A year ago, if anyone had told me that risking my job and my freedom as a law-abiding citizen to break into a hospital and kidnap a child patient would be one of the best decisions of my life, I would have referred them to a psychiatrist, but saving Hope really was like saving all of us, in so many ways. She was painfully shy and frightened of just about everything but she had a way of brightening the lives of everyone around her, even if she had to live her own life in the shadows. Her presence made us all want to protect her and that made us all work better together as a family in order to do that. Leander and I still had our problems, but at least when Hope was around, we forgot about them in order to care for her.
When Leander turned thirteen, I let him move into one of the bigger bedrooms and brought in an interior designer to decorate it just for him and his tastes. He told me he liked the room but these days, he was hardly ever in it. He spent all his time with Hope. I’d had one of the spare bedrooms redecorated just for her, too. I just told the designer I had a niece who liked to stay with me during the summers. Obviously, Hope had to be hidden. People were still searching for her.
“A surprise…?” Hope asked me in a tiny, frightened voice when I told her I had a surprise waiting for her upstairs. The only ‘surprises’ she’d ever gotten before were painful. It was so hard seeing a little girl react with fear rather than excitement over a surprise present.
“This surprise is a good surprise, I promise. No bad, scary things to hurt you anymore,” I told her gently, offering her my hand. She hesitantly took it, jumping a little bit when her skin touched mine and I led her to her new bedroom. I was about to open the door when Hope yanked her hand out of mine and started crying, shaking her head.
“No, it’s daytime and that room has windows! The sun’s going to burn me. I don’t want to get burned, it hurts,” she cried. I ignored the achy feeling in my chest and knelt down to her level.
“Hope, nothing in there is going to hurt you. I promise. I know it’s daytime but the sun can’t hurt you in there, I made sure of it.”
“… How?” she sniffled. I smiled and nodded to the door.
“Why don’t you go see?”
It took Hope a minute to gather her courage but she finally stepped into the room. Her eyes widened as she walked around slowly, taking everything in. “…. The windows are gone,” she commented. I chuckled but I wasn’t really sure whether I was more amused or sad that she’d notice something like that before all the toys in the room.
“I know. I had them taken out just for you,” I said. “No more dodging windows during the day and worrying about someone forgetting to close the drapes, at least not in this room. This is your room so you should feel safe in it.” Hope smiled and turned around to look at me.
“And no scary doctors to come in anymore… except you, but you’re a nice doctor. I like when you come to see me,” Hope told me. “Not like the bad lady.” My gut twisted. I knew ‘the bad lady’ was Ruby. Hope had every right to fear and dislike her after what happened, but I wished there was some way to explain to a little kid that the woman I was in love with never really wanted to hurt her and had helped her escape. Ruby was going through a lot, too. I decided not to push it. I’d work on rebuilding Hope’s trust in Ruby slowly.
“She’s not really a bad lady but I understand why you’re afraid of her,” I told Hope, kneeling down to hug her. “You don’t need to see her right now, though. Why don’t you play with your new toys?” I suggested. She looked around her room, puzzled.
“Toys?” she asked. “Play?” It was like she didn’t know what playing or toys were. I struggled with how to explain the concept of toys and playing to a child but Leander walked in the room, being careful to shut the door behind him to protect Hope from any sunlight.
“It’s cool, Dad. I’ll play with her,” he said. I smiled at him. It was nice seeing him bond with Hope. He’d taken up the role of big brother with her from the first night I brought her home. I couldn’t send Hope to a public school. She’d be burned as soon as she walked outside during the day and she’d be immediately recognised. I decided to homeschool her in secret where she’d be safe but because I worked long hours sometimes, I couldn’t always be there to help her with her assignments. Leander sat with her and tutored her every night.
“Thanks Leander. I appreciate it,” I told him. He just rolled his eyes at me.
“Don’t thank me. I’m doing it for her, not you,” he reminded me coldly. He walked over to Hope’s dollhouse and picked up one of her Barbie dolls. “Cool dollhouse! This one kinda looks like you. Her hair’s almost white like yours.”
“Ohhh yeah! She has different eyes though. Mine are red,” Hope agreed enthusiastically, reaching for the doll.
I sighed and left the room. Well at least he cared about Hope even if he still hated me.