The vibration coming from the seat told me we were still on the road the next time I woke. I could hear things around me as if I was awake, but my body still felt asleep. That in-between state.
The pounding rain seemed abnormally loud and the windshield wipers clunked back and forth, making me wish they would stop to give me a moment of silence. My mind was working somewhat properly, but the rest of me was still weak and unmoving, only able to open my eyes.
West was still looking ahead on the road with his hands gripping the steering wheel hard, his knuckles white under the dashboard lights. His arm closest to me was wet with blood, dripping off his elbow from the knife wound on his forearm. There were dark circles under his eyes and his skin was pale.
The next time I woke, I was being carried by West again. I could feel his hard arm muscles pressing into my body and his feet walking beneath me. There was another person beside us. I could hear them breathing as they kept pace with West. The rain was still coming down on my face and I heard a door open up somewhere ahead of us.
I tried to keep my eyes open.
“Carrie, over here!” a man’s voice yelled next to us.
A flashlight kept passing by my face as another person ran up, shining the light over our faces. I tried to blink. Pain started threading its way back into my mind and I couldn’t ignore it anymore. My ribs ached but my knee caused me to let out a soft groan, unable to stand it anymore.
“Malcolm, what happened?” But then she said, “Never mind, just bring her inside so I can take a look at her.”
West followed her but his movements were tense.
I knew he wasn’t liking this situation; not knowing if he could trust them but was too afraid not to. He didn’t have a choice. We entered a house, the hardwood floors creaked under the weight someone walking over them, and Carrie motioned for him to follow behind her. He was a little hesitant, walking into the unknown, but he looked down at me and decided to follow her deeper inside.
Carrie lead him into a room near the back of the big house with a single bed near a window. She stood behind him as he lowered me onto the mattress—which was so soft that I was in danger of falling asleep again. It was the best thing I’d felt in days.
West didn’t move as Carrie came up beside him to examine me. His eyes were the brightest part of his face again, just like the day we met. One side of his face was a lot worse than the other, some of the cuts still bleeding, the blood streaming down his chin in thin red lines.
“Your arm is bleeding,” I stated plainly in a weak voice.
He gave a half smile, still brilliant. “It’s not so bad.”
Carrie glanced back at him, looking down at his arm. “Don’t wander too far,” she said.
And he didn’t. He backed up to let her take care of me and sat in a chair in the corner. My vision was still somewhat hazy, but I didn’t take my eyes away from him, afraid he was going to disappear again. A new wave of pain came from my knee and I shut my eyes and clenched my jaw.
“I’m sorry, there isn’t much I can do about the pain,” she said. “Are you hurt anywhere else?” She pushed up her sleeves with her bloodied hands, but didn’t seem to care about ruining her clothes.
West answered quietly for me, “I think her ribs or bruised but not broken.”
I didn’t want to think about the pain or anything to do with that place. “Tell me something,” I whispered to him.
“Anything.” I winced again, trying to keep the tears away.
His eye seemed to twitch and he stood up, bringing his chair closer so he was sitting near me. He leaned his elbows on his knees and leaned forward so he was only inches away. I lost myself in his eyes as he sat unmoving. It was almost too easy.
“The first time I watched Napoleon Dynamite, I laughed hysterically,” he said, and his smile widen. “At everything. I loved Pedro’s sweet bike and the fact Napoleon never smiles once in the entire movie.”
Carrie’s eyes flickered to us, obviously not knowing what we were talking about. Like I said before, not many people watched old classics.
Then I said, “Every time I watch the part when Napoleon goes to Summer’s house to pick her up for the dance, and Pedro’s cousins are in the background, playing with the hydraulics in their car, I laugh so hard sometimes tears come out. It never gets old.”
“I wish I had cousins like that,” he agreed.
My eyes were becoming heavy again. I couldn’t keep them open, even when I wanted to. “Will you still be here when I wake up?” I asked, feeling myself drift away.
That was the last thing I remembered before I fell asleep again. It was a deep sleep, one where I couldn’t remember anything. Just blackness for however long I was out.
And I welcomed it.
✢ ✢ ✢
The next time I woke my head was clear and my mind was sharp. I no longer had a fever. Not even remnants of one. My head was facing a window and I could see the tips of trees swaying in the wind with birds flittering around the tops. It was sunny. I couldn’t not smile; it had rained for so long I had lost count of the days.
The window was open, allowing a soft breeze through that ruffled the curtains gently.
I heard soft breathing near me and I looked over.
West was there, sitting in a chair pulled up close to the mattress. His face was propped up in one of his hands as he leaned on the side of the bed reading a book. His forearm had fresh bandages wrapped around it. He was so engrossed in what he was reading that he didn’t notice me watching him, or that I’d even woken.
Feelings grew inside me as I studied the way his fingers laced through his dark hair, and the way his eyes moving along the pages. Feelings I only had when I was near him. I was always nervous, butterflies always in my stomach, and my heartbeat sometimes raced. But it wasn’t a bad nervous. It was a happy nervous. It didn’t make sense as I thought about it, but it made sense when I felt it.
His eyes wandered up to mine, never moving. Though his lips did form a small smile on the side of his mouth. The cuts and bruises on the left side of his face weren’t as noticeable anymore, making me wonder how many days I had slept through.
“I’m glad you’re awake finally,” he finally said. West closed his book. “But just to have you know, you missed an awesome fight between a duck and cow.”
I laughed which made his smile widen.
“The duck won, right?,” I tried to answer seriously.
“Oh, for sure.”
I pushed myself up against my pillow so I could sit up, but pain shot up from my knee. I didn’t let it stop me. West noticed my slight wince and his eyes dropped for a fraction of second.
“Reese, I need to tell you something,” he said suddenly. He ruffled his hair before folding his arms to lean on the bed. “And I want to do it before I find some excuse to put it off. Well, that is, before I put it off again.” He seemed to be thinking about everything at once, and not knowing where to start. My heart thumped away where he couldn’t see.
“When I was standing alone in the woods after I realized you were gone, I felt something inside me. Something . . . I didn’t understand. I wasn’t sure about it before— maybe even ignored it, or believing it was something else—but it kept growing. And it hasn’t stopped. That one day I was away from you, I barely remember anything. I was so focused on getting you out that I didn’t think about anything else.”
West paused and my emotions came rushing over me. My mouth was so dry that I don’t think I could talk if I wanted to.
“Then . . .” He looked down and creased his eyebrows together like he didn’t want to replay something in his head. “That night in the rain, when you were pulled out of the truck, and I heard the gun shot—” He looked up, piercing me. “I felt lost,” he said. “For those few moments when I thought you were dead . . . I couldn’t think.”
And there it was.
West had said it so clearly that there was no way I’d heard it wrong. I knew my feelings for West—they had snuck up on me until they were staring me in the face. But what I didn’t know was if he felt the same towards me.
And I never would’ve guessed that I would fall in love with a boy who was supposed to be my enemy.
“Will you promise me something, Reese?” West asked, and I nodded, unable to much else. “Please don’t put me through anything like that again.”
“I’ll try,” I answered truthfully. “I promise.”
The door opened then, and West sat back in his chair and composed his face which consisted of too much anxiety. Carrie stepped into the room and noticed me sitting up.
“I’m glad your finally awake,” she said as she stepped up beside the bed. She pressed the back of her hand against my forehead. “Looks like your fever has finally gone, too.”
“How long was I asleep?”
West answered, “Two days.”
Carrie turned towards him with a playful glare on her face. “How’s your arm today?”
“It’s fine,” he answered curtly with a polite smile.
“That’s what you said when I first asked you, when it was still bleeding and dripping all over my hardwood floors.”
He shrugged like it was no big deal and stood up. “I’m going to see if Malcolm needs any help.”
West flashed me a quick smile before leaving.
After I watched him leave, Carrie examined my knee. She was probably in her early forties with golden blonde hair that she kept in a simple pony tail. She told me she worked as a nurse until a few years ago when they had decided to move to the country. Her husband, Malcolm, had always wanted to have a small farm, and they just went for it. I’m lucky they took that chance.
“Your knee looked horrible when I first saw it,” she told me. “But after I cleaned it, it turned out to be better than I had thought. Luckily, the bullet was small and had missed most of your kneecap, only skimming it. So it won’t take as long to heal.”
“How long will it take?” I was afraid of the answer.
“Well, that depends on how long your body takes to heal. Everyone is different. In about a week, I’ll help you do exercises and stretches and soon after that, small amounts of time walking with a brace. It’s a slow process, but if you do it right, you’ll probably be able to walk unassisted and without a brace within five or six weeks. You’ll hopefully be back to normal within eight.”
That was almost a month and a half. I didn’t think I would be able to stay here that long, not while thinking of Ethan being somewhere without me. I felt a pang of guilt when I realized I hadn’t thought of him since we had that run-in with the soldiers.
I desperately needed to find him.
“I’ve already told West that we would love for you to stay here,” she continues on when I don’t say anything. “He was worried that it was going to put us in danger, but it’s too late for that. We were already in danger before you came.”
“What has he told you?”
Carrie smiled at my careful expression. “He’s told us everything.”
“Everything?” I asked doubtfully.
“Everything,” she said, “including the part about where he’s from, and how you two ended up traveling together. He said he didn’t want to hide anything from us since we agreed to have you two living here for a while.”
“So does anyone else live here, besides you and your husband?”
“No, it’s just us. But we’re hoping our daughter will come home soon. She was living in the North City when everything happened.” She broke off and I didn’t know what to say.
“My brother and parents were in the South City,” I said.
She nodded and stood. “Well, I’m glad you’re here now. You both deserve some time to rest.” She brush my hair back like Mom used to, and I felt a lump rise in my throat. “I’ve got some food made for you, so I’ll have West bring it in. I’m sure you two have some catching up to do.”
I nodded absently as she left.
Even though I wanted nothing more than to move on from here, to try and find Ethan and Mom and Dad, there was nothing I could do about it. But there was one good thing that came out of all this.
West was here with me, and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.