“And then I got a call from your phone one time which really freaked me out and... Harvey?” I was in the middle of telling Harvey all of the life stories I could remember when he’d stopped responding. “Harvey?”
I turned around to see him staring out the window at the now overcast sky, an empty gaze focused on nothing in particular. His hands fidgeted in his lap like he was fighting something in his head.
“Harvey?” I tried to get his attention one more time, placing my hand on his knee. “Baby?”
“I’m sorry,” he muttered, lips barely moving.
“For what? Are you okay?” I turned to Jovie who was wearing the same confused look as me. “Should we pull over? Do you feel sick?”
“Maeve?” he whispered, a fearful look flickered across his green eyes.
“It’s me, I’m here,” I comforted him, twisting myself in the car seat and searching for his hand to hold.
Something was wrong.
“I have to go,” he said.
I slowly watched his hand move toward the door handle and pull.
“Jovie, slow down. He’s trying to get out!” I shouted and felt Jovie promptly slam on the brakes.
As if in slow motion, Harvey pushed the door open as the car still moved, tires screeching underneath us. The bags in the back seat slammed against our seats, a few items of clothing flying towards the window. Jovie kept a steady grip on the steering wheel, jaw clenched and eyes glued to the road. I was screaming Harvey’s name over and over to bring his attention back to me but it was like he wasn’t in control of what he was doing. This was what Jovie was talking about when he said people changed in here. The car finally shuttered to a complete stop.
“Are you okay?” Jovie asked in a concerned tone.
“I’m fine,” I pressed my hand to my chest and took a breath before turning back to see that Harvey was gone.
I felt panic rise underneath my fingers as I swung my door open and bolted out of the car. He was running away. Just like that, he was running in the opposite direction, white shirt blowing in the wind like he was on a mission. Where the hell was he going? Without hesitation, I felt my feet hit the ground harder even though I knew I couldn’t keep up with him. I began to run and felt that the air had become chilled again and was pricking at my skin like needles. The atmosphere felt jumbled- the dark skies and cold air contrasting the bright clouds and warm ocean breeze that greeted us before.
“Maeve!” I heard Jovie shout after me.
I turned to see him turning the car around and beckoning for me to get in. I nodded and jumped back in when he pulled up beside me.
“Is he okay?” I asked, teeth chattering.
“The man is still running after jumping from a moving vehicle so I guess so,” Jovie responded and pressed on the gas.
He drove past Harvey and pulled in front of him, blocking his path. We both stepped out, slamming the doors behind us.
“Harvey, please stop!” I called.
He slowed down and for a moment it looked like he recognized me again. I stepped forward and spoke to him some more. My words came out delicately because I was scared something I would say could send him into the weird trance again.
“Please. It’s me,” my voice cracked as tears began to form in my eyes. “It’s Maeve. I need you to come back so we can go home. Please, Harvey, this isn’t you. I don’t know what’s wrong, but we can figure it out. We just have to get the hell out of here.”
I was fighting tears, but realized it was working. He slowed down more and more as it looked like he was coming back from whatever trance he was in. We continued walking closer to each other until look on his face juristically changed. His eyes grew big and dread masked itself across his features as I heard a deadly click from behind me. I warily turned on my heels, feeling an odd heat from the dark asphalt through my shoes as the contrasting freezing air pierced into my skin, a cutting wind began to pick up, throwing my hair around as I faced her.
My eyes met Lilah’s with an anger I’d never felt before. She held the same gun I had held earlier, though her intentions were much different. I wanted to kick myself for not grabbing it before getting out of the car, but I was only concerned with Harvey. My mind raced, thinking of how she could have possibly gotten to it that fast. I knew Jovie said this place would be dangerous, but the beauty of Eroda allowed a false sense of safety to creep in. Lilah’s fiery ringlets flew around, catching in her eyelashes as the wind began to grow more fierce. I should be scared right now. I should be terrified. But, I wasn’t. Even in the face of possible death, I felt bad for this girl standing in front of me. I had lost Harvey one too many times and god, it hurt more than any pain imaginable, but Lilah had obviously never been fortunate to feel that pain. Something in her eyes told me she’d never cared for anyone or been cared for by anyone enough to mourn the loss of someone she loved in a long time and all I could feel was pity.
“Lilah, get away from her now,” Jovie’s voice was shaky as he demanded the girl away.
“And what?” she averted her eyes to Jovie for just a second, not long enough for me to move away. “Take you instead? Cliche, don’t you think, Baker?”
“I mean it.”
“You and I both knew how this would end,” she snapped, bringing her attention back to me. “But he didn’t tell you that did he?”
I narrowed my eyes at Jovie and felt my eyebrows knit with uncertainty. Droplets began to fall from the sky, calm at first and then untamed and weaponized by the stormy winds, pelting against my bare skin. I turned to Harvey, who stood still, allowing the water to soak through his shirt and stick dark brown curls to his forehead. His gaze looked past me to Lilah and I could tell the gears were turning in his head.
“What is she talking about?” I spun my attention back to Jovie.
He began to say something, but his words were interrupted by a the loud crash of thunder.
“You can’t all three get out,” Lilah spoke for him. “It’s impossible.”
I felt my heart sink, drowning in the rain pouring from the grey sky above. She had to be lying. There’s no way.
“It’s not impossible,” he spoke up.
“Keep telling yourself that,” Lilah rolled her eyes. “It doesn’t work like that and we both know that. That’s why we couldn’t get all of our friends out of here. And it’s not like you came back for us in the first place.”
“Lilah, we tried. I-”
“Save it,” she snapped, clenching her jaw. She was holding something so deep inside I could see just a glimmer of it from behind the single tear forming in the corner of her eye. She inhaled, gripping the gun a little tighter. “You did come back for him.”
Her eyes followed a path to Harvey who had somehow managed to inch just slightly closer.
“Lilah, please, just let us go. I know I can get us all out of here.”
“Say you do get out of here- all of you. All safe and sound back in the real world... But, this place is left off balance. What happens to me? What happens to the other people in here?” she asked. I notice her hands began to shake just slightly.
“I... I don’t know,” Jovie replied. I could just barely hear his voice now over the sound of rain pounding against the trees.
I found myself silent as my gaze fell to the ground, trying to find a way out in my head. The problem was, I didn’t know anything about this place. I didn’t really know where the hell I was. I didn’t know why it was a perfect summer day at first and now we were in the middle of a winter sun. I didn’t know why the sun didn’t really go down here and I didn’t know how long we’d been in here, I just knew that we had to get out. All of us.
“Can’t you leave?” I asked.
“What?” Lilah seemed caught off guard that I’d spoken up.
“You can leave right? You can get people from the outside and bring them in so that means there is a way out of here and you can go.”
“It’s not as easy as you think,” she looked over my shoulder to Harvey. “You know the cycle right? When it feels like you’re not in control of what you’re doing? You’re caught.”
Harvey slowly nodded his head. I still felt in the dark. I didn’t know what they were talking about, but he clearly understood what she was trying to say.
“I can only get out to bring more people in. I exist here to bring balance... and if there’s no balance to bring... if this place collapses...” she trailed off before recollecting her thoughts. “No... I can’t really leave. I have to come back.”
“That doesn’t make any sense. How do-”
“What if the destruction of this place sets you free?” Harvey interrupted, speaking directly to Lilah.
“But what if it doesn’t?” she retorted.
“Do you really want to be stuck in this for the rest of your life? There’s a chance that it could work,” Harvey said, stepping forward. He was close enough now to be in an arm’s reach.
Finally, she allowed me to see the slightest bit of vulnerability. Her hand lowered, the gun now pointed slightly off from me. In that second where I found the least amount of danger, I acted. I quickly grabbed her hand, expecting her to fight back, to try to push me off or grapple for the weapon... but she didn’t. She flinched at first, but in a sense of defeat, allowed me to take it from her. She stepped away and I heard an audible sigh from Jovie.
“Don’t make me regret this,” Lilah’s eyes pierced my own, begging me to make a promise to her.
“We won’t,” Harvey’s voice came from behind me and I felt his hand on the back of my arm, begging me to take a step back from her.
I nodded and she seemed satisfied, turning on her heel and walking into the forrest, the rain causing the black dress she wore to cling to her body. When she reached the tree line, she turned around, giving me one last glance before she disappeared. When she did, I realized I’d been holding my breath for a long time and allowed air back into my lungs again. Harvey pulled me into his chest and I let myself be enveloped into his arms. The rain poured down harder than ever and thunder echoed in the skies like a loud, violent heartbeat.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
“I’m fine,” I breathed before pulling away and taking his face in my hands. Trickles of rain water ran from his hair down his cheeks. He looked like a painting. “Don’t you run from me again.”
“I’ll try not to, but...”
“But what? She was talking about some kind of cycle. Is that the trance you got in? Is that why you left?”
“Yeah...” he looked down, bringing his hand up to my own and interlocking our fingers.
“What can I do to make it stop?”
“I don’t know... something to remind me you’re here... that you’re real. That this is all real.”
“Maybe something like this,” he paused for a second, placing his finger under my chin and lifting my lips to his own. The familiar taste of his lips made my breath hitch in my chest and an emotion I hadn’t felt in a very long time found me in the icy air and caused my cheeks to grow warm.
“Guys, I’m sorry to be the official moment ruiner, but you can make out later. We need to get out of here now," Jovie’s voice interrupted my thoughts and suddenly, a feeling of guilt washed over me.
I trudged back to the car, realizing I was shivering and my fingers had grown numb. Jovie avoided eye contact with me as I buckled my seatbelt in and I couldn’t tell if he was being quiet because he was shocked over what had just happened with Lilah or if we’d made him uncomfortable with the kiss. I tried to shake it off, but could help but feel a heaviness in my chest because of it. I cared too much about him and the fact that I could have upset him weighed on my mind. He reached down and pushed a button on the side of his door.
“What was that?” I asked.
“I put the child lock on so now he’s going to have to fight a little harder if he wants to get out of here,” he finally looked at me and pressed his lips into a soft smile. He pushed a hand through his wet hair to get it out of his face. “We can pull over and change into dry clothes when it’s safe, but I want to get on the road right now.”
I nodded. Whatever had upset him, he didn’t want me to think anything was wrong. Maybe he needed a minute to process. I mean, a few moments ago I had a gun held to the back of my head so I did too. We were all shaken up. I smiled back before mouthing a “thank you” to him. And I meant that thank you more than I’ve ever meant anything.