Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Ch4: Blood-Spattered Sundress

It‘s tomorrow night and he hasn‘t shown.  All day.  Pisses me off.

It‘s the day after tomorrow.  He still hasn’t shown.  What a jerk.  He could at least call.  I have things to do, you know?  I left my schedule open for him cuz he said he would be here.  It’s seriously rude.

It’s day three and he still hasn’t shown.  Forest comes home though.  He’s been gone since I said I wanted time alone, probably staying with some girl.  He breaks hearts. 
    I tell him about how Azzen hasn‘t come back when he said he would.
    Forest says, “Azzen?  Who’s Azzen?”
    My heart jumps into my throat.  I start freaking out.  Was it all just a dream?  Am I making up fantasies again?  Has my imagination become so vivid that I’m hallucinating?
    “You don’t remember him?!” I nearly cry, in serious distress.
    Forest sees the look on my face and says, “Just kidding.  Jesus, Amber.  Take a joke.  Calm down.  I’m sure he’ll be back.  He seemed pretty persistent to just disappear completely.”
    Not funny.

Day four rolls around after a restless night.  The first time I wake up screaming, Forest rushes into my room to see what’s wrong.  But it’s nothing.  Just nightmares.  Every time I close my eyes, I see visions of Azzen flailing in chains and being tortured by demonic creatures.  I don’t know what’s wrong, but something is.  There’s nothing I can do and I end up just weeping in fear. 
    I’ve hardly ever cry.  Hell, the last time I shed a tear was when my mom died.  And I’ve never been scared in my life, but this is different, it‘s not me I‘m scared for.  I can’t do anything to help.  I feel useless.  I know I shouldn’t be so worried about a boy I barely know, but these dreams aren’t just nightmares.  I’m beginning to realize that our hearts are truly tied together.  I know he’s hurting, and I’m hurting with him.
    Forest plays big brother and stays by my side until the sun rises.  I’m not getting any sleep, so I submit to starting my day with no rest.
    I eat some cereal without tasting it, and then he finally appears.
    The black mist erupts violently this time, filling the whole dining room in utter darkness.  When it clears, I see Azzen’s form crouched down and clutching at himself.  He’s covered in blood and collapses backwards, laying spread eagle and staring blankly up at the ceiling.  I rush over to him immediately with a worried shout.
    There are huge gashes all over his body, some are deep enough that I can see white bone.  His clothes are torn and every part of him is soaked in sticky red blood.  It leaks out onto the floor and he closes his eyes with a groan and a smirking smile.
    “I made it…” he mutters.
    “Azzen!” I shout.  “Azzen!  What happened?!  What’s wrong?” I ask.  He needs medical attention.
    “Get up!” I demand.  “Come on.  I’m taking you to the hospital.”
    “Noh,” he groans and sits up. 
    He looks around in bewilderment, as though he’s not sure where he is.  Then, he seems to snap to his senses.
    “Oh,” he says.  “I’m here.  Good.”
    Suddenly the blood stops pouring out of him.  The puddles of it slow and then stop spreading; more than that, they actually recede back quickly, sucking back into his body.  I watch as the red liquid pulls back into his open wounds.  It squeeges out of his damp clothes and runs up his skin, leaving him clean and dry.  After the blood pulls back in, the flaps of his hanging flesh flip up and mend together.  His cuts zip together and smooth over like putty and his scrapes bubble up into new skin.
    Azzen looks himself over when it’s all done.  But he’s still not the same.  The hair on his arms is thicker and his fingernails are arched into demonic claws.  Two little horns protrude from his forehead like that of a satyr.
    “What happened to you?!” I demand. 
    Now that I see he’s okay, I’m quite upset.  “Where have you been?  Do you know what you put me through?  I was worried sick!  I’ve been going through Hell!”
    Azzen grins sheepishly.
    “Hell…” he mutters.  “I’ve been going through Hell too.”
    “Where were you?” I ask again.
    “I just told you,” he says, standing up.  “Hell.”
    “What are you talking about?” I ask, following him over to the seat he takes at the table.
    He collapses into it like he‘s been traveling for days and revels in the simple joy of having a seat.
    “I went to Hell,” he says.
    I watch as the hair on his arms thins and becomes normal.  He looks at his fingernails in disgust and then appears to concentrate.  I watch as the pointed claws suck into his fingers and meld back into regular nails.
    “That’s better,” he says.  “Back to normal.”
    “Not quite,” I say blandly.
    I bring my hands to my forehead and point two fingers up, miming horns.
    “Oh,” he says with a start. 
    Azzen puts a finger on the tip of one horn and pushes it in, grunting as the thing sinks into his skull, then repeats the process on the other.
    “Are some kind of demon, or something?” I ask skeptically.
    Azzen laughs, “almost became one.  How long was I gone?”
    “Four days,” I inform him icily.
    “Four days…  Damn, I thought that portal was closer.”
    “Where were you?!” I demand to know.
    “I told you!  Hell!  And it aint no picnic, so get off my back!”
    “What the hell were you doing in Hell?!  And what do you mean Hell?!”
    “I mean like fire and brimstone and darkness for eternity.  Purgatory and Damnation.  Hell, Hell.”
    “Like chilling with Satan?!”
    “Yah, pretty much.”
    “Because the gods get power from our belief in them.  And the people in this world believe in a pretty screwed up Hell.  Trust me.”
    “No.  I mean, why were you there?”
    “Oh,” he says.  “I was getting you this.”
    Azzen reaches in his pocked and pulls out the largest ruby I’ve ever seen.  He tosses it to me.  “Hold on to, that, will ya?”
    I catch it and stare.  It’s beautiful.  But it hardly excuses him for being gone so long without calling.
    “This is what you ditched me for?” I ask.  “A rock?  From Hell?  Why would you think I would even want this?”
    “Hmmm, that’s interesting,” he says, eying me with interest.  He seems lost in a thought for a moment, but quickly comes back to Earth.  “Sorry,” he says.  “In Hell, it’s eternity.  I was there forever.  Literally.  I’m still there, technically.  It’s hard to explain.  I got out through a portal that I thought was leading to the day after I left, but I guess I miscalculated a bit.”
    “No excuses,” I say, finally easing up.  I give him a smile to let him know I’m joking.
    “Hey Little Lady, I just went to Hell and back for you!  You wanna cry about it, find somebody who cares!” he says, grinning back at me.
~I didn’t realize how ironic that statement was at the time, lol~
    “You went to Hell for this rock,” I say.  “Not for me.”
    “All girls like rocks,” Azzen replies.
    “I like you better.”
    “So you’re an idiot.”
    “Yah yah, I know.”
    “So what’s it for?”
    “I’ll explain later,” he says.  “Just keep it safe for now.”
    “Okay…” I say.  “Follow me.”
    I head upstairs to my room and show Azzen that I’m putting the big red rock in my jewelry box.  The thing is so big that it only barely fits when I clear room and place it inside at an angle.  I lock it with my little key that I hide inside a shoe.
    “That works,” he says.
    “So what was Hell like?” I ask curiously.
    “That’s a long story, and I’m not even done telling you the first one.”
    “Oh yeah!  I had a question about that.  I was gonna ask you the last time you were telling the story, but it slipped my mind.”
    “Yah?  What’s up?”
    “Well…” I start.  It seems kind of random at this point, but I’ve already mentioned it, so I might as well ask now.  “You keep saying I was pretty and stuff…  What did I look like?”
    Azzen stares at me blankly.
    “What?!” I exclaim.  “It’s a legitimate question.  You’ve never said.”
    Azzen smacks himself in the forehead with his palm and mutters,  “we just went from ‘how was your trip to Hell?’ to ‘do you really think I’m pretty?’…”
    I stifle a laugh.  “DEAL WITH IT.  PUNK!”
    Azzen chuckles and drops his hand to look me in the eyes.  The way he gazes at me gives me butterflies.  I try to turn away, but he reaches out and gently cups my cheek in his palm, holding my eyes to his as he answers me quietly and honestly.
    “You looked exactly like you do now, besides that you’re a Human,” he says.  “And you’re just as beautiful, kitty ears or not.”
    He makes me smile shyly, but I’m still skeptical.  “There wasn’t a single thing different?”
    “Well I mean, you had cat ears and a tail.  Isn’t that different enough?” he chuckles lightly as he moves his face closer to mine.  I watch his eyes search the lines of my face, from the strands of my hair to the nape of my neck.  He leans in and I can sense him inhaling deeply.  I close my eyes as he sighs his breath out, it feels cool against my neck.
    “You even smell the same,” he whispers in my ear.
    “Do I really?” I ask breathlessly.  He’s so close to me, I wonder if he’ll try to kiss me.  I wonder what I’ll do if he does.  Part of me says I barely know him, but by the way my body is tingling, I don’t know if I could say no.  I feel lightheaded.
    Azzen pulls back though, and  I’m suddenly aware of how ready I was.  Or wasn’t.  I don’t know.  But he ignores my question and doesn’t seem to notice my blush.
    “You had cat eyes too,” he says.  “I just remembered that.  They were the same color, but they shined in the night.  And you were a couple years younger.  We both were.  Your hair was cut shorter.”
    “Oh yeah?” I say, snapping back into the conversation with interest.  “How did it look?  I’ve been thinking about cutting it.”  ~My hair is always a relevant topic.  I wonder if Azzen knew that~
    “You should.  I liked it better that way.”
    I blush again, but instantly decide to grow my hair out.  “Yeah, maybe I will,” I lie.
    “Can we eat?” Azzen asks.  Further drowning out my besotted mood.
    “I don’t have anything made,” I reply casually.  “Want some cereal?”
    “Noh,” Azzen says.  “I want Pineapple.”
    He grabs my hand, surprising me, and we swirl away. 
    We appear on a warm beach under the shade of palm trees.  The sand is soft and extremely fine.  It warms the toes of my bare feet.  The beach stretches wide and white.  The lapping waves of the shimmering ocean are turquoise blue and beautiful.  The humid air smells tropic and salty.
    There are plenty of tourists around and Azzen flags over a girl wearing a lei and a mumu.  He asks her to bring over a fresh pineapple, some Mochi and some coconut rum.  She smiles and obliges, saying she’ll be back in just a moment.
    “How come nobody notices that we just appeared out of nowhere?” I ask mildly, while taking in the scenic view.
    “I replace their memories,” Azzen responds casually, drawing out a beach seat from thin air.  His finger traces lines in the air and sparkles appear where he points.  He’s not an artist, but the sparkles branch out on their own, shaping into the form of the relaxing chair.  When it’s complete, the sparkles form more definite features and the chair shimmers into existence.  Then, Azzen raises his hand and makes a motion like he’s backhanding the air and a shadow chair swishes out of the first one, settling a couple feet next to it, forming into a separate chair for me.
    “And they don’t notice that either,” I say.  “Because you replace their memories.”
    “Yup,” Azzen says, sitting down and laying back in the sun.  “Ahhh,” he moans.  “You don’t know how good this feels after an eternity of darkness and fire.”
    “That doesn’t even make sense,” I mutter.  “And isn’t replacing people’s memories bad for them?”
    “All I did was make them think that we’ve always been sitting here.  I didn’t change anything personal.”
    “But you could,” I say.
    “Sure,” he responds.
    “So how do I know if the story you’re telling me is really true or not?”
    Azzen rolls his head to look at me.  “Would that matter?”
    “Yes!” I reply indignantly.  I had expected him to assure me that he hadn’t.
    “Why?” he asked.
    “Because it would be a lie.  It wouldn’t be true.”
    “What is truth?”
    “Truth is what really happened.”
    “But knowing I can change anything, can you ever be certain of what has really happened?”
    “No.  And that’s the point!” I say.
    Azzen rests with his hands behind his head and closes his eyes.  “So how do you know your whole life up until now was true?  Couldn’t I have just made that up?”
    “Yeah,” I say snappishly.  “And that’s a scary thought!”
    “Because it is!”
    “Aren’t you happy?”
    “Yes.  But not if I don’t know what’s real.  I don’t want to be your toy.  I’m not a doll that you can just play with.”
    Azzen chuckled.  “Most certainly not.”
    “Yeah, but now, how can I ever be certain that‘s the truth?” I bemoan.
    “You’ll have to trust me.  I give you my word that I would never do that to you.”
    “What is the word of a magician worth?” I grumble.
    Azzen smiles at me.  “A lot when it‘s to someone he loves,” he says.
    I feel that familiar flutter in my heart.  But can I even trust it?
    Azzen adds on, “this isn’t so much a question of magic as it is of philosophy.  There could be a god creature that changes your perception of life a million times in every moment, from one moment to the next.  And you would never know about it.  And you can never be certain it isn’t happening right now, or that it hasn’t just happened.  So does that mean you can’t be happy?”
    I pause, trying to figure it out.  I can’t.  So I settle for being sassy.
    “So now you’re trying to say you’re god,” I retort.
    Azzen laughs.  “Yeh, I’ll take that,” he concurs.
    The lei girl returns with his drink, a chopped pineapple and several chunks of what looks like powdery opaque jello.  Azzen draws a small table out of thin air between our chairs and asks her to leave the platter on it.  The poor girl doesn’t even notice as he does it in front of her.
    I glare at him in disbelief.  He pops some pineapple in his mouth and sips on the rum, then says, “look.  If it’s bothering you that much, then at least think about this.  You’re mad at me right now, right?  If I really wanted to, I could take your memory of this conversation and replace it with one of us having the most incredible sex you’ve ever experienced in your life.  So revel in your anger, because it means I love you enough to let you have it.”
    I think about it, and it does make sense, crude analogy aside.  But I still feel the need to make him pay.
    “Well now you’ve really messed up.  I bet you’ll wish you could take that one back,” I say slyly.
    “Hmm, what?” he asks.
    “What you just said.  About the sex.”
    “Why?” he asks casually, sipping some more of his drink.
    “Because now, if we ever DO have that incredible sex, I’m just gonna assume that you’ve done something bad and I‘m that supposed to be pissed off at you.”
    Azzen snorts a laugh into his coconut rum.
    “Maybe that’s what will make it so good,” he shoots back.
    I laugh too.
    “Gimme some of that rum,” I say.
    Azzen hands it over.  “Sure.  And try the Mochi too.”
    “What is it?”
    “It’s good.”
    I trust him this time.  And he’s right again.  The guy knows how to eat.
    “Where are we, anyways?” I ask.
    “Oahu,” he informs me.
    “Oh, the capital of Hawaii?”
    “The island of Hawaii that the capital is on, but I’ll take it.  You pass Geography today,” he says with a wink.
    “Good,” I say, enjoying some of the freshest pineapple I’ve ever tasted.  “Does that mean I get more story?”
    “I suppose.  By the way, do you want your own drink before I start?  I like the rum here because it’s locally made, but you can get whatever you want.”
    “No,” I reply.  “You can have the rest, I just wanted a taste.  I actually only try to drink on special occasions,” I say.
    “Virgin margarita it is,” Azzen infers and begins his story.

    After lunch that day, Fel pulled Azzen to the side of the manor once again, while all the other Rats sparred amongst each other.
    This time she didn’t grab any sticks.  She said they would practice  hand to hand combat.  Azzen took his fighting stance and Fel squared off against him.
    “Are you ready?” she asked.
    “Okay,” Fel said.
    They just stood facing each other for a moment.  Then, without a warning, Fel snapped her fist forward and struck Azzen in the nose.
    “Ow!” he shouted, clutching his nose.  It began bleeding profusely.
    Fel just laughed.  “I thought you said you were ready.”
    “I did too,” Azzen mumbled, holding his nose up.  He doubted it would stop bleeding any time soon.
    “Just leave it,” Fel said.  “That’s why Rats wear rags.”
    Azzen did what she said and let the blood drip.
    “Okay,” Fel said.  “You ready for real this time?”
    Azzen put up his guard again and said, “Yes.”
    This time Fel punched him immediately, as soon as the words had left his lips.  And speaking of lips, his lower one was now busted.
    And the girl busted out laughing.
    “You are WAY too slow,” she said.
    Azzen mumblingly agreed.
    “This isn’t working,” the catgirl said with  frown.  “How about this.  I won’t hit you.  You just try to hit me.  For you, it’ll help you learn to track a target, and for me, it’ll probably just be a waste of time,” she chortled.
    “Fine,” Azzen agreed, not in the greatest of moods.
    They squared off again.  Azzen asked if Fel was ready and when she said yes, he waited a moment and then struck.
    Fel tilted her head to one side and Azzen’s fist touched air.  Then she snapped a fist out and struck the boy in the ribs.
    “Ow!  Hey, I thought you said you weren’t going to hit me!” Azzen complained.
    “Sorry,” Fel apologized.  “Reflex.”
    Azzen grudgingly squared off again.
    “You can punch more than once,” Fel said.  “Keep going until you get a hit.”
    “Okay,” Azzen said.  He was certain he would hit her this time.
    He punched high, and Fel leaned back.  He punched low, and Fel took one step to the side.  Azzen punched high again, and Fel slapped the hit away with her palm.
    “How do you do that?” Azzen asked.  He was punching as fast as he could, but couldn’t even graze her.
    “You’re too obvious,” Fel said.  “First of all, I know all you can do is punch, so I already know what’s coming.  And secondly, your body language gives everything away.  Try to focus on not shifting your weight until you’re actually attacking.  If you have to move into position before you attack, I already know where your attack’s going to come from.”
    “Okay,” Azzen said.  “So that’s why you told us to only take little steps, back when we were group training.”
    “Yes,” Fel replied.  “Mix it up though.  Stutter your steps.  Keep me guessing.  If you start to make a pattern, break it.”
    Azzen tried out what she was saying and punched.  Fel still dodged, left and right and parried his punches away with quick taps of her hands.
    “I still can’t hit you,” Azzen complained.
    “I’m not that easy to hit,” said Fel.  “But you’re doing better.  You learn pretty fast,” she complimented.
    Azzen tried to remember if it was the first nice thing she’d ever said to him.  “Thanks,” he said, and then tried to catch her off guard.
    Fel leaned back out of range and punished him for it with a kick to the side, buckling the boy down to a knee.
    “How do you always know when it’s coming?!” Azzen complained.
    “I can see it in your eyes,” Fel said.  “Here.  Watch my eyes closely.”
    Azzen stood with his guard up and watched the girl’s cat eyes intently.
    Without so much as a subtle twitch, Fel cracked Azzen in the jaw so hard that the boy felt his bones grind.
    “Ow!  Hey!  I didn’t see anything!  What was I looking for?!”
    “Exactly,” Fel said smugly.  “I don’t telegraph.  I keep my eyes dead.  You should learn to too.”
    Azzen rubbed his jaw and told the catgirl she was a punk.  Fel told Azzen get serious and try to hit her some more.
    The harder Azzen tried, the easier it seemed to be for Fel.  She ducked, weaved, turned, dipped, and slipped out of every attack he threw at her.  After a while, she got bored and caught one of Azzen’s punches, swiftly twisting his limb around into an arm lock.
    “This is too easy,” she said.
    “Sorry,” Azzen apologized.  He realized Fel would probably prefer more serious sparring.
    “Don’t be,” said the catgirl.  “I’m ready to beat you up now.”
    “Oh goody.”
    “Put your guard up,” she ordered.
    Azzen obeyed.
    “Now drop it,” Fel said.
    “Drop your guard.”
    Azzen obeyed again.
    “Now forget everything you learned today in group training,” Fel said.
    “Huh?  Why?”
    “That stuff isn’t real fighting.  All that proper technique and form, it goes right out the window when you’re in a real scrap.  If that’s what you’re focusing on, your mind isn’t free to adapt to the flow of battle.”
    “Okay…” Azzen said.
    Fel bounced on her feet.
    “Loosen up,” she said.  “Feel the energy of your body.  Let it run through you.  Let your body react how it wants to.  Everything will change from moment to moment.”
    Azzen bounced up and down too, mimicking her.
    “Don’t just do what I do.  Do what you do,” Fel said.
    “I don’t know what that means,” Azzen replied.
    “A fight is like a dance.  You react to my motions, but at the same time, you redirect them.  We both try to take the lead.”
    “Just go with the flow.  Fight for your life.  Do whatever it takes and don’t hesitate.  That‘s all there is to it.”
    “If this is all there is to fighting…” Azzen said skeptically, “then why do you teach that other stuff at group training?”
    “They make me teach that stuff,” Fel said.  “I’m class leader, but that technique is a compilation of everything every Rat knows.  We teach each other.  I’m just the best at it.  They don’t get my style of fighting.  They laugh and call me dumb.  They say you need to have proper forms and styles and techniques.  But you can learn, because you have no form yet.  You can be formless, like water.”
    “But what Morty was telling me seemed to help out a lot.  My punch is a lot stronger and faster than it ever was before today.  And you punch me the same way.”
    “They have it halfway right,” said Fel.  “Each move you learn is important when you want to become a master.  Every kick and every punch or uppercut that you perfect becomes another weapon in your arsenal that you can pull out at any time.  But they only focus on the form of fighting, not the theory.”
    “Okay.  That makes sense,” Azzen agreed.
    “I bet I can make you a better fighter by knowing good theory with no form, rather than having perfect form with no theory,” Fel said.
    “Oh yeah?” Azzen asked.
    “Yes,” Fel said, smacking him on the head.  “That’s why I asked the Master if I could have you.”
    “Oh,” Azzen said, not quite knowing how he felt about that.
    “Enough talk,” said Fel.  “Prepare yourself.  Try to survive.”
    And with that, the girl launched into a vicious assault, pummeling Azzen several times before he could scramble away. 
    The boy put up his guard, but Fel ducked low and tried to sweep out his feet.  Azzen was able to see this coming and hopped back, avoiding her kick.  It was the first time he had been able to dodge an attack.
    “Good!” Fel called out.
    Azzen was about to reply, but a second kick by Fel caught him in the stomach and sent him to the ground.  She chased after him and went for a stomp, but Azzen grabbed her other leg and yanked, dropping the girl to the ground.  She laughed.
    “Aha!  Now that’s more like it.  We got us a scrap!”
    Azzen and Fel both scrambled up and the boy launched into her.  Fel let him get too close and twirled around, catching him in a headlock.  Azzen didn’t know how to get out, so he tried to punch at the girl, but her position was good and he couldn’t do any real damage.
    Azzen struggled with everything he could, aside from biting and pulling her hair, but he couldn’t get out.  He couldn’t breath, but it wasn’t that that was making the world fuzzy, it was the lack of blood flow to his brain.  He dropped to a knee.  The world was going out…
    And Fel released him.
    “No use knocking you out too early,” she said.
    Azzen coughed and tried to say, “thanks,” but ended up just wheezing for a while.
    “Next time, bite me,” Fel said.
    Azzen was still having trouble responding, but managed to say, “is that allowed?”
    Fel called him stupid and said, “it’s a fight.  The only thing that isn’t allowed is losing.”
    After Azzen recovered himself, Fel asked if he was ready for more and then tore into him once again.
    By the end of the day, Azzen was covered in lumps and bulging bruises.  He was bleeding from scrapes and cuts on his face.  But his “theory” was improving greatly.
    Hit her and try your hardest not to get hit back.  It was as simple as that.
    But hitting the quick girl was nearly impossible and dodging her lightening fast strikes was barely an option.  Finally, as the sun was setting, Azzen surprised her by accepting a shot square to the chest in exchange for hitting her hard in face.  His attack knocked the girl clean onto her butt.  It was the first real, non-grazing hit that he’d gotten on her.
    Fel sat on the ground for a moment, stunned.
    “Nobody’s hit me like that before,” she said.  “Except the Master.”
    Azzen grinned, or at least tried to, with his bluish swollen face.  “Iym a fwast leawrneh,” he attempted to say.
    Fel stood up and rubbed her cheek.  “You aint shit,” she grumbled.
    Azzen beamed.
    “Come on,” the girl said.  “You gonna need extra dinner tonight.”
    Azzen wanted to agree, but it hurt to talk, so he just followed the girl back inside.

    “This is boring,” I say.
    “Oh, sorry,” Azzen replies.  “We can do something else.”
    I stretch out on my chair and roll over to look at him , leaning on my arm.  “No, it’s not that.  It’s just all this talk of fighting technique and theory…  And it’s so relaxing here…  I’m sorry.  It’s just putting me to sleep.”
    Azzen chuckled.  “You were pretty interested in it back then.”
    “Yeah, yeah.  Maybe it was just cuz I had to get away from that Master.”
    “Maybe,” Azzen said, finishing off his drink and waving the lei girl over again. 
    “Are you sure I wasn’t more interested in dresses?  Didn’t you say I had a nice skirt and blouse?  How come I had that instead of rags, like the rest of the Rats?”
    “Come to think of it, you did always like nice things.”
    “Of course I did.  I’m a girl.  That’s one thing I do remember about that… ‘Life.’  I always wanted nice things.  And I remember there were times that I would dress up like a princess.”
    “I have seen you in some exquisite get-ups,” Azzen chimed, giving me a wink.  “That’s not ‘til later in the story though.  For a long time, we were pretty poor.”
    “Oh, that sucks.  But where did I get my skirt?  There was something about it.  I remember.”
    “You’re starting to remember.  That’s good,” Azzen says.  The Lei girl takes our tray and he pays.
    “Let’s get out of here,“ he says.  “Go somewhere fun.”
    “Okay…” I say.  I can tell he’s avoiding the question for some reason. 
    Azzen holds out his hand and I take it.  The next moment, we’re in a store.  I look around and see all sorts of sea-gear.  Snorkels, surf boards, flippers, floaties, and anything else I can imagine.  Azzen walks to the counter and talks to an attendant.  I wander around and look through a bin of seashells.
    He comes back not long later, carrying a couple black bundles and a big sack of gear and a smaller store bag.
    “They’re not dresses,” he says.  “But yours should fit.”
    I reach out to peak in the small bag, but he takes my hand and we vanish again.  This time, we appear in a dressing room.  Azzen drops the small bag, steals a quick kiss on my cheek and tells me to come out when I’m dressed.  I tense up at the stolen kiss, but he leaves before I can decide if I’m angry or want more.  My heart is pounding at just the thought of it and I realize I’m way too worked up over a stupid boy.  A stupid, handsome, boy with penetrating eyes, soft lips and gentle, yet powerful hands.  And a charming laugh and an enchanting smile…  Ugh.  I need to get out of my head. 
    Pushing those thoughts aside, I pick up the bag and pull out what’s inside.
    It’s a tight bikini, black with red swirls, with a skirt-frilled bottom.  The cut fits me perfectly, pulling my boobs together in a provocative way.  It’s snug and comfy, letting me move around without worrying about anything popping out.  The swirly design is spicy and vaguely reminds me of the way the boy teleports.  It’s perfect.  A little too perfect.  It makes me wonder how much Azzen really knows about my anatomy.
    Also in the bag is a knit white sundress, some big black and white checkered shades, matching sandals, a few accessorizing bracelets, and a big white oversized beach hat.  I love it.  I don the outfit and check myself out in the mirror, making sure everything looks perfect.  My reflection looks like a celebrity.  I’m going to make jaws drop.
    Smiling brightly, I exit the stall and find Azzen waiting for me.
    His outfit consists of black, blue, and white board shorts, some Oakly’s… and that’s all.  It’s all he needs.  I try not to let my own jaw drop. 
    If he was handsome before, he’s officially gorgeous.  I’m not going to go into detail, but I‘m glad I‘ve got my sunglasses on, so I can admire his gratuitous features.  He also ran some water through his hair, letting it drip onto his masculine body, rolling across his shoulders and sliding down his chest.  I can’t help but to want to press up against it and feel if he’s as solid as he looks, but I hold my composure. 
    He offers me his arm, I link my hand in, and he leads me outside to the beach.  Stepping outside into the warm air and knowing we both look amazing, I feel like I’m queen of the world.
    It turns out we’re at a different beach.  There’re a lot less people here, and I’m almost disappointed that there aren’t more to see me.  Azzen leads me to a couple towels he’s laid out next to the big bag of gear.  After our short arrival onto the scene, I look around while he pulls out scuba gear.
    “I’ve never been scuba diving before!” I say excitedly as he reveals the tanks and masks. 
    He flashes me one of those bright smiles and I feel my pulse begin to race.  Azzen takes off his sunglasses and looks up from preparing the gear.  He gives me a sly wink.  When he’s got it all unloaded, he stretches wide, flexing his muscles and showing off his form.  I flush red.  I wonder if he can hear my heart beating.  Knowing him, probably.  He probably knows exactly what he’s doing.  What a jerk. 
    I begin to calm down.
    I’m actually glad that Azzen knows what he’s doing, because like I said, I’ve never been scuba diving before.  He helps me suit up and then takes my hand.  We teleport, gear and all, miles out into the ocean. 
    After dropping in with a splash, we start swimming down and down, towards the living coral reef.  The fish swarm around me in huge schools of bright colors.  They’ve got stripes and spots.  They’re big and small.  I’ve never seen anything like this, not even in an aquarium. 
    A large lavender fish with yellow spots drifts by, and several smaller fish flit around, following it.  Two ancient sea turtles pass by and eye us with wise indifference. 
    We reach the reef and begin to cruise along it, taking in sights of large starfish, sea anenomies, spiny sea urchins, and darting fishies.  Azzen points out a long orange and yellow sea cucumber and shows me that you can pet it.  I touch it.  Ew!  It’s slimy!
    I can’t laugh and talk with my mask on, but I look at Azzen and he can see the smile in my eyes.  Something occurs to me and I try to mime with my hands that Azzen can speak to me in my head.  I give him that yappy hand gesture and then tap on my head.
    Instead of responding, Azzen just gives me a dismissive wave and beckons me to follow him, diving over a coral reef cliff edge and deeper into the depths of the ocean.  I don’t know why he won’t talk to me.
    I see eels poking their heads out of holes and clown fish cleaning up around anenomie tentacles.  I want to meander around, but Azzen is swimming determinedly away.  I wonder what’s on his mind.  I wonder why he won’t talk.  And for some reason, I keep thinking about why I would have had nice clothes in his story.  There was some reason I didn’t like them, even though I did…
    As I‘m trying to remember, the reef dips off again into an undersea valley and what Azzen is heading towards comes into view.  I gasp at the view.
    Deep in the valley, halfway sunk into the sand and covered in rising seaweed is what looks like an ancient pirate ship!  Azzen looks back at me with an eye grin and I make excited little claps with my hands.  How he knows about this place, I have no idea, but we head straight towards derelict ship. 
    We swim around the large mast of the ship, spiraling down towards the deck.  We actually step onto the hull of the historical rig.  We look around and find a doorway to the inside, but when I try to open it, it doesn’t budge.  Azzen doesn’t bother trying, though I know he could rip the old wood right out.  I’m sure he doesn’t want to do any damage.
    We swim around to the side of the ship and find a hole that looks like it was blown out by a cannon.  Azzen slips through and I follow him into total darkness.  A light appears, shining in my eyes and something touches my face,  I jump at first until I realize it’s Azzen.  He clicks a button on my face mask and a little headlamp turns on.  I thank him with a pat on his arm and we start exploring the innards of the boat.
    It’s all very interesting, but something is nagging on my mind.  That skirt and blouse.  What was it?  The other kids, Rats, would make fun of me for it.  I forget why.  What was it that they used to say?  I remember they told Azzen something about it that upset him and I think he got into a fight or something.  What did they say about me?
    I almost bump into Azzen as I’m lost in my thoughts.  He stops in a doorway and backs up, shaking his head and waving me away.  What was in there?
    I go to peak in, but he grabs my arm and guides me with him.  I yank my arm away and he lets it go, shaking his head with a gestural sigh.  What’s in there?  I want to know.  So I take a peak.
    My breath catches in my throat.  There are bones.  No bodies.  Just bones, scattered around the room.  Skeletons lay around, for the most part in tact, and they’re inside barred cells.  This must have been the brig.  Some of the bone hands are still clutching at the bars and their skulls are open in silent watery wails.  They weren’t let out when the ship went down.  They were never released, still locked up down here, condemned to their prison for eternity.
    I turn away.  I’m not frightened.  More saddened.  I’m glad I looked, even if Azzen didn’t want me to see.  Now they could be remembered.  Now nothing was forgotten.  Somebody had seen.  Somebody knew how they were.
    For some reason I think back to that damn skirt.  It seems trivial right now and I push it out of my mind.  Azzen waves his hand in front of my face and taps the face of a watch that he must have put on with his gear.  I get the message.  We’re running out of time.
    We exit the ship and swim around for a bit more.  I try to take my mind off the haunting memories of those men.  What had happened?  Their stories would never be finished, their lives would never unfold.  Was their importance to be diminished?  Lost cries in the cold.  Who would ever know them?  Who’d would care for their souls?  Why did their foes condemn?  What crime did they impose?  Questions bear reverence to the mark of their silent tomb.  Remembrance wears on my conscience in the dark and lonely gloom.
    Azzen catches my hand as we’re swimming and looks me in the eyes.  I feel his warmth in the cold ocean and he wraps me in his arms, embracing me in a comforting weightless hold.  It makes it hard for me to worry about those men.  He does exactly what I need, as though he knows what I feel.  And he probably does.  Damn jerk.
    I close my eyes and nuzzle my face into his chest, as best I can with the mask on.  The next thing I know, I feel the water drop around us and my body suddenly has weight again.
    Heavy weight with all this gear on.  I look around and see that we’re back on the beach.  I shrug my pack off and Azzen does the same.
    I feel like I came back into existence after experiencing such an ethereal adventure.  Azzen grins at me as he takes his mask off.
    “Have fun?” he asks.
    “Yeah!” I say, suddenly filled with energy, now that I’m back in the sun.  “Lots of fun.  That was amazing!  Thank you.” 
    I give him a bright smile.  Azzen pulls me close.  He lightly holds my chin and leans in.  I don’t shy away as he kisses me on the lips.  It happens quick and casual, as if it’s a normal every day thing.  Which it probably is, for him.  But to me, it’s our first kiss.  And I nearly melt.  My heart does that thing where it jumps into hyper speed and my palms begin to tingle and the hairs prickle on the back of my neck. 
    But Azzen doesn’t seem to notice.  I want him to hug me tight and hold me and maybe take me somewhere more personal where we can just be together for a while, but the idiot turns around and stretches wide in the sunshine.
    I keep my cool and don’t let anything show.  I walk up beside him and give myself a stretch too.  I grab my sunglasses and slip on the knitted sundress.  Azzen watches the waves of the ocean while I start to wring and shake out my hair.  Salt water’s no good for me.  I’m gonna need a shower.

Later that night, after my shower, Azzen agrees to my childish pleas that he tuck me in.
    “And tell me some more of my story, before you go,” I say from under my covers.
    “It’s getting late,” he responds.
    “Oh come on.  You got somewhere to be?”
    “I thought you said it was boring.”
    “It’s not, I was just sleepy and couldn’t pay attention.”
    “Well aren’t you sleepy now?” he asks, eyeing me under my bed sheets.
    “Nope!” I say, popping up into a crosslegged squat.
    Azzen grins.
    I grin back.  I’ve been really good about not bothering him for more information throughout the day.  In Hawaii, we spent all afternoon, and into the night, strolling through outdoor markets and seeing waterfalls.  We had dinner at a fancy restaurant that was wrapped around a huge shark filled aquarium.  I don’t know where Azzen gets his money from, but he seems to have a lot of it.
    But I don’t want his money.  I want his story.  So now, before he leaves, I just need to get at least a quick fix.
    “Well what do you want to hear about?  Since theory of fighting is a bit dry.”
    “I want to know why I had nice clothes and nobody else did,” I state directly.
    Azzen hesitates. 
    “Why is that so important to you?” he asks.
    “Because I know something happened,” I say.
    “It’s really not that important.  Can’t I just leave that out?”
    “What?!  No!  No way!  You can’t leave anything out!” I shout.  “Have you left out anything else?!”
    “No,” Azzen says,  “And I didn’t really leave it out.  I don’t know why you had nice clothes.  I never asked you.  You never told me.”
    “But you know something,” I say.  “Tell me.  Maybe it will help me remember.”
    “That’s what I’m worried about…” Azzen mutters.  He furrows his brow and stares off for a while, then finally shakes his head, giving in to some unknown thought.  “Alright,” he says.  “Full disclosure.  I won’t hide anything from you.  You want the full story and you deserve it, down to the smallest detail.”
    “That’s right,” I say.  “It’s not just your story, it’s mine too.”
    “But I’m not telling you tonight.  Not yet.” Azzen amends.
    “What?  Why not?”
    “We’re not to that part yet,” he says.  “It won’t make sense unless you know how I felt about you.”
    “I know how you feel,” I say.  “I can feel it in the way you look at me and touch me, or in the way you talk to me, or about me.  It’s pretty obvious,” I say with a yawn.
    “But that’s now.  This was then.  I didn’t know you as well.”
    “I barely know you now,” I mumble, laying down and getting comfy.
    “That’s what you think,” Azzen says and then begins telling me about us.

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bleed by E.A. Skanchy is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.