It’s tempting. The mountain’s call is strong. But I can’t give in just yet.
My eyes flutter open and the sun beaming through the curtains reminds me that I am home. The air conditioner hums, another sweep of cold wind blows across my sweat laced skin. I try to lift my hand to wipe the sweat away but it feels weightless, as if it were someone else’s hand. I hold it into view. My fingers are trembling.
“Cassie.” Oriana appears, swooping down to perch beside my bed. “Are you alright?”
My gaze bobs across the room, the lavender walls and the stained glass lamps hanging from the ceiling. I try to remember what happened but my mind draws a blank. I can only remember the wall of sheer white.
I take a few deep breaths but the knot in my stomach twists tighter.
Oriana’s voice is high-pitched, cracking as she pleads, “Cassie, talk to me.”
I bury fingers into my stomach and chuckle. It’s a breathy sound but it’s all I can manage. “I’m alright.” I roll over onto my side in hopes the nausea subsides. “You don’t have to worry so much.”
She bows her head. I know she’s trying to rearrange her expression, desperate to hide her fear behind a solid mask. It’s a silly attempt to be strong.
I try to sweeten my tone, “What happened?”
She huffs. She throws back her head and gets to her feet. “I was hoping you could tell me. I felt your distress and went downstairs to see if you needed help.” She paced across the room then dropped down into a chair by the window. “You were…” Her eyes went flat. Her gaze began peering back through her memory, searching for some detail. “If you were human, I would say you were having a seizure.”
I hug my pillow and curl myself around it.
I moan in reply.
I shake my head. I don’t want to remember. I don’t want to share what happened either. In my gut, I feel the darkness haunting my thoughts, lurking in the back of my mind. I try to remember something else. I focus on the scent of my pillow, the orange oils I spray it with every night to cleanse away negative energy. But the darkness creeps closer.
“Cassie,” she pleads. “If you know something, you have to tell me.”
Hikari, I think. I focus on the way he smiles, the way his cheeks press upwards and his eyes crinkle in the corners. I focus on the brown hues of his eyes, the amber that sparks when sunlight hits them. I recall the warmth of his laugh, the pure rawness of joy that spills innocently from his chest. I imagine how warm his hold must be, how soft his lips might feel.
Oriana sighs loudly. She rolls up onto her feet and strides out of the bedroom.
I try to ignore her impatience. For now, I need to sweep my thoughts clean of negativity.
Sajja’s knuckles rap against the doorframe. He pokes his head in and holds up a cup of tea. “Shall I?”
I hug the pillow closer.
“Saya’s life is in danger.” He crosses the space and kneels down beside the bed. He holds up the cup as if to remind me of the tea. “It’ll be quick and painless. I can pluck the memories out.”
I look from the tea to his dark eyes. “It’s powerful,” I warn. “I’ve never encountered anything like it before.” My thoughts are tempted to remember but I force it away. I bury my face into the pillow and remember Hikari again.
“I can handle it,” he promises. “I’ve taken a lot of dark memories. Darker than you could ever imagine.”
I peek out from the pillow at him.
“Let me do this, Cassandra.”
I loosen my grip from the pillow and scoot closer to the headboard. I grab the tea from him and feel the cold ceramic against my palm. I am grateful they decided on cold tea because I feel as if the darkness is burning me from the inside out.
“Thank you,” I mutter. I take a sip of the bitter root then gulp down the rest. Bitterness mixes with the sour fruitiness. I cringe as the tea’s sour notes tingle across my tongue.
Sajja’s eyes flicker. They burn with sparks of orange as he surgically removes the memory from my mind. His gaze trails away and his eyelids slide shut. His brows pinch and I watch as he consumes the memory with slight distaste.
Oriana shuffles into the doorway. Her attention is locked on him, her teeth scraping across her lips.
Sajja groans. He staggers to his feet, hunched over and weak. He falls backwards into the chair by the window. Sweat beads his dark skin and moistens the curls of his hair. “This is--” He sucks a gasp through clenched teeth. “This is bad. I’m surprised you carried it, Cassie.”
Oriana blurts impatiently, “What is it? What are we dealing with?”
He presses his forehead into his palm. “I’m not sure. I need some time to sort through this.”
She folds her arms and burries her fingers into her skin.
“Help me get home, will you?” He leans sideways and awkwardly gets to his feet. Sweat begins trickling down his face and the tan of his skin grows pale. “I need to battle this.”
Oriana leaps forward and wraps an arm around his waist. “I’ll be back later, Cassie. Stay here and rest.”
I watch them leave. I want to offer some help but my body is heavy. It still feels as if it wasn’t my own. I sit there with the cold mug between my palms, staring at the lavender walls as I feel the haunting memories still lingering in my mind. It’s as if Sajja hadn’t been so precise in his surgery. It’s as if he left a piece behind.
Hikari, I think.
I pull my phone from my skirt’s pocket and open our recent messages. I read over them from start to finish, awkward and nervous messages about silly things like work and food recipes.
I reread his most recent message, “Have a good day. By the way, how about dinner tonight?”
I smile and press the screen to my chest. I sigh and ease my spine into the headboard. I don’t know if I have the energy to go out for dinner. But I’m unwilling to turn him down, especially since it would be our first date.
“Sounds great,” I type, then stare at it as I form the next sentence. “I’m not feeling so well…” I quickly erase it. “How about my place?” I throw my head back and erase that as well. I don’t want him to feel pressure if we have dinner in my apartment. Besides, we have spent most of our time together in this building.
I type out and send without rereading it, “What did you have in mind?”
I sink sideways into the mattress and roll until the blankets are wrapped around me like flower petals coiled tight in early spring. I can not shake the fear that still lingers, the dark wicked fear of losing everyone I love.
“I only just found him,” I mutter under my breath. “Please, don’t take him from me.”
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