucer-wide eyes. When the fear on her own face penetrated he clutched at his ragged composure and tried to reassure her. He put out one hand, his book clutched in the other. "Iím not going to hurt you."

She was cowering at the far end of the couch now. "Please, itís okay. You're. . . are you going to have a baby?"

She nodded slowly, her body on alert, ready to defend herself to the best of her abilities. "Could I at least have something to call you? Iím Fox, Iím the one that fed you and let you get cleaned up. Iím not going to hurt you now. Calm down, please." The please was heartfelt and she knew it, he was eyeing her stomach as though she had dynamite strapped around it.

His expression would almost have been funny if anything had been funny recently. "Dana."

"Dana. When, uh when is the baby due?"

"I donít know." That finally drew his eyes back up to her face.

"You donít know?" She stiffened at that and he backed away from the question. "Is that why you ran away?"

"I didnít run away!"

"Your parents didnít throw you out?" He knew it happened, but he couldnít imagine it. Even his parents wouldnít do that.

"No! They wouldnít. . . "

"Okay, just . . . just stay calm. Look thereís no phone here, but I can take you down to the store and you could call someone from there." She shook her head, rejecting the idea completely. "Donít you think theyíre worried about you?"

"Not now, I canít call them yet." She looked down at her swollen abdomen, shaking her head again.

"If you didnít run away and they didnít throw you out, why arenít you home right now?"

She looked up angry now, "Why do you care?"

For some reason that angered him as well. "Hey, I catch you trying to steal something from the boathouse, I feed you and let you get cleaned up, I let you sleep on the couch before I even know your name. I have a right to some questions here."

She sank back against the couch then, but at least she wasnít cringing from him again. He watched that quick grimace of pain flit across her face again. "Youíre not. . . youíre not having the baby are you?"

"What? No."

"Well whatís wrong?"

"Nothingís wrong. Heís just awake and kicking me. Thereís not a lot of room anymore." He tried to grin at that.

"Look, you need to be home with your family now. Why wonít you let me help you?" She was quiet for so long he didnít think sheíd answer.

"Iíll contact them after. Where am I anyway?"

"Quonochontaug."

"Where?"

"Quonochontaug, Rhode Island."

"Rhode Island? How the. . . "She clamed up again.

"You didnít know what state you were in? How did you get here?"

"I donít know."

He shook his head. "Letís start over. Why did you leave home?"

She took as deep a breath as she could manage. She wasnít sure of him, but she did feel safer than she had in ages. "I was taken."

He waited but when she didnít continue, "Taken? You mean kidnapped?"

"I guess so. I never saw anyone. They kept this bright light in my eyes."

"Bright light?" That caused a jolt of adrenaline to surge through his body. It felt like every hair on his body was standing at attention.

"Yeah, then I was on a metal table, it was cold and they hurt me."

"Is that. . . were you. . . raped?" That was hard to say, she was just a kid. Probably Samanthaís age.

"I donít remember anyone doing. . . that. Just the needles and tubes. Then three days ago I woke up in the woods near here. And I was pregnant. I was a virgin before, before this." She looked up at him. Why did she care if he believed her? Heíd gone completely still at her story, not blinking. His breathing even seemed to have stopped. "Hey, are you okay?"

"Yeah."

"Bull. Whatís wrong? Donít you believe me?"

"What? Yeah." He was thinking, reaching for a memory. He was deep inside himself now. She watched him closely, what had she triggered?

"Are you okay?" She repeated.

That broke his train of thought and he was back in the present. "Iím, uh, Iím sorry. It was like I was trying to remember something. Itís gone, donít worry about it. Did you say three days ago?"

"Yeah, I woke up not far from here. I didnít know where I was and then I realized. . . well." She looked down at her body.

"You didnít know about the baby until you woke up?" She looked up defensively and he decided to back off. "Sorry, itís just that you must be pretty far along. For you to only know for three days. . . "

Her shoulders slumped and she conceded the point with a shrug. "Whoever took me must have kept me drugged. Maybe now that the babyís almost here they didnít want me anymore. I donít know."

She looked so forlorn, so vulnerable he wanted to approach her, maybe put his arm around her. He didnít want to scare her or make her more uncomfortable, so he stayed where he was.

"Did you just get here this morning?"

"No, I walked until it was dark that first day. I didnít know where I was and for the longest time I tried to believe this wasnít true." She gestured at her body. "When it started moving I couldnít do that. I stumbled onto your boathouse that night and it wasnít locked. The lock was hanging there and from a distance it looked locked, but it wasnít." Her chin went up defiantly. "I slept in there that night on those rags you had in the corner."

"It must have been awfully dirty."

"It was."

"Why didnít you come up to the house?"

"I didnít know it was here and I was too tired to move anyway. Then I found some stale cheese crackers so I ate them and went to sleep."

He nodded but said nothing. He wanted her to keep talking. "In the morning I saw the house and came up here but it was locked. I didnít want to break in, Iíd never done anything like that, so I went looking for help."

"Not many people around this time of year." She nodded at that.

"No one, and everything was locked, so I came back to the boathouse to see if there was anything else there to eat. I was starving by then and the baby was moving so much I could barely walk."

"He must have been hungry too." She smiled at him then. She had a pretty smile and seeing it made him want to see it again. Fox couldnít help it; he smiled back and was rewarded with seeing Dana relax another notch.

"Anyway, there was some old hard candy on your boat and it was easier to reach the water Ė at least I had someway to pull myself back up, so I slept there again. I slept a lot more the second night; Iíve never been so tired. When I woke up again I was desperate enough to break into your house after all. I checked it one more time, then I went down there to find something to help me break a window. Thatís when you found me. I didnít steal anything but the crackers and the candy."

"Youíre welcome to them. I wish there had been more. Youíre probably hungry again arenít you?"

She looked away from him. "Iím sure you didnít plan on having to feed me."

"Hey, youíre welcome to whateverís here. Then we really ought to get you some help. Youíve obviously been missing for months."

Funny, even as he said it he realized he didnít doubt her story for a minute. He knew it was the truth and he trusted her. That was unusual for him. What was it about her?