We flew toward Tsalderek for some time in silence. I knew that Milo was devising a strategy for how we could get what we needed from his former organization with as little conflict as possible. Meanwhile, my thoughts were with our allies within Nahalore. I felt horrible for leaving them. I mean, they seemed to be handling themselves fairly well, but who knew how long that would last, or how strong Teklos’ invading force really was. Sera was staring downheartedly out the window of the aircraft, and I could tell she was thinking about her losses. Her friends, and organization, and those who had become like family were either gone, or their fate was in jeopardy.
Eventually, Milo began to relay his thoughts.
“Obviously, we can’t do the same thing we did in Nahalore: walking right in and hoping they’ll accept us. For all we know, Teklos may have convinced them to kill us. Or maybe Tsalderek will want to do that all on their own. Either way, avoiding a direct approach would be best.
“So, we’ll need to make a stealth infiltration. Since this helicopter is so loud now-“
“Gee, I wonder why that is?” Sera interrupted sarcastically.
“-we’ll need to set it down a ways out, and approach on foot. Now, I’ve lived in Tsalderek. They operate even more at night, so it would actually be better for us to invade during the morning. And since it’s already getting late, I say that we ditch this thing, and spend the night somewhere nearby. First thing tomorrow, we can begin the mission.”
“OK. Um…Should we stay the night in Bindmont? We could hide in the old church like we did before. That’s not far from Tsalderek, and…they didn’t find us last time.”
“Sounds OK to me.” Milo agreed. “It should take us about 15 more minutes before we can land, then we’ll head to the church.
True to the young man’s estimation, we flew in to Bindmont a short time later. The sun was almost set, and the sky was ablaze with color. To avoid attracting too much attention, Milo landed the helicopter around half a mile from the small city, and we jogged the rest of the way. The three of us made our path around to the northwest side of the city, and exploited the lengthening shadows to head toward the old church.
When we arrived at our sanctuary, an unfortunate sight met our expectant eyes. The old building had been thoroughly obliterated. Only a decimated pile of rubble remained where the beautiful fortress had stood. There would be no seeking refuge there tonight.
“They must have figured out we stayed there,” concluded Sera. “and destroyed it so we couldn’t hide this time.”
Milo wasted no time in moving on.
“We’ve gotta find another place. For all we know, there could be another squad right behind us. Where else can we hide that they wouldn’t think to look?”
I knew a place. I had thought of it last time we were here, what seemed like years ago. I just didn’t want to drag the owner into it. I still didn’t, but it didn’t appear that we had much choice.
“Um, guys? I…I know where we can go. But we have to hurry, and make sure no one sees where we are.”
“Sounds like a plan. Lead the way, Hal.”
I quickly headed south along the dark sidewalks and alleyways, followed closely by the twins. So far, so good. We hadn’t seen anyone suspicious. After traveling for around a mile, we came to an old, dilapidated single-story house with a pointed roof.
I looked around quickly to make sure no one was watching, then motioned for Milo and Sera to stay put for a moment. Then, I hopped up the steps to the front door, opened it, and called inside.
“Mrs. Redenbacher? It’s me. I brought some friends over. Um…may we please borrow the back shed for the night?”
A familiar voice sounded from within.
“Miss Whiskers! Of course! Your friends are always welcome! You don’t have to stay in that ol’ shed, though. They can come in to the house if they want.”
I couldn’t risk staying in the house. If Teklos were to come looking for us, they’d be more likely to find us and get Mrs. Redenbacher caught up in the fight if we accepted her offer.
“Thank you ma’am, but I was thinking it would be fun if we could sleep out in the shed…kinda like a camp out.”
“Oh, OK. Well, if you want, I could start a fire for you nice kitties.”
“That won’t be necessary, ma’am. Thank you very much!”
I quickly closed the door, and hurried back to Milo and Sera.
“Alright, let’s go around back to the shed. We’ll be safe there…I think.”
Rather than agreeing right away, Sera was giving me a strange expression.
“Was that … a goat I heard in there?”
I shook my head.
“Probably. It’s complicated. For now, let’s just get some rest.”
An hour or two later, we had taken shelter in the shed behind Mrs. Redenbacher’s house. The shed was quite old, but in surprisingly good condition. This time, Sera miraculously agreed to allow Milo to take the first watch. She must have been seriously exhausted. I lay down and tried to get some sleep, but it flawlessly eluded me.
Now that the tension and desperation of the day was over, and I was no longer only concerned with survival, other thoughts began entering my mind that I was unable to fight. The only thing I could think about, in fact, was Milo. He was so close to me…so close but still so far. He was so strong, and selfless, and faithful, I knew he was the one I wanted to be with. The only thing that hurt more than how my heart ached every time I thought about him, was how it hurt when I wasn’t thinking about him.
When he looked at me, it felt like my breath was taken away, and what order I could make out of my thoughts was smeared into mushy nothingness like a snowman getting hit by a truck. I couldn’t wait any longer…I had to tell him…how I felt. But what if he didn’t feel the same way? Well, at least I would know, and could stop worrying about it. But would I? Would I stop feeling this way, just because I knew he didn’t? I doubted it. Somehow, I knew I’d always love him, even if he loved another.
I fought with myself long into the night, agonizing over what to do until my head ached. Finally, I made my decision…which wasn’t really a decision. I’d get up and see how he was doing. If he was asleep, I wouldn’t say anything. If he was still awake…I still probably wouldn’t say anything, but I might. I knew I should probably ask God what I should do, but my heart was beating so fast and loud that I doubted I’d be able to hear him.
I raised myself up to my feet, and slowly and silently moved toward the door of the shed. What was I doing? I should just lay back down right now. But my hand wouldn’t listen to me as it pushed open the door a crack, and I slipped outside. A few feet away, there he was.
Milo was leaning his side against a tree very near to the shed, his back to me. In the light of the waning crescent moon, he had never appeared more perfect. Strong, yet peaceful. Intelligent and experienced, yet pure and hopeful. Everything I knew he was; everything I loved about him, I could see in physical form. It was then I knew I couldn’t hold it inside for another minute.
“Milo…” I squeaked, my voice embarrassingly high pitched. Oh, God, what was I doing? What a way to start!
He turned his head around to look at me.
“Hey, Hal. You doing alright?”
His voice was soft and caring. My heart dropped, and I blushed so deeply I was sure he’d be able to see it by the light of the moon. The way he said that…did he like me? Or was he just being friendly. I was probably just like a little sister to him. What chance could I possibly have? I considered just turning around right there and diving back into the safety of the shed. The way the moonlight was falling on his face, highlighting his masculine profile…I knew if I didn’t tell him now, I’d implode. My heart hurt so bad, I couldn’t face it any more.
“Milo…” I began again, tears filling my eyes and altering my voice. “I…I don’t want to be alone.”
He gave me a gentle, sympathetic look.
“You’ll never be alone. You’ll always have Sera and me. We’re not going any-“
“I don’t mean that! I know what it’s like to be alone. For the last five years, the only human interaction I’ve had was with an old lady who thought I was a cat!! I mean…alone…forever…like, without my soulmate…the one I’m meant to share my life with. I don’t want…to be…alone. I know what it’s like to be alone.”
“Hal…what’re you saying?” He asked somewhat apprehensively.
“I’m trying to say…Milo…I…I love you!”
My tears overflowed the inadequate levees that were my eyes.
“Almost from the first time I met you, I knew I loved you. I…I can barely even…think when you’re close. All I can think about is…us… being happy together, and sharing our lives together, and going to the store together, and sleeping together…and… and I just couldn’t bear it anymore! Please…I…I don’t even know what I’m really asking. But, maybe…
“You see, I don’t really like 50s classic rock songs and I always get them in my head and they drive me crazy but sometimes they really mean something, you know? Especially the song ‘Brown-Eyed Girl’. It just sings about a simple love, and that’s all I ever really wanted. And…So I was wondering…um…I have brown eyes, and I thought…could I be your… brown-eyed girl? Could I be…your girlfriend?”
I was pouring out all of my heart and my very being… like water, not knowing if he’d be willing to catch it. But I had no choice, my love was overflowing, and I was drowning. I had to do this.
An expression came to his handsome face that I couldn’t really read. It was a mixture of…gosh it was hard to tell with the moonlight and my tears. Maybe sadness, or caring, or regret…
“Hal…I’m sorry, but…I’ve given my heart to someone else, and I love her more than anything else in the world. I’m really sorry.”
I nodded vigorously, my head feeling crushed by the tears I was trying to hold.
“OK…OK…I see…I figured. Sorry, I never should’ve…”
I began backing away into the dark night, where I belonged.
“Hal!” He called.
I stopped in my tracks. The boy walked up to me, until we were very close.
“I’m sorry. If things were different, I would have loved for us to be together. You helped me out of a very dark time in my life. You helped me find Jesus, and I’ll be grateful to you forever. You’re a wonderful girl, and I think that I could really love you. It’s just, my heart isn’t mine to give any more.”
“That’s fine…that’s fine…that’s…fine…”
My tears came anew, and there was nothing I could do to hide from him. He put one arm around me, and pulled me close.
“I’m sorry, Hal. Please forgive me. I…we can’t be together…not like that anyway.”
I sniffed, and pulled away, turning my back to him. I knew it was a long shot, but I had to ask. I had to let it out. Somehow, the gentle, caring way he had let me down only made me love him more, but I loved him enough to see that he was happy with whoever this other girl was, and that would be good enough for me. Without turning around, I asked another question.
“Milo…could I ask that, um…you hug me…like you hug her? At least just one time…please?”
There was no answer right away, so I turned back around to look at him. His face was full of love and compassion.
“OK. It’s the least I could do for everything you’ve done for me.”
He then came very close to me; so close there was no longer any space between us, and wrapped both arms around my body. He held me tightly to his chest, and didn’t let go. At first I felt like I was going to pass out, but then I relaxed as I could feel his immense loving spirit. This was a part of him that no one could see. He had an aloof, rock hard face that he always wore, refusing to let the slightest emotion slip, except occasionally rage. But this…he was so much more…
Nestling into his chest ever so slightly, a forlorn smile forced its way to my face through my tears.
“Lucky girl…” I mumbled.
There was a long silence as we stood together, swaying slightly, before he spoke again.
“Danica. Her name is Danica.”
I pulled back from his embrace, encountering little resistance. He was obviously thinking of her.
“I’d…I’d like to meet her someday.”
He gave me a slightly concerned look.
“You’re not going to go all Yandere on me, are you?”
I shook my head quickly.
“No! Nothing like that! I just…want to meet the person who can make you so happy…”
His face softened again.
“Mm. Actually, she’s only a couple of miles from here right now. She’s in the hospital downtown.”
Milo looked off into the night, and I stood by his side to look with him.
“I desperately want to go see her…but I don’t want to put her at risk. If Teklos found her, there’s no telling what they’d do.”
I understood. I really did. Somehow, confessing my feelings to him, and him accepting, though not returning, made me feel even closer as a friend. Like, we had been through this, and seen the depths of each other’s hearts, but still retained the bond of friendship we had. Well, that’s OK. Sometimes the best way to be close to the one you really love, is to be “just a friend”. One that will always be there, no matter what. It felt like a great burden had been lifted from my back. I could face tomorrow, knowing he was by my side.
“You’re really gonna do it, aren’t you? You and Sera will fulfill that prophecy. I know you will.” I optimistically mused.
He chuckled a little.
“Yes, we will. We All will. The Fiery One and Shadowy One only have a chance with… ah…’The Marked One’ helping every step of the way!”