Chapter 19 (Part Two) - Willow's Grove

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I couldn't stop myself from looking back every few minutes. The airplanes were glints on the horizon now, but it was that flicker of light, the shiny metal catching the sun, that made me worry. It attracted attention, and I doubted if we had left Eluena and Mindy in the safest place.

"Stop worrying. They'll be fine." Tobin was walking to my left, always maintaining enough distance between the two of us, so we didn't brush up against one another.

I knew.

I had tested it already by weaving around stabby, desert grass and invading his personal bubble. Without fail, he gave me more space, every time. I was having flashbacks to Jason Whitehall telling me I had cooties over a decade ago.

Other than the carefully maintained personal distance, the hike, so far, was amicable. He seemed at ease speaking with me though he clearly didn't want me too close. While that stung, we had bigger things to worry about.

"I can't help noticing that the airplanes command attention. Anyone near will see them, and anyone needing shelter might head there to check it out."

Speaking of shelter, I looked up at the sky. Clear azure, not even a single cloud. At least we would be free of a storm tonight. Usually, there was some cloud buildup by this time of day if there was a chance of a storm. We'd been blessedly free of any since we had escaped to the mine.

Tobin was silent, but I could tell he was thinking about what to say by the way he was looking off into the distance.

"You're right they are hard not to notice, but we haven't seen a single soul for days. I've been traveling through Tel-Eile for weeks now. Trust me. Almost everyone is on the roads. I doubt they'll see anyone. Besides, Eluena is smart."

I knew his words were meant to comfort, and I secretly loved that he included only Eluena in that comment. But I couldn't help thinking how we had left the ladder to the only airplane that looked like one to shelter in. I'd considered moving it away, but then that left them jumping out if they had to. Shattered legs were not what we needed.

I nodded, agreeing that Eluena would know what to do, but the worry was still there, eating at me. Conversation was what I needed. A change of topic; something to get my mind off my friends left alone behind us and the mystery of what lay ahead.

"Your tattoo. Tell me about it," I blurted out. I felt a slight tingle in my cheeks as I realized I admitted I had watched as he changed, but then I adjusted my shoulders. It wasn't like he had gone somewhere for privacy. Who could blame me?

His head snapped to me, and his hand went up to rub his left arm where the ink was hidden. Dropping his hand down, he ducked his head.

"It's hard not to notice, but... It's just something I got after becoming a Rebel." He ran his hand from his forehead to the back of his head then looked away from me.

He definitely seemed uncomfortable, and I couldn't resist. Discomfort was not something I had seen him wear. "It's beautiful artwork. What does it mean?"

His shoulders stiffened slightly before he turned towards me, measuring me before we both had to keep an eye on where we were walking. Then he let out a sigh.

"I wanted the reminder that we all come from the same roots." He motioned towards a copse of olive trees and the expanse around it. "After all that this earth has been through... the rampant diseases after The Great Warming, the storms and earthquakes. What still stands? All this stuff our ancestors built — grand buildings, machinery, road networks — hardly withstood it. Heck, even we barely withstood it, but the trees... they stood." He swiveled to me. "Because they have roots, deep ones."

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