The 5th Wave
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It takes him a minute to go on. Something’s really spooked him. His eyes won’t stay still. They dart about the room, as if trying to find something to distract him—or maybe the opposite, something to ground him in the moment. This moment with me. Not the moment he can’t stop thinking about.
“One day I was outside,” he says, “hanging up some sheets to dry on the clothesline, and this weird feeling came over me. Like something had popped me in the chest. I mean, it was totally physical, not mental, not a little voice inside my head telling me…telling me that Lauren was gone. It felt like someone had punched me hard. And I knew. So I dropped the sheet and hauled ass to her house…”
He shakes his head. I touch his knee, then pull my hand back quickly. After the first touch, touching becomes too easy.
“How’d she do it?” I ask. I don’t want to make him go someplace he’s not ready to go. So far he’s been an emotional iceberg, two-thirds hidden beneath the surface, listening more than he talks, asking more than he answers.
“Hung herself,” he says. “I took her down.” He looks away. Here with me, there with her. “Then I buried her.”
I don’t know what to say. So I don’t say anything. Too many people say something when they really have nothing to say.
“I think that’s the way it is,” he says after a minute. “When you love someone. Something happens to them, and it’s a punch in the heart. Not like a punch in the heart; a real punch in the heart.” He shrugs and laughs softly to himself. “Anyway, that’s what I felt.”
“And you think since I haven’t felt it, Sammy must be alive?”
“I know.” He shrugs and gives an embarrassed laugh. “It’s stupid. I’m sorry I brought it up.”
“You really loved her, didn’t you?”
“We grew up together.” His eyes glow at the memory. “She was over here or I was over at her house. Then we got older and she was always over here or I was always over there. When I could sneak away. I was supposed to be helping my dad on the farm.”
“That’s where you went tonight, isn’t it? Lauren’s house.”
A tear falls onto his cheek. I wipe it away with my thumb, the way he wiped my tears away on the night I asked him if he believed in God.
He leans forward suddenly and kisses me. Just like that.
“Why did you kiss me, Evan?” Talking about Lauren, then kissing me. It feels weird.
“I don’t know.” He ducks his head. There’s enigmatic Evan, taciturn Evan, passionate Evan, and now shy little boy Evan.
“The next time you better have a good reason,” I tease him.
“Okay.” He kisses me again.
“Reason?” I ask softly.
“Um. You’re really pretty?”
“That’s a good one. I don’t know if it’s true, but it’s good.”
He cups my face in his soft hands, and then leans in for a third kiss that lingers, igniting the simmering lump in my belly, making the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and do a little happy dance.
“It is true,” he whispers, our lips brushing.
We fall asleep in the same spooning position we were in a few hours before, the palm of his hand pressing just below my neck. I wake in the dead hours of the night, and for a second I’m back in the woods inside my sleeping bag, just me, my teddy bear, and my M16—and some stranger pressing his body into mine.
No, it’s okay, Cassie. It’s Evan, the one who saved you, the one who nursed you back to health, and the one who’s willing to risk his life so you can keep some ridiculous promise. Evan, the noticer who noticed you. Evan, the simple farm boy of the warm, gentle, soft hands.
My heart skips a beat. What kind of farm boy has soft hands?
I ease his hand away from my chest. He stirs, sighing against my neck. Now the hairs tickled by his lips dance a different kind of jig. I lightly brush my fingertips over his palm. Soft as a baby’s bottom.
Okay, don’t panic. It’s been a few months since he did any farm work. And you know how nice his cuticles are…but can years of calluses be wiped away by a few months off hunting in the woods?
Hunting in the woods…
I dip my head slightly to sniff his fingers. It’s probably my overactive imagination, but do I detect the acrid, metallic smell of gunpowder? When did he fire a gun? He hadn’t gone hunting tonight, just to visit Lauren’s grave.
Lying wide awake in his arms as dawn breaks, feeling his heart beating against my back while my own heart pushes against his hand.
You must be a lousy hunter. You hardly ever come back with anything.
I’m actually very good.
You just don’t have the heart to kill?
I have the heart to do what I have to do.
What do you have the heart to do, Evan Walker?
THE NEXT DAY is agony.
I know I can’t confront him. Way too risky. What if the worst is true? That there is no Evan Walker farm boy, only Evan Walker human traitor—or the unthinkable (one word that pretty much sums up this alien invasion): Evan Walker, Silencer. I tell myself this last possibility is ridiculous. A Silencer wouldn’t nurse me back to health—much less give me nicknames and play snuggles in the dark. A Silencer would just—well, silence me.
Once I take that irreversible step of confronting him, it’s pretty much game over. If he isn’t who he claims to be, I’d be giving him no choice. Whatever his reason for keeping me alive, I don’t think I’d stay alive very long if he thought I knew the truth.
Go slow. Work it out. Don’t tear through it like you always do, Sullivan. Not your style, but you gotta be methodical for once in your life.
So I pretend nothing’s wrong. Over breakfast, though, I work the conversation around to his pre-Arrival days. What kind of work did he do around the farm? Name it, he says. Drove the tractor, baled hay, fed the animals, repaired equipment, strung barbed wire. My eyes on his hands while my mind makes excuses for him. He always wore gloves is the best one, but I can’t think of a natural-sounding way to ask. So, Evan, you have such soft hands to have grown up on a farm. You must have worn gloves all the time and been even more into hand lotion than most guys, huh?
He doesn’t want to talk about the past; it’s the future he’s worried about. He wants details about the mission. Like every footstep between the farmhouse and Wright-Patterson has to be mapped out, every contingency considered. What if we don’t wait till spring and another blizzard hits? What if we find the base abandoned? How do we pick up Sammy’s trail then? When do we say enough is enough and give up?
“I’ll never give up,” I tell him.
I wait for nightfall. I was never very good at waiting, and he notices my restlessness.
“You’re going to be okay?” Standing by the kitchen door, rifle dangling from his shoulder. Cupping my face tenderly in those soft hands. And me gazing upward into those puppy-dog eyes, brave Cassie, trusting Cassie, mayfly Cassie. Sure, I’ll be fine. You go out and bag a few people, and I’ll pop some corn.
Then locking the door behind him. Watching him step lightly off the back porch and trot toward the trees, heading west, toward the highway, where, as everyone knows, fresh game like deer and rabbit and Homo sapiens like to congregate.
I tear through every room. Four weeks locked up inside it like someone under house arrest, you think I would have poked around a little.
What do I find? Nothing. And a lot.
Family photo albums. There’s baby Evan in the hospital wearing the striped newborn hat. Toddler Evan pushing a plastic lawnmower. Five-year-old Evan sitting on a pony. Ten-year-old Evan on the tractor. Twelve-year-old Evan in a baseball uniform…
And the rest of his family, including Val—I pick her out right away, and seeing the face of the girl who died in his arms and whose clothes I’ve taken brings the whole shitty thing back to me, and suddenly I’m like the lowest person left on Earth. Seeing his family in front of the Christmas tree, gathered around birthday cakes, hiking along a mountain trail, forces it down my throat: the end of Christmas trees and birthday cakes and family vacations and the ten thousand other taken-for-granted things. Each photograph the tolling of a bell, a timer clicking down to the end of normal.
And she’s in some of the pictures, too. Lauren. Tall. Athletic. Oh, and blond. Of course, she would have to be. They make a very attractive couple. And in more than half the pictures, she isn’t looking at the camera; she’s looking at him. Not the way I would look at Ben Parish, all squishy around the eyes. She looks at Evan fiercely, like, This here? It’s mine.
I put the albums away. My paranoia is fading. So he has soft hands, so what? Soft hands are a nice thing. I build a roaring fire to heat up the room and push back the shadows that crowd in on me. So his fingers smell like gunpowder after visiting her grave, so what? There are wild animals running around everywhere. And it wasn’t the kind of moment where you go, Yeah, I went to her grave. Had to shoot a rabid dog coming back, by the way. Ever since he found you, he’s taken care of you, kept you safe, been there for you.
But no matter how much I lecture myself, I can’t calm down. I’m missing something. Something important. I pace back and forth in front of the fireplace, shivering despite the roaring flames. It’s like having an itch you can’t scratch. But what could it be? I know in my gut I’m not going to find anything incriminating, even if I tear through every inch of the house.
But you haven’t searched everywhere, Cassie. You haven’t looked in the one place he wouldn’t expect you to look.
I limp into the kitchen. Not much time now. Grab a heavy jacket from the hook by the door and a flashlight from the cupboard, tuck the Luger into my waistband, and step outside into the bitter cold. Clear sky, the yard bathed in starlight. I try not to think about the mothership a few hundred miles over my head as I shuffle toward the barn. I don’t click on the light until I step inside.
The smell of old manure and mildewed hay. The scampering of rats’ feet on the rotting boards over my head. I swing the light around, over the empty stalls and across the dirt floor, into the hayloft. I don’t know exactly what I’m looking for, but I keep looking. In every creepy movie ever made, the barn is the prime nesting ground for the things you don’t know you’re looking for and always regret finding.
I find what I’m not looking for under a pile of ratty blankets heaped against the back wall. Something long and dark glinting in the circle of light. I don’t touch it. I reveal it, tossing aside three blankets to reach its resting place.
It’s my M16.
I know it’s mine. I can see my initials in the stock: C.S., scratched there one afternoon while I hid in the little tent in the woods. C.S. for Completely Stupid.
I’d lost it on the median when the Silencer struck from the woods. Left it there in my panic. Decided I couldn’t go back for it. Now here it is, in Evan Walker’s barn. My bestie had found its way back to me.
Do you know how to tell who the enemy is in wartime, Cassie?