Two young hares crouched by the gate, blissfully unaware of the danger nearby. I raised the bow carefully and pulled the arrow back tightly against my cheek. I focused on the small target in front of me, breathing in slowly to relax myself. Letting the arrow fly, I could only watch as it sailed past both hares into the brush beyond the gate. The hares glanced at it briefly before scurrying away.
“Dammit!” I yelled.
“Easy now,” a voice said behind me. I wheeled around and found him leaning against a tree.
“Are you following me now?” I asked, walking past him. I needed to find a new target and fast. My stomach rumbled loud enough for the entire forest to hear. I heard Josh’s soft footfalls behind me and felt my face flush with heat. I’d joined his camp a few months ago, and he’d been quick to notice me. I told myself that I didn’t want him; that I’d be moving on in a few weeks time and didn’t have the energy to start something new. Josh didn’t know about Lance. He didn’t know anything about how I watched the love of my life die in the city. I couldn’t risk going through that again.
“It’ll be dark soon,” he said quietly, ignoring my question. “You should probably get back to camp. The Council doesn’t like stragglers.”
I turned and stormed at him. “You know what?! Screw your Council!” I yelled. “I’m so tired of playing with this bow and arrow. I want my gun back!”
He was on me before I could react. Slamming me into a tree and pressing his hand against my mouth, I struggled against him, but his weight held me firmly against the trunk..
“Don’t ever say that,” he whispered into my ear. “They are always listening, and people who speak against the Council tend to disappear around here.”
He pulled back and looked me square in the eye. Where I thought I would see anger, I found only concern.
“I’m sorry if I scared you, but no place around camp is safe to speak like that,” he whispered. His face was turning redder by the second. “I just don’t want anything to happen to you.”
He turned to walk away, but I suddenly couldn’t stand to be alone.
“Wait,” I said, cursing myself internally for going against my instincts.
“Why?” I asked. “Why don’t you want anything to happen to me?”
Josh stepped back and smiled. “Isn’t it obvious?”
I shook my head and waited for an answer.
“I’ve been in love with you since the first day you walked into our camp.”
My mouth dropped like an anvil, but I quickly closed it, shaking my head back and forth. “That’s ridiculous, Josh. That can’t possibly be true. You know nothing about me.”
He stared at the ground and shrugged. “I can’t explain it. It’s all I know. Perhaps if you even gave me a chance instead of chastising me every second, you’d see that I’m telling the truth. I love you. I’ve loved you every day for the past three months, and nothing you say will change that.”
“Give you a chance?” I responded. “The last person I gave a chance to ended up turning on me and the people I was with. I was the only one who made it out. So Josh, give me a reason to love you, to trust you.”
I was visibly shaking as the words sprung from my mouth. I had promised myself I wouldn’t get close to anyone else, but I felt myself breaking down with each second that passed. Josh reached out his hand to me. I stared at it for just a moment before placing my hand within his own.
“How about this?” he asked. “Each day, you tell me something new about yourself, and I’ll fill you in on my plan to get us out of here.”
I still held on to the tree with my other hand, not wanting to give in. Trust was something I couldn’t afford to give out easily. Trust got you killed in this world, but Josh made me want to try again. Maybe he could get us out. Maybe he was telling the truth. I slowly stepped away from the tree and squeezed his hand. He moved closer to me and smiled.
“Just trust me.”