SIXTY-NINE

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I awoke slowly, feeling rested and calm. Swallowing slowly, I kept my eyes closed as I wet my lips.

Then my memories flooded my awareness and my eyes flung open.

"Hey baby girl."

I inhaled sharply, slowly turning my head towards the voice to my left. To the man that was holding my hand.

Dad.

"Dad?" I whispered, my voice breaking from disuse.

He gave me a soft smile, squeezing my hand. "I was so worried."

"What are you-" I stopped to clear my throat, feeling more confused than ever. Had it all been a dream? Was I home? Had it all been a terrible nightmare?

Home... I whipped my head to the side and took in the bareness of the room I was in. "Where am I?"

The room was light, with cream-painted walls and the occasional landscape painting. Daylight was seeping in through partly closed white curtains hanging serenely in front of a window. There wasn't much furniture in the room, but the room was so small there wasn't room for more anyway.

"You're safe," my dad interrupted the quiet reflection of my surroundings.

I frowned and looked back at my father as a horrible feeling had started to spread throughout my body. I felt myself grow cold as I angled slightly away from him, my hand turning limp in his grip.

It couldn't be him. It couldn't be my dad. It must be an alien wearing a Dad-suit. Because my dad shouldn't be here. He didn't belong in this world.

My expression hardened as I held back fresh tears. "Who are you?"

The man's eyes turned confused and then sad before he replied, "Ella. It's me."

Ella. No one else but my dad called me that. But it wouldn't be too difficult for the aliens to find out about that little detail, so it wasn't enough to convince me.

"It's him," a female voice spoke from the doorway, looking at me in sad sympathy.

Isabel.

A large tremble moved through me and I looked from Max's sister to my father. They could be two. They could be two aliens.

"Why is my dad here?"

"He knows," Isabel answered calmly and took a couple of slow steps into the room.

The confusion was frightening me. I felt like I had no control over this situation. How could my father know? Was he involved?

I sat up so quickly that the room spun around me.

"Careful," my father advised and indicated towards the IV-line attached to my hand.

"Tell me something only he would know," I demanded hoarsely - desperately - from the man claiming to be my father.

Tears were wetting his eyes as he nodded in affirmation. "Of course."

He inhaled deeply, paused for a second, trapped in my watchful stare, before he said, "When you were five you decided to move away. Without telling us, of course. So you packed a little bag with an extra pair of socks, a dress, and Mr. Thompson," Mr. Thompson - my teddybear, "and somehow managed to climb down the emergency ladder from your balcony. Your mother and I were worried sick. You were gone for five hours before we found you - asleep - in the restaurant kitchen. You had walked next door, eaten a handful of cookies at old Lucy's and then returned home. But some noise upstairs had scared you. Scared Mr. Thompson. Instead of going upstairs to the apartment, you hid under the counter next to the grill."

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