The sun was not yet up when I woke on the day of my Claiming. But from the moment I opened my eyes, a sense of pervading dread descended upon my body. Today was the day. The day I would finally find out my true destiny. Fear coursed through my veins rapidly. This could be the last morning I was ever truly myself.
I decided that was as good a reason as any to watch the sun rise. For a moment I entertained the thought of waking Ethan up and inviting him to watch with me, but I decided it was best to let him sleep. If there was one person who was as nervous as me on this day, it was Ethan.
I crept down the stairs quietly, taking extra care as I passed Boo's room. The last thing I needed was Uncle Macon's spy intruding on my last few moments of normalcy.
When I finally made it out the front door, the crisp morning air was a welcomed relief. The briskness of the day seemed to drive the fear out of me. At least for a little while; for what it was worth.
I was just beginning to relax when I heard a familiar, though slightly groggy voice. "You couldn't sleep either, huh?"
Ridley was sitting on the bottom stair of Ravenwood; about as close as she could get without being invited in. I was keen to see that she got no further.
"What are you doing here?" I said, doing my best to sound spiteful.
She grinned at my attempt. "I figured you'd be a wreck this morning. Figured I'd stop by and help relieve the tension."
"You are the tension, Ridley."
She rolled her eyes, leaning in to light a cigarette. It was then that I paused to take a look at the girl who had once been my best friend. For lack of a better word, she looked drained. Her hair, usually so perfectly straight, had just the slightest bit of frizziness in the early morning. She was decked out, from head to toe, in black leather. Her corset-like top was struggling to contain her abundant cleavage. I stepped towards her, moving to take a seat beside her. She instinctively reached down to grab her oversized sunglasses, which were resting beside her, but I stopped her.
"You don't scare me," I assured her. She let the glasses remain where they were.
As her yellow eyes stared into mine, I searched for some trace of the sister I had once known. I could not find her there, but something in her expression told me that her defenses were down. Perhaps it was the earliness of the day, or perhaps she was just tired, but I could feel that she was not as Dark as she had seemed previously.
"How are you, Lena Beana?"
I sighed, equally relieved and apprehensive about unloading my troubles onto Ridley. "I'm scared, Jules. I'm scared of who I'll be tomorrow, I'm scared of losing Ethan, I'm scared-"
"You won't be Uncle M's favorite anymore?" she asked, readopting her harsh tone.
"What's it like?" I asked, voicing my greatest concern of all.
"What is what like?" she replied, taking another long drag on her cigarette.
She sighed, looking away from me as if the question made her very uncomfortable. She tried several times to answer, but shut her mouth again each time.
"It's- It's like every horrible emotion you've ever had suddenly becomes good. Rebellion becomes a way of life, anger becomes your sustenance, and lust fuels everything you ever do. And the only way you can feel good about yourself is to fulfill those terrible urges. You get this rush when you steal something and get away with it. This incredible high when everyone in the room turns to look at you, forgetting everything else for just a moment.
"It feels great for a little while. Like nothing in the whole world could hurt you because no one would dare to try. But then you realize how lonely it is. And there's this hole in the middle of you which once housed all the people you loved and cared about. And no matter how many people fall in love with you just by looking at you, they can never fill that emptiness. It never goes away, that feeling; even when you're with them. Lena, I can remember loving you, but I don't feel it now. It's just gone. I still want to protect you because I remember that I'm supposed to, but I don't feel it for myself. All I can feel is how much it hurts when everyone looks at me like I might implode at any second."
I sat in silence for a long while, processing what she had said. Oddly enough, I had not really thought of Ridley as a person after she went Dark. I always figured that the human part of her was gone. I realized now though, that the person she once was still existed inside of her, but had no way of exercising control over her. There was some greater force inside of her, some darkness, which forced her to seek danger. To clothe herself in the most risqué way possible. To turn away from the light and enter darkness; darkness, darkness, always darkness.
I wrapped my arms around her in a tight embrace. I could feel the coldness of her body, which no amount of sunlight would ever be able to drive away. I could see in her eyes how much it killed her that, try as she might, she felt no measure of affection as my arms encircled her. But most of all, I could feel how jealous she was that I still stood a chance with the Light. I felt, through her, the injustice of what had happened to her. She had not wanted this for herself; never wanted to be a slave to darkness. She tried to run from it, hiding behind tinted glasses and a phony bravado. Deep down inside, though, it killed her to see how dark she had become.
As the sun peeked over the horizon, I saw the last traces of vulnerability flee through her fierce eyes. It was replaced with a hard coldness. She stood then, lighting another cigarette and smirking at the world before her.
She started to walk away, but I yelled out to her, "Ridley!" She tuned back. "You can stay," I offered.
She rolled her eyes. "What, and watch your little melodrama unfold? Please, Lee-nuh. I have better things to do. Lives to manipulate, boys to…play with; you get the idea." She turned away once more.
"God, what?" she snapped, looking back again.
"If I do go Dark, I'm glad it'll be with you."