My footsteps resounded in massive echoes throughout the cafeteria. They all stopped to look at me; stopped and stared, arching their heads to get a better view of me approaching my table. Christian, Mia, Adrian, and Eddie were all there. Mia gave me a warm and sincere smile, and pulled the extra seat out next to her. "Come," she said. "We've missed you."
I took a deep breath and slowly walked towards my chair.
"It's nice to see you're still in there," Christian said.
"Hey, back off there fire boy. You don't want to scare her away again, do you?"
Christian scowled. "I didn't—"
"Guys, stop. I'm fine. Things are…things are not as bad as they once were."
"You know we're here for you, right Liss?" Eddie said. I nodded and smiled in response.
It was Mia who spoke next. "I know I'm not Rose, but I do have your back. I'm going to help you get through this. We all are." She eyed everyone sitting at the table.
I flinched as I heard her name spoken out loud. The others noticed. I could tell. When I opened my eyes again I saw the guilt written all over their faces. Christian's expression seemed a little different. Not quite like the others, I noticed.
Mia's voice broke me out of my thoughts. "Lissa—I'm sorry. I didn't mean to…you know…"
I gave her a soft pat on her shoulder. "Mia, it's Ok. Really. I'm trying to be stronger about all of this…it's just…it's just hard."
"Well it beats the hell out of holing up in your room and shutting everyone out," Christian said. I detected an ode of something unfamiliar in his tone. Resentment? Anger? I couldn't tell for sure.
I looked him in the eye. "Christian I'm sorry. Adrian, Eddie, I want to apologize to you too." I really was sorry for pushing them away.
"It's Ok. I understand," Eddie replied.
"Yeah, it's all good cousin. No worries," Adrian added.
I looked back over at Christian, who still seemed to be a little out of sorts. "What's wrong Christian?"
The rest of them turned to face him as well. Maybe they picked up on the same thing I had.
"Is this how it's going to be?"
My eyebrows creased. "What are you talking about?"
"I'm talking about the way you're acting. Like Rose is the only person in the world that matters to you." His words were like ice.
"That's not true." I felt tears on the verge of my eyelids. "Christian, where is this coming from?"
"Oh come on Lissa, don't play dumb with me."
"Hey—why don't you take it easy there, all right?" Eddie interrupted.
Adrian chimed in as well. "Yeah, Eddie's right. What the hell's gotten into you Ozera?"
Christian scoffed and gave me a pointed look, his arms folded. "Can't speak up for yourself Princess Dragomir?"
Slapping me in the face would have stung less than hearing him call me that. Now he was making me angry. "What I don't understand is why you're picking a fight with me in front of our friends." I looked at the three of them, one at a time. This was incredibly embarrassing. "Let's talk about this in private," I hissed.
"I'll tell you what I'm going to do. I'm going to go walk this off, and then hide in my room for the next three or four days without even so much as a peep to your or anyone else. How does that sound Lissa?"
I was shocked. Completely and utterly shocked. He looked so hurt, and so angry. I had never meant to make him feel that way. "Christian, please. Let's go somewhere and talk about this."
He shook his head and started to get up. "What's the point? It's just going to turn into another sob story about Rose. Frankly, I'm not interested." Slinging his backpack over his shoulder, he turned around and walked away.
Silence resonated amongst the remaining four of us. I don't believe my friends really knew what to say, but their presence alone was enough to tear down the awkwardness a bit.
"He was completely out of line. He shouldn't have said those things to you," Adrian declared.
I sighed in frustration. "Did any of you know about this? About how he was really feeling?"
Eddie and Adrian exchanged confused glances and shook their heads. "Never mentioned anything to me." Eddie said.
I turned to Mia, who looked like she was on the verge of telling me something, but decided against it. I made a mental note to ask her again later.
"I would try talking to him again Lissa. I think he just let his emotions get the best of him. Once he takes some time to blow off all that steam I have a feeling he'll be more approachable."
"Yeah…yeah maybe you're right. Thanks Mia."
"Sure thing," she replied.
Finally, I sat up a bit. "You know, I'd like to take a walk…get some fresh air. Would you all care to join me?"
Adrian and Mia grinned. "Sounds good to me cousin."
"Yeah, and this way I'll get to brush up on my Guardian training as well," Eddie said as he put an arm around me.
"Come on, let's get out of here. You lead the way," Mia said as she stood up and linked my arm with hers, Eddie and Adrian right behind us.
I sighed and looked at them, pieces of relief slowly coming over me. "Gladly."
We arrived at the gate, at my spot. Adrian gave me a worried look, and I knew what he was thinking. This place is connected to Rose again, isn't it?
Momentarily ignoring his look, I motioned for my friends to sit down next to me. "Come on guys, watch the sun set with me."
We sat huddled next to each other and laid back against the grass. Adrian and Eddie were on my right, Mia on my left. The sky was a pink-purple color, breathtaking as always. A soft breeze caressed our skin as we laid still. Spring was turning into Summer, and the weather was getting warmer.
I wondered what the weather was like in Russia.
He turned to look at me. "Yeah?"
"Do you know…I mean…can you—" I began.
"Can I still slip into Rose's dreams?" He replied matter-of-factly.
Mia and Eddie perked up at this as well, but didn't say anything.
"Yeah…" I didn't make eye contact when I answered him. "I mean is she…is she still there? Can you reach her at all?"
I felt Adrian's exhale beside me. He knew I was going to ask him about this before I even said a word. "It's still a little hazy right now. I'm not sure why. I try all the time though. Every night," he said assuringly.
I sighed and turned my gaze back towards the sky. "Thank you."
It had been 2 weeks since she left. One week since the Guardians had reported they couldn't find her.
"You know, none of us really believe that Rose is gone. She's just way too tough. She's still out there, and she's going to come home," Mia said. She gave my arm a quick squeeze. "I can feel it."
"Mia's right Lissa. I mean, if our kidnapping in Spokane taught me anything, it's that Rose can literally do anything she sets her mind to. She's just that good, and just that tough. I know what the other Guardian's have said, I've heard the talk among them about Rose's disappearance. But I can honestly say, I believe they underestimate Rose. She's going to come back. Just believe in that." Eddie had his Guardian face on. It bore the same confidence I saw in Rose when she would tell me that everything was going to be Ok.
My eyes squeezed shut, and I felt a tear crawl down my cheek. I took in a sharp breath—my voice barely above a whisper. "I really hope you're all right about this." Another sharp breath. Another tear crawling down my other cheek. "I miss her so much…"
I felt Mia's and Adrian's arms wrap around me, while Eddie reached over Adrian to touch my hand.
"It's Ok," Adrian murmured into my hair. "It's all going to be Ok."
"We're going to help you through this Lissa. Don't worry," Mia said.
They both seemed so right about everything. So logical. Rose will come home, she can survive anything.
Until then, I'll fight like hell to learn how to reach her. How to walk in her dreams. To balance out our bond in some way.
I would learn how to do this tomorrow, with Adrian. And Mia. And Eddie.
Then I let my fatigue take over and once again drifted off into oblivion.
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