The next morning Dank was gone. I expected it but I still ran downstairs in case he’d stayed. The days went by and Dank continued to ignore me. During the days at school he continued to flirt with Kendra. I had become invisible where he was concerned. At night he would walk into the living room around bedtime and sit on the couch without acknowledging me. Nothing made sense. No matter how many times I tried to get him to talk to me he remained silent. A person could only suffer a certain amount of humiliation and I’d reached my quota. If he wanted to ignore me then fine. I’d let him.
“I’m not taking no for an answer. If I have to personally come to your house and dress you and then have Wyatt pick you up and haul you over his shoulder to the concert, I will.
Do not doubt me.” Miranda stood with her hand on her hip and a determined set to her chin. Arguing with her when she was like this was pointless.
Wyatt chuckled. “I’ll haul her if I have to but maybe we should discuss the hauling part with Leif first. I’m not real sure he’s going to want me throwing his girl over my shoulder.”
Miranda waved a hand at him, “Whatever! He won’t make her do anything she doesn’t want to do. You’re going to have to haul her and I’m going to have to tackle Leif and sit on him while you make the get away.” I laughed and it surprised me how good it felt. “What is this about you sitting on me?” Leif asked as he walked up and slid his arm around my waist.
Miranda rolled her eyes. “I am trying to explain to Pagan that I’m not taking NO for an answer. She’s going to the concert tonight and that is final.”
Leif lightly squeezed my hip. “So we’re talking about a possible hostage situation then?” he said in a teasing voice.
Wyatt chuckled. “Apparently so.”
Leif gazed down at me, grinning wickedly. “You wanna make a run for it and see if they can keep up?” I laughed and shook my head. “No, it’s okay. I’ll go if it is so important to Miranda.”
Miranda let out an overly dramatic sigh. “Oh good, I wasn’t looking forward to tackling him.”
“It would’ve been hilarious to watch you try.” Wyatt chortled and I tried really hard not to think about the fact I’d just agreed to go to the benefit concert Cold Soul was giving down on the beach. Seeing Dank on stage with the same guitar in his hands he’d played for me so many nights and hearing his voice being shared with thousands of people made the hole in my heart throb. If I could figure out a way to fill the aching, I would. Nothing seemed to help.
“It’s going to be amazing, Pagan. I know you don’t really care for Dank Walker but trust me he can blow.” Miranda slipped her arm inside Wyatt’s and gazed up at him with a coy grin. “But he can’t shoot three pointers like you can, baby, so wipe that frown off your sexy face.” Wyatt grinned and kissed the top of her head.
Seeing the love in Miranda’s eyes when she looked at Wyatt made the hole in my heart ache even more. I would never love Leif that way. Dank Walker had damaged my heart and claimed it in the process.
“Just so you don’t start drooling over the rock star. I’m a fan of his stuff, too, but I can learn to hate him real quick if I feel the need to be jealous.” Wyatt’s tone sounded teasing but no one doubted what he said was the truth.
Leif chuckled. “I don’t think I need to worry about Pagan drooling. Cold Soul doesn’t sing her type of music. I have a feeling we won’t be there very long.” Miranda glared over at Leif. “Don’t give her any ideas or excuses. I’m not kidding. I will attempt to tackle your ass if you even look at the exit the wrong way.” Leif threw back his head and laughed.
“I’m really glad you have a good sense of humor,” Wyatt said with a grin, “Your arms are much bigger than mine.” I began to laugh but the urge died instantly when my eyes found Dank. He stood in front of Kendra whose back was against the wall while she smiled up at him. He leaned down and whispered in her ear. It took all my strength and self-preservation to tear my eyes away from the intimacy between them. My breaths became shallow from the pain in my chest.
Leif must have sensed the change in me because he pulled me closer against his side and caressed my bare arm. The farther we walked away from Dank the easier it became to breathe.
* * * *
The night gulf breeze was unusually warm considering it was late fall. A large stage with bright lights surrounding it was set up on the Boardwalk facing the beach. There were thousands of people covering the sandy shore. Bonfires could be seen farther down away from the crowd. A couple of high school students were already getting handcuffed for underage drinking. They wouldn’t be the first or the last tonight. I held tightly to Leif’s hand as we had to zigzag through the crowd, following in Miranda’s wake. She had arranged for her father’s company to buy some of the special seating supplied under a large tent for a much higher ticket price. I would have been happy to join the mass numbers on the sand but Miranda wouldn’t have it. We stopped at the entrance.
“Miranda Wouters and three guests,” she said with a haughty air that only seemed to come out when she was throwing her father’s power around. She didn’t do it often, unless she wanted something, such as getting us out of speeding tickets. Harold Wouters owned Wouters Realty.
Wouters Realty handled all the high-end commercial property in the county. In other words, they owned the town.
“Right this way, Miss. Wouters,” the young woman said as she turned and led us up front to a row of seating that gave us a perfect view of the stage.
Great, I wouldn’t just have to hear the voice I so desperately missed but I was going to have a perfect view of him too. I glanced over at Leif who raised his eyebrows as if impressed with our seats and gave me one of his eager grins.
Faking a headache wasn’t going to work. Miranda would flip out and Leif really seemed to be excited about this seating arrangement.
“We are set up! That’s what I’m talking about.” Wyatt stood, grinning and looking around toward the elaborate refreshment table set up at the end of the tent.
“You boys can eat to your hearts’ desire. Go on and stop drooling,” Miranda said with a pleased smile on her face.
Wyatt kissed her loudly on the lips and glanced back at Leif. “Come on, man, let’s go attack this fancy grub.” Leif turned to me as if asking for permission. I nodded. He reminded me of a loyal puppy dog. He bent down and gave me a quick peck on the lips before following Wyatt.
“Stop frowning like I’ve brought you to a smoke-filled bar. Come on, girl, and enjoy yourself.” I forced a smile, which only caused Miranda’s frown to deepen. “What happened with you, Pagan? You use to have difficulty not looking at Dank and getting a silly look of adoration on your face. Now, you see him and you look like you’re about to throw up. Did he hurt your feelings or something? Is that why you don’t want to be here?”
Did he hurt me? She could never know just how badly he’d hurt me. I shook my head and tried even harder to make my smile seem more realistic.
“Of course not. I just realized he was a jerk. Something about him is cold and I don’t like being near him.” I gazed out at the waves crashing along the shore. If she searched too deeply into my eyes, I was afraid she would see the agony.
“Hmmm, okay then. I guess you’re right about the cold thing. Something about him seems hard and so unreal.” She had no idea how unreal he was.
The breeze had started to cool off and the seating under the tent filled to capacity. I wanted to be anywhere other than right here with a perfect view of the stage Dank would soon perform on. The lights dimmed and the crowd went wild. Leif put his arm around my back and I leaned into him, hoping his nearness would help me make it through this.
With a drum roll and the sound of an electric guitar the lights flashed brightly as fireworks went off overhead. A group of three guys had taken the stage. One sat behind the drums with long blond dreadlocks and the other two stood on each side of the stage with guitars in their hands. The music filled the night air and screams went out from the beach. The shoreline was so covered in people you could no longer see the sand. A loud bang and a cloud of smoke caused me to jump. The cheering and chanting only got louder. Dank walked out of the smoke now seeping over the stage. I watched as his dark hair danced in the breeze and he reached the microphone waiting in the center of the stage.
He took it in his hands and then turned directly toward the tent. Directly toward me.
“You want what you can’t have. I see it in your eyes. The pain that fills your nights is because of my pack of lies. I’ve opened up the door for you to walk away. There’s a better path for you even though I want you to stay. I’ve broken the rules, I’ve veered from the path but when I met you I knew to save you was worth the wrath. Let me leave now before it’s too late. Let me leave now before you know what I am and your love becomes hate.
Walk away from me before I break down and take you with me. You can’t go where I’m going you can’t walk through my Hell. Walk away from me before I break down and take you with me. My path is meant for only me. There is no way to take you too. I’ve given you life when it was in my hands to give you death. Walk away from me.
I watch the life I know you will lead without me here. It’s what you deserve it is where you belong it is everything I want but everything I fear. Once I met you I knew I had to save you but you saved me. Now I’m turning away and letting you run free. Not one moment will I forget there is a fire inside me that you lit with your touch. Hurting you wasn’t the plan but it must happen by my hand.
Walk away from me before I break down and take you with me. You can’t go where I’m going you can’t walk through my Hell. Walk away from me before I break down and take you with me. My path is meant for only me. There is no way to take you too. I’ve given you life when it was in my hands to give you death. Walk away from me.”
My hands trembled in my lap. His gaze never left mine.
The words were meant for me. I couldn’t manage to breathe past the pain constricting my throat. Why was he doing this?
Hadn’t he hurt me enough? The tears stinging my eyes would fall free, rolling down my cheeks announcing to my friends how much Dank’s words affected me. They couldn’t know.
No one could. I stood up and walked away. I couldn’t sit there and listen anymore. In some sort of desperate trance I pushed past screaming fans and sweaty bodies. I could breathe if I could just get away; put some distance between me and his words. Once I stepped out of the tent, I turned and ran toward the darkness. Away from the fear. I wasn’t scared of him but I was scared of his words. He was leaving.
My stomach clenched at the thought and I ran harder until the sandy beach was dark and empty. The sound of the music played in the distance and I glanced back over my shoulder to see if Leif or Miranda had managed to follow me. No one was coming. I was truly alone. Gasping for breath I dropped to my knees and let out the sob I’d been fighting to hold in since he began singing. Hot tears trailed down my face. My chest hurt so badly, and deep breaths were impossible.
The night air dropped several degrees. It wasn’t my pain stifling my breathing, it was the coldness that came with her.
I turned around slowly, knowing she was there watching me.
I could feel her presence. She was icy fear. Yet the aching black hole Dank had left in my chest made the danger she possessed pale in comparison. I stood up and faced her, realizing my fear had been replaced with hate. She no longer scared me. She made me angry. Something about her appearance caused Dank distress and it made me want to hurt her for the part she was playing in my pain. I glared at her as the blond hair floated, unhindered by the gulf breeze.
“What is it you want from me?” I yelled through my tears.
I took a step toward her, clenching my hands into fists. I didn’t want her to think she could make me cower. I didn’t want her to think she could frighten me anymore. Her tinkling giggle filled the darkness around us.
“It is appointed,” she said in a voice I had grown to abhor.
“What is appointed? Huh? Do you even know? Get a freaking life and leave me the Hell alone!” I stepped closer to her, wanting to take a swing at her but knowing it wouldn’t do any good.
Her tinkling laughter turned into a deep sinister laugh.
“It was appointed and he broke the rules.” Her laughter died and she glared back at me. “You! He broke the rules for you!
Why you? What is it about you? A simple human with an appointed time. It was all very simple yet he made it all so difficult.” She crooked her finger at me. “Come on, come closer and I’ll right his wrong.” I swallowed and the fear I thought I’d overcome was slowly returning. Dank had also said she’d come to right a wrong.
“What wrong?” I asked.
She tilted her head as if studying me. “You are different than the others. I suppose that was intriguing to him. His existence is rather monotonous.”
I fought back the urge to lunge at her, knowing full well I’d probably go right through her. She wanted me to come closer. I needed to keep my distance. I shook my head and took a step back. In a blur of light she was standing in front of me and my breath began to grow even more shallow. I tried to step back but an icy hand wrapped around my wrist and began pulling me with a force I couldn’t fight against toward the crashing waves. The first splash of cold, salty water startled me. This was real. This time I was alone and no one would hear me.
I began kicking and fighting but she continued to drag me out into the gulf with little effort. There was no chance I would survive out in the deep water. The waves were getting taller and she was pulling me under. She was going to drown me. Couldn’t she just kill me by suffocating me as she had begun to do at school before Dank had interrupted? The lights and music danced in the distance.This time I was alone and no one would save me. Strangely enough I didn’t want to scream. I didn’t fear death any longer. But I wish I’d been able to say goodbye.
I closed my eyes as the water reached my chin and the first wave crashed over my head. As I allowed my body to go limp and accept this fate, I heard someone scream my name.
Had someone found me out here? I started to jerk away from her grasp and call out but it dawned on me she’d probably just take their life too. She wasn’t here for them. I had to go silently. Whoever had come for me didn’t deserve this fate.
A bright flash of light filled the dark water and my wrist was immediately released from her icy grip. I fought to find the surface of the water and draw air into my burning lungs.
“NO! I said NO! I made this choice and I broke this rule but it was mine to break. I have let your interference go unpunished long enough. This ends now.” I wanted to open my eyes and see him. I could hear him but the salt water stinging my eyes was making it impossible.
Another wave crashed over me and I began kicking frantically as water filled my unprepared nose. Warm arms encircled my waist and I clung to them knowing they belonged to him. I was safe now. My head broke the surface and I began to choke on the salt water.
“Here, let me.” Dank wiped my eyes with a cool cloth and the stinging disappeared as did my coughing. It was as if I’d never been forced under cold sea waves. Finally I could see Dank’s face. He was holding me again.
“Why, Pagan?” He closed his eyes and touched his forehead to mine and took a deep breath. “Why? You knew she was still stalking you. You felt her. Why did you come out here alone? Did you want to find her? Did you think facing her alone was the answer?”
I shook my head and stared up into his eyes so close to mine. “No, I just wanted to get away. I needed to think.
Watching you….” I stopped before saying any more.
A sad smile touched his mouth. “All she could do was attempt to kill you. In order for you to truly face death, Death would have had to come and take you. That wasn’t going to happen.” He stopped and took in a ragged breath before touching his lips to my head. His lips moved to my cheek before lingering over my mouth. “As much as I want to kiss you, I can’t.” He let out a soft chuckle. “You frustrating girl.
You’re like no other soul I’ve ever known.” I touched his face and leaned forward to touch my lips to his but he pulled back and shook his head. “No,” he whispered, “Don’t. I can’t.
You’re too special. My desire for you overpowers what I know is best for you. I can’t risk that again.”
“Don’t leave me,” I begged.
He touched my lips with his fingertip. “I won’t. At least not tonight.”