The tension is unbearable as we walk through the woods the next morning. Thorn returned with dinner last night and didn’t mention the kiss. We ate in silence until he told me to go to sleep and didn’t mention the kiss. He woke me up at the crack of dawn with more of the cold, bizarre herbal paste and still didn’t mention the kiss.
I think that I’ve crossed a line but I couldn’t help it. I could blame it on the drugs that might have still been in my system, causing my mind to be a little fuzzy and out of balance. I could blame it on the silence, the way we looked at each other and waited for the other to break it. I could blame it on a thousand things that I was feeling in that moment but I don’t regret it. I’ve spent half of the night thinking about it. Replaying it over in my mind, and in every version, I still kiss him.
I’m embarrassed and I know he senses that. I don’t know how to act around him. He’s having no trouble with pretending like it never happened.
I fold my arms as he crouches down against a leafy wall and he removes several bushes and branches from the bottom, revealing a gap just big enough to fit a human body. It looks like a slope entrance, only accessed by laying on the stomach.
“This is it?” I say.
He nods. “You’re not claustrophobic, are you?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Once inside, you have to crawl through. Don’t go through it backwards because you’ll get stuck. This cave should only be used for emergencies. I’ve only had to use it twice and the last time was eighty years ago.”
I cock an eyebrow. He still thinks he’s cursed, that he can never leave these woods. Even though I find it ridiculous, I humour him.
“What were you hiding from?”
“The mountain people,” he says as he stands back up and turns. He lifts his eyes towards the mountain. “There is this. . . occurrence that happens. The only time when them and I are different. It’s hard to explain but they use it to try and track me because they have the advantage.”
I click my tongue across my teeth, sighing with frustration. “What?”
“Okay.” He takes a take deep breath. “In the day, the mountain people and I are the same. Human, strong, skilled. They’ve tried to track me in their groups before but they eventually gave up. At night, we are also the same. We change but we are the same. That doesn’t work either because I’m twice as big as them, faster, and I can outrun them. This occurrence is the only few minutes of a century where they can find me.”
I believe it for a few seconds before I shake my head. “Thorn, if you believe that you are cursed-”
“I am cursed.”
“Then what were you cursed for?” I say. “What did you do?”
He keeps his eyes on the mountain before looking at me. “I killed their leader.”
“The mountain people’s leader.” He rubs his head and sighs deeply. “Do you ever listen to me?”
“I’m listening,” I say, holding a hand to my chest as I laugh quietly. “But you must realize how insane this sounds.”
“No, I don’t. It’s pretty simple. I killed someone they never even met—a fucking long time ago—and descendants of his community are still pissed and making me suffer is their number one priority. They worship him like a fucking god.”
“And my ancestor is involved in this?”
“Yes. She is very involved in this.”
“Why?” I question. “How?”
He turns sharply and starts pulling the branches back to the cave entrance. He gives me some answers but others he ignores. It’s pissing me off.
“Her name was Malese Rivers. Ring a bell?”
I shake my head as he stares at me. “No,” I say.
“That’s impossible,” he laughs quietly. “You’d know her name. Half of your god damn town knows her name. They’re just too afraid to talk about her.”
“I don’t have any ancestor—that I know of—with that name. I can recite you the names of two of my great-great grandmothers.”
He twists his head curiously as he studies me. “You share her blood, Devon. I smelt it on you the first time I met you. She mothered a child with the leader that I killed. You share genetic traits with a powerful witch and. . .”
“And what?” I demand, looking across to the mountain. “One of them?”
“That makes no sense.”
“I agree,” he says. “I always thought that her descendants would live among them. I don’t understand why you were raised as a human and I also don’t understand why you are human.”
I narrow my eyes. “What else would I be?”
“Come on,” he says, starting to walk away.
I linger behind, confused and slightly overwhelmed. He seems confident that I am who he says I am, that I’m this descendant of some woman that cursed him, the lover of a powerful leader. I don’t know what to believe. Is my whole life a lie?
What am I supposed to do with this information? I have no idea where to even begin to process it. So it slips to the back of my mind and I try to ignore that it was ever planted.