It's love at first sight for Brook, who almost stops breathing when his stunned stare aligns with Gabriella's big blue and very watery eyes. Not so for the lovely young blonde who stands shuddering beneath his gaze.
She's been kidnapped and doesn't know where she is ... who he is.
"Your turn, Gabriella. Follow me." In her presence, I'm different. My words are soft and few, my thoughts strong and many. Before she stands, my back is turned. My feet are moving. She's the quietest and should be the easiest to handle, but I find confronting her most difficult.
"Who are you?" As we make our way to the shower, she's looking up at me with round, innocent eyes. Her hair is so blonde and fluffy, she reminds me of an adorable kitten that should be cuddled and cared for. Not locked away in a ten by ten room with a barred window and door.
"I'm Brook." I stop looking at her, and concentrate on the five more steps needed to reach the shower door.
"I know your name. I mean who are you? What the hell is this place?" She pulls me to a halt. Though her touch is deliberate, it's gentle, and her fingers enliven my skin. Her stare is intense, and electricity surges through my entire body.
I gaze over her head into the distance where the sun isn't half as brilliant as her eyes, then my gaze slowly works its way back to the face staring up at me with curiosity. I don't understand the hold she has over me. She's beautiful but ... there has to be more to it. I want to crawl inside her mind. I want to know everything about her. I want to know the reason for this magic.
"Seriously. What's gonna happen to us?" I feel her eyes burn into mine, and avoid their strength by taking my mind to another place: I'm on the bluff, looking out over the ocean, breeze blowing over my skin. The pitch of her voice demands my attention, and I'm suddenly standing before her again. Her arms are folded over her chest. Her eyes are like two daggers ready to slay me. "Are you running a human trafficking ring? The guy on the boat referred to us as a delivery." She shudders, hugs herself tighter.
If my eyes get any wider, they'll pop. "Are you serious? Do I look like a criminal?" She's hit me with a curve ball, knocking me out of my trance.
"Do I?" she flares. "Why are you offended? We're the ones being detained." She lets out something of a laugh that sounds more like a growl. "It's an honest question. Are we or not?"
I'm standing, legs apart, hands on hips, staring in awe. "Were you crated? Are you in shackles?"
She draws a breath and sets her jaw. "Are you deaf as well as dumb? I told you. I was kidnapped! What's so hard to understand?" She's actually pounding on my chest as she screams at me.
I grab her wrists and pin them. "Listen. I sympathize with your predicament, but ..." I'm waiting for her to grow fangs and rip my throat out. "I could say I'm sorry you're upset for something I had nothing to do with, but with the way you're behaving, I'd rather say, go to your room. I'll see you in the morning." My eyes keep running over her face. Holy shit. I have to fight off the urge to pull her against me. Wrap her pillowy lips with mine.
She yanks her hands away so fiercely, her nails practically take my skin with them. "Upset?" Her eyes are big and blue and flashing with outrage. "I’m furious, in case you haven’t noticed. And did you just say, go to my room?" Her teeth grit. "When were you appointed as parent? Warden is more like it."
I honestly don't know what to do at this point, how in the world to handle this girl. I shift my gaze, but the sky is so much like her eyes and at this point, of little comfort. There's not much else to do but remove myself from this confrontation, so my long strides take me ahead of her. "Come on," I call over my shoulder. "Just get in the shower, will you?"
I elbow the door open, waiting for her to enter, but she's not moving. I have to do something with my hands, so I wind my arms around my chest. My eyes are a different story. They're combing her from head to toe. Why I'm feeling responsible for her plight is puzzling.
"Is that all you can do? Stand there and stare at me?" Her voice is flat. "God, how insane … I know I’m dreaming, and when I wake up, you and this whole place will be gone. I'll be home in my bed, and my mom will be calling me for breakfast." Her cheeks pucker as if she's about to produce a grin, but her bottom lip turns down, and she breaks into sobs. "I'm supposed to babysit for a neighbor tonight. My family must be frantic ..." She freezes mid sentence. "Wait … what day is this? I can't seem to remember much. Is there a phone I can use? I really need to call my parents."
This girl is a wreck. She's so confused, she's confusing me. I run a hand over my head and blow out a breath. "We don't have phones." I'm apologetic, yet guarded.
Her hands fly to her hips. "You don't have phones? Seriously?" She looks across the courtyard, up into the sky, then squints at me. "What's wrong with you people?"
My jaw is about to drop. "With me?" She's questioning my intelligence? Really? "Listen. I didn't get you into this mess. And it's not up to me to get you out of it. I'm trying to make things as easy on you as possible."
She shakes her head and scrunches her inviting mouth. "I might as well be talking to a wall," she says before slamming the door in my face. In moments, her slender arm inches through the opening to drop her skirt and floral top to the ground. Next she kicks out her pink shoes with glitter on the toes. Her toenails are polished a shade darker than the pumps. Her underwear sails to the ground like a landing bird, silky pink panties and matching bra. Then the door slams so hard, the windows rattle.
Arm braced against the wall, I listen to the sound of running water. Usually water is calming. It's having no effect today. After a few minutes of avoiding her clothing, I pick it up, fold and carefully place it into the receptacle.
The sun tumbles through clouds as it dives. It feels like she's taking forever. With just the right amount of force, my knuckle taps the door. "We've got a schedule to keep. Are you finished?"
The door slowly opens and she's standing there, damp hair clinging to her face, shower dripping the length of her neck, wetting her uniform. Her plump breasts lift her top, exposing velvet skin rising from her navel to her ribcage. Her waist is so tiny, the drawstring belt rests upon her rounded hips. Her skin looks soft, tempting. My heart drums at the sight of her. I find myself in a precarious battle with sensations I've never had to deal with before.
"I guess so." Her words stumble as she lowers her eyes, curls her arms around her midsection. Her attitude has changed drastically. I wonder if she's had time to think, or perhaps it's the loss of her clothing. Her identity. I feel like an ogre.
I have to urge her back into the room, which makes me even more uncomfortable. "You need to be scanned. It will only take a moment, and it doesn't hurt."
She looks up at me as though I'm part enemy, part savior. My eyes sink deeper into hers than they have ever plunged into the ocean. She looks so uncertain, for the first time I almost want to be one of the others so she trusts me.
"Let's get it over with then." Her mouth stiffens and her nostrils flare when she draws in air.
"See that wall?" I direct, and her eyes follow mine. "Stand in front of the lights." The key in my palm opens a secured panel and with the push of a button a musical whir fills the space. Colorful beads of light dance around her like a swarm of fireflies, followed by a subtle enveloping glow. For a moment she appears out of focus, and then the room falls silent, and my eyes settle upon her grim face, her rigid body.
Her voice trembles. "Can I leave now?"
"Yes. You can go to your locker. I imagine you’re hungry?"
"I don't think I could eat." Again, she wraps herself with her arms.
"Are you cold?"
"Don't let the warmth of the island fool you. It gets chilly at night. I've put extra blankets out. They're folded at the bottom of your bed." I try for the softest voice possible, one that doesn't show vulnerability.
"Warmth of the island?" she scoffs. "I've felt more comfortable in the dead of winter in the slums of New York City."
I throw my hands in the air and walk toward her room. She's on my heels. "Is he really your father?" Her tone holds such venom, my throat narrows. We pause in the doorway. She's scrutinizing me. "You're so mysterious. This whole place is. You're so ... perfect ... clinical. Your eyes are so green they look otherworldly." She angles her head, edges closer. "Are you wearing contacts? Because I've never seen eyes like yours on a normal person before."
I've never been forced to legitimize my humanity. "Normal person?" I heave impatience. "I'm not about to defend myself for being who I am or looking the way I do."
She's shutting the door. "I know my rights. You can't keep me here against my will."
"Try to calm down. You're only making it harder on yourself. The island is beautiful. Enjoy it. Your locker is much better than a prison cell." I could kick myself for mentioning prison.
She flings the door open.
Clunk. "My elbow thanks you." I'm rubbing the sharp pain and shooting her my annoyed eye.
The shock on her face is startling, and I wonder if she's about to bolt right through me. "Are you telling me I'm in prison?" Eyes shifting, she gulps air. "He's not your real father, is he? You were kidnapped too, and you're brainwashed. Is he going to keep us all here forever? Because I don’t think I can take this." Her face floods with panic. "Can't you help me get out of here?"
I touch her arm. "Please, Gabriella." I want her to stop pressuring me, because she's beginning to make me question my purpose, my very existence. When I was younger, it didn't seem to matter. But now, I need to solve the mysteries.
"Check out my paperwork." The sound of Gabriella's voice grounds me. "You'll see I'm innocent."
I'm not sure of anything at this point, but the way she's looking at me is tearing me apart. "I’ll try to get to the bottom of it."
"Promise." I'm so conflicted. I've never let anyone get inside my head this way. Not even Father when he turns a deaf ear each time I quiz, Why don't we have visitors other than waywards?