Never (The Ever Series Book 2)By: C. J. Valles
I nearly drowned when I was ten. We were on a day trip to Orange County to a beach I had visited the summer before. The clouds were rolling in off the ocean, and it was cold, especially for Southern California. I didn’t care, though. I ran out to the water before my parents had even laid out our stuff, jumping up and over the first wave. Thrilled by the icy blast of water, I did this over and over, until I was exhausted. As I was about to get out, I turned, just in time to see a much bigger wave. For a few seconds, I thought I could float up and over it like the last one, until it suddenly picked me up and hurled me into the thrashing water, my back scraping against the sandy ocean bottom. The water held me under until I thought my lungs would burst. When I finally came up for a single breath, it was just in time to see another monster crashing over my head, stealing what air I had left.
I had taken what I thought was my last breath of air.
I try to open my eyes, but it’s painful. I lie completely still, aware that it hurts to inhale—like I’ve had fire instead of air to breathe. After several more seconds of excruciating pain, I decide that sleep is best, and I let the darkness take me.
Over and over in my dreams, I see the same face. Glowing green eyes, exquisitely etched features, bronzed skin, all framed by a halo of golden honey-colored hair. I want to reach out and touch this perfect being, but I can’t. I’m rooted in place, and when I begin to struggle against the inertia, his expression changes, his eyes darkening with rage. I open my mouth to scream, but no sound comes out. Finally forcing my eyes open, I see cream-colored walls, exposed beams, and ancient furniture.
“Ma pauvre, tu es sain et sauf,” a voice whispers.
Attempting to sit up, I feel my muscles scream in protest. Then I blink, which causes my eyes to burn. It seems like I haven’t opened them in years. When someone raises a cup to my lips, I jerk so violently that I nearly fall over. A wrinkled hand grips my arm, and I look up into the eyes of an elderly woman perched on the edge of the bed that I’m still mostly tucked into. She smiles at me.
“Te sens-tu?” she says.
I blink at the realization that she’s speaking in French. Then, as I stare into her eyes, it dawns on me that I can search her thoughts. But I clearly don’t understand French very well, only bits and pieces. I can tell only that she’s concerned for me and wants to know if I’m okay, which is a good thing. A shiver runs through me. Why can I read her mind? And even more importantly, why can’t I remember … anything? I swallow and try not to look completely crazy. I need to speed things along—and figure out who I am and why I’m here, wherever here is.
“Anglais?” I whisper.
“Of course! I am so sorry!” she says. “Yes, English.”
Afraid to ask who I am, which would sound beyond crazy, I go with the next most logical inquiry I can think of.
“What happened to me?”
“You had an accident, and Alexandre, he brought you here—”
“Alexandre?” I croak in a poor imitation of the French pronunciation.
“Tu ne te souviens pas?” she mumbles, almost to herself.
No! I have absolutely no freaking souvenir of an Alexandre! And I have no idea how I got here. I let it go, though, because I need to figure out who I am, what’s going on, where I am, and how I got here—before I have the insane freak out I’m on the verge of having. The old woman rises from the bed and pulls back the covers, offering me a surprisingly strong hand to steady myself with. This is good, particularly since my legs nearly fail as soon as my feet touch the worn hardwood floor.
“Viens avec moi, petite! I have drawn you a bath. And after you will have something to eat, I think,” she says.
Wondering whether I can outrun this ancient woman while I’m feeling so weak, I briefly debate trying to escape. Then I glance down at the ridiculous floor-length white nightgown I’m wearing. Besides, I still have no idea where I am, so I may as well figure that out before I start running around in someone else’s pajamas.
“I am Edith Rousseau,” she says, pronouncing her first name with a hard te sound rather than the American th.
Following her down a cavernous hallway, I’m struck by a vision of Hansel and Gretel from the Grimm fairy tale, the two children being lured into the candy cottage by the old witch. But the instant the image enters my mind, I feel bad for thinking so poorly of this woman with her vibrant blue eyes, snow-white hair coiled into a neat bun, and her cool, papery skin. She turns back and smiles at me as she opens the door to another room. I recognize in that instant how beautiful she must have been once. When she beckons, I peer past her and see a large and surprisingly modern bathroom. There’s a fluffy towel and some folded clothing sitting near the edge of a sumptuous, claw-footed tub brimming with bubbles. I stare in awe until my caretaker nudges me into the room and shuts the door quietly after me.