Did you get enough to eat?" Mason asked, pointing to the nearly untouched plate of food lying alone on the bedside table. Lizzie had brought the tray by just a little while ago, feeling as though I should eat something, for the day was quickly drawing to a close. She had sent it with Mason's request.
"I'm fine," I replied abruptly, cutting off Mason's final word as he stared at me with annoyance. Annoyance and…something else. But what?
Mason let out a frustrated sigh and walked over to join me on the window seat once again, seeing as I had been here all day, staring out the window at the large mass of green open fields and newly pruned apple trees. I felt his hand wander to cover mine—not the slow and hesitant touches he had presented earlier in the day and during the time I had known him. A shock of electricity ran up my arm like a jolt from his touch and my heart quickened. I looked up into his cobalt eyes and felt my breathing stop altogether.
What was wrong with me? Why did my heart quicken at his simplest touches? Why did my breathing cut short at the sight of his eyes watching me?
What were these confusing thoughts that constantly ran through my mind when I was with him?
I slipped my hand out from underneath his, but his grip only tightened and his face hardened into a mask of—nothing. His expression was completely neutral, exposing nothing of what he was feeling or the words he was about to say next.
"I…I want to show you something." Mason's eyes finally shone, his mouth cocking up into the smallest of smiles, very close to mine as he leaned forward for his next question. "Will you put on some clothes and come with me? Please?"
I swallowed and my eyes moved to the pair of short jean shorts and a pale pink tank top, along with undergarments and an ivory jacket for the cooler evenings when the nights turn breezy and a draft created a cold atmosphere in the house.
My eyes lingered on the outfit before turning back to the window.
"Please?" Mason asked once again, his voice small but strong in his request. "You can't stay in here forever."
"Who says I can't?" I questioned the edge in my voice thick.
Mason huffed, "Be reasonable, Sarah. You've gotten a life back. You are living in a home and with people who only want to take care of you and keep you in a decent atmosphere." His mouth moved into a wry smile. "The least you can do is come with me. Then, if you still feel the same, you can resume this fun little activity." He shrugged. "It's your choice."
"I am being reasonable," I insisted, standing up and moving towards the bed in my robe, the cotton brushing against my legs with each step I take. I smoothed the shorts and tank top out, unraveling the wrinkles in the fabric as I weighed out my decision.
Mason was quick to get to my side as he wrapped an arm around me waist and stood close to my ear, breathing his next question with a small plea. "Please?"
I swallowed and my heart quickened from the heat of his hand on my waist. I turned to look at him, surprised that his face was very close to mine and then back down at the folded clothes in front of me. I smiled slightly and held the tank top up in front of me as he raised his eyebrows in wonder. "What? You said you wanted to show me something."
Mason grinned, his eyes shining with hope, and I saw that maybe accepting his request in the way that I did—or just accepting it at all, really—was probably not the best thing I could have done to keep things distant between us. By accepting to go somewhere with him—wherever that place might be; I was not particularly sure—I was just putting off the strain I was trying so hard to keep between us. But as Mason waited outside of the bedroom door (I still hadn't relinquished the fact that this room was indeed mine), I felt somewhat giddy and confused as I pulled the tight tank top over my head and swung the door open, my hair piling over one shoulder. I fidgeted under the shirt's squeezing pressure on my stomach and looked up at Mason. How people wore such tight-fitting, scratchy fabric, I would fully understand.
I tried to keep the curiosity out of my pale green eyes as I looked Mason full in the face. I once again noticed the scar above his left eyebrow, but also found a smaller version identical to the first by the end of his eyebrow, a few inches away.
Mason lightly pressed his hand onto the small of my back and I flinched, involuntarily moving closer to the wall as we walked through each white hallway in acute silence.
"I'm not that lucky yet?" Mason asked, his voice playful but serious.
When I did not answer, he shrugged and gestures to a sliding pair of glass doors, stepping to open them and lead me outside into the broad daylight.
"Mason, where on earth are you taking me?" I said, trying so hard to keep the impatient whine out of my voice that was threatening to introduce itself in this unknown situation in a matter of seconds. My hair blew behind me, a slight breeze decorating the summertime weather, as I was led to a large red barn, old and worn from years of vicarious weather and thunderstorms. I felt so free, like I was flying over these fields rather than trailing behind a man I had just met only a short week ago. Each step was almost effortless, like I had never been injured or beaten in the first place. I no longer felt run-down or weak and useless.
The warmth of the afternoon sun brought heat to my cheeks, the wind playing with my straight blond hair and whipping my face when I turned back to the barn a short distance away.
"To make up for what you've lost these past three years in hiding," Mason huffed with a grin, swinging the rusty and cracking doors open to reveal a small stable. He let out a breath and his smile became more pronounced and excited, his grin breathtaking in the midday sun, glowing as he worked his way back over to me, carrying an object in his strong tan hands.
He yanked my hand up in front of me when I protested the feel of his touch—from thought of his touch being overwhelmingly warm and full of pleasure—and placed a few pieces of fin, thin yellow hay into the center of my shaking palm. Mason chuckled at my dumbfounded expression and made a clicking noise with his mouth before turning his back to me.
"Mason—" I started.
"Shh…" Mason hushed me, waving his hand softly in my direction in silence.
My eyebrows furrowed and before I could turn back to the house, two horses came galloping our way from inside the red barn house. My eyes widened in wonder and astonishment as the smaller one—a chestnut brown with a splash of black over its eye—ran around Mason playfully, nipping at the collar of his white t-shirt.
"Hey! Easy, girl. Now behave yourself." Mason laughed freely and presses the palm of his hand against the horse's muzzle. He turned to wink at me. "We have company."
I felt both cheeks fill with a blush, a warm spot forming just below my eyes. I gulped and looked down at the substance in my hand, feeling a sudden urge to run back towards the house, grab James, and make a run for it while we still could. I pushed the thought away. This was silly. It was just a horse—
"C'mon, Sarah. Amber won't bite. Raised this one myself," Mason assured me, nodding his head for me to come over.
My eyes flickered from Mason, to the horse standing in front of him and back, my eyes unsure and full of suspicion. The other horse was jet black with a long mane as it trotted up beside Mason's horse, looking slightly older and laid back. For some reason this horse seemed more appealing to go to then Mason's rambunctious…pet.
My eyebrows furrowed at the creature, unease and an indescribable nausea settling into the pit of my stomach as my mouth formed into what might have been identified as a grimace. I glanced rather doubtfully at Mason's trotting mare and turned my attention back to the calmer stallion.
"I know what you are thinking," he chuckled, watching me eye the other horse. "But don't let his dead personality fool you. He's way more dangerous then you're giving him credit for. Trust me." Mason lifted up his shirt halfway to reveal a scar the shape of a high arch. I raised my eyebrows in shock, but not just from the scar.
"What happened?" I managed to squeak out over my pounding heart.
"Let's just say him and I had a sort of…disagreement," Mason said, his forehead wrinkling with concern before his smile returned to his face once again, seeming to be forever present.
I took a step towards him. Why did he have to know that I was afraid? Get a grip, Sarah. It is just a stupid horse. Quit being so naïve.
I exhaled a deep breath and stepped forward again. I was about five inches away from the mare, my hand hesitating in the air just above her nose, her hot breath warming my hovering fingertips.
Mason wrapped his strong hand around mine and for once, I did not pull away. I allowed myself the short contentment of feeling his hand on mine before he brought my hand on top of his underneath his touch, my fingertips now on the horse's face. Amber's large doe brown eyes looked at me with curiosity and an unusual calmness that I never knew existed in the young mare.
I released my breath I had been holding and looked from my hand to Mason's face, watching me with sympathy and pride. I offered him a small smile and pulled my hand away, dropping it by my side.
"I did it," I said simply, my voice quiet in the silenced nature around us.
"Yes, you did," Mason murmured his face a breath away from mine. I looked up into his blue eyes, full of comfort and longing. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes, breaking contact before turning my face away just before he moved closer and looked towards the house. As much as I hated to admit that I wanted to stay here, I knew the outcome would not be good if I let myself get too attached and I spent all of my free time in his distracting presence. It would all just end in heartbreak that I knew I would never be able to recover from. I had experienced way too much in the past three years to survive another broken heart that would just end up crushing me utterly.
I took a hesitant step back and bought my back to face him, my eyes fixated on the brick wall in front of me. Without turning back, I said, "I'd better go see James. I haven't yet spoken to him privately since we've arrived. I'll…" I'll what? See him soon? Talk to him later? I bit my lip. "Good bye," I decided, my steps quick and unsteady as I started across the large field.
"Good bye…Sarah," I heard Mason murmur before I was out of earshot and closing the doors behind me without another backward glance.
I lay in bed awake that night, an impenetrable ache filling my chest and forcing my eyelids to remain open and intact. Nothing about our current situation felt right. James and I had grown so accustomed to a life in the wilderness that it was difficult for me to let go and accept what was happening in our true reality.
The mattress on my back felt too comfortable—sickeningly unwelcoming. This room was much too quiet for my taste, and even though I had opened each window in the large room, the night air and symphonies of the life around me had no absolute effect on my fidgeting form to unwind me in the slightest.
I frequently sat up in bed, glancing around the room. All of this was much too bizarre. It all seemed like a dream I had been imagining for years, about returning to a home and a mother that had once existed in a happier time. And I was still waiting for the moment when I would finally wake up and face what should have been my tangible reality once again.
I ached to have James next to me, but I was acknowledged with the fact that his room was down on the other side of the top-floor of the Greys' home. I hadn't felt this terrified in a long time. It was the kind of fear that left your heart pounding and your insides tightening unwelcomingly from the pressure of unfamiliarity and terror. Nor in my life had I ever felt so alone.
A light tapping on my door startled me in the quiet hours of the night and abruptly pulled me away from my trailing thoughts. Every part of me prayed it was James and that I would have my brother with me once again by my side in a much desired time of comfort and ease.
I slowly tiptoed out of my bed and followed the noise that had led me to the bedroom door, the door constricted and locked. I was almost too timid to open it and I nearly obeyed the frightened part of my mind into running back to the bed—almost. But the more dominant side of my mind gave in and ever so gradually, I creaked the door open, the wooden door not making so much as a sound along the lavish carpeting. I was thoroughly surprised as to who greeted me on the other side of the door frame when I did so.
"Mason?" I whispered, adjusting the robe around my body and hugging it tighter to my thin frame. His blue eyes were shining, even in the dark night, and I knew that he did not just come to say a sociable and friendly hello in the late hours of the evening. His white smile gleamed bright in the dark, and I stepped back to let him in. Or to get away. I was not quite positive at that moment.
I wandered over to my bed and sat up high where my pillows usually lay. I had thrown them to the ground in my sleep, disliking the feel of them after so many years of sleeping on the cold, uneven surface of our cave. I looked expectantly towards Mason, waiting for him to say something, anything. Anything that he had to speak aloud to me at this hour so he could leave and I would once again be alone at last.
I tucked my legs underneath me and waited patiently and anxiously, clamping my hands to keep from fidgeting out of natural habit whenever he was around. I was still not completely used to his distracting presence.
He strode over to where I sat, deciding to sit on the end of the mattress, a few feet from me. Perhaps his decision was wise. Mason's eyes scanned my body and then landed on my face. He seemed to be silently contemplating something deeply and mechanically that left me both restless and unsure of what to expect from this boy who sat across from me.
The boy who had saved my life.
"What do you want?" I demanded, feeling uneasy as I eyed him apprehensively. The crickets outside continued to sing, creating a symphony in the frigid night air. I folded my arms across my chest and waited restlessly.
"Why do you have so many windows open? Aren't you cold?" Mason asked his eyebrows tightening as he looked over every wide gap creating each outstretched window of the room, vacantly open.
"I'm never cold," I protested, crossing my arms tighter. He should have known this; I had lived the past three years dealing with every climate change imaginable. I was just not sure he could ever fully come to comprehend how my life really was like with James before we came here. Even after living with us for a few days, nothing compared to what James and I went through and how we managed.
I let my green eyes drift over to where he sat, leaning back casually on both arms, his cobalt eyes matching the height of the lamp in front of him as he remained silent. I knew I should say something, anything, but I was mutely shied down from this afternoon we had spent in each other's presence, if only for a short while. He had visited me quite often since my arrival here, often refusing to leave me alone for too long. The feelings with him this afternoon had almost felt natural, as easy as breathing. I wished those feelings would come back as well as the reminder that he was here to be my friend as he had so often claimed.
I bit my lip and finally, after many fretful moments of silence and tension, spoke aloud the words I should have spoken a long time ago.
"Thank you," I alleged, watching as his face turned towards me, questions marking his every feature delicately in the vague room. "You have helped James and me a lot today and I feel like I'm helpless to repay you. I haven't acted in a way that I should from your kindness, and I apologize. I'm just not used to people like you, wanting to help people like my brother and I. I almost feel like everything that has happened to James and I has been partially my fault, and I am ashamed that I haven't been strong enough to care for him in a way that you and your family have." I took a deep breath and looked down at my folded hands, his eyes still tracing every outline of my face and memorizing every word I was saying as he intensely absorbed whatever was marked and highlighted all over my face; I was not quite sure what he was seeing.
"Perhaps that's part of the reason I've kind of shut you guys out in the way that I have," I continued. "I'm not normally this anti-social, I swear." I smiled half-heartedly and let out a small laugh that nowhere near described every vulnerable sensation in my body and the pounding of my racing heart.
Mason had not moved since I first spoke. I was almost worried that I was too late; that he had come here to tell me that I was no longer welcome here because of my ruthless behavior and selfish acts regarding my mannerism. But what he responded in his tranquil and even whisper astonished me and I knew I would never forget his words.
"Do you honestly believe you have not acted in the way that you should? That you haven't been able to care for your brother in the past three years as well as you were able to?" His voice was gentle, comforting even, with an edge, but I knew I would never disremember the persistence and dignity that colored his voice in that very moment, marking him as a true leader and friend. Leader, because I knew from what I had seen and heard that he would never turn down a fight or give up on something if he did not truly believe in it. Friend, because he had been here for me today and in those few days that I had known him more than anyone else I had come across in my years of wandering alongside my brother, concealed and alone.
I had no answer for his response. How could I? I certainly knew what he said was true regarding my "speech" to him; I had not felt durable enough to care for James when we were unaided and I was still striving to get that strength back with each step I took every single day.
"Sarah, you amaze me. Your strength and determination exceed far beyond anything I have ever perceived." Mason shook his head in wonder, finally turning to look at me. He moved closer to me, taking my hand into the warmth of his as his thumb traced circles on the back of my hands. "Don't give up hope."
"Hope?" I scoffed, tears springing to my eyes. I swallowed the lump in my throat hard, the gesture leaving me choking. I had to work hard to get to the words I wanted to speak out loud next before Mason could interrupt. "What do you know about hope? That's all I've been relying on for the past three years! And where has it gotten me? Nowhere but here. And this is a place I never wanted to see again, Mason. These are the people that forever ruined my life! I'll never be the same again." I looked down and my eyebrows furrowed into the form of an eleven, the two lines between my eyebrows showing themselves. Tears leaked down my cheeks as I fought the sobs clouding my voice. "I'm broken. I lost my mother when I was fourteen as well as the life I had come to know. I would give anything to get it back, but I can't. That's the thing about reality—no matter how hard you try, there are trials always there to get in your way, and people who only want to ruin everything and everyone you love and care about." I shut my eyes tight. "I'm broken," I repeated.
Mason's eyes were sad when I peeked up at him through long lashes, a combination of sorrow and guilt. And that crushed everything inside of me to see him look towards me in such a way that left me breathless. As if I wasn't already short of breath enough.
"And your father?" he whispered, his hand frozen on mine.
I shook my head and shrugged. "My dad left me when I was four. I hardly have a vivid memory of him. He left my mother for another woman without an ideal explanation to me. He left the life I thought he loved and cherished, when really he was only living a lie and another life no one of us were aware of. He left my brother and I—" My voice caught and I closed my eyes.
I felt Mason shift on the mattress, moving closer to me so he could rest his palm on my cheek, remaining there until I forced my eyes open to look at him. I looked into his deep cobalt eyes and felt helpless in his presence. It was like all of the emotion I had been holding back for three years for the sake of my brother was all pouring out—all of the unspoken thoughts and pondering questions I had done overtime that were flooding out of my mouth and through my eyes in their silent tears of sorrow and grief I had not shed freely for years.
"Who do I have left?" I murmured, still looking into his eyes, begging for answers to everything I wanted so desperately to know.
"You have me," he returned in the same quiet tone before his lips sealed over my own. I sat there in shock at first, trying to process the thought in my mind of what was happening. The feelings and sensations that I felt as he kissed me, my arms involuntarily sliding around his neck, were overwhelming and unfamiliar. The passion that I felt which enveloped me was almost unbearable, his charisma and passion nearly too much for me to handle. He pulled his lips away from mine for a moment as he brushed the hair back from my forehead, his breath hot on my cheek, grazing my jaw as he gazed deep into my eyes, before he pulled me back to him.
I breathed in the taste of him, his lips sweet and warm as they moved with mine, almost naturally, his tongue making me jump as it skimmed my lower lip. I clutched him tighter to me—if that were even possible—and felt the desperate need to make him a part of me. I knew once this was all over that everything would be confusing between us once again, but for one moment more I allowed myself the pleasure of his kisses before I pulled away, my breathing shallow and deep. A breathlessness that occurred for once in my life without running towards safety.
But this place, here and now, was far from safety. I was heading into dangerous territory, and I think Mason could sense it as well. None of that mattered to me right now, though. It was as if all of my senses of right and wrong were colliding together so violently that I was just blind with everything I saw. There was no right or wrong where Mason was concerned and I could see that now.
Mason's fingers trailed down the sides of my face, tracing over my lips and cheeks, as he memorized every feature there, like I would soon disappear. I looked into his eyes, emotion so full in the clear pools of blue, that I almost could not believe what I was seeing. I could sense the feelings that were present, matching the need and longing of my own as he hugged me tightly to him. I inhaled the scent of him—pine and mint—as I buried my face in his chest, tears running down my cheeks as I cried and wept with everything inside of me. It had been a while since I had liberally let the tears run—had let myself copiously cry in the presence of someone else, especially a man with such vulnerability—and I forgot how good it felt to let go of such a burden as his hands trailed up my back, crushing me to him, our hips and bodies connected.
"You have me," Mason repeated, whispering the words into my neck, his breath tickling my ear. His lips ran over the spot where he spoke and I pulled away from him, looking up at his face. Did he truly mean what he said? Did I really have him? Or was he just saying that because he felt obligated to do so in my susceptible and helpless time of choked emotion and sorrow?
I honestly did not have the answers to any of the questions I so desperately wanted to know. And as much as the weight crushed me, I was not sure if I rightfully wanted to know.