Hey, guys! :) So this is the second story I'm posting on here (The first is Enchantment, the one I'm currently working on now) so I hope you guys like this!

Summary: Seventeen year old Sarah Smith and nineteen year old brother James Smith struggle through an unknown journey of living alone in the wilderness for a period of three years after the death of mother and village in a fatal bomb attack out of an unknown Federal law. When journeying through the woods and Sarah comes across twenty year old Mason Grey and his mother Martha, things are about to become a journey Sarah never thought she would endure again. Between the choices of right and wrong, health and danger, Sarah is forced to make a decision between love and friendship, or life and death.

Hope you guys enjoy, and sorry I suck at summaries! :P

R&R!


CHAPTER 1

It was almost dusk as I made my way through the hungry crowds, every pair of eyes trained on my panicked face.

I was caught. There was no way around it. How was I going to make it back to James in time…?

"Stop! Wait!" an angry voice called out to me. It could only belong to the same guard that had been chasing me for hours. My sides were far past cramping as well as my legs as I pushed them to keep going.

Just a little farther, I told them. James will be waiting at the cave. He's hungry, thirsty...

It had been days since either one of us had had anything close to a mouthful of food or a spoonful of water. Dehydration was drawing close I could tell from my sandpaper tongue and quenched throat that felt as though it was going to close up in a matter of seconds. Which way was the cave again? I shook my head, but nothing was going to clear the fog that was clouding my mind as it spun uncontrollably. My body's longing for fluid was stronger than I had intended on. Was James holding up in the forty-eight hours that I left him in while I scavenged for food?

The cave! My mind was now fully aware of the small opening in the distance. Home had never looked so good in the time period that I had abandoned it.

I looked behind me, well aware that I was no longer being followed. Had the guard in the village given up? Had he spotted where I was running and run to get backup? Those questions lingered in my mind as I came to the cave's dark opening. The only light provided in the space was a small lantern's glow and the sheer sunlight that was coming through the cracks of the gray stone.

It was just as I had left it in the forty-eight hours of my absence. The fissures in the wall exposed small amounts of sunlight, which was nice but very dreary during the rain when water would leak in. The air was hot and musky, but still moist from previous nights of rainy weather. That's how it was here—usually rainy at night but hot and barren during the day. After running in that hot weather, I was absolutely exhausted, my legs on fire from all of the running.

James looked up in alarm but soon took me up into his tan arms once he realized whom it was. His embrace was both tight and welcoming, holding onto me as if I may be gone once he released me.

"Oh, Sarah." His voice was groggy and hoarse. When was the last time he had spoken? I should have been quicker. I could see his lack of water supply and food…

"I'm here," I breathed, my voice equally failing.

"I was so worried." I looked up into his suntan face, caked with dirt from the ground of our home. His short mud brown hair was sheen with perspiration, sticking slightly to his forehead. I reached my hand up to his cheek, his forehead, repeating the pattern continuously.

"You're running a fever," I said in alarm, noticing the burning underneath my fingertips as I pulled away.

"It's nothing," he assured me before pulling me onto the ground next to him. "Let's see what you've got in that bag of yours."

I took a deep breath and open the small, gray backpack before pulling out three medium-sized loaves of raisin bread, a few legs of unknown meat from the market, and four raw eggs from the village square.

"I know it's not much," I said, "but it will last us a while if we're careful."

"Water?" he questioned.

A wide smile spread across my face. "You wouldn't believe what I found on my way back here. I suppose the guard chasing me was a good thing, because I was forced to take another route." Safety reasons. My mind flooded of the memories of the small pond just a few short miles from where we were now.

"A small pond, just a few miles from here. The hike is easy, mostly downhill." My eyes brightened as I reached into the pit of my bag to pull out a few small objects.

"Water purifier," James said, equally astonished. "How'd you manage to get this?"

I could understand how he felt. I hadn't been able to get this liquid purifier in a long time. I had been afraid lately with our lack of water and health. "It was an effort, but I found it in one of the shops. That's where the guard found me." I narrowed my eyes as I remembered the tall, lean man that happened to be rounding the corner just as I tucked the purifier into my bag. It was not long before we had been running through the village, the woods…

"You're incredible," he said with a shake of his head.

"It wasn't that hard, really," I assured him. I cleared my throat, which felt like a knife driving into my skin, and stood up. My attention was brought back to the pond and James's fever. If I could just remember the way, we should have no problem finding it. "We'd better go and find that pond. I'm sure the water will help your fever, if not for a little while. Just long enough to where I can maybe get some medicine at a pharmacy I saw in passing…"

"You're not leaving again soon, are you?" he questioned. The look in his eyes brings deep guilt and pity into my stomach. How could I have left him, if only for two days? How long had he been running his fever?

James was eighteen years old, only a year older than me, and was my older brother. We had been alone for three years, fighting for one another in battles of hardship that those lonely woods brought upon our daily lives.

We had been living in a state orphanage just a few miles from our regular home, our town having received a tumultuous and fatal bomb attack a few years back. Everything was destroyed—the buildings, our families. James and I had been so frightened, being only the ages sixteen and fourteen, myself being younger. We had not had relatives, having lost them from times of hunger or the state bringing their villages to ruins, and so we were forced to live alone, scared and among many who were left in the orphanages. That was the last place any child wanted to live. Any place ran by the state was our enemy.

He and I were so tired of living amongst the other children, living with the adults whose people were responsible for the destruction of our town. So we left. It was the biggest decision of our lives, but we did it. And now there we were, alone in the wilderness, the state unaware of our absence or location for the time being as we struggled to keep a low profile and proper health. The first one was working out alright, but James and I both knew that our second highest goal was slipping gradually between our fingers with each step that we took.

"Of course not. Not for a little while," I promised. "But if your fever doesn't drop soon, then I won't have a choice."

He nodded and stood up, a bit unsteady.

"Are you sure you can make it to the pond?"

James tossed me a weary smile. "If there's water involved, I have a feeling we'll get there faster than you can say hydration."

I rolled my eyes at his lame joke and smiled halfheartedly.

"C'mon, kid," he said, pulling me to my feet. "We have water to find."

The hike wasn't as long as I had intended on it being, the trail mostly downhill like I had planned. Two hours passed before a medium-sized pond came into view, much larger than my memory. Was this the same pond? Or had I failed to get a good view of the oval of water as I passed at a remarkable speed towards our cave?

I could hear birds chirping in the trees as I observed the water. It was all I had not to throw myself into the cold liquid. I pulled out a few empty water bottles we had shared over the years and filled them up, adding a few drops of the liquid. We each gulped down two bottles before refilling them and hike back to our cave. When was the last time either of us had had a decent bath? I reached my hand up to my rough, tangled long blonde hair before observing my nails, heavily caked with brown and black dirt.

It was nearly pitch black before we made it back, having picked some berries on the way. This fruit was familiar, the same berries filled with crimson red juice that we had picked from several bushes in these woods in the past. These berries I knew for a fact were safe.

I popped a few berries into my mouth and chewed gratefully before handing the other half of my handful to James. I tried not to moan as the juice exploded in my mouth. I sighed in relief at the turnout of my last trip and smiled at the thought of sleeping tonight on our cozy cave ground. Never in my life had I felt more at peace. With each day that passed, another stress relieved door opened. Knowing James and I were still alive was what kept me going. I was not going down without a fight.

"How are you feeling?" I asked stopping to put one hand on James's steaming forehead, the other on his cheek.

James's breathing was ragged as he answered. "Like a million bucks," he smiled. His answer didn't have me convinced, though. The blue-gray arches underneath his sick, tired eyes weren't nearly unnoticeable. He was a strong on, my brother.

Normally his teasing would have humored me, but I couldn't shake my constant worry of his survival…

"Sarah," he said, putting his hot hands on my shoulders. "Don't worry about me."

"Don't tell me what to worry about and what not to. I'm not just going to keep going, care-free, when my brother and only connection to family in this world is life-threateningly ill!"

James was trying unsuccessfully, I noticed, to hide his struggling as he gently swayed on his feet.

"How long have you been running a fever?" I asked, afraid to have the knowledge of that answer.

James closed his eyes and without opening them said, "Since the night you left."

"Two nights ago!" I nearly cried in panic. "All of that time? So then why did you let me go? You could have died. And if I hadn't had returned…" I shivered. "Then you would have for sure."

"I'd rather die of a rising temperature a hundred times then see you killed once. How do you think I feel? I don't want my little sister to die either," James exclaimed, an incomprehensible seriousness in his eyes that made him look beyond his physical age.

"James," I breathed. I took a calming yoga breath—one in which I had watched our mother take many times before she passed—to ease my worry. "James, you know I would do the same over my own life. A thousand times, if I had to."

James just bit his lip and looked past my shoulder. "Why did we survive when Mom couldn't have?"

I let out a long sigh. "I don't know, Jamie," I said, using his familiar nickname. "I wish she was here. Then she could help us."

He nodded. "Me too, kid." His hand rose to his forehead, as he stumbled back.

"James?" I exclaimed, my hands automatically stretching out in front of me as protection for him.

In almost the same instant he was falling to the ground, the earth slipping from underneath his tired feet.

"Jamie!" I said, trying to catch him, although his weight was too much for me. My weak, thin arms could not handle it. I held his head in my hands, running my fingers through his hair and patting his cheek gently.

I looked up the hill ahead of me. Would I be able to drag him to our cave unnoticed? Or maybe I could support most of his weight by carrying him? I shook that last thought from my mind. There was no way I could carry anything larger than most of the things I got from our raves.

The snapping of a twig brought me back to my attention as I quickly pulled James towards a nearby bush, camouflaging our bodies behind the large brush of twigs and full leaves.

I watched as two objects—no, men—made their way in front of us, ten feet away.

"I'm telling you, Braun, I saw her."

"Are you sure our little thief ran through here?"

I knew that voice. "Dang it," I mutter under my breath, unintelligibly cursing. It was the same guard that had caught me in the village. I could spot him from a mile away if I had to. Curly black locks, sharp hawk nose, uneven set jaw…

"I don't know why she came here, Jared. But I know she was here. I'm positive."

Jared Braun. I snarled at his name. One of the wealthiest men in the world. The man who owned the pharmacy I had spotted on my run. The same man who nearly caught me about a month ago when I was making our weekly run. The same man who bombed our village out of an unknown federal law…

Sarah, don't, a voice in my mind whispered to me. They'd kill you much faster than you could get to them. One bullet and you're done. Your body's too weak. Let them go. You need to get James back to the cave before dark.

I muttered something undefinable under my breath. As much as I hated to admit it, the voice was right. Those men could take me out in a second. And there was no telling what would happen to James because of my foolish act of frustration and pain. He would never get the chance to wake up.

I looked at James and nodded, mostly to myself, before brushing my hand across his forehead, having made my decision a long time ago. "You will survive," I whispered with promise.

It took everything in my power (which wasn't much) to close my eyes and waited for the men to go away, far from where we were now. Far from our cave, out of these woods.

I took a deep breath and pulled James out from behind the berry bush. We were about forty feet from our cave. Could I make it with James's weight in my arms? I don't know, I thought with worry. Although James wasn't too heavy of a guy, it was still a lot to put in my fragile arms. Lately I had been struggling to carry myself through those woods. Never would I tell James that, though. He worried too much about my safety to begin with. I nearly laughed at the thought. Perhaps I worried too much about his safety, too, than my own. But my safety did not matter. I had to keep him alive. I had to. He was all I've got.

Before I knew it I'm half carrying, half dragging James across the dirty, hot woods grounds. Along the way I had to stop as a large branch scraped across my leg, tearing my pant leg and my tan skin, before I saw our cave five feet away. I ripped my pant leg off, hardly aware of the blood dripping down my shin, took a deep breath and once again dragged James towards the opening of the cave, laying him on a sheer cot located next to our other slim belongings. I rested a damp cloth on his head and I watched his face, peaceful, yet so pained and tired.

A dim light appeared through miniature spots in the wall and the ground was just as hard as I remembered it being. Weird, how that very spot could feel so comforting, so safe, after what I had been through in forty-eight hours. The light wasn't all too great in that medium crescent of our home, but it was better than during the winter, when there was hardly any light at all. I switched off the lantern; afraid of the electricity and power we were using, and watched the cave wall in front of me. Everything was so cracked, it looked like we would have to patch it up again with mud and dried roots once the rainy weather hit.

My pondering lasted a little while, without a single word or sound to distract me, wondering how we were going to survive this year. It was usually this time in the summer when I start worrying about what lay ahead of us. Holidays and the changing of the seasons were the worst times for us. There were a lot of people—particularly Neanderthal men with scruffy beards and pointed, crooked teeth—who loved to come through this area during hunting season. Which is coming up soon, I sighed. A short time ago, James had suggested that we move our spot, or try to camouflage our home a little better, but there wasn't anything in this whole woods that either James or me had come across in our years of raving from the village that would substitute as an okay home. This cave had been here the three years we have been, and so on and so forth, and I was not leaving it without a fight (like most of the things these days).

There was only one thing in this whole world that could have brought me back to my senses.

James.

His light movement brought me back to reality of the failing person before me. "Oh, Jamie," I sighed, recognizing the tone in my voice at once.

Oh, Sarah. James's words echoed in my mind from earlier that day as I battled between consciousness and unconsciousness with him.

If I don't get some food into him, he'll suffer even more than he is now. But if I wake him up now, his focus may fail to stay steady and he may drift off again...

I was at war with myself for at least an hour before I gently shook James awake involuntarily, my persistence surprising me. "James. James, you need to eat and drink," I said, using my mother's tone she used to use on my brother and me when we were either sick or injured. "Jamie?"

James's quiet moan made me jump. He's in pain. What do I do? I begged. It was not like I hadn't battled hardships like this before, but back then we had a little more than half of the supplies and medication then we did now.

He cleared his throat, making him wince in agony, and met my anxious gaze with a slight smile. "Sarah," he muttered.

"I'm here. I'm here." I quickly reached for the cloth on his forehead and dampened it with some water again before resting it back into place. I could feel the heat of his fever through the cloth, knowing that small attempt would not last long.

"Gosh," he said over another groan. "What happened?"

"You fainted. You're going to be okay, though. I promise."

"It's not myself I'm concerned about." James lifted a trembling hand towards my shin, now exposed by my torn pant leg, and I sighed. The blood was still dripping, but not as severe as earlier. I had almost forgotten about it completely, now swollen from infection and covered in dry blood.

"A branch," I explained.

"A branch cut your leg? When did I pass out?"

Before he demanded I tell him everything, I explained to him what happened on our hike back. I told him about the guard, about Jared Braun there in the woods, and about my trip back here, dragging and pulling him to our cave.

"There was a branch I didn't see and it cut my leg. I'm fine, really," I assured him, although I can now notice the throbbing pain beating into my leg and I knew it was something a little bigger than a branch, never having had taken the full time to view the source of my injury.

"No, you're not." He sat up a bit as I weakly protested, failing miserably. There he went again, playing the part of the overprotective big brother. I could tell this small movement caused his head to spin, although he grabbed for a cloth and demanded I let him look at my leg. He dipped the cloth in water and rubbed it over my wound, making me nearly sigh to have the blood and debris gone from the gash. Once I could see my leg again, no longer red and brown, he wrapped another dry cloth around my leg and tied it into a double knot, tightly securing it.

"There," he smiled, proud to have my leg taken care of. "Better."

"Better. Thanks," I said in surrender to my complaining earlier. "Now will you please lie down? You're really pale. I don't want you passing out again."

James nodded, his head starting to spin, and lied back down on the cot before taking a breath too far from normal.

"How are you feeling?" I asked.

"A little nauseous." My eyes widened and he laughed. "But don't worry. It's not like I haven't had a fever before."

"Yes, but we had better supplies back then, too," I sighed.

"Sarah." I looked down into his anxious eyes and he grinned. "Breathe."

"You need to breathe, too," I protested, although I obediently took a deep, calming breath.

"If you keep worrying about me, you're going to pass out."

"Did I ever tell you you're still equally annoying, even when you are sick?" I smiled a bit, although inside I was still annoyed with him, before grabbing a loaf of bread and breaking it into bits. "Hungry?"

James's nose shriveled in disgust and I sighed. "I know. But you've got to eat something."

James sighed and closed his eyes.

"Please? For me?" I asked, my tone as innocent as possible.

He groaned in defeat. Before opening his eyes, he said with a small smile, half-joking, "Give me that bread."

I grinned and handed him a few torn pieces of the raison bread before shoving it into my bag. "See how you do with that for now. If you puke, I'm not cleaning it up, no matter how sick you are." I grinned and continued to sit next to him, running my fingers through his hair and nibbling on part of the loaf of bread.

"I don't remember fainting, but I do remember that we had found the pond," he smiled.

"Of course that's the only thing you remember. When it comes to food and water, there's nothing that gets past you."

James's eyes narrowed and he shoved my knee away in a playful manner. After a while, I noticed he was not looking at me, but at the cave wall across from him, next to the opening where the night was growing black. Gosh, he looked sick.

"Don't faint again," I sighed.

He just chuckled slightly and looked up at me. "Cool it, kiddo. Um, thank you, for taking care of me…and getting this food." Even I could hear the awkward insecurity that colored his voice.

"Don't think of it. As long as we're alive, everything will be okay."

He shook his head, his forehead wrinkling at the spinning, I was guessing. "As long as you're alive, everything will be okay."

"I wouldn't be able to live if you left me," I protested, a pain deepening in my chest. I winced.

He reached his hand slowly to my cheek with concern. "You okay, sis?" he smiled halfheartedly.

I nodded. I actually really did not know how I had been feeling lately.

"Love you," he said.

I closed my eyes and rested my forehead gently on his shoulder. "I love you, too, Jamie. Get some rest. I'll keep an eye on things for a little while."

James smiled and closed his eyes, for once not protesting as he enjoyed the peaceful moment between us.

I sighed and without thinking, leaned down and kiss his forehead. His grin widened as he drifted off to sleep.

"Goodnight, James."

I exhaled, remembering a song my mother used to sing to us when we were sick, alone, or afraid. Lately, before our town had received its death mark, it was a lot. My mother was the only one who had the power to comfort James and me in times of distress or fear. Something about the way she spoke or sang to us made us feel at peace and comfort.

I took a deep breath and for the first time in months, sang the familiar tune.

Lonesome days are gone

Peace will come, stay strong

Let your burdens lift, don't shed a single tear

You're wanted here.

Tears pooled in my eyes as I try to finish my mother's short, soothing song.

Sing a happy song

Forget all that was wrong

Now just sing and pray

You'll be at peace at last

Peace at last.

My eyes closed as I whispered the last two lines. You'll be at peace at last. Peace at last. I rested my head on James's shoulder and drifted off into a restless sleep, those words echoing in my mind, longing for my mother Rachelle.

I jumped at the sound of a voice much to my surprise was barely conscious but said, "You were singing Mom's song earlier?"

James, eyes still closed, waited for my answer. It had been forever since I had sung the familiar song, but I answered his question quietly. "Yeah. Why, did I wake you?"

A slight smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. "No. You're voice just sounds a lot like Mom's, that's all."

I smiled halfheartedly. "Thanks, Jamie. At least something of hers can stay with us."

James smiled and immediately drifted back off into an uneasy sleep.

Most of the night I was up, listening for signs of a conscious James, but none were found in my sleepless hours. Daybreak would show soon through the mint colored trees before us and I had an urge that it would be time to start the day. How long would we go on like this—fending for each other's lives in the bare wilderness where we were left with a cave to call our shelter and a home? Three years I had been fighting for James's life, as well as my own, stealing from the village in hopes of survival. My one act, that for one minute I was unguarded, had nearly gotten the two of us killed. And then what would happen?

James, surely being the kind of fighter he is, would have set out in search for me, with the hope of finding me instead of my dead corpse. The pain was endearing when proven guilty for a crime.

In the village just eleven miles from here, one by the name of Braun's Peak, in remembrance of the once lovely mountain (a once famous tourist attraction for it's lovely nature views and scenes before it was blown to ruins), also named after Jared Braun himself, lives a population of a small 3,000 people—only half of the number from where I grew up. After living in Sunbrook (don't let the name fool you—it wasn't sunny) for fourteen years, you got used to the fatal thought of another caused death or spoken riot. My father, having left us for another woman years before our village was bombed, had grown up as a merchant and salesman. He often stood on the streets of Sunbrook, shouting out to roused, tired people who walked by, offering them a whatchamacallit, whatever the mayor had requested my father to make in his sales that week.

My father, Richard Smith, was not horribly considered a bad man. Did he make awful decisions that broke my mother's heart as well as our own? Yes. I like to think of Richard more as a man of distinct confusion. Yes, he was responsible for his faults and yes, maybe he had not considering his family's feelings…but underneath it all I could sense the love and affection that radiated from his eyes whenever our names were spoken. He wasn't that selfish a man to be called vain and cruel.

So, yes, I said our family died. Part of that was true, though. Richard was never really family to me; having left when I was only four years old and James was six. Certainly he had to have heard of the tragic end of Sunbrook, right? Didn't he care enough to consider the fact that we were gone? That his childhood home as well as the time he spent there as an adolescent and young man, was gone? Or was he living his life with the unknown woman, acting as if life had never changed a bit?

Like I said, I was a fighter. When it came to family, this trait was by far the strongest thing about me. I had fought for my family, fought for the sake of my brother. Fought with my mother's broken heard, even though I was only a young girl who had just learned her alphabet and how to tie her shoes. I was wise beyond my years, according to my mother and friends, and I still am. James had been known as one to be immature at times but then again, when do you come across a twelve-year-old boy who isn't? Twelve was a hard year for us both, both of us maturing at different rates and speeds. I believed that's the only time we ever fought, was when we were maturing and developing in our own unique and different ways, physically and mentally.

I heard James give a small cough and knew it is time to change the cloth on his forehead and get some food and water into the both of us. The sun was just peaking through the clouds and trees, leaving an orange-yellow sunrise. I was vaguely aware I didn't sleep at all last night or of the wound on my leg. A scar would surely be left in its place.

I laughed silently as James stretched and looked up at me with a puzzled expression.

"Good morning, brother," I teased. "You look better." And he did. The paleness was now replaced with a darker shade of his sun-brown tan, and he was smiling. I loved his smile, big and happy. A full grin with a set of white teeth that stretched from ear-to-ear. His Ear-to-Ear Happy Grin, I have called it since I was a young girl. There was still that sheen of sweat that glistened on his forehead but overall, not bad for only water, food, and a cave. My medical experience—zero. Lucky to have me in his hands, I thought, where I might be dragging him down the road opposite to where he is supposed to be headed in his condition.

"I feel better." He sat up as his body trembled, forcing him back down into sleeping position. "Okay, so I'm a little dizzy. I'm able to focus, though, at least. I'm not longer seeing four of you."

"Glad to hear that." I rolled my eyes with a tight smile, unsure of today's journey, and helped get the bottle of water to James's chapped and cracked lips. Should have woken him up sooner, I noted. Well he seems to be doing fine….

"Maybe we'd better keep you here today. So you can get some rest and hopefully be moving around by tomorrow," I said.

"And how are you going to manage? Without my amazing cooking skills and handy work at building—oh no," he said as his expression pretended to go horrified, "you're toast," James exclaimed, emphasizing the last word. "And I so wanted to get better. What a shame for the both of us."

I scowled at him through narrowed eyes. "Ha! You wish you could cook." Although I knew his prediction was true, it was a common fact that I wouldn't be able to take care of the both of us alone. He did have quite a skill when it came to repairing and building. He used to help the men at the orphanage. James often spent time with the older men outside, fixing an old windmill or a car that needed repairing for mechanical purposes. When it came to bowls, utensils, and tools, James was your man. Using the dried roots, leaves and twigs around him, he could make just about anything to keep our humanity in check.

James's eyebrows lifted, face innocent. "And my handy building skills?"

"'Kay. You win on that one. And you will get better," I promised with sincerity, hoping my own conclusion is correct.

James ran his hand up and down my leg, which was pulled up in front of me, and over my wound. "Did you treat it today?"

"No, actually, I forgot all about it," I lied. I hadn't wanted to think about it.

"Sarah, please, take care of yourself. It's not right for you to be putting off your injuries all the time in substitution for me," he frowned, as if he was unable to see the obvious reason I did.

But I'm really not that important, Jamie. If I don't keep you alive, then I'll be alone, I thought silently. Instead I said, "I'll try harder."

He smiled doubt still marked in his deep blue eyes at my words and promise, and put a hand on my shoulder. "We're just lucky to have each other," he grinned.

"For sure. Although, it would have been fun to have encountered you in the woods. You know it's me who would have won our match, right?"

"Ha!" James burst, mimicking my previous tone. "Dream on, kid."

I pushed his head away lightly and sighed as the sunlight across from us grows deeper into the bright blue sky. I was afraid to leave him alone, unsure of what might be among us at the moment from seeing the guard and Jared Braun yesterday, but knew I must leave to fetch more water and probably some roots, berries, and edible tree bark if I can find any, for breakfast.

"What's wrong?" James asked, recognizing my expression at once.

"I have to leave," I said. "But only for a little while. I'm just afraid of your safety…"

"Go," he urged. "Don't let me slow you down. Go and do what you need to do. I'll just be right here the whole time."

"Okay, but I won't be gone long," I warned, as if he was really going anywhere. "I just need to refill our water stocks and gets some roots, berries, and tree bark, if I can find any."

James patted my shoulder and nodded towards the cave's opening. "Go on, then. I'll be okay. Me being the oldest, I can fend for myself," he chuckled.

"You're also ill and tired. Even if something were to come by, I would be too far, and you wouldn't be able to put up a fight…"

"Sarah."

"Sorry," I apologized. "Alright, alright, I'm going. Jeez, don't look at me like that," I sighed, referring to his now insistent and stubborn expression. "I'll be back in two hours tops."

"Bye, Sari," James said in annoyed dismissal.

I smiled at the nickname, one in which he had made up for me the day I was born, and walk out into the broad daylight. The sunlight was shining through the trees, nearly blinding me as I stumbled down the trail to yesterday's spot, backpack on my shoulder as well as two handcrafted bowls made by James. We had been using these same utensils and bowls for months and they seemed to be holding up just fine. But as for James holding up…

I hurried down the trail as the worst possible scenarios planted themselves into my mind, my speed faster than usual, to the warm and glistening pond. I looked down into the water, noticing silver fish as they swam around in bunches, and stuck my feet into the water for a few seconds before filling our bottles. The fish swam at my feet, tickling my toes and quickly darting away in surprise. The feeling of being there, away from the village and farther up north was a thought of relief. Too many times I had nearly been caught at Braun's Peek. They ought to find our home soon.

Just not too soon, I hoped grudgingly. The thought of having to leave our home, one that had become so familiar over the last three years, which seemed like a decade, was mind blowing. If we were forced to move, I knew I would want to be here. Away from the village, away from the people, and by what must be our only water source for miles in this shade infested spot where the ground was moist and the trees were covered in spongy green moss. The fish would serve as a good meal from time to time. This was definitely the place I would escape to in times of fright.

I scooped the bottles up into my backpack and looked towards the trail. Looking back at the pond once more, I stood up and brush myself off before quickly stripping down my clothes and stepping into the pond. My undergarments, a thin tank top and shorts, stick to my skin as I aired them out in the hot sun, swirling them in the water as I moved back and forth. The water felt good on my mucky skin as well as my hair. I ran my fingers through my long hair, removing any traces of dirt, and tossed it wet behind me, ringing it out and setting my wet tank top and shorts on my backpack before throwing an extra pair of clothes from my backpack on.

I rinsed out my shirt and pants, removing spots and stains of dirt and what I could of the dried blood, and set them with the other clothes. Should I leave them there and later return? I shook my head and added the purifier to the water bottles before I forgot. I scooped the wet clothes into my arms and headed back up towards our cave before I was encountered with my first unknown visitor in these woods in three years.


Don't forget to R&R! :) I know you guys can do it! 3

Lots of love 3,

Kaitlyn :) xx