Chapter 22 – Breathless
Chapter 22 – Breathless
The ocean breeze blew lightly across Noah’s face. He breathed in deeply and could taste the salt in the air.
He had never been to the shore before. He had never felt the way his feet sank in the coarse sand, or seen the rocks fade into an endless sight of water.
The roar of the near by waves calmed him with a familiar ease. The sound of the sea managed to wash away all thoughts that had been tormenting him throughout his many years of service. He wasn’t quiet sure why or how the water was able to have such an effect on him, but he didn’t feel the need to question it.
Alminia was technically a costal kingdom; but it’s mountainous terrain offered few beaches. The Farfiret and the Wrinery Mountain Ranges wrapped protectively around most of Alminia, defending it from invaders. The mountains met the ocean with steep unsteady descents, or straight vertical drops to the treacherous the waters below. Noah knew of only two sea trading ports in the entire Kingdom, Port Charlotte to the north, and Kingston Harbor to the west.
Both of the cities were quiet prosperous.
Noah took in the small beach and couldn’t help but feel safe. He knew that there was small army of guards that had accompanied them and yet the shore felt seclude.
He watched as Annabell walked barefoot with her mother through the serf, the two of them seemingly wrapped in pleasant conversation.
“I see you found a nice spot to think.” An authoritative voice remarked.
Before Noah could stand and bow to his King, the man held up a hand to stop him. “There’s no need.”
“Yes, Sir.” Noah accepted.
During the journey to the small piece of coastline, the Queen continuously chided Noah every time he unintentionally called her or her husband Majesty. He still refused to address them by their given names, and wondered why they had been so persistent about it.
Their actions reminded him of one of his first conversations with Annabell. She had insisted that he refrain using her ‘title’ just as her mother insisted now.
“It’ll get easier.” The man next to him stated calmly.
“What will get easier?” Noah asked. Both of them looked towards the sea rather than each other.
“Letting go.” He answered
Try as he might, Noah couldn’t keep his curiosity from asking. “Sir? Letting go of...what exactly?”
He heard the king chuckle deeply next to him. “Expectations.” He clarified.
Noah felt even more confused. “Sir, I still don’t understand.”
“One day,” he said, pausing to stand and face Noah, “you will.” He motioned for Noah to follow him as he went to meet the two woman that were walking towards them.
~~~ Change Character Focus, Later
“Mother?” Alexandria asked once they finished their lunch.
Alexandria focused on keeping her hands from fiddling with her dress. “I would like to show Noah the caves.” Her father offered her a strange look so she quickly added. “We won’t go far.”
Her mother looked towards the caves and then back at her, “We will be leaving in half an hour.” Valerie paused and Alexandria looked closer at her mother’s face trying to decipher what the woman was about to say, “I expect you both to return before then.”
Alexandria didn’t give her mother time to reconsider. “We will.” She promised. She stood quickly, and waited for Noah to do the same. She noticed a strange look on his face, but figured he was simply surprised by her actions.
“I apologize for not asking you if you wanted to see the caves.” She said a few moments later.
“It’s fine.” Noah’s response was strained. He seemed unsure about something, but she didn’t know what.
Alexandria knew the particular cave that she wanted to show Noah. It had been a while since she last visited it, but she still remembered the path. At first glance the cave appeared to be just like all the others littered throughout the Alminian Mountain. The cavern at the entrance was a good bit smaller than the size of Alexandria’s tower room but there were two tunnels at the back. One of the tunnels didn’t lead anywhere, but the other...
When they reached the tunnel entrance she turned to face Noah, “It may not look -” Alexandria stopped mid-sentence. Although she could barely see his face in the dim lighting of the cave, Alexandria could almost feel how uncomfortable he was.
“Noah?” She asked, unsure of what to say.
“I’m fine.” He repeated the word fine in the strained voice.
He looked away when he said it.
He lied to her.
“You most certainly are not.” She chided.
“You don’t have to worry about-”
“Don’t lie to me.” Alexandria interrupted. She didn’t know what was wrong with him, but it irked her that he was being dishonest.
Silence fell between them.
“I...” He started. Alexandria couldn’t help but notice how clenched he and unclenched his fists repeatedly. “I don’t...I mean I just...” Noah took a deep breath and tried to calm himself. He looked toward the tunnel entrance and Alexandria noticed his face was filled with dread.
He didn’t have to tell her.
“Do you want to leave?” She asked making sure to keep her voice steady.
Noah looked towards the cave entrance, and she noticed how his shoulders relaxed slightly. “No.” He said surprising her with how much calmer his voice had become, “I’m alright.”
He turned back to face her but his eyes didn’t meet hers.
It was almost like he was embarrassed about what had just happened.
Silence fell over them like a vale.
Alexandria didn’t know what to say. She didn’t know how to make the situation easier for Noah. As the seconds passed by she began to notice how inconstant his breathing was. It was like he had to remind himself to take in air.
“I’m afraid of thunder.” Alexandria blurted out suddenly. She wasn’t sure why she had felt the need to tell him, but her confession caused him to finally look at her. “Not lightning,” she clarified, “just thunder. I can watch the storms at sea from my window. They’re so far away that I can’t hear the deafening sounds.”
She had wanted to look away as she told him, but his eyes fixed hers firmly in place.
“The sound...” She continued. “I’m helpless to it. It pierces through me and I am unable to think.”
He reached out and placed a hand lightly on her shoulder. A silence wafted around them but Alexandria noticed that the anxiety had left the room.
A small smile found it’s way to his lips. “Thank you.” He said.
She could only nod in response.
Noah looked back towards the tunnel entrance momentarily and then asked, “What did you want to show me?”
“Noah, we don’t-”
He didn’t give her time to finish. He released her shoulder and clutched her hand firmly. “Lead the way.”
Alexandria couldn’t help but stare at their intertwined hands and wonder what he was trying to tell her. Noah’s fear had rendered him speechless, and yet he was still willing to follow her into the tunnel.
She looked back at him and offered a reassuring smile.
“This way.” She said as she gripped his hand tightly and pulled him into the tunnel after her.
Alexandria felt the grasp that Noah had on her hand tightened as the small amount of light in the tunnel disappeared.
“Could you say something please?” She heard him ask forcefully, “I need...something...to focus on.”
“What would you like me to say?” Alexandria asked as she felt her way along the tunnel.
She noticed how his voice was clipped, like it had been earlier before it gave out on him completely.
Alexandria’s mind went blank. She couldn’t think of what to say. All of her childhood memories seemed to have vanished. The only thing she could think of was what she had told him earlier. That she was afraid of the sound of thunder.
“I was six,” She rambled, she had never said it aloud before. “I was mad about something, and I had thrown a giant tantrum about it.” She chuckled as memories of the fits that she used to throw returned to her. “I’m not even sure I knew why I was so mad, but I was. I wanted to be alone, away from everything that I was mad at, so I ran off and hid. My parents had warned me about the storm coming in but I was to frustrated to listen.” She shuttered at the memory.
Alexandria felt Noah, rub his thumb over the outside of their intertwined hands.
Was he trying to comfort her?
“I was in the stables, petting one of horses, when the wind picked up.” She continued, taking comfort in Noah’s touch, “I hadn’t noticed that no one was around. They sought shelter while I had been hiding, and didn’t know I was there.”
“What happened?” She heard him ask. His voice shook slightly, but his words were no longer clipped.
“The stable master found me the next morning. I had passed out near the entrance.” She took a deep breath a pulled herself out of the memory. “I can’t remember anything about that night, but since then I’ve been afraid of thunder.”
The tunnel turned and Alexandria blinked as the light hit her eyes.
She smiled at the sunlight that shone in, happy to be out of the tunnel.
She glanced down at her hand and noticed that Noah’s grip had not yet loosened. She turned to face him and was shocked to see that his eyes were tightly closed.
He thought that he was still inside the tunnel.
Alexandria examined his face. She noticed how the bruise that had once colored his forehead had completely vanished. She saw how his eyelashes twitched nervously. Her eyes dropped to his lips and Alexandria frowned slightly at the small scar that had replaced the bruise on lip.
How often had he been hit there?
She studied his lips closer and couldn’t help that she felt drawn to them.
Suddenly, Alexandria had a truly impulsive desire.
She looked up nervously and noticed that his eyes were still closed.
Before uncertainty could stop her, Alexandria stood up on her toes and kissed him.
~~~ Change Character Focus
The first thing that Noah noticed was that Annabell had stopped talking. The second was that she had let go of his hand.
Noah had closed his eyes the second the darkness had engulfed him. He tried to focus on what she was telling him but had found it excruciatingly hard to concentrate. He had absolutely no idea where he was. He was sure that he could hear the ocean again, but that didn’t tell him much of anything.
He could feel his heart rate quicken and suddenly a bolt of energy shot through him.
Noah’s breathing stopped completely, and his pulse accelerated further.
It was alarming, but it didn’t feel like his usual panic attacks.
He wasn’t scared. No, he was...alive.
A wave a heat flowed throughout his body, his breathing retuned in one large sigh, and his arms pulled her closer to him. He had only dreamed of this sensation. Noah was positive that he somehow managed to pass out in that tunnel because it was the only way that he could explain what was happening.
Annabell was kissing him.
Ever since they had nearly kissed at the ball, Noah’s dreams had become filled with Annabell, but he had never before imagined the way she would feel against him as he completely embraced her in his arms. He yielded to her lips and was rewarded as a sigh escaped her.
Noah gripped her shoulders and forced himself to release the dream, before he lost control.
Regretfully he opened his eyes, only to notice that the dream had followed him.
His hands were gripped firmly on Annabell’s shoulders.
‘It wasn’t a dream.’ He told himself as his eyes fell on the lips that had recently been attached to his own. ‘It had happened.’
Noah released her from his grip and struggled to think.
She turned around nervously and indicated that they had reached their destination, “We’re here.” He heard her say somewhat breathless.
He ran his hands through his hair nervously before finally looking around the cavern.
Light shone in from gaps in the rock, and a large waterfall roared near by. He could feel the spray of the water as it slammed into the pool below them.
How had he not noticed that before?
How had he not heard it?
Noah realized that it was indeed a beautiful place, and he wouldn’t have seen it without Annabell’s assistance through the tunnel.
“Thank you.” He confessed.
Annabell slowly turned back around and faced him. “What are you thanking me for?” She asked rather confused.
“For everything.” He admitted.
She frowned. “Everything is not a valid answer.”
“Well then.” Noah said mocking her tone “Thank you, for bringing me here.” He motioned to the cavern, “Thank you, for lunch -”
“For lunch?” She interrupted.
“I wasn’t finished.” He teased.
She tried to hide her smile. “Please continue.” She allowed.
“Thank you,” He repeated, “for getting me through that tunnel. Thank you, for letting someone like me stand next to you.”
He felt that she wanted to argue his last statement, but he stopped her words by grabbing her hand again. “Thank you, for staying in that bookshop after you found out that I am not Lord Jenkins. Thank you, for running into me that day outside of the bakery.”
Annabell laughed at the memory.
“And I hope,” he emphasized as his hand ran nervously through his hair, “that I can thank you for forgiving my actions.”
Annabell looked up at him confused. “What actions would I-”
Noah didn’t let her finish the question.
He wasn’t sure what came over him. Perhaps it was the same desire that she had felt earlier. The only thing that he was sure of was that he was tired. He was tired of second-guessing himself, tired of being afraid, but mostly he was tired of having to choose between what he should do and what he wanted to do.
Noah wrapped a hand lightly behind Annabell’s neck, pulled her towards him and kissed her.
He forced himself to hold her lightly. If she pulled away he would be able to let go.
But in the next moment, Noah felt all his protective barriers (of what was sociably acceptable and what wasn’t) come crashing down.
In that next moment, everything disappeared and only one thing seemed to matter.
In that next moment, Noah finally stopped thinking.
For in that next moment Princess Alexandria, his Annabell, pulled him in closer and kissed him back.