I stare at the empty seats at the table and listen as people quietly clink their cutlery against their crockery. The empty seats just reflect the empty seat from the car that Faegan was supposed to occupy. The shrill ring of the phone interrupts the clinking of cutlery and I jump up, proclaiming “I’ll get it!” before racing to the kitchen, leaving no room for opposition.
“Emily! It’s Andrew, how are you?” My heart drops as the voice that comes through the receiver isn’t Selena’s or Melayna’s, but quickly hide my disappointment.
“I’m good, thanks. Where are you guys at?”
“Oh, we’re at home. The girls just had to stop here and get something, but hopefully we’ll be there soon.”
“Hopefully?” This time I can’ t hide the disappointment – I’m too upset to even try. The anger at being left out once again rises in conjunction with the fact that they couldn’t even tell me themselves, leaving me feeling vulnerable and exposed with all this negativity.
“Yes. They just said that they had to do something and are upstairs at the moment. I’m sure they wont be long, but worst comes to worst they’ll come over tomorrow and…” I make the appropriate noises that my manners demand, but stop listening to Andrew’s words. My heart is set in this fizzing anger that is tingeing my vision blue.
“Alright, Andrew. I’ll see you when I see you then.” I hang up and reluctantly make my way back to the dining room, giving the room a phony smile. “That was Sel and Lay. They stopped at their house and don’t know if they’re going to make it.”
“Well, that’s okay. There’s always tomorrow, right?” Mum says, smiling brightly, totally oblivious to my emotions.
“Yeah. Tomorrow.” I echo softly, staring down at my plate as I try to hide my tears. Stop being such a wuss, Emily! It’s not like it’s the first time this has happened, and it won’t be the last. They’re sisters and you’re their friend. I silently berate myself, wiping away the tear residue from my eyes and looking up, immediately seeing Dudon’s form. His body is turned away from me, his eyes glued to his food.
I study him, looking at his gorgeous face and stunning blue eyes as they dodge mine. It suddenly clicks that he’s the only one who’s been there through everything. He was the one who helped me out of the cave-maze, he was the one who stayed with me on the way home, he is the only one here now, and he was the one I’ve been a bitch to.
“Mum, I’m going to take Du for a walk. Is that okay?” I see him startle and look up but he doesn’t protest, just sits there silently waiting.
“Sure. You kids go have fun!” Mum and Dad stand up and grab out plates, mine mostly full and Dudon’s mostly empty, and enter the kitchen as they hum a song together. I shake my head at their backs before reaching for Dudon’s hand to tug him with me. He moves out of my reach just before we touch and smiles at me.
His smile softens the rejection that I feel at his movement, but I shrug and walk out the door in an attempt to brush it off. It’s not long before Dudon has fallen into step besides me.
We walk in comfortable silence, me watching my feet eat up the pavement below, as we head towards nowhere and yet everywhere. A few minutes into our walk I break the silence. “I’m sorry.” I keep watching my feet, entrancing myself in their hypnotic rhythm while waiting for his reply.
“For what?” His voice is blessedly blank, indifferent, neutral. I peek at him out of the corner of my eye and see that he’s also watching his feet. I return back to my feet and let the pounding of my heart synch with the pounding of my feet.
“For being such a bitch to you.”
He cracks a little smile at that and I see it out of the corner of my eye. I smile to myself a little, not turning my head away from my feet.
“You weren’t a bitch to me, you were just being protective. It’s understandable.”
“But it’s not.” I stop walking, and so does Dudon. We turn to face each other but our eyes never meet. “It’s not okay that I’m treating the only person who’s supported me through this whole thing like shit. I mean, Sel and Lat walked away from me, Fae left for Sel, and I don’t even know Mal. But you…you helped me through the cave and all I did was treat you like an asshole, which you’re not.”
“You didn’t – “
“Don’t.” I hold up my hand to stop his objections because I don’t want him to fill my head with false pretenses in an effort to make me feel better. Too many people have done that before, and every single time it hurts more. I don’t think I could take it from him, even if he’s doing it with good intentions.
“Okay then, forget about the caves,” I continue. “When we came out of them, you sat while my family rejoiced with me while you weren’t with your family – remind me to ask you about that later – and you didn’t complain once. You just listened like it didn’t hurt, and I didn’t even introduce you to my parents until after we were interviewed. And even then, I introduced you with Fae.”
He doesn’t interrupt me this time and I turn away from fidgeting, instead starting to pace up and down the small section of pavement we are standing on. I silently thank god that no one is coming down the footpath because I don’t want to stop this movement or discussion until he knows how sorry I am, how much of a bad person I am.
“You were the only one there with my parents in the car, you didn’t leave with Fae to go wherever it was that he was going. You just stayed. And don’t even think of saying that it’s because you needed to, because it’s not just that! It’s not!”
I stop pacing; facing away from him, breathing heavily, and trying to hold in my angry tears. “It has to be more than that.” The accusation is soft and it escapes my lips without my permission, and the implications rise up to my brain.
“Em…” He trails off and his tone lets me know that my statement is far from true; there’s nothing between us. I’m startled to find out how much this revelation hurts.
“Sorry. Let’s just go.” I say, putting on my mask of acceptance and contentment and happiness that I always wear, hiding my feelings deep within until I can let them out later.
“Dude!” Faegan says as he slaps me on the arm, still staring at the place where the car used to be. “What just happened?”
“We just…fought.” I say softly while gazing aimlessly into space, still hearing her words echo in my head. I was just trying to make you feel better, Malachi. This is such bullshit, she doesn’t understand that I can’t fail – that I can’t be off my game no matter what. This isn’t a game, this is literally life or death.
“I know I was out of it, but not so much that I wouldn’t have heard you fighting. What really happened?” Faegan stares at me, forcing me to focus and stare back at him, refusing to lose any ground.
“We did fight – I didn’t lie.”
“How?” Faegan is staring at me, giving me the look that he’s been giving me for years – the one that says he thinks he’s breaking down my exterior wall. Little does he know the girl who just took off broke down my wall with less effort and in less time than he ever could.
“Conitouche,” I mumble as fast as I can, embarrassed by my lack of restraint that led to our connection.
“What?” He says, and I’m not sure if his request for clarification is because he didn’t hear it or if he just doesn’t believe me.
“Conitouche!” I say a little louder, and his answering gasp is no surprise. He holds his hand over his mouth and I can only imagine the thoughts that are flowing through his brain – about how scandalous it is, about how I have no regard for the rules. Shame burns the back of my neck as I avoid his gaze.
“What’s it like?” His voice is soft and filled with curiosity, causing my head to snap straight to meet his gaze. His eyes peer into mine and I see some sort of brotherhood forming from this bond, something that I never could have imagined would be a side effect of the conitouche.
“It’s wonderful.” I sigh, walking backwards and sliding onto the bench that is behind my feet. “What’s even better is that I’m pretty sure she’s my Soulima.” That elicits another gasp and I’m less surprised to see his wistful expression.
“But that would mean it’s a conitoume.” His tone is excited and his words tumble out of his mouth without abandon, eliciting some curious looks from passersby. I grab his arm and start walking in the direction the car took off.
“Well, have you checked yet?” His voice is still excited and I gesture at him to keep quiet.
“Not yet, but I’m going to now.”
I see his grin before I close my eyes and look inside myself. I block out everything and try to find the bond, struggling since Melayna has muted our connection by locking me out of her mind. I keep looking, trying to find the silver thread that I know connects two people with a conitouche.
“I can’t find it!” I growl in frustration, knowing Faegan can hear me.
“Mal, knowing you it’s because you’re looking for the wrong thing.” His words barely float to me in my search, coming as if I was hearing him through a thin layer of water. At first I feel my anger rise, until realisation hits me and I start looking for the golden thread of the conitoume rather than the silver of the conitouche. The thread is so small that I miss it the first few times I search, but on the fourth time I find it.
“I’ve got it!” I say triumphantly, grabbing a hold of the thread and dragging it to the surface of my consciousness. I open my eyes and see Faegan’s grin, which is probably a match to mine. I look down at my hands and see the faint gold outline and my grin widens. “Look! Can you see it?”
Faegan looks at my hands and shakes his head, but the longer I stare the stronger it becomes.
“C’mon! I know where we’re going.” I follow the thread as it turns the corner, leading us on a wild goose chase that I can only hope leads me to her. We turn another corner and end up at Melayna and Selena’s house.
“Well, at least we know where they are.” Faegan says, a wry smile on his face.
I nudge him with my shoulder, before making my way towards the side of the house until I see the other end of the thread go through a window on the second floor.
I give a tug on the thread, watching the other end jerk and see Melayna’s attention fall to it. Suddenly the thread is lost as she tightens her hold of our connection and walks to the window.
“Can’t you just leave well enough alone? Or have you not done enough damage?” Melayna yells, anger and hurt lacing her voice. I cringe as she shuts the window, effectively destroying any chance I might have had at fixing this.
“Well, that went well.” Faegan says, smiling widely as he walks towards the front door.
“Fae!” I whisper-yell, watching as he ignores me and continues forward. “Faegan!” I say a little louder, following when he ignores me completely. I walk tentatively though the front door, taking time to notice the grand white opening and mahogany doorway that I didn’t examine the first time I came in.
“Hey Andrew,” Faegan announces casually as he walks into the kitchen and settles on a stool at the breakfast bar.
“Hey boys. The girls are upstairs at the moment, but you’re welcome to chill here with me until they’re finished if you’d like.” His voice is nice enough, but can’t hide the suspicion tightening his eyes.
“That would be great, thanks.” Faegan smiles politely at Andrew, settling into a conversation easily and swiftly.
Oh, how much has changed in the last twenty-four hours, I think dejectedly. Twenty-four hours ago I had not met my Soulima, and I certainly would not have been acting so casual with Faegan or anyone else. I shake my head to rid those thoughts from my mind and instead stare at the roof above me, knowing Melayna is mere steps away. I close my eyes before standing up, deciding I need to take matters into my own hands and find her myself. Fighting like this hurts too much.
“Well, this just keeps getting bigger and bigger, doesn’t it?” Selena says as she stars at my arm like she had only grown it seconds ago. I’d giggle at her expression if I didn’t know what the connection feels like and how much of an information overload it is to the system. And Selena doesn’t even have a full connection thingy yet.
Damnit! I think to myself. I really need to find out what it’s called so I can refer to it properly!
I absently run my fingers up and down my own arm where the connection had first developed – the feelings so potent and stunning in my mind’s eye. I sigh as my mind conjures the face of the boy who rocked my world and melted it into a puddle as soon as I saw him reach for me, face a mask of concern and care.
“Lay? Where are you?”
“Huh?” I respond, letting Selena’s amused expression and tone pull me out of my reverie and into the real world. The world where Malachi isn’t looking at me with that expression, but instead with disappointment in himself. I close my eyes again, wanting to never see that look of helplessness on his face again.
“I asked where you were,” Selena clarifies, still watching me as my head tears through images of Malachi from our short time together.
“I was with Mal,” I answer honestly. Her face lights up as she assumes that I meant that literally.
“Like with the connection? How is that – how does it feel?” She bounds up and settles on the bed besides, lying down and looking up at the ceiling. “Does it feel as special and magical as I’d imagine?” She sighs.
“Even better.” I respond honestly, not wanting to ever have to hide from my best friend, my sister, even if it hurts me right now to talk about this and not have him by my side. Suddenly I sit up, realising that he’s right outside and this is all for nothing.
“Oh, my god. Sel, I’m an idiot!” I scream in delight, grabbing her in a hug and plastering a kiss on her cheek as I sit up, frantically glancing from the window to the door.
“Yeah, I could’ve told you that,” she says, snarky in her confusion. I take a moment to stick my tongue out at her before I bound for the door, flinging it open carelessly and scrambling for the stairs. When I see Malachi at the bottom it feels as if my heart is glowing golden, warming me from the inside out. I don have to focus on the slippery white marble staircase like normal, instead running down effortlessly until I land in his arms.
“Mmm, baby,” he smiles, nuzzling my hair with his nose. “Have I ever told you I’ll always be here to catch you?” His words set my heart aflame, and all I can do is try not to sound like a blubbering idiot by keeping my mouth shut and nodding my head adamantly. He lets out a throaty chuckle before reopening the like I’d blocked with simple skin-to-skin contact.
Baby, I’m sorry for what I said. I’m not blinded by you or whatever, and it’s just –
No, I’m sorry. I interrupt. You’re allowed to feel things like that and it’s my job as your…I try to search for the right word to express what I am to him, but give up. Your whatever, to show you that you’re not. I shouldn’t have slammd a door in your face and driven off without letting you reply.
I turn to look at him, hoping he can see the sincerity in my face. What I’m not expecting, however, is the love shining through his gaze and into mine. They, whoever they are, say that eyes are the window to the soul, and I think I finally know why as I stare into his eyes and see the depth of emotion they hold. They are the eye to the storm of his motions – no pun intended.
I can’t believe you’re apologizing to me. It’s just… He sounds dumbfounded and I let out a little chuckle, neither of us breaking this special eye contact. Anyway, what I was going to say is that as Soulima’s we are, by definition, yin and yang. So it makes sense that one of us will be levelheaded while the other is not. And I can’t believe that I mistook our Conitoume for a Conitouche now that I’ve seen the binding thread.
Huh? The one word conveys my whole confusion with those weird words and his laugh makes my face turn bright red. I don’t really know what you said but…thanks. I think?
Oh, my darling, he says, pulling me closer with a hand on my hip, you have so much to learn. And I look forward to teaching you. He brings my head closer to his and our lips are about to make contact for the very first time when a throat clears and draws our attention to the side of the room. Standing by is a very embarrassed and flushed Faegan, and a very amused and encouraging Selena.
Well, there goes the mood, Malachi thinks bitterly and I laugh at his tone, grabbing his hand and dragging him towards the side of the room.
“Sorry, guys. Forgot you were here.” I wink at Selena and she mouths, ‘that was so HOT’ behind Malachi’s back and I suppress a little chuckle. My thoughts switch to thinking about how intimate talking in our minds is – something we can never do with anyone else, something just for us.
“That means a lot to us, Lay,” Faegan goads, bumping his shoulder into Malachi’s as he takes in our grins. “So, should we head over to Emily’s?” He asks, smiling at us.
“Why would we go to Em’s?” Selena frowns in confusion before remembering that we were all supposed to go there for lunch. Taking a look at the time, I see that it’s well past lunchtime. I consider going anyway, but anxiety builds at the thought of turning up without my mother and having to explain her absence. The reminder burns hot across my face, and Selena reads it immediately, flippantly turning towards Faegan.
“Nah, I’m sure she wants time with her parents anyway. We can just chill out here together.” Her tone is cool and nonchalant, and I thank my lucky stars for her ability to read me so well. She turns to wink at me over her shoulder, and I see the twinkle in her eyes that just screams pool and bikini time.
“Should we invite Emily?” Faegan looks slightly concerned, and I feel a little bad for not even considering that we could have invited her here. In hindsight, Selena and I probably do that a lot.
“Nah, it’s okay. She can’t drive so we’d have to go and get her and it’s a little out of the way. We’ll see her tomorrow anyway.” Selena flips her hair over her shoulders easily, Faegan’s eyes attached to her as he stats inching closer. Giving her a meaningful look, I pull out of Malachi’s grip and embrace Selena in a hug, subtly pulling her away from Faegan. Malachi walks over to Faegan and they both stand there together, trying to hide their grumpy expressions.
I giggle with Selena at their expressions, sending the image to Malachi through our connection and causing him to laugh in turn. Soon enough all of us are full-on laughing, except for Faegan who is staring at us all in confusion.
“What!” He asks, frowning as Malachi bends over, grabbing his stomach and slapping his knees as he tries and fails to stop laughing. It takes us a while but we get over our laughter, heading outside with smiles on our faces.