I knew I needed to break away, to jerk my hands from his. But I couldn't. Not yet.
"Adrian - "
"And I know, Sage," he continued, his eyes filled with fire. "I know how you guys feel about us. I'm not stupid, and believe me, I've tried to get you out of my head. But there isn't enough liquor or art or any other distraction in the world to do it. I had to stop going to Wolfe's because it was too hard being that close to you, even if it was all just pretend fighting. I couldn't stand the touching. It was agonizing because it meant something to me - and I knew it meant nothing to you. I kept telling myself to stay away altogether, and then I'd find excuses... like the car... anything to be around you again. Hayden was an ass**le, but at least as long as you were involved with him, I had a reason to keep my distance." Adrian was still holding my hands, his face eager and panicked and desperate as he spilled his heart before me. My own heart was beating uncontrollably, and any number of emotions could have been to blame. He had that distracted, enraptured look... the one that he held when spirit seized him and made him ramble. I prayed that's what this was, some spirit-induced fit of insanity. It had to be. Right?
"His name is Brayden," I said at last. Slowly, I was able to quiet my anxiety and gain some control. "And even without him, you have a million reasons to keep your distance. You say you know how we feel. But do you? Do you really?" I pulled my hands from his and pointed at my cheek. "Do you know what the golden lily truly means? It's a promise, a vow to a lifestyle and a belief system. You can't throw something like that away. This won't let me, even if I wanted to. And truthfully, I don't want to! I believe in what we do." Adrian regarded me levelly. He didn't try to take my hands again, but he didn't back away either. My hands felt painfully empty without his. "This 'lifestyle' and 'belief system' you're defending have used you and keep using you. They treat you like a piece in a machine, one that's not allowed to think - and you're better than that."
"Some parts of the system are flawed," I admitted. "But the principles are sound, and I believe in them. There's a divide between humans and vampires - between you and me - that can never be breached. We're too different. We're not meant to be... like this. Like anything."
"None of us are meant to be or do anything," he said. "We decide what we're going to be.
You told me once that there are no victims here, that we all have the power to choose what we want."
"Don't try to use my own words against me," I warned.
"Why?" he asked, a slight smile on his lips. "They were damned good ones. You're not a victim. You're not a captive to that lily. You can be what you want. You can choose what you want."
"You're right." I slipped away, finding no resistance from him at all. "And I don't choose you. That's what you're missing in all of this."
Adrian stilled. His smile dropped. "I don't believe you." I scoffed. "Let me guess. Because I kissed you back?" That kiss had made me feel more alive than I had in weeks, and I had a feeling he knew that.
He shook his head. "No. Because there's no one else out there who understands you like I do."
I waited for more. "That's it? You're not going to elaborate on what that means?" Those green eyes held me. "I don't think I need to."
I had to look away, though I was unsure why. "If you know me so well, then you'll understand why I'm leaving."
"Sydney - "
I moved quickly toward the door. "Goodbye, Adrian."
I hurried toward the door, half-afraid he'd try to hold me again. If he did, I wasn't sure I could leave. But no touch came. No effort at all was made to stop me. It wasn't until I was halfway out on the lawn in front of his building that I dared a peek back. Adrian stood there leaning against the doorframe, watching me with his heart in his eyes. In my chest, my own heart was breaking. On my cheek, the lily reminded me who I was.
I turned from him and walked away, refusing to look back.