Will walked in and glared at his parents. "I could hear you loud and clear outside."

Ignoring the criticism, his mother asked, "Did you find your passport?"

"Not yet. I’ll check the safe."

"Be sure to close it."

Why did Will need his passport? Was he thinking about running? Allison jumped up from the table and ran after her cousin. He was in the den standing at the bookcase.

She stopped in the doorway and asked, "Why are you looking for your passport?"

"I might be taking a trip."

"You can’t run away. They’d find you, and you’d spend years in prison."

He whirled around to face her. "Who said anything about running away?"

She could see the fear in his eyes. There were tears there, too. He really was scared. She was about to respond when her aunt summoned her back into the dining room by bellowing her name. She returned and, standing at the head of the table, in a quiet voice asked, "Yes?"

Her uncle grabbed her arm and squeezed. "You sit down and listen."

"We’re going to need you to get more modeling assignments," her aunt said.

Her uncle pulled her into the chair. "Quite a few more," he added with a brusque nod. "And that means you’re going to have to branch out."

"Excuse me?"

"You know. Work for other outfits," he said.

Did he think she could just knock on Chanel’s door and tell them she would be willing to work for them? Or Armani? They really don’t have a clue, she thought.

She took a deep breath and said, "I’m not going to quit school."

"Yes, you are," her aunt snapped. "You do what’s needed for this family. Stop being so ungrateful."

There it was, that five-dollar word she threw around all the time. Allison wondered how many times she’d say it again before the conversation was over.

"The decision has been made," her uncle said.

"Who made this decision?" she asked.

"I did."

Here it goes, she thought. She tried to pull away, but her uncle increased his grip on her wrist. It felt as though he was going to snap her bone in half.

"No," she said with firm resolve in her voice.

"No? No what?" her aunt asked.

"No to all of it. I don’t care how many decisions you’ve made, Uncle Russell. I’m not going to help you. I’m done."

Their reaction was almost comical. They looked flabbergasted. Her uncle was the first to recover from his shock. "You are not done here. You’re done when I say you’re done."

He squeezed her arm again, twisting until it burned. She tried to jerk her arm back, but her uncle held tight until he wanted to refill his glass. He had to let go of her then. Alcohol trumped keeping her captive, she supposed. She watched him pour a generous splash of whiskey and down it in a single gulp, wiping his chin on his sleeve.

She scooted her chair so he couldn’t reach her and said, "I wanted to tell you face-to-face so there wouldn’t be any misunderstanding."

"Tell us what?" her aunt asked.

"I’m finished."

Her aunt looked up at her, her eyes flashing with hostility. "What do you mean, you’re finished?"

"I’m not ever coming back here, and it’s my hope that I will never have to see or talk to either one of you again."

She had rendered them speechless. She knew why. She had never defied either of them before, and now she was severing all connections. She stood and headed to the front door before her uncle could get up from his chair.

"Get back here," he roared.

She kept right on walking.

Will followed her onto the porch. "I found my passport," he said to her. He shoved a legal-size manila envelope at her. "This was in the safe, too," he explained. "It has your dad’s name on it. I figured you should have it."

"What is it?"

"Looks like legal papers of some kind," he answered.

"Why are you giving them to me?"

"To piss them off. I heard you tell them you aren’t ever coming back here. Did you mean it?"

"Yes, I meant it." She started down the steps, then stopped. "I’ll try to help you if I can."

He shrugged and turned to go back inside. He didn’t say good-bye.

She heard her uncle yelling her name again and continued on to her car. After taking one last glance at the house she’d grown up in, she drove away and didn’t look back.

She felt liberated.

TEN

The euphoric feeling didn’t last long.

Allison was anxious to get back to Boston. She glanced down at the envelope on the seat next to her. She was curious but decided to wait until she was at the house and in her room before opening it. A mile out of Emerson, her phone began to ring. She looked at the screen and saw that the caller wasn’t identified. It was obvious her aunt had blocked her phone number so that Allison wouldn’t know who was calling and would answer. The phone didn’t stop ringing, and within twenty minutes there were eleven messages. When she stopped for gas, Allison listened to each one of them and was thoroughly disgusted by her aunt’s crude remarks and threats.