Chapter 12: Nightfall
LATER that night, a light breeze passed through my room while I relaxed on my bed, mesmerized by the pseudo night sky created on my ceiling from tiny little shimmering fiber-optic stars. They spared no expense making this place beautiful and functional.
A timid knock came at my chamber door. Thinking of my room as my chambers made me feel like a medieval knight. Who’d be knocking so late in the evening?
I headed down the stairs at a brisk pace and eased the door open.
Abby stared back at me in black shorts and a black spaghetti-strap shirt, clearly dressed for bed. The tight clothes left little to the imagination, even showing her midriff.
I was speechless. It was like staring at a train wreck—the best train wreck ever. I couldn’t pull my eyes away. Like an oaf, my wide eyes mindlessly traced the lines of her perfect body.
In a moment of lucidity, my gaze snapped back to her face. I thought I saw a hint of a smile as she watched my expression. What was she doing getting me this late at night dressed like that?
“My laundry’s not finished.” She nodded toward her door for me to follow.
“Uh— Okay. Sure.” I fumbled words like a moron, fighting to keep my eyes from wandering back to her body.
She led me to the breezy room where I’d hung her clothes to dry and nodded to the hanging garments. “First of all, who taught you how to hang laundry?”
I frowned, turning it back on her. “What the heck’s up with girl clothes?” I pointed to one of the shirts. “Is that inside-out? Backward? Why can’t you wear shirts like mine?”
“No, it’s not inside-out because I fixed it. That’s how they’re supposed to look.” She raised an eyebrow. “Don’t you have a photographic memory?”
“Then take a mental snapshot. You’ll need it for the next two weeks.” She nodded at the clothes. “Now grab those.” She turned and vacated the room.
I swiped the clothes and caught up with her as she ascended the stairs to her loft. This all seemed very out of character for her.
Once in the loft, she stopped at the armoire. “After the laundry dries each day, hang everything here.” Abby opened her armoire. “It’s pretty self-explanatory.”
She casually walked away and sat with her back to me at her desk.
From time to time, I chanced a peek backward and caught her looking at me in her mirror, spying on my progress as she brushed her long, silky hair. It was almost like she was toying with me. Part of me really liked it, and the other part of me was terrified of it for some unknown reason.
When I’d completed the task, I went to her at her desk, and her eyes found mine in the mirror.
“All done,” I said. “You might wanna make sure nothing’s out of place.”
She stood, then brushed past me, bringing goose bumps to my arm. After a quick check, she said, “That’ll do.”
I’d have to leave since the clothes were finished, but I didn’t want to. If I could just think of something to draw out the time—
“How do you like Winter’s Edge so far?” she said, a little rushed.
I controlled my eyes, taking special care not to land my gaze below her chin. It was torturous. “It’s definitely an adjustment, but I like it. It’s a huge weight off my shoulders not having to hide my secret.” While I enjoyed the lack of stress, a knife would have had trouble slicing through the tension in the room.
Think of something else, Ian. “I haven’t met your dad yet. Was he in the training class?”
Abby’s brow sank along with the edges of her lips. “You…” She trailed off, then brushed past me and sat on her bed. “You haven’t met my dad because he left when I was five.”
My stomach knotted—wrong question to ask. The tension shifted to a whole new problem now. If she’d been playing games with me before, I’d just shut them down.
“Oh. I’m sorry.” Standing felt awkward, so I sat beside her on the bed.
“It’s okay.” Sadness lurked in her tone. “I—” She hesitated. “It’s a subject I can’t avoid forever. When a father walks out on his five-year-old daughter and everyone knows it, it’s the last thing they want to talk about.” A smile touched her saddened lips for a moment. “I loved my dad, what little I remember of him.” Some light seemed to brighten her eyes, if only for a brief moment. “He was the best dad…which made it that much worse when he left.” A tear escaped, running down her cheek. “I just don’t understand it.”
I caught the tear with the back of my finger before it parted from her sullen face, a shimmering trail left behind. My heart ached for her the way I imagined hers did right then.
Abby gasped hard as her eyes went frighteningly wide. I jerked back, startled.
Something was very wrong.