Awake, page 10
"Do you think your parents would let you go away with me? They look like they want to run away with you when you mention leaving the house to go in the garden," I said.
She shrugged. "I don't know. They can't stop me from doing everything. It's so weird, a part of me wants to meet my biological parents, even after everything they've done. I don't know how to speak to my parents anymore, I still have so many questions, and I'm pretty sure I'm either still in shock or dead inside. How stupid is that?"
"It's not stupid. It's going to take a while to get your head around everything - it would for anyone. You're not dead inside for needing time to process what you've been told or for not being ready to have another conversation with your parents about it. And it's natural to want to know where you come from, Scarlett. But how would you even find them?"
"I've no idea. I wouldn't actually do it. Believe me, I now understand the danger of being near them, and I'd be lying if I hadn't considered running far away from here, too."
That was news to me. "You have?"
"At first, yeah. When they told me who they are I was so scared. But we've moved around a lot, and they obviously have no idea where I am. And, you know, if they ever tried to contact us we'd call the police."
"You're going to be fine here."
"I know. Besides, I don't want to have to start all over again, and I don't want to leave you."
"What do your parents think?"
"They don't think I'm in any danger just because I know the truth. In fact, they agree that it's safer I do so I can be more cautious. We love where we live and the friends we've made and don't want some crazy cult to ruin that. I need the familiarity of here and my friends when everything else has changed so much."
I swallowed hard, an uneasy feeling settling down. I still felt loyal and didn't like her calling my family crazy. But I could see it from her point of view. A point of view I was leaning more and more towards sharing. I'd never needed to go home so much before. I had to be back in my community so I could hopefully set everything straight in my head.
"Look, I've got to go or my parents are going to be angry. I'll try calling but if I can't, I'll see you in two days." I kissed her, cupping her cheeks in my hands. When I was with her like this nothing else but her made sense. If she was the only thing that gave me clarity after this weekend, I would know Eternal Light was wrong and everything I'd been led to believe my whole life was built on poor judgement and twisted truths.
I was petrified.
WE ARRIVED AT the commune hours later, and I felt like I could breathe again. Everything was right here. I didn't have so many difficult choices. We had a clear path and followed clear rules.
We were immediately jumped on by the community and led to the communal table, which I'd helped to carve from fallen trees in the forest. They had so many dishes laid out I couldn't count them. It was real food that I knew exactly where it'd come from and what it was going to - or not going to - do to my body.
I couldn't keep the elation off my face as I sat on the wooden bench and tucked into Bernadette's famous asparagus fettuccini. I sat at the end of the table with Finn and a couple friends, Skye, Zeke and Willow. They were the only ones around my age, with Skye and Willow the closest. I wished they were guys so one of them could've gone to betray Scarlett instead.
Everyone started passing dishes around, filling their plates with wide smiles on their faces. The atmosphere was electric. We were all happy to be back together again.
"Thank you," I said to Bernadette as she passed me the basket of homemade rolls. The only thing that was different were the sunflowers, they were bigger, taller, and brighter than when we'd left. A feeling of belonging settled in my heart and I properly relaxed for the first time since we moved.
Laughter filled the air. Animated conversations were being had all the way along the stretched table.
"So, Noah, what's she like?" Willow asked. Her and Skye were identical twins, and if it weren't for Willow's love of short hair and Skye's of long, you'd never be able to tell them apart. They sat side by side, directly opposite me.
"She is everything we've been told," I replied. We'd grown up loving Scarlett, only now I loved her in a completely different way.
Skye rolled her dark green eyes. "Oh, come on, Noah!"
"Fine. She's beautiful, funny, compassionate, little bit crazy, stubborn and smart. She never has a bad thing to say about anyone." And she deserves a chance to go to university and live off cheap noodles like she wants. But that couldn't happen. The next life she has will be perfect, much more than this one. She'll be happier, and I'll join her eventually.
"I can't wait to meet her," Zeke said. He spoke of her with such admiration it made my throat thicken. There wasn't one person here that wouldn't give their life to protect her for as long as it took to get her here. "Do you think she will hate us, though?"
I shrugged. "I'm sure once Donald and Fiona explain she'll understand. She challenges society's ideas already so I don't think it'll take her long to come around." She didn't challenge them. Well, she might, I just hadn't had a conversation like that with her.
"What is it like living out there?" Willow asked, making it sound like we'd moved to the moon. It didn't feel too far off actually.
"It's horrible," Finn said. "I can't wait until she's back here and I never have to step foot outside the commune again."
"You'll still have to do the food runs," Willow pointed out.
"You know what I mean."
"I'm with Finn," I said. "Although I'm not having quite as hard time adjusting. It'll be good to be home permanently." When that happened it'd mean Scarlett would be dead. I didn't like 'civilisation' much, but I'd stay there if it meant I could stay with her. I wished Donald would give me four years with her.
I took a deep breath and pushed all of that stuff away. I wasn't home long, and I was determined to enjoy it. Whatever I was feeling would sort itself out. We all loved her, but I knew her in a way no one else did, that was bound to throw up some issues and emotions. It didn't mean I wasn't still just as devoted to Eternal Light.
After our meal, I helped to clean up and we gathered goblets of water. The year of Water was coming to an end, in a short few months the year of Earth would start again and Scarlett would be safe for a while. If it wasn't for the fact that we already had her within our grasp, of course.
Fiona gathered us around a lake I helped to build six years ago. It was between the edge of the forest and our wooden houses. We'd dug it wide and somewhat narrow, so it was rectangle with curved edges. It was the length of forty people with their arms stretched out to their sides.
I held my goblet up in one hand, mirroring what everyone else was doing. Donald walked along the line, touching each one and bowing his head.
"You give us life, give us the means to sustain ourselves," Fiona said. "Water cleanses the earth, it allows people to drink, to wash and grow crops. You give us all we need to live now and beyond."
Donald reached the end of the line and took his offering from Fiona.
"We will not forget to be thankful every day for what the earth provides us. We will not take it for granted, nor will we be selfish with it. We will take only what we need and make sure we are able to replenish what we use." He tilted the goblet, and the water poured over the lip of the glass and into the lake, adding to the water we'd blessed and built up over the last six years.
Once Donald's was empty, he bowed his head, giving the cue for us to follow. I tipped mine slowly and watched it trickle into the water. There wasn't a day that passed that I wasn't grateful for life. People abused the earth we lived on, most without any realisation of what they were doing. I wouldn't turn into that.
For the next two days, I fell back into my old life but there was something missing. Or someone. I couldn't stop thinking about her, wondering what she was doing, if she was hoping I'd call. There was no way I'd get signal out here, and th
When it was time to leave, I felt an even mixture of dread and longing. I'd missed Scarlett, but my community were everything, and it was hard to be without them.
"Not long now," Bernadette said, handing a paper bag that would be filled with snacks for the journey back.
"Thank you. I cannot wait until we're back here for good."
Our goodbyes were longer, everyone hugged me and my family for longer, trying to shorten the time we would be apart, even by precious seconds. We knew what it was like to be separated now.
Donald and Fiona approached, leaving their goodbye with me until last.
"Noah," Donald said. "I cannot even begin to express how proud of you we are and how grateful."
"You are doing a wonderful job of keeping Scarlett safe," Fiona added. "But I know that it is not easy, so remember why we are doing this. Keep that in your heart and you will be fine."
I felt like she could read my doubts and see how much I felt for Scarlett. Would they have said that anyway or were they concerned that I was falling so felt they had to back up our beliefs?
"It isn't easy, but I know what I have to do, and I know it's the right thing for us all."
Donald smiled and put his hand on my shoulder. "You are wise beyond your years, son.
Sometimes I didn't feel it. Coming home for a while was exactly what I needed but that didn't stop me wanting more for Scarlett before she made the ultimate sacrifice for our community. If I thought they would consider my request and let me go back to her, I would have asked them for those four years. I could stay with her, see that she did everything she wanted to and then in four years time bring her here. But I knew if I asked they would question my loyalty and I couldn't risk that. And I knew I'd never bring her back.
"Thank you," I replied.
"Are you ready, Noah?" Dad asked. He had one of the community's cars running. My tearful mum was already in it, and Finn was saying a last goodbye to Zeke, Willow and Skye.
With an uncertain nod of my head, I replied, "I'm ready."
As we got in the car, people shouted things like 'bye' 'see you soon' 'take care' and 'remember we love you'. I took a deep breath and waved home goodbye. Knowing I would see Scarlett soon made me miss her more. I was anxious to get back to her. My heart beat faster knowing I would see her soon.
I felt sad to leave, but that was quickly replaced with a content smile at the thought of holding her again. The whole way home I was silently counting down the hours until I could go and see her.
I was hopelessly in love with her.
And our love was hopeless.
I WAS COUNTING down the seconds until Noah got here. Two days without him around was awful. I didn't know how to look my parents or Jeremy in the eye. They'd told so many lies I didn't even know who they were anymore. I wanted to know more, but I couldn't handle them dressing up the truth again. Noah was right. I needed time.
"Scarlett, good morning, honey," Mum said, pouring boiling water into four mugs as I came downstairs and ignored them.
I grumbled a 'morning' and sat at the table.
"Come on, please talk to us. You have to understand why we made the choices we made," she said.
"I understand. I really do. If you hadn't stopped me from being murdered then you wouldn't be the people I know, deep down, you are, but you lied to me for twelve years. You moved us around so much and told me it was because of Dad's work. You had your parents and son lie. That's the part I can't get past. You didn't have to make some elaborate story up; you could've told me the truth."
She looked at me like I was insane. "You were a child. We thought about it, believe me, but we couldn't risk you saying something, we had to keep you safe, all of us safe. This was the easiest way to do that, and I'm sorry that you feel betrayed but keeping you alive meant more to us than you being upset about us lying."
"Is Evelyn your daughter?"
"No," she said.
"She's not a doll?"
Shaking her head, she replied. "No."
"She was a friend of Jeremy's?"
"She was, yes."
"Is she dead?"
"I don't know." Lowering her head she wiped her eyes. "I think so."
"Why couldn't you tell me that?"
Sighing, Dad said, "We were trying to protect you."
We could go over it and over it, but it would never get us anywhere. I would never think they were right for letting me believe something that wasn't true for so long. While I was younger, sure, but I was sixteen, and they could've told me a few years ago, when we moved here. They should have told me when I started remembering.
"This isn't getting us anywhere," Jeremy said. "We're not sorry, Scarlett. If we'd have done things differently, you could be dead now."
"Jeremy!" Dad scolded.
"No, Dad, I'm tired of walking on eggshells around her. We lied, but we did it for good reason, so stop being a brat and get over it. You're my sister whether we share genes or not." He pointed to Mum and Dad. "They brought you up and love you the same as me. You're theirs so enough now."
My eyes narrowed. He was right and that only made me angrier. How could he tell me to just get over it? He hadn't just been told that his biological parents would've murdered him if no one had stepped in.
"Okay, we all need to calm down," Mum said. "Coffee is ready so let's try to have breakfast like a normal family."
That was all well and good, but we were nothing like a normal family. I almost laughed.
Hurry up, Noah.
Breakfast wasn't normal, it couldn't be. I sat beside my brother and focused solely on the pastries and coffee. They watched me the whole time, making everything ten times more awkward. Did they think I didn't love them anymore? Did they think I would feel out of place knowing I didn't share their genes? I didn't. I loved them, no matter what they still felt like family. But they'd hurt me so badly by keeping the truth from me.
We ate mostly in silence with Jeremy occasionally saying something about football, the present he got Amie for her birthday or a trip he and his friends were going on. I picked at my croissant, only having managed a few bites from the cinnamon swirl.
"What time is Noah home?" Dad asked. I think he was as eager to get him here as I was, hoping he'd be able to help.
I looked up at the clock and back to him, meeting eyes that I once thought were the same shape as mine, even if they were a different colour. Everything looked different now. "Around now. He's dropping his bags off and coming straight here. I'm finished, can I go to my room?"
Mum's dark eyebrows pulled together. "You've not eaten much." Neither had she.
"I'm not hungry."
With a sober smile, she nodded, and I left the table.
I wasn't back in my room long before Noah's confident knock echoed through my room. "Come in," I said, immediately brightening.
His smile for me was wide and light, and I didn't realise how much I'd missed him until I saw how happy he was to see me. "Hey," he said, flopping down on the bed beside me and pulling me in for a kiss.
I held onto his upper arms and kissed him back, feeling more whole by the second. He was someone linked to the me I knew before, someone that hadn't changed almost beyond recognition.
His lips were soft, but the kiss was much firmer than usual. "Hey back," I whispered when he broke the kiss and leant against my forehead.
"I missed you, Scarlett. It's stupid, it was only two days, but not seeing you just felt wrong."
"I missed you, too," I replied, grinning like a fool. "Things here have sucked but knowing you were coming back made it bearable."
He winced. "I'm sorry."
"No, don't be. I didn't mean to make you feel bad, you're allowed to have a life outside of me, you know."
"I know. Not that sure if I want to." Frowning, he shook his head. "Alright, that sounded less co-dependent in my head."
I laughed and replied, "I know
"Tell me the truth, are you okay?" he asked.
I wrapped my arms around my legs. I was so not okay, but I felt better now he was back. It was stupid, he wasn't gone long, but I really needed him to stay for a while now.
"Not really. It's still hard even trying to get my head around what they told me, you know? They had Mum's parents in on it, too. What a burden their lie must've been on everyone."
And they did it all for me.
I felt horrible for being angry and angry for feeling horrible all at the same, mind screwing time.
He pulled my hands apart, untangling my body and wrapped me tightly in his arms. "Yes, it's..." His foot tapped on the bed, and I was so sure he was about to run off.
The corner of his mouth kicked up. "That is one way of putting it."
"If you want to leave, Noah, I'll understand." We hadn't been together that long and add in the fact that my biological parents were crazy cult leaders. I wouldn't blame him if he wanted to run for the hills.
"No." Taking my hand, he turned to me. "I know things are...strained right now, and you have been told something that's hard to understand and hard to believe, but I'm not going anywhere. When I told you I love you, I meant it. We'll get through this together. You need to decide what you want to do?"
"Thank you," I whispered, squeezing his hand. "I have no idea what I want to do. I don't even know what to think right now. It's so surreal. Cults and human sacrifice..."
Me as the sacrifice.
"I know," he whispered.
"This stuff only happens on TV."
"I'm so sorry, Scarlett."
I shrugged. "It's not your fault."
"Still," he said, "I hate that you're upset. Is there anything I can do?"
"You can tell me about visiting your family and how your aunt is doing."
"Come on, you don't want to be talking about that stuff right now."
"No, I really do, Noah. Please." I would've talked about football if it meant it would stop me watching my memories of my childhood rip apart. None of it was real.
"Okay. They're all good. My aunt overfed us all, and my cousins are going through a pirate phase. They spent the two days running around with patches on their eye. Lottie had both on for a while, and I had to guide her around the house for an hour."
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