Chapter 1

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November 2014

Fire tears through my body, crushing my lungs and causing me to wake with a violent start. Clutching onto the sheets, my heart races as I concentrate on trying to breathe normally. It was just a nightmare, the fever again. I feel the heat that surrounds me now and relax into a self-satisfied smile; that explains things. I tip my head up and watch his face while he's sprawled out sleeping next to me, no nightmares of the past crowding his peaceful mind.

Sliding out from underneath his warm arm, I lean over his body and take this uninterrupted opportunity to jut admire him. I study his strong nose and his long, dark eyelashes which now flutter restlessly in sleep. How unfair that a boy should be blessed with those lashes. It takes everything I have to hold myself back from using my finger to trace the slopes of his profile, but I resist the temptation.

He looks so much like Levi did, the dark almost black hair, the smooth tanned skin, the dimple, even the same small freckle right beneath his ear. Jackson had that too. I can still feel the empty space in my heart that they both used to fill. I concentrate on Jared though, laying here next to me and feel fortunate to have another chance. Even if this moment is all I end up with, it's been more than I've been afforded some lifetimes before.

I remember my dream. It was my second lifetime. I smile regretfully.

After my first death I was born again in 1817. How stupid I was that second time, opening my big mouth at such a young age. I must've sounded completely mad, telling people about my previous life and the roles they played in it! I shouldn't have been surprised when I was locked away at the age of ten courtesy of my best friend Cassandra's parents. People don't last long when they're locked away and forgotten, especially back then.

The fever took me fast. I should have been grateful because it ended things, but instead I was more frightened than ever when my life went and started all over again. I had returned just as I feared.

Now here I am living my seventh lifetime. I shake my head at the thought. Hopefully this time I'll manage to get a few things right.

I notice a slow smile creep its way across Jared's face and then one clear, grey eye slowly opens and he looks right up at me.

"I thought you were still asleep." His voice is rough with exhaustion and burns deep into me. I can't seem to wipe the ridiculous grin off my face and press my naked body against his beneath the tangled sheets.

"No, just enjoying an out-of-body experience." I lay myself on him so that no part of me feels denied, and bury my head into the crook of his neck. The beat of his pulse throbs against my cheek as he runs his hands down to the small of my back and then cups my butt with a hefty squeeze. I squeal as I erupt into a fit of giggles and burrow further into him.

"I could stay like this with you forever." He lets out a content sigh. "Just glued here, right like this."

"Me too," I whisper as he lays a pattern of kisses along my shoulder. "Jared," I warn, but the giggle that erupts along with it doesn't make me sound very convincing. He grabs hold of my face and stares into my eyes turning suddenly serious.

"I didn't know that was your first time." He almost sounds like he's apologizing and I blush because it wasn't, not really.

Yes, technically this was my first time having sex in this body, but I've done it plenty of times over the past 200 years. I find myself getting sucked into his eyes and see each of them in there, all the way back to Levi. I bring my lips down on his feeling the same excitement course through me as it has every time before.

It's an incredible rush, kissing different lips but having the same familiar kiss. It's like being an expert dancer your first time on the floor. We know our steps so well that it's easy to get lost in the rhythm of his mouth.

He pulls back, hesitating for a moment.

"Jared everything was perfect. I'm fine; I swear!" I push him back into the pillows and straddle his body, pinning his arms down against his sides. "You don't need to worry about me as much as you do."

He frowns slightly before smiling back at me. "Too late for that."

I break out into another smile as he breaks free of my hold and slips his arms around my waist. My body begins to relax into his and before I know it, I forget about how sore I am and am ready for round two. But just then reality comes pounding on my door and ruins things.

"Ellie! Are you in there?" Coco asks through the door.

It's after one in the morning, where the hell else would I be? I see a look of curiosity work its way across Jared's face.

"Coco?" He mouths as his eyes light up with playfulness. He's all the more eager to meet my mother, especially since he knows I've been keeping her from him. I nod, cursing her horrible timing as I collapse onto his chest.

"Yes?" I call back to her in a muffled voice.

Jared attempts to get me to laugh as he delivers a series of pokes and jabs down my rib cage and I start squirming, trying to my best to keep it together. I grab onto one of his fingers to slow him down, but he's too fast for me. He slips his hand away from mine and starts needling the sides of my body again.

I love these moments with him when everything is just carefree; there are far too few of them.

"Is Max with you?" Coco's vodka slurred voice slinks right under the door and slides into my bed, edging its way between Jared and me. His eyes cloud over at the mention of Max's name and his fingers suddenly stop their assault on my rib cage.

I sit up straighter and turn my attention to my locked door. "No! Now go away!" I shout, having no patience for this bizarre mother-daughter bonding moment that Coco seems intent on having right now.

"Ellie I know you have someone in there with you."

There isn't even a shadow of anger in her voice, like any normal mother would display, instead she sounds more intrigued by the prospect more than anything else. It's pathetic. She's more like a nosy roommate more than a parent.

"So?" I snap back at her. "Is that not allowed?"

Jared's eyebrows skyrocket and I sit back on my knees, wrapping my comforter around me as I listen for her answer.

"Whatever Ellie," she grumbles through the door before stomping off like a petulant teenager rather than a thirty-four year old woman.

Ignoring her tantrum, I turn my attention back to Jared, placing both my hands on his hard chest and letting the comforter tumble off me. He's still frowning and this bothers me because I thought we already cleared things up about Max.

"I'm sorry about that," I murmur, leaning forward and running my lips against his chest. "She met Max earlier tonight when he showed up to drive me to the game. I guess she just assumed..."

"I don't want to talk about Max."

He shakes him out of his head and in one fluid movement, spins me over his body and captures me beneath him. Our faces are so close that I can feel the slightest hint of him as the tip of his nose brushes against mine. His eyes have cleared up but there's still some lingering effects of the storm that was just gathered in them, but he's smiling at me, so that must mean something.

"You don't seem to have many rules in your house."

"I don't think I have any, at least none that she's ever bothered to tell me about."

"You two sound very different."

Here is my opening to edge in some truth about myself without sounding crazy.

"We are different. Coco actually isn't my biological mother."

Jared's eyes go wide in surprise and I can tell that part of him thinks I'm just messing with him. But I'm not; it's the truth. It's always been this way.

"Seriously?" he asks.

'Yeah. The weirder part is I don't think she knows it."

He looks bewildered. "Ellie, how could Coco not know if she's your mother? I think she of all people would know!" He chuckles softly and I can't blame him, it is confusing. How can I explain something that I've known about for over a two hundred years?

"I always knew something was off, but it was confirmed for me a while back when I found out that Coco and the man listed as my birth father both have type O blood. That means any baby they'd conceive together would have to be type O too. I'm don't."

"But Ellie," he breaks in as delicately as possible, "what if maybe he just wasn't your real father?"

It's a fair question considering Coco and her history, but I have an answer for him. I look up and brush the hair back off his face.

"Jared I'm type AB there's no way I could have a mother with type O blood." I watch as his whole demeanor changes. I can tell he's now taking this conversation a little more seriously. "And then I ordered one of those DNA tests kits from the Internet--"

"You did what? You can do that?" He interrupts and I smile, nodding up at him.

I was surprised myself. I marvel at how technology is now helping me sift through some of the secrets of my life. I mean I've known about our blood type mismatch since the '40's, but DNA? I get a slight thrill at yet another advancement I've been able to experience. I wouldn't have even understood the concept of DNA back in 1700's!

"It was only around $200." I grin sheepishly at him. "That pretty much sealed the deal."

He doesn't seem to find the humor in it. Probably because he knows that was $200 spent that I don't have to spare. I look up at his eyes and realize that I must sound pretty cavalier to him about the whole thing. I'm not though; I've just had a whole lot more time to process things.

Knowing that I'm never in the right home, never with either of my real parents, and that after six other lifetimes I still don't have all the answers I need, has made me detached. Now I feel like I'm trying to find the answers because I have to, not necessarily because I want to anymore. I know he expects more of an explanation so I clear my throat and continue.

"Then I did a little digging. A newborn baby died the same day I was delivered, at the very same hospital." I sneak a look up at him. His full attention is on me, but I can still see the lingering doubt in his eyes. "And so did her mother, during delivery."

"Ellie, that doesn't prove anything."

It does though. It's enough proof for me anyway. I know who she is. Sarah Eden was her name and I've heard it before. It proves so much more than I can explain to him right now so I sigh and try another tactic.

"Well, Coco also blabbered some story the last time she was wasted about how when she gave birth to me I died. She said, 'the machines stopped beeping,' and then she told me that when she came to, a woman handed me over to her."

He's quiet for a bit, absorbing everything like he always does, and I smile to myself.  He's probably trying to fix it all in his head, trying to make everything better for me like he always wants to. It's kind of sad knowing that he won't be able to. I'm not a problem that's easily fixed.

"Ellie, why would someone want to switch you with another baby? And why haven't you talked to Coco about any of this?"

"Coco doesn't know anything Jared, and I'm not about to tell her. What would happen if she found out? This other lady is dead. If Coco knew she'd freak and I could end up back in foster care or worse, and that's not happening again."

I can feel myself getting worked up. I don't even notice my fists curling around the sheets as the idea of everything turning out like it has in the past lingers over me. Just because things are fine now doesn't mean anything in the long run. It's too early to take anything for granted. I know how quickly everything can change.

Jared sighs and lays his head down on the pillow next to mine, conceding. I turn to face him and study his face, memorizing every detail, knowing i won't get this chance forever, and suddenly my lineage is the last thing I want to spend my time with him talking about.

"But why would someone switch babies?" he muses, brushing my hair off my shoulder and kissing it absentmindedly. "Your father maybe?"

"Maybe," I whisper, closing my eyes and succumbing to his touch. It's hypnotizing.

Millions of scenarios have played out in my head over the years and I still don't know the whole story, but I am confident that I know for sure who my mother is and now, if I can find solid proof, then one mystery would at least be permanently solved. Jared places his hand gently on my cheek and the warmth of his skin fills me with security. Slowly he lets his hand slip down my face.

"Do you even want to know?" he asks in a hushed whisper.

"I think I have to."

I remember what he said to Caroline on Halloween about the Hindu belief in reincarnation, and how the soul keeps on being reborn until it finds its true source. Maybe finding out the answer to the question of my birth will lead me to that, or maybe it's preventing my untimely death, or possibly defying all the odds and making things work out with him. Maybe it's all three.

I lean in and kiss him, wondering if this time I will actually beat fate and finally discover what my true source is.


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