Mom burst into my room that morning, “Happy birthday sweetie!”
The twins trailed in behind her mumbling, “Happy birthday, maggot.”
Mom whacked them both, “Be nice. Being seventeen is a big deal,” She handed me a beautifully wrapped box.
“As was being sixteen, and fifteen, and every year before that,” I smiled as I took the box, “Thanks.”
Then, realizing I was supposed to be sick, I rolled over and groaned.
“Mo-om,” I whined, placing my hands on my stomach, “My stomach hurts so bad. I feel like I need to puke. I was wondering if I could take the day off school?” I looked at her with pleading eyes.
Her eyes widened, “Sweetie, you never take days off school. Are you okay? Do you have a fever?”
She placed a hand to my forehead and frowned, “You feel fine. Would you like me to stay home?”
Oh no. Mom couldn’t stay home. Not with today planned.
“No you don’t need to stay. I just need a day of rest, I think,” I curled up beneath my blankets.
“Poor sweetie, and on your birthday too!” Mom started panicking, “I really think I should stay with you,”
“You can’t!” I yelled, startling everyone in the room, including myself, “I mean, you haven’t been at work for long, and if you take a day off now…”
Her eyes softened, “Are you sure you’ll be okay?”
“Absolutely,” I put on my best pained smile to make it look like I was really sick, “I just need a good rest.”
Mom bit her lip before giving in, “I’ll call you at midday. Just to make sure you’re okay.”
Ten minutes later she was out the door and herding the boys into the car to take them to school.
When I couldn’t hear the car anymore I crept to the bathroom window and peeked out. At the end of the road I could see Mom’s car turn onto the main road.
I rushed back into my room and put on a practical outfit – a loose fitting shirt with a flowing skirt. I thought because the clothes were loose it would help me if I needed to move around. If it was even going to happen.
I brushed my hair back into a ponytail and headed downstairs to get some breakfast. I made sure to make it a large, healthy meal to prepare myself. Just in case it was going to happen.
By this time it was barely past eight and I needed to distract myself. Butterflies formed in my stomach as I impatiently paced the house. Suddenly I was really glad I had taken the day off. The butterflies were worsening by each tick of the clock, and soon I was heaving in the bathroom.
I didn’t know what to believe. How could I be so nervous over something I was so sure wasn’t going to happen?
By ten I grabbed my key, locked the door and made my way to the back of the house. Clicking open the door, I made my way over to the hatch. Light filtered through the cracks. Alice must already be here. I was blinded when I pulled up the door. When my vision adjusted I made my way down each step slowly.
I never really believed in the idea of fate. I believed that we made our own choices, and that determined our future. But I couldn’t help but think, with each step that brought me closer, that I was heading into a choice that I couldn’t make.
My foot made contact with the floor of the cavern and I came face to face with Luke. I jumped.
“How are you feeling?” his eyes danced with true concern.
Suddenly feeling scared and unsure, and relieved that he wasn’t ignoring me anymore, tears welled in my eyes, “Nervous,” I admitted.
“Good. Put these on,” he tossed some clothes over my head.
My face burned as tears threatened to spill down my cheeks. Turning away I batted at the tears until they disappeared. Pulling myself together, I examined the clothes. They were white. A pair of shorts and a band that I assume was supposed to cover my chest. I turned to Luke.
“They’re fire resistant,” Luke answered my question before I had even opened my mouth, “And don’t worry. I won’t look.”
He turned his back to me and I changed as fast as I could. I didn’t want to upset him anymore than I already had. Looking down at myself, I didn’t know what to think. It felt so uncomfortable. It wasn’t that the fabric was itchy – it was actually quite soft and molded to my body – it was that I never wore outfits like this.
“Done,” I called as I turned around. I placed my belongings on a boulder off to the side.
Luke examined me, “Okay.”
“Where’s Alice?” I questioned, “I thought she was going to be here?”
“Well you thought wrong,” he snapped. Then sensing he may have been too harsh, he continued, “Alice thought that if she were to coach you through this she’d just make you panic, so she handed the job to me.”
“Why you though?”
I sputtered, “You what? But you hardly talk to me!”
Ignoring me, he laid down a blanket and started pulling out food from a bag. I gave him a dubious look.
“You need to keep up your strength. Eat,” he patted the blanket and held out a sandwich.
Hesitantly I made my way over to the blanket. I lowered myself and tentatively took the sandwich from Luke. I unwrapped it and took a bite. It was delicious.
“Luke,” I mumbled between mouthfuls, “I want to apologize for the other day.”
Luke held his eyes to mine. They were so blue, but held no sign of emotion. Which was frustrating, since I wanted to know if he was still mad with me or not.
“The past few hours I’ve felt different,” I continued, “I don’t know what it means. Maybe you’re right, and I’m going to change. What I’m trying to say is it is a possibility. I shouldn’t have disregarded it. I’m sorry.”
Luke took a bite of his sandwich, chewed, and swallowed. Then he looked at me again. Without saying a word he reached behind me and undid my ponytail so my dark hair fell in waves down my back.
“Better,” he said before standing up and packing everything away.
Did this mean I was forgiven?
“So here’s the rundown for today,” he said with the hardness back in his voice.
“According to this,” he waved his phone around, “The sun will be at its highest at approximately twelve fifteen. We need to be ready at least ten minutes before just in case.”
“Wait – what do I have to do to prepare? I thought it just happened and voila!” Luke narrowed his eyes at me.
“There isn’t actually a lot you need to do. You’ve changed, you’ve eaten, and now since you have nothing else to do, nerves will start to consume you,” as soon as he said that butterflies formed in my stomach, “You need to keep occupied, which is why – ”
Luke flew some water at me. Unfortunately my reflexes aren’t incredible and I became soaked, “I need to keep you occupied,” he finished.
He gathered up a ball of water and chucked it at me, but this time I was prepared. I ducked and ran as he chased me. Something cold landed on my back and I squealed. Wheeling around, I found Luke hovering an accumulation of snowballs in the air. My face froze in horror – excuse the pun.
“Aim,” he raised his eyebrow in a challenging manner, “Fire.”
I did my best to dodge as a dozen snowballs dodged into me, but my coordination had never been the best and I ended up in a soggy pile on the ground. Luke laughed and chucked a towel at me. I looked at it suspiciously, and then looked at him. He gave me an innocent smile.
Rubbing my hair dry, I sighed. My mind was reeling. There was the change, and Luke, and my nerves, and it was all starting to become a bit too much.
“Hey,” Luke knelt down in front of me, “It’s going to be okay.”
I managed a smile, “Thanks, Luke.”
His face changed to one of annoyance as he rolled his eyes, “Don’t mention it.”
He stood up and walked away, and anger boiled inside me.
“What the hell is your problem?” I yelled as I started to rise, “You ignore me, then you accept me, then you’re angry at me, then nice, then mad, then caring, then annoyed! And you were just laughing after that ambush. What the hell happened?”
I started to walk towards him. He turned to face me.
“Maggie,” his tone was stern.
“No, enough. Stop changing your attitude towards me. I want to know what the hell is going on. What is going –”
Fire shot down my spine. I cried and collapsed.
“Maggie!” Luke rushed over to me, “Maggie, it’s okay; it’s going to be okay. This happens. It’s normal.”
He kept reassuring me as pain wracked my body.
“Maggie, you have to stand up,” he commanded and he pulled me up.
My legs shook as I tried to stand, my ankles popping with pain.
“Maggie, focus on something. Take your mind off the pain. Focus on the waterfall,” he turned my head so I could see the glistening stream of water.
I could hear fire crackling in my ears. My palms throbbed and my heart had never beaten so fast before. A slow wave of heat started at my toes and climbed up my body. My thighs burned as pain crawled into the muscles. I wanted to bend over again when it attacked my stomach. I tried to remain quiet but a cry escaped my lips.
“Maggie, look at me,” I forced my eyes to meet his, “Focus on the sound of my voice. Don’t look down.”
I noticed he had covered himself in water. I fought my instincts and eventually I gave in. I looked down to see my body engulfed in flames.
Luke pulled my face back up to meet his, “I told you not to look down!”
He must have seen the panic in my eyes, “You’re going to be okay.”
And then he kissed me.