Authors: C. J. Valles
ince the moment I first saw Ever, time changed. I can think back to entire years that run together like watercolors in my memory. But my time with Ever is both slow and fast at the same time. So much has happened in such little time, but each moment with Ever is crystal clear, achingly real. And if he disappeared tomorrow, it would leave an empty space in my heart. I know without a doubt that I would feel the pain of it eighty years from now.
What scares me, though, is that I feel a hole—a nagging emptiness—where Alex had been in my heart. Without my permission, he took part of me with him when he left this world. I want to hate him. Or forget him.
So why can’t I?
The easy answer is that he sacrificed himself to save me. But it’s more than that. What I felt for him didn’t just go away when he brought my memory of Ever back. Something between the two of us changed. Ever keeps saying that the only reason Alex did what he did is to drive a wedge between us, but the question Alex asked the night we stayed in Tierra del Fuego remains.
was there a moment during this past week—if this week had been all we had and Ever hadn’t found you—that you could have loved me?
I can still hear the desperation in his voice and in mine when I answered him. He asked me an impossible question with an impossible scenario. Ever
find me first, and I love Ever. That has never changed. But then what do I feel for Alex? And is ignoring my feelings smart—or even possible? I wish I could talk to my friends about it. But to them, Alex is just some stranger who showed up and then left again with no explanation. How could I even begin to explain my connection to him?
It’s the middle of the night, and Ever left hours ago. I’ve been lying in bed, wide awake. Again. I’m starting to think that I’ll never get another night of good sleep. Right now, I’m trying not to look at the clock, afraid of how much—or how little—time has passed since I last looked. It’s late, that much I know. My mom is already home from work, which means she’s safe, away from Dr. Dick. She’s asleep, and as for me, I need to get up in a few hours to go to school. But I can’t stop thinking about things … and people I shouldn’t be thinking about. Pushing back the covers, I sit up and throw my feet over the edge of the bed.
As I walk through the darkness to my bedroom door, I pause, listening. It’s quiet. I put my hand on the doorknob and twist. My eyes are used to the dark, but I move slowly. The mirror that had once scared me now calls to me. I feel hungry for proof that Alex still exists, desperate for a way to save him.
I could say that it would make us even—he saves me, then I save him—but I know it’s more complicated than that.
Stepping in front of the glass, I stare into it, searching for something beyond my reflection. I hate myself for it, and the guilt overwhelms me. It must cut Ever like a knife when my thoughts disappear, because I’m sure he knows by now exactly why my thoughts disappear and what I’m thinking about. I’d like to feel self-righteous and angry with him for invading my privacy, but I can’t. I just feel confused and guilty, like there’s a fire consuming my soul.
The thought of hurting Ever because of my feelings for Alex causes me to drop to my knees. Choking back tears, I wish desperately that I could just forget Alex. That I could pretend I never loved him. That I could pretend that I hadn’t watched him sacrifice himself for me.
Feeling arms slip around me, I freeze in fear before looking up and seeing Ever. He kisses my forehead and then easily scoops me up, carrying me silently back to my room. As soon as he sets me down in bed, his fingers trace over my cheeks, the heat of his touch drying my tears.
“I’m sorry,” I whisper before a sob chokes me.
I’m afraid he’s going to leave or hate me, or both.
“I had no right to unleash this world on you.”
I shake my head.
“Stay with me,” I gasp.
My plea is barely even audible, but before I know it, Ever is pulling me into bed and holding me against his chest. I shudder and rest my head against him, exhausted and vaguely aware that I can’t hear a heartbeat pulsing in my ear, just my own uneven breaths.
I’m afraid to sleep, because it’s dangerous. What, or who, will be in my dreams? I hold myself to Ever and think about the first time I saw him in Art class—the time I saw him and didn’t fall unconscious. He was a beautiful, perfect statue then. And it seemed impossible that our paths would cross, but I was still obsessed with him from the moment I stared into his perfectly vacant, bright green eyes.
“You brought me to life,” he says quietly.
“I think you’ve got your mythology mixed up,” I hiccup. “You’re talking about Pygmalion, right? He sculpted
and brought her to life. I didn’t sculpt you—I wouldn’t have done such a good job.”
Ever laughs softly.
I feel safe and very warm as I press myself closer to Ever and close my eyes.
Ever is by my side as I cross the student parking lot, which is strange since he’s not at Springview anymore. The bell rings, and I hurry toward first period—but rather than going to Health, I walk toward Mr. Gideon’s room. The door is standing open, and walking in, I freeze when I see who’s sitting in class. Ashley and Matt—and Josh? Marcus? Taylor? Lindsay?
? What are my chemistry lab partner and her fan boy from Laguna Niguel doing here?
I shake my head. It doesn’t make any sense. Then I turn and see my
sitting in my seat.
She smiles at me before her eyes turn coal black.
“Hi, honey!” she says cheerfully.
My friends turn and look at me, too, all of them with matching black eyes. I swing around toward the teacher’s desk and see Victor staring back at me. My stomach drops. Kneeling in front of Victor with their heads bowed are Ever and Alex.
“Choose,” Victor says graciously.
Opening my mouth to scream, I fall backward into the waiting darkness.
I wake up two minutes before my alarm and stare at the clock like it’s the device’s fault that I happened to wake up right before it was about to go off. Remembering last night’s events, I reach out, my hands searching for Ever. But I’m alone—and tired. It doesn’t feel like I slept at all, but I don’t remember any of my dreams. I’m glad. If I dreamed of Alex again, I don’t want to feel guiltier than I already do.
Dragging myself out of bed, I walk out into the hallway and straight to my mom’s room just to check on her. The door is ajar, and I can see her in bed, fast asleep. Heading to the bathroom, I get ready before collecting my stuff. Downstairs, there’s a note on the counter from my mom saying she’ll use the list I started to go to the grocery store during the day. The note also says not to bother making dinner for her because she’s getting dinner with Dr. Dick. I crunch the paper up in my hand and shove it in my pocket as I take out the milk and search for cold cereal.
By the time I step outside, I’m relieved—more than relieved—to see that even though my car is parked out front, Ever is still waiting for me. As I walk toward him, I wonder what he would be doing if he weren’t here, if I didn’t exist. I’m sure he could be doing more exciting things than hanging out while I’m sleeping. Rising up on my toes, I kiss him.
“I don’t, you know.”
I shake my head at his statement.
“You were thinking I must have better things to do than watch you sleep. I don’t. I have other things I could be doing. But most of the time spent before I found you was infinitely less pleasant.”
He opens the car door, and I get in.
“That’s sad,” I say softly, looking over at him when he appears in the driver’s seat. “I guess it has to be a little strange to have an endless amount of time on your hands.”
“I’ve never known anything different.”
I nod and make a silent decision.
“I want to know more … about what things were like before you came here, what your dimension was like. I just have these bits and pieces, and that’s it. I know you don’t like talking about it, but I’m in the middle of this, and I need some answers. You know, before the next freaking crisis hits—sorry. It’s just—”
“No, you’re right,” he says softly. “Even if I want to protect you from it, you have every right to ask me any question you need answered.”
“It’s not just that. You know everything about me, and there’s still all this stuff I don’t know about you. … I don’t know if I’ll ever truly understand it.”
He reaches out and touches my cheek.
“Wren, I learn something new about you every day.”
Looking out the window, I realize the car has stopped. We’re at school already. Leaning over, I kiss Ever quickly and then jump out of the car. As I walk toward class, I avoid worrying by concentrating on the pleasant part of last night … before I found myself crying in front of an empty mirror.
Thinking about Ever’s hands touching my skin and his lips pressed against mine, I look around, suddenly and insanely relieved that he is
the only one in the world capable of reading my mind. For all of the my-life-is-in-peril craziness, I can enjoy these moments with Ever—while they’re happening … and then the memories after. His kiss, his touch. Suddenly a hand wraps around my waist, and before I know it I’m standing in a darkened classroom with Ever staring down at me. The look in his eyes makes my stomach flip as he pulls me deeper into the room, and I gasp when he lifts me onto a high counter at the back of the room. His mouth comes down on mine, his lips parting mine gently. A current of pure, overwhelming desire courses through me, and I blink as Ever slowly pulls back, his eyes burning into mine. I know he doesn’t need the oxygen, but his breathing is still just as ragged as mine.
“Now I know how a drop of water must taste to a man dying of thirst,” he says in a low voice. “Keep in mind, Wren. I have limits. And I don’t have enough willpower for you to torment me all day.”
you?” I ask innocently, wrapping my legs around him. “What happened to being in control of your emotions?”
It’s still a strange rush knowing that I can
Ever. I don’t want to make him suffer, but if he’s feeling even a tenth of what I’m feeling …
“I’m feeling much more than a tenth of what you’re feeling,” he says, running his fingers lightly up and down my arms.
I shiver at his touch, and my eyes drifts closed.
“Look at me,” Ever whispers.
When I open my eyes, his expression is guarded, careful. I gasp when I see a four-poster bed covered in fluffy white linens. The image sharpens—and I see the two of us kissing as Ever carries me toward the bed. I recognize this place. It’s the island in the Maldives. When I blink, the image disappears, but I still feel the hunger, a clawing need that I’m not sure is Ever’s or mine. An instant later, his lips are on mine again, seeking and urgent. Then the bell rings, and Ever carefully lifts me from the counter onto the ground. My legs are unsteady, and I can’t seem to get my breathing back to normal as he leads me toward the door.
you have a small taste for how I’m feeling.”
He disappears, and I smirk, my cheeks still flushed. Nice. Out of breath and dazed—what a great way to start first period. Walking toward class, I think of the fragment I just saw in his mind. Was that the future?
At the end of the week, I’m in my room—alone—when I hear a knock at the front door. Hearing my mom walking from the kitchen, I panic and jump off my bed, running toward the stairs. Then I slow down, realizing that if trouble were coming, Ever would already be here. At least I hope he would.
“Audra!” my mom says brightly. “It’s so good to see you. Are you back for the summer already?”
“I flew in just a few days ago.”
Reaching the landing, I look down at Audra and realize that I have to pretend I haven’t seen her in ages, when it was really only a few days ago that she popped into the bathroom at school to lecture me about Victor.
I rush down the stairs, and as I reach out to hug her, I think about our strange, conflicted relationship. At this time last year, she—however briefly—wanted me dead. Granted, at the time, she thought that the enemy had taken Ever. And, in her mind, I had been the cause. Fortunately, she never got the opportunity to kill me.
Our relationship, which had been getting better, has been strained, at best, since then. But there’s no sense in letting my mom know that. The deterioration in our friendship makes me sad. A year ago, I had very cautiously considered her a friend, a running buddy—and maybe even a potential sister in my more hopeful moments. But that was then, before she had thought about killing me.
“A run for old time’s sake?” she smiles.
Finally it dawns on me that Audra is wearing running clothes, and I nod, trying to keep the smile on my face.