Boundless Page 85

“No.” I lean down and put my hand to Tucker’s pale cheek. I bite my lip against the wail that wants to tear out of me, and taste blood. The ground shifts under me. I feel dizzy, faint. I gather Tucker’s body into mine, hold him against me, my hands curling and uncurling in his coat, spilling out jelly beans on the wet rock beneath us. I stay that way for a long time, letting my tears run against his shoulder. The sun gets warmer and warmer, drying my hair, my clothes, drying his.

Finally I raise my head.

Christian and Jeffrey are gone. The lake’s so clear that it makes a perfect reflection of the Tetons on the water, the pink-tinged sky behind them, the lodgepole pines along the opposing shore. It’s so incredibly still in this place. No sound but my breath. No animals. No people. Just me.

It’s like I’ve stopped time.

And Tucker is standing behind me, his hands shoved in the pockets of his jeans, looking down at me. His body has mysteriously vanished from my lap.

“Huh,” he says bemusedly. “I had a feeling you might be in my heaven.”

“Tucker,” I gasp.

“Carrots.”

“This is heaven,” I say breathlessly, looking around, noticing at once how the colors are brighter, the air warmer, the ground under me more solid, somehow, than it is on earth.

“It would appear so.” He helps me up, keeps my hand in his as he leads me along the shore. I stumble, the rocks on the bank too hard for my feet. Tucker has less trouble, but it’s difficult for him, too. Finally we make our way up to a sandier spot and sit, shoulder to shoulder, looking out at the water, looking at each other. I’m drinking in the sight of him unbroken and healthy, perfect in his beauty, warm and smiling and alive, his blue eyes even bluer here, sparkling.

“I don’t think this dying thing is half so bad as it’s cracked up to be,” he says.

I try to smile, but my heart’s breaking all over again. Because I know that I can’t stay here.

“What do you think I’m supposed to do now?” he asks.

I peer over my shoulder at the mountains. On earth the sun would be on the other side of them as it rises, to the east, but here the light is behind them. Always growing. It’s always sunrise in heaven, the way that hell is in perpetual sunset, never breaking into the full light of day, but there’s the promise of it, soon, maybe.

“Go into the light,” I say, and scoff at how cliché it sounds.

He snorts. “Get out of town.”

“No, seriously. You’re supposed to go that way.”

“And you know this because …?”

“I’ve been here before,” I say.

“Oh.” He didn’t know that. “So you can come and go? You could come back?”

“No, Tucker. I don’t think so. Not where you’re going. I don’t belong here.”

“Hmm.” He stares off at the lake again. “Well, I’m glad you found a way this time.”

“Yeah. Me too.”

He reaches for my hand, takes it in both of his, strokes my palm. “I love you, you know.”

“I love you, too,” I say. I would cry, but I don’t think I have a tear left in me. “I’m so sorry this happened. You had this beautiful life in front of you, and now it’s gone.” It’s good to be here with him, to see him safe and sound, but my heart hurts when I think of Wendy and his parents, the way his death is going to open a big black gaping hole in their lives, a wound that won’t ever fully heal.

I hurt when I think of spending my whole long life on earth without seeing him again.

He tilts my chin up. “Hey, it’s okay.”

“If I’d just left you alone …”

“Don’t do that,” he says. “Don’t regret us. I don’t. I won’t, ever.”

We sit there together like that for I don’t know how long, our hands tangled, my head against his shoulder. He tells me about all the things I missed this year, how he took up bull riding at the rodeo, for the adrenaline of it, he says, because he wanted something to make him feel alive when he was otherwise feeling pretty low.

“You’re lucky you didn’t break your neck,” I say.

He grins. Shrugs.

“Okay, not so lucky.”

“I missed you every minute. I wanted to drive out to California and grab you by that pesky hair of yours and drag you back to Wyoming and make you see sense. Then I thought, well, if I can’t bring her to me, I’ll go to her.”

“So you applied to UC Santa Clara.”

“Wendy told you about that?” he asks, surprised. I nod. “What a tattletale.” He sighs, thinking of her. Sobers. “You sure we can’t stay here forever?” he asks wistfully.

“No. You’re supposed to move on.”

“You too, I guess. Can’t hang out with a dead guy all your life.”

“I wish I could.”

“Prescott’s a good egg,” he says, his voice strained. “He’ll take care of you.”

I don’t know what to say. He stands up, brushes the nonexistent heavenly dirt off his pants out of sheer force of habit. “Well, I should let you go, I think. I’ve got a hike ahead of me.”

He pulls me into his arms. We’ve had some good-byes, Tucker and me, off and on again, but nothing like this. I cling to him, breathing in his smell, his cologne and horse sweat and hay, a hint of Oreo cookies, feeling the solidness of his arms, knowing this is the last time I’ll feel that, and I look up at him all desperate and heartbroken, and then we’re kissing. I hang on to him for dear life, kissing him like the world’s about to end, and I guess in a way it is. I kiss him like I probably should be embarrassed to do in a place like heaven, which feels like church, a place where God is looking right at you, but I don’t stop. I give him my whole heart through my lips. I love him. I open up my mind and show him how much I love him. He gives a startled, agonized laugh, and breaks away, breathing hard.

“I can’t leave you,” he says hoarsely.

“I can’t leave you either,” I say, shaking my head. “I can’t.”

“Then don’t,” he says, and grabs me behind the neck and kisses me again, and the world is tilting, tilting, and everything goes black.

22

THE PROPHET

I wake up in my room in Jackson. For a minute I consider whether or not it was all a bad dream. It feels like one. But then reality settles over me. I groan and turn onto my side, curling into the fetal position, pressing my hands to my forehead until it hurts, rocking, rocking, because I know that Tucker is gone.

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