If Kelley was being honest, she had always wondered why she couldn’t give her heart, her entire heart, to another person. She had tried the first time when she was fifteen, with a girl from her second period English class, who ended up being her first girlfriend. When the girl cheated on her, she told Kelley that it was because Kelley never made her feel important. She’d never felt like she was a priority in her life. Kelley thought that answer was bullshit. Of course, she wasn’t really a priority. They were fifteen, for crying out loud.
Kelley had tried again with her college girlfriend. This time, she was a little more mature about it. They did things right, with coffee dates and late night conversations about their future. But in the end, Kelley just knew in her soul that the woman she was dating just wasn’t it for her. It hurt like hell when she ended things, of course, but to Kelley there just wasn’t any other way. The woman just didn’t hold her heart.
What Kelley didn’t realize until far later, until she was clinging onto Hope’s body for dear life as they flew, was that the reason she could never give her heart away before was because it already belonged to someone. Someone who she didn’t know she loved until that day. Someone who had always carefully watched over her heart and who had protected her.
Kelley knew that she was in love with Hope. She didn’t know how or what it meant. All she knew is that she felt it in her bones.
It wasn’t that Hope wasn’t beautiful, because good Lord that woman was gorgeous. But that’s not what drew Kelley to her (although she can’t say for certain that if they were in the same bar at the same time that she wouldn’t have tried to talk to her, because of course she would have). Kelley was drawn to her because for the first time in her entire life, she felt completely at peace.
People always told her that her heart would beat faster when she was around the person she was in love with. Kelley never subscribed to that idea. She felt like it was quite the opposite, actually. She believed that when she had truly found her soulmate, when she had truly found the woman she would be with for the rest of her life, her heart could finally rest. Her heart would not beat faster, but slower and stronger, now beating for two people instead of just one.
Kelley’s heart was beating in time with the rhythm of Hope’s outstretched wings. Now, finally at a safe distance away from whatever was chasing them, Hope and Kelley were travelling at an easier pace. Kelley relished in the nearness of their bodies.
Kelley’s appreciation of Hope’s attractiveness had been limited, until then, to her face. She had vaguely remembered the feeling of their bodies pressed together during their first flight, when Hope had taken her away from the scene of the crash and the carnage that surrounded it. But she had been so caught up in her confusion and fear that she didn’t really have time to process what was going on.
This time, and now that Kelley had some of her most important questions answered, she was in the state of mind to properly appreciate the way that Hope’s body felt against hers with the cold air rushing around them. Kelley tucked her head into the crook of Hope’s neck and breathed her fragrance in.
She wondered to herself if, when she was feeling particularly sad or lonely, she often smelled her most favorite scents because Hope was near. For the second time that day, Hope reminded her of home.
And now that she thought about it, Hope’s body felt like home to her, too. Kelley loved the way that every valley of Hope’s strong body seemed to make room for hers to fit in. Kelley hadn’t ever fit so perfectly in someone’s arms before. So perfectly in someone’s strong, muscular arms. Kelley tightened her grip on Hope’s body just a little bit more, pressing into her. Hope’s breath caught in her throat at the sensation.
Kelley could feel the way that Hope’s back flexed with the beat of her wings. Hope’s muscles relaxed and contracted against Kelley’s grip, straining to push their way through the air.
Kelley, instead of being lost in confusion, was lost in Hope’s physical presence, again missing their descent back onto land. The comfort that had come along with Hope’s body was gently removed. Instantly, Kelley’s body reacted negatively to the loss as her knees buckled.
Hope’s eyes, alight with concern for the smaller woman, searched Kelley’s for signs of distress. “Kelley, are you ok? What’s wrong?”
Kelley sheepishly looked at the ground. “It’s nothing,” she promised, “I’m just a little disoriented from the flight. Where are we?”
Hope looked at her with questioning eyes, but instead answered Kelley’s inquiry. “We’re outside the hospital where your human form was taken after the accident. Before we go in, I wanted to prepare you for what you’re about to see. It’s not something that anyone should have to see,” Hope said gently.
Kelley nodded in agreement. “I know,” she conceded, “but nothing you can say is going to fully prepare me for what I’m going to see. What were those things back there? And why do they want my body?”
“Those things that looked like shadows were the evil ones. As far back as time goes, guardians have been protecting humans from them. They are vile beings that only seek to destroy the human race and upset the balance between good and evil. It’s said that they once were guardians, and before that, were humans, who were never united properly with their soulmate. They became hungry, angry beings with an insatiable need to take and destroy the race that caused them so much hurt and pain.”
“So,” Kelley questioned, “would you have turned into an evil one if we had not been united?”
Hope took a breath and responded quietly to her question. “I don’t know,” she admitted, “no guardian I have ever encountered has ever been turned that I am aware of. To my knowledge, no guardian has turned in a very, very long time.”
“And what would they want with my body, anyway?”
“The evil ones are constantly looking for ways to enter the human realm. Since they, just like guardians, cannot interfere with the living directly, they seek to take possession of a human body that they can control. From there, any type of interference would be possible.”
Kelley’s heart quickened at the thought. What would happen to her family and friends, to the entire human race, if an evil one were able to take possession of her body? What horror would befall the living realm?
“Your body is more attractive to them than others because your soul is here in the in-between. The longer you are here in this space with me, the weaker your pull to your body is. They know that since you have been united with me, your soul is less willing to return to your human form. And since your human body is still able to revived, there is much less work to be done to possess it. We need to get your soul reunited with your body as quickly as possible. The implications of them being able to possess your body are too great.” Kelley heard the urgency in Hope’s voice.
“Okay, I get it,” Kelley said, “but how do we even…what am I supposed to do? Just leap back in? I don’t understand how this works.”
“It’s not quite like that,” Hope replied. “Your body has to be in a good enough physical condition to be able to sustain your living soul. The state your human form was in when you first entered the in-between could not sustain you. Once your body is in a better condition, the process is actually very simple. All you have to do is put your hands on your living form and it will absorb your soul.”
“So what do I have to prepare myself for when I go in there?” Kelley knew what she needed to do but was afraid of what she would see when she did.
“Kelley, your body was very badly injured. I don’t know the extent of your physical injuries, but I do know that you wouldn’t be here if you weren’t in a coma of some sort. You need to be prepared to see your body in an extremely weakened state. You also have to prepare yourself to see your family and friends. They’ll all most likely be there, too.”
“Hope,” Kelley said, “I don’t think I’ll ever be completely ready to see myself and everyone else like this, But I need to know what’s wrong with me. Let’s go.” Kelley took Hope’s hand in hers and, ignoring the tightness in her chest, lead her in the direction of the hospital.