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Ambivalent Eyes - Chapter Three


Nicole Starleigh Yeager

5:27 am (Sunday)

The darkness on the forest floor had begun to lift.  It didn't matter much, they could barely keep their eyes open any more anyway.  They were moving at a much slower pace now.  None of them had spoken for the past hour.  The quiet was awkward and Mikki finally decided it needed to be broken.

"Have we figured out exactly what we're looking for?" she asked, stepping around a large rock.

"We're looking for some kind of clue," Jesse answered, as though the little spiff between him and Ashley earlier hadn't happened.

"You mean, like blood or something?"  she asked.

"Well, no, there wouldn't be any blood unless he died recently.  But my guess is that he died four years ago, when he first left," he answered.  "Or else he would have come back."

"Not necessarily," Quinn said.  "If you think about what Rising Sun said about him, Matthew was strong - physically and mentally.  He could survive out here on his own, without ever wanting to go back.  We don't know exactly how bad the fight was.  Matthew may not have forgiven Rising Sun yet."

"Quinn," Nate said.  "Think about what you just said.  If he were to run away, why would he stay on the mountain, or in the forest?  He probably would have gone to some other city.  That's what I would have done."

"So, we don't even know if we will find anything here?  We're wasting our time!"  Ashley said, dropping to her knees finally.

They all stopped and looked at her.

"We're trudging through this stupid forest by foot and we might not even find anything?  Are we stupid?" She said in disgust.

"Ash," Cassie said.  "Rising Sun said he was here.  This is where we will find out what happened to him."

"Rising Sun said he came here that night.  That doesn't mean he is still here," she retorted.

"He sent us here, didn't he?" Cassie challenged.  "Why would he do that if the answers weren't here?"

Ashley sighed.  "You're right," she answered.  "Jess, can we please stop now?  I can't go another foot . . ." She yawned, triggering a chain reaction among them.

He nodded.  "Yeah, the sun will be up soon anyway.  Let's find a nice flat spot to make camp."

A few minutes later, they came across a small, flat clearing.    They took out their blankets and bedded down for a rest.  Ashley was so tired she didn't argue or hesitate to lie down with Nate.  She forgot to get out her alarm before she lay down, and thought of it as she was settling into sleep.  She couldn't seem to move to dig for it though . . . all that stuff in her bag . . . it was sure to be at the bottom.  Nate covered them both with the other half of the large blanket and turned the other way.  Something about her was turning him off at the moment.  Her attitude had suddenly changed.  He didn't like it.

Mikki and Quinn got out their own blankets and laid them down on either side of Nate and Ashley.  Mikki covered her head with her blanket, a little scared of all the noises she suddenly heard off in the woods.  She could hear Quinn begin to snore from the other side of Ashley and Nate and smiled.  Then she fell asleep.

Cassie settled her head in the little nook where Jesse's arm connected to his shoulder and drifted off to sleep.  Jesse watched her for awhile, thinking about the past several hours.  He wondered if John Clayton had gotten Dancing Water to the hospital yet.  He wondered how Rising Sun was doing.  It dawned on him that they had no idea.  He yawned once more, settled himself in the blanket, and went to sleep.

In the meantime, Bo was still running to catch up.  He had to find her, because something in this forest just didn't seem right.

7:02 AM (Sunday)

Jesse was startled awake by the noise of a small whimper.  He leaned up and looked at Cassie.  Her faced was molded in fear and sadness, yet her eyes were still closed.  She's dreaming again, he thought.  Intrigued and curious, he remained awake to watch her.  There was another small whimper, then her lips moved, as if she were saying something, but no sound came out.

He brushed a piece of hair out of her eyes as he realized his arm had fallen asleep under the pressure of Cassie's head.  He didn't want to bother her, though.  He was curious to know what was going on in this dream.  Even though he was trying to convince her that it was all a big coincidence, something in the back of his mind told him otherwise.

He opened and closed his numb fingers to try to get some blood moving around in his hand when he heard a faint gasp and looked down at her face again.  Now her lips were moving continuously; she was definitely saying something.  The only sound he heard were the small wisps of her voice that escaped through her lips from the dream.  He waited, then felt her begin to quiver.

I should wake her up, now, he thought, trying to spare her from a nightmare.  He leaned his head closer so he wouldn't wake any one else up, too.  "Cass," he said quietly.

There was no response.  She was still dreaming.  He was about to call her again when...

"AAAH!" She sat up, bumping heads with Jesse, her own high-pitched scream yanking her from the dream.  Not realizing where she was or who she was with, she jumped when Jesse touched her arm to calm her down.  She was out of breath and panicky, and none of them had ever seen her that way before.

Jesse noticed Bo for the first time, as he jumped up from his position at Cassie's feet and crawled up to kiss her face.  "What is he doing here?" he asked, rubbing his head.

"He must have followed us," Mikki said, yawning.  The others has woken up.

"Cass," Nate said, trying to swallow his yawn.  "Are you alright?"

Jesse looked at her.  She was hugging Bo so tight, her knuckles had gone white. 

"She's alright," he answered, beginning to panic himself.  "She had a nightmare," he told them.

When they all lay down again to go to sleep, he rubbed her back.  Somehow, he knew that now was not the time to try to talk to her.  He wanted to know what happened in her dream.  He wanted to tell her Bo had to go home, he couldn't be out there with them.  He'd only get in the way, he was just one more mouth to feed.

Instead, he pulled her back down into the blanket and hugged her until she calmed down.  When he glanced at her one time before he fell asleep, she had tears running down her face.  He could feel the hot moisture from her eyes staining his shirt.  He kept quiet and fell back to sleep.

8:30 AM (Cassie's House)

Charlene shuffled into the kitchen in her bathrobe and fuzzy slippers to put a pot of coffee on.   She wanted to get breakfast started for Cassie and Jimmy.  She cooked them a nice, big breakfast every Sunday morning and then they went to church together at the 11:15 service.

Something out of place caught her eye from the living room.  She poured the grounds into the coffee filter and pushed it into place, turned on the brew switch and walked around the breakfast bar to the living room.  She approached the couch and found Jimmy lying there, his head resting on the arm, fast asleep.

"Jim," she said, lightly tapping his shoulder.

He wearily sat up and yawned, then wiped his eyes and stretched.  "Sorry, Mom.  I put Bo out and I guess I fell asleep waiting for him."

"How long ago did you do that?" She asked, smiling at her helpful little boy.

"Gosh, it was still dark out, Mom.  I woke up in the middle of the night."

"How come Cassie didn't have him in her room?"

He caught himself before he said, because she isn't here.  "Um, I don't know.  Maybe she got mad at him."

"Well, you better go get him, he probably wants to come back inside now."

"Okay," he said, slipping his feet onto the floor and standing up.  As he walked to the door, he thought to himself, Why isn't Bo barking like he usually does?

He got his answer when he opened the door.

He stared at the empty leash on the ground.  "Mom!  Bo's gone!"  What would Cassie say when she found out he had lost Bo?  He ran out into the yard in his bare feet as his mother came hurrying to the door.

"Cassie!" she called as she headed for Cassie's bedroom.

Jimmy panicked.  How was he going to keep her from finding out Cassie was gone?  He had to think of something fast, something believable.  His mind was racing.  He couldn't get his thoughts in order.  Any moment she would be opening Cassie's bedroom door and finding that she's not there.  His heart was racing.  "MOM!" he screamed.

She was back in the threshold.  "What?!" she asked, a tone of worry in her voice.   Nothing came out of his mouth.

"Jim, what?  What's the matter?"  She stepped out onto the patio.

"Uh . . ." he muttered, searching the ground as if it would provide him with a written sentence to read.  "I- You can't tell Cassie, yet," he finally exclaimed.

"Why, Jim?  She'll want to go look for him."

"Be-because I'll go find him.  I'll bring him back before she . . . gets out of bed," he told his mother, lying through is teeth.  He knew he would never find Bo.  There was no telling how long he'd been gone.

"Well..." Charlene said, debating the suggestion in her mind.

He crossed his fingers behind his back so she wouldn't see.

"Alright.  But come in and get dressed first," she told him.

At the sound of her first word, he'd already taken off up to the front door and into the house.

"And take a treat for him!" she said as she moved away for him to pass through.  "He likes the bacon ones, I think!"

"OK, Mom!"  Jimmy said from inside his bedroom.

She stood in the open doorway, listening to Jimmy run around his room, no doubt tearing the place apart as she looked at the empty collar lying on the front lawn.  I hope the pound guys don't spot him, she thought.  They'll take him in for sure.  Especially since rabies is on the high . . .

Jimmy had torn out of his bedroom, fully dressed, into the kitchen.  He hastily climbed up the counter next to the fridge and stood on the counter top, where he could then reach the dog treats that Cassie kept on top of the refrigerator so Bo couldn't get into them.

Charlene didn't have time to yell at him - he had a handful in his pocket and jumped down so quickly she was amazed his didn't lose his balance on landing.  He ran by her, taking one swift jump over the small porch and into the yard, from which he bounded down the road in the direction he knew Cassie and her friends had gone.

"I'll be back before she wakes up!" he told her, running down the sidewalk.

"Be home in two hours, tops!" He heard her call after him.  Her voice was distant as he ran, trying to figure out what he was going to do next.

Now what?  He slowed to a brisk walk once he was out of sight of the house.  He knew where Bo had gone, but the dog was too far ahead for Jimmy to try to catch him.  Besides, he would get lost in the woods alone.

"Keep Cassie safe, Bo," he said quietly.  Then he decided to walk over to the park and hang out there to make his mom think he had been out looking for him all morning.

10:31 AM, Pine Springs Forest

One by one, they slowly woke up to Quinn's urges.  "We have to get going," he kept saying.  "If Bo's gone, Cassie's mom is bound to know something is up."

"Not if Jimmy thought of something," Cassie said, drowsily.

"Well, he's eight," Mikki said, doubtfully.

"He's smart for eight," Cassie said, defending her little brother.  She patted Bo's head.  He stared into her face, as if to reprimand her for leaving home like that. 

"You hush," she told him, acknowledging the look.

"Cass," Jesse said.  "You've got to send him back.  He can't be out here with us."
She looked at her dog, not wanting him to leave.

"Well, Jess," Nate began.

Jesse cut him off.  "It's one more mouth to feed that we didn't count on.  We don't know how long we're going to be out here.  We need everything we have."

"I'll share my food with him," Cassie said.  "He can have half of everything I have.  And there are plenty of springs around, we just have to find one."

"Cass," Jesse argued, "you'll run out of food too quickly.  Or you'll run out of energy.  Either way, it's only going to set us back.  He can't stay."

"But, he's a good guard dog, Jess," she said meekly.

He remembered the dream he watched her have.  She had yet to tell him about it, but something about the look in her eyes told him Bo had to stay.

Jesse shivered as a thousand tiny, icy fingers walked quickly up and down his spine.  He looked around at the eerily quiet forest.  Then his eyes fell on Cassie, whose eyes were fixed on him.  "Okay," he said.  "He can stay."

The smile on Cassie's face was more of relief than happiness.  He wanted to know what her dream was about this time, but he couldn't ask her.  Not in front of everybody else; he had to wait.  He had to find the right time to make the right excuse to get her away from the others so they could talk.  But, when would he be able to keep them away long enough to hear about the whole thing?

They packed their things as quickly as possible, considering they only had about five hours of restless sleep.  They weren't exactly used to sleeping on the ground in the woods.

Fifteen minutes after they woke up, they were standing in a circle with their backpacks on their backs and their pillows shoved behind them.

"I have a compass," Nate said.  "But it won't do us any good unless we know what direction we need to go."

They looked at each other.

"Did he say anything about the direction we should go?" Ashley asked.

"I don't remember," Mikki said.  "So much was going on ..."

"I don't think he did," Quinn said.  "I don't remember him saying which direction to take."

"Well, then, which direction do we want to go?"  Nate asked.

Jesse stood, his forehead crinkled in deep thought, as the others waited to hear what he had to say.

Bo licked Cassie's hand and she looked down.  He looked up at her, then turned his head away, looking off into the woods.  She watched him intently, as though she had seen him do this before, or something relating to this had happened before. 

Suddenly, something from the dream flashed in front of her eyes.  "We have to go northwest," she said, as though if the wrong person heard her, they would all be in grave danger.

The others looked at her, trying to figure out why she was acting so strangely.  Cassie could feel their eyes on her, but she couldn't seem to turn and look.  Something was drawing her gaze into the depths of the forest... she wanted to hurry and get to whatever was in there... Her mind began to swirl.  Visions danced hauntingly in her head.  Were they from the dream?  She couldn't remember the dream.  All she could remember was waking up screaming, bumping Jesse's head as she sat up.

Suddenly, her skin grew cold, but her body temperature grew warmer.  She could barely hear her own voice as she tried to tell Jesse how cold she was... Her vision began to go out of focus, but still she could not look away from the direction she had been staring.  The visions got larger and darker.  She could no longer see the forest or anything around her.  There were only large, treacherous shadows in front of her eyes, lurching at her.  She became nauseous as a wave of heat rushed up to her head from her stomach, followed by another, icy wave.

She heard a voice.  It was a very dark, hissing voice, which caused every nerve in her body to freeze with fear and she began to shake.  Come to me, sweet, innocent child, come to me . . . come to me . . .

Then there was darkness.

"What the hell just happened?" Nate shrieked as Cassie lay still on the ground.  They were all in shock.

Jesse fell down beside her.  There was a low growl emerging from Bo's throat as he kept his head pointed at the same spot Cassie had been looking before she went white in the face and collapsed.  Quinn looked around hastily to try to find what the dog saw.  There was nothing.

"Wake up," Jesse said, a bit frightened by what just happened.  He had never seen anything like it before - and neither had anyone else.  "Cassie!"  He held her head up with both hands.  "Cassie, wake up, Cass!"

"Give her something to drink," Mikki said.  "Some water or something."

Ashley threw her backpack off her shoulders and unzipped it so fast she offset the zipper.  She rummaged through her things and found her water bottle.  Opening the cap, she poured it over Cassie's face.

"No, I didn't mean that!" Mikki exclaimed.

Cassie coughed and spat some of the water out of her mouth as she sat up.  Blinking wildly, she grabbed Jesse's arm so tightly she cut off his circulation.  She tried to speak, but no words came out of her mouth.  The only thing she could manage was the huffing and puffing as she tried to get her breath back.  She could still see smoky, vague images of the dancing shadows, but they were fading quickly.  And so was her memory of them.  Her mind scrambled as she tried to hold onto the images - she wanted to tell Jesse everything, she couldn't handle this alone.

"What... are you alright?" Jesse said, his voice breaking.  He pulled her close to him and hugged her.  "What just happened?  What was that?"  There was a sense of panic in his voice.  What the hell is going on with her?

She still couldn't find the words.

Quinn was trying to find out what Bo was still staring at.  Finally the dog whimpered and laid down next to Cassie.

"What?" Jesse asked again, holding her at arms' length, his eyes searching for some kind of explanation in her face.  All eyes, even Quinn's, were on her.

"I..." she began, but trailed off.  Her gaze fell to the ground.

Jesse moved his head to intersect her gaze.  "Cass, what?  Tell me what just happened!"

"I don't know," she answered.  "I don't remember."  She looked directly into his eyes.  "What happened?"

"You - you said you were cold..." Jesse couldn't find the words.

"You looked possessed," Mikki told her.

"You shush," Ashley scolded Mikki.  "There's no such thing."

"Yes, there is, and you of all people ought to know," Mikki retorted.

Cassie watched them bicker.

"Try to remember," Jesse whispered to her while Mikki and Ashley continued their little spat.

Nate was sitting on the ground, holding his right hand over his heart, as if he could make it calm down.  Quinn stood with a puzzled look on his face, trying to make something of the situation.

"Don't tell me what I should know!"  Ashley snapped.  "God wouldn't let anything possess us!"

Cassie realized she could no longer remember a thing.

"Ashley, demons have free will, too!" Mikki replied smartly.  "Remember?  He gave everyone free will and that's why..."

Demons . . .

"Tell me what I did," Cassie whispered back to Jesse as the argument went on. 

"You said... you said 'northwest' and then you phased out.  No, you said you were cold, first.  You got really pale and -- passed out," he told her.  "What did you see?  What did you and Bo see?"

"Bo?" she said.  She looked at her dog.  He seemed weak, as he only lifted his heavy eyelids for a moment to look at her.  Then he closed them again.  "Bo saw it, too," she murmured to herself.  "Northwest?"

"Saw what?"  Jesse asked.

"I don't know, I don't remember," she answered.

"You just said Bo saw it, too," he said.  "How can you say he saw it, too if you don't even know what you saw?"

"Look at him, Jesse!" she whispered a bit hoarsely.  "It's... it's the feeling..."

She threw her hands up in exasperation.  "Why can't I remember anything?"

"What feeling?  What are you talking about?"

"It's-it's -- I don't know!  Almost like... you're in limbo, you know, somewhere between here and there."

"Where's there?  What do you mean, there?"

"I don't know."

"Then how can you --"

"Jesse," she whispered as she leaned in closer.

He leaned closer to her, too.

"Every once in awhile I catch a little glimpse of the last dream, but then I lose it right away..."

"The dream," Jesse said.  "What do you remember about the dream?  Anything?"

"No.  I just remember... fear."

He was still staring at her with the same anxious look on his face and she needed to loosen the tension.

"Well, I remember the bump, too."  She smiled.

He laughed nervously.  "Yeah."

She suddenly grew annoyed with the bickering between Ashley and Mikki.  "Can you please stop?" she lightly scolded.

Their mouths shut quickly as they turned and looked at her.  "Sorry," Mikki said. 

Ashley finished the fight with one last unseen glare at Mikki.

"Let's get going," Nate said, standing up and adjusting his backpack.

"Wait, I need to fix my zipper," Ashley said, sliding the half-empty water bottle back inside.  "I broke it when I got the water out."

Nate walked over to her, annoyed (like Quinn, Jesse and Cassie) by the little argument she and Mikki had, took the backpack from her hands and hastily put the zipper back on track.  "There," he said.  "Let's go."

"Northwest, right?" Quinn said, looking at Cassie.

She looked back.  Everyone expected her to answer.  She looked at Jesse, not knowing what to say.

"Yeah," Jesse said.  "Northwest.  Let's go."

"Jesse, are you sure?" she whispered, not trusting herself.

"You seemed sure enough for both of us."  The look in his eyes dug deep inside her.

"Nate, you got your compass?" Quinn asked.

"Yeah."  Nate pulled the little compass out of the front pocket of his backpack.  He opened the small lid and looked at it for a minute, letting it settle on one direction.  Finally, the needle pointed North.  He turned to the left.  "That's due north," he said, pointing straight ahead.  "So we gotta go this way."  He led them in the direction of northwest. 

"Come on, Bo," Cassie coaxed her tired dog.  "We gotta go."

Bo obediently rose to his feet and followed. Jesse squeezed Cassie's hand as they walked behind Nate and Quinn. Ashley and Mikki, not speaking to each other, fell into line with them.

Meanwhile, in East Park...

Jimmy cleared an entire area of the wood chips under the swing set while swinging to and fro, dragging his feet.  Looking at his little man-made valley, he imagined that the hills around the front edge were the mountains.  He pretended that the subtle slope on the other side was the forest they had to get through.  His eyes traveled to the wooden railroad tie that bordered the swing set play area.  That was the edge of town.  He walked the four and a half-foot distance to that edge and stood on it.  Little one centimeter Cassie and her tiny friends would only be about two or three inches into the wood chip forest... they had a long way to go.

He looked over into the woods and sighed.  Oh, but what an adventure they have waiting for them!  Jimmy longed to be out there with them.

It was nearly eleven o'clock before Jimmy made it back home empty handed, except for the treats in his pocket.  Charlene met him at the door.

"Well?" she asked.  "You didn't find him, huh?"

"No, he's gone, Mom."  He approached the front door.

"Jim, do you know where Cassie went last night?  Or maybe early this morning?  She's gone.  But I don't understand it, because I saw Jesse and Quinn's cars still here."

"G-gone?" he asked, his heart pounding.  "N-no, I didn't know . . ."

"Maybe she knew Bo was gone and went to look for him already."

"Yeah, Mom, she could be gone for hours."

"You're right.  She'll never come home until she finds him.  All right.  Come on in and get dressed, all right?  I'll get you some brunch."

Jimmy suddenly realized he was hungry.  "Okay."  Phew.

12:11 PM  Pine Springs Forest.

"Oh, my, gosh.  I don't think I can handle this anymore!  Nate, we gotta stop, it's too much!  I'm so tired!" Mikki moaned as she leaned up against the tree.

"Mikki, we've gotta keep going," Ashley said, having a change of heart.  She didn't want to be the cause of any trouble among the group.  "Like Jesse said, we're not really out of the search radius yet."

Mikki looked pleadingly at Jesse, who shrugged his shoulders and turned back to the path.  As they started off again, Mikki gave one last hopeful look at Quinn.  He shrugged as well.  She moaned and pushed herself off of the tree.  "All right, all right.  But, when will we be safe enough to rest?"

"When we find Matthew," Jesse answered from ahead. "Nate, how's our direction?"

Nate turned around.  "We are headed smoothly northwest, my friends," he answered, his mood light as he walked backwards.  "We are right on target."

"Watch where you're going, Nate," Cassie forewarned.

"Oh, don't worry-OOF!" Nate tripped over a stump and flipped onto his back.  "Ow..." He froze in pain.

"Nate!" Ashley yelled, pushing past Cassie and Jesse and running up to him.  He was trying to sit up.  "Oh, gosh, are you alright?"

"Ahhh," he whined in pain.  "Oh, I landed on something."

Jesse and Quinn were now by his side, each grabbing an arm.  "Can you get up?" Quinn asked.  "If it hurts too much, don't get up yet."

"No, ow!  I'm - I'm alright!"  He let them pull him up and rested his hand on his back.  "Oh, Lord, I didn't realize falling down could hurt that much."

"Nate!" Ashley scolded.

He looked at her, then glanced at the sky.  "Sorry," he said, then he looked at Ashley again.

She wasn't sure whether to smile or feel offended.  She managed both with a tight-lipped smirk.

"Oh, look!"  Cassie pointed at the spot where Nate had fallen.  "The compass," she said, with a look of such worry on her face that Jesse began to feel it himself.

"It's destroyed.  Jeez, Nate, how much do you weigh?" Quinn asked, inspecting the crushed instrument.  "It's smashed!"

"I beg your pardon . . ." Nate replied.  "You weigh more than I do."

"Well, this is just great.  How are we going to get anywhere, now?  We just guess?" Mikki asked, frustrated.

"Chill, Mik, it's just a compass," Jesse said, trying to calm her down.

"Nate!  How could you be so clumsy?" she accused.

"Hey!" Ashley yelled.  "He couldn't help it!"

"I can fight my own battles, Ash," Nate said.  He looked at Mikki.  "I couldn't help it."

"Bull!" Mikki yelled.  "You just had to go showing off and walking backwards!  You are such an idiot sometimes!  Do you ever think things over?"

"Hey!" Quinn yelled.

"Shut up, Mikki!" Nate fought back.  "You would have done the same thing!  I was just trying to keep every one in a good mood!"

"Like you have that ability?  Who are you kidding?" she threw at him.

"All right!" Jesse screamed.

They kept it up.  Nate stepped forward and Ashley grabbed onto his arm to pull him back.  "What is your problem, Mikki?  You've been nothing but miserable since we started out this morning!"

"My problem?  I'm not the one that broke the compass!"  She stepped forward. Cassie stepped in her way.  "It's just a compass, Mikki!  No big deal!"

"Will you guys knock it off!" Quinn shouted.

Bo started barking.

"Why did we let him lead us anyway?  Whose bright idea was that?" Mikki yelled.

"I'd like to see YOU try to find your way around any place other than the mall and - and the back seat of Allen Jefferies' car!" Nate screamed.

Mikki was shocked and speechless for a moment.  Quinn's mouth dropped and the others froze, stunned, unsure whether to interfere with this or not.  "You..."

"OK!  SHUT UP!  BOTH OF YOU!  RIGHT NOW!"  Jesse screamed over her.

They were practically in each other's faces.  Cassie pushed Mikki away from Nate and Ashley pulled Nate away from Mikki.  Mikki was so angry, she felt hot tears staining her face.  She turned away, refusing to look at Nate and ashamed to look at Quinn.

Cassie walked Mikki a few yards away from the group.  "Mik, what's going on?  Why are you so... moody today?"

Mikki gave her a very sarcastic look.  "Please, like you can't figure it out."

"Oh, right.  Wow, what timing."

"I hate him!"

"No, you don't Mik."

"Yes, I do.  Whose idea WAS it to let him lead the group anyway?"

"Um, it doesn't matter.  It's over.  It was just a compass."

"He's an . . ."


She sighed heavily, then stared harshly at nothing.  She was trying to avoid Cassie's eyes.  Then she started to cry.

"What's the matter?"  Cassie handled the rapid mood swing rather well.

"He... I..."

"Is this about Allen?"

She refused to look up.

"Mikki, come on, we all know it's not true."

She didn't answer, she only sobbed louder.

"Oh, Lord, it is true," she said.  She looked up into the sky and apologized.  "Mikki... what... when?  Can I ask when?"

"Last year.  Nate found out," she said between sobs, "and I begged him not to tell anyone."

"But you never talked about Allen.  I don't get it."

Mikki looked up at her.  "I just wanted to... to make him jealous."

"Who?" Cassie asked.  "Nate?"  Her heart jumped and was suspended in mid throat.  She wouldn't break that unwritten law, would she?  Nate was Ashley's boyfriend!

She shook her head.  "No.  Quinn."

Cassie's mouth dropped as she raised her eyebrows.  "Really?" she said with a big smile.

The smile was contagious.  "Yeah," she answered.

"But, you didn't tell any of us, how was he supposed to be jealous?"

"Allen and Quinn were friends last year.  I figured they would talk, maybe."

"But, sleeping with him?"

"Allen wouldn't pay any attention to me unless I did.  I just wanted to show him that somebody wanted to be with me."

"He's not friends with Allen any more."

Mikki shook her head, sniffing.  "No."

"Well, how did Nate find out?"

"He picked up a note I dropped from Allen in the library."

"And read it?"

"I guess.  Not the whole thing, I don't think, but enough of it to know."

"He never told me."

"I begged him, Cassie!  I couldn't let you guys think I was a whore.  I was trying to get out of it, anyway."

She was shocked.  She didn't know what to say.  She wasn't sure whether she was supposed to be sympathetic, angry, or disgusted with her.  "What do you mean, trying to get out of it?  Why didn't you just stop?"

"I couldn't... Allen found out why I was doing it and that I was... ashamed.  He said he would tell everybody."

"That boy is dead when we get back!"

"No, please, don't cause any more trouble, I don't want to deal with it."

Cassie sighed.  "Are you OK?"

She wiped her eyes and nodded.  "Yeah."

"OK.  We need to head back to the group."  She put her arm around Mikki's shoulder and led her back.

Mikki cleaned her face with her hands.  "Do I look alright?" she asked.

Cassie turned to her.  "Mikki, you always look alright.  That's one of the things I hate about you!" she joked.

Mikki smiled.  "Do you think they all hate me now?"

"No," Cassie said.  "I told you, none of us believed it.  I won't tell anyone."

"Yeah, well, it doesn't matter.  Nate will probably be flapping his jaws about it."

"Oh, Mik?"


"It was just a compass."

She laughed.  "I know, right?  How ridiculous am I!"

When they met up with the rest of the group, every one seemed to have been calmed down.

"Can we go?" Jesse asked.

Cassie nodded in reply as Bo trotted happily over to her.

2:30 PM

Quinn had shown them how to use the moss on the north side of the trees to find their way.  With him now in the lead, they were making good time, considering they needed to stop and recalculate their whereabouts every now and then.  By now, the sun was hot and unmerciful, and the weariness was beginning to show on their young faces.

"I'm hungry," Cassie said, hoping some one else was, as well.

Bo whimpered in agreement.

"Me, too," Nate and Jesse answered at the same time.

"Yeah, so am I," Ashley added, stepping around a picker bush.

"Sure, we can stop here," Quinn said, taking his backpack off his shoulders.  He had come across two fallen logs in an almost perfect parallel on the forest floor.

They sat on the logs and dug into their bags for food.  It was obvious none of them had eaten a bite all day.

"Don't eat too much," Jesse said.  "We need to save it as long as possible."

"You don't really think we'll be out here that long, do you?" Mikki asked. "One of my water bottles is empty," Ashley said.

"Already?" Nate asked.

"I got thirsty," she replied.  "We did a lot of walking, you know."

"Well, there has to be a spring around here somewhere," Cassie said, looking around.  She didn't notice Bo staring at her from his seated position on the ground by her feet.

"What are you going to feed Bo?" Quinn asked.

"Half of my pretzels," she answered, patting her loyal companion on the head as she spoke.  "He's not a picky eater."

"Cass, want to help me find a spring after we eat?" Ashley asked.

"That's a good idea," Nate said.  "Take mine, too, will you?"

Ashley gawked at him, then smiled.  "Yours is gone, too?  And you made a big deal about mine?"

Nate smiled to himself as he dug the water bottle out of his bag.  "Mine is only half empty, dear," he said, tossing it over to her.  "But I wouldn't mind it being full again, since you are already going to fill yours."

"Yeah, Ash, I'll go with you.  I can fill mine up, too.  It's gonna need it after Bo is done."  She poured the water into her cupped hand and let him lap it up.

"I didn't even take a sip out of mine, yet," Jesse answered.

"Hey guys," Quinn said, swallowing a piece of his cookie.  "Look over there."  He pointed at a bush only a few feet from them.

"Raspberries!"  Ashley exclaimed as she got up and ran over to the bush to harvest.  "And look how big and delicious they look!"

"That's so weird," Mikki said.  "Usually the birds have them all gone by now."  She got up and joined her.  "Well, hey, they'll add a nice touch to lunch!"

"Ooh!  I love raspberries!  Let me pick some!" Cassie called as she, too, got up and went to the bush.

"Isn't this funny," Quinn said.  "All you need is the right words and the proper training and the women will do the work for you."  Jesse and Nate found it funny as well.

"Isn't it funny that you boys won't be eating any because we're doing all the picking?"  Cassie said back to him.  "Well, except for Bo, of course.  He would help us if he was a man."

"Right," Nate said.

Ashley shot him a look, trying to hide her smile.

"What?  I didn't say anything!" he said.

"Right," she mimicked.

"That?  That was Jess," Nate said, pushing Jesse off the log.

"Hey!  Don't get me into this!"  Jesse said, trying to push himself back up onto the log.  "He said it, Ash!  I heard it with my own two ears!"

"I did not!" Nate said.  "How could you lie about something like that, Jess?"

They all broke out in laughter.  Bo joined in with his barking.

The girls sat down again and finished eating the berries.  Cassie laid half of a handful onto the ground for Bo.  Jesse watched Bo inhale the berries like a vacuum.  He studied the size of the dog... then the size of Cassie's backpack.  There was no way she would have enough food if they ended up out here too long.  He hoped they would come across more berries for dinner that night.

"Cass, let's go find a spring," Ashley said, getting up and brushing the dirt off of the seat of her jeans.  She picked up Nate's and her water bottles.

"Yep," Cassie answered.  She turned to Jesse.  "You need water?"

"No, I'm good.  Thank you, though," he said.

She smiled.  "Don't miss us too much," she said as she and Ashley headed into the woods in search of the nearest spring.

"Wait, guys!" Mikki called after them.  "You're not leaving me here with these guys!"  She got up and ran after them.

"I resent that!" Nate called after her.

"WE resent that!" Quinn yelled.  They chuckled.

"Wow, listen," Jesse said.

"To what?" Quinn asked, not hearing anything.

"The quiet," Jesse answered.  "I don't think they've stopped talking since we sat down!"

Nate and Quinn laughed.  "Oh yeah," Nate said.  "Listen to the peace!" Suddenly, their "peace" was broken by a loud crack of laughter off in the woods.  "I wonder what's so funny?" Quinn asked.

"You know them," Jesse said.  "It's probably about you."

Jesse and Nate laughed.  "Oh HA HA," Quinn said, unenthusiastically.

When their laughing fit was over, Nate turned to Jesse.  "Before they get back," he began.

"Yeah?" Jesse asked, waiting for the rest.

"This morning, with Cassie..."

"No."  Jesse knew what they were going to say.  It had crossed his mind a few times that day, too.

"Jess, he has a point.  It's exactly what happened to Bobby," Quinn said.

"No.  It's just a coincidence, just like the dreams," Jesse said, then realized he had spilled the secret.

"What dreams?" Nate asked.  "What are you talking about?"

"Nothing.  I don't know why I said that.  Never mind," he said, trying to cover himself.

"Jess, tell us what you're talking about," Quinn said.

"It's nothing," he answered, closing up his backpack.

"It's not nothing," Nate said, sternly.

Jesse looked up in surprise.

"She's my best friend, Jess, you think I don't know when something is on her mind?"

He didn't know what to say.  "You... well, did she tell you about it?"

"No, you know how she is.  She keeps things to herself all the time.  She won't talk to me about it."

"Then I can't tell you."

"You don't want to tell me."

He looked up in surprise.

"I know you, too."

Jesse sighed.  "All right.  She's had a few nightmares."

"What kind of nightmares?"

"Like... premonitions."


"You know, like, she saw things before they happened."

"I know what a premonition is.  She never had that before," he answered, not believing what he was hearing.

"Tell us," Quinn urged.  "What did she dream about?"

Jesse heard laughter coming from off in the distance.  "I'll tell you later.  Tonight, when the girls fall asleep, we can talk."

"I'm going to hold you to that," Nate said.  "She's like my sister.  I need to know when something's going on."

Jesse nodded, understanding, but also a little jealous.  They finished packing up their things and the girls' things as well.  By the time Cassie, Ashley and Mikki came back, they were ready to go.

"Here," Ashley said to Nate as she chucked his water bottle to him.  "It's all filled up.  Yo, water never tasted so good," she said.

"Water is water," Quinn said.  "What's so great about it?"

"It's incredible," Cassie said.  "Here, taste it."  She handed her bottle to him.  He took a sip and handed it back.  It was surprisingly refreshing and... "Pure."

"Yeah, isn't it?" Ashley said, picking up her bag.  "I told you it was good."

"All right, come on, we have to keep moving," Nate said.

Ashley and Mikki both sighed.  "Oh, all right," they said, tiredly.

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