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And now...the battle begins!
The darkness of my abyss consumes. Direction is irrelevant and time is worthless. If only I could pinpoint the moment when it all faded, then maybe I would be able to crawl back into existence. I slip in and out of reality. My heartbeat taunts me with hope for life, but the aches and emptiness of the rest of my body only offer death.
I am. That I know for sure. As I sit in this prison, no other memory surfaces. No matter how hard I try, I cannot get past the imaginary barricade in my mind’s eye. The only sound is the drip, drip, dripping in the distance. The moisture leaks down the walls like tears unshed for too many years.
I am all alone in this hell. They will come for me soon and then, I will be no more.
A few minutes, hours, or days later, I could not tell you, there are footsteps far away. My lungs labor. My breath is kept shallow by the splintered shards of my ribcage. Each intake of air is a reminder of my frailty. I hurt from head to toe but I am separated from the pain by a thick haze.
Where am I? How did I come to this place? It is dark, damp and moldy. The cold seeps deep into my bones. My teeth chatter, and my body shakes. The room in which I am imprisoned has a cavernous echo, and my pulse pounds rhythmically against the walls. Memories do not surface.
The footsteps are closer now, but all I can do is sit in a heap against the slimy interior of the chamber and wait. The fog of my mind thins. There is my heartbeat again. I am indeed alive. Water drops, footsteps and heartbeats play a syncopated tune. Plop! Smack! Smack! Thump! Thump! Plop! Smack! Smack! Thump! Thump!
Are they coming for me now? I almost hope so.
A flicker of light crosses under the door. My tired limbs move. I cannot stop them, even though my muscles rip with pain. I cry out in agony. The door is a great wooden beast, but I grip it to gain something to hold on to. Splinters pierce my fingers.
The smacking footsteps cease. The heavy bolts scrape as they move. The metallic clatter vibrates the door.
The light. I want it. I need it. Something in my head connects light to comfort and safety. It is a compulsion that must be soothed. I claw to get to it. The skin splits and tears on my hands but I cannot help myself.
My eyes land on a picture farther down the wall, hanging over a folded uniform. A familiar folded uniform.
It can’t be.
I hold up my hand and let my eyes lead my feet to the display case. The glass is cool beneath my fingers, and I don’t even care that I’m leaving handprints behind on the spotless surface.
That is my father, wearing a Dellinger Racing hat, standing in our front yard, arm around my brother’s shoulders. And that—I lower my gaze to the bottom of the case—is one of his pit crew uniforms. Nate and my dad. Father and son. Full circle.
I take a deep breath. A circle with the Dellinger family planted at its center.
“He was a good man, Kate, in spite of what happened.”
My next breath sticks in my throat. That’s not Ryan’s voice, though something about the timbre of it is the same.
I drop my hands from the case and turn as slowly as I can, bringing me face to face with Ryan in twenty years. The same smile, though a little softer at the moment, tilts the lips. The same joy for living lights the blue eyes. The same expression rests on the face.
It’s like that disconnect you get when you stare at yourself in the mirror for so long that you begin to look like a stranger, a stranger that you know way too much about. Only this time, it’s the reflection looking back that knows everything.
My eyes flick to Ryan, standing a few feet behind his dad. He moves to step forward, then stops.
When I look back to the older man, Russ’s eyes are damp. For the first time, I realize tears stream down my cheeks. I’ve never missed my father so much in my whole life as right now, standing in front of the man he admired so much, who cared for my family from a distance for so many years, who grabbed my brother by the shoulders and shook him until he came to his senses when he needed it most.
It’s like looking at my father reincarnated.
I throw my arms around his neck and sob, embarrassment coursing through me and mingling with a comfort that defies explanation.
This familiar stranger seems to understand, his hug so much like my father’s used to feel when I was small and scared. He makes me want to pour everything out right here in this pristine glass and tile lobby, where my cries echo like the sound of every tear I’ve ever shed floating back through years of grief.
When every emotion is spent, I manage a shuddering breath and step back, dropping my arms, not sure what to do with my hands, ashamed at the very public display of emotion and the tear-stained shirt of a man I’ve never met yet somehow know all too well, soothed by a bond forged before I was ever born.
Her voice cracked as she choked out, “I love you, Seth.”
“I know,” he let tears slide down his cheeks. “It’s okay. You being with Noah. Scar, if it’s going to be someone other than me,” he swallowed, “then I can’t think of a better man than my brother. He’ll take care of you. He won’t take you for granted. I’ve made so many mistakes. I’m sorry.”
She continued to weep in the darkness. She couldn’t speak.
“You know, I’m not saying we’re going to die,” He knew they were. “But I’m ready. I think I’d like to see my Grandpa Harm again and to finally meet my grandmother. I—I think I’ll know her immediately, do you?”
She whispered between strangled sobs, “Yes. I think so.”
“Scarlet, what if I could get this stone moved? Enough to get you out—”
“Forget it!” She didn’t even want to think about Seth staying behind and dying alone. “I’m not going anywhere!” Her breaths were shallow. It was almost over. She began to panic. Noah!
“Listen to me, Scar. I made a promise to Noah before I brought you out here. I told him I wouldn’t get you killed. Please!”
“I can’t,” she squeaked, “I won’t leave you. He’ll understand.” She prayed he would.
Seth knew she wasn’t going to go willingly. His lips trembled as fear began to race through his body. “Tell my mom I love her—that everybody won.”
“You tell her!”
“Humor me.” He swallowed the hot lump that was forming in his throat, “And tell my dad— that heart condition he was concerned with—that it’s fixed,” tears streamed down his cheeks. “You’ll be proof.”
“What does that even mean?”
God, I remember Samson. He messed up terribly and rebelled too but in the end when he was literally blinded and in the dark, you gave him strength one last time. I may still have my eyes, but I can’t see in this dark cave. Give me the blind strength to get her out…and then… You can bring me home. I’m ready.
He took as deep of a breath as he could, pushed with all his might against the stone…and he felt it move. “Scarlet, you know— you were my very first kiss. He squeezed his eyes tightly shut and felt his chest constrict. “Remember in the driveway at Maddox and Lee’s?”
“Yes,” she sniffed, “and you were mine.”
“Why,” he tried to be strong, “Why don’t you come over here and be my last kiss.”
She crawled in the dark and found him. He picked her up putting her against the stone. “Now, kiss me like you love me more than him.”
Her lips found his in the blackness. She lost herself in his tenderness and then she felt him shove her out, as he cried, “No regrets. I love you. I have always loved you.”
The stone rolled back into place.
“NOOOOO!” She pushed. Clawed. Screamed. Wept. She couldn’t give up. “Seth!”
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