Day 8

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In the wee hours of the morning, the boys gathered in the hallway. "You two ready?" Matt asked.

Brandon nodded. "I'll go get her".

He knocked on the door. "Clare...it's time" No answer. "Clare". He slowly opened the door and found her sitting on the edge of the bed, tears streaking down her cheeks.

She looked up slowly, staring at him with wet eyes.

"We should go" he whispered, walking towards her.

Clare suddenly flung herself at him with a silent outburst of emotion. "I'm scared, Brandon"

Her fingers dug into his back, he ignored it. "Me too" He wrapped his arms around her. "Me too...but we have to do this".

Clare nodded and they headed out of the room.

Emerging into the hall, Jack and Matt were already standing by the door, backpacks at their feet.

"This is it," Brandon said nervously.

"Good luck", Matt hugged Brandon like a brother.

Jack too extended his hand. "Hope it all works". He handed the cell phone to Brandon. "Try it, maybe you might be able to catch a signal".

Brandon took the phone and put it in his inner pocket, then with a smile pulled Jack into a hug. "Take care".

Clare wanted to break down and scream but she held out. Jack approached her, fighting his own inner demons. "Well Clare, you stay alive out there," and gave her a warm farewell hug. "Without you, we're dead", laughing as heartily as possible.

Brandon saw Matt approach Clare, "I'll wait outside". Jack sensing why Brandon was leaving, followed suit, giving the two some privacy.

Matt moved in close, pulling her towards his body. He tenderly stared into her eyes, hesitating a moment, then whispered almost inaudibly. "I know our terms, Clare. No string attached, but does it really work that way?" he gently brushed her hair aside.

Clare's exhausted eyes lingered on him. "Matt," she said pulling away. "Don't do this," but Matt brought her closer, knowing that this was their last moment alone for a long time. He leaned in and kissed her softly before she pulled away yet again.

He looked at her. She likes him. His eyes suddenly overflowed. "I'm going to miss you...a lot...You better go now". He kissed her one last time on her forehead then escorted her outside.

Clare turned back to him, holding his hand. She stood up on her tiptoe, giving him a quick kiss on the cheek. "I'll miss you too" she whispered into his ear. A weak smile crossed her face, and she let go of his hand.

Brandon waited for her at the foot of the stairs, then turned to the two on the porch. "Make sure you two stay inside at all times...just in case we happen to come by".

Jack and Matt watched until the others vanished into the landscape. Despair settled in and silence came.

* * *

"So, Simon, how is the search and rescue proceeding?" the Mayor asked, sitting behind his huge mahogany desk, his agitation clearly visible as he attempted to organize his flustered work space.

Simon cleared his throat. "My men have been scouting the accident area and its vicinity thoroughly for the four missing persons..."

"And...have we located these people yet?"

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