The crisp wind breezed against my face as I scuffled across the dark beach. I flicked the flashlight on to illuminate my path as I stumbled over the jagged rocks and stones in the sand. I could see Stark in the distance with a campfire and several torches staked along the way. There was a canvas tent set up on the beach as well with some folding chairs. He appeared to be trying to feed the fire with some make-shift kindling he had found. I approached him as he sat there poking the logs. His head perked up at the sight of me with a not-so-surprising expression.
“Well, hello there. Please have a seat,” he said motioning for me to sit next to him.
I sat down in the folding chair watching the flames dance up and down as the sounds of the waves crashing on the beach sang their sweet lullaby. The scene was a picture of perfection, but certainly something I had always enjoyed with Blane, not Stark. Looking over at him seated next to me was a different experience, but altogether compelling at the same time. My heart raced with the touch of his finger upon my forearm as he settled himself. He moved his head around to push the blonde locks of hair out of his eyes and smiled at me with approval.
“Blane has the book. I don’t know how, but he has it,” I said, looking over at him with a concerned expression.
“No he doesn’t,” he announced.
“Yes, I saw it!” I said.
“Let me guess... Did he start reading you your story?” he asked.
“Yes,” I gasped.
“It’s one of his illusions Liza. Don’t believe him. Did you give him the sleeping poison?”
“Yes,” I choked.
“Good, that will keep him held off for a while,” he said.
“Why did he think the poison would kill him?”
“I suppose it could,” he responded.
“What? I thought it would only put him to sleep!”
“Yes, an eternal sleep,” he let out a sinister laugh. I doubled over and put my head in my hands, sobbing at the thought of it. He remained focused on the ocean waves, unaffected by the display of emotion.
“I hid the book in the fairy cave. It’s too dark to venture into the woods tonight. Don’t you think?” he asked. Again, the anger lava began to fester at the pit of my stomach.
“Excuse me? I have no use for you!” I exclaimed as I stood up to leave. Stark grabbed my arm, pulling me back down to a seated position.
“I figured out a way for you to get to Issiryth,” he said.
“I don’t need your help,” I resisted. Stark stood up to loom over me, holding both of my arms down in the folding chair and bringing his face within close proximity to mine.
“What choice do you have?” Stark cocked his head to the side as he posed the question, raising his eyebrow. My heart beat like a jackhammer as his bold move evoked a sense of both fear and sexual arousal. I certainly had to consider my choices as on one hand I would lose my love and on the other, I was entrusting myself and my children to a source with no confirmed credibility. Where did this leave me? Perhaps my fate was in Pandora’s box. I would have to take a path and endure the consequence, risking it all. I took a deep breath, looking back up at him.
“Okay, I’m listening,” I mustered as he released his grip on me and sat back down in his chair.
“There’s no need for the intensity,” I said, rolling my eyes as I relaxed back down.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t scare you did I?” he asked.
“Oh please,” I snapped back.
“Okay, just checking,” he said looking out into the water. Stark fell silent as he stared off into space, wringing his hands. I couldn’t quite understand why he would choose to build my anticipation about his plan, then fail to follow through. Out in the water we could see small lights illuminating in all different colors in front of us. There were hundreds of tiny sea creatures of different sizes and shapes, glowing and floating around for our amusement. As each creature let off its glow, our eyes became mesmerized.
“Do you see that? Isn’t it amazing?”
“Yes,” I whispered. He grabbed my hand and lead me to the water. My toe touched down then retracted.
“I’m not looking to change into anything?”
“You don’t have to. Just don’t think about it. Come on, let’s take a look,” he said dragging me behind him. I cringed as my foot stepped in, sending goosebumps shooting up my legs. The cold of the water stabbed my feet like a newly sharpened knife. The little fish and the sea creatures brushed and tickled against our ankles. Stark was looking down at them with a child-like grin.
“This is so amazing,” I said bending down and placing my hand along-side the fish. As I did so, his hand pushed against my shoulder, causing me to topple over and splash into the water.
“I can’t believe you just did that!” I exclaimed, pulling on his hand down to meet me. Splash! In our wet clothes, we sat in the shallow water with the illuminated creatures all around us. His large hand pressed down on the top of my head, forcing me to go underneath. Water shot up my nose as my head went down. The salt in the water stung my nostrils like the tentacles of a jellyfish. I rose up and let in a large, relieving breath.
“Okay truce!” Stark said getting up and showing me his hands.
“Okay, okay!” I said with a grin. I jolted up out of the water like the spring on a trampoline, placing both of my palms on the top of his wet, blonde hair. As I pushed down with my full body weight, Stark plunged beneath the surface of the water. His face emerged once more from beneath as he gasped for air.
“Oh, it’s war now!” he declared, placing both of his hands on my head, pushing me down. I grasped each of his strong shoulders, pulling myself back up for a breath of air. Our clothes looked as if they were painted on to our wet bodies. My nipples were perked up from beneath the white collared shirt I was wearing.
“Stop staring,” I scolded as I pulled the wet clothes away from my breasts. He shook his head, trying to move his eyes away. He placed his hands on my waist, swinging me around in the water. We laughed and splashed together, tumbling about and feeling the squishy sand between our toes. We made our way back up to the shore. Before I knew it, he was on top of me.
As our fit of giggles died down, we stared into each other’s eyes. He pushed the hair back out of my face. Almost as if in slow motion, I could feel his face coming closer. My heart was beating out of my chest. Suddenly, my feelings for Blane were even more conflicting. I found myself under an even more mysterious spell. His warm lips pressed up against mine. His hand caressed the side of my face, pulling me in for a deeper passion. I put my hands upon his shoulders, fully reciprocating the gesture. His hand moved down my body, awakening an erotic sensation in my loins. We stopped and looked at each other, then commenced the passionate kissing once again. This time, each of our hands explored the body of the other. As his hand reached up to cup my breast, I intercepted it. With each of my hands beneath his chest, I rolled his hard body off of me.
“I’m sorry Stark. I just can’t. I love Blane,” I said. He stroked the side of my face, peering at me with his emerald green eyes.
“I knew you had a thing for me,” he said. I shook my head as I released myself from his grip, stomping away like a two-year-old.
“You know Stark. There’s a difference between sexual attraction and real feelings,” I said.
“Aha! Finally, a breakthrough!” he announced pointing his finger upward. We seated ourselves back in the folding chairs. I shifted around as an unsatisfied arousal lingered in my panties.
“I told you all that romance stuff is bullshit. Didn’t I?”
“I’m sorry, but I just don’t believe that. I love Blane and he loves me. He’s willing to die for me and I for him. Isn’t that the purest of loves anyone can have for another?” I asked. Stark sighed out loud and thought for a while, folding his hands and putting them up to his mouth.
“You know what? I loved a woman once. I loved her so much I could hardly breath when we held each other. My stomach turned in knots when we were apart and I would have laid down my life for her. No questions asked,” he stopped. My ears perked up at his sentiments of love.
“And? What happened?” I leaned in.
“The thing is. Every person, being, deity, or whatever it may be, only does the things he or she does because there is a payoff of some sort. We are all selfish and animal-like. You, me, Blane.....everyone. We don’t act without reward. Your reward for giving a man physical pleasure is the love you feel for him. A man’s reward for giving a woman emotional support is sex. Round and round we go. This woman was my everything and although I would have died for her, everything I did was for my payoff. Everything she did for me was for her payoff. The same thing happened to us that happens to thousands of other couples. We grew apart and stopped making each other happy. So, we did what any logical couple would do. We split up. I’ll never let another woman in like that again. It isn’t worth it,” he said.
“Wow, you’re awfully cynical. Surely it’s not like that for everyone. My parents were very happily married for many years before my father passed away,” I said.
“Your parents pretended happiness to maintain a societal norm,” he retorted cocking his head, “There’s a difference.”
“I don’t believe you. I’m very close to my mother and she told me lots of lovely stories about their courtship. It’s really romantic,” I said looking up at him with a dreamy look in my eyes.
“Listen, I’m not going to argue with you about it. I used to believe in love, but I don’t anymore. You’re obviously a very attractive woman and as a man, it’s difficult for me to control myself around you, but my head tells me not to catch feelings. Not now and not ever,” he said.
“Sounds like you’re trying to convince yourself you don’t have feelings for me.”
“Don’t get it twisted. I certainly don’t have feelings for you, but I do have a heart. I’m not letting Blane take you on a wild goose chase while you have a real goal to reunite with your children,” he said.
“Well, I appreciate it. Let’s just make this about business then, okay?” I said extending out my hand for a formal handshake. His damp blonde hair hung in his face while his clothes clung to his hard body. He reached over and shook my hand.
“Okay, kiddo. It’s a deal,” he said.
“So, what’s your plan exactly?” I asked.
“Well, I had hoped we could hang out a little bit more before we went over all that,” he replied.
“Hang out? Please excuse me if I misunderstand you, but any man who’s asked that I hang out with him has had ulterior motives,” I said raising my brow. His hands flew up in front of him waving about.
“No. Don’t get me wrong, I find you attractive, but I wanted to see if you wanted to try some more shape-shifting. You know, just to see if we can do it again,” he said.
“Had you tried it before the fairy cave?”
“Yes, but I’ve never been successful at it. That is, not until you went with me. I wasn’t expecting what happened at all,” he said.
“Okay, well, like I said before it was fun and everything, but I’m not interested in turning into anything right now. It’s a little weird,” I responded.
“Well, I think it plays an important part in our plan to get to Issiryth’s island. So, weird or not, you need to be open to it,” he said. Scrunching up my nose and eyebrows, my face made a sour expression.
“Okay, sure. It was fun with the fairy, but I’m not really sure how I did it, to be honest with you and I’m not here to play on the island. So, please tell me how this is going to help me get my kids back.”
“Serena,” he uttered.
“Serena? What about Serena? She tried to kill me. If I never looked upon her ugly mermaid face again, I’d die a happy woman,” I said.
“You have to shape-shift into a mermaid and swim across. Once you get there, I’d suggest you learn to shape-shift into any of her other creatures so you can to conceal your true identity. That’s the plan. Thoughts?” he cocked his head.
“Your plan is for me to befriend that damn mermaid? Isn’t that kind of setting me up for failure?” I asked.
“Listen, I don’t really see any other way to get across. The only ones allowed to do that are the mermaids. They are Issiryth’s fleet of guardians. Unless you’re one of them, you’ll get eaten, or drowned for sure. Her dragons will torch you out of the air if you choose to fly over,” he explained.
“Don’t you know any other mermaids besides her?” I asked a bit dismayed.
“No, she’s the only one brave enough to talk to human creatures. The only reason she let you go is that I convinced her to,” he added.
“Thanks,” I said rolling my eyes. “Well, even if I agreed to this plan, she would have to trust me and I don’t think we have any trust between us at this point in time.”
“You leave that to me,” he said tapping the top of his nose. “Serena trusts me. So, I’m sure if I went with you or at least escorted you across the ocean, she’d agree to that.”
“I don’t want to risk anyone else. This is my fight,” I said.
“Sorry dear, this isn’t your choice. She comes around here about mid to late afternoons to see me. I’m going to break the news to her then,” he explained.
“It’s a real possibility that she won’t agree to this,” I replied.
“It’s a real possibility that you’ll stay here forever and never see your kids again. You shouldn’t resist because it’s beyond your comfort zone. I really think this will work,” he said.
“What if it doesn’t Stark?” I asked.
“If it doesn’t then it doesn’t, but at least you can go out with a fight,” he said.
“Okay, you’re right I suppose. I’ll be back when Serena gets here tomorrow. What about Blane?” I asked.
“I’m sure he’ll wake up eventually,” he shrugged, grabbing my hand. “Come on, let’s go change into something.”
“No Stark, not tonight. I just don’t want to.”
“What are you afraid of? It’s not like you can’t change back,” he said.
“I just...I think I need to go back. In case Blane wakes up or something.”
“But I want you to stay,” he said looking up at me with the eyes of a small child.
“Why?” I smirked. “You have a thing for me?”
“Don’t flatter yourself. If I wanted you, I’d have you,” he said puffing up his chest like an ape claiming his territory.
I stood up to leave, but I could feel the warmth of his energy as he reached for my hand, protesting why I should I stay there with him. Stark, I’m sure had never found himself in an assailable position like this before. Seeking the comfort of another human being was only natural. I didn’t care what he said. I believed he sought solace underneath the spread of wings that companionship provided.
We both knew this place wasn’t our home nor was it within integrity for us to become blissful robots. The familiarity we shared with each other was our best option and we both knew that. I don’t know what came over me when I was around Stark, but he was correct in his assumption that if he wanted me bad enough, he could quite possibly have me. I thought I loved Blane, but perhaps that love was flimsy and negotiable. My love for him was contingent on my never leaving the island, a fate I couldn’t accept. I shuddered at the thought that I would leave him forever, but this predicament afforded no other choice.
“Alright, I’ll stay and hang out a while,” I said with a soothing voice as I seated myself next to him. The fire crackled and popped as we joked and laughed that night. As it wore on, it seemed as if time stood still while we reminisced about life back on earth. Our bellies became full and tight as we indulged in the beer that brought us to a state of inebriation. Soon, the beach was spinning before my eyes as I stumbled around, uncertain of my own legs and tumbled like a building under demolition.