Continued from ‘Too Dangerous‘
With food in our bodies, I explain to Alice the events of the last few days: of the shredders, our rescue, of Kalla and Julian, of Rayna’s command, of the disdain for city bloods, of Kalla protecting me, and finally of me protecting Kalla. Alice sits through it all in silence. I don’t know if it’s exhaustion that keeps her silent or something else. Either way, it’s unnerving. Alice has always been loud and is known for interjecting her thoughts. When I finish, I can’t help but ask, “are you okay?”
Alice glances down at her hands. They’re healed now. They look as they did before we left the city, before we fought, before the shredders gnawed on our flesh. “We can’t go home,” she murmurs, barely loud enough for me to hear over the crackling fire.
“No,” I confirm with a shake of my head. “I’m sorry, Alice.” I take her hand in my own and give it a gentle squeeze.
She doesn’t pull away like she often does. Instead, she lifts those dark eyes of hers to meet mine. “I’m not sorry, Kyle,” she assures me. “I always wanted to know what was beyond the city. You know that. You know I needed something else. I’ve always wondered.”
“I know, Alice,” I return, acknowledging if not understanding her desire to leave. “But won’t you miss home?”
Her attention shifts to the fire. The flames reflect in her ebony eyes. “Perhaps.” She flips my hand over and traces the lines absently. “But I don’t think I was meant to stay there, Kyle. I think I was destined to leave the city.”
One eyebrow hikes up my forehead in confusion, but I let her hold onto my hand. “What do you mean?”
She turns to me, a thoughtful look in her eyes. “Could you honestly see me working the flames in the production ward, Kyle? Could you honestly see me settling down with some nice, honest man and living a mundane life day in and day out?”
“No,” I answer without thought. Alice has never been that type of girl. She’s always craved more. Always had a fire within her, which I attributed to her adaptation, but maybe it’s more than that. After all, there are plenty of fire adaptations who settle down. Yet, Alice wouldn’t have looked right doing so. “But what does that mean, Alice? Are we just going to wander aimlessly through the green lands for the rest of our days?”
For once, Alice’s optimistic dreamer’s face vanishes. Her head dips towards the ground. “I don’t know, Kyle. I assumed… I assumed we’d be able to stay here.”
“Huh?” Something isn’t adding up. “What do you mean you thought we’d be able to stay here? We didn’t even know about this place until-” My words break off and something from our rescue clicks into my head. “How does Julian know you, Alice?”
Her dark eyes find me out of the corner of her eye and for the first time in Alice’s life, she looks guilty.
I pull my hand from hers. “Alice, what aren’t you telling me?”
She glances away, verifying her guilt. “I… have left the city before,” she informs me.
“What?!” My body jerks backwards, but I force myself to remain seated next to her. I need the truth. I need to know what’s going on.
“I never made it this far. I always ended up turning back, but one day I ran into Julian out in the Unknown. Ever since, we…”
It all makes sense now. Alice wasn’t afraid of going into the Unknown because she knew Julian was out here. She knew about this place before we even left the city. “How long?”
“I dunno, a while.” She shrugs.
“Alice,” I demand. “How. Long?”
Her head turns further away from me and she mumbles, “a few months. Julian and I have been meeting once a week since we first ran into each other.”
So, that’s why she didn’t want me to come. She wanted to come out here to Julian. She was looking for him and I just got in the way. That’s why she fought me. If I lost, I’d go home. She knew what she was getting into, but I didn’t. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
Her dark eyes settle on me, full of hurt. “Would you have let me go?”
“No!” I shout, suddenly on my feet. She doesn’t get to be hurt. I’m hurt. She hurt me by lying to me. She dragged me into this mess. Okay, I dragged myself into because I care about her, but it’s the same thing. She doesn’t get to play the victim! She could’ve told me everything… but I still would’ve followed her. The reality of the situation hits me like a lightning bolt, which I now know what that feels like.
“I tried to make you go back, Kyle. I didn’t want to drag you into this. I knew what I was getting myself into. I knew I wouldn’t be able to go home, but I didn’t want to.” She climbs to her feet in front of me, but her legs shake like she might fall over again. “I didn’t want you to throw away your home, your life, your future.”
“So you wanted to abandon me.” My voice is hollow when I say it, like all the fight has gone out of me.
“No!” Alice jerks forward, grabbing my arms. “No! I wanted to give you a chance, Kyle! If I was gone, you’d finally be able to stop pining over me and find someone who can return your affection.”
The bluntness of her words draws me away from her, out of her grip. “Who ever said I was pining after you, Alice?!”
“Oh come on!” Alice grumbles. “You have been following me around for years. It’s obvious, Kyle.”
“Obvious that you’re my friend, Alice! Just as you said when we were wandering aimlessly through the Unknown. You’ve always been my friend. I followed you because I cared about you as a friend!” Her ego flares my anger. “Gods! You don’t get it!”
I shake my head at her. “Perhaps I was once infatuated with you in that way, but that’s not why I kept following you. I saw the wild in you, Alice! I stayed because I cared about you and didn’t want you to do something stupid!“
All fire flushes out of me like I’ve been splashed with ice water. “But I guess I’m the stupid one, huh? I’m the one who cared too much about you that I followed you into the Unknown to make sure you didn’t get yourself killed and now… now I’m paying for it while you’re living the dream you always wanted.” My arms droop to my sides. “How ’bout I give you the last bit of freedom you want and let you live the life you want… A life without me.”
I turn my back to her.
I stop and glance over my shoulder, waiting for her to continue. Though, I don’t think any apology would make me feel better at this point. I don’t know if I can forgive her for lying to me.
“Alice!” Julian rushes across camp and stumbles into Alice, sweeping her up into his arms. “Alice, you’re okay. I was so worried.” His hands dive into her hair as he holds her like she’s the only other person on earth.
A broad smile divides Alice’s face in two as she meets Julian’s gaze, but it falters when she looks back to me. She says nothing to me. She just stares and doesn’t try to stop me from leaving.
I shake my head at her and walk away. Julian can care for her now.
Next Installment: New Protector