The weeks after graduation had begun to run into one another, and I continued to seek the solace of the forest while the other women in the group began the canning process for the winter. I tucked away enough books in the large oak tree’s hollow a few feet off of the ground to last a few months, but as I began writing I found I couldn’t stop. My imagination ran wild with the way things must have really been in the past, and most of all, they rushed to a future I would never see. I swallowed as I thought of the stories I had written in those forbidden pages. They were the only thing keeping my sanity as I wondered in suspicion what everyone was doing that I had suddenly become invisible. I wasn’t sure I really minded either.
I looked up at Trevor with a smile. He hadn’t questioned what I had been doing because I always made sure I was home before everyone else and that I had dinner ready for them.
“You all set?” I asked as he picked up the last piece of bacon and swallowed it.
“Thanks, babe,” he replied as I took his dish and mine.
The rest of the group had already siphoned out the room as Trevor took his time eating. He usually ate his food within moments of me placing it in front of him, but today had been different.
“I’m going to try to get out early today, okay?” he said to my back as I headed to the sink.
Early from what? I didn’t know, and I hadn’t bothered to ask. I knew he wouldn’t tell me anyways.
“It’s fine, don’t worry about me,” I said as I dropped the dishes into the soapy water to soak.
He wrapped his arms around me and tucked his chin in my shoulder.
“I think we could use some,” his tone lowered; “alone time.”
I stiffened at the suggestion, and then replied with an “Hmm.”
I tried to tell myself I was okay with this odd relationship I somehow found myself trapped in. I smiled, and he kissed me on the cheek before letting his hands run over the bare skin of my arms and slipping away. I listened to his footsteps until I heard the door close. I released the breath I had been holding and felt my muscles relax. I hadn’t realized how much I enjoyed being alone until just then.
“You’re lucky, you know that?” Sara said, and I jumped, turning with my hands on my throat.
“What?” I asked as I hid my trembling hands in my pockets. I didn’t know she stayed back, and I wasn’t sure why she had.
“To have someone like Trevor fawning all over you,” Sara said as she picked up the dish cloth and waited for me to begin washing the dishes.
“Yeah,” I said as I turned to the sink.
“I mean it’s not like anyone else can ignore your behavior,” she said, looking at me from the corner of her eye.
I pursed my lips as my pulse spiked, but I ignored the comment and kept washing the dishes.
“So, you want to go and sit in the sun once we’re done?” Sara asked, nudging me in the ribs. “It’s really nice out right now.”
I nodded. “Why not—I could always use a better tan. I’m sure Trev would like that.”
I watched as her jaw went slack, and she rubbed the dish she was drying a bit too hard.
“Do you have a thing for Trevor?”
The look on her face was quickly replaced with a blank stare.
“Not at all. He’s your boyfriend. Father has had you guys matched up since you were both born.”
“Yeah, I’m sure Father was the one who convinced him to come after me,” I said. “Seeing no one else can stand me.”
“Hey!” Sara said. “I didn’t say that.”
It was her turn to look uncomfortable, and I relished it for a moment before nudging her in her ribs.
“I’m perfectly aware my curiosity bugs people.”
Sara smirked for a moment before turning to place the dishes in the cabinet. “Curiosity did kill the cat.”
I jerked the drain plug out and turned to see her smiling at me in a way that made my skin crawl. My lips moved, but no response came out.
I forced a weak smile as I tried to come up with a response. “Too bad we can’t have pets.”
It didn’t make sense, but I didn’t care. I just wanted to change the subject.
“Sunbathing?” Sara reminded me as she pushed past me and grabbed my arm to tug me along.
I followed, watching as her identical brown hair bounced while she jogged.
“Here!” she said as she spun in the open field behind the house. “There’s plenty of sun.”
I joined her spinning, letting my hair flow around my face as I moved until I tripped and fell into a heap with Sara, laughing.
“See!” Sara said as she pulled me into her arms, and we stared at the blue sky and perfect puffs of clouds. “This isn’t so bad!”
I smiled for the first time in a long time and closed my eyes as I soaked in the sun.
“This is nice,” I replied as I took a deep breath of the air. Despite it only being late August, it had begun to smell like autumn as the leaves that had started to paint the canvas of New England. I felt one beneath my hand and picked it up, spinning it between my fingers as my mind began to wander.
“You’re thinking again,” Sara said as she rolled on her side to look at me.
“Which is never a good thing,” I shot back without facing her. I knew the look she would be giving me—narrowed eyes, pouty lips and furrowed brow. A mirror image of Father’s disdain for me.
“Why do you think so much, Kate?” Sara asked, and her voice showed an honest interest.
I licked my lips as I looked at the sky, my chest rising as I took a shaky breath.
“You have to admit most of the things they tell us don’t really connect up after a certain point.”
“I was wondering when you’d start with the questions again,” Sara said as she sat up and looked down at me.
I watched as she settled her chin on her knees, and her brown eyes met mine.
“It wasn’t a question. It was a thought,” I replied.
“Maybe they’re just trying to protect us by being purposely vague about what happened to get us here?” Sara suggested, and I could hear in her voice that she believed everything they had ever said. I also knew arguing my view was pointless and would only cause her to scorn me more. I had no stable ground to stand on, and we had both been taught the same things. If she didn’t doubt them, then there really wasn’t a reason I should.
“I guess,” I finally replied.
Sara tilted her head at me, and I felt my pulse rushing through my ears.
“You’ve never given in so easily before,” she said.
“I’m just sick of fighting,” I replied as I tried to keep my chest from heaving. I could feel a cold sweat beginning to drip down my neck as she stared at me with scrutinizing eyes.
“I know you haven’t been helping the Gatherers.”
I kept my eyes up on the sky and didn’t flinch, although every muscle in my body wanted to. I held my composure as I replied, “I didn’t realize I’d been made one.”
“You have a choice to be whatever you want,” Sara said, and I sat up and turned to face her.
“We don’t have choice, Sara! Eventually, I’ll be told I have to marry Trevor, pop out babies and become the Cook,” I replied, my jaw tight.
Sara’s returned glance was just as hard.
“Do you honestly think anything good could’ve happened to get us from a civilized place with telephones, cable and malls to this—the middle of nowhere?”
I looked at the rows of identical four room houses in the distance. Inside was a general living area, a room for the parents, a room for the children and a bathroom. Each and every one was the same, just like the duties of our society. Mothers with children under ten worked in the daycare. Children started school at five and remained in school until seventeen or eighteen, depending on their birthday. Women without children were divided between Gatherers and Cooks. The men did whatever they did—we were never told what they did, and no matter what, they never told the women what it was.
“I don’t know,” I finally replied, the glare from the solar panels burned into my eyes, and I had to look away.
“What else is bothering you?”
“I was just wondering what Trevor was doing,” I answered as I pulled at the dead strands of grass beneath my hands.
“Probably training with Billy,” Sara said, and my head shot up.
“Training?” I repeated, watching as her face turned red then went white.
“You know for hunting and stuff,” Sara said, quickly recovering.
I let my eyes fall to the grass I was pulling at. If I pushed, she wouldn’t tell me more, but things started to make sense as I thought over some of the men in our family unit. Billy was just a few years older than us, and as soon as he graduated he started disappearing with the other men. He also began to ripple with muscles Sara and I drooled at, but he became more and more distant with time. Trevor also started to fill out his stick-figure frame, not like Billy had, but he did have some definition which he hadn’t before. He wasn’t ignoring me like Billy had, though. He was more attentive, coming to see me every night and calling me babe. I tugged a little harder on the grass. I hated being called babe, and I wasn’t a fan of his increased attention either.
“So are you going to tell me?” Sara pushed, interrupting my thoughts.
“Tell you what?”
“What you’ve been doing all this time?” she asked.
I ran my hand through my hair before replying, “Are you going to tell me what you’ve been doing?”
We stared at each other until she broke into a small grin that made me feel guilty.
“You know you can trust me, right? We’re sisters,” she said, and the look in her eyes made me feel like she did care.
It caught me off guard. It was a feeling I hadn’t felt in a long time. I never truly felt it from my cold father or mother, and sometimes I felt like Trevor was just following orders.
“Promise you won’t tell?” I asked, and our heads leaned together as she took my hands in hers.
“Of course!” she replied.
“It’s nothing really—I’ve been just going out to the forest and writing.”
“Writing?” she repeated as her eyes widened. “What could you have to write about?”
“I just write stories,” I replied. “So what have you been doing?”
Her smile twitched, and her eyes flashed. My stomach flipped, and I licked my lips as the quiet set in. She wasn’t going to tell me. She never planned on telling me.
The deafening sound of the siren suddenly began to pulsate through the air, shaking into my bones and making my vision narrow as I jumped in shock.
I knew what the siren meant, but in eighteen years I never once heard it.
“Why the hell is that going off?” I asked as I watched Sara jump up.
“It’s an intruder!” Sara yelled over the sound.
The color drained from her face, and she grabbed my arm to yank me up.
“We have to get to the house!” she shouted over her shoulder as she began to run away from me. “Move your ass, Kate!”
My legs felt weak, but I forced my feet to move until I was chasing after her. It seemed like minutes before we were able to reach the house, and when we did we struggled to get the door open with our shaking hands.
“Why would someone come here?” I gasped as the door was finally pushed open from the inside.
“Someone wants to hurt us, why else, Kate!” Sara shot back at me as I leaned the back of my head against the glass panes of the door.
I pressed my hand to my forehead as my mind raced. Normally, you had to do something to encourage something to hurt you, and the look on Sara’s face meant there was a reason someone would come here. There was also a reason she had been so kind as to spend time with me. She had betrayed me as much as I betrayed myself. She had been sent to gather information on my whereabouts, and I had given it to her willingly. I knew I shouldn’t have trusted her, but I had still given in at the first sign of familial emotion—something I hadn’t realized I craved until now.
As I lowered my eyes the sound in the room exploded and turned to slow motion as I watched Trevor diving towards me. I turned my head in time to see the hand crashing through the glass above the door knob. I threw my hands up to protect my face only to have one grabbed by the hand snaking through the door. Fingers slid across my skin and locked me so I couldn’t move as the other hand unlocked the door and flung it open. The hands left me for a moment, but I wasn’t quick enough to react. The man’s strong grip took hold of my wrist again, and I found myself being dragged behind him.
I glanced over my shoulder to see why Trevor hadn’t been able to pull me away, and there he was, being held back by his father.
“Kate, KATE!” Trevor screamed as I tried to comprehend what was happening.
I was forced to tear my eyes away from the scene at the house in order to keep myself from falling, and I found my eyes on the back of my kidnapper. My eyes flashed from the hand grasping my wrist, up the bulging veins in his tightened forearm up his sculpted biceps and to his rippling shoulders only partially hidden by the tight black shirt and backpack he was wearing.
Trevor couldn’t have taken him if he was able to escape his father’s grip.
I fought to keep my breath coming as my heartbeat thrashed in my ears. My feet obeyed his jerking movements, because I was quite sure if I stopped I would just be hauled over the rocks, twigs and dirt until I was black and blue, or dead, whichever happened first or last.
I watched as the skin of my arm burst out into goosebumps; he was probably going to kill me anyways. I fought down the scream threatening to burst out of my mouth as my mind flickered back to one of the only lessons Mother ever taught.
Father had stood in front of the classroom while Trevor had twirled one of the curls that had fallen over the back of my chair within his reach. Father had narrowed his eyes on me—the person he saw as the weakest link, and I knew he would be teaching about security. He had always looked at me before he had said something important; something about keeping the outside world out.
“My wife learned a lot before The Fall about kidnapping and robbery situations. She was a security manager at a bank, and she taught employees how to react,” he had explained as he crossed his arms.
My mild boredom had vanished, and I found myself leaning forward as Mother walked in the room with that air of self-control she always had.
Father’s lips turned up as she came to stand beside him. She held the attention of the entire room. I wasn’t the only one who now held their pencil ready to take notes.
“Rule one: Do as you’re told, and whatever happens do not struggle. You will only be killed.”
The words were final, and there was no questioning them. I had kept my mouth shut, but I had thought that it made absolutely no sense.
Now I realized the words had been the truth. If I struggled he would pull that gun from the back of his jeans and shoot my head in.
When the man’s feet stopped moving I wasn’t prepared, and I found myself toppling into him. The force of my body jarring against his broke the grip he had on me, and I found myself staring down at the pink flesh of my wrist as it turned a purplish green. My chest continued to heave up and down as I rubbed the skin to ease the tightness from the swelling. I knew I should turn and keep running, but the black gun flashed in my mind. Even if my legs weren’t jelly right now, I couldn’t out run the bullets—or him for that matter.
I finally let my eyes wander up from his ratty sneakers, up his tattered and dirt-covered jeans, across his sweat tightened shirt to his crossed arms and up his chest. When our eyes met his whole body shuddered in shock, and I found my own body was trembling.
His intense dark green eyes quivered under a furrowed brow as he took in my face. His jaw clenched, and his nostrils flared as my pulse pounded in my ears. It felt as though he was gazing into my soul, determining if he should spare me or not. His eyes flashed, and I knew he’d made his decision.
I wasn’t going to die.
“What?” I finally found the strength to ask in a trembling voice.
“Why aren’t you trying to run?”
I took a breath and found my strength. I never showed any weakness to my family, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to show any to him because he decided to spare me…for now.
“It’d be rather pointless wouldn’t it?” I asked as my eyes fell from the scar that ran from the corner of his nose to his lips. I tried not to let my eyes wander down to his strong chest muscles, but still, they did. “I mean look at what you did to my wrist.”
“Huh?” he asked, and I held my wrist out for him to see. “Oh, sorry.”
“Seriously?” I replied, my tone bold because he was taken off guard. “You kidnap me and then you say sorry for giving me a bruise?”
“Honestly, darling, you don’t seem too upset,” he replied, returning my bravado. “Why is that?”
I shrugged and rubbed my wrist again. I wasn’t upset, and I wasn’t sure if it was the fact I knew he wasn’t going to kill me this second, or the fact a part of me had been justified. I had known there were others out there.
“I’m not entirely sure,” I replied.
“Aren’t you scared of me?” he asked, putting his hands in his back pockets and leaning slightly back.
I looked back up at him and found a smile tugging at my lips.
“Have you looked in the mirror lately?” I asked as I took him in once again. I was pretty sure he could snap my neck with his bare hands if he wanted to.
“So I am scary, but you don’t seem scared?” he commented.
He laughed, and it broke his hardened facade. In truth, I was scared—so scared that logical thoughts didn’t seem to make it to my brain. Instead I found myself staring at his dark brown hair, mussed and standing on end in a faux hawk I was sure was only able to be that way because he was so dirty. Then I was caught up in those green eyes again. They stared back at me filled with pain and anger, but the emotions weren’t directed at me. It was the same look I knew I had carried most of my life.
“When you live the way I did you learn to hide your emotions because no one is going to listen anyways…or tell the truth for that matter,” I finally replied as I sat down because my feet wouldn’t hold me anymore.
His forehead wrinkled as he looked down at me. “It looked like la-la land to me.”
“Looks can be deceiving,” I said as I motioned with my hand towards him.
“And what’s so deceiving about my looks?”
“I should be dead by now,” I said in an almost inaudible tone as my heart began to race again.
“You are scared,” he said.
“Should I be?”
“That’s what I figured,” I replied.
He held his hand out for me. “We need to start moving again before your boyfriend catches up.”
“They won’t chase me,” I said as I put my hand into his. The thought made my chest tightened, but I knew it was true.
“Why?” he asked as his rough palm met mine, and I tried to ignore the shivers it sent up my spine.
“I’m not worth the effort,” I said, picking up my feet to jog. The words hurt to say, but I had been a burden to them. In the end I wasn’t a mother, a Cook or a Gatherer. I was a Questioner, and there was no room for that in their society. Even when I stopped questioning things, they were still as suspicious of me as I was of them.
His hand tightened around mine, stopping me from moving.
I turned to look at him asking, “Do you really want to take the chance that they might catch up?”
“You’re strange you know that?” he shot back, beginning to jog and then run.
I didn’t respond, but in my mind there was a resounding acknowledgement he was correct. I should be forming some sort of plan to get out of here and back to my family, but Mother’s class had never gone into that. Don’t struggle. Do as you’re told. Wait for rescue.
I took a deep breath as I set my pace with his.
What if rescue never came?