This story is by Ivory Nocturne and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The moon shines down on the beach sand, its light soft and barely visible. The slightest breeze sighs past, whispering secrets and blessings and weariness. It brushes over her skin as she stands in the moonlight. She’s wearing shorts and a long night shirt and she shivers too easily.
Her lips press together. Images flash behind her eyelids a blood stained floor, Jason with his sunny smile, her hands taking a check, more blood, Jason waiting at the table for her to come home, worried and her hands flex by her sides, her mouth twists. She sighs into the darkness, a hand coming up to rub her temple.
Drawing even with the edge of the water, she plops down. Her head tilts back to take in the stars. They are vibrant, immortal, a constant, and she allows the smallest smile to creep onto her lips.
Water laps at her feet, and they twitch, rubbing against each other. Her hand digs into the sand, further grounding her, and she soaks in the sensation of being weightless, an empty vessel, just a soul surrounded by nature and infinity.
A hand suddenly brushes the top of her back, and she startles, turning to the newcomer. “Hello, Lacey,” the man whispers. “Knew I’d find you here.”
She stares up at his stupidly bright grin and soft, delighted blue eyes, and has to fight harder than she should to tamp down on her instinctive answering smile.
“Too predictable, Jason?” she questions, turning back to the ocean.
“Only for me,” he responds with a breathy chuckle. “You like knowing there are bigger things out there, it takes some responsibility off your shoulders. I just love the ocean. I usually like it better in scorching heat, but it’s best with you here.” He sits down next to her, bumping her shoulder.
Lacey hums. She kinda leans into him, although she wouldn’t admit it. He’s… warm. Warmer than she remembers. Breathing out, her eyes slip closed. She indulges herself, snuggling into his side just a bit more. He receives the weight with a slight smile and squeeze.
They sit together for a few long minutes, relishing companionship and lightly chatting.
The stars highlight the blond of his hair, and suddenly she’s yet again entranced. Being here is just one more unnecessary thing on the infinite list of small moments he’s dedicated to her, but he shouldn’t. She doesn’t deserve this. She presses her lips together.
“Sunshine, you shouldn’t have come. Why did you come?” she queries, and buries her face in his shoulder.
“Because I miss you, and you’re worth it, and I just couldn’t help myself, I need to talk to you,” he outlines, kissing her head in between each reason, something solemn and melancholy soaking the kisses. “It’s not healthy to be wrapped up in negative thoughts for as long as you tend to be, darling. Someone needs to brighten your mind.”
“You’re far too good at that, my sunshine,” she admits, poking her head up to glare and huff at him. It does nothing but make him smile more and laugh a little. “But seriously, no. I’m not worth it. i’m only/an empty vessel/no ocean waves secreted in this shell/i’m only a mirage/of the things you sought,” she recites.
His gaze is sorrowful, frustrated, and pleading. “I regret introducing you to Fitzhugh, no matter how good her poetry is. You know, there are ones like this, too: you dive into the/shimmering, vast ocean in front of you,/and its waves wash over you/tenderly serene,/enfolding you/and you sigh in relief/and smile as saltwater/flows over you… That’s more like you.” He intertwines their free hands, stroking hers with his thumb.
Lacey shakes her head instinctively. Her voice comes out cracking. “I’m not as good as you think I am. I-Jason, I get paid to hurt people. I’ve done horrible things, too many times. I’m-I’m a monster. I can’t be good for you, sunshine,” she insists, shifting away from him.
Jason kneels in front of her, cradling her hands in his. No one would think she’s an ex military hired bodyguard with an unfortunately loud conscience from how frail her frame is, from how downcast her gaze is. “You make me happy!” he says, eyes boring into hers, kissing her hands so tenderly she resists the urge to tear them away and off of her arms. “Love, you deserve a chance at redemption more than anyone I know.” He kisses her cheek softly. “Nothing I say convinces you that you have worth, so let me love you. Please. You may not think so, but you deserve to be loved.” He kisses her hands, and then moves to her arms, up her neck, until he reaches her mouth, where he plants an impossibly slow, emotionally laden, intimate kiss.
Infinity, she thinks. This is immortality.
I don’t deserve it.
Cupping her face, Jason kisses her nose and leans his forehead to hers, whispering impossibly tender. His eyes are galaxies, open to dissection, and she is speechless in the face of this vastness. “You protect. You’re legally paid to protect clients. That you feel horrible for injuring attackers at all means you are empathetic. …Darling, you have a beautiful heart.”
Lacey nods unsteadily and breathes out. All the same, her lips press together and her brow furrows.
Jason sighs, and there’s longing, resignation. His eyebrows crease for a moment. “Darling, I-I can’t fix this. I can’t fix you, especially if you’ve already made up your mind that you’re unfixable or unlovable. I can’t make all the sacrifices, I can’t hold us together, and I can’t be the only one completely devoted.”
Lacey draws back her head. Her usually averted eyes widen and stare straight at him. What…?
“I’m sorry. I just… things can’t go on this way, darling. We’ll both self combust or run each other ragged. I’m just saying we need to take a step back.” He leans over to kiss the top of her head once more and settles into a crosslegged position. The way he smiles, melancholy instead of bright, is infinitely wrong, and she can’t help the way her mind hallucinates blood dripping down his face. He-he isn’t going to be ripped from her, is he?! Her hands shake, and she gulps, balling them into fists that she hides.
“Don’t-don’t leave,” Lacey pleads, words rough and frail.
“I can’t be the redemption we both want me to be,” he whispers, painfully sincere. Comfortingly close. “That’s not going to be a person. I’ve tried for so long, but while you were gone, I had a lot of time to think, and this isn’t working. You need to stand on your feet without me. You need real change, and you can handle it.
“We could be so much more than the patchwork quilt we are now.” His eyes shine, soft but excited for the future. “I gathered some things I thought might help. I booked you a therapy appointment, and there’s an application for a job opening at the observatory in this hotel room.”
She breathes unsteadily, takes the room key, licks her lips, and absorbs his words. Her eyes search his and they find sadness and sincere eagerness.
“And I…” Lacey murmurs and clears her throat. “I’ll get some time away. To think. To adjust. To make some things right.”
“To heal and gain forgiveness,” Jason adds, smiling, gently cradling her hand in his. “Discover who you are and what you can do on your own, without being tied down to a destructive job. Find some of the people you hurt and work to gain their forgiveness. And when you’re ready, you know where to find me.”
“At home,” she nods.
The moon shines down on the beach sand, its light soft and barely visible. The slightest breeze sighs past, whispering secrets and blessings and weariness. It curls over her skin as she sits in the moonlight with her sunshine, as she stares the enormous tasks of trying to become okay and redeem herself in the face.
(She was an effective, capable soldier, but some of the necessary actions never agreed with her stomach.)
“Okay,” she whispers into the chill, eyes wide and completely focused on him. “Okay.”
Therapy will help her trauma, and so will reconciliation with the victims of her actions, deserving or not. After all this, she can return to soak in sunshine.
He kisses her forehead once more, standing. His resigned smile glints beautifully under the moon, and he turns and walks away.
She looks down at the room key, then back at the ocean, calm and anchoring. She’s wearing shorts and a long night shirt and she shivers too easily from overpowering memories.
“Okay,” she says, standing. The hotel key reads Lark Inn, room 114. “Okay.”