"And the winners are... Jake and Marc."
Alexander explained the choice while the stunned-looking boys stood up and walked over to collect the prize from Amelia. "We thought that this act showed the most originality and was the best one at strengthening the bond between the pair, which was the initial motive behind this talent competition."
I didn't catch the rest of his words as I suddenly felt cold inside. I shivered - had a door been opened somewhere? No, and didn't Luxternia have perfect weather?
Everyone was standing up around me and heading off to their rooms. I couldn't see Ellie - I guessed she might feel ill or something. I stayed on the chair. Alexander walked up to me.
"You okay, Charley?" he asked.
"Yeah, I'm fine," I said. The feeling had passed and now I felt drowsy. "Is it okay if I talk to Rory?"
"Yeah, sure. Let's go to your room - it'll be more comfortable there."
I smiled and led the way up the stairs and into my room.
We sat on my bed and Alexander closed his eyes.
I suddenly felt dizzy. Light-headed. My heart pounded in my chest. I took a deep breath but even several of those failed to get rid of the feeling.
Alexander opened his eyes, still frowning. "He's ... not there."
"What?" I asked, still feeling like the room was spinning around me.
"Rory. He's not on Earth."
"What d'you mean ‘not on Earth'? Has he just suddenly disappeared off the planet?"
"Yes," Alexander replied, totally serious.
"Oh! I forgot - I have to help Amelia tidy up downstairs. I'll see you later, okay?" He stood up, still frowning to himself.
"But wait!! Alexander!"
He was about to leave the room when he turned and said "He's not in this world, either."
And with that he walked out, leaving me spluttering and demanding to know where he was.
And then a thought struck me.
What if Rory ... was dead?
That might explain the cold feelings and the dizziness: Rory and I shared a bond that was absolutely unbreakable. What would happen if one of us died?
A greater wave of dizziness swept me into unconsciousness.
And when I woke up, I knew.
Rory was gone.
"NO!!" I screamed, bursting into tears. "NO!"
Jake ran in the room. "Are you okay, Charley?!"
"NO!" I kept crying. "No!" My shouts were getting quieter but the despair was still there.
Had slayers got him? Had some other supernatural creature fought him and won? I didn't know how he had died - all I knew was that I couldn't live without him.
I threw things across my room, still crying. Jake ran up to me and hugged him. I felt warmth. Comfort.
But Jake wasn't Rory. I pushed him away, so hard he almost fell over.
"Charley, what's wrong?" he shouted over the clatter as I wrecked the room.
By now, other people were crowding in my room. Zoey ran up to me and hugged me saying "Sh, Charley, it's going to be okay."
But it wasn't.
I sobbed into her arms, losing the will to fight anymore.
How could Rory - gorgeous, soulful, loving Rory - be dead? How? I almost didn't believe it apart from the ripping noise I fancied I could hear going through my body. (It was strange - the rips seemed to be two parallel lines down my back.)
His tender kiss, his gentle touch. Would I really never feel these things again?
And then it hit me. All of my senses would be affected by the loss of Rory.
Never again would I see his chocolate eyes turn amber or the silver streaks appear in his hair. Never again would I hear his beautiful voice as the sound of it played and softened my eardrums. Never again would I smell that gorgeous mixture of damp earth and lavender. Never again would I luxuriate as my lips moved against his skin.
Never again would I feel his presence in my mind...
Never, never again. I sobbed harder.
And! A horrendous thought struck me! We would never get married! We, the soul mates who so clearly lived for each other, would never tie the knot!
No! I would not endure this pain any longer. If Rory was dead, then I had no reason to live.
I pushed Zoey away and ran out the room, shoving away the arms that reached for me.
"LEAVE ME ALONE!" I screamed as I ran for the attic. Once there, I threw open the skylight and climbed out.
"Wait!" It was Eoin, the only one who hadn't tried to talk to me, the only one who hadn't tried to hold me when I didn't want to be held.
"Don't," he said.
"Why? What have I got to live for anymore?"
He was sensible and didn't ask me why that was.
"You have us," he said. "Your family, your friends: we will be there for you."
"I don't care about you. My raison d'être's gone!"
"Charley, you're 16!"
That was a mistake.
"Shut up! You don't know anything! You don't know me, you don't know my past, you don't know my life! You have no right to bring age into this! I was in love with Rory for two years! TWO WHOLE YEARS! Now, that may not sound like much but it was enough. Enough so I never really felt complete without him. Enough so we formed a bond that you could only dream of! Enough so... So that our fates entwined." The anger left me and my eyes were full again. "We were each other's lives. We were nothing without each other - I am nothing without him."
"He was your first love - I'm sure it was special-..."
"You have no idea! Have you ever felt your love's presence in your mind? Have you ever been kissed to sleep? Have you ever lain awake at night unwilling to sleep because you didn't want to miss a single second of the perfect relationship? I was in so much agony when I moved to France. But this is worse - this is so much worse. Rory was unique and irreplaceable. He touched my heart and he also touched my soul. My soul, Eoin? Is it worth living with an empty soul?"
I sat down in the attic and cried again. How could this have happened? How?
"I won't ever find someone like him, Eoin. Ever."
Eoin decided he'd said enough, walked over, sat down, and simply held me.
My heart was tearing into ribbons and then shreds, my senses felt dulled and then numb. Everything was grey. Everything was depressing. Dead. That's how I felt. Dead.