Memories This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

Two teenagers held each other close, wrapped in a moment that only they could share. They boy kissed her forehead, and she kissed his temple. She nestled into his chest and he buried his face in her hair. They breathed each other in, never wanting to let go.

“Never leave me,” he spoke suddenly, pulling away and holding her at arms lengths so he could look into her eyes.

“I promise,” she clasped her arms around his neck and his arms linked around her waist, pulling her closer. They shared a kiss, a kiss full of hope, full of promise.

“I love you, Addalyn,” he whispered as they hugged again.

“I love you, too, Sawyer,” she whispered back.

They kissed once more, before falling asleep under the stars. Little did they know, it would be their last. She was only fourteen, and he was only fifteen, but their love was something lasting
*4 Years Later*

A young man of nineteen looked up from his pizza to the sound of jingling as the parlor door swung open. A family of five walked in. The kids were all young, the oldest no more than five. The man was in his early forties. He looked far too old to be the father of those kids. The young man felt immediate distrust toward him.

But then the woman captured his eye. She was young, too young for three kids. Looking at her tired face, he briefly met her hazel eyes, feeling a flicker of the boy he'd been, looking into those eyes. He shook his head to clear it. There's no way it could be her. She'd been gone for far too long.

Thinking of her brought up memories he'd suppressed for years, memories he's clutched to and cried over. Memories of her. Memories of them.

Four years ago, he'd been on Cloud Nine. He'd been in love with a girl how could only have dreamed of having. She had been beautiful, smart, perfect, and completely unaware of it. It had always amazed him that over every guy who had a crush on her, she choose him. Him, the awkward, geeky soon-to-be junior. They'd had a summer together. One magical summer, two beautiful months, two teenagers in love.

The last time he'd ever seen her was that last night, when they'd fallen asleep under the stars together. Peace, quiet, and her. The three things he'd loved the most, with her the most. He'd fallen asleep looking at her peaceful, dreaming face. She looked so much different, so much younger. She always tried to carry the world on her shoulders, taking in the sorrows and woes of the ones she loved the most, turning them around, and giving them back only love and joy. It was harder on her than she would ever admit, but she still did it. Sleep was her only refuge. And looking at her now, the small wrinkled around her young eyes were gone. She looked younger, more carefree.

Next thing her know, she was being pulled out of his arms roughly, with no concern for her safety. The last time he'd seen her face was as her eyes widened in fright as she was thrown into the back of a wan, too scared to scream.

He'd caught a glimpse of the man taking her away, just the barest, fleeting look at the man's face. He would never forget that face. He'd given the report to the police, who seemed to believe he'd done it. False reports of him being abusive sprung up, and he nearly got arrested for abuse. Thankfully, the cooler heads prevailed and saw that he didn't do it. He never would have hurt the girl he loved.

He'd been on the lookout for that man ever since. That man had taken away the reason he braved the world each day. She was still the reason he kept living, in eternal bleeding hope he'd see her again. He didn't know what he'd do if he ever saw that man again.

Apparently, the answer was sit and stare, as that man walked into the same pizza parlor he was eating in. But that couldn't be her. That just couldn't be Addalyn. It had been four years already, and his hopes had been slipping. Four years was a long time to truly believe he'd find her again. But she was back, standing in front of him. Looking at her, he felt as he had four years ago. As if everything was made of gold and life was perfect.

Her face was more lined; her shoulders slumped. So different, yet exactly the same. The way she looked at those kids at her feet and on her hip in the same way she'd looked at the little kids she'd taken care of. There was the gentleness he'd always loved in the way she held the baby girl on her hip and in the way she directed the other two kids to a table, carefully keeping her small self between the man and them. And behind the timidness and broken will, there was still an immeasurable strength, buried deep. Hard to find, but still there. The real Addalyn was under the outer layer; she was just buried deeper than just anyone could see. Anyone but the man who loved her.

She caught him staring at her, drinking her in. The faintest glimmer of recognition flitted through her eyes, though the rest of her betrayed nothing. She dropped her gaze and her shoulders drooped infinitesimal amount more. He looked away as well, tracking her in his periphery.

She sat on the outer part of the booth, her hand casually resting on he edge of the seat. Addalyn began to slowly edge her hand off the seat, moving her fingers into the only polite sign language he could remember: “t.” That could only mean “bathroom.” Sawyer sat there, confounded, until he realized that she wanted to meet him there.

He put his drink down slowly, stood, and began his walk to the restrooms. As he walked past her table, he heard her say, “Honey, I'm going to take a short bathroom trip. I'll be right back.”

“You should have gone before you left, slut,” the man growled at her. “Go. You have five minutes.”

Sawyer felt his shoulders tense t the wretched man calling Addalyn a slut. The girl he loved was many things, but she was certainly not a that. She was as pure as a blanket of new snow, as beautiful as the setting sun. Never, ever that. He wanted to kill the uy then and there, but he kept walking. For Addalyn, he thought.

Sawyer rounded the corner to the bathroom doors, but instead of entering the men's bathroom, he waited for Addalyn to arrive. He closed his eyes, trying to calm his racing heart. What if it wasn't her? What if she didn't want to leave? What if she didn't love him anymore? Three years was a long time to love a guy she never saw.

No. He couldn't think like that. It was her, or she wouldn't have told him to come here. And he still loved her, so she had to still love him. They shared a heart, and shared a soul. They were the same person, living two lives. He still loved her, so she would still love him. He stayed there, eyes closed, until a voice interrupted his thoughts.

“Sawyer?” it said, flowing over his mind and cutting through his thoughts. His eyes flew open and lost his footing.

“Oof,” he exclaimed. “Ow.”

A hand reached it's way into his line of sight, but he didn't take it. “You idiot,” the beautiful voice teased.

“Addie? Is that really you? Tell me this isn't a dream,” he begged.

“Of course not, you goof,” she smiled, but it faded quickly. “We don't have much time. If I'm not at the table in five minutes or less, he'll be mad and come and find me. And I don't want to leave the kids alone with that monster.”

“How do we get you all out of here?” Sawyer asked, concerned.

“How can we get away? He'll kill me! Or worse, one of the kids. I have to keep the kids safe. I promised her I would. I can't go back on that. I can't break a promise to the dead,” Addalyn collapsed to her knees, bringing them to eye level.

“Come here, sweetie. Shh, shh, don't cry,” Sawyer opened his arms and motioned for her to sit beside him. She complied, folding herself into his arms, her body remembering exactly how to lean into him and grab his far hand as his other arm reached around her shoulders. “Who did you promise?”

“Molly's mother. The girl before me. The last words she ever said were 'Take care of Molly, don't leave her. Please.' Then Jack walked in, and realized she'd found me. He beat her to death, right there in front of me. I'll never forget her, or my promise. I'll never leave Molly. I won't leave her to him. If I did, he'd abuse her. Better for it to be me than her,” Addalyn looked down and Sawyer's heat clenched at her words and at the single tear that ran down her cheek.

“Don't worry. I would never even dream of leaving you or the kids. As you're leaving, take the kids to the bathroom. My friend's working right now. He'll let us out the back way in the kitchen. My car's back there. I'll take you all to my parents' house. We'll take care of you, I promise,” Sawyer told her, squeezing her shoulder, her hand, and laying his cheek on her hair, pressing a quick kiss to the top of her head.

“Will it even work? Won't he notice?” she whispered.

“I'll call my brother, he's a cop now. He should be home. He'll be here soon,” he clambered up the wall, pulling her up and enveloping her in a tight hug. “You'll be okay. I won't let you go now. Not when I just got you back.”

“Sawyer?” Addalyn asked quietly, wrapping her arms around his waist.

“Yeah?” he whispered, pulling her even closer.

“Even after all this time,” she paused, “I love you.”

“I love you, too. You go on out. I'll go talk to my friend and call my brother,” he pulled away and pressed a kiss to her forehead. With one last look into her eyes, he broke away and turned into the kitchen. After he shut the door behind him, he yelled “STEVE!”

A tousled mop of blonde blonde hair poked itself out of an office door. “Dude, what's got you all riled up? You pizza go cold?”

“Do you remember my old girlfriend? From before you moved here?” Sawyer asked, not even noticing the jib.

“Yeah, I've found you crying over her. Not easy to forget, dude,” Steve pointed out. “you need to come in here and cry again?”

“What? Oh, no. We just need you to be ready to let us out the back. She's here tonight, and I'm getting her and the kids out. But I need you to let is out back. Please, I can't lose her again. I lost her three years ago because I was stupid and didn't save er. I don't know if I'll ever see her again. Please, Steve, please,” Sawyer plead.

“What?! She's here?! With kids?!” Steve clamored. “Dude!”

“Steve-”

“What if one of them is yours?”

“Steve-”

“Dude! This is crazy!”

“STEVE!” Sawyer yelled over his friend. “The kids aren't mine. Will you let us out?”

“Of course, what are friends for? I'll go bring your car around back. Give me five,” Steve lost the craziness and somehow knew exactly what his best friend needed.

Sawyer tossed him the keys and pulled out his phone. Dialing the number, he ducked into Steve's office. “James? Damn it, man! Pick up!”

“Sawyer? What's up, dude?” James finally picked up.

“I need you to get down here, please. Addalyn's here. We need someone with the authority to nab him,” Sawyer told him.

“Sawyer, I'm with Laura right now. I can't-” James fell silent. “Did you say Addalyn?”

“Yes! Do you need to get your ears checked?! She is in the same building as me and I'm going to get her out of here. But I need your help. I don't know if he is armed, but he's still dangerous. Help, please,” Sawyer plead.

“We're getting in the car right now. Give us ten minutes. Talk to Laura,” James told him, the sound of car doors being slammed in the background.

“Sawyer?” a woman's voice asked.

“Laura? Is that you?” Sawyer asked in reply.

“Yes, it's me. You just have to stay calm. We'll be there soon. We'll get Addalyn out. Don't you worry your hear over that,” Laura soothed. “I never knew her well. Tell me about her.”

“Addie's, well, she's as perfect as a girl can get. But she's never had any clue about it. She could only find faults no one could see. She never believed me when I told her she was beautiful. Not once. She was completely oblivious of the hold she held on everyone. Half the guys in our school had a crush on her at one point, and a few girls did too. And somehow, I was the one she liked that way,” Sawyer paused, trying to stay calm and find some strength. Addalyn. “She was the est person, the strongest, and the most loyal. She'd give it everything she had, and ask absolutely nothing in return. She'd run herself ragged making sure everyone was alright and happy, only to cry herself to sleep at night. I know she didn't think it was ever right of her to call someone and burden them with her troubles. She never really understood that we al cared about her the way she cared about us. I loved her four years ago, and I love her now. I'm not leaving her or Molly or the boy of the baby girl behind. Not with that man. I could never,” Sawyer fell silent, lost in the memories of a brighter time.

Laura interrupted his reverie to ask, “Kids?! She has kids?!”

“Two, and a girl she takes care of. Addie's the only reason the kids aren't beat. They have to come too. I won't leave them behind,” Sawyer told her fiercely.

“Did you tell James? You didn't, did you? That's a bing thing, little man. I'll tell him now. We're about to pull in. We'll wait back here though. See you soon, Sawyer,” Laura told him before hanging up.

Looking around Steve's office, Sawyer's eyes fell on the photo's on his desk. If they hadn't been best friends, Sawyer never would have gone to look at them. Granted, Steve'd shown him most of them already. Here was the picture of the two of them at some camping trip after junior year. They were smiling and laughing, but Steve looked like he was holding Sawyer up and Sawyer himself looked teary. The next was of them at Steve's house before Steve left for prom. Little had Sawyer known then, but Steve'd rented him a tux, gotten him a date, and bought him the tickets. The mystery date had turned out to be a nice, average girl, not too loud or too annoying. The prom itself was fun, and not a total flop. There was another picture of prom, one of Steve and himself. Then there was one of the two of them in their caps and gowns at their high school graduation.

All those were expected, and they'd been there before. But there was a new one, one Sawyer had never looked at before. He'd always written it off as private, and had never really looked at it. But his hand moved to the frame and lifted it up to look at it. It looked like a photo of Steve's family, a group of cousins from the relative ages. The weirdest part of the perfectly normal picture was one of the redheaded girls. She was petite, with startling green eye and calm red curls; her skin was as pale as the full moon. It was Addalyn. What was Addalyn doing in a picture of Steve's family?

Sawyer sat there, lost in though until a faint knocking brought him back. A soft “Damn it, where are you?” brought him slowly to the hallway door. He opened it up, and Addie was standing there, clutching the little girl to her chest and holding tightly to the little boy's hand.

“Sorry, I couldn't wait, not knowing you'd save us. I took the kids. Can we get out of here now, please? You promised,” her face began to fall.

“STEVE!” Sawyer yelled over his shoulder.

“Coming!” he yelled back.

“Come on. Let's go. We can each carry a kid. It'll be faster,” Sawyer motioned for them to come inside the door, shutting it behind them. “STEVE! HURRY UP! Who wants to go with me and who's with Steve?”

“Dude, what's going-” he gulped, “on?” He stared at Addalyn. “Addie? Addie, is that really you?”

“Ste-eve?” Addalyn stared back, her beautiful green eyes widening.

Looking between the frozen pair, you could see slight resemblances between the two. Their long, pale, thin fingers, down to the shape of the nail beds. The curve of their lower lip was the same too. But the most unnerving of all was their eyes. They were the exact same shape, doe-eyed and round. The irises were the exact same shade of jade with the same chunk of emerald in their left eye. Even the flecks of different shades of green were in the same spots. It was freaky.

Next thing Sawyer knew, Addalyn and Steve were hugging each other fiercely but being careful not to harm the little girl. They broke the hug and Addalyn readjusted the girl on her hip.

“Well, well, well, who's this little cutie?” Steve asked, giving the little girl his finger to hold on to.

“This is my little girl, Shelby Hailey. Shelby, this is Uncle Steve,” Addalyn handed her to him, and he held her until Little Shelby began to reach for her mom.

“And who's this strapping young man?,” Steve asked, spying the small boy.

“This is my son, Sawyer Finn. And that's Molly. Now can we please get out of here?” she begged, looking at Sawyer.

Shaking his head to clear it once more, he nodded, grabbing the younger Sawyer's hand. “Steve, get Molly. And clear the kitchen. We don't want to take any chances. Let's go. We'll all fit in James's car.”

Steve ran off to tell everyone to close up in three minutes and go home early. Once he came back, he grabbed Molly's small hand. The group of six quickly made their way out the back door and piled into James's car. Sawyer Finn refused to let of of Sawyer's hand. The little boy's head began to droop and he fell asleep leaning on Sawyer's arm.

They'd been in the very back, with Molly, Addie, Shelby Hailey, and Steve in the middle row. Addalyn looked back at the two of them and smiled sadly.

“He looks like he'd be your little boy,” she said quietly.

“But he can't be, can he? Not that I remember,” Sayer said, turing cherry tomato red.

“You'll still a sweetheart, aren't you? Thank God for that,” she smiled a little more at his intense blush.

Silence reigned for a couple of minutes, until Sawyer finally found the nerve to speak. “Addie? Why did you name the little guy after me?”

“You had to ask, didn't you?” she sighed. “I named him after you because I still loved you. I loved you four years ago. I loved you three years ago, when this one was born. I loved you six months ago when Shelby Hailey was born. And I love you now, more than ever. I'll never stop loving you,” Addalyn whispered, reaching over the seat to hold Sawyer's free hand.

“I've always loved you, and I'll never stop either. I'll love you no matter where we are or how far away we are. I love you to the moon and back. I love you as much as the ocean is deep. I promise I'll be by your side no matter what life throws at us. Your heart is to mine as your life is to my life: forever connected. I never could leave you, much less want to,” Sawyer took a deep breath. “I love you.”

“I love you too,” Addalyn smiled and hand a tight squeeze.

“Okay, okay! We get it! You love each other! Now shut up, please. This is my cousin and my best friend, for God's sake!” Steve burst out, joking and teasing.

“Don't worry your blonde little head, Stevie-poo. We'll find you someone to love. Love you,” Addie teased.

Steve blushed and ducked his head, checking on Molly. The five year old had fallen asleep with her head on his lap, clutching at his right hand. He smoothed her hair away from her face. His face softened as he looked at the sleeping girl. All the goofiness was gone, as was the dorkiness. He was just Steve, a guy who really cared about this little girl he's just met and felt bad the first years of her life had been so bad.

Addalyn looked at the four of them and smiled indulgently. “Looks like you too have been adopted.”

“Tease us all you want, but maybe they're smart than you give them credit for,” Steve jibbed.

“Yeah! And besides, the little guy's adorable,” Sawyer smiled, smoothing the brown curls. He kept smiling until Addalyn's hand dropped his and her eyes widened in fright. “Addie? Addie, what's wrong?!”

“It-it's Ja-jack...” she stuttered.

Sawyer swore; he'd found them. “James!” he called softly. “Pull over! Our man found us!”

Jame swore as well, and pulled over in the nearest turn out. “Laura, please stay with Addie and the kids. Please. They'll beed you and I can't stand to see you hurt.”

“Of course I will. Take care, honey. Love you,” she said, and after giving him a kiss on the cheek, she hopped out so she could get in the back.

Steve jumped out, leaning Molly so she was leaning against Addie so he could let Sawyer out of the back. Getting Sawyer Finn to let go was nigh impossible, from the vise-like grip and the possessive hold. The little boy wouldn't let go, not until Laura had climbed in the back and gently replaces Sawyer's hand with her.

The three men leaned against the side of the car, each formidable in their own right, but together, they were a force to be reckoned with. The most dangerous part of it all wasn't their training in fighting, their strength, or their speed. No, it was the fire that raged inside of that against a man who had abused, beaten, and raped young girls. And one of them had been a girl they all loved, whether it was the love of his love, his cousin, or like a little sister. The three of them were willing to do whatever it took to take this vile excuse for a man down. Addalyn was family to all of them, and no one would ever be allowed to hurt their family.

The car pulled up beside them, and the first they heard was a deafening gun shot. So the man was armed.

“James? Got anything to help us out?” Sawyer asked.

“I'm a cop, aren't I? I'll check in the trunk,” he said, leaving Sawyer and Steve momentarily, only to come back with a handgun. “I've got this. The kids are awake now. The gun shot did it. The sick bastard must have done it to scare us.”

“Are they freaking out?” Steve asked.

“Shelby Hailey's crying, and so it Sawyer Finn. They can't get a response out of Molly at all. It's like she's frozen. Addie and Laura are keeping the quiet, or trying to at least,” James said, clipping on the holster belt and popping in an ammunition clip. “You guys ready?”

“As we'll ever be,” Sawyer said, planting his feet. Steve did the same.

A tall, brooding man stepped out of the gun smoke, shotgun in hand. A harsh, gravelly smoker's voice rasped out, “Give me the girl. Drown the brats, for all I care. Just give her to me. She needs to be punished.”

Sawyer stepped towards the man, Steve and James standing slightly behind him on either side. “No. We got her out of your clutched. There is no way we'd let her go back there. And as for the kids, they're gong to grow up loved in a home, by everyone there.”

“Who the hell do you think you are, to stand in between me and my property?” he growled.

“Her boyfriend.”

“Her cousin.”

“A cop with special, brotherly interest. Drop the gun. Now,” James leveled the gun at the man.

“A cop? You've got to be kidding me! Yeah right! Shoot, if you ain't scared. Ua got five seconds to shoot me and I won't shoot back,” Jack taunted. “Five, four, three, two...”

James held his finger to the trigger. If you didn't know him, you'd think he was nerveless. But Sawyer did know him, knew him well. His entire body was trembling slightly. You couldn't really tell but it was still there. He wasn't going to pull the trigger.

“One,” Jack rasped coldly, and the gun went off.

James still stood, not a drop of crimson red anywhere. Sawyer was fine as well. But the same couldn't be said for Steve. He was laying on the ground in a small pool of blood forming around his right leg. Sawyer dropped to his knees beside his best friend.

“Steve! Steve, speak to me!” Sawyer cried, vaguely registering the gunshot behind him. “Come one, Steve. You have to live! Addie needs you, Molly needs you, Sawyer Finn needs you, Shelby Hailey needs you, I need you. Please, Steve, please!”

Steve's eyes fluttered back open and he smiled weakly. “You can't actually mean all of that, can you?”

“Of course I do,” Sawyer told him warmly.

“I'm not gonna die, dude. It's just a leg wound. I'll live. Tie it up with something so I don't bleed out. Thanks, dude,” Steve smiled as Sawyer tied his own jacket tightly around the wound.

“Come on, man. Let's get you back in the car where it's safer,” Sawyer told him, hauling Steve to his feet. With Steve's arms around his neck, they made their way way back to James's car. Addie opened to door, and handed Shelby to Laura in the back. She lied Steve down on the middle bench, a few tears falling on his face.

“Addie, don't cry over me. I'm not dead or anything,” Steve teased weakly.

“Idiot,” she said, gripping his hands in both of hers. She turned to Sawyer, the strength he'd seen earlier in the pizza parlor was now at the front of her eyes, coupled with an intense anger. “Sawyer, let me out of the car.”

Everyone froze, but it was Steve who finally spoke, in his weakened voice. “Addie, no! You'll only be killed! Don't go out there!”

Steve's outcry brought Sawyer back to his sense, “Addie, are you crazy?! I just got you back! I'm not about to let you go out there now!”

“Please guys, I know how to end this. Let. Me. Out. Now,” she told them, fire in her voice.

As Sawyer began to move to move to let Addie by, Laura cried out. “You can't be serious! This is the woman you love, and you're about to let her to out there with the man who kidnapped her?”

“If she says she can, she can. I know Addalyn, and if she has an idea that she's planning on doing, she'll do it. And there'd be nothing I could do to stop her. I have to trust her with this. It'll kill me, to let her out, but I have to. I can't protect her from the the world, as much as I'd love to,” Sawyer said, looking Addie in the eyes, showing her how he felt about her leaving the relative safety of the car, but he still moved aside.

Addie climbed out of the car, but not before smoothing Steve's tears away gently. As she moved past Sawyer, she grasped his hand, pulling him with her. Halfway to james, she stooped and grabbed something Sawyer couldn't see off the ground. He didn't feel safe speaking. As they drew even with James, Addie called out in a high, clear voice:

“Stop. I'll go with you. Just don't hurt my family.”

She walked forward, purpose in her stride. Watching her walk away, Sawyer collapsed to his knees, and James laid a hand on his brother's shoulder. Burying his face in his hands, Sawyer cried heavily, unable to watch the love of his life walk to her certain doom. He pretended not to hear Jack's voice rasp out, telling her she was weak for little one set back send her running to him. He pretended not to her the slander thrown at her.

But he couldn't ignore her footsteps, moving away from him. He couldn't pretend not to hear the smack of flesh as Jack slapped her. Or the thump of her hitting the ground. But most importantly of all, he couldn't block out the unreasonably masculine scream emanating from in front of him.

James shook his shoulder vehemently, making Sawyer lift his head. Whatever he'd expected to be in front of him, it certainly wasn't the sight that greeted him. Addie stood over a fallen Jack, a shard of glinting glass in her hand. Dark crimson bloody dripped from the makeshift blade, falling to the pool that was spreading from Jack's fallen body. Addie breathed heavily, her chest heaving with every labored breath, as she stared down at the mess she had made. She forced her eyes from the morbid sight to look at Sawyer, apprehension lining her face. Her fingers dropped the shard as she stumbled towards him, tripping into his arms sobbing.

James hauled them both up and led them to the car. Laura had moved Steve to the back bench so she could tend to him. Addie and Sawyer sat down next to each other, and as soon as they'd settled, Addie leaning into him as she cried, little Sawyer Finn, carrying Shelby, crawled into their laps.

“You know what, Addie? I still can't get over how much he looks like me,” he told her as the little boy snuggled into him.

“Nor can I, nor can I,” she murmured. They sat in silence until she spoke again, “Hey, Sawyer? I have something I need to tell you.”

He squeezed her shoulder. “Of course, Addie. You can tell me anything.”

She drew in a deep breath. “I was going to tell you the day after I was taken, but-” she took another breath- “Sawyer's yours...”





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