My body trembles as I kneel next to the bed, waiting. Everyone’s hints now swirl through my head, Caroline, mom… Kat’s even. I feel the pressure, but beyond that, I feel I’ve been putting it off. There is no one else I want to be with. But for all the times she’s said the same thing, I have to wonder…. Will she say yes?
I rest my elbow on the bed to try and keep my hand from shaking as I hold the ring out. I’ve had it for years, actually. Something I got from a jump I made when I was only nine. Only recently, while I was unpacking did I find it again and thought how much Kat might like this.
I stare at her nervously, watching her eyes grow wide as she processes my request. What will she say? How long will she wait? What if she says no? I can’t stand the wait. Please say something soon… please!
Her face grows redder by the second as her eyes lift from the ring to meet mine. Her lips seem to struggle to form words, until she finally speaks, “Y-yes, of course I will.”
I feel a shiver run through my body like a lightning bolt. She said yes? She said yes! Oh my God. She said yes! I almost can’t believe it. I know it’ll sound stupid but I ask anyway. “Really?”
Her amber eyes grow wider, “What do you mean, really? Do you want me to say it a few more times?” She laughs, “Yes, Andrei. Really, yes.”
I don’t know where I get the sudden energy, but I find myself jumping up and wrapping my arms around her, still holding the box with the ring. “Oh my God, Kat! I- I can’t believe it. I’m so happy!” I feel like I could cry, but I’d already spent my tears on my guilt.
She gasps in surprise, arms sliding around me too. “Me too,” I hear her voice right next to my ear. “It’s surreal. I don’t even know where to begin.”
“Oh, I nearly forgot!” I slide back, hands shaking violently as I fumble to get the ring out of the box. It takes much longer than I imagined it would. I finally get it out and take her left hand in mine. I find it so difficult to line up it. Why am I shaking so much? I slide it onto her ring finger and at first, I think it’s too big as it glides over her knuckles so easily, but before my eyes, it shrinks to fit her finger. I guess he was right, it is a magic ring.
I smile as I release her hand and she holds it up, studying the little dragon coveting the ruby stone. It seems to shine like her hair. The sight of her hand with the ring on it, my ring, makes me so happy. I can’t hold back the big smile on my face.
“It shrank,” She stares at it in disbelief. “I know I’m a little out of it but… It shrank, didn’t it?”
“It did,” I nod eyes glued to her beautiful face.
“How?” She looks up at me, bewildered. “Where did you get this?”
“Oh, well…” I shrug, smiling. “You see, I jumped once, back when I was nine. I met a strange old man who I stayed with for a few weeks and before I left he gave this to me. He seemed to know things that I didn’t, like when I’d leave or things that might happen. I called him a village wise man, but he didn’t really stay in the village. People sort of avoided him. So when he gave this ring to me, he told me the story about how the original owner had befriended a dragon and the dragon gave him this ruby. So he had it set into a ring embedded with magic.
“Back then I hardly believed him. It seemed ridiculous, but I took it with good conscious. He said to me then, for that someone special, and he winked. I didn’t know what he meant then. I thought he meant me, but clearly, I think he meant you,” I explain.
I watch as her face seems to light up in a way I don’t think I’ve seen before; a bright smile and rosy cheeks. She looks down at the ring again, “I like the sound of that.”
“You do? I’m glad. I don’t know what kind of magic it holds but maybe we can find out,” I smile back, reaching up to hold her arms. I gaze into her eyes and lean in, touching my lips to hers in a sweet kiss.
She grabs onto the front of my loose shirt, tugging on it. “Come back into bed,” She snickers, rubbing her nose against mine.
I chuckle, pulling back to stand. My knees shake though, the sudden energy is gone and I sag to the floor with a weak laugh. “Seems I shouldn’t have left in the first place.”
She gives me a sympathetic smile, “I’m sorry, I don’t think I help you up this time, but…” She props herself up on her elbows, brows pulling together as she shuffles over to make some room on this side.
“You shouldn’t be moving. This is my fault, after all. If I hadn’t have been so rash… none of this would have happened.” I pull myself onto the bed. It takes a lot of effort, but eventually, I manage to rejoin her on the bed. I lean against her shoulder, holding her ringed hand in mine.
“You wouldn’t be you if you didn’t try to save them,” She snuggles against me. I feel the mattress bounce slightly as Scoria crawls over and up onto Kat’s other side. Her head tilts and she makes a small croaking sound. Kat smiles at her. “Nik is gonna bring you something to eat soon.”
“He is? What about you?” I ask.
“Uh,” She frowns. “I don’t know. Gwen didn’t say if it would be a good idea or not.”
I frown, unsure. “I really wish there was something more I could do, but I just can’t,” I turn her hand over in mine, lacing my fingers between hers.
“I’m just happy that you’re here,” She squeezes my hand, her voice dropping. “Don’t leave me alone here.”
“I won’t. Not that I can,” I smile back. A timid knock comes at the door and I turn to look at it, wondering who would knock. I call out, “Come in.” The door slides open and Kaede walks in slowly, except he doesn’t look as sparky as he usually does. His hair sticks out at all angles, he’s got dark circles under his eyes as if he hasn’t slept in days and he looks extremely depressed. “Kaede, come in. What’s wrong?” I ask, tapping the bed for him to come join us.
He looks hesitant to answer, like he doesn’t know what to say. He flops down next to me and looks at the floor. “It’s Caroline,” He croaks. It’s like he hasn’t spoken in a while.
“Gwen said she’s sick, right?” Kat asks softly. “What happened?”
Kaede’s head turns slowly to look at her. It’s almost like he’s glaring but I can’t tell because of how flat his face looks. “That infection she took from you, it’s poisoned her,” He says. My heart drops.
“How? I thought she got rid of it,” Kat frowns.
“Apparently not. She absorbed the water she used to remove it,” He sighs.
“Why the heck…” Kat mutters, stopping herself. “But Gwen is helping, right?”
Kaede looks at her again, flatly. He flicks his bangs out of his eyes and shrugs. “She’s trying, I suppose, but she’s just getting worse.”
Kat drops her gaze, “I’m sorry.”
“Sorry? You’re sorry?” He asks, a little rudely. I pinch my brows down in concern. I don’t like his tone.
“Yo, Kae. Calm down a little. It’s not Kat’s fault.”
“It’s not? If it wasn’t for her Car wouldn’t be…” He cuts off. I can see he’s simmering behind his tired expression. I’ve never seen him so… distraught before. It’s very unlike him.
Kat’s gaze snaps back up to meet his, “If it weren’t for me, Caroline would be in a dungeon and you would be dead. Do you think I wanted her to get sick? Do you think I asked to get stabbed in the first place? Believe me, I know you want to blame someone, but maybe you should think that through.”
“Kat,” I hold my hand up. I know getting angry and dragging in the past won’t help this situation, but it seems I’m already too late.
Kaede glares at her hard, “If she hadn’t have healed you… she wouldn’t be dying! You and your magic is killing her! And it can’t even save her!” He yells.
I lean forward despite the effort. “Stop this, Kaede. It’s not going to help,” I try to intervene.
“No, you can’t go lecturing me. It was your ex’s magic that caused this. You’re partly to blame too,” He growls.
“What? How am I to blame?! It’s not like I asked her to hurt anyone!” I get defensive.
“Get out!” Kat snaps. “You talk about how much you value friendship, how friends look out for each other, and as soon as something actually happens you turn on us?” She scoffs. “Don’t say another word, or I’ll give you something to blame me for.”
“Kat, that’s a bit extreme, don’t you think?” I turn, feeling the tension rise. Kaede looks on the verge of tears.
“Twelve hours ago I almost lost my baby and my life, and all our so-called friend cares about it blaming us for something that happened to Caroline. Did we make her absorb the poison? Did either of us shove it down her throat?”
“Tell me that after you see her. There’s nothing anyone can do!” He shouts, voice cracking. “There’s nothing I can do… I’m going to lose her… She’s going to die… She’s suffering and … and…” He stands and makes for the door. Instinctually I move to get up but Kat grabs my arm and holds me back as he slips out of the room.
“Kat, that wasn’t necessary! Kaede is in a station he’s never been faced with before. Caroline means a lot to him. We have to take his accusations with a grain of salt, don’t you think? We all say things we don’t mean when we’re angry or grieving.” I should know. I’ve said some things I wish I hadn’t in the past, that’s for sure.
“He didn’t come here looking for help, he didn’t come looking for friends, he came looking to attack,” She lays back, her breathing more laboured than it was before. She closes her eyes. “Am I supposed to just let him?”
I frown, twisting and placing my hand on hers. “Kat, breathe. Relax. I know it looks bad. I’m not saying he’s right, but I am saying we should hear him out. I mean, we are Kaede’s only friends here. We’re all he has, other than Car, and we were gone. We need to be there for him, regardless. I’m not saying I agree with how he’s talking but… We shouldn’t let that push us away. No?”
“No,” She clenches her jaw. “I can’t, not now. Not today.”
I pout, knowing that it’s too much all at once. I really wish I had the energy to stand. Maybe then I could fix this. Man… Caroline. Is she really… dying? I feel nauseous thinking about it. “Kat, forget about Kaede. This isn’t about him. It’s about Car… If she’s…” I can’t even say it. It hurts to think it. “If she’s really dying… What can we do? If Gwen, the life Guardian can’t help, what other option do we have?” I ask with desperation. I really don’t want to see Car die. She’s like a sister to me.
Kat’s eyes open halfway and she looks up at the ceiling with a sigh, “We ask the expert on death, I guess.”
“Who?” Ohhh. I realize I may have taken the idea to forget what happened a little too seriously. “Selene?”
“Yes,” She nods slightly. “Can you hand me the phone on the table beside you?”
I twist around grabbing her phone and passing it to her. As she opens the screen I see a conversation without a name, just a phone number. She quickly hits the back button, opening another text conversation. Her thumbs move surprisingly fast across the keys. She sends one message and then switches to another conversation, then a third. Afterwards, she hits a button and the screen goes dark. Her arms fall to her stomach and she flinches at the impact.
“What’d you say?” I ask, relaxing beside her and drawing circles on her stomach. The action is soothing.
She hums with content. “Asked Ambrosse and Selene to check on Caroline, see if they can help.”
“I see. Thank you.” I still feel bad about Kade, but I can’t do anything about it now. I can only imagine how he feels. I would have expected Kat to understand considering how… Well, I technically died on her… I let out a sigh as I think to myself.
“So…” I say after a few minutes. “What was the last message?”
“Hm?” She squints at me, “Oh, to Gwen.” Her eyes close again.
I yawn, “What’d you say?”
She doesn’t answer right away. I hear her take a deep breath, and it comes out ragged. “I asked if she could bring something for me to take… to help with the pain,” She reluctantly admits.
I sit up, worried. “You’re still in pain?!” Oh man. I shouldn’t have let her get riled up. I drape an arm around her shoulders and hold her. “I’m sorry. You need rest. I shouldn’t bother you.” I wonder, when will Nik be back? Everything just seems to be falling apart around me. Is this… all punishment? All because I fudged those matches? I couldn’t live with myself if that’s the case. First Kat and the baby, now Kaede and Caroline? I hold her like she’s a fragile doll, scared to hurt her further.
“It’s not that bad,” She tries to assure me. “I’ve had worse. I just wanted to know if I can take anything if it would be okay.”
“Please, tell me if anything hurts. If there’s anything I can do. I mean, soon that tea she dribbled down my throat should kick in right? And I won’t be a useless bag of bones…” I exhale into her hair, feeling like a rotten piece of shit.
“I just feel like… really sore. Like I worked out way too much or something. I’m sure it’ll be fine in a couple days, tops,” She yawns, shifting to get comfortable in my arms.
We fall silent and I feel myself drifting off as I glance to Kat. Her eyes are closed and her breathing is light. After a few more minutes Nik comes back with a tray if steaming soup and a plate of steak. Scoria stirs at the smell if the meat scurrying off Kat’s shoulder with curiosity. I sit up, feeling a bit more strength as he sets the tray on the nightstand.
“You guys alright?” He asks quietly, glancing at Kat.
“We’re doing okay,” I can’t say we’re great, considering I ruined our trip. She should have had more time to learn from her family… she deserved that at least. “And you?” I ask nervously.
He chuckles, “I think I’m the only one who can’t complain.” He puts the tray on the table and passes me a bowl. “I’ve been helping Gwen, growing plants she needs and keeping an eye on Caroline. I’m kind of glad you guys are back, though I’m not glad why you had to come back so suddenly. It’s lucky we were next door.”
I laugh weakly. “Well, that’s mostly my fault… I kind of broke a time rule…” I shrink with embarrassment.
Nik’s thick eyebrow arches, “A time rule? I didn’t realise there was such a thing. What does that have to do with her though?”
I really hate to explain but… I did bring it up. “Well, it was strange, really. Heard this voice and suddenly she doubles over in pain. She was about to lose the baby… if I didn’t jump back one of them would have died.”
Nik nods thoughtfully, “A wise one, probably. Like the ones we saw in the trials. I guess that makes sense, although making her almost lose the baby is pretty cruel,” He frowns and shakes his head. “At least you made it in time and it didn’t kill you too.”
“Almost. I made it with just enough energy to make me pass out. I just hope the two of them are okay. Did you see… Keade? He came in earlier. I’m worried about him and Caroline.”
Nik frowns, “Yeah… He’s been a mess. We’re doing our best to keep him together but, well, I’m sure you’ve seen how that’s going.”
“Yea… He was a mess. Got angry at Kat, but I know he didn’t really mean what he said.”
Nik scratches his cheek, a hint of stubble growing. “Yea, it’d be good if you could talk to him alone. I’ll keep an eye on this one if you want. Let me know, I’ll probably be next door or down the hall.”
I wonder if I have the energy to move. “Do you know where he might have gone?”
“Not far,” Nik nods to the wall. “He doesn’t leave the room much. I didn’t mean right now. Wait until you’ve got some strength back. Eat, rest. He’s not going anywhere.”
I think about it then nod in agreement. “Alright. I just hope… I hope I can help him. Nothing ever gets to him. I’ve never seen him like that,” I worry.
“People always think they’re brave until they’re faced with real fear,” Nik sighs. “That’s when you see their true colours.”
“So what are you saying… He hates us? Because we can’t help her?” I ask feeling a pang of uncertainty. That seems harsh to me, and very unlike Kaede. I personally feel we’re aren’t us when we’re in our darkest places. I’ve been there. Caroline helped me out. Kats helped me out at times. I want to help Kaede… if I can.
“He doesn’t hate you,” Nik waves a hand. “That’s not what I meant. He’s confused, and it’s made him into someone he’ll regret if he comes out of it.”
“Oh, I can see that. Yeah… thanks, man,” I say, if not a little awkwardly. Sometimes I don’t get along with Nik, but sometimes… He’s full of knowledge.
“Any time,” He pats my shoulder lightly. “Holler if you need anything.”
“Thanks,” I say as he turns to leave. “Later.” The door clicks and I sag back against the pillows. Quietly eating. When I finish, and Kat doesn’t wake, I drift back to sleep.
By Kayla West