Watered Down

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Chapter Twenty

Two weeks later and we were only six people away from being out of here after only a few months, all thanks to Theon.

“Are you excited?” He asked while he cleaned the beach.

I followed behind him, raking the sand. “I guess.”

He rounded on me and narrowed his eyes. “You guess?” He repeated. “I’d be doing backflips right now if it meant I was about to be leaving here.”

I laughed. “Yeah, I’d love to see that.” I smirked.

“I could do it too.” He said, nodding his head to me. “I used to run track and I was a pro at the hurdles.” He bragged.

I laughed at his bold expression and he turned back to finish working. That certainly explained his super athletic build. “When did you graduate?” I asked him and he seemed to lose a little of his pride.

“I didn’t.” He responded after a while. “My parents died when I was seventeen so I never finished school. I dropped out to start working to take care of Tally.”

“Oh.” I mumbled. “Do you ever think you’ll get your GED or something?”

He shrugged his shoulders. “Probably not.” He said softly. “Besides, even if I did, there is only one small community college on the island, and they’d never let me in.”

“Why not?” I asked and he turned to give me that look that meant he couldn’t say.

“I told you the people on the island are very superstitious.” He reminded me. “And you know I’m cursed, after all.” He said shaking his head. “That’s why we had to move out of our house too.” He said. “Well, that, and I couldn’t have afforded to keep it anyway.”

I raised my eyebrows. “I just assumed you lived there with your parents.” I admitted.

He shook his head, wiping the sweat from his forehead. “Nope, I built that house that Tally and I live in.” He said. “I used old materials from a jobsite I was working on when I was doing some part-time stuff for a construction company.” He explained and I stopped raking in amazement. “I wish they hadn’t moved on to another site on the mainland.” He told me. “They paid really well, they weren’t from here, so they didn’t buy into the whole cursed thing, and I actually really liked doing that kind of stuff. Creating something from nothing, you know?”

“You’re amazing.” I said without thinking about it.

He looked a little embarrassed, and he turned to finish cleaning up. “Yeah right.” He laughed lightly.

I rolled my eyes at myself, but I took a step towards him. “I mean it.” I told him. “I can’t believe how much you do to take care of Tally, and then on top of that you’re like this super amazing carpenter guy, and you paint?”

He looked down at me and smiled. “I guess so.”

I smacked his shoulder. “Stop being so modest.” I told him. “I’ve seen the things you made for Tally, and the pictures you painted, plus you freaking built a house.” I laughed. “I think that qualifies you as pretty amazing.”

He looked down at me with those eyes and I couldn’t help smiling up at him. He reached out and pushed my hair behind my ear and then pinched my cheek gently with his hand. “You’re amazing too, kid.” He laughed.

I reached down to grab a handful of sand and chunked it at him as he ran away. “Don’t call me a kid!” I yelled through my laughter as he threw sand back my way.

“Oh, I’m sorry, princess!” He chuckled.

I stomped over to him while he laughed, slapping his thigh with his hand, and I stood in front of him. I crossed my arms over my chest and stared up at him, trying not to laugh. “Are you done yet?” I asked and he stopped laughing.

“You almost are.” He said, a little hint of sadness creeping into his tone.

I nodded, digging my foot into the sand. “Yeah, I am.” I agreed, trying to keep smiling. “Any idea just how much longer I’ll be enduring the punishment of your company?” I joked.

He rolled his eyes and took the rake from me to go put it away. “Probably tonight.” He said with his back to me.

I was stunned for a minute, just standing there like an idiot with my jaw lax. “Tonight?” I repeated him and he walked passed me, over to the edge of the water where he plopped down.

“Tonight.” He smiled over to me and I came to sit beside him, probably a little closer than I should have, the tops of our shoulders touching. “It’s kind of crazy.” He told me as he watched a wave turn into ocean spray over the rocks. “I think you girls are going to be the first ones to ever actually finish a deal with Alana.”

I whipped my head around, looking at him hard. “Are you serious?” I asked. “Nobody has ever been able to get the 100 in two whole years?”

He shrugged. “Do you think you would have been able to if I weren’t bringing them out?” He asked and I nodded, knowing he was right. I owe everything to him. “I think that’s why Alana is willing to make all kinds of promises and give you such a long time to get it done because it’s not possible for you to actually accomplish it on your own.” He mused. “She gets as many souls as she can, then gets to keep you as a pet when you fail.” He said angrily.

I reached over to him and held his hand. He looked down at it between us for a minute, but then he looked back up at the water and he rubbed his calloused thumb in a trail on mine. “You know,” I whispered. “Alana mentioned to me that she’s been trying to get you to help with bringing more people down here but that you’d always refused her.” I told him.

“I did.”

“Well, didn’t she just threaten you further, or like, force you to do it anyway?” I asked, knowing that’s what she would do to me.

He shook his head once. “No.” He muttered. “She doesn’t have anything else she can threaten me with.”

I twirled my hair around my finger with my free hand and bit my lips. “Theon?” I asked and he turned to look at me. I willed myself not to get lost staring into his eyes and to actually speak. “Why did you volunteer to help me, if you always refused to do it for Alana before?”

He rolled his eyes at me, then smiled a little. “I helped you for obvious reasons.” He said softly, avoiding my gaze again and instead looking down at our intertwined hands. “I didn’t want to be a part of anything else Alana was doing, or help her ruin and steal more lives, so I told her no.” He said. “You just…You don’t deserve to be here, and I feel resp-.” He was cut off and I felt a little shock of electricity run through him over to me, making me yelp a little.

“What was that?” I asked, and he clung tighter to my hand, his body rigid.

“Nothing.” He said through gritted teeth. “I was just going to say that I think you deserve to get out of here, and I want you to be able to do it.”

“Oh, ok.” I nodded, feeling weird now, and I watched his boat in the distance sway in the water. When I turned back to look at him, I found him staring into my eyes, his face dangerously close to me.

“Serena.” He whispered my name.

I felt a warmth rush over me, like when the sun comes out from behind the clouds and you feel it on every inch of your skin, except this warmth was under my skin. I could hardly keep my breaths even the second his voice whispered my name and I could feel how close we were, his breath blowing onto my red face. “Theon.” I whispered back and he sighed, leaning impossibly closer to me.

I wanted him to kiss me.

I wanted to kiss him.

And that scared the crap out of me, but also exhilarated me.

I needed to run my hands into his long brown mess of hair, and feel what it feels like to have his thick pink lips against mine.

I craved it.

I stopped breathing altogether when he let go of my hand and replaced it on the side of my face, brushing it against my cheek and then to the back of my head where he help me in place as he moved closer still.

Our lips were so close, and I closed my eyes, but he let them pass by my mouth, and he pressed the side of his face right against the side of mine. If either of us leaned back just a hair, our mouths would be on each other’s, but neither of us did.

He held me like that, so close, but still so far and I wanted to melt into his touch, and soak in the heat of his skin touching mine. I wanted it to last forever, just the two of us on this beach, like our own private island. “I want you to know.” He whispered to me, his breath tickling my ear. “I really like you, and I’m glad I met you, even if it was under shitty circumstances.” He said lowly. “I’ll…I’ll miss you…You know, when you leave.”

“I think I’m going to miss you too.” I said back, my words coming out shaky.

“I want to kiss you.” He said finally, and I started to lean back so that he could, but he held me in place. “But I can’t.” He added sadly.

“Why not?” I breathed, the want in my voice.

He sighed into me. “Because this is your last day here before you go back to your…” He didn’t finish the sentence, knowing we both know what he was going to say.

Asher.

After today, I’ll be going back to Asher.

“Theon, I…”

He pulled away from me and stood up, leaving me feeling cold at the loss of his heat. “I knew all along, so don’t go feeling bad for me.” He said quickly. “Not today.” He shook his head and exhaled raggedly as he looked at the water. “Today you should be happy.”

I stood up and forced him to look at me by taking his face in my hands and making him focus on me. “I don’t feel bad for you.” I said quickly. “I like you too, you idiot.”

He rolled his eyes at me and shook his head. “No, you think you do.” He insisted. “You’re just lonely, Serena.”

I had a heavy urge to slap him across the face, but I help my ground. “Don’t tell me how I feel, Theon.” I snapped instead. “You don’t know how I feel about you, but I can promise you I’m not just freaking lonely.” I said. “I just happen to, for whatever reasons, like you!” I told him. “Even though you happen to be the most frustrating person on the planet apparently.”

He reached out fast, grabbing me by the arms and he yanked me forward, hugging me to him. “I’m sorry.” He laughed a little. “I don’t know what is wrong with me, I just know you’re leaving and it sucks and…”

“And what?”

“I don’t know.” He whispered over my head. “I’m just a little torn between being happy for you, and not wanting you to go at all.” He admitted. I smiled against his chest. That was exactly how I’ve been feeling lately too. I want to be done, but I don’t really want to go yet either.

I leaned back and looked up into his eyes while he looked down at me. “Thank you, Theon.” I whispered to him. “For everything.”

He smiled, leaning down to kiss me on the forehead. “I am happy for you, princess.”

We smiled at each other, the urge to kiss pulling us again, but we both stepped back this time. He was right. I’m going home soon, and even if Asher is with someone else already, at least I would have a clean conscience. Well, clean as far as not being a cheater goes.

“We’re really finishing tonight?” I asked him, toying with my hair.

He nodded his head. “As long as all six dudes show up, yeah, you girls will be out of here, and I guess Alana will be finding her new crop.” He told me, his smile falling.

I hated the idea of other girls getting tricked into this same thing, but I knew there wasn’t anything I could do about it. “What’s the plan?” I asked and he pursed his lips and shook his head, meaning it was better if I didn’t know. “Where?” I asked instead.

“My house at sundown.” He nodded his head. “I’d rather do it there this time so that you can tell Tally bye, before you leave or whatever.”

I nodded my head, my heart hurting at the idea of telling Tally goodbye. “Ok.” I muttered sadly.

He walked back over to me and hugged my head to his chest again. “Don’t worry about us, please.” He whispered. “Tally already knows you’ll be leaving soon, so don’t worry.” He said again. “We’re both happy for you.”

He kissed the top of my head quickly again before he took off for the water without another word.

I let the other girls know what the time was, and that this was it, and their excitement was unmeasurable. The both of them were practically glowing the rest of the day, and busy making plans for what they were going to do first when they got home.

I hadn’t even given that part much thought honestly. I guess I’ll just go home. My parents will be shocked, but I’ll have to come up with some story about where I’ve been all this time. Amnesia maybe. Whatever I do, I wasn’t overly excited about the idea like the other two girls were.

As sundown approached, we headed into the trees, for the last time we hoped.

It was the same routine we’d done before.

Wait and then come out on our cue.

With as much as we had riding on this time, I was sure something horrible would go wrong. Like we’d be captured in the woods by the superstitious islanders, or the men wouldn’t show, or they’d catch onto what was happening and attack Theon, but there was nothing like that.

The whole thing went over smoothly.

Theon and the men showed up and Cass and Levi came out from behind the house, luring all six of the biker looking guys with them out of the trees and towards the water.

I hung back behind the house, letting the other two take care of this one so that I could have my goodbyes with Theon and Tally. Even from all the way back here, I could hear the excited squeals of the girls when the deed was done.

“Are you really leaving?” Tally asked me, when she came out of the house a couple minutes later.

I scooped her up in a hug and tried really hard not to cry. “I am I think.” I nodded to her. “But I’m going to miss you every single day, and I promise to come back and visit you.”

“Theon too?” She asked and I laughed, looking over to the front door where he was leaning in the doorway.

“Yes, Theon too.” I said looking at him.

Tally reached up and hugged me tightly around the neck, her little body shaking a little with her tears. “I’ll miss you.” She whispered.

I kissed her head, my own tears spilling over. “I’ll miss you too.” I told her. “All the time.”

She sniffled a little, wiping her nose on the back of her hand. “I love you, Serena.” She said. “Come back soon, ok?”

“I will.” I nodded to her, a promise. “I love you too.”

I put her down on her feet and she walked over to Theon, hugging his leg sadly. He knelt down to her level and wiped her eyes. “Let me go tell Serena bye, then you and me are going to have some ice-cream and watch a movie, ok?”

She looked up at him with big eyes. “Chocolate chip?” She asked and I laughed with Theon.

“Yes, Tal, go ahead and be getting it out for me.” He said and she smiled over at me one more time before she went inside.

Theon walked over, hanging his head a little. “Well, this is it.” He smiled a little.

“I guess so.” I shrugged.

He stopped in front of me, shifting his weight on his bare feet. “Come here.” He said, opening his arms and I stepped into him, already crying a little. He brushed his hand down my hair and help me tightly.

I stood quietly, listening to his soothing heartbeat for the strength I needed. “This sucks.” I laughed a little.

“Yeah,” He laughed too. “It does, but at least you’re getting out of here.”

“I wish you were too.” I told him.

“Me too, but we’ll be alright.”

I looked up at him, noticing a touch of moisture in his own eyes. “I’ve got to tell you,” He said. “You can’t come back here.” His voice was heavy. “It would be a bad idea for you to come back here anymore, Alana has a way of getting people to continue to make deals and I don’t want you to fall into her trap.”

“But I just told Tally that I-.”

“She’ll forget.” He said quickly. “I know it sucks, but she will.”

“Will you?” I asked and his eyes bore down into mine.

“Of course not.” He whispered, then leaned down to kiss my cheek, so close to my mouth it was almost painful that he didn’t just kiss me there.

I sighed. “Theon, I don’t know how to thank you for everything you’ve done.” I said. “You’re giving me my life back.”

“I’m glad I could help you.”

“So….”

He laughed and hugged me quickly again. “You better go.” He said. “They’ll need you to turn in all the souls you’ve gotten.”

“Thank you.” I said again.

He smiled at me one last time before I turned away. “Good luck with everything, princess.”

And just like that we were finished.

I ran back to the beach where I was immediately engulfed in giant hugs from Cass and Levi as they jumped around and squealed. I joined in as best I could, and then we excitedly went for the water.

All that’s left to do now is turn in our souls and get the hell out of here.

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