Conflict, p.3
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       Conflict, p.3

           M. S. Willis
 
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  I took his hand to lead him out onto the yards and a jolt of electricity shot through our enjoined hands. I jumped slightly at the feeling and Daemon gave me his knowing grin. At some point, whatever this was between us was going to give and I would have to face whether I could be the woman he apparently believed I could be. I knew that I could love him, that I might already; but I wasn’t ready to admit it to myself, much less him. His patience was astonishing and I would have thought that he would have moved on weeks ago when I refused to openly acknowledge our relationship while at the hospital.

  We walked out amongst the camphors and Daemon’s eyes surveyed the large trees as we passed. I continued to lead him to the edges of the wetlands where the sparse grasses stood as high as our hips in some places. Remembering my past visit with David, I turned to warn Daemon to watch his step.

  “Be careful walking around these parts. The wetlands extend out and some portions of the ground are waterlogged and soft. I brought David out here about a week before everything happened. His feet got stuck and he lost a three hundred dollar pair of shoes.”

  Daemon’s face took on a bemused expression as he thought about what I had told him. “Who wears a three hundred dollar pair of shoes into a swamp?”

  His question caught me off guard and I laughed so hard it cramped through my sides. I haven’t laughed like that in a long time and a feeling of euphoria crept over me from the effort. “Daddy and I said the same thing when it happened. I suspect he’ll make me stop at a budget shoe store the next time he agrees to accompany me.”

  Daemon chuckled as we continued our path to the water’s edge. The sun shone off the water and blinded me as it rippled past. I looked down into the murky water and caught sight of the turtle heads I used to count as a child. Daemon spun slowly in place as he glanced over the yard surrounding us. He kept looking back towards the large camphor trees near the building and a funny glint was in his eye as he turned back to me. “Wanna climb a tree with me?”

  My jaw dropped at his suggestion and I laughed at the absurdity. “Um, no. Even if I wasn’t deathly afraid of heights, I’m not exactly dressed for that type of activity.”

  His eyes brightened at that statement. “It’s not a problem, Damsel. I’ll let you climb up first to make sure you don’t fall.” He wriggled his brows and I laughed again.

  “Somehow, I don’t think looking up my dress is in keeping with our truce.”

  He squeezed my hand and winked. “Hey, it’s not my fault if I have a fortunate view while helping you climb.” His lopsided grin returned and I was once again fixated on the dimple that appeared. “Why are you afraid of heights? You don’t seem like the type of girl who wouldn’t have climbed trees when she was a kid.”

  I looked over to the cypress tree that I had fallen out of when I was younger. I was struck by the thought that my first open act of defiance and stubborn will had almost killed me when I fell out of that tree.

  “You see that tree right there, the tall cypress by the water’s edge?”

  Daemon’s gaze followed mine and he looked at the tree to which I was referring. He looked back at me and arched a brow in question.

  “I fell out of that tree when I was younger. It had rained earlier that day and the moss on the branches was slick. I made it up just fine, but lost my footing as I was climbing back down. I landed on one of those roots sticking out of the water and laid there for a while until my father found me. It had started raining while I lay there and I was scared that I would die. You have to worry about snakes and other predators in places like this, especially when it rains.”

  Daemon’s face looked suddenly aggravated as he listened to my story. He looked between the tree and me several times before finally settling his gaze back on my face. “You climbed that tree alone? After it rained? What in the hell were you thinking? You could have been killed.”

  His response was unexpected and I couldn’t figure out why he sounded so angry. What did he care if I fell out of a tree as a child? All kids did stupid things every once in a while. He didn’t even know me when it happened.

  I shrugged. “I know it was stupid to climb it alone, and Buddy had warned me about the moss before he left. But, I was determined to climb it. He never would climb it with me and…I don’t know…maybe I was mad and trying to get back at him for leaving. Like I was rebelling against his warnings.”

  Daemon’s eyes softened. He took both my hands into his and looked down at our enjoined fingers. “Was Buddy the person to whom you gave the necklace on your shoulder?”

  My eyes looked out over the water. I remembered that I had never really explained to Daemon the significance of the tattoo. I had mentioned it briefly that first night at his apartment, but other than that, it was a story I rarely discussed. “Yes. We used to climb trees together all the time and he always refused to allow me to climb that one. He said I would slip on the damp branches and I guess he was right, considering what happened.” I absently rubbed my thumbs across his hands. “I’ve never climbed another tree since.”

  Daemon pulled me into him and wrapped his arms around me. We stood silently in that embrace for a few minutes before he spoke again. “Tell me about him. I’d like to know about the boy who affected you so deeply that you felt a need to strike out at his absence.”

  I was quiet. I didn’t know where to start when it came to Buddy. Even though our time together was so short, his presence in my life had been a large factor on who I became. Obviously, there was the traumatic event that we had experienced together; but it was the bond that we forged in such a short amount of time that really stood out in my head. I pulled myself from Daemon’s embrace and led him to a sunny patch of grass that had been my favorite spot growing up. I laid down in the grass and fixed my gaze on the clouds rolling above us. Daemon sat down next to me as I recanted the tale.

  “Buddy had come here with his mother. His father had abused them both and he was very shy when he first arrived. I was too young to understand what he had been through, so I always pestered him in the halls and other places where I would see him. He came around eventually and we connected almost instantly once he dropped his guard.” I smiled in memory of having broken Buddy down. I was as annoying and stubborn then as I am today and he had been a tough nut to crack.

  Daemon continued to listen patiently as I relived one of the brightest and darkest times of my childhood. “For the three months that I knew him, that I physically had him in my life, he was my world. We climbed trees together, chased lizards and insects together, laid here in this exact spot watching clouds together.”

  I noticed out of the corner of my eye that Daemon smiled at that statement and let out a small chuckle as I remembered back. “He picked on me relentlessly and never let me forget that I was just a girl. He was older than me and bigger, but every time he pushed me down, I got back up again. If I hadn’t, he would have picked me up just to push me down over and over until I finally got up on my own. In his own way, he was teaching me to stand up for myself, to depend on myself, and to never give up. If I hurt myself, he would tend to the wound, but the tears had to stop when the bandage was on my skin, that was his rule.”

  I looked sheepishly at Daemon. Most people couldn’t understand feeling as strongly as I did for Buddy when, technically, I should have been too young for the effect he had on me.

  “Momma told me once that she thought Buddy and I were twin souls, like we were meant to know each other. But I guess fate had a different idea. His father….”

  This part was always the hardest to tell. I swallowed down the lump in my throat and continued despite it.

  “…his father killed his mother in front of us. It was on my sixth birthday and Buddy was taken away. I never saw him again. Before he left, I gave him the only piece of me I could think of, the necklace, the same one as my tattoo. It was my way of sealing our promise that we would see each other again. Buddy always kept his promises, but I guess that one was too much to keep. I don’t blame him,
he was only seven and his life was outside of his control, but I always hoped he would return to me somehow.”

  A few tears escaped my eyes as I thought about Buddy and I wiped them away quickly before Daemon could see that I was crying. It was embarrassing to admit that three months of my life as a child had been enough to determine how the rest of my life would be lived. “He was the only boy that I loved, and still love to this day; he was it. And I lost him at six years old.” I let out a humorless laugh. “Sadly, the truth is, he probably doesn’t even remember who I am. He may have purposely wanted to forget me; who knows? But I’ll never forget him. I just wish there was some way for me to tell him how much he meant to me.”

  Daemon was quiet for a few seconds before rubbing his hand through his messy hair and letting out a sigh. “I don’t know about that, Damsel. You would be a hard person to forget with as aggravating as you are.” He turned to wink at me. “Maybe the kid was never allowed the chance to talk to you and tell you how special you were to him. Maybe he had to fix his life, or become a better person before he could return to find you.”

  I chuckled at Daemon’s words. What he said was unlikely. Buddy had to have forgotten me, there was no other explanation. I’ve always known I was the odd person, the one who stubbornly clung to a childhood friend. Whereas most people grow up and let go of frivolous childhood fantasies, I held on to Buddy’s memory like it was the only thing that mattered to me.

  Daemon became quiet and appeared deep in thought and I returned my attention to the clouds lulling above me. I was slightly startled when Daemon spoke again. “Didn’t it hurt you, Paige? When Buddy pushed you down and pulled your hair; it had to have hurt you. Why do you remember him with so much admiration and affection?”

  I shrugged my shoulders and answered, “Well, yeah, it hurt. Who cares? We were kids and kids do crap like that to each other. Besides, he was just trying to teach me to stand up for myself. He couldn’t have done that if he didn’t push me around. You know?”

  He turned his head towards the lake. His expression was stoic, but it was apparent he was lost in his thoughts.

  Daemon laid down beside me and we watched the clouds together. I’d started to fall asleep from the warmth of the sun when Daemon turned on his side and leaned over me. The sudden shadow caused me to open my eyes and his piercing blue eyes burned into mine as he stared down at me. My body displayed its usual reaction to him and he laughed while running his hands down the goose bumps. Embarrassed by his amusement, I pointed my finger up at him and said, “We have a truce today, Mister. No bump rubbing for you.”

  His smile brightened at my unintentional innuendo and those delicious indentations appeared on his cheeks. His smile faded quickly as he continued watching me and his eyes heated. I was motionless and breathless from his proximity and his expression was about to be my undoing.

  Daemon smirked and said, “Fuck the truce,” right before bringing his lips down to mine. His kiss was gentle and full of unspoken emotion. Our mouths moved slowly against each other and I felt drunk from the warmth building between us. This kiss wasn’t created from fire or passion, but from something else entirely. It was the kind of kiss lovers gave each other when they are reunited after a long time apart; a kiss meant to sooth, to comfort, to convey thoughts and feelings without the use of words. It was the kind of kiss where we were breathing for each other and devouring each other; one where there was nobody else in this world. I was lost to him within seconds and only when it was necessary that we come up for air, did it end. Daemon raised himself up from me just enough that the sun caught his hair, causing it to glow around his face. I gasped as memories of my first kiss flashed through my head and I had to shake away the image of Buddy above me to replace it with that of Daemon.

  A lopsided grin came over Daemon’s face. “You okay? You look a little dazed.” His head tilted slightly and the shadows played across his cheeks and strong jaw.

  I nodded before finally rediscovering my ability to speak. “Yeah. Everything’s fine.” My voice was breathless and choppy. “Um, I just remembered something when you kissed me.”

  “What did you remember?”

  I pushed myself up onto my elbows forcing Daemon to move back over to his spot in the grass. I looked out over the water as I spoke. “Buddy was my first kiss. It was nothing fancy, just a little peck, but it was a kiss nonetheless. He gave me that kiss in this exact spot.”

  Daemon arched a single brow. “This spot right here?”

  “Yes, why?”

  “Just think it’s an interesting coincidence, that’s all.”

  My eyes shot to Daemon to find him smiling. I was about to respond when we heard Momma open the back door and call for us. We peaked over the grass and a large grin spread over her face when she spotted us.

  “Paige? Daemon? Could you two come help me with something inside?”

  “Sure Momma, be right there!” I shouted back to her as Daemon started pushing himself up into a standing position. He stood above me and offered his hand to help me stand, but I pushed his hand away in stubborn refusal of his assistance. “The truce is back on, Daemon, so I’m not taking your hand.”

  Daemon smiled and as I was just about to push up into a standing position, he grabbed my shoulder, smiled, and then pushed me back down to the ground. I landed with a hard thump on my bottom and he laughed before walking away.

  “What the hell was that?” I screamed. When he didn’t turn around to respond; I stood up, dusted myself off, and followed after him into the building.

  Chapter Three

  Daemon stuck to the truce for the rest of the day. We kept ourselves busy helping my parents with different chores around The Center and ate dinner before heading home. I was nervous walking out towards his truck with him because I knew as soon as those tires hit the highway again our peace treaty would go up in flames. I was right.

  As soon as The Center was out of our view, Daemon started up his musical missive game. Every song he choose had dark, haunting lyrics about unrequited desire and absolute longing for another person. I rolled my eyes when he started the first song and I could see his arrogant smirk out of the corner of my eye. I was not in any rush to return to his apartment with him alone so I suggested we stop and see David at the hospital. Daemon gave me a knowing grin and reluctantly agreed.

  “Don’t think that being in a hospital will stop me from ‘stalking’ you. I’ve been anxiously waiting to pounce all day.” He glanced in my direction and then back to the road.

  I let out a defeated sigh and decided it was time to clear up this stand-off we were having.

  “Listen, Daemon. I know I made certain demands when I agreed to stay with you, but I didn’t intend for it to mean that we weren’t dating each other.” That piece of humble pie was particularly difficult to swallow. Daemon’s responsive chuckle didn’t help much either.

  “That’s excellent news, Damsel. So tell me, what exactly am I to you?” He kept his eyes trained on the road but I could still see their amused sparkle as he spoke. He knew he had me cornered and he delighted in making me say things I wasn’t comfortable discussing.

  I fidgeted with my hands as I struggled with what to say. A smirk was glued to his face and I knew that he was enjoying watching me squirm.

  “Why does there have to be labels?” I shrugged then continued. “You’re Daemon, I’m Paige. I don’t see why any more information is necessary or relevant. We should just be Daemon and Paige.” I smiled brightly at him in hopes that my suggestion would be sufficient to cease the unyielding sexual tension between us.

  Daemon shook his head and silently laughed. His reaction wasn’t making me feel any better at having brought up the subject. He should have jumped at the chance to stop the game. He could finally act on his feelings for me and I would let him. In fact, it would be in his best interests to do so. Men like sex. I was willing to give him sex. There was no down side to this situation.

  “I don’t think so, Damsel. You won
t be turning me into another friend with benefits. If you don’t know what I am to you, then I have no problem continuing our relationship as roommates.”

  I scowled the rest of the way to the hospital.

  ~

  “So, if you two will just use that marker to place a mark beside the features you like best, I will calculate the most votes when it is time for the ultimate makeover.”

  David sat up in his hospital bed as he directed our attention to the poster board display he had secured to one wall of the room. I looked over the board he prepared which gave you a choice of different noses, mouths, and chins. My jaw dropped upon sight of the board and Daemon’s face was puckered as he attempted to contain his laughter.

  “David, have they said you will need cosmetic surgery? I mean, you look great. I don’t understand why you’re choosing new facial features.”

  David let out an exasperated huff. “Paige, I appreciate your kind words, but it is fairly obvious that my nose is now crooked and my face is definitely no longer symmetrical. Cosmetic surgery is definitely needed to return myself back to a state of hopeless beauty. Now pick a feature!”

  I quickly grabbed a pen and turned to the board as directed. I looked back and forth between the board and David as I decided what parts would look best on him. My hand went to place a mark by the Roman type nose and David tsked.

  “What?” I turned to him in question.

  “Not that one. I would look horrible with that nose. If you are not going to take this seriously, Paige, then just put the pen down and let Daemon have a turn.” David crossed his arms and gave me a pointed glare.

  I shrugged my shoulders and handed the pen over to Daemon. His face fell when he realized he was now on the spot. I nudged him with my shoulder. “Good luck.” Daemon sighed and took the pen before turning to the board to pick out his favorite features.

  I chuckled silently as I crossed the room to sit on David’s bed. I wrapped him in a big hug and enjoyed seeing him healthy and happy again. “I’ve heard that Matt and you have become quite the item. Has he been here every day to see you?”

 
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