Chapter 11: There
She lifted a chapped hand to rub the sleep from her eyes, but looked only at the threads in the faded orange rug that covered most of the hardwood floor because that was the only thing there that was like her. She had not cared.
She looked up at the sound of her name. Sitting around her in the living room of her house were five members of the freedom fighters. In the white plastic chair to her left was Rita, the snobby girl who even now was focused on her reflection in a small mirror. On the couch to her right was Max, a silent yet perceptive guy who spent his time inspecting bullets he had saved up in a plastic bag and loading them into the chamber of his pistol. The loud-mouthed guy sitting next to Max, at the far end of the couch, was Donnie. He spent most of his time disagreeing with whatever was being said. A younger girl named Nicole sat on the rug. She didn’t seem to speak. Kaylie suspected that she was someone’s younger sister.
Looking at Kaylie, from his seat in an armchair across the room was their leader, Aaron.
“What?” she asked him.
“Tonight, ask that guy how to get to C.R.A.V.E.”
Of course Aaron would ask that. That was all they ever cared about.
“Sure,” she said. Her eyes changed focus to a lamp in the corner of the room.
She remembered the proposal they had made to let her out of the city and all the great things they had said were there, but since meeting the immortal stranger she wasn’t so sure. Besides, making her go out in the cold on the maintenance day to gain that guy’s sympathy had only been cruelty.
“Why are we meeting here?” Rita asked.
“Kaylie,” Aaron said again while ignoring Rita’s comment. “This is important.”
She ignored him. A bullet hit the wooden floor with a thud.
“Did you hear that?” Max asked them.
“Ya, idiot,” Donnie responded, “It was the sound of your dense head.”
Kaylie heard a creak and saw a shadow move across the drawn yellow curtains over the window. Without a word she rose from her seat and moved to the front door in the hallway, which she opened. Cecile stood on the porch watching her as she stood in the hallway.
It was quite late. Lamps lit up along the street, a quiet breeze shuffled the foliage. As he stood in her doorway, she had the peculiar feeling that he had come exactly when she needed someone to be there. Cecile similarly noticed that she wore the same sweatpants and shirt that he had bought her, but he did not know what to call the feeling except for a quiet night.
“I wanted to—” he began.
“Kaylie, who is it?” Donnie called from the living room.
She flinched at the voice, her hand gripping the wood of the door to keep it between them. It shamed her that Cecil had caught her doing exactly what he was against.
“Let’s go out,” she said, one hand pushing him back to the porch.
“I’ll be right back,” she yelled inside before shutting the door.
Now the light lay in streaks across the wooden boards and in scatterings of shadow. Kaylie was surprised to see the stranger still watching her when she turned. For the first time she noticed how honeyed the color of his eyes were. He saw that she was tired and decided not to ask the obvious. He should have known by now that all the people around him had their own grand plans.
“Tell me what happened,” she asked of him.
When she said it like that it was like they knew each other.
“I found your invitation.”
It had been such a small thing to cause this. That said, Kaylie expected him to leave. She didn’t have any excuses and Cecile didn’t deserve any.
“I did try to tell you,” Kaylie told him, “that day you wanted to leave my house. You can’t pretend ignorance all the time Cecile.”
Cecile did remember her peculiar spaghetti dinner. Now he peered past her through the thin yellow curtains. It was a small gathering, but more then before. When he was a kid nobody had talked about how to leave. Outside was supposed to be a place of death.
Something flashed painfully in his eye and he rubbed at dancing flecks, his eyes tearing. When he focused on Kaylie’s soft face Cecile saw the red fleck beside her nose, the type a rifle made to mark targets and the same that had bounced into his eye and he realized that the people from C.R.A.V.E. had shown up after all. Maybe Oliver was there too, taking pity by letting him see, reading the words on their lips though a scope like a silent movie.
“Forget it then,” Cecile told her.
He had wanted to save her.
“I wanted to tell you that I’m leaving for good.”
Fate had betrayed him.
“Cecile? Are you angry?”
He looked at her worn shoes. It was not only anger.
“This wouldn’t be the first time those people set me up,” Cecile confessed. “Do you still want to know the way out of the city?”
After all, she would never get the chance to know more.
“You’ll just tell me nonsense.”
He lifted his head to see her smile. It was a thing he did not want to forget.
“What if I told the truth?” he said for her.
It was a pretty sentiment that made Kaylie wonder why he was speaking to her. Never before had the man seemed interested in bringing her into his life. After all, he had said that he was leaving.
“That wouldn’t be you,” she told him in the hope to understand. “Why are you really here Cecile?”
He would never say it now. Because loving her would hurt. He didn’t want to lose her.
“To keep my promise. To see you again,” he said instead.
“You really are going to tell me what is outside?”
Kaylie was starting to believe him, this man that everyone seemed to come to hate. He spoke words of denial like poetry being dropped into your heart.
“Close your eyes.”
Even though he said it, he reached his hand up to cover her sight as though not trusting her to keep a secret. His hand smelled of earth left to crack in the sun.
“Imagine,” he told her and she did. She knew as he spoke.
“Slivers of soft green grass covered the ground. Scratchy brown tree trunks rose beyond, too thick to see through, spreading limbs into a living roof of branches and leaves.”
Warmth spread over his chest like sunlight, blood dripped like dew. A screech on the wind carried as he saw the deer collapse. His knees buckled and hit the deck in front of her as windows shattered like birds leaping to the sky. He closed his eyes even as his vision cleared, his heart repaired into a solid lump, and the delusions dissipated.
He listened to the sound of air dragging into her lungs, breathing, and opened his eyes. He was crouched before her. His rigid will holding him there, blood crusted to his chest and down his lips. She too had been shot.
“Why?” she whispered.
The sound was familiar.
“Kaylie,” he said.
She lay in front of him on the chipped porch, scattered now with glass and blood.
“I don’t want you to die,” he admitted.
Kaylie drew in a deeper gurgling breath.
“Stupid,” her voice cracked. “Ever…one dies. Ha ha.”
Her laugh hurt him. Nobody should have to accept this. He took hold of her hand.
“Don’t laugh about it. Don’t hurt–. You don’t have to go anywhere.”
“It doesn’t hurt,” she told him.
She was lying. Of course it hurt. It hurt a million times worse than anything.
He heard her heavy breathes. He was stupid. Why was he the one trying to say everything now, as though he was the one slipping away, as though his were the ideas lost in the dark.
“Why don’t you save her!” he screamed at the people who always watched him.
“It’s alright,” Kaylie told him.
Her voice was getting further away.
“What if I loved you?”
“Your so…emotional,” she gasped in amusement.
“Don’t say that.”
“I can see it though,” she said, “The place you wanted.”