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"It doesn't have to do with any of that," said Mom as she jerked a suitcase from the shelf in her closet, dusted it off, and then tossed it onto her bed.
"And why are you getting that out?" demanded Emily. "Are you going somewhere?"
"We're all going somewhere," said Mom. "I want you to go to your room and pack."
"Are we going somewhere for Christmas?" asked Emily, still confused. It was less than a week before Christmas, and this was the first she'd heard of a trip.
"Something like that," said Mom quickly. "Just do as I say and I'll explain later."
"But what about Kyle?" asked Emily. "Isn't he going too?"
"Yes. I'll have to pack for him. He's still at work. We'll pick him up on our way out."
"What am I supposed to pack?" asked Emily, hoping that they might be going somewhere fun.
"Everything," said Mom as she pulled open a drawer.
"What do you mean everything?"
"I mean everything that you brought when we moved here last spring. And anything you bought since then. Don't pack any of the things that Morgan's family loaned us. Those will have to be returned ... later."
"Oh, Emily," said Mom in her exasperated voice as she tossed a handful of socks and underclothes into her bag. "I don't have time for questions right now. We need to get moving - and out of here - fast!"
Emily stared at her mom in horror. "Are we leaving - I mean moving - for good?"
"I'm sorry, Emily. I wish it wasn't true."
"But ... but ... why?" Emily felt a lump like a hard rock growing in her throat.
"It's your father ..."
"Yes ..." Mom stood up straight and, pushing a strand of blonde hair from her eyes, she looked at Emily with an expression that Emily remembered from back in the old days, back before they moved to Boscoe Bay. "I just found out that he knows where we are."
"How would he know? How did you find that out?"
"I just happened to call your Aunt Becky this morning. I used a friend's cell phone at work, so it couldn't be traced back ... I just wanted to wish her a Merry Christmas." Mom carried a bunch of clothes from her closet and tossed them onto the already crowded bed. "Becky told me that your dad hired a private investigator who somehow tracked us down. She said that he is on his way here right now. So, don't you see, Emily? We have to get out of here - immediately!"
"But why do we have to be the ones to run away?" pleaded Emily. "We haven't done anything wrong!"
"I know." Mom sighed loudly.
"He's the one who should be running, Mom. He's the one who's done all the bad stuff."
"I know ... I know ..." Mom sighed loudly. "There's no time to talk about this now. Just go pack, Emily. Hurry."
"But, Mom!" Emily pleaded with her. "I have friends here. I have a life and I don't want to -"
"Neither do I, Emily. But it's what we have to do. I told you and Kyle, right from the start, that our stay in Boscoe Bay might be brief."
"But what does that mean, Mom?" asked Emily in desperation. "That we'll have to keep running and running forever?"
"I don't know ..." Mom closed her eyes and shook her head. "All I know is that we need to get out of here right now." She narrowed her eyes and gave Emily a look that said "I am dead serious, and I want no argument."
"Okay," said Emily as she went to her room. Tears were filling her eyes as she began to gather her things and pile them on the futon bed that Morgan had loaned to her when they first came here. It was funny ... she'd come to think of that bed, as well as so many other things, as her own. Suddenly it seemed as if nothing was really hers. Not her home or her school ... and worst of all, not her friends.
"Here," said Mom after a few minutes. "Just stuff your things into these." She tossed several large black trash bags into Emily's bedroom. "I'm going to pack for Kyle now."
Before long, Emily was done, but Mom was still gathering things up. "Can I go tell Morgan that I'm leaving?" Emily asked sadly.
Mom frowned. "I don't know ..."
"But they're going to wonder what happened to us," Emily persisted. "We were supposed to go to their house for Christmas. And I was supposed to meet the girls at the clubhouse this afternoon. They might think we've been abducted or something. And, knowing Morgan, she might even call the police."
Mom nodded. "Yes. You're right. They've been good friends to us. And we can trust them. Go ahead and tell them that we're leaving this afternoon. I've already explained things to Mr. Greeley. Tell Mrs. Evans that Mr. Greeley can give her the house key so that they can come collect their - their things." Mom's voice broke and tears came streaming down her cheeks now.
"Oh, Mom," said Emily, running over to hug her. "This is so horrible."
"I know," said Mom as she ran her hand over Emily's hair. "I wish there was another way."
"Why isn't there?" asked Emily.
Mom just shook her head. "I don't know ..." Then Mom turned back to packing Kyle's things.
"I'm going to Morgan's," said Emily as she grabbed her jacket.
"Don't stay long," warned Mom. "I'm almost ready to go right now, and if you don't get back here in time, I'll just drive over there and honk - and you better come a-running."
Emily picked up Morgan's Christmas present. It wasn't much, just a leopard-print picture frame with a photo of her and Morgan in it. The gift wasn't even wrapped, but Emily didn't want to miss the chance to give it to her. Also, she'd have to ask Morgan to give the gifts (the things she and Morgan had been working on the past few days) to their other friends for her.
"Hey, Em," said Morgan happily as she opened the door. "I'm so glad you're here. I've got something I want to show you."
Emily stepped into Morgan's living room as Morgan dashed off toward her bedroom. Emily looked around the cozy house, trying to memorize every single thing about this place in one quick glance. The happy clutter of Grandma's homemade afghans and worn furniture mixed with the more eclectic style of Morgan's mom's art and nicer things. From the first time Emily had stepped through their front door, she had always felt welcome here.
"Hello, Emily," called Grandma from her recliner.
"How are you feeling today?" asked Emily as she approached her. Morgan's grandma had recently undergone some very serious heart surgery and had only been sitting up for a few days now.
"I'm feeling right as rain," said Grandma.
"I'm glad." Emily forced a smile as she looked down at her.
Grandma frowned. "But what about you, honey? You don't look too well to me."
"Oh, I'm a little sad," said Emily. What an understatement.
"Sad?" Grandma peered curiously at her. "Whatever for?"
"Yeah?" said Morgan as she reappeared wearing an interesting hat that appeared to have been patchworked together from scraps of polar fl eece - probably the leftovers from her recent sock-sewing project. "What's up, Em?"
Emily tried to blink back the tears, but it was impossible. "We have to ... have to leave."
Morgan frowned. "You mean you guys are going somewhere for Christmas? I thought you were going to come to our house for -"
"No, I mean, I mean we have to leave ... for ... for good!" Now Emily was crying full force.
"Why?" cried Morgan, running over and putting her arms around Emily.
"Yes, why?" said Grandma more calmly.
Emily worked hard to recover from her outburst, finally taking a tissue from Grandma's hand. "Thanks."
"Now, sit down on the sofa there and tell us exactly what's going on," Grandma commanded her.
"Well ..." Emily took in a slow breath. "You know a little bit about why we came here. You guys and Mr. Greeley are the only ones who know about ..."
"You mean about your father?" supplied Grandma.
"Yes." Emily nodded. "I guess he's found out where we are."
"So?" said Morgan in a defiant tone. It was actually sort of how Emily felt herself when Mom first told her the news.
"So ... my mom says that means we have to go."
"But why?" demanded Morgan. Her dark eyes were filling with tears too.
"I don't really know ..." Emily looked down at her hands in her lap. "I guess it's because Mom thinks he might hurt us again."
"But how can he hurt you?" asked Morgan. "I mean what about police protection and things like that?"
"I don't know ..." Emily just shook her head.
"Morgan does have a point," said Grandma. "Running away might not solve your problem, Emily. Sometimes it's better to stay and fight for your rights. You and your family have good friends here in the mobile-home park, as well as at church. You have a community that could stand behind you and protect you. If you're out someplace new, where people don't know you ... well, that might be less safe."
Emily looked up at Grandma's kind brown face and nodded. "Yes, yes ... that makes sense."
"It does," said Morgan. "I mean, what if you guys were out on the road, staying at a hotel or something, and your dad found you there? Which would be worse?"
Emily considered this. "I know what you mean." Then she thought of her mother. "But for some reason Mom doesn't see it that way."
"But why?" cried Morgan. "It just seems so wrong that your family should have to be on the run from your dad. Why? Why? Why?"
Just then, Emily heard Mom's car horn honking out front. "I've got to go," she said quickly. "Mom said to tell you that Mr. Greeley has the key to our house and you guys can go over there whenever you want to get your things." She held out her gift for Morgan. "This was going to be your Christmas present." Again came the honking sound. "I didn't have time to wrap it."
"But, Emily -"
"I've got to go," said Emily.
"I'm not even done with your present yet," said Morgan. Then she pulled the brightly colored hat from her head and shoved it onto Emily's head. "Here, take this for now." Then she hugged her again. "I don't want you to leave."
"I don't want to leave."
"You're my best friend ever," cried Morgan.
"You're mine too!" sobbed Emily.
This time Mom's horn honked loud and long.
"You better go, honey," said Grandma. "But please tell your mom what we said. And if there is anything we can do - I mean anything at all - please, call us. Remember you have your friends, the church, the community here ... there's a lot of power in those kinds of numbers."
"I'll tell Mom." Emily ran over and quickly hugged Grandma. "Thanks ... for everything."
"You be sure and call us, Emily," said Grandma. "And you can call collect if you need to. And don't forget that wherever you go God is with you. And we are praying for you."
"Yes," said Morgan. "And this isn't over yet. I'm going to pray for God to bring you back here to us, Emily."
"We'll all be praying for that," called Grandma. Emily thanked them again, then went out the door just as Mom began to honk the horn one more time. It was starting to rain as Emily ran out to the car. She wished that what Morgan and Grandma were saying could really be true - she wished it was possible for them to pray her and her family back here to Harbor View. But as she got into the car, she couldn't forget the last time their family had to run, leaving their home and everything behind. They never did go back then. Why would this time be any different?
Excerpted from Project: Run Away by Melody Carlson Copyright © 2008 by Melody Carlson. Excerpted by permission.
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