Exercise a Little
I was gaping at the huge pile of gifts that were on the bed. Had Reece done this for me?
It was a mountain!
“He’s really trying to make an effort.”
I let out a startled gasp as I whirled towards the voice.
Grey was standing there with an amused grin on his face.
My hand was on my heart, “Geez! Don’t sneak up on someone!” I scolded him and his grin only grew wider. Then a more serious expression came over his face.
“I’ve missed you.”
My heart ached, I’ve missed you all as well.
“I’m sorry I left without saying anything.” I managed to speak.
“We deserved it. We may not have done anything...but we also didn’t stop it” he admitted with a sad look and I nodded. I refused to think about the past.
I think he noticed because he changed the topic. “So, like the upgrade?” He said looking around the room with a smile.
I couldn’t stop the sigh that followed. I had walked into this room earlier, when I was taking a tour of the place, and yes, I do mean tour. This apartment was massive! And that’s when I saw the mountain of neatly wrapped presents lying on the bed, put together to make a tower taller than me! I’d gotten closer to see if they were left here accidentally, but they were all addressed to me! When had he gotten the time to put together such a huge surprise?
“Yeah, it’s um, comfy.” I replied lamely and he chuckled.
“Here. It’s the pass for this floor.” He said, extending his hand to give me a key card.
“You place this on the elevator’s screen to allow you access to the basement.” He explained further when he saw my confused expression.
“Oh. That makes sense. I was wondering about this.” I took the rectangular card from his hand and analysed it.
It was a plastic card, with the hotel’s logo printed on it and the words ‘B3’ were written in blue against a white background.
“So, why haven’t you opened them yet?” He was referring to the pile of gifts in the master bedroom.
The suite had three bedrooms, a massive hall, and a fully furnished, well equipped kitchen as well.
It also had a private heated pool, a killer sound system, and a lot of indoor games. Everything felt lavish and extravagant. It was another level of luxury. I almost felt royal.
I couldn’t wait to try the jacuzzi!
“I-uh I’m going to return them. I can’t take all these presents.” My hand gestured to them as I spoke. I had to return them! He didn’t need to do any of this.
“He’s not going to take them back, you know. They’re for you.” He said simply and I sighed. Reece was stubborn, I knew that. It would be a task to get him to take these back.
“He can’t reverse time, Flo. This is his way of making up for a tiny amount of what’s happened.” He continued and I held back a frown.
“It’s not like he’s trying to buy your forgiveness. He’s just trying to make a nice gesture.”
I waved my hand in the air dismissively and said, “we’ll see about this later, then.” Grey’s eyes narrowed but he didn’t press further.
“So what are your plans for the day?” His question surprised me, was this going to turn into an invitation?
“I don’t know yet. Nothing exciting, my friend is going to kill me if she misses out on anything like that.” I could imagine Xena irritated about it, the thought made me smile.
“Oh, who’s joining you?” It was his turn to be surprised now.
“Xena, she’s my friend. Speaking of which, I should call her. Last she knew I was checking out, and she was going to catch an earlier flight.”
Damn. I hope she’s not skipped work because of me.
Grey raised his eyebrows but he didn’t say anything to it.
“Well alright then, I’m anyway going to head up.”
I didn’t know what this thing was. Were we friends now? Acquaintances? Was Reece a friend I’d keep in touch with?
His words from earlier rang in my head ‘I’m never letting you go, ever again.’ it sent shivers up my spine.
The scary kind. For a second there, I almost believed him but then I shook my head. That wasn’t going to happen.
She picked up in a beat.
“Hey, you okay?” Such concern. How did I get so lucky?
“Yeah Xen! Don’t stress so much!” My laughter was genuine.
“You sound chippy.” She observed.
“Yeah about that...”
After explaining the whole situation to her, she’d happily agreed to continue to stay at The Wolf. Only, she said, if I gave her half the gifts.
That girl was shameless, I loved it.
I decided to do something low-key for the day, and changed into a grey shirt dress and my dark blue converse. Leaving my hair open in their loose brown curls I grabbed my jacket, my shoulder bag and my wallet in which I also stuffed the key card for the room.
I’d just go to the local markets. See if there was something new to try, maybe buy some indigenous fruit. The thought got me all excited. I would finally be able to explore all of this!
I headed to the reception to find out more about the locality.
A cheerful blonde greeted me with a smile. She was standing behind her desk with a couple of sheets in front of her. The name tag said that her name was ‘Alyssa Taylor.’ She didn’t look much older than me. Maybe twenty four?
She looked up from her papers when I reached the desk and recited, ” Hi! Welcome to The Wolf! How may I help you?”
“Hi, I’m actually heading out, I was wondering if you could guide me to a local market? How close is the town center from here?”
Her eyes got a twinkle of excitement as she moved towards one of the drawers in front of her. She began to speak while she was searching for something.
“I have a map here with all the important spots that you can visit.
The local market is around fifteen minutes by car, it’s the closest thing there is to The Wolf.” She stopped for a second as she ruffled through some papers in her drawer until her motion stopped. I couldn’t help but notice how well toned her body was. She must work out like crazy!
“Ah! Found it.” She gave me a folded piece of paper and said cheerfully, “we have cycles if you’d like to exercise a little!”
I laughed at her amicable attitude. “I can ride them to town?”
She nodded. “Yes. You can rent them out, here are the details.” She handed me another price list for the different cycles they had and the rent per hour.
Hmm..I haven’t ridden a bicycle in forever. Besides I have the time!
In the end I chose one that had a huge basket in the front, in case I bought a lot. After being explained thoroughly about the road - she said that network connectivity was poor so I couldn’t rely on Google Maps alone - she gave me a once over. Her expression wasn’t as cheerful anymore. “Are you sure about this? You seem awfully young and you’re travelling alone..”
Young? I was 23! I’d turn 24 soon!
“I’ll be fine.” I assured her.
It was not fine.
In the beginning it turned out great. I reached the market without any help, following the well defined track easily.
But now, when it had grown dark, it was a little spooky. I hadn’t anticipated that I’d take so long outside but there was just so much to see!
Despite the well lit concrete road and the knowledge that I was only fifteen minutes away from the hotel, I couldn’t help but feel eerie.
The temperatures dropped quickly, and my thin jacket and shirt dress did very little for warmth.
Why was there no car either? Was there an alternate route?
They’d definitely achieved the isolation they wanted from the busy town streets. I thought with a roll of my eyes.
Normally, the prospect of greenery calmed me. Even forests like these which seemed dense, but right now, I could only feel uncomfortable.
I stopped the bicycle by the side of the road and checked my phone - it was 8 p.m.
How had I spent four hours in a market I’d never know. I’d gone from grocery shopping to trying out a few bookstores to having a cup of hot chocolate at a small cafe.
Suddenly, from the trees to my right I heard some rustling. My head whipped to that side, peering into the dark greens trying to make out if there was anything.
Just cycle and get out of here.
Deciding to do just that, I got back to it. But as I moved slightly forward, the rustling followed as well. I moved ahead once more, and yet again the leaves rustled next to me. Like something was mimicking my actions on the other side.
It’s probably nothing.
The receptionist assured me that there were no wild animals in this part of the forest as the resort had fenced it up.
Maybe it was a rabbit.
Or a psychopath.
But when the leaves rustled for a fourth time, I jumped into action, my heart rate rising.
Don’t want to find out what’s there, that’s how people get killed.
I pedaled faster this time, the wind in my ears drowning all sound. I glanced back a second time and then turned my head back to the road ahead of me again when I saw him.
My hands hit the brakes so hard that I very nearly flew off the bicycle - had it not been for his strong hand clamping down on the handle of my cycle.
“HOLY SHIT! Where did you just come out from?!”
Atticus looked like a deer caught in the headlights. He was standing in front of me, breathless and shirtless.
After a moment, he recovered himself and gave me half a smile.
“I was just ... On a run.”
“In the middle of a forest?! There is a jogging track at The Wolf, you know!” What was this guy on?!
“I’m sorry Lu- ah Ms. Lori I didn’t mean to frighten you.” He said sheepishly.
When I didn’t say anything he took his hand off the handle and we just stood there awkwardly, my heartbeat was still returning to normal levels.
He was looking off into the thick forests on the side of the road, completely absorbed in it.
I still didn’t trust him completely.
“I’m sorry about misleading you earlier Ms. Lori. I didn’t intend to hurt you in any way.” He spoke up suddenly, tearing his eyes away from the jungle, and I looked away. What could I say to that?
Since I am on a forgiving spree...
“It’s alright, you were just doing your job.” I offered half-heartedly.
He nodded, seeing right through me, his face held a sad smile. “Perhaps in time I will earn your approval.”
What a weird thing to say.
Then he looked around me with a frown, “where are your escorts?”
Atticus’ eyes widened slightly before he caught himself.
“Eh, never mind, Luna.”
“Luna?” He needs help.
“Eh- Lori. Ms. Lori. I’m sorry I keep messing that up.”
The elevator men also called me that.
“Why don’t you just call me Flora?” I offered. Why not spare him the confusion?
He gave me a kind smile before shaking his head, “I can never address you that way ma’am.”
“Oh...Kay?” I wasn’t sure what to say to him. Why was his behavior so peculiar?
“You shouldn’t travel alone right now. Let me escort you back.” He motioned for me to follow him and I started walking beside him. He walked with me in companionable silence for the rest of the journey, insisting on trudging the cycle along.
Occasionally, I felt as though there was someone creeping up behind me, but Atticus assured me immediately that it was just the breeze.
But even he was growing tense, I could feel it. He kept looking over his shoulder and his eyes were wandering everywhere. I think my paranoia grew on him.
A sudden, agonizing howl echoed through the forest and we both stopped short. It came from the right, through the thick vegetation that had been fenced off. He was quick to push me behind him, his stance defensive.
“Are there wolves here?” I asked Atticus with a shiver and he shook his head stubbornly, “there aren’t supposed to be.” He murmured.
“But even if there are, they’re harmless to us.”
Why did it feel like his words were always carefully chosen?
“T-Then what was that?” I couldn’t keep the tremor out of my voice.
He shrugged his shoulders, his eyes trained on the leafy green forest, like if he concentrated enough, he’d be able to see through.
“I don’t know, but I’m going to have a look. Do not move from here, ma’am.”
I immediately shook my head.
“Are you crazy! Don’t go alone in there! What if there’s a wild animal? It’s not safe.”
He turned to give me a sheepish smile, “there are no wild animals in this area, rest assured.” He moved closer to the edge and I panicked further, “let’s just call for help?”
He shook his head again, “if an animal got injured then there’s no time to waste.” I could see that he wasn’t going to give up, so I did.
“Alright fine. Then I’m coming with you.” I didn’t want to enter a spooky looking forest but I couldn’t let him go alone. God forbid, if something happened to him, my conscience would haunt me forever.
He immediately shook his head in refusal but I crossed my hands and gave him an equally stubborn look. “You can’t exactly keep me here.” I challenged him and he sighed.
“I’m going to be in so much trouble.” He murmured under his breath. Huh?
“Alright ma’am, but stay close to me please.” He instructed and I nodded enthusiastically. I had no intention of wandering by myself even if this forest was safe.
He jumped over the fence with ease while I had to be more careful - on account of me wearing a dress - and we were on the other side. I locked my bicycle to the fence and prayed that no one stole my groceries.
The ground was uneven and I was glad I wore shoes. We walked deeper into the forest in total silence before I couldn’t take it anymore.
“So...do you work here?” I asked him, hoping the small talk would ease my anxiety.
“Yeah, I’m now one of the managers for this hotel.” He was looking at me as he spoke, and I wondered how he didn’t have to look down at his steps.
He walked with such ease, and always walked next to me, but kept a watch on my movements.
“Oh. So, how do you know Reece?” The questions came naturally now.
Atticus stopped walking and gave me a funny look, “Alpha Reece is the owner ma’am.”
I felt myself falling, and then I felt Atticus gripping my elbow in a flash. He managed to pull me up before I hit the ground.
His hands left my body immediately after I righted myself.
“You didn’t know? He owns the entire chain, and then some.” Atticus continued with a proud smile.
“I suppose a lot has changed in two years..” I mumbled and he threw me an incredulous look.
“What?” I prodded further but Atticus just shook his head. “Never mind.”
“And just call me Flora, you’re confusing me with some Luna anyways.”
“I’m not confusing you.” He said quietly, but before I could ask him what he meant another painful howl resounded near us and we quickened our pace.
It wasn’t until Atticus ran forward, that I noticed the small animal writhing in pain ahead of us.
It looked like a wolf, but it was so tiny. I followed his lead and we both kneeled on opposite sides of the whimpering animal.
“Oh god...” His eyes widened in confusion.
“What? What’s wrong with it?”
“I need you to calm him down.” He said immediately, while simultaneously taking out his phone and switching on the flashlight.
“Just keep petting him.” He explained and I nodded.
I couldn’t see any cuts, and yet there was blood on the grass around it.
Without hesitation, I began to pet the small wolf.
He surprised me with his medical skills. Taking the wounded animal and gently examining it, turning it around and murmuring to himself.
“What’s wrong with it?” I asked again while scratching its head. The wolf stopped whimpering and went silent.
“He shifted early...” Atticus murmured as he examined the wolf’s paws.
“Do you know a lot about wolves? Because uh I don’t think there’s anything like shifting.”
He stiffened immediately, meeting my eyes with a look I couldn’t describe.
“I- I said shifted? I meant drifted...you know - split from his mother way too early - he’s probably just really starved and that’s why he’s in pain.”
Didn’t wolves travel in packs, though?
I continued to appease it, which seemed to be working. Something inside me felt strongly for the animal. I wanted it, no, I needed it to be okay.
“But there’s some blood here...” I motioned at the ground.
“It’s not from him, he has no cuts.” Atticus covered immediately and I couldn’t help feeling like he was anxious about this.
“Trust me, I know what’s wrong with it.” Atticus pressed again and I just shrugged with a smile, “I obviously believe you. I’m clueless about animals.”
The little cub was breathing evenly now, it was even wiggling a little. At one point, it licked my arm and I giggled.
“He likes you.” Atticus observed and I smiled, “or maybe I’m just tasty.”
What do wolves eat?
“So what do we do? Call animal control?”
“No, let’s just take him to the hotel.”
“Won’t it hurt if you move it?”
“I’ll be careful.”
For some reason I’d begun to feel protective of the little thing.
“Alright...” I said unsure, and he gave me a smile, “don’t worry, he’ll be fine.” He spoke with such confidence that I conceded.
I could spot the hotel now, since the road was mostly straight for the end section. It was a massive structure that stood out from its green surroundings.
The cub was wrapped in his jacket but held in my arms - for some reason I felt the need to hold it close to me. Atticus gave him to me without question and took hold of my bicycle instead.
I continued to stroke it’s head and it snuggled in the jacket. I couldn’t help but smile, it was like a small child!
Reece came into view first. He ran towards us at an alarming rate followed by Alyssa, the blonde at the reception counter.
But instead of a happy meet and greet I got;
“Where the hell have you been?!”
Okay. Someone’s mad.