*** author’s note: Some triggering topics brought up at the end, but nothing discussed in depth… yet | PART ONE HERE ***
– THE NEXT EVENING –
6:04 p.m. | Kippy Skating Rink
“So, what’s with this sudden outing?” Cailean asks.
“No reason.” Chad and Mai say simultaneously. “Riiight.” Cailean says, squinting his eyes in suspicion at the couple.
“I told her it was going to be cold, but she wouldn’t listen.” Lexi says to Gus, as she glances at Kimberly who was severely underdressed for the occasion. “Seriously, Kim?” Gus says. “I know you’re into fashion and all that, but be reasonable.”
“I’m fine.” Kimberly says sternly.
“Sure you are.” Gus says with an eye roll as he begins to loosen his scarf.
“This probably isn’t going to help that much, but take it.” He says as he drapes it over her. “Not like you gave her a choice.” Lexi says with a smirk. “Thanks…” Kimberly says quietly, avoiding meeting Gus’s eyes.
Aislyn watches this exchange occur from a distance before joining the group. The lack of any emotions she feels upon seeing this only reaffirms her conviction that ending things with Gus is the right thing to do. She wasn’t the slightest bit angry or jealous that he’d given his scarf to Kimberly of all people who’s had a history of not liking Aislyn for some inexplicable reason.
Her only issue now was whether she’d be able to go through with it, or would she waver and have cold feet. “Jealous?” A voice says behind her.
“No, not really.” Aislyn answers honestly before turning and seeing that it’s Otto, someone she’s only seen once or twice in passing after meeting him when she’d met Cailean months ago. “Well, that’s either very admirable, or very wrong.” He says.
“Looking at you up close now, it looks like something’s weighing on your mind.” He says once she faces him. Was she really that easy to read? “I’ve had that very same gaze that you have once before. Trust me when I say it goes over much easier than you think it will.” Otto continues when she remains silent.
Aislyn had never spoken to him for this long before, and found his voice to be oddly calming with a hint of an accent she’s never noticed. “Thanks for the reassurance.” “No problem.” Otto says with a smile. “Come on, let’s join the others.” He adds as he walks towards the stairs.
Feeling her bit of hesitation disappear at Otto’s brief advice, Aislyn follows him onto the steps. She meets Gus’s eyes briefly before turning to Mai; it has been a while since they’ve seen each other. “Well, now that you’re all here, let’s get some skates and hit the ice!” Mai exclaims.
The rink they were at was deserted, and Aislyn had the oddest suspicion that Mai had selected it for a reason. It was inevitable that they’d have to talk amongst themselves in the small open space.
Aislyn was so focused on coming to sort matters with Gus, she’d forgotten that for as athletic as she used to be, she never really got good at skating. With every attempt she makes to move forward, she feels herself shaking. “Need a hand?” Gus, who appears to be quite proficient on his skates, asks as he comes near her. “I’m fine–” Aislyn begins to say just as she stumbles back.
She falls rather ungracefully and Gus grins and extends a hand without bothering to ask a second time. “On second thought…” Aislyn says while reaching for it…
“…maybe I do.”
“No kidding.” Gus says with a smirk.
He hoists her up and Aislyn already feels unsteady the moment she’s back on her feet. “Don’t let go!” She exclaims. “I won’t.” Gus says as he reaches for her arms. She thinks back to Mai’s advice from their sleepover that felt like eons ago…
“Look, the most important thing is that you’re happy, and you feel like you understand, connect with and can rely on the person you’re with. If your relationship feels like a chore, that’s a no-no and you need to jump that sinking ship.” Mai had said matter-of-factly.
Aislyn steadies herself by grabbing onto Gus in return, and though she can hear the skates of everyone else around them, it feels like she and Gus are the only ones around. While she definitely felt like she could rely on him from time to time, now being a good example, she didn’t feel connected to him in other ways… mentally, physically… emotionally… She had come to care for Gus, and wanted him to be happy, but it was apparent that she wouldn’t be able to provide him with that happiness, and neither would he for her.
“Sorry I’ve been kind of distant lately.” He says. “That’s become our new normal.” She teases, and at this Gus smiles. They’ve both had time to reflect on their relationship, and she hoped that he’d come to the same conclusion she had so that this could end in a much better way than her last relationship had. “Can we talk later?” He asks, and Aislyn nods.
As they skate on, Aislyn gets better at balancing, not needing Gus after about half an hour or so. Once she gets more comfortable gliding beside him, she notices Chad and Mai having a blast, Otto seemingly giving advice to Kimberly, and Cailean, who also appeared to be proficient at skating, aiding Lexi. She wasn’t so sure how she felt about that…
The tenant who gave them their skates walks out of the shack to let them know that they have ten minutes to closing time, and one by one, everyone exits the ice. Gus had remained by Aislyn’s side the entire time, even though everyone else had been forming groups or switching partners and partaking in individual conversations. Once everyone’s gone they remain behind, and Aislyn extends her hand to catch a falling snowflake.
“You’re a good teacher.” She says.
“I’m good at many things.” Gus says with a grin. “But relationships aren’t one of them.” He adds. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t apologize.” Aislyn says turning to face him.
She stumbles as she does so and Gus catches her. “Guess I’m not as good a teacher as you thought.” He teases.
“No, I’m pretty sure I’m just hopeless at skating.” She says and they both laugh for a moment before slipping into another silence.
Gus doesn’t drop his hands, and Aislyn makes no motion to move; they remain standing that way for a moment.
“About what you were saying before–” Aislyn begins, but is cut off by Mai’s voice ringing in the distance. “Hey, we’re going to be late for dinner if you two don’t hurry up!”
“We’re coming.” Gus calls back. “I guess that’s our cue to go, we can have this conversation afterwards.” He says as more of a question, and Aislyn nods, following him off the ice.
The group walks toward the restaurant, and while they chat loudly along the way Aislyn zones out thinking about how exactly she is going to word what she wants to say to Gus when the time comes. It’s only when they are walking up the steps that she recognizes where they are…
She looks in the window and sure enough sees Martha, the owner of the pub who’d done a number on her face months ago after Aislyn had tried to help her sister ‘move onwards’.
She nudges Gus right before they enter, once the others are inside. “I can’t go in there.” “Why not?” He asks over his shoulder, stopping once she does. “You don’t remember what happened the night we met?” Gus ponders this for a moment before breaking out into a grin. “Oh, yeah. I completely forgot about that.”
“Good. It was pretty embarrassing…” Aislyn says.
“Anyway, you get why I probably shouldn’t go in there. Besides, my family will be visiting tomorrow, so I should call it an early night.”
“I can pass that message along to the others and take you home. We can have our overdue talk if you’d like.” Gus suggests.
“Before we do though, there’s just one last thing I want to check…” He says. Before saying anything more, Gus leans in, and Aislyn knows exactly what he’s doing…
His lips meet hers and she knows that he’s checking to make sure that there’s absolutely no spark between them. She had to admit a part of her was flustered when he’d held her on the ice, but thinking back to it now, she was more anxious over potentially falling than she was over Gus’s presence… And this moment, where her face remains splotchy from the cold without any heat rising to it, only confirms that for her.
7:20 p.m. | Martha’s Pub
“Hey, babe… I think our plan kind of backfired.”
“How so?” Chad asks.
“Kimberly and Cailean look more downcast now than they had been before.” Mai states in a whisper.
“Hmmm, you’re right. Well, it was your idea, so I don’t know why you’re saying ‘our’.” Chad says with a grin. Mai nudges him. “What happened to ‘I’m on board with all of your ideas’?” She asks. “See, you’ve just confirmed that it was your idea, and I kept my word and supported you.” He says with a wink.
“Well, we tried, and that’s all that matters.” Chad says. “Though I’d like to think we’ve hopefully brought about more good than bad…” He adds.
Gus and Aislyn had been speaking outside for a while, long after everyone else had entered and taken their seats. Kimberly had the unfortunate pleasure of sitting right in the spot that gave her a view of both of their faces as they spoke. And though she didn’t want to, she couldn’t tear her eyes away…
The moment she sees Gus lean in and start kissing Aislyn, she can’t help but feel a bout of anger and hurt. “I just remembered I have something to do.” She declares, trying to keep all of the emotion out of her voice.
“Woah, right now?” Lexi says. “Can’t it wait?–” Mai begins to ask, but Kim cuts her off. “No, it can’t.”
As the others all gaze at her with puzzled expressions, Kimberly decides to make a hasty retreat before they can stop her. “Don’t bother getting up; enjoy your dinner. Thanks for the invite, and I’ll see you when I see you.” She says before bolting to the doors on the other side of the pub without providing her friends with the opportunity to say anything more…
“Did you feel–” “Nothing?” Aislyn asks, cutting Gus off. “Yeah.” He says with a smirk. “So it wasn’t just me?”
“Nope.” Aislyn says with a smile. Thankfully it appeared he had come to the same realization she had.
“Well, this probably won’t be a long conversation then.”
“ I guess not.” She says.
“Wait here, let me go talk to the others.”
“Alright, I’ll meet you out front.” Aislyn says as Gus turns to enter. Just as she makes her way around the corner, she spots Kimberly walking out. “Kimberly?”
“Great, just who I wanted to see.” Kimberly says in an icy tone. “I’m sorry?” Aislyn says. “What do you want?” Kimberly asks. Aislyn notes her hostile demeanor that she hadn’t seen for a while and wonders what could’ve ignited this change.
“Weren’t you guys planning on eating dinner?”
“Not like you planned on sticking to the agenda so why are you harping on me?” Kim snaps.
“Look, I know we aren’t close friends, but…”
“Close? Don’t delude yourself; we aren’t even friends.”
“But at Mai’s–”
“I was caught up in the moment during her girls’ night, okay? I don’t like you, so just stay away from me.” Kimberly says before stalking around the corner. Aislyn didn’t plan on ending the conversation on that note, so she saunters after her.
As Gus enters, he notices the owner, Martha, going around pouring drinks. It was a good call to avoid coming in here, Aislyn. He thinks with a grin. This was his first real relationship, so it was also his first real break-up. Gus was expecting an argument or tears, but noticed, just like when he’d first met her, that Aislyn wasn’t like other girls.
This was shaping out to be a friendly parting as opposed to a heartbreaking ordeal, and that really pleased him. He was looking forward to hearing what she had to say. After taking a glance around, he spots his friends having a heated discussion at a table close to the window and begins making his way over to tell them he and Aislyn planned on leaving now.
“Kimberly! Kimberly, wait!” Aislyn calls out as she follows Kimberly who was walking off at a rather quick pace.
“Didn’t you hear me? I have to go and want nothing to do with you right now.” Kimberly says, not bothering to turn around.
“Fine, then.” Aislyn says, a bit of her own anger rising inside of her. What had she done to deserve being treated this harshly? She’d followed Kimberly for nearly a block and knew Gus was probably done talking to everyone by now, so she turns to head back to the front of the pub.
Just as she does so, she feels a chill and stops in place to prevent herself from walking through a ghost. “What’s this? You aren’t going to pretend you can’t see me anymore?” The ghost says rather icily, and Aislyn racks her brain trying to understand what he means…
Suddenly, a flash of his face comes to mind, and Aislyn remembers seeing this particular ghost during the fall time shortly after her encounter with Ollie and Dee. Because she was left feeling foolish after listening to Trey, she had ignored him when he’d tried to talk to her; caught up in her emotions due to her ordeal. It took a lot of effort on her part as he’d stuck around for a while.
She’d since got over that brief bit of anger, and had forgotten all about him. “Oh, it’s you… Look, I can explain that.” Aislyn begins.
“SAVE IT! I don’t want to hear anything from you. I tried to talk to you! I followed you for HOURS. And you pretended you couldn’t see me. Now you’ve become a murderer…” He yells, pointing an accusatory finger at her.
“Okay, I kind of deserved that, but… wait what?” Aislyn says, turning to meet his cold dead stare after processing the end of his statement.
“I tried to tell you on that day that there was something fishy going on around here… That then suspicion has grown into a discovery of full-scale criminal acts. There are these guys that have been kidnapping young women here in Oldmerrow. Since I’ve tried to warn you, they’ve taken five! FIVE.” He says, raising his hand to emphasize this. “And they’ve raped some of them, but killed all of them. And I hope you know that their blood is on your hands. That friend of yours is headed their way now.”
“What?!!” Aislyn exclaims yet again, feeling an all-new cold not from the ghost’s presence filling inside of her. “Why didn’t you say that sooner?” She asks. “Oh, so now you care?” The ghost says coldly. He doesn’t make any motion to follow as Aislyn begins taking off in the direction Kimberly had begun walking.
Please, don’t let me be too late. Please, don’t let me be too late. Aislyn repeats over and over in her head as she sprints.
After a few minutes, she sees Kimberly in the distance. “Kimberly!” She calls out hoarsely; her throat beginning to constrict in fear and pain after breathing in so much cold air. “STOP!” She calls again as Kimberly continues to walk. Already feeling a burning sensation in her lungs and legs, Aislyn takes off once more to close the gap between them.
“I. Said. Stop.” She says in between breaths, grabbing Kimberly rather forcefully.
“And I said beat it. Can you not hear the words coming out of my mouth?”
Since trying to reason with Kimberly didn’t appear to be an option, Aislyn decides she’ll drag her out of here if she has to.
But before she can take a single step, a figure materializes almost out of nowhere in stark contrast to the white snow in all black. Oh, no. Aislyn thinks.
She instinctively steps in front of Kimberly as the man approaches. “Lost ladies?” He asks in a tone of voice that sounds neither old nor young.
The closer he gets, the greater Aislyn’s fight or flight response kicks in and she begins brainstorming how to best handle the situation.
“We’re fine, thanks.” Aislyn says in what she hopes sounds like a calm voice. “Who the hell are you?” Kimberly asks, clearly unaware of the danger they were both in.
“For a pretty girl, you don’t talk that pretty.” Another voice says, and Aislyn hears Kimberly let out a shriek. “Now, now, keep it down.”
Aislyn whirls around and sees another man suffocating Kimberly and reaches out to pry him off of her. Before she can get her arms very far, the man from before says, “Turning your back on a stranger isn’t wise.” And grabs her; restraining her arms.
Aislyn struggles as best she can, but his hold only grows tighter.
After a few moments, Aislyn watches in horror as Kimberly’s eyes roll back into her head and she falls unconscious. The second man holding her drops her rather unceremoniously onto the snow.
At that moment, Aislyn stops her struggling and feels her entire body go numb. This is all my fault. She thinks. “Hey, that’s no fun. Why don’t you put up more of a fight?” The man holding her says. “Yeah, struggle some more? Maybe let out a scream or two? You’re making this too easy…” The other one says with a menacing smile Aislyn can see through his mask as he approaches. She wasn’t going to give them the satisfaction of seeing her fear, and so, she grits her teeth; saying nothing more.
“Suit yourself.” He says as he closes his hands around her face and Aislyn feels the world go dark…
Thanks for reading! And at long last, Chapter 19 is done! *throw confetti* You shall never hear me mention it again… Well, at least until I make a special post about it in the future or something. XD This probably didn’t end the way you were expecting it to at all, haha. I promised a more eventful chapter… and I hope it delivered. Quite a bit of stuff shall be going down in the next few chapters including more Cailean B) , another flashback – which we haven’t seen in a while – and the introduction of a new character 😀 I hope you enjoyed~ Feel free to let me know what you thought per usual and take care!