What Avery had done minutes ago wasn’t subtle. She had given Sierra a choice, and in the process, she had given up on her orders. Now, what will Sierra choose? Find out in the next chapter of Catching Time!
[Read First Chapter Here.]
Chapter 15: Choices
“I messed up,” Avery sighed in the empty hotel room.
Her entire body felt heavy as she rested her head in her hands. Even if Dr. Fabre was still listening in, she’d have known of Avery’s insubordination before this statement. What Avery had done minutes ago wasn’t subtle. She had given Sierra a choice, and in the process, she had given up on her orders.
Sierra wasn’t the person Avery thought she was. Nothing about her mission was what she thought it was.
Avery was lied to, and now there was no going back. If she was going to live, it was going to be by her own rules. Not the military, not The Organization, and not Sierra. Mainly, right now, what Avery didn’t need was Sierra’s pitty.
Sierra had seen Avery’s predicament before Avery had noticed it. The Organization never had a plan for her to return back to 2091. She was the last casualty of the war.
Avery needed a moment to process this.
She picked her head up, looking around the hotel room she had booked only moments before. The weight of everything came crashing down.
Instead of digging deeper into her thoughts, she focused on the room. Everything about it was like something out of an old photograph. Something about former America, drugs, Clinton and his saxophone or something like that. The thing was, a picture couldn’t do the place justice. What was missing was the slight smell of urine and the sounds of moans coming from the room next door.
Being in this place didn’t feel real. Avery was awaiting the moment when she’d wake up in her military issued bunk bed.
There was no place for her waiting in the ’90s. It was true, she didn’t know what she was doing. The only qualification she had for this mission was her ability to stay alive. She never thought she’d be ordered on a classified mission. This room was a relic of a time she never bothered to think about.
At that moment, a light knock rapped on her door.
“Avery, can I come in?” Sierra was heard on the other side.
“Go away,” Avery said, her answer lacked her usual tone. She had dropped her military facade. The truth was, the reality that Sierra decided to come back didn’t register to her. Avery was unprepared for this possibility.
The door clicked as it was unlocked. It creaked open, and lightly slammed shut as Sierra entered the room. Somehow, she had gotten a spare key. Sierra’s footsteps were light and familiar, but Avery didn’t bother to turn around as she felt Sierra’s presence behind her.
A few seconds later, Sierra’s hand lightly brushed across Avery’s shoulder. It was an attempt to get Avery to turn around.
“Come back to the car,” Sierra said softly.
Avery shivered, The sound of Sierra’s voice was different but familiar. It lacked the sarcasm and harshness that usually accompanied her. Instead, Avery was reminded of the first words Sierra ever said to her.
Welcome back to the land of the living.
It was her doctor’s voice, the tone that made it seem like she cared. Avery turned around to face her, but she couldn’t meet Sierra’s gaze. Avery was tired, and she felt exposed. It was the way Sierra always made her feel when she tended to her. Tonight, Avery’s mind was a mess. She focused her eyes on a stain on the wall.
Sierra’s eyes were glued on her, watching, and unwavering.
“Sometimes, I hate you,” Avery started softly, she felt Sierra’s eyes piercing through her. “I hate you for what you did to me and what you are supposed to do…but sometimes I don’t… and I wish I still did. It’s so much easier to hate you.”
“Please, I want you to get in the car with me.” Sierra tried changing the subject.
“I don’t need your pity. I don’t want to be the physical manifestation of your guilt. That’s not what I want to be.” Avery wasn’t going to be persuaded, her voice grew harsher.
“Is that all you have to say?”
“It’s been a long day,” Sierra said this like it explained everything.
This caused Avery to shrug Sierra off. She wasn’t in the mood for this, and she passed Sierra to get to her suitcase. She couldn’t handle this, Avery was tired from spending the day driving and from the adrenaline spike from the creep in the parking lot.
“You know what, I’m staying. You can do whatever you like, but I’m getting some sleep.” Avery pulled out her pajamas from her suitcase.
“I can find a better place.” Sierra stayed rooted to the ground. Her expression was sharp, but with each passing second, her gaze grew softer, almost pleading. It almost looked like she was afraid of losing Avery.
“No,” Avery wasn’t going to change her mind. Again, she became aware of the uncleanliness of the hotel.
“I’m tired of fighting with you,” Sierra said, but the whole time her voice never escalated.
“I’m tired of fighting with you too.” Avery finished, finally softening her own tone. Sierra wasn’t going to give her the argument that she wanted, and she wasn’t going to leave either. In defeat, Avery sighed, not caring that Sierra was watching her, she changed into her pajamas.
For the first time, Sierra gave her some privacy and turned her head until Avery was finished.
“Can I ask you one more time to come with me?” Sierra tried again.
“My answer is still no. I’m going to bed, and I don’t care what you decide to do,” Avery announced, she plopped down on one of the double beds. The one that she picked was the bed that was closest to the window. Right now, Avery couldn’t handle this. Her body was drained, and she could feel a nervous tension that coursed to the edges of her fingertips.
Without realizing it, Avery fell asleep as soon as she hit the pillow.
The light of the morning washed away the stress from last night as it peeked from behind the dust-covered curtains. This wasn’t what woke Avery. Instead, it was yelling from the hallway. Two men were screaming at each other as they thumped down the hall. Their voices started faintly but then rose in laced profanities as they passed her room.
Avery turned on her side, Sierra was in the double bed next to her’s. The noise hadn’t disturbed her. At first, Avery could only make out her form, but as more light started to shine through the window, it was easier to see. Sierra was asleep on her back, facing away from Avery, her right hand reached out from under a blanket.
In her mind, Avery thought that It was foolish that Sierra stayed, but a part of her was comforted that she did.
More light started to enter the room. Sierra’s hand grasped at nothing, and then she turned on her side with a jerk of quick movement. Groaning softly, she seemed to be having a nightmare. Sierra’s breathing turned to shallow gasps that almost sounded like sobs. Avery regarded her across the room and was reminded that Sierra was just as defenseless as she was.
Avery had never seen her this distraught in the time they had been together.
Sierra’s breathing changed, the blankets shuffled, and Sierra sat up startled. Her right hand reached up to wipe away loose tears that were now streaming down her cheeks. She seemed to be struggling to catch her breath. The full force of the dream appeared to linger as Sierra regained consciousness.
Avery stayed frozen on the bed, she was unable to look away. This was an intimate moment that Avery didn’t feel like she was welcome to witness.
As though she sensed that Avery was watching her, Sierra faced the window towards Avery. “I can see you,” Sierra’s voice was shaky.
Avery sat up, she didn’t know what to say. This morning was completely different from last night. Avery wanted to do something, but she wasn’t good at comforting others the way they seemed good at comforting her. Until this moment, she could never picture Sierra like this. Sierra gave off this air that she was always in control of everything.
“What were you dreaming about?” Avery tried, her voice sounded groggy from sleep.
“My brother,” Sierra responded, a few more tears streamed down her face, and she quickly wiped them away with her hand.
“Oh,” Avery pulled the covers off of her legs, she didn’t know if this was a good idea, but she placed her feet down on the floor and tried not to talk herself out of what she was going to do next. Getting up, she made her way to the edge of Sierra’s bed. It seemed like the right thing to do. She was no longer mad at Sierra, last night felt like a lifetime ago.
“He had only been gone a week the night you knocked on my door.”
“I’m sorry.” Avery placed her hand on Sierra’s upper arm the way Sierra had done with her, but Sierra brushed her off.
“Can you just give me a moment?” Sierra covered her face with her hand. She didn’t look like she was the one used to being seen like this.
“Sure.” Avery watched Sierra as she stifled another sob. She wanted to do something more, she wanted to help, but Avery felt like she was unwelcomed to try.
It took a few deep breaths for Sierra to gain control of her breathing. When she did, Sierra pushed herself to the end of the bed in the opposite direction of Avery. It looked like Sierra couldn’t face Avery with her emotions still raw. Watching her made Avery feel helpless. She waited until Sierra got up and walked to the bathroom. The light flicked on, and Sierra closed the door behind her with a soft thud. The room felt cold and empty in the space between them.
Avery had gotten this wrong, she wasn’t the last casualty of the war. Both of them were.
In the next few hours, Avery was in and out of sleep. She could vaguely hold on to images of dreams. Still, everything slipped through her fingers, nothing cemented in her mind until finally, the sound of the television was more interesting than the bliss of unconsciousness. She opened her eyes to find Sierra sitting next to her on the bed. Sierra didn’t seem to notice her. Instead, Sierra’s eyes rested forward in the direction of the television.
“But what if I don’t want to be a shoe anymore? Maybe, I’m a purse or a hat…” The volume was loud from speakers on the screen.
Sitting up with a creak from the old box spring, Avery was stunned that she never got up from Sierra’s bed that morning. She didn’t remember Sierra getting back in next to her. Avery must have fallen back asleep before Sierra came back to bed. After everything that happened, Avery felt embarrassed lying next to Sierra. She felt too many emotions towards her that she didn’t know what to think anymore.
As Avery rested her back on the headboard, her arm brushed up against Sierra’s. Neither of them moved away from each other.
“You’re still here?” Avery asked, breaking the silence. She didn’t know what to do about Sierra as the memory from early this morning came back in a slow wave. They were both messed up, and Avery was having a lingering suspicion that The Organization was framing them both for something sinister.
“What does it look like?” Sierra turned up the volume even louder. It seemed like her sarcasm was back in full force.
“Okay?” If this was Sierra’s first response, it wasn’t going to be a good day. Avery turned away to get out of bed.
“Wait,” Sierra put down the remote control and grasped her hand on Avery’s wrist, stopping Avery from getting up, “I’m sorry.”
“Are you?” Avery asked. She was looking directly at Sierra now. For the first time, it was Sierra that looked uncomfortable.
“When I feel threatened… I kinda bite back. I’m not trying to hurt you.” Sierra let go of Avery’s wrist.
“I noticed,” Avery relaxed on the bed again. She took the remote and muted the screen. “Look, I want you to know that I’m sorry too. I’m sorry about last night, and I’m sorry about everything I’ve put you through.”
“Don’t apologize for everything. I don’t blame you for doing your job.”
“Alright,” Avery said slowly, thinking this over, “Don’t apologize for shooting me either. You were protecting yourself. Don’t feel guilty about that.” Avery looked into Sierra’s eyes. They were a soft yellow and a little red and unfocused from her nightmare this morning. The truth was, Avery wouldn’t be saying this to her if she hadn’t seen Sierra so unsettled just hours ago.
“Can we start over?” Sierra asked, moving a strand of hair behind her ear. She seemed to have noticed the details that Avery was focused on. She could wash the tears off her face, but she could do nothing about her eyes.
“I don’t think we can,” Avery said as she picked up the remote between them and fumbled with it awkwardly. They’d been through too much. Saying that it didn’t happen would be a lie.
“Okay, I get it. I made my decision, but it looks like you already made yours,” Sierra said and got up from the bed with a loud creak. She didn’t look back at Avery as she fumbled around for her suitcase.
The space that Sierra left felt cold. Again, Avery remembered this morning. Sierra was only human, just like her. Neither of them meant for any of this to happen. This moment felt too cold, she didn’t want for Sierra to leave the bed. This wasn’t what Avery wanted her comment to express. The only thing was, she didn’t want to push Sierra away despite all that had happened between them.
“I didn’t mean it like that,” Avery’s voice hung in the air.
Yes, She was tired of having her life dictated by others. But, the thought of losing the only person who knew her and where she came from was terrifying. Not only that, but now that she was in the ’90s, could she prevent the destruction a hundred years from now? If she managed to survive, could she make a difference? The future was going to be a horrible place, and the only two people who knew it were inside this room.
Okay, and that was only half of it.
The other half had to do with Sierra herself. The truth was, Avery wanted to understand everything about her. Avery wanted to learn about how Sierra started out as the veterinarian. She wanted to know the woman with the yellow eyes that Avery had first seen singing in her brother’s kitchen. Every time Sierra got too close, she’d make Avery’s heart race. Sierra was much more than the kindling that would somehow start the war.
“Then what did you mean?” Sierra had her suitcase on the bed and was gathering her clothes. She looked up to face Avery, her expression now became indecipherable. The vulnerability from earlier was replaced by her usual air of self-assurance. Avery was now the one that was exposed.
The more time Avery spent with Sierra, the more she was learning that Sierra used this confidence like a mask. She was good at faking it.
“I mean, we can’t start over.” Avery winced at her words. This wasn’t how she wanted it to go, but she had to start with something.
“Then, do you want me to leave?” Sierra asked.
“No, I can’t forget what happened, but I still want to get to know you,” Avery said. She was finally admitting what was on her mind.
“So, you still want to get to know me even when I hurt you… badly.” Sierra sat down on the corner of the bed.
“You can’t erase that, stop beating yourself up about the past. I just want to know, can you get over what happened and get to know me as a person? Please stop thinking of me as a patient or an officer,” Avery said. This time, it was Avery that reached out. She was still too far to touch Sierra, but it was the gesture that counted.
“I stopped thinking of you as just an officer a long time ago,” Sierra replied, leaning over as she placed her hand on Avery’s. Her expression relaxed, and her mask was gone. “You’re also not just a patient. I’m sorry I made you feel like you were another obstacle.”
“We need to stop apologizing to each other.”
“Yeah, I agree.”
Avery looked up at her, and Sierra’s eyes told her that she was telling the truth. She was lost on what to say next. The warmth from Sierra’s hand and look from her eyes caused a light flutter in Avery’s stomach. She wondered when Sierra’s change of view about her took place. Sierra’s uncertainty for admitting this gave Avery the feeling that she was disclosing something deeper that Avery couldn’t put her finger on.
Uncharacteristically, Sierra’s eyes trailed down to Avery’s lips, fluttered briefly, and then went to their hands so quickly Avery thought she imagined it.
“Get out!” A woman next door screamed.
Suddenly, a loud crash came from the room adjoining theirs. The woman next door continued screaming indecipherably, followed by two more voices and another loud boom. Sierra pulled her hand away, and the moment was broken.