Stars in her eyes, silver light awash on her skin, the island breeze playing gently with her hair, you are sure Estela Montoya must be a moon goddess. At the very least, she is an angel.
Leaning back on the hill, taking in the stars overhead, you watch her beside you, see the way her shoulders rise and fall with the passing of her breath, the flutter of her lashes against the wind in her eyes. She said nothing when you joined her on the hilltop. Nothing as you sat, gaze shifting between her face and the constellations freckling the sky. You expect her to speak for the longest time, but the moments continue to stretch on with no words between you. You sense her agitation as you open your mouth, but even yet, you cannot keep yourself from finally breaking the delicate silence.
“Tell me about yourself.”
She doesn’t look at you, refusing to acknowledge your question with a glance, and instead lays her head back into the grass, jaw set. “No.”
“No, there’s nothing to tell? Or no, you don’t trust me with your life story?”
“No, I don’t feel like talking,” she replies, letting the wind carry the last of your conversation away.
“Fine.” You scoot down on the hillside so you’re lying on your back, then wriggle closer to her so you are not quite touching. The residual heat emanating from her body warms you. “Then I’ll tell you about me.”
“Idiot,” she grumbles. You wait, but nothing else is forthcoming.
“Let’s see. You already know my name. I’m twenty years old. I go to Hartfeld University. I'm on this trip with my best friend.”
She grunts, annoyed, a reminder to you that she knows this information already.
“I’m a Capricorn. I like long walks on deserted island beaches and piña coladas. I’m interested in men, women, and mysterious brooding strangers with impeccable taste in performance leggings." She does not crack a smile, so you lean closer to her and wiggle your eyebrows. "And did you know that a deserted tropical island with a potentially active volcano and innumerable other threats to my safety and well-being happens to rank first in my top five spots for first dates?”
Estela snorts at this, though the noise is somewhat masked by the snap of the wind over your heads.
“Woah, she laughs.” You roll over to face her, folding an arm behind your head like a pillow, and hear your voice grow more serious. “What is it going to take, Estela? How long before you actually talk to me?”
Estela remains silent, as expected, and the two of you wait as the words hanging overhead are carried off on the breeze. You turn and sink back into the grass to spend a moment convening with the stars overhead, attempting to pick out a constellation you recognize. You momentarily forget, caught up in the swirling sky above, about your one-sided conversation and your company.
“Me too,” she grumbles at last, and you start at the sound of her voice, low and soft on the wind.
“You too, what?”
You look over, freezing at the sight of the uninterrupted constellations above reflecting in her dark eyes, twin kaleidoscopes blinking at you thoughtfully. As quickly as she glances at you, she returns her gaze furtively back at the sky, a slight pink dusting settling into her cheeks when she sees you staring in awe. “Long walks on deserted beaches. I like those. And looking at the stars.”
Hesitantly, you start to reach out a hand to touch her arm, then think better of it and drop it back to your side. Estela almost smiles at this, one corner of her lips twitching up.
“I don’t bite.”
“Really? You’re acting like you might.”
“Hmm. You seem like the kind of person who might be into that, anyway.”
You giggle, hiding your face in the cool grass. “Oh my god. Call me out, I guess? That’s fine.”
You peek up through the blades to see a wide smile flash across Estela’s face, then disappear as quickly as it had come. She sighs, settling back into her icy persona. “I’ve never liked people. I’ve never had to understand them. They’ve never had to understand me. Family was sparse, I had no friends.” She pauses, finally turning the full intensity of her dark gaze on you. “What is it about you? Why are you trying so hard to get under my skin? So far with the rest of these clowns, it’s been a one hundred percent failure rate. What makes you so special?”
A warmth flutters within you at the look she gives you, and you can’t help the smile that bubbles up on your cheeks. “I guess you could say I’m just stubborn.”
“I think you’re just used to getting what you want,” she says, eyes narrowing.
“I get the things I want because I don’t give up on them,” you respond evenly, refusing to take her bait. “And trust me when I say this, Estela Montoya – I am not going to give up on you.”
The stars in her eyes seem to shine brighter as she looks at you. “But why? Why?” Frustration clouds her features, and she jerks up into a sitting position. “Do you know something I don't? Did someone send you?” There are tears in her eyes when she whirls to stare you down. “What am I saying…you’re not someone with training. No one would send you. So why are you so invested in me?” She sucks in a ragged breath, attempting to calm herself. “I’m nobody. I’ve worked hard to be nobody.”
You frown at her, trying to follow her train of thought, and sit up as well. “Why?”
“Life’s easiest that way.”
“Being unknown? Feeling unloved? That’s the hardest life there is, Estela.”
“I never had those things. I’ve never missed them.”
You sigh, breath shaky. “I know there are people that love you, Estela.”
“Maybe there were,” she growls, killing any hope of a response with one snap her teeth.
The wind picks up, tossing your hair around each of your shoulders. You tuck a strand of it behind your ear, crossing your arms against the cold. “We rebuild, Estela. We lose loved ones, and we find others to fill their place. Without that, there’s nothing. Love is replenishable, but you have to let people in.”
“You don’t know me,” Estela says, voice low and edged with warning. “You know nothing about me.”
“That’s so easy to fix,” you sigh. “But it’s your choice to make. Yours alone.”
“You’re so naïve,” she says, and you swear you catch pity in her eyes as she stares you down. “You think you could love me? You think you could ever want to deal with everything that comes with that?"
“I can’t make you let me in.” You cross your arms tighter over your chest. “I’ve been trying since we got here, which I’m sure you’ve noticed, evidently to no avail.” You sigh. “Just…know that I’m here, should you change your mind. We could all use someone right now. And whatever you’re up to…whatever you’re hiding…I know you have reasons. You can keep your secrets. But you don’t have to do everything alone.”
Estela watches you, saying nothing, her eyes shining from her silhouette in the moon’s shadow like a tiger’s on the hunt. The silence stretches, and when it’s clear she’s not going to say anything, you rise and begin trudging back to the resort, tears stinging the back of your eyes that you refuse to let fall.
There’s a sound of a floorboard creaking in the corner of your room. You bolt up in bed, flailing for the nearest thing that can be used as a weapon and whacking the back of your hand on your bedpost. Biting down a pained cry, you straighten and peer through the dark for your intruder, curling your one good hand into a fist. A figure sways a little in the darkness beside the couch in the suite’s sitting room, holding something in one hand. The familiar shape of lean, muscular legs and tense shoulders bring forth a name, and you call out blearily.
“Shhh.” She moves to you, light on her feet and quick, but stumbles slightly upon reaching the bed.
“What are you doing here?” you start to ask her, but before you can get anywhere with that line of questioning, her mouth is covering yours, and she’s pushing your head back against your pillow. Your senses flare all at once, a feeling like blacking out after standing up too quickly. Her lips press against you with a burn like whiskey, a feeling that spins your head so much you barely notice the tinge of alcohol on her breath.
“Estela…” you push her back gently, one hand on her shoulder, and she grips your wrist with strong, slender fingers, holding it against her skin. Worry grips you immediately, settling in like a cold fist around your heart. “What happened?”
Her voice is uncharacteristically soft, barely reaching you through the dark. “’s nothin.”
“Are you drunk?”
She tries to lean over you again, but you hold her back, staring intently into her eyes. Her silhouette tosses hair back and forth, lined in a halo of silver moonlight, as she shakes her head. “If I said I was, would you forgive me?”
You glance down at the bottle in her hand to see that it’s barely been touched, less than a shot missing from its fill line. “You strike me as a woman who can hold her liquor,” you venture, skepticism creeping into your voice. “Estela…”
“Yeah, well, maybe I just wanted to kiss you.” She tosses the bottle onto the throw rug behind her and it lands in the plush fibers. You flinch at the sound of it hitting the ground but are relieved not to hear the glass shatter.
“So you thought you’d get into the bar? You could’ve just asked.”
“After the way I treated you today?” she scoffs, standing up with one knee resting on the edge of your bed. “Sure, I’d come in here sober.”
“Don’t drink much, I take it?”
She wrinkles her nose. “Don’t like it. Alcohol slows you down, lowers your guard. But then again, I’m sure you knew that. You think you know all about me.”
“I’m sure I don’t know anything about you,” you say, holding her gaze until she looks away. “You made sure I knew that when we spoke earlier. But I’d venture a guess that you’re not as drunk as you’re pretending you are. You’re just not sure how to tell me what you’re really feeling.”
She wobbles again, this time falling down over you on the bed, knees hanging off the side, hands on either side of your head. She leans down to kiss you again, and you still taste the fire in her lips, but it feels more desperate, more longing than before. Unable to help yourself, you start to kiss back, feeling her lean closer to you, her chest pressing against you, her teeth grazing your lip. You hum in the back of your throat, enjoying her scent and taste, the desire evident behind her movements, the burning of her skin that has nothing to do with the alcohol. Finally, you push her back again, feeling your throat begin to close up with emotion.
“Quit saying my name,” she says, sitting back.
“What are you doing?” you ask, a deep sadness settling into your chest as you catch sight of her face. Her knuckles are bruised and bleeding when she goes to tuck some hair back behind her ear, and your eyebrows knit together at the sight. “What happened?” you ask again, gentle but insistent.
You move over to the center of the bed and she sits on its edge, back to you, shoulders heaving with a sigh. “You got in my head.”
“I take it that doesn’t happen to you very much?”
“That never happens to me.” What you can see of her face looks determined, cold. “No one gets under my skin. No one. Not my uncle, not my mentors, not even my mom.”
“Why me, then?” you ask, leaning closer to her.
“Exactly. Why you? What’s so special about you?” She shakes her head, turning her bruised hand over in her lap. “I keep on thinking about it and I can’t figure it out. I don’t know you. I don’t admire you. I don’t owe you anything. The same goes for me with you. I don’t understand what makes me worth your time and attention, but I’ve dealt with too many people trying to kill me to think that you mean me any harm. So what is it?”
“Kindness,” you reply, shrugging. “Kind of pride myself on it, actually.”
She laughs drily. “What a silly thing to dedicate yourself to. People will take and take and take from you so long as you are willing to give, and they’ll never do anything to repay you for it. These things that you call renewable – kindness, love – they aren’t. Give enough of them, let people take them from you, and eventually, you’ll burn out.”
You prop yourself up on an elbow, leaning closer to look at her. “You remembered what I said?”
“I was thinking about it.”
“I thought you disagreed with my philosophies?”
She sighs, rubbing the injured part of her hand. “Yeah, well, maybe sometimes even I need to engage in a little escapism.”
“It’s wasn't escapism when I said I wished you’d give me a chance, Estela. I want to get to know you. I want to be on your side. I’d open my heart to you in an instant if you asked. But you have to ask me. You have to let me in.”
“People close to me…they usually end up getting hurt. And I don’t mean their feelings.”
She blinks at you, eyes wide. “So? So, is your self-preservation instinct really so bad that you’re willing to put your life on the line for a stranger?”
“You keep saying that. But I know so much about you already, Estela Montoya.” She looks at you skeptically as you continue. “You’ve lost people so dear to you that you are afraid to let anyone else close for fear of losing them as well. You don’t want any distractions from your mission, which is highly mysterious and of absolutely top priority to you, and also probably very dangerous from the way you just casually mentioned how many people have been out to kill you. You don’t drink, but when you do it’s to subdue your feelings, the only thing that truly scares you.” You nod to her hand. “You lash out when you’re frustrated. Punch things. You seem like you want to distance yourself from the human experience, reluctant to understand even your own feelings because you don't want to feel too vulnerable. And you like the simplicity of your career - whatever James Bond-level shit that may be - so you don’t want your emotions to get in the way of that. But you’re forgetting one few very important thing.”
Estela looks up at you, seemingly at a loss for words, waiting for you to go on.
“You’re a beautiful, smart, intriguing young woman, with a clever head and a strong heart, and you are a human being despite all your attempts to distance yourself from the imperfections of being a person. I think there’s much, much more to you, Estela. More you’re not sharing with me, because you’re putting up walls to scare me off, but I’m still here. And I want to still be here if you’ll let me, because I think that whatever comes next for you, it’s going to be amazing.” Her face softens slightly at this, and you take her hand, laying a gentle kiss to her bruised knuckles.
“I wish I could see myself the way you do,” she says, expression turning curious as she gives you a once-over, as if for the first time. You sit up beside her, bringing your faces close.
“You can. You will.”
She takes your face in a cupped hand and brings you close for another kiss, which you now willingly accept. Her body melts into you like snow into grass, covering every inch of you, surrounding every sense like a blanket. The two of you fall back into the pillows, sheets billowing up around you as you land, your hands seeking purchase in your hair.
“I wanted this,” she gasps, coming up for air after a long moment. You trail kisses along her face sweetly as she continues. “I thought about all the lonely nights, all the times I ached for someone to hold me, when I missed my mother and wished I could hear her voice. I thought about those feelings going away with you.”
“Did it scare you?”
She shakes her head, kissing you once again. “No. I wanted it more than anything. I wanted your arms around me, I wanted to kiss you for hours.” Her expression softens to one of sadness. “Does that…make me weak?”
You weave your fingers through her hair, sitting up enough to kiss her forehead and wrap her comfortably in your arms, pulling her tightly against your side with her head on your chest. “No, Estela. It makes both of us so much stronger.”
You lay and hold her, feeling her breathing slow, until finally you too drift off to sleep.