After I disappeared into the cabin, I walked over to the cold fireplace. It was so dark I could barely see, but I managed to gather some wood and had a fire started within a minute. Standing there watching the flames lick the dry wood made my eyes suddenly very tired.
The frustration that was brewing inside me was beginning to disappear. It felt like I was melting. Before today, I wanted nothing more than to see West again. But now that he was here, with that girl, I didn’t even want to look at him. But I couldn’t stand not to.
Everything about him confused me.
I wanted to cry and scream, but the tears wouldn’t come. They were always there at the times I didn’t want them to, and now when I needed them most, there was nothing. There wasn’t even a lump in my throat like there usually was when I was angry or frustrated. I felt empty of tears now, like they were gone from my life forever.
The door opened, making the flames waver from the fresh air. It shut with a soft click. The footsteps stopped right behind me and I had no doubt who it was. Without even looking at him, my heart pounded.
I turned to face him, knowing I didn’t have a friendly expression on my face.
“Finally decide to talk to me?” I asked. “What has it been, a month and half now?”
A pained expression shadowed his face. “I’m sorry. You have no idea how sorry I am. I wish I could go back and change things.”
Change things. There were so many things I wanted to change I wouldn’t know where to start. But it was useless. It was even a waste of time thinking about it. But even though I wanted to be angry with him, I couldn’t.
Like Dad always used to say, you always have patience for the people you love and care for. It makes it impossible to be angry at them forever.
“Like what?” I whispered.
“Like not leaving you that night,” he breathed heavily. “I promised you that I would come back, but I broke it. And that was the biggest mistake I’ve ever made.”
Seeing him like this made my frustration and anger disappear entirely. He was beating himself up with his own words. I hated seeing him like this. I longed to see the West that laughed and always smiled easily.
“I wanted to be back sooner,” he continued. “To be there with you when you left the farm.” He took a step closer. “To be able to help you when you needed me. To be there at night when you couldn’t sleep.”
“I sleep just fine.” That was the biggest lie I’d ever told. “I’m not helpless, West. I’ve been doing fine on my own.”
He nodded. “I know you’re not helpless. You’re the farthest thing from it, but something could’ve happened to you, and I wouldn’t have been there. You kept your promise, but I broke mine. And it hurts me to know I can never change that.”
I nodded, unable to say anything against him.
The side of his mouth came up a fraction. “And just so you know . . . I know you haven’t slept well.”
I narrowed my eyes. “Well, you haven’t either. And just to have you know . . . you look horrible.”
He laughed, and after not hearing it after all this time, I couldn’t hold back my smile. I missed it too much. “I said the same thing to you the second day we were together,” he said.
I remembered. That was when he decided to look for a shower, from in the middle of the woods. So many things had happened since then. It made the memories come back all too quickly, the one’s with Dersa especially.
My heart dropped with the memory of that man. “Did you kill him?”
The light in his eyes faltered. “No, I never found him. I looked for six weeks, until around the time you left, then started back to meet up with you. I was stalled on the way and that’s when I met up with Mia.”
“Mia,” I stated plainly. I had momentarily forgotten my feelings about the new addition, and now they were rushing back.
“Yes.” I saw in his eyes that he knew what I was getting at. West wasn’t an idiot. “Reese—”
“No,” I interrupted. “You don’t have to explain. You’ve known her a long time. You have a past with her.” My voice wavered. “I was just someone to travel with. I get that.”
His jaw clenched together as he stared at me.
“Reese—” West took a deep breath, trying to calm himself. “How can you even think that? You were not just someone to travel with. You aren’t.”
“West, I haven’t seen you in over a month. And to be honest, I was beginning to lose hope. Then today you appear out of nowhere. And with another girl.” As I said the last sentence my voice cracked. I felt like crying again even though I knew I shouldn’t.
West was never mine to begin with. I was stupid to think he was.
His eyes seemed to change in the firelight and I had no idea what he was thinking right then. His face was a blank chalkboard, though his eyes were twitching like his mind was franticly thinking.
Then seemingly out of nowhere, he kissed me.
It felt like before—soft with words behind it. His lips moved with mine and the taste of him was sweet. My head spun behind my closed eyes, and my heart fluttered more than ever. There was a butterfly in my chest, trapped behind my ribcage, and I couldn’t let it out. His hand came up, curling around the back of my neck, my skin feeling hot underneath his fingers.
Our bodies were closer than they ever had been. I could feel the heat coming from his beating heart, and I felt myself never wanting to pull away.
It lasted only a few short moments before he broke away.
“Sorry,” he whispered and stepped back a fraction.
“What was that for?” I didn’t want to admit that I never wanted it to stop, even though it was the truth.
He shook his head and pulled off his beanie, ruffling his hair with his fingers, making the hat hair disappear. It didn’t help much; it just made my cheeks redder, even though I thought it impossible.
“To help you believe that she means nothing to me,” he said, giving me one of his adorable smiles. “She never has, Reese. Not even before the war.” I stood there taking in the information. To be honest I felt relieved, but I still had this hot jealously of her, without reason. He searched my eyes. “That place in my heart has already been taken.”
West stood there silently, just waiting for me to say something.
“I missed you,” I said quietly. “More than I could bear.” His blue eyes had my legs weakening. I never wanted to be away from him again. “Please don’t leave again,” I whispered.
West leaned in, pressing his lips against my forehead. “Never,” he said. When he stepped away, it was like he was struggling with himself. It wasn’t hard to guess what, because I had the same problem.
If we didn’t change the subject soon, things would get warmer in here much quicker than the fire could ever make it.
“We’re leaving in the morning,” I suddenly said. Then I asked, even though I knew his answer, “Are you coming with us?”
“You know I am. I’m never going to leave you again, I promise. But I know that doesn’t mean that much to you now, and I wish it did.”
“It does. You never broke your promise, you just delayed it.” I gave him a shrug and small smile.
The door suddenly opened and I moved closer to the fire as West sat down at the small table. For two people who obviously liked each other, we moved awfully quickly. Seth came in followed by Ethan and Mia. They all pretended not to notice anything—or maybe they didn’t. Either way, I was glad nothing was brought up.
We moved around the cabin, pushing things aside to make room for the blankets on which Seth, Mia, and West would sleep on. Ethan offered up his space on the bed for her but she politely refused.
I didn’t know what it was about her, but she rubbed me the wrong way. Like everything was all an act. But that was ridiculous. West had known her his entire life and he didn’t have any problems trusting her . . . so why did I? The jealously still within me most likely had something to do with it.
By the time we were all laying in our beds, the fire was down to glowing embers. I watched Ethan as he slept. It made me happy that he was here with me. I felt a weight off my shoulders, not having to search for someone anymore. It constantly felt like my life for the past month and a half had been one continuous search. And now it wasn’t.
I rolled over and was met with a pair of staring blue eyes. West studied at me from his place on the floor.
“Are you going to sleep?” I whispered.
“I will if you do.”
I nodded into my pillow and he gave me his first brilliant smile since he had been back. I fell asleep almost instantly after that.
A deep sleep. One I hadn’t had for a very long time.