We engage in one last kiss. There’s so much going through my mind it’s difficult to process it all. A lot has happened, and yet so much more is ahead. But right now, it’s time for John to leave; it’s not safe for him to stay any longer. I know this is the best thing for him to do despite how much it pains me to admit it. His warm embrace feels so good; I don’t want to let go.
I wish I could take a photograph of this moment, not only of the vivid details of how everything looks, but of how everything feels and smells and tastes. A photograph that would enable me to relive this moment ... this kiss.
John opens the door to the truck. Our eyes are locked on each other, never wanting to break the connection. I bring my hands over my mouth and nose hoping to suppress any tears from emerging. He closes the door and Six puts the truck in gear and as they pull out of the parking lot, Mark and I walk to the edge of the road and watch as they drive away.
My hands fail to hold back the tears, which now fall relentlessly and uncontrollably. I see John turn around to watch me through the rear window. As he waves, Mark waves back but I’m unable to move a muscle despite the subtle convulsions my body makes at the sobbing. As they continue to drive away, he never turns around. He keeps his gaze on me until we fade to a blur ... and then, finally out of view.
That’s it. He’s gone.
Hopefully not for good. Even though I want to believe that we will be together after today, there’s a fear in me that says otherwise: That we will never see each other again.
But as soon as that thought takes hold, another thought—almost a voice—comes forth saying, “We’ll be together yet. And until that day you’ll be in my heart and my every thought.” Now I hang on this to give me some comfort ... and some ray of hope.
Another thought emerges. John mentioned something that Henry had said. What was it?
He told me, “Don’t give up hope just yet. It’s the last thing to go. When you have lost hope, you have lost everything. And when you think all is lost ... there is always hope.” I try to dwell on this as Mark drives the two of us in my car back to Paradise ... back to home.
Home. What will life be like, at home?
I don’t want to think about that now. We ride in silence, which is fine for me at the moment. I don’t feel like keeping up a conversation. I think Mark notices this and just keeps his attention on the road.
I watch the light snow float softly down from the gray clouds above. As soon as it hits the windshield, it melts to form small droplets of water. They eventually gather and streak quickly across the glass, reminding me how fast things have happened since yesterday. Images flood my mind: gun blasts and explosions all around me; beasts of unimaginable creations trying to kill us; aliens—no, predators—chasing us; and me thrusting a knife into one of them causing it to disintegrate into ash right before me.
I’m at odds with myself trying to make sense of all that has happened. It seems too much like a dream.
Is this real? Is this all really happening?
I turn and look at Mark; I see the exhaustion in his face. I glance down at my hands and see that they’re beginning to tremble. The shock begins to take form, and I know I need to get my mind off of it. I need to break this silence. I clear my throat before I speak.
“So, what did you say to Sam?” I ask, looking back out the window.
“Huh?” Mark says with a somewhat startled expression, as if he wasn’t expecting me to speak.
“Before they left,” I say, “at the truck, you said something to Sam. What’d you say?” now turning my attention to Mark.
“Oh,” he says looking at me then back to the road. “I told him that I was sorry for picking on him all those times. If I’d known he was going to be best friends with an alien that could kick my ass, I never would’ve messed with him. You know something to that effect.”
I can’t help but crack a smile at what he just said. “Really?” I say with more surprise in my tone than I intended. “What did he say?” I ask, this time, with a little more subtlety.
“He said it was okay, not to worry about it. Things are different now.” Mark gives a small laugh before going on, “He said that even though I helped out in the end, he still thought I was a dick before all this. We both laughed about it, and I said I was a dick and that I deserved that. He doesn’t think that now; He said things have changed.”
Things have changed. A lot has changed. Even Mark has changed, that much I can tell just from him: apologizing to Sam; helping now and back at the school; and carrying John back to the truck to get him and the rest of us out of there ... out of trouble.
Again, the images of the battle quickly fill my mind.
“Did he say anything else?” I ask, snapping myself back to reality and trying to stop the slideshow in my head from continuing.
“Yeah, actually he did.” He hesitates; his expression takes on a serious tone. “He said to keep an eye on you. You know, for John. He said to keep you safe and stuff. Make sure we get you two guys back together when all this is over.”
When all this is over.
Those thoughts give me a little comfort. At least I know Sam remains optimistic. And I know Mark will hold up to that: keeping an eye on me and trying to keep me safe. That provides a little comfort too. I know he respects John now and doesn’t want to disappoint him. Mark knows my feelings for John, so I’m sure he won’t interfere with that in any way.
As we get closer to town, we can see the school in the distance—or better yet, what’s left of the school. Mounds of black smoke continue to billow up into the air; the ground is covered in all kinds of scattered debris from concrete slabs that are broken and crumpled to steel beams that are twisted and mangled. We take in the massive amounts of destruction that took place there just last night, and to think: We survived it!
“Wow, it looks worse now than it did last night,” Mark says under his breath. “Of course, we were all running and fighting for our lives too. We didn’t have time to take in the sights.”
I slowly nod in agreement ... and disbelief.
“Yeah, I’m sure they’ll be watching us closely now,” he adds. “The police, probably the Feds, and more than likely those aliens too ... they’ll be watching.”
I nod again with no words, just staring at what’s left of the school in the distance.
Mark gives a long sigh and then continues, “The most important thing we can do is keep John safe. Whatever we do—no matter what—we have to make sure we help keep John alive by any means necessary.”
“Absolutely,” I draw out in a long whisper, more to myself than to Mark. As we continue the drive into town, those words keep echoing in my head: keep John alive ... by any means necessary.