When I’d walked out of my house with my backpack and suitcase—despite being upset about having to leave—I’d considered it kind of an adventure. I’d be able to travel. See the country, which was something I wouldn’t have had a chance to do otherwise. Gene and his church believed people should stay close to home and family, and traveling opened you up to being tempted. Same with the Internet, cell phones, and even TV. We’d had a TV because Mom had refused to give it up, but Gene monitored everything we watched.
I’d believed I would be able to see places and things I’d never even thought of before. The idea of being on the road had been exciting. I knew I’d have to be careful about who saw me and who I talked to, but I figured I’d still be able to enjoy traveling.
Now I found nothing enjoyable about it. I had nowhere safe to go. Some people who saw me would immediately think of me as prey. Others would see me as a girl, which might be the same thing.
When I reached my final destination, I would be safe. I knew it as strongly as I knew I was a guy. But I didn’t know where it was or when I’d get there.
“You’re zoning out on me,” Brent said. “Where did you come from today?”
“Some little town near Albuquerque.” I didn’t name the town because I couldn’t remember it.
“And you’re heading east. Do you even know where you’re going exactly?”
“Yes.” At least partway.
“And you aren’t going to tell me?”
He nodded. “I understand. Sort of. You don’t believe you can trust anyone, and I’m not going to try to make you trust me. You must trust me some, anyway, or you wouldn’t have asked me for help.”
“I trust you conditionally,” I said. “The condition is you don’t mess me over.”
“I won’t.” The corners of his mouth quirked. “I don’t think I’ve heard it phrased quite that way. Screw me over is more common.”
I shrugged. “Religious family. I learned to watch what I said.”
“The bus you need doesn’t leave until tomorrow morning,” he said. “And you think you should get out of here tonight. Right? I want to make sure I understand this.”
“Before there are too many questions from the police and the media,” I said. “No reporters have tried to talk to me so far, because I don’t think they realize I’m the guy who helped those kids, but it’s a matter of time before someone figures it out.”
“The police probably want you to stay to answer more questions.” He peered through the peephole in the door. “If it’s anything like on TV, they told you to stay in the area in case they need to talk to you again.”
“Or testify against the mother.” My chest tightened. He sounded as if he didn’t plan to help me after all. He wouldn’t go against the police to help some kid he didn’t even know. I couldn’t blame him. I wouldn’t want to either.
“How scary are the people you’re trying to avoid?”
I didn’t have a clue how to answer. If someone met Gene and his friends, they wouldn’t seem scary at all. They came across as good Christian men who served others and took care of their families.
Only the women and kids in the church knew how strict they were. How dangerous ignoring the church’s teachings or the rules the men made could be. We were supposed to respect and obey the men the same way we respected and obeyed God. If we went against the men, it was nearly as big a sin—and deserving of nearly as much punishment—as going against God. And that did make them kind of scary.