Without a word I push my chair back and stand on trembling legs. Never taking my eyes off the picture I navigate my way around the table and the small couch to the fireplace. I can’t look away, almost as if I were afraid it would disappear, a figment of my imagination, if I did.
Caleb watches silently.
I run my fingers over the rustic barnwood picture frame. The style of the frame blends perfectly with the decor of the cabin. Gingerly I pick it up and look closely at the image. In confusion I realize there’s something to the right side of the picture, partially concealed under the wood.
Bringing the photo back to the table, I try to release the metal clips that hold the back in place, but my hands are shaking too much. Caleb places his hand over mine and when I look at him, fear clear in my eyes, he tells me to sit. Nimbly he removes the black cardboard backing and hands me the picture. Just visible to the right is a tall building, one that didn’t belong there.
Caleb looks as baffled as I feel.
“I thought…” I begin, wanting to explain, but my mind is too muddled to finish the sentence.
His hand covers mine again, encouraging me to go on. “What did you think?” he asks.
“I thought this was taken from the balcony where I’d been staying. The beach looks exactly the same.” I respond without looking up from the photo.
“How would that get here?”
Finally looking at him I shake my head. “It’s not. This building wasn’t on that beach. But for a minute I thought he had been here, that this was a message, a sign that he’d found me. I was sure this hadn’t been on the mantel when I’d left, but maybe I missed it. This whole thing has me feeling crazy.”
“That’s reasonable,” he replies.
Standing he refills my wine glass and holds out his hand. Still feeling disoriented and confused I take his hand and allow him to lead me to the couch in front of the fire.
“We can figure out the picture later. First, why don’t you tell me what happened? The more I know, the easier it will be to solve this.”
Sipping the wine, I study his face, trying to decide how much to tell him. It’s all so embarrassing but I don’t have a choice. I begin with the party on the beach and give him as many details as I remember. I attempt to clarify why I didn’t see what was happening until it was too late. I struggle to explain his charm and the ease with which he was able to negate all my concerns. Then I tell him about the room, about the photos I found, and about the journal hidden in the bureau.
“What happened to the journal?”
I shrug. “I probably left it on the bed while I was making sure everything was in my backpack.”
I know that was careless. I know the police would have been more willing to help me if I’d had some sort of proof. But I can’t undo the past. I’ve beaten myself up repeatedly for this already. I don’t need him adding to it, and so as I tell him this part I aim to minimize the significance.
To his credit, he doesn’t tell me how foolish this was. Maybe he recognizes that I am already painfully aware of that.
Silence falls as I finish my story, sympathy evident in his expression. I don’t want his pity!
Angrily I stand and start pacing the room. I feel like a caged lion. I need space away from Caleb so I can think. I need fresh air to calm myself. I’m not really mad at him; he’s just here. I want to scream in frustration!
As he sits watching me I head to the back door, determined to be alone on the back porch. Just the thought of relaxing in the rocking chair listening to the sounds of the birds chirping and the river flowing starts to calm me.
Suddenly a hand on my arm stops me less than two feet from the door. Quietly he says, “We don’t know if he has found you. You need to stay inside.”
I know he means well but how long am I supposed to stay locked up in this cabin? Like a rebellious teenager I yell at him and storm outside anyway. I’m tired of giving up my independence.
This post is in response to the daily writing prompt Independence and is part of something longer I am working on.
This post is a part of the story about the hero and comes after I’m Suddenly Sure He Has Found Me.