Authors: C. J. Valles
“Someone I respect very much told me once, ‘
No more guilt
’—and you would do well to take your own advice,” Ever says.
I smirk at him.
“Don’t you forget things sometimes?”
“I will never forget a single moment spent with you.”
My cheeks turn pink.
“All right. Well, you’re not allowed to use things I’ve said during moments of clarity against me. … Wait. Where are we going?”
“To the house.”
I nod and start trying to catalog the questions I’ve been bottling up, the ones I couldn’t bring myself to ask because I was afraid that speaking them aloud would tempt fate. But there’s one question that’s been burning in my mind since that day on West Street Beach—a question I’ve kept buried for the past year.
“Why didn’t you tell me what you were planning—with Alex, I mean?”
Ever takes a wrong turn, and I frown. Then I remember: he doesn’t make mistakes. He pulls off the road, and a second later he opens my door and offers his hand. When I step out, there’s a trail only steps from the road.
“Forest Park?” I ask, raising an eyebrow. “Now?”
Ever nods. I’ve passed through the park dozens of times since arriving in Oregon, given it’s essentially what separates our little corner of the suburbs from Portland proper. But I’ve never actually stepped foot in the park, which is kind of sad.
“Hiking in Forest Park in the rain is your rite of passage as a Portlander,” he smiles.
As if on cue, a middle-aged couple appears out of the trees, and I almost believe him. When we step onto the trail, my shoes stick to the muddy, uneven ground. The green above us is even more striking in the grayish light. Ever holds out his hand and helps me over an enormous puddle.
“Wren, you continue to believe that you are making missteps rather than
. Look at my actions before meeting you. They were dictated by a simple doctrine: maintain our freedom at any cost. When I saw you for the first time, I defied everything I knew, but it wasn’t
. I made a choice, and it changed my existence.
changed me and how I view this world. My purpose finally became more than obligation.”
“But that doesn’t answer my question. Why didn’t you at least tell me what you were planning?”
“We made a pact to keep you safe. Beyond that, very little was planned.”
I repeat his words back in my head. We. He and Alex made a pact. Suddenly I’m furious.
“Then you knew what Alex was going to do that day?” I demand.
“There was no other way,” Ever says gently.
“But why didn’t we get sucked in with them?”
“Because you are a human, and I was connected to you, which kept me grounded in this world—”
“Then why didn’t he just hold onto me, too?” I cry, releasing a tidal wave of emotion that’s been building up inside me since the moment I saw Alex disappear.
“He was the anchor to pull the rest of them in.”
It surprises me that Ever doesn’t sound like he takes any satisfaction in the fact that Alex had to sacrifice himself. And right now I wish I could honestly say that I never had any feelings for Alex. I close my eyes, remembering his last words.
Wren Sullivan, I shall never forget you
Alex saved me and cursed me. And now, even a year later, he haunts me. Maybe for the rest of my life. Feelings I’ve kept buried for the past year suddenly overwhelm me. Guilt … confusion … and the fear that I will never have control of anything—including myself—again in this lifetime.
e don’t speak during the walk back to Ever’s car, and even on the short drive, both of us remain silent. Now that Alex has been unearthed like a relic from my subconscious, I can’t seem to banish him. I stare out the window as we wind toward the house, and as we come around the bend, I think of the wonderful moments I’ve had here with Ever. Unfortunately, too many others have been either the beginning or the culmination of events spinning out of my control. And today … is the moment I’ve dreaded. What I thought I could avoid has happened. My mom, whether she knows it or not, is paying the price for my decision to love Ever.
The car stops, and before I can even undo my seatbelt, Ever opens my door. Stepping out of the car, I flinch when I see Chasen—because it means he’s not with my mom.
“Audra is watching her,” Ever says.
I nod. In reality, it’s really unnecessary for any of them to be in physical proximity to my mom, considering they can simply materialize to where she is in an instant. Audra staying with her is purely for my benefit, and I appreciate it.
“How’s Ithaca?” I smile when I reach Chasen.
“I wouldn’t know,” he smiles in return. “I’m here babysitting you.”
“What Chasen means is that exams finished last week, and he’s here for the summer,” Ever says.
“Well, thanks for not making Ever launch a bus in front of a hundred people.”
“Any time. And to think that I didn’t believe Ever when he told me how much effort went into keeping you alive. My mistake.”
“You’re hilarious,” I smirk.
As we walk inside, I wonder how many houses, compounds, and other dwellings these immortal beings have collected across the globe during their infinite existence. When I see Alistair and Persephone in the living room, Persephone smiles apologetically and glides over to my hands in hers. An instant feeling of kinship with her floods me. Since Audra’s revelation last year—that Persephone was once human like me—I’ve felt a little less like an outsider. Not immortal, but also not the same as other humans. Persephone pulls me onto the couch beside her, her hands still clasping mine.
“I’m so sorry, Wren.”
I smile and shake my head.
“Effie, please don’t apologize! Not after everything you’ve done!”
“I only wish it were enough,” she says ruefully.
The regret on her face makes my anxiety flare. Up until now, I had believed that every choice I made was accomplishing at least one thing: keeping my mom from paying for my choices. But the look of surprise on Ever’s face this morning has shattered that assumption. Whatever
is, Ever wasn’t expecting it. None of them was. This creature is something capable of surprising five immortals. I turn away from Persephone to face Alistair and Ever.
“No sugar coating it—what is that thing?”
“Richard Foley is a young and promising neurosurgeon,” Alistair says. “He is also host to unparalleled evil and insatiable greed.”
I shake my head.
“He is like you,” Alistair corrects.
I recoil at this comparison.
“A shadowy reflection of you,” Alistair clarifies.
“He made a deal,” Ever says.
In my mind, I see the shimmering blackness in the mirror and remember Alex’s description of himself as a negotiator. He said there have been people—people like me—who made a deal to become the puppets of beings from Ever’s dimension. I shake my head again.
“Hold on. If he made a deal, then there’s something possessing him, right?”
Because what I saw isn’t
“For some, possession isn’t continuous,” Alistair says.
“Wait a second. That means
of them are human
of the time? I don’t get it. Is that even possible?”
I look back and forth between Ever and Alistair.
“Intermittent possession has become very useful for those on the other side,” Alistair answers.
“Like changing outfits,” Ever adds with a hint of revulsion.
I shudder as I think of myself as a trendy outfit for a shapeless being, and suddenly I like the idea even less.
“The other side is very adept at hiding these individuals, who are practically invisible to us when they are not possessed. And they recognize what we are even if we cannot identify them,” Alistair says. “They are … valuable to the other side.”
“Then that’s why none of you knew about him until now,” I mumble, feeling the energy drain out of me. “What does he—or it—want?”
“You,” Ever says. “Their frontal assault didn’t achieve the results they expected, which was an easy win, something they had assumed their old ally would provide them.”
“You mean … they thought Alex was going to hand me over,” I mutter.
“And now they are resorting to the same tactic he found so effective—using those closest to you against you,” Ever nods.
The reprieve Alex’s sacrifice bought me is gone. So is the hope I had felt the moment I had stepped through the mirror. There is no winning this time. They will keep coming until they’ve taken everything I have, including lives I have no right to bargain with. I feel like I’m falling through blackness as Ever kneels down in front of me.
“Wren, this is not the time to lose hope,” he whispers urgently.
“Isn’t it?” I demand, looking at the floor and feeling the tears burn my eyes. “This thing is
my mom. Everything I’ve done has been pointless! I … can’t … win!”
He cups my chin in his palm, and I finally raise my eyes to meet his.
can’t. Not alone. But
can. Together. Believe in that.”
I take a deep breath. Now that Ever and the others know what they’re up against, I believe they’ll do all they can to keep my mom safe. I just hope it’s enough. Then, like a lightning bolt, I remember seeing my name scrawled in the fog of the bathroom mirror hours ago.
“What about Alex? He’s still alive—I know he is. I … I saw him. Last year. After the party. I saw him in the mirror.”
At the time, part of me had thought it was a hallucination; the other part had been afraid to say anything to Ever or the others. Even now, I don’t want to mention the fact that I saw my name scrawled in the bathroom mirror only hours ago. Across the room, Chasen grunts in disbelief. To him, Alex was and always will be a traitor.
“He made his choices,” Ever says quietly.
“He saved me! If he’s still alive, I have to help him.”
Ever stands up.
“Don’t mistake his actions for altruism. He
I jump up, too, before noticing that Alistair, Persephone, and Chasen have disappeared—no doubt to avoid
, an argument that’s been brewing under the surface for too long.
“Uh, yeah. I figured that one out on my own. But does he deserve eternal punishment for sacrificing himself?”
“No, not for sacrificing himself. But for wanting what I hold most dear? Yes, he does.”
There’s a hint of humor in Ever’s burning green eyes, but very little. I give him a shaky smile. Inside I’m being pulled apart. We’ve reached an impasse; I can feel it. Our ultimate goals have diverged. Ever’s goal is to keep me alive, but my objective is more complicated than that.
I want to keep my family and friends out of harm’s way and not have to sacrifice myself in the process. But now, knowing for certain that Alex’s image in the mirror hadn’t just been a dream or figment of my imagination—knowing that he’s alive—I have to save him. Even if his absence has allowed me to avoid dealing with my feelings.
My logic is simple. First, I don’t want to feel guilty forever. Second, I can pretend that my feelings for him don’t matter, but what if he happened to be right in front of me? Would that change things? Or would I simply have peace of mind knowing that he’s no longer enduring unending torment in my place?
Either way, he can’t suffer for me.
Ever offers his hand, and we walk outside to his car. During the drive to my house, I try not to think. When we pull up in front of my house, Ever opens my door and I look up at him. I’m not angry with him. I understand his frustration. He has the right to be angry with me. What if he told me he loved someone else? It would tear me apart. On the other hand, I can’t deny that someone gave up his existence for me, and regardless of why he did it—I
I’m only here because of Alex. I owe it to him not to abandon him. And I owe it to myself—and Ever—to sort out my feelings.
I told Alex a long time ago that the three of us weren’t a triangle. But I guess the shape of things changes with our feelings, whether we like it or not. Stepping out of the car, I reach for Ever’s other hand.
“Wren, I will never resent your compassion for others.”
“For Alex, though?”
“It isn’t your compassion for him that worries me.”
I look down. What can I say? That I feel nothing for Alex? It would be a lie. I wish I could erase what I had felt for him during that week in Southern California. I wish I could erase the uncertainties. But I think that would be about as useful as wishing gravity would let up because it’s putting too much weight on me.
When we reach the front door, I see my mom through the window. She’s on the couch reading. As we walk in, she looks up, and all I want to do is shake her and beg her never to see her boyfriend again. Ironically, she looks over at Ever with a strange, new expression of vague disapproval.
She looks back at me, and I catch a glimpse of what’s going on in her head. My fists clench.
, who I’ve decided I’m going to call Dick from now on, apparently made some disparaging comment to her about the fact that I’m dating a guy in college.
Not only am I turning eighteen in less than a month, it’s also infuriating that my mom is listening to that creep. Besides, other than dating an immortal from another dimension whose original intention was to kill me, I haven’t exactly been a hell-raising teenager. And Ever’s been the perfect boyfriend. He nods at my mom and then squeezes my hand.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” he says quietly before moving toward the door.
I watch him leave, and by the time I turn back to my mom, I’m practically vibrating with rage. Not toward her, directly. But part of me thinks she should know better than to be swayed by some guy she just started seeing—especially a creepy one possessed by creatures from another dimension.
“Sometimes I think that boyfriend of yours can read minds,” she says dryly.
He can! And so can I!
I want to scream.
“No mind reading necessary, Mom. You were giving him the evil eye. What’s with that?” I ask more calmly than I’m feeling.
“You know what, honey? Sometimes it’s easy to forget you’re only seventeen—”
“Almost eighteen,” I remind her.
“Well, I just don’t want Ever to forget that you’re
eighteen,” she says with a pointed look.
I throw up my arms in mock indignation.
“What’s with the sudden fixation? I can’t believe I’ve gotten the no sex speech from my mom—
?” my mom asks with a surprised smile.
I scowl at her.
“Don’t look so happy about that. Nobody around here is going to forget that I’m not eighteen yet. Believe me. And no more giving Ever ‘
You’re corrupting my innocent daughter
“Well, just so you know, I was giving him my ‘
Can I have a second alone with my offspring?
“Scoot over,” I command.
When she swings her legs onto the floor, I drop onto the loveseat next to her and lean my head on her shoulder. She inhales, but doesn’t say anything.
“What?” I grimace.
“So? What’d you think of Richard?”
It’s my turn to pause as I try to think of something honest to say that doesn’t involve inter-dimensional warfare.
“What happened to that guy Dave? I liked him.”
Actually, the guy my mom dated briefly last year just earned bonus points for not being possessed.
“You met him once!” my mom laughs. “What did you think of
“Um …” I mumble, racking my brain. “Well, he’s smart—obviously—if he’s a freaking neurosurgeon, and he’s got a monstrous appetite.”
I force myself to smile after this last part.
“You liked him, though?” she asks expectantly.
“I just met him, Mom.”
“Yeah, but you’re a good judge of character.”