Dusk was settling over the small country town of New Brook as Calida entered its outer skirts. By this stage she could barely stand. The graze in her side ached and it had bled out onto her shirt; all of her ribs were bruised and a strong purple covered her chest, not to mention the handcuffs that were rubbing into her wrists. Calida's mouth was parched and her lips were cracking, as she couldn't work up any saliva to wet them. Her stomach was that empty that it felt like it was eating itself. Every muscle in her legs were cramping and her mind was dulled with sleep.
Calida knew it was best to find a place to settle and keep a low profile but her need for refreshments was more important. She did however take the back way to the nearest petrol station, not wanting to alert anyone to her presence before she had to. On reaching the back of the petrol station Calida walked around to the front and entered.
The place was small but clean. There was no one in the store besides a teenage boy about Calida's age manning the counter. A look of shock passed over his fair features. Calida guessed it wasn't everyday that he saw a young, red haired girl, as skinny as a rake, covered in dirt and blood and wearing handcuffs, enter on his shift.
Calida moved quickly between the three short shelves. She grabbed a handful of candy bars and a bottle of water. The young boy watched her in fascination as she dumped the things on the counter and began fumbling through the envelope. She paused.
"Uh?" The kid broke from his stupor and quickly scanned the items. "Five dollars and sixty cents", he stuttered.
Calida handed over a hundred-dollar bill - it was the smallest she had. He took the note cautiously and handed back the change. Calida speedily returned the money to the envelope and the envelope to her back pocket.
"Thanks", she mumbled and ran out the door.
As soon as she was around the corner Calida jumped behind some crates thrown in a heap against a wall and leant back into the shadows. Like a starved animal, Calida used her teeth to rip open a chocolate candy bar and stuffed half of it into her mouth. Her taste buds went wild as the chocolate hit her tongue. With immense will power Calida forced herself to chew slowly; she didn't want indigestion. Calida ate steadily through all of the candy. It wasn't terribly filling but it was good enough. She took a mouthful of water and then laid back down on the ground. With food and water in her stomach, Calida let the urge to fall asleep take over and she fell into a dreamless, peaceful sleep.
When Calida woke up the sun was shinning high in the sky. She moved slowly out of her curled up position and painfully stretched out her limbs. The skin around her graze pulled about it and the muscles in her legs were still tight from her walk. She grappled for the bottle of water and had another drink.
"Good morning Jacinta", she whispered, unsure of who was around.
Good morning, she replied. So are we going to contact Brian?
Calida's heart fluttered happily at the thought. "No. I want to get cleaned up first. Wow, I never thought I'd be saying this, but I don't want Dallas to worry over me. Did you see any toilets around here?"
Yeah. On the other side of the service station I saw a sign indicating to toilets.
Calida stood up slowly, testing each limb as she went. Taking her bottle of water, Calida moved out from behind the crates and skirted around the back of the shop to the other side. Just as Jacinta had guessed the toilets were there. Calida quickly rushed into the ladies.
The inside was pretty grubby and if Calida hadn't been in a similar state she might even have refused to step in there. However, she didn't waste anytime and rushed into a shower cubicle. Securing the door behind her, Calida took off only her pants, finding it difficult to take her top off still wearing handcuffs. She turned on the water and stepped under.
The water was freezing yet exactly what Calida needed. It seemed to both soothe her injuries and awaken her mind. She took her time and soaked every inch of her body, paying special attention to her graze. It didn't take long until Calida felt refreshed and as clean as she could possibly get under this circumstance. She turned off the water and stood patiently in the shower, letting herself drip-dry. After what Calida felt as long enough, she wrung out her shirt and slipped her jeans back on.
Calida then wandered out of the toilets and into the sunlight. Once her eyes adjusted Calida walked back to her place behind the crates. She sat down against the wall and had another drink.
Now? Jacinta asked, giving into her anticipation.
Calida breathed out slowly. "Yes, now."
Calida was sure that Jacinta was contacting Brian but still, she couldn't feel a thing. It was at this time that the doubt started setting in. What if Jacinta couldn't reach him? What would she do then? She had nowhere to go and no idea of where Lilley Valley was form here. Then she needed someone to tend to her graze and she also needed new clothes. All of that involved revealing herself to many suspicious questions about herself. That would definitely bring IGI running. Jacinta's voice was like that of an angel with God's message when she spoke. "I've got him."
Calida smiled and began to talk excitedly. "Tell him we're at the back of a service station in New Brook. Try and get him to send someone for us. Okay?"
There was more silence as Jacinta relayed the message. Calida crossed her fingers and prayed for something to work out for her.
It's done. Someone's coming.
Instantly there was a flash of light and Calida was face to face with the last person she expected to see. Justine. She looked absolutely gorgeous and Calida was immediately ashamed of the way she looked. Justine didn't seem to care. She quickly crossed the distance to Calida and gave her a big hug.
"Oh, Calida, it's good to see you safe!"
Calida felt her heart lift. "Really?"
"Yes, of course. Everyone's been so worried about you. When Dallas returned without you we feared the worst."
"Dallas- how is he?" Calida let the words spill from her mouth.
"Worried about you and dying to see you!"
"Then what are we waiting for?"
Justine laughed. "I have no idea, but lets get these cuffs off you first."
"I'm going to show you a little trick. Put your hands out. I'm going to hold onto the cuffs and I want you to make sure that none of your skin is touching them. Have you done that?" Calida nodded. "Good. Now watch."
Blinding white light began to emanate out of the metal of the handcuffs getting slowly stronger and brighter by the minute. It brightened to the point of such intensity that Calida had to look away. Then suddenly the light diminished and when Calida looked again the cuffs were gone.
"Wow! That is a neat trick. Where did the cuffs go?"
Justine laughed, "I don't know! I only mastered that skill recently."
Calida grinned happily. For the first time since she escaped, Calida was beginning to feel safe with Justine. She looked away.
"Calida? Are you ready to go now?" Justine asked quietly.
"Yes", she replied determinately.
Justine stretched out her hand and Calida took it gratefully. Calida felt herself being enclosed. The surroundings began to shrink until it was just a white spot behind her, leaving her in a pitch-black void. Then in front a small pinprick of light broke through. Calida felt like she wasn't moving at all. Instead the light began to grow larger coming closer and closer until Calida was sucked inside. Her feet hit solid ground and the light around her began to disperse itself. Calida blinked twice and took in the view.
She seemed to be in a broken down house. The walls were stained and the wallpaper was peeling in long sheets. It was dim inside and the small amount of light that crept through the cracks of the wooden slats against the windows wasn't near enough light needed. The ground was splinted wood, rotted away in some places and covered in dust. A broken wardrobe sat in the far corner of the room and a spring bed was pushed against the wall, it's mattress missing. Several boxes littered the room full of old magazines. Calida breathed in deeply and smelt the smoke from a fire. It was then that Calida spotted the flickering light of a fire radiating around the doorway to her right. Soft, whispered voices floated on the air her way and Calida listened hard.
"What happens if it was a trap?"
"It wasn't a trap."
"Then why isn't Justine here yet?"
"Look, I don't know. Just give her some more time."
Justine tugged lightly on her hand and Calida let her lead her towards the doorway. As Calida stepped into the room the voices were hushed and Calida beheld a sight that was extremely unexpected. Grouped around the fire were at least one hundred people. They were cramped tightly together, sitting, even laying on each other. Suddenly someone stood up and Calida knew that silhouetted figure immediately. The person moved quickly, stepping on several people but not caring. Instantly she was face to face with this person.
"Calida! I've missed you so much!" Dallas exclaimed wrapping her in a hug. "I love you."
Calida's heart fluttered at those three words. "I love you Dallas." She hugged him tighter, feeling with joy all that she thought she'd never feel again. Every inch of her longed to stay wrapped in his strong arms forever. Calida pulled back slowly and looked into his pupil-less eyes. She smiled, removing a strand of his long black hair from his face. Slowly she turned her lips to his, kissing him lightly. She ran her hands through his hair before pulling away. Calida watched happily as Dallas' face broke into a startling smile.
"Tell me everything Calida", Dallas said, moving her into the inner circle of the fire,
Calida sat down in a space made for her and looked at the faces around her. She spotted Amy, who waved and off to her right sat Chad and Charlie. Calida put her hand in her pocket, leaning over to Charlie. Out of her pocket she pulled his lucky silver coin and handed it back to him, mouthing 'thank you'. A big grin spilt his face. In all her life Calida had never felt as loved as she did just then. They were her family and everything she had.
"So tell us Calida, about you hair raising escape!" Chad dramatised.
And, so, for the next hour or so Calida told them all of her escapes and continued to answer any questions. However, she left out the part about the envelopes contents and when the question was raised about it Calida told them that it was a surprise and she'd tell them later. Finally she finished up her story and turned to look at everyone's faces. They all seemed rather stunned by the gravity of it all.
"What happened to you and Amy?" Calida asked Dallas.
Dallas shrugged. "It was nothing compared to you. We were blindfolded again and put into the back of the van once more. It was the same bumpy trip back and we were dumped at the same crossing. From there I called for Justine to come get us and we came here. I've spent the most of my time trying to locate you-"
"- Or moping", Chad cut in exasperatedly.
"Thank you for that Chad", Dallas replied playfully. "It was such a relief to hear from you." He lent over and kissed her again. "So what's in the envelope?" he nagged.
Calida smiled at her secret. "It contains a deed to a beach house, all mine and a couple of thousand dollars in cash." Charlie whistled appreciatively. "It can't be traced and Mr. Jackson won't be able to tell anyone."
"Will we all fit?" someone asked.
Calida chuckled. "If you can all fit in this tiny room, I'm sure you won't have too much trouble in a big beach house."
Dallas wrapped his arm around Calida's shoulders. "It sounds perfect. We're going home."
Finally Calida had what she always wanted: A Family.