“Yeah, I’m with Finn, but it’s not like you think,” I said thickly. “I wish I could explain everything to you, but I can’t. He’s taking care of me, though. He’s making sure I’m safe.”
“Safe from what?” Matt snapped. “I take care of you! Why are you doing this?” He took a deep breath and tried to calm down. “If we’re doing something wrong, we can change it, Wendy. You just need to come home, right now.” His voice was cracking, and it broke my heart. “Please, Wendy.”
“You’re not doing anything wrong.” Silent tears slid down my face, and I tried to swallow the lump in my throat. “You didn’t do anything. This isn’t about you or Maggie, honest. I love you guys, and I would take you with me if I could. But I can’t.”
“Why do you keep saying ‘can’t’? Is he forcing you? Tell me where you are so I can call the police.”
“He’s not forcing me, Matt.” I sighed and wondered if this phone call had been a bad idea. Maybe I just made it worse for him. “Please don’t try and find me. You won’t be able to, and I don’t want you to. I just wanted you to know that I’m safe and that I love you and you never did anything wrong. Okay? I just want you to be happy.”
“Wendy, why are you talking like that?” Matt sounded more afraid than I had ever heard him before, and I couldn’t be certain, but I think he’d started to cry. “You sound like you’re never coming back. You can’t leave forever. You . . . Whatever is going on, I can take care of it. I’ll do whatever I have to do. Just come back, Wendy.”
“I’m so sorry, Matt, but I can’t.” I wiped at my eyes and shook my head. “I’ll call you again if I can. But if you don’t hear from me, don’t worry. I’m okay.”
“Wendy! Stop talking like that!” Matt shouted. “You need to come back here! Wendy!”
“Good-bye, Matt.” I hung up to the sound of him yelling my name.
I took a deep breath and reminded myself that this was the only thing I could do. It was the only way that I could keep them safe, and it was the safest thing for me, which was exactly what Matt would want.
If he knew what was going on, he would agree with this completely. It didn’t change the fact that it was absolute torture to say good-bye to him like that. Hearing his pain and frustration so evident over the phone . . .
“Hey, Wendy. You did the right thing,” Finn assured me, but I just sniffled.
He reached over and took my hand, squeezing it lightly. Ordinarily I would’ve been delighted by that, but right now it took everything I had to keep from sobbing or throwing up. I wiped at my tears, but I couldn’t seem to stop crying.
Finn pulled over to the side of the road. “Come here,” he said gently. He put his arm around my shoulders and pulled me closer to him. I rested my head against his shoulder, and he held me tightly to him.
Taking a deep breath, I finally managed to stop crying. Even though Finn no longer had his arm around me, we still sat so close we were practically touching. When I looked at him, he seemed to become aware of this and moved his arm farther away.
“What’s going on?” I asked. “Who were those people? Why did we have to run away?”
Finn looked at me for a moment, then pulled back on the road and took a breath. “That is a very long answer, one that is best explained by your mother.”
“My mother?” I didn’t understand what more Kim would know about this, then I realized he meant my real mother. “We’re going to see her? Where is she? Where are we going?”
“Förening,” Finn explained. “It’s where I live—where you’ll live.” He gave a small smile, meant to ease my concerns, and it did, a little. “Unfortunately, it’s about a seven-hour drive.”
“Where is it?”
“It’s in Minnesota, along the Mississippi River in a very secluded area,” Finn said.
“So what is this Förening place we’re going to?” I asked, watching him.
“It’s a town, sort of,” Finn said. “They consider it to be more of a compound, but in the way the Kennedys have a compound. It’s just a glorified gated community, really.”
“So do people live there too? Humans, I mean.” I was already wondering if I could bring Matt along with me.
“Not in the sense you’re talking about.” He hesitated before he continued, and glanced at me out of the corner of his eye. “It’s entirely Trylle, trackers, and mänsklig. There are about five thousand who live there in total, and we have gas stations, a small grocery store, and a school. It’s just a very small, quiet community.”
“Holy hell.” My eyes widened. “You mean there’s just a whole town of . . . trolls? In Minnesota? And nobody ever noticed?”
“We live very quietly,” Finn reiterated. “And there are ways to make people not notice.”
“You sound like you’re in the Mafia,” I commented, and Finn smiled crookedly. “Do you guys make people sleep with the fishes or something?”
“Persuasion is a very powerful ability,” he said, and his smile disappeared.
“So you have persuasion?” I asked carefully. Something seemed to upset him, and as I expected, he shook his head. “Why not?”