I hate to admit it, but I almost feel like I should thank Agent Hecht. Almost. He’s made me so disgusted and furious with him, all my focus right now is on him and not on what is about to happen with John. I almost feel calm about it. I wonder if that was his intention: to take my focus off of John’s capture and on to something else. I loathe the thought that Hecht could play me like that. No, I won’t give him that satisfaction. Right now, it’s survival instincts.
The playground isn’t far from my house. The view of it from my bedroom window is actually pretty nice. Growing up, I remember playing there everyday after school with my younger sister. We would come home from school, throw our books on the table, and head right out the back door. We would race to the playground, and she usually won. Of course, I would let her win so she wouldn’t get too discouraged. I think she knew I let her win; she would say I was just looking out for her, always thinking of others. We would go down the slides, climb the monkey bars, and soar really high on the swings. The swings were always my favorite. It gave me a feeling as if I was flying. As I would thrust forward, I’d pretend I was fleeing from anything I wanted to get away from or leave behind. And at the same time, I’d see myself skyrocketing to where I wanted to go next. The playground holds some wonderful and fun memories. Sometimes I really miss those times.
As I get closer, I look around to try and spot the other agents. The snipers.
Where are they?
I don’t see any of them. All I see are a few cars and trucks parked along the streets.
I step onto the cold concrete of the basketball court. The area outside of the playground is mostly dark. There aren’t many lights around. Not at this late hour. A few lamps spill their light on the playground, but only in limited areas. The slides and monkey bars are to my right. Some benches and a couple dumpsters line the edge of the concrete on my left. Another slide and the swings are straight ahead, in the middle of the playground, where some of the light converges. There are some trees that line the back wall of the playground behind the swings.
I feel a soft, steady breeze blowing across me from right to left. I brush the exposed hair from face and over my shoulders. I pull the winter hat tighter around my head. I keep scanning the playground, looking side to side, but I still don’t see anyone.
Not the agents.
Not the snipers.
Not even John.
I decide to wait at the swings. I walk up to my swing, second from the left. This is the one I always used as a kid. I set myself in its seat and unconsciously start spinning around and around making the ropes twist above me. Something else I’ve always done as a kid. I lift my feet up off the ground and the swing twirls me around in a circle. When the ropes become untwisted, I continue to spin myself again, this time in the other direction. As I lift my feet to let the swing whirl me around once again, I see a figure standing in front of me.
“John?” I gasp with an expression of surprise. I put my feet down to try and stop me from spinning.
“Hey beautiful,” he says with a huge smile on his face.
I knew he was going to be here. I knew I was going to see him. But, I’m still surprised and excited that he’s standing in front of me. Just the sight of him brings a warm feeling over my body; and hearing his voice in person makes my heart flutter.
As he walks to me, I try to get off the swing but the ropes are too twisted to get free. He grabs the ropes in his hands and lifts me—and the seat—up higher so now we are face to face. Oh yeah, I forgot about his incredible strength. As that thought hits me, another warm feeling covers me. He leans in to kiss me, and I can feel soft electricity course through my body. It feels so good; I don’t want this to end. It hasn’t even been a month since he left, but now I’m really aware of how much I miss him … his touch … his voice … his presence.
“Sarah, I’ve missed you so, so, so much,” he whispers in my ear. His warm breath causes another surge of electricity to shoot through my body. This time it leaves a satisfying feeling that lingers a while.
“I can’t believe you’re here,” I barely get out. “This can’t be real.”
Another kiss. A longer kiss.
John spins us around until the ropes become untwisted. I jump into his arms and he kisses me some more. I like this. I like this a lot. I run my fingers through his hair—his extremely short hair. I mention the haircut, and he says it’s his new tough-guy-on-the-run look.
“What do you think?” he asks. “You into it?”
“I am,” I reply with a seductive smile as my hands rest securely on his chest. I can feel his heart beating fast. He’s either nervous or excited. Probably both, but hopefully more of the latter. “But you could be bald for I care,” I add. It doesn’t matter to me. As long as he’s alive and safe and with me. That’s all I want.
John steps back and looks at me as if he was mentally painting a portrait in his mind. I’m sure he still sees the seductive smile I can’t manage to remove from my face.
“I’ve thought about you every single day, Sarah Hart,” he says with an equally seductive smile on his face.
“I promise I’ve thought about you twice as much,” I reply amorously.
We stand there with a foreheads touching, grinning like little school kids. He asks how I’m doing and what things are like around here. I tell him it’s better now—which is true at this very moment, being held in his arms. He admits it’s hard being away from me. He brings my cold fingers to his warm lips and kisses them.
“I’ve come so close to calling you every single night,” he says in between kissing each of my fingers.
I cup his chin with my hand and raise his eyes to mine. “I’ve sat in the car so many times just wondering where you are. All I needed to know was which direction and I would have started driving.”
He whispers back, “I’m right here.” His eyes locked on mine. “Right in front of you.”
Yes you are, I begin to think to myself….
Then I remember: right here in front of numerous FBI agents and at least five snipers—who have their sights set on you right now, waiting for a signal to pounce like a lion would on its prey, waiting for the signal to shoot.
A worried and weighted sigh escapes from me. The feelings of anxiousness and excitement of seeing John again has begun to subside while the reality and gravity of the situation at hand takes its place. It fills my emotions like a cup filling with water from a faucet.
My hands drop, and my arms fold across my chest. “I want to come with you, John. I don’t care. I can’t go on like this,” I say, pleading.
I’m willing to risk everything. I can run away with him. He’ll protect me; he’ll protect us. I don’t want to deal with school, the police, the FBI, or even my parents. I’ll take my chances out there on the run versus staying here under constant surveillance and being used as a pawn—no, used as bait. Everything is crashing down on me; it’s hard to stay focused.
“It’s way too dangerous,” he snaps back. “We just finished battling like fifty Mogs over at Sam’s place.” He takes a deep breath and calmly continues, “That’s what life is like with me right now.” He firmly grasps my shoulders and looks me right in the eyes. “I can’t put you in the middle of all this.”
I can feel the cup about to run over. My shoulders begin to tremble—and not from the cold. The emotions are filling to the top; they’re about to spill over.
No, not tears. Not now. Hold them back, Sarah.
It’s no use; the tears form. I try to keep it in check, but only enough to tell him that I can’t stay here not knowing if he’s out there dead or alive.
“Look at me, Sarah.”
I slowly look up into his eyes, his hands still on my shoulders. My arms still crossed, skeptically trying to hold in the rising emotions inside.
“There’s no way I’m going to die. Knowing that you’re here waiting for me, it’s…” he slows as if to find the right words, “it’s like a force field. We’re going to be together. Soon.”
My cup has now overflowed. Single tears roll down my cheeks and my lip quivers as I barely say, “It’s so hard.” Before I continue, I try to take a smooth, deep breath but it comes out broken and uneven. “Everything is so awful right now, John.”
“Everything is awful?” he asks, struck by my words. “What do you mean?”
What do I mean? The aliens that are chasing you, the creatures that want to kill you, the FBI that want to catch you, the snipers that want to shoot you, the police interrogations, the kids at school, my parents disappointment … what do I mean?
I try to piece together what’s left of my composure.
“People are jerks,” I say. “Everyone’s saying hateful things about you, and they say a lot of things about me, too.” My poise is failing; I don’t think I can hold it together any longer.
Please John, don’t press this issue. Don’t go there….
He replies with two simple words: “Like what?”
He went there. The dam has broken and the emotions rush in like a flood, bringing anger from all directions.
Like what? Like how everyone calls you a terrorist and a murderer. Like how they say you hate this country. Like how people at school call you Bomb Smith. Like how my parents think you’re dangerous and I’m never supposed to talk to you again. And like how other people are talking about shooting you because there’s a big reward on your head.
An aggressive edge laces each word as they fly out of my mouth at an alarming rate. There’s no way to hold them back, to keep them locked up in my thoughts. I’ve already said them, throwing them in John’s face.
Where is all this anger coming from? Why do I want to take it out on John?
My head drops out of mental exhaustion.
“I can’t believe you have to put up with all that, Sarah,” he tries to say in a comforting way. “At least you know the truth.”
The truth is what’s trying to kill you and at the same time, keep me at a distance. I go on as if what he said didn’t register, “I’ve lost almost every friend I had. Plus I’m at a new school where everyone just thinks I’m this weirdo.” I immediately regret saying those words, feeling so selfish.
He takes a step back for a moment, stunned by this. He comes closer and whispers, “Things won’t always be this way.”
“I love you so much, John.” Tears continue down my face. “But I can’t imagine how we’re going to get out of this mess.”
I begin to feel the tension pressing down on me, not knowing when the FBI will make their move. My insides scream out to John, you can’t be here! You shouldn’t have come! You need to get out of here! But I know an escape attempt would end with John getting hurt … or killed.
Instead, I subdue the anger inside as best I can, and I attempt reasoning to get through to him.
“Maybe you should turn yourself in,” I offer, hoping he picks up on the subtle hint.
He snaps his head towards me and says in a rigid tone, “I’m not turning myself in, Sarah. I just can’t.” He notices his tone and sighs. Then he says more calmly, “We’ll get out of it. Of course we will. My one and only love, Sarah—”
That sounded a little apprehensive.
“—I promise, if you wait for me, things will get better.”
How long do I wait? What happens when things get better—if they get better? Will you go back to Lorien? With tears still falling, I voice these concerns to John. He stays silent longer than is comfortable. The answer should be easy. You want to stay here. You do want to stay here, right? With me?
“I don’t know,” he finally answers.
It slowly registers in my head: I … don’t … know?
He continues, “Paradiseis the only place I want to be right now, and you’re the only person I want to be with in the future. But if we’re able to somehow defeat the Mogadorians, then yes, I have to go back to Lorien. But I don’t know when that will be.”
His words leave a stinging sensation in my chest. I know it’s not all about me, but ifParadiseis where you want to be and I’m the one you want to be with, what is back in Lorien to go to?
Before I can say anything, my phone buzzes in my pocket. I pull it halfway out to see a text message that says: 5 minutes.
John asks who is texting me so late.
“Just Emily,” I lie.
I hate having to lie to John.
Without wasting a moment, I change the subject. “Maybe you should just turn yourself in and tell them you’re not a terrorist,” I suggest again, willing him to get the hint. “I don’t want to lose you over and over, John.”
“Listen to me, Sarah,” he retorts, the rigid tone returning. “I can’t turn myself in.” He explains the police wouldn’t believe him about: the school; the five people killed there; Henri’s disappearance; or the forged documents in the house.
“I can’t get arrested,” he continues. “I mean, Six would absolutely kill me right now if she knew I was here talking to you.”
A pang of distrust smacks me in the chest, the sting resonating throughout my body.
Six? What does she have to do with this?
It wasn’t the fact that he mentioned her, but it was the way he said “you” that distressed me the most. I take a deep breath and wipe the tears from my face, hoping to overcome the stinging sensation.
“Why would Six kill you if she knew you were here?” I’m surprised at how spectral my words sound.
“Because she needs me right now and it’s dangerous for me to be here.”
Whoah! Needs me? Stay calm, Sarah. Now is not the time….
I take another deep breath, trying to remain calm.
“She needs you? She does?” I ask, purposefully stressing the tone. “I need you, John. I need you here to tell me everything is going to be okay, that all this is worth it.” I feel almost guilty for sounding selfish again. Almost.
I want to ask him, do you think it’s worth it? but I find myself afraid of what his answer would be. Not the direct answer he would give, but the implied one that would be exposed by his tone in the way he answers it. I feel a little nauseated thinking about it.
I walk over to a bench that’s out of the light and sit down. Even through my jeans, the cold metal feels like ice against my skin. But that compares little to the coldness that’s trying to bubble up inside me because of what I’m hearing from John. Deep down, I don’t have anything against Six. She’s great; she can do some awesome things. I almost wouldn’t blame John if he was slightly attracted to her in some way. She is Loric after all. I just remember that John told me that Loriens fall in love only once in their lifetime. He said I was the one.
Was that true or was it just a line?
John slowly moves towards the bench and sits next to me. He leans his shoulder against mine. He looks like he’s trying to gauge my expression.
Images of John and Six together begin to fill my mind. I’m not generally the type of person to get jealous, but the way he mentions her when he talks about her is … uncomfortable.
It has to be just my imagination. He can’t possibly be….
I lean away from John. “Six is very pretty,” I say, wishing I didn’t verbalize my thought at that moment. It was more of a statement and not even a question I wanted a response to, but—
“She is,” he says, a little too eagerly as if it wasn’t something he had to think about. “Not as pretty as you, though,” he quickly adds in, trying to sound convincing. He goes on to say that I’m the prettiest girl he knows … the prettiest girl he’s ever seen.
“But you don’t have to stay away from Six like you have to with me.” I barely get this out, barely suppressing my emotions, battling the coldness that wants to overtake me.
He means well. I know he does … he has to.
“When we go on walks we have to be invisible, Sarah! It’s not like we can just hold hands and walk down the street. We have to….”
Walk down the street?!
Whatever else he says at that point doesn’t register; a wall of sickness slams into me like a dam that just exploded.
I bolt up off the bench as if the icy coldness of it instantly changed to a raging fire. My emotions take on a similar transformation. I turn around to face John, my eyes piercing his as if I was looking through him and at his thoughts directly.
“You go on walks with her? Do you hold her hand when you two walk down the street?” The surprise and aggravation in my tone is unmistakable. There’s no hiding it; he knows I’m upset.
John stands up and as he slowly approaches me, I slowly backpedal away from him, keeping a good distance between us. “We have to,” he says, actually more like pleads. He says it’s the only way he can be invisible.
On the inside, my emotions are in total chaos. They swirl around like a tornado creating destruction in its wake. Rage, anger, disgust … aggravation, distrust … despair, anxiety … jealousy, loneliness, fear … and hurt, slowly eating away at me.
Why the hell do you have to hold hands?
Why do you even have to go on walks with her?
You want to be alone with her!
Why do you want to be alone with her, John?
Suddenly, all these emotions converge together as if they are sucked into a vacuum until nothing remains. Everything—the sounds of the night, the wind, my thoughts, my emotions—momentarily vanish, and I’m left with total and complete silence. The only thing that reminds me that I’m still alive and that this is really happening is the sound of my heartbeat as it echoes in my head.
With absolute calmness I ask, “Have you kissed her?” Four simple words that form a very simple question which only require an honest one-word answer … how hard can that be?
“Answer me.” My gut is wrenching. My heart is pounding. And my head is spinning.
Yes or no, John, it’s that simple. Just give me an honest answer. That’s all I ask.
“Sarah, I love you,” he stumbles on. “I really don’t know what else to say.” He explains that nothing has happened, but he says it as if he’s trying to convince himself more than me.
The aggravation of him not answering the question is obviously building up; he notices this.
“It was a simple question, John.” I offer him the same four words again, this time drawing each one out slowly, “Have you kissed her?”
“I haven’t kissed Six, Sarah. We haven’t kissed. I love you.”
Right now, I can’t tell if he’s actually telling the truth or not. I get the unnerving feeling like he’s hiding something.
“I see.” I take a deep breath. “Why was that question so hard for you to answer, John?” I can’t help but sound brazen when I say his name. I don’t intend to; it just comes out that way. “My life just keeps getting better and better,” I utter to myself just above a whisper. I turn my side to him as I ask, “Does she like you?”
Please, John, yes, no, or I don’t know. Don’t avoid the question….
“It doesn’t matter, Sarah. I love you, so Six doesn’t matter.”
Oh my God, John … why can’t you just answer the question?
I grumble out a strained sigh. “I feel like such an idiot!” I cross my arms in frustration and turn my back completely to him.
He believes I’m misinterpreting everything he’s saying.
I turn around and glare right into his eyes. “Am I, John?” Tears pool at the corner of my eyes, more from frustration than from being hurt. But the hurt inside is obvious when I say, “I’ve gone through so much for you.” The words strain to come out.
If you only knew, John.
I recoil as he tries to reach out and take my hand. “Don’t—“ I rebuke with a sharp tone as I look away, keeping my focus on the ground beside me.
My phone buzzes again in my pocket.
He notices it, but decides to ignore it.
I make no attempt to look at it. I completely disregard it as if it doesn’t exist. I turn away from him again trying to gather my thoughts.
“I want to be with you, Sarah,” he pleads. He goes on about what he’s saying isn’t coming out right.
Unfortunately, my thoughts begin to override his words.
Standing in the shadows out of the light, I can barely make out some movement across the playground in the direction of my house. I see shadowed figures moving behind trees, around cars, and ducking behind bushes.
The agents. The snipers.
I almost forgot about them. I got caught up in all this drama, I forgot the real reason why I’m out here: to keep John safe, to keep from getting him shot, to keep John alive … by any means necessary. Once again, I resolve to myself that this is the only option.
It’s not about me anymore. It never was. I lost sight of that in the middle of all this talk about John and Six. It shouldn’t matter at this point. I let myself get caught up in the emotions that’s been building over the last 3 weeks and what was said tonight. Then I unleash it all on him; it’s not fair to John. I’m here for him. I’m here to help him, not condemn him.
I steel myself in the assurance that what I’m doing tonight is the only way to save John’s life … even if he might not see it that way.
I catch his last words as he says, “…I love you. Don’t doubt that for a second.”
With my back still turned to him, I look over my shoulder and say with my whole heart, “I love you, too.”
I’m sorry John. Please forgive me for what is about to happen. I hope you will understand that this is for your absolute safety. I would never betray you.
The word “betray” is like acid in my mind, burning through my very core. It pains me to think that John might think I’m turning him in out of spite and not for his safety. But this is a choice I have to live with until I can fully explain my reasons … if I get that chance to explain.
I slowly take a few steps away from him, creating more space in between us. I know it will be any second now before the agents converge on John to capture him.
I hear a noise in the bushes to my left.
It’s happening! They’re about to rush in!
I brace myself and turn towards the noise. But instead of seeing FBI agents in black body armor wielding guns and rifles, I see a teenage boy reluctantly making an entrance from the bushes.
“Sam?” I ask, very surprised to see him here.
“Hey, Sarah,” he replies in a whisper, as if to apologize for intruding.
When he reaches me, I instantly embrace him. I’m so glad to see him, but at the same time I wish he wasn’t here. I didn’t expect to see him, and now I feel even worse because he’s about to get caught up in all this.
I try holding on to Sam’s embrace a little longer hoping it will delay the inevitable: the FBI pouncing in and taking John and Sam.
He tells me that he’s glad to see me and apologizes that they need to go right now.
“We’re in a lot danger,” he emphasizes. “You have no idea.”
I finally pull myself away from Sam. I look right into his eyes and say, “I sort of do.” I can’t help but give him a helpless glance as if I was warning him, YOU ARE IN DANGER! YOU SHOULDN’T HAVE COME HERE!
Something registers in Sam’s mind. His head shifts back and tilts slightly, his countenance goes neutral, and his eyes stay locked on mine … like he’s processing information quickly … like he’s reading my thoughts. Sometimes you don’t have to be part of an alien race or have special powers to “read” what someone is thinking.
Suddenly, Sam stiffens and his eyes bulge. The look on his face indicates he understood my expression.
He takes in a deep breath getting ready to say something … and that’s when it happens.
Total and complete pandemonium breaks out all around us.