Chapter 12

Ava watched the trees as Jerry turned the truck around and backed closer to the house. They’d decided to do it this way for a couple reasons. One, was a quick getaway, and two, it’d be easier for Ava to sneak out of the cab of the truck undetected.

“ ‘Morning Hank,” Jerry called out as he switched off the engine. Ava listened to the crunch of the gravel as her dad approached. Even though she’d prepared herself, hearing his voice still chilled her to the core.

“Jerry. Who’s this you got with you?” he asked suspiciously. His footsteps stopped as Liam slowly slid from the truck. Ava watched as he deliberately left the door open and his hands visible. He looked nervous. But maybe I’m just reading into things…

“This is my son-in-law, Jackson. Remember I was tellin’ you about him?” Jerry lied.

“Nice to meet you, sir,” Liam said. He extended his hand and walked out of sight.

“So this is the mechanical genius I’ve heard so much about,” her dad chuckled. She knew him so well, she could still hear the suspicion hidden behind his friendly demeanor.

She squeezed her eyes shut and concentrated on steadying her breathing. The only way this is going to work is if we stay calm and stick to the plan, she thought. Just slow and steady, slow and steady.

“Here, lemme show you what he’s done to this truck here,” Jerry offered, right on cue. He returned to the drivers side to pop the hood, giving Ava a little wink as he bent.

“I don’t really have the time,” her dad started to protest.

“Won’t take a minute,” said Jerry.

“If you look right here…” Liam began, but his voice fell too quiet to hear. Ava held her breath and waited for the signal. The hood squeaked open. Thump thump, a fist on the hollow metal. “Yup, she’s a beauty,” Liam said.

Ava wasted no time in jumping from the truck and sprinting around the side of the house. Jerry and Liam were making sure her dad was bent over the engine and fully distracted, but it would only buy her a few seconds.

Once she knew she was out of sight, she stopped to catch her breath. Peeking into each window as she made her way to Adam’s bedroom, she was shocked to find the house almost entirely empty. Boxes and black garbage bags filled the center of the living room. What she was even more surprised by was how hurt that made her. He really is just going to leave me and Audrey behind.

Ava’s heart sunk when she found Adam’s bedroom completely empty. She circled the perimeter as far as she dared and couldn’t spot him anywhere. Making sure her phone was on silent, she called Audrey to figure out what they should do.

“Do you have him?” she whispered.

“No. I can’t find him anywhere. Do you think he’s in the barn?” Ava asked, looking across the property at the old barn.

“Maybe.”

“There’s no way I can get over there, though, not without him seeing me first.”

“Shit,” Audrey hissed.

They’d had to move so fast, they couldn’t have come up with a plan for every scenario. In all the things that could’ve gone wrong, Ava never thought they wouldn’t be able to find Adam.

“Are you there?” Ava asked after a long pause.

“Yeah. Look. We’re going to come in closer, into the woods. If we can see better, maybe we can help you track him down.”

A bitter panic rose in Ava’s throat. “He’ll hear you. He can track deer through the woods in the middle of summer, he’s gonna hear…”

“We’re on our way. Keep your phone on vibrate.”

Ava lived through the longest five minutes of her life. She inched her way to the edge of the house and pressed herself flat on the ground to watch Liam, Jerry, and her father talk. Every bird call and gust of wind made her jump. She was absolutely sure at any moment her dad was going to hear the others.

Before her sister had a chance to get into position and call back, Adam came walking out of the tool shed on the edge of the property. If he’d just stayed put, a moment later Audrey would’ve been close enough to whisper to him. But as it happened, he walked out of the shed with a handgun dangling by his side moments too earlier. Ava was helpless to stop the scene unfold.

Liam stiffened as the boy approached, realizing for the first time that the plan had already gone horribly wrong. She watched as her dad threw an arm around Adam’s shoulders and took the gun, the picture of a proud father.

The phone buzzed in her hand and she answered it with the softest whisper she could manage.

“What the hell is going on?” Audrey asked in near hysterics.

“I couldn’t do anything.”

“What are we going to…”

A cell phone rang in the forest. Ava simultaneously heard the sound through the receiver at her ear and echoing between the trees around her. It was an obnoxious ring tone, a song of some sort. Her heart stopped.

“Sarah!” Audrey hissed on the other end of the phone.

Without warning, her dad fired a shot off into the sky and gave a shout. “Whoever is out there, you’re trespassing on private property. I have the right to protect myself and my land.”

The phone in her hand went dead as Audrey disconnected. She tucked it into her pocket and clawed her way up to her hands and knees. Her father had the gun trained on the forest at eye level, circling around as he looked for any signs of movement. Jerry and Liam were frozen in place.

“Show yourself of I’ll shoot again!” he yelled, clutching Adam to his hip. He leveled the gun about head height right towards the tree line.

“Dammit Hank, could be a kid out there!” Jerry protested. “Ain’t no judge gonna let you off for killing a kid, even if he were on your property.”

Her father ignored him, turning slowly in place while scanning the forest.With her heart in her throat, she had to force herself to remain completely motionless as he turned towards the side of the house. She knew only a sliver of her body was visible but it’d be the movement that would catch his eye. She slowed her breathing and concentrated on staying perfectly still.

“Sir, we did pass a few kids on the way in…” Liam started, nudging Jerry’s elbow with his.

Ava read her dad’s body language like text on a page. He stiffened and turned slowly back to face the two men. He never liked anyone coming into his domain, as he used to say, even people he’d known for years. Trust was never something her father gave away freely. It spoke to how much he trusted Old Man Jerry that he wouldn’t even question Liam’s presence at first, but he was getting nervous.

“A few kids, eh?” he asked with a sideways glance to Liam.

Those men didn’t know it yet, but they were in grave danger. Her dad was a creature of habit. Even having Jerry come out to look at the truck must’ve put him on edge but with so many disruptions, his nerves must’ve been at a fevered pitch. He may have looked calm on the outside, but inside he was already plotting.

With no other choice, Ava jogged around to the back and hoisted herself up through Adam’s bedroom window as she had during the first rescue attempt. Even though they were moving, she knew her dad wouldn’t strip every hiding spot clear until the very last second. They’d spent hours on defensive drills. Each family member knew where the closest weapon was hidden at any given moment.

And sure enough, as Ava pried a picture frame from the wall, she found a handgun of her own. She stepped along the familiar floorboards to the front door. Knowing she was protected by the deep shadows, she felt the weight of the gun in her hand. What am I even planning on doing here? she wondered. We need to get out of here. He’s going to lose it pretty quickly here…

As if proving the point, her father gave another shout. “Whoever the fuck is out there, kid or not, you better show yourself or I’m coming in there looking for ya.”

Shit. What should I do?

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