37. Right Here Waiting

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After getting dressed she called Chev. She seemed relieved to hear from Venus. Before Venus had a chance to say anything, Chev blurted the details.  

“Have you heard anything from Michael? Probably not.” Her words came fast and breathy, like she’d just finished running a race. “I talked to him early this morning. He said his mom was killed by a-a creature and that his dad was taking him away—with him. I tried to get more but someone made him hang up. I’m so worried.” 

“Chev, I’m sorry. Is there anything I can do?”

“I’m not sure. Oh, I feel so bad for him. His family—they’ve never been the best. Not that he’d tell me much, but I heard rumors. My dad’s sheriff.” She’d spoken the last part like that explained everything. It didn’t, but she kept talking, so Venus wasn’t able to clarify. “I’m gonna ask him if he knows anything when he gets home.” Venus heard Chev sniffle and knew she was crying. Her next words were soft. “Michael told me he loved me last night. I’ve got to find him. I don’t want to lose him, V.” She broke into loud bawling.

“Chev, Chev, it’s going to be okay,” she soothed. Her head reeled at the knowledge. What she’d seen in Chev’s memories had been correct. “He said he loved you?”

She hiccupped. “Yes. Last night was the most amazing of my life, and now . . .” She stopped and blew her nose before continuing, “he’s gone.”

“Wow, that’s amazing, Chev. At least the part where he told you he loved you. I’ll do what I can to help. Whatever you need.” If they were in love and he’d told her so, why wasn’t Venus disconnected from him? Why did she still feel the hold? She clenched at her chest, sensing the power within. The connection that’d formed on the night she entered his mind and searched his memories. Venus had tried, on more than one occasion, to deny it, shake the bond off—believe it wasn’t really there. But like a baby goat tethered to a hitching post, no amount of banging her head would separate them. That could only mean one thing. Michael loved Cheverly, but he wasn’t in love. Bah, that seemed ridiculous. Michael was seventeen for cret’s sake. What more did the Gods expect from him?

 “Thanks, V . . . Oh, hang on, my dad’s home.”

Venus heard muffled shouting in the background, but couldn’t understand any of what they said. After a moment, Chev came back on the line. “I’ll call you back.” She hung up.

Snapping the phone shut, Venus ran into the living room. The guys were sitting on opposite ends of the long couch, having a heated discussion. The TV was on, but muted. Venus stopped in front of the old-looking thing. “He told her he loved her,” she said, out of breath. 

“Yeah, we heard. That’s what we’re discussing.” Dervinias glared at Zaren, full of arrogant self-righteousness. “As I’ve told you both before, saying he loves her isn’t the same as being in love. Don’t you get that?” He rubbed his face, visibly annoyed. “I love Starbucks coffee with extra cream and three sugars. That doesn’t mean I’m in love with it.” He smirked and then continued, “Close, but not quite.”

Zaren growled, “Of course we know that. But what he feels should be enough. She’s done all she can in the amount of time the Gods have given her.” He flung a hand in Venus’s direction. She opened her mouth to speak, but Zaren continued. “I’m going to the Transports. I’ve got to contact Ith and Aetha again. Make them understand.”

Dervinias blew out his breath in irritation. “Fine. Yeah, that’s great. Go and contact your Gods, but while you’re doing that, what about V?”

They both turned to her, as though she were the referee in a heated game of Stavilition, the favored team sport on their planet.

Venus sighed gauging their needs, wishing she had the words that’d make everything better. Make it so Dervinias could go back to his life before they arrived and so Zaren could return to Kelari. Reaching back and setting the phone on the TV, she decided to try.

Twisting her hands together, she said, “Zaren. Dervinias. I’m sorry. The past several days have been awful. You’ve both tried to help me and I appreciate it.” To Zaren, she said, “I think when you go back to the Transports you should take yours and leave. Return to Kelari—”

Zaren interrupted, “No. I’m not leaving Earth without you. I’ll contact the Gods, explain the situation to them and demand they allow you to return.” He smashed a fist on the coffee table. A Car and Driver magazine, a novel entitled PREY and a large mug of milky coffee shook, as though in fear. “That should be enough. You haven’t done anything wrong! Killing you for crimes you didn’t commit would be reprehensible.”

Venus agreed wholeheartedly, but she wasn’t in charge.

Dervinias growled, hooked a finger into the handle of his coffee mug, lifted it to his lips and slurped.

Venus smirked, “You have something else to add?”

As he set the red glass mug on the table, he said, “According to the Gods, V must complete her goal or be destroyed. It’s their way or death.” He paused and took another sip. “Or worse—Helker.” Venus noticed a hint of smugness in his words that filtered onto his face. “It’s the dumbest damned thing I ever heard, but there you go,” he continued.

“No! No! No! I won’t accept that. I’ll make them change their minds.” 

“I’m grateful you want to try. Go,” Venus whispered, biting her bottom lip. She knew Dervinias spoke the truth—either she help Michael or suffer the consequences. But she also wanted Zaren to make his attempt, if for no other reason than so Zaren would come away with a clearer understanding. Perhaps accept the way things were. Maybe he’d even leave and return home, as she wanted him too. And who knew, maybe he could convince the Gods to change their minds. If anyone could, she’d bet on Zaren.

Nodding, she continued, “I’d like to know what more the Gods expect. He said he loved her. That’s likely all he’s got, especially given the circumstances. I know he means it. He does love her.” Venus moved to an oversized purple beanbag and slouched into it. Crossing the boot with the arrow in it over her knee, she watched it float around. The arrow still glowed, but it had dulled significantly. “I don’t get it.”

“Neither do I, which is why I’m going. Immediately!” Zaren walked over and stood in front of her. “I should be back in a day. You know I’ll hurry.” Turning to Dervinias, he continued, “You’ll watch out for her while I’m gone, right?”

Dervinias threw up his hands. “Of course. If you have to do this, you’d better leave sooner rather than later.”

“Agreed.” Zaren stuck his hands out. Venus grabbed hold and he pulled her upright, their bodies touching, toe to toe, though she had to look up to see his face. He caressed her cheek with the back of a hand. “Wait for me, all right? Don’t do anything . . . unwise. I’ll be back.”

She leaned into his hand. “Fabu.” 

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