Chapter 7: Ghost from Christmas Past
The curtains were swirling and swaying in my vision, the numbers on the clock of the oven in the kitchen pulsating with my heartbeat. One moment I was sipping orange cream soda in the kitchen, and the next moment I was heaving over the bowl of my toilet. Lyon was rubbing my back, coaxing the vomit out of me as he tried to soothe me. I swatted at his hands, loathing the feeling of anyone’s hands on me or even remotely near me while I was convulsing like this. I was silently thankful for the fact that Damien wasn’t here to see my current state.
“Atta girl,” Lyon cooed, coming down from his own drunken stupor.
“I’m gross, why are you here,” I groaned.
“Because it’s my task to take care of you in the coming days. That used to mean that I protected you from manslaughter-prone older brothers, but now it seems that our biggest problem is alcohol poisoning. So, I shall be your knight in armor just the same.”
I let out drunken giggles as I sat back, leaning against the yellow wall.
“You are a very good knight,” I drawled. “The best knight I’ve ever had.”
“Wow, you’re so intoxicated,” he laughed.
“Where’s my best friend?” I was pointing towards Alessia, but I didn’t see any amount of hurt cross his face.
“She is fast asleep in the guest room, don’t you worry.”
“Why are you avoiding her? You’re acting like me,” I frowned.
“Alessia?” He was lost.
“No, dummy, the cute werewolf outcast that you could sense in the palace. Why would you leave that? Aren’t wolves like, totally obsessed with being with their other half?”
“I wish it was that easy,” he scoffed, leaning back against the sink. “Is that really what you thought, when Damien found you that night at the coronation ball? Did you think he just wanted to keep you cooped up in that room forever?”
“I know he did, because that’s exactly what he did,” I reminded.
“It’s a little bit more complicated, when it’s a reciprocated thing. But this girl, she has to be a rogue, because she isn’t in there all the time. That makes things…politically tense. If I was in any other position, believe me, I wouldn’t mind. As Damien’s right hand man, with everything that’s going on…right now it just—it wouldn’t work.”
My frown did not dissipate at his excuse for an explanation.
“If Damien an I can make it through the nightmare that was the past year and a half, I think you and this rogue chick will be just fine.”
“Thank you for your vote of confidence,” Lyon chuckled, pulling himself up from the ground as he held out his hand.
I took it hesitantly, and let him guide me back to bed. I was pulled from my dazed state to see that he had left me, and I squinted to look at the time on the clock. It was nearly three in the morning, and I pulled myself upright to take a sip from the glass of water that had been placed so delicately on my nightstand. I let my gaze scan over the side glass doors attached to my room, and nearly jumped out of my skin when I saw a hooded figure turn away and walk towards the path to the cliff. Feeling somewhat equipped with my new skills from lessons with Damien, that and a baseball bat, I creaked open the door and headed out behind the person. If there was a rogue coming after me, trying to string me up like a doll, I wasn’t pushing Lyon forward to save me.
I trailed him all the way back to the edge of the cliff, but I was surprised when I saw him sit on the edge of it. I slightly lowered my stance with the bat, unsure. Was he stalking me at my house, or was he just some high school kid that was smoking out in the woods and had no idea who I was?
“It’s just me.”
The man pulled his hoodie back to reveal a bald black head in the moonlight, and as he turned around I wanted to pinch myself awake.
“Ace?!” I shrieked the words in as much of a whisper as I could. I wanted to wave my hand through him so I knew he was a hologram, or a mirage, or something other than reality. He was dead, I had buried him, held Alessia at his funeral, there was no physically possible way that he could be sitting in front of me right now. He got the sense of what I was thinking, because he started chuckling.
“I’m dead, you’re not going mad,” he assured.
“How are you…”
“I got myself a bargain with the Moon Goddess, so I thought I’d pop a visit to the only person on this walking earth that could see me.”
“Why…why me? Why not Alessia?”
“I’m not going to put her through that, I’m a good dead boyfriend.”
“You’re not even funny,” I groaned, wishing that I could hit him. I was tempted to reach out and see if he was real, but I also didn’t want to know what it felt like to touch a dead man. “Why even bother visiting? Do you have some sort of unfinished business with me?”
“I came to see how you were doing, actually. Being on the other side isn’t exactly fun. All I really get to do is watch Damien and Xander continue to fuck things up. And, of course, you. You do that a lot more than I initially noticed when I was alive.”
“So you rose from the dead to point out my flaws as a ruler.”
“I rose from the dead to tell you something she won’t. Take a seat.”
He padded the grass beside him, and I gave a tentative look before I let my legs dangle over the edge. The ocean licked the side of the rocks a couple of tumbling feet below, and I let my gaze rise to the sky. The light pollution from the city made our balcony at the palace impenetrable to see the stars, but out here, I was removed enough from the city. Out here, they were crisp holes of light poked into a black curtain. Other than the silence and lack of people, it was the best part about this place. I missed it dearly.
“Won’t she like never let you come back if you tell me?”
“Probably,” he confirmed. “My unfinished business is keeping Alessia safe, and as long as Xander’s people are making a scene like this and causing tension, that safety will never be within her grasp. I know how to break the curse.”
“Why in the devil’s name would I want to do that?”
“Because having their leader back will make them stop blaming you for putting him in there. If you can release him, he might feel enough gratitude to not let the rogues make a move.” He sighed, staring at my hand longingly. I knew that he wanted to take it, but he didn’t move to do so. “Look, you can do with the information what you will. I’m dead, so I can’t actually do anything about it. However, if there’s one thing I do know from the other side, it’s that you still love him,” he smiled at me.
“Of course I love Damien.”
“Not Damien, Xander,” he corrected.
I stared down at the water, ignoring him entirely. I cared about his wellbeing, sure, but love is such a strong word to use so nonchalantly.
“It’s clear to me now, why it was so difficult to choose,” he comforted.
“Damien is who I was told to be, but…”
“Xander is who you could choose to be,” he finished. I nodded, twiddling my thumbs in my lap. I had never said it out loud before, and out of pure paranoia I shot a look over my shoulder to make sure that no one alive was behind me to hear.
“So how do I break the curse?” I shifted the topic of conversation best I could.
“That’s the funny thing, I guess,” he showed nervous laughter for the first time since I had ever seen him. “You’re kind of—you’re kind of it.”
“What?” I looked at him with darkness in my eyes. I didn’t like the direction that this was headed.
“Your kiss is the thing that breaks it. Having to choose, the Moon Goddess didn’t know you that well, she kind of thought you’d be sure. If she knew you at all, she’d know you were never sure about anything. She thought you’d be so in love with Damien, you would never even think about Xander again. It was her failsafe, and well, it failed.”
“So I just have to kiss him, and poof, he’s free?”
“Love is a tricky thing, Cyan. You have to kiss him and mean it.”
“Which would mean…”
“Leaving Damien, most likely, yes.”
My heart was beating rapidly in my chest, and I was unsure if it was because of the alcohol leaving my system, or if it was because all of the things I thought about at two in the morning were surfacing in my mind to the real world.
“So, I stay with Damien and possibly let that result in getting the two of us assassinated, or I do the exact thing I promised not to do and leave him?”
“In your defense, you got married at the temple of the Moon Goddess, not the Catholic church, so there is no ‘till death do us part’.”
“You’re as helpful dead as you were alive,” I grumbled.
“Whatever you decide, it’s going to change the course of history,” he said. “No pressure.”
He pulled himself up from the cliff, brushing his pants off as he settled his hands on his hips. He looked just as healthy, just as kind as before. I felt the anger well up in my chest from the day that Xander murdered him, the day that he ruined my best friend, the day that he made my decision for me. Ace went to disappear into the trees, but my voice halted him.
“You didn’t ask about her,” I said.
“Where do you think I spend all my time when I’m on the other side? I know that you were worried about her, all those months that she was away, but I promised her eternity, Cyan. So until she joins me, if you need me, find her. That’s where I’ll be.”
“But the Moon Goddess, she’ll find out—”
“Only if you actually break the curse. Until then, I’ll be here.”
He disappeared between the trunks of the trees, and faded into the tree line. I swung my legs in frustration, pulling myself to my feet while taking a hefty step back. Having the weight of the world on your shoulders is one thing when you think that there’s nothing you can do about it. There was nothing I could do when Damien found me, an impossible decision to make when I stood at that altar. Now, knowing there was a choice, after I thought the final one had been made, would ruin me.