WARNING: There is some very disturbing stuff in this one concerning children and sexual abuse.
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Kim Pritekel & Alexa Hoffman
Kim Pritekel & Alexa Hoffman
"Goddamn wind. It's cold, cold, cold," a rough voice muttered, meaty fingers trying to keep the ratty ends of a coat together as the figure clopped through the forest with uneven steps. "Summer means hot. Not cold." Leaves whirled around the figure as he moved through the forest, grimacing as he stepped over what was left of a squirrel carcass.
He stopped, looking from side to side. He was hungry, tired, and had to take a piss. Reaching down, he grabbed the zipper head and yanked, only to grunt in frustration when it didn't open.
"Damn it." He looked down to see what the problem was, and rolled dark eyes when he saw the dried semen that had collected over the months. "Damn it." He began to vigorously yank until a small rip was heard. "Double damn it." Finally the zipper, and material around it, gave way, and he was able to reach in and grab his penis. Looking around, he stroked himself lazily, and grinned when he spotted a tree. A network of knots formed a sort of bulls eye, and that was good enough for him.
Sighing as he relieved himself, the figure looked around with tired eyes, trying to figure out where he was. He'd been here before, but it had been many years ago now. Though not a pleasant first trip, he was willing to stake ground again. But first he needed some good sleep. A rest. And food.
Zipping himself back up, he continued on, whistling softly to himself, alert eyes darting back and forth, taking in his surroundings, and listening for human movement.
"Oh, what I wouldn't do for a McDonald's right now," he mused to nothing in particular. His father used to take him to Mickey D's. All the time. Well, that wasn't so true. It was more of a reward for a job well done. Nothing worth doing was worth doing shoddily. His dad would be so proud of him now. All the same, he remembered the day his dad died.
A bright day it had been. Sunny, hot. Always so fucking hot in Texas. He ran a hand through uncombed hair as he remembered it, jaw automatically clenching. He had come home after school, not more than fifteen years old. How long ago that seemed to him, now. He had no clue how old he was, losing count years ago, and didn't care enough to do the math.
Anyway, so he had come home, mom long gone; just him and his dad. He remembered his dad chanting the "Men" song, but always leaving him out, saying he wasn't a real man. A real man liked old women. Old, wrinkled women. Old, already spoiled women. Not the beautiful youth. The young, beautiful youth that he could teach.
He smiled, almost feeling himself harden at the thought. But no. Not today. He had to concentrate. Dad.
So, he had come home and his father had been sitting in the living room, working on a carburetor with a dirty, grease-stained tarp underneath.
"Boy, where you been?" he'd asked around the fat end of his cigar. Probably the ninth or tenth he'd had that day.
"School," his son had answered.
"School's for sissy's." Dark eyes had looked up into identical ones, and he had leered. "But I guess that's where you belong. You ain't no man. A real man would be helping his dad at the garage." A grizzled head had nodded in agreement with his own statement. "Yup. Get one oh them dresses your mamma used ta wear. Proper."
The boy's face had nearly fallen, but he held himself together. "I'm not a girl. I'm a man, like you." The teenager began to chant the sacred song, but found himself on the floor, the sound of skin contacting skin still ringing in his ears, while pain wracked his head.
"Stop that, now!"
The boy looked up at his father's face, fury making his skin red, bulbous nose standing out like a stop light. The older man grabbed his son by the shirt collar and yanked him to his feet.
"Get outta my sight, you girly boy. Until you can use that pecker for good reason." He gave his son's penis a tug through his pants for good measure. "Stop panting after them younguns like a damn clown. Makin' me look bad, boy. Real bad."
The younger boy got up, shaking with anger and humiliation. He knew he shouldn't have told his dad about his girlfriend. He smiled at the memory of the sweet little one down the street. Blonde hair, bright blue eyes, little freckles sprinkled over her cherubic features. Grace was her name, and oh how it fit her.
"Pay attention, boy!" SLAP "I'm talking to you!" SLAP, SLAP "No more. You hear me, boy? No more!" SLAP, SLAP, SLAP
"Arghhh!" The teen looked at his namesake, and felt himself begin to really tremble. His father told him to never see Grace again, and he couldn't handle that. So, he'd taken the sweet girl out into the fields, and they had played. He had taught her a new game that day. The memory of her Strawberry Shortcake underwear still fresh, as they were carefully stored in his Bible upstairs.
When he knew he couldn't see the blonde anymore, he had decided to preserve her memory, and the memory of their sweet lovin' by taking the breath from her body. She had looked so beautiful laying there, blue eyes forever staring back at him.
He was hard.
"Oh my god!" the old man yelled, jumping back from his son, his eyes looking down at the bump in the boy's jeans. "You sick bastard! Sick, sick boy!"
That was it. That was enough. His father's insults and hurtful remarks, and the humiliation of being seen with a hard on was too much. With a mighty roar, the boy lunged at the older man. He knocked him to the ground, having about fifty pounds on the scrawny man, and began to pound his head into the floor. In his wild frenzy, he caught sight of the screwdriver his father had been using, and grabbed it.
"Die, bastard!" he screamed at his father, and brought the tool down . . .
He smiled as he made his way through a thicket of trees. He could still hear the satisfying sound of the sharp flathead penetrating his father's eye socket.
"Anything worth doing . . ." He continued to whistle.
The girls walked through the forest, holding hands. Just like the old days. Zac was happy as a cucumber as she swung their joined hands back and forth. She was so happy, despite her earlier embarrassment.
She looked down at the blonde who caught her eye and immediately began to giggle.
"What?" the brunette asked, her free hand thrown up in the air in exasperation. "I thought it looked nice."
"Zac," Abel began, trying to hold in her grin, but failing miserably. "I didn't give you the can of shaving cream so you could make tree art." She grinned, biting her lip. "Though you're talented with it, I must say."
Zac rolled her eyes. "It looked pretty." She smiled, nice and big, totally melting Abel's heart, as well as her need to preach the values of saving supplies.
"You're so adorable." She grinned, squeezing the brunette's hand tighter, getting a squeeze in return.
As they walked on, Abel couldn't get the picture out of her head from earlier that morning. She had decided to try and navigate her way through the forest to Zac's place, and along the way, had seen small signs that someone had been there. Then it started to become more clear just who.
One a tree trunk just ahead of her had been the image of a squirrel in white cream. Shaving cream, to be exact. On the trunk next to it was a sun. Next to it a smiley face. All over the place, tree after tree, large rock after large rock. Never had the forest smelled so good.
She had fallen to the ground laughing, only to be helped up by two large, competent hands, and confused blue eyes.
Now as they walked, she felt close to Zac. They had been spending nearly every single minute together over the past five weeks, and she loved it, relished it, and was glad to have her friend back. Whether she had realized it or not, she had missed Zac's quiet strength. She had always felt completely safe as a five year old, and still did as a nineteen year old.
"Zac?" she asked finally.
"Hmm?" the brunette asked, leading them lazily through the patterns of trees and foliage, pointing out different kinds of plants to her blonde companion, explaining their properties.
"What ever happened to the overalls you always used to wear?" the blonde looked up at her taller friend, and smiled when the bright blue eyes met hers.
"I outgrew 'em," Zac answered simply. Abel nodded.
"Want some more?" She remembered how much the brunette had loved those. She would play with the clasp when she was bored or nervous - doing and undoing the shoulder part.
Zac grinned at her and nodded. "I doubt they'd fit anymore though." She winked, and Abel giggled, making the brunette light up like a Christmas tree.
"They make them for adults, too, you nut."
"Nope." Abel shook her head. "Annnnd . . ." She looked up at the other girl, her eyes twinkling. "I'll get you some if you meet my family." Twin blonde brows raised in hope. She wasn't above bribery to get the girl to give her family a chance.
"Oh, Spinney, um. I don't, I don't know." Zac looked away, knowing that she'd have to let her friend down. Again. Abel's hopes fell. She wanted so badly for her entire family to be able to meet this incredible girl.
The blonde stopped them, and grabbed hold of Zac's arm.
"Zac, listen. I know you haven't had much contact with other people, and I know your father scared you to death when it came to other people, but that's over now." She looked deep into those azure eyes. "No one's going to hurt you." Her voice softened, and she began to stroke the arm under her hand.
"I wouldn't know what to do," the brunette admitted, her eyes looking down at her boots, feeling sheepish. She wanted so badly to make Spinney happy.
"Honey, I know it's hard for you." Abel smiled, and tried to look as reassuring as she could. "But you can't hide out here forever. I know how capable you are, and how special you are. I want to be able to share that. My dad asks about you constantly. I still don't think he believes me that you exist." She laughed. So did Zac.
"Your mom can testify to that."
"Yeah, well, she misses you, too."
"Really?" Dark brows went up in surprise. Abel nodded.
"Yep. Just think . . ." She tried to entice. "Your very own pair of grown up overalls . . ." She flashed smiling green eyes up at the brunette who was glaring at her.
"Oh, that's not fair," Zac growled, knowing she could never resist.
"Life isn't fair. Please, please, please?" the blonde begged, making her bottom lip jut out for emphasis. Zac pursed her lips, studying the blonde's face, making her sweat it out.
"Oh, fine!" she exclaimed.
"Yay!" Abel jumped in the air, clapping her hands together. Zac smiled at the antics, but her nerves were showing through like crazy. Abel calmed herself, and took her friend in a hug. "Thank you, Zac. You have no idea what this means to me," she said softly.
Zac closed her eyes as she allowed her body to be swallowed up by Spinney's enthusiastic hug. She nodded into the hug, knowing that she had made the right decision.
"So, why exactly are we making a big deal out of this?" Adam Cohen asked his wife as he helped her dice up veggies for the salad she was making.
"Because it's important to Abel," Sherry said simply, tossing a piece of carrot into her mouth.
"No, get away from my veggies!" Adam swatted her hand, and she giggled. "But still. This kid just seems weird to me. And what the hell kind of name is Zac for a girl, anyway?"
"I didn't name her, honey." The older blonde busied herself with opening the can of Pillsbury biscuits, and setting them evenly spaced on the cookie sheet. "But she's a nice girl. And Abel just adores her." She looked at her husband of twenty-two years. "I think you'll like her, honey. Besides, she saved both our girls, huh?"
With a sigh, he nodded.
"I guess. I just don't get why we have to continue buying her clothes," he grumbled, nearly missing the tomato and slicing his finger instead.
"We're not. Abel has paid for most of it."
"Okay, now remember, we can leave at any time, okay?" Abel, holding Zac's hand, reminded the taller girl for the fifth time since they'd left the brunette's home. They were headed toward the Cohen cabin, where the entire clan was waiting to meet the mysterious Zac.
Becky was near beside herself to meet up with her friend again. She was bouncing in her mother's arms, barely able to contain herself.
"She comin'!?" she asked over and over again.
"Yes, honey. Zac's coming." Sherry looked to her family, the two boys looking bored out of their minds as they sat on the long bench of the picnic table outside the cabin. "You two behave yourselves," she scolded once again.
"Yeah, we know," the boys said in unison. Just then, Sherry heard footsteps, and turned toward the trees to see her daughter and the taller girl walk out. Abel was holding Zac's hand, and was whispering something to her. The poor brunette looked like she was about to jump out of her skin.
"Zac!" Beck squealed, squirming in her mother's arms to get down.
"Hey, kiddo." Zac smiled, but her eyes stayed on the other five pairs of eyes that were trained on her.
"Welcome, Zac," Sherry said, letting the little blonde fireball down. Beck ran to her new friend, and found herself wrapped up in strong arms and looking into the blue eyes she liked.
"Hi," the little girl said shyly. Zac smiled.
"Hi. How are you? Are you minding your mom better now?" The blonde nodded, gravely serious.
"I don't go far no more," she said, small fingers entwining themselves in Zac's new sweatshirt.
The brunette smiled, warmed by the reception from the adorable little girl, plus the comfort of Spinney's hand on her back. She looked at Spinney's mother.
"Hello, Sherry," she said quietly. She felt okay around the older blonde. She seemed nice.
"Hi there." Sherry Cohen gave the dark girl a wide smile. "It's so good to see you again. And you look wonderful!" She looked the girl over, seeing her hair, cut shorter, but still long and beautiful, was washed and shiny. The girl was clean, and her clothes looked nice. She thought Zac was a little thin, but overall looked fairly healthy.
"Zac, this is my father, Adam Cohen," Abel said softly, indicating the man that was walking toward them, hand extended. Zac looked at it, then remembered something she'd seen once. She grabbed it and squeezed, quickly pumping it up and down.
"Uh, hi, Zac," Adam said, trying to hide the pain of his crushed hand. He smiled at the obviously oblivious girl. "How are you?"
"Good," the brunette said with a smile, though her voice was weak at best.
"Good, good." Adam took his hand back, cradling it with his other.
Abel grinned, but brought her hand up to her mouth to hide it. She cleared her throat and turned to her brothers who were standing by their father, watching this new, strange girl.
"This is Ben. The one you saw in diapers."
The blonde boy took a step forward, giving the beautiful girl before him the once over, then met her eyes.
"Hi," he said, avoiding the handshake. He didn't want to look like a wimp in front of Zac.
"Hi, Ben. You've grown up." The brunette looked at the boy, who stood about as tall as she was, and was already a handsome kid. Just the barest bit of peach fuzz was forming over his upper lip and near his sideburns.
"Jake, say hi to Zac," Abel said, putting her hand on her youngest brother's shoulder.
"Hi," he said with a small wave. Zac smiled weakly.
"And finally, my sister, Rachel." The small girl with strawberry blonde hair smiled up at the tall girl.
"Hi, Zac. It's nice to meet you." The girl was pretty, but not as much as her other two sisters. She was short, but larger framed than Abel.
"Um, nice to meet you," Zac said, swallowing hard. She looked at this group of people, and felt like she was beginning to get closed in.
"Zac, you gonna go swimmin' with us today?" Becky asked, still nestled in the brunette's arms.
"Oh, um, I'll watch," Zac said, forcing a smile. The girl had such hopeful eyes, just like Spinney at that age.
"Yay!" The girl hopped around in her arms until she had to put her down or risk dropping her.
"Beck, behave," Sherry warned. She turned a warm smile to their guest. "You sure do look pretty, Zac. All cleaned up with new clothes."
"Oh . . ." Zac looked down at herself. "Um, thank you. For the clothes."
"You're welcome, honey. Any time." The older blonde smiled gently, liking this strange, dark girl.
"So, you do exist, eh?" Adam said, trying to find something, anything to talk about.
"Yes. I do." The brunette turned wary blue eyes toward him.
"Dad," Abel hissed. "Be nice."
"What? I am being nice."
"Um," Zac said, suddenly feeing as though she would flip out at any moment. Being totally surrounded by this large group of people, she wanted nothing more than to get the hell out of there.
"Are you okay, Zac?" Abel asked, her hand beginning to rub slow circles over her back. The brunette nodded.
"I need to go," she stuttered out, and turned, heading back into the trees, disappearing as quickly as when she had appeared. Abel followed.
"Was it something I said?" Adam asked, baffled.
After walking the entire day, he was pretty damn tired. He saw something up ahead, and crawled up on top of a small heap of rocks. A grin spread across his grizzled face.
Just about half a mile ahead was the abandoned old logging town. He could stop there and bunk down in one of them buildings.
"Good idea. Yeah, good," he breathed, hopping down and cursing violently. His twisted leg buckled under his weight and severely scolded him. "Damn piece of shit," he breathed, trying to get the leg to act as normal as possible. When he had been born, that leg had been the first thing his dad had to complain about.
"How's he gonna play football, now?!"
He hefted his beloved bag higher up onto his shoulder. Plodding further along, he began to whistle again.
"Zac! Zac, wait up!" Abel ran after the taller girl, finally catching her, an arm on her shoulder, breathing erratic. The brunette turned and looked down at her small friend. "Are you okay?"
Zac nodded, then looked off toward the lake. "I'm sorry, Spinney. I tried." She looked back at the blonde, tears brimming in her eyes. She didn't want to disappoint Spinney again.
"Oh, Zac." Abel smiled, her hand rubbing up and down Zac's bicep. "Don't apologize. You did great. I'm sorry I dragged you to the cabin." She chewed her lower lip as she thought. "Maybe that wasn't so fair."
"No, it's okay. I know you've wanted me to meet your family for fourteen years, Spinney. I wasn't gonna let you down again."
"Oh, Zac . . ." Abel looked up at the older girl with ultimate affection. "You could never disappoint me. Okay?" She studied those incredible blue eyes until she saw acceptance. With a smile, she grabbed Zac's hand, and they began to walk, both silent as they absorbed their own thoughts.
Zac almost felt the need to puff out her chest, she was so happy with herself. She had made Spinney happy, and had been able to muster the courage to meet the girl's family, even if she didn't stay for the planned lunch. That was okay. She seriously doubted she would have been able to eat, anyway.
"Zac?" Abel asked after about fifteen minutes of walking.
"Do you think you'd ever want to see a city? Or live in one?"
"Well . . ." The brunette thought about this for a moment. She had never even thought of a city, or living in one. While on the rails, she had passed through some, had seen some pretty darn big buildings, too. "I don't know, Spinney," Zac said, her voice soft in the quiet forest. "I just don't know."
"Do you think you'll live here forever?"
Zac smiled. "Maybe. Will you come visit me?" She grinned.
"Oh, gosh I don't know," Abel teased back. "Maybe once in a great while." She grinned up at her friend. "You should stay in the cabin with us this summer." She said, swinging their joined hands back and forth.
"Why?" The brunette looked at her, truly perplexed.
"Why not?" Abel countered. "It's cooler, warmer at night, and you can have all the syrup you want." She grinned, hoping her trump card would be good.
"Oh, that's not nice, Spinney." Zac waved her finger back and forth, clicking her tongue. "You said I could have all the syrup I wanted anyway." She raised a challenging brow.
"Oh, damn. I did say that, didn't I? Hmm . . ." Abel chewed her lip, thinking of her next bargaining chip. "Okay. I'll buy you a huge thing of foil?" She gave Zac a huge, toothy grin, which made the brunette match it.
"I don't think that would be a good idea, Spinney. If I freak out during a simple visit . . ." She kicked a rock, feeling disappointed in herself, and angry that she couldn't just be like Spinney.
"Hey, it's okay. Just a suggestion. And totally selfish on my part." The blonde grinned. "No worried, my friend. Ohh!" Abel let go of Zac's hand and ran toward the edge of the bluff they were headed to. "I've seen this before on another walk," she exclaimed to the brunette, who had stepped up behind her. "What is it?" she asked, her voice hushed.
"It's an old, abandoned logging town," Zac explained, just as quiet, though her voice held a touch of fear. The blonde looked up into her face. "My dad used to call it Spectreville."
"Because it's haunted."
"Haunted? Zac, there's no such thing as ghosts," Abel said, though she kicked herself. She had wondered if Zac, herself, had been a ghost for a while there.
"Sure there is. I hear them at night." Zac looked so frightened and sure in her story that Abel didn't have the heart to tell her any different. She could see the wind chimes that were placed all over the town, most broken or hanging limply, but still able to make noise.
"Does it scare you during the day?" she asked softly. The brunette shook her head.
"Not as bad," she said, sounding much more confident.
"Well . . ." Abel was biting her lip again. "If you feel okay about it, will you show me?" She looked up at the taller girl with pleading green eyes, and there was no way in hell Zac could resist. With a smile, the brunette nodded, and they found a way down.
"See, in 1830, this was just a shanty town set up so the loggers could have somewhere for their families to live," Zac explained as they walked through the quiet town, hushed from years of disuse. "And then it began to expand and actual building were built. By 1870 it was a full out town."
"Wow . . ." Abel ran her hand over a wooden sign that had fallen, and now leaned against the dilapidated building it had once been anchored to. "Pyre's Liquor," she read, much of the white paint peeled or gone, but still readable.
"My great-grandfather worked at the mulching mill," Zac said absently as she tried to rub the grime off the label of a glass bottle she found with her thumb. "He was killed."
"How?" Abel asked as she poked through a pile of random items, including a chair, kindling and a single shoe.
"The mulching machine went haywire one day." The brunette snapped her fingers. "Died just like that."
"I'm sorry, Zac." The blonde walked over to her friend and tried to study the bottle over her friends shoulder. The brunette shrugged.
"I never knew him. He was on my mom's side."
Zac was so matter of fact about it, Abel was surprised. Her friend seemed to feel things on such a deep level; things that the blonde, herself, hadn't even noticed. One time the brunette had found a robin's egg on the ground, the little one within not even daring to hope for a chance of survival. Zac had carefully picked up the egg and buried it, her blue eyes brimming with tears.
So compassionate and kind. She knew how much Zac loved animals, and was always awed by how much the girl knew. She could easily see Zac as a forest ranger or botanist. Something, anything, to do with the outdoors. If only.
Zac led her friend through the town, feeling uneasy, but knowing how much Spinney wanted to see it. She told her what some of the buildings were, and what their original purpose had been.
She was about to take her into the old saloon when she stopped, nearly squeaking out her surprise. Curled up in the corner of the large, dusty room, was a form. He was covered in a tattered coat, head nearly totally buried. All that could be seen was a tuft of dark, greasy hair.
She hurried out of the building before Spinney could see. She didn't want her friend to be scared. She had failed to mentioned to the blonde that sometimes the homeless or teenagers would use the old buildings for whatever purposes suited their needs.
"Um, let's move on, Spinney. This doesn't look so sound, huh?" She looked at her friend, and the blonde smiled, nodded.
"Oh, Zac!" Abel exclaimed once they were standing in the middle of the dusty, overgrown street again.
"I have something for you. Come on, before it gets dark."
Completely and totally relieved to be leaving, Zac happily followed the exuberant little blonde.
Abel made Zac sit on the log she had the first day she'd discovered the wonders of syrup, and the blonde ran to the cabin. Nearly out of breath, she grabbed her packages, and ran back, panting, a painful stitch pulling at her side.
"Here," she huffed, handing the large bag to the stunned brunette. "Well, look!" The blonde was beside herself with excitement.
"Okay, okay." Zac set the bag on the ground between her legs, and opened it up, pulling the paper apart by the plastic handles. She reached in and pulled out a folded garment. She stood and grabbed an end, letting it fold down to her feet. It was a heavy, canvas pair of overalls. Her eyes got huge, and she looked at the blonde.
"What do you think?" Abel asked, nervously chewing on a finger.
"They're wonderful!" The brunette put the garment up to her body, and looked at her friend again. "How do you think they'll fit?"
"I think they'll look great on you. They should be nice and warm this winter, too. Since someone I know is so damn stubborn to stay in a virtual tent!" Abel could feel her hackles rising again, but knew it was bourn out of worry.
Zac smiled with infinite patience. "I know. Now let me peruse my gifts in peace."
"I'm sorry." Biting her lower lip to keep her mouth shut, Abel sat on the log Zac had just abandoned.
"S'okay." The brunette gave her a heart-melting smile, and then gently, carefully refolded the overalls, and set them in Abel's lap. She reached into the bag and brought out a large box with a flat lid on top. She looked at the picture on the side, and her face lit up. "No way," she breathed, and quickly tore the lid off.
"I tried to guess on a size. If they don't fit, please tell me, and I'll exchange them." Abel said, watching intently, her body near bouncing on the log with excitement at Zac's obvious anticipation.
Like a five year old who had received a coveted bicycle, Zac sat on the log next to Abel, and shoved off her boots, using the toes of her opposite foot, until finally they lay on their sides on the ground, forgotten. The brunette quickly reached into the box with the Columbia boots and grabbed one. She studied it, holding it up to her eyes in awe.
"I've never had new ones before," she breathed, inhaling the smell of the new leather. Abel watched, amazed, and somewhat saddened. She relished in the girl's excitement and enthusiasm, but felt bad that she had lost out on so many simple things in life. A new pair of boots, for crying out loud! How many pairs of new shoes had the blonde had in her nineteen years? Too many to count. Yet here was Zac, two decades old, and had never had the pleasure. Until today, that is.
"Can I, um . . ." Zac chewed her lip, stealing glances at her friend.
"Yes. Put them on." Abel took the other out of the box, and removed the tissue paper from within the toe, and laced the long laces. Zac didn't hesitate. Shoving her socked foot into the tightness of the new boot, she sighed, totally contented as the shoe enveloped her. Snug, and she knew they would be warm.
"Wow," she said, grinning like an idiot at her friend. "Thank you so much, Spinney," she whispered, and leaned over to give the blonde a one-armed hug. Abel gladly returned it and smiled.
"You're very welcome. But, there's more. You dig while I lace." Zac nodded, and began to dig further into the bag as Abel knelt in front of her, shoving her foot into the second boot, and laced them both. The boots were high, ending about four inches above Zac's ankles. She wanted to make sure that the girl had lots of support as she climbed around the woods. Plus, they'd be really warm for her.
Zac exclaimed over the pair of thick, heavy gloves she found, and the ski cap, and then the heavy winter coat. This stopped her cold. It was so beautiful; a light gray color, almost white, matching the gloves and hat, sure to camouflage with snow in the winter.
"This should keep you warm. It's lined with goose down," Abel explained, rubbing her fingers over the quilted inside.
"Wow," Zac breathed again, having no idea that Abel had nearly drained her entire savings account to make sure the brunette would not freeze over the next winter.
"Put it on. Let's see." Abel watched with a critical eye as Zac tried on the coat. The sleeves were just slightly long for her, but not enough to make an exchange. "You look great. How does it feel?" The blonde walked around her friend, tugging at various parts of the jacket, making sure the brunette could move well in vital areas.
"It's warm." Zac grinned, moving her arms, and rolling her shoulders. "I love it."
"Yay!" Abel clapped happily, and roamed around to the front of Zac. She made sure the zipper worked, and snapped the covering flap so the brunette was all bundled up. When the blonde felt okay that the taller girl would in fact be warm over the winter, she gushed, "there's more, there's more!"
At Zac's squeal of delight, Abel watched as the brunette pulled out not one, not two, but four Audubon Society books, the subjects covering North American birds, plants, animals and fish.
"Oh, Spinney," Zac breathed, caressing the slick covers of each of the small, heavy books in turn. She looked at the blonde with wonder in her bright, blue eyes. "Thank you." The books were set gently back in the bag, and Abel found herself nearly bowled over by Zac's enthusiastic hug.
"You're welcome." She grinned from ear to ear, thrilled when she could make the brunette so happy.
They parted, and Zac looked up into the cloudy sky, raising her face, and closing her eyes. She took in a deep breath, and let her senses reach out and feel.
"You should go, Spinney," she said softly, opening her eyes to see curious green looking at her.
"There's a big storm coming," she explained.
"How do you know? You secretly watch the Weather Channel in that home of yours?" Abel teased. Zac grinned, shaking her head.
"I can smell it. It'll start raining within thirty or so minutes. I don't want you stuck out in it." She began to pile everything into the bag Spinney had brought, getting it all ready to go.
"You're serious?" Abel watched, hand on her hip. Zac nodded.
"Zac, I'm a big girl. I think I can go when I'm ready to." Blonde brows were drawn in irritation, and Zac looked at her with understanding, yet firm, blue eyes.
"Spinney, we always get at least one big rain storm each summer. This is it. Please listen to me. It's getting dark as it is. Please?"
The blonde studied her friend, arms now crossed over her chest, but her irritation melted into acceptance. She knew that Zac was only telling her this for her own good, and she trusted the brunette. Finally she nodded.
"Okay. Come with me? To the lake?" she quickly added at Zac's frantic look.
"To the lake."
As they walked, hand in hand, Abel looked up at Zac. She studied her face, and the determined set of her jaw. She thought her friend looked worried or concerned, but figured it was just for her own welfare. Zac was liked that; always worried about the blonde before herself.
"Do you really like what I got you?" Abel asked, glancing at the bag that swung lazily from Zac's fingers.
"Yes. Very much so." The brunette smiled happily, the worry leaving her face for a moment.
"Good. Huh." The blonde looked up when she felt a raindrop land squarely on the bridge of her nose. Zac smiled.
"Yeah, yeah." They finally reached the shore, and Abel turned to the taller girl. "Zac, are you going to be okay?"
"Yeah. Why wouldn't I be?" Dark brows furrowed in confusion.
"Okay, okay. Just making sure. I worry about you." She poked Zac in the chest, then smiled. "I'll see you tomorrow."
"Night!" Abel called out as she began to run toward the house, the rain starting to come down in earnest now.
"I'm worried, mom," Abel said, sitting on the window seat in the kitchen, curled up in her sweats and a cup of hot cocoa in her hands.
"I know, sweetie. But you can't help the girl if she doesn't want to be helped, you know?" Sherry continued rolling the dough for the pie she was making on the butcher block-type table. "Did you give her the stuff you bought?"
"Yeah. She loved it." Green eyes glowed at the memory. "She was so excited. Especially over the boots." She chuckled, looking out into the darkened sky again. The rain was pouring down in sheets, saturating everything in its wake.
"Good. I'm glad, honey. You're a good friend to her, Abel." The blonde smiled at her daughter.
"Yeah, well, she's a good friend to me, too."
Abel sat up, ripped out of sleep for some reason. Breathing heavy, heart pounding, she looked around her large, third-floor bedroom. It was dark, only offset by the seemingly continuous bolts of lightening. The things in her room were given strange shadows and shapes, the gauzy curtains in the windows turning near white with each strike.
Throwing the covers aside, she hurried over to the window and looked out. The rain was still coming in torrents, causing leaves to be ripped from trees, and mud droplets popping from the ground with each water strike.
The wind was blowing, howling through the rafters under the shingles of the cabin, sounding lonely and desperate.
"Zac!" the blonde jumped up, pulling on her sweats and tennis shoes, and running down the two flights of stairs. The house was quiet, everyone in bed. As she ran through the house, she grabbed a large garbage sack from under the kitchen sink, tucking it into her shirt, and heading out into the immense storm.
She covered her head instinctively as a massive crash of thunder split the sky in two, rocking the forest and rattling Abel's bones with it's power.
"God," she breathed as she hurried through the maze of trees, the path coming on instinct as she thought of her friend. She had the distinct feeling that Zac was in trouble. She had to save her.
Abel pushed wet bangs out of her eyes as she pushed through even wetter foliage. She got to the rock outcropping that usually housed her friend, and nearly screamed when she saw most of the tarp was gone.
"Zac!" she cried, trying to be heard over the freight-train volume of the wind. "Zac!" She hurried around the rocks and found her friend huddled, trying to push the ropes back into the ground that held her lean-to together. Zac was soaked to the bone, her sweatshirt sticking to her like a second skin. Her long hair was twisted and plastered to her head. The brunette leaned over, a body-shaking cough erupting from her.
"Spinney?" she wheezed, still trying valiantly to get her house back tighter. "Go home!"
"No! Not until you come with me!" The blonde hurried inside, gathering as many of Zac's belongings as she could, shoving them into the plastic garbage bag, including the new coat. Tied securely shut, she hurried back out into the storm. Zac had collapsed back into the mud, having slipped as she tried to hold on to the last piece of canvas she had.
"Let's go, Zac! You can't save it. Come on!" She yanked on the girl's hand, only for it to be pulled away. "Damnit, Zac! Don't be so stubborn. You'll get sick. Come on!"
She pulled one more time, this time getting the taller girl to her feet. She held on as best she could, the wet plastic nearly slipping from her grasp, but somehow the determined little blonde managed to keep hold of both her prizes. She could hear Zac coughing over the raging wind and rain as she hurried them through the forest, headed back to the cabin.
She prayed to whomever with every step that they wouldn't be under the tree that got hit by lightening when and if any did.
"Please, oh please, oh please," she chanted. Abel nearly cried out in relief when she saw the lights she'd left on downstairs come into view. "Almost there, honey!" she yelled back to her captive as they ran across the open space of the yard of the cabin, then onto the front porch.
As Abel pushed Zac through the door, she could see how miserable she looked. The older girl had heavy, blue bags under her eyes, her skin pale and wet, her lips blue as her teeth chattered.
"Oh, Zac. Damn, why didn't you home with me?" It was rhetorical, but the blonde meant it all the same. "Let's get you into a hot bath. Come on." She dropped the bag of Zac's stuff by the door, and helped her to remove her boots, now covered in mud. Removing her own shoes, Abel took Zac by the hand and led her to the main bath on the first floor.
The brunette stood in the bathroom, arms wrapped around herself, and her teeth chattering so loudly Abel worried she'd chip one. The blonde hurried over to the large bathtub and began to run a hot bath.
"Stay here. I'll be right back."
Cold herself, Abel hurried to the kitchen, peeling off her socks as she went. They were muddy and wet, and made her even more cold. She quickly put together the Mr. Coffee Hot Chocolate Maker, pouring in two cups of milk and two packets of Swiss Miss hot cocoa mix, and turning it on. She ran back to the bathroom, Zac standing exactly where she'd left her, and turned to her friend.
"Okay, lift your arms, honey." The brunette did it, her body trembling of its own accord from the bone-deep chill she'd received. Abel lifted up on her tip toes to be able to get the fully saturated sweatshirt off the tips of Zac's fingers. She tossed it aside, next removing another sweatshirt, then a t-shirt. "Zac, honey, why didn't you wear your coat?" she asked, the growing pile of wet clothing making her angry. "It's water proof." She gazed up at the brunette with disapproving eyes.
"I didn't want to ruin it," Zac finally managed, her teeth still chattering.
"Oh, honey," Abel breathed, hugging the girl briefly. "I'd get you another one." She looked up at the brunette with such compassion that Zac wanted to cry.
"I'm sorry, Spinney. I'll do better next time."
"Oh, Zac. Come on." Abel softened her voice, and unbuttoned the jeans the older girl wore, tugging at the wet denim until they were finally off. "Take your socks off and get in, okay?" With Zac's nod, the blonde hurried into the kitchen and poured two mugs of steaming hot chocolate.
As Spinney left the room, Zac turned to the tub, feeling extremely inadequate in the cabin, standing in her near-soaked-through bra that the blonde had bought for her, and panties. She made her way over to the tub, not remembering being this cold in some time.
She had actually been scared. The rain had started to come down in torrents, rendering her shelter near useless. She had gotten up from reading through the animal book, and had gone outside to try and secure her home. The mud slide had started then, shifting from the immense saturation of the ground, and things had gotten worse.
Cold and covered with mud, the brunette had done everything she could to try and save her home. She had been out in the storm for no more than fifteen minutes when Spinney had found her.
Sighing deeply, feeling sad and out of control, the brunette tiptoed toward the tub, seeing and feeling the steam waft through the air. Even from three feet away she could feel it. Looking into the seemingly bottomless tub, she was amazed to see the water swirling and churning as it continued to flow out of the taps.
"Guess we should turn it off, huh?" the blonde said softly from behind her. Abel set the mugs down on the side of the tub, and leaned across it, twisting the knobs to off, the water trickling, then dripping, then stopping altogether. "Get in, Zac. It will warm you up," Abel encouraged.
The brunette lifted a leg, and hissed when the hot water met her foot.
"It won't seem so hot once you're in." Abel began to undress, her own body trembling from her brief foray out in the storm. Also stripping down to her bra and underwear, she stepped into the hot water, moaning softly as it immediately began to warm her chilled skin.
Zac slowly lowered herself into the water, taking Spinney's cue, and her eyes automatically closed in pleasure as her ice-cold skin was surrounded by warmth.
"Feels nice, doesn't it." Abel grinned, watching her friend closely. Zac nodded, her eyes still closed. "I know how to make it better. Open your eyes, Zac." Blue eyes slid open and noted that the blonde was handing her a mug of something.
"What is it?" she asked, smelling the brown liquid.
"Hot chocolate. Do you like chocolate?" Nod. "You'll like this. But be careful; it's hot." Abel blew on the steaming liquid, and the brunette did the same.
"Ohhhhh, that's good," Zac breathed, a giant smile on her face, and the smallest of chocolate mustaches on her upper lip. Abel chuckled, and reached over to wipe it away.
"Hot cocoa is one of my favorite ways to warm up. When we were kids, all four of us, before Beck was born, would go out and play in the snow for hours during winter break. My mom would have a whole line up of mugs ready for us when we'd come in." The blonde smiled at the memory.
The blonde was pulled from her memories of the past when Zac nearly spit out the drink of cocoa she'd just taken, her body wracked by heaving coughs.
"Oh, Zac," she breathed, setting her own mug aside and scooting closer to the brunette, rubbing her back, brows drawn in concern. "Damn it, Zac. Why don't you try and take care of yourself?" As she saw her friend's misery, she felt her own anger build. "What if I hadn't shown up, Zac? What then, huh?"
Zac, mid cough, stopped, her gaze trailing over to the blonde. Was she serious? Immediately she felt stung. Her independence and survival was all she had, and now it was being questioned?
Abel watched as several emotions seemed to take over the brunette's face, none of which were good.
"Zac?" she asked, gently touching her friend's shoulder. When touched usually, the taller girl would almost melt into it, revel in it. Now, it seemed as if she were fighting against herself to not flinch from it. So the blonde removed her hand.
"I can handle myself," the brunette finally said. She was looking away now, presenting the blonde with the back of her head.
"Honey, you didn't even have the jacket on that I bought you." Abel could feel her own anger rising. "Why not? I know what you said, but Zac, that's what it's for! What happens if you get sick when I'm not here? What happens if you get caught up in another storm like that? And then there's no one there to save you or help you!" The blonde was nearly yelling in frustration.
The older girl turned to look at the blonde, and the look on her face nearly made Abel cry.
"Spinney?" Zac whispered. "Don't you think I know what I'm doing?" There was so much pain in that simple question. "After my whole life spent out on my own, you don't think I can do it?" The look turned to one of frustration and hurt. The brunette looked down, long, dark wet strands of hair providing a curtain to hide her profile.
Abel looked at her, stunned, and feeling her heart sink.
"Oh, god," she whispered, realizing what she had done. In her questioning her friend's abilities, she had questioned everything about Zac. Her survival, her pride, all she had. She felt the sting behind her eyes as her heart swelled, ready to burst with shame and regret. "Zac?"
The brunette didn't answer. She was dealing with her own heartbreak. Did Spinney really think she was that incapable? A question she had to know the answer to. So finally she looked at the blonde and repeated it.
"Don't you think I know what I'm doing? How do you think I've survived all these summers, winters, and everything in between, Spinney?" Her voice was soft, slightly edged, but mostly filled with pain.
"You're right." Abel couldn't keep the tears from her eyes anymore. They glistened in the light from above, one slowly making its way to freedom, lazily sliding down her cheek. Before it could fall from her chin, Zac caught it. The brunette looked so tender as she witnessed her Spinney's own pain. Though she was struggling with her own feelings about the night, she didn't want to make the blonde cry. "I'm sorry, Zac. So sorry."
"No, Spinney. I overreacted." Though Zac knew what she said wasn't true, she would do nothing to hurt her friend. The only friend she had.
"No, Zac. No, I was wrong. You're absolutely right. I had no right to question you, and I'm so sorry. Please forgive me?" The brunette couldn't resist the pleading green eyes, made near emerald from the tears. She softly nodded. With a sigh of relief, Abel flung herself at the other girl, taking her in a massive, crushing hug. "Thank you."
Water swept over the edge of the tub with the force of the hug, and Zac was nearly left breathless. She closed her eyes, feeling her friend cry against her shoulder.
"Don't cry, Spinney," she soothed, rubbing the blonde's near naked back. "Please don't cry."
"I insulted you," Abel cried, burying her face in the taller girl's neck. "I'm sorry."
"Shh. It's okay."
"No." Abel sniffled, and ran the back of her hand across her eyes and nose. "I shouldn't have interfered. I was just so worried about you, Zac. God, now that we've been able to get our friendship again, I could lose you." Fresh tears began to spring forth, the blonde unable to keep up.
Zac gave her the sweetest, most caring smile.
"I'm not going anywhere, Spinney. You're stuck with me as your 'wild child' friend." She grinned, and the blonde laughed through her tears. She stroked the long blonde hair, letting her friend cry.
After about ten minutes, Abel got herself under control. She scooted away from Zac and gave her a shy smile as she reached for some toilet paper.
"I'm sorry." She sniffled. "I got kind of carried away. I just got really scared tonight, Zac. It killed me knowing you were out in that rain."
The brunette nodded in understanding. "It's okay. Thanks for caring."
The blonde smiled and squeezed Zac's hand. They were both quiet for a moment, one lost in her thoughts while the other was nearly drowned in bodily fluids as she blew her nose and wiped her eyes. Finally Zac broke the silence.
"What's your college like, Spinney?" Her voice was soft as she relaxed into the water once again and sipped her forgotten drink.
"Well, I don't know. I guess it's nice."
"Tell me about it?" Zac shyly asked.
As Abel began to talk about her school, her classes, the people she knew, Zac found that she was jealous of all these people. She wanted so badly to be more involved in Spinney's life, and not just every six months when the blonde came back to the cabin. She knew there was no way to, but she still wished it.
"You should go to college, Zac. You're very smart. I bet you'd do well," Abel said, setting her empty mug aside, and adding some more hot water to the cooling water.
"Oh." The brunette ducked her head, peering at her friend through her bangs. "I couldn't."
"Why not? I bet you'd kick ass."
"I never went to school, Spinney. I don't have a diploma. Everything I've learned was from reading, and even that I taught myself." Broad shoulders shrugged. "I wouldn't know what to do."
"Did you go to school at all?" Zac shook her head. "Wow. That's amazing. I don't think I've ever met a true wild child before." She smiled, and the brunette smiled in turn, looking down sheepishly.
"Yeah, well. Glad I could help you."
Abel watched as her friend sneezed, which was fine, but then she didn't stop.
"Oh, honey. I bet you caught a cold out there." She rubbed Zac's back as the girl continued to sneeze, then cough. "Here." She handed her a Kleenex, allowing Zac to blow her nose. She looked miserable. "Let's get you into bed." Abel stood, the water draining down her body as she grabbed a towel. Stepping out, she wrapped it around herself, then turned to Zac, holding open a big, fluffy towel for her. "Come here," she said softly.
Zac stepped into Abel's embrace, allowing her to wrap the towel around her. She felt like shit, and just wanted to go home. Then she remembered there really wasn't a home to go to. This made her feel even crappier.
Bleary dark eyes opened, something wet and cold waking him. He looked around the musty building where he'd crashed. Tired eyes flew open when he saw the mud that covered half the floor in the building, plus that which caked up around the naked doorway.
"Damn it. Cold, cold, cold," he muttered, sitting up, aching body screaming at him. His tattered coat had kept him warm for the most part, but since the mud was right now under his nose, and his right hand was half covered by it, he had to get up and move.
He had heard the rain last night, but it had helped to work as a lullaby, keeping him safely in sleep land.
Grumbling, and shaking the gooey stuff from his meaty paw, he moved himself further into the room, picking a far corner instead of the one where he'd been. It was at least dry there. Maybe he'd crash there for a few days, let the mud dry a bit.
Plopping down on the new spot, he was angry cause his ass had warmed the other place up, and now he had to start over. He opened his bag and dug through it, careful to not get anything dirty. No, no. Nothing in there could get dirty. The smile spread across his face; the same smile he got every time he looked in his bag or stuffed his hands in the pockets of his coat.
Finding a plastic baggy filled with a few crackers, he grumbled, knowing that was all he had left. For now. So, he quietly munched, sighing in contentment.
After much arguing, Abel finally got Zac to bed. She put her in her own bed, worried as the girl's coughing was getting worse, and she seemed to be running a fever. She was pale, and beginning to sweat heavily.
Getting her wrapped up as best she could, using her own body heat to try and keep her warm, Abel lay with her friend, listening to her breathe.
She thought about the events of that day. They'd had such a wonderful time. The blonde loved how knowledgeable Zac was about the forest, and even the state of Maine. She loved to listen to the brunette's stories and history; and what she knew about the animals and plants of the Wachovia Forest was just amazing. She sighed. She enjoyed having Zac so close, knowing that she was okay and safe. The thought of her friend trying to stay warm over the winter nearly drove her to distraction. She was beginning to learn just how stubborn the taller girl could be, and it wasn't helping her to worry.
Finally the blonde drifted off.
A day like any other, nothing special about it. Bud Lipton was out scouring God knows what, leaving his eleven year old daughter at the cabin to do whatever.
Zac hummed softly to herself as she swept off the rickety old porch. The boards were uneven and buckling in places, but still solid. She looked out over the forest, a smile on her face. She would go bird watching later.
Until then, she took the broom back inside, hanging it on the old, rusted nail she had found. Trying to decide between staying inside and reading and going outside and exploring, she decided to go outside. Maybe bird watching would start early.
She grabbed the old pair of binoculars that were held together with a weathered piece of duct tape. They were green, swiped by her father from her grandfather's World War II gear.
Humming happily again, she hitched up her overalls, and headed out. Grabbing the empty canteen from the nail on the outside wall, intent on filling it in the lake, the young brunette stopped, listening.
She craned her neck, hearing something. There it was again. Not too far in the distance she heard footsteps, though they were uneven footsteps, like a limp. She listened more, then saw a man emerge from the trees. He looked haggard and dirty, but had small, alert, dark eyes.
When he spotted Zac, he grinned, crooked. "Hi there," he said, his voice slightly lispy from the teeth he was missing. Zac said nothing, just watched as he approached. The hair on the back of her neck was beginning to stand up on end, and she was about to run when he moved faster.
"Oh, you're the pretty one, ain't ya?" he said, grabbing her by the left strap of her overalls, stopping her, and causing her to fall to the ground. The binoculars and canteen flew across the forest floor, out of her reach. The girl scrambled to a sitting position, not wanting her back to be to this guy for a minute.
"Who are you?" she panted, trying to crab crawl away from him. He was having no part of that.
"Come 'ere, you," he growled, jumping on her and pinning her down. She could feel the heavy weight of his body and smell his sour breath on her face. Trying not to gag, and think fast, Zac looked around her, finally seeing a rock. Grabbing it, she brought it down, whacking him on the left temple. "You little bitch!" he spat, a hand flying up to the wound, bringing blood back on his fingertips.
Even more determined now, he pulled himself up so he was straddling the squirming girl who had yet to make a noise other than her unanswered question. He was tugging at the clasps of her overalls. Getting them unclipped, he began to rip at the material, trying to get it down the brunette's young, writhing body.
Look at her writhe for me, he thought, feeling himself get hard. She wants me.
Zac finally screamed out as the denim was pulled from her body, leaving her lying there in her flannel shirt and underwear.
"Ohhhh," he breathed, looking down at his conquest. He grabbed the waistband of the panties with his dirty fingers, leaving smudges on creamy white thighs, and yanked them off. "Just becoming a woman," he moaned. She would have to do.
"No, no!" Zac cried, trying to do her best to push him off, but he was big and determined. "Help!"
"Shut the fuck up!" He used the back of one meaty hand and slapped her across the face with it, making Zac's teeth rattle in her head. She watched in horror as she saw him reach down to the zipper of his pants.
"Hey!" a loud voice boomed, and before Zac knew what was happening, the man had been yanked off her, leaving her exposed to the sunny day. She curled up within herself, and watched as her father grabbed the man by the back of his coat, and threw him. Landing with a loud crash against a water barrel, the man, baring his teeth, charged Bud Lipton.
As the fight began to move her way, the brunette scrambled to her feet, pulling her pants up, and holding them to her, her legs shaky, almost giving out on her. She watched as Bud pummeled the stranger, sending more of his rotten teeth sliding across the dirt, splatters of blood raining on the ground.
Unable to watch anymore, the young girl turned and ran.
"No! No! Daddy!" Zac shot up, sweat pouring down her face, hair plastered to her head. She looked around with wide eyes, still seeing the forest around her, still feeling the terror and confusion. Her breathing was heavy and labored.
"Zac?" Abel sat up, scared out of her wits by her friend and bedmate's abrupt awakening and scream. Her heart was pounding wildly as she tried to see what was wrong. The brunette was sitting up in bed, clutching the covers to her chest, her eyes open and wild. "Hey, honey. Zac. Are you okay?" She tried to put a comforting hand on the girl's back, but was pushed away.
"No! Don't touch me!" Zac cried out, fear lining her face, looking as though she were about to bolt.
"Hey, Zac. Honey, it's me. Spinney?" The blonde tried to use the most calming voice she could, realizing that the girl wasn't completely awake yet. "It's me."
Zac stared at her with stranger's eyes, then suddenly blinked. "Spinney?" she said in the thinnest of voices. "Is that you?" The relief was unmistakable.
"Yeah. It's me." She reached out her hand again, and placed it gently on the brunette's arm. "Are you okay? I think you had a nightmare." She placed her hand on the taller girl's forehead. "Oh, Zac. You're burning up. Come here." She opened her arms, and immediately the brunette fell into them, her body trembling from the residual fear. "It's okay. I've got you," she whispered into Zac's ear. "I've got you."
Even as her friend slipped back into sleep, the blonde stared up at the ceiling.
Zac turned out to have a pretty bad flu. She was in and out of delirium for the next day until her fever finally broke around six p.m., and this after Ben had been forced to go find the Piņon Mushroom that the brunette kept calling for. He didn't mind. Anything for the beautiful brunette.
To the Cohen family's amazement, that mushroom actually made Zac feel better. She ate it raw, and within a few hours, her temperature had gone down. Abel was always there, ready with a cool cloth and liquids. And plenty of Kleenex.
By the third day, Zac was doing much better, and was getting restless. She was ready to get out of the suffocating confines of a house.
Zac woke, feeling more like herself than she had for two days. When she opened her eyes, she found herself laying on her side in Spinney's big, comfortable bed, the blonde curled up behind her. The blonde's arm was around her waist, her small body seeking the warmth of her larger, warmer companion.
The brunette tried to figure out how to get up without waking her friend. She needed to get out of there. Cooped up for more than two days was beginning to really get to her. She needed the fresh air, and to try and find the rest of her house.
Rain had stopped the morning after it started, but Zac figured that a good three inches of water had been dropped. More than enough to put her in a very bad mood.
Very, very carefully, she grabbed the blonde's wrist, and moved the arm that draped across her to rest on Spinney's own hip. That done, she waited, making sure the girl hadn't woken, yet. Nothing. So she slowly scooted her body toward the end of the bed, inch by inch until she nearly fell off.
Once her bare feet hit the soft carpet, she headed to the bathroom. Zac had to admit that the use of a toilet was so much easier than digging a small hole to cover in the woods, but she was used to it. This time in the cabin would be a short treat. A treat that would end today.
Looking at herself in the mirror above Spinney's sink, she saw how horrible she looked. Though, frighteningly enough, she looked a ton better than she had just the day before. Her skin wasn't as pale, nor her eyes washed out and red. Her hair lay haphazardly all over her head, the strands wild and unkempt. She knew the blonde would be after her to take a bath. Maybe she could leave before that happened.
Relieving herself, she made sure she used the toilet paper as her friend had instructed. Not sure whether she should flush, not wanting to wake Spinney up, she finally decided that another lecture from the girl wasn't worth it.
Getting dressed, Spinney's mom having washed all her clothes, she sat quietly on the chair in the corner of the girl's room. She watched the blonde sleep, not wanting to leave before saying goodbye, and not wanting to wake her, either.
Spinney looked so peaceful, and beautiful. Her long, blonde hair was spread out over her pillow, her face relaxed as she soared in the world of dreams. She cuddled up close to the pillow Zac had deserted, smacking her lips softly in comfort and contentment.
Suddenly, almost as if she felt she were being watched, sleepy lids slowly opened to reveal the green depths behind.
"Zac?" she said, her voice thick from sleep.
"Hi," the brunette said, a small smile and wave following her simple greeting.
"What's wrong? Are you okay?" The blonde sat up, bringing a hand up to rub her eyes. The brunette nodded.
"I'm okay. I'm going home today."
Sleep forgotten, the green eyes popped open. "What? Zac, please stay. Just one more night," Abel pleaded, worried for her friend. "You're not well."
"I have to, Spinney," Zac softly explained. The worry lines melted away on the blonde's face.
"You're going nuts, aren't you?" she said, a statement. The brunette nodded.
"I need some space."
"I'm sorry." The blonde looked down, picking at the sheet with nervous fingers. Zac stood from her chair and walked over to the bed, sitting on the side. She rested her hand on Abel's calf.
"It's not you, Spinney. I could spend all day with you." She smiled warmly, and the blonde felt immediately better. "It's just the situation. The cabin . . ." Blue eyes wandered over the room.
"You can't be cooped up." The brunette shook her head. "Okay. Are you sure, Zac? If you're still sick . . ."
"I feel much better. Really. Trust me, okay?" Abel stared into those stormy eyes, so indicative of what she was feeling, and nodded.
"I'll miss you."
Zac smiled. "Spinney, you'll see me every day. And for your birthday." She smiled big, knowing that she had something cooking for the blonde.
"Thanks, Zac." Abel smiled, but still felt horrible inside. She knew how her friend was, yet she kept her in the house anyway. Like some stray dog that knew nothing of being kept like a pet. As much as she hated seeing the brunette go, she knew she had to let her.
"Arrrrgggghhhh!" stretching screaming arms above his head, he stood, trying to stretch his back at the same time. Sleeping for nearly two days, he was ready to get up and going.
Making sure everything was secure in his pack, he made his way through the mud, his odd tracks following him out.
Zac made her way through the forest, the garbage bag filled with what Spinney could grab slung over her shoulder. Though she still had somewhat of a cough, she felt glorious. She looked up into the trees, bright green from the moisture of the storm, the birds all coming out of hiding again.
She also loved the smell of freshly wet soil. She closed her eyes as the smell filled her nostrils. Inhaling, she sighed, happy to be out. When she opened her eyes, she spotted something blue. Peering through the dense trees, she smiled again.
"There's one." Hurrying over to the tarp that was entangled in a tree, she set her bag of belongings down, and gently pried the tarp loose. Now if she could find the canvas, she'd be in business.
Heading to the lake, she left the tarp and her bag there, heading off back into the woods to look for the tan canvas.
"Was it something we did?" Sherry Cohen asked as she sipped her coffee. She watched her oldest daughter preparing a large breakfast, complete with eggs, bacon, waffles, and lots and lots of syrup.
The blonde shook her head. "No. Zac just can't stand to be cooped up. A true wild child, mom. The raised by wolves kind." She glanced at her mother, then turned back to the stove and her eggs.
"I just absolutely hate the idea of her out there all alone, Abel." Sherry's brows drew, a worry line forming between them.
"I know. I feel the same way. But, alas. No matter how much pleading and prodding, she's stubborn. So I figure the least I can do is make sure she's fed." Turning the gas range off, she loaded the eggs onto the near overflowing plate, then wrapped the entire thing up in foil, making sure to put plenty extra around it. Finishing, she walked over to her mother, giving her a bear hug.
"What's this for?" her mother asked, smiling at the affection.
"Just for being so cool about this. You guys have truly been awesome, mom. Thank you." Earnest green eyes looked into those of the older woman. Sherry smiled.
"She's a good girl, honey. She deserves special treatment. She saved two of my babies." She shrugged. "Why wouldn't I?"
"I know," Abel said, walking over to the counter and grabbing the plate. "But I know dad isn't as keen on it as you are. I just want you to know it's appreciated. I know Zac appreciates it, too."
"Well, she's welcome here any time. Okay?" The younger blonde nodded.
"I love you, mom."
"I love you, too, honey."
"Got ya!" Zac carefully climbed down the big pine with a muddy, wind-torn canvas. It may be damaged goods now, but she had it!
Jumping down the last five feet, she landed with a grunt, then ran toward the lake. The sooner she could get these babies washed off the better.
Hiking his bag higher on is shoulder, he reached into the waistband of his pants, feeling the hard handle of his knife. Needing something for his hands to do, he began to toss it up in the air, letting it flip end over end, only to catch it by either the tip of the blade, or the handle. This was a game he'd gotten good at over the years. It kept his mind busy.
He was making his way through the forest. He stopped, his eyes focused on something. A slow, feral smile crept across his sun-cracked lips, and he caught the knife, handle side down.
Abel sang quietly to herself as she did her best to avoid the bigger mud puddles. She was amazed at just how green and fresh it was out. The rain had done something, because she felt a new vigor as she headed toward Zac's home. She was pleased that she had the offering she did. She smiled, knowing her friend would love it.
Zac knelt down, trying her damndest to not end up bathing with the tarp as she scrubbed at the caked mud. Nearly growling with frustration, she turned her fingers to the laces on the new boots to take them off when she stopped.
Head slightly cocked to the side, she listened, trying to figure out just what it had been that had made her stop in the first place. Kind of like when you're woken up out of sleep, but you don't know by what.
There it was again. Footsteps, but, but. Dark brows drew as she tried to clear it in her mind. They were heavy steps, and not normal. Like a dragging sound. Limping, maybe?
Another set of footsteps, light and carefree.
"Zac?" was called out in the distance. Spinney. The heavy, foreign footsteps stopped, and so did Zac's heart. Then suddenly they started again, but at a run. Well, as good of a run as someone with a twisted leg could manage.
"Boogie Man," Zac whispered, then something struck in her, something animalistic and wild. She stood, taking off at a dead run toward the woods, her teeth bared, eyes narrowed with hate and fear.
She could feel the blood pounding through her head, a steady beat of a drum in her body, pushing her forward, all else forgotten.
Zac felt everything slow to a trickle. Her breathing echoed through her head, her nose burning with the early morning air, chill as it coursed through her nostrils, down into her lungs, and spreading from there. Large booted feet crushed everything in their path as she desperately tried to make it in time.
She spotted the clearing, and saw to her right Spinney just breaking through the trees, her eyes looking around, looking for her friend. Then to the left was Him. He was looking directly at the blonde, lust in his dark eyes, knife in hand, hand outstretched to grab.
With an inhuman growl, Zac launched herself at him, just moments before he reached Spinney, knocking them both to the ground, falling head over heels with each other, until finally she got him pinned. He looked up at her with the same eyes as before, but now they were the ones filled with fear.
The brunette began to pound on him, punching his face, slamming his head into the soppy ground with each strike. Abel watched on, eyes huge with shock and fear as she watched her friend pounce. This was not her Zac, though. This was someone else entirely. She was fierce, scary and truly powerful.
Zac grabbed his head, not daring to give him the chance to touch her Spinney, and raised it, slamming it against the rock that was half-hidden in the earth. Again and again she slammed it, seeing the blood on the rock when she lifted it for another slam. His eyes rolled back, then closed, blood rushing from the corner of his mouth as he bit his tongue.
"Zac?" was said from somewhere far away, in another place. But Zac was in another time. She was saving Spinney. She was saving herself. "Zac! Stop!"
The brunette froze, looking down at what she was doing, feeling the rage seep out her pores as she looked up into the terrified, pale face of her friend. She slowly stood, her eyes never leaving Spinney.
Abel watched as the taller girl stood, hands dirty with specs of blood. The brunette's eyes were so wild, so terrifyingly violent that she felt her stomach catch.
"Spinney?" Zac said, her voice weak, almost as if she had no idea where she was. She reached out to her friend, and to her horror, Spinney backed away, eyes huge and round. The blonde began to slowly shake her head, as if she couldn't believe what she was seeing. Zac's heart broke.
Without a word, the blonde turned and began to run, the plate clattering as she dropped it.
Abel ran through the forest, tears streaming down her cheeks, terror still running through her system. She was near hysterics when she got to the Cohen cabin.
Running in, she looked frantically for her father. Sherry intercepted her.
"Honey, what's the matter?" Mrs. Cohen asked, concern making her near hysterical. "Are you okay? Is Zac okay?"
"God! I think she killed him! Oh my God!"
"What? Who? Killed who, honey? Calm down." She took her daughter by the shoulders, trying to look into her face to get some sort of clue what the girl was talking about.
"What the hell is going on?" Adam asked, running from the bathroom, the Architect's Weekly still in his hands. He tossed it to the couch and hurried over to his wife and daughter.
"I think she killed him, dad," Abel cried, grabbing onto his shirt, and burying her face in his chest. Wrapping strong arms around her shoulders, he looked over her head at his wife. She shrugged and shook her head. "Okay, now, Abel. You need to be able to speak clearly, okay?" He gently pushed her away, and bent his head to be able to look into her eyes. The girl nodded, swiping a hand at her eyes. Sherry quickly grabbed her a Kleenex.
"You have to come with me, dad. I think Zac killed a man. She was pounding his head into the ground." Fresh tears sprang forth as she saw it all over again in her mind. "I knew that girl was funny," he grumbled, but stopped at the stilling hand of his wife on his arm.
"Stop, Adam. We don't even know what happened."
"Okay. You call the police, Sherry. Abel and I are going to see what's what." He took his daughter's arm, and led her toward the front door.
Trying to see through her tears, Zac ran toward the lake, dipping her grungy hands in the cool water, then grabbed the plastic bag of her stuff and ran toward the bluff overlooking the lake the Cohen's cabin. She knew that she couldn't stay there. Cops would be combing the woods at any time.
She sat on the big rock that she used to watch over things, and tried to think. She had to find somewhere to go, somewhere to lay low.
Her father's voice echoes in her head: Don't ever let 'em catch ya, Zac. The big bad boogie men will gobble you up!
She tried to clear her head, but instead her head fell, hands catching it as the tears came in earnest. She would never forget the look on Spinney's face. She looked absolutely terrified, as if the brunette would attack her. As if she could ever hurt the little blonde. She couldn't let Him hurt her, either. Never. The Boogie Man would never touch Spinney!
"Oh, Spinney, no," she sobbed, body heaving. She would never, ever hurt her. Ever.
Abel was hugging herself as they neared the place where Zac had attacked that man. She saw him, still lying where he'd fallen, head to the side, gaping wound in the back. One arm was lying across his chest, the other out to his side.
"There," the blonde whispered, pointing. Her father hurried over to the stranger and knelt down. Trying not to react, Adam grabbed the man's hand, placing his fingers on the pulse, praying that there was one.
"He's still alive," Mr. Cohen said, his voice hushed. Abel let out a sigh of relief. Standing, Adam bent over to look at the head wound. Grimacing slightly, he turned his attention to the man's belongings around him. "Do you know who this is, honey?"
"No." Abel walked over to the man, seeing his shoulder bag lying on the ground about six feet away. She figured he must have lost it during the initial attack. "How could Zac just attack him like that?" she asked, knowing she wouldn't get any answers.
"Is this Zac's?" Adam pointed to a very large Bowie knife on the ground. The blonde looked at it, cocking her head to the side as she thought.
"No. Zac's is much smaller. She keeps it in her boot."
"You're sure? Positive?" Adam eyed his daughter. She nodded.
"Yeah. I've never seen it before."
Leaving it where it was, he knelt down next to the man again, deciding to dig through his pockets for identification.
"Honey, why don't you see what's in that bag, huh? Let's see if we can find out who this fella is."
"Kay." She grabbed the bag and unclasped it, eyeing the guy on the ground, comforted in seeing his chest rise and fall, if shallow, even at least.
Inside she found a scarf and clear, plastic baggie with crumbs in it. Pushing these aside, she found a comb, half the teeth missing from the small ACE. Her fingers came across something very soft, and she pulled it out, eyes widening to see that it was a pair of underwear. Not seeming odd at first, she was about to move on, but then realized that they were entirely too small for a man this size. She pulled them out, and saw that they were littered with little purple tulips. Children's underwear.
She dug further, thinking perhaps they belonged to his daughter, she found four more pairs, and one of them had what looked to be dried blood on it.
Feeling decidedly nauseous, she dumped the panties onto the ground, and dug further. She felt the edge of paper, and pulled it out. What looked to be many layers folded onto each other, she realized were dozens of newspapers articles that had been folded together in one big stack.
Unfolding them, she brought a hand to her mouth:
Nine year old, Brett Carlson found yesterday.../ Four year old daughter dead.../ M.O seems to be taking the children's underpants as some sort of trophy.../ Missing Count Hits A Dozen!.../ No end in sight...
Nine year old, Brett Carlson found yesterday.../ Four year old daughter dead.../ M.O seems to be taking the children's underpants as some sort of trophy.../ Missing Count Hits A Dozen!.../ No end in sight...
A sob tore from her throat, all the news coverage she'd seen of the child serial killer who had been terrifying the north east for over a year. Then she caught site of the small pile of children's underwear she had placed on the ground.
"Oh, God," she cried, falling to her knees. Adam rushed over to the girl, holding her against his chest.
"What is it, baby?" he asked, his voice soft and comforting. She handed him the articles, crying into his chest. He used one hand to try and unfold then read them.
"Jesus," he breathed, looking over his shoulder at the man laying on the ground.
Finally pulling herself together, Zac grabbed her bag and headed deep into the woods, about three miles past her old home. She remembered something she had dug as a child. She used to use it as a fort and place to hide when she'd play "Boogie Man and Zac."
She hurried across the mud-covered ground, praying that the hole was still there, and hadn't been filled in by years of wear and storms. She didn't know how long she'd need it, but she needed to hide, and hide fast.
Up ahead she saw the tiny rabbit bone that she had placed there nearly ten years before, marking the secret hiding spot. Dropping the bag and her knees to the ground, she felt around until she felt the edge of the plywood cover. Nearly whooping in victory, she tugged, grunting as it refused to budge, but not giving up. Baring her teeth and squeezing her eyes shut, she finally managed to get it to move.
Moving herself back to make room for the four foot piece of wood, she looked down into the hole. It was nearly exactly as she had left it. The tight fit of the wood had prevented flooding, though it was obvious some had still happened. The wooden stake she had used as a sword was half buried in dirt.
Zac grabbed her bag and tossed it in the hole, following quickly after. Standing up to her armpits, she grabbed the cover and tugged, mindful to not rattle the dirt cover on top. She had to blend. Nearly sealing off the hole, just leaving enough for air, she sat down, huddled up against one corner, feeling like she was in a grave.
Abel sat in a kitchen chair, her baby sister curled up in her arms. She was comforted by the continual movement of petting the girl's blonde hair. The officer sat across from her, asking her question after question. They'd been at it for about an hour, and she felt numb.
They'd learned that the man who was now on his way to Augusta to the Maine General Medical Center, was Gerald Hivey. The last address on his fifteen year old license had been in Oklahoma.
He was wanted for questioning on the disappearance of the seven year old daughter of the store owner he had been working for at the time, as well as in crimes of the same nature across the map.
The police were combing the woods for Zac, wanting to question her. Abel was heartsick at the fact that her father had mentioned the brunette. She wasn't planning on it. She didn't think that Zac had anything to do with Gerald's crimes, but her father wasn't so sure.
She was so confused, and just sent out a silent prayer to Zac to run.
Zak started her eyes opening to pitch black darkness. She tried to focus, feeling as though she were in solitary confinement. She listened and heard a distant dog barking, and voices. She closed her eyes again, holding her breath as she figured the police were searching for her.
Please, please, Spinney. Know I would never hurt you.
She closed her eyes again, waiting until morning.
Abel, eyes red from a day of crying and confusion, stood at the window in her room. There was no way in hell sleep was going to come tonight. The night before Zac had been there, safe and sound. Now? Who knows.
The police had scoured the woods for hours, bringing out their K-9 Unit, and still found very little. She had been thrilled but scared all the same. She knew Zac was out there somewhere, hiding, probably frightened out of her mind.
She just didn't buy her father's theory that the brunette was somehow involved, but still she couldn't help but feel sick with what they found on Gerald that day. Had he been responsible for dozens of children's rapes and deaths?
Abel knew in her heart that Zac had saved her life today, that Gerald had probably mistaken her for someone much younger, and had plans to do the same to her.
She shivered at the thought. Wrapping her arms tighter around herself, she stared out into the woods.
"Where are you, Zac?"
It had been two and a half days, and Zac was cramped, tired from not sleeping worth a damn in her hole, and hungry. All activity had stopped the day before, early in the morning, and she hoped that it was done for good.
She had done a lot of thinking while in her self-imposed prison. She had scared Spinney beyond all reason, and knew the blonde hated her. The trust that she had spent all summer trying to gain had been wiped away in a few short moments. She had seen it in the blonde's eyes.
Zac felt fresh tears come to her eyes, and she angrily swiped at them. She was tired of crying, and tired of having to hide. She would just rebuild her house, and stay away from the Cohen cabin. Maybe she'd even move her home further into the woods, further away. That way the temptation to go to the blonde wouldn't be so strong. Eventually the brunette would fade into Spinney's memory again, and then be forgotten all together. Definitely best.
The Cohen family was a little quieter than they had been. Each was instilled with the fear of just how quickly things can change. Within the blink of an eye, Abel could have been the next victim, and lost to her family forever.
"Honey?" Sherry said, putting an arm around her daughter's shoulder. Abel was sitting on the couch, an open book in her lap, but her attention elsewhere. "You want to talk?" Mrs. Cohen sat next to her.
"I don't feel her," the younger blonde said, her voice nearly a whisper.
"What do you mean?"
"I don't feel her anymore." Abel looked into the caring eyes of her mother. "We could feel each other, mom. We had that kind of bond. I knew when she was around. Not anymore." She looked down, leaning her head against her mom's shoulder.
"Do you think she was trying to hurt you, Abel?" Sherry ran her fingers through her daughter's long hair. Abel shook her head.
"No. I think she knew. Somehow, she knew. She saved me. Again."
Sherry sighed, continuing to pet the melancholy girl. She didn't know what to do. Her husband was set against Zac being in the cabin again, and against Abel having any contact with the girl at all. Sherry was of the same mind as Abel. She knew in her heart that the tall girl would never hurt her baby.
Zac grunted as she shoved the board away, letting in the cleansing sunlight. She squinted against the brightness, having been in near total darkness for three days. She took a deep breath of the air, letting it fill her lungs.
Tossing her bag out, she then climbed out, feeling weak and dehydrated. She headed to the natural spring that was nearby, taking in her fill, gulping up the water by the handful. Finally sated, she headed toward her house. When she got there, she nearly cried.
Everything was gone. Everything. The little things she'd made from the foil Spinney had given her, little birds and animals. The entire collection was to be given to the blonde for her birthday. The canteen that she hooked on the rock ledge - gone. All that remained were the remnants from the burned-out cabin, and the rocks themselves. All that Spinney had missed the night of the storm, after shoving what she could in the bag, was gone.
The police had confiscated it all, thinking it had been Gerald's hideout.
She felt a strangled sob begin to form, but did her best to hold it in. She couldn't let this beat her. It just made her resolve stronger.
Numbly walking down to the lake, she saw her tarp and canvas were gone, too. Finding a fallen log, she sat, placing the now sacred bag between her legs on the ground. She held her head in her hands.
As darkness fell, the Cohens sat around the kitchen table eating. Adam had the boys engaged in sports talk as Abel barely picked at her food. It was the end of day three, and still no Zac.
She pushed her chicken around the plate, playing dodge ball with the rice. Suddenly she stopped, the hair on the back of her neck prickling. She looked up, trying to see what she could through the kitchen window. She only saw the reflection of her family against the night beyond.
"What is it, honey?" Sherry asked quietly.
"She's here," Abel whispered, standing.
"Where are you going?" Adam asked.
"I have to go talk to her," the blonde said, heading for the door.
"To her who? To that Zac person? No way in hell, Abel!" He stood, ready to stop her when he felt a soft hand on his forearm. He turned to see his wife's eyes boring into his. She shook her head.
Abel hurried outside, standing on the porch. She saw nothing, even once the motion detector lights that her father installed the day before, flashed on. Just trees throwing huge shadows.
She felt her, knew she was there.
"Come out!" she called out, keeping her eyes open for any movement. "Now!"
To her right, she saw a flash of movement, and was not surprised to see Zac standing there, her bag in her hand. The girl was hugely dirty, and looked so haggard.
The blonde stepped off the porch and walked over to her, still feeling strange from the whole thing. She couldn't get that look on Zac's face out of her mind. The brunette said nothing, just looked at her.
"Where were you?" Abel asked, hands shoved deep into her pockets.
"Hiding. How are you?" Zac's voice was even quieter than usual, and the blonde could see that she had done a lot of crying. Her eyes were red rimmed, and puffy.
"I'm fine. The police arrested him." Zac just stared at her, then took a deep breath.
"I'm leaving," she said.
"What? When?" Abel felt her heart drop.
"Now. As soon as we get done talking. I can't stay here," Zac said in lieu of an explanation. She didn't know what to say to her friend, her heart sick and crying, even as they spoke.
"Where will you go?" The blonde wanted to beg her not to go, to stay with her, stay in the cabin, but the words wouldn't come.
Zac shrugged. "Back to the rails."
"Oh." Abel looked down, not sure what to do. "Please take care of yourself," she whispered, staring into heavy blue eyes. Zac nodded.
"Good luck in school," Zac said. She sounded so defeated.
"Thanks." Abel's mouth opened as if she were going to say something, but snapped it shut again.
"Bye, Spinney." The brunette gave her the tiniest of smiles.
"Bye," Abel whispered, feeling her throat constrict. She watched as the girl heaved the bag over her shoulder, and walked back into the woods, disappearing.
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