Finding Mae

A long time ago, a clan of abandoned people and misfits live together deep in an unknown forest. They called themselves the Hidden Kin and followed a code of bravery, loyalty, and harsh consequences. When Grace, the lowest rank in the group, finds an autistic girl lost near the border, will her decision change the fate of the whole group?

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3. Ayla's Promise (Jack)

JACK

I couldn't believe it when I got my duty with Ayla. It was pretty much what Grace said- a dream come true! Ayla was no doubt smoking hot, but she's also deep, and she's got this mysterious thing going on, and well- I can't describe it, but she's just amazing.

Ahem. Anyway. (Stop laughing, Grace. I didn't interrupt your chapter!)

Ayla and I were walking into the forest near the north river. This was kind of weird because Gatherers don't normally come here. There's too much foliage and poisonous things and not enough food, a place better suited for the Hunt. But hey, it was Ayla. She probably had some hidden grove full of berries or something.

"I suppose you're wondering... about my choice of place to gather." Ayla stopped by a spindle tree and squinted at the poisonous fruit. "I do admit, not many natural supplements are found here."

Okay, no special grove. I fidgeted. "I guess I am kind of curious."

"Jack, I've had my eye on you for a while."

I gulped. She had her eye on me? What? Even if I did think she was cute, she was like three years older than me. Maybe she was talking about something else, but who says 'I've had my eye on you' without expecting some kind of intimacy? Calm down, Jack.

"I like who you are. You are brave. Smart. You aren't afraid to speak your mind." Ayla didn't take her eyes off of the tree, but her mouth twitched into a smile. This made me blush red.

Really red. Like a tomato. "Erm."

"It's alright, Jack." Ayla finally stepped towards me, her eyes boring through mine. "I have to ask you a favor." She brushed a strand of her hair away from her face. "You can keep a secret, can't you?" 

Everything about her demanded a yes. "Yeah," I said stupidly. Then I corrected myself. "Um, yes."

"I fear for the Kin." She clenched her fists. "The next person lined up to be our leader does not have a pure heart or mind." 

Future leader? "What do you mean?" I asked, startled. "You are the leader. That's how it's always been!"

"But not how it will always be," Ayla finished sadly. "Remember Ethan?"

The reminder made me wince. Ethan was a good guy at first. He was Ayla's best friend, or as close as a friend as Ayla ever allows. Everyone was positive he was responsible enough to take on the duties of leader if Ayla ever disappeared or stepped down. But a few months after he turned eighteen, he started talking about grown-ups. Foster homes, government money, Child Protective Services. Things I hadn't ever heard of before, and I'm from the modern world. Ayla freaked. She screamed at him about clan loyalty and the will to be free. Then she wouldn't come out of her den.

It was bad. Ethan ended up trying to make his way back to civilization by himself, running away in the middle of the night without permission. We found his knapsack washed up in the south creek, torn apart and soaked. Now everyone thinks he's dead.

"What are you saying?" I looked at Ayla, right in the eye. "You're almost eighteen. You think that'll change you, like Ethan?"

She shrank back. Even though she brought the subject up herself, Ayla was touchy about Ethan. You had to know what words could bring her to the edge. "No." Then she shrugged. "Maybe. Or maybe I could be attacked, or injured. You know the wolves are always prowling the west plains this time of year."

I started pacing. Eighteen years meant growing up. We've never had anyone in the Kin that was grown up, and stayed. Jadyn left. So did Fiona. And Harris and Peter and Kirk. They left peacefully, promising not to tell the outside who we were. 

But Ayla couldn't leave! She was, well, the leader. She was supposed to stay. That was her duty.

"Do you know who is our next leader, Jack? Can you make a guess?" Ayla cocked her head. "You're a smart boy. Can't you imagine who could be ambitious enough to take on leadership when I am gone?"

"I-" I stopped. Who was ambitious? This ambitious?

"Esme." 

Ayla nodded.

Esme.

And just as I put the pieces together, I heard a high pitched scream.

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