I take every step, though the sand burns under them. My steps are slow, careful, like Iwas trying to make sure the ground is still under them first. If I was making sure it’s real.
That I’m really at the beach.
I am finally here, standing on a itchy sheet of beach sand. It is moist. It is cushiony. Most of all, it is hot. I let the sand ooze over my feet, feeling every grain of it, savoring the moment. Earning this comfort is why I am here. Though I still can’t believe that’s real.
I lock my eyes on the water, wishing that this view would never disappear from my sight. The sea, perfectly calm, looking like a peaceful lake, and its soft murmurs are scarcely audible. The waves seem to be asleep. A line of darker blue marks the curve of the horizon, where the water meets the blue skies. And all those years, I was repeating my memories of the sea over and over again. I don’t think I’ll ever have enough of it.
I take a step into the water, letting it steal my breath. The waves feel warm and cool, like tea that’s been forgotten and returned to. My fingers wiggle in the water, in these lips of the ocean as she sings. In this place I wish I could remain forever, letting the sand that runs like hot lava through my fingers and onto the dry beach.
“You want to take a walk?”
I glance at Brent, who happens to be the reason why I’m at the beach. I couldn’t ask him to take me there, I just couldn’t. He had done enough for me. He looked for me. He found me. He risked his life for me. Hell, he didn’t even have life without me. I thought I was living in misery, but to live for thirteen years, searching... I just can’t believe Brent is so patient and devoted to me.
“Yes... I would love to.”
I clutched at his soft, long fingers, as Brent lets the warmth and softness of his own hands let me know he’s never going to leave me again, that I was alright and that all of my nightmares are over. I’m safe. I’m free.
Though I don’t feel that way.
I know this is not the end, we won’t suddenly become a big and happy family, that no trouble is chasing. It is, and it’s still waking me up at night. Because I know Caden will come back to me. It’s just a matter of time. I’m free just because he wants me to be, just because it’s a part of the plan. It means he doesn’t need me, for now, it means he doesn’t have the script yet. But as soon as he’ll have the answer, he’ll come back for me.
There’s no way out of this, but I have to live with hope that we are able to win this war, and even if we’ll find the Phoenix... we will be able to destroy it.
“You know, I was never a fan of the beach. Not until I met you. Not until the day I first drove you there.”
We walk down the sand, hand and hand, enjoying the day and each other’s warmth. Like we used to do when we were teenagers and life seemed to be so easy, so beautiful, with no trouble to come along. When we had so many plans for our future, when we thought we’ll be happy as long as we’re together. But destiny had other plans, other challenges for us to face; and ended up being a misery for a whole decade.
“I remember how much I’ve tried to push you away. But that just couldn’t happen, right?”
Brent laughs, his deep chuckle lifting the spirit of the atmosphere, though being with him is already a pure joy. I watch his face, it’s soft even when it comes to rest, as if he lacks the inner bitterness at any moment. He knows who he is and he’s comfortable with himself, he never tries to be someone else and that’s the thing I admire about him. He’s the only man in I’ve ever known that would always choose the bitter truth, no matter how much it will affect him. He’s true, real, that’s who Brent Mathis actually is.
“I just couldn’t let you go that easy.”
“Well, it worked out pretty good.”
Brent keeps smiling, and there is so much in that sudden silence, so much he just won’t say. I can see by his expression there’s a lot going on in his head, but if I ask he just says he was thinking about something that doesn’t matter. But in reality, I know he replays the past thirteen years in his head, over and over again. Blaming himself, blaming the teenager boy that couldn’t help me. That our relationship didn’t grow, it ended.
But love never did. I know it, he knows it. I knew it all those years, only thoughts and memories about Brent gave me hope, made me dream about this day when we will be together again. Part of me secretly wished that he was happy, that he had a family and forgotten about me, because that would mean he let go, he lived his life to the fullest, even without me. But also I knew that’s not who he is. Brent sacrifices everything for people that he loves, even if it means he doesn’t live at all.
I know there’s a lot for us to catch up, to make our relationship as it was years ago, and probably it will never be the same. We’re not teenagers anymore, we’re not in school, without dreams about the future that will never happen. But we have present time, we have the moment together which we need to use to the fullest because we’ll never know when this moment will be taken away from us. But one thing I know, that my feelings for Brent are true love. And true love never ends.
“You know I’m not blaming you.”
“But I blame myself. I had to find you sooner.”
“You came back, and it’s all that matters. You’re the one who got me out of that misery, and I words can’t express how grateful I am.”
“Avery... Did he hurt you?”
His eyes meet mine and all of sudden the butterflies in my chest stop flying when I see his sad look. His look feels like death by a thousand paper cuts, for every time I saw those sad eyes it was another cut to my already damaged mind. None are enough to kill me, but overtime the cuts mustered, reminding me that nothing is alright. For a moment I hesitate if I should tell him the truth. It will hurt him even more. It will change nothing. But to lie to a person that sacrificed his life for me?
“It doesn’t matter.”
“It means he did.”
Brent turns away, sighing; but it’s not a sigh of a sad person. It’s more like the smoke from boiling lava inside of him, the volcano that’s about to explode of anger that he feels. It’s not jealousy, I bet he would react the same way about any other woman. But I know I’m special to him.
“How. Tell me how.”
“Please, Avery. Tell me what he did to you.”
I stop walking when it feels like my legs are starting to hurt, a pain goes down to my toes like I was standing in the middle of fire, but in reality, it’s only memories. Memories of how Caden touched me. How he locked me up in chains, and did everything he wanted to do to me. How he slapped me if I refused to do something. How I cried, every time, screaming for help. And no one ever came to help me.
“He... He used to touch me. He used me to fulfill his needs...”
“Oh my God.”
My words only fueled the fire that burned inside of him, and I immediately started to regret that I told him. Every phrase was like gasoline to it, his fists began to clench and his jaw rooted. Maybe I should’ve kept silent. Maybe I shouldn’t have told him. But I believe that honesty is the most important thing in a relationship. And yet my words hurt him even more...
“Oh my God, that motherfucker is so dead. He’s so fucking dead.
“I’m going to fucking burn him alive.”
The rage is all over his face when I stop in front of him and cup his cheeks with my palms. He’s hot like fire, I guess it’s what anger does to people. My eyes slowly fill with tears when he looks at me and suddenly his face softens, like the anger doesn’t even exist. But instead, guilt changes those big green eyes. Before I know it, I am holding him tightly, my tears dripping from my cheeks on to his white shirt. His arms carefully encircle around me, making me forget where I am.
“This is my fault. This is all my fault.”
“No, Brent, it’s not.”
“You should hate me. Why you don’t hate me?”
I watch him, his eyes that show how much he needs an answer, how much he needs to believe that I don’t blame him. I don’t hate him. There are a lot of feelings I have for Brent but hate is not one of them. An entire ocean of ink wouldn’t be enough to describe them. Brent is starburst of light amongst the darkening dusk. He is all the stars in the sky condensed into a single point. God, how much I admire him. How much I missed him.
“I don’t hate you, Brent, I love you. I still love you.”
It looks like his pupils suddenly filled up with glitter, with happiness, after the words that he probably needed to hear all this time. He had done so much for everyone, and got nothing in return. He needs to be loved. He wants to be loved.
I feel an urge to do something, to comfort him, but also myself. In a moment I said those words, about my true feelings, I feel his body loosen and arms touch my shoulders. I watch him leaning forward and my body freezes, just like the first time he kissed me. His lips brush mine and I lean forward too, his warm breath on my lips. As his lips gently my skin, my face heats up.
His lips keep brushing mine, like he was hesitating to kiss me, if there was a chance I could push him away. His touch is not innocent, like a tease but hot, fiery, passionate and demanding. I want to pull away before I lose myself but I can’t seem to. In this minty moment, my senses have been seduced and I can no longer think straight.
He whispers slowly, prolonging each letter as if to savor them before he finally slams his lips onto mine. As soon as he kissed me the world had faded away. It’s slow and soft, comforting in ways that words would never be. His hand rests below my ear, his thumb caressing my cheek as our breaths mingle. I run my fingers down his spine, pulling him closer until there is no space left between us and I can feel the beating of his heart against my chest.
In this moment I realize that his kisses are my salvation and my torment. I live for them and I would die with the memory of them on my lips. I dedicated my life to being with him from the moment of that first kiss, for I knew that if I lost him I would lose myself. And for a decade, I was lost. I wasn’t myself without him. He is the half that makes me whole.
“I love you, Avery. So, so much.”
“It’s healing, finally.”
“Yeah, I can move my arm... finally.”
I cover Kevin’s shoulder in another bandage, rolling it around his armpit. But the wound is finally looking better, healing, and soon it will be left only as a scar, a painful memory of what he went through, and a mark of victory that we all came out alive. Finally, if only for a few days, everything seems getting better.
But the truth is, I don’t let the anxious thoughts to ruin my mood. I prevent myself from thinking about Caden, the Phoenix or any other things that would make me feel sad, scared, or angry. After all this time I realized I will have plenty of time for that, because after all, our lives are always involving drama and fighting. I decided to let myself enjoy the moment, not thinking about when the happiness will end.
“A few more days and you will be able to fight again, Mr Woods.”
Kevin chuckles and draws his eyes away from me, like he was afraid of an eye contact.
Like he was hiding something.
That’s when I realize that everyone was awkwardly silent today. In fact, I haven’t seen anyone. Kai left when I was still sleeping, and Brooklyn asked me to take care of Kevin while she was helping Aaron and Lexi to track down Daryl; a man that possibly has the script that we need. At first I thought that it’s nothing, but now... it feels like everyone is hiding something from me.
“Kevin? Maybe you want to tell me something?”
“Um... oh, no.”
His eyes keep running around the room like he was searching for an escape from me.
“You know you’re the worst liar ever?”
“I’m not lying, Bev.”
“Okay, then where’s Kai?”
“He’s, uh... I don’t know where he is.”
Kevin keeps turning away from me as I try to read him from his eyes and his cheeks paint in bright pink. There’s no need to tell he’s hiding something, they all are. In an instant all of my thoughts come back, no matter how much I tried to avoid them. They’re doing something behind my back, and it’s probably something about Caden. Could they be trying to get the script without me!?
“Kevin, don’t lie to me. Where’s Kai?”
But Kevin’s answer is interrupted by voices in the hallway, voices I would recognize anywhere. Avery and Brent.
I don’t wait for Kevin to finish, standing up and reaching for the beige double-doors of his room, with the plastic band fastened midway and their dull chrome handles. I pull my eyes from the highly polished linoleum floor to catch a glimpse of the hallway that stretches beyond, cut into tiny squares by the thin wire in the window panels. And two people, standing by my room door, looking like they were just inside it.
They both turn to me at the same time, their faces turn pale as they see me, all frowning and confused.
“What the hell is going on in here?”
“What do you mean, Bev?”
“You’re all acting extremely mysterious today. Don’t you think I didn’t notice.”
But Brent jus glances at Avery and his lips arch into a smile; a curved smile, the one that Kai likes to make when he has an evil plan inside his head. And I immediately know he is behind this, whatever they’re hiding.
“We’re not mysterious, Beverly.”
“Then why no one tells me where Kai is?”
And again, silence. No one even tries to think of a lie to tell me, looking at me and making me feel dumb that I’m the only one that doesn’t know anything that’s going on. I feel anger starting to boil inside of me; how could he? How Kai could do something behind my back, not telling me what he’s up to?
“That’s it, I’m going to look for him.”
I thought that they will stop me, that they will stand in my way, but surprisingly, they step aside from my room door so I could get in. Pushed by the anger, I slam the room door open; but the view inside it steals my breath away in an instant.
There’s a dress. The most beautiful dress I’ve ever seen in my life. With feathers on the end, lots of tulle and as white as the chalk, long, fancy; it probably costs more than every clothing that I own.
My face is blank with confusion, like my brain couldn’t turn fast enough to take in the information from my wide eyes. I let the happiness soak right into my bones. I secretly want this feeling to be there when for as long as it can. I can’t even blink, savoring the moment. I know I don’t deserve it, I don’t understand why it’s even there when the view turns blurry as tears start to fill up my eyes. Tears of joy.
“Oh my God...
"This is Brent’s present for you, for everything that you did for him."
"I don’t understand..."
I slowly turn to Brent when tears start to fall down my cheeks, the confusion, joy, excitement blinds me; when I thought this will be something bad, something that will make me angry. Brent keeps standing in the hallway, with a wide smile on his face; a smile that never before appeared, it makes me realize that times have completely changed.
"Get ready, little bride. You’re getting married."