Cold Hearts

“It’s not going to work, ok? We’ve been through this already.” My teeth are chattering, and the bright light of our flashlights reflect off the fresh, crunchy snow piled all around us.

From the corner of my eye, I can see Wade, who is walking to my right, shaking his head. “I’m just saying,” he argues, clouds of breath dissipating in the air, “if we continue West, we are going to walk straight into their trap. Don’t you think the most logical thing to do is head anywhere BUT West?”

Zella let’s out an obnoxious groan, throwing her head back. “Please. Both of you. Just. shut. Up.” Her cuffed hands are dangling motionless in front of her, and I fantasize about taking her hands and smacking her face with them.

Anger builds up inside of me, turning my frozen ears hot and red. “Zella, you aren’t even supposed to be here. So if I were you,” I threaten, “I’d keep my mouth shut and not be such a snarky little-“

“Guys,” yells Ethan, from the back. He shuffles quickly up between us and jumps to regain hold of the backpack he’s been hugging for the past two hours. “You two need to chill out.” He pauses and takes one long look at each of us. When he gets to me, he doesn’t turn his eyes, but keeps them locked on mine with sincerity and stubbornness. “This is going to be a long trip for all of us if we just pick fights with each other the whole time. I’m talking to you, too, Wade.” Wade tries to argue, but Ethan pretty much shuts him down right away.

Quickly, I look down at my boots, which are buried deep in the snow. Guilt pangs at my stomach as I realize I’ve been the source of the real issue here. Jealousy has made me bitter, and now my best friend is telling me to get a grip. Classic Ethan, I joke to myself. All at once, the realization of what we are trying to do settles in, and my heart flutters. A small smile rises to my lips, and then a laugh. Zella, Wade, and Ethan all look over at me and stop in their tracks. I stop too, throwing one of my hands over my mouth to mask my chuckles.

Zella looks at me with confusion— a hint of disgust, too— and says, “You think that’s funny, Wren?”

Ethan and Wade exchange furrowed looks. I’m sure that they both think that I’ve officially gone insane from the freezing conditions and our lack of food and sleep, but I don’t care. “We are stuck in the middle of nowhere, heading to a place we don’t even know exists yet, and I’m over here fighting with my best friends about which way to walk.” I shake my head and look up at the stars, their twinkling light swinging down on us. “I’m sorry I haven’t been exactly… easy to get along with-“

“You can say that again,” remarks Zella, but I continue.

“Wade— if you think going East towards Rivermont is our best bet, then let’s go. And Zella,” I turn towards her and force myself to give her a half smile, “I’m sorry for exploding on you like that.” I purse my lips, then murmur, “Kind of.”

Wade smiles. The sight of it sends warmth throughout my entire body, and for a split second, I can feel my fingers. Wade immediately takes out a map from his coat pocket, and we all gather around it as he talks, including Zella. “Ok, so here’s the thing: We could backtrack a few miles North to Nokanville and rest up for a few days. Or… We could camp out here tonight and make a straight shot East to Rivermont; we’d be there in about three days time. Any suggestions?”

Rivermont is closest to our desired destination, and backtracking would only make the journey longer and more excruciating. On the flip side, we all could use some proper beds and a good meal. Heck, we’d probably make it in TWO days if we had that. Just as I open my mouth to suggest we backtrack, Ethan opens his and says, “We should backtrack and head to Nokanville for a couple of days. I’d kill for a warm meal and an actual bed.”

We all exchange looks and nod our heads. With a gleam of hope, Wade announces, “Nokanville it is. Let’s go.”

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