[Outtake]: What Can I Say?
An extension of the ending—meeting Alaina and the trip from Chicago to Florida
After a minute, Sark sighed and opened his eyes again.
“Alright Arie, you’ve got five minutes to go throw whatever you want into a box,” he said, his voice tired but anxious, before looking at Erika. “You go help her. I’ll get my stuff from downstairs.” He started to drag himself up off the floor. “We’ve got to get out of here.”
I had to fight back the tears as we drove away, our house slowly disappearing from view. It was over. We could never go back there.
Sark was driving way too fast through the streets, weaving in and out of cars, his jaw set angrily as he spoke on the phone. Really, he shouldn’t have been driving at all. The guy had almost died just twenty minutes earlier, and yet he was still breaking traffic laws left and right to get us where we needed to be.
“Be ready in fifteen minutes,” he ordered before hanging up. “The plane will be waiting for us,” he told an oddly silent Erika. “We’re cutting it close, but we’ll make it.”
Sark had made it clear that we had limited time before Alexis’ men would be all over Chicago looking for us—we had to get out before then. Thankfully, Sark didn’t trust a soul on earth, which is why he had several contacts, accounts, and connections that he had kept secret from Alexis all these years, just in case. He had been saving them for a rainy day, and today was a hurricane.
I watched the buildings fly by out the window, still feeling sick, sore and half dead. What would this city look like in a few hours?
Exactly the same, I realized. That was the scariest part. A bunch of psychotic murderers would be everywhere and nobody would have the slightest clue.
Suddenly, a horrifying thought occurred to me. I leaned forward as far as my seatbelt would let me.
“Sark!” My voice was so hoarse that I could barely hear it. Sark glanced at me in the rearview mirror, and Erika turned around in her seat.
“What?” he asked, looking quickly back and forth between the road and me. “What’s wrong?”
“What about Alaina?” The terrifying possibilities started to take over my mind. “We can’t just leave her here. They’ll find her.”
“Arie, she won’t come with us,” Sark answered, his tone closing the subject.
I shook my dizzy head. “Well we have try! We have to at least warn her, especially if she’s staying here.”
“You can call her.”
“Alexis could track the club’s landline. We have to stop there. I have to talk to her.”
Erika looked at Sark and nodded. He gritted his teeth. “No. We don’t have time.”
“We have to get you out of here,” he snapped. “I’ve kept you long enough as it is, and the risk is too high. I’m sorry, but no.”
“Please Sark?” I rested my heavy head against Erika’s seat. “She’s my best friend and I can’t just leave her like this. Lennon will know that you lied to him and he’ll find her here. I can’t do that to her! Please, just give me a few minutes. It’ll be so fast, I swear.”
Sark deliberated for a moment, but by the focused look on his face, I guessed he was leaning towards no. I considered trying that thing on the movies where you open the door and roll out of the car, but Erika put her hand on Sark’s arm.
“Sark,” she whispered, her voice gentle, as she gave a small nod toward me. It was like magic. The resolve evaporated from his eyes and he sighed in defeat, before looking at me in the mirror again.
“Arie,” he groaned through his teeth. He silently debated another moment before consenting. “Fine. Three minutes. That’s all.”
“Thank you,” I breathed. My head was pounding like a sledgehammer, and I closed my eyes to try and make it go away.
We’re going to be okay. We’re all going to be okay.
“What are you going to say to her?” Sark asked, his tone less harsh. I realized the real meaning of his question: are you going to tell her you’re the key?
I cringed involuntarily, imagining the moment I’d been dreaming and dreading for years. “I don’t know.”
He nodded curtly and I understood: he was giving me permission. He was letting me know that it was my secret and I could share it how I wanted.
Eight minutes later, Sark pulled the car into the back alley of the club. I took off my seatbelt and flung the car door open, forgetting momentarily that my legs still didn’t work. I fell onto the pavement but wasted no time—I crawled towards the building until Erika helped me up. Using her frail frame as a support, I shuffled as fast as I could to the door that was only ours to use.
They must’ve heard us come in because I heard Alaina calling my name.
“Arie?” she said as she was rounding the corner. “Where have you—Arie!” Her face filled with horror when she saw our pathetic parade. She ran to me and I threw my arms around her. “Arie, what happened?” Her grip tightened on my when she realized I couldn’t keep myself standing.
“Alaina, I’m so sorry,” I told her, my voice trembling.
Everyone else caught up to us then. I was aware of Liam, Mark, Mara, Chelsea, and Andrew entering the room—all of them freezing up in shock—but I paid them little attention. It hurt my heart too much to realize that they really were my family and I really had to leave them.
“Sorry about what?” Alaina’s eyes roamed over my beaten face, glancing at a pale Erika next to us. “Where have you been? What’s going on?”
“Alexis found out about Sark,” I explained quickly. Her eyes widened in shock but I didn’t let her stop me. “We were caught and Sark was able to trick them so we could get out, but they figured it out and we have to get out of here. Now.”
Her eyes told me her answer before she said it, though both Sark and I had known that that would be the case: Alaina would never leave her family, and her family would never leave Chicago.
I nodded; I understood. “Lennon is going to know that Sark lied to him, so he’ll be looking for you too. Just lay low, okay? Be so careful.”
“Arie,” Sark called, a warning. I turned to see him standing in the doorway and cradling his hurt arm. My time was ticking by, almost up.
“Please be careful,” I said, turning back to Alaina.
She shook her head, her black eyes darting from me to Sark, and I knew she sensed something else. “Arie, what’s really going on?”
“Alexis is going to be all over this city. You have to make sure you stay hidden and out of the way.” I wrapped my arms tightly around her, my shaking body shaking hers, as I whispered in her ear. “I love you so much. Please be careful.”
“No, Arie.” Her voice trembling too. “There’s something else. Something is wrong. What really happened?”
You can tell her, I thought. You can tell her now. It doesn’t have to be a secret anymore.
I pulled away from her to look at her face, my mouth open and ready. But my eyes met hers and I froze. The millions of possibilities, of reactions, of rejections that I’d imagined over the past few years played in my mind. I couldn’t do it. She was my best friend and I knew I could trust her with anything, but I couldn’t force the words out of my mouth.
I need her to remember me as a sister, not a monster.
Alaina waited in anticipation, her eyes filling with tears as mine did. “Arie, what’s wrong?” she asked softly.
Finally I just shook my head, tears falling down my face, confessions stuck in my throat. “I’m sorry,” I choked out. “Please be careful.”
I reached for Erika’s hand to help support me out the door when I was bombarded by Mark. He wrapped me up in a giant bear hug as I cried into his shoulder.
“It’s not goodbye forever,” he promised in my ear. “It’s just goodbye for a little bit.”
I nodded. It’s not forever.
Mark carried me in hug form to the door, squeezing me tight one last time before letting me go. He nodded at Sark and Erika, making sure they had a good hold on me, then went back inside. I caught one last glimpse of Mark and Liam trying to comfort a inconsolable Alaina while their other siblings were still frozen in the background. Liam gave me a small, sad smile before Sark shut the door and pulled me gently into the car.
I’m so sorry, Alaina. I’m sorry I can’t be the friend you deserve. I’m so so sorry.
I couldn’t make myself talk for the rest of our trip. The last three weeks were catching up to me—I couldn’t talk, eat, drink, think, move, or feel anything, and I didn’t really want to. Concentrating on the constancy of my pulse, I stared blankly at whatever was in front of me, aware of every single pain in my body, physical or emotional. It was a lot to manage.
Unconsciousness overtook me quite often, and I found myself unable to remember chunks of time. At one point I fell asleep in the car and woke up on a tiny plane. Neck stiff from my odd sleeping angle, I pushed up the armrests on my seat and stretched myself across two seats, resting my head in Erika’s lap. She stroked my hair softly as she leaned against a brooding Sark. They spoke quietly from time to time, but I never bothered to pay attention. I just sat numbly, anxiously anticipating when unconsciousness would mercifully take me again from my bleak and cruel world.
I didn’t remember actually arriving in Florida, even though Erika said I was awake when we landed. It would be several days before I would start responding again, several more after that before I would walk, and a few weeks before I would be able to call Florida my new home.
Check out the other extras for Surviving on a Whisper here