Chapter 16 - Goodbye
“So you talked to her? She is interested in starting a relationship with all of us?” I asked Max the moment that Derik disappeared down the hall with Ray, unable to hold in my excitement any longer.
“She told me that she really, really liked and was physically attracted to all of us. She was very concerned that those feelings would offend us and that she doesn’t want to hurt any of us,” Max replied and my heart melted. Ray was so fucking perfect. Of course, the main thing holding her back was her worry about us. She was starting to get very protective of us. I freaking loved it.
“We still need to come up with a plan to deal with the pile of marriage proposals that are only growing,” Con growled out and I knew that my brother was feeling jealous and defensive. He was afraid that the moment he gave his heart over to Ray, everything would fall apart and she would be taken away from us. I couldn’t bring myself to think about that. I wanted to live in the moment and take advantage of every single incredible thing in front of us. She was here and I loved her. Nothing else mattered.
“I think we also need to consider the possibility that she doesn’t belong here. That she belongs in Awenasa. She is a Gatekeeper and there will be major consequences if she continues to just ignore that fact,” Elijah said, and just like that the happy, hopeful atmosphere turned sour.
I would follow Ray anywhere. But what happens if she goes somewhere I can’t go?
I have no idea how much time has passed since Derik started my massage. It was like every moment felt so amazing that it stretched on for forever and that each feeling slipped through my fingers too quickly, only leaving a delicious aftertaste in their wake. Derik used slow, connected movements to press into my tense and overstrained muscles until I felt like I was reduced to a puddle of indescribable bliss. Derik started with my back, moved down each of my arms, and even rubbed each of my fingers, before starting at my feet moving upwards to include my calves and hamstrings.
Then he had me flip onto my back and sat in his office chair by my head and worked his magic thumbs into my shoulders. I tried to remind myself to communicate with Derik through this process, but honestly, I was immersed in too much pleasure to even put coherent thoughts together. My mind was empty and my body was in heaven. Derik had been right, this is exactly what I needed.
Derik had left me to my relaxing contemplation of what he was able to make my body feel and hadn’t said a single word since my promise. But when he started using his fingertips to firmly rub my scalp I was able to wake up enough to ask, “You said that you took classes for this at a local college. What got you interested in this to start off with?”
Derik’s hands didn’t falter as he replied, “When I was about your age and Elijah was nineteen, he hurt his back pretty bad in a training exercise. Max was only thirteen and still coming into his full power and could only help Elijah so much, so he had to heal the long way. This was just after the whole Eino going on a murdering spree and then being sentenced to death thing and I was really struggling. I am pretty sure Elijah reached out for help with his recovery more for my benefit than his, but we really bonded over it and I gained an appreciation for helping people this way.”
I don’t know if it was my promise to be more open and communicate with him, or the fact that he had reduced me to a boneless puddle of relaxation, but I said my next statement without any hesitation or embarrassment. “You and Elijah are really close.”
This time Derik’s fingers did pause for a moment but after I heard him take an audible breath, he continued his scalp massage and said, “I truly believe that you have the capacity to love each and every one of us deeply and completely. I believe that the connection and relationship you will build and continue to grow with my brothers will not diminish the possibility that we can have something special. I believe that just because you love one person, it doesn’t exclude you from ever loving anyone else.”
Then Derik stopped speaking and it took me a moment to understand that he thought that I expected him to be okay with me loving all five members of his clan, but that I would have a problem with him loving someone other than me. Derik thought that he was going to have to convince me of something that I already knew because I was slowly experiencing the confusing and life-changing emotions of falling for more than one person. But that was not the problem here. I might be curious about it, but I didn’t have any problems with the fact that Derik and Elijah were together. My problem was that while I was developing some powerful emotions towards Derik, the very last thing I wanted was for him to go through the motions of something when he didn’t feel the same way.
I didn’t want Derik to pretend to like me in that way as Jonas had just because this was something the guys had all talked about doing and he didn’t want to be the odd one out.
I sat up, pulling my head from Derik’s hands, and turned over on my stomach so now we were face to face and I could see his eyes. Derik had a stone-cold poker face, but I could always read something of what he was feeling in his eyes. “I know that you have an infinite capacity to love. I am not questioning that. I just - ,”
I started but faltered because this was really hard to say without sounding judgemental. But I had promised to be honest with him. To communicate what I was feeling so that we could move forward together. “I just want to make sure that you have real feelings towards me. That what you feel isn’t just the strong clan bond because I am a female Valkyrie with supercharged Gifts. If you aren’t attracted to women, that is completely okay with me. We can just -”
“Right now I am really thankful that you have Truth,” Derik interrupted me before I could ruin this perfect moment that he created just because he cared about me. “I am thankful because I don’t have to prove anything to you. I can just tell you and you will know without a shadow of a doubt if I am telling you the truth or not. So let me just tell you this right now so that you never think thoughts like that in your pretty little head again. I am bisexual. Or more correctly, I think I am a straight man that just happened to fall in love with his best friend over a lot of shared time and experiences with each other. It just happens that my best friend is a man. I am attracted to you. Like insanely attracted to you, which I am a little ashamed of because I am twenty-one and you are seventeen.”
Everything he was saying was the absolute truth and they made me insanely happy to hear. I think that after everything that happened with Jonas, I really needed this reassurance. “Eighteen,” I said, this time interrupting him.
“What?” Derik asked, sounding confused.
“Nahuel said that the only way that my Gifts would be acting this way was if I was days away from my eighteenth birthday. So really I am eighteen. Not seventeen,” I replied and his eyes lit up as if he wanted to smile but was forcing himself to stay stoic. “And we have been through so many adult things in the last month, that I don’t even feel like a teenager anymore. I mean I was kidnapped, have a stack of marriage proposals, and am a long-lost protector of an entire secret civilization. That is not teenager stuff. That is early twenties stuff at the very least.”
He finally stopped struggling and the edges of his lips tipped up into a small smile. “Okay then, Wonder Girl. In my mind, you are now in your early twenties and I am going to do everything in my power to keep you from experiencing any more shit that will prematurely age you,” Derik told me and by the end, the happy glint to his eyes was gone and replaced with something far more serious.
“A couple more of these massages might do the trick,” I replied in a lightly teasing tone, trying to erase the consequential tone of our conversation. “I feel practically good as new.”
Derik leaned forward and pressed a kiss to my forehead, tickling my skin slightly with the coarse hair of his beard. A shot of heat seared my skin where his lips touched me and I leaned into the gentle kiss. “Glad to hear it, Wonder Girl,” he said and his voice cracked on my nickname that I was starting to love. Then he tucked a stray hair behind my ear before getting up and leaving the room. I flopped on my back and enjoyed the ambiance of the room for a while longer as I thought about everything the guys were telling me and what it could mean for our future together.
About five minutes went by and I soaked up the solace from having a moment to myself. Then I heard the tell-tale sound of my phone vibrating over on Derik’s desk and I somehow gathered the will to get up and go check it. My life was so much more simple when I stayed invisible most of the time and didn’t have a cell phone. The text was from Jack asking me if I was going to be home for dinner tonight. I pushed back my reactionary response of anger at seeing Jack’s name and walked into the kitchen to see if we had any formal plans for the rest of the night. Part of me wanted Elijah to tell me that we were busy because I was sort of avoiding Jack, but the other part of me really needed to see Amy make sure was doing okay.
Elijah told me that we didn’t have anything planned so I told him that I was going to head back to the rent house to have dinner with Jack and Amy. Almost instantly, I heard footsteps and looked over to see all three of the Musketeers heading my way. I should have known I wouldn’t have to face tonight alone. I wasn’t alone anymore. I was a part of something bigger.
I changed back into my jeans and put my bra back on and then we all piled into Blake’s excessively large truck to drive the short distance to the duplex that Sean and Mathis had rented for us to use. When we pulled up to the house I looked over at the door that led to their side of the house and considered that I hadn’t seen either of them since I told them about what had happened to my father all those years ago. I hope they were okay. I didn’t even like my father, and it was a really hard story for me to come to terms with. Maybe I should go over there and try to talk to them.
I had just taken a couple of steps towards their door when the door from my side of the duplex opened and Jack stepped out onto the porch. He looked good. Like really good and I figured having a fully stocked fridge of fresh food instead of surviving on the free, highly processed school food was doing my friend a lot of favors. His face was filling out and he even had a five o’clock shadow that gave him this bad-boy brooding look. Jack looked so different from the scrawny kid that I protected from some school bullies, that I was forced to consider the fact that neither of us was the same people as we had been just eight short months ago. I wasn’t the only one who had changed. And the idea that our new, and arguably improved, selves didn’t mesh very well caused my heart to split in two. This felt like more than just his betrayal and I knew that I was not faultless. I had changed even more than Jack had and I had kept important life-changing things from him.
For what felt like forever, we just stood there and stared at each other and the crack in my heart continued to grow until I felt a track of coolness run down my cheek. I quickly broke eye contact with Jack and used the sleeve of my shirt to wipe away my stray tear. The very last thing I wanted to do was cry in front of Jack again. I sidestepped my best friend and first protected and walked into the house feeling heartbroken and dejected. I didn’t know how to talk to Jack, and right now I wasn’t even sure that I wanted to.
Amy was working on homework at the large dining room table and she jumped up when she saw me and didn’t hesitate to walk right up to me and give me a hug. I soaked up as much comfort from her as I could and collected my jumbled feelings. Then I sat down at the table and caught up on everything that had happened in her teenage life in the last couple of days.
Luckily, she was no longer hanging out with the crowd of kids that had peer pressured her to take those drugs at the party, and apparently, Luna and her friends had started including Amy in their friend group. I was hugely grateful that Amy really felt like she had somewhere to belong and took out my phone to text Luna. She was quick to reassure me that Amy was ‘super cool’ and that she would want to hang out with her even if she wasn’t my protected. Blake brought over a monopoly board game and I traded texts back and forth with Luna as the rest of us tried to ignore the thick tension in the room and play a normal game with Amy.
Max made some casserole dish made out of rice, cheese, and sausage that felt like comfort food, and I took a break from the game to throw together a large salad. By the time dinner was ready, Connor had already bankrupted both Jack and Max and my funds were not looking so good because I didn’t have many good properties. I was too frugal with my fake monopoly money to ever win in the long run. We decided to clean up the game to make room for us all to eat, and we all tried to make everything as normal as possible but Amy is a smart girl. As everyone was starting to clear plates, Amy declared that me and her would do the dishes. She banished everyone else to the basement where Sean had installed a flat-screen and ordered an oversized u-shaped couch. Both of the twins shared meaningful glances with me that I wasn’t positive I completely understood and before leaving me alone with Amy.
I guessed that she had something she wanted to say to me and I gave her time to gather her thoughts as I started rinsing the plates off and loading the dishwasher. “You deserve better from him. I am so sorry that he did that to you,” Amy’s small voice finally said. Her voice shook and I looked up to see that she was looking at me with more anger than I had ever seen her express before.
“Jack told you?” I asked, completely taken aback. I wasn’t expecting Jack to tell anyone what I had walked into that night. Especially not Amy.
“Yes. I could tell that something was up between you two and I didn’t drop it until he told me the truth. Ray, God. I am so mad at him. How could he? After everything that you have done for us? I totally understand why you have been staying away from us but Ray, this is your house. I think that we should go back to the trailer park. He is the one that hurt you. We don’t deserve to live here with you anymore,” Amy said as tears started running down her still too hollow cheeks. I swallowed down my own tears and hugged her as hard as I could.
“Oh honey, no. Of course, you deserve to live here and so much more. You are so important to me. Both of you are and I love you and him unconditionally. Yes, I am mad at your brother and honestly, I think that he is mad at me too because there is more to the story. But family is allowed to be mad at eachother and still love each other. That is what Max told me today and I think he is right. And I haven’t been staying away just because I am upset with Jack. Things in my life are changing and getting really complicated. I am just trying to figure everything out while making sure that you two stay safe,” I told her and felt her tip her head up so that she could look at me.
Her eyes were filled with tears and questions and I just couldn’t handle it. I pulled her closer, forcing her to turn her head, and asked, “Do you like staying here? I know that you were worried about leaving your mom when you moved in.”
She took a moment to respond but soon enough she gave me a watery, “Yes, I like it here.”
“Okay. That is more than enough for me. You can stay here as long as you want. Both of you can. No matter what. I promise.”
“Will you be staying here with us?” Amy asked in a small voice laced with tears.
“I don’t know honey. Like I said, my future seems to be up in the air and I feel like every day things change. So I just don’t know. But I will always be here if you need anything,” I vowed and prayed that I would be able to keep that vow. If I was forced to move to the Northeast or Japan or some other foreign country, I wasn’t sure how good this promise would turn out to be.
“You already have. Twice. Twice you have saved me. I love you, Ray,” Amy said and it just about killed me.
“I love you too, kid,” I said through the lump in my throat. We stayed like that, plastered to each other as our tears fell. Then Amy told me that she was going to take a shower and go hang out in her room. The second that she disappeared up the stairs, Jack stepped out of the doorway that leads down to the basement, clearly indicating that he had been there listening to at least a portion of our conversation. I was a little surprised that the twins had allowed such a thing, but I was actually glad that he had heard. It saved me from having to repeat myself.
I turned back to the sink and continued to clean up. I was going to leave this particular conversation starter up to Jack. “I was mad at you. Or rather I was hurt that you just kept keeping secrets from me. We used to spend so much time together and then all of sudden it was like I had no idea where you were or when the next time I would see you. We freaking live together and I never see you. You dropped out of school. You have all of these new exciting people in your life and I feel left out. I feel like you are moving on and leaving us behind while giving us your newly found table scraps,” Jack said without any anger in his voice, but every single one of his words was true. He really felt that way. I had made him feel that way.
“I wanted in. I wanted to be a part of your new world and I did something horrible. I regret every moment of it, but that doesn’t change that I was a jealous asshole and did something horrible. And the worst part is that all of the other shit hasn’t gone away. I still feel mad at you. I still feel left out. I still feel scared that you are going to come home covered in blood again and this time it will be yours. I still want in. Now, I just feel like a guilty prick on top of it all.”
Jack said all of this in that emotionless voice that I knew was a front. I wiped my hands off on the dishtowel, turned to face him, and crossed my arms over my chest. “I am sorry that I have made you feel that way. It was never my intention to do so,” I said in a voice that mirrored his own. “And to be honest, you are right to be scared if I am going to come home covered in blood again because right now my life is that much of a shit show. If I knew that I could keep you safe, I would tell you everything in a heartbeat. But right now, I am not even sure that I can keep myself safe, let alone you and Amy. You already probably know too much because you obviously know that what is going on here is not normal. I am sorry Jack, but I cannot let you in. The price might just be higher than I would ever risk paying.”
That finally broke his facade and he took a step towards me with a look of devastation and worry painted on his familiar features. “I would do anything for you Ray. Walk to the end of the world for you. Jump in front of a bullet for you. But I have to know where the bullet is coming from. Ignorance may be bliss, but it is not realistic. If you think you are in danger, that there is a possibility of it seeping over into our lives, then I have a right to know. Try to see this from my shoes for a moment. How would you react if I told you that I was in danger but I wouldn’t let you help me? What if I wouldn’t even talk to you about it. Ray, this shit isn’t okay,” Jack declared and I agreed with him. It was so not okay.
“I understand what you are saying but-,” I started to say but Jack interrupted me with an almost frantic edge to his voice
“Are you a witch?”
“What?” I choked out and did everything in my power not to react because that question was too close to the truth for me.
“You are right. Everything that has been happening is not normal and I am not blind or stupid. Are you a witch? Or a werewolf? Unless everything in folklore can be ignored, I know that you aren’t a vampire. Are you some sort of elf or faerie?” Jack asked and his voice just kept increasing in volume as continued to list different supernatural creatures that I am sure he found via Google. I was shocked and more than a little worried that the ever-growing faction of people watching my every move would overhear and draw the wrong conclusions. To keep that from happening I pushed us both back into the void and sealed the entrance, ensuring that the rest of this conversation would stay between us.
Jack was just asking if I had been bitten by some radioactive spider that caused me to develop supernatural powers when his eyes focused on something on the floor to my left. I followed his line of sight to see that the red folder that Sean had given me with all of my father’s banking and estate information was laying on the floor half in and half out of the kitchen counter. I vaguely remembered sending the cursed thing to the void, but I hadn’t thought about it since then. Jack looked confused and before I could stop him, he took a step forward bent to grab the folder. But he had tried to brace himself on the kitchen counter and his hand ghosted through it because we were in the void. He ended up falling over and landing in the exact space where the kitchen island occupied in the physical realm.
“What the fuck?” Jack yelled and scrambled to his feet. My stomach sank and I didn’t know what to say as Jack started experimenting by putting his hands and feet through other parts of the house. I let him figure out some of the truth by himself while I tried to not panic. This was bad. Like really really bad. And I was not okay with the fact that Jack had pushed me into this. I understood that he wanted answers but I had been very clear that giving him those answers would put both him and Amy in real danger. That they could die because of it. And Jack had pushed anyway.
I felt my power ripple inside of me and I took a couple of deep breaths as Jack continued to exclaim at the impossibility of what he was experiencing. When I finally felt like I had slightly more control of my out of control Gifts I said, “This is where I go when I turn invisible.”
“Damn Ray! This is so fucking cool. Is this where ghosts exist?” Jack said, now sounding excited instead of frustrated or angry. He was finally getting exactly what he was asking for.
I stayed quiet for a moment and eventually Jack’s smile started to falter as he began to realize just how angry I was. “Do you have any idea what you have done?” I whispered as the panic once again gripped my insides. What did I do next? How did I undo this? I had just broken the number one, unbreakable Law and if anyone ever found out the Valkyries would kill both Jack and Amy. They would probably even kill their mom just to be thorough.
“I know you kept saying that it was dangerous for me to know, but this isn’t bad. So you can turn into a ghost. No big deal. You are still the same Ray. I am not going to judge you for being different,” Jack said with pure sincerity and the rest of my anger turned into icy fear.
“I wasn’t keeping all of this a secret from you because I thought you were going to judge me,” I told Jack in a flat voice. “I didn’t tell you because it is against every single Law that my world is governed by and if the fact that you know ever gets out, people I don’t know if I can protect you from will come in droves to kill you. To kill Amy. To kill me too. You may have just signed all of our death warrants.”
Jack looked completely taken aback. “But I am not going to tell anyone,” Jack tried to defend and I could tell I had finally gotten through to him. “Plus I don’t even really know anything. You still haven’t told me anything.”
He was telling the truth when he said that he wasn’t going to tell anyone, but right now that was a small comfort. I was under a great amount of scrutiny right now. This was a move that we shouldn’t have allowed to happen. That I should have never allowed to happen. I should have never invited Jack and Amy to come to live with me. I should have just allowed them to live out their lives and protected them from afar as Derik did with his protected. They weren’t a part of the messed up supernatural world and because I was so selfish in wanting a family, that world was now a great danger to them.
Silent tears started streaming down my cheeks as I considered all of the mistakes I had made with Jack and Amy. “Hey,” Jack said and used his thumb to start wiping away my tears before tipping my head back so that I was forced to look him in the eyes. “Don’t cry. We will figure this out. Now you can tell me exactly what is going on and I can help.”
He really didn’t understand.
I pulled away from him and took several steps away, never breaking eye contact with him. “No, Jack. I told you once that I would cut all ties with you and walk away before I ever let my world put you in danger. I wasn’t lying to you. This was the one line I asked you not to cross and you did it anyway. Now is the time to try to do damage control. Now is not the time to give you even more radioactive answers.”
“What are you talking about? What exactly are you saying right now?” Jack questioned, finally sounding appropriately panicked.
“Right now I have at least a half dozen people following my every move and not all of those people are my allies. People are trying to force me to do things that I do not want to do, and you and Amy are my most vulnerable weakness. But you are protected because you are human. Humans are untouchable until the moment that they learn about our world. Then they are considered dispensable. If you ever utter a single word about any of this, including any of your idiotic suspicions that you were shouting at me earlier, creatures that you will be powerless against will come to murder you in cold blood,” I told him bluntly because he really needed to hear and understand the situation.
“And you have left me with no choice but to protect you and Amy the only way I know how,” I said and my voice cracked. I had to turn away from his beautiful face as my shoulders shook with the force of the sob I was trying to withhold.
“No!” Jack declared with determination. Like if he could change everything if he just willed it to be so. “No, that is not acceptable. You cannot just walk away. We are a family. You promised that you would always be here. That you weren’t going anywhere. You cannot leave us.”
I forced myself to be strong and held back my tears as best as I could as I turned to look at the first person I had ever allowed myself to love. The first person to see me as more than a slave or an unwanted obligation. To my very best friend. “I will always be here for you,” I told him in a high-pitched voice that was laden with held-back tears. Then I spread out my arms to gesture the void. “I have a connection with you and Amy. A magical connection that will let me know if you ever need me. And I will always be watching. From here. You may not see me. But I will be here.”
In an eerily perfect illustration of this fact, both of the twins and Max chose that moment to walk up from the basement and look around for us, clearly not seeing us standing right in front of them. “That is how you knew when Amy needed you at the school and when she overdosed at that party,” Jack said as the realization of what I was telling him started to sink in.
“To be honest, this might be for the best,” I told him without being able to meet his gaze anymore. “I don’t think I am going to be able to stay in California for much longer. I am being pressured into making some really big decisions and most likely I will have to move soon. So, this is just us saying goodbye a little early.”
Because I wasn’t looking at Jack, I didn’t see that he had walked towards me but all of a sudden I was wrapped up in his strong arms and he was holding onto me for dear life. “No, no, no, no,” Jack was practically crying into my hair and I took the opportunity to breathe in his comforting scent and memorize exactly what it felt like to be held by him. “I’m sorry. I’m so fucking sorry. Here I have been stewing in self-pity because I felt left out and you have been dealing with real shit. God, I am such a fucking asshole. God, Ray this can’t be happening.”
But this was happening. I had refused to think about the logistics of moving because of this very feeling that was tearing through me. I tried to take solace in the idea that maybe the wolves would look after my protected for me. “You and Amy are going to stay here. You are going to do that for me because I need to know that you are safe and taken care of. Can you do that for me?”
“Will we still hear from you? Like via text and video chats? Or is this like the last time that I will ever see you?” Jack asked and his voice cracked and his breathing started to pick up speed.
I pulled away from him and considered the possibilities of both answers. “Can you drop this? Can you swear to never ask me those types of questions again? To never say anything about this place or the fact that I have the ability to disappear. Do you really want to keep in contact with me knowing that I will never be able to tell you the whole truth? Because you have told me that you could do that in the past, but tonight you broke that promise and pushed too far.”
Jack remained quiet and I figured that was answer enough. I embraced him again, putting everything into the hug. Trying to convey just how much I loved him and wanted the very best things in this world for him. Pulling away from him and returning him to the physical plane was one of the hardest things I have ever voluntarily done.
All three of my Musketeers spun around the second that Jack reappeared and they immediately started demanding answers, but I didn’t stick around to listen to the fallout. I had someone else to say goodbye to.