Part 1: Chapter 21
“So, I am Aralisa,” I convinced myself.
“Yes, you are,” Caiden stated.
We were lying in my bed, staring out at the night sky through the dome in my ceiling. I calmed down a lot since I discovered who I really was. The bath helped. The perfume in the bath helped. And of course, Caiden being a perfect gentleman towards me helped so much that I completely lost control of my conscience and gave in to the physical desire that had been burning for far too long. We lay beside each other now, after sealing our love for each other once again.
I don’t remember much of how I won his heart, but I didn’t care, for he loved me now more than ever before. It was clear to me in that moment, for I remembered what his face looked like from all the times past where he hadn’t felt that way but gave in to me nonetheless. I still lacked most of my memories, but some had returned and they weren’t pleasant.
“How did you put up with my antics?” I wanted to know why he stayed by my side, even when I was wrongfully manipulative towards him.
“I liked you. And we had fun,” he chuckled.
“Yes, I remember that. It was more of I had fun toying with you. I manipulated you, and you let me.”
He kissed my head. “I did.”
“Because I wanted to be with you.”
That didn’t make sense to me. “Even if you didn’t like me?”
“But you love me, now.” I was trying to get this straight in my head.
“I do love you.”
“How? What did I do that made you realize you love me?” I could almost see him smirking at me.
“You really want to know?”
“Yes, I do.”
He sighed. “Do you remember anything about why we dated?”
“No,” I honestly stated. I couldn’t remember that. The orb hadn’t shown me that memory, nor had it returned to my mind.
“You and I were betrothed when we were very little, children. We didn’t see each other again until we both ended up at the academy. By then, you didn’t want to have anything to do with me.
“Mirabella however, stuck to you like glue. She loved being popular with you. You both were inseparable. You knew all of the guys; you could get her dates. She was happy.
“Then I grew up. I became attractive in your eyes. But,” he laughed to himself, “you only wanted me because I was attractive. And that’s how it began. As I recall, you asked Mirabella’s permission to give me a test drive. From then on, our relationship developed as a bit of a tease.”
I thought about how he seduced me back when I first started seeing him appear whenever I was alone after my memory lapse. He did it twice, as I recalled. He tried to manipulate me then. “So, when you first met me, it was because you wanted to be with me? Like physically?” I hoped to clarify his actions.
“I can’t say I didn’t miss it. That was one of the reasons why I came looking for you. The other was, because we were still betrothed. Mirabella was the one who told me I should try to get our relationship back, suggesting that I try to seduce you. Branella thought it prudent for you to be involved in my life again, one way or the other. But she warned me that your mind and thinking had altered. You woke up in the Night class. All of the rules you were taught were from a Guardian point of view and to that extent I was faced with the possibility of you not choosing me, ever. That scared me from the moment she told me. I very much wanted you to choose me again.”
I heard everything he said and understood it all instantly. He just wanted to be with me. He sought me out and went against all the rules for me. Although his seduction scared me at first, I secretly wanted to give in to it. I felt from the first moment he talked to me that we belonged together although I did not know why. But he changed, when he was around me. He eventually stopped trying to seduce me and actually talked to me, as friends would do. At one point he even defended me from Trayen’s angry outbursts and protected me the way a friend would.
But I thought harder about how he called me his love. When did he fall in love with me? When was the actual moment that he decided that? To my knowledge, he never called me that, even from before the erasure.
“When did you fall in love with me?” I blurted it out. I really wanted to know.
“It took me a long time. I didn’t mind when you used me. I thought I was happy, because we were together. I didn’t know that it could ever be like this.” He pushed himself up to look into my eyes.
“I saw you reading in the forest, and it intrigued me. You were peaceful but confused. I thought it best to go with what I knew about you. You liked the tease of our relationship; you loved it even more when I played along and reversed the situation. I had to try. But you didn’t give in.
“I watched you sleep that first day. I kissed your forehead, even though I shouldn’t have. I took a lot of my possessions out of your room, but I replaced them all once I saw you sleeping. You whispered my name in your sleep, and I thought that it was a sign you remembered me. But after what happened in the forest the next day, I knew I couldn’t be around you again until you were ready.
“I tried again, because I couldn’t keep myself away. I know you were listening that day Mirabella and I were leaving the practice field; I heard you open the window. I wanted you to hope, if you were hoping at all, that I knew of you, and wanted you to some degree. It was a horrible trick, and Mir pushed it further than I wanted the conversation to have gone. I honestly thought that because she made it seem like we were both dating that you would back off and leave me alone.”
“It worked.” I knew it had. I had hoped that he could be mine, even though I knew it was wrong to some degree, and even when I thought he was dating Mirabella.
He smiled. “I know. When I approached you in the grove, I tried to seduce you again. But I backed off, because you didn’t respond to it as much. It felt wrong the second time. You were a different person than from before. I made up my mind to completely back off and leave you alone, but when I heard Trayen yelling at you through the grove, I couldn’t bear to see your face. You were hurt, and he wasn’t in a mood to realize that. You can’t help it that you carry qualities of Shapers. You were born one. He didn’t know that, but I did. And that’s why I intervened. I couldn’t let him hurt you in that way.
“Standing up for you the first time in my life felt right. I decided to keep a closer eye on you; to be nearby if you needed me.” He laughed at something. “By the way, I was laughing at your horrible swordsmanship when you heard me in the forest and sent that blade hurling towards my feet. I forgot you had excellent hearing.” He grinned at me.
I remembered that. “I didn’t hit you, did I?” I hoped at the time to hurt him, but now I was scared that I really had.
“No, I jumped out of the way before it embedded itself into my feet. Although, I was surprised at the speed you threw it at me. Hasten was watching at the time; he was impressed.” He brushed my cheek with his fingers. “The day I defended you from Trayen was the first time I began to hope in the chance of you and I being together again.”
“And then, the run-in with my friends and Instructor left me broken inside.” I shivered, thinking about how I felt that day. I didn’t want to relive that anytime soon.
“Yes, I rescued you from a bitter heartache that you planned to spend alone,” he continued. “When I reached you, the water was filling in the basin. If I never made it here in time you would’ve drowned yourself.”
I remembered his hands pulling me out of the tub. The water was filling up and I didn’t care enough to stop it.
“You never once tried to ward me off, or keep me from holding you. I thought once you calmed down, that you would push me out of the room. But you didn’t.”
I smiled. “I wanted you with me. I thought my friends had left me alone; they didn’t care about how I felt as I sat on the bench. They both were scared for my sake when I was in the forest. But once I came out of it, unscathed, their fearfulness was gone and replaced with a mixture of emotions I didn’t understand. Isla tried to talk to me but she was silenced, and Trayen didn’t once glance at me at all. Not to mention the degree in which I was reprimanded; it left me feeling helpless. I was never in any danger.”
I questioned him. “How?”
“You have to remember, I’ve been watching you.”
I eyed him. “But you weren’t there in the forest, you didn’t come anywhere near me.” I sat up.
He sighed and stood up from the bed. I didn’t mind that we were both naked. It only seemed natural to me. He went around to the other side and stood in the middle of the room before me.
“I was there. I was in the waterfall, watching, because I had to be in my animal form at the time. You were too close to where the attack was, and when we go feral, we don’t always think straight.”
He transformed into a huge black panther. I blinked as I recognized that it was the same panther I saw that day in the forest. It was the same one from the Shrine too. He transformed back into a human and hurled himself forward to meet me. His own head was inches from my face.
My breath came in gasps from the shock of it all. All of a sudden, I smelled the fragrance from that day in the river, but it was milder and not as fresh. Without thinking about what I was doing, I leaned forward to inhale the scent around him and my nose pushed against his.
He stared at me, curious by my actions. But his face smoothed over before I could ask.
“You can smell me,” he stated with complete fascination.
Is that what that fragrance was? I pushed myself away from him and turned away, slightly embarrassed and peeved all at once. I bit my lip in frustration.
“I didn’t know if you still felt the same about my smell, so I purposely bathed in the river in my animal form, that first day, to see if it had the same effect on you as it once did. I see that this is not the case.”
He sounded calm and slightly depressed. I gritted my teeth and whirled on him. “Do you understand what that fragrance does to me?”
He stared at me again, trying to grasp if our meanings were the same. “Why, what do you feel? The reason I ask is that you didn’t do anything that day at the river, when it was at its strongest.” He reached up to caress my face, but I caught his hand before he got it there.
I couldn’t control my breathing, mostly because I was peeved that it was him who smelled that delicious. I was having trouble trying to not think about the smell and calming myself down in the process. I placed his hand over my rapidly beating heart. “Feel that?” I questioned.
He glanced down at my chest and his eyes rose to meet mine again.
“That is only a taste of what happens to me when I smell that scent. It took everything I had not to bathe in the water the first time I smelled it in my bathroom. On the river, I wanted to plunge into the bank, headfirst. And then earlier in the shower, I lost control, but I let myself lose control because I didn’t care if you saw me like that.” I let go of his hand, but he left it there. “How was I like before, when I had all my memories intact? Because it makes me feel like I’m on fire inside. I can’t think. I can barely breathe.” I took in a big deep breath of fresh air. I needed to smell something that didn’t leave me feeling crazy right now.
“It used to render you helpless in a sense. You never seemed like you had the willpower to change anything about how you reacted to it. It could’ve been because you liked the tease, or because you used it so I would give in to you. But you resist it now. I can feel that. You are resisting losing control of yourself.”
I didn’t like how even I used the smell of him to have it go in my favor. I sounded more like a slut to some degree. “I…” How was I going to explain myself?
He reached up to silence me. “I like it. I don’t want you to be helpless. I want you to be happy. I’m sorry about how I treated you, in that way. I didn’t know that you still feel the same emotional response.”
“You just said that you bathed in the river on purpose to drive me crazy,” I stated through his fingers.
“I know,” he shook his head, sighing. “I did it because I thought it might help you remember me. But you didn’t react like you had before. You weren’t helpless, when I came here the first day. You didn’t remember, so I thought that it didn’t affect you the same way. That day on the riverbank, you never once passed out, or became bewildered. You were confused, but I didn’t know it was because you were resisting. And it was at its strongest then. How did you do it?”
He was clearly impressed by my self-control. “I don’t know. I guess it was the shock of seeing you in your animal form although I did not know that it was you at the time. I smelled it, but I thought through the irrational thoughts in my brain.”
“If I had known, I would’ve stopped bathing in that river.”
I relaxed a bit. “I suppose I can’t blame you,” I finally stated. As it annoyed the fire out of me, I actually was grateful that it was him who smelled wonderful and not some other guy. “You smell delicious.” I owned up to it, smiling.
He smiled back and kissed me.
It was a long kiss, and I enjoyed it. I was completely falling for him in every way possible. I loved him with my heart, mind and soul. We were perfect for each other. I never wanted to be separate from him. In the back of my mind, I briefly thought about how I was going to tell Isla and Trayen about him. But I shoved the idea out of my mind, for now we were here together, where nothing could disturb us from our embrace.