Sunlight

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Chapter 16

I heard him take a few steps closer, but I stayed staring straight ahead, focusing my eyes on metal train in front of me. My heart pounded and I tried not to show it; I couldn’t appear weak in front of whoever it was.

The fog seemed to cling to the sweat breaking out across my forehead, and I hopedmore than anything it wasn’t a Brit soldier. It would be the end of me if it was.

“Keep your hands in sight, and turn around slowly.” His voice had a confidence in it, but I could have sworn there was a falter in there somewhere. I couldn’t be sure.

My breathing was a bit shaky as I brought my hands out to my sides and slowly turned to faced him.

He was just as old as I was, wearing an old hoodie and torn jeans. The look of someone also traveling. His dark hair was longer with some strands tucked behind his ears, the rest tied into a small ponytail at the nap of his neck. His dark eyes were narrowed as he looked down the barrel of his shotgun.

“Where are you from?” he asked.

“South City.” My accent could prove myself right.

“So you’re local, then?”

“Yes,” I answered, trying sound truthful so he would believe me.

He still didn’t lower his gun. He just stared at me. There was an awkward silence between us and it was obvious he was trying to decide wether or not to trust me.

Then I heard the gravel near the train tracks crunch somewhere off to my left and I quickly stole a glance. But the fog was still too dense, impossible for me to see anything. The stranger in front of me also shifted his eyes for a moment, towards the same direction.

“Seth?” A voice called from my left.

The guy—Seth—never took his eyes off me as he called back, “Go back to the train, and stay there until I come back!”

I took a chance and said, “Look, I’m not going to do anything. Does it look like I want to bother you? I’m just traveling, the same as you are.” I tried not to blink as I stared back, begging him to believe me.

The feet hidden behind the fog—that had stopped when Seth told them to—started coming towards us suddenly, but at a faster pace. Seth looked over again quickly before positioning his gun higher on his shoulder.

“Don’t even think about moving,” he said, warning. The footsteps came closer but I kept my eyes ahead. The person came into my peripheral; a small shape against the tall train.

Reese?

My head whipped around at the sound of my name, my heart racing even before I saw who it was.

I already knew. From the moment I heard him.

It was Ethan.

Without thinking I took a step towards him, wanting him to be in my arms more than anything. My heart fluttered with excitement of finally finding him. All the worry and dread from before suddenly gone, washed away with the sight of his face.

Stop!” Seth yelled.

I froze again, remembering there was a gun pointed at my head. My whole body itched to run to my little brother, just to be able to prove to myself that he was actually here. To hold him tight and never go. His hair had gotten longer in the past two months, and his face was different.

I had no doubt the war had changed him. Like it had changed me.

“Seth, stop!”

Seth looked at Ethan in disbelief. “What? You know her?”

“Yes, she’s my sister.” His eyes were pleading with him and his chest was heaving in air.

Seth looked between us for a moment before lowering his gun. He hadn’t even lowered it an inch before I moved towards Ethan. He ran and practically plowed into me as I wrapped my arms around him.

He was really here.

I pressed my face against the side of his head, almost crying from relief that I finally found him. And I think he felt the same way. We must have stood there for a whole two minutes before I pulled back to look at him again. His face was dirty and his hair a little darker, but his hazel eyes had stayed the same. It was obvious that he had grown over the past two months.

Seth shifted his weight awkwardly. “I would feel better if we continued this somewhere less open.”

Ethan smiled his goofy grin at me. “Come on, Peanut. We have a place to stay for the night.”

He started leading the way as I glanced back at Seth, who then gave me an approving nod. He seemed like a nice guy, but I didn’t know him just yet. I nodded back and followed my brother down the long strip of train cars. Most of them were open and hollow, and others still closed.

“They’re all empty,” Seth mentioned behind me. “The army must have taken everything. We checked them all though, just to make sure.”

“Have you seen anyone this far out?” I asked.

Please say yes.

“Not yet,” he said. “But there was a lot of activity down south probably about a month and half ago.” He hiked his gun up on his shoulder. “Haven’t seen much of anybody since.”

A month and a half ago. Could it just be coincidence that it was around the same time they were looking for West and I after we’d escaped? What if there were more men out looking for him than he had originally thought? West could have been captured weeks ago, and I wouldn’t have known.

It made me sick to think about.

I hadn’t noticed that Ethan had slowed and was now staring at me.

“Are you all right?” he asked.

I put on a smile, and it wasn’t fake this time; unlike the previous dozen. Part of me had woken up when I saw Ethan still alive and unhurt. But only a part.

“I’m fine.” I wrapped my arm around his while we walked.

“I know you’re not fine, Reese,” he said. “But I won’t bother you about it. I’m just glad you’re here.” He grinned again and I didn’t deny what he said.

I wasn’t fine.

Before I could think about him, I had another horrible thought. One that took my thoughts off everything.

“Why aren’t Mom and Dad with you?” I asked quietly.

Ethan’s eyes shifted for a moment, but he never looked over. He just shook his head and said, “They didn’t make it.”

A lump formed in my throat, barely able to keep my tears back. I think I’d known all along, and somehow that almost made it worse. I wouldn’t ever see them again. I wouldn’t hear Mom’s voice or see Dad’s smile. It was too much to bare right now.

“Where were you when it happened?” I asked carefully, not sure if he wanted to talk about it.

“Yeah. We were on the train, heading back home. We had left the station shortly before it derailed.” He studied the ground as we walked.

“Were you hurt at all?”

“No, at the time I had gone back to use the bathroom, and the part of the train I was in wasn’t hit as bad.”

I didn’t know what to say. His face was so blank of emotion. Not at all like the brother I once knew.

Ethan slowed near one of the railroad cars and pushed the door open. It was empty except for two backpacks and a battery powered lantern in one corner. I looked up at the ceiling and there was a hole cut out of it with cold remains of a small fire underneath.

“How long have you been staying here?” I asked.

“Just a couple of days,” Seth answered, coming up behind me. “Those mountains took a few days to cross, so Ethan decided we needed a break.”

Ethan grinned and climbed in. “Me? I don’t think so. That was totally you, Seth.”

I watched him for a moment while he fidgeted with the lantern, hardly believing that I had finally found him. Now if only I could find the other half of me, then I would be whole again. I felt as if I was only beginning to be alive again, still searching for the other part.

Seth climbed in before me, hiking himself up into the train car.

I grabbed the handle after him and pulled myself up with my good leg. As I got into the car I wasn’t ready for the awkward angle, and my left knee buckled under my weight. I quickly caught myself before Ethan had noticed, but Seth was eyeing me warily. I walked over to where they were, trying to hide my limp, even though I was he already knew something wasn’t right.

I couldn’t be able to hide it forever.

I sat down against the wall next to Ethan—who was pulling out a pack of crackers from his bag. He handed me one and I didn’t take any time in devouring it. Digging through my own bag, I pulled out my water bottle and took a long drink, washing down the dry food.

“Where did you and Seth meet up?”

“Just outside the city,” Ethan swallowed his food and continued, “probably a couple days after the initial attack.”

“It took you that long to get out of the city?” I had hoped he would have gotten out quicker than that. It would’ve been dangerous for him to be there.

Ethan said, “Not me . . . Seth. I was outside the limits by the next day, but I stopped to sleep and find some food.” He shrugged with a smile. “I kind of overslept, and then Seth found me.”

Typical Ethan; oversleeping, even with a war going on around him. I wanted to ask why it took Seth that long to get out, but it really wasn’t my business.

“So, what about you?” Ethan asked as he handed me another cracker. “Have you been traveling alone this whole time? I would be bored out of my mind if I were you.”

“You still get bored,” Seth intervened from his corner. “Even though you aren’t alone.” I looked over at him and gave him an understanding smile. Ethan could be doing to the most exciting thing in the world and still be ‘bored.’

Ethan glared at him. “Hey . . . it’s not my fault that you’re not a talkative person.”

“Maybe I would talk more if you would stop once in a while.” Seth answered, a smile played across his lips.

Ethan just smirked back and turned his attention to me again, waiting for my answer. I didn’t know if I was ready to talk to him about this soon. I still had problems even thinking about . . . West. Let alone talk about him.

Seth suddenly spoke up in my moment of silence.

“Hey, Ethan, why don’t you go get some more firewood. It’s foggy enough to mask the smoke. It would be nice to be able to eat those hotdogs, wouldn’t you say?”

Ethan’s face lit up, but he quickly composed himself, trying to act older than that ten-year-old inside him who wanted hotdogs. So he just nodded and jumped out of the train. I listened to his footsteps as he disappeared.

I felt conscious that I was left alone with Seth, a person I didn’t even know, but I figured if Ethan trusted him then so could I.

“Thanks for taking care of him,” I said quietly. “I’ve been worried about him.”

“It was my pleasure. He’s an easy one to get attached to.” He paused for a moment then asked, “So, who were you traveling with? Your face is a little too easy to read, and it’s not hard to guess that whoever is was, they meant a lot to you. What happened to them?”

A lot? That was an understatement.

“I was traveling with a guy I met a day after the attack. But we were separated—” I didn’t know what else to say. So . . . I might not see him again? I never wanted say that, ever. It would be like giving up.

“So he from the South City, then?”

Crap. I didn’t see that coming. Carrie and Malcolm never had a problem with West’s past, and I wasn’t sure how Seth would react to the truth, but I didn’t want to lie.

“No,” I answered simply. It wasn’t a lie. I just didn’t offer anymore information.

His brow wrinkled in confusion. “North City?”

“No.”

“East?”

I just shook my head, and after a short moment I glanced up at him.

“You mean . . .” his eyes narrowed, “he’s one of them? He’s Union?”

“Yes,” I whispered, half-hoping he wouldn’t hear.

I took in his reaction but there was none. He started, “Why—”

“They were going to kill him,” I told him.

His eyes went blank for a moment, just staring into mine. He was thinking deeply about something and then he said, “Was he—”

Ethan appeared in the large door cutting him off with an arm load of wood. “Got the wood! Now you have to start it,” he said, dropping the pile at Seth’s feet with a goofy expression on his face.

That was the end of the questions for the night and I was thankful for it. West was the first thing I thought of in the morning and the last thing I thought of before I went to sleep at night. And that was all I could handle at the moment.

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