Guest- I can't give away anything, but I don't think you'll be very disappointed with the over all end. In the meanwhile, thanks for the review!

Rebekah- I actually don't have an Instagram, (as my phone is old and doesn't even really connect to Instagram) but if you want to be friends, we can...hmm...well, I guess I could try and set one up sometime. Anywho, thank you for your review, a love hate is mostly what I go for with Dominic. Obviously, you should hate him, but at the same time, he's obviously sick and at least a little aware and regretful.

I know I've said this before, but I was depressed. Like, probably the second most depressed I've ever been in my life. Attack on Titan pulled me out of it last time, and this time, I pulled myself out.

Ben- Lies, you started taking anti-depressants.

Me- Okay, yes, true, but to be fair, I had to get myself to the doctor.

Ben- Nope, your grandfather took you to the doctor.

Me- Okay, but for unrelated purposes. I brought up the depression.

Ben- Okay, fine, I'll give you that much.

Me- Thank you kindly.

Ben- Okay.

Me- Okay.

(We say okay a lot)

Chapter 18

The time for sleep finally came around, and it felt like it had taken hours. But that might have been because my head was swimming with unanswered questions that I could hardly even manage to ask myself. I started shoving things off to the side of the room, to make room for myself on the floor. The cluttered room wasn't dirty, but there were still a few things that I would roll over and puncture myself on, should they stay in their current spots. Joey was in the bathroom, and I could hear the water of the sink running through the wall, feel the temperature of the room heat up the longer the warm water ran.

I hadn't thought to bring my toothbrush, but that was fine. I hadn't had a toothbrush with Dominic either, so I was used to making do without one. I just had to wash my hands and use a finger. Or simply swish it around in my mouth, using my tongue as a means of swiping it around.

Regarding the blankets on Joey's bed, I decided to take a tattered looking blue one that I thought he wouldn't care if I took. I didn't want to take the nicer looking ones.

Dust bunnies and balls of lint flew around the room when I stretched out the blanket, and I held in the coughs that I could feel tickling my throat. These things didn't bother me. I'd gotten very good at living with them.

By the time Joey came out of the bathroom, I had set up a tiny sleeping area, and was stretching out on it in a weird position that one only ever makes when stretching.

"That doesn't look very comfortable." Joey eyed my makeshift bed, his lips tugging themselves into an amused grin. Probably at my weird stretch position, which I was still maintaining, not moving as if he'd caught me doing something dirty. "You can sleep on my bed, you know?"

"Then where would you sleep?" I finally moved into a normal position, and lightly touched the blanket under me, admiring it's softness. All the things in Joey's room were soft, and I don't mean that psychically. It was just that every object in the room gave off the feeling of comfort and home. You could feel that someone had enjoyed living in this room. The basement at Dominic's hadn't felt that way. The air was thick with fear and heavy with a chill that wrapped around you like a serpent. The whole house was that way, but no room was quite like my basement.

"I could sleep on the floor."

"Well that wouldn't be very fair."

"We could both sleep in my bed."

He said it casually, and he probably meant it that way too. But after what had happened earlier, it was hard to feel casual. I looked away for a couple seconds, facing his bed, while he still stood in the doorway behind me. When a few seconds passed with nothing but silence, I turned back a little, peeked at him out of the corner of my eye to watch him. This was a bad idea, because he was still looking at me too.

"Isn't it...too small for both of us?"

He finally took his eyes off me, casting them on the bed in question. "Hmm. You could be right. But I still don't find it fair for you to be on the floor."

"Why?" I asked, smiling gently. "I can handle it Joey, I promise. I'm not so frail that I can't sleep on a floor."

He let out a breath of laughter, shifting his position in the doorway so that he was leaning against it's strong frame. "I know that Ryan. I don't think you're frail at all. Very much the opposite, in fact. If you weren't the strongest person I knew, you wouldn't have survived being with him that long."

Joey didn't say Dominic's name, at least not in my presence. He probably didn't say it out of my presence either. Except maybe to curse it.

"Thanks." Guilt twisted in my stomach. Would he still think I was strong if he knew that I was sending letters to Dominic?

Or would he think I was disturbed?

*(*)

The next morning, when I woke up, the sun was already high, shining warm rays into the room. A few even reached me from my spot on the floor, and I rolled onto my stomach, turning to look at the clock that was hanging on the wall. After reading what it said, I frowned slightly. That couldn't be right. Thinking I must have just still been sleepy, I blinked a few times. The results didn't change though.

"Three o clock!?"

I quickly got dressed, then went downstairs slowly, hoping I wouldn't bump into Joey's parents. I liked them, but I still didn't want to be alone with them. This was true for everybody who wasn't a close friend or family member, because I knew they would be secretly watching me, even if I didn't see it, thinking about all the things that had happened to me, eyes heavy with an unimaginable amount of pity. And while pity was by far better than doubt, I did not want it. I just wanted everyone to see me as normal again, as crazy as that may have been.

Creeping into the kitchen, I heard Joey talking. Since nobody was responding to him, I quickly deduced that he must be on the phone.

"No, he's still asleep. Yeah, I'll have him call you when he wakes up. Okay, bye Steven."

Crap. If I really had been sleeping for that long Steven was probably flying off the walls with worry. I was supposed to be calling him every hour, after all.

After Joey had hung up, I revealed myself. "Is it really three?"

"Yeah. I didn't want to wake you up. I thought you might be tired. And apparently, I was right."

Trying to shrug off the embarrassment I was feeling, (because it was stupid to be embarrassed for sleeping) I moved across the small but cozy kitchen, dodging past a few stray items that had fallen onto the floor. A salt shaker, which I bent down to pick up. A wet rag, probably used to wash the dishes. A ball that looked like a dog toy, which was weird, because Joey didn't have a dog. Unless he'd gotten one while I was gone, and I'd managed to avoid hearing about it or seeing it this long.

"Have you eaten?"

He shook his head. "Well, I had some lunch, but it was small. Why?"

"I'll make us something."

"You don't have to do that. We could just go out and eat somewhere."

Going out in public was getting easier, bit by bit. But I still preferred inside, and shook my head, hoping he wouldn't insist. Joey nodded, and sat down at the island, and I began cooking, going from one point in the room to the next, Joey directing me where to find what items. Figuring his appetite hadn't changed too drastically in the years I was gone, I started making spaghetti, which I remembered was one of his favorites. He smiled when he realized what I was making.

"You remembered."

How do you tell someone that you remember because you would go over every detail of your life, details that had once been unimportant, but that you now couldn't let go?

"Yeah. Do you still like it?"

"Yeah."

We passed my time cooking in silence. He put music on, and it moved the air around us, a calming effect I didn't know I needed until then. It was a song I didn't know, which didn't surprise me. I would probably not know a lot of songs. They only time I'd heard music was when I was watching TV or when Dominic and I were driving to and from town. The trips to town had stopped, and I hadn't been big on the music channels during my time away. Mostly, I watched movies and started new TV shows, which was stupid, because I didn't always get to see the next episode.

Joey nods in approval after his first bite of spaghetti. "This is really good!"

Smiling, I take the seat next to him, filling my plate up with as much as I wanted. That was still a small, liberating experience. Eating as much as I desired, without Dominic dictating exactly how much I could take in.

"Thank you."

I didn't mention that the reason I was good at making spaghetti was because it had been on of Dominic's favorites too. If I did, there wasn't a doubt in my mind that Joey would henceforth stop eating spaghetti around me, and maybe even all together.

My fork dropped back to my plate as I thought about Dominic, and the first time he'd told me to cook for him.

"C-cook?" I repeated, hoping I hadn't heard correctly. Then again, what else could he have possibly said that could be any better?

"Yes. You'll cook for me when I tell you too." It wasn't a question, but with Dominic, they very rarely were. And actually, even when they rarely were, they weren't actually. (Unless he was in a really, really, really good mood) They were commands disguised as questions. Outside, I could hear the wind howling fiercely, and I wished for a few seconds that it would knock the house over, and set me free.

"B-b-but..." It was hard to get the word out, because it was one of Dominic's least favorite things to hear. I hadn't been there that long, (in comparison to how long I would stay) but I already knew that. His face hardened, and I quickly rushed to explain myself better, hoping it would appease him. "I've never cooked before, Dominic, and it will be really bad." Using his name sometimes helped to keep him happy, I had recently learned, so I tried that, then waited in fear for his response, my heart jumping in a concerning way. Dominic was unpredictable. He might be merciful in his response, and he might grab me by the hair and pull me down the stairs, back into the cold, dark basement, that, despite it's cold darkness, was quickly becoming the only place I felt even a tiny bit of safety, even though it was actually my prison.

"You'll get better."

How could I get better if I had nothing to go off of? No prior experience, no cookbooks even, he was really just expecting me to wing it. And even though he was the one putting me in this situation, I knew that if it didn't come out good enough, it could anger him in an illogical way. But I knew that if I continued to argue, his patience, which was always thin, would run out. So I turned back to the kitchen.

"O-okay."

His footsteps retreated, but not far enough for me to consider running. Mapping out his movements by the sound of his steps, I was able to know that he had simply moved over to the table, which had a clear view of the kitchen. If I made a run for the woods, he'd be able to see, and he'd catch me.

I went to work, pulling things out of the cupboards, turning them over to read the instructions. They were all full of things I didn't know how to do. I was thirteen. Never in my life had I successfully cooked anything. Once, Steven and I had tried to make brownies for Terry on Mother's Day, and what should have been a chocolate delight came out tasting like like dirt and with the texture of glue. The year after that we'd just picked her flowers and did the dishes. Thinking back on it, it was amazing we hadn't set anything on fire, because we'd barely known how to use the stove.

Movement behind me brought me back to the task at hand. I briefly glanced over my shoulder. Dominic was watching me expectantly, his fingers steepled in front of him. He didn't say a word, but I felt that my time was running out already. If I spent another minute shuffling food around and reading the back of boxes, he would explode. I grabbed something out quickly. (I can't even remember now what it was) And I set to work as best as I could, reading the ingredients, trying my best to follow them, and hoping my attempt would be passable.

But in the end, I failed.

Somehow, I managed to start a fire. Flames erupted from under the pot I had set on the stove, leaping towards the ceiling, and kissing the walls around us, threatening to burn it all down. For just a few seconds, I thought about doing something that would make the blaze worse. Best case scenario, it would cause a distraction. Dominic would have to focus on putting it out, and I could use those seconds to run away. Worst case scenario, I would die. But death would have been better than the hell I was trapped in.

I knew that.

But I also knew I wanted to go home, and there was no possible way it would ever happen if I died.

I never got the chance to make the decision, ultimately. Dominic was there, screaming and shouting, and his anger spurred me into movement. I turned on the faucet to the sink and grabbed the nearest cup and went to work putting out the fire. I only managed to dump a few cupfuls of water before Dominic had gotten it under control, and once he had, he stood there, silent, ominous.

"Dominic...I'm sorry..." I whispered. He said nothing, and still didn't move. Now, I look back and think that maybe he was fighting some urge to hurt me. But then, I just knew that it was ultimately a silence before the storm.

"Are you trying to kill me, Ryan?" he finally hissed, turning to look at me. The blaze in his eyes matched the fire that he had just extinguished.

"N-no!" It's instant, but I think to myself, "I would if I had it in me, believe me."

"Then why did you start a fucking fire?"

"It was an accident! I told you, I can't cook, Dominic, I told you!"

I'm begging without saying the magic words, and he has to know it, but instead he asks, "Oh, so you're saying this is my fault." This isn't a question either, he's made it a fact.

And I think, 'well yeah, I told you I couldn't cook, I'm thirteen, of course I fucked up.' Back then, I still had more fight, both to his face and in my mind. It wouldn't be long though, before I would give up and even my thoughts would become passive, and a constant loop of, How can I make Dominic happy, what can I do to keep him happy, what does Dominic want from me today, Dominic, is Dominic happy?

"No, no, th-that's not what I mea-"

But he doesn't let me finish. He surges toward me, and I scream, a loud sound that rips through the house and echoes. He grabs me by the back of the neck and is pushing me into the ground, and I decide not to fight, because the last time I did, and I still have the scar to prove it.

"You're going to pay. You're going to pay for that-"

"Ryan?"

"Yes?"

I say it normally, like a normal person. At least I think I do. He doesn't seem quite so concerned as his facial expression implied a second ago as he says, "You seemed a little zoned out."

"I was just...trying to remember some things."

"Like what? Maybe I can help."

I smile and take a a bite of my food. "No, it's fine. I remembered."

"Oh. Well then you should remember to call Steven, because he is frantic."

"I will."

And I do, a few minutes after we finish eating our spaghetti. It stops ringing on the third ring, but it's not Steven's voice that answers.

"Hello?"

The female voice on the other side of the line surprises me, and it takes me a couple seconds to deduce that it's Miley. "Oh, Miley. Hey. I was just calling Steven back."

"Oh good. He's been staring at his phone all day!" She laughs, so I manage a laugh back. "Where is he?"

"He had to go to the bathroom. He left his phone behind, but when I saw it was you, I thought he wouldn't mind."

"I doubt he would."

"So what are you up to?" she asks casually, like the two of us are family members who just call every now and again to keep each other updated on our lives. I wished I was as calm as her, and could talk to virtual strangers that easily.

"Um...nothing. Joey and I just finished eating."

"What did you have?"

"Spaghetti."

"That's one of my favorites. But to be fair, everyone loves it, huh?"

"Yeah."

I felt terrible. Here she was, trying hard to build a relationship with me, and I was devolving quickly, giving her one word answers. I really did like her, and thought she was great for my brother, but it didn't make it any easier to talk with her.

"Hey, you and I should hang out."

This snapped me back to the conversation, and I replayed the words in my head a few times, not sure I had heard her right. Once I finally convinced myself that I had, I stumbled over my words as I tried to reply. "U-um, you and m-me? Just us?"

"Yeah! Just us! I love Steven to pieces-" she cut herself off with a laugh and a hushed, "Don't tell him I said that," and then continued on as if nothing had happened, "But I want to get to know you better, if that's alright. I feel like I already know so much about you, but I know that's just because Steven talked about you nonstop! Also, you might be my future brother-in-law, so I think it would be best if we were on good terms."

When she stopped, I waited, thinking she might continue, and so there was a long pause before I realized she was waiting for my answer. Just as I opened my mouth to try and speak, she blurted out, "Sorry! I didn't mean to be so pushy. I know you've been through a lot, and I would hate to think that I'm forcing you to do something you don't want. It's totally fine if you aren't comfortable with-"

"It's okay, Miley." I cut in, smiling on the other end of the line. "It's fine. I would love to hang out with you."

"Great! Where do you want to go?"

"Um. I'm not sure. Maybe we could meet up at the park?" It was a question, because I wasn't sure how much farther from us she lived, and maybe walking to the park would take an unreasonably long amount of time.

"Sure. Sounds good. Let's smooth out the details in a bit. Steven's finally back."

She emphasized the "finally," in a way that told me that Steven was in the room, and this was proven when his voice reached my ears a few seconds later, a little quieter, meaning he was probably standing at the door.

"I went to get food." The way he talked did indeed indicate a mouthful of food.

"Yeah, well, Ryan's on the phone. And luckily for you, I kept him company."

"Give it."

"Not with that attitude."

The sound of a scuffle followed, and I felt very much like I was intruding. Sure, they were way too young for the wrestling to be sexual, (Well, technically not really, but I knew my brother wasn't quite at that point yet) but there was still something pretty intimate about it. Especially since they were already interested in each other. I hung up, looking over at Joey who was watching with an amused expression.

"Did you even talk to Steven?"

"He'll probably call back in a few minutes."

*(*)

That night, I convince Joey to let me go on a walk without him. It isn't an easy task by any means, because he knows all about the car now, and he doesn't want me going out alone. I don't really want to go out alone either, but I do want to test something. How close was the car? Was it always around? If I went out right now, would it come? I promise to keep my phone on me, and that I'll be back within an hour, and off I go.

I can feel Joey's eyes on my back as I walk away, and I turn to give him a reassuring smile. He smiles back, but doesn't go inside, not until I'm out of sight. Or at least, I assume that's when he went in. Maybe he just stood there, and will stay standing there until I come back.

I remember Joey's neighborhood better than I ever thought I would, and I quickly make my way around, even though there is really no rush. It's not like distance factors into the car's appearance. It had appeared at my house multiple times now. It didn't care if if I was near home, family, probably wouldn't even care if I was near Thomson.

Who was it? Who was in the car? It wasn't Dominic. Even if I hadn't just recently communicated with him, I would have known if he had gotten out. Thomson would have told me. It would have been on the news. Something. It's not Dominic. But who else could it be?

If it hadn't appeared when Seth and I were together, I would have suspected him a little. But it had. It wasn't Seth.

Dominic didn't have any friends. I was sure of it. During our three years together, he never mentioned any, never got any calls, letters, nothing. Sure, there were times when he would go out by himself and leave me behind, and sure I wondered what it was he was doing, but I mostly assumed he was out drinking, something like that. Even if he had had friends, or at least people in the town he would talk with or drink with, I doubt they knew anything about me. And even if they did, why would they come after me? It's just not plausible.

So who is it?

Someone who saw me on TV? Did some other unstable person see me on the TV, and think to themselves, "I want to do that too." It would be my luck, to be targeted by a completely different psycho.

But I didn't feel that that was true either.

I had no clue who it was.

Or why they were coming after me.

I've reached the park. It's a perfect middle ground between my house, Sam's house, and Joey's house. Each of us only has to walk about twenty or thirty minutes to get there. Joey's house is the farthest, being a thirty minute or so walk. Which means I already have to turn around and go back. I'd been so busy wondering who the person in the car was that I hadn't even really been looking for the car itself. Glancing around, I saw nothing unusual, no creepy car slowly approaching from the distance.

Maybe I would ask Dominic in my next letter. Was there anyone who knew about me? Anyone that might be coming after me?

He might not tell the truth, but it was worth a shot.

The question echoes in my head.

Who was it?

I stop walking as the park comes into full view. There's a figure standing on the playground, one I know. I should have known he'd be here. It's his park.

It's Sam.

He's leaning against the bars of the playground, looking off in the direction of my house, which is the direction I would have usually come from. He's not sitting on the slide like he usually does. He's not watching the sky like he usually does.

He's watching for me.

Does he want me to come? Or is he just keeping an eye out so he can run away as fast as possible. And maybe he doesn't want either of those things. Maybe he's just watching in that direction and thinking about me, and what a freak I am for hanging out with the twin brother of my kidnapper. The things he would think if he knew about the letters...

"Sam." I try to say it loudly, to draw his attention to me, but it comes out a whisper. I'm scared. If he turns to me, I would have to learn some sort of truth. Maybe I would learn that he thinks I'm a weirdo. Maybe I'll learn he doesn't want to be friends anymore. Even though so much of me knows that Sam wouldn't just abandon me like, after everything, the logical part of me knows that it could happen. The happy ending doesn't always come. People grow apart. People go away. They die. They leave you on your own, even when you are not yet capable of taking care of yourself.

Like my mother did.

A thought trickles in, sliding around inside my brain.

Is it my mom?

My mother had called. She'd wanted to meet. I'd told her no. I'd said I would eventually, but so far, I hadn't. Was it possible that this car, the person in the car, wasn't it viable that the person driving the car that had been following me around...

Was my mother?

I'd told her I didn't want to see her, so maybe that's why she was keeping her distance, following me around like a creepy stalker. If that was it, if that was all this was, everyone could calm down again. I could walk around town safely, and go home, and my family wouldn't have to be on edge. And maybe I would even talk to her. If she was so desperate to see me, the right thing to do would be to see her, at least once. Even if she'd never done the right thing by us.

So all I had to do know was find out.

All I had to do was call my mom.

My phone vibrates in my pocket, and not for the first time, I'm both glad and unhappy they've bought it for me. No doubt it would have saved me years ago, or at least given me a chance, if I'd been carrying a cell. And I know it's just so we all feel better that they want me to carry it. So really, I'm mostly glad I have it. It takes up time I don't know how to spend, and it sure does help me to forget my problems when I can just click a button and have the entire internet at my fingertips. It's helpful.

But it also wasn't on silent, and so when it rings, it doesn't only vibrate, my ringtone rings out through the stale night air, breaking the silence and reaching Sam, who turns and looks in my direction.

Or at least I assume he does.

I don't know for sure, because by the time he would have turned around, I'm long gone, running down the dark streets, focusing on getting back to Joey's, and getting into contact with one person.

My mother.


I don't really have it in me to right a funny A/N down here. Sorry about that. Things happened in my life. Things that can't be changed. And I guess I should be happy that instead of not writing, I wrote a bit more.

See you next time.