Ellie didn’t tell her parents about the short cut, at first. In truth, it was longer than the normal way home but that didn’t matter. Wandering that path made her feel like she was in the countryside – not walking from the bus stop after school. Like she’d stumbled across this secret patch of woods in the middle of her town. And nothing else mattered when she was there – how the other girls looked at her, how she had to sit alone at lunch-time, how she had to keep her head down and try not to look scared on the bus. She was safe there. She could just be.
One day her mum drove home from a different direction and saw her emerge from her safe path in the woods.
‘What were you doing there?’ She asked when Ellie got in.
‘Walking home.’ Ellie tried to explain about her patch of country but her mum interrupted.
‘You mean you walk home that way every day?’ There was a hint of alarm in her voice.
Ellie shrugged. ‘Not every day.’ She didn’t understand. Why was her mum mad?
‘I don’t want you walking that way again.’
‘It’s not safe, Ellie. Anything could happen.’
‘What do you think?’
Her mum fixed her with a steady gaze until the knowledge hit. It was quiet, secluded. A man would know this – could wait for her there. No-one would see her get taken. No-one would hear her cry out.
Her innocence was lost for she knew now what she was.