The shrill ring of the telephone pierced the stillness of the late Simtober air. Bella jolted from her sleep, shaking her head as she tried to collect her bearings. It was the first holiday weekend of her senior year and she had plans to sleep. Lately, she had been hitting the books hard, hoping to finish strong. She didn’t want anything to disrupt her goal of graduating with a 4.0 GPA. That would make her parents proud. Her studies kept her mind preoccupied… so she wouldn’t have to think about her impending wedding… or about a certain alien.
Bella was exhausted as she had pulled several all-nighters recently to pass her mid-terms. Glancing over at the clock, she realized her plans for an early bed time were spoiled as the phone for the third time. It was quarter after ten.
“Hello,” she said, sleepily.
“Hey Bella, it’s Jennifer.”
“Jennifer?” Bella yawned, throwing the bed sheets off. “Do you know how late it is?”
“It’s not that late,” her friend protested, and then coughed.
“Hey you don’t sound too good,” Bella said, rubbing her eyes.
“I’m not. I’m a nervous wreck,” Jennifer replied. “Last night, I even threw up a little, and now I’ve practically lost my voice. Thank God I don’t need to talk for the LSAT.”
“That’s right. That’s today!” Bella exclaimed, feeling bad she had been preoccupied.
Jennifer had driven home yesterday, and was planning to take the test in Pleasantview tomorrow morning since the test was conveniently available on the Saturday over fall break.
“Good luck,” Bella said. “But I’m sure you don’t need it. You’ll do great.”
“Oh I hope so,” Jennifer wailed. “I hope I don’t lose my breakfast halfway through. Listen, I need a huge favor.”
“Oh?” Bella slid her legs off the bed, wiggling her toes before settling her feet onto the wooden floor of her bedroom.
“I totally forgot I have to work tomorrow morning,” Jennifer exclaimed. “And I scheduled the test, and now I can’t be in two places at once. Mrs. Lexington will kill me if I don’t show up for my shift, and I’ll probably get fired. I’ve missed eight shifts since I started studying for the LSAT. But I have to take the test tomorrow or I won’t get into law school.”
“What do you want me to do?” Bella frowned, biting her lower lip.
“Will you go work my shift for me at the legal library?” Jennifer requested. “I already called Camille, my supervisor. She said Mrs. Lexington won’t be in today so she won’t even know that it’s not me. You can clock in and cover me.”
“What?” Bella arched both brows. “I can’t sub for you.”
“Why not? Please Bella, I can’t afford to lose this job. I need to pay for law school somehow, and my parents can’t cover everything with dad’s eye sight declining and you know how depressed he’s been because that means he can’t go back and fly in space. I’m kinda screwed either way so I’ve gotta do something and I’m desperate. Shift is supposed to start at eight, same time as the test, and I work until three. Only seven hours with a half-hour lunch break. Please? Please…work my shift today!”
“Okay,” Bella agreed, now fully awake. “I’ll do it.”
So much for my leisurely day off.
“I owe you,” Jennifer said, before hanging up.
Wide awake after the call, Bella sat up and decided she needed to do something relaxing in order to help herself sleep. Smiling mischievously, she slipped into her red bikini, pulled her pajamas over top, and tiptoed out the front door of the Crumplebottom Estates. It was too late to go to the gym or the Tower pool as nothing stayed open late in this blasted town, but Bella knew where she could hop a little fence and enjoy at least a half hour’s peace in a sauna – her old dorm, the Landgrabb Boarding House.
“Ah!” she sighed audibly, tucking her arms behind her head as she slipped into the hot tub on the deck between the two arms of the dorm. “This is the life.”
Bella closed her eyes, and tried to breathe deeply, hoping the hot waters would have a healing effect on her aching muscles. Sitting at a desk all day poring over books had caused cramps in her neck and shoulders. She could feel the stress of the last few days roll off her back. Staying on campus was the better choice.
The dorms were quiet, and with Jennifer gone, her house was empty. They had been the only two students who had agreed to room at the estates again this year. After spending several months there, Bella couldn’t understand why people claimed it was haunted. The place seemed perfectly nice, although the furniture was a little dated and the wallpaper faded. Bella didn’t mind. She liked only sharing space with Jennifer. It was better this way.
She did have girlfriends, if one could call them that… Kaylynn from her acting classes and the oddly dramatic Dina who had latched onto her ever since that day at the diner, but they were more like acquaintances than true friends, both busy with their own lives. Occasionally, they would all meet for drinks at the Boogie on Down to University Way, and someone would undoubtedly attempt drunken karaoke… or worse… charades. It was a once-a-month humiliation Bella had learned to suffer through in order to consider the girls her friends.
Her only true friend of the opposite sex was Daniel, but he was preoccupied as of late with his professor that he barely had time for Bella. The professor’s wife’s health had taken a turn for the worse, and Daniel was spending more time with him to comfort. Bella shook her head. She didn’t understand the strange relationship between the older and younger man, but then again, her relationships weren’t exactly straightforward either.
Bella gasped, startled as bubbles splashed up over her head. It was as if someone had turned the jets up higher. Nearby she could hear a student practicing trumpet, and the notes were rather discordant. Someone else opened their window and yelled, “Shut up!” chucking a wadded up piece of paper into the hot tub, water smacking Bella in the face once again. The guy flushed and made an awkward face, mumbling a barely audible “sorry” when he realized where his wad had fallen before closing his window overlooking the deck and snapping his blinds shut. She hadn’t expected anyone to be in the dorms over fall break, and suddenly she felt guilty for sneaking into the hot tub. There goes my quiet evening, she slipped from the sauna and wiped her eyes on her tee shirt, wishing she had remembered a towel.
As she climbed the few stairs up to the main deck between the arms of the one-story building, Bella felt her foot slide across a cylindrical glass. Her knees locked, and she teetered forward first, flailing her arms. What appeared to be a green colored beer bottle, probably leftover from some ridiculous college party, rolled beneath her feet and she heard the glass clank against the wooden steps. In horror, she felt herself fall back… back… back… for what felt like an eternity.
Who left a beer bottle out on the steps? What idiot forgot to throw it away? Stupid frat guys! No wait… I’m not at the frat house with… Daniel… Danny? I always liked his red hair. And Jennifer? I’m supposed to do something… for… Jennifer… tomorrow. What was it? What’s happening to me? Why can’t I think clearly. THWACK! Her head hit the something cold, hard, and rough… and she lost consciousness.
The muffled voice came to her ears like it was underwater. She fluttered her lashes and struggled to open her eyes. No, I’m underwater! she realized in horror. Darkness whirled around her, and water assaulted her ears and mouth as her lips parted to shriek, but no sound emerged. Am I imagining this? Is it a bad dream? Am I hallucinating? Bella tried to lift her head, but it was like trying to walk uphill in a snowstorm with twenty pound weights around her neck. What’s wrong with me? Had she broken something? Did she break her neck? Was she paralyzed?
Panicked, Bella smacked the deck with her palm, hearing a voice calling her name and feeling drops of water splashing her nose. Her eyes tore open and she was looking up at what appeared to be a cloudy sky. The rain swept sideways across her face, and she let out a ragged breath, thankful she wasn’t drowning in the hot tub after hitting her head. She tried to move, but she couldn’t find the strength. How long had she been lying on the deck of the Landgrabb Boarding House unconscious?
“Bella, milady?” she heard a frightened voice cry out.
Hefty hands as pale as snow reached through the grey light and scooped around her waist and back. As someone attempted to tug her from the ferocious jaws of the wooden deck, she felt splitting pain shoot down her spine. She felt her body resist and she couldn’t understand why. Panicked tears welled in her eyes as she wondered why she wasn’t moving. Wooden splinters clawed at her back as she was yanked upward. She heard the sound of tearing fabric and immediately following, she felt a burning sensation across her shoulder blades.
Bella was lifted into masculine arms… an angel with the face of a friend. A familiar shock of blue hair waved in the early morning wind. His thick eyebrows furrowed, and his lips parted as he spoke. She strained to hear, but heard nothing but a pounding roar of rain, and yet somehow the area around them remained dry. He carried no umbrella so Bella puzzled as to why rain was no longer pelting her body, and yet all around them, she could hear the storm assault the world.
Her head was spinning. She wondered if she was seeing a mirage… or if this was a dream. Had she died and gone to heaven? Was this the afterlife? Or some strange plane of existence – a perplexing purgatory somewhere in between. She thought back to earlier, remembering what had sounded like a shot through the night. A giant crack and a resounding thud. No I wasn’t shot. She would have felt the bullets enter her body, wouldn’t she? No, it wasn’t a shot. She had hit her head.
“Oh God! I will never forgive myself if she dies,” the male voice cried out desperately. “If I was too late…”
Bella blinked rapidly. Consciousness flooded in overwhelming her senses, the sound of rumbling thunder and the buzz of a dull headache, the smell of freshly falling rain and the sweet scent of red roses, her favorite flower, the sight of a pale ghost of a man surrounded by vibrant colors, the feel of arms, a merciful reprieve from the rigid porch that had served as an unyielding bed for the night, and the taste of lips she never thought would grace her own again. Had he revived her? Had she ceased breathing?
Emit Relevart stood over her, miraculously dry, bracing the torn straps of her bikini with his sleeve, his hand curled against her rib cage, and the other beneath her knees. “Oh my sweet Bella, I have you.”
When she stirred, several hours had past. Bella lay draped across the legs of Emit, her elbow bracing her head, her fingers dangling, barely brushing the white glass coffee table. Outside, the rain hit the window in coordinated sheets, swaying rhythmically in the wind. Emit’s hand rested ever so slightly on her shoulder. He looked relieved when she roused.
“Bella, milady, are you alright?” he inquired.
She tried to sit up. “Emit?” she managed weakly.
“Shh… you will be okay… take your time… you need a few minutes,” he urged, helping her shift to a seated position.
Bella kept her eyes closed, pressing her head against his shoulder. “I…am.. okay?” she repeated, almost uncertain.
“You had a concussion. There was a bottle on the deck. I think you tripped on it getting out of the pool…” he began.
“Pool?” she shook her head, and feeling dizzy, stopped, pressing her fingers to her forehead. “Ooo… that’s a whopper of a headache. Um… no… no pool… hot tub,” she corrected.
“What were you doing here alone?” he asked.
“I…I came to…um… uh…” she stretched as she shifted her head back against the frame. “…relax…” she shifted her hands and braced against the couch. “…I think?”
“I could have been finding you in worse condition,” he remarked. “I am so thankful I found you at all.”
“I’m thankful too…” she grunted, still trying to shift, grabbing her rib cage with her arm. “I think my entire body feels as though it is on fire.”
“You were unconscious for hours. I am not certain how long, but I do know when I found you that you were…worse than you are now,” Emit dropped his head, looking apologetic.
“Then how?” she asked.
“Your supernatural genes… they saved you,” he explained. “In fact, if you had been conscious, the healing may not have happened and you could have been paralyzed.”
Bella shivered, and unconsciously lifted her hands to rub her neck. “My neck?”
Emit shook his head. “Your spine… fractured in three places…healed…” he lowered his eyes. “The vampire… in you… restored your human form.”
She had never been so grateful for her supernatural genes. She had never been more grateful to have muscle aches. It was a sign she was still feeling… and alive.
“Did you…um…” she averted her eyes, embarrassed. “…kiss me?”
“You were unable to be breathing on your own,” Emit stated simply.
“Thank you,” Bella whispered.
“I can help…” he bowed his head and lifted his hands, palms facing up. “…with your pain… if you should so wish, milady.”
Bella reached out and touched his fingers. “What…what…what do you mean?”
“Your witch genes… your aura of healing… you could try on your neck and shoulders… but I can reach the places better than you can,” Emit said, not even flinching when her fingers brushed across his open palm.
“You have witch genes?” she puzzled.
“We created witch genes… remember? I am Xenosi.”
At the sound of the alien name, she shirked, sliding into the comfort of the couch corner. She had forgotten his origins, and that still made her uncomfortable. Emit repeated his offer, and she swallowed hard, nodding her head, and invited his fingers to massage her skin. He lightly touched her head, neck, and shoulders, and trailed his fingers slowly down her back, running over her hips and thighs and shins until she felt every ounce of pain diminish.
“You are a healer?” she said, feeling nervous, despite her moderate comfort level with the alien.
“One of my many talents,” he said casually. “It is one thing I am proud to have from my race and…” his eyes dropped centering on Bella’s chest and the numeral twenty-three on her crop top. “…um…”
Bella felt the heat rising in her cheeks, and Emit’s eyes snapped quickly to her crown, staring over her head as if to make up for his error.
“…you have it too,” he said. “I was looking at your heart.”
Bella clutched her shirt, realizing for the first time she wasn’t wearing her bikini top underneath nor a bra.
“You can see my heart? Do you have X-ray vision?” she flushed.
“No, we are not supermen,” he chuckled lightly, breaking the tension. “I just… you carry your ability to heal in your heart.”
“Oh…” she released her grip on her shirt. “Right. Um… so what happened to my suit?”
“Your straps caught on the wood when I tried to pull you up,” Emit rubbed his head sheepishly. “I am sorry. It tore in the back. I held it together, and I swear on my life I didn’t look.”
Bella smiled. “And if you had? Do you think I’d care?” she asked boldly.
“Please, believe me,” Emit protested. “I promise. I did not touch you or look at you in the way you are implying.”
“What?” she shrugged. “I haven’t seen you since our hot kiss last Simmay in your dorm room. We’re back here again… well, in your dorm lounge. You never called me.”
“I could not, Bella,” Emit said. “I could not be with you. I permitted myself a joy a time keeper such as myself could rarely have and I bruised your virtue with my careless desires.”
“Careless desires? Emit… you kissed me. I kissed you. I wanted it and I know you did too. You want me,” Bella grunted, annoyed by his backpedaling, feeling almost offended. “And it’s not like I exactly have virtue. I’ve been with other men you know.”
Emit lowered his eyes, almost shamefully. He rubbed his hands back and forth over his pants nervously.
“Then why did you enter my space?” he said, his voice low and almost sad.
“Enter your space?” Bella repeated. “You mean in the bathroom last spring? Emit, you know why. I didn’t know about your silly customs and even if I did, I wasn’t trying to throw myself at you.”
Emit’s cheek flinched. “You think my custom is silly?”
“No, I didn’t mean that,” Bella sighed. “I just… we kissed…passionately…and I wasn’t thinking about…well…sex with you… but I did think you’d call me or try to contact me somehow after it happened. I mean, we both wanted it to happen, right?”
“Bella, you need a man of Simterra, not a grievous coward like myself.”
“Emit, give yourself more credit.”
“I do not see what payment has to do with this situation.”
Bella resisted the urge to roll her eyes. “Emit, you are an honorable man.”
“I am a wretched alien.”
“Stop it!” she snapped, more harshly than she meant, and then reached for his hands. “Please… please… do not say such things about yourself. You have come to my rescue more times than I can count.”
“I am indebted to you,” he said, emotionless.
“No, it’s more than that,” she protested. “You care about me. Dare I even say… love me.”
“Love?” he repeated, the lightest flicker of hope in his eyes.
It was all Bella needed to lean in and kiss his lips, something she had wanted to do for four long months. It was something she had thought about, and dreamed about during her summer vacation. It was something she made herself stop wishing for and daydreaming about when she returned to school figuring Emit didn’t want her as much as she found herself wanting him. However, here and now, in his presence, she couldn’t stop thinking about anything but kissing the beautiful blue-haired alien before her. She helped herself to his lips, and hoped he would reciprocate. His lips crushed her own with surprising force, but she didn’t mind. Then he pulled back, a strand of hair falling into his eyes.
“Bella…” he croaked. “You cannot love me.”
“Why not?” she breathed.
“Because I am Xekzo. It is not possible.”
“Anything is possible.”
“There is a hole where my heart should be.”
Bella lifted herself from the couch, tenderly tucking his hair behind his ear and lifting his hand to her lips. She kissed his palm, closing her eyes.
“Then let me heal it.”