Stung by Bethany Wiggins

Page 24

  Bowen shakes his head. “Too dangerous,” he says, wiping his knife on the edge of the dusty dresser, leaving a glob of shaving cream and hair.

  I grit my teeth and glare at my tattoo, hating it more than I’ve hated anything in my life. It is a representation of everything Bowen hates and fears. Which means me.

  “I don’t think I’m going to turn into a beast, though,” I say, still staring at my hand. “And if I start to feel signs of it, I’ll leave. I swear. Please. Don’t take me to the lab. Take me with you. ” I look up from my tattoo and stare at his reflection in the mirror as he slips the knife into a black sheath attached to his belt.

  “It’s not too dangerous for me. It’s dangerous for you. What if I can’t protect you?” He won’t look at me. He turns and climbs onto the bed, knees bent, back pressed against the headboard. He picks up his gun and balances it on his knees. I climb onto the other side of the bed and curl up on my side, my arm beneath my head, my back to him, and stare out the broken window.

  “I’m willing to take that risk,” I murmur. “Because I don’t want to leave you, Dreyden. I’d rather take my chances on the outside. With you. ”

  He shifts, the mattress sagging beneath his weight, making me roll into him. When he speaks, his mouth is right above my ear. “I shot my mother in the head. It took me two tries to kill her,” he whispers.

  I turn and look up into his dead, cold eyes. His jaw muscles pulse.

  “Why?” I ask, appalled.

  “The raiders caught her. For two days I tried to get her free. For two nights, she screamed for someone to kill her. So on the third morning, when the sun rose, I finally got up the nerve. ” Darkness haunts his eyes. “It’s not safe out there, Fo. I don’t want to have to kill you, too. Life in the lab will be a lot more pleasant. Trust me. And you never know. Maybe one day they’ll find a cure. ”

  He climbs off the bed and I close my eyes, trying to forget the horror of his words, his hopeless eyes.

  Chapter 24

  I dream of grass and honey and flowers. Sunshine warms my skin and rose petals brush my lips, a feathery touch that makes me stir. I open my eyes, and Bowen’s finger pauses against my lower lip. Slowly, he pulls his hand from my mouth. I stare into his grass-green eyes and wait for my heart to burst.

  “You were talking in your sleep,” he whispers. “Something about honey. ” He is curled on his side facing me, our knees touching, our faces mere inches apart. I look at his lips and remember how they felt against mine—smooth as honey and just as sweet. They curve into a warm, lazy smile. “Fo. ”

  “What?” I look into his eyes again.

  “You were staring at my mouth. ”

  I squeeze my eyes shut and cover my face with my hands, and Bowen laughs.

  “I have a surprise for you,” he says, touching my cheek with cool fingers that smell like soap and bring heat to my skin. I open my eyes and stare at him. His hair is slightly damp, as if he’s just had a shower and he smells like shampoo. “Come here. ”

  I follow him into the bathroom and see nothing but a couple of dusty, sun-bleached suitcases that used to be some shade of purple and several empty water bottles. He points to the tub. Two inches of water shimmer in it—clean water, clear water. Bowen points to the sink next. A toothbrush and travel-size toothpaste are on the counter beside a full water bottle. And a comb.

  “The water’s not warm, or anything …,” he says, rubbing his hand over the bald patch above his ear

  “Does this place have running water?” I ask, staring at the grimy sink.

  He shakes his head and his tan cheeks flush, a hint of pink beneath the healthy gold glow. “While you were sleeping I gathered water from the toilet tanks in the hotel and carried it here in water bottles. It’s not dirty or anything … I thought you’d like to get clean. ”

  More than anything, I’d like to get clean. I stare at Bowen, and my heart grows too big for my chest. A sudden assault of tears blurs my eyes.

  Bowen, seeing the tears, turns to leave but pauses in the doorway, not looking at my face. “There’s stuff in those suitcases that should fit you, too. ” He shuts the door.

  I peel off my grimy things, unwind the tattered binding from my breasts, and climb into the tepid water. When I sit, it only reaches halfway up my thighs. Even so, the water is heaven.

  On the side of the tub are a little soap packet, a tiny bottle of shampoo, and a tiny bottle of conditioner. I lie back and scrub my scalp with the entire bottle of shampoo, then work the conditioner into my hair. By the time I’ve soaped every square inch of my body, the water is brown and I am too disgusted to sit in it any longer. I drain the tub and climb out.

  Hot summer air whisks the moisture from my skin. Facing the mirror, I brush my teeth, then run the comb through my short, ugly hair, parting my long bangs to the side so my entire face shows.

  The face in the mirror is odd, nearly a stranger’s. Only my brown eyes are the same, set above unfamiliar, angled cheekbones and a mouth full of white teeth.

  I rummage through the suitcases and find purple cotton underwear, a white camisole tank top, and a pink sundress. I pull the clothes over my clean body and twirl in front of the mirror. I feel like a girl again—almost like the old me. With a goofy smile plastered to my grown-up face, I leave the bathroom.

  When I come out, Bowen stands looking out the window at the evening sky, his dark brows drawn together, completely lost in thought.

  “All clean,” I say, blushing.

  He turns from the window, the beginning of a smile on his lips, and his face goes blank. And then he frowns. His eyes move all the way down to my bare feet and back up, lingering on my obviously female chest before returning to my eyes.

  “No,” he says. “You cannot wear that. ”

  I look down at the sundress. “What’s wrong with it?”

  He drags a hand over his weary face. “You look like a … woman. It’s not safe. ”

  I think of the raiders and look back down at the dress. “When we leave, I’ll change,” I say. “But for now, it’s comfortable. I feel like the old me. ”

  Bowen presses his hands to his temples and looks back out the window. “Fo, you’re not safe from me. ”

  I stare at his back for a long moment, at the gun slung over his shoulder, the Taser on his belt. “You’re going to shoot me for wearing a sundress?”

  He turns his head and looks at me with danger-filled eyes. In three steps he’s in front of me, his hands on my bare shoulders, fingers digging into my skin. “Fo, I’m a man, and you’re a beautiful woman. But you’re also a Level Ten, and when I look at you, especially when you’re dressed like this, I can’t think straight, because even though my brain tells me you’re the most dangerous thing I’ve ever encountered, my heart … my body—” His mouth snaps shut and he stares deep into my eyes.

  I get it, what his heart and body are doing, because mine are doing it, too. I ache for Dreyden Bowen, for everything about him. His smell, his touch, the sound of his voice, his presence. I tilt my head to the side and trail my fingers over his freshly shaved jaw line. He shuts his eyes and leans into my touch.

  “I’m sorry, Dreyden. I’ll change into something else,” I whisper, letting my hand drop. His eyes open.

  “I’m sorry. It’s just, if I let my guard drop, even for a second …” His cheeks flush bright pink and he takes a deep breath. “I won’t be able to keep my hands off of you. ”

  I walk to the bathroom and find a pair of baggy jeans, an oversize T-shirt that hangs halfway down my thighs, and the strap of fabric that binds my breasts flat against my chest. When I come out Bowen is lying on the bed beside his gun, hands behind his head, ankles crossed, staring up at the ceiling.

  “I need to sleep,” he says. Without taking his eyes from the ceiling, he slides the gun across the mattress toward me. “Will you keep watch?”

  I take the gun and nod, but he doe
sn’t see. “Yes,” I say.

  “Don’t use the flashlight. The raiders will see it through the window,” he says, and his eyes slip shut. On bare feet, I walk to the short hallway beside the door and sit with my back to the wall, gun balanced between my bent knees.

  Bowen sleeps, a restless sleep that makes him thrash and flinch. And when he thrashes about on the sleeping bag, it is my name he cries out. Sometimes he screams it and I cling to the gun, listening for the sound of anyone else in the hotel. Because if anyone’s around, they know we’re here now.

  The sun sets and darkness creeps into the room. A crescent moon and stars illuminate the shadows, shining in through the window and casting a perfect ice-blue square over Bowen’s sleeping body. With the darkness, Bowen’s thrashing intensifies, my name spoken more often, accompanied by pleading whimpers or violent growls.

  That he fears me so badly brings tears to my eyes. I hang my head, let my forehead rest on my knees, and try not to cry.

  After he’s been asleep for several hours and the moonglow has moved to the far side of the room, Bowen suddenly lurches, spine taut, and screams, “Fiona! No! Stop!” He keeps screaming and thrashing, mumbling words I can’t understand.

  Sick to my stomach, I set the gun on the floor and pad over to the bed. The sleeping bag is in a wadded ball beneath him, his shirt twisted around his torso.

  “Bowen,” I whisper. He whimpers and gasps my name, rolling onto his side, his body curled into a protective ball. “Bowen, wake up. ” I touch his damp forehead, and he flinches away from my fingers, curling even tighter into a fetal ball. I place both my hands on his cheeks. “Dreyden,” I say. His eyes flutter open and focus on my face. He grabs me, pulling me against him hard, and I wonder if he’s gong to thrust a knife into my ribs or strangle me with his bare hands.

  “Fiona,” he whispers, tightening his arms around my shoulders. I freeze, my head on his chest, my body beside his, his arms anchoring me there. After a minute his heart slows beneath my ear and begins to beat at a normal rate, and his arms loosen the slightest bit. Convinced I’m not about to die, I relax into him.
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