Eleven

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In the evening after running on the treadmill, I lie on top of the covers of my bed, staring up at the wooden base of the bunk above me.

I try to convince myself Crystal is sleeping soundly above me, but it's no use. Crystal's breathing was always soft, fluttery, and through the silence I'd be able to hear it, a reminder I was never alone.

Giving up on trying to sleep, I make my way out of the bedroom and to the edge of the pool, peering down at the dark water below. Usually, I can see straight through the water to bottom, but the water looks black at this time of night, save for a strip of moonlight lining the water from the window above.

I drop my nightgown to the floor, allowing it to pool at my feet. Then I pull down my underwear, letting them do the same before I descend the steps of the pool.

The water takes me inch by inch, travelling up my calves and thighs before I'm fully submerged, and only once I'm sat on the bottom of the pool does it feel as if I can finally breathe.

In the darkness is when I finally know peace. I'm not being watched. Gazed upon. Ogled at. I simply linger in the balance, shrouded in darkness, and it occurs to me that even if the outside world is as dark and as lonely as it is under here, I would gladly take it.

I've been on the fence since Crystal's breakdown, allowing my fear to convince me the outside world is too cruel to bare, that I don't know how good we have it here.

But I can't silence the small voice telling me Jaqueline didn't seem miserable when she spoke of her life outside of Marine World. I never once saw the darkness take her the way it does us, because maybe it couldn't. Maybe she had too much light.

I swim the length of the pool for a while, feeling as free as I'll ever feel in a place like this. Moonlight pools in from the night room window, creating a slither of light across the water's surface.

The water is everything I imagine freedom to be: warm, effortless, chaotic in its ripples and bottomless pits, but a beautiful chaos. One worth fighting for.

I hold my breath beyond my forty-minute limit, waiting until my lungs are clawing for air before I break the surface to find a dark figure standing in the shadows, his eyes as unreadable as his expression.

How long has he been standing there? And why is he looking at me like that? Like the way the guests look at us, like I'm the most beautiful thing he's ever seen?

"What are you doing?" His deep voice rings out, and even though only my shoulders are visible, I feel exposed underneath his gaze.

"I couldn't sleep," I say, feeling as if he can read my thoughts, as if he already knows about my plan to escape.

"Try," he replies.

I clench my jaw, his emotionless response only strengthening my desire to run. "Fine. Can you pass me a towel, please?"

He peels himself off the wall and heads into the bedroom, grabbing a towel before walking to the ledge of the pool and holding it out like a wall between us.

Now that he's closer, the moonlight has lit up a fraction of his face, and I can see his eyes remain stonily ahead, refusing to look at me. Slowly, I make my way up the steps of the pool, walking into the towel as though walking into a warm embrace.

If this were Jackson, his eyes would already be hungrily skimming my body through the dark, trying to catch fragments of my skin in the moonlight, but not Reece. For some reason, knowing this causes something in my chest to flutter.

Once my chest is to the towel, he wraps the two ends around my body and my own hand snakes around my back, clasping the two ends together before his own hand drops.

We look at each other for a moment, me craning my neck because he stands a whole three heads taller than me and him looking down with an expression I can't quite understand.

The last time we were this close was when he was carrying me in his arms, and his proximity does something to my insides, causes my stomach to flutter like the butterflies I sometimes see flying through the main enclosure.

"What are you looking at?" Reece asks, his eyes reminding me of the pool early in the morning, once the sun's rays have turned the water an almost colorless blue.

Guilt already begins to stir in my stomach at knowing what I must do to him, and I try to convince myself he deserves it. He might care more than the others at Marine World, but he is still one of them.

"Nothing," I say, unable to tear my eyes away. I have no idea why I feel this way all of a sudden, why I'm overcome with such a need to be comforted, and by him of all people. "I'm just trying to figure you out."

"And your conclusion so far?" He asks, the feel of his breath strangely comforting against my skin.

There are times in my life when a lie is not enough. When I have to say what's on my mind or else risk losing myself to this person I'm pretending to be.

This is one of them.

"That you care," I say slowly, my eyes meeting his, "just not enough," and with that I walk into the bedroom, feeling his eyes following me as I do.

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