“Hellooo, anybody there? Trythia to Kaelen!”
Kierah jumped, the coffee in her mug dancing threateningly close to the lip of her mug with the sudden motion.
“Oh, hey Ari,” she smiled.
She actually didn’t have to change her expression at all. She’d already been smiling, she realized. She hadn’t even noticed.
She also hadn’t noticed Ari standing there.
“Well, apparently I was having an entire conversation with myself,” Ari sighed, feigning exasperation. “You didn’t even hear me.”
“Sorry,” Kierah ducked her head a little, but she couldn’t apologize too sincerely. She didn’t feel that bad. She felt fantastic, actually. Tired, but that didn’t even matter.
Ari raised an eyebrow, and took a step back. “What’s up with you?” she asked.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, what’s got you all dreamy and doe-eyed?”
“Dreamy and doe-eyed?” Kierah repeated with a laugh.
“Okay, fine, I’ll take three guesses.”
Kierah blinked, glancing away sheepishly. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“But you do know I’m not stupid.”
“I didn’t call you stupid!”
“Then you’ll admit I’m right.”
Kierah didn’t answer, but she could feel herself blush.
“I knew it!” Ari exclaimed, slamming her own coffee cup down on the table.
“What do you want me to say?” Kierah asked, still smiling.
“Say you’re falling for him.”
Kierah grinned. “Yes, he makes me happy. And sad. Is that wrong?”
“No, it’s not wrong! Wait, did you say sad?”
Ari finally sat down in the seat across from Kierah, her reporter’s face slipping into place as she prepared for an investigation. “Why sad? If you’re falling for him, this is a happy thing, Kierah!”
“Yes, it’s happy. I’m happy. I don’t remember ever being this happy, ever, in my life,” Kierah was still smiling, but her voice took on a slightly more serious tone. “But what can it actually lead to?”
“And that means…”
“Whoa whoa,” Ari leaned back as if she was in a speeder that had accelerated too fast. “The future? You’re thinking about the future? Kid, slow down!”
“Why are you looking that far ahead? Sheesh girl, you’re finally falling for a guy, who very well might be falling for you — and you’re gonna ruin it by thinking long-term before anything’s even begun?”
“But,” Kierah protested, “think about it, though. What could possibly happen for … us, if there is an ‘us’? He’s in the mines. He doesn’t even know what for. He doesn’t think he’ll get out.
“And I’m here in the palace, but that’s only temporary. Whenever this experiment ends, I don’t know what’ll happen to me, but chances are I won’t be able to go visit him.
“See what I mean? No matter which way things turn out, chances are, we’re gonna have to end … whatever we start. Chances are, it’s — it’s gonna hurt. There’s no way that this, whatever this is, can end without hurting.”
Kierah looked down at her coffee and shrugged.
“No, seriously,” Ari pressed. “Are you looking for a reason not to start something with him? Because that’s what it sounds like.”
“I don’t know.”
“Yes, you do. Talk to me. Please talk to me.”
“Like an interview?”
Ari paused. “Nah. Like a friend.”
That made Kierah smile again. “Well, when you put it that way.”
“What? After everything we’ve been through, you don’t think we’re friends?”
“It’s just nice to hear you say it,” Kierah hugged her warm mug.
Ari leaned forward. “Then think of how nice it’ll be to hear him say something even more than ‘friend.’ Think of everything you’ve been through together. It’s way more than you and me. Plus he’s a guy, and also cute, am I right? Think about it.”
“Because I want to tell him how I feel. I want to hear him say something back.
“But I also don’t want to think about the day we have to say goodbye. When the prince decides the experiment is over and I’m outta here.
“Or if someday I go back there, and he isn’t there. If he can’t hold Garn off, or if the guards —
“There’s no guarantee he’ll always be there. There’s no guarantee I’ll always be here.
“And — and I’m scared. Ari, I’m scared. That’s all. That’s why I think about the future, and where this could possibly go. Because no matter how I turn it, I can’t see any way that whatever we start, won’t end.
“That’s what I’m scared of: the end.”
Ari was quiet for a moment, but only for a moment.
“When that end comes, whatever form it takes, which will you regret more: Taking a chance that maybe you both feel the same way — or pretending to not feel anything?
“What if you tell him? What if it’s like a sunset, so blinding and brilliant that it takes your breath away and makes you feel alive and free, even just for that instant before the sky goes black? It might not be forever, but wouldn’t it have been worth it anyway, to live and feel before you lose the chance?
“Or you could look the other way and never know that light, trying to protect yourself from getting hurt, which, let’s face it, you’re gonna get hurt no matter what happens at this point, right? If you never get to see him again, you’re telling me that wouldn’t hurt right now, even if you don’t tell him how you feel? Hurt is the risk we take when we care.
Chapter 26: “One wrong move and it’ll shatter” coming Thursday! Two more days!
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Missed the last chapter?
Kierah walked by the kitchens as often as she could inconspicuously manage, to sneak a glance at Rothan. Sometimes, he’d be nowhere in sight. Other times, she’d see him, and they’d share a quick wave. She wasn’t entirely forbidden from checking in on him; he was, after all, one of the children rescued by her … Continue reading Chapter 24: An unexpected invitation