He Found Me(6)

By: Whitney Barbetti

I’m not afraid of love. I’m not scared of the big C word: Commitment. But Six and Rosa are the only two people who know me. Not Andra Walker, but the girl I was before. Cora Mitchell. They know the road I’ve taken. I can’t afford to share that with anyone else, so it’s not fair to play with someone’s feelings if I’m not going to allow them to know the real me. My experience with Dylan reminded me the importance of honesty. I liked having choices, not allowing anyone inside. There was darkness in my soul, abused innocence. My darkness was mine alone to carry; I didn’t want to burden anyone else with it.

After the Monster woke up and found me gone, he reported me to the police as a runaway. When my history of complaints to school counselors surfaced, suspicions were raised about what had really happened to me. The media reported every time the Monster was pulled in for questioning. A warrant was issued for the apartment we lived in, but of course, nothing was found.

As tips stopped coming in, the online sleuths started speculating. I spent those five months with Six in his basement guest room, and that gave me a lot of time to study all the blogs that popped up, the forum threads, all with web detectives hypotheses of what could have happened to me. The most popular hypothesis was that my uncle was involved. But my case was cold; the only thing everyone could agree on was that I had disappeared.

Six coached me on what to say and how to act so I wouldn’t cause doubt in the minds of anyone I encountered. It was the same rehearsed lines over and over.

“I’m estranged from my parents” – which was less suspicious than having deceased parents. All I had to do was gesture towards my multiple piercings and tattoos and it was assumed that I had strict, disapproving parents.

“I was homeschooled” – which made not having class reunion      s or close friendships understandable.

“I grew up in Los Angeles” – big city. I studied enough maps to come up with a neighborhood that the fictional Andra Walker had lived in. Rosa and I took a trip to Los Angeles after I’d been working for her for a year under the guise of visiting my family. We chose an easy to remember neighborhood and if I played off the sheltered life story, it was believable. And Six had moved to the west coast a few years after my disappearance, so he was a good frame of reference for me to share experiences that weren’t actual truth.

Those were the main answers I used. I used them so often in fact, I was starting to believe them myself. It was a nicer story than the nonfiction version of my life:

I ran away from my uncle after years of sexual abuse. My mom died a tragic death and my dad was a nobody.

I went to a normal school, tried to report my abusive uncle and when it backfired on me, the abuse escalated.

I grew up in a town in Michigan that still believes I was murdered by my uncle.

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t host a big, dramatic pity party. My life was good. I had Six, I had Rosa, and once Dylan got over the fact that I essentially used him, we became good friends. I had Clint, I had the other employees on the ranch, the horses, and a cozy little home. But most importantly, I had a life, and choices.

“Girl, what’s in your head that’s got you so distracted?” Rosa cut through my thoughts.

I shook my head, and tried to focus on something else I needed to think about. “Running over the guest list for this weekend,” I replied, looking down at my boots. Rosa was the only person in the world who could tell when I was lying.

She didn’t say anything for a moment. I waited for her to call me out on my lie, but she just sighed before asking, “Cabins or big house?”

“Three in the big house and one in the cabins. The cabin rental is for a month.”

Rosa shoved her hands in her front pocket and grabbed a sponge from the bucket. “That’s right, the writer. Wants a quiet place to finish his manuscript.” She frowned as she wrung out the sponge. “He’s the one waiting for his fancy new house he just bought to be completed.” She started where I left off on the fence, so I grabbed an old rag to work beside her.

“That’s him. Julian Jameson. Goes by J.J. He made sure to make note of that on his reservation.” I might have said that last part snidely. I experienced my fair share of snobs, being an hour from the popular Coloradan ski resorts. But something about Julian Jameson’s email correspondence had turned me off. Writers in general made me nervous, but snobby ones made me quickly lose my patience.

Rosa laughed. “Let’s see if he likes when you blatantly refuse to call him what he prefers. Kill him with kindness, sweetheart.”

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