Kian ended the call from his dad for the fifth time that day. His phone had buzzed incessantly as family, friends and acquaintances wanted to know how he was doing, whether he knew what happened to Athena or where she was. He scoffed at the incoming messages. “People need to mind their own business!” he yelled in frustration as he shut off his phone and shoved it into his back pocket.
As if on cue, Curtis and Athena appeared at the base of the lighthouse and made their way towards him. Kian thought they were the saddest couple he had ever seen. He gave Athena a quick hug before turning to Curtis.
“You coming with us to mainland?”
Curtis shook his head. “I’ll stay for a bit. Clear my head.”
No doubt Curtis had a lot to think about. Kian nodded. “Take care of yourself. Lie low for a bit but don’t be a stranger. I expect to see your fugly face hanging about me for the rest of my life, y’know.”
Curtis smiled as he gave Kian a farewell hug. “You’re a great friend.”
“Damn right I am. So you better not ditch town without telling me!” Kian replied heatedly. Curtis knew Kian’s forceful words masked genuine concern for him. Kian was unaccustomed to affectionate displays, so Curtis was pleasantly surprised when Kian hugged him back. As they pulled away, Curtis’s gaze traveled towards Athena. She held her breath. Time slowed as if to allow her to take a snapshot of this moment – the stillness of the air, the quiet of the woods, his expression, his hair, his eyes, him. They stood silently, taking in each other’s presence, burning each other’s respective images to their minds. And just like that, the moment was gone.
A lump formed in her throat as Athena stumbled wordlessly past him onto the footpath towards the wharf. If she stayed any longer, she’d never be able to leave. She focused on the pebbles and stray leaves; the color of her shoe, the sound her footsteps made as she trudged the dirt. Anything to distract her from the pain of separation and of what lies ahead for him. He’ll be okay, she convinced herself. He’s smart. He knows what he’s doing. He’ll pull through and come back unscathed…
But her tears still fell; her mind still worried. By her tenth step, her vision was so bleared she couldn’t see past her forearm. She felt Kian’s ginger hand upon her shoulder. ” He’ll be okay. He’s a survivor,” he assured her. “He can take care of himself. Right now, you need to take care of yourself.” Kian’s words mirrored what Curtis said to her the first time they hung out together. She broke into heavy sobs as memories flooded her. Kian offered they rest at a bench, but Athena insisted they kept going. She relied on him to lead the way as she sobbed into his shoulder.
As they approached the wharf, Athena grew uneasy. A group of intimidating men loitered at the entrance — a pile of cigarettes strewn about them. They’ve clearly been there for awhile. But there was no reason to remain at the lighthouse park; closing time was in half an hour and there wasn’t any scenery at night. The duo’s approach caused the men to look their way.
“Kian..” She tightened her grip nervously around his sleeve.
“Keep going and act normal.” He said quietly. “Stay close to me.”
Kian squared his shoulders and put on a stoic expression. Though his eyes were steadfast, there was a noticeable clench in his jaw. Athena however, looked to the floor and squeezed her own shoulders in, trying to appear less noticeable. Kian put an arm around her as they walked past, sending a clear message of protection to the people around them – that they had no business talking or looking at her. He led her into the building to purchase their ferry tickets, wanting to put as much distance between them. Athena’s anxiety peaked as two made to follow. You’re being paranoid, she told herself. They’re just going to buy tickets too, nothing else. She averted her eyes and focused forward.
As they entered the waiting area, someone tried to exit at the same time. Athena was about to sidestep out of his way when she realised who it was. Her face drained of all color. So did he, if one were to judge by the pitch of his voice ascending two octaves.
“Lady Athena!?” The grim cried in shrill disbelief. “This.. This cannot be! Why are you here!? How are you always present at the hour of death?! Alas, this can no longer be sheer coincidence!”
“Grim…?” Her heart pounded in her ears in contrast to her barely audible voice. The neurons in her brain fired all at once as they warned of what his presence meant: how isolated the park was with only one way in and out, how shifty the men looked, what was certain to happen… and Curtis.
“Kian!” she cried urgently as the Reaper gaped at the passing duo, then shook himself out of it and left in a hurried manner. Athena gulped. Was the grim headed to the lighthouse? “We need to go back!” Athena insisted. “We need to find Curtis! Something bad is about to happen.”
“I’ll find him.” Kian’s voice was low, almost a growl as he eyed the men who entered after them. They were clearly being watched and followed. Kian focused his senses on any sudden movement. “But not you. You’re getting off this island.”
“What if something happens!? I can help!”
“No! Curt’ll never forgive me if you get hurt. I’ll never forgive myself either!”
Kian’s arm tensed around her. He sensed her protest, but this wasn’t the time nor place for it – not when danger loomed right over their shoulders; not when he noticed the familiar left forearm tattoo on one of the men outside. Athena must not have realised who they were affiliated with. Best to keep her in the dark. He put himself between her and them, using his own body to shield her from their view.
“Look. This has been mine and Curtis’s fight all along. It was never yours.” He grabbed her hand and pressed his phone into her palm. “Go back to mainland and call the police. You’re not staying here. Hey.. don’t worry!” He squeezed her hand as her eyes watered in response to his decisive words. “Curt and I are gonna be okay. We’ve pulled through worse. You need to trust us.”
Athena bowed her head. She knew he was right – she had no business there, not when she trembled from the mere visual of men loitering around minding their own business. Calling the police was a smart move too. She agreed reluctantly.
As Athena waited by the counter, Kian stared down the men who followed them until they left the waiting area. He was temporarily relieved that they seemed to have lost interest, though he didn’t buy the act. People like that don’t just target someone and let them walk free. Those men wanted something, and he had a strong suspicion of what – or who it was they sought.
He deduced that Athena’s photo on national television must’ve alerted Steve to how she looked like and who she was. Steve knew roughly where she lived, but the Pinnacles was a gated community for the “elites” who wanted to distinguish themselves. And after her horrific encounter with them, security had tightened around Del Sol Valley. At least Athena will be safe when she gets home. He wanted to get her out of there as soon as possible.
“Hi, a ticket to mainland please,” Athena said to the attendant that finally appeared at the counter. She counted the seconds as he processed her request. Why do people seem to slow you down at the worst times?
As she reached for her ticket, he grabbed her hand by surprise and pulled her close.
“You’re the girl from the news, aren’t you?” He whispered. She froze. Was she that recognisable?
He didn’t wait for an answer. “You are. Those purple eyes – they give you away. The men outside are looking for you. They’re up to no good and they’re all over the park. You need to get out of here.” He gestured towards the second exit to her left. “Take the door. Go round the back of the building through the shrubbery to the docks. The pedestrian walkway is being watched. Call the cops once you reach the terminal on the other side. They’ve seized our phones here.” He let go of her hand as she shakily withdrew, clutching her crumpled ticket. She conveyed her understanding with her eyes.
She relayed the attendant’s message once they were behind the building. “You go ahead,” Athena said to Kian. “You need to warn Curtis. I’ll go through the bushes in front and hide until the ferry arrives. I’ll be okay!”
“I’m not leaving you until I see you get on the ferry safe and sound!”
“What if the next ferry is in 30 minutes!? Curtis is at the top of the lighthouse! There’s nowhere for him to run!”
“And I’m supposed to leave you by yourself surrounded by these creeps for 30 minutes!?” Kian retorted.
“I’ll be careful!”
A man emerged from the public outhouse, interrupting their argument. The duo looked up to find themselves staring into a familiar face — Steve’s trusted partner, who threatened Curtis’s life all those nights ago during the Spice Festival: Roge.
“Tch!” Steve grunted in annoyance at the cold barrel of gun pointed towards him. His own aimed at Curtis’s chest. He expected an upper-hand instead of this stalemate. Where were his cronies? Why aren’t they responding to his calls? Maybe he shouldn’t have asked them to spread out and search the park.
He glared at Curtis. “How does a kid like you have a gun? Who the f–k are you? Who do you work for?”
The boy gave no indication of a reply. Steve cocked his head in frustration. After the night of the Spice Festival, he realised his mistake of underestimating Curtis. He had messed the boy up pretty bad, yet none of his spies found him in any of the hospitals. Neither was there any information on the streets about him. To incur such strong loyalty and have private medicine at his disposal, whomever this boy worked for must be just as powerful as his own boss. Steve won’t be cocky this time. He wanted to execute the kid immediately, but he didn’t expect Curtis to carry a weapon, nor draw it so quickly.
“You’re not getting away – you and your little girlfriend. You caused me so much trouble these past few months. My standing and reputation – I had to go through hell to fix them – all because of you.” Steve cussed at the memory. “I’ve taken over this place – no one leaves this island on my watch. I’m going to enjoy every moment of your last breath.” He smirked. “Do you even know how to use a gun?”
“Wanna bet? On your lack of speed?” Curtis replied unfazed by his words. Steve was stumped for a moment. With how quickly Curtis had reacted, was it possible that the boy was just as fast to pull the trigger?
A light appeared before them and burst into a red supernova, blinding Curtis and making Steve jump in fright. As Athena emerged from the light, a split-second look at what they held in their hands told her all she needed to know about the situation. Steve will keep his filthy gun to himself, and Curtis will not be forced to kill! She raised her wand and pointed it at Steve.
The sparks that emerged followed every flick and curve of her strokes, converging into a huge ball of light at the tip of her wand. She brought down the sphere onto the square of Steve’s forehead, exploding it in his face in a spectacle of twinkling stars.