I closed my eyes, desperately trying to ignore the guilt coiling in my stomach.
This was wrong. I had a good life; it didn't need to change. But as I stared into the dark eyes of this stranger, barely illuminated by our eerie surroundings, I knew – somewhere in my heart – that this was not true.
I wasn't happy.
I enjoyed these Islands, the people, and my occupation, but . . . I couldn't explain it. I'd rushed into things too fast. Like my marriage. Yes, that could certainly be better . . . If I had to do it all over again – which was exactly what this stranger was offering – I wouldn't have married Vaughn.
Our union was mostly out of convenience anyway . . . And he didn't love me. I was quite sure of it. He'd make the same decision if he was being offered this extraordinary chance . . . to start over.
To erase the last year of my life the same way a good pencil would erase its markings – as if they'd never been there to begin with. I was making the right choice. So why was the guilt weighing heavily in my heart?
I scolded myself for being foolish. I was always so terrible at making decisions, I was always sympathetic and trusting to the wrong people . . . I forced myself to look him in the eye, the candles flickering ominously in my peripheral vision.
"Yes, I'd like to do that. Start over. From a year ago, before I moved here, before I . . ."
"Married?" The elderly man's eyes twinkled like I'd told him a good joke.
"Everyone deserves a second chance, Chelsea."
I think he meant for these words to be kind and somewhat reassuring, but there was something about his expression, his tone, that made me shiver a little under his gaze. There was just something in his eyes that seemed a little off. But if a crazy person was the only one who could help me, then, why not?
"Thank you," I managed to breathe.
The wind blew so violently outside it shook the windows.
The man nodded and smirked at me. "Your wish shall be granted."
I heard the sort of note in his voice that indicated a catch was involved.
"But . . . ?" I prompted.
He chuckled, and his eyes wondered from my face for the first time. He stared out the windows, still smirking to himself mischievously for unknown reasons.
"This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, Chelsea," he said softly, his voice low, almost soothing.
Drowsiness settled over my body in a heavy wave; alarmingly quickly. I barely had the strength to keep myself upright as I wrenched back my eyelids to stare at the old man.
He wasn't finished. "This chance mustn't be misused."
"How so?" My words were slow and slurred, as if I was drunk.
The old man's eyes flickered back to me. "You must be positive that the path you take is different than the one before. The future must change. Don't let anything even be remotely similar. This is the price you pay for the deal."
I sank down on my knees, fog settling over my brain in thick, heavy clouds of almost visible mist.
"Why?" I managed to moan.
"That's how it works." He shrugged his thin shoulders dismissively.
My eyes closed, and I felt my cheek against the cold linoleum floor. "And if it is similar?"
I garbled. I had to ask this one last thing before I passed out, died – whatever he was doing to me. I barely managed opening my eyes just enough to look at him, standing over me. For the first time, a dark look flashed across his features.
"There will be consequences," he murmured lowly.
I could only stare at his face for a few more seconds before I succumbed to this terrible tiredness. The last thing my mind recalled was that he'd stared down at me with happy eyes.
A/N: So - since I'm working on different stories at the same time, I can't always promise quick updates. But I'll do my best.