FLAME OF LOVE

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Chapter 10

Erica's POV

We all decided to go on a trail.

August took a deep breath and said – "I love the smell of fresh mud and leaves."

"Can't agree more, it is so rejuvenating!" – Clara agreed.

"Indeed!" – I chuckled at them.

Just then Lee asked us to take the small gravel path on the right. Max and Zac took a different path. After walking for over an hour, we reached 'wolf point', its at an elevation from where we could get a panoramic view of the waterfalls, the serene river flowing through the canyons, and the surrounding forest. It was mesmerizing and we all were baffled.

Lee snapped his fingers at us and pointed at a few yards ahead from where we were rooted - 'Girls, that's our little spot for tonight.'

August was elated and said – 'Guys, this is stupendous and surreal. It looks like nature has painted white, blue, green, and red all over. This is inspirational, may be I got an idea for my next collection.'

Being a fashion designer, she loves colours and was ecstatic. As Clara and August were busy watching over nature's creativity, I saw Lee sneaked away and joining Zac and Max at the spot. The guys started arranging everything as it was already 11.45 pm. I looked at Clara and she nodded back understandingly. They both continued with their jabber.

I helped the guys with the surprise birthday display. Max had got a small folding table and we decorated it with a simple floral themed table cloth. Zac placed the cake and the knife on it. Finally, I asked Zac to get the gifts as well.

We went to the clearing where the girls were still perched and lost in the view.

"Hey, let us go to our cabin, it's late and I wanna sleep."– I told them nonchalantly.

August frowned – "Let us stay here for some more time."

Clara added – "August come, let's at least check what these boys were up to?"

As we were nearing, Clara blindfolded August.

"Just walk August, we shall guide you." – Clara told her as she objected.

As soon as we reached, I kindled the candle and placed it on the cake. Clara released August and we all yelled 'Surprise!'. She was startled looking at the cake. Lee played the birthday song on his acoustic guitar and August blew the candle, cut the cake as the clock struck 12.00 and we all wished her.

I was busy dicing the cake and Clara got cutlery when we heard loud music from the nearby spot. This was a secluded place and away from the main camping ground. All of us were quite annoyed at the neighbouring group.

Meanwhile, I also heard a distant hum or a whistle or maybe both which sounded familiar, but I couldn't pinpoint my finger at it.

"Thank you guys, this is my best birthday celebration ever. I shall cherish this forever." August said cheerfully to all of us, breaking my chain of thoughts.

Max asked – "Ahh, am so glad that we don't need to gift you anything, right?"

Lee chuckled. Clara asked August to open her gifts. The noise kept growing louder.

"I guess that group is full of rogues and reckless" – Max uttered with a clear irritation in his voice.

"We thought no one would come this far as this is the dead-end and further zones are all prohibited." – Lee said pointing towards a group at some distance in the parking spot.

Zac was already annoyed and added – "If they don't stop then, I am going to break their bones."

Clara, being the appeaser, said – "Let's ignore them, I think they will settle down. Let us enjoy our time."

We all nodded, sat forming a circle, and started chitchatting like we always used to do. Max lit up a bonfire at the center. It was slightly chilly yet the ambience was perfect.

However, I felt restless; something was not right, as if something was going to happen. I could sense it but was not certain of what was coming towards us. I just hoped we have an uneventful trip.

Max was into the real estate business and he was filling in the news of his recent acquisition of land when we heard the music grow louder.

I was pissed off but they seemed to be a bunch of miscreants. Hence, I decided it was best if we didn't mess with them.

"Guys lets go back to the cabin and retire. We don't want to spoil our getaway because of those bunch of miscreants." – I stated calmly and got up.

Max agreed and said – "Erica is right. I can smell alcohol and those look like junkies."

All of us got up and started making our way out when one of them stopped August and Clara on their tracks. That dopehead misbehaved with them and the girls punched him blue and black.

Well, August and Clara may look like incapacitated but they were nevertheless 'Herculean'. We all went beside the girls to ensure they were alright, however, it looked like we have invited some unwanted trouble. As the entire gang approached us and the guys were already geared up for a feud. I nudged Lee, Max, Zac, and whispered – " Do not take much time, come soon and end this asap."

The guys stood upfront; they all are quite protective of us. Although all of us are trained in self-defense, they never let us take charge. This irks August the most amongst us. She was fuming and itching to hit them. The junkies were in an inebriated state and cussed us. Zac lost his temper as he couldn't stand the obscenity and he couldn't tolerate anyone saying anything against me.

Zac went ahead and gave a punch at their leader's face and kicked a few others as well. In no time, Max and Lee too joined Zac. Zac and Lee being the doctors, they very well know what will render the enemy vulnerable, so it is not easy to defeat them. And within minutes the group was exhausted after being knocked out by just three guys. We then started walking towards the main entrance.

As soon as we reached our cabin, we retired to our rooms. August and Clara dozed off as soon as their bodies hit the bed. To me, sleep was far-fetched as I couldn't shake off the unsettling feeling from what I saw. When they were fighting, my eyes saw someone standing behind a tree, watching all of us and that someone turned into a wolf, ran into the woods before I could alert anyone. My mind was restless with what I saw and I couldn't close my eyes.

I got up and walked out of the bedroom tacitly, and went to the patio to get some fresh air and for sky gazing. Whenever I miss my mom or am upset, I look up at the Moon and the twinkling stars, silently hoping that my mom must be watching us from up there.

I could smell a scent, something familiar .. sandalwood and citrus, and heard the same humming which surprisingly has a calming effect on me. I strode towards the other end of the patio towards the amazing scent, which came from the next cabin's patio. I saw someone's shadow and perhaps it was HIM, his scent. I was agitated and negative feelings churned inside of me. I was perturbed because of two things. One, I unknowingly loved the scent, that belonged to him; and two, Aron is here and I loathed him, yet I felt my heart betraying as a part of me yearned for my BFF. I rushed to the bedroom and forced myself to sleep.

***********

The bright sunlight pierced inside and I woke up. I saw August still asleep while Clara just stepped out of the bathroom after her shower.

Clara smiled brightly – "Good morning! Let's wake up this sleeping beauty so that we can finish our breakfast and head out."

"Morning Clara. Check on the guys, I am sure they must be sleeping like a log." – I chuckled.

I went to the bathroom and completed my morning routine. August too was up and Clara told me she has asked the guys to get ready.

We all decided to have our breakfast at the eatery outside. It was a log restaurant that had a lavish breakfast menu. August and Clara noticed my silence but I shrugged it off. Zac gave me a bear hug as I greeted both Lee and Max. We all settled on a cornered table with our breakfast plates.

Max took out the map and all were discussing the trails to be explored today.

I was still under the shock of finding him so close to us and it made me furious. Suddenly, something struck me.

"Did you know that he too is coming here?" – I snapped at Clara, startling everybody.

Clara looked shocked and clueless, I could see the truth in her eyes but it didn't calm me. "What? Whom are you talking about?"

'Erica, what's wrong? Why are you livid at Clara?" – August looked puzzled at both of us.

"Can someone tell what's happening here?" Max insisted.

Zac asked me – "Sissy, calm down first and who is 'HE'?"

All eyes were on me. I frowned and told them about Clara's meeting with Aron. "And last night, I saw Aron in the patio of the adjacent cabin."

I grimaced and saw the shock on everyone's face including Clara.

"I seriously didn't know that he is here. Trust me, Erica. I didn't even have a word with him despite being in the meeting; neither with Aron nor with others." Clara said with a pained expression on her face.

Clara was hurt by my accusation. I saw Lee eyeing Clara to calm down and spoke – "Erica, this might be a sheer coincidence. If you want, we can move out and go elsewhere anytime."

I sighed – "No, you are right. Clara, I am sorry for snapping at you like that, I just overreacted." Clara nodded and gave me a half-smile.

Max, Lee, and August looked at my distressed face but said nothing. Zac came next to me and started serving me looking at my plate and said – "Now, eat this quickly. We are going to the waterfall point and you need to eat to chase me, it's a difficult trail" – he winked.

I smiled at him knowing his attempt to distract me and as I took a bite; I saw him entering along with his friends. I choked up and Zac gave me a glass of water. Instead of asking me, his eyes followed my gaze and I told him – "Don't look there. Aron is coming this way..."

Clara shook her head and asked – "Are you fine, Erica?"

Everyone's eyes were on me however, I could feel all of them annoyed just like me except Clara and Zac. The major fallout was between me and Aron, not with others. However, our friends chose sides and maintained distance. It did upset me that Aron never tried to reconcile but the fact was I too never wished for it.

I looked for Zac's emotions which he concealed well and I told him – "Zachy, if you wish to talk to them, then you may go ahead; you don't worry about me." I knew Zac well, he was fond of Aron and shared a great rapport with Aron and his sister Ziva both. He always felt our fallout was a conspiracy and hence he didn't hold any grudges against Aron. Somewhere, I know he misses him very much but won't tell me and I don't want him to suffer because of me.

"Umm... that's okay. It's not necessary, Sissy. You are the one important to me!"

"Erica – Is that you?" ....

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