Boundless Page 10

I scoot over and slip my hand into his, which startles him. The familiar electricity passes between us, making me feel stronger. Braver. I rest my head on his shoulder. I try to comfort him the way he’s always managed to comfort me.

I’m right here, I tell him. I’m not going anywhere. For what it’s worth.

“Thanks.”

“Forget all the gloom-and-doom stuff,” I say after a while. “Let’s just live a little.”

“Okay. Sounds like a plan.”

I pull away, glance at the clock on the dashboard. Seven forty-five—plenty of time, I think. I know something that will make us both feel better.

“Where are we off to now?” Christian asks.

“You’ll like it,” I say, starting the car. “I promise.”

An hour later I park the car near the visitor center at Big Basin Redwoods State Park and hop out.

“Follow me,” I say, and head off beneath the towering trees toward the Pine Mountain Trail.

I’m surprised that I remember the way, but I do. I remember like it was yesterday. It’s shaping up to be a sunny day, but it’s cool in the shadow of the giant redwoods. There aren’t any other hikers along the path, and I get the eerie sense that Christian and I are the only two people on earth, like somehow we’ve wandered back into a time before the dawn of man, and any moment now a woolly mammoth is going to step out of the trees to confront us.

Christian stays a few steps behind me as we hike, a quiet appreciation for the beauty of this place rolling off him. He doesn’t hesitate when we reach Buzzards Roost and have to do a bit of rock climbing. Within moments we’re at the top of the ridge, gazing across the valley of enormous trees, blue coastal mountains in the distance, the gleam of the ocean barely visible beyond them.

“Wow,” he breathes, turning in a slow circle, taking it all in.

“That’s what I said, the first time.” I sit down on a boulder, lean back to soak in the sun. “This is where my mom brought me to tell me about the angels, when I was fourteen. She said it was her thinking spot, and now that I live here again, I think it could be mine, too. I’m supposed to find a thinking spot for happiness class. A safe zone, the professor calls it.”

“How’s happiness class going, by the way?”

“Okay, so far.”

“Are you feeling happy?” he asks with the hint of a smirk.

I shrug. “The professor says that happiness is wanting what you have.”

Christian makes a thoughtful noise in the back of his throat. “I see. Happiness is wanting what you have. Well, there you go. So what’s the problem, then?”

“What do you mean?”

“Why is the class only okay?”

“Oh.” I bite my lip, then confess. “Every time I meditate, I start glowing.”

His mouth opens. “Every time?”

“Well, not every time now, since I figured out how it works. Every time that I do it the way you’re supposed to—empty my mind, focus on the present; you know, just be, remember?—whenever I actually get into it, then boom. Glorified.”

He gives a disbelieving chuckle. “So what do you do?”

“I spend the first five minutes of every class trying not to meditate while all the other students are trying to meditate.” I sigh. “Which is not conducive to the whole stress-relief thing.”

He laughs, a full-blown, delighted kind of laugh, like he finds the whole thing hilarious. It’s a great sound, warm, spine-tingly, and it makes me want to laugh too, but I only smile and shake my head sadly like, What else can I do?

“Sorry,” he says. “But that’s too funny. All last year you stood up on the stage at the Pink Garter and you tried so hard to achieve glory, and you couldn’t, and now you have to work to hold it back.”

“That’s what we call irony.” I get to my feet, brush dirt off my jeans. “All right. Not that I don’t enjoy chatting with you, Christian, but I didn’t bring you up here to talk.”

He squints up at me. “What?”

I take off my hoodie and toss it down next to him.

Now he really looks confused. I turn my back to him and summon my wings, stretch them over my head, flex. When I glance over at him again, he’s standing, staring with a kind of yearning admiration at my feathers, which gleam white in the sun.

He wants to touch them.

“Clara—” he says breathlessly, and takes a step forward, and reaches out.

I leap off the rock. The wind rushes me, cold and greedy, but my wings open and carry me up and up. I sweep out and away from Buzzards Roost, skimming the trees, laughing. It’s been forever since I’ve flown. There’s nothing on earth that makes me feel happier than this.

I circle back. Christian’s still on the rock, watching me. He’s taken off his jacket. He unfolds his gorgeous white and black-speckled wings, steps to the edge of the rock, and looks down.

“Are you coming or what?” I call.

He grins, then lifts off the top of the rock in two powerful beats of his wings. My breath catches. We’ve never flown together before, not like this, not in the light of day, unimpeded, without there being something terrible we were flying away from or something scary we were flying toward. We’ve never flown for fun.

He zips by me, so fast all I see is a streak against the blue of the sky. He’s a better flier than I am, more gifted at it, more practiced. He hardly has to flap his wings to stay aloft. He simply flies, like Superman, cutting through the air.

Come on, slowpoke, he says. Get the lead out.

I laugh and start after him.

Today it’s just us and the wind.

4

THE LABYRINTH

That night I dream of Tucker and me, riding Midas on a forest trail. I’m sitting behind him, my legs pressed against his as the horse shifts under us, my arms draped loosely around his chest. My head is filled with the smell of pine and horse and Tucker. I’m completely relaxed, enjoying the sun on my shoulders, the breeze in my hair, the feel of his body against mine. He is all things warm, and good, and strong. He is mine. I lean into him, press a kiss to his shoulder through his blue plaid shirt.

He turns to say something, and the brim of his Stetson hits me in the face. I’m surprised; I lose my balance and nearly slide off the horse, but he steadies me. He takes the hat off, looks at me with his golden-brown hair all askew, eyes impossibly blue, and laughs his husky laugh, which makes goose bumps jump up all along my arms.

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