I clasp my hands in front of myself, and arch an eyebrow.
“I’m not going into town alone this time. It’s a long, arduous ride, and I’m gonna take one of them to talk to me and help me stay awake on the way back.”
My chest begins to constrict.
This is our chance.
If he takes one of the children, they’ll more than likely become so enamored with what they see that they might slip up about never leaving the house. They might tell someone where we are, and if someone, anyone, comes to look for us, I might be brave enough to tell them what kind of man Dad really is.
“Okay,” I say quietly. “Do you want me to get Richter or Skylar ready?”
Dad gives me a shit-eating grin as he slowly shakes his head. It’s like a punch in the gut now that I understand. He won’t take either of them because they would be the ones to ask questions and maybe say more than they should. Even though they don’t know what I’ve been through, they know that I’ve been in the oubliette, and they know that’s wrong.
Cleo doesn’t understand as much as they do and she’s so desperate to please her father, that she’ll do anything he tells her to.
“What if I say no?” I question, defiantly raising my chin and trying my best to not look like I’m about to burst into tears.
“You know damn well that I’m going to take her anyway. And if you start mouthing off to me, you’ll go back down into the fucking ground until I feel like seeing you again. Do you really want to leave those kids alone with dear ole Dad?” he asks with a sinister smirk appearing on his face.
I don’t let my chin drop.
I square my shoulders.
I do my best not to cry, but his threats are usually worse than his actions. He uses them to control me because he knows that those kids mean more to me than he does.
He’s jealous, and because of that, he’ll do what he has to in order to be the primary recipient of my affections.
“Now go on in there and tell her to come out,” he commands with a nod. “I’ll help her with her coat, and we’ll be back in no time.”
“Promise me that you won’t hurt her,” I say quietly. I look up into his golden-brown eyes. I drink in his amusement and frustration at being questioned, and I look hopelessly for the father that I know he can sometimes be.
The caring, doting father that wants to do right by his children without causing them any harm.
“Scout’s honor,” he finally says with a chuckle. “Now be a good mommy and explain to her that she’s coming with me. I don’t want to have her blubbering the entire time thinking she’s done something wrong.”
I push my hair behind my ears. I hold his gaze for a moment longer, and when he finally softens some, I turn my back to him and go into the dining room. I know that Richter will be upset that he doesn’t get to spend time with his father, and I know that Skylar will more than likely feel a little twinge of jealousy that Dad “picked” Cleo over her.
I wonder if this is how Jocelyn felt, I think as I sit down in my chair next to Cleo and pull her into my lap. I hold her tightly as I run my hand over her hair and give her the news that she’ll be going into town to help her daddy. I make her promise me that she’ll stay by his side and not wander off because of how sad I would be if something happened to her.
Once I’m sure she understands, once I admonish the other two over their blatant jealousy of not being “picked”, I put Cleo on her feet and walk her into the foyer where Dad is waiting.
“You wanna go to town with Daddy?” he asks her, getting down on one knee with her coat in his hands.
“Yes, please,” she replies excitedly.
He nods and clears his throat as he helps her into her coat, then zips it up to her neck, giving the tip of her nose a gentle tap with the tip of his finger. She blushes a very innocent shade of crimson and giggles. My heart feels like it’s breaking but I do my best to contain myself because he promised me.
“Alright,” he finally says as he gets to his feet and picks Cleo up, securing her in his arms. “Tell your Momma, good-bye now.”
“Bye, Momma!” she says excitedly.
“Good-bye, baby,” I reply, my voice barely above a whisper.
“We’ll be back,” Dad says with a nod as he opens the front door and walks out of the house. Cleo turns her head, glancing at me over his shoulder, and waves with a big smile on her face.
I raise my hand and return the wave briefly, wondering how it is that I had it in me to willingly let her go with him.
The night air is cool, and I’m not dressed to be out here, but I haven’t been able to sleep. After Dad and Cleo left, I had Richter and Skylar clear the table, then sent them straight to bed because I didn’t want them to see the absolute panic that had settled over me.