It was my sister’s twelfth birthday the day my life change irrevocably.
It was all my fault. I was selfish and uncaring and it cost my younger brother his life.
It’s hard to live with yourself when you realize just what a bitch you are.
A FEW HOURS LATER
I sucked in another shallow breath and raised my hands to press both my palms against my forehead. I could hear the raspy sound of my panting, but I had no control. I was hyperventilating.
I tried to swallow. My throat closed. I started to gag. My next instinct was to pull in air through my nose, but the high humidity of the cavern was still playing havoc with my nasal passages. No oxygen was getting to my brain. I started to feel lightheaded.
A part of me wanted to give up and pass out. If I passed out my body would take over and my breathing would return to normal.
I willed myself to stay conscious.
This wasn’t the first time I’d had a panic attack and dammit I wasn’t taking the easy way out. I deserved to feel the pain, to experience the terror and fear, to endure the heartache. I’d almost lost more than half of what little family I had left. Jam and Em.
I leaned against a tree, or what had once been a living tree. The rough bark chipping off the dead trunk bit into the underside of my forearm. I tried to concentrate on the sharp pain. Anything to get my mind off the fact that the thought of losing my brother and sister would effectively destroy me. I didn’t have the luxury of feeling regret and grief, or much of anything. I’d forfeited all rights seven years ago.
I heard a noise behind me. I ignored it. It was probably some poor creature that was more scared of me than I would be of it. No sane person would come near me. I’d made sure to keep everyone as far away as possible. Both physically and emotionally.
I tried to swallow again. Still no go, so I gulped air. That wasn’t a good idea. I bent quickly over. My stomach dry heaved at first and then up came the vomit.
By the time I straightened the muscles under my ribcage were aching fiercely. There wasn’t anything left in my stomach. I dragged the back of my hand across my mouth and that’s when I smelled him.
After a year and a half I still didn’t know if that was his first name, his last, or some funny nickname. I didn’t care. He was just some guy. One of the many my family hired in our fyre egg salvage operation.
Only Stevron was different.
He was tall, incredibly muscular, and freakishly beautiful. Movie star gorgeous and even though we were the same age, almost to the very day, I always felt old and decrepit in his presence. Ugly even.
Every canister that had fallen from the sky seven years ago had had a slightly different composition. The one that had supposedly crashed in Stevron’s location had granted the still teenage boy with the uncanny ability to regenerate flesh, bone and muscle, lost blood, cartilage, and even broken teeth.
I wasn’t convinced.
It was his eyes that had me suspecting him of being a member of the Sapphyre Wings people. I could be wrong though since I’d never met one before, but I’d heard about them through forklore. About how special the Sapphyre Wings people were. Fascinating and unique. A race of people who were so hidden you barely knew they even existed.
Stevron, either a member of the Sapphyre Wings or like me a Far Beyond, had been refusing for the last six months to be kept along the sidelines. He wanted past my wall, past the protective barrier that I’d hidden myself behind and I couldn’t allow that.
I pushed myself away from the dead tree and squared my shoulders. I still had my back to him so he couldn’t see how badly I was sweating. I hoped he couldn’t hear my breath hitching. The attack was finally winding down. I could feel my heart slowing.
“Here,” Stevron spoke. His voice was coarse and rough, the complete opposite of his smooth unwrinkled face and perfect features.
It took every ounce of strength I had not to put a hand to my stomach. I felt another retching coming.
“Damn, you’re pigheaded.”
I heard a rustle in the dry grass directly behind me. I deliberately took a step forward. Then another and another.
“Angie,” he sighed, and I heard the frustration in his tone. He was still coming after me. “I just want to give you something to calm your stomach.”
As much as I didn’t want to admit it, I did long for the minty taste of the bushberry he was offering me. It’s what I had smelled earlier and how I’d known that Stevron was approaching me. Stevron always carried a small pouch of the fragrant hard berries with him.
The soft plea in his sandpaper voice sent a shiver through me. I tried to tell myself the tingling running up my arms was from the night air settling on my sweaty skin. I didn’t like how my body reacted when he was near me, especially when I was feeling so vulnerable, so exposed. No one knew about my panic attacks, that’s how hard I’d worked to keep them a secret from everyone. Everyone but Stevron.
I nodded and held out my hand. I still did not turn around.
Stevron’s fingers were careful not to graze my palm as he dropped a marble-sized dark green bushberry onto my hand.
“Thanks,” I murmured. I closed my fingers around the smooth orb and pushed it past my dry lips. Instantly my mouth flooded with the wonderful taste of mint and within seconds I felt the queasiness in my stomach ease. I could feel Stevron relax behind me.
When he next spoke, his words were quiet, not much more than a whisper. “It’s not your fault. We had no idea her reaction…”
Stevron didn’t finish his sentence and I felt ashamed.
It was my fault. All my fault. I shouldn’t have-
A familiar stabbing pain cut off my train of thought. Like someone was shoving an icepick through my left eye. I brought a shaky hand up to my temple and pressed hard. The headache had started. I immediately got to work.
I sucked in a breath. I tried to continue my conversation with Stevron. Tried to make it appear that nothing was happening. “They almost died because of me. I almost got my brother and sister killed.”
“That’s not true. You saved them both.”
I shook myself fiercely. I wasn’t building fast enough. I could feel myself gritting my teeth. The tap, tap, tapping in my head had expanded to a loud bang! Bang! Bang!
©Legend of the Sapphyre Wings by Janet Merritt