I sat on the front stoop of Ida’s house, the awning keeping the rain from me. It pounded only a foot away, relentless and cold. I shivered as the wind wildly whipped my hair around me, but I stayed where I was. Ida would come back any minute now. She had to.
Just when my thoughts had traveled to the bleakest place, Ida’s red Ferrari pulled up. I leapt from the stoop, running toward the car.
Ida came out of the car, wet and dirty. Red smeared her one arm and speckled her face. Her hands were covered in blood and a clumpy, dark substance that I couldn’t identify. Before I could begin to worry, I ran to her and threw my arms around her. She pulled me to her with one arm, kissing my wet hair and face. Our lips met next, relief pulsing between us.
Ida stared at me, her face covered in red and black and her expression intense and serious. The combination made her incredibly sexy and dangerous looking all at once. She studied me, as though trying to commit every detail to memory and then she used her good hand to bring me back into a kiss. The intensity of her kiss matched the intensity of the look she’d had a moment before, passion and gratitude flowing from her lips. I simply melted into her attention, feeling higher than I’d ever felt in my entire life. I could almost taste the adrenaline ebbing off her in waves. It must have been contagious, because I felt it flooding my senses, coaxing me into a dreamlike state.
When she let me go, she staggered and almost fell. I caught her shoulders, steadying her.
“Let’s get inside,” I said, offering myself as a crutch. She put her good arm over my shoulders, leaning into me. The rain was slowing around us, falling softly now. The drizzling water was beautiful, shining. I cherished the feeling of Ida’s body against mine and smiled, leading her into the safety of her house.
I laid her out on a couch in the parlor, not caring that I was probably ruining the upholstery for good. Ida sank wearily into the cushions, her head giving up and falling against the armrest.
E rushed in, surveying the scene with abject horror. I appealed to her immediately, saying,
“Please bring me something to clean her wounds.” She nodded and bustled out of the room wordlessly.
I turned my attention back to Ida, thinking that I should start to take some of her clothes off. I started with her boots, reaching through the grime to untie the laces. I pulled hard, wrenching one off with a slurping, suction sound. The other came off in the same manner.
“Look what you’ve gotten yourself into now,” I said amicably. “You just love to find dangerous situations, don’t you?”
Ida gave a small, tired chuckle, her eyes still closed in exhaustion. I smiled to myself, putting her boots off to the side.
I looked and realized that she had a heavy vest of some sort on over her drenched t-shirt. I ran my fingers along it, trying to find how to remove it. I came across Velcro straps on the sides. I pulled the Velcro apart and the vest was ready to be lifted over Ida’s head.
“I need you to sit up,” I said. Ida groaned and slowly pushed herself to a seated position. I gently lifted the vest over her head, lying it down beside her boots. I looked at her, searching for what other sorts of protection she’d strapped on. I didn’t find any.
“You fought a monster in a bulletproof vest and jeans?” I asked incredulously. “What did you use for a weapon? A walking stick?”
“A sword,” Ida answered, her eyes still closed and her head turned sleepily away from me.
“A sword!?” I repeated. “Are you insane? When have you ever used a sword before?”
Ida gave a weak shrug and said,
E rushed into the room, a basin of water in one arm and the other full with medical supplies.
“What happened?” E asked Ida. “Do you need to go to the hospital?”
“Damn beast got my arm,” she answered. “Don’t need a hospital. I’ll be fine.”
“You were out fighting that monster?” E nearly yelled. “Ida, you could have died! Actually, you probably should have.”
“Well, I didn’t,” Ida responded, finally opening her eyes and addressing E directly. “And I killed it. What more do you want?”
Now it was my turn to be shocked.
“You killed it!?”
“Why else would I be here?” Ida asked, a shadow of hurt in her tone.
The full meaning of the situation hit me. This girl, this woman, had just slain a sea monster. Single-handedly, I guessed. She really was a hero. Pride and love swelled in my chest and I wanted to jump on her right there and kiss her to death, but I refrained. E was present and Ida was hurt. My silly desires would have to wait.
Instead, I took the things from E and said,
“Thank you.” She must have heard a dismissal in my voice, because she left us alone.
I soaked a towel in the water E had brought and Ida turned to sit on the couch properly. She rolled up the short sleeves on her t-shirt, revealing the full extent of her injury. The red punctures and gashes continued under her shirt, holes in the cotton proving my theory correct.
“I think you’ll have to take that off,” I said softly, unable to keep myself from blushing. I stared down at my hands as I squeezed the water out of the towel.
“Ah, so that’s the sort of girl you are,” she said teasingly. “Well, if you insist.”
I kept my eyes averted as I heard the brush of fabric on skin. I twisted the towel one more time and then I looked up at her.
She sat there nonchalantly in a dark grey sports bra, her strong body on display for me. I tried to slow my heart, but it didn’t work.
I focused on her wounds, which wound all around her arm and kissed the edge of her shoulder. Thankfully, nothing seemed too deep or too serious. I started to wash them out, one by one, my work as gentle as possible. Her blood began to get on my skin, but I found that I didn’t mind. I felt closer to her, somehow, having something that belonged to her on me. Ida sat there, not saying a word, not complaining. Once or twice, she winced slightly, but it was purely reactionary and she didn’t amplify it in any way. I admired her self-control.
After her wounds were clean, I applied hydrogen peroxide to each gash, watching the substance bubble white against her skin. Then, I completed another cleaning with a new towel and applied antibacterial cream. Last, I bandaged each cut and puncture. When I finished, she looked immensely better.
I took another towel and soaked it silently, wringing it out before applying it to her face. Carefully, I wiped the remnants of blood and guts from her face. She cooperated, staying still and quiet throughout the process. A zenlike atmosphere descended over us as I moved onto her other arm, uncovering the olive tone of her skin from under the mire.
When the last patch on her smallest finger was clean, Ida leaned forward toward me. Wordlessly, she took my face in both of her hands, her cold thumbs secure against my jaw. She brought my face to hers and kissed me delicately, as though she was afraid that one of us would break with too much pressure.
“Thank you, my love,” she said.
“Thank you for coming back.”
Ida looked at me and I couldn’t deny the love that I saw in her eyes. It lit brighter and purer than anything I’d ever seen before. The feeling went straight to my heart, fluttering the tissue there. Suddenly, she looked past me and her expression changed completely. Anger and pain replaced love and I turned to see what she was looking at.
Her father was standing in the doorway, his stance stiff and his eyebrows up to his hairline.
“This is who you’ve chosen?” he asked Ida, his tone a bit accusatory.
Ida stood defiantly, her bandages making her look like the warrior she was.
“I don’t care where she was born,” Ida said, her tone steely. “And I care even less about your war. Don’t impose your prejudices on me. Besides, I just killed a sea monster for you. I think you should be thanking me, not reprimanding me.”
“I heard,” he said.
She reached over for her t-shirt and pulled it on. Then, she stepped past me toward her father, facing him head on. She fixed her dark gaze on him, unmoving, as she asked,
“What the hell is going on, Father? What have you done to cause this insanity? I’ve more than earned the right to know.”
“You’re right,” he said, his tone tired. His shoulders sagged as though the entire world sat on them. “This is it. On my way back from the war, my ship drove into a huge storm. We were all going to die. I called out to Neptune to save us. He struck a deal with me. He would save me if I would sacrifice the first person I met when I landed. How could I know that the first person I’d meet would be you?”
The shock of this revelation swept through the room, as palpable as the wind that had been rushing outside not too long before. A twinge of hatred for Ida’s father bit into my heart and anger rose up in my throat.
“I haven’t had the heart to sacrifice you,” he continued. “I thought that sending you away would appease him. I thought that another god would take your side, protect you from Neptune’s wrath. But he sent the storm and the monster instead. But now it seems that you’ve conquered even that.”
“If he sent that monster, what will he send next?” Ida asked, fear taking control of her expression and anger raising her voice. “What will he do if we continue to delay?”
“I couldn’t say,” Ida’s father answered, his words filled with regret.
Ida let out a long sigh of frustration, burying her fingers in her hair. She started pacing and I started worrying, remembering what she’d decided the last time she’d paced.
“I guess I have a decision to make,” she said.
“You don’t have to decide right now,” I put in.
She looked at me, sorrow weighing heavily in her eyes, and said,
“I’m sorry, darling. I don’t want this any more than you do. But time is a precious commodity and I’m afraid we don’t have too much of it. Neptune’s temper seems unconquerable. I can’t let any more innocent people die.”
“But you’re innocent,” I said, hearing the pleading in my voice and wishing that I didn’t sound so pathetic. But love had a strong hold on my heart and it was calling the shots.
Ida must have heard the desperation in my voice, because she came right over to me, cupping her hand on my face and making soothing, shushing sounds.
“I know, my love,” she said, looking me right in the eye, and suddenly the rest of the world receded into the background. “This isn’t fair. None of it is. But I have to do what’s right, no matter what.”
I reached up, holding onto her wrist, and asked,
“How many times must I almost lose you today?”
“One time more.”
The words crushed me.
Ida kissed my forehead, lingering there a moment, and then she turned to her father.
“Prepare the execution,” she said. “I’m ready to die for the good of my country.”
I stepped away from Ida and turned on her father, courage gathering from some unknown place and propelling me. It was an ungrateful and stupid move, I knew, but I couldn’t stop myself.
“How could you?” I asked him. “How could you be so pitiful that you’d trade your life for another’s? You didn’t know who you would meet, but you knew that they’d be a person. How could you be so selfish?”
“That’s easy for you to say, Princess,” he shot back, spitting out the last word irreverently. “You didn’t have to make the decision. I had a whole ship full of my loyal soldiers: the men I’d fought beside for years. Some of them had saved my life on multiple occasions. How could I let them die in a storm, especially when they were so close to home? Blame the gods, not me. Neptune demanded much and no one else came to help me. I only had one chance to save myself and my soldiers and I took it. Only now that it’s my only child do I regret it.”
“It’s still wrong,” I insisted. “No one life is worth more or less than another.”
“Strange words coming from a noble,” he said. “How can you think so little of me? I have shown you mercy. The least you could do is remain silent. This is none of your business.”
“It became my business when you involved Ida,” I said. Ida placed a hand on my shoulder and said,
“Please, be calm. Let me do this. It’s the right thing to do.”
I was out of words, out of energy. Unsure what else to do, I turned away from Ida’s father and wrapped my arms around her instead. I grabbed the fabric of her t-shirt tight in my fingers as I pressed my nose into the skin of her neck, keeping my tears in with a fierce determination.