Chapter Nine

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I woke up the next morning with a sharp ache in my back from sleeping on a three-inch thick mat on a cement floor.

The lights in the room were still off. I could make out the blurry shapes of three other people sharing the room with me. I sat up in the dark, feeling around my bed for my boots. My fingers felt the soft laces of them, and I pulled them towards my chest. I began to put them on before stopping myself suddenly. The floors of the compound were mostly carpeted, therefore making it pointless to wear shoes at all. It reminded me of waking up in my bedroom, when I could walk into my kitchen in just my pajamas. I'd grab a piece of toast and eat it while staring out the window at the grass and insects. I felt especially calm when it was raining or snowing; which I'm sure I'd disagree with now if I were ever able to go back in time to those moments.

I let go of my boots, allowing them to fall back to the ground. I stood up on the soft blue mat and walked towards the door, the coolness of the cement pressing against my feet. There was a bathroom just down the hall, and I knocked before entering.

Immediately, I noticed how messy I looked. Last night I'd seen it too, when I'd first walked into the bathroom, but sleep made it worse again. There were slight bags under my eyes and my hair was practically all over the place, light brown strands sticking out at awkward angles. My blue eyes stared back at me, and under the artificial light I could see the familiar tint of brown in my irises.

I sighed and quickly tried to make myself presentable before returning to my room. I felt wide awake and wasn't sure what to do now.

I didn't know what time it was, and there were no nearby windows that could inform me either.

I bent down next to my mat, and picked up my boot, figuring I could use the laces as a hair tie if necessary. It didn't really seem like they'd had many of those lying about, and I knew that my hair would just be getting in my way the entire day. I quickly tied it back and decided to return to the dining area.

The room was mostly empty except for a couple people lounging about with plates of food. I wondered where they'd gotten it from. Nobody seemed to be serving anything at that moment.

"Food's in the other room," came a voice from behind me, one that I didn't want to be reminded of this early in the morning. But overnight, I regretted how quickly I'd run away from him the night before, since I still couldn't bring myself to fully blame him for what happened.

When I turned, Asten had his finger pointing in the direction of the main room. "Thanks." I began to turn around and walk away, until I felt Asten's hand lightly touch my elbow. I instinctively flinched away, but looked at him all the same.

"I just wanted to say...I'm sorry. And I know that me saying this does absolutely nothing to change what I did...but I'm still sorry for doing it. I know that it doesn't matter, and you won't forgive me, but I am," he said, keeping his voice low. I didn't know how to respond. I'd already started to forgive him, but his apology made it easier. Even so, he was right. A part of me was still angry at and I knew I'd never be able to trust him.

He'd been so convincing when he'd joined my dream of going to the Equator, only to tear that to shreds. I'd already been suspicious of him when we'd first met. After what he did, it was impossible to bridge the gap in trust that now lay between us. He was still, and always would be, a stranger to me. Just another person who happened to appear in my life and would disappear just as quickly once I left.

I was going to leave some time soon. Going to the Equator was really my goal, and even if this place seemed like a safe haven for me, I knew I'd find more stability there. It was the one safe place left in the world, that gangs couldn't touch and snow couldn't affect. If I wanted to survive in this world, then that would be my destination.

"I know. And you're right, I can't forgive you...even if I tried. I'm sorry we met the way we did," I replied, carefully choosing my words while feeling mixed emotions. A part of me wanted to tell him that his apology was completely accepted, but another part of me, the darker part, wanted to punch him in the face. The latter part was much stronger than the first, and so I quickly turned away from him and walked towards the main room. I feared I would if I stayed much longer. Even though I related to him, and knew I would have acted no differently, it didn't stop the frustration. He had a choice, and he decided to try and sell me. I'd had the same exact choice, and I didn't.

I barely knew him, but it felt like betrayal all the same.

When I walked into the main room, I knew he wasn't behind me, and I was glad I wasn't near him. My anger just increased as I walked over to the table in the corner holding plates of food. I concealed it to the best of my ability and picked up a plate.

Except now I was faced with a problem. The dining area was where Asten probably still was, and that was where I was supposed to eat. At this point, I couldn't help letting my anger loose in my head, as I created arguments to myself. He had carelessly decided that his life was much more important than mine. I knew with me like this, a volcanic eruption between the two of us was soon to occur, if I didn't try to calm myself.

Thankfully, when I walked back into the dining area, Asten was gone, and instead, Mace was sitting at the same table as before.

I walked over to him and sat down abruptly.

I could tell that something was wrong the second I looked at him.

"What happened?" came out of my mouth before I could stop it. I wasn't the type of person who tried to console others. I disliked talking at all. Maybe before the snow, I might've been different.

But that part of me was dead now.

He looked at me for a moment, and then his expression quickly transformed into one of contentedness. Of course, he wouldn't tell me. I was just some random girl who'd appeared in front of him the day before. We barely even knew each other.

"There's just been an issue...at this compound with a search party," he replied, vaguely. I was surprised he even told me that.

I wanted to know more about it, but it wasn't really related to me. It felt like asking would be too much. I went quiet and began eating from my plate of food. Silence seemed like the right option. I liked silence – it had been relaxing when I was alone with just the snow for company.

Some part of me was starting to miss that solitude, even though it'd only been gone for a day.

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