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Tree Forts—A Bethany and Maverick Short Story

TREE FORTS—A SHORT STORY

This adorable little short story (that takes place mostly between Bethany, Lizbeth, and Ellie—with a splash of our hero Maverick on the side) is taken from my vault of almost-made-it-to-final-cuts. 

For space and movement purposes, I ended up taking this out, but I'm always excited to get you more insight into the behind-the-scenes of my stories. Hopefully you love this short little ditty. 

And if you haven't gotten your free copy of COFFEE SHOP GIRL yet, just click right here.

BETHANY

A shuffle in the middle of the night woke me. I sat up, suppressing a groan from the awkward position I'd contorted into. Lizbeth was a total bed hog and left no room for others. Ellie willingly slept on a blanket on the floor, relinquishing the blow up mattress to me without another thought. I wondered how much she slept outside on the ground after Mama died.

Right then, Ellie sat by the window, holding a footlong flashlight I kept in my nightstand as she peered outside. Her eyes darted around the ground. When I crouched next to her and touched her shoulder, she jumped. She whirled around, face contorted in a snarl. 

"It's just me,” I murmured.

Her expression calmed and shoulders dropped. Lizbeth stirred on the bed as Ellie looked away, embarrassed. She kept the flashlight at her side and her eyes trained outside again. 

"What's wrong?" I asked.

"She's afraid that dad will come at night," Lizbeth murmured from the bed, her voice groggy. "That he'll look for us here when we're sleeping and try to take us back. She doesn’t want to go to bed.

My heart twisted at Lizbeth’s words.

"The shop is locked, Elle.” I brushed a strand of hair away from Ellie's face. To my surprise, she let me touch her. "He can't get in. If he tried, we’d hear him.”

"He can climb," Ellie whispered. 

Hearing her voice shocked me. I heard her speak with Lizbeth every now and then when she didn't know I could hear, but almost no other time. Her innocent declaration, which made no sense in the place of logic, nearly broke my heart. This girl needed a plan and some confidence.

I knew the feeling. 

Logic, Dad always said, destroys most monsters.

With a deep breath, I settled next to her on the floor. “Let’s talk about all the ways he could find you,” I said. 

Ellie eyed me, but didn’t protest.

“Could he climb the wall to this place?” I asked, peering down to the back parking lot behind the shop. My beat up Honda was ten feet away from the wall, and the wooden planks provided no footholds.

Ellie shook her head. 

“Right,” I said. “He’s probably not strong enough.”

She frowned. “He could get a ladder."

“True. Where would he get the ladder from?”

She paused this time, blinking. "He could steal it from the hardware store. It’s not that far away.”

“It’s closed right now, and none of the other shops around here have ladders."

Perplexed again, her frown deepened. Heavy lines formed around her brown.

"He could bring it with him."

“True, he could. But would he remember? Would he know to bring a ladder?"

Ellie met my gaze, looking uncertain for the first time. She blinked, then looked away again. The flashlight hung limp at her side. 

"He didn't remember much," she whispered, “but monsters have a way of finding the people they want when things are the most frightening.”

Lizbeth sighed and curled on her side to face us. Moonlight slanted through the room, illuminated her face. 

“Ellie,” she said from the bed, “Jim never found you when you hid in the forest, remember? He couldn’t. You were too good at hiding.”

Ellie’s brow lifted slightly, as if surprised she hadn’t thought of that yet.

"Jim seems like a kind of monster," I said, running my fingers over Ellie's scalp and through her hair, the way Mom had done for me. Like a cat, she seemed to relax underneath the touch. "But he's just a man. One that isn’t strong, brave, or thoughtful. The monster you’re picturing sounds like he’s not real.”

"He was always the scariest at night," Lizbeth said, eyes at half mast as she struggled to say awake. "Ellie has never slept very good, even on the nights he passed out early."

My throat tightened. It seemed impossible that their life experience involved such shade and shadow. That Ellie's childhood had been a circle of loss and disappointment and failure. I studied her in the pale moonlight, a cool breeze driftin off the reservoir and over my cheeks. Mountain cicada's sang lightly in the background. 

"When you're drunk, you don't think right," I said. "That means he wouldn't remember to bring a ladder. Plus, he doesn't know for sure that you're here, does he?"

"But he'll come," Ellie whispered.

I nodded. "Probably."

She stared at me, eyes wide. "Then I'll run away!"

"That's fine, as long as you come back."

She blinked again, startled into quiet. "You don't care?" 

"Of course I care. I don't want you to leave and get hurt, and I want you here with me. But I understand that you'd want to run when he's here. So let's figure out a plan. In fact," I said, glancing outside. "What if we build you a fort to hide in if Jim comes? You could run away to the fort. I think Maverick would help us. He has lots of tools at his grandfather's house. We'll hide it in the reeds behind the hair salon and that big tree over there. If your dad shows up, we'll have a code word. I'll yell it, and you can take off."

Ellie swallowed hard. 

"A fort?”

"A safe spot. Maybe a tree house?"

Her eyes widened. "Where he couldn't see me?"

"Exactly."

For several long seconds, she studied me, as if trying to discern whether I could be trusted or not. Even Lizbeth seemed to hold her breath, blinking from where she curled around her pillow like a cat, regarding us. 

"Okay," Ellie said. "Will you ask Maverick?"

"You bet."

She tensed again. "You might forget."

"Then let's text him now."

My gaze filtered to the clock, which read 4:25. I had to be up in five minutes anyway. I grabbed my phone, found his number, and set a quick message. Once I finished, I read it out loud.

 

Bethany:  Can you help us build a tree fort for Ellie to hide in, just in case if her father comes here to find them? Someplace she would be safe and not visible, just in case. 

 

An immediate reply followed. 

 

Maverick: I’ll bring the floor plans in the morning. 

 

My heart fluttered. Not a moment of hesitation or question. 

“Wow,” I murmured. “He’s already replied.”

When I finished reading his response. relief painted Ellie's whole body. She drew in a deep breath, still clutching the flashlight, and settled back into bed. Yawning, she pulled the covers all the way over her face. I straightened, padding to the other side of the room, and reached for my yoga pants. It would be a caffeine-and-comfy-bra-kind-of-day, I couldn't already tell. 

Just as I reached for the doorknob to the spiral staircase, a little voice whispered, "Thank you."

 

THE END

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