Falling in love with fiction is the worst type of heartbreak. She’s already on track to meet her prince charming. He’ll fall in love with her wit. He’ll be the one to tuck that piece of hair behind her ear. He’ll get to hold her in his arms and mine will still be empty. I’ll just have this book with pages and pages of her.
She was written for me. The intent was the world, but it’s me she found. She feels too familiar. Blonde hair and blue eyes, with freckles all over. Brave at her worst. Content at her best. I know she’s just a character in a book, but she feels real to me. Every time she gets in trouble, my heart sinks.
When she fell from the roof a few chapters ago, my heart stopped. I had to close the book and take a long walk before I could read on. I could see it, even with my eyes closed. Her blond hair streaming past her face. She was fisting the air, looking for anything to grab onto. She’s so small; you could lose her in the birds.
The worst thing about having honey-colored hair is how easy the dirt shows up. It’s a shame I’m not a farmer, because I have enough dirt stuck to my face to start a field of my own. Hay pokes into my skin from every direction. It’s not the soft landing I was hoping for, but I can’t complain. Breathing is a luxury I’m not taking lightly anymore.
Prick after prick hits my skin as I crawl out of the pile. Don’t let anyone tell you hay’s soft. It’s about as soft as that needle they dropped in it. I’m just emerging as their new scarecrow. The trickle of blood down my neck doesn’t faze me at this point. It’s all déjà vu. Prick after prick; staring down at me from the roof of that barn.
They were keen on getting me to the edge. They were pretty slick about it too. I’m glad those idiots kept this pile of hay for me. I don’t intend for their fall to be as soft.
She saved herself like she always does. They got their karma. It was a sweet moment, reading those words on the page. She knows how to make it hurt. Dixie’s never been one to sugarcoat things. You can hear it in the way she speaks. Her silvery voice constantly echoes in my head. My inner voice, driving me crazy. “Are you looking at me because you’re entranced or intimidated?” she’d ask.
“Both,” I’d tell her.
She’d laugh with that lopsided smile. Then she’d reach out and grab my hand. “Do you know why I’m looking at you?”
“Why?” I’d pull her closer, wrapping my arms around her waist. There’s a good chance I’d never let her go either. Not when she’s smiling at me like that.
Her hands would come up to cup my face. She’d have to get on her tiptoes to reach. “Because you see me.” She’d cock her head to the side to look at me. I mean, look at me like no one else ever has. Through the pages and the words. She’s looking at me.
It doesn’t feel right that I still have to sleep alone. I’ve got a perfectly good bed that sits half empty. She’s sleeping under trees in the rain. She’s hardly sleeping. The bags under her eyes are proof of that. She spends her nights looking over her shoulder. It would be so much easier if I could just bring her here.
I’d go to wherever she was pretending to sleep and hook my arms under her legs, bundling her to my chest. She’d be too tired to protest. Not that she would mind. I’d bring her back to my apartment so she could sleep a full night. I’d even stay up and keep an eye out for her. Anything to make her feel safe. It would become our place. Dixie Quinn and Ryan Chase; apartment three of the Hillside complex. New York, New York.
“Do you want the left or right side of the bed?” I’d ask. She’d ignore me completely, jumping onto the middle with a shriek. “Middle then?” I’d jump next to her, rolling over so I could look down at her. My breath would hit her cheek.
Her own breaths would slow, and her eyes would dilate. “This is where we exist?” she’d ask. Her eyes would flick up, meeting mine. The vast blue in them would take me by surprise, but it couldn’t distract me from the blush in her cheeks.
I swear I can picture it. Looking down at this book just hurts. I shove a pillow out of the way, sinking into my bed. Dixie just snuck into the forest. Another attempt to escape from the countless people chasing her.
Every tree and rock look the same out here. I wouldn’t know which way led home. Not that I need to. The people back there want to kill me. I’d rather be killed by something in here. The chances of it are good too. Howls echo off the trees.
I’m lucky that someone’s watching out for me. I wouldn’t be alive if someone wasn’t looking out for me. An angel, maybe? I’m not sure angels can travel this far north. Their wings might freeze.
“No, but devils can,” the cold voice takes me by surprise. I spin around enough to see him at the edge of the clearing. The white of his eyes shine through the shadows, watching me like a predator.
I don’t know how he found me. Every track was covered. “Late night stroll?” I ask. My hand instinctively travels to the holder at my belt. My hand closes around nothing but air.
He tosses the gun into the dirt in front of him. “You’re too predictable,” he chimes. His hand goes to his own gun, smiling at me through the dark. “I’ll give you a head start,” he taunts.
My dog jumps when I slam the book shut. I swear I can feel her grabbing my arm, looking for a way out. I wish I had one to give her. With the barn, it was easy. There’s always a pile of hay somewhere near a barn. The river was another story. We had to fight hard to get ourselves out of the current.
This is something else. She was smart with her plan. Every step was taken care of. No one knew she was leaving. Her gun was there when she left. It doesn’t make sense how this guy keeps finding her. How are we supposed to deal with the enemy if we can’t figure him out?
I jump off the bed, reaching for my gym bag. This membership is coming in handy lately. I throw the book inside. I need to feel what she’s feeling right now. Adrenaline already pumps through me. There’s some anger with it too. It’s been raining all day and my dog tracked mud through my house. “Stay,” I yell out, grabbing my umbrella at the door.
My feet slip in the mud. Every step sends me sliding. I can feel his presence behind me, closing in. I could cry out, but no one would come. Even if this forest was filled with people, no one would help me. Everyone fights me. Every step fights me. He chose his entrance well. He found me at rock bottom, full of mud and doubt.
The sound of the gun cocking rings in my ears. He didn’t come here to talk. He’s here with a death sentence. Even that can’t seem to get my feet to move faster.
The first shot stills everything. Even my heart goes quiet in my ears. The howls seem to die down too. The universal sign of a predator has just come out, and anything with a brain is running away. Why can’t I? I just need some traction. I need a cloud to cover the moon long enough for me to lose him. There’s too much light. It’s too bright.
This treadmill doesn’t go fast enough. I’m on the fastest setting with the highest incline. It’s not enough. I need to find an actual hill if I’m going to make any progress.
The logo on the screen in front of me just irritates me. It’s too cheery for what’s happening. I poke at the screen until the logo blinks out. Then I mess with the lights.
She's right about it being too bright. It makes every step more of a challenge. One slip up and I'm on my back. I need it to be dark enough that I can focus. I’m the only one in here anyway. No one would care if I turned out all the lights and tried to run in the dark. It would give me a way to be with her.
The second the cloud covered the moon, he disappeared into the trees. That was supposed to be my move. Now I don’t know which way is safe and which is a trap. A toneless voice is the only sign of him. It surrounds me, asking questions, “Where would you run? You don’t have anything or anyone.” I can’t figure out where it’s coming from.
“As far away as I can get,” I speak into the void. I need him to keep talking so I can figure out where he’s hiding. At least distract him while I get away.
The shadows are too dark to see any movement in them. I take a slow step back. “This is unlike you, Ms. Quinn. No plan? Just walking into the dark. There are monsters out here, you know.”
“You are the monster,” I respond. I turn left, swearing his voice sounded stronger here. He’s too good at hiding. He’s been doing it our whole lives. I take another step back, asking my next question, “Why did you follow me?”
Silence is my answer. For minutes, I stand in pure darkness. No signs of movement or words or even howling. It’s all gone. The tension in the air grows electric, surrounding me. I’m afraid to breathe too loud, breaking the trance. I manage fifteen long steps backward until the crack of a branch under my foot startles me. I try to stay quiet, waiting for the silence to engulf me again.
“Because you’re mine,” comes the sudden answer. Hands clamp onto my arms, dragging me into a darkness so black I can’t find the moon.
The moon was our enemy and now it’s the missing piece. It’s too dark now. I turned out the lights and now I can’t see the punching bag in front of me. “She’s not yours,” I mumble, taking another swing. I manage to hit the bag this time, taking no satisfaction from it. The punching bag they strung up isn’t real enough. I want it to have a cocky smile and a thousand questions. I want it to be a coward hiding in the woods I get to hunt.
Where’s her prince charming? He should be there by now. Chapter after chapter, she’s been betrayed and hurt. She’s been fighting alone. I can practically feel her panic. It hurts.
Stones dig into my back. “Please,” I barely choke out. His boot presses down harder on my neck. My air supply shrinks, but his smile grows. It’s all a sick game. Tears blur my vision of the figure standing over me.
He’s blocking out the moon. He’s blocking out my angel with it. The cold metal on my cheek feels wrong. But I don’t have enough air or energy to fight. My fingers close around the metal. There’s no lifeline here. Only the end.
I scan the page again. This isn’t the end of the book. There’s another hundred pages left, at least. Why is she talking like this?
I turn the page, seeing nothing but blank paper on the next. The fight in me leaves as fast as it arrived. I slump back against the wall, using the light from a screen to read the words. It’s too real. This book has become my life.
The gun pushes deeper into my skin. I know he doesn’t want to do it. He wants me to give up and go back with him. He doesn’t realize that I’m not that girl and that is not my journey.
I came into these woods looking for something. As he moves from above me, getting a better grip on the gun, it becomes very clear. Moonlight shines across my face. It brings me the answers I’ve been looking for. It’s so clear in this moment. After a long look, I let out a breath and close my eyes. I’m ready.
My breath matches hers, but I don’t close my eyes. I read her words over and over again. I read further down the page and drop the book. It doesn’t fall shut. It stays open on that very page. The words look up at me. The grip on my arm could be phantom or not. The smile on my face is real. I read the words a hundred times and still don’t believe them.
My story isn’t over yet. I found what I came here looking for. I found my angel. I found Ryan and he found me. We still have a lot of living left to do.