Sixty-Six - Ira

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Even with jet lag and exhaustion, we couldn't sleep. With Thierry out making preparations for our departure before dawn, it didn't ease any of our nerves. Miguel had gone to sleep - he still had to work tomorrow, he said, but he'd see us off when we were ready.

"I would kill for a drink right now," Linkin said groggily. If her hand wasn't on her forehead, I was sure that she would be sleeping with her head on the table right now.

"Me too," Stuart said, "and I don't even drink."

"Yes, you do." I looked up from my folded arms. It looked like I was going to fall asleep on the table first.

"Only since recently." He grimaced. "Still tastes horrible." Looking at me, he added, "Ira, you should sleep. We all should. Thierry will be back soon."

I didn't complain and let Stuart support me up the stairs. Kicking off my shoes, I dived straight onto one of the thin mattresses that Miguel had laid out on the floor. It was just like the old days - moonlight was streaming through the window with no curtains, and I turned to face the wall to block out the light. After we said goodnight, Stuart came over and wrapped his arms around me. Half-asleep, I could only smile.

Unconsciousness came easily, but at a cost. In my dreams, I relived every moment on Dell Island at a painful pace. I saw myself stepping off the boat that carried Celestia, me, and a boy who disappeared early. I tried to drag past Ira and Celestia back onto the boat, but I couldn't move from where I was watching everything unfold. Celestia and I laughed our way through our sunburns, tipped down drink after drink, and tried to peer at the beach through the woods until Desmond found us laughing and tipsy and told us to go back to where the pool party was.

"Are they going to be okay?" was a question that Celestia kept close to her lips when fellow vacationers suddenly fell sick. Desmond would always come and smooth things over, blaming over-drinking and not enough sleeping, and I would stupidly reassure Celestia that those people were going to be fine, or they would be sent home early. We could stay on the island for as long as we wanted, and we talked shared ideas about what we would do with our new lives after we left. Celestia wanted to study to be a psychologist to help people who were abused like her. I told her I wanted to be a business owner but wasn't sure on the specifics yet.

I wanted to scream when I saw the morning when Celestia came to my blue cabana, sobbing as she showed me the traces of scales under her peeling skin. I couldn't let the scream out, and the way that it was lodged in my throat made me want to be sick. I wanted to tell myself to not take Celestia to the creepy little hospital, but past Ira did anyway. Past Ira waited for days for Celestia to come back, and when she went to ask the doctor, she found the hospital closed.

I was suddenly taken a few years forward, to when Thierry had tied Celestia down to a chair and she was crying. "I was forced, Ira, forced to drown you..." I heard in the same timid voice that belonged to my friend who was broken long before her DNA started changing. I felt the fever in my body and the excruciating pain in my shoulder from when I first jolted awake on Miguel's workshop table, my teeth clenched to the point of soreness and my head swimming. Stuart had been there, I remembered now. He had cried out and hugged me gently before I could even come to full awareness.

"Everything's going to be okay," he'd said. It was the same few words that had made me run away a few months later, but now I hung onto them.

When I slowly woke up, I noticed that Stuart was still awake, his eyes open at the ceiling in deep contemplation. I laid a hand on his chest and he held onto it. Meeting his eyes, I whispered, "This time tomorrow, we won't have to hide anymore."

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Being on the boat made me more uneasy than I had expected. The ocean rocked us from side to side, and Linkin, at the helm, tied her hair up in a messy bun. She zipped up her jacket and asked, "Good to go?"

"Yep." We nodded, and she started the engine to take us out into the open water. I craned my neck to follow the disappearing shore, and when it was swallowed by the black, moonlit ocean, I laid a hand on one of the knives I had on my belt. It should be an easy trip there, I reminded myself, trying not to think about everything that had happened that day, trying not to think about where Jaysen's body was. I leaned forward and hugged myself, reaching around my right shoulder to run my fingers over the scar of the gunshot, just next to my eagle tattoo.

Stuart stared up at the sky, where the Milky Way was on full display. It was beautiful, and I could feel the power of the universe. On the other side of the boat, Thierry managed to be glued to something on his phone without getting seasick. Linkin looked meditative as she steered the ship. I took in this quiet moment, remembering how lucky I was to have these people.

Thierry broke the silence with a French word that sounded like a curse. We all turned to him in alarm. "What is it?" Stuart asked.

"Celestia's gone," Thierry said angrily.

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