As Isaac attempted to get whatever few minutes of relaxation in his legs and ankles as he could, Kyla began searching around the beach to make sure none of my other pack members were anywhere in sight. I’d hate to tell her that it wouldn’t be anywhere near that easy...but it brought me some comfort to at least see her trying.
“Dallas? You still got any of those firecrackers left?” Jack asked him, but I interrupted him.
“Don’t. It’ll only draw more attention to us out here, and I highly doubt they’re gonna fall for the same trick twice.” The bottoms of my feet were throbbing, and I briefly leaned back against a table to rest them for the rugged trip home. “I don’t think a distraction is going to work this time. Honestly. My best bet is to simply charge through these woods with whatever energy I’ve got left and hope for the best. If we’re fast enough...we might just have a chance.”
Kyla looked so worried. “Well...what about the police? Somebody’s gotta be able to get a signal out here, right? They’re already searching for you. If you tell them who you are and where to find you...”
“That’s not going to do us much good, Kyla.” I said.
I thought back to what Cyrus did that officer in the police station when I tried to escape from him the first time...removing his head clean from the top of his shoulders...still shivering with the horrific memory of it. “Trust me, ok? The police aren’t going to be able to do much of anything to help me. I just need to run. It’s the only option I think I’ve got left at this point.” Kyla attempted to protest, but I looked her in the eyes and lowered my voice to let her know, “Listen...even if I could get a whole army of squad cars and armed officers out here in time...after some of the things that I’ve done...some of the things that I might have been involved with...chances are, a lot of those guns are going to be aimed at me too. You get what I’m saying?”
Her forehead wrinkled up, and the way she looked at me in that moment made me feel a sense of shame that I had almost forgotten existed. “Jesus, Wes...what the hell happened to you out there?” She whispered to herself.
Jack offered, “Dude, do you think you and your friend would be able to go up the North side of the cliff. It’s a bit steeper than the other side, but I can run out, grab my friend’s car, and maybe meet you all out on the road near the fork in the road. You know, the intersection at Deer Cross. It might cut your travel time in half. I can’t bring it any closer to Rainbow’s End than that, but at least we’ll be able to get up to speed once we start moving.”
It was a bit weird to see Jack going so far to assist in my escape, but as the sky was now turning black and the stars were coming out, he might have been out best bet. “How long will it take you to get back here?” Kyla asked.
“Fifteen minutes. Twenty, tops.” He replied. “Just...keep an eye on Dallas and look for me to flash my lights in your direction when I get there.”
“Thanks, Jack...” I said. It was risky, but at least I knew that my brethren weren’t necessarily looking for him out here. Running off to get us a car might be the safest place for him.
“Just make sure that you get to the top of that cliff. You hear me? I’ll be back as fast as I can.” And with that, Jack took off to find himself a way back into the thick of the dark woods above. God, I hope that I’m doing this right.
I noticed that Isaac’s legs had both cramped up pretty tight on him, and he was trying to rub the knots out with his thumbs, wincing in pain as his body attempted to quickly prepare itself to start moving again. It won’t be easy for him practically climb his way up a hill that steep...but sometimes our own survival instincts can surprise us when we need them most.
Dallas knelt down in front of him, and he was using one of the cold water bottles to help some of the soreness go down. He was such a sweet kid and yet mature for his age. Even though I had merely caught a few brief glimpses of that powerful light that seemed to glow within him that last time we crossed paths...it seemed much stronger now. At least to me it did. It was almost blinding. I could feel it. I could almost smell it.
What was it about Dallas that was so unique that it didn’t exist in anybody else on that beach? Furthermore...what was it that made it so visible to Cyrus too...when he first sent me over on a mission to retrieve him?
Kyla moved forward to hug me tightly again, and I just tried to hold her close as we tried to figure out who was supposed to be comforting who in this strange scenario. “Did they hurt you?” She asked.
“Kyla, I...” I stopped talking for a second and pulled her over to the side for a bit more privacy. “Whatever happened out there, I’m...different than I was when I left. I was just looking for a way to find myself, and to find others like me. The intense weight of having to always ALWAYS hide who I really am...it was crushing me inside. And I finally decided that I just couldn’t take it anymore.”
“I wish I could tell you that you were making any sense at all, but...”
“Where is Jack with that car?” I said, abruptly causing a distraction.
“He literally just left! He’ll be back as soon as he can!”
“Maybe we should start climbing up the North side of the cliff. Isaac’s in pretty bad shape. How far is this Deer’s Crossing from here? We should get a head start...”
“Wesley!” Kyla demanded my attention, and stepped forward to force me to listen to her. “You said that you were different. Different how?”
I’m not exactly sure why the emotion was getting so heavily caught up in the back of my throat, but as my eyes began to water up, it was so hard to hold it back anymore. “I’ve...always been different, Kyla. Always.” I said. “That’s why I had to leave. That’s why I followed Cyrus and the others.”
“Talk to me, dude. Please?” She pleaded.
“I just got sick of feeling like the whole fucking world wasn’t meant for boys like me.”
“Boys like you...”
I almost choked on the admission, but then I let it go. “Boys...who like other boys.” I felt a stray tear leak from my eye, and was so afraid of what might happen next when I heard her silence. It was times like this when I wish I had the fearlessness and the confidence that being a part of my packs union provided me.
But Kyla merely leaned in to kiss me on the cheek, taking a hold of both of my hands. “Babe...did you really think that it was going to make that much of a difference? Honestly?”
“You don’t understand. I don’t expect you to.”
“That’s NOT true! And it sure isn’t an excuse to run off with a psycho like Cyrus to go and ‘find yourself’, or whatever. You could have come to me.”
“Right.” I scoffed. “Easier said than done.”
“Is it, though?”
“I know that it seems so stupid now that I look back on everything...but I was living in a nightmare where the only way that I could possibly just ‘exist’ without getting bullied and hurt is to be alone. And that’s where I stayed. Alone. SO alone. Sometimes, it was like the shame and the silence was trying its best to swallow me whole. I always felt like I was drowning in darkness with nothing to hold on to but the anchors causing me to sink even faster.” I sniffled. “Everyone at the Bible camp...everybody here on the beach...my friends, my family, my hometown, my religion...even my own father...they just sat back and watch me suffocate from their judgement. Not a single one of them would be willing to lend me a hand if I asked them to help. They’ve spent their whole lives being taught to hate and mistrust me. To label me as some kind of deviate sinner who deserved to be sacrificed before being saved. And when that’s all you’re fed, day in and day out...you feel delusional when you don’t follow suit. No matter how normal it felt to me...it still seemed crazy to be the only idiot in my own corner. How can I not surrender and start to believe it myself?”
“Honey...omigod...” Kyla cried, wrapping her arms around my waist even tighter than before and holding me close. He expression was genuine. The scent was unmistakable...and it made me cry even more to know that she truly cherished me in that moment.
“And then...Cyrus comes along...and he tells me that I’m ok. He’s the first and only person who didn’t make me feel like a pervert or a monster. He embraced me when nobody else would...and despite all of the red flags and warnings that I truly truly felt in the center of my heart...I liked having him take care of me. I liked being able to come up for air and breathe for a change...if only for a little while.” I said. “If only...you could truly know that feeling, Kyla. If only I could tell you what it was like to slide out from under that harsh microscope and just live free for once...” I wiped my eyes and tried to fix myself up again. “...If you could know that euphoric level of peace...you’d know why I had to run away. And why that road led straight to Cyrus and the rest of my brothers.”
Even through her teary hug...Kyla quietly giggled to herself before sniffling and wiping her nose on the back of her arm. “Dude...don’t call them that. It’s just plain fucking weird. K?”
I have to admit that it made me smile as I rubbed my hand up and down the back of her shoulder. “Sorry. I guess that is pretty awkward, isn’t it?” I said. “I never should have left, Kyla. I started off hiding, and then I moved up to running away. I guess I just wanted someone to see me...you know?”
“Hey...” She said, lifting her head to look at me again. “I see you, Wes. I see you.”
“Wesley?” Came a voice from over my shoulder, and I turned my head, trying my hardest not to gasp out loud.
“C-C-Casey…?” I stammered. Oh, dear God...what the hell was he doing out here? I immediately let go of Kyla so I could use both hands to wipe my eyes and quickly fix myself up again. Wow. I had...almost forgotten the power his mesmerizing beauty had on me until I was actually close enough to take him all in again. The soft lips. The hazel eyes. The longish, honey blond, hair. All illuminated by the soothing light of a post sunset bonfire on the beach. He was stunning enough to strike me speechless. Every single time.
“I’m...gonna go check on your friend, Isaac...” Kyla said, moving away to give us a moment alone. But she made sure to give me the silent signal that we may actually have to get going soon if we wanted to get Isaac up that intimidating incline in time to meet Jack the moment he arrived at the destination.
I nodded in her direction, and Casey moved in closer with a mixed look of concern and relief on his pretty face. “Oh my God! It IS you! I thought something awful had happened to you!”
“Casey, what are you doing out here?”
“Well, nobody could find you anywhere, so I figured that since the Bible Camp kids almost always stay at camp, I might come out to Rainbow’s End a couple of nights a week to see if anybody had seen or heard anything. What happened? Are you ok?”
I melted. I really did. My emotions were sliding down into the pit of my stomach like this obsessive quagmire of infatuated sludge, and I couldn’t even move without feeling as though I might float away and never be able to touch the ground ever again. I just shook my head back and forth, and tried to maintain my breathing as I began to tremble in front of him like that first time I saw him working in that gas station on the side of the road. I had to clear my throat and put some effort into actually giving him an answer out loud. “I’m...fine, I guess. I was just away for a while.” I told him. “I wasn’t supposed to be gone for that long but...I never meant to worry anybody. It was just realy hard to find my way home.”
“Well, that was a big ‘fail’ if I ever saw one!” He said, giving me the cutest little roll of his eyes. But then he got even closer to me, and I felt my nerves beginning to vibrate like guitar strings...a series of chills rushing over me while I fought to keep from running away from him. “I’m glad that you’re all right, Wes. I could barely sleep, thinking that you might be out there somewhere...alone.”
Weak in the knees, I mumbled, “I’m sorry. I’m...I’m happy to see that you’re all right too.”
That’s when Casey sort of reached out, and I clumsily reached for his hand...but I missed...and he stepped closer, and I spread both of my arms out this time, and I accidentally stepped on his toe and looked down for a second but was quick to look back up and smile. And then...he hugged me. With both arms. It was the most awkward thing ever at first, but once we got ourselves all coordinated...I couldn’t imagine anything else in existence being more comfortable.
So very warm.
Maybe I should have attempted to keep up some level of grace and parted ways with him after a few seconds like a normal boy...but he wasn’t letting me go, and I didn’t want to let him go first. I just closed my eyes and let his body heat wash over me. His fragrance was like nothing else that I had ever really detected before. Sweet, but subtle. Sugary, but not as urgent. It was different that what I got from any of my brethren, or even from Isaac when I approached him that first time. I liked it. Something about his scent just felt like home. Like it belonged right here next to me. I just breathed deeply and tried to absorb as much of it as I possibly could while I was still close enough to do so. My God...what a boy...
“Wes?” Kyla said, unfortunately driving a heavy splinter into our quiet moment together. “We should get going. Jack will be back soon.”
Releasing Casey from my embrace...reluctantly, I might add, I took one last long look at him as Dallas and Kyla helped Isaac back up onto his feet. He seemed to be limping a little bit, but not so badly that we’d have to worry too much about carrying him up the North side of a cliff. Then, Casey flashed me a halfhearted grin, and I wondered if I’d ever really get to see him again. Trembling slightly, I asked him, “So...you’re still moving out my way in a couple of weeks? You know, when school starts back up again?”
“Yeah. I’ll pretty much start packing up as soon as I get home. Hey, maybe we can catch up once I get settled in. Then you can tell me what this big national emergency was all about while you were out there for the past week or two. Hehehe...”
“Definitely. I think I’d like that.” I sighed.
“Wes...” Kyla called out again.
“I’m coming.” I told her with as little frustration in my tone of voice as possible. Weird, I had almost forgotten just how serious this situation was. “Seeya soon, Casey...”
“I know where to find you.” He smiled. “It’ll be good knowing that I have a friend out there already so I don’t have to start all over from scratch.”
“True...” I said, soon adding, “...Then you won’t have to be a stranger again.”
“Yeah, I did.” I said, having Kyla getting more impatient with me now. I wish I could muster up the courage to kiss those sweet lips of his, just once. But I couldn’t. Not while I was being whisked away in this much of a hurry. “Later.”
“Bye.” He said, and I tried to in hale a bit more of his flowery aroma as I passed him and followed the others towards the cliff.
If nothing else...at least I got to see him one last time. I can always be grateful for that.
Jack wasn’t kidding when he said this was a steep cliff. Jesus...I nearly slipped and fell three or four times, just trying to keep my footing steady. The others let me go first, and I was able to reach down and help little Dallas up and over the edge so he could roll over the side and pop back on his feet and start brushing himself off. Then, even though he was straining something awful, Isaac came next. I had to use a bit more muscle to get him on top, and then let him sit and rest for a few seconds as I went back for Kyla.
However...a strange sensation came over me as I took a hold of her hand. It was faint at first, but as it began to intensify, the feeling became much more recognizable. I instinctively sniffed the air around me...and began to look around at the darkness surrounding us in the woods. The trees were so thick. The night was reaching the point where it was about to turn pitch black. But it didn’t really matter.
Because I could still feel them.
“Come on, Kyla. Come up. I’ve got you.” I said, trying to focus. “Where are we going?”
Just then, a little bit off in the distance, I saw a couple of high beams flashing us from a dark car just past the trees and sitting on a nearby road. “That’s him! Let’s go!” Dallas said, ready to run off in the direction of the vehicle, but I was quick to put my hand out and stop him before he took another step.
Kyla asked, “What is it? What’s the matter?”
“Shhh!” I peered out into the woods, hoping my enhanced vision would help some, but it didn’t. Not enough. “Nobody move. Not yet...”
I kept slowly scanning the darkness...back and forth...trying to see if maybe this was just my mind playing tricks on me. A cool wind blew through the leaves, a few of the branches bending and rustling above. And then...when I looked back down again...I saw a pair of brightly colored orbs blazing bright in the distance. I almost could have mistaken them for fireflies at first glance, but no...they were standing still. Staring at me.
“Kyla...” I whispered, not that whispering was going to do us much good at all if they were really that close. “...Take Dallas and Isaac to the car. Go. Now.”
“What about you???”
“I’m going to be right behind you. I promise.” I told her. “But unless you guys get a head start...neither one of us is going to make it to that car alive.”
“ALIVE???” She gasped.
Isaac was quick to say, “Listen to Wesley! We must run now! Come on! I will do my best to keep up!”
And that’s when I saw more of those brightly glowing, golden, orbs moving out from behind the trees in the distance...moving closer...
...And bringing a heightened sense of my ‘calling’ with them.