Five . This is Your Home Now

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   When I wake up, I'm sticky with sweat and breathing hard. Zoe is still beside me, curled up, her head on my shoulder.

I close my eyes, but my dream comes back to me. The wild look in his eyes. The blood. His hair, falling into his face, making him even more vicious.

When did this nightmare become reality?

The barn is silent except for my panicked gasping. I glance at Zoe. She's still breathing deeply, lost in a peaceful sleep.

Carefully, I slip out of bed. It's too dark in here, too crowded. So I change out of my pajamas and slip from behind the red quilt.

The barn looks different now. Less elegant and enticing, more plain. There's a door open somewhere, letting in light from outside. Other than that, it's still fairly dark in here. There aren't any windows, or if there were in the first place, they're gone now.

I've never seen too many barns in my life, except the one at my relative's house or the horse barn at my boarding school, but I don't recall them having any windows. Or maybe they did.

Do I care? I'm not sure I do, although the lack of morning light in here makes the place a little dismal.

I step outside into the harsh light of the clear morning. A light dew covers everything in sight, reflecting the sunlight.

I take a few more steps toward the house and then shiver. It's summer, for goodness sake. The weather doesn't have a right to be this cold.

When I step through the back door of the house, I'm stopped by a hand on my arm.

I turn, finding Travis by a window in the small entryway before the kitchen. He pulls me closer, towering over me. The morning light reflects off his blue eyes, which stand out more because he's wearing a blue plaid shirt. His brown hair is tousled and messy, like he didn't even bother to brush it this morning. Then I realize I hadn't either.

My hand goes up to my hair, running my fingers through the knots.

"Stay out of sight and don't make a sound," he breathes into my ear.

"You need to get her to a hospital!" I hear Jeff's voice cut through the morning air.

"I can't afford drawing attention to the house! What would we put for the billing address? When they find that Amy doesn't have insurance? That she doesn't even exist? That her father has been missing for most of her life?" Penelope shouts.

"Who's Amy?" I whisper, looking up to Travis.

"My sister." His voice is low, his eyes pained.

"I asked you to come here to help her," Penelope says, softer. "Not to take her away and get us caught. Please. Just do what you can."

Jeff sighs. "I don't have the equipment I need, Mum, or the medicine. She needs medicine."

"Then we'll find a way to get it," Penelope snaps.

"Good luck." A chair scrapes against the ground, and heavy footsteps sound up the stairs.

Travis and I stay in the entryway, barely breathing, his hand clutching my arm. His eyes are unfocused, his breaths coming out in shudders.

Just like that, all of my troubles are lost to his. My hand rested over his. "Hey."

He looks at me.

"Your sister will be all right."

"We have to get her the medicine she would need."

"Travis, how?"

He shakes his head. "Don't worry about it." Just for a moment, he flashes me a smile. "Let's get you some breakfast."

In the kitchen, Penelope is sitting at the kitchen table, her head in her hands. When she hears us enter, she looks up, blinking back tears. Standing, she says, "Good morning, Travis. Lee." She wraps her arms around me. "Goodness—you're so thin, sweetheart."

I look down. Yeah, I guess I am, but I've never thought of that as a bad thing.

"Come along, you two. I'm making pancakes. Do you want chocolate chips in them, Lee? I know Travis does."

"Sure," I say weakly, looking down at my wrists. There are a few friendship bracelets on each of them, some bright and some faded from the sun that's tanned my arms. Most of them are from girls at school, but one is from my mom.

Travis lays a hand on my lower arm. "Are you all right?"

I nod, pulling away. "Yeah." My voice is wavering. "My mom always makes me chocolate chip pancakes on my birthday."

Penelope gasps. "That's right! Happy birthday, sweetheart! Travis, get the candles, would you?"

He gives me an uneasy glance before heading off into the pantry. Penelope starts the pancakes, humming a little tune, as if nothing was wrong. I take in the room, light falling through the windows and gathering in pools on the countertop.

I end up staring at my shaking hands, lonely without a familiar pen in their grasp. Maybe I'll be able to steal some time away to write down some of my thoughts.

That always helps.

"Seventeen?" Travis sits next to me, a box of used birthday candles in his hands.


"Same here."

"Nice," I comment, sliding down in my chair.

He's quiet for a minute before he says, "I know this is a lot to take in. I'll try to help you adjust."

"Travis, all I want to do is go home."

Hurt flashes through his eyes, but he nods. "I understand. But considering you're here, that's not an option. The best thing to do is to move on. It'll help with the pain."

I stare at Penelope, pouring batter into a pan. Her apron is stained in so many places, but I can't help but wonder if it's one of the most beautiful things in this house. It's painted with spilled memories of early mornings and late nights, all in this warm kitchen.

"I'll try," I whisper.

"Stick close to me for the next few days," Travis says. "I can show you everything—and who to stay away from. Some of the kids aren't exactly trustworthy."

"Why should I trust you?" I hate the involuntary response, especially since he's done nothing but be kind to me.

"Who else do you have?" But he doesn't spit it out harshly. His words are brimming with patience, his smile sad. "I want to help you, Lee. I don't know your story, and maybe you don't have to trust me now. But give me a few days and let me show you the ropes of this life. Feel free to keep your emotional distance. But someone's gotta help you."

I sigh, looking out the window. It's peaceful out there. This whole place is warm, inviting me in, sheltering me. It's like I've stepped into a haven.

Travis smiles at me as Penelope sets pancakes down in front of us. "This is your home now, Lee."

hey, beautiful people. thanks for reading part five. <3 i hope you all look at this story and love it as much as i do. lee means a lot to me (as does travis). stick around, and you'll see them grow through all the crazy-hard stuff they're dealing with.




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