Alex didn’t know how long he held Cora in his arms, but by the time he carried her out of the barn, away from the sight of her deceased father, it had grown lighter outside. The stars had diminished from the sky, hidden for another day by the bright, surging colors of dawn, while the birds had begun to sing their early morning chorus. The events from the dreadful evening were forgotten as the darkness, and the burden of Alex’s heart, was lifted by the one soul that could save him: Cora. Nothing else mattered in the moment when she snuggled closer to his chest, when she snored quietly in her deep, sob-induced slumber, or when she softly murmured his name to herself like a lullaby. He was content, knowing that she was safe in his arms as he gazed at the rising sun. He was comforted in the fact that he could enjoy the beauty of the day, even with so much chaos squirming around in his mind.
Even with the girl cradled in his arms, she surprised him with her sleepy voice crying out to him. Cora’s words were cracked and dry with sorrow and sleep, making her sound older. Alex nearly jumped a foot off the ground when she whispered to him.
“Don’t leave me here, please.”
“Did you think I would?” Alex whispered back in the softest voice he could manage, but moved his face away from hers quickly in an act of self-consciousness. Regardless of how well she may hide it, Alex was always worried about how he appeared, smelled and acted around the girl. Then, thinking that he may hurt her feelings or give her the wrong impression, he changed his tactic and breathed quietly in her ear, “Even if you wanted me to, I don’t think I would be capable of leaving you,” and much to his current delirium, he felt her fingers grab a fistful of his ratty, blood soaked hair.
To him, that just solidified the fact that she at least enjoyed his company.
Oh God, I overthink way too much, Alex scolded himself.
“I don’t know what I thought you’d do, actually…” Cora said hoarsely, her shaky vocals barely carrying out a hushed whisper. She tried to bring her voice up a couple octaves, but her throat ached when she tried. Alex couldn’t think of anything more appropriate than to reassure her.
“Well, I’m not leaving anytime soon. I’m perfectly content sitting her in the field with you. It is rather chilly though.”
“Of all people, you would be the last one that I figured to be cold in the early morning.” She struggled through the sentence, but the fire inside her never ceased to burn out, and Alex sensed that. She’s definitely a fighter.