1.46: The Scent of Destiny

The last chapter brought a lot of goodbyes. This one brings some meaningful hellos. I hope you enjoy–and as always, I look forward to hearing your thoughts about this chapter.

 

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“Alright son, thanks for letting me know. Terribly sorry for your loss. We’ll stop by tomorrow.”

“Thank you sir.” Jake shook Shane’s hand and hurried on his way.

 

 

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Shane slowly walked back to his family, a grim look on his face.

“No.” Lilith knew, before he spoke the words. After Daniel’s passing, Daniela had been weak, sick, and heartbroken, rarely leaving her bed.

Shane reached out, touching her shoulders lightly. “She’s gone, baby, I’m sorry.” Shane’s own eyes were teary. It was a harsh blow, losing both of their closest friends so close together.

 

 

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“I’m afraid there’s more,” he said gently. “Nadia left, before they even buried her, leaving Nala with the younger children.”

Jace gasped. “But Nala’s barely older than me!” He shook his head. “I have to go to Natasha. Dad, we have to help them.” Natasha was younger than Nala, and had been Jace’s “girlfriend” since they were in grade school. They’d both be starting high school in the coming weeks.

“I agree,” Carrick said, joining them. “We can’t let them deal with this alone.”

 

 

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“She fed my babies when I didn’t have enough milk, Shane,” Lilith was sobbing. “Nala’s too young to bring in enough food for all of them, and she’s still in school.”

Shane thought this over. Nala was awfully young to shoulder so many burdens on top of the loss of her parents; she probably couldn’t hunt, and he knew the Riverhavens hadn’t had a garden. Daniel had done most of the fishing, along with Jake, who’d recently moved to his own camp. Nala wouldn’t be able to afford buying everything they needed. And Winter would be upon the village in a year or two; they’d need wood to keep the fire going for cooking and warmth, and enough supplies to get them through the snows as well.

“Jake said he’d be helping, and Dustin too. I already told him we’ll be over tomorrow. We’ll see what we can do,” Shane promised.

 

 

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The next day seemed unfairly sunny, in light of the tragedies which had struck the Riverhaven camp. Ayala helped Shane carry the food they’d brought, while Jace rushed ahead to Natasha. Upon their arrival, Jake led the shell-shocked Nala over to greet them.

Shane handed the basket of food to Carrick, and took Nala by the shoulders. “I know this is a difficult time for you,” he told her. “We’re going to do our best by you and the younger kids, and make sure you have everything you need. Your parents were very important to us.” He turned and shook hands with Jake. “And I’m glad to see you boys doing what you can.”

“Yes sir, thank you,” Jake replied.  “We’re replenishing the woodpile now.”

 

 

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Hearing their arrival, Dustin lowered the axe, wiping the sweat from his brow. His eyes unerringly met Ayala’s from across the camp as he straightened. It had been a few months since she’d seen him, and the sight of him nearly rooted her to the ground. She could make out the blue of his eyes from this distance, and saw the corner of his mouth jerk up a bit, a shadow of the lop-sided smile she’d known so well. He’d been cutting wood, and the sun glinted off the sweat on his chest and shoulders, reminding her of that day at the tidal pool…but that had been before the strange woman.

Unnoticed, Carrick watched his sister and Dustin stare at each other. Aha, he thought. Those two really need to talk to each other. I don’t know what happened between them, but there’s something there and they’re both blind not to see that.

 

 

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With a mental shake, Ayala turned her attention to Nala, going to hug the younger girl as the men moved off to talk practicalities. Nala’s eyes, red-rimmed already, had begun leaking tears again, so Ayala led her to the fire and sat beside her on the stump.

 

 

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“I’m sorry,” Nala sniffled. “I just don’t know how to react to anything lately so I just cry.”

Ayala rubbed her shoulders. She didn’t know the younger girl well, but vowed that would change. Ayala knew what it felt like to need a friend, and if anyone needed a friend right now, it was Nala. “I’m pretty sure you’re allowed to cry in this situation,” she said.

Nala smiled a little. “I don’t know how I’m going to do this. I really don’t. I mean I know how to cook and take care of the kids, but my parents always took care of getting food and firewood. Our firewood’s already run low, and there’s only a little money to buy what we need to eat. I’ll have to take off from school, at least until Archer and Drake are old enough to go to school too.”

“Oh no! You can’t do that. I’m sure Jake or–” her voice almost tripped over Dustin’s name–“or my mom can watch them during the day. We talked about it as a family last night when we heard the news, we’re going to do everything we can. Your parents would have done the same for us. Mom’s especially distraught.”

 

 

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“I’m grateful. I really am. I’m in no position to say no. The poor boys don’t know what’s going on. Abel’s afraid I’m going to leave him like Nadia did. And Natasha has had to grow up really fast these past few days. I’ve had to grow up.”

Ayala took in the two little boys, who didn’t seem to let Nala out of their sight, an idea occurring to her. “Hey I can come over after school some days and we can do our homework together. You, me and Natasha. I can help with the boys, too. If anyone knows how hectic it can be keeping an eye on toddlers, it’s me. Imagine having four of these little boogers running around!” At this, Nala finally laughed. She couldn’t imagine having to deal with quadruplet sisters.

 

 

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Dustin had been speaking with Carrick about the upcoming winter season, but broke off mid-sentence at the sound of the girls’ laughter. For just a moment, raw emotion passed over Dustin’s face. Following his gaze to Ayala, Carrick sighed. His sister, he knew, could be a stubborn girl. Pining from afar would get Dustin nowhere.

 

 

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Carrick went down to the beach and reeled in some fish, which he brought back to Nala and her younger brothers and sister. By then, the rest of the group had dispersed back to their own camps. Nala was still worried about how to procure food and supplies when their money ran out.

“And winter will be coming soon, too,” Carrick reminded her.

Her eyes widened in the firelight. “I hadn’t even thought of that. What am I going to do? I can’t rely on everyone else throughout the winter!”

Carrick shrugged, chewing off a piece of roasted tuna. “No one is going to let you starve,” he said after a moment. “But it would be better for you if you could lay in some supplies.”

“I don’t even know how to fish! I always wanted to learn, though,” she said wistfully. “What?’ she asked, when Carrick started laughing.

 

 

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“I just remembered, when you were a kid, you followed me around one day when I was fishing and you complained how your brothers never let you go fishing with them. You were jabbering away because my mom had just had the babies and you wanted to see them, and I thought ‘no wonder they wouldn’t take her, she’s never quiet’.” Nala blushed, he could see that even in the dim light. It suited her, he decided.

“Anyway,” he continued, “There’s still time to take in a couple crops before winter. Dad and I will help you get started with some vegetable plants. And,” he said, mock-grudgingly, “I’ll even teach you to fish, if you want.”

She smiled at him.

 

 

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When he got back to camp, Carrick cornered Ayala. “So that’s pretty nice that Dustin was over there chopping wood for Nala, huh?”

She shrugged. “Sure, and it was nice of Jake too, and you and Dad as well,” she pointed out.

“Ayala. Come on. What’s with you and Dustin?”

Nothing is with me and Dustin.”

“Bullshit. I saw how you guys looked at each other today when we got there. And that day on the beach, he was going to kiss you, and you didn’t even hear me coming down the path, so you were definitely in the moment. So tell me why you ended up with Jake and not him.”

 

 

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Ayala crossed her arms, shaking her head emphatically. “Maybe he did almost kiss me, but he didn’t. And then he was with that woman from the boat that night. And besides, that was months ago.”

“Did it ever occur to you that Rhea may have jumped to conclusions about what she saw? You and Dustin were at least friends, did you not think to ask him about what happened?” By the look on her face, he knew she hadn’t. She was starting to look upset, so he let it drop. He turned and went to the fire, leaving her standing there.

“It’s too late now anyway,” she said to no one.

 

 

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Months passed, slipping by as quickly as the leaves reddened and fell from their branches. Nala now had a garden, and, as promised, Carrick taught her how to fish. In fact, he spent as much time at the Riverhaven camp as he did at home, helping with chores, gardening, and homework. As his own graduation from school neared, he’d given some thought toward moving to his own camp. But that would take maintenance, and time away from Nala. She’d settled into a routine of mothering her siblings, tending the household, and gathering food, yet still managed to keep up with her schoolwork. Carrick really admired that.

 

 

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And he really admired Nala. At first he’d told himself he was just helping because it was the right thing to do, but by now he knew he’d come to care for Nala. He just wasn’t sure what to do about it. He would hate for it to seem he was taking advantage of the help he’d been providing.

 

 

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A few months later, most of the village turned out for the wedding of Joel and Bronwyn. Joel had come to the island some years before, looking to put down roots after an adventurous youth traveling the seas as an orphan. Some thought this an unlikely match; Joel had kept to himself, whereas Bronwyn had been through half the male population of the village before setting her sights on Joel.

 

 

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Whatever the reason for the match, no one was going to pass up the grand party the Swiftglens threw for their oldest daughter. Dustin bought a round of drinks for all the guests, and Kaila and Maru served up a well-rounded buffet of food.

 

 

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Carrick had talked Mom into watching Nala’s younger brothers so he could take her to the wedding. She needed to get away from camp for fun for once, and he was delighted when Lilith agreed–albeit with a somewhat knowing smile for her oldest son.

He spun Nala around the dance floor, enjoying how deeply she blushed when she stepped on his feet. It didn’t matter, because he had an excuse to have his arm around her, hold her hand, and see her pretty face sparkle with happiness as she looked up at him. They’d promised Mom they would come back for Nala’s brothers before it got too late, though, and all too soon he regretfully suggested they head back to the village. He tucked her hand in his arm as they walked from the dance floor.

 

 

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As they crossed toward the columns to exit the community center, Carrick slowed when he caught sight of Dustin leaning against the back wall, looking wistfuly toward the dance floor. Following Dustin’s gaze, he saw, as he knew he would, Ayala still dancing. Tugging Nala with him, he changed course and paused before the tall, lanky man in front of them. He cleared his throat, catching Dustin’s attention. “Dude. Just go talk to her already,” Carrick said.

Dustin gave him a startled look, but Carrick and Nala were already walking away.

 

 

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They stopped by the Meadowstone camp to get Nala’s younger siblings and thanked Lilith for keeping them for the evening. Mom assured them the boys had been fed. They each picked up a sleepy toddler, and walked the short distance through the woods back to Nala’s camp.

 

 

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He sat before the fire, listening as she readied Abel and the toddlers for bed, against their protests. Finally Nala joined him by the fire.

“Did you have fun tonight?” he asked her. She didn’t have many chances to get away from camp without her brothers, so he’d been delighted when Mom agreed to watch the kids so he could take her to Joel’s wedding for a little while.

She nodded enthusiastically. “I did! I don’t know either Bronwyn or Joel well, but it was a beautiful wedding…and I loved being able to get out and dance and see people,” she said. “What about you?”

“Did I have fun? Yeah. I liked being able to take you out.” Her face, already flushed from the excitement of the wedding and dancing, blushed even deeper. “That dress looks so pretty on you,” he said suddenly, after watching her for a moment. She met his eyes across the fire.

 

 

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“Thank you,” she said, shyly. She always felt shy when he paid her compliments. Not because she didn’t like them. Rather, she liked them very much and was afraid she’d say the wrong thing. He was looking at her again across the fire, his eyes serious, but he said nothing so she looked down into the fire. Absently, she pulled the clip out of her hair, finger-combing her reddish-yellow hair as it fell around her shoulders.

Watching her still, Carrick seemed to come to some resolution in his mind. He stood, and went around the fire to her. “Nala,” he said, taking her hand.

“Y-yes?”

 

 

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He looked down at their hands, stroking her knuckles with his thumb, admiring the contrast of his tanned, olive skin against the paleness of her own. She looked down as well, and his fingers curled gently around hers. When he spoke her name again, her gaze rose back to his face. Prisms of firelight cast sea green sparks from his eyes.

Carrick found himself oddly at a loss for words. He didn’t want her to think he only spent time with her because she needed the help. It was because he liked being with her, because he wanted to be with her. Because he cared for her. Her fingers stirred in his, and his other hand raised to brush back a thick strand of hair from her cheek. “Carrick what is it?” she finally asked in a tiny voice.

“Nala, I’ve come to care about you. Not because of–” He gestured toward the darkened shelter where the kids now slept. “I care about you because you’re you.”

“What are you saying?” Her eyes were wide in the fire and moonlight.

“What I’m saying is I’m falling in love with you.” He took a deep breath. “What I’m saying is that I want to kiss you.”

 

 

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Leaning forward, he heard her little intake of breath. “If you’ll have me,” he said softly. To his surprise, Nala wound her pale arms around his neck, wordlessly giving her response.

 

 

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Some of the guests had started drifting homeward, but there were still a number of dancers, including the bride and groom, so Ayala decided to have a few more dances before calling it a night. Right now she was dancing with Kiwi Hale, one of the older men on the island. Well, he was still a young adult. But, like Dustin, he was older than the teens and consequently hadn’t hung out at the bonfires very often. They were chatting amicably, when a hand reached out and tapped Kiwi’s shoulder.

“Mind if I cut in?”

Kiwi looked around and smiled, handing Ayala into waiting hands. “Sure thing, man. Have fun, this one’s a good dancer!”

I know, Dustin thought.

 

 

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Ayala gazed up at Dustin’s face in shock as he took her hand and whirled her around smoothly without missing a step. She almost forgot her feet for a moment, but dancing was second nature for her and she quickly recovered herself. They danced a few minutes without speaking, and Ayala found herself unable to look at him. She honestly wasn’t sure what to say, and felt overwhelmed being so near to him after all these months. Her pulse raced as he cupped her hand in his, and she could feel the heat of his other hand, splayed against her back.

 

 

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He leaned her back gracefully, sweeping her back up against his chest again. Though pleasantly surprised of how good of a dancer he was, she still couldn’t look at his face.

“Ayala. Look at me.” He slowed.

“Dustin. What are you doing?”

 

 

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“I’m dancing with the prettiest woman here.”

“I’m sure you say that to all the women who come to the island,” she said, a bit tartly. Purposefully, she stamped on his foot.

This caught him off guard. “What?” What women?  He swallowed, and took a deep breath. The scent of destiny hung heavy in the night air; it was now, or never. “What did I do, Ayala? I have to know why you stopped talking to me.”

“Oh why do you care?” Anger flashed across her face.

“I care because it hurt,” he shot back. His grip on her hand and waist tightened. “I thought we were friends. I thought…”

“Why on earth would it hurt you? I heard you were plenty occupied with that woman that came to the island. And other women too, I’m sure.” She turned her head to look away from him, noticing too late that he’d danced them to the edge of the dance floor.

 

Amanda – Boston

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Abruptly he took her arm and hauled her around the back of the community center, away from the wedding party.

 

 

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He spun her to a stop and gripped her shoulders. “What woman? What other women?”

“Please. I heard all about that woman who came here. She was flirting with you, you took her to the bar, and then, …then…you weren’t at the bonfire that night. Probably because you were with her, getting laid or something. That hurt.”

It was Dustin’s turn to be angry, even as it dawned on him. She’d been jealous? So he hadn’t imagined their connection at all. She’d thought he didn’t want her.  “THAT woman? She was a school teacher. I took her to the bar to talk about teaching methods because I want to teach the school here someday. Why on earth would you think I’d sleep with her??”

“Gee I don’t know? Because she was flirting with you and you were all too happy to take her to the bar and then gods knows where after that.”

“I wasn’t–it wasn’t–you really think I’m the kind of guy that would just sleep with some stranger?”

She shrugged angrily from his grasp. “That’s what Rhea said. I sure didn’t see you around until after the ship left.”

“I didn’t sleep with her! It never even crossed my mind! I’m hurt you’d even think that of me. Ayala, we were friends, and I’d thought we were… and NO. I don’t want a woman who throws herself at the first man she can find. I don’t want a woman like that,” he repeated.

Now Ayala paused, looking at him blankly. “And just what kind of woman do you want, then?” As soon as the words left her mouth, she mentally kicked herself.

 

 

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“Not someone like that,” he repeated again. “I want–” he broke off, and stepped closer. She felt trapped by the blue blazes of his eyes, even in this dim light. Ayala started to step backward, but he pulled her back by the waist. Nearly a year had gone by, and he wasn’t going to let her walk away this time, thinking that of him.

Ayala was reeling. She’d had it all wrong. So stupid! And then he kissed her. A shock ran all the way down her spine to her stomach.

 

 

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Their breaths mingled. He smelled of campfire smoke, leather, and sun. And suddenly she was kissing him back, hungrily, her hands clinging to his arms and neck. His hand tangled in her hair almost desperately, kissing her like a man starved.  Lightning crackled nearby, and thunder boomed in her ears.

She heard her breath catch in her throat and abruptly pushed him away and turned to stalk off, angry now at herself. He’d just said he didn’t want a woman who threw herself at men, and here she was, her hands digging into his flesh as if her life depended on this moment. Catching her arm, he spun her around to face him again, his eyes burning into hers. “I want a woman like you, Ayala. I want you.”

 

 

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He kissed her again, more gently this time. Ayala felt like the ground had fallen out from under her. He wants me.

He drew back, exhaling shakily, but not letting her go. “You,” he said again, leaning his forehead against hers. “I’d thought we were getting…closer. Was I wrong?”

 

 

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She shook her head, crying now. “I thought you didn’t want me, I thought you didn’t–” A sob escaped her.

 

 

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Taking her hands, he kissed her again, then let out a deep breath. Leaning back to look at her, he gave her his lop-sided smile. “You silly little girl. You’re the only one I want. You always have been.”

 

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Screenshot-22Thanks Nernershuman for the title of this chapter. You said you smelled destiny on these two since Ayala was a little girl–and you were right =) Ayala finally has her magick man with magick hands.

This chapter contains the first of some my own poses and pose alterations, yay!

Crap, I forgot my soundtrack, Amanda, by Boston. I’ll add it tomorrow.

Outtakes are up on the Outtakes tab!