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Chapter 20

As soon as I heard Xavier’s name, I went numb. Michael had taken Xavier.

I made a choked sound, and both officers turned around to look at me. They stared at me with sympathy. Officer Grant’s features tightened.

I felt moisture on my cheek, which I quickly dabbed away. I hadn’t even realized that I was crying. But the tears were there. They silently streamed down my cheeks, showing my silent grief and my silent pain.

My knees went weak, and I fell down, my sorrow weighing me down. The agony that was going through my heart was indescribable. I tuned everything and everyone out. I pulled my legs up and held them to my chest.

I avoided eye contact with the men and Sarah. The latter tried to get my attention, but all I could think of were the wonderful moments I’d spent with Xavier. I closed my eyes and wept.

I had lost my mother and my best friend in two days. I was physically, emotionally and mentally drained. I didn’t think I could function ever again. My whole body ached with my anguish. I let my head droop in defeat, and I sobbed quietly into my hands. “I can’t do this anymore,” I said through my sobbing.

I felt Sarah kneel down in front of me. “Alexia, breathe. In and out. C’mon,” she ordered.

But I wasn’t listening. “Please just make it stop. I can’t do this anymore. I can’t be strong anymore,” I kept repeating. I didn’t raise my head because I didn’t want to see their pity. I just wanted to be alone, so I could grieve.

“Alexia,” Sarah urged. I pushed her away from me and stood up fast. Too fast because I felt dizzy for a second. Everything blurred and then my vision came back. I looked down to see Sarah on her haunches where I’d pushed her.

“Leave me alone!” I said loudly. I was breathing hard and my hands were trembling.

“Alexia,” McAdams admonished me kindly, taking a step towards me. I stepped backwards and yelled at all of them.

“Just leave me alone. Can’t you see? He’s only hurting the people I love. He’s doing this on purpose!”

I glared down at Sarah. “All of this is no use. He is playing with us. We’re never going to find him.”

Sarah got up and took a step forwards. “Alexia. I need you to calm down.”

I shook my head furiously and took several steps backwards until I reached a tree. I leaned against it and wiped my tears. But it was no use. They kept flowing. “I need to be alone,” I said. I was going to lose my mind if they kept telling me to calm down.

They stared at me for a minute. Then, McAdams and Grant took a step towards me.

My jaw was trembling from the effort of holding my screams. When they took another step towards me, I did the only thing I could. I ran. Fast. Away from them and their penetrating gaze.

I heard them yell my name, but I didn’t look back. I kept running.

I ran until my legs started to burn with the effort and the soles of my feet went numb with pain. I eventually came to a stop and leaned down to put my hands on my knees. I tried my best to catch my breath. I was finding it hard to keep standing, so I sank down on my butt. I looked up at the sky and stared at its wondrous beauty. The sky usually brought me a sense of peace but not this time. Its beauty just made me angry. Angry at the unfairness and ugliness of my life. And then it made me sad. Sad that I’d lost hope.

I thought about Xavier. The moments we’d spent together. From the very beginning to the end. I tried the hardest to keep my tears at bay but the past memories made it so hard. I still remembered our first meeting, as if it had happened yesterday.

I saw my older brother Aric standing in the backyard talking to another guy. Mystery guy was wearing a green shirt and brown shorts. He seemed the same age as Aric. I was intrigued. My family and I had moved into this town several months before, so Aric and I didn’t have a lot of friends yet. I wanted to know who he was. I opened the door and ran up to them.

“Hello!” I waved at Aric and mystery guy. Aric glared at me, but mystery guy gave me a small smile. He bent over so that he was on the same level as me. He was taller than my brother and I was way shorter than my age. I looked like I was eight but really I was ten.

“Hello there,” mystery guy said. His voice was smooth.

“I’m Alexia, Aric’s younger sister,” I introduced myself.

“I’m Xavier. Aric’s friend,” he replied. His smile was sweet, and I suddenly felt shy. I stepped back and gave him a little wave and ran back inside the house.

I opened my eyes and felt the tears falling. I didn’t make a move to stop them. Xavier was such a big part of my life, and it was hard to think of him gone. He had been so scared that I would be the one not coming back, but he was the one who was gone. He left without giving me chance to tell him about my feelings.

He’d made the first move. He’d kissed me. But I never gotten a chance to tell him how I truly felt. I was in such a hurry to get rid of Michael that I didn’t have time to appreciate such a precious moment.

I looked at the sky again, the sun so bright that it affected my vision for a moment. “Why are you doing this, God?” I asked quietly. “Why? Is this a test?”

I put my head in my hands and wailed. I let out all of my anger, frustration, sadness and anguish. I sat down on the dirty grass. My clothes were getting wet, but I didn’t care. I supported my head with my hands and pulled my knees close to my chest and closed my eyes. I wanted to block out everything.

All my energy was drained, and I was finding it hard to stay awake. My eyes were closed when I heard footsteps. I shuddered at the sound but sat perfectly still.

I thought it was Sarah and the men, so I didn’t open my eyes. I didn’t want to talk to them or acknowledge them.

I heard a deep rumbling sound. I shivered and took a deep breath to calm myself. I felt a little touch on my forehead and shrank away from it. But the touch didn’t go away. The hand continued down my face to my neck, where it gripped my neck gently, and when I tried to move away, the hand tightened, and I heard a low growl near my ear.

Fear slid into my heart and my eyes snapped open. It wasn’t Sarah or the officers. It was Michael. His face was only an inch away from me, his red eyes blinking at me in surprise. His fangs were protruding into his lower lip, and when he saw my eyes open he gave me a small smile. It wasn’t a sweet smile, but it was the kind of smile that a predator gave to its prey before pouncing. It was sinister. When he leaned closer, I screamed and pushed him away from me.

I tried to get up, but he held my ankle, and I fell back down. He hissed at me, coming closer, but I struggled against his hold. I kicked at his arm, but he held firm. When I tried to scream again, he put his hand over my mouth and then made a “tsk” sound at me.

He leaned over me, releasing his hold on my ankle, but quickly wrapped his free hands around my neck and squeezed. I tried to push him away, but he didn’t budge. I used my legs to scramble away from him, but he pinned me down with his body. I was immobile. I was sure he could see the horror reflecting in my eyes because he gave me a malicious smile.

He leaned his head close to my ears. “You can’t get away now,” he croaked. His voice was deep and rough. I closed my eyes and tried to take a deep breath through my nose, but he tightened his hold on my neck. I tried to shake my head, but his hold was too firm. As he continued his silent assault, I was filled with dread, quickly realizing that he was trying to choke me to death.

I acted on instinct and bit down on his wrist. He made a low guttural sound in the back of his throat but didn’t let go. I bit down again. Harder. I bit until I could taste blood, and then I heard him snarl. As soon as he took one hand away from my neck, I screamed. It was hard with his other hand still squeezing my neck, but that hand loosened too when I started to scream. I saw anger shining in his eyes. He looked murderous.

I took the opportunity to kick and punch. I struggled against his hold and leaned my head up to bite again into his arm. He hissed and let go of my neck completely. I punched him in the face, hard enough to hear a crunch and make my hand ache.

He leaped off me and growled. I crawled backwards while keeping my eyes steadily on him. He was standing in front me, if possible his eyes glowing redder with his rage. I tried to get up, but slipped on the wet leaves. He took a step forward, and I put a hand out to ward him off.

“Please. Don’t hurt me,” I whispered. “I didn’t do anything.” I couldn’t recognize my own voice. I could hear the fear in it. My tone was low and it sounded like a wounded person speaking. My throat was hurting so I was finding it harder to say the words.

Michael didn’t say anything, but he took another step towards me. This time I successfully got up and took several steps backwards until I hit a tree.

He cocked his head, sniffed the air and then grunted. I used his sudden distraction to my advantage to crawl away. By the time I looked up, Michael had already disappeared. I looked wildly around, but I couldn’t see him anywhere.

I took a step forward, but stopped in my tracks when something caught my attention. I looked down where I had lain minutes ago and sucked in my breath at the sight.

Xavier was lying there. Bloodied and bruised. I let out a small cry and quickly made my way to him. I fell to my knees beside him, but was too scared to touch him at first, fearing that I might hurt him more.

I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t noticed him before. He was lying only a few feet away from me. I leaned my face close to his and felt his breath on my cheek. I released a relieved sigh and knelt closer to his side. His face was turned the other way, but I could see the bruises. He had a deep cut on his eyebrow, and I could see deep scratches on his face. His face was covered with dried blood and his eyes were swollen shut. He must have taken a hell of a beating from Michael, but he had kept Xavier alive. He could have killed him but he hadn’t. I looked around me just to make sure that Michael was really gone. When I didn’t see anything, I turned my attention back to Xavier.

I took his hand and held it firmly in mine. “Xavier?” I whispered. When there was no response, I gave his hand a gentle squeeze, and I saw him wince. I quickly let go of his hand and leaned close to his face. I pushed a few strands of hair out of his eyes and saw him trying to blink them open.

He groaned and winced again at the effort. He tried to move his face towards me, and I gently helped him. I cupped his cheeks and he leaned into my touch.

He grunted when I moved away from his side. “Shhh, careful, Xavier. I’m here now.” I went to sit behind him and carefully brought his head onto my lap. When I heard him whimper in pain, I felt my eyes starting to well up with tears. I blinked them away and held him firmly to me. I caressed his head with my hands and whispered soothing words to him.

“It’s going to be OK now. I’m here,” I crooned. “Next time Michael comes I’ll be ready. I’ll get rid of him. I won’t let him hurt anyone else.”

I was furious with myself for spending so much time being weak and emotional. As soon as I had learned the truth, I should have started looking for Michael. I had wasted time, and Xavier had to pay for it.

Tears slid down my cheeks that I made no move to wipe away. “I’m so sorry, Xavier. I’ll make everything better. I just need to find Michael again,” I continued softly. I looked around us but didn’t see anything.

I didn’t know where Sarah and the officers were. So many questions were swimming in my head. Were they hurt? Had Michael attacked them? Did they leave? Were they looking for me?

Oh god. I hoped they were looking for me. I couldn’t leave Xavier alone. It was too dangerous. I had to stay with him and, unfortunately, I didn’t have anything to help him. No water. No food.

I had to wait for Xavier to wake up to see if he was strong enough to walk, but I doubted that. He was too injured. Michael had made sure of that.

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