“How are you such an amazing cook?” I grouse as I slice into my eggs with a fork and take a bite. “And while I’m at it, I need to bring you some ketchup from the outside world,” I add. “Or do you have some lurking around somewhere?”
Dane snorts. “That stuff is full of sugar, but go ahead,” he says. “If you like it, I should keep it on hand.”
For the second time in twenty-four hours, I feel my heart leap into my throat. What the heck is he doing, making all of these comments? It’s like he actually wants me around?
I take a long time over my breakfast until every slice of bacon is eaten and every egg is demolished. When I’m done, I get up with my plate in hand, but Dane takes it from me.
“You should put your shoes on,” he says. “I’m sure you’ll be missed at home. You’ve been gone more than a day.”
Guilt flashes over me when I think of my mom, but then I remember the sound of my father’s cruel laughter and the guilt immediately fades. Ugh. Home.
Still, Dane is right. Besides, I can’t hang around his little cabin all day. I’d surely get in the way of whatever he has to do, whether it’s chopping wood, hauling water, or shooting wild animals. I have no idea where he gets his money, but he seems well-supplied with food stuffs and firewood somehow.
“Yeah. You’re right, I should go,” I say. I reluctantly get to my feet and wash my hands at the sink. My stomach is stuffed full of breakfast and I feel more content than I have in a long time, but that sweet happiness is tempered with dread.
Because I don’t want to go home. Not now, and not ever. I want to stay in the woods with Dane and hide from society. Aside from my mother and Lacey, I don’t even have any friends. Why the heck would I want to go back out there where there’s crime and poverty, not to mention the daily trauma of my dad beating on my mom in little ways?
At first, I thought that it was weird how Dane prefers the company of leaves and trees to people, but now I think that I’m starting to understand.
“Are you okay?”
Dane’s voice jolts me out of my head and I look up and blink to see him standing there with a frown on his handsome face.
“Yeah.” I shake my head and shrug. “I think I’m just tired.”
Dane nods. “Come on,” he says. “I’ll walk you back.”
We walk through the woods in silence. Now that I’m not lost and terrified on my own, I can understand why Dane likes it so much back here. The scenery really is beautiful. It’s so serene and peaceful. And I’m getting better with directions, too. At first I was so confused. But now I can listen to the sound of the wind and the rush of the falls and actually know where I am. Who woulda thunk? Emma Hadley, who was once afraid of her own shadow, is now confident enough to walk in the forest alone.
When we get the fork in the road that leads to town, I turn to Dane with a heavy heart. Everything in my body is screaming for him – I want to throw my arms around his neck and never let go.
“You sure you won’t come with me?” I joke.
Dane narrows his eyes. “No,” he growls. “That isn’t an option.”
“I know,” I say weakly. “I was just kidding.”
“See you, Emma,” Dane says. He turns to leave and my heart lurches in my chest.
“I’ll bring Doritos next time!” I call to his departing back. “And ketchup!”
Dane doesn’t turn around, but something tells me that he’s smiling as he walks away.
The long walk back home doesn’t bother me as much this time. Despite the huge meals that I’m eating with Dane, I can tell that all of this exercise is starting to pay off. I’m still plump, but I can tell that I’m getting stronger. And who knows, maybe being strong and healthy is more important than being skinny.
Like I could ever be skinny, anyway.
By the time I get home, it’s early afternoon. Perfect. My mother usually takes her disco naps in the early afternoon to prep for her night life of charity balls and gallery openings, and my father is usually in his office or out of the house.
I breathe a sigh of relief as I step into the foyer and find it quiet. Good. Now I can go upstairs and get a shower before anyone—
The sound of my name makes me leap into the air and gasp. Whirling around, I see my father standing there. For once, he’s smiling. The smile doesn’t look normal on him, though, and for a moment I think it’s because he’s usually frowning.