THE SEASON OF EVERY DAY

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Chapter 12: Another face of Cara Vandis

“How’s your arm?” asks Dylan when he sees me throwing like a rock on the bed.

“You know, I’ve had moments in my life when I took a good beating, when I was stabbed, I was burned… and a lot more. But this time I really need something for the pain.”

“Dalia will get you something. Is there something I can get you until then?”

“We can’t leave this place yet”, I try to laugh. “But you’re nice.”

“Nice? Is this how you would describe me? In your book, I was much more.”

“If we’re talking about this… Why did you stick your nose? I gave Raisa just one part because that’s what I wanted, not because I forgot.”

“If I haven’t done that, I probably wouldn’t be here with you.”

“I think it would have been better”, I say sadly.

I stand up and look out the window. The old light bulb doesn’t let me see a lot. I pull the curtains that smell of lavender. I hear the floor creaking under Dylan’s feet. I squeeze the curtain in my hand, but I don’t let it go. Something keeps me frozen there as if I have my feet stuck on the ground. I can feel my veins pumping blood all over my body, and my heart wants to jump out from my chest and start running around. This is the moment when I know why I feel it, and why I’ve felt it the entire day. I turn around when his hand touches my right arm.

He doesn’t say anything. He just looks at me in a way no one ever looked before. The pale light makes his dark hair shine, and his eyes tell me a lot more than his lips could ever speak. He slowly and gently touches my arm, until his cold fingers touch mine. I pray for my palms not to sweat, but it’s a little late for that. A cop and a thief, I think and I let a smile appear on my face.

He touches my wet hair with his other hand, and he puts it gently behind my ear. All this time, his eyes are staring at mine. He seems relaxed, but I can feel his strained fingers. I can see the veins on his neck and his arms, and I understand that his heart is beating as fast as mine. His green eyes catch me in some sort of a spell, cause I can’t move when he comes with his face near to mine. His nose touches mine, and I feel I can’t breathe normally. I get out of that state, I close my eyes and suddenly walk away, leaving him staring at the window.

I cover my mouth with my hand and I stress around, without the courage to look at him.

“No…” I say more to myself.

But he hears my whispers in the silence that was upon us. The buzzing of the light bulb is the only thing that makes the situation a little less embarrassing than it already is.

“Why not?”

“Because it’s not real.”

I hear his steps coming to me and I turn around. We’re standing in front of each other, and one or two steps are between us.

“Why are you running?”

“I’ve told you. It’s not real.”

“How can you say it isn’t? We’re here! Look at us, staring at each other! You’ve run all your life, and now, when you see it’s actually possible to have something, something that really matters, you desperately hand on the past!”

“Maybe you should ask yourself why!”

“You’re afraid to feel what you’re feeling! Do you think that you don’t deserve to be loved? Happy? You’re so wrong. You’re so different, and this makes you the most interesting and beautiful person I’ve ever met!”

“Dylan, nothing’s all right! Look at you! Look at me! I’ve lived all my life on the streets! I can’t change! I can’t control my reactions! I can’t stop hurting people around me! Don’t you see? Everyone dies!”

“This is what you’re so afraid?”

“I’m not afraid…”

The words come out in such a way I don’t even believe myself. I’m terrified. Afraid of the unknown, of feeling what I’ve never felt before, to lose again, to be vulnerable.

“Lies! Your eyes tell me another thing. It doesn’t matter who you were, but who you are now! The present is what matters! Stop hanging on the past because you’re too afraid to fail! I’m right here, in front of you! I’ve run after you so long because I’ve seen in you something that I haven’t seen in anyone.”

“And I ran away from you all along! Can’t you see?”

“Do you want to know what I believe? Leaving aside the fact that you’re afraid to live some moments of which you may remember smiling later, you don’t really want to run. But it is a habit for you. It’s time to bury ‘Cara the fugitive’.”

I catch my face into my palms and I try hard to deny what’s in front of me, but the truth is that, for the first time in my life, I can feel love. And it’s nothing compared with what I had imagined all along. It’s a beautiful feeling, speckled with fear and a weird pain. My chest is still banging, and I can’t deny what’s obvious. I put my hand on my chest to check if my heart is not running around in the room. He comes close to me, but I stop him, taking his palm and putting it on his chest.

The tension makes me shiver, breathe fast, and I’m about to let the old Cara jump out on the window, and let the real Cara in.

A knock on the door makes me flinch, and I barely keep it together.

“It’s me!”

I hear Dalia on the other side of the door. I look at Dylan confused, and then I open the door.

“What’s with those faces? I told you to rest!”

She walks inside and closes the door. She goes near the window and shows us a white van.

“The equipment is inside. Ted is in there too. We’re taking this, and you’re taking the other one. I will fill you in when we’re on our way. It’s time to go.”

Dylan didn’t have the time to clean up or to change his clothes, which were filled with my blood, but he takes the backpack and follows Dalia. He doesn’t look me in the eye until we arrive in the car, but neither inside.

“You must be Ted”, he says.

“Dylan.”

“Cara”, says Dalia for me.

She looks at me in a strange way, as she was concerned that I might ruin her mission. I’m looking desperately for Dylan’s look, but he’s not searching for mine. Maybe he had had enough. If I were him, I would have done the same. I look panicked around.

“Cara! I need you to focus!” shouts Dalia.

I put my hand on my left arm by instinct, and she shows me a bottle with a yellow substance. She fills a syringe with it and pulls my arm.

“For the pain. I have more if you need it.”

She sticks the long needle in my arm, and I close my eyes. The back of the van is full of laptops and mobile phones, wires and other electronics like it was a walking lab.

“Ted and I will park the car two blocks away from the Parliament. From there, we will coordinate you using these tiny headphones”, she says handing us two small and round things.

“I will hack into the surveillance system and I will cover for you. On their screens, it will appear as if there’s no one where you’re stepping, but I can’t do it for more than ten seconds for every camera, so you have to listen to my indications carefully.”

“Ted will see what areas are the guardians, the security officers, the politicians, and you will stay away from those. During this time, I will talk to John, and he’s supposed to take Stan out of his office. Remember that you don’t have much time because Stan gets suspicious quickly, from what I’ve found out from John. So, you have to take the data without wasting the time, then to get out on our indications.”

“You will be invisible if everything goes right.”

“And then we will put things and data together, and we will start a live broadcast on the internet, which will take over the electronics. Everyone will see that transmission where we explain how the Government had taken down this country, and how things really were, what crimes they committed and how they covered their tracks. We will show the evidence, then we will hand them to the police. Probably, Dylan, you will call your colleague. I hope that you trust him because we don’t have contacts in the police department.”

“Dominic?”

“Yes, him.”

“I trust him. In fact, he’s the only one I trust.”

“When everything is out, they won’t have the time to cover the tracks. Something would be needed to be done, so the chaos wouldn’t start. This way, we will force them to punish all of them. President Roller is an honest woman, from what I know, and I’m pretty sure that she will do something when she learns what had happened under her nose all along, but in the past too. She was remarked and loved because of her sincerity, and she can’t give up on that quality now.”

“Why ‘pretty sure’?”

“Because you know how it is… probably beyond the President stands someone more powerful. Anyway, I hope she will do the right thing. But this is another page of the book. I’ve already gone too far with this. I want to make justice for Paul’s death.”

I nod my head, but I look instinctively at Dylan. When our eyes meet, we both turn our heads around.

“Is there a problem?” asks Dalia.

“No…”, I whisper.

“Can you work together?”

“Yes”, says Dylan briefly.

“It seems to me that you can’t! What we’re doing now is to get into the battlefield all we have! If you fail, they might kill you, and they will put us in jail if we’re lucky. So, for the sake of all of us, work your shit out until the morning! There are two hours left! Ted and I will try the headphones and work on the connections. We will study for the thousandth time the plan of the Parliament, just to be sure that we didn’t miss anything, even if this is impossible.”

“You go in the other van”, says Ted pointing at the gray car across the road.

Dylan goes in front of me, and I pull the bottle with yellow substance from Dalia’s hand. She gives me the syringe too, warning me not to use more than a dose until the morning.

We quietly get inside the van, where Dylan changes his bloody T-shirt. There are a couple of stains on the pants too, but they don’t seem to bother him. I gulp, look for a comfortable position, and I try to fall asleep, but I feel like I need a pillow. Dylan probably notices that, because he throws me the backpack.

I grab it and put it under my head, mumbling a “thank you” more for myself. I don’t like tension anymore, and I know that he’s angry, angrier than usual with me.

“And did you sleep with that spy, Tyler?” he asks me out of the blue.

“It’s not your business.”

“Judging by the way he touched your hand back there in the store, I can say that I don’t believe it was all an act. I believe that he got attached to you more than he wanted to, especially if you said that he saved you.”

“It doesn’t matter anymore. What matters is that I’ve been fooled two times by now. Daniel and Tyler. A beater and a spy.”

“And you thought that third time will be the same, right?”

“Dylan…”

“In fact, you know what? I don’t even want an answer, Cara. I’m tired of this.”

I rolled on the other side without telling him anything, and I closed my eyes. I felt some tears on my face too, and then I swallowed my sights.

The back door wakes me up. Dalia was standing there. Dylan shows some signs that he wants to sleep at least another twenty-four hours more, but he finally gets up.

“Are you ready?”

“Let’s do this”, I say.

I move on the passenger’s seat and Dylan behind the wheel. On Ted’s indications, received through the headphones, we head to the Parliament. Our wigs lay at my feet, and so does the backpack with the other stuff. Dalia and Ted are driving in front of us, with the arsenal of electronics.

Dylan still doesn’t talk to me, and the trip that was going to last about two hours becomes boring and annoying. I take out the bottle with magic liquid and I inject another dose in my arm. Just in case, because it wouldn’t have been nice for a pain in my arm to distract me in the middle of my mission.

He throws me a look with the corner of his eye, but when I turn my head to him he suddenly looks away.

“I just wanted a normal life, a new beginning”, I start talking to cover the silence.

Dylan hears me, but he remains silent. I continue my monologue.

“With Tyler. I wanted to be something real, even if I was suspicious. The second I let my guard down and I wanted to believe that everything was inside my head, my world collapsed again. So, you tell me, how am I supposed not to be afraid?”

“I’m glad that you finally admit that you’re afraid.”

“Yes, and it’s for the first time when I say it out loud. And it sounds so strange… I thought that I wasn’t afraid of anything anymore.”

Our discussion is interrupted by Ted, who tells us to stop. They park next to us. We’re at a knock from the Parliament. Dalia comes and sits on the back of our van. I jump over the seats and get to her.

“You have here suits that fit your sizes, to fill in and not draw attention. Not that they really know each other as they go to work every day… Anyway, you might want to put the wigs on too. Now, I might ask you for too much, or you might don’t want to do it, but it’s your decision”, she says and puts in front of us a bag full of guns.

“For your own protection, I suggest that you have something with you”, says Ted.

“I suppose it’s useless to ask where did you get these?”, asks Dylan.

I put my hand inside and I take out a pretty long knife, which I put it on my waist, under my blouse.

“This is the only thing that I know how to use well enough not to die with it in my hand.”

Dylan chooses a pistol, even if he’s insecure at first.

“We will park two blocks in that direction. When you’ll get out, you will find us here. Theoretically, you’re supposed to get out on the same door, meaning the lateral door. Everything’s well-guarded, but we have a friend who will create a diversion. I will hack into the surveillance system and you will get in there without being detected.”

“Whatever happens, and I mean it, whatever, stay to the plan and don’t stop”, says Dalia seriously.

We prepare and put the suits on, and then the wigs. Everything seems unreal at this point, as we’re about to commit a bad crime, one which would probably cost our lives. I take a deep breath and look at Dylan. His face inspires concern. I shake my head and listen to what Ted has to say in the headphone. We calmly head to the lateral door, where we can see two armed guards.

“Just walk, don’t stop”, says Ted.

We’re getting closer and closer, but the diversion doesn’t show up. Dylan breaths quickly, and I feel sweat on my forehead. I try to keep my face still, but my trembling lips don’t let me. Something’s scratching inside my stomach, and my eyes are wet because of the emotions. The tension is getting higher with every second, and I pass it to Dylan soon. I start doubting the plan when a white Audi hits the fence near the guards. They run alerted to the accident scene when the car drives backward and hits an electricity pole again.

“What the hell?” says Dylan stopping.

“Now! Get inside!” says Dalia.

“But that’s Raisa!” he says insecure.

“Yes! There she is! Now move! You don’t have much time! I knew that if I would have told you from the start about her involvement you wouldn’t like it!”

“When we get out of here, I need an explanation!”

“You will get it, now move!”

We enter the Parliament without drawing attention to us, and we continue walking until we reach a long corridor. On Dalia’s indications, we go upstairs on some lateral stairs, when she suddenly tells us to stop. We wait for the guards to pass, and then we have a clear path to the other floor.

“We have other surprises like the one with Raisa?” I ask her unpleased.

“They wouldn’t be surprised if I told you”, she replied.

Dalia tells us to stop again because the guards are on their way to us. Dylan seems distracted about something, and he’s one step away from being caught. My agile spirit makes me pull him behind the wall just in time.

“What was that?” asks Dalia.

“Nothing”, I rush to answer.

“You can’t be caught now! Focus!”

We continue our way, but this time on the main stairs. The Parliament looks a lot better from the inside. The red carpet on the ground makes feel like I’m in Hollywood, but when I remember that criminals and liars step on it every day it cuts my excitement off. The expensive wooden balustrade shines under our palms. The windows have granite and marble around them, and I can feel a floral smell in the air. Can it be the usual smell of liars? The halls are not too dark, but neither too bright, just perfect for a nap. I put the critics aside and concentrate on my mission.

We reach the third floor, where Dalia tells us to enter a room on the right side. A group of politicians is coming towards us, so we rush to disappear.

“How easy is to get in here with a little help!” I say in a whisper. “I wonder how it didn’t cross others mind to do it!”

“Oh, believe me, they thought! But the public never finds out the cool stuff!” replied Ted. “Anyway, to do what we’re doing here it takes years of experience, hatred for the system, a lot of courage, but probably a blind desire to die too. I’m talking about the electronic part, not the one walking around in the Parliament.”

Dylan seems distracted again.

“Hey, are you ok?” I ask him getting close.

“Raisa… is she fine?” he asks insecure.

“Yes! She’s fine! Your sister is a magnet for men!” answers Dalia.

“Look at that”, I comment.

“She’s about to bribe the guards to let her go. She’s doing an amazing job!” laughs Ted.

The politicians think about stopping to have a little chat just in front of the room we’re hiding in, so we go a few steps back and hide in the back of a closet.

“I should have come alone. I have no idea why I let you come with me”, I say.

“You didn’t let me do anything. I’m doing this because I want to. You just have to understand this.”

“Let’s not start again.”

“Cara, do you want to know why I’m here? The real reason?”

I stare at him curiously.

“Because I know what you were doing that night on the bridge when you recovered Raisa’s purse! Because you don’t give a shit about your life, and you think that you’re too small for this big world! You just want revenge!”

“Stop quoting me! It’s annoying!”

“You exposed your feelings clearly, and this is why I couldn’t let you come in here by yourself, because I know what happened in front of the Parliament with Stan, and I know why you chose the knife! Cara, you will not do something stupid!”

“Just stop. It’s my business what I’m doing in here!”

“You will not do this because this is exactly why I’m here! Maybe you don’t give a damn about what happens to you, but maybe you don’t want to drag another person with you because I know that you don’t want anyone else to get hurt.”

“So, you came with me to be what? Bait? Cut the crap!”

“You know damn well that I’m right!”

I wanted to give him a harsh reply when I hear a scream in my headphone.

“Now you’re working your problems? Really? Cara, I swear to God that if you do anything else that we talked about, I will find you and I will kill you with my own hands! I will not wait for others to do it!” shouts Dalia.

I mumble something, but even I don’t understand what.

“Do you understand, Cara Vandis?” she screams again.

“Yes”, I mumble again.

The corridor frees and Ted leads us to the fourth floor.

“If this building had had a hundred floors, Stan would still have put his desk on the roof!” says Dylan unpleased.

We hear a laugh at the other end of the headphones, a sign that Raisa had met them and she was fine.

“John starts his part. He heads to Stan’s office”, says Ted.

“I hope he hasn’t changed his mind. It’s up to him now”, says Dalia.

We’re waiting in silence, near Stan’s office. I see movement at the end of the hallway and I let Dalia know about it.

“Just stay there. It’s John. He will pass by you.”

“Do you think that’s a good idea?”

“We will see now.”

John approaches and passes by us as if he doesn’t see us. He’s wearing a blue suit, blue tie, and a white shirt. I don’t want to imagine the price of his clothes, but I can’t stop staring at him. He’s about forty and he already has white hairs. “It’s stressful to work in a place where they steal so much”, I think. His face doesn’t inspire my trust, but if I think a little, this is how most of the politicians look like. He walks on the long corridor and knocks on Stan’s door.

“He’s in”, says Ted. “They’re talking.”

“Done! Stan’s getting up! Be ready!” says Dalia.

I’m still skeptical when it comes down to a politician who betrays his colleagues in the name of the greater good. I give him a chance though because there’s nothing I can do now. “Or I can”, I think and put my hand on the knife from my waist.

“They’re out”, speaks Ted.

“Why are they standing there? Come on, John!” says Dalia worried.

“No, no!”, Ted continues.

“What?” I ask desperately.

“Stan’s coming in your direction!”

I gulp and take out the knife. If my plans are ruined, at least I should accomplish something good from it. Stan’s death. I imagine for a moment how the moment would go, but Dylan grabs my hand. He walks in front of me and takes the gun out.

“A gunshot will draw attention!” I say.

“You will not become a murderer!

“And you? Why should you become one?”

“I’ve worked in the field. I’ve shot some people in my life. This is why I retired.”

His works don’t shock me as they were supposed to. I can see his hands shaking on the gun, and I realize there’s another part of the story that he’s not telling me.

“Wait! John is pulling him back. They’re walking away on the other side! Now they’re going down the stairs! He did it!” says Ted.

“Go in now!” continued Dalia.

We burst into Stan’s office and Dylan connects the stick into his computer. After he installs a program, Ted is able to take over and the data starts transferring.

“Where’s Stan?” I ask.

“In John’s office! I hope he stalls him because there’s only thirty percent of the data transferred! If you pull it out until it’s complete, we will have nothing!”

“Crap”, I say.

Dylan wipes the sweat on his forehead. I see his hands shaking badly and I’m walking across the room like some lunatic.

“He’s leaving! Stan’s leaving!” shouts Dalia.

“Damn! It’s seventy percent!”

“He will catch you!” says Dalia.

“I know what I have to do”, I say leaning on the door.

“Cara, don’t!” speaks Dylan getting up.

“How long it has?” asks Dalia.

“Twenty percent!” answers Ted.

I prepare to confront Stan. Dalia confirms that he’s coming up on the stairs, and I squeeze the knife in my hand. Dylan desperately stands up from the office.

“He met someone. They’re talking”, says Dalia.

“Two percent… done!” says Dylan pulling out the stick.

“Good! Now get out of there!”

He grabs the stick, I open the door, and we rush to go down the stairs just when Stan shows up on the corridor.

“It’s good. He doesn’t notice that someone was in there. He will not have a clue”, says Ted calm.

“Now let’s get you out of there,” says Dalia.

Following their instructions, we descend two floors. At one point it’s quiet, and a powerful noise makes Dylan throw away the headphone from his ear. I don’t hear anything in mine, but I can clearly hear something coming from his.

“What the hell?” he shouts.

“Cara, what’s going on?” asks Ted.

“Dylan’s headphone’s broken!”

“That’s not possible!”

“There’s something interfering with them. There’s no other explanation!” says Dalia.

“What do we do?” I ask.

“Turn right,” says Ted.

Dylan walks on the other side of the corridor, but I can’t do it anymore when I see a group of security agents coming straight in our direction. More, they were running.

“Damn! Ted, they’ve seen us!”

“Who? There’s nothing on the cameras! I can’t see anything wrong!”

“They found you and stopped your signal! Someone knows that we’re here!”

“This is impossible!”

“Stop playing the smart guy!”

“Run to the exit, Cara!” shouts Dalia.

Dylan looks at me with regret.

“Split up!” says Ted. “You have to confuse them. Dylan, you go where you came from and find the way out! Cara, I will guide you through the headphone!”

“But…” I protest.

“Cara, now!”

I run in the opposite direction, and when I look back I see three people following me. They’re wearing black suits and they have guns on them, but they can’t use them inside the Parliament for now because they would have used them until now, and I would already be dead.

Two men run after Dylan. Ted guides me through the headphone, and I arrive on another long corridor.

“Now what?” I ask disappointed.

“Now, you go and enter the third door. Done?”

“Yeah. You can’t see me?”

“Not really. I’m only using the plan of the Parliament. They cut me off. There’s supposed to be a vent hole. Open it. Just pull it with strength. Is it working?”

“Yes.”

“Now get in there and put it back on after you. Done?”

“Yes.”

“Go down, without making any noise. You’ve lost them.”

I crawl in the venting hole until I face a problem.

“Hello? Is anyone still there?”

“What? You’re supposed to be out!”

“There’s a problem.”

“What problem?”

“It doesn’t matter anymore”, I say and let myself fall into the dark and long hole.

I hit the walls hard because space is very tiny. I land somewhere outside, in a bin with trash bags.

“Fuck!” I scream.

The headphone starts making weird sounds, so I take it out from my ear and throw it into the dumpster. I get out of there mowing and I realize that I’m standing in the back of the Parliament. I take one step into the street, but I can’t really walk unnoticed on the road. Someone knows that I was inside, so they must be after me.

I see a bus in the station. I don’t have a ticket or money, but my homeless person experience helps me into this situation. I rush and sit on its back, grabbing carefully by it so I wouldn’t fall. It drives away. It’s heading to the area from where we had left, so I jump off it when I arrive near that place. I know that my accomplices have to be there somewhere.

But when I step on that street it’s no one, so I try on the next one. I can see their van there, so I rush to open the back door. Dalia winces, grabbing a gun.

“Easy!” I yell.

“Damn it, Cara!”

“Where’s Dylan?” I ask.

They throw each other weird faces.

“I’m waiting for some time to see if he gets out on the door you two went inside, but I don’t see any movement. Something’s wrong”, says Ted.

“He has to be okay!” speaks Raisa.

“The stick?” asks Dalia.

“He has it! But the damn stick is not what’s important right now! Nothing matters if Dylan doesn’t get out of there!” I say angrily.

I take a moment to think and I take off the wig. I walk one step backward, and I find myself getting away from the car.

“Cara, what are you doing?” asks Ted.

“Get back here!” shouts Dalia.

But I start running haggard to the Parliament. I look in all directions, hoping that I will see Dylan’s face. But there’s no sign of him. I remained blocked between the two entrances and I feel already too exposed. They can recognize me any moment, even without the wig, but they’re too busy searching for us inside. I decide to head to the lateral door. I don’t know what I’m thinking, but I can’t just sit there and wait. The agitation around me makes me nervous. People on the street, the cars, the guardians and the security agents, who aren’t really sure who are they looking for, everything’s a total mess.

At that moment, I hear my name. I turn around and I see a guardian, wearing a blue uniform, and heading towards me. He knows my name. Everything starts spinning around me and I’m under the impression that I’m imagining things. He’s coming from the front entrance. I block, but I came back to my senses when he takes off the blue guard hat from his head.

I can’t find my words anymore, and all I know is that my legs need to run in that direction. The next second I’m wrapped around his body, with my hands around his neck, and my lips touching his. Pure instinct. Dylan smells good, of men’s perfume, and it’s probably the stolen uniform. His lips are soft and delicate, different from what I had imagined. And yes, I had imagined them a lot of times.

I can hear a klaxon near us, but we’re too caught up in the moment to notice it. When I hear it the second time, I figure it might be Dalia, so I hardly get off him and jump from his arms. I throw him a lost look, trying to explain my reaction, and I see the shock on his face, but also a smile which he’s trying to hide.

“Come on!” I hear from across the street.

Without saying another word, we head back to the car and jump inside. The ones who are present look weird at us, but we’re acting as if nothing had happened.

“The stick?” Dalia finally asks.

Dylan takes it out from his pocket and gives it to her. He puts it into a laptop, and the other one with the data Dylan had stolen from the police station in another laptop.

“It will take some time. We will leave you at your van and we will split up. We will go somewhere safe to decrypt the data.”

She gives us another stick after she consults with Ted and they move it from a laptop to another.

“Take care of this. In case someone finds us, you have on this all the data you need, but they’re encrypted. We need to be careful. This is why we will split up for the next hours.”

“Fine”, I say not that sure.

“Raisa, how did you end up in this?” Dylan asks his sister.

“Well, do you really think that I took that plane to Paris after what you had told me? Ha! I turned around and called an old friend from high school, who helped me find you. But things got messy.”

“Messy… how?”

“Well, Cara wasn’t the only one erased from the existence. You were too! And then, Dalia found me because her searching was interfering with mine. She told me that you needed help.”

“Well, we didn’t exactly know what we were getting into”, he grumbles.

“Anyway, I accepted. What was I supposed to do? Just sit back and wait?”

I was listening carefully to their conversation, but it was like my thoughts were far away at the same time. But I still heard what they were saying. I get out of that state and look at Dalia.

“How did they detect us inside?”

“I think when you were forced to remain in one place more than ten seconds when Stan turned around”, replies Ted. “It passed more than ten seconds, and even if I thought I tricked the system, it seems I couldn’t manage to do it so well. It’s the only explanation.”

“We meet at ten o’clock tonight, at the edge of the Lockwood forest. If we’re not there at ten and five minutes, it means that something happened and you should run with the stick far away as possible. Leave things to calm down and then get to this address”, says Dalia giving me a note.

“It will be just fine. We will meet you tonight”, I say confidently.

“I will go with you”, says Raisa to Dalia.

“Good. We need another pair of hands. I hope you know how to use a laptop.”

“Are you joking?” laughs Raisa.

She hugs her brother and then she approaches me. She smiles before she puts her arms around me, but she doesn’t say anything.

We get down from their van and get into ours, in silence, like two children. Dylan starts the engine and we find ourselves on the road to the heart of the forest. The silence is weird, but it’s not disturbing at all. When we’re far enough, and the lights of the town get lost between the branches of the trees, he stops the car. I open the window and take a deep breath. We can see the fireflies flying in front of us when he turns off the lights. Red, blue, purple, but the most are yellow and green.

“You did it”, he finally says.

I repay him with some silence.

“You overcome your fear”, he continues.

“I thought that they caught you”, I say in a whisper.

“I hit a guard and took his uniform”, he laughs. “I didn’t use the gun”, he continues seriously.

It’s dark, but I can see the spark in his eyes when I look at him.

“I don’t know what’s next, but I don’t recognize myself anymore”, I whisper.

“Today I’ve seen another face of Cara Vandis. One that made me shiver, tremble and amaze, and all of these at the same time.”

I smile and get out of the car, leaning on the capote.

“I like fireflies. I haven’t seen one in many years”, I break the silence.

He stands near me, on the metal that’s still hot. But he suddenly changes his mind, and makes a step, turning around to me. We’re standing face to face now, and his hands are climbing up on my neck.

“You’ve made the first step. Daring move”, he says. “I think that now it’s my turn to make the…”

‘Second one’ he was about to say if I haven’t put my lips on his again.

“Shut up. You’re talking too much”, I tell him.

“The second one”, he says huskily. “That was what I was going to say.”

I feel him lifting me up, and I put my butt on the capote. I wrap my hands around his neck, and the legs around his waist, and like this, like a snake, I decided not to let him go away again. I don’t know how, but the tension increases, and we end up in the back of the van, where we fall one on another. The doors slam.

I touch his chest and I realize that he no longer has the shirt on him. My shirt slips away too, and the pants too, then his pants, with a little help from my hands, of course. Then, all that crosses my mind is: “It’s good that there are no houses around”. His palms are moving gently along my body, letting me shiver. I can feel my body trembling under his, and soon we share the same body. His cold lips on my abdomen, my hands on his back, and then my nose touching his.

It’s dark, and I’m lying on him, with my head leaning on his chest. His heart is beating fast and I hear his breath. I finally get up, but I feel his hands around my body.

“When I first saw you in Michelle’s office, it never crossed my mind that I would do this with you in the middle of the forest”, he laughs.

“Oh, but where?”

“How you put words into my mouth!”

“Not at all.”

I get dressed and I go outside. The cold of the night hits me again and it wakes up my senses.

“What’s the time?” I ask, even if I don’t want to leave yet.

“Nine.”

Dylan turns on the music, and then he comes near me, but he doesn’t give any signs that he wants to leave.

“Shall we leave?”

“Not yet”, he says.

I grab his hands from my shoulders.

“I still don’t understand why”, I say briefly.

“Why… what?”

“Why you didn’t give up on me. It’s obvious that you’ve seen in me something that I haven’t. I’m bad, I’ve stolen, I run away from everyone, I do bad things and I bring only suffering.”

“You’ve played your bad woman card, but not the game has changed. You’re not afraid to be good anymore. You lack the confidence in yourself. When you’re not sure of what you’re doing, just listen to your heart. Leave the ration aside, because your heart already knows the way you should go.”

I’m waiting for him to go on because he hadn’t answered my question. At the same time, I feel for the first time in my life in a way I haven’t felt before: safe. Despite the fact that we’re in the middle of nowhere, or that there are a lot of serial killers after us, or everything is falling apart, and we practically don’t exist anymore, at least we’re disappearing together.

“I’ve seen courage, potential, will, a lot of stubbornness and craziness. I’ve seen beyond the barrier that you’ve put up against the world. And now that I’ve passed by it, I see the woman who gives up the vanity, the fear, and she’s free to feel. And believe me, it was all worth it, this mad race on which I tried to stop you from running.”

“Thank you”, I reply.

From the bunch of steel comes the song ‘Stranger’, from Secondhand Serenade, which I start singing from reflex. I don’t usually dance, but when Dylan grabs my hands and starts a suave dance with me, I let myself flow with it. A smell of fir tree makes me remember this moment forever. I will associate the smell of fir tree with the dance from now on. From what I can see, he doesn’t know how to dance either, a thing that calms me and makes me amused at the same time.

“I don’t know how to dance on this type of song, but I like the lyrics too much not to try it. I believe that they remind me of you.”

I loved the song from the first moment I’ve heard it, and now when I finally understood the lyrics as they were I was able to agree with Dylan. I really had considered him that ‘stranger’, who had become in such a short time the center of my entire Universe. At least this is what he was that night.

“Me too”, I whisper while I lift my head from his shoulder when our feet keep moving slowly, the same way we had begun.

What else should I have said when no one had ever said a thing like this to me? The cool night, this perfect place, the silence, the smell of the fir tree. I hadn’t had such an intimate moment for my soul before. It was like I had let someone walk around my deepest and darkest corners of my soul, giving him a key from every door, which he should open as he pleases.

But one thought disturbs my peace. The last time when I decided to adapt and move on, life has given me a punch. With Tyler. And I think terrified about my heart being torn apart again, this time probably the worst from my entire life. What would have happened if everything was just an illusion? But I reach the conclusion that Dylan’s not that kind of person not to trust. Maybe the Universe really has a plan for each of us, and the coincidences that happened to bring me back to him were for a purpose, one that I will find out later. Because everything happens for a reason, isn’t this right?

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