Deliverance Page 51

Dumping a nearly empty canvas bag of flour into a half-used bag of rice, I fill the empty bag with pork, orange peels, apples, and two jars of cherry preserves. I also upend all of the jars of dried tomatoes into my bag and then fill the jars with drinking water. It’s difficult to hold the jars steady with my swollen right hand while I replace the lids, but I manage. Then, holding my bag of food and my water, I creep out of the dining area, listening carefully for any activity on the lower deck. Everything is quiet, but still I move with care. If I’m caught now, they’ll tie me to a bed for sure.

I need a place to hide this, but I’ve been too sick to really explore the boat. My only options are to start opening doors on the lower deck and hope I don’t surprise a tracker, or to find a place for my supplies among the lifeboats tied to the back of the deck.

The lifeboats, a collection of wooden vessels the approximate size of a wagon that are stored upside down and tied to pillars at the back of the boat, are my best bet. I start toward them, but have to stop and lean against the wall when my vision tunnels toward black. The familiar noises—the slap of the water against the boat, the splash of the paddle wheel, and the hum of the insects in the Wasteland—suddenly seem unbearably loud. The starlight too sharp. I close my eyes and hug the wall while I suck in deep breaths of the dank river air.

I can’t lose consciousness here. I can’t succumb to the fever. Not until the bag of supplies is hidden beneath the lifeboats. And not until I’ve found a weapon.

I open my eyes, but the wooden planking beneath me swirls and the walls look like they’re melting. Quickly, I close my eyes again and struggle to get my bearings.

Maybe this isn’t because of my fever. Maybe I took too much pain medicine. Or maybe that wasn’t pain medicine after all. I’m no longer sure of anything except the fact that I have to put one foot in front of the other until I reach the lifeboats.

Leaning heavily against the wall, I slide my boots forward, convinced that if I lift a foot off the floor, I’ll fall. I slowly work my way past two doors, and my hand brushes against the outline of a third. Before I can move past it, the door opens, and I tumble forward into the open space.

Arms steady me, and then the door behind me closes. I open my eyes, but the darkness inside this room is so thick, I can’t see who holds me. I can barely make out the fact that I’m standing at the top of a set of stairs that lead down to a room where stacks of supply crates and piles of rope are barely illuminated by faint moonlight filtering in past a single grimy window.

My vision blurs again, and my knees sag. The arms holding me tighten.

“I’ve got you,” says a familiar voice.

“Quinn.” I breathe his name, and have to swallow hard against the tears that thicken the back of my throat. “You keep making me cry.”

He’s silent for a moment, and then he says in a voice that sounds like he’s suddenly realized he’s standing on an explosive and any move could be his last, “I’m . . . sorry?”

“First you start making me face my grief, and then you tell me you killed your dad to save mine, and then you sacrifice yourself just to give me a knife—I lost the knife. I lost it.” The tears are pouring down my face now, and I sob against his shoulder, while he pats my back in quick, awkward movements.

“We’ll get you another one,” he says.

“And now I can’t stop crying over everything. Over Logan. And being alone. And even Ian.” I push away from him and nearly fall before he grabs me again. “I cried because I felt sorry for Ian, and this is all your fault.”

He gently pulls me down to sit on the top step, and then settles beside me. “Is crying a bad thing?”

Trust Quinn to sound calm and curious no matter what. I shove the bag of food into his lap and wipe my face with my left hand.

“Yes, it’s a bad thing. Maybe. I don’t know. I’m not a crier. I’ve never been a crier until you made me start feeling things again, and now I can’t stop.”

“So . . . it’s like when you cut off the circulation to your leg for a while and then it feels tingly and raw, every sensation overwhelming and unbearable for a while as it wakes up?” he asks.

“Exactly.” The stairs feel like they’re wobbling beneath me, and I clutch the edge of the step to keep my balance.

“Then I guess you either choose to keep waking up inside and trust that eventually the feelings won’t be so overwhelming, or you cut the circulation again and choose to go back to the way things were.”

“You make it sound so easy.”

His voice is quiet. “Healing is the hardest thing you’ll ever do.”

My arm throbs in vicious spikes, and I scratch at it. “You used a weapon on that tracker when you were trying to rescue me.”

“I did.” He pauses as if thinking through his words, and then says, “I couldn’t think of any other way to get to you. I wasn’t trying to kill her, though.”

“I’m sorry you had to break your principles for me.”

“They’re my principles to break.” His voice sounds warm. “Besides, the point of not carrying a weapon is to remind myself to think through my actions and make careful choices instead of the choices I’ve been trained to make. I’m not going to sacrifice someone I care about simply to be able to say I never picked up another weapon.”

He rummages in the bag of food, pulls something out, and takes a bite. The crisp, sweet scent of an apple floats across the space between us and makes me feel like puking.

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