I smile at that. “Yeah. And we didn’t stay long enough to see it all.”
“Another time,” Dare answers quickly. I nod.
“Definitely.” He doesn’t seem excited though, and that bothers me. He seemed excited last night. He’s an enigma, a contradiction. His emotions change by the day. Today, he’s cool and detached. He’s almost reserved or hesitant. It’s so strange.
“I’ll catch you later, Calla,” he says quietly, before bolting off in a long-strided jog.
That’s when my heart almost stops, because his strides are so long, he’s in perilous territory within two steps.
“Stop!” I scream out, my voice splitting the sky like a knife. Dare freezes, turning to look at me in confusion, his eyes wide.
I’m on my feet now, my heart pounding in my throat.
“Carefully step back this way,” I tell him. “Now.”
Realization washes over his face as tiny balls of gravel and dirt begin to give way around his feet. He quickly lunges toward me, diving at the ground right before a huge hunk of earth breaks free, falling over a hundred feet to land in the ocean below.
Dare is in a heap at my feet, and my heart pounds as I stare down at him.
“You can’t stand that close to the edge,” I utter needlessly, my throat still hot and tight.
He looks over his shoulder at the ledge, then takes in the small yellow warning sign to our right. It’s a sign that should be larger and red, bright red, bright enough for someone to notice.
He looks at me, then shakes his head. “I should’ve known better.”
I nod. “There’s no way you could’ve known. The ledge is really thin. It won’t hold weight. I should’ve told you when you first came, but I didn’t think about it.”
Because I’m not used to having anyone but my family staying up here.
Because he flustered me with his Live Free tattoo and his contradictions.
He smiles, a slow smile, but not a genuine one. This one is forced, fake. It’s his go-to smile, which means that we all have fake go-to smiles. All the world is a stage and we all smile falsely upon it.
“Well, I’d say you made up for it by saving my life.”
Honestly, though, he doesn’t sound happy about that. His eyes are so sad, so closed now, so glittery.
Aren’t you happy to be alive?
I want to ask it. I’m so tempted, too tempted. He’s got everything that most people want. Good looks, wit, charm. And he doesn’t seem happy with it. Is it because he’s an orphan now?
“Why do you seem so sad?” I blurt out, unable to stop myself.
Dare stares at me, studying me, considering my words. He raises an eyebrow.
I nod, silently. Yes. Official question.
He sighs, and it sounds lost up here as it floats away over the edge, and he looks out over the ocean.
“Because I lost everything.”
I’m the silent one now, because it’s hard to stomach the rawness in his voice, the emotion that he can’t quite hide. Dare surprises me by adding something, something so startlingly personal that it takes my breath away.
“I’m not sure if I can be found.”
He looks at me with eyes so black, blacker than black, blacker than night.
“That would insinuate that you’re lost. Not just that you’ve lost everything,” I point out, careful not to ask it as a question. He nods curtly.
“Maybe I am.” His voice has a scalpel’s edge.
“And if I’m lost,” he continues. “How can I possibly find someone else?”
He confuses me with his vague words. “Are you looking for someone else?”
“Aren’t we all?” His gaze impales me and my heart twinges because the look on his face is vulnerable and broken.
But then it’s gone, as fast as it appeared. He looks at me again, his eyes clear now, closed, bright. He once again appears cocky and arrogant and he flashes his go-to smile.
“Sorry. That seemed dramatic. Chalk it up to my near-death experience.”
I smile back, grim and quiet. “I had a near death experience too, once. Actually, I had a death experience when I ate some nuts in the fourth grade. I died for a minute and a half.”
Dare stares at me. “How was it?”
What a strange question.
“Uneventful,” I admit.
“Well, how very anti-climactic of it,” he acknowledges. And the fact that he’s so blasé about mortality makes me laugh, and then we’re both standing on the edge of a cliff laughing in the face of death.
It seems right.
When we’re silent again, he eyes me.
“Why are you sitting out here on the edge of nowhere?” he asks.
I raise an eyebrow. “Official question?”
He laughs and rolls his eyes. “God no. I just thought you might offer it as a bonus.”
I roll my eyes too. “Don’t hold your breath. Talking about myself is my least favorite thing.”
He smiles for a minute because I’m throwing his own words back in his face, but then sobers, staring deep into my eyes, examining my soul.
“I’d think you’d enjoy it,” he tells me quietly. “It’s such an interesting subject.”
Just like that, my heart thunders and pounds, my stomach rolling over and over and over. There’s something so stimulating in his voice, something so attractive and real.
Live, Calla, the Universe whispers.
“I’m glad you think so,” I finally answer, sounding perfectly casual, as I try to live.
He nods slowly. “I do. Not that it means anything.”
It means everything.
But I don’t say that, of course. Instead, I begin to walk and Dare walks with me, instead of continuing his run. At one point, he grasps my elbow and helps me step over a rotting log. When he removes his hand, I feel its absence immediately. His touch had been branding-iron hot.
Or so I imagined.
Our walk back is silent, but the air is charged.
We pause outside of the carriage house.
“Thanks again,” he says, his voice husky and quiet.
I nod. “Anytime.”