The breeze blew my hair lightly as I walked up the hill with a single daisy in my hand. I stopped in front of the black rock, looking at the words engraved in it, but not reading them. I had already read them a thousand times.
Kneeling down, I removed the wilted daisy in the vase and replaced it with the new one. I put one hand on the rock and rested my forehead against it, closing my eyes. One year ago, I would never have imagined that I would be kneeling on a Mutineer's grave. One year ago, I would never have imagined that I would have been reunited with my family. One year ago, I would never have imagined that the country would actually be a place I wanted to live.
One year ago, things were so different.
I wiped the tears from my eyes and stood up, brushing the dirt from my pants. Yes, one year ago things had been different.
"Goodbye, Cole. Wish me luck," I whispered before turning and walking back down the hill and towards Vayas.
The city was buzzing with chatter and I ducked down side streets and alley ways to avoid the better part of it. Too many people knew me and that wasn't something that I was entirely comfortable with. I had never done well with being the center of attention and that was, thankfully, one of the few things that hadn't changed within the last year.
I walked up the front walk of the small home I now shared with Zachary and met Arielle at the front door.
"You're late," she growled as she pushed me up the stairs and into my bedroom. Bowie stood in front of the mirror, making a face at her reflection.
"I know, I know," I replied, shaking my head as Arielle rushed around the room. "I had some things to take care of."
"It doesn't matter," Arielle said, shaking her head. "You're here, that's all that matters."
"Who came up with these dress designs?" Bowie asked. She turned around to look at us. "They're quite hideous."
"Talk to Arielle," I replied as I began to undress.
"I think they are beautiful," Catherine said as she walked in. Arielle smiled triumphantly. "Then again, anything looks beautiful on you, Bowie." Bowie rolled her eyes and turned away.
"Gee, thanks," she said sarcastically. I gave my mom an apologetic look before allowing Arielle to squeeze me into my own dress.
I escaped from Arielle as soon as I could and went down to find Zachary in the kitchen with a cup of coffee in his hand.
"Don't you look dapper?" I asked, taking in his dress clothes. He rolled his eyes.
"Your sister's doing," he replied. I walked over to him, smiling softly and kissed his cheek.
"It's not even her wedding, yet she treats it like her own," I said and took the mug from his hand and took a sip of it before wrinkling my mind. "Ugh, that's not coffee, is it?"
"Not exactly," he replied, grinning. I handed the mug back to him and got myself a glass of water. "Havana's her friend, she wants to make this day go as smoothly as possible."
"Oh, it should go smoothly. I just don't know if I'll want to be associated with her after this day is over with," I told him, shaking my head. He chuckled.
"We'll just dance the night away and ignore her," he said. I arched an eyebrow at him.
"Who said anything about dancing?" I questioned.
He grinned at me. "I did just now."
Havana and Dallas' wedding was beautiful. Arielle, no matter how annoying she had been for the past several months, deserved every ounce of praise that she received. I watched her from across the ball room as she spoke with everyone and anyone that she could.
Dallas and Havana were on the dance floor, swaying slowly even with the fast tempo music. My parents stood with Zachary's dad, deep in conversation that was more or likely about the setup of the new capital. Zachary was out on the dance floor with Jacob, teaching him how to do some kind of line dance. Everyone was happy and everyone was moving on from the terrible past that we all had.
I, however, found it hard to participate in the happy festivities. We were not all there together and I couldn't get my mind off the fact that Cole had died to save Zachary, to save all of us. In the end, he proved who he truly was and that person was a good person, one that I wished I had been able to get to know better. That person was someone that I wished had been able to see what he could do with his life once he turned it around.
Even though I knew I shouldn't, I felt guilty. I was the person who had loved Zachary and it should have been me who sacrificed my life for him, not Cole. Cole didn't truly like Zachary, but he did it anyway. He did it to save the country, to save everyone in it. I just wished that he was there to help us rebuild, to be able to contribute to the effort because I knew he would have been good at it. He would have been able to persuade people to stop the fighting and to start rebuilding.
We would never truly know, though. I was just glad that Arielle was coping alright with it all. It helped that Havana had asked her to help plan the wedding, but I wondered what would happen once the wedding was over and there was nothing to busy herself with. What would she be like then? She was tough, she had proven that countless times, but was she tough enough to deal with the loss of someone who had loved her? Someone who had treated her well?
"Hey," Zachary said, pulling me from my thoughts as he wrapped his arm around my waist. I forced a smile and relaxed against his embrace. "Let's get out of here, okay?"
"Okay," I said softly. He smiled and removed his hand from my waist and took my hand in his own instead.
As we walked through the quiet streets of Vayas, the noise of the party faded away and it was just the two of us and a few night critters. I rested my head against Zachary's upper arm as we walked and smiled softly. Even though there were still plenty of terrible things happening in the country, I felt happy and safe. Just being around Zachary made me feel reassured about everything and made me believe that everything would be alright in the end.
We sat down on the same bench that we'd sat on the night Zachary had allowed for the Mutineer's to take me, but the memory no longer angered me. I knew he was doing what he had to in order to stay alive. If I had been in his position, I probably would have done the same thing. I, however, had more to lose than Zachary had at that moment in time.
"Do you think we'll ever be like Havana and Dallas?" Zachary asked after several minutes had passed. I looked at him.
"What do you mean?" I questioned. He shrugged, watching as a raccoon rummaged in the garbage across the street from us.
"I don't know. I guess I mean the happiness, the feeling that they know they want to spend the rest of their lives together," he replied. I looked away, watching the raccoon as well.
"I don't know," I finally admitted. "You and I have seen different things than they have, we've experienced more hurt than they have. Dallas . . . Dallas was a Mutineer, that is true, but he was not always on the front lines. You and I have experienced more loss and seen more people die or be injured than they have. I don't think it would be reasonable to compare our relationship to theirs. They just aren't the same." Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Zachary nod.
"Yeah, I suppose that you do have a point," he replied. I smiled, turning to look at him.
"I always have a point. Sometimes it's just more prevalent," I told him. He chuckled, meeting my gaze, and then pressed his lips against my forehead softly.
"Have you told Arielle that we're leaving?" he asked. I sighed and shook my head.
"No, I haven't been able to figure out what to say to her exactly," I admitted as I rested my head against his shoulder. "Everything I think of sounds like I'm leaving her."
"You are, technically," he replied. "We don't know how long we'll be gone."
"I know. I just don't want to do that to her, not after everything she's been through.
"Kyra," Zachary said, resting his head against mine, "there are plenty of people here to support her, more than she probably realizes. Yes, she may be mad that you're leaving her behind in favor of a trip across the country, but she will forgive you. She'll understand. You'll see. Once you tell her, that is." I closed my eyes, not replying.
Zachary and I were leading a group across the country to try and break up the rebels and few Mutineer's that remained. It was a major step in the rebuilding process and it was hard to tell how long it would take. I knew that it was unrealistic to believe that we would be able to accomplish it in a year or two. To me, five years was pushing it, and that was the part that was killing me. There were people in Vayas that I wasn't ready to say goodbye to. There were people that needed me and I needed them, but I knew that I had to do it in order to help the country as a whole. Wasn't it worth it to leave back a few people when you could save a nation?
It had been a year since the rebels had regained control of the capital, but there was still so much work that needed to be done. Groups had been working to try and restore the peace, but people were not surrendering easily. They still lived in fear, fear that it was all just a hoax, fear that they would end up in a worse position than they were already in.
Zachary and I had selected people for our group that would be able to help us convince people that the General was gone, the Mutineer's that did not surrender and join our cause were being given a fair, but harsh, trial. We were not going to allow the deeds of the former government to just be forgotten. Justice would be served, but we needed everyone to be on the same terms in order for it to be done fairly.
In the larger villages, groups were working to establish electricity and then were expanding it throughout the smaller villages in the nearby area. It was designed that way in order for us to get the vital places up and running again and then helping the smaller villages to recover from the damage that had been done to them because of the General.
It was a slow going process, but eventually we would get to where we needed to be. It could be five years, it could be twenty. It didn't matter as long as the country became what it once was. It didn't matter as long as the country became better than it once was.
The man's fist hit me before I even knew what happened. Groaning, I stumbled backwards, holding my jaw. He was furious, that much was evident. I tried to tell him that I meant no harm, but he was already coming at me once more. Swallowing the pain, I dodged his next punch and thrust my elbow up against his chin. He grunted, stumbled back, and I took the opportunity to knock his legs out from beneath him.
"Now," I said, panting, "are you going to listen to me or do we need to go through that nonsense again?" He stared up at me silently.
"Kyra," Zachary said as he walked up beside me, "that's not exactly what I had in mind whenever I told you to talk with him."
"He started it," I told him. He rolled his eyes.
"And let me guess, you just finished it?" he asked me. I shrugged.
"Yeah, I did, actually," I replied. He shook his head, a small smile playing on his face, before he turned and walked back to the rebel camp.
It has been three months since Havana and Dallas' wedding and we were somewhere in what used to be Tennessee, trying to convince a group of rebels to return to Nashville, that there was no longer any danger there. It wasn't going well, though. Their leader, the one lying on the ground in front of me, did not care to hear what I had to say. He just needed a bit of persuasion, which was what I had been trying to do before he hit me.
I understood that they were reluctant to listen to people who claimed to be working for the government. If Zachary hadn't informed them of where we were from, I was certain that we would have already been on our way, but he insisted that this was how it needed to be. No more lies. It wasn't exactly a lie, though, more like withholding information. He didn't view it that way, though.
The man was cursing me out under his breath as he pushed himself up to his feet. I crossed my arms over my chest and tilted my head to the side, looking at him silently. He finally met my gaze and then just unleashed another string of curse words before he returned to the camp. Not everyone could be won over.
The wind whipped around me as I stood on top of the hill that overlooked our makeshift camp. Zachary snuck up behind me and slipped his arms around my waist, resting his head atop of mine. We stood there in silence, watching as the people we've come to consider family milled about the camp. I rested my head against Zachary's chest and sighed softly. Finally, it seemed as though things were going in the right direction.
"What are you thinking about?" Zachary murmured in my ear.
"Happiness," I replied, smiling up softly. I opened my eyes and looked up at him to see he was smiling as well. "We're finally able to sleep well at night and we don't have to worry about getting shot for standing up here."
"Oh, there are still lunatics who would shoot us," Zachary said, "but there aren't as many threats now."
"Way to ruin it," I mumbled, looking away with a smile still on my face.
"Hey, you're the one who forgot about the crazies that still exist," he replied, stepping back and spreading his arms out. "Who knows, we might even be crazy."
"Oh, I know you are," I told him, shaking my head. "I don't know that I am."
"You, Kyra Taylor, are the craziest person in the world," he informed me, walking over and cupping my face in his hands. I arched an eyebrow.
"Oh, really?" I asked him as I covered his hands with mine.
"Yes, you are," he replied. "Anyone in their right mind would have ran away from someone who crossed them, not ran to them."
"Maybe you're right," I said, smiling. He grinned at me.
"Of course I am. I'm always right," he replied before kissing me softly.