Inbetween: Chapter Thirty Three

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Willow could hardly believe she was on a ship sailing through the sky. She thought it would be something like flying in an airplane, not that she had much experience with that, but this was something entirely different. The upper deck was open to the air. The air ship flew lower than a plane and certainly did not fly through the air at the same speed, but up here the air was thinner. On the deck, the wind was wickedly fast and the thin, cold air sapped all warmth from her in just a moment.

After just a few days in the clothes Asa bought for her, she found herself back to wearing the heavy winter coat she wore when she arrived in the world. There was no way she could keep wearing the light, breathable clothes that made daytime in the desert so tolerable. Even with her winter coat, she still did not enjoy being exposed to the cold and the wind if she could help it. Nonetheless, she found herself going out onto the deck often. Being cooped up in the cave was nothing compared to being confined below deck on Alenna’s ship.

She knew they were not prisoners. They were treated like something between guests and crew members. It was just the close quarters that made her feel trapped. The guys seemed to be handling being confined better than her, but she, in general, seemed to be more isolated and less involved than they were in everything happening on the ship.

Some of this was certainly her fault. She spent much of her time in this world trying to distance herself from the events around her and keep herself from growing attached to her companions. Initially, she used the distance to protect them as much as herself, but the longer she was here, the more clear it became that she would not be going home anytime soon. Without a plan to go home, she knew she should try to make the most of the time she was spending here.

Her reservations about her relationship with Yuri and Asa held less and less water as she spent more time with them. Resisting and rejecting them seemed foolish now. A part of her wanted to leave things as they were because maintaining the status quo seemed like it would make her more comfortable overall. Another part of her was eager to know what she was missing out on.

She found herself contemplating their potential relationship more and more now that they were out of the cave. Everything seemed to be happening quickly now. It seemed like the perfect time to act. With everything else changing, one more change did not seem quite so life-altering.

Her own lack of courage remained as the final hurdle. She was being a coward, but awareness of the failing did not seem to make her feel bolder. To make her predicament even worse, it was almost impossible to get any sort of privacy on this ship. The ship was organized efficiently, leaving little space for surreptitious meetings.

Alenna might have departed her ship alone, but she did have a small crew. The sailors did not say much unless Willow was in their way or failing to be of much use when trying to help out. Even so, their constant presence made it impossible for Willow to take the guys aside for a serious conversation.

Worse than the sailors, Alenna seemed to be everywhere at once. Whether Alenna paid special attention to Willow or it was just her imagination, her constant presence was unnerving.

Whatever was going on with Alenna would have to wait until later. Willow knew she could only deal with one problem at a time. First, she needed to talk to Yuri and Asa.

She wondered if falling in love with both of them at once would be twice as intense. Even just thinking about it, even though it was before they made any of it official, she could feel herself wanting to fall in love with them. It was an involuntary response. She could not help herself. When she realized it, she knew she needed to make an opportunity to talk to them before her own feelings got any more out of hand.

She kept trying to screw up her nerve to get their attention and talk to them. It was not easy and for that reason, she kept going out on the deck. She stood out there with the cold wind stinging her eyes and pulling at her hair and clothes and tried to figure out how to simply express her own complicated emotions. It would be good news and everyone knew that good news was easier to give than bad news.

There was no denying that she was making excuses for herself. This time she was making herself stay out here until she found the nerve to go back below deck and tell them exactly how her feelings had changed. Several times now she thought she found her resolve and made her way across the deck only to find her nerve slipping. Every time she turned around and went back to the rail.

Looking out across the sky to the horizon put her at peace. As long as she kept her eyes on the open sky she had the courage she needed. She just did not know how to take the courage along with her.

A minute passed. Then another flew by too. She stayed in the same place and stared out into the distance. She knew this made her a coward, but she still could not move.

“So this is where you’ve been,” Asa said as he came to stand next to her at the rail.

Willow jumped at the sound of his voice. She had not been aware of his approach in the slightest. At a loss for words, she gave a noncommittal shrug as a response.

“I thought I’d come look for you. Yuri is driving me and everyone else up the wall every time you disappear. He worries about you.”

“And what about you?” She asked the question out of genuine curiosity. Asa’s feelings toward her were as much a mystery as ever.

Yuri had been the one to pursue her so there was little doubt in her mind that he wanted to be with her. Asa never asked for her and while he was courteous to her, she never got the feeling that he cared for her in any special way. She certainly did not feel like he looked at her the way he looked at Yuri.

Her old doubts were starting to creep back in. The spell of being alone in the open air of the skies was broken now that Asa was here. She was back to feeling as though she was the third wheel and questioning why they would ever risk ruining what they had by including her.

Asa smiled at her. “I know you can take care of yourself so I didn’t think there was any reason to worry, and from the look of things, I think I was right.”

Willow smiled involuntarily, but it quickly faded back to a frown as she could not keep the worrying thoughts at bay.

He tilted his head and studied her face. His own smile disappeared and his brow furrowed with concern. “Maybe I was wrong not to be worried. What’s bothering you?”

If her cheeks were not already rosy from the cold and the wind she was sure she would blush now. He figured her out. It was not as though she tried to hide it, but she thought that Asa did not know her well enough to be able to read her that well. Apparently, she was an open book. She did not know if she could consider that to be a good sign for her dilemma or not.

She glanced over at him, shyly. It was hard for her to know whether or not she was going about this the right way. All her doubts were hiding just beneath the surface.

She took a deep breath and asked the biggest question that was bouncing around in her brain. “Asa, do you like me?”

“Of course I do.”

“But do you like me in that way? The way you like Yuri?”

Asa sighed. Willow cringed at the sound. She knew what was coming. That sigh was the last sound she would hear before her rejection. She always knew it was coming, but she dreaded it. She wished for it to turn out differently.

Then she knew. She could not be content if she passively allowed them to cast her aside. She needed to make this work. She needed to fight to be included if it came to that.

“It’s not possible for me to feel the same way about you that I do about Yuri. It wouldn’t be right if I tried to feel the same way about both of you. You’re both unique and wonderful in your own way.”

“Do,” she started and had to stop for a moment to find the confidence to go on. “Do you think you could love me?”

“I think so.”

“But how can you? We’ve only known each other for a little while.”

“How do you feel about me? You’ve known me for the same amount of time.”

“I’m starting to think that I’m falling for you.”

Just like that, the smile was back reaching all the way to Asa’s eyes. Willow felt a bit of a thrill to know that she was the one to make him smile like that. She knew it was not much, but it was more than she thought possible a moment ago.

Almost immediately she started to feel a bit better about staying in this world for a while longer. Her reservations were still there, but she found the resistance she put up to protect herself was nearly gone. Without those barriers in place, she found herself caring more about both of them.

She already had an attachment to Yuri, but she barely knew Asa in comparison. It came as a complete shock when she realized she was giving him a place in her heart as well.

Her heart was racing now that she had opened up to Asa. She never admitted much of her feelings to Yuri and somehow she was baring her soul to Asa instead. Something about him made him easier to talk to. It might be that he was in the same situation as her. They both cared about Yuri and hardly knew each other. It was easier to believe he might understand how she felt. She worried less about hurting his feelings with her honesty so she hesitated less and the truth she never realized start to come out.

It was almost too good to be true. She had feelings for Asa. He apparently had started to develop feelings for her too. Both of them cared for Yuri and he cared for them. Her mind tried to wrap around the triangle and every time she found herself getting dizzy. Even so, it seemed to work as long as she avoided analyzing it.

Asa now knew more of what was going on in her mind than she originally intended to share. Now that she said it, there was no denying how she felt. She cared about them both and she could not think of a reason for them not to give this relationship a try.

Asa was watching the horizon now. Willow observed him in silence for a moment and could not help but notice the smile that kept playing at the corners of his mouth. There was no denying that his mood was improved.

She bumped his arm with her own to get his attention. “Hey, it’s cold up here. Should we go back down below?”

“Are we going to try to talk to Yuri?” he asked.

She nodded. “I think it’s time we all had a talk together.”

“Let’s go,” he said with eager enthusiasm.

His hand twitched briefly as though hew as going to reach out and take hers, but he stopped himself short of reaching out to her. The slight movement did not evade Willow’s notice, though. She was not sure how she felt about it, but she found herself acting on impulse anyway.

Instead of taking his hand, she reached out and looped her arm through his. She knew that this might be seen as something even more intimate than hand holding, but it seemed a bit safer to her. Holding hands would put their skin in direct contact. Looping her arm through his like this might put their bodies closer together, but there was no skin on skin contact so it felt more innocent to her.

They went below deck and she knew that soon everything would change. She could hardly wait now that she knew what she was going to say. Getting the words out was not going to be easy, even now that she knew how she felt, but Asa knew what she was going to say so she was not alone in her struggles anymore. That meant more to her than she could express in words.

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