"...and up you come, up out of that relaxed state."
I blinked as my vision returned. Jack looked worn out as he put the pendulum down.
"Are you okay?" I asked.
Jack nodded. "What about you?"
I grinned. "Mega-calm and hyper-alert, but that's nothing strange, is it?"
Jack gave me a faint smile.
Memories were flooding back. Having been told about witches before today, kissing Ross, having my mind controlled by Ross, allowing Jack to hypnotise me. I felt like I'd woken up from the first trance. Everything between then and today seemed dreamlike and unreal as my mind tried to deal with the fact the last few months had been a lie.
"I feel like I've lost time," I murmured, frowning.
Jack nodded. "Yeah, I can understand that."
I jumped as someone stroked my shoulder from behind. "Shall I leave you to keep your promise to Jack?"
"Oh no," I moaned, burying my head in a cushion in front of me. "Oh, Jack, gosh, I'm so sorry, but..."
"Hey, sh, I'm not holding you to it."
I looked up, feeling tears prick at the corners of my eyes. "I love you so much, but..."
"You can still love him," Ross said, sounding alarmed. "I didn't expect you to want to take me back after all that stuff I did to you. I controlled your mind, Rosa. You don't want to date someone like that!"
Jack looked sharply at Ross. "You did what?"
"I used the telepathic link," Ross answered. "I made her ask you to hypnotise her."
"No! That's so wrong! I only did it because I thought she wanted me to!" Jack jumped up. "How could you do that to her?! She loves you! And I..."
Jack looked distraught. "And I did that to her... When she didn't want me to."
Ross didn't say anything.
"Jack," I said gently. "It was ultimately my decision. Ross stopped controlling my mind right before I said I was sure I wanted it."
Ross wasn't letting me defend him, though. "But only because she knew I'd overpower her will again if she even tried to tell you not to."
I couldn't lie to Jack and say I'd done it because I'd wanted it done too, but the look of depression on his face tore me up.
"I should have read your mind," he murmured. "I knew there was something fishy going on."
"Jack, don't!" I said pleadingly. "Don't regret the past 7 months. Haven't they been the best? Even I will cherish them as the best memories of my life."
Jack looked pained. "I don't want to regret it, Rosa, but I can't believe that I hypnotised you against your deeper intentions."
"You didn't know my deeper intentions! How could you have known? You were honourable enough to stay out of my thoughts because you wanted to respect my wishes and, in my eyes, that makes you the best boyfriend in the world. Don't be sad."
I reached out to squeeze his hand. He looked less agonised, but still sad.
"Rosa, I swear if I had known, I wouldn't have done it. You know that, right?"
"Of course. When have you ever done something in the knowledge that you were deliberately going against my intentions?"
Ross spoke next. "Never. And that's what sets us two apart. Jack is the most decent guy in the world, and you'd be stupid not to carry on with him. I absolutely won't be satisfied until he has got down on the floor and proposed to you."
"Well then I'm being stupid," I said, turning to glare at Ross. "If you want him to propose, you are going to break his heart because I am going to say ‘No'."
"Don't be ridiculous, Rosa. I refuse to go out with you."
"Why? Because you made a few mistakes? Nobody's perfect! Don't you remember that time I released a part of you that you didn't want to feel?"
"Be reasonable, Rosa! We've seen what the relationship has to offer and it's pathetically feeble."
"Oh, you really think so, do you?"
"Yes, as a matter of fact, I do."
I rolled over and got up. I walked purposefully to Ross and said, "Say that to my face. Say that our love for each other is pathetically feeble."
"My love for you is pathetically feeble."
"You missed a bit out. The most important bit. Don't be evasive - you're trying to convince me you're no good for me. Tell me my love for you is nothing. That the way my heart beats is irrational and that I am a stupid person for loving you. Tell me!"
Ross gulped. He looked extremely uncomfortable.
"Your love for me...," he started.
I raised an eyebrow expectantly.
"Noth-..." he trailed off and tried again. "Noth-..."
And suddenly his lips were on mine as his resolve collapsed. He hugged me tightly to him as he kissed me and thought, ‘Your love for me is totally crazy, but it's a blessing. It's a sheer wonder and it's unbelievable but it is amazing. Just like every part of you, Rosa. Astonishing. Brilliant. I'm awestruck by your compassion, your bravery, your determination. Your desire to start again with me because you think it's right. Your heart does beat in an irrational way and you are a stupid person for loving me, but never will I say that your love for me is nothing. I would be the worst liar in the world if I said that. I love you, Rosa Foxtail, and you will always be everything to me.'
I heard a door close quietly behind us.
I wrapped my arms around him. ‘That's better. Do you still want me to marry and spend the rest of my life with someone else?' I thought.
Of course not. I just wish you were less certain that this relationship is brilliant.
‘Don't you think it is?'
No. Not when I look at you and Jack.
‘Forget about Jack.'
Well I have forgotten about him a bit. I'm kissing you and that's the only thing I'm thinking about.
While we were conversing, I could feel Ross's love for me flowing into my mind, warm, tender and caring. All of a sudden though, it stopped. What he had sent me I could still feel, but he'd stopped sending new waves of it.
‘What's wrong?' I asked, concerned. ‘Am I not making this reciprocal?'
Ross chuckled in my mind but he sounded grim as he replied, ‘I think you do that subconsciously. No, the problem is that we've reached the wall.'
‘The wall? Why on earth are you putting up walls?'
I pulled him down so we were sitting on the bed and sent more powerful waves of love to him as I continued to kiss him.
‘Rosa, stop!' Ross thought, laughing. ‘I'm going to drown. I haven't put the wall up on purpose: I've had it up since I was old enough to think for myself.'
‘But why? That must have been so terrible: such an obstacle.'
His mental voice turned serious. ‘Well, this is the heart of my coldness. My detachment from other people: it all comes from this wall.'
‘What is it?'
‘You know you always thought my coldness was related to the mystery of me?'
‘Yes,' I replied slowly.
‘Well, the wall is my feelings towards my parents. It's my bitterness, my hatred. It's also my resent at being a witch because that's what caused them to abandon me.'
‘Oh, but that's awful. You shouldn't have had to feel that way for so long. I know your parents were horrid, but you shouldn't live with a giant wall in your heart. It's distancing me from your deeper emotions. Can I help bring it down?'
My thoughts flowed into Ross's mind and I tried to attack the wall with my feelings towards him.
Ross was alarmed. ‘Rosa, stop! I don't want it down. I can't forgive them. Not yet. They hurt me so much and the second that wall comes down, I give in to the pain, the vulnerability and the tender fragile feelings behind it.' He hesitated as he added ‘Even my love for you is a dangerous weakness.'
I paused in my attack.
‘But my love for you is a blessing, so you said,' I pointed out. ‘Your love would be so good for me.'
‘Rosa, please. I'm not ready to totally let go yet. Can you understand?' He hesitated again. ‘If I show you some of the pain, will you understand?'
‘I... I'll try.'
Ross stopped kissing me and let go. Looking at me with a mixture of agony and gratitude in his eyes, he took my hand and closed his eyes. I closed mine to focus more on what he was about to send me.
I gasped as I felt a slight give in the wall. The pain that rushed out was almost unbearable. Although it wasn't mine, although it was related to nothing from my bank of experiences, I felt it as sharply as if it was my own. It was like a knife being stuck in me. There was immense sadness, a feeling that roughly translated to ‘why?', a feeling of being unwanted and unloved, and of having been deprived a happy life all mingled into one giant shock wave that was thrown towards me outwards from the epicentre behind the wall. I felt arms support my sides. I hadn't realised that I'd collapsed forwards, but I wasn't surprised. The shoulder under my head was shaking as the pain slowly stopped and the wall was brought back up.
I slowly lifted my head to gaze with what I knew were wide shocked eyes at my lover.
"You poor thing!" I said, feeling tears running down my cheeks. "No one should have to feel like that. We've got to ... to fix you. That pain could destroy you."
Ross looked shaken. I don't think he'd allowed himself to do that before, and maybe that had been worse. Holding it all inside and letting it build up to that massive volcano of unhappiness. He'd need to confront it at some point, else he'd always be cold and he might end up becoming frozen inside. I couldn't bring myself to think of a relationship with a totally cold kingfisher.
"But I understand," I said, as I looked into those cerulean eyes which were just sad now.
I reached out to stroke his face. "I realise why you don't want to let that wall down."
I hugged him as he sat there, rigid from shock.
"I love you," I murmured. "And everything will be okay; I promise."
I started to cry again as I buried my head in his shoulder. My poor darling Ross, suffering in an unimaginable way.
‘I'll be okay, Rosa,' he thought, though in a way that was sort of stiff.
‘I love you darling. You can relax now. You don't have to do that again.'
To my alarm, Ross fell backwards, pulling me down with him. I lifted my head. Ross was gazing at the ceiling looking helpless and distraught. I carefully eased out my arms from underneath him. His arms were lying loosely at his sides. I moved off him to kneel beside him. He was unresponsive as I stroked his cheek with the back of my hand.
I felt a mild panic rise in my chest as I gazed upon his motionless body. He looked like an empty shell, a ghost of what once had resided within.
"Ross?" I asked, scared and concerned.
He glanced towards me and frowned. "Give me a minute."
I stroked his arm and lifted his hand to kiss it. I felt him move his hand across to caress my cheek with the back of his fingers. My hair hung down across part of my face and Ross took a few strands in his gentle fingers and rotated the ends, smiling slightly as they caught the light and changed to a reddish-brown colour.
"You're beautiful," he whispered. "I don't think I've ever told you that before, but you are. And not just your soft long hair which casts rainbow streaks in the light, and not just those blazing emeralds you have for eyes, but your heart and soul, as pure and untouched as uncut diamond. It's almost scary how amazingly stunning you are. It's as if you can reach into people's hearts and change them by just looking at them."
I frowned slightly. "You're scared of me?"
"Terrified. But I respect you and feel awed in your presence. You're terrifying, but incredible."
"Well, um, thanks, I think."
Ross grinned and sat up. "You're funny."
He ruffled my hair affectionately.
"And you sound like a cross between someone whose mind has reverted to a childlike state and a poet inspired by romance."
"That sounds half right. I'm not a poet, though."
"But a child? Do I have to hold your hand now?"
I laughed. "You're so wonderful when you let yourself be emotional. There is nothing wrong with this. You have to be more like this."
Ross frowned slightly. "I do?"
"Well, no, but I'd like it if you let yourself go a bit more."
"Your wish is my command." Ross bowed his head.
"You don't have to be like that."
"I want to, though. It's fun just surrendering to the power of your love for me."
"Really?" I asked, flattered by his desire to please me.
"Would I lie?"
"Would you? I don't know, you see. We've only really properly known each other two days. And oh my goodness! We've wasted so much time!"
I threw myself into his arms and started kissing him. ‘We've wasted 7 months in which we could have been sharing moments like this!' I thought to him. I felt his alarm at my sudden cry dissolve to be replaced by amusement.
‘You know we have the rest of our lives together, Rosa.'
‘Is it really enough?'
‘I'm sure it is. Calm down; your thoughts are worrying me.'
‘Oh, sorry,' I thought hastily. I tried to stop thinking about how much seven months could mean in a relationship. ‘It's just that I love you so much and I don't want to miss any of this. I want to watch the whole of life play out with you by my side.'
‘That's very sweet.'
‘Of course. I love you.'
‘Love is linked to sweetness?' I felt his amusement and pictured his raised eyebrow.
‘Well, in my case, yeah.'
‘In your case, love is linked to every good thing in the world.'
Ross turned suddenly serious. ‘Rosa, could you promise me something?'
‘Sure,' I thought back, slightly surprised by his sudden change in tone.
‘Will you try and tolerate me when I'm being a jerk?'
I laughed in my mind. ‘Wasn't I already doing that, seven months ago?'
Our mental laughs combined to make a beautiful melodious sound which echoed around the wide space of our connected minds as we shared this precious moment.