Chapter Nine ~Maddie~

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I've heard him before, but tonight is so much worse... much, much worse. The pain and helplessness in his screams crush me. I pull the comforter around me tighter and squeeze my eyes shut. These walls are too thin; I can hear everything. His screams turn into muffled sobs, and as he yells into what must be his pillow, the pain in his voice courses straight through me, triggering my own pain.

What is it that haunts him so deeply?

Before I can stop myself, I'm on my feet. I can't just lie here anymore, pretending I don't hear him. My heart aches as I walk down the hall, moving closer to his room.

I come to an abrupt halt as I take in the shadow crouched down on the floor, just outside his door. Alex looks up at me and the devastation in her eyes mirror the sounds coming from the other side of that door. She's been here awhile, her face is swollen and puffy from crying.

"Don't," she whispers. "You'll only make it worse. I've tried. He won't talk about it." Her head falls back down into her arms and she starts shaking as sobs wrack through her body.

I come closer anyway, but instead of trying to help Aiden, I lower myself to the ground next to Alex. My arm starts to reach out for her, but I pull it back in. I'm not sure what to do, how to console her.

"Do you want to talk about it?" I ask her quietly.

She heaves a big sigh and nods, "Okay."

"Do you know what his nightmares are about?" I look back towards Aiden's door.

After a long pause she answers, "Yeah, I do. He never had them before, only since our parents died."

I wait patiently for her to go on and after a minute or so she does. "I think he relives the night they were killed, over and over again, every night. He's always screaming, begging for someone to stop... It kills me to hear him like that."

She sits upright, wiping more tears from her face and continues, "I think he feels guilty for not being able to save them."

"That's awful. It wasn't his fault, even I can see that." I can't believe he's held that inside, all of this time since his parents died. "He can't take responsibility for something that was out of his control."

"I know that, but he won't listen to me. He doesn't want to believe it. There's nothing he could have done that wouldn't have gotten us captured or killed too. He forgets that I was there. I know he couldn't have stopped what happened."

I'm not sure if it's right to ask, but something inside me wants to know what happened, so I can understand the pain that Aiden is feeling, the burden that he's holding.

"Will you tell me what happened?" I ask hesitantly.

Her head thumps against the wall, and she turns her face towards me. "That's the shitty part. I don't really know exactly. I didn't see it happen. Aiden and I were heading back through town to meet our parents, and we were almost to the building we were supposed to meet them at, but when we came around the corner, Aiden whipped me back behind the building so fast that I didn't even see what was going on. He just told me to be quiet, and he took a peek around the corner. I heard men shouting, 'Get down! Get down!' and I heard my mom yell something, but then Aiden grabbed me and covered my ears. I heard the shots anyway... and he covered my mouth to keep me from screaming."

She pauses, slowly inhaling and exhaling on shaky breaths, tears streaming down her face. "I saw it in his eyes. When the gunshots went off I knew something terrible had happened. Next thing I knew, we were running. We ran for so long, and he wouldn't answer any of my questions. When we finally stopped he just said, 'They're gone Alex.' We sat together and cried all night until we finally fell asleep, and he's refused to talk about it since. He shuts me out when it comes to Mom and Dad and what happened that day. I don't know exactly what he saw, but it broke him." The last part comes out on a sob, and I reach my arm around her.

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