Authors: Trisha Leigh
Tags: #Speculative Fiction
BETRAYALS IN SPRING
Copyright 2012 by Trisha Leigh
Cover art and design by Nathalia Suellen
Developmental Editing: Danielle Poiesz
Copy Editing: Lauren Hougen
All rights reserved.
This book is a work of fiction. References to real people, events, establishments, organizations, or locations are intended only to provide a sense of authenticity, and are used factiously. All other characters, and all incidents and dialogue, are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real.
BETRAYALS IN SPRING
For my parents. For everything that I’ve asked for and a million more things that I didn’t have to
For the first time in my life, seasons flow into one another in the proper order and take me with them. No skipping summer, no short autumns or long winters. The air outside the cabin where we’re hiding burns my cheeks with cold, and snow dusts the earth as far as I can see. But it’s late March, which means spring gusts toward us in a steady advance. Even within the safe walls of the cabin things are shifting.
Something has changed between Lucas and me.
I don’t know whether it’s him or me who’s changed more. All I know is that I’m not the girl I was six months ago. In fact, I barely remember her, and wonder how it could be any different for Lucas.
What’s stayed the same is that Pax hasn’t woken since being impaled by a jagged piece of metal in the fight against the Others.
Every time I look at him, fevered and unconscious, fear sucks sound and light from the room. I would not be this new, better, stronger version of myself without his influence. What Cadi said about finding Deshi, about time running out, tugs at my patience, but there’s nothing I can do. We need Pax as much as we need Deshi, and he’s not going anywhere.
If we lose him, we lose everything.
We only have the four of us. We can’t trust our Element parents to help, even if they did save our lives outside Portland. Lucas and I haven’t discussed any of these things. Not the way we would have before. We haven’t talked much at all, really, passing the hours with only Pax’s labored breathing and Wolf’s light snores breaking the silence. We tiptoe through the hours like strangers, even though we were—
, I think—friends. We might have been on the path to being more once, but now I’m not sure.
Despite that uncertainty, happiness digs its fingernails under my worries at just the sight of Lucas, at his company. Every time I look up and meet his gaze, glimpse his shaggy blond curls, air catches in my lungs. The feeling is strong, stealing my breath instead of coaxing it away like it used to.
Maybe we only need time to readjust to being together.
Or perhaps Lucas needs time to remember how to not be alone. There wasn’t anything I could have done to find him sooner, but it still twists my heart to know that while I had Pax and Wolf at my side most of last season, Lucas had no one. Again. To be thrust back into that lonely existence may have Broken me.
I’ve wanted to ask what happened, how he survived, where he’s been, but he folds in on himself whenever our rare exchanges turn serious. When I met him and we figured out the two of us were different than regular humans, Lucas held himself wide open. Anything I wanted to know would be painted across his face and in his smile, written in those bright blue eyes.
Now he’s like a black hole, sucking all of the candor out of his face and into somewhere inaccessible to me. Part of me hasn’t pushed because I’m afraid to know why he changed. Even last winter, the one thing I’d been sure of was Lucas. A small doubt sits in my stomach now, suggesting that maybe the alterations in him sink deep below the surface—that maybe what’s shifted are his feelings for me.
Tonight the fire crackles happily in the wall, bringing me out of my worries and into the cozy living room. Wolf stretches out on a multicolored rug in front of the flames, the tip of his nose resting on his front paws. His back legs hang off the rug, splayed onto the wood floor. Lucas lounges in a brown leather recliner, bare feet and legs draped over the footrest, reading
A Wrinkle in Time
for the first time. It’s hard not to ask him what part he’s at every two seconds, so I flutter around Pax, checking his bandages and changing the wet washcloth on his forehead. He’s still burning up, the skin around his wounds red and angry even though we clean them three times today.
“You let him call you Summer.”
Lucas’s gruff voice startles me out of my thoughts, and I taste blood. My teeth have worried all the way through the skin on my bottom lip while concern for Pax flayed my heart as expertly as any knife. A quick glance toward Lucas reveals a practiced disinterest on his face, an expression akin to the studied neutrality we both depended on while living among the humans. The sight of it settles the implication of his statement around me like a cold, wet blanket.
I’ve always been adamant with Lucas about calling me Althea, nothing else. A lump jams in my throat, and I have to wait until it dissolves before answering. “I know you’ve just met Pax, but I don’t actually
him do anything.”
There’s more I could say, about how Pax does what he likes or that we’ve had bigger issues to deal with than my silly name preferences, but further explanation feels defensive. It lights a flicker of betrayal inside me that Lucas would assume…what? That I let Pax use a nickname because I like him better? Because Pax is special somehow?
Lucas and I are friends, and even though he kissed me and made me feel safe, we never promised each other a future. We might not even have one.
This entire planet might not even have one.
The thought immediately drops my heart into my stomach. After spending the last few months with Pax, I’d started to believe my feelings for Lucas weren’t what I remembered. But the instant I saw him standing in that Observatory Pod, staring at me as though he would swallow me whole just so we’d never have to be apart again, I knew I hadn’t misremembered anything. And suddenly the thought of not having a future scared me more than ever.
“He’s bossy, that’s true.” Lucas puts the novel down, his leg holding his place. His eyes reflect more wariness now, perhaps less trust. He’s aged these past months, and the expressionless look on his face scares me all over again.
The idea that I might not know him anymore, that maybe he doesn’t want to let me, makes me want to explode. There’s no way to make him, or to go back to the way things were. Maybe the answer is simply to face whatever turned him older and sadder last season. Even though the thought of asking heats my palms. If I want things to be okay—or more than okay—I can’t ignore what happened to him during our separation.
“How did Pax find you?” I nudge.
Lucas looks away, staring into the fire as though the flames hold the secret to unlocking the universe. Tension filters into the room like a ghost, through the cracks around the windows and underneath the front door. A muscle jerks in Lucas’s jaw and he crosses his arms. When his eyes return to mine, fire has leapt into them as well. “Is he why you didn’t find me?”
His strangled, harsh tone slaps me in the face.
I slide from the couch onto the floor, wanting to go to him, to make this better, but not knowing if it’s even possible. “Lucas, I—”
“Don’t bother. You had Pax. I was alone. The two of you could have traveled and you knew I couldn’t, not on my own. But you didn’t come.” Lucas’s hand trembles as he picks the book up off his sweatpants and holds it in front of his face, betraying his anger for what’s underneath it. Sorrow, hurt, abandonment. And fear.
The combination floods me with hot regret, but I remind myself that nothing that happened was my choice, either. Or my fault. My earlier question, about where he had been when Pax found him, has been tossed aside in favor of hurt accusations. He clearly thinks I could have fought harder, that Pax might have agreed to help me find Lucas if we promised to go to Portland with him afterward.
Except I asked, and Pax said no.
“I wanted to try to find you, Lucas. But it was winter and I couldn’t figure out how to travel on my own. After Pax showed up…Well, it was either stay with him or go it alone. Either way wouldn’t have changed things for you.” When he doesn’t answer, the spark of indignation in my center fans into flames. Does he think so little of me, of what we had, to believe I could just forget him? “We’re together now. That’s going to have to be enough.”
The words snap out, and the surprise and chagrin in his eyes chills the room. It cools the anger bubbling in the back of my throat, too, and a deep breath lowers my voice. “Maybe you think I could have done more, but you weren’t there, Lucas. I did my best.”
He stares at me for another minute and I don’t look away, letting him read the truth in my face. When he gives a small nod and flashes me a hint of his old smile, it’s a little tighter, unsure of itself. He doesn’t apologize, but I let the flash of confrontation fade to embers, anyway, and scoot across the hardwood floor on my pajama-clad knees. Lucas pretends not to notice, returning to his reading instead.
We need one another. We’re going to have to nurse Pax back to health, and then the three of us are going to figure out how to rescue Deshi and get the Others off this planet before it disintegrates or blows up or freezes or whatever happens when they leave a place they’ve used up.
More than that, Lucas and I need to be okay. Even if he doesn’t want things to go back to how they were, we can’t keep going this way, both unsure and angry.
Lucas was my first real friend, the first boy who kissed me and made the world spin around, and I missed him so much it felt as though my arm had been ripped off.
I reach up and take the book out of his hand, tugging hard when he resists relinquishing it. He stubbornly refuses to meet my gaze, but I pull his hand to the arm of the chair and lay my cheek against it. The rapid thrum of his pulse fills my head with waves of contentment until it swims.
After a while his arm relaxes, then I sense the rest of his body go limp as a slow breath leaves his lungs. Lucas shifts in the chair until his free hand wriggles underneath mine, and he lays his head on the arm of the chair, our noses almost touching.
For a long time he keeps his eyes closed, and the sound of the fire and the feel of his cold breath moving strands of hair around my face lull me, make me forget how horrible everything is.
I study the familiar crinkles at the sides of his eyes, the way his curls tangle atop his head. My heart aches with the desire to turn the moment into something more, but I can’t. It’s not the time, and it wouldn’t be fair to Lucas. He doesn’t know about everything that’s happened since we disappeared from Danbury. If he did, would he even still care about me?
But everything that happened last winter, those heat-filled moments with Pax, seem a distant memory. Now, with Lucas’s hand in mine, his crisp scent filling my head, it’s so incredibly clear to me that I would have searched for him forever.
“I missed you. I thought about you all the time,” I whisper, my lips moving against his icy hand. His fingers tighten around mine and his breath hitches in his lungs, but he doesn’t respond. Sorrow bubbles up from my center and past my lips. “I’m sorry you were alone.”
I’m not apologizing for any wrongdoing, but knowing he hurt makes me hurt. His blue eyes, the perfect twins of my own, open and we stare at each other for several moments.
Or an hour, I’m not really sure.
“They found me in Atlanta. Pax and Griffin. Pax guessed I was there because you two had already been in Danbury, Des Moines, and Portland and hadn’t seen me. Really, I think Griffin knew. He’s been watching all of us.”