Authors: Amity Hope
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rs streamed down her face as Ava
jolted herself awake
had lost track of how many nights
in a row she had been enmeshed
nightmare. Only it wasn’t a nightmare. It was worse. It was a memory.
the pillow her face was buried in
It was t
he pillow that Gabe had used, t
he one that no longer held his scent. It ha
d been almost a month since the
that he had sacrificed himself to save her.
She saw him everywhere. When she was asleep. When she was awake. Sometimes it was a flash of his golden hair turning the corner a block ahead of her on a busy street. Sometimes it was his face bloodied, lip split and eye blackened as it was the moment they first met. If she was lucky, it was his face, pure and sweet as he leaned over to kiss her for the first time, the night under the stars. If she wasn’t lucky, and most of the time, luck was not on her side…
dreams were fille
d with demons and fire and hell.
Ava released the pillow and sat up in her bed, trying to shake the memory away
into the darkness
. She squeezed her eyes shut, trying to push away the tears and the vision that continued to torment her. Whe
n she opened them, her
. They must be blurry, she decided
because for just a moment she was sure she had seen someone in the window. It had been just a silhouette, a shape, a shadow of someone. She leapt to her feet and hurried across the hardwood floor of her small bedroom.
She looked out into the night, barely lit with the ghostly glow of the moon. The lawn appeared to be empty. The lake shimmered like
water in a black cauldron. As for the forest beyond, who knew? She swallowed down the painful lump in her throat and forced herself back to bed.
These nightmares had plagued her for weeks now. They were part of the reason she had insisted
out of her parent
house and into her cabin. She couldn’t always stifle her screams of terror. Sometimes, she couldn’t stifle her tears and she did not want
to see her this way.
She burrowed back under the covers and reached for the pillow again. She inhaled deeply, hoping for even the faintest remnant of Gabe’s scent.
She thought she detected it and she let out a sigh. Whether it still held even a little part of him or whether she had imagined that too, she really didn’t know.
She closed her eyes and let Gabe’s words whisper through her mind…
I promise to love you forever…
“You look awful,” Molly bluntly informed Ava. Either she or Julia had been stopping by to visit her almost daily but it took some major begging and pleading to get her to leave the house for something other than work. It was only now, sitting in the natural sunlight that Molly realized just how ill her friend looked. “And you know I say that with all of the love in the world.”
“What she means,” Julia said, giving Molly a scorching glare, “is that you should eat this.” She slid the plate with the chicken salad sandwich closer to Ava. Both she and Molly were done with their lunches but Ava had barely touched hers. They were both relieved
she had at least eaten all of her fruit but Julia was determined
to see her
eat something more substantial.
Ava slid the plate away again, not even bothering to look at it. “I’m not hungry,” she said with an apologetic shrug. “I’d eat if I was but I’m not.”
“Ava,” Julia said softly, “at this point it doesn’t matter if you feel hungry or not. You
to eat something. Your clothes are just about falling off of you.”
Ava knew she was right. Yet it was hard to eat with a permanent lump of dread, fear and sorrow taking up so much space in her stomach. It simply felt as if there was no room left for food.
“If you don’t eat,” Julia continued as her tone turned into the lecturing voice both of her friends were all too familiar with, “your body is going to start to devour itself.”
“Eww, Julia,” Molly grumbled.
“It’s true. It’s going to start eating up its muscle mass. If you don’t start eating, it could be bad. Very, very bad. You can suffer from vitamin and mineral deficiencies, which can lead to problems with your immune system and—”
“And there she goes,” Molly
. Then she turned to Ava, her voice pleading. “Take a bite so she’ll stop.” She slid Ava’s plate back to her yet again.
Ava complied. Barely. She took a small bite of her sandwich, taking an excessively long time to chew it while both of her friends watched.
“And you need sleep,” Molly ordered. “I know you’re trying to hide it with concealer but it’s not working.”
“A lack of sleep can cause all sorts of problems. It can also contribute to depression and I really don’t think you need that right now,” Julia calmly stated.
“I try to sleep. It’s not my fault I can’t,” Ava glumly replied after she swallowed. She settled back in the wicker chair while she fidgeted with the straw in her lemonade. She could feel the concerned gazes of her two best friends spilling over her. Not wanting to meet the looks of concern head on, she let her eyes dart around Bella’s.
The patio was surrounded by a tall, white, ivy-covered fence. It provided privacy from the people walking along the sidewalk. The patio furniture was all wicker with glass-topped tables. An enormous umbrella kept the worst of the sun’s rays at bay.
Bella’s was one of her favorite restaurants, in part because she had always found the atmosphere to be so relaxing. It was why her friends had brought her here. They were trying to pull her from the depressed haze she’d been in.
“Have you…” Julia began quietly but then building her resolve she continued. “Have you heard from Gabe?” But then, because she had been led to believe that Gabe was suffering from some fatal affliction, she made a quick amendment. “Or his family? Has his family contacted you?”
Ava gave her friend a smile that Julia knew wasn’t a smile at all. It was nothing more than a forced upturning of the lips, a failed attempt at appearing unmoved by the question.
“No,” Ava said quietly. She wondered to herself, yet again, why she didn’t just tell them he was gone. Not just gone as in left the country, but gone as in left the earth. But she couldn’t get herself to say the words. Not even when she knew her friends would be there to support her every painful step of the way.
“It’s funny…” Molly admitted, with a nervous, mirthless laugh. She then shook her head, as if thinking better of whatever it was she was going to say.
“What?” Ava asked. Noting the sudden dark look that rolled over Julia’s features, she asked again, demanding this time as she leaned forward in her chair. Her body had become tense because the look her friends had shared let her know that something was clearly up. “What? Tell me.”
Molly tapped her lips with her pointer finger, a sure sign that she was mulling something over. She shook her head. “Actually it’s not funny at all, it’s just…peculiar. But…I thought I saw Gabe the other day. I know,” she hurried to add as Julia let out a resigned sigh, “ridiculous, right?”
be ridiculous. But Ava’s mind was suddenly spinning out of control, flooded with memories.
Flashes of Gabe’s face, bloody and beaten…Gabe’s face full of so much love for her… Gabe’s face lifeless, his eyes blank and glazing over…And then a glimpse of his face, through a crowd, a flash of that golden blond hair. But
him. Because it
be him. Right? She had convinced herself of
that. It was her mind, her hope
, her head playing tricks on her. Because she wanted to see him more than she wanted anything else.
But her friends? They had no reason to imagine him.
?” Julia reached over and took the glass of lemonade from her friend’s hand. It had begun shaking so badly they could hear the ice clanking against the side of the glass. “Molly!” Julia hissed. “We talked about this!”
“It’s probably just someone that looks like him. This guy, his hair was longer and
…messy. And not in that sexy, ‘I spent forever and half a bottle of product to get my hair to look like
kind of way. I mean, Gabe struck me as a little too vain to leave the house looking so disheveled.” Julia kicked her under the table and Molly muttered, “Sorry, but you know what I mean. And he was thin. Not all hunky and hot like Gabe.”
“And his eyes…” Ava noticed a slight tremor run through Julia before she continued. “They were so vacant. This guy, he looked right at us and at first, I was sure it was Gabe but then, he…he seemed to look right through us. And not in the way of someone you know that’s trying to ignore you and pretending not to see you. It was like he truly
“Where did you see him?” Ava asked. The note of desperation in her voice grated against her own ears.
Her friends looked at each other. Words, warnings, whole sentences and an argument silently passed between them in their silence.
?” Ava demanded. The legs of the chair ground against the concrete patio as she leapt to her feet.
“Ava,” Julia said gently, “sit down. We’ll talk about this.”
“Tell me where you saw him?” Her voice was pleading, shaking and her friends knew as well as she did that she was on the verge of losing control.
“Down on the boardwalk,” Molly said softly, ignoring the look Julia gave her. “Both times.”
“Both?” Ava asked. The word left her body in a gush of air as her legs gave way and she fell back into her chair. “
?” she whispered.
Julia shook her head. “I just saw him the one time. But,” she let out a resigned breath, “Molly was sure she saw him a few days ago. We decided it couldn’t have been him so we just let it go because she wasn’t sure.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” she asked in disbelief. How could they keep this from her? They were her friends. Her
“Sweetie,” Julia said, reaching across the table to take her friend’s hand, “we
think it was him. We still really, really doubt it was him. It seemed cruel,” she shot Molly a look, “to bring it up without knowing. I mean, if it was Gabe, you would’ve heard from him. If he was back in town, he would’ve called you. You
he would’ve called you.”
Ava shook her head. She didn’t know
. Not anymore. Everything she had once thought she had known had been spun around, turned upside down and torn apart with all of the pieces scattering and never quite going back together again.
“It’s just, you should’ve told me,” Ava said quietly.
Molly leaned forward, shooting Julia a fierce look of her own. “We
telling you. This just happened yesterday. You were at work. Julia and I went to the beach. I would’ve told you last night—”
“But by the time you were getting off
shift was starting,” Julia interjected, speaking of her job at the country club. “And I wanted to be here.” She squeezed Ava’s hand, which she still firmly held in her own. “I thought you might need us. Both of us. You know, just in case. But Ava, I
’m having a hard time believing it was him.