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Chapter 28

I stared into the night and tried to distinguish the shapes that my eyes couldn’t quite see. But they were out there—waiting for the right time to show themselves. Like pumas, patiently waiting for their prey to drop their guard and drink from the last stream they would ever drink from. But luckily for us, we already knew they were there.

Our first line of defense was waiting on the outskirts of a long park that separated the residential houses from the tall buildings of the city. Behind each road block and barrier there were people ready to start firing when the signal came. The streets were dark, save the few lamps that were still working, and the park was almost immersed in complete blackness. The full moon gave off a pale light that reflected off the trees and sparse rocks that were scattered across the ground.

The night was still.

I was crouched behind a cement barrier with one knee to the ground as I gazed over it, barely exposing any of my head. My battle rifle sat loosely in my hands and I could feel my shotgun lying flat against my back, ready to be used. I’d been in this position for awhile but my adrenaline had kept my muscles from cramping up or becoming tired. It fueled me continuously.

Everyone had been silent for a half hour now. General Martin ordered everyone to wait for his signal and stay motionless until then. Straight across from me, Cruz waited behind his own barrier, a large knife strapped across his chest, glinting in the moonlight. His deadly posture made me thankful that he was on our side. He noticed me looking over and gave me a grin, but I was barely able to return it.

An hour ago I left Ethan with Seth at the hospital, and it wasn’t easy. He was determined to come with us but I was never going to let that happen. I couldn’t let that happen. I could still picture his displeased face when I’d told him.

“Ethan, you have to stay here,” I repeated firmly.

“I told you, I’m coming with you. You can’t stop me!” His face was getting red and I could tell he was trying to hold back his tears. I shifted my eyes over to Seth and he took my signal without a second thought.

“Ethan,” he said, “I know you want to go with her but to be honest, she wants you to stay here because of me.”

“Why do I have to stay here because of you?” he answered impatiently, his foot threatening to start tapping.

“Because if, and when, the lines are broken, I need someone here that can hold a gun and actually stand up. I won’t be able to defend myself if that happens and need someone here to do it for me. But . . .” he shrugged, “you can go if you really want to.”

Thankfully Ethan was no longer looking at me when I made my ‘what the heck?’ face, but I had a feeling Seth knew what he was doing, so I played along. He would never put Ethan in danger like that, so I had to trust him.

Ethan turned towards me and I just gave a small shrug along with a nod; trying to act like it was true. He absorbed both of our faces, then he finally turned towards West who was standing off to the side.

“Are they telling the truth?”

West didn’t want to lie to Ethan’s face but he also was against him coming.

“Seth does need someone here with him if they come.” True, but also not answering his direct question.

Ethan stayed quiet for moment, debating the situation. Finally he straightened his back and sat down in the chair next to his bed, crossing his arms over his chest.

“Okay, fine.”

My breath came out like smoke in the cold air as I watched the tree line. I was so happy that Ethan wasn’t here with me, but I also knew I would have tied him up if I had to to keep him away.

Cruz pressed his fingers to his ear piece, listening to something I couldn’t hear. He turned and nodded to everyone, telling us it was time.

I didn’t think it was possible, but my heart started to beat even faster. Like a galloping horse trying to pound out of my chest.

Then the signal came.

Thunderous blasts erupted from both sides of us from the few tanks we still had. Our line was stretched on for about a half, and the big machines fired simultaneously into the wooded area. The ammunition pounded into forest, hitting trees and everything around them, blowing them away like dust. Fires flared up among the trees and trucks exploded off the ground as men ran for cover.

The firing subsided, and for a whole three-seconds everything was quiet.

Then everything came back tenfold.

Both sides started pounding each other with everything they had. Bullets whizzed past my head, hitting everything around us and going through anything too weak to stop them. Loud blasts from the trees were followed by mortars, making my ears ring and almost rendering me deaf. Chunks of debris rained down upon us as we bent our hands until it was clear again.

It was chaos.

I figured I was in shock. I was unable to move, and my breathing was coming out in shallow gasps. My eyes were able to flicker up to Cruz. The man was in a half-crouch and firing his gun over the barrier, his mouth moving, issuing words that I would never again repeat.

I looked behind me at the people who were fighting back as well; soldiers and locals, working together to fight for their lives. I had to stop being such a wimp. Yes, I might be in shock, but I couldn’t let that get in my way of doing what I had to.

Tightening my grip on the weapon in my hands, I rose from my crouched position and swung around to face the people that had ruined everything. It was easier to see now, thanks to the fires that were blazing all around. The army was trying the advance, but they were being pounded down upon. I looked down my sight and took a deep breath.

A man was coming from behind a truck, positioning himself with an RPG on his shoulder, ready to shoot our line. If I didn’t pull the trigger now, people would die. It was either us or him, because if I didn’t shoot, he would. So I pulled the trigger.

I watched him go down through my sight, and it didn’t feel real. Like I was in another movie, watching through my television screen. Another man behind him tried to take his place but he also dropped when I kept pulling the trigger. I felt sick to my stomach, but I tried to ignore it. I had to ignore it.

I ducked behind the barrier again to reload, and I was surprised to find my hands not shaking anymore. I dropped my clip and pulled out another, clicking it in place as Cruz dropped down again. He gave me another crooked grin along with a nod.

“You’re doin’ all right, little one!” he shouted. “Keep it up and maybe you can join the big boys later!”

I shook my head but smiled.

Then everything around us exploded. The last thing I saw was everything crumbling, but my last thoughts were on West.

He stood there when the Hummer came to pick me up. His eyes were hard and the muscles were working in his jaw. He already promised he wasn’t going even utter the word goodbye, so I wasn’t sure what he was going to say.

If it wasn’t for the uncommon self-control I was having, I would have been shaking from head to toe from what was about to happen soon. Again, something I wasn’t cut out for.

West kept opening his mouth to stay something but nothing ever came out. So, I finally did it for him.

“You don’t have to say anything you know.”

He gave me a smile. “I don’t know what to say, other than—.

“West, you—”

“I love you, Reese.”

It was the second time he said it, but it still made just as much impact.

My heart stopped when he stepped closer and gave me one of his brilliant smiles. Something inside me sparked and I knew that I felt the same way. Probably since that day we had first met, but I had never accepted it for some odd reason, or maybe I just never realized it. I had never met anyone like West before, and I had no idea what love had felt like. It felt like my heart was floating through the clear blue sky when our eyes met. It always had.

“I love you, too,” I whispered, unmoving. It felt so right to say. He wrapped his arms around me, immersing me with his warmth and smell. I listened to his heart beat and promised myself that I would hear it again after this night was over, no matter what.

And he had kept his promise; he never said goodbye. But the kiss he had given me had made up for the words he never spoke.

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