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Epilogue

A week later, Tristan had returned to school to countless friends and strangers grilling her with questions regarding her abduction. Through all the interviews and counseling, she answered them all with a deflective, "I just want to forget it all."

Family dinners became the norm. Her mother barely let her out of her sight other than to go to and from school and Mrs. Barton had insisted on driving her daughter instead of allowing her to walk the quarter of a mile in each direction. After a week, however, Mrs. Barton realized through Tristan's withdrawl that she was only making matters worse.

As she stepped through the door after making the walk home for the first time since her return, her mother beamed at her from the kitchen. "Hi honey," she greeted with a small smile, feeling tears well up in her eyes. This was the normal reaction nowadays when she looked at her daughter. Just like Tristan, she too was determined to forget what had happened and put the pictures she'd recieved out of her mind. She would never ask Tristan the extent of what had happened to her while she was abducted- it would be too painful for their family to hear the truth of it.

"A letter came for you today," she told her daughter, briefly gesturing over to the kitchen table where the mail was sorted. "Someone must have dropped it off. There was no postage."

Tristan,

I'm writing from a motel though I know I shouldn't say which. You changed me. It's sudden to say it I know and I don't mean to scare you but you did. I won't lie and say I've stopped doing drugs entirely. Not yet at least but I think I can. It's hard but I am doing better already. I know you owe me nothing and I owe you so much. Take this money and do something with it. Don't throw it away because you hate me. I would give you something better if I could but this is all I have and it's because of you. If you buy something I will be happy to know I could do something for you. Please know that I am sorry for everything and I want to change it all. If you don't buy the 4pm train ticket from McArthur Station I will understand.

Jason

Tristan's heart began to speed with each word her eyes took in, her stare shifting rapidly over line after line of Jason's letter. She ignored the half dozen hundred dollar bills tucked into the envelope. She had forced herself to accept that she would never see him ever again but the end of his letter made her eyes lift hurriedly to the kitchen wall clock. It was just passing 3:30. "T-there's something I have to do," she quickly told her mom, folding up the letter with the money he'd left her and shoving it quickly into the front pocket of her school shirt. "I love you, okay? I might not be home for dinner! Please don't worry!" she added as she kissed her cheek and darted out the door before her mother could stop her.

Deep down, she knew her feelings didn't make sense but truth be told, she didn't care. What had begun as a traumatic experience had become the start of something she wasn't sure she should let herself get lost in. She just... needed to see him again, no matter how long or short of a time. She took the shortest route she knew to get to the station, still dressed in her uniform with her backpack slung over her shoulder, and she arrived out of breath at the station entrance just as the digital arrival and departure board clock read 3:50. She was doing this, all for someone she knew barely anything about.

Jason sat on a bench against a wall closest to the platform. He was inside the station, keeping a low profile. He was still paranoid and though he'd kept a close eye on the publicized return of Tristan to her home and his name had been kept out of the press, he was skeptical.

Seated hunched forward with his elbows on his knees, he stared down at the ticket he clutched in hand. He had so little time until the train left and yet there was still no sign of Tristan. But... did he really expect her to show? He'd tracked her home down earlier that day and seen her mother moving about the house, but there had been no sign of Tristan. Would she even get the letter before four? For hours he'd been seated in the same spot, waiting with the small possibility that Tristan may join him.

Tristan hurriedly by-passed the ticket booth and headed straight for the train station platform, her eyes darting around in the chance that she may spot him nearby. The train was boarding, but he would wait until the last minute, wouldn't he? Though her own private life in her hometown had been shattered by her publicized abduction and return, she knew that Jason would keep to the shadows just in case.

Finally, she spotted him, seated on a bench and hunched forward over his lap with his attention fixed downward. From what she could see, he looked a great deal better. He looked healthier, stabler and yet was just as attractive as he had been when they parted a week ago. Without calling to him, she approached slowly, shifting her backpack up along her shoulder a bit and smiling faintly at the sight of him. The last thing she wanted to do was call attention to him. "...I read your letter," she chose to announce herself with, waiting for him to look up.

Jason lifted his stare instantly, shocked with her presence though he'd been praying for it unceasingly since he'd dropped the letter in her family's mailbox. He inhaled sharply, growing still with the disbelief clear on his face as he watched her before finally sitting up slowly as he battled his reaction to her being there. Did he hug her? Did he thank her? Awkwardly, Jason realized he didn't deserve to touch her. Time apart had allowed him to reflect on just how horrible he had been to her.

"...You're here," he breathed out, getting to his feet to stand in front of the bench though suspiciously close to the dufflebag he had on the bench beside him. He licked his lips as his pulse climbed and he eyed her carefully. Was she there to accept him or to get closure?

Tristan's eyes glanced toward the overhead clock- 3:52- before returning her attention to him with a small nod. "I... didn't think I'd ever see you again," she confessed, her stare shifting over his face quickly, trying to memorize his features completely once more. "Did you think I wouldn't come?" she asked pathetically.

He began to nod slowly, emphasizing the fact that he truly hadn't expected to see her ever again. When it became clear that Tristan had no intention of slapping him or showing any hatred towards him he reached out suddenly and grabbed her arm, pulling her forward into his chest as he wrapped his arms tightly around her body to hold her against him as he shut his eyes tightly in silence.

It was such a strange feeling but Tristan welcomed it completely, exhaling heavily as her cheek came against his shoulder and her eyes slid closed as well. He was still something of a mystery to her, but she desperately wanted to know him. "They believed everything I told them," she informed him quietly, bringing her hands up slowly to hold onto the sides of his shirt.

"I know," he mumbled into her shoulder as he held her and inhaled deeply before exhaling as his hold never lessened. He had paid such careful attention to the coverage on her abduction and the relief and gratitude he felt was so immense it had driven him to contacting her directly. He pulled away as the announcer called the five minute boarding notice overhead. He pulled back with a smile, grabbing his bag before nodding back over his shoulder. "Come on, I'll buy you a ticket on the train," he told her, hope in his eyes.

She reached for his arm to keep him from leaving her just yet and tried to smile though she was finding it increasingly difficult. "Jason... I can't go with you," she told him regretfully, dropping her stare to the pavement for a moment as she struggled with the tears that began to surface once again. "I have school... and my family. I can't just pick up and leave," she finished, her grip on his arm only tightening as her smile faded and her stare turned pleading.

She... hadn't come to be with him. Jason swallowed the embarrassed and awkward feeling he felt and licked his lips as he glanced briefly out the windows where the train was pulling up before back to her with wrinkled brows. "So... this is goodbye," he stated, though with such unexpected defeat that it pained him. He hadn't expected to see her, but when she had shown up he had thought for sure…

"I don't want 'goodbye'," she answered with a shaky breath, shaking her head as she pulled herself to him with her hold on his arm and leaned in to press her lips fully to his, mumbling through the firm kiss, "...and don't tell me not to kiss you." Her arms soon tightened around his neck to hold him, her grip reluctant to release him.

People were staring. There was an obvious age difference between the uniform-clad girl and the man she was kissing. Dismissing his discomfort, Jason wound his arms around her, returning the kiss a little hurriedly. He didn't want a goodbye either.

Her arms loosened but only to allow her hands to slide forward over his shoulders and down his chest until she could hold his shirt, her body never pulling away from his even as she broke the kiss. "Come back and find me," she said. Her eyes lifted to his. " I'll wait. I will, okay..?" she told him quickly, "If you have to go now... promise you'll come back and find me."

He needed to leave, he knew that for certain. He needed to get away from the life he'd been living and find a new one for himself; one in which drugs didn't dictate his personality and a job wasn't something he held to make more money for drugs. He needed to continue becoming a new person, something Tristan had set in motion. He had cash now. He could start over properly. Though he could return for her, his life would be elsewhere. He had only a mere minute or so before the train pulled away and his brows furrowed as he watched her tuck the money he had given her back into his pocket.

"I'll come back for you," he replied.

She closed her eyes for a moment and took a deep breath in hopes of calming herself, even as a few tears finally slipped down her cheeks. "You'd better mean that," she told him with a forced smile, gently releasing her hold on his shirt to flatten her hands against his chest to push him away instead.

As she pushed at his chest he had the most painful flashback to the last time he'd seen her and his chest wrenched at the idea of leaving her again. Shaking his head suddenly and stepping forward agian, he dropped the dufflebag to his feet as he wrapped his arms around her body and lifted her, hugging her tightly as he buried his face in her neck with a shaky breath. "I didn't mean to fall in love with you."

At that, she wasn't able to contain her tears any longer and she turned her face into his shoulder and let her features twist up. When had her feelings for him grown so strong? But better yet, why did she have feelings for him at all? After all he'd done, she should have despised him... she should have wished him imprisoned, or worse! But there was something about him that she simply couldn't ignore- he'd seemed so lost... and lonely. To anyone else, such things would never justify his actions but it didn't matter what anyone else thought.

"I turn eighteen in June... come and find me then," she told him, slowly pulling her face back to stare up at him as her free hand lifted to wipe beneath her eyes. She would be a legal adult and would be able to make her own decisions- namely, leaving home to go to school elsewhere wherever Jason had happened to make his new life. "I can wait half a year," she promised with a small but genuine smile.

She was so young. It was hard to believe she wished to give up her young adult years to be with him, but he was far too selfish and needy to protest her decision. He took her in his arms once more, smiling weakly and whispering quietly, "I'll be ready then." He had ample time to set up a life for himself and become independent enough to accept her possibly returning with him.

"Here," she stated quickly, crouching by her bag which she'd long-since dropped to the cement of the platform. She unzipped the main pouch and pulled out one of her notebooks, pausing to wipe beneath her eyes once more as her light smile remained. She opened to a blank page and dug for a pen to quickly scribble down her home address, cell phone number and e-mail address before tearing the piece of paper from the spiral binding. She got back to her feet and held out the slip of paper for him to take. It was every way to contact her.

Jason had no cell phone, no computer—no information of his own to offer her as of yet, but he clutched the paper to his chest. He could call her if he felt lost and needed someone to talk to as he started fresh.

"It might take me a while," he said brokenly as he struggled not to let the idea of starting over overwhelm him.

"You'll be okay," she told him seriously, lifting her hands to cradle his face with a reassuring smile. "Just..." she began, though paused to lean closer and press their foreheads together as she whispered carefully, "...don't go robbing any more banks or... taking any other girls hostage, okay?" She tried not to blush at her thoughts but it couldn't be helped.

Her playful remarks make his weak smile return. He was so sorry for what he'd done to her, but glad she was in his life. He caught her lips lightly.

She kissed his lips one last time before pulling away and standing just in front of him. It was time to walk away from one another. She could exhale now, no longer feeling the desperation she had minutes earlier. Now things had been established and planned between them. She believed him when he said he'd be back.

Saying nothing more, she took a half step to walk away and he forced himself to nod.

Tristan didn't look back as she slowly left the train station, but she could feel Jason's eyes on her until she was gone from the building. As the whistle blew and the hiss of the train announced its departure, she watched it pull away with a teary-eyed smile, waving at the entire length.

I didn't mean to fall in love with you, either.

-The End-

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