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

Chapter 24
Neverending Hide-and-Seek

Soren will be leaving for his home today. I can't help but feel sorry for him. His father is dead--by his own hand, but still, his mother isn't the same person he loves, and his sister is being held prisoner inside the maze. I realize that for Soren, I am his only chance of a normal life again. His story sticks in my mind, word for word. I realize, in the whole grand scheme of things, he's suffered through a lot more hardship than I have.

I'm finally allowed to leave the hospital room, after a lesson in the wheelchair and a hug from Kaysin. It feels wierd to be free to go anywhere again, even if I don't have the choice of elevator or stairs.

My hotel room suddenly feels so dark. The walls aren't as white, and I swear the window's tinted like sunglasses. I guess it could just be the way the sun is concealed behind those fluffy, white clouds. Sometimes I wish I could hide like that, in a place so far away no-one would dare try to locate me. Like a game of hide-and-seek that doesn't end until I want it to.

The sheets of my bed here are softer, the walls so much more interesting by comparison that I think I might just decide to stare out them all day, the feeling much less confined.

I'm ready for the maze and I'm sure of it, but I just might not be ready for going home. Will Rory become the old Rory once we leave Coastall, or will he retain the changes this whole endeavor has inflicted on him? I can never be sure, so I'm left wondering. When it comes to wondering, I'd rather know the answer and hate it than not know the answer at all. Can't it be that simple?

At four, I hear a knock at my door. I open it without hesitating, and it's Soren. He smiles to see me back in the room, even if I'm still in a wheelchair. "Goodbye," he says, leaning in for a hug. I'm fine with that.

"I'll find your sister, Soren. I promise."

"Good luck," he tells me. I nod.

"I'll need it."

"I'll be watching from home, okay? Just keep that in mind. I may have to leave Coastall, but that doesn't mean I'm leaving you all alone."

"Thanks," I say awkwardly. He runs his hand along my bruise.

"Be careful, this time, Ellery."

I laugh and nod. "I'll try."

Dmitria's voice comes from down the hallway, "Soren, come on, we're waiting!"

He waves to me as he leaves the room. The door shuts beind him and I feel oddly alone. I know I shouldn't, because he and I were barely friends, if you could call it even that. There was just something about his childhood story, his pain and longing for his sister, and--I'm still now sure how I feel about him for this--the fact he put my name in The Drawing. Isn't that illegal?

It probably is, but I try to rule out the fact that it was his fault. His father was a criminal--a murderer, who wanted to murder me. He was never taught the right way to live life, but I'm still not sure if that justifies it or not. Either way, I'm not ratting him out to Dmitria.

There's no way to shed light on this situation, because he's leaving, his father is dead...but now I realize there's still his sister. She can tell me so much, I bet. There's part of me that wants to run away, leave and forfeit the challenge to let Rory win. But there's also part of me that says I have to stay, free Soren's sister and win, even though the former seems so much easier to me.

Both things seem right. I just have to decide which one is more important to me.




I'll run away. I'll run away from all of this. Rory will miss me, but he won't hate me. Soren will hate me, but he won't find me, because I'm going someplace very far away. I'm working through the rules of that neverending hide-and-seek game.

But where will I go? I've never been outside of the United States. The ruins of other countries from so long ago may very well be merely ruins by now, anyway. If that's the case, I'm dead. The second I leave this hotel, no-one should come looking for me because I'm dead.

I'll be leaving everything behind, I discourage myself. Lexi, mother, father, Rory, Soren, home....I'll die alone, longing to see everything again but I can't. I don't want to go that way. And the last reason is probably the most reasonable. I'm still in a wheelchair. I curse to myself--no, at myself--for getting hurt, even though there's not much I could have done then, and there's certainly nothing I can do about it now.

I force myself out of my room and go to Rory's. I knock and he answers hastily. "Can I come in?" I ask.

He nods. "Yeah."

I shut the door behind me as well as I can. "Rory, have you ever wanted to run away?" I ask him.

"I think so. Why? Are you coming here to tell me you're running away all by yourself, in a wheelchair, into a city you've never been to before?"

That makes it sound stupid. He has a way of making me disheartened, but I think it helps. He only does it when my suggestion really is stupid. "Of course not," I lie.

He laughs. "You can't fool me, Elle."

"Okay, so let's say I was--or, am," I prompt.

He has to think for a while; gather his thoughts. "If you've really got your heart set on it, I wouldn't stop you. But before you go, just think about it. Think about me...think about your family. How would we take it?"

"You would--" I stop. I don't know what they would do. I don't know what I would do if Rory ran away. I'd probably die.

"See? That's why you can't run away. If I lose you, I lose myself."

"Okay, so I don't run away. Then what? I win the tie-breaker and they keep me here--" I gesture all around me, 'here' being Coastall, "--for interviews, and I get famous, and I meet other people, and you fall down that big cliff we all have in our minds. I come back and you hate me. Say that happens?"

"There's one problem with your logic," he says. I cross my arms across my chest. "That wouldn't happen, because I can't hate you. I thought I already proved that."

"Right now, maybe you can't. But while I'm here getting all the attention, you're forgotten by everybody else and  this whole thing...The Challenges...become just another part of your life, while they become mine."

"That's true. That's what always happens to the winner and the runner up. But I don't want this as my legacy. Or yours, I guess."

"There!" I yell. "So you said it."

"But there's still the problems with running away. Think about what I said!"

"Think about what I said!" I retort. He has so much more logic behind this than I do, and at the moment, I hate him for it. I can never win!

I leave without another word. I am thinking about what he said. I can't run away. Our lives will fall apart sooner or later, regardless of whether or not I run away now, so I won't. Let's have my life fall apart later and enjoy this time together--when we don't hate each other--while we can.


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