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Chapter 19

I was probably thirty feet away when my legs decided to stop working properly. They locked in place and wouldn’t let me go any closer. Or maybe it just me; there was no way of telling. A wave of thrill washed through me like electricity and my stomach twisted into a million knots.

People just walked past me as I stood there, towards the small crowd of spectators surrounding the newcomers.

I didn’t blink, afraid that I was dreaming.

Afraid he would suddenly disappear if I did.

It was strange—seeing him again. It felt like one of my nightmares, repeating itself over and over. The one I never want to wake up from, just to find out it wasn’t true. But as I stood there, I realized this wasn’t a dream. The air was too fresh in my lungs and his face too clear. Too perfect.

Charley was arguing with another man beside him, for reasons I didn’t know. And I didn’t care. My mind only registered the boy before me.

West stood there silently, just listening with his eyes on the ground, not seeming to care about anything. His expression was composed and his posture relaxed. His pack was still around his shoulders, but his gun had been taken away. The black sweatshirt he was wearing still looked clean, like he had recently washed it; probably did, knowing him. There was a grey beanie on his head, but I could still make out pieces of his dark hair inching out along the edges.

For some odd reason, I wished that I could see his hair; that short and messy mop that I always had the urge to touch. I had tried to keep the images in my head clear, but a person’s memory can only last for so long.

The thing that bothered me most was the fact that his skin seemed paler, and the dark circles under his eyes were prominent. He didn’t seem as healthy as I remembered. More drawn out.

I heard Ethan’s voice coming weakly through my ears, and also Seth’s, but I couldn’t hear what he said. Like a whispering echo in the back of a cave. I just couldn’t believe he was really here.

Charley stopped arguing suddenly and turned his attention to Seth, who had come up behind him.

“Seth, what are you doing?” Ethan looked up at him with confusion written across his face.

“It’s fine, Ethan,” he reassured him. “Trust me.”

West suddenly raised his head, looking at Ethan as he stood there next to Seth, with an incredulous expression. Because he recognized his name from the few times I talked about Ethan, West had remembered.

West peeled his eyes off Ethan after a moment and starting scanning the crowd of faces that were trained on him. He scanned them franticly, without hesitation, almost chaotic-like.

Then his gaze landed on me.

His eyes were the same as I remembered when they stopped wandering. Bluer than the sky. As strong as lightning could ever be. I felt my heart racing and couldn’t regulate my breathing. I wanted to run to him, to have his arms surround me, to have them block out the cold that was always seeping into my heart.

I wanted to kiss him again.

For a whole moment, it was just us.

“You what?” Charley asked, bringing my hearing back.

“I said, I know him,” Seth repeated. “He isn’t a threat to us, you have to believe me.”

My eyes shifted to Seth—even though they didn’t want to—knowing how hard it was for him to talk about this. To reveal what happened to him.

“Where do you know him from?” Charley asked.

Seth glanced at West for a moment, almost biting his lip. Then he said, “I was one of the people that he had helped escape from the South City. He’s the one that had started everything, Charley. I wouldn’t lie to you.”

In those few words, it truly confirmed who West was; the famous traitor that everyone seemed to know of.

“All right.” Charley nodded and shifted his weight, looking over the newcomer, trying to convince himself he wasn’t a threat. “But what about the girl?”


My head snapped back to West and I had to do a double take. There was a girl around the same age as us, standing right next to him. Who the crap was she? I wanted to scream the question so loud that the birds in the sky could hear and be afraid of my wrath. From somewhere inside me, heat was beginning to rise.

She was staring at Seth and Charley who were trying to decide if they could trust her or not. Her curly strawberry blonde hair came over her shoulders like some sort of model.

What was wrong with me? I was never jealous of anyone this much in my whole life. I shouldn’t have felt this way, it was wrong. If West wanted to be . . . with her, then that was his choice. Wasn’t that the way it should be? Everyone makes their own decisions, including him.

I wanted to run away right then.

Run away and never come back. I wanted to hide someplace and cry my eyes dry. But as I looked at West, I know I could never do that. I was bound to him by a force I had never felt before. It was a magnet within my heart, and I was too weak to pull away. Too weak for my own selfish reasons.

West quickly glanced at the girl next to him then back to me, but his expression was unreadable.

My mouth seemed dry.

“So, you’re name is West, right?” It was Charley who asked him.

He pulled his eyes off mine. “Yes.”

“Is the girl with you? Because I don’t want anybody in this camp that I can’t trust.”

I saw his gaze flicker over to where I was, but he never looked at me directly. I felt unwanted. Like I was that ugly duck in the children’s book that no one seemed to look at, or care about.

He seemed to pick his words carefully. “Yes, she’s a not danger to you.”

Charley nodded in agreement. “Seth, if it’s all right with you, can these two stay in your cabin for tonight? I know you’re leaving in the morning so it will just be for the one night.”

“Yeah, that’s fine,” he said.

People started dispersing, going back to whatever they were doing before the small happening, and left the five of us standing there awkwardly. Seth kept glancing towards me but I never looked at him, just catching his movement from the corner of my eye.

“If you want,” Seth offered, “I can take you to the cabin so you can get settled in before nightfall.”

“Sure.” West nodded slowly. “And I’m glad to meet you officially. I’m sorry I hadn’t recognized you right away.”

Seth shook his head. “It’s all right, I wouldn’t have either.”

“Oh, and this is Mia,” West said, motioning to the girl beside him.

She nodded a hello to him and then to Ethan. Her gaze shifted over to mine but she didn’t say anything before turning back to the other two.

I already hated her.

I felt everyone’s eyes on me until Seth interrupted the silence.

“Well, I’ll show you the way then.”

I could have hugged him.

He started walking in the other direction and Mia instantly turned her back without a second thought. But West paused for a moment; I watched his feet, not gaining enough courage to meet his eyes just yet, and tried to bury the growing anger within me.

I shouldn’t have been angry with him, but I was.

I never looked up, and a lifetime must have pasted until he turned slowly and left, without saying a word.

It felt as if he was leaving me all over again.

I watched his back until Ethan came and took my limp hand from my side. He tugged on it lightly and I followed him back into the woods where his pinecone house was waiting to be finished. I sat down at the base of the big tree as he dropped down in his previous spot. My breathing was shaky with reasons I wasn’t aware of.

“So . . . what do we do now?” he asked.

“About what?”

“Are we still leaving tomorrow? Are they going to come with us?”

They. It was a horrible word.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I guess we’ll find out later once we talk to Seth.”

He picked at the pinecone in his hand, probably deciding what other questions he wanted to ask me. But before he could, Seth came into our little clearing and sat down next to Ethan. His small ponytail was starting to come out, but he just pushed the loose hair behind his ears instead of fixing it.

“Seth, why didn’t you tell me?” Ethan asked. “About what happened to you in the city.”

Seth studied the ground and didn’t look up. “I’m not entirely sure. There was no reason not too, so I don’t know why I didn’t.” He looked at the boy beside him. “I’m sorry, Eth.”

“It’s not a big deal.” Then Ethan then asked the question I had secretly been wanting to know. “So, who’s that girl? Did she say where she’s from?”

“I guess they knew each other back home, before the army recruited them.”

“She was a soldier too?”

“I guess so,” Seth answered quietly.

I didn’t want to think about her. Her and all of her blonde hair. I felt like a nobody compared to her. I was so bitter I could practically taste it in my mouth.

Seth stood and left, saying he was going to help with dinner. Ethan looked over to see if I was going to get up too, but once he saw that I wasn’t, he settled back down.

“You can go if you want to, Ethan.”

“No, I don’t want to.”

“Yes, you do.”

“No, it’s all right.”

I just shook my head and stood. I never planned to leave this little clearing so soon, but I knew I couldn’t hide forever. I had to come out and confront him eventually.

“Where are you going?” he asked.

“Come on.”

“But you don’t want to,” he said, standing.

“No, I don’t,” I admitted. “But I have to sometime, so why not now?”

He took the lead and I followed slowly behind. Maybe I would just go straight to the cabin and fall asleep before anyone saw me.

But when I spotted him across the camp, those thoughts drifted away. I’d been away from him for too long and knew I couldn’t stand it a moment longer. He was my north pole.

He noticed me coming from a long ways off.

I could feel those striking eyes on me like a bright light at the end of a dark hall. It made me so conscious of my movements that I actually had to think of how to walk. People nodded hello as I passed their campfires and tents, and I tried to return them but my mind was only on one thing.

Ethan got there before me, and now the four of them were surrounding the small fire in front of our cabin. Seth worked over a pot of fresh venison, and Ethan was poking a stick into the fire. The sun was almost set now and the woods were darkening again, ready for another long night.

I stood there a moment, on the fringe of the social circle, not meeting his staring eyes—because I could feel them on me—then quickly took a seat on an empty space on a log farthest from him. Unfortunately, this was also the seat next to Mia. Her eyes wandered over me as I sat there trying to ignore everything around me. I had the urge to punch her again.

“Your name is, Reese, right?”

“Yes,” I gritted through my teeth. If she noticed, she didn’t show it.

“Ever since West and I had started traveling together he hasn’t stopped mentioning your name. After a while I was beginning to think you were made up. But it’s amazing your knee has fully healed without much of a limp. You would’ve been lucky to ever walk again.”

I finally looked up at West and met his stare. It was torturous. I was battling within myself; trying to glare but wanting to cry of joy, and not being able to decide between the two. His eyes were strong but restricted, like he was trying to speak to me through his mind. I stared back emotionlessly.

“So, you two knew each other? From before?” I could almost hear the venom in my voice.

His expression never changed; sitting like a rock, his chin angled down with his eyes glued to mine. The light from the fire seemed to make them green.

“Uh, yeah.” She laughed a little and I hated it. “We grew up together.” There was something more in the statement but that was all she said. Probably for her own safety.

Seth kept glancing between me and West, waiting for one of us to say something to each other. He didn’t seem to know what to do.

He eventually asked, “Reese, you want some food?”

I shook my head. “I’m not hungry.”

“Um, okay.” He slowly dragged his eyes off me, acting like he was expecting me to do something rash and was ready to stop me if I did. “Ethan?”

“Why do you bother asking?” He grinned, totally unaware of the tense air around us. “I’m starved.”

“West? Mia?”

“Yes, please.” Mia answered in an almost too sweet of voice. She was choosing to ignore the situation, and that was probably smart on her part.

Across the fire, with his eyes still on me, West shook his head. “I’m not hungry, either.”

“Jeez, West, when was the last time you’ve eaten something?” Mia asked, accepting the plate from Seth.

He just shrugged, not looking away from me.

I suddenly felt the need to leave.

I stood, my legs shaking a bit as I did. I felt weak under his gaze and couldn’t stand it any longer.

“I’m going to bed.” I peeled my eyes off him and walk towards the cabin. I didn’t want to look at him anymore.

The space between us was too painful.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

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