4. Mr. Caruso
I walked up to the bedroom that Ellie slept in. Many times, I'd tried to move out of the bedroom that Geena and I shared, but Geena never let me. Whenever I tried, she threatened me. I thought she was probably afraid I'd turn Ellie against her.
Well, it was a little too late to worry about that.
I stood there in Ellie's room for awhile, just running my eyes over everything. From her tattered yellow teddy bear - the only one she owned - to her once-silky purple blanket, the room was in shambles. Yes, Ellie kept it decently clean, but nothing was nice. Nothing was new. Even the wallpaper was starting to get scratched off. Poor Ellie, having to live in this environment...
Dragging my hand along the wall, I found the spot where I measured Ellie's height every six months. I followed the height chart down to the bottom, when she'd been so little she could hardly bear to stand still long enough for me to measure her.
Yes, things had changed. Too quickly. But this time, they would change for the better.
I opened Ellie's clothes drawer to find a small collection of faded hand-me-downs. That was all we could afford - hand-me-downs and thrift store sales. I wondered if Ellie got teased for wearing outdated clothes. She probably did, but she was too sweet to tell us so.
Slamming the drawer shut, I let out a cry of frustration. I wanted to get Ellie and myself out, but how could I? How could a girl of only eighteen years provide for an eight-year-old, especially while being a fugitive?
Still, I refused to let myself give up. There had to be a way out.
The sound of people shouting reached my ears. Usually, I wouldn't have given it a second thought, but after this morning...there was no telling what would happen.
"Ellie!" I shouted.
"Ellie!" I screamed, voice more frantic this time. I heard Ellie's little feet pitter-patter against the tile floor as she came to the bottom of the stairs.
"Yeah, Katsie?" Ellie asked, ever the timid one.
"I want you to come upstairs," I said. Ellie didn't need to be told twice. Once we were in her room, I closed the door. "Ellie, if we decided to go on a vacation for a few weeks, what would you take with you?"
Ellie shrugged. "I dunno."
"No, Ellie, think. Please, think. We might be going on a vacation, and you need to be ready for it. What would you pack if we went away for a few weeks?"
Without another moment's delay, Ellie reached over and grabbed her teddy bear and her blankie. "I'd take Teddy and Blankie," she said with all the certainty of a child.
Some called Ellie childish for her age, but I couldn't blame her. All the goings on caused her to retreat into herself, subconsciously refusing to act her age. She still had all the fragility and sentimentality of someone a couple years younger. These things made me feel all the more protective of her. "Ellie, you know I love you."
"Then you know that whatever I do is for your own good."
Ellie nodded again.
"Oh, Ellie," I whispered, wanting to burst into tears but refusing to allow myself to do so. "In a little while, you and I are going to visit Mr. Caruso. Do you remember him? He has all the funny costumes."
Ellie's face lit up. "I can pretend to be a princess again!" she squealed, waving her arms happily.
The convenient thing was, not only did Mr. Mikhail Caruso have pretty costumes...he was also excellent with disguises and false identities.