Fade to White
Night had fallen before Jerek finally felt safe enough to leave the mausoleum, and after spending so much time in the graveyard he doubted all the stories he had heard. However, Tryne still kept moving her head around quickly, clinging tightly to Jerek’s arm as they walked. The horse was still there, eating the sparse leaves off the tree. Helping Tryne up first, Jerek mounted behind her, taking the reigns and urging the horse back toward the village.
“None of the buildings were destroyed,” Tryne murmured. “I wonder why.”
“I don’t think that Nosaj meant to destroy the town.”
“Head back to my house, that’s where Ken will be contacting me with any information he has.” Tryne cracked a grin. “I know you were going to suggest that we go somewhere else.”
“I can’t fight you. The only way you’ll ever leave is if your entire farm is destroyed and turned into a camping ground for Nosaj’s troops.”
“Hey, you really are learning.”
“All I had to do was figure out how stubbornly stupid you are.”
Tryne elbowed Jerek in the stomach, causing him to grunt. “You are so mean sometimes.”
“At least I’m not half as violent as you are.”
A pause. “I guess you’re right.” Tryne continued thinking as they entered the forest. “I still feel tired, even though all I’ve done is sleep. How about you?”
“I feel fine. You can sleep on the way home if you want.”
“I appreciate the thought, but there is no way I’m going to get any rest on top of a horse.”
“Especially if you keep falling off.”
Pushing on Tryne’s shoulder, Jerek laughed as she yelped and scrambled to grab hold of the saddle horn, slowly sliding more and more to the side. “You make a terrible rider.”
Glaring, Tryne looked over her shoulder at Jerek and let go, hitting the dirt with a thud. Alarmed, Jerek stopped his horse and dismounted. “Are you okay?”
“That hurt more than I thought it would,” Tryne said as Jerek grabbed her hand and helped her stand. Dusting off her skirt, Tryne tilted her head up to look down her nose at Jerek. “I hope you learned your lesson.”
“Not really,” Jerek answered, laughing. “That was pretty fun.”
“You have no idea how to treat a lady, do you?”
“I haven’t ever met one.”
“You are the biggest jerk I have ever met.”
“That’s all right. I don’t mind.” Lifting Tryne onto the horse again, Jerek mounted in front of her. “You still seem to like me.”
“I’m an idiot for that.”
“Yes you are.”
Making a move to hit Jerek, Tryne stopped herself before landing the blow. Instead, she placed her arms against Jerek’s back and rested her forehead against her hands. “Oh Jerek, why do we keep hurting each other?”
“Because we’re both malicious and cruel?”
“Then I don’t know.”
Tryne started laughing so hard she almost fell again, preventing herself from doing so by grabbing Jerek around the middle. “Let’s go faster!” she called out. “Let’s gallop!”
Urging his horse to speed up, Jerek quickly complied.
They had been trotting for a while before they reached Tryne’s cottage, and when they came into sight of it they slowed down even more. Sliding off the horse and landing lightly on her feet, Tryne stood still, staring at the building.
“The door is open,” she whispered, slowly stepping forward.
Suddenly Jerek took off on the horse, rushing past Tryne. Before the horse even stopped he flung himself down, and stumbling slightly pushed the door completely open, looking in. His eyes couldn’t penetrate the darkness, but his other senses told him that there was something severely wrong inside. Overcome, he shivered, backing away.
“What’s wrong?” Tryne asked, looking around.
“I don’t know.” Jerek paused. “We need light.”
“We have a lantern hanging on the side of the house, if you have a match to light it with.”
Feeling in his pocket for the small box of matches he always kept, Jerek then went to retrieve the lamp. Lighting it, he held the lantern out in front of him and slowly walked toward the cottage, his feet almost dragging as he was filled with the deepest sense of dread. Jerek hesitated, but Tryne pressed against his back.
Slowly the circle of light moved forward, reaching the open doorway and spilling inside, until it eventually filled a good portion of the cottage. As soon as his gaze settled on what was sitting on the floor in the middle of the room, Jerek immediately turned around and pushed Tryne away, but she had already seen. Shrieking, she put her hands up to her ears, closing her eyes as the tears flowed down her cheeks. Jerek tried to wrap her in an embrace, but she pushed away, screaming and crying, “Oh my God! My mom!” hysterically.
“Tryne!” Jerek shouted at her, forcefully grabbing her by the shoulders and shaking her, but she didn’t respond to him, instead fighting to break free. Putting his arms around her, Jerek squeezed her so tightly he almost expected to hear her bones crack. Unable to move, Tryne’s body collapsed and she stopped screaming, sinking to the ground and sobbing heavily in Jerek’s arms. Loosening his grip, Jerek rubbed and patted her back, trying to whisper soothingly to her but only coming up with the words, “It’s all right.” It seemed to work, because Tryne’s sobs subsided until they were both sitting silently.
Standing up, Jerek picked up the lantern and walked into the cottage, then a moment later he came back out, a bundle of blankets in his arms. Grabbing Tryne’s hand and pulling her to her feet, he began leading her to the woods.
“Where are we going?” Tryne asked with a strained voice.
“We’re sleeping under the stars tonight.” Jerek glanced sideways at her, smiling slightly. “And we need to get away from your house.”
“How could they . . . do that?”
Clutching Tryne’s hand tightly, Jerek replied, “I don’t know.”
“It was Nosaj . . . he knows.”
“It seems that way.”
“Sh. Let’s not worry about it tonight.” Jerek stopped, looking around and toeing the grass with his boot. “I think here is a good spot.” Throwing a blanket at Tryne, he advised, “You’ll want to fold it in half and sleep in between.”
Tryne pulled the blanket off her face, and laughing slightly said, “I know.” Becoming serious again, she dropped the blanket on the ground and stepped closer to Jerek. “I don’t know what I would do without you. You’ve been a major help, and it really means a lot to me that you care. I mean, you saved my life after all, and you’re always there for me.” Tryne stopped, looking briefly down then back up to Jerek, her eyes shining. “Thank you,” she whispered, leaning forward and kissing Jerek on the cheek.
It struck Jerek then what he had been longing to do for a while. It was a way to express how he felt without ever having to say the words, and with such immense emotion behind it he couldn’t see it as vulgar and disgusting, but rather desirable. Stroking his hand through Tryne’s hair and along the side of her face, stopping with his fingers underneath her chin, he tilted her head up and touched her lips with his. Shyly and briefly at first, he hovered just a centimeter away, feeling her hot breath on his lips before kissing her again, longer and deeper, growing more passionate as he put his pent up frustration, love, and anxiety into it.
Reaching around Jerek, Tryne pulled him and herself more into the kiss, closing her eyes and letting herself sink into the emotion of the kiss, feeling and loving each sensation of it. Then, disappointingly, Jerek broke it and pulled Tryne’s head against his shoulder.
“We should sleep. We’ve had a long day and tomorrow will be rough as well.” Then he let her go, leaving a cold and empty feeling where they had been touching. Jerek spread his blanket out on the grass and folded it in half, then crawling inside he lay with his back turned toward Tryne.
For the first time Jerek realized the full extent of what was happening, of what he was doing, though his heart pounded against his chest and he longed to touch Tryne again. He knew that he had already made his decision when he left the castle the last time, but now he also knew the full impact of it. His brain told him he should go away so she could be safe, but his heart told him that he should stay with her so he could ensure her safety. Even though he had wanted to continue feeling and sensing only Tryne, he was scared.