Stolen by Wolves

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Young Adult  |  House: Booksie Classic

"Choose me."

Chapter 6 (v.1) - Betrayal

Submitted: December 28, 2013

Reads: 463

Comments: 20

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Submitted: December 28, 2013

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Day Five

Betrayal

 

“You ready for this?”  Jem asked his chin resting on the crown of Ella’s head.  Her arms were wrapped securely around his waist and his door was closed. 

She nodded.  “As ready as I’ll ever be.”  Then she pulled away and took a deep breath, her eyes going to the door then back to Jem.  He smiled gently but his eyes were sad.

“It’s going to be okay.”  He said and she rolled her lips into her mouth as she nodded again.

“Yeah, I know.”  Jem took her hand, their fingers lacing as they made their way downstairs.  As they walked Ella played what was going to happen through her mind.  She imagined the look on Daddy’s face when he saw her.  His eyes filling with sorrow, shame and anger but happy to see her unharmed.  The bruises on her face had faded to light yellow and brown and could be covered easily with makeup.  He’d tell her he was sorry he let this happen and she would say it wasn’t his fault.  Tears would be in her eyes by then but she’d hold them back because she wanted to appear brave.  Daddy would turn his attention to Jem and Daniel all business now.  They’d talk and then Bridget would appear on the screen to prove that she was unharmed too.  Daddy would tell them that all of this was some colossal misunderstanding and they should just give Ella back, he would do the same with Bridget and all of it will be over.  Jem would then drive her to wherever her father was and she’d get out and run to him.  Daddy would hold her tight and she’d allow herself to cry shamelessly against his chest as he stroked her back reassuringly.  She would look back and see Bridget doing the same with Jem who would be holding her tightly.  Their eyes would meet over Bridget’s shoulder before Ella gets into a car with her father and Jem drives off. 

 

Daniel met them at the foot of the stairs with a stony expression on his face but his pale eyes looked panicked.  His eyes flicked to Ella before going to his brother’s.  “Mason’s not the one making the final arrangements.”  He said.

Jem frowned.  “What?  Who is?”

“Jonathan.”

“Wasn’t my Dad supposed to be doing the talking?”  Ella spoke up. 

“It wasn’t what we agreed when Mason and I met.”  Jem shook his head as if physically trying to clear it.  “It doesn’t change much.  He probably wants to see her for himself.  It makes sense.”

Daniel nodded but he didn’t look convinced.  “Leave her here.  We’ll bring her in once we know exactly what’s going on.” 

 

Jem felt as though he was back in the library four days ago with everything falling to pieces around him and his control crumbling to dust inside.  Ella squeezed his hand yanking him back into the present.  He looked down into her big brown eyes.

“It’s going to be okay.”  She said resolutely. 

“Stay here okay.  Don’t come into the lounge unless Daniel or I come get you.”  He said then followed Daniel into the other room.  Daniel had connected his laptop to the T.V so whole set up with Jonathan’s face big on their flat screen seemed a bit corny.

“Boys, I’m glad you could join me.”  Jonathan said coolly.  He wore an expensive looking black pin striped suit which had obviously been tailored to fit him just right.

“I can’t say I’m glad to be here.”  Daniel muttered. 

“I underestimated you two.”  He mused sizing them up with his eyes.  “You’ve caused a small deal of trouble and a large deal of grief for me.”

“We thought you could use a taste of your own medicine.”  Daniel hissed.  “Now do you have Bridget or what?” 

Jonathan shifted in his seat making himself comfortable.  He looked like he was sitting in a smart office somewhere.  “I do and I suppose you have Daniela with you then.” 

“Yes,” Jem said tersely.  “We want to see her.” 

“Very well,” Jonathan’s hand expanded on the screen as he reached towards the camera and twisted it around.  When his hand retreated a blonde girl was revealed tied to a chair with her head drooping forward.  Her shoulders shook like she was crying. 

Jem’s breath hitched and stuck in his throat.  “Bridget,” he croaked.  She didn’t look up.  “Bridget,” he said louder, more desperately.  She shook her head, her hair flicking to the sides.  A chair creaked as Jonathan got up and walked into view.

“Bridget, you’re brothers are here to see you.”  He said in this gentle voice that sounded like nails on a chalkboard to him.  Slowly she lifted her head but kept her pale blue eyes cast down.  When he saw her face it felt as though someone had sucker punched his heart.  Daniel swore viciously. 

Her face was swollen in places with dark bruises colouring her pale skin and the left half of her face was dirtied with dry blood that had seeped from the split skin above her eye.  She was gagged with a white rag that was stained red from the blood on her lips. 

“Bridget,” Daniel said his voice coming out surprisingly strong.  “Look at me—look at us, we’re going save you, we promise.”  She looked up, her eyes ringed red with tears.  They were bright and firm but kept darting to something out of view.  She was afraid of something or someone there.

“Don’t make promises you can’t keep Daniel.”  Jonathan said sternly.

“What are you talking about?”  Jem exploded.  “We’re going to get her back.” 

Jonathan’s brow rose and the corners of his mouth turned down expectantly.  “And how do you suppose you’re going to do that, boys?”  He inquired.

“Mason said—”

“Mason was out of his league when he went behind my back to meet you.  I do apologise sincerely for letting him get your hopes up.”

“What about the trade?”  Jem said desperately.  “We have Ella.”

“And you think this gives you an upper hand?”  Jonathan laughed darkly.  “You boys have nothing.”

“I’ll kill her.”  Daniel said bluntly. 

“Then do it.  She’s nothing to me.”  He shrugged.

“She’s your daughter.”  Jem said incredulously.  He refused to believe that this man could be that heartless.  It made no sense.

“You boys should have stayed in your little workshops making fireworks.  Getting involved in things you don’t understand can only end two ways.  And that’s death and defeat.  Daniela is not my daughter.  Her mother had an affair and tried to pass her off as mine but I knew.  Gabriel on the other hand was my son and you two killed him.” 

Daniel glanced at him, a look of pure horror in his eyes.  They had nothing.  When they thought they were a step ahead they were really so far behind they weren’t even in the same race. 

“Do you know what’s pathetic about you two?  If you had looked into my family just a bit you would have found that out.”

“What are you going to do?”  Jem voiced but was so afraid of hearing the answer. 

“Paul, do your job.”  Jonathan said and a burly man with black hair cropped close to his head stepped into view.  Jem realized he must have been who Bridget was looking at.  He cocked his gun and pressed it against her temple.  She whimpered as more tears streaked her battered face.

“NO!”  Jem screamed roughly stumbling forward as if he could get between the gunman and his sister.  But that was impossible.  She could be on the other side of the country for all he knew.  “Please!  Please just don’t.”  He begged tears burning the back of his eyes.  Jonathan raised a hand indicating to Paul that he should stop. 

“We’ll give you anything you want.”  Daniel said desperately.  “Don’t kill her.”

“Paul, remove the gag.  Let’s allow her a few last words to her brothers.”  Paul took the rag from around her mouth and then she looked into the camera, across the distance between them and into their eyes in turn. 

“This is my entire fault, I'm sorry you guys.  I’ll tell Mom and Dad you say hi, though.”  She laughed brokenly.

“Don’t talk like that!  You’re not going to die!  We’ll find a way.”  Daniel raged.

She shook her head and in that moment Jem was reminded of the nightmare he had.  “There’s nothing you can do, I’m sorry.”  She said.  “Jem I need you to keep your head together okay?  And Daniel, behave.”  Bridget smiled briefly and something hot tracked down Jem’s cheek.  Only when he wiped at it did he realize he was crying.  “I love you.”  She said.

Jem didn’t want to say it back because it would be a goodbye and he didn’t want to do that. “I love you too.”  He heard himself say anyway and then Daniel said it as well. 

Paul pressed the gun back to her temple and she closed her eyes.  “Don’t look.”  She said in that stern big sister voice but he couldn’t pull his eyes away.

“Jonathan, please don’t do this.”  He began again.  “Please,” he begged.  But it was like he couldn’t hear him anymore. 

Paul pulled the trigger and the sound exploded through the room.  Bridget slumped forward and her shirt turned black as the material soaked up her blood before it began to pool around her feet. 

Jem stared at his sister unable to look away and unable to completely accept what had just happened.  His chest tightened and then the world pitched as he collapsed.  The living room and all its furniture darkened slowly before brightening again then going dark once more.  Hot tears ran down his face and trickled off his chin as his whole body convulsed with sobs.  In the corner of his eye he saw Ella stumble back then turn and run upstairs.  He didn’t know how long she’d been there or what she had seen but he didn’t care. 

“Don’t think this is over.”  He heard Jonathan say.  “I’m still coming for you two.”  Then the screen went blank.

Daniel was on the floor too, slumped against the couch staring out into the distance.  His eyes swam with tears but none fell.  He just stared, his face as expressionless and still as stone.  After a while the violent shudders subsided and Jem staggered up.  He felt so very tired. 

“It was all for nothing.”  He gasped.

“Where are you going?”  Daniel called after him, his voice husky.  Jem stormed upstairs his thundering steps his only response.

 

Ella shrank against Jem’s couch as Daniel stomped upstairs sounding like a monster out of a horror movie.  She had seen what he had seen.  She saw Daddy order that man to kill Bridget and knew that anything Daniel did now would be bad.The door swung open and Jem stepped in. 

“Jem,” she sighed relieved.  His cheeks were flushed and the dampness there shone dully.  Her face crumpled at the sharp memory of him crying.  “I'm so sorry.”

“Don’t,” he hissed his face hardening as he glared at her.  The intensity behind his eyes made her squirm uncomfortably.  Something about the way he looked at her made her scared, made her think of Daniel.

“Jem,” she said softly hoping he’d snap out of it.  If anything his eyes got colder.  “Bridget was my friend,” her voice shook, “if I knew I would have—”

“Don’t,” he repeated tersely.  “Just…stop talking.”  He let out a breath and fisted his hands in his hair as he squeezed his eyes shut.  Ella chewed the inside of her cheek anxiously.  When he opened his eyes again she could see that everything he had tried so desperately to hold together had crumpled.  Defeat riddled every aspect of him.  He sniffed once then wiped his cheeks with the back of his hand.  “Ella, it’s over.  You don’t have to stay anymore.”  He extended an arm towards the door.  She stared at him incredulously. 

“I’m not going to leave you like this.”  She said.

He laughed; the sound was like broken glass, sharp and dangerous.  “There’s nothing stopping you from.”  He pointed out bitterly. 

“You’re wrong.  There is something stopping me.”  She stated moving towards him cautiously.  “Isn’t obvious?”  She placed her hands on his cheeks and stared up into his bleak eyes.  Humour flickered deep within the grey mist of them but it was gone within seconds.

“You shouldn’t care about me so much.  This was never supposed to go as far as it did.”

Her brow knit together in confusion.  “What do you mean?”

Jem was quiet for a moment, his eyes brooding and regretful.  “Forget it.”  He stepped away from her.  Ella watched him move unsure of what to say or do.  Seeing Jem like this wasn’t something she was used to. 

“What happens now?”  She asked tentatively.

He shrugged.  “I don’t know.  I didn’t plan for this.  I didn’t plan for us to be this fucked.”  He threw a hand down expressing his point.

“W-we can figure something out.”  She  stammered.  He made a graceless sound at the back of his throat.

“You’re no longer included.  You’re not tied down to this anymore.  So don’t talk like this is your problem to ‘figure out’.”  He laughed again, tears burning in his eyes.  “Not that it’s even a problem anymore.  Problems can be solved.  And this is…”  He blinked hard and shook his head shutting his eyes again.  “This is fucked.” 

Ella watched him struggle to hold himself together.  He was: Bleak, Black, Empty, Gutted; Inconsolable.  Nothing she could say could lessen his pain.

“You can’t stay here anymore.”  He said roughly.  “I need to be alone.” 

Ella clasped her shaking hands together.  “Where will I go?” 

Jem strode towards her and grasped her forearm.  She gasped at the roughness of his grip.  Something flickered in his eyes, but he cut his gaze away and when he looked back it was gone.  The only reason she knew she hadn’t imagined it was that he loosened his grip before leading her from the room.  She walked beside him quietly until he turned into the library.  Ella froze.

“No,” she gasped.  Jem jerked her forward, his jaw tight and his eyes dim.  “Please don’t put me down there.  What if Daniel finds me?  Jem, please,” she begged.  He continued to force her through the library until he had to pause at the locked door to open it.

“Stop struggling Ella.”  He grated as the door clicked open.  Her stomach flipped fearfully as he shoved her down the stairs.

“I swear I didn’t know.”  She sobbed.  “I’d never hurt you like that!” 

His stride faltered and then he stopped.  When he spoke his voice was heated, “Why not?”  He pulled her around so she faced him.  She couldn’t bring herself to look him in the eye afraid of what she’d find there.

“I just wouldn’t.”  She said shakily.

He rolled his eyes.  “Of course you wouldn’t.”  He sighed then glanced down the passage that led to her cell.  “Last night when I almost said that I loved you,” Jem said in a rush cutting his gaze her way.  The intensity behind them startled her.  “I didn’t mean it.  It was a mistake.”

“I figured,” she muttered indifferently even though his words hurt. 

“You shouldn’t care about hurting me.  I'm a bad person, don’t you understand that?”

“No, you’re not.  You told me to remember that and I will.”  She said fiercely.  “I don’t know why you’re doing this but you don’t have to.  You have a choice Jem.”  Her voice quieted when she added, “Choose me.”  He stared at her with a pained expression. 

“It’s not that easy.”  He said in a strained voice that wavered and cracked. 

His keys jangled against the big metal gate before he pulled it open and chucked her inside then locked it again.  Terror seized her with in its hot grip and her chest tightened with anxiety.  Images of Daniel forcing his mouth against hers flashed through her mind like lightning and she threw herself against the gate as Jem turned his back and left.

“Don’t leave me here!”  She screamed desperately.  “Please, don’t leave me.” 

“I can’t believe it was all for nothing.”  He muttered before he disappeared behind concrete walls. 

 

The sky turned orange-pink then faded to black as Ella shivered in her cell.  He’d come back.  She was sure of it.

Her stomach churned violently at the images of Bridget’s blood pooling at her feet and staining the tips of her hair.  Daddy had ordered that man to do it.  A tear tracked down her face.  No, she checked herself, he wasn’t even her father.  He was Jonathan Michaels, the man who wrecked lives and she hated him. 

Why did that feel like such a lie? 

She thought of Gabriel and how, if he was still alive, he would have been doing everything he could to help her.  She’d do the same for him.  It was what family did.  It was why she understood the reasons Jem did some of the things he did. 

Jem

Her thoughts circled back to him.  A hard lump rose at the back of her throat at the memory of him crying.  Ella had only ever seen Gabriel cry once and that was a memory she liked to push away and not think about.  But it would creep into her thoughts every now and then just to make her sad. 

She was very young when it happened but all the details were there.  She recalled how quiet the house was that day.  She was in her room when she heard Gabriel curse loudly, it was the first time she heard him swear she thought.  When she went downstairs he was sitting on the couch with his head in his hands.  He was only twelve at the time but he looked so old sitting there like that.  Ella had called out to him and that’s when he looked up and she saw the streams of tears cascading from his eyes.  She remembered how she had no idea what to do and suddenly had the urge to cry too. 

She didn’t though. 

Instead she sat beside him and put an arm over his shoulders and rested her head on one.  He looked so serious and miserable that she put a hand on his cheek tenderly and asked what was wrong.  She expected Gabriel to shrug away from her touch and not answer but he didn’t. 

“Mommy’s not coming back home.”  He muttered then turned to look at her.  “She had another family.”  Ella was only eight but she understood the results of such a thing.  Gabriel wrapped his arms around her and they cried together.  “She said you can go with her.”  He had said softly.  “But I don’t want you to go.  Please stay with Daddy and me.”  Ella could never forget the fear and sadness in his voice then. 

She had agreed to stay.  The thought of leaving the way their mother had repelled her.  After that day they never spoke about it and she never saw him cry again. 

 

Ella heard footsteps descending the wooden stairs and stood up hopefully.  She knew he’d come back for her.  Her hopes flared and died when Daniel loped into view.  She shrunk back.  She hated that their easy stride sounded so similar. 

“Ella,” he greeted resentfully.

“Daniel,” she said trying to match his tone but failing.  “What are you doing here?”

The corners of his lips twisted up coldly.  “I thought we should go for a drive.  You know, to celebrate your magnificent acting skills.  If it were up to me, you’d win an Oscar.”  He said flatly.

“I wasn’t acting—”

“Sure you weren’t.”  He snapped bitterly.  “Did you just forget to mention that Jonathan wasn’t your fucking father?”  Daniel grabbed the gate and jerked it forward making her jump.

“I-I d-didn’t know.”  She struggled to get her words out.

“I don’t give a fuck.”  Then he unlocked the gate and stepped inside.  “You’re going to be dead by the end of the night either way.” 

Ella backed up as he stalked into her personal space menacingly.  There was no escape, not this time.  Wherever she looked her view was obstructed by a wide shoulder or big chest.  She shrunk to the ground as the remnants of pride slipped away and shielded her arms over her face.  Daniel reached down and lifted her to her feet by the collar of Jem’s shirt, the hem of it cut into the back of her neck.Then he slammed her into the wall hard.  Ella cried out as her shoulder blades connected with the solid concrete. 

“You even had me believing you.”  He snarled.  His hands slipped from the collar of the shirt to around her neck before squeezing slowly.  “You’re worse than Gabriel.  You deserve to go to hell.” 

She choked under the pressure of hands as she clawed at them, her legs kicking out frantically.  The edges of her vision began to darken and small specks of light floated around Daniel’s enraged face. 

Suddenly his death hold went slack and she crumbled to the ground gasping for air.  She didn’t see the kick coming until it was too late and she was sprawled against the wall squirming in pain.  When she rolled to the side blood spattered to the floor as she coughed.  The sight of the red liquid frightened her tremendously.  She didn’t want to die.  Not like this.  

Daniel watched her with an amused look on his face as she forced herself to her feet.  He stepped towards her and she met him halfway with a clenched fist and the last of her strength.  Her fist connected with his body but he barely notice.  He grabbed her by the shoulders and flung her back into the wall.  The side of her head absorbed the impact with a meaty smack and colours exploded behind her eyelids.  Her vision swam in and out of focus rapidly as she watched Daniel’s feet as he approached again.  Unconsciousness claimed her a moment later.

 

 

The world rocked in an even dark rhythm as Ella stared confused at the retreating view of the wooden stairs above her head.  A shudder ran through her when she realized that she was slung over Daniel’s broad shoulder and he was carrying her up the stairs from the cellar.  A fleeting thought of fighting him crossed her mind but the fear of him chucking her down the stairs made her think otherwise.  Instead she remained as still as possible hoping desperately that Jem was downstairs somewhere and would spot them. 

Daniel loped through the library, his shoulder digging uncomfortably into her stomach, until he stopped outside and dropped her on the patio.  She hit the wooden surface hard and felt the damage quake all the way up her back. 

“Hey, look who’s awake.”  He jeered.  In the warm yellow patio light Ella noticed the blotchy red rings around his pale eyes.  He’d been crying too but unlike the sympathy she felt when seeing the same aftermath of tears on Jem she only felt fear.  The bright shine in his eyes and the flush high in his cheeks made him look wild and crazy.  Outside the dark was too close, suffocating.  There were no stars to witness what Daniel was going to do, the only spectators where the crowding trees that leaned against the garden gates as if to get a closer look. 

Ella dragged in a panicked breath and screamed.  The sound rang then dissipated in the air. 

Daniel scoffed, “Cute.  But nobody’s going to hear you.” 

Ella flinched when he took a step towards her, “Jem!”  She screamed her voice cracking on his name.  “Please, Jem, help me!” 

“Jem’s not here at the moment, feel free to leave a message.”  He smirked.  Something stilled inside her but it wasn’t the fear.  That still rattled her bones. 

“He wouldn’t have left.”  She said shocked.  His brow rose arrogantly.

“Well, he did.”  Daniel looked out into the night.  Ella’s lip trembled.  She couldn’t believe it.  He left. And now Daniel was going to kill her. 

Every muscle in her body hurt and a splitting headache was beginning to make her eyes water. 

She ignored it all and scrambled up and threw herself into the darkness.  Her knees buckled once and she came close to crashing into soft dirt but she caught herself up and ran headlong down that dirt path.  By the time Daniel looked back at her she was disappearing into the night.  She heard him swear loudly behind her but other than that there were no other sound of pursuit.  As the path began to curve gently two dim green lights appeared.  They were perched on a large expensive gate which was left wide open.  A smile broke across her face as she raced towards it.  Jem must have left them open.  Maybe Daniel was letting her go.

There was a single clap of thunder and Ella felt a strange narrow force jolt through her side.The ground pitched towards her face and her arms went up instinctively before she hit the ground.  Her right side, just above her hip, felt abnormally warm like hot water had been poured over her.  The cold of the night made itself known then as if it were jealous of the little warmth she felt and she shivered.  Her hands went to the fast spreading moisture and came away black and slippery.  Tears split onto her cheeks as she stared at her blood leaking from her body. 

The Range Rover cruised over and she cast a forlorn glance at the gates only a metre or two away.  She could have made it.  She was so very close it hurt.

Daniel hopped out of the car.  “You’re still alive.”  He sounded disappointed.

“Daniel,” Ella cried as she dragged her body away from him as best she could without releasing the pressure on her bleeding side. “Please don’t do this.  Think about Bridget.  She wouldn’t have wanted this.  I know she was your sister but she was my friend too.” 

“Bridget’s dead.  She’s not here to stop me.  She’ll never stop me from doing anything ever again.  She can’t want things anymore either.  The dead don’t work that way.” 

Staring up into his pale eyes she wondered how they could be so void of mercy.

“What about Jem.  He’s alive and he would never forgive you if you killed me.  Are you really going to risk losing him just so you can end my life?”  Daniel’s eyes narrowed as he regarded her.

“Why would I lose him?”  He seemed genuinely curious then his eyes widened and his brow shot up in realization.  “Oh, you still think he actually cares about you!”  Daniel laughed suddenly.  “Wow, you’re more pathetic than I thought.” 

“Jem does care about me.”  Ella said.

“Then why isn’t he here playing hero?”  Daniel asked then continued to answer himself, “He hates you.  None of it was real.”

“You’re lying.”  She spat viscously.  Her stomach contracted as she spoke causing a dizzying pain to shoot through her abdomen.  She pulled in a sharp breath.

“Think about this, I have no reason to lie to you.  The dead take their secrets to their grave.  The only reason Jem ever held you and touched you and told you pretty things was to get you to loosen up and talk.  The whole plan about tricking you into trusting one of us was his idea actually.  I'm surprised you didn’t notice his oh so sudden change in attitude after he came down to untie you.” 

This was never supposed to go as far as it did, his words drifted like hot embers through her brain.

“And you want to hear something funny?”  Daniel chuckled.  “Jem didn’t even want to be the one sweet-talking you.  He just lost at Rock Paper Scissors.”

Her throat tightened and a few more tears tracked down her cheeks.  “You’re lying.  Jem loves me!”  She felt horrible saying the words out loud when Jem himself had said he hadn’t meant them.

“There’s a huge difference between my brother loving someone and fucking someone.  They’ve never overlapped and you have them very confused.”  Daniel revelled in the pain in Ella’s eyes.  She felt as though he were ripping her heart to pieces before her eyes.  He crouched next to her and wiped a tear from her cheek tenderly.  “Hey, you shouldn’t take it so personally.”  He cooed.  “Gabriel fucked our sister first.  Jem was only getting even.” 

Ella had never in her life felt so completely used and unwanted.  The things Daniel had done couldn’t compare in the slightest.  Daniel hadn’t tricked her into thinking he was anything but what he was. 

Her heart squeezed painfully.  Was there a chance it wasn’t true?  Even against all the odds she wanted to believe there was.  But she couldn’t.

Daniel yanked her to her feet and she cried out more in anger than pain or fear.  The boot flipped open and he started dragging her towards it.  She kicked at him viciously not wanting this to be the end.  She didn’t want Jem to be the last boy she kissed.  She didn’t want him to be the last person that held her as if she were his whole world.  Her life had to have more than Jem Wolf.  She deserved more than that.

It didn’t matter to Daniel though.He threw her in then smashed his gun into her head and she went still. 

Ella’s eyes felt extremely heavy as she lay unmoving in the boot as Daniel drove.  She couldn’t tell how fast the car was moving or in which direction but a small part of her didn’t care anymore.  It would be over soon enough and she’d be wherever Gabriel was.  That didn’t sound so bad. 

After what felt like a long time the car stopped and Daniel opened the boot.  Her arms and legs felt as heavy as her eyes so her attempt of breaking his nose was futile.  They looked to be in a narrow alley of sorts.  Cars hummed past unaware of the death hanging in the air so close to them.  Daniel dumped her to the ground one last time then took aim.  She glared at him, her gaze unwavering, practically daring him to pull the trigger at this point. 

Tears burnt the backs of her eyes as her heart beat hard and fast in her chest.  She rolled her trembling lips into her mouth and shut her eyes.  Ella didn’t hear the gun shot but she felt the impact distantly as if she were already somewhere else.  She hated herself for it but the last image that coloured the darkness of her mind was Jem’s grey eyes.

 

Jem scowled at the house as it loomed closer as the wheels of the old Ford rolled to a stop outside.  His stomach clenched making him feel like he was going to be sick at any moment.  So he gripped the steering wheel until his knuckles turned white and the fragile scabs there split faintly causing his pale skin to freckle with blood.  He stared at damage he had caused feeling the warm droplets trickle over the back of his hand. 

Everything he had done wasn’t enough.  Everything he did to save her didn’t even matter anymore. 

He thought going to visit his parents would help.  Thinking back on it now he could see how stupid it was, to think that going there would make him feel like it wasn’t his entire fault, like he wasn’t completely on his own.  The doors of that small church were left unlocked but inside was dark, everything cast in shades of silver and grey.  He stumbled down the aisle and dropped before the huge ornamental cross.

Then he lifted his head towards the heavens.  “I'm sorry,” he shouted.  “I'm sorry I couldn’t protect her!  Please, Mom, Dad, I don’t know what to do anymore!  I need you.”  His last words disappeared into the silence that followed.  He didn’t know what he had been expecting.  But the nothingness wasn’t it.  The stillness filled him up and left him empty.  His shoulders shuddered with a sob and he wrapped his arms around himself tightly, trying desperately to hold himself together, as if he could shatter like fragile glass at any second.  Heat trickled down his cheeks as he grit his teeth waiting for the wave of emotions to pass.  Once it did he staggered to his feet feeling nothing but anguish.  It was then that he lashed out and stuck his fist threw the tall stain glass window. 

Now he sat in his car staring at the house.  He wanted nothing more than to hold Ella in his arms again and have her tell him that everything would be okay.  It was a lie but he needed to hear it.  He needed her.

 

Daniel was sprawled on the couch with the TV on.  He looked up as Jem passed but he didn’t slow to give Daniel a chance to ask where he had been. 

“Ella,” he called softly once in the cellar.  She didn’t respond and he shifted guilityly.  “I'm sorry.  I wasn’t thinking straight when I put you down here.  Please tell me you can forgive me…because I choose you.”  He didn’t like the vulnerability that slipped into his voice. 

When he didn’t hear her speak or move or even breathe dread washed over him and he stepped closer to the cell. 

It was empty.

He took the stairs leading back into the library two at a time and rushed into the lounge.  Daniel didn’t look up this time, his attention absorbed by the movie playing out on the screen.

“Where’s Ella?”  Jem couldn’t keep the distress from his voice.  Daniel shrugged a shoulder.

“Somewhere in Bellville,” he said.

He frowned.  “What’s she doing there?” 

“Bleeding out probably,” he scoffed under his breath but Jem heard it and for a moment gravity felt ten times stronger.  He sat heavily and Daniel looked at him then, worry tainted the indifference in his eyes.

“Daniel, what did you do?”  Jem asked quietly.

He sat up giving his brother a strange look.  “What’s the matter with you?  It’s not like we were ever going to let her go.”  He pointed out.

What did you do?”  Daniel swallowed hard at the razor edge of his brother’s voice.

“She’s dead.”  Jem’s face stilled.  “I shot her but like I said, we were never going to let her go anyway.” 

“Yes we were!”  He exploded.  “We were supposed to let her go!”  He ran his fingers through his hair then over his face giving his shaking hands something to do.

Daniel made a sound at the back of his throat, “Then what?”  He scoffed.  “We’d both be screwed.  What makes you think she wouldn’t have just run to the police or worse, Mason’s people, with our names and address?”

“She wouldn’t have done that.”

“She would have found out you were pretending eventually.  I just sped up the process.”  Daniel said.

“I wasn’t pretending!”  Jem snapped then swore under his breath.  Daniel stared at him for a long time before speaking again.

“James…”  He trailed off uncertainly.  “You can’t…she’s the reason our family’s—”

“Gabriel and Jonathan are the reason our family’s gone.”  He said harshly.  “She had nothing to do with it.  She had no idea.  She didn’t deserve anything we did to her.”  Jem stood up and strode to the window staring into the night unseeingly.  “Where did you leave her?  Maybe…maybe she’s still alive.”

“Don’t do this to yourself.  You need to accept what is and keep moving.”

“I won’t accept that the people I love keep dying.  Now tell me where she is or do I have to force it out of you?”  He eyed Daniel coldly causing him to cast his eyes away.

“Bellville,” he said sombrely.  “I don’t know where exactly but on the main road there’s a small shop with an orange sign above it.  She’s in the alley beside it.”

Jem nodded his jaw tight.  “Thank you.”

“James…”  Daniel caught his arm, “I'm sorry.”  He said his usual pale eyes dark with remorse.  Jem couldn't make himself hold Daniel’s gaze.  He didn’t want his brother to see exactly what he was feeling but he could tell he knew anyway.  The way his shoulders slumped and his hand dropped away said it all.

“She’ll be okay.”  Jem said more to assure himself.  Daniel didn’t reply, only watched him leave to save a dead girl.

 

Once Jem was gone Daniel sat back on the couch allowing his reality to crash over him like a thousand bricks.  After his parents funeral he thought he would never cry again.  He thought that nothing could break him apart like that news had but he was wrong.  Being alone was worse.  And so was the uncomfortable knowledge that it was his fault it was that way.  Tears flowed freely down his face as sobs racked through his body.  He wasn’t glad he was crying alone.  Now more than ever he needed his brother but everything was undone now.  And he wasn’t sure it could be fixed.

 

Ella…Ella…open your eyes…Ella!”  Someone was shaking her shoulders gently and her eyelids fluttered.  “Please, wake up.  You’re going to be okay.”  The voice was getting clearer and clearer the more he shook her.  There was a weight on her chest making it difficult to breathe and her hands lifted feebly to push them away.  However, her arms barely moved. 

“Call an ambulance!”  A different voice yelled. 

“They’ll take too long.  We’ll have to take her there ourselves.”  As he said it he hoisted her into his arms.  There was a dull ache radiating in her chest and her side still hurt a lot.

“Stop it, put me down,” Ella complained but her words sounded like dunk gibberish.  Stars twinkled and swayed above her face and she found herself thinking how pretty it all looked.  The person holding her looked down startled by the sound she made.  To her surprise the face was Mason’s.  She tried to speak again but this time it barely made sense to her.

“Thank God, you’re awake.”  He sighed relieved.  “You need to stay that way okay?”  He smiled but she could see the fear twinkling in his eyes.  He put her into the car as carefully as he could but the movement still jolted her body painfully causing her to cry out a little.  The car started and sped off almost before Mason could close the door.  She frowned at his frantic expression trying hard to figure out the cause of it.  It was challenging trying to concentrate.She was so tired.

“Hey, you can’t go to sleep.  Do you understand?”  He said sternly.  The small light in the back was on illuminating the bright red staining his hands and clothes.

“You’re hurt…”  She worried frowning up at him.  A ghost of a smile flickered over his lips.

“No, Ella, you’re hurt.  That’s why you mustn’t close your eyes.”  She didn’t like that he was talking to her so slowly as if she were a child. 

“Don’t tell me…what to do.”  She managed.  “I'm tired.”

Mason rolled his eyes.  “You’re shot but you still manage to have an attitude.”  He muttered half-heartedly.  His words sent a tidal wave of memories crashing back.  Jem’s betrayal, Daniel’s harsh words and violent fists, pain, sadness, sorrow.  It all flooded back reminding her that she was dying and that this was the end.  Tears sprung into her eyes.

“Mason,” she whimpered.  She wondered if she had passed out for a moment because his shirt was off and pressed against her bleeding chest with one hand while the other held someone’s jacket against her side. 

“Yeah,” he said was calmly as he could.

“I'm going to die.”  She whispered.

“Don’t talk like that.”  He said just as calmly.

“It’s fine, really.  I'm not scared or anything.”  Things were starting to swim in and out of focus.  “I’ll be with Gabriel.”

“Don’t close your eyes Ella.”  The driver snapped angrily.  His voice was eerily familiar, “Because you have to live if you want to be with me.”  Gabriel turned back and stared at her with the fierce tenderness that only her brother could muster.  “I'm right here.”  He said.  “I’ve been right here.”

Mason cursed under his breath.  “Watch the road.”  He barked.  “Does it look like we need an accident too?”  Gabriel turned his eyes back on the road but Ella couldn’t take her eyes off of him.  Everything was beginning to look hazy like they did in dreams sometimes before you wake up.  But she didn’t want to wake up.  She didn’t want to go to sleep.  She wanted to stay right there, wherever she was because Gabriel was there and she would not lose him again. 

She refused to.

 

The orange sign appeared ahead of him and Jem sped towards it ignoring the angry screech of tires as they swerved out of his way.  A sleek black car parked outside the small shop car took off as Jem pulled up.  It sped recklessly onto the road moving so fast that the person in the back seat barely had time to close his door properly.  There was a narrow passageway between the shop and the building beside it like Daniel said.  The air smelt of garbage and urine and the ground was slippery with grim.  He swallowed back the bile that rose in his throat as his eyes swept across the ground.  A small bundle was huddled against the wall and Jem’s breathe hitched.  It was so still.  It couldn’t be Ella because it was so still.  His feet dragged him towards the unmoving mass anyway but as he got closer he noticed the dull shine of plastic.  Two black bags lay against the wall with a tattered blanket tossed over them.  His eyes darted around the alley but it was too dark to see the ground completely and to distinguish what all the odd shapes were. 

“Ella,” he called.  Cars hummed past oblivious to the turmoil that had claimed his life.  He pulled his phone from his front pocket and the screen lit up the dank space.  With a sinking feeling Jem realized that it wasn’t rain and grim that made the ground beneath his feet so slick.  There was about five litres of blood in the human body and his mind always summed that up to a litre more than two bottles of Coke.  So as he stared weak kneed at that sticky pool of blood around his shoes he wondered how it could look like so much more.  Daniel was right.  Ella wasn’t there but she was dead.  Nobody could lose that much blood and live. 

A cold feeling ran from the crown of his head down to his heels but there were no tears or shuddering sobs; only the stillness of a heart that had lost everything.

 


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