“I’m going to go nuts if I stay inside any longer!” I say to the person staring back at me in my mirror. She looks tired and worn like she hasn’t slept in days. I can see dark circles under her eyes, her posture is slouched, and her eyes have an almost glazed look. I can’t believe this is the person I’ve become.
It’s not me. But it is.
I’m beginning to think being locked up in the house—more specifically, my room because of the (now) six agents that are always in the house—is probably the worst of all. I need the outdoors, the fresh air, and the freedom. I need to be out. I need to be doing something other than sitting around here doing nothing.
I walk to the window and admire the scenery. It’s been beautiful outside all week and this pane of glass is the closest I can be to enjoying it. Clear skies and a vibrant sun make the view spectacular, being able to see for miles. The playground is deserted at the moment since it’s still school hours. The street behind the playground is empty except for a black SUV and a couple cars. It looks so peaceful … so inviting.
“I wish I could be out there right now taking pictures,” I say to myself. “It’s such a nice day.” I lean my head on the window and let out a long sigh, my breath catching on the glass.
After a few minutes, I walk over to my bed and pull out the shoebox I keep the journal in. I unfasten the bow and remove the lid. I reach in, lift the journal, and grab the papers that lie underneath. These are the letters John wrote at his house shortly after the now-famous house fire.
He told me, “I couldn’t sleep that night, and I hoped writing about the visions I had would help. You know, give me some kind of release.”
“Did it help?” I asked him.
He shook his head. “No, not really. But I want you to have them—“ handing me the ink-filled papers “—if anything, this gives you something of mine to hold on to.”
“I already have something of yours to hold on to,” I said with a big smile.
I remember him cocking his head to the side like a dog does, slightly confused. So cute.
“I have your heart, John,” I told him like he should already know that.
A huge smile broke out on his face, and he said, “Yes you do, Sarah Hart.” He cupped his hands on my cheeks and kissed me gently. “You definitely have my heart.”
Remembering moments like that one always sends a soothing tingle through my body.
I sit cross-legged on my bed flipping through the papers, looking at his handwriting and how much it reminds me of him. I read a little about the war and the different animals on Lorien; I like to focus more on the things he wrote about his childhood. It feels like I know him a little more every time I read about it.
I especially love reading about his time with Henri: how they first met; the things they would do together; and the talks they would have. I sometimes envy John’s ability to relive those moments in his past so vividly through his visions.
Although reminiscing about John like this gives me some comfort and joy, it also reminds me how much I miss him … and how much I worry for him. I can only read through these letters for so long before I have to put them away. They become a reminder of what lies ahead for John and the actual danger that he’s in.
I fold the letters and place them back under my journal, replace the lid, tie the bow, and slide the shoe box in the deep recess under my bed. When I sit back up, I notice the single tear that has run down my cheek. I swipe it away with the back of my hand and physically try to shake off the somber feeling that has settled over me.
“Okay, Sarah,” I declare to myself. “You have to do something. You’ve been way too lethargic all week.” I sit at the edge of my bed thinking.
“I got it!”
I jump up and rummage through my dresser drawers until I find what I’m looking for: my gym shorts. I change into them, a tank top, and my hardly worn running shoes.
“Wow, it’s been a while since I’ve gone running,” I say out loud.
Being on my own all week, I’ve grown accustomed to having conversations with myself. At this point, it’s normal.
Of course not being allowed out of the house, I won’t be able to go running outside. But, fortunately I remembered something my mom got for Christmas a couple years back.
I exit my room and pad down the hall to one of my brother’s old rooms. Since he left for college, my mom was determined at turning the room into an “exercise gym.” The equipment is in there, but she has yet to use any of it.
As I enter the room, I see the treadmill in the corner. Various articles of clothing are strewn over the machine. It has become an old clothes rack over the years. I peel away the clothes and remove the boxes surrounding it. After plugging it in and making sure it still works, I do some stretches to warm up. I jump on and start with a walking pace to ease into it.
During the next twenty minutes, my body goes through the slow progression of walking to jogging. However, my mind and thoughts follow a different road.
I think back to the time in the motel room after escaping the battle at the school: watching over John as he lies on the bed, recovering; listening to Sam and Six devise plans and strategies on what to do next; looking at Bernie Kosar, trying to imagine him thirty feet tall and slaying a huge beast; and going over the conversation John and I had when he finally awoke.
He asked me how I was handling everything; I told him I was handling it okay. That was the only time I ever really lied to John; I didn’t want to, but I also didn’t want him to worry about me. He had enough to deal with already.
“You’re an angel” were his next words. I loved hearing that. I can still hear those words now.
“I’m just a girl crazy in love,” I said. How true that was … and still is. Even more now.
Breaking into a jog, I begin thinking about the battle, the Mogs, and eventually the man-in-black. My thoughts seem to always come back to him. I wish they wouldn’t; he’s creepy enough as it is.
I try to figure out who the gray-haired man is.
Maybe that’s Palmer. Maybe not.
I don’t have anything to go on concerning him. I can only assume that’s who Gloria messaged before we left for Mark’s house that day. I wish I knew more.
The Mogadorians … hideous, cruel, foul-smelling creatures. I must admit, it felt really good to kill one of them. In some ways, I hope I get to do it again … and in some ways I hope I don’t. It was one of those moments where instinct guided my reactions instead of a rational thinking process: I just acted.
It’s like when I was rock climbing inColoradolast year. It was near the end of the summer, and it was my last climb. I was on my way up a 300-foot rock face; I was about 100 feet from the ground. There was a kid—I say kid, but he was probably just a couple years older than me—about 10 feet to my left and 20 feet above me. Sometimes there two climbers on rope: the lead and the belayer. I was climbing solo using my rope as safety. I guess he wanted to try to impress me and climb solo too. Big mistake.
With his weight on the rope, one of his anchoring cams broke free from the rock crevice. He slipped and dropped about 10 feet; the previous anchor caught his fall.
I stopped where I was and watched him, making sure he was secure.
Still dangling by his rope, he looked at me said, “Whoah, that was close, huh—“
The next anchor broke loose.
He fell another 10 feet.
Grab the rock face! Secure yourself! I wanted to yell at him.
He was slightly amused at the first slip. The second one shook him up; he started to panic. Obviously he didn’t anchor his cams well enough.
I gave myself some slack so I can move horizontal, towards him.
“Get your weight off your rope!” I yelled at him. “Grab hold of the rock face.”
His face began to pale as he reached for any kind of grip.
When I got to him, I tied my rope through his harness, confident that my anchors would hold the both of us. We carefully made our way down, him first and I followed above—in case he slipped again. Thank God he wasn’t a big guy; my anchors would hold him but being tethered on my rope, I don’t think I could hold him on my own.
Fortunately, he didn’t slip and we made it to the ground safely. When he touched flat land again, he immediately released the rope from his harness and made way for the nearest bush. He stayed hunched over for a few minutes, vomiting.
When I finally made it down, it took a few seconds for the adrenaline to subside and my insides to start shaking. My heart was beating like crazy. My aunt ran up to me and told me that was an incredibly foolish thing to do; but at the same time, it was incredibly brave. She was proud of me.
Again, I was just instinctively reacting to something. I didn’t think about it or over-analyze the situation like I would normally do. I just acted.
It’s like the man-in-black. It’s probably obvious what he’s up to or who he is; I just put too much thought into trying to figure him out.
Mysterious. Detestable, ice-cold breath…
Is that even humanly possible? I don’t know … maybe he’s—
“Sarah?” I hear, breaking my thought process.
I recognize the voice coming from down the hall. It’s Gloria.
“I’m in here,” I call out as I slow the treadmill back to a walking pace.
She appears in the doorway seconds later, an amused but puzzled look crosses her face.
“What?” I ask, smiling. “I was so bored, I had to exercise. Pretty bad, huh?”
Gloria laughs. “Exercise is good for you. It keeps you fit.” She crosses the room and sits in a plush arm chair by the wall. “Besides,” she continues, “you never know, being fit might come in handy one day.”
“I don’t know.” I stop the treadmill and step off to the side. “I don’t see a lot in my future that requires me to do any running,” I add, making a joke out of it.
“Who knows, Sarah,” she says, “you’d be amazed at some of the things that can happen when you least expect it.” Her expression resembles the look as if she knows something I don’t. But, before I can dwell on that too long, she stands and hands me a towel.
“You want to get out of here?” she asks.
“Really?” I reply skeptically. “What about….” my words trail off.
“Don’t mind them downstairs,” she answers. “You’re with me. You’ll be safe.”
The instant she says that, I know it’s true. I do feel safe when I’m with her. My insides feel relaxed despite my muscles aching from the run.
“Anyways,” she goes on, “after being held captive in here all week, you could use a break. You need to get out of the house.”
I stifle a laugh. “I couldn’t agree more. Let me shower first, and I’ll be ready.”
After ten minutes, I emerge from the shower refreshed and rejuvenated. I throw on a pair of jeans, a long sleeve shirt, and a light jacket. I slip on my boots as I stride downstairs with Gloria.
“And where the hell do you think you’re going?” jaws Hecht, his eyes burning a hole through my skull.
“We’re going for a ride, Nate,” says Gloria, stepping into his line of sight, breaking his burrowing gaze. “She needs to get out of the house; she’s been cooped up too long. She’ll be safe with me.” Gloria continues walking, guiding me lightly by the arm and leading me out the front door … never once making eye contact with Hecht.
“Nate?” I ask, once we get to the truck. “I didn’t know you two were on a first name basis now.”
“We’re not,” she says, smirking.
I furrow my brows, in question.
“I just did it to tick him off.” She winks before getting in the truck.
“Wow, someone’s got a little defiance in her,” I say with an approving nod.
“You’re not the only one,” she adds.
Minutes later, we’re riding down the road with no real destination. I watch a flock of birds flying above outside my window. I listen to the constant whir of the road and the rhythmic breaks in the asphalt as we ride in silence.
I glance over at Gloria then back out the window. She seems content on just driving—where to? I have no idea. but then again, I don’t really care. I just like being on the road with her. Something about this feels familiar, like déjà vu.
No … not really.
More like the opposite.
That’s crazy. I shake my head and disregard the thought immediately.
“So,” I say nonchalantly, still keeping my gaze out the window, “where are we going anyway?” I swing my head over towards Gloria. “You seemed pretty adamant about getting me out of the house; and we don’t have a particular place to go or anything to do, so….” I pause, hanging on my last word.
Gloria looks at me with a slight smile, staying silent.
“Why did you really want to get me out of the house?” I finally ask.
“I just thought we could talk for a while,” she begins, “without anyone else around. Just the two of us.”
“Oh. What about?”
“Anything really. If there’s anything you want to tell me or mention….” her words trailing off.
I want to tell you everything I know!
“Nothing in particular,” I say reluctantly. I really do want to tell her everything, and I don’t know why.
Gloria takes a deep breath. “I just want you to know that the FBI believes that John could be coming back here. ToParadise.” She looks at me, probably gauging my reaction.
“Really?” I say, faking a surprised look. But failing, I clear my throat and ask, “What makes you say that?”
“That’s what they told me. Honestly, I’m not sure how they came to that conclusion, but it seems possible.” She pauses. “We can’t rule it out.”
This is the same thing Mark said the other day. I didn’t want to believe it when he told me; I tried not to believe it all week. But the fact that Gloria is telling me now makes me feel like it could very well be true.
“I just want you to be ready,” she says.
“Ready for what?” I look at her not knowing where she’s going with this.
“Ready,” she begins, “in case he tries to contact you or tries to see you.” She holds my glance for a moment before looking back at the road.
I ponder the possibility of that before asking, “What makes you think he might try to see me? He would know how dangerous that has to be. He wouldn’t risk it.” As soon as the words leave my mouth, I know I don’t believe it. He would try, I’m sure.
“Knowing John….” she hesitates a moment before starting over. “Knowing the kind of person John seems to be, I wouldn’t be surprised if he tried to see you. You just need to be prepared if that happens. You have to decide to go through with helping the FBI.”
“I don’t understand why it has to be my decision. If he knew I agreed to help, he would think I betrayed him…” my voice fades at hearing myself say that. “I don’t think I could live with that.”
“Listen Sarah,” she says, still focusing on the road. “I know it’s not easy. Sometimes tough decisions fall into the hands of certain people for a reason. It’s because they are the only ones that can make that decision … that are willing to make that decision. And they are the ones that will have to live with the consequences of that decision … good or bad.”
I know she’s right, but I won’t admit it. I can’t admit it.
“Everything happens for a reason,” she says. “It’s always good to be prepared.”
For the next few moments, I watch the light poles beside the road pass by my window in a steady rhythm. I contemplate the weight of the decision I may possibly have to make if John does come back … if he does try to contact me.
“Have you ever played chess before?” she asks, breaking the silence.
“Um, yeah. My dad and I used to play a lot,” I reply, wondering where she could be going with this. “Why?”
“Whether you believe it or not, this entire situation”—she circles her hand in a wide arc—“is like a big chess match. What’s the most powerful piece on the chessboard?”
“The queen?” I say hesitantly.
“That’s right. You know, sometimes you have to sacrifice your most powerful piece—in this case, the queen—in order to gain better position in the game, right?”
I nod, not liking the word sacrifice.
“And you also know that even though that queen has been captured, it’s not entirely out of the game, right?” She doesn’t wait for an answer before going on, “There are other pieces that can eventually get that piece back on the board, if they make the right moves, at the right time, and get to the right place.” She keeps her eyes on the road and doesn’t say anything else.
I’m left to think about her words.
I begin to wonder if she’s trying to hint at something, but she wouldn’t do that … she couldn’t do that. She’s an FBI agent that’s trying to capture John. But why is she telling me this? If he did get captured, how could he escape? He would need help … LOTS of help. My mind refuses to think past that: the possibility of John being captured … or even killed.
“Sarah,” she continues, “I know you really care for John and you certainly don’t want anything bad happening to him. Sometimes we have to make a personal sacrifice—it can be in the form of a decision or action or both—in order to move further. I know you think it might hurt him emotionally; and that he would think you betrayed him. But the harsh reality is: are you willing to accept that in order to save a life … his life? This should be the factor that determines your next move. It’s the only way to save John’s life at this point.”
Again, I know she is so right about this. But I still can’t come to grips with it … not right now. It feels like there’s a wall in my way preventing me from seeing further down the road. I keep focusing on now. I want to believe that John may not even come back toParadise, but if Mark and Gloria are right then I should be prepared.
I take in a deep breath, trying to settle my thoughts. During this time, it dawns on me that I’ve never asked Gloria what she thought of John. I know what everyone else thinks of him. But not her.
“Gloria, do you think John is a terrorist?” The question comes out before I realize it. But I don’t regret asking it.
“It doesn’t really matter what I think, Sarah,” she answers in a blasé tone, her eyes still focused on the road.
I turn my body towards her. “It matters to me,” I say, my words filled with more emotion than I intended.
Something seems to click in Gloria’s mind. She looks at me, takes a deep breath, and then looks in the rearview mirrors. She slows the truck down and gently pulls off on the side of the road crunching the gravel underneath the tires. We come to a complete stop and she puts the truck in PARK and turns her body towards me.
“No. I don’t think John is a terrorist,” she begins in a straight-forward tone. “I do not think he was directly responsible for the five deaths at the school either.”
I give a slight sigh of relief.
“But, I do believe he was involved with your school’s destruction, the house explosion inFlorida, and the helicopters inTennessee.”
I nod, but not in a way that would confirm her suspicions.
“Whatever John is involved in, I have a feeling that you know—“
I suddenly go on the defensive: my insides quickly straighten up and my heart begins to pound in my chest, but I try not to let this show on the outside.
“—but I’m not asking you to say anything,” she says.
My insides relax along with my body language.
She notices this and gives a slight smile and says, “I’m merely here to help you, Sarah.”
“Help?” I ask. “Don’t you mean protect and keep me under surveillance?”
“That’s what Hecht and those boys want,” she says with a sly grin as if she enjoys defying him. “But he’s not the only one interested in this situation.”
“What do you mean?”
“I can’t tell you anything right now, Sarah.” Her expression softens. “Just believe me when I say that I am on your side.”
“How can you be on my side and with the FBI?” I ask.
She breathes out a single laugh and says, “That, Sarah, is a long and complicated story. I’ll tell you about it one day but not now.”
I glance out the front window of the truck. Cars pass by on the road, people going about their own business oblivious to what’s really happening.
“Sometimes I don’t understand what’s going on,” I say. “Everyone acts so mysterious.” I try not to look at Gloria when I say this.
“I know. There’s a lot going on right now that’s difficult to explain or believe.” She pauses a moment. “But when the time is right, you’ll understand. The answers will come.”
“It sounds like you’re saying that I should just trust you.”
“Sarah,” she says, pausing until she has my attention, “I’m not saying that at all. Only you can determine whom you want or don’t want to trust. You’re a very bright person, Sarah … more than you realize … more than you give yourself credit for.”
My eyes fall from her gaze, trying to accept what she has just said. No one has ever told me anything like that before, not even my own parents.
Gloria tilts her head lower until my eyes meet hers.
“Trust your instincts. They’ve served you well so far,” she says.
When she says this to me, it doesn’t feel like a parent telling a child or an adult telling some teenager, but like a teacher with vast years of wisdom and knowledge imparting it on their student.
Still in awe, all I can respond with is, “I’ll try.”
“Good,” she says, “that’s all I ask of you.”
She puts the truck back in gear and pulls back onto the road. She keeps her attention on the road and doesn’t attempt to continue the conversation.
We ride in silence the rest of the way home. While my mind tries to piece together this forever-growing puzzle, I find myself reveling in the new-found respect I have for Gloria.
She is truly different….