The rough terrain of the woods is a challenge for my weak legs. My lungs burn for air and my heart throbs fearfully inside my chest. I don’t know if he’s behind me—I don’t dare to look back—my only thought is to keep running.
The tip of my sneaker catches on some root or branch. The momentum sends me crashing to the ground. Twigs and small rocks prick the bare skin of my arms and my face. I lay there, exhausted, eyes closed off to the world that offers danger. For a moment there is nothing else but the deep desire of wanting to give up.
How did we end up like this, Ben? What did I ever do to you to deserve this kind of anguish? We were once best friend, inseparable. I trusted you more than anyone in my life! Why would you do this to me?
“Row! Rowana!” My name echoes across the vast land in his deep voice.
He’s close—but not close enough.
My eyes snap open and I scatter away on hands and knees, cowering behind the tree like a hunted animal. Sweat clings to my forehead and dampens my hair; the cool wind brings a shiver down my spine.
“Don’t make this more difficult than it has to be,” Benson calls out. I make a huge effort to calm my overbeating heart and keep a composed mind, listening to his rambling. “Let’s be reasonable, Row. We can talk things through. The last thing I want is to hurt you. You’re my friend above everything.”
I stifle a sob. He has injected that familiar warm tone I’ve known him for, the one that offers undeniable affection and loyal friendship. My exhausted brain almost wants to believe him…to cling to his strong arms and weep with relief knowing he will help me—he will save me from himself.
I take a deep, ragged breath in.
These past sixty days have been hell. There’s no friendship or affection in him, he somehow drowned each feeling in drinks and drugs. I can’t trust him.
“Row! Don’t be stupid, it’s getting late. You’ll die out here on your own.”
I’ll take my chances. I study the direction of his voice; to my luck, he seems to be headed down the opposite way. With my heart stuck into my tight throat, I venture a peek. It takes a moment to spot the brown jacket moving cautiously along the woodland. He’s walking toward the left.
I back myself into the rough bark and grin as any mad woman would.
It’s logical to think I would have opted to the left. The land it less troublesome to trek and it leads to a road where there’s a chance someone could spot me. It was my first choice, but something—call it a breakthrough—steered me toward the river. The path is less transited and steep, with many dangers along the way. And yet, by doing so, I think I have a better chance of surviving. I’m starved and sleep deprived; he’s strong, fit and energetic. We both know the terrain. And I know he can outrun me even at my best.
I still myself, shivering under my white t-shirt, my ear perked up to every sound. I wait until a deafening silence of wilderness surrounds me, and with one last peek, I move stealthily toward the river with the sun falling into a heavy orange behind the tree line.
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