Ready or Not

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While I'm getting ready for work the next morning, I hear the doorbell ring. It's a sound I haven't heard in years. When Ollie got the power plant up and running again, we got our  heat and air back. Yet, that also means that stupid things like doorbells work. I'm still brushing my hair, but someone must answer it. It doesn't ring again.

Voices drift up the stairs, under my closed door. It's a man, and it sounds really familiar. Staring at myself in the mirror, I bite my lip, straining to place the voice. I hear Belle laugh, a sound of pure innocence, and then everything goes quiet again.

"Jay!" Mandy yells from the ground floor.

I finish, leaving my hair down and hurrying out the door.

Everyone's standing at the base of the stairs, surrounding someone who is facing away from the stairs. The man is wearing powder blue pants and a white t-shirt. From here, the colorful tattoos on his arm reflect the overhead lights coming from the living room. His hair is pulled up high on top of his head, black strands sticking out at odd angles.

There's only one person in the world I know that has arm sleeve tattoos and black curls like that.

"Isaac," I say breathlessly, around the knot in my throat. He turns, slowly, smirking up at me.

I stop breathing. I can hear my father wheezing down below me. Eyes trained on Isaac, I don't move, unsure if I can or not. Maybe my legs don't work anymore. His eyes are greener than I seem to remember.

Yet, there's a darkness in his face, a slump in the way he stands. His bright green eyes are on edge; his hands shake a little harder than I remember. Like me, he's lost weight, which shows in his face and arms.

"Come here," he finally says, shattering the silence.

Taking the steps two at a time, I bound down, throwing myself at him, arms spread wide. He embraces me, staggering backwards at the weight.

"I thought you weren't coming back," I mutter, face still buried in his chest. He sucks in air, clearing his throat to speak.

"They had to teach me how to walk again," he admits, pulling away to look down at me, "It was a long process."

I glance down at his leg, unable to see anything wrong through his jeans.

"It's a mess of scars and new skin, but it's my leg. And that's all that matters," he says, tapping my chin to make me look up again. "Why wouldn't I come back?"

I swallow hard.

"In Ollie's words: maybe you had your quota of adventure," I say, burying my face in his chest again. He smells like clean clothes and pencil shavings, two things I would never have put together.

"You saved me more than once," he whispers, breathing in the smell of my hair, "Now, we are even. We are in this together, Jay. You can't get rid of me yet."

I squeeze him hard, glancing behind him. Ollie's standing in the door, leaning on the frame.

"Told you I would talk to him," she says, smiling at me. I let go of Isaac, stepping beside him to see her fully. "Does that mean you'll go?"

"He's just got home, Ollie," Mandy interjects, shaking her head, "Give him some time."

"There is no time!" Ollie says, desperately, "Every moment we waste is another weapon in Five's arsenal. It's another person we are going to lose when they start attacking us. I can't lose anyone else."

The room goes still, and for once, I sympathize with her.

Ollie lost the people she called  family when the Al-Ma burnt. She deals with loss everyday, remembering the thirty-five people who were burned alive in her home. Before that, she had a family as well, who must've been lost.

It seems almost selfish of me to want to stay here and hold onto Isaac for any longer.

"I've already told her I would go," Isaac whispers into the hair behind my ear. Goosebumps spread down my neck and back.

"I'll go," I blurt out, jerking away from him. If he's going, of course I'm going.

"Perfect!" Ollie says, nearly jumping out of the doorway, "Pack up. I'll meet you at the gate in ten minutes."

She disappears down the steps, the door slamming behind her.

The silence stretches through the room like fog, dense, waiting to be broken. It is Mandy that snaps first, grabbing my forearm hard and jerking me towards the stairs.

"Are you kidding me? After all we've been through for you, you're just going to throw yourself back out there?"

I yank my arm away from her, glaring.

"You can't tell me what to do," I mumble, watching her face turn red. If I didn't know any better, I would say I was watching myself in a mirror.

"Drop it, Jaelyn. This whole you're not my mother, you can't tell me what to do act," she says, pointing a finger into my chest, "It's getting really old."

"If you wanted to boss me around, maybe you should have been here when I was growing up."

"I couldn't be!" she screams, grabbing me by the shoulders, "Would it be better for you if I got myself shot trying to break into the compound? At least you would have known I was alive while you were sending my body off for disposal!"

"Amanda," Dad says, grabbing her shoulder. Tears well up in my eyes, threatening to flow over.

"No, Jacob, she's being an immature little brat, and I'm tired of her treating me like I'm the bad guy. I saved her life, for God's sake."

I back up towards Isaac, pulling out of her intense grasp.

"I'm going," I whisper, tugging Isaac's sleeve to walk around her, "Whether you like it or not, Mandy. I will do what's best."

"What's best for who, Jaelyn? Think for five seconds, will you?"

I take off up the steps,  pulling Isaac along with me. My steps drown out whatever Mandy is trying to tell me, and I continue to stomp until we are both safe behind my bedroom door. Isaac stumbles in, looking stunned, tired, and confused.

"I don't want to get in the middle of that," he mutters, shaking his head.

I laugh, dragging my ragged backpack out. The poor thing looks like it's been through hard times. It's ripped and patched, smeared with ash and mud.

"Make sure you're going for the right reason, Jay," Isaac says, grabbing my hand. I spin towards him, keeping my snappy comment in check. "You don't need to go just to get back at her."

"That's not it," I say, shaking my head, "If you're going, I'm going. End of story."

I hear him sigh as I turn back around and finish packing my bag. It's filled with compound issued uniforms, my pocket knife, the picture of my father and I, and sanitary supplies. I refuse to make the mistake of forgetting soap this time.

Tossing in some books off my shelf, I meet Isaac at the door. He still wears a frown on his face, but it's softer now, less angry and more unhappy.

"I really am sorry, Isaac," I whisper, shuffling on my feet.

"For what?" he asks, genuinely confused. I exhale.

"Leaving you in that room with Hartley. I should have pulled you in with me, or even attacked him, or-"

"Jaelyn," he interrupts, gently, putting a hand up in the air.

"Don't tell me it's okay. I'm tired of hearing that. I made a mistake, and I've been regretting it since the second I made the decision to leave you. It was wrong."

"No, it wasn't," he says, waving the hand at me, "Even if I would have died, you saved thousands of people by destroying the cure. I'm just one person. What happened in Room 406 was necessary. Stop throwing a pity party for yourself, and get over it."

I gape at him, letting the words sink in. The words have a certain sting, but his tone doesn't sound mean. I close my mouth, swallowing. He's right, and he's the only person that has thought to tell me to stop whining.

"Ready?" I ask, checking the time. Ollie will be waiting. He nods, brushing a strand of my hair away from my face.

"Whether I am or not, it's time."

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