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By Alyson Noël
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2009 Alyson Noël
All rights reserved.
"Everything is energy."
Damen's dark eyes focus on mine, urging me to listen, really listen this time. "Everything around us —" His arm sweeps before him, tracing a fading horizon that'll soon fade to black. "Everything in this seemingly solid universe of ours isn't solid at all — it's energy — pure vibrating energy. And while our perception may convince us that things are either solid or liquid or gaseous — on the quantum level it's all just particles within particles — it's all just energy."
I press my lips together and nod, his voice overpowered by the one in my head urging: Tell him! Tell him now! Quit stalling, and just get it over with! Hurry, before he starts talking again!
But I don't. I don't say a word. I just wait for him to continue so I can delay even further.
"Raise your hand." He nods, palm out, moving toward mine. Lifting my arm slowly, cautiously, determined to avoid any and all physical contact when he says, "Now tell me, what do you see?"
I squint, unsure what he's after, then shrugging I say, "Well, I see pale skin, long fingers, a freckle or two, nails in serious need of a manicure ..."
"Exactly." He smiles, as though I just passed the world's easiest test. "But if you could see it as it really is, you wouldn't see that at all. Instead you'd see a swarm of molecules containing protons, neutrons, electrons, and quarks. And within those tiny quarks, down to the most minuscule point, you'd see nothing but pure vibrating energy moving at a speed slow enough that it appears solid and dense, and yet quickly enough that it can't be observed for what it truly is."
I narrow my eyes, not sure I believe it. Never mind the fact that he's been studying this stuff for hundreds of years.
"Seriously, Ever. Nothing is separate." He leans toward me, fully warmed up to his subject now. "Everything is one. Items that appear dense, like you and I, and this sand that we're sitting on, are really just a mass of energy vibrating slowly enough to seem solid, while things like ghosts and spirits vibrate so quickly they're nearly impossible for most humans to see."
"I see Riley," I say, eager to remind him of all the time I used to spend with my ghostly sister. "Or at least I used to, you know, before she crossed the bridge and moved on."
"And that's exactly why you can't see her anymore." He nods. "Her vibration is moving too fast. Though there are those who can see past all of that."
I gaze at the ocean before us, the swells rolling in, one after another. Endless, unceasing, immortal — like us.
"Now raise your hand again and bring it so close to mine we just nearly touch."
I hesitate, filling my palm with sand, unwilling to do it. Unlike him, I know the price, the dire consequences the slightest skin-on-skin contact can bring. Which is why I've been avoiding his touch since last Friday. But when I peer at him again, his palm out, waiting for mine, I take a deep breath and lift my hand too — gasping when he draws so close the space that divides is razor thin.
"Feel that?" He smiles. "That tingle and heat? That's our energy connecting." He moves his hand back and forth, manipulating the push and pull of the energy force field between us.
"But if we're all connected like you say, then why doesn't it all feel the same?" I whisper, drawn by the undeniable magnetic stream that links us, causing the most wonderful warmth to course through my body.
"We are all connected, all of us made of the same vibrating source. But while some energy leaves you cold and some leaves you lukewarm, the one that you're destined for? It feels just like this."
I close my eyes and turn, allowing the tears to stream down my cheeks, no longer able to keep them in check. Knowing I'm barred from the feel of his skin, the touch of his lips, the solid warm comfort of his body on mine. This electric energy field that trembles between us is the closest I'll get, thanks to the horrible decision I made.
"Science is just now catching up with what metaphysicians and the great spiritual teachers have known for centuries. Everything is energy. Everything is one."
I can hear the smile in his voice as he draws closer, eager to entwine his fingers with mine. But I move away quickly, catching his eye just long enough to see the look of hurt that crosses his face — the same look he's been giving me since I made him drink the antidote that returned him to life. Wondering why I'm acting so quiet, so distant, so remote — refusing to touch him when just a few weeks before I couldn't get enough. Incorrectly assuming it's because of his hurtful behavior — his flirting with Stacia, his cruelty toward me — when the truth is, it has nothing to do with that. He was under Roman's spell, the entire school was. It wasn't his fault.
What he doesn't know is that while the antidote returned him to life, the moment I added my blood to the mix it also ensured we could never be together.
For all of eternity.
"Ever?" he whispers, voice deep and sincere. But I can't look at him. Can't touch him. And I certainly can't utter the words he deserves to hear:
I messed up — I'm so sorry — Roman tricked me, and I was desperate and dumb enough to fall for his ploy — And now there's no hope for us because if you kiss me, if we exchange our DNA — you'll die —
I can't do it. I'm the worst kind of coward. I'm pathetic and weak. And there's just no way I can find it within me.
"Ever, please, what is it?" he asks, alarmed by my tears. "You've been like this for days. Is it me? Is it something I've done? Because you know I don't remember much of what happened, and the memories that are starting to surface, well, you must know by now that wasn't the real me. I would never intentionally hurt you. I'd never harm you in any way."
I hug myself tightly, scrunching my shoulders and bowing my head. Wishing I could make myself smaller, so small he could no longer see me. Knowing his words are true, that he's incapable of hurting me, only I could do something so hurtful, so rash, so ridiculously impulsive. Only I could be stupid enough to fall for Roman's bait. So eager to prove myself as Damen's one true love — wanting to be the only one who could save him — and now look at the mess that I've made.
He moves toward me, sliding his arm around me, grasping my waist and pulling me near. But I can't risk the closeness, my tears are lethal now, and must be kept far from his skin.
I scramble to my feet and run toward the ocean, curling my toes at its edge and allowing the cold white froth to splash onto my shins. Wishing I could dive under its vastness and be carried by the tide. Anything to avoid saying the words — anything to avoid telling my one true love, my eternal partner, my soul mate for the last four hundred years, that while he may have given me eternity — I've brought us our end.
I remain like that, silent and still. Waiting for the sun to sink until I finally turn to face him. Taking in his dark shadowy outline, nearly indistinguishable from the night, and speaking past the sting in my throat when I mumble, "Damen ... baby ... there's something I need to tell you."CHAPTER 2
I kneel beside him, hands on my knees, toes buried in sand, wishing he'd look at me, wishing he'd speak. Even if it's only to tell me what I already know — that I made a grave and stupid mistake — one that will possibly never be erased. I'd gladly accept it — heck, I deserve it. What I can't stand is his absolute silence and faraway gaze.
And I'm just about to say something, anything, to break this unbearable stillness, when he looks at me with eyes so weary they're the perfect embodiment of his six hundred years. "Roman." He sighs, shaking his head. "I didn't recognize him, I had no idea —" His voice trails off along with his gaze.
"There's no way you could've known," I say, eager to erase any guilt he might feel. "You were under his spell from the very first day. Believe me, he had it all planned, made sure any memories were completely erased."
His eyes search my face studying me closely before he stands and turns away. Gazing out at the ocean, hands balled into fists as he says, "Did he hurt you? Did he go after you or harm you in any way?"
I shake my head. "He didn't have to. It was enough to hurt me through you."
He turns, eyes growing darker as his features harden, inhaling deeply as he says, "This is my fault."
I gape, wondering how he could possibly believe that after the case I just made. Rising to my feet and standing beside him as I cry, "Don't be ridiculous! Of course it's not your fault! Did you listen to anything I said?" I shake my head. "Roman poisoned your elixir and hypnotized you. You had nothing to do with it, you were just doing his bidding — it was beyond your control!"
But I've barely finished when he's already dismissing it with a wave of his hand. "Ever, don't you see? This isn't about Roman, or you, this is karma. This is retribution for six centuries of selfish living." He shakes his head and laughs, though it's not the kind that asks you to join in. It's the other kind — the kind that chills you to the bone. "After all those years of loving you and losing you, again and again, I was sure that was my punishment for the way I'd been living, having no idea you'd died at Drina's hand. But now I see the truth I've missed all along. Just when I was sure I'd evaded karma by making you immortal and keeping you forever by my side, karma gets the last laugh, allowing us an eternity together, but only to look, never to touch each other again."
I reach for him, wanting to hold him, comfort him, convince him that it's not at all true. But I pull away just as quickly. Remembering how our inability to touch is the very thing that got us both here.
"That's not true," I say, gaze fixed on his. "Why would you be punished when I'm the one who made the mistake? Don't you see?" I shake my head, frustrated by his singular way of thinking. "Roman planned it all along. He loved Drina — I bet you didn't know that, huh? He was one of the orphans you saved from the plague back in Renaissance Florence, and he loved her for all of those centuries, would've done anything for her. But Drina didn't care about him, she only loved you — and you only loved me — and then, well, after I killed her, Roman decided to go after me — only he did it through you. Wanting me to feel the pain of never being able to touch you again — just like he feels with Drina! And it all happened so fast, I just —" I stop, knowing it's useless, a total waste of words. He stopped listening just after I started, convinced he's at fault.
But I refuse to even visit that place, and I won't let him either.
"Damen, please! You can't just give up. This isn't karma — it's me! I made a mistake, a horrible, dreadful mistake. But that doesn't mean we can't fix it! There must be a way." Clinging to the falsest of hopes, forcing an enthusiasm I don't really feel.
Damen stands before me, a dark silhouette in the night, the warmth of his sad tired gaze serving as our only embrace. "I never should've started," he says. "Never should've made the elixir — should've let things take their own natural course. Seriously, Ever, just look at the result — it's brought nothing but pain!" He shakes his head, his gaze so sad, so contrite, my heart caves. "There's still time for you though. You've got your whole life ahead of you — an eternity where you can be anything you want to be, do anything you want to do. But me —" He shrugs. "I'm tainted. I think we can all see the result of my six hundred years."
"No!" My voice quivers as my lips tremble so badly it spreads to my cheeks. "You don't get to walk away, you don't get to leave me again! I spent the last month going through hell to save you, and now that you're well I'm not about to give up. We're meant for each other, you said it yourself! We're just experiencing a temporary setback, that's all. But if we can just put our heads together, I know we'll think of a way to ..."
I stop, voice fading, seeing he's already moved on, retreating to his bleak sorry world where he's solely to blame. And I know it's time to tell the rest of the story, the sorry, regretful parts I'd prefer to leave out. Maybe then he'll see it differently, maybe then —
"There's more," I say, rushing ahead though I've no idea how to phrase what comes next. "So before you assume karma's out to get you or whatever, you need to know something else, something I'm not exactly proud of, but still —"
Then I take a deep breath and tell him about my trips to Summerland — that magical dimension between the dimensions where I learned how to go back in time — and that given the choice between my family and him — I chose them. Convinced I could somehow restore the future I was sure had been stolen, and yet all it really amounted to was a lesson I already knew: Sometimes destiny lies just outside of our reach.
I swallow hard and stare at the sand, reluctant to see Damen's reaction when he looks into the eyes of the one who betrayed him.
But instead of getting mad or upset like I thought, he surrounds me with the most beautiful glowing white light — a light so comforting, so forgiving, so pure — it's like the portal to Summerland — only better. So I close my eyes and surround him with light too, and when I open them again, we're wrapped in the most beautiful warm hazy glow.
"You had no choice," he says, voice gentle, gaze soothing, doing everything he can to ease all my shame. "Of course you chose your family. It was the right thing to do. I would've done the same — given the choice —"
I nod, shining his light even brighter and tacking on a telepathic embrace. Knowing it's not nearly as comforting as the real thing but for now it'll do. "I know about your family, I know everything, I saw it all —" He looks at me with eyes so dark and intense I force myself to continue. "You're always so secretive about your past, where you came from, how you lived — and so one day, while I was in Summerland, I asked about you — and — well — your entire life story was revealed."
I press my lips together and peer at him standing before me so silent and still. Sighing as he gazes into my eyes and telepathically traces his fingers along the curve of my cheek — creating an image so deliberate, so palpable, it almost seems real.
"I'm sorry," he says, thumb mentally smoothing my chin. "I'm sorry I was so shut down and unwilling to share that I reduced you to that. But even though it happened a long time ago, it's still something I prefer not to discuss."
I nod, having no intention of pushing it. His witnessing his parents' murder followed by years of abuse at the hands of the church is not a subject I intend to pursue.
"But there's more," I say, hoping I can maybe restore a little hope by sharing something else that I learned. "When I was watching your life unfold, at the end, Roman had killed you. But even though that seemed fated to happen, I still managed to save you." I gaze at him, sensing he's far from convinced and rushing ahead before I lose him completely. "I mean, yeah, maybe our fate is sometimes fixed and unchangeable, but there are other times when it's shaped purely by the actions we take. So when I couldn't save my family by going back in time, it's only because that was a destiny that couldn't be changed. Or as Riley said seconds before the second accident that took them again, 'You can't change the past, it just is.' But when I found myself right back here in Laguna, and I was able to save you, well, I think it proves that the future isn't always concrete, not everything is ruled solely by fate."
"Maybe so." He sighs, gaze fixed on mine. "But you can't escape karma, Ever. It is what it is. It doesn't judge, it's neither good nor bad like most people think. It's the result of all actions, positive and negative — a constant balancing of events — cause and effect — tit for tat — reaping and sowing — what goes around comes around." He shrugs. "However you phrase it, it's the same in the end. And as much as you'd like to think otherwise, that's exactly what's happening here. All actions cause a reaction. And this is where my actions have brought me." He shakes his head. "All this time I told myself I turned you out of love — but now I see it was really out of selfishness — because I couldn't be without you. That's why this is happening now."
"So, that's it?" I shake my head, hardly believing he's determined to give up so easily. "That's how it ends? You're just so dang sure you've been chased down by karma you don't even try to fight back? You came all this way just so we could be together and now that we're facing an obstacle, you're not even going to try to scale the brick wall in our path?"
Excerpted from Shadowland by Alyson Noël. Copyright © 2009 Alyson Noël. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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