“I like your eyes; they’re beautiful. I think green is my favorite color.” John smiled as he sat opposite me, under the oak tree. “They’re my preferred thing about you.”
“I love your smile.” I blushed, tearing my eyes from him as they cast down to the grass below me.
“What are you going all shy for, Lizzie?”
“No one’s ever been so nice to me, that’s all.” I lifted my eyes back to his once more to be met with a full, white-toothed grin.
“Those idiots back in the village are just too stupid to see how extraordinary you are.”
“I’m not special, just a freak, they said so.” I sighed, feeling my heart sink into the bottom of my stomach.
Freak. The word I heard almost daily, along with other unkind words. Even when they didn’t say the words, I knew they were thinking of them, it was as clear as a summers day on their expressions.
“So, you believe just because they say so, it’s true? They’re jealous, that’s all.” John’s shoulders shrugged softly as he carried on playing with the twine between his fingers.
“They have nothing to be jealous of.”
“They have everything to be jealous of, Lizzie. Have I not done enough to show you how special you are these past six months?”
More blush crept over my cheeks as his eyes flickered back up to mine, “You’ve done more than enough.”
“Well then, ignore those losers and trust me when I say, you’re special. At least, to me, you are." He flashed me another smile before he continued talking, "Has anyone asked about where you’ve been going?”
I shook my head as I drew circles in the mud with a stick, “No, no one cares, they’re just happy to see me go away for a little while. Pope did ask, but I just said it was none of his business, and he left it alone. I want to run away.”
“Where would you run too?” John asked a little astounded by my impromptu declaration.
“I don’t know, somewhere far away from here. I’ve never left the village so I wouldn’t even begin to know where to go or how to survive.”
My body slumped as I spoke, knowing full well I couldn't survive outside the village confines alone. I hated the settlement now. Even my parents were becoming increasingly worse at concealing their aversion from me. My father was slowly beginning to give up training me, and my mother wouldn’t look me in the eye.
“Maybe we could run away together.”
Hope began to bubble in my chest as a smile tugged at my lips. I may not be able to survive on my own, but with John beside me, I knew we could do it. He was a little older, and he was smart. He had been resourceful enough to turn my oak tree into a small playground. A rope ladder, a small climbing frame made out of wood, and he made a new swing too, one that was stronger and big enough for both of us to swing on together.
“If you decide to run away, I want to go with you. I’d be sad without you around.”
“Let’s do it. Let’s run away right now.” I spoke excitedly, eager to leave the village behind me.
“Woah, slow down, Lizzie.” John chuckled, “Neither of us has ever lived outside our villages, and we’re both still young. I’ll make you a promise, though. If in one year, you still want to run away, we’ll do it. It gives me time to collect resources, and find out where we could go, without getting caught.”
My smile fell at the thought of having to say within the village for another year. I longed to be free, away from their unkind words and judging eyes. I wanted to be liberated with John beside me, I knew the world held so much beauty, but I knew I’d never find it so long as I was here.
“A year is so long, and I want to be free now, I’m tired of everything back in the village. Even my parents would be happier with me gone.”
“It will be up before you know it, running away, isn’t a decision that should be taken lightly. We will be entirely on our own, no one else to find our food, or cook. No one else to fetch our water, or repair our clothing, or even make us new ones when we grow. One year, you will be fourteen; I will be almost seventeen. I’ll be able to care for you better than I could now. Just one year, Elizabeth, then it’s you and me, out there, together, forever.”
I disliked that he was correct, if we were to flee right now, despite his capabilities, we wouldn’t stand a chance. I didn’t know how to cook, nor how to sew because my mother hadn’t taught me. We had no money either, so we wouldn't be able to get far.
I also realized, if we were going to do this, I had to control my powers. I couldn’t risk injuring John the way I had hurt Charles. Nor the way I’d wounded my father several times during our training sessions. I had to hone them, and I had to learn to suppress them.
“Only one year?”
“One year to this day. There’s a small group of rocks not too far from here, with a small cave where we can hide any supplies we can gather. Material, food, any money we can scrape together. We’ll be free, Lizzie, I promise.”
He reached out his hand and took mine in his as my heart warmed. His eyes didn’t leave mine as he spoke and made his promises. He meant his words, he cared for me, and he wanted to be free with me.
“Okay, I’m in.” I nodded, which caused both of us to smile.
“Here, hold out your wrist.”
I did ask he asked without question, holding my arm and wrist out to him expectantly. John made quick work of tying the twine and material he’d been playing with the past hour.
He’d twisted and turned the twine and material in a small plait, and tied it around my wrist to form a bracelet.
“It’s nothing special, but I made it for you, so you have a little piece of me no matter what day or time it is. And to remind you of our promise, one year, and we’ll be together every day.”
I looked at the weaved bracelet. It wasn’t anything extraordinary, except it was everything exceptional. It may have only been made of old scraps found in the woods, and of dull colors, but he’d made it for me. The past six months, no one had ever treated me the way he had my entire thirteen years.
I couldn’t contain the exhilaration I felt as I moved and lept into his lap, my arms wrapping tight around his neck. The force of my leap caused him to fall back against the dirt, and we both laughed together.
“One year, Lizzie. One year.”