chapter fourteen

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   "I just . . . I didn't want you to be afraid of me."

   Chubs stifles a laugh. "Ruby, c'mon. We have her. Y'know, the girl that could burn us to a crisp while infiltrating our minds. If we aren't scared of her, why would we be scared of you?"

   She shrugs lowly, looking to the ground. "I don't know. I just thought that since you didn't know me, you wouldn't trust me, I guess."

   "There's nothing wrong with being an Orange," I tell her, nudging her shoulder with my own.

   "I can't even control it. I tried to figure it out, but it just happens. Sometimes all it takes is my skin brushing up against someone else and I'm in their head," she elaborates, making me nod.

   "That's how it was for a while for me. Eventually, you learn how to make it stop, or turn it off when you don't want it there," I attempt to explain.

   She shakes her head. "The more that I try to pull free, the more damage that I do."

   "That's why you always kept to yourself—well, tried to," I conclude, making her nod.

   "Well . . . all of that's in the past. No more secrets, right?" Chubs stands up. "We got a Slip Kid to party with."

   "Dude, yeah." Liam begins to stand up. "Hey, Zu. We're packing up."

   After the touching send off of Betty the Nissan van, we had grabbed our bags and left on foot.

   We'd been walking for hours, talking a lot and sharing stories that we remembered from before everything had happened. Some doubt in his map reading skills was shared once Chubs led us in the wrong direction for a few minutes, but it was fixed and we continued on our way.

   I walked beside Liam, sharing a few glances here and there as the others conversed among themselves.

   "You okay?" Liam asked, a smile on his lips.

   "I'm okay," I smiled back. "Everything is gonna be okay now." At my statement he grinned and held out his hand to me. I could feel my face heating up with a small blush, but I forced it away and slowly took his hand in mine, entwining our fingers together. He tugged me closer to him and I leaned into his shoulder as we walked, not being able to help the good feeling I was getting about our new endeavor.

   Everything was beginning to work itself out. We were all together, everyone was happy, and fairly soon, we'd all be safe.

   After another hour or so, we'd approached railroad tracks and begun walking down them for a while longer.

   "I don't know, Chubs. It doesn't feel right," Liam announced.

   "Man, y'all are just a bunch of Negative Nellys," he countered, balancing himself on the middle of the track railings. He turned after a moment, letting us all pass him and look where he was staring. "Check it, man. E-D-O." He pointed to a pile of sticks, rocks, and a tire that spelled out the three letters.

   Liam tightened his grip on my hand as everyone let out sounds of excitement and relief. He twisted my body towards him, wrapping his arms around my frame and picking me up off my feet in a hug. I couldn't stop the laughs that left my mouth, wrapping my arms around his neck as we celebrated.

   I bit the inside of my cheek as he set me back down, contemplating if I should do what I was about to. I let my impulsivity take over and pressed a quick kiss onto his cheek, earning a blush to emerge from his skin.

   Chubs let out a laugh. "C'mon, lovebirds. Once we get there you two can make out or whatever."

   After being shoved to the ground by Liam once a bullet was shot our way, no one moved a muscle as orders were shouted at us from a distance.

   "Liam Stewart?" A boy in a camouflage outfit rushed over to us, yelling at the people behind him to stand down once he recognized Liam.

   "Wait, are you looking for—"

   "You found it," the boy, Mike, informed with a smile.

   The remainder of us stood up, adjusting our packs before grouping together. "We found it," I said slowly, a grin coming to my face as Zu, Ruby, and I group-hugged.

   "Welcome home," Mike said, causing Chubs to raise his arms in victory.

   "Finally," he said, the map he still held waving in his hand like a flag. "I told you, man." Liam pulled him into a hug as Mike told us to follow him.

   We were led forward for a few minutes, passing through a small bit of woods before reaching a camp of sorts. We continued walking where the boy led us, all of us looking around at everything that was going on. People were playing games, talking . . . everything seemed normal for them.

   "Everyone looks so happy here," Ruby said in disbelief.

   "Yeah, we don't segregate by colors here," Mike smiled. "We respect our differences, but we're all the same. Now, let's go. It's time to meet the Slip Kid."

   "Clancy Grey?"

   "I knew you weren't reformed," Chubs said distastefully, making me stifle a laugh.

   Clancy laughed as he approached us. "You're Charles, right?" He shook his hand, looking down to Zu. "And you must be Suzume. Hey." He moved onto Liam. "Liam Stewart," he said in a recognizing tone. "The hero who broke a hundred kids out of Caledonia."

   He looked to Ruby after nodding to Liam. "Ruby Daly. The last remaining Orange besides me—well, full Orange. It's an honor to meet you," he chuckled before moving to me.

   "Emily Collins. The only Multi to exist. It's awesome to finally meet you," he said, sticking out a hand for me to shake.

   He stepped back, looking over all of us. "I'm honestly excited to meet all of you. I mean, you're kind of legendary." At this I shrug nonchalantly, nudging Liam with my shoulder and causing a small chuckle to escape him. "So, welcome. Now, there's a lot to be done here and we could really use your help. I'm thinking cabin eighteen."

   "Yes, sir." Mike gestured for us to follow him.

   "Go get settled," Clancy dismissed. "We're gonna have some fun tonight."

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