I had told Dametria about the day my life changed. I almost thought she didn’t believe it, back when the leopard had said my name. And, through the journey we’ve been on, I’ve seen it: the doubt. She began to teeter, and now she’s fallen off the edge and into belief. The leopard was real, and it spoke to her as well. Are we the only two? Has the leopard only encountered Dametria and me? Wouldn’t there be legends if it hadn’t?
Damian, I hear, sending familiar chills down my spine. I find myself nearly smiling—if pigs could smile. Damian, I feel you nearing. Quickly, before I fade away...
I dart forward. I know where to go. I’ve walked between these trees a million and one times. I know this part of the forest, and it knows me. We are one, but soon I will rule it.
The girls hurry behind me, Jackie uttering words of confusion to my girlfriend, but Dametria stays silent as she jogs through the woods.
What is keeping her so focused? What is her greatest desire?
Me, of course, I remind myself. But something inside me tells me that isn’t it. That isn’t all to what she wants. Does she even know what she wants? Is she trying to find it? Is that what is making her work so hard to get to the one thing she wasn’t sure she believed in?
“I don’t know,” I remember her saying as we sat beneath the shade of a tree. I’d taken her around the village that day, showing her how I felt for her and opening up like. “It’s... complicated.”
“How is it that complicated?” I asked, joking around. “It’s how you feel.”
She hesitated. “I’m not sure how I feel.”
“About anything. Anyone. There’s…” she sighed. “You wouldn’t understand.”
“I said that to you before,” I replied, gritting my teeth. I was growing impatient with her feminine exasperations. But I needed to know. And she needed to know. Tamir-in was going to ask her to marry him and I… I never had the chance to try and win her heart. It’s selfish of him to sweep her off her feet just when she’s received her dots and not let anyone else try and woo her. This time, he wouldn’t take her away from me.
“It’s just… Tamir-in is… everything I want. Everything I need. But there’s something that pulls me... away from him. And... to you. But you are the exact opposite as him.”
I scoffed, turning my body toward her as if I had something to prove. “I can be everything he is and more. He has such a firm grip on you—he always has. But the difference between me and him is that he is safe. He’s boring. And too sappy sweet. Amawa-na, you know in your heart we are meant to be.”
“I… I don’t know.”
I took her hands in mine and leaned forward, Tamir-in appearing in my peripheral vision. My heart jumped with nervousness, but I calmed it. Let him see. Let this kiss reveal her true feelings, that he does not own her and he does not belong with her—that she belongs with me.
He turned away, as did Amawa-na a moment later, before our lips could touch.
She pulled her hands away and stood, about to leave my side. I found my feet and grabbed ahold of her fingers. “You know being with him is wrong. You can feel it. Give this a chance. Give us a chance.”
Her eyes searched mine. I saw the longing. I felt the want. But I could sense the fear as it swelled in her eyes. It was as if she knew what I would become—and she was scared of it. But, I wondered, who would be scared of what would come? I was meant for greatness—she shouldn’t be afraid.
She shut her eyes and her brows pinched together as she shook her head slowly.
“If Tamir-in asks me to marry him, and I say yes, it’s not because he forced me to, and not because he pressed and pressed for me to say yes.” Her eyes found mine and I could almost hear her heart comparing us, her two best friends. I was pushing her to feel something and he was not. But sometimes you need someone who will push you. How would you ever learn your limits if no one did?
“I just want to hear you say that you want to be with him and not me.”
“You don’t understand. He can love me and that love can be as it is supposed to. Patient. Kind. Eternal. Not boastful, not braggart, not jealous. I can see a future with him that I can’t with you. You’re random and unpredictable. And emotional.”
“But you like that about me.”
“Don’t make this harder than it needs to be, Damian-sai... Life here on this island is like you. Living here means we could die at any given moment, and I don’t want those moments to be negative or... filled with this striving inside me to feel love from someone else. I want to know I’m loved without a doubt. And I want the man I’ll be with to know that I love him too.”
“Do you love him?” I asked, jumping forward and taking both of her hands again. She grew flustered as I searched her eyes. “Do you love me?”
“Amawa-na,” I interrupted, wanting a straight answer. “Do you love either of us?”
She sighed and looked into my eyes. “I love you both. In different ways. For Tamir-in... I’m at a loss for words as to why I love him, but I do, for so many reasons. And you...” she shook her head. “I have no clue why my heart wants you.”
“Amawa-na, if I asked you to marry me, right here and right now, would you say yes?”
She stared at me for a long time. Closed her eyes. Pulled away, and shook her head.
“No,” she whispered, tears swelling in her eyes. “No, because I can’t see a future with you.”
She began to walk away. I grabbed her roughly by her arm and spun her around.
“But would you say yes to him?”
She was silent.
“Answer me,” I demand. “Would you say yes to him?”
I flung her arm away from me and she nearly fell over.
“You both will regret this,” I grumbled before storming away into the trees. If I couldn’t have her, no one could.