Michael ran ahead of her, to the top of the hill. “C’mon, Evie! I’ll be three hundred years old by the time you pick up the pace.”
A rock jutted out the side of the hill, and Eve half-heartedly contemplated hurling it at him. With gasping breath, she tried running up the last couple of feet of the steep hill with little success. Always a couple of paces behind the much-taller and much-speedier boy. He no doubt took pleasure in the fact that he was faster than her.
His laughter sounded like the ringing of chimes, dancing along the hilltops.
“Slow down, Michael!” Eve yelled out to him, her leather boots not quite gripping onto the fine dirt. The last few feet of the hill stretched out for what felt like miles.
Giving up, she half-collapsed onto the grass, holding the stitch piercing the side of her stomach. “I think I’m dying.”
Dropping flat onto the ground, she felt her eyes slowly drift close, her breathing finally slowing. The sun warmed her face, bright and golden, as it climbed its way to the peak in the sky. It was, arguably, a perfect day.
White, puffy clouds dotted the sky, going on for endless miles. The purple-backed mountains in the distance towered in the sky, mighty and dream-like. And the flowers. Dozens upon dozens of flowers, scattered about the meadows and valleys. Reds, blues, golds, whites. A sea of color. A sea of lilies and dandelions and roses galore. The sight was something out of a fairy-tale, too perfect and surreal for this world. She found herself thinking she could stay there forever, lying on that hill, feeling the summer breeze caress her cheeks . . .
“Oh, no you don’t.”
Suddenly, a pair of caramel arms wrapped around her. Eve’s eyes shot open, immediately meeting Michael’s emerald-green ones. She half-shrieked, half-laughed as he lifted her into the air. Like a sack of potatoes, he threw her over his shoulder and began marching back up the hill.
“Michael!” She squealed, hanging like a ragdoll from his back. “What on earth do you think you’re doing?”
The Fae boy barely gasped as he reached the top of the hill, arms tightly curled around the back of Eve’s thighs. The sight of the hills and distant mountains vanished, replaced with the backs of Michael’s long, lean legs and bare feet. The muscles in his calves pulsed as he walked, the strength in them subtle, but there. The leanness and the muscles had not always been there. Like everything else involving Michael’s body, it was a new addition as of the last couple of years. Another reminder that they were children no more.
Although she could not see it from her position, Eve knew the lake sat below them, nestled in the arms of the hillside. After cresting the top, Michael barely skipped a beat before galloping downwards, toward their favorite spot beside the waterfall. The familiar gurgling, as musical as piano notes, drifted through the air, growing louder and louder as they approached.
Patting her leg, the Fae boy sweetly replied, “What does it look like I’m doing? I’m being heroic.”
The grass flew past, beneath the pads of his feet. She readjusted on his shoulder, wiggling like a caterpillar. “I don’t think . . . heroic . . . would be the . . . right word.”
The ground suddenly stopped moving. Without setting her down, Michael said, “Close your eyes.”
Eve poked at a dime-sized rip in the back of his shirt. “You didn’t take me out here to kill me, did you?”
Chimes, his laughter. Just like chimes. He’d barely stopped chuckling before saying, “Just close them, will you?”
Obediently, she squeezed her eyes shut, left only with the vague imprint of the sun behind her eyelids. After a moment, Michael carefully slid her from his shoulder. His wide hands gripped her waist, and she rubbed against the smooth planes of his chest as he gently set her down.
A moment passed where they both stood still, just like that, their bodies connected. Embarrassed, heat rushed unwillingly to her cheeks, the palms of her hands suddenly becoming sweaty.
She and Michael were not like that, had never been romantic or sexual or . . . or anything. But he was the only boy she had really spent any time with. The only other person, besides her aunt, who she had come to know so intimately.
Eve wanted to pull away, to escape the inevitable awkwardness that would surely descend once they separated. But . . . she liked it. She liked the way he felt against her. The warmth, the strength. She wanted to sink into it, explore it. And she almost did. She almost leaned closer, tilted her chin up, pulled his face towards her.
Quickly stepping away, she blurted, “So, can I open them now?”
Another pause. The crunching of grass beneath shifting feet. Then—he cleared his throat. “Uh, yeah. I mean, no. No, just hold on a second.”
A pair of hands came to rest on either side of her shoulders. With a quick adjustment, he pivoted her body so that she faced the direction of the waterfall. A light mist spritzed her face, a welcomed reprieve against the hot sun. The bubbling of the stream had reached a crescendo, drowning out the noises from the rest of the valley.
Immediately, Eve’s eyes flew open. It took a moment to adjust to the light once more, but as soon as she could see, she smiled brightly. “Oh, Micheal,” she said. “You shouldn’t have.”
A pile of animal furs had been laid out beside the lake, only a couple of feet from the waterfall. On top, various plates and bowls had been set with careful precision. Stacks of strawberries, bananas, mangoes, and nectarines towered beside freshly baked loaves of bread and spreads of goat cheese. A frosted cake sat in the middle of it all, three-tiered with the words, “Happy Birthday” written across.
From behind, he wrapped his arms around her, squeezing tightly. “Happy Birthday, Evie.”
Moving within the constraints of his embrace, she turned around to hug him back, pressing her face firmly into the curve of his shoulder. “Thank you, Michael. I don’t know what to say.”
When she leaned back after a moment, she caught the smile on his lips. Genuine and full, like that of a child’s. For a moment, she could see the small, impish boy she had first become friends with. The one who would grab onto her arm, pulling her into their next adventure. Over the next mountain. Across the next bridge. Always pulling her along for the ride. The only person, besides her aunt, who truly cared about her. Who would stick with her, no matter what.
The seeds of guilt began to sprout deep in her stomach, flowering full and heavy. She would have to tell him sooner or later that she was leaving. Crossing the Tikkien Ocean to find her parents and the rest of her long-lost family. It would be wrong to stay, after all the hard work Bear put in over the years, preparing for their journey. In fact, it was not even an option she could consider. They were going to leave the Fae Lands whether she wanted to or not.
Still. It somehow felt even more wrong to leave Micheal behind. After all, they had been through together, she couldn’t see a future without him in her life.
His smile wavered. “What is it?”
Eve stepped back, towards the edge of the water. She would not tell him now. She did not want to ruin their perfect day. So instead, she shook her head and smiled back at him. “Nothing. I just can’t believe you’ve done all this.”
A warm breeze swept through the valley, ruffling his silver locks. The smile returned to his cheeks once more, the tension quickly easing out of his shoulders. Eve was once again stricken by how handsome he was. Perhaps not in the traditional way, but uniquely and charmingly. With his towering height, crooked nose, and too-green eyes, he could have pulled any of the Fae girls he wanted with just a glance. Besides, it was no secret that half of the village was in love with him. Sometime soon, he would surely pick someone to spend the rest of his life with.
Eve tried to let the thought be a balm to her guilt. There would be an assemble of girls he could pick to warm his bed and comfort him when she finally left. He would forget about her once he found someone new. There was no need to feel guilty. To dread her departure. Michael would be fine. More than fine.
At least, that is what Eve told herself.
“C’mon,” Michael said, reaching forward to grab onto her hand. Like they were kids again. They picked their way along the rocks until they reached the picnic-spread. Michael sat first, his back against the waterfall. Eve followed suit, folding her legs beneath her as she sat. Sitting this close to the water, the scent of fish and reeds wafted from the surface of the lake, the smell not unpleasant, but familiar and welcomed.
Neither one of them waited for the other to start eating. They immediately dug into the food, grabbing what they could and stacking their plates as high as they wanted. With manners out the door, the two of them, too close to care about appearances, began hastily eating, shoving food in their mouths as sloppily as pigs. Once they saw one another, and how ridiculous they each looked, they began laughing once more.
“You’ve got cheese on your nose,” Eve remarked, flicking a crumb of bread at his face. The crumb bounced off his cheek before disappearing into the folds of the furs.
“And you,” Michael retorted, sucking some smeared jam from his thumb, his eyes boring unabashedly into her own. “Have frosting in your hair.”
Eve’s hand flew to her head, thumbing through the pitch-black curls. “I do not.”
The Fae boy chortled, pleased with himself. “You sure do.”
She threw another, bigger crumb at him, and this time it landed inside his shirt. They spent the next hour like that, the two of them laughing and bickering. Eve tried her best to take it all in, to stay in the moment. To be thankful to have as thoughtful and sweet a friend as Michael. But she couldn’t stop thinking about the coming months. Leaving him. Moving on.
How on earth was she going to tell him?
She should just tell him now. Rip off the bandaid. It would only hurt him more if she chose to keep it to herself. Invigorated by her newfound courage, Eve sucked in a breath and said, “Michael, there’s something I need to—”
Her friend suddenly raised his hands in the air, cutting her off. “Wait, Evie. I, uh, actually have something to tell you first. Just, uh, hear me out, okay?”
Taken off guard, Eve just blinked at him. Michael, carefree and humorous Michael, looked . . . apprehensive? Like a startled rabbit, he appeared as if he might dash off at any moment. His face was carefully blank, his fingers held in the air trembling slightly. Was that a bead of sweat on his forehead?
“Uh,” she finally started. “Yeah. Sure. Of course.”
A whoosh of air expelled from his lips. Something besides guilt began to blossom deep in her core. She suddenly felt hot. She did not know what he was going to say, but the way he was looking at her . . . It made her forget all about telling him she was leaving in a couple of months.
“Okay. Um . . .” He suddenly laughed, unable to meet her eyes. Fiddling with a stray napkin, he kept his gaze averted to the ground. A strained moment passed. Then two. Finally, he blurted, “I’m seeing Olivia.”
Eve’s heart dropped. Olivia?
Heat began to flood her cheeks, but for an entirely different reason. Those three little words began playing on repeat in her head, sounding over and over again. I’m seeing Olivia. Olivia. One of the Fae girls in the village. One of the very kind, very talented, and very beautiful Fae girls in the village. Not Eve.
She tried to fight the oncoming tears, but she could feel them begin to prick the corner of her eyes. How stupid could she be? Why on earth would Michael like her? They had never been anything more than friends. Would never be anything more than friends. She felt like crying and laughing at the same time. She had been an idiot to even think about Michael like that. As more.
Unable to stand his piercing gaze, she suddenly stood up. Turned her back on him. The tears began falling earnestly, sliding down her cheeks in winding rivulets. Subtly trying to wipe them away, she kept her voice even and clear as she asked, “Olivia? That’s—that’s great, Michael. I’m really happy for you.”
Her voice cracked on the last syllable. Dammit.
Some of the plates rattled from behind, the furs shifting on the ground. She bristled, not wanting him to come closer and see her having a complete and total meltdown.
“Evie?” His voice, velvet-like and full of concern, sounded close from behind her. “What’s wrong? Did I say something . . . ?”
She could almost hear the gears in his head click as the realization suck in. Crying harder now, she wrapped her arms tightly around herself, praying that the earth would open up and swallow her whole. Anything to escape this humiliation.
“Evie, I’m so sorry. I—I had no idea . . .”
The pity in his voice was too much. Without thinking, she began to stalk forward, away from him, and back up the hill. Without her knowing, the sun had disappeared behind the clouds, leaving the valley in an overcast.
“Evie, wait!” Michael called out from behind her, his feet pounding against the dirt as he hurried to catch up with her. “Evie, stop! Please, can we talk about this?”
She kept marching, almost to the top of the hill. Refusing to look back at him, she barked, “There’s nothing to talk about, Michael. I’m going home. Leave me alone. Please.”
The drumming of his feet continued, growing closer. “Evie, please come talk to me. I don’t want to—”
At that moment, from very far away, a horn began to blow.
Once. Twice. Three times.
Alarmed, Eve halted in her tracks, listening closely. There it was again. A horn, blowing three times. She finally looked back at Michael, fear replacing the embarrassment in her chest. The same look had come over his face. They were obviously thinking the same thing.
Michael whispered, “Intruders.”
Quick end note today. I hope you all had a great holiday and enjoyed today's chapter! I think you'll enjoy what's coming up next ;)
As always, I hope you guys are excited for the upcoming adventures!
Are you enjoying my ongoing story? Please let me know what you think by leaving a review! Thanks, ElaineGreyWrite a Review