Trail of Tears


She didn't have anything with her when she left. No car, no water, nothing. Just desert. I think she liked the clarity of that.

Tess mumbled something, I think to Max. He didn't answer her. He just bolted for the cave. He couldn't take it. Tess and Isabel both went after him immediately, trying to console him.

Coward.

I could take it. She'd watched me leave often enough. And now she was leaving. Just like everyone else. I could watch her go.

I owed her that much.

She took one of the steep hills out of the canyon. She was slipping, sliding down the side of the cliff, clawing at dust and grabbing at scrub grass that tore in her hands and ripped up her skin. Once she grabbed a tree limb to keep from falling, and when it tore off in her grip she screamed and threw it down into the canyon. It twisted violently in the air, tumbling over the parched earth, shattering to dust when it finally smashed against the canyon floor. She crumpled up in a heap and cried into her hands.

I didn't move.

After a few minutes, she started climbing again. I think the stop had helped. When she reached the top I could see her silhouette against the sun. She was running clumsily, tearing at the dust and blood on her clothes. She was still crying.

She didn't look back.

Eventually she disappeared completely. The sun went down and the stars came out before Isabel came looking for me.

"Michael..." she said, standing behind me. "Have you been standing here all this time?"

My jaw hurt from grinding my teeth. I swallowed once and shifted my weight. "Yeah."

There was a pause while I felt her eyes on my back, on the canyon. Looking for Liz. "We've been talking with Tess. Max is asking for you."

"Right." Our mighty leader. "I'll be there in a sec."

I didn't expect her to leave, but she did. Maybe she thought I was thinking about home. For the first time in my life, I could've cared less.

Max will fight Tess off for a while, but he's already drawn to her. If Liz stays away from him, he'll be outside Tess' window one night. It's not that he's bad. He just always wants to do the right thing. It's why he saved Liz in the first place.

I turned and went to see what Max wanted.

******************

Maria was sitting on my bed when I got home. "Oh my god," she said, clutching my shoulders. "Liz, are you okay? Jesus, what happened?"

"I'm fine," I whispered. It was my mantra. I'd been saying it since I left them in the desert. She looked like she'd been crying for days. "Where's Mom?" I asked.

"She's asleep. I think Tess pulled a hallucination on her. Presumably so she wouldn't wonder why she hasn't seen you in days," Maria said, walking back towards the bed. She sank onto the mattress and took a deep breath. "So," she said. "What happened? Where's Max?" Her eyes watered when I didn't answer. She bit her lip, trying to stop the tears. "Liz --" she took a quick gasp for breath. " where's Michael?"

I knelt down in front of her and told her everything.

Almost everything.



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