Chapter Thirty-Four

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There was a garden at the back of the white house worth seeing. It was enclosed by white murals that formed a circle around a single strip of green among the otherwise steel and mortar city.

Eden, Rachel called it.

A tiny garden of grass that seemed misplaced against the backdrop of buildings reaching with metal fingers for the sky.

Bright red tulips poked from the ground like fat drops of blood. The garden was expansive, stretching out at least a mile in every direction. 

She drew in a deep breath of fresh air. Though it was no mountain air at least it wasn't tainted with a metallic tinge like the air inside the white house seemed to be. 

A bird cawed as it came to rest on a marble fountain that was in the shape of an angel.

Water spewed from it, a few drops landing on her feet.

Nicolas strode beside her, his arms lightly clasped behind his back. Nothing of him ever appeared to be disgruntled. In fact, he always carried a calm stoicism on his features that Rachel envied. Most times she knew her heart was on display on her sleeve and today wasn't any different. 

As they neared a tombstone, she knew, without a doubt, that she'd never accomplish his level of calm. In fact, she could already feel her heart thundering in her chest as water pooled in the back of her eyes, threatening to brim over. 

Her mouth became dry and her nerves frayed at the seems.

Suddenly, Eden was no longer beautiful but a thorn-filled landscape jabbing into her heart each time she took a step closer. There, nestled into the ground was a sculpted tombstone with the moldings of two plaster hands resting atop it. The hands were intertwined in a heartwarming embrace, one a little larger and thicker than the other. 

Rachel reached for the thinner arm, recognizing the slim hands and crooked pinky anywhere. 

"Yours and Jed's?" Rachel asked. 

"Yes. I had the cast made while I cried over his body and held his hand for the first and last time."

Rachel swallowed hard. 

Though the white plaster was nothing like human flesh, it brought her a small comfort. It felt a little like touching Jed for the very last time.

Closing her eyes, she saw his crop of sandy-blonde hair as he ran through the compound where his favorite place had been the river. He'd spent hours there playing in the water while Rachel watched him as she did laundry. He had only been three years younger but she'd always felt the need to look out for him. In some ways, she'd been more a mother to him than Ruth. 

Ruth... despite all her flaws, Rachel now knew that her mother had loved them. Despite her cold and hard exterior, she had taken them somewhere where she thought she could protect them from Nicolas and all the horrors they'd created together.

Saying goodbye to Jed was hard but it brought with it closure. A sense of peace. Jed could no longer be hurt. The outsiders, nor the poachers, nor anyone else could ever harm him. Maybe in some ways, Jed was the lucky one.

"If such a thing were possible, I'd build a time machine." Nicolas whispered beside her. "And go back to the moment Jed arrived in the city. To save him."

She looked at him. Finally, she could see the calm composure on his face cracking like fissures in the earth.

"No," He said, clearing the knot from his throat. "No, never mind that. I'd go back to the moment your mother decided to leave me and stop her. I'd make sure you and Jed were never taken from me and that you grew up having everything you ever needed."

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