11. Final PreparationsMature

11. Final Preparations

The little girl I saw standing before me was not my sweet little Ellie Thomas, but a stranger named Ella Edwards. Her appearance had been completely transformed - not only was her hair dyed brunette, but her glasses and her eyeliner made her look so much older.

"Does she have to wear eyeliner?" I asked Caruso, feeling that somehow, putting eyeliner on such a young girl was robbing her of just a little more innocence.

"Katie, I've seen a four-year-old in eyeliner," Caruso responded.

Reaching out to smooth back Ellie's - no, Ella's - hair, I tried to stifle a sob. How could this be my dear little sister?

James seemed to notice my distress, because he reached out and gave my shoulder a squeeze. Frowning, I pulled away. He didn't try to comfort me after that.

"Do we got to look like this every day?" Ellie asked, voice trembling.

I held her a little more tightly. "Yeah," I said. It was all I could say.

For the first time, Caruso's tone softened. "You look like a lady, Ella," he said, and I could tell that he was making an honest effort to make Ellie feel better.

Ellie offered Caruso a brave smile, then leaned into me. I stroked her hair and kissed her forehead. "Just you wait and see," I said. "We'll be just fine, sweetheart. We'll be just fine." Yeah, that's right, Katie. Just you wait and see. We'll be just fine.

Even though Caruso had already gone through the gist of what James and I must do in order to be safely hidden, he still looked worried. And for good reason! Was I really about to venture out into the unknown with a man who I'd barely even met? I didn't want to leave Caruso's house just yet, but when he patted my shoulder and said "It's time for you to leave," I knew there was no use resisting.

Picking up the belongings we'd packed, James, Ellie, and I exchanged a few numb goodbyes and thank-yous with Caruso before heading out to the car Caruso had supplied. Being the gentleman he was, James reached out to put my stuff in the trunk for me, but I refused. "I can do it myself," I muttered.

James knew better than to argue with me.

After helping Ellie get secure in the backseat, I took one last look at Caruso's place. So this was really it. I was really going to run away from here.

For a long time, I just stood there, trying to conjure up any good memories I remembered from my life here. But it was all to no avail - when had I ever been truly happy?

"Miss Edwards," James said, then blushed a brilliant shade of pink. "I mean, Mrs. Oromchi. Or, I mean, Katie."

I rolled my eyes. So my husband was a little-tongue tied. Ah, well. I was doing it for Ellie.

"Don't you think we ought to get going?"

James' voice was sympathetic, and I hated sympathy. Throwing open the door to the passenger's seat, I ignored James' apologetic face and sat down with a huff. I slammed the door shut and glanced into the backseat. "Are you doing okay back there, Ella?"

Ellie gave me a thumbs up. I'd never before realized how courageous she was, but in the middle of all this, she was being pretty strong.

I turned on the radio to some pop station and began to tap my foot to the beat. After only a few seconds, though, James turned the radio down. "I don't think that song's appropriate for them," he said.

I turned the volume back up. "I know how to take care of my own sister," I snapped.

James turned the volume down. "Yeah, and I know how to take care of my own daughter," he said. I was surprised at how obstinate he was being about the issue.

I threw my head back against the head restraint.

I was already ready to file for a divorce. 

The End

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