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Night Star ti-5, Page 2

Alyson Noel

“How come you never told me?” I whisper, my voice low, almost inaudible. So struck by the images before me, watching as I withstand the kind of beating I could never have imagined until now. Absorbing each and every blow with barely a shudder, with a vow of absolute silence and dignity I’m determined to uphold.

  “As you can see, it’s not one of your romantic lives,” Damen says, voice hoarse with regret. “Parts of it—like the part you see now—are extremely unpleasant, and I haven’t had time to edit this one, or go over it in any way. That’s the only reason I’ve kept it from you. But as soon as I do, I promise to let you see it. Believe it or not, there were happy moments. It wasn’t always like this. But, Ever, please, do yourself a favor and turn it off before it gets any worse.”

  “It gets worse?” I turn, my eyes clouded with tears for the helpless girl before me—the girl I used to be.

  But he just nods, retrieves the remote from under the cushion, and promptly shuts it off. Leaving the two of us sitting there, quietly shaken by the horrors we viewed only a moment before. Determined to break the lingering silence, I say, “And the rest of my lives—all of those scenes that we like to revisit—are they edited too?”

  He looks at me, brows merged with concern. “Yes. I thought I explained that the first time we came here. I never wanted you to see anything as upsetting as that. There’s no use reliving the trauma of things we can’t change.”

  I shake my head and close my eyes, but it doesn’t do anything to stop the brutal images that continue to play in my mind. “I guess I didn’t realize it was you who edited it, I guess I thought the place somehow did it—like Summerland wouldn’t allow anything bad to creep in—or—something—”

  I drop the thread, choosing to let it just dangle instead. Remembering that dark, rainy, creepy part I once stumbled upon, and knowing that like the yin and the yang, every dark has its light, including Summerland it seems.

  “I built this place, Ever. Made it especially for you—for us. Which means I’m the one who edits the scenes.” He turns the remote back on, careful to choose a more pleasant view of the two of us sneaking away from a ball in full swing. A happy moment from the frivolous London life I’m so fond of—an obvious attempt to lighten the mood, to banish the dark we both just relived—but it doesn’t quite work. Once seen, those horrifying images are not so easily removed.

  “There are many reasons we don’t remember our previous lives when we reincarnate—and what you just experienced is definitely one of them. Sometimes they’re just too painful to deal with—too hard to get over. Memories are haunting things. I should know, I’ve been haunted by more than a few of my own. For over six hundred years.”

  But even though he motions toward the screen, motions toward a much happier version of me, it’s no use. There’s no immediate cure for what I now know.

  Up until that moment, I was sure that my life as the lowly, Parisian servant was as bad as it got. But an actual slave? I shake my head. I’d never even imagined such a thing—never saw that one coming. And, to be honest, the brutality of it took my breath away.

  “The point of reincarnation is to experience as many different lives as possible,” Damen says, tuning in to my thoughts. “It’s how we learn the most important lessons of love and compassion—by literally walking in each other’s shoes—which, ultimately become our own.”

  “I thought you said the point was to balance out our karma.” I frown, struggling to make sense of it all.

  He nods, gaze patient and kind. “We develop our karma by the choices we make, by how quickly—or slowly—we learn what really matters in the world—how swiftly we can succumb to the real reason we’re here.”

  “And what’s that?” I ask, my mind still adrift. “The real reason, I mean?”

  “To love each other.” He shrugs. “No more, no less. It sounds simple enough, as though it should be rather easy to do. But one good look at our history, including the history you just saw, and I think it becomes clear what a difficult lesson that is for so many.”

  “So, you were trying to shield me from this?” I ask, my curiosity starting to niggle at me. Part of me wanting to see more, to see how she/I got through it—and part of me knowing that anyone who learned to withstand a beating like that, with such silence and dignity, had already lived through far too many of them.

  “Despite what you saw, I want you to know that there were bright spots for sure. You were so beautiful, so radiant, and once I managed to get you away from all that—”

  “Wait—you rescued me?” I gaze at him, eyes wide, as though I’m looking upon my very own Prince Charming. “You had me freed?”

  “In a manner of speaking…” He nods, but his gaze wavers, his voice goes tight, and it’s obvious he’s more than ready to move away from all this.

  “And, were we…happy?” I ask, needing to hear it from him. “I mean, really and truly happy?”

  He nods. Giving me a quick lowering and rising of his head, but it’s all that he gives.

  “Until Drina killed me,” I say, filling in the parts he’s unwilling to share. It was always she who hastened my death, so why would a slave life be any different? Noting the way his face goes grim, and his hands begin to fidget, but still choosing to press ahead when I add, “So, tell me, how’d she do it this time? Did she push me in front of a carriage—throw me off a cliff—drown me in a lake—or did she try something totally new and different?”

  He meets my gaze, obviously preferring not to answer, but correctly assuming I won’t give up until I hear it from him, he says, “All you need to know is that she never repeated herself.” He sighs, face solemn and grave. “Probably because she enjoyed it too much, enjoyed thinking up inventive, new ways.” He winces. “And I suppose she didn’t want me to get suspicious. But listen, Ever, even though what you saw was unbelievably tragic, in the end, I loved you, and you loved me, and it was wonderful and glorious for as long as it lasted.”

  I look away, determined to absorb it, to take it all in. But it’s a lot. Too much for right now, that’s for sure.

  “So, will you show me someday?” I face him again.

  Seeing the promise in his gaze when he looks at me and says, “Yes, but first give me some time to edit it, okay?”

  I nod, seeing the way his shoulders droop, the way his jaw loosens, and knowing that that was pretty much as hard for him as it was for me.

  “But for now, what do you say no more surprises? Why don’t we go somewhere happier—better—funner, if you will?”

  I sit there for a moment, feeling so alone with my thoughts it’s as though he’s not there.

  Soon roused by the sound of his voice at my ear, saying, “Hey look, they’re getting to the good part—what do you say we become them?”

  My gaze switches to the screen, where a very different version of me smiles radiantly. My glossy, dark hair sparkling with a collection of pins and jewels made specifically to match my beautiful, hand-sewn, emerald green dress. Seeing the way I hold myself with such confidence—so sure of my beauty, my privilege, my right to dream all I want, to obtain all I want, to claim anyone I want—including this dark, handsome stranger I’ve only just met.

  The one who makes the whole string of suitors I left back inside seem dreadfully dull in comparison.

  A version of me that’s so opposite to the one I just saw a moment ago it hardly makes sense. And even though I’m determined to revisit that other me again soon, for now it can wait.

  We came here to have a last bit of summer fun, and I’m going to make sure that we do.

  Our hands clasped together, we rise from the couch and head for the screen, not stopping until we merge and meld, and become one with the scene.

  My Parisian dress instantly replaced by an emerald green gown made especially for me, my lips nipping at the hard edge of Damen’s jaw, flirting, teasing with the tip of my tongue, before spinning on my heel, lifting my skirts, and leading him deeper and deeper into the darkest part of the garden, to a pl
ace where no one can find us—not my father, not the servants, not my suitors, not my friends…

  Wanting nothing more than to kiss this dark and handsome stranger, who always seems to appear out of nowhere, who always seems to know what I’m thinking, who thrilled me with his tingle and heat from the very first look.

  The very first moment he peered into my soul.


  “Shouldn’t you be thinking about leaving for school soon?”

  I twist the top from my bottle of elixir and glance toward the kitchen table where Sabine sits. Seeing the way her shoulder-length blond hair is tucked snugly behind her ear, the way her perfectly coordinated makeup is flawlessly applied, the way her suit is pressed and clean and immaculately put together without an odd crease or stray wrinkle in sight—and I can’t help but wonder what it’s like to be her. What it’s like to live in a world where everything is so orderly, so obedient, so methodical, so tidily arranged.

  Where every problem has a logical solution, every question an academic explanation, and every dilemma can be summed up in a simple verdict of innocent or guilty.

  A world where everything is black and white and all shades of gray are promptly whisked away.

  It’s been so long since I’ve lived in that world, and now after all that I’ve seen, there’s no way I’ll ever reside there again.

  She continues to stare, face stern, mouth grim, about to repeat herself when I say, “Damen’s driving me today. He should be here soon.”

  Noting the way her whole body stiffens at the mere mention of his name. She insists on blaming him for my sudden fall from grace even though he was nowhere near the store that day.

  She nods, her gaze slowly moving over me. Scrutinizing, carefully taking note of every last detail, starting from my head and working all the way down to my toes, before heading back up and starting again. In search of bad omens, flashing lights, hazard signs, anything warning of trouble ahead. The kind of telltale symptoms her child-rearing books have all warned her about, but getting little more than an image of a lightly tanned, blond haired, blue eyed girl in a white summer dress and no shoes.

  “I hope we won’t have any more trouble this year.” She brings her mug to her lips and peers at me from over the top.

  “And just what kind of trouble would you be referring to?” I ask, hating the way the sarcasm creeps so easily into my voice, but still more than a little tired of her always putting me on the defensive.

  “I think you know.” Her words are clipped, her forehead creased, as I take a deep breath and try not to roll my eyes in a way she can see.

  Torn between feeling completely heartbroken that it’s actually come to this—the long list of daily recriminations that can never be erased—and feeling completely infuriated by her refusal to accept me at my word—accept what I say as the truth, that this is who I really, truly am, for better or worse.

  But still just shrugging when I say, “Well, then you’ll be happy to know that I don’t drink anymore. I gave all that up not long after the suspension. Mostly because it wasn’t working out for me all that well, and even though you probably don’t want to hear this, probably won’t even believe it, it was dulling my gifts in the very worst way.”

  She bristles. Physically bristles at my use of the word gift. Having already pegged me as a sad, pathetic, attention-starved phony, who’s obviously crying out for help—she’s really come to hate my use of the word more than anything. Hates that I refuse to back down, that I refuse to succumb to her side.

  “Besides,” I say, tapping my bottle against the counter, my gaze narrowed on hers, “I’ve no doubt you’ve already convinced Munoz to spy on me and submit a full report at the end of each day.” Regretting the words the moment they’re out, because while it may be true of Sabine, it’s really not fair to Munoz. He’s been nothing but nice and supportive toward me, and has never once made me feel bad about being the way I am. If anything, he’s seemed intrigued, fascinated, and surprisingly informed. Too bad he can’t seem to convince his girlfriend of that.

  But still, if she’s so unwilling to accept me for me, then why should I be so quick to accept the fact that she’s in love with my old history teacher?

  Except that I should.

  And not only because two wrongs pretty much never make a right, but because, despite what she may think and despite what I may say, at the end of the day, all I really want is for her to be happy.

  Well, that, and for her to move past all of this so that we can get back to how we once lived.

  “Listen,” I say, before she has a chance to react, knowing I need to defuse the situation from getting any worse than it already has. Before it has a chance to escalate into one of the many screaming matches we’ve had since she caught me giving her friend a psychic reading under the alias of Avalon. “I didn’t mean that. Really. I’m sorry.” I nod. “So, can we just please call a truce here? One where you accept me, I accept you, and everyone lives happily ever after, in joy and peace and harmony and all that?”

  I look at her, my gaze practically begging for her to give in, but she just shakes her head and mumbles under her breath. Something about me needing to come straight home from school from now until she decides otherwise.

  But even though I love her—even though I’m grateful for all that she’s done—there will be no restrictions, no groundings, nothing of the sort. Because the fact is, it’s not like I need to live here. It’s not like I need to put up with this stuff. I have options—lots and lots of options. And she has no idea just how far I go to make it seem like I don’t.

  Pretending to eat when I no longer need to, pretending to study when it’s no longer necessary, pretending to be just like any other normal seventeen-year-old girl who’s dependent on the adults in her life for food and shelter and money and pretty much her entire well-being—when I’m not even close to being that girl. I’m about as far from that as one could possibly get. And it’s my job to make sure she never discovers any more than she already has.

  “How about this,” I say, swishing my elixir around and around, watching as it sparks and glows as it runs up and down the sides. “I’ll make a concerted effort to stay out of trouble and out of your way—if you’ll agree to do the same. Deal?”

  She looks at me, brows merged, obviously trying to determine if I’m being sincere or making some kind of threat. Lips pursed for a moment, long enough to gather her words before she says, “Ever—I—I’m just so worried about you.” She shakes her head and runs her finger along the rim of her mug. “Whether you want to admit it or not, you are deeply, deeply troubled, and I’m at my wit’s end on how to handle you, how to reach you, how to help you—”

  I slam the lid back on my bottle, my last ounce of goodwill dissolving like that. Gaze narrowed on her when I say, “Yeah, well, maybe this’ll help. One—if you really want to help me as much as you say you do, you could start by not calling me crazy.” I shake my head and slip my sandals onto my feet, sensing Damen pulling into the drive, and not a moment too soon. “And two”—I toss my bag onto my shoulder and meet her glare with one of my own—“you could also stop referring to me as an attention-starved, deeply troubled, needy fraud—or some variation thereof.” I nod. “Those two things alone would be a very good start toward helping me, Sabine.”

  Giving her no time to react before I storm out of the kitchen and out of the house, slamming the door much harder than I intended, but still just shrugging it off as I head for Damen’s car.

  Sliding onto the soft leather seat and squinting at him when he says, “So, this is what it’s come to.”

  I follow the tip of his pointing finger all the way to the window where Sabine stands. Not bothering to peek through the blinds or even the crack where the drapes meet. Not trying to hide the fact that she’s watching me—watching us. She just continues to stand there, mouth set, face stern, one hand on each hip, as she takes us both in.

  I sigh, purposely avoiding her gaze in favor of his.
“Just be glad I spared you the interrogation you would’ve gotten had you come in.” I shake my head. “Trust me, there’s a reason I told you to wait out here,” I add, still drinking him in.

  “She still at it?”

  I nod and roll my eyes.

  “You sure I can’t talk to her? Maybe it’ll help.”

  “Forget it.” I shake my head, wishing he’d just back up the car already and get me out of this place. “There’s no reasoning with her—she’s completely unreasonable and, trust me, your trying to talk to her will only make it worse.”

  “Worse than the evil eye she just shot me from her perch at the window?” He glances between the rearview mirror and me as he backs down the drive, his lip curling in a way that’s a little more playful than I’d like.

  This is serious.

  I’m serious.

  And even though it may not be all that serious to him, it’s still a pretty big deal to me.

  But when I look at him again, I decide to let it go and cut him some slack. Reminding myself how the sheer breadth of his years, the expanse of his six centuries’ worth of living, has left him more or less unfazed by the smaller, everyday dramas that always seem to take up so much space.

  As far as Damen sees it, pretty much everything other than me slips into the “not worth the bother” category. To the point where it seems like the only thing he really cares about these days, the only thing he really focuses on, even more than finding an antidote so that we can finally be together after four hundred years of waiting, is protecting my soul from the Shadowland. As far as he’s concerned, everything else just pales in comparison.

  And even though I really do get the big pictureness of it all, I can’t stop caring about the “smaller” stuff as well.

  And, unfortunately for Damen, the best way for me to make sense of it and sort it all out in my head, is to discuss it over and over again.

  Believe me, you were spared, and spared big time. Had you insisted on coming in, it would’ve been way worse than that. The words coursing from my mind to his as I gaze out the windshield before me, amazed to see how unbelievably bright, hot, and sunny the day already is, even though it’s only a few minutes past eight in the morning. And I can’t help but wonder if I’ll ever get used to this—if I’ll ever stop comparing my new life in Laguna Beach, California, to the one I left behind in Eugene, Oregon.