Awake, page 15
She is the one, but she is the one for me.
She was sitting on the bed, staring out of the window and holding her bandaged arm. Her posture was tense and she tried to ignore whoever came in. I had a plate of dinner for her. Fiona wasn't going to make her socialise after what'd happened but she let me be the one to give her the meal.
"Scarlett," I whispered, closing the door behind me.
She stiffened and clenched her jaw.
"Please, I need to explain."
I took a step closer and she snapped out of it, pushing herself to her knees on the bed and holding her hand up, warning me not to come closer. "Don't," she hissed. "There's nothing you can say to make this okay. Just get the hell out, Noah. If that's even your name."
Ignoring her, I moved closer to the room. "That is my name. I didn't lie about my feelings for you."
"Well, thanks so much for that tiny piece of honesty," she spat bitterly. "Now get out."
Rubbing my hand over face, I blurted, "I love you."
"You can stop lying now."
"I didn't lie about that either."
"You murder everyone you love?"
"You have five days of ceremonies left."
"Yeah, believe me, I'm counting, too."
Closing my eyes, I took a deep breath. Her icy reception was no shock but it did hurt. "Look, there is nothing I can do until the morning of the sacrifice." I paused, expecting her to say something. "It's the only time you will be far enough away from everyone. You will be cleansed in the lake again and you'll do it alone for thirty minutes."
Hope widened her eyes and she stepped off the bed. "They think I'm actually going to stay there? I know I had to go in again but for that long? They'll stay away for half an hour the day they try to kill me?"
"Yes. They will be there but back far enough that we'll have a good head start. No one is permitted to be within fifty feet of you." I winced as it all sounded so ridiculous now. "They don't want your cleansing to be...contaminated."
She raised her eyebrow.
"I know, Scarlett. I know...now." I put her plate down on the table. "That," I said, tipping my chin in the direction of her bandaged arm. "Was an eye opener for me. I felt sick seeing you hurt and all I wanted to do was leap in and stop it from happening. I can't change what they just did to you and I will have to live with that for the rest of my life, but I can help you now. The final ceremony, I'll be the other side of the lake, hiding. When I say, you run to me and we'll be gone."
Her eyebrow rose yet again. "How can I trust you?"
I was waiting for that. "I have made a huge mistake, many huge mistakes actually. But you have to understand, Scarlett, my whole life I have believed what I was told. It is all I've ever known. I never questioned it, just like you never questioned your parents until you started remembering."
Her eyes narrowed a fraction at the mention of her parents. "I need you to answer my questions honestly." I nodded. "How did you meet them?"
"No, Donald and Fiona."
"Right. Sorry. They arrived at our commune when I was a kid. Had similar beliefs but, like I said, theirs made more sense." Scarlett snorted, and I couldn't fault her for it not now I saw everything so clearly. "And it wasn't long before they were running the place, maybe a week. They told us about the fire in the warehouse and how you were kidnapped."
"How did they find me?"
Gripping the post at the end of the bed, I looked down and replied, "Scarlett, you were never lost."
I didn't look up to see her reaction but I felt it. "Every four years, once the yearly cycles of elements have been complete, they get a chance to... you know. When you were eight you were living in a flat and being home schooled, we couldn't get near. Then you moved a couple of times and settled down."
"You all knew where I was the whole time?" she whispered.
"Yes. I'm sorry."
She took an uneven breath. "Why you?"
"I'm closest to your age. My family were to move to your town and I was to enrol in high school. Then I had to get close to you, make you love me and let me take you to Ireland."
"Well," she said, "You did that just fine."
"I wasn't supposed to fall in love with you. I tried so hard not to but the more I did, the less I believed what I'd been taught my whole life. My dad always said that you know you are in love when someone comes along that makes you question everything. You did that, and at first I hated it."
She didn't react at all, just stared at me with empty eyes. "Things used to be so clear and so easy. Eternal Light came first, like any other religion. Being on the outside made me realise that religion is flawed. People twist things to suit themselves and their needs. It makes normal people fight and kill and hate. It's supposed to be pure but people make it the most tainted thing on the planet. I didn't see it until I saw the outside world...until I fell in love with you. Even if it were all true, I still wouldn't let them touch you again."
"Why?" she whispered, standing up.
I made the two steps to her, our chests almost touching. Reaching out, I tucked her hair behind her face. Just touching her again made everything slot into place. She is where I was supposed to be. We were made for each other; I was born to love and protect her and that was exactly what I was going to do. "Because your human life means more to me than my eternal one."
Gulping, she lowered her eyes and replied, "Don't, Noah."
"I am so sorry. I know I've let you down so badly, but I won't let them take your life. I will make it right, Scarlett. I promise. I understand that you can't forgive me. I don't deserve your forgiveness. Hell, I don't deserve anything from you. But please trust me one last time, so that I can get you out of here."
"Why can't you call my parents or the police?"
"No phone," I said. "I ditched it when I got back. We don't get reception out here anyway. If I leave and they put two and two together... Scarlett, this is so dangerous. I don't want to risk raising their suspicion. I'm terrified that they will take you and that'll be it. We get one chance, and this is the only way I can think of that stands a shot."
"I don't know..." she said, trailing off and frowning. "This could be a test. You could be lying."
"Why else would I get you to run, Scarlett?"
She gripped her hair and sighed sharply. "I don't know! I don't know anything anymore. Everything is so screwed up and I...I..." She burst into tears and fell against my chest.
I hadn't expected that. I didn't think she would ever want to be near me again.
For the first time in days, I held her again. I was complete. I had to get her away from here. I needed her to live a full life the way everyone was supposed to. Sacrificing someone for your own sake was selfish, no matter how it was dressed up. Scarlett deserved everything she wanted. She didn't owe us her life. We had no right to take hers.
I held her close, burying my head in her shoulder, breathing her in. It was very likely to be the last time I'd have my arms around her. I memorised everything, the way she clung to me, the way she fit perfectly against me, the softness of her hair, the perfect scent of her skin.
"Shh, it's okay. Everything is going to be okay. Trust me, beautiful girl. Trust me."
She pulled away first, and I resisted the urge to grab her back.
"I don't have a choice anymore."
"I promise I won't let you down, not again. Now you need to eat that," I said, nodding to the food on the side. "And everything else you're offered, okay?"
Stubbornly, she folded her arms over her chest, ready to argue.
"I mean it, Scarlett. We are going to be running from these people, and I need you to have all the strength you've got."
"Fine," she replied. "Where do we go?"
"Through the forest and into town. There are two police stations there. Depending on where we come out depends on which one we go to. We will maybe have a one or two-minute head start. We run as fast as we can without looking back. I will get you to saf
"What happens to you?"
Gulping, I shrugged, genuinely not knowing. "Don't worry about me. I'll leave and you will never see me again."
Her eyes hardened. "If they find you?"
"I'll go to a city. They won't look there. With any hope, the police will pick them up anyway."
"Are dangerous. I love them, I can't help that, and as much as it kills me to hand them over - because they're victims, too - they won't stand by and let me help you. I will tell the police everything. I know it's the right thing to do. If they killed someone because I didn't give them up..."
She nodded once and sat back down. "Don't make me hate you all over again."
That hurt. "I won't. Never again, Scarlett. I have to go. Try to calm down the attitude. We don't want them to be on high alert."
"I know," she replied.
"I'll see you later."
Fiona was reading in the living room when I left Scarlett's room. She looked up and smiled. "How is she?"
"Hungry. She seems to be doing well, doesn't she?"
"I think so. I had hoped she would have understood when I explained on the first night but I think she is now. I am grateful for that. This is so much easier now she is beginning to believe."
"I think there is a little way to go. There are things she still doesn't understand but we haven't had a chance to go through everything yet. She is reading but there is a lot."
I nodded. "There is. We have had years and she only gets eight days. I think she's extraordinary for coming this far."
"I completely agree, Noah."
"I'll see you at later, Fiona."
Smiling, she nodded and then went back to her reading. It was dark when I left. Thick grey clouds coated the sky. I used to find beauty in all weather but bleak summed up how I felt right now. I wanted to get her out, and I would try, but that didn't mean I'd be able to do it.
Donald and Fiona were outside with Scarlett when I left my house. They were showing her the gardens where we grow crops. She looked so uninterested but she watched everything they did and listened to everything they said.
Her long hair blew in the light wind and she wrapped it in her hand, throwing it over one shoulder. She was beautiful, full of life and passion. It had to work; I had to get her out. Whatever it cost me, I had to get her away.
I slowly walked over to them. Yesterday was the first time I was allowed to see her one on one and I didn't want to push it but I still couldn't stop myself from going to her.
"Morning," I said as I approached.
Donald and Fiona stood; Scarlett already was. She wasn't sure how to play things, whether she should ignore me or reply. I needed her to act angry but still respond, as that's what was expected of her.
"Good morning, Noah. Would you like to help pick tomatoes?" Fiona said.
Scarlett gripped the wicker basket with both hands and I wasn't sure if she was trying to tell me something. "I would, if that's okay with you, Scarlett?"
Shrugging as if she didn't give a damn, she turned around and started wrenching red tomatoes from the vine. She was good, almost too good. Of course, she would still be angry with me but I hated the extent of her anger. I was doing everything I could to make it right.
"Well, grab a basket then," Donald said.
Donald and Fiona gave us a little space once we'd started picking. I think they liked that I was friends with her. If she wasn't the key to our eternity, then I had no doubt that they'd be happy for us to be together.
I slowed my picking down so I could have more time with her. Donald and Fiona didn't seem to notice or they didn't care. If they didn't care that I wanted more time with her then getting her out might be a little bit easier.
"How are you finding it here?" I asked when they moved a little closer.
She glanced at them before answering, wondering why I'd asked her that and understanding when she saw where they now were. "Um... It's different."
"Yes, it is definitely different."
I nodded. "It's an adjustment. I remember my first few weeks out of the commune; it was pretty horrible. You're home now, though, and that's all that matters."
Donald and Fiona smiled at each other. They were so sure of Eternal Light and their ability to convince everyone else that they didn't even consider that Scarlett could've changed me completely.
"Okay, I think we have enough for lunch," Donald said, raising his basket. "Let's get these to Mildred, Bernard and Kathy and then I need to help Hank and Bill finish Hank's veranda.
That was one thing I loved about my community; everyone worked together. If you needed something, everyone was willing to help. I liked some of the core values of Eternal Light and the way we lived but there was a dangerous side to our beliefs that had to stop. Only I knew I would never be able to convince anyone that Donald and Fiona were wrong and we shouldn't sacrifice their daughter.
"Alright," I said, taking Donald's basket so he could get straight off.
"Thank you, Noah. I'll see you all at lunch then."
He left me with Fiona and Scarlett. "Fiona, do you think once we drop these things off I could show Scarlett the chapel?"
"What chapel?" Scarlett asked.
Thank God she hadn't seen it yet. I didn't think she had since they were keeping her close to the commune and the chapel was a minute's walk into the meadow.
"I think that is a lovely idea, Noah," she replied.
Scarlett looked hopeful, wondering if we were running now. There was no way. The meadow would maybe hide us up to our knees but we needed the cover the thick forest offered. We dropped the tomatoes for the lunchtime salad off, and I led Scarlett past the houses and hall.
"Are we doing it now?" she asked once we were safely away.
"No, I just wanted to be able to talk to you in private. We won't get many opportunities between now and the...day."
"Why aren't we going now?"
"Look around, Scarlett. There's nothing but the meadow and open fields this side." Sure we were slightly downhill and that was why the chapel wasn't visible from the commune but we'd have to run up hill to get away and we'd be seen immediately. "They can drive over the fields, we'll be seen until we hit the forest at the far side and by that time they would've caught up. I'm just as desperate to get you away but we have to be smart about it. I promise you the way I have chosen to do this gives us the best possible chance."
"I just want to leave."
"I know and I do, too."
Sighing, she folded her arms over her stomach. "Sorry. Are you really showing me this chapel then?"
"Yes, it's where we get married. Well, not we but you know what I mean."
She smiled as I squirmed in embarrassment. If things had been different, if Eternal Light were just a simple way of living off the land and not about living forever then maybe we could've been married here one day. I wished that was true. I wanted so bad for Eternal Light to be an innocent alternate to the normal way of living and for Scarlett to stay here with us. I wasn't going to get much more time with her but I desperately wanted it.
"Yeah, I know what you mean."
"How is your arm?"
Her hand immediately went to the wound. "It's okay. Fiona gave me ginger tea."
"It is a good natural pain-killer."
She smiled tightly. "So she said. It just tasted gross."
I pushed the door to the chapel open and ignored where our conversation was headed. I knew it relieved pain; I'd used it when I broke my wrist a few years back but Scarlett was used to pills and modern medicine.
"It's nice," she said, looking around. It was a fairly simple hexagon shaped wooden building with a steeple roof and exposed, chunky beams that had wildflowers and vines wrapped around them for a wedding. I wished there was one on before the rituals, I would've love for Scarlett to witness a wedding Eternal Light style.
"It's better when it's decorated."
"You love it here." It wasn't a question, she knew I did and I wasn't ever going to hide that from her.
"I do, I won't lie. But I understand what they want to do is very wrong and I don't believe, for one second, that what they think is going to happen is actually going to happen. Please don't doubt me, Scarlett, there is nothing that will change my mind, no matter how much I love my home and my community."
"Promise me," she whispered.
I didn't hesitate when I said, "I promise. I love you so much more."
FIONA LED ME into the meadow, smiling warmly as if everything was completely normal. Her cult was there already, standing in a circle. They each held a white candle in a cup, even though it was daylight.
It was hot today, much too hot. I had the only spaghetti strap dress in, white, on because I woke up melting but it wasn't doing much to keep me cool. That could also be because of Noah's confession last night and the fact that my 'father' had cut me.
Noah was there, his eyes burning into me. I refused to look at him through fear of giving away our plan - his plan. I wasn't even sure if I believed him, but he was all I had right now. I'd contemplated running off to the side Noah would be waiting but in another direction to go it alone but that was probably stupid. It was hard to know who to trust when every single person important to me had lied.
We walked slowly. Fiona kept breathing in and out deeply, and I wanted to laugh, but I was too scared. They all looked absolutely ridiculous, dressed only in white, lips moving with whispered words. It was probably about me being 'the light' again.
Without a word, Fiona took me to the centre of the circle and went to stand between Donald and Shaun-the-traitor. I licked my lips. What was about to happen now? On the floor in front of their feet were vines of what looked like ivy. I didn't want to know what they were going to do with them but no doubt I would find out very soon.
The only comfort I had was knowing that they wouldn't kill me before the final ritual in a few days time. But would they hurt me again? Would Noah stand by and let that happen for a second time? Probably, if he intervened they'd know he was - possibly - on my side and that would be it.
I hated placing my faith in a guy that had betrayed me and crushed my heart.
Donald picked up a vine and closed in. I braced myself, clenching my fists and breathing heavily. My cut started to sting but I ignored the pain.
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