Inbetween: Chapter Thirty Nine

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Alenna insisted upon seeing Willow time and time again. At first, for Willow these meetings caused her stomach to twist up in knots. Alenna’s teasing and goading made it hard to consider her motives behind the meetings to be anything other than suspicious.

After a few conversations, Willow started to feel as though she could understand the patterns in their conversations. It was a gradual process, to say the least. The more time she spent with Alenna, the more she suspected it was not merely, ulterior political motivations that brought Alenna to seek her out. She did notice she was called upon more than Yuri and Asa which was a major factor in how she came to her current conclusion. Alenna was looking for a friend.

At first, of course, she thought the signs of an overture of friendship were part of her ploy to gain Willow’s trust and drawing out information and secrets easier. She strived to remain aloof, but after she refused to give into the overture and Alenna persisted, she had to believe that the olive branch was real.

As much as she wanted to avoid getting attached to someone that Yuri thought might not be trustworthy, she realized they were all in need of more friends in this place. She needed friends more than anyone. Aside from Yuri and Asa, she still had no connections to this world. She needed to know people, and having a friend who was not a romantic interest would be a great comfort to her mind. Talking to their hostess who happened to have a huge amount of political sway in this world did not make her think that she could talk to her easily.

Sharing anything personal felt a bit strange. Not only did it feel like she was wasting a very important person’s time by discussing her life and problems, she worried it would complicate things for all of them if she said too much. Eventually, she did relent. She needed a friend, even if she tried to keep the conversation superficial, she knew she would lose her mind if she did not release some of the pressure.

They had plenty of time while hiding and traveling, but staying in this place marked the first time they had opportunity to do anything with the time that they found available for them now. Willow felt an immense amount of pressure to find a way to solidify their relationship. Yuri was trying to take things slow, and Asa was as patient as ever, but she sensed an underlying current of impatience now that they had the opportunity to see if they could make this work.

The weight of their patience and their expectations left her feeling on edge. Back home, she knew what was expected of her while in a relationship and spending a lot of quality alone time together. Usually, at least a handful of dates in public preceded any sort of pressure to commit. There were no dates in public with Yuri and Asa. They were always gentlemen, but she still sensed an undercurrent of unspoken expectations.

She needed someone outside of the relationship to give her a bit of perspective. Her thoughts were muddled in her head. Alenna was her only option for getting an outside perspective at the moment, but she did not feel all that comfortable revealing everything to someone she suspected would just turn it around and mock her with teasing.

As conflicted as she felt, she realized she was in a desperate need of friends and based on Alenna’s persistence in the matter, she might need a friend as well. She was the most powerful person in this place. They say it is lonely at the top so it made sense that she might be looking for someone that did not fit within the system to befriend. Willow did not consider it too far-fetched. She easily believed that Alenna genuinely wanted a friend.

“So,” she began while uncomfortably shifting from one foot to the other. “We’ve been spending a lot of time chatting lately.”

“We have,” Alenna agreed with no hesitation. “Is that a problem for you?”

“Not at all,” Willow insisted, perhaps a bit too quickly. “I was wondering if I could ask you some questions since you’ve asked me so many.”

Alenna responded with a half shrug, as though it did not matter to her either way.

Willow was not sure whether she should be offended, but she had already committed herself to trying to make this friendship thing work. That meant she needed to be at least a little bit tolerant and make some sort of overture of friendship herself. Her courage was bolstered by the fact that she really needed someone to talk to outside of Yuri and Asa right now.

She cleared her throat. “So you know about me and Yuri and Asa, right?”

“We all presumed you were at the start of a relationship from the way you were acting.”

“All?” Willow found that little tidbit of information alarming.

“You were not exactly subtle,” Alenna teased with a playful shove to her shoulder.

“I didn’t realize. I guess it doesn’t really matter either way. There’s nothing we can do about it now.” She took a deep breath and sighed. “We agreed to give things a try, or rather, I stipulated that we would take it slow and give it a try. I don’t know what would be happening now if I hadn’t insisted on going slow.”

Alenna gave her a thoughtful look. She carefully weighed what she had been told for a moment before speaking. “Why are you taking it slow? With all of the turmoil, you’d think that you’d all be drawn together even faster.”

“That’s what I was afraid of happening.”

“But why be afraid of it?”

“I’m just not sure how to be with two people at once. Where I come from, this sort of thing doesn’t happen all that often.”

“We consider it the most desirable type of relationship here. You’re more stable if you have more than one person to lean on. Two people is more of balancing act than a stable platform.”

“I mean, I guess that makes sense, but it doesn’t help me figure out how I’m supposed to act with them.”

Alenna frowned. “I’m not sure how it is such a problem. Are you just completely new to the idea of romance?”

“No, I just don’t want anyone to have hurt feelings or to be treated unfairly. I don’t want to do anything that might be interpreted the wrong way.”

“Willow, you’re lucky enough to have two men inviting you into their lives, but they’re men. If you express interest neither of them is going to be doing much interpreting.”

She blushed at what Alenna was implying. “I hardly know them though. It’s too soon to be rushing into things.”

“But you know them well enough to agree to the relationship?”

“I agreed to try. I like Yuri and Asa. I want to know what there might be there, but that doesn’t mean I’m at a place where I know them well enough to dive in.”

“Sounds like you’re afraid to be vulnerable.”

Willow’s shoulders tensed up. She had a feeling this was the sort of thing the conversation would eventually turn to. She dreaded it because it was the exact thing that would get her dander up the most and Alenna had a knack for irritating her like no one else. It was only a matter of time before she struck a nerve that was so obvious and exposed.

“Yeah. Okay. I probably am afraid to be vulnerable. Is that such a bad thing? I have to keep my guard up.”

“With people that love you?”

She scoffed. “They don’t love me. They’ve only known me for a little while. I barely know them.”

“Then why did you agree to pursue a relationship with them?”

The question was a valid one. She knew the answer, but it seemed too soon to put it into words. Falling for someone should take time. Admitting to having feelings so soon made her feel as though she would be judged as foolish or inexperienced. She knew she was neither, but that did not stop her from fearing that she would be perceived as such. She intended to keep her mouth shut to preserve her dignity, but at the moment it seemed to be ineffective. Alenna’s gaze bored into her and she found it nearly impossible for her to keep her mouth shut.

“You know why you’re here with them. Why bother denying it?”

Willow looked away. Her head bowed in shame. When she looked up again, she found Alenna quietly watching her and waiting. She seemed content to let Willow take as much time as she needed before she said anything more.

She took her time finding the right way to form her thoughts into words. Finally, she the words appeared on the tip of her tongue. She had wanted to hide her feelings away and keep them secret until she felt an appropriate amount of time had passed. It had not been nearly long enough, but the time had come for her to come clean.

“It sounds really stupid, but I’m pretty sure I am in love with both of them. That’s crazy, isn’t it?”

“What’s crazy about that?”

“Both of them,” she said with emphasis. “I’m not used to falling in love with anyone in just a few weeks and it isn’t like me to be in love with more than one person at once.”

“Isn’t it better to love them both? Wouldn’t it be terrible and tragic if you only loved one of them?”

“But I barely know either of them. What if I’m just feeling this way because it is what they’re expecting of me?”

Aside from the thoughtful expression on Alenna’s face, she seemed completely at ease in this conversation. She was relaxing and appeared to be enjoying herself. It was not the teasing sort of enjoyment that she usually exhibited, but a general sort of enjoyment that seemed to come from having Willow in her company.

“Well,” Alenna said with a slow exhalation. “It sounds to me like you’re dealing with some emotional baggage that I just cannot understand.”

“Yeah,” she agreed. “I guess I am. So what?”

“Do you think you’ll be able to work through them?”

“No idea,” she answered honestly. “Why do you care?”

“Let’s call it a hunch. I have a feeling that the three of you are going to be important.”

Willow was dumbfounded. Although she had suspected that Alenna would have an ulterior motive for everything she did, she had started to believe they were forming a friendship and her interest was solely based on her as a person. She let her guard down because of that belief and now she felt as though she had let herself down by doing so. Shock shifted into anger and frustration. She tried to neutralize her facial expression, but almost certainly failed.

“I don’t know why I keep making the same mistakes,” she muttered.

Alenna gave her a sympathetic look. “You’ve been in a similar situation before? That explains a bit of your hesitation.”

“What? No.” Willow glared at her. “I was talking about you. I keep thinking you’re talking to me because I’m me, but then I remember that I’m just a piece in the game you’re playing. I shouldn’t open up when it just keeps getting used against me.”

Alenna drew back, looking stunned. Willow felt slightly ashamed by her outburst as soon as the words left her mouth. Stress made her paranoid and the paranoia caused her to lash out. She was not able to see clearly until she let off some steam.

“Sorry,” she mumbled under her breath. Now she could not meet Alenna’s eyes. The shame was overwhelming and at least as much of a distraction as the anger she felt before.

“It’s okay,” Alenna sighed. Her voice sounded a bit exasperated at first, but she continued she seemed to have regained her composure and prepared to move on. “I know I can be a bit grating, but trust me, I’m not having these talks with you for some sort of political plot. You’re not even the first person I’d be asking when it came to that sort of thing. I mean, you’re obviously a stranger in this world. You know about as much about our politics as a child.”

The logic seemed sound. She knew nothing about the political climate of this world. As strange as it might seem to her, friendship seemed like a more sensible motivation.

If both of them were just this bad at being friends, it was possible both of them were so clumsy at handling it that they managed to bungle it up. Since she did not see a flaw in the reasoning Alenna provided, she had to assume that she had been paranoid and now needed to find a way to make amends.

“So you really were just trying to be my friend?”

“Yes,” Alenna looked bashful and picked at her sleeve. “I find you interesting and you’re not intimidated by my position or my title. That’s so hard for me to find. I know I’m not easy to get along with. I’m abrasive and enjoy verbal sparring too much, but you stand up to me and it’s fun.”

“I guess it’s not so strange,” Willow admitted. “I’m not going to back down when you start jabbing at me, and if that’s impressive enough for you to want to start up a friendship, I guess I can understand where you’re coming from.”

“I can give pretty good advice too.”

Willow laughed. “You don’t pull any punches with your advice.”

“I don’t. I don’t think I could if I tried.”

“That’s probably for the best. I would over analyze it if you tried to cushion the blow.”

Now that they were having an actual conversation, Alenna seemed to relax a bit again. “I am rooting for you, Yuri and Asa. And I guess my motivation might be a little muddied by the political side of things.”

“Yeah. I figured that much.”

“Yuri is going to need all the strength he can get. You and Asa are his strength. They need you with them. You’re their keystone.”

“Why do you care so much about us? It can’t hardly make a difference one way or the other. You’re much more likely to change the world than any of us.”

Alenna sighed and then smiled. “I keep forgetting how different your perspective is from my own. I find myself hoping that you will find things that I would otherwise miss because I’m already in the thick of it. That’s not why I think you will make a difference though. Yuri is uniquely placed at this time to make a significant change to the workings of our world and for that to happen he will need your help and support.”

Willow shook her head. “I don’t know how that has anything to do with me. I want Yuri to be able to go home, and I’m willing to help him do that, but I’m not here to change the world. In fact, I want to change as little as possible while I’m here.”

“Why would you do that?” Alenna frowned.

“I’m not from here,” Willow said with a shrug. “I shouldn’t interfere with this world.”

“I think it is too late for that, don’t you? Whether you like it or not, you’ve certainly had an impact on this world.”

Willow scoffed. She did not think that she had done much at all to with this world. She made a point to stay separate. That effort seemed to be muddied by her willingness to be in a relationship with Yuri and Asa. She wanted to believe that it was all separate and her feelings for them and their feelings for her would not change the world as long as she did nothing more than care for them. Now she realized the truth.

The balance of the world shifted with her presence. She was taught from childhood about the disturbances in her world and how they were dangerous because they were signs of the world being put out of balance. She wanted to believe that it was not the same in her case, but she knew she was probably as much of a disturbance to the balance of this world as any of the creatures that ended up lost in her world were.

She knew how Yuri appearing in her life had turned her own world upside down. She did not stop to consider the repercussions for the rest of the world, but if her own life was disrupted to such an extreme degree, she had to assume she had disrupted Yuri and Asa’s life at least as much. It was just harder for her to gauge how she affected this world because none of them had anything resembling a normal life since she arrived.

If being here was changing the world and disrupting the order of things, she realized she should not stay. The world would be more stable without her in it, but she did not know how to go home from this place. If anything, she should be back in Detreya, trying to find another portal between worlds to take her back. It seemed like that city was a hot-spot for those portals. There was a chance that she would not see another portal as long as she was far away from that place.

She doubted she would be able to go home as long as she stayed in this place. If she wanted to bring balance back to this world, she knew she needed to leave. Not only was it not possible for her to do that right now, she had to admit that she did not want to leave. She wanted to be here. She needed to be here so she could find out what there was between herself, Yuri and Asa.

“If I’m going to have an impact on this world, I want it to be a good impact,” she said decisively.

Alenna grinned. “I’m glad to hear that.”

Willow quirked an eyebrow. “What’s it got to do with you?”

“If you ever find that you need someone to lend you a hand with the whole having a good impact thing, don’t hesitate to ask me. I want to be of use.”

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