While I like the bonds that link me to my parents, there are times the gift of the memories serves as a curse. But Echo has been distant the past few days, and I need her to give me this. I need her trust.
Noah rubs his smooth jaw against my cheek and when he eases back, he nips the tip of my ear. Heat spreads down my neck, through my body and makes me very aware of me and Noah and where this night could lead…
“Tell me, Echo,” he coaxes. “Why do you think of Aires when you look at the stars?”
I clear my throat and fight the haze of seduction, remembering we were discussing Aires. My head falls back on his shoulder so I can lazily scan the sky. Hercules stretches across the horizon as well as Draco the Dragon. What would it be like to look up and see nothing but random stars…to be ignorant of the stories involving not only heaven, but hell?
Cuddled in Noah’s arms, I try to find words to explain. “Mom was the one who taught us the night sky, but Aires was the one who brought it to life. He loved the myths far more than I did and he was a better storyteller than Mom. We’d lie out for hours during the summer or huddled up under blankets during the winter, and Aires would tell me the same stories Mom had told me, but when he talked, I couldn’t get enough.”
Like the last summer I saw Aires…I stepped out of my old boyfriend Luke’s car, and the humidity of the night smacked me like a truck. The garage door was open, and Dad’s car was missing. My stomach had sunk with the sight. Mr. Overprotective, Mr. I’ll-Be-Upset-if-Any-Boy-Brings-You-Home-a-Minute-Late had left, and there are times when a girl returns from a bad date and she wants her dad.
Just to know somebody cared…to know that somebody loved me…to know I was needed.
I shoved my hands into the pockets of my jean skirt and shuffled toward the house. Luke’s engine growled as he peeled away from the curb. I could have been hours late, and Dad wouldn’t have known.
“I’m not sure he’s the one for you.” Aires appeared from the open garage and wiped the grease off his hands with a blue rag. Home from the Marines for a short break, Aires once again was messing with his Corvette.
I glanced down at myself, searching for the outward sign that Luke and I had been fighting again. He had cheapened a romantic evening by pressuring me to do it and…well…I said no. “Did Dad take Ashley out again?”
With Aires home, Mom had been around more, and Ashley didn’t like the reminder that we had been a family before she weaseled into our lives.
“Nice abrupt change in subject and yes, Dad took Ashley out.” Aires threw the rag into the garage. “Do I need to beat the hell out of Luke?”
“Echo.” Aires cut me off and gestured at his cheek while he stared at mine. “Tear tracks. They taught us to be observant at basic.”
My lips turned down, and moisture pricked the corners of my eyes. “It’s complicated.”
“Doesn’t have to be complicated all the time. Sometimes it can be simple.”
The world felt heavy, and it seemed like I was the only one shouldering the burden. “I don’t think simple exists.”
“It does.” Aires inclined his head to the backyard. “Hear there’s going to be a meteor shower tonight. Want to watch with me?”
Spend the remainder of the night with my brother after my moronic boyfriend broke my heart? I couldn’t imagine anything better. “Are you going to tell your stupid stories again?”
Mom’s stories, but told with so much more flare and zest.
He smiled as he pulled me into a fake headlock. “Don’t hate, Echo. Don’t hate.”
The fire snaps, and it jolts me from the memory, causing me to jump. A burning ember launches into the air and becomes one more light in the night sky. Noah’s arms tighten around me, and his thighs exert pressure against mine. It’s as if he thinks he can squeeze away the pain.
“Sorry,” I whisper.
“It’s all good, baby. Sometimes we don’t choose the memories, but they choose us.”
That’s the one thing we understand—becoming lost.
“I’m tired of living in the past.” I’m tired of it dictating my future.
“Mrs. Collins likes going there,” Noah mutters.
She does, but it’s because it’s where Noah and I seem to wallow. “Can we pretend for tonight that we don’t have pasts?”
I warily glance at Noah, and he’s mirroring the same look. “What does that mean?”
It means it’s exhausting being the daughter, the sister, the girl with the scars… “I’m so defined by everyone else’s actions that…that I don’t know. I’m Echo, right? And you’re Noah.”
Raised eyebrow on Noah’s part. “Uh-huh.”
The chains strangling me unlock, and I practically float. I’m heading in the right direction, even though Noah’s convinced that I’ve bought a plane ticket to crazy.
“So I like to paint, and you like architecture, and let’s pretend that none of that has anything to do with our pasts. Like…we’re together because I love you and you love me and there is no other worry in the world.”
Noah gives me an amused grin. “You want us to pretend we’re who we are now. I need to define role-playing for you. If we’re going there, I’ve got a few ideas.”
A strange adrenaline rush of embarrassment and lust overheats my body. “Not role-playing.”
His shoulders shake as he laughs. I lightly smack his arm and settle back into his chest. “You’re impossible.”
“Damn straight.” Noah runs a finger down my arm. “Seriously, I get it. No more heavy stuff for tonight. I can deal with that.”
That’s exactly it, yet not. I scan the camp, and beyond the fires in the distance only total blackness exists. But when the sun shines in the morning, it’ll be a wonderland of sights: the mountains covered in green trees, the flowers creating a palette an artist would die for. Lying in that field today, I forgot my problems, and it felt amazing.
Frogs and crickets perform a symphony, and the smell of the pine wood burning in the flames tickles my nose. Noah and I are a thousand miles away from every push and pull and worry of the real world.
“I wish life could be like this forever,” I say. “We’d be okay then. We’d forever be okay.”
Noah kisses the bend of my neck, and I sharply inhale with the divine sensation.