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Seventeen

Written by: Immortal

It took me three years to find my way. The Techno’s had completely blindsided me, taking me hostage while I was testing their precious reality space. When I came around again, they’d told me that I had been “deleted” to everyone in the city. I’m sure the Mallrats figured I was dead, but in all honesty it meant I was to work very far from the city, mining metals for their computers and technology. I didn’t completely understand, but I just did as I was told. I figured that he would come find me… he’d pick me up off my dirty, dusty feet and wisk me away back to the city. We’d be together forever- we’d marry, maybe settle down and have a couple of kids.

I hung on this thought for those three agonizing years. I waited. And waited. And waited. After each year, the hope of him coming to save me became less and less. Staying up all night to plan my future turned into crying myself to sleep. My bones ached from the hard labor these people made me do. My heart ached because it lacked him… Ved- the one who took my heart so long ago. Everything I did was for him. Every time the sun rose and set, I felt as though the Gods did it as a reminder that he was still out there, searching for me. When the cold, cold winters came rolling in, and I had to work overtime because so many of the miners got too sick to work, the thoughts of him kept me warm. When the hot summer sun beat down on my neck, giving me a deep red sunburn, I just kept on telling myself that the hurt was a reminder of the burn he left on my heart.

How could I have been so wrong?

Around the time when I turned seventeen, the Techno’s began to thin out. First Ram, then Mega defeated, most of them decided it was time to move on from the plans. A few still stayed loyal to the Technos, keeping the miners on their toes for two more years, until even they abandoned the idea. That’s when I found out- the entire city had been evacuated. I had completely lost hope that Ved would come back for me.

Even if he hadn’t come to get me, my heart still lept. I had met up with a dear friend of mine- Patsy. She was working in the mines as well, just a few miles from the one I was working in. I had been staying on the shore with a few people I had become close with in my working crew when she came stumbling along the shore with a little one in her arms. At first, I couldn’t believe it. She was beautiful, with flowing locks of brown hair and mysterious dark eyes. But could that be the girl I had been friends with so long ago?

We stared at each other for a moment. Then, she wrapped her free arm around me and we cried together. Both of us had gone so far in our lives, and just finding each other again was more than I could have asked for.

We spoke of old times, and of new. Her child’s name was Paul, after her long lost brother. She had been taken from the Techno’s for only a year before they let her free. She then lived with a tribe out in the woods, finding herself a fellow. They decided to settle down together. Patsy told me that she had thought she knew what the rest of her life was going to feel like, until things began to change. The tribe changed their ideals. They were blood thirsty and stealing from their allied tribes. She could never raise a child with such maniacs! She left them by night, traveling for days and days until she ended up on these old shores… the shores of her memories.

I can’t remember how long we took shelter on the beach. It seemed content to me. I didn’t have to work until my feet bled, and my mind stayed as far away from Ved as possible. Watching over little Paul as Patsy and a few others went out to fish was almost a blessing. I’ve always wanted kids of my own, and once, way back in the day, I thought I was going to have a little one myself. It didn’t happen, of course, but part of me wishes it had- maybe things would be different. As soon as my mind would stray to the beautiful boy with bleach blond hair and that strong jaw line I loved kissing, I’d begin to occupy my mind with Paul.

I talked to Patsy a lot about Ved. I told her everything about him. He was such a jerk sometimes, but I couldn’t help coming back for more. I’d remember always feeling the vague feeling of him wanting something more than what I was giving him, but I was so good at telling myself lies. “Oh, Pats. I love him so much, but at the same time I just completely loath him.” I was sure Patsy would tire of the same sentence every time the foggy thoughts of him clouded my senses, but she understood. She always seemed to have the right words for me all the time. I wondered why she couldn’t have been around when I really needed my best friend, though I was completely thankful that she was with me now, for good.

Just as things were looking up, everything came back to haunt me.

I was gathering some extra fire wood in the forest that bordered the shoreline. We were running low, having had to use some to make repairs to our huts. There had been a storm the previous morning which caused a bit of problem, but nothing we couldn’t fix. I knelt down to grab a dry piece that was down by my feet, and when I rose something in particular caught my eye. It was a kid, laying in the dirt. He was wearing ratty clothing… he looked like he hadn’t had a decent meal in days. “Excuse me?” I asked, stepping closer to him. I was scared- it had been a very long time since I’d seen another person that wasn’t a part of our little ‘tribe’. I got down on both of my knees, getting a closer look at the boy.

He was so familiar to me… That jaw line which was a bit more defined from memory… the way his lips were shut, lightly resting on each other… his pale skin tone and angelic face…

I swore my heart stopped beating. Could this be the boy that I was hoping would be my knight in shining armor? He wasn’t a boy anymore. Ved was a man now. He had grown so much… his features were more chiseled. His hair was no longer the bleach blond I remembered it to be. It was light brown, and a bit long to his face. He had a cut underneath his eye and it looked like his lip was swollen. He was almost skin and bones. I dropped my already collected wood and tried to lift his arm. Despite being very thin he was still much too heavy for me to lift myself.

“Ved.” I whispered in his ear. “Please wake up.” What else could I do? I didn’t want to run back to the shore- who knew what could happen to him while I wasn’t here. He was pretty banged up. I placed both my hands on his face- his cheeks were still warm. “Ved, please?” I pleaded.

His eyes fluttered open. Although they were sunken in a bit more, his eyes still shined like underwater diamonds. I again found myself breathless, just like the first time we met. He didn’t speak, he just looked at me, and his dark brows furrowed in complete confusion. I could have just basked in his glory for hours, but his sudden bough of coughing brought me back to reality. I grabbed his arm, helping him to his feet. He was a bit shaky at first, but when he put his weight on me, we made our way back to camp.

Patsy was the first to spot us, and then called the other two males of the group to help me. Eventually, we all got Ved back to my hut, laying him down in my cot. Right when his head hit the pillow, he was out like a light. Patsy and I exchanged looks. We didn’t say a word, but we didn’t have to. She knew who he was and why I had helped him by the reddish color in my cheeks.

I’m not sure how long I watched him for. I didn’t want to move- I kept forcing myself to breathe. I prayed so hard that hopefully this all wasn’t a dream. With the way life seemed to play out, I figured he was the last person I’d find unconscious in the woods. If this was truly a dream, I hoped that when I woke I’d forget this ever happened… I’d forget the touch of his warm skin on my cold hands. I’d forget the peaceful way he slept while his eyes passed under closed lids, as if he were trying to find me in his dreams.

Ved wasn’t waking up. It had been almost three whole days that I didn’t eat, sleep or breathe too loud. I rarely spoke, only once in a while in hopes to wake him. I could feel Patsy’s concern, but she was in the back of my mind. The only thing occupying my thoughts was this boy- this man, sleeping soundly before me. The lover I had dwelled on for days, weeks, months… He was before me. I couldn’t have been happier in those moments.

“Cloe, I’m worried.” Patsy came into my hut one day, Paul asleep in her arms. “You can’t do this to yourself. You haven’t eaten in days. I haven’t even seen you go out and get any fresh air.” I placed my hand in Ved’s, rubbing my thumb against the top of his hand. I wanted more than anything for him to wake. “Cloe… are you even listening to me? It’s not healthy. He’ll wake up soon. He’s just exhausted, Dante said he was just exhausted… that’s why he was sleeping for so long.” She paused for a moment, watching me watch him. I heard her let out a big, exasperated sigh. “Why are you-”

“Why are you worrying about me,” I snapped, glaring in Ved’s general direction. I didn’t want to lift my eyes from him incase something were to happen and for some strange reason he were to vanish when my eyes looked back. “I’m fine. Why don’t you fuss over your own child, Patsy. I’m sure he could use your guidance more than I could.” I could feel the slap of my words on Patsy’s heart. I knew I had crushed her, but I wasn’t thinking straight. I was intoxicated by old feelings- the old moodiness I had put on while living with the Mall Rats. I took in a deep breathing, turning my head away from Ved and to Patsy. She was staring at me, fury in her eyes. “Sorry.” I mumbled.

“No, this is ridiculous!” Paul began to cry in her arms. She moved him to her hip and began to bounce him slightly. “Who knows if he’s the way he was when you two were together. That was almost three years ago. You’re holding onto something that could well enough not even be there. It’s not healthy, nor is it right…”

“You don’t know that…” I said stubbornly. I brushed my hand across his cheek. It was so smooth. “He loves me. I know he does.”

Patsy couldn’t say anything, she was so upset. She rolled her eyes, stomping out of the hut with the baby bawling it’s eyes out. I just sat there, gritting my teeth. I hated being treated like a baby when I was with the Mall Rats, and I couldn’t help but feel that way again when Patsy spoke to me. What did she know anyway? I didn’t need her. And I didn’t need anyone else, as long as the love of all my life was here, resting. Whenever he woke up, he’d see me there next to him, devoted as ever. I’d tell him how long I was waiting, and he’d apologize. We’d then embrace, making all of the years of distance from each other suddenly dissolve into what was now. We would be in love, and she was just jealous.

I had been asleep when Ved finally woke, though the stirring coming from the bed instantly opened my eyes. He sat up, abruptly, looking all around the room. I sat up as well, looking at him. That’s when his eyes found mine, the look on his face of utter shock. “Cloe?” He asked, his voice just a little bit rough from not speaking in a while. “My God, is that you?” He ran a hand through his hair, which was a bit messy from him lying in bed for so long.

“Yes, it’s me.” I got a bit closer to him. He reached out his hand to touch my face, as if to remind his senses what I felt like. It had been a while, after all. “I’ve missed you so much.” I had been watching him for so long as he rested, and now I felt completely tongue tied. My mind was racing with what should be said versus what shouldn’t. I had so many questions for him, but I didn’t want to overwhelm him. “You were asleep for a while. I made sure you would be safe and sound.” His hand rested on my cheek, and I placed my hand on his. It felt surreal to have him touch my face again.

“Come closer to me.” Ved beckoned me over, and I obeyed like the love-struck puppy that I was. I sat in my bed with him. His arms instantly wrapped around me. This was exactly how my fantasies had gone… this was exactly the way things were to fall. “When you were lost, I didn’t know what to do. I just- I figured Ram had destroyed you. And then things turned for the worst when he tried to delete me… things get fuzzy after that- I can’t really remember…” He trailed off for a moment in his own thoughts. “I just know that for a while I was wandering around… I had taken a beating from the Techno’s before they gave me the boot. There were so many rogue tribes that I ran into in my travels. God, it’s just all a blur to me.”

“Don’t think too hard.” I whispered, resting my head against his chest. “You’re weak. You just need to rest…” We stayed like that for a while. I listened to his heart beat, the only thing I felt made me realize that this was all concrete right now. He was with me. All of the dreams from all three of my lost years were now compiled together in a single reality. “I thought I lost you. And then I found you again… goodness knows I thought I would lose you for a second time.”

Ved reached my ear. Slowly, he began to whisper to me. “You’ll never lose me again, Cloe. You hear that? Never.” He kissed up my neck, then nibbled my earlobe.

I was immersed in pure bliss.

When I woke one morning, I realized that I had slept in an empty cot. I figured maybe Ved had gone to get food. I rose, walking out to realize that nobody was there. Everyone’s huts had been abandoned. No notes, no anything. I caught myself some fish and made a fire. Maybe if I sat and waited, they’d be back. They were only out on a walk, right? It was only a few minutes until they’d return with something for them to eat or a great story to tell. Or news. News was good…

After three days, I was still in denial.

After a week, I was a wreck.

I was beginning to recall things that my rose colored glasses were hiding from me. The way Patsy and Ved would meet eyes with each other. Ved was spending more time with little Paul and Patsy, and less with me. Nights grew longer like they had when we weren’t together, and long after I’d go to bed he’d slip into the cot we shared. I was too blind to see that he’d fallen for my best friend. He’d stopped reminding me how much he needed me, he’d stopped touching my face, my hair, my shoulders.

As these things were happening before my eyes, I was growing more and more moody with Patsy. After a while, we only resorted to saying good morning and good night to each other

And they’d left me. Not only did I lose my best friend, but I lost the one man I thought would love me forever. I did the only thing I could do after that… I walked up shore, finding a tribe that would allow me to stay with them. I asked everyone I seemed to pass if they’d seen the people who I had lost, but nobody did. It’s like they’d vanished. I’d fallen asleep and everyone disappeared from me. I cursed sleeping. Sleep made me vulnerable. I never wished to sleep ever again. And what made matters worse, Ved had blessed me with a child- a little girl. I had named the baby Regina and vowed to never tell her of her father. I never allowed Patsy’s name to even come from my lips.

They’d all betrayed me. I learned the truth at seventeen- you can’t trust anyone, not even your own heart.