Chapter Fifteen-Part One ~Maddie~

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I rub the sleep from my eyes and my mind slowly processes that the truck has stopped, and I'm in here alone. There's only a few blissful seconds where my mind forgets, before the sinking feeling of guilt and regret invade. I bite my lip hard and try to tuck those emotions away. I did what I felt I had to; there was no time to contemplate. It was that or watch the man take off with my friend, never to be seen again. I'm going to have to accept that.

The truck is parked in a driveway, and I stretch and yawn as I take in the house before me. It's huge, and it's gorgeous. It somehow seems untouched by the devastation and disaster that's affected the rest of the world. The giant two story home stretches in each direction and large, opulent windows stare back at me. It's made up of wood panels and brick, giving it a rustic, country feel. It's like nothing I've ever seen. Even the big houses in Los Angeles don't come close to how beautiful this home is. The plants and weeds are long overgrown, but have somehow managed to survive all on their own. They frame the house, swirling up and around it, adding to its mystery and beauty.

A figure appears at one of the windows and I immediately recognize it as Aiden. He gives me a quick wave then turns and retreats. I expect one of them to come out the front door for me, but minutes tick by and I'm still alone.

Something tugs at me deep...fear, fear that they're upset with me, mad at what I did to that man, but then I remember our drive and the quick conversation we had just before I fell asleep.

When we all hopped in the truck, Aiden sped away. He asked Alex what the hell had happened, and she explained that she was walking when she heard a truck skid around the corner. She dove into the first door she came across, but it was too late, the man had already seen her and screeched to a stop in front of the store. She ran out the back and around some buildings until she thought she had lost him and quickly began making her way back to the house. She could hear the truck somewhere in the distance and grew afraid, darting in-between buildings, rushing to find her way back, and that's when the truck came barreling down the street she was on, coming right towards her. He slammed to a stop only a few feet from her and darted out of the truck, immediately coming for her. When he caught up to her, he yanked her by the arm and told her to get in the truck or he'd make her regret not listening to him later. She tried to scream, but he covered her mouth with his filthy hands. He muttered something about Breeders and her being his special girl while she tried to fight him off, and that's when Aiden and I had come around the corner.

After hearing her story, Aiden shook his head and grabbed her hand, staying silent. After that, it was a quiet ride, too quiet. It gave me too much time to think about what I'd done, the look on the man's face when I shot him, the sight of him bleeding out on the sidewalk. I'd swayed between guilt and conviction, between hoping the man hadn't completely bled out and died, and hoping he did for what he must have intended to do with Alex. The beady eyes of that deranged man will haunt me forever.

Just as I had shifted away to try and escape my feelings with sleep, Alex spoke up.

"Thank you Maddie," she turned to me to say.

Aiden nodded in agreement, "You saved her Maddie. I froze, and you did what I couldn't. I'll always be grateful to you for that."

Tears started to well in my eyes, and I took a deep breath. Nodding was all I could manage as a reply, and Aiden reached over to pat my knee while Alex rested her head on my shoulder. I leaned my head against the door and fell into a heavy, deep sleep.

I'm not even sure how long we drove or how long I've been out here alone. I sit here awhile, watching the slow fade of the sun as it disappears over the horizon. It's mindless and easy. The sky grows darker, and I think my emotions are finally at bay, resting there to be dealt with at another time along with everything else.

I open the door and climb down from the truck, slamming the door shut behind me. I make my way to the front door of the mansion and almost feel the need to knock before I shake my head and let myself in.

Aiden comes down the stairs and makes long, fast strides towards me, embracing me in a tight squeeze when he reaches me.

"Thank you so, so much Maddie," he says, almost desperately.

"It's okay," I breathe.

"It's not okay. You shouldn't have been left in a position to do what you had to. I should have taken care of that, protected the both of you... but I froze dammit, and I'm so fucking sorry," he says in my ear, his tone laced thick with regret.

"Really, it's okay." It'll be okay, eventually.

He pulls away, resting his hands on my shoulders, looking me straight in the eyes. "You did what needed to be done. If that fucking prick had gotten away with her," he takes a deep breath and heaves a big sigh, "God knows what he would have done with her. You saved her. Please know you did the right thing."

My lips form a thin line and I nod my head in response, blinking rapidly, trying desperately not to cry.

He notices my struggle, and I can see the sympathy in his eyes. "Fuck, Maddie," he whispers as he pulls me into another hug. I stand there, arms squished at my sides, resting my head on his chest. I wait with my eyes closed, wait for his words to sink in, for me to understand that there was no other choice, that I did the right thing.

He starts to pull away, but I wrap my arms around him, shaking my head. I feel myself hiccupping first, then feel the wet tears as they fall down my cheeks. I nuzzle my face into him further, not wanting to come to terms with the fact that I might be breaking.

He strokes my hair gently. "Shh, it's okay Maddie. It's okay," he says softly.

I don't have any words for him, it's all just too much.

Alex comes in gently behind me, wrapping her arms around me too. We stand there together, the three of us, for a long time. Until my sobs subside and my tears run dry. Until I'm breathing evenly again. Until I think I'll be okay, at least for a little while.

I lift my head, and they slowly release me from their hold. Aiden watches me with sad eyes while Alex reaches for my hand. "You've got us now. I love you like a sister. And I mean it...It's the three of us, in this together, no matter what. Okay?"

"Okay," I answer her with a small smile.

Alex tugs on my hand and pulls me towards another room, Aiden following behind. She leads us into a giant kitchen, and it's all smooth surfaces and clean cut lines, a perfectly beautiful kitchen. What it must have been like to live like this, what it must have cost, I wonder.

Alex moves to the pantry, pausing at the door. "Check this out," she says with diluted excitement as she opens the door. I move closer to take it all in. Cases upon cases of water line the right wall and to the left, are shelves covered from top to bottom with food. Cans, boxes, and bags completely fill the space.

My mouth hanging open, I finally answer with a whispered, "Holy shit."

Aiden claps behind me and shouts, "Let's eat!"

I can't help the bubble of excitement that rises within me. We get to eat as much as we want, and what feels like whatever we want too. It's a little ray of sunshine on a dark and bleary day.

***Author's Note***

Maddie is seventeen years old, and while she had lived a confined life under a set of government standards and rules, it had been a simple life, especially compared to her life now. After everything she's been through, does it make sense for her to be breaking at this point? And if she is starting to break now, how much more do you think she can handle?

As always, thank you so much for reading! We really appreciate you taking the time to do so! If you enjoyed this chapter, please don't forget to vote or comment. Have a great day. :)

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