Mom had sent Leif on to school without me and explained I would be coming in late. Leif was one thing I had to deal with. If I had to live this existence, I couldn’t continue to use him. I would never love him the way he deserved. He was my friend and a source of comfort. Allowing myself to remain his girlfriend not only was wrong for Leif, it was a betrayal because I would never belong to anyone but Dank. I couldn’t live that way. Living wasn’t going to be easy for me.
I needed to cut all the strings that tore at my already damaged soul.
By the time I checked in to school I’d missed English Literature. The halls were filling up with students. I held my books close to my chest and clenched the pink late slip in my hand. I could do this. I chanted the reminder over and over in my head. Miranda came out of the crowd of people, beaming when she saw me.
“PAGAN! Hurray, you came! I’ve missed you like crazy bad. Now lunch won’t be so boring and, Oh my G! Guess what?” I struggled to keep up with her rush of words so it took me a moment to realize she wanted me to react to her
“Oh, um, what?” I couldn’t even force a smile.
She beamed at me and glanced around to see if anyone was listening to her before looking back at me. “Dank Walker is here. Like, at our school. Like, as in, enrolled at our school.
Can you believe it? I mean, I know he went to a high school in Mobile, Alabama up until last year when his band landed a hit song and started playing all over the United States instead of just the Southeast. GAH! Can you believe he is here! At our school? I guess if he had to go back to high school our little quaint coastal town is preferable to somewhere in Alabama. But still, I can’t believe this.” I stood frozen as her words registered in my brain. Dank was here? How? The rocker she spoke of no longer existed.
Panic laced with disbelief tightened my chest and I had to take a deep breath.
“Where?” I managed to ask, knowing I couldn’t mask the desperate expression on my face. Miranda grinned and nodded toward Leif.
“Better get that star struck look off your face. Here comes your man.”
I barely glanced at him and reached for her hand. “Tell me where he is. Please, now.” Her eyes grew wide at my sudden breathless demand. She was going to think I was flipping my lid again.
“Uh, um, well around here somewhere,” she said in a concerned tone and glanced over at Leif, forcing a smile that didn’t meet her worried eyes.
“Did you know Pagan was a big Cold Soul fan?” Leif glanced at me but I didn’t have time to deal with him at the moment. I needed to find Dank.
“I have to go. I’ll see you later,” I said by way of explanation as I headed through the crowd at a run. I fought the urge to call his name aloud.
“You’re going to get put back in that mental place if you don’t calm down.” Dank’s smooth voice spoke teasingly in my ear and I spun around. He was, of course, not whispering in my ear or anywhere near me.
“Where are you?” I hissed quietly. I heard a chuckle and I jerked to look behind me to see a freshman couple kissing.
“The picnic table,” he said simply. I turned back around and headed for the front doors of the school. He was waiting for me at the place I had spotted him for the very first time. I pushed open the door with both hands and took off running.
He was lounging there just as he had been the first day I’d seen him, smiling at me as I came around the corner. I dropped my books and hurled myself into his open arms. A sob wracked my body. He was here! He was here. I couldn’t speak so I kept my face buried in his chest, sobbing uncontrollably. I wanted to gaze up at him and kiss him and ask him how, but I couldn’t seem to control the well of emotion overwhelming me. He pulled me onto his lap and sat back down on top of the table.
“Glad to see me?” he asked in my ear. His warm breath tickled my ear. I laughed into his chest and nodded, still not sure I could speak. “I would have come sooner but I wasn’t sure. I had to wait until…” he trailed off and I pulled back to look up at his face.
“Wait for what?” I asked, needing reassurance that he wasn’t leaving. Dank wiped the tears from my wet face with his finger and tilted my chin up so I could gaze directly into his jewel-like eyes.
“I couldn’t return until you chose. Apparently, if you made the ultimate sacrifice then my broken rule would be amended.” I shook my head, not understanding what sacrifice he was talking about.
“You mean my dying? I did that willingly last night. What took you so long? Gee came to my room and she was as confused as I was.”
He smiled at me. “No, not dying, although that sacrifice wasn’t taken lightly. However, it could have been interpreted as selfish nature by the Deity. You see, humans give up life when they can’t deal with the pain. It’s an easy escape for them. The sacrifice I’m speaking of isn’t one of dying but of living.”
He touched his forehead to mine. “You see, Gee was playing her part. She knew exactly what was happening. She isn’t a Deity, but she is an immortal and has been around since the beginning of time. She knew it all revolves around self-sacrifice. A completely selfless act.” I shook my head, frowning. “What do you mean?” He chuckled and I realized it was the most beautiful sound in the world.
“You chose to live a life you no longer wanted just to ease my pain. You didn’t want to live without me, yet when you knew it would have made my extinction pointless you couldn’t stand the thought. You chose to live for me.” I nodded agreeing with him but not sure how this had anything to do with how he was here in front of me.
“My beautiful soul,” he murmured and caressed my cheek. “When you gave the ultimate selfless sacrifice, it paid for my wrong. You proved to be worthy of my devotion. Of Death’s.....love.”
I touched his perfect lips with my fingers, wanting to kiss him. To be as close to him as possible. “So, because I chose life, you continue to exist?” I asked in wonder.
He nodded. “It actually gets even better,” he said, kissing my chin and then each cheek, causing me to forget what it was we were talking about. His nearness made me weak with pleasure and a soft moan escaped my throat.
“Ah, that sounds wonderful,” he murmured as he ran kisses down my neck and across my collarbone. I clung to his shoulders knowing at any moment I was going to pass out from the pleasure. I felt his warm tongue flick across my skin and I gasped, pressing closer to him, ready to beg for more right there in the schoolyard. He pulled back and his breathing was ragged.
“I get to keep you,” he said, staring at me with an intensity that made me shiver.
“Keep me?” I asked, reaching up to kiss his chin and trail kisses down his perfect neck.
“Not here. I can’t take much more, Pagan. I’m only so strong,” he said in a husky voice as he pulled me against his chest. “You’re mine now. While you walk the Earth you belong to me. Nothing can hurt you.” I heard a touch of humor in his voice. “It’s pretty impossible to hurt what Death protects.” I smiled into his chest, wanting to stay in his arms forever. But there were questions I knew I needed to ask. I could bask in his presence later.
“I can stay with you for eternity then?” I asked, watching him. A small frown touched his perfectly-sculpted mouth.
“Not exactly. You’re mine as long as you walk the earth.
Your body will grow old and old age isn’t something we can stop. One day you will have to leave this body and begin a new life.”
“I will grow old and have to leave you and then what?
Start a new life where I won’t know you? Will you wait until I’m old enough and then come see me? No. Dank, NO! I don’t want to do that. I want to keep you forever, all the time.”
Dank cradled my face and stared into my eyes. “Pagan you’re a soul. You must live the eternity souls are given. You don’t get a choice. The fact I can love you and protect you while you live on Earth is a gift I hadn’t even dared to hope for. This is all we can have. I’m Death; I am a Deity. I am not and I have never been a soul. I take cold souls or souls whose bodies have died and send them to the place they have earned. I was created for this.” I shook my head, wrapping my arms around him as if he would disappear at any moment.
“I want to be immortal. I want to be with you always. Isn’t there anything you can do?” He shook his head sadly, and then stopped, glancing over my shoulder with an angry scowl.
“Leave, Gee, this isn’t your business.” His voice dripped the cold ice that only Death could muster. I turned and Gee stood nearby with one hand on her hip, smiling like she had just won a contest.
“Ah, but I don’t care. That’s the beauty of it,” she said brightly and stared at me. “He isn’t telling you all there is to know because he thinks your mind is too fragile to understand the complexity. Don’t let him off so easy, Peggy Ann.”
Dank snarled behind me. “Don’t call her that.” Gee grinned and winked at me. “Okay, fine. Pay-Gan” I glanced back at Dank., “What is she talking about, Dank, tell me. I’ll do whatever I have to so I’ll never leave you. I don’t want to grow old. I want to remain as we are now, forever. I’ll go wherever you go. Please.” Dank sighed, slipped his hand around my waist and squeezed. “I’ll tell you one day. When it’s time. There is a way but, Pagan, it isn’t easy. It requires giving more than you could ever know. The choice has never been made and for a soul it would be impossible. Souls are handicapped by their emotions which are much too weak.”
Gee cackled from behind me. “Souls are supposed to be weak emotionally but that one isn’t weak at all. Give her a little credit. She just made a choice no other soul could or would have had the power to make. Her soul is uncommon or you would have never made it yours.” He gazed at me and smiled gently. “I know.” The warmth in his eyes made the rest of the world fade away.
“See ya around, Pay-Gan,” Gee called from behind me. I hated looking away from Dank’s gaze but I did in order to tell Gee bye. She was already gone.
Dank let out a frustrated sigh. “If you didn’t like her so much I would make sure we never saw her again.” I stiffened. “What? No.”
He grinned. “Relax, Pagan, she’s safe from my wrath. She makes you smile and she cares about you. That makes her forever safe and treasured.”
I smiled and ran my hand through his dark curls. “So, Death, what do we do now?”
“For starters you need to go break things off with Leif and I’m going with you.”
The idea of breaking Leif’s heart was bad enough. The guilt was eating me up inside at the thought of hurting him. I shook my head and gazed pleadingly up at Dank. “Please let me do this alone. You can’t be there, it will only make it worse.”
Dank’s expression remained unyielding. “I’m sorry, Pagan, but I can’t let you do this alone. He isn’t who you think he is. I don’t trust his reaction.” I smiled at Dank’s belief that he needed to protect me from Leif. Leif was harmless. He’d be broken but not dangerous.
Dank stood up, placing me on the ground in front of him and slipping his hand in mine. “Pagan, I’m not sure how to tell you this, but... Leif isn’t human.”