"I'm sorry it's not as good as what you're used to," he said.
"It wasn't bad."
He gave a soft chuckle. "I appreciate your saying so, but I'm aware of the quality of food you are used to at the Dollhouse."
"It was just food. Besides," she gave a slight shrug. She ran a fingertip along the edge of the kitchen island. "There's something rustic about this whole setup. How'd you find this place anyway?"
He'd washed and she'd dried the few dishes they'd dirtied eating the stew he'd made. The size of the crockpot meant that they'd probably be eating it for a couple of days. That was all right. On the run as they were they had to make do with what they had available to them.
Currently, they were sharing cups of hot chocolate. Luckily, the kitchen faced the woods so no one could see into the room and see them. The light above the stove was the only light they'd dared turn on. There wasn't another house for quite a ways and it was through thick trees and vegetation, but he wasn't taking the chance someone was out for a late night fishing excursion.
This cabin had been an afterthought, and probably hadn't been the smartest idea he'd come up with. Boyd had been so focused on getting Echo out of the Dollhouse he hadn't thought of what to do once he'd accomplished that feat. He supposed subconsciously he hadn't believed he'd actually succeed in getting her out.
Having to think fast on his feet, this place had come to mind. He'd been here at least a dozen times in his former life. Before he'd turned in his badge. Before the Dollhouse. He'd known where the spare key had been hidden. Of course, there'd been the chance it had been moved from its hiding spot it had been that long since Boyd had been here. If that had been the case, he would have inconspicuously broken a window and put in a call to have it fixed when they were leaving.
"It's a friend's."
"You don't think they'd look for you here?"
"No," he said. "Cliff would conveniently forget to mention this place."
"He would assume if I was hiding out here that I had a legitimate reason for doing so. And this place isn't in his name. It's in his wife's, passed onto her from her parents."
"I see. It's nice. Rustic yet comfortable."
"They don't use it often anymore so we should be safe for a little while anyway."
"Why don't they?"
She walked to the living room, one wall consisted of nothing but windows overlooking the lake. She wrapped an arm around her waist, resting her cup of hot chocolate on her arm. Despite the incredible view, he knew she was still paying attention.
"There was an accident some years ago now. Their son drowned in the lake," he said cautiously. He wasn't sure so close to her last assignment as a mother if this was a story he should tell.
"How awful," she said.
"It was. He was taking a nap and got out somehow. He knew how to swim, but they think he lost his footing on the rocks and fell. Someone suggested maybe he'd been sleepwalking, evidently he'd done that before that day."
"I can't even imagine."
"Cliff wasn't the same for a long time afterward."
She turned to look at him and he felt as if she were trying to see to his soul her gaze was so intense. Did she remember? He knew she remembered things, he just wasn't sure how much or what those memories entailed.
"Do they have other children?"
"No, at least not last I knew. I doubt that's changed, but imagine it could have."
"So, anyway," he said, finishing his own hot chocolate and rinsing the cup out. He cleared his throat, collecting his thoughts a little. Now that they were here, he wasn't quite sure what to do with her.
"There's hot water, electricity, and everything as you've seen. We just have to avoid using the lights when we're on this floor. We'll have to spend most of our time in the basement to avoid anyone happening by on the lake."
"But you plan on going fishing."
"I can do things and avoid being seen, Echo."
She gave a little smile. He wasn't sure what that meant. "There aren't many other houses on this lake."
"No," he said, trying to remember exactly how many there were. "I think there are seven others. Or eight. I can't remember. None of them live here full-time, but it's closing in on the time of year people will be opening up homes like this. Anyway, the landowners got together and bought up the land years ago."
"And they won't sell?"
"I suppose if one of the kids of one of the original owners wanted to they could, but I think it's understood that they'd offer to sell to those already here."
"Something like that."
"And we won't get noticed?"
"If we stay close to the house we should be fine. That's why we stopped in the last larger town to grocery shop. It was large enough that we wouldn't stand out, close enough that the cooler would keep the perishables from spoiling."
"That makes sense. You thought of everything."
"I hope so, because I'm hoping we can stay here for long enough to drop off the radar."
"And then where?"
"I don't know. I hadn't really thought that far. You have a home somewhere…"
"No, I don't. She does, that's not me anymore."
"Well, we can work through that. For now, we'll focus on here and now, staying unnoticed. The basement isn't a cement dungeon. It's furnished as you saw," he said, indicating the brief trip they'd made downstairs to drop their personal things off. "There's a TV and pool table down there. It's just eating we'll have to do up here."
"You're taking a risk."
"Don't lie to me! I don't know who I am or what I'm supposed to be."
She held her hands to her head and shook it as if she was trying to force a memory into place or something.
"But I know that I can trust you. So, please don't lie to me."
"I just meant I couldn't let them do that to you, Echo. I realized with your last assignment there's nothing they won't try. Topher doesn't see you as a person, he sees you as an object he can experiment his latest brilliant idea on. They made you think you'd actually had a child, Echo. That's just too much. They're messing with things that go far beyond the brain. And your headaches, I couldn't risk them getting any worse."
"You don't know for sure they would have."
"And I don't know for sure that they wouldn't."
"Why didn't you just tell them about them?"
"Because I don't know what they would have done to you! Put you in the Attic? Released you from your contract? Experimented on you some more to see if they could wipe the ability to feel pain from you?"
"What about the others?"
"I'm only one person, Echo. I can only do so much. My first thought was of you. To get you out of there."
"Thank you," she whispered.
He cleared his throat.
"You're welcome. The fact that you're as aware of what's going on around you at the moment tells me that I made the right choice. Most actives in their doll-state wouldn't really recognize what I'm doing is dangerous."
"Isn't that what I'm in now?"
"Yes. No. It's confusing. You had all of your imprints slammed into your head so I'm not sure who or what is in charge at the moment."
"I'm just me. I mean, I feel them, but none of them are right. They don't fit."
"I just know that what you are now, living as you are now is better than the life Miss Delray has."
She walked to the kitchen, rinsing her cup just as he had and then crossed the room again toward the stairs leading to the basement.
"Are you coming?"
"I'll be there in a bit. I'm going to double check the locks and everything are in place."
"You're lucky your friend doesn't have an alarm on this place."
"We are. I'd thought of that, but I honestly didn't know where else to go once I realized we were actually getting away."
She gave him a little smile. "Good night then."
"Good night, Echo," he said solemnly.
He had no idea if what he was doing was right, but he didn't see much choice. From what he could ascertain, it seemed the Dollhouse was playing Russian Roulette with the health of their actives.
He did a check of the perimeter outside. The woods worked both for and against them. No one could see into the house except from the lake, but unless they had a high-powered telescope or binoculars they'd be okay. The cabin was far enough away from the road he should hear someone approaching. Fortunately, Cliff's garage had an automatic door opener and no windows in the portion of the garage where vehicles were stored.
As they had no reason to leave the cabin via the driveway, he had set up a couple of tripwires. They wouldn't be more than a deterrent, but he'd hear a body fall if they came on foot.
Back inside, he double-checked the locks on the windows and doors. Satisfied they were as secure as they could be for the night, he poured himself a short glass of brandy. He'd checked on Echo while in the basement and she was asleep. He didn't know how soundly she'd sleep without the aid of whatever the Dollhouse pumped into the actives' sleeping chambers. She'd slept some in the car, but that didn't really give him an answer. Once he'd dumped his car and paid cash for a used one he'd driven straight through so this was the first night she'd be sleeping in something other than her pod.
He finished off the brandy, figuring it'd help him sleep. Not that he needed the aid. He hadn't slept since leaving LA going on over a day now. He imagined he'd sleep like a rock tonight.
There were things on his mind. They'd gotten out of LA, but there were more steps to take before he would feel well and truly safe. If he ever would again. He knew, for one, while here he'd have to look into another vehicle. Just to put even more distance between them and LA. Chances were, he'd be able to find a better car for less money. Not that money was really an issue, he'd taken every penny out of his account before leaving. There'd been a good amount in there. Eventually, he'd have to find work, but they wouldn't be hurting for the basic things while they found someplace to settle.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com