Dressed, I walked out of the room and looked up and down the corridor outside. I’d already explored all the levels by now, so I returned to my favorite room on the boat—the master bedroom on the top level. The entire ceiling was made of tinted glass and it afforded a magnificent view of the night sky. I flopped down onto the silk sheets and stared up. It was quite surreal, lying there on the soft bed, staring up at the stars while gliding across water. After only a minute of lying there, I was already feeling relaxed and sleepy. But I didn’t want to rest now. I got up and walked back to the control room.
Caleb wasn’t there. The vessel had been put on autopilot. I went down to the middle lower deck and passed Micah resting in one of the bedrooms. “Do you know where Caleb is?” I asked.
“Above deck,” he mumbled.
I climbed back upstairs and walked outside. I spotted Caleb standing at the stern of the boat, hands on the rail.
I wasn’t sure whether he was ready to be disturbed. I decided it was best to leave him alone a bit longer, and backed away. But he’d detected my footsteps already.
“It’s okay, Rose,” Caleb said, his back still turned to me.
“Are you all right?” I asked, approaching slowly. I noticed that he too was wearing a change of clothes—black cotton pajamas. His hair wet, he smelt of bath gel.
“Yes,” he said, though I could see that he was still preoccupied. I assumed by Annora. I recalled that old photo album I’d seen back in Annora’s study. How happy and in love they had looked. I could understand Caleb feeling grief over her. Perhaps a part of him still believed that the real Annora was still living, hidden somewhere beneath the evil witch she’d become.
“By the way,” he said, “the date is displaying in the dashboard. It’s been nine days since I left the island.”
Relief rushed through me. We’d suspected the time had passed, but this confirmation was a melody to my ears.
“So what does it feel like?”
“To be free.”
“I… I guess I haven’t had time to think about it much yet.”
“Now you could do anything,” I said. “You could escape to the supernatural realm if you wanted to, and hide out there. You wouldn’t even have to come live with us in The Shade, if you didn’t want to…” My voice trailed off. I was trying to cheer him up, but he didn’t respond. Silence fell between us.
“I guess you’re still thinking about her?” I asked.
Finally, he looked down at me. He smiled, though I saw pain in his eyes. “I suppose I just wish things could have ended differently.”
I looked out at the glistening waves. “How would you have wanted things to play out with her… with you?”
He heaved a sigh. “I wish she’d never met me, all those years ago. I wish she’d found another man, married him and traveled the world. Then settled down and had lots of children. The life she’d always dreamed of having. The life she’d wanted with me… The life I couldn’t give her.”
“It wasn’t your fault that bastard merchant turned you into a bloodsucker,” I said. “I hope you don’t still blame yourself for how she turned out.”
“Nobody forced me to turn her. I gave into my bloodlust. That was a decision I made. If I’d fought harder, I could have controlled it. Like I have with you.”
“But she seduced you—”
“As if you haven’t?” he snapped. “As if you aren’t even now as we speak, just by your very presence?”
I stopped short, staring at him.
“Back in the rainforest, I had your blood in my damn mouth, Rose. You have no idea how close I was to devouring you. Yet I chose to fight it. I chose to spit it out, every last drop. I could have done the same with Annora. It’s a lie to say I couldn’t have. So do I still feel guilt? Yes. Am I fully responsible? No. She made her own choices too. But I played a key part in her ruin. And nothing will ever change that.”
He was breathing heavily as he stared back out at the water, frustration marring his handsome face.
My mother’s words echoed in my ears. “I know an excuse when I hear one. Don’t you dare deceive yourself into believing you’re the victim, Rose Novak.”
She still said this to me sometimes when I made excuses for things I clearly did have a choice over. And those were the same words she’d spoken to my father, all those years ago. She’d told me their story. How they’d first met. She’d always believed my father had a choice in the things he did, and that was how she’d helped bring him out of his darkness. I supposed my mother was right, and that I shouldn’t be making excuses for Caleb either.
Mom. Dad. Thinking of them made me ache inside. It felt like an age since I’d last seen them. Guilt welled in the pit of my stomach for all the worry I’d caused them in the past months. I hoped that they were all right and that they wouldn’t come looking for me again. And my brother—I hoped he was all right too. We just have to return as soon as we can.
Seeking to distract myself from the pain, I looked up at Caleb again. I touched his forearm and his brown eyes lowered to my face.
“You’re right, Caleb,” I said. “You’re not a victim. You had free will. You made your choices, and now you have to live with them, just as I do. I don’t feel sorry for you at all. And you have no right to either.”