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Sandstorm

SANDSTORM

 

 

 

Francine L. Zapater

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nº Registro propiedad intelectual: B-1

 

 

English translation by Stuart Kelling

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The sun might be obscured by clouds for all eternity

 

The sea might dry up in an instant

 

The axis of the world might break

 

Like brittle glass

 

It will all happen! Death will cover me

 

With its funeral ribbon;

 

But the flame of the love that I carry inside

 

Will never be extinguished.”

 

 

Gustavo A. Becquer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prologue

 

 

He wasn’t real. He couldn’t be real.

 

My mind was playing tricks on me. I rubbed my eyes, trying to get rid of the image in front of me.

 

It was him. There was no doubt about it. I’d have recognised him anywhere. For a moment, everything was like it was before. I’d woken up from a bad dream. I smiled uneasily. That’s all it had been, a bad dream. Now everything would be like before, it would all fit together again. I thought he’d gone forever, but fate had given me a second chance, and now he was here, with his big almond-coloured eyes and his elegant poise. Now there were no pieces missing from the jigsaw puzzle that was my life. I threw myself onto him, the tears streaming down my face. But this time they were tears of happiness.

 

Unfortunately, the joy of seeing him again was as short-lived as his embrace. He shifted his gaze beyond me, into the room, centering on the figure standing very still behind me. I turned slowly to look at Erik and from his tense face and dark expression, I could tell what was about to happen.

 

I would have to choose. Again. Only this time I wasn’t sure. They were both my life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Messenger

 

 

“It is curious that the emptier life is, the more it weighs you down”.

 

Leon Daudí

 

 

 

Half an hour later, he could still see nothing more than his own reflection in the steamed-up glass, but it didn’t matter. His neurons were working at a frantic pace, trying to understand what he’d just found out. He shook his head. It was crazy. Impossible. He’d spent years doing what Carl had done in his day and nothing like this had ever happened. But the evidence was clear and the acts left no room for doubt.

 

Luke moved reluctantly away from the window, shuffling towards the big sofa. How was he going to explain this to his brother? How would the truth go down with Stella?

 

‘That’s enough’, he admonished himself in exasperation. Was it really his problem anyway?

 

No.

 

So the consequences that his investigations might have on their relationship didn’t really matter either. If Mr Perfect and Stella couldn’t get over the truth, he didn’t care. Quite the opposite. He couldn’t care less. He would just play his part. But what if this was the chance he’d been waiting for? And what if his moment had finally arrived?

 

The doorbell rang and shook him out of his dark musings.

 

‘Mr Luke Wallace?’

 

‘Who wants to know?’ he replied without confirming his identity, while his questioner fixed him with an icy, piercing gaze.

 

‘I have an important message for Mr Wallace. Is that you?’

 

Luke took a few moments to examine the appearance of the strange visitor who had dared to bother him at that time of night. He was strongly-built, no taller than he was, with a shiny bald patch and fierce eyes. By the look of him, he’d been sent by someone who wanted to intimidate him. But he hadn’t managed it.

 

He looked straight into the stranger’s eyes before answering in the affirmative.

 

‘Yes. It is.’

 

Then everything fell into senseless chaos. The messenger pushed Luke to the floor and began kicking him in the ribs. Luke tried to get away from his attacker, to defend himself against the blows which were raining down on him. He let his mind, cold and rational, overcome the pain and, as if by magic, he knew what to do. Moving quickly, he grabbed his adversary’s foot just as it was about to land another blow.

 

The man gave a grunt of surprise when Luke lifted his ankle to the right and slammed him down against the floor. He was bruised and hurting, but angry too. Very, very angry. He stood over the stranger and pressed his heavy boot onto his neck, while he began to take possession of the mind and the will of his stocky, bald assailant with a calmness that would terrify any human being. Despite the messenger’s tough guy look, his brain was pretty simple, easy to manipulate. Like a child’s. Luke stared straight into his eyes and saw the reflection of his ferocious stare in the terrified ruffian’s pupils.

 

‘You shouldn’t go into houses without an invitation, let alone attack your host. Is that how your parents brought you up?’ snarled Luke, cynical and threatening, while the thug writhed in pain under his destructive gaze.

 

If Luke could destroy the complex mind of a Kaelian, turning this simple human into a drooling lump of meat would be the simplest of tasks.

 

Stella’s face appeared in his mind just then, stopping him short, throwing him completely. He knew he’d made a lot of enemies. He hadn’t exactly played fair to get the information he wanted and he might have to pay for that, but Stella? What was she doing in the mind of this orang-utan?

 

‘How do you know the girl?’ asked Luke warily, after he’d tied the stranger securely to a chair.

 

‘What girl?’ he mumbled in reply, wincing in pain because of his split lip.

 

‘The girl I saw in your mind just now. The girl who was going to be your next target if you’d managed to get rid of me,’ explained Luke, the adrenaline converted into fury, boiling in his blood.

 

‘How the hell did you see what I was thinking? What kind of freak are you?!’

 

‘A very dangerous one. Now, answer!’ he roared, landing a punch which knocked a couple of teeth out and left a trail of blood and saliva on the man’s jaw. ‘How do you know her?’

 

‘I don’t know anything about her, I don’t even know her. I swear. All I know is if I don’t take her to whoever’s paying me before the deadline, they’ll kill me,’ the stranger confessed in desperation.

 

‘So will I if you even dare to bring her to your filthy mind again,’ threatened Luke furiously, punching him again, this time on the chin.

 

Thick red blood spurted out of the stranger’s mouth and stained Luke’s T-shirt.

 

‘What deadline are you talking about? When do you have to hand her over?’

 

‘That all depends on whether she’s dead or alive,’ the man replied with a touch of satisfaction in his voice, as if he knew that would hurt Luke more than the punch he’d just taken.

 

Luke launched a violent, accurate kick against the stranger’s knee which bent his leg back at an inhuman angle. There was an unpleasant cracking sound as bone broke through flesh.

 

A howl of pain rang out around the room.

 

‘I’ll ask you nicely one more time. What’s the deadline for handing over the girl?’

 

‘Six months. After that they’ll kill me,’ he gasped through tears and pain.

 

‘You won’t have the luck to live that long, you bastard,’ added Luke, clenching his fists. ‘Who’s paying you? Tell me, you loser! Who are you working for?’

 

‘I don’t know, I’ve never met him. I get my instructions by phone and I get paid by bank transfer. I never have personal contact with my clients,’ he sobbed.

 

Luke sensed that the feeling of blind rage which he understood so little and which he was just beginning to control, had taken him over completely. The rational part of him had vanished, for better or worse since his feelings for Stella had been awakened, and now these emotions, so base and so human, had infected the Kaelian like a virus. With a roar, he slammed his fist into the messenger’s chest, the pressure making his ribcage cave in with the force of the blow. He sensed the life leaving him with one last breath.

 

Luke drew back his arm from the lifeless body on the chair, the head lolling to one side, eyes open and a look of pain and panic on his face. He pulled the eyelids down as a reflex action, so he didn’t have to see the look of terror on the dead man’s face. The feelings of guilt that he had just discovered were the least agreeable compared to the rest of the human emotions that he’d been experiencing lately. He was a monster. He had become a monster. Letting his love for Stella grow in his heart was the biggest mistake of his life. He’d opened Pandora’s Box. A tumult of emotions had brutally invaded him, taking possession of him, dominating him, leaving him out of control. Fear, fury, pain, passion, rage and revenge… And all of this was because of his weakness since he’d been here on Earth.

 

It was no use regretting it now. The evil had been done and Stella was in danger, in real danger. This wasn’t the time for regrets or flowery sentiments; he had to talk to Erik, he had to tell him everything he’d found out about Stella, about her father and the mission he’d been carrying out on Earth and, above all, he had to help Erik to protect Stella from the threat that was stalking her.

 

He went to the bathroom and in a single movement pulled off his bloodstained T-shirt and pants, feeling a stab of pain in his side where the messenger had kicked him.

 

Fifteen minutes later, he left the attic apartment he had rented in Munich and without thinking twice stole a motorbike parked on the sidewalk and headed for the airport, destination Vancouver, his decision firmly taken and un uncertain future hot on his heels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Strange Coincidences

 

 

“We often find our destiny by following paths that we take to avoid it.”

 

Jean de la Fontaine

 

 

 

 

 

‘Good morning sleepyhead. I brought you breakfast.’

 

I drew back the curtains next to the bed and saw the blue of the sky through the steamed-up window. The morning looked clearer than my head felt.

 

‘What are you doing up so early? Are you sick or something?’ I asked Beth, surprised at the time showing on the alarm clock, rubbing my eyes sleepily.

 

My friend had many virtues, but getting up early wasn’t one of them. She had to have a pretty good reason to leave the house at this ungodly hour.

 

‘I’m not sick or anything of the sort. I’m totally frazzled. I haven’t just got up, I haven’t been to bed yet,’ she answered with a loud yawn.

 

‘I thought as much.’ It was much more logical than the thought of her getting up so early. ‘And what have you been doing up to now, if I may ask?’

 

I sat up in bed little by little as I asked the question, looking reluctantly at the clock on the bedside table again. Seven a.m. I fell back onto the bed, squinting. We’d moved to Victoria a couple of months before, just as classes were starting at the University, and since then I’d been rooming with the person who’d just ruined my beauty sleep.

 

I really needed to get up and eat something before Erik came to call for me, but it was so nice between the sheets…

 

‘Hey! Do you want to know what I got up to last night, or not?!’ said Beth reproachfully.

 

I’d forgotten she was even there. I’d sunk back into a delightful sleepiness. I opened my eyes to show a little interest in what my friend wanted to tell me. But I knew the story before I heard it. The same story over and over again. Partying into the wee small hours and ending up in bed with her latest conquest.

 

‘Go on, tell me, I’m all ears,’ I muttered reluctantly, snuggling down into the bed.

 

‘Yes, so I see. Quite an audience I’ve got, I don’t know why I waste my wonderful stories on you. I should give Joanna a call, I’m sure she’d show a little more interest,’ she replied, looking for her cell phone in the pile of papers on her table.

 

‘Give me a break! Joanna?!’ I answered with a laugh, ‘You mean the same Joanna that will tell half the University in less than five minutes what you got up to last night? I don’t think so.’

 

‘Alright, I was bluffing, I wouldn’t call that blabbermouth, not in a million years.’ She said, admitting defeat.

 

‘Come on, out with it.’

 

‘I’ve met Mr Right.’

 

Her eyes lit up alarmingly. It would have worried me, had I not known beforehand how this was going to end up.

 

‘What about Daniel?’

 

‘Ah yes, Daniel.’ She raised one hand then let it fall again. ‘The thing is, he’s been in Texas for almost two months now and I’m beginning to get tired of waiting at home like a good little girl.’

 

‘You’ve never waited for anyone,’ I said sharply, ‘let alone like a good little girl.’

 

‘Why are we talking about Daniel? “The king is dead, long live the king…” We were supposed to be talking about my fabulous night out, weren’t we?’ she said mischievously.

 

There was no getting out of it. I didn’t like what she was doing to the poor Southerner, but who was I to say anything? In six months I’d managed to get two twins to fall in love with me, then they fought over me and one had gone forever.

 

Sometimes I surprised myself, thinking about Luke and what he was doing at that moment. I missed him. Almost six months had passed since he’d left for good. But I had Erik, and he was all I needed to be happy, despite his brother’s absence. My feelings were contradictory. I felt like I was swimming in a pool on a hot day in the middle of August and, instead of feeling good – refreshed and clearheaded – my body wanted to get out and feel the scorching heat of the sun.

 

That’s how I felt. I loved Erik madly, but a part of me longed for his brash red-haired brother.

 

‘Really, I’ve had it with you. Have you heard a single word I’ve said?’ Beth was starting to get angry with me, and now I’d have to make the effort to convince her that I’d been paying attention to her, when really I hadn’t.

 

‘Of course I have. You were telling me how you’d met another one of your “Mr Rights.”’

 

She eyed me suspiciously then went on with her story.

 

‘Well, as I was saying, he’s tall, lean, a touch mysterious and very attractive. I’m sure if you saw him, you’d understand why I fell for him after just one night, because he’s the spitting image of Erik,’ she frowned, as if she’d suddenly had some kind of serendipity. ‘But your boyfriend doesn’t go out without you, so it couldn’t have been him, right?’ she joked, smiling nervously. ‘Truth be told, I wasn’t too clearheaded at that time of night… Now, seriously, Erik wouldn’t have a relative here, would he? A brother, a cousin maybe?’

 

I froze inside in an instant. Beth’s words had turned me to stone. I couldn’t believe what I’d just heard. I decided to pluck up my courage and ask the question I was too scared to hear the answer to.

 

‘So what’s his name?’ My voice sounded shrill, reflecting the hysteria that was threatening to destroy my common sense.

 

‘You see?! You weren’t listening to me!’

 

‘Beth, for God’s sake! What’s his name?’ My voice trembled.

 

‘Luke.’

 

The ceiling was spinning. Everything went black as my friend’s voice retreated into a distant, muffled murmur.

 

‘Stella! Stella, honey, wake up!’ Erik’s sweet, lilting voice caressed my ears.

 

‘What happened?’ I asked hoarsely, blinking hard.

 

‘You fainted, just like that. I was telling you all about my latest conquest when you fell down half-dead on the floor. You scared me half to death!’ answered Beth, pacing around the small bedroom.

 

‘I don’t like these blackouts of yours. They’re happening more and more,’ said Erik, sounding really concerned. ‘You should see a doctor.’

 

I looked at him, trying to bring a smile to my lips. I wasn’t going to convince him that easily that I was alright. I stood up slowly, leaning on him. I felt confused and dizzy. What were we talking about before I fainted?

 

Luke. That one word. His name rang again around my bewildered head.

 

‘Did Beth tell you who she went out with last night?’ I asked Erik, gazing into his intense blue eyes.

 

Just for a moment, I got the impression that they were darkening slightly, like they used to do.

 

‘She told me something,’ he admitted darkly.

 

‘So Luke is back?’

 

If anybody knew about Luke’s comings and goings, it would be his brother. The same brother that was now looking at me indifferently, which could only mean one thing: that I wasn’t going to like one little bit what he was about to tell me, and neither was he.

 

‘Luke doesn’t want to see you. He asked me not to tell you about him coming back. That’s why you’ve only found out now,’ he said, cold and distant.

 

I deflated like a balloon. Luke didn’t want to see me. He had every right, given what had gone on between us. Erik looked at me, unperturbed, examining my perplexed face.

 

‘I could talk to him, get him to change his mind and come to see you if it’ll make you happy,’ he said without a hint of emotion.

 

He was hurting. I felt it in my heart. My reaction to the news that Luke had come back had hurt him deeply. I didn’t know how to explain to him that, although I was perfectly happy being with him, I needed to see Luke. To me, the love I felt for him wasn’t incompatible with the affection I had for his brother. Was I the only one who saw things so simply?

 

Beth was looking at us from the other side of the room with a troubled look on her face. I was going to have to explain a few things to her, and I was sure that after Erik left, she would have a flood of questions for me. But right now, I was the one doing the asking.

 

‘Beth, I need you to tell me what Luke said last night. What did you talk about?’

 

‘Nothing really,’ she replied, looking down.

 

‘What do you mean, ‘nothing’?’

 

‘Just that, nothing, I didn’t really get to know him at all,’ she answered, bowing her head.

 

‘I would really appreciate it if you could explain yourself better.’ I was getting twitchy and was barely able to contain myself.

 

‘I met him at St. Patrick’s when I was having a drink with Peter and Caroline. For a moment I thought he was Erik, so I went up to say hi. You know how polite I am.’ I couldn’t help smiling. Beth, polite? I didn’t want to think about her motives for talking to Luke when she thought he was Erik. ‘So… When I said hello, he looked at me as if I was crazy, turned on his heels and left me standing there. Well, you know how mad I get when somebody ignores me like that, so I went after him to ask him why he was treating me like that, after all anyone can make a mistake, and they’re like two peas in a pod!

 

‘You should have said it like that the first time,’ I said angrily.

 

‘Yes, you’re right, but the other version was more my style, cooler. The real version is a bit of a let-down. So in the end, after spending all night trawling every bar in town I gave up and came back here, no trace of this Luke.’ She seemed ashamed of her made-up story from before, but only ashamed enough to make me feel guilty for getting angry.

 

Erik was standing next to me by the small table where we’d sat down to have breakfast, looking at Beth uneasily. Clearly he didn’t like the way my friend had got hung up on his brother so quickly. It made things more complicated, that was obvious.

 

What was Luke doing around here again? Why was he in Victoria if he didn’t want to see me? What was the real reason why Erik hadn’t told me his brother was back? And, more disturbingly, what was he doing in the same bar as Beth? A chance meeting or prearranged coincidence? I knew nothing happened by chance with Luke.

 

‘How did you know his name if you didn’t even speak to him?’ I asked the obvious question.

 

‘We didn’t exactly have a conversation, but when I went up and said “Erik, what are you doing here?” he turned round and said “You got the wrong guy, my name’s Luke,” and that was all he said before he walked off and left me standing there.

 

‘That’s typical of my brother, he just oozes charm,’ said Erik with a half-smile. ‘Anyway, that’s enough chatting for now. We’ve got other plans for today, haven’t we?’ He shot me a look full of sweetness. All I needed was his blue sky gazing at me to thrill me from head to toe.

 

‘Yes,’ I answered, a little befuddled. In any case, it was better to put this bewildering business with Luke to one side for now and get on with my life, a life which didn’t seem to matter to Erik in the slightest. ‘Give me five minutes to get changed and we’ll go,’

 

I ran to the wardrobe, looking for something comfortable to wear. Jeans and a thick sweater would be the safest bet. I hadn’t been outside yet, but it must have been pretty cold just looking at the windows.

 

I heard murmurings coming from the kitchen. Erik was talking to Beth while he was waiting for me. He must have been whispering because I couldn’t make out what he was saying. I felt a strange uneasiness at not being able to understand what they were saying. As if they were hiding something from me. I ran out of the bedroom and stood in front of them, as red as a tomato.

 

‘… we’re twins…’ I heard Erik say as I dashed in.

 

So that’s all it was. My paranoia had the two of them conspiring against me, but Erik was simply telling Beth that he and his brother were twins. I sighed with relief; lately I’d been seeing ghosts where there weren’t any.

 

We waved Beth goodbye and went out. A radiant sun shone in a clear blue sky, bathing everything in its light, every tree, every flower, every stray hair on my angel’s head. I was amazed at how his eyes absorbed the sun’s rays, turning them almost transparent. I couldn’t get used to such perfection.

 

‘Are you okay?’ he asked me in that sweet voice that caressed me like a melody.

 

‘Yes, don’t worry, it was just a slight drop in blood pressure,’ I said to reassure him. ‘Maybe if you’d told me that Luke had come back, it wouldn’t have been such a shock for me.’

 

‘I don’t understand it. Why do you care? He hasn’t asked after you so it doesn’t matter if he’s around, so really it’s as if he wasn’t.’

 

‘But he is around, and I don’t believe he doesn’t want to see me. Don’t you think it’s a bit too much of a coincidence that he bumped into my best friend last night? I can’t see Luke going out on the town without selecting his prey first,’ I said, raising an eyebrow. ‘What you’re telling me doesn’t make sense, so I need to talk to him, let him tell me he doesn’t want to see me.’

 

Erik shook his head, paying no attention to my imaginings and slid his arm around my waist, nudging me to get me moving again. A bolt of energy flooded my body, as it did every time he touched me, causing that strange tingling in my stomach and a weakness in my bones which seemed to melt at his touch. It was wonderful to feel that way. To be in love.

 

His brother, on the other hand, made me feel twitchy, uneasy, anxious and desperate. Luke was the proverbial dog in the manger.

 

The previous year had been the most intense of my life. Discovering the true identity of the twins – genetically perfect aliens – had swept away everything I’d believed and thought, everything which had mattered to me. But things had got complicated and from that moment on, my very existence was in danger. Real danger, which I accepted without thinking twice. Erik was my dream, my dream come true, and I wasn’t going to give him up. I loved him with all my heart, he was a part of me, as vital as the blood running through my veins and giving me life. But that didn’t alter the fact that I liked to have his brother around. Although this wish was one-way traffic, because after I’d turned him down, being around me wasn’t an option for him. Mission impossible, most definitely.

 

We stopped at a wooden bench facing the sea. Erik sat very close to me, slipping his arm over the back and drawing me to his chest until I was leaning on him. I gave up rooting around in memories of the past to enjoy the wonderful present moment.

 

An icy wind blew around us, slicing through our clothes as if they were made of paper. I snuggled into Erik’s arms to fight off the cold with the warmth of his body. He kissed the top of my head in response, but didn’t say a word. Today he was even more pensive than usual and I didn’t like that one little bit.

 

Suddenly my body shuddered, shaking like a leaf, as somebody strange had brushed against me. I turned quickly to see who was having such an effect on me. I thought it might be Luke, or some other manipulative Kaelian wandering around there, but dozens of faces were criss-crossing the pier and none of them were taking any notice of us.

 

‘What’s going on, Stella?’ asked my angel, obviously worried. Just then, as I was looking for an explanation for my uneasiness, a small piece of paper landed on my lap.

 

I was going to brush it away when I noticed my initials written on it. I looked at it with suspicion, paralyzed and with no desire to pick it up, as if it wasn’t just a piece of paper but a time bomb that had landed on me which might go off if I touched it. Luckily, Erik reacted with the speed that I lacked. He opened the strange note hurriedly and with a frown, began to read it.

 

‘What does it say?’ I asked, intrigued but at the same time not sure if I wanted to know.

 

‘It’s nothing. Just nonsense,’ he replied, but the look on his face told me that it was anything but ‘nothing’ and ‘nonsense’.

 

‘Let me see,’ I demanded, knowing that he meant to throw it away without giving me a chance to read it.

 

Now my interest had been aroused. Normally, the more Erik tried to play something down, the more important it was.

 

He backed down reluctantly and gave me the neatly folded piece of paper with the initials ‘SP’ scrawled on the back.

 

‘Don’t trust the façade. You can still save yourself.’

 

I read it a couple of times, trying to find the joke among the words, but couldn’t. The more I read, the less sense it made. Erik was tense, uncomfortable. He freed himself from my embrace to look around for someone or something. Whoever had written this was telling me not to trust him. That the love of my life was no more than a façade. A feeling of emptiness, like a black hole, a bottomless pit, took hold of my stomach and I couldn’t do anything about it. I was sure of one thing: that feeling was here to stay.

 

We got to Chemainus mid-afternoon. The mysterious note that had fallen into my hands a few days before had Erik very worried all week. I preferred not to think about it. The uneasiness was still there, digging into my guts like a tick, but I tried to ignore it for both our sakes. If I’d learned something from the previous year, it was that misfortunes don’t need an invitation. The only thing that was keeping me up at night was Luke. Neither Beth nor I had heard anything more about him, but something told me that these strange happenings, and the misgivings which were gnawing away at me, had something to do with him. Maybe it was just a coincidence, maybe not.

 

One thing was for sure: I was going to use all means possible, both human and alien, not to let anybody mess with my chance to enjoy being with my mother, after a fortnight of exchanging phone calls and messages.

 

Nicole was taking my absence much harder than me. She was waiting at the front door when we arrived. Erik parked with a deft manoeuvre and, without waiting for the engine to stop running, I opened the door, shot out of the car and sprinted to her. She jogged to me as well, arms open wide. We crashed into each other, melting into a big hug, staggering from side to side with the impact, giggling at our own clumsiness.

 

‘Stella, honey; how are you? You look thinner. Are you eating well?’

 

‘Mom, please… It’s only been two weeks since I saw you last! How could I be thinner?’ I smiled. ‘Besides, I’m eating very well. It turns out Beth’s a great cook.’

 

If my mother knew that we survived on a diet of pizzas and hamburgers because neither of us was capable of cooking anything without burning it to a crisp, she’d have torn her hair out.

 

By the look of it, I hadn’t managed to convince Nicole completely because she still had an anxious expression on her face; she was frowning and squinting at me. She had a few worry lines, as if I’d spent two months at a Mission in the Amazon rainforest and not two weeks at University.

 

‘Are you staying for dinner?’

 

‘Sure,’ I said, putting one arm around her shoulders while I hugged Erik with the other, the living picture of the happy family.

 

The relationship between the two of them had had its ups and downs, but now you could call it acceptable, even reasonably good. Erik treated Nicole with kindness and respect, despite the fact that she’d been against us being together in the beginning. Luckily my boyfriend had earned the same favor from my mother.

 

Dinner was very pleasant. Nicole told us how the service at ER had got worse recently. They were being run off their feet, and the managers were refusing to take more staff on. It was outrageous. How inept could you get? Erik listened with obvious interest. I couldn’t tell if he was really as interested as he seemed, or if he was doing it to please my mother; in any case the evening passed by in an easy, unhurried, relaxing way. Until my mother opened Pandora’s Box.

 

‘So how’s your brother?’

 

We were finishing the lemon pie that she’d made for dessert and her question made me choke on a piece that I’d just put in my mouth. Why was she so interested in Luke? She hadn’t asked after him once since he disappeared, and now she brings him up.

 

‘He’s very well, thanks,’ said Erik curtly, but with a winning smile that took the edge off his words.

 

‘Give him my regards when you see him. It was so kind of him to help me the other day,’ said Nicole. My mouth dropped open.

 

‘You’ve seen Luke?’ I gabbled clumsily.

 

‘Yes,’ said Mom cheerfully. ‘A couple of days ago. I was getting the shopping out of the car. He was passing by and he stopped to give me a hand with the bags.’ She turned to Erik. ‘Your brother is such a sweetie. You could bring him along next time you come for dinner.’ I froze in my seat.

 

I didn’t dare look at my boyfriend, I didn’t dare to breathe. Luke, a sweetie? Was everyone else going crazy, or was it me?

 

‘Sure, I’ll mention it next time I see him,’ said Luke almost too naturally, although his eyes darkened subtly.

 

I was stupefied. Erik had seen Luke. Beth had seen Luke. Even my mother had seen him! Everyone had run into him except me. Why? Did he resent me that much? Nicole’s delicious dinner began to turn sour in my stomach.

 

We were saying goodbye to her on the doorstep when another anonymous note took center stage.

 

‘By the way honey, this arrived for you the other day,’ she said, handing me a small vanilla-colored envelope. I slid it into my pants pocket without opening it. ‘Aren’t you going to see what it is?’ she asked inquisitively.

 

‘No, we need to be going.’ I saw the disapproval on her face. ‘I’ll read it on the way, it’s freezing out here,’ I added.

 

Nicole kissed me tenderly on the cheek, then Erik. We waved goodbye as we got into the car. She stood on the doorstep in the cold of the night, waiting for the car to start up. I looked back until she was no more than a crooked shadow in the rear view mirror.

 

‘Can I have the anonymous note your mother gave you?’ said Erik too sweetly, as if his tone of voice would soothe the worry I was feeling. It had exactly the opposite effect on me.

 

‘How do you know it’s anonymous? It might be a letter from a friend,’ I shot back, fumbling for the envelope in my tight pants pocket.

 

Erik didn’t answer, but I could see him glancing at me as I tried to wrench the paper from its hiding place. I pulled it out anxiously but opened it carefully. If it was another bizarre note (which it probably was, despite having told Erik the opposite), I didn’t feel like reading it. I’d only upset myself more and make my overprotective alien boyfriend even more obsessed with keeping me safe.

 

My initials were scribbled on the back. This wasn’t a good omen.

 

‘You’re not listening to me. I’m running out of patience. Show me how smart you are and let it go.’

 

I blinked in disbelief. Who would dare to interfere in my life like this? Who would try so hard to upset me with these notes as if we were in kindergarten? There was only one person capable of exasperating me and bringing out the worst in me: Luke.

 

That’s why he’d come back. That’s why he hadn’t come to see me. It was his way of drawing attention to himself, making my life a misery. How could I ever have missed that ginger lowlife? Had I forgotten how many times he’d made me suffer in the past?

 

Erik shifted uneasily in his seat, glancing first at the road and then at me as I lost myself in my anti-Luke theories.

 

‘May I?’ he said, reaching out a hand to take the small piece of paper. I hadn’t even realized that we’d parked up in a supermarket parking lot miles from anywhere.

 

‘Sure,’ I replied, handing him the note.

 

His reaction wasn’t long in coming. He frowned as he read, visibly upset with a mixture of disbelief and rage. I looked for something in his eyes beyond what his face could tell me. His sea was dark, cold and deep.

 

It had been a long time since I’d seen his expression change like that. Luke was going to pay for his sick joke.

 

‘I know who’s sending these anonymous messages,’ I said suddenly, getting his immediate attention.

 

He looked at me as if it was the first time he’d met me. He didn’t seem able to say a word, so I went on.

 

‘I’m sure your darling brother is behind all this.’

 

Erik’s reaction wasn’t what I’d expected in the least. He started to laugh hysterically.

 

‘What’s so funny? I don’t think it’s funny at all,’ I grumbled.

 

‘It isn’t Luke, but it’s hilarious that you think it is.’

 

‘Really? And why’s that?’ My voice sounded shriller than usual.

 

Erik calmed down, recovering his composure, getting his old indifferent look back. I hated it when he did that, as if everything was settled and I was the only one who was hysterical and upset. It was really his way of letting me know that something was bothering or worrying him more than he wanted to let on, but it still irked me. Was it so difficult to have a normal conversation with him? Or even a little argument?

 

‘It’s funny because only a few days ago, you were desperate to see him again. You were upset that I hadn’t told you he was back and now, just like that, you diss him.’ He shook his head and smiled sadly. ‘Stella, think about it. What would Luke have to gain from sending those messages?’

 

‘To torture me? To make my life a misery? Get my attention?’ I spat angrily.

 

‘No, honey. Luke would never do that.’ He took my hand and stroked it softly. ‘And I’m the last person who should be trying to make you think better of him, but we won’t get anywhere by blaming him. My brother is a dumbass, but I’m telling you, he didn’t write those notes.

 

He fixed me with his sky-blue eyes and I knew he was right. My theory didn’t hold water. Deep down, I knew that Luke had nothing to do with my mysterious stalker. I rolled my eyes in a gesture of surrender and Erik’s lips curled into a smile when he saw I was beaten. He leaned over me and pressed his warm lips against mine. I melted into his kiss, savouring the taste of his mouth, my body trembling from the electric current which shot through every part of me, filling me with life and passion.

 

I’d forgotten where we were and what we were doing there. I could only feel the warmth that was eating me up inside, consuming my entire being. His lips drew away from mine, then he kissed down my neck. I couldn’t speak or think, only feel. And I was feeling a lot at that moment. His hands slid down the back of my neck, tracing the line of my shoulders, and down onto my back; the hairs on my skin stood up with pleasure as he caressed me. I grasped his hair urgently and kissed him again, pulling myself up astride him, carried away by the emotions I was feeling. I wanted to go all the way to the end, here and now. I had no other thought but to give myself completely to the desire which had taken over every inch of my body.

 

The cell phone rang. I paid no attention to it. But Erik did, and despite my objections he pulled away a little and reached over to the back seat and handed me my bag, where my phone seemed like it was about to explode judging by the shrill, insistent ringtone. I didn’t even bother to see who was responsible for the worst-timed phone call of my life.

 

‘Yes?’ I snapped breathlessly.

 

‘Stella, it’s Beth.’ I could hardly make out what she was saying because of all the background noise.

 

‘Great timing,’ I blurted without thinking; Erik’s lips formed a mischievous smile then touched my neck to continue my delicious torture. ‘What do you want?’ I whispered.

 

I didn’t want a long conversation right then. I wanted to go on enjoying the sweet excitement of Erik’s kisses.

 

‘Are you going to be long?’

 

‘I’m not sure, Beth, we’ve just come out. So what’s the rush? You’re never at home this time of day.’ I was getting annoyed at her for beating around the bush. She was hiding something, that much was obvious.

 

‘Luke’s here,’ she said suddenly, letting the cat out of the bag.

 

I froze. That, I wasn’t expecting. All my anger vanished and my body turned into a block of glacial ice.

 

Erik sensed the change in me; he stopped kissing me and stared.

 

‘What did you say?’ I murmured.

 

‘I said your little brother-in-law is here, sitting on the sofa, waiting for you guys to come back.’ She paused and I could hear her sighing and lowering her voice until it became no more than a whisper. ‘Don’t get me wrong, it’s not me who wants you to come home, you can stay out all night while I take care of this red-haired hunk. The worst thing is he won’t stop going on about how he has to talk to you two, how if I didn’t call you he’d leave, and you know I don’t want that.’

 

I was in a daze. ‘Tell him not to move, we’ll be right there,’ I managed to say.

 

Erik was still frowning at me. You could tell from a mile off that he was making a Herculean effort not to tear the phone from my hands to find out what was upsetting me so much.

 

‘Fine, I’ll tell him you’re on your way but just between the two of us, you don’t need to hurry too much, ok?’ she said with a mildly hysterical laugh.

 

I hung up without really knowing what was going on. I’d never seen – or heard – Beth so nervous. Although I had to admit that Luke did have the gift of unnerving people.

 

‘What’s going on?’

 

Damn, this evening was shaping up so nicely”, I thought, feeling the coldness that had come over the two of us again.

 

‘That was Beth. She says Luke is waiting for us at home and he needs to talk to us.’

 

My voice sounded robotic. I recited what Beth had said to put Erik in the picture, but he was still taking it in. What was supposed to be a night of passion with my boyfriend had totally gone south. But I was going to see Luke at last, and I couldn’t understand why the prospect was bothering me so much. I felt the cold seep under my skin when he took his arm away. Quickly, wordlessly, he started the car up and we sped off down the road.

 

On the way, I turned my relationship with Erik over in my mind. On a very few occasions we’d given ourselves over to our passion like tonight. Erik couldn’t bear the notion that I might think he wanted to take advantage of me, as he’d done before with so many girls. I knew he wasn’t like that, of course, but he kept torturing himself with a strange obsession: to show me that he’d changed. Although lately I had seen a change in him. He seemed far away from me. Quite a few times I’d seen him staring into the distance. He never wanted to talk about what was on his mind when that happened, and I didn’t like it. On those occasions when our embraces became something more passionate, he always found the perfect excuse to put an end to them. I felt rejected, as if he didn’t seem to want to let me completely into his life. And that hurt. But I knew it was just a matter of time. It wasn’t easy for him to change his life, his habits and his way of thinking overnight. Kaelians weren’t brought up to enjoy love and unbridled passion.

 

The problem was that we couldn’t talk about it. Erik just plain refused to talk about what he was afraid of, and I could only go on guessing what it was.

 

So I had conflicting feelings. I felt loved and rejected by the same person.

 

I watched him as he was driving. His hair, streaked with gold as we passed under the streetlights, framed a face that any artist would have died to paint, sculpt or photograph. He was beauty personified. Pure perfection. Sensing my gaze, he turned to look at me and my heart reacted, pounding wildly. Erik had the ability to kiss with a look, and I lived for those heavenly kisses.

 

‘Don’t worry about a thing, you know how theatrical Luke is,’ he whispered, taking my hand as he turned his attention back to the road.

 

‘I’m not worried about him, I’m worried about you.’

 

‘About me?’ He sounded only mildly curious; he knew what I was going to say next but was pretending he didn’t.

 

‘You’re not being straight with me. Sometimes I think you’re holding out on me.’

 

I’d finally come out with what had been running around my head for so many days. I glanced at him, feeling my cheeks going red.

 

‘I don’t understand why you’re saying that, I’ve just got a lot of things on my mind.’ His tone of voice didn’t match what he was saying. Erik was trying to seem more relaxed than he really was.

 

‘Things that you’re not going to tell me, right?’

 

‘You don’t let go, do you? There’s nothing wrong, and I’m not hiding anything, okay? This is ridiculous. You’re never going to trust me.’

 

No, don’t clam up on me again,” I thought, but I couldn’t say it out loud.

 

‘I want to believe you, but you’re not making it easy for me,’ I said after a slight pause.

 

He looked at me pleadingly and I gave in to his deep blue gaze.

 

‘Let’s just leave it, ok?’ I said.

 

What I really wanted to do was get things straight and put an end to all my doubts, but I didn’t want to keep playing cat and mouse. In any case, one thing was clear: I was right. I wasn’t fooling myself any more. I knew he was hiding something and I was sure that Luke’s change of plan in coming to see me had something to do with his brother’s hidden thoughts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Luke

 

 

After a certain age, pride and prudence teach us not to insist on the very things we most ardently desire.

 

Marcel Proust

 

 

 

 

 

It was midnight when Erik parked up outside the building where I shared an apartment with Beth. A dense silence, full of unexpressed feelings, had traveled with us the rest of the way.

 

I climbed anxiously up to the first floor. The palm of my hand was sweaty and slippery, evidence of my unease at the prospect of seeing Luke again. Erik stopped dead at the chipped, peeling door which stood between us and the occupants inside, and looked at me with more concern than he would have admitted.

 

‘Are you okay?’ he asked, taking my head and tilting his head to get me to look at him.

 

‘I think so,’ I answered uncertainly, avoiding his gaze so he wouldn’t know what I was really thinking.

 

I felt like fainting. I had no idea how Luke would react when he saw me, and that was what scared me most. My hand shaking, I put the key in the lock. It took me several tries, then the door creaked open, announcing our arrival. Erik went in behind me, still holding my hand.

 

‘What the hell kept you?’ cried Beth, walking past us with a knowing wink. She was no doubt delighted that we’d taken so long in getting there.

 

‘Your brother’s been waiting for quite a while,’ she said to Erik.

 

Before we could open our mouths, Luke appeared at Beth’s bedroom door. She hadn’t wasted any time, by the looks of it. Who knows what he was doing in there.

 

‘About time, lovebirds,’ he mocked. ‘What’s up, Stella? Are you just going to stand there or are you going to say hello nicely just for once?’ I couldn’t help smiling. He hadn’t changed one little bit.

 

He was the same red-haired, cheeky teaser as ever. I was happy to see that my fears were unfounded and that he didn’t hold anything against me. I let go of Erik’s hand and ran to Luke, throwing my arms around his neck, clinging tightly to him.

 

‘I’m so happy you’re back,’ I whispered.

 

‘Me too. I’m sorry I didn’t come to see you before, I’ve been kind of busy,’ he breathed in my ear.

 

I freed myself from his embrace, took his hand and pulled him to the dining room sofa, with Erik and Beth close behind.

 

‘I was so upset when I found out you were here and hadn’t come to see me,’ I blurted out without thinking. His turquoise eyes darkened slightly, a sign of the answer to come.

 

‘I didn’t know if you wanted to see me, so I thought I’d test the water first; and when I found out that you can’t live without me and you’re simply dying to have me around, I decided to come and say hi.’

 

His lips curled into that mischievous, sensual smile that I remembered so well. I hit him on the arm as a protest at what he’d just said.

 

‘I wouldn’t go that far,’ said Erik, sitting next to me and slipping his arm around my shoulders. There he was, the alpha male marking his territory. In this case, me.

 

I gave him a reproachful frown. This wasn’t the time for shows of jealousy. But when I met his sky- blue gaze, I was surprised to see a different, dark look in his eyes, like before, which I didn’t like at all. I turned to look at Luke and saw the same fleeting look in his eyes. Neither of them said a word. They didn’t need to. I knew they’d just shared a thought between them thanks to the telepathic ability which all Kaelians have to be able to communicate with each other, and by the look of it they wanted to hide it from me and Beth. They had it coming, the two of them. I knew something was up with Erik, and the last thing I needed was for my suspicions to be confirmed in his brother’s darkening eyes.

 

We sat on the sofa for hours. I watched the dawn break lazily through the curtains and the brightening sky streaked everything pink and grey.

 

Beth was curled up on the armchair. I’d done my best to include her in the conversation, but in the end it was too tedious for her and she’d fallen asleep. I wasn’t surprised that she’d chosen to stay up with us, in spite of the boredom; you could tell from a mile off that she’d do just about anything to be more than just friends with Luke. And if that meant listening for hours to the never-ending tales of his travels, Beth would grin and bear it. I assumed that was why she chose to go to sleep in an uncomfortable position on the armchair instead of going to bed, the more sensible option.

 

‘I don’t think she can hear us now,’ I remarked when I heard Beth’s slow, regular breathing.

 

‘Even so, I’d prefer not to talk about certain matters in front of strangers,’ said Luke.

 

‘She isn’t a stranger,’ I objected.

 

‘Luke’s right, best not take risks,’ replied Erik, looking at me tenderly.

 

I couldn’t resist that blue ice melting in my eyes and nodded in agreement, taking Erik’s hand as we stood up and walked into the little kitchen, looking for some privacy. He put one strong arm around my waist and pulled me close. A shiver ran through me, making me tremble inside and giving me goose-bumps. How did he do it? When would I get used to the butterflies fluttering every time my angel touched me?

 

‘Hey! I need a little affection too,’ protested Luke, coming towards us.

 

‘Three’s a crowd,’ said Erik drily.

 

‘Down, tiger,’ replied Luke, raising his hands in a gesture of surrender. ‘I was just kidding.’ He shot me a dangerous look.

 

He wasn’t kidding at all. I could see it in his eyes. Luke was back, with all that meant.

 

We sat down at the wooden table that Beth and I used to have breakfast and gossip. We used to call it ‘Confidential Corner’, and it was about to live up to its name.

 

‘So come on, tell me what you’ve really been up to all this time,’ I asked, breaking the awkward silence that had grown around us.

 

‘Here and there. Asking around, searching, investigating, tying up loose ends,’ he answered, which didn’t make things any clearer.

 

‘Well, I hope it was fun at least,’ I said, knowing that he wasn’t going to go into any more detail.

 

‘Interesting more than fun, I’d say.’

 

‘So how long are you going to be around for?’ asked Erik, changing the subject in a less than friendly tone, as if what he really wanted to know was when Luke would be leaving. He was making it clear that he had no interest in a long, lasting relationship with his brother.

 

‘As long as it takes,’ Luke answered, hinting at something.

 

‘You stay as long as you need, you know you’re welcome here,’ I said firmly, in a feeble attempt to break the tension which was starting to build between them.

 

I decided to go back to square one with Luke, seeing as Erik didn’t seem too willing to talk to his brother.

 

‘You still haven’t told me what brought you here.’

 

‘Work,’ he said bluntly.

 

If he thought I was going to settle for that, he didn’t know me very well.

 

‘What kind of work? Still duping girls to get benefits on the side, are we?’

 

He knew what my question meant. Since Erik had risked his life to save mine, he’d become a sort of renegade to his civilization, trying to go unnoticed, living like a normal human being and not bound by his superiors’ orders; but I hadn’t heard anything about Luke until now. Maybe he was still doing the same repulsive work, seducing teenage girls, getting them pregnant and using their stem cells to prolong Kaelian lives.

 

‘I’m not going to tell you what I’m working on at the moment because if I told you, I’d have to kill you,’ he said, his lips even colder than his eyes.

 

‘What B-movie did you get that from?’ I asked, trying to hide the knot that was forming in the pit of my stomach.

 

Luke looked at me threateningly. He still enjoyed the power he had over me. Erik’s arm tensed around my shoulders. It was obvious that his brother’s comment about me dying had amused him about as much as putting a wasp’s nest down his pants.

 

‘You’re impossible. We had to leave the living room to get away from Beth, and that’s all you have to say?’ I grumbled, rolling my eyes to calm things down a little. ‘Anyway, I think it’s time for bed; I have class in a few hours and I don’t want to fall asleep at my desk.’

 

‘Good idea. Luke, I’ll show you out,’ said Erik getting up quickly and gesturing his brother to follow him. ‘I’ll be right back to say goodnight,’ he said, leaning over me to kiss me on the cheek.

 

‘Well, as I won’t be back, at least not tonight,’ said Luke coming over to me and resting his face against mine. ‘Goodnight Stella,’ he whispered in my ear; ‘sweet dreams… well, you know who to have sweet dreams about.’

 

I felt breathless and my pulse was racing. My body had no will of its own, I was at his mercy. He’d done it again. He’d hypnotized me. Another wonderful quality that the Kaelian race possessed. He pulled away from me and I was suddenly plunged back into reality.

 

‘Let’s go,’ said Erik behind me as I tried to muster the little calmness I had left in me.

 

I watched them go out of the little kitchen. Erik was holding Luke by the arm, a little too forcefully judging by the whiteness of his knuckles. They were probably having a mental argument which I’d never know anything about. I listened to see if I could hear some kind of goodbye and check what terms they were on, but I couldn’t. All I heard was the door closing and footsteps hurrying towards me.

 

‘You still here?’ said Erik, using all his usual sweetness, something that I’d missed all night.

 

‘I was waiting for you,’ I answered, standing up to put my arms around his neck. ‘Don’t you think you were a little short with your brother?’

 

I didn’t like having to defend Luke from Erik, but this time I wasn’t trying to make peace between them but rather to find out why he’d been so tense recently.

 

‘Don’t worry about him, he didn’t take it badly,’ he said, as if the subject was closed.

 

Months ago, before Luke disappeared, it seemed that things had been smoothed over between the two of them, that they could both be in the same room without biting each other. But now it looked like they were at it again. Luke hounding me and Erik going wild because of his red-haired brother’s shamelessness. And once again I was between a rock and a hard place. Although there was one thing that I hadn’t had to worry about before, and that was Beth.

 

Erik drew me close to him and began to caress my back with his warm hands.

 

‘You’d better go to bed,’ he said, kissing me on the forehead.

 

We’d better go to bed,’ I corrected him, with an unconvincing smile which stretched into a badly-timed yawn.

 

‘Don’t push your luck,’ he breathed, caressing my ear with his lips. ‘See you tomorrow, beautiful.’

 

‘But…’ He didn’t let me finish my sentence, sealing my lips with a slow, soft, delicious kiss.

 

I got feverish every time I tasted his sweet lips. Sleep had just disappeared from my list of priorities; I just wanted to be with him. To spend the night together, make leisurely love, fall asleep in each other’s arms. But Erik, for better or worse, was still bound by reasoning above all else. He pulled slowly away from me. My body cried out against the distance that had come between us.

 

‘Goodnight Stella,’ he said, caressing my cheek, his fingers brushing my reddened skin.

 

My poor heart knew of no greater pleasure than his kisses and caresses. I gave up objecting and accepted that tonight wasn’t going to be the night.

 

‘Goodnight Erik.’

 

The door closed behind him and another yawn told me it was time to go to bed and stop turning things over in my head.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lies

 

 

“The liar has two ills: he neither believes, nor is believed.”

 

Baltasar Gracián

 

 

 

 

 

I almost fell into the deepest of sleeps against the coarse, hard wooden surface that serves as a desk during today’s last class. I’d slept for maybe two or three hours before I went to school, and although the day didn’t begin badly, after all those never-ending explanations about anatomy and biochemistry my resistance had crumbled.

 

Beth was sitting next to me, head in the palms of her hands, looking no better than me. As if to confirm this, she gave an enormous yawn. She hadn’t slept well either, or so it seemed. The ancient wingchair, property of the apartment’s former tenants, wasn’t exactly a featherbed. Beth stretched her arms above her head like a lazy cat while I and half the class watched her with smiles etched on our faces. Didn’t she mind what Professor Jamison might think? The answer was pretty obvious. No.

 

‘Cut it out,’ I said, beginning to get embarrassed myself.

 

Seeing her so apathetic and uninterested had woken me up suddenly, tensing my poor tired eyelids to keep them open without too much effort.

 

‘What’s eating you? I’m out on my feet, this class is totally boring, and I can’t understand a thing this uptight old buzzard is saying,’ she whispered, making me stifle a laugh.

 

‘Come on, not long to go now,’ I murmured, aware that Professor Jamison was looking at us.

 

‘Miss Preston, would you be so kind as to share with the rest of us what is evidently so interesting that you cannot wait until after my exposition to tell your classmate?’ said the old academic, raising an eyebrow in obvious satisfaction at catching us red-handed.

 

I knew how much he hated it when his students had something better to do than pay him full attention. I swallowed hard and decided to rummage around in my excellent memory for some fragment of his tedious little epilogue.

 

‘I was asking her for the name of the book that you said we should use to study protein synthesis,’ I replied in a very controlled voice.

 

He seemed to lighten up straight away. The lines on Mr Jamison’s face, usually like a ploughed field, relaxed a little and his expression brightened without actually looking anything like friendly.

 

‘I shall write it on the board in case any more of you find yourselves in need of this information and are inclined to interrupt the class and therefore not pay full attention.’ He turned to the board and I was free from his glaring.

 

I breathed a sigh of relief; my little ploy had worked. Beth elbowed me and gave me a broad smile. The bell for the end of this awful class had just rung. It was always the same. They never caught my friend, but I always fell into the clutches of some Professor or other. I thought I’d be freer at University, that I could go unnoticed in class especially where the teachers were concerned, but no way. My paradise of freedom didn’t exist.

 

It had taken me ages to decide which college course to do. To be honest, I wasn’t even sure that I wanted to go on studying at all. In the end, I’d chosen Human Biology. I wasn’t sure if it was my true calling, but since I’d got to know Erik and the way he was, I felt a special interest in getting to know my own nature and so bring our two species even closer together. It might even help us in our efforts to find a cure for the disease that was threatening their survival. I had a long University course stretching out in front of me which, if the first few months were anything to go by, was not going to be easy.

 

We left the circular building and headed for a café crammed full of hungry students.

 

‘I need information,’ said Beth, out of the blue.

 

We were sitting at a small table by the window, watching people going about their daily business. Only the occasional lost tourist allowed themselves the luxury of stopping to look cheerfully around at the different shapes and colours of the buildings.

 

‘What kind of information?’

 

‘The Luke/hot guy kind. I want all the gory details!’

 

I smiled quietly at Beth’s frankly excessive interest in Luke while she busied herself squeezing what was left of the ketchup onto her sandwich.

 

‘Dammit!’ she hissed, battering the plastic bottle, ‘there’s no more left. Waiter!’ she hollered, holding up the bottle to tell him to bring another one.

 

‘Good God! How can you eat that with so much ketchup on it?!’

 

‘What are you talking about, there’s still room for more,’ she replied, showing me the mess of bread, lettuce and tuna swimming in tomato sauce. ‘Stop beating about the bush and tell me something interesting.’

 

I pitied her; she didn’t know what she was asking. She had no idea of what I knew about Luke, or that I’d never tell her a thing, even under torture. I didn’t want that red-haired show-off to make her suffer.

 

‘That information is classified,’ I said, playing it cool.

 

‘Come on! Don’t be mean, talk to me! I need to know more about him; I can’t sleep, I can’t eat…’ she whined, taking an enormous bite out of her sandwich, spilling sauce all over the table.

 

‘Yeah right, looks like you’ve really lost your appetite. Better give that to me so it doesn’t go to waste!’ I teased, tugging at her sandwich although I had no intention of eating such a disgusting mess.

 

‘Hey! Don’t touch my food or I’ll bite your hand off!’ she said, slapping me on the wrist.

 

‘See? You’re not half as interested as you’d like me to think.’

 

She put on her good little girl face.

 

‘Please, tell me something, have a little pity. I’m dying for love of him, be nice and smooth the way for me, okay?’ she pouted.

 

I sighed loudly and sat back in the wooden chair.

 

‘His name is Luke and he’s Erik’s twin brother. They arrived from Iceland last year. Erik came to our school to finish his studies and Luke came to mooch around as far as I can see, because he doesn’t work or study or anything. He lives off the money his parents send him. He’s a spoilt child if you ask me. As you can see, he’s no angel. As well as being arrogant, conceited, shallow and a total Don Juan.’ I paused for breath. I’d spouted the official version without stopping.

 

‘Wow, I can see he’s really impressed you.’

 

‘What? Didn’t you hear a word I just said? I don’t even like the guy.’

 

That wasn’t true, but the last thing Beth needed was to hear about Luke’s good side or about my strange relationship with him.

 

‘Well in that case there’s something I don’t get. If you dislike him so much, why did you react like you did when I told you I’d met him?’ she challenged me.

 

‘I had a blackout. Nothing to do with Luke. Pure coincidence,’ I lied.

 

‘What about last night?’ she smiled as if she’d cornered me.

 

I smiled back. I wanted to look relaxed and unconcerned but this little chat was getting out of hand. I sighed and rolled my eyes, giving the impression that I was more bored than worried, when really the opposite was the case.

 

‘I was only nice to him because of Erik; he’s his brother, the only family he’s got around here. I didn’t want them being pushed apart because of me.’

 

So many lies were burning my tongue. They just kept on bubbling up one after another since I’d met my alien angel. If Beth found out that I was the reason why Luke had disappeared, she’d tear her hair out. I had to lie. Although was I really lying? They say that lying is not telling the truth to someone who has a right to know it. Did Beth have that right? No she didn’t; or at least that’s what I wanted to think, just to calm my conscience at telling such a bunch of lies to my best friend.

 

Beth rested her chin on her hand, lost in thought. She stared at me, observing me until I started to feel uncomfortable. Her lips curled upwards in a poor attempt at a smile.

 

‘You’re lying, and don’t even think of making excuses.’ She had a treacherous look in her eyes and her voice had dropped almost to a whisper. ‘If you thought you could fool me into forgetting about Scandinavian hot guy number two, you’ve got another think coming. Either there’s something really sinister that you don’t want to tell me, or maybe you’re just jealous?’

 

‘Thank heavens you’ve had one lucid moment!’ I bit back.

 

‘As far as I can see, my whole life has been a chain of lucid moments like this, you can see from miles off that I’m right whether you want to admit it or not,’ she said, leaning back in her chair with an air of satisfaction.

 

I shifted uneasily and glanced at my watch.

 

‘I reckon it’s time to go back to class and stop rambling.’

 

‘You do realize that behaving like that only makes me more curious, don’t you?’

 

‘And you realize, don’t you, that I’m about to dump you as a friend?’ I replied, softening the tone and bringing the conversation back onto safer ground.

 

I stood up and so did Beth. I went up to her and slipped one arm around her shoulders, taking advantage of my height.

 

‘Don’t keep on. There’s nothing to tell. I can arrange a dinner for you and Luke; then you can ask him about all this yourself.’

 

Beth looked at me in raptures. I knew it wasn’t right, but at that moment I thought that meeting up like this might be good for both of them. When all was said and done, they were made for each other. They both needed bringing down a peg or two. The idea started taking shape more and more clearly in my mind. My boyfriend was going to kill me when he found out.

 

‘I’ll tell Erik to invite his little brother to dinner this Saturday. He and I will do the cooking, while you use your charms on our guest.’ I smiled to myself, imagining the scene.

 

‘Awesome! I like this Stella much more!’ she declared, hugging me.

 

 

The week went by slowly and wearily, between classes and fleeting encounters with my angel. Our exams were just around the corner. Studying should have been my top priority, but how could I concentrate on different forms of unicellular life when I had my demigod with the sea-deep, ice-blue penetrating eyes gazing at me? Impossible. And in the end, like always, I ended up doing what I shouldn’t, leaving my books to one side and making my boyfriend my priority. I was lucky that Erik was a great help for my dull mind. What I lacked in dedication, he made up for with his explanations. What had I done in this life to deserve such a gift from heaven?

 

Erik reacted to my plan for the weekend the way I’d figured he would. He didn’t like the idea one little bit. He point blank refused at first then gave in when Beth and I begged him endlessly to say yes. Beth couldn’t understand why he was so reluctant to invite his brother to dinner. Even so, we managed to get him to pass the message on and he was the one who told us that Luke had accepted the invitation. Erik even quoted Luke’s exact words, not without a certain irony: he ‘couldn’t wait to come to dinner.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The dinner

 

 

Jealousy, at any rate, is one of the consequences of love; you may like it or not, at pleasure, but there it is…”

 

Robert Louis Stevenson

***

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Sandstorm

Sandstorm is the second volume of Double Moon. It is a tribute to first love. It talks about those feelings that give you goose bumps for the very first time, about that strength that pushes you to fight for what you want against everything and everyone. About the fear of losing and the disappointment that lying can cause. A story where nothing is what it seems, where looks can be deceiving. A romance fiction, but real as life itself. Francine's romance books for teens and young adults are written in spanish but soon available in english. Double Moon is her first book available in english.

  • Author: Francine Zapater
  • Published: 2017-05-13 20:05:11
  • Words: 101706
Sandstorm Sandstorm