Ever since he’d arrived home, Justin’s father had been extra cautious around him. Backtracking when he said something vaguely related to Dark Core or his extended family or what had happened while Justin had been living on the oil rig. Refusing to go anywhere near the ocean. Keeping an eye on him, either in person or through Jenna or someone else. Thomas hadn’t been working as much lately, and Justin knew that it was his fault. Of course his father would be worried, he’d disappeared for years and now he was moping around the place like he’d brought back some of Dark Core’s darkness. Justin wished every day that he hadn’t told his father about how he was really feeling. About how he felt like there was a shard of darkness lodged in his heart from his time spent living with his grandfather. But he hadn’t really told his father the whole truth. Thomas didn’t even know that Justin wasn’t sleeping well.
There was really only one person who Justin felt comfortable talking to, and she was currently spreading out her sleeping bag on his bedroom floor. He’d cleaned it up in anticipation of this. He’d been looking forward to it ever since Zelda had first mentioned it.
“Sorry my room is a bit messy,” said Justin, spying a dirty sock peeking out from under his bed and quickly snatching it up.
“It’s fine,” said Zelda, smiling at him. “It’s certainly cleaner than mine, at least. It even smells good!”
“I’m sure your room smells beautiful,” said Justin.
“Justin, I ride horses all day and sometimes I have to clean out stalls and fish. It smells awful,” said Zelda.
“But you smell nice,” said Justin, impulsively grabbing her and sniffing her hair. Zelda laughed, her cheeks burning bright red.
“That’s ‘cos I showered,” said Zelda, her heart racing. Justin was still holding her with his nose buried in her hair, but then he blushed and moved his head away when he realised what he was doing. Fortunately, he still didn’t let go of her.
“I don’t smell that good after I shower,” said Justin.
“Yes you do,” said Zelda, then gasped and blushed. “I-I mean, one morning I came here pretty early and you’d just showered and you smelled good. Clean.” Justin smiled at her, and Zelda let out a little squeak when he kissed her cheek.
“Good to know,” said Justin. “Speaking of showers, I should probably have one before we hit the hay. Which we’d be sleeping in if it was warm enough outside. Uh, sleeping in the literal sense of the word.” Between the two of them, they could heat a small room with their blushing. “I’ll stop talking now,” said Justin, and left the room.
“Uh, Justin?” said Zelda, holding up his white towel and pale blue button-up pyjamas.
“Right, thanks,” said Justin, and quickly darted out of the room. Zelda sat down on his bed, listening to the pipes creak as Justin started the shower. Rather than thinking about that, though, she was thinking about the fact that she was sitting in Justin’s bedroom. They’d been dating for a little while, mostly sharing ice creams and sundaes and milkshakes at Fort Pinta beach. Sometimes they danced at the disco too, and Zelda was planning on taking Justin to the summer dance party when Tim Hooper came back to Jorvik. He’d love it, she was sure.
While she waited for Justin to finish in the shower, Zelda decided to poke around his bedroom a little. It was probably rude, but he hadn’t told her not to. And besides, she was curious. She opened his closet, and immediately grinned upon seeing Justin’s old leather jacket back where it belonged among his other jackets, shirts, and jeans. His wardrobe smelled nice. But, before Zelda could get too caught up in thinking about Justin’s various outfits, she closed the doors of his wardrobe and went about looking at the rest of his bedroom. She’d seen his neatly-made bed, with the squishy feather-filled doona and pillows. They were pale blue, which seemed to be Justin’s favourite colour. The sheets of his bed were white, and the blankets were pale yellow.
Zelda carefully stepped onto her slippery, dark green sleeping bag and looked at the things on Justin’s chest of drawers. She could see a few old Breyer horse figurines, as well as some polished horseshoes. She picked up one of these horseshoes, a little surprised to find that it was real. Conrad must have made them for Justin, maybe as a birthday gift. Or they were shoes that Justin’s horse had first worn. He seemed to be the kind of person to keep something like that. Zelda smiled at the thought of it.
Justin didn’t have many posters or pictures hanging on his bedroom walls, but there was one. Strangely, though, Justin wasn’t in it. Well, not obviously in it, anyway. The picture depicted a much younger-looking Thomas Moorland with his arms around a beautiful, dark-haired woman. Zelda could pick out some of Justin’s features in her. The woman’s hands rested on her stomach, and Zelda felt a pang of sympathy as tears stung her eyes. She reached a hand out and touched the glass of the photograph.
“That’s my parents,” said Justin, startling Zelda into taking her hand away from the photograph and turning to look at Justin standing in the doorway. “If you look carefully, you can see the thing that killed her.”
“So it was a brooding shower then, huh?” said Zelda.
“Yeah,” said Justin with a heavy sigh. He ran a hand through his wet hair, and Zelda walked over to him and wrapped her arms around him. He was warm from his shower, and he smelled so nice.
“You smell nice,” said Zelda. Justin smiled and pressed his chin to the top of her head.
“Sorry I keep getting all mopey on you,” said Justin. “It’s just hard to get back into an optimistic way of thinking. Everyone out there had just… given up on anything good. Always fighting, and then when they found out that I was useless…”
“Well, you’re not useless,” said Zelda. “Remember before you went away? You helped the new riders who came to Moorland.”
“Now Loretta does that,” said Justin. “I’m not needed. Dad managed just fine without me for years.”
“Are you kidding? Jenna mostly ran things in your absence, her and the Bobcats. Your dad was too caught up worrying about you,” said Zelda. At seeing Justin’s face, she knew that she’d said the wrong thing.
“I left and everything fell apart,” said Justin. “I ruined everything.”
“So you made a mistake,” said Zelda.
“A mistake that nearly got me killed,” said Justin.
“People do that every day, Justin,” said Zelda. “They drive or ride drunk, or they just do risky things that get them into all sorts of trouble. I know that your situation is different, but… it’s not the end of the world.”
“Yet,” said Justin.
“Well, look at it this way- you being there was a distraction that delayed them from ending the world,” said Zelda. “You’ve postponed the end of the world.”
“I guess that’s a good thing,” said Justin.
“And hey, you’re important enough that the Soul Riders decided that you were worth saving,” said Zelda.
“That does make me feel a little better,” said Justin.
“But most importantly,” said Zelda, looking him in the eyes. “You’re important to me. Important enough that I jumped off that plank after you.” Now Justin finally smiled, and Zelda smiled too.
“Thank you,” said Justin. “I really needed to hear that. I feel a lot better now.”
“Happy to help,” said Zelda. And then Justin kissed her, and Zelda really hoped that her squealing was only in her head. She was grinning giddily when Justin pulled away, and then she pulled him back in to return his kiss. He was so warm, and now she was getting warm too, just from the kissing.
“I know that you brought your sleeping bag but could you sleep with me in my bed tonight?” asked Justin when they’d had enough of the kissing (for now). He blushed again after replaying the sentence in his head. “Ugh, I have the worst timing. I didn’t mean it like that. I just… having you near makes me happy. And maybe I won’t have nightmares if you’re with me. I didn’t last time.”
“I’d love to,” said Zelda, her face still red. “You get into bed and I’ll close the door and turn the lights out. Um, just so your dad doesn’t look in at us. And get ideas. I’m going to stop talking now.”
When Zelda got into bed after closing the door and turning the light out (fortunately, there was enough starlight streaming in through the bedroom window for her to see by), Justin wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close to him. Zelda grinned and snuggled closer to him so their noses were touching. Justin kissed her again, and Zelda curled her toes in excitement as she kissed him back. She’d expected sleeping with Justin, even just platonically, to make her feel nervous. She thought she’d be overly aware of everything she did and every noise she made, but she was surprised to find that this felt comfortable. Zelda smiled as she closed her eyes and got comfortable.