West came back with a tray of food five minutes later with a smile on his face.
He gently placed the tray on the table and helped me sit up again, arranging the pillows behind my back. As I ate he just sat there, trying not to make it obvious when he glanced at me. It was cute in a way, and I seemed to be blushing too often. The downfalls of being a girl.
“So, how did you do it?” I finally asked.
“Get me out,” I said. “How was it that there was nobody around when we left? And how did you get in?”
“Oh.” He glanced up with a mischievous smile. “Well, there were a few fires that broke out over in their armory, and maybe some . . . explosions.” West placed his hand on his chest. “Not that it wasn’t my fault or anything.” He leaned on the bed, putting his chin in one of his hands. “I just got lucky.”
He winked at me and I smiled back. “But what about the guards outside my door?”
“Well, I had some inside help with that one.”
He looked up in surprise. “How did you know he was there?”
I shrugged. “I thought I recognized him, and so I asked. I only saw him once though, and not for very long.”
He nodded thinking. “Well, without him it would have been close to impossible to do what I did. When the explosions went off, he took care of the guards right after everybody else had left.”
“Did you talk to him at all?”
He shook his head. “Not really. I told him to come with us, but he refused.”
He opened his mouth and paused. “I’m not exactly sure. He just said, ‘I want to be able to have that chance like you had.’ I don’t even know what that means but it’s his choice.”
I thought about what Devon had said that night. About West’s decision making a difference everywhere throughout the army. Like a chain reaction. I had no doubt that Devon wanted a chance to do good, too, just like his brother had. West had no idea that he had changed people’s way of thinking as much as he had. And now the army wanted him for doing what he did, and I didn’t think they would stop.
“Are we safe here?” I asked, taking the last bite of my sandwich. I hadn’t realized how hungry I had been until it was gone.
“Yeah, I think so. We drove for a while before the truck ran out of gas and Malcolm found us. He also made his driveway hidden from anyone passing by on the road. Not to mention their house is about a mile from the road.” He nodded his head again. “I think we’ll be all right for a while. And I can’t see why the army would keep looking anyway. They can’t want me that bad.”
He looked back at me and my face must have given me away because his smile dropped. “What?”
“They do want to find you that bad,” I said.
His face was blank as he stared back. “What? How do you know?”
“Because of that one decision you made, to help those people escape. That one stand against what you thought was wrong started something more.” West opened his mouth to say something but I continued. “Devon told me that there were others that have been following in your footsteps, doing things they think are right. More and more people are beginning to see this war as a mistake and trying to help stop it. It’s not just you anymore.”
“Why do they still want me then?” he asked. “I’m not their leader. Why am I so important to them if other people are doing it, too?”
I could tell that he was frustrated and I had the urge to touch his hand that was close to me, but again . . . I didn’t.
“They want you because you’re the one that started it all,” I told him. “They hope that once they catch you and . . . make an example of you, it’ll all end. They just want to prove you are as much human as the rest of them. To stop the fire where it started.”
West sighed, and sat back, thinking about what I had told him. I wasn’t sure he was believing it.
Finally, he said, “Well, we’ll just have to be more careful when we start traveling again, but I think you already know that.” He noticed that I was done eating and asked, “You want more? Carrie has plenty and you should eat as much as you can.”
I stared at him, waiting for what I thought I was going to hear, but I was surprised when he didn’t.
“That’s all you have to say?” I shook my head. “The whole United army is after you, and you just say is that we have to be more careful? That can’t be the only thing going through your head.”
“To be honest . . . I don’t know what’s going through my head.”
After giving me a weak smile, West left to get me more food.
✢ ✢ ✢
After the week had passed, Carrie started having me do slow stretches in the morning and night. It hurt and felt good all at once. After a few days with no swelling she had me do more, and finally starting having me put small amounts of weight on it. My knee was weak, but everyday I could feel it becoming stronger.
I still hadn’t been out of the house yet, and I was dying to. The weather was perfect after all those days of rain, making everything extremely green and lush.
But I wasn’t able to walk yet, so I settled with reading books while giving my knee a break. It was too hot and useless for me to lay under the blankets, so I laid on top of the comforter most of the time, periodically looking out the window. I was distracted a lot of the time too; it was hard not to be. I would find myself staring into nothingness on too many occasions.
Malcolm and Carrie owned a small farm in the middle of nowhere, just for personal use mostly. Three cows roamed the fields that they used for beef in the winter, and they always gave the extra to their neighbors. A few dogs roamed around too, but other than that it was quiet. Carrie had a huge garden behind the barn that West tried to describe to me, and Malcolm had a field of corn that he harvested every year for his cows, with his neighbors help, dealing they received half of it.
West didn’t talk much about outside, probably because he knew it dampened my mood when he did. I tried not to show it, but he was getting too good at reading me.
“You don’t like this movie, do you?” he asked.
“Yes, I do.” I really didn’t.
“Uh . . . no you don’t.”
I stole a glance over at West who was sitting in his regular chair next to my bed. His feet were propped up and his arms were crossed in a relaxed position across his chest. His gaze never shifted from the screen. At least one of us liked it.
I sighed. “Okay, I don’t. It’s not horrible. The acting just sucks.”
“Yes, the acting does indeed suck,” West agreed. “But if you ignore that and focus on the high points, it’s not so bad.”
I looked back at the flashing screen before me. “The high points? You mean the fake exploding cars, high speed chases, and unrealistic knife fights?”
“No, the awesome exploding cars, mind-blowing high speed chases, and . . . ” he took a moment to think about it, “the almost unrealistic knife fights.”
Looking at West sitting there—watching the horribly fake movie—reminded me of Ethan. I missed him so much it hurt. A tear rolled down my cheek, one of many that were threatening to come out and pour down my face. I quickly wiped it away, hoping West hadn’t noticed.
He glanced sideways when I did but I just stared ahead, acting like nothing had happened. I looked out the window, watching the birds hopping on the nearby branches, and tried to take my mind off Ethan so my tears would disappear. It was becoming harder and harder to think about my family.
The movie suddenly turned off, leaving the room in a loud silence, and the bed shifted as West sat on the edge of the mattress next to me.
“Can I show you something?” he asked.
I turned to face him. His eyes were so bright that I stared into them for a moment, not strong enough to pull my gaze away.
“What is it?”
He smiled his brilliant smile. “It’s outside.”
I huffed a laugh. “Very funny, genius.”
Before I could react West put his arms under me, scooping me into them in one swift motion. My face felt warm from feeling his hard muscles underneath me, and he smiled at my reaction, like he knew what I was thinking. I wrapped my arms around his neck.
My knee ached but it was bearable.
“Does it hurt?” West whispered into my ear.
I shook my head softly. “No.” I wouldn’t let my knee ruin this moment, even if it did hurt. “Where are we going?”
He just gave a small smile and carried me out the door.
I still hadn’t seen much of the house, but as we got closer to the door, I stopped him near the entry way. It was an old house, and had its wear and tear, but something caught my eye. They were initials cut into the wood of the archway into the hallway.
The small letters looked like they had been there forever. But they also looked like they belonged there, like the house was made around them.
“I asked Carrie about those, you know,” West said.
“What did she say?”
“She said they’ve been there even before the owner before her had it. She asked them before they bought the house.”
“It’s weird . . . ” I said.
“They’re my grandparent’s initials. Well . . . throw in a few greats before grandparents, but they’re somewhere down the line. We had to learn about our relatives who lived through the Fall in school once. It was a week long project.”
“Do you think that’s them?”
I shook my head. “Probably not, but wouldn’t it be weird if it was?”
West nodded and continued out the door. But my thoughts still lingered on those letters. We all knew about the Fall, and how humankind was almost wiped out from the unexpected attack on Earth. But I never thought a lot about the people who went through it.
Was like what we felt now in the war? Or was it worse?
When we stepped outside it felt good to have the sun on my face and the warmth on my skin. Trees were scattered around the house; big and old that seemed to blend in with their surroundings. They were perfect. Past the yard was the barn, and behind that, Malcolm’s corn field.
But West didn’t turn that way. Instead we went in the opposite direction, towards the woods. We passed under the shadows of the trees onto a narrow dirt path that blended between them.
I told him, “I don’t want you to carry me if it’s far.”
“It’s not,” he assured me.
We turned around a small bend in the path and I finally saw our destination. He stop at the edge of the woods and watched my face as I took in the scene before us.
“Why didn’t you tell me about this?” I asked, looking back into his crystal eyes. My stomach fluttered, just like every other time I looked at him.
“Well, that would’ve ruined the surprise, and I have to admit, I’m greedy that way.”
“What do you have to be greedy about?” I wasn’t quite sure what he had meant by that.
“Because,” West started softly, “I wanted to see your face when I showed you.”
I was glad he didn’t tell me about it before; I would have had a false picture in my mind. I peeled my eyes off his face and looked back down the small hill. A field spread out before us, and the hills rolled on for miles without break.
At the base of the hill was a picture perfect pond with blue water and great oaks placed at either end, their branches spreading out across the water like giant arms. The green grass covered the ground and was never ending, and a light breeze flowed through it, making it move, almost as if it were a living thing. I couldn’t take my eyes off it. The only thing that made it perfect was the fact I was with the only person that could make this little piece of earth shine.
West sat me down at the base of a big tree near the edge of the pond. The grass was soft and cool as I brushed my hand across the tips. He laid down on his back near my feet, with his head sightly angled towards me. I watched his chest rise and fall as he breathed, his eyes watching the sky. I leaned my head up against the tree and tried not to make it obvious that I was looking at him.
I found myself wanting to steal glances of him more often than usual.
And that wasn’t normal for me. I never stole glances at boys. Reese never stole glances at boys. It was just something I never did.
But there I was, staring at the most beautiful boy that I had ever encountered. His eyes were same color as the sky, his dark hair going in odd directions like indecisive waves, and his lips parted just slightly . . .
“What are you thinking about?” West asked.
Minor panic attack—like I could him the truth. I tried to think of something fast. “That cloud looks like a spaceship.”
He chuckled. “Yeah, it does.”
“What are you thinking about?” I countered, trying to regain a composed face before he would see my heated cheeks.
“Actually, I was thinking about the North City. Malcolm has reason to believe that the city hasn’t been over run yet.”
“Do you really think so?”
I didn’t think it was possible after the no-warning attack. I had no idea where our country stood with the war, but my hopes were never high. They had to be.
“I think the possibility is good, but we won’t know until we get closer. We’re still quite a ways out.” West sighed. “I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.”
I nodded in return, staring at the ripples in the pond made by the slight breeze. My hope for the war was renewed when I thought of the possibility. Maybe Ethan was even there. I knew he could have made it that far already, he was tough and determined when he wanted to be.
The possibility of him being dead just wasn’t settling with me and I wasn’t going to let it.
“Carrie said that I might be able to walk in about two weeks or so, but I’ll have to use a cane at first.” I grimaced. “I have the feeling I’m going to feel like an old person for a while.”
I watched his face, waiting for the smile that always followed my semi-witty comments, but it never came. He seemed distracted. Even though his face was looking at the sky, his eyes were somewhere else.
Before I could read his expression, he turned his head, propped himself up on his elbow and smiled the smile I had been waiting for. “Maybe I’ll find you a pair of dentures to match it,” he said.
My lip twitched, even though I was holding it back, and a laugh escaped my mouth as he grinned back.
After our smiles had faded we were just left with staring at each other. His eyes dropped and stared at nothing, thinking again. I didn’t like the expression on his face. I don’t know why.
“What’s wrong?” I finally asked.
He looked up and his face was back to normal, no trace of anything but him.
“I want pizza.”
Liar, but I didn’t say anything because I had done the same thing to him five minutes before. Something was bothering him, but I didn’t want to press him for answers. He picked me up again and we made our way back to the house.
West was quiet the rest of the day as we finished the movie and ate dinner. I knew his mind was still elsewhere, just thinking. In the pit of my stomach, I knew something was wrong, and I didn’t like it.