"Max? Can I talk to you?" I knelt down beside him; he was sitting in the shade of our favorite tree in silence.
He glared up at me and then closed his eyes. He had been avoiding me for a week now; I couldn't tell which he was more upset about: the blemish on his honor or his pride. My heart ached, as I looked at his stubborn face, closed to me.
"Max... Please? You know I didn't mean to screw everything up... I'm sorry..."
For the first time, he looked directly into my eyes, looking irritated, "Amelia, before you apologize and try to get me to forgive what you did... Do you even know why I'm mad at you?"
I took a deep breath and looked down at the dry leaves that surrounded my legs, "It's because... I'm a screw up. Because I don't think before I act. Because of me, your whole society has been jeopardized."
"That's part of it..." He observed, "But not all of it."
"Then what else, in God's name, are you mad at me for, Max? How am I supposed to fix things, when I don't know the full description of what I'm fixing in the first place? I feel like a carpenter without any kind of blueprint."
"The rest is... Well, I guess hurt feelings. I thought you were up to the job I set for you. I felt that you would be ready for that kind of position. I guess I was wrong, and that's more my fault than your own."
"I was doing fine, until Adam-"
"Amelia, he's not Adam anymore. That's what you need to learn. Also, I know you did fine with the babysitting part, but you had no idea... you didn't know they might get in. We've never had that problem before. We were all blindsided by that."
"He will always be Adam to me, Max. He was my brother, after all."
Max sighed, looking up through the leaves, at the bright, blue sky, "Mel... I know you loved him- that you will always love him. He's your brother. But you have to let him go..."
"How do you expect me to let someone go who is still out there? Someone who is still walking this Earth?"
Max stood up, shielding my face from the sun; he held out a hand to help me up. As I took is hand, I felt the rough callouses caused, most likely, from practicing his fighting with stakes and such for so long. I found myself wondering If my own hands would ever feel like that.
"Amelia..." He said, quietly, as I stood in front of him, looking at him and waiting for an answer to my question, "I don't know if there's any answer to that. I guess the only way is to distance yourself. To realize that he is not Adam he used to be. He is now someone who would kill you just as quickly as he would me. It's a hard fact to bear, I know... But it's the truth."
I chewed my lower lip, thinking about what he had just told me. Some part of me knew he was right and wanted to reject any such thought, "Can I ask you something?"
"How did you make that decision, when it came to Haley?"
"That was a little different... Haley wasn't spared to be one of them. The damned thing killed her right then and there. We buried her in a cemetery close to where we grew up. I guess we got lucky in that aspect... I don't ever have to worry about going through what you surely are right now."
"I'm sorry..." He stepped closer to me and wrapped his arms around me, tightly. I could smell his axe cologne, mixed with the scent of pine and dried leaves.
I inhaled his comforting scents, before making any attempt to speak, "Max... Thank you... I think you're right. It is going to be hard... Probably the hardest thing I'll ever do... but I have to let Adam go. He is dead... Only his shell remains.... I guess the best thing I can possibly do for him right now would be... to release his body from the torture those demons are putting it through right now. To eliminate one more from their ranks."
Max backed up a little bit, leaving more space between the two of us. At first, I thought I had said something wrong; that he was upset with me all over again. I realized that wasn't the fact, when I looked up at his face, to see him giving me a sad smile.
"Mel... I'm so glad you can make smart decisions like this. You're a brave woman... I hope you know that."
"No, not brave... Just loyal. Adam wouldn't want to live like this. It took your insight to show me that. You're the brave one. Smart, too. I think I'll have to leave the decision-making to you in these situations."
Max released me from his embrace, smiling at me, "Sounds like a plan. Shared bravery, your loyalty, and my brains. We make a good pair."
I felt myself smiling, when I looked into his eyes and saw how happy he looked, for the first time, "I like the sound of that."
He took my hand and walked beside me back towards town, Neither of us spoke a word on our way back, we just stayed in a companionable silence, enjoying our patched up friendship. Max was becoming my life raft- I felt myself becoming more dependent on him with every passing day. Part of me liked that feeling- knowing I had him to help me through my rocky life. Knowing he would ever abandon me. Part of me hated it. Not the part that I knew I could depend on him, but the fact that I did depend on him. In the past, I was very independent. I didn't have to lean on anyone at any time (with the occasional exception that was Adam). The thought of depending on Max for comfort scared me.
* * *
When Max and I stepped out of the woods, into the warm sunshine, he let go of my hand. I looked up at him and half-smiled, "Is something wrong?"
"No, but I need to go see Clara. Can I meet you back at your house when I'm done or will you be somewhere else?"
"I can be at home."
"Good. I'll see you in a little while then," without warning, he tilted his head forward and gave me a soft, quick kiss on the lips, then walked away.
I stood on that spot momentarily, feeling numb and feeling the sudden warm tingle on my lips, where Max's had touched them. Feeling dazed, I ambled back in the direction of my little cottage, wondering what that little kiss had meant.