Chapter Description: Anna returns for another day at the nursery. There is some very bad news from Jane but maybe one of their fellow "prisoners" as an idea...
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“A way out?” Anna replied. Her anger disappeared. The faintest flicker of hope was enough to get her interested.
“I was going to make a break for it myself but I could use someone to watch my back out there.” Charlie continued, “Hell, three of us would be even better.”
“Woah, woah, woah…” Anna said as she let go of Jane and turned to face Charlie. She looked around to make sure none of the men were listening, “First of all, how are you getting out? Just walk out the front door?”
“Not the front door.” Charlie replied, “The back door.”
Anna shook her head. She didn’t see how anyone could expect to just waltz out of this place. Even if you could get outside the nursery Anna didn’t see how you’d get much further, it wasn’t like women didn’t run away or try to escape Sallas often. Everything she heard suggested that escape attempts were never successful and if you were caught it usually meant bad things in your future.
“Look, at nap time the quiet guard, Ed, goes out for a smoke. I’ve noticed he doesn’t lock the door. I’ve been chiseling my way through the bars on my crib. Today I’m going to break them, slip out, and run for it.” Charlie said.
“What about the tracking devices?” Anna asked as she pointed to her own leg. All of the women had identical black boxes attached to them.
“Those things?” Charlie scoffed, “The straps on them are cheap. We’ll cut through them and leave them in a ditch or something.”
“That’s it?” Anna replied skeptically, “That’s your plan?”
“It’s pretty hard to predict what will happen once we get out there.” Charlie replied honestly.
“No shit.” Anna snorted, “Believe me I want nothing more than to get out of this country. But you’ve seen the escape attempts on the news… they never work.”
“Well of course they’ll say that.” Charlie said, “You think they’d tell you if women could escape? They want you to think it’s impossible so you won’t bother trying. Look, once we are out there we make our way to the border. We stay away from major roads, we steal what we need and we get out. The countries bordering us all grant women asylum.”
Anna already knew that the neighboring countries offered Sallasian women asylum. She had seen plenty of that on her illegal searches of the internet. There were also a few accounts of women who had made the run and got out but there was no way to verify if they were real or not.
“It’s too risky.” Anna shook her head.
“I’ll do it.” Jane’s quiet voice piped up.
Anna and Charlie both turned to Jane who slowly turned herself around. Her eyes were red and puffy but if she had been crying she had stopped now, she actually had a small smile on her face which worried Anna a lot.
“It isn’t like I have anything to lose.” Jane shrugged.
“Atta girl.” Charlie nodded.
All eyes turned to Anna. She looked down between her legs and tried to think. Getting out of Sallas had always felt like an unobtainable goal, even doing things officially with Ryan it seemed a near impossibility. She truly wanted to believe Charlie was right and that women could get out, but it meant acting on blind faith. Freedom could be outside the door… but it seemed even more likely that the Finishing School was there. She could see herself packed into the back of a van with Charlie and Jane and taken away never to be seen again.
“Think about it.” Charlie said, “Nap time today I will be getting out and both of you are welcome to join me.”
As Charlie backed away from her Anna almost wanted to curse her for giving her a choice. When escape wasn’t an option it was easy to just never think about it. Now that it had been brought up she found her mind obsessing over the idea. She had a decent thing here, she loved Ryan and he treated her well, could she give up a relatively safe life for the unknown?
You think Ryan wouldn’t send you to Finishing School if it helped his career? An unwanted voice in Anna’s brain asked. Ryan’s desire to be a top businessman wasn’t a secret to her, if it came down to a choice between his career and her could she truly be sure he wouldn’t choose his job? She couldn’t help but think how quickly Ryan had agreed to host a party and join in with the other guys when given a chance to rescue his career, who was to say that he wouldn’t give her up entirely if he had to?
For the rest of the morning Anna and Jane sat in mostly silence. Anna was very clearly occupied with the question of escape and Jane was the same way. It was easier for Jane, as she herself said she had nothing to lose. Anna had her meagre freedoms. If she went to Finishing School she would lose herself and that meant losing everything she had. She wouldn’t be killed but her personality would be as good as dead.
When the women were put down for their naps Anna’s heart was hammering like she had been running around all morning. Even as the room fell silent and she watched Ed leave the room with a cigarette she didn’t know what she was going to do. She rolled over whilst still pretending to be asleep. She saw Charlie push against one of the crib’s bars a couple of times before it came away, it hit the floor and made a small bang.
After a couple of seconds when it became clear that no one was coming Charlie slipped out of her crib and landed on the ground. Anna’s wide eyes watched as she ran over to Jane’s crib. She trod on the release and caught the bars before they clattered into the ground. Jane climbed out and looked around fearfully.
They looked ridiculous. Anna saw the two women rushing around with bare feet and onesies covering their diapers. The idea that they could get very far like that seemed absurd and yet she couldn’t help but be drawn to joining them. No matter how futile it might be it almost felt like her duty to escape, to at least try and get somewhere where she could be a normal woman equal to the men around her. Charlie looked like she was going to head straight to the exit but Jane pulled her to Anna’s crib.
“Anna?” Jane whispered.
Anna sat up and looked at Jane. Charlie reluctantly came over though it was obvious she didn’t want to hang around for a single unnecessary second. Anna bit her lip as she looked at the two women in front of her.
“Come on!” Charlie muttered impatiently.
Anna started to get up. She could see freedom and as impossible as it sounded to her the chance was still not zero. Images flashed in her mind of the three of them running through the words hand in hand, stealing clothes, hiding out and finally making their way across the border. On the other side freedom awaited them. A chance to go to college and have a career, a place where she wouldn’t have to be on edge all the time. It was a romanticized vision of what would happen, she knew that.
“We have to go…” Charlie started pulling on Jane’s arm but Anna’s friend refused to be pulled away.
“I… I can’t.” Anna replied with a full feeling in her throat.
No matter how much Anna yearned for freedom she couldn’t ignore how difficult escaping Sallas was. As much as she wished to be with Jane and keep her safe at the same time she couldn’t abandon Ryan. She loved him and didn’t want to run away and leave him in the lurch. She thought about how he would feel if she tried to escape and failed, she’d be returned to him after Finishing School as a different woman.
“Are you sure?” Jane asked. She couldn’t completely hide her disappointment and fear.
Anna nodded her head quickly. She didn’t feel like she would be able to speak without bursting into tears. It wasn’t often that her head won out over her heart but she had to let it happen this time. She reached out her hands through the bars and Jane grabbed them. She held on so hard Anna was afraid she would break them.
“Be safe.” Anna choked out.
Jane nodded her head before Charlie’s incessant pulling finally won out. Anna felt Jane’s grip slip before she let go completely and trailed after Charlie towards the door. Anna crawled to the other side of the crib and watched as they got near the door. Her heart caught in her throat as she suddenly saw the door open and Ed walk back in. Jane and Charlie pressed themselves against the wall where they were hidden from the door but that would only work until it closed. Anna had to react instinctively.
Anna jumped up to her feet and then leapt again at the rails. She had never been the most athletic but the panic seemed to unlock something in her and she was able to pull herself over to the top of the rails. She tipped her bodyweight forwards and fell all the way down to the floor landing painfully on her ass. Normally Anna would do everything in her power not to cry but now she wanted as much attention as possible.
Taking in a deep breath Anna let out the loudest cry she could ever imagine. She banged the floor with her hands and feet and practically screamed. A couple of seconds later she heard two more voices joining the chorus as Rebecca and Macy, suddenly woken up, started crying as well. Anna looked out of the corner of her eye as Ed started walking over with the door still open.
“Did the baby get a boo-boo?” Ronnie asked as he strode across the room towards her.
Anna nodded her head and acted as much like an upset baby as she possibly could. As Ed came over as well Anna looked past him and saw Charlie and Jane disappearing through the door and closing it behind them. Just like that they were gone.
“How did she end up here?” Mr. Kenny’s voice commanded everyone’s attention.
“I think she climbed out.” Ronnie replied.
Anna now had the three men standing around her discussing how she had ended up on the floor. The noise in the room was incredible thanks to the other two women wailing, Anna was thankful for that because with Jane and Charlie out the door she found it much harder to keep up the act.
“Alright, you two sort out the other two girls.” Mr. Kenny said, “I’ll take care of Anna.”
The two assistants walked away from Anna and towards the other cribs. Mr. Kenny then knelt down in front of Anna. He watched her for a couple of seconds before reaching down and pulling her to her feet.
“It’s OK, baby.” Mr. Kenny said in a soothing voice, “What happened? Did you climb out of your crib?”
Anna nodded. Very quickly she saw Mr. Kenny’s face change. It had hardened as he looked from Anna to the crib and back. He pressed his foot on the nearby release and the rails came rattling down. He didn’t attempt to keep the bars from banging as they hit the ground. Anna jumped at the loud noise whilst the other two women cried even louder.
“You know that’s against the rules.” Mr. Kenny said more harshly, “Why were you climbing your bed, little girl?”
Anna couldn’t very well say she was causing a distraction so two women could sneak out and make a run for it. She didn’t have a legitimate reason so she shrugged.
“Well… Let’s get you back in your crib.” Mr. Kenny said as he directed Anna towards the bed.
Anna was just about to climb up when she felt Mr. Kenny’s arm in her back pushing her forwards over the edge of the mattress. She grunted and exclaimed at the sudden harsh treatment. She was just about to ask the caretaker what the hell he was doing when she felt his hand slam into her rear. She let out a little scream from shock as she was spanked over the edge of the crib. A methodical and painful ten swats stung her cheeks.
“Climbing is dangerous.” Mr. Kenny said as he finished the impromptu punishment, “You must listen to the men around you. You must listen to their rules. They exist to protect girls like you from hurting themselves.”
The condescension in Mr. Kenny’s voice was almost enough to make Anna swear at him. She bit her tongue and nodded her head compliantly. As the pressure was released from her back she was allowed to climb back into the crib. Instead of raising the railings Mr. Kenny reached over to the far corner and then grabbed Anna’s ankle, a second later she felt something tightening around the bottom of her leg.
“We have to make sure you’re not going to go anywhere.” Mr. Kenny said as he started restraining Anna to the bed.
One by one Anna’s limbs were placed in the restraints at each corner. Everything was tightened until Anna was forced into a star shape and couldn’t pull her arms of legs back to her body. Anna felt extremely vulnerable like this but at the same time knew she was better off not kicking up a fuss and incurring more of Mr. Kenny’s wrath.
“Enjoy the rest of your nap.” Mr. Kenny said as he pulled up the railings and walked away.
Anna let out a deep breath as her head laid back on the pillow. She could feel herself sweating. Now that the adrenaline was leaving her system everything that had just happened started to sink in. She prayed that Jane and Charlie were already making good progress, getting off campus would be tough. Anna closed her eyes, as the excitement went away she felt drained and to her surprise she soon found herself drifting into sleep.
To say the rest of the day was chaotic would be an understatement. Anna was awoken from her nap by raised voices and as she lifted her head up she saw the three men were around Jane’s crib. Mr. Kenny was on his phone whilst Ed and Ronnie were skulking in the background with brows furrowed.
For once Sallas’s bureaucracy worked in Anna’s favour. It was needless to say that Mr. Kenny believed that Anna was part of the escape attempt.
“You were the distraction.” Mr. Kenny jabbed an accusing finger into Anna’s chest. She was still strapped to the mattress.
“I have no idea-” Anna started.
“You think you’ve helped them?” Mr. Kenny let out a bark of a laugh, “You’ll be joining your little friend in Finishing School.”
Needless to say Anna was terrified but thanks to the need for paperwork Mr. Kenny actually couldn’t do anything so extreme without evidence. He strongly suspected Anna, of course, but even in Sallas suspicion wasn’t everything. He got increasingly angry as Jane and Charlie apparently remained unfound. Anna silently cheered them on and hoped they were putting as much distance between themselves and the college as possible. The further away they got the harder it would be to find them.
Anna remained tied to the crib and basically forgotten for the rest of the afternoon. She relaxed herself and casually wet her diaper as she watched the activity bustling around her. Security guards with guns and stern faces came in and talked to people before leaving again. One even spoke to Anna but she just said she had no idea what happened. It didn’t look like anyone really believed her but that didn’t matter.
When Ryan walked in at the end of the day there was still no news about Jane and Anna had been left neglected in the crib all day. It happened behind the headboard of the crib so she couldn’t see what was happening but the loud voices let her know there was some disagreement. With the intense discussion ongoing Ronnie came over to the crib and lowered the side. He removed the restraints and walked away again without a word.
Anna slowly sat up. After so long kept in the same position all of her muscles complained at being asked to move again. She twisted sideways and sat on the edge of the baby bed as she stretched, her neck cracked loudly when she tilted her head from side to side.
“Mr. Manning, I know you must want your girl back in the home but…” Mr. Kenny said.
“You do not have the right!” Ryan replied.
Anna slipped off the edge of the bed and waddled over to her husband. She still had no idea what the conversation was about beyond she was the subject. When Mr. Kenny saw Anna walk over his lips thinned and pressed together so tightly they turned completely white.
“I assure you I do.” Mr. Kenny said as he looked to Ryan again, “This is my domain and I can do whatever I like. What Anna did today-…”
“You have no evidence that she was involved!” Ryan retorted, “From what you’ve told me you simply found her on the floor. It should be ME getting mad at how you allowed her to end up there.”
“Regardless…” Mr. Kenny shook his head slowly, “In here my word is the law. I may not be able to prove Anna committed a crime in helping two other girls escape, I may not be able to send her to Finishing School but I can and will keep her here until I’m satisfied she has been reformed into a good girl.”
“W-Wait…” Anna stammered, “What are you saying?”
“Or would you rather we went to the Dean?” Mr. Kenny asked, “We can let him decide and believe me when I say he has no qualms about sending girls away.”
Anna was stood just behind Ryan almost subconsciously using her husband as a shield. She could see Ryan shaking and very tense, it seemed like he was about to literally explode out of his skin.
“Perhaps the news would be better coming from you.” Mr. Kenny smirked, “I’ll give you both a minute.”
Mr. Kenny turned and walked away. As he did so Anna saw Ronnie and Ed walking behind her and blocking access to the door. It felt like they were about to be ambushed, as if they had walked into a trap and it was just dawning on them that there was no escape. Ryan turned around and Anna could see he was angry.
“You have to stay here.” Ryan said simply, “You’re not coming home with me tonight.”
“What!?” Anna exclaimed.
“Mr. Kenny says you helped Jane escape?” Ryan muttered quietly.
Anna didn’t say anything or make any movement that might confirm or deny what Ryan had said. It was obviously true. Anna didn’t know how Ryan would react but she didn’t think he would put his hands up to his face. It seemed like he was weary of everything that was going on, his frustration was plain to see.
“Why?” Ryan finally asked, “Do you even understand the risks you run? Do you understand what could happen to you and me if you’d been seen? For the love of god, Anna, I appreciate Jane is your friend but…”
“I don’t need a lecture.” Anna replied. It was her old temper, the one she had been holding back all day finally letting loose.
“I don’t know what to do.” Ryan sighed. His hands dropped down and as his emotions drained away it left a defeated looking man, “I’m starting to think you like making things difficult…”
“I couldn’t let Jane get caught trying to escape.” Anna said.
“Jane is fucked either way.” Ryan stated. His straightness made Anna wince, “Either she got sent away or they’ll send her away when they catch her.”
“She might make it out…” Anna said. She was very aware of how little it sounded like she truly believed that.
“Well, anyway, there’s nothing I can do.” Ryan finally shrugged his shoulders, “You’re being kept here every weekday and you come home on weekends.”
“For how long?” Anna asked.
“A month at least.” Ryan said as sympathy crept into his voice, “Mr. Kenny was angling for the whole semester but I think I’ve talked him down.”
“A… A month…” Anna’s brain had gone blank. She felt dizzy and wondered if she was about to pass out. This couldn’t be right. She was supposed to finish this sentence in a few days but now weeks had been added, “I can’t…”
“You have to.” Ryan put his hands on Anna’s shoulders, “The alternative is much, much worse.”
Anna started crying and unlike earlier in the day she didn’t need to exaggerate her emotions. She leaned forwards against Ryan, he was clearly hesitating to hug her but after a couple of awkward pats on her back he wrapped his arms around her. A part of Anna was worried that this closeness would somehow be used against them but right then and there she needed her husband to offer her some comfort.
“Stay strong.” Ryan whispered, “Keep your head down.”
Anna didn’t ever want to let go but eventually she had no choice. She wiped her eyes as she stepped back and watched as Ryan walked past her and out of the nursery. Before the door had even closed Ronnie and Ed were closing in on her.