Lucy ignored my warning and flounced out of the room. She’d never behaved so childishly in the time I’d known her, and I stared after her in shock. With another glance at Asher’s furious expression, I yelled to my parents, “I’m taking a walk with Asher in the park. Be back in a bit.”
Without a word, he turned on his heel and headed to the entrance to Townsend Park. At the edge of the labyrinth, he took off running in a blur of furious energy, and I followed him with more caution, lacking his Protector hearing and sight. There were no lights in the woods, but a couple of streetlights managed to penetrate the clearing at the center of the maze with a timid glow.
Asher had his hands in his coat pockets and waited for me to appear. He had his guard up, as if he worried that his anger would affect his control.
“Are you going to yell at me?” I asked. We’d fought before, but this rage was new.
“No,” he bit off. “You’ll get defensive, and then we’ll argue about the wrong thing.”
I winced because he was probably right. I didn’t deal with people yelling at me with any kind of grace. When pushed, I kicked back like a mule.
“I’m sorry, Asher.” I held up both hands in entreaty. “I planned to tell you tonight, but then that e-mail came from my grandfather. Lucy shouldn’t have said anything to you.”
“She’s worried about you. And she’s right to. Why, Remy?”
I sighed and leaned against a tree trunk. “Why am I going or why didn’t I tell you I wrote him?”
Asher sped across the clearing and braced himself on the tree trunk with his hands planted above my shoulders. His face rested mere inches from mine, and I saw the hurt beneath the anger.
“Why didn’t you tell me? All that talk of how we’re in this together, but you leave me out of the biggest decisions.”
I wanted to look away, but I couldn’t. “You’re right. I’m sorry. I was afraid you would try to talk me out of it.”
“Damn right I would have. You have no idea what you’ll be walking into, and I can’t be there to protect you without bringing a bunch of Protectors down on your relatives.”
“I have to do this.” His jaw clenched, and I curled a hand around his wrist. “I need to find out what he knows about my powers. I can’t risk hurting someone. Not my family. Not you.”
“We’ve been doing fine.”
My brows rose. “Fine? Dean is dead. Brandon nearly drowned because of me. Lucy was shot because of me. You nearly died. I—”
Asher touched a finger to my lips. “Enough. Please.”
I paused, listening to an owl hoot nearby. Asher hated to be reminded about what had almost happened, but I couldn’t let him forget it. I sighed, wishing I could make him understand.
“I do understand,” he said, hearing my thought. “That doesn’t mean I agree.”
“What would you have me do? Stay here and wait for your friends to come for me and my family?”
The last time his Protector friends had come to town, he’d done everything he could to keep me off their radar. But that time he’d known they were coming in advance. What if they decided to surprise the Blackwells? Friendship with Asher wouldn’t mean much if they knew what I could do.
He stepped back, forcing me to drop my hand. “That’s not fair. You know you come first.”
“You come first for me, too. I’m doing this to keep us all safe. I want a future, Asher. I don’t know how to make that happen the way things are. Please don’t fight me on this.”
Asher walked away. I couldn’t read his expression in the bad light, and he didn’t speak for a long time.
Finally he said, “You’re going to go no matter what I say.”
“Asher . . .”
My voice tapered off. The truth sounded awful when he said it like that. He’d been disappointed and frustrated before, and he’d even been angry. I’d never known him to sound so bitter, though. Despite the heat, I shivered. I wanted to hug him, but I could see he needed some distance. I didn’t know what to do.
Asher tilted his head, hearing something I couldn’t. In a quiet voice, he said, “We should go. Your dad just sent Lucy to find us.”
I trailed after him when he headed back toward my house. Lucy didn’t look so triumphant when she saw Asher and me emerge from the woods with a good five feet between us. She shot me a quizzical look that I ignored.
At dinner, Asher hardly spoke. My parents noticed the odd tension in the room, obviously gathering that Asher and I had argued. They did their best to keep the conversation going, while I shoved my food around my plate and Asher gave polite answers to their questions about his plans after high school, which included a photography school in New York City near Columbia U. An answer that surprised me since we hadn’t even spoken of the future yet.
The longer the stilted conversation staggered on, the more miserable I felt.
Later, when I walked Asher to the door, he didn’t kiss me good night, and I felt like crying, watching him walk away.
The days following graduation didn’t get any better. The weight of everyone’s expectations bore down, crushing me. Part of me wished I could get on the plane sooner than Friday.
Brandon thought I had lied about Marina but couldn’t pinpoint how. He tried more than once to get me to confide in him, and my evasions irritated him. Lucy hated me for going. My parents watched me with sad expressions that added to my guilt. And Asher . . .
He avoided me. My calls went to voice mail. When I phoned his house, Lottie made excuses for why he couldn’t come to the phone.
Gabe wasn’t so pleasant when I called for the twentieth time.
“You’re wrong to go,” he said bluntly after I gave him my flight information for Asher.
“I know you and Asher think so,” I said.
Silence met that statement, and I imagined Gabe’s furious face. Honestly, all he cared about was keeping his family safe. He should have been on my side in this argument.
“Don’t you think I should learn everything I can about my ability?” I argued. “I don’t want Asher to constantly have to protect me. And if there’s some way to help all of you . . . to make you mortal, don’t you want that?”
“The last time you tried to make one of us mortal, you nearly became one of us. Do you think we hate you enough to wish that upon you?”
I didn’t know what Gabe or Lottie desired, but I knew what Asher would want. Me, safe and out of harm’s way. But I’d learned that you had to be willing to risk something to get what you wanted.
“I’m going,” I insisted to Gabe.
“You’re going to get yourself killed.”
“You almost sound like you care, Protector.”
Gabe hung up on me then, as if to show me how wrong I was.
The day before my plane left, Ben took me to the Seaside Café for breakfast. He stared out the window at the view of the bay, while we sipped our coffee. My father didn’t want me to go. I could almost feel his yearning for me to stay, along with a good dose of worry and sadness.
Dana, our regular server, poured me a third cup of coffee, and Ben watched me dump sugar and creamer into the mug.
“You need to take better care of yourself,” he observed, throwing an arm along the back of the maroon vinyl booth. “Go easy on the caffeine.”
I stuck my tongue out at him.
He laughed. “I’m serious. You’re going to be on your own.” He sobered again. “Are you sure you can’t postpone this trip for a while? It seems too soon after everything that’s happened this year.”
“Dad, stop worrying. I’m going to be fine. You know I can take care of myself.”
His expression soured. The guilt ate at him still and would for a long time. I’d learned to take care of myself because nobody—including him—had been there to help me. I touched his hand to reassure him, healing his skipping heart again. The abnormal beat always returned, but I couldn’t help myself.
“It’s only for a few weeks and then I’ll be back.”
He grasped my hand, and his mouth tipped up in a small smile. “Promise? Blackwell Falls isn’t going to be the same without you.”
“Oh, I can think of a few people who won’t miss me.”
I hadn’t seen Asher in four days. Would he let me leave without even saying good-bye? The thought tormented me every night, making for some sleepless nights. I needed to know he’d be there for me so I could get through this, but he wouldn’t even return a stupid text message.
Ben seemed to read my mind. “Things okay with you and Asher? I haven’t seen much of him since graduation.”
My dad didn’t sound unhappy about that. He liked Asher, but sometimes I got the sense that he wished we hadn’t gotten so serious so soon after my mother died.
I crumpled my napkin in my lap. “I’m not really sure. He’s mad that I decided to go without talking to him first.”
Ben frowned. “It’s your decision, isn’t it? You don’t need his permission.”
I could see where he was going with that train of thought from a mile away. “Relax, Dad. He’s not trying to control me. Give me some credit.”
He held up both hands in a placating gesture. “Sorry. Why’s he angry then?”
“We’d kind of made other plans, and I blew them out of the water. I think maybe I would’ve felt the same way in his shoes.”
“You tried talking to him?”
“Repeatedly. He doesn’t want to see me.”
Ben gestured to Dana to get the check. “Give him some time. He’ll cave.”
Bemused, I shook my head at my father. Earlier this year, I never could have imagined a world in which I’d be discussing my boyfriend with my father. Or that I would have a boyfriend.
“What?” Ben said, noticing my stare.
“You. Me. This.” I gestured between us. “I’m just . . .” I pursed my lips trying to find the words. “Having family. It’s cool. Unexpected but cool.”
My father’s expression softened. “Not all family is the same. I hope you’re not disappointed when you meet your grandfather.”
Curious, I asked, “What do you know about him?”
“Not much. Your mom rarely mentioned him. Something happened between them, and Anna blamed herself for it. I always wondered if that was the whole story, though.”
“Yeah, she mentioned something like that once.”
In the recording she’d left me, she’d told me how she’d been the one to reveal her mom’s location to the Protectors. My grandfather had blamed her when they killed her mother. My mom had run away soon after.
“Are you sure you want to do this alone? I could take some time off work and go with you. Act as a buffer for you and your grandfather.”
I grinned, touched by the offer. “I think I can handle an old man. I’ve handled you, haven’t I?”
After Ben paid our bill, we walked to my car, the red Mustang he’d bought me and taught me to drive.
He threw an arm around my shoulder. “I’m going to miss you, Remy. I feel like I’ve just begun to know you.”
I brushed the sawdust from his shoulder. My father built ships for a living, and he always seemed to have wood shavings somewhere on his body, even before he went to work for the day.
“I’ll be back before you know it.”
He chucked me under the chin. “I’m going to hold you to that.”
I hoped I was telling the truth. I would miss my family fiercely. If I could tell my father the truth about everything, I wouldn’t have to do this alone. That would be selfish, though. My mother had told me to keep Ben a secret. She’d sacrificed everything to keep his Protector blood from my grandfather.
I shivered, wondering what she’d known about the Healers that could have driven her to give up my father when she loved him more than anything. And I hoped I wouldn’t be forced to make a similar choice when it came to Asher.
That night, I woke to find Lucy curled up in my bed with her back to me. She sniffled, and I thought maybe that was the sound that had wakened me. Since Dean had shot her, she sometimes slipped into my room in the middle of the night, though she always left before morning. She didn’t know I knew about these nights or her bad dreams.
Only a year younger than I, she looked small and fragile lying there. Dean had introduced her to a nightmarish world, and I’d been the one to introduce her to my stepfather by coming to Blackwell Falls. I hated it that I hadn’t been able to shield her from a world with Dean, Protectors, and Healers.
She muffled another sob, and I couldn’t take it anymore. I smoothed a hand over her hair and she jumped before settling again.
“Don’t go, Remy.”
Her voice sounded small in the dark. Nothing had swayed me from my course, but her words nearly did it. As if she sensed my weakening defenses, she rolled over to face me. Moonlight reflected off the sheen of tears on her cheeks, and I reached over to swipe them away.
I didn’t answer, and she whispered, “Please.”
My deep breath sounded shaky. “If it was just me, I’d stay. But what if my grandfather knows something that could make Asher mortal? I don’t want to give up on a life with him. I have to do something. Lucy, I love him.”
I started to cry, too, and somehow that had the effect of calming Lucy. She gripped my fingers tightly, and we listened to the silence in the house, a peace that had been shredded not too long ago when Dean attacked us. That night had been made of blood, tears, and pain. I thought maybe Lucy was remembering that night, too.
“Shit,” she said in a more normal tone, startling a laugh out of me. “I want to stay mad at you, but then you go and pull the ‘Lucy, I love him’ card. Totally unfair.”
“Sorry,” I said, sniffing.
She shoved my shoulder. “No, you’re not. Aren’t you scared?”
“Terrified,” I whispered. It was true.
I hadn’t realized how much so until she asked me. I would be on my own again.