I'm in a wheelchair. It's been 2 days. 2 fucking days of tests. The procedures they do on me I don't remember, but I know I always wake up feeling weak. I don't really get to see my friends. The only people that they let me see are the doctors. Dr. Simon is the nicest. She's the one who they let me spend the most time with. Dr. Serrano comes to check on me from time to time. Everyone here respects her, but I always look at her the same way I looked at her back in Savannah. She was Mrs. Serrano to me.
She gives me her warm smile, the same smile that used to always come over to check on me and my mother. She always wanted some of my mother's famous baking and she would always ask me how I was doing. She'd always make sure I was doing well.
"How you doing baby?" she asks me.
"Ok, Mrs. Serrano. Just a little weak," I tell her.
"You're a trooper."
"I'm trying to be," I tell her, "If this can help people I'll do it. You know. I just want to be able to help people. That's all."
I feel guilty that my blood did this. I wish I knew I was so important back then. I wish I knew so I could have taken better care of myself. Maybe I would have worked out more. Maybe that's why I'm feeling so weak today.
"You're a good person," she tells me, "You know that don't you?"
I smile at the thought, "I try to be, Mrs. Serrano. Mom always said help where you can. So I'm being as patient. You guys are the real heroes though. Are you guys almost done finding what you are looking for?"
"Almost. Sorry it took so long. It's a very delicate procedure. Tomorrow is the last day of the procedure. ."
Great. I was glad. I could barely walk. My body hurt all over. It wasn't just that they were drawing blood. It's that they had to inject me with all these drugs before they did it. It was all a bit much but I keep thinking it's for the better good.
Then she looks at me and smiles, "How about today be the day you go see your friends?"
"Seriously?" I ask, "I miss them so much."
"Yeah. I'm sure they miss you too."
I missed everyone. All of them. There was one person that I missed most of all. Maybe that's why I'm smiling when my escort starts wheeling me out of the building. Yeah, I have an escort now. It's not just one or two people either. I have 24 guards with me. 24. It's sort of astounding to say the least. At the front of it was Dr. Serrano. She's wheeling me out. I sort of feel special. I wonder if it looks cool.
I wonder if Alaric is going to think I'm cool.
"Oh shit...look who it is!" Quest states.
The group is sitting around outside. I hear Quest going in a tent and a few minutes later all my friends come out. I'm relieved to see all of them even though the escorts don't let them near me until Dr. Serrano says it's all right.
"We'll be close by," Dr. Serrano tells me.
It's nice they are allowing me to get some privacy with my friends. In a matter of minutes Mitch is bear hugging me in my wheel chair.
"Why are you in that?" he asks me, "Why can't you walk?"
"I can walk. It's just for...precaution," I tell him.
I don't want him to worry. Truth is it's getting more and more difficult to walk. My energy is so far down. The food they give me isn't really helping either. The others seem to not really believe I'm ok. It might be my imagination but I'm pretty sure Valentina is completely ignoring me. She doesn't run over like the others. She keeps her distance away from me.
"You look like shit yo..." Quest states.
I can't help but laugh. The guy is honest. I'm happy for that at least. My face is a bit sunken in. There are varicose veins all over my body. I wish I had time to get ready for Alaric to come out. Then I notice Alaric isn't here. I want to ask where he is but Valentina is within ear shot. The last thing I wanted her to think is that I'm a little too concerned about her boyfriend. So I turn to the next person I'm excited to see outside of Mitch. It's Ignacio. His face is stone cold.
"Is it that bad?" I ask them, "Ignacio would tell me. Ignacio do I look that bad?"
I'm just joking when I say it but Ignacio looks pissed at that moment.
"Where the fuck did my mother just go?" he asks.
"She was back..." I start off.
I don't even get a chance to finish what I'm telling him before Ignacio storms off like a raging bull. I guess he's going to talk to his mother about something. Whatever it is sounds like it's important.
He didn't even hug me. He's acting weird. Real weird. I want to follow him but it's not like I can chase him down or anything. Mitch is all in my face at that moment asking me a million questions that I can't even answer.
"You don't look that bad," one person says.
It's Nixon. He smiles. He's probably the only one who thinks that and honestly I'm glad that there is at least him.
But there would be someone else.
And I can't take it anymore. Not even with Valentina close by.
"Where's your brother?" I ask Nixon.
I watch Valentina jerk her head forward as though hearing something that caught her interest. It's exactly what I didn't want in this situation.
Nixon shakes his head, "He's gone. Didn't even say goodbye."
My heart drops at that moment. What the fuck was that about?
"What do you mean gone?"
The group looks at one another. Everyone seems a little on edge at that moment. It's Valentina who answers me.
"His mother isn't in the city," she tells me, "He is going to go out to look for her."
I hang with the others. They are drinking and having a good time. I wish I could be like them but something's missing with Alaric not here. It doesn't feel the same. I know I wasn't around for him to say goodbye to but I thought he would wait for me. I thought I mattered enough for him to wait for me at least.
"You need to cheer up," Mitch tells me.
I'm eating with the others by now. We're all gathered around the fire. They've made friends. I can tell. A few strangers who I don't know are sitting with us. Most of the big noise that I'm back for a little bit had calmed down. I know that early in the morning I'm going to be continuing the treatment.
"Just didn't think Alaric would..." I state pausing and leaning in whispering a little bit, "Leave me like that after what we shared."
Mitch looks across. Valentina is sitting next to Michael Power and Nixon. They are talking about something. I'm not sure what it is but it's keeping her distracted. At least we know that she's not listening to our conversation.
"You think it was something else?" Mitch asks, "Like maybe he told Valentina..."
"Why do you say that?"
Mitch leans in, "You don't know this...but Valentina got rid of the baby."
"Swear to god?"
He nods, "Yep. Right over there in the CDC building. One of those doctors you work with came and got her. I'm thinking he was shaken up about it. For him to leave without talking to anyone but Valentina just sounds fishy. Maybe they argued. Maybe he said some things."
Valentina hadn't spoken to me since I had gotten back. She normally would have been the main one worried about my condition but right now she didn't even look at me. Mitch had a good point. She was mad about something and Alaric was gone. What else could it have been? What else could have caused him to leave so abruptly.
I shake my head. My heart is beating faster and faster.
I needed to talk to her.
"Push me over there Mitch."
I wasn't sure. I was nervous as fuck.
Mitch pushes me over to Valentina. I give her a little sign to say I wanted to talk to her in private. She seems annoyed by the suggestion. I can tell by the sigh she gives me almost immediately. If I didn't think something was wrong before I knew for sure something was wrong then.
"Can we talk Valentina?"
Michael Power and Nixon are right there. Mitch is still holding my wheel chair. Everyone is gathered around in the area. This wasn't the right place.
"In private," I state.
"Valentina. It's important."
"If it was so important you would have opened up and said something," Valentina tells me, "So go ahead. Say it. What's so important?"
She's short with me. Real short. It's clear that things aren't the best.
"Is everything alright?" I ask her.
She doesn't look at me, "You tell me."
"Just spit it out Valentina."
"Spit what out?" she says shaking her head, "I was eating. I don't know why you have me in here. There's nothing we need to talk about."
She's avoiding it. I can see it all in her eyes. I can see the discomfort eating away at her. We were safe in a city yet I've never seen her so uncomfortable even when we were out there with the monsters outside of the city. She shuffles around. She still hasn't looked at me. She faces her back to me even so I can't see her face.
I can't do this anymore. Valentina clearly knew something and I didn't want to play these games with her. We've known each other too long.
"What about him?" she asks, "He's gone."
"I heard about the baby...I'm sorry."
She shakes her head. She gets up when I say that. I've said something that is hurting her. I can tell. That's when she turns and I see the tears streaming down her face at that moment. Valentina lets loose. Whatever she has been holding out is coming out all at once and she's upset. Ignacio was the one who usually was gloomy and emotional so seeing Valentina like this hit me like a dagger to the heart. Especially the fact that I brought this out of her. I just felt so ridiculous.
That's when she turns and rushes over to me. I don't have the time to block her. I don't have the time to even react when she slaps me across my face. The slap is heard across the refugee camp. She slaps me so hard that I turn to the side and spit blood.
"Are you really sorry? Were you sorry when you were messing around with the father of the baby behind my back!"
Everyone gets quiet. Real quiet. Everyone's looking at me. For the most part Alaric and I have kept this quiet. We did that on purpose. I didn't want the stares that people were staring at me with right now. What's worse is that just at that moment Ignacio gets back to camp. He gets back and he hears exactly what he his sister just stated.
"Now's not the time," Ignacio breaks it up.
"Now is exactly the time," Valentina argues, "He asked! I didn't want to talk about it. I wasn't going to talk about it. But he loves to act like he cares so much. Isn't that right Sunday? You care so much about us. Man---fuck you Sunday. You don't give a shit. You never gave a shit."
I'm so embarrassed as Valentina gets in my face. My face goes pale as hell. That's saying a lot because I was already pale after everything. Just seeing all these faces look at me made me faint. The people that knew me were bad enough but there were strangers who literally were stopping in their tracks to see what Valentina was going off about.
And I sit there looking stupid trying to find the words. I wanted to do this in private. I wanted to do this in private so bad.
Ignacio looks at me. He looks at Valentina, "We need to deal with this privately. This is family business."
Valentina look over at me, "He's no family to me."
You ever want to say something but the words just don't come out. I want to tell Valentina that whatever she had with Alaric clearly wasn't strong enough to keep him from straying. I want to tell her that things just happened. But when I open my mouth to say all these things and more, they get stuck. Maybe it's the look of strangers judging me or maybe it's the look of disappointment on Ignacio's face. I don't want to say anything to hurt Valentina and make this worse. So I just sit there and take the blows. And the worst part of all this is that Alaric isn't here to take some of the incoming. He's abandoned ship and left me to deal with Valentina's wrath alone.
She continues to land blows after blows before getting really emotional and just stating, "I wanted that baby. Because of you that will never happen."
Nothing comes out. Ignacio turns to me, "You think he cared about you? He didn't care about you. Not like I did. You should have told me."
Valentina isn't the only one hurt. Ignacio is as well. I don't get what he meant by his comment but I get to thinking that maybe he has a point. I look over at Mitch. He avoids contact with me almost like he doesn't even fucking know me! It hurts.
I swear Quest tells Mitch, "I hope you don't take up after your friend because I don't like shady shit."
Mitch shakes his head and continues to act like he doesn't know me. I'm so embarrassed. I'm so embarrassed when he literally walks off in the middle of it! He leaves me there. Michael Power just shakes his head and raises and eyebrow. He crosses his arms and reaches over to console Valentina but she shakes him off. She's crying bad. Real bad. She won't let anyone close to her but Ignacio. It gets so bad that Ignacio literally has to put an arm around her to lead her away. When he does that everyone looks at me like I'm the bad guy. I can see it in all their eyes. All the judgement.
"C`mon," I hear a voice say, "Let's get you out of here."
I turn behind me. It's not Mitch like I think it is. It's Nixon.
He grabs me and pulls my chair away into a nearby tent to level out all the incoming.
The rest of the day it seems like people are forcing themselves to be around me. At least I get a little time alone from my personal guard. Seems like someone got something stolen during the whole Valentina talk and the guards were out looking for it and spending less time worried about me. The group dynamic seems to be done by now anyway though. Like they are disgusted. They'd come in to talk for awhile and then find a reason to leave. It was real awkward. Real annoying.
Mitch and the others come into check on me. But honestly it doesn't help. They talk to me like you would talk to your friend who just got beat up in a fight. You give them encouraging words but behind it all you can tell they just keep looking at your wounds and wondering how you let the person get away with all of that.
"Mitch, we were going to go take shooting lessons with the local militia remember," Quest states out of no where.
Quest is blunt. I'm glad too because currently I don't want any of the bullshit.
Mitch turns to me seeming unsure, "I forgot about that. Did you want to come?"
"I'm sure he has other stuff to worry about."
"He's right," I agree with Quest, "Besides I don't think I can shoot a gun in this condition anyways. It's Ok Mitch. Go ahead. Have fun."
My friend is reluctant to go. I can tell he's trying to be a real friend even after the awkward ass moment he just witnessed with Valentina. Mitch gives me one of those smiles that isn't really a smile. The smile when you purse your lips up into your mouth until they disappear. It's as though his face is a big sign saying "Welp".
I shake my head. He just pats me on the head like I'm a dog and walks out. I feel so fucking pathetic really. It gets even worse when Nixon comes back.
It's almost like they don't want to leave me alone but they don't want to be around. Like I'm on suicide watch. Nixon hands me a note.
"Ignacio gave me this to hand to you. He said not to open it or he'd kill me."
I grab the note from Nixon, "It's open."
"I'm nosy," he responds with a sharp laugh, "I don't like how that guy looks at you."
"My brother likes you. So that makes Ignacio the enemy cause he clearly likes you too."
I roll my eyes, "Ignacio doesn't..."
I pause. Does he? I look down at the letter and read what Ignacio wrote. It says : Come to my tent tonight. Alone. I look back up at Nixon. He gives me this silly ass knowing look as though he's discovered some deep hidden secret or something. I think about explaining my relationship with Ignacio and how it's weird and he looks at me like a brother but I don't get all that out.
"Ok. I appreciate the message. You don't have to stay here..." I state.
Nixon has already gotten comfortable in the tent. He is eating some fruit out of a can. I'm assuming that's the kind of garbage they are giving out at the camp. He's eating it like it's the best thing in the world though. I think he's used to it. I think a lot of them are getting used to this camp, especially after seeing how excited Quest was to get Mitch into shooting. Mitch wasn't exactly a shooter, but it would help if he knew how to defend himself in a world like this. The world was changing and I just felt left behind. I just felt alone.
"I don't mind."
"At least you don't look at me like they do..."
"How is it they look at you?"
"You know? That look. Like this... " I contort my face all sad, "The look that states they are really on Valentina's side and they think what I did with Alaric was sick. They all think I'm a fucked up friend. Am I? "
"You want the truth or..."
I shake my head. I didn't want the truth. The truth was what I thought it was. I was wrong for what I did with Valentina. I was wrong for developing feelings for Alaric. Alaric leaving right before Valentina blew up was karma. That was the universe telling me that I had it coming.
"Alaric would have knew what to say here..." I state shaking my head, "It wouldn't have been that bad if he was here. Maybe that's why he left."
"Yeah. That was tough. You been close to her for a long time. I got a feeling Alaric would want me to take care of you...you know, while he's gone," Nixon states at that moment.
"You talk like you think he's coming back."
"Of course he's coming back," Nixon responds.
"Did he tell you that?"
There is a pause. Nixon answers my question in his silence even though he doesn't admit it out loud. Alaric wouldn't be the first one to make a run for it. Michael Power had done the same thing. Just up and left. I just assumed Alaric cared a little bit more than to pull a Michael Power. I was wrong.
"It's fucked up but even if he did leave for good, you'll survive. Someone needs to tell you that. There are people here that care about you still."
"You act like you care."
"I just wanted you to know someone cares. Not me, but someone," he laughs.
I roll my eyes. This guy was a joker. I'm not in the mood to laugh though so I just give him stone-faced silence.
"In all seriousness. He cared about you," Nixon responds, "I don't know what that entails but it's true. He cared about you. Sometimes people make decisions that they think is for the best trying to do what's right."
"You talking about you or your brother?" I ask.
Being here with Nixon is weird. This is a man who literally tried to kill me before. Sure, Alaric was his brother and I had that in common with him but we were far from friends. I forgave him. I did with all my heart but the thing is my heart can't completely forget this man put a bullet in it. And a part of me thinks Nixon knows that.
"Me and my brothers are all the same. It's kind of pathetic in a way," Nixon explains, "We had our whole lives planned out for us. It sounds cocky. But look at my brother. He's fuckin hot. And I'm fuckin hot and for so long that's all that mattered. That I was sexy as fuck. That's what life was. And fuck what people say...when you look the way we do shit is handed to us. I can't act for shit. I don't even like acting. You know what I wanted to be. Guess. Guess what I wanted to be."
"I rather not."
"Stop being a lame. Just guess."
"I don't know. Look at you. Maybe a model? I don't know..." I sigh shrugging.
"I want to be a farmer," he tells me, "I love planting and watching things grow. That's my thing. Man, I used to dream of milking cows."
"You bullshitting me."
I think about how Nixon would look all sweaty with his hairy, muscular chest and his perfect handsome face working a farm. Those would be some lucky cows. I could tell you that much.
"It's interesting story, Old McDonald. But I don't see what that has to do with this."
"I need you to understand where we are coming from. I shot you. I SHOT you. I can't even sleep at night. I still keep having these nightmares. And I need you to get it, because you know...Alaric. Um. Yeah. He just made a mistake too. Just like I did. We're all the same. Beric, Nixon and Alaric. People always say the same thing about us. They look like they had it all. The kind of guys you just couldn't help but to stare at. The kind of guys who you can look at and just say, `Wow...he's going to rule the world'. People look at the West brothers and say, `wow...those guys...they are going to be somebody'. You know. You thought it. Admit it."
I nod, "I thought it."
"Yeah. Well what happens when the people who are supposed to live a life where they have it all end up not having it all. You kind of lose your mind. It happened to me when I shot you. It happened to Beric when he stuck with that group. It happened to Alaric when he left. We don't know where we belong so we are grasping for anything to make us relevant. Because in this world. This fucked up world we live in now, no one cares how hot we are. No one cares how many hours we spent in a gym or how many instragram groupies we have. This world has chewed us up and spit us out and we lost our mind. So I say all that to say...don't hate him. He's not in his right mind."
He gets up to leave.
I stop him.
"Are you asking me not to hate Alaric?" I ask before pausing, "Or are you asking me not to hate you..."
He looks at me. Our eyes connect for a minute and I understand what Nixon is saying again without him having to say it. He just turns and leaves at that moment without saying another word.
It's late that night. I know the next day was the last day of the procedure. I'd probably have enough energy after to address Valentina properly but I can't go to sleep knowing she's mad at me. So like a glutton for punishment I go back for more. Only Valentina isn't in her tent.
Ignacio is there.
He's laying down with no shirt on. He looks like he's in deep thought when I walk into the room. I'd seen Ignacio a million times without a shirt on. The guy had a nice body. He had that whole Spanish papi thing going on and I had to admit he was cute. As I walk in he gets up. His chest is drizzled with sweat. I can tell by the matt on the ground that he's been working out.
"Am I interrupting?" I ask.
"You're good," he tells me, "I mean. I hope you are. Are you good after earlier..."
"Not really. Valentina isn't here is she?" I ask.
"No. She went out..."
"You going to tell me where?"
Ignacio gives me a look, "Don't put me in that position to choose..."
"I won't. I'm sorry for bothering you."
"Wait," Ignacio states.
I turn to back to him. I'm not expecting him to stop me. He leans over at me. His body still sweating a little bit so he takes his towel and rubs it up and down his washboard abs. He lays the towel on the rack next to his bed. He leans down so he's close to me. It's how he does when he has something in his mind. He always gets real close.
I know it's coming. I can feel it. The thing that everyone else was thinking but felt like they were too scared to say. The reason everyone has been struggling to find a reason to get away from me since Valentina exposed me.
"You were dead wrong for getting with Alaric," he tells me.
It feels like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders that he finally says what everyone else is thinking.
"I know," I state.
He shakes his head, "How could you? How could you be so fucking selfish? Valentina is like family to you. How could you do that to her?"
"I'm beating myself up enough about it Ignacio."
"I'm just trying to understand what was it about him? What is it about that guy that would cause you to turn your back on us? What does he have that people always flock to him?"
I knew what Ignacio was saying. Ignacio was handsome. He was always ridiculously good looking and athletic. So was Michael Power. So were a bunch of boys back home. So were a bunch of boys around the world. But Alaric and his brothers always had that IT factor. That smile that lit up a room. That smile that made you forget everything.
"I don't know..." I explain.
"Why didn't you tell me?" Ignacio asks.
"I felt like you would judge me, kind of like you're doing now..."
"I'm just trying to figure out what makes people go so crazy over this guy. I just thought you were different."
I don't know what gets over me but I get off my chair and go for it. I grab Ignacio and I kiss him. My legs are so weak that I collapse into his arms after the kiss. My lips pressed up against his for a good while though finally feeling his soft lips up against mine.
There was a weirdness at that moment. As though he didn't understand what that meant. The truth was I didn't understand what that meant either. What was that kiss about?
"Why'd you do that?" Ignacio asks.
That wasn't exactly the response I was hoping for when I kissed him.
I don't get a chance to respond.
All of a sudden there are gun shots outside. My heart freezes. What the fuck was happening? What the fuck was going on?
I hear screaming outside. So much screaming.
Ignacio grabs me and pulls me away from the entry of the tent. Just at that moment I see Valentina and Quest roll in.
"Everything good here?" Quest asks looking at me and Ignacio.
I guess it must be odd seeing us standing so close. Then again Quest is rolling in with a fucking automatic rifle in his hand so I think I should be the one asking about weird behavior.
"It's um...uh..." Ignacio is clearly distracted by what just happened but quickly changes thoughts, "Nevermind. Where are we with the plan?"
"It worked," Quest states, "Those idiots didn't know what hit them. They thought we needed shooting practice. We got their guns. Dumbasses! Bae has the truck parked outside from the keys we stole earlier. You guys need to hurry up..."
Quest leaves out at that moment. Ignacio looks over at me.
"I'll go grab your things...um...we'll finish that talk later," Ignacio states.
"What's happening?" I ask again.
Valentina is the one who shakes her head and looks at me, "My mother was planning on killing you. Something about you being a danger if your father and the New World Order find you."
"You are trying to help me then?" I ask, "Even though you're mad about Alaric?"
That was a true friend. I had to admit that. It made me feel even more guilty about Alaric and what I did. It made me feel more like shit.
"Oh, the Alaric thing," she says, "That was Mitch's idea. We told the group and he said not to let you know. He said it's be real authentic if you didn't know we are breaking you out of here."
It then hits me.
Valentina going off the way she did.
That `thing' that the guards were looking for was stolen during Valentina going off.
"You pretended to be upset with me so they could take the keys?" I ask Valentina.
She rolls her eyes, "I had the feeling he was gay when he would stare at your ass while holding my hand. Literally when we were around each other he asked me a million questions about you."
I'm shocked, "He did?"
"Of course. Let's be honest. He used me to get close to you. I'm smart, remember? I'm no idiot. I used him too. I used him to get be popular. Alaric West was King in school. Everyone wanted to date Alaric West and I was his girlfriend. And also it was an excuse for me to be around his best friend."
"Why the hell would you want to be around Michael Power?"
I stop and think about it right after I ask. I remember how emotional Valentina got when Michael ran off with Zoe and left her. I remember how she got so moody.
My mouth gets wide at that moment, "Valentina you didn't..."
"It wasn't Alaric's baby," she admits to me.
I want to be disappointed that Valentina kept this secret away from me. I want to be disappointed that she led Alaric to believe she was having his kid while all the while she was pregnant with his best friend's kid. I had thought this thing between Alaric and I was so secret but honestly it seemed like everyone knew there was something between us before we even admitted it to ourselves.
I shake my head, "Poor Zoe...I mean, I'm not in a position to judge..."
"Exactly. You aren't. I wanted to tell you to just go ahead and fuck Alaric and get it over with but I was just scared my secret would come out about Michael Power. But yes, you should have fucked that boy a long time ago. He's crazy about you."
My heart is beating faster.
He was crazy about me?
"So wait...does this mean I have your blessing to be with Alaric, openly?" I ask.
Kissing Ignacio wasn't about kissing that. It was me trying to get over Alaric because I felt like I was hurting Valentina and everyone I cared about. If that wasn't the case then I needed to go with my gut. My gut was SCREAMING Alaric West.
"Of course you do baby," Valentina tells me, "But Sunday, there's a problem. We are leaving. We are getting as far away from here as possible to keep you safe from my mother. Even if Alaric comes back...we won't be here."
I think I understood what Valentina was saying here.
Once I left Atlanta.
I'd probably never see Alaric again.
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