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And as always, some of God's beauty to jumpstart the day...
~ Chapter Ten ~
Arianna felt so tired. Her eyelids drooped and her head felt full of fur. It had been such a long day already. The arguing with her dad had to stop. She didn’t understand why he hated Justin so much. He was her champion. Her Superman.
How was baby Chance? Her heart ached. Tears of sorrow jumped to her eyes but she blinked them away. It was time to be a big girl now. This wasn’t going to get resolved by her crying like a baby.
Her father’s voice invaded her private thoughts. She turned to him. “Yes Daddy?”
“We’re going to move you to a private facility. Somewhere safe.”
Arianna’s mother looked at him in surprise.
Already knowing her father’s main reason, she asked, “Why?”
“You’re not safe here.”
“No buts. It’s settled.”
She looked at him, twisting her lips in confusion. “But how could it be settled? You haven’t even talked to anyone yet.”
“I don’t need to. My word is law.”
At his words, her body iced over, the cold so invading she could scarcely breathe. She thought back to so many occasions where ‘the monster’ had said the same exact phrase: My word is law. Why had Daddy said that? She looked at him in suspicion. With a braveness she didn’t feel, she said, “I have an idea.”
Her mother jumped in with a quick, hopeful, “What?”
Arianna turned to look at Justin, pleading with her eyes. “I could stay at Justin’s.”
His mouth fell open but to his credit he didn’t object. Arianna had been sheltered in a way, but she knew male interest when she saw it. She’d experienced it with him so many times it wasn’t funny. She’d even used it against him to get what she wanted. Shame filled her at the thought. But the truth was he’d had no intention of letting her go and she had to have some kind of bargaining chip. That’s how she’d ended up with baby Chance. She felt the tender smile as it spread across her face. Her heart yearned for him in a way she’d never experienced. She needed him. She looked at Justin.
Justin gave her a quizzical smile. “Are you okay, Arianna?”
She jumped a bit, not expecting him to speak. “y…yes. Why?”
He gave her a gentle smile. “You seem preoccupied.”
Heart pounding against her chest, she smiled. She was falling in love with him. But was it from gratitude, or real attraction? She shrugged. It didn’t matter, did it? “I’m missing the baby.”
The look he gave her was fierce and earnest. “We’ll find him.”
It was funny how they could have a conversation even while her parents argued in the background. It was like they weren’t even part of her real world, anymore. She smiled once more. That could be a good thing, and a bad one. She laid a hand on his as it lay on the rail of her bed. “I know we will. I just yearn for him so bad.” The tears she’d been holding in broke free and rolled down her face. “But I want him now.”
Justin bent over and pulled her upper body in for a hug. “I know, Honey. I know.”
A noise behind him alerted Justin to the fact her father had stood up.
The cold, hard words were expected, and Justin had been waiting for them. “Get your hands off my daughter, boy.”
He gently laid her back on the mattress and turned toward the older man. “I was just comforting her. Something you should’ve already been doing. She’s been through a traumatic experience. She is physically and emotionally spent. She needs her family’s love, not condemnation.”
Her mother nodded her head emphatically in agreement.
If possible, Arianna’s father’s look got even darker. “Don’t tell me what you think I need to do for my own daughter. How many kids do you have, young man?”
Justin took a deep breath and blew it out, calming himself. “I don’t have to have children to know what to do when something bad happens. Children, of all ages, want the same thing when they are hurt or scared. They want love.”
Her father snorted in disgust. “Whatever. We’re still moving her to a private facility and you won’t know where to look for her. You will cease to be a problem.”
Justin’s blood ran cold at her father’s words. He really was going to keep them separated. He couldn’t let that happen. His heart already cried, even at the thought of losing her. She was his. What? He stopped to examine his thoughts. Was he going crazy? Maybe so, but he knew he wouldn’t let her go without a fight. He began to formulate a plan in his mind.
Arianna looked at him in exasperation.
Had she already called to him? He’d been lost in his plans. Would she go along with what he was thinking? He thought so. He smiled. “Did you say something?”
“Yes. I asked if I could stay at your place.”
He returned her smile with a million-watter of his own. “Of course. I have plenty of room for you.” But he knew he wouldn’t take her there. Her parents would find her…and he didn’t trust her Dad. Period. But his mom had a cabin up by Shadow Lake. It was the perfect place to hide until the madman was caught. But he knew he couldn’t take her up there un-chaperoned…unless…he grinned even bigger. His plan had just culminated in something he thought they’d both agree with. Marriage.
His head jerked at her raised voice. “I’m sorry. What did you say?”
Her tiny eyebrows furrowed. “I asked when we could go.”
He smiled at her cuteness. She definitely had to put on some weight, but she was beautiful. “I’m not sure. You still need medical attention… And then another thought popped into his mind; the nurse from earlier. If he could get her to come along and care for Arianna, they could most likely leave right away…
“All right Justin. I’m beginning to get the feeling you don’t want me to come stay with you.”
He jumped up. “That’s not true. I do. We just have to make sure you’re healthy. That’s the most important thing right now.”
She threw her father a sideways glance and whispered, “Besides Baby Chance.”
Justin pulled her hands into his. They were cold and clammy. “Exactly.”
Justin had been purposely ignoring her father’s anger, but he let loose with it, causing Arianna to jump in fear at his angry, hate-filled words. “You are not…I repeat, not, going anywhere with this bum. You do not know him, nor will you ‘get to know him.’ It’s out of the question. He isn’t even in the same category of someone we would think of allowing you to get to know.”
“Shut-up Arianna. I’ve spoken and that’s that. I’ll have the staff pack your things while I call the facility I have in mind. You’re going to love it. The service is a lot faster and the food a million times better.”
His dismissal was rude and overbearing. Justin couldn’t imagine having to grow-up in a house with someone like that. Poor Arianna. She’d been dealt a bum rap her whole life. How could someone like that even come to God?
Arianna didn’t say anything else, but gave Justin a look. He tried to convey the need for a private talk but didn’t know if she understood it.
She turned to her mother. “Mom, could you and Daddy go down and get me something to eat and drink? The doctor said earlier I was on a full diet but I wasn’t hungry at lunch so I didn’t eat what they brought.”
“Of course Dear. What would you like?”
“Oh I don’t know. Meatloaf sounds good.” She turned t o Justin. “What do you want?”
“Nonsense. Mom will buy for you, too.”
“Just a salad then.”
Her father turned and snorted in derision. “A salad? It figures. No wonder you’re no bigger than a twig.” His hands came to rest on his generous gut and Arianna and Justin both laughed.
Arianna’s mother looked over at her husband. “Just leave the boy alone. He hasn’t done anything to you and he’s trying to help our daughter. My goodness, I don’t know what’s hot into you.”
Her Dad grabbed her mom’s arm. “Fine, let’s go.” He propelled her out of the room.
Justin breathed a deep sigh of relief.
“I have an idea, but we only have a few minutes to execute it.”
She laid her hands on top of his. “Tell me.”
“My mom has a cabin up near Shadow Lake. We can go there. I won’t take you to my apartment because your dad would just find us.” He looked at Arianna, used his fingers to gently nudge her face to look into his. “But there’s a catch.”
Her eyes grew wide. Full of curiosity. “What?”
He dropped the bomb, not giving himself time to back out. “We have to get married.”
She screeched, “Married?”
The hurt that coursed through him was a surprise. Why did it hurt so much? It would be a marriage of convenience, not love. “It wouldn’t have to be permanent, but I am a Christian and I don’t feel it would be right to take you away to a cabin on the lake without being married.”
She seemed to be thinking it over. Slowly, she began to nod. “Yes, I think you’re right. That will work. Yes, I will marry you.”
And just like that, Justin got engaged.