Some people believe in destiny as a way to keep sane in such an unpredictable world. Others believe in destiny as a way to place the blame when things go wrong. But I believe we write our own destinies, `forging a path in the unknown and leaving a trail of regrets behind.
It was my destiny to meet Jackie, sure, but what I made of our relationship was my opportunity to rewrite fate, to blaze a trail. It would be difficult, I knew it, but when I looked in her innocent doe eyes, I knew it was the only way. To make amends for what I had done so long ago.
"Ello, Queen Elizabeth!" Jackie shouted in a British accent. She was wearing a cropped hoodie and gym shorts, stretching before practice. Her hair was growing out into an afro, still shaved at the sides with a clean fade. I could barely keep my breakfast down when she looked right at me like she could see right through my soul.
"Jack," I replied, trying to push down my thoughts, "Eloquent as ever."
She stuck her tongue out while stretching out her calves. I sat in the bleachers while she looked up at me from the field. It was so cliche but I understood the dark reality that lurked behind this highschool romance scene.
"Get up off your lazy butt and come run a lap!"
I pursed my lips, "I don't think so, but thanks for the offer."
She frowned then turned to do some stretches on the ground. I hadn't worked out in so long. What would my family say...?
I gazed at the clouds, trying to leave the world around me and just exist without thoughts or pain. Until I felt someone grab my hand and pull me to my feet, dragging to the field. Jackie had an eager grin as she forced me into a jog, pulling me across the track while I complained and tried to let go. Of course, I could have easily let go of her and took her down in the process. But to me, she was like a delicate flower. Touching her sent electric shocks up my fingers and throughout my body, giving me goosebumps. Just the intrusive thought of hurting her, even in play, made me violently ill. I didn't dare fight her, verbally or physically. She was too precious, too thrown by the world to be hurt even more.
After the first lap, I felt pretty good. I looked over at Jackie, who was looking fine with some red on her cheeks and determination in her eyes. She glanced over at me, almost challengingly. I sped up into the second lap. She sped up with me, making it a competition. After countless laps, pushing and stumbling each other, I was out of breath and sweaty. She laughed through heavy breath and placed her hand on my back, sending electricity all over my body. My entire back felt like it was on fire.
"Not bad for a frilly Brit like you," she teased, punching my arm lightly. I rubbed my arm as if it hurt, maybe subconsciously I wanted to make her feel strong. She always called me British or a Queen because of my pale skin and my name. I guess she associated "Alisabeth" with Queen Elizabeth. Little did she know where it actually came from, who my family was...
"Oh, shut up!"
She giggled and snorted, her entire body shaking and a little loose curl in her hair bouncing with it. It took everything in me not to just run at the sight of her. Not to melt into the turf below me and sink into the earth.
"Listen, I've gotta go to work. You want a drive?"
"Yes," I answered, a bit too quickly. I felt the need to protect her, stay with her all the time. It went against everything I had been taught when I was little. Something about being older was different like I was finally fully aware of what I was taught. With my own moral compass, my own perception of the world, it was difficult to make out what was ingrained in my head and what were my real feelings. Was this a position of a predator watching their prey, protecting it so they could be the one to attack? Or was there something more, something deeper inside that was preventing me from fulfilling my destiny.
I waited outside the locker room, leaning against the wall while she changed into her work clothes. She worked at a supermarket in the heart of our small town, across the street from a liquor shop and a thrift store. It was difficult to imagine her getting hurt at a little supermarket in such a small town, but being without her felt empty but scary. My memories took over my mind, which led to images of her being hurt and killed filling my mind's eye. Maybe I was traumatized but the thought of her death broke me.
"Alright, you ready?" Jackie came out of the locker room carrying her duffel bag and speaking in a British accent, "Innit?"
I rolled my eyes and walked along with her, "Stick to your American accent, please."
"Right, love, whatever you say," She continued in her accent.
Her car was old and beat up. She worked really hard just to afford it, which was impressive considering her background. When she turned it on, the heat blasted us and I felt warm air all around. It made my cheeks hot and my head woozy. She drove with dramatic tendencies like any slight movement could cause an accident. I watched her carefully, as her eyes narrowed and focused on the road in front of her. The realization felt like a knife in my stomach. She thought she lost her parents to a car crash, didn't she? That's what she told me, back when we started becoming close. When she first told me, I felt like a brick was dropped on my head.
"Today has totally weird vibes," She confessed to me quietly, not taking her eyes off the road.
"Does it?" I asked.
"Yeah, I can't describe it," She admitted, "But it's just... off vibes. You know? There's something there."
I frowned. That didn't sound good. Especially, being who she was, without knowing who she was or what her feelings meant. I sat up in the car seat, looking out the windows with a laser-like vision. Her confession had put me on edge.
I asked her to drop me off at the thrift shop across the street from the supermarket, so I could keep an eye on her and everything around her. If anything shady happened, I would be right there to help. Little did she know what I was capable of. Little did she know what I had already done.
The shop was completely empty except for an old lady playing Suduko at the front. Little pots and pans, racks of mix-matched clothes, and random junk covered the shop in a helter-skelter. I smiled at her as I moved to the side of the building, where I could watch Jackie walk into the supermarket through the window. I hoped she didn't catch me staring. Somehow, meeting her eyes was deadly.
"Stalking someone, dear?"
I almost drop kicked and disarmed the voice behind me until I realized it was the old lady, who set down the Sudoku and was sitting closer to me. I gulped nervously, pushing down my tendency to fight her while trying to come up with something to say.
"Don't worry, honey," She chuckled while going back to her Sudoku,
"I saw you were with her."
"We're friends," I managed to choke out, but it felt weird on my tongue. Friends? Was that even a way to describe our relationship? Jackie would probably see it that way. Any outsider probably would too. But deep down, it felt dishonest and demeaning to call us friends. She sent chills and flames up and down my body and made me go into fight or flight every time I was with her. Her eyes made me feel like my soul was being sucked out of my body and every time she touched me I wanted to melt into the ground beneath me. Yet, every moment she was vulnerable to me, I took advantage of it. I could almost feel a knife beneath my fingers. I could feel myself toying with a trigger. I was a predator and she was prey, but sometimes it felt like the other way around. Every time she laughed off a joke and playfully pushed me, I was the one left feeling shaken to my core.
The old lady looked up and raised an eyebrow at me, "I see. So you just came here to spy on your girlfriend?"
"She's not my-" I started, but my voice was loud and defensive. Not because the idea of dating her made me upset. It didn't. In a different reality, I would have entertained the idea. Maybe even took pleasure in it. But the thought of hurting her that way, in this reality, felt so wrong. The concept couldn't even formulate in my brain without it hurting all over.
The lady laughed, "Just humor an old lady, would you? The look in your eyes is hungry, vulnerable. I've seen that look before."
My heart was beating rapidly. I took that as anger and made her words offensive to me. But deep down, I wondered if she was right. She was mistaking my hunting Jackie as a romantic interest. But that seemed to out of the question to even consider.
"It's not what you think," I finally said. She shook her head with a firm smirk and went back to her Sudoku.
When I turned around, though, I couldn't see Jackie in the supermarket. My heart fell to my stomach. The supermarket was covered in windows, floor to ceiling glass. Unless she was in the backroom, she wasn't there anymore. My heart was beating and my entire body was shaking. She couldn't get away from me that easily...
The bell jingled as I slammed the thrift shop door shut while running out. I couldn't hear the shop-owner but I didn't care. I looked away from one moment and Jackie was gone. Why was life so unfair to me?
She wasn't inside the main room of the supermarket. I ran across the aisles, turning on my hill and checking down each one, calling her name. It was no use searching in this place. She wasn't there and I had already lost time. The street was relatively empty. It was eerily quiet and dim. The streetlights just turned on as the sun was setting.
"Jackie!"I screamed, my voice echoing throughout the streets. My voice was raw and ragged. The wind was picking up and I finally started to understand what Jackie was talking about those weird vibes. A chill was deep in my bones. Standing there, alone in the street and gripping the pocketknife I stole, my feelings were so conflicted swirling within me. Did I really care about her or did I not want my family to get to Jackie before me? Looking down at the pocket knife, realizing I had lost the knife was given to kill Jackie, I knew the answer.
Before I lost all control, there she was. Her eyes were tear-filled and terrified, like a caged animal. She grabbed my arms and pulled me to the side of the street. Before I could react, she threw her arms around me and rested her head on my shoulder while sobbing. Instinctively, I put my arms around her protectively and rubbed her back comfortingly. Her sobs were horrid, scared, and overwhelmed. They sounded like glass breaking. Her hair was wild and her clothes were all messy. She looked like she had been mugged. After a shaky silence of her crying, I finally broke it.
She sniffled and took her head off my shoulder, trying to regain some sort of composure.
"I-I it just..."She wiped her eyes and smoothed out her hair, "There was this guy in a wheelchair and he fell out and... and I tried to help but they surrounded me."
"Who?" My voice was high and seething.
"I don't know," She sniffled, "They all had guns and knives and I... I was so scared."
I wanted to attack them, to stab and go feral. But another part of, subconsciously fighting deep within me, wanted to hold her tight and never let go. To comfort her instead of fight.
"Where did they go?" I asked, my voice heavy and ragged.
"I don't know," She admitted, "But that's not the worst part... I got so scared, it just sorta happened."
"What?" Panic flooded my throat, "What happened?"
"Fire..." Her eyes looked hollow and horrified, "There was so much fire. I was so blinded with rage and fear once I could finally see... there was nothing but ashes."
It felt like cement settled into my stomach. She unleashed her powers, probably on my people. Watching her broken expression, so terrified by what she had done, she had no idea what she had done. She didn't even realize it was her. My face must have been a kaleidoscope of expressions because she looked up at me with curious eyes.
"This is bad," I finally decided, hissing under my breath, "We gotta get out of here."
I grabbed her wrist and pulled her down the street, unsure of where I was going, I just knew it was away from here.
"We have to leave. Come on!"
"What are you talking about, Liz?" Her voice was breathless and scared.
We were already running down the street, through the treeline, and into a dark forest. The sun was already set and I could barely make out Jackie's face in the darkness. Coniferous trees surrounded us when Jackie yanked my hand away and leaned against a tree. She was shaking, tears running down her face, staring at me like a different person.
"Liz, what the hell happened back there?"
I didn't want to talk about it. I didn't want to explain it. I ran away from everything just to avoid this, but obviously, there was no escape. Jacquline and I were destined for this.
"We're gonna have to travel far. We should stop for rest."
She grabbed my arms and pulled me to face her. I was so caught off guard I let her do it. Her eyes were pleading with mine.
"You know what that was, don't you? And do you mind telling me where you got that stamina to sprint a few miles into the woods without breaking a sweat?"
"I can explain once we get out of here."
"Why not now?" She yelled.
Watching her, so innocent and scared, I realized what I had to do. My heart was stone and the pain filled my veins like venom. I felt like a hunter killing a baby doe. But I knew what she was capable of. When cornered, she turned people into ashes. They could've been my family. It would be a sick twist of irony, but it stung that that was a possibility. I took a deep breath and said what I needed to say.
"I'll let you know in the morning. Just get some rest, I'll keep watch."
"What?!" She exclaimed, "Why can't we just go back to my house or something?
I didn't want to say it. I don't know why I did.
"Do you want the police to question you? For human remains? And no alibi?"
Her face went pale. I could see the color leave her eyes. I didn't want to hurt her, but I had a plan. If only I had the strength to stick with it.
"I-" Her voice wavered, "You think I'll be safe out here? Just for tonight?"
I swallowed hard and tried to keep my tears from falling, "Yeah. I'll keep a good watch."
All the energy left her. She was stuck, wide-eyed, sitting in the grass, so close to crying. I felt terrible. Horrible. Like the scum of the Earth. I sat on a rock nearby, watching our surroundings as she slept. Right before she fell asleep, she said something that made me almost stop everything.
"I really care about you, Liz," She mumbled groggily, "I trust you. I know you'll get me out of this."
Somehow, that made me feel even worse than I already did. I covered my mouth to keep from sobbing. I didn't answer. She was already asleep. That feeling of protectiveness turned to heartache.
The night was dark and cool. It was just the two of us.
She looked so much like her parents it hurt. I remembered that night when my family took me for my first mission. I grew up trained to kill people just like Jackie, those who were able to do fantastical things with their minds. My family, the hunters, killed magic-users because they were so evil. Bending destiny to fit their will, impacting all of their lives for their selfish desires. I was so young when I started being trained. I didn't quite understand what death was. Where we went after we died, why we died, what happened when we died. I didn't understand that a little girl my age would become an orphan that night. Yet I handed them the knife.
Sitting here, blood on my hands, watching Jacqueline sleep peacefully in the moonlight. After taking so much from her, she still trusted me. Maybe even love me. It made me realize that I had been selfish, spending time with her for so long without telling her about the dangers around. I wanted to keep her to myself for so long. But I knew I couldn't.
I had to get her to safety, with other magic-users. Her parents created the first sanctuary for people like her, and Jacqueline was supposed to be the cultivation of that hard work for unity. I wasn't sure if there still was a sanctuary out there for magic-users, after the death of the founders, but I hoped there would be. It would be the best option for her. And the only way to make amends for the lives I stole would be to give Jackie her's.