Thirty-seven

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By the time three hours have past I've drank almost four cups of coffee, and my mind conjures up all sorts of scenarios that don't bear thinking about. There is no way Reece would be gone for over three hours unless something was wrong, and each time the little red number on the bedside clock changes, I grow more and more certain.

Marine World has found him.

I flick through the channels in a bid to distract myself, my eyes already beginning to well with tears as I glance back at the spare gun on the table. If Marine World has found him it won't be long before they find me, too, and despite the tears now streaming my cheeks, I know I can't just sit around doing nothing.

I snatch the pen and paper from the table and try to think despite my fear. Since Reece had the car keys, I'm going to need to find myself another car if I want to be able to put any mileage between Marine World and me, so I scribble that down at the same time a tear drop splatters to the page.

I brush away another tear and try to focus, but it's no use. My eyes are so blurry I can't see a thing, and all I can think about is the fact that Reece is probably dead and it's all my fault.

It isn't long before the sadness turns to a rage that refuses to be silenced any longer. Marine World keeps breaking me down, keeps taking the people I love whilst I sit by powerless to stop them.

I get to my feet, reaching over the bed for the pillow and slamming it against the wall. I'd hoped it might ease some of the anger swirling inside me, but all it does is intensify.

I throw the other pillow, harder this time, but it bounces off the wall as light as a feather before dropping to the floor with a quiet thud. I'm about to do the same, my shaking knees no longer able to hold my weight, when I hear the front door handle turning.

I grab the gun from the bedside table, pointing it at the door with shaking hands whilst Reece storms through it. His eyes flicker down to the gun in my hand and he freezes, his eyebrows raised slightly as he stretches out a hand in a bid to diffuse the situation.

"I thought they'd caught you," I say shakily, my cheeks still wet with tears. "You left without saying anything."

Reece slowly lowers the bag in his left hand to the floor, not once taking his focus off me. "I'm sorry," he says, cautiously walking toward me. His hand steadily reaches out and grabs the gun before he throws it onto the bed and pulls me into his chest.

After a brief moment, I pull away and move over to the kettle to make some coffee and hide my tear-stained face. Once my back is turned, I'm able to flick away the last few remaining tears without him seeing.

Reece hovers behind me, so close I can feel the heat of his body against mine. "I just went to get some gas and supplies. If I'd known I would take so long I would have said something, but you were asleep, I didn't want to wake you."

I nod, still rendered silent by my fear at losing him, the only person I'm able to trust in this new world.

"Aura."

Slowly, I turn to face him, raising my still teary eyes to meet his gaze. I feel foolish for crying. Marine World ingrained it into us not to cry, and I can't help but feel like I'm doing something wrong whenever I do.

"I'm sorry," I say, taking a deep breath. "I shouldn't have overreacted. I–"

"It's my fault," Reece cuts in, not taking his eyes off mine. "I shouldn't have just taken off like that. I didn't mean to scare you."

For a moment, we just look at one another as something I can't identify stirs deep inside my stomach.

"They're gone," I say, my head tilted up to meet his soft expression. "Asia and Jewel are gone from the commercial. That means they'll be gone from Marine World soon if they aren't already. We're running out of time, Reece."

"I know," he says, grabbing the bag he came in with before placing it on the bed. "I'm going to make a call to the guy whose cabin we were supposed to be staying at. Get him to drive to Marine World and check they're still there." A brief pause ensues as he pulls what looks like some kind of weapon from out of his bag. "Then we're going back to break them out."

"How?" I ask, a flicker of hope igniting in the pit of my stomach, but it's so small, so fleeting, I wonder if it will ever turn into anything more.

"If Ben agrees to this, he'll meet us in a motel or something near Marine World," Reece says, pulling out other items like shorts, sunglasses and guest-type clothes. "Once we know the girls are still there, we'll wait until the park opens on Thursday." He turns to me now, his expression laced with determination. "Then we're going to walk back in as guests."

I stand looking at Reece for a moment, a wave of fear rolling through my body at hearing we're going back to the one place I've spent days running from.

"Back to Marine World," I repeat, the adrenaline already beginning to pump through my veins, that fight or flight instinct kicking in.

Yet behind my fear is a sense of relief, because up until now, getting the others out has only ever been a dream, something I've been telling myself I need to do but not having any idea how to do it. Now Reece is giving me the opportunity to go back and do what I should have tried to do in the first place.

Set them free.

"I'm going to give my friend a call," Reece says, pulling his cell from the pocket of his jacket before looking over at me. "If he can get down to Marine World tomorrow and give us the all clear, we'll head back Wednesday."

I meet his gaze with a look of gratitude, knowing if it wasn't for him, I'd no doubt still be locked away in Marine World, dreaming of escape.

"Thank you," I say. "Not just for this, but for everything."

He looks down at me for a brief moment, his eyes flashing with shame. "Don't thank me, Aura. If I were halfway decent I would have already turned myself in."

I simply shake my head at his response, about to close the remaining distance between us when he steps back and lifts his phone for me to see.

"I should go and make the call," he says, giving me one last look over his shoulder. "I'll be right back."

I nod shortly, watching as he disappears out of the door before nervously perching myself on the edge of the bed. I bite the side of my thumb as I think about how the others could be free in less than three days.

Free.

But am I free? I think about how my own freedom has been so far. Running. Constantly looking over my shoulder for a threat that is ever lurking. Spending every minute of every day wondering if today is the day Marine World will find me, or if they're going to hurt somebody else that I love.

I may have broken free from Marine World's confines, but mentally I am as caged as ever, stuck in a never-ending loop of running and worrying, waiting for the day Marine World finds me.

And even if Marine World does one day give up and allow us to live in peace, what would our lives consist of? I can't imagine Jewel sitting behind a receptionist desk, or Asia waitressing tables, and the more I think about what our future could hold, the more I realize we just don't belong in this world.

Maybe we never will.

A/N

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