Songbird Trilogy Book 1: The Maze Girl (complete)
Author: Julia R. West

Chapter 23
No Better Off

"Rory," I say later that day. I look over at him sitting next to me. "Do you really love me?" I ask. I take in every detail of his face. The way his eyes look so deeply into mine, every freckle and mark that's there. I see the volcano didn't treat him that well, either. He came out of it with a sprinkle of cuts on his face and a small burn on his left arm, and in the long run, he's no better off than me. My pain is just more apparent, almost on display, while the majority of his is on the inside.

He's taken by surprise, I think. "I'm not sure either anymore," he says. "I'm not inclined to love someone who doesn't love me back."

"Who says I don't?" I say. But I know who said that. I did. I regret it now, but the past is the past, and as I've taken into account before, time machines still don't exist, regardless of how people so long ago predicted they would.

He smiles. "It's just a rumor. Do you really love me?"

"Still deciding." There's a growing silence, but it's not awkward or sad. It's simply there for lack of words. "Rory, you know you should have let Soren win the last challenge."

"Why?" he asks.

"Because now we have to go into the maze together. Doesn't that scare you?"

He shakes his head. "No, because I have you. I'm almost looking forward to it."

"Almost?" I say. The word has become a sort of joke between us now. "What keeps you from really looking forward to it?"

"The fact that it isn't meant for us to enjoy. It's meant to be scary and cruel. But any time I'm with you, nothing can be completely that way." That's not true for me.

"See, I can only enjoy anything with anybody when it's a happy event, not a mock happy atmosphere."

"I get it."

The nurse looks around the corner. "Wrap it up, you two. Ellery shouldn't be up too late."

"I won't, Kaysin," I assure her. She and I have become a kind of...acquaintence...by now.

"Wow, on first name basis with the doctor already, Elle?" Rory asks.

I elbow him playfully. For a second, he feels like the Rory I've known since that day in the tree that no longer stands, not the one that is in love with me, who was almost killed by Orion because of me--but still loves me.

That little bit of the old Rory washes away. The smile is gone as he looks at the bruise on my forehead. "How does it feel?" he asks, touching his hand lightly to my burns. I can tell he's being very careful not to hurt me.

"They're better. Don't worry about hurting me."

He smiles. "I can't help it."

All intention I ever had of telling him about Soren's story is gone by now, along with any concerns I had, warnings about what I'm planning to do in the maze. I still don't know what day that will be rescheduled for. "Well, I'd better go to bed. Tomorrow's the day I get out of here and back to my room, if you want to stop by."

He give me a very quick goodnight kiss and heads for the door. I wait until he's almost out before saying, "Just for the record, I do love you."

I can see the slightest hint of relief on his face. "Good night," he says. The lights go out before he shuts the door. Was it me, or did he wink as he did so?

 

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