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I dropped the bananas onto the sand and sighed, sweat coating my forehead. I pulled off my t-shirt and dunked it in the ocean, then placing it on the back of my neck, cooling the skin. Ahhhh. It felt great.
Infinity had mentioned to Roman that they were a bit short on food, as they hadn’t been expecting, um, “company” was the word she’d used.
I’d asked what I could do to help. When she told me I could collect bananas from a few dozen trees about a mile away, the sun had just been rising on the windy beach. I had been happy to help.
But here I was, probably around noon, the sun beating down hard on my back. I gathered up the fruit and made my way back to the village in the trees.
I assisted Roman in heating the old pan over an outdated stove with two gas burners in the little kitchenette-type space.
“Nooo!” I cried. “Roman, you’ll burn yourself!” I smacked his hand away from the flame.
He smiled sheepishly. “Sorry. The fire doesn’t look real.”
I rolled my eyes and leaned up against the little counter. I grinned. “The flame doesn’t look real? Do you wanna touch it; make sure it is, then? Will that satisfy you? Huh? You need to burn your hand before you believe that we’re using a gas stove to cook pancakes?” I challenged. He cocked his head to the side, thinking. I elbowed him playfully in the gut. “Jesus, I was kidding. I can’t believe you’re actually considering it!” He smiled and spun around so that he was caging me in against the countertop. I rolled my eyes. “I’m not gonna let you touch-“ His hands roamed, twirling strands of my hair in his fingers. He traced kisses up my neck. “Oh… Oh, I guess you can touch there, then.”
I heard a small chuckle escape him.
We were interrupted by a low groaning sound. Roman shook his head and glanced at the ground. ********** he mumbled, so softly that I could barely hear.
“What?” I demanded, pushing past him.
He grabbed my arm. “It’s Jace.”
“Is he…?” I didn’t want to say it. ****, I didn’t know how to say it.
He mumbled, “He’s human, Ava.”
“Then, let’s go!” I said, pushing past him with my shoulder. What the **** is he waiting for?
“Ava, you don’t-“ he began, but I was already out the door.
I know this might be asking a lot, but do me a favor. Trust me. I promise I won’t disappoint you. Trust me. I promise I won’t disappoint you. Trust me. Trust me. Trust me, Jace’s voice echoed in my head. I wasn’t sure why, but I had to get to him. He’d been out there all night. I was so scared, I thought. But what was I really scared of? Was I scared of the fact that Roman and Jace are shapeshifters; that their realities became, well, real to me? Or am I scared of… something else? I wondered, tears stinging my dry eyes. I came to a halt on the bridge, my arms flailing backwards and making a windmill-like motion to keep me from flying off the insecure platform.
Maybe I’m just scared of how I really feel for him… How I really feel for Roman and Jace, I thought. But what about Alex? If Roman hadn’t kidna- I mean, uh, brought me home- that night…. Alex and I eventually would’ve ended up together. Probably had a nice little family in a nice little town….
What if. There’s no use thinking about what ifs. They haven’t gotten me anywhere- never will.
I scanned the horizon, my eyes falling on a figure in the distance. Alex. But where the **** is Jace? I wondered.
I slid down the ladder and ran to meet Alex, sand kicking up behind me. Breathless, I said, “’Morning, Alex. Have you seen-“
He yelled, *************** He moved, his actions flashing, until I felt the impact of his body on my side, landing me in the sand- and a mouthful of it, too. Alex remained on top of me for a minute before slowly standing
I spit it out and demanded, “What the **** was-“
I rolled over and stood up, wiping my hands on my bare legs. I lifted my gaze. Where was- “Ava…” Alex’s voice sounded from behind me.
A groaning noise caught my attention. I felt a grasp on my ankle, sand rubbing against it. I bit my lip.
Finally, I looked down at Jace, who was helplessly staring into my eyes with a blank expression.
A sob escaped my lips. I covered my mouth with my hand, kneeling down on the ground. I pulled Jace up into a sitting position.
His gaze dropped. I put my fingers under his chin, a chilling electric feeling running through me. I tilted his face up. He refused to meet my gaze.
I leaned in and forced my lips onto his until he- finally- returned the kiss.
I pulled away. He couldn’t stop looking at me now, pure curiosity etched into every detail of his face.
“I never meant to hurt you, Ava. I love you so, so much. I was ready to kill myself when I realized I’d lost you after we capsized… I’m so sorry.”
I smiled. “Hey, it’s alright.”
“No. No, it isn’t. Maybe I sound like that annoying guy who tries to protect you from himself, but I don’t care. I don’t give a **** what anyone thinks- except you. But you can’t see it- me. **** it, Ava,” he whispered, “I practically hit you. I harmed you. I’ll never be able to forgive myself for causing you any harm ever. And y-you’re r-right. W-we sh-should’ve l-let you go h-home.” He was outright sobbing, then.
My heart tore into pieces for him. I’d caused him all this pain. Sure, he shouldn’t have hit me, but he hadn’t…meant…to.
“Jace, it’ll all be okay. I promise. Whatever happens, it’s gonna be alright,” I told him, pulling his head to my chest and shushing him like Alex had always comforted me.
I didn’t know why she was forgiving him. He’d been nothing but a ********* jerk to her. But I did see the hurt in Jace’s eyes. I could see how he was beating himself up for everything more than Ava ever could have.
Sure, I didn’t enjoy the idea of Ava hugging or kissing him right in front of me. But that wasn’t the point. The point was that I wanted Ava to be happy- whether it was with me or not.
I turned, picked up the rest of the bananas, and made the rest of the way back to the little village.
I could see her from where I was standing. One of the wonderful things of being on a flat, open beach, huh?
She and Jace were locked in an embrace. I felt anger. More than that though, I felt sadness. And exhaustion. How long had I been fighting this battle?
And how long have I mourned Natalie? Hundreds and hundreds of years? A month doesn’t exactly compare.
Maybe this all started because Ava looks like Natalie, I admitted. Well, that’s the understatement of the century- trust me, I’d know- because they could be twins. Well, you know, twins born a few hundred years apart.
Anyway, it might’ve started out that way, but…
I love her. I absolutely love her. And she tore my heart out and ripped it to shreds every time she gave another man a hug, every time she kissed someone else.
But I was willing to deal. I was willing to wait until she, too, realized that she loved me.
However, it was, of course, hard for me to fathom, how she might love a monster.
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