I'm sorry that this has taken so long! I wasn't happy with the last chapter, so I've decided to go in a different direction. I hope you like this a little more, and I'll be sure to update sometime this week! As always, I own nothing of The Forest of Hands and Teeth, everything belongs to Carrie Ryan.
Dawn broke through the spindly trees, weak light drawing shadows across the ground like gnarled fingers. I sit at the window of the cottage, I refuse to think of it as our cottage, staring out at the forest. I wonder absently whether the sunrise looks different over the ocean.
A light kiss on my neck breaks my reverie, and I turn to see Harry.
"Morning." I mutter impassively. "I was just about to make breakfast."
"Sounds great. How did you sleep?" He says with a smile. His good cheer irritates me much more than it should.
"Fine." I walk to the stove, pull out some pots and begin beating eggs rather forcefully.
"…Mary? Is something the matter?" His brows furrow in confusion. "Are you alright?" 'No. Of course not.' I want to say, watching the yolks break and swirl into a gooey mess. I take a moment to swallow my words and compose my features before turning to face him with a smile.
"I'm fine. Perfectly fine. Can you get the plates please?" Harry accepts my lie with relief, and we settle into our first day as husband and wife.
To anyone who happens to pass by our window, we are the picture of a happy couple. We eat, talk, laugh and allow ourselves chaste kisses. But on the inside, I am broken. I go through the motions of the day, a shell of my old self. An actress, carrying out an elaborate tableau. For Harry's benefit, I hope he cannot see through my show. As the days turn into weeks, I continue to sit by our window for a moment each morning, releasing the damaged girl inside to cry silently. Once the sun has fully risen, she is locked safely back in the cage of my mind, and the Shell-Mary wakes her husband and prepares for the day.
During one of these indulgent morning sessions, as I absently watch a young Unconsecrated boy tug submissively at the fence, I realize that there is little difference between him and myself. Neither of us is really living. We go with resignation through the days, following motions and expectations. My mother would be ashamed. She would be embarrassed with me, how easily I gave up. For her, I finally open my eyes. I cannot continue like this any longer. I leave Harry, sleeping peacefully in our bed, and walk out into the morning fog with new hope.
* * *
I don't realize where my feet are taking me until I am already there. The hill by the watchtower. My sanctuary, the only refuge I have left. But this morning is different. I am not alone at the hill's crest. Leaning against the watchtower, with his back towards me, is the one person I have been desperately avoiding for weeks. Travis.
I know I should turn and walk away. Go home to Harry. But the familiar curve of his shoulders and careless mess of his hair, catch my breath and freeze me in place. I just stand and stare at his back, longing for him to turn so that I can memorize his face again, while simultaneously terrified that he will do just that, and discover me. Although I had relentlessly avoided him in town, I couldn't help hearing about him. The girls at the bakery gossiped that he and Cass were very happy together, "Especially at night, if you know what I mean!!" He had gotten a job as an apprentice blacksmith and would one day take over the business. Any mention of him made me sick, my stomach twisting and breath catching in my throat.
When the cursed sun has nearly fully risen, a mocking half grin in the sky, Travis stands and turns.
His eyes widen in surprise. "Mary - I…" He breaks off, stares at the ground.
"Why didn't you come for me?" I demand, more harshly than I intended. Travis continues to stare at the earth, apparently he has found some fascinating sign in the ground that is lost on me. "Did you even love me?" I choke.
"I…yes, Mary, I loved you. But I couldn't. I couldn't come for you." He still won't meet my eyes.
"Why?" I shriek, tottering on the narrow precipice of hysteria. "Why in God's name not?!"
"Mary. Please." He walks towards me, now so close that we could touch.
"Why?" His nearness is too painful, and I fall from the edge. Rebellious sobs shake my chest, and I am ashamed at my weakness.
Travis takes a rattling breath and sighs. "You have to understand. I couldn't hurt Harry like that. He's my brother, Mary. I just couldn't."
"But you could hurt me? You could marry Cass without even telling me? Do I mean that little to you?" I want to grab him, to shake him into making sense.
"I'm sorry, Mary." Is all he says. Travis reaches across the invisible barrier that separates us and brushes the hair off my face. His touch is a flame, sparking along my skin. After a moment, he turns to walk away.
Without thinking, I blurt out, "I'm leaving. The town, I mean. I can't stay here any longer." Travis whips around again, and I can tell he thinks I'm joking. "The sea is out there. And I will find it. I know I will."
"That's madness, Mary! Madness! You can't leave. No one leaves!"
"Don't tell me what to do Travis! You lost any sway over me when you married Cass." I shout daggers at him, I want my words to hurt him, and that scares me.
His face crumples in shock. "I'll tell Harry." He tells himself, sure that this will stop me. "Yes, Harry will talk sense into you."
"Not this time, Travis. Not this time."
I leave him where he stands, rooted like a tree. No matter what they say, I am determined to find the sea, and with it my mother's whispered worlds of old. After all, what do I have left to lose?
By the way, have you read the Dead Tossed Waves yet? It's pretty good, but not quite as good as the first, in my opinion.