It's been a bad start of the year... but writing always makes things a little better.
Love stinks. I knew that now. I knew that I had fallen in love with Troy, and it hurt. It seared into my heart. It burned. It stung. It killed. It was also very confusing. Because all I wanted to do during my depressing tears was go find Troy and cry on his chest. I was almost certain that his arms would have calmed me down in an instant.
So, when I heard the knocks on my door with his voice muffled on the other side, I was tempted to get to my feet and open it. I wanted to open the door, run to him, and kiss him as he tried to let out the good news from his mouth – that he wasn’t going to get married.
But that wasn’t going to happen. Troy was going to get married. To Grace. Because it was the right thing to do for his family’s reputation. God, if I had the option to choose between love and a wealthy lifestyle for my family, I would always choose my family. No matter how much it hurt.
The thunderous knocks stopped, and I strained my ears for another sound. But nothing came.
I forced myself onto my feet, wiping away the recent tears, and stepped toward one of my large windows. My eyes had adjusted to the moonlight seeping into my room, so it was much easier to find my way. I opened the window and leaned my elbows against the windowsill, allowing the fresh breeze to dry my face.
I don’t know how long I stood there, but I didn’t move, not even when I heard the door behind me jiggle. I hadn’t expected anyone to open it, of course. So when I noticed the shaft of light from the corridor light up my room, I was surprised. But I knew who had been the one to open the door; who was able to confiscate the keys for any room in this mansion without argument. I shut my eyes and remained completely still, as if that would make me invisible. It didn’t.
But it wasn’t Troy. I knew it the moment my name was whispered.
"Autumn!" The voice screeched.
It was Melanie. She was panicked; scared.
I instantly turned around, my eyes adjusting to the light from the hallway. When they do, a chill runs down my spine. Melanie runs to me, shaking arms wrapping around my waist. The party must have ended a while ago because Melanie was already in her nightgown. Behind her was a dark figure whose face I couldn’t see. Not because it was dark in the room, but because he was wearing a mask, the details indiscernible to me.
"You guys need to follow me," the masked man whispered. "Hurry."
I was frozen for a moment, my grip tightening protectively over my little sister.
"We don’t have money," I croaked. "We are only guests here."
"I know," the masked man said. "I’m trying to help you. You need to get out of here."
I hesitated a little longer, thinking over my options. If he didn’t have a weapon, we could run for it. I could hold him back as Melanie made a run for it and went to get help. It was better than going with him and suffering the unknown consequences. I have heard and read countless horror stories about people who were kidnapped. It’s a lot worse for girls. Melanie and I were better off dead.
"Autumn," the shadow murmured. He sounded familiar.
The shadow slowly reached for his mask, pausing when Melanie jumped from his movement. He waited a moment before proceeding on taking off his mask. I squinted. I didn’t recognize him at first, but Melanie did.
"Hayden?" She croaked.
My eyes widened and they could finally make out his face. I could see his hesitant and worried eyes. They lingered on Melanie for a moment before landing on me. His mouth was open, ready to say something, yet nothing came out.
"What is going?" Was the first thing I could force myself to say, my mind still processing the situation. "You scared us."
He rushed forward and grabbed my wrist. I tried to pull away almost instantly from surprise, but he held on tightly.
"We have to leave," he said.
"Hayden, what are you – "
We were out the door before I could finish my question. Melanie held onto my arm tightly.
"There are men," he whispered harshly, interrupting me. "They have guns. I need to get you out of here."
A chill went up my spine when I understood his words. Melanie took a bit longer to comprehend it, but when she did, I felt her nails dig around my bicep. Hayden’s uncomfortable hold on my wrist was not making it any better.
I couldn’t stop it. Troy’s name was the first one that popped into my head. Just the thought of him brought back the emotion I had been trying so hard to ignore. But then I felt the guilt, and then I remembered my parents. And I was suddenly terrified of the idea of living in a world where all three of them didn’t exist.
"Mom and dad," Melanie whimpered.
I tried to pull away from Hayden again, but he was strong. I never thought Hayden would dare yank me the way he was. It was painful and desperate.
"Hayden stop. Stop!" He finally let go after my shriek.
"Quiet down," he shushed, one of his cold hands covering my lips.
I pushed his hand away, the tears threatening my eyes again. I wiped them away with my fist.
"Explain," was all I said.
Hayden glanced around before taking my wrist again and pulling us into the closest room. He made sure no one was in it before letting his guard down.
Hayden stared at me for a moment. While his face was cold and still, his eyes told me he was still the same person. He still had a heart. He was still the good person I judged him to be the moment we met.
"I told you to leave," he said.
I don’t answer. I just wait for him to tell me more. Something was going on. Maybe we could still stop it.
"They don’t plan to kill anybody," he assured, as if that was supposed to make everything better. "Most of the guests have left by now, but they are forcing those left into the ballroom. It is surrounded by men that will shoot if they don’t get what they’re here for."
"What are they here for?" I asked a little too desperately.
"What else? Money." A pause. I feel Melanie snuggle into me, shaking with tears. "I was sent to round up those left. I am giving you a chance to escape. But if we stay here much longer, they will suspect me. It took a lot to convince them to trust me after my last visit."
I could only stare at him, shocked. My mind was trying to come up with a way we could solve all this. It came up with nothing.
I reached for my phone and fidgeted with it, my fingers numb. Hayden reacted and I froze. It was the first time I saw his gun. It was small. How could something so small kill a person instantly?
"I can’t let you do that," he whispered.
I dropped my phone.
"How could you?" I croaked.
He hesitated, the gun facing the floor. "My family needs it. I had no choice."
"We trusted you," came Melanie’s quiet voice behind me, her voice shaking.
His face softened when his eyes darted to her. I could only imagine what he saw. Hayden put his gun away - in a sheath clipped to his pants - and neared us. But Melanie only pressed into my back, hiding away from him. He stopped walking and met my gaze again.
"You need to let me help you escape." His eyes glanced to my sister once more. "For her sake. I can’t do anything for your parents or for anybody else, but I can help you two. Let me."
It took a lot to hold in my tears. Breaking down would get my nowhere. I had to be tough, for Melanie. Because although I couldn’t even look at Hayden, he was right. Ultimately, we both cared more for Melanie than the tension he created. He just wanted to protect her, and I had to give him some credit for that. She was the most important thing to me in that mansion. I couldn’t let myself be lost by the others that were a close second.
I nodded in response to Hayden. It was all I could manage. He nodded back, gave me one guilty glance, and slipped on his mask – a Guy Fawkes mask. He opened the door a creak and glanced outside before stepping out into the corridor. I hesitantly followed behind.
"My parents," I whispered as he led us down the corridor toward the stairs. "Are they okay? Are they down there?"
"Yes." A pause, "They are with the Rhys in the ballroom."
I wasn’t sure if to mention him, but I had to know. "And… Troy?"
But before Hayden could answer, the door we were passing shot open and a figure jumped out. The figure had Hayden pinned the floor in an instant. He swiftly took Hayden’s gun out from its shaft and pointed it directly on the Guy Fawkes forehead. Melanie and I had jumped back, our backs against the opposite wall.
"Are you okay?" The figure asked, their eyes glued on Hayden.
"Troy?" I gasped at the realization. My heart suddenly felt lighter.
"It’s me," Hayden said from under the mask. It took effort, but he managed to take off his mask by shaking his head vigorously.
Troy is unmoved by the big reveal and simply said, "You betrayed us."
"He was helping us escape," I defend him weakly. I regret it when I catch Troy’s frustration in his eyes. But they soften by the second, and soon he is just the same old Troy staring at me, like it was just the two of us.
I had to be the first one to look away.
"It’s true," Hayden said. "I never intended in bringing them into this."
"How much are you guys asking for?" Troy’s voice was hard again.
He didn’t even ask what they wanted. He already knew it was about money.
Hayden hesitated. "20 million."
My breath caught in my throat.
Troy snickered. "That’s it?"
"We never intended to take everything. We just want to start over. No one is supposed to get hurt today."
"Tell that to our dead maid on the porch," Troy murmured.
I was staring at Hayden. His face went white. I felt Melanie sob quietly against my back. My hold on her was tight. I would not let her go until I felt we were safe.
"If you guys don’t cooperate, they will shoot you," Hayden forced. "You guys need to cooperate."
"The police are on their way," Troy sneered. "You guys are done for."
"Damn it, Troy," Hayden groaned. "They will stop at nothing. They will take hostages if it means their survival. This was the very thing I was trying to avoid. You guys have to leave, now."
Hayden attempted to move, but Troy only pressed the gun to his cheek, which caused Hayden to freeze.
"Troy," I whimpered. "Let’s just go."
He ignored me. "You aren’t going anywhere. We are waiting for the police."
"Put the gun down," another voice said. I felt Melanie tense against my back.
I turned to face the speaker; I should have been keeping watch. I don’t know what I was thinking.
There, just a few feet behind Troy, was a man, also wearing a Guy Fawkes mask. He had a gun pointed straight at Troy. Troy didn’t move.
"Don’t make me say it again," the voice behind him said.
"Do it," I saw Hayden mouthed.
But Troy took too long. I heard a shot and I fell from the sound. My eyes instantly landed on Troy, I had to make sure he was okay. He was. The gun was on the floor, and he rushed to me. I couldn’t understand the worry in his face. Why was Melanie pinching me on the shoulder? It hurt. A lot. It made me feel dizzy.
"Autumn," Troy said, a hand on my face. It was cold and soothing. His other hand pressed on my shoulder and I cried out in pain.
When I saw Melanie on my other side, looking at me through puffy eyes, it all came rushing to me. I was shot.
"What – how – it hurts," I forced.
Troy swiftly slipped off his tie and wrapped it around my armpit and shoulder. He tightened it and I whimpered into his shoulder. I could see Hayden’s blurry figure arguing with someone in a Guy Fawkes mask. Hayden’s mask must have been left on the floor.
"You’re going to be okay," Troy promised into my ear.
He hugged me tightly for a moment before helping me back onto my feet. There were black dots everywhere, but then they faded and the floor somewhat evened out.
"The next shot will end in a death," the man with the gun snapped, ignoring Hayden's attempts at easing him.