Opening my eyes turns out to be a bit harder than I expected it would be, the lids crusted with a heavy layer of sleep.
My body is no longer screaming in pain the same way it was when I woke up in the middle of the night, however, moving still seems like a daunting task.
All the laziness I have been fighting through fades the moment I see the clock that is on the table next to the bed, the time reflecting that it is now a little past two in the afternoon. This means that I have slept almost the entire day away and, in a little over an hour, the final bell will ring and end the school day.
Great, we aren’t even halfway through the school year and I have managed to miss more time than I did that past three years. Some might not think a day is going to do much but, when your future hopes of being accepted into college hinder on lame extracurriculars and maintaining your perfect attendance record, it means a whole hell of a lot.
I roll out of the bed and onto shaky legs, a wave of vertigo crashing into me. I grip at the edges of the firm mattress, closing my eyes and counting down from ten until the feeling passes.
My stomach rumbles loudly, reminding me that it has been quite some time since I last ate. I had those few pieces of Alyssa’s lunch yesterday afternoon, but I was still so furious from what happened at school yesterday that I had skipped dinner.
The thought of ordering a pizza had crossed my mind about seven last night, but the thought of cramming those greasy triangles into my mouth had sent me running straight to the bathroom. I spent most of the night in there, dragging myself into the shower before calling it a night.
Now it seems that, with the disappearance of the heaviness I was feeling all throughout yesterday, my appetite has come back at full force.
The door to the room creeps open and Axel slides in, a large tray of food and steaming teapot in his hands.
He looks absolutely stunning in his dark jeans and green shirt, reminding me that I not only look like hell but am still wearing basically nothing.
I climb back onto the bed.
“You’re up. That’s good, now I don’t have to wake you up.”
“Shouldn’t you be at school?” I eye the tray hungrily, scanning over the fruit and pastries covering it. Everything looks so damn delicious and, when Axel places it on the bed in front of me, I dig into it with no regard for present company.
He pours some tea from the steaming pot into the cup in front of me. “I should definitely be in school, but I am not complaining about missing the day and I believe that I have you to thank for that. My mother had some kind of art showing today that was already planned and, instead of having her cancel it so that she could take care of you, I volunteered to keep an eye on you. Now, while I am not a fan of babysitting anyone over the age of four, I am a huge fan of anything that keeps me from being stuck inside of that stuffy building for eight hours a day. I figured that, since it was you keeping me out of that building, you couldn’t be too horrible.”
“You do that a lot,” I comment through a mouth full of raspberry danish. “That thing where you compliment and insult me at the same time, you do it all the time. Well, either that or you are just plain insulting me.”
He shrugs, pouring me another cup of tea, and I realize that I must have chugged the first one without noticing. “You should probably slow down and chew your food or else you are going to choke. I don’t feel like playing the role of knight in shining armor more than once in a twenty-four-hour time span.”
“What exactly happened last night? Everything is still so hazy. I have been trying to figure out what is real and what I imagined, but it might just be easier if you told me.”
He leans back, resting himself against the bottom part of the wooden bed frame. “You mean you don’t remember stripping down and asking me to bang you in the woods?”
It is possible that my jaw has just fallen off and landed right on the floor.
“Just kidding,” Axel laughs, shaking his head. “But you should see your face right now.”
“I despise you.”
He shrugs. “It happens. Anyway, I thought the rustling sound I was hearing was another rabbit that had gotten trapped in what used to be the property fence but, when I went out there to free it, I found you instead. You were pacing around like a crazy person, coming towards the house and then turning around. You were mumbling to yourself really loudly and, when I finally got close enough to see who you were talking to, I saw that it was just you out there. I did everything short of slapping you to get you to wake up and, when I did, you couldn’t remember a thing.”
Well, shit. I was hoping that part of my memory was a dream.
There was never a doubt in my mind that I had sleepwalked to the Browning house but I was hoping that is where the craziness ended. I was hoping that, instead of finding me wandering around like a nut job while talking to myself, Axel had simply brought me inside and allowed his mother to put me to bed.
That’s what I get for hoping, right?
I place the half-eaten almond croissant back onto the tray, folding my hands in my lap while secretly hoping that he doesn’t see how badly they are shaking. “I am turning into him.”
“Turning into who?” Axel removes the tray from the bed, turning around momentarily so that he can place it onto the short dresser behind him.
“And I am guessing that isn’t a good thing?”
“Considering he is a diagnosed schizophrenic who once tried to drown me in the bathtub for reasons he never explained and spent most of my childhood traumatizing me with his insanity, yeah, it is safe to say that it is a very bad thing.”
He runs his fingers through his messy hair. “Damn, I didn’t know about all of that.”
“No one does except Curtis, and that is only because he and I have been friends since I moved here. It isn’t something I like to talk about. In fact, I don’t even know why I am talking to you about it right now; all I am doing is giving you something to insult me with later.”
He shakes his head, sitting back up and crossing his legs. “No, not about that I won’t. I guess that explains why you went off on Curtis the way you did yesterday. It was because of the situation with your dad, right?”
“Yeah. It has always been a bit of a touchy subject for me and he knows it. It’s also why I punched you in the face that day. My dad never called me ‘Evie’ unless he was having some kind of episode. Sometimes, if I was lucky, he’d call me that before he did whatever crazy thing he was about to do and I would have enough time to get my mother. Other times I wasn’t as lucky and he’d get to me first. I can’t remember a time when he wasn’t doing something odd, but he wasn’t always violent. It started like this though, with the weird behavior.”
Axel leans forward, taking my hand into his. “You are not turning into your father, okay? I saw you last night and you were sick, that’s it. Your fever was off the charts and I know for a fact that people do weird shit when they are that sick.”
“Really. In fact, Alyssa once got so sick that she tried to microwave a pinecone and, when my mother woke up and tried to stop her, she threw it at her. Sick people do weird shit and that is a face. Besides, you look much better now and seem to know exactly where you are and what you are doing. How are you feeling?”
“The complete opposite way a person who spent time stomping around the forest in the freezing cold should feel. What was in that tea your mother gave me? I haven’t felt this great in weeks.”
“Nothing much, just some herbs from my garden. She is big into natural healing and whatnot, so I make sure to grow a few things she can use in there. The food probably helped too because, no offense, I’ve seen you at school and you rarely ever eat. You know that can cause you to get all loopy and shit too, right?”
“I know, I just haven’t been feeling well and I t-” I pause, realizing that not only is my hand still in his but he is now running his thumb over the top of it. His skin is rough against mine, chills spreading down my arm. “What are you doing?”
He catches on to what I am referring to, glancing down at my hand and smiling. “Shit, I didn’t even notice that. Sorry.”
“Why are you being so nice to me? I thought you hated me.”
“I don’t know. Sometimes I think I hate you and other times I feel like you might be someone worth getting to know. I am still on the fence about you, Eveline.” He juts his head toward where his thumb still brushes over my hand. “I can stop that, if you want me to.”
I shake my head. “No, it’s fine.”
It is very, very fine with me.
“Is it?” He releases my hand so that he can run his fingers up my arm, around my shoulder, up my neck, and to my chin. His drags his thumb across my lower lip and I hear my inhale sharply. “And what about that? Is that okay too?”
His eyes flit to my lips and my heart drops into my gut.
“I’m not going to kiss you.” The words leave my mouth the second I think them, giving me no chance to stop them from escaping.
Axel lets out a husky laugh, his fingers brushing across my cheek as he leans in. We are only inches apart now and I can’t stop staring at his mouth. His eyes burn into mine, his breath cool against my skin. “I never said you were going to. Tell me, Eveline, when was the last time someone told you how beautiful you were?”
I choose not to answer.
“You really are.” His hand is on the move, fingers now messing with the thin strap on my shoulder. “Smart too, and fierce as hell.”
“I’m serious. I am not going to kiss you.”
He smiles and my heart does a backflip. “You look very serious.”
“I have a boyfriend. Okay, I sort of have a boyfriend.”
“Sort of as in he is not currently your boyfriend because of the very public way in which you told him last year that the two of you needed to go on a break and you are yet to reconcile things with him? Or sort of as in he is your boyfriend, but you aren’t nearly as interested in him as you pretend to be to keep others fooled?
“I am interested in Curtis and I am not pretending. Things between him and I are, um, they are complicated at the moment. But that doesn’t mean that I am going to kiss you or that I would ever want to.”
“I think you’re lying. I think you do want to kiss me. I think you’ve thought about it before, like that night we were by the lake. I thought about it too, kissing you. Is it really such a bad thing to want that?”
I swallow down the lump in my throat. “Yes, it is. You have been nothing but a jerk to me.”
“I’m a jerk to everyone.”
“I am not going to kiss you, Axel, and that is final.”
“And you’re positive about that?”
“Okay.” He flashes me a wicked smile. “Don’t kiss me back then.”
He closes the space between us before I have another chance to argue, his lips soft against mine. I respond to him instantly and, when I do, he deepens the kiss as his tongue coaxes my mouth open.
Kissing Axel is not only one of the best things I have experienced thus far in my life, but it comes so naturally that I feel like it is something we have done before.
My fingers tangle into his hair, tugging as I pull him closer to me.
“Eveline,” he whispers against my lips.
“For once, Axel, do us both a favor and just shut up.”
He leans forward, cupping my cheek with one hand as he eases me back onto the mattress so that he can press himself against me. I tilt my hip up towards him and he groans, my hips rolling as he does.
His moves so that one hand is gripping my thigh while the other makes it way up the front of my shirt, cupping my chest lightly.
Axel’s nails dig into the skin on my thigh, sending extraordinary chills racing all over me. My blood heats under my skin, my heart pounding away in my chest.
Everything about this moment is insane, I know this, but the only thing I can focus on is how amazing this is and how much more of it I would like.
My eyes flutter open as he pulls back a bit and, the moment those brown orbs find mine, they go wide with disbelief. Axel pushes himself against the mattress, leaping away from the bed and from me.
“What the hell?” he shouts. “No, there is no way. You shouldn’t, no, you can’t be.”
“What? What did I do?”
“Don’t play dumb with me!”
“What did I do? Why are you yelling at me like that? What the hell is going on?”
He lunges forward, fingers wrapping around my forearm so that he yank me off of the bed and tug me down the hall. He shoves me into the bathroom, flipping the lights on.
“What am I talking about?” He points to the mirror in front of me. “That, Eveline! That is what I am talking about!”
Everything around me begins to spin, my own reflection staring back at me. Only it isn’t me, not really. The person in the mirror looks like me, only their eyes are all wrong. My eyes are all wrong.
There is no longer any sign of a pupil or iris, the whole damn thing is black.