Alight [Completed]

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Chapter 17 - Melody

My heart was pounding in my throat - the blood was rushing everywhere. I wanted to cry, but I could barely breathe. The air felt too thick, my airway too constricted.

‘Be brave.’

“Are you okay?” Knox asked again, looking at me with so much concern in his eyes.

“I will be,” I forced a smile onto my lips. I knew I had to do this. I had to face my fears, sooner or later, and I’d rather do it with him here, than by myself or anyone else who wouldn’t understand.

“Are you sure you want to go in?” He was holding my hand as we came to a standstill right at the shoreline, the tide washing in over our bare feet.

I flinched from the cold water hitting my feet, then nodded. “Not far. Just... a little bit. I have to start somewhere.”

He nodded, waiting on me to step in first. Not pushing me, just being there, quietly, being a silent source of strength and encouragement. But when I looked at his face, I could see that storm of emotion swirling inside his eyes again, and I knew he was wrestling with himself again as much as I was - perhaps even more so. Because what I was facing, was only cold, hard fear. But he carried so much guilt. It had a name even - survivor’s guilt. I didn’t know much about psychology, but from what he’d said, I could deduct that he felt guilty that he’d survived, and she didn’t. His eyes were fixed onto the rock formation to the right of the swimming beach, and I didn’t have to ask - I just knew that was where it must have happened five years ago.

And seeing his pain gave me strength somehow, because I knew my burden was much lighter than his. I had absolutely no-one to blame for what happened to me but myself. And even though it wasn’t his fault, he was blaming himself every time he saw those rocks, standing there like a monument of tragedy.

I hoped that perhaps one day he could look at the ocean and not drown in that guilt. That one day, he’d be able to realize how much he deserved to live. How much there was to live for, and how much, despite the shadows of the past, he deserved to step into the light.

“I’m ready,” I said, and his lips curved into a hint-of-a-smile as he squeezed my hand.

“So proud of you, Snow. I’ve got you - I’m not letting go.”

“I know you won’t,” I felt my lips curve slightly upwards, too.

We gave a few steps in, and my heart nearly stopped from the cold water. Although the weather was warm, the ocean hadn’t had time to warm up, and there weren’t many people brave enough to weather the water, except for a few surfers wearing wetsuits. But we kept going, slowly, step by step. And with every step deeper, I felt that fear, but also this unexpected sense of strength. And just then, I knew that I could do this. I wasn’t going to let this define me. I was stronger than my fears, so much stronger than this.

We were just over knee-depth in now, and I was wide awake - so wide awake. Every sense was heightened, and I felt that rush of adrenaline pulsing through my veins. It was a mixture of fear, of cold, of knowing that I was facing them both. It almost felt like I was inside those dreams of mine again, except the sun was shining brightly - that darkness wasn’t there. But most of all, I felt that strong hand folded firmly around mine, letting some of his strength seep into me.

“You’re doing it. You’re halfway in,” he said encouragingly as we were waist-deep now.

I exhaled shakily, feeling chilled to the bone. “Yeah... I think this is enough...”

Our gazes locked and there was so much fire in his eyes. And then, he pulled me right into him - into a tight embrace, transferring some of his heat again. My lips curled into an involuntary smile and I sighed as I rested my head against his solid chest, and we just held each other for a few seconds. I could feel the fear of the ocean trickling out of me like a leaking faucet, slowly, but gradually. I was doing this, and I wasn’t alone.

But then, fear of a completely different kind nestled uncomfortably inside my chest. It was a fear of what would happen in six weeks’ time. I knew we were living on borrowed time. That I had him for only a little while. And although I was trying my hardest not to fall hard and fast, he was making it damn impossible.

“Let’s get out - you’re freezing,” he said gently, and I nodded, knowing that I couldn’t put to words what I was thinking at that moment. I couldn’t do it to us both.

We basked in the warmth of the sun for a while, and I felt the gentle rays soaking into my skin, warming me gently.

“Thank you for doing this with me,” I said simply, and he nodded, understanding exactly what I was trying to say.

“How are the nightmares?” He probed gently, propping himself up on his elbow so he could see me better.

“Still there,” I admitted.

“Have you talked to anyone?”

“Just you.”

“Snow... it’s better to talk to someone. Trust me,” he said without judgment.

“Did you?” I asked carefully.

He sighed. “I did. For about a year. And it helped - to some extent. It helped to get me to a point where I didn’t wish it was me instead. But that guilt is still eating me up inside. And that’s my punishment, I suppose.”

“You’re punishing yourself, and you don’t deserve it.” My heart hurt for him just then, as I saw the torment in his eyes. “Did you... did you have dreams as well?”

“Yes. I still do,” he said with brutal honesty, and there was a flash of pain inside his eyes. And I wished so hard that I could just take that away, because Knox was a good person with so much to offer. He didn’t deserve to live under the constant weight of the terrible guilt that was smothering him.

And just then, I realized that we were both broken. But he was so much more broken than I was. I felt a physical ache inside my heart, because I had no idea how to fix this, how to fix us both.

“I’ll stay tonight, if you still want me to,” the words spilled from my lips before I could stop them. And I knew I was playing with fire, getting in deeper and deeper with him. I knew at some point, in the not-so-distant-future, I would be paying for this. But deep down inside, I also knew that we both needed each other right now.

His lips curved upwards. “Of course I do. Saves me having to make a return-trip tonight,” he teased, and I rolled my eyes at him, that tension broken, that heaviness lifting again in an instant. Because somehow, that’s just how it was with us. We could go from baring our souls to making jokes within the space of seconds, and it just worked every time.

“I might have to head to our place to grab a change of clothes and a few other things, though,” I smiled.

“Sure. We can go after we finish here if you’d like?”

I nodded. “Yeah. I think I’ve had enough of the sun, to be honest. I’m ready to go if you are.”

He looked at me lazily, then unexpectedly pulled me down so that I fell right on top of him, and we were gazing into each other’s eyes.

“You’re beautiful, Snow. Thanks for coming here with me.”

“I think I’m the one who should be thanking you.”

And then we kissed as though the world was about to end again. And even though it wasn’t at that moment, my world as I knew it was about to, it was just a matter of six weeks.

*****

We spent the rest of the afternoon making love. Our warm bodies slithered together rhythmically; we were chasing that friction, that elusive release. I never wanted this to stop - I didn’t want us to ever end. With every thrust, my heart pounded faster and faster inside my chest; there was so much fire between us, I was scared it was going to end up burning us both.

His touch left a trail of scars on me, because there was no way I’d ever be able to forget this. I moaned, fisting his hair, spurring him on to drive me more and more delirious. Our fire was as addictive as it was dangerous; there was absolutely nowhere else I’d rather be, than here with him like this, unraveling gradually in his arms. Every movement lit something deep within me, emotion ignited inside my heart, and I was too scared to give a name to it, so I just held on.

His lips fluttered all over my skin, tasting every inch of me. Then he kissed me again, our tongues swirling in frantic circles, heaven had a price, and I knew eventually I’d have to pay for this. And we weren’t only getting tangled in the sheets; my heart was getting entangled with his, too. I was trying to damn hard to pull back, not to give all of myself, not to bare my whole soul.

But some days, like today, I forgot. I forgot that we were just temporary. And so, I ended up giving up another piece of my heart, of my soul. Piece by piece, it didn’t seem like much. But I was giving away pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that made up my entire being. And the thing was - if you gave away enough pieces, there was no way that the picture would ever be whole again.

It was already hard to imagine what my life would feel like without him in it. Even just the thought of life without him robbed me of my breath. But we were like a flutter of a butterfly’s wings, and our delicate situation couldn’t last. Our prophecy had been foretold even before we started; no matter how hard I raged against it, it wouldn’t help.

The fact was, this thing was so much more than just a physical connection. I knew it would be, from the outset. It wasn’t just the way he made me feel when we kissed, when we touched. It was the way my heart felt happy when I woke up in the mornings. All the ways he made me smile. The way I felt safe when I was with him. The way that time seemed to stand still when we were together.

But I also knew that we only had a few short weeks. That knowledge didn’t make it any easier, though. I was walking open-eyed into my demise, and I was getting closer and closer to it with each sunrise and sunset.

I went to sleep in his arms that night, for the first time. I felt that warmth, that fire that lit me up inside. I basked in its glow, deciding to push away those thoughts that were tormenting me, for just one night. Just to be for one night. To pretend that the sand wasn’t running out, that we had all the time in the world.

Words burned on my tongue, wanted to spill from my lips. But I knew I couldn’t say them, as much as I was feeling them right then. Because that was the thing about a situation like ours - it was never going to be simple or painless.

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