We drove another twenty minutes up north deeper into the mountains. I glared at Lucas for most of the trip and wondered why he made the effort to go all the way to the park down in the foothills. But he kept his dark eyes on the road and ignored me with minimal effort. Trees rushed past us and the Green Mountains outstretched for miles as we climbed higher and higher into the boonies.
Thankfully, plenty of other people lived around him. They were big houses, most made of logs, with sweeping skylights and porches overlooking the view. Some had smoke curling from their chimneys to compensate for the steep drop in temperature at such a high elevation. I crossed my arms petulantly when Lucas turned down a road and drove to the very end without saying a word.
He had the same style house: like it was made of Lincoln Logs, and it sprawled out across the long grass. The sun was setting over the horizon as he pulled into the gravel driveway and my siblings hopped out without a moment's hesitation with the dog. I pouted at the window as Lucas took off his seatbelt.
"Let's go inside," he said. "You want tea or something?"
"No. I want you to bring me home."
Lucas rubbed his jaw, where some stubble was popping up. "Can't. If you don't come inside on your own I'm gonna have to carry you."
"You wouldn't dare," I hissed.
He shrugged and got out of his side to walk around to mine. I watched through narrowed eyes up until he opened my door and reached across me to take off my seatbelt. He ignored my flurry of slaps—they were halfhearted, admittedly—and scooped me out of the car to throw me over his shoulder. I pounded my fists on his back as he casually locked the car and brought me up the stairs and into his house.
Charlize and Augustin ran by us with the dog, clutching coloring books and squealing to one another. I crossed my arms over my chest, flustered, and Lucas shut the door behind us. He gestured to a room immediately to our left and raised an eyebrow.
"Now do you want tea?" he asked.
"Now I want it even less."
"We have a few things to talk about, Mae." His gaze traveled down to my hands and he scowled more deeply, jolting toward me faster than I could blink. "Like what the hell that is on your wrists!"
I took a step back and turned them inward. "None of your business!"
Lucas ran a hand through his hair. "Stop telling me it's none of my business. If you're living with a goddamn serial killer and he's hurting you than it's absolutely my business." He loomed over me, pointing toward the kitchen. "Now go sit down so we can figure something out."
"Why bother?" I snapped. "You're just going to call the police!"
"Not if we can come up with an alternative. But we can't do that if you refuse to talk to me."
I glared up into his dark eyes trained intently on mine. He had a point, and there was a faint glimmer of hope in his words. No police was good… for now. But Pierre would be furious when I came home.
"Fine," I said. "I like black tea."
My siblings were entranced by whatever they found to occupy themselves with. Lucas put on water to boil and got the things ready for tea while I sat at the kitchen table. His house wasn't small but it had a cozier feel than mine. Mom and dad weren't keen decorators and my house had a palatial feel to it. There were some pictures on the walls and everything was soft brown or reddish hues. It smelled faintly of vanilla and pine needles.
Lucas sat adjacent to me and leaned back, crossing his legs and resting his jaw on his palm. It was a jarring reminder that he was an adult and I was still technically an adolescent. I played with my fingers nervously. I had to grow up years ago but sitting in stark silence across from a well-dressed man was making me feel like a little girl all over again.
He waved a hand. "So tell me where you were."
I pressed my lips together. "Home. He wouldn't let me leave."
"Neither Charlize nor Augustin saw you for two days. Where were you in the house?"
None of your business! bubbled up in my throat. I swallowed hard as my feelings clawed forth from my stomach, ripping my throat raw. It wasn't exactly easy for me to open up.
"The basement," I said tersely, "and that's all I'm saying about that."
"I'm not going to ask you for details but I want to know some general things. Did he drug you?"
"No. He…" I paused, averting my eyes to the floor. "He doesn't like when women aren't there. It's all about power and control coming from him. He chains them to the wall."
A wave of nausea passed over me. "I'm not off-limits anymore."
The faint laughter of my siblings drifted from somewhere else in the house. Lucas stroked his upper lip with his index finger, ready to speak, when the pot on the stove began to bubble furiously. He rose to get my tea and I did what I was best at: forced down unwelcome emotions.
He set a steaming mug in front of me and took his seat again. All was quiet for a while and I tended to my drink, stirring in a bit of sugar to sweeten the bitterness. My father was going to kill me when I went home. I had to at least make sure Charlize and Augustin were out of harm's way.
"You have another brother, right?" Lucas pressed.
I nodded. "Yeah, his name is Eric. He's only a few years younger than me but… he's learning a lot from Pierre. Too much. They do a lot of things together now."
"Did he hurt you?"
"Obviously," I muttered. "But I'm pretty sure I hurt him worse."
I took a dignified sip of my tea. "When my dad let me go… I was trying to get food. Eric likes to scavenge off of dad's scraps because he's too weak to do anything himself. Anyway, he was annoying me a bit too much and I might've stabbed him in the thigh before I left."
Lucas blanched. "You're kidding."
The kitchen was darkening. I set down my mug and smiled icily at him.
"I'm not afraid to protect myself."
"Guess not." He shifted in his seat, suddenly looking uncomfortable. "So uh… Do you need to go to the hospital? I can bring you."
It wasn't hard to read between the lines. "No. That wasn't until this weekend."
"Oh. I guess that's good. Better than what I was thinking." Lucas pinched the bridge of his nose and spread out his long fingers over his eyes with an exasperated sigh. "I'm torn here, Mae. I really can't let you go back and live with a serial killer, and I'd prefer to call the police now. But if I call them they're going to need you to testify in court and you'll be split up from your siblings."
"That's been my struggle my whole life," I grumbled. "Testifying is fine but I know they're going to put all of us in different foster homes. My mom definitely isn't fit to raise them."
"Do your parents go out a lot?"
"Rarely. Dad can't risk being seen and mom's afraid to be outside alone." I narrowed my eyes shrewdly and drank some tea. "Why do you ask?"
Lucas inclined his head toward the distinct sound of the dog barking. "They need to be somewhere safe and so do you. Charlize in particular needs a lot of help and she and Augustin both like me. They're comfortable here. I don't want the three of you to be split up."
I scowled, irritated by his avoiding the question. I had an inkling of what he was suggesting but I didn't want to say it out loud and upset him. My heart beat a little faster.
"Thanks for the sympathy," I said sarcastically.
He rolled his eyes. "Don't be obtuse, Mae. The three of you can stay here with me."
It was an incredibly tempting offer. Lucas seemed stable and nice but I knew from plenty of experience that looks were deceiving. We would have a warm, safe place to sleep and though I was still close to Pierre and my mother, they wouldn't have any idea of where I was. I could tip the police off from afar and they could get all their evidence from our basement. Maybe mom would cooperate.
I eyed my tea, afraid to look at Lucas. "They need to go to school and I can't teach them. Mom homeschools them but she doesn't really do much."
"There's a school down the road a ways. It's a separate system from the one you're in."
"Dad will be furious. He'll go looking for us and I don't want Charlize and Auggie living inside their whole lives. I want them to be able to go outside and enjoy having friends."
"They will," Lucas said. His dark gaze shifted to the window. "My friend Alan is on the police force. I'll give him an 'anonymous' tip and he can make sure Pierre is out of the picture without getting you or the other two involved. He owes me one, anyway."
Hope prickled in me uncomfortably. It all sounded great, but…
I glanced up and was startled to see Lucas staring at me with the same glazed look I'd noticed a few times before. It was kind of unsettling—I swallowed hard.
"Trying to get away from him usually doesn't work out," I said. "Mom did a bunch of times but he's slippery and really, really smart. I'm afraid he'll escape again and I won't know where he is."
"I'll make sure you're safe." He blinked and the weird expression was gone, replaced with a small smile. He leaned back in his chair and knitted his fingers behind his head. "Those two can go to school, I can help Charlize, and when you turn 18 you can go to college. We don't want anyone realizing you're an unaccompanied minor, right?"
"No… guess not."
The kids decided that was a good time to come running through the kitchen with the dog in search of dinner. I pulled Charlize into my lap when she outstretched her hands and Lucas rose to pick something out with Augustin. Charlize passed out on my collar bone and I watched our potential savior quietly, studying him for any similarities to our father.
He smiled a lot, which Pierre didn't do. He was engaging and friendly and he wasn't afraid to touch or be touched. His fingers were between Auggie's shoulder blades as he listened to him explain what he wanted to eat and a grin flashed across his face before he burst out laughing. The dog sat behind them and wagged his tail with furious, unbridled excitement.
I didn't want to leave one bad situation to enter another. Lucas was mostly unknown to me and I would've liked more time to study him but Pierre had dark plans in store for me over the weekend. There was no time to wait. I had to be decisive and go with my gut.
When my two siblings were full and sleepy Lucas gave me the tour of the rest of his house. We stopped to put them each in a separate bedroom—he had four altogether—and toured everything else when they were asleep. The dog was torn on which bedroom he wanted to sleep in and he chose to lie in the middle of the hallway with his head on his paws.
We paused outside the bedroom that would be mine. It was on the same side of the hall as his while the other two were past the stairs at the opposite end. I leaned on the doorframe and rubbed my arms and Lucas leaned on the other side, watching me through the shadows with his hands in his pockets.
"What do you want from me, then?" I asked.
"Nothing. I just want you here."
"Forever? What if I want to leave?"
He smiled blandly. "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it."
I peeked inside the bedroom. It was a bit bigger than my one back home and had blue walls with a blue and tan bedspread. The atmosphere was relaxing.
"I need to get some things from my house," I said. "Birth certificates, social security cards…"
"I'll have Alan pick them up when they get Pierre." Lucas's gaze swept down to my abdomen. "You've been holding your stomach all night and you didn't eat much. Something wrong?"
I didn't like our proximity. I took a step back and glared up at him.
"No," I snapped, freezing over defensively, "and don't ask me again."
Neither of us spoke for a couple of minutes. He watched me, waiting to see if I'd do anything more, and broke into a self-satisfied smirk when I didn't. He shrugged off the doorframe and stepped closer.
"You'll open up to me some day," he murmured. "Get some sleep. You look tired."
Lucas walked off down the hall without another word to his own bedroom, leaving me alone in the hallway. I frowned at his general direction until he shut the door. Fat chance.