Authors note: I'm back! Sorry this next chapter took so long. I've had to deal with a lot of procrastination and writers block. I know, hard stuff. Just keeping it real. I hope you like this chapter and that it brings a sense of closure for some of you. It's one of my favorites.

Chapter Thirty-Seven

Moving On My Own

"Juniper…where is your cap?"

She shoved a few blouses and t-shirts to one side of the drawer and then the other, hoping the action would reveal the said item. When it didn't, she turned around in a huff, her hands firmly set on her hips.

"It's in my closet, on the second shelf!" came a loud scream from the first floor.

Tripping over several boxes of newly purchased shoes and evening gowns, she opened the wooden closet doors and hurriedly looked up to the shelves. Her lips curved into a smile as she held the hat in her hands.

"You got lint all over it…"

From her view in the mirror, Juniper Davis could see her mother trotting down the grand staircase steps. In her hand she held her correctly deemed lint laden cap.

"It's not that bad," she said when her mother came to stand beside her in front of the mirror. "Can't we just put some tape on it and rip it off?"

"No!" Ms. Davis exclaimed, pulling the cap away from Juniper's hands even though her daughter hadn't even initiated touching it. "We'll just buy you a new one."

"Oh Mom, really?" Juniper moaned, "This already cost fifteen dollars. Do we have to buy another one?"

"Dear, what else do we use our money for than for occasions such as these? Goodness gracious, you only graduate from high school once…"

With this ending statement, Ms. Davis took her daughter's graduation cap and began to feverishly pick at the white lint attached to both the top and sides, even though she fully intended to purchase a new hat. Meanwhile, Juniper returned to fixing her hair in the mirror. Tonight was the graduation rehearsal and she—her mother was intent on making a good impression.

Her long red locks fell on her shoulders and made her pallid cheeks look like two white, china saucers. Pulling at the itchy, fitted sweater her mother had convinced her to wear, Juniper released a deep sigh as the quiet of the main hall overcame her.

Graduating…

Really?

Am I really done?

Feels like I haven't learned anything. I can't remember anything from my first year. Come to think of it…I can't even remember what I learned my last semester.

Gosh, high school is such a waste.

I wonder if Columbia will be any different. College…college will be different. It has to be.

I don't think I'll be able to…

Juniper's lips tightened as she gripped the small, glass table in front of her. She could feel last year's shivers overtake her as two beads of sweat rolled down her forehead.

With a quick shake of the head, she exhaled heavily and then rubbed her brow.

"Mom, can we go now? I feel like I'm going to sweat this shirt out before we even get in the car."

"I told you to drink the pickle juice. That will stop the sweating!"

Juniper rolled her eyes with moan as she picked up the glass of green liquid off the table. Her mother thought the juice was the cure even though Juniper knew for a fact the only thing it did was make her breath smell like a rotten burger.

"Get in the car now and start the air conditioning," Ms. Davis said, returning from one of the many halls connected to the foyer, "If I have to hear Mr. Reed talk about how well her daughter doesn't perspire compared to you one more time, I will go off."

Juniper giggled to herself, thinking of Hannah Reed and her inability to secrete.

She glanced at her mother who was still picking the lint of the cap. Her smile faded some when she caught a glimpse of her left hand.

"Mom," she said, her voice small and sullen, "Do you…think…I mean, could you wear your wedding ring for graduation?"

Ms. Davis hurriedly looked down, her barren fourth finger coming into view. She clasped both her palms together, avoiding her daughter's despondent gaze.

"Is dad coming?" Juniper asked before her mother could even respond to her first inquiry.

Now Ms. Davis quaintly grinned, placing a hesitant hand on her shoulder. "To rehearsal? Well, no. I'm not even staying at your rehearsal, June. You'll be alright by—"

"I mean graduation," Juniper interjected, adjusting her back so that her mother's hand fell from her and to her side.

Ms. Davis's resilient smile remained. "Of course he is. He wouldn't miss it for the world."

When the dark, sullen expression remained on Juniper's face, Ms. Davis thought to repeat the statement. Her daughter finally turned, seconds before the words were uttered again. Pulling on her converses and a light jacket, Juniper turned to the front door.

Still Ms. Davis stood at the mirror, picking at the lint on the cap.

"You know, it's not official yet," she said, whirling around to the front door, "Your father and I…"

The distance between the mother and daughter seemed like a vast sea and yet also like a scorching desert.

Forcing herself to exhibit any sense of bliss or content, Juniper smiled. "I know. I'm…I'm out in the car."

The graduation rehearsal was an unnecessary event if anything, in addition to being dull and lengthy. Though it did hold some purpose, the entire time allotted to practice the entry of the graduates and speeches was wasted waiting for seven late students to arrive and then explain to the rowdy room how the ceremony would be conducted.

Juniper spent most of her time on her smartphone, looking over a furnishing website and adding items to the wish list for her apartment in New York. She was hoping to be in her new space in two weeks. The mansion was becoming quite unbearable. It didn't matter if the air was flooded with cries and shouts or if it was bathed in silence. Juniper found both alternatives unbearable.

"Maybe less than two weeks, if I'm lucky," Juniper had said at one point in the rehearsal with a slightly raised eyebrow as she heard Principal Wilseck order a male student to return to his chair and to wearing a shirt in the distance.

After that incident, the event went on for a couple more minutes before finally being dismissed, to the frustration of Principal Wilseck and the faculty.

Juniper packed her belongings as quickly as possible, as to avoid any forced conversations with fellow graduates and the exit rush. Unfortunately, she was caught directly inside the auditorium entryway.

"Juniper! Hey, Juniper!"

Although she had thought to just keep walking, Juniper waited at the doors.

"Hey you, you want some food after this?" Rooney asked as she and Adam approached Juniper. "That rehearsal would just not end. I'm starving."

"Yeah, you want to come?" Adam added as he placed his right arm around Rooney's torso.

Although Juniper had not even given an answer yet, her feet were already shuffling away from the two.

"Sorry, my mom still wants to do some last minute graduation shopping."

"Oh come on, you can blow her off," Rooney said with a smirk.

"Oh, I doubt that. She's freaking out about this more than me moving across the country. I swear, my cap only had lint—"

"Sikes! Get over here!" a student from down the hall hollered

"See you at the car," Adam murmured before placing a quick peck on Rooney's cheek and rushing off to the guy who had called for him.

This left Juniper and Rooney to stand in a silence that was somewhat uneasy for them both. As the stillness continued, Juniper felt her messenger bag begin to weigh down on her shoulder, reminding her she needed to leave

"Well…" Rooney finally mumbled.

"Well," Juniper said quickly afterwards, hoping the urgency in her voice would alert Rooney of her need to depart.

"You're still coming to my graduation extravaganza, right?"

Vaguely recalling a colorful, floral invitation that did mention something about a graduation party, Juniper gave an embarrassed sneer. She knew that in the past few weeks, she had pushed any events out of her head to make room for priorities as simple as waking up on time.

That's where she was. That's where she had been for a long time.

"Oh right, next Saturday?"

"No…this Saturday. I have to have it before graduation because I'm moving the day after graduation. Remember, we had, like, an hour conversation about this…"

Once again, Juniper's feet began to lumber backwards.

"I'm sorry, Rooney. I just have a lot on my mind lately."

Stone-faced, Rooney glanced at the floor and then back up to Juniper. Her mouth opened slowly and hesitant, her words quivered and shook.

"Have…have they found him yet?"

Juniper instantly reeled back, the words seeming to lambast her whole skull. It took her several moments to regain her small ounce of composure, and then another few moments to actually open her mouth and respond.

"Um…no. That's, ugh, just not going well. My mom is trying to...I mean, we're trying to—look, I'd better go."

Rooney had had a strong inkling such a question would push Juniper over the edge. So it came as no surprise to her to see her friend already half way down the hallway.

"Okay," she had to say in a loud enough voice to reach down the corridor, "But Mrs. Lima, that new receptionist, she wanted me to tell you that your locker still has some stuff in it. She needs you to clear them out today or the janitor will just throw them away."

"Oh…okay. Thanks Rooney…" Juniper said, turning the corner.

"Everything will be alright, June…" Rooney murmured, knowing her friend wouldn't hear the words.

I was certain I took everything out of my locker.

Books, posters, old pieces of gum…

I did it last Wednesday. Didn't I?

It doesn't even matter. The real question is what was that woman doing in my locker?

Well…I guess it's not really my locker anymore. And she probably had someone check each locker.

Okay…stalker theory down.

Alriiiight, let's see what's in here.

Gym bag…really, I left this?

I must've been high or something. How could I miss this?

Oh RIGHT, I had my last soccer game on Thursday and brought this.

Smells like butt…

Old picture of me and Rooney that I looked over.

Toothpick. Toothpick? Toothpick.

What the heck is that?

Is that…hummus?

Juniper reached her right arm back into the depths of her locker, both scared and curious to see what she would find. Thankfully, though she found a container, it did not contain anything remotely close to hummus.

"Oh thank gosh…if that was hummus then I would be—"

"Juniper."

In an instant, the hall froze over.

Juniper's whole body became like ice.

Move and she would break.

Her back was to the voice and yet she could see the face like it stood inches from her own.

"What…are you doing here?" she said, gasping for air in the process.

She could hear the same loud exhales behind her.

And she knew they both felt the same.

"I know I'm not supposed to be here. I-I heard about the rehearsal from a friend and I thought…I…"

The voice stopped, tried to start again, but became choked up, making the words inaudible.

Juniper shut her eyes tight. If she saw the face, she wouldn't make it home. She wouldn't make it out of the building.

"I don't know what I thought," came the voice again, "But so much has happened and…so much time has passed—"

"Liam…please…"

If it weren't for her solid limbs, she would have walked away right then. Just the name, just the name sent tears rushing to her eye socket, standing on the rim of her eyelids.

How?

Why?

"I know…but there is so much I haven't been able to tell you. Or wasn't…able to tell you. I had the words some days and then other days my mouth was just dry. I thought to call you but you know it's against my—"

"I know."

Juniper could feel him closer with the response. Still, she couldn't move.

When the voice tried to speak, yet again it was strained. And Juniper knew, even after a year, that it meant he was on the verge of tears.

"Please just take this," he said. Juniper's eyes shot open when she felt a folded group of papers being thrust into her open right hand. With a delayed grip, she almost dropped the note. But then she held it with both her palms.

She thought to look down.

But the next second, she was wrapped in his arms.

He held her just below her neck, enclosing her from behind.

"I don't know think you'll…ever see me again."

She could feel his grasp tighten around her, warm and constant.

And as if the sun had risen to melt away the cold, she lifted her hand and clutched onto his wrist. At first, she shook so violently she could barely feel the touch of his skin.

When her body finally calmed itself enough to feel, he was gone.

Only the papers remained.

She stood there awhile, though able to move.

She wouldn't admit later. Of course she wouldn't admit it later.

But she stayed for his scent.

She remained just to take in his scent once more.

Once more.

And then, returning to her locker like nothing out of the ordinary had occurred, she collected the remaining items in the locker, stuffed them in the empty, smelly gym bag and left Merryweather High School.

She thought to discard the papers immediately; not even allowing the contents they contained a chance to tempt her.

However, this option was quickly rejected by her ever constant curiosity and she thought to wait to read it until she arrived home.

She only made it down the front steps of the high school.

By then, her eyes were already tracing rapidly over the words.

If you're reading this, then you're braver than I will ever hope to be; braver than I will ever hope to comprehend.

Juniper. Juniper Davis.

I am sorely and in the truest of forms sorry.

I am sorry.

There are so many things that I must apologize for but the first must be not being able to say these three words to your face.

Juniper boarded the bus at this point, her vision blurred and her body once again quaking.

She took a seat in the last row and sat her gym and messenger bag beside her.

There, she hoped no one would hear her whimper.

It's been a year but you've never heard those words from my lips.

So many court dates. So many times we sat directly across from each other, my mother and your parents glaring each other down. It was in those moments that I possessed the ability to have the greatest influence. To make change, even the slightest one in a horrible situation.

And yet I just sat there, silent, watching you stare into your lap or look to your parents or cry over your shoulder.

I just sat.

Some days I came feeling entitled to a clear conscience. I would think "She doesn't deserve anything from me." I would actually think that.

And I recall, on one of our most bitter days, you glanced at me for a second and then you gazed at me. Your eyes were just begging, pleading for any words of comfort, for any form of remorse or regret.

I distinctly remember hating you that day, as I did so many days before.

But you must know, if anything, that I am sorry.

Everyone knows the general story. The newspaper knows the general story.

I was blackmailed into doing his will or my mother would be deported.

It was simple. Makes for a good front page on the local paper.

But there's a lot more to the story than just two paragraphs and a cute conclusion.

Because in its need to paint Wheeler as the villain, the newspaper forgot to say that I verbally abused you so I could see you cry, that I doused you with water just to see you squirm, and that I beat you so I could see you beg. It forgot to mention that I got a true high out of controlling you and making you do my every whim. It forgot to give a little exposé on the bruises you received and the asthma attacks you suffered in my house and in my dark, damp basement. It forgot that when I showed you the picture of that man and you screamed for me to take it away, I smiled and kept it smack dab in front of your eyes because I hated you and wanted nothing else but to see the torture eat away at you. And if it killed you? So be it.

In a flurry, Juniper threw the paper to the floor of the bus, hot tears flooding down her cheeks. Her face was red and her jaw was clenched. She would wipe her face with the back of her hand, only to have the tears and mucus replaced.

She boiled within.

It had been a year.

For a year, she had thought—no, mostly determined that while she was under Liam's captivity not all of the torments she received were direct orders from Oliver.

But now, to know it was for certain, somehow it was still impossible to bear.

The bus ride seemed to drag on, similar to the graduation rehearsal, and when Juniper finally arrived at the bus stop two miles from her home, she was almost asleep. Thankful to a degree that her exhaustion had overpowered her rage, Juniper slowly stood and tiredly wobbled to the front of the bus.

"Hey miss, I think you forgot this," a sizable man said, brushing past Juniper while simultaneously placing papers in her hands.

Juniper glanced down at the note, knowing it was his.

Nearly crumpling in it her hand, Juniper stomped out of the bus and onto the pavement. She waited until the bus had completely driven down the street and turned the corner before she began her journey towards home.

Several times, she looked down at her hands.

The papers screamed to be read.

Her mind screamed for them to be thrown away.

Again, the papers remained victorious and she flipped them open.

It was like I was some poor, innocent angel, just a victim of a black hearted stalker.

And to a point, I was.

But for all of my heinous motives and acts towards you to be forgotten, there is nothing that will ever make that right.

I understand that forgiving me for all the things I did on my own accord is not something you will probably ever want to do.

My only hope now is that in some way these words will vindicate for you all the crimes I conducted but were never punished or even apologized for.

Looking both ways in a half-hazard matter, Juniper jogged across the street, about a mile from her neighborhood.

When she was safely on the sidewalk, her head instantly turned back to the note.

Yet though I never expect you to forgive me for what I've committed against you, I wonder if in some way you will somehow be able to look past the wrongs, for a moment, and I realize how much I came to love you in the months we were together.

Juniper eyes bulged out as she read the statement over and over. Yet, as many times as she read, the words would not set in.

"Love me…?" Juniper whispered to herself, stopping in the middle of the road. "I thought…he hated me. He said he hated me. He did. And when we were together…he never said it. And…and if he, did he…"

Juniper pursed her lips, running her right hand through her somewhat tangled hair.

Gradually, her eyes averted back to the paper.

I was in love with you, Juniper Davis.

I never said it.

I never even did much to prove it.

But I did love you.

A shiver overcame Juniper. She hugged her arms but was unable to stop her trembling lips.

I don't know when it happened, what day it occurred.

But at some moment, I looked at you and knew I was in love.

It came as a shock to me of course since I had held such hatred and bitterness for you in my heart. At first, I hated myself for falling in love. Not only was it against the direct wishes of Wheeler, but I didn't want to like you. I didn't want to feel any sympathy for you. I didn't want to crave your smile. I didn't want to have this undying need to be near you. I didn't want to feel a love so strong that in the end, it made me go against all that I had worked for and turn against Wheeler. But even more, against my own mother.

When Wheeler told me that if you tried to break up with me that I had to blackmail you back into the relationship, I didn't understand. Why wasn't I done with you? At that point, you didn't like me anymore, at all.

But as we both know now, Wheeler wasn't satisfied and thought if I became even darker, you would certainly never return to me.

But then, he took it a step further. He came up with the idea for you to be held captive in my house. I thought he was insane. I remember the fist fight we had over the idea. I hated it. I thought that I was done with you. Now, not only was I still with you, but now you would live with me.

And yet, although it worked in making you despise me even more, somehow it had the direct opposite effect on me.

The more time I spent with you, the more I figured out how meager and misleading Oliver' s two years of research had been. Now given, we both knew your surface completely—what you wore, what you ate, your dislikes and likes, your habits. We even knew you further. We knew what made you tick and what made you smile, your fears and ambitions, your selfish and egotistic behavior that seemed to outdo your generosity. We knew all of it.

But we didn't know Juniper Davis. Oliver believed he did. Even I believed I did, to a lesser degree.

But as I watched you those six months, staring at the silent girl, I realized that she didn't even know herself. She had no idea of who she truly was. All of these facts that had been reiterated to you only proved that even more. You didn't know yourself, Juniper. And so, how could we dare to know?

It was that mystery, that uncertainty about you. That feeling that I still had so much to learn that at first made me interested in you. But it was your flaws and your perfections that I never knew about, the things so new about you that seemed to bring the best out me that made me care so deeply for you. It made it so that I didn't want to give you up, ever.

A car whizzed past Juniper, narrowly missing her left foot. She screeched lightly, realizing that half of her body was in the street. Running to the other side, Juniper nervously continued walking while reading. Her heart was beating out of control.

And so, when you escaped with him that day and I chased after you that was raw emotion. I wanted you to stay. Even though I still loathed you and would do horrendous things to you after that day, part of me ached for you.

And so after that, my relationship with Wheeler went to hell. I apologized to my mother again and again in my prayers for turning my back on her and leaving her future in this country up to the discretion of a psychopath. But I just couldn't stand to see you be with Wheeler. I couldn't stand to see you fall in a more tragic situation than with me.

I did whatever I could to keep you with me, even if that meant locking you up for days on end. It was a twisted sense of right, but it was all I knew to do.

Now you know Oliver exposed my mother for my betrayal.

She leaves in two weeks.

Juniper lifted her head, her eyes closed as she leaned against one of the many iron gates that fenced in the many extravagant mansions of her neighborhood. She stood about ten minutes from home.

I don't say this to make you feel bad or to have forgiveness for me.

I just feel its right for you to know what my true feelings were for you.

However, I think it is good for us both to know that I have moved on.

Anna Rutnisser and I have reconciled. She is doing well at the ward. I visit her often.

Miraculously, she had regained feeling in her lower torso and left leg. She can sit up on her own and the doctor's even have hope that she will soon be able to take rehabilitation classes and be able to walk again.

She smiles again. Her smile reminds me of you on a good day at my house, like when you walked in the ice for the first time in nine years.

She longs to see you but understands its best you two keep your distance.

She thanks you also for saving her life. She believes it is a saved life, Juniper.

Now Juniper stood outside her yard. Though she had told herself not to cry again today, she wept as she slowly trudged up the pathway.

Sometimes, I feel I treated you so harshly because I was confused with my feelings for Anna and for you. I had loved Anna so much that having to leave her for Wheeler's scheme broke me at many points. And then with her attempted suicide, I felt completely responsible. It hurt to be with you because I only wanted to be with Anna and heal her wounds. And yet she herself told me that I had fallen for someone else. And I knew I had.

In complete honesty, though I have moved forward, I wonder if soon I will backtrack. I wonder if I'm only with Anna to feel the void you left. I wonder if I'm with her sometimes just to quell my guilt for her situation now.

I wonder if one day I'll go against the restraining order placed against me and try to find you.

I hope to God that will never happen and that these feelings will go away.

But these days, I usually spend hours just thinking of you, wondering what might have happened if I had gotten to you before Wheeler did. Thinking, perhaps things might have ended up in such a grander place. And that maybe we would be together.

But I understand completely now that that is childish talk, a fantasy. We can both only move forward now.

And I know that in order to do that we must grow apart.

Though I am most certain this letter is inadequate, I'm afraid it will have to suffice for a farewell.

I wish you the best, dear Juniper Davis.

And I wish also for you to find yourself, as your encounter in my life has helped me to do the same.

Liam Newberry

"Juniper! Juniper! Thank goodness your home. Your mother is in a complete frenzy!"

She couldn't step in the door before the assistant Nora was clinging to her side and dragging her forward. Several other workers followed behind.

The three pages that made the letter were still loosely in Juniper's finger.

She walked, numb to the world.

Nora was blithering and blathering about something but Juniper didn't catch a word. She only knew that by the direction they were heading in the manor, they were going to the backyard.

He loved me.

He might still love me.

And…had I loved him?

In the end, was that what I had been feeling?

"Oh Juniper, goodness, come here," Ms. Davis said, gripping her daughter from the outdoor patio and pulling her down the steps. "This came today. This…this thing! It has your name on it!"

For a moment, Juniper was pulled out of her haze and able to notice two large, cream colored crates in the middle of the Davis yard. To say that it was massive was the understatement of the night.

The crates, combined, were nearly half of the enormous yards length and almost reached the second floor of the mansion. Juniper staggered at first, quite frightened to approach them.

"Did you order something online, Juniper? Because I obviously have not been made aware of it."

Juniper did not respond to her mother as she slowly neared the wooden boxes. When she looked at the mailing sticker plastered on the side of one, she was surprised to not see a sender address.

"Well…we've got to open it," she finally murmured.

"And why is that? There could be…a dangerous animal in there or something! Who knows what's inside?"

"Mom, I have no idea what this is…we've got to open it," Juniper said with a stern expression.

Her mother continued to complain and disagree with her daughter for another ten minutes. After that, she finally gave in and three male workers worked to pry one of the crates open.

A good thirty minutes later, it was finally unlatched. The workers moved quickly, removing a large amount of hay from the crate. Juniper and her mother watched intently, waiting for the item or items to be revealed.

A gasp escaped both their mouths when the object finally came into view.

"What the he—what is that?" Ms. Davis muttered, her eyes peering attentively at the inside the box.

Once again, she received no reply from Juniper who had now lunged forward.

All of her worry and uncertainty seemed to disappear as she walked her whole body into the crate.

Astounded, she just stood.

"It's a flying machine…" she murmured to her mother who stood behind. "Instead of wishing to be a bird…you…"

Juniper's voice faltered as her hand grazed over what looked to be a metal wing. Chills overcame her and she knelt down in order to prevent herself from fainting.

She shuddered, her legs scraping a scratchy substance as she bent her knees. When she looked back to the machine, she found a small scrap of paper stuck to the underbelly of it. She pulled it out quickly and unraveled in her palms.

And Juniper read.

It fits two now.

Find someone to fill the other seat.

That's all it read. No addresser once again.

"Juniper, Juniper what is going on? What do you mean a flying machine?"

Even though she had answered the question, Ms. Davis wasn't surprised that once again her daughter didn't respond to her.

In fact, when no answer came, she finally remained silent for her daughter's sake.

Juniper sank completely to the floor.

Now she held two notes in her hand.

One several pages long, one no bigger than a receipt.

And yet both she held closely, pressed against her chest.

For the first time in a year, she could feel an ounce of healing.


Authors note: Wow…last chapter coming up. Wow.