I watched my husband pull a gold chain from a brand new sparkling pink box with a fluffy velvet insert and smile to himself as he came up behind me. I watched him from within the confines of the mirror, breathing evenly as to not give up his surprise before its time. I closed my eyes and felt the softness of the thin chain slide across my neck and opened them in time to see my husband leaning into my ear to give me a kiss. “Beautiful,” he whispered. Looking in the mirror at my low-cut red dress, I had to agree with him.
“No time to waste,” he continued, walking briskly across the floor and adjusting his bow tie with a free hand. “Let’s get back to the kitchen and finish the casserole together before the guests arrive.”
“Guests?” I questioned, new information spawning from absolutely nowhere. “I thought it was just the usual for a Tuesday night? Louise?”
“Yes,” he smiled. “Louise and her date.”
“A date?” I asked, now more shocked than ever. Louise had never brought a man with her any of the times she had come to discuss business matters with my husband and delight in my casserole-cooking.
“Indeed. A date. Now let’s get back to that supper.”
We headed downstairs and passed the steel front doors that led to another new world outside. The smell of casserole baking in the oven had overtaken the lower floor in entirety and I sniffed the air like an animal following instinct. My husband still kept that same smile on his face as he put on mittens and opened the oven door, where more of the delicious smells wafted out and tossed themselves about between our nostrils.
“Greatest thing ever,” he whispered, staring back at me.
Just then, the doorbell rang. My head shot to alertness and I nearly ran off in a sprint to catch the door before I remembered my husband’s stern words from the week before: Always let me answer the door. At this time of night, you never know whom it could be, lurking out there.
As I poked a fork into the casserole and pulled out to check the temperature, my husband disappeared around the corner. Very soon, I heard his voice coming in a boisterous cry, “Oh, Louise, so nice to see you again as usual!” Upon hearing his words, I also disappeared around the same corner until Louise and her bright, smiling face came into view. She was particularly more well put together than usual, which was saying a lot because Louise was always so beautifully quaint. Her looks made me somewhat nervous, put off, and jealous as I watched my husband sometimes eye her for a quick glance across the dinner table and pretend as if it had never happened. Louise was much older, more well-built if you know what I mean, and had these luscious lips that my own could never compare to. But at the same time, she had a disinterest in my husband or else she would have already made a move.
“Shiloh,” Louise said to me and wrapped me in a hug, and then she moved out of the way to redirect our eyes to the person standing behind her. There, maybe just a few years older than me, was Louise’s date. I’d never seen a more nervous look on a guy’s face as he scuttled out of view, almost in a dance to avoid coming inside.
“Come on, Tyler,” Louise said in a forceful voice, her smile fading for a second as if she were talking to a disobedient animal.
My husband and I shot a glance at one another, unsure of the state of our unlikely dinner guest and wondering where exactly this was headed or what she loved most about this sudden date.
Dinner continued as per usual aside from the awkwardness of Louise’s date and his refusal to even so much as pick at the food. He had this look of pure fear written across his face as if even taking a bit off of his fork would poison him right then and there. And that wasn’t all – if the conversation was directed at him in any way, his eyes would hollow out and he’d glance around nervously until Louise helped him with the answer he was looking for. I still couldn’t place my finger on it or what she possibly saw in him.
Suddenly, my husband asked Louise if she wanted to discuss business in the den and left me in the kitchen to clean up the dishes and start washing everything. The guy who we came to know was named Tyler, glanced around as nervously before and I noticed that his leg was tapping the table up and down in place. He shuffled his fingers in a swirling motion but never took his eyes from me but for a second. A rising feeling in my stomach told me that I didn’t want to be alone in the same room as this guy.
“What’s your problem, anyway?” I said outright in reaction to his bizarre ways. As if I had offended him in the worst way, he raised his eyebrows at me and his eyes darted out of his head.
“What’s my problem? What’s the problem with all of you?” And then for the first time, he lowered his head and blushed a bit in defense. His question stunned me and I lowered the plate in my hands to walk across the room and sit across from him at the kitchen table.
“All of us? You’re the one acting so damn weird.”
“Look – I don’t care if you agree or not, but I have to get out of here and you can either come with me or spend your life here, being miserable.”
“Being miserable?!” I whispered harshly. “I have everything here.”
“And you have no idea what lies outside,” he whispered back in my face, sending my emotions astray.
After he had my attention, Tyler and I stood by the kitchen doorway and listened to the snickering and conversations being exchanged amongst the two sitting in the den. My husband would talk in a low voice about something and then Louise would react with a full, hearty laugh. I never understood why I wasn’t allowed to sit through their business meetings – if I was such a huge contributor to his life and was his only family, why was Louise the one out there making him laugh? Suddenly I was boiling with a fury I hadn’t known was inside me until Tyler came along and showed me that there was indeed more waiting for me. And that this… this couldn’t be everything.
“Look,” said Tyler, instructing. “Fill up the other side of the sink as if you’re doing more dishes. And let it run…and then follow me.”
“Okay,” I replied as I did what I was told. My heart was racing a mile a minute. I followed Tyler through the back way of the kitchen so we wouldn’t pass through the living room, and back the hallway to the back of the first story floor of the house. When we got there, I wasn’t sure what Tyler expected but the door was bolted and I was unable to help us through – my husband was the only one obtaining a key to open it. He looked at me in question with his shoulders raised and I replied, “Over here. It’s the bathroom window.”
As we scurried into the bathroom and so slowly pried open the window, I heard my husband’s voice from the living room. “Everything okay with the dishes, honey?”
Tyler pushed me through onto the soft, muddy ground and we rolled out into the night.
We ran and we ran until we hit the forest line and then we ran some more, and I never heard voices calling back in my direction and I never asked questions along the way. There was too much air in my heavy chest and my breathing caused a certain erratic energy that scared me. We kept pushing for what felt like hours and probably was indeed.
Eventually, Tyler led us out of the forest on a path he recognized and we made it to a village full of houses, a small town like I had only seen before in books. With people out on lawns, and men arriving home from work for the day.
I ripped off the necklace my husband has given me and embraced Tyler in a hug, shocking him and nearly pushing him over. For some reason, this just felt right.
“Miss Shiloh was an exceptional case, wasn’t she?” the detective asked as he walked out of the room and stared through the screen at the girl, hand clasped tightly around Tyler’s.
“She doesn’t remember anything,” the head detective scoffed, a bit put off. “It’s not going to be easy, especially when her family runs in for the first time, screaming Ashley! Ashley! She’s going to be like, who is Ashley? All this will be new for her. She’s been gone for years.”
“That’s very true, but we have to get back on the road to rehabilitation. How old is she, anyway?”
“She’s eight years old,” the head detective replied as he lowered his head. “Only eight years old and forced into that life. She seems so much more mature. And she’s been with the guy for six years, stolen as a baby.”