To set the record straight, I never was unfaithful.
No, no… I thought I was, as well, but, after having thoroughly run through the situation in my mind, I didn't once cheat on anybody, like Mark has so willingly accused me of. I'm not just writing this here to ease my mind, or to let everyone else know what happened and why, because I don't and never really have given a damn about what other people thought of me. I'm writing this because I want to, because I feel like documenting what happened--every magical detail.
And this is how it went.
If you're reading this, chances are you've already heard about this… or what Bobby Pendragon has to say about it. To you, I merely began the journey, and then, along with my trusted companion, Mark Dimond, jumped on for the ride, and then screwed just about everything over. Well now I, Courtney Chetwynde, am going to give my story. It may be biased, but, hell, so was Bobby's, and now, maybe, your view will even out a little and you'll be able to see the real facts.
Sure, I loved Bobby. How could I help it? He was the only boy in my circle of friends who had never made completely obvious how much of an idiot he was, and, back then, I suppose I would have believed in anything. Along with many others, I grew with the delusion that Bobby Pendragon--good guy, hottie, basketball star--was God.
I was the opposite of humbled (what is that--dehumilified?) when he responded so warmly to me when I went to visit his house before the big game, even more so when I read his first journal which held me in so high regard. And, well… I suppose it was then that I began to actually believe it. Never once, though, was it actually said that I was Bobby's girlfriend or anything. Not officially.
So I forgave him for looking at Loor. And Aja Killian. I just brushed it aside when he started talking about how beautiful Loor was, or how nice and comfortable it was to stand in the Veelox flume, Aja holding him lovingly. And it began as harmless flirting with Spader. I figured he owed it to me.
Vo Spader--there's just something about him. Reading about him, well, sure… he seemed sweet and nice and all. But when I met him, everything was different. He seemed to focus on my every need, and treated my problems as if they were equal to his own. He would sense my annoyance with Mark and take care of it, but at the same time I could tell he was taking care of Mark's annoyances with me. It took me a while to realize it, but sometime when we were running about on Cloral, I stopped thinking Bobby Pendragon was God. When there were people, like Spader, so much sweeter and more generous and happier and more athletic than Bobby, Bobby just sort of lost his shine in my eyes.
It took me even longer than that to realize how very in love with Spader I had become. He wasn't even that much older than I was, was he? But he seemed it. More weathered. Like he'd seen it. Seen life. I never once doubted that he had. Even after reading about how his faults were only slightly less numerous than my own, I never saw them when I looked into his deep, shining brown eyes.
I suppose I should have noticed how I loved him when he rescued me from that avalanche and my own zenzen on Eelong, or saved both of us from those tangs shortly after. I may well have felt it, if not noticed it, while we were climbing the sheer rock face and, despite the danger it put him in, he climbed just below me, to try and catch me if I fell, or offered to carry the tank of antidote, or smiled at me with that smile I had already begun to feel like I knew so well. But the thought only first flitted across the pages of my mind when I was talking to Mark weeks later.
Bobby had just stormed out on us, insisting we go-leave him, leave Eelong, leave Gunny and Kasha and Boon and Spader….
Mark and I were taking opposing ends of the heated debate Bobby had left the two of us with. Go, or stay? Naturally, I wanted so badly to stay, to continue to help with whatever Bobby or any of the other Travelers needed. But Mark did pose a question. Were we even meant to be Traveling? Of course not, because, if they wanted us to Travel, we would be Travelers.
Press was mentioned, yelling and screaming, and some more scolding from Mark about how we should never have come in the first place. He had been the one who wanted his own damn adventure. Now that he had it, he was yelling at me as if it was my fault.
"If we hadn't come, Saint Dane would have won." This line seemed to have been used quite a lot directly preceding that impending argument. Mixing the territories was dangerous, sure, but… wasn't it all better than letting Saint Dane get another territory?
"It seems like that, but who knows for sure?" Mister Hypothetical was one of Mark's alter-egos, the one I particularly despised. I decided to stifle that immediately.
"I do. There was no other way." I was mad, that was for sure, and not really watching what it was I was saying. "And you know what else? Spader wants us to stay."
It was true. He had surprised me only just that morning by asking, with quite a note of sadness in his voice, if I would be leaving soon. He said he wanted Mark and me to stay. I hadn't dug much farther into it than what I'd heard him say, and maybe I should have. Then, perhaps, the realization process would have been less confusing.
"Does he?" Mark asked. I was about to tell him about the conversation Spader and I had held earlier that very day, but Mark didn't look quite done, so I let him continue. This was most likely a mistake. "Or does he just want you to stay?"
Mark could hide the contempt in his voice just about as much as I could hide the surprise from my face. The wheels started turning. Spader had never really become close to Mark the same way he and I had become friends.
The look Mark then gave me was condescending and purely against everything I'd gathered Mark to be until then. "I'm not an idiot. He likes you."
The wheels in my head jammed, and I couldn't say a word. I don't remember what Mark said after that, I don't even remember him leaving, but, when I finally came around again, he was gone. I wanted to sleep to stop my thoughts then, but the needed rest just wouldn't come, so I lie down and look at the ceiling for a while. When Spader came in to wish me goodnight, I pretended I was asleep. Even though it was Mark I was mad at, with all my thoughts crashing into one another at once, it was Spader who was the last person I wanted to see.
I finally drifted off, and a strange sensation came over me when I woke up in the morning. I'd been so embarrassed the night before; I had never wanted to see Spader again. Now, he was the only thing I did want to see. Bobby came to tell me we were leaving, but I already knew, and didn't say a word to him at all. After all, it was Bobby's decree that was making me leave Spader. I had to say goodbye to my new best friend when there wasn't everybody else there to interfere.
So I skipped breakfast and headed over to the hut where Spader and Gunny were staying as respected guests. Gunny was just leaving as I was entering, and he smiled at me and held the door. I didn't know him too well, but he'd seemed like a friendly old guy to me, from what I knew of him personally and what I'd read of him. He alone said nothing to me about my relationships with Bobby and Spader, and he alone didn't judge me. Well, him and Spader, of course. I was glad he was leaving, though. Like I said, I really didn't want anyone there when I next spoke to Spader, in case we got to talking about what I'd gotten to think about.
Spader wasn't in the front room, so I said his name, called it out into the openness of the empty hut around me. I heard his footsteps, and he came in for me, and grinned the instant he saw me.
"I tried to say goodnight to you last night, but you were already asleep." He said, walking over to me to give me a hug.
"Oh?" I asked, hugging him back with every bit of my strength as well. "Listen Spader… do you know what Bobby's doing? Do you know where he's sending you?"
Spader's smile flickered, but then returned again. "Does anybody ever know what Pendragon's up to? He likes the drama of keeping his secrets."
Well, he wasn't wrong. Bobby had always been pretty secretive.
"I was just wondering… well, maybe it is wrong for me and Mark to Travel, and maybe I'll never be in a place like Eelong again. But… you can always Travel."
Spader looked at me like he was realizing something, and I felt his gaze stab at my heart, making it beat like it never had before. It suddenly occurred to me that he hadn't let go of me from our hug. It also came to my mind, quickly, and left the same, how incredibly wanted I felt, standing there in Spader's arms.
"You… want me to come visit you?"
"Not all the time." I said quickly. Too quickly. "Just, you know, whenever you feel like it. I know it would be kind of hard to explain you to my mom and everything, but you could stay over at my house, or at Mark's, and we could play soccer and you could meet my friends and see my room and learn all about Second Earth."
Spader just nodded, and we continued standing there, a little unsure, looking at one another every so often. Finally, Spader said, "I would like that."
I practically exploded, but instead burst into a grin. Spader did, as well... and then did something that totally surprised me.
He pulled me into a tighter hug and I gratefully fell into it, hoping to wash away the tensions of the previos night with his scent... and then the fingers of his right hand started rubbing little circles into my back.
I did my best not to jump and tighten, because I knew that would make him pull away. I can't lie, though, I was afraid. Afraid of what would happen, how I would feel about myself if I pulled away. Afraid of what would happen if I just kept on, or if I responded, or if I said something, or….
I nestled my head deeper into his shoulder, and he made a little moaning sound, like you do when you're getting a really good hug. I think I did, too, but I'm not sure. I can't remember it all. I remember a sigh, and we stayed like that, closer than I think I'd ever been to anyone before, for long enough to make my head throb. But everything about Spader was perfect. His well-muscled arms were wrapped around me, ready to take on anything that threatened me, and his smell was a crisp, clean one (a welcome relief in a place like Eelong, where about the time it smelled best was just after the rain had washed away all that crap in the streets). Something was making his Cloral jumpsuit wet where my head was nestled, but I wasn't aware of what.
And then, after standing and swaying a little, he stroked my hair once and stepped back from me, still holding me, but not nearly so close, so that he could look into my eyes. It was then that I realized I had been crying (explaining the wetness on Spader's suit). I wiped the tears away quickly, pretending they hadn't been there.
"I'm going to miss you the most, Courtney." Spader said, and I didn't deny to myself that I would miss Spader the most. The connection wasn't then made, but I would most definitely have admitted that I would have missed Spader many times more than I would miss Bobby.
"I'm going to miss you so much." I said, speaking deliberately and carefully so as not to provoke the damned tears to emerge again.
"I can't describe it," Spader went on, "but being here with you has been the most wonderful thing. Until this, I had doubted I was meant to be a Traveler. You helped me succeed in one of my missions, and for that I thank you. I could never do anything right, it seemed… I'd always let my emotions get in the way. I know you know what I'm talking about, you've got to… you keep Bobby's journals, and you've read what he thinks about me, all my faults. But, I don't know… somehow I thought you and I could be friends even though you would always have to deal with my weaknesses."
I blinked. How could he see it that way? I didn't think of his previous errors at all, and, even if I had, I was more understanding than Bobby had been. "I don't see you that way at all, Spader."
"But everything I've done in the past has jeopardized Bobby's mission!"
"Don't be stupid! You've helped him way more times than me or Mark has, and, besides, everybody's got their faults." A piece of hair fell into my eyes and, in my distress, I tried to throw it back to its spot over my shoulder.
Spader laughed a little and actually reached up to tuck my hair behind my ear. "Not everyone."
"Hey, listen, Bobby's just as human-or gar, I guess I should say here-as you are."
"I know that."
"See? Everyone's got their faults."
"Not everybody. Not you."
I was speechless (for once). I finally mustered words. "I am not perfect."
"What's one thing that's wrong with you?" He asked.
I laughed. This list, as least, I had ready. I was constantly finding problems with myself, and keeping them on a mental tally. So I began. "I dominate things too much."
"That's why I like you."
"I'm going to pretend you didn't say that."
"Because you're not."
"I'm not." I said, but phrased it like a question, easily showing my disbelief.
"Courtney," Spader's laugh was soft, "you're the most beautiful girl I've ever met."
I considered the thought that he was lying, but, from the way he was looking at me, I was pretty damn sure he wasn't. His eyes had darkened and I felt my skin prickle where he touched me. I couldn't believe it, though. The old thought came back--the one I hadn't truly had since Mark's stinging comment the day before.
"You… want me to stay?"
"I would love for you to stay."
His voice, no more than a husky whisper, tickled my most hidden senses in a way they had never been tickled before. I knew I should back away before anything stupid happened, but I didn't. In fact, I responded by shutting my eyes and tilting my chin up toward him….
"But," he began, and I knew it was not time for what I was aching for--at least, not yet. "We really should respect Bobby's wishes. At least on this. He may know what he's talking about."
I knew he was right. After all, when was he really wrong? So finally, awkwardly, I shook my way out of his arms and gave him as warm a smile as my let down face could muster. There was a knock on the door, and I jumped slightly, backing away a little. Spader didn't seem to notice the alien noise, and looked at me in a way I'd never been looked at before, eyes lingering on my gaze, and I knew he was taking in the sadness in my own eyes. Did he know? Was he aware of how very close I'd come to melting into his arms? Surely, if he'd been half as lost in the moment as I had been, he would never have been able to stop the kiss from occurring. I was afraid of how he had made me feel. Another incident like that, and I wouldn't be able to stop myself.
The knock on the door sounded once again, and this time Spader said, coughing a little to make normal his voice once more, "Perhaps I had better get that."
"Perhaps." I didn't even mimic his accent--the adrenaline wasn't quite gone, and still rushing in my ears, and I figured it would have to die down more to make me the regular old Courtney again.
He went to the door and opened it. Mark and Bobby were out there, alongside Kasha, and waiting for us.
"Oh good, I was hoping Courtney was here." Bobby said, breezing by Spader and grabbing my hand, pulling me outside. I didn't want to go, but I did anyway, sighing a little in a resigned sort of way.
Mark, however, seemed to have noticed what Bobby had not, because he looked suspiciously from Spader's warm face to my fiery cheeks. He looked a little angry, but it didn't matter. After all, Mark Dimond was not about to tell me off for merely saying good-bye. Just because he wasn't friendly with Spader didn't mean he had to be so angry with me for sharing a few intimate, friendly moments with the coolest guy in the universe.
"Come on, Spader, it's time to go." Bobby said urgently.
Spader didn't look as if he wanted to go, either, but I was pretty sure he would come along on his own, anyway. Still, I shook free from Bobby's grip and held out my hand for Spader, and he took it gingerly, if only to let me tug him out the door before dropping it again.
The entire group was generally quiet on our way down to the tree across the sky bridges. At first, I walked with Spader, then with Bobby, then on my own for a while, until Mark fell into step next to me. It was only natural, of course, that the two of us were walking together. Those who weren't supposed to be here… those who were going home. I felt awful, walking next to Mark when his contempt for me was evident, but I suppose it didn't really matter at all-above the thought of Mark smoldering into ashes of anger beside me, there was the feel of Spader's eyes on my back, and of Bobby's occasional glance back at me and Mark, as well. Bobby walked with Kasha and Gunny in silence, but seemed very alert, and between him ahead of me, and Spader and Boon to my rear, I felt safe from anything. A tang attack may even have been a welcome relief from the silence.
But, of course, it didn't come. Since we were using the tree bridges, the tangs were far below us, and the klees, though they had obviously been hostile before, were now understanding. Many even waved to us and bade us fair travel as we left their village of Leeandra.
The climb down to the flume was therapeutic for me, at least. We had to talk, calling down or up for help, and there was far more merriment, eruption into strong bouts of laughter. Kasha and Boon were down in the blink of an eye, and Spader and me only slightly after (we were practiced, it seemed, in climbing already), but Bobby and Mark were slow going, and Gunny, without the use of his left hand, even slower.
Having loosened up, we all chatted, albeit quietly, as we made our way to the flume. I once again walked with Spader, and had fun watching his Traveler's ring light up as we neared it. I was the only person in the group without one of my own, but Spader let me put his on, and I could feel the sensation-a slight warmth in my palm and an even slighter vibration on my finger-of the nearing gateway to different worlds. I could also feel the warmth of where Spader's skin had been against the ring for so long before, and I shivered. Taking it back, Spader admitted to me that he had never let anybody else wear it before. I felt beyond honored.
Then, before I could stop time and hold on to these last few moments spent with Spader, it was all gone, and we were standing in front of the flume, ready to say our proper good-byes.
"This is tough." I remember Bobby saying, looking each of us evenly in the eye. I couldn't look back at him. I didn't exactly know why, but I just couldn't--he almost looked angry at me. "We've beaten Saint Dane. All of us played a huge part." He seemed to look over at Mark amd me, and, again, I averted my eyes. "I wish this were the end, but it isn't. I know I've said this before, but no single one of us has a chance against him. It's only the strength we have together thath gives us hope. If you need proof of fthat, remember what happened here on Eelong."
There was a bit of a silence, and I could feel Spader, at my side, twitch involuntarily. I knew the feeling. What, exactly, was Bobby saying? Finally, Spader voiced what nearly everyone was thinking.
"So... that means we're staying together?"
I could sense the kind of electricity in his voice, and the smile on his face was evident through his words. I was glad for him--Spader was a part of the game again, helpless and bored back on his home territory no longer. One of the men I'd never get to be, never again at least.
"Yes." There was no hesitation whatever in Bobby's voice. He knew at least as well as I did that it would be much, much harder without Spader around. The world needed many, many more people just like him.
Just to prove me right, Spader lost it with glee just then, and grabbed my hand, squeezing it excitedly. "Hobey! That's what I like to hear!"
Bobby turned to Kasha, and I tried to lose myself in what he was saying to her instead of noting how quickly my pulse had picked up since Spader and I were now holding hands, Spader bouncing slightly with the sheer joyous energy of a child at Christmas.