I sit in the long grass next to the lake while Thorn bathes. I pluck it from the ground and I throw it. Over and over. The woods are beautiful. It’s peaceful and calming here, colourful and inspiring. It’s also boring.
Oh, what I’d give to watch television for a while. Or ride a bicycle along the moors or read a book with a tray of snacks on my lap or obsess over how many new outfits I haven’t gotten around to wearing yet.
The real world is slipping further away.
I even miss the cat and I hated that cat. I miss playing piano and making faces at my home-school tutor whenever he turned around to write something on his blackboard. I miss hot showers and napping in my bathrobe.
I don’t miss my life but I just miss life outside these trees. I frown as I start thinking about chocolate.
I already bathed an hour ago while Thorn took his morning nap that he didn’t get at dawn. We’ve hardly spoken about anything. I have so many questions but the moment I start asking them is the moment I start to believe that what he said is true. And I’m not ready to face that yet.
My arm is fully healed. No pain and no scarring. That herb isn’t just incredible, it’s a damn miracle. Like magic.
Magic. I crinkle my nose at the word. I never believed that such things existed but for him to be cursed to live here for decades without ever growing old then that must be magic. What else could it be? Apart from insanity then it’s the only possible explanation.
Insanity is still the best choice.
I study him as he breaks through the surface of the water and I watch the sprinkling of droplets that almost float around him as he runs his hands through his wet hair. I stare at the slashes on his stomach. He wears them with pride. They are a reminder of something that he survived, something that he fought.
I divert my eyes as he moves through the water and slowly climbs up the bank. He isn’t shy about being naked but I’d still feel guilt if I looked. I keep my gaze down while he puts clothes on until I hear him walking over. He stares right at me as he passes me. I roll my eyes. I guess he wants me to follow him.
“Keep up,” he shouts.
I jog to his side. We walk for a long time. He never gets exhausted no matter how far he walks so it’s hard for him to understand that I have to take breaks. He paces to a tree and glares at me as he rests an arm against it.
“I have honestly never in my life met someone as human as you.”
“That’s illogical,” I say.
“You’re illogical,” he mutters. “Are you thirsty?”
He throws his blade at my feet, making me flinch. “It rained last night. Extract some water.”
I clench my teeth.
“Don’t scowl at me,” he says. “Just do it.”
“If I’m staying with you then why do I still need to learn all of these things?”
“Because one, I don’t have slave written on my forehead. And two, you’re only staying with me until you’re ready to do it by yourself. If it takes a month then it takes a month.” He clears his throat and glances away. “Or a year.”
I scowl harder as I pick the blade up. I remember everything he showed me, mainly because he made me practise it dozens of times. I find a stick and I snap it, carefully trailing the blade along the centre to split it open. I make the pipe and I sharpen the edge before I kneel down at the base of the tree and I cut away the bark.
“Good,” he says.
I stab the blade into the tree but it hardly makes a dent. I try again and I twist it until the hole gets deeper. Thorn sighs.
“What?” I say. “Is the way I’m doing it too human for you?”
“That’s the most pathetic-” My eyes shoot up and he swallows his words. “You’re stronger than that. I know you are.”
“Are you forgetting that I just got shot?” I demand.
“Don’t pull the shot card, your wound is healed.” He kneels down at my side and covers my hand with his. He moves the blade backwards before plunging it into the tree. It creates a hole so deep that I gawp at it. “The power is in the shoulder.”
“And the muscles,” I mumble.
I place the pipe-stick into the hole and I smile as water trails down it slowly. I turn my head so that my mouth is underneath it and I swallow it down with satisfaction. I sit back up and I wipe my chin before our eyes lock once more. He’s sitting so close to me. A mere breath away.
“Thorn,” I whisper. “If I am descended from someone that cursed you then shouldn’t you hate me?”
“Yes,” he says. “I should.”
“So why don’t you?”
His green gaze fills with something soft and fluttering. We continue to look at each other for a few seconds, the silence is just as confusing as yesterday. I nudge myself even closer and he doesn’t react. His hand reaches out and touches the side of my face. I take my chance again and I move even closer, so close that our lips are grazing. I initiate the kiss and he falls into it like he’s curious.
I thought that I’d never let a man touch me again after Lyle. The thought of men coming near me is terrifying but with Thorn it’s different. He makes me nervous in a good way, he makes my limbs tingle in the best way.
Just like yesterday, something is happening between us. The feeling in my stomach is hotter than the fire I warm my hands over. It’s a comfortable sensation, it makes me feel safe and fuzzy and almost delirious. The kiss becomes stronger, edging on uncertain passion. I curl my hand around his shoulder but the moment our tongues collide he pulls away and stands to his feet.
He did that yesterday too. Peculiar.
“Stop doing that!” he says.
I smile as I use my sleeve to wipe my mouth. “Sorry.”
“I get that you’re bored but there are other ways to cure it.”
“You think that I kissed you because I’m bored?”
“Yes. I do. I don’t think about you like that so stop it.”
“Then why did you kiss me back?”
“Because. . . I. . . shut up.”
I carry on smiling, and grinning, as he picks his blade back up and storms away. Even though he’s in a mood he still waits for me to catch up. I’ve finally found the amusement that I’ve been craving. Seduction isn’t my strong suit but I make a bet with myself that I can get him to kiss me again by the end of the day.
He makes it extremely hard. He keeps his distance for hours. Even while he trains me during blade throwing. I tag along for another hunting lesson which makes the sexual chemistry drop down to almost non-existent.
Finally, he finishes the day with a tour of some bland and uninteresting caves. I have to listen to him talk about ‘cave survival’ for over an hour. He’s doing it on purpose because I actually want to kill him now.
I take my sweater off and I tie it around my waist while he becomes distracted with finding tinder. I lean against a tree with my chest on show through the low-cut shirt when he turns back around.
“Aren’t you cold?” he says. “You’re always cold.”
He leaves that statement hanging and walks right past me. I’m on the verge of giving up, he’s tougher than a damn hazelnut.
We make it back to the camp and I get started on making the fire while he prepares the food almost twenty feet away from me.
I need to be distracted from the confusing questions and doubts that I’m having about myself and my life and he is the only distraction that I have access to. And it’s a damn good one.
I wait by the fire until he’s forced to join me to cook the meat. I try to hide the smugness that I’m leaving him no choice but to be close to me. Unbelievably, he still finds a way to keep his distance. He sits at the other end of the log and stretches his arm over to hold the stick of meat over the flames.
“You’re taking this quite well,” he says. “I’m impressed.”
I’m confused. “Taking what well?”
“If someone told me that I was descended from a witch and a ‘savage’ as you put it, then I don’t think I’d be handling it this good.”
“Oh,” I mutter. “How should I react? I mean, it doesn’t really change anything.”
“It changes a lot of things.”
“No offence but the only proof that you have that this is true is your sense of smell.”
He laughs loudly. “I can see why that would make it unbelievable. Yet, you don’t seem afraid that I can smell your DNA through your blood.”
“And through your hair by the way,” he continues. “The others thankfully didn’t pick up on it but they could have if they got close enough.”
“Others?” I say. “The ones that think of you as family even though you abandoned them?”
“You haven’t spoken about them since we left. Do you miss them?”
“I miss who I used to be when I was with them,” he says quietly. “But that person is dead. It’s their problem that they never mourned.”
“I don’t know what happened between you and them but you’re not dead, Thorn. Sometimes it just takes meeting the right person to make you realize that you’re alive.”
He smiles to himself. “Is that what happened to you?”
“I thought I was dead too. Not just when I was dying from dehydration or the dropping temperatures but I’ve felt dead for most of my life. I was conditioned into believing that there was no way out. And I still believed that when I came into these woods. You gave me the courage to live.”
He cocks his head up and stares hard. “What?”
“You know, the survival skills.”
He looks back down. “Oh. Right. Survival.”
“I’m grateful that you let me be a part of your world,” I say. “But you should consider letting others into it too. You don’t deserve to be lonely no matter what you think you’ve done.”
“You’re a century too late for this lecture.”
“See?” I say. “That’s what I’m talking about. You’ve been alone for so long that you think you’ve been here for a century.”
He splats a hand to his forehead and pats it. His eyes widen at me as he peeks through his fingers.
“I’m not saying that you’re crazy. . . again, but if you really have been here that long then why haven’t you died? You said it yourself, everything in the woods wants to kill you.”
He breathes heavily as he stares at me through his fingers. “I can’t keep having this conversation with you,” he says as he stretches his face. “It’s actually exhausting.”
“It’s a fair question.”
“I’ve kept myself alive. I don’t age. I can die. I haven’t yet. Do you want me to write this down or something? Do you want to check it every morning in case you forget again?”
“So you actually expect me to believe that you’ve lived here for. . .”
“One hundred and twenty-six years,” he says.
“One hundred and twenty-six years without dying accidentally or falling seriously ill or being attacked?”
He finally removes his hand and leans back with a sigh. “I don’t fall ill easily. Even those poisonous berries wouldn’t do much harm. I have been attacked—several times—by several species and they never attacked again. Anything else?”
“One more thing,” I whisper. “Assuming that I did believe you. . .”
I almost don’t say it because I’m nervous but if I don’t say it now then I don’t think I ever will. “What are you?”
“Cursed,” he mutters.
“No, seriously, what are you? The super hearing, the smelling, the strength. I saw you attack Lyle and throw him to the ground like he was a child. You always talk about humans and me being human as though you aren’t one so tell me, what are you?”
“I can’t tell you.”
“Why not?” I demand.
He looks anxious as he pulls the stick back to his body and blows on the meat. “Because I’m going to show you.”