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?
"I donít want them to see me like this. I want to go home, I miss my family and I want to see my mother, but not like this. I couldnít explain to them. After the babyís born. . . "
"Yeah? After itís born, what?"
"Iím not sure."
"Are you going to keep it?"
"Iím fifteen years old. I donít know what to do with a baby." He nodded in agreement. He hadnít even babysat, not since his sister disappeared, not that there had been a long line wanting his services anyway.
"What about adoption?"
She looked down and seemed to notice her hand caressing her stomach for the first time. She nodded without looking at him and he realized a tear had escaped and was trickling down her cheek. He couldnít help himself; he joined her on the couch, not too close, but close enough to touch her. She didnít draw away and after a moment allowed herself to relax against the hand he had placed on her back.
"Want to change the subject for a while?"
She nodded, accepting the tissue he offered. "Why are you up here this time of year?"
Fair enough, "I wanted to see this place again before I left to go to school. Iíve been accepted to Oxford, so Iíll be in England for a while."
"Oxford?" Her eyes showed her surprise. "Youíre that smart?"
He tried to glare at her, but failed. "Probably not. My Dad works for the state department and this is just a sop to keep him happy."
"They donít do things like that. You have to have the grades or they wonít take you. What are going to major in?"
"Psychology, maybe even psychiatry eventually, if I can hack a medical degree. The human mind fascinates me. The way memory works, why we lean toward one career instead of another." He shrugged.
"I think youíd make a good psychologist. Itís easy to talk to you, I donít feel," she looked away a moment and then back at him, "judged."
"Why would I judge you? You had no control over what happened to you."
"And the fact that you believe me." She continued as though he hadnít spoken. "You donít know me, but youíre accepting what I say. I didnít expect that."
"You donít look like youíd lie to me."
"Thanks." She spoke low, again not looking at him. She hadnít lied, she knew that but to have him believe seemed like a bonus.
He already knew some tricks. Her eyes had not dilated when she spoke and her body language was open. Not as good as a polygraph, but the same basic principal. And he just knew somehow she was telling the truth, stupid because intuition was such a false tool, but there it was. He just knew.
"Why arenít your parents up here with you?"
He was surprised at the change in subject this time, but answered readily enough. "Dadís in Europe somewhere and Mom hasnít set foot in this place since they got the divorce. I still have good memories and I wanted to refresh them before I leave."
"Are you an only child?"
"I am now. My sister, well, sheís been gone six years."
"Iím sorry." That was obviously a painful subject for him, she was sorry sheíd asked.
He shook himself slightly to get rid of those thoughts. "What about you? Any brothers or sisters?"
"Two brothers, one older and one younger and an older sister."
"Wow. Big family."
"Catholic." She grinned. "And Navy, so Mom said whenever Dad was in port, we added to the family."
He smiled back at her. She liked her family, that must make it even harder now to be away, alone. If he didnít see his own family again he wondered if heíd notice.
He realized she was struggling to her feet. "Wait, what?"
"I have to use your bathroom."
"Oh." He was already on his feet assisting her. That earned him a shy smile.
While she was out of the room he headed back to the kitchen area to see what might appeal to her. He was sure she was hungry even if she didnít want to admit it. One sandwich in three days? He had his head in the refrigerator when she returned. She perched again on the stool to watch.
"I brought one of those frozen lasagnas and some barbecue. What are you hungry for?" He glanced up at her when she didnít answer.
"Are you going to let me stay here tonight?"
The question surprised him. "Well sure, I mean, I thought we could stay here tonight and then Iíll take you home with me tomorrow."
"Whoa, wait a minute. Iíd like to stay here tonight, but then I have to move on."
"Why? If you donít want to go home where do you have to be?" He was truly puzzled.
"Thatís not it. You donít have to look after me. I can take care of myself."
"Listen, I donít doubt that. Iíd say normally you could probably take care of both of us with no problem. But you are going to have a baby, soon. Do you really expect me to just watch you walk away?"
They watched each other for a few minutes, until she could feel a smile start on her face. "Whatís that look?"
"Look?" He asked innocently. That caused a laugh, the first heíd heard from her. "Why donít we decide what weíre going to do tomorrow? Youíre. . . youíre not going to have the baby tonight, are you?"
"I donít think so." She laughed lightly again. "You choose supper." She said obviously changing the subject. "How long have you been coming here?" Dana watched him in the kitchen. He knew where everything was. Her brothers probably couldnít even find the clean dishes.
"Oh, weíve always come here. I think Dad bought the place before I was born. We were here every summer until. . ." His voice trailed off.
His sister, she thought. Say something! "Must be nice to have a place that long. Being a Navy brat we moved at least every two years, sometimes more often. A lot of the houses looked alike. Navy bases arenít exactly up on new designs, but they were all different. You had to go to new schools, meet new people, hopefully make at least one friend."
"I bet you donít have any trouble there."
"My sister Melissa doesnít, and Bill always makes whatever team he tries out for. I guess it takes me longer."
"Do you date? I mean, uh. . . " They both were looking at her stomach now.
"Iím not allowed to date yet."
He couldnít help it, he chuckled. He hadnít meant to, but the sight of her on the stool, so pregnant it looked like sheíd pop any minute making that statement just struck him as funny. It took her a second, but then fortunately she saw the humor and laughed herself. This was almost as weird as waking in the woods had been. Sheíd never even really talked to a boy except her brothers. Now. . . for some reason that made her laugh even more.
He was enjoying it until he saw the tears in her eyes and realized this was rapidly turning into hysteria. "Dana?" He had rounded the counter and before he knew it had her in his arms. It didnít even feel awkward. He held her as her laughter turned to sobs. He found himself mildly surprised this hadnít happened earlier. She was just a kid, taken from her family, used in a horrible way and now feeling that she couldnít even turn to them for help.
Fox found himself humbled that she would trust him enough to show this kind of emotion. She didnít know him at all, theyíd met under uncomfortable circumstances a few hours ago and now. . . now part of him didnít want to go to England and leave her to face what was ahead of her.
Back up, Fox. This isnít really any of your business and you shouldnít be involved. Yeah, right. She was beginning to get some control again, so he led her back to the couch and seated her, lifting her feet to the coffee table. "You okay?" Heíd been able to feel how agitated the baby was from her emotions.
"Yeah." She wouldnít look at him and was obviously terribly embarrassed. "Iím sorry."
"No need to be. Thereís just me here and I probably wouldnít be holding up as well as you if the positions were reversed."
She wiped her eyes and blew her nose. "Youíre a very nice man."
He actually blushed, which surprised her a little. "You just rest a little. Iíll get some food started. If you want to take a nap, the bed would be a lot more comfortable."
"Iím not going to take your bed."
"You are tonight." He held up his hand, "No argument. Why should two people sleep out here and only one in there? Iíll make it up when I get the lasagna in the oven."
"I can make the bed."
"You can help me. Okay? Just sit here a minute and rest." She nodded, the crying jag had exhausted her and standing again just seemed more than she could handle. The next time he glanced over at her she was asleep. He paused in his activity, what she must be going through. He sighed and put dinner in the oven, then quietly went into the bedroom and made up the bed. She hadnít had a decent nightís sleep in days. Should he wake her to move her? Yeah, it would be a while until the food was ready. He leaned over her, brush the hair that had escaped her ponytail from her face.
"Dana?" He said softly. "Letís move you to the bed."
She nodded wearily, barely aware of his words. He supported her into the bedroom and she was asleep again before he could leave the room. He left the door open in case she needed him.
The aroma of the lasagna brought her out of the room. "How do you feel?"
"Iím fine. Hungry."
He grinned, "That I can fix." He brought her plate to the counter, along with ice tea. She noticed his own plate held about half what hers did.
"I canít eat this much."
"Eat what you can. Weíll reheat the leftovers later." He was rewarded with a smile and she began to eat.
Afterward she insisted on washing the dishes over his protests, but did allow him to dry and put away. They sat then on the porch and just visited. He was a little shocked at how easy it was to talk to this strange girl especially under the circumstances. She was kind of attractive, and would be even more so if she were at her best and maybe a little slimmer. Heíd never been this close to someone who was so pregnant. They were just normal people with another person inside them. Okay.
She had finally asked the date which had led to tears again. The last thing she remembered was a swim party to celebrate the end of summer in August. Finding out it was spring break in April had stunned her. "I missed Christmas, a whole year of school. They think Iím dead." He started to speak, but she stopped him, "I know, but I canít, not yet."
He shrugged and nodded. A tough decision either way, he found himself wondering how he could possibly handle it.
It wasnít long before she was yawning again. "Go on to bed Dana. You donít have to make any decisions or do anything tonight. Just rest and I'm sure youíll feel better tomorrow."
"I already feel a lot better. Not to have to wake up every few minutes to listen for what made the last sound is nice. Thank you."
He helped her to her feet. "I still feel bad about taking your bed."
"I donít mind, really and Iím not ready to go to bed anyway. I donít sleep a lot and I brought some stuff to read."
He woke to the smell of cinnamon buns the next morning. "I hope you donít mind. I spotted them in the refrigerator last night and figured they were for breakfast."
"You didnít have to do this. I would have Ė "
"Youíve done enough for me already." She turned back to the refrigerator and took out the juice that he had brought. From the back he couldnít tell she was having a baby and he found himself admiring her hips as she bent over. Damn, he was a pervert; she was only fifteen years old.
After breakfast he took a shower and then left the bathroom for her. He dug through the closets until he found an old caftan that his father had brought his mother as a joke from some trip to the south pacific years ago. It wasnít very attractive and his mother had never worn it, but it should fit her. She couldnít wear his fatherís robe forever and what sheíd arrived in wasnít worth burning. He lay the dress on the bed and left the room before she finished her shower.
She came out wearing the caftan, her eyebrow arched awaiting his response. He smiled but had the good sense not to laugh. Lime green was not her color, but it was indeed big enough for her.
"I need a promise from you Fox."
"Okay." He looked back in her eyes, a much more attractive alternative.
"Youíll never talk about this in the future. You wonít even laugh about it with your new friends at Oxford. This is just too humiliating to ever be discussed."
He didnít even smile, just took her hand in his. "This is between us. I wonít be talking about it to anyone. But I need a promise in return." She nodded. "Let me know how youíre doing, what happens when you get home. I know Iíll be too far away to be much help, but you can talk to me about it, know someone is on your side."
Her eyes filled at his words and she nodded. "I promise." She finally whispered.
He felt as though he should move back away from her. What was it about her that brought out this protective instinct in him? Okay, part of that answer was obvious, but this was different, it was more. He mentally shook himself.
"You want to take a walk, down by the lake. Itís pretty down there and itís not too cold."
"I havenít been cold since I woke up in the woods. I think my internal thermostatís broken. A walk would be nice, you donít think anyone will see me in this?"
"Only me." For some reason that caused her to blush and he noted it, but didnít say anything.
They walked slowly down around the lake; Fox pointing out places and talking about things heíd done here as a child. He offered to take her out in the boat but she declined, unable to see herself climbing in and out of the boat at this time.
After lunch she took a nap while he read. When she woke it was her turn to talk about things she did with her family as they sat on the porch, just being together.
It was cool enough for a fire that evening. They sat in front of it, sipping instant hot chocolate that he had found it the cupboard, just being together and comfortable with it.
She shook her head as though to clear it. "You okay?"
"I feel . . . strange. I donít know."
"Youíre not in any pain?"
She looked up at him then and saw the apprehension on his face. "No. No pain. Itís just a weird feeling, maybe a little dizzy."
"Did we do too much today?"
"Hardly. Iím fine, I shouldnít have mentioned it."
"Maybe, maybe you should lie down."
"Maybe you should relax." She was watching him now; "You actually look guilty. You havenít done anything to me except rescue me. Really." That didnít seem to help. "What happened to you?"
"Why donít I believe that?" He shrugged. "You know, Iíve noticed it before. You take on guilt for everything, you even feel guilty that Iím pregnant and you havenít touched me."
He tried to grin, but couldnít sustain it. "Iím the reason my sister is gone." There, heíd said it out loud. It was probably the first time ever.
"What do you mean?"
"I was keeping her when she disappeared. I was twelve, she was eight. I was babysitting, I was responsible."
"What happened to her?" She asked this softly, not wanting to stop his flow.
"We donít know. No one knows. She disappeared. When my parents came home I was there, but I couldnít speak, couldnít tell them anything. We never found her."
"Tell me about it." She wanted to hear and his voice kept her from concentrating on the weird feeling that wouldnít go away. She found herself holding his hand as he opened up to her, the story pouring out of him as though a dam had broken.
She jerked awake with a gasp. It felt like a spike was being driven up her Ė a burning, tearing agony. When the pain subsided she cried out, "Fox! Oh god, Fox!"
He came awake immediately and raced toward the bedroom. The sight of her writhing on the bed, the sheets fisted in her hands brought him to a dead stop. "Oh shit."
"Do something!" She gasped out.
"Yeah, yeah. Iíll get you to the hospital."
She managed to nod before the groan shook her. He paled noticeable, but there werenít many options here. He wasnít about to deliver a baby.
"Do you, do you think you can walk?" He wasnít sure where to hold her, to help her.
"I donít think so. God, this hurts! Fox, I need help!"
"Okay, okay! Just donít have the baby now. Stay calm and donít push." Her glare at him scared him almost as much as her pain. Heíd helped her to her feet now, but she couldnít straighten up. She was clutching her stomach and leaning heavily against him.
"Take it easy, Dana. The carís right outside."
"Fox, I canít do this. It hurts too much. I canít."
"They can give you something at the hospital. Iíll get you there as quick as I can."
"That better be damn quick." She was groaning again and had doubled over.
"Dana." It was only a whisper. She didnít try to speak when the contraction ended, only looking up at him, fear plain in her eyes.
He managed to open the door without losing his grip on her. The car was only a few steps away, but they never made it.
The light that struck them was paralyzing in its intensity. He could feel her being removed from his frozen arms but couldnít move or even cry out to stop it. Heíd felt this before, this helpless inability to protect someone he cared about. He couldnít even turn his head, but could feel her presence now slightly above him and moving away. In his mind he was screaming for them to let her go. Then oblivion.
The two men watched a technician leave with the child. "I donít understand. Why let her escape temporarily? Why even let them meet if youíre going to erase their memories?"
The second man removed the cigarette from his mouth and exhaled. "A connection has been made. It was necessary, trust me."