Eve had seen the truth about Walt, had known the kind of man he was, and she would have never had contact with her mother or Walt—Walt wouldn’t have allowed it—if it hadn’t been for Travis’s phone call to Eve. His plea for help and his suspicions concerning Walt and his intentions toward Cammie. Suspicions that Eve took very seriously, because she knew.
She should have taken more time to develop a plan, thought out their escape better. But she’d been too desperate to remove Cammie from a dangerous situation to take the time to formulate a better plan. And so they were still running.
“We’ll stop in Memphis long enough for me to pawn it,” she said. “Then we’ll take another bus into Mississippi. We’ll need a place to live. Somewhere that Cammie isn’t exposed like she is now. She needs to get better. Have good food to eat and a dry place to sleep.”
On cue, raindrops sounded on the tin roof and Eve glanced up, grimacing.
“I’ll finish packing, Trav. You go make sure Cammie stays dry, okay?”
Travis exited the tiny bedroom and went to see to his sister while Eve finished stuffing their belongings into the suitcase.
When she was done, she dragged the full suitcase into the living room and then took the empty one into the kitchen and began packing the food that Donovan had brought over. The roof had already started leaking and small puddles were forming on the floor. Hopefully the rain wouldn’t last long and they could leave as soon as possible.
A loud boom sounded, shaking the entire trailer. Cammie let out a startled shriek and Eve flinched. Her gaze flew to where Travis was holding Cammie on the couch, his arms wrapped around her to shield her from the leaks. Two more lightning flashes illuminated the dark interior of the trailer before the thunder sounded again, right on their heels.
“I’m scared, Evie,” Cammie said in a faltering voice.
Her thumb slid into her mouth as Travis comforted her.
“It will be all right, darling,” Eve said with a smile. “Trav won’t let anything hurt you.”
Thunderstorms certainly weren’t anything new. The entire two weeks they’d lived here, they’d had many afternoon storms. By the time the trailer dried out from one storm, another would roll through, making the interior musty and dank from mold and mildew.
They had to find a better place to live. For Cammie’s sake. She’d never get well in these living conditions. It only hardened Eve’s resolve to pawn her mother’s jewelry so they could afford better accommodations. It was what she should have done from the beginning. Only fear of discovery had prevented her from the desperate act.
But now she realized she should have pawned it much earlier. When they were still on the West Coast. That way there would be nothing pointing Walt—or the police—in their direction. Live and learn. It wasn’t as if she was an expert on being a fugitive. She’d pawn it in Memphis and then relocate to Mississippi as fast as possible and as far away as possible from Tennessee.
She finished packing the food, cramming everything possible inside the suitcase. Then she took one of the bottles of Pedialyte and one of the snacks she’d left out for Cammie over to the couch.
She sat next to Travis, who had Cammie perched on his lap and nestled against his chest.
“Are you hungry?” Eve asked. “You should probably try to get some fluids down and maybe something to eat before we leave.”
Cammie’s thumb slid farther into her mouth and she stared at Eve with wide eyes. “Where are we going, Evie?”
Eve slid a reassuring hand down Cammie’s leg as she extended the bottle. Travis snagged it from Eve’s grasp and put it to Cammie’s lips for her to drink.
“I think toward Jackson. It may take us a few days to get there, but once there, we can buy bus tickets to Memphis. When we get to Memphis, I’ll sell Mom’s jewelry so we can afford a nicer place to live and bus tickets to the next place. The next few days will be the hardest, but if we stick together, we can do anything.”
Travis smiled at Eve’s statement, and even Cammie nodded solemnly. Eve smiled back and then extended her hand, palm down, in front of Travis and Cammie. Travis slid his hand over Eve’s and then Cammie put her free hand on top. Then Eve put her hand over Cammie’s, sandwiching hers and Travis’s between Eve’s. It was a gesture of solidarity that had become familiar to them over the last while. Eve had begun it as a way to reassure Cammie that they were family and that Eve would never leave them.
“Together,” Travis said quietly.
“Together,” Cammie said in a fervent voice. “We’ll always be together, won’t we, Evie?”
Eve reached for Cammie, pulling her warm body into her arms. She hugged her close, giving her a squeeze. “Yes, darling. We’ll always be together. I promise you that.”
It was hard to promise her younger sister something Eve had no way of controlling. But if intent counted for anything, then they’d be together forever. Safe. Away from their father.
“I want you to promise me something,” Eve said in a serious voice. She stared over at Travis and then down at Cammie. “I want you both to promise me.”
“Anything,” Travis said.
Cammie nodded her agreement.
The words knotted in Eve’s throat. She didn’t even want to contemplate what she was about to say, but it had to be considered. And she wanted to make certain that Travis and Cammie knew what to do if the worst happened.
“If something happens to me . . .”
Cammie immediately went rigid in Eve’s arms, and Eve closed her eyes in regret over upsetting her baby sister. But she couldn’t afford not to prepare for the worst-case scenario. Travis’s and Cammie’s lives depended on it.
“Listen to me, darling. If something happens to me. If the police find me or if your father discovers us, you have to promise me that you’ll go with Travis and do what he tells you to.”
Her gaze lifted to Travis to see the torment in his eyes. The reality that what she was saying could very well come true.
“If something happens to me, you take Cammie and you run. Stay on the move. Do not worry about me.”
“I can’t do that, Evie,” Travis said hoarsely. “You’d never leave us. We can’t leave you.”
Eve shook her head emphatically. “Promise me, Trav. You have to protect Cammie. And yourself. That means you keep her away from Walt. Whatever it takes, you keep her safe and keep running.”
Travis closed his eyes and bowed his head in resignation. “I promise.”
Feeling only marginally better now that she had his promise, she shifted Cammie in her arms and took the drink from Travis’s hand to make Cammie sip more.
“You should eat something too,” she said quietly to Travis. “I left enough out on the counter to make sandwiches. There’s even pop in the refrigerator, thanks to Donovan. Eat now while we have time. We may not have that luxury over the next few days.”
Still, Travis hesitated. It broke Eve’s heart that he often went hungry and without because he placed Cammie’s—and Eve’s—needs above his own. He of all of them needed regular meals. In the last year, he’d hit an enormous growth spurt, going from an average height of five foot six to nearly six feet. And it was obvious that he was undernourished. His tall, lanky frame showed his thinness. With adequate nourishment, he’d be a broad, much thicker . . . man. It was hard to envision him as an adult, but in fact, he’d been forced to grow up and mature much too fast. He had knowledge and experience of the evil in the world that most adults never gained.
If it was the last thing Eve did, she was going to ensure that they had a good place to live, or at least an adequate place, and food so Travis and Cammie ate regularly. Even if it meant going without herself.
“Eat,” Eve prompted gently. “There wasn’t room to pack it all anyway. No sense in it going to waste. Eat as much as you can stomach because as I said, we’re going to be on the move for the next several days, and we’ll have to eat when we can and sparingly so we stretch the food as far as possible before we have to buy more.”
“Do you want anything?” Travis asked as he rose.
Eve started to shake her head. The thought of food made her nauseated when her thoughts were in turmoil over what they faced for the next days. But she also knew that she couldn’t very well convince Travis of his need to eat if she refused to eat herself.
She forced a smile in Travis’s direction. “That would be nice. Just make me a sandwich. There are two cans of pop left in the fridge that I couldn’t fit in the suitcase. Why don’t we drink those before we head out?”
There was still enough of a boy in Travis to be happy over the “treat” offered to him. Her heart ached at the idea that something as simple as a sandwich and a can of soda would be a luxury often denied them.
“What do you want on yours?” Travis asked as he headed toward the kitchen.
“Oh, one of everything,” Eve said with a smile. “We may as well splurge tonight since we can’t bring the rest of the food with us. Cammie, what about you, darling? Are you feeling up to eating something more than the crackers you’ve been nibbling on?”
“Can I have another grilled cheese?” Cammie asked around her thumb.
“You betcha,” Travis said with an indulgent smile. “I’ll heat the pan while I make my and Evie’s sandwiches. Then we’ll all eat together on the couch and wait for the storm to pass. That sound good?”
Cammie nodded vigorously.
“Trav, make sure you eat plenty,” Eve reminded. “Don’t waste it, and you need to eat good.”
He grinned. “Don’t have to persuade me. I’m starving!”
Eve sat back, savoring the brief moment of normalcy. It was easy to pretend that they weren’t in a run-down trailer living hand to mouth or in constant fear of discovery. For the space of a few stolen minutes, they could be a typical family enjoying something as simple as a meal together.
Eve committed the moment to memory, knowing that the coming days would bring them uncertainty and upheaval. And she prayed for the strength not only to survive but to be strong for her siblings. They needed her. She was the only constant in their lives and they were the only constants in hers.
EVE roused from sleep and panicked as she realized that they’d all fallen asleep on the couch after eating. Travis was leaned over against the arm, his head lolled to the side. Cammie was nestled in Eve’s arms and draped across Eve’s body.
She lifted her watch but couldn’t see the time in the darkness. At least it was still dark and they hadn’t slept through the night. She strained to listen for the sounds of rain, but quiet had descended. It was almost eerily quiet. No sounds of frogs or crickets that usually permeated the night.
The air was thick, the humidity so thick it was hard to breathe. She shifted, trying to get a better look at her watch. Cammie stirred in her arms and Eve carefully laid her to the side before reaching for Travis’s arm.
“Trav. Trav,” she said a little louder. “We have to get up and get moving. It’s stopped raining and I don’t know how long we slept.”
After eating their meal, they’d relaxed, listening to the rain beat against the tin roof and the wind rattling the windows in the trailer. Realizing the storm wasn’t just a brief cloudburst of rain, Eve had suggested they try to get in a little sleep. She hadn’t intended to drift off, though. She’d wanted Cammie and Travis to rest for the trip ahead and the long days of walking, but she’d wanted to limit it to an hour at the most.
Travis stirred and then immediately sat up, his hand going to Eve’s.
“Sorry, Evie. I shouldn’t have fallen asleep like that,” he said in a regretful tone.
“Shhh, you needed it,” she said. “But if you can help me with Cammie, we can be on our way. She needs her shoes and the shorts and T-shirt you laid out for her.”
Travis got up and reached for Cammie, who was still half asleep. She muttered a drowsy protest but clung to Travis’s neck as he carried her to the bedroom to get her ready.
Eve stood, pushing away the heavy veil of fatigue as she mentally prepared herself for what lay ahead. No matter that they’d led this life for the past several months, she still wasn’t used to it. She still couldn’t shake the fear that uncertainty brought. She was in way over her head. She wasn’t qualified for this, but then who was?
She stretched and then did a quick check to make sure they weren’t forgetting anything important. Her mother’s jewelry was secure in the suitcase. Eve’s wallet with their precious hoard of cash was on the counter, and she shoved it into the backpack, where she’d also put drinks for Cammie and a few of the individually packaged snacks that Donovan had brought.
Donovan’s face flashed in her mind, making her pause. Indecision flickered and she shoved it away. She couldn’t afford to second-guess herself. Not now.