“Mommy, can we have story time?” Kristina asked.
“Sure, darling,” Tasha answered, carrying another steaming pot of tea from the stove.
Tasha felt a jolt of pain. Wounds she didn’t remember receiving ached beneath homemade bandages. There were flashes of memories, yet they seemed so distant that she couldn’t put them together, as if they had happened a lifetime ago and didn’t seem to matter anymore, not now that she’d found contentment in the tiny cabin nestled in the forest. She had already set the table for a tea party, something Kristina begged her to partake in, and since night had fallen, it seemed like a cozy activity. They’d already had two pots of sweet tea with honey. She was more comfortable since accepting her new life, and happiness was already blossoming in her heart, but she did feel a deep exhaustion, something that stemmed from her life before. She pushed the puzzle pieces of her past away, intent on keeping them buried until they stayed dead.
“Once upon a time there was a little princess,” Kristina began.
“Oh, you’re gonna tell me a story? When you finish, I’ll tell you one.” Tasha poured their cups full.
“All the princess ever wanted was a family, a mommy to take care of her and love her. She tried a few mommies and daddies, but they were always mean and ran away from the princess. The little princess was forced to do something to them for being mean, for hurting her.”
“I hope this story has a happy ending,” Tasha said.
“It does,” Kristina said. “But first she had to go through a lot of pain because her first mommy and daddy, the ones who made her, they forgot about her, too. They didn’t care at all when her second mommy and daddy took her away and brought her here to live in the forest. They tied her up and put her in the car and, and, the first mommy and daddy, they didn’t come look for her because they were afraid of the princess, of the power she was born with.”
“Where is that happy ending you promised me?” Tasha asked.
“After years and years, one day the little princess found a new mommy, one who made her feel special no matter how she was born, and they lived happily ever after.”
“Awww, I love that story.” Tasha smiled, eyes teary—but a few parts of the child’s story stuck in her mind, raising a muted alarm. The little princess was forced to do something to them for being mean, for hurting her. Her first mommy and daddy didn’t even care the girl was taken away and forced to live in the forest. The princess was born with powers that caused them to be afraid of her.
“It’s the best type of story because it came true,” Kristina answered. “I love you, Mommy.”
“I love you, too.” And Tasha felt ashamed for wondering about the message wrapped in Kristina’s story.
Emilio peered into the old cabin through a dusty window, but it was dark outside, and with very little moonlight, he was left squinting into a poorly lit kitchen. The scent of his and Jeremy’s coworkers’ blood, splashed across their clothing, hung in his nostrils. He continued to watch as Tasha and the young girl talked. He couldn’t make out the words, but Tasha smiled and nodded in agreement. It was all so surreal. Emilio had heard through the office grapevine of Tasha’s recent health troubles, but he had no clue why she would be here now, drinking tea in a cabin with an unknown child.
“The bear didn’t move,” Jeremy whispered. “That’s ridiculous; If there was a teddy bear, it didn’t just walk off on its own.”
“Ridiculous? So is the paintball game turning psychotic, but . . .”
Emilio wasn’t so sure about knocking on the door anymore. The scene inside played on, a merry little tea party that somehow felt off. Tasha and the girl looked like a mother and beloved daughter giggling and sipping from their flowery teacups, yet it felt more like a child playing with a doll—it was all make believe.
“Something isn’t right about this,” Emilio whispered.
“Nothing’s right about any of this,” Jeremy answered, his voice sounding panicked and desperate. “But we need help. It’s dark out here, and the forest is filled with psychos.”
“Shhh.” Emilio ducked out of view of the window.
“Don’t shush me.”
He couldn’t see Jeremy very well, but he could tell that his partner was terrified, and the argument they’d already had didn’t help ease the tension. It felt like a nightmare on so many levels, one Emilio wished he could just wake up from. He hoped it would all be over soon so he and Jeremy could finish the discussion they were having about their relationship and future together, if there was one left....