Hidden in Shadow Pines (5 page)

BOOK: Hidden in Shadow Pines
2.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub


Thursday, August 8, 2013, 5:30 a.m.
(day 3 in Shadow Pines—in the bedroom)

At five-thirty in the morning, I lay in bed, staring at the ceiling, still living my nightmare in a bunny-filled, Pepto-Bismol-painted room. I switched to my right side. My purse sat on the nightstand. I was sure it hadn’t been there last night. Or had I been too weak to even notice?

Sitting up, I grabbed my purse, and dumped the contents on the bed. Someone had taken the foam pepper spray and pocketknife. Lifting the bottom black lining held down on all four sides with industrial-strength Velcro, I found my gun tucked in its black leather holster, a Glock 19, full magazine. Someone had either missed finding this, or left it as a test. Either way, having my gun gave me a slight confidence boost.

I organized the contents back in my purse, except for the pad and pen. I started writing a list of questions to ask Jaime, then jotted notes on what had happened the last two days. My mind was sharp this morning. I felt strong, determined.

I went into the bathroom to take a long, hot shower. The water running down my back felt good. The shampoo and conditioner in the shower were the brands I used. Someone had moved more things out of my house in Darden. Someone had brought me here without my consent, and yet everyone seemed to think I wanted to be here—that I’d stay in Shadow Pines. They were wrong. I didn’t want to be here, and I was going to get out of this town.

Grabbing my purse, pen and pad, I went downstairs. Jaime was in the kitchen mixing pancake batter.

“Need some help?” I asked, putting on my happy face.

“You look better today. Guess all the sleep was good for you.” Jaime handed me the bowl. “Stir this for a couple more minutes. I’ll get out the eggs.”

I stood at the island stirring the mixture. This was my first time in the kitchen. The oak cabinets paired well with the yellow walls and black granite countertops. The double sink angled in the corner gave a view of the backyard. A set of four, red-tinted glass canisters sat on the counter next to a lazy Susan full of spices.

Jaime snapped her fingers. “Isabella? Isabella?”

Breaking my trance, I said, “Sorry. Did you say something?”

“Would you like to make scrambled eggs?”

“Sure. I was admiring the nice kitchen you have.” Today, I was trying a different approach—being nice, acting as if I wanted to be in Shadow Pines so I could figure out why I’d been brought here. “I thought after breakfast we could go through the list of questions I have. I’d like to understand how things operate in Shadow Pines.”

Jaime smiled. “I’m so happy you have a positive attitude.”


Jaime and I sat on the couch, facing each other, our knees so close, I could easily kick her in the shin if I wanted. Grabbing my notepad and pen off the coffee table, I asked the first question on my list.

“Where is Shadow Pines? What city is it near?”

Jaime’s posture straightened as she smoothed her pink skirt with yellow polka dots. “Not too far from Darden. The name, Shadow Pines, only exists for the residents. People outside Shadow Pines believe this is a top-secret government facility. It’s how we keep trespassers out.”

I’d lived in Darden my whole life and never knew about this place. Shadow Pines’ secret was well kept. I tilted my head to the left, thinking that would help me make more sense of what I heard. “How is that possible?”

“Only one winding gravel road through a grove of trees runs in and out of town. There are several
do not enter
signs along the way. If someone is brave enough to ignore the signs, an electric gate operated by four guards turns people away before they have a chance to see the wall and a wrought-iron gate that signifies the entrance into Shadow Pines. A few town members have access to leave for supplies at any time.

“Occasionally, another resident can exit, usually for a medical condition too advanced for care at the clinic, but a town council member always accompanies the person. I’ve recently had to visit the Darden hospital on several occasions due to complications from a burst appendix. A few outside consultants in Darden are used to maintain our privacy. The residents communicate with each other by leaving letters at the postal center, or through our own town radio broadcast.”

Realizing I’d slouched forward, I sat back against the butterfly needlepoint pillow. “What about computers? The internet? Cell phones?”

Jaime took a sip of her chamomile tea. “I think the town council has a computer. We don’t have telephones. And I’ve never heard of an internet.”

Never heard of the internet and no cell phones.
Jaime didn’t even know how to use the terms correctly. I knew this was a strange town, but the lack of technology was mind boggling. This town made sure the citizens had no connections outside its boundaries.

Glancing at my paper, I asked the next question. “You said about 150 people live here. Where did they come from?”

“Well, thirty families created Shadow Pines. We’ve sustained our population since through marriages. A few new families have been allowed to enter and stay over the years, but vetting them for approval as residents is a long process. The family endures months of quarantine to make sure they’re ready to join Shadow Pines.”

My voice rose as I spoke. “But what about me? I didn’t go to quarantine.” I tried calming myself by crossing my arms and rubbing my elbows.

Jaime lowered her head. Without looking at me, she softly said, “I thought you knew. I thought the town council would have said something.”

Moving closer to Jaime, I leaned within inches of her face. “Knew what?”

Jaime took a deep breath. “That…your family lived here. Your father grew up here. He…he somehow escaped. The town council never found him.”

Our conversation had taken an unexpected turn. My stomach churned and my knee started to bounce. This time I couldn’t manage to stop it. “My father grew up in Michigan. He moved to Iowa after he and mom got married. You’re telling me that my father lied? And you expect me to believe you?”

Jaime nodded. “I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this. Your father was seventeen. One Saturday morning his mother went to get him out of bed so he wouldn’t be late for work, and he was gone.”

“That’s not true!” I stood, my fists clinched tight. I paced the length of the couch—back and forth.
This can’t be true. She’s making things up. Why would my father lie? But then, why would Jaime lie?
When I stopped pacing, I grabbed the back of the couch and stared at Jaime. Irritated, I asked, “How did he get out of Shadow Pines?”

Jaime stood, head down, hands clasped in front of her. “No one knows. It caused a big scandal.”

My mind went back to the clinic. Gloria mentioned that she knew my father. Was what Jaime was telling me the truth? Leaning against the couch, I asked, “How do you know I’m his daughter?”

Jaime stood her ground, finally looking at me. “Bernice Zaget, one of the extended council members, spotted you in Darden a few months ago. Apparently, you look just the way your grandma did at your age. Her name was Isabella, too. Our outside consultants researched your family history. They confirmed you belong here.”

Breaking Jaime’s stare, I slowly walked around the couch and sat. All I could do was look at my hands in my lap. “This can’t be happening. It doesn’t make any sense. Why would my father lie to me?”

Jaime sat next to me. “The town council told me that’s the reason you decided to move here. Because you’re a blood relative of one of the founding members.”

I was flabbergasted. “I didn’t decide to move here,” I said in a strong voice, refraining from shouting. “I was taken from my home and brought here without my consent.”

Jaime gasped, then grabbed my hands and held them tight. “You must never mention what you just told me to anyone. Never. Trust me.”

I let out a slight chuckle. “I’m supposed to trust you.”

“Please. If anyone found out another Luster family member didn’t want to be here, I’m not sure what would happen. Not everyone is pleased that you’ve joined our community. I’m afraid they would throw you in quarantine.”

I pulled my hands out of Jaime’s grasp and scooted to the end of the couch. “Fine. I won’t mention to anyone else I don’t want to stay.” Pausing for a moment while I rewound Jaime’s comments, I finally said, “First, you said I was a blood relative of a founding member. And then you called me by the last name Luster, not Retsul. So now I’m supposed to believe that my father even lied to me about our last name?”

Sheepishly, Jaime said, “Yes. Your father’s real name was Nicholas Luster.”

If Jaime was telling the truth, then not only had my father lied about his childhood, but he also lied about his family history. I began to wonder what other lies he’d told me.

I buried my face in my hands, rubbing my forehead with the tips of my fingers. I recapped my thoughts from this morning. No quarantine, resemblance to a Luster, brought here for a reason, Gloria knew my father, family history research. A lot of evidence indicated that Jaime was telling me the truth. As much as I hated to, I decided to believe her for now and go along with the story that I was part of the Luster bloodline.

I composed myself and sat straight, hands clasped in my lap. “You mentioned I look like my grandmother. Are my grandparents still alive?”

“No. I’m sorry. Your grandmother died of pneumonia in 1996. Your grandfather died in a house fire in 1997. So tragic. Bowman Stovall died in the fire trying to get your grandfather out. Both men were on the town council. Your grandmother used to babysit me occasionally when my parents had dinner parties. I remember we always baked sugar cookies when I went to her house.”

I shook my head. What she said stung more than I’d expected. I’d held out a slight glimmer of hope that I had grandparents. My father had told me his parents died in a boating accident. I never had the chance to know my real family.

“That’s why you’re special.” Jaime reached over and lightly patted my knee. “You’re the last member of the Luster family. The town assumes your father changed his name when he left Shadow Pines. That’s why the town could never find him.”

“The town tried to find him after he left?”

“He carried the town’s secrets with him. Shadow Pines would be destroyed if the outside world knew about us. He kept our secrets, or otherwise you would have known about the town.”

I closed my eyes and rubbed my forehead. Keeping secrets must be a family trait. I had my own secret about my parents’ accident.


Thursday, August 8, 2013, 11:35 p.m.
(day 3 in Shadow Pines—late morning)

Jaime made chicken salad sandwiches with a side of sliced strawberries for lunch. We sat outside at a weather-beaten picnic table. The sun played hide-and-seek behind white puffy clouds that reminded me of three scoops of ice cream. The warm breeze felt good—a perfect day for outdoor dining, even though I felt as if I were in a prison yard.

Coleus and hostas lined the back of the house. Except for two oak trees and a maple, the backyard was grass. No plants, no statues, no birdbath like in my backyard.

“Why do you have a fence?” I asked. “None of your neighbors do.”

“Until last year I had a dog. A black Lab named Franklin. He lost his eyesight a year before he died. I put the fence up to protect him. My mom gave him to me for a graduation gift. I haven’t felt like getting another dog to replace him. He was my best friend.”

“I’ve never had a pet,” I told her. “My mom was allergic to pet dander.”

“That’s sad. A dog brings joy to your life. They’re there for you when you’re sad or sick. Even though he was a big dog, Franklin slept in bed with me every night.”

I swatted away a fly getting too close to my sandwich. This friendly stranger had been taking care of me the last three days. I realized how little I knew about her. “Tell me your family story.”

Jaime wiped her mouth with a napkin, then folded it in half and placed it under her knife to keep it from blowing away. “My parents died a few years ago, Mom from breast cancer and my dad from a heart attack. My two older brothers and their families live near the church. I got engaged at twenty-six. He was the love of my life. We started dating our sophomore year of high school. The first gift he gave me was a stuffed bunny. As you can tell by your room, the bunnies became his special gift to me. Two weeks before the wedding, he crashed his car into a tree and died on impact. Turned out he had a brain aneurysm.”

As had one of the council members who just died
, I thought. “I’m so sorry.” In that moment, I felt bad for her. I knew how she felt. We sat in silence for a few minutes.

The fly returned with a friend and sat on the edge of the picnic table. Normally, I’d grab something and try to kill them for being annoying pests. Today, I wanted to turn into a fly and buzz away with them into the woods.

“It’s a beautiful day. Do you want to go for a walk?” I asked.

“I was told to keep you at the house until the meeting tonight. They want to make sure you get your rest after the incident the other day. No physical activities today. Sorry.”

The more questions I asked, the more I disliked this place. People telling me what I couldn’t do didn’t sit well with me.

Jaime looked at her watch for the third time since we’d been outside. The silence, the boredom, the lack of brain activity was getting old.

“Do you ever go out in the woods?” I asked.

“Why would I want to do that?” Jaime said.

“To explore. See what’s out there.”

“There’s no reason to go in the woods. It’s not forbidden, but it’s ill advised. Ten years ago, three boys went in the woods to play. One boy tripped, hit his head on a rock and died. Plus, there are bugs and spiders, maybe snakes. I have no interest in going out there.” I caught Jaime looking at her watch again. Standing, she said, “Let’s go inside.”

I grabbed my plate and half-empty glass of water. “Is there a reason you’ve been checking your watch for the last half-hour?”

“I guess I’m not very subtle. A delivery should have been made by now. I have a surprise for you.”

Not wanting to embarrass her over her awkward attempt at trying to surprise me, I said, “Well then, let’s head inside.”

We put the dishes in the sink, then went upstairs and stopped in front of the spare bedroom.

Jaime said with a big smile, “Hope you like it. Open the door.”

She made me think of a kid on Christmas morning—the anticipation in her eyes, her hands clasped together at her chest. I was hesitant, but took a deep breath and opened the door. Inside, a desk, typewriter, chair, three reams of paper, and a bottle of Wite-Out correction fluid.

“Oh my,” I said. This setting reminded me of my ninth-grade secretarial class.

Jaime waved her arms in front of the door just like a
Let’s Make a Deal
model introducing the latest kitchen appliance. “Go on in. Sit down. I want to make sure the chair is the right height.”

I walked into the room and sat, pulling the chair close to the desk and placing my fingers on the typewriter keys.

Jaime chimed in, “Oh, it’s perfect. Don’t you think it’s perfect? You can write in here and look out the window for inspiration. Hudson and Lincoln brought the things in while we ate lunch. Do you like it?” This was the first time I’d heard her speak so fast, with such enthusiasm.

I smiled. I didn’t want to spoil Jaime’s excitement. I hadn’t typed on a typewriter since junior high. In the middle of thinking of something nice to say, I heard the doorbell.

Jaime shot a glance at her watch. “They’re early. Stay right here.”

She hurried out the door. This was one time I wasn’t going to do what I was told. I crept to the door and pressed my face against the trim. I slowly stuck my head around the corner until I had a decent view of the entrance below.

Jaime opened the front door. “Francine. Claudia. Please, come in.”

“I brought some red velvet cupcakes for you and Isabella.”

“That’s so kind of you, Francine. Let me take those from you,” Jaime said. “Would either of you like something to drink?” Jaime put the tray of cupcakes on the dining room table.

“No, thank you. Where’s Isabella? We’d like to say hello to her before the meeting tonight.”

“Oh, sure. She’s upstairs.” As soon as Jaime said
, I tiptoed back to the desk chair.

A few seconds later, Francine walked into the room. “Oh, my. Bernice was right. She looks just like her grandmother.”

Jaime said, “Isabella, I’d like to introduce you to Francine Stovall and Claudia Parker.”

I stood and walked over to the women. Francine’s frizzy brunette hair reminded of someone shocked with a burst of electricity. She wore a t-shirt, jeans, and navy-blue tennis shoes. The few other women I’d seen since I’d been here had all been wearing skirts.

“Stovall. Your family bought the land for Shadow Pines,” I responded.

“That’s right. Jaime has taught you well,” Francine said approvingly.

“I’m Claudia Parker, town therapist. Very glad to meet you.”

Claudia had a perfect head of hair with blonde ringlets from her scalp to her shoulders. I’d always dreamed of having curly hair, but all the hairspray in the world wouldn’t hold a curl with my straight hair. In some ways, Claudia reminded me of the therapist I’d gone to for a year after my parents’ accident. She had a pleasant smile and eyes that could hypnotize you into telling your darkest thoughts. She wore a professional-looking cream blouse and tan skirt. I could smell a hint of coconut oil.

“Jaime, if I could have a moment with you in private,” Francine said.

Jaime nodded, then turned her eyes toward me before heading into the hall with Francine. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but every so often Jaime would glance my way. I wished I knew how to read lips. I made a mental note that for the fourth book in the series I’d have Jack Deveraux learn lip reading for his next assignment.

Claudia offered to help me cope with the transition, then walked behind the desk and asked about my writing. I had to stop watching the conversation in the hallway in order to focus my attention on her questions.

“I love writing fiction. I guess I have a good imagination,” I told Claudia with a smile.

“You’ll have to stop by the office so we can chat in private,” she suggested. I thought back to my therapist in Darden. I quit going after a year once I realized she’d hypnotized me during a few sessions without my permission. I wondered if Claudia wanted to do the same thing.

“Claudia,” Francine said. “Isabella needs her rest before tonight’s meeting. We should go.”

“Yes, of course, Francine. Nice to meet you, Isabella.”

Not ready to make any rash moves, I needed to be polite. “Thank you for stopping by.” I hoped I sounded sincere.

“We can see ourselves out, Jaime. You make sure Isabella gets her rest.” Francine nodded her head as if it was an order, not a simple social statement.

“Francine’s right. You need to get some rest.” Jaime motioned me out of my new office space into the Pepto-Bismol bedroom. “I’m going to go sit on the couch and read for a few hours before dinner. Why don’t you lie down? Tonight will be a big night for you.” Jaime closed the bedroom door behind her when she walked out.

Staring out the window, I wondered how I was supposed to sleep with so many thoughts swirling in my mind. Should I actually believe in Jaime’s sense of things that I was some sort of Shadow Pines royalty? What about my father—had he really lied to me about his past? And the biggie—what was the real reason I was brought to Shadow Pines?

BOOK: Hidden in Shadow Pines
2.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Party Girl by Hollis, Rachel
Horse's Arse by Charlie Owen
Without Borders by Amanda Heger
Peeps by Westerfeld, Scott
Star Wars - Constant Spirit by Jennifer Heddle
At First Sight by Nicholas Sparks
Immortal Heat by Lanette Curington