The next morning, Xander was the first to wake up. Opening his eyes to a face full of sunlight, he blinked and turned away from the glaring light. Yawning, he stretched his arms over his head as best he could in the low van, glancing around as he did so. He glanced up at Athena and Percy in the front seats, who were sleeping the morning away. Then he turned and looked at Annelise. In the night, her hair had become a chaotic jumble around her head as she tossed and turned in the seat. Static was even causing some of it to stand straight up towards the ceiling. Her head had slipped down until it rested against the window, and the speck of drool on her chin was now a river, and had dribbled down onto the collar of her shirt. But still, she looked absolutely beautiful to him.
As he yawned again, his higher functions, such as memory and reasoning, came back to him and he recalled what he had to do that day. That very morning. For when Annelise woke up, after she became fully conscious, he had to tell her the truth. It couldn’t be put off any longer. And still, he had no idea how he was going to do it.
“I need to figure this out,” he whispered to himself, feeling the weight of the task ahead of him. “I’ll be back soon,” he told sleeping Annelise. “And then, you’ll know it all,” he finished.
With that, he opened the door and stepped out of the van.
Wondering how Dianna and Tyler were doing, he glanced back at the car, to find it empty.
“Why does that give me a bad feeling?” He asked himself. “Whatever. They can take care of themselves,” he said with a shrug, before stepping into the forest.
He worked his way through the trees, brushing aside branches and leaves in his way, until he came to a small pond. This pond, however, was nothing like the one they’d encountered the day before. This pond had no water flowing in, or out of it. It was stagnant. There were no reeds, or lily pads, or ducks, or frogs. All there was was a green film covering the surface.
“If there are any glaistigs in there, don’t even bother coming up. You can’t enchant me,” he said to the pond. “Then again, if you want to come up and pretend to be Annelise, that might actually be helpful,” he added.
He looked at the pond, waiting for its answer. When nothing happened, he took it as a ‘no’. If there was something in there, it didn’t want to play Annelise, at least.
“Okay then, where to begin,” he said to himself, before chuckling, and shaking his head. “Gosh, if I can’t even think of what to say when I’m by myself, what chance do I have when she’s standing there across from me?”
He closed his eyes, rubbing his forehead, before starting again.
“Annelise,” he began, “I have something to tell you. No, there’s something you need to know. Yeah, that’s better. At least I think it is. Anyway, there’s something you need to know. I’ve been looking for the chance to say it for a while now. And I almost did yesterday, but before I could we were interrupted. A couple times, actually. But that’s not important. I’ve liked you for a while now. But I wasn’t able to accept that I did. I was in denial over my feelings for you, because we haven’t known each other for very long. So I told myself that of course I didn’t like you, because how could I have come to like you in such a short time? And, if I’m to be honest, I think part of me felt like I shouldn’t like you too, and that it would be wrong for me to. You see…wait, should I say it there?” He wondered out loud. “Or should I say it a little later? I hate talking so much. If I could just do this in a note it would be so much easier. I could cross stuff out, do a few drafts. But I can’t. I have to do this in person. I mean, I already told her how I feel about her. That’s supposed to be the hard part. But this is just killer. Whatever, stop complaining,” he ordered himself. “You can do this. Annelise,” he continued, “when I saw how you were at the fair, when I saw you dancing, I didn’t care about whether I should, or shouldn’t have feelings for you. All I knew was that I had them and I didn’t want them to stop or go away. I wanted to give in to those feelings. And I did, because I’ve never felt this way about anyone before. Not even once. I care about you, and I don’t want to hurt you, so I have to tell you this because it’s the right thing to do. I have to be honest with you and accept the consequences. You see I…I…I feel absolutely insane standing here talking to nothing. Didn’t Hitler do this? I think I remember learning that Hitler practiced public speaking doing this kind of thing. So great job, Xander. It’s you and Hitler. That’s some great company to be in,” he said sarcastically. “Is this hopeless? I feel like this is hopeless, and I’m doing more harm than good. No, this has to be helping. Practice makes perfect. That’s what they always say. Now get back to the point,” he told himself. “Annelise,” he began again.
Back at the vehicles, meanwhile, Annelise, Percy, and Athena were up and surprised to find that the others were gone.
“I wonder where they are,” Annelise said, though she was mainly curious about Xander.
“I don’t know. Hopefully they won’t be too long. We have a few hours to drive yet,” Athena said.
“Yeah. I’m ready to put this trip behind us,” Percy said.
“They can’t have gone too far,” Annelise remarked, scanning the tree line.
“Yeah, they’re probably nearby,” Athena said, taking a bite of granola bar. “Come and get something to eat,” she told her friend.
“In a second,” Annelise responded.
She sent one last look out at the trees before turning around and joining Athena and Percy on a fallen log for some breakfast.
But still, while her head told her that everything was fine, she had a bad feeling in her gut, like something was about to go horribly wrong. She felt like somewhere a storm was gathering, and they were in the calm before it unleashed its unholy fury on them.
Then again, it was just a feeling. And so, telling herself that she was wrong and nothing bad was going to happen, she opened up a bag of trail mix and ate a handful.
“That was really nice,” Dianna said to Tyler when they finally woke up. “I really enjoyed it.”
“It was good. I’d expect nothing less from you, though,” Tyler responded.
Dianna wasn’t entirely sure what he meant by that, so she just moved on.
“Tyler, I…I…” She stammered. “I think I love you,” she finally spat out.
Hearing that, Tyler paused, and turned to look at her. Then he chuckled, and shook his head.
“I’m sure you don’t,” he said.
“No, I do,” Dianna reiterated. “I’ve never felt like this about anyone before. I’ve never…never made love to anyone before.”
“That really surprised me, actually. I didn’t think a girl like you would still be a virgin. Still, it was a good surprise,” he said, chuckling again.
“What do you mean ‘a girl like me’?” Dianna asked.
“I really don’t.”
“You’re a fun girl. You’re fun to be around, and you like having fun, and you’re especially fun while having sex. I just thought you would have already found out how fun sex was.”
“You mean you thought I was a slut,” Dianna said.
“I’d use the term ‘experienced’, rather than, ‘slut’,” Tyler replied.
“Well you were wrong. I may goof around a lot, but that’s not who I am, or what I am. I made love to you because I care about you, not because it’s fun.”
“First of all, when you say ‘made love’ you sound like a 40 year old woman,” Tyler said. “We didn’t ‘make love’. We had sex. And it was fun. And that’s all it was. Fun. That’s what we’ve been this whole time: fun. I mean, I already have someone I love back home. And it’s not you, and I don’t need or want another relationship. This was just a summer fling. But it’s almost time to get back to the real world, a world where this is just a fun, great memory. I mean, can’t we just leave it like that? It’s not like what we did was a big deal.”
“It was a big deal to me,” Dianna said weakly, struggling to hold back the tears that were forming in her eyes.
“That’s not my fault,” Tyler said dismissively, with a shrug.
The tears in Dianna’s eyes broke free and fell down her cheeks as she stood up and started getting dressed. In that moment, she felt more than just heartbroken. She felt like a complete idiot. She felt like such a fool to have let herself be used like that, and to not have seen it coming. And she felt angry with herself for being so stupid.
“Don’t cry,” Tyler told her, more because of his own discomfort than compassion for her. “Come on, it’s not a big deal!”
Dianna quickly finished dressing. All she wanted was to get away from Tyler. She needed to be away from him. When she saw his face, heard his voice, it felt like they were mocking her, reminding her of her stupid mistake. And so, without saying another word, she hurried away back towards the vehicles.
“Oh come on!” Tyler said, following her.
In response, Dianna merely picked up the pace.
Back at the pond, meanwhile, Xander was finally nailing down what he wanted to say to Annelise.
“Annelise,” he began, “there’s something you need to know. I’ve liked you for a while now. It’s like I told you before, you’re like no one I’ve ever met before. And the way you make me feel is like nothing I’ve felt with anyone else before, either. For a while I wasn’t able to accept those feelings. I told myself that we were just friends, because how could we be anything else after knowing each other for such a short time? And, to be honest, part of me didn’t think it would be right for us to be anything else. But then I saw you dancing and it was like…like you were a glaistig to me. Minus the bloodsucking, murderous part. Watching you dance, I couldn’t deny my feelings for you any longer. I finally came to accept that I had fallen for you completely, utterly, without anything held back. And that’s why I’m about to tell you this, because if we’re going to move forward with this, you need to know the truth. You see, Annelise, one of the reasons I struggled to accept my feelings for you is because I’m already with someone else,” he admitted to the wind. “I’ve been with a girl named Melissa for a couple of years. Of those couple of years, we’ve spent most of them apart. We staring dating towards the end of high school, and then college happened. She stayed in New San Francisco, and I went out east. For a while we were alright. We talked on the phone a lot. But over time, we just fizzled out. In the last two months I’ve only talked to her once, and then only briefly. I just don’t feel the same way about her as I did when we started out. Our relationship is dead in every respect other than us formally breaking it off. I’ve thought about doing it many times. But I never really had a reason to until now. Tonight, after we get to New San Francisco, I am going to call her, and meet with her, and finally break up with her officially. And then, if after hearing all of this you still want to, I would love to find out where the two of us can go together.”
He stood there for a moment, in silence, as he thought about what he just said.
“Yep, that’s it,” he declared. “Now let’s hope I can actually remember all of that,” he said, starting back towards the vehicles.
Athena, Annelise, and Percy quietly finished their breakfast, with no idea as to what kind of storm was headed their way. As they threw their garbage in a small paper bag to dispose of later, Dianna walked into camp, tears streaming down her face.
A few seconds later, Tyler appeared as well.
At the sight of their distraught friend, Annelise and Athena stopped what they were doing.
“Dianna, what’s wrong?” Annelise asked.
Dianna didn’t respond. She merely walked past them, into the van, and closed the door. Then, she began sobbing anew.
Athena and Annelise exchanged worried looks, before walking to the van and joining her inside.
“What’s going on Dianna?” Athena asked tenderly.
“I just want to be left alone right now,” Dianna barely choked out through her tears.
“We’re not going to leave you alone like this,” Annelise said.
“Please, tell us what happened,” Athena said.
“If I tell you you’re going to be mad. And I really don’t want to be yelled at,” Dianna cried.
“We’re not going to yell at you; we just want to help,” Athena assured her.
“Promise you won’t get mad at me?” Dianna asked.
“I promise,” Athena said.
“And I promise too,” Annelise said.
“Okay,” Dianna accepted, though still hesitantly. She took a moment to calm down, before starting her tale. “Last night, after we stopped, when you guys were asleep, Tyler and I snuck away, into the forest. And we…we had sex,” she admitted. “I thought I loved him, and I thought that he loved me. But he doesn’t care about me. He never did. He just wanted to sleep with me because he thought it would be fun, because I’m just some slut to him. He said he’s already with someone who’s so much better than me, and I’m just an idiot for believing he cared about me. I’m just so stupid,” she wept.
“No, you’re not,” Athena said, her temper rising as she thought about what Tyler did. “He lied to you, and he used you. And he is so going to pay for that,” she fumed.
“Hell yeah he is,” Annelise agreed. “No one treats you that way and just gets away with it. Not on our watch.”
With that, Athena opened the door and she and Annelise began marching over to Tyler, who was calmly talking to Percy.
“Guys, don’t!” Dianna called after them.
They kept walking, though. Dianna was their friend. And they were not going to let him get away with treating her like that.
“Do you feel good knowing that you made our friend cry? Did you enjoy using her, and then throwing her away, you stupid piece of shit?” Athena roared at him.
“Use her? She wanted it too!” Tyler retorted.
“Because you made her think you cared about her, you heartless bastard!” Annelise yelled.
“You slept with her?” Percy asked, shocked.
“Of course I did! What else would I do with someone like her?” Tyler rejoined.
“Maybe treat her like a human being!” Athena screamed.
“Or have some respect for your actual girlfriend, and not do anything at all!” Annelise added.
“Girlfriend? You said you’d broken up!” Percy exclaimed.
“We did. And then we got back together and I forgot to tell you,” Tyler explained.
“Never in all my life have I met such a son-of-a-bitch!” Annelise bellowed.
“Oh, I’m a son-of-a-bitch? Then Xander is too!” Tyler countered.
“He’s nothing like you, so don’t you even dare bring him up!” Annelise roared.
“Really? He’s not? You could have fooled me, because he’s getting awful cozy with you even though he’s already dating someone too!” Tyler revealed, a smug, victorious look passing onto his face.
“You’re lying,” Annelise said. “He’s lying again, isn’t he?” She asked Percy, desperate to hear that he was.
“Technically, Xander is still with someone else,” Percy confirmed.
“They’re serious too!” Tyler said. “They’ve been together for almost two years! So before you call me bad, why don’t you take a good look at him too!”
Hearing that, Annelise felt absolutely gutted. She felt stupid, and angry at herself, just like Dianna did. She’d thought that he really cared about her. She’d never thought that he might be using her too. And like that, tears welled up in her eyes as well. She didn’t have it in her to yell anymore. She didn’t have anything in her except sorrow.
“No, it’s not like that!” Percy said, trying to stick up for his friend. “Xander isn’t like that!”
Annelise, however, couldn’t stand to even hear his name. And nothing Percy could say would change the fact that Xander was already with someone. Someone that wasn’t her. So, struggling not to cry, she turned around, and started walking back to the van.
“Annelise, wait!” Percy said, about to go after her.
“You leave her alone or I will break your nose!” Athena warned him.
From the tone of her voice, Percy could tell that Athena meant her threat, and stopped dead in his tracks.
“Now you both listen to me!” Athena continued. “We are done dragging your pathetic asses around the country. If you want to get home from here, you guys can walk. Or just stay here and die for all I care,” Athena said before storming away and unhooking the car from the van.
It was at that moment that Xander returned to the vehicles.
“What’s going on?” He asked no one in particular, unable to believe what he was seeing.
Annelise, hearing his voice, looked over and saw him standing there with a confused expression on his face. And even though she was crying because of him, she nonetheless got out of the van and walked over to him. It wouldn’t change anything, but she wanted to hear the truth from his own mouth.
Xander, meanwhile, was shocked and worried to see Annelise crying. And he wanted to help her, to offer her some comfort. He’d never seen her cry like that before, and it was the first look he’d seen on her face that he didn’t like. And he vowed that if it was at all possible, he’d see to it that she’d never cry anything but tears of joy ever again.
“Annelise, what’s wrong? And what’s going on here?” He asked, noticing for the first time that Dianna was crying as well, and the look of fury on Athena’s face.
“Do you have a girlfriend?” Annelise asked him simply.
“What?” Xander asked in shock.
“Are you already with someone romantically?” Annelise asked harsher.
“Technically yes, but we-”
“Shut up,” Annelise interrupted. “I’m done with your lies. This whole time you’ve been trying to use me, and I’m not going to let you anymore.”
“I was going to tell you. I was. Please, just give me the chance to explain!” Xander begged.
“No. I’m done with you. I don’t want to see you again, and I don’t want to hear your voice again. Just go away and leave me alone,” Annelise said before turning around and storming back to the van.
Xander, meanwhile, absolutely stunned, couldn’t help but break down into tears as well.
Once Annelise was in the van, Athena got into the driver’s seat and started the engine. Just as she was about to pull away, Annelise spoke up.
“Wait,” she said.
“Why?” Athena asked.
“Percy,” Annelise said. “He didn’t lie to us, or try to use us. We shouldn’t leave him stranded here with them.”
“She’s right,” Dianna agreed. “We should at least take him somewhere where he can call for a ride.”
Athena sat there for a moment, in thought. She didn’t want to take Percy. She’d had more than enough of those boys. But her friends were right. She shouldn’t condemn him for the sins of his companions. So, reluctantly, she got out of the van, and walked up to him.
“Have you lied to us, or intended to use us since we met you?” She asked him.
“No,” he answered truthfully.
“Then if you want, we’ll give you a ride to somewhere that has a phone. But that’s all.”
“Okay,” he accepted with a nod. “I’ll be back,” he said to Xander, completely ignoring Tyler.
“Athena,” Xander began to her desperately, “please, can you talk to Annelise for me?”
“Considering that I’m restraining myself from physically attacking you right now, no, I will not talk to her for you,” Athena answered.
With that, Athena and Percy returned to the van.
“Say one word to my friends, and I won’t hesitate before throwing you out onto the side of the road. Got it?” Athena asked Percy.
“Yeah,” he answered, believing her words.
With that, Percy climbed into the back, behind where Annelise and Dianna were sitting, and Athena returned to the driver’s seat. Athena then shifted the van into drive and pulled away, leaving Tyler and Xander alone with their broken down car.