24. Dreams and reality
~~After I leave the kitchen I go back to my room to find Ethan sitting on my bed holding my sketch book and staring at the wall. When I pull the curtain shut he looks up at me. “I think you have the wrong room” I try to say lightly but as I speak them they sound sharp so I try to soften them with a smile. I look down at my sketch book in his hands and when he notices when I’m looking at he puts it down on the bed beside him. “Sorry, it just fascinates me; this book is like you, puzzling and confusing. Each page is a riddle and as I work it out I feel like I know you a little more.” He admits and I raise my eyebrows in surprise.
“People have always been able to read me so easily” I say as I walk over and sit next to him on the bed. He shakes his head “No they only see the cover and don’t bother reading the book” He argues and I just laugh “You have such strange ways of outing things” I tell him and shake my head.
He slowly turns towards me and finds my hand then lings our fingers “I love you Ashlyn, I know you told me you don’t believe in love but I love you” His words ring in my head and I stare at him in disbelief and it’s like the missing jigsaw piece has been found. As it clicks into place I see everything more clearly. “I didn’t think I believed in love but you pulled me out of the darkness then didn’t let go so I couldn’t fall back again. It’s like you’re my anchor Ethan, my anchor to this world and sanity. If that isn’t love then I don’t know what is” The words slip out of my mouth and I mean every one of them. Ethan stares at me and the smile that covers his face fills me with pleasure knowing that I’m the cause of it. “Now who’s putting things strangely?” He says and I roll my eyes “shut up” I say then pull him towards me hungrily and press my lips to his.
The days that follow are long and tiring but every night as I close my eyes, I feel satisfied that I’ve used my time wisely. We spend most of the time training physically but at the end of the day we do an hour’s mental practice. Marlec has arranged for me to have this class separate to the others and I’m put to work a series of much harder codes and formulas. Each time my eyes fall across them the same rush of adrenaline I felt on the mission Julie took me on and my hands start rapidly typing. I feel people watching me with fascination and frustration because they have no idea how I’m doing it.
Today is no different to the other days accept from the group meeting Marlec has scheduled for tonight. “Probably just updating us with the situation upstairs” Jaylyn says at dinner, he along with Tamara and Sina has started sitting with us now.
I smile when Harry says this. Ever since our success at blowing up the labs in Zone 1 there’s been chaos for the government. They had emergency supplies stored somewhere but they’re running low and have had to ration it. This, unsurprisingly, hasn’t gone well with the residents of Zone 1. They’re becoming agitated and angry and aren’t being very well behaved pets. On the night after our arrival Marlec had both elite teams come up on stage with him and he shook each of our hands telling the audience that we are the ones to thank for this.
“When do you think he’ll let us go upstairs and fight?” Marcus asks and nobody can give him a good answer. “He just keeps saying ‘when you’re ready’” Ethan says
“I’m ready now” Finn says bluntly and I watch him, it’s like his humour and jokes are lost in the same place Cody is. Nobody blames him for his angry out bursts but it doesn’t stop everyone treading on egg shells around him. “We just have to wait” I say before anyone can argue with him.
After dinner we all make our way to the biggest room the cave system has and squeeze ourselves in with everyone else in the cramped hall. Finn left dinner early to go and see Cody and hasn’t returned but nobody offers to go and get him, “We can just tell him about it later” Ethan says as we elbow our way into the middle of the crowd; wanting to be closer to Marlec as he makes the speech.
When Marlec enters the room the noise in the room is swept away and we stand in silence looking up at him on the stage. “My people, we have decided that it is finally time we stop standing around and take action. The governments hold on the people of Zone 1 is weak so we should strike while we still have the chance. Our plan isn’t to just beat them; we have to destroy them so they can never rise again. It will be impossible for them to rule over people who hate them, if they have no support they have no power. The government’s time is over and our time is about to begin, are you ready to join me as we finally make our winning move?” Marlec’s words stir something in the crowd and they go crazy cheering and stamping their feet.
He finally raises his hand and is about to continue when the doors at the beck of the hall creek open and Finn appears through them. He’s panting and his eyes are full of life. “Marcus? Ethan? Ashlyn? Come quick its Cody!” He shouts searching the hall for us in the crowd. I look up at Ethan and my heart stars hammering in my chest, has another person become a casualty of this bitter war. He takes my hand firmly in his and starts pulling me through the crowd. Marcus is following behind me and as we continue to move towards Finn the crowd starts to part for us. Finn spots us and I notice that look in his eyes, its happiness not grief. Is Cody alive? A spark of hope builds inside me as we reach him and he horridly leads us to the hospital wing in the caves.
I’ve only visited Cody once; it was too painful to watch him lying motionlessly on the bed and see the look of hopelessness in his family’s eyes.
As we reach the room where all the patients are a nurse holds the door open for us and there he is, Cody, sitting up in his bed talking cheerily with his siblings. He’s holding them tightly in his arms and his mothers standing next to him wiping away tears. We run over to him and his smile broadens when we reach him “Hey guys” He says and we all laugh and smile with him in relief and joy. Cody’s mother takes the kids away to get him some food from the canteen so we can all say hello properly. “Thought we’d lost you there mate” Marcus says and slaps him gently on the back.
“I was just having a time out” Cody jokes and we laugh with him.
“Well I haven’t done your home work for you so you’re going to have to it yourself” Finn says and I look over at him and see the familiar twinkle back in his eyes. “It’s good to have you back” I say to him and he pulls me in for a tight hug. “Well done, you were good back in the mission” He whispers before I pull away and I smile at him. “Thank you” I whisper back.
That night as we sit with Cody in the hospital I realise that war doesn’t just bring death and grief. It also brings hope and something to fight for. Seeing Cody waking up from something the doctors told us was permanent has showed me that people can defeat the impossible. Even though Cody survived it won’t make me forget the other people who died. I will never be able to fully forgive myself for their deaths, they will always be inside me but I can at least move on from them. Let them hold on like a shadow, always there but I’m not always aware of it.
I remember the feeling I had that night Ethan told me he loved me and the one I feel now, that’s what I’m fighting for. A life where these feelings come without regret or sadness. A world where my decisions are my own and no one else’s. For now this place isn’t real but I already know that dreams can come true.