I stayed out on the beach for a while longer, sitting in my red chair, watching the sky get darker and the stars begin to pop out in the great expanse of sky above me. Today had been the most normal I’d felt since I came here. For short amounts of time I could actually imagine that I was just a regular seventeen year old girl, spending a relaxing day on the beach with her friends.
Too soon, that feeling would be gone. I glanced down and saw my amulet was just barely lit and I sighed, heaving up from my chair to go out into the pitch black water. I could already feel the changes of the seasons coming. The water was colder today, not nearly as comfortable as it had been most nights.
“Serena!” Cass called from the little island and I swam over. The moon was bright tonight, illuminating the sand and making it seem to glow where Levi and Cassandra were sitting.
“Hey guys.” I smiled, still feeling a little bubbly as I joined them where they sat.
Levi raised her eyebrows at me and pulled up her dress so that she could sit cross-legged. “I can’t believe you.” She said hurriedly. “You’re insane for not coming out to the boat.”
“She’s right.” Cassandra chimed in, her long slender nose looking pinched. “Alana is probably going to be really pissed off.” She told me sounding worried. “What were you thinking? There were ten guys on that boat that got lost.”
My shoulders slumped. “Ten?” I repeated.
Levi hit my shoulder gently. “Yeah, and I know I said Theon is hot, but he’s not hot enough that you should blow off keeping your deal with Alana.”
I nodded, but turned to face them. “I don’t regret it.” I said honestly. “Tally was with me, and I didn’t want her to see me do something like that.”
“Theon probably does worse in front of her.” Levi shrugged.
I narrowed my eyes, annoyance building in me from nowhere. The levels rising by the second. “He would never do anything bad in front of her, Levi.” I snapped. “You don’t even know them.”
She widened her eyes and leaned back on her hands in the sand. “Alright, well then what is it exactly that he does?” She countered. “Does he just make Alana balloon animals, or hand out cotton candy?” She had a snarky edge to her voice I’d never noticed before. “He isn’t a saint or he wouldn’t be working for someone like Alana.”
I was fuming, and took a deep breath. “I don’t know what he does, Levi, but it doesn’t matter. I know it isn’t something cookie cutter, but I know he would never involve Tally in something bad, and I didn’t want to either.” I said heatedly. I hated the way my voice shook.
“Guys, stop arguing.” Cassandra groaned, pulling up her knees. “It was Serena’s choice to pass on the boat to protect Tally, so we can’t say anything about it.” She said to Levi, then she turned to me. “Levi is only trying to look out for you.” She said and I nodded my head.
“Yeah.” I muttered.
“Yeah.” Levi repeated, crossing her arms, but sighing. “Did you have fun with him?” She asked, trying to sound less annoyed. “It looked like you guys did.”
I tried to let go off my annoyance too, and forced a smile. “Yeah, I did, but it wasn’t about him.” I added. “I had fun in general. Tally is great, and Theon was a lot nicer than usual.” I told them. “Next time you guys should come too.”
“Next time?” Cassandra repeated.
“Did he kiss you?” Levi asked, lifting one eyebrow.
I laughed, laying back on the sand. “I mean, I don’t know if there will be a next time or not, but if there is, I want you guys to come too. It felt nice to pretend to be normal again.” Then I sighed. “And, no, Levi.” I smiled up at the moon. “He didn’t try, and I wouldn’t have let him if he did, I love Asher, remember?”
“Yeah, yeah.” She laughed, laying out beside me.
Cassandra leaned back too. “What was he like?” She whispered. “Asher, I mean.”
The moon looked more melancholy to me now. “He was…He is the most amazing guy.” I whispered back. “He’s gorgeous, but it’s not only that.” I told them. “He was my best friend. He was dependable and smart, and he had this face he’d make whenever I was trying to make him laugh and he would try to hold it back. He’d pinch up his nose and mouth and it made him look constipated, but I always thought it was the funniest thing ever. He always made me laugh. He was…good.” I smiled sadly. “I miss him.”
Cassandra reached over to me and held my hand, squeezing it once. “He sounds great.” She said softly.
“I bet he is missing you too.” Levi said beside me and I blinked away one tear, the moon blurring in my vision for a second.
I stared up at it and cheesily hoped that wherever Asher is right now, that he might be looking up at the same moon as me. Maybe if he was, he’d even be able to feel me. To know that I’m alive and doing all I can do to get back to him.
The next day came on fast, but brought no new people to the cove. Theon had been back on his regular schedule. He showed up, did his work, and then got out of here. We exchanged some pleasantries, but he didn’t hangout or anything after he finished his work, not that I expected him to.
The days were all starting to blur together, and the more and more passed, the more I had to wonder if I’d made the right choice not going out for the boat. I knew I had, but at the same time I definitely worried that another opportunity like that wouldn’t happen again.
As long as two years sounded, two more weeks passed like it was nothing. The realization was both comforting and terrifying. In one respect it meant that two years of working for Alana may go by faster than I’d thought, but at the same time, that meant we were getting closer and closer to our deadline and we were nowhere near 100. The pressure was weighing us all down.
I walked up the beach, and stared into the trees. I decided to see how far into the foliage I could get before my amulet starts to dim. The change of scenery felt nice, and I crept slowly through the tangles of trees. The way the sun cut down through the palm leaves casted a green hue across my skin and I inched further and further in. I was beyond curious what all was on this island. It is clearly pretty big since I know there is a resort, a bar, and a diner at least because Theon works in all of those places.
I was a few yards in when I came across a small little house-like shack.
It would have usually freaked me out to stumble across a house hidden away in the trees, but today it was intriguing. It was one story tall and only had three little dusty windows. The whole thing was built out of mix matched colored wood, and the front door was plastic and there was small little drawing across it.
I took a couple steps closer, and I was about to lean in to look in the window beside the door when it swung open.
“Who the hell are you?” A girl demanded. She was a little shorter than me, with dark olive skin and brown hair and eyes. She looked to be about my age and she stood in front of me gawking at me. “Hello?” She asked again.
“Oh, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to intrude, I was jus-.”
“Heading to a costume party?” She asked narrowing her eyes at me like I was disgusting. “What the hell are you wearing?”
I rolled my eyes. “I’m just going to go.” I told her, turning to walk away.
“Yeah, you do that!” She yelled after me.
“Serena?” I heard a familiar voice call and I whipped around.
“Theon.” I said when I saw him standing in the doorway of the little shack.
The girl threw her arms in the air. “Of course you two know each other.” She said acidly.
Theon caught her arm as she tried to leave, but she jerked it back. “Tanya, where are you going?” He asked her.
“Home.” She snapped, throwing me a nasty glance again before she disappeared into the trees the opposite direction.
Theon cursed and ran his hands through his hair, kicking the ground in front of him.
“I’m sorry.” I whispered then turned away again walking briskly back towards the beach.
I could hear his footfalls behind me, and he caught me by the elbow spinning me back around. “What are you doing out here, Serena?” He asked, his voice not sounding as harsh as I expected it to.
I stuttered as I stared into his honey brown eyes. “I was just exploring and I just happened upon this…”
“My house.” He finished for me.
My chest tightened. “You live there?” I asked.
He huffed and rolled his eyes. “Yeah, not as nice as what you’re used to, I’m sure, but it does for me and Tally.”
I shook my head, reaching out to put my hand on his broad chest. “Oh, no, I wasn’t saying that, Theon.” I said quickly. “I just didn’t know you lived so close is all.”
He avoided my gaze, looking off behind me instead. “Yeah, well, you better get back.” He told me. “You’re losing light.” He said softly, looking down at my amulet for a minute.
“Ok.” I said awkwardly, kind of wanting to get out of these trees and back to my beach anyway.
I walked away fast. I don’t know what I had just interrupted, and I couldn’t help thinking how sad it was that he and Tally live in that tiny little place in the middle of the trees. What he had said to me about people teasing Tally started to make a little sense. Kids can be mean when it comes to things like this, as sad as it is.
I sighed with relief as I walked back out to the sandy beach and down to the water.
No wonder Theon had been so rude to me at first. He just thought I was a spoiled rich girl, and he was living in that as hard as he works.
Suddenly I was struck with an odd thought.
Theon has been calling me a princess, and talking at me like that since the day I met him. He told me he knew more about me than I thought, and at the time, I thought he was just being an ass. But now that I think of it, even just a minute ago he acted like he knows I come from money.
How does Theon know that?
I considered stomping back through the woods to find him and demand he tell me, but I was afraid of coming off too dramatic, or being wrong. It was possible that he was just assuming and I was jumping to conclusions. I waded in the water and tried to calm my suspicions. Theon and I had just now gotten to a decent place, and I don’t need to ruin it by being too jumpy. I’ll just wait until he comes by tomorrow to ask him.
The next day, however, he didn’t show up.
Or the next.
When the third day came, and still no Theon, I confessed to the girls my suspicions.
“Do you think I’m being silly?” I asked them. “I mean, he is the one who specifically said he knows more about me than I think, and he keeps saying little things like that that make me feel like he does know something.”
Levi shrugged. “I don’t know, Serena.” She admitted. “It does sound a little bit strange, but at the same time it’s not like there have been any obvious red flags, right?”
I sighed. “Well, no.”
“What is it exactly you think he’s hiding?” Cassandra asked, raising her eyebrows.
I thought hard, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. “I’m just being ridiculous.” I said, dismissing it.
After five whole days without showing up, I finally heard his boat entering the bay on the sixth day.
He swam ashore and shook out his hair, looking confused. “Did you clean the beach?” He asked surprised.
I turned and looked around. I had gotten so bored, and the beach was looking run down without anyone looking after it, so I had kind of taken it upon myself to pick up the slack. I shrugged. “I couldn’t stand it looking dirty.” I told him.
He smiled and crossed his arms. “Well, I don’t guess I have much to do today then.” He said, plopping down in his checkered shorts, sand flying up around him. “Thanks.”
I stood in the warm breeze and watched the wind blow his wet hair. “Where were you?” I asked nonchalantly, coming to sit beside him, not too close.
He glanced over at me as I sat, but then turned his eyes back out to the water. “I was, uh, sick.” He mumbled.
“You don’t sound too sure about that.” I pointed out and he kept his eyes turned. “Were you sick or not?”
“Yeah.” He nodded.
I rolled my eyes, it was obvious that he was lying, which only added to my frustrations. I almost had myself convinced that I was being paranoid, but now this too. “Theon?”
“Serena?” He repeated my tone, turning to raise his eyebrows at me.
I huffed. “Can I ask you something?”
“Me saying no wouldn’t stop you from doing it.” He shrugged, digging his feet down into the sand.
“The day we met, you mentioned something about knowing more about me than I thought.” I reminded him. “What did you mean?”
He wrapped his arms around his legs and sighed. “Nothing.”
“Nothing?” I repeated him, widening my eyes.
“Yeah, nothing.” He mumbled under his breath.
“You’re lying.” I said evenly, looking away from him and staring instead at his boat floating out in the waves.
“Yeah.” He whispered, making me whip my head back to look at him again.
I dropped my jaw. “What?”
“You’re right.” He said, turning to look at me, a strange hint of something in his eyes.
I was getting more and more confused in this conversation the longer it went on. “I don’t understand you.” I finally told him.
He blinked hard and sighed again. “I know.”
I was starting to get annoyed, so I stood up and crossed my arms. “You’re ticking me off.” I admitted.
He laughed under his breath but there was an undercut of anxiety to the sound of it. “I’m sorry, I can’t say anything.” He said. “I’m trying to, but I can’t.” I ran my fingers through my hair and groaned. “I’m sorry, Serena.” He said, smiling up at me a little.
I found myself slightly distracted by it, but I snapped back. “Does it have to do with Alana and what you do for her?” I asked and he nodded his head. “If I guessed it could you tell me if I’m right or wrong?” I asked, already running through good questions in my head.
“No.” He whispered, bursting my bubble.
“Because I’m bound not to, Serena.”
I groaned loudly again. One little thought kept popping up in my head over and over. I plopped back down on the sand beside him and I looked him square in the eyes. “Are you the reason I’m here, Theon?”
I expected him to cut his gaze away from me like he usually does, but instead he stared back at me with the same intensity I had. “I don’t know.” He whispered, shaking his head.
“You don’t know or can’t tell me?” I demanded.
“Probably a bit of both.” He admitted.
I wanted to question him further on it, but for some reason I trusted him, and if said he couldn’t tell me, then he can’t tell me. “So,” I said, changing the subject. “Who was that girl the other day?” I asked. “She sure was…friendly.” I laughed under my breath.
He smiled at me and I felt in in my stomach. “She’s nobody.” He said shaking his head.
I laughed at his pinched up expression. “How nice of you, I’m sure she’d really appreciate hearing that from you.”
He scooped up some sand and tossed it at me, making me giggle. “I’m not dating her, if that’s what you’re getting at.” He laughed. “She works with me, and she hates my guts, she wanted to switch shifts with me, that’s all.”
“Oh.” I nodded.
“Why did you want to know?” He asked, raising one eyebrow. “You weren’t jealous were you?” He winked at me and I dropped my jaw.
“Oh my god, no!” I gasped. “I was just wondering, and besides, I have a boyfriend.”
He smirked and nodded. “Yeah.”
I narrowed my eyes at him, but he just kept smiling at me. It was weird, I’d never seen him smile so much before. “You’re in a good mood.” I commented and he finally looked away.
“I should get going.” He said, standing up and brushing the sand off of his hands. “Someone already did my work for me, so I guess I’ll be early for my next job.”
“Ok.” I smiled from the sand. “See you next time.”
He kind of half waved then turned for the water. He was up to his knees when he whipped back around. “Hey, Serena?” He called to me, and I raised my brows. “Tally starts school tomorrow, and I got her some things to wear, but I’m not sure what goes with what, and I’d like her to actually have a good first day, so I was wondering,” He stammered. “If you mind if I bring some stuff back up here later and you tell me what she should wear? If I tell her you suggested it, she’d never deny it.”
I felt a little surge of excitement run through my core. “Of course, I’d love to do that.” I yelled out to him and he smiled before swimming out to his boat.
“See you later, princess!” He yelled as he started the engine, then he was gone.
I was feeling right on the edge of giddy for some reason. I was happy that we were getting along so well, and I was glad he seemed to really be starting to trust me too. I still felt weird about his secret Alana workings, but what could I really say about that. I mean, I work for her too, so I can kind of understand. I still feel a little like he might have something to do with my being here, though.
I stayed out on the beach a while longer.
The water was crazy choppy today, and when the waves would come up to the cove, they’d crash into the rocks, sending a gorgeous spray of water up into the air that would fall back down around me like a mist of little diamonds. It gets a little cooler at night now, but the days are still pretty warm, today especially. The heat is so heavy it gives everything a hazy look to it.
I waded out into the angry water, catching it in my mouth from time to time as waves smacked into me. A few hours skated passed as I floated on top of the water, the waves making my stomach jump every now and then.
I heard a boat in the distance and at first I thought it was Theon’s but as it got closer I could see that it wasn’t.
I looked around at the other girls but they both waved me on. “Go ahead!” Levi called. I was half thankful that they were letting me take this one since I’d missed out the last time there was any people, but I was also dreading doing it. Taking another person’s life never feels good, even if you try to justify it in your mind.
I swam for the boat. “Hi!” I called out and the man on board who tried not to look at me, he kept his back turned, and the woman looked terrified.
“Please!” She yelled with a deep accent. “We don’t want any trouble, we’re just lost.” She pleaded.
I looked at the look on her face and I sighed, I couldn’t do this. “Ok.” I called, backing away.
The man still had his back turned, but the boat was rocked by an enormous wave and he lost his balance, stumbling towards me, his eyes catching with my amulet as he held onto the boats railing. “No!” I screamed. “Don’t look at it.” I covered the amulet with my hands but it didn’t matter
The woman grabbed the man, but I could already see it in his eyes. I tried to swim away but I could hear the woman yelling at him. “John, no!” She screamed. “Please, don’t go in the water! Think of the children!”
I turned back to see him crash into the water, flailing to me before the trance fully took him under the water. I tried to stop it, I tried to push him back above the water, I tried to cover my amulet with my hands to break the trance, I tried to scream over the sounds of the beautiful lulling, but it did no good. His soul exited him and entered my amulet, making it glow brightly.
I came back to the surface to see the woman sobbing on her knees. “I’m so sorry!” I cried too. “I didn’t mean to!”
She looked up at me with daggers in her eyes. “Stay the hell away from me you demon!” She screamed. “He had a family!”
I couldn’t listen to anymore.
I swam away as fast as I could and ran up onto the beach.
I’m not going to do this anymore. That was the absolute last straw. I wonder how many other families we have destroyed by doing this. How many little kids like Tally are out there without parents because of people like me and the other girls?
My legs gave out halfway up the beach and I crawled a little further to be sure I’d be out of the way of the water. “Serena?” Cassandra called to me. “Are you ok?”
“Leave me alone!” I screamed back. “Both of you, stay away from me! I’m so done!”
“What do you mean?” Levi called out.
“I mean just what I said!” I told them through my cries. “I’m done, I won’t do it anymore.”
“Serena, you can’t jus-.”
“Leave me alone!” I screamed at the top of my lungs.
I don’t want to be a monster anymore. I refuse to move from this spot, I will just have to die right here on this beach and then I can begin my lifetime of servitude to Alana. Anything is better than having to live with the guilt of stealing souls from innocent people.
My crying wore me out, and I could feel all of my strength draining after a while. “I’m sorry, Asher.” I whispered hoarsely. “I love you, but I can’t do this.”