Authors: Brenda L. Harper
“Go help him,” she whispered.
You are my priority.
“He needs help. You go, or I will.”
Laughter echoed through her mind, but she felt the absence of the invisible entity as it did.
Dylan slipped her hand under the top of her broken coveralls and pressed her fingers into the gaping wound that lay across her ribs. She thought of Donna, of the way she healed the deep cut on Denise’s palm. She could see it in her mind’s eye, could see the wound stitching itself together with invisible needles and thread. Darkness threatened at the corners of her mind, the pain a red, throbbing thing that she could almost see pulsing at the edges of her closed eyelids. And then it slowly abated.
She felt hands on her, pulling her fingers from the wound on her side. She opened her eyes and found Wyatt kneeling over her, his hands tugging at her clothing. She let her hands fall, too exhausted to care anymore.
“You’re okay?” she asked.
“Fine. Better than you,” he said quietly.
“Gone.” He had her top pulled up and he was running his fingers over sensitive skin. She expected pain, but all she felt was an overwhelming need to sleep. “Where is it?” he suddenly asked.
“In the bedroom,” she muttered, thinking he was talking of the creature.
“No, your wound.” He studied her face. “There’s so much blood. You must be cut bad.”
Dylan ran her fingers over his, pushing them aside to feel her ribs where the gaping wound had been. There was nothing but smooth skin. She sat up a little, pushing, and looked for herself. Nothing. There was blood, still wet and sticky against her skin, but there was no wound.
“It was here,” she whispered.
“There’s nothing,” Wyatt said, his voice filled with wonder.
She looked up at him and saw fear slowly seep into those beautiful blue eyes. He stood and stepped back, but his eyes never left hers. “What the hell?” he whispered so quietly she almost didn’t hear him.
the voice said inside her head.
It’s as far from hell as one can get.
There was an awkwardness between them now.
They began walking again the following day, after they both had a full night’s rest and walked to a place Wyatt called a pond to refresh their water bottles. He barely spoke to her, only barking out orders, ignoring her many questions until she stopped asking them. That was three days ago.
Dylan found herself watching him. He confused her. There were so many things she didn’t understand about him, about his species. Why he fought for her, why he made her heart skip a beat when he looked at her in a certain way, why his silence made her feel like she did when Donna once got mad at her and refused to speak to her for a full day.
At night, sometimes, she thought about the young couple she saw in that vision of the city, of the way the man looked at the young girl, at the way he kissed her as though it was the only thing he truly wanted to do in that moment. She wondered what it would be like to have a man look at her in that way. What would it feel like to have a boy kiss her in that way? Was it as exciting as it looked?
She watched him now as he walked a few paces ahead of her. He had learned to slow his pace for her shorter legs, but she still preferred to walk a few feet behind him. It allowed her to watch him without him being aware. She noticed that when he knew she was watching him his movements would become awkward, clumsy. But when he didn’t know…there was a certain grace about him that she thought even he was unaware of.
She found she liked his hands. It was silly, she thought, to like something so common to all humans. But in the mornings, when he thought she was still asleep, she would see him sitting with his back to a tree, one of the books he managed to grab from the bookstore in his hands. She liked to stare at his hands, liked the long, slender fingers, the thick vein that ran diagonally across his left hand, the darkness of his skin and the thick places that suggested hard work. She liked the power she knew those hands contained. She had seen him break thick pieces of wood in two with those hands, had seen him practice with his long weapon—the samurai sword, he told her it was called—seen him soothe a writhing animal seconds before he snapped its neck.
Such power in those hands. And yet, such gentleness.
Sometimes, in the darkness of the night, she saw similar hands moving over the young woman’s head and imagined Wyatt’s hand doing the same to her.
It made her feel funny, those thoughts. Made her belly feel as though she had a bad case of indigestion coming on.
But she kept thinking them anyway.
“Look!” he suddenly called to her.
Dylan picked up her pace and moved beside him. “What?”
He gestured out in front of them. It took a second, but Dylan finally saw it. Sunlight reflecting off of water. Lots of water.
“It’s huge!” she said.
They looked at each other, and then, as though at some cue, they both began to laugh and run at the same time. It was a race, like the games they played during celebrations in the dorm compound. He won, thanks to his longer, more powerful, legs. But Dylan was close behind. Without a thought, she stripped out of her clothes and jumped into the water, the sensation of the coolness washing over her body the most pleasure she had felt in a long time.
Wyatt joined her, splashing water in her face as she came up for air. She laughed and splashed him back. He grabbed her shoulders and pushed her under the water, his laughter filling the air when she came up again. She kicked her feet in his direction and swam deeper into the water, moving to a place where she could no longer feel the thick, silky mud between her toes.
Wyatt followed, but stayed back out of her reach. He rolled onto his back and floated in the sun, allowing water to fill his mouth before spitting it high into the air. Dylan laughed again when a thin rainbow of colors sprouted from the fountain he created.
“Are there other places like this?” she called to him.
“A lot,” he said. “Not so many in this area, but if we went north, we would find dozens of lakes like this one. Or if we went south, or west, we would eventually come to the ocean.”
“What’s an ocean?”
He glanced over at her. “They don’t teach you geography?”
The puzzled look on Dylan’s face must have answered his question. He shook his head, a look of irritation entering his eyes for a brief second. “I keep forgetting where you come from,” he said quietly.
She swam closer to him. “What is an ocean?” she asked again.
“It’s a huge body of water that surrounds the continent.” He held up his hands, moving them several feet from one another. “There are seven continents…land masses…that make up the world. Surrounding each of them is ocean, bodies of water that are filled with salt and fish and many other creatures.”
“But they are thousands of miles wide and many miles deep.”
Dylan took a long swallow of the clear, blue lake water. “They had so much,” she said quietly.
“The people before us.”
Wyatt rolled onto his back again and stared up at the sky. “Makes you wonder what started the war, doesn’t it?”
“We were taught that it was a lack of love that began it.”
He glanced back at her. “I think it had more to do with a love of material things. And the fact that there were so many people.”
“They were fighting over stuff?”
“I don’t know. Maybe.”
“I can’t imagine that.” Dylan rolled onto her back, too, trying to imitate Wyatt’s float. He glanced at her and nearly choked on the water that he had allowed to fill up his mouth in anticipation of making another of his fountains. She glanced at him, but he had turned and was swimming a few feet from her.
She lay back, enjoying the dual sensations of cool water on her skin and the heat of the sun on her face and her chest. She ran her hands slowly over her breasts and down her belly, her eyes closed as she welcomed the heat of the sun as it glowed a soft orange against her eyelids.
“Don’t do that.”
She opened her eyes and glanced to where Wyatt had been, but he was no longer there. She rolled over, her legs floating down beneath her as she began to tread water. He was on her other side, watching her with just his nose above water.
“What was I doing?”
He didn’t answer.
He turned and began swimming toward the shore.
“I’m going to fill the water bottles,” he called over his shoulders. “We still have several hours of daylight. We should keep moving.”
“Why don’t we just camp here for the night?”
He glanced back at her, but didn’t turn. He was naked, just as she was. As he continued to walk on the soft mud that marked the edge of the lake, she had an unfettered view of the length of his back, of the top of his thighs. Muscle rippled with each movement in a way that was not always obvious when he was fully dressed. It also exposed varying degrees of darkness on his skin. His arms and shoulders, his long, slender back, were a dark bronze, while his legs were a pale peach that was similar to her own coloring.
She wondered what caused that.
“We should get going,” he said.
Dylan stayed in the water, determined to enjoy the coolness for as long as she could. She had already tired of the constant heat of the day. As curious as she was about the place where Wyatt came from, as much as she wanted to know the people who made up his family unit, she wanted to enjoy this. There was no telling when they would find such a body of water again.
She swam for a while, taking long, even strokes across the calm surface of the water. She moved far out into the center of the lake and lay on her back as she had seen him do, staring up into the sky as though the answers to all her questions would be written there. And then she rolled over and floated on her belly, staring into the depths of the crystal clear water and watched the fish move around below her as though oblivious to her presence above them. She wondered if there was someone in the heavens above her, someone who watched her and Dylan the same way she watched the fish. If so, what did they think of her? Of all the people struggling to survive in this damaged world.
When she looked back toward the shore, Wyatt was standing in the center of the mud, watching her. She waved, but he didn’t wave back.
“Be like that,” she whispered as she began another long, luxurious stroke across the lake’s surface.
She walked out of the water, resigned to his determination to move on. Wyatt tossed her clothing at her, turning his head away as he did.
“Why do you do that?”
“Refuse to look at me? It’s not like you didn’t see me naked the first time we met.”
“Men aren’t supposed to look at naked women.”
He didn’t answer. Dylan was tired of him ignoring her. She yanked on her clothes, the pants and shirt, as he had told her they were called. When he said it, she recalled reading these words in a book. She felt dumb for not putting it together before. The memory of it only fueled her anger.
And then she stomped up to him.
“I don’t like it when you do that.”
He turned and looked at her, surprise clear in his eyes. “Do what?”
“Refuse to answer my questions. It’s not my fault where I come from. It’s not my fault they didn’t teach me the same things you know.”
“I know that,” he said quietly.
“Then why do you keep refusing to answer my questions?”
“Some questions are hard to answer,” he said, stepping back slightly as color rushed into the skin on his face.
“What’s so hard about it?”
He stepped back again. “Relationships between men and women,” he said, gesturing between them. “They’re complicated.”
He groaned. “They just are.”
She stepped closer to him and laid a hand on his chest. He had pulled on his pants, but his chest was still bare. The feel of skin on skin was almost as pleasurable as jumping into a cool lake on a hot day. But what puzzled her was the pounding of his heart under her hand. She could feel it, could feel how quickly it pulsed even as her own heart picked up its pace and seemed to match it beat for beat.
Wyatt lay his hand over hers, smoothing his rough fingers along the tender skin on the back of her hand. And then he stepped into her, closing the foot wide gap between them until she could feel the heat of his breath on her face.
She looked up, saw his intention in his eyes as much as she saw it in her mind as the image jumped from his head to hers. He bent near to her, his eyes slowly closing as the tip of his tongue moved slowly along the angle of his bottom lip. She rolled her head back on her spine, her lips softening to welcome him.
And then there was a huge crash behind them.
“Oh, thank goodness!” a voice cried out.
He was tall. That was the first thing Dylan noticed about him. Taller than Wyatt, but only by a few inches. But that was the only thing about the two of them that seemed similar. Where Wyatt’s skin was bronze, this new man’s was pale, a sickly white. And his hair was like fire, a bright red that seemed unnatural in the bright sunlight, only serving to make his skin seem that much more pale. His eyes were gray, a soft gray that seemed to absorb the light and glow with a power of its own. Not unattractive. In fact, he had a certain allure that made Dylan look twice.
Wyatt moved around Dylan and stood with her squarely behind him, his hand lying on the butt of the weapon—a six shooter, he had told her—he wore at his waist.
“Who are you?”
The other man held up his hands, palms out to show he had no weapons. “Stiles,” he said. “I come from a city to the east of here.”
“What are you doing out here?”
He shook his head, a sadness coming into his eyes. “There was a fire at our city. There’s nothing left.”
Dylan touched Wyatt’s arm as she slowly moved around him. “What about your people?” she asked.