By: Brenda Jackson

She took a deep breath, knowing she couldn’t lose her cool. She had to keep a level head. She made a decision to leave her car here and a few lights burning inside her house to give the impression she was home. She would call a cab to take her to the airport and would take only the necessities and a few items of clothing. She could buy anything else she needed.

But this, she thought, studying the photo album she held in her hand, went everywhere with her. She had purchased it right after her last phone call with Bane. Her parents had sent Crystal to live with Aunt Rachel to finish out the last year of school. They’d wanted to get her away from Bane, not knowing she and Bane had married.

Before they’d returned home after eloping, Bane had convinced Crystal it was important for her to finish school before telling anyone they’d gotten married. He’d told her that if her parents tried keeping them apart that he would put up with it for a few months, which was the time it would take for her to finish school. They hadn’t counted on her parents sending her away. But still, she believed that Bane would come for her once the school year ended, no matter where she was.

But a couple of months after she left Denver, she’d gotten a call from him. She’d assumed he was calling to let her know he couldn’t stand the separation and was coming for her. But his real purpose had been twofold. He’d wanted to find out if she had gotten pregnant when they eloped, and he’d told her he’d enlisted in the navy and would be leaving for boot camp in Great Lakes, Illinois, in a few weeks. He’d said he needed to grow up, become responsible and make something out of himself. She deserved a man who could be all that he could be, and after he’d accomplished that goal he would come for her. He’d also promised that while they were apart he would honor their wedding vows and she’d promised him the same. And she had.

She’d figured he would be in the navy for four years. Preparing for the separation, she’d decided to make something of herself, as well. He deserved that, too. So after completing high school she’d enrolled in college. She had taken a placement test, which she’d aced. Instead of being accepted as a freshman, she had entered as a junior.

Sitting on the edge of the bed now, she flipped through the album, which she had dedicated to Bane. She’d even had his name engraved on the front. While they were apart she’d kept this photo journal, chronicling her life without him. There were graduation pictures from high school and college, random pictures she’d taken just for him. She’d figured that by the time she saw him she would have at least two to three years’ worth of photos. She hadn’t counted on the bulky album containing five years of photographs. The last thing she’d assumed was that they would be apart for this long without any contact.

She thought of him often. Every day. What she tried not to think about was why it was taking him so long to come back for her, or how he might be somewhere enjoying life without her. Forcing those thoughts from her mind, she packed the album in her luggage. Her destination was the Bahamas. She had done an online bank transfer to her “fun” account, which had accumulated a nice amount due to the vacations she’d never gotten around to taking. And in case her home was searched, she’d made sure not to leave any clues about where she was headed.

Was she being impulsive by heeding what the note had said when she didn’t even know who’d written it? She could report it, what happened to her locker and that she’d noticed someone following her to those two government officials. If she couldn’t trust her own government, then who could she trust? She shook her head, deciding against making that call. Maybe she’d watched too many TV shows where the government had turned out to be the bad guy.

Crystal thought about calling her mother and Aunt Rachel, and then decided against it. Whatever she was involved with, it would be best to leave them out of it. She would contact them later when she felt doing so would be safe. Moments later, she had rolled her luggage out of her bedroom into the living room and was calling for a cab when her doorbell rang.