Chapter 7

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The bumpy road underneath us jolted us back and forth, and into each other. I sat in the back of the truck on the bench located on the left side of the large vehicle with Willow in the middle and Matteo on the other side of her. Xian and Ezekiel were across from us on the other bench, while our driver, a woman named Ashley, was at the front of the truck.

My fingers curled around the edge of the bench as I kept myself seated as much as possible, my feet planted to the truck's ground. I could feel Xian's eyes on me but I kept my gaze on my lap, not really wanting to talk to anyone right now.

We had gone down the spiral staircase quite a ways until coming to the large garage in which we had met Ashley with the truck. Once we had been introduced to her, Zack left us, back up the staircase without another look in my direction. I then spent the next hour nibbling on the inside of my cheek as I stared down at the ground. I was supposed to be paying attention to what Ashley was saying, but I just couldn't force my brain to concentrate. I was too busy, worrying about Zack.

"How long have you two been together?"

I looked up at Xian, expecting him to be looking at Willow and Matteo, but his eyes were still on me. At Xian's words, Ezekiel opened his eyes, but remained leaning against the bench's backrest. His arms were crossed and his posture was relaxed as he turned his eyes to Xian.

I cleared my throat. "What?"

"You and Zack," Xian replied, arching a dark eyebrow. "How long?"

I could feel a red blush creeping up my neck, but I ignored it the best I could and shrugged, trying to act chill. "Almost a week."

Both of Xian's eyebrows immediately shot up. "Damn. A new girlfriend already?"

My heartbeat sounded as though it were in my throat. I could feel everyone's eyes on me, waiting for a reaction. I glanced down at my knees before looking back up at him with my brows pulled tightly together.

"What do you mean?" I asked.

Ezekiel leaned forward instantly and back handed Xian's shoulder, but Xian ignored the gesture and continued to stare at me, looking just as confused as I had felt.

"He didn't tell you?" Xian said, sounding astonished.

I shook my head.

"Well, I was quite shocked actually," Xian leaned back while his hands continued to rest in his lap, "seeing you two together I mean. Especially considering what happened last time."

Ezekiel's glare changed into a look of pure disbelief as he rolled his eyes skyward and let out an exasperated sigh. He ran a hand through his hair before returning to the position he was in before; when we had woken him from his rest.

I wasn't a hundred percent sure if I was going to be able to speak, and gratitude suddenly flooded through my body as Willow spoke up for me.

"What happened?" she asked Xian.

Xian glanced at Willow who was to my left before returning his dark eyes to my own.

"Zack was a complete mess. Well, I'm getting too ahead of myself." Xian leaned forward, resting his elbows on the top of his knees. "He and his girlfriend were inseparable for a good two months. At least... until she was called for a mission and didn't return. Zack became a mess. Never showed up for anything and it pissed Joan off quite a lot. Eventually he got over her death. Took him a while, but he started showing up for things again and got back to training the teens."

I swallowed the lump in my throat and looked down at the ground between us. "When was this?"

"About a month ago," he replied with a frown. "You look so much like her."

My hands clenched more around the wooden bench, my fingers turning even whiter. I could see Willow staring at me out of the corner of my eye, but I kept my eyes trained on the truck's ground. I had so many questions that I wanted to ask Xian, but I didn't know where to start, which one to ask first.

"I think that's half the reason she sent you here," Xian said, breaking the silence a moment later.

I snapped my head up, casting my gaze onto him with a confused expression.

"I'm pretty sure, –well beside the obvious fact that you all have been to the man's place before– Joan sent you on this 'mission' to get rid of you," he said, pointing at me. "She obviously doesn't want Zack getting any more attached to you than he already has, so she's doing what she thinks is the right solution. She's getting rid of you."

My head pounded with all of this information and I didn't want to believe a word that Xian had said, but it made sense. The way Zack's been acting... everything fits.

Xian chuckled and shook his head as he looked down at the ground. "Zack knows it too. He knows what his mom's doing. That's why he's been so angry with her."

I felt the momentum of the truck coming to a sudden halt, causing me to slam into Willow, and Willow into Matteo. I righted myself and finally let go of the truck's bench as the rumbling of the engine came to a stop.

Ezekiel sat up straight again and gave his friend one last long glare before giving me a somewhat apologetic expression while he stood up. He walked past all of us and hopped out of the back of the truck, his boots making the gravel crunch underneath the weight of him as he walked around the vehicle to meet up with Ashley who closed the truck's driver side door with a slam.

"Well,..." Xian stood up and smiled down at the three of us and gestured to the back of the truck as if we had never had the Zack conversation, "we're here."

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