The summer had been cruel to him. Letters stating his incompetence came daily from his father. His mother's condition was ever worsening. For sears she had been suffering from a fatal disease. Not even the best doctors money could buy could pinpoint what it was. They had been all over the country and all over the world trying to find a way to stop the agony.
He continually ignored the pain on his left forearm. The scars had still not healed. He could always feel the cruel metal, piercing his otherwise perfect skin. The sting was nothing, however, compared to the pain of abandonment. His father leaving him to care for his mother alone, and then leaving his mother to carry on the family business. Leaving the manor for months at a time and returning for mere hours. It was beyond torture.
They were constantly chasing him; he had not a moment for rest. He was beginning to unravel. The threads of his once immaculate life seemed pointless and were ripping out of Fate's woven design. He imagined life as an obscure person with no social and academic expectations except to do the best he could. He had no idea where it would have taken him. He wished for a father who loved him as a son, not an heir, but those dreams had never been, and would never be realised.
Then, there was the girl. She never gave him a second glance when it came to love, but anger, resentment, and pure hatred made up the emotions thrown at him in a single piercing glare. He knew she would never love him as he did her. All his dreams of a fulfilling future had been shattered like a cheap glass ornament. It all fell apart in a single moment.
She felt trapped. Surrounded by crowds of family and friends, slowly being suffocated by their constant affection. Some would willingly die for the comradary she felt, but she couldn't stand the worry; the constant fear of the worst and of the unknown. On the exterior, she was studious, reserved, and boundlessly intelligent. Modest too, at least that's what they told her. She laughed loudly and playfully scolded her friends. Ever since that night, however, her feelings were spiralling downward swiftly and without end.
She thought he had changed for the better. But just when she was becoming more secure, he turned on her and nearly brought about her death. She didn't understand why she had been spared, but her subconscious told her they were waiting, just biding their time. She lost a part of herself that night. Although she didn't know when the enemy would strike, she knew she would fight with a vengeance for the hell she was forced through on that night, the night that brought everything crashing down.
He swirled the crystal glass in his good hand. The John Walker was relaxing, in a way. He knew it would keep away the nightmares.
Rhys dreamed of that night, even in his waking hours. She would never know his true nature. She had seen glimpses of it, but had never seen him for shat he was. No one had. As he sat in his high-backed chair, the embers of his fire finally died. "Just like my God-damned life," he murmured. Enraged, he threw his half-empty glass of scotch at the stone mantle. The, the tears started. He couldn't stop them any more than he could stop feeling. The most he could do was muffle his cries. Sobs shook the rook and stark moonlight filtered through the thin windows giving him an eerie appearance. His snow white skin and ebony hair were streaked with ghostly blue light. As the clock struck midnight, his tears flowed faster. Today. It was exactly one year ago today. This moment. At this moment last year, his fate was sealed by betraying her trust. He still carried that ring in his pocket. But the dream was severed by an ever-present nightmare.
She was untouchable, a dove in the distance. She was lost to them. "What do we do?" Scarlett asked hopelessness evident in her voice. "How can we help her?"
"Damn it, Scarlett! We've tried everything already. Damien's tried pulling her, you've attempted to reason with her, and Luck's made every transfer attempt possible. What else can we do? Nothing, unless she decides to tell us what happened to cause this depression. She'd been okay since the incident last year, and suddenly she's started up again. It's been this way for almost two months. We need something or someone to snap her out of it!" Aspen said. The anguish in his voice was evident as he completed the monologue. The wind swept his silver hair behind him and a single tear ran slowly down his cheek.
He searched his mind and found the beginning of their friendship. They had all come together within the first week of Year 1 and been inseparable ever since. However, two of the boys had been friends with Ava all their lives. Aspen and Luck, twins, had grown up with Ava. Aspen and Ava were closer, but the three had been attached at the hip throughout their childhood. When they met Scarlett and Damien at Bookwalter Prep, the trio had welcomed them with open arms. By Year 4 the twins were fighting constantly, but often the girls managed to keep the peace. Aspen remembered that he and his brother fought over everything. Stupid things. Like girls ogling Luck, while Aspen never received any attention. Luck was the tall, dark, and handsome prince every girl at their school seemed to love.
Damien broke this envious train of thought. "Aspen, if you're so sure someone needs to extract this from her, why don't you do it? You're closest to her at this point, and you obviously know her best."
"I can't," Aspen murmured. Then, louder, "Do you want to know why?" Three questioning looks were thrown at him with a slow nod added simultaneously from Scarlett.
"I…I think I know what's wrong. And please, don't interrupt or stop me, this is hard enough. She lost…damn. She's lost her heart. She fell in love and whoever this guy was, he stole her heart and gave it back torn, punctured, burned, and, above all, broken. It was utterly destroyed. Reason I think so is because she's done it to me. Not that badly, of course, but inadvertently she broke my heart. Every time I see her, my breath catches, my heart races, and my throat dries. I love her, but I know she'll never love me. At least, not the way I want her to." His explanation over, Aspen dashed into their home with tears streaming from his emerald eyes.
The others could only wonder where this naked outburst had come from.
Could he force himself to relive that night? The night that turned each day darker than the last? The night that turned his every waking moment into a living nightmare? For once, he didn't stop the memories from flowing. Rhys let them saturate every fibre of his being…
"God, Jamie. Would you stop salivating already?" Rhys said with a teasing smile. "Do you have to stare at every new guy? Is he really that good looking?"
"I'm not staring at Lance, Rhys; I'm looking at the girl behind him. Ava Jest. I know you hate her, but that doesn't mean we all have to," James replied, annoyed. "And yes, I was salivating over the new guy what do you care?"
"What's so special about her now that's got you staring? It's just Jest. Scrawny, brainy, shy Jest." Then, she came into his line of vision. He noticed she'd cleaned up over the summer, but nothing over-the-top or extraordinary. The real stand out was her carriage. Ava Jest had somehow acquired confidence over the eight weeks away from the prying eyes, gossip, and intrigue of a secondary preparatory academy. Rhys wanted to find out what brought on this change, so, ever the inquisitor, he sauntered over to the table where she sat.
He bent close to her ear and whispered, "Jest, how many lessons did it take to turn you into an ordinary Bookie? Who taught you, Luck? Or was it Scarlett? The whores of your little faction here could sure teach you a lot…" Ava cut him off before he could disgrace her friends any further.
"Damn it, Tera! If you say one more thing about my friends…"
"Calm down Ava," Aspen murmured. "You know what could happen. There are consequences."
"I know Aspen. I know," she said defeated.
Looking back, he knew then that he loved her. Rhys could see it in his mind's eye; there was no mistaking that feeling. He just chose to act like a child with his first crush, annoying her in ways much worse than just pulling at her braids or chasing her around the playground. Hopefully, she would figure out the rest. He laughed callously at that naïve concept.
His mind wandered toward their first date. He remembered being so nervous, thinking she would turn him down when he asked her. His friends believed he would just date her, shag her, and then dump her like all of his other girls. But, Rhys couldn't help but think that Ava was different She hadn't pined for him the way most girls had. He vividly recalled the way he asked her…
"Come on, man. It's Jest. It can't be that hard," said Spencer.
"You try asking out a girl with those three guys backing her up and staring you down. Go on, try it. Why don't you ask Scarlett?" Rhys answered his younger brother with a bite.
"No way! Have you seen those guys? They-oh."
"Exactly. Well, here goes," Rhys said as he made his was toward Ava's table. He didn't know what she would say. He wanted her so say yes, but thought it more likely for her to turn him down on principle. Although he was hoping she would accept, he couldn't help but be more prepared for the latter.
"J-Ava," he began, eliciting a few odd looks from her friends. "I was wondering if you would go to dinner with me this Friday."
Ava's eyes went wide as she blinked in surprise.
"I asked if you wanted to…" he began again, but before he could finish she interrupted.
"No, don't repeat yourself. I know what you said. I want to know why, though. Why do you want to take me to dinner?"
guess I just wanted to talk. See if you could get rid of all this
tension and rivalry between us. We're old enough to end this
"Are you kidding?" Aspen asked with a laugh. "All you've done for the past eight years is antagonize her, antagonize us. How could you expect anyone to just forgive you?"
"I don't," Rhys replied simply. "I just want to be given a second chance. I haven't had many of those." The sincerity in his voice and eyes was surprising. They were pools of mercury that drew you in and never let you out. There was no room to disagree one you were lost in those eyes, as Ava had become. However, she did come up with a condition.
"I'll go," Ava said after a time. "But first, do something for me?"
"What might that be?" Rhys asked with a sarcastic laugh.
"Give yourself over to me. Your body, mind, and soul. They must be under my control. Yes?" There was a hint of malice behind her words. Those were words of Fire. He knew them well. The question was how did she? He was part of the Chosen. He knew all of those in their order. Would they have kept this from him? Could they have?
"You have my solemn vow. I give these freely, without malice or pain, and without struggle. I leave myself in your hands of my will and my power." Her eyes widened in surprise at the perfect response she hadn't expected him to give. As long as he was with her on their date, he could not harm her. She, on the other hand, could inflict unearthly damage unto him. Aspen, though, seemed to be attempting to murder Ava with his eyes.
"You-you-I can't even begin to think how much trouble you're going to be in! You're not supposed to say that!"
"I can do whatever I bloody well please, Aspen, so don't lecture me about rules you pretend to know better than the rest of us. I know what I'm doing. He answered me correctly didn't he? And who's going to punish me, you? You wouldn't dare," Ava replied to his outburst.
Rhys was confused to say the least. Words of Fire weren't punishable. And even if they were, none of them were Chosen. How would they punish someone if they weren't? His head was starting to hurt, what was going on? He decided to wait until their date to ask questions.
There was nothing he could do about it now. Any of it. He looked back and saw the threads of fate re-weaving even then. Now, however, he would really try. Even though it was impossible. Even though he knew she would never love him again. Finally, he would have his peace.