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A Journey Lies Ahead
It was late; very late. At least after midnight, but even at night it wasn’t safe. But it was dark; very dark, and that was going to have to be enough. Plus, it was even darker in the woods where the tall trees covered the soft glow from the moon with their large, green leaves. Even the old, abandoned house amongst these guarding trees was dark and forgotten, besides the small rodents that took shelter in it’s walls. Anyone who happened to stumble upon this house in the middle of the woods wouldn’t have looked twice, but someone more careful, someone who was constantly searching, would have noticed the small light from a single candle in the house and would realize that the woodland creatures weren’t the only ones occupying the house. This gave me little time. I knew I couldn’t stay long; I had to keep moving. Every minute spent in one place was another minute they had more to find me, and I couldn’t allow that.
Inside the house, it was empty. The single room contained nothing but an old, stone fire place against the left wall, and to the right, a stair case that lead up to a small platform before turning to the left and continuing to the second floor.
Jordan crouched below the dirty window beside the door, sometimes peaking through, sometimes casually leaning against the fire place. Like me, he was only eighteen, and though he was always a goofball in my eyes, tonight brought out the more serious side of him. His usually bright blue eyes seemed to have lost all color and he let his shaggy, dark hair cover his eyes.
Morgan sat cross legged on the floor in the center of the room. Beside her, a small pistol was cocked and ready, and on the other side sat a small candle. Her deep brown eyes drifted to me now and then, and when they did, they were sad and scared. Like Jordan and I, she too was just eighteen. Eighteen, and I was running for my life. Eighteen, and I was running away from everyone I ever cared about, just so their lives could be spared. Whether I lived or died, they had to be safe, which meant I couldn’t stick around. Eighteen, and it was life or death for all of us.
No one liked the idea of me leaving. In fact, no one actually knew except for Morgan and Jordan. I shouldn’t have even told them; it put them in more danger then they needed to be in. But someone had to cover my ass with some lame excuse to why I was gone, and they were the master minds. As long as their bright plans didn’t involve me staying with them, I didn’t care what they told everyone else.
I spent days telling them there was no way I could stay. If I did, they would find me. If they ran with me, they’d be in even more danger. And I wanted them to live their life. I didn’t want them to have the life that I knew I had to have. For the rest of my life, until the day I died, I knew I would always be running. As long as I ran, they couldn’t be harmed. As long as I had nothing to do with them, there would be no reason to kill them to get to me.
And as much as I didn’t like the idea of them knowing about this, there was still one other person that needed to know. He was the last person I wanted to tell, but I felt like I was betraying him by not saying anything. Whether I told him or not, it wasn’t going to be easy either way, for either of us. In the end, I opted to tell him. And here I sat, on the edge of the stairs, waiting for him to show.
I hoped and prayed the directions I had written out for him made sense and I was sure to write in large, bold letters that he was to burn the directions as soon as he could. But how easy could it be to find an abandoned house in the middle of the woods? We had already been waiting an hour since the time he was supposed to have been here. I wanted to kick myself for dragging him into this, for making him worry.
Under the window, Jordan tensed. He carefully squinted through the dirt and dust at whatever was outside. Morgan fingered the pistol beside her, ready to shoot, but I knew she would rather have nothing to do with the weapon. Jordan seemed to be concentrating hard, and I saw a faint light flash across his face. He nodded to Morgan and we both stood. It was him; he was here.
My heart thudded against my chest. This was it; this was my good bye. I had dreaded this moment and almost wished he wouldn’t have showed, but this is what I wanted to do. I had to. I couldn’t lie to him, I wouldn’t betray him. Morgan stepped cautiously towards the door and opened it ever so slightly. She smiled at his familiar face and welcomed him in. I remained on the step I stood on, unwilling to move forward. Jordan eyed the visitor he had never met and slouched against the fireplace. Morgan brought the candle from the center of the room to the spot where Jordan sat and she joined him. They whispered together, trying to remain unaware of what was going on on my side of the room.
Drew eyed the two by the fireplace before advancing towards me. Standing on the step made me almost the same height as him. I forced a smile, but his washed-out, pale hazel eyes searched my face, unsmiling.
“What’s going on?” he finally whispered. I jumped slightly at the sound of his voice as inside I practically melted. I cursed violently inside my head, so loudly I thought I might have actually been speaking out loud. My heart fluttered in my chest and pounded against me at the same time, demanding an exit. I desperately wanted to just open my chest and take it out so I wouldn’t have to feel its breaking pain. I felt Drew’s hand against my face and it was only then I realized my eyes were tightly shut.
I forced them open and found my sight was blurry. I turned around and tumbled up the remaining stairs to the platform and gasped for breath; a sudden lump in my throat had blocked all air from entering my body. Drew bounded up the stairs to the platform beside me, taking my face in his hands. His eyes were sharp with concern and sadness; he had no idea of what I was about to tell him. It would kill him. He wouldn’t let me leave, I knew that. But he had to; there was no other choice.
“Drew,” I forced the words out in a squeaky whisper. I put my hands on top of his, still warm on my face. My heart screamed in agony and I suddenly felt sick to my stomach. His hands grasped mine and he lowered them, briefly wiping at a stray tear that escaped my eye in an attempt to hold it back.
“I… I don’t know how to explain this,” I began, my voice shaking. He remained silent, listening intently. “I can’t stay here,” I began. I watched his expression carefully as I spoke. So far, it remained unchanged, so I forced myself to continue.
“I need to leave and I can’t come back.”
“What are you talking about?” he asked, his voice fierce. He suddenly seemed angry. His eyebrows knit together hard. I looked at our hands still held together.
“I’m being… chased. Followed. Someone doesn’t want me sticking around. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and I’m a threat and they want to get rid of me.” He still didn’t say anything, so I pushed on. “I can’t stay here. They’ll find me and kill me. I can’t try to hide here and you can’t hide me because they’ll kill you and anyone else that gets in their way. The only thing I can do is run and never come back. As long as I’m on the run, they’ll just continue to follow me. As long as I keep running, they won’t be able to catch me. They’ll have no reason to hurt anyone if I’m not here. You’ll be safe… everyone will be safe.”
“Hannah…” His voice was so low now, I could barely hear him. I couldn’t look at him; I didn’t want to see the expression on his face. His hands found my face again and he lifted my face to his. I was so close to him now; his breath was shallow and forced, as was mine. I looked into his eyes; they were softer now, and almost distant. I could feel Jordan and Morgan watching us carefully. Drew closed his eyes and pushed back, his hands slipping away from my face. I reached for him suddenly, grabbing his hands and pulling him towards me. My hands found his face in the blurriness of my vision and his lips were suddenly against mine. He was stiff for a moment before his arms wrapped around me, pulling me closer. My hands brushed across his scruffy beard, moving along his neck and behind his head. His hands moved up my body and back to my face, pushing me away.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said stubbornly. “You’re not going anywhere. No one’s going to get hurt.” I released my hold of him and let me hands fall down his chest where he caught them in his. I turned to see Jordan and Morgan watching. They looked away quickly before giving me a look of sadness and carefulness. Time was ticking.
“Don’t do this, Drew. I told you what has to be done,” I said, returning to him.
“I’m not letting you leave me,” he said, his voice stern.
“They will kill you,” I growled at him.
“No one will touch me. No one will touch you. There’s no way you can run for the rest of my life.”
“Then I’ll let them kill me.” Drew held my face in his hands again.
“Don’t say that!” he hissed.
“It’s what they want. It will be better.”
“Better for who?” He was angry now, and hurt. I had hurt him. I knew I would, there was no stopping that, but it tore me apart. My legs felt week and my stomach grew more and more uneasy.
“Hannah…” he whispered. He held my hand in his and kissed my fingers. I watched as a single tear crept down his face, and mine suddenly poured out; I couldn’t hold them back any longer. I was weak. How was I supposed to run for the rest of my life? I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to leave him, or Morgan, or Jordan. And I didn’t want to die; I was a coward.
Drew’s lips touched mine again and I was lost in a dizzy haze. He pulled me tightly to him and I didn’t resist.
“Drew,” I whispered in his ear. “this is how it is. I’m sorry; so sorry. You know if there was any other choice I’d take it.”
“I know,” he whispered. He let his forehead rest against mine. I didn’t want to leave him, ever. I wanted to be here, with him, in his arms, forever, no matter what.
“I love you, Drew,” I said. He kissed my forehead.
“You know I love you so much,” he replied. I knew. The time we spent together was few and sometimes difficult, but we risked it all just for those rare moments alone together. It was hard, but it only made us closer. I remembered wishing that I was older and that we didn’t have to hide, but I guess he really loved me to stick around with someone so much younger. Memories flooded my mind of every moment in his arms and every stressful argument. I couldn’t leave him. I was being stupid. But if I didn’t and something happened to him, it would be my fault. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if something happened.
I buried my face in his chest and he kissed my head. This was it. This was our goodbye. I couldn’t waste any more time. They all had to leave, and I had to being my journey of running to anywhere, yet nowhere. I pushed myself away from him and sucked in a forced breath. My heart had calmed, beating slowly, aching. It was a tearing agony inside my chest and it only made my breathing more forced and painful.
“You can’t stay here any longer, and neither can I,” I said quietly. He nodded.
“Don’t look for me,” I added. He didn’t say anything, but looked me over with his sad eyes.
“I love you, Hannah,” he whispered. He kissed me softly; one last kiss. His lips lingered on mine for what felt like forever. Slowly, he pulled away. I reached for him pathetically and he held me in his arms for another long moment. When I finally got a hold of myself, I pushed him away again. Fresh tears filled both of our eyes and I turned away. I could look at him any more or I would never be able to let him leave.
I heard his footsteps echo in the room as he descended the stairs. I heard Morgan and Jordan shuffle to their feet. I continued to stare at the wall in front of me as the door opened. It was silent; was he gone? I was afraid to look, but at the same time, I had to. I turned to face the room. Jordan stood in the doorway, watching me, before closing it behind him to see Drew off and check the perimeter. Morgan stood in the center of the room, her gazed fixed on me. I took in a breath to steady my shaking legs and joined her in the middle of the room. She wrapped her arms around me and I felt tears wet my shirt. My own tears continued to fall. It was over; it was time to leave.
Jordan returned moments later and joined us in one last group hug. My head felt heavy and I just wanted to sleep forever and then wake up realizing it was all a dream. But it wasn’t.
“You guys should go,” I said, my voice hoarse, my throat swollen. They nodded, solemnly.
“We love you, girl,” Morgan said. I forced a smile and they returned with their own beautiful smiles.
“I know there isn’t much you can do, but please try to make sure Drew doesn’t try anything stupid,” I said. There was nothing they could do, but I felt that someone should keep an eye on him for me.
“I’ll stalk him at work sometime,” she said, jokingly. I appreciated the humorous attempt.
“We’ll get you back. We’ll find a way,” Jordan said. “If Drew kills himself trying to, you still have us.”
“Please, don’t. I told Drew not to, and I’m telling you guys the same thing.”
“He will try,” Jordan insisted. Morgan nodded.
“He won’t. He can’t. He’ll never find me. You guys won’t either. Don’t waste your life like that.”
“You’re not wasting our life,” Morgan said.
“There’s nothing else I can do. You both know that. Drew knows that now.”
“Hannah-” Morgan started.
“You guys need to go,” I said as forcefully as I could. I gave them each one last hug and pushed them out the door. When they were out of sight, lost in the darkness of the woods, I slid down the door and collapsed on the floor, letting a new rush of tears flow out with no attempt to stop them. I curled on the floor, tiredly, and let sleep over come me. It was going to be a long rest of my life.
When I awoke, the sun was just starting to cast shadows in the woods. I cursed myself for falling asleep; I didn’t want to start walking while there was light, but now I didn’t have a choice. I had stayed there too long.
I stood up, stumbling in sleepiness, and stretched. I stared at the stair case, watching the scene of Drew and I play out in my memory. Tears dripped down my face, but I brushed them away. There was nothing I could do now. It was over; they were safe. Their safety was all that I had left, and I would protect it with my life.
I grabbed my pack which lay forgotten in a corner full of light weight food and supplies. I patted my side for the pistol that was hidden in my pants, under my shirt; there was nothing left for me here. I opened the front door, breathing in the fresh air.
“I love you,” I whispered. The leaves in the trees blew and swished together in the light morning breeze. The birds sang their happy songs, flying amongst the low branches and perching on stumps with their mates. Rodents continued to run about the little abandoned house; their home. I took in another deep breath and started my journey forward to anywhere and nowhere, always running, protecting the ones I loved most. I did all I could, and now, I did all that there was left for me to do. Carrying the burden of protection, my fondest and saddest memories, and a heavy heart, I walked through the woods, never looking back.