“Here we are.” I stopped and turned to face him, since it seemed rude to just walk away, even though I really wanted to.
Ridley looked around, as if expecting to find something exciting. “Where are we?”
“The point where we should split off.” I gestured to the two roads.
“Why here? Why not keep going a block that way?” He stuck his thumb back behind him, at the road that led to his house.
“The road splits here, and that’ll take me a block out of my direction.”
“Then I’ll go that way,” he offered and pointed to my road.
I shook my head. “That’ll take you a block out of your way.”
“Maybe I don’t mind going out of my way. Maybe I like the extra detour.” He was smiling, but his eyes were serious. “Would it be so bad if I wanted to spend a few more minutes with you?”
“It’s not bad. It’s just…” I stopped when I saw color splashing on his face, and I turned my gaze up at the night sky to the aurora borealis shimmering above us. “Look at that.”
Vibrant blue shifting to brilliant violet light illuminated the ether in winding arcs. Stars glimmered like diamonds in the indigo sky as pulsating hues washed across the night sky in luscious waves.
“Oh wow,” he whispered.
“It’s amazing.” I stared up in awe at the dazzling colors dancing across the clear night sky. “No matter how many times I see the northern lights, I’m still stunned by how beautiful they are.”
“Yeah, I know exactly what you mean,” Ridley said. There was something low and meaningful in his voice that made me turn to him, but he was already looking at me.
“What?” I asked, confused by the somberness in his expression.
“Before when we were talking, were you asking why her?” The aurora above us reflected on his face, and his dark eyes were filled with heat. “Or were you asking why not you?”
“No. No.” I avoided his gaze and ran my hand through my hair. “I would never. No.” I swallowed hard. “I know why not me.”
“Why not you?” he repeated.
“Because it’s wrong.” I finally met his eyes and tried to smile at him, trying to play off the growing pain in my chest. “There’s a million reasons why not me, and you know them all. And you don’t … you don’t even want to anyway.”
He smiled in disbelief at me. “I’ve wanted to kiss you practically since the day I met you. But I knew you would never let me.”
“How would you know that if you never tried?” I asked, and then I was too nervous to even breathe, terrified of what might happen next.
For a second he only stared at me, and I wished I’d never said anything. I wished I’d left my parents’ house five minutes sooner so I wouldn’t even have seen him at all tonight, and I wouldn’t be playing this stupid game where I pretend that we like each other or that we could ever be together. Because I know we can’t, and he knows we can’t, so it’s better if he just walks away. If he just turns around and leaves me here alone, but my heart is thudding painfully in my chest, begging him to kiss me.
And just when I’m certain he won’t, and I’m about to turn and hurry away in shame, he’s there. His lips are cold, pressing hungrily against mine. His fingers knotting in my hair, pulling me to him. His stubble scrapes against my lips and cheeks, but I don’t mind, I like it. I love everything about him that feels so real, touching me, holding me.
I wrap my arms around his neck, and I bury my hands in his hair. It’s longer and thicker than I thought it would be, and I feel the curls at the nape of his neck wrapping around my fingertips.
He’s strong, stronger than I thought he’d be, and his arm around my waist is crushing me to him so hard that I can barely breathe. But I don’t care. I don’t want to breathe. I just want to kiss him forever, tasting him on my lips, feeling him against me.
But then he pulls away, gasping for breath, but he keeps his face close to mine.
And then suddenly, as oxygen fills my lungs, my senses take hold of me, and I realize exactly how wrong that was. I let go of him and step back, even though it kills me a little to do it.
Ridley stands there, his arms falling to his side, as he watches me back away from him.
“I have to go,” I say, because I can’t think of anything better, and then I turn and I’m running as fast as my legs will carry me, as far away from Ridley as I can get.
“I didn’t expect to see you,” Tilda said with ice in her voice, but she’d let me into her place, so it couldn’t be all bad.
She lived in a small apartment above an electronics store. On the outside, the store appeared to be an ordinary shop, like a haberdashery from a village in a fairy tale. But inside, it was filled with slick gadgets—all of them a model or two behind whatever was most popular with the humans, since we did a horrible job of stocking and ordering things. Besides, there wasn’t that much of a demand for them in Doldastam.
Still, Tilda’s apartment had to be one of the more modern spaces in town. Her furniture reminded me of the hotel I’d visited in Calgary, and she had a stainless steel dishwasher next to her sink—the only one I’d ever seen in Doldastam. A flat-screen TV sat across from her sofa, and while TV wasn’t unheard-of here, it wasn’t exactly a staple in every home.
“So what is it that I can do for you?” Tilda folded her arms over her chest, and the loose fabric of her tank top shifted, showing the slight swelling of her belly that I should’ve realized the significance of sooner.
“I just wanted to talk to you.” I shoved my hands in my pockets and tried not to visibly recoil under the scrutiny of her glare. “I needed to apologize for the things I said yesterday. I was out of line.”
“Damn right you were,” Tilda snapped, but she stepped back from me, giving me room to move in from the entryway. She sighed and rolled her eyes before turning to walk into the kitchen. “Do you want anything? I was gonna make some tea.”
“Sure. I’ll have whatever you’re having,” I said, following behind her.
“Blackberry and hibiscus it is.” Her long chestnut hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and it swayed behind her as she moved around, putting the kettle on the stove to boil, and getting the tea and cups out from the cupboard.
Then she turned back to face me, her arms once again crossed over her chest, her gray eyes staring at me expectantly. “So? Where’s the apology?”