FIFTY-NINE

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My eyes sprung open as the car came to a stop and I had time to glimpse the last seconds of Max's refuge of sleep before he too blinked his eyes open. I was certain that the expression of acute trepidation and confusion in his eyes before he blinked himself back into awareness echoed the expression on my own face as I pushed myself out of my curled up position next to Max in the backseat.

"Did you sleep?" I asked, my mouth dry and the start of a headache hammering at the front of my skull.

My body was protesting against my lack of sleep by pounding my heart against my ribs, already trying to pull me back down into the dreamless state of exhaustion.

He inhaled deeply, his eyes flickering to the front of the car and next did a survey of our surroundings before turning his attention on me. His arm was still around my shoulders, where he had placed it just minutes before the monotone drone of the car had tempted me into sleep, and he used it now to press my side into his in something of a sideway hug.

I could see my own exhaustion reflected on his face as he nodded slowly before yawning. He was just about to answer me, when a voice from the front seat interrupted us.

"Listen up."

I took a deep breath, shook my head slightly to try and clear it, and met the eyes of Mr. Evans as he looked at us over his right shoulder, between the front seats.

I didn't want to look around us, didn't want to take in our surroundings. I knew that we were parked outside of the house in Hondo, where Max and I had created some of our most beautiful memories. But right now, those memories were very far from my mind. Right now, this house only symbolized white blinding terror.

My accelerated heart rate - from having been woken up from a state of deep sleep - was still going strong, now fueled by fear and nervousness.

Max's fingers were digging into my shoulder as his father continued, "They don't know that you're here, so I'll go inside and break it to them easily. Prepare them." He looked to his daughter next to him in the passenger seat. "Isabel will come with me and she'll return for you when it's time."

Isabel's eyes connected with mine and a slow tentative and encouraging half-smile spread across her lips. I tried my best to return the smile, to signal my gratitude about her trying to comfort me, but I had a feeling that I was failing the task horribly.

"Okay," Max confirmed. His strong and confident voice had me looking at him. Had my eyes trace the profile of his strong jaw, his straight nose, and the softness of his full hair. I could even see the beautiful length of his eyelashes silhouetting against the dim light from the lamp outside of the front door to the house.

There was the hint to a soft smile as he glanced at me, before adding, "We'll wait right here."

The pause that followed had me look forward to Mr. Evans again, finding him looking at his son with a combination of sad contemplation and wistfulness, before he said, "See you in there."

And even though the words were far away from the typical declaration of love, the tone of his voice said it all. Max's father was letting his son know just how much this was frightening him, just how much he loved his son, just how much he wanted to protect him.

"Yeah," Max whispered, the break in his voice revealing that Max had gotten the message too.

I was listening to the thumping of my heart against the inside of my ribcage while Mr. Evans and Isabel stepped out of the car. With the simultaneous closing of both front doors, Max and I were left alone.

And with Mr. Evans' face recently having shown an unknown range of compassion, I reached for my small handbag and retrieved my phone. I hadn't looked at it for almost 24 hours. I had been otherwise occupied.

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