“You don’t have to go if you don’t want to see it, sweetheart,” Theresa said.
“I want to see it. This is his punishment for what he did, right?”
“Yeah,” Ethan said, “and we have to do it, you understand, because there aren’t courts anymore. No judges or juries. We have to watch out for ourselves, and that man hurt a lot of people. It has to be made right.”
After dinner, Ethan sent Ben back to their quarters and asked Theresa to take a walk with him.
“So Hassler and I had it out,” he said as they trudged up the stairs.
“Jesus, Ethan, what are you, in high school?”
Three doors down on the right-hand side of the Level 4 corridor, Ethan swiped his card at the reader and pulled open a heavy steel door.
They stepped onto a small platform.
Ethan said, “Hold onto the railing,” and pressed the up arrow button.
The platform accelerated through the rocky tube at the speed of an express elevator.
Four hundred feet straight up.
When it finally shuddered to a stop, they stepped off onto a catwalk that ran for twenty feet until it terminated at a second steel door. Ethan swiped his card again. The lock buzzed. He pulled open the door and they moved outside into a wall of shocking cold.
“What is this place?” Theresa asked.
“Discovered it a few nights ago when I was up and couldn’t sleep.”
The clouds from earlier had blown out.
The stars were stunning.
Bright and sharp.
They stood in a path that had been carved three feet down into rock. On either side, the mountain fell away into oblivion.
He said, “I think people come up here to smoke, to get fresh air. It’s the fastest way to see actual daylight without having to take the tunnel into town. They call this trail the sunroof.”
“How far does it go?”
“All through these high peaks. If you stay with it, I’m told it winds down into the forest west of the cirque.”
They strolled the knife-edge ridge.
Ethan said, “After we beat the shit out of each other, Adam and I talked.”
“That sounds like borderline adult behavior.”
“He said you chose me.”
Theresa stopped, faced him.
He could feel the cold nibbling at the edges of his cheeks.
“It came down to a pretty simple choice for me, Ethan. Would I rather love or be loved?”
“What are you talking about?”
“Adam would do anything for—”
“So would I—”
“Will you listen? I told you I’d never been loved the way Adam loves me, and I meant that. But I’ve never loved anyone the way I love you. There are times I hated myself for it. Because I felt weak. When I wished I could’ve just hardened myself to you and walked away, but I could never do it. Even after Kate. It’s like you’ve got some kind of hold on me. It’s a precious thing, Ethan, and you’d better care for it. You’ve hurt me before. Badly.”
“I know I’ve f**ked up in the past. I know I haven’t treated you the way you deserved to be treated.”
“No, now it’s my turn. I ruined things. Hell, I ruined everything. With my work. With Kate. With not dealing with my shit from the war. But I’m trying, Theresa. Ever since I woke up in this town, I’ve been trying. Trying to protect you and Ben. Trying to love you the best that I possibly could. Trying to make the right choices.”
“I know you have. I see it. I see what we could be. It’s all I want. All I’ve ever wanted.” She kissed him. “You have to promise me something, Ethan.”
“That you’ll go easy on Adam. We all have to live together in this valley now.”
Ethan stared down into Theresa’s face, resisting the urge to tell her everything that man had done. He said, finally, “I’ll try. For you.”
They walked on.
“What’s wrong, honey?” she asked.
“No, there’s something more. Something new. You were weird at dinner.”
Ethan looked into the canyon three thousand feet below. It was only a month ago he’d had his first encounter with the abbies down there, and as harrowing as that experience had been, at least he’d known hope then. He’d still believed the world was out there. That if only he could escape this town, these mountains, his family and his life would be waiting for him in Seattle.
“We’re in trouble,” he said.
“No, I mean we’re not going to make it. As a species.”
A meteor crossed the sky.
“Ethan, I’ve been here a lot longer than you have. It feels hopeless sometimes, and now more than ever, but we have everything we need in Wayward Pines.”
“The food’s running out,” he said. “That stuff we ate tonight? Those freeze-dried meals? There isn’t an endless supply, and once it’s gone, we’re not going to be able to grow enough food in this valley to get us through the long, hard winters. If we were farther south, we could make it work, but we’re trapped in this valley. I’m sorry to tell you this, but I don’t want to keep anything from you. No more secrets. I need you in my corner, because I don’t know what to do.”
“How long do we have?” Theresa asked.
“And then what happens?”
“And then we die.”
He crossed the river on the east side of town, his legs numb by the time he stumbled out of the water and onto the far shore.
On all fours, he scrambled up through the pines that clung to the steepening hillside.
A hundred feet above town, the terrain went vertical, but he didn’t stop, kept fighting his way up the cliff, higher and higher.
Climbing without fear.
He couldn’t believe he was actually scaling the suicide cliff. During that year he’d lived in town with Theresa, two people had ascended this stretch of rock and leapt to their deaths. There were plenty of other fatal options on the cliffs that surrounded Wayward Pines, but this particular precipice had the benefit of being the most sheer. No chances of accidentally bungling the jump and taking an unnecessary bounce off a ledge. If one made it to the top without falling, they could bank on an uninterrupted plummet into oblivion.