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Chapter 12

Everly

I woke up, shivering. My body hurt from lying on something hard. I stretched as I sat up and looked around. My heart plummeted when I remember where I am lost.

I stand up and take in my surroundings. Now that there was the peaking of light gleaming through, highlighting their beauty. I could see what was around me: the gorgeous greens and yellow hues of colours. The pure, clean river, the forest that seemed so scary in the dark didn't seem so frightening in the light.

I walk off the large boulder and try to decide which way to go today, or do I stay? Yesterday just made me get lost. Maybe if I stay, a hiker might come by.

But then they would be a stranger, and I can't trust a stranger. What do I do?

I knelt at the river's edge and stared at my reflection. My hair was frizzy; my complexion was pale. I ran my fingers through the water, erasing my view...

Erik

The crackle of twigs snapping jolted me out of sleep. I stood up from the ground I had fallen asleep leaning against a tree last night. I tried to stay awake all night, but I couldn't.

But I can see daylight is just peeking through the trees. The guys were still asleep; I can hear Ottis snoring away.

I grab one of the backpacks and sling it over my shoulders and trek on. Come on; give me a sign. I am at a loss of where to start.

But I start walking.

It's been a while, and I see a flash of fur in the distance. It stops and looks me over, trying to see if I am a threat.

My heart rate picked up. It moved from behind the tree line it was hiding behind.

I say, not wanting to spook the wolf. Its fur was jet black. It had golden eyes that almost shimmered.

I held my breath, scared if I took a breath, the wolf would charge at me.

It moved stealthily towards me, but it surprisingly didn't seem threatened by me.

"Hey." It moved close and came all the way over to me, it sniffed my hand, and it suddenly howled. He started walking away.

Do I follow it or continue? I decide to follow but keep my distance. Maybe it was alerting his pack, and it was leading me right into a trap. I could be there meal.

I continued keeping on the wolf's trail. It kept looking back at me like it knew it I was following it. We walked over a wooden bridge with missing slats it felt incredibly unsteady.

But I just kept following. The wolf took me off the beaten path, which I was worried was wrong, but I just kept following.

Hours later, we came to a clearing with a river; large stones bedded the floor of the river. It was the most transparent water I have ever seen. It was beautiful. There was a small waterfall in the distance. The wolf suddenly ran off up the steep hill. It howled again.

I then heard the snapping of branches. I think it's more wolves ready to attack me, but then my breath caught, and I see Everly, her silky blond hair, her beautiful angelic face. The sun shone on her, and never have seen anything more beautiful in my life. She took my breath away.

I try to speak. "Every??" My voice came out in a whisper with a slight rasp laced in. She looks my way, and she smiled down at me.

"Erik?? Oh yeah, you found me." She jumped up and down. Did you meet the wolf? Isn't he lovely?"

I am shocked to see her, but so happy.

"Yeah, he's very nice. I think he brought me to you."

"He slept with me all night and kept me from being scared." Her voice filled my soul, and I could rest easy now. Her beauty was like nothing else—the rarest of beauties.

"Everly stay where you are," I speak softly.

I make my way up the steep hill grabbing on to whatever could to get me up faster to her, and finally, she is in my arms. I wrap my arms around her, and she started crying.

"I thought I would never get out." Her cry ached my heart, but it was the best sound in the world cause it meant she was here. She's back.

We took a seat once she was calmed down, and I pulled out a bottle of water and a protein bar and handed them to her. "Thank you." She smiled brightly at me.

I texted the guys that I found Everly. I said we could meet at the river in a few hours. As I needed a break and Everly probably did too.

The wolf laid down beside Everly. She brushed her hand through its fur coat occasionally while she ate.

"Everly, why did you leave your house?" I ask her.

"I wanted to see you, and I thought I could find your house. But I got lost, and then I couldn't find my way back home. I usually am good at remembering things, but with all that happened last night, I wasn't concentrating on my surroundings."

She talked fast. And it made sense she thought she could find her way. But even someone who's been around and knows there way could get lost easily.

"Then I found the river and just stayed there. Then the wolf came over and stayed with me. He was friendly, and then I felt safe."

I just stared at Everly as she talked. Taking all of her in, her button nose the slight pink on her cheeks the way her hair hung down around her face.

I brushed my fingers over her cheek. She looked over at me.

"What?"

"I missed you." I brushed the wispy strands of hair away from her face.

"I missed you too." She leaned into my side. I curled her into my body and kissed her hairline.

The guys walk out of the forest. "Fuck Everly, why did you leave?" Luke was not looking well. I get he was worried just as I was, but it's not going to help to yell at her and make her feel bad.

She stood up and walked away. "Luke, don't." I got in front of him and placed the palm of my hand against his chest.

"No man, she needs to know she can't just walk off. See, she's doing it again." Luke fired at me and jogged off to catch up to Everly.

The wolf cuts Luke off. "Get away from me." The wolf snarled at Luke, baring his teeth.

"Dude, calm down. It can sense you are angry, and now you are going off on Everly."

"Are you one with the wolves now?" He laughed and continues.

Ottis and Jordan walk over to me. "What's with the wolf?"

"It seems to be friendly as long as it doesn't feel threatened. Luke needs to be careful about what he does next towards Everly."

Ottis laughs at me. "Seriously, dude, are you the wolf whisperer now?"

"Well, no, but it led me to her. I don't take that lightly."

"Dude, it's a blood-sucking beast of the forest."

Ottis wasn't getting it.

"This wolf is smart, and it led me right to Everly. Maybe it smelt her sent on me, and then it knew to take me to her. Dude, it's a smart animal. It senses good and bad. Just don't piss it off, and we will all be good."

"So no Bebe gun shooting," Jordan smirked. Sometimes these guys love messing with me. But I do it to them too, so I guess it's only fair.

"No man unless you want sharp teeth in your flesh, and I wouldn't stop him."

"Seriously, after what I did for you last night, you wouldn't help me?" Ottis pushed playfully on my shoulder.

"I gotta go check on Everly." I walked off in the direction that Everly went off in. I can hear Luke yelling at her.

"Everly, you know better than to go off alone. Something terrible could have happened to you."

"I wasn't thinking. I just wanted to see Erik. I had a terrible sleep, and I needed him. You wouldn't understand."

"You had everyone out looking for you. Dad and mom were freaking out. It bothers me that you don't think. You act without thinking of the consequences."

"Luke, why are you so mean." She was on the verge of tears.

I can't listen to this anymore. I move in and tuck Everly into my body.

"Dude, seriously back the hell down. You of all people should know not to go to her. She made a mistake we all have."

I try and calm both of them

"Erik, don't act like a saint. We all know you are just trying to swoop in like some saviour, but you won't stick around."

Luke is now going after me. Seriously?

"What the fuck, man, I thought we were good." I was confused at his switch now, not being ok with me.

"Erik, you should stay away from Everly." Luke glared at me.

"Luke, why are you so mean. Is this all because of me?" Everly says.

"It's because he's making you do things you wouldn't normally do, and you are going to get hurt. Look what happened when you were with him you got kidnapped."

"Then, you went in search of him, not even thinking of the consequences." He was laying it out there. You can see Everly felt terrible.

"Luke, I am my person, and I may not always think things through or think of all the consequences, but I'm living my life finally. I'm doing something I have never done, but I am learning that I am ok. That although it's scary out there, I want to try more. I can't live in a bubble all my life, and for the first time, a guy likes me. Either be happy for me or don't talk to me anymore."

I was so damn proud of Everly sticking up for herself, she's learning she can test boundaries, and she'll be ok. Yes, something terrible could have happened to her, but so could it with anyone else.

She took hold of my hand and walked off before Luke could talk back.

We decided to make the hike out of the woods. Luke just stayed behind, looking pretty shell shocked right now. Or maybe he realized he was an asshat.

We finally made it out. Luke walked over to us.

"Everly, I am sorry. I was just so worried, and dad kept calling, and I could hear the worry in his voice. But you are right. You are free to make your own decision. I will always love you, still, be careful."

"Thank you, Luke. I think it's time I move out." Everly says.

"What?" He seemed nervous again.

"I think I need my own life, more independent, not so reliant on you guys." She sounded so sure.

But is she ready for all that responsibility that comes with adulting when she's been so sheltered?

I think it's a good idea. Maybe once the initial fright of what she's been through ware off, then she can think about if it's the best move right now. I'll be behind her either way.

Ottis and Jordan leave, Everly said thank you to them. They said they were happy she was found.

Then Luke left, and he told her to call there dad. I said I would take her home. She needs some downtime from her ordeals. Hell, so do I. And this time, I am not leaving her side unless her dad kicks me out. Which I am hoping he doesn't.

Luke apologized to me, which I accepted, but I'm still unsure if he still has a red flag. But I get it she's his sister, and he's overly protective, and I could very well hurt her. It's not my intention, but I know I am so far from being perfect. She probably shouldn't be with me.

I get her safely in my car. She smiled brightly when she saw her bag. "My bag." She pulled it up on her lap and sifted through it. She pulled out her phone.

"I should call my dad." She went through her contacts and hit her dad's number. She bit on her inner cheek as she waited anxiously. "Hi-hi daddy. I-I'm so sorry I didn't mean to worry you."

She was stuttering a lot. Her voice was shaking; her legs were bouncing off the floor of the car. Tears were building in her eyes. I slid my hand out, and she slid her small soft hand in mine. I squeezed her hand.

"I'm going right home. Will you be home soon?" She tucked her hair being her ear and looked at me briefly. I leaned over and kissed her cheek. "Can Erik stay? Okay, thank you. I will make dinner for everyone." She was getting her happy spirit back.

"Okay, I love you, dad." She hung up and slid her phone back in her bag. She leaned back against the headrest, and she closed her eyes and took in a deep breath. I watched her closely, and I saw tears slid down her face.

"You ok?" I asked quietly, not wanting to disrupt her.

"Let's go home." She opened her eyes and looked over at me and my heart lept inside as she smiled.

"Thank you for finding me. I didn't mean to make you all worry. I was a mess last night, and then you were gone, and I kept getting these images of those masked men and then being in the trunk and then locked in the basement.

But the biggest thing was that I was without you."

Wow!

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