2.03.2014

I'm Back!

I'm back, I promise!
I'm currently dealing with a few things (things that started back in October of last year), and I've been sick thanks to my allergies. I am on medicine, but it doesn't always help. Thankfully, I'm feeling a bit better, finally!

To make up for my absence, I decided to do something special.
Because I know a lot of you are waiting on Collide, I'm going to release it a chapter at a time over Wattpad (available to read by going here). I just ask that you don't copy the text elsewhere. I was planning on going the traditional route, but this book is kind of personal to me, so I decided to just release it on my own. I wrote a lot of it as a way to cope with something in my personal life, so I figure it is better that I release it.

I'm still planning on posting a book as I write it, but it'll probably be on Figment instead of Wattpad. I'm going to start it later this month. It's going to be a YA paranormal story, and it'll be campy and it'll have romance, and I can't wait to work on it! It's different from everything I've written. =)

Now, a few updates:

The Rebooted pre-order will go up at midnight tomorrow. Due to some unforeseen setbacks (such as my laptop crashing), I wasn't able to get it uploaded in time for the 1/31 release date. I sincerely apologize for this. On the plus side? I'm really happy with how Emile's story ends. Also, if you're wondering why the description is super short, it's because I didn't want to spoil anything. Obviously the ending of Deprogrammed plays a big part in Rebooted, as do the events that take place in Standby, and I didn't want to ruin those for people just starting the series.

If you're wondering why I'm doing a pre-release instead of just releasing it, this is because I want to try and reach more readers. While Submerged has been grabbing readers easily, the Emile Reed Chronicles hasn't had as much luck. I figure that, if I do pre-orders for a week or two, it'd help to make the book visible to readers that otherwise wouldn't have known the series existed.This series is my baby, and my main goal for this year is to introduce more readers to Emile and company. So yeah, that's why I'm going the pre-order route with this book. I know it's a pain in the butt, I do, but I have to try it out and see how it works. Don't hate me too much. <3

Is Love: Volumes 2 & 3: The plan is to have these re-published before I go on my road trip later this month. They are already written, I'm just revising them a bit. Once I publish Volume 2 and Volume 3, I'm planning on making Volume 1 free.

And because I've already posted the first chapter of Rebooted here, I figured I'd post the next two chapters! These are behind a cut as to avoid spoilers.




2 UNFORTUNATE CHOICES
EMILE
I should’ve known better, I thought to myself as I looked around at the empty cell.
I should have known better than to follow the leads being sent to the guard’s tablet. But I allowed my emotions to cloud my judgment.
The fact that they were all about Hayden should have been a red flag, but I allowed my fear to lead me here. Back to the place that already claimed me once before.
I had only managed to track down three subjects before I found myself at Vesta Corp’s secondary location: Two girls and one boy. They were all close to my age; young people with their whole lives still in front of them.
I tried warning them of the horrors that occurred within the walls of Vesta Corp, and how they needed to leave; how they needed to go without leaving a trail, but they all just seemed to brush off my concerns. Not that I could blame them. It was easy to ignore the truth when you were being spoon-fed lies constantly, and they were.
McVeigh had already started working his way into their lives. One of the subjects was roommates with a White Coat I had recognized from Vesta Corp, another was dating one of the guard’s I’d faced when I’d returned with Colton in tow, and the other had a scientist from Vesta Corp acting as her landlord.
These people had come to trust McVeigh’s team, and that trust would be their downfall.
I leaned against the steel wall, trying to ignore the pressure of the cuffs binding my wrists and the way they had cut into my flesh.  I could have broken them if I had really wanted to, it wouldn’t have taken much effort on my end at all, but what good would it have done? There was no escaping this time.
They had brought me here hours ago when they’d managed to track down Colton and the others. “Don’t worry, your little family be will joining you soon enough,” Todd had said before slamming the cell door shut.
Every choice has a consequence. I allowed the words to replay in my mind, ignoring the nagging ache to give into my Program’s exhaustion.
I thought of the conversation I’d had with Colton concerning fate.
I remembered telling him how one simple choice had sent my world into an array of discord. He’d tried easing my worries by telling me that it hadn’t been just my choice that had led to us being back under the thumb of Charles McVeigh. He’d told me, “What I’m saying is that you can’t put all of the blame on yourself. You made a choice, yes, but so did McVeigh. Even if you hadn’t made it that day, you would’ve made it at some other point, and he’d long before decided to take you. It isn’t fate; it’s a chain reaction of choices, all beginning with McVeigh. All we can do from here on out is try to break the chain by making informed decisions.”
And it was only now, left to sit in a concrete cell by myself, that I’d really understood that he’d been right all along. All of this really was really was nothing more than a series of unfortunate choices.
I’d made the choice to go to Tommy’s that night, but Charles McVeigh had made the choice to end my life. It had all been a domino effect from there on out.
A string of bad choices had been the destruction of everything that I’d held dear.
A string of bad choices had killed those that I’d loved.
I thought back to when I’d found Hayden tied to a chair at Vesta Corp, when they’d left to suffer on his own, back before everything had gone to hell. He had asked me to try and get mom and dad out of Vesta Corp, even though we’d both known it had been too late. He was still hanging onto hope that everything would be okay.
And then I recalled what he’d said to me after that.
“You think it’s too late for them,” he whispered. “You’re probably right, but what about Colton? It’s not too late to help him. If it’s me that you’re worried about, stop. I can take care of myself.”
He said that he could take care of himself; that I needed to get Colton to safety. I’d made him promise me that he would keep fighting, and he had. But my pleading was useless because there was no fighting back against McVeigh, not without the promise of death.
And when I walked into the room that day, and found him lying there, completely still and void of life, I realized just how true that was.
Seeing him like that – his eyes vacant, and his body bloody, it nearly destroyed me.
He’d spent so long trying to protect me that he forgot to worry about himself. I had been his source of destruction just as much as Alexis, and that was what hurt the most.
A loud bang sounded at the door, forcing me out of my thoughts. A welcome distraction given the circumstance; something I thought I’d never say about McVeigh, but physical pain was more tolerable than the emotional pain. The physical pain might’ve left scars, but it was only temporary. The emotional pain? It would never fully fade. It’d get easier in time, yes, but I’d never be whole again.
There would always be that ache; that void, in my chest that would never be able to be filled. And not just because of Hayden. I’d lost everything at the hands of Charles McVeigh. The life that I’d fought so hard to hold onto? I’d lost that the moment I walked down that alleyway, it was only now that I had accepted the truth, only after I had managed to lose everything else.
Sure, the others were alive for now, but that was the thing – the only guarantee inside of these walls was death. It wouldn’t be long now before I destroyed their lives just as I had the others.
“Let go of me.” Colton’s voice carried through the empty hallway.
McVeigh had apparently dispersed the rest of the staff throughout five locations, or so I’d heard him tell some woman. From what I understood, this was the smallest of the five locations. It also served as McVeigh’s secondary office. It was meant to house his best Programs and his most equipped White Coats. And lucky me, I’d been one of the chosen ones to be brought here.
From what I’d been able to see, there was only one holding cell, meaning we’d all be thrown into one cell together until it was time to start the transformation process on the others.
I leaned forward, watching curiously as the door to the room opened. I could feel the metal cuff digging into my wrist. It hadn’t hurt, but the tearing of the flesh was never a good thing. It left my insides vulnerable, and though I was hurting, I was nowhere near ready for this to be my ending. Not when I’d still had so much to do.
Alexis was the first person to enter. Dry blood covered her body, and her clothes were torn and dirty. She looked nothing like the girl I had remembered. This girl was vulnerable, hurt, damaged. She was visibly broken. Just like all the others.
Vesta Corp might not have killed them yet, but they’d come close enough.
Even if, by some miracle, we happened to survive this, we’d all be changed. We were all broken. We were all clinging to the threads of the people we used to be, because our pasts were all that we had left. That was the sad truth.
Alexis walked over next to me, her arms cuffed behind her back. Todd kicked her ankles out, forcing her to fall onto the ground beside me. “Was that really freaking necessary, you damn robot?” she snapped, apparently forgetting that I was sitting next to her.
“Shit. I’m sorry, Emile,” she said, turning her attention to me.
Maybe I was too hurt to speak. Or I just wasn’t sure how to talk to her knowing she was the last one to see him alive – as Hayden, not as the thing he was now. But I couldn’t bring myself to answer her.
Those eyes, those lifeless eyes, were all I could think about now.
“Do you know what I find to be the most amusing?” McVeigh asked as he shoved Colton and Tina through the doorway. “That you all really thought you could get away from me. Have you all learned nothing?”
“I’ve learned that you’re an evil asshole,” Colton muttered. Then his eyes settled on me. “Emile.” His voice was soft and full of heartache.
Looking at him now, as he tried his best to keep it together – not for him, but for me – I couldn’t help but to think of how much I had screwed up.
That day on the road, I could’ve easily dropped him off somewhere else. Someplace safe. Instead, believing that I had a shot of freedom, I’d dragged him into my personal hell, where soon enough, he’d either be dead or like me, and I wasn’t sure which would be worse.
There was one thing that he’d said to me that I’d never quite been able to forget. “Learning to start over isn’t easy. I almost feel as though I’m broken and I’m not sure how to fix that, you know?”
I’d told him that I think in order to fix someone who was broken they needed to be given a fresh start – a clean slate. I was na├»ve enough then to believe that we’d both had just that.
I offered him a reassuring smile as he kneeled in front of me. “Where are Grant and Tommy?” I asked him, taking note that we were two people short.
He looked over at McVeigh, not sure if he should answer. I was fully expecting McVeigh to reply with one of his typical horrifying responses, but it was Alexis who spoke next. “He had my mother and his guards bring them to a separate room.”
“Let these kids go, Charles,” Tina pleaded. “Whatever it is that you want, I’ll do it, just let these poor kids go. They haven’t done anything to deserve this.”
“It’s no use,” Alexis said. “You’re talking to a man with no heart; a man that lacks any sort of empathic bone in his body. He doesn’t care what happens to us, so long as it benefits him and this psychotic company.”
“Psychotic company?” McVeigh asked, arching a brow. “Is that so? My dear, have you forgotten that, per our original agreement, you are to take over this family business?”
“You seem to be forgetting that in order for me to take over a family business, there’d have to be a family unit in place,” she answered. “And last I checked a mother and two uncles that are more than willing to murder their own blood relative does not make up a family.”
“Well now, Thirteen seems to be carrying on just fine without a family,” McVeigh sneered.
I closed my eyes, trying to block his face from my thoughts as I struggled to calm myself. He had been the one to rid me of my family. He had been the one that had stolen my life from me. He was the reason we were here now.
It all led back to McVeigh.
This had always been about what he wanted.
“Do you know what your biggest problem is?” I asked, my eyes falling on McVeigh. He was dressed in a fitted black suit with a bright red tie. He looked over at me, with his lips pressed in a thin line, and crossed him arms, waiting for me to continue. “Your biggest problem is that you want the world to feel the pain you’ve felt. You’ve completely closed yourself off from the world as a form of self-preservation. You claim that you’re trying to fix society, to perfect it, but all you’re doing is trying to make the world your own because you’re terrified of the reality that is out there.”
McVeigh broke into a fit of laughter and clapped his hands together excitedly. “My goodness, you truly are a delight, Thirteen.”
He turned on his heel, signaling for Todd to follow his lead. He stopped at the door, his hand on the handle, and looked over his shoulder. “Please feel free to make yourselves at home. We’ll be back for you all shortly,” he said, a satisfied grin tugging at his lips.
 The door slammed shut behind him, leaving us to sit in the dimly lit concrete cell.
“He left something for you,” Alexis said, breaking the silence we’d been drowning in. “He made me promise that I’d give it to you. I know this isn’t the best time, but you need to read it. You need to know that he tried.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed her trying to reach into her pocket. “Come here, Alexis,” Tina said. “You’re going to end up hurting yourself.”
I should’ve helped. I knew that, if I focused hard enough, I could snap the cuffs on my wrists, but I was emotionally drained. And I still couldn’t be sure that she hadn’t had a part in his death. After all, she was the reason I was here as it was.
Stop allowing your emotions to control you, I told myself.
I leaned back against the wall, trying to figure out my next move, knowing that we were running out of time.
Alexis fell against the wall as Tina helped to ease a folded sheet of paper out of her pocket. She tried to unfold the letter – which was difficult with her hands behind her back. “This is for you.” She bent down, trying to slide the sheet into my lap. “You need to read it, Emile.”
I looked down at the letter, taking in every crinkle and every fold, before I finally found the courage to read over the words he’d written to me – his final goodbye.
Dear Emile,
If you’re reading this, know that I fought as hard as I could.
All I ever wanted was to give you a second chance at life. I hadn’t stopped to realize how many lives that I would be altering in the process.
I know this is going to sound stupid, but I still remember the day that mom and dad came home with you. I told them to take you back, like the spoiled little brat I had been, ha-ha. I was so used to being the only child, that I couldn’t fathom the idea of another kid joining the family. But in time, I came to love you, and all I wanted to do was protect you.
I swore that I would never allow anything, or anyone, to hurt you.
I feel as though I’ve failed.
But how was I supposed to protect you from the unknown?
I think that is what hurts the most. I didn’t know about Charles McVeigh or Vesta Corp. I didn’t know that you were in any sort of danger. I know that I couldn’t have stopped him – he always finds a way of getting what he wants – but I can’t stop beating myself up over it.
When I helped you escape the first time, I had already known what would become of me. I never expected to make it out of here alive – or shall I say as a human. It wasn’t that I wasn’t going to fight, I did; I fought as hard as I could, but there is only so much one can fight before they succumb to the pain. And I’m hurting, Emile.
I was there when he took mom and dad.
He made me watch every moment of it; he forced me to listen to their screams.
I can still hear them, crying out for help.
I could’ve helped them, I could’ve, but I had allowed my pain to paralyze me. I just sat there. I just sat there and watched them die.
I don’t want you to come after me. We both know that is what McVeigh is hoping for, and I don’t want you to satisfy the scumbag’s desires.
I want you to run, to start a new life with Colton, to learn how to live again, because you deserve it. You are the strongest person that I know, and I will forever be grateful that I was able to call you my sister.
You made me a better person, I hope you know that.
You taught me how to love.
You taught me to believe in hope.
You were the best thing about me, dear sister, please, know that.
It is killing me to write this. I’m trying like hell to keep the tears from falling. I’m trying to keep it together, but I’m nearing collapse.
I can hear him coming, it won’t be long now.
Just know that I love you, Emile, and I’ll never forget you.
Love,
Hayden
A sad smile tugged at my lips. It hurt so much to know that he was gone, and I was sure that if my heart functioned like that of a normal human being, it would’ve broken.
You had it wrong, Hayden, I thought to myself. It wasn’t me who made him a better person, it was him that made me a better person. He fought for me. He taught me to fight for what I wanted, for what I believed in. He showed me that love was the only thing you needed in life in order to make it worthwhile.
It wasn’t about how much time you had on this earth. No. Life was about what you left behind. And he’d left behind a group of people that loved him more than he would ever know.
“Are you alright?” Colton asked, scooting closer next to me. His arm brushed against mine, and I could feel him shutter at the sudden coldness.
“Sorry.” I moved my arm away from his, trying to make sure he was comfortable. Even now, after all of the time I’d spent around him, I had a tendency to forget I wasn’t like him. He wasn’t weak, but he also wasn’t as strong as I was.
“It’s alright. I don’t mind, Emile.”
I nodded, unsure how else to respond.
“Do you remember the way we met?” he asked.
“How could I forget?”
Colton let out a small laugh. “True, that wasn’t exactly my finest moment.”
“I would have to agree with that one,” I answered. “I’m sorry I got you into this mess.”
He shook his head. “Emile, listen to me, please.” His eyes locked on mine as he turned to face me. “None of this is your fault, okay? You’re not the crazed bastard snatching people off the streets for his own personal use.”
“That may be the case, but if I hadn’t come upon you that day, you wouldn’t be in this position,” I said.
“You’re right,” he agreed. “If you hadn’t found me that day, I would’ve been lying on the side of the road dead, and I would’ve missed out on meeting you. And whether you agree with me or not, you’ve changed my life for the better, Emile. You gave me a reason to fight. You gave me a second chance.”
I lowered my gaze, eager to be free of Colton’s worried stare. I could feel myself starting to fade; the darkness was pulling me under, and I wasn’t sure how much longer I could fight back.
“Emile?” Colton asked. His words were laced with concern. He pressed his knee against mine, trying to get me to look up at him. But I couldn’t move. My body was far too weak.
“She needs to enter Standby mode,” Tina said. Her voice sounded distant though I knew she wasn’t more than a few feet away me. “Or else her Program is going to shut down.”
“How the hell are we supposed to get her to a Pod?” Colton asked, his tone growing more frantic. “It isn’t like they are going to allow us to leave this room. McVeigh’s made that rather clear this go round.”
It felt as though someone had taken a sledgehammer to my head. My circuits were going nuts. I was overwhelmed, something I was beginning to learn occurred whenever my emotions were high.
“I can get her to a Pod,” Alexis spoke up. “I have an agreement with him to council Thirteen. I can get her out of here without issue.”
Their voices began to grow distant, and my thoughts slowly began to blur. I could feel myself going under; the darkness called for me to surrender. And this time, I didn’t fight it.



3 THE CONTRACT
ALEXIS
When my Uncle Charles sent his men by to make sure that we hadn’t escaped – since this building lacked the security the main building had – I’d told them to let him know I would agree to fulfill the terms of the contract, if he would allow Emile to connect to a Pod.
It was a risky choice, given that he was known to go back on his word, and I couldn’t be sure what would happen to me once I left this holding cell. But it was a risk that I had to take.
A few minutes later, he let himself into the room, grinning as he did so. “I see you’ve finally come to your senses,” he said. “It’s about time, my dear Alexis.”
I bit down on my bottom lip, trying to contain my anger.
I would never forgive him for the pain he’d inflicted on those that I’d come to consider my family, and I certainly would never forgive him for what he’d done to Hayden. He had destroyed a part of me when he’d pulled the trigger that day, and I wasn’t sure I’d ever get it back.
But I couldn’t allow my pain to make my choices for me. If I wanted to help Emile and the others, I had to attempt to behave. My actions no longer affected just me; they affected every single person inside of this room. “I’ll follow through on my end, only if you agree to connect her to a Pod. Immediately.”
He leaned against the door frame, with his hands plunged inside of his suit jacket. “Alexis, dear, haven’t I already explained to you that I am not a man of compromise?”
“I could give two craps what you are right now,” I answered. “The only way this is going to work is if you help her.”
He seemed to mull over my offer for a few minutes. He stood there quietly with his finger pressed to his lips. When he finally spoke, I was fully expecting him to threaten me, per the usual, but he hadn’t. “Fine.”
He reached inside of his pant pocket and pulled out a black lanyard with a lone copper key hanging from it. “Take off your cuffs and then help the boy with his,” he said. “And don’t even think about trying to pull anything. I have guards surrounding the building, all of them more than willing to shoot anyone that attempts an escape.”
The menacing smile I had come to know all too well over the years was back, and ten times worse than usual. He reminded me of something from a nightmare. Seriously, how the hell had I managed to be born into a family of nut jobs?
The key landed on the floor beside my hands. I leaned back so that my fingertips brushed against the concrete floor, and managed to slip my hand through the lanyard, pulling it up until I was gripping the key between my fingers.
“I’m guessing it would’ve been too easy for you to help me?” I said, growing frustrated as I tried to slip the key inside of the hole. It was incredibly hard to rotate your wrists with metal cuffs binding them. It seemed as though each movement forced them to tighten their hold. I could felt the skin beneath the metal tear, but I didn’t cry out.
I knew better than to show weakness in front of my uncle. He preyed on weakness.
I looked up at him and found myself growing more frustrated with each passing second. It hadn’t helped that he seemed to be enjoying my pain. Just as I was about to give up, I’d managed to slid the key in the lock. I heard a low clicking noise, and I felt the cuffs loosen around my wrists. I slipped the cuffs off and rose to my feet.
My inner wrists were sore and red where the cuffs had dug into my skin. It hurt. Badly. But still, I didn’t show it. It wasn’t just my uncle and his need to prey on the weaknesses of others. That had a major part to do with my stubbornness, obviously, but it wasn’t the only part.
The pain that I felt now? It was nothing compared to the pain that I’d caused others. I had no right to complain; no right to scream out in agony, because I deserved this. All of it.
“Uh, Alexis?” Colton stood up and turned his back towards me so that I could undo his handcuffs.
“Sorry,” I said. I slipped the key inside of the lock and waited for the click. I slipped the cuffs off of his wrists and tossed them onto the ground next to mine.
Now would’ve been the perfect time to attack, to fight back against the smug asshole. But I took one look at Emile and knew that I needed to wait. She needed me right now, and I needed her to be okay.
“Help me lift her up,” I said to Colton.
I tried lifting her arm over my shoulder, failing to realize just how heavy her body was. Then again, it wasn’t as though I’d made it a habit of supporting the weight of Programs on a daily basis. Each movement caused me to wince in pain. The weight of her body was pressing down on my already swollen wrists.
I looked at the note still spread upon her lap, and wondered if my uncle had taken notice of it yet. I quickly folded it back up and slipped it inside of her pocket. His final goodbye was all that she had left, and I wouldn’t allow my uncle to take that away from her too.
“Hurry up, children, I don’t have all day.” My Uncle Charles walked over to the door, and leaned against the door frame, looking on with amusement as we slowly carried Emile towards the door.
“Is he going to override her programming?” he asked me, careful to keep his voice low. “Is he going to try and bring Thirteen back?”
I wanted to tell him no, that he’d leave her programming as it was, but I couldn’t. Hadn’t my uncle just showed how little he cared for any of us when he’d killed Hayden and brought us back here? Our time was nearly up. All of us.
I nodded my head, unable to speak. Just the mere thought of Hayden was enough to hurt me. I missed him more than I had the right to. I missed him more than I’d ever admit aloud. He had died trying to protect me. He died for me. That was the worst part of it all.
Either way one looked at it, he died because of me.
How could I expect Emile to be accepting of that? Easy. I couldn’t.
My uncle motioned for two of his guards to gather Emile and bring her to a Pod located in a back room. Well, that wasn’t good news, I thought to myself.
The Programs that were kept closer to his office were considered valuable Programs; they were never out of my uncle’s sight. And that was before Hayden and what he’d done to restore human identities on select Programs.
I didn’t even want to consider what the security would be like now.
My uncle grabbed a hold of my arm and pulled me out of the room. With his fingers still digging into my arm, he looked back at Colton and issued a warning of sorts, “I’m watching you. Might I suggest you all remain on your best behavior?”
“After everything you’ve done to us? You honestly think we’d listen to a word you have to say?” Colton responded. “Bite me, you asshole.”
My uncle laughed at that, and it reminded me of Dr. Evil’s maniacal laugh. Which seemed kind of fitting when I stopped to think about it. “You remind me of her, child. I hope that means you’ll show as much promise as Thirteen has.”

This location was nothing like Vesta Corp. I had become used to the clean and crisp feeling of Vesta Corp, that I’d forgotten how bleak this location had been in comparison. The walls in the halls were covered in anatomical posters, and pages from a journal my grandfather had kept in the early days of the family business.
Doorways sat open, revealing the poorly constructed operation rooms and the unfortunate bodies that currently occupied them.
We’d stopped at a weathered wooden door with the number twenty-seven painted on it.
My uncle ushered me inside first, and slammed the door shut behind him.
The room was small and housed only a compact steel table and two matching chairs. “Are you planning on sticking me with another needle or something?” I asked wearily, easing myself onto the chair across form him.
A smile tugged at his lips, but it wasn’t friendly. “If you misbehave, that is a very good possibility.”
I hadn’t remembered much after I’d gotten inside of the sedan.
Whatever he had injected me with, it had knocked me out on my ass. The last thing I remembered was waking up and being led to the holding cell with the others. Everything before that had been a complete and utter blur.
“Why can’t you let the others go?’ I asked, knowing what his answer would be. The same thing my mother had told me when I’d asked her about Hayden. They’d known too much. They were now a threat, and that meant he needed to destroy them before they could destroy him.
He was paranoid, off balance, and completely self-absorbed. It was a dangerous combination.
“Because I have bigger plans for them,” he answered. “Just as I do for you.”
I eyed him suspiciously. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“My dear, did you honestly think I’d accept your reconsideration?” He arched a brow at me and leaned back in his chair, resting his hands on the edge of the table. “As I’ve already told you, I am not a man of compromise.”
It felt as though my heart had dropped inside of my chest.
The fear I’d been trying like hell to fight off, shot through my veins all at once. “What are you saying?”
“Time is up, Alexis.” He stood and pushed in his chair. I followed him with my eyes as he circled the table.
I wanted to scream – to tell him that I chose when my time was up. I wanted to tell him that I would choose how my story ended, not him. But no matter how hard I tried to speak, the words seemed to get caught in my throat.
He stood behind me, one arm wrapped around my neck, and the other gripping a glistening needle. “You had a choice, and you chose wrong.”
All along, I’d told myself that I was in control of my ending, not my uncle – that I would decide when I was ready to stop fighting. But as I stared at the needle that he clenched within his grasp, I wasn’t so sure that I had it in me. Because, in that moment, I knew that death at his hand would’ve been a proper ending for all of the pain that I’d caused.
I instinctively thought of Hayden and the serenity that covered his face just before the bullet pierced his chest. My uncle had once told me, “That boy has softened you, my dear Alexis.”
But that wasn’t true.
Hayden helped me to realize that every journey eventually comes to an end, and when it did? It wasn’t about the length of time that proved it worthwhile. It was the journey.
The girl that I used to be had always placed her selfish needs before those of others due to fear. But the girl that I was today? She was stronger, tougher, and smarter.
I ignored the pang in my heart as the memories of him flooded back all at once.
Without warning, he lifted the needle and jammed it into my chest, just above my heart. The warm liquid traveled through my veins at full speed, completely overtaking my body within a matter of seconds. My head grew heavy and my pulse weak as whatever drug he’d injected me with consumed every inch of me.
“Why are you doing this?” I tried to ask, but my words came out slurred.
“Relax,” his voice was uncaring as he pulled out the needle. “You’ll be joining that boy of yours soon enough, dear.”
I was drowning in the darkness, being pulled down further and further by my guilt and my pain, but I didn’t try to fight it. “Go to hell,” I’d barely managed to mumble before my head smacked into the steel table.

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