Ten: Part One
Hey guys, so I originally planned for this story to be only ten chapters, but I went over board and now have split chapter ten into two parts. Just wanted to say thank you for being here since the beginning or were here for the journey, it means a lot to me. I hope you enjoy this and please leave me comments if you think so otherwise.
(Eight months later)
I kick my feet up in time with the upbeat mainstream song that blares through the house. I am dusting the library. I’ve read all the books and shelved them in proper order. In the eight months that I have lived here, there has been no signal from the others. Some part of me hopes that there will be, but most of me knows there won’t.
A few days after I first arrived, I found a bike in the shed behind the house. It takes me twenty minutes to bike to the small village. I keep to myself, I don’t engage in conversation, and I most certainly don’t make friends in this new and strange place.
All my money was wired to me two weeks after I arrived. I keep it in my duffle along with the two pictures of my family which is under my bed. Most of my clothes are in the small closet.
Today is a big day. I’m going to the outskirts of London, I found a motor bike for a low cost. I know I can fix it. One of the first things Aunt Cara taught me was to fix various things, including engines.
Aunt Cara died for me. We were being trailed by a scout who was armed and she took the bullet for me.
“If I don’t come back to the car, you drive back home, and you make the plan a reality. You have to keep living for the both of us.” Aunt Cara says to me.
Her long grey hair is clear from her face and piled into a bun on top of her head. Her brown eyes are alert and focused on me. Her thumb brushes across my cheek and wipes the tear that started down my cheek.
She presses her lips hard and quick to my forehead and gets out of the car. I slide into the drivers seat as she stands face to face with the man that had apparently been following us all day in town. I bite my lip as they engage in a struggle, she is trying to pry the gun out of his hand. I keep one hand gripping the steering wheel and the other on the shift. I wonder if I should reverse or forward when I hear a single gun shot.
I scream in terror as Aunt Cara crumples to the ground and throw the shift in reverse. The summer heat made the back of my neck slick and the tears streamed down my face as I sped off into the thick summer night.
I jump out of the jeep and pile all of my belongings in a few minutes. Gravel flies as I peel out of the small motel and onto the highway. Next stop, anywhere but here.
I lean against the wall as the memory rips through my senses. I shiver even though it is June. I grab my backpack and double check the time for the ferry departure. I will stay a night in London, get the bike, and come back. Easy enough. I pull the straps of the backpack tighter and lock the door behind me.
I pull out my headphones and tune out the rest of the world. Who knew mobile phones could be so useful? Laptops are great too. I’ve watched a lot of movies and tv shows. Documentaries are my favorite, especially the ones about the national parks back home.
I board the ferry and find a spot on one of the upper levels. It will be a two hour trip, so I brought a few things to keep me occupied. A book, my most recent knitting project, and a journal to write down my schedule for the trip. There are some things I would like to visit.
I get out my knitting and turn the volume up on my music. As the world fades, I slip away from my mind for a while, completely immersed in looping the yarn around the needles and pulling at the right time until I reach the end of the row and begin a new one.
The speaker crackles to life and announces five minutes left on the ferry. I pack up the needles and yarn and zip my backpack shut. I’m the first one off, my hunger leading me to a near by cafe. I order a sandwich and a water, wolfing it down and continuing my way to the destination.
I see Big Ben and The Eye. I snap a few pictures and keep my eyes wide in awe like the obvious tourist I am. I don’t plan on coming back any time soon after I get the motor bike. The bike itself is in a suburb, a man has made a small business selling old bikes in his front yard. I double check the address and speed up my pace.
I pass a park with a lake on near my side. It as a large dock and multiple people are out on it. Most are older people with fishing poles, but there is a small group of young children laughing and playing on it. Hope they can swim at the rate they are running around, bound to get-
My train of thought is cut off as a young girl falls in with a scream. Her friends gather at the edge of the dock as the girl flails in the water, obviously unable to swim. Before I compose myself, I am running to the dock and flinging my backpack near the walkway leading to the dock.
I jump off the dock and swim out to the girl, who has somehow managed to flail away from where she fell in. I wrap my arm around her ribcage and kick in the water. She is blubbering as I pull us onto shore. I’m panting heavily as her friends gush and praise me. I hear clapping above my pulsing heart beating in my ears.
A girl my age with winged eyeliner and long brown hair comes running over.
“Oh my god, Soph! Are you okay?” She asks.
Soph throws herself onto the teenager and sobs louder. The teenager pulls her close and looks at me. The girl’s brown eyes shine gratefully at me and I shrug.
“I’m Mattie Hawkins and this is my sister.” Mattie introduces herself.
“I’m Elsie.” I tell her.
“Let my family treat you to dinner, as a thank you for saving Sophie.” The teenager says as Sophie calms down.
Sophie hiccups and nods in agreement. I follow silently and am pleased when I find out that their house is a few blocks away from the bike man. As we walk in the shade goosebumps cover my skin. By the time Mattie opens the door, my mobile phone reads 4:30.
I’ve missed my ferry back home, fuck. I will have to purchase another ticket tomorrow after I get the motor bike.
“Here let me get you some dry clothes. We look about the same size. Do you want any food? Would you like to take a shower?” Mattie bombards me with questions.
“I’ll take you up on that offer of the shower and dry clothes and food. Rescuing takes a lot out of you.” I hear myself say.
When did I become so cheerful and talkative? The last time I was like this was at the cabin, when things were good. I almost gasp at the pain in my heart when Leo saunters into my mind. I follow Mattie upstairs and she pushes clothes into my arms and points to the bathroom.
I put my backpack on the closed toilet lid and look at the pile of clothes. A soft feeling dark green t shirt, a pair of grey running shorts, and a pair of black underwear that Mattie promises are new.
As steam curls around the mirror, I drop my damp clothes by the door and slip into the shower. I sigh as the hot water works at the tight muscles in my shoulders and back. I quickly wash up and towel myself dry before I put the clothes on. I hear the front door open and close.
“We’re home!” I hear a woman call out.
“Mum! Elsie rescued me today from drowning!” I hear Sophie exclaim.
I hear hushed voices and decide to follow them. They are in a nice looking kitchen around a table. Mattie and Sophie sit around a table with three other people. Two men and one woman. Well, a boy and a man. The boy looks up and the woman follows his gaze to me. I stand in the doorway of the kitchen.
“Elsie!” Sophie cries out and hugs me around the hips.
I pat her head awkwardly, keeping my eyes trained on her family to gage their expressions. I accept all of them as non threatening and relax a little. Mattie introduces me to the rest of her family. Her mother’s name is Laura and she is a lawyer. Joe, her father, works in an office. Toby goes to school and is a couple of years younger than me.
As I recount the rescue today, Laura flutters around the kitchen to prepare a nice dinner. Mattie orders Toby to check on my clothes and stutters as he looks at me. I give him half a smile and a blush rises to his cheeks. Oh boy.
Sophie clings to me all throughout the dinner, even asking me to cut up her chicken into bite sized pieces. Joe cracks a joke or two and really eases the tension at the table.
“Where are you from, Elsie?” Laura asks me.
I swallow my mashed potatoes, “The states. Didn’t stick to one place though.”
That’s not a complete lie, but it isn’t the truth either.
She nods and takes in the information, “Your parents will be worried when you aren’t home tonight.”
I shrug and keep eating the delicious food in front of me. Laura doesn’t question me further on the subject, but I know she wants to. They all seem like nice people, and I don’t want to drag them into the mess I’m in.
I help Toby wash the dishes while Laura puts Sophie to bed. Mattie and Joe watch tv. I envy them, their life is so normal. I wish I had that.
“Mattie? Do you have a laptop I could borrow?” I ask her.
I sit at the kitchen table with a cup of tea. She disappears and reappears with a laptop. My blood runs cold as I recognize who the laptop belongs to. It’s Leo’s laptop. Her walk stutter as she sees my guarded expression.
“What’s wrong?” She asks in a flat tone as she sets the laptop in front of me.
My fingers reach out to touch the edge, afraid this is just a stupid dream. I fight the tears welling in my eyes and let one prime emotion out, anger.
“I will only ask one time, and I expect you to give me a straight answer,” I break my gaze from the table and glare at her, “where did you get the laptop.”
She crosses her arms at my tone, “Why should I tell you? A complete stranger.”
“Just tell me damn it!” I shout, losing my patience and temper.
“What’s going on in here?” Laura asks in the doorway.
I set my jaw, “Nothing.”
Mattie rolls her eyes at me and I glare back at her. She turns away from me and goes over to the sink. She reaches in the cabinet above her and gets a mug out. As she goes to make her tea she speaks.
“You know him then? Elster?”
I bite my lip to keep the gasp from escaping. It’s been so long since I’ve heard anyone, including myself, say his name. She looks at me expectantly. I nod.
“Well, he said he would be around soon. That was a couple of weeks ago. He’s been showing up in secret for a month or two now.” She informs me.
Mattie sits down in front of me with her steaming mug. He is in the country, probably with the others, and he never contacted me. I admit, it stings almost as bad as he left me in the airport. It doesn’t hurt as much as the deaths of my loved ones, though it feels like he killed a part of me by abandoning it.
I exhale shakily and gulp down the rest of my tea. I want to push the laptop away from me, but I don’t. I take the charger and plug it in. I check my email quickly and close out of the page. Closing the laptop, I place it off to the side. I unzip my backpack and get out my book.
“Night.” Mattie tells me as she puts her empty mug in the sink.
“Goodnight.” I respond absentmindedly.
I stay in the kitchen reading my book for what seemed like forever. My eyes scanned the same page I had opened to hours ago. My mind is swirling with various emotions. Relief that he is alive, jealousy that he was here and is frequently around, envy that Mattie has spent time with him, anger that he hasn’t been in contact with me, and longing to see him again.
My ears pick the sound of the front door opening. I’ve been sitting in the dark kitchen for a few minutes. The street light sets an orange light across the table in front of me, casting me in a shadow. I hear shuffling of feet getting closer and my heart beats double. I grip the sides of the book in anticipation.
Max walks in and spots me. As he opens his mouth I put a finger to my lips urgently. I get up and stand in front of him for a moment before we both wrap our arms around each other in a tight embrace. My anger is gone for now. Relief floods me as I curl my hands into his thin shirt.
“The others are waiting outside. Laura always leaves some food in the fridge for Leo.” Max whispers to me.
“You look well.” He adds.
I scoff at him and he graces me with a smile I didn’t know I missed until I saw it again. We both hear the front door open again and I tense up. Max rests a hand on my shoulder in comfort and we both turn to see who comes in.
My hand flies up to muffle the involuntary cry when Leo steps into the kitchen. Max stands off to the side. His eyes are how I remembered them, but everything else is different. His hair is shorter and his face not as scruffy as when I first met him. None of that matters at this moment though.
We both move towards each other and we squeeze the breath out of each other. His heart is racing as my ear is pressed right up against it. I feel a few tears leak out of my eyes as I finally pull away from him.
The back of my hand tingles as it collides with Leo’s cheek.
“Why the hell did you leave me?” I exclaim.
I don’t care if I wake anyone else up, I don’t care if the whole country hears.
“I didn’t want to put you in danger.” He tells me in a calm voice.
“I’ve been in the same damn shoes as you! You fucking abandon me at the last second in an airport!” I snarl at him.
I manage beat my fists against his chest a couple of times before he catches my wrists in one hand and then wraps his arms tightly around me as I choke back a sob, angry tears rolling down my face.
“What would you do for the person you love?” He whispers so softly I thought I imagine it.
This confrontation has sapped up what little energy I had from swimming earlier.
I mumble, “Take the idiot with me.”
I feel him press a kiss to the top of my head and he picks me up bridal style. I feel him tuck me in on the couch. He moves away and stands up.
I shoot up from the couch, “You aren’t leaving me again.”
I follow him around as he signals for the others to come in. Laura and Joe come downstairs.
Mia strides over to me and gathers my overwhelmed body in her arms. She hugs me like my mother used to, and I lose it. I shake in her arms and she moves us to the couch again. She rubs my back and plays with my hair to calm me down.
Laura sets up the loft above the garage for Leo. I sniffle as I sit beside Mia while Leo eats the left overs from dinner.
Laura goes back to bed and the others go to their charging stations. Leo takes my wrist gently and leads me out to the loft. We climb the creaky ladder and the small space is wrapped in a soft light from the single lamp beside the double mattress on the floor that was hastily made up.
Leo and I spend the whole night talking and not touching until the sun comes through the tiny window.
“You must be tired.” He tells me.
I am, but I don’t want to go to sleep and find him gone.
I climb down the ladder and Leo follows me into the kitchen for breakfast. The smell of baking bread makes my stomach grumble.
“Elsie!” Sophie runs in screaming and lunges at my waist.
I wince at her loud voice at such an early hour and pat her head while murmuring a ‘good morning’
Mattie slides two mugs in my direction with a sheepish look on her face, I dismiss it and hand the extra mug to Leo. All of us; Hawkins, Elsters, and Millican, gather in the living room and watch tv while the bread continues to bake.
Niska and Sophie squish in on the couch so that I’m practically in Leo’s lap. I tense up at the sudden contact. We haven’t touched since he tucked me in several hours ago. Leo notices and tries to rest a hand on my arm. I flinch from his touch and escape to the kitchen with an empty mug.
I’m not sure if I can forgive him or not, at least, not yet. The hours we spent together in the loft were tempting. He was so close and we were alone with no one to bother or interrupt, I could’ve kissed him. Every fiber of my being screamed at me to, and I could see in his eyes that he wanted to as well. It would have led to more than just kissing.
I curse at myself for my thoughts to run towards the night I kissed him. I shoo those memories away and catch Mia looking over at me with a concerned expression. I shoot her a quick smile and walk around the island to get more coffee. There is one question that rises above the others, what is going to happen to us? Me and the Elsters?
My thoughts are interrupted by the oven chiming. The bread is done. Laura comes in and takes the two loaves out of the oven and sets them on the granite counter top to cool down. I help her set the table for seven. I remember that the man who I’m buying the motor bike from is open at this time.
It won’t take long, I tell myself. I grab my backpack and walk outside. The man is there and smiles as I settle onto the seat of the bike for a test drive. Just as I suspected, all it needs is a little oil. I tell him and he fixes it right up, free of charge. I hand him the money, thank him, and leave on the bike.
I realize that I still have Mattie’s clothes on, and that mine are at the Hawkins’. I come to the four way stop that will take me back there. If I turn left, I return to them. I feel my right hand tug the handle and I’m speeding off. I purchase a ticket for the ferry and wait for it to dock. My mind screams at me to get the hell out of there, to run and never look back, but my heart cries out to run as fast as I can back to them, to home. I don’t know what to listen to, I let my body do the deciding as it stays in place. My feet shuffle onto the ferry and it takes off.
Mind trumps heart this time. I gulp in the salty sea air as I walk the motor bike off the ferry. I yawn as I ride the hour trip back to the house on the new motor bike. My mind reels as I unlock the door and walk to the kitchen. I would kill for some of Laura’s bread right now, it smelled good when I went out.
My mobile phone chirps. I have recieved a text message from an unknown number.
‘Where r u?’ it reads.
My phone chirps again.
‘It’s Mattie btw.’ I scoff.
‘Went home.’ I respond.
My fingers fly across the screen, ‘I will return your clothes in a few weeks. Just had to get out, too much for one day.’
‘I understand.’ Mattie texts back.
‘Tell him not to hang around.’ I leave her hanging and turn my phone off.
I build a fire on this colder than usual evening and fall asleep on the rug in front of the fireplace.
Third person’s pov
“She says, ‘Tell him not to hang around.’” Mattie relayes the message to the whole table.
“Damn it.” Leo curses, not caring at the startled expressions of the others.
“Sounds like you two were close.” Toby inquires carefully.
Leo grumbles and Mia speaks for him.
“Yes, Toby, they were very close. Leo is upset because she turned around and did what he did to her eight months ago.”
The Hawkins’ are puzzled for a moment, but not for long.
“You left her?” Sophie whispers.
“We all did. We thought it was safer to split up.” Max confesses.
Sophie cries out, “You don’t leave family behind!”
Niska goes over to her and attempts to calm the young girl down. Niska sits down and Sophie crawls into her lap.
“I can’t imagine what the poor girl has gone through, all alone.” Laura says out loud.
Mattie rests her head on her mother’s shoulder reassuringly.
“Aren’t we going to go after her?” Joe asks the question that was on everyone’s mind.
All at once everyone talks. Mattie takes Elsie’s side and so does Niska. Laura, Sophie, and Mia oppose.
“We have to go after her, we can’t leave her so easily as last time.” Leo announces.
Mattie grumbles, but listens in on the plan well into the night.