a/n: As always, if this is your first foray into the Journey’s End story, please, click here to go to the table of contents and start from the beginning.
If you’re still here…
I think I should lay out my philosophy for all future posts of this story so that I don’t end up repeating the same thing over and over again. These chapters are, to say the least, rough drafts. I will likely never post whatever turns out to be the final draft as I hope to someday publish this work. I’m saying this because increasingly I realize that I need the benefit of a dedicated editor and collaborator with whom I can bounce my work off of, and thus make this story as smooth and engaging as it can be.
I say this now because this chapter feels as though it’s the roughest of the offerings I have delivered so far, even if I’ve combed through it and made changes at least three times. There are still parts that feel… off… somehow, and I don’t know that I can tweak those bits and pieces enough on my own.
In any case, despite certain eccentricities, I am still rather pleased with this chapter. The thing I think that hurts it the most is that it is itself a bridge of a chapter, not exactly carrying any one momentous moment of its own, but instead polarizing itself around the end of one major moment and the beginning of another.
Thus this is a comparably longer chapter (though, at under eight thousand words, I suppose it isn’t), but it feels as such stretched a bit thin. I suppose a natural ending could have been put a little earlier, or I could have split this chapter up between the previous chapter and the next, but one of the great things that I like about this chapter is that it has the rhythm that I’m shooting for. It resolves to a degree a cliffhanger brought on at the end of the last chapter, and introduces the cliffhanger that will be fleshed out in the opening of the next.
Also, I like this chapter because it really starts to flesh out the character of Lindsey, and most specifically about how she feels towards her new companion. This is by far one of my favorite aspects of this story–getting in her head, and trying to express the feelings and thoughts that she is having.
In any case, I hope you enjoy this chapter, and while I know I’m not maintaining this site on a day to day basis, I’m already deep into the next chapter (which will also, I expect, be rather long, depending on where I choose to end it).
The story so far: Lindsey and Trevor finally made it to the Golden Woods–a gorgeous forest with trees whose leaves stay yellow all year long. Lindsey falls immediately in love with the place as it reminds her of the feeling of autumn.
She also feels her affections for Trevor growing as they seem so comfortable in each other’s company. These affections are teased the most when Trevor offers to share a companion fruit with her, but refuses to tell of the legend about it when pressed.
The Golden Woods presents itself as incredibly welcoming, despite the stories Lindsey heard from the hunters back in Everywhere Town, right up until she and Trevor make camp. It is then, in the middle of the night, she is awoken by a tall stranger in black armor that is undoubtedly looking for something.
Probably for her.
She shakes Trevor awake, but it’s too late; there’s nowhere for them to run to. It is then that Lindsey’s book reveals yet another spell, one that allows the couple to hide in plain sight from their would be pursuer. Eventually the stranger passes on, but not before filling both Trevor and Lindsey with a fresh set of fears not once warned of by those who frequent the Golden Woods.
With Lindsey and Trevor trading watches, we return to that forest, and our adventure.
Chapter 8: Trevor’s Mistake
When Lindsey made something of a show of waking up—an act for Trevor’s benefit since she didn’t actually sleep—he waited in silence just long enough for her to get her things ready before saying in a clipped voice, “Let’s go.”
He was shaken, Lindsey knew that much. It was obvious, obvious in the waxy appearance of his skin, the way his bloodshot eyes darted back and forth, even in his walk and the way it was less confident, less sure, but undoubtedly quicker of pace.
Lindsey could understand this easily and had little trouble keeping up given her own desires to make it to Port Town before nightfall brought another chance meeting with the stranger. What bothered her was the silence.
She would have welcomed conversation; she practically craved it. She wanted to talk away the fears of the night before, to laugh at them, or even to be honest about them and how scared she was. She wanted Trevor to do what he seemed so good at; she wanted him to make her feel better.
But if there was one thing that Trevor was making perfectly clear it was that conversation was not on the table. Lindsey didn’t even try talking; the purpose of his steps and his features set in an expression somewhere halfway between fear and anger proving to be all the deterrence against talking that she needed.
Instead, the only sounds that filled her ears were their eager footsteps disturbing the natural sounds of the early morning in the forest. Birds chirped and animals skittered about concealed by the underbrush. Occasionally the breeze would pick up and rustle the leaves, but for the most part the air remained still; stiflingly still, sucking the ambient noises into it and spitting them back out with a strange, directionless quality that was louder, and yet felt meaningless.
Just yesterday the forest path was filled with the sounds of their teasing and laughter, today the sounds of their boots scuffing against the ground seemed like the only evidence they even existed at all.
To make matters worse, Trevor seemed to forget about the necessity to eat. He didn’t bother to dole out food for breakfast and she probably figured that he simply forgot about it during their hurried efforts to get back on the road again. But hours passed and by what she guessed would be about lunchtime (time was much more difficult to keep track of in the forest) she could hear her stomach growling.
She considered saying something, if only a very quick reminder that they should probably eat something, but when she turned to look at him the expression of warning that met her quelled any desire to bring up the subject of food, even if it totally failed to appease her appetite.
Just give him time, she reasoned. He’ll eventually go back to being Trevor again. But she didn’t really believe what she was thinking. She was trying to convince herself as opposed to attempting to consider given fact.
The given fact was that she couldn’t just keep quiet and hope everything just fixed itself. She had to do something. So, she stopped walking.
It took Trevor a few moments before he realized his companion was no longer walking with him, but when he did he also stopped. He turned and looked at her. God, he looks terrible, she thought, unable to look away from his hollow, watery eyes and his mangled hair. He looked like a wild animal, a field mouse that had caught a glimpse of a hawk as its wings eclipsed the sun for just a millisecond before being blocked out by the glare.
“What are you doing?” he asked impatiently, his voice bordering on hysterics. “We have to keep moving.”
“You can go home, Trevor,” she said, and she couldn’t believe her own words; no, this was wrong, he couldn’t go home, she didn’t want him to go home.
“Trevor, if you go home now, you’ll probably be safe. I’m pretty sure that thing was after me, it’s not going to do anything to you if you’re not with me.” What was she saying? This was ridiculous; what about her? What would it do to her?
She interrupted him again, “I don’t need you to protect me Trevor. And you don’t need to be a part of this. I… I didn’t realize how dangerous this could be, but it is. Isn’t it? Mr. M… He’s dangerous, isn’t he?” What are you doing? Stop lying! He can’t go! “There’s no reason for you to have to go through with it. I have to; it’s my sister. But there’s no reason for you to… you know… for my sister.”
The corners of her eyes began to sting, and she could feel something building in her chest. Don’t you dare cry, she thought, but she wanted to. She wanted to tell him the truth; that she didn’t care. She didn’t care how much danger either of them were in because something was happening, she wasn’t sure what, but whatever it was she didn’t want it to go away. She didn’t want him to leave her.
But if he couldn’t handle whatever was thrown at them, she had no right to ask him to come along.
“Shut up,” he snapped back at her. The words were harsh and rude, and Lindsey winced.
“I said shut up,” he repeated. This time the same words weren’t so harsh, and she could tell they weren’t specifically directed towards her. It was almost as though he was telling the whole world to shut up, and not just her. “I need to…” he tried to say before trailing off.
Lindsey realized that he didn’t just look afraid and angry, but confused as well, and as he stood there, his eyes falling out of focus, she could see the frustration that simmered from trying to squeeze his thoughts into words.
Finally he took a deep breath and said, “Okay, look. I knew… no I didn’t know… I understood… wait.” He stopped again, grimacing, shaking his head, silently cursing himself for not finding the right words. Lindsey wanted to encourage him, wanted to pat him on his back, tell him it was okay, just take his time. But at that moment it was as though they both needed to play out their parts. He had to say what he needed to say, and she had to let him.
“All right, let me try this again. I was pretty sure that coming with you could get dangerous. I mean, I’ve heard stories, right? Journey’s End has some mean parts to it and you’re going after M which is… The few times I’ve heard people talk about him it was like he was a monster or something. So I could, you know, write it on paper or say it, ‘This trip could be dangerous.’ But I didn’t actually understand.”
He took a step forward, and as he continued talking; the tension that had been building up in his features slowly beginning to drain away. “It was like you might read in a book or see on TV. Yeah, monsters and bad guys, real scary stuff but you really don’t think about it because all it is is a story. It’s not real. You’re not right there, and it’s not really happening to you.”
“Last night…” he sighed, shaking his head. “I wasn’t ready for last night. I mean, I didn’t really even know what danger was, you know? I’m not even sure I do now, we don’t know what would have happened if he found us, but it’s real now… And I think I just need to kind of get used to it.”
“Does that mean you’re…” she began to ask, only catching herself before she finished asking the question she wanted to ask; does that mean you’re not leaving me? That would have been wrong, it would have given away too much. That would have been catastrophic. Instead she finished, “…gonna be okay? Trevor, really, I understand I really do…”
Trevor interrupted her, “I said I was coming, I’m coming. Might as well face it, you’re stuck with me.”
Lindsey’s heart swelled. Her face wanted to split into the silliest grin she ever wore in her life. She felt like jumping, like dancing, like doing something very stupid with that added joy of not caring what anyone else thought because she wasn’t losing him. But she didn’t. She kept calm, and reserved, and while her whole being was celebrating, she only nodded and said, “You’re sure?”
“I’m sure,” he nodded and gave Lindsey what she was sure he thought was a winning grin even if it did seem a little weak. Then, with a shrug that was intended to make him look supremely unconcerned about anything at all, he added, “I mean, so what if M almost caught us last night? He didn’t, and that’s what counts, right?”
“You thought that was Mr. M?”
“Yeah. That’s what I was thinking last night while you were sleeping anyway.”
Lindsey shook her head emphatically. “No, that wasn’t him.”
“How do you know?”
“I met Mr. M.”
“Yeah but he was covered in armor last night, you couldn’t tell…”
“I saw his eyes,” Lindsey cut Trevor off.
“What, did the guy from last night have different colored eyes or something?”
Again Lindsey shook her head. “I don’t know. I never actually got to see Mr. M’s eyes…”
“Then how can you tell?” Trevor asked in exasperation.
“I’m not sure…” she mumbled. Lindsey let her vision slip out of focus as she brought up the night before; replaying the events, the complete terror that filled her as she scrambled to wake Trevor up, the panic that almost overtook her at the thought of being caught. And then she was looking into the eyes again. What was it that made her so sure she wasn’t looking directly at Mr. M again? “The stranger from last night was too… He was too stupid,” she finally said.
Trevor gaped at her, his mouth hanging open as the straps of his rucksack began to slide off of his shoulders. Lindsey was beginning to wonder if she might have said something wrong. Maybe she only thought she said the one thing, but in reality said something different, something insulting. Maybe she just called Trevor an idiot.
But then he laughed. He laughed loud and hard and his bloodshot eyes began to leak tears and it was his laughter that ultimately erased the last traces of tension that had plagued them since they first headed out that morning. Lindsey wasn’t even sure what Trevor was laughing about, but soon she too was laughing along with him; she simply couldn’t help herself.
Finally, wheezing and out of breath, Trevor spoke again. “You’re… wait a second… You’re really… something… else, you know that?”
“No, I don’t…”
“Yeah… Here I am, having a complete and total breakdown and you… you’re just like…” and then Trevor did his best impression of Lindsey as he finished, “He was too stupid.”
This sent Trevor into another, smaller, fit of laughter before concluding, “You know, if you had said that about five hours ago, I think I would have been all right.”
“I didn’t know you needed me to.”
“Right. Next time I’ll tell you, okay?”
“Good.” He smiled at her and this time it was warm and relaxed, and it was that kind of smile that made Lindsey smile involuntarily. But then he did something she didn’t expect; he held out his hand. “So can we get going again? I’m not out of my skull afraid anymore, but that doesn’t mean I changed my mind about making it to Port Town by nightfall.”
She didn’t really hear a single thing Trevor said. Lindsey knew he said something, that much was sure, but he might as well have been speaking a made up language for all she understood. The only thing she was aware of was his outstretched hand.
He wanted to hold her hand; the strange words that came from his mouth were far less important, and she just barely had the sense to nod her head as though she really did understand what he said as she let her hand slip into his.
They began walking. Lindsey really didn’t even register this either. Every part of her was focused on her hand, and the larger, stronger, hand that almost completely engulfed her own. Were his hands really that big? She hadn’t noticed before; it didn’t even occur to her to notice. He was a builder, she knew that, and because of that she sort of expected his skin to be hard and riddled with calluses, but his hand was surprisingly soft. Sure, there were a few calluses that scratched her palm, but for some strange and stupid reason that was completely beyond her, she actually kind of liked them.
Her head swam, and she reveled in it. She could have spent the rest of the afternoon exactly like that, but through the sweet haze that filled her something ugly and urgent broke through. Her stomach started growling again.
“Was eating on the schedule for today?”
On the upside, Lindsey was able to put food in her stomach, though this came at the price of no longer holding hands anymore. Not that it mattered. Trevor simply offered it as a gesture, and it was just holding hands. People held hands all the time, granted maybe not people in exactly Trevor’s and Lindsey’s specific situation, but it didn’t mean anything really.
Lunch was very much welcomed, and Lindsey didn’t even think twice before asking for a second helping. She nibbled at her bread crust as the forest slowly slid by the two of them, and while the handholding may have come to an end, at least she and Trevor were talking again.
They laughed as they teased each other relentlessly, at first to chase away their fears, and once those had gone away, they continued just because. When they both noticed that the light was again beginning to fade from the golden leaves above them, they carried on with their chatting and chiding with even more intensity as though to stave off new fears that the possibility of spending another night in the Golden Woods might bring.
The darker it got, the more they focused upon each other until Trevor interrupted the proceedings. “Hey! Look at that!”
“What?” Lindsey gasped, and immediately her mind conjured up an image of the armored stranger. He had returned and this time there was no way they could hide in time. They were in the open, they were vulnerable, and even if she could use the conceal spell again, they would have already been spotted by now.
“I think we’re almost there,” Trevor said as he pointed at the path up ahead. Lindsey squinted through the dimming tree trunks up the path until she saw what Trevor saw; a hole in the forest up ahead, a small patch where the golden leaves now almost brown in the ebbing daylight did not cross.
Embedded in that hole were small, twinkling lights. “I can see it!” Lindsey exclaimed. “I can see Port Town!”
“Oh thank God! We’re sleeping in real beds tonight.”
“I’ll race ya,” Lindsey challenged him through a sly grin.
Trevor cocked an eyebrow at her. “Are you kidding? My bag’s twice as heavy as yours and GO!”
Without warning Trevor launched himself into a full on run, his rucksack on his back jangling loudly and sending scores of birds cawing angrily at him as they flew from their roosts in a flurry.
“Cheater!” Lindsey yelled as she tore off after him, her boots pounding against the dirt path, her own backpack jerking left to right and feeling as though it was going to yank her right off the path with each step.
“If you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin’!” Trevor shouted back, punctuating his point with a fit of triumphant laughter.
Lindsey clenched her jaw and ducked her head. Okay, if he wants to play that way, I’m going to beat him anyway! she told herself as she forced her legs to pump faster and faster, her arms swinging back and forth in a blur.
He had a good head start on her, ten feet, maybe more, but she was closing the gap quickly, the sounds of her feet slamming against the ground mixing with her heart pounding in her ear in a kind of madman’s beat. Come on, you can catch him, up and down, just keep moving your feet, up and down!
She had closed the gap down to three feet when Trevor decided to go in for a little more taunting. “Hey! Why am I even running? At this rate I can beat you just by walk…” Just then he turned his head and saw Lindsey pulling up right next to him. “Hey how did you…”
“Bye Trevor!” Lindsey yelled after him as she first drew even with him, and then left him behind.
“HEY!” he shouted after her, but she was gone. Her legs were pushing seemingly on their own, opening wide, kicking hard into the dirt path, pushing, recoiling, extending, over and over again. She should have been winded, she expected that feeling of her lungs tightening, a fire stoking up beneath her chest painfully and desperately but it never came.
Meanwhile the tiny hole in the forest grew larger and larger, opening up like a great mouth, revealing more of the twilight sky on the other side presiding over the brilliant display of lights that was Port Town as each furious step brought her closer.
The final few trees were close and getting closer, twenty feet away, ten feet away, and then five. When she was no more than three feet away she hoisted her arms high above her head, and as she shot out of the forest like a bullet she screamed victoriously into the purple gray sky, her body coming to a shuddering halt.
Trevor spilled out of the forest entrance a few seconds later, wheezing and clumsy.
“You run like a girl,” Lindsey mocked.
Bent over with his hands pressing against his knees, Trevor’s reddened face turned up to Lindsey and he answered, “I… kinda wish… I did. Maybe… I’d have… been able to… keep… up.”
After Trevor had finally caught his breath, he and Lindsey bickered happily as they walked the short walk from the boundary of the Golden Woods to Port Town.
“If you tell anyone, anyone at all, I’m going to tell them you cheated,” Trevor warned.
Lindsey gasped. “You’re the one that cheated.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about!”
“And now you’re lying.”
“You’re a freak mutant.”
“You’re like an out of shape slug.”
“Welcome to Port Town,” a new voice interrupted them. They both turned to get a look at the Port Town guard, and Lindsey was stricken by how different he appeared compared to the two guards she met during her first night at Everywhere Town. He was, as was to be expected by now, a boy, too young to be a teenager yet. And he carried a spear, also expected given her last experience.
But he didn’t wear the clunky old armor that Everywhere Town’s guards wore. Indeed, he hardly wore much of anything at all; a pair of tattered long shorts made out of a loose white cloth, and a necklace made of shark teeth and sea shells. His skin was bronzed and his overly long hair hung down in a ragged curtain over his eyes.
Lindsey pointed to Trevor and said, in a straight face, “He’s a cheater and he still lost.”
“Hey!” Trevor winced. “Yeah, well… she cheated to. I—I don’t know how, exactly, but she cheated. It’s because she’s a…”
“Freak mutant, yes, we know. Oh, and did I mention he’s a big old fat liar?”
“Uh-huh,” the guard grunted, obviously confused.
“Oh, okay, let’s talk about fair, okay. Look at this; my rucksack is like twice the size of hers, I was handicapped, so I didn’t really lose because she didn’t finish that much quicker than I did,” Trevor pled to the guard.
Lindsey stepped right out in front of Trevor as she spoke, “He had a head start and I finished with enough time to have a nice little nap while I waited for him to finish.”
“HA! Now who’s lying?”
At this point the poor guard, resigned to the fact that he wasn’t going to be paid attention to anyway, began to speak. “Welcome to Port Town, the City of the Sea, and the Jewel of Eastern Journey’s End. All who come here in peace are greeted as friends and citizens…”
“You’re the liar! Remember? I ran fair in square…”
“…Oh no you didn’t. There’s no way you could have done that without cheating…”
“…We kindly ask that you do not litter here in Port Town…”
“…You just watched me, didn’t you? It’s not like I have mechanical legs or anything…”
“…Let me see…”
“…We kindly ask that you do not fight here in Port Town…”
“…How rude! I’m not showing you so much as a knee!”
“…HA! See, you got something to hide…”
“…We kindly ask that you pay all your fees here in Port Town…”
“…I have never met such a sore loser in my life, Trevor…”
“…I’m only sore because I should have won…”
“…And we kindly ask that you obey all other city ordinances that can be found in the room of records in City Hall…”
“…You know something?”
“…If you have any questions about Port Town, please feel free to ask me.”
“I’m hungry,” Lindsey said abruptly.
“Yeah, me too,” he agreed before turning to the guard. “You guys have anywhere good to eat around here?”
The guard just stood there, his mouth hanging slightly open. After giving him a few moments to try and recover, Lindsey decided to give it a try. In the sweetest, kindest, least offensive tone she could muster, she said, “Um, excuse me? We’ve been walking all day, we had a terrible night last night, and we would really like somewhere nice to eat and sleep if you know of anywhere. Somewhere preferably by the beach if you have it.”
The guard’s head nodded slowly, but instead of immediately giving them directions he instead pointed, first at Lindsey and then at Trevor, “A-Are you two okay?”
“Yeah,” Trevor answered with a smile. “Why wouldn’t we be?”
Lindsey interrupted the guard, “Oh, don’t worry about that, we were just, you know, having some fun, that’s all.”
“Right… yeah… okay,” the guard said uneasily. “Somewhere by the water, check. Okay, you want to just keep on heading down the road you’re already on, it’ll take you right to the water’s edge before splitting east and west. The whole strip’s lined with restaurants and hotels, so you can take your pick.”
“Thank you!” Lindsey beamed at him before she and Trevor walked past him into Port Town.
They didn’t get but a few feet beyond the guard before Lindsey burst out laughing. “I don’t think he had a clue what was going on!”
She looked over at Trevor, expecting him to join in on the fun, but instead he was looking all around them with wide eyes. It was fully night now, but in the glow of the street lamps, she could still see the look of wonder in his raised eyebrows and slightly opened mouth.
Lindsey followed suit, only then realizing that she hadn’t even bothered to take in the sights of Port Town, and almost immediately she understood why Trevor was walking half in shock.
To say the houses that lined the street on either side were beautiful would have done them a severe injustice. It wasn’t that they were merely beautiful, but that they were so… unique. The first house that Lindsey’s eyes focused on didn’t look like a house at all, but instead a giant conch shell. Indeed she could only tell it was a house because of the front door and the fact that it was far too large to be the actual shell of a real conch.
That or the conchs here were the size of elephants.
Next to the conch shell house was another house that looked like a sand castle complete with flags flying from the ramparts. Another house looked like a beach ball, and yet another looked like a pale with a shovel.
Spinning around to take the whole place in, Lindsey immediately began to feel as though she and Trevor had been shrunken down and stranded on a beach in the middle of holiday season. Every single building–some of them houses complete with house numbers, others were shops with signs hanging improbably over front doors that looked somewhat out of place–was shaped to look like some part of the beach; seashells and lifeguard stations, shipwrecked hulls sticking out of the sand and starfish.
And from each of these hung rows of paper lanterns in all colors like strings of sparkling beads casting their light on a road of broken seashells and cracked stones.
“I think it’s my turn to say it’s amazing,” Trevor muttered. Lindsey looked back over at him, and while he still wore a mask of awe, it was colored with something else, something that looked an awful lot like disappointment.
Lindsey shrugged. “It’s okay. A bit much if you ask me.”
“Are you kidding? Look at this place. I mean, how does he do it? Look at that seashell over there; how do you do that?”
“I think the real question is why would anyone want to.”
Trevor looked at her, stunned. “What are you talking about?”
“I don’t know. I think I like my houses… house shaped. If I wanted to live in a seashell, I’d go be a hermit crab.” She smiled good-naturedly in an attempt to sell her point.
“Lindsey,” Trevor said in a reproachful voice. “I really don’t need you to build up my self esteem…”
“I’m not,” she lied. “I love the houses you build.”
“Lindsey…” He glared at her and she understood quite easily that no matter how hard she tried, she wasn’t helping.
“Okay, fine,” she caved. “They’re really impressive, but I still don’t think you should take that as a knock against your houses, really. Have you ever had anyone in Everywhere Town complain?”
“But they probably don’t know about these,” Trevor countered. “This is… I was expecting good, but I didn’t see this coming.”
“And I’m telling you,” Lindsey insisted, “that it doesn’t matter. People like the houses you build. You said it yourself, you haven’t been able to take a vacation in ten years because your business is doing so well. So what if this Enzo guy can build a strange looking house? He does what he does and you do what you do, and you’re very good at it. I know.”
“How would you know?”
Lindsey folded her arms over her chest and cocked an eyebrow at him. “I slept in one of them, remember?”
“Oh… yeah… right.”
“Your house is nicer than my house, so you have nothing to be ashamed of.”
“No. I’m winning this one, Trevor. See? I just said so. You’re a great builder, that’s final. Now can we go eat? I’m starving.” She was going to just leave it at that, but when Trevor hesitated, skepticism covering his face, Lindsey held out her had.
He hesitated, and Lindsey swallowed hard, took a breath, and doing the best she could to hide how big a deal it would be to hold hands with him again, she said, “Come on, let’s go.”
Apprehensively, Trevor took it, and they were walking again. Just breathe, she told herself. No big deal, just breathe.
Eventually they reached the beach, and just as the guard had said it would, the road ended in a “T” that ran off up and down the coast. While they hadn’t crossed too many people as they made their way through town, they could now see small groups lazily meandering about, talking and laughing with their pants legs rolled up to their knees.
Buildings of all shapes and sizes (and Lindsey felt it was impossible to truly grasp the phrase, “all shapes and sizes,” until she arrived in Port Town) ran up and down the lane abutted against the beach, the light from their paper lanterns pouring out onto the pale sand as they looked out over the white crested black waters that rolled beneath a starry sky.
Lindsey wanted to eat somewhere with a view, maybe even outside. But at the same time she wanted to avoid anywhere that was too crowded and so she led Trevor up the lane, arbitrarily picking which direction she would go.
And as they went, she remained incredibly conscious of the fact that her hand was still holding Trevor’s.
They passed up several delis that were bursting with people, and a few more restaurants that weren’t exactly packed to the gills, but the chatter from the crowd was a little too loud for Lindsey’s liking.
Finally they had come to a point along the strip where she could see the end, where the dazzling lights came to an abrupt stop, giving way to a much darker cluster of what appeared to be huddled huts haphazardly tossed together. Unlike the buildings she and Trevor had seen coming up through Port Town, these were old, weathered and ugly. They smelled of fish, and she thought she could see small shapes moving about between the close clearances among the shanties.
She shivered and turned around.
Close by there was a small open-air café with splotchy tables that bore the scars of sea salt riddled air. Inside, Lindsey only noticed a single group of three children eating, and she decided this was as close to perfect as she could hope for.
“How about here?” she asked Trevor. She could hear her voice shaky in her own ears and cursed herself silently. Stop being nervous for crying out loud.
“Sure,” he nodded, and she could have swore she saw him blushing by the dim light. No, she told herself, it’s just because of the lanterns, the lights are only making him look like he’s blushing.
As they neared a table they were greeted by a stocky waitress with an easy smile and curly red hair. “Hiya! Ooh… out for a romantic evening I take it?”
The waitress winked as Lindsey and Trevor both stared at her blankly for a few moments, neither one of them sure how to react until they both acted simultaneously, yanking their hands away from each other.
“W-What?” Trevor stammered.
“No!” Lindsey snapped.
“FRIENDS!” Lindsey finished for Trevor a little too eagerly. “Yeah, sometimes… you know, Trevor here, he can be kind of slow…”
“I am… should have seen me earlier, we were racing…”
“I beat him… No contest… so I have to, you know, sometimes…”
“She has to drag me along… I’m that slow…”
“He really is,” Lindsey nodded emphatically as the waitress stared at the two of them with an expression not entirely unlike the one the guard wore earlier.
“Ooookay, then,” the waitress breathed. “So, you can sit where you like, and I’ll get you some menus.” She didn’t even wait for a response before scuttling off to the dim recesses inside the little restaurant.
Trevor and Lindsey looked at each other, stunned. For Lindsey, the awkwardness of the moment was punctuated by the truth of the moment; the waitress had hit a little too close to home.
Also, it wasn’t simply just a matter of letting Trevor find out. Granted, that alone would be a mortifying experience, to have it put out there plain as day that Lindsey was already developing feelings for this boy she had only known for a couple of days. But it was nothing compared to the realization of the fact to herself.
It was nothing so involved as love; Lindsey was far too cynical to think she was falling in love. But she wasn’t stupid either, and if the day had taught her anything it was that whatever feelings she harbored for Trevor were quickly going beyond the realm of simple friendship if they hadn’t already done so. That the waitress picked up on this so readily forced Lindsey to face the fact herself as opposed to simply pushing it aside every time it bubbled up.
As they gaped at each other, she wondered what he was thinking behind that shocked look of his. Was he thinking the same thing? Was he facing his own internal struggles of feelings he might be developing for her? Or was it something completely different? Was he now feeling the desperation of finding himself too deep in something he didn’t want to be in? Was he now trying to figure a graceful way to let a girl down easily without bruising her feelings too much?
The further down this latter way of thinking that Lindsey traveled, the more she felt a little sick. She guessed she had to admit that she was beginning to like Trevor, but she didn’t have to tie herself up in knots over it. That simply wasn’t a very Lindsey-like thing to do (not that she had much practice).
She needed to get a grip, and she could start by saying something. “W-We should probably sit down before she gets back,” Lindsey suggested. “If we’re still standing here when she returns with our menus, she’s going to think we’re really weird.”
“Yeah,” Trevor answered automatically. He shook his head and then spoke with a little more control. “I mean, yeah, you’re right. Is this good?”
He pointed to a table perched far out at the edge of the restaurant’s patio with old weather worn chairs made of sun bleached wood, and Lindsey nodded. Trevor moved first, and Lindsey thought he was about to pull the chair out for her, but then, catching himself, he reached for the chair closest to him and plopped down. “Crazy day, huh?” he puffed nonchalantly as he leaned back and laced his hands behind his head.
“Yeah, crazy,” Lindsey agreed.
The waitress arrived and handed them their menus. Lindsey eventually decided on butterfish in cream sauce with harvest berry tea (which she had to admit sounded rather exciting), and Trevor ordered a blue steak sandwich.
They waited for their order in an almost electrified silence, the time that passed feeling to Lindsey three times as long as the entire day they had spent together. When their food finally arrived, the conversation improved only marginally.
If she were to be truthful with herself, she almost preferred the silence. What passed for conversation now between them was nothing more than small talk, the kind of words you exchange with strangers at a bus stop when you are simply trying to hurry the minutes along until the bus arrives.
She wanted to do something, to scream for no reason at all, or at least admit to Trevor that okay, yeah, something might be there, but did it really have to ruin everything? But she couldn’t. Lindsey found herself stuck in an endless loop of talking about how interesting the town looked, or how good the food tasted. No teasing, no joking, and nothing coming even remotely close to the deeper talks they had already shared.
As a sort of side effect, Lindsey also decided she was not fond of the waitress that poked her big nose where it didn’t belong and ended up spoiling everything.
After remarking for the third time that she was indeed pleased with her crushed potatoes and garlic, Lindsey sighed quietly and looked out onto the water. It was a pity, she thought morosely, it was a romantic spot. The stars weren’t quite as brilliant here as they were back on the road, but they shown brightly all the same over the glassy black water. The cool breeze tickled her neck and even made her shiver when it kicked up a bit. It would have been perfect if it wasn’t for that silly little waitress.
But then something else caught Lindsey’s eye; something very wrong. She couldn’t possibly be seeing what she thought she was seeing, and even though Trevor was talking to her, she ignored him as she scanned the coast up and down, her eyes searching for something she was increasingly sure was not there.
“Lindsey?” Trevor asked, “are you okay?”
“No,” she answered. “Look, out on the water, what do you see?”
“Doesn’t that strike you as a problem?”
Trevor adopted a confused look on his face before Lindsey explained what was on her mind.
“There aren’t any ships tied to the docks,” Lindsey said. “Only little rowboats.”
Finding a hotel didn’t take long; the waitress having directed them to a modest place just a few buildings down. Once there both Lindsey and Trevor stammered over themselves as they explained they wanted separate rooms to the groggy night manager behind the desk. Lindsey was pretty sure the boy had neither a clue nor a care about whether the two travelers rented one room, two rooms, or ten.
The absence of sailing ships at the very least gave Lindsey and Trevor an excuse to behave a little more normally around each other. There was a potential problem at hand, and one that gave each the opportunity to push aside the very dangerous suggestion that the waitress at the restaurant had mentioned.
But this came with a heavy cost. Lindsey was now truly worried. According to Trevor, crossing the Roaring Sea was the quickest way to get to Dark Iron Castle, and it still sounded like it would take weeks. If there were no ships built to actually cross the sea, and they had to back track now, there was simply no telling how long it would take to get up north by foot.
For Trevor’s part, he could hardly stop apologizing. His voice was agonized and regretful, and Lindsey could tell he was truly sorry. Eventually she wasn’t sure whom she felt the most sorry for; Sarah who would have to wait longer to be rescued, Lindsey herself who potentially had a much longer and more arduous journey ahead of her, or Trevor who was really beating himself up over making a bad call.
“Don’t worry about it,” she assured him as they mounted the stairs that led up to their rooms. “We don’t know the whole story yet. There might still be ships that can take us across, we just weren’t able to see them.”
“Where?” Trevor countered, his shoulders slumped. “What do you think they did with all the ships then? Hid them? Buried them in the sand?”
“I don’t know. But we can go down to the docks in the morning and find out what’s actually going on instead of worrying now. We’ll both just think of the worst.” Trevor obviously wasn’t convinced, and with that Lindsey gently placed a hand on his shoulder, and continued, “It’ll be fine. Let’s just get some sleep and worry about it tomorrow.”
Lindsey cut him off. “If anyone’s supposed to be upset, it should be me, and I’m not upset, really.”
Eventually she convinced Trevor to at the very least stop apologizing, and they each retired into their own rooms. With the door closed behind her, Lindsey smiled. As bothered as Trevor was by his potential mistake, it was endearing to see him care so much.
Besides, despite how awkward the evening felt, there was still something… she wasn’t sure if it was the right word or not… romantic about the dinner. As she crawled between the sheets she found herself dwelling on neither the dark stranger that visited the night before, nor on the possibility that her trip to find Sara may have been greatly lengthened, but instead on a seaside dinner with Trevor, one with candle light and salt laced air where they didn’t spend the entire time trying to avoid the other’s eyes.
Despite everything, Lindsey fell asleep with a smile on her face.
The following morning began with a sharp knock on her door. It was Trevor looking as wary and dejected as ever, and Lindsey could have easily hugged him until the worry that sat on his face turned into a smile, but she didn’t. Instead she told him she would meet him downstairs after she had changed.
Getting to the docks meant walking along a weather beaten boardwalk that traced its way across the dark portion of Port Town that Lindsey and Trevor noticed the night before. In the light of day it wasn’t much more impressive, a cluster of tents and huts, those structures lucky enough to have been made of something solid showing the scars of living next to the sea with streaks of rust and paint jobs that had been almost completely obliterated.
The whole area reeked of fish and rotted seaweed, and though the stench of the place made her wrinkle her nose, Lindsey really wasn’t bothered that much by it. She had traded up her dress for a pair of rustic looking brown trousers, a loose fitting white tunic, and a vest, and the whole ensemble, complete with her boots, made her feel almost like a pirate. She imagined herself a simple girl busing tables at a seaside inn just when an old sea dog bearing a clunky old chest bursts in, or perhaps the daughter of a governor of one of the islands in the south seas, swept away by a band of brigands.
Lindsey quite liked the imagery and was about to bring Trevor in on the imaginings until they saw the real seafarers.
The boardwalk they traveled along eventually snaked down to the docks which splayed out over the water like a row of jagged teeth, each one with no less than four row boats lashed to their pylons. And on the closest dock to Lindsey and Trevor a group of at least a dozen boys and girls were sitting about and laughing loudly at one another.
Each of them looked as dingy and sea worn as the huddled huts that were jumbled just inland of them, their trousers were torn and dirty, their hair long and matted, and some of them were missing teeth. They stank. They were wild. And Lindsey no longer held any romantic images of being a pirate.
Slowly she and Trevor approached the group, and not a single one of them seemed to pay the newcomers any mind. Even when they were on the verge of breaking into the little group splayed out about the dock, they continued on as though nothing out of the ordinary was happening.
Finally Lindsey cleared her throat and spoke up, “Pardon us?”
She was answered by the largest boy of the group. He was fat, with a cruel face and skin that looked like tanned leather, and when he spoke, his voice sounded like gravel angrily rubbing up against sandpaper. “Yes, miss? How can we help you?” he said with a bow that Lindsey was pretty sure was not intended to show manners as much as make fun of them. This suspicion was confirmed by the giggles that rippled through the rest of the crowd.
“I was… We were wondering where we could go to… um… charter a ship to take us to Torrington,” Lindsey replied. The looks she was getting from the group were making her nervous; they looked like wolves, hungry and mean.
But the fat boy that answered her, Lindsey guessed he was their leader, only laughed at her in reply. He laughed loud and hard and he seemed unwilling to stop, and whatever it was that he was laughing at, the rest of the group must have found it insanely funny as well for they soon joined in, forming a chorus of derisive guffaws.
The heat was creeping up into Lindsey’s cheeks. She never liked being laughed at, never, and the cruel laughter of the filthy children cut more than she liked to admit. Lindsey didn’t even know why they were laughing or why it even mattered. Their opinion of her didn’t affect her one way or another, but it cut anyway.
And then she felt Trevor’s hand on the small of her back, and he was leaning in front of her. “HEY!” he snapped, and she saw a blazing look in his eyes that almost scared her. It would have scared her if it was directed at her.
This was new. A different side of Trevor she had yet to come across. But of course that was silly, she had only known him for a handful of days so there were probably plenty of sides to him that she had yet to discover. His jaw was thrust outward, his lips tight, his eyes furious, and yet he didn’t remove his hand from the small of her back. Right then she wanted to curl into him, bury her face into his chest, and let him fight the mean people off. But she refused, partly out of a curiosity to see what Trevor was doing, and partly because she did not want to show to either the group, nor to Trevor, just how weak she could be.
“What do you think you’re laughing at? Huh?” he barked at them, and amazingly, they all fell silent. Trevor towered over all of them, even the fat leader boy who looked as old as Trevor, but only came up to his chin. “She asked you a question.”
The group seemed chastened. All except the leader whose eyes narrowed as he pushed out his chest and took a step forward. He sneered, and in his gravelly voice answered, “There’s been no ship that’s sailed these seas for seventy-five years, and ain’t gonna be a ship that sails these seas any time soon, I can tell yas that right now.”