Getting to use the Peripatos was just one of many things Ari felt she was waiting on. Waiting to learn the ‘cool’ Jinn stuff, waiting on word back from The Red King about the Shaitan who had put Derek in a coma, waiting on Derek coming out of the coma, waiting for the day in the not so distant future when she’d have to cut ties with her friends and family.
Now that she knew what she really was.
There were moments throughout the whole day when she had to shake herself because she found her thoughts climbing over her like creeping ivy, scratching and biting into her skin and entangling her in their morbid clutch. Because… wasn’t it true now that not only was she not human but she was kind of a ‘thing’ rather than Jinn? The Seal was an object with no emotion or thought or feeling. It had one purpose. To command the Jinn. What did that really make her then?
It got to the point where she was deliberately drawing on all the bad stuff that broke her heart just to remind herself that she was more than an object. That she was a being with thought and emotion. It was completely masochistic and not at all whom she was.
Realizing how dangerous her position was among the Jinn, Ari was certain that walking away from her life once Derek was well again was for the best. She couldn’t stick around and put the people she cared about most in jeopardy. The plan was to walk away from Ohio and her friends and Derek. No matter how heartbreaking.
It was so selfish but Ari was glad the stubborn idiot didn’t want to leave her. Asking him to leave, to walk out of her life and never come back was the hardest thing she’d ever done. She was impressed with her poise when she tried to do it (maybe she had inherited a little Jinn decorum after all) but her heart had been slamming like a wrecking ball against her ribs the whole time as she waited for his response. It had been weird with Jai eavesdropping, weird for many different reasons that she didn’t want to think about, but in that moment she and Charlie had shared something new, a spark, something Charlie hadn’t allowed before. He’d actually looked like he had been leaning into kiss her before Jai came out of the kitchen, interrupting them.
Ari hadn’t known what she would have done if Charlie had kissed her.
She’d wanted his kisses for, like, a zillion years but right now was not the time. Plus… she really needed to know where he stood. He was still hanging out with that idiot Rickman after all.
Come on, Ari, her inner voice scolded as she followed Charlie and Jai into the hospital, is that really the problem? You had no issue with hooking up with Charlie a few weeks ago, Rickman or no Rickman. Are you sure this hasn’t got something to do with a pair of green soulful eyes you can’t get out of your head? Growling at her inner monologue, Ari’s eyes darted away from Jai’s back and she picked up her stride, overtaking the boys in the hospital corridor and smiling serenely at the nurse outside her dad’s room. Physical distance would put him out of her mind.
The nurse said there was no change with her dad.
Of course there wasn’t.
Even though Ari knew Derek wouldn’t come out of the coma until she had commanded the offending Shaitan to reverse the enchantment, she was determined to visit her dad every night. She didn’t want him getting lonely. Irrational perhaps, but this wasn’t exactly the most rational experience Ari had ever gone through.
Charlie and Jai followed her tentative steps inside and her heart plummeted into her stomach at the sight of her father. She had forgotten how small and vacant he looked lying there. She clasped his hand in hers, no longer feeling the chill of it like yesterday. It was temperate. Like everything. Distantly, Ari wondered if she would start to miss the heat and the cold.
“I’m going to get a coffee,” Charlie said quietly, edging towards the door. He was still uncomfortable being in the hospital. Ari had told him he didn’t need to join her and Jai for visiting hours but her best friend had looked at Jai dubiously and he’d shaken his head, determined he’d be there for her. Ari was beginning to think Charlie was jealous of Jai. Which was silly.
Ari flicked a look at her guardian who sat down on a chair in the corner, pulling out his book, and casually opening to his placeholder. “Black, one sugar.”
Charlie sighed and threw him a dirty look before he turned to Ari, his features softening into something so loving the transformation was comical. Ari bit back a smile. “Ari?”
She shook her head. “I’m good, thanks.”
“OK. Be back in five.”
When he was gone, Ari glanced back over at Jai who was determinedly reading his book, pretending she didn’t exist. Not for the first time in the last twenty four hours Ari wondered what she had done to make him so cold towards her. And worse… she hated that it bothered her so much; she hated that last night, as she tried to drift to sleep, one of the things playing over and over in her mind was the wintry look in his eye when he returned from his Ginnaye tribe with the Tellicherry Bark for Derek. She tried to tell herself the reason his attitude bothered her so much was because, after her dad woke up, Jai would be one of only three people she’d have left in her life.
Wincing pain, like a sharp claw cutting a deep scratch across her chest, flared for a minute as she stared at this seemingly cold stranger in front of her, and she knew that it was more than that.
You like him.
You more than like him.
But you love Charlie!
I do love Charlie.
But Jai is…
Jai was what? She frowned, edging closer to Derek and squeezing his hand as if his very presence, despite how hollow, could bring her some support, some clarification, some comfort. As she let her gaze travel over Jai, she felt that warm, excited flush take over her again. Maybe it was just physical attraction. Really strong physical attraction. The kind of really strong physical attraction she’d never experienced before.
But it was more than that. Even when he was being Mr. Cold and Distant, she loved talking to him. She loved sharing her new abilities with him and teasing him and learning what she could about him. And Ari wanted to know more! She wanted to find opportunities all the time to make his eyes spark like they did sometimes when he couldn’t help it, or make his upper lip quirk at the corner as he fought off a smile she had prompted.
Ari realized she was grinning at the thought and blushed, dropping her gaze.
She was acting love sick.
This is so not good.
In fact this is so bad.
Ari blinked, her own musings falling away at the sound of a familiar voice outside the hospital door.
“…Derek Johnson. We’re friends of the family.”
Rachel! She was here? Oh crap.
Ari trembled, her wide eyes flying to Jai who was already on his feet. She hadn’t called Rachel or Staci about Derek. She had been trying to prepare herself for meeting them as their next meeting was to be their last. Ari’s stomach flipped at the thought of turning her friends away. Turning them against her.
Could she really do this now?
I’m not ready.
“I’m going into the Cloak,” Jai whispered, nodding at her militantly.
She gulped, nodding back, her eyes widening even more as the air around him rippled and warped, until she could no longer see him. Ari could still feel him though, and she shook out her hands, disbelieving that this was about to happen and Jai was going to witness it.
It was something Ari had discussed with Jai and Charlie only hours before: leaving her life behind. They both thought it was the right thing to do (Jai thought it was smart, Charlie didn’t care what she did as long as she didn’t try to leave him behind) and Ari drew strength from their support.
Turning her friends against her, though? Not the easiest thing Ari would ever have to do.
She waited, bracing herself against Derek’s bed, as the nurse’s voice grew louder as she approached the door. The nurse, Lucy, thrust it open and stepped in to peer with confusion around the room when she saw Ari was now alone.
“Oh, your father has visitors, Ms. Johnson.”
“I heard, please let them in.”
Lucy nodded and disappeared back out of the door, the shuffling of clothes and feet making Ari’s heart pound in her ears. Rachel’s small figure strode into the room, her blonde hair scraped back from her face with a blue bandana. Staci trailed in at the back of her, her dark eyes sad as she took in Ari standing by her dad’s bedside.
“Oh, Ari,” she whispered before throwing her thin frame into Ari’s arms. Ari hugged her back, bending down a little as she always had to when hugging Staci and Rachel. Staci pulled back and Ari was immediately enveloped in the scent of rose water from Rachel’s perfume. Ari tightened her hold on Rachel, knowing this was the last gesture of affection that would ever exist between them. Choking back the ball of burning anger in her throat, that her life had come to this, Ari stepped back, pushing Rachel gently away from her so she didn’t breakdown.
“What happened?” Rachel asked, her brows creased in concern. “Why didn’t you call? I found out from my aunt.”
Oh shoot. Of course. Ari had forgotten Rachel’s aunt was a nurse in the hospital. News travelled fast in Sandford Ridge.
“Yeah, and my dad found out from Mr. Wilshire that works with your dad,” Staci added. “They say he just collapsed at work?”
Ari nodded, finding it difficult to meet their eyes. She hated lying. “Yeah. They don’t know what’s wrong. Or if he’ll wake up.”
“Oh God, Ari, I’m so sorry,” Rachel breathed, tears shimmering in her clear baby blue gaze. “You should have called. You shouldn’t have to go through this alone.”
OK, Ari, time to put your game face on.
She smoothed her features, attempting the expressionless mask Jai was so good at donning. “I’m not. Charlie’s here, he’s getting coffee.”
“You told Charlie but not us?” Rachel couldn’t hide the hurt. Even Staci looked upset and confused.
“He is my best friend.”
“Well…” Staci shrugged, trying to breeze past the awkward moment. “We’re totally here now. What can we do?”