Twelve days. It’s been twelve days since I’d seen Jared. I didn’t want to worry. To follow after him even though he told me to stay, to constantly look towards the bridge he crossed over, hoping to see him racing back over to me. I didn’t want him to think I didn’t trust in his strength, his intellect. Him. So I waited, just like he said.

But it’s been twelve days. Nearly Twelve whole days.  287 hours, 47 minutes and 32 seconds.

I dug the heels of my bare feet into the ground, barely wincing as the rocks scrapped at my skin. It gave me something to focus on, something other than the lack of his presence beside me. I’m not clingy, I swear. I just didn’t realize how nice it was to have someone around, other than me, Lucy and Kay. And how worried I’d be when he was gone.

“Still waiting?” Kay leaned over my shoulder, pressing a cool hand to the back of my neck. His fingers were wet, as if he dipped them in the river. He must’ve been trying to catch fish with his bare hands again.

“Yeah,” I said.

With a grunt, Kay moved to sit beside me. He ran his fingers through his spiky brown hair, which was now lying flat against his forehead. “You know he’s not coming back.”

I shook my head. “He is.” I had to believe that.

“He said to keep going if he’s not back in five days,” Kay reminded me. “It’s been twelve already. Besides, he’s the one who wanted to go to the city alone. You know what it’s like there-”

“Then go,” I said, trying not to yell. To scream. To cry. “Just go, then. And take Lucy with you, if you have to. I’m going to wait for him.”

Kay frowned, leaning his chin against the palm of his hand. “I can’t do that. You know that.”

“Why not?” I regretted asking as quickly as the words left my mouth.

“Because I love you,” he answered. “And I won’t leave you out here to fend for yourself against those… those monsters.”

I swallowed once, then twice.  I hadn’t know. There weren’t any signs of him being anything other than friendly. No flirting, no bright smiles, he wasn’t even overly helpful. Just normal. “I don’t love you,” I whispered, not truly wanting him to hear the words.

“What?” Kay’s head shot up.

“I said I don’t-”

He pressed his fingers to my lips. “I heard you the first time. You don’t have to say it again.” When he pulled away, looking off towards the bridge that connected this small patch of land to the city, I finally noticed the stress lines along his face: The dark circles under his eyes, the strained look in his eyes, the overall tired expression. “Fine,” he said finally. “We’ll wait. One more day. After that, we have to go, okay?”

I nodded. “Thanks, Kay.”

He ruffled my curls, then stood, brushing the dirt from his jeans. “Yeah, yeah. I know. I’ll go see what Lucy’s up to.”

We waited. For another 25 hours,17 minutes and 28 seconds, we waited for him. Until the sun fell, rose, and fell again, sliding behind the gray clouds. And when I looked out over the river, towards the bridge Jared had crossed just thirteen days ago, I hoped he’d show up, so we could all go back to the way things used to be.

But he never came back.