Just Try and Kiss Me
It was hot.
The air felt especially sweltering in stark contrast to the cold warehouse Eena had been standing in a second ago. This was a new land, untouched by its healer. A quick glance at her surroundings revealed an accumulation of dead leaves and branches spread across flat terrain. A scarcity of trees pointed skyward across the scene, bare like toothpicks.
Eena dropped to the ground and pressed both hands against a knot of needle-thin twigs sticking out of the soil. On contact, she sensed the weakness of the flora as well as sadness for those plants that had died in her long absence. She called on the necklace attached below her chin—an heirloom referred to as the dragon’s soul—to shine and transfer healing energy to the dying plant life. Her arms warmed in the process; the heat spread to her fingers.
A circle of rich greens and browns bled outward from where her touch met the terrain, expanding and intensifying every passing moment. Exotic bushes thickened at the stalks, plump with gold and burgundy veins. Colorful fronds as delicate as silk threads pushed up from the tips of low-lying scrub. And scrawny trees climbed to new heights, swelling at their trunks while branches with curled leaves resembling kale jutted from every side.
The healer stopped short when she heard her name.
She winced at the scolding manner in which it was spoken.
“You do know that Naga is duty-bound to carry out your requests.”
Eena turned to her protector and grinned. She bit her lip when he frowned critically in response.
“Yes, I know,” she shrugged with nonchalance. Standing to meet his critical scrutiny, she defended her actions. “It’s not like Edgar doesn’t deserve it. The jerk deserves far worse.”
“Aren’t you worried even the tiniest bit about repercussions?” Ian asked, his brow line arching.
“No, I’m not.” She was being honest. Edgar had already proven he had too much of a crush on her to retaliate in any harmful manner. He wouldn’t want her to hate him for all eternity, would he?
Ian sighed at her thoughts. “You know, you’re not much good at making friends of enemies.”
“So what?” Her toes kicked at a pebble that soared out over the cliff’s edge. She watched it fall for the longest time before losing sight of it.
“So you seem to be too good at making worse enemies.”
“I never claimed to be Imorih’s pupil.”
“Obviously. But it wouldn’t hurt for you to reread the book.”
Eena shoved playfully at her criticizer, making him stagger a few steps backwards.
“Hey, I said you should make friends of enemies, not enemies of friends!”
He acted overly upset, so she laughed. Her response caused him to laugh as well, yet with sadness behind his smile. Eena noticed and apologized for an entirely different matter.
“I’m really sorry you were called away with me again.”
Ian stepped along the cliff’s shelf as it curved inward. His best friend walked beside him, keeping a sauntering pace.
“Don’t be sorry; I was expecting it. Besides, it’s better than listening to Nischeen cry all day.”
Eena sighed, feeling bad for him.
(Just stop it, will you?)
She was stung by his curtness. Her eyes turned up in question, catching a deepening frown as Ian explained himself telepathically.
(I’m just sick of people feeling sorry for me,) he complained. (Everyone feels such enormous pity.....that’s not what I want. I hate it.)
(Maybe not everyone,) Eena suggested.
Ian’s eyes grew big, emphasizing his certainty. (Yes, everyone! I can read minds, remember? The whole darn city pities me. I don’t need it. I don’t want it, so stop it! Just stop it!)
Eena grew defensive and struck back. (If you hate it so much, quit reading our minds! We never asked you to intrude on our personal thoughts.)
(You’re right, Eena.) Ian’s head hung as he apologized. ( I’m sorry.)
Still a bit offended, she grumbled a reminder. (You’re the one who said you wouldn’t judge me for my thoughts, remember? Getting angry because I feel for you, because I care—that’s judging me, Ian. )
(I know, I know. You have a right to think and feel whatever you want to. I guess I should be glad that you care.) He didn’t sound all that convincing.
Eena thought for a moment. (You would pity me. I know you would, if I were to lose Derian.)
He didn’t comment.
(And I would probably hate your pity too,) she mumbled, trying to understand his feelings.
Ian snickered in her mind. Her eyebrows lowered instantly.
(I know you better than that, Queenie. You would love how sorry I felt for you. In fact, you would cry your eyes out balled up in my arms, soaking up every bit of sympathy I could manage for your loss.) He quickly added, (Not that I want anything to happen to Derian. I mean….you know….Derian’s not the one I’m worried about.)
(You worry for me?)
(Very much. Nothing can happen to you; I can’t lose you too.)
(You won’t.) It was an empty promise. She reached for his hand, and he accepted, squeezing once on her fingers before letting go.
They walked along the cliff’s rim in silence, lost in mingled thoughts. The wind blew constant against their faces. It was more than a light breeze, yet it offered relief from the heat. The sky grew darker each moment as a sinking sun slowly disappeared off to their side. The sunset was beautiful—a rich, striking crimson.
(Do you have any idea where we are?”) Eena eventually wondered, noticing how the cliff seemed as endless as the rough waters surrounding them.
(I don’t,) Ian admitted.
She imagined it didn’t really matter to him, especially with the dismal thoughts occupying his mind. It occurred to her that his parents might miss him again. Surely Gaila would be livid over what she'd perceive as Eena’s selfish consuming of her son’s time. Perhaps Edgar could be convinced to send him home.
(I don’t want to go back,) Ian said. (My parents won’t miss me for a while. I told them I was taking a walk around Lacsar Grounds. They’ll expect me to be gone for hours.)
(When they find you missing, your mother will…)
(I’ll explain it all to her eventually. She’ll get over it.) Ian addressed the real worry on Eena’s mind. (She doesn’t hate you. Mom’s just hurting. She doesn’t know who to blame, so she’s lashing out at you in behalf of Angelle.)
(In behalf of her?)
(Yes. Mom’s been thinking a lot lately about how she was left alone while Father spent his days at Sha Tashi’s side. It was okay when I was young, but after you were born, I started accompanying my father. Mom felt abandoned. She envied Sha Tashi for seeing more of us than she did. It bothers her that Angelle died alone while I was off with you—another Sha. Mom’s reacting personally to it, standing up for Angelle in a way she never did for herself.)
(I guess I can understand how she must feel. I would probably be envious too. I know I would want my husband’s time and attention.)
(And you’ll have it,) Ian informed her. (Derian thinks of almost nothing else but you.)
(I doubt that,) Eena disagreed. (He spends the majority of his time with the council.)
(Not these days. He’s been trying his best to avoid Jorban so he doesn’t have to explain your situation.)
Eena was confused by this news. (But I thought he was determined to tell the council everything. He told me he was going to ask for their help. He’s already informed Jerin and Marguay.)
(Yes, but Edgar threatened him since then.)
(Edgar told Derian that he’d never see you again if he breathed a word of what he knew to the council. He basically warned the captain to keep his mouth shut or else. The threat was enough to scare him.)
(Is that why Derian came seeking me back in Gabert Forest? Is that why he’s so paranoid of losing me?)
(It’s got a lot to do with it, yes,) Ian nodded.
Eena balled her hands into tight fists. (That dirty little twit! That jerk! I’ll kill him!)
(Hey, hey, Eena, clam down.) Ian held up a halting palm. (This is exactly why I don’t tell you things. You go spouting off prematurely before thinking things through.) He shook his finger at her as he warned, (You can’t breathe a word of this to Edgar, or Derian will end out paying for it.)
Eena slouched—deflated and defeated. Still strolling with her friend, she sighed, (You think I’m reckless, don’t you.)
(You’re impetuous, that I know—which is the reason Naga’s chasing after Edgar’s derriere right now.)
She tried not to laugh at the thought.
(Eena, most of the time it’s no big deal. But sometimes the wellbeing of others is at stake. You have to consider the potential consequences—think it completely through—before you act.)
She believed he sounded just like Derian.
(Well, sometimes Derian is right.)
(Okay, okay, I see your point,) she gave in, (but Edgar really does deserve a good, solid bite on the butt.)
Ian couldn’t keep from grinning. (Perhaps. However, it would serve you much better to stay on his good side. I know he’ll forgive you for what you’ve done; I read it in his thoughts. He’s infatuated with you, and I hate it.) Ian grimaced distastefully. (And yet…..it’s probably good in a way. He’s determined to protect you from Anesidora’s wicked temper, despite your own attempts at getting yourself in trouble. He won’t tell his sisters about your recent discussion with Naga. He’s decided that.)
Ian stopped walking and turned to face his queen. His voice lowered to a more serious tone and his countenance sobered to match.
(In all honesty, Edgar may prove to be the one person who manages to keep you alive through all this. I’d like to think it would be me…) He trailed off, shaking his head at his own unvoiced concerns. (Let’s just hope, for all our sakes, Edgar stands up to his sisters if it comes down to that.)
Eena knew Ian was aware of the immortal’s offer, and she reminded him, (He would take the necklace from me now if I agreed to his terms.)
Ian objected, perhaps too emphatically. (No, Eena! I don’t mean for him to help you like that; you can’t leave us. What I mean is, if we don’t find some other way out of this and you’re forced to free his sisters, I hope he steps in and protects you.)
She couldn’t help but conjure up Ascultone’s fatal prediction. Neither said a word about it.
“It’s getting dark,” Ian finally announced aloud. “The moon isn’t up yet, which means its gong to be impossible to see anything soon.”
Eena glanced beyond the waters at a slivered crescent of crimson sun, the only bit of daylight still showing. It wouldn’t take long for the sea to swallow it up.
“Maybe we should start a fire.”
The pair gathered armloads of wood—dead twigs and branches that had accumulated over the years. This natural compost seemed to cover the landscape fairly thickly. Eena imagined the powerful ocean winds had torn these brittle limbs off the wilting trees.
“Over here!” Ian called. “We can camp here tonight.”
The young protector had found a small cluster of timbers grown tightly together. It would act as a decent wind break and good back support.
Ian cleared a wide area of all but the soiled ground. Then he broke apart some of their collected firewood and piled it into a nice, high mound. Eena took over from there, using her powers to create enough spark to start a small campfire. The air cooled quickly with the setting sun, and both companions were grateful not only for the light of the fire but for its warmth.
They sat in silence beside one another, staring at a circle of dancing flames. The periodic spit of sparks wasn’t enough to break their trance. They were absorbed in thought, although Eena was aware Ian could hear hers. She wished their mind link worked both ways so she could listen in on his concerns as well. It didn’t seem fair.
What a stupid thing to think—that life should be fair.
Inhaling a breath of smoke-scented air, Eena pulled her knees in close and laid her chin on crossed arms. Her head inclined just enough to watch Ian stare at a billion stars above. To her they were unfamiliar constellations.
Wondering what was on his mind, she wasn’t surprised to hear him respond to her curious thoughts. In a faraway voice, he asked a question.
“Where is she, Eena? I mean, where do the good spirits go when they’re done here?”
She sighed solemnly before answering, hoping he didn’t take it as a sign of pity. “I don’t know, Ian. Some say our spirits go to a paradise where all good people live together. Others say we just dissipate—cease to exist entirely.”
It was quiet again as Ian continued to stare up at the night. A sudden popping from the campfire blew up a bright puff of orange sparkles. The light reflected off of Ian’s face, highlighting shimmering streaks along his cheeks. Eena realized her best friend was crying. She lifted her head and scooted close enough to slide her arm around his. Not knowing what to do or say, she laid her head on his shoulder.
Ian didn’t react to her closeness. She kept her cheek warm against his arm until he uttered another heartbreaking question.
“Why did she have to die?”
Eena offered her best answer. “All I know is everyone dies at some point. It’s unavoidable. It’s a part of life we have to pass through.”
“No, that’s not true,” he disagreed, shifting his weepy eyes to look down at her. “Your stupid immortal friends will never die. They just keep living on and on and on……screwing up the lives of those with terribly limited days. And the worst part is, they don’t even appreciate what they have. To never suffer the loss of a loved one. To never have to hurt this way.”
“They don’t appreciate it, Ian, because they can’t possibly understand it. It’s outside their experience.” She reached for his trembling hand, sandwiching it between her own. “In a way, I think it makes us far better people than they are.”
“Why do you say that?” he asked. He watched the way her hands gently caressed his own. Tears continued to glide silently down his cheeks.
“Well, the fact is, we can appreciate all life has to give because we know how fleeting it is. It makes us grateful and more compassionate, kinder and wiser.”
“Wiser,” he groaned.
“Yes, Ian,” she said, squeezing his hand tenderly, “because we’re able to learn from tragedy and the consequences that stem from it.”
“So, what exactly have I learned from losing Angelle?” His eyes squinted at the question.
“You’ve learned to never take love for granted, but to appreciate every moment you have with the ones you love.”
“That’s great,” he exclaimed sarcastically. His hand pulled away from hers and he wiped the wetness from his cheeks. “And what good does it do me now? To learn this powerful lesson and not be able to make use of it? She’s gone, Eena! She’s gone forever!” The intensity of grief in his voice made her want to cry right along with him, but she swallowed back the tears.
“I know. That’s the sad irony of life. Once you finally get it……it’s over.”
“So what good is it then? What good is living if you lose everything in the end?”
“I know, Ian, it doesn’t make any sense.” She grabbed onto his arm, pushing it to make him look at her. She understood how desperate he was for answers. “That’s why I can’t believe death is truly the end for us. Everything we’ve learned here, all we’ve become, all we’ve accomplished……it must serve a purpose somehow, somewhere. I can’t believe life truly ceases once we die. Angelle is still out there; I know it. I’m sure of it.”
“Then I want to go with her, Eena,” he cried. “Let me go with her.”
She rose to her knees and took her best friend in her arms, hugging him as securely as she could. He grabbed onto her like he would never let go.
She rose to her knees and took her best friend in her arms, hugging him as securely as she could. He grabbed onto her like he would never let go.
“I don’t want you to leave, Ian. I still need you here.”
“You have Derian.”
She felt the guilt stab at her. “I know,” she whispered. She thought it sounded far too much like an apology.
Ian held on, silently crying within her embrace. Eena stroked his dusty hair as quiet tears wet her face. When he pushed himself away, quickly wiping his cheeks and focusing back on the night’s sky, she tried not to be offended at the feeling of rejection that lingered. She knew this was hard for him to deal with. It was hard for her too, but her arms found their own comfort wrapping themselves snugly around bent legs. She rested her head sideways on her knees to watch her best friend. His somber voice broke the silence again.
“It’s bad enough that she’s dead, that I’ve lost her for good. It’s even worse that I wasn’t there with her when it happened. I should’ve been there.” His head shook, tremulously. “But what really eats at me is the fact that I didn’t even have a clue she was in trouble. I didn’t sense anything, not even the slightest twinge of uneasiness. How the hell could I not have known she was in trouble?”
His gaze all of a sudden fastened onto Eena with surprising intensity. She lifted her head, but all she could do was shake it uselessly back and forth until he looked away. He went on talking, anger heightening in his voice.
“There I was living it up, laughing along with the Grotts, while Angelle was all alone, drowning. How could I have not sensed it? How could I have not known that my promised one was in trouble? How could someone I love be suffering—dying—and I not feel anything?”
“I was with the Grotts too, Ian. I didn’t know she was in trouble either.”
He shook his head, dismissing her attempt to ease his burden of guilt. “It’s not the same,” he argued. “You weren’t in love with her.”
Ian interrupted, stopping Eena mid-sentence. His eyes squinted as they turned on her again. “I would’ve known if it had been you.”
They stared at each other for the longest moment.
Her utterance broke their trance. “Not necessarily.”
Ian’s brow furrowed, questioning her comment.
“You were asleep when Ascultone almost killed me.”
The way his countenance fell rueful made her sorry she’d reminded him of the incident. She apologized. “I didn’t mean anything, Ian, just that, well, you can’t be aware of every bit of suffering another person goes through, no matter how much you love them.”
“I would know if you were dying,” he insisted. “I would know.”
She exhaled heavily. “Only because we’re connected. Normal people aren’t that way. Derian would never know.”
“No, he wouldn’t,” Ian agreed.
“But if something ever did happen to me, he’d feel guilty—just like you, Ian. It’s normal.”
She watched her best friend draw in a deep breath and exhale. “Yeah, he would,” Ian finally decided.
The conversation ended. All was silent excepting the far-off sound of waves crashing against jagged rocks at the bottom of the cliff. It was growing chillier by the hour. Ian rose and tossed an armful of wood on the fire. It only took seconds for the flames to swell high and wild, greedily eating up the added fuel. He stood above the blaze, across from his queen. The heat seemed to reach up at him, threatening to burn his arms which were folded across his chest.
“You ought to get some sleep,” he said.
“I can’t sleep. I just woke up a few hours ago,” she reminded him.
She coiled her hair around a finger, watching her protector. His face looked angry illuminated by the orange firelight, but she blamed it on dark shadows that blackened every dint in his features.
“If I went to sleep, I’d just have nightmares anyway,” Eena said.
Ian’s eyes flickered at her for a second before returning to the fire. “It shocked me to see Angelle in your dream,” he admitted. “She looked beautiful.”
“Yes, she did. I don’t know how Anesidora managed that. You’d think if she could create such illusions she’d make herself look better.”
Ian actually chuckled. It was unexpected, and Eena glanced up as though checking to see if her ears had deceived her. She smiled, finding a softer look on his face.
“She is one ugly ghost, isn’t she?” Ian said.
“Frightfully ugly,” Eena agreed.
Quiet prevailed again. Eena hugged her knees as she stared blankly at the fire. Ian had planted his feet very close to the flames, viewing them from above. The predominate sound, a background murmur of sea water, captured Eena’s ears and she found herself thinking about her dream of the Oregon Coast. It had felt so real, as if she and Ian had been transported back to Earth—just two, good, high school friends, carefree and happy. Their problems had vanished for the hours they’d dreamt together. It had been lovely.
The young queen looked up again, checking on her best friend. His feet were still planted before the fire. One arm remained across his chest, but the other had lifted to cover his face with a guarding hand. Eena straightened up, watching him closely. She noticed how his hand trembled while at the same time his back seemed to shudder. She was certain he was crying.
Eena skirted the campfire in seconds. Not knowing if he would accept or reject her comfort, she wrapped her arms around his waist from behind, pressing a cheek against him.
“Oh, Ian. I’m so sorry,” she breathed.
It took a moment, but at last he turned around. His arms encircled her as she buried her head beneath his chin. The young protector broke down, sobbing much like he had at the morgue. She cried with him.
It was painful to experience the extent of his broken heart—the way he secured himself to her, gasping for breaths while mourning over his loss. All she could do was hold onto him as desperately as he held onto her. She wished for more options, for another way to ease the grief or heal his broken heart entirely. There was no easy fix……but there was a source of relief.
Eena pulled her hand in, pressing Naga’s ring against her lips. Her actions were too slow this time. Ian reacted immediately, snatching her by the wrist and stepping outside of reach. He held her hand up in the air between them as he objected staunchly.
“No! No, you’re not doing that to me again!” He wiped the blinding tears from his eyes with a free hand while protesting. “I understand why you did it the first time…..I lost control then. But you’re not putting me to sleep with that thing again.”
She pled with him, whining his name, asking him to surrender to sweet dreams.
“No, Eena! Don’t you dare kiss me! Sleeping isn’t going to solve anything. It won’t bring Angelle back, and it will leave you alone here without a protector.”
His eyes were moist but alert, keeping tabs on Eena’s every move. He wasn’t going to let those loaded lips near any part of him.
She tried to explain her motives. “I didn’t use the ring last time because you lost control but because you were hurting so badly. It’s hard for me to watch and feel how you suffer. This ring will offer some relief from that.”
She took a step forward, but Ian yanked on her arm, forcing her to the side and away from the fire. She squealed at the unexpected twist of her wrist. Her eyes grew more incredulous when she realized Ian had sneakily pulled the ring up to his lips during the shuffle. He was armed with a sleeping kiss now too.
“Don’t you dare touch me with those lips!” she warned.
Ian challenged her as he declared, “If you try and kiss me, I swear I’ll kiss you first.”
She attempted a good, hard tug on her wrist, but he kept a firm grip. Then his eyes brightened with a notion.
“You know, I think the dragon’s kiss would be put to better use on you anyway. If I can keep the powerful Sha Eena asleep under its spell, those wicked, immortal sisters won’t get their hands on the remaining star points.” He pointed at her with his free hand. “You’re the one who needs a good, looooong nap.”
Afraid that he might actually attempt something, she used the dragon’s soul to send a mild electric shock to his gripping hand. He let go, shaking his fingers wildly in the air.
“Criminy, Eena, that smarted!”
“Just stay away from me,” she warned.
“Likewise,” he retorted.
They stood face to face, both folding their arms squarely across their chests.
“All I was trying to do was help you,” Eena pouted.
Ian repeated the same declaration. “And all I’m trying to do is help you.”
She rolled her eyes. “If you would just sleep, you’d feel better. Didn’t you have pleasant dreams last night?”
Ian shifted his weight onto one foot. “Yes, but that’s beside the point. You’re trying to make reality go away, but it won’t work. Angelle’s not coming back and I have to face it. I can’t hide from the real world.”
“I know, but…” she stepped toward him.
He retreated with a backwards scuttle. “Stay back,” he warned.
His actions just managed to peeve her, and she defiantly took two giant steps forward.
Circling to the opposite side of the fire he told her, “I’m faster than you are, Queenie. You better knock it off or my lips will be on your cheek before you know what hit you.”
The threat did nothing but provoke her competitiveness. “You are not faster than me; I always beat you in every race we ever had on Earth. I was the first one to school, the first one home, and the first one to the top of the hill every night.”
“That’s only because I was being a gentleman,” he contended.
“Oh, convenient excuse,” she groaned. “I’d have beaten you anyway.”
He laughed once. “Never!”
With that, she took off after him, rounding the fire as he did. When she stopped, he stood across from her with a smug grin on his face. Her eyes narrowed as she doggedly tried the other direction, halting abruptly to twist and reverse course. Ian copied her moves perfectly, keeping himself lined up across the fire at every step.
Eena reacted to an idea the very second it struck, not allowing her competitor a chance to counteract. His leg was bound and secured by a nearby tree root before he could growl.
Eena was standing before him in a flash. The root released its hold as they wrestled, struggling to keep the other person’s lips away from any area of exposed skin. When Eena’s mouth reached for the hand securing her wrist, Ian pulled both their arms down forcefully, taking the opportunity to lean in. His lips pressed against his queen’s forehead. There was a split second of sheer surprise when he felt her lips touch the side of his chin at the very same instant. They fell to the ground mingled in a dead sleep.
It seemed as if they were forgetting something important.
“Did you remember to do your homework?” Sevenah asked her best friend. It was the most likely thing to have forgotten.
Standing outside the white gate to her front yard, she rummaged through her backpack to find her physics assignment completed and tucked away in a green folder. Satisfied, she handed her backpack over to Ian. He slung it across his shoulder, careful not to mess up his place in the paperback book his fingers had propped open.
“What homework?” Ian said, a culpable grin on his lips.
“I don’t know why you even bother going to school,” she grumbled. “You should put down those sci-fi stories and pay attention to the real world now and then. How do you ever expect to get into college?”
“Sorry, Mom. I’ll try to do better, I swear.” Ian held his free hand up—a mocking vow. He chuckled when she rolled her eyes.
Side by side they stepped down the dirt road that led to Royal City’s high school. It was Friday. Sevenah loved Fridays because her parents relaxed on curfew and she could spend more time with Ian and her other friends. She was excited to get past the day’s big test and on to the football game they’d be attending that evening.
“Hey!” Ian’s voice pulled her from her thoughts. “I’ll race you to school. I’ll even give you a head start this time,” he offered.
“Like I need a head start against your skinny legs,” she teased.
The next thing he knew she was tearing down the dirt road, kicking up a trail of dust behind her.
“You cheater!” he called out. Ian smiled big, allowing a sizeable gap before stepping into a run himself.
He caught up with her five minutes to the school, and they raced side by side until the familiar gold-brick building drew near.
Then both runners took off in a deadlock sprint. Sevenah barely won…..again.
Copyright 2014 Richelle E. Goodrich
Copyright 2014 Richelle E. Goodrich