Fighting to be free, p.26
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       Fighting to Be Free, p.26

         Part #1 of Fighting to Be Free series by Kirsty Moseley
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  She nodded vigorously. “Yeah. It’s a dream of mine to take a boat trip up the Nile, climb to the top of the Eiffel Tower, swim with dolphins in a crystal-clear ocean, shop in Milan. I’d love to do that.”

  I gulped, about to make an offer that could shape our lives together. “I’ll make you a deal.”

  She raised a curious eyebrow. “What kind of deal?”

  “Take a gap year. Travel with me when you finish high school. We’ll go do everything you’ve just said and more. Then, after about six months, we come back and you apply to study fashion in college in the fall. Deal?”

  “You want to go traveling with me? You’re serious?” Her eyes were wide with excitement. I nodded in confirmation. “Really? Really, really?”

  Laughing, I nodded. “Yeah, really, really.”

  “We can’t, though.” She said the words, but the excited smile remained on her face. “We can’t, can we? Not really.”

  I shrugged easily. “I have nothing tying me here. If you want to climb some crappy metal tower in France, then I want to, too,” I joked, laughing as she slapped my arm, giggling. “I’m being serious, though. Think about it: you and me, traveling the world. That sounds like a great idea to me.”

  She was chewing on her lip so hard that I was frightened she was going to bite it in half. Her eyes searched mine; indecision and wonder were both clear on her face. “Oh God, I’d love that,” she whispered.

  “Then we’ll do it. But when we come home, you have to apply to design school, or fashion school, or whatever it’s called. Deal?” I bargained. Excitement was building in my chest, thoughts of waking up in a different country with her, taking cheesy tourist photos of some of the world’s most famous landmarks. I would actually give anything for that. A new start, away from here, with her. Perfection.

  Her smile fell, replaced by a worried frown. “Jamie, I’m not good enough to go to fashion school. I’d get laughed right out of there!”

  I scoffed. “Ellie, I’ve seen two things that you’ve made—unless you’ve worn something else you designed?” She shook her head in response. “Right, well those two things are incredible. So beautiful. You need to do something with your talent. Have confidence and believe in yourself. I believe in you.”

  “Can’t we just do the traveling and not add school into the deal?”

  I smiled and shook my head slowly, brushing my nose up the side of hers. “No.”

  She kissed me then, a serious kiss; the force of it made me practically fall back against my windshield as she crushed herself to me. After a minute of kissing so fiercely that my lips were tingling, she pulled back to look at me; her eyes danced with excitement. “You’re being serious? Traveling for six months?”

  I nodded in confirmation. “Then school.”

  She chewed on her lip thoughtfully; I could practically see her mind whirling, thinking it through, weighing out the pros and cons. “Okay, I’ll apply, but if I don’t get in, then that’s the end of it. Agreed?” she bartered.

  I suddenly got so excited that I could barely keep still. Images flashed in my mind of her standing next to the Eiffel Tower, or her sunning herself in a bikini on some beach somewhere, and us wandering through little market towns together. “Agreed.” My hand tangled into the back of her hair, guiding her mouth to mine as she gave an excited squeal.

  * * *

  My phone rang just as we were getting out of the truck to go into the restaurant. Frowning, I looked at the caller ID. Brett.

  “Sorry, I gotta take this.” I smiled apologetically at Ellie. She nodded, leaning against the wall, waiting patiently. “Hey, Brett,” I answered as I put the phone to my ear, pacing away a few steps so that Ellie couldn’t hear the conversation.

  “Hey, Kid. How you doing? Get stuff sorted out with your girlfriend like I told you to?”

  “Uh, yeah,” I confirmed, knowing he was referring to my alibi.

  “That’s great; it shouldn’t be necessary, but it doesn’t hurt to be cautious. Everything’s going according to plan. The situation should be resolved soon. Shaun hasn’t talked about anything and Arthur, my lawyer, said that he should have him home by tonight. Apparently they have enough evidence to charge him, which is a pain, but we’ll deal with it. I’m confident that, with my resources, it won’t go to trial.”

  I breathed a sigh of relief that Shaun hadn’t squealed and fingered me in anything. “Awesome.”

  “Yeah. There is something you need to be aware of, though. Apparently they pulled Shaun’s phone log and your number came up as calling him around the time of the crash. Delete all your shit and ditch your phone, okay? You didn’t call Shaun at all, you were tucked up in bed with your girlfriend all night, understand?” he coached.

  Sweat coated my palms as I gripped the phone tighter. There was something, however small, connecting me and Shaun. Now that I had Ellie in on it, willing to lie for me, I needed to make sure nothing went wrong.

  “How do you know that?”

  “My lawyer keeps me informed about stuff.”

  “Right, well, thanks for letting me know. I’ll get rid of my cell right after this call,” I agreed.

  “I’ve already had a new one sent over to your place so we can keep in touch. It should be there now waiting for you. Take a few days off. Lie low and chill. I’ll keep you informed.”

  The phone felt like it weighed a hundred pounds in my hand as he disconnected. Quickly turning it off, I slipped off the case and pulled out the memory card, pushing it carefully into my pocket. It contained lots of photos of Ellie that I didn’t want to lose. After fiddling with the back for a few seconds, I managed to get the SIM card free—and then immediately snapped it in half. I’d owned the phone for only a month, but I didn’t hesitate in dropping it on the ground and stomping on it as hard as I could.

  “Jamie, what the heck are you doing?” Ellie gasped, rushing to my side.

  “I called Shaun on the boost last night, so I need a new phone and number,” I replied. Her eyes widened as I stamped on the pile of broken plastic and glass again for good measure. “Everything’s fine, I promise,” I assured her.

  She frowned. “Really?”

  I nodded. “Yep. He should be out tonight,” I replied, bending and picking up the mess before throwing it in the nearest trash can.

  She rubbed at her forehead and closed her eyes. “I’ll be glad when this is all over, and I can stop worrying so hard about you.”

  I forced a smile, wrapping my arms around her tightly, crushing her against my chest. “Stop worrying about me; you have more important things to worry about.”

  She winced. “My finals?”

  I shook my head. “You have nothing to worry about there, you’ll ace them all. I have every confidence in you.”

  “Aww,” she murmured, looking at me like I was the cutest puppy in the world. “Well, what then?”

  I kissed the tip of her nose. “Like what clothes you’re gonna pack for our trek around the world,” I teased.

  She made a little squealing sound and bounced on the spot. “Oh God, don’t even get me started on that. I’m already way too excited, and we have to wait two whole months. Plus, we have to break it to my mom first, too. I have a feeling she’s gonna freak out and tell me I can’t go or something.” She frowned. “I can see big fights happening in our near future.”

  CHAPTER 24

  ELLIE

  HIS HAND WAS too tight in mine; my fingers were starting to lose feeling. Squeezing back gently, I winced in his direction, nodding toward our intertwined hands, silently telling him to relax. Jamie smiled apologetically and loosened his death grip, moving my hand into his lap, tracing my knuckles with his thumb.

  My gaze flicked up to my parents, who were sitting opposite us on the other sofa. Both of them looked shocked. My mom’s shock was mingled with horror, my dad’s with worry.

  “So, let me get this straight. When you finish high school, you two are planning on traveling the world. That’s what you j
ust said, correct?” Mom asked incredulously.

  I nodded, trying to appear confident even though her hard eyes were burning into me. “Yeah, for six months,” I confirmed. “Or, well, until we’ve had enough and want to come home, but that will be the maximum, so that I can go to college next year.”

  At my answer, my mother made an angry scoffing noise in the back of her throat, and my dad sat back, running a hand through his hair. “I’ve always wanted to travel,” he mused.

  My mom gasped and slapped his chest with the back of her hand, her eyes flashing with anger. “Michael, we’re not allowing this!”

  My dad cocked his head to the side, looking at her. An amused smile played at the corners of his mouth as he said, “Ellie has your spirit and fight, Ruth; you honestly think that we’d be able to stop her from going? She’s an adult now; she can do what she wants.”

  I almost choked on air. I’m nothing like her, she’s a bitch!

  “Michael, seriously? Don’t you think it’s about time you stepped up and behaved more like a father should?” she snapped.

  His shoulders stiffened at that remark. “Don’t even think about questioning my parenting skills. You know I love my girls, all three of you. Just because I don’t rule with an iron fist like you do doesn’t mean I’m not a good father!” he practically growled. “You of all people should know what it feels like to be repressed by a parent, yet you’re doing the same thing now.”

  Whoa. Go, Dad! Dad one, Mom zero.

  Hurt flitted across her features. The anger immediately dissipated from his face as he reached out, placing a hand on her knee, squeezing gently. “I know you want the best for her, but what you need to realize is that sometimes the best things come from unexpected places,” he continued. “Happiness was all that mattered to us at their age, so you can’t begrudge Ellie the same thing.”

  Mom pouted some more, and I watched her curiously, wondering what he meant about having a repressive parent. My maternal grandparents lived on the other side of the country; we didn’t see them often. Thinking about it now, my mother never truly relaxed when we visited them. She always had to check and recheck her makeup, fussing over me and Kelsey to make sure we looked respectable enough before she knocked on their front door. My maternal grandfather was a little strict, quiet, reserved even. Had he been controlling of her when she was younger? Maybe it was a learned behavior, and she was the way she was because of him and her upbringing.

  My dad turned back to me and Jamie as we silently watched the exchange between them with interest. “So, how are you planning on paying for this trip?” he inquired.

  “Granddad’s inheritance money,” I answered at the same time that Jamie said, “I have enough money saved up.”

  My dad nodded, pursing his lips. “Okay, so Jamie can pay for himself, and you’re planning on using the money my dad left for you in his will, Ellie?” he clarified. I nodded, hoping he’d go for it. “What about when the money runs out?”

  “We’ll get jobs or something,” I replied quickly. Jamie made a little strangled noise from next to me, like he was going to speak. I squeezed his hand, urging him to remain quiet. I knew what he was thinking: He had enough money to pay for us both for six months without jobs.

  My dad nodded thoughtfully, turning his full attention to Jamie. The silence became uncomfortable as he seemed to be assessing Jamie’s aura or something. “I can trust you to look after her, can’t I?” he finally said.

  Jamie’s hand left mine, his arm snaking around my shoulder possessively. “Absolutely. No worries there at all,” he confirmed confidently.

  My dad stroked his chin, seeming to ponder it for a few seconds more. All three of us watched him—my mother included. “Okay, we’ll allow it,” he agreed.

  At his words, my mom gasped, her eyes widening. “Oh no! No chance, it’s not—”

  My dad cut her off quickly, his voice resonating with that firm tone that he’d used earlier. “I said we’ll allow it, Ruth.”

  Make that Dad two, Mom zero!

  Her mouth snapped shut, her teeth clicking together from the force of it. When no more protests left her lips, Dad smiled and bent forward, kissing her softly. “She’ll be fine with Jamie,” he whispered as he pulled back, cupping the side of her face with one hand. “You need to let go of her sometime.”

  I knew I should respect their soft and tender moment, but I was just too damned excited to sit still for a second longer. I sprang from the sofa, literally doing a little happy dance as I fist-pumped the air. My years of being a cheerleader wanted to surface in me as I struggled not to do a full-fledged cheer routine in the middle of my living room, including backflips and the splits.

  “This is gonna be awesome!” I practically screamed.

  Jamie laughed and gripped my hips, pulling me into his lap. I squealed excitedly and looked up at his face. He was grinning ecstatically, his eyes sparkling with happiness as he bent forward and kissed the tip of my nose. Telling them had gone a lot smoother than anticipated. We’d both been dreading this conversation with my parents for the last two weeks, since we’d first come up with the idea.

  “Now all we have to do is plan out where you want to go,” he said, stroking the side of my face.

  “England.”

  We both looked up, shocked because that answer had come from my mom. She smiled weakly, gripping my dad’s hand tightly, seeming to need the support.

  “England is somewhere I’ve always wanted to go. Maybe you could go there and send me some photos?” she continued.

  I gulped. Us traveling was obviously a big thing for her to concede on, and I needed to appreciate the gesture appropriately. “Sure. Maybe we could look on Google later, and you could show me some of the things that you wanted to see,” I suggested, not quite knowing how to connect with the woman after all this time of her being a standoffish parent.

  Her smile was pained as she nodded. I could see how much effort it took for her to let me go. Maybe all the time that I’d resented her controlling, bitchy nature, she’d actually been struggling to show me how she felt. Maybe control was how she showed affection. I didn’t know, but either way I was getting to go traveling with Jamie, so I didn’t really care how that came about.

  * * *

  As I stretched out on my bed, combing through my books, trying to study for my biology final, Kelsey sat next to me cutting out pictures of places that I wanted to go.

  “Tag ma hall? What’s that?” she asked, frowning at my list of things I needed to see.

  I laughed at her pronunciation. I was actually really going to miss her. “Taj Mahal,” I corrected. “It’s one of the seven wonders of the world. It’s a mausoleum an emperor had built in memory of his late wife,” I explained.

  Her nose crinkled in confusion. “What’s a mausoleum?”

  “It’s like a resting place for the dead. Her body is inside the Taj Mahal,” I replied, flicking through one of the travel brochures and finding a picture to show her.

  “So it’s basically like a grave?”

  “Kind of. But it’s also a symbol of the love that the emperor had for his wife. It took over twenty years to build. I would love for a guy to be so devoted to me that he would do that,” I gushed, raking my eyes over the picture of it.

  Kelsey nudged her shoulder against mine. “Jamie loves you that much.”

  Heat flooded my cheeks and my stomach fluttered at the mere mention of his name. “Maybe,” I allowed.

  She nodded confidently. “He does. He’s taking you to all of these places, so he must love you a lot.”

  Kelsey adored Jamie. He was great with her too, playing games with her, buying her candy and magazines, listening to her ramble on about school and never once showing he was bored.

  “He does,” I agreed. I still had no idea why he loved me, but I knew he did.

  “I’m gonna miss you both. I really can’t come? Not even for a week?” she begged, shooting me the Puss in Boots eyes.

  Kelsey h
ad been hanging around me constantly since I told her I was leaving. She was like my new shadow, wanting to be in my room all the time. Sometimes, like now, I didn’t mind because I could keep her distracted by getting her to do little menial things for my plans. Kelsey clipped out pictures to perfection, and she spent ages pinning them on the huge world map that I had stuck on my wall. The three of us had covered it with clippings, Post-it notes, and colored pins. It was a mess, but it made my heart race every time I looked at it. Even my mom had helped search for a few pictures to go on there.

  Other times, like when I wanted some alone time with my boyfriend, Kelsey was like a thorn in my side.

  As a result of her clinginess, I only really got peace and quiet when I was at Jamie’s place—but even then I used the time to study. I missed Jamie. I saw him every day, but what with everything going on and my finals approaching, I didn’t get to hang out with him and enjoy his company like I wanted to. Plus, he worked a lot. Weekends, nights, days; he was so busy that he was practically exhausting himself, too.

  Studying, planning our trip, sleeping, and eating. That was literally all my life consisted of right now.

 
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