Chasing Lights

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Chapter 15: The Sun, The Moon, The D*ckhead.

“So, how about this?” Amara furrowed her brows while holding up my hair, letting it dive right over my face.

The sand falling from the strands tickled my skin, and I brushed it off quickly. “Ames!” I huffed, trying to get the hair out of my eyes. “We’ve been at this for what now? An hour? Just let it be!”

My best friend rolled her eyes and released me from her grip. “Well, you said you wanted a haircut. I’m just trying to figure out what’ll look good on you.”

I shook out my hair and tied it into a ponytail, trying to avoid any more sandy disasters. We’ve been at the beach for half the day now, and Amara either spent her time flirting with backpacking Australians, or styling me in the most unfashionable way possible.

Lying back down on my towel, I glanced over at her. “I don’t need it to be pretty. I just want it to be practical.”

“Yeah, yeah. I know. I’m just saying it wouldn’t hurt to give it a little fun too, you know.”

“I’m sure it’ll be fun enough to go on a roller board without having to fear I’ll rip my skull out every damn time.” I laughed, sipping on my cinnamon milkshake.

“Probably, yeah.” Amara chuckled and finally gave in, her glance wandering around the beach. “Speaking of fun — How come we haven’t seen that mysterious Phoenix guy yet? I thought you said he stayed the week as well.”

I was starting to regret telling her that, considering it’s all she’s been on about ever since she got here. “Yeah, that’s what he said, at least. But, as he made perfectly clear, it’s none of my business. So I won’t be waiting around to stumble into him. Even if his room is right next to mine…”

She raised an eyebrow at me. “Sure… ’Cause you haven’t been looking around the beach or hotel or restaurants every time we left the room, right?”

“Oh, shut up.” I swatted her arm.

“I’ll shut up when you admit you dig that tall, dark and handsome cliché.”

“Fuck’s sake…” Rolling my eyes, I got up from my towel. “You know what, I think it’s time to get back to the hotel. We got that dinner reservation soon, and I don’t want to strangle you on your last night here just because you can’t stop talking bullshit.”

Amara followed my notion and got up as well, packing her beach bag with a wide grin. I expected her to give me some witty comeback, but instead she shrugged and kept collecting her belongings.

“What?” I groaned as I threw my book into the bag. The way she stared at me made me furious.

“Nothing. Nothing.” She wrapped the towel around her neck and grinned even wider. “Just saying… I don’t think I’ve ever seen you this annoyed. Must be your love language.”

My jaw hit the ground from her ballsy statement, but Amara must’ve known that it wouldn’t go by unnoticed. She was already running away from me, or at least trying to in the fine sand beneath our feet, as I lunged to hit her with my towel. “I swear to god, sometimes I wonder why I put up with you!”

“It’s because I tell the truth and nothing but the truth!” she yelled across the beach, walking backward now.

“Yeah, yeah. Keep telling yourself that.” Throwing the towel back over my shoulder, I finally caught up with her.

“I will.” Amara pulled me into her side and pressed a kiss on my cheek, wrapping an arm around my waist. “Because I know I’m right. And you’ll know it soon, too.”

***

We’d spent the rest of the day getting ready for dinner and catching up for lost time. “You know, for someone who wants to be the fastest wherever he goes, your dad surely knows how to be late.” Amara snickered, glancing at her wrist watch and lying back on the sofa in the hotel lobby.

Rafael walked up to us and plopped down on the seat next to me with a sigh. “Mom’s probably trying to convince him to retire, yet again.”

My brother joined us a few days ago, but neither me nor my parents saw much of him. He spent most of the time surfing and only got back to the hotel to eat with us in the evenings. I couldn’t even blame him — he had a rough couple of weeks with his racing team also, and knowing how much the past weekend sucked for me, I couldn’t even fathom how the drivers must’ve felt.

He seemed more relaxed now, luckily. The way he pushed his dark wet curls out of his face almost made him look like he came straight from the beach, giving him the perfect surfer look he’d always been aiming for.

“Or maybe they’re just having… you know.” Amara wiggled her eyebrows at us.

Rafael threw his half-empty water bottle at her. “Eww!”

“Oh my god, why would you even say that?” I joined in with a gasp. “That’s disgusting. I don’t even want to—”

“No. Stop! La-la-la!” My brother threw his palms on his ears and closed his eyes, shaking his head left and right. “I don’t want to hear it!”

Amara’s laugh echoed through the entire hotel lounge, and a few heads turned in our direction. It’s not like I wasn’t used to her raising attention wherever she went, I just wished she’d toned it down a notch when my family was involved.

“You guys are so prude. Wow.”

“We’re not prude! I don’t say that stuff about your parents, either.” Rafael glared at my friend. “Also, can we like… not? People are staring at us.”

“Thank you!” Approving his message with a nod, I glanced around the hotel. The bathroom at the other end of the foyer seemed like a great escape from this head-turning nightmare. “I’ll use the restroom. It might be a while until Mom and Dad show up here, anyway.”

As I got up, I caught a glimpse of the few people who were still gawking at us, their curious gazes averting the second I stared right back.

“Yeah, uncomfortable, isn’t it?” I muttered, turning the corner of the lounge to proceed into the bathroom. People didn’t seem to understand the need for privacy, no matter who you were, but even less so when your family’s name was in everyone’s mouth.

Closing the door to my bathroom stall, a loud crashing noise resonated through the bathroom, and I almost fell right into the toilet when a loud male yell followed. Another sound came right from the wall behind me, almost as if someone hit it on purpose.

“Damn…” I shook my head. “Anger issues, or what?”

With the surrounding aggression, I didn’t feel like staying in here any longer than I had to, and so I hurried up. A few moments later, I was washing and drying my hands before I stormed out the door, trying to avoid any confrontation with whatever storm brewed up at the other end of the wall.

Unfortunately, the world had other plans.

It sent me right into Phoenix’s way, who now cursed underneath his breath as he stared at his hands that held a cellphone with a shattered screen.

I stopped dead in my tracks, trying to make sense of the situation. It would’ve been easy to just walk away, ignore that the violent outburst I heard probably stemmed from the driver right in front of me. But somehow, watching how he vigorously tapped away on his phone, I couldn’t.

Instead, I dragged myself over to him, hoping to hell and back that I wasn’t just selling my soul by getting closer to him again. “Are you okay?”

His head shot up and our gaze met in a split second, causing both of us to stand still for a moment. He studied me warily, not once leaving me out of his stare. It was almost like he was trying to warn me from approaching him any further, like a wolf alerting his prey.

“Look… No need to tell me it’s none of my business. I know it’s not. I’m just asking if you’re okay.”

Again, he just stared at me, like that was the only thing he knew how to do when he wasn’t throwing his phone around.

“I’m fine.” He finally sighed and averted his gaze, yet again regarding his hands.

It was a blatant lie, obviously. The way he furrowed his brows when he answered expressed his deception better than any lie detector test could.

“Alright, then.” I watched him for another moment, the ruffled hair and troubled look on his face suddenly aching my heart.

God. Was I really about to do this?

“I’m having dinner with my family, in case you want to join.”

Seemed like I was.

Phoenix appeared as surprised as I was by that invitation, his wide eyes blinking a few times until he said, “Thanks. I’ll pass, though.”

“Pass what?” My mother’s voice right behind me made me jump up. As I turned around, she walked up to me, hands propped on your hips. “What is taking so long, Florence? We are waiting!”

"You were waiting?” I laughed, raising an eyebrow at my mom. “I just went to the restroom because you guys took so long.”

“Ah, nonsense,” she muttered, dismissing my complaint with a simple wave. “And who is this?”

Phoenix snapped out of his staring trance to lean over and reach out his hand to Mom, who shook it with a bright smile on her face.

“Sorry. I’m Phoenix McCoy. I… Well, I work with Florence.”

“Oh! That’s you!” My mother laughed, adding her other hand to the handshake to give Phoenix a tighter squeeze. “Nice to meet you, son. Are you hungry?”

“Nice to meet you, too. But uh… Not hungry. Thank you, though.”

“Ah, nonsense…” Mom mumbled yet again, and I almost laughed at how repetitive her wave was this time. “I’d love to hear what you have to say about my daughter! And I bet Rafael would want to meet you, too.”

Oh boy…

“Mom, don’t overstep, please. He said he wasn’t hungry. We also don’t know if he has plans…”

“I’m good, really.” Phoenix chimed in, his gaze now focusing back on me. I didn’t know if I was mistaken, but it felt like he was battling himself with every word he said. Pure chaos lay beneath that stare. His green eyes held a fire that was so much more potent than I’d seen before, and yet he seemed calm as the sea at low water.

My mother sighed as she released Phoenix’s hand. “Okay, okay… I was just thinking, maybe you could’ve convinced my husband to give up his seat for you.”

A laugh fled my lips, and I shook my head as I chipped in, “Ma, don’t jump the gun for him now.”

“Well…” Mom shrugged. “A wife can hope.”

Even Phoenix smiled at her remark — a sight that stole my breath, unfortunately — and spoke up. “That’s very nice of you, but honestly… Those would be pretty big shoes to fill.”

My mother’s giggle rang through the entire hallway. “Oh, definitely… Well, you’re sure you don’t want to join us? You look like you could use some good pasta. Then again, that could just be the athlete diet they got you guys on.”

“The latter.” Phoenix agreed with a chuckle.

Damn. Why was he laughing so much?

“But thank you. Again.” His gaze fell on me now. “Have a good evening, Florence. Enjoy the orange juice.”

My eyes widened at his remark, and I couldn’t help but laugh out loud suddenly, covering my lips with my palm as I thought to myself…

Did Phoenix really just make a joke?

***

The evening was just as I expected it to be: Loud, energetic, and full of laughter. It was also full of questions and unnerving glances from Amara, who was fully intent on driving me crazy with her hints and innuendos.

“You know, your brother became kinda hot,” she said with a yawn, pulling the duvet up to her nose.

“Ames…” I chuckled as I turned to face her, getting comfortable on my side of the queen sized bed. “Are you for real?”

“Yeah. He’s like our generation’s Keanu Reeves.”

“He’s not our generation’s Keanu Reeves!” My chuckle turned into a full-on laugh now. “He’s a dork.”

“A very hot dork, though.”

The faint blush on my best friend’s cheek told me she was serious about that statement. Was I ecstatic about that revelation? No. Would I keep them from doing whatever they want to? Hell no. Enforcing rules in things like these would mean it would get complicated.

And I didn’t do complicated.

Amara’s eyes had already fallen shut when I whispered, “I mean, if you want to. Go for it. You’re already family to me. This wouldn’t change much.”

“Thank you…” Amara muttered with a quiet yawn.

“Of course. Sleep well.”

“Love you…“

I smiled. “Love you too, Ames.”

It only took a few minutes for Amara to fall asleep.

For me, sleep was a faint reminder of revival. One that I didn’t get to enjoy as much as I wanted to. The past few nights I’ve lain awake, thinking about nothing and everything at once. The train of thoughts was hard to stop when you didn’t know where to brake, and so I usually tried running my heart out the next morning, doing lap after lap in the park. That at least exhausted me enough to let sleep overcome me, sooner or later.

Tonight was different, though. Hot blood coursed through my veins, and my mind was racing as fast as the cars on track. I just couldn’t keep up with it, couldn’t find that one silent corner in the back of my head that always paved the way to salvation.

And so I slid out of the covers, pulled my favorite Azure hoodie over my head, and stepped out onto the balcony. Crossing my arms on top of the railing, I took a deep breath, letting the brisk air soothe my skin. The sky glimmered exactly the way you would’ve expected it to; thousands of celestial bodies covered the night, gave us light in the darkness.

This was another reminder that no matter how chaotic our lives became, no matter how infinite some things may seem… At the end of the day, the moon kept orbiting the earth, and the stars would guide us to the light.

“Are you okay?”

The familiar voice startled me and I jumped aside, glancing over at the balcony to my right. “Phoenix?”

A thin smile curled on his lips as he saluted me and leaned back against the railing, his legs stretched out on the ground.

“Why are you awake?” I furrowed my brows.

“Why are you?” he quipped, letting a dark pen dance between his fingers. I couldn’t help but observe the movement for a moment, almost getting lost in the melody he played with his knuckles.

“Couldn’t sleep. Obviously.” I shrugged, turning around to redirect my gaze at the beach a few hundred meters away from us. A few people were still enjoying their night there, the faded tune of a bonfire celebration echoing through the night.

“Obviously, yeah…” His deep chuckle disturbed the otherwise light atmosphere, and I couldn’t help but glimpse over again, noticing how he still sat there with the pen between his fingers.

“Is that why you’re out here, too?”

He nodded and spun the pen through his fingers once more, slowly letting it retreat into the notebook on the ground. “Yup. It’s too quiet in that room for me.”

I tried to stop the laugh from my lips but failed miserably, and so I ended up coughing my amusement out, fanning my face.

“What?” Phoenix studied me with a curious gaze, enjoying how I was trying to calm myself.

“Nothing… I just… I’d have pegged you for a quiet guy, you know.”

His brows furrowed as he cocked his head to the side, and he averted my gaze for a moment. It almost felt like he was thinking hard about that before he finally rejoined, “Well, sometimes. Not now, though.”

I walked over to my right and leaned on the railing again, facing Phoenix now. There was only a couple of feet between us, and yet it felt like he was on a different planet than me. “You could’ve joined us for dinner. Believe me, that was anything but quiet.”

“Oh, yeah.” He chuckled. “I can imagine. Your mother was very nice.”

“I’m sorry if she overstepped your boundaries.”

The moonlight cast him in a celestial shine when he shot me a crooked smile, one that lit up the night even more than any star could. “She wasn’t. It was a very kind offer, I just… Wasn’t feeling like family today.”

“That’s okay.” I leaned back and glanced into my hotel room, watching how Amara was still sleeping peacefully in our bed. “My best friend would’ve been a pain, anyway…”

He nodded. “Ah… The nosy one.”

A blush crept into my cheeks, but I still laughed at the grin on his lips as he got up from the ground. “Yeah. The nosy one. She’s a good person, though. Just a bit weird.”

“Meh. We all are, I’d reckon.”

He walked over and leaned on the railing on the other side of me, leaving just a few inches between us as he leaned in further. His eyes skimmed my face, and I felt the need to reach out to him, to experience his skin beneath my fingertips once more. I didn’t know how long we stared at each other, but with every second that passed, I found myself inching closer, only holding on to the rail to keep me grounded.

“I’m sorry.” His whisper barely stood out against the sound of the waves crashing on the shore, but I’d been staring at his lips enough to know exactly what he said. Our gaze locked again, and even though I tried so hard not to lose myself in his deep green irises… My efforts were in vain.

“For what?” I asked, trying to find answers to all those damn questions in my head.

A lock of hair fell into my face, and Phoenix didn’t even hesitate before he reached over and tucked it behind my ear, studying his every move with great caution. “For being a dickhead, I guess.”

Tucking his arm back onto the railing, he smirked at me, and I couldn’t help but mirror his expression.

“I think it was Hap Holmstead who said: You can make excuses or you can get the job done, but you can’t do both."

His smirk widened and he gently shook his head, chuckling to himself. “Why am I not surprised you got some super smart quote ready to fire at me?”

“’Cause I’m super smart.” I shrugged. “And you obviously needed a lesson.”

Fixing my gaze again, Phoenix leaned a little closer, minimizing the distance between us to a few inches. “Don’t be a dickhead. Got it.”

And even though he smiled with his reply, all I was aware of were the sparks running over my skin, the tension between us suddenly becoming so thick that you could’ve cut it with a butter knife. The urge to reach out to him became more imminent, but I suppressed it with every ounce of restraint I could muster up.

We both averted our gaze to look at the stars a few times, but I still felt the urge to inch closer to him, to sense more than just this longing in my bones. We must’ve stayed in that state of mind for a while, the music from the beach having subsided as it was just us left standing beneath the stars, admiring the night.

“You can talk to me, you know. If you want to.” I didn’t know why I was offering my soul on a silver platter to him, but it was the only thing in my mind at that moment.

His gaze burned into my cheeks, the brisk air suddenly just a drop in the bucket compared to the heat in my veins. I turned around and faced him, bathing in that vulnerability in his eyes.

“Thank you,” he whispered with a clearing of his throat. Silence lingered between us for a moment, and I just listened to the waves hit the shore, enjoying the tranquility until he interrupted the night again. “How long will you still be here?”

A smile curled on my lips from his question. “I’ll take the train to the factory tomorrow evening. Got a workshop I don’t want to miss.”

His brows furrowed while he nodded, but when our gaze locked again, it was hard to miss the crooked grin on his lips when he asked, “Mind if I join you?”

Not knowing what to say to him, I ended up staring for a while, trying to figure out the complexity behind this man’s facade.

“One condition,” I said, unable to stop the grin on my lips. “Don’t be a dickhead.”

***

Author’s Note

Hey, folks!

I know I’m late, but man. I trashed this chapter a couple of times before I found a way to make it work the way I wanted to. I love how it turned out though, so I hope you did too.

Now, any guesses on what the future has in store for us? I spent a lot of time thinking about these two yesterday (which is partly why I didn’t have that much time writing. I was literally threading their stories into the web I created in my head), but I always love to hear your guesses!

As always, I hope you’re all staying safe, and I hope you’re all enjoying life as much as you can.

Lots of love,

xx Jane

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