I leaned on Dex’s arm as we rode the hotel elevator, half because I couldn’t walk on my injured leg, and half because…well, you know.
My heart was pounding in my chest so hard I thought it would break my ribcage. What did this mean? All this time, I’d assumed Dex was helping me for his own benefit. He’d said as much over and over again. But the more I thought about it, the less benefit I saw for him in all of this. I was the one who’d lost the stupid glove. I was the one Hendricks was going to skin if I didn’t bring it back. Maybe he had seen me as a friend, someone to bounce his lame jokes off of, but this? This felt impossible. I was reading too much into things, and…
No. That wasn’t true, and I knew it. How did you read too much into a kiss on the lips? A kiss that he had instigated, at that. But that still left me confused. Did he love me? Did I love him? Did I even want to love him? If you had told me this morning that, just a few hours after getting the beating of my life, I’d be thinking about love and boyfriends and warm fuzzy feelings, I wouldn’t have believed you. But now that was all I could think about. Dex was the only friend I’d had over these past couple years. But could he be something more?
I almost asked him, but I stopped myself. If he did want that…and if I decided I wanted it too…then bringing it up out of the blue like that felt tacky, somehow. Besides, I wasn’t sure how I would feel if he said no. For now, I was happy to just lean against him, feeling him against me, smelling that Dexter-ish scent that he had, and try to figure my own feelings out.
I glanced at the floor counter. Fourth Floor. Fifth. Sixth. We reached the seventh, where our room was, and the elevator…didn’t stop? I blinked in surprise when it kept rising, and for the first time I looked at which button Dex had pushed. The top floor, even above the penthouse.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“Like I said, we need to get you back in fighting shape,” he answered. “And there’s only one way to do that.”
I shivered. “We’re going to the roof?”
He nodded. “We’ll let you soak up the moonlight for a few hours. By morning, you’ll be as fit as a pair of yoga pants.”
“I’m going to ignore that terrible analogy,” I said, “and just tell you that the moon isn’t nearly big enough tonight for that.”
The smirk he gave made me nervous. “Sugarsnout, trust me. I’ve still got a couple tricks up my sleeve.”
The elevator stopped, the door opened with a ding, and I decided to trust him. Dex hadn’t done me wrong so far, and I didn’t get the feeling he was going to start now. He stepped out, going slow so I could hobble alongside him. The only thing outside was a room a little bit bigger than a broom closet, and a second door that said ROOF, EMPLOYEES ONLY in bright red letters. Dex tested the handle, found it locked, and pulled out his scepter. A quick tap, a flash from the yellow gem, and I heard the lock undo itself.
The moonlight hit me as soon as the door swung open. Immediately, I felt refreshed, like I’d been splashed in the face with ice cold water after spending all day hiking in the desert. I relaxed a little while Dex held me up, rolling my neck a little to let the light touch more of me.
“You’re not about to start purring, are you?” Dex asked with an amused smile.
I gave him a sharp look. “Don’t forget, we’re on the top floor of a twenty story building. Make fun of me, and I might just throw you over the side.”
He laughed at that. “You’d never do that, Sugarsnout. You know you love me too much.”
I opened my mouth to retort, but couldn’t think of anything to say. Did I love him?
We stepped outside, and I let Dex lead me toward the center of the roof. The hotel’s air conditioners were humming, drowning out the city noise down below us, and Dex steered me toward one of them and sat me down on it.
“Just relax and let the moon do its thing,” he said, sitting down next to me. He didn’t take his arm from around my shoulders.
I did just that. The full moon had just been a couple nights ago, which meant tonight’s moon was still fat and juicy, like a big silver fruit that I was sucking the juice out of, and…okay, so Dex isn’t the only one who sucks at metaphors.
He was wrong about one thing, though. This wasn’t enough to heal me in one night. Even if it had been full, I wouldn’t be healed by morning. The bigger the moon was, the faster the process went, but that didn’t mean I’d be back up and ready for a rematch anytime soon.
I sighed. Maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing. It seemed like all I did anymore was fight and kill. Well, I’d finally picked a fight I couldn’t win. It’d left me beaten, bruised, and nearly sliced to ribbons, but in a weird way I actually found that kind of comforting. The longer it took me to get better, the longer it would be before I had to go back to fighting and killing.
“The view up here is nice,” I said.
“Mhmm,” he grunted with an absentminded nod.
I glanced at him, but he looked distracted by something, so I went back to enjoying the view. It’s weird, you go up high and expect to look down on everything. But in a city like Chicago, even when you’re on the top floor you’re still dwarfed by buildings ten times taller than yours. I couldn’t see the stars, but the little square specks of light that surrounded us almost looked the same. I sighed and stretched my legs out, leaning against Dex to keep from falling over, and…
Oh, God, I thought as a thrill went down my spine. I could feel his freaking heartbeat! It was racing, like he was as nervous about this whole thing as I was. For the first time, it occurred to me what this must be like for him. Who knew how long he’d had these feelings for me—assuming that he did have feelings—and how long had it taken him to work up the courage to kiss me like that? Especially on a day like today, when I could have just as easily torn his face off as kissed him back? He had, I realized, made himself more vulnerable in that one moment than I’d ever seen him before. No walls between us. No sarcastic quips to distract me. Just me, him, and whatever feelings we might have had. Or not had. Or…
I can’t stand it anymore! I thought in frustration. Tacky or not, I couldn’t just sit here and keep playing emotional dodgeball with myself. I had to ask him, point blank, what he really felt for me.
Slowly, I raised my head to look at him. “Dex—”
“Amber,” he said at the same time. I snapped my mouth closed, heart hammering just as hard as his, and let him talk. “You can’t keep doing this.”
I sat up straight. “Doing what?”
Already, my heart was sinking. Somehow, I had misread his kiss earlier, and now all the leaning on him and cuddling up to him was creeping him out. He was going to break up with me before we’d even officially gotten together.
But instead of that, he looked up at the moon. “Denying what you are.”
I looked at him for a few seconds before it dawned on me what he was talking about.
“No!” I snapped, scooting as far away as I could without falling off the air conditioner. “We’re not talking about this again!”
“We have to talk about it, Amber!” he said sharply. “If you keep this up, you’re going to die!”
“Then maybe that’s—”
He held up his hand. “Don’t say it! I don’t want to hear it.”
I closed my mouth, seething. Things had been going so well. Or, at least I thought they had. Why had he decided to bring this up here, now, when I was just starting to think that something might be happening?
He sighed, bowing his head so that his shaggy blonde hair covered his face. “You’re strong, Amber. Amazingly so, like I said earlier. But it’s not enough. You’ve survived so far, but if you want to keep surviving, you’re going to have to break down these barriers you’ve made for yourself.”
“And how many people will die if I do, Dexter?” I asked.
“Don’t you dare tell me it doesn’t matter!” I pointed a finger in his face. “Maybe it doesn’t matter to a Majestic goon like you, but it does to me!”
He flinched visibly at that.
“I can’t control it,” I went on, wilting a little in shame. “You think I’m so strong, Dex, but it’s still stronger than me. The only way I can keep the people around me safe is by keeping it locked inside of me, where it can’t reach them.”
Dex didn’t respond for a long, tense minute. I almost felt guilty for that insult. Well, if there’d been anything between us before, it was long gone now.
But then he pulled a shiny silver stopwatch out of his jacket pocket.
“What’s that?” I asked nervously.
He looked at it, then at me. “A time bubbler. If I turn it on, we’ll be put in a bubble where time around us moves faster, while it stays the same for us.”
I swallowed. “And what are you going to use it for?”
Without answering, he clicked the button at the top. The hands began to spin as fast as helicopter blades. I didn’t feel or hear anything, but the world around us suddenly seemed to get put in fast forward. The moon zipped across the sky in a silver streak. The sky turned blue, the sun flashed past like a shooting star, and then it was dark again. I sat there, too stunned to move. A whole day had just passed in less than three seconds.
Then there was another.
And then another.
“Dex?” I asked frantically, a sinking feeling in my stomach. “What are you trying to do?”
A week went by. Then two. Then three.
“Dex!” I practically screamed.
He turned to look at me, his face as hard and as cold as a slab of ice.
“I’m proving you wrong,” he said.
He hit the button a second time, and the world froze. I had just enough time to let out a horrified gasp…
And then the power of the full moon hit me.