Two Paths Collided

(A condensed story of how my husband and I met, but wanted to keep it within a certain word count. Hope you enjoy my internal dialogue with myself and how fate guided our two souls together.)

***

The heat radiating from the sun was being absorbed into my fair skin as I lay on my towel, digging my feet in the sand and enjoying its velvety caress. I have had this much-needed vacation planned a year in advance, with this being my second time enjoying the beauty of Hilton Head Island in South Carolina. But I never anticipated that this trip would tear down the walls protecting my heart.

  Jolting upward, the burning sensation becoming unbearable as I decide to head towards the coastal blue ocean that crests into mini plumes of white as it hits the shore. The heat here is more potent than where I grew up, as I am more accustomed to winter and the mounds of snow that come with it. Each step forms a sensual thrill that runs through the soles of my feet as I walk across the light specs of powder; it has been way too long since I have been to the beach. The beach in my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, does not compare. Lake Erie’s sand is rough between my toes, the water is murky, and let’s be honest, the bacteria in it is most likely thicker than a bowl of oatmeal. So, this endless vibrant water is welcomed as I dive in. Pure bliss. That is the only way to describe the feeling of the cool saltwater as my body glides through it under the waves.

Shooting up out of the water, I fling my hair back and look up at the beach where my sister and mother sit. How can people layout for hours? I mean, I can lay out for a little while if I have a good book, but I want to be active and have some fun. I booked this vacation with my older sister, saying she wanted to come, so we split the costs, and then last minute, our mom wanted to join, so here we are on a girl’s trip. The crazy thing, neither of them have ever been to the ocean, so I wanted to make sure they can experience as much as they could for the trip. Unfortunately, today is our last full day to soak it all up.

Leaving behind the alluring water, I jog up to my sister and grab the football I brought. “C’mon, sis, let’s go toss the ball.”

She peeks up at me from under her hand, acting as makeshift sunglasses, blocking the blinding rays. She sighs, knowing she is the only one I can play catch with. “Alright, let’s go.”

We stayed for a bit longer before we decided to head back to our rental for lunch. The rental I chose is my favorite place to stay because it looks like a treehouse, secluded with trees and the marsh in the distance. It has a small door at the bottom that is just big enough for laundry and the metal spiral staircase that leads you to the top, which is the main floor. The shape of the sea loft is a hexagon with floor-to-ceiling windows all around that make you feel like you are outside.

As we settle down for lunch, we brainstorm what we could do the rest of the day. I mindlessly doodle on my glass of ice water along with the condensation that formed. I suggest kayaking since we went jet skiing already and they do not want to go wakeboarding. Boo. Everything we have done is their first for it all, so I have let them decide our course of action. “Neither of you has been kayaking yet, and the best part is we can get out to swim, hook our legs on the front and just lay back in the water and chill.”

My mom spoke up after taking a sip of her water, “Oh no. I do not want to have my whole body in the water with who knows what swimming around. How about we go jet skiing again! Kayaking sounds fun if we stay out of the water, but I would love to go back to that jet ski place if there are any spots still open.”

I look over to my sister, who nods her head in agreement. I shrug and make the call. Luckily, they have an opening at 3:30pm, and I instantly booked us the spot; we just all three need to share one jet ski. Already my mind is wrapping around a brilliant yet mischievous idea.

Pulling up to Sea Monkey Watersports, I park the car and am excited to do this again. I am a thrill-seeker, but as long as I am outside, I am down for whatever. I wore my most secure bathing suit with an orange knotted top and black bottoms, tying my hair up in a tight bun. Long hair being whipped at fast speeds stings when it strikes against the skin and not pleasant for whoever sits behind me. I leave my shoes behind, preferring to just be barefoot on the rocky ground as we make our way over to the shack where we check-in. Only one other family is booked for this group which is surprising since it is tourist season. Being the introvert that I am, I do the typical smile and nod to the other family and then keep to myself. Except my mother is just like my grandmother, who can make friends anywhere and begins introducing herself.

“Hi, guys! I’m Rita, and these are my daughters Cori and Ali. Looks like it will be just our two groups jet skiing today, huh?”

A woman with short black hair, a petite, tall frame from the other family spoke, “Hi there, I’m Connie. This is my daughter Grace and son Casey. Over here is my nephew Chris and Ray, and then this is my mother Jenny and her husband, Frank. Just the boys and I and my two are going out. Where are you guys from?”

“We drove down from Ohio. How about you guys?”

Connie lit up the moment my mom said Ohio. “Really?! What part? I live in San Diego now because my husband is in the Navy, but everyone else here still lives in good ol’ Cleveland, Ohio.”

            That piqued my interest when she said Cleveland. Just enough for me to include myself in the conversation. “Wow, what a small world. We’re from Cleveland too, but outside of it in the Eastlake area.”

            Her eyes widened when I said Eastlake. Before she could speak, her nephew Chris spoke. “What! That is crazy, we are from Mentor. I graduated from Mentor High School last year”.

  Taking this all in for a moment as I let the shock of how insane this is dissolve. What is the coincidence that all of us live 15 minutes from each other and happen to be here on vacation, with the same time slot to go jet skiing at this particular place? If there was ever a moment where my mind was blown, this would be it.

Mindlessly, I looked down and trace a circle in the sand with my foot and brought my hand to rub the back of my head as nerves tingled through my body. Get it together and say something. Stop being awkward. “Cool. I graduated last year too but from North High School. I wonder if we know the same people.” Smooth.

He scrunched his face and pursed his luscious lips to the side in thought. Wait, what… why am I staring at his lips? Quickly shooting my gaze away from his mouth and back up to his eyes before he notices.

I knew the moment he thought of a name to ask by the way he displayed his full smile that could knock you off your feet. “Do you know Nick Romero?”

A small chuckle escaped my mouth in disbelief. “Yeah, I do, actually.”

Then it was his turn to laugh at how unreal this situation is, and the sound did something to me inside. Such a strange feeling since my mind and heart are safely guarded with walls and chains made of steel. Protecting myself from the pain of my past. I kept to myself and told myself a while ago that I do not need a man. I may be young still, but I am confident in who I am, strong from putting myself together when I was left in pieces. Therefore, I stopped “looking” for that special someone a long time ago.

I can feel the pounding of my heart as I truly take this man before me in. Short chestnut hair that is thick and looks like he just ran his hand through it. With his rosy lips that look feather soft and light scruff that seems he may have skipped a day shaving. He is wearing a cut-off that shows off his golden skin, toned arms, and tattoos on his side and bicep. I wonder if he has more ink… Easily I can see that he is active and in shape, the thought making my cheeks flush. But what really captures me are his searing green eyes. The sun is making them glisten, almost looking like sea glass as he holds my gaze, making it feel as if he can see every part of who I am.

Just now do I realize that he is taking me in, and man, do I wish I did not look like a beach bum. To also make matters worse, my hair is wrapped in such a tight bun on top of my head, making me look like Miss Trunchbull from the movie Matilda. Internally cursing at myself and the universe, that this is how I look in front of the first guy who caught my attention.

All conversations came to a stop when it was time to head out on the water. My mom and sister wanted me to be the first to drive the jet ski since part of it are following the guides out to where we can let loose. Instantly my body thrums with delight as my fingers curl around the level of the throttle. Before we know it, we take off soaring across the glimmering water that is twinkling under the sunlight. Racing through the wind and splitting the salty air like the red sea. Both my mom and sister have not been swimming in the ocean. The deepest they went was up to their knees. Well, that is about to change. My sly plan is to fling them off or tip the jet ski enough to make them fall in. What I did not anticipate is tipping the jet ski so intensely while zooming around to make a donut that not only did all three of us tumble ungracefully into the water, but the whole jet ski flipped upside down.

Our heads popped out of the water, making us look like a game of “Pop goes the weasel.” Right at that moment, awareness tingled down my spine as I spun around to find Chris racing past on his jet ski while giving us a thumbs up. I felt my face heating from him witnessing that whole show. Face, meet palm. I swear, the universe is against me today, and I damn well want to know why. But I turned to my mom and sister to see wide eyes and huge smiles directed towards me. Silence ascended between us before we all bobbled around in the waves erupting in a pit of laughter.

My muscles ached with the good kind of pain as we made our way back to the car. Chris had asked my last name before we departed, which makes me buzz with nervous excitement? Is he actually interested in me? Despite being a complete and utter hot mess? Nah.

The voice of my mom startling me as she draws me out of my internal mumbling. She nudged my shoulder,  “He was CUTEEE! You should have got his number!”

Sighing, I explain my stubborn thought process. “Mom, I’m not going to ask for his number. If he is interested, he will find a way to contact me.”

She rolled her eyes but seemed satisfied with my answer as we were driving away from the parking lot towards the main road. Casually waiting to find that perfect opening to join the other charade of cars, my phone dings. Glancing down at the screen, I freeze. All the airlocks up in my lungs, and my mind cannot seem to process what I am seeing. No. No way. I must be hallucinating. This guy searched for me and requested me on Facebook. We have not even left the parking lot yet, and already he hunted me down.

Humorously feeling a little smug, I swivel in my seat to face my mom. I’m displaying a little comedic smirk to play the part while raising my eyebrows up and down in a lazy manner. “See. If he is interested, he will find a way.”

I showed her my phone, and her eyebrows shot to the top of her head. My sister leaned between the front seats to take a peak, and her jaw dropped—all of us staring dumbfounded at my phone before giggling as we became speechless. 

The whole way back to our rental, my mind was churning with uncertainty. Am I ready to rip open my scars if the opportunity arises? To set free the pain coursing through my veins from months of abuse from the one who had shattered me to the core? Constant thoughts course through my psyche, wondering why I felt such a strong pull towards this man I hardly know. My past makes me want to jump ship and continue to sail alone out to sea, but my soul seems to have ignited the slightest flicker of a spark. Anchoring the boat and halting the path I carved for myself.

We ate dinner not long after we settled back down into the rental, and the remaining hours of the day and our time on vacation are ticking away. The only thing my sister and mom want to do is pack the rest of the evening and relax on the couch, but that is the last thing I want to do. A light bulb went off in my head, and an unexpected idea of messaging Chris shot through my brain. Do I take that step and make the first move? Do I want to? Before I can go back into a downward spiral, I already pressed accept and sent him a message. Staring at my phone as if I can will his reply to appear, not blinking. Not even a minute goes by before my phone dings with a notification from him. Holy shit. Gulping down air, I did not know I needed from unintentionally holding my breath. Daring to do something I have never done, I ask him out to see if he can hang tonight since I will be gone tomorrow. To my utter surprise, he says yes.

Wiping my clammy palms on my shorts as I pull up to his timeshare in my sisters’ car, waiting for him to approach. I offered to pick him up since I had a vehicle we could use at the ready, and now my heart is beating so fast I feel like it will run out of my chest. As I try to slow my breathing down, I glance across the road, and there he is. Oh, God. He’s wearing a maroon V-neck shirt with dark faded jeans, grey high-tops, and all of it conforming to his body, making him look like trouble with a capital T.  I’m fucked. What did I just get myself into? He slides into the passenger side, and his cologne hits me and floats around my senses. Sin. If sin and man could be a smell, this would be it. Creating butterflies fluttering in my stomach and forming a need to lean towards him, until his scent is cemented into my being.

My voice is raspy when I go to say hello, forcing me to clear my throat. Get it together. Praying Chris does not take notice of my cheeks which I am sure are flaming from ogling him. “H-hi.” Wow. Smooth Ali. I meet his gaze as I greet him.

His eyes lift at the corners as he gives me his heart throbbing smile. “Hey.”

The more we talk to each other, the less nervous I feel. My breathing soothes out, the tingles coursing through my body before as nerves have now turned into excitement. His voice vibrates through my core, and it calms me. What is it about him that has me drawing to him like a moth to a flame?

            We chose to walk the beach, and I am unsure how far we walked along the shore, shoes in my hand and sand between my toes. The water floating up with each wave, splashing our feet, the sun is setting, creating a reflective sheen on the wet sand. I keep greedily inhaling the fresh sea air as if I can engrave it to my memory. Side by side, we absorb the beauty of our moment in time as we talk about everything. For once, I do not feel shy and awkward. The way he looks at me makes me feel like the only one on the beach with him, as if the rest of the world does not exist. He is the fire to my ice, melting away fears of showing someone my true self. I find myself not wanting this moment to end.

            The sun disappeared as the sky turns an inky black, with the moon illuminating a dim glow all around. We decide to head back for the night with me having to be up early for the drive home and his grandma wanting him to head back. Once again, I find myself with sweaty palms and a fluttering heart as I park in front of his building. We both are quiet as we smile at one another, unsure of how to end the evening.

Before I can say a word, his smile drops, and his eyes form a blazing trail to my lips. “Can I kiss you?”

When I suck in a quick breath, my lips part when all I can do is nod as my eyes meet his. He leans towards me ever so slowly as a small smile tugs on his lips. His scent once again swirls around me, making my head buzz with pleasure. Bringing his warm hand to the side of my face that sparks goosebumps along my skin and pulls me towards him. Gently, I feel the soft brush of his lips on mine, pressing against me creating a tremor through my body. This kiss was patient but sure, as it broke the dam safeguarding my heart; the flow of emotions erupted and began swimming around and making me want to cling to him. The kiss was quick and left me wanting, as I try to keep myself steady. We both say goodnight, and I watch him walk to his door until he completely disappears. 

            Two weeks later, I buzz around my house and anxious as I keep peeking quick glances out the window. Since coming home from vacation, Chris and I have kept in touch and message each other every day. He traveled home a few days ago, and today is the day he asked if he could see me. I see a black car pull up along the curb, and as if in slow motion, I watch him get out to face my house. Don’t rush out there. That will make you look like you were staring out the window the whole time, even though I was… I don’t want him to know that. I give myself a minute as I see him approaching and then open the door. We both stop our movements as our eyes meet, gazes locked. At that moment, it felt as if our souls were attached to a magnetic pull, forcing us to become one. Call me crazy, but the universe may have collided me into the path of my twin flame.

-A. Stuebbe

The Red Witch

The light would fade in an hour, and darkness will take over the forest. I could see my breath and feel the crisp, cold air straight to my bones. The breeze’s bitterness made my body feel stiff and my muscles burned with every step I took, but now I have slowly started feeling numb. My threadbare clothing underneath my cloak does nothing against the frigid air. Hunger was consuming my every thought, and I felt my body struggling to keep pushing forward as exhaustion was slowly creeping in. I have been traveling since early this morning and am thankful that the snow has not started to fall yet. Winter is close to arrival, making my task at survival that much harder.

            Deciding I need to rest and replenish some energy, I gathered up some wood for a fire and will try to shut my eyes for a few hours. I hated not being aware of my surroundings when I had to sleep; it makes me an easy target to the hunters who have been after me since I was young. Prior to starting the fire, I needed to hunt before the sun completely vanishes from the sky. Retrieving my bow and arrow, my limbs protesting as I began my search, hoping this wouldn’t be another fruitless hunt like yesterday. The animals have been scarce since snow is almost here. All I have left in my bag is the end of a stale loaf of bread.

            Twigs and leaves crunch underfoot as I slowly scoured the forest. Crouching beside a tree, trying to ease my breathing, and straining to listen for any hint of game passing by. Readying my bow as slight movement rustled the bush ahead. Holding my breath, my stomach aching for food, a rabbit appeared in my line of sight. I needed to be as efficient and silent as can be. I drew my bow back, feeling the smooth wood against my cheek, readying my aim. I was reasonably good with a bow, I learned when I was young since it was my primary way of filling my hunger, aside from the minor stealing I have had to do. Drawing my bow back a little farther, I took my shot. Letting the arrow race towards its intended target and I would have hit my mark, but something soared overhead that startled what would have been my supper.

            Glancing upward to where the moonlight is slowly filtering through the trees, searching for anything overhead. The forest around me became eerily quiet; the only sound I could hear was my pounding heart and the faintest whirl of the wind brushing the leaves. The hair on the back of my neck prickled, my body and mind frozen but alert. Substantial black wings zoomed above the trees as quick as lightning. Panic seized me, clutching my bow and arrow as I took off through the woods. The will to live overpowered my body, demanding me to rest. Racing between trees, dodging branches, and leaping over roots, my lungs stinging from the exertion. Before I could form my next move, pain blasted me in the back of my head, and everything went black.

The light started filtering in as I began to peel my eyes open. My head pounding as I took in my surroundings. The contrast from the vast darkness that overtook me to the blinding light caused me to squint. How long have I been out? Where am I? Fear gripped me as reality caught up to me. My vision blurred for a minute before my eyes could fully adjust. The room was cold and musty; the stench of urine and something rotten instantly made me nauseous. The floors were damp, the old tattered brick walls were stained with dry blood. Probably from the previous victims that were captured. With force, the truth settled in my chest as if it was being crushed by a stone; they caught me. Shit.

            I have been hunted my whole life by the demons, and I still have yet to figure out why. I am just an orphaned human girl; my parents died in a house fire when I was twelve and have been on my own for 10 years. Unable to settle anywhere for long, I have not been able to make friends either, especially the part of putting them in danger. Every few months, I have to find a new location to lay low for a while. Why do the immortals want me? I have no ties to the supernatural realm. Looks like my luck has run out. Escaping wasn’t on my side this time. I didn’t even get a fighting chance; they knew my location earlier than expected and ambushed me. Now I am chained in some wretched cell, the sharp cuffs digging into my skin. I stalked up towards the thick iron bars peering down the hall. A clinking sound snapped my attention to the cell adjacent to me, and I sucked in a breath. Another girl who looked a little younger than me stared at me with wide eyes, curled up in the corner. Her clothes were torn and covered in filth, her skin pale, and her body looked haggard from whatever suffering she has endured. Her brown hair is dull, cheeks sunken in, and dark circles under her fear-filled eyes.

            Carefully I lowered myself to her level to try and get some answers from her. “Where are we?” She stayed silent; maybe she was mute or too scared to simply talk. I crossed my legs on the floor and tried again. “My name is Natalia; what is yours?” She opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out. She swiftly glanced around and whispered so soft that if I wasn’t so focused on her, I would have missed it. “Elise.”

Phew. Okay, not mute. I tried again. “Are you able to tell me where we are exactly?”

She double-checked to make sure we were alone again before she quietly spoke. “In the realm of the underworld. The Dark King’s castle.”

My jaw hit the floor … did she just say the underworld and Dark King?! What the hell would he want me for? I have done nothing to him! Putting my fear and confusion aside, I wondered why Elise was here. “Were you hunted down too?”

She tilted her head slightly, turning over what I just asked. “No … my mother could not pay off her debt, so he took me as a prisoner in exchange. Uhm, did you say hunted?”

I regarded her curiosity that hung onto her question, but before I could say another word, footsteps sounded down the hall. I took a quick glance at her and watched her cower closer to her corner. Dragging her knees to her chest and tucking her chin down. I was terrified and lost, but I did not want to show an ounce of fear. I needed to shove that down right now and put on a strong front.

Three mountainous-sized men appeared in front of my cell. Two of them looked like pure blood demons with their grayish skin, horns, bat-like wings, and pale eyes. Their stare felt like they could see into my soul, causing me to want to shrink back. The third one was slightly different looking; maybe he was half-demon? His wings were black but with soft, beautiful feathers, no horns, golden skin, and searing green eyes. His eyes widened when he noticed me, but just as fast, his eyes hardened again.

The one pure-blooded demon banged on the iron bars with the handle of his sword. “Well, well, aren’t you a pretty little witch.” He spat, seeming intrigued and disgusted at the same time. Wait… witch? They definitely got the wrong girl. I gave him no reaction, just a cold hard stare. Clenching my fist to help me focus on not making the wrong move. The demon unlocked my cell, grabbed my chains, and yanked me across the floor to him. My knees banged on the ground and I landed on my side. He leaned over, getting in my face, “Let’s have some fun with this witchling, shall we?” He went to kick me in the ribs, but before the blow could land on me, he was thrown back into the wall. The third demon, who looked different, glared at his companion.

“NO harm is to come to her, Amon! Those were direct orders from the Dark King.” This man was seething and was about one second away from ripping someone’s head off. He stalked towards the demon, who apparently is Amon, and grabbed him by the front of his armored tunic. “Get out of my sight! Both of you! Let me deal with the witch.” The two demons bared their teeth but followed his orders, nonetheless.

Once they were gone, the half-demon crouched down next to me, offering a hand. I shoved his hand away out of anger and got up on my own. When I looked up at him, it seemed like there was concern in his eyes. He stood up and folded his arms in front of his chest. “I’m Damien and am on your side” Hold up… what the heck?!

“What side?! You DEMONS have the wrong girl! I’m human, not a witch! Is this why you have been hunting me? Because your “Dark King” thinks I’m someone else?!” I was fuming, and from all the confusion, lack of food, and just overall being kidnapped, I took it out on him. I am pissed.

He took a deep breath in and sighed. “Look, Natalia, I can’t get into all the details now, but I am here to help you escape. I have been here for years undercover in case you were brought in so I could make sure the Dark King doesn’t get his hands on you.” I stared at him in shock. Before I could say a word, he continued. “To be blunt, you are a witch who was hidden amongst the humans. The Dark King wants to drain you of your powers to have them for himself and become even more powerful. We can’t let that happen; I need to get you out of here. I can explain the rest once you are safe again.”

I eyed him suspiciously, not sure if I can trust him. But what other option do I really have? I need to get out of here, and then I’ll process everything he just told me; it’s too much right now. I peered over at Elise. “Okay, but I won’t leave unless Elise comes with us.” He looked confused and jerked his head towards her cell. He sighed, closed his eyes, and swiped his hand down his face. Dragging his stare back to me. “Fine. But she will need to do what I say and keep her mouth shut. This is already risky enough. I will be back at nightfall.”

By: A.Stuebbe

Captured Moment

Darkness fades as the moon drops

Light shining through the mountaintops.

Silence settles in my soul

Beauty of the world making me feel whole.

The untouched powder glistening

The wind quietly whispering.

Crisp air brushing my skin

Breathing deeply as I take it all in.

Life keeps ticking as times burning

The World forever keeps turning.

This moment will come and go

A picturesque to bestow.

Closing my eyes briefly

My inner thoughts drifting freely.

Calmness washing over me

As I find peace in Tennessee.

By: A.Stuebbe

Fields of Green

Blades of green swaying gracefully

The wind fluting dreamy melodies

White plumes floating up high

Birds chirping sweet lullabies

Rays of yellow making everything vibrant

Emotions filling with excitement

Greedily inhaling the open air

The fresh earthy scent is everywhere

The landscape so lush and serene

Disbelief as to how much of the world is unseen

Laying back to soak up the beams of the sun

Wishing time would stop, this feeling has me undone

By: A.Stuebbe

Tragic Storm

Inky clouds veiled the night sky, filtering in

Rain pelting on my porcelain skin

Sounds of God’s bowling from up above

A beautiful ballad to be sung

Deafening roars tumbled around

Then silence ascended, hearing no sounds

Streaks of white flared the world alight

Crackling loud, a magical sight

Ceaseless drops chilled my bones

Restless thoughts invade of the unknown

Sorrow absorbing all the air

Loneliness? Despair? I almost can’t bare

Vortex of winds swirl about

Frightening visions unfold as I cry out

By: A.Stuebbe