But it wasn't the end.
If there was any justice at all in the world, it obviously did not want to be wasted on me.
I woke up to a blinding light, and for a second the fear took over my heart, because I was back in the cave, the heat drying me up.
Then, I realized, that it was not drying me up. Rather, I was getting wet. I was sweating. And I was in pain.
Pain doesn't exist in heaven, right?
I was definitely not in heaven.
I gasped and closed my eyes, just a small relief from the light. And then something cold touched my hand, and my entire body got a shiver.
"Jenn, wake up. You're safe. It's me."
I sighed, opened my eyes, and faced the cold, hard truth; I really was alive.
The light didn't bother me this time, because Ben was blocking it.
My first instinct was to reach up and take his face in my hands.
But then I remembered what happened between us.
Without knowing, I had leaned forward. I plopped back on the pillow that was resting below my head, and took in my surroundings. I was in a hospital, obviously, but I wasn't in anymore. I was back in .
Ben was watching me with a confusing expression. He looked somewhat relieved, but also...what was it?
He didn't say anything, but just backed away from me and sat at the edge of my bed, his green eyes dark, and tired.
So I made the first move.
"So...what happened?" It was too casual, the way I said it. I didn't recognize my voice, either. It was scratchy and low. Now that I noticed that, I also felt the burning sensation in my throat.
"Well," he began in an equally casual voice, "you decided to go ice skating on the lake. But you hit a thin patch and fell in. You drowned. But I had followed you and jumped in to save you, and brought you here." He leaned down towards me and whispered, "At least, that's what I told your Aunt and and the doctors."
I nodded, contemplating this story. It was definitely believable, considering my clumsy nature.
"Alright, I got it," I said in that low, rough voice. He smiled sadly at me, and I could see the pain in his eyes when I spoke. But he didn't really give me the answer I was looking for, so I glanced at the door to make sure no nurses were watching.
"But what really happened?"
He sighed and looked out the window. I did too, and saw that it was a cloudy day, and rain droplets decorated the glass.
"After you left, or I thought you left, I went back inside. The fight was ensuing, and I tried to help, but I was so distracted." His eyes shut tightly. " We lost a lot of people." He walked slowly to the window, a distant look in his eyes. I wanted to say something, the right thing that would make him feel better, but I didn't know what that was anymore. It was almost like the connection we used to have had been snapped when we turned away from each other in the cave. I kept my mouth shut.
"After awhile, more rebel troops from the kingdom showed up. I got to Marissa. I killed her," his voice cracked. I heard the sharp intake of my own breath. I knew that it needed to happen, but it was a shock, nonetheless.
"I didn't know, Jenn," he said as he turned back to me. He leaned on the side of my bed so his eyes were level with mine. "I didn't know that she was the mastermind. I couldn't believe someone working in my own home, the maid even, could have planned everything. And then one of the other servants from the castle had come for backup, and saw you two...He came for me, and then I saw what she had done to you." His hands gripped the blue blanket that was draped over me, and small spots of dark blue stained it. He was crying, his head bowed, almost like he was ashamed.
"Ben, why are you crying?" I suddenly said. "I'm fine. You're fine." I desperately wanted to say 'we're fine', but I knew that wasn't true.
He looked at me then, his eyes swimming with emotions I couldn't decipher. "I thought I had lost you."
Before, this would have been enough for me to melt into putty. I would forgive him, and hug him and forget that anything had changed between us. But something was tugging at the back of my heart, something that prevented me from pardoning him.
"I'm fine," I repeated. His eyes still fixed on me, he said,
"We couldn't get her. I don't want you to worry, because my men chased her to the Gulf of Mexico, but they lost her there." At first, I felt relief. She couldn't get to me. But then...
"What do you mean, your men?" This time, he didn't meet my eyes. "No, not your father!"
He nodded, a fresh wave of tears erupting from his eyes. I reached out for him, and he placed his forehead on my collarbone. I could feel my heart throbbing. I had never known Mr. Clearwater that well, but he had been a part of the magic I had just been introduced to. Without him there was no king.
"So, that means...you are king?" After a moment, Ben swallowed.
"Yes. The coronation is in a week," he replied, looking out the window again towards the bay.
I never had known much about the royalty codes, but I had to ask; "What about your princess?" Looking back at me, Ben's face became hard.
"Look, I know this is a lot to take in, but I've known since your first day at school that you were meant to be the Queen of . I also know that this is happening really, really fast. But, if you want the crown, it is yours." I smiled, but it was a sad kind of smile. I knew that things could never be the same between us.
"Ben, I'm only 16. I have the whole world to see. I wish- but I can't." I wasn't sad. Just disappointed. I wanted love. I wanted romance. We had that once, but it could never be what I craved. As long as Ben was king, I assumed, he would have responsibilities. And having responsibilities took time.
He smiled too, but it was different than mine. His was genuinely sad, and his bright green eyes became damp.
"I understand." And with that, he walked out of the room. And my life.